Chapter 1 : 1. Have a Heart
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Wren peered through her omnioculars to get a closer look. No, this was no good, she needed to get out there and see what that was. She bounced over her pillows and around pulled out drawers, piles of books and mountains of clothes that had made a complete mess of her bed. As her feet hit the floor, she bumped into a stack of empty boxes.
An insistent knock came from her door. "Wren, it's Rose. Open up!"
She was supposed to be packing.
"Just a sec!"
Wren waded through the 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 hours to sort through her camera equipment to find the high-speed film.
She caught her reflection in the dresser mirror and shook her head roughly to distribute the spiky pixie cut around her head. Rose had always complained that Wren's hair was too short for a brush, but that was just the way she liked it. Easy. No fuss.
A scuffle broke out behind her door, and then another knock. "Wren? It's me, Albus."
Albus? She'd only invited Rose over to help her get her stuff together, but it shouldn't have been surprising that he showed up too. The two cousins usually came as a team, which she didn't mind at all. Except maybe when she had everything she owned dumped all over her room.
Wren jolted into action, swiping the mess of books into an open box, letting them spill in all jumbled together, and rammed her dresser closed. "Hold on!" she called, tossing the omnioculars onto a bare spot on her covers.
She paused at the mirror and smoothed down some of the spikes, then threw the door open.
Albus stood there with playful eyes. 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 was forever grateful that she still had a friend who couldn't call her short and mean it.
He raised an eyebrow, making it a quarter inch higher. She threw her arms around him, laughing. "I'm glad you're here."
"Glad I came," he said. "See?" he said to Rose, "I told you it'd work. I'm her best..."
"Oldest!" Rose's voice cut in behind him. She stood half a head taller than both of them and tossed her long braid over her shoulder. "By four days, and only because you were born premature, Albus Potter!"
"We're sixteen, and you're still bringing that up? Amazing!"
Rose Weasley hugged Wren too, while shooting 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."
"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."
Rose called out from behind a stack of photography equipment. "Boxes, Albus. You're supposed to be here for the boxes."
He stuck his tongue out at his cousin and turned back to Wren. "Well, is there anything I can do?"
"We'll call you back up when the boxes are ready," Wren said, pushing him back harder.
"Fine. I'll help downstairs," 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.
Albus blew his hair out of his eyes and trudged 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. Moving was inevitable since her parents had bought the Leaky Cauldron Inn. They'd promised that she could have one last summer here, in her home. But then Gran...
She closed the door to her room, numbed by the swirling vortex of change around her.
"You alright, Wren?" Rose asked.
Rose's family had moved three times in the last five years, and she didn't seem to have suffered any ill effects. It shouldn't be that big of a deal.
"It's just... a lot," Wren said, trying to still her hammering heart.
Rose looked around the wreck that was Wren's room. "I have no idea where to start. How do you want to do this?"
Wren needed something to focus on. If Gran were here, she'd say something pragmatic.
If Gran were here, she wouldn't be packing.
Stop thinking, Wren told herself. Stop feeling. Be practical.
She heaved a sigh. "One box at a time, I guess."
Two hours later, Wren carried her photography equipment bag (that she'd insisted on packing herself) down the stairs and almost tripped over Albus. "Please tell me you haven't been sitting here the whole time," she said.
"Course not. I'm taking a break. Your mum's got everyone packing the downstairs."
"What?" Wren set her bag on the bottom step and scurried into the living room, stopping short as one of Gran's storage boxes spun past her from out of the broom closet. Albus' older brother flicked his wand and the box dropped in front of him, its lid flipping open.
"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!"
"Careful with that!" Wren cried, running up to him. "What are you doing, James? Why are you even here?"
"Mum brought me to help." He replaced the lid and tapped the box with his wand, shrinking it down to a tiny cube before placing it into a bewitched trunk in the center of the room.
The walls were bare. Even the furniture was gone. Albus started boxing up the cupboards under the window seat by the back door, pulling out birdseed and pellets and old blankets.
"Not those!" Wren said, rushing over. "They're for the wild animals."
Her dad came through the room with potted plants in each arm, muttering in concentration. "I know it's going to be a shock to you, but I think you'll like it in your new home," he was saying. It took Wren a second to register that he was talking to the plants instead of her.
"Those are Gran's snapdragons. We're only supposed to be taking our stuff."
"Mr. L said to get everything," James said.
"Everything?" Voices were coming from the front door and Wren rushed through the house to see who it was.
"Yes, I understand. I just wasn't expecting this. Thanks for keeping her as long as you could," her mum said, and closed the door. Hannah Longbottom looked frazzled from head to toe and had a large envelope in her hands.
"That was Ginny," she explained. "They had to take Gran to St. Mungo's for observation."
"Gran!" Wren cried.
Her mum hugged her. "They said she'll be fine. They are treating her for shock."
"What happened?" Wren asked. Gran had been so stubborn, but she was always strong.
"We're not sure. They think all the stress of the last week caught up to her. Wren, I know you were hoping she'd change her mind, but we need to get everything ready in our new place. They don't want her living alone."
"What do you mean? I thought she wanted to be by herself. I thought that's why I couldn't stay here for the summer like she promised."
Wren's mother sighed. "I know, Wren. I'm sorry things didn't work out the way we'd planned. Gran's coming to stay with us now." She put the envelope in her bag and sighed heavily. "She wants to sell the house."
"I don't want you to worry over anything, Wren. You can still go out with your friends when we're done here. Your dad and I are going to visit Gran at St. Mungo's."
"No, Mum," Wren said quickly. "I want to see Gran too."
"Are you sure?"
Wren looked back at her friends who were piling the last of the boxes into the trunk. "They'll understand."
She felt herself tearing up. The day was weighing heavier on her by the minute. Gran selling the house... getting ill...
No, she told herself. Don't break. Mum needs you. Gran needs you.
"Give me a few minutes," she said. "I have to see to the animals."
"Of course. We'll go right after lunch."
Wren walked past Albus to the back door and escaped outside before the tears began to fall. She turned away from the house, not wanting anyone to see, and tore off into the woods.
Albus finished with the cupboard, having boxed up harnesses, weaning bottles for small mammals, clippers, tweezers and something that looked like a first aid kit for baby gnomes. He'd filled up another box with Wren's framed photos from her bedroom, finally getting a glimpse of the room he was never allowed in. It had lost its mystique without the underwear. Lots of pictures of wildlife, the sun reflecting off the lake, and landscapes had mixed with snapshots of Rose and himself, and Wren too, taken at strange angles with the camera looking up their noses.
That was Wren, quirky and fun.
He was about to ask if there was anything else to pack, but Rose grabbed his arm and beckoned back to the window. "Someone should go talk to her. She's been out there for ages."
"But I thought you said I was only here for the boxes." He grinned at Rose's familiar glare.
Mrs. Longbottom brought a tray out from the kitchen. "Anyone seen Wren?"
"Ooh, sandwiches!" James dropped his armful of brooms into the trunk and practically leapt across the room. "By the way, nice funeral, Mrs. L."
Rose gasped. "I don't think you're supposed to say that sort of thing out loud, James."
Hannah smiled kindly as James helped himself to three sandwiches before she could even put the tray down. "Thank you, James. I'll let Augusta know."
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 lake, he 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. She wiped away tears, making Albus feel like he was doing something wrong.
"You're not coming over later, are you?"
"Can't. Gran's ill. I need to help her, and then... 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. They all thought she'd change her mind eventually and come back home.
"Now she wants to sell the house. If I 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.
"It's going to be so awesome with you living at the Leaky Cauldron," he said, trying to cheer her up.
Wren clenched at his shirt harder. "But we're never going to climb this tree again. Or swim in the lake, or..." She trailed off. "Never mind."
"Make a list. We'll do it all."
"What? Right now?"
"Sure," he said. "Why not?"
Wren finally smiled, but then a loud screech came from the house. They watched crate after crate float out of the large bay window and disappear into thin air.
"Apparition Team is here," Albus said. "I guess we're out of time."
"Sorry for getting your shirt all wet."
He patted her arm awkwardly. He was used to his little sister's tears, always bursting into dramatics over everything, but Wren never did this. Suddenly, he felt so sad for her, almost like he should cry himself and he didn't know why. His throat closed up and he hugged her tighter. That seemed to help.
She blinked up at him, eyes puffy, wet cheeks, her nose might be running too, he couldn't tell, and suddenly he wanted to...
Albus blinked. "Yeah?"
Wren sniffed. "What if I'm more upset over leaving this place than I am about my own grandparents dying? Gran always said it was selfish to think about yourself before others." She squeezed her eyes shut. "Not that she's setting a very fine example, making us leave here."
Albus shifted in the grass, the wetness had seeped into his trousers and his pant legs were sticking to the skin underneath. His insides had twisted into knots.
"If I had to leave my house or was told I'd never see the Burrow again, I'd probably throw a fit." Then his stomach growled.
"Your mum has lunch ready," he said, finally getting to the point of coming out to see her.
"I'll be a bit," she said. "I have one more thing to do."
"I'll umm, go back to the house and let you get on with it."
Wren nodded and he was relieved to see her smile again. Albus waited until he got a good distance away from her and then broke into a short sprint back to the door. He looked back at the girl with the pixie cut, his oldest-best friend in the world and his chest became lead again.
"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 cottage 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 harder, rattling the whole line of empty cages. 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.
Wren let out a cry of frustration and backed away from the cage. 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 wondered if they'd survive the night.
If Gran hadn't lost her mind after the funeral, they wouldn't be packing up everything they owned. They wouldn't be 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 cottage 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 snatched up the rock and pounded it into the latch. 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."
The bits of metal had fallen away, half-buried in the leaves and dirt. It didn't matter. The cages would rust to pieces without her.
Wren swiped the wet pricks at the edge of her eyes. 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 squirrel 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.
"There's a nice burrow out there just waiting for you," Wren said as the little rabbit wedged between her knees. She felt herself begin to cry all over again. She hated crying. It always gave her a headache for hours afterward.
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. A moving shadow caught her eye in the deeper woods as the little rabbit pressed harder against her jeans. She scooped him up and pulled him close. "I'm sorry," she mumbled into its fur. "I'm so sorry."
She'd wanted so badly to keep this one. He'd been lying in the middle of the country road with a broken leg as if he'd fallen or been dropped - an unlikely injury for an animal that burrowed into the ground. Wren had scooped him up and braced his leg, and he'd healed miraculously fast.
Rabbits didn't generally like to cuddle, but this one had. All she had to do was support his thick hindquarters on her arm, and he'd bury his little nose into the crook of her elbow. She kissed it gently on the head and put it back onto the ground. It hopped off into the nearest bush.
In the distance, the last trunk floated out of the window and landed in the grass, waiting to be sent away. 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 cottage was empty except for the memories of her childhood.
She held her breath as the tiny creature slipped out of sight. Wren strained her ears, tracking the baby bunny by the way it rustled through the dry leaves. 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 a ball of light growing steadily 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.
She scrambled over to the bush and searched and searched, but the little rabbit had vanished.
A/N: Hello, and welcome to my story! If you are new, I'm so glad you came to check it out. If you're returning to read again, I'm doubly blessed. As of July, 2015, this story has gone through a massive revision, mostly for cohesiveness. If you've reviewed before, I'd love to hear your comments on the changes, so you can either send me a PM on the forums or include your thoughts in the later chapters. All comments are absolutely appreciated.
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. I can't thank NeoMiniTails, 1917farmgirl and WriteYourHeartOut enough for the motivation to get this posted. Without you guys, I'd be sitting on this for another year. ;)
Another thank you goes to justonemorefic for her critical eye and guidance through the revisions of the first three chapters. Also, thanks to Oldershouldknowbetter for the fresh eyes on the new text. Revision is a beast. Take a friend into the fray.
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 12 July, 2015]
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