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Chapter 18 : The Petrification Spell
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Anyway, a huge thanks to my beta, Fallstar. And thanks a lot for the inspiration and help. *hugs* hehe :P Another huge thanks to all the people who've reviewed so far.)
Fastastic and absolutely beautiful
chapter image by the talented the_tofuubeaver @ TDA ^_^
Harry drew his wand and pointed it at their direction, bellowing, “Let go of her, Malfoy, or you’ll bloody regret it!”
She tried struggling free from his arms, while at the same time holding onto him for support; his arms wrapped around her slender waist, held her upright, kept her from collapsing to the ground. Even as she shook, trembled, shuddered, her weak fists clutched at his shirt. Hearing her cry out Weasley’s name was unbearably mind-numbing torture for him: for a moment—it had to be just for a moment—he would jinx the whole world just to take her pain away.
Merlin, what was going on with him? He didn’t even care about her.
“Gra—Hermione,” Draco said softly in her hair, her name melting on his tongue. He wrapped her tighter to himself, trying in vain to comfort her. “It’s all right.” Nothing was all right. He doubted that she even heard him for her eyes were glued on Weasley’s limp body.
“Let go of her!” There was Potter’s voice again, a snarl, a bellowing, his wand still aimed at him. Draco pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes.
“What’s your problem, Potter?” Draco growled, trying to shield Hermione from the infuriated scar-faced boy whom she referred to as her best friend. He decided to ignore Potter, and instead focused on everyone’s gazes that were boring into him, looking at him as if he was the reason for their misery and for Weasley’s condition. Was he Stupified? Paralysed? Dead? Oh Merlin!
“W—What’s going on, Professor?” His throat feeling dry, Draco’s voice rose an octave as he seized the faces of everyone in front of him with one fleeting glance.
There was McGonagall who stepped forward. Her usually stern-looking face was drained of all colours; her ordinarily perfectly balanced glasses were askew; her always-tight dark brown teacher’s bun was slightly dishevelled: McGonagall now stepped beside them. Though Draco never really paid much attention as to how the Ancient Hag of Hogwarts looked; he didn’t think there was much of a difference in her appearance than on any other day.
Dumbledore, face ashen and the corners of his thin lips twitching, stopped about a yard in front of him and Hermione. With his long, elegant fingers, bony from age, he pushed his glasses up his nose and, gestured at McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey to proceed with Weasley to some else where that Draco assumed was the hospital wing.
“Mr. Malfoy, Miss Granger,” the headmaster said quietly, his eyes narrowing down at them—at Draco. “Have you been aware of the explosion that occurred down the hallway a few minutes ago?”
Draco shook his head, unable to speak. Explosion?
“W-What explosion?” Hermione asked, her voice little louder than a whisper, still it cracked mid-sentence. Drying her eyes at her sleeve, she tried walking towards her friends, staggering to a halt right in front Weasley, which was hovering away from them. Two students, who Draco believed were Chang and Weasley’s sister, stood close nearby, faces devoid of any emotions. Only seconds earlier, hadn’t Draco noticed the Golden Boy, Hayden, rushing past them towards the staircase, and running upstairs? Where was he heading to? Hayden Malcolm had looked as troubled as the others, as if fleeing from the crime scene: why had Dumbledore let him just leave, were he to be a witness to the murder of a friend of Scarhead—assuming a murder had been committed—or really any Slytherin; so how did he manage it?
Draco felt the warmth that Hermione’s body had provided leaving his side as she slid forward and in the next moment was in Potter’s skinny arms.
“Oh, Harry,” she wailed, “what happened? Is Ron all right?” Her voice a plead, she begged him to assure her that Weasley was fine, that everything would be fine, that there was nothing to worry about. But no words of reassurance came from Potter.
Potter pulled her in his arms, then drew slightly away, took her face between his hands to examine her for any injuries or sign of curse or spell that Draco might have cast upon her. As if he, Draco, could ever hurt a girl, or her, for that matter. Clearly, seeing his female best friend in the arms of her disreputable bully wasn’t something Potter had ever expected, thus leading him to the assumption that Draco must have used some foul curse upon her. What would this hairy potter say if he’d know that, only mere minutes ago, Hermione’s lips had been locked with his?
Draco closed his eyes and sighed as everything else around him ceased to exist in his mind. He didn’t hear what the headmaster was asking him, didn’t bother to know what was actually going on, or what he was hearing around him, that Hermione’s sobbing suddenly turned to hyperventilation only a moment later. Potter was talking; he must’ve told her what had happened. There was Weasley’s little sister: she, of all people, was the only girl who wasn’t crying.
As their sad footfalls faded into the distance. their voices reduced to a buzz in Draco’s ears; only then did Draco open his eyes. They were leaving, and Hermione left with them. She must have explained to them that Draco hadn’t been present when the “Weasley Incident” had happened. She convinced—he hoped she convinced—them of his innocence.
“Well, then, kindly return to your common room now, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore ordered, a hand placed on Harry’s shoulder, urging him forward. Even Hermione held his hand, dragging him along with her, his other hand tightly gripped around his wand. Potter was mumbling something unintelligible under his breath, trying to shake off the headmaster’s hand.
So, Draco just stood there, and rationally, he thought of just walking away and head back to his dormitory, kicking some house-elf in their rear end, relaxing, bragging about his latest quest of snogging some silly girl during his free period. Not that he’d mention that the girl was actually Granger, but anyway… Who cares about the dead weasel? Except his handful of mourning friends? Yeah, damn him. Serves him right.
If only Hermione hadn’t thrown a fleeting look over her shoulder to meet his eyes in a fraction of a section, brown eyes full of sadness, pain, agony. It was too late to look away and pretend he didn’t see. Too late to walk away and pretend he didn’t care. Because, in truth, he cared. And for her.
Without a second thought, he followed Hermione.
Running had never been Hayden’s favourite. He hated everything that was related to sport or any physical activity. But he needed to run around the castle now to look for Naomi, call her name through the hallways and corridors, and just hope she’d hear Hayden somehow.
He almost forgot how light-headed he would feel if adrenaline rushed up his body when he was angry and wound-up. He’d never felt so helpless before.
How could he have let it come this far? Instead of fixing his parents’ screwed up relationship in order to prevent The Fight, which would turn out to be fatal for his mum, he seemed to have made everything worse. Now, he was responsible for the death of one of his mother’s best friends, and later, for his mum’s as well.
He had no other choice than let fate—the original course of fate—unfold, and trap Mother and Father into a loveless marriage. Though he knew, based from old stories his grandparents had told him, his mother and father didn’t marry right away. They had waited couple of years or so, lived apart from each other, before Draco showed up again when their son was three or four years old. Then Hayden’s sleepless nights started. How many times had he awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of strained whispers and hisses, or during the day startled by the sound of shouting and yelling through the house, or watched objects flying across the room, all aimed at his father?
Banning the memories from his mind, he pressed his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. His breathing came in ragged gasps.
“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”
There was this sudden, intense pain that quickly travelled from his hand to his arm, as he realised that his knuckles cracked, and warm blood ran down his fist, dripping on the ground.
He had punched the stone wall.
His fist instantly swelled: the pain overwhelmed him, numbed his senses. Relief.
The pain didn’t matter; nothing mattered this moment. He was once again having those flashes of memories that weren’t his, or so it seemed. Though the little curly blond-haired boy he envisioned behind his eyes was unmistakably him—Hayden in his childhood: cranky, wild, revved up, angry, uncontrollable. And he always believed to be a kind, adorable child, a good one, with a good heart. Carefree. Innocent…
He smiled. He saw himself in the age of four or maybe younger. His hair was longer, reaching to his eyes, and his cheeks were chubby, always rosy. He was sitting on his mother’s lap, while she read a book to him. He was happy.
He was happy when she’d gone to the playground with him, spending hours and hours playing with him in the sandpit, building sand castles or playing I Spy Something. They’d played Keep Away, Tag, or Jump Ropes, or she would mimic the voices of his favourite toys for him.
And there was always this intruder, someone who had taken his mum from him. A tall man with similar light blond hair and light grey eyes with connotations of coolness. Like his. His, this man’s, face had been blurry throughout the years before; he’d come and gone, often the memory ended with a fight with his mum, often it was his mum taking Hayden and fleeing with him to God-knows-where. Hayden never understood why.
‘You can’t hide from me, Hermione,’ came the loud growling voice of the intruder with those piercing grey irises. ‘He’s dangerous!’
‘No, no! Look at him!’ came the pleading wail of his mother. She tried pushing him away, blocking him from her little son. ‘He won’t hurt anyone! For Christ’s sake, Draco, look at him! Does he seem dangerous to you?’
As the years passed, this intruder eventually stayed. Hayden didn’t know what actually happened, why this man then protected them from the bad wizard people. True, he had been on alert every time little Hayden moved, always aware when any sign of magic occurred; he always protected, shielded, defended his wife, Hermione: Draco was, in fact, protecting Hermione from their son in the house, even while he had protected his whole family from the Death Eaters out there.
Wasn’t it sad and ironic? Most husbands, who have left their wives but came back upon realising they had a responsibility to look after—like a child—Hayden’s father came back not because he realised he’d made a mistake years ago by leaving his pregnant wife, not because he realised then that he was needed, not because he wanted to make it up to her, not because he wanted to be a good husband and father. He came back because he wanted to protect his wife, whom he had abandoned years before, from their ‘dangerous’ son, who was that time only a little helpless child. It didn’t make sense.
Hayden took a deep sharp breath now, clearing his head. He staggered forward, coming to a halt, he lifted his hand to his chest. It stung painfully like his heart was being punctuated by tiny needles. He breathed in and out, slowly, trying to even his breathing. It helped a little, the pain ceased. But only a little.
Damn, Hayden hated running.
If he had to run for his life, he would probably—out of convenience, of course—just surrender and die. He sighed. Whilst leaning against the wall and massaging his throbbing temples, Hayden wondered now where the memory of him and his mum and dad had gone, the one memory in which they had taken him out for a walk in the park on a sunny day. His dad had scooped him up on his shoulders, and his mum was smiling up at him. A perfect family image, Hayden thought, smiling sadly.
Hayden hated running.
But this image soon distorted, faded out, then vanished. Everything was suddenly blurry, then black, then there they were again—a completely new memory, familiar yet they seemed not to be his: His mother was dragging him behind her, taking long quick strides, urging him to hurry. They were fleeing. Always fleeing. His legs were too short, and his feet hurt, his wrist hurt where his mother held him tight. A man’s familiar voice was calling from the distance, as if hunting them, trying to catch them. And his mother…God, she was crying. Tears ran down her cheeks. And then with a swift of her wand, they both vanished.
“You’ll not take my son away, Draco!”
Damn, Hayden hated running.
He slouched down against the wall, burrowing his face between his knees as a pair of footsteps approached him. Hayden was already drained of so much energy that he didn’t bother to look up. All he wanted was to scream and yell and wish to wake up from this horrible nightmare. This must be just a nightmare, after all.
The footsteps drew close now. He would jinx them if they didn’t leave him alone, he would jinx them if he could. He had never been really good at this ooga-booga magic and all this hanky-panky with his wooden stick. He could still sucker-punch them, though. Having been raised in the Muggle world with kids so nasty he’d been involved in too many fights, his fists had never disappointed him. Problem was, his knuckles were cracked.
“Malfoy, what the hell happened to you?” a boy’s low and raspy voice asked, which Hayden couldn’t quite identify. For a moment Hayden thought the boy meant him, but then he realised that no one in this era knew him as Hayden Malfoy, so he realised who they were confusing him with.
“’m not Malfoy, you moron,” Hayden mumbled in his knees. “Now bugger off!”
“What’s he say?” another voice grunted.
Hayden felt a light nudge in the side. “Look at you. You all right, mate?” the first boy prodded.
“DAMNIT! ‘m not Malfoy! Now get out of my face!” Hayden snarled at them, his voice a low growl in the back of his throat, startling even himself.
The two boys—one short and thickset, the other tall with a pudding-bowl haircut—who Hayden now recognised as Draco’s thuggish cronies, jumped back. Once it dawned in upon them that it wasn’t their master they were talking to, a menacing sneer appeared on their ugly faces. People were just really dense in this era, Hayden mused with abhorrence: he didn’t the least resemblance with his teenage father, the opinions of the masses to the contrary.
“What a temper, the little vermin’s got,” the taller one with short, bristly hair spat, drawing his wand. “Think y’ah can order us ‘round, eh? I could make a monkey out of you.” He drew back to lift his wand, chuckling trollishly. His mate just sniggered and flexed his muscles. “Or I could practice a new jinx on you.”
“Let me, Gregory,” the chunky boy said, pushing aside his mate as he drew his wand, too. “I’ve heard about this Backfiring Jinx. Let’s try that one out.”
“Crazy—that jinx—you want us in trouble?” hissed the tall boy, Gregory, clutching his mate’s collar. He pushed him aside. “Use a less severe hex, idiot. Here,” he flicked his wand at Hayden, “Depulso!” He crackled when the spell hit Hayden in the stomach, causing him to jerk and cough in pain, then, “Almost feels like jinxing that Draco git. Whatcha think? Try,”
“He might as well be Draco’s body double,” the other one remarked, as a sneer appeared on his face, and he called, “Depulso!”
Hayden thought his skull cracked when he hit the wall behind him: perhaps his head had been directly smacked against it. He tried drawing out his wand, but if he did some magic, he knew no defensive charm to counter their attacks. He’d only embarrass himself, plus do them a favour if he’d call ‘Scourgify!’ and clean their dirty robes, and that was certainly not his intention, now was it? And imitating their spell had a nasty way of backfiring, since he didn’t even know the movement.
“Confringo!” they called, taking turns, enjoying the sight of Hayden thrashing about, though it wasn’t Hayden they saw—the attacks at Hayden were simply their anger towards their master, Draco.
He felt the spell hit his stomach, shoulder, chin, and chest; he felt himself lose control as each iteration blasted him against the wall. Hayden slipped, so dazed, and so weak, into a state wherein he could not defend himself, nor even care about the abuse he took. His breath trapped itself one last time, like a puddle in a spring trapped within a cave: it was at this point that a chuckle droned into Hayden’s ears and filled the air, thus sealing his despair.
It had always been like this in his childhood: several boys, mostly a gang of six or seven, thrashing the hell out of him—the nerd, the loser, who hung out with his only friend, a girl. Usually, he could cope with two or three at once, but against a gang, he never stood a chance. He’d go home with a broken nose or arm, which his mother had to heal with a few spells, and then scold him for having gotten in trouble, again and again.
“Protego!” A another voice yelled. A girl’s.
His dad’s brainless minions stopped with their next attack, thankfully, before it could hit his face again and knock him unconscious. Hayden lifted his head from the ground, seeing a slender figure approaching. Saved by a girl, thank God, oh yes indeedy, thank God! He groaned, licked his lips and tasted blood.
“What on earth are you morons doing to him?” the girl demanded, rushing to Hayden’s side. She placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to help him up.
“You’re defending this pathetic jerkass?” one of the morons asked, the taller one.
“Bet she’s in love with him?” the other moron remarked with a goofy giggle, nudging his mate in the side.
“I’m fine,” Hayden grunted, feeling like he’d been saying this all day long. He held his head, which throbbed harder as he lifted it. He looked at the girl’s face, into eyes blue like the summer sky seen in the desert at noon, and filled with worry. She tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder, supporting Hayden with a grip at his elbow.
“I’m alright,” Hayden said a bit harsher than intended, tossing the girl’s hand away, “now excuse me, I got to find someone.”
“Ya’ Astoria’s got herself a new lover!”
“Woo-ooh! What would Draco say?”
“Oh grow up, Vincent!” the girl, whose name was so familiar, chided the two boys. She looked over her shoulder at Hayden, giving him a worried smile. She obviously didn’t buy that he felt ‘alright’.
Before Hayden knew it, or could help it, his hand shot forward, grabbing her arm. “Wait! Astoria…Greengrass?” he asked.
The young girl looked at him bizarrely, trying to free her arm. “Yes, I am. Hayden, you okay?”
“How d’you know my name?” he said, confusedly.
She lifted her eyebrows. “We’ve met before. Remember, you borrowed me your notes from your fourth year since you didn’t need them anymore,” Astoria said, her eyes searching for the two gorillas’ help. They just shrugged and sniggered. It was obvious that they were not her bodyguards. “Merlin, how hard did you hit your head? You sure you don’t want to go to the hospital wing?”
“Oh, all right, yeah. No,” Hayden said with a nervous chuckle. The spell that was protecting his identity was showing its effect, even now. “But, tell me something—are you, are you and Da—um…Malfoy, are you—y’know, dating? You know, like together together?” He felt his face grow warm as the words crossed his lips. Why did he even want to know? Like feeling the urge to catch up on the latest gossip. He grimaced, looking away.
The boys, Vincent and Gregory, burst out in laughter. “Like she’d wish!”
“Excuse me, what?” Astoria said incredulously. “No, of course not.” Subtle as it seemed, disappointment flickered in her eyes, which she overplayed with a giggle. Then she rubbed the back of her neck, just like Hayden always did when he was nervous. “You know, you should head off to the common rooms. Dumbledore’s order,” she said. “Something must’ve happened downstairs in one of the classrooms.”
“Yeah, sure,” Hayden said, studying the girl’s face.
She pulled a hanky out from her pocket and handed it over to Hayden. “You’re bleeding there,” she said with a nod of her head towards his face, her eyes at the spot just above his left eye. Hayden lifted his hand to touch his eyebrow, and felt wetness. When he looked at his fingers, it was indeed coated with blood. He threw a threatening look towards the rowdies, who’d done this to him, but they merely sneered, and left. After a short moment, Astoria followed them.
“By the way,” Hayden called after her, “thank you.”
“You’re welcolme,” the taller moron answered in a girlish voice for Astoria, the other one chuckled. “Wooh-hoo!”
Astoria smiled mysteriously over her shoulder.
Once they rounded the next corner, Hayden suddenly remembered which role Astoria Greengrass would play in his teenage father’s future life. She was the young woman whom Draco chose to be with a year from now after he found out that Hermione had not only been pregnant with his child, but already gave birth to it, and never told him.
In the boys’ bathroom, Hayden washed his face with cold water. When he lifted his head, he watched himself in the mirror, and saw the reddish gash just above his left brow.
“Damn,” he sighed, “that’ll gonna leave an ugly scar.”
With the pink handkerchief that Astoria gave him, he dried his face and wiped carefully over the wound. Thinking of Astoria, a sudden idea flashed his mind, causing his muscles to tense up and his jaw to clench for even thinking of it.
If he could simply make Astoria disappear, then his father wouldn’t have a reason to ditch a soon-to-be-pregnant Hermione in the first place. There would be no other girl to interfere in their relationship.
Shaking his head to rid his mind from this dark thought—though by doing so the pain intensified in sharpness—Hayden clutched his fist tighter around the handkerchief, imagining Astoria’s heart in his hand.
He was not going to harm another innocent person for the sake of keeping his teenage parents together. It was more than enough to know that Ron, who was a dear friend to his mum, was now…dead, all because of him. Hayden was responsible for all the chaos happening in this era. He would not make it worse.
He left the bathroom, holding his aching head with one hand, ignoring the pain that ran along his right shoulder blade, and backside, where he had crashed against the wall. He walked down the moving staircase, looking around for any sign of Naomi, who seemed to have completely disappeared from this world.
He couldn’t possibly ask anyone who passed him by if they knew where Naomi Corner was, since no one had ever seen her nor knew she actually “existed”. Well, technically, they’d seen her, though not in her actual form. She either assumed her mother’s, Cho, form, or that of some random student, so that she could spy on Hayden.
“Naomi,” Hayden sighed in frustration, whilst jogging down the stairs, eyes on the ground, “where the heck are you?”
And then there she was, literally popping into existence right in front of him, as though she was a djinn made of smokeless flame that he’d summoned. Sadly, unlike a djinn, she couldn’t grant him three wishes, like a djinn, though, Naomi could be good or evil, too, and she was capable of exercising supernatural influence over people. Deep inside, Hayden knew that this part of Naomi—this mystery—was the part that made Hayden’s flesh crawl to her, made his mind follow her orders, and his heart completely yield to her.
Naomi put her hands on his arms, keeping him an arm’s length away from her, her hazel eyes focus at his. Shaking him a bit as though Hayden was in some kind of trance upon seeing her, Naomi tightened her eyes to little angry slits, and bored her fingernails into the flesh of his arms.
“Hayden, where’ve you been?!” she cried, her face pale and lips white. Her eyes moved to the fresh gash, which Draco’s cronies had inflicted upon him, and the bruise at his cheekbone; then Naomi shook her head, irked an eyebrow, and asked, “What happened? I’ve been looking for you. Let’s go, you can tell me later!”
She grasped his wrist—the injured wrist—turned around, and without giving him a chance to resist her action, she Pseudo-Disapparated with him from the spot, and Re-apparated at a new place, a new corridor, with naked walls, except for one tapestry at one side with somehow familiar, and certainly wretched, dancing trolls on it. The hallways were empty due to Dumbledore’s order for everybody to stay in their respective common rooms.
Hayden knew one thing as he shook off Naomi’s hand, clutching his stomach and feeling like vomiting, as if he’d been sucker-punched or run over by a bulldozer: his entire body was aching. Another thing he hated, too—Apparition.
He had been feeling weak all day already, as if drained of energy, like he hadn’t slept and eaten for over a weak. He had also fainted earlier, and certainly, not only from the shock that his best friend might have killed his mother’s best friend—just the thought of Naomi being a cold-blooded killer and that he might have been responsible for it, had made Hayden weaker, both physically and mentally. He must have hit his head when he fainted, too, for it was throbbing painfully now, and he felt nauseous, dizzy. In addition, those two Neanderthals earlier had beaten him up with magic, and again, he banged his head pretty hard, until he bled. He didn’t feel very well. He didn’t feel well at all. His eyelids drooped; he felt exhausted, and he reeled to the side. He reached for Naomi, or the wall, whichever was nearer, and hoped for support, before he would hit his head again.
“Naomi, we gotta go to the headmaster now.” He pressed his eyes shut, felt the increasing throbbing at his temples. Everything was spinning to the left, turning and twisting behind his eyes. His words were barely a slur when he spoke again, “Something’s happened…to R-Ron.” He squinted at Naomi, though by doing so the pain seemed to have moved to his eyes, stretching out to his forehead, down his neck. “D’you know anything about that?” he said, then he raised his voice a little, “That he’s dead now?!”
Naomi put on an expressionless face; as usual, she was hard to read. She looked to the side, to the ceiling, as if in search for the appropriate words, then she stared back at Hayden. “He’s fine,” was all she said. She stepped forward, “It’s you I’m worried about.”
“Hmm?” Hayden clenched his jaw, unable to say a word. His right fist, which he’d jammed against the wall earlier in his anger, now made itself felt. The pain covered his entire hand, wandering up his arm. The worst was that it was the hand, which Naomi had grabbed earlier to Disapparate with him.
“OW! SHIT!” he cried, unable to suppress his swollen—and probably broken—knuckles any longer, tears stung his eyes. He watched his hand tremble, trying to move his fingers.
”Goodness, Hayden!” Naomi yelped, stepping beside him. “Let me check that. Can you move it? Jesus, I only left you out of my sight for a few minutes, and now look at you, totally beaten up,” she chided.
Shaking his head a little, he closed his eyes in order to prevent falling forward. His fractured hand, however, he held out for Naomi to examine. She supported it with her own hand, the other holding up her wand, then she called, “Bracchium Emendo!” to heal any bones that might be broken or just sprained.
His hand healed instantly. Now that the pain in his hand and arm was gone, only the concussion was left, which made him now dizzier and more nauseous.
“Hayden, we don’t have time for this,” Naomi said in a reprimanding voice as though Hayden was just fooling around, taking his face between her hands. “Listen to me; the stronger your parent’s attraction grows for each other, the more you…the more you dissolve. You’ll internally dissolve, you hear me? This is a good thing, I mean if you feel sick. Do you feel sick?”
What kind of a question is that? He simply gave Naomi a frown, staggering away from her. He slumped down to the ground, laying down his head on the cold stone floor. It relieved his pain a bit. He couldn’t tell Naomi that the pain he was feeling was not due to Draco and Hermione finally “finding to each other”, but that he’d hit his head too often today.
Naomi sat down next to him, lifting his head and placing it on her lap. Despite his anger towards her and being too exhausted to resist her affection he stayed still, and closed his eyes.
“Tell me what’s going on, Naomi,” he mumbled. He heard her sigh, hesitating, then pressed, “With Ron and all that. What happened to him? Tell me!”
“He’s fine,” she said again, her voice soft. Strangely, Hayden noticed some kind of relief or contentment in her voice. He looked up and found her smiling distantly, her eyes towards the opposing wall. She was stroking his forehead, the wound at his brow, and then moving her hand to his neck; and for a moment, Hayden grew frightful that she might strangle him with her bare hands: as weak as he felt, he wouldn’t probably even have a chance—or the will—to defend himself.
“When we were children,” she said, more to herself than to Hayden, “did you know that I always envied you?” Hayden, slightly taken aback by the strangeness of this question, blinked, but said nothing. No, he didn’t know that. “Not because of your wealthy family, or that you lived in a mansion, got all the toys you wished for, no... But it’s because you’ve got something that I would’ve done or given anything, absolutely anything, to have, too.”
“And what would that be?” He went along with it, though he knew that everyone in the hospital wing was waiting for him, in the hopes that Hayden might provide them with an answer as to what had happened to Ron, and how he would make it un-happen. But he needed to take a little rest; he could barely move his head.
“You had a family who loves you, Hayden,” Naomi said sadly. “Your parents might have fought a lot, but didn’t you see how much they have loved you unconditionally? I’d rather have parents that fight than no parents at all. And your grandparents from both sides, they spoiled you to pieces. You barely acknowledged that. There were the Weasleys, too, who’ve supported you even when your mother died and your father left you to your foster family. And even then, when you stayed in the Muggle world and went to a Muggle school, your foster parents cared for you. You were a straight A-student in school, Hayden, you got many friends. You were popular by the girls. And, of course, the best of all,” Naomi said, smiling a little, “you had me.”
“Perfect, wasn’t it?” Hayden said sarcastically. “What’s your point, exactly?”
“My point is,” Naomi said, her tone changing imperceptibly, “you might’ve lost your mother, but you had a wonderful life, and yes, it was perfect…almost perfect. Yet you messed it all up by wanting to change the past, and try playing Cupid for your mother and father.”
“It’s a little bit too late for this speech, don’t you think?” Hayden tried to move, but Naomi pushed him back.
“Look at me, Hayden, I grew up in a foster home with a foster family, who treated me badly,” she said fiercely, “I lost my mother when I was a toddler, but not because she died, but because she was…crazy…mad. She’d been confined to the St. Mungo’s Hospital due to mental injuries. It was my father’s fault. But did I brew some Time-Travel Potion to change their past?”
“Wait. You knew she was at this…Mungo’s hospital?” Hayden exclaimed in surprise and disbelief, “I thought you didn’t know where she was. You—You lied!”
“I knew where she was,” Naomi said flatly, “but I thought it was better to just pretend that I didn’t know. Made my life easier. My foster mother kept reminding me everyday that I was the daughter of a crazy woman. Whenever I got upset with her, and blew things up around me, she said she’d admit me to a mad house, too. And she said things like ‘No wonder your father doesn’t want you.’”
Hayden felt his anger consuming him, again.
“I didn’t have a surrogate family like you,” Naomi went on, “you had the Weasleys, and you had your foster family in the Muggle world, who had provided you with a beautiful home, which also served as a protection. Your mother’s idea, actually. And there were still your grandparents, who’ve supported you, and not only financially. Right? You lacked nothing in life.”
There was a short silence. Then, “What I’m trying to say, Hayden, in case things don’t go your way—and damn, yeah, I know you have this subconscious need of having and wanting everything—but if ever everything goes the way as it was originally meant to be, minus me by your side, just—just don’t fuck around with fate again, alright? You’re not God!”
Letting the words sink in, Hayden stirred, looking up at Naomi. “What do you mean, minus you?”
“Never mind, just promise me to do nothing and just leave everything as it is.” Naomi sighed long-sufferingly, shaking her head. She smiled a little. “Will you promise me that, Hayden?”
“No!” Hayden cried, “Tell me what the hell you mean!” He struggled to sit upright, his head felt woozy. She pressed him down again.
“Do you want to know now what happened to Ron?” she asked, to catch him off-guard, to divert his attention. She always did this, and Hayden always fell for it. Hayden shook his head stubbornly, yet he was eager to know, and waited for her to go on. She said, “He’s, well, as I’ve said earlier, fine. He’s fine. He’s been Petrified. It’s a spell resembling death, but he’s still alive.” She stared sideways, down the empty corridor, then mumbled to herself, “It’s not him anyway.”
“You’re confusing me, you know?”
“Remember when I left you downstairs in the Dungeons classroom,” she continued, her gaze now fixed at Hayden, “because Ginny, Harry and Ron came in? Well, I went to check on Cho, and she was in that classroom on the first floor, and, apparently, not alone. She was there with her boyfriend, Michael.” Her face twisted to a grimace, her eyes growing dark. “They must have had an argument for I heard him cussing, and she was…I dunno, crying, I think. They had this thing going on, you know, between a couple, when one is ready to take the next step in their relationship, and the other isn’t. Oh,” Naomi sighed dejectedly, gnawing at her lower lip. Her hand moved to her mouth to stifle a moan. “I didn’t know what an arsehole he is, Hayden. I mean, not that kind of an arsehole. Anyway, before I could do anything, Ron burst in, and yelled something like getting off her. So before Michael could hurt Ron, I performed a Switching Spell on them. It usually only works on objects if you mean to swap them, but apparently, it works on humans, too.”
“How did you witness all this without them seeing you?” Hayden asked in awe, “Now don’t tell me you can make yourself invisible, too!”
“Of course not, silly.” Rolling her eyes, she explained, sounding a little impatient, “I was hiding in the backroom. I watched them through the door crack.”
“With other words, you were spying on them, and then caught them off-guard. You acted out of reflex, and that was the outcome—them switching bodies and petrifying Ron?” Hayden tried envisioning the scene behind his eyes—it didn’t make sense to him. He saw Naomi performing with simple flicks of her wand producing one perfect spell after the other, as the scene unfolded. “Why did you have to switch their bodies, though?”
“Remember what we talked about earlier this morning?” Naomi said solemnly, “That we need to get rid of Ron so he wouldn’t be interfering with your parents’ relationship? Well, I needed to get rid of Michael, too. So now Michael, who is in Ron’s body, is Petrified as long as we wish him to be. While Ron, who’s in Michael’s body, is totally befuddled, is safe and yet won’t be harassing Cho, because, well, he’s not Michael, right?” Then she smiled widely, almost contently. “It’s like shooting two birds with one stone. And of course, I did some little memory modification on them all. Now we will have free reign until your own conception, because neither of them will be interfering.”
“You didn’t plan all this, did you?” Hayden asked sceptically. “You only had one second to react, after all. You couldn’t know that Ron will burst into the classroom to come to Cho’s rescue!”
“No, but it was still a clever move of me,” Naomi said, grinning wickedly.
Hayden didn’t know whether he felt amazement, or mortification, or shame about himself for formerly thinking that Naomi—his best friend since childhood—might be the murderer of his mother’s best friend. Now she did not only support him—though with reluctance—in his mission, but she also fixed where he had messed up with. He was elated. Even more so, he was grateful.
“Wait,” Hayden said again, seeing a flaw in the plan, “but everyone’s grieving now because they think Ron’s dead. And surely, the headmaster will send the police here to investigate for the murderer.”
Naomi chuckled mirthlessly. “First off, the ‘police’ will not come here, for Hogwarts is Muggle-protected. You mean the Aurors! And secondly, by now, they must have already figured out—with the Detection Spell—that ‘Ron’ has only been Petrified. This is why I was trying to buy some time before we go back and see them. Though the magic I used upon his body is rather advanced, so they’ll take a little longer to remove it. They will be tied up in investigating this case what with interrogating all the suspects, including Michael Corner, who’s actually a confused Ron, which, coincidentally, will give us enough time to make everything else right.”
She sighed in relief once she explained it all to Hayden. “And there will be no one to interfere anymore. No Michael. No Ron. And Cho will be safe for the time being. And everyone’s attention is diverted from us, too. You just play along and pretend you know nothing. Wouldn’t be too hard for you, anyway,” she added teasingly. She somehow seemed weary, exhausted. He now noticed the dark circles underneath her eyes; her skin was pale like wax.
Hayden propped up on his elbows and gave her a kiss on her forehead. “Thank you!” Because you didn’t kill Ron! “Thank you,” he repeated, taking her hand in his, squeezing it. Because you’re always there for me. “Thank you. What would I do without you?”
Really, what would he do without her?
In his joy, Hayden had completely forgotten to ask Naomi what she had been implying at earlier that she wouldn’t exist in his new future.
(A/N: Let me know what you think. Please leave a comment/review below if you have any questions regarding the plot. Thanks.)
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