Chapter 12 : Consequence
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It wasn’t a question – it was an order.
“Command granted,” I answer, unable to hide the sneaky smile forming on my face.
“Are you ready to put on the best performance you can?” he asks me, as if challenging my idea. He’s waiting for me to back down, I know him all too well. I place a finger on my lips before glancing around me.
I seal the deal with a kiss.
I’m handing out invitations to all students in the fourth year and above mechanically, like a robot programmed to do this task without feeling boredom. The only difference? I’m bored as anything. Fortunately for me, no one has asked me about my date to the ball. Then again, it’s still only nine in the morning – and it’s not like I’ve told anyone yet.
I had planned to tell Rose last night, but the burden of guilt was too much, and all I could do was wince every time she tried to ask me whether I was feeling better, especially after Albus’ near-death experience. I had to go to bed earlier than anyone else, passing it off as a headache. Rose just nodded and let me go; telling me that Albus seemed fine when she last saw him.
His name still sends waves of currents up my spine.
“Is the Yule Ball this Friday then?” a little Gryffindor asks me excitedly, examining the invitation I’ve handed to him. I shake myself out of my absent-minded state and give him a smile.
“Yep,” I say with a warm smile. “It’ll be your first, isn’t that right?”
“Yeah,” he nods, looking a little apprehensive. “Do we have to bring along a date to the ball? Or can we just go with friends?”
“Trust me, most people are going with friends,” I assure him. In the back of my mind, it flashes back to the scene between Scorpius and me again, and I push it back out. Never mind betraying my best friend, I couldn’t bear to see how Tiffany would react to it. I’m certain she’d think I took him as my date just to spite her.
The little boy looks back at his invitation, a question on the tip of his tongue. Then, he mischievously glances at me again. “Everyone knows.”
“Hmm?” I look at him in confusion, before handing a couple invitations to a few Gryffindor girls who have emerged from the dorm room. They regard me, giggling, before taking the invitations.
“Nice one, Bella,” one of them says approvingly with a wink, before they head off to breakfast. I glance down at my uniform in case of a tear, but there’s nothing there. There’s nothing suspicious on me whatsoever.
“What’s going on?” I ask, placing the invitations on a desk nearby and examining my shoes. No, there’s nothing there. As usual, they’re as clean and bright as anything. I see Jade emerge from the dorm room and grab an invite. She stops and smiles at me.
“Guess what?” she says sleepily. I don’t want to know. “Last night, Albus asked me to the Yule Ball. Isn’t that fantastic? I was going to tell you earlier but I saw that you had already gone to bed.”
And just like that, heaviness settles itself in the pit of my stomach. I feel tied down and tired, and all my energy vanishes at the news. Instead of faking a proud smile on my face, I just nod and turn away again. “That’s great.”
“I know!” she squeals excitedly. I’m tired of her enthusiasm. “I can’t wait!” Then she pauses and nudges me in the side. “Then again, it’s not like you haven’t got news for me either.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, bewildered.
“It was a huge shock,” the little Gryffindor pipes up from in front of me. I look at him, mouth slightly open. “Apparently, no one expected it.”
“You and Scorpius.”
How. How do they know? I’m so sure I hadn’t mentioned my plan to anybody, yet here they are. Everyone in my common room seems to know that Scorpius is my Yule Ball date, and I hadn’t even said a word. I don’t understand. I know this should make being seen with him in public easier to explain, but there’s only one thing on my mind.
As if by magic, the door opens and she appears, looking weary. The minute she spots me however, I can see the burn of flames flicker deep in her eyes. Jade waves to her, before telling me that she’d save me a seat at the table. I nod to her as she leaves with the little Gryffindor.
Rose walks over to the pile of invites and takes one, avoiding my searching look. I can’t stand her silent treatment. I feel awful, awful, so awful – I know exactly how she’s feeling, and I can’t bear the fact that it’s my fault. I have to explain myself, if she’d let me.
“Rose,” I start. She stubbornly refuses to look at me, angry tears welling in her eyes. I can see pain in every inch of her face; she’s heartbroken. I’m so sorry. I want to wrap her up in a blanket, give her a hug, anything, but I know she won’t let me touch her. I know better than to try. Instead, I try speaking to her again.
“Rose, listen to me,” I stammer. A glistening tear rolls down her cheek as she continues to read her invite. She’s no longer paying attention to the words; she just needs a distraction. She needs a way to protect herself against the monster that’s hurting her. And that monster is me, no matter how much it hurts to admit that. “Rose.”
“What?” she asks. Her voice is higher than usual, obviously choked up by betrayal and sadness. I always knew she liked Scorpius, but never to this extent. This realization only makes my guilt increase rapidly.
“You don’t … I – you don’t understand,” I say, then I wince. Those are the wrong words to say. Rose rips the invitation apart and tosses it to the ground furiously, unable to keep her emotions in any longer.
“I don’t understand?” she snaps. Laughing bitterly, she kicks at the pieces of paper by her feet and glares at me. “Then enlighten me, Arabella. Tell me what it is that I don’t understand, if I’m that stupid.”
Never insult her intelligence.
“I’m not saying you’re stupid,” I plead, trying to get her to calm down. “Listen to me, it has something to do with Albus!”
“How the hell does this have anything to do with Albus?” Rose hisses hurtfully, her words sharper than a razor’s edge. “How does having Scorpius as your prom date have anything to do with your nightmares? You could have at least run through this little plan of yours with me, because I feel like shit right now, Arabella!”
She’s properly crying now, I can see it. The tears keep falling, like the drizzle of rain yesterday afternoon. Each teardrop that falls adds up to how much I’m hurting her, how much I didn’t think this plan through enough.
I didn’t think about her.
“I need him Rose, but not in the way you think,” I hesitantly explain, trying to choose my words as carefully as I can. Rose flinches when I say I need him, but stays quiet. I’m thankful for that. “I don’t want to stress you out, and … well, you know how Jade’s still not 100% convinced on all these predictions I’m having. Obviously I can’t tell Albus, so there’s only one person I can tell. Can you guess who that is?”
Rose doesn’t want to say his name; she’s biting her tongue to avoid saying the truth. Finally, it slips out. “Scorpius.”
“Exactly,” I tell her. “He’s just as intelligent as you, but as we all know, he seems to be able to handle this better than all of us. I want him to help me out before school breaks up for the semester, but we didn’t want people to notice the fact that we’d be together a lot – suspicion and such. So we did this.”
“So you’re using him, basically?” Rose’s voice is rough and watery, but her straightforward reply cuts deep. She knows the story, but that will never ease the pain.
I sigh. “In a sense, yes.” But not completely. I don’t bother explaining the second part because she won’t really listen. Rose tilts her head to one side and stares at the ground, no longer glowering daggers at me.
We are quiet for the longest time.
“Okay,” she says, her voice barely audible. “You can pretend you guys have feelings for each other or something like that, but only if it helps this problem of ours.”
“Really?” I ask in surprise.
Rose just nods, unable to repeat herself. I don’t know whether I should hug her or not, but her willingness to help me makes me value her even more. I see her, standing in front of me with her sleeves pulled over her clenched hands, her eyes still bright with pain, and I want nothing more than to get rid of these nightmares, these damaging predictions.
I start to realize that it doesn’t just hurt me anymore.
“I’m sorry we planned it this way,” I tell her, trying to tell her just how sincere I am just by my eyes. She looks at me, her lips wobbling. She still pulling at the fabric of her sleeve to comfort her, but she’s no longer angry.
She doesn’t push me away when I hug her.
“It’s a bit cold, sorry about that,” Adriana apologizes, wrapping her jacket tightly around her. We’re sitting by the lake for lunch, and the sun is out, although the clouds are overpowering it. The stream of light is a bit feeble, but I don’t mind. I stretch out and smile.
“It’s fine, honestly,” I tell her, grabbing my sandwich. “It’s not like you can control how the weather is.”
“True, it’s pretty unpredictable,” she replies.
We eat in silence for a while; not feeling obliged to fill up the quiet space around us. It’s comfortable. It allows us to just enjoy each other’s company and bask in the scenery around us. I don’t believe Hogwarts has a gardener working at the moment, seeing as there are weeds crawling through the empty gaps in the grass – however, it just adds to the overall beauty.
I am about to get lost in daydreaming again when Adriana speaks. “So, the Yule Ball – is it true Scorpius is going to take you?”
I blush. “Um, y-yeah, it’s pretty unexpected, but –” Lie to her. “You see, not many people know about how I have a bit of a thing for him, and of course I couldn’t say no when he asked me.”
“I understand completely,” Adriana says enthusiastically. Then she pauses. “It may sound silly, but I’ve always thought Rose had a thing for him. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t really know what goes on between your friends.”
That’s true! I want to tell her. I bet she can see the look of surprise on my face but I can’t help it; no one else has ever thought of that either, and I’m happy she sees it too. However, I’m unsure about whether I should mention anything.
“Is it?” I ask, keeping my words vague. “Well, you never know – things like that do happen, and if you ask me, they’d be an amazing couple together … uh, although I hope not, ‘cause I like Scorpius … well, no, I have a thing for him …” Damn it.
My acting skills are letting me down so hard right now.
“It’s okay, I get pretty flustered when I speak about someone I like,” Adriana hints, and my hands move to feel my cheeks. They’re warm at the touch.
“Right,” I say gratefully.
“It must be pretty tense sometimes, since you and Rose are best friends, but I’m sure she’s fine with it,” Adriana says with a shrug. I breathe out a quiet sigh of relief and nod. “But how’s she dealing with Albus’ Quidditch performance?”
“She … she was pretty upset about it,” I say carefully, thinking back to Scorpius’ list of warnings. “Of course everyone was, but he was her cousin so it’s to be expected. Um – well let’s just say it’s a good thing Albus had his wand on him.”
“Is he a good Defense student?” Adriana laughs, pulling her knees up to her chin. I nod immediately. Albus is brilliant with his wand, just like his father. While the rest of us are busy trying to get our Patronus charm up to scratch, he’d be working with the teacher on higher-level spells and defenses.
“The best,” I tell her confidently. I can’t avoid the little hint of pride to swell up in my tone. “But if he didn’t have his wand, he wouldn’t have been able to have save himself up there.”
“I’m glad he did then,” Adriana says with a smile.
A crunch of leaves and the smell of crushed mint tells us that there’s someone behind us. I turn around and find myself looking in the eyes of Scorpius. He just gestures me over to him, not acknowledging Adriana’s presence whatsoever. Feeling a bit brave, I gesture to her.
“Aren’t you going to say hey or anything, Scorp?”
Scorpius gazes at Adriana quietly, his eyes intensely on hers. Finally, he says, “Adriana.”
“I see you need my lunch buddy,” Adriana states with a careful tone of voice. I have a feeling she can sense his discomfort at being here. “But I suppose you probably need her more than I do. I heard about you guys going to the ball together.”
“Yeah,” I say with a smile, right on cue. “I’m sorry, I’ll be right back. I just …” My voice trails off as I think of a suitable excuse to leave with him. “I just need some alone time with him, you know how it is.”
As if he can read my mind, I can feel his hand slowly positioning itself around my waist. I lean back into him and try to conjure up the most realistic expression of bliss I could think of. Please say we look believable.
“Aw, you two are adorable,” Adriana squeals, and I silently breathe out in relief. “I never thought you guys would be … together. I mean, I’ve seen you guys hang out a bunch of times, especially these last few weeks, but now I think we all know why.”
“Of course,” Scorpius says. I can feel his deep voice resonating in his chest, moving through my back. “We’re not making anything official though.”
“Yeah, at the moment, we’re just going to the ball together,” I emphasize with a knowing wink. Adriana nods, fully buying into our role-play. I don’t know how the lies keep coming but they do – like a web, it seems to just pour out of my mouth without me having to think it through.
With a pleased smirk, I excuse myself from our lunch, and follow him out of the clearing, making sure to hold his hand as I go. The minute Adriana disappears from view, my friendly smile vanishes.
“What’s going on?” I whisper worriedly. Scorpius points at Tiffany, who’s sitting by herself on a bench far our in front of us. My entire body is on alert now, and I try to stop my heart from thudding faster than normal. “Oh.”
“Speak to her now,” he tells me in a low voice. “This will probably be the last time she’ll be sitting by herself.”
“Come with me,” I tell him. Before he can react, I slip my hand in his again and begin to walk towards her. I feel myself blushing again at the sight of every wink I receive, and I glance up at Scorpius. He looks as composed as usual; this extra attention doesn’t even faze him. Through the crowd of people, I see Rose and Albus talking by the side.
She looks at me and attempts at a smile, but it falters. Albus doesn’t even look at us.
Finally, we reach Tiffany and stop. I wait patiently for her to look up first, and when she does, I fix her with a grin.
“Hey, Yule Ball date stealer,” Tiffany snaps, glaring at me with full force. She doesn’t give the cold treatment to Scorpius, however. Secretly, I’m relieved he’s with me; without him here, I don’t know what she would’ve done to me.
“Hey cutie,” I tease, watching the color from her face drain at being talked to like this.
“Cut it out with the stupid behavior,” Tiffany grumbles, crossing her legs and returning to her lunch. “If you have something you absolutely have to ask me, then just do it now and leave.”
“Fine,” I say firmly. “What are the Shadows?”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone freeze as quickly as she did at that moment. Tiffany, ice blue eyes wide open, places her food down and stares at the floor, avoiding my question. When I clear my throat, she sighs.
“What are you talking about?”
“One of our committee meetings – you and Damien were arguing about the theme of the ball, and you started talking about the Shadows, and then you stopped. Why?”
Tiffany stays silent for the longest time. I know how stubborn she can be, almost as stubborn as Rose. Exasperated, I tap my foot on the ground, hoping to get an answer out of her quicker. Instead, it has the opposite affect. She tightens her muscles and bites down on her lip, refusing to let a single word out.
“Scorpius,” I whisper in annoyance, glancing up at him for help. He leans down until he’s level with her.
“Tiffany, talk to us,” he says soothingly. “We really need to know what it’s about. We’ve heard other people mentioning it before, students younger than you, and as the older students in the school, we’re concerned about whether this is a topic appropriate for them to be talking about.”
He’s a fantastic liar.
“Why are you bothered about what the younger students say?” Tiffany asks, more as a question than an attack.
“One of them happens to be Lily,” Scorpius says with a realistic casual shrug, as if this is a fact everyone knows. “And since Al is my closest friend, I know how worried he is about it, and I’m doing what I can to help him.”
I feel almost inferior, watching him act so wonderfully in front of me, while I could barely manage to lie through Adriana’s questions. I huddle deeper into my jacket and sulk in silence, waiting for Tiffany to say something, anything, that would allow us to leave.
“Okay, I get where you’re coming from,” Tiffany admits, and I silently celebrate our victory in my mind. “The Shadows was a topic I originally heard my older brother mention in the common room one time. Apparently, it’s a rumor he heard from … was it Ryan? It was a Gryffindor student anyways.
“The Shadows are a secret group … no one knows their purposes and why they’re around. They just kill. They kill anyone that gets in their way, and their methods are … they’re cruel.” She takes in a sharp breath. “Again, I’m guessing this is only a rumor. Merlin’s sake, I hope it is. My brother mentioned how they killed some of their victims and it’s awful. My best guess is that they’re …” She lowers her voice, “dark wizards. Of course, that can’t be true, they can’t exist anymore.”
She shudders. “I can’t think about it too much or I won’t be able to sleep. If Ryan made this up, then that boy has a sick, twisted mind. According to my brother, Ryan overheard this from his father, but that doesn’t really count. As you know, Ryan constantly refers to his dad as a bit ‘mentally unstable’ so this entire story might not be true.”
“Mentally unstable in what way?” I can’t help but blurt out.
“Mr. Hanson wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes,” Tiffany admits, leaning in her seat. “Ryan says it’s a nightmare every time he gets home for the holidays. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s quite spectacular. He goes into fits and screams rubbish that Ryan doesn’t understand.”
“Right,” I murmur, no longer listening anymore. I look up in time to see Ryan and James walk past, trusty broomsticks in hand. On closer inspection, Ryan seems normal, like nothing in the world bothers him. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to question him anymore.
“Thank you,” Scorpius says with a charming smile, and Tiffany smiles back automatically. She gets up, shoots me a dangerous look, and walks off with her lunch in tow. I shudder, thinking about what she told us.
“That’s gruesome,” I mutter, walking with him into the castle building. I can barely walk straight anymore, since the idea of the Shadows is enough to make me feel queasy. Scorpius subtly lets me use his arm for balance and we continue.
Suddenly, my knees give way and I fall to the ground with a gasp. I can see him in front of me, searching my face for any signs of terror, and I reach out to him.
The world goes black.
“I hate you.”
Albus is glaring at an unknown figure on the other side of the room. It resembles the silhouette from my previous nightmare, the silhouette of the betrayer in the forest. The slender figure doesn’t say a word.
“I hate you so damn much.” Albus is seething now, his deep brown eyes filled with anger and hurt. The figure just stands there and watches his misery overflow in his body. “I can’t even stand the sight of you right now. Why don’t you just walk away?”
The figure starts to move towards him but one deadly glare from him stops that movement.
“Don’t you dare go near my family either,” Albus snaps roughly, his voice deep with pain. “Don’t hurt my parents like you did to me. Don’t go near James and don’t you fucking dare go near my little sister.”
The figure presses itself back against the wall and trembles.
The door to the room creaks open slowly, slowly – a bigger silhouette moves into the room and places a hand on the smaller one. This new silhouette is a man; I can tell by the fact that he speaks.
“Albus,” he says, amusement tinged in his voice. “Our interrogation isn’t done yet, you know. I was just giving you a little breather before we continue.”
“Don’t come near me,” Albus says sharply, his eyes flashing dangerously.
“Why don’t you try attacking me then?” the man jokes, obviously amused at his own jokes. Albus says nothing. “Oh, but you can’t. I’m sorry.”
Flash of white.
I’m in a glass room, and it’s peaceful. There’s no one inside. At least, not that I can see. I turn to the right and I see the small, slim silhouette of a person by the side again, curled into a ball and weeping, its voice distorted and unrecognizable. That is, until the silhouette looks up at me.
And I can see its face.
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