Chapter 19 : 19. Hearty Heart Heart
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Wren's heart was still racing as she peeked out of the girls' bathroom. When he let her know the way was clear, she sprinted up the stairs to the Gryffindor common room.
Bunny's panic had slammed into her so hard that she could barely catch her breath. She felt silly hiding from a tiny thing, not any bigger than he had been that summer, helpless and injured in the woods. What exactly was she running from?
Stay away from it!
In between classes the next day, she couldn't help scanning the floor, several times imagining something dark and furry that made her jump. Each time, it had just been a shadow or a crumpled up piece of parchment. After a while, Wren wanted to dismiss Bunny's insistent pleas that echoed through her head, but then she remembered how wrong it had felt to stare into those small beady eyes, which put her back on the edge all over again.
The only bright part of her day was when Albus and Scorpius had come over to sit with her (and Rose) at lunch... which was nice until Rose had taken great offense to Scorpius scooping the cherries out of her pudding.
Wren walked into Mister Summers' class with that sinking feeling that bad things were happening without her knowledge. Bunny had remained suspiciously quiet, and Wren had hoped that whatever it was would go away on its own.
She reached out, just to check.
Bunny, is it still here?
"I think he's asleep again."
Wren jolted in her chair. "What??"
Nate pointed to Mister Summers' soft snores, partially covered by the new issue of Magical History In the Making. Over to her left, Scorpius still hadn't let up, this time making faces at Rose, while Albus and Callie steadfastly kept their heads in their textbooks.
They could all usually brush off Scorpius' stupidity, but today, it seemed like he was making an art form out of being an idiot.
"He reminds me of my cousin," Nate said.
"No, that Malfoy bloke. He's just like Greggory. Still hasn't learned how to talk to a girl."
"Scorpius talks to plenty of girls. It's just Rose. Ever since she called him a 'cocky, elitist snob' back in second year, he's been out to prove her wrong every chance he gets." Wren's eyes lingered on the table across the room, hoping he'd get whatever it was out of his system because after class, they had plans. She smiled, remembering Albus' suggestion at lunch, which they'd all happily agreed to. Finally, there was something normal to look forward to.
Nate prodded her with his quill. "Anyway, I saw the Hufflepuff team looking over your Quidditch practice montage last night. Great framing. You've got to have an incredibly fast shutter speed to catch McCormack with the Bludger. It looked like you were hanging over the railing when you took it.”
Wren looked over in surprise. "You noticed the camera angle?"
"My uncle is fascinated with photography. He used to be a professional painter."
"It was good timing," Wren said, thinking about the loud crack of McCormack's bat against the hurling ball, and the way that Hugo had tipped his broom up at the last minute to avoid getting hit by a stray Quaffle during scoring drills. That last shot had been sheer luck. The lightning-fast shutter helped too.
A flash of yellow came from the front of the room. Summers' signature loopy script appeared on the chalk board, reminding the room that they still had an assignment due by the end of class. The chalk continued to scroll up the board and write a note about this week's Book Club meeting in the library, which was circled and punctuated by several asterisks.
Wren flipped through her text, not really searching for anything. She already knew all about vampire misconceptions, ways to recognize a vampire and the dangers of becoming one (as if anyone would do that on purpose). They'd been on the same subject for so long that it should have been thoroughly exhausted by now. Clearly, Mister Summers thought otherwise.
“Nate, what do you think about vampire rights? Should they be excluded from equal say in the Ministry just because they're classified as ‘undead’?”
Nate cocked his head to the side. "Why? What do you think?”
“It seems to me that if they’ve been around for as long as everyone says they have, why would they need to be regulated? I bet they already regulate themselves, and we don't even know about it.” She blushed a little at Nate's blank look. "Sorry. I guess that’s what happens when you spend too much time with Rose. I almost started sounding like her mother.”
"You're right,” Nate said. "They've been around way longer than the Ministry. Think about it. How would all the wizards in the world feel if the other magical beings joined up and decided that we were too dangerous to govern ourselves because of what happened with Voldemort?”
Wren nodded. "Exactly. Wizards don't have the only kind of magic in the world."
"Technically, it's not magic like the way we understand it. They get their strength and power from consuming someone else's blood, which contains their life-force... alright, fine. It's sort of like 'magic', but no wizard has been able to duplicate it with a potion or wand."
"Well, who would want to? It sounds like a horrible way to exist."
Wren quickly finished the conclusion of her essay, and with more than ten minutes left in class, aimed her camera at the fluttering magazine over Mister Summers’ face. Then she rotated her view across the room to Scorpius... Rose... Albus...
Nate's quill stopped scratching parchment. "Still haven't told him yet?"
Wren lowered her camera. "What?"
Nate stuck the quill behind an ear and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Save the clueless act for someone who doesn't have eyes. I know you better than that."
Wren sank into her chair. "Am I being that obvious?"
"Am I really the only one who's noticed?"
During their weekly homework sessions, history essays had bled into personal topics. Nate had spoken a lot about his fascination with Astrology, and Wren had told Nate stories about her and her friends at Hogwarts over the years. She hadn't meant to, but her stories kept turning into Albus stories, and before long, Nate threatened to make a drinking game out of it. In a fit of giggles, she'd surprised herself and stopped denying how she felt. It had been weird, talking to a boy about her feelings for another boy, but also a relief. Nate was a good listener. He just didn't get what was so complicated about the situation.
"So what are you going to do about it?"
Nate had asked her this before, and often. "We're meeting up after class is over," she said, proud to have an answer this time.
"Just the two of you?"
"Not exactly. Rose and Scorpius are coming too." A small worry knotted in her gut, but she shooed it away. As long as there weren't any more creepy little rabbits out there, like yesterday, she had nothing to worry about. "They're all my friends," she said, more defensively than she meant.
Nate scribbled down a last sentence in his parchment. "I wouldn't want to be there, and I'm your friend. We are friends, aren't we?"
"Yeah, of course we are," Wren said. "That's why you say nice things about my photography."
"I wasn't just being nice. In fact, I wanted to ask you..."
From across the room, Scorpius let out an undignified shout. Instinct took over, and Wren hid behind her camera. She couldn't hear what Rose was saying to make him clench his jaw like that, but everyone in the room heard his retort.
"You think I like blokes?"
Rose's voice rose above a whisper. "Isn't that why you and Albus are always joined at the hip?"
“Oi! I’m sitting right here!” Albus' face turned red, and Wren clicked the shutter.
Scorpius opened his mouth to retort but stopped short. He looked like he was thinking things over, scheming, which was a dangerous thing for a Slytherin.
“If I told you I fancied your cousin, would you think it was sexy?”
Many things happened all at once. The bell rang to signal the end of class. Students pushed for the door, Rose was on her feet in an instant, and the slap rang through the classroom. Wren framed each image as it happened: Scorpius’ shocked face. Rose’s equally horrified expression. Scorpius moving towards the door in stunned silence, and the stoic face of Headmistress McGonagall in the doorframe.
Wren lowered the camera to let it hang by its strap around her neck as the headmistress surveyed the emptying classroom.
“These are your friends?” Nate muttered from behind her. “Good luck with that. I'll see you later."
McGonagall's eyes shifted from the teacher collapsed behind his magazine, to Scorpius Malfoy scooting out of the room under her outstretched arm. Everyone else froze as she took a deep breath.
“I heard the entire exchange and I believe that punishment for this incident has already been given to both parties. Mr. Potter, tell Mr. Malfoy not to take my kindness for weakness. The next time he chooses to act rudely to another student, he’ll be scrubbing toilets with a toothbrush.”
Albus nodded dumbly. Then he was moving to the door. He stopped at Wren's table and gave her a helpless look. "I should go. I have to tell him... guess I'll see you later."
“Right.” Wren said, disappointed, watching him leave the room. Callie's whispers on the other side of the room reminded her that Rose was still there... was the reason that they weren't going to meet after class like they'd planned.
McGonagall's voice softened when she reached Wren. "I appreciate the photographic evidence, but too many students in this school have gotten into trouble trying to handle things on their own, your father included. You can come to me any time."
"Thank you, Headmistress," Wren said.
McGonagall rapped on the desk with a sharp knuckle, causing the bleary-eyed teacher to jump to attention. "Mister Summers, a word in my office, please."
Wren turned back to Rose, who was as still as a statue, and tried not to be mad. "Rose? We have to go now. Class is over. Rose?"
“I’ll take her books,” Callie said, scooping them up.
“Oh no!” Rose wailed, finally breaking the silence. "What have I done?”
Albus could have sworn that portrait had been watching him since he exited the dungeons. He nervously adjusted his tie. "We aren't supposed to be here."
"It's fine," Scorpius said, shuffling next to him. "No one's around to see."
The halls were dead quiet. Albus could think of a trillion things he'd rather be doing. Everyone was either in their common room, or at Gobstones Club meeting or somewhere else - dinner had been over for at least an hour.
The year wasn't shaping up into what he'd imagined. Quidditch was stressful, with Serena not getting on with the new prospects who had shown up to practice, and his brother was still king of the pranks. It irritated him that he hadn't been able to shut James down like he'd planned. He'd had so many plans for the year, and one by one, they were failing. Even his decision to try to ask Wren out hadn't gone anywhere.
When had things started going wrong? His steps slowed as they got closer to the portrait. Wait a minute, he realized, it was actually Scorpius who'd convinced him to say something to Wren when they'd met up in Diagon Alley.
The studious old wizard with pins sticking out of his large-brimmed hat continued to frown at the two Slytherins approaching from the other end of the Great Hall corridor. Albus came to a halt right beneath his frame.
Stupid idea. Who asks a girl out in the middle of their birthday party?
""Hurry up," Scorpius urged. "I'm starving!"
"You're an idiot," Albus muttered, getting a glare from the portrait.
"What did you want me to do? Walk into the Great Hall like a cack-handed tosser so I can be publicly ridiculed by your cousin again?"
"You could have kept your mouth shut in class, and we'd have been out on the lawn instead of hiding in the dorm with a welt the size of Durmstrang on your face. That wasn't in the plans."
Albus remembered Wren's face brighten at lunch when he asked her if she wanted to hang out by the tree after classes. Scorpius had followed him to the Gryffindor table, for moral support, he'd said. Right. For someone with morals of a Grindylow and all the support of an overstretched....
"You know who messed up your plans? It was Rose." Scorpius pretended to toss his hair, as he mimicked Albus' cousin, "Oh, we haven't been out to the tree in ages, that would be so much fun!"
"You didn't have to stick your fingers in her pudding."
"I figured that while you were chatting up Wren, I could..."
"Act even more annoying than any wizard should be allowed?" Albus whipped his head around at a strange scraping coming from somewhere behind them. "What was that?"
Scorpius peered around too, but saw nothing. He shrugged. "Probably just Peeves again. I think."
Albus' stomach growled, which brought him back to the portrait above them. It was his third year when Headmaster Fronsac had been moved from McGonagall's study to the entrance of the kitchens. The switch had dramatically reduced between-meals snacking. Most of the students were afraid of the portrait, but Albus knew him well from Aunt Hermione's rantings when she'd been working on "The History of Headmasters, an Anthology". ("That man is truly daft. All he cares about is alliteration and low glycemic foods!")
"Gingered grapefruit," Albus said, and the portrait swung aside to reveal a small wooden door. He looked around at the empty hall again, just to be sure. "Gah! I'm going to be in so much trouble. I can't believe I've got a week of detention!"
Scorpius shoved him through the passageway. "A little detention isn't going to ruin your whole life. It's only three days. You're practically golden. "
"But people like me don't get detentions!"
"And people like me do? I haven't got detention since that collision on the field with Durmack back in fourth year, thank you, and I didn't deserve it either. It was a bloody accident, even Madame Pomfrey in the Infirmary said so. And just because I'm expected to be a jerky arse like my father doesn't mean it's who I am."
"No, I didn't mean that. But my mum and dad..."
"They probably won't even notice another owl flying in from Hogwarts, since your brother's earning an O in detentions all by himself. And if you don't help me, I'm going to starve. What is the punishment for letting your best mate become malnourished..."
"Shut it, Scorpius. I'm here, aren't I? Seriously, I can't get caught this time. Where's the map?"
Scorpius shoved his hands in his pockets and ducked under a low beam. A little house elf scurried past them in surprise.
"I sort of misplaced it. Look, this afternoon, I ran into James. The map was in my pocket, and then it wasn't. I don't know how he did it, I swear."
"Again?? He's going to catch on eventually, if he hasn't already, and then we'll never get a leg up on him." The elf scurried back with a small bag of ice. "Thanks," Albus said, proceeding to run it through a series of well-practiced anti-hex charms.
“It’s an ice pack, mate. No need for all that. Just hand it over,” complained Scorpius.
“Can’t be too careful,” Albus said, and moved his wand in another semi-circle around the bag.
“Yes. Yes you can,” Scorpius argued. "Give me that!"
Albus shrugged and tossed the bag of ice to his friend, who pressed it gently against his cheek.
Scorpius moaned. “I think she broke all the blood vessels in my face."
They both heard it. The portrait door creaked from down the passageway. Several elves passed, carrying a half-eaten pudding through a tiny door that probably led to one of the hidden passageways. Scorpius clutched at Albus like a little girl. "Someone's coming!"
"It's too late now," Albus said, and slouched into the wall. For a second, he considered crawling through that door after the pudding, but what good would that do? "They'll know someone was here." He counted the footsteps getting closer, and pictured Professor Longbottom's disappointed face from Sunday morning.
The footsteps slowed, and Wren appeared in the doorway, looking at them both like they'd done something stupid and should have known better.
"Oi!" Scorpius exclaimed. "Did Rose send you to wound me some more?"
"No, Rose sent me for dinner." The same little house elf ran up to her eagerly. She handed him a short list and a basket. He nodded and ran off. "Why are you looking at me like that? She's my friend."
Albus didn't even try to hide his scowl. "You're not supposed to be here. What if someone catches you?"
"No one saw me, Albus. I know how to get around the castle just as well as you now. Besides, maybe I'm tired of following rules all the time. Rose needs me to do this." She looked at Scorpius. "She didn't mean to hit you, by the way."
"How can you 'not mean' to slap someone?" Scorpius flexed his jaw.
Wren winced. “I'm sure if she was here, she'd tell you how sorry she was."
Albus could almost hear Rose's tone of regret through Wren's voice, and she usually meant it. Rose was nothing but truthful ninety-nine percent of the time. He could only remember one time she'd even lied, and that was to save him from getting his hand caught in Grandma Molly's cookie jar - literally - and that was when they were five.
Scorpius scoffed. "Yeah, sorry that she hates me so much. Probably telling the whole school all about it."
"She's been curled up on her bed for the last two hours. She's really embarrassed about what she did.”
Albus had never in his life known his cousin to hit anyone ever. He'd never known Wren to break the rules - at school, anyway. He frowned at the elf who ignored him and brought Wren an overloaded basket of food. She thanked him (at least her manners were still like the Wren that he knew). Then she turned to go. "See you later tonight." At Albus' blank look, she added, "Detention?"
"Right." He watched Wren leave through the passageway. Then elves swarmed around them with mashed potatoes and steaming bowls. Albus shoveled a spoonful of mutton stew into his mouth and temporarily forgot why he was so mad.
After the last dinner roll was fought over and a second bowl of pudding ("Merlin, Scorpius, use a spoon or I'll hex you to the Dead Sea!"), Scorpius nudged him with his foot. "What's wrong with you? Wren shows up and you act sick as a parrot."
Albus shook his head slowly. "I don't get it. What's going on? Rose has turned violent, Wren's sneaking around the castle like all of a sudden the rules don't matter, and her dad probably hates me."
Scorpius snorted. "If he hated you so much, he wouldn't have set you two up this week."
"It's detention, not a date."
"Yeah, but you'll be with Wren for three nights. You'll get a chance to work things through. You two always do."
"I should stop listening to you," Albus told him.
"Who else is gonna make you get off your arse and act? Nothing happens if you just sit around thinking about things. Besides, there's worse people to listen to than me." He popped the pudding spoon out of his cheek and sighed. "I guess my mum was right about acting posh when there's cutlery about. Rose is probably never going to talk to me again."
Wren plunked the food basket in the middle of the dorm room. Albus had acted so... how could he be mad at her for helping Rose, when he was sitting on the floor with Scorpius in the kitchen? Her brain buzzed with furry paws scraping over stone. She ignored it and passed a bar of sweet baking chocolate to Callie, who handed it over to a slightly less hysterical Rose. Rose smiled with watery eyes.
"Best friend ever! Thanks, Wren. And you too, Callie. You didn't have to stay with me like you did. And the flowers are so beautiful, my favorite!"
Callie's Transfiguration skills had turned a stack of quills into rainbow-tinted Calla lilies, and she'd used an ink pot to fashion a stuffed bear. "Wren's got a rabbit. I thought you could use something to cuddle too."
Wren shook the fuzziness away from her mind and concentrated on unpacking the food. Bunny had been quiet all day, even when she'd called out to him. It was Bunny's turn to wait on her while she took care of her friends... the ones that she'd shut out for too long.
“I just wanted him to stop for one second. He makes me so crazy. Why does he have to do that?”
“Because he’s Malfoy," Callie said.
“I didn't mean to hit him. Well, I did, but usually, I just visualize wiping that satisfied smirk off his face whenever he gets like that and then I'm good. Never in real life. Never in class... Godric's garters! I assaulted someone!”
Wren dug out a plate of sandwiches, and Callie gave Rose's back a reassuring pat. "I'm sure he'll be fine. He deserved what he got, after all."
Rose clutched at the chocolate like it was her last grip on reality. “But what he said was true!” she wailed with banshee-like abandon. “And I hate it! I’m not supposed to fancy someone like that.”
Wren froze, almost dropping a chicken sandwich on the floor. “You fancy Malfoy,” she repeated.
Rose nodded, wiping snot from her face. She bit into the bar. “I can’t help it," she continued, chewing around her words. "Why couldn’t it be someone nice, with a respectable family and a sense of chivalry?” She sniffed. “I've been trying for years to make him go away, but I can't get him out of my system. He just grows, like a bad rash.”
Callie drew back. "Wren, I think the chocolate has made her brain go soft."
"That's why I needed him to just go away," Rose said. "I get goose bumps every time we're in the same room together and I know he makes excuses to sit next to me and brush up against me. It makes me want to smack him."
"You did," Trudy called from across the room.
"I know. And then all I want to do is wrap him up in a big hug and tell him how sorry I am." She shuddered.
"You mean all this time he was picking fights, and you were enjoying it?" Wren asked incredulously. At the same time, a slight pressure built up behind her eyes, and then a strong smell of wet dirt. What had Bunny gotten into this time?
“I didn’t want to. I tried to like Charles instead, I really did,” Rose said dejectedly. "He's sweet and kind, but he's so..."
"Boring," Trudy finished as she caught an apple out of the air. "Thanks, Wren."
"Yeah, boring." Rose sighed. "And Malfoy's such a prat."
"Uh, I'm not sure what to do here," Callie said with a confused frown. "Are we supposed to hate Scorpius with you, or help you with a plan to break him up with Serena?"
Rose let out a dramatic sob. "It's too late! He's obviously over me, now that I've publically accosted him! The worst part is that he's really smart under all that bravado. And he's sensitive too. I can see it in his face when he thinks no one is looking."
For a split second, Wren tried to imagine Rose and Scorpius alone together. Her stomach turned over, like she was falling down the Gryffindor Tower stairs. Tea. She needed tea. Wren dug around in her dresser drawer for the packets.
"And he makes me laugh," Rose continued, "on the inside," she corrected. "Because I didn't want him to see, you see?" She hiccupped back another sob and whispered, "We could have been good together." She gazed at the flowers Callie had gotten her and broke into another round of sobs.
Wren opened her eyes when things steadied around her. Suddenly, she was hit with a surge of panic. Strange, dark balls of grime rushed behind her eyes. She felt like she was running through dark tunnels, cold and scared. A blast of air jetted out of nowhere. Wren blinked rapidly to clear her head. Rose was still talking, but Wren couldn't make out anything she was saying.
Rose's voice droned on in the background as Bunny sent her more disturbing images, Albus' rabbit, swirling black balls of fur and fangs around him, clicking together in a frightful chatter.
Wren waved her hands around her head, trying to shoo the visions away. "Stop it!"
Rose sighed heavily. "You're right. I'm so pathetic..."
"No, not you," Wren said hastily. Her three roommates were looking at her like she'd finally lost her mind, which she felt like she was about to do at any second. Wren didn't know what Bunny was trying to say, except that it felt wrong. Those things, whatever they were, shouldn't even exist.
She had to get out and clear her head. She shoved her dresser drawer closed and grabbed her bag. "Sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to yell."
"Where are you going?" Callie asked.
Wren's mind flailed with excuses, and then she remembered where she had to be in twenty minutes anyway. "Detention with Mr. Summers."
Rose gave her a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault," Wren said, and left.
The castle torches made the shadows loom uncomfortably tall around her. Wren didn't want to be anywhere near those things that Bunny had shown her. She definitely didn't want them inside her head.
It's too much, Bunny. Why are you doing this to me?
Bunny's thoughts were coming faster, more frantic as she took the stairs two at a time... small black things rolling towards him, gnashing, razor-sharp fangs, and then... everything went black.
Wren froze, mid-step. What happened? Where are you?
There was no answer. Nothing.
Wren frantically reached out, feeling for her friend. But as far as she went out of her mind, she couldn't find him.
She momentarily forgot her fear and raced out of the common room, tapping her foot impatiently for the moving staircase to roll to a stop in front of her, then she dashed down as fast as she could. He had to be somewhere on the fourth floor... that's where she'd felt him last.
Bunny! Where are you?
Her eyes darted around, trying to look everywhere at once. If she could have cocked her ears at attention, she would have.
Bunny didn't answer straight away. Wren's pulse quickened. She pressed her back against the stone wall of the corridor, listening.
Bunny's reply was faint and sent shivers down her spine.
A/N: As always, thank you to my wonderful betas, CambAngst and ladybirdflying! You guys make me look so good!
So here we are, in chapter 19. I think I had a little too much fun at Scorpius' expense, but I'm not gonna apologize. Please leave your thoughts in the little box below. I have nothing to give you in return except my deepest gratitude and virtual German Chocolate cake.
Thanks for reading!
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