I feel at peace for once, and a wave of relief is cleansing my insides, removing all the worry I’ve had to carry for a while.
I know this won’t last. I know this for a fact.
But it’s something.
When anyone steps into the Burrow, the first thing to hit them is the coziness. Inside the Burrow, there’s no such thing as fear, anxiety, or stress. All you can feel is the warmth of the fireplace, the orange-gold shimmer glowing from the vintage table lamps, and the sound of the old antique grandfather clock somewhere in the depths of one of the rooms.
There’s no such thing as pain in this house.
It almost doesn’t exist.
This is the feeling that hits me the minute I step foot into the house, shivering from the chilly winter breeze outside. I inhale the familiar smell of cakes and brownies and sigh contently, unwrapping my thick scarf currently hanging around my neck. Behind me, I can hear Albus wiping the frost off his shoes as Rose calls out for her grandparents.
“Grandma,” she calls out excitedly, pulling her hair out of its messy ponytail. James carefully moves me to one side in order to squeeze past, his dark hair harassed by the wind. Hugo follows him, admiration all over his face. Hugo and James have a close bond, although it doesn’t show in school.
“I bet they’re waiting for us in the kitchen,” Lily points out, her face bright and pink with happiness as she puts her coat on the coat rack. Without waiting for an answer, she rushes past us and disappears around the corner. Her words are only confirmed the minute we hear laughter and giggles.
“Look at you Lily!” I can hear Grandma Weasley’s soft voice coo the minute she spies Albus’ sister. “Look at how she’s grown, Ginny, she’s beautiful.”
“I know she is,” Ginny replies, the love in her voice unmistakable. Lily laughs shyly and tells them to stop it, which is our cue to enter the kitchen too.
I can’t help but break out into smiles the minute Albus, Rose, and I step into the kitchen. The fireplace is alight and there are muffins in the oven, just waiting for our return. The windows are slightly open, letting the smell of fresh grass and snow waft into the room. It’s refreshing.
“Albus! Rose!” Grandma Weasley grins, extending her arms out to the both of them. Rose and Albus sneak amused smiles at each other before hugging her back, each secretly relieved to be back home again. After their grandmother is done praising and admiring them on their looks and achievements, she looks around them and beams at me.
I love her.
“If it isn’t my darling Arabella,” she says gently, the lines by her eyes crinkling as she smiles. I have the urge to just run up and hug her tightly but I restrain myself, choosing to stand there and wait as she comes to me. “My beautiful girl, how has school life been treating you?”
Before I can reply, she reaches up and gives me a long hug, allowing me to let down my defensive guard and drown in the comfort she offers me. “School’s been hectic but I’m coping.”
“Are you sure?” she asks, regarding my face for a moment. From the sides, I can see Rose and Al’s parents sipping coffee and conversing, contributing to the welcoming buzz of conversation in the room. Occasionally they would glance at me, waiting patiently in order to greet me.
“Of course,” I assure her, head tilted to one side. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You look quite tired, love,” she answers, reaching over and brushing my cheek. “From my experiences, I see you seem to have traces of bags under your eyes and that’s not right for someone as young and healthy as you. Ask my children, I nag them about overworking and stress all the time –”
“Do I?” I interrupt. I’m no longer surprised; the nightmares have finally taken their toll on my face. I’ve been waiting for that day to come. Grandma Weasley smiles and gestures towards the oven, her eyes twinkling.
“I’ve often heard it said that muffins are the best cure for it, you see,” she whispers with a wink. I can’t help but laugh when I hear that. Deep down, I find myself wishing the saying were true. Grandma Weasley then turns to Rose. “Rose dear, when are Jade and Scorpius coming here?”
“Jade should be here later today,” Rose answers with a shrug. “I think Scorpius will be arriving tomorrow, but only for a week. Apparently, he has plans to go to France with his family.”
“That’s fine, the more the merrier,” her grandmother says cheerfully. She makes me sit down around her large dining table before heading over to the oven. I can see Hugo and Lily waiting by it with large eyes, their cheeks rosy.
“Did you make all that for us?” James asks with an amused grin, glancing at the oven.
“That’s barely enough,” Hugo breathes, his face practically pressed up against the oven as if that’s enough for it to transfer into his open mouth.
“We know that,” his father says with a good-humored eye roll, pulling his son away. “We all know your capable of eating dozens of muffins in one go.”
“Look who’s talking,” Rose shoots without missing a beat, causing everyone else to laugh.
“Bella,” smiles Hermione, holding out an arm and gesturing me over. She has another mug of tea in her hand and it’s obvious that it’s for me. I look at her gratefully. “How are you, my dear?”
Around her, the parents wait for my answer, comforting looks on all their faces. They’re lovely.
I love them.
It’s 6 o’clock. Jade is finally with us, still wrapped up in her woolen white scarf and gray jacket, breathing in the steam that curls upwards from the hot chocolate in front of her.
“The traffic was crazy,” she tells us, making wild gestures with her hands to make sure we understand her properly. We all nod at the same time although I feel my neck stiffen from fatigue. Shaking my head slightly, I fix her with a smile and get up from my seat. My limbs are almost frozen in their spot from sitting for so long.
With a groan, Albus gets up too, his mug in hand. He joins me at the end of the kitchen, where I stand by the sink, absent-mindedly gazing out the large window in front of me. If I’m not mistaken, I can almost make out the fading gray silhouette of the Glade outside, but the flurry of snowflakes quickly increases and the familiar image seems to vanish.
“It’s beautiful,” I say softly, a smile spreading across my face. I can sense Albus watching me but I don’t seem to mind; I’m peaceful. He smiles and puts his mug in the sink before leaning into the granite counter.
“The snow?” he asks.
“No.” I roll my eyes at him good-humoredly and point through the window. I doubt he’ll see what I saw but it’s worth a try. He squints out into the blizzard of snow and ice and cold and his smile changes into a grin.
“You’re pointing at the Glade, aren’t you?” he whispers, as if it’s still our very own secret, all those years back. When I merely sigh contently in response, he presses on. “I still remember, if you’re wondering.”
I can’t help but meet his gaze, cheeks flushed. His face is sincere and the gentle kitchen lights illuminate the silent excitement deep within his eyes. The fact that he remembers after all this time means the world to me – yet I don’t want to tell him this.
“Do you?” I ask, my voice now a muffled slur as my energy ebbs away. All I want now is to sink into my comfy bed waiting upstairs but I don’t want to leave. Not just yet. I fight with myself to stay awake.
“Do you?” Albus is teasing me now, but the look of sincerity never leaves him.
“Tomorrow,” I whisper, unable to stifle the small yawn that escapes my lips. “We should go there tomorrow. We should have a picnic in the snow, unless it happens to melt overnight. I don’t know. We should go. And Scorpius will be there, it’d be perfect –”
I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore; I’m exhausted. Albus chuckles under his breath and moves in closer to me as my legs give way for the slightest moment. I stumble forwards and find his arms supporting me up, grasping my shoulders firmly.
“Are you sure you want to go tomorrow?” he whispers in my ear. I nod sleepily. “It might still be freezing out there. We have weeks here Belle, we could go some other time.”
“No,” I protest, my impatience beginning to outweigh my fatigue. “We should go tomorrow.” When I look up at his face, I can see he’s still unsure. “Could we? Please?”
I don’t know where this confidence is coming from, but I grasp at it for as long as I can.
He regards me for a little while but I can hardly keep my eyes open any longer. My eyelids flutter at certain intervals and my legs keep giving way. Finally he laughs and pulls me in for a hug, overwhelming me with electricity and cinnamon and comfort and protection.
“Anything you want,” he reassures me softly, his tone deep. It vibrates through his body and right through to me, like a jolt of connection that keeps us together. I don’t have the energy to wrap my arms around him in return but I nod into his chest, eyes firmly shut. “Tomorrow, around lunch. We’ll go out there, just like we promised.”
I’m starting to fall asleep but I manage a quiet ‘thank you’ at his words.
All I remember after that is his lips on my forehead, gently kissing me goodnight. “Sleep well, Belle.”
Anger. I’m so angry.
I’m standing on my own, surrounded by pitch black. The mere fact that I can’t see a thing seems to inject more venom into my already-fiery position. There’s something burning through my veins, and the more I stand around idly, the more frustrated I become.
“What is this?” I snap into nothing. No one replies. I didn’t expect anyone to.
I let out an infuriated yell and pace back and forth, although I really don’t know where I’m going, or whether I’m even moving. There’s no light, none at all, that can pinpoint where I am. I don’t know where this is.
I don’t know.
“I. Hate. This.” I spit the sentence out and stop in surprise, unsure of where these poisonous words have emerged. I search through my head for any past events that may have caused my sudden discomfort, but nothing comes to me. I don’t understand. Heat and hatred prick through my skin like little darts and I grimace, my jaw locked tight.
“Talk to me!” I yell out harshly. “Answer me!”
I’m not prepared when the first wave of rage hits me. My eyes grow wide as my entire body begins to tremble with an unknown displeasure, and I find that my hands are clenched tightly into fists. They’re so tight that my fingernails leave little crescent-shaped marks in my palm. Then the pain starts.
My body begins to sting and pulse, and my eyes suddenly water. There’s a dull throbbing in my head and it matches the pulse of my aching chest. My heart is loud in my ears but it’s unable to distract me from the uncomfortable twinges of fatigue and irritation traveling under my skin. A sharp stab of pain in my back sends me to my knees in a flash, and I growl through gritted teeth.
I desperately want to get out of this void, to leave this place, to leave behind my aching, throbbing bones. Then I’m struck with a startling realization.
This is not a prediction.
But why am I so angry?
“Let me out!” I scream, eyes squeezed shut as I kick at the ground, hands covering my face as a form of protection. Whatever this is, it’s out of my control. “Let me out! Let me out!”
I can feel hatred bubbling from the depths of my stomach and the disgusting feeling poisons my mind. All I can see is violence. I want it all to stop.
Anger hits me again. And again. And again. Each time it hits me, the symptoms of pain come flooding back, intensifying in strength and discomfort. I can’t stop crying. I can’t.
It hits me again.
“Stop it!” I’m screaming, hollering at the top of my lungs. I’m in so much pain, with nothing to attribute to the fury that I’m harboring. “Stop!”
I want someone to help me. Anyone.
So I think about Rose.
I don’t recognize her face at first. I don’t recognize Rose as she holds me in her lap, tears streaming down her face as she wraps me in my thick white blanket, her red hair blazing from the glowing lamp beside us. I don’t realize the dampness of my face, or the salty taste that seeps into my lips.
I don’t see the long red scratch mark down my arm, apparently of my own making. It’s bright red and shiny, leaving little red lines down my arm as it moves down my fingers, staining the old wood flooring.
“Bella,” Rose is crying. I can hardly understand what she’s saying but the concern terrifies me. “Bella, no!”
“What is it?” I ask weakly, shifting in my blanket. I still don’t know what’s going on.
“Bella, why did you say that?” Rose continues to sob, pushing my hair out of my face. My heart is still racing and I’m slowly gaining consciousness. My sore arm reacts in response and I start the feel the sting of my scratch.
“Do you not remember?”
I shake my head. Rose looks at me with as much tenderness as she can, her eyes still overflowing with tears. I don’t understand.
“You asked me to kill you,” she whimpers. “You wanted to die.”