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Cherry Blossoms by momotwins
Format: Short story
Chapter 1: Dame Fortune
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A/N: Big thank you to kerobberos for helping me with my summary! Thank you!
The small family stood around the open grave, huddled together under a large umbrella and dressed all in black. The father of the little family held tightly to his teenage daughters, who stood sobbing in the circle of his arms, clinging to him as if his presence might ward off the reality of what had happened. The mother stood to one side of them, staring blankly at the coffin as the rain beat down upon it, sounding a final tattoo for the extinguished life of the young man inside it.
Henrietta Habbershaw-Smythe watched her eldest child and only son being lowered into the cold, unfeeling earth, but there were no tears to wipe away for her. Hattie had not cried yet for her dear Humphrey.
Hattie was angry.
At times she was so angry she could not even speak. She was so angry she thought she might burst with it.
He was only twenty-one. His entire life was ahead of him. He’d always been such a good boy, studying hard in school, becoming a prefect, and beginning a career at the Ministry in Magical Law Enforcement. He’d done nothing wrong, nothing. Always on the side of law and order, her darling Humphrey, of fairness and justice. He’d been such a good boy. And what had come of it? His body, found dead outside the Ministry of Magic. No explanation from the Ministry. No 'condolences on your dead son, ma’am.' Nothing. Only Humphrey's body, delivered with a salute by a pair of impassive Hit Wizards.
Hattie had been filled with an incandescent rage since she’d seen Humphrey’s body brought home that day. It burned white hot inside her, keeping all other thought at bay, so that her only focus was to make someone pay for Humphrey’s death. The only problem was that she did not know what to do, where to start. Who to hurt the way she was hurting.
The first shovelful of earth hit the coffin with a wet thump.
“Ashes to ashes,” began the grey-haired little wizard officiating the funeral services.
Hattie watched as the rest of the mound of earth next to the grave was moved by magic, burying her son so he was gone from her sight forever. Her daughters sobbed harder, and she gripped her umbrella more tightly, her knuckles as white as the rage that consumed her.
The small funeral cortège had moved to Hattie’s home, where a table of refreshments had been laid by her daughters. Hattie had supervised the funeral preparations, but she had not touched any of the food herself. The only refreshment she was interested in was a bottle of firewhisky and the oblivion it might bring.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Hattie.” Molly Weasley hugged her longtime friend, sitting down next to her on the sofa.
“Thank you,” Hattie said without emotion.
“Is there anything I can do to help you?” Molly’s brown eyes were kind. Her face seemed to have aged a few more years in the short time since Hattie had seen her at her son Bill’s wedding.
“No,” Hattie said coldly. “What help is there for me? My son is dead.”
Her friend’s voice was full of sympathy and compassion, but it did nothing to cool the rage inside Hattie. She thought about the deep scars on Bill Weasley’s face, and the missing ear on one of the twins, and wondered that Molly was not also filled with an unquenchable fury.
Scars and a missing ear… Molly's husband Arthur loved Muggles, always had, had written the Muggle Protection Act and made sure it was passed. He would never stand for the wanton persecution of Muggles and Muggle-borns that the Death Eaters had always committed, in the first war and now, and Molly had always supported her husband in everything. Molly’s brothers had been killed by Death Eaters almost twenty years ago, and now two of her sons had been maimed. And then there was Arthur's mysterious accident the Christmas before last, when he'd been hospitalized in St. Mungo's for weeks...
A realization settled over Hattie, something she thought she must have always known but had never put much thought into until now, as she'd been trapped in a comfortable little bubble over the years with her precious family.
Molly’s family was fighting You-Know-Who, had been fighting him for over twenty years, husband, brothers, children, and Molly herself.
They were fighting Humphrey’s killers.
She turned to her old friend. “I have to do something to fight them, Molly. I want to help.”
Molly’s eyes slid away from hers, and she said evasively, in a light tone, “Whatever do you mean, Hattie?”
A hot surge of anger flared inside Hattie. “Don’t play stupid with me, Molly Prewett, I’ve known you for over thirty-five years. They killed my son. My baby boy.”
Molly looked at her, stricken, and Hattie continued, lowering her voice so no one would hear them, “I know you’re involved. They killed your brothers, just as they killed my son. You and Arthur are fighters, you would have been involved last time if you hadn’t kept getting pregnant, so I know you’re involved now that your children are grown –”
“They’re not all grown,” Molly hedged. “Ginny’s still in school, and Ron –”
“Molly. I want to help. I’m not a fighter like you, but there must be something I can do. How would you feel if it was Bill’s body that was brought home to you? Or your baby, Ginny, your little girl?” Hattie gave Molly a hard look. “They killed Gideon and Fabian. They scarred Bill. They took George's ear. Arthur nearly died. Don't tell me you're not fighting!”
Molly stared off over Hattie’s shoulder for a moment, and Hattie knew she was looking at her husband, who was chatting kindly with Hattie’s eldest daughter on the other side of the room. Hattie continued to stare stonily at her old school friend, her face set.
“It's dangerous,” Molly said in quiet undertones.
“I don't care.”
“Your daughters do.”
They were silent again for a few moments. Molly seemed to be struggling internally, and Hattie looked away, watching her youngest daughter, Euphemia, sitting across the room next to Reid Akins, a longtime family friend and former schoolmate of Hattie's. Effie was nibbling at a cookie, her eyes still full of tears, and Reid gave her a comforting hug. Effie was barely fourteen, still a baby in her mother's eyes, and Hattie felt a shiver of unease slide through the rage that haunted her. She could not risk their lives, but she had to do something for Humphrey.
She glanced over at her husband. Edwin was holding up better than she was, she knew, and he seemed to feel her gaze and turned to give her a sad nod, as if he could not manage a smile even for his wife. He was a good man. She knew she could speak for both of them in offering to help.
“You and Edwin have a big house,” Molly said finally.
Hattie did not answer this, and simply watched her friend's face.
“There would be plenty of room here… for someone to stay, if they needed a safe place to go…”
Hattie’s shoulders unknotted a little. “If you need a refuge, a safehouse -”
“There’s always need for refuge. There are a lot of Muggleborns out there.” Molly gave Hattie another hug. “I’ll be in touch. Arthur and I have to get home, I’m afraid. We can’t stay any longer.”
“Of course. I hope Ron’s spattergroit is better soon, the poor dear.”
Molly’s eyes slid away from hers, but her expression did not change. “Thank you.”
Hattie sat at her kitchen table with a bottle of wine in front of her, staring at the oil painting of a branch of cherry blossoms that Humphrey had done a few years ago. He had been so talented. It was so unfair that her darling boy was gone, she wanted to scream every time she thought about it. Her hand tightened on the bottle, and she wanted to throw it, see it smash in a shower of splintered glass against the stone wall, but she knew her daughters would be frightened. She could not let them see how she felt.
She didn't want to send them back to school. There were rumors that the new headmaster would be Professor Snape, who had been a shoddy Potions teacher at best. She couldn't imagine he was going to care any more for the welfare of the students as a headmaster than he had as a professor, but it seemed she had little choice. School started in a fortnight, and despite her letters to the Ministry, her daughters were unable to stay home that year.
She had tried to tell herself she was being overprotective, but her son was dead. Was there such a thing as too much protection any more? The girls were safer at home. She wanted them where she could see them at all times. The thought of putting them on the train that year gave her panic attacks. Edwin was going to have to see them off to school by himself.
The bottle was empty. The thought of lifting her wand to refill it seemed too much effort. It was probably for the best; she'd drunk too much already. Hattie dragged herself out of her chair and dropped the empty bottle carefully into the garbage bin before heading upstairs to her room.
Edwin was already in bed, stretched out on his back and staring at the ceiling.
“Were you drinking?” he asked without looking at her.
She climbed into bed and curled up against him, and his arms went around her automatically. He seemed distant still, though, as if holding her had been an afterthought rather than a desire to comfort her.
Hattie looked up at a soft knock on her door frame. Her middle daughter, Adelaide, stood in the open doorway, looking worried.
Hattie patted the bed next to her and Addie climbed in next to her mother, lying at her side with her head pillowed on Hattie's arm.
“Why do we have to go back to school? You said we could stay home this year.”
“It's mandatory,” Hattie said tiredly. “All children with magical blood must go.”
“What they really mean is that all purebloods must go and all Muggle-borns must turn up to be arrested at King's Cross. Do the new laws even consider the girls pureblooded?” Edwin wondered. He hadn't taken his gaze off the ceiling. “I'm not, you know. My mother was Muggle-born.”
“Mum's a pureblood though,” Addie pointed out. “And Grandpa was a half-blood, wasn't he?”
“True. I suppose that makes me nearly pureblooded, not that it matters, really.”
It matters to the Ministry, Hattie thought, but Addie was speaking again.
“No, you're probably still half-blood, Dad. You had two Muggle grandparents.”
“Don't repeat that,” Hattie said sharply. She did not want to discuss blood status. She hated the very thought of it. Her mother and stepfather had moved to France thirty years ago because of blood status and him, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and now it was happening all over again. “If anyone asks you, your father is a pureblood as well.”
“But my friend Romilda said-”
“Adelaide!” Hattie sat up and frowned at her daughter. Addie was fifteen and had the determined self-focus of her age, but she wilted under her mother's angry stare.
“I'm sorry, Mum. I...”
“It isn't safe to talk about your Muggle ancestors,” Hattie said, but she couldn't help softening a little, and gave her daughter a kiss on the forehead. “Go on to bed, dear.”
“Yes, Mum.” Addie slid out of the bed dejectedly. Hattie watched her leave and then rolled over, away from her husband, staring out the window.
It wasn't fair. Why did she have to deal with this... this mess? She just wanted her family back, whole and untouched. Was that really so much to ask? Her heart ached to have Humphrey back. She wanted to hold her son; more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life, she wanted to hold him and feel the breath and life in him again.
She listened in the darkness as Edwin's breathing evened out and slowed with sleep, but it was a long time before sleep took her as well.
Hattie's eldest daughter, Beatrice, was over for dinner the next day, and then every night until Addie and Effie left for school. Beatrice was nineteen, and hadn't been home for dinner every night in years. Whether she was doing so because she was frightened, or because she thought it was making her mother feel better to have a child at home still, Hattie didn't know or care. She wondered if she could talk Beatrice into moving back home until the war was over.
Beatrice was just setting the table one night when there came a loud knock at the door. Beatrice drew her wand and went to answer it. The sight of her daughter with wand drawn to protect their home made Hattie feel both proud and slightly ill. Why was this happening again? It was supposed to have all been over with little Harry Potter, so many years ago. It was supposed to be over.
“Who's there?” Beatrice asked, her voice steady.
“Arthur Weasley. I've come to see your mother, Hattie Habbershaw-Smythe. We've known each other since school.”
“Mum?” Beatrice turned to her questioningly.
She didn't know what she could ask Arthur to prove it was him. She walked over and flung open the door, her wand in hand, so she could look him in the eyes.
“Is it you, then?” she asked rudely.
Arthur seemed rather taken aback by this breach of procedure. “It's me. You... you helped my wife brew a love potion for Thad Peabody in sixth year.”
Hattie couldn't help but smile at that. Surely no one else but Arthur and Molly would know that.
“You did what, Mum?” Beatrice asked from behind her.
“Come in, Arthur.”
He followed her inside, and she dispatched Beatrice to make a pot of tea while they sat on the couch.
As soon as Beatrice was out of earshot, Arthur leaned toward Hattie and said in a low, urgent voice, “Molly tells me you want to help the Order.”
“The Order of the Phoenix. The war effort against You-Know-Who.” Arthur glanced into the kitchen, where Beatrice was noisily laying the tea tray. “There was an incident today at the Ministry, and we've got some people we need to hide straightaway, until we can get them somewhere more permanent and safe. Can you help?”
“Yes, of course,” she said immediately.
“All right. We'll be back in about an hour. Does Edwin know about-”
“I'll tell him,” Hattie interrupted. “Arthur, what can we do?”
“Extra enchantments on your home. Here's a list, Molly wrote it up for you.” He pulled a scrap of parchment from his pocket and handed it to her, glancing into the kitchen again at Beatrice. “Hattie, can Bea keep quiet?”
“She won't say a word. She's been home every night, anyway, ever since... since Humphrey's funeral.”
Arthur was silent for a moment, his face sad, but then he rose, saying, “I'd better be off. We'll be back before long, Hattie. Can you have everything ready?”
She glanced down at the list of spells. Some were beyond her abilities, but with Edwin... “Yes. I'll do my best.”
“Thanks, Hattie.” Arthur put a hand on her shoulder for a moment, and then he was out the door.
Beatrice came into the room. “Did Mr. Weasley leave already?”
Hattie was still staring at the list, but she said, “Beatrice, go and fetch your father, quickly.”
It didn't take her long to bring Edwin up to speed. He didn't look particularly pleased by her plan to aid the war effort, but he looked over the list and agreed to help. Hattie sent Beatrice off to bed, and led her husband outside to cast the spells.
Her husband watched her working on the protective enchantments, and when she'd done all she could, she turned to him.
“Can you do these three? I've never even heard of that last one before.”
“I think I know it.” Edwin took the list, but he was staring at her. “What have you got us into, Hattie?” he asked quietly.
“I'm only doing what's right.”
“For you or for the children?”
“For the greater good,” she snapped. “For Humphrey.”
Edwin's eyes filled with tears. “Hattie...”
“Do shut up and cast the spells, Edwin.”
He raised his wand, and his deep baritone was steady as he invoked the last of the protective magic around their house.
Chapter 2: Heartsick
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Hattie stood outside waiting, her arms folded across her chest. Edwin, beside her, laid a hand on her shoulder, but she shook him off. Beatrice came outside to stand next to them.
“What's going on, Mum?”
Hattie didn't answer. She felt wound into a tight ball, and if she let go for a moment, she might snap with the tension.
“Some people are coming,” Edwin spoke up. “It's... Beatrice, you may not be able to go back to work tomorrow. If this gets out, we might all have to go into hiding.”
“It won't get out,” Hattie said sharply. “They won't be here long, and it's not as if we've met them before. Nobody will suspect they might come here.”
“You don't know that,” Edwin pointed out angrily, and Beatrice interrupted them.
“Stop it! Stop fighting. If I never go back to that stupid job, I don't care. Who is coming?”
“A family who needs our help,” Hattie told her, and the next moment there was a series of loud cracks, and three figures appeared a few yards away. As they hurried closer, Hattie made out Molly Weasley, clutching a little girl who couldn't be more than five years old. Behind her was her eldest son Bill, holding a little boy who stared up at his scarred face with what looked to be awe, and Bill's new wife. She was holding another little girl, this one older than her sister.
“Arthur's on his way with their parents,” Molly said breathlessly. “We thought it was best if we came separately, so he's coming straight from Kingsley's-”
“I'll stay to watch for him,” Edwin said. He was watching the obviously frightened children. Hattie could see her husband softening, and she knew there would be no more talk of whether she was doing the right thing or not.
Hattie led the way inside, and watched as Bill and his wife deposited the children on the sofa. Beatrice immediately went over to coo at the little ones, and Molly tried to prise the little girl's arms from around her neck.
“Fleur, could you-?”
Molly's daughter-in-law came over and took the child from her arms, carrying her over to sit with her siblings.
“She has a way with children, they seemed to love her instantly,” Molly whispered to Hattie.
“The girls probably think she's a princess,” Hattie said, and Molly smiled. She still looked quite frazzled, and Hattie took her hand.
“I don't think I'll feel better until I see Arthur,” she said in a low voice. “I worry every time he goes to work, Hattie. I don't think I can take much more of this. He said Runcorn threatened him today.”
Hattie stared in shock. “But you're purebloods.”
“We're blood traitors,” Molly responded, and there was a note of pride in her voice at the declaration. “And everyone knows we've had Harry to stay every summer and Christmas for years, and you know he's been called Undesirable Number One now.”
“Harry Potter?” Hattie had nearly forgotten Molly's mention that her son was good friends with the Boy Who Lived. She'd been so consumed by Humphrey's death that she'd forgotten almost everything else.
“Well, I think we'd better start considering going into hiding ourselves,” Molly said wearily. “Arthur won't like it, though.”
“He wants to do as much good as he can for as long as he can,” Hattie whispered.
“I love that about him, you know I've always loved that about him.” Molly shook her head. She looked very tired. The war was etching sorrow deep into her best friend's face, and Hattie felt like crying for her. “I just wish I didn't have to love it about him right now, if you see what I mean,” Molly added.
Beatrice was still sitting with the children, and she and Fleur had managed to jolly them into a smile or two. Bill came over to his mother, and Hattie tried not to stare at his once-handsome face. What the war was doing to his mother was nothing compared to what it had done to him.
“We'd better go, Mum. Are you going to wait here for Dad?”
Molly patted his arm. “Yes, of course. You and Fleur can go home if you want, we'll be all right here with Hattie. Thank you, dear.”
Bill turned to Hattie with a grim smile. “If you need anything, Mrs. Habbershaw-Smythe, please Floo me.”
“I will, dear. Go on home.”
She watched him gather up his wife and head outside, and a moment later there was a sharp crack. Hattie turned to Molly.
“He's a good boy.”
“He is,” Molly agreed. Her face relaxed a bit as she smiled.
“Have the children eaten today?” Hattie asked, nodding at the three little ones.
“I tried to feed them, but they wouldn't eat. They're worried for their mother. She's Muggle-born, and she was up for questioning today,” Molly said quietly. The smile was gone now, and the weariness had settled over her again. “She got away, though. Arthur's bringing her and her husband soon. They've been with Kingsley, making arrangements to get them out of the country.”
“Poor little dears,” Hattie murmured, staring at the children. “Molly, who are they?”
“The Cattermoles. I'd never met them before, but Arthur, he knows their father, Reg. He works at the Ministry. Worked, I should say. He won't be able to go back now. Something happened today, Arthur couldn't tell me much about it. It was all so chaotic. He sent me a Patronus this afternoon, and I went and fetched the children from their grandmother's house.”
Hattie turned to her. “No one saw you there?”
“No. I Obliviated the grandmother,” Molly confessed in a whisper. “It was the only way to hide our tracks. I've never done that to a witch before, Hattie. She told me I could, but it... it was horrible.”
“You did what you had to do.”
The door banged open and Arthur Weasley stepped inside. Molly's face crumpled with relief, and she ran to her husband. Behind him was a couple Hattie had never seen before, both quite short and small, with dark hair and terrified expressions. Edwin came in last, closing the door behind them.
Arthur wrapped an arm around his wife and kissed her temple, then turned to Hattie.
“Hattie, this is Reg and Mary Cattermole. Reg, this is a very good friend of ours, Hattie Habbershaw-Smythe. You've met her husband, Edwin.”
Reg nodded nervously, glancing between Hattie and Edwin. His wife didn't seem to have heard a word. She had seen the three children on the sofa, and rushed over to them, hugging them while tears poured down her face.
Molly stepped away from her husband. “Oh, Mary, you've got to be strong for the children-”
“Did you get here all right, Arthur?” Edwin asked quietly. They stepped aside for a bit of privacy, leaving Reg to stare at his wife. Hattie saw Molly had taken control of the situation with Mary Cattermole and her children, and so she followed her husband.
Arthur nodded. “Kingsley's going to arrange for a secret Portkey to take them out of the country tomorrow,” he said in a low voice. “It would have been so much easier if Dumbledore were still alive. It's hard to do a Portkey over this sort of distance, but we'll get them out, don't worry.”
“Where will they go?” Hattie whispered.
“Canada. Reg said they have cousins in Nova Scotia. The war hasn't crossed the Atlantic, it's safe there.”
“Is there anything else we can do to help?” Edwin asked.
Arthur shook his head. “Not at the moment.”
Hattie laid a hand briefly on her husband's arm, and he nodded to her.
Mary Cattermole rose from her children, and everyone turned to her as she took a trembling step toward Hattie. Hattie reached out worriedly to steady her.
“They said I wasn't a witch. They said I stole my magic. I didn’t steal it, I didn’t!” She stared beseechingly at Hattie, her eyes huge and haunted.
“Of course you didn’t,” Hattie said bracingly, giving her a comforting pat on the shoulder. “I don’t believe that nonsense for a moment. How could anyone steal magic?”
“Oh, thank you!” The small woman threw herself into Hattie’s arms with a great sob.
Molly was still sitting on the sofa, but she was smiling now.
“Beatrice, will you...?” Hattie gestured at the children. They didn't need to see their mother crying like this. They already looked frightened again, and the younger girl had tears in her eyes.
Beatrice nodded, and gathered up the littlest Cattermole child into her arms. “Let's go see if we can find some toys for you to play with, shall we? My sisters had lots of lovely toys, they'll probably be in the attic-”
“I don't play with girl toys,” piped up the Cattermoles' son. “Do you have any toys for boys?”
Beatrice flinched visibly, and Hattie closed her eyes for a moment against the pain.
“Yes,” Beatrice's voice came, and though her tone was firm, Hattie could hear the note of sadness in it. “Yes, my brother's old toys will be up there too.”
Hattie looked over at them again, her eyes following as Beatrice led the children upstairs. Edwin stood next to the banister, watching them go. He turned and caught Hattie's eye for a moment, and she nodded to her husband. He gave her a small smile, and she knew he understood now why she'd done this. They were real people, a real family, suffering as her own family had done, and they needed help.
She led Mary over to the sofa and sat her down. Molly handed the still-sobbing woman a handkerchief, and then stood next to Hattie, watching Mary dissolve into tears. They exchanged a concerned glance. Hattie wasn't entirely sure what had happened during Mary's questioning, or if she even wanted to know what had happened. She didn't think she could stand any more horror.
Reg Cattermole was looking nervously around the house, shifting his weight back and forth.
“Thank you,” he blurted out. “Thank you for taking us in. Today has been... it's just been such a horrible day, I don't know...”
Edwin clapped a hand on Reg's shoulder. “It's all going to be all right now, Mr. Cattermole-”
“Oh, call me Reg. We're going to be staying in your home tonight, we should be on a first-name basis. We can't thank you enough for helping us.”
Edwin levelled a glance at Reg. “We are happy to help. We've got Muggle family of our own, and we don't agree with the Ministry's stance on Muggle-borns.”
Hattie smiled proudly at her husband. He may have been worried about getting involved with the war, but he had risen to the occasion.
Reg Cattermole sniffed and wiped at his nose with the back of his hand. “I thought I was going to lose my wife today. And then Mafalda gave me that sweet and... I thought Mary would be in Azkaban, and I wouldn't be there to help her. You just... you have no idea, you can't have...”
“Come on, Reg, have a seat.” Edwin steered their guest toward the sofa and pressed a glass into his hand. As he crossed to the whiskey decanter on the sideboard, Mary Cattermole suddenly looked up.
“There were two Regs. How could that happen? I saw them, there was Reg with me, but then there was Reg again... I don't understand.” She looked rather dazed. “It was all so... so fast, one minute I was being questioned and the next, Runcorn, he attacked Umbridge. He told me to leave the country...”
“It couldn't have been,” Arthur said. Hattie glanced over at him and saw the shock on his face. “I saw him in the Atrium, but it couldn't have been Runcorn, he laid evidence against Dirk Cresswell only last week. He wouldn't have freed another Muggle-born when he's so busy putting them in Azkaban.”
“But he did!” Mary said shrilly. “He did, I saw him! He was with the second Reg, I saw him! He submitted me for questioning, and then he said he had a change of heart!”
“It's all right, my dear, you don't need to talk about it,” Hattie said, trying to keep her tone soothing. Mary Cattermole seemed to be in a fragile state of mind, and with three small children upstairs, Hattie wanted to keep their mother from breaking.
“But I do! I do need to talk about it. I don't – I don't understand what happened... Runcorn was talking to that little witch as if they were friends, and he was acting so strangely and it sounded like – like she called him Harry...”
Hattie frowned in surprise, and glanced over at Arthur and Molly. Molly's eyes were wide and fearful, and she was looking at her husband. Arthur gave a tiny shake of his head as if to silence her, looking wary. Hattie's eyes narrowed.
Edwin did not appear to have noticed anything. He was watching Mary with sympathy. Reg was sniffling again, and hadn't seen the silent exchange between the Weasleys.
Mary went on in bewildered tones, “I thought her name was Mafalda, but Runcorn, he called her something odd-”
“Hermione,” whispered Molly.
Arthur's eyes slid to his wife, and his expression clearly said she should stop talking immediately. Hattie took control of the conversation.
“Well, don't you worry about any of that now,” she said briskly, giving Mary a pat on the shoulder. “You're safe here, and tomorrow you'll be off to a new life in Canada, away from the danger.”
Hattie glanced up at Arthur and caught his eye, then nodded at the kitchen. He followed her in, with Molly behind him, still looking frightened. Edwin watched them go, but he stayed with the Cattermoles.
“Oh, Arthur,” Molly whispered tearfully as soon as the kitchen door closed behind them, throwing herself into his arms. “It was them! They're all right!”
“It must be,” Arthur murmured, kissing the top of her head. “The real Runcorn would never have helped those Muggle-borns to escape. And Ron must have been disguised as Reg, I thought he was acting strangely, he wouldn't look me in the eye-”
“What is going on?” Hattie demanded. “Ron? I thought he had spattergroit?”
Molly wiped her eyes on the back of her hand as she drew away from Arthur's embrace. “No, he doesn't. That's our ghoul, disguised as Ronnie. He went with Harry-”
“Oh dear,” Hattie whispered.
“And another friend of theirs, Hermione, they're on some sort of mission for Dumbledore, they wouldn't tell us anything...” Molly took a deep breath. “You mustn't repeat this to anyone, Hattie, not even Edwin. It's too dangerous.”
“Of course not.” Hattie smiled in wonder. “Your son is helping Harry Potter to defeat You-Know-Who!”
“We're all helping,” Arthur said firmly. “Even you, Hattie.”
She was a bit taken aback at that. It was such a small thing, to give the Cattermoles shelter for the night, until they could escape the Ministry's grasp. It was nothing to what others were doing, had done, to bring down You-Know-Who. It didn't seem like help. It didn't seem like enough. She couldn't take it in just then, so she returned to the subject.
“They broke into the Ministry? That's just... just mad. Why would they risk it?” Hattie shook her head. It seemed almost suicidally dangerous, and to do it simply to liberate a handful of Muggle-borns, noble as that was... A symbolic act? But no one would know it was them, so it would not get the attention they would have desired, if that was their reasoning. She doubted the incident would even see the light of day, with the way the Ministry was leaning on the Daily Prophet.
Arthur appeared to have followed the same train of thought. He rubbed his chin, his brow furrowed. “They must have been after something that they thought was in the Ministry. They went up to Dolores Umbridge's office – Mad-Eye's enchanted eye was stolen from her and only Harry would have done that. And then they went down to the courtrooms, but I can't think what they were after in there.” He shook his head. “Whatever they were doing, I hope they were successful.”
“I do too,” Hattie said softly.
Arthur glanced at his watch. “We'd better go, Hattie. We got away without being followed, but if we're gone too long, they'll come looking. Runcorn – Harry – told me they were watching me. I thought he was threatening me, but if he wasn't really Runcorn...”
Molly's eyes widened. “For goodness' sake, Arthur-”
“I know, dear.” Arthur grabbed her hand, and she waved at Hattie as they hurried out the back door.
Hattie watched them go abstractedly, thinking about Harry Potter. His entire life seemed to have revolved around fighting You-Know-Who. How could Arthur say that simply giving a family of Muggle-borns shelter for a night was helping the war? It seemed so small a thing... She wondered what Humphrey would have thought of it.
She tried to shake off the memories of her son, and went to tend the Cattermoles with her husband.
Chapter 3: Dawn
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The overcrowded house was jarring to Hattie's senses after a morning with the three Cattermole children. She'd quite forgotten what having children that young around was like. They had bounced back quickly from their terrors over their mother's fate, and were running around shrieking with laughter. It was a joy to see them, because she loved children, but she wasn't used to it these days the way she'd once been. Eventually she just left it to Reg and Mary, and Beatrice, who had happily stayed home from work to play with the little ones, and fled to her garden for some solitude.
She walked through the carefully tended pathways, making her way to the back corner of the property, where a wooden swing sat in the middle of the small orchard. There were several species of mature fruit trees, and an arbor with grape vines. It was Hattie's favourite spot in the garden.
The swing was warm from the sun, and she curled her legs up as she sat. The initial displacement set the swing rocking, but it soon stilled, and she sat motionless, staring at the cherry tree they'd planted when Humphrey was born.
Its branches were bare already, earlier than usual for this time of year. The autumn had already taken its vitality, faded it to a wintry barrenness that seemed out of place in the small orchard. The apple tree next to it was still full of the vigour of summer. Humphrey's cherry tree was bereft of life while the rest of the garden thrived. It echoed in Hattie's mind with the unfairness of it all.
She turned at the sound of heavy footsteps, frowning at a sudden jolt of fear. She'd left her wand inside. Her face cleared as she recognized the figure approaching. They'd been friends for so long, she almost couldn't remember a time when she hadn't had him around. He was like a brother to her after all these years, and despite occasional teasing about running off with her, she knew he thought of her as a little sister.
“Aren't you going to ask me a question so you know it's me?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Should I?”
“I suppose no one would bother impersonating me.” She regarded him. It was him, she knew it, but that niggling doubt that seemed everywhere since the return of You-Know-Who had grown worse since Humphrey's death, and now she even doubted herself. He was an Obliviator. It was entirely possible that someone might want to impersonate him.
“Go on, have me prove it,” he said steadily, apparently seeing the struggle in her eyes.
There were plenty of things she could ask him that no one else would know, plenty of secrets between them. “What did you ask me the night Humphrey was born?”
“Not to make me godfather. But you did anyway, you devil.” He dropped down in the swing next to her, smiling his familiar cocky smile, though it didn't reach his eyes. “Afternoon, Hattie.”
“Good afternoon, Reid.”
Reid Akins followed her gaze to the cherry tree. “Are you all right, Hattie?” he asked quietly. “Beatrice said you'd been out here for hours.”
She just gave him a look. He didn't bother asking again, but gave the swing a nudge with his toe, setting it swaying gently. Hattie tucked her feet up a bit, and Reid took her hand. She absently gave his hand a pat as it covered hers.
“How are you, Reid? I haven't seen you in over a fortnight.”
He gave a one-shouldered shrug. “Had a bit of a blow-up in the Ministry this morning with my ex-wife.”
“Which one?” Hattie asked distractedly, still staring at the tree.
“Oh.” She couldn't seem to bring Reid's last wife to mind, but she supposed it didn't matter now anyway, as they'd divorced only a few months after their marriage. “I'm sorry, dear.”
“It's not important.” He paused for a moment, then gave her hand a squeeze. “I'm worried about you. Edwin's worried too, you know.”
“Have you two been talking about me behind my back?” she demanded, stung.
Reid gave her a look. “Of course we have. You've not been yourself since Humphrey died, and you won't talk to either of us.”
“I don't want to talk about it,” Hattie said angrily.
“Well that's too bloody bad, because you need to talk about it.” Reid glanced at the cherry tree again, and went on, “Someone very smart told me something when Cecilia died, and I couldn't bring myself to keep going: The universe doesn't give you anything you can't handle.”
Hattie threw him a look. “I told you that.”
“And you were perfectly correct. And now I'm telling you the same thing. The universe won't give you anything you can't handle, Hattie. No matter how miserable you are, how awful everything is, no matter how much you wish you could live another life than the one you have, you will get through it. Things will get better.”
She didn't want to hear that. It sounded an empty platitude now, and she wished she'd never said it, irritation filling her at Reid for throwing her own words back at her. How he'd remembered them all these years... She pulled her hand out of his and crossed her arms over her chest. “It's not the same thing as when you lost Cecilia. It's different when it's a child.”
Reid turned a look on her that cut straight to her heart. “Humphrey was four years older than Cecilia was," he said quietly. "He was a grown man-”
“He was my child,” she said savagely, unable to think of those four years that Humphrey had gotten but Cecilia had not. They had both died too young, far too young.
“He'll always be your child,” Reid said. “But he was a grown man when he died. You can't blame yourself for not protecting him. And you can't keep the girls wrapped in cotton wool forever, my dear.”
Hattie didn't say anything, and he went on, “You're a wonderful mother, and you and Edwin raised him to be a good young man. But you've got to lay him to rest, Hattie. You can't keep being angry like this. When are you going to let yourself shatter?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” she said, affecting a light tone.
Reid was obviously not convinced. “Promise me you'll think about what I said. Let it out, or it'll break you.”
“All right.” She didn't want to think about what he'd said just now. She knew it would come back to her later and she would have to process it, but for now, she simply couldn't absorb it.
He slung an arm around her, and Hattie rested her head against his shoulder. The breeze blew the swing, setting it rocking gently again.
“We could run away to Tahiti together,” Reid offered.
“I think we all know you can't go back to Tahiti,” she retorted in a light voice. “Was that marriage even legal?”
Hattie smiled and patted his arm, grateful for his jokes.
Reid flicked his wand at the cherry tree, which burst into full blossom. The smile dropped off Hattie's face, and she stared at the tree, drawing in a ragged breath.
She knew it was just an illusion, that it wouldn't last. But the sight of the formerly bare branches covered in rosy pink blooms made her heart lurch. Spring bringing life back after the autumn's death. Comfort for her aching soul.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“I do love you, you know.” Reid heaved a sigh. “I only want you to be happy. I'm worried about you.”
“I love you too, dear.” She put her head back down on his shoulder, her eyes still on the tree, and they rocked a while together in silence.
It was nearly dinnertime before Arthur returned, with a tall Auror whom he introduced as Kingsley Shacklebolt, another Order member. Kingsley had an empty, half-crushed tin of peas in his hand, and Hattie knew that was the Portkey to Nova Scotia for her guests.
She didn't know how they were going to do it. They could take nothing with them but the clothes on their backs and the small bag Molly had packed for them at the poor Obliviated grandmother's home. Starting all over in a new country, a new home, with three small children, sounded tragically awful to Hattie. She wasn't sure she could do it.
Then she pictured Humphrey's grave, and she realized she wouldn't have hesitated. If it would have saved her son, she would have left everything behind, taken her family and run.
She wished she had.
So she did the best she could, wrapping up some old clothes and robes for them to bring along, and parceling up the toys the three Cattermole children had been playing with. Kingsley shrunk the packages down so they fit in Mary Cattermole's handbag, and taught her how to recover them when she arrived in Canada.
Mary was crying again, though she seemed otherwise recovered today. They still didn't know who had saved them at the Ministry, but it appeared Mary and Reg had decided it didn't matter after all. Hattie rather agreed with them, though she wished she could tell them it had been Harry Potter himself.
“Thank you so much,” Mary said tearfully, hugging Hattie. “For everything you've done.”
“If I could do more, I would,” Hattie told her with absolute sincerity. “I hope everything goes well in your new home.”
“We're together, that's all that matters.”
Hattie smiled at her and shooed her out the door. Beatrice was herding the children, telling them about Portkeys. They'd never travelled by anything but Floo powder before yesterday, and now they'd gone by Side-Along Apparition and were about to take their first Portkey – and an international one at that. It all sounded a grand adventure the way Beatrice described it, smiling and giggling conspiratorially with the children. They were smiling eagerly, and even Reg seemed taken by Beatrice's words.
“She's such a sweet girl,” Mary said then, looking at Beatrice. “You must be very proud of her.”
“I am, thank you,” Hattie agreed, smiling at her daughter. She turned her attention back to Mary. “Are you sure there's nothing else you need?”
Mary shook her head. “No. We'd better get going.”
“Two minutes,” Kingsley announced in his deep, smooth voice.
Mary hurried over to the children, and a moment later they were all holding the crushed tin. Reg Cattermole locked eyes with Hattie and nodded solemnly at her, and then they were gone.
Kingsley turned to Arthur, who'd been standing back near the house, away from the commotion. “We ought to leave separately, Arthur, just to be safe. Are you headed back to work?”
“Yes, I wasn't quite finished for the evening. Better stop by the Burrow for some supper, though, or Molly will have a panic attack,” Arthur said ruefully.
“Goodbye, Hattie. We'll be in touch if we need your house again,” Kingsley said, holding out a hand. She clasped it without hesitation.
“We'll be waiting.”
Once Kingsley had vanished from the edge of Hattie's protective enchantments, she turned to Arthur.
“Have you... Have you heard anything? Harry hasn't been caught, has he?”
Arthur smiled slightly, and she could see the pride in his eyes. “He's still free. Out there somewhere, doing whatever he can to stop You-Know-Who.”
“How do you know?” she whispered urgently, not wanting Beatrice to overhear her doubts and fears. “How do you know he's not just hiding?”
“Because I know Harry,” he said simply. “And he won't rest until it's all over, and he's won.”
“What if...” She couldn't quite voice the thought, but Arthur seemed to understand instantly.
“He'll win, Hattie,” he told her with quiet conviction. “You wouldn't believe some of the things Harry's been through. He doesn't just survive. He wins. He will win this as well.”
“He's so young.” She glanced over at her daughter. Beatrice was two years older than Harry Potter, and Hattie couldn't imagine her going out to hunt down the worst Dark wizard in a hundred years. How could someone so young take on so much?
Arthur reached an arm out to hug her. “Have faith, Hattie.”
She nodded, but she couldn't quite form words around her thoughts, so she settled for hugging him back.
Arthur left then, promising to bring Molly over to visit sometime soon, and Hattie went back inside, arm-in-arm with Beatrice.
Edwin was home shortly for their own supper, and Hattie spent the evening feeling rather dazed and out of sorts. The house seemed overly quiet, their conversation overly formal, and even Beatrice didn't have much to say. Hattie didn't have much to say either. She was thinking.
And what came as a relief, she wasn't thinking only of Humphrey.
Tonight her thoughts centred on another boy caught up in a war that should have been too big for him. Harry Potter was such a different sort of boy. Harry had a luck about him, something special. She was starting to think the Weasleys had it, too. Harry was out fighting, even if she couldn't understand how, but she trusted Arthur. And Arthur knew Harry Potter like he knew his own children.
Have faith, Arthur had told her. She wanted to have faith. Harry had done it before, she knew, and she clung to that thought. He'd done it before, and he would do it again. She supposed what she really had faith in, in all this, was Arthur's assessment of Harry's character.
He was so young, though. Far too young to have to face all this. No parents. No family. She sighed heavily as she cleared the table. That poor boy. No one should have the sort of life he'd had.
At least Humphrey had grown up happy and loved. He'd had friends, and a promising career. There'd been a few girlfriends at school. All of that before had made her very sad, that he'd never gotten a chance to finish his life, but now she felt comforted that the life he'd lived had been good. He'd had happiness and love - it was far more than some had. There'd been very little sorrow in Humphrey's young life, and that was something she could be grateful for.
Edwin went off to hide in his office, and Beatrice went off to do whatever it was young women got up to when they weren't out with their friends, leaving Hattie alone in the kitchen. She opened the cabinets, but the bottle of wine that had often been her friend since Humphrey's death did not seem appealing tonight.
She wound up outside, her footsteps leading her where they often did these days: to the garden swing near Humphrey's cherry tree.
The moon was high in the cloudless night, and it gave everything in the gardens a silver cast. She stopped and stared at the cherry tree. Reid's spell had faded, and it had faded back to its previous state.
She could have renewed the spell, cast the charm again to fake youth and beauty in the autumn's barrenness, but it was too late to fool herself again. The cherry tree was already dying.
Hattie swayed on the spot, staring at the tree. The thoughts that had been trotting through her head all day, of Humphrey, and Harry Potter, of the Cattermoles, and Reid's words, swirled together inside her, and she didn't know how to keep it down any longer.
She sat down hard on the swing and buried her face in her apron, sobbing finally for her son. She cried until she thought her heart would break all over again, and then she felt arms around her, and she curled into her husband, her tears soaking his shirt.
Edwin murmured wordlessly at her, and the nonsense sounds seemed to help. She spent her tears on his shoulder, and then he held her there, watching the cherry tree, until the dawn.