Chapter 2 : Chapter 1: November 2000
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I could go on. I could break it down to hours, to minutes, to seconds, but I don’t need to. Because they all stand for the same thing: The end. The end of life as we knew it, of living in fear, of war.
It was also the start of a new beginning, for those of us optimistic enough to believe it. It tore down the corrupt foundation of the ministry, destroyed the evil within the confines of Hogwarts, and washed out those of us who were too wrapped up in blood purity for our own good. It allowed the basics of the magical community to be rebuilt. And they have been.
The ministry has been purified, the best it can be with politicians swarming in it. But all Death Eaters who were hidden and unidentified within the walls of the Ministry are gone, sent away to Azkaban. All of the laws against Muggleborns have been withdrawn too, since our new Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, stepped up the summer following the war.
Hogwarts is almost completely back to its former glory too. Repairs on the last couple of corridors and classrooms, along with the newly added memorial, are due to be done by December. And classes have resumed. They actually resumed the fall after the war, but not in full like they just did this past September. They had new teachers come in and about half of my class returned to Hogwarts, wanting to make up the year spent with the dark arts instead of graduating last year like I did.
And as good as that all seems? I really believe that the rebuild has left us in worse condition, as a community, than we were during the war.
Now, I may sound like a bit of a pessimist, but everyone has seemed to move on, to have forgotten why the war started, why we fought in it. They seem to have forgotten the dead and the pain of the victims who didn’t end up dying. They have just moved on in their lives, living like what happened didn’t matter, like life is just as normal as always. And it makes me sick; it makes me hate them. Because in my life? I can’t just move on.
A soft spoken and concerned voice calls my name while a warm hand rests on my shoulder, shaking it gently as I come back to consciousness. I don’t precisely recall falling asleep, but I also know I haven’t had full night’s sleep in weeks. Between my constant worry that my parents are going to kick me out and the anxiety I feel having my sister in her own room, seemingly lost within herself, it’s really not that surprising. But it definitely isn’t healthy. Especially when it starts messing with my time at work.
“Hmmmm? What?” I slowly pick my head up out of my arms that are folded in front of me on the table.
I tilt my head to look up at my co-worker, Christian Benton, but quickly realize how stupid that is as pain radiates down my spine. My hand moves to massage a knot that is imbedded in the muscles in my neck from the angle I had fallen asleep at. I grimace as I look back down at the table, where a clock sits off to the side of the parchment I was writing on.
Bloody hell! The last time I looked at the clock, it was around 6:00. Which means I’ve been doing absolutely nothing but sleeping for more than an hour.
“Ugh, I’m sorry Christian,” I continue massaging the muscles in my neck as I tilt my head again to look up at him. “I must’ve just nodded off.”
Christian’s blue eyes are intent on my face, concern etched in his features. His hair falls into his eyes when he tilts his head, his eyes narrowing slightly as he takes in my appearance. For a second I feel really exposed, as if he can see into my mind, can see the worries that radiate through my thoughts. But that feeling quickly goes away as he shakes the hair out of his face, his eyes finally leaving mine.
“It’s fine, Tora. But you know my father would freak if he knew you were sleeping on the job,” He replies softly.
Christian is the son of Charles Benton, the owner of Flourish and Blotts bookstore in Diagon Alley. He graduated Hogwarts four years ahead of me, before the war got bad and the school got infiltrated. He didn’t start working for his dad until after the war had ended. And a year after he started working, I started coming by to shelf books during my holidays at home.
It was a pretty irregular schedule at first, but once I graduated in June, I started full time. And in that time, Christian and I have gotten to be pretty close. And I’m not talking relationship close, though we did try going out on a date once last summer and it was just awkward…
Anyways, he’s pretty much my best friend. He’s the only one I can talk to about my life falling apart because everyone else either doesn’t understand or has moved on past the war and won’t talk about it.
“I know. Sorry,” I repeat my apology, dropping my eyes to the ground guiltily.
“Don’t worry about it too much. My dad left earlier and you know I won’t tell him,” Christian says, and while his words reassure me, I can’t help but feel anxious as he pulls out the chair next to mine.
He turns it around so when he sits on it, the back of the chair is in front of him. He then folds his arms on the back of the chair and rests his chin on his hands, his eyes burning into the side of my head until I look up at him.
“When was the last time you slept?” He asks, his eyebrows knit together in concern.
“I...I slept last night,” I say carefully, not really knowing if two hours of sleep counts.
He gives me a disbelieving look, one of his eyebrows rising. “When was the last time you slept for at least 8 hours in a night?”
I sigh and look away from him as I try to come up with an answer to his question. Because honestly? I don’t know. I’ve either been unable to fall asleep or been waking up every hour in a half with an inability to fall back asleep. It’s a rather annoying process, as it never seems to end. But I guess those nights are better because I at least succumb to sleep.
“It’s been a while, I guess, okay?” I say, giving up on the mental processing it takes to figure out the exact number of nights it’s been since I actually got sleep.
“No, that’s not okay,” his voice has an edge of anger that is enough to draw my eyes back to his. “I know things at home aren’t exactly comfortable, but this isn’t good for you. You need to sleep and you need the assurance of being somewhere safe.”
I sigh heavily as his icy eyes bore into mine. I know he’s right, at least to a degree. But I can’t just leave home and he needs to understand that.
“I’m not in any danger being at home. Yeah, things sometimes get tense, but I just…I can’t leave,” I say slowly, hoping he’ll understand.
He lets my words hang in the air for a couple seconds as if he can’t fully understand them, which is exactly what I feared. His eyes then become hard as he spits out his next question.
“Why can’t you?”
His tone catches me off guard. He sounds almost unforgiving, as if he’ll hate me for the rest of my life if I don’t change my mind. And it unsettles me.
“I’ve told you how my parents have been caring less and less about me,” I say, my eyes focusing on a loose seam on the sleeve of my robes. “They don’t care what I do because I’m always in the-”
“That just further proves my point. It’s not a good environment to be living in,” he cuts me off loudly as he pushes himself to his feet in an aggravated motion. He starts pacing the floor in front of me, moving from wall to wall like he usually does when he gets worked up. “You keep telling me that both of your parents believe you’re a blood traitor. Neither of them really wants you in the house to begin with. Then why are you staying? Why are you pressing your luck with them? What’s the point?”
I get to my feet, moving to stand in front of him so he has to stop pacing. He clenches his hands into fists on either side of him. My glare matches his as we stand, staring at each other.
“What’s the point?” he echoes his last questions quietly, though it’s still laced with poison.
“Daphne,” I mutter her name through clenched teeth, anger bubbling behind my words.
“Leave her there,” he replies curtly.
I continue to glare at him as my anger shifts from him, to my sister, to my parents, and finally to myself. And as soon as I direct the anger at myself, tears prickle in my eyes, reminding me of the words that issued from my sister’s mouth yesterday.
“I’m not the blood traitor! If you want someone to kill, go find her.”
“I wish I could,” the words come out bitterly as I turn my back on Christian.
I walk across the room and brace myself against the table, willing the tears to go away, willing the memories to find a new home.
“Tora?” Though his voice still has a rough edge, it’s a bit softer now…concerned.
“I wish I could just leave my family behind, not have worry about their wellbeing. And maybe a year ago, I could have. But not now.”
My voice wavers, dropping out by the end of my sentence. A single tear rolls down my cheek and in the silence of my sentence, I listen to Christian slowly, hesitantly walk across the room to reach me.
“How’s Daphne?” His voice is almost inaudible even though he’s standing just inches behind me.
I close my eyes as her high pitch screams resonate through my head.
“Kill me, please, just kill me if you’re going to already.”
“I told you she was getting worse,” I mutter shakily, putting a hand to my face as more tears wet my cheeks. “The meltdowns happening more often than not.”
A tremor shakes through Daphne’s body as she curls into a tight ball. I reach a hand out towards her and a blood curdling scream escapes her lips. I withdraw my hand quickly, alarmed. A second later, she starts thrashing about on the ground, screams continually escaping her lips.
“And last night was worse, much worse than last week. I don’t know what changed; I don’t know what she was imagining.”
Daphne falls still, her screams turning to whimpers after ten minutes. She’s curled with her face towards the wall, tears cascading down her face. I know this because I’ve knelt on the cold carpet next to her though it all, not saying a word or reaching out to touch her. But now, with her so calm? I take a chance and reach a hand out towards her, murmuring her name quietly as I do so.
“But I was afraid. I was afraid to touch her, to try to comfort her and take her away from that pain,” I murmur the words as I shy away from the hand Christian tries to put on my shoulder.
She rolls towards me the moment my skin makes contact with hers, causing me to jump and almost lose balance backwards. The only thing that prevents me from falling back is her cold hand grabbing mine and holding it tightly, almost too tightly. She then pulls it towards her and hesitantly, I lean forward.
“She was just as afraid as I was. She didn’t know what was happening to her, what was real and what wasn’t. I don’t think I could have saved her from that pain if I had tried,” I say, my voice breaking at the end of my sentence.
She raises her head off of the floor, her eyes staring deep into mine as she finally stops pulling my hand towards her. I see the mixed emotions - the panic, the pain - flash through her eyes. I open my mouth, but she ever so slightly shakes her head, her expression begging me not to say anything, begging me just to listen to her.
I swipe at the tears streaking down my face as Christian’s hand grazes my shoulder. I pull my shoulder away from the comfort he offers and somehow manage spinning around so I’m facing him.
“Help me,” the words are faint, as if they’re not actually being spoken, yet their effect on her, on me, is monumental. She’s asking for the one thing my parents said no to, the thing they so vehemently fought against.
I stare up into his face, his features blurring together with the tears in my eyes. I open my mouth to say something, anything, but I can’t. I just start sobbing.
And in case there was a doubt in my mind, she begs me in her next breath, “Help me, Astoria. Please, help me. Make it stop.”
Christian takes all of a second to collect me into his arms, pulling me close as the sobs rack through my body. He leads me forward a couple of steps and somehow manages to lower us both into a chair.
I don’t know how long I sit cradled in his lap as he mutters nonsense into my ear to try to calm me down, but eventually I stop sobbing. I get enough control over myself to stop the tears from wetting my face and to get my breathing under control. It is only then, when he feels me gaining my control again, that he questions me.
“Did you bring her in?” His voice is soft but it rumbles under my ear as my head is resting in the crook of his neck
I nod my head a little, careful not to bump his chin. “Yeah. I got her calmed down enough to travel by about 11:00. So I brought her into St Mungo’s without telling my mum.”
“Were you with her all night then?”
“I stayed while she was admitted to her room. It didn’t take long before one of her episodes started again so they gave her a potion that put her into a dreamless sleep. I think that was around one this morning, maybe?” I say, wiping the last of the tears off of my face and rubbing my eyes, feeling more tired because I had been crying.
“So what time did you get home to sleep?” He asks.
“Well, I owled my mum. And she came to St. Mungo’s. She ranted on and on at me for about a half hour before I escaped her. I went home only to get an earful from my father for another forty five minutes almost. So I’d say sometime around 2:30 or 3:00ish?”
He sighs heavily from beneath me so I push myself upright. I look into his eyes, while still remaining in his lap. He takes this opportunity not only to ask more questions, but also to search my face carefully…to make sure I am really alright.
“Why didn’t you just owl in? My dad would have probably given you the day off.”
I sigh this time, shrugging a bit before answering.
“I don’t know what I would have done. I could have gone and sat with Daphne all day…but the whole idea of sitting in a hospital while tons of tests are run isn’t my idea of fun. Especially because my parents probably took the day off to talk with the doctors about discharging her. And I’m sure I would get hour long rants. Which I also hate the idea of.”
“You have a good point there,” He offers with a phantom of a smile on his lips. “I wouldn’t want to sit through that either.”
“Exactly. And as annoying as it is - not knowing the doctors official diagnosis - I’ll stop by St. Mungo’s tomorrow during lunch to check everything out.”
Christian nods his head slightly in understanding as I get to my feet. I then stretch my hands up over my head while stifling a yawn.
“Did the doctors say anything about what could be causing this entire thing?” Christian asks as I wander back over to the table to look at the partially complete inventory list I had fallen asleep while writing earlier.
“They aren’t really sure. They checked for the normal spell damage type stuff that usually is behind it all, but it didn’t turn up much. One of the doctors who specializes in some Muggle disorders hypothesized that it could be something similar to PTSD, except for wizards,” I say, glancing back over at Christian.
He looks mildly perplexed for a moment, but then asks, “That’s some sort of anxiety, flash-back disorder type thing, right?”
I smile slightly, surprised he knows what I’m talking about. “Yeah. It’s actual name is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and it usually arises after someone has a near death experience. It has a variety of ways it actually presents itself and flash backs are a part of that. The only thing with Daphne is that is so severe…it’s left the doctors at a loss.”
“Well, maybe your mum will know more. If she was with your sister all day at the hospital, as I assume they weren’t going to release her today even at your parents request, she should know,” Christian says as he too gets to his feet and wanders over to look at my inventory list.
“I didn’t really expect her to come home today. But yeah, hopefully I’ll get some answers soon,” I reply with a sigh, trying to push my family issues to the back of my mind so I can focus more on work. “But for now I’ll have live with doing more inventory and shelf restocking.”
Christian looks at the time and then looks at my list. He skims the names of the books on my list as his eyes flash to the different boxes of books.
“You were on the last box of books, correct?” He asks.
I nod my head, looking at the stack of books I had yet to write down, glad for the change in topic.
“Why don’t you just head home? I’ll finish up the inventory list before I close and we can get on stocking the shelves tomorrow morning before my dad comes in at lunch,” Christian suggests, tilting his head slightly when I look at him.
I look back to my list and then at the boxes of books on the table. The list will take maybe another twenty minutes or so of work to complete; the books could take up to an hour get shelved. It’s almost 8:30 and normal close time is anywhere between 8:45 and 9:00, depending on how many people are at the bookstore that late.
I bite my lip as I debate the two choices he gave me, not wanting to leave him with the work but not wanting to do all the work now either.
I sigh. “Okay, but I’ll be doing more of the shelving. Because I was supposed to be the one to finish the inventory list and I feel bad leaving you with a ton of extra work on top of making sure to help all of the customers.”
“Don’t worry about the extra work. We have two or three people browsing through the books right now and the only time they’ll need my attention is when they’re ready to check out,” He says, brushing off my worry.
“Still. I’ll do more shelving tomorrow,” I say, already trying to ignore the guilt that bubbles inside of me.
“Yes ma’am,” he laughs, as I roll my eyes. “Now, go home and sleep. I’ll see you here at 8:00 sharp tomorrow morning for some shelving fun.”
“Okay,” I say as the bell at the front desk rings.
Both Christian and I look toward the front desk, which we can see just outside of the door of the back room. A lady with a couple books is standing there, skimming the back covers of the books.
“Have a good night, Tora,” Christian says softly, sending me a glance before walking out of the back room.
I watch Christian as he slips behind the front desk and smiles kindly at the lady. They start chatting and I can’t help but feel relieved that he’s letting me go home early. I’m not sure I could take on the cheery attitude with the customers like he so easily can after a discussion like that. At least not tonight.
I shake my head slightly and turn around. I take a couple slow breaths to further content myself before collecting my cloak and bag from the closet in the back of the room. I slip my hand into the pocket of my robes and close my fingers around the handle of my wand. I then throw a final glance around the room before I head out the door.
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