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Chapter 31 : A Party
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He had been expecting this the first night they came home, but it hadn't come. He had sat at the kitchen table the next night, sure the boy had been waiting but too afraid to wake him the night before. Nothing. Now he looked up, four days since they had returned home, a bit surprised.
"Sure," he said, hoping it sounded as inviting as he wanted. He did not truly want to have this discussion with Devlin. If Harry could have chosen how the world worked, he would be having his first conversation about death with Devlin over the tidily dug grave for Zee, when the boy was years older and so much more innocent. But the world never worked how Harry wanted and this conversation would be no different.
Devlin seated himself - tense and straight-backed, in a chair in front of him.
"What do you want to talk about, Devlin?" It was foolishly unnecessary to ask, but Harry always felt so forced to be formal with Devlin.
"About the fight," Devlin said, with the same sort of forced formality; Harry wondered which of them was dictating this straight-backed behavior.
"I didn't want you to see that," Harry said, and once more he wished Devlin had listened to him and shut his eyes.
"I didn't," the boy said, as if Harry's wish were offensive - as if he had thought Harry had known something. Harry took a breath and reminded himself that things never went how he planned. Devlin leaned forward in his chair. "I don't know why I listened to you."
It was almost as if his son wanted him to tell him why he had.
"But-" It wasn't necessary to finish the statement. "You shouldn't have lied, Devlin."
"They were going to hurt you."
Of course. Harry should have seen that. Should have expected that. Should have known that when they brought up his name and possible wrong-doing that Devlin would imagine Rufus as Voldemort and him as a follower. Torture.
Harry closed his eyes and took another breath.
"They would have...written me up. What else can they do? I'm Harry Potter. I'm meant to save the world."
The boy frowned and Harry found he was willing to make metaphors for Devlin that he would kill himself for saying otherwise.
"In this scenario, Devlin...I'm more like Voldemort and much much less like...Malfoy." He'd almost said Bellatrix, but he'd never been sure about her and Voldemort and incase the boy knew something he did not...
"You killed him on purpose," the child said, with his typical and disarming nature for candor.
"Well yes - it's hard to kill without meaning too. He was too strong-"
"No he wasn't." Harry frowned. "You made a tactical move. You told me to close my eyes after he said he knew me. All the other Death Eaters landed on their stomaches. Eyes down. Then you killed him. I saw when I opened my eyes."
"You could have used him to know about me, but you didn't."
"Nothing Voldemort made you do has any value to me, Devlin," Harry said, side-stepping the accusation but not willing to miss the opportunity to say it one more time. He wished he could know how many times Devlin would need to hear it to believe it so that he could work it into every conversation until the quota had been met.
"I don't want to die, sir. No one has to make me do something that will keep me alive."
Harry wasn't sure what to say. He should say 'don't you realize that is a form of control? Don't you understand that making you worry that you would be killed was how he made you do it?' But he didn't say those things, because he had before, and Devlin hadn't understood and Harry knew only time and healing would make him ready to process the concept.
"Every person has a right to protect their own life," Harry said, wishing he knew something better to say. Devlin leaned back in his chair.
"How come you're a Parseltongue?"
There was something in the abrupt change, in his eyes, in his posture - that Harry noted but could not define.
"When Voldemort tried to kill me when I was a baby - well Dumbledore believes a bit of his magic attached itself to me and transferred the gift. I can't speak it like a true Parseltongue."
His eyes narrowed, his lips pursed together and his tongue snuck out.
"You have him in you?" Harry might have expected disgust or fear, but he hadn't been expecting that gleam that looked suspiciously like jealousy. "Is that why he hasn't been able to kill you? Is that why you're almost as strong as him?"
"I like to think that is my own doing," Harry said.
"Fine, believe what you want," he said and he was rising from the chair and Harry knew he had said something wrong.
"I wasn't like you as a boy, Devlin. Even when you were tiny you had a control over you magic that I couldn't fathom. Your mum and I, both growing up as muggles, assumed it was because you were raised around magic. But I know that isn't true. I wasn't gifted like you, but my magic was there, it was just...different from yours."
He had paused to listen, but he did not turn around to stay. Harry watched him leave and could only hope that he hadn't just heardbut thought of what Harry said.
For weeks after his return, Alexandra would look up and be shocked to see him there: standing in the hallway, seated at the table, opening the door to his room, playing with Emma, arguing with Harry. After a while, the shock had subsided and he had once more seemed to just belong and she could even look at him sometimes without remembering that they had lost him for so long.
Today, he looked once more out of place. He was at the top of the stairs, his hands fiddling with the tiny box, dressed more formally than any other child there. A pair of Emma's friends from school, Albert and Aria, twins that looked like mirrors of their parents, raced past the stairs, laughing. Harry followed after them. His hands were a bright blue with green talons. Emma raced behind him, matching hands.
"Who ever is last to the yard gets an experimental candy flavor!" Harry called. George's girl, Josephine, gave a shriek that Alexandra thought might actually have a dose of actually fear, and raced past her to make it to the yard. An Auror in full garb came out of her living room after them, sipping at pumpkin juice.
"This has got to be the best job of the year," he said to her, smiling. "Do you need any help, Mrs. Potter?"
"No, thank you," she said, and rose her gaze to catch Devlin again. He wasn't there.
She bit her lip and approached the steps. She thought he might have retreated to his room, but he was just around the corner, leaning up against the hallway wall, eyes closed.
"Devlin?" He didn't even move. She knew she hadn't snuck up on him. She rather thought that was impossible.
"I'm just...taking a breath."
Sometimes Devlin was so solid - too solid - that Alexandra had a tendency to think maybe he really was just so self-certain. But he wasn't. He was still her boy - terribly inquisitive and questioning every one and every thing, including himself. With Harry he had always been a happy boy, laughing and giggling and trying to pull out the man from the war-hardened hero, but it was her that he used to sneak up to and ask all the crazy questions. 'Will you tell me all the spells that are blue, mummy?' 'Why do you have to feel happy to make an animal come out of your wand?' 'My happy animal will be a puppy and my angry animal will be a wolf and when I'm really really mad my animal will be a dragon.'
"Are you going to be okay, Devlin?"
"Is there...is there anything I'm not supposed to say around...children?"
"No swear words, would be nice. Don't talk about torture or Voldemort or complex magic. If you avoid those topics, we should be good."
"What am I supposed to say, if they ask who I am?"
"If it were me I'd just say 'Emma's brother Devlin'."
"But...what if they...know I was- that you thought I was-"
"Most of their parents have probably already told him before showing up here, Devlin. They are all friends of ours as well as Emma's. We trust them all."
"Not too much - the house is full of Aurors."
"Yes well...we want everything to go smoothly."
He laughed caustically, running a hand through his hair.
"I should go, huh?"
"It would be terribly embarrassing if a six year old found Emma's almost ten year old brother hiding..."
He laughed again, and slipped past her down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs one of the Walden twins found him.
"Who are you?" She heard the boy ask and she could imagine his little blond curls jumping as he tipped his head and gave his best demanding look.
"I'm Emma's brother, Devlin. Terribly nice to meet you. Do you know where they're hiding the cake? I was just looking."
She hid her laughter behind her hand, imagining his expression.
The little blond boy who had met him at the bottom of the step led him out into the yard. He had hair like Dubhán had never seen, so thick and curly that it grew like a whirl away from his head and bounced when he walked.
"That's my sister and there's Emma," the boy told him, taking his hand without first requesting and dragging him toward his sister. She was seated under one of the trees, in a circle of girls. It seemed at first glance that the curly haired boy and he might be the only male children.
Harry shouted for him, but Dubhán didn't really intend to talk to the man while he had blue monster-like hands, and kept letting the boy drag him toward Emma. When was the proper time to hand out presents?
The girls under the tree were talking about things he did not think about while someone braided Emma's hair, facing away from him. Something didn't seem right, and his body lagged a fraction of a second behind the little blond boys pull. He stumbled and the boy said "hey, come, on," and Emma and the girl braiding her hair turned around. He felt breathless. Her. She was in a deep purple dress, her hair in a braid that divided into two. A smidgen of freckles dusted her nose and cheeks, as if a butterfly had landed there. She was clean and tidy. Her eyes were bright and free of redness. He looked for the smudge by her jaw, but it wasn't there. Looked for the red bands around her wrists, but they had disappeared. Looked for the rips in her dress, but it wasn't the same.
She was frozen, her hands still on Emma's hair, and he wanted to lift his wand and utter 'Imperio' so that she wouldn't be so still. But he didn't, of course. No complex magic, his mother had said and her words rung in his ears and made his mind unlock.
"Who are you?" A girl asked, who looked suspiciously like the blond boy. She was blond too, her hair falling in soft little waves around her face.
"I'm Emma's brother, Devlin. Terribly nice to meet you." He stopped before he started talking about cake. Emma giggled. Slowly, she turned around and went to work on the braid.
"Devlin!" It was Harry, a now-normal hand on his shoulder, pulling him in the opposite direction. He was guided over toward a small table where brightly wrapped boxes were piling up. "I didn't know," Harry said, softly.
"David - he took the shift for someone else and he called Alexandra this morning to ask if Maria could come. Emma likes Maria and I...I haven't exactly told Alexandra so...she said yes."
"Obviously," Dubhán said.
"If you want to wait inside I'll make your excuses for you," Harry offered.
Dubhán almost agreed, but something funny in his stomach made him shake his head.
"I'll stay away from her, I promise. I saw she was afraid."
Harry frowned and quirked an eye-brow.
"You know, now might be a good opportunity to tell you again, and hopefully have it sink into your head this time: what you did most people would consider heroic. I'm not sure she's freezing for the same reasons as you."
Harry squeezed his shoulder and then he was gone.
He did end up inside, but just because he was running out of appropriate responses to the littlest children's questions about him. They hadn't asked where he had been for four years. They hadn't looked at him with fear or known he was dangerous. The candor was disarming. They asked him things he hadn't thought about: what's your favorite animal? What's your favorite color? Do you have chocolate frog cards? Do you have a broom? What's your favorite Quidditch position?
So he was at the kitchen table, fiddling with Emma's present, when the door opened. It was her. Purple dress, perfectly braided hair, clean skin.
"Is this where you live now?" She asked him, and he wondered how she managed - to stand there and be so brave as to make the first move. She was standing at the kitchen door, blocking any new entrance. She smoothed out her dress and when his eyes connected with hers, she looked down at her hands and fiddled with a bracelet.
"Yes," he said, simply.
She nodded and below the shyness and weakness he saw a strength that he didn't yet have. It was her that had come to him. She sat herself at the table, removed a bracelet, and fiddled with the opaque beads.
"I'm here with my dad," she said, nodding to herself. He could see the courage dissipating. Just when he thought she'd become the only girl he knew - shy and weak and frozen - she lifted her head. "I won't talk about it, if you don't want."
For a moment he felt his brain aligning the orders in his head to make his body nod in agreement, but then he swiped at the remembered that need to tell Potter. She had never told anyone.
"You could talk to me," he said, because at the same time he knew her silence protected him and he had never been able to look and death and welcome him as a friend. He did not want to die.
She looked at her pretty purple-blue beads again.
"Can they kill you here?"
'If you tell them anything about here or about me, they'll find you and kill you and I'll let them, because they'll be killing me, too.'
"I don't know," he said. "But I know how to keep things secret from them now."
She looked up sharply, her brow furrowing between her eyes and her lips pressed nervously together.
"It's something you do in your head," he said, and the oddness of this conversation was just beginning to hit him. "I can't explain it, I don't think. You learn by someone attacking your mind and your mind learns how to stop it from happening."
"So they can kill you, but not for me?"
He nodded. He felt numb, his focus only for her.
"My daddy says as long as he's around they can't kill me," she fiddled with her bracelet. "But I know he's just trying to make me feel better. It does make me feel better but..."
"I know." She nodded again and he nodded and for a moment he realized that she really did know.
"I never told him. Never. He used to come to my house and ask me all the time how I had escaped, but I never told him it was because of you. Sometimes I had to pretend you were there, telling me not to."
He didn't know what to say, so he nodded. This was her turn, anyways.
"Why did you do it?" He frowned as he raised his eyes to meet her face - filled with uncertainty and questioning.
"You were crying," he said, as if that had so much to do about it, and to him it had. "They weren't meant to bring you there - where everyone could see you - but they made a mistake. You were crying and you had brilliant blue eyes and your red hair was coming out of it's braid and for some reason I knew I'd never be able to sleep again if they killed you."
She had stopped breathing, her hands growing still on her bracelet. Frozen. He reached across the table and touched her, and she shuttered and took a breath.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I tried to save you before...but I was too afraid that they would kill me." Even now, he wasn't sure how to describe what had happened to her, or why, but the images were burned in his head.
There were tears on her cheeks and he wanted to do whatever it would take to make them disappear.
"Everyone said you were dead, but I knew you weren't. I knew you stayed alive. You made them think you weren't Devlin Potter, right? Made them think you were someone ordinary they didn't need to care about?"
He frowned softly.
"Why would you think that?"
"Everyone said...everyone said they killed you because you were Mr. Potter's son and it made a statement. So you must have tricked them."
He shook his head slowly.
"No. I convinced him I was too interesting to kill."
She tapped the table softly.
"That seems much better than my idea." She leaned forward. "How did you do it?"
Her brilliant blue eyes were alight with life.
"I made him look at me and not see me," he said, licking his suddenly dry lips. He was as startled by the words as her, perhaps more-so, because she looked confused as well. He wasn't confused. It was the closest he had ever gotten to getting the concept in his head out of his head and into the world. He could remember the words his father had said to him, the words that had haunted him deep in his mind while his body lay sickly on that bed. Love is the most powerful thing of all. Love will always protect you. "I made him see something he loved."
"What does he love?" She asked, as she tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear. His heart was beating quick and weak in his chest, his mouth suddenly dry, and he had the sudden, unexplainable, grasp of how to say what she wanted to know.
"He only loves himself." She frowned and the trance that had seemed to envelope his mind moments ago in a dense, pleasant, fog lifted suddenly.
"Oh," she said, her lips dimpling on one side.
Suddenly he felt exposed and ugly under her gaze for a reason he could not explain.
"Now you're just Devlin again, right?" She asked after a moment, gazing at him with something he could not describe.
His heart was frozen in his chest, his breath lost in his mouth, his thoughts numb in his head and he was nothing, nothing, nothing.Nothing good. Nothing bad. Nothing at all. His wolf prowled in his head and he didn't want to tell her what he was now. Didn't want her to know. Anyone but her.
"No. Did you go back to being you?" His voice was shaking and he was shaking and he made himself keep looking at her.
She leaned back in her chair. Looked at her hands. Hunched her shoulders.
"No, never - but almost."
"I'm - I'm going to start shaking," he said, forcing the words from his throat. "Please don't scream. Please don't scream. Please - get my Harry."
His head hit the table on his way down and for one brief moment he could see her standing, breathing in and out, her hands clenched at her sides. Frozen. He wished he could lift his wand and release her, but then he was gone.
He could feel it ripping past his throat before he could stop it and horror and humiliation burst into cruel animation in his chest. Screaming. He was screaming. He always screamed for her.
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