Galen Ward

This is all we know

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November, 2035

 

He left for work at the muggle café on a chilly, Wednesday afternoon. He scrubbed dishes late into the evening, burning his hands on the scalding plates as they came out of the dryer. This time he only broke three (his record was twelve), and by the time he left, it was too late to apparate home.

 

As he stalked down the sidewalk, with his shoulders hunched with his hood pulled up to hide his face, he ran into Isabella Carter outside a pub. She seemed happy to see him - an unusual response - and they exchanged the typical pleasantries. Their conversation, as far as he could remember, went something like this:

 

"How have you been?"

 

"I've been managing." By 'managing' he meant 'struggling'.

 

"Come in, have a drink!"

 

"I really shouldn't."

 

"It will be fun, we can catch up."

 

"No, I mean that I can't. I'm not... you know what, why not?"

 

There were many reasons why not, but most predominantly, drinking violated his probation. Instead, he shared a drink with her, and then another, and then another. How many more drinks he had after that, he couldn't recall. The following days were hazy in his mind.

 

It wasn't until late on Friday night, or very early Saturday morning, that Galen staggered into the Edinburgh apartment that he shared with Hedwig and Elodie. He put his hand on the wall to steady himself as he tore off his boots, which landed with a thunk on the floor. He stumbled on his way to the bathroom, cursing when he bumped into the corner of the sofa.

 

There was a light still on in the kitchen, but he didn't notice.


Edited by Galen Ward

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On Thursday, Elodie’s phone rang. She eyed it with distaste and mild distrust before picking it up (still uncomfortable with muggle technology, even after all these years) from the wooden bench where she had discarded it earlier that morning.

 

“What?” she barked into the phone, too loud.

 

The voice at the other end told her that Galen was two hours late for his shift at work, that he wasn’t answering his phone. Elodie asked, somewhat belligerently, what that had to do with her. He listed you as his emergency contact, they said. She told them that he was sick, ended the call, and returned to brewing a batch of wolfsbane for the wolves of Helvellyn.

 

When he didn’t return home that night, Elodie was furious. When he didn’t return the next morning, worry began to crowd out the anger. She spent the day at the flat, waiting and stewing in a particularly unhealthy state of agitation that was punctuated only once, by a surprise visit from her sister. By Friday evening, she was desperate enough to call Hedwig, who was staying with Dictys, and rattle off a half of a list of locations to search for Galen. Elodie took the other half of the list for herself: the alley behind the muggle café where Galen worked, the Meadows, several nearby pubs.

 

She finally gave up and apparated home just past midnight. Inside the flat, shivering from the chill air of the impending winter, she put a kettle on the stove and uncorked a vial of pepper-up potion, swearing softly.

 

Not long after, she heard the front door open, the thud of an object being discarded on the floor, and a litany of quiet curses that matched her own. Elodie knew the voice, and she immediately moved out of the kitchen to intercept him. She flicked her wand at Galen's retreating back with a growled “levicorpus,” then, once he was dangling by the ankle midair, stepped into his line of sight.

 

In the kitchen, the kettle boiled to a scream. Steam poured out of Elodie’s ears, a side-effect of the pepper-up-potion. She waved her wand impatiently in the direction of the kettle to quiet it, then stared at Galen, letting the abrupt silence gather (which felt ominous and unsettling even to Elodie, who had initiated it) for a long moment.

 

Then: “Where the HELL have you been?”


Edited by Elodie Aldridge

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Before he could properly react, Galen felt an invisible force tug his feet out from under him. His body lurched, and suddenly he hung suspended upside down. Blood rushed to his head, pounding through his temples, and the room spun. He could make out a blurry figure in the light of the kitchen and he knew who it was, even before she spoke. Galen could only squint at her from his vulnerable position. The screeching kettle served as a soundtrack to her anger, and the steam spitting from her ears seemed to amplify the effect. He brought his arms to his chest, reflexively recoiling from her wrath.

 

“I-I..” he stammered, trying to find some defense. His explanation came too slowly, and she was yelling now but he didn't know what to say. “I don't know!” he growled back at her, resorting to his default excuse to interrupt. He squirmed, fumbling for his wand in his pocket, but it clattered to the floor. At this time of night, he wasn't allowed to use it, anyway. “I was out, what's it matter to you? I don't answer to you.” But he would have to answer to his probation officer later.

 

Arguing stupidly, more like a stubborn teenager than a full-grown adult, gave him enough time to come up with a better excuse: “Let me down, I'm going to be sick!” But that was true. All of the anxiety he washed away with drinks come flooding back up to the surface, so he covered his mouth to resist vomiting all over the kitchen floor.

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Good!” Elodie shouted back, incensed. “You smell like you cleaned out a rubbish bin for dinner and washed it down with five bottles of firewhisky.”

 

She glared at him without an ounce of pity. She had refined her scouring charm after three years of shoveling dragon dung on Naomi’s reserve, and she wasn’t afraid of having to clean sick off the floor. Elodie also felt that Galen would deserve the suffering and indignity of puking upside down, so she didn’t immediately move to free him from the jinx.

 

“You live in my flat, you eat my food, you drink my tea, and you raid my stash of flacking biscuits that I love—” Elodie cut herself short, because her temper was starting to boil out of control, and she knew that it had relatively little to do with her emotional connection to her biscuit tin. “—And you think you don’t owe me anything?”

 

The fear and anger that had been building over the past few days while Galen had been missing were still there, feeding into her words, making her wand hand tremble. She felt like the mother of a recalcitrant teenager, scolding him for coming home late. Any moment now, the sentence you could have called was going to escape her mouth. She could feel the words waiting on her tongue. In an attempt to stem the flow of fury, Elodie pressed her lips together tightly and crossed her arms.

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Galen squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw, biting back the nausea that bubbled up in his stomach. She was right, of course. He knew that she was right, if not because he occupied her flat, then at the very least because he loved her, and because they were friends. He owed her an explanation, but he was too stubborn to admit that he was wrong. He was too afraid to tell her how overwhelming it was to be free, and how much it hurt to be alive, sometimes.

 

Most times.

 

There was no use making more excuses, so he didn't say anything. Maybe, he thought, she would take pity on him and let him go. He wasn't too proud to play that card. Perhaps if he made her angry enough she would kick him out. So he didn't apologize, even though he knew that he should. He couldn't give her the satisfaction of breaking him.

 

The expression on her face almost did it. Beneath the anger etched into her brow was disappointment and fear, and it filled him with guilt knowing that he did that to her. He had enough empathy to understand what it was like to worry, so he covered his face with his arms because he didn't want to look at her. There was no dignity left in his actions, but Galen had fallen far past the point of caring.

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Galen’s silence only made Elodie angrier. It was obvious that he did believe he didn’t owe her anything. Maybe he was right. She wasn’t his girlfriend, she wasn’t his bloody wife, and she definitely wasn’t his mother, as much as her actions might indicate otherwise. They had been friends since they were children, and at times much more, but Elodie wasn’t responsible for Galen. She wasn’t his keeper.

 

And if that was true: that they owed each other nothing, and Galen was just passing through on his way to somewhere else, why had she wasted the past three years waiting for him?

 

It wasn’t a choice Elodie had made consciously. She had not deliberately chosen to freeze time, to mire herself in pointless, exhausting manual labor while he was gone. She had not suffered the way he had, but she had come to recognize something like self-imposed punishment in the way she had arranged her time. Knowing now what he thought, Elodie felt abruptly, absurdly foolish for the way she’d behaved.

 

The realization fed into a new surge of anger. “I went out looking for you, you know,” she snarled. “I even sent Hedwig and Dictys out. I guess we’re all a bunch of bleeding idiots. Or did we miss the part of your probation that says it’s just fine for you to go off on a two-day bender?”

 

Elodie hated that he wouldn’t look at her. Acting on instinct, she lifted her wand and hissed “Oppugno.” The curse prompted nearby objects to fly at Galen with surprising force, including: a pair of dirty socks, a long-dead potted plant, a chipped teacup, and his own discarded boots.  A knife whizzed out from the kitchen, hell-bent on puncturing Galen’s abdomen, and Elodie reached up and snagged it out of the air at the last moment.


Edited by Elodie Aldridge

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"Oh, shi-"

 

All at once, everything in the room was upon him. With his shirt fallen down around his chest, it left his stomach exposed to the elements. The socks smelled like foot-sweat and Galen batted them away irritably, wrinkling his nose in disgust. This was enough to distract him from the potted plant that soared across the room and collided solidly with his groin. He gasped in pain as dirt rained down around him. He instinctively curled up and cupped his crotch to protect it from further assault.

 

Next was the teacup that grazed his shoulder and shattered against the wall behind him. His heavy boots kicked him in the back of the head, which sent a burst of pain down his neck and into his eyes. They stung as they filled with tears. Little sparks, like fireflies, danced in the field of his vision. The lights in the kitchen seemed to dim.

 

"Stop! Stop it! Sorry," he huffed, like a plea for mercy. He couldn't fight her any longer and he didn't want to. The guilt rushed out of him suddenly. "Sorry, Elodie, I'm sorry," he cried pitifully, letting go of the tears. They trickled down his forehead and dripped onto the ground.


Edited by Galen Ward

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“Are you?” Elodie asked fiercely, brandishing the kitchen knife. “Are you really?”

 

Her anger had already begun to thaw when she noticed that he was crying. The miserable expression on his face made her chest feel painfully tight. She hesitated before gingerly setting the knife on the coffee table. Then she flicked her wand at Galen and muttered the counter-curse to the jinx that still held him aloft. He was immediately released from the invisible snare, and Elodie felt badly enough to wince when he hit the ground.

 

She crouched on the floor beside Galen and took his face between her hands, the way she had when he’d first gotten out of prison and his face had seemed like something new she had to memorize. It was a similar feeling, watching him fall apart. He wasn’t the same person she’d known for half of her life.

 

Elodie thumbed aside some of the wetness on his face. “It’s just—you said you’d stay. Remember? And then you were just… gone.”

 

After a pause, Elodie released his face and dropped her hands into her lap. She didn’t want to think about all the different scenarios she had concocted to fill the time while he’d been missing. Each new idea had been more harrowing than the last. “What happened?”

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Galen thumped onto the kitchen floor in a heap. He smelled predominantly of alcohol and something else, maybe smoke. He pushed himself up to sit, balancing unsteadily against his hand as he used his other arm to wipe at his eyes. The tenderness of her touch surprised him but he didn't draw away. He pressed his cheek into her palm, craving whatever comfort she had to offer.

 

It was selfish - he should have been the one to comfort her for all her worrying over him, for searching, for caring at all even though she owed him nothing and he offered her nothing useful in return. But the brief contact made him feel a little better, safer, if only for a moment.

 

 "I know," he agreed with her in a whimper. "I know, I just - I don't know why, I don't know," he rambled. "It was late and I was walking back, and...I ran into Isabella, and she asked me to have a drink, and I did. And I don't remember. I didn't want to come back here like that, I knew you and Hedwig would be mad so I stayed at her place, it was stupid, I'm sorry," he insisted. "We didn't...I mean, we didn't do anything. I don't really member, but I'm pretty sure," he added onto the end, like this was an important detail Elodie might care about. "I stayed on her couch."

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Elodie was silent for a long time after Galen finished speaking. She didn’t know much about Isabella, except that Galen had dated her in their seventh year. Elodie knew that it would have been natural to feel jealous and angry at the revelation. But she surprised herself with her apathy: she didn’t care who he had been with, only that he had felt he needed to leave.

 

“I asked you to stay because I want you here,” she said softly, choosing her words with more deliberate care than her younger self would have done. “But Hedwig and I aren’t holding you hostage. You’re free to go wherever you want to go.”

 

It wasn’t easy for Elodie to say that, knowing that he might choose to leave, to pick himself up off the floor and wander the Edinburgh streets until he found himself wherever it was he really wanted to be. She would be left alone to wonder whether she had imagined his brief visit to the flat. She could almost taste just how maddening it would be: not knowing where he was, whether he was hurting, whether he was even alive.

 

Elodie crossed her arms over her chest. When she spoke again, her voice was harder. “If you carry on like this, they’ll send you back. Just… find something, or someone, that makes you want to stay out of Azkaban. If you won’t do that for yourself, or for me, or for Hedwig, do it for something. Like a trashy radio drama, or a potted plant, or chocolate frogs. Or Isabella.”

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