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Chapter 5 : Distant Hearts
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"These are from all of us. I'd stay and watch you open them all up, but Mum will be annoyed if I'm home late," Rose told her. "Remember to act surprised!" she said over her shoulder and threw powder into the flames. She was gone in an instant.
"I'm next. Happy birthday, Wren. See you in a few days!" Callie called cheerily, and disappeared in the green flash after Rose.
Wren spent a few minutes curiously watching the boys; James had gone off to take down the ribbons and balloons, while Scorpius and Albus were huddled together at a table in serious discussion. Wren thought it might have something to do with the Quidditch gear they'd seen in the window that afternoon.
They looked like they'd be busy for a while, so she hoisted the small, dense bag of presents over her shoulder and made her way to the back stairs, passing her mother at the edge of the bar.
"Did you have a good day?"
"Yes I did, Mum. Thanks for making my favorite cake. I don't know how you found the time!"
Wren's mum stopped wiping the bar. "I'm sorry, Wren. I wish things weren't so... well, the way they are now," she finished and sighed. "It's not how I pictured your sixteenth birthday."
"I know," Wren said. They'd all been either preoccupied with Gran or busy with the Inn. Even her dad had taken a few shifts behind the counter that summer to help out.
Before she was able to say anything about feeling guilty for taking the entire day off, her mother gave her a quick hug. “It’s good to see you smiling, Wren. You haven’t taken any time for yourself the whole summer.”
Wren’s worries eased up. "Don't worry, Mum. I'll help out later."
Still, in the back of her mind, she wished she hadn't avoided Albus and everyone else for so long.
Her mum gave her a tired smile and continued to polish the counter with long, purposeful strokes. Wren smiled back and went up the stairs to put her presents in her room.
"Don't forget to say goodbye to your guests!" her mum called.
"I'll only be a moment," Wren called back. Once they were all back at school, Wren would make it up to her friends and find time to reconnect. She was eager to have things back the way they were. Maybe her parents would sell the bungalow and have enough money for extra help.
Maybe Gran would get better and they wouldn't have to sell the bungalow.
Wren passed her dad, reading in the living room, and barely heard Gran's soft snores coming out of her bedroom. She went straight to her room and closed the door, dropping the bag of presents on her bed, momentarily forgotten because of the soft white bundle in the middle of her pillow. Wren scooped him up and flipped open the hutch door. Even with the latch undone, she couldn't imagine how he'd gotten out by himself.
"There you are, little bunny," she said sweetly, putting it down in the soft hay. She spent long minutes staring at it, and then remembered the presents.
It’s my birthday after all, she thought to herself.
Wren opened the first small roll, a canister of film. She popped it into her camera, discarding the ribbons on the floor. She opened another small package, another canister, and then another. All the small rolls in the bag were the same shape and size and Wren had to laugh, figuring that her friends had gotten her enough film to last the whole year.
She dug around to find something else, and remembered Albus' present, still lying on the bed. Under the leaf-shaped tag, he'd attached a card with her name on it in his signature scrawl. "Look Bunny, he made me a card." Wren grinned and held it up to the sleeping little fur ball.
It was a cartoon they'd drawn together in Divination. An ink version of Roderick the Thestral, his moon pie eyes staring at her, and a word bubble above his head, wishing her "many happy returns". She laughed, remembering how many prophecies they'd made up, and had Roderick act out on parchment when the teacher wasn't looking.
When she unwrapped the package, she let out a little squeal of joy, and then covered her mouth with her hands and looked towards her door. It was still closed. Wren let out a sigh of relief that she hadn’t disturbed Gran and focused back on the box in her lap.
Wren opened it and pulled out a heavy metal cylinder. She sucked in an excited breath.
Wren grabbed her camera and pressed the lens on. It snapped together perfectly. She eagerly looked through it, noting all the latest zoom features.
Albus hadn't forgotten. He must have written down the model number from the Photo Magic Magazine ad that she'd practically drooled over last spring. When had she seen it last? Months and months ago, at least. Wren suddenly felt guilty for being inside her head for so long.
She focused the lens on her little bunny stirring in the hay. It opened its little beady eyes and a new sensation washed over her.
Bunny needed her. Bunny needed her right now. Right now, there was a little bunny that needed her more than anything. With Bunny around, Wren's whole world had suddenly come into focus.
Wren blinked, confused. She pulled away from the camera. "I have to go and thank him," she said aloud, and glanced back at the little rabbit. "I'll be back later." She felt a slight tug from behind her eyes and winced. It felt a lot like the headache from this morning. "Not now," she muttered and ran back down the stairs to find Albus.
When Wren got back down to the tavern, she saw Albus and Scorpius by the Floo and couldn't resist. "How good is this thing, really?" she wondered, pointing the new lens at the boys across the room.
Scorpius' sharp features came into focus as he laughed at something Albus said. She dialed the lens more and almost bet that she could count the blonde strands on his head.
"Amazing," she breathed. The camera lens was definitely living up to its claims.
She dialed back and caught Albus in the viewfinder. The new pants definitely fit him properly. The bottom cuffs hung neatly pressed and brushed up against the top of his trainers.
She followed his feet into the fireplace and got a few spectacular shots of the glowing embers in the hearth that flared spitfire orange as they got shuffled about. Wren clicked through different settings as she scanned back up to Albus' face through her camera. The clarity from this far away was incredible. His eyes were searching for something, sparkling like the embers at his feet. His hair fell forward and he blew it out of his face. He started to turn, but then stopped and squinted. He was looking at her.
Wren pulled away from the camera, her face reddening at being caught staring, even if it was through her camera. Albus gave her a strange look from across the tavern.
"Umm... thanks for the present, Albus!" Wren called out, trying to recover. "It's fantastic!"
Albus seemed to turn a little red himself. "You're welcome," he called back. "I'm glad you like it!" He hesitated, looking like he had something more to say, but after a long pause, he simply smiled and waved. Then he tossed the powder up and was gone in a flash of green.
She dropped the camera to hang from its strap as the green flames faded back to orange. She hadn't been gone that long, had she? Was he mad? Didn't he want to say goodbye to her?
"Why did he look at me like that?"
"Probably the same reason you're stalking him with that camera." Wren jumped as James chuckled behind her.
She turned to James, annoyed at the personal intrusion. "Just because he's got nice fitting pants and needs a haircut doesn't mean that I was staring." She had been staring, which was the reason that she was so jumpy all of a sudden. Wren felt herself turning a deeper red, but she stood her ground.
James' eyes sparkled. "I'll tell him you like his pants so much," he said, crossing the room as he adjusted a strange squirming bundle under his cloak. "Do you think that Albus is the furry type? I just got him a surprise from this little boy outside with a basket full of free pets." Then he tossed his powder and leapt into the flames.
Wren really hoped that James wasn't going to mention the bit about the pants to his brother. She'd had enough awkward moments today and just wanted things to be normal again.
With James gone, the tavern was suddenly quiet. Wren looked through her camera again, focusing her lens on an oddly balanced fork sculpture left behind on a plate.
She thought she heard her name coming from the stairs. "Mum?"
Her mum came out of the kitchen, carrying a large tray of frothy glasses and set them down on top of the bar. "Wren? Did you call me?"
"I thought I heard you calling me from upstairs." Wren rubbed at the tension building in her head. "Never mind."
"Maybe you should lie down a while," her mum said, frowning. She grabbed another tray from under the bar and whisked her wand. A new set of chilled glasses appeared, ready to be filled from the tap. "You look tired."
Wren’s mum looked tired too. She needed Wren’s help. "I'll be fine. Is there some Pepperup upstairs?"
At her mother's nod, Wren made her way back up the stairs. She felt that tug again, and this time, it was stronger than before. Her head was starting to ache. When she reached her room, she went straight to the bath and retrieved a small vial of Pepperup Potion.
She sat down on her bed as the headache pounded, forceful and strong. It was strange that it had come on so fast. Wren couldn’t remember ever feeling like this before. She set the vial on the dresser and tried to breathe through the pain, afraid that she'd drop the potion if she tried to unstopper it. Minutes ticked by - she could hear the clock in the kitchen - Gran's snores - her father turning pages in the other room, sheaf rubbing against sheaf.
The rustle from the cage brought Wren back to her own room. Bunny stared at her with alert eyes. Wren dropped on her knees next to the rabbit hutch and lifted Bunny out of his cage.
The ache in her head dulled to a soft buzz as she cuddled her furry friend. Wren could hear the dull buzz from downstairs too, as the evening crowd came in. She heard her father's footsteps down the hall, checking on a sleeping Gran and then hurrying out the door to help her mum.
Wren didn't move. All her worries, her anxious, over-worked mum, her half-dazed Gran, the strange feeling she got being around a taller-more appealing Albus - it all faded away, replaced by soft, white fur and a feeling of being needed by a helpless little creature.
Nothing hurt anymore. In fact, Wren felt nothing at all. Soon, she was snuggling under her covers with the little bunny, who had taken to suckling on one of her fingers. It burrowed further under the covers with her and Wren drifted, content with the little furry animal in her arms. She felt like she could sleep all night without a care in the world.
In the shadows across the street from the Leaky Cauldron Inn, Dillon gazed up at the many flickering lights set in rows that loomed high above him. One of those windows was Wren's, and even though the magic made it impossible for him to see which one it was, he could feel where his rabbit was, and he knew that she was with him.
Dillon reached into the basket, brushing the soft bundles of sleeping bunnies aside and got out his mother's journal, old and worn. The pages were brittle with age, filled with her elegant script and carefully-sketched diagrams of the places they'd traveled to for as long as he could remember. He folded the map that Wren had given him and placed it inside the front cover.
As he gazed back up to the windows of the Inn, a small pang of loneliness touched him, muffled by a brush of soft fur. He narrowed his eyes until he found it, the connection to his rabbit, and nodded as he felt the little bunny snuggle closer to Wren's mind.
He smiled. The bond was working. He knew exactly how Wren was feeling. Dillon had lost someone too. "Take care of my new friend," he whispered, and felt the little bunny respond.
He would see Wren again soon, the rabbit too.
Dillon picked up his basket and lugged it with him to the courtyard behind the Inn, happily humming to himself. He set the basket down and counted the bricks like Wren had done. One tap opened the wall to an archway, and once again, Dillon lugged his basket out into the London streets.
There was a little coffee house on the corner where the waitress loved his rabbits and would give him all the day-old beef pasties he could eat. She'd been nice to him before, the waitress with the wide-eyed smile. Young too, and eager to help. He wondered if he told her it was his birthday, would she buy him a new traveling hat? Did the students at the wizarding school wear hats? Dillon had forgotten to ask, but it didn't worry him. He'd find out soon enough, once he got to where he was going. The whole idea put a big smile on his face: he didn't have to be alone any more.
"Once we get to Hogwarts," he said to his basket of baby rabbits, "we're going to have all the friends we want."
A/N: Hello, reader! If you've made it this far and are still reading this story, I'd love it if you left a note to tell me how it's going. I love hearing your guesses about the rabbits and Dillon!
Also, it's been a while, but I wanted to thank my heart-working betas, ladybirdflying, CambAngst and Patronus Charm for the continued use of their eyes. You guys help so much to make these chapters shiny and clean! I'm trying to stay on a weekly posting schedule, so if no natural disasters strike my computer, the next chapter will be up by the end of next week.
Thanks for reading! Cookies for reviews!
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