Chapter 13 : (13)
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Contrary to her habit of slamming down the paper once she was done angrily rifling through it, Susan let it fall out of her grasp in horror the Monday of Apparition testing. Everyone around her froze midway through their lunches and conversations, staring at her in bewilderment.
"What?" Justin pressed. "Talk to us, Sue."
"Selene and Berenice Montgomery's brother is dead."
"What? You don't die from a werewolf bite," Ernie said. Berenice Montgomery was Head Girl; despite her being a Slytherin, Ernie quite liked her, as did most students. The news of her brother's attack, because of how gruesome it was and because of the victim's young age, had shaken the school, and had been closely monitored by many.
"You can if the werewolf gets carried away." When blank stares turned in his direction, Wayne threw up his hands. "We saw it in third year when Professor Snape covered Professor Lupin's DA class. And it's in multiple books – real books, too, not just drivel like Emerett Picardy's Lupine Lawlessness: Why Lycanthropes Don't Deserve to Live. Heck, do none of you read?"
"I do," Henry said quietly. "There are a few cases of people dying from the bite, but it's very rare and studies have shown that it's most likely linked to an allergic reaction that causes one to go into anaphylactic shock. In most cases, if the werewolf kills you, it means it was out to get you in its human form as well. If you'll excuse me." Neat and prim, he set down his cutlery to the side of his still half-full plate and left the hall, almost running to the door.
Wayne had gone pale. "I messed up." He bolted after Henry without another word, not that anything needed to be said. They weren't privy to the details, but everyone around the table knew of Henry's past. How could they not? Two and a half years ago, the bloodbath in the Zeller household had been on the front page of every paper for weeks on end. Three Muggles with their throats torn out, all signs pointing to a werewolf attack, was enough to attract the attention of the wizarding world. That, barely a year after the announcement that a werewolf had been teaching in Hogwarts, had caused massive anti-werewolf protests all through Britain that had drowned out the original murder, now borne like a standard for the movement instead of treated like the tragedy it was.
This, however, was the first Henry had ever spoken of a potential motive – to most of the group, at least. If Wayne's reaction was anything to go by, he'd definitely known.
Everyone around Eloise appeared to have reached the same conclusion.
"Fuck," Susan whispered, aghast.
"I'm going after them," Eloise announced, picking up her bag from the floor. "Pomfrey made me responsible of an improved Calming Draught for Henry in case of a panic attack and I have a nasty feeling it might be required right about now."
The boys weren't very far outside the Great Hall. Eloise immediately recognised Wayne's back, crouched though he was in a little alcove tucked just by the stairs. As she made her way nearer, she could hear the low rumbling of his voice, confirming her fears. Henry cowered in the corner, hyperventilating, back to the wall. Wayne had grabbed one of his hands and pressed it to his own stomach, breathing deeply in and out in an attempt to help Henry regulate his breathing.
"Can't – breathe."
"I've got you," Eloise reassured him, thwacking her bag with her wand for the potion she was looking for. With another swish, the vial uncorked and poured a dollop of the potion into her hand. She pressed her hands together, counted to three, and pressed her draught-coated fingers to both sides of Henry's face, palms cupping his cheeks and fingers tangling in his hairline. Immediately, Henry's respiration became less laboured; only when he'd stopped wheezing entirely did Eloise let herself move closer to touch her forehead to his. Wayne moved over to allow her to do so, still holding Henry's hand loosely in his.
Henry made it about five seconds before collapsing, sobbing, against the pair of them, most of his body in Wayne's lap but his face in the crook of Eloise's neck. She made sure to keep her hands against his head – Madam Pomfrey had insisted on the importance of maintaining contact for as long as possible for the potion to achieve maximum efficiency. It appeared to work, as the sobbing stopped soon enough – the tears, however, did not, and they continued to trickle down Eloise's neck and into her hair for a long, long time.
Taking their Apparition licence test after Henry's breakdown was not an easy feat, and would have made even more difficult had Henry himself not been the one to encourage them all. As it was, he'd managed to pull himself together without very little help (save for the hugging) and, once his eyes were dry, had turned to Wayne and Eloise with steely determination and an unwavering "Right. Let's go get our licences."
And so Eloise found herself standing in front of the door to the Great Hall at two p.m. sharp, wedged between Morag McDougal and Theodore Nott as she waited for her name to be called. Henry's panic attack was still on her mind, which did not help the pre-examination jitters she could feel crawling under her skin. Had she been with Wayne or Susan, the former of whom she could spy towering over the others a couple of people ahead, she would have been able to vocalise her nerves; opening her heart out to anyone else was out of the question. She resolved to keep her anxiety to herself, but must have failed miserably because Theodore Nott tapped her on the shoulder and held out a square wrapped in aluminium foil.
"Chocolate?" She stared at him, dumbfounded, until he explained. "You've been dancing from foot to foot for the past five minutes and you're stressing me out, please just take the candy and calm the hell down."
"Thanks, I guess."
Susan exited the Hall then and made a beeline for Eloise, cardboard box in her hands and huge smile lighting up her face. "I passed! They've got a bunch of hoops littered around the hall like they did all the times we practiced, and they ask you to Apparate within specific ones for a bit. Then they make you Apparate someplace outside the castle, somewhere you can't directly see, and from then you have to return to the Great Hall with the examiner in Side-Along."
Eloise matched Susan low, conspiratorial tone. "Is the examiner nice?"
"One's Twycross, so nice, I don't know, but fair, definitely. The other's your dad – he's the one who supervised me and when we were leaving, he gave me this!" She shook the box gently. "I think your brother baked us something. Can I wait for you in the Common Room or do you want me to wait for you here?"
"Common's Room fine, we can all meet there and see what's in the box. Don't you dare open it before we're all there, okay?"
"Will do!" Susan grabbed Eloise's hand, gave it a quick squeeze. "You're going to be brilliant, I'm sure of it."
When Eloise's turn was called – along with Theodore Nott's – the Hall was exactly as Susan had described it. Her father stood by the door with a clipboard in hand.
"Mr Nott, you'll be with me – sign here, please. Miss Midgeon," he winked, "you'll go with my colleague as soon as you too have signed the roster."
The first part of the examination went very smoothly, easing some of Eloise's nerves away. She successfully popped in and out of hoops in the patterns Twycross asked for, without colliding with Theo Nott once, nor leaving a body part behind. After ten minutes of what was most likely warming up, however, she was instructed to Apparate at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, close enough to greenhouse 5's east corner to touch it without needing to take a step, and the specificity of the instruction made the stress flare up once more. Twycross was watching her with razor-sharp intensity. She took a deep breath to center herself, locked eyes with her dad – focused on her instead of his student – across the hall, pictured greenhouse 5 in her mind's eye.
Greenhouse 5 was where Eloise had first asked Professor Sprout to recommend her for Saint Mungo's junior Healer training programme, and had obtained a positive response. It was where Susan had once hexed Zach hard enough for his antlers to take several hours until they were removed, where Eloise had once kissed Stephen Cornfoot from Ravenclaw for long enough for them to get caught, where she'd been asked to tutor Cormac McLaggen –
It was where she stood now, the glass pane of the greenhouse cool under her fingers. Behind the window, pots holding Venomous Tentacula shoots were visible, easily recognisable from the way they wilted away from the light streaming in. Wilkie Twycross faced her with a smile.
"Excellent. Now, I'd like you to Apparate us both back to the Great Hall, onto the dais behind Professor Slughorn's seat. Whenever you're ready."
She took Twycross' arm, and with determination, destination and deliberation – in that precise order and no other – popped back in the Great Hall as she'd been bid, hair and eyebrows still on.
"We did it!" Justin cheered, Firewhiskey spilling from the bottle onto his bedspread. Ernie cleaned the mess up with his wand immediately, saving Zach from sitting down in the puddle of alcohol.
Eloise laughed from her perch on Wayne's bed; she could feel his chest rumbling against her back as he chuckled as well. They'd pulled three of the boys' beds together so that they could all sprawl as one. Between Henry's episode and their successful Apparition testing (except for Ernie, who unfortunately would only turn seventeen next month and thus could not take the test yet), everyone wanted a night together. The alcohol was just a plus, provided by Susan's parents over the Christmas holidays with a solemn promise that they'd wait until this day to consume it.
There were, to Eloise's dismay, already no more cupcakes left, despite them having opened the box barely half an hour ago. Zach, when drinking, tended to fall upon sweet things like a sugar monster; Henry was in need of comfort food; Eloise simply liked her brother's cupcakes.
Wayne nudged her when the others were otherwise occupied and handed her half a cupcake he'd managed to save – Butterbeer, her second favourite. Eloise beamed at him.
"You're my favourite."
He pressed a kiss to her hair. "Don't tell Susan."
Eloise was about to reply when Zach made a loud gagging noise. "There are children here!"
"Shut the fuck up," came Wayne and Eloise's chorused reply. Ernie – the only minor in the room and most likely the child Zach had been talking about – drove the point home by pointing his wand at a slipper for it to hit Zach across the back of the head. Susan, who never missed an opportunity to needle Zach, laughed at the indignant look on his face; she continued to laugh when his retribution befell her as well, even as she fell off the bed from the force of the pillow he threw at her. Eloise snuggled in closer to Wayne, keeping watchful eyes on her people until she nodded off.
May came hand in hand with a whirlwind of excitement at the upcoming Gryffindor / Ravenclaw match. Hufflepuffs had accepted that they'd likely be second or third, so the stakes were less high for them; this did not stop them from contributing to the general enthusiasm. What they did not participate in was the petty pigtail-pulling that flared up in the halls. Most of it was verbal, but there had been some wandwork happening that sent several students to the Hospital Wing ("Quidditch," Madam Pomfrey snarled under her breath, healing yet another scorched arm).
The week before the match, all attention was dragged away from sports to focus on Draco Malfoy instead. Harry Potter had attacked him in the bathroom, Moaning Myrtle told everyone willing to listen. Such information was soon confirmed directly by the victim, who took great glee in reminding people that Potter would not be playing Ravenclaw in punishment. This glee near rivalled the air of affected martyrdom he put on when asked to give an account of what had happened to him.
"Of course what happened to him was awful, but to look so weepy every time he relates the tale, Jesus," Susan complained one evening as they were changing into sleepwear. It was finally starting to get warm enough for them to trade long pants for shorts, and both girls were thrilled to finally be able to wear their matching Falmouth Falcons pyjamas. "This is worse than when he aggravated that Hippogriff then expected us to feel sorry for him when it was his own damn fault he got hurt in the first place."
By the time match day rolled around, Susan was prepared to hex anyone with an opinion on the topic. She was so on edge that Eloise was relieved to see her take off for the pitch with the boys acting as buffers between her and murder. It was a bit of a disappointment to have to stay behind – Eloise was not a huge Quidditch fan, but could appreciate finer things like House spirit and yelling your lungs out – but could not back out of Hospital Wing volunteering today, when Madam Pomfrey had decided to monitor the match personally to get a sense of exactly how needed an in-field Healer was.
As often on Saturday mornings, the Wing was empty: students tried their best to be out on Friday evenings. Only three beds were occupied: one by Euan Abercrombie, nursing boils on his face from a potion gone wrong; one by Aloysius Parkinson – again, Eloise thought with a pang – looking exhausted (Nightmares. Required Calming Draught and a Sleeping Potion, read the Matron's notes); and one by Blaise Zabini who was apparently fighting the flu (not the Black Cat Flu, thankfully, but still some other irritatingly resistant strain).
The two younger boys were fast asleep when Eloise checked in on them. Zabini, however, was half-seated in his bed, hands folded in his lap and gaze trained on the ceiling with the look of someone this close to imploding of boredom. He looked relieved at Eloise's appearance.
"Midgeon!" he croaked. "Do you have any time to spare? My head feels like a cauldron but if I don't talk to someone I'm going to die."
If she was surprised that he'd remembered her name, she didn't show it. "I have time. Let me get you something for your headache before that then I can sit by your side for a while."
Once he'd chewed on the pain-relieving gelatinous cube she fished out of his bedside table, she conjured up a chair and dragged it near the delicate metalwork of the bed's headboard.
"Head feeling better?"
"Not by much, but I'm assuming it'll take a while for the effects to kick in?"
"A couple more minutes, yeah. So. You wanted to talk and I'm awful at chitchat, so you'll have to get the conversation going."
"Salazar, your bedside manner is abysmal."
"I can take my awful bedside manner somewhere else if it's not up to your standards, Mr. Zabini."
"Call me Blaise, please – we're in the same year and Mr. Zabini is painfully formal. It's also used as a rather pejorative nickname referring to my mother's latest husbands, so please. No."
"Would you be telling me this if you weren't medicated?" Eloise questioned.
Zabini shrugged. "It's public knowledge. You need to uphold Healer-patient confidentiality anyway, right?"
"I'm not sure this'd fall under that, but regardless, I keep my mouth shut."
"I think Muggle-borns, blood-traitors and half-breeds are beneath us. Going to keep your mouth shut now?"
Thunder rolled through her gut, but she kept an impassive face. "Of course. You're not breaking any rules nor putting anyone in danger, are you?"
He whistled lowly. "You're good."
What is it with you men and your habit of testing me? "Neutrality and impartiality are two key Healer values, you know." And we got that from the Muggles, you arrogant piece of shit.
"Huh. The more you know. Healing is definitely what you want to do, then?"
"Yes. Since I was ten, I think? Being able to help out here is a privilege, especially given how tight the spots are once you start training properly."
"Ah, you'll be fine. You're a Pureblood, aren't you? It'll play in your favour."
Eloise, in spite of her very best efforts, was starting to get annoyed enough by the conversation for her displeasure to seep onto her traits. She discretely tapped her wand to non-verbally cast a sleeping spell on Zabini. "You think?"
He yawned. "Mhmm. It generally –" he yawned again, "sorry, it generally does. Look, I'm sorry, the analgesics appear to have caught up with me and I'm probably going to doze off. Thank you for taking the time to chat, Eloise, it's been a pleasure –" yawn "– talking to you again. I hope we have the opportunity to talk again soon."
Keep on hoping, bud, Eloise stewed as she snapped the curtains around his bed shut. Keep on doing just that.
A/N: Again, I am so sorry for how incredibly long this took. Uni has restarted and has been kicking my butt already, so I'm trying to pace out publishing the chapters I already have written in order to avoid finding myself with nothing to post in the coming weeks. Making you wait a month is a lot, though, so I'll try not to make you wait this long for the next one! I hope you enjoyed this chapter -- did you like Zabini's appearance, or should I toss him out of this story for good and spare us all? What about Henry's backstory? I have no idea what any of this is worth and I feel like I've only been posting super filler-y chapters for a while, so please let me know if you feel the same or not, and what kind of thing you'd like to see in the grey box below either way!
One final note before I log out: massive thanks to MarieBlack who took the time to leave me some kind words on chapter 12, it really means the world to me!
Events referenced in this chapter -- namely Draco's attack -- belong to JK Rowling and can be found in chapter 24, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Sectumsempra.
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