Honesty is the only way with anyone, when you'll be so close as to be living inside each other's skins.
Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign, 1999
"One fairer than my love? The all-seeing sun
Ne'er saw her match since first the world begun."
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1.2
* *December 20th - 4 Days Left* *
Kiana returned from the forest only an hour after leaving the security of her bed, but it seemed like she had lingered among the trees for days. Her arms were scratched and bleeding from the branches digging into her skin, but she hardly noticed as the screams of the thestrals rang in her ears. She had done well regardless of the emotional pain it caused her; she had tortured the creatures as effortlessly as levitating a stone. Her mind had been walled off from all emotions just like Bellatrix had taught her, but the aftereffects of such efforts were unbearable. She hated herself for what she had done, but what could she do about it? Bellatrix’s word was law, and Kiana had enough marks on her body from obeying her commands. Disobeying would account for double that amount.
But it was ironic how much pain you can give creatures of the dead.
Shouts from the Quidditch field brought her out of her agonizing thoughts. She peered up heavenward and glimpsed Draco Malfoy racing after the Snitch in the cloudless sky. He was alone, drilling himself like one obsessed with perfection.
“I was thinking the same thing.”
Kiana spun around as Harry approached her with a smile. His scarlet Quidditch robes brought stark contrast to the newly fallen snow, and Kiana thought the snowflakes in his hair made his green eyes even more dazzling.
He couldn’t look ugly even if he tried…
“Oh, and what was I thinking, Mr. Legilimency?” She smirked as he leaned in to kiss her softly on the lips.
“That Malfoy needs a new hobby,” Harry replied. “He's been on that pitch since dawn. He's taking the upcoming match a bit too seriously, which, for me, is saying something."
He paused and studied her thoughtfully. “Why haven’t you been to the last couple Quidditch matches? There was one last weekend - Slytherin against Hufflepuff. I thought you’d be there.”
His gaze was prying her for information, but she kept her eyes focused on Malfoy as he dived toward the winged, golden ball.
“Life is not all about sports,” she said softly, though she regretted it soon enough. Harry’s life did center around Quidditch, after all. “I mean…” she flashed him a smile to lessen the sting. “It’s not as important to me as other things…like schoolwork.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Oh, I see; school always comes first, huh? Then why did you fail your last DADA exam?”
Kiana’s jaw clenched as she sauntered off toward the changing rooms. She had noticed a certain brunette lad enter the building - Maxwell Simonson, the youngest sibling and only brother of Michelle and Jennifer.
“Stop being so nosy, Potter,” she called back at him. It had returned - the intense annoyance and anger that had plagued her since that first meeting with Snape. It took great concentration nowadays to constantly keep her tone level and light. Why did she always feel intense emotions over such small things?
She stopped in her tracks at the thought. Snape. He had done something to her, something that had affected her from the beginning. And with him and Bellatrix constantly entering her mind, it was no wonder she was beginning to acquire their personal emotions and thoughts. They were changing her mind without permission! How dare…
“I’m being nosy for your own good.” Kiana jumped at the sound of his voice. He was replying to something she had said, but she couldn’t remember what it was. He stepped up to her side and lightly touched her shoulder, but she shook him off, consumed in her hatred toward the two Death Eaters.
Harry sensed that her mind was somewhere else, so he made her face him. She tried to direct her attention elsewhere, but somehow his piercing eyes were impossible to turn away from.
“Kiana, why won’t you tell me what’s bothering you?” He searched her eyes for some sort of emotion, and Kiana prayed that they were as blank as Snape’s. “Surely it won’t do you any harm to tell me the truth; I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
“Oh, Harry.” She lowered her head, struggling to keep the tears from forming. “I wish I could tell you. More than anything I wish I could…”
“Then why not?” Impatience burned through his words. “How will it affect anything?”
“It’ll only destroy both our lives, Harry,” she longed to say. But the truth was to be kept as secret as her nighttime visits to the secluded classroom. She was only keeping it secret for his own good. That’s what she had to keep reminding herself: it was for his own good…
Kiana blinked the tears away and met his eyes with determination. “I made a vow not to tell anyone anything. To break that vow would be dangerous.” She was proud to hear that her voice was unwavering, but it also sounded cold and distant…almost inhuman.
Harry released his hold on her shoulder and stared back with disappointment and a clear, agonizing pain. Kiana couldn’t look at his face anymore. Why had she fallen into his arms so easily? Why had she succumbed to that intense sympathetic look of his? He was her victim; he was to die at her own hand. It would be cruel to make him love her and then break his heart. That’s something only a Death Eater would do.
But aren’t you a Death Eater now? a tiny voice whispered, casting a chill over her heart. She wouldn’t listen to it. She couldn’t listen to it; it was Bellatrix’s voice. Bellatrix did not know her true emotions. Indeed, the witch was trying to destroy her past self slowly and painfully. And she was succeeding…
The tears had come, just like they always did. She shielded her face with her hands and struggled to control her emotions. Harry wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders, but this only made it worse. She pulled away and headed toward the Quidditch field, determined to initiate a conversation with Max to keep her mind off Harry.
She did not look back, but she knew how much pain was portrayed on Harry’s face as she deserted him. Pain that only she had given him but could not take away.
“Did you hear Jenny’s news?”
Max chuckled as he hung his robes up in his locker. “Two weeks ago. I had heard of Jenny’s secret love from day one at Hogwarts. But even though her crush was obvious to the world, I was surprised Seamus fell for her. I thought he was chasing after Michelle, actually…”
Kiana’s eyes widened. “Really? I had never noticed that.”
“Well, you don’t notice much nowadays.”
He had muttered the words so quietly Kiana barely caught them, but she understood the tone of his voice nonetheless. But she had lost the strength to become angry; Harry’s pained face was still attached to her mind.
“I guess there are only two options then, right?” She narrowed her eyes at the boy as he changed into a clean shirt. “I should get down on my hands and knees and beg the entire school for forgiveness, although I’m not completely sure what my sin is, or I should distance myself from the world forever. Clearly I cannot have my own life and have friends at the same time.”
“No, you just can’t have a mysterious life,” Max replied, sitting down beside her on the bench. “Michelle and Jenny are worried about you, but they don’t want to show it so they get mad at you instead. They don’t like that you’re keeping secrets.”
Kiana sighed and fooled with the laces of her sneakers. “Well, I can’t do anything about that. I have to keep secrets, but no one will accept that explanation. Can’t you talk to them, Max? Tell them that I just want to stop fighting? Surely they’ll listen to you.”
Max laughed openly. “You really have been living in your own world, Kiana. My sisters are always lost in their own social life. Jenny’s wrapped up around Seamus, and Michelle is, currently, chasing after Draco.”
Kiana grinned at this surprising announcement. Obviously she had not yet learned that Malfoy was interested in no one but himself and his social status.
“No one is going to let their brother try and solve their personal problems," Max finished.
“So they’re both equally mad at me?”
Max shrugged. “Like I said, I think they’re just frustrated with your silence. They want life to be like the old times, when all of you were together and joking around.”
Well, that’s never going to happen. If only I could tell them how drastically my life is changing and will continue to change.
“Can you do me one favor at least?”
Max nodded. “Shoot.”
“Tell them that I still care and I’ll be around if they want to talk.”
“Sure thing. Just take care of yourself, okay? I care what happens to you, too.”
Kiana smiled, but it seemed fake even to her. “I’ll try my best.”
* *December 21st - 3 Days Left* *
Everywhere she looked there was a reminder of the holiday she was determined to avoid. From strings of lights over every doorway to magical snow falling from the castle ceilings, the Christmas excitement was contagious. The Great Hall was the most lavishly decorated – an enormous Christmas tree, large enough to cover a third of an American football field, was decorated with thousands of tiny ornaments and crystal icicles. Bulbs of colored lights shot glimmering beams through the hall, blinding onlookers momentarily when the light bounced off tables and walls.
It was almost impossible to leave the Great Hall after being surrounded by the magic of the tree and the joyful choruses of Christmas songs sung by the House ghosts (although Peeves tried to ruin the effect by interjecting inappropriate phrases in the middle of each song). Even the staff of Hogwarts had given up trying to teach difficult topics. They knew they had lost their students’ attention weeks ago.
“So what are you going to do for Christmas?”
Hermione’s voice snapped Kiana out of her dark thoughts, and she stopped rotating her fork through her pile of mashed potatoes. “I don’t know. I’ll probably just exchange presents with my friends and then help Hagrid feed the twelve-foot long pythons in the Forbidden Forest.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” she asked in a petrified whisper. “I could have talked to him! He should have learned ages ago not to bring deadly creatures onto school grounds. If Professor Dumbledore…”
She halted at the teasing smile Kiana passed her.
“Kiana! That’s so not funny! Hagrid could very well be…”
“I know,” Kiana interrupted, laughing. “I’m sorry; I couldn’t resist. There isn’t any creature more dangerous than the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest.”
“Then what are you really doing for Christmas?”
Kiana’s smile disappeared, and she resumed playing with her dinner. “I have no plans. You probably know that I’ve been having…issues…with my little clique. So of course I haven’t been drowning in invitations to parties recently.”
Hermione smiled sympathetically. “You should hang out with us! Ron, Harry and I are going to The Three Broomsticks. They have the most fabulous parties there. Last year they brought in a real reindeer and made it fly around the room! Then they took a tree and…”
Kiana feigned attention as her mind stuck at the words “Harry and I.” She instantly shoved her plate away, afraid she might vomit all over it. She held a hand to her mouth and pushed a wave of nausea down. Hermione didn’t know that she and Ron were actually planning an unexpected date on Christmas. Harry would be spending the holidays six feet under; this was certain now. If Kiana didn’t complete her task, Voldemort would. There was no hope for Harry’s survival with the infamous Christmas Eve date approaching rapidly. No hope at all.
“Hermione, I think the pork chops aren’t agreeing with me. I should go to the restroom just in case…”
Hermione, interrupted in the middle of her detailed explanation of Madam Rosmerta’s famous Christmas Brew, frowned at Kiana’s words and slowly nodded. “Should I go with you?”
“No, no…I’ll be fine. I’ll see you in class tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay. I hope you’re not getting sick. Something’s definitely going around now with the temperature dropping…”
“I’ll take medicine. Don’t worry. See you.”
Hermione sadly waved good-bye as Kiana threw her backpack over one shoulder and rushed from the cheerful chatter of her classmates. Tears had begun to fill her eyes, and she hoped Hermione hadn’t spotted them. Kiana hadn’t before considered the fact that Harry’s death would occur the day before Christmas. All the excitement in the castle would be quickly destroyed with the news of Harry Potter’s demise. The terrible truth would demolish all festivities and celebrations through out England, for no one expected the wizarding world’s hero to be killed off so unexpectedly, so terribly. He was, after all, The Chosen One. The Boy Who Lived. How could he have died in the end at the hand of Voldemort?
No, not the hand of Voldemort; the hand of his girlfriend. She shivered as she headed to the kitchens where the Hufflepuff Common Room was located.
She didn’t respond to the voice right away. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to thrust his voice from her head. But when she realized Harry’s voice had not come from her memory, her eyelids flew open.
The boy smiled shyly and approached her with his hands in his robe pockets. He was still a good distance from her, but the bags under his eyes stood out like his famous scar.
“Sorry if I startled you,” he muttered, glancing behind him as if afraid he was being tracked. “But I thought you might be coming back from supper now. I wanted to show you something, if you aren’t doing anything…”
Kiana glanced at the entrance to the Common Room with longing. She hated to admit it, but right then she wanted to be anywhere than in Harry Potter’s presence. Especially when her mind was clouded with thoughts of his looming death…
“Please, Kiana.” He had read her face quick enough. “I…wanted to apologize for my behavior yesterday. I didn’t mean to pry into your personal business, but I’m just worried about you. I want to know that you’re not getting into something that’ll hurt you.”
Kiana sighed and studied the black laces of her shoes. She wanted to calm his fears more than anything, but she knew that any words she spoke would become exactly what they were – a lie. But she couldn’t blow him off completely; her task was to get him vulnerable. However, ever since she had been force fed the potion that lessened Bellatrix’s influences in her mind, her feelings toward Harry had blossomed and she had been unable to plan how she was to murder him. But if she didn’t do it soon, Harry would not be the only death during the holidays.
She hadn’t noticed him creep closer to her, and she jumped when he touched her arm. His green eyes pierced her with his helplessness, and Kiana melted under his gaze. She could not run from him now.
“What did you want to show me?”
Harry smiled, visibly relieved. “Follow me and I’ll show you.”
“You wanted to show me a wall?”
Harry smiled mysteriously. “Just wait.” He shut his eyes and passed by the same spot three times. Just when Kiana was about to voice aloud her skepticism, a solid door appeared in the wall. Kiana gasped and glanced down the hall, but nobody seemed to have noticed.
“What is it?”
“It’s called the Room of Requirement. Anything will appear behind this door if you ask for it properly. Once you’re inside, the door will disappear, keeping you in a completely private and safe room.”
Kiana continued to gawk at the door. “So what did you ask for?”
Harry laughed. “That would ruin the surprise, wouldn’t it?” He raised his arms and covered her eyes with his hands.
Kiana’s face broke into a grin. “Harry, what are you doing? This is silly…”
“You think a door appearing on a bare wall is silly?” he joked, leading her toward the wall.
Kiana cautiously stepped forward. “No, but if you smash me into the wall I swear I’ll…”
She didn’t realize they were standing inside the Room of Requirement until a sharp whiff of peppermint hit her nose, making her inhale deeper.
“Okay, are you ready?”
Harry removed his hands. Kiana cried out, her hands flying to cover her gaping mouth. She had expected to find herself in a small, enclosed classroom, but instead they were both standing in the middle of what appeared to be a log cabin. The brick walls of Hogwarts had disappeared, replaced with real wood logs that stretched up toward the ceiling to form a wooden arch. A stone fireplace directly in front of them held a crackling fire, the flames sending dancing shadows over the wood paneling under their feet.
Kiana’s heart raced as she studied the tall pine Christmas tree near the fireplace. Snowflake ornaments hovered unsupported over each branch, spinning rapidly in place and shooting sparkles of light over the entire room. The gold star on top of the tree could have been taken from the sky itself – it twinkled softly as red sparks flew from its five tips.
Harry motioned to the wooden table positioned against the right wall. Two high-backed oak chairs were placed at each end, and Kiana gasped as two steaming coffee mugs appeared beside each. She stepped forward and inhaled fresh spices from the mug closest to her.
“Hot apple cider? Oh Harry…”
“Popular among the people in your state, correct?” Harry beamed as he took a seat across from her. “I’m becoming quite fond of it myself. It’s almost as good as Butterbeer…”
Kiana took a sip from her mug and smiled contentedly. It was the perfect temperature – not hot enough to burn your tongue or too cold to enjoy it properly. She glanced up at Harry and whispered, “It’s perfect. I had no idea something like this could exist at Hogwarts, and neither did I expect you to imagine something so completely…Minnesotan.”
Harry chuckled and studied the spinning snowflakes. “I did some research. I almost wish that we were coming in from one of your infamous Minnesota snowstorms. Then this warm fire and hot drink would be even more pleasurable.”
Kiana shuddered. “Don’t wish for things you don’t understand, Harry. If we were coming in from a snowstorm, we’d be too cold to enjoy anything.”
She loved the way the fire light danced in his eyes and how precisely he drank from his mug. He held his pinky finger up as he took each sip, just like a stereotypical British tea drinker.
“What are you smiling at, Karn?”
Her grin widened. “Oh nothing. Just how well you’d adjust to Minnesota if you ever visited.”
“If?” Harry raised his eyebrows. “You’d think I wouldn’t come see your birthplace just because it’s in another country?”
Kiana shrugged, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. She glanced down and fooled with the red handle of her mug, but before she knew it, Harry was kneeling beside her and lifting her chin up to look at him.
“Kiana, I brought you here not just to give you a moment of peace, but also to express my feelings to you. When I asked you out awhile back I was not wishing to date casually. You know, that ridiculous every-other-week rendez-vous. I’ve begun to care about you deeply during this school year, and I wanted to tell you that no matter what you’re struggling with, I will not leave you. You don’t have to withhold information in fear that I’ll desert you.”
Kiana’s jaw shook as she struggled to keep her sorrow hidden, but soon her efforts became futile. How could anyone look into his compassionate eyes and not tear up? He was revealing his most secret emotions to her, and it broke her heart that she could not do the same.
“I’ve slowly begun to realize that I can’t refuse to enter into relationships in fear that Voldemort will use my loved ones to get to me. It would tear me apart to keep my girlfriends a secret from the world; I have to lead as normal a life as possible or else I’ll go crazy. That promise is going to start with you. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, Kiana. Even when you’re angry at me I can’t be angry with you. It hurts me to see you so closed up inside, to be so dead to the world. I wish I could take all your pain away, but I can’t if you don’t share it with me. Give your heart to me, Kiana, and I promise I’ll treasure it forever. I would never hurt you, you know that. And to concrete that promise, I have this…”
She could only watch as Harry withdrew a square box from his pocket. “I apologize for giving you your Christmas present a little early, but I thought now would be a good time.”
He handed the box to her, and Kiana’s hands shook as she took it and untied the bright green ribbon securing the cover. Inside, wrapped carefully in white tissue paper, was a thin, silver bracelet inscribed with the words: L'amour conquerra tous.
“What does it mean?”
“Love will conquer all,” Harry read, pointing to each word as he spoke. “I bought it when I traveled to France with Ron and Hermione one summer. It’s a little cheesy, I know, but I knew I would want to give it to someone special one day. Whenever you look at these words, I want you to remember that I will always be here for you…no matter what happens.”
It was too much. Since September she had longed for him to say exactly what he had spoken to her now, but when her wish had finally been granted she could not enjoy any of it. She recalled Bellatrix’s warning at their last meeting:
“Say a word, Karn, a single word to Potter about our plan, and I will use Crucio on you so many times you’ll end up just like the Longbottoms. Your precious boy is safer now in his ignorance than he’ll ever be. You don’t want to threaten his safety, do you?”
Kiana covered her tear-stained cheeks with her hands, but Harry gently pulled them away. She could tell by the desperate look on his face that he was wishing he knew Ligilimency. She opened her mouth, desperate to lessen the pain in her heart by speaking one word, one word of the truth, but she forced herself to remain silent. She would deeply regret it if she spoke now.
Realizing he was going to get nothing out of her, Harry sighed and took her into his arms. He softly kissed the tears from her cheeks, moving in a steady line to her mouth, where Kiana longingly kissed him back. It was the only thing she could do – express her love through her kiss. Hopefully he would receive her message, hopefully his own pain would disappear when he realized she still cared for him…and hopefully he would never know of his inevitable death until the last possible moment.
The minutes and hours blurred together as they expressed their love for each other in the peaceful cabin within Hogwarts. When the last flicker of flame had long died out and the fire embers were hardly discernable, Kiana fell asleep on Harry’s chest on the newly established couch. It had appeared without her noticing, but that was irrelevant to her. All that mattered was that Harry was not angry with her at her persistent silence; his passionate kisses easily proved that. Peaceful dreams came to her mind as Harry stroked her long, thick hair and she listened to the soft beating of his heart.
She did not even remember that his heart’s beats were but a temporary blessing.