Chapter 13 : The Little Things (1992)
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LAUREL arrived at King’s Cross station with her mother on the morning of January 5th, a week after being discharged from St. Mungo’s. Somehow, Laurel found it was worse at home in Godric’s Hollow than in the hospital. Betty had confiscated Laurel’s wand, and even so, insisted that her daughter keep her bedroom door open.
Laurel’s childhood bedroom made for an agonizing cell; a horrific museum exhibit of herself, aged eleven. There were stratigraphic layers of rubbish from each of her visits home over the last four years, with another life preserved beneath them. Just being in the room made Laurel want to either scream or set it on fire. Returning to that room meant accidentally uncovering old trinkets, things she'd once loved and squirrelled awat, that reminded Laurel of just how far she had fallen.
Laurel took to wandering the cemetery when she could, but she’d been mostly shut up in her house slowly pushing her way through towers of makeup school work. After a screaming row that had surely carried down the block, Betty had allowed Laurel to practice her wandwork, but only under supervision. Laurel wasn’t sure if it was because of lack of practice, or her mother’s hovering, but Laurel had trouble casting even simple spells. Her wand seemed reluctant to perform what Laurel asked of it, like it had lost faith in her. While she struggled, Laurel’s mother criticized and disparaged her daughter’s abilities.
Betty had taken the week to work at home, and Laurel had to sit through six days of claustrophobic misery without a break from her mum in their cramped flat. The Braithwaite witches managed to live in the only apartment block in the whole of their picturesque village.
At least Laurel had Isobel, who broke up the tension at home when she came round to help Laurel with her work. But Isobel had her own studying to get on with, and Laurel didn’t like going round Isobel’s house, where the air was thick with her family’s judgment and scrutiny.
“And if you have any problems, or start feeling tempted—” Betty was saying, for about the billionth time, while the Hogwarts Expressed whistled.
“Go straight to guidance,” Laurel parroted.
“Exactly. And I really wish you’d stop hanging round that Slytherin boy,” Betty said again.
“Mum, it’s not his fault I hexed-out. I got him into it, not the other way round, so quit with the blaming,” Laurel fumed. “If you want to blame someone, just blame me, ok.”
“I just think… It’s just old habits, you know, if you’re—”
“Mum!” cried Laurel. “With that logic, should I stop hanging round Isobel?”
“Of course not, but that’s different,” Betty rolled her eyes.
Laurel’s mum was under the impression that Isobel was a golden child; perfect, and capable of doing no wrong. Every year Betty heard from Florence and Ahmad about Isobel making top marks (“it’s a wonder she hasn’t made prefect” Ahmad had taken to saying last summer). Because their parents were friends, Laurel had been sure not to divulge that Isobel had had any part in the Charming. If only mum knew, Laurel thought ruefully. It was Isobel, after all, who’d always initiated that they Cheer, and before Laurel and Tristan started getting hexed together, Isobel did as much rec magic as the rest of them. If the Doge-Mostafa’s wondered why their daughter hadn't made prefect, it was because all the teachers knew (even if they couldn’t prove it) that Isobel broke nearly as many rules as the Weasley twins.
“—send me an owl anytime, day or night. And if anything happens—”
“Straight to guidance, yes, I get it,” Laurel interrupted.
“Alright,” her mum said, fortifying herself. “Now this is a big step, and it’s to show that I trust you.”
Betty reached into her cloak and retrieved Laurel’s wand, passing it to her ceremoniously. Laurel knew that her mother didn’t actually trust her, Betty just recognized that Laurel needed her wand for lessons. Laurel wanted, for a reckless moment, to say something inflammatory, just to see if her mother might lose it and slap her again.
Surely not on the platform, with all the other parents around, Laurel thought. But her desire to unveil her mother’s hypocrisy failed to dredge up any appropriately devastating turns of phrase, and so Laurel turned away without another word.
Climbing aboard the train, Laurel tried to ignore the students who were alternately staring openly or trying not to stare. After a few minutes, she found her friends in a compartment near the rear of the steam engine. Tristan pulled down his headphones as Laurel maneuvered her trunk, and they all traded awkward greetings and hugs.
Laurel wondered vaguely what might have happened had she arrived first to the compartment, armed with her wand. Her desire to erase every other feeling was immense.
POMONA SPROUT had her first guidance session with the Braithwaite girl after breakfast Monday morning. She shuffled into the office and located Laurel’s file. An addiction to recreational magic resulting in toxicity, followed by a recovery period at St. Mungo’s—there was no new information here for Pomona, who was already quite familiar with Miss Braithwaite’s story. They didn’t get much problem with drink or drugs at Hogwarts, and it had been a long time since any student had been caught self-spelling. Pomona thought guiltily of the Cannabis Indica she'd been nurturing in her own restricted greenhouse (for personal use only). What on earth would she say to the girl, she wondered; before reminding herself that the most powerful thing she could do was listen.
Pomona closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose, then rifled through Laurel’s file for anything else that might be relevant. There were dozens of glowing notes from professors remarking on Laurel’s natural aptitude and strong spell work, mixed in with a few more recent ones noting how she'd seemed to be taking less interest in her lessons. Pomona located the one-sheet summarizing Laurel’s family history: witch mother, Elizabeth Braithwaite, graduated Hogwarts 1970. Yes, Pomona remembered Betty, who hadn’t been much for Herbology. Laurel’s father was listed as a muggle, Mr. J. Rubenstein, and no other siblings were mentioned. That was all standard enough. But then again, that’s how it usually went. A student’s troubles were rarely the result of one big thing, but rather a lifetime’s sum of little disappointments adding up.
Pomona generally counseled muggle-borns through their transition into Hogwarts, as well as those students whose families had been broken by the war. One file in particular, though, had piqued Pomona’s curiosity: fifth year, Tristan “R.” Bryce.
His records were as enigmatic as the young wizard himself, with their many blacked out pages and his tantalizingly withheld middle name. Pomona knew that he was a reluctant Slytherin whose only interest lay in Muggle Studies. Intelligent, but rarely applying himself in lessons, and prone to acting out. Most curious of all, Pomona had taught his mother, Mary MacDonald, when she had been at school. One of the few historical details that hadn’t been censored out of Tristan’s file was his birthday—and Pomona didn’t remember Mary being pregnant during her N.E.W.T. year at Hogwarts. The guidance counselor was left to assume that Tristan had been adopted, but from where, was anyone’s guess.
Laurel Braithwaite appeared, tentatively, at Pomona's office door at ten past nine.
“Come in, have a seat,” Pomona called, hopping up from her own chair rather foolishly. She cleared the many scrolls of parchment from her desk, and tapped her kettle with her wand.
“Sorry I’m late,” Laurel mumbled, slouching off her bag. The young witch sat down, and hugged her knees up to her chin.
She was incredibly thin. And thin in a way that caused Pomona almost physical pain to see. She couldn’t imagine fitting into a body so small that it might fold up so easily on that little wooden chair.
Pomona passed Laurel a cup of tea after adding a liberal quantity of cream.
“So the purpose of these meetings is two-fold,” Pomona began. “Firstly, they are meant to help you in catching up the material that you’ve missed so that you might sit your O.W.L.s in June. I will help act as a mediator with your professors so that we can determine how to best prepare you for the exams. Second, this is a space for you to share your feelings. Anything you tell me here is completely confidential, and will be received without judgment from me. That said,” continued Pomona as she approached the sticking point. “There are two exceptions to this confidentiality: I am legally obliged to inform the proper departments if you are having serious thoughts of suicide, or if it appears that you have been the victim of abuse. Do you understand?”
Laurel mumbled that she did.
Pomona spent the first half hour of their session collecting the makeup work Laurel had completed, and handing her lists of fresh assignments that the instructors had drafted.
Finally, they approached the the point where the conversation would turn personal. Laurel had so far remained reticent and withholding, offering only single syllable responses to each of Pomona’s questions.
“Can you tell me about your break?” Pomona opened.
“I was at St. Mungo’s, then I went home,” Laurel replied, picking at her fingernails.
“How was that?” Pomona tried again.
“Ok, I guess,” Laurel said without looking up.
“'Ok'? Well that’s good. I’d imagine it might have been rather a difficult experience,” Pomona offered.
“Yeah, I s'pose,” agreed Laurel.
“What made it difficult?” asked Pomona, pouncing on the admission.
“You know,” mumbled Laurel.
“I don’t know. Only you can speak to your individual experience,” replied Pomona gently.
“I dunno, it was shite, ok,” Laurel said back.
“What made it ‘shite’?” Pomona mimicked, trying to open Laurel up.
“Being there with all the other Hex Heads, all the staff acting so superior like they were so much better and knew so much,” Laurel replied.
“So you felt as though you were being judged?” Pomona clarified.
“Well yeah, ‘course. That’s what it was, wasn’t it,” Laurel said.
“Is that why you’re hesitant to talk about it with me?” asked Pomona. “Because you’re afraid I’ll judge you?”
“Isn’t that the point of this, for me to talk about stuff and you to judge if I’m ok, or if I’ll start getting bad again? Aren’t I supposed to tell you stuff so that you can judge it, and tell me why I’m messed up?” Laurel said, still looking at her nails, but her voice was strengthened by defiance.
“Well I am glad to tell you that that is not the point of these sessions. I mean what I say, this is purely a space for you to speak freely,” Pomona said. “May I ask, do you feel judged often?”
“Doesn’t everyone?” replied Laurel, rhetorically.
“Perhaps, from time to time. But I imagine people feel that way to varying degrees,” Pomona mused. “Perhaps, and do correct me if I’m wrong, but perhaps you often judge yourself, and do so harshly?”
Laurel paused for a moment, and then nodded.
“Why do you judge yourself like that?”
“Because I’m shite, aren’t I?” Laurel cried out, her eyes rapidly filling with tears as she looked at Pomona for the first time.
Pomona pushed a box of tissues across the desk before continuing.
LAUREL waited for Isobel outside of Arithmancy an hour later after leaving Sprout’s office. It felt strange, and somehow perverse, for her to go about her old routine as if nothing had happened. She had been through a massive and violent change, and couldn’t believe anyone would think it reasonable that she just get on preparing for her O.W.L.s with everyone else. Laurel’s failure had left a mark, one that distinguished her from the rest of the student body.
Isobel soon arrived, giving Laurel a massive hug, even though they’d only just seen each other at breakfast.
“I’m so glad you’re back,” Isobel whispered into Laurel’s ear. “Please stay off it. I can’t lose you again.” They stayed like that hugging for some time.
Laurel and Isobel filed into Arithmancy with the other Ravenclaws, taking their usual table in the second row.
“Welcome back, Miss Braithwaite,” Professor Vector called mildly while she drew complicated equations and symbols on the board.
Laurel remained mostly quiet during the lesson, preferring not to draw attention to herself by answering questions. She was glad that Professor Vector had been sensitive enough not to call on her.
After lunch, Laurel and Isobel made their way to Defense with Tristan. Squirrel was stuttering worse than ever, which Laurel was sure was sure had been impelled by her return. To make matters worse, they were starting on Dementors, and the subject nearly reduced Squirrel to hysterics. After stammering theory for forty-five minutes he asked the class to rise and try Expecto Patronum. By the end of the lesson, only a few students had gotten as far as producing some indistinct silvery vapor from the end of their wands. Laurel hadn’t even managed that, and left the lesson feeling drained.
The exhaustion of attempting to conjure a Patronus followed her all the way through Herbology, and Laurel said barely a word while she worked with Isobel and Emily in the humid greenhouse.
“Good work today, Laurel,” Sprout called gently from her desk as Laurel and her friends traipsed out at the end of class.
Laurel was glad that Sprout had made no other indication to her crying that morning, and managed a tense nod back, before pushing open the doors to the grounds.
As Laurel followed Isobel to Ancient Runes, she thought about how Tristan was probably skiving off History of Magic. He’d be chain-smoking by the lake and listening to the music in his head. She could tell Isobel that she’d forgotten her homework and double back to meet him there and, if she hurried, still make it back to Runes on time.
But Isobel would be able to tell, and she’d get that look on her face, and who knew where that road might lead anyway. It felt to Laurel like every second of every day since she’d hexed-out, she had to make a decision. She could either go about as she was supposed to, or jump off that cliff into a dark unknown. Laurel was still lost in thought when she took her seat next to Isobel and opened Spellman’s Syllabary.
Later that night, Laurel and Isobel decided to do their homework in the Ravenclaw common room instead of meeting Tristan in the corridor after supper. Laurel still had a mountain’s worth of catching up, and the other Ravenclaw’s in their year would be sure that the room stayed silent while they studied.
“Why don’t you read in the library if you need quiet?” cried Roger Davies, third year, after Penelope had shouted at him for interrupting the peace. “I’m allowed to talk to my mates in my own common room!”
It wasn’t until Penelope chucked Hogwarts, A History at him—nearly dislocating his shoulder—that Roger stomped up to his dormitory defeated.
Laurel tried to lose herself in study, but kept finding herself distracted by painful jabs of humiliation and shame. Thrice now she’d mislabeled some point on her diagram of a chomping cabbage, and she was copying it directly from Isobel’s, complete with Snape’s corrections. Laurel felt as if her only goal in life was to keep off the charms, and she wasn’t even sure what she actually got from that abstinence. The wand had taken away every sting of discomfort and inadequacy, and now she was off it, they came back stronger and more ruthless than before. At least she’d been happy when she was hexed, even if the happiness had been somehow artificial. Laurel wasn’t sure that there was a difference between real and fake happiness anyway. No matter how you looked at it, it was all just people doing things to themselves in order to squeeze some joy out of life. It might be Hilaris, or a hobby, or moderate exercise--the goal was the same regardless of the means.
And when Laurel had truly really failed—when she’d first turned her wand on herself and cast the spell—at least she’d known that she couldn’t fail any worse. There had been peace in that knowledge.
“Oh what’s the point?” Isobel sighed to herself, shaking Laurel from her thoughts. “It’s all just Protego or Expelliarmus anyway.”
Of course, Isobel was referring to Defensive Magical Theory.
“Do you really think they’ll expect us to produce a full patronus for the O.W.L.?” Isobel worried out loud. “I mean, that’s incredibly ambitious for fifth-years…”
Laurel retied her bun, and returned to her diagram with renewed commitment.
“What are you writing about for the Flitwick essay?” Isobel asked.
“Cheering charm toxicity,” Laurel replied, and Isobel looked stunned. “Joking,” added Laurel, even though she thought it should have been obvious.
Laurel was fully aware over the next few days that she’d adopted an awkward habit of joking about her Charming problem, and that it was making her friends uncomfortable. She resented that. It had happened to her, after all, and she should be able to talk about it, especially with her friends. Isobel and Emily kept reminding her to come to them if she ‘ever wanted to talk,’ but they would freeze up any time she tried to lighten the subject with some humour.
Tristan seemed to want to avoid the emotional, and Laurel found his perspective refreshing. His feelings of culpability had faded somewhat, and he’d grown more comfortable around Laurel.
It was soon raining every day, and so the four friends found themselves increasingly secluded in Cadogan’s Corridor. Their workload might have accomplished the same end despite the weather, as they wouldn’t have had time to kick about by the lake even if it had been sunny. It seemed like every time their workload met its absolute maximum, the professors came back with a resounding Oh yeah? Take that, and piled on even more.
It was Saturday, and the rain was pattering against the corridor windows. Emily had burst into frustrated tears when she couldn’t find her star chart, and Isobel kept making annoyed little noises in the back of her throat without realizing it. Tristan seemed mostly unfazed, since he increasingly couldn’t be bothered about exams. Laurel was managing only because she’d found a sort of rhythm. The daunting tower of material she had yet to catch up on got taller every day, so rather than become stressed, she resigned herself to her Sisyphusian fate.
“No, Tristan! You can’t copy it word perfect, it has to look like you wrote it yourself,” Isobel raged.
“If Sprout catches me cheating, she catches me,” he sighed.
“And she’d know I let you copy and fail me too, so don’t be so selfish!” Isobel shot back.
Tristan exhaled loudly, and started over. Ever since Laurel had returned to Hogwarts, Isobel had gotten more fierce in her self-assigned role as commandant of the group, as if it were her responsibility alone to keep everyone together. Without really realizing what they were doing, the other three responded by rebelling against her at every turn. It had become a rather vicious cycle.
Isobel announced that it was time for everyone to head back to their own common rooms at ten to nine. There was very little debating the point, so they began packing their school things and clearing lingering smoke from the corridor. Laurel and Isobel waved goodbye to Emily and Tristan and turned toward Ravenclaw tower. They worked for a while longer in silence before Isobel gave up and left to get ready for bed. Once she’d gone, Laurel fell into a staring competition with her wand that seemed to last an eternity.
“Bay, seven inches, Dragon Heartstring,” Mr. Ollivander had said. “Rather heavy.” And so it had been that Laurel's wand had chosen her. Eleven-year-old Laurel had been overjoyed. 'Bay' was another name for 'Laurel'--she and her wand shared the same name!
Over the years, her wand grew to feel like part of her own body, as connected to her as an arm or an eye. To have it turn on her, to suffer by it—grief swelled within Laurel’s chest. And now it won’t even do what I ask it to. It was like being betrayed by her own nose...
Finally, the restraints are off. It’s been two days since Laurel's hex-out, and she's only pretending to be a good patient. She’ll go along with their recovery bollocks, and once she has her wand back…
Laurel tried to push aside her darkest moments from recovery.
Somehow she did it! She snuck out of the ward, and managed to nick some potion off a Healer’s cart to boot. She doesn’t know what it is, but they use it to treat aggressive patients in the Janus Thickey ward, so…
Laurel’s eyes stung with the humiliation of remembering.
Laurel is blasted. A Healer from her own ward finds her. She’s slurring, yelling, denying the accusations that she’s used, but obviously she has. She tries to seduce him, or flirt her way out of it, but she hardly feels sexy with her stringy hair and thin hospital robes. Not to mention that she’s wasted and pathetic--cowering in a supply closet, out of her mind on sedatives. The healer looks embarrassed for her, and he’s angry that she snuck out on his watch, and that she’s lying to him. Laurel is crying. She leans back against the wall and slides down to the ground. Laurel’s face is a mess of snot and unwiped tears--her body’s salt laid bare like a sacrifice.
The healer ushers Laurel back to her ward, but doesn’t put her back in restraints. He’s professional and curt, but doesn’t report her escape either. Laurel should have been in extra trouble. She thanks him, crying again, and he affords the sniveling patient a sympathetic look.
Laurel wiped her eyes, ashamed by the memory. What if that healer had been a different type of wizard? How far would Laurel have gone to feed the beast of her addiction?
There is something wrong with Laurel Braithewaite.
It was nearly an hour later when Laurel climbed into Isobel’s bed, and fell into a fitful sleep beside her oldest friend.
The following Monday, Laurel found herself alone with Tristan for the first time in a long time. Emily was at Astronomy and Isobel was getting coffees, leaving the two of them to climb the stairs to the corridor in silence and pretend that it wasn’t awkward.
“Classes, eat, corridor, sleep. Classes, eat, corridor, sleep. It’s enough to make you want to off yourself,” Tristan said heavily as he pulled out his books and parchment.
“Hey Tristan,” Laurel said after a moment’s thought. “Do you like me?” She wasn’t sure what made her ask, or why at that moment, except for the obvious lack of a chaperone.
“Yeah, 'course,” he replied, searching for a quill.
“No, I mean, like, like-me like-me. Like, back when were getting hexed together… all those times…” she clarified.
Tristan thought for a moment.
“I guess sometimes, I did,” he answered, and she wondered if he was feeling as vulnerable as she was.
“Why did you like me?” Laurel asked the question before she knew she was thinking it.
“There’s this song,” Tristan said, after a pause. “It goes ‘I’m so ugly, but that’s ok, ‘cause so are you—we broke our mirrors.’”
Laurel understood, she thought, what he meant. In those moments when they were getting hexed and everything else, Tristan seemed, if temporarily, to stop hating himself.
“Why are we so fucked up?” Laurel asked. “I mean, your parents are nice and all, and they let you do whatever you want. And you don’t get all caught up in things like marks. Why is it?”
“I guess I have my reasons,” he said, scribbling on a piece of parchment. “What’s your excuse?”
“I dunno,” sighed Laurel. “It must be something big, or I wouldn’t be, right? I guess I never knew my dad and that whole cliché. And my mum’s bonkers. It doesn’t feel like that’s it though.”
“Maybe it’s all the little things,” Tristan suggested.
End Note 1: The song lyric Tristan quotes is Nirvana's “Lithium,” off Nevermind.
End Note 2: Betty Braithewaite is a Daily Propher writer, mentioned in Deathly Hallows. She wrote the review of Rita Skeeter’s Dumbledore biography.
End Note 3: From Pottermore: “It is said that a laurel wand cannot perform a dishonourable act, although in the quest for glory (a not uncommon goal for those best suited to these wands), laurel wands have been known to perform powerful and sometimes lethal magic. Laurel wands are sometimes called fickle... The laurel wand is unable to tolerate laziness in a possessor, and it is in such conditions that it is most easily and willingly won away...
“As a rule, dragon heartstrings produce wands with the most power, and which are capable of the most flamboyant spells. Dragon wands tend to learn more quickly than other types... [Dragon wands] can change allegiance if won from their original master.”
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