Chapter 16 : Mad World
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"No." Two of the three people in the compartment looked up to see the Montague twins. "No, no, no, no, no." When silence greeted them, Rhys closed his eyes for a moment, and it looked like he was trying to regain control of himself. After a while, Albus slowly tore his eyes to his chess game with Flynn. In truth, though, neither of their hearts had been in it. Albus's eyes, that were threatening to flutter shut at any moment, were rimmed with dark circles; Flynn’s shoulders were slumped in defeat, and no one could ignore the dark bruise on his face. No one knew how many other were hidden beneath his tattered jumper and pants. Originally, Flynn’s plan had been to stay at school over the holidays, but his foster family had owled him and basically demanded that he ‘came home’ during Christmas. During the beginning of the train ride Piper had tried to ask what had happened, but stopped after Flynn yelled at her.
“Where’s Nick?” Alyssa asked immediately, her face paling. Their father- who had been close to Nick’s father and generally looked out for as much as he could- hadn’t heard anything about Nick all holidays. “She was supposed to stay with you the last two days, Albus. At least that was what Dad had said. Where is she?”
There was no response. Piper stared at the Prophet, and Albus’s knight took Flynn’s queen. Shaking slightly, Alyssa sat down. Rhys’s face was unreadable, but he took a deliberately long time closing the compartment door. After he was done, he turned slowly around, and just stared at Albus and Piper. Arms crossed and all.
“All right. You two are going to tell us what happened,” he ordered, and Albus sighed.
“Checkmate,” he muttered, and watched as his bishop destroyed Flynn’s king. There was a long pause after that. Flynn kept glancing towards the door uncomfortably, as if he was contemplating bolting.
“Albus?” Flynn asked, his voice wavering. It was obvious he was steeling his nerves. “What happened to Nick?” No response. “Piper?” There was an edge of desperation in his voice. That was what broke them.
“I don’t know, exactly,” Albus tried to explain, struggling with each and every word. “No one does.”
“Is she all right?” Alyssa asked immediately. “Please say she’s okay.”
“No. She isn’t.” Piper’s voice was cold, emotionless. Rhys looked mildly surprised at Piper;
she was never that blunt about things like that. Piper was the type to maintain the illusion that everything was fine right up to the moment everything crashed down around her. And if she was at that stage already ... something was seriously wrong.
“Why not?” Flynn blurted. “Where was she? Why did she leave Hogwarts?” Piper looked like she was about to cry. Rhys and Alyssa shared a look. If it was that bad, they needed to find out exactly what had happened. They couldn’t worry about tiptoeing around first years.
“Flynn, I really don’t want to kick you out, mate, but you need to sit with the other first years for a while,” Rhys said, and Flynn’s jaw clenched. For a while he just stood there, staring Rhys down. Of course, the seventh year didn’t waver.
“Fine,” Flynn spat before storming out. As they watched him go, Rhys sighed, scratching the back of his head. He then sat down across from Albus and Piper. They needed to get to the bottom of whatever this was. Fast.
“Talk. Now.” Piper looked at Albus, who looked away. It was obvious who was doing the talking.
“We don’t know much,” she started, running her hand through her ponytail. Then, Piper explained. Albus jumped in occasionally, but he really just watched as Rhys clenched his fists tighter as the story went on. When Piper reached the end, with the note and St. Mungo’s, no one spoke. It was obvious that she was desperately trying to gauge both of their reactions, but Rhys’s especially.
“They think Nick is a threat?” Rhys asked, his voice cracking. He looked torn between anger and pure bewilderment. Nick liked to think she was made of steel, but Rhys had only seen her hurt someone on the Quidditch pitch or on the rare occasion she was extremely provoked. And she had her moments. Suddenly, Alyssa’s hand brushed his, reminding him to stay calm. Rhys knew he had a tendency to be protective of the Slytherins, but Nick especially. Alyssa always told him it was because he hated wondering what she would have been like she hadn’t had to go through what she did. Rhys didn’t agree. He had known Nick since she was eleven. And yet he still never really knew her- no one did. It was the fact that Nick was so apart from everyone that made him want to just shield her. Protect her from whatever the hell was racing through her mind.
“Look. All they know about Nick is her record. And that a man’s dead,” Albus tried to explain, but was cut off.
“Do they not care about Nick? That a child almost died?” Alyssa burst out.
“Of course not. She’s Nicole Warrington. Her parents are both in prison, and she doesn’t have the best record herself. And the Ministry’s a bunch of paranoid old duffers,” Albus said bitterly. Then his voice dropped to a whisper. “She’s not even fully asleep.”
“Oh, God,” Rhys muttered, rubbing his temples. “Do they seriously not know what this will do? Nick must be terrified. How deep do they have her?” All Rhys received in response was blinking. “There’s different levels of sedation.”
“If you don’t get into the Healing program ...” Albus muttered, shaking his head. “I think Dad said that she can hear some things, but she can’t move or respond. She kind of drifts in and out?”
Rhys swore. “This is bad. Nick will feel trapped. She doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, and all she knows is that she can’t move or speak. I doubt she will remember a thing your father or any of the healers try to say to her.” It was Albus’s turn to swear.
“How can they do that to her?” Alyssa asked. “How can they just not care?”
“I honestly don’t know. But this might just hurt her more than Justin ever did,” Piper replied, looking at her hands. There was a pregnant pause as everyone let the words sink in.
“So ... what are we going to do?” Rhys asked. More silence followed.
“What do you mean?” Piper said after a while.
“Well, we can’t just not do anything,” Rhys responded, his face set in determination. “We have to help her.”
“What can we do, though?” Albus countered, shaking his head. “We already told you my aunt’s defending her, and my Dad’s pulling a lot of strings. Nothing is working, though.”
“We’re not just doing nothing,” Rhys repeated. “We could raise money to help with the court cost or medical bills or something. Or we could petition the sedation.”
“That’s brilliant, Rhys,” Piper said, smiling a little. “But we also have to fight.” At the emphasis of the ‘fight’, Albus frowned a little.
“It’s not that easy, love,” he countered. “Did you see the hourglass when we left? Slytherin is almost in the negatives.”
“We have to try. For Nick,” Piper insisted. The temperature in the compartment seemed to drop ten degrees.
“Why the hell would she even write that?” Alyssa asked suddenly, frowning. “From what I understand, she was dying.”
“Nick, you idiot,” Rhys whispered. “Remember how she let it slip that she didn’t think she was worth anything? That we should just forget about her? She wants us to not worry about her. It’s a distraction.” Albus laughed. It was just a little too loud to be real.
“I’m so stupid. Of course it is. It’s because she thought she was dying.” Albus’s voice was rising. “So bleeding typical.” He stood up. “So effing stupid.” Before anyone knew what was happening, Albus’s fist collided with the wall of the compartment. (It was almost comical- that was how unreasonable his tantrum looked) There was a crunch, and Al grunted in pain. His hand started to swell instantly. Rhys, who until then had seemed to be lost in thought, snapped out of it.
“Yes, you are,” he said dryly, but held out his hand to say he would heal the broken hand. A murmured spell, a faint purple glow, and Rhys just sat back down calmly, as if nothing had ever happened. Albus did, too, his face twisted in pained.
“It’s a slow-working spell, Al,” Piper explained, recognizing what Rhys had used. “It will hurt a bit, too. I probably should wrap it, so the bones set properly.” An approving nod from Rhys let Piper know she was correct. Albus didn’t say anything; he just let Piper grab his injured hand and start wrapping it tightly.
“So what were we talking about before Albus had his little angst fit?” Alyssa prompted with false cheeriness. A slight flush appeared on Albus’s face, but he didn’t look up from his hand.
“Nick. And her issues with accepting that we might actually genuinely like and or care about her.” Yet another silence spread through the compartment at Rhys’s comment. Piper knew Rhys cared about Nick much, much more than he let on, but Rhys generally wasn’t an emotional person. He wasn’t coping well, either, it seemed.
After Piper finished wrapping Al’s hand, she looked up. “I still think we should try. It was her idea, after all. And we owe her that, if we can’t do anything else.” Piper nervously looked around the compartment, but Alyssa was smiling.
“I agree. It might help her case, too, if they try to use the “evil Slytherin” thing against her,” she replied. Piper beamed.
“That’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?” Albus said, slightly mockingly. Even to him those plans seemed too far-fetched.
“Albus-” Piper started, but he cut her off.
“No. We’re clutching at straws. What can we do? Nothing. We’re teenagers. Even if we’re perfect little Hufflepuffs, it won’t be enough,” he said.
“We could pull another stunt like-” Piper started, but Albus interrupted her again.
“No. It won’t work.” His voice was emotionless.
“Or-” she tried again.
“Just no, Piper. Listen to me-” but now Piper had had enough.
“No! You listen to me, Albus Potter! I don’t care if you’re giving up, but I’m sure as hell am not. Nick is my best friend. I’m not just going to do nothing! I can’t give up on her. You wouldn’t be able to, either, if you want to call yourself her friend. So either stop acting like a bleeding teenage girl, shut up, and let us make a plan, or just get the hell out!” Piper was standing up, and there was a tinge of red in her cheeks. It was obvious Al had no response to Piper, but Rhys did. He almost tackled her in a hug. Rhys never hugged people.
“I am so proud of you!” he gushed. “You stood up for yourself! To Albus!” Piper’s blush deepened, and Alyssa had to physically peel her brother off of the girl. Then it was Albus’s turn to wrap his arms around Piper, murmuring what must have been a damn good apology to her. There was no other way Piper would eventually wrap her arms around his waist, burying her head in his shoulder. When they finally released, Albus turned to the seventh years.
“Sorry for being such a prick,” he muttered. “I think we should try. All of it. It can’t get any worse, right?” Rhys nodded, and Alyssa just grinned.
“Just try to reign in the angst next time, yeah?” she teased. Everyone sat down again, and there was a comfortable pause. Piper leaned into Albus, who was absentmindedly playing with her blond curls. A few minutes passed, until the compartment door violently flew open. James Potter stood in the corridor, brandishing a newspaper.
“What the hell, Albus?” he yelled, throwing the paper at his brother. “This is what you were so worried about? She’s a fucking death eater! And you’re making Dad defend her?” Albus just sat there reading, his face paling visibly.
“I didn’t know you read the Prophet, James,” he replied after a while. It was obvious he was struggling to keep his voice calm.
“I didn’t know he could read,” Rhys muttered. After a glare from the older Potter, he raised his hands in mock surrender.
“You, too,” James sneered. “I saw what you did to Quincy in Potions.”
“Get out.” Piper’s voice was calm. “Whatever you read, Potter, it’s obviously lies. So go back to your little Quidditch cronies and leave us alone.”
“Good to see you’re finally growing a backbone, Piper,” James shot (lamely) as he left. The compartment door slammed, and Piper wasted no time before snatching the paper out of Albus’s hands and quickly reading it.
“This is bullshit,” she burst out, slamming the article down for Rhys and Alyssa to see. “Look at this. Nicole Warrington, sixteen, who has a history of anger and violence issues, is on trial for the murder of esteemed war hero, Justin Finch-Fletchley. Fletchley was in Dumbledore’s army, and fought in the Battle of Hogwarts. He was found ... blah, blah, blah. Wait! There’s this: Warrington, the daughter of two ex-death eaters, who were later arrested for selling dark objects, is being considered as a threat to security. Recently, she attacked an innocent student-”
“Innocent, my arse,” Rhys muttered. “Piper, stop reading. I don’t need to hear anymore.” He put his head in his hands, massaging his temples. After a long pause, Rhys looked up. “Don’t tell anyone about any of this. We need time to think.”
“But Scorpius-” Albus started, the same time Piper said the same thing for Owen.
“No. As much as I hate to say it, they won’t understand. We need time to talk about it; we need time to think, to make a plan. And how well does the Owen kid even know her?” Rhys’s voice was harsh. His word was final.
“He knows. He knows about most of it.” Piper’s voice was calm and steady. “For a while, actually. Before he even talked to her. But Owen still did.”
“But does he know about Fletchley?” Alyssa asked. Albus and Piper shared a look.
“Not exactly. Nick’s letter was cryptic, and she wouldn’t tell him exactly what happened. He came to us, but we decided not to tell him for Nick’s sake at the time. We just told him to act confident, and it helped Nick,” Albus explained. Rhys looked grim.
“We can’t tell them. If they figure it out, and come to you two, you can’t say anything. Not yet,” Rhys decided, and Piper and Albus just nodded. It was hard to remember a time when Rhys made the wrong decision.
“So, how are we going to handle this? Slytherin, Professor Zabini ...” Alyssa said, looking not at her brother, but at Piper.
“I think we need to tell the Slytherins first.” There was a sharp intake of breath from Rhys at Piper’s words. “Hear me out, Rhys. We don’t know what we’re going to do- if it’s within school boundaries. If we can tell them and make a plan, then we’ll know exactly how much to tell Professor Zabini.”
“She has a point there,” Albus admitted, and Rhys nodded slowly.
“He’ll have to know some things, or he’ll get suspicious,” Rhys added, and everyone nodded in agreement.
“Definitely.” Piper paused, as if she was debating whether or not to keep going. “Do you think she’ll ... that she’ll go to Azkaban?” There was a pregnant pause. Albus put his arm around her, and squeezed slightly. It worked- Piper relaxed slightly, and leaned into him.
“I don’t know,” Albus said, because Piper hated when people lied to comfort her. “Not if Aunt Hermione can help it, though.”
“He’s right,” Rhys added. “This trial could go either way. Mrs. Weasley is brilliant, though. If anyone could save Nick, it’s her.”
“It could go either way?” Alyssa asked. “How? The guy almost kills her, she retaliates in self-defense, and then almost dies herself. The Wizengamot almost always sides with the victim in situations like these. Nick isn’t even seventeen; they’ve got to have some compassion.”
“What if they say that she’s the next dark lord? What if they paint her as a truly twisted, evil person? What if they say that she did those things to herself to take away suspicion?” Rhys countered.
“We’ll testify, or something! They have to see that she’s not a bad person!” Alyssa exclaimed. “They can’t let her go to Azkaban. That place is ... it’s bad.” Rhys put his arm around his sister.
“Then we can’t let her go. We need a plan.”
The rest of journey was spent trying to think of something, anything, that could save Nick.
“I’d like to welcome you all back. I hope your holidays have been enjoyable,” Professor Anselm said, smiling. It was so obviously strained, though. He never gave a speech after Christmas holidays. From the staff table, Professor Zabini easily kept his face impassive, but his eyes kept drifting to the middle of the Slytherin table. Nick wasn’t there. Add that, the fact that Professor Anselm requested a meeting with him after the feast, and that his house had maintained a tense silence the entire feast lead Professor Zabini to believe that something was very wrong. Honestly, the dots weren’t hard to connect.
There were murmurs rushing through the hall; everyone knew something was out of the ordinary. Even the professors were glancing around anxiously; Professor Longbottom was staring at his hands. He knew.
“But there is an important matter I need to bring attention to. It will affect you all,” the professor continued, and Professor Zabini watched as the two sixth years at his table paled visibly. Whatever the headmaster was playing at, he knew it wouldn’t end well. “Over the holidays, a man was murdered.” The whispering started to escalate. “They believe that Nicole Warrington is behind it.” Chatter exploded. Professor Anselm had to stop and wait for it to stop. “It will be a very public and controversial case. There will be Aurors around, and press might try to sneak into school, or talk to you in Hogsmeade. I am going to say this once, and only once. You are not to speak to them. If you do, the consequences will be severe. Let this all pass over, and let the justice system do its work. That is all.” With that, Professor Anselm sat back down and started eating his treacle tart. The students were uneasy; they could practically feel the contained rage from the Slytherin table.
“Did she do it?” a brave voice asked from the Ravenclaw table. From there, questions exploded.
“Who did she kill?”
“Will she go to Azkaban?”
“Where is she?”
Sighing, Professor Anselm stood up again. Clenching his fist under the table, Professor Zabini fought to keep from yelling at the headmaster. “Silence.” Immediately the hall fell quiet. “There is not enough evidence at this time to know exactly what happened, and the man who died was Justin Finch-Fletchley. That is all.”
Wasting no time, Stebbins stood up from the Hufflepuff table. “She’s dark. That Death Eater brat murdered him!” he exclaimed, pointing at the Slytherin table. “I hope she rots in Azkaban.”
“She’s dangerous!” another person exclaimed. From there it just escalated. The Slytherins shared a look, and then they all just left. Stood up and walked away, even the first years. Noticing the shaking hands and clenched jaws, Professor Zabini got up and followed. The hall was silent.
Pride filled Professor Zabini’s chest; not one of them had looked back.
“All right. What the hell is going on?” Lottie’s voice was blunt, and everyone heard her from her normal spot in the back of the room. The entire house was there, and were staring at Rhys and Alyssa, who were standing in the middle of the common room. There were several copies of the newspaper article floating around.
“Right. So you all know why we need this family meeting,” Alyssa started nervously. “The first thing you know is that Nick didn’t kill that ... that man.” There were several sighs of relief, but mostly the house just looked scared.
“How do you know?” Thomas pressed. “What if it was an accident?” he added after seeing the glares in his direction.
“I was there.” Albus’s voice was hollow, and every single head turned in his direction. “It was self-defense. He had stabbed her, and it was her last chance.” There was a long silence. Arabella put it the most eloquently when he simply said ‘shit’.
“He’s who she was so afraid of before break, wasn’t she?” Kenzie asked, looking to Piper. Piper nodded.
“Is Nick okay?” Surprisingly, this came from Lottie. “We know that the psychopath’s dead, but how’s Nick? Where is she?”
“She’s in St. Mungo’s,” Rhys answered, but no one talked like he expected them to. “She almost died. He had her for almost a week, and then he set a f-” Rhys paused, glancing at the first years, “he sent a hellhound after her. Then he stabbed her.”
“And they still think she’s a cold-blooded killer?” Thomas asked. “That’s far-fetched, mate.”
“Don’t be thick. Nick’s history isn’t good; even they know she’s had a lot of mental trauma. They’re going to say-” Lottie shot, but suddenly stopped. Everyone knew what she was thinking, though.
“So they just don’t care?” Flynn asked, and there were murmurs of agreement.
“Charlotte was the closest,” Professor Zabini said, appearing from the dark doorway. Rhys and Alyssa looked down guiltily, but Professor Zabini didn’t seem mad- at them at least. His tone was cold and unforgiving, though. “The Ministry doesn’t know Nick. They know her history, and who her parents are. They don’t know her like you lot do; no one does. That’s the main issue. Nick is so closed off, so quiet around them, that they don’t know a thing about what she’s actually like.” The professor let the words sink in. “We will discuss this later. But for now, go to your dormitories. You have classes tomorrow. I would like to have a word with Albus and Piper before classes tomorrow, though.”
With that, he was gone. Confused and scared, everyone trickled up the stairs, except for Albus and Piper. Rhys and Alyssa moved as if they were going to talk to the sixth years, but decided against it and left.
“All of her stuff is up there,” Piper said, almost frantically. “I ... I can’t, Al.” Tears were forming in Piper’s eyes. It seemed her strength was gone; the tough girl from the train had disappeared.
“Shh ... it’s okay,” Albus soothed, pulling her into a hug. “We can camp out down here tonight.”
“Really?” Piper asked, eyes bright. “Albus, you don’t have to-”
“I want to, trust me,” Albus cut her off. “Come on, just go grab your kit. I hate my dorm, anyway.” Smiling slightly, Albus watched as Piper walked up the stairs. Something had changed; it was no longer Piper holding Albus up, or vice versa. It was as if they were leaning on each other, just barely keeping from falling.
But as she walked up the stairs, despite everything, Albus couldn’t help but think how beautiful she looked.
A/N: It has been waaaaayyyyy too long, and there is really no excuse. But, Cross Country has consumed my life as has school and violin. So how are you guys doing? :)
I apologize if this chapter seems choppy, but honestly it's given me too much grief and I'm done with it. It's slightly filler-ish, but what do you think of that last line? How do you think things will go from here? Uphill? Downhill? Stay the same?
This does come with good RL news. For those of you who read my Shattered A/N's, you know how I talked about my best friend and our 'might be' issues? Well, he asked me to homecoming, and I think there's potential for a something. :D
Thank you so much for putting up with the wait, and the next chapter will probably come in about fifteen days (when cross season is over). :) Leave a review; they mean a lot to me!
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