Chapter 6 : 6
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Pulling off my cloak, I replied to Richard as he called out my name. I had something to do before I faced him and apologised for leaving after the funeral. I had sat up the whole night and worded it perfectly, rephrasing so that he would see that just like him, my heart was breaking. Picking up the basket, I walked into the kitchen and stopped in the doorway when I realised that Richard wasn’t alone.
“Good afternoon, Cora. “ The great Albus Dumbledore sat at our dining room table, a cup of steaming hot tea sitting in front of him. I opened my mouth to speak but no words came out. The headmaster of Hogwarts, the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, the legend that was Albus Dumbledore was in my house. I had not seen the great man a whole lot since he had asked me to join the Order as I had left Hogwarts at the end of my sixth year. Occasionally he would turn up to Order meetings but mostly he relayed his messages through Dorcus or Moody. Even then, when he was at meetings I rarely spoke. I didn’t have a lot to say, I just listened to the news of happenings and offered to go on as many patrols as possible. When the Order had flocked to my side after I had found my mother that night, I expected that Dumbledore would have been passing down orders throughout the likes of Dorcus and Moody but I never expected to find the man in my house. Never.
“I never expected....I thought you....I mean...” Unable to string a single sentence together, never mind a greeting, the wise man simply nodded and smiled gently at me.
“I’m going to see if Dad will take some lunch.” As he passed by me, Richard placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it firmly. I looked up at him and recognised my big brother again. He did not look angry or ashamed of me, just tired. I smiled and stepped into the kitchen, taking a seat cautiously across from Dumbledore. He waited until I had settled and I had rested my arms on the table before he spoke again.
“I am very sorry for you loss. I would have been there yesterday but I’m afraid things have been rather hectic at Hogwarts. I offer your family my deepest condolences.”
“Thank you.” I spoke quickly, looking directly at him for only a moment. My eyes dropped back to the table as the situation seemed to become clearer. He had made time to come and see me. In light of the events, maybe he was just coming to offer his condolences but the situation was much bigger than just that. I realised he was coming here to address the reasons as to why my Mother was no longer here in her kitchen. He had come to discuss the weakest link in the chain of events and reasons. He was here to talk about me.
“The others have told me what happened. Forgive me if you feel it is too soon to reflect on the events of the past week, Cora.” I shook my head. The old man knew me well enough to know that there was no need for sensitivities or tiptoeing around me. “I want you to know that the priority for the Order is the safety and security of your family. We have many birds listening to the chatter of his followers and had any mention of you or your family been brought to my attention; I assure you I would have acted. Even if we take that into account, the attack that killed your Mother was not a random one, we cannot deny that they have only one intention. They want to get to you, Cora.”
My eyes stayed glued to the table.
“They know about me. About what I do, don’t they? About what I believe in and what I am fighting for.”
“Perhaps.” The Order was a secret society but we all knew that if someone watched us all close enough, despite all of our precautions, they would be able to see what we were doing. While we watched suspected followers and found ourselves in the middle of death eater attacks, we were aware that one false move would have our true intentions revealed to the wrong people.
“I think they do. I mean, I patrol almost every evening now. All it would have taken was one person to see me twice or for me to have made one little mistake and begin speaking to the wrong people. And even back at Hogwarts, people knew how I felt about the whole Slytherin pureblood status. I never fitted into that circle. I think I have made my views very clear. ” I looked up at him, noticing that his face had changed.
“I do not think that it is fair to assume this is something that you have brought on yourself, Cora. Times have been changing. The Dark Lord grows stronger every day and so do his followers. It is important that we remember that we are stronger than we ever have been. If they do know about you and your place in the Order then their intentions are to make us weak. They want to see us fall.”
“Weak.” I muttered. My heart thudded heavily in my chest. “They went for my Mum because they saw me as a weakness? They knew they could break me?” There was a knock at the front door and Dumbledore did not reply. I stood up to answer it but stopped at the doorway again.
“I am not the weakest link. I am not. I fight hard for everything that we stand for. I spent weeks setting up protective spells around this house to protect my family. I would never have let my Mother walk around after dark on her own. She knew that. My father knew that. Richard knew that. Yet it is still my fault. I have nothing more to give to the Order. I have given everything.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I tried so hard not to raise my voice. I wasn’t angry at Dumbledore but I couldn’t help but feel like everyone, even the Order, were blaming me for what happened.
“You have sacrificed far more than what we would ever have expected you to Cora. You are not weak. You are one of the strongest witches I have ever met and that is exactly why we need you. Perhaps they do not see you as a way in or a weakness. There are other possibilities as to why they have targeted you. Perhaps they see in you what I saw when you came to Hogwarts. The skill and determination you demonstrate is extraordinary. As brutal as Voldemort is, he is not stupid. If he sees something he wants, he will not stop until it is his. In this case, Cora, he may want you.”
Silence fell in the room as voices filled up the hallway behind me. Richard had answered the door. I couldn’t tell who was there. I exhaled and closed my eyes, trying to process the information. Voldemort wanted me? It seemed ridiculous.
“No.” I said, shaking my head. “If he wanted me to join him he could have come after me directly. He could have cursed me or used any sort of magic to get his way. Why would he go after my Mother? All it does is make me hate him and his little herd of darkness even more. No.” My voice was louder this time and the whispers from the hallway hushed. Whoever had come to visit was listening.
“I may be wrong, Cora but I do not believe they are aware of your identity. We must be cautious and take all precautions. It is too early to draw conclusions and I do not think they are what you need to be thinking about.We must not forget what we are fighting for.” We stared at each other for a second. My hands were trembling, overwhelmed with his presence and this conversation. He was as calm as ever, his tone as warm as ever.
“I know what I am fighting for, Professor. I know more now than I ever did.” My eyes welled up and Richard appeared behind me. He placed his arm on my shoulder but I quickly turned and walked to the kitchen sink, making sure no one in the room would see me cry if a stray tear managed to escape.
“Well, I must get back to Hogwarts before it gets dark. It appears that the new Defence against the Dark Arts Professor is vacating his position and I must find a replacement before the week is out. Thank you for the tea, Mr Harper.”
I could hear Dumbledore push his seat and move across the kitchen. Taking a deep breath and happy that I had managed to dry my eyes, I turned. James and Remus had been the visitors at the door and they looked at me curiously. They were just as surprised to see Dumbledore as I was.
“Thank you for coming.” I called out across the room as he said his goodbyes to James and Remus.
“I expect I will see you very soon, Miss Harper.” I nodded and tried to smile. It could mean only one thing. An Order meeting. It had been almost a fortnight since I had attended one. The four of us stood awkwardly in the kitchen, watching as Dumbledore stepped into the fireplace and disappeared in a puff of green smoke. Richard started pottering around, making some toast and tea. He flicked his wand here and there, making chit chat with the other two. I stood by the sink, still processing everything.
“Can we have a word, Cora? In private?” Remus spoke quietly and Richard quickly stopped what he was doing and went to leave.
“No, its fine. We can go outside, Richard. I think I need some fresh air anyway.” Before letting anyone reply, I turned and walked towards the back door. Pulling it open, the kitchen filled with the cold winter air. With only a jumper to shelter me from the cold, I wrapped my arms around me and waited for James to close the door behind us.
“Well, that isn’t something you see every day.” He said his eyes wide with surprise. I half smiled and nodded.
“Sure is. I was just as surprised. He came to pay his respects.” I pursed my lips and stared up at the awkward pair. They didn’t seem to know how to act around me. Usually, at meetings I would sit in the background, speaking only when spoken to or to take the piss out of Sirius. Remus and I were on a strict ‘speak only about Order business’ arrangement and it suited us both well. James had been very distant for months as his relationship with the little red cockroach got more serious. Sometimes, just sometimes, he would wink and pull on my sleeve just like he always used to. But not today. “I thought for a moment he was here to kick me out of the Order... But nope.” James smiled but Remus just stayed as straight faced as always.
“We’ve put up some more charms around your house. Just small ones but they should give you a loud warning if any uninvited guests come to pay a visit.” Remus got straight to the point and I nodded my thanks. “If you like, I can speak to Dorcus and arrange patrols around the house...” I nodded again.
“And there’s a meeting tomorrow night. At Dorcus’. Do you think you want to come? If it’s too soon...” James tripped up over his words, taking his time to get it all out. I raised my eyebrows at him. They were really finding this hard to hold a conversation with me.
“I’ll be there. I’ll make sure Richard stays home with Dad. I think I’ll go back to work tomorrow as well.” Another nod from them both this time. Who needed words when you had your head to move? Remus muttered something about an extra charm on the back gate. He strolled down the garden path, leaving me alone with James. He looked down at me, his face caught somewhere between a smile.
“You look much better today. I’m sorry about Moody last night. We all meant well, really. You scared us.”
“I’m fine, James and I’m sorry. I know I should have stayed but this house was making me mad. I needed some space I guess. And it worked. Dumbledore was right. I need to remember why I’m doing this. I need to use my strengths against them. I need to stop them.” I gritted my teeth, pulling my arms tighter around my chest. “I won’t let them get away with this, you know.”
James seemed to tense up as I spoke.
“We’re better than them, Cora.”
His words were a warning. Don’t do anything silly. Always take the higher ground. But we weren’t at Hogwarts anymore. It was no longer a practice duel or a silly stunning spell that we were toying with. It was a real battle. We waited and watched in silence as Remus cast his charms. There was nothing more than in world than I wanted than for James to crack an awful joke, to look down and wink at me and for him to reach down and tug my sleeve. I had come to realise, rather suddenly, that those times were gone.
The world seemed so much darker than it ever did before.
When all the charms were cast and some more awkward conversation was had, James and Remus left. The house fell quiet again. Richard was still pottering around in the kitchen. When it was finally just the two of us, I did not waste time in getting into the nitty gritty.
“I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting, Richard. I know I’ve been useless.” He looked down at me, rolling up the dish towel into a ball with his hands. “I...I. It’s been really hard. For all of us. But you have handled everything and I’ve just caused trouble and I’m so so sorry.” That feeling of my eyes filling up was all too familiar these days. I pursed my lips as he reached out with one hand and pulled me close.
“It’s alright, sis. It’s alright.” As he kissed my head, I pulled in closer. I wasn’t an affectionate person but just like the embrace James had held me in only a few days before, this seemed to lift some of the pressure in my chest. A few moments later after my eyes had dried, we broke apart and Richard tried hard to keep a normal conversation going. He chatted about how we needed to fix the lock on the bathroom door and how we were running low on tea bags. I sat at the kitchen table, content for the first time in so long.
“I’m going back to work tomorrow.” I piped in.
“You’ll be home tomorrow night, won’t you? I need to do a few things after I finish.” Richard’s head dropped and he looked me dead in the eyes. His whole body stilled. I had no idea why. He turned his back on, wiping the dish cloth across the surface.
“What is it you need to do after work?” I inhaled. I understood now.
“You know what it is I have to do.”
“Mum’s not even been in the ground a week and already you’re right back to the normal routine, Cora. I can’t believe you.” Richard spat, his tone harsh and dry. He turned to face me, his whole body tense.
“Richard, you know why I have to go. I have a responsibility now-”
“Oh do you?! What about your responsibility to us, Cora? What about the responsibility you had to Mum, to keep her safe!”
I sat still, my face scrunched up as his words hit me one by one. Here it was again. Richard was playing the blame game. I gritted my teeth.
“I didn’t kill her.”
“Well if you hadn’t been part of that bloody group in the first place they wouldn’t have even come here! You brought this on us, Cora! You did!” He threw this dishcloth to the ground and I jumped out of my seat. My whole body was fire as the anger brewed as I looked at my older brother look at me with nothing less than hate in his eyes.
“I made a choice to stand against everything that Voldemort stands for. I refuse to watch him tear people’s lives apart. We have the same views, Richard! I was only doing my job.”
“No, Cora! This isn’t your job. This is just a reckless hobby. You’ve done nothing with your life and you have no aspirations. This is how you get your kicks and you’ve ripped this family apart by doing it.”
“ENOUGH!” My father’s voice boomed across the kitchen and I stepped back, my head turning away from my brother and over to him. His face was straight, his hands pulled in tightly at his side. “I will not have you raise your voices in this house. I have taught you better than that. We will have no more of your friends visiting the house, do you understand Cora?”
My eye widened. My friends had been the one who had come to help, who had watched the house day and night. My Father had taught me better? Had he? As far as I remembered it was my Mother who had taught me all I knew. My beautiful, kind Mother. All he had taught me is that love can be just as cold and as cruel as it is warm. The room was silent as the three of us stood, unable to look one another in the eye. Maybe Richard was right; our family had been ripped apart. But was it really my fault? I turned my whole body all at once, heading for the door. I had to get away from these two men for I hardly recognised them anymore. My Dad stood firm at the doorway, hands still balled at his sides.
“Where do you think you are going?” He asked.
“You honestly expect me to stay in this house any longer? You both have made your feelings perfectly clear.”
“Oh, grow up. This isn’t about you, Cora. This is about all of us.”
“From where I’m standing it is about me. I made a choice when I joined the Order. I chose to let you all know about my choice rather than lie to you. I thought it might keep you safe. You supported me and now, you are telling me that the decision I made killed my Mother.” The both just stared at me and my head turned quickly from one to the other. “You’re wrong. You’re both wrong. I tried to keep us all safe. I was fighting against them now and I still am.”
Without waiting another moment, I rushed past my Father and ran upstairs to my room. I began packing a bag, throwing in my work robes and some jumpers. As the feeling of the need to escape from my childhood home grew stronger, the realisation that I had nowhere else to go set in. It would be starting to get dark soon. I could apparated and find Sirius or James and find out if there was a patrol I could join but even then, I had no bed to stay anywhere else for the night. Slumping down on my bed, I threw the bag on the floor. My hands shook with exhaustion and anger.
In the morning I would go. I would leave them to calm down and realise that I was doing the right thing. Yes, they may have come looking for me or they used my Mother to get to me but I would not take the blame. I would show Richard and my Dad that what I believed in, what we all believed in, was right. If I had to leave them for a few days to get their heads around it all, then I would. But my Mother’s death would not be in vain. I would not let them win.
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