It had been a long time, perhaps too long, since you’d threatened to hex someone. The tips of your fingers tingled with nervous energy as the held tight to the carved handle of your wand, enjoying the way it flexed in your hand with his pulse. Irritably, you jerked it tighter to his vocal chords. “Speed this up, can we?” you croaked, keenly aware of the eyes of a castle full of students and teachers boring into the back of your head. “My coffee is getting cold.”
It’s almost as good as sex, you mused as you stalked out of the hall ten minutes later, coffee in hand. Dawlish would be along soon enough to dole out one horrible punishment or another. and it would probably involve the words “three am” but, for now, you could relish in the adrenaline overload.
You spent the remainder of your morning spread across two massive tables in the Library, much to Madame Pince’s dismay. Why getting into an extremely public duel led you directly into five and a half hours of genealogy research would be a question for the ages, but the remark made over breakfast rattled in your ears, nonetheless. ”The rich girl seems to be having a hard time adjusting.”
As a student, this had been a common battle cry from the obtuse, but it had brought with it one realization; you had no real concept of where your family money came from. Days like today were generally fruitless, but they did give you something to do.
Students voices startled you from your work. The Library was one of the few places in the castle that remained silent during the school day. There were no bangs or crashes of misguided spells within it’s walls and they only students you could see were quietly immersed in NEWT study packets. Glancing, none too eagerly, at your watch, you groaned and began haphazardly closing the massive volumes.
Keeping your job was becoming a subject of decreasing interest, but pride wouldn’t permit you to allow Dawlish the satisfaction of giving you the sack. Taking the corridor at more than your usual gait, a series of otherwise inconsequential details reached your synapses. A jack-o-lantern here – a group of bats in the rafters there.
“Dumbledore’s dead and there are 20 or so mass murderers on the loose. It’s nothing that can’t be solved with a few Halloween decorations,” you whispered incredulously, rounding the corner with a decidedly irritated flair to your step.
Dawlish, it turned, hadn’t appeared to hand over your punishment. Not through breakfast. Not through lunch. Not when you’d arrived, only a little late, for the afternoon staff meeting. As you looked across the table at Jameson, it suddenly made sense.
10 points for you, Dawlish. You’re better at this game than I thought you were.
“That’s what he said,” he replied, smirking slightly. You loathed this man. “McGonagall requested that several Aurors accompany the seventh years through Hogsmead this weekend. They’re of age – the school couldn’t very well tell them they aren’t allowed to go into the village, but Scrimgeour is completely spares about security….”
As he driveled on about increased security measures with the older students and the extra effort the staff seemed to be putting in for the Halloween feast this year, your mind wandered intermittently in and out of the conversation.
You pressed open the door of the Hogshead, taking a deep breath. Strictly speaking, students weren’t allowed to visit here – not by the barman, anyway – but you’d been stealing yourself for this for weeks.
Infinitely quieter than the Three Broomsticks and entirely devoid of your squeaking, shouting, laughing, gabbing and gossiping classmates, the quiet had never been more appreciated. Not to say that the Hogshead was quiet, but the din was different – adult voices, mostly male, filled the room. Some were raucous, but, when combined, they were nothing if not soothing.
Wandering to the bar, your seventeen-year old self ordered a butterbeer and absently placed a few coins on the counter.
“Don’t worry, quiet as a mouse,” you replied to his stare, winking slightly. More disconcerting than seeing yourself in Hogwarts robes again was the way the barman watched as you walked away – a vaguely appraising look in his hollowed out eyes.
Drawing a tattered paperback book from your robes, you settled into one of the uncomfortable chairs, back to the door and uncorked the butterbeer, wiping the rim with your sleeve.
You felt the hands before you heard the voice – calluses you knew better than your own covering your eyes.
“Guess who,” he whispered in your ear, a smile evident in his voice.
The last shreds of your consciousness stopped your from whispering his name under your breath. More than most others, that day stuck vividly in your memory. Of all your years at Hogwarts, the year after Soren’s graduation had been the hardest. Little visits like that had made it bearable for you then. Making a foul face, response to your own musings, you took another gulp of your drink, feeling it’s alcoholic sting.
All too abruptly, the room around you resolved back into the Three Broomsticks like a tessel. Rosmerta was still wiping glasses clean – the other patrons carried on happily chatting their days away. Falling back on instinct, you leaned forward on your elbows, deliberately drawing closer to the man across from you. Feeling more like yourself than you had since you’d arrived, you whispered coaxingly in his ear. “What did you say your first name was again?”
In the recesses of your mind, your conscience clanked its chains – words you refused to interpret threatening to break free. This. Isn’t. Right.
Dim recollections of the previous evening played across your retinas as your mind drifted in that foggy area between dream and reality. You’d done something…stupid. Co-worker? Why? Right, Soren…
“Not worth it,” you groaned aloud, inching your fingers along the bed beside you, searching and hoping to find an empty pillow.
That’s a first, Alexis. Actually praying to find the bed empty?
Still not brave enough to open your eyes, you traced your finger across the rough cotton sheets, flinching at every sign of resistance. What you were hoping to find, you didn’t know. Part of your mind begged for your hands to meet cold fabric while another screamed out against everything that that would imply.
Feeling an overwhelming sense of juvenile stupidity, you wrenched your eyes open against the burn of a revealing morning light.
Tonks would have a field day. You were shirking away from men. Yes, it was Jameson, but that wouldn’t be what she would focus on. Distantly, something told you that you couldn’t blame her.
You were avoiding a lot of people these days. Dawlish. Jameson. Tonks. Lupin. Kingsley. Soren. Paige. Mostly, you were avoiding Tonks.
You were avoiding everyone and it was no small feat considering you were doing it with a batch of rowdy seventh years. The grounds outside the castle were covered in a thin frost – a chilly wind rushing across them – as you dragged ten students in tow behind you. This was the first time in recorded history you’d been with ten 17-year olds outside of a classroom.
“Don’t even think about it, Goyle!” you shouted, catching a glimpse of his wand from the corner of your eye. Two more hours. Two more hours and you would be free of all of these little wankers. Free to do what, you weren’t sure, but free none the less.
Their sad state wasn’t lost on you. If a batch of teachers handed you a supervised two hour visit into the village and called it a day off, you’d have hexed someone. Nevertheless, today you were on the other side of the coin and they were driving you mad.
“Weasley! Granger! Focus!”
Having a little trouble with couples today, Alexis? your alter-ego said with a smirk as you glared at their startled faces. Weasley wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. Un-bloody-believable…Two years of training and I’m sitting for this lot of snogging teenagers….
Still, the positive side of your outburst in the Great Hall, the students seemed entirely terrified to toe out of line.
“The lot of you are supposed to stick with me today. We’ll visit everything you want to visit – we’re just going to do it as a group.” As you spoke, you could feel Paige, somewhere in London, overcome by a sudden fit of hysterical laughter. This felt like selling your soul to the devil…or Starbucks. “So, Honeydukes?”
Snow had an odd way of making you miserable. A lot of things made you miserable but snow was a particular kind of miserable.
Snowflakes, themselves, were entirely insignificant - like a single tiny lie. Sitting on your palm, they melted away within moments and leaving nothing behind but a tiny drop of water. Together, they blanketed everything in sight, wrapping it in thousands of tiny lies. When put under pressure - cornered to the wall - they compressed to form a sheet of cold, resilient ice and concealed themselves in the snow.
Snow should have been your savior. It covered the scars of the castle grounds in beauty.
The world looked as you always imagined it would - but, looking out on it at 5:30 am, you could only see its imminent future.
Mere hours from now, hundreds of students, teachers, shop keepers, citizens, aurors, housewives and louts would descend upon the castle and village below it. The ice nature had so carefully created would send them skidding across her surface, but their boots and their shovels would destroy the beauty of the thing. They came armed with salt or sand and melt away her protections, leaving the surface revealed and pock marked – more ugly than the original.
For now, she you still as stone, back to the footprints you’d made on your apporach to the greenhouses.
When did you get so god damned angsty? the voice in your head asked as you looked out on the grounds.
You’d been a Holden Caulfield kind of gloomy. You’d even been a Sarte kind of gloomy. But this? This was the kind of gloom that signaled a violent realization just around the corner. Slyvia Plath aspired to this kind of glum.
A voice behind you broke the silence of a winter morning.
“Wotcher, Lexis! I come bearing coffee!” she called, shooting a stream of hot air at the snow beside you to clear a patch of earth. You cringed. “Jameson said you put him off Dawlish’s assignment last week and you’ve been avoiding me for days. I thought it was high time I come and find you.”
Grimacing, you took a slug of the coffee and spat it out immediately. “You can’t make coffee to save you!”
Watching from the corner of your eye, you surveyed Tonks for an instant. She was wearing that look she always did when she was about to do something obnoxious. Trying to cut her off at the pass, you set the mug aside and got to your feet – feeling the tingle of snow seeping into your trainers.
“And you can’t avoid this conversation forever,” she retorted, not missing a beat. “You need to go back to your room and write that man a letter telling him how you feel because you can’t get away from it, no matter how hard you try.”
“Tonks, are you trying to get on my ‘people I’d most like to see hit by a speeding bus’ list?” you asked, rounding on her. The blood pounded in your temples as you matched her resolute expression, water absorbing through fabric all the way up to your knees leaving a wake of pinpricks. “I have no feelings to reveal, except that you’re chasing me around and driving me insane.”
“Alexis, that’s bullocks and you know it.”
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