I looked around curiously as the students filed out of the Charms classroom on the third floor, wondering where the direction of my brothers' unmistakable voice was coming from. The lesson had been rather uneventful, and we were left reading for the majority of it in silence, researching the history of various ancient charms and how they have been modernised into the spells we used today. We were all assured that questions like this would appear on our NEWTs, which I think was the only reason why no one in the class objected to the day's rather uneventful and quiet lesson.
'Toby? Toby, where are you?' I asked, scowling at the retreating back of a sixth year Ravenclaw as he raced by to his next lesson, elbowing me in the ribs in the process without a single word of apology.
'Over near the window!' he called over the noise the herd of students on their way to their next class were making. Lyra, who was standing right beside me and who obviously heard his words, gave me a quick nod and a smile, informing me silently that she'd tell the others where I went, so I began the long struggle to get through the crowd of people hurrying in the opposite direction to me in order to get to my brother without another word.
Three crushed toes, one bruised rib and a paper plane to the back of the head later, I finally made it through the dispersing crowd and reached Toby. I frowned, dusted myself off and lent against the wall beside where he stood, waiting for the last of the stragglers to get out of earshot.
'I only have a few more minutes to get to Divination, Toby. What's the matter?'
Toby remained silent for a few moments, looking at his shoes; I instantly knew something was wrong. My brother was never silent, not ever. Not even when I put him under the Silencio spell for talking non stop about a girl for nearly five hours did he shut up; he merely continued to mouth soundless words, but made a bloody racket with his arms and legs bashing into anything within his reach, to my dismay and annoyance.I turned my head to look at him, noticing the worry lines around his mouth that weren't there at the breakfast table, and the furrowed brow so out of place upon his forehead. His eyes, a lighter shade of blue than mine, looked alarmingly hollow and his bottom lip trembled a little with the news he had yet to share with me. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally began to speak.
'I overheard William Rice, a Hufflepuff in my year, on the way out of the Great Hall today. He was telling his friends he went with his mother to visit her brother in Azkaban in the holidays. Said he heard a prisoner two cells down talking loudly and angrily to a Ministry guard about his parole hearing in a month further down in Cell AZ18-29XC.
'Tary, he was talking about Kevin.'
'Don't,' I hissed, eyes wide and alert as my hands grasped tightly upon a tapestry behind me. Toby turned to look at me finally, the worry now apparent in his own eyes. 'Don't ever mention his name again-'
'But Tary, what if he gets let off-'
'-and he comes back and-'
'-does it all over again-?'
My breathing had become ragged in just a few spoken words, and I looked around the deserted passage with wide eyes, taking a step closer to my brother to protect him from the ghosts of our past that had resurfaced and threatened to find us again. I could feel my pulse racing in my veins, throbbing along my neck as a rush of adrenaline surged throughout my system, throwing me right back into the memories of things I would rather forget. My blood didn't even race this fast playing quidditch, or run as cold even in the chilliest winter in the Slytherin common room when the fire had long since died and movement seemed all but impossible.
I felt like throwing up, and only managed to keep my breakfast down when I heard my brother speak again.
'Tary,' Toby said in a quiet voice, laced with fear. 'I don't want him to come back.'
'Oh Toby,' I said sadly, instantly letting go of the wall and wrapping him in a tight hug, which Toby reciprocated just as forcefully as if his life depended on it. 'He won't come back, I won't let him. I promise,' I said weakly as I looked over his shoulder, trying to keep the horror from my face and from tearing me up inside all over again.
I had to protect Toby - protect the both of us - no matter what the cost or consequence.
'Do me a favour?' I asked as I slowly pulled away, leaving my hands firmly on his shoulders and looking him straight in the eye. When he nodded, I continued, my fingers digging tightly into his shoulders, half because I wanted him to understand I was serious, the rest because I was scared stiff. 'Don't mention this to anyone. Don't think on it too much, and don't be afraid. Nothing's going to happen, he's not coming back. They'd never release him, not after what he did.
'You should get to class,' I said with a small smile as I released my death-grip upon his shoulders and straightened his tie instead. 'You don't want to get a detention, do you?'
He offered a small chuckle. 'No, besides, I hear that you've been getting enough lately for the both of us.' My smile grew only slightly as Toby picked up his bag and sighed. 'Alright, no one will know, and he's not coming back.'
'Exactly, now go to class, Toby. You know how Professor Snape gets.'
Toby instantly paled. 'I forgot I had Snape! See you later on, Tary!' He said in a rush, gave me a quick peck on the cheek and dashed off in a southerly direction to try and get to potions on time. Once he was around the corner, and the distant sounds of his feet racing over the stone underfoot had faded from earshot, I let the entire situation crash down upon me with enormous force. It felt like the walls were closing in on me and the world was turning to darkness, my breath threatening to leave me entirely. Soundlessly, I sunk awkwardly onto the floor, my head tilted back against the tapestry, my lesson with Trelawney quite forgotten as I had a slight nervous breakdown.
Just when things were starting to look good... Just when things were starting to get better for Toby and myself... Just when we were getting ready to forget the past... All the progress we had made, the sacrifices, the secrets; everything had been crushed with two simple words.
I sighed and felt an uncomfortable shiver work its way up my spine.