Chapter 24 : Easier To Run
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Eponine grinned and hugged Sirius tightly. He pulled away from the embrace, smiling widely.
"This maze may look scary," he said encouragingly, "but you're fearless enough."
"Let's hope you're right."
Sirius patted Eponine on the back as she turned away from her father and made her way to the entrance to the maze. She glanced over at Harry, who grinned at her. She flashed him a thumbs up and took a gander at the rest of the competition. Fleur was speaking in rapid French with Madam Maxime, while Krum glared at everyone.
"First into the maze is Harry Potter," said Dumbledore, his voice echoing into the stands. "On my mark…three…two…one…"
A loud gong echoed from somewhere. Harry glanced back at Eponine, who winked in response to the look of fear on his face, and then entered the maze, looking grim. The hedges closed in about him, blocking his thin form from sight.
Eponine did not know how much time had passed when suddenly Dumbledore was saying, "Second into the maze is Eponine Black." A glance back at her father gave her the last bits of encouragement she needed. He and Remus both waved enthusiastically in response to the look of uttermost terror on her face. "On my mark…three…two…one…"
A few steps in, and the hedges closed in abut her, surrounding her in darkness and eerie silence.
Professor McGonagall led the students from Dumbledore's office to the Hospital Wing, insisting that Pom-pom needed to have a look at them. Harry, Hermione, and Fred had tried to talk to Eponine, but her growling made them cease any efforts to comfort her. Harry walked with her, many feet behind Hermione, Fred, and Professor McGonagall, hoping that she would calm down so he could talk to her. But for now, he remained silent.
When they reached the Hospital Wing, Pom-pom swooped down on them, forcing them all into beds so she could make sure they were all healthy. At the end of the wing, George was in a bed, but Pom-pom had closed the sheets around him.
"He's fine," she said, on the students' insistence. "Once he wakes up, I want to run a few tests, but I'm sure he'll be home later today."
Eponine sat, staring at George's bed. Pom-pom was waving her wand over the girl, but she did nothing to respond. The nurse spoke with Professor McGonagall in low voices, but neither of them could gather as to why Eponine had chosen to be silent.
Not twenty minutes later, the doors to the Hospital Wing opened, and in strode Sirius, Remus, Dumbledore, and Mad-eye, followed by Ron and Ginny. Pom-pom rushed over to the students and hovered over them as she had with the other students. Sirius sat down on the edge of Eponine's bed, silently observing her. She slowly turned her head from George's bed and stared at Sirius. After blinking once, she returned her attention to where it had been before.
Once Pom-pom decided that none of the children were about to drop dead, they all gathered onto a couple of beds, waiting for one of the Order members to explain what in the world was going on.
"I am sure," said Dumbledore, "that you are somewhat confused."
"Just a little," said Fred sarcastically.
"Well, first off, I need permission from Harry first." He turned to the Boy-Who-Lived. "There is some information about what happened today he might not want to divulge."
"Tell them," he said solemnly.
Dumbledore inclined his head to Harry, and then conjured chairs in the air for the adults, except for Sirius, who had moved next to Eponine and wrapped a tight arm around her. She leaned into him, settling in his embrace, moving her gaze from her unconscious ex-boyfriend to the old headmaster. He looked somewhat forlorn as he began to explain the situation to them.
"This while take me quite a while to explain," he began, staring at them with a look Eponine had never seen in his eyes before. He was looking at them not as his students, not as the children of Order members, but as adults, who would soon be in the Order itself; teenagers who had seen more than most, but still had a lot of growing up to do; but there was a respect in his eyes that was reserved only for the people he regarded more so than the most official of politicians or well-known persons in the world. "But I ask you to bear with me through this explanation; and when I am done, you can ask me what you wish, but keep in mind that there are some things I still will not be able to divulge to you.
"It all starts during the first war. You all, of course, know what it was like. I'm sure you've heard the stories, or if not, you will some day. But I digress…
"At the time, I was looking for a position for the Divination post here. I was considering getting rid of the subject entirely, but there was one applicant who seemed eager to talk to me, so I did the polite thing and chose to meet with her. She was your current Divination teacher, Professor Trelawney. It was near the end of the meeting, and I had decided that she was not the right person for the job; I had chose at that point to do away with the subject, when suddenly, right before my eyes, Professor Trelawney foretold a prophecy. I had never been a believer in the subject of Divination until that point. But I was convinced that it was legitimate.
"The prophecy states, 'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…'"
Dumbledore paused and took a deep breath before plowing onward.
"The Dark Lord referred to in the prophecy is Voldemort, as I'm sure you all surmised. Plainly put, the prophecy means that Voldemort can only die if Harry is the one to kill him.
"While Trelawney was prophesizing, someone overheard us—a Death Eater. That man was thrown out of the pub, and he went to Voldemort with this information. Of course, Voldemort realized what this meant. Lily and James Potter had defied him three times before, and their son was born on the thirty-first of July. But there's a catch. In order for Harry to defeat Voldemort, more must be done.
"Ever since he was very young, Voldemort has been seeking out immortality; it has been his one goal in life. In order to attain this, he created what are called 'horcruxes.' They're a kind of dark magic not taught anymore (I see no reason why you should learn it). It's a very obscure sort of dark magic that few people, even Voldemort's Death Eaters, even know about it. It's created by splitting a person's soul into two pieces. But in order to split their soul, a person has to commit the ultimate act—killing another human being.
"Over the years, Voldemort has created six horcruxes, trying to reach his goal of seven, the most magical number that exists. When one splits their soul, that soul fragment is stored in an object, living or inanimate; it does not matter. I have been seeking out these horcruxes in order to make Harry's journey to defeating Voldemort easier, though he has been helping me to understand Voldemort's past in order to find out what the rest of the horcruxes are.
"You see, Voldemort has not used ordinary objects for his horcruxes. They are magical objects of great significance, either to him or to the Wizarding world. One of these horcruxes was one that was very difficult to get close to—it was his snake, Nagini. Because Voldemort always keeps her close, the only way to get to her would be to get inside Voldemort's fortress itself—no easy feat.
"So we came up with the plan. Originally, Harry was not supposed to be involved, but seeing as there is such responsibility on his shoulders, and he was eager to help, we involved him in the plan.
"It occurred as you saw. There was the explosion in London. Originally, someone was supposed to come and get Sirius and Remus so you and Harry were alone, Eponine. From there, it was tricky. Somehow, we needed Harry in a room by himself so Professor Snape could come in and take him to Voldemort's fortress. But since you were at the explosion, and you chose to come alert me, it was much easier than we expected.
"Once Harry was inside, everyone else within the Order attacked. We apparated in, and some of us began to search for Harry, while others fought off the Death Eaters. I myself went after Nagini, and was able to kill her, now leaving five horcruxes left to destroy.
"While I killed the snake, the Order was supposed to fight off the Death Eaters until I gave them a signal that it was time to leave; then we would get Harry and get out. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan, as I was afraid they would…"
They all sat in silence. The adults had already heard this from Dumbledore, but it came to a shock to the students. All of them had varying degrees of horror on their faces, except for Harry, of course, who was staring despondently into nothingness.
"So, it was all a set-up?" asked Hermione slowly.
"Yes," said Dumbledore sadly. "We should have told you all the plan to keep you from panicking or going off and doing what you did, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I know it's hard, seeing your friends hurt for malicious reasons and seeing horrible things—the type that are only seen in war. But I hope that you all understand why we did this.
"It's difficult, but right now, all I ask is that you be supportive to Harry. He needs you more than anything. There is a monumental task before him, but I know that with your help and support, he will be able to accomplish it."
There was a long silence where everyone contemplated what Dumbledore had said. Suddenly, Eponine pulled away from Sirius and began walking out of the Hospital Wing.
"Eponine—" began Dumbledore.
But he did not bother finishing his sentence. It was quite clear that Eponine had no intention of stopping. She strode swiftly from the wing, walking through the corridor, down the Grand Staircase, through the Entrance Hall, and out of the castle. She continued at a steady pace, only slowing down as she neared the lake, tugging at the fake Death Eater robes and letting them fall to the ground. She took several steps into the frigid water, trying not to cry. Her legs crumpled beneath her, and she collapsed in the water. It soaked through her sneakers and pants and splashed onto her shirt, but she did not care. She gasped and put her hand to her mouth, trying not to cry, but finding it very difficult not to.
Sirius came to the edge of the water, watching Eponine apprehensively, as if he were unsure if he should have splashed in after her or waited for her to make a move. She glanced back at him, biting her lower lip, a tear falling down her face.
"I know, hun…" He walked into the lake, the water lapping at his shoes and pants. He knelt next to her, seemingly not noticing the icy water drenching his clothing. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you."
"We shouldn't have gone," she said quietly, trying desperately not to cry. She wiped at the few tears that fell down her face. "It was stupid to go—should've just let you guys take care of it. But it's all my fault—all my fault George is hurt. If I hadn't come up with this stupid plan—"
"Eponine, what you guys did was brilliant," said Sirius, pushing a strand of hair behind her ears. "I'm amazed that you guys were able to get in. And I know you saw terrible things in there—"
"Like hell you do," she spat bitterly. "I saw a room covered in blood with body parts spread around it and a corpse that had been ripped to pieces in the middle. You think you know what it's like seeing that suddenly?"
"I've seen things like that before—"
"It's not right. It's twisted and disgusting. We shouldn't have been there. It was all my ridiculous idea that we could get in and get Harry out alive. If you hadn't come when you did, George and I would be dead right now—and all because I felt guilty for going to Dumbledore when I thought Harry had been captured. I keep on doing these stupid things that only end up with me getting hurt—the tournament, this, what next?"
"We all screw up." Sirius held Eponine's face in his hands, brushing her tears from her face. They were falling freely with no foolish stubbornness or angry tenacity. "Everyone does things that they wish they shouldn't have done. But you've done nothing wrong. You're growing up. You're human."
Eponine sniffed loudly and tried to stop her tears by blinking rapidly, but it seemed as if a dam had burst open in her eyes, forcing her to let her emotions free.
"I don't want to be human," she spat.
Suddenly, she pulled away from Sirius, standing up and stumbling several feet away from him. She put a hand to her mouth, gasping loudly, fighting against the gut-wrenching feelings tangling up her insides.
"It's hard to see these things," said Sirius softly. "But it comes with fighting in this war."
"I know," cried Eponine. She let her hands fall to her sides, not caring about her tears, and glanced back at Sirius. "Why can't it be easier?"
"Then when the good parts of life finally came," said Sirius quietly, "it wouldn't be as amazing."
Eponine turned away from her father and fell to her knees, squelching in the mud, water lapping at her legs. Sirius stood up and slowly lifted Eponine off the ground. Her knees shook slightly, but her body fell into Sirius, who put an arm around her waist to support her.
"Come on," he said in her ear. "Time to go home."
When Eponine awoke, she felt strangely rested and sleep deprived at the same time. She glanced at the clock next to her bed, surprised to see that it read nine thirty in the morning.
But I always sleep horribly late…
Not able to sleep again, for fear of having a nightmare, Eponine got out of bed and plodded downstairs into the kitchen, where Sirius and Remus were both reading the paper. They glanced up upon her arrival and set down the periodical as she plopped into her usual dining room chair.
"You okay?" asked Sirius.
Eponine yawned and nodded her head. "How long've I been asleep? Can't imagine it was long…"
Sirius and Remus exchanged a glance.
"Actually," said Remus, "we gave you a rather powerful dreamless sleep potion…you've slept for over a day."
"Yes," said Sirius slowly.
"This arrived for you this morning," said Remus, handing an envelope to Eponine. "It's from Susan."
Ambivalently, Eponine took the letter from Remus and ripped it open. It had been since before the end of the tournament since Eponine had heard from Susan, and even longer since she had seen her former guardian. A few letters had gone back and forth between the pair, but, in the past few months, the teenager had barely thought of the woman. She felt guilty, considering the almost weekly owls she had been sending to John. Eponine had seen the young boy only once since the beginning of summer.
Eponine sat, eating her ice cream, as John hungrily dug into his sundae. It was his second of the day, but the teenager could not resist indulging her little brother (even if it would result in his vomit all over the table). He had spent most of the afternoon blabbing on and on about everything that had happened to him since Eponine had last seen him (Christmas break). She was surprised that the little boy could talk so fast and still consume so much ice cream.
Before long, Eponine felt herself zoning out. Every time the door opened, clanging the little bell, she felt it required her attention, as did the group of children ordering scoops of ice cream. But everyone seemed suspicious to her. What if one of them was a Death Eater in disguise?
"Eponine…Eponine…EPONINE!" shouted John.
"What?" The teenager turned her attention from the window and looked to her sibling. "Oh, sorry, John, just had a spaced out moment there…"
"Were you in La, La Land? That's what my teacher says when people aren't paying attention, and they're far away."
"I wasn't far away. I'm right here. And I'm not going anywhere 'till you finish that entire sundae."
"You weren’t far away. But your eyes were," said the boy, shockingly cryptic for such a young child.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Did something happen?" asked John suddenly.
"What do you mean?"
"Before, you always peed your pants laughing when I shoved straws up my nose. But I did it earlier, and you only laughed a little bit. Did I do something wrong?"
"No, I just—" Eponine sighed. "Has Susan told you about Voldemort?"
Eponine felt that it would be strange to act to privy in a muggle ice cream parlor, and thought it would be all right to openly talk about Voldemort. She could see the doorway perfectly from where they were, giving her a perfect view of everyone who was entering and leaving the shop.
John nodded. "But she didn't tell me how he came back."
"Hmm?" The girl's head snapped around to look at Sirius and Remus, who were looking at her strangely. "Oh, sorry, zoned out for a moment…"
"You going to open it?" asked Remus.
"Yeah, of course…"
Eponine unfolded the parchment and began to read Susan's meticulously neat script.
It's been so long since our last owl. What on earth have you been doing that's kept you from owling me? I know you have a life, but you can always send me a letter, even if it's just to say hello.
John never shuts up about you, much to David's distaste. But he really does want to see you—he can't wait to go to Hogwarts next year. He has plans to hide in your trunk this year, but wasn't too happy when I told him he wasn't allowed to do that.
I was wondering if you wanted to come over to dinner later this week. It's been a long time since you've been here, and I know you love my curry. Owl me back, and we'll set up a time. Sirius is welcome to come also.
"Huh." Eponine folded up the parchment.
"What'd she say?" asked Sirius.
"Nothing. Just hello."
Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge continues to deny the return of the dark wizard He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, despite increasing rumors within the Ministry of Magic. Head Mugwump of the Wizengamot and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Albus Dumbledore is still convinced that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has returned.
"I can confirm having seen him myself just recently," said Dumbledore, when asked after a meeting with the Wizengamot. He declined to comment on the circumstances of this sighting, saying it was "involved in a dangerous, spy mission."
Fudge has said that it is "a load of bollocks if you ask me. Dumbledore told me every detail of when he claims to have seen He-Who-Must-Be-Named, and there is no way any of it can be true."
Rumor-has-it that Dumbledore, along with several other unnamed persons, went into where He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is allegedly living (which Dumbledore also declined to give the whereabouts of). For what reason, no one is entirely sure.
"If Dumbledore keeps this up, he may not be head of the Wizengamot for much longer," said Fudge, in a press conference this afternoon.
Eponine sat in the backyard on the swing she had forced Sirius to build last summer, letting it sway back and forth, her feet a few inches above the ground. It was dusk, and the air was a still statue. The only thing causing the leaves of the trees to move was the rope holding the swing above the earth.
Remus came into the backyard, his hands shoved in his pockets. He leaned against the tree, watching Eponine. She looked up at him, not saying a word.
"You lied," he said bluntly.
"Which lie are we talking about today?"
"The one where Susan sends you a letter to say hello, when really she invited you over for dinner."
"What does it matter?"
"How come you don't want to see her?"
"I never said I didn't."
"Obviously you don't," said Remus sharply.
"Like you would know," snapped Eponine.
"What's stopping you from going?"
Eponine shrugged uncaringly.
"I know that you know. You might as well tell me."
"I don't want to see him again," said Eponine quietly, bowing her head.
Remus sighed sadly. "Sirius will come with you—be there with you."
"And probably kill him."
"I know a good spell to restrain him," said Remus jokingly.
Eponine laughed lightly and looked up at the werewolf. "I'll think about going, but only if you teach me that spell."
"It's a deal."
It has been confirmed that early yesterday morning, eleven prisoners escaped from Azkaban prison.
"I regret to inform the Wizarding world that early yesterday these prisoners did indeed escape," said Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, in a press conference this morning.
Aurors are still investigating the cause of this breakout, but it is rumored that old supporters of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, such as those who reemerged at the Quidditch World cup just over a year ago, were the cause of this incident. How the prisoners were able to escape undetected is still under investigation.
"We're doing everything we can to find out what happened," said Head Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt. "There has been a lot of speculation lately as to whether or not we should continue to have dementors guard Azkaban."
Supreme Mugwump of the Wizengamot and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Albus Dumbledore has said in recent statements that the dementors of Azkaban prison "should be moved from their posts immediately. [He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named] will sway their allegiance away from us. It is only a matter of time until the dementors are completely against [the Wizarding world]."
This is among other controversies sparked by Dumbledore, including…
"And so on and so forth, same old stuff," said Harry darkly, throwing down the newspaper.
Eponine picked up the copy of The Evening Prophet, staring at the mug shots of the eleven prisoners. The one that struck her most was her mother.
Thisbe Black looked like someone who had once been beautiful. Her eyes were clear blue pools that could have scintillated happiness. But there was a darkness that had tainted them. She looked up out of the newspaper, staring unblinkingly. Her hair was similar to Eponine's, but much curlier, falling in what could have been soft, even ringlets about her head, but in the photo, it was dank and unwashed. Her skin, once a fair porcelain, was pale and ghostly, as if Thisbe had not had a good meal in weeks, accentuating her high, aristocratic cheekbones like the prisoner of a concentration camp.
Sirius picked up the newspaper, staring at it as though he was not sure if it was real or not. He turned to speak to Eponine, but the teenager had silently left the kitchen. She bounded through the downstairs hall and up the stairs, slamming her bedroom door shut so hard, the walls vibrated.
Footsteps went back and forth across the room in a steady motion. She was pacing. A hole was beginning to wear in the carpet. Time passed like a snail as she thought. Hands running through her hair, frustration building up, and next thing she knew, Eponine had kicked her bureau as hard as she could. With nothing but a sore toe and an angry heart, she threw herself onto her bed.
Sirius did not even bother knocking when he entered. Eponine sat on her bed, head in her hands, obviously frustrated. He gingerly sat next to her, pausing to speak. His method was to wait for Eponine to speak first, let her get her frustrations out. But after several moments of silence, it seemed as though this method was not going to work.
"I know it must be weird," he began softly, "seeing your mother's mug shot on the cover of a newspaper."
Eponine let her hands drop and somberly said, "Kinda like seeing your dad's too. But worse this time…" She sighed sadly. "I just don't understand…"
"Don't understand what?"
"You said she was friends with Harry's mum…"
"But she had a pureblood ideology…so why would she be friends with Lily if she hated muggle borns?" Eponine turned to Sirius, confusion written all over her face. "It doesn't make any sense."
Sirius looked away uncertainly. After a few moments of silent debate, he turned back to Eponine and said, "Your mum tried to hide that part of her for a while. She had made friends who weren't intolerant like her, so she pretended to like muggle borns as well. After a while, she realized that there were exceptions to the ridiculous ideal she had. But then…"
"Greyback said she had schizophrenia," said Eponine slowly, the pieces beginning to line up in her head. "But I—no!" she gasped. "Mum didn't, did she?"
"That was a lie," said Sirius shortly. "He said that to mess with you."
"Because he can."
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