Manx White was everywhere he went. Just like she had always been, but now he actually noticed her. It wasn’t as if anything had changed with her. She was still as reserved as always. Her smiles were subdued and her laughter was scarce.
Albus thought that she looked…weary.
It was Sunday night. He had things to do, but instead he had actually volunteered to do prefect rounds with her. Jasper Wiley had been charged of supervising several detentions and Manx would have most likely ended up wandering the halls alone.
“White and Potter, the towers, if you please,” Elise Stroker said as she walked out the door. “Make sure everyone is cleared before you go to bed.”
“I hate the towers. It’s a snog fest up there,” Manx said as she appeared over his shoulder. “Half of the time you have to literally pry people apart. Once I actually pulled a Slytherin’s tongue out of a Hufflepuff’s throat.”
Albus looked down at her, at her straight face and the annoyed tick around her eyes. He wasn’t sure why, but when he started laughing, he couldn’t stop himself. His body sunk against a wall, his hands on his knees as he laughed so hard he couldn’t draw a breath.
“Oh, yes, laugh it up, Albus,” she muttered under her breath, even though she was beginning to smile. “I couldn’t look either of them in the eye for weeks! Horribly awkward I tell you.”
He couldn’t have laughed any harder.
“Stop it,” she actually giggled as she nudged him with the tip of her wand. “Don’t tell me you never caught anyone up there.”
Albus sobered quickly, feeling a blush creep up his neck. He opened his mouth to reply when Elise stepped up. “No, he hasn’t. In fact, I’m in the habit of finding Potter up in the towers occupying himself.”
He could have died of shame from the arched look Manx gave him, but when he realized it was pure amusement, he wondered if she ever went up there with anyone.
“You should get started if you are going to ruin anyone’s night,” Elise said as she pointed towards the door. “Send them to their beds. Alone.”
“Yes, of course,” Manx told her as she led the way out. “I love ruining people’s nights.”
Albus followed after her, watching the way she strutted instead of walked. There was no leisurely walk to the towers, simply a determined stride that he had to run to catch up to. “What happened when Elise caught you?”
It was a simple question. And Manx was just being a little curious. “Fifteen points from Gryffindor.”
“Really? That much?”
“I was supposed to be the one on patrol to begin with,” he explained guilty.
“Tsk, tsk, Potter,” she muttered.
Feeling bold, he took several steps ahead of her and looked back. He could see her face, the small expressions she made as she glanced into alcoves and behind tapestries. “Are you ever up there?”
“Of course,” she answered, “the only difference is that my interest in the towers is strictly artistic. It has wonderful views.”
The way her eyes met his and she held that connection, he could tell she was being entirely honest. “You know, that’s why other people go up there, too. To impress their dates.”
“Yes, that’s the exact same thing your brother told me last year when I did my first round up there,” she pointed out. “He would have gotten away with sight seeing if Margaret Turner hadn’t appeared out of nowhere looking like she’d been sucked up in a whirlwind. Her hair was a mess.”
Al was amazed at her ability to keep a straight face and leveled tone as she talked about James. Most people had one of two views on him: annoyed or in awe.
Manx White sounded…indifferent.
He didn’t like that about her.
A group of ghosts came rushing out of a wall, passing through them. Al felt all the hairs in his body stand on end, but Manx looked composed as she glanced up at the group.
One of them, Al recognized, was a Slytherin ghost. “Ah, the White herself! Give your grandmother my greetings when you speak to her next.”
“Of course, sir,” she replied as they floated away.
The climb to the towers was quiet. Manx seemed lost in thought and he seemed to be lost for words. There were moments with her that she seemed so approachable and there were moments that she didn’t seem to be anything but a walking body.
“Why anyone would want to come here when everything is covered in snow and ice is beyond me,” she said as she raised her wand, opened the door and muttered ‘Lumos’.
There was really no need for it.
The top of the tower was bathed in warm light coming for several jars. The wind howled through the pillars and snow gently drifted to the floor, but it didn’t seem to matter much to the person sitting on the ground with his legs hanging off the side of the tower.
“The repeat offender I was talking about earlier,” Manx said as she walked forward.
Al watched as James turned to look at them, surprise spelled all over his face. “White!”
“Potter,” Manx said as she looked at him with a smile. “Are you here alone?”
James’ eyes went from Manx to Al, and he looked angry. James had mastered a great deal of looks, funny, funnier, mischievous, but angry had never been one of them until now. “Yes.”
“Don’t mind me as I double check,” Manx told him with a grin as she started to walk around the tower top.
Albus looked back at James. His brother was fuming. “What?”
“What the bloody hell are you doing here?”
Albus took a step back, hands up. “Rounds. Stroker told us to come here. What the bloody hell are you doing here?”
James frowned at him. “Nothing.”
“You are doing nothing out here? In the snow?”
“Well, he is completely alone,” Manx said as she appeared again. She paused to study the fires he had set up. “These look cozy. Never thought about doing this myself.”
James just shrugged. “Just a little project. Learned it from my aunt.”
“It looks nice blanketed in snow,” Manx said as she walked by James and stood on the spot where James had been sitting.
Albus just stared at her back, in awe of her wistfulness. He glanced at James, but his brother was looking at the back of Manx White’s head like it had all the answers in the world. When he felt Albus’ eyes on him, James snapped around, scratching the nape of his neck and clearing his throat.
“I suppose this is when you tell me it’s past curfew,” he said as he pulled out his wand and waved it at the fire-filled jars. One by one they were extinguished.
“I’m sorry if we interrupted anything,” Manx said as she turned back to him. She had wrapped her arms around herself, tucking her chin closer to her neck. There was snow coating the locks of her hair. There was a glow to her, as if instead of freezing, the snow just made her brighter.
Albus realized she wasn’t just apologizing because of the obvious pout on James’ face and his sudden dismissive attitude; she apologizing because in James’ place she would have hated to be disturbed.
“Think no more of it, White. Of course, if you want to return ever again please, think of me first,” James said and Albus rolled his eyes.
This was his brother.
Manx grinned. “Can we trust you to go back to Gryffindor alone, James?”
“I would rather you tuck me in, White. Please.”
She indulged him with another grin. He had a talent for making her lips twitch. “We’ll walk you to the Fat Lady. I’m certain that from there on you are perfectly capable of finding some one else to tuck you in.” She walked to the door of the stairs and waved him in. “What was her name? The seventh year with the nose ring? Christina?”
James’ eyes narrowed and he tensed. “That’s done.”
“Keep that chin up, Potter. Lots of fish in the sea,” she said off-handedly. Once they were in the stairs past her, she closed the door and locked it. She proceeded to walk ahead of them while whistling to herself.
“Really? The towers?” James growled to Albus when he thought Manx was out of hearing.
“Stroker did really send us,” Albus apologized not exactly knowing why an apology was needed in the first place. “What were you doing up there, anyway? It’s bloody freezing!”
“Nothing. Just let it go,” James grumbled. He trained his eyes on his sneakers and followed after Manx quickly.
Their walk to the Gryffindor common room was longer than expected. Albus was silently amazed at Manx’s knowledge of the castle, there were hidden passages that most students had no idea of and he had only learned thanks to the Marauder’s map. There were even some nook and crannies that he had never known about until she’d poked her nose into them.
“How do you find these places?”
“Whites have been attending Hogwarts since its establishment. Luxor White picked the grounds in which Hogwarts was built and he helped Gryffindor and Slytherin lay the foundation of the castle,” she said as she stopped in front of the Fat Lady. “My family has kept all of the original plans. And I’ve memorized them all.”
“That’s not in Hogwarts: A History,” James said.
Albus glanced at him surprised that James would know. As far as he knew the only books James opened were Quidditch related. It was common knowledge that James never studied. He was a natural when it came to his schoolwork, bloody brilliant without ever putting in an effort.
“In the versions printed in 1734 and 1812. After that, the story got lost in the tomes of history, I suppose.” She shrugged casting a look at the Fat Lady. “Good evening, madam.”
“So the name was chosen: the Whites to arms, all sworn to fight. A great new--“ the Fat Lady began to sing and Manx straightened and her eyes narrowed and all that friendliness drained out of her.
“Thank you, madam. That was lovely,” she said as she rudely cut off the Fat Lady’s the little jig. “Potter, you are late for curfew.” Whatever warmth Manx White had was nowhere to be found in her eyes. And those eyes were trained on James.
“In I go,” James said with a flourish. “Salamander’s gut.” The painting jumped and revealed the opening. “You’re sure you won’t join me?”
“Another time.” James disappeared and Albus just stood there, marveling at the change in the girl next to him.
Manx looked down and checked the watch on her wrist. “It’s late. I think we should call it a night.”
“I can walk you to your Common Room,” he volunteered. He wasn’t sure why, she didn’t look like she wanted company.
“It’s alright. Brisk walk and I’ll go straight to bed,” she said. “Thank you for keeping me company.”
“My pleasure.” It had actually been a pleasure. He couldn’t help but feel comfortable with her, even when she was silent. Even when she was slightly displeased with something he had completely missed.
“Good night, Albus.” She brushed her hair off of her eyes and smiled tightly before disappearing down the hall.
Turning back to the Fat Lady, Albus raised an eyebrow. “What was that about?”
“Can’t say. Her grandmother used to love that song. Sang it all the time, she did,” the Fat Lady humphed. “Password?”
“I never understood the Whites. Special people, you know.”
Albus had no idea what she meant. He just nodded politely and dragged himself to bed.
Thank you so much to those who have been reading. Please drop a review. Even if it's just a hello. It goes a long way in keeping me motivated. With love always, Chair.