The overcrowded house was jarring to Hattie's senses after a morning with the three Cattermole children. She'd quite forgotten what having children that young around was like. They had bounced back quickly from their terrors over their mother's fate, and were running around shrieking with laughter. It was a joy to see them, because she loved children, but she wasn't used to it these days the way she'd once been. Eventually she just left it to Reg and Mary, and Beatrice, who had happily stayed home from work to play with the little ones, and fled to her garden for some solitude.
She walked through the carefully tended pathways, making her way to the back corner of the property, where a wooden swing sat in the middle of the small orchard. There were several species of mature fruit trees, and an arbor with grape vines. It was Hattie's favourite spot in the garden.
The swing was warm from the sun, and she curled her legs up as she sat. The initial displacement set the swing rocking, but it soon stilled, and she sat motionless, staring at the cherry tree they'd planted when Humphrey was born.
Its branches were bare already, earlier than usual for this time of year. The autumn had already taken its vitality, faded it to a wintry barrenness that seemed out of place in the small orchard. The apple tree next to it was still full of the vigour of summer. Humphrey's cherry tree was bereft of life while the rest of the garden thrived. It echoed in Hattie's mind with the unfairness of it all.
She turned at the sound of heavy footsteps, frowning at a sudden jolt of fear. She'd left her wand inside. Her face cleared as she recognized the figure approaching. They'd been friends for so long, she almost couldn't remember a time when she hadn't had him around. He was like a brother to her after all these years, and despite occasional teasing about running off with her, she knew he thought of her as a little sister.
“Aren't you going to ask me a question so you know it's me?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Should I?”
“I suppose no one would bother impersonating me.” She regarded him. It was him, she knew it, but that niggling doubt that seemed everywhere since the return of You-Know-Who had grown worse since Humphrey's death, and now she even doubted herself. He was an Obliviator. It was entirely possible that someone might want to impersonate him.
“Go on, have me prove it,” he said steadily, apparently seeing the struggle in her eyes.
There were plenty of things she could ask him that no one else would know, plenty of secrets between them. “What did you ask me the night Humphrey was born?”
“Not to make me godfather. But you did anyway, you devil.” He dropped down in the swing next to her, smiling his familiar cocky smile, though it didn't reach his eyes. “Afternoon, Hattie.”
“Good afternoon, Reid.”
Reid Akins followed her gaze to the cherry tree. “Are you all right, Hattie?” he asked quietly. “Beatrice said you'd been out here for hours.”
She just gave him a look. He didn't bother asking again, but gave the swing a nudge with his toe, setting it swaying gently. Hattie tucked her feet up a bit, and Reid took her hand. She absently gave his hand a pat as it covered hers.
“How are you, Reid? I haven't seen you in over a fortnight.”
He gave a one-shouldered shrug. “Had a bit of a blow-up in the Ministry this morning with my ex-wife.”
“Which one?” Hattie asked distractedly, still staring at the tree.
“Oh.” She couldn't seem to bring Reid's last wife to mind, but she supposed it didn't matter now anyway, as they'd divorced only a few months after their marriage. “I'm sorry, dear.”
“It's not important.” He paused for a moment, then gave her hand a squeeze. “I'm worried about you. Edwin's worried too, you know.”
“Have you two been talking about me behind my back?” she demanded, stung.
Reid gave her a look. “Of course we have. You've not been yourself since Humphrey died, and you won't talk to either of us.”
“I don't want to talk about it,” Hattie said angrily.
“Well that's too bloody bad, because you need to talk about it.” Reid glanced at the cherry tree again, and went on, “Someone very smart told me something when Cecilia died, and I couldn't bring myself to keep going: The universe doesn't give you anything you can't handle.”
Hattie threw him a look. “I told you that.”
“And you were perfectly correct. And now I'm telling you the same thing. The universe won't give you anything you can't handle, Hattie. No matter how miserable you are, how awful everything is, no matter how much you wish you could live another life than the one you have, you will get through it. Things will get better.”
She didn't want to hear that. It sounded an empty platitude now, and she wished she'd never said it, irritation filling her at Reid for throwing her own words back at her. How he'd remembered them all these years... She pulled her hand out of his and crossed her arms over her chest. “It's not the same thing as when you lost Cecilia. It's different when it's a child.”
Reid turned a look on her that cut straight to her heart. “Humphrey was four years older than Cecilia was," he said quietly. "He was a grown man-”
“He was my child,” she said savagely, unable to think of those four years that Humphrey had gotten but Cecilia had not. They had both died too young, far too young.
“He'll always be your child,” Reid said. “But he was a grown man when he died. You can't blame yourself for not protecting him. And you can't keep the girls wrapped in cotton wool forever, my dear.”
Hattie didn't say anything, and he went on, “You're a wonderful mother, and you and Edwin raised him to be a good young man. But you've got to lay him to rest, Hattie. You can't keep being angry like this. When are you going to let yourself shatter?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” she said, affecting a light tone.
Reid was obviously not convinced. “Promise me you'll think about what I said. Let it out, or it'll break you.”
“All right.” She didn't want to think about what he'd said just now. She knew it would come back to her later and she would have to process it, but for now, she simply couldn't absorb it.
He slung an arm around her, and Hattie rested her head against his shoulder. The breeze blew the swing, setting it rocking gently again.
“We could run away to Tahiti together,” Reid offered.
“I think we all know you can't go back to Tahiti,” she retorted in a light voice. “Was that marriage even legal?”
Hattie smiled and patted his arm, grateful for his jokes.
Reid flicked his wand at the cherry tree, which burst into full blossom. The smile dropped off Hattie's face, and she stared at the tree, drawing in a ragged breath.
She knew it was just an illusion, that it wouldn't last. But the sight of the formerly bare branches covered in rosy pink blooms made her heart lurch. Spring bringing life back after the autumn's death. Comfort for her aching soul.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“I do love you, you know.” Reid heaved a sigh. “I only want you to be happy. I'm worried about you.”
“I love you too, dear.” She put her head back down on his shoulder, her eyes still on the tree, and they rocked a while together in silence.
It was nearly dinnertime before Arthur returned, with a tall Auror whom he introduced as Kingsley Shacklebolt, another Order member. Kingsley had an empty, half-crushed tin of peas in his hand, and Hattie knew that was the Portkey to Nova Scotia for her guests.
She didn't know how they were going to do it. They could take nothing with them but the clothes on their backs and the small bag Molly had packed for them at the poor Obliviated grandmother's home. Starting all over in a new country, a new home, with three small children, sounded tragically awful to Hattie. She wasn't sure she could do it.
Then she pictured Humphrey's grave, and she realized she wouldn't have hesitated. If it would have saved her son, she would have left everything behind, taken her family and run.
She wished she had.
So she did the best she could, wrapping up some old clothes and robes for them to bring along, and parceling up the toys the three Cattermole children had been playing with. Kingsley shrunk the packages down so they fit in Mary Cattermole's handbag, and taught her how to recover them when she arrived in Canada.
Mary was crying again, though she seemed otherwise recovered today. They still didn't know who had saved them at the Ministry, but it appeared Mary and Reg had decided it didn't matter after all. Hattie rather agreed with them, though she wished she could tell them it had been Harry Potter himself.
“Thank you so much,” Mary said tearfully, hugging Hattie. “For everything you've done.”
“If I could do more, I would,” Hattie told her with absolute sincerity. “I hope everything goes well in your new home.”
“We're together, that's all that matters.”
Hattie smiled at her and shooed her out the door. Beatrice was herding the children, telling them about Portkeys. They'd never travelled by anything but Floo powder before yesterday, and now they'd gone by Side-Along Apparition and were about to take their first Portkey – and an international one at that. It all sounded a grand adventure the way Beatrice described it, smiling and giggling conspiratorially with the children. They were smiling eagerly, and even Reg seemed taken by Beatrice's words.
“She's such a sweet girl,” Mary said then, looking at Beatrice. “You must be very proud of her.”
“I am, thank you,” Hattie agreed, smiling at her daughter. She turned her attention back to Mary. “Are you sure there's nothing else you need?”
Mary shook her head. “No. We'd better get going.”
“Two minutes,” Kingsley announced in his deep, smooth voice.
Mary hurried over to the children, and a moment later they were all holding the crushed tin. Reg Cattermole locked eyes with Hattie and nodded solemnly at her, and then they were gone.
Kingsley turned to Arthur, who'd been standing back near the house, away from the commotion. “We ought to leave separately, Arthur, just to be safe. Are you headed back to work?”
“Yes, I wasn't quite finished for the evening. Better stop by the Burrow for some supper, though, or Molly will have a panic attack,” Arthur said ruefully.
“Goodbye, Hattie. We'll be in touch if we need your house again,” Kingsley said, holding out a hand. She clasped it without hesitation.
“We'll be waiting.”
Once Kingsley had vanished from the edge of Hattie's protective enchantments, she turned to Arthur.
“Have you... Have you heard anything? Harry hasn't been caught, has he?”
Arthur smiled slightly, and she could see the pride in his eyes. “He's still free. Out there somewhere, doing whatever he can to stop You-Know-Who.”
“How do you know?” she whispered urgently, not wanting Beatrice to overhear her doubts and fears. “How do you know he's not just hiding?”
“Because I know Harry,” he said simply. “And he won't rest until it's all over, and he's won.”
“What if...” She couldn't quite voice the thought, but Arthur seemed to understand instantly.
“He'll win, Hattie,” he told her with quiet conviction. “You wouldn't believe some of the things Harry's been through. He doesn't just survive. He wins. He will win this as well.”
“He's so young.” She glanced over at her daughter. Beatrice was two years older than Harry Potter, and Hattie couldn't imagine her going out to hunt down the worst Dark wizard in a hundred years. How could someone so young take on so much?
Arthur reached an arm out to hug her. “Have faith, Hattie.”
She nodded, but she couldn't quite form words around her thoughts, so she settled for hugging him back.
Arthur left then, promising to bring Molly over to visit sometime soon, and Hattie went back inside, arm-in-arm with Beatrice.
Edwin was home shortly for their own supper, and Hattie spent the evening feeling rather dazed and out of sorts. The house seemed overly quiet, their conversation overly formal, and even Beatrice didn't have much to say. Hattie didn't have much to say either. She was thinking.
And what came as a relief, she wasn't thinking only of Humphrey.
Tonight her thoughts centred on another boy caught up in a war that should have been too big for him. Harry Potter was such a different sort of boy. Harry had a luck about him, something special. She was starting to think the Weasleys had it, too. Harry was out fighting, even if she couldn't understand how, but she trusted Arthur. And Arthur knew Harry Potter like he knew his own children.
Have faith, Arthur had told her. She wanted to have faith. Harry had done it before, she knew, and she clung to that thought. He'd done it before, and he would do it again. She supposed what she really had faith in, in all this, was Arthur's assessment of Harry's character.
He was so young, though. Far too young to have to face all this. No parents. No family. She sighed heavily as she cleared the table. That poor boy. No one should have the sort of life he'd had.
At least Humphrey had grown up happy and loved. He'd had friends, and a promising career. There'd been a few girlfriends at school. All of that before had made her very sad, that he'd never gotten a chance to finish his life, but now she felt comforted that the life he'd lived had been good. He'd had happiness and love - it was far more than some had. There'd been very little sorrow in Humphrey's young life, and that was something she could be grateful for.
Edwin went off to hide in his office, and Beatrice went off to do whatever it was young women got up to when they weren't out with their friends, leaving Hattie alone in the kitchen. She opened the cabinets, but the bottle of wine that had often been her friend since Humphrey's death did not seem appealing tonight.
She wound up outside, her footsteps leading her where they often did these days: to the garden swing near Humphrey's cherry tree.
The moon was high in the cloudless night, and it gave everything in the gardens a silver cast. She stopped and stared at the cherry tree. Reid's spell had faded, and it had faded back to its previous state.
She could have renewed the spell, cast the charm again to fake youth and beauty in the autumn's barrenness, but it was too late to fool herself again. The cherry tree was already dying.
Hattie swayed on the spot, staring at the tree. The thoughts that had been trotting through her head all day, of Humphrey, and Harry Potter, of the Cattermoles, and Reid's words, swirled together inside her, and she didn't know how to keep it down any longer.
She sat down hard on the swing and buried her face in her apron, sobbing finally for her son. She cried until she thought her heart would break all over again, and then she felt arms around her, and she curled into her husband, her tears soaking his shirt.
Edwin murmured wordlessly at her, and the nonsense sounds seemed to help. She spent her tears on his shoulder, and then he held her there, watching the cherry tree, until the dawn.