Chapter 3 : Burning Questions and Little Breakdowns
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After many years have buried
secrets over which you worried,
no confidant can then betray
all the words you didn't say.
Only you can then exhume
secrets safe within the tomb
of memory, of memory,
within the tomb of memory.
-Dean Koontz (Book of Counted Sorrows)
As Hermione and Ginny readied dinner that night, Harry let Ava give him a tour of the house and surrounding grounds, while Ron napped in his room. The young girl charmed Harry easily, quickly, and completely. Feeling the way he did for Hermione though, it was no surprise that he loved Ava almost on sight. Both Harry and Ron felt that being with her was like being with Hermione around the time that they'd met her, only better, because Ava was not nearly as uptight or bossy as her mother had been. She did have many similarities, but there was a maturity to her, a calmness of spirit, a strength about her that was all her own. Harry found himself unable to tear his eyes or attention away from her as she narrated endlessly and moved from room to room with him in tow. She was the brightest and sweetest thing he'd come into contact with in a long while. A ray of sunshine forcing it's way through the dark storm that had been his life for the last ten or eleven years.
After the formal tour was finished, Ava dragged Harry up to her room with her to play. Harry went, enjoying the child's company immensely, and after a few games of Hide-and-Seek, and Go Fish, Ava dragged a terrifically pink photo album out to show Harry some pictures. It was filled with smiles and sunny days, and Harry felt a pang of jealousy at the pleasant life so many people in the world had been allowed, when he himself had never known a life like that. He swallowed that emotion though, feeling angry he'd even allowed himself the split second of self-pity that he had.
"And this is my friend Julianne. She likes to be called Jules. And here's me with Roberta and Ashley, the girls who live next door. And this," Ava hesitated as she flipped the page of her little photo album, "this...is my daddy."
Harry peered down at the picture. A handsome man smiled up to him, with a smaller version of Ava sitting up on his shoulders. He had sandy blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a warm smile. Ava had her arms out to her sides, like wings, and a radiant smile on her pretty face. Harry was quite sure that if it were a wizard photo, Edward Brighton would be spinning in a circle, and Ava would be flapping her arms wildly atop him.
"That was a few years ago, at my grandmother's house," Ava said softly.
Harry took his attention from the photo to the girl. "We can play some more Hide-and-Seek if you like?" he offered.
"It's okay. I'm...I'm alright," she said, though her eyes were very watery.
Harry pet Ava's head gently, as if he'd comforted her many times before now, when in fact it was the first time he'd done so. Ava let him, and turned the page, moving on. Harry smiled at her singular resilience.
After maybe thirty more pictures of family and friends, Ava grew fidgety and nervous; it was very visible to Harry. As she flipped the very last page, he thought he realized why.
There, not glued to the page but loosely stacked in a tiny pile, were some wizard photos that Harry had not seen in a long time. He felt his breath hitch in his chest as he stared down at the topmost one. Ava was watching him for his reaction. Harry watched as all the Weasleys waved at him from outside of their home in the Ottery St. Catchpole. Hermione and Harry himself were there as well, waving happily and grinning. The picture had been taken just after the war, Harry remembered that day well. It was the happiest he'd ever been. To this day that was still almost true.
He cleared his throat. "Where...where did you get these?"
"I found them in my mum's closest," she replied plainly.
"Does your mother know that you-"
"No one knows. Just me. And now you."
Harry looked at her. She was biting her lip in a very Hermione-ish way, and her eyes were round, wide, excited.
"You won't tell will you?" she asked anxiously.
Harry almost smiled. "No."
"Say you promise."
"I promise, Ava," Harry said seriously.
She sighed. "Good. Because I want to talk about these. I want to ask you some questions."
"Is that so?"
"Look, I really think maybe you should-"
"Trust me, I can't. If Mum knew I found these and took them, she'd kill me!"
Harry did smile then. "I bet she'd be cooler about it than you might think."
"Ginny said Mum is a witch. Is that true?" Ava asked abruptly.
Harry shifted in his seat, hesitating. "I...I really think you should-"
"Please. I think I have a right to know my own mother," Ava said firmly.
Harry hesitated again. He knew that Hermione had given up magic completely, though he didn't know why, and he knew there would be hell to pay if he told Ava about the wizarding world now without her permission. But looking down into Ava's eyes, seeing the determination on her face...he couldn't refuse her for some reason. He nodded in agreement and sighed.
She smiled brightly, and clapped her hands together. Harry shook his head. He was going to pay for this, he could feel it. At least Hermione could no longer hex him, he figured.
"So, is she? I mean, a witch?" Ava asked breathlessly.
Harry nodded slowly. Ava beamed. "Wow! A witch! So can she-"
Harry put his fingers to his lips. "Shh!" he said.
Ava nodded with wide eyes, and lowered her voice considerably. "I found this too," she said.
She extracted Hermione's wand then, and Harry felt a tremor of something indescribable sweep through him at the sight of it. He took it tenderly, staring at the familiar engravings and adornments. A mass of memories crashed like a wave through his mind, and he briefly wanted to cry and laugh all at once.
"It's a wand, isn't it?" Ava said.
"Yes," Harry said numbly.
"What about you, Harry? Are you a...er, well what do they call a boy-witch?"
"A wizard. They call him a wizard."
"Are you a wizard then?"
Harry sighed again, still holding Hermione's wand in his hand. "Yes."
Ava stared at him in wonder.
Harry wondered why Hermione had given up magic. Staring at her wand now, he could not help but recall how powerful she had once been. She was always the best in their year back in school, and she'd played a key role in defeating the Dark Lord at the tender age of only eighteen. How was it that she was incapable of performing something as simple as a silencing charm now?
Harry shook his head clear of the memories that his mind was swimming in. "Sorry?" he said.
"I said can you still do magic?"
"Yes, I can."
"Could you...I mean...would you...?"
Harry set Hermione's wand down onto Ava's bed and withdrew his own. He looked around the room. He located a glass of old juice on her bedside table with a straw dangling out of it. He pulled the straw out and, with a lazy flick of his wand, transfigured the drinking utensil into a rose. Ava gasped and took the flower from Harry.
"Oh," she whispered, turning the flower over in her hands. She lifted it to her nose, and inhaled deeply. "It's real! It smells like a flower!"
Harry laughed. "It is a flower."
Ava said, "Why can't my mum do this anymore? How is it you can still do magic, but she can't?"
Harry grew serious again. "I don't know."
"It was me, wasn't it?" she said softly, her eyes downcast.
"You? Why would you think it was you?" Harry asked, confused.
"I heard her tell Ginny, she lost her magic after I was born."
"Ava, it wasn't you. Witches and wizards have been around for ages, centuries. Since the beginning. If having children made them lose their powers, there would be no magic people left in the world. And that's definitely not the case," Harry assured her.
"Then why? Have you ever heard of this happening before?"
Harry was about to say 'no', but then he realized he had heard of this happening before.
"Merope," he whispered without meaning to.
"What?" Ava said.
"Oh, er, nothing. Yes, I have heard of this happening actually."
"Really? When? What happened?"
"A long time ago, there was a witch who lost her powers slowly, over a period o time when she was terribly sad and depressed. Emotional shock and struggle can sometimes drain a person of their magical abilities. It's rare, and it takes a great trauma to cause something that drastic to happen, but it can happen."
Ava frowned in thought. "But then, that would mean Mum was terribly sad and depressed just after I was born?"
"Or perhaps just before," Harry said quietly. His mind was pulling him back to those days, though he was trying desperately to fight it.
"But I don't understand," Ava said.
Harry took a deep breath. "Ava, before your mum met...your dad, she was going through a sad time of her life. She was probably still feeling some of that sadness when she met him as a matter of fact. But don't ever think it was you. You are the happiest thing that ever happened to her. You're probably what got her through that part of her life."
Ava nodded slowly, accepting what he'd said. "There's something else I wanted to ask you about."
"Was my mum ever...was she..." Ava broke off, blushing.
"Was she what?"
"Was she in love with someone? I mean, back when you lot were in school?"
Harry blinked. "What?"
"It's just, in this picture, she's holding Ron's hand. And yesterday when she hugged him, he almost cried."
"You want to know if your mother was in love with Ron?"
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "Ava, this is the kind of thing you need to talk to Herm- er, your mum about."
"Is Ron a wizard too?"
"Yes. Their whole family are wizards."
"Wow. So you won't tell me whether or not-"
"No," Harry said firmly.
Ava sighed heavily, and it was amusing to Harry that she could sigh in that way at merely ten years of age.
"What about this?"
Ava handed Harry another picture. As Harry realized what the photo was of, he felt his heart twist in his chest.
"That's you isn't it? You and my mum?"
Harry could not find his voice. In his hands, a younger version of himself and Hermione were standing in the garden that had once belonged to his mother, out back of his parent's home in Godric's Hollow. In the photo, Hermione leaned into him, slipping her arm around his waist, and he kissed her head softly before the image reset. Even now, almost eleven years after the picture had been taken, Harry could still feel Hermione's arm around him, he could still feel the warmth of her skin on his lips, he could still hear the soft wind blowing the leaves about them in that long ago autumn.
Harry could not believe Hermione had kept this. Something like this would have been too painful for him to have lying around, however had she managed it? And if she had kept this, then perhaps she had kept the-
Harry closed his eyes, trying to take deep breaths to slow his thudding heart.
"Are you alright?"
She put her little hand to his arm, and it brought him back to the present.
"Yes...I'm fine," he said, but his voice belied his words.
"Were you and Mum close too?"
Harry nodded, his throat still constricted by an unseen force, thus rendering him unable to speak.
"Where was this picture taken? Were you two still in school?"
Harry cleared his throat. "It was taken at my parent's house. And no, we had graduated by this time."
"Did you love my mother?"
Harry closed his eyes again. The scent of autumn filled his mind, and the warmth of that distant September sun and Hermione's embrace were almost as real to Harry in that moment as the pink comforter that he sat upon.
"Yes, I did. She was my friend for a long time," he said finally.
"You were just friends?"
"Best friends," Harry said, softly, almost in a whisper.
"She doesn't have any friends now," Ava said with a shrug. "Well, except you lot, but I didn't even know you all existed until yesterday."
"I think we were all more surprised to learn of your existence, Ava, then the other way around."
"You mean you didn't know about me?"
"No. I had no idea Hermione had any children," Harry said.
"Then you haven't talked to Mum since I was born, or what?"
Harry could not tear his eyes from the moving photo in his hands. The leaves swirled down around the image of his younger self beneath his thumb, as he held onto the picture with one shaky hand.
"I haven't talked to your mum since just after this photo was taken."
"Why?" Ava asked.
"RON! HARRY! AVA! SUPPER!" Ginny bellowed through the house.
Downstairs, relieved to be removed from Ava's line of questioning, Harry took a seat next to Ron at the table and groaned in hunger when he smelled the food Hermione was cooking. She had not always been a good cook, but apparently she had vastly improved since Harry had last eaten anything she made. The air was thick with the sweet and savory scents of her various dishes. Fettuccini with sliced mushrooms, fried zucchini and eggplant, a bright, cold pasta salad, roasted chicken and homemade bread, with blueberry biscotti ready for dessert.
Ava had stashed the photos and wand under her bed at Ginny's call, and Harry had re-sworn himself to secrecy before they'd gone to wake Ron and then headed downstairs. Ginny had not been much help with dinner, as she still did not have much grace with Muggle contraptions (despite who her father was), and so she took seats with everyone else at the table and waited for Hermione to finish up the meal.
Ava covered her mouth as she giggled at Ron, who was resting his head in his hand with his eyes closed, still groggy from his nap. Harry smiled and threw a piece of his bread at his friend. Ron took the hit to his forehead, looked up, and then whipped the bread back at Harry. Ginny cleared her throat purposefully to end the food fight before it could begin. Hermione came to the table bearing the pan of chicken, and sat at one head of the table, with Ava on her right.
"Everything looks wonderful, Hermione," Harry said.
"Yes," Ginny agreed.
Ron stomach growled in compliment, and everyone chuckled. Everyone but Hermione. Harry realized she was near tears all of a sudden, staring straight ahead at the empty chair across from her at the other end of the table.
"Hermione," he said very quietly, "are you alright?"
She stared on, like one in a daze, her tears spilling slowly down her cheeks. Ginny and Ron finally noticed Hermione's sudden change in demeanor.
"Hermione? What is it?" Ginny asked. Ron was frowning in worry.
"I...I'm sorry," Hermione cried. She leapt up and out of her chair, and dashed out of the room.
Harry and Ron both rose to follow, but Ginny waved them down, and headed after her friend. Harry glanced at Ava. She had her head bowed down to her chest. She was crying too.
Harry touched Ava on her shoulder, and suddenly she was off of her chair and in his arms, crying and clinging to him. Harry knelt down out of his chair and held her, looking up to Ron for help. Ron was looking somber, his eyes darkened by sadness and pity. Ava clutched at the collar of Harry's shirt, her head against his shoulder, and Harry did his best to comfort her. He'd not had any children of his own yet, and he hadn't been in the company of any either, and so he wasn't sure just how to handle a child. He thought he must have gotten the right idea though, for Ava sniffed and wiped her tears away not too long after her initial breakdown, and even smiled through her sadness at Harry when she pulled back.
"I'm sorry," he said lamely, not knowing what to say.
"Me too," Ava said. "It's just..."
"I know," Harry said. He glanced at the empty chair quickly.
"Ron? Will you sit there?" Ava asked.
Ron's eyes widened slightly, knowing whose chair that was meant to be, and looked very uncomfortable about being the one she asked to take it up. "I don't know, Ava. I don't think Hermione-"
"She's not coming back down for supper anyway. It's just for me. Will you sit there for me? So it's not...so it's not empty?" Ava pleaded.
Ron hesitated, and then slid over to the chair at the head of the table awkwardly. Ava smiled, and Ron tried to smile back reassuringly.
Harry helped Ava back into her chair and took his own again, and the three of them sat silently for a long, almost unbearable minute.
"Let's eat," Ron said finally.
Harry chuckled. Ava did too slightly, and then the three of them ate their dinner alone, while Ginny did her best to comfort Hermione upstairs. Ron sat in the seat of the father, while Harry held Ava's hand from time to time beneath the table.
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