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Dead Man Walking

Title: Dead Man Walking
Paring: Noneish
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 2965
Summary: Justin deals with the outcomes of the war.

Already broken, already gone
Already know you're moving on
I'm a breathing, talking
Dead man, walking
Already see it, in your face
Already someone, in my place
I'm a breathing, talking
Dead man, walking
-The Script




Kevin says I have the worst job. He always makes this face when I tell him I’m going on a recruitment call. When we first opened, we split the job of recruiting, and he hated it.

“You know you could pass that job off to someone else,” he always says, eyeing me over the top of his glasses.

“You say that every time,” I say, then add, “and stop looking at me over those glasses. It makes me feel like I’m in trouble with the headmaster.”

“You are in trouble with the headmaster,” he says, smiling. “Justin, I’m serious. You don’t need to do this anymore.”

I shrug. “Don’t you get tired of having this conversation all the time? If I get tired of recruitment calls, I’ll let you know, boss.”

He gives me a knowing look that makes me uncomfortable at this point of the conversation. “All right. Good luck.”

The thing is, where Kevin finds the recruitment calls tedious, I find the routine of it all comforting. I like knowing the exact way that everything will play out, from the conversation with Kevin until the moment I leave the house. Mostly, I like feeling successful. It’s nice to feel good at something, and the other routines of my life certainly aren’t providing that benefit.

The house is a row house in Belfast with a large front window. There’s a cat eyeing me from the sill with its tail twitching as I ring the bell. A short, pretty woman with an apron answers the door and the smell of baking bread greets me along with her.

“Ma’am,” I say, smiling my warmest smile as I hold out my hand for hers. I wait patiently while she uses the apron to wipe off the remnants of flour before reaching to return the shake.

“My name is Justin Finch-Fletchley,” I continue easily, pressing my business card into her hand before she has a chance to say something. I prefer to stay on the offensive in these type of situations. It somehow makes the whole thing less awkward. “I’m a recruiter for a school in Britain. I’d like to speak with you about Alastar.”

Her eyes scan my card, and they’re filled with suspicion when they meet mine again. I’m used to that look. The type of children I recruit are generally not known for being stellar students.

“Do you have a few minutes to sit and talk?” I ask. “The three of us?”

She takes a step back. The curiosity always gets the best of them. “Come in, then.”

“Thank you,” I say. She takes my coat, seats me, calls up the stairs to her son, and disappears into the kitchen. I hear a flurry of footsteps, and a sandy-haired, freckle-faced boy appears at the foot of the stairs.

“Hello, Alastar,” I say, offering him a reassuring smile.

He glances toward the kitchen, where we can both hear his mother putting the bread into the oven, but then takes a step towards me. “Do you know me?”

I shake my head. “I’ve never met you.”

He opens his mouth to ask another question, but his mother appears and takes the seat across from me, while pointing Alastar into a third chair. “Now, what’s this about? You work for a school?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I reply . “The Academy for Gifted and Extraordinary Students.”

“Well, then, there must be some mistake,” she says, flustered. I steal a glance at Alastar. Sometimes, my recruits catch on, especially if there’s been a recent incident. Alastar just looks confused.

“No mistake,” I say, confidently. “I have good reason to believe your son has certain talents my school is looking for.”

Alastar is looking thoughtful now. “At football?”

I smile at him, indulgently. “Not at football. At magic.”

His eyes widen, and his face pales so that the freckles stand out boldly.

His mother laughs a bit. I like when they laugh. It’s easier to make parents believe in magic than it is to change their attitudes about it. “Well, I never. Alastar’s never done a bit of magic before, have you Alastar?”

“Have you Alastar?” I ask, rephrasing the tone of his mother’s question, my voice quiet.

He hesitates.

“I already know the answer to that question,” I inform him, “but your mother doesn’t. Perhaps you don’t either. What if I ask if there’s ever been anything that’s happen to you or around you that you haven’t been able to explain, even if you tried?”

Both Alastar and his mother stare hard at me. He nods, almost imperceptibly.

“You’re a wizard, Alastar,” I tell him.

His eyes light up. I can still remember that feeling, like the world was making sense for the first time.

“Is this- some kind of joke?” he mother asks.

“I assure you it’s not,” I reply, reaching into my pocket to pull out my wand. Alastar leans forward excitedly.

I point my wand at his chair and hear his mother gasp as it slowly rises off of the ground.

“Brilliant!” Alastar exclaims, leaning over to look down at the floor. “I can do this too?”

“You can,” I agree as I gently return the chair to the floor, “when you’ve trained.”

“Mum?” he asks breathlessly, cheeks flushed.

The look of resignation on his mother’s face is familiar, but it still sends a heavy feeling into my stomach. “What does it mean, if I send him to your school?”

“Alastar is what we call a ‘Muggle-born,’” I explain, “meaning he was born to nonmagical parents. It doesn’t affect his abilities at all; in fact, the most talented witch I’ve ever met is Muggle-born, and I am too. It does, however, mean that you have some options about his schooling.”

She nods, which I take to mean she’s following me. I continue, “You’ll be hearing from another school soon, called Hogwarts. All magical children have the option to go to Hogwarts.”

“And only the Muddle ones can go to yours,” she supplies after a moment of thought.

“Muggle,” I say, “but yes, that’s correct.”

“Which one did you go to?” Alastar asks.

“I went to Hogwarts,” I reply. “Hogwarts is a very old school. The Academy just opened a few years ago.”

“Why?” his mother asks. I like how astute she is. It’s much simpler to have this conversation with parents who can pick up on the subtext.

“There are some very old magical families that have never mixed with Muggles,” I tell them, “and they view Muggle-born witches and wizards with the same disdain that they view Muggles. There are some who even claim that Muggle-borns steal their powers from a more-deserving witch or wizard. It’s rubbish of course,” I say, quickly, at her look of concern. “A few years ago, a group of wizards who believed this made things very bad for us. I wasn’t allowed to return for my last year of school. Many of us were forced to live on the run, arrested, and worse.”

I wait until she meets my eyes again to continue. “I’m not telling you this to scare you, even though I know it’s not easy to hear. Things are much better now then they have been in... decades, really. It’s safer now to be a young Muggle-born wizard than it was when I was one. But this is the reason why we formed a separate school.”

“Doesn’t that just make things worse? In the long run?” Alastar’s mother asks.

I take a deep breath. “When Hogwarts was the only option, Muggle-born students like myself made the choice to leave our families and fully enter into the magical world. I saw my family twice a year, and they never visited Hogwarts. When I finished school, my training was in magic. Hogwarts is a wonderful place; I received an excellent education and have a good job and great connections in the magical world. I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t send Alastar there if you think it’s the right thing to do. The idea for the school came as a result of the war, but it would’ve been a good idea even if those things had never happened. Hogwarts fails to take into consideration the fact that Muggle-born students can and should be able to exist in both worlds. They have families that live in the Muggle world, and many of them have interests in Muggle things. There’s a huge amount of value in this that we want the rest of our world to see. At our school, we continue giving students a Muggle education along with their magical one, so that they can choose for themselves once they become adults.”

I lean back in my chair when I finish, and I feel satisfied that my words have made the intended impact. Alastar’s mother is thoughtfully nodding. I know that most of what I said has made little impact on him. He’s too young to think through the benefits and risks.

“You’ll be hearing from Hogwarts soon, and I’ll be in touch. My number is on the card, if you have any questions before then,” I say, reaching out to shake her hand again. I also shake Alastar’s. “That goes for you too, young man.”

I tuck my wand back into my pocket and retrieve my own coat before disapparating back to the edge of the school grounds.

“Went well?” Kevin asks. I don’t jump because he’s always waiting when I return.

“You’d better keep your calendar open for another visit from McGonagall,” I reply as I walk past him onto the grounds. I can hear him laughing as he jogs to catch up.

~*~

“Lavender’s really upset, you know,” Padma says once she has me alone in the kitchen.

“Oh, Jesus,” I mutter, slapping my hand onto my forehead. “I should’ve known better than to believe that flattery about my onion slicing capabilities.”

“Stop deflecting me with sarcasm,” she tells me sternly.

“Then I’m going to deflect you by ignoring you,” I tell her, grabbing the onion off the counter and turning my back to her.

“I sat with her for two hours, Justin,” she says, her voice quiet behind me. “All she did was cry.”

I sigh and push the knife roughly through the middle of the onion. I can feel the weight of my regrets pushing down on my shoulders as I lift the knife back into position. “I didn’t want to lead her on any more.”

“You’ve been leading her on?” she asks, trying to position herself so I’ll have to look at her, but I keep my eyes fixed on the onion in front of me.

“No,” I say. “It’s hard to explain.”

“You owe her an explanation,” Padma hisses. “She said you’ve never fought- things have always been good- you were affectionate-”

Stop,” I say, punctuating the sharp statement with a heavier push of the knife.

She doesn’t continue listing my accomplishments as a boyfriend, but I can feel her eyes on me still.

“I like Lavender,” I say, after a long silence that I didn’t really care to end. “She’s sweet, and she’s funny. I like being with her.” I chance a sideways glance at Padma, which isn’t smart. The confusion and concern in her eyes makes my throat run dry.

“Please, don’t let me stop you listing her crimes,” she says. I can tell she’s trying not to sound sarcastic, but she can’t help it.

“There was nothing in between,” I say. “How do you explain that to someone?”

“Try explaining it to me,” she says patiently, and I feel like I’m back in sixth year studying History of Magic in the Hogwarts library. I can smell the books, despite the fact that there’s an onion under my nose. I can feel the material of my jumper scratching at the side of my neck and feel the weight of the quill in my fingers.

Justin!” she says, so loudly that Ernie calls to ask if everything is okay from the next room. I blink at her and shake my head to clear the fuzzy feeling.

“Everything’s fine, love!” she calls back. I drop the knife and try to act like I meant to do it. She eyes me warily.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I mutter. This is my response to all strange war-related things that I do and only Padma seems to notice.

She sets her shoulders stubbornly, and I dig my nails into my palm sharply to avoid another scene. “Fine. But you are going to tell me what you mean about Lavender.”

I carefully slice onion while I try to think of how to explain my lack of connection with her. “Things were nice when we were together, but I never thought about her when we were apart. She would call and we would schedule dinner, but I wouldn’t look forward to it. I would enjoy it when it happened, but there was no... feeling in between.”

The look she gives me is so fully of pity that I can’t meet her eyes after I see it. “I wish I knew what happened to you.”

I grit my teeth. “Nothing happened to me.” Another practiced, typical, predictable response.

“You never used to be so closed, and this school-” But I never get to hear the rest of her theory, because Ernie brings the baby into the kitchen, and I welcome the distraction.

~*~

“Padma and Ernie are my two closest friends in the world, Ernie since first year and Padma since right after second when she helped catch me up after being petrified by the basilisk, but eating dinner with them is akin to slowly cutting out my internal organs,” I begin.

“Good use of details,” Dr. Crowley says. I pay him specifically to listen and not give advice, but he told me he still feels it necessary to respond out of habit. “You haven’t talked about Ernie before.”

“He’s not the problem,” I say.

“But he’s married to Padma,” he notes.

“It’s not like he stole my girlfriend or anything,” I reply. “Don’t you listen to me?”

He laughs. “You’ve told the story out of order, and you haven’t mentioned that her husband was your best friend.”

“Is my best friend,” I correct. “Still is.”

“Well start from the beginning, then,” he prompts.

“I just did,” I point out. “Before you interrupted.”

He smiles and waves me on.

“So I’ve known them both just about as long as I’ve been a wizard. I realised I had a crush on Padma fifth year, and that’s when we started spending a lot of time together. I kept hoping she would notice I had a crush or act like she had a crush, too, to make my life easier, but she didn’t. I had finally worked up the nerve to tell her, when-”

“That’s when your headmaster died, and you had to leave school?” Dr. Crowley asks.

I nod. “Dumbledore was dead, and my entire life was flipped upside down. She was talking about her parents not letting her go back, and I thought that would be the most horrible thing ever, until I found out that I was literally banned from going back.”

“So you ran away from the magical community, got caught, got rescued,” he fills in for me.

“I came back, and she was with Ernie. Maybe I would have still had a shot, but I needed to go back to school to finish, and they were starting their training at St. Mungo’s together. It was like the next thing I knew, they were telling me they were engaged, getting married, having a baby.” Saying it all in a row like that literally makes me feel dizzy, and I close my eyes and press my head back against the cushion of the sofa like I can remind my brain it’s not floating around.

“Is that why it still bothers you?” Dr. Crowley asks. “Because he’s your friend, too? And he got to stay, and she chose him instead?”

I take a deep breath. I haven’t told anyone this next bit. “No. They did something to me.”

“Who did? Padma and Ernie?”

“No,” I whisper. “The Death Eaters. When I was in prison. I had learned this spell to try to block the Dementors from my mind, so I could escape if I got caught. They could tell I wasn’t being affected though, and they held me down and made me drink this potion. I would have these horrible visions of Padma being hurt in all kinds of ways, and they never stopped. I saw it while I was awake, and I saw them while I was asleep. It did something to me. I got stuck- there- on her- and that’s it. She’s with Ernie, and it’s torture because they’re so damn happy. They have every right to be. They deserve it. But then I have to sit there and watch it while every cell in my body is screaming to be holding her.”

“Damn.” He swears it under his breath, but I can hear it. It’s one of the most comforting sounds I think I’ve heard since leaving Azkaban. Someone else finally knows how fucked up I am.

“So Doc,” I say, trying to lighten the mood with my new-found sense of lightness. “What’s the prognosis?’

“I think you need different friends,” he says, his grave tone not echoing mine at all.

I sigh, staring hard at the ceiling. “At least when I’m with them I feel something. Isn’t that better than feeling nothing at all?”

Dr. Crowley doesn’t answer, but that’s okay, because I can’t either.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
end_unplanned
Sep. 5th, 2011 01:20 am (UTC)
MY BRAIN.
(Deleted comment)
end_unplanned
Sep. 5th, 2011 01:29 am (UTC)
:(
(Deleted comment)
end_unplanned
Sep. 5th, 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
Doots.

I don't know how to resolve this.
(Deleted comment)
end_unplanned
Sep. 5th, 2011 01:38 am (UTC)
I WANT TO END THE ANGST.
(Deleted comment)
end_unplanned
Sep. 5th, 2011 01:42 am (UTC)
NOT NECESSARILY. KIND OF.
(Deleted comment)
end_unplanned
Sep. 5th, 2011 01:44 am (UTC)
WE CAN WORK IT OUUUUUUUUT.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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