Chapter 16 : Collateral Damage
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The days that followed the accident passed in a rush, a constantly blurred image that left me wary. I hid from my feelings, locking them away in the deepest recesses of my mind. I'm pretty sure everyone thinks I'm in some sort of shock or something, but really I just can't handle admitting anything to myself. Admitting that my parents are dead, that my whole family is gone. And that my life won't ever be the same, not in the least.
I was checked out by loads of doctors. None of whom could believe that I had simply woken up from my coma, mere hours after being in a near-fatal car crash. A coma many of them believed I would never have woken up from, let alone be perfectly fine with no brain damage what-so-ever. Oh yeah, and that I had been able to walk across the room on my own, with a broken leg. Well at least it had been broken, I'm pretty sure whatever that weird blue glow was healed it since it doesn't hurt at all now. All of them were stunned by my recovery pace, and just a few days later I was released from the hospital back into the hell that had become my life.
Healing and being confined to a hospital bed were easy compared to what I had to face now, now came the hard parts. I had to go to my parents funeral, I had to hear their will read, and I had to figure out what the hell was going to happen to me. Oh, and I was doing all of this while battling the desire to curl up in a corner and sob until I passed out. But I wasn't going to do that, I was going to keep fighting. I was going to fight for my parents' memories, and I was going to fight for myself. And it was going to be hard.
And so that is how I found myself standing, or as close to standing as you can be on crutches, in a simple black dress in the front of a small chapel surrounded by woods. There were two coffins just in front of me, nothing more than wooden boxes. Wooden boxes that held the bodies of two lives cut short. As I stared the military band played sorrowfully, but I shed no tears. I sat awkwardly alone, already pushing people away, as a few feet in front of me people talked about my parents' lives, the people they had been. But I remained silent, in fact I hadn't yet uttered a single word on this day which would forever leave a black imprint on my memories.
I watched as a Chaplin blessed the souls of my parents, the people who weren't even related to me but loved me all the same, and wished them safe passage into whatever it was that laid beyond this world. And then as the simple service ended, I pulled on my warm woolen jacket and hobbled out after my parents' coffins. It was time for my parents to be buried just as they would have wanted, side-by-side.
And so, a few minutes later I was standing stock still in front of two coffins, one swathed in the American Flag and the other with a bouquet of yellow roses on it, my mother's favorite. As I looked down, blinking back tears I realized how much the lack of design on my dress pretty much summed up how I felt...empty.
I imagine I was quite a sight to see though, since I was wearing a rather elegant dress, a warm winter coat, and a single tall snow boot.
I fingered to two necklaces that adorned my neck as I battled the war of emotions raging within in me, as I stood just a few feet in front of two freshly dug graves. The one I had worn all my life gave me hope for the future, hope that maybe I did still have family of some sorts out there somewhere. And the new one, the heart-shaped locket with the moving picture of three happy smiling people, that one reminded me of the past. As I looked up I realized that I was the only one standing this close, it seems everyone else has decided to give me some space and were standing a ways back, and for this I would be eternally grateful as I allowed myself a few moments of grief. I heard a few people jump as the twenty-one gun salute began in honor of my father, but not a single muscle in my body so much as twitched.
I watched in a sort of daze as the two coffins were lowered into the cold winter ground. A moment later a lone bagpiper belted out the beginning notes of taps, and before I could even think my voice laced with pain sang the somber tune. Everyone was immediately silenced as the haunting sounds of the bagpipe and my low, sorrowful voice echoed over the small gathering.
Day is done, Gone the Sun,
From the hills, From the lakes,
From the skies. All is well,
Safely rest, God is nigh.
The final notes swept over the hushed crowd, and then there was absolute silence. And for a long time I just stood there, staring ahead. Trying to process everything that had happened, and at the same time compartmentalize the whirlwind of emotions, that as of late always seemed to be threatening to drown me.
But it was when I wanted to resist their allure that was easiest. The hard part was when I knew it would be so much easier to just let them drag me back down to the bottom of that well and forget everything. And that's why I now shut my emotions out completely most of the time. It was just easiest to resist the allure of the darkness that beckoned to me so seductively when I wasn't feeling anything...
After a while I turned and without looking at anyone, hobbled down the path and slid into the backseat of a car. No one was there but me and in that instant I took a moment to feel. My face which had been emotionless for days took on such sadness that it could have broken a heart just to look at it, but in a moment it was gone replaced by my mask. That was all I could allow myself, a moment of repose in the easy way. But no more, I needed to bury my pain before it dragged me back down, because I was fairly certain that I wouldn't be able to find the strength to swim back to the surface.
As I sat through the gathering after the funeral I found it a little easier to breath but not much, since Professor McGonagall had opted to stay with me instead of returning to Hogwarts. Even though officially it was because for all intents and purposes she was the only guardian I had left I knew that she was there for more than that. And the presence of my strong and collected professor made me feel the slightly more in control, and the tiniest bit better.
Only a day after I had buried my parents I had to sit and hear their will read. I sat without a word, and to anyone at first glance I likely appeared uninterested, but really I was once again fighting the urge to sob or kill someone.
I sat ramrod straight in an uncomfortable chair, the McGees in various states of duress around the room, and Professor McGonagall standing behind me with a comforting hand on my shoulder. I sat still as the stupid lawyers walked in, acting like they were upset. Like hell, they didn't know my parents, they had no right to act like they deserved anyone's sympathy. One of the suits cleared his throat in what appeared to be a mock attempt at grasping hold of his emotions, the bastard. I sent glare his way that could have killed a basilisk, and he quickly dropped the act.
The entirety of my parents' will was read with horrible slowness. Wasn't it enough that I had to sit here and hear the last will and testament of my parents? Wasn't it enough that I now knew that I had at least in someway lost two sets of parents? Isn't there any justice in this world? I truly don't understand why such bad things happen in this world of ours. Why do people have to die? But of course I know the answer to that question, people die because death is unavoidable...
It seemed that the lawyers took an eternity to read each line, and I almost wished that they would just hand it to me so I could read it in a minute and be done with it. But that wouldn't happen. I'm pretty sure there's some lawyer rule that says they have to read wills out loud. An hour later the lawyers were leaving and my sadness, anger, and irritation had momentarily been masked by just how stunned I was.
My parents had left everything to me. The house, their money, everything. I was the executor of their will, and basically had jurisdiction over every single thing that they had ever owned or signed. But that wasn't even the part that surprised me the most, I could have expected that. Allow I had assumed they would have given something to the McGees, although one of those stupid lawyers had handed the Admiral a sealed envelope. No the thing that had left me completely stunned was the fact that I was now an emancipated minor.
In their will my parents had specifically stated that in the event of their death that I was to be emancipated. The lawyers had read that it was so it would be easier for me to do what I wanted with my life. I mean I wasn't exactly a normal twelve year old, was I?
So my parents had taken the liberty of getting all the legal work done for me to be emancipated, and so with the curling script that was my signature I was now officially and legally in charge of myself...
The days that followed were so busy that I almost didn't have time to think about how much I had lost, but when it bubbled to the surface it hit me hard. I wasn't sleeping well because I usually just couldn't fall asleep, but when I did manage to fall into an erratic sleep I woke drenched in sweat with the sheets curled like ropes around my legs. The nightmares were horrible, all I would see was those moments in the car over and over again. The sounds, the smells, the blood. It was nearly enough to drive me insane, and so between my exhaustion, my unstable sanity, and all I had to accomplish I didn't say much.
With the McGees and Professor McGonagall I had decided to sell my parents house, because I would never want to be there alone. I simply couldn't bear it, even being here it was taking all my strength not to let the sweet seduction of the darkness drag me down. So it was quickly put up for sale. But that presented the problem of everything in it. So I spent two days going through everything, most things were insignificant or too painful to keep and those things were donated, but all the things I did want were packed up and place in a storage facility the fee for which would be automatically paid. I enlarged my Hogwarts trunk somewhat and packed the majority of the clothes I owned into it. But other than that and a stack of photo albums that had been carefully placed in the top of my trunk, I was going to leave everything else in the past.
With the things that hurt safely tucked away in the past where no one could see them I could just forget. Maybe I could just move on, and forget everything?
The days past is near silence as I continued to struggle every now and then with allure that beckoned to me so innocently. I only hoped the feelings and the nightmares would get better when I returned to Hogwarts.
The day before term was to start Professor McGonagall apparated me back across the ocean, albeit with some difficulty due to my crutches. But when I looked up expecting to see the turrets of Hogwarts castle I surprised to find myself standing on a muggle street. With a gentle nudge McGonagall led me towards what appeared to be some closed down store.
I looked at her in confusion, but she quickly said, "It's like the portal to platform 9 3/4, just walk right through."
And so without argument I did and found myself in the lobby of St. Mungo's. Professor McGonagall quickly spoke with a healer at the front desk, and within a few minutes we were ushered back into a room.
I sat quietly, but for the first time in days my eyes showed a touch of their usual spark of curiosity, as the the healer waved their wand in complicated manners over me. As she passed her wand over my leg, which was still swathed in the cast, a look of surprise crossed her face and she made another pass with her wand.
After a moment she looked at me and then at Professor McGonagall and then said, "I'll be right back."
A few minutes later she returned, but she wasn't alone. An older man walked in behind her, and he looked strangely curious about something. He peered over a pair of spectacles at me before with a quick flick of his wand the cast disappeared. He waved his wand is a similar fashion as the woman had, but he also threw in a few more complex motions.
He stared at me a moment, and it was actually a bit unnerving, but the he asked, "Ashley did you use magic to heal yourself?"
In my confusion I momentarily felt the weight that seemed to be holding me down lately disappear, if only for a moment. With a bit of trepidation I said, "Um...I think I might have."
He looked at me with a quirked eyebrow and asked, "You think you might have?"
"Well, I was trying to walk and I couldn't. And that was really annoying me and the next thing I knew my leg felt warm, and when I looked down it was covered in a sort of bluish glow. So I guess I did heal myself, but I don't know how."
The healer seemed to be pondering what I had told him for a moment before he said, "I'll be back in just a moment."
With that he disappeared out the door and the original healer resumed checking on the rest of my injuries. Within another swipe of her wand she said, "Well it looks like you're healing up nicely. I'm going to give you a potion to help your ribs out, but I'm afraid there's nothing we can do about that scar."
I nodded as she too left in search of some potion that was sure to taste foul. Not even a full minute later she came back in and handed me a pale blue potion. I sighed before plugging my nose and tossing the nasty tasting mixture in one quick motion. The moment I lowered the vial though I let out a gasp as a burning pain shot through my chest.
The woman helped me to lay back as she said, "Oh yes I should have warned you about that. The pain will only last a minute or so."
I managed to nod as I fought back the tears that were prickling at the corners of my eyes. But thankfully a short while later the pain evaporated, and when I took a deep breath I was surprised to notice that the twinge of pain I had come to expect from filling my lungs was gone. I breathed in deeply a few more times to regain my composure, and as soon as it seemed I had my breathing back under control the woman walked back out of the door.
Professor McGonagall and I sat in companionable silence, and about five minutes later the older healer walked back in. He looked at me with what I could only describe as slight surprised mixed with what appeared to be approval.
He looked at me and then at the Professor before he said, "Ashley, you're a what we here at St. Mungo's call a natural healer." I looked confused while McGonagall looked stunned so he continued, "That means that you are able to heal yourself simply by wishing for it to be, if you are able to develop it you can also use those abilities to heal others."
I nodded as I came to an understanding, that made a whole lot more sense then a mumbo jumbo I could have come up with. He handed me a couple of pamphlets about internships and careers at St. Mungo's and a book called The Natural's Guide to Healing, when I looked up at him with curiosity he said, "Those with abilities such as yours do very well as healers, so I hope you might consider it as a career. But I am sure you want to get back to school so you are free to go."
An hour later I was walking through the fat lady's portrait and was greeted by my excited friends. I jumped slightly at the onslaught, as they all talked at once. Saying how they loved my gifts, welcoming me back, and asking how my holidays were.
Before I could even consciously decide about what I was doing I said, "I'm glad you liked them, I loved your gifts as well. And my holidays were fine."
As I walked back towards the girls' staircase dragging my trunk I didn't see the look of worry that passed between my friends. Apparently I hadn't been as convincing as I had thought.
I'm going to warn you that until May 12th my posting may be a bit dodgy, studying for an AP Exam will unfortunately do that to you. Hope you won't hate me or abandon this story, I'll be trying my best to post regularly still though (I just can't make any promises) Oh and I have officially decided that if I ever have twin boys their middle names will be Fred and George. Hey you see that button down there, can you hear what it's saying, "Review, review, you know you want to."
***The song is Taps by Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield
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