How much time did Jane need?
This was my only concern as I waited stupidly outside of the Hufflepuff common room for someone to come in or out. Like, I got that it was after dinner now but how in the hell had I been standing here for the past twenty minutes without seeing anyone.
I shot the barrels beside me a disdainful look.
What kind of system of protection was this? Why the hell didn't they just use passwords?
I had heard horror stories from a few people—even Hufflepuffs themselves—that got the tapping thing wrong and spent the next few weeks reeking of vinegar and I had no intention of falling for that trap.
How much time did Jane realistically need?
She had an incredible memory and she had read practically every book ever written, so how long would it take for a brain like that to come up with a curse that could easily be mistaken for Sectumsempra? Had I been overly optimistic by saying eight o'clock? Was a couple hours too hopeful?
'… say that but is that even true? Think about it, how many times have you spoken to her since we started dating?'
'We've only spoken twice! Okay—fine—Merlin—maybe three or four? Or six—'
'Well, which is it? Three, four, five or six?!'
'I'm not hung up on her! I told you I was completely over her!'
'Yeah, you say that but you don't act like it—'
'How do I act then? You tell me if you've got me all figured out!'
'You act like you want to be with her but you can’t because it’s embarrassing that everyone knows she cheated on you!’
‘I don’t want to fucking be with her!’
‘She cheated on you and you constantly want to talk about your feelings with her! What do you even want from her James? You got the apology, you got her crawling back to you—so why do you keep insisting on reopening the old wound?!'
'Because it's not old! She fucking cheated on me and that fucking sucked!'
'I get it! I do! But what are you getting out of your conversations with her—honestly I just want to understand—'
'You can't understand, okay? I don't know how to explain it you because you don't know how to listen.'
By this point, James and Kit had stopped right in front of me but were so absorbed in their own argument that I didn't appear to exist.
'You don't listen! You hear what you want to hear! Even if I tell you I'm over her and that talking—just talking!—about why our relationship broke down helps me wrap my mind around why the fuck she cheated on me, all you'll hear is, Oh no! James is in love with Pauline! He's making me look like a fool!'
'I do not sound like that and you are so wrong—'
I cleared my throat.
All the colour drained from James' face and Kit was like a frantic, injured deer caught in headlights. They exchanged a fleeting, panicked look with each other. I raised my eyebrows and waited for them to compose themselves.
'Rose,' Kit half gasped. 'W-what are you doing here?'
'Looking for you,' I said dryly. My gaze slid up to James. 'Been talking to Pauline, have you?'
James tried to flatten his hair as his still-overly-bright eyes met mine.
'Oh, er, you heard that did you?'
'Voices tend to carry in the dungeons when you're shouting.'
James let out a nervous laugh. 'Right …'
I narrowed my eyes at him.
'Don't fucking date Kit if you're not over her, James,' I said furiously, poking my finger into his chest. He frowned. 'She doesn't deserve that.' I rounded on her and she jumped slightly, alarmed. 'And you—you don't take that shit from him okay? You don't deserve to be treated like that Kit. James knows he shouldn't be talking to Pauline and you know that, too. Just because you love him doesn't mean you need to put up with that bull fucking shit, okay?'
Kit nodded furiously, eyes wide and terrified.
'You know,' James said, looking rather irritated. 'It's actually just occurred to me that this isn't any of your business.'
I sized my cousin up coolly.
'That's where you're wrong, Jamie,' I said sweetly, my voice steeled with a razor thin edge. 'Kit's my friend—and if you know what's good for you, you'll act right.'
'God you're fucking creepy, Rose—has anyone ever told you that?'
I shrugged. 'I've heard it few times …' I looked at Kit meaningfully. 'I need to speak with you.'
'About what?' James said the same time Kit squeaked, 'Okay.'
'That actually isn't any of your business,' I told James.
I took Kit's arm and started to pull her away.
'It's nearly curfew,' Jame said angrily from behind us. 'Where are you taking her?'
'You're so fucking possessive,' I muttered under my breath. 'Get a fucking grip, James!'
'The last time I let you talk to her, you guys disappeared for the whole fucking night and I didn't hear from either of you!'
'First of all, you didn't let me do anything! Get lost!'
'You realise I'm going to have to follow you guys out of here right?! Like I'm going the same way? Right? Right, guys?! Hey! Wait!'
I raced out my room and nearly ran into the barman in the pub.
I darted around him and ignored the grunt of disapproval he made as I tore out of the inn, searching around wildly—until I saw him. Walking down the high street, back up to the castle, robes billowing around him in the gusting wind. It was him. Triumph and terror clashed inside of me and I couldn't decide which was winning. But I had to explain myself to him. Scared or not, I had to do this.
'Charlie!' I yelled hoarsely, but my words were immediately drowned out by bone-splitting thunder. I looked up and saw swirling grey clouds, dense and fat, rapidly moving. It bled all the light out of the world, casting it in humid, sticky darkness. I felt the first splatter of rain against my cheek, a gentle, kind warning—before the skies tore open and it began to torrentially pour.
'Charlie!' I screamed.
He turned, realised it was me, and whirled around, moving faster than before.
'Charlie please! Please wait—please—'
The rain was falling in sheets as the storm raged around us. Pellets of water, freezing and hard, weighing my clothes down, pasting my platinum hair to my face. I could hardly see through the wind whipping rain.
'Charlie!' I screamed again. He continued to trudge ahead of me, every movement of his body taut with hostility and anger. 'Charlie!'
'Go back Cecily!' he shouted back. He threw a dismissive hand at me, not bothering to turn around.
'No!' I shouted stubbornly, tears catching in my throat; I was so angry with myself—for being so weak, for not accepting love, for finding comfort in my darkness, in thinking I deserved it. 'Stop right now, Charlie! You have to listen to me! I'm sorry I didn't write back—I'm so sorry—'
This stopped Charlie in his tracks; or, rather, he slipped in the thick mud as he spun to look at me, expression blazing, furious and incredulous at once.
'You're sorry? I don't give a fuck if you're sorry, Cecily! I heard everything you fucking said and I heard it loud and fucking clear! Do you even know how fucking selfish you are?'
I stopped a metre away from him, incredulous with hurt. 'Selfish?' The rain thundered so loudly I had to shout over it, my voice hoarse. ‘How am I selfish—’
‘I know you killed your parents—I know what it’s like to lose someone before you even knew them—’
‘No you don’t know what it’s like! You have no idea what it’s like to be me, Charlie! I know I hurt you but you can’t even begin to understand what it’s like—’
‘Because you won’t let me! You think I can even stand to hear you say that you don’t want to live? That fucks me up! It fucking breaks my heart because I’m so fucking desperate to love you and you won’t let me help you!’
I closed my eyes, throat burning, anguish twisting my heart.
‘It’s not that easy,’ I croaked.
'Why?' Charlie's' voice took on a strange level of desperation. It hurt me just to hear it. The thought of being the reason for it made me want to cry. I had never felt so unravelled, so untethered to my own soul. Standing in front of him, watching him look at me like that, I was wrecked. 'I told you I would help. I wanted to fucking help and you wouldn't let me in—'
'I'm sorry!' My tears were lost in the relentless downpour, but my voice was flayed raw with emotion. 'I've convinced myself for years that I was better off alone! I told myself I didn't need anyone and I'm trying—I'm trying—'
'You told me one of the worst things that happened to you and then you left, Cecily!' he yelled, completely maddened. 'And then you left! I've been losing my god damn mind thinking about you every fucking day for weeks! And then you turn up in Hogsmeade like nothing fucking happened? And you say now you’re ready for me to love you? That's not how it fucking works, Cecily! You don't get to just come back here and snap your fingers and fix this!'
'Please … I was wrong … It was so wrong of me …'
'Stop!' He slid in the mud until we were barely inches apart. He wrapped his hands around my upper arms in a vice-like grip, blue eyes startling and fierce. 'Stop acting so fucking pathetic! You fucking left. And it’s tearing me apart that you won’t tell me why!'
'I can't,' he ground out. 'Compete with that.'
'Don't you dare,' I said, fat, warm tears blurring my vision. This time I couldn't help it. I was crying; unravelled and untethered. He had my soul in his palms. I fisted my fingers around his robes, pulling him closer. 'Don't you dare end this, Charlie Murphy! Not before it's even begun!'
'I don't want to end it!' Charlie shouted hoarsely, raising his voice again. 'I want you! But you have to let me in, Cecily. All the way in!'
A dry-sob racked my chest.
'Charlie, please …'
'No!' He refused. 'The only way I'm in your life is if you tell me the truth!'
'It won't help,' I sobbed. 'There isn't—'
'There's me!' he roared. 'There's me!'
Lightning struck and illuminated him in silver light. For a moment, he was brilliant; blinking the rain away, I committed to memory his raven hair plastered to his alabaster skin, eyes burning like blue fire, freckles and the innocent curve of his mouth, the anger and hurt that twisted his permanent lightness, and he was always happy to be alive, as if even if things got worse, there was still so much in the world to hope for. Charlie and Kit looked nothing alike—they were total strangers to each other. But it didn't take much to see that they were made of the same magic.
It was people like me that tangled it up hopelessly and desperately in fear, mistrust, anger and hate.
I held his face in my hands.
'Okay,' I promised. 'Okay.'
Destroy the Sorting Hat.
Lulu was clinically insane.
Could the Sorting Hat even be destroyed?
It had suffered extensive damage after the Battle of Hogwarts but—frayed and burnt—it still sang songs and sorted students … how had it been damaged again? ... Ah, that's right … Fire …
And it came to me abruptly, like most my ideas do.
There was a chance that it could work … but would the Wave figure it out too? I checked my own impulse to assume they wouldn't be smart enough to because I knew, at the very least, that all it would take was the ability to read … but could Lulu master the incantation like I already had?
The Wave had a rule: if you had a cause, you had to fall on the sword for it.
Roughly translated from James' theatrics, it meant that the Wave as a collective would not take the blame for your cause. It would help and support in every other respect but—for the greater good—if you were caught, the plan had to be so watertight that no one would link any wrongdoing back to any member of the wave but the person who's idea it was.
Lulu would have to be the one to fall on her sword for destroying the Hat.
She would have to master the incantation.
I tore myself out of my thoughts and looked up.
Kit and Rose were hurrying towards me, the latter relieved, as though she hadn't fully believed I would come.
'It's raining,' I pointed out. 'Heavily.'
Rose glanced outside, then looked at Kit. 'You don't have a problem with being a few minutes late for curfew, do you?'
Kit's brow furrowed. 'No. Why?'
'Yeah that adds up.' Rose turned to me. 'I realised that I didn't actually give you much time to come up with something but it's not like we're going to tell McGonagall tonight anyway—'
'No. I've come up with something. And the sooner we do it the better.'
Rose cocked her head to side curiously.
She let out a laugh of pleasure and turned to Kit, looking lighter and brighter at once. 'You ready?'
Kit looked out forlornly at the rain, mouth twisting with unhappiness. 'I guess so.'
I pointed my wand at her. 'Impervius.'
'Good idea,' Rose said approvingly, casting the charm on herself.
'Thank you!' Kit sang happily. 'I know I'll still get wet but my hair …'
I patted her shoulder comfortingly. 'I understand.'
'Let's go,' Rose said.
Together, we stepped out into the rain.
Wind and rain buffeted around us, making it utterly pointless to try and talk. We were all hunched over, robes pulled above our heads, despite our Impervius Charms, desperate to get to the Hog's Head Inn and get under some cover—
I stumbled back, nearly tripping over my own two feet, and wondered why Rose had stopped so abruptly.
I followed her gaze.
Panic burst into a million butterflies in my chest.
Cecily. That was Cecily—outside her room with—with—
'Charlie Murphy,' Jane said observationally.
They were caught in an embrace. They weren't kissing or anything, they were just in each other's arms, drenched to the bone, and it was impossible to tell where Charlie started and Cecily ended. I saw her say something to him but my mind was reeling, so I couldn't make out what.
What would Charlie think of the three of us walking into Hogsmeade so close to curfew? Surely he'd connect the dots and realise that we were coming to see Cecily—that I had lied to him—
Cecily looked up.
Instead of shock, surprise or shame, she disengaged from Charlie, her face set with determination. Charlie turned and only betrayed the slightest hint of confusion as our eyes locked. Cecily took Charlie's hand in her's and walked up to us.
'Kit,' Charlie began. 'What are you—'
'Shut up,' Rose said harshly. 'You need to leave.'
'No,' Cecily said, raising her voice above the pelting rain. She looked at Rose half imploringly, half ready to fight if she needed to. 'I don't want to keep secrets from him anymore. He wants to help—'
'He can't!' Rose's body went rigid, hands curled into fists. ‘What were you thinking, Cecily—'
'Rose. It's my secret to tell. I want to tell him.'
I caught Charlie's eye. He had been staring at me but I had been avoiding it because I didn't want to know what he was thinking. I didn't want his reproach or disbelief or to know that I had betrayed him in some way … but he wasn't any of those things. He seemed irritated and, somehow, I knew exactly what he was trying to communicate with just his eyes.
'We should get out of the rain!' I said loudly.
'You weren't supposed to talk to anyone!' Rose shouted. 'You weren't supposed to leave your room!'
'I couldn't be so close to Hogwarts and not speak to Charlie!' Cecily shouted back in anguish. 'I know the risk I took and I'm sorry—'
'If something had happened your sorries wouldn't have meant anything! You took an unnecessary and stupid risk for some stupid fucking boy, Cecily! How could you do that! You know how dangerous it is that you don't have a wand—you know—'
'I think you can do this inside, don't you?' Charlie interrupted.
'Shut the fuck up!' Rose screamed, rounding on him. Charlie actually took half a step back, alarmed by her intensity. 'You don't know what the fuck you're talking about so just shut! Up!'
Jane and I exchanged a look of unease.
'Rose,' Jane said, taking a step forward, putting a light hand on her arm. 'We should go in the castle—'
Rose twisted away and was a mask of pure, livid rage and disbelief.
'How can you say that! You know what she is!'
I looked at Cecily involuntarily, just in time to see her flinch.
'We can't bring her into the castle—she's a threat even being so near it!'
'Well I don't want to hear you scream at her in the rain,' Jane snapped. 'Either do it indoors or get fucking over it. It's not your decision to make whether Cecily tells anyone about her life so stop throwing a bloody tantrum just because things didn't go your way!'
Rose was astonished. 'A tantrum?'
'Yes,' Jane said firmly. 'Are you forgetting that you're the one who wanted Cecily back in the castle in the first place? The whole fucking reason we're out here is because you wanted to get her re-admitted into Hogwarts! So don't act like she's done anything wrong just because your feelings are hurt!'
I had never seen someone so shocked in my entire life.
'M-my feelings?' Rose's skin was pale and tinged slightly green. She was shaking her head, eyes flickering to Cecily and Charlie and back. 'You—you've completely missed the point! She doesn't have a wand—she wasn't supposed to be back until she had a wand—'
I looked at the wand hung loosely in my hand—then up at Cecily.
Our gazes locked.
There was no doubt we had had the same exact thought at exactly the same time.
I tightened my grip and steeled myself.
'—we can go to McGonagall right now,' Jane was saying furiously. 'I've come up with something, just like you asked me to, and when Cecily is re-admitted she'll get a fucking wand—'
'That's not the fucking point!' Rose shrieked. 'We don't know what it takes to trigger her! I won't let you take her into the castle with all those students inside—'
'I know I'm not allowed to speak right now,' Charlie sliced across angrily. 'But what the fuck is she on about? Why is Cecily a threat to the students—'
'Well, since she hasn't had the chance to tell you—you know, since Rose started having a mental breakdown—she's an—'
'Rose, get a fucking grip! She's going to tell him anyway—'
'—arguing out here is fucking stupid—if we can't go to the castle then let's go to the inn—'
'—get over yourself Rose! Cecily's not a threat—she's managed to control it—'
'—and you don't know how! I don't fucking care if she took a risk and it paid off! I'm not fucking threatening the lives of hundreds of students—'
Cecily began marching up to me, eyes flickering with remorseful resolve. She broke out into a run, between Rose and Jane, who both staggered back in surprise, shouting forgotten, eyes flying up to her.
I braced myself.
She body slammed me and we both went flying to the ground. Mud splattered all around us, the rain hammering like bullets, our skins slippery as Cecily tried to wrest my wand out of my hand. I fought back viciously, controlling every impulse I had to just let her take it from me, because then this whole thing would be rendered pointless. We wrestled in the mud, rolling around, struggling and fighting for purchase.
'Kit!' Charlie roared.
'No!' I heard Jane scream through a flash of thunder. 'LEAVE THEM!'
'Fight,' Cecily snarled, gripping the wrist of my wand arm and pinning it down. 'Back.'
What in bloody world did she think I was doing?!
I kneed her side and pushed her off me, gasping for air, spitting mud and twigs and grass out of my mouth. Cecily only gave me briefest moment of respite before she was on top of me again, squeezing my ribcage with her knees, pinning my arms down again, crushing my wrist so tight that I was certainly losing all circulation in it. We fought tooth and nail—literally, I scraped her face with my nails—and I forgot for a moment that she wasn't just attacking me senselessly like a maniac.
'No!' I grunted. 'Get—off! I—can't—breathe!'
'Enough!' Rose screamed. 'Enough! Stop! You're hurting her!'
I heard Charlie bellow in outrage and I assumed that Jane had been the one to stop him from stopping us.
Cecily raised her fist—and hesitated.
'Do it!' I spat out through gritted teeth. 'It's the only way you're getting this wand!'
'I'm sorry,’ she panted.
And then she punched me in the face.
'I hope that was worth it,' Jane snarled.
'Are you fucking kidding me?' Rose said incredulously. 'Are you seriously going to somehow make this my fault?'
'If you had just controlled your emotions then we could be talking to McGonagall right now!'
'Shut the fuck up,' Charlie hissed viciously. 'You guys are fucking insane.'
'You shut up!' Rose hissed back dementedly. 'If anything, this is all your fault!'
'Oh fuck off, Weasley—'
'You're the one who wanted Cecily to have a wand so badly—'
'I didn't think Kit would be stupid enough have Cecily fight it off her!'
'This is not Kit's fault—don't you dare blame this on her—'
As the three of them continued to argue heatedly over each other, I lifted my head out of my hands and sat back in the Hospital Wing chair. I looked at Kit, passed out cold in her cot, white-hot shame and remorse coursing through me. For someone so skinny and scrawny, Kit had fought back like a wild animal. She'd been all bony knees and elbows with a kick like a horse's. I was pretty sure she'd permanently bruised my rib—possibly even fractured it. The only way I could win that fight was to get my weight on her and knock her out.
Didn't make me feel any better about it though.
'Guys,' I said wearily. 'Can you stop fighting?'
Charlie looked at me, disappointment and disbelief glittering in his eyes.
'What were you thinking, Cecily?'
'I was thinking what Kit was thinking,' I replied tonelessly. 'The only way to get you guys to stop arguing was actually do something. If I took Kit's wand and made it mine then we could go to McGonagall for whatever it was you guys were planning on doing.' My gaze flicked up to Rose, who didn’t look away. 'I'm sorry. I really am. I know what I did was stupid but part of what's happening to me is because there are so many things inside me that I haven't resolved. If I'm going to figure this out, I have to confront every part of myself that's keeping me locked in a cage.'
Rose locked her jaw and said nothing.
Charlie cleared his throat after a moment.
'So do I get to know now what it is you're figuring out?' He looked between me and Rose. 'Why are you a threat without a wand? What have you all gotten yourselves into and why is Kit involved?'
'I'm an Obscurial,' I said bluntly. 'And Kit's involved because—and this may come as a shock to you—no one can tell her what to do.'
Charlie's face went white with shock, his mouth open, disbelief rippling across his features.
'You're a—a what?!'
'An Obscurial,' Jane said calmly. 'A weak one—but still.'
'A weak one?' Rose was looking at Jane in wonderment. 'I don't even want to know what a strong one looks like.'
'No,' Jane said. 'You don't.'
I was still watching Charlie as he opened and closed his mouth in utter astonishment, eyes darting between Rose and Jane and me uncomprehendingly. Suddenly, the colour returned to his face and he shook his head once, as if to clear his thoughts. When he met my gaze again, he was furious.
'All of you clearly think you've figured something out when clearly—you've just confused yourselves massively.'
'Oh no!' Rose cried, voice dripping with sarcasm. 'I think you're right! Us stupid girls are being so silly mistaking the thing we saw with our own fucking eyes as an Obscurial when really—gosh! Really all we needed was a smart boy like you to tell us what it actually was! Thank god you're here!'
Charlie shot her a poisonous look and she made an ugly face right back.
'Believe us or not.' Jane arched an eyebrow at Charlie. 'But trust me, you don't want to ask her to prove it to you.'
Charlie's gaze slid back to meet mine.
'Sorry,' I said.
He buried his head in his hands and groaned.
'How is this possible?' he demanded to know. 'How is any of this possible?'
'Remember when I told you I killed my parents?'
He looked up at me, stricken. 'What does—'
'You'll have to do this later,' Jane muttered under her breath. 'Pomfrey's coming.'
'It's nearly curfew,' Madam Pomfrey said sharply. 'You need to go.'
'We still have forty minutes,' Rose protested.
Pomfrey gritted her teeth as her gaze swept over us. I didn't miss the way her eyes lingered on me suspiciously. She knew I'd been expelled. She knew exactly what I'd been expelled for. She hadn't looked at me once when we brought Kit in to the Hospital Wing, but Madam Pomfrey never cared for anything but an injured student when they came through her doors. The questions and the suspicion only came after. Her gaze slid from the wand in my hand to Kit.
I pulled my hand away from my lap, even though it was pointless.
Pomfrey waved a small blue stone under Kit's nose and she inhaled deeply.
Her eyes flew open.
'Kit!' Charlie cried in relief. He shot up out of his chair but Jane forced him to sit back down.
She blinked rapidly, disoriented and bewildered. She winced suddenly and clamped her eyes shut, a grimace firmly twisting her mouth.
'Ow,' she breathed. She cracked open an eye cautiously, looking at all of us as if she couldn't understand what she was doing here. 'What happened?'
'You said she might be concussed,' Jane said, addressing Madam Pomfrey.
Pomfrey shot her a thoroughly unimpressed look, as though it was all her fault that Kit was here. 'I was right.'
'She was? I mean you were? I have a concussion?' Kit spluttered.
'Yes,' Pomfrey said brusquely. 'Your friends—' she said it as though she highly doubted any of us were anything of the sort '—tell me you fell down some stairs. You were unconscious for a minute before you woke up, threw up, and passed out again. At least they had the decency to drag you here.'
'I threw up?' Kit was aghast. 'Am I—am I all right now?'
'It remains to be seen.'
Pomfrey grabbed a potion bottle and forced it down her throat and Kit would swear, years later, that there was murder in her eyes. Kit gasped and gagged for air.
'What day is it?' Pomfrey demanded.
'Who's the Headmistress of Hogwarts?'
'Professor McGonagall. Who's the Minister of Magic?'
'Hermione Granger-Weasley! Merlin's saggy blue balls!' Kit gasped again as Jane disguised a snort of laughter into a cough. She flopped back down on the bed when Pomfrey released her talon-like grip on her chin, eyes streaming with tears. 'I'm ch-choking—I'm dying—my oesophagus is constricting! You've killed me Poppy! This is murder!'
'Hmm.' Pomfrey regarded her coolly. 'You're all right.' She started packing away the potions and instruments on Kit's bedside table. 'I could get rid of the bruising around your eye but I think it might teach you idiots—I mean students some patience and humility if I don't. Perhaps it will serve as a reminder that this has now been your thirteenth visit to my Wing. You are dismissed.' She promptly turned and stormed into her office.
'What!' Kit cried indignantly. 'You can't do this to me! I can't walk around with this—this—' but it was futile.
Pomfrey had slammed the door shut on her protestations.
Kit looked at all of us in disbelief.
'It's decent,' Jane said dryly. 'You're black eye, I mean. Who knew Cecily could hit that hard? That's information that's bound to come in handy one of these days.'
'Oh right,' Kit murmured. 'So it wasn't just an insane dream that Cecily and I got into a fight …' She looked at me, eyes wide and worried. 'Did it work?'
Everyone looked at me.
'If it didn't,' Kit said morosely. 'I will be very upset.'
I pointed my wand.
The tip of Kit's—my—wand flared with wilful light.
Kit cheered as a sigh of relief seemed to pass through the others.
'I guess that's one problem solved then,' Jane said, gaze flicking to Rose. 'You said forty minutes, right?'
'Why are you guys going to McGonagall?' Charlie asked.
'So we can explain what really happened in the Forest,' Rose answered.
I looked at her, wondering—not for the first time—why she was being so hostile towards Charlie. Was it really because she thought it was bad idea for him to know that I was an Obscurial? I could understand her anger towards me, of course. I really shouldn't have left my room at the Hog's Head Inn. It had been dangerous and reckless and utterly thoughtless. I put everyone in danger just by existing. I shouldn't have allowed myself anywhere near the school. But what did that have to do with Charlie?
He cleared his throat uncomfortably.
'There's a chance I might expelled,' Jane said blandly. 'Yes.'
'And now that … now that Cecily has a wand, the risk that she goes berserk and explodes into an Obscurial isn't as high,' Kit said, pushing herself up into a seated position.
Charlie looked at her thoughtfully.
'When did you see with your own eyes that Cecily was an Obscurial?'
Kit stared at him, as if just realising he was here.
I spared her from responding.
'That hardly matters now,' I said. 'What matters is that your sister, Rose and Jane rescued me. When I left Hogwarts, I went looking for answers and I found them, Charlie. None of it was what I'd expected and I'll explain all of it to you later, but if we only have forty minutes then I don't see the point of sitting here and wasting another second.'
The five of us made our way to McGonagall's office. I walked ahead of the rest of them, half formed thoughts swirling nebulously in my head, a rushing wave that threatened to crash, that I only held back with singular purpose. If I started addressing the torrent of emotions and frustration inside of me, I'd surely explode.
Behind me, Cecily and Kit were telling Charlie the whole, unabridged truth. He absorbed it all silently. Personally, I didn't give a shit what he had to say and it still infuriated me that Cecily had risked her life and the lives of everyone in the castle to have a bloody lover's reunion. It was completely incomprehensible that she saw anything in him. The fucking prick who made her the subject of a fucking bet just to get her attention.
'Pride and Prejudice,' I practically spat at the gargoyle.
We were silent as we ascended the moving spiral staircase. I knocked on McGonagall's door and it swung open immediately. McGonagall looked up in some surprise as we all filed in. Her eyes slid to Cecily and they widened in disbelief.
'What is going on?' she demanded, setting her quill down. She looked between me and Charlie, the only prefects, searching for an answer. 'What on Earth are you all doing here?'
'Professor,' I said, voice strong. 'A terrible mistake was made when Cecily was expelled.'
She raised her eyebrows in astonishment.
'Cecily didn't Curse me,' Kit said, cheeks reddening as McGonagall looked at her. A small flare of pride shot through me as she straightened up and squared her shoulders. Confronting authority clearly wasn't her in her comfort zone. 'It was Jane Fox.'
Jane was expressionless as she stepped forward. 'I was aiming for Rose because I initiated a duel with her. Rose was defending herself as I attacked and Kit jumped in the way to protect her.'
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Charlie look at Kit sharply.
McGonagall was staring at us, at a total loss for words.
'Why,' she said eventually, composing herself, the familiar glint of steel returning to her eyes. 'Would Cecily lie?'
'Because—' Cecily hesitated. 'Because I wanted to protect Jane.' She looked at her now, mouth twisting with regret. 'She made a mistake, a horrible mistake that hurt my friend, and she did everything in her power to fix it when she realised what had happened. Jane was the one gave Kit dittany—she was the one who brought Kit back to the Hospital Wing. She's regretted every second that she allowed me to take the fall and I apologise for lying for her, Professor. I know that wasn't the right thing to do but … I have no excuse.'
'Jane is the one who should be punished,' I said. 'And Cecily should be allowed to come back to Hogwarts.'
'You do realise,' McGonagall began, a cold edge creeping into her tone. 'That there is absolutely no reason I should believe any of you? Miss Keats already composed a brilliant lie that even I fell for and now you expect me to swallow another one that the four of you have conveniently concocted for whatever reason?'
'It's the truth,' Charlie said, surprising everyone. 'Professor, I would be willing to take Veritaserum to prove it.'
McGonagall narrowed her eyes at him. 'Veritaserum is not allowed to be used on any Hogwarts student.'
Charlie gave a grim nod.
'They're telling the truth, Professor. And lying to protect another student is not actually against any of Hogwarts' rules.'
I stared at him, reluctantly impressed. Whatever notions I had about him being a popular athlete who undeservedly became a prefect vanished. He definitely knew the use of Veritaserum on a student had been banned since Umbridge had been Headmistress. He'd actually read the student handbook.
Her mouth became a razor thin white line.
'I cannot prove any of your claims,' McGonagall said tersely. 'Cecily confessed and is now retracting her confession. What would it look like if I just listened to a fanciful story from my students and reversed an extreme decision that was made?'
'I assume …' I looked at Professor McGonagall with as much unquestionable authority as possible. In short, I tried to channel mum. If there was ever chance in my life to question the decisions of the establishment, the way mum once had, if there was ever chance for me to prove that I was a Gryffindor, through and through—this was it. 'That it would look a lot like believing Cecily's fanciful story in the first place without a single investigation into what took place that night.'
McGonagall stared at me.
'I think ... that a lot of parents … including mine, of course … would be very unhappy to hear that a student was expelled—the first student since Rubeus Hagrid. And I don’t think I need to remind you Professor that Hagrid’s expulsion was proven to be a horrible mistake after the Chamber of Secrets was reopened—one of Hogwarts and the Ministry’s greatest shames. I think I can speak for my parents when I say that they’d be very unhappy to hear another student was expelled without a proper investigation. Again. That a promising young witch's future was decimated without transparent, fair and due process …'
The Sorting Hat was right in front of me, perched on the bookcase that lined the wall to the right.
I glanced at McGonagall: her eyes were laser focused on Rose. Even the portraits that hung above her were watching her speak.
It was now or never.
I slid my wand out from the sleeve of my robe and flicked it at the Hat. I let go of my wand, felt it slide down my elbow, as I quickly stuffed the Hat into my sleeve.
I turned back casually to Kit.
'Take this,' I murmured to her, barely moving my lips.
I ignored the look of alarm she shot me and prayed that she wouldn’t act suspicious as she left the office with the Sorting Hat tucked into her sleeve.
'… is quite shocking. It didn't make sense for no one to investigate Hagrid's expulsion thoroughly in nineteen forty three and to find that no one investigated Cecily's expulsion in twenty twenty-two is a scandal Professor. Unfortunately, you can't prove the veracity of our claims—our story—with Veritaserum or with an investigation because too much time has passed. What you have is the word of two prefects who were chosen to uphold the school's standard of order and fairness. If you can’t believe us, then your system is broken.’
By the end of my speech, McGonagall's complexion had gone from normal to bleach white to flushed with anger.
'You are insufferable,' she hissed, eyes flashing with irritation. 'You are just like your mother.'
I swelled with pride, understanding that it was the highest praise McGonagall could give me.
'Fine,' she said angrily. 'Suit yourselves—Cecily, you are officially re-admitted to Hogwarts—' Kit let out a cry of joy and threw her arms around Cecily '—and Jane, you're expelled.'
'What!' Kit was aghast. 'You can't do that, Professor! Rose just said—'
'By Rose's extremely sound logic,' McGonagall interrupted. 'I did not conduct a proper investigation into Cecily's expulsion and I must follow the word of the school's most highly regarded prefects. Both of whom have said that Miss Fox used a banned Curse that—if you really need to be reminded—nearly killed you.'
'Actually.’ McGonagall looked incredibly annoyed to hear my voice again. 'Actually, we don't know what spell was used on Kit, do we? Cecily certainly didn't because none of us heard it.' McGonagall's eyebrows travelled further and further up her forehead with every word, and I knew I was losing her. 'It's why Kit couldn't tell Madam Pomfrey what curse had been used.'
'What utter rubbish! I may be ancient but I'm no fool, Granger-Weasley! As if I haven't seen generations of students use Sectumsempra as it came in and out of fashion! I know what it looks like! Madam Pomfrey confirmed it!'
'Prove it,' Jane said.
Everyone looked at her.
She was completely calm and cool. Her expression was unreadable, her gaze clear and steady. It was impossible to know what she was thinking or feeling. My palms began to sweat as my heart rate picked up. I trusted Jane's intellectual mind without a single doubt—but she had no idea how to work a room. She knew how to put people off, that was for sure—but to bring them to her side?
'Excuse me?' McGonagall's voice was dangerously quiet. 'Prove it?'
'Yes,' Jane said simply. 'Prove it.'
McGonagall flushed bright red, eyes nearly popping out of her head.
I shifted my weight uneasily, eyes darting back and forth between them.
'Prove that I used Sectumsempra,' she goaded. 'Because I know what spell I used … and it wasn't that.'
'Oh really,' McGonagall ground out through gritted teeth. 'What did you use then?'
'Segmentum,' she replied. 'The Cutting Spell. A common household incantation used to chop, dice and slice food. It’s in Practical Household Magic written by Zamira Gulch. My father made me read it so I could help around the house one day. It's very basic but of course—like a knife when misused—very dangerous. Sounds a lot like Sectumsempra so I can understand the confusion … we were duelling, tensions were running high …'
'Segmentum,' McGonagall echoed incredulously. 'Segmentum.'
I stared at Jane in total astonishment.
She was, without a doubt, a fucking genius.
'Segmentum,' she confirmed with a graceful smile. 'You'll find that it's not banned.'
'It's really not,' Charlie said quickly. 'I've read Filch's list.'
Would wonders never cease!
'You can't prove either way what I used,' Jane said.
'I don't need to prove that you almost killed another student,' McGonagall said, arching an eyebrow, looking absolutely furious. 'What clever response do you have for that?'
My heart plummeted to my stomach.
'Nothing,' she said. 'Only that I can be a danger to the students if my illness isn't managed.'
This brought everyone up short, including Professor McGonagall.
'I suffer from an undiagnosed mental illness,' Jane explained. 'I don't know what it is and it can't be helped with Muggle medication or methods because—trust me, I've tried. I've never heard of a magical resource that can help me or I would have tried that too. From my research, I think it's an advanced form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have extreme intrusive thoughts that I can't control without a Draught of Peace—'
'A Draught of Peace?'
'—and I haven't been able to access my potion for weeks now. I was in acute withdrawal when I duelled Rose. I'm not excusing what I did, I'm just saying … Hogwarts gave a chance to a student once before, Professor. A dangerous student who—granted, never hurt anyone at this school—but was given every resource to manage his pain and his illness. No one's ever given me that chance, Professor. I'm not a violent person. I regret my actions and I regret that I ever let myself get out of control but … I need help.'
A powerful, ringing silence followed that.
For a tense moment, neither of them said anything.
'I’ve heard enough,’ McGonagall said. 'Everyone, get out. If you’re even a minute late for curfew, you’ll be watching your friends walk to Hogsmeade until graduation. Miss Fox, please stay for a moment. We have a few things to discuss.'
Charlie, Kit, Cecily and I exchanged worried looks, not knowing quite what to do, even though we had been clearly dismissed.
‘Professor ...’ Cecily began.
‘I will not,’ McGonagall said coldly. ‘Repeat myself.’
'Don't worry,' Jane said. She sat down opposite McGonagall and leaned back against the chair, utterly relaxed. 'I'm not stressed.'
Well ... none of us could argue with that.
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