Chapter 11 : The Hermit, Part 2
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The Joker and Her
Time over the next month flowed smoothly. With the bleak frost of November having transitioned into the snowy blanket of December, the atmosphere of the castle and grounds transformed swiftly. In the passing of the month, the dark, brimming clouds that decorated the ceiling of the Great Hall turned bright and optimistic; this reflected the tender crispness outside.
The change of the weather outside the castle however could not match the change of the spirits within. Christmas was approaching, and the overnight embellishment of the castle into one smelling of pine and roasted chestnuts altered the castle and everybody in it hugely. Students were excitable; most of the cheerful teachers became less strict in their homework-setting, and there was a widespread hum of anticipation towards the upcoming holiday.
Brienne’s outlook on life had also improved drastically as the month went on. Soon after Angelina had found out about Zéphyrine’s death, Brienne had found the nerve to also come clean to Paisley and Lee Jordan; both of whom had been enormously sympathetic. Neither of them had changed their demeanour around Brienne, which was appreciated- and knowing of it helped them to recognise when Brienne needed to be treated normally and when she needed silence or alone time. Brienne hated to demand this of them, but she steadily felt such immense recovery in this period that she could amount it to no other factor than her friends and companions at Hogwarts, and of the castle itself. Even her marks were improving- although there was no way that she thought she could ever enjoy Divination.
But the biggest change, the one that had made the largest impact, was the fact that Brienne had had a mere seven nightmares over the thirty days that had passed- all of which still revolved around the tarot cards and their mysterious messages. The number and vividness of dreams dwindled as time went on, and Brienne could only attribute this to the fact that she was feeling a lot better.
It was the eighteenth of December, and the last day before the end of term. It was a Saturday, and the group was preparing to visit Hogsmeade as an end-of-term treat. Brienne had had the opportunity to go to Hogsmeade once before that term, but it was in October and she had been in no mood to trawl around shops.
The morning of the trip, whilst Angelina and Brienne were finishing up lunch, Fred and George appeared keen to get all of their Christmas shopping done. They were dressed for the occasion, the Twins wearing matching maroon robes with knitted blue jumpers underneath, Angelina was dressed casually in jeans and a thick plain jumper, and Brienne wore a deep green sweater and her black cloak. All three had their red-and-gold Gryffindor scarves and gloves ready for when they departed.
The day was unseasonably bright and fresh, and there was an atmosphere of winding down for the students- for today, no homework was to be set, no books to be slaved over and food was no longer to be an afterthought for the older students, who had been studying hard for either their OWLS or NEWTS. There was a quiet hum, along with the smell of bacon and the outside air.
“...Right, so we get that book on dragons that we saw last time for Charlie-” Fred opined.
“-And a Sneakoscope for Bill, cause the last one didn’t go down too well, did it? Broken,” George suggested.
“Lump of coal for Ron?”
“It must be horrible having such a big family at Christmas,” Angelina muttered to Brienne, “I wouldn’t know where to start at this time of year.”
“I would love to have a big family, just for these times of year.” Brienne stated sadly, her eyes downcast. She could hear an intake of breath from Angelina, and then a pat on her shoulder, “Sorry.”
Brienne shook her head at her, smiling.
The four of them quickly finished and got ready, pulling on scarves and gloves; Brienne had a dark blue woollen hat pulled over her ears, which made her dark blue eyes more perceptible. Then, they ventured out into the snowy grounds, following other students to the castle gates. The boys walked slightly ahead, with the girls trailing behind silently; Brienne heard Fred’s voice continue to discuss gifts,
“We’ll just get something relatively Muggley for Dad, some electrickery thing...what about Mum, mate? What can we get the biggest perfectionist in the World?”
“Eh?” George appeared absent-minded.
“How about Mum?”
Fred clamped his mouth shut and spun around to look at Brienne, his face aghast. George looked furious, and Brienne could feel Angelina’s hand return to her shoulder. Brienne looked at each of them in turn, before sighing and shaking her head.
“Oh, don’t be silly.”
“Sorry, Bree,” Fred said quietly, shaking his head at himself.
“Don’t be silly,” Brienne repeated, trying to smile, “Don’t think you can’t talk about your Mums in front of me. Really. It’s my problem, not yours.”
Fred’s eyes narrowed, and they kept walking. Brienne hurriedly told Angelina that she was all right, and they carried on. She was determined to be cheerful, whatever happened.
A bit further on, Fred nudged George with his elbow,
“What were you thinking about? If I hadn’t had to say twice...”
“Sorry, mate, all right?” George sighed, and added softly, “I was thinking about what to get...” and he nodded his head behind them. Fred looked back at Brienne and Angelina, who were discussing something intently in low voices.
“Ah. What do you get girls for presents?” Fred asked as they approached the town of Hogsmeade.
George shrugged. “Zit remover?”
“What d’you reckon I should get Fred for Christmas, Bree?” Angelina whispered into Brienne’s ear.
She shrugged. “Zit remover?”
Twenty minutes later, the boys and girls agreed to meet in the Common Room that evening, and they went their separate ways through the town of Hogsmeade. The town was beautiful; the freshness of the day made the snow on the ground glow, and it was blanketed over the thatch houses and shops like white icing on a cake. All of the buildings looked warm and inviting, with lit candles floating in doorways and in trees.
They all had to buy Christmas presents, including those for each other; the girls darted into Zonko’s before the Twins could, leaving them wandering towards Gladrags’ down the street.
The large shop was packed, if not with customers, then with precarious products, some of which jumped off of the shelves and onto passersby, made odd bubbling noises, and omitted a suspicious smell of melted rubber. Angelina led Brienne towards the back of the shop, and they started there.
“Be careful what you grab,” Angelina cautioned, “some of the things in here can bite.”
“So we’re starting with the boys, then?” Brienne slowly picked up what looked like a rubber fish, which squawked loudly and transformed into a squeezy parrot which flapped out of Brienne’s hands and disappeared over the top of the shelf.
“Not anything like that. Something clever. You know how they go on about their Joke Shop that they’re gonna open when they’re older.”
“Yeah. So something like this, then?”
She picked up a Fake Wand, which shot a stream of Dungbomb smell into her face. Through her coughing and retching, Angelina gave her the thumbs up.
“Something like that.”
“I thought girls liked jewellery, or make-up, or something.” George moped, setting down a purple cashmere robe.
“Angelina likes clothes,” Fred said sternly. “It’s all I can think of getting her.”
“What about jewellery or make-up?”
“She doesn’t need make-up.”
“Brienne doesn’t like clothes.”
“She doesn’t walk around naked, does she?”
“I dunno.” George looked bemused. “She might do. In the dormitory.”
Fred stared at him for a moment. “You’re not to think of that, mate. Dangerous thoughts. What we’ll do is, I’ll get Angelina a present from both of us, and you can get Bree one.”
“All right then.”
“Right. Which of these robes should we get for Angie? Blue odour-eliminating pyjamas, or the ones that change colour with her mood?”
“As long as she wears clothes in bed, I don’t care, mate.”
“You’re not to think of it.”
“So Fred gets the Dungbomb Making Kit from me.” Angelina held it at arm’s length, pinching her nose from the ingredients inside the pack.
“And I get George an Ever-Bashing Boomerang.” Brienne frowned at it in its restraining packaging. “This isn’t very interesting.”
“Yes, but it’s a new kind, it can turn invisible. He won’t have it yet. It’ll be a surprise for him.”
“Will it?” Brienne looked at her, making a face.
Angelina shrugged. “They’re boys, remember.”
“Boys are still human- how can anyone find a Boomerang that attacks you interesting?”
“I don’t know!”
“This is stressful.”
“Let’s go for a drink.”
“You’re getting her a book?”
“What do you suggest?” George held a book in either hand, looking anxious. They had moved into the Hogsmeade branch of Flourish and Blotts, and -- having gotten their admittedly 'boring' dragon book for their brother Charlie -- were searching for Brienne’s present.
“Something that won’t put her to sleep.” Fred stood with his arms crossed, “Let’s get her something to eat.”
“Yeah, all right then. Let’s go and get her a suckling pig, she’ll love that.”
Fred sighed. “Like something sweet, like some chocolate or something.”
“She wouldn’t want that- I know she’d prefer something to read.”
“Oh right, I forgot she’s your lifelong pen pal. You know her so much better than I do.”
“A book could take her mind off things; she would go through chocolate in five minutes, she loves it.”
“Hence my suggestion.” Fred was looking increasingly agitated.
“Argh. All right, I’ll get her one of those Ever-Replenishing Chocolate Boxes from Honeydukes. They’re a bit expensive, but at least my dear brother is happy.”
“Are you sure you won’t get her pyjamas either? Soothe your fantasies of her late-night nakedness?”
Two hours later, having bought burgundy and emerald dress robes for Angelina and Paisley respectively, along with other uninteresting joke products for Fred and Lee, Brienne finally slumped into a squishy seat at The Three Broomsticks. Angelina, who had just bought two Butterbeers with some of her remaining money, sat opposite her at a small, secluded table and removed her jacket. Both of the girls were freezing, and were feeling damp from the sky turning unexpectedly overcast and the air becoming humid. The pub was welcoming and comfortable, despite being almost full to the brim and purring with the conversations of the customers, most of which were Hogwarts students. Madam Rosmerta- the barmaid- was warm and inviting, and sympathetically brought over some amoretti biscuits along with their Butterbeers free of charge.
“Thank you.” Brienne grinned at Madam Rosmerta.
“Thanks.” Angelina took her Butterbeer and gulped it thirstily.
“Enjoy yourselves, dears.” Rosmerta rubbed her hands on her apron and returned to the bar.
For a moment, the two sat and relaxed. Angelina was staring into space as if there was something incredibly interesting on the wall above Brienne's head. Brienne was casting a Warming Charm on her jacket and clothes, before removing her shoes and giving her socks and feet some attention.
“How are you today?” Angelina asked as Brienne took her first sip of Butterbeer. She felt it slip warmly into her stomach, and it gave an effect similar to containing concentrated flames within her.
Brienne answered truthfully, since she knew what she was really being asked. “Not bad, today. I’m feeling a lot better, actually.”
“Good. Has McGonagall said anything more to you since...?”
Brienne had told all of her meeting with Professor McGonagall- and her advice to find more friends.
“Nothing to do with that, no.” In fact, Brienne had had another meeting with the Professor since then, but the subject of her companionship was not broached further. “Why do you ask?”
Angelina pursed her lips and crossed her arms around herself to warm up. She opened her mouth to speak, but what came out was a sigh of satisfaction as Brienne cast the Warming Charm briefly on Angelina’s hair and clothes.
“Thanks, that’s loooovely.”
Brienne grinned in reply. “What were you going to say?”
“Oh, I was just thinking about what McGonagall said. About having more company.”
Angelina’s eyes narrowed, as if she knew what she was about to say would not go down well. “Do you remember the day we first became friends? The four of us, and Alicia and Katie were talking in the Common Room?”
Brienne had to think hard to remember the specific evening. Two particular things shone out from her memory.
“Do you remember?” Angelina looked anxious.
“Yes,” she repeated. “Was that the night we all had a water fight?”
Angelina nodded, encouraged. “Yeah, that’s it.”
Brienne waited for her to continue, taking another gulp of her Butterbeer.
“Well, do you remember what we said to you? Me and the girls?”
Yep, that was the other thing she remembered.
Brienne sighed, striking up another grin. “I hope there’s a point to this dazzling conversation.”
“There is.” Angelina pursed her lips slightly. “What about...you go out with George?”
“I do what with who?”
“Go out with George. Or, maybe not George, but someone.”
“How has that got anything to do with what McGonagall suggested?”
“Well, think about it.” Angelina gestured with her hands. “McGonagall said you could do with some more people around you, but you said you can’t really cope with any more friends. So...why not get a boyfriend? And, and,” she added as Brienne opened her mouth to speak, “who better than George? You two get on like a house on fire, and at least you don’t have to meet anyone new.”
Brienne thought for a moment, processing what had just been put to her. “There’s one problem in your plan.”
“That I don’t fancy George, and he doesn’t fancy me.”
Angelina cocked an eyebrow sarcastically. “I don’t believe that for a second.”
“What don’t you believe?”
“First of all,” Angelina leaned forward, resting her crossed arms on the table, Brienne cradling her tankard in her lap. “George can barely take his eyes off you most days, and to be honest I think if he had the chance he wouldn’t take his hands off of you either-“
“-let me finish. Second of all, I really think you think about him too.”
Brienne replied sharply, annoyed, “How did you work that one out?”
Angelina looked straight into her eyes. “Sometimes, Bree, you go off into your own world. And I know most of that time is spent thinking of your Mum- I understand that. When you do, you go all still and intense. All of us notice it. But sometimes, I notice your eyes sort of shift, and you relax a bit. Then, I know you’re thinking of what could be. About the future.”
Brienne was speechless. She had never, ever considered the fact that Angelina could be so observant. She never knew that everybody took notice of her that much. But most of all, she never knew that someone that she had only known for four months could be so spot-on. Because of course she thought about what could be, all the time- what had been, what could have been, what her life would be without her Mother, what her life was now with her friends. Who killed her Mother? Why did she die? What did her dreams mean?
Angelina took a breath, and then continued, “Are you really, honestly telling me that you don’t include George into those thoughts?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Brienne pursed her lips this time, exhaling through her nose. “I don’t...think...that way.”
“Don’t you fancy him?” Angelina sounded disbelieving.
“I...no...I don’t know.”
Angelina sat back finally, triumphant. “I knew it. I knew you fancied him.”
“I didn’t say I did! I don’t know.”
“Which means you do.”
“Which means I don’t know.” Brienne suddenly felt very tired. “My point is, how is this imaginary relationship supposed to happen if one person doesn’t fancy the other and the other one doesn’t have a clue?”
“George fancies you. I’m positive on that one.”
“Or he wants his hands on me. Same difference though, eh?”
The two stared at each other for a moment, before dissolving into nervous giggles.
“The truth is though, I don’t know if I’m really...ready for something like that.” Brienne looked down at her empty glass. Suddenly she felt very immature.
“Weren’t there boys at Beauxbatons?”
“Yeah, but I was a bit of a loner there. I hung out with my cousin and her friends a bit but they're a year above. I had a couple of other friends...but I wouldn’t even call them that, really.”
Angelina surveyed Brienne, an eyebrow cocked. “You’ve never fancied anyone before," she said disbelievingly.
“Oh, I’ve liked people, but that was before...”
“I’ve moved country, moved school, had to make all new friends, get used to speaking in English, and lost a parent. It’s all a bit too much as it is.”
“But a boyfriend could take some of that weight off your shoulders.”
“No, he couldn’t.” Brienne looked at Angelina, sadness in her eyes. “The only man who can make me feel better is in London, and I won’t see him until tomorrow. For now, my father is who I need the most.”
Angelina finally looked down, her smile collapsed. After a moment, she looked up, a defeated grin forming on her face.
“All right, all right. I was only trying to help.” She stood, pulling her jacket on. “Those still, intense eyes of yours have melted me. Honeydukes?”
Brienne laughed quietly and took Angelina’s arm as they exited The Three Broomsticks into the darkening day.
“You know, someone with magical blood must have invented chocolate.” Angelina took another bite of her ‘Bermooda’s Cocoa Toffee Swig (a cocoa drink in every bite!)’ and swallowed.
“I think that whoever invented chocolate,” replied Brienne, sucking on her Everlasting Chocolate Ball, “was magical- regardless of their blood status.”
Angelina nodded, her eyes filled with bliss.
They were back in the Common Room. The Room was filled with sleepy Gryffindors, most of which were in their pyjamas and were sitting in circles around tables or on the floor, doing homework or relaxing, having had a warm meal at The Three Broomsticks. Those who were not in the Common Room were probably either in their dormitories, packing for the Christmas holidays, or were getting ready for dinner. Angelina and Brienne were sat in a pair of armchairs in one corner of the Room, their spoils scattered on the tiny table between them: Chocolate Frogs, Dommett’s Mood-Shifting Chocolate Blocks, Bertie Botts, and Froobles’ Fruity Filaments, along with many other Honeydukes products. The room was warmly lit, the fire was blazing, and life was good.
Brienne heaved herself off of her chair. “We should go to dinner.”
“I don’t know if I have room for anything more,” Angelina moaned.
“I do. Come on.”
The girls stood, and after putting away their loot, they ventured down to the Great Hall, bags on shoulders. Brienne felt comfortably satisfied from the chocolate, but she still craved something warm in her stomach.
“I know you don’t, Bree. I know why you’re coming down here.”
Angelina narrowed her eyes. “Geeeeooorrge.”
But Brienne grinned sheepishly as they entered the Hall, and indeed, the Twins were there, flanked by Lee Jordan and their brother Ron. All four were relatively quiet, Ron speaking to his friends on his other side. The ceiling of the hall was a deep blue and was twinkling with an abundance of stars.
“All right, you lot?” Angelina asked as she sat on the bench opposite Fred.
He looked up at her tiredly. “You had better bloody like your Christmas present.”
Angelina raised her eyebrows at him before laughing.
“And you.” George nodded at Brienne, who sat beside Angelina.
The girls exchanged a look, rolling their eyes.
Dinner was delicious, as always- Brienne helped herself to some gammon, mashed potatoes and gravy. Angelina had a mere ladleful of potatoes, as she was full from sweets. Fred and George were eating like machines, and before long their portion of the table was eaten clean. The group of five were all tired, swapping and giving each other their food in relative silence. George scraped the roast potatoes he couldn’t finish onto Brienne’s welcoming plate; she could feel Angelina’s intense gaze as Brienne thanked the redhead.
By the time pudding arrived Brienne was fairly full, but spotted her favourite crème brulee which almost never graced the dinner table. She grabbed it and ate it unrestrainedly, enjoying every caramel-filled bite. George eyed her, amused at her enthusiasm. Brienne looked back at him; the navy eyes met the hazel and both parties looked away, coy. She could swear she felt Angelina’s elbow nudge her surreptitiously, and she fought an embarrassed laugh. Something warm swelled in her chest, and the blonde settled for a content smirk.
“Come on,” Fred muttered, standing and straightening his robes. “I’m knackered, and I’ve still got to pack.”
“So do I,” George said, masking his yawning mouth with a hand.
“I’m sure I’m the only one who’s actually staying for Christmas,” Angelina stated, lazily following the Twins out of the Great Hall and up to the Common Room.
Brienne brought up the rear, now full, now content, and now extremely baffled having seen George after the day’s discussions.
She went to bed feeling something alongside the grief that would resurface in the night. The problem was that she wasn’t entirely sure what it was.
The classroom was no longer cold.
She stood, wearing no more and no less than before; moonshine glowed from the window, no longer crusted with ice, and she felt extremely warm. Almost uncomfortably so.
Brienne turned slowly, to face the inexplicable tarot cards. They were sat on the table, glinting in the light from the moon, looking almost ethereal.
She moved- as she knew she had no choice to- to pick up the cards. With the first smooth, glossy card, she expected to see her mother’s smiling face. However, all she saw was she; sat alone on a stool, book in hand. This brought Brienne up short- the cards were in the wrong order. This had never happened before.
But each card, all four, depicted Brienne herself, alone, holding a book. ‘The Hermit’ was written in a loopy hand along the bottom. Four forlorn girls staring sadly. A familiar loneliness swept through the present Brienne, and before long her expression matched the cards perfectly.
The cards flickered, shifted. And before long new faces adorned the cards: Fred, Angelina, Paisley, and George. They all smiled up at her, having one card to themselves. Brienne started, shocked.
‘You don’t have to be alone, you know.’
Brienne smiled, tears cascading down her cheeks.
‘I know, Mama.’
She picked up the cards, slipped them into her pockets. And she walked out of the classroom, the door closing behind her with a resounding thump.
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