Chapter 28 : CHAPTER 28
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It's your naked body on white velour
But there's no feeling, just weight on you
You get nauseous now as he speaks to you
Such proper language for acts so cruel
Amy In The White Coat – Bright Eyes
"You should have let me stay with you," Will said, staring at me intently through the mirror. The light flickered above me as I wiped a wet cloth across my forehead, water dribbling down the side of my face, and dabbed gently at the crown. The motions, the standing in front of the mirror with alarmingly vacant eyes, it was eerily familiar. It didn't hurt – hadn't hurt even when I fell; it was just a dull ache at the back of mind, so ironically like the whole of the evening, a dull ache I wished I could dose with medicine and forget in a long, hazily dreamt sleep. Rory's fury had made the whole thing seem so alarming and frenzied and aggressive, and now I was left to pick up the pieces in the odd calm left behind.
The skin had only broken a little, and the bleeding was more bothersome than worrying; Will had looked at my head with a strange, medical-like distance after Rory had left. He ran from the room while I remained still sitting on his bed, feeling strangely lost and bruised. I lay back on the sheets, feet pressed into the carpet, hands folded across my stomach, and I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up for a while.
"The guy's not stable," Will continued, still looking at me through the mirror, but it was like he wasn't, like he wasn't really seeing me, just the virtual image that was sent back to him with the light rays, like we were on different planes. "It's not safe to be with — "
"Yes, thank you, Will," I cut in quietly. "I'm aware of that, but it doesn't matter now, okay? He's gone. And — and abandoning someone when they need help or when they need someone isn't exactly the kind of moral I abide by."
"Then what morals do you have, Genevieve?" he asked, leaning against the doorframe, with his arms crossed. He hadn't come rushing in like I thought he would; he'd stayed outside, aware of Rory's and my shouting, and hadn't moved a muscle or even blinked when he saw the blood I was washing from my hair in the bathroom. I was so determined not to be some damsel in distress, not to be someone who needed saving or a male figure to feel secure, but his sudden apathy was disconcerting, as if he didn't even care. And Will seemed to be someone incapable of not caring.
"What?" I said eventually, unsettled by such a question. Ethics; morals. Dare I talk about such a subject when I was a living hypocrite of what I believed in?
Blinking in the mirror, and wiping away the watery condensation from the glass, I saw a person who had killed two people; I saw someone who had done wrong, who had committed a crime, who didn't deserve redemption or forgiveness – or an overlooking and purposeful ignorance of my potential evil – but punishment. She deserved it, but had she really gotten it? I thought back to the Aurors, to their purpose for being here, and wondered if perhaps this was my punishment. Perhaps it wasn't a person behind the "accidences" at all, I mused. Perhaps it was my come-uppance, my hand of Fate, my thread cut loose by the third sister, my punishment from a god – from the God. From some higher power so beyond myself that it hadn't dwelled on me to question it.
So I said, "I don't know. Intrinsic ones."
"You're not a Christian, are you?"
I gave him an odd look, and set down the flannel. The bleeding seemed to have stopped, and with a mutter and a wave of my wand I felt an odd tingle beneath my scalp, the skin knitting together and crusting over for healing. I was by no means a healer – that was Rose's job, but I couldn't bear to see her reaction. I wasn't sure I could muster up a suitable lie.
"No, I'm not. But that's not to say I don't believe in some of the teachings," I said, and turned around so I was perched against the edge of the sink, the porcelain digging into my lower back with a dull ache. It felt oddly intimate to be looking into his eyes without the aid of some other medium. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, et cetera."
Will leaned away from the doorframe, unlocking his arms to shove his hands in his trouser pockets. "You'd show kindness to your enemy?"
I hesitated, and then shook my head a little. "I say I would, but when it comes down to it… Any of my current enemies – though I think enemy is too strong a word – are faceless." I shrugged. "I don't know what I'd do. I just want to be thought of as a good person, Will. By others and myself. It's not hard to understand."
He nodded, as if to himself, but there was a slight hitch in the movement, like he didn't quite get it, and I felt an odd fluttering in the pit of my stomach at the notion. Could someone really not care what others thought of them, or care if they were remembered badly? "You need to tell McGonagall, by the way," he said. "About what he did to you. It's not right."
"Because I'm a girl—"
"Because you're his friend. Gender has nothing to do with it."
I bit my lip and crossed my arms over my chest, clenching my fists until I could feel the sting of my nails pressing into my palms, leaving small, half-moon prints. "I'm not going to speak with McGonagall. It's late."
"Genevieve…" Will began.
"I'm not going to speak with her," I repeated firmly. "But I do need to see someone else — someone who can make some goddamn sense of what's happened." I shook my head, gave a non-committal shrug, and let out a short, unamused chuckle, which sounded slightly delirious to my own ears – the sporadic evening was catching up with me. "Because – because I don't have a fucking clue."
After a hesitant moment outside the dark, wooden door, and a wary glimpse into the blackness of the empty corridor, I rapped on the old, hollow surface with three short cracks of my knuckles. The sound was startlingly loud, echoing.
The door opened after a minute with a creaking uncertainty, and Professor Clegg was revealed by the dim light of his apartments; he was barefoot and wearing a dark cotton dressing gown over a flannel t-shirt and pyjama bottoms. His eyes were open and alert, a glimmer of wariness hidden behind his greying eyebrows, and he looked less like someone who had rolled out of bed and more like one who had been dabbling with lemon and sugar wax.
"Miss Sanders," he said, blinking in surprise as he stared down at me. Clearly I was the last person he expected to see waiting outside his door at midnight.
"I'm sorry if I woke you, Professor Clegg," I apologised, not really meaning it. "Can I speak with you, sir? Privately?"
He tightened the sash around his robe. "I'm not sure this is, ah, terribly appropriate."
"Please, sir," I said. "It's important."
"Where are the Aurors supposed to be accompanying you?" he asked, leaning out of the doorway and tilting his head side to side as he peered into the candle-filled darkness.
"I don't know, Professor Clegg," I replied, with a trace of undetectable dry humour, "and I've long since stopped asking." The Aurors were there when I was looking for them, but they seemed to conveniently wander when I wasn't — everyone else seemed to notice but me. "Please, sir, I need to speak with you."
"Miss Sanders, I'm sorry, I can't help you," he said. He pushed the door closed, just a little. "Come back and speak with me in the morning."
I put my hand on the door, palm flat. It was small and pale, and the nails were bitten down at the corners, but Clegg looked surprised at the resistance. "Professor Clegg," I said in a low voice. "I need to speak to you about Rory."
I almost missed the way his smile froze in place, the way the pressure on my hand stopped. "Mr Hemingford?" he said, blinking again, feigning ignorance. "I'm afraid I don't — "
"Yes, you do," I interrupted, almost a little insulted that he'd assume me stupid enough to make false accusations. "I heard you talking. A few weeks ago. You were talking about his visions. And you're the psychologist — the Muggle-born Legilimens who treated him after his parents — after his parents sent him away."
"Please," I implored, staring at him in earnest, trying to swallow the lump in my throat and stop my voice from trembling. "You know what's happened, but you didn't see him tonight. He was… he was violent and he was angry. He was… he was so angry," I whispered. I could feel my brows drawn in tight, eyes downcast. I could never understand, and I needed answers. I looked up at Professor Clegg, my jaw set and what one might call determined. "He hurt me, Professor. And the Rory I know — the one I think I know — wouldn't hurt me. Not unless he meant to, and forgive me, but I can't see why that would be. Or maybe I just won't." I sucked in a deep breath. "Now, either we talk out here in the corridor where Filch or the odd student could listen, or you let me in and we can talk like rational people who care about the welfare of others."
Professor Clegg put his palm high on the door, rested his forehead briefly on the back of his hand, and with a great sigh stepped away and allowed the hinges to creak open.
"By all means then, Miss Sanders: do come in."
"That person — that person I just talked to was… not Rory. And I'd like to think I know him. And that was not him."
"Indeed," Clegg said quietly. His hands were linked loosely between his knees as he sat opposite me on the small, weathered sofa; the threads on the pillows were loose and scraggly, and the sofa's cushions gave a soft sigh and exhume of dust as I sat.
I was clenching my teeth to keep from chattering, the enamel grinding away, and my body shook every now and again that had nothing to do with the cold. The small fire in the Professor's rooms was lit, crackling quietly, and wire-rimmed glasses rested on official-looking papers on the table between us when I walked in, with a small tumbler of golden liquid placed innocently beside. He'd been up when I knocked, and he'd been busy. I wasn't sure if I imagined the glimpse of the name Regan as he hastily shuffled them and put them on his desk when I sat down.
"Is he… prone to bouts of anger?" I said, trying not to let a bubble of feverish laughter escape; we were talking like he was a child, or an animal put up for adoption.
"Genevieve, he just lost his mother. I don't think we can put any merit in any emotion he portrayed in his rooms. People are irrational when they've experienced loss – Rory, though sometimes it's surprising, is only human, and he's no different."
I opened my mouth. He held up a hand. "Do not misunderstand me, Genevieve. This is not condoning his behaviour, not at all. I'm merely… trying to help you understand why — and believe me, I use the term loosely — he did it. When he returns I will see that he's aware of his actions, Genevieve; no matter his circumstances, they are inexcusable, and it's my duty as a professor of this school to be sure he understands that."
"I didn't want to ask about his punishment, sir. I don't care about that. I care about helping him, about — about being there for him when I have no idea how to do it." I glanced up at the pensive-looking man. I wanted to think there was a glimmer of appraisal in his expression, but I couldn't be sure. "But you do. You were there for him when he was… figuring things out. Please, sir. Tell me what I can do for him."
The Professor stayed silent for a long time, and for a while I thought he wasn't going to reply, leaving the hushed crackling of the fire to greet the filling silence. He leaned back and rested his weathered hands – that held small scars of burned skin from potions gone-awry and thin lines of carelessly held scalpels and strange iodine-coloured blotches that looked unlikely to wash away with soap and water – on his thin knees.
In the light I noticed the dark smudges beneath his eyes, and the way they lacked the usual spark from our lessons; the way the lines of his face seemed more pronounced. Had Rory told him what would happen? Had he known before it happened? Did Regan really fall on the stairs? Had Rory seen what happened? Did Clegg know about me? Who were they talking about that day in the Professor's office? And suddenly I had to know; suddenly it was imperative, and I didn't bother hiding the fact that I'd listened in on their conversation. Suddenly the expression of eavesdroppers never hearing any good about themselves was far too apt, but what if it was the only way to find out anything? To find out the truth?
"Professor," I said, no longer patient for his long-awaited response. "The day I heard you speaking. Rory was talking about someone — you both were. And he… he was saying that he couldn't stop something. That he couldn't help someone." My next words felt rhetoric. "Who was it?"
His expression didn't change one little bit, but I couldn't tell whether that in itself was enlightening.
"That's none of your concern, Miss Sanders."
I hesitated. "With all respect, Professor — if I'm supposed to help him, I need to understand him, I need to know what's worrying him."
"Genevieve, do you care about Rory?"
"What? Of course I — I think my being here is testament to it all. Sir," I added as an afterthought.
"Then you'll leave the matter alone," he said. His tone was uncommonly stern, and there was a coldness in it that made me clench my teeth a little tighter, more out of anger than fear. I wanted to help — was I not clear?
"A common problem with some women, Miss Sanders, is that they always want to try and fix something within a man."
"Sir, I — "
"Doesn't matter if there's nothing there broken – but if they can fix it they can make themselves useful; they can make themselves feel like they're needed." He stared at me while my mouth opened further and my eyes hardened with anger. "Rory is not broken, Miss Sanders. He doesn't need fixing. Stop trying to. It won't work."
"Professor, that's enough."
He stared at me. Not with maliciousness but with openness and honesty. His expression said I could accept that or I could piss off. Either one. Or both. He didn't care which. I almost expected a nonchalant shrug in response to my anger, but there was nothing, just calm reserve. It took me a while to actually understand what he'd said, but in the silence where my anger calmed, I thought about the words, and how I'd heard them before.
"You said that to his parents, didn't you?" I asked. "Rory, he… he said that to me before. When he told me over Christmas."
"Yes, I did. Multiple times, in fact," he admitted. "As incredibly as smart as they both are — or perhaps I should say were — they were some of the most ignorant people I'd ever met. It's funny how common a problem that is within society, isn't it?"
I made a small sound of agreement – not that I knew much about the society outside of the stone walls that Clegg spoke of, but agreeing was just damned easier sometimes – and studied his expression for a while. "You won't help me, will you, sir?" I finally asked.
He offered me a sad smile, as if it were some consolation.
"Genevieve," he said in that calm, lecturer's voice, which I now realised came from a courtroom. "I am not Rory's friend. I am his doctor, and he my patient. It has never been my duty to be his friend, and from past experience with my patients I know how very badly that works out. But you're his friend, Genevieve, and you know him – probably far better than I do or ever will." He took a deep breath. "It's not my job to be his friend, as I said, and I'm not sure I particularly know how to be, let alone want to be, but believe me when I say that you're not incapable."
"Right," I said. "Thanks."
He sighed. "You don't understand – "
"No, no," I said hurriedly. "I understand, I just…" I shook my head, rising to my feet. "It doesn't matter. I shouldn't have come."
"Genevieve, I'm sorry," he said. It sounded earnest enough that I almost believed him. "I'm in a very difficult, very sensitive position. I wish I could help you more, but there are certain… factors to take into consideration that I cannot discuss with you, not least because of the fact that you are my pupil and I am your teacher. I could lose my job," he admitted. "Among other things."
I shrugged. "Of course. Thank you for your time, Professor Clegg. I'm sorry to have disturbed you at such a late hour. Enjoy the rest of your evening."
The professor sighed quietly to himself, and looked very much like he wanted to say something. Instead he stayed sitting; tired eyes peered up at me from behind their glass windows.
"Good night, Miss Sanders," he said.
Before I shut the door, I nodded to him, and I didn't smile.
"I knocked my head earlier and I'm not sure if I healed it properly."
The rustle of bed sheets. "Come here and I'll have a look."
It took a long time for me to sleep that night.
All I could think about was Rory, lying in that big house, where he'd grown up and grown out of – where he didn't belong. I wondered if he was staring up the ceiling, as I stared up at the canopy of my bed, and if he was counting the swirls in the painted ceiling or the cracks in the skirting, or if he was thinking of nothing. I wondered if he would go down into the kitchen at night, and meet his father or his sister there, and if they would stare at one another in silence, or if they'd exchange a sad smile, or a hug and a look of understanding, or if they would get a glass of water with their backs to each other and walk back up the stairs without sparing a glance or a word. Maybe even a thought.
I wondered if they were sitting around the fireplace and staring into the flames, or making idle chatter full of voiceless excuses, or if they were talking about the procedures, Gemma holding a notepad and pen, Rory shrugging and looking off into somewhere that wasn't in that room, or that time, and Judah… I wondered what he would be doing, most of all. I was so sorry for his loss, but I was so biased that… that I almost wasn't. And I hated myself for it. And I hated myself when I went to sleep, and when I woke up in the morning.
The week passed slowly, and solemnly.
The death was printed in the newspaper, so that all we could hear Monday morning was the clink of spoons against bowls, and the mournful flap of wings and hush of paper as letters slid across the table. A single white feather landed on the empty seat of the bench beside me, and the hairs slowly lifted from my skin, and goosebumps pushed against my arms as I stared at it. I looked up and among the dark wings, I didn't see a single white owl, pigeon, or even a dove.
I put it in my pocket, and that night placed it on my bedside beneath an upturned glass.
A Quidditch game was held on the usually empty Wednesday afternoon for any senior pupils who wanted to play, since House matches had ended. I didn't play, but I went to watch with Rose; Scorpius and Albus were taking part. We stood with our hands in pockets on the edge of the field as the mix of students sorted out teams, before heading up to the stands, and I saw James, out of the corner of my eye speaking with Madam Dixon.
"It's terribly sad, isn't it?" the Quidditch coach was saying, in the sort of low tones that you don't realise make the sound carry further.
James didn't respond. He may have made a sound of agreement, but he was too far away for me to hear. His face looked thoughtful.
"I remember being a student here before the war," Madame Dixon said. "It was awful, truly awful getting the newspapers in the morning. I remember a girl some years above me opening the front page and screaming. She just kept screaming until the teachers took her out. It was awful. Everyone ate in silence, and each time the owls came was like waiting for your sentencing – you never knew whose name you'd seen in the small print. I think that was the worst bit," she said. "The not-knowing."
I couldn't help the quirk of a dry smile lifting up the corners of my mouth. As if James Potter wouldn't know what the war had been like — inside and out of Hogwarts.
Nevertheless, her words concurred with the hush that seemed to have fallen over the older students that week, as they remembered aunts and uncles and cousins that should have been there – or mothers and fathers. We weren't there, but we were a part of it, many of us born because of it.
I found myself questioning what my own mother and father had done during the war. Had they fought, or had they fled? I hoped it wasn't the latter, but can you truly fault a human being for self-preservation? I didn't know what I would do in the face of death. I hoped I wouldn't have to find out any time soon.
"Well done, Albus," I said. "Great game."
He gave me an odd look as he carried the Quaffle back to the open chest. "Thanks," he said, but it sounded like it should have been a question. I almost stopped walking, but my eyes flickered to Rose and Scorpius, walking on Albus' other side.
"Albus, I'm sorry about what I said to you on Sunday," I told him quietly. His eyes darted to mine for a moment, and then forward again. "It was out of line, and really none of my business. I'm not really sure… why I said it," I admitted, frowning, "but I just wanted you to know that I was sorry. And I — I hope that you can forgive me."
Albus sighed quietly. "It's okay, Genevieve. I overreacted, I guess. You've been through kind of a lot these past few months so it's not surprising that…"
"That I come off sounding a little emotionally unstable?" I mused, an eyebrow quirked.
He laughed quietly as he knelt down before the Quidditch chest, struggling to tighten the buckle around the rebellious ball. "Not quite what I was going for," he said. "But for what it's worth. I'm sorry, too. I've been a bit childish towards you, so I guess both our behaviour's been, um, unnecessary, I guess." He offered me a small, warmingly familiar smile with his last words, and I was glad to take it.
Leaving the chest behind for the other players to return their equipment, we made our way up towards the castle, the late afternoon sun looming behind the great turreted building, its shadow creeping towards us as time ticked by.
"Hey," Albus began. His voice was quiet, as if wary of Scorpius and Rose hearing us, who were now laughing together further up the path. The quiet curiosity of his tone had been something I was becoming increasingly familiar with as of late. "How's Hemingford doing since his mum… well, you know."
"Died?" I filled in. The bluntness of the word sounded startling even to my own ears, insensitive and unthinking, and it took me a moment of blank, static-filled silence in my mind to understand why people surrounded by death so rarely liked to use the word. It may have been the most truthful, the most apt, but it sounded the least caring of all, even if there was nothing more necessary than the truth. "I — I don't know," I stammered. "He asked to me to go to the funeral, but he hasn't sent me a letter or anything. I have no idea what's going on, really. I daren't contact him, though. He'll…"
"Let you know when he's ready," Albus supplied. I gave him one of my own smiles and a small nod, but it didn't last as long as his, and I fought hard to keep the corners of my mouth turned up.
"Rose said that you were then when McGonagall told him."
I replied quietly, sucking in a slow breath that was pushed out shakily, "Yeah, I was."
"That must have been hard," he said sympathetically.
"I wasn't really thinking about myself at the time, Albus. I wanted — I wanted to comfort him and I didn't know how, you know? I had – had no idea how to deal with any of it. I mean, I've had my own fair share of losses over the years, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with, especially when it's someone else, someone you love and care about."
"I wouldn't really know. I've never lost anyone."
I glanced at him with an expression I don't even know how to describe; what do you say to that? "Well done"? "Lucky you"? 'No,' I said instead. 'No, you haven't, have you."
We were inside the castle, now, and I felt strangely calmer in a place where the hallways were narrower, the air cooler, and the corners sharp and veering, the privation of light coating its figures in shadows. Hogwarts' corridors hid so much more than the lightness of the outside, where the light scent of grass and the gentle buzz of dragonflies and mayflies touched your senses, but maybe that's why I liked it — the darkness. It was easier to say things and to be yourself there; people couldn't see so much of you.
"Are you off to the dorms?" I asked Albus, noting the Quidditch kit he still wore.
He nodded. "I need to shower and dress. You?"
"I said I'd go and study with Will in the library; my first exam's in a couple of weeks, and his NEWTs are sooner."
His downhearted expression almost made me want to laugh. "I'm trying out a new method where I convince myself that end-of-year exams are so incredibly pointless and thus don't actually exist."
"How's that working out for you?" I asked with a grin.
"Well enough until you reminded me," he replied with a mock-stern expression.
"My sincere apologies," I joked. "I'll keep your vain efforts in mind for next time."
"Be sure that you do."
I was just appreciating the cool darkness and the comfortable silence that was ticking away when I realised that we were still standing there, facing each other, smiling, and not moving. It seemed we both realised it at the same time.
"Well, I should — "
"Well, bye," he said. We both paused, but then with a half-hearted wave of his hand he turned on his heel, and he was gone with a flutter of his shirt around the corner.
Author's Note: My apologies for the (again) long delay between posting. I'm having a lot of moments lately where I suddenly want to write so much, but then I realise that what I've written is just… Not what I wanted. I should be writing more, I know, to keep getting better and because that is the only way to get better, but nevertheless… I'm getting there though… right?
I also want to mention that I do not condone Rory's behaviour in anyway, (I think I missed that out last chapter), and I also do not agree with Clegg's sexist "women need to feel needed by fixing me" ideology, which I hear of an uncomfortable amount. I'm almost a year older since Chapter 26, and I've learnt and seen a lot of different things, so I feel really inclined to put them into my writing a lot more now than ever, just like any writer would do, I guess.
Anyway! Long A/N as usual, I apologise. Hope you enjoyed and I shall see you… God knows when. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing — I mean this 100% when I say that I probably wouldn't write at all on here if it wasn't for you guys. Not a great attitude, I know, but without you I'd probably just write and keep it all to myself and never improve, so thank you; I've replied to all the reviews which have been lingering and glaring at me since a long while back, so please check them out if you left them, or if you want to find out more re: the characters/plot; I tend to ramble and offer more insight into the story there. Also, I have exams in about 3 weeks, so maybe once they're finished I'll be able to post more? Ha. Good joke, Beth, good joke…
As always, Bethan. xxx