Chapter 1 : stuck
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– The fault in our stars; John Green.
The blood is coursing leisurely through your veins, the beat of your heart – thump, thump – slow and echoing in your ears. You hear every sharp intake of breath, every whistle your lungs make, every single thing that is wrong with your body, you can hear; your head feels dizzy. You count stars in your head, trying to conjure up the image of the night sky you haven’t see in a long time.
Thump-thump. Inhale. Exhale.
‘Lori, have you eaten?’ Her aunt’s motherly voice jerked her back to reality and blackness reigned in her head again. She squeezed her eyes tightly – there really was no point in opening them – and licked her lips before speaking.
‘Yes.’ She had eaten half a pretzel and a slice of bacon before she felt her stomach squirming and a bile rising up her throat. That had been a while ago but she still felt uncomfortable with bossing the house-elves and so she waited for dinner to be ready and for someone to come and get her from her room. She resented how she needed some to help her. She couldn’t do anything, couldn’t go anywhere, without having someone with her. The only place she was familiar with and could walk around without injuring herself was her bedroom, and she stayed cooped up in it all day, every day. ‘I ate at lunch.’
‘But that was seven hours ago!’ Her aunt exclaimed, and suddenly her hurried footsteps filled the room. She was before Lori in a second and she took her hands, helping her up on her feet. Lori refrained from clutching her hands desperately, the way she had the first few weeks before she got used to the constant blackness that surrounded her. ‘Why haven’t you asked any of the house elves to bring something for you? I told you that they don’t mind at all! You must be starving!’ Her aunt tugged on her hands to signal she was going to start walking and Lori followed her slowly and tried to conjure the image of the path that led to the door. She had never seen the room with her own eyes – she had moved after she lost her sight, but she had asked her aunt to describe it to her. She had, to the best of her abilities, but she was no poet and her description left something to be desired. Still, Lori appreciated it and racked her imagination in a desperate need and want to know what the world around her looked like, despite the fact she could not see it.
‘It’s okay.’ Lori reassured her as they left her room and started to walk down the hallway. Here, Lori became more self-conscious and unsure. Her grip on her aunt’s arm became tighter, and the woman felt it. She patted her hand with her free one in a comforting gesture.
‘The kitchen is close.’ She said warmly. ‘The elves are making steak and mashed potatoes for dinner. Can you smell it?’
She could. It was faint, but she could pick up the rich smell of roasting, delicious meat wafting from the direction of the kitchen. She licked her lips and her stomach suddenly let out an angry rumble. She felt her cheeks heat up, but her aunt only chuckled good-naturedly.
‘Seven hours is a long time to go without a meal.’ She said and Lori could hear the reprimand in gentle voice. She smiled sheepishly and hung her head a little.
‘Okay, okay, I’ll ask the house elves to bring me food tomorrow.’
‘Good.’ Her aunt said approvingly. ‘And we’re here.’ The smell of food got ten time stronger. She inhaled deeply and hungrily, feeling her mouth fill with saliva. ‘Now, sit here and I’ll get you a bagel to munch on while dinner gets ready.’
‘All right.’ Lori said, her hand groping the air for a hard surface. Her aunt took her hand and guided it to the table then helped her sit down on her chair. Lori felt embarrassed by her excessive assistance, even though she knew she shouldn’t be. She was her aunt. She just wanted to help. But it was a hard thing to swallow, not being able to assist yourself. Lori suspected it would take her a long time before she was completely all right with letting people help her. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever completely all right with it.
‘Your cousins are coming to visit us today.’ Her aunt’s voice came from the other side of the kitchen.
‘No, mistress, Spotty can do this—‘ The elf protested indignantly but her aunt interrupted it quickly.
‘It’s okay, Spotty. You go back to dinner. I can do this.’ Her aunt’s voice was gentle, but there was definite order behind her words. Spotty didn’t press the subject and returned to cooking dinner. ‘Evie’s turning two tomorrow but they’re going to celebrate it abroad. Kyle is finally getting his much needed break from work. Aurors are so overworked these days, but what with everything happening, it’s a relief to know that they are people like him working relentlessly to fight against those evil – evil creatures.’
Lori nodded. ‘It would be nice to see them again.’ And it would. Lori hadn’t gone out in a while, not just because she was blind and couldn’t go alone – her uncle and aunt both worked during the day – but because it was too dangerous. Lori couldn’t wield her wand properly without being able to see her opponent, so she was essentially powerless. If, Merlin forbid, she ended up in a middle of a Death Eater attack, she’d be the first to go. So, she was living a completely isolation from other people beside her uncle and aunt and the occasional visitor who was up for a small talk. She loved her uncle and aunt immensely, especially after everything they’d done for her after the attack that claimed her parents’ lives and her sight, but she needed a little change. There was so much they could say to each other before they ran out of what to say.
‘It would, wouldn’t it? It’s almost impossible to get a hold of Kyle, and don’t let me start on Clarisse, who’s been going around cleaning up the Death Eaters’ messes and obliviating people to the point of exhaustion. We work at the same place, but it’s surprising how little we see of each other.’ Her aunt sighed sadly. ‘I wish things were different.’
‘Me too.’ Lori said, staring down at the table. It was not like she could see it, but she could practically feel the sadness radiating from her aunt from all the way across the kitchen and she felt it was appropriate to look down.
‘Ugh, look what I’ve done. I went and depressed you, too!’ she let out a chuckle. ‘Do you want some milk with that bagel, dear?’
‘Sure.’ Lori said with a smile. ‘And you haven’t depressed me. It would take you more than that to depress me.’ More, she added in her head.
‘Glad to hear that.’ Her aunt replied, her voice brighter. Lori heard her open a cupboard, probably taking out a glass and then close it. ‘Your uncle and cousins should be here soon.’ She added absently, opening the fridge. ‘Evie’s probably grown so much since the last time we saw her!’
Lori smiled a little, but said nothing. The last time she had seen the little baby – really seen – the girl hadn’t yet turned one. She was definitely bigger now, and Lori didn’t get the change to watch her grow up like the rest of her family did.
Another thing to add to the ‘Why being blind absolutely sucked’ list she had made in her head. It was quite a long list, and she suspected it would not end soon.
‘There you go, dear.’ Her aunt said as she approached, putting the bagel in her outstretched hand. ‘I’ll put the glass right in front of you.’ She said, and Lori heard a quiet, almost too quiet thunk as her aunt put down the glass. ‘Spotty, how much until dinner’s ready?’
‘Dinner is ready, mistress.’ Spotty replied in her squeaky, thin voice. ‘Spotty is putting the desert in mistress, but Spotty can set down the table.’
‘Great.’ Her aunt replied. ‘Do that, Spotty. Thank you.’
‘It is Spotty’s pleasure to serve, mistress.’ The house elf replied, and Lori imagined it bowing lowly. She’d always been uncomfortable with the blind devotion and overwhelming need to please the house elves possessed. She couldn’t help but feel that she shouldn’t be able to order them around so completely, and they shouldn’t be bowing to her like that, being so happy to serve, to have no free will. No one seemed to share her opinion, though.
Her aunt always said that as long as Spotty felt happy doing what she was doing, she was going to keep her, along with the two other elves, who were probably cleaning somewhere in the house.
She and her parents had never owned a house elf. When she was eleven, they moved to France in a small cottage so she could attend Beauxbatons on her mother’s wishes. Her mother stayed at home, while her father worked, and they’d never needed the extra help. Sometimes, when her mother was tired, Lori would help, and when he was home, her father always made time to help them with the household chores as well.
They’d been so happy.
Until the day they decided to visit her aunt and uncle. They’d gone on a walk around Diagon Alley, showing Lori around because she’d never gotten to see where the children who attend Hogwarts shopped, when those awful cloaked and masked figures had appeared in the middle of the street, creating utter chaos in their wake. Unfortunately, they’d been too close to the group and they couldn’t go unnoticed. Before they could apparate, someone had sent a hex in their direction and they were forced to duck.
From that point forward, Lori didn’t remember much. There was a lot of movement, people were screaming, spells were flying everywhere and all she could do was stare in complete horror and confusion as her father tried to protect her from the onslaught of spells thrown their way.
Her parents had told her about the tense situation in England, but she had never suspected it was that bad. People were actually getting killed. Someone actually fell dead, right beside her. She could never forget the glassy, blue-eyed stare of the little boy.
A little boy.
She had snapped out of it at some point, and started to defend herself, relieving her father from having to hover around her to make sure she wasn’t hurt. Her mother had disappeared somewhere in the mass of people, and Lori had forced herself not to worry. Her mother was a capable witch, she could handle herself. She had to make sure she and her father made it out alive, and then they’d both find her mother and get the hell out of England.
But it had not been enough.
Those masked people were too many, too skilled. They soon backed her and her father in a corner, and she had to watch in horror as some shrieking woman tortured her father right before her eyes, without her being able to do anything. Oh, she had tried. But she’d been only sixteen at the time, incapable of doing that much damage on fully qualified wizards and witches. They disarmed her, made her watch her father get tortured until he was foaming the mouth, and crying hysterically, begging for the pain to just stop.
Something had snapped in her that day. The moment she saw her father reduced to such a mess had changed her. The realisation that they wouldn’t get out of there alive was slowly sinking in, enough to reduce her to a blabbering, crying mess as well, without the torture curses needed. She collapsed beside her father, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and pulling his head on her lap, trying to get his attention.
‘Deal with her.’ Someone had said dismissively, and before she knew it, someone had sized her by the hair, hauling her up on her feet.
‘What a shame—‘ the person hissed menacingly, reaching a leather-gloved hand to touch her cheek. Lori jerked back, but he grabbed her chin and forced her to stay put. ‘Such a pretty little thing.’ He continued, sending shivers done her spine. She could vaguely make out grey, narrowed eyes from the small cracks in the silvery mask where the eyes were supposed to be, and she saw the malice there. The hunger for her blood. It terrified her out of her bloody mind. ‘But works is work.’ He said, pulling away. He didn’t give her time to relax before he fired some bright yellow curse at her. She attempted to duck, which was her big mistake, and the curse hit her right in the face. Piercing, unimaginable pain shot through her brain, putting everything else in the background, becoming her world. Her eyes stung horribly, tears gathering in them and she frantically tried to claw on them, remove the pain.
His horrible laughter filled her ears, and in the background she could pick out her father’s broken sobbing, people’s screams, the sounds of explosion.
‘That would be enough to finish you off, slowly and painfully, the way a blood-traitor should die. Your father, however, well, I’m feeling merciful.’ He chuckled again, and before Lori could do anything, she heard him say the dreaded words to that horrible curse. ‘Avada Kedavra!’
Her father’s sobbing immediately stopped, and Lori tried to find him, tried to see him but found only darkness before her. ‘What’s going on?’ She asked frantically, touching her voice, the panic of the complete darkness that surrounded her managing to help her focus and gain some semblance of control over her pain and emotions. ‘Why can’t I see? What did you do to me?’
‘You’ll find out soon enough.’ He replied with horrible cheerfulness. ‘If you live that long.’ And then he left. She heard the whoosh of his cloak, and then he was gone, leaving her there in her world of darkness.
‘Wait!’ She called desperately. ‘Wait! I can’t – I don’t— what am I supposed to do – I can’t see – my parents... I...’
Lori blinked, realising she had lost herself in her thoughts. ‘Sorry,’ she apologised. ‘I just spaced out.’ She took a bite of her bagel, but she couldn’t bring herself to enjoy it. She felt like she was chewing cardboard, but she supposed reliving her parents’ deaths would do that to her appetite. She took a large gulp of milk to hide her grimace, and smiled when her aunt sighed exasperatedly.
‘You do that a lot.’ She noted, but her voice contained fondness as well. ‘But I guess I can’t expect you to listen to my babblings all the time, can I? I’m an old woman now. You’re young.’
‘You’re hardly old, auntie.’ Lori replied with a smile. ‘I’m sure you look very youthful, to match your personality.’
‘You little charmer!’ her aunt teased, patting her hand. ‘But thank you.’
‘Spotty will be setting the table now, mistress.’ Spotty interrupted.
‘Oh, right. Lori, darling, take your glass.’ Lori took her glass and took another large gulp from her milk. Spotty worked quietly, something Lori didn’t particularly like, as she had gotten used to relying on sounds. She felt less excluded when she could hear what was going on around her and assume what people were doing and how they looked.
‘Auntie... I was wondering, if the weather is good tomorrow, can we take a walk outside?’ Lori chewed on her lip nervously as she waited for her aunt’s answer. She was usually so busy, she didn’t really have the time to take Lori out, and Lori didn’t like to pull the house elves away from their duties just they could help her walk around.
‘Of course,’ her aunt replied. ‘I’m sorry, I just realised you’ve been stuck in this house for so long now! I’m so stupid. Of course we can go out tomorrow! Maybe we can go out for ice cream, yes?’
Lori brightened up. ‘Really? That would be great.’
‘Anything you want, dear.’ Her aunt replied warmly.
‘Master is home!’ Spotty squeaked suddenly. ‘He is not alone.’
‘Ah, the kids must be with him.’ Her aunt said happily, standing up. ‘I’ll go greet them, Lori. Do you want to come?’
‘Oh, no.’ Lori said, placing her hand on the table. She felt the soft, silken cloth on it and put down her glass. ‘I’ll wait here.’
‘All right.’ Her aunt said. ‘We’ll be here in a second!’
‘Okay.’ Lori replied quietly, taking another bite from her bagel.
‘Can Spotty get young mistress anything else?’ The house elf asked hopefully. ‘Spotty is finished with the table.’
‘No, it’s all right, Spotty.’ Lori replied gently, still chewing a little of her bagel. ‘I’m all right. I wouldn’t want to ruin my appetite and not taste your delicious dinner!’
‘Oh!’ The elf squeaked. ‘Thank you, young mistress!’ she sound so happy by the price, it made Lori smile slightly.
‘Dear Merlin!’ The loud, shocked exclamation coming from her aunt made Lori jumped in her chair, and look over her shoulder in alarm.
‘What’s going on?’ She asked, as if her aunt was there and could answer her. She put her hand on the table and rose on her feet.
‘Spotty can help!’ The elf said quickly, and it was by her side in an instant, taking her hand in its small one, in a surprisingly tight but gentle grip.
‘Can you bring me to them?’ Lori asked, blinking rapidly. Her aunt had sounded shocked and a little afraid. What if something bad had happened? She still didn’t know who was at the door.
‘Spotty can, yes, young mistress.’ Spotty replied confidently. ‘Spotty will apparate!’
‘All right.’ Lori said, taking a deep breath. ‘Thank you for the warning.’
‘Spotty is doing it now.’ The house elf said, and then Lori was sucked in something very tight, that kept twisting and turning. Several uncomfortable seconds later, she landed unsteadily on her feet, but Spotty’s grip on her managed to keep her upright.
‘Lori!’ Her aunt exclaimed. ‘No, no, you should go to your room.’
‘What’s going on?’ Lori asked, confused and concerned. ‘Are you all right?’
‘We’re all right, Lori.’ Her uncle said calmly, though there was definitely a note of worry and fear in there, too. They were hiding something from her. ‘Something happened, but it’s nothing you should concern yourself with. Spotty can take you to your room. We’ll talk to you later, all right?’
‘But—‘ Lori tried to protest, but her aunt interrupted her.
‘Lori, this is important,’ she said firmly, but not unkindly. ‘Please, listen to us. I promise I’ll explain everything.’ Her aunt sounded very worried too. She was basically pleading her to do as she was told.
Lori had never had a penchant for rebellion, so she nodded quietly, even though she desperately wanted to know what was going on. She knew better than to pressure them, though. Evidently, it was something important. ‘Okay.’
Her aunt exhaled deeply. ‘Thank you!’ she said, sounding extremely relieved. She walked up to her and kissed her forehead. ‘We’ll be with you in no time.’ She whispered, hugging her quickly and tightly. ‘Robert, please firecall Albus. Spotty, please take Lori to her room. You can bring her dinner upstairs, too.’
‘As mistress wishes.’ The elf said obediently, pulling on Lori’s hand slightly as it bowed lowly. ‘Spotty will apparate now.’ She said as a warning just before she did it. Lori grimaced, as much as she could in the circumstances, as her body twisted and squeezed through the invisible thin tube. Finally, her feet hit solid ground and she wobbled slightly, before Spotty steadied her.
‘Is young mistress feeling all right?’ Spotty asked anxiously.
‘I’m okay, Spotty.’ Lori replied tiredly, rubbing her forehead. ‘I’ll just go lie down.’ She mumbled, releasing the elf’s hand. ‘Where did we land?’ She asked before she started walking.
‘In the middle of the room.’ Spotty said helpfully. Lori nodded and counted her steps as she walked, her feet extended a little more before her to feel the bed before she collided with it. Eventually she managed, not before slightly crashing in her bedside table. She sat down on her bed heavily, sinking in the soft bedding, and swung her legs on the bed.
‘Spotty will bring dinner, young mistress.’ The elf replied, just before it apparated with a loud crack. Lori closed her eyes as she rested her head on the soft, feathery pillow. She couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to alarm her aunt and uncle so much. Had someone gotten hurt? Her cousins? Their friends? Someone else?
It was hard not to picture something incredibly gruesome, given the times they lived in. It was hard not to picture death when something like this happened.
An uninvited flash of her father’s broken body and heart-wrenching sobbing entered her mind. She had never seen her mother’s body – probably for the best. It was enough to have this image of her father to haunt her for a lifetime.
Your heart is erratic, pumping warm blood through your veins. Your breathing is calm, however, your skin is warm. Your eyelids don’t tremble. Your lungs don’t whistle. But you feel dizzy again. The darkness is still there. Not a flash of light pierced through.
Your fists clench around the soft duvet. Your breathing starts to match your wildly beating heart.
There really is no other prison like the one you build yourself.
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