Chapter 19 : Distraction
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“My shoulder is getting worse,” he winced.
“Your adrenaline is wearing off. Just give me a moment; I’ll give you something for that.”
Grabbing a stool, Anaxandra hobbled over to the table full of medical supplies on the other side of the tent, careful to keep the blanket wrapped around her at all times to cover her bandaged legs. Sprigs of dittany, peppermint, and lavender were broken up into small pieces and ground into a thick paste with a stone mortar and pestle. She then mixed the paste with water in a metal kettle, brought it to a boil, and strained the mixture into a bowl with a cloth.
“Sit up,” she commanded, bowl in one hand, hot paste and damp cloth in the other. “You’ll need to drink this.”
“What is it?” Draco looked over the rim of the bowl, warily inspecting the strong-scented, brown liquid.
“I swear on all that I am, if you ask one more question I’ll just let your arm fall off.” Without warning, she brought the bowl to his lips and tilted it, forcing him to drink the hot liquid. His eyes shut tight as he gulped down every last, sour drop.
“That was the worst thing I’ve ever drank.” Draco gagged, grimacing as he lay back down.
“You’ll thank me soon.” Mindlessly, she let the fabric of her blanket slip through her fingers and fall to the floor, revealing her bandages to him.
“Merlin, Ana! You said you were fine!” Draco almost went to sit up again, but Anaxandra anticipated his intentions and pushed hard on his chest, restricting him from doing so. She could feel the unnatural warmth of his skin and the thin layer of nervous sweat that still clung to him. She felt every breath, every muscle contraction, every racing heartbeat.
“I am fine. Don’t you see I’m standing well on my own? And don’t try to sit up again; I have to redress your wound.” Her hand slid from his chest to his shoulder, unwrapping the now blood-stained bandages. While the wound looked better, it still needed extra attention.
“Your legs are bandaged, and you think you’re fine? You should be the one lying down here.”
“Why does it matter?” she asked, using the damp cloth to clean the injury. “I don’t know how many times I have to—”
“It matters because I care about you!” he burst.
Moments passed—all in silence. Anaxandra froze, then looked over at Agnatha, who was still sleeping soundly. Draco swallowed hard.
“It’s my fault you got hurt. I tried…” He trailed off, cheeks flush and eyes closed.
A response came as easily as a lie. She said nothing. Dipping her fingers into the hot herbal paste and rubbing it between them, she frowned as she began smearing it over his shoulder. She wanted to say something—anything—but no words came out. He remained quiet and partially expectant, stealing glances of her out of the corner of his eye.
Draco took his free hand and rubbed his face wearily. Anaxandra only put in enough valerian to make him drowsy, but it was beginning to work on his consciousness.
“What was it like for you?” he asked, turning his head to face her. “I mean, how did you grow up?”
Anaxandra’s expression depicted her as confused, although she was more surprised. “What?”
“Just talk to me,” he sighed. His eyes drooped as he spoke. “I hate the silence.”
Her first instinct was to panic and lie, as it always was; but then she became hesitant again. She didn’t want to lie.
“It wasn’t much different than this.” Her words were forced, and felt unnatural as they rolled across her tongue, and her hands began to tremble as she wrapped his shoulder. Rebelling against her protesting mind and body was much more difficult than she anticipated. “Just... simple, I suppose. Life in the forest isn’t very glamorous.”
“I would have given anything for a simple life,” he mused, lifting his shoulder to make wrapping it easier. His eyes never left Anaxandra’s hands—her rough, scarred hands. “The money, the privileges, the luxuries…”
“Aw, poor baby,” Anaxandra frowned mockingly. “That must have been so hard.”
“Trust me: it’s not as great as it sounds. I thought it was, at one point in time. But things happened.” Draco frowned, his eyes glossy, but he kept focusing on her hands. “And I would have given anything to have led a simple life. With the exception of getting attacked, I quite like living like this. No obligations, no need for money, less stress.”
Tying a final knot in his bandages, Anaxandra wiped her hands clean and wrapped her blanket around her once more. She brought her hair to one side, letting it cascade over her shoulder in a waterfall of auburn. Leaning forward, she shook her head and let a small smile curve her lips. That certainly isn’t how she would have described this kind of life. “You make it sound so romantic.”
Draco’s face was etched with worry the moment he sat up and looked down at her, but she said nothing. Over and over again he scanned her features, like he was drinking her in. His hand reached for a stray strand of red that had fallen, finger gliding across her temple for a sweet moment. Anaxandra didn’t flinch. She just watched and waited as his expression softened. Her eyes closed as he took his chances with her. Draco’s hand gently cupped her cheek, and with closed eyes she held it there, her own rough hands embracing his smooth ones. Warmth bloomed in her chest. She asked herself what she was doing, what this haphazard beat in her chest was, why she pressed her cheek to his hand to reassure him that… reassure him that what? She cared for him? She liked him, yearned for him, loved him? A lump formed in her throat as a tear rolled down her cheek.
What did love even feel like?
“Ana, I—” Draco began, but was soon cut off.
“Ana?” Agnatha’s voice traveled from the other side of the tent, startling both of them. “Ana, I’m hungry.”
Draco let his hand fall from Anaxandra’s face, a sad smile playing on his lips.
“Yes, little love, lunch will be ready soon.” Wiping the tear from her eyes, she stood up and rushed out of the tent, her mind racing.
They were lucky that afternoon. All four traps had caught something—two rabbits, a squirrel and a fat quail. Anaxandra spent as much time outside of the tent as she could. She took her sweet time skinning and de-feathering, picking out herbs, even sitting out to watch the water boil instead of just throwing it all in the pot at once. It was like she was embarrassed to go back in there and face him again. Every time the entrance to the tent came into view, her heart rate spiked and her palms began to sweat. No, no, no, she could not go back in there. Not yet.
“Do you need any help?”
Anaxandra jumped. Her hand flew to her chest as Agnatha came up behind her, tiny pink blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
“Thank you, but no, Agnatha. It’s almost done.” Her hands were shaking again.
“But I’m bored,” she whined, making a face at her older sister.
“Then go wash before lunch, and make sure Draco does too.”
“Fine.” With a very over-exaggerated eye roll, Agnatha walked back into the tent, her blanket barely dragging on the floor.
Bowls, spoons, ladle. Anaxandra kept reminding herself what utensils they needed. Her mind was so scattered! She couldn’t hold a thought for more than a few seconds, and her clumsiness was on the verge of being ridiculous. Minutes later, Agnatha ran out of the tent and immediately snatched the bowl of soup out of her sister’s outstretched hand.
“You’re welcome!” Anaxandra said as Agnatha sat on the floor, her back against a tree on the other side of camp.
“Thanks!” she called, shoveling the warm broth into her mouth.
Draco sat near the fire, a blanket around his shoulders and another in his arms. avoiding eye contact, Anaxandra handed him a bowl of soup, feeling her heart race again as his fingers touched hers.
“Thank you,” he said, taking the bowl and handing her a blanket in exchange.
She wanted to flee, she really did. Every muscle in her body was just waiting for her to run as far and fast as possible in any direction that wasn’t his, but she just took the blanket from him. She sat down next to him, and they enjoyed their food in peace. While there were no words, glances were exchanged. It wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable; it was nice, enjoyable even, to just sit with him and enjoy soup and each other’s company.
“Where’s Anders?” Agnatha asked, giving her bowl to Draco, who had offered to do the dishes. “Did you save enough soup for him?”
Anaxandra looked up through the tree tops. The position of the sun put it at near two in the afternoon, and he had left at nine in the morning. A routine scout should only take an hour or two at most. By broom, Diagon Alley was only thirty minutes away. She wondered what could be keeping him, and an uneasy turn of her stomach routed her thoughts to darker places.
“He’ll be back soon,” Anaxandra reassured her, kissing her on top of her head. “Go in the tent and play with your dolls for a while, please.”
“Do as I say.” The stern tone in her voice made Agnatha’s eyes brim with tears, but she did as she was told and walked back into the tent.
“Anders has never been gone for this long,” she whispered to Draco, keeping her eye on the tent. “He told me he was just going to scout the area. He should be back by now.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Draco replied, washing the last bowl.
“I don’t have a good feeling about this.” Her eyes met his for just a moment before she began unwrapping her bandages. “I have to go and find him.”
How could she have been so stupid? No emotions; they make one lose focus, and when being a Hunter, focus is everything. The rapid heartbeats, the sweaty palms, stolen glances—what was any of it good for? For a moment of pleasure? She gave into temptation once—just once— and now her brother was missing on a mere routine scouting.
“You can’t.” He had a firm grip on her shoulders and his tone was concerned. “What are you going to do? How are you even going to get there?”
“Potter’s house isn’t far from here. This time of day, no one is home. I could easily break in, steal his broom, and you can watch over Agnatha—”
“I’m not leaving him!” she cried, tears rushing down her face. Her whole body shook as she fought the urge to sob in his arms; to just let herself go. If he was in danger, she was going to get him out of it. She would not leave him behind.
“Alright, just breathe.” Draco watched as her gaze fell to the ground. “Just wait a couple more hours, alright? If he’s not back by then, you can go and find him.”
“No, I have to go now.” She tore away from him, eyes wet with regret and guilt. “You can’t stop me.”
“Ana,” Draco said, looking around frantically. “Wait.”
“What?” she spat, wiping her tears.
She stopped for a moment, her own head swiveling around, searching for the crazy man. Anders didn’t take him, so where was he? It was like time had stopped. There was no sound of a winter breeze, no rustling of leaves, or birds singing. Even the way she felt—her body, her mind—it was unnatural. Foggy.
“Go get Agnatha,” Draco breathed, whipping out his wand. A thick, black smoke began to encircle their camp and it was coming in quickly. “Now!”
Anaxandra began to panic. “Agnatha!”
She rushed over to the tent, but it was too late. Opening the flap, the black smoke poured from the entrance.
“Ana!” Agnatha was coughing heavily, and then shrieked. “I can’t see anything! ANA!”
“AGNATHA!” Without thinking, Anaxandra ran into the tent, Draco screaming after her in protest.
There was nothing. She stood in the middle of the smoke, coughing as it sat in her lungs, thick and heavy. Nothing but darkness surrounded her. Draco could no longer be heard calling her name, and Agnatha had gone silent. Her body felt numb as her eyes closed, and she fell to the floor.
This was it. This was her nightmare.
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