Chapter 16 : Reeling
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The Joker and Her
Brienne’s heart was hammering. She thought the volume of it would surely alert her father and his friend to her presence. Nausea churned in her stomach, and her sandwich dinner felt like it wanted to make a reappearance. The words that had just been spoken imprinted themselves into her brain. Brienne couldn’t breathe.
As the silence in the living room continued, she wondered whether to make her presence known. But the air caught in her throat, and she barely got to the bathroom in time before she saw the evening in reverse. Brienne groaned; she hated vomiting. She bent over the toilet for a moment until she felt less queasy before slowly standing upright and looking at herself in the bathroom mirror. Her dark blue eyes looked tired, her hair hung, greasier than when she had last checked, her skin pale and clammy. Brienne’s outer appearance seemed to reflect how she felt inside.
She strung up her hair in a rope with a stray band which was on the side of the sink, brushed her teeth and washed her face. The going-to-bed routine was a welcome distraction. The water on her hands was cold, and she shook as she dried them. She slowly gulped down air as her newly-emptied stomach clenched hollowly.
Brienne leant against the sink, her chin down on her chest, until she heard mumbled conversation downstairs again. This spurred her into movement, and she walked into her room, dragging her feet, holding her emotions at bay until she slumped onto her bed.
She tried to comprehend what she had just learnt. Not just in the last ten minutes, but in the last hour or so. She tried to sum it all up in her mind; how her mother had been attacked and killed by somebody that she had arrested in her previous years as an Order member. How this person may have an accomplice in a sixteen year old boy. How her mother had anticipated this attack somehow, and was ready for flight when the assailant -- or assailants -- had swooped down upon her and cut her life short.
Right then, in that moment, she desperately wanted to go back downstairs and tell them that she had eavesdropped. To hear the words of comfort that her father would surely employ in this time of need, feel Stanley’s sure confidence that they would find the killers before they set out on their next mission; actually, she would have preferred alternatives as to where her missing photograph had gone.
Perhaps her mother stashed it somewhere else as a precaution, in case her suitcase was destroyed or damaged in the attack? Maybe she hid it for her daughter with a message inside? Maybe it wasn’t a photograph of Brienne that was missing- maybe it was one of her mother that the killer wanted to keep as a trophy. But there was a niggling sensation in her head that told her not to kid herself. If Stanley, a veteran Auror, had come to the conclusion that the killer was now after her, then she had no reason not to believe him.
She noticed that her hands were shaking again. She buried them in her hair to steady them, and she concentrated on nothing but breathing deeply and keeping her hands still. Why was this happening to her? What had she ever done to anybody? What acts of evil could she ever have committed in order to deserve having her mother taken from her and then be pursued herself?
Brienne sat in silence for a while until she heard the click of the front door, signalling Stanley’s departure, before she collapsed onto her back. She waited to see if her father would come straight upstairs to bed. When he didn’t, Brienne surmised that he must be doing exactly as she was doing: sitting, absorbing, and reeling. Some part of her expected Douglas to come straight up to discuss this with her, but then she remembered that he didn’t know she had overheard. Should she tell him? Should she keep it to herself? Which would worry her father more? No, she would not tell him. The last thing she wanted was to create an uneasy dynamic between them.
She then heard a creak on the stairs, quickly followed by another. Her father. Brienne hastily turned out the lights and stuffed herself under the covers. Douglas pushed open the door after a few seconds with a barely audible squeak and poked his head in, wanting to see if his daughter was awake. Brienne’s eyes were shut tight and her breathing was deep. He stood there for a long time, silently, and Brienne knew that they were wondering the same thing: whether or not circumstances would rip them apart again, wondering to what extent things would change from then on in.
Wondering whether Brienne would be there, safe and sound, in a year's time.
What would become of her life now? Would she always be looking over her shoulder, worried for the life of her father, friends, or herself? Would she have to continue pretending like she was recuperating to her friends, to her father, to her teachers at Hogwarts? And- now that she thought about it- she could no longer pretend about one thing. She did have feelings for George.
It felt as though after her mother died, her head was stuffed with grief for her, and after several months of time had loosened slightly. Now it was stuffed back up with a mixture of things; fear of these mysterious killers, grief for the woman she knew now had spent her last moments protecting her identity, and longing for the boy that had been right under her nose the entire time. She was afraid that these feelings would have to take a backseat to her personal problems, of the idea that her friends may no longer be safe if they associated with her. She clenched her fists, and tried to inwardly tell herself not to overreact.
Why on Earth would this person, or people, be after her now? Surely they committed their supposed act of ‘revenge’ by killing her mother, by having her ripped from this world; what would they have against Brienne at all? Or did they want any and all residue of Zéphyrine Auvray destroyed, a clean cut? Was having the daughter of their prey- an innocent- alive, too much of a temptation?
By the time Douglas had closed the door quietly and tiptoed down the landing to his own room, Brienne had closed her hands over her mouth to muffle her racking sobs. Tears gushed down her cheeks, her face swollen and red, and her body shook as- for the first time in weeks- she completely broke down. She buried her head in her pillows as her hands weren’t doing a good enough job; she inhaled deeply, and only smelt her father’s home. She didn’t want to be here, or even at Hogwarts- she wanted to go home, in France, where her mother was, where her life was.
But that couldn’t happen. Her mother was gone, forever, never coming back. Her old home probably still bore the scars of that last, fatal fight. She was never going to go back there. This was her home now. Here and Hogwarts. The idea of going back to school with Fred, Angelina and George and taking her exams was almost laughable.
Then, without any conscious decision or thought, she slid her torso a little to the side so she could reach her bedside cabinet. There, she took out the gift that she had received the day before and held it in her hand. Her mother’s wand. At her touch, she felt warmth in her fingertips, an encouraging, empowering warmth. It was unlike the familiar connection she felt with her own wand, but something peculiar, like it understood her pain and wanted to reinforce something else. Something like safety or calmness. Brienne sniffed, shuddered, but no more tears came.
She lay like this -- arm lolling off the bed, her face puffy, damp and red, holding her mother’s wand -- for the rest of the night.
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