Chapter 3 : Chapter Two
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“It is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.”
— Charlotte Brontë
The morning was grey and windy. The hours crept by and I scarcely moved, save for turning my head to the rain-beaten window. Through the rippling glass I could see the stone archway at the edge of the courtyard. Students hurried under Rain-Repellant Charms; the odd First-Year hid beneath a Muggle umbrella. They seemed to be eons away from the silence of the Hospital Wing. I was missing Potions, my second most-valued class after Herbology, and I couldn’t bring myself to worry.
I felt nothing.
Eventually Pomfrey came to stand over me, eyeing the untouched jam and toast on the bedside table. “It’s time for your tonic, dear.”
I took the proffered cup gingerly, peering inside the pewter vessel. “Shrivelfig and knotgrass.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “Yes, that’s right. You knew that only by its scent?”
As I sipped from the cup I think I nodded; at least I meant to. Though anticipated the bitterness made my nose crinkle. Madame Pomfrey was looking at me with such pity that my face flushed in embarrassment.
“Now, about your injury…” she began uneasily. “A fair amount of spells and potions will help reduce the scarring, but unless you really keep up with them—and I mean really—I’m afraid it will leave a mark.”
The cup nearly slipped from my hands. There must have been some dark magic in Michael’s spell; a tarry blackness that couldn’t be reversed. And now, every time I changed my uniform in the morning, or bathed, or reached for a tall shelf in the greenhouse, there it would be. My brand.
“Miss Fairchild, I’ve spoken with the Deputy Headmistress. She’d like to talk with you about what happened.”
“Oh.” I sank into the pillows, wishing they would swallow me. “But I don’t remember.”
The words had been said so many times that even I was starting to believe them.
Despite her obvious doubt, Pomfrey’s voice was gentle. “Of course. She just wants to help you. We all do.”
I nodded numbly, holding the warm cup close: a simple mistake. The steam dampened my face and suddenly I was pulled into the memory behind my eyelids. The painting swinging open, mist billowing into the corridor, settling onto my cheeks. The echoing zzzzt! of dress zippers. The torch extinguishing. Cold hard moon. Hands shoving; falling into water chest-deep; same hands gripping my arms; fingers around my throat; the wand burning like a cigarette—
“Did you hear me, dear?” Madame Pomfrey was saying, her brow furrowed. “You have a visitor.”
I resurfaced from the memory like it were miles underwater, back into the still grey morning of the Hospital Wing, but it was too late. I murmured an unheard, “No—” my involuntary flinch sending my side aching.
But Emily had already appeared from behind the partition, walking like a death row victim. A stringy bouquet of flowers—some small white blossoms and one large, orange lily—was in her hand.
“Hi, Chloe,” she said quietly.
I looked away.
“Well. I’ll just find a vase for those,” Pomfrey said before quickly disappearing.
Emily’s chin was lowered and I felt her gaze boring into me; I knew that her lips were parted around her teeth. Until now they had been just another of her traits, but today they were infuriating in their largeness. I wanted to hurl the bedside clock into them. But I only looked pointedly out the window with my stomach in knots.
“I brought you some flowers,” she said—stupidly, I thought, as they’d already been mentioned. At my silence she lowered her voice. “I had to go into the Forbidden Forest to get them. I’ve fed Bijou too. She was clawing on the bedsheets this morning, so I reckoned…”
I wished the cat had clawed her instead.
“What, are you going to ignore me forever?”
“Look, I’m sorry—”
I finally cut my gaze to her. “Why didn’t you come back for me?”
For once in her life, Emily was silent.
“I know that you couldn’t have fought them all. We were outnumbered. But you could have at least tried, like I did. You didn’t even come back to help me! You left me there!”
“I was going to come back—”
“No you weren’t! Don’t lie to me!”
Pomfrey looked up sharply from her desk. I swallowed against the rush of curses on my tongue as she returned to place a glass vase on the nightstand. Under her pointed gaze Emily placed the flowers in the vessel, her head down. The seconds ticked by.
“Please, Chloe,” Emily whispered when Pomfrey left us. Fat tears were falling down her cheeks. “I said I’m sorry.”
The worst part was that I could have showed her—cinched up my hospital gown, pulled away the bandage and made her see the mark I was given; the one meant for her. My brand. Like I was one of the cattle my father raised. But I didn’t want Emily to know my secret, or to grant her some kind of catharsis. I didn't want her guilt, her tears, or her apologies.
“Please leave.” I turned my face to the window again.
I heard her sniffling and blubbering with what might have been real emotion. But I didn’t care. When her figure slumped away from the corner of my vision I called, “You should wash your hands. Those lilies are poisonous.”
As her footsteps faded I stared at the large bloom in the vase, its orange hue so violent that it seemed to be humming.
“Well, you’ve done a real number on yourself this time.”
“Yeah, you look like shit, mate.”
A tired chuckle. “Thank you for the kind words, as always, James.”
Though the voices were lowered, I could hear them clearly amidst the quiet. Lying on my side I could see through a tiny opening in the partition: another bed, across the room, was occupied. I wondered how long he had been there. Did he hear my exchange with Emily, or worse, with McGonagall?
After a very uncomfortable, fruitless conversation, I had promptly pretended to fall asleep. It had worked: the questioning stopped. Nobody seemed to want to say the words, “Who did this to you?” but their gentle side-stepping and furrowed brows and shared glances of concern made it clear. Nobody believed that this was an accident, or that I couldn’t remember what happened. But unless they gave me Veritaserum, they would never know.
I didn’t want anyone to ever know.
The rain had stopped, the heavy winds pushing away fat clouds so that the sun was nearly able to break through. My curtain blocked the other patient from view, but I could glimpse fragments of several others, standing at the foot of his bed.
“Need us to bring you any notes?” another voice came eagerly.
“He doesn’t want your notes, Wormtail. They’ve always got crumbs on them.”
There was a shuffling, as if someone had been pushed. “Stop being such a child, Sirius.”
My heart quickened. I recognized his name, and her lilting Irish accent. It was my rescuers from last night.
Facing them in the corridors had been somewhere in the back of my mind, behind all the fog and clouds of the past twelve hours. But it hadn’t sent my heart hammering before now. How was I supposed to continue after this? Every time we passed in the corridors I would shrivel away. Not to mention seeing Michael Flint—
I swallowed against the bile in my throat.
The call came from just beyond my partition. It was McKinnon. I froze, my damp palms clenching the bedsheets, my heart beating in my eardrums. And then, to my regret, I said, “Yes?”
“It’s Marlene,” she said. Marlene McKinnon. I had heard her name before. “Can I come in?”
I swallowed. “Okay.”
A hand appeared and gently parted the curtain. In the light of day, without the threat of losing consciousness, I did recognize her from classes. She had a slight build, and was only a bit taller than myself, with unruly white-blonde hair and a long nose. I knew why I remembered her: she was beautiful in a cunning way.
“How’re you feeling? I’ve brought you some notes from today.”
I spotted the bundle of parchment in her arms and something welled up in my throat. “Thank you,” I croaked.
The bed shifted under her weight. “I hope they’re alright. Professor Sprout said that Herbology and Potions are your best subjects.”
I nodded. I couldn’t read the expression in her eyes, pale blue and ringed in smoky black. But the seconds ticked by and she only said, “Is there anything else you need?”
“No, this is perfect, thank you. I should be leaving in a few hours to catch History of Magic.”
Her smile was dimpled and revealed a row of small straight teeth. Not like Emily’s at all. “All right. Hey, maybe you could help me with Herbology sometime. I’m dreadful, but I hear you’re quite the prodigy.”
It wasn’t a request for help: she was offering.
She wasn’t a person who would ask questions. She was someone to spend time with, away from whoever landed me in the Hospital Wing. I could feel my cheeks tinging with pink again under her straightforward gaze, but I was grateful.
“Of course. I’d love to.”
She clapped a hand on my ankle in a friendly way, giving it a little shake. “Brilliant!”
Marlene’s smile was infectious. I returned it, the crinkling of my cheeks an almost unfamiliar feeling at this point. None of the others even seemed to notice me, chatting with their friend across the room. It made me feel relieved and lonely all at once.
“You must be knackered,” she said. “Sorry to pester you, I just needed a moment of sane conversation. This lot can be a bit much.”
She tipped her head behind her, in the direction of the boys, who were now managing to cause a ruckus in the Hospital Wing. James Potter was making a show of noisily trying to kiss the bedridden boy better, as he weakly fought him off through fits of laughter.
“Stop fighting it, Remus!”
Of course it was Remus Lupin who was in the hospital. He’d always been sickly. Once I witnessed him topple over in the corridor between classes. But he must have gotten into a fight this time: his head, arm, and hands were heavily bandaged.
“I would imagine they are,” I agreed.
Laughing alongside James and Remus was Peter Pettigrew, who had been my Potions partner on more than one occasion. He was quite unskilled and Professor Slughorn often paired us together in the hopes that Peter would learn something. They were an odd group, I always thought. They seemed to think they had run of the school, when really it was people like Michael Flint and the Black Adder Society who got away with whatever they wanted.
An involuntary shiver shook me. Marlene’s brow wrinkled but then we were distracted again by James, who was on all fours over Remus’s bed. He withstood only a moment before Pomfrey was rushing over.
“I ask that you don’t terrorize my patients, Potter!” She swatted him with a rolled-up parchment. “Out, the lot of you! Mister Lupin needs to rest.”
“And I was just trying to kiss him goodnight!”
But clearly this kind of ridiculousness was exactly what Remus needed. He looked better than he had only moments ago, a flush returned to his cheeks as he laughed behind Pomfrey’s back.
Marlene snorted, “Reckon we’re off, then.”
“I think that was record time for being kicked out of the Hospital Wing,” I said.
“Oh, you’d be surprised.”
It was beginning to feel like there were two parts of me: a fledgeling one, weak but sunny, here in this room with these strangers, and another that was buried within the thoughts pushed into the back of my skull. They were like two plants growing from the same seed; borne of the same source and fighting to survive over the other.
“Marlene!” cried James theatrically, hand extended as if summoning a spirit from the dead. Our eyes met briefly but there was no recognition.
She rolled her eyes grandiosely and said, “Idiots.” But she was beaming.
When she shifted her weight I suddenly noticed the tall frame of Sirius Black, leaned against the wall. He had been hidden before. His uniform barely met dress code, tie untied and shirtsleeves pushed past his elbows. He must have recognized me—or something—because his grey eyes were glimmering in the shadows, boring into me. It felt like he had caught me naked.
No boy had ever looked at me that way before.
I looked away and back again, but he was still staring. Then his face broke into a bright grin as if he had no control over himself. Something stirred in my ribcage and I swallowed thickly.
But, with a wave of embarrassment, I realized that Sirius wasn't looking at me—not at all. He was looking at Marlene, eyes following her as she stood up to place her notes on my nightstand.
Of course. The way he was so willing to help me last night, because she had insisted. And just now he had stopped teasing Peter about his notes—because she had scolded him. I had only seen the two of them together twice, and it was clear: Sirius Black was smitten.
She was oblivious, her back to him. I dully registered her saying, “Just send me an owl when you’ve got the time to study. I could use all the help I can get.”
I hoped she didn’t notice the color in my cheeks. “Alright.” Sirius had strode away to rejoin James and Peter. His absence made it so that I could find my words again, “Thank you, Marlene. Really.”
The sun had broken from behind a cloud, for only a moment, but it sent her whole person glowing like a Patronus. She really was beautiful.
“Any time,” she said.
I chose to return to my dormitory when most students would be in classes. I didn’t want to encounter anyone on the walk through the corridors; not even Marlene. Pomfrey had given me another strong potion, and she was anxious for me to return on my own, but at last agreed that I could manage.
I changed back into the uniform I wore the night before. The bloodstains had been Tergio’d but a faint pink remained. With a tight-lipped smile Pomfrey gave me a week’s worth of potions and released me. The question was still in her eyes:
Who did this, Chloe?
The walk was tedious. The portraits watched me with interest, but even they were ignored. By then, the Potion had worn off enough to elicit pain, and all I wanted to do was run to the safety of my four-poster. With tiny steps I trekked throughout the castle, taking a longer route to avoid nearing the Slytherin dungeons.
The Hufflepuff common room was not completely empty, to my dismay, but its sparse occupants barely raised a head at me. Word must not have gotten out. I hoped that by some miracle it would stay that way.
The door to the Sixth-Year girls’ dormitory creaked open and I stood on its threshold until I was sure it was empty. Emily was in Divination, I knew, and that was what mattered most.
Bijou was on my bed, and stood and stretched at the sound of the door. An owl would have been much more practical for a First-Year, but my Muggle parents assumed that all witches had cats. When our neighbor’s cat had its litter, I chose the only calico amidst the spots and solids.
Bijou hopped down and curled around my feet, purring, but I only stood motionless. I couldn’t lift her into my arms or bend to scratch her head.
And I couldn’t go to my lessons today, I realized. Part of me had believed that I would attend Defense Against the Dark Arts, but I couldn’t be around hexes and curses. I didn’t know when I could ever be. Pushing the thought away, I moved to my four-poster and tugged the curtains shut. I didn’t disrobe until I was cocooned in darkness. I didn’t want to see what had become of my bare skin.
With Bijou curling in circles at the foot of my bed I drew the covers back. I wasn’t tired. But all I wanted was to be asleep. As I slid into bed my arm brushed against something leafy—I could tell by its texture that it was a flower. Another apology from Emily, surely.
With my shrouded four-poster illuminated in white light, I froze. The flower was a single black rhododendron. In floriography, or the cryptic communication using flowers, a rhododendron meant danger. Beware. I’m watching. But surely I was being paranoid. These secret messages had died out after the Victorian period. Nobody used the language anymore.
Unless they knew that I would understand.
My last remaining hope that I was wrong—that it was another pathetic attempt at an apology from Emily—was destroyed when I spotted the note. It was tied around the stem with a crimson ribbon. With a trembling hand I gingerly lifted the flower in the wandlight. It wilted in my hand, petals falling like ashes. The note was only three letters; a signature, I realized. Neat, looping script on a torn scrap of parchment: B.A.S.
Black Adder Society.
Author's Note: I was so excited to get to use floriography in this chapter--It was (is?) a real code used to convey secret messages, and is worth reading up on!
This chapter hopefully set the tone for the relationship between Chloe and the Marauders (particularly Marlene and Sirius), and the role they played within the school as opposed to other groups, like the Black Adder Society. Chloe's PTSD will be more apparent as the story continues. Right now she's feeling shocked and numbed from it all, but as you can guess, she won't be kept away from Michael Flint and the others.
I also changed this to take place in the Sixth Year, rather than the fifth. After some reviewing this fit the overall timeline better.
Thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think in a review ♥
(I do not own the Charlotte Bronte quotation cited at the beginning of this chapter.)
This beautiful chapter image, featuring Sirius and Marlene, was created by arietty. at The Dark Arts.
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