Glen's mother had a dulled brightness about her. From the laugh lines streaking through her features and the way her smile seemed to reach all the way to her eyes, I knew that she was, or at least had been, a person who had experienced great joy and had reveled in it. But now, as she stood in front of me in the poorly remodeled pub, I knew there was something else that was going on beneath the surface; the light that was inside her had been diminished somehow. There was only one reason for someone with much potential to shine and be happy to be in this dark and dismal place; she must not have any other choice. Though I had never come into the Hog's Head myself before, I tried to remember if I had ever seen her here before, or if I had ever seen Glen show any interest in coming to the pub. I strained my memory the best I could, but determined that this was definitely the first year I had seen her here. Something that had happened in the recent past had driven her here, and I knew my answer was there. But, was that answer supposed to come from Glen himself or his mother?
It was strange realizing that I knew practically nothing about my best friend's parents. I had never been to Glen's house before, and beyond the memory I had of our first meeting, I remembered little about them. Glen rarely shared personal things about himself; he usually preferred deflecting the conversation using sarcastic comments and wit. Though, I usually deflect personal conversations by bottling emotions and silence. Perhaps that's why we get along so well. But, as I sat across from Glen's mother I knew that in order to help him, this was going to have to get personal. I could already feel my heart rate speeding up.
“Did you want something to drink?” Glen's mother asked, once our silence reached the awkward point. She bent down and scooped up a glass from behind the bar. “I can offer you water and...water. Though if you want, I can spice it up a bit with a few ice cubes.” Her kindness eased my nerves, and as I took a sip of the offered water, I decided it was time to try to get to the heart of the matter.
“So, Glen comes here on Saturdays?” I asked as pleasantly and casually as possible. “I'm guessing he just wants to visit you?” Though I could hardly hope that Glen was here for such a simple reason, instead of answering me, Glen's mother had a question of her own.
“He doesn't know you're here?”
I swirled the ice cubes in my glass, wondering if telling the truth would shut down the stream of answers I was hoping to get. But, since truth was what I was seeking, I figured I should give only truth in return.
“No,” I replied gently. “He doesn't know I'm here. I noticed that he was sneaking away on Saturdays without telling me where he was going. I asked him about it, but he didn't seem to want to talk about it. So...I followed him here.” As I told my story, I suddenly felt a little guilty about admitting to prying into Glen's life. I quickly added, “I just wanted to know if he needed help.”
Another small, kind smile graced her face as she watched me as though fascinated.
“Glen's lucky to have a friend like you,” she said quietly. “And I think you might be right, about him needing help, I mean.”
“If there is anything I can do, just name it,” I said eagerly, happy to finally be getting somewhere. The stoney and angry looks I had been getting lately from Glen were more than I could take. Glen's mother poured herself a glass of water as well and sat down on the stool behind the bar facing me.
“Have you asked Glen about it?” she asked, watching me closely. Though I wasn't sure what exactly “it” was yet, I had tried the previous evening.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“And what exactly did he tell you?” It was extremely faint, but I detected a small strain of worry in her voice.
“Not much,” I said, wincing slightly at the memory. “He actually got pretty mad.” Glen's mother smiled sadly and took a long drink before answering.
“Hugo, I think its beyond sweet that you want to help Glen. I think there is a lot he needs to talk about, and it would probably be great for him to talk about it with a friend.”
“I can handle it,” I stated, hoping that it was true.
“I'm sure you can,” Glen's mother answered kindly. “But, this whole thing shouldn't come from me, it should come from Glen. He's been through a lot and, for better or for worse, its his choice whether or not to tell people what happened. I know Glen can be difficult to talk to, but it would be great if you could keep trying. It should come from him, and I have faith that he'll tell you when he's ready.”
It was the response of a mature and understanding mother, but it wasn't the one I had been hoping to hear. Glen had scared me the other night during our conversation, and I was worried that if I continued to push the situation our friendship would be threatened forever.
But, like it or not, as I stared into the hopeful eyes of Glen's mother, I knew that my path was set. As we both finished our glasses of water, I agreed to fulfill my mission and do everything I could to talk to my best friend.
As the weekend came to a close and Monday dawned, cloudy and dreary, I found that my mission to talk to Glen was becoming part of a long list of problems I was meant to deal with. Ever since the disastrous kiss we shared in Hogsmeade, Connie had been avoiding me, and I was too much of a coward to go speak with her. Even when I would attempt to catch her eye for a brief second in the Great Hall during meal times, I always managed to miss her gaze.
You don't have to be so noble all the time, Hugo. That was what she had said, and in some ways, I could see her point. If Connie Bishop had started kissing any other male at Hogwarts, they surely would have just gone along with it. The probably would have shuffled off down that alley next to the Three Broomsticks and continued the snogging session as enthusiastically as possible. Connie was probably the prettiest girl in the whole school if not the world. Why was it that I couldn't have a normal reaction to anything? It was hard to determine if I had done the right thing by turning down her kiss when it left me feeling so empty inside whenever I saw her. As far as she and James were concerned, they were still together as far as I knew. Whether James liked it or not, though I was pretty sure that he did, everyone kept tabs on James' social life. He was cool, popular, and handsome. If he had broken up with Connie Bishop, the entire school and their parents would know. However, it did seem to me that Connie and James might be spending less time together. They didn't sit next to each other nearly as much during mealtimes anymore, and there was definitely less touching and hand-holding.
In other relationship news, whatever had been happening between Glen and Leah has ended. Whether they had both just been looking for a good snog, or if they had actually been in a relationship, I'm really not sure. All I know is that one day, or for a good week really, they had always been pressed together always making me very uncomfortable, but now they barely spoke a word to one another. Lily and Bradley, on the other hand, are still together as far as I know but Lily always has this vacant expression on her face, as if she's bored with him.
However, believe it or not, the romantic adventures of my friends and family is not my biggest problem or worry at the moment. Even though this should be no shock to me, I still find it alarming that its just about March and the O.W.L exams are looming in my future. Mum and Dad, well mostly Mum, explained how the exams worked. I'm not really sure what part of the exams scares me more; the written portion or the part where we actually have to perform magic in front of other people. I've been told that I have “test anxiety” which I suppose is true, even though most things about life make me anxious. While I do have the ability to write well, its the idea of being on a time crunch that worries me. I spend most of my time fixating on the seconds and minutes instead of on what I should be writing. And knowing that I will have to go into the Great Hall among other students and examiners to perform charms and transfigurations really is enough to make my head spin.
In an attempt to help me, I think she knew how much these tests are going to stress me out, Mum sent me a little study planner. Its a little calendar book, but the remaining months of the school year are splashed with colors and notes telling me what subject I should be studying for each day. According to the note that accompanied the book, if I followed the schedule, I would achieve O.W.L greatness, which is a direct quote, by the way. Though, also according to the book, I should have begun studying as far back as November, so I'm already more than a little behind. Lily snorted at it when I showed it to her in the library as we attempted to tackle an extremely difficult Transfiguration essay. We were well into a long night of homework, and the pile of books and parchment we were meant to tackle seemed to have grown instead of shrunk.
“This is ridiculous,” Lily scoffed, scanning the color coded squares of the calender. “No one can study this much; she must be absolutely insane.”
“Remember, this is coming from my Mum, the girl who got a million O.W.Ls” I said, grabbing the book back feeling rather frantic about the amount of essays I had to write and studying I was supposed to be doing.
“Right,” Lily answered grumpily, her eyes squinty from pouring over the tiny print for so long. “Are you sure you didn't inherit her super powered brain? Sure you don't just want to take the exams for me?” I laughed weakly, pressure throbbing in my right temple.
“Please, I'd like to only fail one set of exams if that's alright with you.” Lily rolled her eyes at my pessimism, but smiled all the same.
“I was supposed to meet Bradley in the common room ages ago,” she said, giving her essay a disgruntled look.
“How is that going?” I asked casually, wondering if she had noticed that Glen and Leah were no longer an item. I really wasn't honestly sure if Lily and Glen would be a good match as most of the time their objective is to kill the other, but at this point I was simply trying to gain innocent information.
“Alright, I suppose,” Lily answered with a shrug, and a smile stole across my lips. Perhaps I had been right about her being bored with Bradley.
“What's that look for?” she demanded suddenly, her eyes narrowed.
“What look?” I asked, dropping the smile immediately; Lily can be frightening when she gets upset, I believe she gets it from her mother.
“You really are the world's worse liar, Hugo,” Lily went on, probably stating the most obvious comment in history. “Why did you make that face?”
I answered carefully. “I just thought....sometimes it seems that you don't really like him that much.” For a moment, I think Lily was about to fire back that she was more than satisfied with her boyfriend and that I should mind my own business, but her defense wilted and her shoulders sagged.
“I do like him,” she claimed, her auburn hair glinting in the candlelight. “He's nice and...normal. He treats me well, he does what he says he's going to do, and I know he really likes me...”
“I sense a “but” at the end of that sentence,” I observed, our eyes meeting.
“Its just hard,” Lily responded, looking rather miserable. “Its hard to generate a spark about someone when things are so predictable and when they're always going well. You know what I mean?”
“Not really,” I admitted, allowing a small smile to return to my features. Lily sighed, so I tried again. “But it sounds to me that you're looking for something different. You don't sound exactly happy.”
“I'm not unhappy,” Lily assured me.
“Is that really enough for you?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. Even though she and Glen had done nothing but fight when they were “dating” Lily had certainly never been bored. “If I might make a suggestion, I know of a guy who is practically never predictable and if you were together, things would rarely go well. He's kind of an idiot and he's a total motormouth...”
“I'm not dating Saunders,” Lily declared, my description of Glen obviously being spot on. “I'm not that desperate, Hugo.”
“I'm just saying, he actually seemed genuinely upset when you two stopped hanging out,” I tried, possibly overstepping the boundaries of what I was supposed to reveal to her. Then again, Glen had never actually told me of his feelings.
“Oh, I'm sure,” Lily snapped, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Every time he surfaced for air and unattached his face from that blonde girl, I know he was thinking only of me!”
“Um...” I tried, not really knowing what else to say to defend my best friend. “I know he can do some stupid things...”
“Name the last thing he did that wasn't stupid!”
Well, that one definitely shut me up. As Lily gathered her materials, saying that she was going to finish the essay tomorrow, I thought as hard as I could to cite an example where Glen had done something good or smart. Images of exploding potions and turned off alarm clocks sprung to my mind instantly as I struggled to come up with something. However, by the time I remembered how he used to defend me against Evan Lee (before I could stand up for myself) she was gone and probably back to Gryffindor Tower.
Considering my Transfiguration essay was far from complete, I had not put in the hour and a half Potions study that the green square on my calendar said I should have, and I had somehow succeeded in pushing Glen and Lily even further apart, the evening could be chalked up as a complete failure. I ran an exhausted hand through my brown hair and began scooping up all my papers and books and adding them carefully to my bag which always seemed to be bulging lately.
“Need some help?” I turned to find Rose coming towards the table I had been working at.
“I have been known to study,” my sister replied with a grin. “You don't have to sound so surprised.”
Without another word, Rose began helping me gather my materials into piles and putting my books back on the shelf. I wanted to ask her how things were going with Scorpius, but considering the way the two were all smiles lately I had to guess that things were still going well. I was glad. They seemed to be a good balance for one another.
“So, getting ready for the O.W.Ls then?” Rose asked as we exited the library together.
“Sort of,” I answered truthfully. “I don't really see the point though. There's no way I can keep up with Mum's study schedule, and my grades have been average at best.”
“There's nothing wrong with being average,” Rose offered, as we headed down towards the kitchens and the Hufflepuff common room. I found it strange that she was following me when Gryffindor Tower was so clearly in the other direction.
“Is there something you needed?” I asked when we reached the pile of barrels that marked the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room.
“I just wanted to make sure you're alright with the whole O.W.L thing,” Rose said with a concerned smile. “I knew Mum was going to send you the study schedule because she sent it to me when I took them. I figured it would freak you out a bit, so I just wanted to make sure you're doing okay.”
It was very kind and sweet; Rose has never been the nurturing type of big sister. She was clever and smart and undoubtedly had fountains of knowledge when it came to exams, social behavior, and Hogwarts in general, but she never usually came to find me to offer advice. Though I was pretty sure she would help me if I went to her, it was strange that she had been seeking me.
“I just don't really see how any amount of studying is going to make it easier for me to get up in front of other people and perform magic,” I blurted out, the nerves of the evening spilling through my body. “I can barely talk in front of people, much less concentrate hard enough to cast spells.”
Rose reached out and put a hand on my right shoulder.
“You're probably right,” she said gently. “The practical part of the exams isn't really so much about studying. Its about confidence. Its about knowing you can do the spells. If you believe you can do them, you will.”
“But I don't know...” I started to protest, but Rose waved me down.
“I've known you your whole life, Hugo,” she went on. “And over these last couple of years I've seen you do nothing but sell yourself short. For some reason you only see the things you can't do and never focus on the things that you can do. My advice to you is this: if you want to do well on your examinations study the best you can, but focus mainly on changing your frame of mind. You're smart and you're capable, and I think we both know you can accomplish the things you set your mind to.”
Rose dropped her hand, gave me a smile and turned for the stairs. As she headed up, she called back over her shoulder,
“Besides, Scorpius and I wouldn't be together if you hadn't.”
I felt stunned and pleased at Scorpius' honesty with Rose, and for some reason couldn't keep a smile off my face as I drummed out the specific rhythm on the barrels with my wand to enter the common room. And the smile refused to disappear until I dropped off into a very peaceful sleep.
The following Wednesday, peace was the furthest thing from my mind. I was sitting on my stool in Potions class with sweaty palms and a pounding heart. Over the last two days I had been doing my best to try and talk to Glen. However, the sort of conversation I needed to have with him was one that could only be had in private and so far it had been impossible to corner him on his own. It was amazing, because Glen seemed to be avoiding me, but at the same time I did still see him. He would still sit by me in the Great Hall and he would still partner with me in Potions class. I often tried to hang back in classes as he packed up, but he always seemed to catch on to what I was doing and just grab his stuff awkwardly in his arms so he could leave faster.
But, as Rose said, I can accomplish the things I set my mind to, so I formulated a plan. Even though I was pretty sure the plan would work, it went against everything I normally did. In fact, I had barely slept Tuesday night thinking about what I had to do in order to talk to Glen on his own. And, beyond that I had to worry about what I was going to say to him as well.
I wasn't even sure what potion Glen and I were attempting to brew; I was barely able to listen as Professor Ramsay outlined the lesson. I hoped that this particular potion wasn't going to be on the upcoming exams, because things were about to go horribly wrong. I tried to take a calming breath, but it stuck in my throat. I swiped a couple sprigs of lavender up from the table in front of us and began to crumble them into our potion.
“What are you doing?” Glen asked, watching me with his eyebrows raised. “I don't think it says lavender on the board.” His tone was suspicious and he was now watching me closely. I thought he might be catching on, so I decided to accelerate the plan. I grabbed the bottle of dried Billywig stings and began pouring the whole thing into our cauldron.
“Have you gone insane?” Glen demanded, trying to swipe the bottle from my hand. “Stop it!”
“No, I need to talk to you,” I insisted, dropping some lacewing flies into the potion as well which was beginning to steam in an excessive manner.
“Then talk to me,” Glen snapped, coughing as we both sucked up steam.
“You've been avoiding me,” I pointed out, as a shrill whistling began issuing from the cauldron. Glen was about to protest my accusation when, as I planned, our entire cauldron exploded with a bang. Though the substance wasn't as thick as I had hoped it was going to be it did manage to splatter all over, even to the far corners of the dungeon classroom.
Though Professor Ramsay had been much more understanding as of late, he still yelled at us pretty good, but I could hardly blame him for that. As I had hoped, Glen and I were both instructed to stay during our upcoming lunch hour to clean up the classroom.
“Really brilliant move, mate,” Glen said bitterly a half an hour later when we were alone in the dungeon with rags and buckets in our hands. Professor Ramsay thought that cleaning without magic might help us learn to avoid such mistakes in the future.
“I needed to talk to you!” I exclaimed, for once raising my voice, in hopes it would show him how serious I was.
“About what?!” Glen exploded back, droplets of soapy water flying from the rag he was shaking in his hand.
I gulped, remembering how cold our conversation had turned last time we ventured into this area. But, as with the exploding potion, I did have a plan. I knew the only way to get the truth out of Glen was to tell the truth myself. If I expected him to be vulnerable, I needed to show him that I was willing to be as well. I began speaking quickly, before my embarrassment caused me to lose my nerve.
“You were right about me,” I said quietly, but as calmly as I could. Glen's eyes were narrowed, but his frown had softened. “You were right that I've been acting different this year.” I sank into the nearest seat and did my best to keep looking at Glen, even though I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep going.
“What's been going on?” Glen asked, taking a nearby seat, the rag still dripping in his hands.
And so, I told him everything. I started with how I had gone to the Room of Requirement and asked for help and guidance. I told him how ever since I had stopped there, I had been visited by a talking mouse who had been asking me to help certain people.
I figured Glen would have looked startled or even worried for my sanity after hearing this part, but he was keeping his expression neutral as he gazed at me. I went on to explain each and every person I had helped so far. I told him how I had given Charlie my broom, how I needed to punch Evan Lee, and how I needed to help Scorpius get together with Rose.
“I don't know exactly why this is happening,” I said bleakly, still watching him for a reaction. “I didn't want to tell anyone because I thought everyone would think I was going insane, but I do think that I've been helping people so far. The names keep coming, and the most recent one I got...well, it was yours.”
A flicker of surprise finally flashed across Glen's features.
“You think I need help?” he asked, and I was surprised this was what he focusing on instead of the “talking mouse” part.
“Yes,” I answered, figuring there was no point in beating around the bush. “But right now, I really don't know how.”
Glen shifted uncomfortably and took a deep breath. I had just spilled what had been going on in my mind, heart, and soul the last couple of months, something I had been wondering if I could ever share with anyone. It really is amazing how telling your own truth can draw the truth out from others. Just from that deep breath he took, I could tell I was about to be treated to the same level of truth.
“My father,” Glen started, and I was shocked to hear that his voice was shaking. It was slight, but it was definitely there. “Was...kind of a sick man.” I refrained from interrupting, even though a million questions had already formed in my mind. When it came to these sorts of truth telling sessions I knew that it was best to just let people tell their stories.
“Not like with an illness or anything. He's a really passionate person I suppose, and when his passion is in a good mood, it was great. Like when he used to take us on vacations out of the blue or how he was great at his job at the Ministry.” Glen flicked some of his bright hair out of his eyes.
“But, he was also...my father can just be...mean. He's mean and angry, and he has absolutely no idea how to control his temper. I've always been a little lippy, but I started talking back so he would be angry at me instead of my younger brother or sister. Normally, he just yelled a lot, but this past summer everything changed.”
Strange prickles had formed all over my body at his words and I knew things were going to a darker place. I hoped I had been right in what I told Glen's mother; I hoped I could handle this.
“I don't know exactly how or why, but my father lost his job at the Ministry towards the end of August. I wasn't aware of that fact, but he was obviously on an even shorter fuse than usual. I was my usual charming self and he just...snapped.”
The prickles on my skin washed over into pure dread at hearing the rest of this story.
“He, um... broke my arm.”
I held in my gasp, not wanting to break the moment.
“He just sort of grabbed it, twisted it behind my back and...it broke.” Glen sniffed and shrugged. “It really wasn't the worst thing. My mum came running and she mended it with her wand in a heartbeat. But, she also decided that it was the last straw. My father left right after the incident and while he was gone, my mum packed us all bags and we left. So, now we live in Hogsmeade in the room above the pub. My mum works there, while she's in the process of divorcing him. My brother and sister are at school during the week so she can work then, but on Saturdays she needs to work but doesn't have anybody to watch them. So, I go over there and watch them during her shift.”
Glen shrugged yet again as if this was something that happened to everyone. I knew my eyes were wide with shock, but the story was so tragic it cracked my heart.
“I don't really know what it is you're supposed to do, Hugo,” Glen said, his voice steadying. “Its just something that happened, but its in the past so it can't be changed.”
“Don't,” he said sharply.
“It wasn't your fault,” I said surely and quietly. “None of this is your fault.”
“It was...it actually was,” Glen insisted, nodding his head as if he had had this argument with himself before. “My father only ever got really mad at me; I was the only one who pushed his buttons. I should have kept my mouth shut. If I had just kept my mouth shut for once this never would have happened. We would still live in our house instead of over some pub, my mum wouldn't be working here, and I wouldn't be giving up every Saturday to come take care of my siblings while she's working. Everything would be different.”
“Yes, everything would be different if your father hadn't broken your arm,” I agreed, emotion flooding through my voice. “But that wasn't your fault. He's the only one to blame, Glen. You have to know that.”
“I know...” Glen answered, but I thought it was a weak response.
“Say it wasn't your fault,” I told him. It was probably the first firm thing I had ever said in my life, but I tried to keep it gentle. I wanted to make sure he was clear on that point. Glen bit his lip and for a second I thought he was going to refuse, but then finally he said,
“It wasn't my fault.”
Glen stood and attempted to shove his hands in his pockets, but the wet rag stopped him and left a dark circle on his pants. An amused expression stole across his face as he looked at his pants.
“So, a talking mouse, huh?” he said, and for some reason we both broke into smiles. I was about to respond, when the dungeon door opened and Professor Ramsay walked in to find the classroom still covered in potion. He looked at us, his brow furrowed.
“I'm not sure you two understand the concept of cleaning.”
“I'm sure we do,” Glen said brightly. “We were just having a revealing and heartfelt conversation; a cleaning of the soul, if you will.”
My smile got bigger. Glen was back.
AN: If you're here, I must congratulate you for you must have the patience and the loyalty of a true Hufflepuff. I do apologize for taking so long to update and I wish I had a good excuse for you, but I suppose its just been life in general. Being sick, getting a new job, working on my own original novel, are among the things I've been doing. I hope this chapter lived up to your long awaited expectations and I am honored that you would wait for this chapter and use your time to read it. Thank you so much for reading this story and thank you even more for waiting!
All my love,
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