A letter from Cecily.
I looked up at Rose, anxiety blooming in my chest.
'Yes,' Rose breathed, eyes large and slightly crazed. 'That's her handwriting. That's where she is Kit! We have a location! We can go tonight! We can go now!'
James stepped forward, eyes darting between us. 'Go? Go where? What the fuck is going on?'
Rose and I couldn't tear our eyes away from each other.
My heart was pounding in my chest because this was it. The moment I'd been delaying—the moment that had felt so far away a few hours ago—impossible even, with our half baked plan, without knowing where Cecily might be, with the possibility that I might make Rose see the futility of physically searching for her—but here was undeniable proof that Cecily was somewhere, that she was out there, asking for help.
'Kit,' James stressed, shifting his body so he blocked Rose from my view. I let him push me away from her and Vivian, who had looked like a petrified deer. 'Kit, what's going on? Who's that from?'
'It's from Cecily.' James' grip tightened on my upper arms. 'It's an address.'
'I don't understand. What does Rose want you to do? Go find her? You can't do that.'
I bristled under strength and force of his words. I looked up at him fiercely.
'I can do whatever I want. She needs our help.'
'You didn't get her letter,' he argued, eyes flashing with sudden anger. Or fear. 'She isn't asking you to go.'
I twisted out of his grip. 'You don't know that. My owl could be waiting for me right now.'
'And you think she would do that?' he demanded. 'Just think for a second, Kit. You're Charlie's sister. If she got you in anymore trouble than you've already gotten into he wouldn't forgive her and she wouldn't forgive herself. I don't think this letter was meant for you.'
'Kit!' Rose shouted impatiently. 'We're wasting time!'
I shut my eyes.
You're Charlie's sister.
Even if he was right—even if all of it was true—it didn't matter.
I knew what I had to do.
'She needs my help, James. She may not have asked for it, but she needs it.' I shouldered him as I walked away but he wasn't letting me get away that easily. He grabbed my wrist and yanked me back around. 'James, please let go.'
'Murph,' he said, voice rough and hoarse. 'This is crazy. I can't let you do this. Charlie would never forgive me.'
I met his gaze with indignation.
'I don't care about Charlie. You can tell him that yourself! And besides, he'll probably just be angry that she didn't send him a letter.'
He let go of me and took a step back, looking utterly lost. He seemed to be searching for words, for anything that might convince me to stay, but was coming up woefully short. His gaze flicked above my head and when we locked eyes again, there was a steely resolve in them.
'Then I'm going with you.'
I stared at him—then let out laugh of incredulity.
'No you're not.'
'Why not?' he demanded. 'She could be in serious trouble.'
'And, what? You think you can do more than me and Rose put together?'
He bristled at the insinuation.
'There's strength in numbers.'
'Yeah and there's two of us—James, honestly, I'll be fine. We're just going to this house and we'll check if Cecily's okay and come back. And it's the weekend—we'll be back by tomorrow evening and no one will even know I'm gone! I mean, how many times have you left Hogwarts for London?!'
He was actually angry now.
'You're drunk,' I shot back. 'I'm sober.'
James opened his mouth to argue, then closed it abruptly. His eyes flickered over me dubiously.
Merlin, did he really believe me?
He looked away, agitated.
'You're driving me mad.'
'Just because Charlie isn't playing the part of the overprotective older brother doesn't mean that you have to.'
Astonishment rippled across his features.
'Older brother? Are you kidding me?' He took a moment to compose himself. 'Right. Got it. Message received.'
'Kit!' Rose hissed. 'Come on!'
'What did you mean by that?' I demanded angrily.
'Nothing,' he said, frustrated. 'Just forget it.' He pulled his Invisibility Cloak out of his pocket and handed it to me. 'Take it. Just in case.'
'I can't take your—'
'Kit, I swear to Merlin if you don't take it I will lose my goddamn mind.'
I took it.
Despite the urgency of the situation, I wanted desperately to make him explain himself because it had sounded like—it had almost sounded like he—
He was just drunk and confused and he admitted he didn't know what he was saying. I couldn't—I just couldn't allow myself to be hurt by him! I wouldn't be able to stand my life if I fell for him and he was mixing our fake relationship for something real. If he did or said anything that he would regret, I couldn't bear it—not if what I was feeling was real and terrifying.
'Thank you, James.' I angled my body away, unable to face him any longer. 'And—just so we're clear … I, um, don't think you're like my brother. I think of you as my friend. As just my friend. And I wouldn't want anything to ruin that.'
There was a beat of silence.
'We're on the same page then,' James said with cruel finality. He started talking business. 'Professor Creevey's on patrol this evening. Use the Cloak and get yourself into his office. You can Floo from there.'
I gripped his Cloak tightly in my hands.
I couldn't seem to move now that I needed to.
But then Rose came up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder, removing that responsibility from me. When she spoke, she addressed James.
'Thank you. We'll back tomorrow—or earlier. Owl us when you know which office fireplace will be empty.' To me, she murmured, 'We need to go. Cecily's there now and I don't want to risk her moving. Who knows when we'll get the next letter and by then it might be too late—'
'I know, Rose,' I said shortly, hollow and desperate and anguished. 'Can you just give me a second? I'll meet you outside. '
She hesitated for a moment, but left.
Without pausing to think, I impulsively hugged James. He froze, surprised, but then hugged me back.
'I know you don't want me to go,' I mumbled. 'But I'm not going to get hurt and I'll be back before you know I'm gone.'
'Just be careful,' he murmured back. 'And stay safe.'
Kit had taken off her heels and looked relatively put together for someone who was clearly inebriated. She smiled weakly at me and followed me out out of the Room of Requirement. As soon as we were in the corridor, I spun around on my heel.
'We don't have time to go to your common room—you can borrow my clothes if you want—I still have yours from earlier when you were getting ready in my room—I have bag with an Undetectable Extension Charm that we can pack some things in if we need to and then we've got to go to Creevey's office—'
'You could've explained this to me in your room,' Kit mumbled. 'I don't think I can add anything new to your plan.'
I bit my lip, unnerved, and wondered if it was a good idea to bring her at all. Before I could make up my mind, we both heard footsteps from down the hall. Kit squeaked in alarm and fumbled for the Cloak ('I can't see the edges! Where are the edges! It's all bunched up!'). I snatched it from her, swearing colourfully under my breath.
'Oh no …' Kit sounded dismayed. 'Oh my God! Jane!'
I looked up, terrified that we'd been caught, but realised with panic that Fox and Albus were racing towards us. Al had the Map in his hand. I looked between them, shocked. Kit threw her arms around Fox, who stumbled back, alarmed.
'Oh Jane!' Kit cried. 'You're alright! You're okay!'
Fox gently prised Kit off her and smiled sheepishly. 'Yeah. I'm feeling a lot better now. And I know I have you to thank for it.'
'No, not at all, it was all Roxy—'
'What are you two doing here?' I demanded harshly, losing patience with their heartfelt reunion. 'What do you want?'
Fox handed me a letter.
'I thought you'd want to see this,' she said quietly.
It was the same letter I'd received … but why did Fox have one?
'Oh,' Kit said in a small voice, clearly hurt. 'So I really didn't get one ...'
'I got one from her, too,' I said, confused and angry. 'Why did she—I don't understand why she would—'
'Because of what happened in the Forest,' Fox said simply.
I glanced furtively up at Al, who shrugged back, telling me wordlessly that he had no idea what was going on.
Fox hadn't told him.
Somehow, the surprise of that was more shocking than anything else.
'Why did she … I don't know why she …'
'She wanted me to know.'
'She needs our help,' I snarled. 'Not yours.'
Fox's violet-blue eyes flickered over to Kit, who wasn't exactly a model picture of someone who was ready to go into the unknown and potentially rescue a friend from grave danger. When our eyes met, there was a cool resolve in them.
'I don't think you get to decide that.'
'Yes, I do.' There wasn't any fucking time for this. 'We don't need you to come.'
'It sounds like she wants me to come,' Fox replied evenly. She turned to Albus, subtly glancing over Kit again, saying everything she needed to without uttering a single word about her state. 'What does the Map say?'
'McGonagall and Flitwick are both in their offices.'
'Professor Creevey has a fireplace we can Floo out of,' Kit added. 'James said he's patrolling in the dungeons.'
Al checked the Map, his brow furrowing. 'I don't see him there.' He tapped the Map with his wand. 'He's not in the Castle at all.' He looked at me. 'Could be in Hogsmeade.'
'At two in the morning—'
'That works,' I said decisively, cutting Fox off. 'Let's go Kit.'
Kit's gaze darted between me and Fox.
'I'm coming with you,' Fox said. This time, there was nothing subtle about the way she looked at Kit, eyes raking over her appearance: her tight, ice blue dress, hair pulled back in a messy bun, make up slightly smeared with sweat, eyes overly bright and hooded. 'I think you'll need the help.'
'Oh for Merlin's sake,' I hissed. There was no time to argue with anyone. 'Al, you'll have to come with us and keep an eye on that Map. I need to know when Creevey decides it's time to come back. Now come on the two of you! We need to pack and go!'
Fifteen minutes later and we were running under the Cloak—which was not only proving to be a health hazard but genuinely quite stressful—to Professor Creevey's office with Potter racing just a few paces ahead of us, eyes darting to and from the Map.
Glancing at Kit, I questioned—not for the first time—Rose's judgment in allowing her come with us. Her face looked pale and she seemed out of it. I wanted to express my concerns about Floo'ing whilst under the influence but with Rose so highly strung and on edge, I decided it might be best not to say anything.
The door to the DADA classroom was unlocked as usual, but at the top of the stairs I noticed that Creevey's office door was ajar.
'The door's open,' Kit whispered, as if speaking in a normal tone would conjure him.
Rose looked at Potter and he shrugged.
'He's not in the Castle.'
Rose appeared to have made up her mind. She grabbed Kit by the elbow and shoved her forward. 'Come on.' I moved to follow but then hesitated and looked at Potter. Our gazes locked. He didn't have to say anything. He left, shutting the door quietly behind him.
'Repeat after me,' Rose was saying to Kit in the office. 'Pen-dell Witches House for Poor and Forgotten Children.'
'Pend-Lez—shit! No, fuck! I know what it is! Sorry! I'm just drunk! It's Pendle! Pendle Witches House for Poor and Sad Children!'
Rose and I caught each other's eye over Kit's head.
'I'll go first,' I told them. 'Kit next, then Rose you follow.'
I grabbed some Floo powder and stepped into the fireplace. I cleared my throat and enunciated clearly, 'Pendle Witches House for Poor and Forgotten Children!'
When Fox was gone, I turned to Kit, the pit in my stomach knotting. Her skin was green and she looked just about ready to drop dead. Maybe it wasn't a good idea for her to come. The last time I'd forced her to run into something dangerous, she had almost died. And she hadn't been drunk then.
'Are you okay? If you're too drunk—'
She waved my concerns away. 'No, no! I'm completely fine! Pendle Witches House for Poor and Forgotten Children! Send me in General! I'm ready for battle.'
Before I could protest any further, she stepped into the fireplace, slipping on a charred piece of wood. She righted herself just in time, making a ridiculous noise ('Oooooh whoa!') and shot me a sheepish, embarrassed look.
'You need Floo powder.'
'Oh right.' She reached out to take a fistful and stepped back into the fireplace. She drew in a deep and steady breath. Her eyes were unusually clear and focussed. 'Okay. Here goes. Pendle Witches House for Poor and F-Forgotten Children!'
She disappeared in a plume of green smoke.
I tried not to think about how she had stuttered as I took some Floo powder and stepped in after her.
We were going to bring Cecily back—that was all that mattered.
I stumbled out of the fireplace and promptly threw up.
Feel like it should've been obvious that Floo'ing wasn't meant to be done drunk.
I found myself on my hands and knees, retching onto the hardwood floor. I didn't try to fight it. It was a painful, half violent experience—my entire body convulsed, tears pouring in slow, fat droplets down my face—but it was always like this when I vomited. But I knew I'd feel much better—my head would stop spinning and I wouldn't want to collapse—when it was over.
Finally, I sat back, wiping my mouth with the sleeve of one of Rose's very cool jumpers.
'Sorry Rose's jumper,' I said mournfully.
Then, for the first time, I took in my surroundings. The walls were stained with age and Merlin knew what, dark green or black wallpaper, which had peeled off, revealing dark brown brick. The hardwood floor was blackened and spongy with rot. I hastily got to my feet as I noticed that, wiping my hands furiously on my jeans. The room was completely bare … and dead silent.
There was no door on the hinges and, from what I could see in the near pitch darkness, there was a corridor, a staircase, and a window at the end, bringing in the only source of light.
I bit my lip.
Surely Jane had to be here somewhere … and why hadn't Rose come after me? Had something gone wrong?
I wanted to go look for them but a small, steadily rising fear rooted me to the spot. I felt as though if I moved or even breathed too loud that I would wake up a monster that would race out to kill me. It was a childish terror—but did anyone really get over their fear of the dark?
It scared me more that I couldn't hear anyone—not a single thing. I had no idea where in the world I was, no earthly idea on how to get back, since it had just occurred to me that none of us had brought Floo powder for our return journey, and it didn't seem like I had ended up in the right place—or if I had, Rose and Jane certainly weren't here.
I was scared of venturing out the room but petrified by the thought of staying.
I had to master my fear.
Out in the corridor, my eyes adjusted to the darkness and the weak moonlight that filtered through. Despite my heart pounding in my throat, I found my voice.
'Jane?' I whispered. 'Rose?'
Had I said it wrong? I had tried so hard to say it right but what if I'd gotten it wrong! What if I was somewhere else completely? How would I get back to Hogwarts? This was such a stupid, stupid idea! Why did I never stand up for myself! Why did I allow myself to feel responsible for things that I didn't have to bear any responsibility for! I had been drinking for Merlin's sake! I was still a little drunk! How could Rose have dragged me with her when Jane was—
I froze, a terrible chill sliding into my bones.
The corridor was lined with doors.
The noise had come from behind the one I was standing in front of.
It could be anything behind that door.
A monster—a ghoul—a ghost—a dark spirit—a demonic presence—an inferi—
Mastering my fear, I opened the door.
I stepped out of the fireplace and looked around for Cecily. The room was empty and falling apart. It had clearly been abandoned for years and … well, forgotten. It was hard to guess what the room had once been. Maybe a playroom for children where adoptive or foster parents would come to observe and shop for children. Or a library, since there were broken shelves lining the walls. Whatever it had once been, it certainly was a sorry place to have grown up in.
I drew my wand out of my pocket and murmured, 'Lumos.' The room filled with silver-white light. 'Lumos maxima.' The light flared brighter, throwing every detail into sharp relief. I was even more disgusted than before. The floor was rotten, the walls cracked and black, spiderwebs and insects crawling madly.
I walked out and into the entrance foyer. To my left there was the main door and painted onto the glass pane were the inverted words Pendle Witches House for Poor and Forgotten Children in chipped gold. To my right was a large staircase that presumably led to all the floors in which the orphans had once been kept. Past the staircase was a large room, but it was too dark to see what it was.
I decided to look there first.
Where were Kit and Fox?
My eyes automatically flew to the window—the moon was waning and it was cloudy. There was hardly any light. I lit my wand and waved it around the room, trying to see where I was. Blinking rapidly, I realised that it was an attic. It was falling apart and absolutely filthy with dust. I waded through the tumbling mess of boxes, shoes, toys, rolled up mattresses, books and thousands upon thousands of lose papers to the door and jiggled the doorknob.
The door wrenched free.
I was immediately at the top of a staircase. Cautiously, aware that this was an extremely old building, I went down, wincing at every creak and groan. I felt like I was making a racket.
'Cecily!' I shouted. 'Cecily, where are you?!'
At the first landing, I began throwing open doors, checking to see if she was in one of them. I kept going until I searched every room. Then I went down to the floor below and searched every room there. I was on the third floor from the attic, on my twenty fourth room, when a scream tore through my skin, straight to my bones.
The room had been the dining area—or so I assumed because a door to the left led to a kitchen and another to a courtyard out back for the children to play in. I was looking through the pantry in the kitchen when I heard a bloodcurdling, inhuman scream.
'Cecily,' I said aloud, and bolted.
'I don't think he's—he's dead.'
I stared at the body of Professor Creevey in slight surprise.
What the hell was he doing here?
My gaze flicked back up to Cecily. I had been so relieved to see her behind the door that it hadn't occurred to me all the things wrong with this picture. Cecily was white as a sheet, her platinum blonde hair scraped back in bedraggled ponytail, body trembling like a leaf. She was sat next Professor Creevey, hands fisted around his robes, looking positively sick.
Actually, I was going to be sick.
I whirled around, dry heaving because there was nothing left to throw up. Gripping onto the doorframe for support, my gaze flicked back to Professor Creevey, unable to really understand what I was seeing.
What was he doing here?
'We can take him to St Mungo's.' God I wished I had some water. I looked at Cecily without judgment. I was so drunk and yet so coldly sober, it was like I had a fever and the chills both at once. Getting Sectumsempra'd was honestly better than being painfully aware of how you were sobering up. 'He'll be fine after he sees a Healer.'
Fear rippled across Cecily's features.
'I—I can't. Kit—I did this. I—I hurt him—'
I leaned my forehead against the door frame.
I wanted to sleep so badly.
'Cecily, who cares what you did. So weird that he's even here …'
I forced myself to twist my head to look at her. I honestly would fall asleep on the floor right now. Like, I didn't even care that it was gross and probably crawling with maggots. Cecily's hazel green eyes were burning with terror.
'Don't be scared,' I said. 'Everything's okay.'
'No it's not,' she said, shaking her head, looking down at Professor Creevey. She was so pale. Like bleached bone. Even her lips had no colour. 'No it's not, Kit. I—I did this—I don't remember what happened—oh GodKit—I think he was—I think he was trying to help me and I—I killed him—'
'Shhh.' I rubbed my temples and walked over to her, sinking down to my knees beside Professor Creevey. He didn't appear to be breathing. 'We can get the Knight Bus. Rose and Jane are here somewhere and we can get him to Mungo's. It'll be fine.' I smiled at her. 'Then you can come back to Hogwarts.'
Cecily began to cry.
'Oh no,' I said, dismayed. 'I'm sorry—please don't cry—'
She buried her head in her hands and sobbed passionately.
'You don't—you don't get it.' Her voice was thick with tears, razed thin with anguish. 'I-I don't know what's happening to me!'
'What do you mean?' She seemed disproportionately upset. 'What's going on?'
She drew her knees up to her chest, fingers knotting in her matted ice-white hair.
It was slowly dawning on me that maybe Professor Creevey hadn't been Petrificus Totalus'd.
'Cecily, what's going on? Why are you here? What's Professor Creevey even doing here—'
'I'm an Obscurial.'
The words cracked like a whip.
A profound silence followed.
'You're a what?'
I stared at Cecily uncomprehendingly.
'I-I don't know, Kit—I don't know what's h-happening to me—'
She wasn't in her right mind.
She wasn't making any sense.
'No you're not,' I said loudly. 'That's insane.'
Her eyes met mine, glittering with unshed tears.
'There's something wrong with me,' she whispered. Her entire body was trembling. 'I can feel it … inside me … it feels wrong and I … I …'
'You're not—you can't be a—you're not an—Cecily, you—'
'Please Kit—please help me—'
'You did this.' I looked down at Professor Creevey, startled. I finally understood what Cecily had been trying to tell me. 'You did this?'
Her eyes met mine suddenly, glittering with tears, raw with hatred for herself.
Horror, a molten, livid horror, tore its way up to my hammering heart.
'Help me,' she begged desperately. 'Help me.'
It wasn't possible.
It was taboo. It was utterly unspeakable, what she was saying. Everyone had grown up knowing a scary story to whisper to each other at sleepovers, everyone's exhausted mum or dad had half-heartedly threatened their hyperactive children by saying an Obscurial would get them if they didn't go to sleep at once. Obscuruses were the worst of all horrors the magical world knew. It simply wasn't possible.
It couldn't be true.
'H-Help you? I-I don't know—' my eyes darted around the room, subconsciously looking for an escape '—I don't know how to—'
Cecily watched me, her features breaking, brittle glass shattering.
'You're scared of me. No … please don't be scared … I couldn't—I couldn't help it—I didn't mean to—'
My gaze slid to meet her's. Beads of sweat rolled down my back.
'I'm—' I swallowed hard. 'I'm—I'm so sorry—'
Cecily groaned in terrible pain and tried to make herself smaller, as if to disappear.
'C-Cecily,' I whispered. I felt so sick—so horribly scared—that I didn't know what to say. 'Please—I—I'm sorry—I don't know what to—'
She began to fade.
Quite literally, before my very eyes, her edges began to drift away, as if her very spirit was detaching like molecules and atoms tearing lazily apart. Icy air stole its way quietly into the room, a chill I would remember for years and years to come, freezing my muscles and profound terror in place. I was rooted to the spot, watching, and waiting, when Cecily looked up.
Her eyes were red.
I was beyond terrified now.
It happened instantaneously, in a blink of an eye—one second she was solid and real and the next she was nothing and nowhere. A small black ball of flying mist, fluid and sandlike, pulsed like a demonic heart where she once was. I watched it float, utterly mesmerised; it was a cosmic singularity, a densely packed sphere of energy and matter and magic.
The whole world, myself included, held its breath.
(two weeks ago)
I went home first.
The memory I'd visited with Creevey, my parents' last day, had been ugly and distorted. It was an abomination of the real memories I held of my childhood home. How could it have been so defiled? Torn apart, slashed to bloody ribbons, a singularity of horror. I rebelled against the blasphemy. It was the last place I had known true happiness. I needed to see it again and remind myself that it still existed.
When I arrived, trunk in hand, I discovered another family living there.
It was astonishing that it had never occurred to me another family could occupy a space that was mine.
A woman was on her knees, face red and sweaty, massive gardening shears in her thickly gloved hands, trimming a large bush. She looked up at me with some surprise as I stopped in front of the house. Her eyes flickered over my hair, mouth slightly open, before composing herself.
'Hello! Can I help you?'
My gaze slid from her up to the house.
It struck me how badly I'd recalled it.
It was painfully, embarrassingly, small. Squished in a row of identical miniature houses, each one different only because of the paint each homeowner had chosen, it was by far the shabbiest. Still, I could see what this new family had done to make it a happier place. The facade was freshly painted a light, lemon yellow, the window sills and shutters pearl white, the door black. The garden was tended to, the shingles on the roof replaced. Upbeat, happy music swam gently from the house. And yet, despite their best efforts, the sea water and salty wind had stripped all their hard work of its cheer.
'Excuse me,' the woman said, more firmly this time. 'Can I help you?'
I looked at her.
'No,' I said. 'Sorry.'
I went to the nearest pub that rented rooms. With all the money I had made making potions at Hogwarts, I had been able to open an account at Gringotts. I had put a little more than half of it away and exchanged the rest of it to Muggle money. Comfortable with the amount I had, and in the knowledge I could get more money if I needed, the room above the pub was cheap, even for my budget, so I booked it for the week.
No one in Freshwater could afford much more than this and if business owners hoped to make any money, they had to be inexpensive. I knew I had grown up poor—the old house was proof of that—but, looking around at the parish I had once called home, it didn't strike me that anyone had it much better than we had.
I set my trunk down and sat on the bed.
The room was sparse and small—just like everything else. The bed was old and creaky, the popcorn ceilings low enough for me to feel like I had to stoop to get around without banging my head, the one window, overlooking the rough, grey sea, was cramped. The bathroom was tiny, barely any room between the shower, toilet and sink. The shower itself looked like it would struggle to fit a normal human body in it. A decaying mirror hung crookedly above the sink. My eyes glanced off of it without looking at my reflection; I had never liked looking at myself.
Paranoid that the sea breeze had coated in me in a layer of salt water, I stripped off and stepped into the shower.
It was lukewarm and smelled like the ocean.
Over the next few days, I began rediscovering things I had forgotten.
Yet, as I shadowed the village, it dawned on me how so much of it was unfamiliar. As I strolled past colourfully decorated stalls, eyes raking over jewel like vegetables, jars of golden honey, marbled cuts of meat, mouthwatering smells of freshly baked cakes and cookies, the sharp tang of cheese and, of course, the unpleasant stink of fish—oysters, scallops, lobsters and flounders—I couldn't remember ever coming to the market that was erected every morning in the commons; As I window shopped, stepping into quaint boutiques that sold seashell necklaces and mugs, I had never known the village to have a High Street with actual shops; and had there always been so many people?
Children were everywhere—running around, screaming, enjoying teasing flickers of Spring weather. They danced around their parents, all tired but hard working and happy people. Large families with nans and granddads, little boys and girls clutching onto their friends, mothers chatting with other mothers, fathers with beers in their hands, teenagers huddled in groups, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol in cans and glass bottles.
I couldn't help but stare at them.
I had never known any children when I was here.
Uneasy, I returned to my room at the pub.
'Paul,' mummy said. 'Paul, what do we do?'
Daddy paced the kitchen, shoving his wet black hair out of his hazel-green eyes. Eyes that were looking at her now. Cecily shrank back, as though expecting him reproach her. He always got angry when she couldn't explain the strange things that happened around her; like the time the new dress daddy had bought her, the baby blue one with pink, yellow and red tulips on them, had turned into a baby blue dress with white daisies; or the time mummy had cut her a fringe and she hadn't liked it and the next day it was gone.
Mummy looked at her, too, and she looked scared.
Both of them were still drenched, their clothes dark and dripping, but mummy didn't look like she minded the floors getting wet.
They had sat Cecily on the couch without a towel. She was shivering, frozen to the bone, and her head felt like it was full of salt water. She could feel herself starting to cry but she tried her very best not to make a sound and upset mummy and daddy more.
'We don't talk about it,' daddy said abruptly. 'We'll tell the neighbours that teenagers from the village over took the boat out—we'll need a way to explain it when the boat comes back in pieces on the shore. You know Moreley will stick his nose and start asking questions. The story is that we were here—the three of us—all night.'
'She didn't do anything! It's not possible.'
Cecily was crying properly now, sniffling, and still trying her best to be quiet.
But daddy heard.
He walked over to her and gripped her by her shoulders.
'Cecy,' he said. 'Don't cry, my little flounder. You didn't do anything wrong. You saved our lives, Cecy … We love you so much, darling girl …'
I woke up in a cold sweat, chest heaving, drowning all over again.
Grey, torrential waves slammed down on me like concrete, unrelenting and merciless.
That's not what he said.
He told me that I was never to do that again or we would all be in trouble.
He told me if I did, someone would take me away.
Then he locked me in that room.
I had no idea how long I spent in that room—no idea whether I was in the pub or in my old house—locked inside, trapped, sobbing to be let out. Great gales of wind lashed against the rickety room. I was in the pub. Rain hammered against the window. I was in the panic room. Raging arguments tore through the bones of the house.
I lost all sense of time and space. I was five. Someone, far away, was crying and screaming. I was sixteen. Someone banged against the door, shouting.
I was sick, soaking my sheets with sweat and tears, screaming in agony as dreams—or were they memories?—ripped through me—and always—always—I was drowning.
When the storm subsided, I came to.
I felt as though I had been run over by a lorry. Every muscle and bone ached, sore and weak. My stomach rolled with nausea. My heart was heavy and sick. I could feel it rotting in my chest, growing rank and to seed.
I stumbled lout of the bed like a drunk and into the shower.
Naked and dripping, I looked at myself.
I didn't recognise the girl trapped in the mirror.
There were purple shadows under her dull hazel-green eyes; her skin was grey and drawn, cheeks swallow, lips cracked and bloodless. The more I looked at her—her white eyebrows, her white hair—the more I began to convince myself that she wasn't real. She was a ghost. A ghastly shadow of a living thing. She was the abomination.
I tore the room apart, only breathing when I found a pair of scissors in the bedside table drawer.
I raked the blades across my hair, shearing it off.
'You alright girl?'
I looked at the landlady and gave her money for the room, for the days I had spent in there that went well past the length of time I had booked it for.
She took the money slowly, still watching me
'I tried to check in on you but … you don't seem very well,' she said a touch nervously, but her words were wind. 'Do you … do you need a doctor?
I turned and left wordlessly.
I went back to the house.
The woman was outside again, tending to her garden.
'You again!' she said, looking a little amused. 'What is it you want? If it's Liam then—well—I suppose you have every right.' She craned her neck and yelled into the house. 'Liam! There's someone here to see you!' She looked at me again, shaking her head, the very picture of a fed up mum. 'I know it's not no excuse, but he takes right after his dad … miserable sod …' She trailed off as her good nature faltered. 'Are you alright?'
Liam thundered down the stairs I knew so well and said, 'what?' to his mother before looking at me.
His eyes widened.
'I think your friend here needs to have a word with you.' She smiled, gaze flicking from me to her son furtively. She could tell something was off and maybe she was comforting herself by putting it down to teenage love woes. Still, I didn't miss the way she put her hand on her son's shoulder and squeezed before disappearing into the house, through the corridor to the kitchen.
'Do I know you?' Liam asked dubiously. 'We don't go to the same college do we?'
'I'm from a different school. Can I come inside?'
Liam looked like he couldn't believe his luck. He glanced over his shoulder, to see whether his mum was observing—which she was—and returned my gaze with a cool smirk.
'Sure.' He gestured for me to follow him and yelled, 'Mum, we're just going up to my room!'
'Keep the door open!' she shrieked back.
'Sorry about her,' he said as we went up the stairs. 'She thinks I've gotten every girl in Freshwater pregnant.'
I wasn't listening to him; my eyes roved over the house, feeling absolutely nothing. The bones were the same, yet another body was wearing them. I wondered if they knew my parents had been murdered here. By me.
As we reached the landing, Liam went into his room—my old room.
He followed my gaze and his cheeks reddened.
'I share it with my little brother. He's not here,' he added hastily. 'At a friend's house.'
I walked in, searching.
My eyebrows met in confusion.
Where was it?
'Is that wallpaper new?'
'Huh?' Liam came up beside me. 'No.'
I looked at him.
'Was it here when you moved in?'
He seemed puzzled by the question. 'Um, no. Mum put it in. She didn't like the look of the … hey! What are you doing!'
I ripped the wall paper off, throwing pieces of it away. Liam grabbed my wrist and pulled me away furiously.
'What the fuck are you you doing?' he hissed, angry and appalled.
I shoved him away so hard he tripped on a lose floorboard and sprawled on his bed, shocked.
I tore at the wallpaper, moving as quickly as I could, because it was only a matter of time before Liam would come to his senses and force me out of the house. I scraped the walls, raking it with my nails, demented with purpose. A molten piece of rock was glowing in my heart, pulsing, beating like a second heart, glowing hotter and hotter. I scratched—ripped—tore—stripped—
'There,' I breathed.
Liam sat up and stared.
'What is that.'
I pushed the square piece of wooden wall.
'What the fuck is that?' Liam demanded again, sounding, for the first time, unnerved.
With a righteous, terrible fury, I looked into the room—a hole, really, carved out by my father. It hadn't been built to hide them. It had been built to hide me. They never locked themselves in here to protect themselves from me during one of my rages. I had never been an angry child. They had locked me in here every time I had performed magic. And I remembered.
I remembered everything.
Crying with terror and shame, screaming that I wouldn't do it again, not knowing what was happening, why I had done what I'd done.
'It's a panic room, Liam.'
Liam's mother was still suspicious when we came downstairs not even ten minutes later.
'All sorted then?' she asked.
Liam ran a hand through his blonde hair, avoiding his mother's eye.
'Yeah. There was, er, a bit of an issue with the wallpaper though …'
'What?' Her eyes widened. Then she threw her hands up and stormed back into the kitchen. 'You'll be fixing that Liam! I won't be touching a single thing in that room! Your girlfriend tears your room apart because you messed around again and you will pay for it!' She went on shouting and raving like that all the way into the backyard, snatching a bottle of beer off the kitchen countertop as she did.
Liam looked at me sheepishly.
'Sorry,' I blurted. 'For getting you in trouble.'
'I'm always in trouble,' he quipped back cheekily. He looked me up and down. 'What's your name anyway? I realised I never asked.'
I stared at him.
He raised his eyebrows sardonically.
'Don't you think you at least owe me that? Given that I'm going to have to empty my savings to buy new wallpaper and give up a few weekends to fix the mess that you—'
'It's Cecily,' I said clearly. 'Cecily Waters.'
I left Freshwater for good, knowing I would never return.
But where could I go now?
I had no home, no family, no friends … only a past that I needed desperately to forget.
With my trunk in tow, I left the Isle of Wight and travelled aimlessly for days, stopping in different villages or towns, staying for a few hours or a few nights. Everywhere I went, stares followed me, eyes lingering on my hair, on my face, on my trunk. I couldn't remember speaking to anyone or using my voice at all. I felt as though I was drifting apart … all the careful work done to stitch me together was unraveling, thread by thread.
I was in a dream.
Nothing about who I was or my life made much sense to me.
How had I forgotten what my parents had done? How had I convinced myself that I hadn't been abused?
Charlie had been right.
I told so many lies that I started to believe it was the truth.
But the truth was that they locked me in that tiny room whenever I performed magic. They weren't scared of me because I lashed out in violent, angry outbursts. They were scared of me because of who I was. For doing any normal thing a young witch did when magic bloomed. I could understand their mistrust and shock—they were Muggles, they had no idea the wizarding world existed, they couldn't have known what was happening. I could forgive them for the ignorance nothing but the Ministry could have fixed. But I couldn't forgive them for punishing me.
They were religious, I remembered now. Good Christians who went to Church every Sunday and feared their God.
All these truths washed over me now, ephemeral and intangible, drifting over me like a cool breeze. I didn't know how to pull them together and fix the image in place.
I had been forced to suppress my magic at a young age and my parents ... they had put this Obscurus inside of me.
I realised, sitting in a Muggle coffee shop in London, my coffee untouched and forgotten, that I really didn't know anything about Obscuruses at all.
'I'm looking for books on Obscuruses.'
The Flourish and Blotts shopkeeper arched an eyebrow.
'How old are you?'
'Seventeen,' I lied automatically.
She snorted, clearly not believing me. But then she rolled her eyes.
'You'll want to go to Obscurus Books on the South Side of the Alley,' she said. 'Only they publish books on Dark Magic.'
I thanked her and left. In all the times I'd been to Diagon Alley, I had never seen or heard of Obscurus Books. It was a wonderful irony.
The shop was small and unassuming—it didn't even have a sign.
A bell rang as I opened the door and an old, wizened wizard looked up from behind the till. He peered at me good naturedly over his reading glasses.
'Hello there. How can I help you?'
'I'm looking for books on Obscuruses,' I told him.
He nodded gravely and waved me over. I followed him down an aisle which I was sure hadn't been there a moment ago. It seemed to run on for miles behind the shop front. I wondered why he hadn't asked me any questions.
'You know,' he said suddenly. 'Most people don't realise that Newt Scamander wrote the most comprehensive notes on Obscuruses in the world. They think they have to find some encyclopaedic tome to get real detail. But it's all … actually … in here!' He pulled out a thin black hardback. I turned the book over in my hand, tracing the gold embossed images of two hydras on the cover. 'They don't sell this at Flourish and Blotts.'
It was titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A Note on the Obscurus by Newt Scamander.
'Fantastic Beasts is only two.'
The shopkeeper chuckled. 'That's because it doesn't have what this does.'
Four Galleons didn't actually mean much to me—I'd haggled from habit. I paid for the book and a few minutes later, I was reading it in a room above the Leaky Cauldron.
1. Newt Scamander had tried to save a Sundanese Obscurial—only eight years old—by removing it from her body. He did it, but the girl died.
2. An Obscurus, once removed from the Obscurial's body, has no magical power and cannot hurt anyone.
3. A young American wizard named Credence Barebone was the oldest known Obscurial. He had killed three people. The Obscurus was destroyed by Aurors. But he wasn't killed.
Scamander states that an Obscurial cannot be killed in its Obscurus form.
Credence Barebone lived.
I left my room in a trance-like state, wandering Diagon Alley, just walking to clear my head, to get my thoughts in order.
Credence Barebone followed me.
At every turn I took, I saw him, waiting in shadows, watching me, his mouth curling up into a knowing smile.
Newt Scamander had removed the Sudanese girl's Obscurus when she was in her human form ... Credence had his destroyed whilst he was an Obscurus ... he had lived ... she had died ...
How had he survived for so long with an Obscurus inside of him?
How had I?
Obscuruses usually killed their hosts before they turned ten … either by the sheer force of the magic that rent them apart or … or by choice. Anything else, as Scamander had described, was nothing short of a miracle. That an Obscurus could live inside someone for so long—that a person could live with so much pain, always in search of something—for love, for comfort, for family—
I stumbled against the wall of the narrow alleyway, clutching my chest, unable to breathe. My head swam, abruptly deprived of oxygen, and I fell to my hands and knees.
My eyes flew open and I shot up, petrified.
I looked around, wondering where I was, taking in my surroundings—and realised I was in the alleyway I had collapsed in.
I looked at my watch
Four hours had passed and it was past midnight.
I had blacked out.
Shaking from head to toe, I got to my feet.
The Owl Post Office was open all day and night.
I found myself staring at a blank piece of parchment, wondering who on earth I thought I could write a letter to. I didn't know how long I stood there for, only that I had never felt so lost and so alone. Who could I tell about what was happening to me? Why did I deserve to tell anyone? I had pushed away everything good and decent that had come into my life. I made myself an island. And now what did I have to show for it?
I whirled around, heart flying to my throat.
Professor Creevey grimaced.
'I'm sorry—I know this is unexpected—it's just, I've been looking for you ever since you were expelled and—'
'You scared me,' I said, completely astonished.
'I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to startle you—'
'I think it happened again.' The words poured out in a rush; here was my deliverance, my salvation and my answer. I didn't care how or why—he was here. He was going to help me. 'I was in an alley, I don't remember what happened—one second I was fine and the next—' I took in a deep, shuddering breath. 'I lost four hours, Professor. I don't know what happened. I need—I need your help.'
Creevey's expression was grim.
'I thought something like this might happen. I shouldn't have asked you to revisit your memories—especially such a traumatic one. It wasn't right. I'm so sorry for doing that, Miss Keats. I was worried that everything—the memory, the discussion we had about Obscuruses—had maybe triggered something that you were managing without being aware of.' His looked at me gravely. 'I'm worried that I've done more harm than good.'
'Take it out of me,' I begged him, suddenly desperate now. 'Please—take it out of me.'
'I can't do that,' he protested. 'I'm not a Magizoologist—I could make things worse—'
'Please—you have to try—I can't—I can't live with this anymore—this thing inside me—'
'Cecily! Just Cecily!'
'Cecily,' he corrected, forcing a tone of calm. 'I won't risk causing you more harm—now, you need to calm yourself.' He took a cautious step forward and gripped my shoulders, forcing me meet his eye. 'Breathe, Cecily. Breathe with me. In … and out. In … and out … Good. Good.'
I made myself breathe, I told myself to calm down.
'Cecily,' he said after a while. 'I can help you. But it's not going to be easy, okay?'
'I thought you said you'd only make things worse.'
He shook his head. 'I won't try to get the Obscurus out of you. But I know people who can.'
I immediately thought of how the Aurors had torn Credence apart. The agony and terror he'd felt as they ripped the Obscurus out of him. Scamander had written it so vividly, it was like I had been there. His screams, his body breaking, the violence and horror of it.
'People? Like … like a Magizoologist?'
'Yes,' he said, smiling. 'There's just one thing we have to do first.'
'One thing I do know,' he began. 'Is that for an Obscurus to be safely removed without any harm to the host … you have to go to revisit the places where you began to feel in control of your magic. To help reduce the strength of the Obscurus. Does that make sense?'
'But ... Professor, I don't know where that is.'
'You may not think so, but I think your orphanage had a huge impact on your self-perception. It was the first time you met people just like yourself. Where magic was encouraged, where Hogwarts wasn't a childish fantasy imagined as an escape, but real and inevitable. Your parents tried to make you believe that you were wrong but it was the first place that you began to feel right.'
He spoke with such fevor and zeal and it all made sense. It was all true, wasn't it? I didn't make any friends in the orphanage, but hadn't I been overwhelmed by seeing other witches and wizards? To see them perform magic like it wasn't something to be ashamed or fearful of? After a few months, I began experimenting with my magic and by the end of the year, I had switched repressing magic to repressing my memories. And it had helped. I had made it to Hogwarts because of the orphanage.
'Okay,' I said, emboldened and energised by new purpose. I looked at the blank piece of parchment, inspiration striking me. 'I just need to finish my letter.'
Creevey hesitated, then acquiesced.
'Sure. I'll see you outside in just a moment.'
Hands shaking, trembling with excitement, I ignored every red flag, every major warning in my head telling me that it didn't make sense why Professor Creevey had come alone, or how he had found me in the first place; I pushed away the feeling of unease, the flickers of doubt as to why we were heading to the orphanage now, in the middle of the night, and how he knew things that I had never told him.
Instead, I wrote two letters.
One to Fox.
One to Rose.
I wanted to write Kit, too, but I would never put her in harm's way ever again—and until this Obscurus inside me was removed, I couldn't risk her coming. But I needed help. I needed Rose and I needed Fox. Because they were the only ones who would understand. After all, they had been with me when I found my parents. Kit, Rose and Fox—somehow, separately, at different times and in different ways—had all helped me heal.
Professor Creevey would be glad that I'd taken the initiative to write them.
I sent the letters and met him outside.
I took his outstretched arm and we Disapparated at once.
I woke up with a gasp, sucking in air, oxygen popping in my brain.
My eyes darted around the pitch black room, disoriented, nauseous and sweating.
Then I saw him.
Professor Creevey—utterly still and not breathing.
Panic and horror lashed inside me.
'No,' I whispered. 'No, no, no, no, no!'
My hands fisted around his robes as I shook him, screaming in my mind for him to wake up, to please, please God, don't be dead, don't be dead, don't be dead!
I didn't know how but it happened again.
It had torn into me inward and drove me mad, then exploded out of me when I couldn't control it.
Back with an update! I hope you guys liked this chapter! Let me know what you think x
Also, am I the only one completely in love with the new banner? If you look hard enough, you can spot Cecily and Rose in it too.
Hope you're all staying safe and healthy during these crazy times!
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