Rowan Allard

And the rest just turns to dust before I get to you

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Summer was a bittersweet season for Rowan; it always had been.

 

While the warm days of June provided Brighton with picturesque sunsets and perfect weather for lazy days on the beach, it also brought hoards of tourists on their holiday who decimated the city like a plague. Previously, she’d been happy to deal with the littering and the crowds - long lines on the pier didn’t bother her - as the three months were a welcome break from the one place she hated more than the brownstone: school. Then, she turned eleven.

 

Leaving Hogwarts for summer holidays (or any holiday) was a metaphorical gut punch that left her in tears with an ache in the pit of her stomach that didn’t seem to dissipate. In the two summers prior, she’d managed to dull the sensation by cramming in as much time with her classmates as possible. There had been solo trips to strange cities, sleepovers under the stars, even a horse exchange.

 

There was an assumption that summer would be no different this time; long days spent with people she cared about, longer nights spent laughing over dumb jokes. Of course, those hopes were dashed upon arriving home to a stressed Cathy and an overly needy client. In mere moments her summer dreams had turned into a very horrific summer nightmare.

 

Since then Rowan had been diligently counting down the days, hours, seconds to her arrival back at Hogwarts - apparently the old adage of ‘you don’t know what you got till it’s gone’ was entirely too true. The morning of September first was a beacon of light at the end of a very dreary summer tunnel.

 

That was the reason Rowan ended up at the train platform far too early that morning; the only people milling about were train workers and some rouge first years who’d read their tickets wrong but claimed they just 'wanted a head start'. In order to keep herself entertained, as her fellow students were severely lacking in the social skills department, she stumbled onto the waiting express to start a thorough inspection for the best compartment.

 

Every door she passed was slid open; bench seats were bounced on; luggage racks were hung from. All very scientific and accurate ways of measuring what was the best. And perhaps she hadn't been writing her findings down, but that didn't matter as she had them all in her head - which was, undoubtedly, the safest place for them to be kept. 

 

Compartment 12 - or was it 13? - had seemed promising. The seats had enough give for a good bounce but not so much that she'd sink into them. The door slid with ease and provided no annoying squeak or squeal. All she had left to do was check the overhead storage. The best, most efficient method, for such a test involved her clamoring on top of the luggage rack and performing a few sick flips acrobatic feats. 

 

Halfway to her destination, one knee on the shelf and her other leg hanging in the air, her grip slipped. Fingers slid from the wooden storage area, unable to find a new hand hold; the weight of her body on just one hand was too much, which caused her grip to falter once more. 

 

THUNK. 

 

Had she not been staring at the ceiling of the compartment, Rowan would have assumed she was dead. Her landing had been the single most ungraceful thing of all time; plus is actually hurt quite a bit. A flash of fear went through her as she felt something wet on her face - dear Merlin, please let that be spit.  She pressed a slightly shaking hand against the problem area; upon pulling it back, small drops of deep crimson blood dripped off her fingers. This was so not at all good.

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"Je ne peux pas manquer la réunion," his father had said over dinner the night before, and that had been that.

 

Even if Halcyon had been able to come up with an argument, there wouldn't have been any. His father could - would not - not miss his meeting to see his only son off to boarding school. Priorities had been laid out, expected but still stinging, dusting salt over an open wound. Hals had lain awake in bed, watching the clock head towards September 1, mulling over the mixed feelings fighting for space in his ribcage. When he left for Hogwarts, to not see his family for months, his father would not be there. And yet, at the same time, his father would not be there.

 

So it was with some surprise that he woke at six in the morning to the sound of Eulalia calling from the doorway. He blinked dumbly at her. She stomped her foot at his ingratitude. "You're missing breakfast," she scolded him, and turned on her heel. Halcyon rolled out of bed and stumbled after her. By the time he got down to the dining room, his mother had already finished inhaling her coffee for the morning and rushed off to some other corner of the house.

 

It took an hour, after he'd eaten and dressed, for Halcyon to track her down. She was overseeing a footman loading his trunks into the back of the Mercedes they used to get to London proper. Which was only a half hour drive. Halcyon stepped into her field of vision. "Mère, what's happening? The train doesn't leave until eleven."

 

"We're leaving early, so your father can come," she told him, and he warmed all over with compromise. Halcyon Mattered. His mother smiled distractedly at him and waved a hand. "I mean, imagine how it would look to everyone if he simply wasn't there? The papers would have a field day. You'd better run along and put the cat in her carrier."

 

Perhaps, Halcyon considered as they drove to Kings Cross obnoxiously early in the morning, he should cover himself in newsprint.

 

Their goodbyes, when they came, were awkward, torn between drawn out since the platform was barely occupied and rushed along as Halcyon's father looked pointedly at the time. Halcyon excused himself to put his trunk in a compartment just to escape the lack of his father's attention.

 

Which is how the first classmate he laid eyes on the morning of September first was Rowan, bleeding on the floor. Hals dropped his trunk. "Merlin! Rowan? You look awful," she did, sprawled on the floor with blood dripping off her face and onto the floor - even in shock, Hals spared a mournful thought for the inevitable stains - but his throat immediately tightened nonetheless. "I mean, not awful, you look- well, anyway, are you alright?"

 

Because maybe even though she was bleeding on the floor she was fine? Good going Pelletier.

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There were two issues that came with head wounds; both of which Rowan had just discovered.

 

First: they bled.

                   A lot.

 

The wound - which was probably a scrape, maybe a cut at worse - had turned the tips of her fingers red in seconds. She could only imagine what it was doing to her hair (that Abby had just cut) or her clothes or the floor of the compartment. Mentally, she marked this one off her list of potential riding spots; no one wanted to spend a day in a blood soaked room, especially when it was their blood.

 

Second: they sucked as conversation starters.

 

When it had happened, the only thing she could feel was the warmth of her blood on her face. No pain, no agony, nothingness in it’s truest form. If all wounds were like that, she’d have been far better off after the attacks at school than she was. A small, uncomfortable chuckle erupted from her at the thought; it also served to emphasize an unexpected entrance.

 

Halcyon Pelletier. Of all the people it could have been it had to be him. Not that she was exactly angry to see him; but she couldn’t call the twisting in her gut or the weird throb in her chest happiness. Maybe it was a third emotion she hadn’t quiet managed to figure out yet.

 

Not that it mattered much, as anything she might have felt was suddenly and completely eclipsed by the dull, burning sensation her forehead was producing. Like the pound of a bad migraine or the throb of a rotting tooth, the pain came in waves; each one managing to be distinct from the last but just as bad.

 

Her jaw clenched, teeth gritted together in an attempt to stop herself from wincing. Hals had already dropped his trunk, seen her splayed across the floor like a sodding mess, and called her ‘awful looking’. She didn’t need to add ‘forced to comfort a sobbing, silly girl’ to that list.

 

"Hey, Halcyon." She spoke, voice slightly strained as she attempted to cover her emotions as best she could - a crude smile found it's way to her face, "I'm totally fine just lying around. How - uh - was your summer?"

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Halcyon was a creature of order. If this, then that; this, therefore that. Life was built of structures and progressions, rules he could follow and ensure optimal outcome. If blood, then injury. Injury, therefore hurt. Every time he spoke to Rowan the rules were broken; they never came back together afterwards in quite the same way. Rowan's cause (injury) was not leading to the proper effect (hurt), rather, she seemed to be behaving as though she was having a pleasant time. She smiled, with blood smeared across her eyebrow.

Halcyon.exe has experienced a logic error and needs to restart.

Booting...

 

Halcyon stared at the bloody patch on Rowan's forehead.

 

input: "How was your summer?"

print("smalltalk.txt")

 

"It was nice. We visited my family in France. I got a lot of reading done. Would have liked to spend more time at the beach, but Nice is crowded in the summer... I'm sorry, Rowan, do you know you're bleeding? It's- there's quite a lot." Halcyon had never considered himself exceptionally weak of stomach, but he was beginning to feel faint. Of course, that might have been because he generally had to consciously remind his lungs to breathe when he talked to - or near - Rowan. Still, something ought to be done.

 

This was not a Halcyon level problem. This was well beyond anything he considered in his wheelhouse (homework assistance of the moderately judgmental kind, petting cats, eating leftover pastries) and off into the realms of the Responsible Adult. 

 

He went through a list in his head of people whose problem he could make the whole issue. He had no idea when prefects arrived on the train, and no reason to assume it was any time notably before the other students did. Even though that would be sensible and really, someone should write a letter to the Headmaster as soon as the Headmaster was replaced with someone who cared and this train of thought had gone off the rails, was he panicking? Halcyon thought he might be panicking. He ran a hand through his hair and pressed it against the back of his neck.

 

Right then. Professors?

 

Hals had not seen any professors on the platform, or when wandering into the carriage. He didn't think most of them even caught the train, it always seemed to be mainly patrolled by the prefects. He was running out of authority figures to deflect onto. That left...

 

He held out his hand. "Let me help you up and I'll help you to someone who can... help." And please don't hate me after, he added internally.

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Perhaps she should have been paying attention to what Halcyon was saying; his words were probably important. Instead, she’d allowed the melodic rise and fall of his voice distract her from the searing pain radiating from her skull.

 

The cadence of his voice was soothing - not that Rowan would openly admit that to anyone, but especially not to him. If she was about to die from a brain hemorrhage, at least Halcyon’s soft ‘h’s and accented words would be the soundtrack.

 

Do you know you’re bleeding?

 

Whatever spell Rowan had momentarily been under faded, quickly replaced by a throbbing in her head and a churning in her stomach. She had planned to ignore the whole 'bleeding thing' until either it went away or Halcyon did; unfortunately it looked like neither would be happening soon. 

 

Instinctually, Rowan's right hand shot up towards her head, fingers grazing over the gash and turning red in the process. She glanced at her bloody fingertips before wiping them against the carpet of the compartment to clean them.  For a moment she worried for whoever would be made to clean up the mess she'd made; however the fogginess in her brain managed to take care of that worry.

 

Through the throbbing in her brain, she'd formulated some half-arsed joke about her head doing that all the time. Something that could allow them both to brush off the incident and he would be able to leave her be to die in peace. Before she was able to provide said quip Halcyon's hand appeared before her, his spindly fingers close enough to easily grab. 

 

Of all the things she knew about Halcyon Pelletier, the most prominent was that he didn't like to be touched. She could still vividly remember him running from her in the library for an accidental hand grab; mere seconds of contact had been distasteful enough for him to abandon her entirely. Yet here he was, offering his hand to her of his own free will. 

 

This had to be some sort of test or prank or blood loss induced hallucination.

 

"Um, you don't -- it's --  I know-- uh..." The words she'd been looking for to explain couldn't quite form in her brain; she was forced to resort to action. In an uncoordinated mess of movement, Rowan scampered back from the boy, pushing herself up off the ground in the process. Every quick or poorly thought out movement sent a wave of dizziness through her.

 

By the time she'd managed to get herself stood upright, the room was swaying and her eyes ached from the motion. Her eyelids flickered closed, her body's attempt to solve both issues with one action. She stumbled, her arms out stretched in an attempt to balance, "I don't feel so good."

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