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Chapter 21 : Speculative Solitude
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Still, Ginny could not help but think that there was more to Harry’s melancholy mood than just misplaced guilt. He was acting more reserved and more closed up since the night when they had shared one to many drinks in Hogsmeade. That night, despite his exhaustion, he had been to most light-hearted and care free as she had seen him in a very long time. Now, as she looked at him he seemed distant and cold. The smile that he had plastered upon his face did not reach his eyes and the words that he spoke felt hollow and forced.
“Would either of you care for some tea?”
Ginny tore her eyes away from Harry to see Andromeda Tonks standing in the doorway to the sitting room. She was amazed at how seemingly well Andromeda was faring considering her loses in the past year. Not only had her husband been killed thanks to a couple of snatchers, but also her daughter and son-in-law were killed during the Battle of Hogwarts.
It had only taken an hour or so before Ginny had gotten up the courage to ask about how she was doing fearing a reaction similar to what her mother’s would have been, but was easily reassured by Andromeda.
“It does no good to dwell on the past,” she had said. “I know that neither Ted or Dora would want me to stop living just because they are gone. That would mean that they died for nothing, right?” she had asked simply. “Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to Teddy if I were all mopey and sad all the time.”
Ginny wanted, more than anything, to plead with Andromeda to speak with her mother and help her to be able to move on past Fred’s death, but she could not find a way to present it without making her mother look bad. Instead she bit her tongue and continued playing with Teddy who had become fascinated with grabbing handfuls of Ginny’s hair and putting it in his mouth.
Now as her gracious hostess poured them both stemming cups of tea, her thoughts were far away from the troubles with her mother. They were instead focused on Harry and the small infant that was seated upon his lap laughing. As she watched, little Teddy’s hair changed rapidly through a spectrum of colors including: red, violet, green and blue before finally settling back down to a more normal brown color when the laughter ceased.
“I see that he has his mother’s metamorphmagus,” Ginny remarked with a smile.
“Oh yes,” Andromeda said as she sat down with her tea. “And just like Dora, it is as uncontrollable as ever at this age. Whenever we go out he has to wear a hat in case we encounter any muggles. At least he doesn’t try to pull the hat off all the time like Dora used to do. There had been more than one time that I was sure a muggle had seen more than he ought to have seen. Luckily muggles are quick to dismiss things that they don’t understand.”
“Speaking of mother’s,” Harry cut in quickly. “Any word on Hermione’s parents?”
Ginny shook her head recognizing immediately Harry’s discomfort in discussing Teddy’s deceased mother. “We have several muggle agencies looking into their records for her, but I’m fairly certain that it will not do any good. I’m afraid that whoever they are, they covered their tracks well.”
“What’s this?” Andromeda asked curiously.
“Our friend Hermione had sent her parents away with altered memories prior to us going out searching for horcruxes. When she went to find them and reverse the spell, she undid more than just the spell she had placed and discovered that she had been adopted,” Harry explained easily. “Now she is determined to find out who her biological parents are and why she was given up.”
Andromeda stared at Harry intently for a few moments before saying, “Wow. That must have been quite the shocker for her. You say that she has had no luck?”
“None. Unfortunately we don’t even know where to begin. The agency that Mr. and Mrs. Granger say they went through has no record of ever even existing,” Ginny said realizing that she wasn’t sure how Hermione would feel about them discussing her parents without her permission.
“Well, good luck to her,” Andromeda replied. “I’m not sure that I would want to know if I were in her position. I’d just feel lucky that I had two people that loved and wanted me without wasting time trying to search for answers about why I had not been wanted.”
“That’s exactly what Ginny had told her,” Harry stated as he shifted Teddy to his other knee to prevent him from grabbing the hot cup of tea he was trying to drink.
Andromeda made to grab Teddy from Harry who waved her off. As she sat back in her chair, she sighed and said with a note of finality said, “I hope she finds whatever she is hoping to find. I think she is more likely to be setting herself up for disappointment and heartache.”
“She should just be happy that she even has parents,” Harry muttered under his breath.
Ginny wasn’t sure if she was talking about himself or the infant in his lap, but she immediately realized how this all must feel for him. He had gone his entire life living with an aunt and uncle who had mistreated him and not wanted him around and now so would Teddy as well. If Ginny knew Harry as well as she thought she did, he was most likely mentally torturing himself as he sat and held the small orphan whose early status as a war orphan hauntingly mirrored his own. She wished beyond anything else that she knew how to help tear him out of this depressive pity party that was slowly suffocating him.
Sighing in frustration, Ginny realized that the best thing that she could do for Harry at this time was to talk with Alexis. Since she was not as familiar with Harry as his friends were, Ginny worried that his depressed mood would not be as obvious to Alexis as it was Ginny. Perhaps her training as a healer had provided her the tools to be able to help Harry in ways that Ginny could not. Maybe, if Alexis was successful with Harry, she could even convince her to talk with her family and help lift the gloom that had consumed her house since the battle had ended and their beloved Fred had been taken from them.
By the end of his second week of physical training with Snape, Harry was finally beginning to feel as though his muscles were getting used to the intense levels of exertion. He was finding that he was almost able to run the entire two-mile course that Snape had set up for them without stopping to walk at all. His arms were still a bit shaky as he tried to keep up with the hundreds of push-ups that they did daily and he knew that it would be several more weeks before he’d be able to get more than one adequate pull-up, but he didn’t care.
Truth of the matter was that Harry was enjoying the physical punishment that he was putting his body through. It took his mind off of everything else that threatened to invade his thoughts. By the time he returned home to the manor he did not even have to feign being too tired, but would eat a quick sandwich in his room before crawling into his bed for the night.
He had done everything he could to avoid Alexis and Snape since the fire at Snape’s house. He knew that Snape had wanted to talk to him about it, but Harry knew that he couldn’t face that talk yet. He had no idea why he had dreamed about the fire, but he still felt the crushing pain of the loss he had experienced in that dream whenever he dared to remember it. Yet he knew that he could not allow himself to forget that pain either. He had come to a realization that night that he could not escape from. He was not meant to have anyone to care for him. If he made the mistake of allowing anyone to do so, he knew that he was dooming him or her to an early demise. The close call with Snape was enough to convince him.
So, Harry had decided to do whatever he could to distance himself from both Snape and Alexis. He had begun scouring through the Daily Prophet for any apartments for rent that he could possibly move to. He hadn’t found anything yet, but he had thought that perhaps he could take a trip to London this weekend and do a little searching in person. He was, of course, worried about how he would handle any crowds that he might encounter, but he figured that he would stick to mostly muggle populated areas where he would be unknown by anyone he would encounter.
Naturally, his brilliant plan was foiled immediately upon returning to the manor that night. He found Alexis waiting for him as soon as he stepped out of the sitting room floo. He tried, right away, to make an excuse that would allow him to retreat to his room, but was cut off before he could even get the words out of his mouth.
“Sit with me, Harry,” Alexis said softly. “I think we need to talk.”
Reluctantly, Harry sat in the chair next to her determined not to speak first. She was the one wanting to talk, so let her get one with it.
Except, she didn’t say a word. Instead she waited for several minutes until Trixie arrived and set a tray of biscuits and their tea on the table in between them. Harry helped himself to the biscuits as a way of keeping himself occupied.
Alexis kept herself just as quiet as Trixie poured her a cup of tea and was dismissed. It was only after assuring that the elf was gone from the room and she had taken several sips of her tea that she finally spoke.
“I had the most intriguing visitor today,” she began quietly.
“Oh yea?” he asked trying to be nonchalant. “Who?”
“A friend of yours who seems to be quite concerned about you,” she replied cautiously. “It seems that you have been equally remorseful and distant with your friends as you have been here at home. Now…under normal circumstances I would be inclined to let things go and see if they get better. However, in consideration of recent events I believe that it would be wrong of me not to at least attempt to intervene and try to help.”
“Ginny,” he muttered under his breath feeling strangely betrayed. Who did she think she was running around talking about him behind his back? He thought back to the previous weekend that they had spent together and could not think of anything that he had said or done that would be cause for her to worry.
Alexis set her tea down and said, “Don’t be angry with Ginny, Harry. It wasn’t easy for her to come here. I could tell that she was genuinely worried about you.”
“Well there is nothing to be worried about,” he said in a huff. “I am just fine.”
“I think you know well enough by now, Harry, that I know you are not being honest with me,” she countered with an edge to her voice. “All I want to do is help you.”
Harry sighed and stood up, “There is nothing to help with. I am fine.”
“Very well. I suppose you leave me no other options,” she said mysteriously.
“Options about what?” Harry said hesitantly.
Without looking up at him she began speaking, “You are aware, I’m sure, that as a Master Healer it is my duty to be mindful of the health and welfare of those individuals that I encounter. As such, it would be highly unethical of me to allow an individual to proceed at a job when they are not mentally or emotionally sound to efficiently perform the duties of said job. Never would this be truer than with a job as dangerous and stressful as an auror. Especially since there is a high potential that one would be responsible for the lives of others in addition to their own.”
Harry felt like he had been punched in the stomach. Why was she doing this? Didn’t she know how important being an auror was to him? This wasn’t fair.
“You wouldn’t,” Harry managed to whisper.
“Try me,” she said as she stood and turned to face him.
He studied her face and was astonished to see that she meant every word of what she was saying. What did she expect from him? There was no way that she was ever going to understand.
“Fine,” he said finally. “Do what you want. I don’t care.”
He turned away from her and stalked towards the door only to find Snape blocking his way out and ruining what he had intended to be a dramatic exit.
“But I do care,” Alexis whispered softly from behind him. “So does Severus,” she continued, ignoring the snort from the man in the doorway. “We only want to help you.”
Harry felt his anger ebbing only to be replaced with a sense of desperation. “Why can’t you see how dangerous it is for you to care?”
Harry was sure that the shock and confusion that crossed Snape’s face was a mere shadow of what had shown on Alexis’s face, but he didn’t turn around to see it for himself. At that moment the only thing that he wanted was to be out of this room and to escape the pressing darkness that he felt trying to suffocate him.
Unfortunately Snape was still standing in the doorway. He considered, for one insane moment, just trying to push his way past the man. Thankfully he was quickly brought to his senses by the piercing glare that carefully masked the emotions of the imposing man blocking his exit. Realizing that Snape had no intention of moving, Harry turned back to face Alexis.
“Dangerous?” Alexis breathed. “What in the world would make you say that?”
Harry shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Then help me understand,” she insisted with a sad look on her face.
With a sigh, Harry turned and stole a look at Snape who was, thankfully, staring at Alexis with a peculiar look on his face. He wondered for a brief moment what was behind the look before he pulled himself back to the situation before him.
“Look,” he began, “I appreciate everything that you and Professor Snape have done for me, but I am afraid that if I continue to linger in your lives that something horrible will happen to you. I – I just couldn’t live with myself if anything were to happen,” he stuttered as he fought against the lump rising in his throat.
Alexis closed the distance between them and looked at him tearfully. “Why in the world would you think that something would happen to us just by you being here, Harry? Where is this coming from?”
Seeing the distress that he was causing to her, Harry began to feel his own chest tightening. For weeks now, he had been trying so hard to not think about all of the people that had died because of him. Now he was being forced to not only think about it, but also to verbally admit his own responsibility for those deaths.
Luckily, Harry was saved from having to answer the questions that had been thrown at him when Snape finally spoke.
“If I may…I believe Mr. Potter has been torturing himself again with the guilt of those that have died as of late,” Snape drawled. “Although, I can’t for the life of me begin to fathom what may have prompted this regression.”
“The fire,” Alexis declared with a gasp. “You think that Severus’s house burning down was your fault?! You can’t honestly think that!”
“Why not?!,” he exclaimed. “It would make sense! Every single person that I have cared about has been killed trying to protect me or take care of me. Why would this be any different?”
Harry felt himself fighting to breath. He knew that he was close to breaking down and wanted to do nothing but find a way out of this room that suddenly felt as though it were closing in on him. He closed his eyes and made his way to a chair on the far side of the room away from where both Alexis and Snape stood having a silent nonverbal exchange unbeknownst to him.
He heard the swish of robes against the hardwood floor approach him, but he did not look up. He was certain the he was going to sick up all over himself and Snape if he even tried. He felt a gentle hand on his back that he knew was meant to calm him and he forced himself to take deep breaths as Snape had urged him to do many other times.
When he finally began to feel the dizziness subside and his stomach settle he allowed himself to raise his head and meet the concerned gaze of the man crouching in front of him.
“I need you to listen to me very carefully, Harry,” Snape began softly. “The attack on my home was in no way a result of my association to you. As you can probably imagine I have made a sizable amount of enemies, from both sides of the war. I am certain that any number of these individuals would be more than able and willing to have carried out such an attack.”
Harry looked up at him fearfully. He knew what Snape was saying was true, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that things had been worse by the public appearance they had made together.
“Now, you need to stop blaming yourself for everyone else’s deaths. While it may be true that these people may have been trying to protect you, they did not die because of you. They all, Lupin, Tonks, Black, Dumbledore, your father and – and your mother,” Snape stuttered emotionally. “All of them were fighting for something so much bigger than you. They fought to stop a tyrant and to allow everyone the opportunity to live free. It is unfortunate that you have had to suffer so much and have lost so much, but that is over now. It is time for you to start living your life, but you won’t be able to do that if you keep holding on to all of this guilt.”
Harry shook his head, stared down at his trainers and said, “It’s not over. I almost didn’t make it on time. You would have never woken up.”
“You were w – worried about me?” Snape stammered uncomfortably. When Harry nodded Snape took a deep breath and said, “Well you are a foolish boy aren’t you? I can promise you that it is going to take a lot more than a little fire to be rid of me.”
Harry lifted his head and met his eyes. He was concerned that Snape had been poking fun at him, but he saw nothing but absolute sincerity in his face. There was so much that he felt that he needed to say, but could not find the words.
His uncertainty must have been plain on upon his face because at that moment, the man that Harry had once thought for certain had hated him more than anything, placed both hands upon his shoulders and whispered the words that ultimately succeeded in placating his fears and anxiety.
“I promise, Harry.”
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