Chapter 1 : Discovery On A Dreary Night
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A gasp of breath
a sudden death:
the tale begun.
-Dean Koontz (The Book of Counted Sorrows)
Hermione walked home from the police station in the middle of the night, feeling as though she were walking in a nightmare. There was a fine mist of cold rain coming down now, running down her face and mixing with her hot tears as she trudged through the quiet, wet streets. She held her arms across her chest, shivered, and turned the last corner that would lead her to her home in Sutton, quickening her pace. Hermione's sweet neighbor, Mrs. Dally, was currently watching her house (and the young girl who slumbered inside of it) while Hermione went about the grim business she'd been called to, and was probably worried nearly sick by now.
"I'm afraid we need you to come down to the station. There's been an accident..."
Hermione could still hear that first ring of the telephone in her ears. That cold sound she would forever hate from this day forward, the sound that had yanked her from her life of comfort and happiness and thrust her into a strange, dark, new life. A life without her husband, a life without her child's father...a life alone.
Pushing the gate to her fence open, she moved passed her velvety emerald garden of rosebushes and towards the front door of her quaint home, stopping before the porch steps to glance up to the second window on the right. The window of the room that belonged to her young daughter. She would have to tell her. How was she supposed to do this? How did people do this? Hermione had no idea what to do now. She had dealt with death before in her life, but it had always come with a shout, with a banner proudly waving and alerting her to it's presence. Tonight death had come quietly, sneakily, creeping it's way into her life and stealing away her sweet husband like a thief in the night.
Taking a few slow breaths, Hermione tried to calm herself and get herself together before going inside. She didn't want to worry Mrs. Dally. She had to be strong now. She would not lose it in front of her daughter, or anyone else for that matter. She had to be the mother and the father from now on, and she could therefore not break down and give herself over to the black sorrow that was trying so desperately to overtake her. Wiping her tears away, she took one last deep breath, and pushed her way into the cozy warmth of her home.
Dropping her scarf and keys on the table in the foyer, she hung her jacket on the rack and moved towards the living room. A soft, golden light led her way, telling her where to locate that sweet neighbor of hers. Hermione padded silently through the warmly decorated hallways of her home, forcing herself to avoid the happy photos that smiled at from their hangings. Mrs. Dally, a plump, endearing woman in her sixties, was rocking slowly in the corner rocking chair, knitting and humming softly to herself. The house was otherwise silent. So silent.
"Hermione, dear," Mrs. Dally said upon Hermione's entrance.
"Mrs. Dally. Th-thank you for staying with her, I really appreciate it," Hermione said more shakily than she'd been hoping for.
"Oh, it's nothing! Is...is everything alright?"
After a slight hesitation, Hermione said, "Yes."
Mrs. Dally eyed her wisely, frowning, seemingly sensing the lie. "Are you quite sure?"
"Yes, thank you." Hermione forced a smile. "I relieve you of your duty."
Mrs. Dally smiled back, shaking her head. "Duty, goodness. She's such an angel. Even more so when she's asleep and not asking any questions," she added with a laugh.
"Thank you again," Hermione said, helping the older woman up and to the exit.
After closing the door behind Mrs. Dally, Hermione rested her back against it, and could not stop the tears from coming then. She covered her face, holding in the sobs that wanted to break free, and sank to the floor slowly, all the strength and fight going out of her in one terrible wave. The silence of the house was deafening; Hermione felt smothered by it, like she couldn't breathe. She bent forward, clutching her stomach and bracing her hand against the wall, and let one dry sob escape her, hoping her daughter would sleep through it.
Oh, Eddie! How do I do this without you? I can't do it! I can't do this alone!
On her knees there in her foyer, Hermione found herself wishing, for the first time in a very long time, for the company of her old friends. Ron, Neville, Luna, Ginny...and Harry, too. It had been more than ten years since she'd seen any of them - with the exception of Neville, whom she once saw in a shop in Muggle London, but did not approach.
After the war, everyone had drifted, everyone had changed. The closeness had dissipated between them all, and everyone had gone their separate ways, for the most part. Hermione had taken a job in London, a Muggle job as librarian at a university, and there she had met Edward. Her sweet Eddie. He was the youngest professor of psychology that the university had ever seen, and the most handsome too, according to the staff and female students. With dark blonde hair and bright blue eyes, an easy smile and a boyish charm, Hermione hadn't been able to refuse his advances for long. Back then she'd been so hungry for love too; as a result, their courtship had been reckless, thoughtless even, and they'd married only after four dates.
But he was a good man, and Hermione had always known it. With him she would be safe, with him she would know only happiness, pleasure. And she had. They'd had a wonderful marriage, and their love had produced a beautiful child. A daughter named Ava. Hermione had come across the name in a book once, a favorite book, from when she was very young. In the book, Ava June was a heroine who could charm all creatures that flew, all birds and butterflies alike, anything that had wings really. The name Ava actually meant "like a bird" Hermione discovered, and upon learning she and Eddie were due with a daughter, she had pushed hard for the name right from the start. Eddie had of course agreed, suggesting only that she be Ava May, for the month she was set to join the world. And so Ava May Brighton she became.
Gripping the edge of the long table that ran along the wall of her foyer, Hermione dragged herself up to her feet again. Her legs felt like jelly, her stomach was knotted sickly, heavy with sorrow, and her head was throbbing from the effort of holding in her tears. She grabbed her keys up again, locked her daughter inside the house, and walked the short distance of two blocks to a nearby pub called Bastian's. Hermione had long suspected it to be secretly run by wizards (judging from the looks of the patrons alone), and had therefore kept her distance from it thus far...but tonight she felt like she was being pulled to it, almost against her will. She pulled the heavy oak door of the bar open and stepped inside.
Candles and gas lamps flickered from every table and corner, bathing the bar in a soft golden glow, and upon noticing there were no televisions or technology at all in the entire place, Hermione knew she had been right in her assumption.
Marching straight up to the barkeep, she said, "I need an owl. A fast one."
A thin, wiry man with graying hair and flat blue eyes stared at her placidly, nonplussed. "An owl?" he said.
"Yes, and owl. And I need a parchment to write the short letter on as well," she said.
The man continued to stare at her, his blue eyes both knowing and skeptical at the same time. "Miss, I don't know what-"
"Look, I'm a witch, alright?" Hermione said quietly, glancing about her worriedly to see if perhaps she hadn't read the signs correctly after all. "My name is Hermione Brighton, but I was once-"
"Granger! You're Hermione Granger!" the barkeep exclaimed a bit too loudly. Several patrons turned in their seats to get a glimpse of the famous witch. "I thought you looked familiar!"
"Yes, well," Hermione said, pursing her lips and avoiding the surrounding gazes, "that's good. Now, I need an owl, I've an important letter to send immediately."
"Right. Here," the man said, handing her a parchment and quill, "and I'll be back with that owl straight away."
"Thank you," Hermione said. With a sigh she put the quill to the paper, not sure just what she was doing yet. Within a minute, she was ready to actually go through with it.
If this letter should find you, please come quickly. I know it's been a long time, but well...I need you. Your mother has the address I believe. Thank you.
She didn't know what else to say. She hadn't spoken to Ginny in so long, she had so very much to say to her, but she figured she would save it for when Ginny showed up...if she did at all. She stuffed the short letter into an envelope and passed it back to the barkeep, who had returned with a tiny snowy owl that didn't look that different from Harry's old owl Hedwig, Hermione thought.
The memory of Harry flushed her with fresh waves of longing and sadness. It had been so very long since she'd seen him as well...
"Will that be all ma'am?" the barkeep asked, tying the note to the owl's leg securely.
"What? Oh, yes. Yes, thank you."
"Pleasure to finally meet you," he added, smiling kindly.
"Yes," Hermione said absentmindedly.
She threw a few pounds on the counter, realizing after the fact that they were not worth anything in the barkeep's world, and walked out into the night once more. The rain had stopped, but Hermione still felt chilled to her bones. Hollow even. She walked home quickly, her heels clack-clack-clacking loudly on the pavement beneath her. The moon above her was full, swollen, and glowing not softly or beautifully but menacingly, malignantly. It was a bad night. A very bad night.
Back in her house, Hermione went to the kitchen to put on some tea. She flicked the light above the oven on and left the others off as she filled a kettle with water at the sink. The soft light illuminated the immediate area, lending the light pine floors and cabinets a warmth but allowing the black, velvet shadows to remain in all corners of the room. Hermione put the kettle onto the island stovetop, and lit the burner beneath it. She sighed. She thought of her friends. She wondered where they all were, if they had found happiness, even briefly like she herself had. She wondered if they had any children of their own. Even as that thought crossed her mind, she heard a shuffling noise upstairs. She looked up to the high white ceiling, and wondered if Ava was awake.
She did not want to tell her daughter tonight. She wanted to at least have one night to gather her courage. But Ava would want to know where her Daddy was.After listening acutely for a good three minutes, Hermione heard no other sounds of movement from the upstairs, and felt relief wash over her. The kettle began to whistle softly, then louder, then louder, and Hermione rose and took it off it's flame. She was pouring a cup when-
Hermione jumped and spilled the boiling water over her hand and wrist. She hissed in pain and set the heavy kettle down quickly, turned and switched the faucet on, and plunged her wounded hand under the cold flow.
"Hermione!" Ginny cried, coming to her friend's side.
"Ginny, I didn't expect you so soon!" Hermione said, wincing in pain.
"I only live an hour away from here."
"Ah," Hermione said, not looking at the witch, but focusing on her hand.
"Here, let me," Ginny offered.
She pulled Hermione around to face her, pulled her wand out and flicked it lazily over Hermione's burn. She didn't even mutter a spell. The pain retreated instantly, and Hermione sighed in relief.
"Thank you," Hermione said, rubbing the spot where the wound had been not a moment ago.
"It's nothing. Where's your wand?"
Hermione looked down. "It's...it's upstairs."
Ginny put a hand under Hermione's chin, forcing her to meet her eyes. "Hello? I haven't seen you in more than a decade! What's the matter with you?! Come here!"
She pulled Hermione into a hug, and Hermione lost it then. She began to sob into Ginny's shoulder, and then pulled back abruptly. "Ginny, c-could you do a silencing charm p-please?" she asked through her tears.
Ginny looked perplexed but merely muttered, "Muffiliato."
Hermione leaned against her friend again and sobbed once more, letting it all out. Ginny held her and stroked her back, she did not ask what was the matter, only held her and rocked her and murmured endearments.
Upstairs, sitting atop her mother and father's ivory bedspread (which was undisturbed), Ava May Brighton cried silently into her hands. She'd come into her parent's room after having a terrible nightmare, only to find they were both gone. The nightmare had been horrible. Her father had been driving down a black street, and then the street had become a river, and then two winged monsters, a red one and a white one, had swooped down and crushed her father's car with him inside.
Ava had awakened coated in a thick sweat, shaking, frightened like she was a baby again. Sure, she was only ten years old, but it was a long time ago that she's asked her mother for a night light when she went to bed. Ava prided herself on her maturity, and was both terrified and humiliated now at her shaken state. She'd been able to calm herself successfully there in her mother's room for awhile...until she'd heard that lone, desperate wail from her mum.
It proved to Ava that the dream had been real. Perhaps it hadn't been two winged monsters that had been her father's end (for monsters were not real, that's what her daddy always said), but something had happened to her father, and she knew it for a fact. She'd had dreams before that had come true, and she knew in her heart the moment she heard that cry from her mum in the kitchen that her father was gone. She didn't know how she knew, she just knew.
The anger and frustration in her boiled up into her chest, shoving out the sorrow, and soon she was up on the bed, thrashing about and tearing at her nightgown helplessly. She leapt off the four-poster, and went to her parent's dresser. She began picking up her father's old belongings: his cologne, his watch, a tie of his that lay draped over the glossy oak finish. She threw them each in turn to the plush carpet, doing little damage to either the objects or her rage. She went to the closet, began yanking her father's clothes off their hangers, ripping them down in her little fists ferociously. The hangers spun and clinked on the rod, relinquishing the dead man's things to the small child.
Ava fell to her knees, and buried her face in one of her father's shirts, inhaling the scent of him. She loved the scent of her father, it comforted her unlike anything else in the world. She wiped her hot tears on his sleeve, and felt fresh tears forming in her eyes when she realized he would never wear this shirt again, his strong arms would never fill this sleeve. She threw the shirt away behind her, and dug deeper into the closet. She grabbed her father's shoes and threw them behind her as well, haphazardly. She yanked the whole rack up and dragged it out, whipped it to her side as best she could, spilling some of her mother's dainty high heels along with her daddy's leather shoes.
She froze then. Before her, nestled deep in the shadowy closet, was a wooden chest, maybe two feet tall and three foot wide on all sides. Ava had never seen it before. It had always been hidden behind the shoe rack. It beckoned to her for some reason. She crawled into the closet on her knees, and examined the small latch on the front of the trunk. It flipped open without any effort from her, and Ava took a deep breath as she lifted the lid.
She wanted to find something wonderful. Some piece of her father she could keep, something more than mundane objects that could never add up to what he had meant to her. She wanted to find something magical, something beautiful, something wondrous. She bent over the chest, wishing there were more light coming from the adjoining bathroom night light that was plugged in above her parent's sink. Even as the thought crossed her mind, a flicker of silver-blue light sprang up inside the chest, then extinguished. Ava reached in where she had seen the light at, and closed her fingers around a long wooden box. She pulled it out.
She backed out of the closet, pulling her bunched nightgown out from under her. She sat cross-legged with the box in her lap, breathing hard. Downstairs her mother was silent. Ava opened the box.
She found nothing like what she'd been hoping for. There was a long wooden stick inside with ivy carvings on it, and a piece of paper folded beneath it. Ava pulled the stick out and looked at it. It was pretty, and it seemed to her that it had some deeper meaning, some special purpose...but Ava did not know what it was. She put it down and pulled the paper out. Beneath the paper was something more like what Ava had been hoping for. There were three pictures beneath the paper, but they were unlike any pictures Ava had ever seen before.
Smiling excitedly, she jumped up and padded quickly to the bathroom, closing the door softly behind her. She sat on the toilet, placed the stick on the counter by the sink, put the piece of paper next to the stick, and focused her attention on the photos.
In the first photo was her mother. She was young, maybe only a year or two older than Ava was now, and next to her stood two boys, one with red hair and blue eyes, and the other with black hair and really green eyes. All three of them were smiling. They were dressed in school robes, gold and red, and they were each holding sticks like the one Ava had just found in their hands. They look like wands, Ava thought vaguely.
None of that was what had excited Ava so much, what had excited her was the fact that the picture was moving. Her mother and the boys were waving to the camera, the sleeves of their robes blowing in a far away and long ago breeze, their smiles growing wider and wider until CLICK! the picture went back to it's original frame. Over and over the picture played maybe one whole minute of film, before shifting back to the start again.
Ava stared, mesmerized. She moved onto the next photo. In this one, her mother was nestled between a whole group of people, most with red hair and freckles. The black-haired boy was there, as was the first ginger-haired one, but now there was two other ginger-haired boys, twins it seemed, and a ginger-haired girl too. The girl had her arm around Ava's mum, a big smile on her face. Two older people were there as well, standing behind the children. The woman waved happily, then slapped at one of the twins, a frown overcoming her face until CLICK! the picture reset and she was smiling again. Ava's mum was standing very close to the ginger-haired boy with blue eyes. Ava squinted hard and pulled the picture up to her face, her eyes growing wide when she saw her mum was actually holding hands with the boy. Ava smiled and blushed slightly. He was cute; his smile was goofy and charming.
The third picture was different from the other two. Her mum was older in this one; she looked almost the same now as she did in the moving picture. She was standing in a garden, in the autumn, and leaves were falling all around her. She stood with the black-haired boy, who was now a man in this photo, and they were standing very close. He was very good-looking too, like the red-headed boy only in a different way. Ava's mum leaned her head on the man's shoulder, and he put his arm around her waist. He kissed her forehead and then CLICK!.
Ava stared at this third picture the longest, trying to think if she'd ever seen this man before. Mum didn't have any brothers or cousins, so he wasn't likely family, and they didn't look anything alike anyway. And there was something in the way her mum leaned into him, it made Ava think that this man had meant to her what Daddy had meant to her. Ava thought her mum loved this man. And from the look of him, this man had loved her mum too.
Ava finally put the pictures down into a pile in her lap, and reached for the piece of paper. She unfolded it, and found it was a letter. She knew it must be very personal, something her mum wanted to keep private, if she went to all the trouble hiding it that she had...but Ava read it anyway.
I knew you would come. I knew you would want to talk about it some more, but I think it would only have been meaningless torture for us both. It would've served no purpose. And so I decided to leave, Hermione. I don't know where I'll go, but I can't stay here and watch while you marry another man. You can't know how painful this is for me, but we both know it's the right thing to do. You're promised to another man, and as if that weren't bad enough, that man is my best friend. I haven't told him anything, and I won't before I go either. If you feel he should know, then you can tell him. That's up to you. But know that I never intend to set eyes on you again, or touch you again the way I did last night. I want to, God help me, more than anything. But I can't, and you know why.
No matter what happens though, I want you to know...I love you, Hermione. I love you so much I can't breathe as I write this letter, knowing that I'm sealing myself off from your love. I will never forget any of bit last night, not one tiny word or one single touch. Never. I will carry you with me always, wherever I go. I hope you can understand why I've done what I've done, and I hope you can forgive me, too. I can't bear that I've hurt you how I have, it's tearing me apart to do this. But I know what I'm doing is right, and I know you'll be happier with him. Marry him, Hermione. Marry him and have babies and fill your life with the kind of happiness and security that I could never give you. But please don't ever forget me, because I could never forget you.
All my love forever,
But the signature was so sloppy that Ava could not make out what the name of the writer was. It wasn't her father's handwriting, that much she knew. The idea of her mother loving another man besides Daddy felt strange to Ava. She looked at the pictures again, trying to imagine who the person was who'd written this letter. Was it one of the two boys with mommy in the first picture? She seemed closer to them than to any others in the photos. It seemed likely. But which one was it? Or was it someone else altogether?
Ava sighed and sat back on the toilet seat. She knew her mum was going to be heartbroken now that Daddy was gone, and the idea that there might be another man for mommy to love in the world was very hard for Ava to grasp. It seemed like a betrayal to her father, and she felt awful for even considering it, but she almost wanted to know which man from her Mum's past had written this, so that she could find him and reunite him with her. She wanted her mum to be happy, she didn't want her to be sad. Daddy was gone, Ava knew it, so Mum would be sad no matter what...but maybe the people from these pictures could make Mum happy again. Ava didn't want to forget her father, but she knew they would have to move on someday, both her and her mum. Her daddy wouldn't have wanted them to mope around for long, he wouldn't have allowed it.
Ava clutched the photos to her chest, her jaw set with determination. She was going to find out who had written this letter...and just how the heck these pictures were moving.
A/N: I hadn't intended it to be when I began writing this, but I find this story is being slightly inspired by some I read as a young girl, a series titled 'The Casteel Series', by V.C. Andrews. Just wanted to give credit where it's due. For those of you reading this who've read those books, this is not that inspired by them, just a little. :)