Chapter 2 : 2. Trusting Hearts
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Wren leapt two steps at a time, her camera swinging from the strap around her neck, as another wail echoed through the back stairwell of the Leaky Cauldron Inn. She’d only left her great-grandmother alone for a little while, tending the front desk while her mum had gone out for groceries. As she climbed the steps to the family suite behind the rented rooms, she called out, “Gran?”
When she got inside, she snatched a floating pillow out of the air and returned it to the couch where she’d left Gran sleeping a half hour ago. Then she saw the white bun poking over the high back chair in front of the window. Wren’s eye caught the fanged gerbil plaque that her mum had hung up because it used to make Gran smile.
Augusta Longbottom (they all called her 'Gran' to make it easier) slouched against the cushions, her fists balled into a pillow. Wren hesitantly touched her arm. Gran’s fists relaxed, and her eyes slid open, blinking up at Wren.
Worry ran across Wren's face.. “What can I get for you?”
Gran’s eyes opened wider with a smile. “Your color has come back.” Her gravelly voice halted and she coughed. Wren helped her sit up and propped the pillow behind her back for support, just the way she liked it. The older woman reached out to touch the side of Wren’s face. “It’s so good to see you,” Gran told her. “Where’s Frank?”
Wren’s heart sank. “Gran,” she said, gently removing the fragile hand from her cheek. She hated doing this to her. “They’re gone. I’m not Alice. I’m Wren.”
Gran’s face changed slowly, as if her mind was taking its time to accept what Wren had said. She drew back and covered her face with shaking hands. “Oh, Frankie, I’m so sorry!” Her expression dimmed and another pillow flew up from the couch. Wren chased it down the hall, and by the time she got back to Gran, the woman was openly weeping.
Wren put an arm around Gran’s bony shoulders and rocked her until she settled down. After a while, they both moved to the couch, where Wren whispered calming words and tucked a blanket around her. When Augusta quieted down, the crease around her closed eyes loosened. Her chest rose and fell slowly, haltingly. Wren swallowed her fear, scared to death that each breath would be her last. She sat by and kept watch over her great-grandmother's troubled sleep. Her mum wouldn’t be gone much longer.
It would have been easier if Gran had taken the Calming Draught, but Gran hated the potions. She said they put a cloud over her mind.
Something sharp dug into Wren’s elbow. Wren swung the strap from around her neck and set her camera on the table. “I almost had that picture you wanted, Gran,” Wren whispered. She had been out in the courtyard that morning, counting weeds behind her lens. “Remember the one with the dandelion seeds? I was only off by a half a second.”
She brought out the photo book, a compilation of pictures she'd taken right before they'd moved - it had been a whole week, but Wren still felt the sting of losing the little rabbit to the mysterious ball of light. There were any number of predators out in the woods, a hawk or a snake could have easily done him in, but they didn't flash. It made Wren afraid that there was something still out there, behind the home that wasn't hers anymore.
Ugh! This was horrible! All Wren could do to ease her worries was to stay close to Gran, hoping she wouldn't disappear too. She flipped past the baby bunny pictures and described the images for Gran of the lake, the trees and then farther into the book, newer pictures of the Inn and some of the shops down in the Alley.
Gran used to be the best listener, and Wren still pretended that Gran heard every word. “Rose is helping me plan my birthday party at the end of the summer.” She forced a smile, but the waver in her voice betrayed her. She fingered the Gryffindor crest on her necklace, a gift from Gran right before… right before Gran’s world changed. “I’m turning sixteen, remember?”
Rose had come over a few hours ago, but she hadn't stayed long. Wren was too focused on the old woman in front of her, unable to get excited about a party where there'd be no swimming in the lake and all the other stuff Wren missed about home.
She’d been sure that Gran would snap out of it by now. There wasn’t anything physically wrong. The Healers had said that she’d suffered from stress and anxiety over the state of her son and his wife for a long time. Now that they were gone, it was assumed that she was going through a hard adjustment period. They guessed that her mind was filtering through everything, and reliving the past was her mind’s way of easing into her new reality without them.
The Healers had said a lot of things. There was every chance that Gran would wake up one day and be fine… But every morning was the same, and Gran still hadn’t stopped waking up crying or hurling pillows through the air with wandless magic.
Wren had 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, mind-clearing charms and restorative potions added over the years by Gran as she tried and failed to rouse Wren's biological grandparents from their permanent waking sleep. When they'd finally passed away and Gran had fallen into pretty much the same state, the potions and charms hadn't worked for her either. Two weeks after the double funeral, Gran still stared into nothingness for hours at a time and refused to speak. The Healers had only offered the brain-numbing potions and useless advice to give Gran more time.
They said that some things were impossible to fix, even with magic.
Muffled sobs shook Gran in her sleep. Wren gently rubbed her back to calm her. Gran had been tough as nails, the center and rock of her world. After the funeral, the old woman had broken into so many shards that she was hardly coherent anymore, and when she was, it was painfully obvious that she had left the best parts of herself with the people who had moved on without her.
The first week of summer had been a whirlwind of unpacking as the Longbottom family settled into the connected rooms behind the Inn. It was more space than a typical three bedroom flat, but far smaller than their home. They owned it, she reminded herself. It was their Inn now, their home - the word sounded foreign in her head. Part of Wren’s childhood had been here too - visiting her mum when she did weekend shifts for old Tom, having family dinners in the kitchen when her mum pulled the night shift. But there had always been a real home to go back to, a suitcase to unpack with souvenirs from Diagon Alley and a sticker from the sweets shop.
It was so different here. Street lights from the Apothecary across the street shone through her window, keeping Wren awake at night. The quaint lake and the deep woods were replaced with a bustling street than never slept anyway. Her parents called it a new start. They did it for Gran, but Gran wasn’t getting any better. Wren was starting to think that she never would.
Wren wiped her face and ignored the pain that knotted up inside her. All the little injured animals... She missed them terribly, especially that little rabbit who’d disappeared.
“Wren,” her mother called as the door to the suite opened. “How is she?”
Hannah Longbottom closed the door and came into the living room, weary and worried. “The potion is still on the counter with her lunch.”
“She wouldn’t take it, Mum.” Wren hated giving Gran the potions as much as she hated taking them. “They’re not helping her get any better.”
“They keep her calm enough to eat. She’s getting weak, Wren.”
“I know.” Wren blinked back the tears. “She did so well today, up until a little while ago.”
She sat by Gran’s side while her mother opened and shut closet doors in the bedroom. When she came back in a fresh set of clothes, she flicked her wand to reheat the untouched plate. “It’s only seven thirty and your dad won’t be back for few more hours. Why don’t you get out for a while?”
Wren’s days had blurred together, either watching Gran or taking shifts down in the Inn while her mother watched Gran. Her dad had been busy at the Ministry, changing records, or at the property, preparing it to go up for sale. He’d offered to take her with him, but Wren kept hoping that if she held out just one more day, Gran would wake up and be alright. She’d nursed plenty of animals back to health out in the back of the cottage. Gran had showed her how to set bones, feed babies who had lost their mothers and administer Healing Salve to injuries. The most important lesson that Gran had taught her was how to recognize a lost cause. Some injuries were beyond repair, even with Gran’s magic.
She kept telling herself that it was too early to tell. But the truth was that the longer she stayed like this, the less likely she'd recover. “I just feel like she’s not…”
Her words clamped up in her throat. She wouldn't allow herself to think it, let alone say it out loud. She grabbed her bag and camera case and headed for the door. When she looked back, she saw the potion in her mother’s hand and the cup of tea in the other.
“Go on. We’ll be fine.” It was the resignation in her mother’s tone that Wren hated the most. All her mother knew how to do, all any of them could do was follow the Healer's orders, but potions weren’t fixing Gran.
Wren didn’t want to spend another evening watching her great grandmother slip into the stillness. Yes, it made her calm, and yes, it helped her eat and rest, but the woman that stared listlessly out the window every evening with a cloud over her mind wasn’t the Gran that Wren knew.
“You’re right, Mum.” Wren took in a shaky breath. She would be strong, like Gran used to be. Wren gripped her bag tighter and opened the door, wishing Rose had stuck around a little longer.
“I need to get out.”
Wren wove through the bustling London streets, not caring where she was going, only that she was getting away. If she’d thought about it, she could have written her friends and met up with them for a few hours. But whenever she found herself with time on her hands, it was either too late to make plans, or she was too tired, or she hadn’t thought about it…
The people on the street had barely given her a second glance when she'd come out, of a shabby little pub squeezed between a bookshop and one of those strange electronic gadget stores. They wouldn’t have even seen the pub entrance if she hadn’t stood right in front of it. The city lights pierced through the dusk as the sun went down. A honking car startled Wren and she started moving again.
She marveled at how different and how familiar it felt all at the same time. Wren was used to hiding her magical world from the rest of the town she’d grown up in. Back there, if she wanted to get away, she’d tuck her wand into her pocket and climb a tree in the woods. Here, she hid in plain sight amidst the bustling traffic.
Wren walked on until she reached a quieter section where trees sprang up along the sidewalk. Huddled forms sprawled across park benches every few feet, blending into the shadows. Wren wanted to wrap herself up in the darkness like she used to back home, when the sun went down and the forest came alive with sound.
Something moved off to her left. Wren’s eyes immediately narrowed in and flitted over the shadows instinctively like she scanned the woods back home, searching for the odd shape in the leaves. It was small, moving awkwardly. She lost track of it for a minute, but there it was again.
On the opposite corner of the street, a short, thin figure slowly emerged into the dim lamplight. It was a small boy clutching a large basket to his chest. He sat down on the corner of the road and wrapped his arms protectively around the basket.
When no one came for him after a few minutes, Wren waited for the lights to change and crossed over. He shrank back as she approached him. “Hello,” she said, stopping well away from him to give him space. “Are you lost?”
The little boy looked up with vacant eyes. He couldn’t have been more than eight years old, and he looked like he had forgotten how to smile. Wren's mind spun; she'd know which wizard to go to in Diagon Alley, but Muggles had their own method of returning lost children to their families.
“Let me take you to someone who can help.” She immediately felt better when he nodded at her and started following her back down the street, lugging the big basket with him. A policeman had been on patrol a few blocks back. He’d know what to do.
“Excuse me,” she said when she reached the man in uniform. “I’ve got a lost little boy here, and I was hoping you could help him.”
The man looked past Wren and down the street. “Did you come from the park?” A black box buzzed at his side, and he took it off his belt to mumble something harsh into it.
“No, not me. He’s…” She looked behind her and realized she was waving at nothing. “…gone,” she finished lamely.
The man stared down at her, but he was really listening to the static voices coming through his little box. He tore a pen from his breast pocket and began scribbling notes onto a worn pad. Wren hated how he made her feel so small. “Go on home," he told her. "It’s not safe.” He murmured something guttural into his box and then brushed past her.
As the policeman headed off in the direction of the park, Wren wondered what had happened. The boy had been right behind her, she was sure of it, and then he wasn’t. She turned around to see if there was someone else she could tell, and there he was again.
“You disappeared. I was trying to help you and you ran away.”
“That man can't help me,” he told her.
“But you can’t stay out here alone in the dark." She turned to call out to the policeman, but he'd already disappeared down the path. "Let’s sit down somewhere and talk.”
She kept a careful eye on him as they walked back to where the city lights were brighter and found a bench. Wren sat down next to him, but not too close. He already looked uneasy and she didn't want to spook him and have him running off again.
"My name's Wren. What's yours?"
He didn't answer at first, his eyes darting back and forth between the moving cars and the people bustling around them. “Dillon,” he said in a half-whisper. In the lamplight, Wren noticed dark circles under his eyes. He smelled like a sewer when he reached out and touched the Gryffindor crest that hung from her necklace. Wren didn't flinch. She'd taken care of injured animals that had smelled worse.
"I know this," he said. "I know you."
Wren sat up straighter and the boy's hand fell away. "Maybe I look like someone you know," she reasoned.
The boy shook his head. He looked tired and hungry, and she'd seen how the mind could play tricks on a person.
“Dillon,” she said, “Is your mum around somewhere?” She’d had enough Muggle Studies classes to figure this out, and she’d been in London enough times to know most of the main streets. If she couldn’t help Gran, she could at least help this lost, little boy.
"No," he said. "I don’t belong here.” His eyes grew distant, and Wren couldn’t help thinking of Gran again. “My mother has magicks.”
“Magic?” Wren repeated, startled. She looked around quickly to see if anyone else had heard, but the closest people to them were a couple of men across the street, smoking cigarettes as they headed towards the park. Witches and wizards could get sent away for talking to Muggles about anything related to magic.
She let out a shuddery breath as the Muggle men turned the corner. No, that probably wasn't what the little boy had meant when he'd talked about his mother. Muggles hid coins up their sleeves and performed sleight-of-hand parlor tricks and called it magic all the time. That's probably what he'd meant. Muggles didn't believe in the real magic. To them, it was only make-believe.
She looked down at the boy and her heart ached. He had a mother. All they had to do now was find her. "Is she coming back?"
"No," he said. "She said I had to find it on my own."
"Find what?" Wren asked, wondering what on earth a mother would send her little boy out in the dark to find all by himself.
“Magicks,” he said again, looking dead into her eyes. “Just like you.”
Dillon eased his basket onto the worn pavers of the courtyard and watched Wren press the pattern of bricks into the magical wall. His mother had always told him that if he said the right things and acted the right way, and pretended to be what everybody around him assumed that he was, then he would get what he wanted.
"Mummy always told me never to speak to anyone about magicks, but somehow I knew that you were the same as me," he told Wren as they walked together through Diagon Alley. He'd seen her from across the park, noting her Muggle jeans, first thinking she was just another lonely girl in the night, but then when she'd come over to him, he'd caught sight of the school crest on her necklace. "You go to the wizard school, don't you? Mummy says I'm going there too someday."
Wren looked worriedly down at him. He didn't know how he looked to her, with his sunken eyes and his clothes hanging down like they weren't meant for him. All he knew was that Wren had helped him get into Diagon Alley when no one else would. It had been a long time since anyone had taken care of him like that. He was so busy looking up at his new friend that he stumbled in the road. Wren caught his arm before he tumbled down with his basket.
“Where do you think your mum might be?" Wren hadn't spoken much until they'd crossed into the Alley from the magical entrance. "You’re not out here all by yourself, are you?”
Dillon clung to the over-sized basket. "No," he mumbled. “Are you?” Now that she was asking questions, he was getting nervous.
“No. I live over there." She pointed to the Inn. The early evening was already casting tall shadows over the building, bringing the lamp posts to life and putting everything in a flame-lit haze. It looked like all the other Inns that Dillon had seen, and he'd seen enough of them to know that they weren't anyone's real home. Maybe she was more like him than he'd first thought.
Wren nudged him gently with her elbow. "Would you like to come with me and get something to eat? We could talk to my mum for a bit. Maybe she can help.”
“Help,” he repeated, drawn into her kind eyes. Dillon looked at her with more purpose.
"Yes. I do need help.”
"Come on. I’ll take you inside.”
“No,” he said, a whine starting to creep into his voice. “That’s not where I want to go.”
“Um, alright. Where do you want to go? I can walk you home.”
Mummy had said it was easier to hide among the Muggles, and they didn't pry into anyone's business like wizards did. But Wren had shown him how to slip in and out of both worlds with ease, something he didn't know people like him or her could do. And she was going to the one place that he'd wanted to be all his life. Mummy would be so proud of him if she knew that he was finally going there himself. All he needed was someone to show him the way.
"What's it like?" he asked suddenly. "Do you get to use a wand?"
Wren laughed. "You're really excited about Hogwarts, aren't you?"
Dillon nodded eagerly. "Can you show me your magicks?"
"I'm not old enough. I can't do magic outside school until next year."
"Next year!" he whined and clutched at the basket. "I can't wait another year!"
"I was eleven when I got my letter. How old are you?"
"I'm old enough for a letter! It should have come by now. That’s why I need to go there," he whispered, "to see why my letter never came.” He blinked away tears and peered at her intently. His mother's words flitted around in his head.
"Do you know the way to Hogwarts?"
"Only by train. It leaves from King's Cross Station every September first."
"I know where that is!" He'd been to the train station loads of times. Dillon's mother used to sit him up in her lap while they rode the rails so he'd be tall enough to see out the window.
Wren shook her head at his delighted expression. "You need your letter to get on the train." His face fell at her words. He couldn't help it. He didn't have a letter. Wren patted him reassuringly on the shoulder and then brightened. "I have an idea. Wait here."
Dillon watched with interest as she crossed the street to the Inn that was her home and went inside. He waited patiently for a few minutes. He was very good at waiting. But soon, his enthusiasm dimmed and he thought she might have abandoned him for the night. He started to turn away and lug his basket in the opposite direction, but then there she was again, hurrying back across the street towards him.
"Here." She pressed a folded piece of glossy paper into his hands. She helped him unfold it, revealing a web of dots and squiggles. "This is a map of Britain that my mum gives to visitors. Here is where we were in London," she said, pointing to the large green area at the bottom. "And here," she pointed to the top of the map, "is where Hogwarts is."
He peered at the blank spot on the map labeled "Highlands", set apart from all the major towns and roads. In fact, all the squiggles indicated that there weren't even any small roads going in that direction. "There's nothing there."
"It's magic. You can't see it." She pulled a Muggle clicky pen out of her jeans pocket, just like the one that the police officer had clipped to his breast. "Here is the castle, and there's a large lake, and right out here is the town of Hogsmeade." She sketched the scene onto the blank section of the map, bracing the other side against her knee so the marks would show better. There was a bubbly circle for a lake and little boxes for the town. Wren's drawing was only a small collection of hash marks, but the deliberate way that she placed them made the whole thing come alive. In his mind, he could see it: a little train station by the lake with a path around it to a large castle with towers and turrets and bridges... and then she was adding little dashes down the middle of the map in a wavy pattern all the way down to the dot labeled "London".
Dillon traced the dotted line from the city to the tiny castle that Wren had added. "If I follow these blue lines, I can get to Hogwarts too?"
“I guess so. That's the way the train goes, but it’s a long, long way,” Wren admitted.
“What about how wizards do, with the turning and spinning?” He was thinking out loud now, having watched several men in robes and pointed hats doing that very thing. Mummy could do that, before she stopped doing her magicks.
Wren shook her head at him. "The castle is protected. No one goes in without permission."
"If I came, you'd let me in, wouldn't you?" He lowered his boyish lashes at her. "Because you're my friend?"
"Sure I would. Here, let me take your picture. Smile!"
Dillon pulled a toothy grin. When his eyes recovered from the blinding flash, Wren was winding the film. "Now I will remember you forever. Do you need help with that basket? It's awfully big."
“No.” He set the basket down gently and kept a protective hand over it. Then he paused and looked intently at her. Having a friend was fun. “Yes." He gripped the lid of his basket and pulled it open, letting Wren see what was inside.
She gasped. Dillon loved watching people discover what was in the basket. "Baby rabbits!" She beamed at him. "Can I hold one?"
Dillon nodded. He felt a surge of excitement as she reached in and pulled out a small snow-white bunny from the bunch. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “This looks just like the little bunny I once had.”
Dillon peered up into her smiling face. "Do you have any friends?"
Wren stopped smiling. "Well, yes."
"Where are they?"
"Not here right now." She looked sad.
He cocked his head towards the rabbit and listened. "He likes you. Take him."
Wren cuddled the little fur ball close to her chest. "But I don't think I can have..." she started to say, but then the little bunny nipped her finger. "Ouch!" She pulled her hand away from it. "He's got sharp little teeth." The little rabbit licked where he bit her, and Dillon could almost feel her relax.
Wren smiled kindly at him and held the bunny in her arms, making soft, comforting sounds as it suckled on her bit finger as an apology.
She'd take the little rabbit with her for sure, now.
"Mummy wanted me to keep them safe. You'll keep him safe. Promise?"
"Yes, I will. The poor thing looks so tired. I need to get him settled."
Dillon watched with interest as the girl cuddled the baby rabbit in her arms. He knew he had chosen wisely.
Her eyes glistened. "You're going to be the best taken care of bunny in the whole world! Thank you," she said to Dillon gratefully. "I love him!"
Dillon gripped the map tightly in his fist, finally having everything he needed to make his dreams come true. He watched as Wren crossed the street with the little rabbit in her arms. Then he hefted the basket up to his chest and slipped back into the night.
A/N: Bets are on for whether I can keep up the chapter titles for the duration of this fic.
Another gracious thankyou goes out to my betas for their wonderful eyes. Also, a big thankyou to milominderbender@TDA for the rabbity banner!
Revised as of 12 July, 2015.
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