Chapter 10 : Hold
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He woke up with a gasp.
“Don’t try to get up. Potions won’t work unless you lie absolutely still.” She pressed a hand against his chest, lolling him back down. Green-eyes darted taking in Hugo’s old room, bloodied blankets in vicinity, gauze wrapping his waist, her face, medicinal herbs sitting aside—she watched his breathing slow. Her brow set in on his expression. “How are you feeling?”
He was staring at her.
“Are you hungry?” It was an unnecessary question. She had seen how frail he’d gotten when she was cleaning him up. “Hold on, I’ll get some—“
His hand caught her sleeve. “Stay, Rose.”
She turned at him, frowning. “You’re safe here.”
“I have enchantments around the whol—”
“Sit next to me.” The murmur in his voice held a weak plea. “For a few minutes. Please.”
Fingers traveled up her sleeve, grasping at her hand with insistence. “It’s difficult for me to…“ He broke off and green-eyes screwed shut. For a split second Rose thought she had an idea of what he meant.
“Al,” She said, her voice quiet. “It’s alright.”
She could hear the knot in his words, stretching from his fingertips to hers—he was squeezing the hell out of her hand.
He let out a sharp breath, his grip on her loosening by a little, as she stepped closer to him. Her movements were small and careful, made entirely of nerves, and he stared back with a look that was both helpless and impatient. It was a moment of struggle, of uncertainty, of painful anticipation. They had between them years of mutual animosity and now, to break past, would take something more than words.
Abruptly Rose took her leap of faith, wrapping her arms around his neck, and pulled his head to her chest. He startled, freezing for a few moments, and struggled to adjust his thoughts. Then, slowly, cautious hands wrapped around her back and a disheveled head lifted itself onto her shoulder, allowing her to hold him properly. She cradled the back of his head like a child’s, tears gathering in the ends of her eyes, and he closed his, burying himself in her warmth. It was too cold in the room. Instinctively, his lean grew heavier on her shoulder and arms tighter around her body. He exhaled into her shirt as she bit back a sob, neither wanting to alter the silence for fear that something so delicately established would slip from them. They sat this way for a while, not speaking.
There would be other moments for conversation.
“There were very few moments that Albus would allow himself to beg for human contact, and even fewer where he would display emotion. It was only in his dying breaths that he—“
“How did he know where to find you?” I interrupted. I wasn’t ready to hear about the end. “He can’t have known you were at your parent’s house.”
“He didn’t. He could barely walk and had little awareness of his surroundings.” Rose gave a vague smile, “But old habits die hard, Mr. Walker.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When Albus and I were young—even younger I mean—there were days his father took him on special trips. On these days, he didn’t sleep. He came looking for me at night and lied at the edge of my bed, not talking, turned away, very quiet. Very snippy if I bumped into him, said he didn’t want to be touched—I didn’t understand it then. But now I see he was trying to hide from something.” Her face wrinkled in thought, “Yes— yes I think that Albus was so caught up playing the monster, he forgot that he was also the running little boy… he did a lot of running, Mr. Walker. Up until the end he was running.”
“He dies young doesn’t he?” I mumbled. There was surprising weight in my voice.
History books marked Albus Potter’s death at twenty-six—nine years away on Rose’s timeline.
And it was nine years before the War officially began.
“More papers, coming through!”
The office was crowded Friday mornings; field investigations put on halt for weekend and filing damned paperwork. Chatters across the board over office rumors, bleeding though mouths—who was seeing who, who was getting canned, who was mauled by a troll last field case, etcetera.
Rose was just trying to clock out early. Weeks had passed since her being assigned to the floor, and aside from the sheer mundanity of filling out forms all day (and still-painful staring by some, though most on the floor had gotten used to her), she was adjusting—or trying to. She knew why the Head had assigned to her a group, even one that was suspiciously mostly similar-aged transfers; he’d judged her weaknesses accordingly.
Rose Weasley: proficient dueler, gifted potioneer, solid background knowledge, lacks team skills.
A stack of papers slammed on her desk. Strands of brown fell loose out of the pretty Spanish Auror’s ponytail, and she gave Rose, her newly assigned teammate, a tired grin.
“Looks like another night in, eh chica?”
Rose rubbed her sore eyes. Hummel was always assigning her unit more work—the ranking woman had a vendetta.
“There goes my hot date for the evening,” Cynthia Mendoza snorted, “Did I tell you that pale curse breaker from unit three asked me for drinks? He’s so British.”
“Vampire. Feeds on the new transfer girls.” Rose flicked through files with a sinking feeling— there went her chances of leaving early.
“Fresh blood.” Snickered Auror Gachevska –-Kovy— at the livid girl, passing and handing Rose her usual cup of coffee, who took it without comment. Their initial acquaintance had been a little cold and hostile—Rose, as a general rule, didn’t lend much trust to unnecessarily friendly and explicitly handsome boys-- but he’d warmed up to her via small favors and the occasional compliment. Regular coffee helped too.
“It’ll take a couple of weeks before you learn who’s who, printsesa.”
“Why are the good boys either taken or dead?” Cynthia moaned.
“Undead.” Florian Dubois corrected without looking up. The bespectacled French Auror was the fourth member of their unit and also the magical creature expert. Rose knew very little about his transfer except that it wasn’t voluntary—he’d let loose a horde of overly inflammatory cornish pixies at his last department.
“Vampires are classified as undead.”
“Dead. Undead. Doesn’t change that I’m still single.” Cynthia fumed, “I made this transfer because I was promised adventure, romance—“
“I’m available, printsesa.” Kovy wriggled his eyebrows at the Spanish auror, who wrinkled her nose
“No gracias. I think I’ll take my chances with the undead—”
“Has anyone seen Mr. Hashimoto?” Rose interrupted. The fifth—and oldest— member of their unit had been missing all morning. Mr. Hashimoto was middle-aged and so reserved no one knew anything about him, not even his first name.
“I have some briefs I need him to look at.”
“I’ll do them.” Florian and Kovy chimed simultaneously and turned to glare at each other.
“No thanks. I need to leave early and Mr. Hashimoto is fastest.”
“What’s the rush, chica?” Cynthia frowned at her, as the other two dissolved into argument over who was faster. “Have you got a hot date?”
Rose shifted in her seat.
“Hugo wasn’t feeling well this morning.” She lied. She didn’t need to; she wasn’t doing anything wrong but the last thing she needed was the Head somehow finding out she was skimping work to go look after a family member. One that wasn’t Hugo.
Cynthia rolled her eyes. “Fine. Leave me by myself with the idiot boys.”
Kovy and Florian were still too busy arguing about the briefs to hear the jibe.
“I’ll come in early tomorrow.”
“I said I’ll take of it, chica.”
It was a gesture of amity, one to which Rose could respond with a feeble ‘thanks’. Back in school she’d never had many friends, not the way others did, and she couldn’t muster charisma the way Albus could. It was her own fault for never trying enough, because she’d told herself she’d focus more on those aspects of her life after Hugo was better. One thing led to another.
“You owe me drinks one of these days, chica.” Cynthia said, smiling a little. “We’ll complain about our shitty jobs and love-lives together.”
Rose returned the cheery smile. It was only when she was halfway across the room did it fade off, returning her face to its original scowl.
Friendship wasn’t in the job description.
The door creaked open behind and he came out with wet hair, dressed in trousers and a long-sleeve cotton shirt.
“Tea and toast?” She tried to keep her voice casual.
He walked over and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Anything you have. Thanks.”
“There’s not much your stomach will be able to digest for a while.” She informed him, “Earl Grey then?”
“If you have it.”
After the previous night, they were on their best manners with each other.
Rose held the thousand questions she had until he’d eaten. She mixed his healing dose in with the tea and handed it to him; he took it without a word, too busy observing the jacket hanging off a chair on the other end of the kitchen table. It was the jacket Scorpius left when he came over a week prior; he’d pestered her until she let him check out her old home, having promised to help but instead just lounged around making snide comments and snooping through her old things.
“He comes around, does he?”
A banal comment, but it didn’t settle on her nerves quite so easily.
“Not recently. But you know, sometimes.” She kept her tone level, “Want some oranges?”
“Are you sleeping with him?”
The knife nearly slipped from her hand, scraping against the flesh of her forefinger.
“I don’t sleep here.” She fumbled for a bandage through drawers. “I still have to stay with the Head.”
“Doesn’t answer my question.”
“It’s a stupid question.”
“Then answer it.”
A sharp inhale. “No, Albus, I’m not sleeping with your best mate.”
“But you want to.”
She fought the color rising up her neck. Feeling his sharp gaze on her back, she held her breath. He was checking her nerves. Reading her movements for some sort of confirmation.
A few moments later he turned back to his food and her body eased up. “Because you do know what it means when a bloke leaves his jacket, don’t you? Means he intends to come over again. Whisk you into the sunset.” He sipped his tea, “Or bedroom.”
“Malfoy is idiot enough to genuinely forget his jacket.”
“Or idiot enough to think he has a shot.”
“An idea that you planted.” She lashed before she could stop herself.
“Give yourself more credit. Not everything is my fault.” He touched the tip of his fingers, “Sometimes I just enjoying spectating.”
“That’s all you’ll ever be able to do,” She said icily.
“That’s because, Rose Pose, I have bigger things on my mind.”
“So do I.”
He quirked a brow at that—the condescending bastard. And immature as ever, attacking her school-aged feelings for Scorpius when he knew –they both did--chances of anything remotely romantic happening for her had died long ago, along with much else. Not wanting to give him the opportunity to rub more salt on such tender wounds—wands would be pulled—she changed the topic:
“So,” She turned to him. “I visited their graves.”
Only after she finished did he ask, in a quiet voice: “So who else knows?”
“The Malfoys, maybe people in the Ministry.” She frowned a little. “I don’t really know. I haven’t really asked—I’m sorry.”
It was the room’s dim light that managed to soften his harsh features, and Rose wondered if they had actually been sullen, maybe even pained. The fingers on his right hand flinched.
He jerked them away when she tried reaching for them. “Don’t.” He wheezed at her. He sounded breathless. “Why should I…” His throat caught and he swallowed, turning away. “Why would I believe you?”
“You think I’d lie about our parents?” She was wounded.
“Albus. Albus please just look at me.”
Just as he stood up she stepped in front of him. “I’m sorry.” She followed his movements as he recoiled from her. “I get it… just know you’re not the only—” She paused and placed hands on his face. A grimace. A risky move. “Stop. Stop.” She sighed, “Albus, look. Don’t you see I’m trying to—“
“Well I don’t want you to. “ He snapped. Removing her hands, he shoved past her out the door. “I’m not your fucking Hugo.”
Albus didn’t return for several hours, and it started raining. The gash in his side wouldn’t let him apparate or get very far on foot—he had to take his second dose soon—so Rose went after him, albeit begrudgingly. It didn’t take her long to find him underneath a giant oak tree, on his what was presumably his fourth cigarette. His expression soured at the sight of her.
She tossed a purple vial to him. “Twice a day for two weeks. Don’t make me pour it down your throat.”
There was no reply, only bloodshot eyes and cold silence. As she walked through the haze of smoke towards him, he pulled his wand and cast a barrier between them.
“I need to organize my thoughts. Leave me be.”
Her brow etched. “I can’t.”
“Yes you can.” He said, voice hard, “Turn around and walk back the way you came. You don’t find me. I find you…and I’ll find you later.”
“Do you promise?”
He held an annoyed look. “What are we, twelve?”
“Promise first.” She persisted, hair soaked wet. Rain pitter-pattered all around them. “I won’t leave until I have your word. That you’ll come back to the house. You’ll take your potions. And we’ll talk without you being a complete asshole.”
He took a long drag, exhaling strands of grey; they floated over his head and dissipated. A dragon resting just after it sets a village aflame. Or before.
“You have my word. Just know it means very little.”
Her mouth felt dry as rubble—he was right. But she couldn’t let him disappear all over again, to do god-knows-what in some deserted corner of England. He thought his intelligence made him invincible, unmatchable, but he was as human as her; she’d spent hours the previous night cleaning his blood.
He’d catch a cold if he stayed in the rain by himself too long.
Especially now that it was pouring harder.
He did return, shivering and soaked to-the-bone. Rose threw a cloak over him.
“He kept secrets from me. He kept me in the dark my whole life.”
Thunder boomed in the distance.
“They. Us.” She corrected him. “Come inside.”
She had tea waiting for them—he took his without a single word.
“What if,” she murmured.
“What if they’re alive?”
Fire crackled in the silence between them.
“I’ve considered that.”
“Don’t you want to see them?” She asked, in a fragile voice. “If we found them maybe they could help us.”
He did know. He would be a fool not to.
“Isn’t that what it’s always been about? Getting answers?” She swallowed, “The fight over the resurrection spell?”
He looked at her, dull-green basked in dying ember’s glow. The corner of his mouth lifted. It was terrifying. “Is that what you think?”
“If your father’s alive then you won’t need to resurrect him.” She spoke shakily. “We’ll all get what we want.”
“You’re so simple.” He murmured, dusky eyes surveying her features with interest. He tucked a tendril behind her ear and she tried not to edge back. Somehow his tenderness was more unsettling than his stone-cold anger. In the back of her mind, she knew it was part of some eternal game with him— both friend and enemy, her brother, and then not her brother—he played his parts well when he had to. The master Impressionist. He was too close for comfort, always had been, and despite all the years they had behind them she had no grasp over who he really was.
He leant forward and pressed a kiss to her temple.
“There’s only reason I would want my father back from the dead,” Came the lethal whisper, grazing against her ear. “And it’s so I can send him back myself.”
There was a man in the world who was not a man. He was without name, without family, without identity. He had neither beginning nor end to be remembered— he simply was.
He was a man that watched centuries turn amidst the shadows, not really caring. A war or two might make him blink an eye, but in the end he had no business with them. Dark Lords came and went, but the world continued turning without a care. History was on a cyclic repeat and it was all dreadfully boring.
The man lived in a boarded-up, dilapidated shack miles under the ground, a shack that could only be summoned by a secret enchantment. But secrets were only as good as the people who kept them, and with all the people he knew to be dead, it grew harder still for anyone to come looking for him. When no one knows you exist, do you stop existing altogether?
The man wanted to be found.
The previous several years had proved to be fascinating. The invention of a spell that brought the dead back to life---by a child no less. Wait. Daughter of famed heroes.
But the boy was more delicious, more fresh. Word traveled about the massacre in Little Norton—how he proved himself immune to the Cruciatus curse, second deadliest of all. Then sent Avada Kedavra to everyone in the room.
And that wasn’t all. He was behind Hogwarts as well.
Counterparts. He and her. She and him. For selfish reasons, both had tainted magic and altered the course of history irrevocably. They had created unnatural uses for magic. They were unnatural in and of themselves, diseased. Freaks.
One held the secret to Life while the other brought Death wherever he went. They were worth watching.
This decade would prove interesting.
He trailed his fingers over all the creases and dents in the holly wood—admiring the texture, the tangibility of his father’s wand. In the distance Rose was explaining some sort of plan she had, but Albus wasn’t really listening to details. A potion that involved traveling to past locations; juvenile idea, she had no doubt stolen it from him.
He had to admit she had nerve, digging up their parents’ graves. But he wasn’t sure what to think about it all —he had always seen his father’s wand as an extension of his father. Detachment of wand from wizard felt unnatural and painful (he would know), and he couldn’t really fathom the man’s chances without it.
If he was alive, he wouldn’t be for long.
Magic isn’t in the wand, Mr. Potter. It is in the wizard. It is a penetration of thought, the essence of an idea…and ideas may manifest themselves in many forms.
Your father was a man of ideas.
At any rate, Ollivander was onto something.
Rose left the potion designs in the refrigerator. Behind the milk carton.
The next day, when scouring for food, Albus found them. He read them over lunch. He spent all over afternoon thinking about them. By dinner he had finished making the appropriate edits to them and was setting up cauldrons.
Well played, Rose Pose.
The next day Rose rushed through paperwork and clocked off early, accidentally-but-also-intentionally blowing off drinks with Cynthia. She hoped the Head would be too occupied with pressing new cases to notice (or care for) her apparating so often to her house-- which was her property, technically.
The first thing that greeted her upon entering were thick, greenish fumes and general disorder. With watery vision, she carefully stepped through piles of books, papers, cigarette butts, and various small and unidentifiable things. A difficult feat, and no doubt infuriating since she’d spent the last week scrubbing every inch of the place.
Finally having made it to the kitchen—source of the ghastly fumes--- Rose found Albus in the midst, surrounded by at least thirty beakers of different colored liquids. He was inspecting a thick gold-colored vial with magnifying spectacles, not seeming to notice her come in.
“So.” she said, feeling embarrassed she had no idea what he was doing.
“We’re still missing quite a few ingredients but I’m working on the first layer.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
He glanced up at her. “I decided I liked your idea. Using my potion. With his wand.”
Rose stared at him, perplexed—three days ago he’d been bedridden.
He quickly wiped sweat on his face on his apron and stepped to the right side of kitchen—which he’d designed into his personal library. On the floor there was a circle of at least a dozen books, opened to various pages and annotated to death. He planted himself in the midst and was reading them simultaneously when Rose asked.
“Erm, how long have you been working?”
“Last night.” He mumbled absently, eyes skimming across text. “So about fi-fifteen hours?”
He ignored the warning in her tone and resumed working. And after a long day of work, Rose was exhausted so she didn’t argue with him. She made tea for herself. Out of the corner of her eye though, she kept watching him screw around with the potion. She heard a silent damn it after the accidental addition of moondew leaves. The brew was ruined—you could see on the sheer disappointment that crossed his face. The bags under his eyes darkened and he ran fingers though his already messy hair. His eyes flit to her watching.
“I miscalculated some ingredients.” He said wearily.
“It’s a difficult potion, Al.”
“Dammit, I know that.” He rubbed his temples. “I wrote the fucking design.”
“Theory’s always different than the real thing,” she tried, as he kicked over a stack of papers. “Progress doesn’t happen in a day.”
“It does for me. ”
He threw a table over in his rage and Rose flinched, but didn’t move. The problem wasn’t the potion and they both knew it—it was him. He was malfunctioning, making the sort of mistakes he normally didn’t. Rose personally felt accountable for his failure; he was barely well and she’d thrown him into work.
Not hearing her, he leant against the back of a chair, his breathing irregular and heavy. He removed a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, breathing in deeply. He ran another hand through his hair and took a deep breath which he released slowly, and for a moment Rose thought he’d have another fit of anger.
But he didn’t. His neck snapped up, blood-shot eyes devoid of their earlier rage or anything else. “You said something?”
“I was going to ask if you’re hungry.” A lame finish. He looked thrown for an entire minute.
“Yes.” He said at last.
“So,” She said awkwardly, “Order in? Or we could go out—“
“Let’s go out.” He decided.
He strode over and donned on his coat and ran three fingers to fix his hair. He stood in front of the mirror and pulled at the edges of his mouth, trying to stretch them out of their rigid bounds. Then, once convinced he (still) looked unreservedly handsome, he grabbed her hand and led her out the door.
They went to a place that smelled of stale grease and sat outside because Albus wanted to smoke. Herself not as hungry, she watched him eat in a half-starved sort of way, wondering exactly what he’d been through the past several weeks.
He had really changed since she’d last seen him. His eyes were the same pale green but in the corners were faint hints of crows feet. His forehead had a crinkle or two from strain. His face was thinner than she remembered and the cheeks had sunk in. He was still as startlingly good-looking as ever but gone was the unblemished picture-perfectionism. It had been replaced with a hard-lived fatigue.
“You’re staring again.”
She blinked twice. “Am I?”
“You do it a lot,” He muttered, finishing his glass. “You’re not as subtle as you like to think.”
“Hmm…must be those famed looks then.”
He gave a humorless laugh. “Flattery doesn’t suit you Rose Pose. Sing a different tune.”
She leaned on her elbow, turned to him. “You still haven’t told me what you’ve been up to all this time.”
“Shouldn’t have to.” He said, “You’ve been observing me for three days now. More than enough time to gather the anomalies. So… put them together.”
She thought for a moment.
“You’ve got a nasty smoking habit. Wizards don’t smoke cigarettes. Muggle world? “
“Cheap giveaway.” He dismissed, “Tell me something less obvious.”
“You’ve been in a couple of fights—” He cleared his throat. “—sorry. More than a couple probably, given your temperament. And the creative number of bruises you’ve managed in such a short time.”
“Let’s see…what else, what else, oh,” she turned to him, slyly, “No longer a virgin.”
His cup nearly fell from his hand.
“In the muggle world without a wand or money, you’d fall back on your looks and elicit favors. And you’re, well you. It’s not as if you’d have trouble finding willing participants. Plus there are some very telling marks on your—what? It totally counts!”
“No, no it doesn’t. ”
“It counts.” She muttered under her breath.
He ignored her. “You mentioned my wand. Tell me about that.”
“The wand you’re carrying is oakwood and too long to be yours. Since wands aren’t easy to come by present time and day, at some point you had to steal it,” she paused for a moment, “What happened to yours?”
He lit a cigarette and looked away for a moment.
“She happened.” He said coldly, “Bitch snapped it in half when she kicked me out.”
Hearing him call his mother that made Rose flinch. It was like beating a dead horse down further, for she no longer saw Ginny as someone living, simply breathing.
Rose knew the stories like everyone knew the stories: of crumbling castles and fire-lit skies and silent heroes who became martyrs in a fight beyond their means. Lover, brother, best friend—losing each, and together, was not the beginning for Ginny. No, the woman had been slipping for many years; war is brutal on the psyche, a shadow that looms and tears into the conscious and never leaves. There were faces she could no longer see, Fred, there was a childhood lain to waste by fear, there was a happiness long-sought-after and, now, lost to fire. Time forgets to heal. Grief lends itself to survivor’s guilt. The intangible becomes scarier than the tangible. And after it’s all said and done, what doesn’t kill you ends up breaking you.
Rose knew what it was like to be so severely beaten down you lost the will to go on. She had lost more than she could ever really fathom. It was more than her past; she had lost her future when she tampered with the bounds of death. She had set herself for a difficult life. She knew this but had somehow buried the fact deep inside her.
And that was the difference, wasn’t it—between her and Ginny?
In spite of all the gloomy uncertainties, Rose knew the certainty of one thing: the simple decision to wallow in regret would be the end of her and her brother. The Head had forced her to stretch beyond her capabilities—to push through. In the end she could only go on.
Albus looked so tired to her now, leaning against the table with his arms. It was strange to see him so unkempt, his hair, tangled and messy and overgrown falling over his forehead. It was almost humorous. She stroked his hair back, deciding to force him down for a haircut later. He closed his eyes at her touch and Rose wondered for a moment if he’d fallen asleep.
“I’ll need a few days,” His voice was vague, floating, “Just a few days to adjust. The potion, I mean.”
She quickly paid the check and lifted his arm to pull him up. He put it over her shoulder as they headed out the door. He stumbled a little as they stepped outside and she wrapped an arm around his waist for support. He was drowsy enough to keel over, so instead of apparating they rode an empty tram back to the Weasley house. Sitting beside, he could barely keep his eyes open; within minutes his head was flopped on her shoulder.
“I guess I should thank you.” Came a drowsy mumble, “That’s what people do, don’t they? In these situations.”
“You don’t have to.” After a moment she added. “You’d do the same for me.”
“You don’t really believe that.”
“I like to pretend.”
A faint chuckle followed by an abrupt pause.
“I think…” He spoke uncertainly at first and stopped. Then she heard a soft, wet sound, the kind made when the tongue unglues from the roof of one’s mouth after a long time.
“I think I’d like to pretend that too.”
AN: Reviews make Albus a happy boy.
Chica—Spanish for girl.
Gracias—Spanish for thank you.
Printsesa—Bulgarian for Princess.
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