Chapter 5 : V
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The girl in the water was unbearably familiar, and it was not Lily Potter.
Without really thinking, Mei rushed to the water’s edge, shrugging off her cloak and wading out into the lake. It was freezing and her teeth were chattering before the water even reached her waist, but she barely registered the cold as she kicked off from the floor to swim further out.
Lyra’s hands were still and cold when Mei caught them. Gasping for breaths through the chill, Mei turned over her friend and ran one finger over Lyra’s blue lips. Lyra didn’t respond to the movement.
Trying not to think too much about the fact she was holding onto a very obviously dead body, Mei turned and used one arm and her legs to propel herself back towards the shore, holding Lyra tightly in her other arm.
She reached the edge of the lake and managed to shove Lyra’s body up onto the mud, pushing her to stop her slipping back into the water. When Lyra was safe on the ground, Mei lifted both her elbows on the bank and leaned her head onto her forearms, unable to summon the strength to pull herself up.
“Okay. Up we get.”
Muscular arms reached into the water and wrapped around Mei’s shoulders. Mei was now shaking with the cold. She let the hands clasp her and drag her up and out of the lake.
“Merlin, Chang. You’re freezing. Do you have a death wish?”
Robin Parsons rubbed his hands down Mei’s arms for a moment, and then sighed and started to unbutton her shirt.
Mei was vaguely aware that she probably didn’t want to let the Head Boy undress her in front of so many spectators (or ever), but she was shivering so much that it didn’t feel easy to stop him.
Robin dropped Mei’s shirt to the floor, leaving her shivering in her vest, and then pulled off his school jumper and tugged it down over her head. The grey wool was soft against her skin and still warm from his chest.
Mei was still shaking. She wrapped her arms tightly across her stomach and dropped her chin down onto her chest.
Robin sighed and reached out to her, and she let him hold her close. She hardly knew him, really, and had never had a real conversation with him, but right now she was glad for his presence. And for his warmth. Her hair was dripping wet and left a damp circle in the front of his shirt, but Robin didn’t seem to mind.
“Better?” Robin looked down at her, suddenly seeming uncomfortably close.
Mei took a deep breath and pulled away, managing a shaky nod.
Robin looked away from her and down at Lyra’s body, next to them on the bank.
“Fuck,” he said.
“Yes,” Mei agreed.
“Um...” Robin ran a hand back through his hair, looking lost.
“We should find Professor McGonagall,” Mei said.
“Yes. That’s sensible. Let’s do that.”
They both looked at Lyra again. In some ways, Mei felt guilty for dragging Robin into this. He’d never had anything to do with Lyra. But then he was Head Boy, which was probably the reason he’d come over to see what was going on in the first place. And now that he’d started to help her she wasn’t going to send him away.
Robin took a deep breath and then reached down to lift Lyra from the ground. Her body was stiff in his arms, and he held her up awkwardly so that she peered over his shoulder with sightless eyes. She was still wearing her sequinned top and leather skirt from the party. The previous night, the clothes had looked daring and gorgeous. Now, in the light of day, soaked through from the lake, they looked oddly pathetic. Mei hated herself for thinking it.
The students around the lake parted to let them through. Some of them were crying. All of them looked shocked.
When they reached Hugo and Abdi, Mei hoped they might join her. Although she didn’t see either of them as close friends, they were at least familiar. But Hugo was still sobbing hysterically, struggling to breathe, and Abdi was curled so tightly around him that they looked almost like a couple. Mei wasn’t sure they even noticed her. She took a step closer to Robin and he gave her an anxious glance.
Robin led her up to the gargoyle guarding the Headmistress’ office. She’d never been there before: most Ravenclaws had never been there before. But Robin was Head Boy, so she supposed that meant he had access to the password.
“Mog,” Robin told the gargoyle.
The eagle statue behind it spun around, and they squeezed onto the staircase it revealed. Robin nearly dropped Lyra as he took a step, so they both stayed still on the stone steps and let them carry them.
The door at the top of the staircase swung open without them knocking.
Professor McGonagall looked up from her desk, one hand suspended in the air, fingers clasped around a half-eaten ginger newt. Her face went white as she looked at them, and the newt fell from her fingers as she stood to meet them.
“Mr Parsons. Ms Chang…” She sounded horrified.
“Hi,” Robin grimaced.
Mei looked down at the floor.
“What happened?” McGonagall stared at Lyra’s body, still being held up by Robin.
Robin shook his head helplessly. “Not sure. Chang pulled her out the lake.”
They walked further into the room, Mei leaving a trail of water behind her where it dripped down from her robes. They stopped just in front of McGonagall’s desk. Robin looked uncertain, and then carefully put Lyra down onto the floor.
Tears were running down Mei’s cheeks. She didn’t make any move to wipe them away. There didn’t seem to be any point: she was still drenched from the lake. Robin gave her a worried glance but didn’t reach out for her like he had by the lake. They stood a long way away from each other. Mei dropped her gaze to the floor.
McGonagall seemed to recognise that Mei was too shaken to speak, because she directed all of her questions to Robin. Mei stood and tried to focus on Robin’s words, but her head was full of cold and water and the cool, slack feel of Lyra’s lifeless hand in hers.
After a long time, McGonagall turned her attention to Mei. She looked at her with a concerned, caring expression, and then stood up. When she spoke, her voice was clipped and efficient.
“Thank you for your time, Mr Parsons. I’ll handle everything from here.”
Robin looked surprised. Mei felt surprised too. She felt like they were involved now, somehow, and the idea of just leaving and going back to normal while Lyra was dead and they were the ones that had found her was just absurd.
“Could you escort Miss Chang to the Hospital Wing? You’ve both had a shock. I’ll send a message to Hannah to let her know.” McGonagall’s voice was a little warmer now.
“Do we have to?” Mei mumbled. She just wanted to hide away somewhere.
“Yes,” McGonagall said softly. “Yes, I rather think you do. This is a traumatising experience. Hannah will look after you both while you process what’s happened.”
Mei tuned out of the conversation again, recognising that nothing she said would change McGonagall’s instruction.
Robin said something else to the Headmistress and then rested a hand on Mei’s shoulder, steering her back towards the door.
They stepped past Lyra’s body. Mei felt sick. Robin pulled her a little closer.
Hannah looked like she was going to cry when they reached the Hospital Wing, and immediately pulled both Robin and Mei into a hug. She gave them hot chocolate and Mei thought there must have been some kind of potion slipped into it because she immediately felt drowsy. She lay down on one of the Hospital Wing beds and sleep took over.
When she woke, it was to the sound of low voices from the next bed over. Mei sleepily opened her eyes and turned her head to see who was there.
Robin was sat up in bed, eyes bleary and hair tousled. He must have slept just as deeply as she had. Isidore Flint was perched on the mattress beside him, one hand caught in the back of his hair. She looked bored, as always, but Mei could see how tightly she was holding on to him. Paige Parsons and Lily Potter were standing at the end of the bed, talking quietly.
“How did you end up involved?” Paige sounded nervous.
“I was just there,” Robin said, voice hoarse. “I saw Chang get in the lake, and nobody else was doing anything.”
“People saw you with her,” Isidore said. “They’re saying you two are...involved.”
“Well, we’re not,” Robin said shortly.
“Of course you’re not,” Lily said. “We’ve never had anything to do with Chang. I hadn’t even realised she was invited last night until I ran into her with my cousin.”
Mei closed her eyes. Now that they were talking about her, they might look over. She didn’t want them to see her eavesdropping.
She tried not to feel bad about Lily’s dismissive tone. She knew that Lily Potter didn’t think much of her. It wasn’t meant maliciously. Lily wasn’t trying to say something critical: she just genuinely would never have had reason to think about somebody like Mei.
More unpleasant was the way Lily had referred to Hugo as ‘my cousin’, as if it was obvious who that referred to. Mei felt a rush of sadness for Lucy Weasley, who was always so kind but so ignored by the golden girl of Hogwarts.
And then she thought of Lyra, presumably cold and alone somewhere, and suddenly didn’t care very much about Lily Potter’s opinions on social status.
“They’re just gossiping because they want to sound like they’re involved,” Paige said. Mei still had her eyes closed but she could imagine Paige’s tiny shrug and dainty toss of her hair.
“It’s tasteless.” Isidore’s voice. “A girl’s dead, and they’re all trying to create a scandal about some random from Ravenclaw allegedly sleeping with my boyfriend.”
“We’ll deal with it,” Lily said.
“Good.” Isidore again. “But Robin, I wish you hadn’t been seen with the body. I don’t want you involved in this.”
“I wasn’t just going to stand there and watch without doing anything.” Robin sounded frustrated.
“We know.” Paige’s voice was gentler, kinder. “We wouldn’t expect you to do anything else. It’s just a bit unfortunate. Everyone saw you carrying the body. The Ministry will probably want to talk to you about it.”
“So? Why does it matter?” Robin’s words were broken by a yawn and Mei suddenly felt desperately sorry for him. If he felt as sleepy and disorientated as she did, he was in no state to deal with the questioning the girls were putting him through.
“Because they’re saying she died from a drug overdose,” Isidore said. “They think she overdosed and then threw herself into the lake.”
Mei couldn’t hold in her moan. The voices paused for a moment, presumably waiting to see if she woke up, and then continued, now more quietly.
“If it’s true, if she had dangerous substances in her bloodstream when she died, that’s a problem for us,” Paige whispered.
“And it puts a lot of pressure on you when they speak to you,” Isidore continued. “They’ll be wanting to find out who gave them to her.”
“Is that really so bad? Who did give them to her?” Robin asked.
“No idea,” Lily said sharply. “But if they start looking into drugs at Hogwarts it won’t be long before they start looking at us. And I think we all understand that once they do that, none of us come out unscathed.”
Robin muttered his agreement, and then yawned again and said he had a headache. The girls started to say their goodbyes, promising to come back and see him later on.
Mei rolled over and gave a loud, exaggerated yawn before opening her eyes. When she sat up, all three girls and Robin were watching her.
She pulled herself up into a sitting position and stared straight back at them.
“How are you feeling?” Robin sounded like he genuinely cared.
Mei just shook her head. She hadn’t made sense of any of the crazed swirl of emotions surging through her stomach, but she knew that none of them were good.
Isidore leaned down to give Robin a soft kiss. The gesture seemed too gentle to come from somebody so terrifying, but Robin stroked her hair back and was smiling when Isidore pulled away.
“See you later. Stay safe,” Paige said, hugging her brother and then messing up his hair.
“Bye, Robin,” Lily said with a nod.
None of them acknowledged Mei. They started to leave the Hospital Wing, Lily standing between the other two girls. Nothing in their appearance gave away the anxiety Mei had heard in their conversation with Robin. They walked with their usual confidence.
“Wait!” Mei called out, surprised by her sudden need to talk to Lily. “Potter, hold on a sec!”
Lily turned around. She looked exasperated. She raised one eyebrow and put a hand on her hip.
“I think you should go and see Hugo,” Mei said. She sort of wished she hadn’t said anything, but she knew she was doing the right thing.
Lily raised both eyebrows this time, and tilted her head forward, her irritated expression making it clear that she wanted Mei to elaborate.
“Um…” Mei wasn’t sure how to explain Hugo’s state earlier on. “He, well, um, he was there when we found her. Earlier on.”
Lily still looked annoyed.
“And from a distance...from a distance she looks like you.”
Lily took a step forward, instantly worried.
“I think he might need you,” Mei said. “He...wasn’t good.”
Lily gave her a sharp nod and swept out of the room. She walked with obvious purpose, and Isidore and Paige didn’t try to catch up with her, instead leaving at their own pace. Mei thought they probably weren’t welcome when Lily was just with Hugo. There was a clear hierarchy in Lily’s carefully cultivated friendship group, and nobody came close to her favourite cousin.
Robin groaned and rolled back over in his bed. Mei wasn’t sure whether to say something to him, but she felt annoyed that he hadn’t been nicer about her when the other girls were discussing her.
She knew it was silly - he was Robin Parsons, one of the most respected and admired students in the school, and definitely not friendly with somebody like her - but the whole day it had felt like he was her ally, like he understood what was going on, and she was sad to have that illusion so abruptly shattered.
Instead of speaking, Mei pulled her covers up over her head and closed her eyes.
This time, sleep was not peaceful and dreamless. Mei was restless, rolling over and curling up into a tight ball every time flashes of Lyra’s colourless face burst into her dreams.
After a particularly disturbing dream, in which Mei was trying to swim Lyra to shore but Lyra’s body grew heavier and heavier, dragging Mei down into the depths of the lake with her, Mei startled awake.
It was dark now, and Robin’s bed was empty. Mei wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but she must have slept away the rest of the day. She groaned and sat up.
She wasn’t alone. Lucy Weasley was sitting next to the bed, dozing in her chair, a book still open on her lap.
“Lucy?” Mei whispered, not wanting to wake the older girl if she was sleeping.
Lucy opened her eyes and immediately wheeled herself forwards when she realised Mei was awake.
“Hey,” she breathed. “You’re up.”
Mei nodded. “Um...you’re here?”
“McGonagall called an emergency meeting with Robin and me, to talk to us about what happened. I came here straight afterwards. I thought you might need a friend.”
Mei bit her lip. It felt reassuring to have Lucy call her a friend.
“I’m so sorry, Mei,” Lucy murmured.
And then Mei was crying again. But this time it felt right to cry. The whole day had been confusing and terrifying and awful, and it was a relief to let it all flow out of her.
Lucy took Mei’s hand and held it in both of hers. Her fingers were warm and comforting.
When Mei continued to cry, Lucy lifted her hand up and pressed a single kiss against her palm. And Mei thought there was nobody she’d rather have next to her right now.
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