Chapter 8 : Self-Spelling
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ISOBEL was sat against the wall in Cadogan’s corridor, hunched over a long scroll of notes. It was the last day of November and the four friends were actually working, even though it was a Saturday.
“Are those your notes for the Defense paper? That’s not due until after the Holidays!” cried Laurel. “We should be doing the goblin uprising timeline for Binns.”
“Oh, I was just about to start that,” Emily said. “I’ll do seventeenth century, you do eighteenth, then swap?” she offered.
Isobel had been right—Emily’s ethical standards about cheating had indeed shifted.
A few weeks had passed since they’d all Cheered at the Quidditch game and Laurel hadn’t asked for another afterward. She also wasn’t rocketing so dramatically between up and down like she had done during the first two months of term. Then again, Isobel didn’t trust this new calm, good-spirited, Laurel. The two of them shared every class and a dormitory and it would have been impossible for Isobel to miss the way Laurel kept making excuses to go off on her own. Surely wanting some alone time was healthy, but Isobel suspected that Laurel had been meeting up with Tristan during these unsupervised stretches.
Maybe, Isobel thought, this had nothing to do with Charming. Perhaps Laurel and Tristan were seeing each other in secret, and maybe Laurel’s newfound demeanor could be attributed to having a boyfriend (which would still affect friend-group dynamics, not to mention Emily).
But Isobel was sure that she’d seen something on Hallowe’en. She’d cast Finite Incantatem after Quirrel had dramatically broken his news about the troll, and Isobel was certain that she’d seen Laurel show signs of crashing after.
Laurel had been aggravated and withdrawn as the prefects had ushered them sefely up the winding steps to Ravenclaw tower.
“Of course I'm upset,” Laurel had spat when Isobel mentioned her mood. “You should be upset! A bloody great troll in the bloody dungeons. How’d it get in then?”
But Isobel wasn’t convinced by the explanation. When Laurel had returned to their room after washing her face, she had seemed perfectly fine again.
Snow began to fall in earnest the first Monday of December. That morning, Isobel and Laurel took notes on McGonagall’s lecture about the differences between Transfiguration and Alchemy, which were mind-numbingly technical. Their second class was Arithmancy, where Professor Vector wrote down complicated equations on the blackboard explaining the typical magical function of Twelve (less powerful but more stable than Seven, Isobel gathered). After a meager lunch (Isobel had been avoiding dairy and bread), the two Ravenclaws marched up to Defense Against the Dark Arts with Tristan.
They were practicing using Shield Charms to defend another person, and the three friends partnered up. It soon became a nasty business. The Syltherins kept cheating, and Quirrel was useless to stop them. They were supposed to be casting only simple jinxes, like leg-locking that could be easily reversed, but more than a few Ravenclaws had been rushed to Madam Pomfrey sprouting painful boils or shriveled ears after being hit with more powerful hexes. Tristan, who was supposed to be casting Protego to shield himself and Laurel, became distracted when Penelope Clearwater shrieked unexpectedly (Terence Higgs had summoned a viper). Isobel’s jelly-legs jinx hit Laurel full on.
“Not S-serpentsortia!” Quirrel whined, vanishing the snake. “Only j-j-jinxes d-d-d-defended by p-protego.”
“Sorry about that,” Tristan said to Laurel, who was wobbling uncontrollably.
“Finite,” Isobel cast, lifting the jinx.
All at once, Laurel crashed to the floor and groaned, not (Isobel noticed) as a result of her jelly-legs.
“You ok?” asked Tristan.
“I’m fine,” she snapped, pulling herself back to standing and ignoring the hand Tristan extended to help her up. “Ok, my turn,” Laurel huffed. She looked like she might be sick.
Isobel cast a loose-lips jinx, only to be pushed back several feet at the force of Laurel’s Shield Charm.
“Very g-g-good,” stammered Quirrel and Laurel glanced around vengefully.
Quirrel concluded the lesson by offering the point Isobel had made in her first essay (she’d noted that Protego would likely be useless against West African fire magic). Under different circumstances, this would have made Isobel swell with pride.
Isobel made it nearly to the Entrance Hall before she realized she’d lost track of Laurel. She waited by the front doors, where Emily joined her in short time. Laurel finally bounced toward them some minutes later; her sudden foul mood had vanished.
“Where’d you get off to?” Isobel asked.
“Forgot my book in Squirrel’s,” Laurel replied brightly.
Isobel didn’t know how to voice her suspicion, and so the three witches tramped off to the greenhouses together without another word about Laurel’s disappearance.
Laurel’s work in Herbology was careless. She continually added far too much dragon dung while they repotted their screechsnaps, and seemed immune to Emily’s annoyance (Emily was particularly sympathetic toward the little whining plants).
“If you can’t be arsed, then bloody well sit down,” Emily fumed after Laurel, pruning haphazardly, had nearly chopped off a good portion of healthy growth. Laurel, who didn’t seem bothered, sat down and began playing with her shears.
They marched back to the castle an hour later, Emily heading to her Transfiguration lesson while Isobel and Laurel turned toward Ancient Runes.
Professor Babbling was in a fervor, and started the lesson by assigning an impossible number of chapters reading for the week. While Isobel marked the appropriate pages in her copy of Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms she noticed that Laurel was doodling absentmindedly in the corner of her parchment. Laurel continued to be of little help throughout the lesson and Isobel was left to do their set of interpretations alone. It was only when the professor called on Laurel to draw an intricate string of symbols on the board that Laurel paused her doodling.
Isobel was distracted throughout supper, retreating into herself. Without realizing it, she finished a large portion of mashed potatoes, which she'd drowned in gravy. Emily was the only one talking much, and even when the subject of the next Hogsmeade trip came up, Tristan (who looked like he was falling asleep at the table) offered only one-syllable answers. Laurel was resting her chin in one hand and picking at her food. Emily seemed to grow weary of her friends’ reticence, and set out to her Astronomy class early.
“Miss Mostafa, Miss Braithwaite, Mr. Bryce,” came Professor Flitwick’s voice a few minutes later. “I’m sure the Hufflepuff students enjoy your company at their table,” he said, apologetically. “But it really is against protocol for you to sit here without an invitation from a member of the House. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind joining your own tables?”
“It’s ok, professor,” said Cedric. “They’re with me.”
The three non-Hufflepuffs thanked Cedric, but decided to head up to their stretch of Corridor anyway. Isobel offered to procure coffees from the kitchens, and separated from her friends in the Great Hall. She took a pit stop, however, to the nearest girls’ toilets.
Despite sporting multiple stalls, Isobel locked the main wash-room door and stared for a long moment at her reflection. The fullness of her stomach was causing her intense discomfort—not because she’d eaten too much, but because she missed the delicious feeling of it being empty. Isobel gathered her robes and lifted them to assess the damage. To her misery, she found that the traitorous food had robbed her midsection of its recent, carefully orchestrated, flatness.
Isobel closed the lid of the nearest toilet, and crashed down onto it. In the back of her mind, she knew exactly what was going on with Laurel, but she didn’t want to give voice to her concerns. Not yet. She knew she shouldn’t have left Laurel alone with Tristan, but she wanted something for herself. After all, Laurel was taking time to indulge in her, much more destructive, vice. Isobel always worked so hard to help everyone else, she figured, resentfully, she deserved to help herself a little as well.
The more she thought about it, the more the feeling in her stomach sent shockwaves of guilt and disgust. Isobel prized her discipline, and when robbed of it, she felt like some necessary characteristic of her nature had been compromised. Despite what her friends thought, Isobel wasn’t the cleverest. Laurel received almost as good of marks (or, at least, she used to) without nearly as much work. And Emily was rather brilliant as well as hardworking, but no one ever seemed to give her credit (they so rarely did with Hufflepuffs). Tristan was naturally smart, but couldn’t be bothered with school, preferring to waste his great intellect memorizing facts about muggle music.
Isobel was often told that she was beautiful—mostly as a lead-in for people to ask about her mixed heritage. But it was her sister, Elphia, long and lithe, who was the great beauty of the family.
Isobel’s perfect skin was only the result of expensive skin potions and diligent care. Her striking looks were no more than a commitment to makeup.
No, both Isobel’s good marks and appearance (her two most prominent features) were merely the products of her discipline. Since she couldn’t hide in the toilets all evening, Isobel made her decision with a heavy heart. She stood, pushed open the toilet seat, and knelt before it.
“Evomere,” she whispered, turning her wand on herself.
Isobel retched, hating herself. The coughing and gagging was so severe that she might not have managed to stop the spell had she not become so good at nonverbal magic. Her eyes wet with involuntary tears, she was left shaking in the wake of her jinx.
Isobel rinsed her mouth in the sink, taking water directly from the tap. She wiped her running mascara, shared a hateful look with her own reflection, and left the girls’ toilets.
Laurel seemed to have nodded off by the time Isobel finally reached Cadogan’s Corridor, levitating three coffees beside her. Tristan didn’t seem to notice or care, stooped over the star charts he would need to finish before his next day’s lessons. What little work he did, he did last minute (outside of Muggle Studies).
“Laurel,” Isobel said sharply, nudging her fellow Ravenclaw with her foot.
Laurel inhaled sharply as her head jerked back up.
“Bloody hell,” she mumbled before taking her coffee. “Thanks mate, looks like I needed this.”
Tristan grunted his thanks, not looking up from his parchment as Isobel set down his mug. “Sorry,” he said suddenly, snapping himself from his deep concentration. “Thank you, Isobel.”
This was typical Tristan: it was as if he were engaged in some constant battle between the conflicting Arsehole and Sweetheart sides of himself. Isobel took her seat and began leafing through her scattered Transfiguration notes.
“Are you doing that Alchemy vs. Transfig summary for McGonagall?” Tristan asked.
“I was just about to start, yeah,” replied Isobel.
“Can I see yours after?” asked Tristan. “I got fuck-all from the lecture.”
“Yeah alright—I know it has something to do with fundamental instead of reorganizational elemental change, or some bollocks,” said Isobel. “I’m checking now which one’s which.”
“Alchemy is reorganizational,” answered Laurel, without looking up from her potions essay. “You reorganize the physical manifestation of lead to make gold like, so it isn’t true transfiguration.”
“Thanks,” mumbled Isobel.
“Then does anyone else see how Gamp’s Laws doesn’t make sense?” Tristan demanded.
“There’s debate in the field on that,” recovered Isobel, wanting to outdo Laurel. She went on to explain the contention, but no one was really listening.
They left the Corridor with just enough time for Tristan to make it back to the dungeons. Laurel shrugged off to bed at once, but Isobel remained in the common room, finishing off her essay for Snape with the help of Laurel’s completed draft.
Therefore, she scribbled, Bezoars are ineffective against more complicated poisons. She’d decided to include an example about antidote concoction, a sixth year subject, in order to create sufficient difference between the two essays.
Sighing, Isobel gazed out the tower window from the best armchair. As illustrated in antidote/poison relationships, she started her next paragraph before crossing out the sentence. The essay wasn’t actually due until Thursday, so Isobel rolled it up, deciding to finish the following evening. She gathered her school things and climbed the stone steps into the dormitories, leaving Ava Gardener, their dorm-mate, alone at a table by the bust of Rowena Ravenclaw. Ava was tugging at her hair, surrounded by teetering tower of spell books, mumbling to herself about runes.
The hangings of Laurel’s four-poster were shut tight and Penelope was already asleep, curlers obnoxiously in place. Isobel rinsed off her makeup in the washroom and began her several-step cleansing/toning/moisturizing routine. After braiding her hair into one, long plait down her back Isobel returned the bedroom. She climbed into her own four-poster, hearing soft noises coming from Laurel’s.
“Come on Laurel, not now we’re all in the room,” Isobel hissed, but Laurel didn’t respond in her own defense.
Isobel stopped, listening carefully. It sounded indecent, and like Laurel was struggling to breathe. Despite how embarrassing it could turn out, Isobel had a bad feeling. She shrugged back off her own bed with an annoyed sigh and tore open Laurel’s hangings.
“Laurel!” she cried, terrified.
Laurel’s wand was pointed against her own temple—her eyes were glassy and she seemed, indeed, to have stopped breathing properly. Her lips were closed tight in a strangled smile, and she managed only short, shallow sniffs of air through her nose.
Isobel shook her, knocking Laurel’s wand out of her hand, but Laurel’s wide eyes gazed past her, unseeing.
“Laurel!” she called again, slapping her friend.
“What is all the trouble,” called Penelope, pompously, from her bed. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”
“Get Madam Pomfrey,” Isobel roared, shaking Laurel. “Now!”
“What is—” started Penelope, grabbing a hold of one of Laurel’s bedposts.
“I don’t think she can breathe, Go!” commanded Isobel, still shaking Laurel.
Penelope threw on a dressing gown and rushed down the stairs. Laurel’s lips and fingernails were turning blue, and she had begun to shiver violently and spasm. Isobel considered the danger of what she was about to do for a terrified moment, before resolving with one, deep, breath.
“Finite!” she incanted, bursting into tears. “Finite! Finite!” she repeated thickly,
Laurel drew a ragged breath, as if saved from drowning.
Then she started screaming.
She flailed her arms and tore at Isobel, unaware of her surroundings, scratching at her face and ripping at her hair. Isobel tried to restrain her as Laurel thrashed and shrieked, her face a mask of agony.
The following hour was hectic and confusing. Laurel had been carted off to the hospital wing and Isobel tried to explain what she had done to a pale Madam Pomfrey. Laurel, now silent, continued to twist and bend against her restraints, still seemingly oblivious to where she was. At Madam Pomfrey’s insistence, Isobel returned to bed where she lay sleepless until the dawn.
The following morning Isobel did about a hundred sit-ups in her dorm while waiting for visiting hours to begin. But Laurel’s bed in the Hospital Wing was empty. She had been transferred to St. Mungo’s a few hours before.
Isobel sat alone at the Ravenclaw table Thursday morning, scribbling out a rambling conclusion to her potions essay. Tristan and Emily were a table over with the Hufflepuffs, but Isobel hadn’t wanted to face them in the days since she’d had to relate what had happened. Rumor spread quickly through the school that one of the Ravenclaws had hexed out, and been spirited away from the castle during the night into recovery.
Sideways glances followed Isobel around the school, and she’d been tortured by the alternately terse and sympathetic looks afforded by her professors. She was almost looking forward to double potions that morning. Snape was the sole faculty member who appeared unaffected by the news.
Isobel rolled up her essay sloppily concluded essay, smudging some of the ink, and stole off to the dungeons without a glance at her friends a table over. A hush fell over the students as Isobel entered the potions classroom, and she made her way to Snape’s desk without meeting anyone’s eye. She added her own essay to the neat little pile, before producing Laurel’s.
“I’m turning this in for Laurel,” she said with as little emotion as she could muster.
“Yes, any word when she’ll be back?” asked Snape casually, as if she’d only come down with the flu.
“Not until after the holidays, they think."
“Well, be sure to take down her assignments," Snape said without looking up from his papers. "If she can manage to catch up while she’s away, she may still have a chance at sitting her O.W.L.”
“Thank you, professor,” she said, before turning to seek out a table alone at the back of the class.
“Psst, Isobel,” whispered Oliver as she passed his table. “Is it true Laurel hexed out? I heard she’d been self-spelling.”
Isobel only nodded, feeling her eyes begin to sting.
“That’s why I don’t mess with Rec Magic,” he said, obnoxiously.
Well bloody good for you, thought Isobel, pushing on to the back of the dungeon.
After Isobel’s lunch of water and coffee, Tristan approached Ravenclaw table so the two could walk to double Charms together.
“Don’t figure you’d fancy we skive?” asked Tristan.
“So everyone would think we’re off getting hexed? No thank you,” replied Isobel gruffly.
“Hey Iz,” began Tristan. “I’m—I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” she replied automatically.
“It might be,” he admitted, sounding ashamed. “Me and Laurel had been getting hexed together a lot. She was on this new hybrid charm,” he explained.
Isobel stopped walking and considered Tristan.
“You’re not self-spelling too?” she demanded.
“No!” he shot back. “Definitely not. I’m honestly ok being off it,” he kept her accusing gaze. “Honest.”
“Did you know she was?” Isobel asked as she started up the stairs. "Self-spelling?"
“No,” he said. “Not for sure. I mean, it occurred to me that she might be.”
Isobel might have been mad at him for not sharing this had she not entertained the same private suspicions herself.
They pulled the door of the charms class open and made their way to the most separate table in the class—Laurel’s empty seat acting as a buffer against the next table over.
Penelope Clearwater kept glancing at Isobel, and when her back was turned, Isobel stuck her tongue out at the back of Penelope’s stupid blonde head.
Once the rest of the class had trickled in, Flitwick decided to open his lesson with a lecture on the dangers of Recreational Magic. Of course, this prompted the other students to covertly eye Isobel and Tristan. Flitwick tried, unconvincingly, to act as though his lecture hadn’t been prompted by any particular event.
“Professor,” called Terence Higgs, without raising his hand. “Why are you telling us? The Hex Heads what need a lecture are sitting back there.”
Isobel was devastated. Tristan looked furious. His hand darted, reflexively, toward his wand, but Isobel caught him at the wrist.
“Don’t,” she hissed out of the side of her mouth.
Flitwick looked flustered and put out.
“This information is of critical importance, and intended for the students of this school in general,” he insisted, unconvincingly.
“Yeah right,” muttered Marcus Flint in a carrying whisper.
With that, Tristan violently seized his rucksack and stormed out of his seat.
“Mr. Bryce!” Flitwick called after him, stunned.
Without looking back, Tristan raised two fingers to the class and was out the door, leaving Isobel to sit the rest of the double period alone.
If Isobel thought Snape didn’t care about the incident with Laurel, he was nothing compared to Professor Binns’ aggressive disinterest in his students. The ghost hardly remembered his pupils’ names, and as he didn’t sit meals or have use for the faculty lounge, he remained willfully oblivious to the comings and goings of Hogwarts.
Isobel and Emily sat together, glassy eyed, while Binns droned on about the lead up to the Giant wars of the 19th century. Isobel laid her head down on her book and napped through the rest of class, comforted and protected by Emily’s presence beside her.
The void left by Laurel loomed so large, Isobel wondered when it might swallow her up.
End Note: The (incredibly sarcastic) CI text is a lyric from "Some Girls are Bigger than Others" by the Smiths.
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