A/N: Whoo, I have been bad with this, haven't I? I have no excuse but laziness really. I really don't. I am writing some new stuff and it's all very exciting. But no, I love you guys to death and thank you for giving this story a chance. It means a lot. Without futher ado, Chapter 90-falling action!
Everything felt heavy; that was the first thought that Scarlett had. Her body felt denser, especially her feet and hands—Ravenclaw's choker heavily rested on her neck—and even the sheets that were tangled around her body seemed to trap her with a force that was uncomfortable.
It was all heavy, and in her head it was no different. Her memories felt unreliable and unsteady; she could only remember her goodbye kiss with Sirius and being in the forest with Regulus, for whatever reason, as she broke the wand that Voldemort wanted to use to kill him. As a result, her mind was anxious, confused as it tried to fit together the pieces of the puzzle that could have led her to where she was, which was—
The Hospital Wing? How had she made it there?
And how, how, how—how was she still living? How could she wear Ravenclaw's choker...and still have her soul?
"Drink this, child," a nurse said, cutting from across the room with a blue liquid. Scarlett reluctantly drank the potion while the nurse put a palm on her forehead to check her temperature.
"Dumbledore said that you may be achy," the nurse clarified, and as she said it Scarlett felt muscles in her body heal that she hadn't even realized were sore. "I haven't seen anything like it...all my years of training, never once...Merlin..."
"Um, excuse me," said Scarlett; her throat was extremely hoarse. "Do you have any details about what happened? I can't remember..."
The nurse shrugged as she went to get Scarlett food and water. "Without Dumbledore, I'd have no idea," she admitted. "I'm still not totally sure. He said that it was a powerful spell...he mentioned that the coma wouldn't last...he was in here daily, performing spells beyond my expertise."
"Coma?" Scarlett questioned as she straightened up in her bed. "How long have I been here?"
"Fifteen—no, sixteen days." The nurse said it casually even as Scarlett's eyes bulged. "The school year is almost over. Final exams are being administered tomorrow...Then, there's the final banquet...And the next morning... that's it."
"Sixteen days," Scarlett echoed. "He took sixteen days from me."
"What was that, dear?" said the nurse, putting a plate of food and water on Scarlett's lap. "Eat and drink as much as you can. We were able to give you some sustenance while you were comatose, but you need to get some real food and drink in you."
"Do you know...how they knew..." Scarlett took a sip of water as her eyebrows furrowed. "How did I get here?"
Unconsciously, the nurse turned her head towards the window, which faced the Forbidden Forest. "They found you in the forest," she said. "You and your friend, Regulus Black—"
"Regulus," said Scarlett, moving so abruptly that the platter of food almost spilled. "How is he?"
"He didn't have substantial injury," the nurse said, "but he was in here for a while. He didn't seem to want to leave." She paused. "You both seemed to be in pretty bad shape, when I first saw you. Out in the middle of the storm..."
And a memory came to Scarlett suddenly: the freezing cold rain, hitting them both, Regulus looking at her with such hopelessness—
"I need to see him," Scarlett said, pushing the food aside. "I need to see him, and I need to see—" Her heart skipped a beat. "I need to see Sirius."
"Oh, yes, the other Black boy," the nurse said absentmindedly. "He's visited you quite a lot since you were admitted...
"But no, you can't see them yet. Your body has been through a tremendous trauma, and you need to rest for at least a day before we can release you."
Scarlett nodded but could not shake the thought.
It didn't matter how tired her body was, didn't matter what ordeal she had been through that night in the forest. It didn't matter that everything was heavy. It didn't even matter that she didn't know how Regulus had been with her in the forest that night and how, against everything, she had been able to stay alive.
She had to see them both. That was the sole priority.
"Not to mention," the nurse suddenly said, "You have somebody else that has been anxious for you to wake up."
"Headmaster," Scarlett said, her fingers caught in her hair, "it's great to see you, and I'm sure you have a lot of questions—"
Dumbledore smiled. "I know what you are going to ask, miss Devous, and I would be happy to oblige your request." His fingers intertwined. "As you have mentioned, however, I do have many questions that I have to ask, and wish to tell you many things that, I think, will be enlightening." He looked over his half-moon glasses. "Madame Pomfrey mentioned that you seemed to not remember much of what happened, is that correct?"
Scarlett stopped fidgeting as the image of Regulus's hopeless face burned in her mind. "I remember Regulus," she said quietly. "Why was he there, Headmaster? Has he told you?"
"Yes, that is a good place to begin," said Dumbledore. "That night that you were in the forest, Lily Evans and Sirius Black alerted me to your situation. I had, of course, my suspicions—" He looked down, possibly in disgust— "as you remember, I had previously asked you about your behavior this school year— but what they told me was far beyond what I was expecting."
"So you all know," Scarlett said. "Everything?"
"They seemed to have found an interesting piece of work in the library that regarded situations similar to your own."
Scarlett put a hand on the choker's chain. "When I spoke to Regulus," Dumbledore continued, "he recounted to me his story. The three had done the research together, and Regulus had volunteered to find you because he felt that he would be safer if he had to confront Lord Voldemort."
"How badly was it?" Scarlett said, thinking of the way Regulus looked in the rain that night as a knot twisted itself in her stomach.
"Two Unforgivables," Dumbledore said, "the Imperius and Cruciatus curses. Regulus told me that he was able to omit crucial information under the Imperius curse, information that could have led both of you to an unquestionable death. Voldemort didn't know that I had become aware...if Regulus had not been so courageous, I am sure that Voldemort would have wasted no time...and we might not have been able to find you two before it was too late."
Dumbledore straightened. "Regulus also said that Voldemort planned to use the Killing Curse on him—"
"But I broke the wand," Scarlett whispered, the pieces of the puzzle coming together. "I didn't have the strength after that—he wanted the choker, and I wanted to stop him—but I couldn't." Her hands tightly gripped the choker. "Do you want it, Headmaster? To protect from him?"
As she reached for the clasp, Dumbledore moved at an incredible speed. "I strongly advise against removing the choker," he said sharply. "I believe the choker has been... magically modified."
Scarlett's hands traveled to the ornate jewel at the bottom of the choker; it was warm. "What do you mean, Headmaster?" she said slowly.
Dumbledore took a heavy breath. "You have performed remarkably, Scarlett, so far. Much of the magic that Lord Voldemort has done is entirely revolutionary...I have speculated...And everything that I can tell you is pure speculation, you understand.
"I believe that, as you know, Lord Voldemort desired your soul," Dumbledore said. "And he desired the use of Rowena Ravenclaw's choker to use as a Horcrux. I believe that he wanted to consume your soul by first integrating his own into your body."
"Yes," said Scarlett. "That was how he made me do...all of the things that I didn't want to do." She shuddered as Tenereus came to her mind.
"He waited until the point where he was confident that he could pull his soul towards the choker and have a whole and healthy Horcrux." Dumbledore glanced at the choker, and then turned his eyes towards Scarlett intensely. "I do not think that he succeeded. Scarlett, do you feel him inside of your mind?"
Scarlett blinked; she honestly hadn't thought about it. At Dumbledore's question, however, she realized...Her headache was gone. The voice in the back of her head hadn't spoken at all since she had awoken, and even as Dumbledore said hopeful and encouraging things to her there was no outrage, no pain.
There was no feeling of his soul.
There was no feeling of his soul!
"No," Scarlett said, a smile emerging on her face. "He's not there anymore—do you think I fought him off, Headmaster? Forever?"
At the expression on Dumbledore's face, Scarlett's smile faded. "It's not over," she realized. "It's not over, is it?"
Dumbledore stood. "I am not sure that it will ever be over." He walked towards the window, towards the Forbidden Forest that she had spent so much time in, a place where she could have died. "I don't believe that Voldemort will so readily accept defeat, especially to someone who has opposed him so egregiously."
Scarlett expected to feel panic or fear at the idea that Voldemort would forever be with her; she was surprised to find that the overwhelming emotion that took her over at that moment was shame.
She had been ready to die that night in the forest. She had been ready to die thousands of other times because of Lord Voldemort. There had even been nights when she had prayed for death rather than to be near him any longer.
It was not the idea of death that moved her so strongly at Dumbledore's words; it was a memory that, while distant, still lingered.
"If the girl finds her way to Tenereus, if she harbors that ability, then she may perhaps have the foresight—and the hindsight—to know what to do when the moment comes."
Rowena had believed that Scarlett would know what to do when the moment came, but Scarlett hadn't. She'd failed.
"I made too many mistakes," Scarlett muttered, her face growing hot with disgrace. "I should have told someone sooner—" her voice became fast— "I shouldn't have brought Regulus or Sirius into this, I was selfish, I could have stopped it earlier but I was too afraid to make the right decision—I failed—"
"Scarlett," Dumbledore said evenly. "You did not fail."
"You're saying that he will never stop," Scarlett countered. "So what good is it that the Horcrux is not healthy? It's still a Horcrux—that's what you meant by magically modified, right? It's just incomplete. And if he doesn't stop, he will find a way to make it complete."
"Scarlett," Dumbledore repeated. "It is not ideal, but it could certainly be worse."
He turned towards the window again. "There is still hope," he soothed. "It is unwise to judge one's self on previous mistakes when there is much more potential resting in the future, don't you think?
"Some things cannot be changed," he conceded, "but think of all of the things that can. Miss Devous, you possess something that Voldemort wants, desperately. I think that there are many options resting there. Ah, what is the old phrase? The greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Would you agree?"
Scarlett thought for a moment. The greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Sirius had said things like that to her, many times, when she had told him that she wasn't good. It had been so trying to win one battle over Voldemort only to find that there was another one immediately afterwards. So many times that had happened.
Yes, there had been mistakes. So many things could have been prevented if she had had the strength...Tenereus might not have died. The choker might have never become a Horcrux. Regulus might have never been tortured, Sirius might have never become a target, Theodore's heart might have never been broken. Each one of those things, in some way, were mistakes on her part, terrible mistakes.
But, as Dumbledore had said... it would never be over with Voldemort.
With that in mind there were really only two options: accept defeat or recognize that each and every fight, no matter how futile, was completely and totally worth it.
"What do you think I should do?" Scarlett said. She straightened up, and her eyes were set as they met Dumbledore's. "I have the Horcrux. Why do you think I can't take it off?"
"Well," Dumbledore said thoughtfully, "Without your strength, it would have been entirely impossible for you to be sitting here and speaking with me. I must admit that I played a role as well.
"It's very new magic, but it has been effective, I believe, to slow the process," Dumbledore said. His face became serious as he said, "I do not think the magic, or your strength, are eternal. Eventually, I believe that his incomplete Horcrux will become more and more complete."
"And if I take it off now...I'll die instantly."
"Yes," Dumbledore answered. "There is no purpose in the object leaving your possession until the very last moment. You are the best defense there is against Lord Voldemort."
Scarlett nodded. "Yes, I understand. And when the time comes—"
"We will discuss it more as time passes," Dumbledore said, "and I am confident that we will have time to speak of it. But for now, miss Devous, there is no need to trouble ourselves. Do not mistake that today is a victorious day.
"I do have one more concern to address before we can appropriately celebrate." He straightened his glasses. "In regards to the amount of days that you've missed. It is all clearly understandable, of course, but there is a pressing issue of your class work. I am afraid that you are weeks behind in many classes, let alone the months that I'm sure schoolwork was of no importance to you."
Scarlett hadn't even thought of something so trivial.
"I would feel treacherous asking you to study an entire year's worth of information before the final exams. With that said, I think that we have two options."
"What are those options, Headmaster?" Scarlett asked.
"Well, considering that you have missed roughly an entire school year—which, again, is absolutely understandable—you could simply repeat your seventh year. Truthfully, it would be a very safe place for you to be. Without Voldemort's influence and—pardon me for my frankness—the most enthusiastic of his followers graduating, Hogwarts could protect you."
Before she had a chance to object, Dumbledore smiled. "I assume that option wouldn't please you."
"I have another option, Scarlett, one that I've brought up with you before." His smile broadened. "Do you recall when I first asked you about joining the Order of the Phoenix?"
She couldn't help smiling either. "Yes," she responded. "I didn't give you an answer at the time."
"I extend the offer again," said Dumbledore, "to join our forces. As always, we would be thrilled to have you on our side.
"Do you accept?"
Scarlett thought of Sirius Black, thought of battling evil with him at her side.
In the past, she had always struggled with making decisions, and her difficulties had always ended in mistakes.
But that was the past.
This was now.
And it was the easiest decision that Scarlett ever made.
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