Author's Note: Here is the next chapter. I'd like to take a moment to thank all you wonderful reviewers who have left kind words behind on my story. I really appreciate them. And also, a huge thank you to my skype writing buddies, Drue (Phoenix Flame), Leslie (onestop_hpfan18), Lia (lia_2390), Marina (tell_me_what_the_truth_is), Jenny (Erised), Lee (Sun Sation Gal 07), Annie (gingersnape), Sarah (Gryffin Duck), Shiloh (The Empress) and Ty (Tydeman) for always being so energetic and encouraging. Our writing group is awesome!
(chapter image by Jeanie @ TDA)
The Hospital Wing slowly emptied out over the next few days while some of Elsa's friends remained behind. It had been another week before she was even allowed out of bed. The psychological trauma of it all had taken it's toll on her. New nightmares of being buried alive surfaced. Each night she woke soaked in sweat and smelling of fear. Elsa dreaded sleeping.
New potions had been prescribed, which Elsa diligently took without question. When she was finally allowed out of bed, she spent the school day hours sitting by Damon's bed. He hardly spoke to her. His anger towards what had happened became worse as each day brought no new change. He still couldn't feel his legs.
Elsa felt horrible for what had happened. While it wasn't her fault, she still felt responsible. Numerous 'what if' scenarios played out in her mind while she sat by Damon's bedside. Yet, there was no changing the past. There was nothing she could have done. Had it not been for Damon's bravery, she would likely have died. The cost though, was tremendous.
By Saturday Madam Pomfrey had deemed three of the four remaining students ready to return to classes, but it didn't change Elsa's determination to get Damon talking. It wasn't like him to ignore her. It wasn't like him to not talk to her. He had been pressuring her for six years, and now, when she had finally made up her mind, he wasn't talking.
Cordelia had brought Elsa his ring two nights ago, slipping it into Elsa's hands before being ushered out of the Hospital Wing. Now Elsa fiddled with it in her robe pocket. The choice had been difficult, but in the days since she had decided, Sirius still came to spend the evenings with her. There was nothing either boy could say to change her mind at this point. Elsa simply knew that she had finally made a choice. She was no longer going to be dragging the boys along while they anxiously waited her answer.
Lying in bed, she watched Damon from afar. His face was set with determination as he glared at his legs, as if willing them to move. The sight made her want to cry. Elsa had decided in the dark of the night that no matter what happened, whether Damon walked again or not, she was going to love him. He meant too much to her to simply walk away. True love was meant to be unconditional and she vowed to love him regardless of his disability.
Slipping the ring onto her finger, Elsa pushed herself out of bed and slowly walked over to Damon's. She wondered how much he could feel in his legs. Was it only that he couldn't feel them, as if they were asleep? Lightly, she traced her fingers over his left leg and watched tiny goose pimples rise on his flesh. A smile crept over her face as Elsa looked over at him. Eyes wide with shock, Damon looked at her in wonder.
“Do that again, please?” Damon asked, a certain bit of excitement leaking into his voice.
Elsa obliged. She drew tiny, feather light circles on his thighs in hopes that maybe this was a step in the right direction. It seemed like it was. Damon grabbed her hand away from his leg, and held her gaze. Had she done something wrong? Elsa wondered.
“You're wearing my ring,” said Damon, a knowing smile on his lips. “I knew you would.”
“I'm glad you were so certain,” Elsa said with a roll of her eyes. “I wasn't sure you'd even notice, or care.”
“Of course I would notice.”
“You've been so distant and cold lately. I was pretty sure you wanted nothing to do with me. I was beginning to doubt my decision.”
“I never meant to push you away. It's just, well, you know. I never thought I might not be able to walk before.”
“I can't imagine what that must be like.”
“But I can feel your touch. It's about all I can feel.”
“Maybe that's a sign, Damon. Maybe you'll gain more feeling back in your legs. Maybe you'll be walking in no time.”
Elsa tried not to think of what might happen if he were to never walk again. What would his family say if they were to discover that their youngest was never going to walk again? Would they call him lame and disown him? Would his brother turn his back on him forever? Or worse yet, would they seek to end his suffering, to still his heart from beating? Elsa cringed at the thoughts of losing him. Tiny silver tears trickled down her cheeks as she tried to force all thoughts of him dying from her mind. Except she failed. She couldn't keep away the morbid thoughts of death.
Hazarding a glance towards her father's still body, his skin near translucent in the afternoon sun, Elsa knew how close to death her father sat. She was torn between the two men in her life, both recovering from their own near death experiences. While Elsa longed to sit by her father's side and tell him how badly she wanted him to wake, only time would tell if he would. Where once she had hoped that Evander would wake and tell her what to do, what path was the correct one in terms of the choice she had to make, Elsa no longer required that of her father. Her choice was made. Rather, now all she wanted was to have her father back in her life. If she was going to marry Damon, she wanted her father there to walk her down the aisle.
“He'll wake up,” Damon said softly.
“I don't think he will,” Elsa muttered taking in the ashen colour of Evander's pale skin. No, she was pretty positive that Death was winning the battle for her father's soul. “I think he will leave us soon.”
“Don't think like that. If I need to keep thinking positive about my legs, you need to keep thinking positive about your father.”
Damon was right, she knew. There was nothing she could do to help either of them as much as she wanted. Instead, Elsa took to sitting by their sides keeping them company in the long days that followed.
“Sirius is here,” Damon said nodding towards the door. “Go. Enjoy some time away from the Hospital Wing.”
“Are you sure?” Elsa questioned, worried that Damon would become jealous of Sirius again.
“Yes. Besides, I have no reason to be jealous anymore. You picked me over him. In a year and a half you'll be my wife and then there will be nothing he can do to take you from me.”
The comment should have made her mad, but it didn't. Instead, Elsa leaned forward and placed a light kiss on Damon's lips before leaving. She cared a lot for the boy, she'd give him that. Maybe she even loved him. But sometimes he could infuriate her. Damon had a way of making her blood boil like no other. And while she didn't understand it, she wasn't going to dig deeper into the meaning of it either.
Hogwarts seemed different now that Elsa had nearly died. As she walked through the school with Sirius's hand in hers, she couldn't help but take in the beauty of it all. Tapestries hung from the walls that she hardly remembered ever being there. Paintings of witches and wizards that Elsa passed on a daily basis seemed to draw her attention more than they ever had. Outside, in the deep snow that had fallen over the last two weeks, a fresh crisp fragrance of winter hung heavy in the air.
Elated, Elsa hugged Sirius's arm to her as they walked through the snow. They were meant to be meeting up with Cordelia and Remus for studying – to catch her up on all she missed in the last two weeks – but had ended up outside rather than the library. Fresh snow began to drift earthbound through the sky catching in her eyelashes before melting. Elsa laughed and turned her face skyward to enjoy the new snow as it danced – twisting and turning to an unheard song – towards the ground.
Elsa couldn't remember the last time she had felt this light and happy. Despite everything that had happened, or perhaps because of it, she felt free of the chains that had bound her days before. With Sirius by her side, knowing he wouldn't run or hide from who she was, Elsa dragged him along until they were standing at the frozen lake. On any other occasion she might have hazarded a chance at skating over the ice, but today she was more content with spending her time simply walking through the snow with Sirius at her side.
“I can't remember the last time I saw you this happy,” Sirius said and hugged her close.
“I can't think of it either,” Elsa laughed. “Its like someone pulled the wool from my eyes and I see the world in new vibrant colours that weren't there before. I'm grateful to be alive and I don't want to waste this opportunity.”
Elsa and Sirius spent more of the morning outside before heading back inside. They ate lunch with their friends before heading for the library to go over the last two weeks of school work. Except they would never make it to the library.
After leaving the Great Hall, Professor Dumbledore stopped the two of them. Elsa's stomach dropped immediately. Whatever reason their Headmaster had for stopping them, Elsa could only imagine it wasn't for any good reason. Something had to have happened; maybe to her mother or Sirius's parents.
“A moment please,” Dumbledore said seriously, leading them away from the Great Hall.
Dumbledore lead them through the school when the met Professor Flitwick and McGonagall outside the Hospital Wing. Elsa paled as she tried to look past the teachers and see into the infirmary. Whatever the reason they had to bring her and Sirius there, she was worried it had something to do with Damon or worse her father.
“What's going on?” Sirius questioned, feeling Elsa squeeze his hand.
None of the teachers had to say anything. The looks on their faces told Elsa enough. Her stomach dropped, as she pushed past them. Inside the Hospital Wing, she searched the beds until her eyes fell on her father's. A single white sheet had been drawn up over his head. A scream caught in the back of her throat as Elsa ran over to Evander's bed. Ripping the sheet away she saw the truth she didn't want to accept.
Evander's skin had turned a blueish grey colour and was cold to the touch. He looked as though he was asleep, but Elsa knew the truth. He'd never wake up. Sobbing, she pressed her head to his chest and hoped that maybe she was going crazy. He was alive only a few hours ago, there was no way he could be dead. He couldn't leave her like this. His injuries had healed.
Muttering to herself over and over again, she cried and shook her father. He promised he would take care of her.
“Who is going to take care of me now?” Elsa sobbed into his chest.
Someone wrapped their arms around her and pulled Elsa away from the bed. Looking up at Sirius she tried to make sense of what had happened. There was no way her father was dead. She was so positive he was going to get better. That he would be able to tell her what to do about everything. Weak at the knees, Elsa was grateful that Sirius had his arms around her, otherwise she would have fallen to the floor.
“What am I going to now?” Elsa asked, mumbling into his chest.
“We'll figure it out,” Sirius whispered softly into her hair. They'd never considered what would happen if Evander died. It had never come up in any of their discussions since the accident. Sirius wasn't even sure if Dumbledore had considered what to do should Elsa's father never wake up. But now, they had no choice but to consider it.
Heading home wouldn't be an option. Dominic would stop at nothing to kill Elsa now that their father had passed. Marisol hadn't been to check on her husband's condition. She hadn't written to her children, nor had she been to see how Elsa had been healing after she too had nearly died in Hogsmeade two weeks prior. Sirius was certain that the Yaxley family had disowned their wayward daughter. He had promised he would be there no matter what she decided. And there was nothing that would stand in his way of keeping that promise.
Cordelia and Remus rushed into the Hospital Wing and over to the two of them. Tears streaked Cordie's cheeks as she pulled Elsa into a hug. The boys, Elsa noted, were standing awkwardly waiting to find out what they wanted to do. The simplest answer would have been to leave the Hospital Wing, but where could the four of them go without being disturbed?
“You don't want to be here when they move him,” Cordelia whispered to her friend and Elsa slowly away from Evander's bedside.
“We know a place we can go,” Remus suggested. Sirius nodded his confirmation. “We can get your friends if you want.”
“No,” Elsa said softly. As much as she wanted Vera and Tabitha there, she didn't think they would truly understand what it felt like to lose a parent. Cordelia had at least known Evander for the majority of her life. She understood. Sirius understood. He, of all people, understood. Neither of his parents wanted anything to do with him. They had disowned him. “Please, no.”
“Lead the way.” Cordelia pulled a reluctant Elsa out the doors and down the hall. Elsa's sobs grew as she realized that this would be the last time she would see her father lying in the hospital wing. He was gone and there was no way to bring him back. There wasn't a spell or potion that could bring the dead back to life. Though, deep down, she promised herself she would find a way to see him again.
Maybe in Alexandria
, Elsa thought and for a moment felt hopeful. It wasn't the smartest way of coping, but it was her way. The library in Alexandria had ancient and forgotten scrolls, spells and potions, charms and hexes. For all they knew there was a scroll or tome collecting dust in the lost library that could bring her father back to her.
Elsa stopped in the middle of the hall. Could she really understand the depth of the situation? You-Know-Who believed her a traitor. Her father had been murdered trying to protect her. And now, standing there staring at her worried friends, she was considering travelling a road none of them would be able to follow. If she walked the path of knowledge, in search of a means to bring her father back, she'd be travelling it alone. The Dark Arts were never something to be taken lightly. And that was precisely where she planned to start.
Evander had more than enough Dark Arts texts in his private office at home. He had hidden them in a false panel behind several other normal looking books. When he had thought she was sleeping when she was thirteen, she had watched him pull the books out and begin his work. Now, three years later, she was going to use that knowledge in her search for some miracle. Resurrecting her father was, possibly, the only thing that would push Sirius away from her. Elsa knew she should be terrified about losing Sirius, but she wasn't. He'd promised her he wouldn't. But did that mean he would help her? She doubted Sirius would help her. Not her Sirius. He was too perfect. Too good to dirty his hands with the Dark Arts.
Glancing back at the Hospital Wing, a sad smile slipped over her lips. Damon would help her. He'd understand. He wouldn't be frightened by the prospects of playing with fire. For the Dark Arts were the fire that illuminated her mind with the prospect of having her father back.
Someone touched her arm, startling her. Elsa looked up at Sirius and sighed. He'd never let her study the Dark Arts, that much she knew. How was she supposed to deal with the gut wrenching pain that seemed to eat away at her very being? Had she really been coping all this time? Elsa doubted it. She was pretty sure she was masking the pain with pretty things.
“It'll go away,” Sirius said, as if reading her mind.
“I'm not sure I want it to,” Elsa said softly.
They walked through the school in silence until they reached the Room of Requirements. Remus held the door open for the girls before it closed and vanished behind them. The room looked perfect. Elsa had never known the room even existed, let alone how it worked. Intrigued for a moment, she wandered around running her fingers over everything. The dark brown couch felt as real as any her parents had owned. The large fireplace looked as though it could fit ten people in there at once. Large glass windows looked out over the Pitch and the snow covered ground. Books lined almost every wall, and Elsa couldn't help but stop and read over some of the titles. Most of them she recognized from the school library, but others she couldn't place.
There was a warmth about the room that forced a smile to her lips. It felt comfortable. It felt safe. It felt like home. With the thoughts of home, fresh tears forced their way down her cheeks. Her knees buckled and she sank to the floor. Sirius was at her side and together they sat on the floor while she cried. His arms around her made her feel better. He made her feel better. But even Sirius couldn't bring her father back to fill the void she now felt.
Elsa cried until she couldn't cry any more. Her throat hurt, her head pounded and her eyes stung. She felt utterly worn out but she didn't want to move. A sniffle behind her caught her attention. Looking over her shoulder, Elsa saw Cordelia wipe away her own tears. Remus had his arm around her shoulders, comforting her. Turning back to Sirius, she gave him a confused look. Had she missed something going on between Remus and Cordelia? Or was this something entirely new for her friend?
“I can never go home,” Elsa whispered with sudden realization.
“No, you can't,” Sirius said. There was no emotion in his voice. It was simply a fact. “Damon and I won't let anything happen to you. We'll find a way to keep you safe.”
“No buts, Elsa.” He interrupted her. “I don't trust him. I don't even like him. But there is no way I'm going to leave your life in his hands.”
Sirius's words were sweet, and while they probably should have made her feel happy, they didn't. Instead Elsa clung to Sirius as if he were a life preserver and she were drowning in a sea of sorrow. Her body trembled as she fought not to cry again. They – her boys – were going to risk their own lives to keep her safe. They'd die for her. Like her father had died for her. Was it bravery or stupidity that made them foolishly throw themselves into harms way the way they were going to? She wasn't even sure if she wanted them to take that risk.
“I didn't do anything to deserve this,” Elsa muttered weakly. “I never betrayed him. I never told anyone about what he asked me to do. I knew he'd killed Dad. I would never risk it.”
Elsa pushed away from Sirius and stood up. Anger filled her as she thought about what happened. This was the Dark Lord's fault. The stupid paranoid bastard had taken her father away from her for no goddamn good reason. Now she was left feeling utterly useless and broken. Her fingers curled into fists and dug into her palms. She was going to make him pay. A cruel smile curled over her lips as she looked at her friends.
“Don't do it,” Cordelia said, moving to block Elsa from leaving. “Whatever you're thinking, don't do it.”
“It's suicide!” Elsa had never seen Cordelia get so mad so quickly. Her friend's face flushed with anger and fear. Eyes wide and her hands on her hips, Cordelia blocked any way out of the room. Remus and Sirius stood on either side of her.
“But I know things,” Elsa defended herself.
“Yea? How about defending yourself from a murdering psychopath? How about keeping your stupid brother from sticking a knife between your ribs? You can't cast a spell to save your bloody life and now you're going to just throw it all away?”
“HE KILLED MY FATHER!” Elsa screamed at her friends. They didn't understand. The Dark Lord took away what mattered most to her.
“Evander died to protect you, don't let him die in vain, Elsa. Don't let You-Know-Who win. Think about this rationally. You're good at that.”
“I don't want to think about anything rationally, Cordelia. I want the bastard to die for what he did.” Her chest heaved, and she began to pace the room.
“He will. One day, we'll find away to stop him. Until then, we have to wait patiently, bide our time. Let him underestimate our strength and then we'll strike.”
“You sound like your father,” Elsa said sadly, watching Cordelia.
“And you're as pigheaded and stubborn as yours. There are other ways of making You-Know-Who pay. Just wait until the time is right. All that knowledge, all those secret, share them when we need them most. They still protect you right now. Don't throw away that protection until you are certain you no longer need it.” Cordelia looked at Sirius and Remus before turning back to Elsa. “Dumbledore...”
“Is a fool if he thinks that Hogwarts will be able to protect us for much longer,” Elsa snapped. “The Dark Lord destroyed Hogsmeade in one night. What's to stop him from attacking again once Hogsmeade is rebuilt? What's to stop him from doing so on a Hogsmeade Weekend? He'll kill any student who stands in his way. He'll kill any muggle-born just because. Vera would be dead. Lily would be dead. Half the people we know are muggle-borns.”
“That won't happen,” Remus said, no longer keeping silent. “You underestimate them. Lily and Vera are brilliant witches. So are a number of the other muggle-borns. If they were to die, they'd dying trying to stop him. It's a choice they have to make for themselves.”
“A choice you have to make,” Sirius added. “You could...”
“If you tell me to join the Order of the Phoenix, Sirius, I might actually stop talking to you. This is as much Dumbledore's fault as it is You-Know-Who's.”
“How is it Dumbledore's fault?”
“I...” Elsa paused. She hadn't thought about that. She was simply blaming anyone who could have stop this from happening. Dumbledore should have known Hogsmeade was a point of weakness. That it could have been attacked and people would have died. “Because, he overestimates himself. He believes he can keep us safe by sheer force of will. And he failed!”
“No students have died, Elsa.” Sirius couldn't really see how this was Dumbledore's fault, but he was willing to try and reason with Elsa.
“My father did,” whispered Elsa, her voice barely audible.
“Which is tragic, but Evander made a choice to betray You-Know-Who. He made a choice to protect you, to make sure you were safe. Whether he was going to trust Dumbledore, whether he was going to fight against You-Know-Who, we'll never know. But, he sacrificed himself so you could live.”
“I didn't want that. I didn't want him to die. I could have explained. You-Know-Who would have seen I didn't betray him. He would have been able to...”
“He would have killed you. Evander knew that.” Cordelia stopped Elsa from continuing. “Don't be daft, Elsa.”
Elsa turned away from her friends. They simply weren't listening to her side of things. They didn't understand. How could they? They hadn't been there the night that Voldemort had given her, her task. They didn't know that she had doubted herself even then.
A thought slipped through her mind, a wiggling, sneaky thought that begged to be heard. Turning, she looked at Sirius, Remus and Cordelia. They, who hadn't been there might not understand, but there were those who had been. There were people in the room who had heard her fears and her doubts. There were people in the room who had known that Sirius was hurt and that she would choose him over them any day.
Had they betrayed her? Had they gone to You-Know-Who after she had made sure Sirius was safely at Hogwarts? Elsa had kept their secrets for years, those nasty little secrets that ate away at her soul, begging to be told to someone who could do something about it. Tears burned her eyes. Dominic and Gareth must have gone to You-Know-Who. They must have told. There was no way anyone would have suspected that she would have betrayed them.
“Dominic and Gareth knew,” Elsa said softly. “They knew about my task. They knew I had helped Sirius back to Hogwarts. They must have told You-Know-Who.”
Anger filled Sirius's face and Elsa knew he was about to do something stupid. As much as she wanted Dominic stopped, for him to be thrown into prison for the horrible things he had done in the past, she knew she had to be the one to stop him. If she didn't stand up to him once and for all, he would continue to walk all over her.
Grabbing Sirius's hand in her, she smiled sweetly at him. “Thank you.”
“For what?” he asked.
“For being you.” Elsa looked over at Cordelia and hugged her friend.
It wasn't going to be easy. Grieving was never going to be easy, but Elsa knew that so long as she had her friends by her side, she would manage. They made her think rationally about things when she was too hotheaded and stubborn to think critically about it. They grounded her and made her a better person. Without them, Elsa was positive she would go mental. And that was the very last thing she wanted. There wasn't enough room in the Wizarding World for two crazy Yaxley's. Dominic had that covered, and she was willing to let him have it.