"What happened to you?"
Pax always sounded so concerned — and it was the last thing in the world that Keller wanted, and he wrenched his hand out of Pax’s long-fingered hand, stuffing it back into his own pocket. It was shaking, trembling with emotion and fear and - perhaps beneath it all - relief that someone else would know. Keller had always had this ridiculous thought that if he told someone about what had happened to him, then it would ease a little of the pain that had been bestowed upon him during the whole incident. But though he thought that, he also didn’t want to tell anyone: how could he, in good conscience, give someone else his pain? Could he really be that weak and knowingly make someone else hurt? Keller shook his head, avoiding Pax’s eyes, not wanting to burden the Hufflepuff boy who was so carefree and happy already - how could Keller even think of tainting that?
“Nothing,” he said, swallowing thickly, and staring hard at the ground, willing Pax with every fibre of his being to just drop it - to let it be. “It’s just a scar. Accident when I was uhm-.. when I was a kid,” and Keller felt another chord of self-loathing strike up like it always did when his stutter and stammering came back when he was nervous or scared.
There was silence from Pax, and Keller looked up to him, seeing his eyes staring back hard - he saw things, of that Keller was sure. He might not have had the Sight like Tucker, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t enlightened in other ways — more subtle, like he was somehow sliding through astral planes and wave lengths, dipping his fingers into auras and somehow manipulating his own consciousness around that of other’s, reading them, bending himself to what he felt others needed. It unsettled Keller - it always had - because Pax could be whatever someone needed; he could be the shoulder to lean on or the much needed smile in a tense situation, and he would know it was what they needed. But Keller was forced to stumble along blindly, offering help onto deaf ears who needed to see the help instead - and it felt unfair. It felt comforting. It felt inspiring. He turned away from Pax’s intense gaze, not liking the feeling of being read, and he shifted uncomfortably, repeating to himself that he couldn’t tell Pax - not now, at least.
"It’s nothing," he repeated, wondering if it was to convince Pax or himself, and he cleared his throat, "look, I uh-… I better go? Do-…? Do work, yeah, uhm-… I’ll catch you later, yeah?" And Keller all but ran from Pax, feeling the boy’s gaze worriedly focused on his back long after Keller was out of his sight.
"I didn’t know you could do that."
Pulling his knees to his chest, Keller sat with his back against the tree trunk, arms clasped around his long legs. It was, for all intents and purposes, a nice day — as nice as it was going to get around the castle, and with a clock now seeming to loom over them all, Keller thought that perhaps they’d better enjoy the time while it was still there to be had at all. Beside Keller, on the grass, was Atlas, his small, silver tabby kitten which was now in the first stages of becoming a cat. Already, the kitten was bigger: it had long legs that it was still learning to get the hang of, as well as starting to grow into the large paws and wide eyes that he had been born with. Keller knew all too well how it felt to be out of your own body and need to learn to grow into it, and it seemed to Atlas was inheriting his habits from Keller. The cat was running and jumping and falling over, and while Keller watched, the cat fetched a toy that he threw, missing it, and tumbling over headfirst. Keller laughed, shaking his head, watching as Atlas got back up to find the toy.
"I didn’t know you could do that," came a drawl from his left, and Keller turned, shielding his eyes against the sun to see Maeko standing there, eyes sharp and body looking on edge — though, to Keller, that’s how she always looked - like she could cut you down with a single glance.
"Do what?" he asked, turning back as Atlas rubbed his face against Keller’s hand, the toy lying on the ground.
There was a pause and Keller heard Maeko shift, then sit, beside him. “Laugh,” she said, and Keller didn’t look at her this time, mostly because her comment stung. Did he really seem that joyless? That sullen? Picking up the toy, he threw it again, perhaps a little too far but Atlas ran off in search of it, as always, on the prowl.
"What’s that supposed to mean?" Keller sat at last when they were no available distractions, and he caught the scent of cigarettes — Maeko had one burning between two fingers, and as he watched, she took a drag before shrugging.
"Just an observation," she said, and it seemed to Keller like she wasn’t inclined to continue. He dropped the subject, sitting in silence, until she offered him the pack of cigarettes and he took one, lighting with his wand that was sitting by his side. "Your cat’s cute," Maeko noted absently as Atlas bounded back toward them, eyes alert and wild as he clutched the toy between sharp teeth. Atlas now brought the toy to Maeko, rubbing his face and cheeks along her free hand, purring all the while, tail low and swishing back and forth gently. Keller didn’t reply, he just watched Maeko scratch Atlas behind the ears when it became clear he wasn’t going anywhere, and mused on what she’d said, the cigarette burning halfway down to the filter before he even took a drag.
"Do you think I’m a bad person?" he asked into the quiet, looking at Maeko then down to his hands. "I don’t mean-… in the sense that Voldemort obviously was… but bad. Bad to be around, bad to talk to, someone who makes bad decisions-…" Keller felt vulnerable and stupid, and he had no idea why he was asking Maeko - maybe it was the colour of her eye, or the look within them that always seemed to communicate that she’d seen or done things - things that others would never comprehend - and that made her different. Other. Some people didn’t like that — but some people, like Keller, felt comforted by it.
"I’ve seen bad," Maeko said, looking from Keller then down to Atlas, still petting him softly, "and you don’t even come close, HB." And she said it as though noting the weather, and Keller lapsed into silence, lost in both thought and appreciation while the nice day overhead waxed and waned for what might have been the last time they’d see.
"I bet you’re right about that one, HB," Maeko said as she approached Keller, smiling brightly as she bared witness to such an unusual sight, "Though I reckon he’d die at the thought of Hogwarts’ best and brightest mind being tarnished by drink…if he wasn’t dead already, of course. Cig?" She flipped open her pack of cigarettes in offering, her eyes light with amusement.
Keller rolled his eyes at the term ‘best and brightest’ - he wasn’t anything of the sort, of which they both knew. He looked at the offered cigarettes before taking one, digging around in his pocket for a lighter, lighting the cigarette, then offering it to Maeko cooly. “That’s some very dark humour at a time like this, Maeko,” he said, evaluating her over the cigarette he took a drag of. “But maybe he might be glad — he was a Gryffindor, after all, so I doubt he was a stranger to the ways Hogwarts students deal with their problems.” Keller shrugged and tapped the end of the cigarette, letting the ash fall away. “I reckon he’d be proud of you, don’t you think? Rolling with whatever punches come your way — he wasn’t gifted with the same ability.”
Well, I kind of lost respect for a guy whose response to a crisis was to turn and run away with his tail in between his legs.
I guess that’s fair enough, but I can’t even begin to comprehend he kind of pressure he was under, though — I suppose it just got too much for one mortal man. I hope wherever he is now, he’s at peace like he wanted, and now all the living need to worry about is who will take his place in the coming weeks.
To hear someone trudging about this deep into the dungeons was strange to say the least in Katie’s own personal opinion. Having spent the better part of hr last couple of years at Hogwarts underground and surrounded by potion fumes she was very aware of all the potion geeks within the castle, the updates to which rooms and where each scheduled potions tutoring session was going to be- mostly because she ran them herself along with a small number of others. She could hear someone walking around the corridors, feet smacking on the floor with that solid noise that seemed to make a smacking noise when their foot pulled up due to the damp stone from the underground nature of the potions caverns. While the kitchens and Hufflepuff dorms were closer to the ground and Quidditch Pitch this portion of the castle’s lower corridors were all but underwater and Katie enjoyed the smell of wet stone and the gentle stink of algae though most would disagree with her. The smaller Gryffindor bent over her cauldron, her door for once was slightly opened and the lights were tugged dim as the potion that she was brewing had to turn a specific color and glow a specific amount of time while in semi-darkness. She bent closer, her fingers tapping at the edge of the long wooden table marked with stains and knife markings, a few drops of blood from the accidents Katie had sustained over her many years down here. She heard the footsteps stop, farther down the hallway, it echoed and Katie lifted her head as if wanting to peek at who was there. She stood and with a wave of her wand dissipated the potion, it had been too long and the potion had failed she needed to go over her notes. Tucking her wand into her hand she peeked outside of her potions room, it was farther from the practice rooms, and the potions room proper. Slipping into the corridor she locked her room methodically, setting up the proper curses and charms to make sure not a single soul would enter without being singed at least once. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone down here right now, not a soul, but somehow someone was slinking around. Katie was on the defensive as she moved down the hallway, perfectly aware of the slippery stones tiles and the small tricks and cracks the castle held for her. She stopped at the door, a light peeking out, hazarding a look at the classroom number it was painted in white on top, blaring a number 7 and the Gryffindor reached the door knob, but it opened and Katie let out a long sigh of relief. “Oh, just you Kell, I thought you were an intruder or something. Or even worse. An auror.”
The door that Keller pushed open with his foot was met with a face that was familiar and welcoming, and Keller let out a breath of relief, chest deflating and releasing the anxiety and tension he had been building up. Nowhere in the castle really felt safe anymore, not with the knowledge that people were able to come in or out of their own volition. Keller smiled at Katie and adjusted the jars in his hand. “Why would an auror be worse? To be honest, I’d take one of them over the presence of someone I don’t know — at least this way I might be able to reason with the auror.” The thought of the alternative - of encountering someone unknown, a stranger, down in the dungeons sent a shiver through Keller’s spine, and he backed away from the door with the jars under his arms and in his hand, walking back into the classroom that was more like a private study room kind of location. “So what are you doing down here?” he asked, knowing that Katie spent a lot of her time down in the dungeons, but of late, that had been shortened due to her injuries. He nodded to her wand, “coming or going? You uh-… you can can stay here for a while, if you want? I’m making a few potions, hopefully they won’t take too long. You could give me some pointers if you want?” he queried with a nervous smile, remembering when Katie had offered to help him with potions. It wasn’t often that Keller needed assistance with anything, let alone classes, but his skill in potions was not at the height of where he would have liked - at least not on par with his other subjects. He moved to the bench where he’d set up his cauldron and started to lay out his ingredients, all of which would help make some pain-relief potions that he could store away and use at his own disposal instead of going to Madam Pomfrey and have her hovering over him like a vulture above a carcass. Using a small knife from his potions kit, he started slicing up the wormwood, shredding it just like the textbook had said, though he knew that slicing it a little thinner produced a stronger potion, and he did that now, hoping Katie wouldn’t notice his deviance from the instructions.
Perhaps, but you are special Keller regardless of your head boy title. That’s not what makes you special. I think you make a fantastic head boy for what it’s worth, I know you’re the kind of person I would want in charge. I’m sorry it adds to your woes though. Something you don’t already know…Hmm, well Briar has determined I have supersonic hearing, some of the younger kids are planning a gobstones tournament, and the grindylows have been feeling extra vicious lately. No, uneventful isn’t bad but it is fairly boring. I can’t stand people like that. Bullies make me feel sick, I’ve gotten into more than a few fights over someone getting bullied. I agree. No one has a right to put someone else down because of something like that, it’s unforgivable. He did? That;s incredible, how come it never happened? There would be a lot of members, Hogwarts seems to be chock full of people all over that spectrum. I think you should, I’ll help any way I can if you decide to do that. I guess we’ll see, I’m definitely happy with the ones I have. I pay a lot of attention to other people and so there aren’t many Hogwarts students I don’t know something about but it still surprises me sometimes how few people know anything about me. I don’t know, not really. I mean there are plenty of very attractive people around but I’m still in that position of not really knowing what I’m interested in since I have zero experience. I did see a girl in her towel the other day but that was a very different situation.
You may be the only one who thinks that, so-… thank you, I guess. It’ll be easier next year, when I’m not around and someone else takes the reigns. Do you have your eye on the Head Girl title, Penelope? I wouldn’t doubt the part about you having supersonic hearing, though I think there’s a Weasley product that’ll do the job for you, no mutant powers required-… but a gobstones tournament? They always get rather rowdy, I’ll have to keep my eye on that one. I-… I’m really glad you feel the same when it comes to bullying; it’s completely reprehensible, and I have a hard time trying to excuse it for any reason-… if you have a brain, and you’re in control of your actions, then-… then I don’t think there’s an excuse for it, though I’d be careful of getting into fights trying to counter bullying - I don’t think you can fight fire with fire, as the old adage says. Oh-… I think he just-… I think he was busy, and then London happened and it never came to fruition, but-… I’d be happy for your help - any input from anyone would be great; it should be a collective project, not just a solo thing. You’re like a sieve, where you take in information and give nothing out — or is it just that people don’t ask you? Either way, you’d make a formidable partner to Ash Kennedy and her reporting; you could easily be one of her top sources on information within the school. Well, there’s certainly no rush to define yourself or settle on one person; some people don’t even want labels and are instead happy to go with the flow - that might be you, just kissing whichever muggleborn happens across your path.
Shock, mostly. Some muttered four letter words as well. As much as I disliked the guy, what happened to him was absolutely brutal and nobody deserves that.
You actively disliked Lennox? Any uh-… any particular reasons why? But you’re right, I’m not sure anyone deserves that-… except maybe Voldemort, back in the day-…
"Oh, right… Yeah, you already know I’m no good with this muggle stuff," Zane muttered, almost ashamed that he knew absolutely nothing. At least with the… Internet, they would have been able to find out everything about anything. It hadn’t exactly been a solid plan to try to reach Nolan, and he pulled his shoulders up in a shrug. "Yeah… Trying to reach him would only put him in danger… Hopefully he’ll try to reach out to us soon though, maybe he knows something." It was scary, not knowing where their best friend was or if he was doing okay. "Tinky… Actually works here at Hogwarts now. I, eeh- I released her from my family when my father told me I was disowned. So we wouldn’t have to stay there anymore. We could ask her though, she would do anything that I asked her to do."
The prospect of leaving Nolan out in the unknown where anything could have already happened to him - and they’d never know - made Keller’s blood run cold, but he tried to hide his fear from Zane as best he could. “I think he will soon, considering the Minister elections are coming up and the furor around the riot in London is dying down,” Keller said, talking to keep himself distracted. “When he does, though, asking about Lowell will be number one after asking how he is. He really wasn’t in the best shape when we left, but-… he’s strong - he survived falling off his broom, he can survive this.” Surprised to hear that Zane had released Tinky, Keller’s eyebrows rose. “She might be more able to blend in than we could,” he said, thinking for a moment. “Maybe you could ask her to mingle with some house elves that work in the cafeteria at the Ministry? See if they’ve heard anything?” he suggested, not sure if it would lead anywhere, but doing something was better than nothing.