The Fallen Tower
Something was wrong. In a frozen moment, Lian thought she saw people fly past the windows outside, just as the glowing green mark in the sky disappeared. But the battle didn't stop, the spells continued to fire, and she was locked in combat with the equivalent of Death Eater Hagrid. If he hadn't been so keen on trying to kill her, Lian would have looked into Thorfinn's mind to see if there was some relation, however small. But there was no time, not when his dark curses kept ricocheting off the spiral staircase above them. His wand-club looked deadly sure, but it had terrible aim. At the very least he was prevented from using the torture curse on her again-she wasn't alone in this fight. Now she had aid from Daphne, who was still under the Disillusionment charm and therefore ignored by everyone else. She'd lost track of the other two, but she imagined Theo was staying close to Adam-they'd grown thick as thieves ever since December-and Draco…well, she couldn't be entirely certain where his loyalties fell in this fight. She supposed she'd have to ask him after they survived.
"WHAT'S HAPPENING?" he'd shouted early on in the fight.
"NO CLUE!" she'd yelled back, after sending a particularly nasty Self-Punching hex at one of the Carrows. "JUST TRY NOT TO DIE!"
Near the south-facing corridor, there was a roar from one of the werewolves, and a shout from Bill Weasley. In her peripheral, Lian spotted Adam charge at Greyback, fangs bared. She couldn't see Daphne but sensed that she'd moved to be Theo's backup, which was fine. She could handle herself…she could-Lian ducked a jet of green light, pointed her wand to finish off Thorfinn when she was seized with a dizziness stronger than a cave troll, and fell to her hands and knees, groaning and gasping for air.
Something was wrong. She blinked up at Thorfinn, vaguely registering that his misdirected spells had bounced off the tower walls and parts of the stone had begun to crumble. He raised his club-wand, ready to finish her off. With her ally's minds closed to her, Lian reached out to the only one in the fight whose mind was always open to her. The timing was right. This was it… I didn't forget. She spotted Gibbon firing nothing but green spurts of death at Sirius and aimed a Tempest jinx at him. If this was her end, she wouldn't see her sacrifices go to waste. Black sent her a look full of gratitude and respect, a rare expression that was quickly replaced with horror as the Astronomy tower gave a final groan above her. Dust fell in curtains around Lian's feet, and she looked up through her swimming vision to see cracks developing quickly over the entire spiral staircase, like glass ready to shatter.
She grasped the Blood-turner in her pocket, giving what little blood she had left in her veins, knowing there was one final step before she could finally rest…
All lessons were suspended, all examinations postponed. Some students were hurried away from Hogwarts by their parents over the next couple of days-the Patil twins were gone before breakfast the following morning, and Zacharias Smith was escorted from the castle by his haughty-looking father. Seamus Finnigan, on the other hand, refused point-blank to accompany his mother home; they had a shouting match in the entrance hall. That was nothing compared to Slytherin House. While many families did not support Dumbledore, that did not necessarily mean that they sided with the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters. Nearly all of the first and second years, and half the third and fourth years were removed from the castle grounds by concerned parents or guardians. The rest had received summons via owl or in extreme cases, howlers. Anyone who was still seated for breakfast on that particular morning was in a predicament similar to mine or…
"Our dad came for us last night," Astoria muttered quietly, spreading jam across her toast, before half-heartedly placing it back on her plate. "But then he took one look at Daph...and er…"
"Changed his mind?" I guessed. Never had I possessed a great deal of respect for Mr. Greengrass in the past, so I wasn't terribly surprised by his reaction. It had almost been a week and I was still unsure of how to proceed. I mean, no one had been killed-there had been a death-but no one was murdered. Part of me wished I'd convinced Draco and Daphne to stay in the common room that night. At least in that wistful scenario, my entire world wouldn't have capsized, only a secret portion I hadn't the guts to face anyway. "Why didn't he just take you, then?" I asked, dimly aware that the proper thing to do was carry on as though everything was fine, even though it clearly wasn't.
Astoria scoffed, rubbing at her red-rimmed eyes. "He certainly tried—promising to send for her when she woke up... But I'm not going to abandon her that easily."
"Good answer," I croaked and took a sip of pumpkin juice to fix that. "When will Madam Pomfrey discharge her, do you think?"
Astoria shook her head. "I haven't the foggiest idea. When she wakes up, hopefully, but who knows what she'll be like…"
I glanced around our section of the table. Crabbe and Goyle looked utterly lost without Draco to direct them. His mother had come for him the very next morning, and I hadn't heard from him since. Either he and his parents had gone to ground-after that night it wasn't like the Dark Lord held them in high praise, or something far worse had transpired. I tried not to think about it. I tried not to think hard about much these days. Pansy and Millie were whispering together, and every so often they would glance in mine and Tori's direction. They knew Daphne was in the hospital wing, but nobody had asked for details-which was very out of character for Pansy, Millie not so much. Blaise was calmly having a cup of earl grey, apparently unphased by everything going on. I wished I could be so content with my situation, but I couldn't get that night out of my head. Every so often a memory would jump to the forefront of my mind and I was forced to relive it all over again. The nights were the worst-no one talked about the dark circles now residing beneath my eyes but I knew they were there. I hadn't looked in a mirror in Merlin knows how long, and it was a bit of a miracle that I made it out of bed and walked about. That was all I was doing though: walking. I felt listless and fidgety, yet completely numb to everything.
What was I supposed to do?
My eyes shifted towards Astoria's half-eaten breakfast, and my heart skipped a beat when for the briefest moment, her jam reminded me of dried blood.
"Theo?" Tori poked my cheek again, bringing my focus back to her.
"I asked if you wanted to go visit Daph with me," she repeated patiently. "I'd rather sit with her than hang around here, if you catch my drift…" she frowned sideways at the staff table. I knew she blamed the majority of the teachers for what happened to her beloved sister, and in that moment I didn't have any reason to correct her.
"Of course. Let's go now."
The normally short walk to the hospital wing seemed to take a full century, but once inside, Astoria and I glided to the curtained bunk where her sister was shielded from the rest of the world. We'd visited a few times in the last week but she'd always been asleep, her face covered in bandages. When the curtain was pulled back today, I first noticed that Tori and I were not her only visitors that morning. I mean, it wasn't hard to miss the enormous Hufflepuff. But Adam wasn't the only surprise; Daphne's bandages had been removed and she was sitting up, engaging in conversation. They both paused to look around at Astoria and myself, the former giving a relieved sob and charging the bed to hug her sister. "You're alive!"
"Not for much longer it would seem," Daphne gasped softly.
"Don't joke," I said ruefully. "How are you feeling?"
"A few days ago I felt like I'd been caught in the undercarriage of the Hogwarts Express," Daphne sighed with a little wince. "But today I feel like it could have easily been one of the school carriages, so I'd call that an improvement." She paused before adding, "And at what exactly are you staring?"
I shrugged. "After the way you've been wrapped up, I thought that you'd be covered in scars."
Daphne glanced at Adam, who had kept his silence since Astoria and I had stepped in, and shrugged. "Madam Pomfrey's a miracle worker, I suppose."
I caught Adam's eye and frowned a question, but he shook his head and nodded at Astoria. Whatever Daphne wasn't saying, it was because of her little sister. It made sense I could only assume-never having had the pleasure of siblings myself.
"I still don't understand how this happened," I looked around at Tori, who was frowning at Daphne and myself.
I cleared my throat. If anyone deserved to know the story of what happened-at least from my perspective, it was Astoria. "Lian…" My chest constricted uncomfortably, though I couldn't explain to myself why. "Lian wasn't back to the dormitory, and it was nearly two o'clock in the morning…"
Astoria groaned and looked at her sister. "So you decided to go all fire and brimstone on her library-snoozing butt again."
Daphne chuckled. "Not quite. I felt uneasy about venturing out alone so I asked Draco along and Theo, unable to stay behind, tagged along. In our search for Lian, we stumbled across an invasion on the castle and the teachers, Lian and three werewolves were caught in the thick of it."
Tori turned a wide-eyed look on Adam. "One of them was you, right?" He simply nodded. "What do you remember-or can you remember anything from when you've changed?"
Adam grimaced. "I can remember everything. Earlier that evening, just after I'd transformed, I found Lian climbing out of the Black Lake. She transformed and we both-"
"Lian's a werewolf too?" Tori interjected.
"No, she's an animagus. Anyway-" Adam went on casually. "We were out in the forest when-"
"Why was she in the Black Lake?" Daphne asked.
"No idea-so we were in the forest, and we ran into another werewolf and a witch who forced Lian to turn back into a human. I fought the werewolf, she fought the witch, I won, she lost and got taken hostage-"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa-" I held up a hand. "You mean to say that Julianne Kowalski lost a fight?"
Adam rolled his eyes. "Despite what you seem to think, Lian isn't unbeatable. She's just prepared, well trained, and happens to have a long memory filled with experience. Something they seem to neglect at this castle-nonetheless, she was taken and when I saw that I was outnumbered I came back to the castle to raise the alarm. Bad idea, perhaps, but it was the only one available. I'd hardly made contact with Professor Lupin and a few of the school guard when they broke in. Once I arrived on the scene it was made all too clear that Lian had been placed under the Imperius curse, given that she was hexing teachers and guards left and right."
As he described his perspective on the battle, my brain itched every time he described Sirius Black, Tonks, and a couple of other people as 'guards'. That wasn't the right term-as far as I knew they were associated with a group organized by Dumbledore but I couldn't remember what they called themselves.
"But how did you get injured?" Tori asked Daphne, cutting off Adam's story impatiently. "Theo told me you'd used the Disillusionment charm on yourself, so how-?"
Daphne raised a finger to her lips, signaling for us all to be quiet. Not that we needed telling, the new visitors in the hospital wing were rather loud upon entry.
"How's he doing?" asked a voice that sounded very much like one Harry Potter. I exchanged a glance with Tori, who was frowning at the curtain.
"He can speak for himself, thank you very much," replied a very cheerful voice. I imagined it to be Weasley the older-the one who'd gone to defend Lupin in the fight. It was his own fault he'd landed himself in here, then. "And he'll be fine. You four alright?"
A girl laughed in relief. "Bill!" there was a muffled noise, one I imagined to be from an embrace.
"What has Madam Pomfrey said about his condition?" asked the one and only Hermione Granger. Due to my interactions with her recently, I doubted I'd ever forget the unique timbre of her voice. "Is it just as Lupin surmised?"
"'E should be ze same as 'e ever was," a young woman's voice with a thick French accent spoke up. I had no clue who that was supposed to be. "From what we can tell, 'e 'as a craving for very rare meat, so eet ees lucky 'e is marrying me," said the young woman happily, and there was a noise very like fluffing pillows. "Because ze British overcook their meat, I 'ave always said this."
Uncomfortable sitting there and pretending that the occupants in Daphne's curtain didn't exist, I stood up and moved through the curtain. "Do you mind?"
Hermione was nearest, and she turned to look up at me with round eyes. "Theo? What are you-" her inquisitive gaze flicked past me to the covered bunk. "Who-?"
"And where were you?" I said without much forethought, except I had thought about it. Where was St. Potter and his band of merry-miscreants, while people like Lian and Quince-who had no business being involved in the fight, put their lives on the line?
Harry, Ron, and Ginny all looked at me blankly, so I ignored them, speaking only to Hermione. She was the only intelligent one in my mind, anyway. "What are you talking about?" she replied, blinking rapidly.
"She shouldn't have been there that night, she didn't have anything to do with either side!" I wasn't sure if I meant Daphne at that moment. Hermione gaped at me, and I knew she had nothing to say, no words of wisdom that would suddenly make everything better. She wasn't the person I wanted, she was only a sad attempt for my mind to try and replace the empty space inside. I recognized that there was a funny sensation around my nose and eyes like I was about to sneeze, but instead, my eyes grew warm and damp. I hadn't talked this much since that night, not about...I didn't want…
My voice was shaking, and I wanted nothing more than to hide away in the darkest corner of the castle to avoid reality. "So where were you… Bloody Gryffindors...sticking your noses in where they shouldn't be, that's your job, not...not…" Hermione reached out and set her hand on my arm but I pulled away sharply. I should've left with Draco, better off in hiding or dead than wasting away here wondering why I was able to survive when she…A heavy hand rested on my shoulder, and I didn't need to look to know Adam was giving the Gryffindors a warning look as he guided me out of the hospital wing.
We walked in silence, so we were both acutely aware of the echoes of our steps climbing several staircases. As Adam led me out onto a corridor with more than a draft in it, I realized where he was taking me. So, I stopped walking. His hand was still on my shoulder and was able to drag me a few feet more before realizing that my legs weren't moving. "What?"
"Not me what, you what," I said stubbornly. "Why here?"
He looked between me and the large hole in the castle where the Astronomy Tower used to be. "Why not? I'd have thought you'd be watching this place like a hawk."
"What are you talking about?"
He shrugged. "It's where she'll turn up. Eventually, I mean."
"Turn up?" I snapped. "Turn up! Adam, she's dead!" My words seemed to echo around the broken corridor, but since I'd finally admitted it, I wasn't going to hide from the truth now. "And I couldn't...I didn't get a...I never…" After the time-turner fiasco, I hadn't spoken to Lian, not even to pass the marmalade at breakfast. I had thought that maybe she'd find sense and realize she owed me an explanation, and finally declare that our friendship had been a farce from the start and she'd used me, like everyone else in my life. Still, when Daphne and Draco risked detention to go after her I couldn't just go back to bed. When we realized we were in over our heads I couldn't give up and run away. And when she was crushed beneath the tower I had done nothing to save her. Maybe I was the false friend, and I had been using her to fill the emptiness inside...whatever the case had been, she was gone forever and I was left with an aching sorrow and a stabbing guilt.
I glanced up to find Adam watching me closely. Too close, I had to back up a pace or two. "Are you done?"
"Done?" I repeated blankly. He'd been drooling after her for years now—why wasn't he destroyed now that she was—
"Are you done feeling sorry for yourself?" He asked patiently. "You really think Lian Kowalski would let herself get killed like that?"
"You just said she wasn't unbeatable!"
"Yeah, she's beatable, not stupid. She always has that time-turner on her person—who's to say she didn't use it?"
I let my eyes focus on the place where the astronomy tower used to be. I could see clear across the lake instead of the stone spiral staircase, the distant trees rather than an old tapestry. It was true that they'd yet to find a body in the fallen debris, but that still didn't mean… "Why hasn't she come back, then? Who's to say she didn't travel through time and then die in isolation?"
Adam bit his tongue and I realized for the first time that he really was worried about Lian. He was just better at hiding his concern than myself. "I choose to believe she's alive. I know she is—I can feel it."
"And if she isn't?"
He shrugged. "Then I know the last thing she'd want is to have either of us moping around like a pair of wet blankets. We've got work to do."
I frowned. "I thought our exams had been canceled."
Adam cuffed my ear, which didn't hurt half as much as I'd expected so I knew he was holding back. Again. "I knew European werewolves were full of bitten mutts but if Fenrir Greyback is willing to work with scum wizards like this Vol-"
"Don't say his name!" I hissed.
"-Fine. This moldy character, then he'll probably try to use his power to bend others to his cause as well."
"You got that right," I agreed without thinking. "The Dark Lord uses Greyback like an ambassador to his kind." I caught sight of Adam's suspicious glare and added. "I listen, and I know things."
"Uh huh. Would your listening be influenced at all by that tattoo on your arm?"
I grimaced, recalling all too well the close proximity in which Adam and I had shared over the holidays. No one ever mentioned the dark mark so I'd forgotten about having to hide it. I had been too relaxed with his pack. "Perhaps."
He shrugged and his expression cleared. "In any case, the werewolves deserve to know there's a better way. Are you going to help me, or not?"
He offered me his hand as though we were making a deal. I looked once more at the gaping hole in the castle. Lian would have agreed to help, wouldn't she? The crazy transfer who jumped into the middle of everything with minimal information all the time—yeah she'd probably help. Did I want to emulate her actions?
I took a deep breath and gripped Adam's arm as he gripped mine. "Where do we start?"
It was dark. Not fully convinced that her eyes hadn't been swollen shut, Lian gave a grunt and fell sideways onto the ground. She could feel the last dregs of her blood trying desperately to pump through her veins, and that's when she knew she had seconds before Death would claim her. At least this way, the way it was always meant to happen, her existence wouldn't be for nothing. At least this way, she would be remembered. She heard the little girl, who was almost twelve now, gasp as she scrambled to Lian's side and gently rolled her over until she was lying on her back. Lian blinked and tried to focus on the girl's face, remembering this moment through her eyes. This memory had been glued to Lian's mind, this day etched into the forefront of her self-identity for many years now. So much about how she'd conducted her teenage self had been dictated by this day.
I have to warn her. Lian thought, watching the girl desperately try to help, but she wouldn't learn healing spells until her brother came along the following year and was sorted into Pukwudgie. I have to give her the chance to choose to stay...because that way she'll choose to go. The little girl leaned over her, trying to make eye contact. Lian remembered she had to gaze blankly at the stalactites above. That's how it had happened the first time around, anyway.
When the girl spoke, Lian couldn't hear her, she only saw her lips moving. That was a new detail, she hadn't realized she'd be deaf, or at the very least so wounded that her body had better things to worry about than hearing. It didn't matter that much, she remembered what she'd said, and remembered what she'd gotten in reply.
Not entirely certain if she was shouting or mumbling, Lian said, "You had to know...you had to see…" She suddenly had the desire to warn the twelve-year-old girl about everything, but first and foremost, Lian had to admit that she couldn't save Oliver. That was on the girl's mind now, anyways. "...there's nothing you can do to save Ollie…" her throat felt funny like it was filled with gravel. But hopefully, the message was clear. The girl's lips moved and her eyes widened as she realized just how close Lian was to that eternal sleep. She even tore off her sleeve in desperation, pressing the blue and cranberry fabric to Lian's chest in hopes to stop the blood leaving her body. But Lian had nothing left to give. She could feel her consciousness wavering, and stopped talking, taking the last of her focus and pointing it at the little girl.
A memory of Theodore Nott staring across the table at her, a small smile playing on the corner of his mouth. Even if he was sour towards her now, he was friendly in the beginning. And the impact Adam had had on him was enormous. She then showed the little girl her first meeting with "the Harry Potter", an angsty teenager with glasses and emerald green eyes. If you think for one second that you're braver than I am you need to check your ego at the door because you're no better than me. And then that moment, that time in the Ministry, where Sirius Black battled Bellatrix Lestrange before her very eyes, (his mother's portrait magically glued to his rump, shrieking insults like you'd never heard before.) That was the moment she'd lost her right arm. The little girl could choose to let Sirius take the fall, or to stand and protect, as Lian had decided. She knew by now that the little girl had already met the mysterious Roman, but decided to show her an image of the person who had kidnapped Oliver. If you see this guy walking down the street, clock him for both of us, yeah? Then she showed a private memory of Draco Malfoy. It had taken place after his fight with Harry in the bathroom when Harry had used a dark curse on him. He'd awoken and suffered a kind of breakdown while they had their privacy. She could still hear him crying: I don't know! I can't do this anymore! Lian had then taken the reins, offering to alter Harry's memory a little so he wouldn't remember that Draco and Theo were Death Eaters. She consoled him to the best of her ability until Theo came into the room, and then left. He had decided to avoid her, so maybe the best thing she could have done was to respect his space and avoid him right back. She was going to die anyway. Lian blacked out for a moment, bursting back with a final memory, the one that would convince the little girl of her identity once and forever, sealing this moment in time. I must hear his Last Wish…
When it was over, 11-year-old, naive Lian Kowalski stared down at 17-year-old, battle-worn Lian Kowalski. The girl's lips moved again, asking a final query.
"Don't forget me," Lian warned, before she felt a tug around her navel again, and vanished into thin air.
Dorcas screamed as the body popped into existence at their feet. The class had spent the last two hours squinting through their telescopes and all they ever wanted was to go to bed immediately. None of the fourth years anticipated someone to drop in the middle of the hallway. That just didn't happen.
A girl with vivid red hair took charge. "Okay, back up everyone, don't crowd!"
"It's breathing!" Someone shrieked.
"Well, kind of," said a boy with long dark hair. "Give her a few minutes and she'll probably stop."
"Imbeciles." The oldest of the class shoved his way forward, withdrew his wand and conjured a makeshift stretcher out of his friends' cloak. ("Oy!") "Stuff it, Damocles. You lot, out of the way, this witch needs Madam Pomfrey, not a bunch of gangly teenagers.
He stalked the length of the corridor, using a hidden passageway to get to the hospital wing in a more efficient manner. His silver eyes strayed to the older girl in the Slytherin robes, convinced he'd never seen her before.
"Damn," Lux muttered, taking in her countless injuries. "What happened to you?"
The adventure will continue in The Son of Alphard!