Chapter 28 : youth
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Shadows settle on the place, that you left
Our minds are troubled by the emptiness
Destroy the middle, it's a waste of time
From the perfect start to the finish line
Youth -- Daughter
Rainne has spent the first four days of holiday following her grandfather around. They have spent most of their time gardening, a hobby he picked up after the passing of her grandmother. She had always tended to the flowers, and he just couldn’t bear to watch them die with her. Even though, at his old age, he struggles to crouch down, he cares to the plants religiously. Rainne wishes her birthday could come sooner so she could use her wand to help him.
“Rainne, it’s fine,” he says, kneeling to gingerly repot a pink camellia, “I can manage on my own,” he suppresses a groan as he stands upright, rubbing his lower back.
Rainne pretends she doesn’t notice.
“Well, in a few weeks I’ll be seventeen, and I’ll be able to use magic,” she says, smiling at him, “When I come back for Easter I’ll just flick my wand and-.”
He interrupts her.
“Oh, but I like doing this,” he says, looking sadly at the flora around him.
“Well, I could always levitate everything so you don’t have to lean down so much,” Rainne suggests.
He smiles and nods, “That sounds perfect,” he takes off his thick gloves, motioning to the house, “Well, it’s getting dark. I think I’m done for the day. How does some wassail sound?”
Rainne grins from ear to ear. While he puts the kettle down, she sneaks into her room for a moment.
“Rainne, what are you doing?” he calls over his shoulder. She answers him by reappearing behind him, magical Christmas crackers in hand. He smiles, “But Christmas isn’t until tomorrow! Can’t you wait one more day?”
“Please, grandpa,” Rainne begs, “You know this is my favourite!”
He obliges, putting an unsuspecting hand out for what he thinks is an ordinary cracker. With a bang and an uncharacteristically high shriek from her grandfather, several prizes fly out.
“Are those - are those white mice?!” he shrills, jumping atop a chair. Rainne giggles, picking one up gingerly.
“Yes! These are wizard crackers. Here, have a top hat!” she picks it up from the floor and puts it on his head, “It’s alright, Papa, I’ll let the mice out.”
As she shoos the mice out the kitchen door, Rainne’s grandfather steps gingerly down from the chair, nodding in gratitude.
“These are some very nice prizes,” he says, examining his hat, “It looks like you got a checkered bonnet.”
Rainne smiles and puts it on, puckering her lips, “Do I look like an old maid?” they laugh and he makes an equally pompous expression, pretending to march up and down the kitchen.
“As nice as these are, I do prefer the paper crowns,” grandfather says, smiling, “But we can do those tomorrow. I’ll walk over to the shop in a bit.”
“I can go now, if you want,” Rainne says, turning to the door, “I’ll be back before the wassail is done,” she gives him a quick kiss on the cheek, grabs her handbag and coat, and is out the door. As she walks down the road, she notices the cars parked in front of the houses. Some are packed, while others have only one or two cars. She wonders if those people are spending the holidays alone, wishing she could invite them all over for a neighborhood party. If only she could force herself to speak to them all instead of cowering away in fear.
The shop just around the corner only has pink and purple tissue paper. Rainne hopes her grandfather doesn’t mind, seeing as the next nearest shop is about a mile away. Letting the cashier keep her change, she nearly skips all the way home, ecstatic at how her holidays are going. Just as she’s considering telling her friends she’d rather spend the next week at home, she reaches their house at the end of the street.
What she sees stops her in her tracks.
The plastic bag falls to the ground beside her and she runs inside, the green light in the sky illuminating her face.
“No,” she breathes, “Please, no, no. Not here, not today.”
You deserve this.
The kettle screams in the kitchen, but Rainne pays no attention to it. She runs instead to her grandfather, who lays on the kitchen tile.
“No, no, no,” she shakes him, receiving no response, “No, please!” tears stream from her face as she checks his pulse with shaking fingers.
You deserve this.
“Please! Please, Papa, please don’t be dead,” angrily, she flails her fists at him, “This isn’t funny! Wake up, Papa!”
Giving up, she collapses on top of him, sobbing uncontrollably. The open kitchen door lets in a gust of wind and a small scratch of parchment is blown off of the counter and onto the floor in front of her. Still crying, Rainne picks it up.
In neat, emerald print, it reads:
You broke something of mine.
This was my turn to break something of yours.
Now we’re even.
“Narcissa…” Rainne whispers.
See, you deserve this.
Is this really the same as breaking a stupid porcelain doll? Rainne imagines Narcissa and her evil sister Bellatrix cackling. No doubt Bellatrix was the one to do the dirty work, they couldn’t risk using a minor’s wand.
You deserve this, you filthy mudblood. Finally you’re all alone. Nobody to run home to cry to.
Welcome to the real world.
If this is what the real world is like, Rainne wants out.
She runs up the stairs to her room, ripping her suitcase open.
Oh, are you finally going to join them?
“Yes, now will you SHUT UP!” Rainne bellows. Her mind goes silent and she starts to search violently through her luggage, “Where is it?!” she throws aside her clothes, her books, her shoes. Where is the box?
For the second time tonight, Rainne hears the flutter of a note falling onto the floor. She freezes, turning her head slowly.
This time Mitzi is taking the box. Mitzi hopes you understand.
It’s for the best.
Eyes wide, Rainne screams as she rips the note to shreds. She screams longer and louder than ever before, trying with every cell in her body to rid herself of the pain. Of the grief.
She screams until there’s nothing left, until her voice is gone.
Dragging her feet, she makes her way back down to the kitchen. She wants to tell someone, but who is there left to tell? He was the only person she had. The only one that really understood her.
Seeming to sense it is needed, the school owl Rainne favours flies into the kitchen. It sits perched on the back of a chair, waiting patiently as Rainne moans, her heart aching.
Finally, after staring at his body for what seems like hours, she sends a letter to the ministry. The letter reports a murder by an unknown Death Eater. She knows if she reveals the killer, she is asking for a long, tortured death.
When Rainne dies, she wants it to be by her own hand.
She doesn’t want to be there when they come to collect him. She wants nothing to do with this process. Not again.
Her feet drag her away, tears still streaming down her face. She doesn’t even know where she’s going until she pushes open the iron gates.
Just as last time, her knock echoes against the marble walls within. Rainne hears laughter inside before someone promises to open the door.
Sirius’s grin fades when he sees the state she’s in.
“What ha-. Come in,” he stops himself from asking her, instead inviting her into the warmth of the house. James’s face falls, and he watches as Rainne slowly makes her way into the living room. Sirius quietly shuts the door behind her.
Rainne continues to sob, practically falling into Sirius’s arms. Her arms wrap around him tightly, and for a brief moment he is rigid, unsure of how to react.
Don’t touch her. She’s not yours.
Don’t touch her.
Ignoring the warnings flaring in his mind, he lets himself hold her.
“I’ll tell Ben,” James says, more to himself than to anyone else, “Thank Merlin he has the two way mirror…” He walks past them and up the stairs to his bedroom, wishing he knew what to do.
Sirius and Rainne, arms still around each other, awkwardly make their way to the loveseat.
“Shh,” coos Sirius, gently holding her head as she leans against his chest, “I’m here. It’ll be okay”
Sirius hates himself for enjoying the chance to hold her in his arms, inhaling the scent of her cinnamon shampoo. He strokes her hair softly, closing his eyes. The heat of her fingertips pierce into his bare arms, flooding through his entire body. He feels as if, when she touches him, all of the unhappiness he harbours disappears. It’s just them. Nothing bad can happen. She is his patronus, his source of light.
His eyes flash open when he hears James thumping back down. Before he returns to the living room, Sirius moves his hand from Rainne’s hair to her shoulder, hoping he doesn’t look like he loves having his arms around her.
“Padfoot,” James says. Sirius looks up as Rainne continues to cry, her tears drenching his thin shirt, “He can’t fly here, he left his broom at school. Someone needs to apparate and seeing as you’re the only one of age…” he trails off, realising this means he will need to hold Rainne until they return.
Sirius, wishing he was younger, gives Rainne to James and pops into Ben’s room. Ben, who was sitting on his bed, stands up immediately.
“What’s going on?” he asks.
“Rainne turned up,” says Sirius, “She’s a right mess. Cried all over my shirt.”
“She didn’t say, she’s just been crying,” Sirius says. For the first time, he wishes he was Ben. His entire life, no matter what he’s had to endure, Sirius has never wished to be someone else. But tonight, it’s different. Tonight he realises that no matter how much he cares about Rainne, she will always go to Ben first. No matter how badly he wants to hold her, she will always choose Ben’s arms.
“Oh, bollocks,” Ben says, “Alright, let’s go,” he links arms with Sirius and within an instant they are back at the Potter Mansion.
Rainne, oblivious to their arrival, and maybe even to Sirius’s momentary absence, continues to cry on James’s shoulder. James ushers Ben to sit beside him and awkwardly transfers Rainne into his arms. He stands up to join Sirius and the two watch as Ben struggles with his words.
“I… Rainne, I’m here,” he says. Rainne is oblivious to everyone around her. She doesn’t care whose arms she’s in. It doesn’t matter. They’re all going to be the wrong pair of hands resting on the small of her back, “Rainne, talk to me. Please.”
Her sobs seem to subside, but she remains silent, whimpering into Ben’s chest. He looks up at his friends, mouthing ‘What do I do?’
They both shrug.
“This is above my paygrade,” whispers James.
“What does that even mean?” says Sirius out of the corner of his mouth. James shrugs.
“Dunno, saw it in a muggle film.”
Ben, suppressing a chuckle at James’s lack of tact, looks down at his girlfriend, “Rainne, what do you want me to do?”
She doesn’t respond.
“For Pete’s sake, what am I supposed to do if she won’t say anything?” he is met with confused shrugs. This is new territory for the marauders.
“Maybe Evans can help,” says James, “I’ll run over, she only lives a few blocks away,” James runs to the door, nearly forgetting to put on a pair of shoes. After sliding on some house slippers, he darts out.
Sirius stares as Ben awkwardly pats Rainne on the back. He notices she’s shivering, and realises she’s only wearing one layer of clothes.
“Here, go sit by the fire,” he says, “It’s a bit chilly and she’s only wearing a t-shirt.”
Ben nods, obediently leading Rainne to the armchair beside the fireplace. He sits down and she slumps onto his lap, her whimpers fading away. She is silent, her eyes staring blankly at the flames. Sirius self consciously pats his hands on his thighs, trying to find something to do. He needs to distract himself from the fact that he isn’t the one holding Rainne. He knows he could definitely do a better job at it.
“Honestly, Potter,” they hear Lily say as she approaches the nearly shut door, “Could you manage to form a coherent sentence for once in your life?” the pair enter, slightly short of breath, “What is go- ,” Lily stops when she see Rainne, “Oh no.”
“I don’t know what to do,” says Ben as Lily makes her way over to them, “She won’t say anything.”
Lily squats in front of them, trying to get into Rainne’s view. It’s no use, even when Lily is right in front of her Rainne can’t seem to see her.
“Rainne?” says Lily softly, tucking Rainne’s hair behind her ear, “Rainne, darling, what would you like?”
Rainne, showing signs of hearing for the first time since she arrived, turns her head and meets Lily’s gaze. Her pain is mirrored in Lily’s eyes, who wishes she knew how to help, “Oh, honey, come here,” Lily opens her arms and holds Rainne as she finally begins to speak.
“I -I said I was sorry,” Rainne whimpers, her eyes filling with tears once more, “I didn’t know she would…” she can’t bring herself to say it.
“Who, Rainne?” asks Lily, stroking Rainne’s hair. She is still squatting, Rainne is on her knees, grasping to her tightly.
“Na- Na…” Rainne hiccups, “Narcissa.”
Ben’s eyes widen, “Did she get back at you for breaking her figurine?” he asks, already knowing the answer.
Rainne nods, the lump in her throat growing.
“She… Bellatrix…” her voice grows louder and she finally wails, “Grandpa is dead.”
Her throat closes. She lets go of Lily and just sort of slumps onto the floor, putting her hands in her lap and staring at them. The group is in shock. None of them expected Narcissa, a fourteen year old, to kill anyone. Everyone seems to be looking to Lily, waiting for her to say something.
“I… Rainne, where would you like to sleep tonight?” she asks.
Rainne, no longer able to speak, turns to look at Ben. He gives her a small smile and grabs hold of her hand, stroking it with his thumb. Sirius feels his heart drop to the pit of his stomach. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but he knows he wishes she hadn’t looked at Ben. How is he going to manage this? How is he going to watch his best mate kiss, hold… date the woman that he would do anything for?
“Alright,” says Lily, nodding.
“You’re welcome to stay here,” says James, “That way Sirius doesn’t have to apparate you both back.”
Sirius, though still bothered by this whole situation, is relieved he won’t need to touch Rainne again. He’s sure that he could quickly become addicted to the heat she radiates, to the overwhelming feeling of happiness that takes over his senses whenever he feels her skin.
Lily turns to look at James and Sirius.
“I’ll be back tomorrow morning,” she says after checking her watch, “I should probably head home. It’s pretty late.”
James nods, opening the door for her as she stands up. When she reaches the landing, she turns to him.
“Thank you for coming to get me,” she says to him.
He smiles meekly, running his fingers through his hair nervously, “We didn’t know what else to do. We should be thanking you, she was a wreck…” Lily looks behind James and watches as Ben walks Rainne up the stairs. Rainne, helpless, resembles an elderly woman that needs help crossing the street. Sirius watches them, sighing before turning to head down the hall to his own bedroom.
Lily looks back to James, who seems to have been watching her this whole time.
“See you tomorrow, then,” she says.
“Yeah,” says James. He wants to grab her hand, to pull her into an embrace. Instead, he watches her leave, cursing under his breath for the wasted opportunity.
Rainne wakes up alone with a jolt. Breathing heavily, she looks around. Where is she? The walls of the small room are a cool pink, matching the floral bedding she lays under. A clock on the bedside table tells her it’s just past seven in the morning. A toilet flushes and the door to her right opens, Ben walking through it. He looks as if he hasn’t slept. When he sees that she’s awake, he gives a small smile.
“Rainne,” he breathes, holding her gently in his arms. The memories of last night flood back into her mind, and the lump she had managed to swallow returns to her throat. It takes everything she has to keep the tears from flowing freely.
She continues to struggle controlling her breathing, and soon gives in to the tears, sobbing into Ben’s chest. He says nothing, merely holding her tightly as she clutches his thin shirt in her fists. He decides against telling her of the screams that erupted from her last night as she slept. It seems that even his presence can’t soothe her any longer. Instead, Ben pulls back, holding her face in his hands. She stares at him.
“I’m right here,” he says, “And I’ll be here. Whenever you need me.”
She nods, her tears subsiding. He kisses her forehead and pulls her back into his arms.
There is a knock on the door. Rainne nods into Ben’s arms, and he says, “Come in.”
Mrs. Potter enters the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. Rainne peeks through her hair, and Ben pulls away.
“Rainne?” she says, still standing by the door, “I’m Charlotte, James’s mother.”
“Just call her Mum,” says Ben, smiling, “That’s what we all call her.”
Mrs. Potter smiles for a moment, before looking at Rainne more seriously, “You should know that you are welcome to stay as long as you need,” she walks over to the bed, sitting on the edge, “James’s father, whom you may know works for the Ministry, heard what happened. We are here to help you with anything you may need, okay? Just let us know if there’s anything we can do.”
Rainne nods, surprised at Charlotte’s kindness. A complete stranger is offering to help her, and she is baffled.
“Your grandfather was a muggle, correct?” Rainne nods, “I believe his lawyer will want to speak to you about his will. James’s father is at the Ministry. He should be back soon, and he will have more news for you.”
“Ok -kay,” stutters Rainne.
Mrs. Potter pats her hand and stands up to leave. After opening the door, she turns, “Happy Christmas,” she says sadly.
The realisation that it’s Christmas nearly throws Rainne back over the edge, but she swallows, willing herself not to cry. She pries herself from Ben’s arms and goes into the bathroom, suddenly feeling dirty. She shuts the door behind her and stares at the mirror.
Her eyes are red, the lids swollen, causing her to seem half asleep even though she is wide awake. Her chocolate brown hair, due for a wash, lays flat on her head, the grease shining in the light streaming through the small window. Her face is oily and, if she focuses very hard, she can smell her own body odour. She quickly strips, her back to the mirror, and hops in the shower.
She welcomes the hot water beating against her back, her hair falling in a curtain around her face. She turns up the heat until it burns her skin, leaving it bright red. She scrubs violently, scratching her scalp while she washes her hair. She does anything to herself that can distract her from the agony in her breaking heart, anything that has a hope of eclipsing her grief.
A knock on the door and the announcement of Lily’s arrival prompts her to shut the water off and step into the cold air. Looking around, she sees only a bathrobe, pink to match the room. She puts it on, tying it tightly as to hide as much skin as possible. Her hair clings to it, soaking it as water drips down the ends. She enters the room to find Lily sitting on the bed.
“Ben went to eat a spot of breakfast,” she says, “I went to your house and brought all your stuff,” she motions to Rainne’s trunk, which sits at the foot of the bed, “I reckoned you’d want some clothes.”
“Thank you,” says Rainne, opening the trunk. She grabs the first thing she says, changing quickly in the bathroom.
“Ready?” says Lily when she comes back out, fully dressed. Rainne nods and the pair heads down the stairs. The Potter family, joined by Ben and Sirius, sits around the island counter in the center of the kitchen. A hearty breakfast rivaling that of Hogwarts has been prepared, complete with toast and jam, eggs, sausage, and even a small stack of pancakes, among other delights. It seems that everyone has finished eating, their plates holding the remnants of their food. Rainne sits in an empty seat between Ben and Sirius, leaving Lily to, very reluctantly, sit beside James and his father.
The light chatter stops when they take their seats, and James’s father turns to Lily first.
“Lily, dear, nice to see you as always,” he says, his greying handlebar moustache moving with his lips. Lily nods and he turns to Rainne, “You must be Rainne,” the pity in his eyes is obvious. Rainne wishes to be swallowed into the ground, “I’m Richard, James’s father.”
“You can just call him Dad,” says Sirius, “That’s what everyone calls him.”
“Or Dick,” sniggers James. Sirius and Ben chuckle while Charlotte reaches across the counter to smack James upside the head, but Rainne sees she’s trying to hide her laughter too. Mr. Potter, in no way amused, gives them all a stern look that wipes the smirks off their faces. Lily, jamming her bread with pursed lips, doesn’t seem to find it funny either. Mr. Potter looks back at Rainne, his expression becoming more gentle.
“Rainne, may I speak to you in private?” he asks.
Rainne nods, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. He excuses himself and leads her around the corner, into his study. Walnut bookshelves line the walls, the only gap left for the doorway. Books, old and new, overflow the shelves. The books that don’t fit are stacked neatly on the floor, some reaching up to Rainne’s waist. She sees mostly wizarding texts, but doesn’t fail to notice a few muggle titles. Mr. Potter sits behind the matching desk, motioning for Rainne to sit in front of him.
“Before I start I want to offer my sincerest condolences,” Mr. Potter says, “I met your grandfather on a handful of occasions. He was a good man,” Rainne tugs at the corners of her mouth in an attempt to smile, but she can’t manage it. Mr. Potter continues, “I’ve spoken with the Ministry and they are going to start a full-fledged investigation on his murder.”
Rainne’s eyes widen.
“Can you think of anyone that would want to harm your grandfather?” he asks.
Rainne shakes her head, “N-no, sir.”
“Are you sure?” Mr. Potter eyes her, “What about -can you think of anyone that would want to hurt you?”
She inhales sharply, “No, s-sir.”
Mr. Potter, still eyeing her, seems to believe her lie, “Alright then. If they make any progress, I’ll be sure to let you know,” he pauses, looking through some paperwork on his desk, “Since your grandfather was a muggle, there will be a lawyer,” Mr. Potter stops himself, looking up at Rainne through his glasses, “That is what they’re called, right? Lawyers?” Rainne nods, “Charlotte always had a better handle on muggle terms… Anyhow, a lawyer will meet with you about his will. I believe a Ministry representative will be setting up the appointment, you should receive an owl from them shortly.”
Rainne nods again, unsure of what to say. Mr. Potter looks at her until she finally mutters, “Th-thank you, sir.”
He waves his hand dismissively, “Don’t worry about it, dear. That’s all I have for you right now. If you need anything else please let me know.”
Rainne nods again and exits the study, looking up and down the corridor. She hears animated chatter upstairs and walks into the living room, trying to avoid any social contact. To her dismay, Mrs. Potter is knitting in the armchair, her legs turned towards the fire. She looks up at Rainne.
“Hello, dear,” she says, “How are you feeling?” Rainne sits at the end of the sofa nearest to her.
“Alright,” she says, managing to say the word in one go. Mrs. Potter smiles, returning to her knitting.
“Ben told me your birthday is coming up soon. Will you be seventeen?” Rainne nods, “That’s something to look forward to. It’s a very important day.”
Mrs. Potter smiles, “Oh, Rainne, don’t call me ma’am. You can call me Charlotte. Or Mum,” she chuckles, “Whatever you’d like, darling.”
Rainne opens her mouth to respond, but pauses when she hears a tapping on the window. Mrs. Potter looks up as Rainne turns towards the sound. A beautiful eagle owl continues to hit its beak against the window. Rainne hurries to unlatch it, letting the owl in. It drops a letter on her lap and circles the room, flying back out the window. Mrs. Potter latches it shut as Rainne turns over the envelope.
“I-it’s from the Mi-ministry,” she says, staring at it. Mrs. Potter walks over to Rainne, sitting beside her. She puts her hand on Rainne’s shoulder, squeezing it lightly.
“You can do this, Rainne,” she says. Rainne nods, swallowing the lump in her throat. It disappears, but as she slowly breaks the wax seal on the envelope, her nerves resurface. Mrs. Potter gives her another light squeeze and Rainne opens the envelope completely, taking a deep breath.
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