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Curious Happenings at Number Twelve by Toujours Padfoot
Chapter 24: David
RECENT NEWS AND NAMES OF THE WIZARDING WORLD
This Week: The Missing and the Mental
(continued from pg. 5)
By Hortensia Boggs, Asst. to Rita Skeeter
Tuesday, May 26
The search for Cargan Dearborn is still being conducted by his mother, Violette, but it has so far revealed no progress. An unnamed contact at the Ministry of Magic has exclusively shared with the Daily Prophet that Dearborn was last seen outside a nastily-reputed pub in London, stumbling around drunk. Everyone here at the Prophet hopes he makes a safe return home, as we’re all familiar with the story of his father, Caradoc Dearborn. Mrs. Dearborn never got Caradoc’s body back and it would be a cruel twist of irony for her son to suffer the same fate.
There is still no news on Albus Dumbledore, who scandalously evaded capture by Ministry officials early last month. It has been weeks and his current doings are yet unknown, but it is believed that he is summoning an army to fight the Ministry. Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, has reported that the Aurors are very close to catching up with Dumbledore. “I cannot disclose all of this classified information,” Umbridge told the Prophet over an iced pink lemonade in Hogsmeade’s The Three Broomsticks, “but I will tell you that Dumbledore, I’m afraid, is losing his grip. He is old and should have retired thirty years ago, and the Ministry is closing in on him. He’s a danger to himself and to society, and we’re trying the best we can to get him into the care he needs – at St. Mungo’s.”
If you are reading this, Albus Dumbledore, pray not be confused. Senility is a natural succession of age, and sooner or later we all
Nora threw down the newspaper in disgust, having no desire to read any more Ministry lies. Only a paragraph about Cargan, a month after his disappearance? They should have kept his picture on the front page. Granted, they would never find him, as he was nothing but cinder and bone and the Death Eaters would have disposed of him; but this just proved Nora’s suspicions that no one besides Cargan’s mother was truly searching for him.
“Anything in there?” Molly asked, sidling into the chair next to Nora. Nora grunted.
Molly sighed and picked up the newspaper, bringing it close to her eyes. Arthur was always telling her to go get glasses, but Molly maintained that glasses would emphasize her crow’s feet. As she usually did while reading every Cargan-centered article since the month before, Molly sniffed and her eyes teared up. She wiped the moisture on her apron and glanced sideways at Nora, who pretended not to have noticed anything. Really, Molly had just been a little too attached to the boy. Her reaction to his death made Nora feel ten times worse than she already would have.
In truth, she felt a heavy, exhausting guilt.
She had not been as nice as she could have been to Cargan Dearborn. He was never anything but cordial to her, and still Nora never failed to make fun of him. She’d allowed her friends to belittle him as well, making a mockery of the poor boy even when he was expressing his deepest emotions. His sentiments were a bit skewed and he had no idea what he was talking about, of course, but he believed them none the less. And in the end, the very person the Death Eaters could not have cared less about was the only one to die. Cargan Dearborn would never find his soulmate, would never marry and have children and live to see his hairline recede. Forever frozen at twenty-six.
It just wasn’t fair. No one in the world was safe.
Nora noticed that Molly was watching the special clock on the wall, the clock that indicated where each Weasley was at. After having seen Bill’s hand at ‘mortal peril’ for a solid day while he’d gone missing from Sirius’s birthday party, Molly had taken to making excuses for wandering into the kitchen every ten minutes, constantly checking in on her husband and children’s positions. Nora thought it must be arduous to be Mrs. Weasley, as she had so many children. The more children one has, the more danger there is of losing one of them, and with every additional person you open up your heart to love, the vulnerability increases. And what was more, she was alone by herself for most of the day until Arthur got off work, and a moment not stressing about the safety of her family was a moment wasted.
It probably did not help Molly’s sanity that two of her sons had just dropped out of Hogwarts, in their seventh year, just before they were about to graduate. Nora loved Fred and George – they were among her favorite people – but they had chosen a very, very bad time to rebel. Molly had almost had a stroke. Arthur was no less unimpressed, especially since the twins were now living in London where anything could befall them. Molly had spent a good four nights weeping in her bedroom – Nora could hear her through the ceiling, as she was staying directly below in Ginny’s bedroom.
“Arthur will be home soon,” Molly said, her voice cracking slightly. “And Tonks is stopping by for dinner. She asked that I make carbonara.”
“You want to go to Diagon Alley tomorrow?” Nora asked. She needed to keep her mind busy – today marked the countdown of a week until she was allowed to go home.
Molly hesitated. Nora knew her aunt would agree, just because she felt sorry for her. Molly could sense that Nora yearned for a distraction from her own thoughts, which were overwhelmingly depressing these days. “That sounds fine,” Molly responded. “I wanted to see Fred and George again, anyway, just to make sure they’re still alive.”
Nora almost smiled. The twins had opened up a joke shop they christened “Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes”. They’d given Nora a free vial of love potion from their WonderWitch line, and she’d hidden it away to use on a rainy afternoon – not on herself, of course, but probably on the twins themselves so that they could appreciate a dose of their own medicine. Tonks would be an excellent candidate for their twenty-four-hour undying affection.
“I think I’m going to go and start packing,” Nora replied, getting up from the Weasley’s kitchen table.
Molly looked hard at her, her eyes bright and lips pursed. “You don’t have to go running off on the first of June, you know,” she said to her niece. “You can stay here for as long as you’d like. We’d love to have you, and now there are a few extra bedrooms open…”
Nora knew what was coming next, and she quickly pulled Molly into a hug just as her aunt started choking on sobs. “Bill and Charlie have moved out,” she wailed. “Percy isn’t speaking to us – I tried to see him for Christmas and he shut the door in my face, and I tried to see him for his birthday and he wouldn’t talk to me. And now Fred and George are gone, too…my children…all of my children…”
Nora let Molly cry into her shirt. “They’re not gone, they’re just independent,” she reasoned. “Come on, Molly, they’re Weasleys! Weasleys always come back, showing up on the doorstep when a travelling saleswizard swindles them out of their savings or when they can’t make their rent – or just if they’re hungry. Think of it this way: you’ve got a few good years left before Ginny can move out, and when she does you’ll be able to buy a pet dog and carry it around in your handbag. I’ll pitch in and buy it some ridiculously expensive animal clothes. You can delight in annoying everyone with jingly collars and cutesy nicknames.”
Molly laughed, still sniffing a little, and Nora broke away. “I’m going to go back to Grimmauld Place, Molly,” she said quietly. “And I think you know why.”
“Yes,” Molly replied, looking resigned but not altogether unhappy about it. Her eyes even twinkled a bit. “And you know, I think you could do worse.”
“I definitely could.”
“He’s not too bad. He saved you at the Malfoy’s, after all.”
Nora smiled. “He’s saved me in many ways, Molly.”
She left her aunt standing in the kitchen, still a little bleary-eyed, and turned around to trudge upstairs. Ginny’s bedroom was about a fifth of the size of Nora’s bedroom at Grimmauld Place, and Nora found it difficult to make room for all of her stuff without knocking Ginny’s things over and shoving it all out of order.
She hadn’t really wanted to pack; she just wanted to be alone, but figured now was as good of a time as any to organize her belongings. Nora was very much looking forward to going home and restoring order to her life. With her wand, she set a pile of clothes to the task of folding themselves, and then began to sort through papers to differentiate which were hers and which were Ginny’s. On the nightstand, first to be packed because of its value, was a square of white silk she’d gotten from Sirius soon after she moved in with him. Nora deftly lifted the cloth, and, careful not to allow the newspaper clipping inside to fall out, placed it into a zippered compartment inside her suitcase.
Next, she found her two letters – the only letters she’d gotten in months, one of them dated from April 17th and the other from May 11th. She lifted the first one and sighed, running her eyes over its contents:
I hope this finds you well. Kingsley Shacklebolt has informed me that a friend of ours by the name of Lucius Malfoy has drawn up a list of suspected witches and wizards who are harboring the fugitive Sirius Black; they are monitoring people who allegedly have had steady contact with him and failed to turn him in to the Ministry. Your name, of course, is at the top of this list. Cornelius Fudge will be keeping a thorough eye on you, and as you are still registered to be living with Molly and Arthur Weasley, I recommend you move to that location immediately and do not return at least until the covert investigation expires on June 1st. Do not visit or write to Grimmauld Place in the meantime. I have enclosed a letter to Sirius to inform him that he is not to attempt contact. You would also do well to stay away from Remus Lupin and Dedalus Diggle. Nymphadora Tonks, as an Auror, has of course already been cleared by Alastor Moody.
Once again, you are being watched.
The letter was delivered by Fawkes the phoenix himself, and he indeed had also brought a letter addressed to Sirius.
He was still in Grimmauld Place, all alone, and had been stuck in complete solitude since mid-April. It was now almost June, and Nora wondered how things between them would be. She missed him terribly, but part of her worried that perhaps he’d preferred having the house to himself, and that he realized he didn’t fancy having her live there with him after all. She knew in her heart that this wouldn’t be the case, though, and that Sirius had probably been counting the days to June 1st even more obsessively than Nora. After all, she had the Weasleys and Tonks. Sirius, for the moment, had no one.
Sirius had only broken Dumbledore’s rule about no communication once, but at least he didn’t try to come over himself. It was sent on May 11th, which was the same day Fred and George quit school, and the ‘letter’ was very short:
Made contact with Prongs’s son today. He is no longer receiving special lessons.
He didn’t need to sign it – Sirius knew Nora could easily recognize his handwriting. She couldn’t understand why Harry Potter wouldn’t need Occlumency lessons anymore. Severus hadn’t made a secret of the fact that Harry was atrocious at learning it. Maybe he experienced a breakthrough and had finally mastered the skill?
Nora had been very confused, and decided she wanted to see for herself what was going on. It had only been a couple of weeks ago, but it felt like years… She’d gone to Hogwarts and asked Severus to explain himself, and he’d invited her for a walk on the grounds…
“He’s never going to master it,” Severus told her, glad that Nora evidently did not know about what Harry had witnessed in the pensieve. The day was warm and the sky a clear, cloudless blue, and Nora enjoyed the sun saturating through her skin as she walked along the shore of the Black Lake. “It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing.”
“I wouldn’t compare Harry Potter to a pig, myself,” Nora told him mildly. “I think he’s rather adorable. That cute little mop of messy hair – it’s like he never brushes it! Reminds me of a kid on Christmas morning…” She smiled to herself. Harry probably would not appreciate being called ‘adorable’, but she couldn’t help it. Every time she looked at him, she remembered that he was around the same age as her own brother, and it brought out her sisterly affections.
Severus scanned the endless sky, shaking his head. “He’s got everyone wrapped around his finger…it makes no sense. He’s arrogant, hopelessly mediocre, and if it weren’t for Granger he probably would be failing most of his subjects.”
“I think you’re just a bit biased,” Nora said serenely, plucking a green leaf from a tree and twiddling it between thumb and forefinger. The spidery veins of the leaf were a deep reddish-purple color, like rhubarb. “You see what you want to see.”
He wanted to tell Nora that he could say the same about her – that she chose to ignore Sirius Black’s many faults – his flamboyant arrogance, his hot-headed jumping to conclusions, his convoluted beliefs about Severus himself and how he was always showing off whenever there was the slimmest opening for it… But he did not want to waste his precious time with Nora discussing Black, and definitely did not want to hear her defending him.
They were quiet for a long while, Nora wondering when he was finally going to get around to discussing whatever was obviously clouding his mind. She didn’t feel the need to rush, however; there was nothing to get back to except for Arthur’s passionate ramblings about plugs and can-openers, and the weather was too lovely to be indoors. Several students could be seen dotted throughout the Great Lawn, flopped onto the grass with their noses against parchment. O.W.L.s were swiftly approaching, and Harry himself was probably amongst them. Nora grinned smugly. Thank Merlin she never had to stress through exams ever again.
“I wonder what it would have been like if you’d been my Potions master while I was at Hogwarts,” she mused, as it seemed Severus was not quite ready to approach the true conversation that inspired their little walk. “Don’t you think it would be strange now, talking like friends after you’d been my professor? Since we are both in the Order…although, you did teach Bill and Charlie. It’s a shame I had to be placed with that Durmstrang woman instead.”
Severus had often thought about this. If Nora Prewett had been his student, he was sure he would never have been able to develop romantic feelings for her. Once a block-headed pupil, always a block-headed pupil. But as it was, he only knew the Nora Prewett from beyond the classroom, and for that he was thankful. Otherwise, he may have never come to realize how her easy gait reminded him of Lily, how her level-headedness and the way she crinkled up her nose when she laughed all sent images of Lily flooding forth. They were so different, and yet…for a small time, Nora had made a decent substitute. So decent, in fact, that he’d started truly liking her on her own merits. But not quite love. Never love.
His heart still belonged to the dead.
This moment with Nora, however, was not the time or venue to be casting lingering glances over her and daydreaming about what it would be like to hold her hand and just walk together as two lovers, and wondering what it would be like if he really did love her. He wished he could, as it would have made his life much easier. But no – this was definitely not the appropriate occasion for thinking about that.
They had not talked about the kiss that took place in the Malfoy’s destroyed secret chamber, and he got the feeling they probably never would. He did not regret kissing her – as he’d said at the time, it was something he just had to do, at least once. Nora had the good grace to allow the bizarre behavior, and, what was more – still want his friendship. There was no strange air of discomfort between them, because Nora didn’t see any reason to be uncomfortable. It never occurred to her that she should feel strange around Severus just because he had feelings for her that she did not return, and found it perfectly natural to smile at him now like he was her oldest and dearest friend.
She was one of a kind.
“Nora,” he said hesitantly, and then stopped walking. Nora stopped as well, somewhat confused. He felt his heart splintering off into pieces as her liquid topaz eyes peered up at him. They were standing under a tree now, the one that grew right out of the shallow water on the bank; and fluttering shadows of its leaves wavered over Nora’s face, contrasting with the shimmering gold light that shone over everything else. Severus wished he was not the person for this job. It seemed that he was forever doing the work that no one else wanted, the work that caused the most pain and sacrifice and misery. A pariah. In many ways, he hated himself.
“What is it?” she inquired. Her voice was like music, and she was still twirling that leaf in her hand, tilting her face up to catch the warm breeze.
Severus reached into his robes and pulled out what appeared to be an inky newspaper page. Not knowing what else to say, he handed it to her and she took it, her befuddlement deepening. There were three small squares with low-quality pictures in them – but the people in these squares were not moving. One of them was an old woman named Pearl, and she stared at Nora with a stationary smile, her cottony white hair flattened by a straw hat. Underneath her was a detailed column about her life and achievements, listing the number of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren her marriage had produced, and that she’d been a proud member of the gardening club in Adlebourne.
The next person was a man with square glasses called Henry, and he played the piano at a local church for the past thirty years. He encouraged that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to Adlebourne Primary School.
Nora traced her finger over the last picture – a tiny baby. His eyes were too fuzzy and pixilated to see clearly and he had his hands curled into little fists. The column under his name was the shortest – just a few sentences – saying that his name was David Neilham, and he had been found by authorities at roughly four weeks of age in a car park of a small corner store called Hitchen’s One-Stop Shop. David was then adopted by a preacher and his wife (who belonged to the same church as Henry), but passed away when he was approximately three months old due to complications with a hole in his heart. Apparently he’d been born with the defect.
It was something a St. Mungo’s Healer could patch up in a matter of seconds.
Severus watched her reaction, saddening as she checked the date of the old newspaper and slowly realized what it meant. “Oh…” was all she said.
“I’m sorry,” Severus told her. He hoped she wouldn’t cry; he wasn’t well-versed in comforting crying women.
Nora sat down in the grass, staring numbly at the newspaper page. Her shoes were partially in the water, soaking through her socks, but she didn’t seem to notice. “How do you know for sure it’s him?” she whispered.
“He was found by Muggles the morning after your father and uncle were murdered,” Severus answered quietly. “In the same town, and he matched the age.”
Nora felt something inside her wither and die. “He was in Adlebourne all along,” she murmured. “He’d never even left town. She’d just…Alecto just…abandoned him there.” What had possessed Alecto to leave the baby alive? What had possessed her to leave the baby lying on the ground outside?
“I’m sorry,” Severus said again, truly sounding mournful. “This isn’t the news I wanted to bring back to you, but I promised I would find out what happened to him.” He waited for a few silent moments. Nora looked up from the paper, gazing out over the water as though she didn’t know quite where she was. “Maybe you would prefer to be alone right now,” Severus said awkwardly. “I – I’ve got a class…I’ll just leave you to your thoughts.”
“Yes, I think I’ll stay for a little while longer,” she managed to say. “Thank you, Severus, for finding this out for me.”
He nodded. “See you soon, then.”
And he left.
Nora dug around in her trunk, trying to find more Chocolate Frogs. She groaned with every empty wrapper – had she really eaten them all? Molly was calling her name downstairs, growing irritated. Nora knew why Molly wanted her, and it made her even less eager to obey. Her stomach churned with dread and nervousness – surely everyone would be able to see how it was all her fault – but she knew she couldn’t hold off anymore.
When she entered the kitchen, Molly had her arms folded, looking cross. “Took you long enough,” she chastised.
Nora shrugged innocently. “I was still packing.”
Molly’s eyes narrowed. “It takes you six hours to pack? Come on, we’ve got a guest.”
Nora sighed and followed her aunt through a slanted door into the Weasley’s humbly-sized sitting room, and immediately felt like she might vomit all over the carpet. Violette Dearborn was perched on the edge of an armchair, blowing her puffy, red nose into a handkerchief and staring with round, somber eyes at Nora. Nora thought she looked a bit like a cow just before it was butchered, with her massive brown eyes so wide with raw emotion. She was a mother who wanted answers.
Tonks was there, too, and she seemed almost as uncomfortable as Nora felt. She knew her friend was thinking precisely the same thing as she was: would Violette somehow figure out that they’d all ridiculed Cargan and thought him a grand old joke? How were they supposed to tell Cargan’s mother that he was killed by a spell that was supposed to strike Nora, and that they’d all kept running while the fire consumed him?
“Um,” Nora mumbled.
Violette rushed over and wrapped Nora in a hug, which made the latter stiffen and briefly close her eyes with guilty self-loathing. “So you’re Nora Prewett, then,” the woman said. It sounded like she had a head cold. “I’ve heard all about you – you’re just as beautiful as he described.”
Oh, kill me now. Let me melt into the floor.
“Um,” she said again.
“Molly tells me that you know where Cargan is,” Mrs. Dearborn hedged. Nora turned sharply to face her aunt, gritting her teeth together. Molly hadn’t mentioned to this woman that Cargan was dead? Molly ducked her face, fidgeting with a loose strand on her apron. She would pay for her lack of tact.
Might as well get straight to it, then. “Cargan is dead.”
Violette gave a little spasm of shock, and Molly covered her face with her hands. Tonks was shifting glances from one person to the other, watching as though she didn’t know the circumstances surrounding Cargan’s death herself.
“He was murdered by Lucius Malfoy,” Nora elaborated in a flat, toneless voice.
“When?” Violette cried. “Where? And where’s his body; he hasn’t been found! How could you have known all this and not told me? I haven’t slept in weeks…” She hiccupped, tears streaming down her pink face. “Why?”
Nora sat down. It was all too easy not to feel, to just give facts like she was chatting about the weather. “We went to a party,” she said to the ceiling. “And Death Eaters showed up. We were taken to Malfoy Manor, and escaped the next night. Lucius killed him as we were all running away.”
Tonks’s lips parted slightly, engrossed. Nora had forgotten that Tonks did not witness Cargan’s death – she’d already disapparated. Violette sat down properly in her chair, and Nora inwardly sighed. She was weary of death and loss; she didn’t want to think or talk about it. There didn’t appear to be any way around it, though, so she launched into a more in-depth explanation about how Cargan had found himself caught up in a tangled web of Death Eaters versus The Order of the Phoenix. By the time Violette finally left to go home, sobbing as she went, it was almost midnight.
Exhausted and thoroughly late for her date with the sandman, Nora fell into Ginny’s bed with all of her clothes on. But when sleep finally did claim her, it was not the escape she craved.
The phantom Nora was bitter.
It raked its nails down the walls, wailing like a banshee. Nora stuffed her hands over her ears. Hadn’t she suffered enough? Didn’t she deserve to have normal dreams where she wasn’t being fraught with apparitions of a crazed, crudely formed doppelganger?
The lighting in the sitting room of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place grew darker with other-Nora’s mood, and the chandelier above them rattled like a train was racing along over it. The phantom moved quickly, appearing in one corner and then sucking backwards through oblivion in a wisp of smoke; then seconds later dropping down once more into being and landing directly behind her. Nora screamed and ran for it. She didn’t care about what she was supposed to be looking for – she wanted to get far away from this horrible creature.
She bolted up the stairs two steps at a time, vaguely registering the fact that her feet weren’t actually even hitting any solid surface, and it was more like she was flying. The other-Nora was already waiting for her on the third landing, its featureless face cocked to the side as it radiated something like greed. Nora hurried into her bedroom and slammed the door shut, and then climbed into bed. Pulling the covers up to her chin, she surveyed the room with wide-eyed panic. Other-Nora didn’t need doors, she knew, and could pop into existence at any moment.
A grandfather clock chimed on the wall outside Nora’s door, striking eight times. She shivered – it was so cold in here – and threw herself back against the headboard as her bedroom door slowly creaked open.
“What do you want from me?” she yelled.
The misty figure raised a hand and beckoned with its finger. Nora could hear its voice inside her head saying, “Follow me.” It was Nora’s own voice, distorted and haunting.
“No!” she cried. “I want you to leave me alone.”
The thing jerked its head curtly, just once from one side to the other. Other-Nora extended its arm out, silvery-black and gaseous, and let something shiny and hard drop to the bare floor. She heard the object clink lightly as it hit the ground, and it rolled underneath Nora’s wardrobe. The phantom went to the window and slid like smoke through its cracks, breathing shakily as it did so. Nora gaped, open-mouthed, scooting as far from the window as possible in her four-poster bed. Impossibly, the grandfather clock began to chime again, this time with seven strikes.
Nora woke up with a jolt.
Sunlight filtered through Ginny’s narrow blinds, proving that she was once more at the Weasley’s where she was supposed to be, and tucked safely into Ginny’s too-small bed. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her arm and then squinted at her watch. Eight-thirty.
Nora rolled out of bed, stretching her arms high overhead. In doing so, she forgot how cramped Ginny’s room was and knocked a whole row of toy miniatures of famous Quidditch players off of a shelf. She frowned and got down on her hands and knees, scooping them up and admiring the detail. The miniature of Merwyn Finwick – Keeper for the Tutshill Tornados – kept beating its tiny fist threateningly in the air just as the real Finwick often did at other players. Nora would have to ask where Ginny got these – she’d love to buy a model of Gwenog Jones from the Harpies for Tonks. Tonks’s birthday was in June, after all, and it never hurt to think ahead…
She stopped short. Mid-reach for a tiny Quaffle that had been pried from a player’s hands, she saw something glinting from underneath Ginny’s wardrobe. Heart beating wildly, Nora crawled over to the wardrobe’s edge and reached underneath. Her fingers closed over dust and something small, cool, and solid, and she dragged it out. Very slowly, she opened her fingers.
Lying in her palm was Sirius Black’s ruby phoenix ring.