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Chapter 15 : Happy Christmas
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Look at Liam by chocolate_bunny @ TDA!
Albus was really starting to hate the door.
For four hours, it had been taunting him, begging Albus to break it down. To run in there and make sure his friend was alive. When they had first arrived, Albus had stumbled over to a bin and lost it. Apparation wasn’t pleasant, but the image of Nick in that state put him over the edge. Scorpius had done the same, before they both found the entrance to the ward Nick was in. No one could enter or leave it; two burly Aurors made sure of that. Any attempt to try to break in would have been pointless.
A while later Rose and Piper met them, pale as snow. It had been Albus’s job to explain what they had happened. When he mentioned Nick, the first sob escaped Piper. By the end, she had broken down. Part of her had hoped that they were wrong; that Nick would be fine, that it wouldn’t be like this.
Now, they were all numb. Piper sat slumped against Albus, Scorpius and Rose in a similar position. None of them had fallen asleep, and they all refused to go home. They just needed to know that Nick was okay.
Hell, they just needed to know that she was alive.
“Dammit,” Albus suddenly said, causing Piper to jump a little. “It’s been four hours. She can’t … not after …” but Albus couldn’t finish. He didn’t want to believe that she wasn’t going to make it, but it wasn’t looking good. No. Albus couldn’t think like that.
Nick had to live. It was impossible to think what it would be like if she didn’t.
“You think she’s-“ Rose gasped out, but was unable to finish. Nick and Rose weren’t particularly close, but Nick trusted her. And trust wasn’t something Nicole gave away; you fought for it tooth and nail.
Just then, the door opened. Piper jumped up, and the rest of them weren’t far behind. A Healer exited, his face grim. His brown hair had a few marks of grey in it, but he otherwise looked quite young. When he registered the four teenagers, the Healer forced a smile.
“She’s alive,” he told them, and Albus felt tears well in his eyes. Nick was alive. She was alive. The healer’s smile turned genuine as he saw Piper start crying again through her smile, and Scorpius letting out the breath he held in. Rose appeared to be in shock. “I’m Healer Swanson. You can call me Keith, though. You must be …” ‘Keith’ paused, studying the four of them, ”…Albus, Piper, Scorpius, and Rose,” he finished, pointing to them each respectively.
“Erm ... hi,” Piper greeted, wiping the tear tracks from her face. “I don’t mean to be rude, but how do you know our names? Do you know Nick? How is she?”
“Oh, Merlin, I’m sorry. I’ve treated Nick a lot; I believe the first time when she was six. It took a long time, but I managed to get her to talk. Eventually, I found out about all of you,” Keith explained, trying to look cheery, but he couldn’t. He didn’t answer Piper’s other questions, though.
“Is she okay?” Scorpius asked, his voice cracking. Keith only sighed.
“No, not really. She’s in a bad place. Merlin knows what she went through this time,” Keith replied, not sugarcoating it. Albus looked instinctively to his right, expecting another bout of crying from Piper, but she was oddly calm.
“Will she be okay?” he asked, and Keith ran a hand through his hair miserably. There was a long pause, and the four teenagers watched as he fiddled with his clipboard.
“I don’t know,” he replied honestly. “I’ve never seen anyone this bad. “ Scorpius breathed in sharply.
“Oh, god …” Scorpius choked out, before starting to pace. “This shouldn’t have happened. We should have done something.”
“Like what? No one would’ve believed us; they’d say we were making it up to protect her,” Albus replied, but Scorpius just seemed to build up more steam.
“We should have protected her. How much shit has she gone through since we’ve met her? We should have done something a long time ago!” Running his hands madly through his hair, Scorpius just breathed heavily for a few seconds.
“Nick isn’t like that. She wouldn’t have let you get involved, and she only just told you a few months ago. Nick fights her battles alone …” Rose explained, putting a hand on her boyfriend’s shoulder.
“We shouldn’t have let her,” Albus put in, his voice empty. “We’ve let her isolate herself for six years. We’re shit friends.”
“No. Come on, we can’t think like that,” Piper cut in softly, glancing at the healer.
“She’s right. I know Nick … you need to stop beating yourselves up,” he inputted, before walking away.
“What can we do to help her now? That’s what we need to focus on,” Piper said calmly. There was a pregnant pause, in which Rose and Albus had an argument with their eyes. Eventually, Albus sighed. Rose’s eyes glinted with triumph.
“We’re going to go find our parents,” Albus explained. “They said they needed to figure something out before they came.”
“Well, then, there’s a floo in my office. Want to use it?” Keith offered, on his way back into the ward, a violet potion in his hand. After Albus and Rose merely nodded, he pointed them in the right direction.
“Do I have to come?” Albus asked, and Rose glared at him.
“For Nick,” she reminded him. Rose, of course, knew she had used the correct card, and saw her cousin visibly steel his nerves.
“We’ll be back in a bit,” Rose said, and Scorpius and Piper nodded. Albus heard something about tea and the cafeteria, but he followed Rose down the hallway. He could practically hear the funeral march with each step.
After Rose forcibly pushed Albus into the fireplace, he found himself in his living room. His mother and aunt were sitting passively on the couch, as if they were expecting them. When she saw her son, however, Albus could practically hear his mother’s blood start to boil.
“Explain yourselves,” Ginny Potter said coldly, and Albus visibly flinched. He had assumed his father had told her. Apparently not.
“Scorpius and I heard screams, and saw figures on the bluff. We ran after them, and it turned out Nick Warrington was bleeding to death in the snow. She’s barely alive right now,” Albus explained, his voice hollow. Aunt Hermione put a hand over her mouth.
“It’s true,” Rose added, tears streaming down her face. Albus didn’t remember her crying once at St. Mungo’s. “And there are Aurors guarding the door, and he’s dead, and we don’t know what’s going to happen to her, which is why-”
“You need me,” her mother finished, her face grim. “I’m coming. Your fathers will meet me at the hospital once they finish the report.” Muttering to herself, Aunt Hermione entered the fireplace, Rose not far behind. Albus was about to follow, but his mother stopped him.
“Not so fast, Albus Severus Potter. I need to know what’s going on. And don’t lie to me,” she said, and saw Albus’s shoulders sag. When he turned around, he looked forty, not seventeen.
“I can’t tell you,” he said, and his mother looked surprised.
“Why not? It’s not another Slytherin thing, is it?” she asked, annoyed. It wasn’t Albus against the world.
“I can’t betray Nick’s trust. It took her six years to tell me, and I’m not going to ruin it. I can’t do that to her, not now.” Albus couldn’t keep his voice from cracking. He didn’t know why he was trying to tell his mother this, but they were running out of options. If there was a slim chance she could help … Albus would take it. It simply wasn’t about him anymore.
“What is so bad that you can’t tell anyone?” Ginny said. Honestly, they had tried to get through to Albus, but he kept on pushing everyone away. Eventually, they gave up. They thought if he’d have his space, Albus would be better. It didn’t work.
“You really don’t know, do you?” Albus shot back bitterly, barely holding back a laugh. “Her parents are in Azkaban. She’s been bounced from foster home to foster home as long as she can remember-“
“What?” Ginny got out. How did she not know that? Did she know anything about what was going on? Hell, she didn’t even know who Albus was anymore, much less his silent friend.
“Yeah. And no one liked the Death eaters’ daughter,” Albus continued. “She’s been through absolute hell.”
That was like a punch in the gut to Ginny. Pieces started to click together in her mind; the way her son had flinched his first Christmas home from Hogwarts, the way he stopped sleeping … drawing away.
No. It couldn’t be. Albus couldn’t be telling the truth. It was something else; it had to be. Not that. He had to be lying.
“Albus,” she whispered, as her son’s face became etched with pain. She stepped forward, but he merely turned away.
“No. You still don’t bloody believe me.” With a shaky laugh, Albus started to leave. When he turned around to say one last thing, he saw both of his siblings glaring at him from the stairs. Albus didn’t care; Nick needed him. Piper needed him. He could sort out his screwed up family later.
“Happy Christmas, Mum,” he said coldly, before disappearing to where he needed to go. The hurt had been evident in his mother’s eyes, but he just couldn’t bring himself to give a damn anymore. This was the first time she had remotely believed him.
But when he reappeared in Keith’s office, he found another angry redhead waiting.
“What was that about?” Rose asked pointedly, and Albus couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated by his cousin. He had seen her when she was angry before; Rose was bloody scary. “What did you do, Albus Severus Potter?”
“She deserved it,” Al muttered, but saw Rose’s eyes flash with anger. He was done for.
“Did you try to tell her why you’re so angsty?” she said, and Albus knew he was one step away from prancing onto a landmine. But the words just slipped out of his mouth.
“I’ve tried that. They don’t believe me,” Albus said moodily. “She needs to wake up from her f-”
“ALBUS SEVERUS POTTER, YOU GO BACK THERE AND APOLOGIZE! I WILL MARCH YOU BACK THERE MYSELF IF I HAVE TO!” she screeched. Albus flinched, but didn’t move. It turned out Rose wasn’t bluffing, as she grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back into the fireplace. Unluckily, his mother was still sitting on the couch. Rose’s voice was an almost inaudible growl in his ear. “I don’t like having to act like my mum, but I’ll make an exception just this once. Your mum is trying her best, so you’re not going to act like a prick.” Rose cleared her throat, before shoving Al towards his mother, a forced smile on her face. “Aunt Ginny, Al has something he needs to say to you.” Albus shot her a dirty look, but his cousin didn’t waver.
“I’m sorry, Mum,” he muttered, and Rose nodded irritably. Her look told him to keep going, and Albus sighed dramatically. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” Luckily, Rose thought it was enough.
“Thank you, Rose,” Ginny Potter said, before staring at her son, who kept glancing towards the fireplace. “Albus,” she started, and saw as he physically forced himself to meet her gaze. His eyes were empty. Dead.
“What?” Albus had tried to put an edge in his voice, but it just cracked. Images of Nick, of his friend, had just flooded his mind. Nick lying in the snow, gasping for air as her own blood covered her. Nick smiling, handing Albus a photograph. Nick, motionless, being . He needed to go back. Albus didn’t care if it was Christmas. Suddenly, James was there, standing between Albus and their mother.
“Just go.” James’s voice was cold, harsh. It softened as he turned to their mother. “You need to sleep, Mum. It’s almost six in the morning. You, too, Rose and Lily. Rose, you can take Al’s room.” Albus, shocked at James taking over their dad’s role, just nodded and left. Rose didn’t follow.
Sighing, Albus went back to St. Mungo’s, before walking down the labyrinth of corridors once more. But as he walked, it felt like everything was collapsing in, that the corridor was slowly squeezing Albus to death. He couldn’t deal with it anymore, any of it. His parents, school, even Nick. Everything was collapsing down around him. Albus couldn’t hold the tears in anymore.
Nick was going to be arrested, that was if she even lived to see tomorrow. His mum was at the point of breaking, and his brother and sister hated him. His mum. Albus had no idea the state his mother was in, how fragile she was. What had happened to her? Why wasn’t she sleeping? But most importantly ... what was going to happen to Nick?
“Hey, Al,” a voice said, sliding down to sit next to him. Al looked, and saw it was Piper. He tried to smile, and saw Piper attempt to return the gesture. There was no evidence of tears on Piper’s face, and it once again made Albus marvel. She was always the strong one. When someone needed her, she put aside everything she was feeling and was just ... there. “Where’s Rose?”
“With my family. James thought she should sleep,” Al replied, his voice cracking again. He had managed to stop crying, though. “Where’s Scorpius?”
“His family made him leave. Because they have this fancy brunch thing he has to go to, but they stayed for a while. None of them wanted to leave; they’re closer to Nick than I thought, but they had to. So I guess it’s just you and me,” Piper said, softly.
“How is she?” Albus asked, as Piper scooted closer to Albus. She was still wearing the clothes from the party, but her hair now hung loosely around her face, free from its braid.
“Keith won’t tell me. I hear the healers arguing, though. Your father and Rose’s parents locked themselves in a spare office as soon as they got there. I think they’re trying to make a plan,” Piper explained, and Albus nodded.
“It feels like the match happened years ago,” he said randomly, thinking about how much had changed since them. Piper merely nodded, trying to push back memories of the last month. It had just been bad; Nick slowly stopping eating and sleeping, and when she did sleep … she screamed. It had woken up the entire house the first few times. Everyone had been terrified for her. And they hadn’t been able to help her.
“And then the letters ...” Piper said, remembering how terrified Nick had been that she would find hers before it was time. Nick, the opposite of a coward, scared witless.
“Owen went after her. He was the one who found her,” Albus continued, thinking about the state the Hufflepuff had been in. He really did care about her a lot. That entire month, Owen had refused to accept she was letting go … there wasn’t a day he wouldn’t try to talk to Nick. But she had shut the world out.
“And then they snogged,” Piper noted, giggling slightly. This was news to Albus.
“They what?” he asked, which caused Piper to giggle more. “I didn’t know this!”
“Because I thought you’d go all ‘older brother’ on Owen,” Piper explained. If it brought Nick back, Albus wouldn’t have cared. “That was why I made you wait until Owen was gone until going up to her.”
“You really are a Slytherin,” Al said, smiling slightly. The idea of Nick and Owen was just … cute. But then reality came crashing to him, remembering the next bit of the story. “You know those pictures we gave her?” Piper just nodded, looking confused at the pained look that was surely on Albus’s face. Sighing, he pulled out the photograph she had returned to him, and turned it over. There, in her blood, was one word.
Piper gasped, grabbing the photograph. There were no tears, but Albus thought it was because she had none left. Personally, Albus was closer to laughing … it was just something Nick would do. But neither of them made a sound; Piper just laid the photo on the ground, backside up, and leaned her head into Albus’s shoulder, who in turn leaned his head on hers.
They just sat there for a while, staring at it. It could have been seconds, minutes, or hours, but neither of them were aware of time passing. After what seemed like an eternity, Albus picked it up again.
“You know what this means, right?” he said. Piper tilted her head up at Albus and just nodded. It was then that Albus noticed she had been crying, but silently.
“We can’t give up. She doesn’t want us to dwell on this,” Piper responded, almost mechanically. “She wants us to win the stupid House Cup.” Then Piper mumbled something, which sounded oddly like ‘sorting out priorities’.
Albus chuckled. “It’ll be fine, Piper. Aunt Hermione is the best out there; Nick won’t go to Azkaban,” he reassured Piper, pulling her in for a hug. She broke away almost instantly, though, wiping the tears from her eyes. Albus then knew his mistake. Logical, brilliant Piper wouldn’t react the same way as most to ‘it’ll be fine’. No, for her it just made her think of the definition of fine, and how far from it this could end.
“You’re right. It will all work out,” she said, trying to force a smile. “I’m going to go get some tea.” She stood up, turning to walk away. Albus cursed under his breath, trying to hastily work out how to fix it; trying to figure out how to say what he wanted.
“Piper, you don’t have to pretend. We don’t know that it will work out, we don’t know that Nick’s even alive. We don’t know that she won’t go to Azkaban,” Albus admitted quickly as she walked away, and Piper stopped, turning around. “But we can’t think about the worst outcome. We just can’t afford to think like that. Not now.” Piper just nodded, fresh tears finding their way into her eyes. Part of Albus relaxed, though. “Can I come with you?” All Albus received was a nod, as Piper tried to stop herself from crying. Throwing his arm around her, they started to wander.
As came to the elevator lift, they saw a little redheaded girl struggling against a young man’s hold. He was holding her effortlessly to his chest as she kicked and screamed.
“I need to see Nicole! I need to know that she’s not dead!” the girl yelled, and Albus and Piper immediately stopped in their tracks, turning to face the girl. She seemed to recognize them, as her eyes widened and she stopped fighting the man. “That’s Al and Piper. They know her! Can I just talk to them?” Immediately, the man whirled around. He had dark, shaggy hair, and eyes that reminded Piper and Al of Nick’s. He wore glasses, and couldn’t have been more than three years older than them. The instant he set the girl down, she ran over to Albus and Piper, who were still shocked by what was happening.
“Is she okay?” the girl asked immediately. Piper and Albus looked to the man.
He sighed, putting his hands on his hips. “Beth, did you forget something?” One eyebrow was raised, and immediately ‘Beth’ blushed.
“Sorry. I’m Beth. I was at the house with Nicole, Lucas, and the man. I never learned his name, but I heard Nicole call him Justin,” she explained hurriedly. Beth spoke so fast that it was hard to understand exactly what she was saying. “Now can I ask?” The man merely nodded in reply, laughing slightly. “Is she okay?”
“Er,” Albus started, and Beth’s face fell.
“She’s not all right, but at least I can tell she’s alive,” Beth said immediately, frowning. “You wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t. Why isn’t she okay? I know she was in bad shape, but the healers should have fixed her by now.” Unable to respond, Albus and Piper just looked to the man. Eyes darkening, he knelt down to Beth’s level.
“Sometimes it’s a little more complicated,” he tried to explain, but Beth’s face only creased in thought.
“They fixed Lucas. Why can’t they fix Nicole?” she asked him, confused. The man sighed.
“They will, but they’re still working, Beth. She’s really sick,” he explained, and Beth silenced, but Albus could practically hear her brain blast through the lie. Nonetheless, she didn’t question what the man said, and as a result there was a pregnant pause. The man stood up, but Piper knelt down to Beth, eyes still watery.
“You were there with Nick?” she asked quietly. Albus swore internally; he knew where this was going. He didn’t stop Piper, and Beth merely nodded. “Was she ... okay?”
“No. She fought him, and he hurt her. He said she was really angry, and she couldn’t be fixed. I didn’t get it, though; Nick, but I always called her Nicole because it’s a girl’s name, was really nice. I asked her about her photographs and she told me all about you guys,” Beth answered simply. Albus was reminded strongly of Rose in her ‘matter of fact’ way of speaking and thinking, and he could tell Piper was, too. Putting on a smile for the little girl, knowing Nick had done the same, Albus knew what he needed to do.
“I only know one other person who’s called her Nicole and gotten away with it,” he whispered, and Beth giggled.
“The boy from the first photograph. Owen,” she responded, smiling. “Nicole told me about him.” Just then the man’s head snapped up, looking alarmed.
“What’s this Owen’s last name?” he asked Albus, and suddenly the pieces fit into place. He knew who this man was. Looking to Piper, Albus knew she had figured it out, too.
“You’re his brother. That’s where I knew the last name; Aunt Hermione was talking about you,” Albus said quietly, and watched as his face turned grim.
“I’m Liam Dalton, yeah,” Liam introduced himself, ignoring Beth as she crossed her arms, obviously lost. “I also believe I work with your cousin, Dominique.”
“You’re a social worker?” Piper asked, surprised.
“We’re not all evil. And, yes, I am. That’s why I’m here at seven o’clock in the morning on Christmas. I heard about what happened, and there was an emergency call for all of us whose kids were at the house, because they obviously can’t stay there, and I’ve been trying to nail him on a child abuse charge for ages. Beth’s social worker is on holiday, so she’s staying for Christmas at my parent’s flat with us, and then with me until we can work something else out. So his her friend, Lucas,” Liam explained quickly, and Beth grinned.
“That’s where you’re taking me?” Beth asked, before letting out an exasperated sigh. “You could have just told me that, you know. Then I would have pestered you,” Despite everything, all three of them laughed, until Liam’s face creased suddenly.
“Beth, can I trust you to go find Owen in the cafeteria without causing mayhem?” he asked, and Beth nodded, rolling her eyes. “Then will you go?”
“I know you want to talk about what happened without me being there. You could have just told me, and I would have left,” she replied, before walking away. Piper marveled at the little girl.
“How old is she?” she asked, and Liam laughed.
“Seven,” he replied, as if he couldn’t believe it either, and Albus shook his head.
“She is going to be just like Rose,” he predicted. Then there was an awkward silence, as they all remembered why Liam had sent Beth away.
“Here’s my question for you two. Did Owen know Nick?” Liam asked suddenly. “And what photograph was Beth talking about?”
“Erm, this is kind of a long story,” Albus answered, before coughing awkwardly. “But, yeah, Owen did know Nick.” Piper disguised her laugh as a cough, muttering that he more than knew her.
“I guess I should have phrased that better. Did he know about her?” Albus was about to snap at Liam, thinking that he was on the Ministry’s side, but realized he had interpreted the question wrong just in time. Liam just wanted to know if Owen knew Nick’s story.
“Why?” Piper asked. “What difference does it make?” Albus looked at Piper in surprise. She was usually shyer around new people, and never talked to adults like that. Well, she had once, when she had defended Albus in Defense. But that was it.
“Well, besides from explaining why he was a moody git the last week, I would bet every Galleon in my Gringotts’ vault that Beth is explaining to him exactly why I dragged him here so early in the morning,” Liam explained, before seeing the confused look on Albus’s face. “I needed to; Owen was staying at my flat, and I couldn’t just leave him there. He was taking a kip in my office until they released Beth from Mungo’s. I was planning on talking to you, anyway, but this complicates things. Because I’m pretty sure once Beth’s done explaining, Owen will come running up here,” he added. Piper just nodded, understanding.
“Why do you need to talk to us?” Albus asked.
“Because Ms. Weasley asked me to help her with this case. And we need to start working, even though Nick won’t be awake for a while. They’re even talking about keeping her under heavy sedation until the trial. And we need a case, but Nick never said a word against anyone, when we could get her to even talk. So we’re trying to figure something out,” Liam answered. Albus just managed to stop himself from swearing out loud.
“Why would they keep her under sedation?” Piper asked quietly, her previous anger gone.
Liam sighed. “They think she’s ‘dangerous’; mentally unstable. But, honestly, who wouldn’t be, after what he put her through?” The color drained from Albus’s face; they thought she was dangerous? “But what was it you said earlier, Piper? About Nick and-”
“Me?” a voice asked, and Owen appeared from nowhere. Beth was at his side, smiling slightly evilly.
“You told him?” Liam groaned, and Beth just nodded. “Demon child,” he muttered, and Beth laughed.
“Why shouldn’t she? I know Nick. How come I didn’t know this happened to her? Al and Piper know!” Owen exclaimed angrily at his older brother.
“That’s because I found her, and Piper was nearby,” Albus explained, his voice hollow. That stopped Owen in his tracks; all the anger (and color) drained from his face.
“Oh, God,” Owen said, as it registered. “I’m sorry, Al,” he apologized, but Albus just nodded. “Is she .. okay?”
“No,” Albus responded quietly, and Piper simply hugged Owen. He looked shocked.
“It’ll be okay, Owen,” she said, but Owen just looked frozen. Just then, more people came. It was the ‘Golden Trio’.
“Shit,” Al muttered, but luckily no one else heard it. He immediately looked down at his trainers, avoiding his father’s piercing gaze.
“Liam, there you are,” Hermione Weasley said briskly, her face grim. “We need to-”
“Albus? What are you still doing here?” Harry Potter interrupted, eyes boring into his son. “Piper?”
“Er, hi, Dad,” Albus greeted weakly. He wasn’t in the mood to fight.
“No. You need to go home. Now,” his father ordered. “Your mother is worried sick. She flooed me a few minutes ago. Piper, you should go, too.”
“We’re not leaving Nick,” Albus said defiantly. He had to understand that at least.
“There’s nothing you can do here! They won’t let you see her; what good is it hanging around?” his father shot back, and Albus’s face paled. His voice shook with raw emotion.
“We, I, need to know that she’s alright,” he said.
“We’ll tell you when we know,” his aunt promised. “But your father is right.”
“But-” Albus started to argue, but his father cut him off.
“Now, Albus Severus Potter, or I swear to Merlin-” he started to threaten, but Al just swallowed. He wasn’t going to win this battle, and wasn’t in the mood to fight anymore.
“Fine. See you, Owen, Liam,” Albus said, his voice warming only slightly to say goodbye. With a glare at his father, he put an arm around Piper and did what his father asked. “Happy Christmas.”
But every single person there, even little Beth, knew it was anything but.
A/N: All right. I'm so close to 100 reviews on this story (squee), so a little non-shameful nudging is taking place. (please?)
Now on to actual business. What are your thoughts on Owen? Liam? Where do you think they fit into the plot? I really like their characters. :) What about little Beth?
Thoughts on the shiny new banner?
I'm getting ready for XC, so I am basically extremely tired/sore most of the time. So ... I'm not sure when the next update shall be. Enjoy the Olympics!
Edit as of 12/3/12: I've had two one-shots up for awhile ... 'Human Debris' and 'Awaken'. I've gotten zero response, so a review there would be lovely.
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