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Halfway To Infinity by Eponine
Chapter 20 : Chapter Nineteen: The Three Broomsticks
 
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Author's Note: Well, like always, thanks so much to my outstanding beta, TheBird! We had quite a few late nights with this one. Thanks so much, TheBird!

This chapter is dedicated to the memory of my Grandma Betty.

~ ~ ~

Chapter Nineteen: The Three Broomsticks

The girl knew she wasn’t supposed to be out at this hour, but the owl she had received from her grandmother seemed more than urgent and the Three Broomsticks wasn’t very far away.

A Dementor glided past her. The girl, holding her breath, shrank into the shadows and hid behind an overflowing trashcan. The Dementor stopped suddenly and turned to face her.

“I—I don’t have anything,” the girl said to the Dementor with a quivering voice. “I’m not a Muggle – I’m g-going to my grandmother’s. It’s right over there.” She pointed to the Three Broomsticks in the distance. She was still very young, but had dealt with Dementors before. This was the first time one had come so close.

A bony, scabbed hand immerged from the Dementor’s cloak and reached towards the girl. The air seemed to thin around her. A suffocating silence took the breath out of her lungs and blinded her to everything except the towering, hooded figure.

Her father writhed and twitched on the ground… her mother coughed into her hands, shaking the entire bed… her grandmother –

“STOP!” the girl pleaded.

The Dementor’s long, spindly fingers wrapped around her tiny wrist. “Stop! No! Let me go!” Her bare feet scraped along the cobblestones as the Dementor drew her towards it. The girl screamed, trying to pull away with all of the strength she could muster. Her tiny frame shook uncontrollably as the Dementor’s blind, scabbed face emerged from its hood.

“Expecto Patronum!”

A silver evanescent goat charged towards the Dementor, brandishing its large horns and catching it by the bottom of its cloak. Immediately the Dementor loosened its grasp on the girl’s wrist, dropped her to the ground and was gone.

The girl pushed herself up off the cobblestones and ran to the Patronus’ conjurer. She pushed her long, curly brown hair out of her face, wrapped her arms around his waist and hid behind him.

“It’s okay, Nora,” the old man said. In earlier years, his gravelly voice had hurt her ears, but after years of seeking refuge in the old man’s inn, his voice had become a source of comfort. “It won’t come back. Come on, let me take you to your grandmother’s.” The old man offered Nora his hand. She took it, and followed him to the Three Broomsticks.

“Nora?” a weak voice called once they entered the deserted bar.

“I’m coming!” Nora yelled up the stairs, letting go of the old man’s hand. She took a sharp left and ran up two flights of stairs to the apartment she shared with her grandmother.

The withering frame of her grandmother lay, tucked neatly into her bed. Nora ran to her bedside and placed a hand on her sweating palm. “Nana, are you okay?”

“Yes, Nora,” she said softly. “Yes, I’m fine.”

The old man, coming from the staircase, approached the bed as well. “Rosmerta?”

Rosmerta put a hand up. “I’m quite fine, Aberforth,” she said calmly, struggling to pronounce each word. “Time is finally taking its toll on me, I suppose.”

“No, Rosmerta,” he said. “It can’t be that. You are still young.”

“Nana?”

“It’s okay, Nora,” Rosmerta said softly with a charming smile. “I’m going to be fine soon.”

“Nora, go downstairs,” Aberforth demanded.

Nora stood and tearfully turned to her grandmother.

“We need to speak in private,” Rosmerta said. “Don’t worry, Nora; it won’t be long.”

Nora spun around on her heel and ran down the stairs. She sat on the bottom step with her head buried in her hands. At the age of seven, she had lived through very little of the war, but suffered all of the consequences. Her father had been killed by a Death Eater when she was two years old and her mother had died of some unknown disease only two years earlier. Now she lived with her grandmother above her family’s old bar in the deserted village of Hogsmeade.

From the frosted windows of the Three Broomsticks, Nora could see the towers of the school looming over Hogsmeade. It used to be warm and welcoming, her grandmother always told her. It used to teach students how to be good witches and wizards, before the Dark Lord took it over.

Nora, now fed up with waiting, tiptoed up the stairs and waited in front of the door to the apartment. She had to strain to make out their hushed voices.

“Aberforth, she shouldn’t have to take on such responsibility.”

“I can keep her hidden, but until we know what it is, it’s too dangerous for me to keep it. The Dark Lord has been searching for me for years. He doesn’t even know that she exists.”

“And—” Rosmerta paused “—and I want—want her to be…”

Silence followed.

“Nana?” Nora opened the door and ran in. Rosmerta didn’t respond. “Nana?”

Aberforth put a hand on her shoulder.

“No!” Nora shouted, running over to her grandmother’s bed. Her eyes were wide open, but blank and lifeless. The dullness of the candlelight reflected in them. Nora’s eyes welled up with tears. “Nana! Na—”

Aberforth stepped over to the bed and closed Rosmerta’s eyes before kneeling down to the girl. “Nora,” he said seriously. “Nora, look at me.” Nora forced herself away from her grandmother’s body and stared at Aberforth, unable to control the tears falling down her cheeks. “Your grandmother is gone,” he said. “And now you need to take her place.” He held up a large, gold locket with an ornate S engraved on it.

“This is your grandmother’s locket. You want to help defeat the Dark Lord, right?” Nora nodded. “Keep this safe and don’t let anybody see that you have it. I can keep you safe at the Hog’s Head until you’re eleven. I’m going to get in contact with an old friend to see if she can take you in after that.”

Nora bit her lip and nodded again. Aberforth held out the locket. She took it, put it around her neck and tucked it into her shirt. It was extremely cold.

“And don’t try to open the locket, either,” Aberforth continued. “It’s for your own good.”

Nora stared at him, her hands shaking. She wanted to go and stand by her grandmother’s bed and cry. She wanted to go back to the days when she had both parents living together, but she knew Aberforth wouldn’t let her. She wasn’t allowed to go back to the time when life was easy. She clutched her hand around the locket and backed away from Aberforth.

“Run to the Hog’s Head,” he said coarsely. “I need to deal with this.” He gestured to the body. Nora shuddered. For a moment, she wished he hadn’t saved her from the Dementor. If she didn’t have a soul, at least she wouldn’t have to deal with this pain.

Nora stood for a moment, hoping she wouldn’t cry in front of Aberforth. “Go,” he repeated.

She backed up and started running down the stairs. The locket pounded against her heart, causing cold chills to run through her entire body. Without looking back, she ran down the cold, unfriendly streets of Hogsmeade village.


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