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Lungs by my_voice_rising
Chapter 1 : One
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 18

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Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table.

-- from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot, 1920


Helene could not separate the cigarette smoke from her own breath that hung before her. Every breath expelled a curling ghostly mass. Grimly she wondered at the blackened caverns of her lungs. Though she had been awake forever, for most everyone else in the castle the day was just beginning. The damp air outside was cold and heavy, a telltale autumn morning. Her nose, cheeks and fingertips bore pink splotches against the white-as-bone skin. Dark circles like bluish crescent moons stained the tissue-thin flesh beneath her eyes. Helene could not remember her last full night's sleep. Yet her mind would not tire. Or she would not let it.

It was her final year at Hogwarts, and if she had any say in the matter (which she certainly believed she did) within a year she would be a Healer. It was no secret to Hogwarts faculty that Helene was incredibly smart, though the other students weren't quite so aware. Helene wasn't one to verbally answer each question in class, though she remained engaged while others stared back at the instructors like cows in a pasture. In fact, Helene wasn't one to speak much at all. So over the years her intelligence had gone unnoticed by many.

The professors were another story. Helene was respected as an intellectual among them. As her silent austerity gave the air of a much older woman, she had even been invited to several strictly professors-only gatherings. Though on occasion she attended Slug Club gatherings for the odd glass of wine, she found them laughable. Most students who attended were half-wits who wouldn’t have a hope for their future, were it not for their family fortunes or connections.

But Helene had partaken in gatherings about which other students could only speculate. She had sipped expensive brandy in darkened rooms of the castle and discussed philosophy of magic, blood lineage and politics. Helene had showed her professors that she was far brighter than even they had known. There was no doubt among the Hogwarts staff that Helene would become an extremely successful witch in her lifetime.

Unfortunately, nobody liked her.

Although Helene had top marks, was the member of several extra-curricular clubs and activities (though she remained silent through most meetings), and was willing to forego many nights of sleep in the name of education, she was vastly disliked. The professors could see that she was arrogant and uncaring by the way she treated her classmates. Helene never initiated anything so outward as James Potter and Sirius Black's public humiliations of Severus Snape, but she was markedly cold.

And for that reason, no professor could write her a satisfactory recommendation to a Healing program. Certainly they could talk about her intelligence and her ethic for hard work, but none of them felt a connection with her as a human being. So her recommendation would be missing what every other student would have: a positive, personal touch.

Furthermore, Helene lacked one of the key components to the world of Healing: compassion. In fact, Professor Flitwick had asked on more than one occasion why she even saw herself as a Healer. She was the antithesis of nurturing, caring and gentle. But Helene had always wanted it, more than anything. Ever since the day of her eleventh birthday.

And Helene always got what she wanted.

She put the cigarette to her lips again. McGonagall would certainly give her more than a detention if she was caught smoking again, but Helene had taken to a quiet nook behind the western towers of the castle. A large tree, its branches now almost completely bare, hung low enough to offer cover. Since the beginning of the fall term several weeks ago, Helene had been haunting this place whether at four o'clock in the afternoon or four o’clock in the morning. There certainly are upsides to not having a single friend to speak of. As always, fate left her in peace.

The wet leaves clung to her black rubber boots as she mindlessly shifted her feet. She would have to report to the hospital wing soon. Her pale gray eyes darted down to her watch, a gift from her mother for her tenth birthday.

Helene had found the small box at the foot of her bed when she awoke. Her mother, a severely beautiful woman and ambassador for the Minister of Magic, was away in Paris for the week of her only child’s birthday. She must had left the small gift with Helene’s governess, Clauthilde.

Helene’s small childish face had clouded with disappointment. She had been hoping for a second pony or her own House Elf to boss around, one who could take the place of strict Clauthilde. All the same her greedy child’s fingers, which had never seen a dirty dish or a weed to be pulled, tore through the blue and gold wrappings. Inside the box was the watch that, to this day, Helene had never taken off. Not even once.

The simple leather band could be charmed to change colors, which she liked even then, but it was the three different faces that were so unusual. They appeared by the use of a simple charm. One told the time of day as would any other watch; another could sprout as many different hands as desired and tell the corresponding person’s location. This was how, years later, she was able to meander Hogwarts grounds in secrecy. The watch revealed where Mrs. Norris, or Filch, or even James Potter and his cohorts were; so far Helene had remained undiscovered on her nightly walks.

But it was the watch’s third face that was so peculiar: the first number, in the place of where the number I is on a watch, was the number XI. From there the roman numerals circled all the way through XX at the watch’s apex. What’s more, there was only one hand. On the day she received the watch, the hand rested on the I and did not not move at all, no matter how long Helene stared at it.

Inside the box had been a note from her mother:

The most joyous of birthdays to my only daughter.

Wear this every day for so long as you shall live,

as a reminder of your mother’s affection.

She had read the note quickly, discarded it, and began trying to figure out how to charm the band to a bright pink. Her mother had not fully explained why she had given her the watch until the following year, and it had taken quite some time after that for Helene to wrap her head around it.

Helene took another drag on her cigarette, which she usually charmed to last a reckless thirty minutes or longer. She glanced down at the watch again. It had turned itself to the third face again where the hand now rested, seven years after her tenth birthday, on the XVII--seventeen. Quickly Helene murmured the charm and returned the watch to its normal face. Insomnia led one to lose track of time quite often. It was almost seven o’clock, meaning there were only minutes before Helene needed to be in the hospital wing.

Three times a week she joined Madame Pomfrey for a one-on-one healing apprenticeship. Helene found the woman far too peppy and if she weren't a certified healer, she would have also assumed she was completely vapid. But the apprenticeship had been Helene's idea in the first place, and Pomfrey's company was a small price to pay. After the nurse had finally stopped pronouncing it Helen instead of Hel-eene, as it should be, things had not been too terribly bad.

Private studies between a professor and a student were extremely rare at Hogwarts. Helene had never met anyone else who had enrolled in such a program. As a condition, Helene’s marks had to be the absolute best in her year. That was no exaggeration--Professor Dumbledore had made that very clear.

Any other student would have been nervous as they climbed the spiraling stairs to his office. Yet her arrogance prevented it. She had been around professors like Charity Burbage, Silvanus Kettleburn and Aurora Sinistra when too much Firewhiskey had gone to their heads, and there were small bits of information about Dumbledore’s life that she had gleaned. Nothing had been revealed outright, and certainly it was nothing earth-shatteringly personal. But being privy to a great wizard's secrets, no matter how small, gave Helene a sense of power. She didn't feel that she was pleading her case to allow the apprenticeship so much as meeting to have her plans reaffirmed.

Still, Helene had recognized the need to make an impression on Dumbledore. She had even charmed her dirty-blonde hair into an elegant twist, which was probably the most effort she had ever given to appearances when not in the presence of her mother. But to be given a Healing career fresh out of Hogwarts would require the utmost care and scheming. Dumbledore had been perfectly cordial during their meeting, but she could see that he was not impressed with her attitude. Helene was not particularly fond of him either, and even thought him a silly man though she recognized his incredible intelligence. But in the end, no matter how she felt about him, Helene needed his approval. That day in his office he must have noticed the burning desire in her, because after briefly looking over the long list of achievements she had brought, he had politely consented.

Smiling smugly to herself, Helene took the final drag on her cigarette. When she flicked it away it vanished from its spot on the wet earth, leaving no evidence of her small crime. She shoved her cold hands into the pockets of her black parka and started toward the castle entrance. It was rather a quiet morning, she noticed. Unusually quiet. Most days she came across at least one other living soul, out for a jog or sneaking off into a corner with something that would leave their eyes glassy and dilated. Yet today Helene felt completely isolated.

Well, she preferred it that way anyway.

Though free time was something she found harder and harder to come by, most of Helene's was spent alone. When she wasn't in the Ravenclaw common room (where she left all of her books and parchments sprawled on a desk with a hex to send them biting at whoever tried to move them), she was in the library. When she wasn't in the library, she was in classes or at her apprenticeship. When not at either of these, she stood quietly in the back of Dueling Club meetings, awaiting her chance to hex an opponent. It was completely impossible to do all of this and get a good night's sleep. Therefore Helene had become an insomniac.

Thank Merlin she hadn’t been named Head Girl in the end, on top of everything else. Though she had at first been full of resentment, Helene knew that she wasn’t given the title because nobody liked her and therefore would probably not respect her authority. Lily Evans was a good fit, Helene had grudgingly decided at a much later time. All the same, even without this added responsibility, the stress Helene put upon herself was overwhelming. Her way of unwinding, in the darkest hours of the morning when all else were asleep, was to wander about the grounds with a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of wine charmed into a tiny vial that hung around her neck.

One of the only humans with whom she had consistently remained in touch over the years was fellow Ravenclaw Jeremy Goldwater, whose brother owled him in Firewhiskey disguised as a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavoured Beans. When she had first caught on to him in their sixth year, she had given him an ultimatum: either he would be ratted out or he would let her in on the deal. At first Jeremy had suggested that Helene pay him for delivery on top of the price of wine, and most likely he had not meant with money. But Helene's deathly gaze had quickly put an end to that proposition.

Some days Helene arrived at her classes with teeth and lips purple with drink, and she caught disapproving eyes from her professors. Yet none of them had enough proof to convict her of anything. So she continued to taunt them, some days letting her breath pool over their faces as she asked a question about an assignment and turning to leave before letting them realize what was happening--always just out of reach of their authority.

When one doesn't have friends, there are other things one must do to keep entertained.

As she neared the castle entrance, she spotted a young man with long black hair heading her way. She recognized Sirius Black from a distance, even without the disheveled robes. He had the irritating quality of always attempting to engage Helene in conversation; she didn’t know why, obviously he didn’t really like her. Realizing that she had nowhere else to go, Helene fought down her sigh as she continued towards the stone staircase, and Sirius.

“Morning, Helene,” he said tiredly.

Helene’s flinty gaze only landed on him momentarily. “Black,” she replied without stopping.

“Are you off to the hospital wing?” he tried, turning to face her retreating figure. “Best roll up your sleeves if you are, half the bloody school is in there.”

Despite her attempts to escape with minimal conversation, she stopped. “Why?” she narrowed her eyes.

Sirius grinned. “Oh, you’re in for a real treat. Apparently as of last night, we’re in the midst of a Dragon Pox outbreak.”

Helene repeated in disbelief, “Dragon Pox.”

Sirius swept some of his hair behind his ear. “Not as nasty as it could be. I think that Pomfrey told McGonagall that it’s a different strain. Then again, what do I know, I’m not the Healer-in-training.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” said Helene cooly. Despite not making a conscious effort to be rude, she always tended to be.

“Peter’s gone a nice shade of green, though,” he said with a grin.

Possibly the reason Sirius spoke with her from time to time was because he didn’t listen to half of what she said. Helene always thought he just wanted to talk somebody’s ear off. “Why aren’t you infected?” Helene said accusingly.

Sirius shifted his weight. “Well, I was--out of the castle last night,” he responded. Her eyes narrowed as she found his uncomfortable tone odd, but then he raised one hand in a farewell. “Well, I’m staying the hell away from that place. Enjoy!” he called, before sauntering away.

Without wasting another moment concerning herself with Black, she turned and headed towards the hospital wing. So, spending the night in the library and the after-hours wanderings were paying off. Being out of the Ravenclaw Tower was probably the only thing that prevented her from being sick, she realized. On her way to the hospital wing, she passed student after student that seemed barely able to drag themselves along.

“‘Scuse me,” came a whimpering voice from somewhere around her feet. Helene glanced down and saw an exceptionally pathetic-looking First Year slumped against the wall. Black must have been right: it must be a weaker strain of Dragon Pox, as the student’s skin was only the slightest hint of green.

Helene analyzed him like a beetle under glass--as a sick creature, a specimen and not as a person. She even forgot that he had addressed her until he sneezed and sparks flew from his nose, jarring her.

“Could you please help me?”

Helene considered him, and then she considered the fact that she had never had the Dragon Pox. It was a highly contagious disease. After glancing at her watch, she lowered her gaze to the boy on the floor. “I’m running very late,” she responded simply, and continued on her way up the stairs.

“I’ll help you,” came a clear voice from behind.

Lily Evans shot Helene a steely glare. After muttering a disinfecting charm on her hand, she extended it to the First Year. He weakly grasped it and she towed him to his feet. “Come on,” she said gently. “And let this be a lesson to you that not all Seventh Years are bad.”

Helene released a quiet snort and pushed open the heavy doors to the hospital wing, letting them shut behind her.

Author's Note: So there you have it!  The drama-writer inside me was fighting to get out--I absolutely love writing Keep Calm and Carry On but its lack of generally angsty characters was gnawing away at me ;)  Of course, I do not own T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, no matter how much I wish otherwise. Let me know what you think!  I always respond to reviews.

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