Chapter 11 : Game On
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James didn't appreciate the brutal shaking that he was awoken with. His eyes fluttered open as he awoke from his slumber, and he groaned, batting away whoever's hand was shaking him and rolled onto Norah on his other side.
"Go away," he mumbled. "It's too early."
"Get up, James," the voice of his uncle Ron said. "Your brother has been hurt."
At the mention of his brother's safety, James felt himself suddenly wake up. He stirred slightly as he held Norah in his arms and turned to his uncle. "Al's hurt?"
"Very badly. You should come to St. Mungo's," said Ron as he headed back for the door. He knew James would be awake for good now.
James bolted upright and began shaking Norah just as Ron had done to him.
"Nore," he breathed in a rush, "wake up. Al's hurt. We need to go to St. Mungo's."
At such a statement, Norah was suddenly as alert as James was. Seeing that they were both awake, Ron left with a parting word, saying how he had to go tell the rest of the family, and he apparated on the spot. The two of them threw back the covers on their bed and began to simultaneously move about the room as they dressed, went into the bathroom to brush their teeth and splash cold water on their face. Norah didn't even put make-up on. She tied her hair into a messy bun on top of her head, and when she was ready, they apparated to St. Mungo's without another moment's delay.
Upon their arrival, James approached the secretary at the desk and asked frantically. "I'm Albus Potter's brother. What room is he in?"
"He's in 24B, Mr. Potter," she replied.
James didn't even waste time thanking her. He snatched Norah's hand, and they set off down the hall at a frantic walk. James knew they were approached his brother's ward as soon as they rounded one corner and saw his mother and Hermione sitting on a bench in the hall. Hearing their footsteps, the two women looked up. Ginny rose from her spot on the bench, and she engulfed her eldest son into his arms.
Seeing his mother cry was a rare occasion for James. He could only remember perhaps twice in his life when he had seen such a thing. His mother was a strong woman, so seeing such a thing was unnerving. It only persuaded James how terrible a situation this was. He wiped her tears with his thumb and asked. "What's happened, Mum? How did Al get hurt?"
"He was attacked last night," Ginny hiccuped, "on his way home from the pub. He was stabbed."
"What?!" hissed James, finding himself near shouting, but he did his best to control himself. He was immediately over-run by guilt. He had asked his brother if he wanted to walk him home. He had asked and his brother had said no. He should have insisted. He should have been with him; perhaps if he had, this wouldn't have happened. He felt himself grow nauseous with the burden of guilt.
Ginny nodded. "Somebody stabbed him on his way home last night, but the Healer says the weapon wasn't an ordinary dagger. It was laced with basilisk venom."
"Oh, God," moaned James as he felt his knees buckle. Before he found himself falling, he dropped down onto the bench beside his aunt. Hermione squeezed his knee with sympathy.
James knew how bad a wound with basilisk venom was. It was deadly. And there was no known cure, except for the tears of a phoenix. James immediately knew his brother had no chance of surviving unless they found a phoenix. And soon.
He took his head into his hands, and he pressed his palms into his eye sockets, begging for the tears not to come.
"I offered to walk him home," muttered James between his hands. "I asked if he wanted me to. He said he would be fine, he said it would be fine. I should have anyway!"
"James," cooed Ginny. She dropped down to her knees and tried to pry James' hands away from his face, her eyes beseeching. "You couldn't have known. This wasn't your fault. Don't blame yourself."
"No, I'm not the bastard that stabbed him," hissed James, "but maybe I could have stopped him if I had been there."
"Well, dwelling on it like that won't change anything," she tried to encourage. "What's done is done. Don't hate yourself over it. Your father has gone to the Ministry to get a phoenix. Everything will be all right, baby. It will; I promise."
James swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded reluctantly. Norah placed a hand on his back to comfort him. They sat there in silence for many moments. What more was there to say? Despite their words, they knew they were all speaking silently to one another, and their silence held great magnitude. They were all terrified for Al's health, fretting whether or not he would be okay. And that was enough. None of them needed to make the situation any worse by voicing a threat they all knew as there.
So they waited.
Finally the door to Al's ward opened up and the Healer walked out. He held a stern expression, but he turned to the four of them to relay his news. "You can see him now. He remains unconscious and will likely remain so. The only way he will regain consciousness is if he's healed, but the damage will only progress. He may be able to hear and understand his surroundings, so family by his side is recommended."
James bolted to his feet and was heading into his brother's ward within the next moment. He remembered the last time he was in St. Mungo's. After he had awoken on the shores of Azkaban, he, Norah, his father, and brother had come to the hospital to have the rest of their wounds tended to. He remembered the white walls and the sterile smell. He had hoped he would never have to return. Or at least only was he here for any births of his future children. Joyous occasions would be fine, but the first experience he had remembered of the place was a horrifying one. The time when he had been diagnosed as epileptic. It had been a horribly time for him, one that he had now luckily embraced, but St. Mungo's would always be a place of horrible times for him.
And now his brother was here, lying hopeless in a hospital bed, his life draining from him by the second.
He looked to Al. James wished he could think he looked peaceful with the white covers pulled up to his chin, his body still beneath it, but even while unconscious, something was amiss about him. You could tell he was in pain, for his cheeks and eye sockets were sunken and blue. They appeared bruised, and his face had paled everywhere else.
James kneeled down beside his brother's bedside, and he reached for his brother's hair. He brushed it back from his forehead to discover that Al's hair was thick with sweat as it beaded around his forehead. He felt his lips quiver with fear for his brother. He had never seen Al so sick, so small, and appearing so fragile. Al was never the fragile one, even when he truly was and pretended to be strong. Al could always put on a brave face, despite how 'emotionally vulnerable' he claimed to be.
Now, this was as if his strong mask had been wiped clean. This was the real Al beneath it all, and James couldn't help but blame himself.
"I'm so sorry, Albus," moaned James as he continued to push back his brother's hair. "I'm sorry. I should have been there. I should have walked you home."
He pressed his forehead to Al's hand, and he closed his eyes, trying to shut the rest of the world out. If it could be, it would only be he and Al in the world and he would make it all better.
Then, beneath his hand, he felt a twitch. It was weak, almost non-existent, but James knew it wasn't his body that had done so. It was Al's hand.
His head jolted up from where he had pressed it against his brother's hand, and he sought out Healer Mathis.
"His hand," stated James. "It moved."
"Yes," Healer Mathis replied. "If he is awake, he has the full capability to hear his surroundings and register them. The venom restricts his movement and is what keeps him going in and out of consciousness. It's why, even when he's awake, he can't open his eyes. He can try, and the movement you may have felt is Al fighting against the venom."
"Is that okay, though?" asked James in a worried voice.
"Not necessarily," the Healer answered, and he approached Albus. He placed a comforting hand on Al's shoulders and spoke into his ear. "Relax, Albus. Do not try to move; it will ease the pain."
James looked to his brother's still body, and he was surprised to see Al comply. His body had looked rigid and tense, but at the Healer's words, he seemed to slacken if only slightly.
The door to the ward burst open with yet another newcomer, and James turned his head to see his father bolt into the room. Harry looked frantic. His eyes were wide in panic, and he was panting heavily.
"Harry?" asked Ginny in surprise.
"They're...They're..." stuttered Harry, trying to recuperate. He had to gather his bearings and he knew it; he just couldn't manage to do so.
"What's wrong?" Ginny asked again, approaching him and trying to calm him.
James knew his father couldn't come bearing any good news, so James waved his hand around to stop him. James knew Albus could hear what was going on. He was already tense with panic as he lay there motionless, so James knew he was frightened as he lay there, imprisoned within his mind and unable to move. James only imagined it was once again like he was Imperiurised in a sense. Albus didn't need any more bad news or panic, so whatever Harry had to say, he didn't have to say it in front of Albus.
His parents looked to him in surprise, and James mouthed to them, "Al can hear you."
Harry nodded in understanding, and he waved his hand for them to follow him out of the ward. They filed out behind him, and when the door was shut, he was finally able to speak collectedly.
"I went to the Department of Magical Creatures at the Ministry. Rolf was going to let me collect tears from a phoenix, but when we got there...The phoenixes are gone. All of them."
"What?!" gasped Hermione. "That's impossible. The Creatures Unit is on lockdown. Only Rolf and his boss have the keys!"
"That's exactly what he said," murmured Harry.
"So what does this mean?" questioned Ginny.
"It means whoever did this to Albus has an ulterior movie. They had a plan, and they're being clever about it. He was stabbed, knowing what would be the only thing to save him, and they broke into the Ministry and stole the phoenixes."
Ginny let out a choked sob, and Hermione went to embrace her. She held her sister-in-law against her and cooed to her, reassuring her that everything would be okay. But no one knew that for sure. Albus' only hope for survival had been stolen. Now where were they to look?
"This wasn't a random jumping in the streets!" cursed Harry under his breath. "This was planned. This was strategized, and this was made personal!"
He was fuming. Fuming for how foolish he was to have let this go so far, foolish as to have his doubts about Parker Namken's survival. The first time he doubted Parker's death, he should have looked into it further. He knew he should have. He should have sought answers for the scar on James' wrist instead of letting it all slide. Perhaps he would have taken care of it and gotten rid of the threat. Perhaps none of this would have happened. Perhaps wouldn't be dying on a bed on the other side of that white wall.
This was his fault, and he knew it.
"Let's calm down," encouraged Ginny, even though she understood his anger. Why on earth had Al been targeted? Who hated him so greatly as to intentionally seek him out and cause him harm? Not even harm simply, but someone who had a death wish for her son. "Being angry about it won't help any more right now. That's not going to solve anything, and you have to keep your cool for now."
"Exactly," nodded Hermione in agreement, for she was on the same page as Harry. She knew this was strategized. This was an attack. Not a simple accident or chance meeting where Al had simply been in the wrong place in the wrong time. "We know he was attacked, and we know that the Ministry was broken into. That gives this the full capacity to be approached as a full scale inquiry. Harry, we can hold the fort here, but you have to get into the office. You have to look into the disappearances of the phoenixes, but more importantly you have to find a phoenix. Before time runs out."
"And you have to find out who did this," hissed Ginny.
Harry nodded quickly as he felt his brow dampen with sweat. "Yes, yes, you're right. You're sure it's all right to leave him? I don't want to leave him..."
"You have to, Harry," persuaded Ginny. "You're Head Auror, and this is a case. Get out there and get on that bastard's trail before it disappears. I won't leave his side."
"Very well," admitted Harry, even though he was reluctant. It was bad enough that he felt the guilt of this weighing down on him, but he wanted to be by Al's side as well. But Ginny was right. It was his responsibility to save him. At least he could make up for his guilt by saving Al's life.
He scanned those around him. Ginny, Hermione. They were here. So were James and Norah. His daughter was missing from the group. Where was Lily? He turned to Hermione, worried. He didn't wish to believe that Lily was hurt as well, but with Parker Namken's name whispering to him from the back of his mind and Al's attack, Harry wasn't willing to look past anything. Anything was possible now.
"Where's Lily?!" he asked in a panic, turning to Hermione. "Ron should have told her, and so she should be here by now! Where is she?!"
"I-I don't know," answered Hermione hopelessly.
Now that Harry thought about it, he wasn't even sure if Lily came home last night as well. His three children had gone out with Scorpius Malfoy. He never waited up for them anymore; they were good kids. They always came home when, and they were always responsible about it. There had been no doubt in Harry's mind that Lily would have returned home safely, but now he wasn't so sure.
"I didn't hear her come in last night, did you?" asked Ginny uneasily.
Harry gnawed on the nail of his thumb. "You never hear anything," he accused under his breath, "but no, I didn't hear her."
"I'm here," a feeble voice replied.
Harry and Ginny whipped around to see their daughter approaching them, her hands folded in front of her and her eyes downcast in shame with Scorpius Malfoy in tow behind her. Harry and Ginny, though, had no room for any anger for whatever Lily appeared to be guilty of. They both rushed to her and embraced her. She grunted in their embrace, desperate for air against her father's shoulder. When they released her, they grabbed her by the shoulders in worry.
"Where have you been?!" Harry demanded to know. He didn't remember the last time he had been such a worry-wart over his children. He never had a need to be, and here he was, only truly aware of Lily's absence for a few minutes and he had already reached an all-time high on the worry scale.
"I-I didn't come home last night," she admitted with a wince.
Harry inspected Scorpius' flush in his cheeks, but quickly focused his attention on Lily again. Scorpius Malfoy standing behind her, with his gaze directed at the floor and his pink cheeks, was proof enough. "Uh-huh. I see."
"No! Not like that!" blurted Lily quickly. She whipped around and gave Scorpius' arm a slap. When she turned back to face them, all color had rushed from her cheeks. She was suddenly pale, and Lily felt herself grow sick in fear and worry with what she had to say. "Okay, well, it is like that. In a way. I went to Scorpius' flat after we left the pub last night, and we were...I was staying the night, and we were...getting ready to go to sleep...when..."
Lily faltered. She didn't know if she could do it. She had always been brave. She thought she was fearless, but the events of three years ago had given her a reality check. She considered herself lucky for not having to deal with the things her brothers went through, but she felt guilty at the same time for thinking such things. But despite that, three years ago she was given a brutal wakeup call that, indeed, she was actually truly fearful of a lot of things.
She nearly gave a start when she felt hands on either of her arms, but she slouched with relief when she knew them to be Scorpius' hands. He gently stroked them and pulled her back against his chest. Lily shook her head in defeat. She didn't know how to say it.
"It's all right," encouraged Scorpius into her ear. "I'll tell them."
When Scorpius raised his head, he knew he had to put the Potters fear to rest. Well, this news wouldn't exactly be reassuring, but it would at least get rid of the idea in Harry Potter's mind that Scorpius was doing less than appropriate things with his daughter.
"Someone broke into my flat last night," he said sternly. "We heard them. They weren't trying to be quiet in the least. That was obvious. We heard him coming, and we knew he was coming to my bedroom. For us. But when we saw him...He didn't want anything. He was there to steal anything or harm us. He just wanted to give a message. But, Mr. Potter...You aren't going to believe who we saw."
Harry felt his world fall apart around him. Scorpius' words felt like a death sentence to him. Strangely enough, Harry knew he would believe him, and he knew of whom he was speaking. He knew who Scorpius would name in a matter of seconds.
"Don't say his name," breathed Harry before he could think. He didn't know why he requested such a thing, but he knew he couldn't handle it. Not now, not yet, and more than anything, none of them needed to hear it just yet as well. Harry needed to deal with this professionally before he worried his family over it.
Scorpius clamped his mouth shut in surprise, but obliged.
Harry pushed past the others who held expressions of gaping surprise on their face. He ignored them and instead placed a hand on Scorpius' shoulder and led him away from the crowd.
When he knew they were out of ear-shot, Harry found the courage to approach the situation.
"You saw Parker Namken," whispered Harry.
Scorpius blanched, and he fumbled for words. "H-How did you..?!"
"I had my suspicions," he answered plainly. "But never mind that. What was his message?"
"Well, he gloated about being alive of course, and he called me a traitor for dating your daughter," shared Scorpius with a tone of vile hatred. Then he paled and went rigid, his voice becoming nothing more than a whisper, "but his real message was only two words: game on."
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