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Rabbit Heart by Pixileanin
Chapter 1 : Have a Heart
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 25


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Wren Longbottom stared out the window of her bedroom, searching the deep woods for the flash of light that shouldn't have been there. Woods weren't supposed to flash or glow or fade. Not even if the woods were behind the family home of wizards who made all sorts of impossible things happen every day.

A knock on the door pulled her back to the empty drawers, piles of books and mountains of clothes scattered around her room.

"Wren, it's Rose. Your mum sent me up to help."

Wren scowled at her overturned drawers. What kind of help did her mum think she needed? All she had to do was dump everything into boxes, and she'd be done. Except she couldn't stop thinking about the light outside...

Rose Weasley's knock grew louder, more insistent. "Wren, I'm your best friend. Open up!"

The omnioculars were still clutched in Wren’s hand. She saw it for the first time, yesterday, at the edge of the lake. The light had flashed again this morning, right before dawn. It had been so bright that Wren had rolled out of bed to see what it was. By the time she'd grabbed the viewer off her bedpost and dialed back the focus, it had vanished. The memory crystal on her magical binoculars hadn't captured any of it.

At breakfast, her mum had tried to reason it away. "Must have been a reflection off the water."

A reflection of what?

The door thudded. "Come on, Wren. Let me in."

Wren waded through a sea of overturned photography magazines to the door of her bedroom. Her hand froze on the doorknob. The last time Rose had offered to "help" speed-clean her room, it had taken Wren hours afterwards to sort through her camera equipment to find the high-speed film. And that time last year, when she'd told Rose that she wanted to try to be "more social", Rose had "fixed it" by dragging her to the biggest after-exams party in Gryffindor history, where Wren had holed herself in a corner and used her camera flash to stop half-sloshed, happier-than-life bodies from crowding her personal space.

She probably shouldn't mention the light. Or the other thing that was bothering her so much.

That other thing was big. Bigger than big.

She'd done everything she could think of to make Gran better. The family's old medical tomes lay open on top of the piles of books on her bed. Faded notes filled the margins of mind-clearing charms and restorative potions, added over the years by Gran as she tried and failed to rouse Wren’s grandparents from their permanent waking sleep. The charms and potions hadn't worked for Wren either, when her grandparents finally passed away and Gran had fallen into pretty much the same state. Weeks after the double funeral, Gran still stared into nothingness for hours at a time and refused to come home. The Healers hadn’t offered anything stronger than the usual brain-numbing potions and useless advice to give Gran more time.

They said that some things were impossible to fix, even with magic.

Gran was old, they said, even for a witch. Wren’s grandparents had been old too, but because of their perpetual condition (which Gran had refused to give up on, even ‘till the end) Wren hadn't gotten to know them as real people. They were gone now, and in a way, so was Gran. It wasn't fair. Gran was the one who had always encouraged her when no one else understood. Gran had helped Wren take care of the injured animals from the woods, telling her that it was important to make a difference in the world. Now Gran was gone, and in her place was a scared, confused woman who was making them leave their home. Wren felt like she was losing a part of herself along with Gran.

Wren turned back to the window as the uneasy feeling returned, half-expecting to see the light again, half hoping that she wouldn't, that it was just a trick of some reflective surface by the lake. It was crazy to think that anything harmful could get this close to the house. Her dad's magical wards were too strong. Auror security was a habit he never let go, even years after leaving the Ministry and becoming a Herbology Professor. She considered asking him for help, but quickly shelved the idea. Her dad meant well, but his help always seemed to come with an equal amount of embarrassment. She got more than enough of that at Hogwarts, having to go to school with her dad.

A scuffle broke out behind her door, and then another knock. "Wren? It's me, Albus."

The new voice jolted Wren out of her head. She swiped the mess of books into the open box, letting them spill in all jumbled together, and rammed her dresser closed. "Just a second!" she called, tossing the omnioculars onto a bare spot on her covers.

"See? I told you it'd work. I'm her best..."

"Oldest!" Rose's voice cut in behind the door. "By four days, and only because you were born premature, Albus Potter!"

"We're sixteen, and you're still bringing that up? Amazing!"

Wren climbed over a mountain of semi-packed boxes and twisted the latch. "Hi, Al," she said, opening the door. "Rose."

Rose Weasley tossed her red braid behind her shoulder and shot a disgruntled look at her cousin. "Open the door for him and not me?"

Wren shrugged as Rose shouldered her way into the bedroom. "Oh wow. Looks like your closet blew up in here!"

Albus shuffled in the doorway, but Wren pushed at his chest. "Sorry, I can't let you in. Rose is right."

"Oldest friends aren't good enough?"

"Albus, you're brilliant at everything, but Rose is better at this sort of job." Faster, anyway. Wren didn't want to think about all the hours she was going to spend trying to find all her stuff after...

"She's better than me at moving boxes?"

"Packing underwear," Rose called from behind the half-closed door. "Are these even clean, Wren?"

Wren blushed when Albus didn't move away.

"I see," he said slowly.

"No, you don't. That's the point." Wren did a brief check, almost on an unconscious level, like she did every time she saw him; an eyebrow taller than her, five feet exactly. She squinted. Maybe a quarter of an inch more. Wren was forever grateful that she still had a friend who couldn't call her short and mean it.

"We'll call you back up when the boxes are ready," Wren said, pushing him back harder.

"Fine. Whenever you're ready," he said with a pout.

She plastered a grin on her face and pretended that the flush of red wasn't creeping up her neck again. They'd known each other forever like she'd known those woods forever. She'd been looking out that window since she was tall enough to climb up on the toy chest and press her nose against the glass. She knew every tree, every sparkle on the water. She'd never seen anything like that light before.

If Gran had come home, she'd have offered up a practical explanation or gone out to investigate, or something. Wren watched Albus blow his hair out of his eyes and trudge back down the stairs. He was probably just curious, having never seen her room before. If her great-grandmother was here, he wouldn't have gotten farther up than the landing.

Wren's thoughts turned sour, wiping the grin off her face. If Gran were here, she wouldn't be packing.

"Come on, Wren," Rose called. "Where do you want these omnioculars? With your photography stuff, or the Quidditch gear?"

"Just hang them on the bed post," Wren said. "With my camera. Leave the photography box open, Rose. I'm going to need it later." She'd pack the camera equipment carefully, after everything else was gone.

Wren sighed. Her new life wasn't going to be anything like it was here. She looked back at the window and forced herself to relax.

I'm not going crazy, Wren thought to herself. It was just a flash of light. It didn't mean anything. She wasn't going to stick around much longer to find out what it was anyway.


***


Albus came down the stairs with the last of Wren's boxes. He'd left the one labeled "Photography: Don't Touch!" on her bare bed, as she'd instructed. Half an hour ago, she'd come down with Rose, claiming to be "done" and "needing to take care of something important".

He set the box down in front of an empty shelving cabinet and stared out of the Longbottom's window. "What's she doing out there?"

He moved away from the window to let Rose look out to the copse of trees down by the lake.

Rose shrugged. "Taking care of the animals, I guess."

He peered through the window pane, but he couldn't see it. All she was doing was sitting there, under the trees.

"Don't stare off into the woods all day," his cousin said, nudging him. "You're supposed to help pack up the place. I need to get this to Mrs. Longbottom in the kitchen." Rose turned her back on the window and took an empty box into the next room.

His older brother ducked through the front door, making a show of towering over him before moving on to the stack of moving boxes. James flicked his wand at the top box and shrank it to the size of his fist. Then he picked it up and lowered it into the bottom of the bewitched trunk in the middle of the living room. He looked up as Wren's mother came out with a packed china box.

"Nice funeral, Mrs. L."

Rose had been right behind Wren's mother, carrying a set of potion bottles. She froze whispered loudly, "I don't think you're supposed to say that sort of thing out loud, James."

Hannah Longbottom smiled kindly as she wrapped the last of her china and put it into the box on the floor. "Thank you, James. I'll let Augusta know. I have another set of potions in the cupboard, Rose. We can add them to your box." She closed the china box and headed back into the kitchen.

"Wow! I think my great Aunt Muriel had one of these!" James held up a curious red handbag, and then another one. He dug around inside the box. "Hey, there's a load of 'em in here! And, wow. What's this?" He pulled out a small plaque with a small animal's head attached and held it up, chuckling at the inscription. "Wow. That lady's been hating on fanged gerbils since 1947!"

"You're supposed to be packing the boxes, not taking everything out!" Rose rolled her eyes at her cousin.

Albus picked up a stack of framed photographs that they'd taken off the walls. Most of them had been pictures Wren had taken. "Anyone got another box? I don't think we should pack these with the handbags." He eyed the plaque at the top of James' box with distaste. "Definitely shouldn't put them in with that."

Hannah came back into the living room with another box and James put the handbags down. She smiled sweetly. "I wouldn't put my fingers in those if I were you. I think they're full of mousetraps." As James dropped the bags quickly back into the box, she added, "Are you taking Herbology this year, James?"

"Uh, no, Mrs. Longbottom." He placed the fanged gerbil plaque on top of the handbags and sealed the box. "Double transfiguration didn't leave any room in my schedule."

"Who takes double transfiguration?" Rose asked.

Albus smirked as his brother tried to shush her with his hands. They all loved Neville Longbottom as a person, but no one really shared his passion for plants. Even Wren, his own daughter was only taking sixth year Herbology because she had a free slot in her timetable.

"Mr. L still out in the garden?" Albus asked.

"He's potting up a tray of seedlings to take with him. The patio is tiny and the building is already overflowing with extension charms. Whatever doesn't fit, he'll take to the greenhouses at school."

Albus was about to ask if he needed any help, but Rose grabbed his arm and beckoned back to the window. "Someone should go talk to her. She's been out there for ages."

"I'll go," Albus said quickly, setting down the lamp he'd been dismantling. He didn't want to get stuck with another box of mousetraps, or worse yet, hauling old Augusta Longbottom's cauldron collection out of the basement. He blew the hair out of his eyes. Wren had been gone for over an hour.

Rose wiped invisible sweat off her brow. "Good. She'll only yell at me if I try to do it."

Albus frowned. "She never yells."

"Never at you," Rose countered. "She's ready to explode. When I helped her pack up her room this morning, I could see it in her eyes. She's just waiting for an opportunity to scream at me inside her head. It's like getting a silent lecture from Professor Vector."

"I know what you mean." Albus remembered a few of those looks from Wren in the past. She had a way of telling people off with her eyes that made him want to melt into the walls.

"Maybe she'd be nicer to you if you'd stop being such a pushy..." James was interrupted by Mrs. Longbottom clearing her throat. "Sorry, Mrs. L."

"Thank you boys, and Rose, for helping us pack up the house today," Hannah said to the room. "And give my thanks to your mum, James and Albus, for sitting with Augusta at the Inn while we're here."

"No problem, Mrs. L. We're glad to help." James sauntered over to the broom closet to put its contents in the trunk as well. "Anything in here you want kept out?"

"No. It can all go in boxes." Hannah sighed as she disappeared back into the kitchen.

"I thought Ford was coming to help out too," Albus said. James' friend could have handled a lot of these boxes and he was of age too, so he'd have been a big help with the magical storage.

"Couldn't come. Just got his Head Boy letter and needed 'time to plan'."

"Nice," Albus said. Then he peered around the almost empty house. "Lori's not here, is she?"

"No." They both groaned at the thought of Ford's little sister, now a fourth year, who had recently decided that the Potter boys were the most interesting people on the planet. She'd followed James around for months last spring. It had gotten almost nauseating enough for them to ask Rose to have words with her. Almost.

"Be nice, boys," Mrs. Longbottom said, bringing a tray out from the kitchen. "It could have been your little sister with a crush. Anyone seen Wren?"

"Ooh, sandwiches!" James dropped his armful of brooms into the trunk and practically leapt across the room.

Albus was about to join his brother, feeling suddenly hungry himself until Rose gave him a pointed look and jerked her head at the window. "Right. I'll get her."


***


Down by the trees at the lake, Albus caught sight of Wren's short cropped hair, auburn in the afternoon sun. She was cross-legged under the trees, and as he got closer, the dappled sunlight gave her pale skin a ghostly sheen. Her eyes were focused on her lap, where she held a squirrel with a large gash, still pink and swollen, running across its eye.

"It's not ready." Wren sniffed and looked up at him. “I'm going to miss this place."

A row of cages sat empty under the tree. Above him, two swallows fluttered on the lowest branches, one still nursing a broken wing.

"Me too," he said. Albus sat down in the wet grass next to her. "You took pictures of everything?" Wren's ever-present camera hung around her neck.

"Yes." The squirrel gnawed on her finger, looking for another treat. She laughed softly. "It's all gone, little one. You're going to have to find your own nuts from now on." A breeze flowed by, sweeping a cluster of leaves into the water. "Whether you're ready or not," she added with a sniff.

He wanted to tell her that she'd be back later, just to see her smile. "You'll come by my house," Albus said instead. "We'll rescue wild animals there. You can teach Lily how to take care of them. She'd like that."

Wren shrugged. Her eyes were red and she looked like she'd break out in tears again at any moment.

"We'll eat Mum's toffee pudding 'till we're sick."

"Sounds great," Wren said. A few tears fell, making Albus feel like he was doing something wrong. "She threw such a fit, Al. It was so unlike her."

They all saw. In public, the stern Mrs. Longbottom, Wren's great grandmother, loudly refusing to go back to the country home for hours until Wren's mum promised to get her a room at the Leaky Cauldron Inn. Days later, Augusta Longbottom demanded that they sell the place and then fell silent. They all thought she'd change her mind eventually, but that was weeks ago.

Wren sniffed again. "If I go back to the Inn and throw a bigger fit, do you think she'd let us stay?"

Albus put his arm around her so he wouldn't have to see the tears. "It's just a house," he said, not knowing what else to say.

"Like this is just my camera," Wren cried. "And you're just my friend." She rubbed her face against his shirt and then pulled back. "Sorry."

"It's alright," Albus said. "My shirt doesn't mind." They sat in silence.

"Al? What if I'm more upset over leaving this place than I am about my own grandparents dying? Is that selfish?"

 "I don't think you're selfish for wanting to say goodbye to a place you've always lived. I'd feel the same way." He shifted in the grass, the wetness had seeped into his trousers and his pant legs were sticking to the skin underneath. "If I had to leave my house or was told I'd never see the Burrow again, I'd probably throw a fit."

"Albus Potter throwing a fit," Wren giggled through the tears and dried off her camera with the hem of his shirt. He let her, relieved that the tears had slowed down. She was starting to smile again.

"I'll throw one now, if you like."

"Not necessary, thanks." Wren clicked a few pictures of the squirrel and nudged it out of her lap.

Albus' stomach growled as his oldest-best friend wiped the last of the wetness away from her face. "Ready to go in?" he asked. "Your mum has lunch ready."

"In a bit," she said. "I have one more thing to take care of."


***


"Fly. Be free."

Wren struggled with the last latch, alarming the little rabbit hunched in the back of its cage, his foot rammed into the water dish and his little nose twitching in nervous panic. She looked back at the bungalow through the trees and thought "wands", but the baby rabbit was already at risk of twisting his bad leg and injuring it even more.

She tugged again, harder this time, rattling the whole line of empty cages. She wasn't supposed to use her wand out here anyway, but she would have risked a citation to get the cage open. There wasn't time for stuck cages and injured rabbits anymore. The rabbit shoved itself further to the back, struggling with the stuck leg as Wren rattled the cages again. If Gran were here, she'd have the cage open in a heartbeat.

Wren let out a cry of frustration and backed away from the cage. Gran would have told her to think practically and keep her head. The squirrel with the barely healed gash sniffed at her sandal. One of the swallows had flown off, leaving its companion still struggling to keep its balance in the branches above her. None of them had taken well to their early release, and Wren couldn't help but wonder if they'd survive the night.

If Gran hadn't lost her mind after the funeral, she would have let their family come home. Instead, they were packing up everything they owned. They were moving somewhere that didn't have a garden for her dad to tend, and too small for her mum's large soaking tub. Wren wasn't going to have these woods and a lake to escape to. She'd lived at the bungalow her whole life. How could any other place be her home? Their new home wasn't even a real home…

If Gran would just come back…

She picked up a fist sized rock and pounded it into the latch until it fell away in pieces. It wouldn't matter anyway, since the cages were going to remain here and probably rust to pieces without her. Wren had to stop for a minute and catch her breath before she opened the cage and pried the little rabbit's foot out of the water dish. She lifted the tiny bunny carefully out of its cage and held the trembling creature to her chest. "It's alright," she whispered. "You're going to do fine out there."

Wren felt a wet prick as her eyes teared up. She knelt down and placed the baby rabbit onto the leaves, letting it sniff around and get used to the grit under its feet. The chipmunk had already scampered up to the lower branches of a nearby tree. She sat down and watched the baby rabbit hop around in a small circle.

"You have to go now, little bunny," Wren said as the little rabbit wedged itself between her knees. "There's a nice burrow out there just waiting for you."  She felt herself begin to cry all over again. She hated crying. It always gave her a headache for hours afterward.

A moving shadow caught her eye in the deeper woods. Wren scanned the trees and forced herself not to think of foxes and snakes and hawks and things out in the deep woods that were much worse than a sprained foot. The little rabbit pressed deeper into her jeans. She scooped up the rabbit out of its burrow between her legs and held it tenderly in her arms. "I'm sorry," she mumbled into its fur. "I'm so sorry."

Rabbits didn't generally like to cuddle, but this one had. It was the reason Wren had become so fond of it over the last few weeks. All she had to do was support his thick hindquarters on her arm, and he'd bury his little nose right into the crook of her elbow. She kissed it gently on the head and put it back onto the ground. It hesitantly hopped off into the nearest bush and rustled the dry leaves.

In the distance, a large holding trunk floated out of a bottom story window and landed on the grass outside, waiting to be transported to the Inn where Gran Augusta waited for them. Wren was going to miss this place so much. She had pictures of all of it, but there were things that she couldn't take pictures of, things that she wondered how long it would take to forget once she left this place for good. She knew all the places where the water puddled after a fierce rain and how the wind brushed against her cheeks when she sat on the branches of the tree over the lake. The bungalow was near empty now except for the memories of her childhood.

Wren strained her eyes, tracking the baby bunny through the thick brush. She held her breath as the tiny creature slipped out of sight. He'll be fine, she told herself. There were wards all around the property. He had fresh water down at the lake, and early summer was the best time of year for fresh clover.

Then she saw it. It wasn't a trick of the morning light like she'd thought, or a reflection of the moon from the night before. It was real, growing larger and larger, covering the entire bush where her little rabbit had gone. Wren let out a short cry as the ball flashed very bright, and then just as quickly as it came, disappeared, taking the tiny bunny with it.
 








A/N:   Hello, and welcome to my story!  I had a lot of help putting this together, so thanks to patronus charm, CambAngst and ladybirdflying for all of their eyes and for agreeing to beta this, even though I made them read the first draft (twice), and then changed almost everything.  Also, thanks to NeoMiniTails, 1917farmgirl and WriteYourHeartOut for the motivation to get this posted.   Without you guys, I'd be sitting on this for another year.  ;)  

 Giving credit where credit is due: the title of this fic is inspired by Florence and the Machine (Raise It Up).

If Mad-eye Moody was a writer, I believe his motto would be, "constant improvement".   Comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated!

[Edited on 18 January, 2014]


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