A few hours later…
Eventually, the world came back into focus in the form of a high, vaulted ceiling with the early evening light strewn across it. At first, I looked at it, smiling to myself at how pretty it was, and then I realized where I was. The hospital wing has a ceiling like this. Exactly like this. I lifted a hand to my face to rub my eyes, but stopped in horror when I noticed that it was covered in an orange goo, and what skin was not covered was a stained a strange color of pinkish red, like it'd been sitting in the sun for hours without sunscreen. While the sun exploded.
There was a screen around my bed, the kind they put up to give students a little privacy. I called to see if anyone was there, or at least tried to before realizing that the goo was also on my face and across my mouth. There was no way that I'd be able to open my mouth, much less talk out of it. A groan escaped me, the best I could do at the point. At least I didn't have any across my eye thanks to the protection the goggles had given me.
To the best of my ability, I looked around. There really wasn't much to see besides curtain and the ceiling. My head was angled too high up for even a view of the floor. A bustle moving toward the curtains and myself warned me of someone's arrival. Madam Pomfrey, the school nurse, came into view a second later, carrying a tray of bottles that looked like they contained a similar potion to what was currently smeared on me, except this one was purple. She looked at me, noticed my eyes open and observing her, and said with a disapproving frown, "This is what you get when you don't pay attention in Potions. I hope you've learned your lesson, dearie."
She was right, but I didn't want to admit it. My sleepless brain's judgment was horribly clouded, but it's not like I didn't know that. How many other times had things gone wrong because I was sleepy? Getting orange hair from vertigo was one example. I needed to keep a better leash on myself. Restless nights were no excuse for ignoring common sense.
Madam Pomfrey grabbed a hold of the edge of the congealed potion on my hand and expertly ripped it off, in a way reminiscent of a very large band aid. And it's a good thing she did, because it hurt almost as much as what I imagine waxing a sunburn would feel like. The stinging left over on my hand distracted me for long enough that I didn't see her reach for my face until the last second. "AAHHHHH!" I screamed. It appeared my face had been even more affected than my hand. Involuntary tears leaked out of my eyes, but instead of the usual release tears provide, I was forcefully reminded of the fact that they contained salt.
"I'm very sorry, dear; it'll be over in a second. I know this hurts, but just a little bit more, and then I'll give you something for the pain." She gently wiped away the tears with a cloth that, though it barely touched my skin, still felt rough on my sensitive face. The matron took my other hand in hers and proceeded to rip the dried goo off, but I bit back the yell this time. "Now I'm going to put a cooling potion on you, and it will get rid of the stinging in seconds. You're lucky it was just your face and hands, you know. One of your friends got it on his neck and I've had to keep his head off the pillows so that the potion could work its magic." As she talked, she slathered the purple mixture on my hands and face, making sure it was thick in the more affected places.
The icy relief from the potion had distracted me, but when she said something about 'one of my friends', I opened my eyes and looked questioningly at her. She caught the look and gestured to what I assume meant the beds outside the screen. "Your classmates tell me you are friends with Maxwell Hall. Are they correct?" Max! I inhaled sharply through my nose, but at this first sign of distress, she hushed me, "No, no, don't try to talk; he received far less severe splashes than you and he will be fine, all of you will be fine by the time I'm done with you. Potion-related injuries are by no means uncommon here at Hogwarts, and this is one I've seen before. You, Mr. Hall, Ms. Sinclair, and Ms. Dixon will all be back to normal by tomorrow." Oh, no, my negligence has gotten all of us in the hospital wing! It's bad enough I hit Max and Melanie, but I hit Mindy Dixon, too? Mindy was a quiet Hufflepuff that sat at the table next the mine.
I must have looked distraught, because she assured me that there really was nothing to worry about one last time before moving to the next bed over to repeat the process, only this time her patient would be unconscious. My guilt kept me awake for a few minutes longer, but there must have been a sedative mixed in with potion, because drowsiness pulled me back down into the realm of sleep far sooner than it would have otherwise.
"I think I need to go get another book on werewolves. I'll be back in a bit," I said to George, who nodded absent-mindedly as he sucked on his quill, thinking. I dodged around Hermione entering the common room as she headed toward Harry and Ron, and clambered out the portrait hole. She had shot me a look that I couldn't read, but I got the feeling that she didn't like something about me, not that she said anything. I brushed it off; I had more important things to do.
Earlier in the hallway, I'd heard a little first year Ravenclaw telling her Slytherin friend that Alexia Hendrix had blown up a cauldron of potion in class today, and at first I laughed to myself, thinking it had been some sort of prank, before I remembered that this was Alexia she was talking about. There was no way any sort of thing like would be a joke to her. Blowing up a potion could lead to serious danger, and I needed to know if she was alright. Walking up to the girl, I asked, "Was she okay? What happened?"
The girls, surprised at my sudden appearance and serious face, replied squeakily, "Her and a few other students are in the hospital wing right now. She fell asleep while waiting on a potion, and it got too hot."
My concern deepened, but all I said was, "Okay, thanks." Now it was a few hours later, after dinner, and everyone was settling in to complete the homework due tomorrow. I myself had an essay due the next day, but in order to be able to really concentrate, I needed to check in on her at least once. However, for some reason, I didn't want the others to know I was going to see her. There would be inquiries about her that I couldn't answer because I didn't know the story and they would surely talk about why I was going. It was just simpler to give another, more inconspicuous reason for leaving the common room, even though I'd now have to actually go to the Library.
When I'd reached the door to the hospital wing, I hesitated. What if she's awake? What if she refuses to see me? It didn't matter. I was already here, so why not go in? Quietly, I swung open the door, and beheld the dark room, lit mostly by the moonlight outside. It seemed she would be sleeping and my indecision was for nothing. There was a screen covering one of the beds, and by one quick peek at the other students, two of which were Alexia's friends, I took a guess that she was the one behind the curtains. Fear for what might have happened to her started pricking me, but I told myself that it couldn't be too bad. What about the others? Nothing looked horrible disfigured about them, so it couldn't be anything too terrible. However, it wasn't like I could just walk into her little sanctuary without Madam Pomfrey knowing I was here.
Quietly so as not to disturb the sleeping patients, I walked over to the door of her office and knocked. From behind it came the rustle of robes, and it swung open on soundless hinges. "Yes, how can I help you?" Madam Pomfrey smiled up at me as she ushered me in and closed the door.
"I j-just came to check on Alexia - Alexia Hendrix, that is," I stammered, scratching the back of my head awkwardly. Now that I thought about it, this wasn't exactly the best time and I'd probably made this trip for nothing. "I heard she was in here and I wanted to make sure she was okay."
She smiled knowingly, but I wasn't quite sure what it was she 'knew', exactly. "Ah, I see. Don't worry, dear, she'll be just fine in the morning, once she's had some time to heal."
"May I see her? Is she the one behind the screen?" I asked tentatively, trying not to sound like I'd been staring at students while they slept and knew for a fact that she was behind the screen.
Hesitating, she said, "How close are you with Ms. Hendrix, Fred?"
I opened my mouth to answer, and then I realized I wasn't sure quite what to say. I'm not proud of it, but I lied, "I – we're – well, I guess you could say we're, er, together. Yeah, together. But don't tell anyone, please. George doesn't know yet." I begged her for silence, and knew her well enough that A) this was the only way I'd get to see Alexia short of being related to her, which I obviously wasn't, and B) she would keep it a secret if she believed me. And she did believe me, if the sympathetic softening in her eyes was any indication. The blush that formed in my cheeks when I said the lie might have helped.
"Of course, of course. Well, I just want to warn you about what you may see, okay?" I nodded as she walked out into the main infirmary, the fear back again and worse this time with something to feed it. "It's nothing horrific, and I've already removed the salves from her skin, but something strange happened while I was tending to her and I figured that she wouldn't want people who didn't know about her situation to come in and see her this way."
Situation?! I didn't know anything about a 'situation', but I was in too deep to back out now. So, all I said was, "Oh, yes, of course." Hopefully, I sounded like I knew what I was talking about. Madam Pomfrey pulled back the curtain so I could see Alexia, and I was relieved to see that she seemed perfectly fine. Nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be happening. After glancing at the matron to see if it would be okay if I got closer, I quietly moved to the side of her bed. Now I had to play the part of a concerned boyfriend, as ridiculous as it made me feel, so I grabbed her hand lightly, like I imagined a boyfriend would do in this situation. I was hoping against hope that she didn't wake up, or my little charade would be over in a flash, and who knows what Alexia would do? It was definitely a position that I didn't want to be in! "Hey, Lexi, it's me, Fred," I whispered, quietly enough that I knew it wouldn't wake her.
Was it a trick of the light, or was her hair a lighter color that it had been before? The more I looked, the more I was sure that something was different. Is this what Madam Pomfrey meant? The light was dim, which made it hard to really be sure, but as I stared, the more I was sure her hair was more of a light brown rather than its normal red. Alexia shifted slightly, and I let go of her hand, afraid she would wake, but as she moved, her hair caught more light filtering in from the parting in the screen, and I saw it, before my eyes, turn blonde before starting to proceed to a kind of greenish color.
Transfixed, I stared at it turn until it was almost the color of a Quidditch pitch in June, and I was tempted to touch it to see if was real, but Madam Pomfrey made a sort of coughing noise that told me she wouldn't allow me to stay for much longer. I whispered a small goodbye to her, as I was still mindful of the woman watching me, and exited the enclosure. "Thank you, Madam Pomfrey. I wasn't really able to concentrate on homework without knowing she was alright," I said, exaggerating the truth a bit. "And don't tell I was here, please. She wouldn't like me to be neglecting my homework for her sake when she's not inches from death. Thanks again!" I moved toward the door after she had given me a conspiratorial wink.
I softly closed the door behind me and went to the Library in search of the book I'd said was the reason for my leaving the common room. George would have no trouble guessing that something was up if I didn't come back to the common room with a book, or if I didn't have this walk to compose myself. What was going on with her hair?! I knew that she changed her hair color sometimes, but I'd always thought there was some kind of dye or potion involved, not this! It was kind of weird to watch such a bizarre thing on Alexia, one of the most normal and sensible people I knew. Is this what she was frightened about, what she didn't want to tell me? Well, it was kind of strange, but it was also kind of cool! You could instantly have whatever look you wanted without the hassle of doing it with some sort of spell!
No, if she didn't want to tell it to me, it has to be more serious than that. Maybe it's connected to a terminal disease? Or maybe she's a Metamorphmagus and in America they shun them? She wouldn't be afraid if it was just that her hair changed color. And then I remembered that she wouldn't even tell me the time of day anymore, so that also factored in to it.
But hadn't she said something about a very personal secret when she was yelling at me in front of Honeydukes? And didn't she say something about how I would run away if I knew? What is going on with her that she won't tell me? Well, it's not like it matters now. She probably won't even speak to me now. I didn't know what to do with the information now that I had it, but one thing was for sure, I was going to keep it to myself. This was private, and I shouldn't know it myself, much less spread it around.
A/N And there we have it! Fred has been introduced to her secret, though unbeknownst to her. How will she react when she finds out? Tune in next time for the answers to these questions and more!