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Chapter 12 : Hangleton
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“Come on, Hero,” Finn called from further up the street, his arms as tan as mine in his Muggle attire striped shirt.
I shouted back that I was coming and took a step, but stopped as something crunched under my foot. I frowned and looked down. There was a folded piece of white paper under my sandal, so bright in the sun I had to squint against it, and bent to pick it up. It was a formal letter, a logo of two horses crossed hooves in the corner told me it was from ‘St Emilie’s Psychiatric Hospital’. My frown deepened as I scanned it, catching the words, ‘depression, schizophrenia, hallucinations’ before a shadow fell over the paper.
“Excuse me,” came a timid male voice.
I looked up to see a blonde haired boy, cheeks flushed, eyes staring to his feet as they shuffled against the pavement.
He said, “That’s m-mine.”
"Oh! I’m sorry!” I handed the paper to him, feeling a flush in my own cheeks that had nothing to do with the sun.
“Hero!” shouted Finn again. He was looking at me, arms raised in a gesture that said, ‘what are you doing?’ I waved irritably at him, my short temper directly linked to the heat.
“Is that your name? Hero?” the boy asked.
I turned back to him with a grimace and nodded.
“That’s… different,” he said. “I wish my name was something like that.”
I smiled. “Trust me, you don’t. What is your name?”
The boy grinned. “Noah.”
Christmas at the Blishwick Manor was always an extravagant affair, but Mother outdid herself this year in preparation for our ‘guests’. I wrinkled my nose at the term as I gazed up at our large white house. It sounded too polite for who they were. The house-elves must have worked twice as hard to decorate the outside – which they normally didn’t. Wreaths hung from the eaves, from the upper balconies, and even across the windows of the upper story rooms, including the ones we hardly used, and there were a lot of them.
Finn let out a whistle after we arrived by Side-Along Apparition into the driveway, expressing my thoughts. “What’s the occasion?” he asked.
Father gave him an exasperated look as we dropped our hands from his arm. “Once we’re inside, there’s something I need to discuss with you two.”
“What is it?” I asked, lifting my trunk with a grunt.
Father flicked his wand and my trunk started levitating. I gave a sigh of relief. “We’ll talk inside,” he said, “I won’t say anything out here.”
I rolled my eyes at Finn behind his back, but received none of the agreement at our father’s obsession with security that I expected. Instead, Finn was chewing his lip as he pulled his coat tighter around himself. I arched an eyebrow before following Father and our trunks inside.
I stepped into the large entry hall of the manor, letting the familiarity wash over me. I had to admit the house looked great, no matter whose benefit it was for: green and silver tinsel was weaved through the railing of the grand staircase, wreaths of holly finished with big white bows were placed in even intervals across the upper balustrade. A massive Christmas tree towered in the middle of the hall. The house’s usual smell of lilies and cleanliness was overpowered by the smell of gingerbread, which was wafting through the house from the kitchen. I wasn’t hungry, but my mouth watered as the smell reached my nostrils.
I stopped in front of a photo of Finn and I on a side table in the hall. We must have been about six, Finn on a swing with me on his lap. I couldn’t help a smile from tugging at my mouth at the glee on our faces as Father used his wand to make the swing rise impossibly high, his arm looped around Mother’s waist. Fifteen-year-old Finn walked past me, squeezing my shoulder briefly as he did so. After a moment, I put the photo down and followed him into the dining room.
“Welcome home!” Mother squealed, smiling as she rose from her seat at the dining table. She was impeccably dressed, as usual. Heavy-looking earrings dangled from her earlobes and her pale yellow silk dress was wrinkle-free. She pulled the both of us into a hug. Finn reached behind her to pinch my arm and I punched him in return.
After we greeted Mother, we sat at one end of the long dining table. Our house elf brought tea, biscuits and numerous pastries which Finn dug into eagerly. I reached for a mini éclair, nibbling at it while I waited for Father to start, my stomach clenching in apprehension and not allowing room for much else.
“This is an important time for our family,” he began. “The Blishwicks have been chosen to represent Gellert Grindelwald in his campaign from within Britain. We will be assisting him in whatever he needs.”
This was not news to me or Finn, but it still felt like a kick in the gut to hear it from my father’s lips, as if speaking aloud about the Besmurten made them real. I glanced at Mother; her expression betrayed nothing, though her mouth was a thin line.
My father continued, “Some of Grindelwald’s most intimate followers of the Besmurten will be staying with us for a few days over Christmas. I expect both of you to be on your best behaviour.” He looked straight at me as he said this last part. I tried not to squirm, afraid he would see the uncertainty in my eyes. “If all goes to plan, by this time next year Grindelwald’s revolution will be achieved, with us by his side.”
I set down the half eaten eclair and wiped my hands on my skirt, unsure if I was ready for the holidays after all.
The next morning dawned cold but clear. I rose early, the only sounds coming faintly from the kitchen as the house elves prepared breakfast. Dressing quickly and quietly, I slipped outside into the crisp air before Father got the chance to speak with me. I’d feigned tiredness the night before when he’d shown signs of attempts at a persuasive argument.
Great Hangleton this early was quiet, but a few signs of life were beginning to emerge. Delivery trucks ambled by carrying Muggle goods, a few men in funny Muggle hats walked dogs down the main street. One of the cafés I recognised was open and, for lack of anything better to do, I stepped inside into warmth.
I slid into a booth and pushed the sticky plastic menu aside, ordering a coffee from the waitress. I stared out the window without really seeing anything as I waited. Noah had brought me here over the summer a few times. A girl walked past, and I was so deep in thought I almost missed her. Darcy.
Heart pounding, I bolted from my seat and outside, calling her name. She turned at my voice, and a mixture of emotions fought for dominance on her pretty face as she saw me. Wariness, sadness, shock. I couldn’t help the shock that must have been plain on my own face. Darcy had always been thin, but now she looked unhealthy. Her hair, once thick and shiny, was now greasy, pulled back into a messy up do, with strands floating around her face.
“Will you join me?” I jerked my head in invitation toward the cafe door, my hand holding it half open. After a moment’s hesitation, her shoulders dropped, despondent. She nodded and followed me in.
She sat with her back to the door in the booth, looking like she’d rather be anywhere else. Her eyes were fixed on the salt and pepper shakers.
I twisted my fingers together in my lap and asked, “Are you okay?” even though I already knew the answer.
She cleared her throat and shrugged. I caught a whiff of the peppermint I used to smell in their - her - apartment. “Not really.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling the guilt I had pushed down for so long rising to the surface once again. As the last one to see Noah alive, I felt as if I had taken something away from Darcy, as if she were more deserving of spending Noah’s final moments with him. But then, I wouldn’t wish the feeling of falling from a bridge into water on anyone.
A rush of cold air swirled through the café as the door opened, and Finn and Tom walked in. My heart skipped a beat at seeing Tom out of the usual school environment. From the way they walked purposefully toward us, I guessed they had seen me through the window.
“Hey hey.” Finn threw himself into the booth next to Darcy, and donned a Blishwick smile as he looked at her. I rolled my eyes, then glanced at her. I expected the batting of eyelashes and twirling of hair that usually accompanied Finn, but Darcy was staring at Tom, who seated himself next to me. She was suddenly very pale.
Tom laid a hand on my leg. I went to lay my own hand on top of his, but he squeezed my knee lightly before removing it. He was looking at Darcy, a mildly curious expression on his face. “Hello, Amy,” he said.
I looked between the two of them awkwardly. “Er, Tom, this is Darcy.”
Tom’s expression didn’t falter. “She wasn’t born Darcy, though. Were you Amy?”
Darcy was silent, her pretty eyes wide as she stared at Tom. Then she stood up abruptly, yelled, “Move!” at Finn - who scrambled out of the seat - and rushed from the cafe.
I stared after her in astonishment as Finn returned to the booth, muttering under his breath. I turned back to Tom, who was reading the menu with disinterest. “What was that about?”
"Hm?” He looked up. “Oh, Amy was at the orphanage in London with me. Left a few years ago.”
"What?” I gasped. “You know her? Well - but - that must mean you knew Noah? He was there too, but he was Dennis Bishop then.”
Tom furrowed his eyebrows in thought. “It doesn’t sound familiar,” he said. “There are a lot of children there, Hero. I can’t be expected to know all of them.”
I slumped in my seat. “No,” I said faintly. “I suppose not...”
“You’re not going to see her again.” he said.
“What? Why not?” I stared at him in disbelief.
“She’s a Muggle, for one thing,” he said.
“And she’s insane, for another,” Finn added.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped. “She’s just… sad."
Finn sighed like he was bored. Tom slipped out of the booth and looked to him. “We’re leaving. Are you coming?” he added to me.
I remained in my seat. “I just need to grab some things from the market first, but I won’t be long.”
With a nod from Tom and a wink from Finn, they left. I peered out the window, watching them until they disappeared down the street. Then I rose, Noah and Darcy’s apartment my destination.
The apartment wasn’t far from town. I pulled my coat tighter around myself as I walked, flakes of snow beginning to drift softly from the sky. The town had settled into a steady flow of traffic now; the usual morning rush beginning. Further down the main street, I stopped into front of the newsagency Noah used to work at, recognising one of the workers through the dirty window.
I stepped into the dingy newsagents, the smell of newspapers and ink filling my nostrils, and I breathed in deeply. It reminded me faintly of Flourish & Blotts in Diagon Alley. A short, stocky boy with dark clipped hair and a good natured face was bent over the counter, writing an order with a slight frown between his brows. A lump rose in my throat just to look at him, a wave of memories rising to the forefront of my mind.
“Zeke.” My voice sounded stronger than I had expected, for which I was glad.
The boy looked up, his eyes widening. Without a word, he came around the counter to the front and pulled me into a tight hug. I relaxed against him, letting his arms envelop me.
“Hero,” Zeke said softly, pulling back to look at me easily, as we were the same height. “Want me to take a break?”
“It’s okay, Zeke. I won’t be long.” I took a deep breath. “I was just wondering if Noah ever mentioned anything to you before he died.”
He looked confused. “Like what?”
“Like a person. Anyone he’d had a fight with maybe?”
Zeke’s expression turned wary. “What is this about, Hero?”
I bit the inside of my lip. “I don’t think the crash was an accident,” I said quietly. “I think someone tampered with his car. So that he couldn’t get out.”
Zeke’s eyes widened. “What?” he breathed. His eyebrows furrowed in thought, and he rubbed a thumb along his bottom lip. “Actually… the day before he died, something did happen that freaked him out.”
“What?” I stepped aside to let a lady pass.
Zeke squinted slightly as he tried to remember. “We were working together, and I was out back when he burst in, hiding behind the filing cabinet. He was trembling, pale as a ghost. I hadn’t seen him like that for a long time, Hero.”
“What happened?” I whispered, suppressing a shiver.
“He saw someone,” Zeke said, staring out the window, eyes glazed. “A boy he knew from the orphanage I think he said. But he didn’t say anything else.”
I furrowed my brow. My skin began to prickle, but I wasn’t sure why. There was something so wrong about all of this, so I thanked Zeke, gave him a hug goodbye and continued to Darcy’s.
The apartment hadn’t changed. There were a few more weeds and scattered rubbish out the front, but it was still the same dreary place. Stepping over a broken chair, I reached the door and knocked on it. For a brief, anxious moment, I didn’t think she was home. Or worse, was ignoring me. But before long there were muffled footsteps, the lock clicked, and Darcy peered through a small crack in the door.
“Oh. It’s you.” Her eyes were ringed with red, her cheeks blotchy.
“Can I come in?”
She didn’t move, long enough for me to grow anxious again, but then she sighed and nodded. I followed her inside. The apartment was as messy as the outside, as I had first imagined it would be. Dirty cups and clothes littered every surface. I was concerned to see the amount of empty wine bottles were in the room. I sat on the couch, facing her, discreetly pushing a pair of ripped stockings to the side, trying to ignore the underwear on the arm of the chair that clearly belonged to a man. It was awkward enough to be with her in this room without Noah.
“Why did you leave?” I asked.
Darcy shrugged. “Didn’t feel well.”
No use wasting time with falsified preamble. “Tom told me you were at Wool’s Orphanage together.”
She nodded slowly, looking down at her hands. “We were, before Noah and I were relocated.”
“Why?” I asked as softly as I could, afraid she would run like a skittish animal if I pushed her too hard.
She shook her head. “I can’t tell you, Hero. You’ll think I’m crazy. Everybody did.”
“I won’t, I promise. Please, Darcy. I need to know.”
She looked up and gave me a sardonic smile. “Darcy Roland isn’t my real name. It’s Amy Benson.”
I’d guessed this, after what Tom said in the cafe. I nodded and said, “I know Noah wasn’t Noah’s real name either.”
She exhaled quietly. “No.” She paused, picking at her fingernails. “Did he ever tell you why we changed our names?”
“He told me something happened to him as a child. Something someone did, and he was afraid they’d come back.”
"Tom Riddle happened to him as a child.”
Her words felt like a kick to my stomach strong enough to wind me. For a moment I struggled to breathe. “What do you mean?” I managed to choke out.
“How well do you know him?”
I deliberated telling her while I concentrated on getting my breathing back to normal. Once I was steady I went with the answer that would get me the truth. I said, “Not very well, he’s just a friend of my brother’s.”
Darcy wasn’t looking at me anymore. She was staring at the floor, her eyes distant, seeing something far from the apartment.
“It was my fault,” she whispered. “I… was never nice to Tom. He was just so quiet, weird. I’m not proud of it,” she added defensively, looking up at me, “but when you’re twelve…”
I nodded, urging for her to go on.
“Noah followed me everywhere,” she continued in a hushed tone, her eyes beginning to glaze as she resumed her staring at the floor, “and he became guilty by association for whatever I did. He never did no wrong, he was too sweet for that.” She took a deep breath. “When Noah was ten - and so was Tom - the orphanage took us to the seaside. A bi-yearly treat, you know,” she quirked an eyebrow cynically. “Noah and I were in the water. Tom was on his own, like usual, and when he started walking away from the group… well, I had to follow. He was always up to something, you know.”
I thought of the Dark Arts book, and the countless late hours Tom spent pouring over books in the library. My skin prickled with new understanding.
“Of course Noah followed me. I tried to tell him to go back to the others, but he wouldn’t listen. He never really did.”
I smiled sadly to myself as I thought of a little Noah disobeying orders. Darcy took another deep breath.
“We followed Tom, keeping far enough back so he wouldn’t notice, until he disappeared around a curve of cliff face. By the time Noah and I rounded the corner, Tom was nowhere to be seen.”
An icy finger slid down my spine. Was she really describing the handsome, charming, polite boy I was dating? “What happened?”
Darcy bit her lip. “God, Hero, I can’t…”
I lay a hand gently on her arm, but she pulled it away. “Nothing you can tell me is too crazy, trust me.”
She glanced up at me, tears in her eyes. It still surprised me; I never thought she’d be one to cry. Her voice was thick as she continued, “The cliffs were right by the sea, all sharp rocks and shallow pools, but the tide was out, so it was pretty easy to climb them. Tom was on the other side, see. And I thought: if he could do it, so could I.
“There was a cave. I don’t know how he found it ‘cause the entrance was so tiny. But Tom disappeared into it and I wanted to follow. Noah was scared; he’d scraped his knees on the rocks and was wet and cold after slipping into the water a few times. He begged me to turn back, but I – I forced him to come with me.” She stopped, swallowing. I longed to touch her in comfort, but didn’t dare.
“We stepped inside. It was dark, but I could see the cave was huge.” She paused. She was speaking so quietly now that I didn’t dare breathe in case the sound drowned out her words. “Tom… he did things, Hero, and I can’t even tell you, I can’t explain, but I know it was him!”
“It’s okay,” I said softly, not sure I wanted to know.
“He hurt us,” she continued anyway. “Physically, at first, but he never touched us. Like, the pain was inside - right in my very veins. I’d heard similar things happening to the other kids at the orphanage. I’d call them looneys, but –” She shook her head. “Then there were… thoughts. I-I was thinking things - horrible things - but it wasn’t me. I - You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
I shook my head, hoping she wouldn’t see the goosebumps rippled up my arm. “No. I believe you. What happened then?”
“Well... Mrs Cole asked what happened, sure. But I couldn’t say anything. Not out of fear - though that was the case at first - but because I physically couldn’t. Every time I tried to say something about it, my throat c-closed and I couldn’t breathe until I stopped trying to talk.”
“It was magic, Hero,” she said, her eyes bright with desperation as she grabbed my arm. “There’s no other explanation! All of it was supernatural! Magic is real, it exists!”
I tried my best to look shocked, and found it was surprisingly easy.
“I kept quiet about it, but Noah wouldn’t. He was so scared. He… he blamed me when we were alone, and soon he didn’t want to see me anymore.” She swallowed before whispering so quietly I almost missed it, “He tried to kill himself once. I got there just in time, when I was trying to apologise for the hundredth time.” The words were spilling out of her mouth now, as if she couldn’t stop them. “I took him to the hospital, but he was hysterical, telling the doctors what happened when we were kids, but of course they didn’t believe him. They finally used electroconvulsive therapy on him.” She shuddered.
I didn’t know what meant – probably some Muggle term – but it didn’t sound pleasant. I felt hollow inside; the Noah I knew hadn’t been like this. I had seen glimpses, had heard of the flashes of the cave that came to him in nightmares, but he had been getting better. I blinked back tears; this made his death all the more tragic.
Darcy continued, “After that, he didn’t remember anything about it. He didn’t even remember that he blamed me, and I was more than happy to keep it that way. So he came to live with me. It might have been selfish, but I wasn’t as lucky to have a carefree mind. I needed him.”
I wiped my sweaty palms on my stockings. “And you thought I’d take him from you.”
“Maybe at first,” she admitted, “but he was remembering, I could see that. It would have happened eventually.”
The lines around her mouth tightened. “Like I said, we couldn’t say anything. I don’t know what he told Mrs Cole. Probably that we were exploring. He could spin any tale, and she would believe it. He’s a fucking… freak.”
I flinched. Magic made me a freak in her eyes as well. Rising, I felt lightheaded; I’d heard enough. “I should go. But thank you. For telling me everything.”
Darcy remained sitting, looking sad. “He was all I had.”
I nodded, my heart giving a painful squeeze as I thought of not just Noah, but Morgan and Emory as well. “I miss him too. And… if you ever need anything, I’ll be here for you.”
She opened her mouth, obviously thought better of whatever she was going to say, and closed it again. Finally, she said in a tight voice, “Thank you.”
I lifted one side of my mouth before I left. At the door I paused and turned back. “Darcy… are you still scared? Like Noah was?”
"I was,” she said from the couch, with a smile that held no humour. “But I’m not scared anymore. I’m angry.”
A/N: Thank you to ever amazing Julie and thank you for reading this far - the second to last chapter!
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