Chapter 16 : Of More St. Mungo's and the Kitchens.
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Surely my mother was already scavenging the country of England looking for any suitable pureblood she could sink her claws in to and convince him I was a proper bride. If I didn’t play my cards right I could get paired off with Rodolphous Lestrange. He was the bottom of the pool simply for not being able to keep Andromeda Black away from a muggle-born. Although he is 7 years my senior and notoriously handsy with all females he would surely be an option now.
I stayed and at some point I found a moment to let my eyelids close and adjust my head in the right way to sleep. Anabelle was safe. Her family was here.
I jolted from my sleep as someone put their hand on my shoulder and blinked in the vision of Mrs. O’Malley, her deeply hazel eyes concerned.
“I’m sorry,” She said sweetly, retracting her arm, “Are you Claire?”
I squinted now, the world coming in to sharper view, and nodded. I began to shift my body, my muscles protesting at a change of posture but a needed one.
“You’re Anabelle’s best friend?”
“Ah, yes ma’am,” I commented struggling to talk around my dry throat and clearing it softly.
“The healers say she is stable and improving,” I could see the joy in Mrs. O’Malley’s eyes at this, “I’m going to take the children and their father back to the farm to start their chores and then take the older ones back to Hogwarts. Would you mind sitting with her until I can make it back?”
I nodded slowly, taking a deep breath in hopes that in some way it would calm my nerves over seeing Anabelle.
Her family shuffled out, all casting curious glances at me as they left. A small petite healer directed me back to her room and I stood outside of the frosted glass windows for a moment.
What if she looked incredibly awful? I strived to imagine the worst possible set up. Multiple bruises. Bandages everywhere. Pale skin unnatural to her. All of it made me want to find the nearest loo and hurl. I took a deep breath and turned the corner to the open sliding door.
The first thing I noticed was how peaceful she looked. Her skin was flushed with its normal color, no bruises, or obvious extreme measures of treatment taking place. Someone had combed her hair out from the ratted nest it was. I could see the flashes of her frame curled up on the floor in the dungeons and I flinched.
I closed my eyes, breathed again, and opened them to move towards her. A small wooden stool had ben placed by her bedside, which I gladly took.
“We have to stop interacting like this, Anabelle,” I commented softly, tears springing to my eyes as I remembered her stint not too long ago in the Hospital Wing.
All of the guilt came pouring over my mind now and I could feel the tears slipping and turning to sobs. Anabelle continuously got hurt for being associated with me. Those boys would have never targeted her if I could keep my mouth shut. She wouldn’t have been tortured if I had just learned to stay away from her once I knew her secret. My friendship was endangering her life constantly. I am the worst.
I took a shaky breath and reduced to sobs again, leaning on her bedside. I just needed her to wake up; I needed her to be okay. Maybe in some ways it was selfish to want that, simply to relieve a guilt overtaking my soul. But more than anything it was my fault. All my fault. I couldn’t live with myself if she did not make it through this.
My mind filtered through the many warm memories with Anabelle, the one of our first flying lesson at Hogwarts especially. We were paired together as we mostly aimed to do. She had to borrow a school’s broom while my parents had supplied me with the latest model. We both had gotten our brooms to respond and come up to us and then Anabelle mounted hers. I remember my eyes turning to saucers, as we hadn’t began to talk about this part in class. She kicked from the ground and began soaring through the air over our heads.
I still remember her smile so vividly. Her face and smile shone so brightly, almost like a glow that surrounded her as she flew. She was brilliant, brave, and talented. That was the day I decided I wanted to be more like her, and less like my family. I had never seen anyone glow like that. It was like she was as bright as the sun, and I wanted to be sunshine too.
Sooner than I’d like her mother returned and Professor Sprout came to collect me and shoo me back to school. While I was sitting with Anabelle some Auror's I had seen posted at the school came to question me just as Dumbledore had. But I help my secrets in. One passed along a card if I ever remembered anything. I slipped it in my robes.
Professor Sprout kindly gave me a pass on my classes and by the time I was in the familiar gray stone walls it was late afternoon. I slipped quietly through the halls and managed to maneuver my way to the kitchens, apparently my stomach was guiding.
I leaned up and tickled the pear and felt the wind of the portrait swinging as a chorus of house elves greeted me. The first smile in nearly 12+ hours graced my lips at the sound and I was met quickly by scuttling house elves and many ,”What can we get you missus?”
“Just a bit of treacle tart and any soup left from lunch, if you please?” I said softly, moving to the small table by the fire.
When I had rushed to the Hospital Wing I had kept Regulus' robes. I watched the flames dance shadows on the hem dusting the floor, as the kitchen seemed to shuffle behind me. And soon there was bit of tart and soup placed before me, complete with utensils.
“Thank you,” I said smiling at the one who had cautiously set down my spoon, and who beamed back just as easily.
I set out to eat, more ravenous than I originally thought, and I was even brought a second helping soon after finishing. I suppose the house elves had heard whispers of the story from my evening, and add in a very hospitable nature and here I was on my third serving of soup. Eventually I requested a glass of water and decided this was going to be the best place to unwind.
I knew people were awaiting my return to flood me with questions. Cher and Mary Lou were probably on edge at our empty beds this morning and by now had probably heard Anabelle was at St. Mungo’s. Secrets were hard to keep in Hogwarts.
I heard some shuffling at the enterance and turned as a dark mane of hair popped in and soon I recognized it as Regulus. He looked awful, like he had gotten no sleep last night and a bit forlorn. Upon seeing me he brightened some, and the elves brought him a stool opposite me.
“Misters Black, would you like anything?” One piped up quickly, scuttling to the kitchen area.
“A bit of pie if you have any,” He said easily, flashing a tight smile and sitting across from me.
“Hi,” I started a bit uneasily, leaning forward on the table now.
“Hi,” He said searching my face with his eyes, “Anabelle?”
I gave a tight smile and looked at the fire now, “She’s stable. They’re waiting for her to wake up and then they’ll know much more. Dumbledore seemed to be rushed off to discuss her injuries at one point, they probably discovered traces of unforgivable curses from her injuries. A few Aurors asked me some questions before I came back.”
Regulus sighed, “You kept it secret then? I'm assuming since no one was arrested.”
I felt my jaw clench, "I did. I'm not on a suicide mission to destroy my life."
Regulus grimaced, "We'll have to come up with a reason for both being down there."
I nodded, now looking him in the face, “What’s our story, Death Eater boy?”
Regulus's mouth formed a hard line at my insult but I knew his mind had already worked out the need for a cover, “Our only story that can explain why you were also out after hours in the dungeons during my patrol time would be us pretending we were down there for a late night, ah, meeting.”
I saw the slight pink color Regulus’ cheeks and felt heat rush to my own.
“I can give that a go,” I said softly, biting at my lower lip and casting my gaze down from his, “Especially as I’m sure everyone knows by now that Rosier and I are finished.”
I could see from my peripheral vision Regulus arch an eyebrow slightly in my direction in questionning before busying himself with his slice of pie.
“Are you sure that was the smartest move?” Regulus asked carefully, eying my reactions as a whole.
I felt the anger rise up in me at that, as if staying with the man who tortured my best friend in a dungeon to get back at me was worth a second thought.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” I said evenly, pointing my gaze at his eyes now.
“Well, your mother expects you to marry. And Rosier will gain position quickly after school simply based on his last name and his following already harnessed in these halls. You really have no other prospect of safety, no one to look after you,” He said smoothly, the familiar cool demeanor I had experienced on the train at start of term enveloping his frame.
It was what I imagined was his "work" demeanor. It's how he handled the hard aspects of being a Death Eater.
I could feel the anger simmering now. It was as if I was being mocked for allowing myself for a brief moment to do something upon my own warrant, a decision against the wishes of my mother. The small sliver of hope I had allowed to take root with Regulus Black’s friendship now diminished entirely.
“I can take care of myself, Black, of that I can assure you. I don’t need your advice on how to handle my life,” I said drawing up to pull on the cloak tighter and remembered it was his, “You should be more worried about your standings with your comrades in these walls. I bet Rosier won’t enjoy our cover up story.”
Regulus sighed and set his fork down, frustration etched in his countenance at our interactions.
“I’ll be sure to be convincing about a late night trist with you before finding Anabelle, I’m pretty good at faking it,” I commented dryly, shedding the cloak and chucking it at his form.
I marched out of the kitchens and made my way away from the kitchens as quickly as possible.
I knew I was being petty and unfair. Regulus Black did not owe me his affection or care; his only intention was ever in making sure I played my part in our world for my father’s sake. He only cared because of my last name.
I didn’t need him. I surely didn’t want to need him either.
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