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Chapter 23 : Chapter Twenty Three
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“Harry heads up!”
Harry had barely turned his head to look around when someone slammed into him, knocking him and his assailant to the ground just in time for the curse that had been hurtling toward Harry go sailing past and hit the building behind them with a ‘crack’ of crumbling brick.
Harry sat up quickly in alarm, his heart pounding at the close call. He looked down at the person who had knocked him aside “Thanks, Tonks.”
Tonks rolled her brown eyes impatiently and helped him to his feet. “Wake up!”
“I’m sorry, I was just…looking.’ He said, ducking another spell.
“Well try looking at the Death Eaters firing curses at you, you twit!’ she snapped, running off again.
Harry ducked another spell and ran off after her, throwing himself back in the action.
Like the week before it was complete pandemonium. Death Eater’s were everywhere, and for every one the Order stunned or detained it seemed two more apparated in. Muggle bodies were lying on the ground, distinguishable from their fellow magical victims only by their clothing. No-one had had time to process if any of them were actually dead, for they were all too busy defending themselves from the other side. Death Eater’s were on top of roofs, ducking behind fences and actually breaking into the houses around them on the small, London street in attempt to escape capture by the Ministry. Order members, unlike the Ministry Aurors, didn’t have any orders to stay in the street and were the only ones following Death Eaters into the houses. Muggle screams filled the air and clashed with the cries of spells, hexes and curses as they ran out of their houses and down the street to get out of the line of fire, clutching their children and loved ones close.
Everyone Harry knew was in battle. Taking a moment to look around he could see some of them; Charlie was running off after a Death Eater, flinging hexes as they ran. Moody was taking on two Death Eaters, the use of his magical eye helping him keep a look out for a third. Tonks was shape-shifting into Death Eaters, making out she was one of them so as to get close enough to be able to stun them as they weren’t looking...
Harry dodged a green stream of light hurtling toward him, raised his wand and commanded ‘Stupefy’ with all his mental ability. The nearest Death Eater ducked, but his comrade behind him was not so quick and copped the full-blow of Harry’s spell. The first Death Eater straightened up and raised his wand at Harry, but…
“Expelliarmus!” cried a voice suddenly beside him.
Harry watched as the spell hit the Death Eater square in the chest and sent him flying into the air with a cry, landing on another nearby cloaked figure and knocking them both to the ground.
Ron laughed and clapped Harry on the arm. “Two Chasers with one Bludger! Not bad, eh?’
The two boys ducked another spell. Harry blindly fired a spell back over his shoulder in retaliation and pulled Ron down behind a bush for cover. Harry’s eyes widened as he got a good look at his best friend.
“Ron, bloody hell!”
Ron looked down at the large gash running down his left arm. Blood was oozing from it steadily, soaking his fingers and seeping under his fingernails. His shirt was completely ripped open, his face was filthy and his red bangs were sticking to his sweaty brow. There was a bruise on his cheek and he was bouncing gingerly on his ankle.
“Oh, this?’ he laughed, examining his arm. ‘Yeah, it stings.”
“I would think so.”
“Don’t worry, I’m alright.’ He said, sneaking a peek over the top of the bush, but ducked back down quickly as another spell went flying past his ear, ruffling his hair. ‘Merlin’s beard, this is insane!”
Harry nodded and jumped as the bush shook violently with the force of another spell. “Tell me about it. But I don’t fancy the ridicule we’re bound to get at dinner because we were the only poofs hiding behind a bush.”
Ron nodded. “Too right. Come on, let’s go.”
They waited a moment for the coast to be clear and then both ran out from behind the bush in opposite directions. Ron ran through the crowd, ducking and weaving as he went to where his father was currently in battle with two Death Eaters, and Harry ran over to Kingsley and Remus, both of them standing back to back, fighting off Death Eaters as they came at them one-by-one. Harry stopped a few feet away, spotting a Death Eater coming in from the side. He was striding forward, shoving people out of his way as he went; Kingsley and Remus hadn’t seen him…
“Stupefy!” cried Harry.
Remus looked around, puzzled as the Death Eater crumpled to the ground in a heap at his feet. He recovered from the shock quickly and stunned another Death Eater on the roof, sending the cloak figure tumbling to the ground and made his way over to Harry. He grabbed Harry’s arm and pulled him away against one of the houses out of the street.
“Harry, are you alright?’ he asked, looking at Harry in concern.
Harry shrugged Remus off him. “Of course I’m alright. I’m not a baby!”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Then why did you…”
Harry grunted as Remus put a hand on the top of his head and shoved him down, just quickly enough for a spell to sail over him and shatter the window behind them. Remus straightened up, waved his wand at the Death Eater who had fired at them and sent him flying into the wall, knocking him unconscious.
Remus glared. “This is ridiculous. Are you alright?”
Harry straightened up and gave Remus a look, rubbing the top of his head. “Yes, Remus, I’m fine.”
“I only ask because I saw Tonks send you crashing to the ground before. What happened?’
“I just…zoned out for a minute.’ Muttered Harry, rubbing his arm as he avoided Remus’s eye.
Remus looked at him incredulously. “Zoned out? I’m sorry, is battling Death Eaters that boring?”
“No! I was just…’ he started angrily, but was cut off as Remus shielded them both from a flash of blue light. The spell reverberated off the shield, making the air vibrate dangerously around them and the spell go flying off into the street, hitting random people.
“Just what?’ asked Remus quickly.
Harry didn’t answer. He looked back out at the street, mentally blocking out the scene of fighting and destruction and death and going back to a time a few months ago when he’d seen this street for the first time in an old man’s memories. He could still see it clear as day; watching the young Headmaster cross the road in his purple suit to the old, worn building across the street. The building with the small, bare courtyard and metal fence and no colour. Following him into the Orphanage that was just as dull on the inside as it was out. Following him up the stairs to the room with a small boy inside; a small boy with no friends or family or feeling…
“Harry, look out!”
Harry blinked, coming out of his daze just in time to see another spell coming toward him from the end of a very angry looking Death Eater not five feet away. With his seeker-like reflexes, Harry shoved Remus out of the way, turned sharply to the left to avoid the spell and fired back at the Death Eater. The Death Eater ducked Harry’s spell, but was unprepared for Kingsley suddenly coming up behind him and stunning him. The Death Eater fell to the ground in a heap and Kinsley kicked his leg as if to say ‘Ner ner’.
Remus ruffled his hair back into place and gave Harry a small smile. “Thanks.”
“I think they’re backing off.’ Said Kingsley, making his way over. He was rubbing his wrists as he looked around the street. ‘We’ve got two in custody and there’s one dead. Apparently he got in the way of the Killing Curse meant for one of the Muggles, stupid fool.”
Harry looked around. Indeed, the scene seemed to be dying down a little. The Death Eaters were backing away from the scene, apparating and running off as more and more Auror’s showed up. Some however seemed only to be enraged by this fact, and began throwing curses everywhere.
“Any muggle fatalities?’ asked Remus.
“We won’t know until we can secure the area.’ Said Kingsley regretfully. ‘And it won’t be secure until we can…”
Harry wasn't listening anymore. His mind went blank to everything else but what had suddenly caught his eye. Coming out of the house beside the Orphanage was a family of three; a mother, father and little girl of about five or six with a Death Eater on their tail. There looks of terror were not masked as they ran for their lives, the Death Eater laughing and jeering as he flung curses at their feet. Blind-hot rage erupted behind Harry’s eyes as he watched, and his feet moved him forward, his grip tight on his wand.
“Harry?’ said Remus, looking at Harry in concern. ‘Harry, where are you going?”
His strides quickened as the father, who was ushering his family forward, tripped over his own feet in his haste, sending him crashing to the cobbles street. The Death Eater laughed and raised his wand, ready to fire. The man scrambled backward on his back, terror in his eyes…Harry increased his pace but he wasn’t going to make it in time… he wasn’t quick enough…
In a split second of impulse, Harry took a leap into the air, disapparated with a ‘pop’ and instantly apparated in the space between the Death Eater and the muggle. Still in the middle of his leap, Harry punched the Death Eater in the face. Stunned, the Death Eater mispronounced his spell, and the yellow streak of light hit Harry in the stomach and sent him crumbling to the ground in a heap.
Harry groaned, every muscle in his body feeling like jelly. He struggled to keep his eyelids open, but everything was going fuzzy and his eyes felt like lead under water. He could hear screaming, saw people crowding around him, but finally he gave into it and his world went black.
“I can’t BELIEVE you!”
Ron jumped at the sound of the door banging open and looked around like everyone else in the room to see Hermione standing in the doorway, her face one of pure fury and her hair almost crackling with electricity.
He stood up from Harry’s bedside and turned to face her properly. “Hermione, what…’
“You went without me? Without me?’ she screeched, coming into the room. ‘I can’t believe you, Ronald Bilius Weasley! Just because I’m not living with the two of you does not mean…’
Hermione shut her mouth instantly as she finally realized what it was she had walked in on.
Harry was lying unconscious in bed; his chest was bandaged up and his glasses were sitting on his bedside table. Lily was in the chair beside him, holding his hand tightly in hers while caressing the back of his hand were the words ‘I must not tell lies’ were engraved with her thumb. Remus was over by the window with his hands in his pockets and a worried expression on his face. Tonks was behind Remus; her arms were wrapped around his middle comfortingly. All of them were looking at Hermione as if she had lost her mind, which she supposed she probably had.
“Harry…my God! Ron, what happened? Is he alright?’ breathed Hermione, rushing to Harry’s side.
“He’s going to be fine.’ Said Lily, giving Hermione a teary smile. ‘He just took a blow to the chest, is all. Well... and cracked his ribs, broke his ankle and he was knocked out when he hit the ground, but other than that...”
"This is... I don't..." Hermione sighed and shook her head. She reached down and ran her fingers softly through Harry's jet black hair. How often had she seen him like this; unconcious, bruised, and every time it still hit her as much as it had the first time when they were eleven years old. It was ridiculous how much time he spent in bed. ‘How did this happen?”
Tonks smiled. “He was playing the hero, how else?”
“Come on,’ said Ron softly, taking Hermione’s arm, ‘you can finish your ranting out here.’
Silently, Hermione gave Harry’s expressionless face one last glance before letting Ron take her hand and gently lead her out into the hall. Shutting the door softly behind them with a ‘click, he led her up the hallway a bit toward the stairs before letting her go.
“Alright, proceed.’ He said, bracing himself.
But she didn’t say anything. She was looking at him with wide eyes, taking in the state of him. He looked absolutely terrible. “Ron…”
“Oh, now, don’t you start.’ Said Ron, slapping her hand away as she went to touch his bandaged arm. ‘I’ve already had Mum blubbering over me like an idiot and I don’t need you doing it either.”
“But what? Its fine! Look, see?’ he said, flexing his arm at different angles. ‘Doesn’t even hurt!”
Hermione’s eyes welled up with tears, and Ron cringed inwardly at the thought of what would happen if the floodgates opened. But instead of breaking down completely, her face contorted into fury again and she hit him in the arm. Hard.
“Ow! Geez!’ he cried, rubbing his shoulder. ‘What the hell was that for?”
“For leaving me behind, you great lubbocks!’ she snapped, her anger which had been momentarily forgotten at the sight of Harry and Ron’s injuries coming back in full force. ‘You can’t just leave me behind! You can’t just do that! It’s not fair!”
Ron frowned. “So, you wanted to come to a Death Eater battle where you could have been gravely injuried or killed?’
“You know, in the seven years I’ve known you I’ve never understood your strange, female ways.’ He said, shaking his head at her in disbelief. ‘And I really don’t think I ever will.”
Hermione threw her arms up in the air and began pacing. “I don't believe you! You selfish... ”
“Yeah, we’ve established your disbelief, Hermione!’ retorted Ron irritably. ‘This isn’t a personal thing, alright? Moody happened to be having lunch with us when he got the summons. There wasn’t any time!”
“There’s always time.’ snapped Hermione, her eyes narrowing. ‘All you had to do was apparate over and I would have been ready in a split second to come with you.”
“And let more people be in danger just for the sake of collecting you?’ retorted Ron irritably.
Hermione let out a huff and continued to pace in an angry silence. She was hurt, Ron could see it as plain as day, but what could he do about it? In the history of their entire relationship he had not yet worked out how to douse the flames of fury within her, and he didn’t think the solution would just suddenly come to him now.
Ron frowned and rubbed his bandaged forearm tenderly. “How did you find out about it anyway?”
“On the television.’ She said shortly. ‘I was reading a book about the Founder’s on the sofa and there was a news bulletin, saying that there was some sort of struggle going on in a street in Stockwell with strange flashes of light and cloaked figures.’
“Okay, so, remind me…feletision is the one you listen to or the one you look at?”
Hermione rolled her eyes with an impatient groan and stopped her pacing in front of him. “Do you know what its like to find out that your friends are fighting for their lives on muggle television? To hear a muggle newsreader talking about it as if it were just some strange, fireworks phenomena going on in some random street for no really important reason when you know better? If you had any sort of idea of the thoughts that ran through my mind..."
She trailed off and put a hand on her forehead, taking deep breaths to try and compose herself. Ron pursed his lips, wishing her eyes wouldn’t well up like that. He both wanted to turn away from them in shame and wipe them away with his thumb, but he stood still and let her rant, her words now more emotional and upset than mad.
“We’re meant to be in this together, Ron.’ She said softly, her voice cracking. ‘You, me and Harry, not Harry and whoever’s closest at the time.
“I know, you’re right.’
Hermione blinked. "I... I am?"
"Well no, but I thought the best thing here would be to just go with whatever it is you're saying."
"Now shut up and listen to me.' he but her off, not unkindly, and put a hand over her mouth to keep her silent. 'Yes, we agreed that we'd be in this together, and we also agreed that you not mving in with us wouldn't change anything... and it hasn't. But this was a spare of the moment thing that we had to go then and there, there was no time to go anywhere else or see anyone else and to be honest... I'm glad I didn't come and get you."
"Let me finish.' He leant in a bit closer. Her eyes widened and she stiffened; his hand didn't move from her mouth. 'Any opportunity when you can be away from a bloodbath like I just saw is a good thing. If I had to do it all again, no, I still probably wouldn't have come for you. Call me an idiont but I like to think of you home and safe with your parents and your nose stuck in a book and a mug of tea resting on one knee and Crookshanks on the other. I don't ever want to see something like this,' he brandished his bandaged arm, 'happen to you. And if that makes me selfish then, well, thems the breaks as they say.
'It was one battle, Hermione. And unfortunately I'm sure it won't be the last. You'll have plenty more opportunities to come with us and risk your neck, so just relax, okay? Take deep breaths, count to ten or whatever it is you do to stop yourself blowing a fuse and try to remain calm for the stupid pillock who's lying in that room right there, because if he sees you acting like this it's just going to make him feel worse and the last thing anyone needs a moody hero."
Even after his hand moved away from her mouth Hermione said nothing. She stared up at him as if she'd never met him before. Ron rubbed the back of his neck, stading up a little straigher.
He laughed awkwardly. "Long story short, yes, we are insensitive, pig-headed gits. You were right, we were wrong, so and so forth, etcetera etcetera..."
The corner of Hermione’s mouth twitched and she gave in to the tiniest of smiles. Ron grinned down at her, patted her on the pack and gave her a small hug.
“I’m still mad.” She said, giving him a look.
“So? What else is new?’
Hermione smiled and hugged herself, rubbing her arms as she gave Ron another look. Her smile faded and her gaze intensified, and Ron found himself blushing on the end of it. He squirmed, wanting to vanish.
She pursed her lips. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yes, Hermione, I’m fine.’ He insisted softly, nodding. ‘Bit knocked around, but…’
“What about Harry? I mean, I know Mrs. Potter said he was going to be okay, but…’
“He’ll be fine.’ Said Ron. ‘Although he won’t be find after the flogging I give him. What a wanker, jumping in front of a Death Eater like that!”
"Excuse me? What was all that you just told me about keeping it together?"
"Doesn't mean I can't tell him when he's being an idiot. Which he is."
Hermione smiled and grabbed his arm. “Come on, we can sit next to him and when he wakes up we can yell at him together.”
Bill loved that feeling of walking in your front door after a long day a work.
He wiped his feet on the doormat before crossing the threshold and shutting the door behind him. He hung his cloak up on the coat stand, kicked his boots off and dragged his feet determinedly through the living room the kitchen. After the first day at school he was in need of a long, dry Butterbeer.
Yanking the icebox open, he leant heavily against the door and examined the contents inside. Ice-mice… chocolate frogs… salad… moudly, five week old cheese… fireworks… rubber chicken… apples…
“William Arthur Weasley!”
Bill tensed, twenty-something years of instinct (from pranks and gags and mischief that seventy percent of the time had absoloutely nothing to do with him and Charlie and the twins) refusing to die kicked in at the sound of his name in that voice. He groaned and shut his eyes, wishing he had chosen to stay up at the castle for dinner. He heard quick footsteps descend the stairs, and then he was yanked back by the back of his shirt and forced to turn around.
“Hello, Mum, wonderful to see you.’ He said, deadpan as he looked down at the furious woman in front of him.
Mrs. Weasley glared up at her eldest son. “Don’t you patronize me, William. I’m not in the mood.”
“I imagine you wouldn’t be, what after spending the afternoon battling Death Eaters.’
Bill walked around his mother. He made for the back door, ready to go for a walk, maybe find Fleur out in the paddock where she always liked to sit as the sun went down…but the back door slammed in his face as if pushed closed by an invisible hand. Bill sighed and leant his forehead against it. ‘Mum, what is it now?”
“I want to talk to you.’ Said Mrs. Weasley, pocketing her wand. ‘Sit down.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Fine, stand then. But we are going to talk.”
Bill let his head drop back, feeling very tired. He turned around to face his mother, not having the energy to discuss what it was he knew she wanted to discuss. “Mum, I’m tired, I’m hungry, and all I want to do is see my wife.”
Mrs. Weasley sat herself down at the bench determinedly. “Just for a minute, Bill.
“Woman, you don’t know the definition of ‘just a minute’.’ Bill gave her a tired smile. ‘What you really want to do is sit me down and demand to know why I didn’t tell you I took up the job at Hogwarts, and to know what I was thinking by taking such a job on at a time like this, and what was in my brain when I agreed to put myself into a job that’s rumored to be jinxed.”
Mrs. Weasley looked startled. “Well, now that you mention it…”
“Well, you know what? I don’t have to excuse my choices to you, Mum.’ Said Bill shortly. ‘I am a grown man now. A married man. I do not have to defend my own decisions to you anymore.”
“Don’t speak to me like that, young man.’ Said Mrs. Weasley, her eyes narrowing. ‘Not while you still live in this house.”
Bill clenched his jaw and looked at the ceiling. He wanted to snap back at her, but his last shreds of parental respect held him back. If Fleur was there, he knew she would have given his mother the old ‘what is ziz, you say?’ bitchy comment in his defense; but Fleur wasn’t there, and Bill had to keep silent.
“But since we’re on the subject…’ said Mrs. Weasley, trying to grab his eye. ‘Perhaps you could enlighten me as to why you took this job.”
Bill shrugged. “Change of scenery? Better pay? I don’t know, what do you want me to say, Mum?”
“All I want to know is why, Bill!’ said Mrs. Weasley desperately. ‘You’ve always seen so happy with what you were doing. You never mentioned anything about a change of career!”
“This isn’t a change of career. It’s only for this year and then I’m out again.’ Said Bill.
“And what about Gringotts?”
“I’m on sabbatical until June.”
Mrs. Weasley sighed and rubbed her grubby face. “And Fleur’s alright with this is she?”
Bill bent over the bench, resting his elbows on it and ran his fingers through his ponytail. “Not that its any of your business but she did have a pink fit when I told her I was going to go teach, but she’s alright with it now. Kept going on about how ‘you should not be goin’ to zat place now adayz, Bill!’ and that, ‘it ez too danzerous, Bill!’ or ‘what aboot me, Bill?’. It took a lot of convincing to get through to her, and for the sake of argument and my last shreds of sanity I’m going to tell you what I told her. This position isn’t in the normal job description. I don’t sleep on campus, nor do I eat there, supervise Quidditch matches, do patrols at night or chaperone Hogsmeade visits unless I am specifically needed. My hours are strictly school hours. Nine in the morning until four in the afternoon – that’s it. I get up, I get ready for work, I apparate over to Hogwarts, I teach, I do some paper work and I come home. That’s my day. Five days a week. I don’t eat there and I don’t sleep there. I took this job on the condition that I could come home to my family at the end of the day.”
A deafening silence rang through the room as Bill fell silent. He looked at his mother defiantly, as if daring her to comment on his decisions. But she just sat there, looking at him with a curious expression, and if quite unable to believe who it was she was actually looking at.
After another long moment, Mrs. Weasley put a hand to her chest. “You…you made those conditions clear when you applied?”
“Well, see, there’s the thing. I didn’t actually apply.’ Said Bill, finally sitting down. ‘In all honesty, I really had no desire to go and teach at Hogwarts. I mean, sure it’s a great opportunity and Merlin knows how much I love that castle…’
“How did you end up getting it then?’ asked Mrs. Weasley.
“McGonagall offered it to me after one of our Order meetings.’ Said Bill, rubbing his scarred face.
“Well if she knew your hesitation why did she come to you first?”
“She didn’t come to me first.’ Said Bill. ‘She went to Tonks first. She thought, you know… Auror, charismatic, fun, able to relate to kids, puts up with Dark Arts everyday… would be a better choice. But Tonks turned her down, so McGonagall came to me.”
Mrs. Weasley fixed him with a confused stare. “Then, Bill, help me understand why you took this job if you didn’t want it in the first place.”
Bill got to his feet and paced a little, wondering if there was the slightest chance he could change the subject. His reasons had been personal, kept even from Fleur. But if anyone had the right to know, it was his mother.
He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I took up the job so I could keep an eye on Ginny.”
Mrs. Weasley’s eyes widened. “You…Bill…’
“She’s there by herself, Mum. No, Ron, no Harry, no Hermione, no Fred or George… no-one there for her to go to. She’s my kid sister, and I want to be there for her like I haven’t been in nearly eight years. Its bad enough we lost Percy, but to…’ he trailed off, took a moment and shook his head. ‘I just want to watch out for her, that’s all. This job isn’t some outreach for a new life, or some sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome. It’s just me wanting to look out for my family.”
Mrs. Weasley sighed, seeing suddenly the enormous stress her son had put himself under. “Oh Bill, sweetheart, why couldn’t you just tell us that?”
Bill squared his jaw and looked out the kitchen window.
“Darling, come here.’ Said Mrs. Weasley, getting up. She opened her arms up and hugged him, feeling his hesitate for a second before tightening his grip around her shoulders in response. ‘You need to know you can still talk to us. Your father and I are both here, and so are your brothers and sister. Just because you’re all grown up does not mean you have to be so secretive.”
They broke apart and Bill smiled down at her. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.”
“And I’m sorry for being so hysterical.’ Said Mrs. Weasley, fiddling with the collar of his shirt. ‘You just have to understand how worried we were when we found out.”
“Yeah…how did you find out?’
“Ron heard it somehow.”
Bill frowned and opened his mouth to say something, when the back door opened and Fleur walked in like a cool summer breeze blowing in flower petals. Bill smiled and felt his heart lift just at the sight of her. She flipped her blonde hair out of her face and blinked as she spotted Bill and Mrs. Weasley behind the counter, standing in close proximity.
“Oh, dear, I ‘ope I am not inzerupting anysing.” She said, giving Bill a secretive smile.
“No, of course not.’ Laughed Mrs. Weasley, stepping away from Bill. ‘Just a little mother-son bonding time, you know?”
“As I am wizout children, no, I am afraid I do not know.’
Bill laughed. “Trying to give me a hint?”
Fleur smirked “Not at all.’
Mrs. Weasley laughed and gave Bill a tap on the arm. “Listen, I’ll be upstairs if you need me, alright? You two…have some time.”
Bill smirked at her. “Thanks Mum.”
Fleur put her hands on her hips and watched as Mrs. Weasley gave Bill one last kiss on the hand and left up the stairs and out of sight. Bill watched her leave, before turning around to look at his wife.
Fleur raised her eyebrows. “You ‘ave told ‘er?”
Bill snorted. "Didn't need to in the end. She knew.”
“She ‘it the roof like you thought she would?’
“You told ‘er why you did it?”
Fleur smiled, made her way over to him, too him by the arm and lead him toward the nearest chair. “Come, my love. Sit down and relax. I will make you a rare steak and you can tell me about your day.”
Harry blurrily opened his eyes, the sharp edges of the room around him fuzzy with fatigue and the lack of glasses. He wanted to put his glasses on and put the world back into sharper focus, but every muscle in his upper torso ached as if he’d been run over by a steamroller. His left ankle stung like it had been caught in a vice and his right hand throbbed with a graze he had yet to discover. The room was dimly lit, deafeningly silent and from what he could tell totally empty of company. Taking a few moments to blink away the lingering veil of sleep, Harry blew air out through his lips and turned his head to look at the clock on his bedside table.
But found his mother sitting next to him instead.
She was just... sitting there, one leg crossed daintily over the other, arms folded over her chest, eyes wide and alert and locked right on him. Her hair was down again, and it hung around her face like a curtain, framing the beautiful features of her face. Had Harry had his glasses on, he would have seen how red her eyes were, and how every line in her face was etched with worry. But he didn’t have his glasses on, so he simply gazed at her for one more moment, before he shut his eyes again tightly.
“Promise you’ll still be there when I open my eyes.’ He said. He waited a moment, listening and hoping with every fiber of his being that the promise would be kept. He exhaled slowly, hesitated and opened his eyes.
She was still there.
Harry exhaled in relief. “I was worried you weren’t real. I’d dream about you by my side so many times…”
Lily took his glasses off the bedside table, leant over and slipped them carefully on his nose without a word, bringing his world back into focus. She sat back in her seat silently and continued to watch him, her lips parted slightly.
Harry groaned as he flexed his muscles. “Why am I so sore?”
“Because you almost died, that’s why.” Her voice croaky.
“I…what?’ stuttered Harry, confused.
Lily smiled in a humorless way and shook her head. “Harry, we really have to work on this growing hero complex of yours, as it is getting rather out of hand.”
“What are you talking about?”
"You don't remember?"
He would have shook his head, but that would have hurt too much. Instead, he just looked at her.
Lily fixed him with a look that was so intense Harry had to fight the almost overwhelming urge to look away. He could now see how bloodshot her eyes were, and how splotchy her face was, and knew how hard she had been crying during his slumber.
“The Death Eater you jumped in front of…the one abusing that Muggle family…he used Avada Kedavra. When you jumped in front of that Muggle man, you absorbed the full force of the spell, and the only reason you’re still alive is because he mispronounced the spell when you hit him in the face.”
Harry blinked, completely gobsmacked. He hadn’t known this information at all. What he had done had been completely on impulse and instinctive. He hadn’t even considered what spell that Death Eater could have been using. The only thought in his mind had been to protect that Muggle…to protect that girl’s father…to protect that woman’s husband…
“Mum, I didn’t…I wasn’t…’
“You could have died today, Harry. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?’ said Lily, her voice low. “And what’s worse, I wasn’t even there. You could have died…and I wasn’t even bloody there.”
Harry kept silent and felt guilt wash over him. She looked to be only just holding herself together from bursting into tears again.
“You’re angry.’ He said. It wasn’t a question.
Lily smiled without humor. “I was angry. I’ve been through worry, fear, anxiety, annoyance…’
“And where are you now?” he asked, not sure if he really wanted to know the answer.
Lily pursed her lips and looked at the end of the bed. “Sitting here beside you for the past four hours has given me a lot of time to think. It’s given me time to stubbornly root myself in decisions that I’d been floating around for the past few weeks, and now that you’re awake I can expect you to lie there and be silent while I tell you that we’re making a few changes around here.”
Harry clamped his mouth shut.
Lily waited a moment to make sure she has his full attention, before continuing. “My days of sitting at home while you and everyone else go to fight in a war that I have as much of a right to be involved in as you do are completely over, as are my days of sitting around in general. When I go out, I’m going to be walking upright where anyone can see me and to hell with the consequences.”
“No talking!’ she said quickly, giving him a look.
Harry went silent again, although very reluctantly, and Lily went on.
‘When we walk out this door, we’re not going to bother with security, or worry about people seeing me, or looking over our shoulders every second hoping that someone doesn’t walk into an invisibly barrier and cause I a riot. That’s it. I’m done. No more of it, Harry. No more Invisibility Cloaks, no more spells, no more Disillusions. I’m going to be with you every step of the way in this, sonny-Jim…completely visible to the human eye. I am you mother and it’s my God-given right. I want to be right by your side whenever evil rears its ugly head. I want to be standing next to you when you go off to fight, or when you go after another Horcrux, or even when you go down the road for some more milk. If you’re going to war, I want to be there behind you, wand armed. If you’re going to rally up people for your cause, I want to be there in the crowd, cheering you on. And if you’re going die…heaven forbid…I want to be there to hold your hand.”
“But…’ stuttered Harry desperately, ‘but what if He find out about you?”
“So what if he does?’ challenged Lily. ‘No-one’s going to believe it’s really me anyway. What’s He going to do if he finds out? Kill me? Been there, done that!”
Harry very reluctantly shut his mouth again.
‘I get this defense mechanism you have, Harry. The only people you push away are the people you care most deeply about, and you push them away because you couldn’t stand to be responsible for something happening to them, nor feel the burning pain of loss for them if they left. You’re reckless because you don’t know how to be cautious. You’re impulsive because you don’t know what it is to consider. And you’re brave simply because you don’t know how to be a coward. But you need to start thinking about yourself in a more respectful light. We all love you so much that sometimes it seems unnatural and wrong, and if something were to happen to you we would all be devastated. And not because you’re the Chosen One, and that the world would go to hell simply because you did not kill Voldemort, because you’re you, and because there’s no-one else like you. You’re far too important to be so blasé about your life! At times it may seem meaningless to you, I understand that. But rest in the knowledge that it is not meaningless to us, and especially not to me.”
Harry said nothing as she leant forward and took his hand, her hands boiling hot with emotion. He shivered at the look she was giving him, still uncertain after all these weeks together of how to respond to such raw intensity.
“You’re life is my life, Harry.’ she said softly. ‘If I lost you…I’d have nothing. I’d be nothing. Its as true now as it was the day the doctor handed you to me on the day you were born.”
He opened and closed his mouth several times, trying desperately to say something to her. “I…I’m…’ he stuttered, trying to respond. “I’m…I’m so sorry.’ He finally whispered.
Lily swallowed back a sob and smiled, brushing his hair away from his scar. “No, you’re not – it’s who you are. And you shouldn’t be sorry for who you are. You’re just…’ she sighed and laughed. ‘You’re just very frustrating sometimes!”
Harry smiled timidly. “Yeah…I get that.”
Lily laughed and kissed the back of his hand.
Several minutes passed of silence, of hand-holding and teary smiles, and Harry still found himself stumped by her proclamation. He’d never really been able to grasp the concept that he actually really meant something to other people; an effect from his childhood, he supposed. He’d never had a mother to be worried about him (or anyone for that matter), or to fret over him, or to sit by his bedside while he was sleeping off the effects of a sickness. He’d always had to take care of himself. That’s what was instinctive – doing what he thought was right. When he had jumped in front of that muggle man, he hadn’t given a second thought to his own safety, or what anyone would think if he got injured. Being hurt and injured seemed to rather be a lifestyle for him now, nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe it had been selfish, but he’d never even considered the impact his actions would have on other people. Did Ron ever wonder what his father would think if he did a certain action? Did Hermione worry about what her mother would think? Did Remus worry about what Tonks would think? What was apparently instinctive to them seemed like a whole different way of thinking to Harry – something he would now need to work into his own lifestyle.
Harry bit his lip. “Have…have you really been sitting here for four hours?”
Lily shrugged and sat back in her seat. “Give or take a minute.”
“Have Ron or Hermione come to see me?”
“How is everyone? Is Ron alright? Did anything happen to him?”
“No, he’s fine as far as I know. Although his vitals may have changed after the verbal beating Hermione gave him.”
Harry winced. “I suspect she’s a bit ticked off, is she?”
Lily laughed. “She looked ready to spit nails when she barged in here, demanding to know why you insensitive prats didn’t let her tag along. Expect her to be back here soon; ready to give you an ear bashing.”
“I look forward to it.’ Said Harry, deadpan. He looked at his mother until the smile slowly evaporated from her face. ‘I really am sorry, you know. But…I had to. That Death Eater, he was going to kill that man. You know I had to, don’t you?”
Lily leant over him again and planted a soft, lingering kiss on his scar. “I know, sweetheart, I know. And I’m not mad, really… not too much... just as long as you’re okay.”
Harry nodded. “I feel like I’ve been run over by a heard of Rhino’s, but otherwise I’m fine.”
Lily folded her arms over her chest again and blew air out through her lips. “If you’re father were here, do you know what he would have said about your behaviour today?”
“No. What would he have said?”
Lily smiled. “He would have said, ‘Well done, son. Now teach me how you did that apparition-jump thingy!’.”
Hermione paced the room with an almost dreamlike speed, her mind anywhere and everywhere.
The room was dark, lit only by the light of the single candle sitting upon the top of the Grand piano by the window. It was one of the smaller studies upstairs, but Hermione had lately turned it into her own, self-proclaimed "I’ll Go Here and Pace A Trench In The Floor While I Think for a While" room. As it was away from the other bedrooms and other high-frequency rooms within the house, she was rarely disturbed unless desperately needed. Everyone knew to keep their distance when Hermione locked herself away in this room.
Normally she could be very productive in one evening, her train of thought rarely letting her down. Earlier that evening, she’d been considering the significance between the Death Eater attack and the location of their offensive. She had very quickly realized that the street had been no random selection – it had been the street on which the Orphanage where Voldemort was born and grew up was situated. And yet, such an obvious link did not reveal an equally obvious reason for their presence. Had Voldemort wanted the street attacked as a statement? Had the Death Eaters rebelled against his orders? Was Voldemort keeping a Horcux there, and had he sent them to collect it? Was he onto their plans? Did he know that three of his precious Horcruxes were already destroyed? Or was it all just some sort of a coincidence? Were they even Death Eaters at all? There had been that one unforgettable incident of copycats; stupid kids who thought it would be a hilarious prank. The Aurors had had a field day.
These thoughts and more like them had assaulted her brain at an almost dizzying pace, demanding to be analyzed and considered. But slowly her determination for brainstorming had dwindled to nothing, and now she was pacing for a whole other reason.
She was worried.
She was worried about everything. Worried about Harry, worried about Ron, worried about their secrets, worried about the Order, worried about Harry, worried about Ron, worried about Bill and his position at Hogwarts, worried about Ron…
It seemed an endless stream of worry, shoving aside all of her logic reasoning and taking a hold of her better judgment. She’d been on edge ever since the event at Hogwarts back in June, and the events of the day just passed seemed only to heighten her anxiety. Harry had almost been killed. Ron had been injured. It was all she could think about, like a loop running over and over in her mind. She saw images of Harry on his back on the ground, eyes wide open with a flash of green light…Ron bent over him, cuts and bruises all over him, crying not tears but blood…
Hermione shook her head and grunted with annoyance. All this worrying was tiresome and not at all productive. She stopped her pacing and looked at her watch; just past three am.
I should be in bed. She thought, sitting down heavily on the piano stool. Its late, everyone else is in bed already…I should just go home…try to relax…
But she couldn’t relax; that was the problem. She was too worried, too anxious and too on edge to have any sort of hope for a good nights sleep. Her back ached and her neck was sore, and every muscle in her body felt tight and tense. She was no stranger to these feelings, they occurred every year just before exams. But she was out of school now. She shouldn’t be feeling this sort of stress anymore. Should she?
Hermione blew air out through her lips and looked around the dark room hopelessly. She sniffed and looked down at the piano beside her, lid up and keys exposed. Hesitantly, Hermione lifted her hand and placed the pads of her fingers softly against the cool, white ivory keys. She softly rubbed the smooth surface, but almost instinctively her middle finger pushed down and the piano rung with a loud G. Hermione jumped and looked around guilty as the sound vanished. Had she woken anyone?
Don’t be silly. She thought, considering the keys. Everyone’s asleep downstairs, not up the hall…it was only quiet…
Hermione looked at the closed door again, and then looked back at the piano. She flexed her fingers and then, very softly, played the scale of G major up to the next octave. She smiled, feeling that rush of excitement that she used to feel when she was a little girl at piano lessons. Feeling impulsive, she played G and G minor and with one last look over her shoulder, she turned around to face the Piano properly, put her other hand on the keys, straightened her back and began to play.
Soft, sweet music filled the walls of the room as Hermione played an old favorite. The piano was still perfectly in tune, even after all its years of neglect - it was probably charmed that way. For Hermione it was like slipping on an old, favorite pair of jeans. She stumbled around the keys a few times, but after a few moments finally got back into the rhythm of playing. Her long, slender fingers worked the keys like a dance, gliding over them gracefully. She smiled and bobbed her head along with the music, letting the slow, easy melody take over. Her mind went blank as she focused only on the notes, the beat. She pushed the pedals with her feet and pressed the keys with controlled pressure, letting the melody fill both the room and her mind. Her back relaxed, her muscles unclenched and her neck loosened, as if the very tune were massaging all the tension away.
And as she continued to play she realized that, amazingly, her mind was the quietest it had been in a long time.
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