Chapter 22 : XXIII.
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A bear's teeth: extra sharp that'll cut you in the heart.
Yet a dog's really quick, try and fight it with a stick.
There's no use, give it up, this is life and this is love.
“I’m confused, is anyone else confused?” It was James who spoke first, his voice rising above the terrible silence that had fallen upon us.
“Shut up, James.” Lucy muttered quietly, her eyes rolling as they flickered away from mine and over to her cousin. James frowned and made to protest, but his exclamation was silenced by Fiona placing her hand over his. I watched, almost transfixed by the very actions, as they moved like magnets to face each other, their smiles forming the moment their eyes laid upon each other’s faces.
It was that that I wanted. I wanted the love they shared, but most of all, I longed for the happiness that came with that kind of love. Joy, that was simple, and without the messiness that always came with those whom my heart was drawn to.
My eyes soon found Albus, who looked up the moment my gaze landed upon him. His expression was guarded, his green eyes distant, with their true feelings perfectly disguised from me. I felt that familiar ripping sensation in my side, and winced at the pain sliced through me once more. I had forgotten to take my healing potions, and the pain wasn’t taking any prisoners this time.
“Are you alright, Em?” Lily quietly asked, her small hand lightly touching my arm. I tore my gaze away from Albus, whose eyebrows were now tightly drawn, and smiled faintly at his sister. I wasn’t alright – I hadn’t been for far too long, but I would be, in time.
All I needed was time.
And him, of course, above all things, I needed him more than ever.
“I can’t believe you,” Dominique suddenly piped up miserably, reappearing as though chase away the newfound hope that was flowering within me, “after all these years of feeling guilty – it just seems so, so pointless because he was doing that exact same thing to me!”
Slowly, I found myself turning my head to look at her. Tears were running down her cheeks, leaving streaks of black and gold from her once perfectly applied eye make-up. Her painted lips were quivering and I saw that her hand had tightened around Lysander’s. He looked troubled too, as though somehow it seemed I was not the only one in the room with a secret too big to keep hidden any more.
“What are you talking about?” I found myself asking, slowly, and most reluctantly. The stillness had returned to the room, and I felt the hairs on my arms begin to rise as Dominique’s eyes met Lysander’s for the last time before the words seemed to just spill out of her like water from a broken dam.
“I loved him – I always loved him, but he never told me – I never knew that he was sick, not until it was too late.” Dominique sobbed, her shaking hand rising to cover her mouth as the right words seemed to fail her.
“I betrayed him, my own brother – and it’s like he’s still here, haunting me because of that.” Lysander suddenly muttered, his eyes – so painfully like Lorcan’s in that moment – flashing as the darkness took over them.
“Oh, my God.” I found myself whispering to myself as it finally all seemed to slide into place.
“I’m sorry – I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t – I did love him, but not enough.” Dominique was saying, but the words went past me and did nothing for the growing ache in my heart. I gripped the side of the table tightly and closed my eyes to breathe through the pain. It wasn’t going away, both the ache and the burning that was coming from the still so unhealed splinch. I couldn’t breathe, and all I wanted to do was go back to my bed, where I could curl up and forget all of this had ever happened.
But it wasn’t going to work like that anymore, already too much had been allowed to slip away from me. So, I opened my eyes, which were still stinging with unshed tears, and looked at Dominique and Lysander as steadily as I could.
“I spent two years hiding the fact that I loved Lorcan because, even until the very end, all he had wanted to do was save you the pain of the truth. And now – now you’re telling me that that was all for nothing? That whilst we were together, so were the pair of you?” My disbelief was painfully obvious, but I didn’t care. “I can’t fucking belie–”
I would have said more – much more – but the pain, rising up so rapidly, made me double over and all words besides – “fucking hell” – seemed to fail me. A whimper escaped me as I felt light, gentle hands that had to belong to Lily upon my back, and rougher more sure ones which had to be James’ guide me to a chair.
I could hear my heart beating wildly and raggedly in my ear, drowning out all other sound. Sweat poured down my face and my breath was sharp and painful as the scalding waves raked through my body.
I felt a hand upon my shoulder before James was suddenly there, crouching beside me. He touched my face, the back of his hand pressed against my forehead as he asked over and over what was wrong, who my Healer was and how to help me. In the end, it was Rose who answered him.
But I didn’t want Dennis to come. Seeing him meant facing up to what he was and worse of all, it meant leaving Albus to go back to St. Mungos – and that was something I could not allow.
“What’s wrong, Em? Will you tell me?” His voice was soft – far gentler than I had ever heard it. He lifted my chin with his thumb and eyed me seriously – worriedly. James Potter did not worry. Especially not for the likes of me.
I heard Rose’s mother chasing up an owl, and someone else hurrying about, and I felt James’ hand upon my face but there was only one voice that could draw me back, only one voice in the whole world.
My eyes were closing, and I didn’t understand why. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen, I was meant to be fine and I was here to fix things – not cop out and go back to the place where I had been hiding for so long. It would be like taking a step forward, then getting on a broom and flying off to Canada and taking all those millions of steps backward.
“Dad – help me,” I heard Albus murmur, his voice somehow rising above the white noise, “I need to – I’ve got to -”
My eyes cracked open just enough to see Albus half-hobbling towards me. Shit, I couldn’t help but think. Albus could barely walk without the help of his father. Had I done that? Was it all my fault?
“I’m – I’m fine.” I muttered, pushing, with all my might, to get James and Lily away from me. I wanted to lay my flushed cheek down against the cool of the table top until all of this had blown over. Was that really so much to ask? “You should go back to your dinner now.”
My eyes slid shut and before I knew it, everything changed.
I must have fallen asleep, or passed out, because when my eyes opened again, everything was different. Instead of slumped at the Weasley-Potters’ dinner table, interrupting their meal, I was looking up at the ceiling, staring bewilderedly at the cracks that I had never noticed before. Dennis was leaning over me, eyes squinted in concentration, and I was on the floor. I could hear my mother shouting off in the distance somewhere, and in my ear, softly, I could hear someone breathing my name. My fingers twitched, aching for Albus. I remembered, in those moments, how he had been in when I had made him come away with me. He had been one in many lovers – a list I did not care to draw to mind – but he was different. He had not looked away from me after the deed was first done, eyes averted in shame, or even stammered ‘that – that was fun?’ with blushing cheeks. He had looked at me with… love. I wondered, fleetingly, if I had looked back at him in the same way. I hoped that I had, because in spite of all of the things I had done, as I lay on the floor, aware of nothing but the whispers and the occasional scream, that I did love him. I loved him as I had never been able to love Lorcan – wholly, and properly, and most of all; my love, it was requited. That was all I had ever asked.
“Emmanuelle, can you hear me?” Dennis was saying to me, his hand brushing the damp hair off of my forehead. I smiled lazily with whatever potions he had given me and nodded my head once. He didn’t smile like I had hoped he would. He looked away, shouting something to someone.
Squeezing my eyes closed, I let myself go, tired of fighting. I drifted, dreamed, fought and screamed. I was trapped inside of my own dream, it seemed. I wasn’t quite sure where I was. I wasn’t at the Burrow any more, my father was not leaning over me – and most curiously, I wasn’t desperate to know where Albus was. In fact, as I stumbled through my spellbinding subconscious I barely thought about him at all.
“Em,” I heard someone whisper from behind me, their voice unfamiliar to me. “I’ve missed you.”
Turning, I saw, to my alarm rather than delight, that it was Lorcan. He looked the same age as he had been when he had died, fifteen and teetering on the ledge that was the space between a boy and a man. He was not covered in blood and deathly pale as he had been when I had seen him last, but clean and wearing the Ravenclaw robes he had always sported proudly. He outstretched his hand towards me, and I frowned.
“This is some sort of fucked-up crazy dream right? Because you’re not real – and I know I’m not dead. If I was dead, then there would be clouds and Angels and swirling rainbows and shit. So, other than me having lost my mind, it’s got to be the drugs.” Lorcan laughed at this, and it made me glower at him more hatefully than I would have thought possible. After all, it wasn’t every day that your dead ex-sort-of-boyfriend came back from the dead, was it? “You do know that you pretty much ruined my life, right?”
“Oh, Em. There is so much I have to tell you. If only we had the time…”
“Did you know you were dying?” The question had been on the tip of my tongue for the last two years, it seemed only right that it was the first to slip my lips.
“Not all along, no. We were on an expedition, just me and my Dad, and I was bitten by something. He said it would be fine – and I honestly thought it would be too. There were no side effects other than the occasion pain. Then… then the fevers started. I lost a lot of weight and all the colour seemed to drain away…”
“I know,” I whispered, “I remember.”
Lorcan smiled slightly, his eyes sad. “I knew… I found it out not long after we first kissed. I knew that I was going to die and I did not wish to die having betrayed Dominique. In spite of loving her, I was always aware that my brother loved her and she loved him, but I never could have guessed that they were together, in secret, as we had been.” Lorcan sighed, looking down at his feet. “I am happy that they managed to find each other again after my death. They are very much in love, there is no doubting it.”
“But what about me? Don’t you care about all that you did to me?”
“You have to understand - I loved you. I will always love you. You changed me in every possible way. Like a whirlwind, you shook up my world and made me feel like I was better than what I had laid out for myself. You made me question everything… my wants, my beliefs, my own self… but at the same time, I knew that I could not bring you down with me. I was going to die. It was my greatest mistake making you care for me. But – has your grief not made you find another? Are you not happy, at last, now that you have found Albus?”
The mention of Albus was like a stunning spell, right to the heart. Jolted, I drew in a sharp, rasping breath. There were clouds gathering over our heads, I noticed. Where there had been nothing but a blank space, there was a maelstrom of electrifying proportions. The storm was coming.
“I couldn’t let myself be happy! Not with you still haunting me!” I had not meant to shout, nor to make him flinch like he did. He closed his eyes for a moment, the hurt still flashing across his features.
“I’m sorry. I have seen what my death has done to you and I will never forgive myself for it. But – we both know this, Em – it’s time to let go. Make room for other people. Stop blaming me for the messes you let life throw at you. I need you to be strong – and I need you to move on from me. I know that I will never be at peace until you all finally let me go.” A part of me told me that there should be tears and refusals, but when I looked up – finally – into Lorcan’s sad eyes, I realised that it was too late for that. It had been two years. The time for grief was over. He was right. Our love may not have died, but it was still time to leave it to rest. Taking a step forward, I pushed a smile on my lips, and reached out for him.
“Can I touch you, or will my hand pass through you like a ghost?”
“I’m not a ghost. I’m a memory. With me, you can do whatever you like.” That was all I needed. Closing the space between us, I pressed my lips against his. He was cold and still but it didn’t matter. Our lips remained against each other’s for several moments before I broke away and wrapped my hands around him. I hugged him close, inhaling the familiar smell I had missed so much. In this embrace, I found him warm. His arms were strong and sure around me as he returned it, his tears damp against my neck. “Stop messing around. Live a long, happy life and when we meet again, make sure you can do Fera Verto with your eyes closed!”
Drawing away, sniffing slightly, I smiled.
“You know me, I always was awful at Potions.”
“That was Transfigurati- ah, never mind.” With a warm smile I had never truly seen before in his life, Lorcan said his goodbyes through that. The pain in my side was growing more and more attention seeking and when I let my mind dwell on it, it let go of whatever it was keeping him there. When I looked back, he was gone. But most of all, most importantly - when I opened my eyes, it all came back.
Still lain on the floor, there was a cold hand pressed to my forehead and another stand upon my knee. The first thing I saw when my eyes flew open was Dennis, ever present, by my side. He nodded his head at me. Beside him, crouched, was Lily and James. Fiona was stood behind James, her fingers playing with his unruly hair absentmindedly. By my leg, with a hand atop my knee, was Rose. She looked like she had been crying again. I tried to smile for her, but something stopped me. I was surrounded by people whom I loved, yet – where was the reason for it all? Where was Albus?
Lily smiled faintly, no doubt probing within my head. She glanced at her eldest brother and raised her eyebrows. James, of course, didn’t notice. Sitting up very carefully, I ignored Dennis’ attempts to stop me. The pain in my side, though throbbing, was nowhere near as bad as it had once been.
“You haven’t been taking your potions, Emmanuelle.” Dennis answered, his tone stern. “I warned you what you happened if you didn’t and you overworked yourself –”
“I don’t care. Where -”
“Albus had to rest. He’s sleeping in his room upstairs. The stress of the situation was too much for him.” Lily said from beside me, her voice light, her eyes kind. “Dominique is outside, if you wish to speak to her.” I did want to, I needed to – “Take this coat.”
At first, I had not liked the way which Lily was able to get inside of my head – but now? Now I did not mind so much. Smiling very faintly at the girl, I accepted the coat. It was warm and snug.
“Here, let me help you.” James was there very quickly, easily pulling me up to my feet. He was there for me to lean on, and even though I refused and told him to leave me alone, he was still there, through and through. Each time I winced and Dennis told me to ‘take it easy’, his grip tightened on me. Dominique was outside, sitting on the porch where Albus and I had kissed. I shivered as James helped me outside, ignoring the pain, and I slowly leaned myself against the wall. Dominique didn’t seem to notice me at first, but when she did, her eyes gave her away. She had been crying.
“If you forgive me, then I will forgive you.” Was all I said, and it was enough to make her stop her snivelling and smile. She rose to her feet so that she could stand in front of me, hovering, like she wasn’t sure whether she should hug me or not. “Lorcan loved you enough not to want to hurt you, and I can’t help but respect him for that. I am sorry about what we did and I want to know that you –”
But I never got to finish. Very carefully, Dominique pulled me to her. Crushing me in an awkward yet desperate hug, I could feel her crying on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been the worst. I – I’m sorry. If you forgive me, then – then of course I forgive you. After what I did – oh, there is nothing –” Even sobbing and blubbering like a fool, I could not help but smile at how lovely she was, at how much she looked like my mother. The Veela-blood had got it right with Fleur’s daughters, it seemed. “And – and I am so sorry I slapped you – and –”
Mending bridges with Dominique took ten minutes. Talking to Lysander about the past we both cared not to remember took only five. Hugging my mother took twenty. I had not realised how much I had missed her until she kissed my hair and whispered to me in French how sorry she was and how terrible I was for making her worry. Dennis watched us, leaning against the wall, with an odd expression on his face. It was not until I drew away that I saw what it was he wanted. I saw it in my mother’s eyes when she looked at him, so sighing at their prudence, I gestured for Dennis to come closer. He hurried to my side, eyes worried and scanning for any more injuries to date.
“Dennis, what happened after the summer with my mother ended?”
“I – I wrote every day but everything I ever wrote was sent back, unopened.” He replied, sadly, yet honestly. “I did my training to be a Healer and I was supposed to marry but I called the wedding off. I cared for her, she was from my village and she remembered my brother Colin from when we were younger and it made me feel like I had him back… but – Gabrielle, you never left my thoughts. Not for years – never.”
“I looked for you – but they told me you were married so I stopped. I did not want my child to be raised by someone who did not want to be there. If I had known I would have – I never got your letters – if I had known I would not have doubted – I would have let you know your daughter…” My mother murmured. Her eyes were full of tears. She released me, her and Dennis drawn together. It was like gravity or magnets –or something. They were drawn together, forgetting all else. As I left, I saw them putting their arms around each other and felt myself leave them at peace. I had done enough, perhaps, for one day.
Running into Mr and Mrs Potter in the hall, I almost flushed. I had to walk slow, hand on my side, as I had grown accustomed to. I had not thought anyone would be watching. Mr Potter immediately sat up, like he was, at any moment, going to rush over to help me. My eyes travelled to his scar when I looked at him, wondering, fleetingly, what it was to be the most loved. He was Harry Potter. He could do no wrong. The world would always love the Boy-who-lived and his children.
“I’m sorry I ruined your evening. I was hoping to say that to Mrs. Weasley as well, but I could not find her.” Rose’s grandparents had been so kind; it seemed almost cruel that I was always ruining their family get-togethers. “I am – also – so sorry about what happened between Albus and I. Your son is – he’s wonderful, really. Much better than I deserve, but for some reason, that doesn’t seem to matter much to him… But I – I just wanted to ask your forgiveness for all that I have done to you and your family.”
Mr Potter spoke first, very certain. His eyes were just like Albus’, I noticed. The most perfect shade of emerald green. “You saved my son’s life and he loves you, for that – well, there’s really nothing to forgive.” He glanced at his wife, as though waiting for him to back up his sentiment. I didn’t expect her to. It was clear she didn’t like me very much. But, doing the unexpected, Ginny Potter smiled.
“Don’t be silly.” Was all she said, and that was enough. She and her husband smiled at me before they moved on, muttering something about looking for James and Fiona.
As I very slowly – but nevertheless surely – made my way upstairs, I ran into Lily. She beamed at me, but said nothing as she passed. She just tapped her temple as though to tell me she knew exactly what was going on – probably even better than I did. Rose was in her room when I passed, her hair piled on the top of her head. She got up when she saw me, her eyes still slightly red rimmed.
“You know – I really hate you sometimes!” She explained as she pulled me into a tight embrace. “You scared me to death, Emmanuelle Delacour. But – Merlin – it’s alright now isn’t it? We’re going to be alright from now on. You and me – we’re going to stick together.”
“Always and forever.” I murmured quietly, smiling as Rose drew away from me.
“And you know what else? We’re going to pass our exams with flying colours and after we’ve graduated, we’re going to move into a flat in London and argue like an old married couple because you’re messy and I am neat and we’re going to be happy. We’re going to be friends until we’re old and grey and you know what? I’ll wager that when we die, we’ll both die together, no doubt fighting about who gets the last custard and jelly.” Laughing, Rose touched the side of my head. I could not deny her. She was my best friend. She always had been – and she always would be, right until the very end of it all, custard and jelly pudding or not.
“Custard and jelly?”
“That’s right.” Rose said. “Custard and jelly.”
Rose held my hand for a good five minutes, eyes shining as she talked about the future. I smiled, nodded my head when appropriate, and for once, I let myself hope. I wanted all of the things she wanted. I wanted a small, dingy flat above a fish and chip shop with her; I wanted Christmas’ at the Burrow and summers with my grandparents in France. I wanted the vast and colourful future I had never let myself imagine before. I wanted it all, and in a way, I supposed that on that day, it all began again. When I had been only killing time, I had not been living – not until now.
When I found him, he was asleep. Lying on his side, his back was to me when I quietly slipped through the door. Rose had left me feeling warm and hopeful and brave. I didn’t feel like a Slytherin at all. I felt like a mighty, mighty Gryffindor.
And I had not known how much I had missed him until we were alone together.
I missed the softness of his messy hair, the way that it was not quite black like his father’s but not shockingly red either. He was the in-between, the middle child. He was both a Weasley and a Potter. He was a little bit of both, which was what made him so different, so special. Sitting down on the edge of his single bed, I smiled as I reached out to brush his flushed cheek with the backs of my fingers. His long, dark eyelashes fluttered, his rosy lips twitching slightly at my touch. The rise and fall of his chest was comforting. The soft sound of his deep breath steady and familiar. He was warm. I could feel his warmth even through the covers that separated us.
“Staring at me when I’m sleeping – that’s creepy, Delacour.”
I could not have helped the grin which broke out as his eyes opened, not even if I had tried. Of all the things that I had missed about him, it was his green eyes that I had longed for the most. I had called them ‘grass green’, but I had been wrong. They were like emeralds. Bright and brilliant, everything that was Albus was in those expressive, exquisite almond-shaped green eyes.
“I was worried about you tonight. You scared me, Albus.”
“Join the club – I’m always worried about you.”
Shifting very slowly onto his back, Albus reached out to take my hand in his. I smiled at the touch as our fingers comfortably entwined. He looked so different, yet, there he was, still the same. He was still the constant, endearing flame which did not burn, but made me warm and whole again. This was both a heartbreaking romance and a safe one. It was the best of both extremes.
“I’m sorry –”
“I’m sorry for what I did: for bringing you away from your family on Christmas, to Knockturn alley, to that place. What happened to you, it was all my fault and I will never –” Albus raised our hands to his lips and he kissed my knuckles, silencing me with the sweetness of the gesture.
“You did not ask for those – those men to do what they did. I know you did not enjoy being fed on my a vampire – probably just as I enjoyed – ”
“- being stabbed. All because of my big mouth!” I had tried to forget that night so desperately. But I could still feel the cool of the knife against my throat, the grip on me when the thing bit me and most of all, the look on Albus’ face when the knife was plunged into him. I remembered it all. I was my curse.
“And you could have died from the splinch you endured from getting us to St. Mungos!” Looking away, I could not bear the intensity in his eyes. He had released my hand and was brushing his fingertips across my collarbone, ghosting beneath the bandaged wound on my neck. “Maybe… maybe it’s best if we just… move on.”
“What’s done is done. We were… a little mad, in those few days. Perhaps, in the future, we can tone down the madness and be a little more boring instead? How do you feel about hot chocolate and bed before eleven?” It was almost comical how endearingly sweet he was. It took all I had not to throw myself at him, whispering things like ‘you’ve made me gone mad’ and ‘I really fucking love you’ – but he was right. I had lost my head, and so had he, a little bit too.
“Sensible?” I asked, smiling faintly. “I think I might be able to do sensible – just as long as it involves eggs and soldiers every morning.”
Had I ever seen him smile as lovingly as he did in that moment? I wasn’t sure. But as he pushed himself up and leaned in close, I found that I didn’t care. Pressing my lips against his, I smiled. Melting into the perfect sensation of his hand in my hair and his lips against mine, I found that, as I thought of the future as Rose had set it out for all of us, that I didn’t mind a little less of the madness. Just as long as I got to keep this. Just as long as I got to have him. After all, he was all I really needed.
“You have no idea how much I’ve missed you…”
“You really have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I never actually thought that I would finish this. After such a long absence, I am sure a lot of you thought this was abandoned – and I am sorry about that. In the last few chapters, I was just so unsure. But – anyway, I really hope that you enjoyed this and thank you all so much for reading. I have loved writing this so much. To all of you who have reviewed, you really have no idea how much that meant to me. I've read every review, and I have tried to reply to them all as well - but sometimes there just isn't time. I really have loved this story, it's been a rough year and a lot of my personal rubbish has gone into this. I hope that the ending was satisfying and I realy hope that I haven't disappointed anyone - and again, I am so sorry for the months and months between each update.
The song is Alligator by Grizzly Bear.