Chapter 17 : 17. Whispering Hearts
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Two full weeks into the school year, Wren realized that she'd already been home once, and that this was her first real Saturday at Hogwarts (not counting the first weekend after they'd gotten off the train, since she couldn't remember much of what had happened). So much was going on every single day that it was hard keeping up with timetables, assignments and photography. She didn't feel like she had a bigger load than normal this year. Their OWLS year was last year, and she'd been busier with school than ever and still managed to make room for her favorite hobby.
But this year, everything seemed to pass by in a blur, and Wren had barely found time to develop her photographs. In fact, she couldn't actually remember when she'd found the time to go out to the shed. Obviously she had, because she found herself surrounded that afternoon by three rolls of film, loosely divided into broom stunts, scoring drills and speed laps around the stadium. A smaller stack detailed Scorpius' fall from grace and the girls who had rushed out of the stands to save him.
"You can burn those," Rose said, motioning her foot to the image of her tripping over herself and shoving people out of the way. "I scuffed up my new trainers for nothing."
Wren swiped the small stack out of view. Bunny shivered as she pointed her wand at a set of pictures floating in front of her. She tilted her head to the side and then began plucking squares out of the air.
"Not that one. That one either. Hmm.... he's not even on his broom in that one." Wren snatched the last picture away, the one of Albus winking conspiratorially. It was a test shot, a focus experiment, but she liked it too much to throw it out. Those eyes had shone brightly back at her in a particularly vivid dream a few nights ago.
Bunny snorted and hopped away as she stifled a yawn that came on top of yet another. Other dreams, she'd rather forget. Dillon had been creeping into her head more and more. She was getting a little freaked out by how familiar the little boy had become.
The letter from her mum poked out between her school books where she'd shoved it several days ago. She knew it was childish, not dealing with whatever her mum wanted to tell her, and her dad was eventually bound to notice that she hadn't come round his office to say hello in almost a week, but every time Wren thought about going to see him, her stomach did an uncomfortable sideways lurch.
Dillon's face. Pictures, letters, parents... the thoughts jumbled together inside, weighing her down like a tethered Hippogriff.
Later. She'd deal with it all later.
Callie bounded into the room and spilled Rose's mound of pillows onto the floor in a fit of giggles.
“Shhh!” Rose said conspiratorially, tossing the pillows back onto the bed at Callie. “You’re going to give it all away!”
Wren ignored her two roommates and scrutinized her work. "What do you think, Trudy?"
"She can't hear you. She's muffed." Callie fell back into another fit of giggles.
Trudy pulled a set of wild Augurey feather ear muffs off her head, music from the latest dungeon band blaring through them. "What? I heard my name."
Wren waved to the school-wide montage floating in mid-air. "What do you think?"
Trudy pointed accusingly at the picture hovering near Wren's left ear. "Godric Gryffindor! Not that one, I'm smiling!"
"All your pictures are like that," Wren said. "You love to fly."
Trudy grumbled and examined the rest of the board with a critical eye.
Wren held her breath. She'd been very, very careful to select only the best shots, and not the ones with her favorite player in them. In fact, she'd held back a few very good photos of Albus, out of fear that the display would look like a Featured Player of the Week, instead of a general practice.
"Fine. They're all fine. Very actiony," Trudy finally declared, and Wren breathed in relief.
“What should we wear?” Rose asked suddenly scooting into her bed next to Callie, spilling her pillows over the side again.
“Something dark and unnoticeable,” Trudy said, still squinting at the photographs. “Wouldn’t want any of your shiny objects to get you caught on your first time out.”
“Oh, right,” Rose looked disappointed. “I don’t want to attract attention, do I?”
“Why? Is Scorpius coming too?” Callie asked.
“No! I’m not going anywhere near him and his girlfriend.” She said that last part like he’d contracted an infectious disease.
“Go where?” Wren asked, and immediately wished she hadn't. If this was another one of Rose’s “plans”, she didn’t want to get involved.
“We’re sneaking out to Hogsmeade tonight!” Rose whispered loudly. “With James and some of the other seventh years. Oh, I know!” Her eyes lit up dangerously. “Come with us, Wren! I’m sure James won’t mind one more person tagging along.”
“Can't. My dad." Sometimes Wren felt like he had Sneakoscopes all over the castle, watching her. "And besides, I already have plans.”
Rose reeled back and clutched at her heart. “Plans? On a Saturday night?” Three sets of eyes landed on Wren.
“I’m studying in the library.” Wren said. And helping Albus with his rabbit, but they didn't need to know that. She could just let them think that her plans were normal and boring, like they always were.
Bunny snorted from under her bed. Rabbits like carrots.
Well, of course they do. That was a silly thought. Wren would definitely take some carrots with her to the library.
Rose twisted her hair into a sloppy bun in front of her mirror and eyed herself critically. She swept an escaped strand out of her face. "Don't think that I'm breaking the rules just for fun. I'm going to make James confess!"
"About what?" Wren was trying not to look Trudy in the eye, suddenly very glad that she hadn't mentioned who she was meeting in the library. Some of Albus' pictures had still managed to make it onto the board, just because he was a great flyer. Trudy was leaning in to a different set of pictures, rubbing her chin, which was a hopeful sign that Wren hadn't biased the display.
"About pranking you Wednesday night," Rose answered
Wren wanted to tell her that it wasn't about James the other night, but then she'd have to explain herself even more: about Bunny and the headaches, the stuff that was going on inside her head that was so messy that she hadn't put it into words yet.
She felt a tug at her mind, and something whispered to her that maybe words weren't necessary. Wren shot a look at Bunny, who had found a piece of stray alfalfa hay near her shoes.
That was amazing! It was almost like her rabbit was communicating with her!
“That's rubbish!" Trudy scoffed. "James isn't going to spill his secrets to you just because you’re playing rebel for one night.”
"I can be very convincing," Rose retorted. “It's for Wren!”
Trudy let out a loud snort and turned back to Wren's board. "Can you copy that one for me?" She pointed to a shot of McCormack from Hufflepuff doing a very complex, very illegal double loop around a goal hoop in slow motion. "I've always wanted to know how he does that and he goes so fast that no one can see what's going on. How'd you keep the action so clean when you slowed down the playback?"
Wren held up the omnioculars. "Got the idea from these."
"It's a spell? How'd you do it? No, never mind." Trudy waved a hand, erasing any possibility of starting an academic discussion about magic. Wren sometimes wondered why Trudy never tried harder at school - they were all decent witches or they wouldn't even be in Hogwarts. Trudy's magic had always been on the average side. She put more effort into optimizing her broom for speed and balance, and anything associated with the game of Quidditch. If there was a class for advanced flying, Trudy would be all over it.
"Gemino," Wren whispered, and an exact duplicate of McCormack's photograph fell into her hand. Wren let out a grateful sigh that her wand had cooperated again, and gave it to Trudy, who was still staring at the floating display.
Trudy held up McCormack's photograph and nodded appreciatively. "Thanks for this! No wonder you're in the 'special class' with them." She eyed the giggling girls on Rose's bed. "Deviants."
Wren conjured a cup and saucer in the palm of her hand. Ever since the man at the bar had given her the tea, her wand work was slowly returning to normal. She still braced herself for failure with every spell, but sometimes, when she forgot to be scared, she accomplished the most amazing things.
McCormack had been flying low, showing off his moves to whoever was watching. Wren remembered holding the omnioculars in one hand, her camera in the other, and all of a sudden, she'd simply thought of the idea that the movements could slow down when the shutters went off. Her camera glowed, she'd snapped the picture and it wasn't until she sat in the dark room, staring in awe at the resulting photograph that she'd realized what she'd done.
Wren had begun to link her anxious feelings to her strange visions of Dillon. During the day, she could push him aside, but at night he came like the boogeyman, invading her sleep, whispering things she couldn't remember in the morning. If Wren could choose her dreams, there would be more Albus and less creepy little boy.
Besides the haunting dreams of creepy little boys, things were getting better. Not everything, she admitted, shoving her mum's letter in between the covers of her Runes text and slamming it shut. Her headaches had almost completely vanished and her magic was back, getting stronger by the day.
She felt better too, better than she had in a long time. Wren hoped that meant that she wasn't going crazy like she'd feared earlier. She finished her tea and grabbed an extra bag from under her bed, bumping the little rabbit's foot.
"Sorry, Bunny," she whispered. Bunny didn't 'say' anything back. Well, don't be stupid about it, she chided herself. He's a rabbit.
Her worries about becoming a textbook basket case had eased up, and had given her the confidence to show her pictures to the Quidditch captains for their final approval of her new appointment as League Photographer for the year - which she suddenly realized that she wanted more than she thought she did.
Callie called from across the room, "Hey Wren, if you go with us, James will know that you know, and he'll give up the charade for good. Then we can tell Albus he was right all along."
Albus... Wren's stomach fluttered. Yes, she wanted to tell him things, but it wasn't about James. She was suddenly dying to tell him about Bunny, believing that he'd be the perfect person to understand how important the little animal was to her. It had been so long since they'd had a proper, clear-headed best friend chat about anything that she was looking forward to just sitting down with him, like they used to do all the time - except if she was honest with herself, it wouldn't be exactly the same, not if she was sighing every time he smiled at her...
She blushed at her own thoughts and self-consciously looked around the room. Trudy was right, things were different. For one, small moment, Wren allowed the butterflies in her stomach to dance around unfettered.
"You guys have fun without me," Wren said to Callie and Rose, who were now decked out in the darkest colored clothes that they could gather between the two of them. "And be careful," she added.
"Sure you want to be in the library on a Saturday night?" Rose asked her.
Wren swept the floating pictures into a neat stack and thought about Albus and all the catching up they had to do.
"Where else would I want to be?"
Albus hastily folded up the ratty parchment as the library doors opened. He'd just finished stuffing the map into his pocket when Wren hefted an overstuffed backpack onto the sturdy library table and blew out a shaky breath.
He didn't know why she hadn't charmed everything smaller - but maybe Wren was still having trouble - she'd been absolute rubbish in class at the start of the term.
"I brought everything we need," she said, and started pulling school books and papers out of her bag, along with rabbit snacks and a bundle of fresh carrots. She blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes.
"He's still back there," Albus said. "I checked the, err... charm."
"That's good." Wren's hair was almost as long as his now. He rather liked it that way. It didn't actually matter how long or short her hair was, but this way, it made her look more... she blew her hair out of her face again... yeah, like that.
She popped the cap off her camera and took a picture of the bright green tops and orange roots splayed all over the table. "What did Priscilla Whitby want?" she asked from behind her camera.
"Nothing important," Albus said. "Wait, you saw that?"
Wren pulled her camera away from her face and studied him. "It was in the main hall, in front of the whole school. She couldn't have been more obvious if she'd worn a basket of fruit on her head."
It was why he'd been so early, actually. The girl had cornered him after the prefects meeting in the main corridor, sauntered up to him and asked him to help her with a Transfiguration assignment - he would have fallen for that last year - but there was something about her - her hair, the sparkle in her eyes - the way she moved deliberately - like she thought she was having some kind of effect on him - his bracelets vibrated against his skin.
Ahh, that's what she was about.
"Sorry," he'd told Priscilla and her poofed out lips, "I've got to be somewhere," clearly seeing that she wanted to do anything but schoolwork.
The girl had put on a pouty face, also strangely deliberate, and Albus left her in the hall, while she called after him, "Don't you think I'm pretty?"
Wren shook her head and pulled more things out of her bag. "She looked so wrong. Scorpius would've called her a chav. Anyway, doesn't matter. You're here." She wiped her brow with the back of her hand, then turned away and self-consciously pulled her t-shirt down that had ridden up a little too high.
Albus stared at her back. "Where else would I be?"
Wren hummed and emptied the rest of her stuff onto the table. Then she absently stared at the large library doors and took a few shots at those, stepping closer and closer, until her last shots were pointing almost straight up at the ceiling.
"You've got a plan?" Albus asked when she returned to their table.
"We'll set up a trail of treats from the restricted section to the main area to lure the rabbit out. I brought Bunny's favorite treats to lure it into your cage. Then we can snap it shut and carry him out of here. It shouldn't take that long, and if Madame Pince asks what we're doing, we can just tell her we're cleaning up after your brother." She grinned at her own plan, and Albus grinned back, liking that he could possibly pin this on James if it came down to it.
Across the room, Madame Pince loudly scraped her chair away from her desk, and Wren scrambled with her History text, trying to look busy. Albus did the same. The old librarian walked past their table without a word, and Wren let out a sigh of relief.
"I'd hate to have to explain the carrots," she whispered.
They took turns watching out for Madame Pince and setting up a treat trail from the edge of the south-facing stacks to the Restricted Section gates, and in not too long, Wren came back from her turn in the stacks, brushing crumbs off her shirt from the rabbit treats.
"All set," she said. "Now all we do is wait."
Albus scooped his books off the couch into his arms. "Saved you a seat." He held his breath a little until she fell into the space beside him. He didn't want to look too obvious (or desperate, like Priscilla Whitby with her half-dozen Glamour Charms), but if Wren had noticed the table across the room, which had recently acquired twice as many chairs crowded around it, she didn't say anything. (He'd have to thank Scorpius later for the idea.)
When Madame Pince shuffled back to her desk and started stamping returned books without looking up, Wren quickly started in on her History assignment, partially adjusting herself so she was leaning against his side.
"Look busy," she whispered.
Albus opened his own book and stared at it blankly. With less than a breath between them, there was no way he was going to concentrate on schoolwork. He sniffed her hair and heard her sigh in rhythm with her scratching quill.
Fine, maybe he'd try to get a rough draft started - he'd be happy if she just agreed to do this with him every night... no, he wouldn't. He wanted a whole lot more, but this was good. For a start. He scribbled some random thoughts down onto parchment, slogging through the assignment like he did that time his mum had ordered him to shovel snow... except this was warmer and cozier than that had been. Before he knew it, he was done. Albus stared thoughtfully at the parchment. Wren was comfortably warm next to him, and her quill had stopped moving. He wondered if anything was going through her head other than that History assignment.
More would be better...
"Albus," she said, looking up at him, almost upside down from the way she was leaning against him.
"What is it?" If she were just a bit closer, he could...
Wren sat up. "Could you proofread my essay?"
Albus willed himself to stay calm, and took the parchment from her. "Sure," he said as steadily as he could. "Trade?"
She settled back at his side and they both read silently. Albus tried breathing slower, this time not smelling her hair on purpose. He tried concentrating on what they had come into the library for in the first place. "Are you sure this is going to work?" he asked, cocking his head at the stacks where the trail of treats disappeared into the darkness.
"It should. Maybe." Her voice was small. "Probably." She frowned, tapping his essay. "Do you really think that the Ministry of Magic should have authority over vampires?"
Albus shrugged. "Who else is going to control them?" He hadn't thought too hard about his essay. With Wren being so close, it just seemed like the easiest topic to write about. Most of the ideas had come directly from the book.
"But vampires are so old. Wouldn't they have their own form of government or something? The last vampire-wizard dispute was over two hundred years ago. Why should we start meddling with them now?"
Albus squinted. Obviously, Wren wanted him to have a real conversation about this, which was a change from the flakey way she'd acted at the start of the term. He forced himself to read through Wren's essay as he'd promised, and was surprised to find that her topic was the polar opposite of his. By the end, even though he didn't personally agree with self-governing, non-wizard societies, he felt that she'd made a solid argument against imposing wizarding rules on societies whose cultural differences would be more harmed than helped by them.
"This is really good," he said, handing the essay back to her, "even if it would only work in a perfect world. Aunt Hermione and my dad work with non-wizard beings all the time, and I've never once heard either of them talk about organized vampires. They're not even classified as magical."
Wren handed back his essay. "Yours looks fine." Albus could tell she wasn't pleased with his conclusion, which he had simply parroted from the Ministry's current policy of regulating things just because they were a thing to be regulated.
They both tensed up as Madame Pince got up again and shuffled into her office. Then she came out with keys in her hand, looked a little lost, and then walked out of the library without a word about the trail of pellets or the bunch of carrots on the table.
Wren peered into the stacks. "This shouldn't be taking so long. Bunny can't resist those pellets and your rabbit must be starving."
"Yeah," Albus agreed. "Strange though, how we both got weird rabbits from that kid. Yours glows and mine holes up in the Restricted Section."
"Dillon," Wren said. "That's his name."
"The little boy with the rabbits in Diagon Alley. He wanted so badly to come to Hogwarts this year, but he looked so young. I wonder why he thinks he'd get a letter before he's old enough."
"Weird," Albus said. Like all the other things he'd been noticing about her since the year began. Since before that. He didn't want to bring it up now, when they were finally together without Rose or Scorpius or anyone else, but if something was wrong, he needed to know about it. "Speaking of weirdness, you've been out of it lately. Not just from getting sick the other night. Before that. You freaked out on your birthday before the term started, and ever since then, you've been different."
He put a hand on her arm. He didn't want Wren to think that it affected the way he felt about her - if she even noticed.
She stared down at his hand. She was noticing now. For a second, he thought she was going to pull away, but she stayed where she was. "Albus, there's something I need to tell you."
Albus almost told her that he had something to say too, but he just nodded. If she was ready to tell him what was really going on, he was ready to listen.
"It's Bunny," she said. "He's... it's hard to explain."
"I can't even begin to explain my rabbit either," Albus said. "I was thinking maybe we should tell someone..."
"No, we can't," Wren said quickly. "I mean, it's just an overgrown rabbit. We can get it back into the cage on our own, and then turn it in to the gamekeeper or something, if you don't want it anymore. Besides, there's nothing wrong with Bunny. He's just like the little rabbit I had back home. This is going to sound strange, but he's..."
She stopped talking. She frowned and shook her head. It looked like she was arguing with herself inside her head.
Albus squeezed her arm gently. His frustration made him want to push harder for her to talk to him, but at the same time, whatever it was that Wren had to say was giving her fits. It wasn't like her to just stop mid-sentence and shut him out. She used to talk to him all the time, about everything, about nothing. He didn't care if she was talking rabbits or last year's style of gnome hats, he just wanted to get rid of the silence somehow.
Wren took a breath and Albus held his own. She opened her mouth. "I..."
Albus' brow creased and Wren tried again. "I..."
Suddenly, she stood up, dumping her book on the floor, parchment spilling everywhere. "I'm going to check the pellet trail." Wren fled down the darkened corridor.
Albus looked after her, some of Scorpius' colorful language floating through his brain, but he had the sense not to shout it out in the middle of the library. What was going on with her? She was seriously starting to worry him, and frustrate him... what was so horrible that she thought she couldn't tell him about it?
He gathered up her things that had tumbled onto the floor when she'd bolted. Curiously, there was a letter with a broken seal on it. He knew he should just put it on top of the pile, not open it and see Mrs. Longbottom's familiar handwriting...
You can't tell.
Yes I can, Wren thought fiercely. Albus is my friend, he'd never hurt me!
They'll take me away from you.
Wren sucked in a breath, getting visions of Bunny being carted away in a cage by stern, old men. She couldn't let anything happen to Bunny. Not now, not after everything she'd had to give up. Her home, and Gran, and her sanity, knowing that her family didn't trust her... Bunny was the only link she had to her old life. She needed him.
No one is taking you away from me, I promise.
They won't understand. Bunny's thoughts flooded Wren's head with a sudden urge to run.
Anxiety filled her, coupled with astonishment. Bunny's thoughts pushed farther into her mind, making her want things, making her twitch.
Nothing abut this was right. She shouldn't be arguing with a rabbit, especially when it was all in her head.
Get out, Wren demanded silently, and pushed back, hard. Her mind jolted free, and she had to blink a few times to reorient herself to where she was.
Wren took a deep breath, gagging a little at the sudden strong stench of rotten apples in the stacks, and then walked back to where Albus was sitting. If she could just figure out what to say...
Start small, she decided. Just say something, and the rest will come on its own. She checked again inside, but Bunny's presence had vanished. Good. For now. He couldn't have gone very far.
"It smells back there," Wren said a few minutes later, more under control and projecting all the confidence she could muster. "Worse than mooncalf dung." Albus was just sitting there, looking at her strangely. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Wren noticed all her papers and books neatly stacked on the table. Albus looked down at his hands guiltily and handed her mum's letter back to her. "This fell on the floor when you left."
Her insides seized up. When she didn't take it from him, Albus put it on the table with the rest of her things.
"I'm sorry. Yes, I read it. You've been so... I just want to help."
Wren sat down next to him. Her gut clenched. She squeezed her eyes shut, but this was Albus, and he wasn't going to disappear like some unwanted vision, or Bunny's thoughts inside her head.
"I think it fell out of your History book."
Wren snatched the letter from the table and folded it until it couldn't be folded anymore. She squeezed it into one more impossible fold, the edges bulging between her fingers.
"What does it say?" she asked.
"You haven't read it yet? But I thought... since the seal was broken." Albus shook his head. "You should read it, Wren."
Wren nodded and unfolded the parchment. She scanned through the letter, hardly digesting it, just looking for the things that she'd have to explain to Albus... not wanting to think too hard... not wanting to get upset all over again.
Her mum had apologized, of sorts, saying how sorry she was that she hadn't told Wren what was really going on, and that she hoped that Wren would forgive her and try to understand Gran's decision.
"Is this why you stopped talking to us over the summer? Is that why you didn't write back to me?"
Wren glared at him. "What good would it have done? You couldn't fix it!" Then her face crumpled. "No one could. I tried everything. Gran had... she killed them. I watched her do it and I didn't even know what was happening. No one told me what those stones were... I was right there, and I could have stopped her!"
Wren's lip trembled. Her hands, everything shook. Thankfully, there was no one left in the main part of the library to see her like this.
"Oh Godric, you're going to cry. Okay, okay," Albus said softly, almost sounding like he was saying it more for himself than her. He took her hands in his and waited.
A few tears fell. Then a few more. Wren sucked in a breath, and figured that as long as she was making a mess of things, she'd at least explain about why she'd avoided everyone and kept to herself for so long. She started talking about her family and the summer, and cried some more.
Thankfully, Albus didn't even try to make up any jokes this time. She'd had this conversation with him before - Wren used to get weirded out by all the doubts and second guessing about her grandparents' condition - Gran's constant worries about if they felt any pain, if they still had thoughts... But now it hurt inside, like it never had before. They were gone, completely and utterly. All the hope she ever had for them was gone too.
The last of her mum's letter had ended with a heartfelt "I love you" and "see you next weekend" and something more about Gran's improvement that turned Wren's stomach sour. All she could think about was that her whole family had betrayed her.
Wren's head started to ache, right behind her eyelids, but this time it was from the crying. "It wasn't fair. She took them away from us, and then she just left too, without any explanation. Mum says Gran's getting better now, but what if I don't want her to? What am I supposed to say to her now?"
Albus squeezed her hands. "Maybe Frank and Alice are in a better place," he offered.
She jerked her head up angrily. "What place is that? They're not here anymore, and they'll never come back."
A low growl startled both of them into silence. It had definitely come from the back of the library where they'd laid out the trail of treats.
"What was that?" Albus asked.
"I think that's your rabbit," Wren said, disbelievingly. They both jumped out of the seat as a low moan vibrated through the library, horrible and rasping.
Albus looked for signs of Madame Pince, and then grabbed the cage and started putting treats in it. Wren just stood there, unsure if this was such a good idea after all.
Suddenly, she heard a small voice whispering inside her head. "Come and meet my friend." The voice sounded distant, not like Bunny. It felt like Dillon, but not the lost little boy that she remembered from Diagon Alley.
She followed Albus into the stacks. "Albus, wait!"
"It's coming out, Wren. Just like you said. We can get it out before Pince gets back, and no one has to know. Let's go!"
Albus stopped as another low growl came from the back section. Then silence.
He put the cage down. He threw some carrots through the chain links. "Here, rabbit, rabbit..." He lit his wand and peered through the chain links. "Or not."
It was a mess. Shredded piles of parchment behind the shelves... strong stench of rotten apples.
"I can't believe Madame Pince hasn't noticed this yet. She'd have gotten rid of him first thing."
Another fainter voice whispered in Wren's mind. It was a dark, needy presence, not like Bunny at all, and it kept saying one word, over and over.
Albus pointed as a large, pink nose poked out from the shelves inside the restricted section. "There it is, and oh..." The nose and maw alone were twice the size of Albus' rabbit cage. A long tongue snaked out and slurped up the carrots on the ground.
My friends... my friends... the voice whispered, over and over.
Another image of Bunny flashed inside her mind, but it wasn't from Bunny. It was from that thing in front of her. She could feel it seeping into her, something ugly and wrong... Bunny changing into something sinister and controlling.
Wren bit her lip to keep from crying out. I won't let you turn Bunny into a monster!
He's my friend, he will do what I want. Dillon's voice was commanding.
He was my friend first, Wren almost screamed inside her head. The best friend I've ever had!
Images of Bunny - no, wait - this was confusing. Wren felt like it was Bunny who was showing them the cottage, the trees... in his mind, from his perspective. It was Bunny, soft, gentle Bunny who she'd rescued over the summer. Before Dillon, before Gran...
Dillon's thoughts turned dark. You left me. I want you back.
You can't have me. You can't have Bunny either! Wren didn't want Dillon, or anyone inside her head anymore, and then, just like that, she shut everything out.
The giant rabbit let out a screech and lunged forward. Wren screamed and threw everything she had at it. She wasn't going to let it near her, or Albus or Bunny. She didn't think about it, she just pointed her wand and willed the spell to come - and her magic worked!
Wren's wand let out a jet of fiery sparks, aimed directly at the large beast... except it didn't have any effect on the large rabbit. It squinted at her as the sparks flew all around it and dissipated. Then it let out an angry snort. It began to glow...
Albus pulled Wren away from the gate and started chanting under his breath. The length of the enclosure shimmered with strong anti-apparition wards. The rabbit screeched and lunged against the Restricted Section barrier, shaking the chain link, and then retreated back into the stacks.
Suddenly, Wren didn't know what to do. A raw ache was building inside her, which was weird, because when Bunny was with her she didn't .... feel. When she'd shut out Dillon and the monster rabbit, she must have shut out Bunny too. The lull she had relied on, the comforting furry presence was gone.
Albus pelted the retreating rump with the rest of the carrots. "I don't want a rabbit anymore. Pince can keep it. I can't believe she just lets it back there. Did you see? It lunged at us, and then it just stopped. Like something was controlling it."
"Did you hear any voices?" Wren asked faintly.
"No, of course not. If I was, I'd go straight to Madame Pomfrey and get checked. Voices in your head that aren't yours are generally bad." Albus sucked in a breath. "My parents can attest to that. It's just an overgrown rabbit with bad breath, right?"
Wren couldn't form words, thinking of Dillon whispering in her head, that thing invading her mind, greedy and demanding.
At the same time, Bunny wasn't like that at all.
She had longed to tell Albus about the visions, seeing her old home again through someone else's eyes - how the shared memories made it so vivid, and if she closed her eyes, she could imagine that she was still there...
But then after what just happened, what if Bunny was right about not telling? What if she told Albus, or anyone, and they decided that the danger wasn't with just Albus' rabbit? What if they decided that Bunny was dangerous too, and tried to take him away?
Wren sank onto the seat at their table, glad to be out of the dark aisles. The library was silent around them, and it was then that she looked up and realized that all the other students had packed up and gone. She peered past Albus, who was madly pacing around their table, occasionally glancing back into the stacks for any sign of the monster rabbit attempting to get out. Madame Pince was nowhere to be seen either. Wren's eyes flitted up to the large oak library doors, blowing a wisp of hair out of her eyes. They were still unlocked Then she saw the clock above the doors, and her blood ran cold.
"It's past curfew," she said softly. Somehow the offense paled in comparison to the large, salivating beast they'd trapped in the restricted section.
Albus stopped pacing and swore under his breath. "I didn't even think to watch the time." He swept his wand over the table to clear their things. "We'd better get out of here."
She took her bag from Albus, which was much lighter than before. He must have used a Shrinking Charm, because nothing was left behind on the table.
Albus and Wren took turns putting wards on the library doors when they got outside, just in case it managed to break through those. When they left, the reality that there was a large, pointy-eared monster trapped inside the Restricted Section made Wren want to crawl into the nearest broom closet and never come out. Conversely, Albus wouldn't shut up about the thing. Having found something so obviously wrong inside the school, his school, he seemed to take it as a personal affront, and chattered on and on, as if talking about it would make it less... wrong.
"Pince will be able to get in, but that thing won't be able to get out," Albus said with a tinge of excitement, flavored by the edge of hysteria. "I feel like we should leave a note or something, but how could she not know about it? It's so big, and it smells horrible. It's been there for days."
Wren followed Albus onto the revolving staircase, trying to not think too much about what had just happened, and what it meant for her and Bunny.
"I know you said we should handle this on our own, but I think we need to tell someone," Albus continued. "Not just anyone, because Merlin knows we're going to get into hot water for breaking curfew. Whoever deserves the blame, it's likely James. He's the one that gave me that rabbit. We should at least tell a Head of House, the Headmistress, someone."
Albus was talking sense, but Wren was barely listening. A cold, creeping numbness had been working its way up her spine since leaving the library. Her shoe caught in the gap between the staircase and the seventh floor platform, and she pitched forward as her socked-foot came loose. Albus caught her arm, hauling her upright as the edge of the staircase slid into place, crushing her shoe between the two marble platforms.
They both stared silently at the crushed shoe hurling seven stories below them as the staircase scraping away from the platform. Albus grasped her hand and pulled at her gently, until she took a step away from the edge. When he spoke, it was barely above a whisper. "You alright, Wren?"
Wren opened her mouth, expecting the word to tumble out on its own, but this time it caught like a lump in the back of her throat and she could barely breathe around it. She'd pretended for so long that nothing was wrong, but now, it wasn't just Bunny, or Dillon anymore. That thing... whatever it was... had been inside her mind, and it had wanted her..
She wasn't even close to being fine.
"Albus," she said finally, "about your rabbit... You're right. We have to tell my dad."
Ian Sloan spotted Albus and Wren leaving the fourth floor, from across the hall of moving staircases. Ian could call out to them now and the game would be up. He'd make it back to the Ravenclaw common room to play Hide the Hinkeypuck in no time. But something itched behind his eyes and stopped him from revealing himself. Ian shrugged the unsettling feeling aside, adjusted the prefect pin on his robe and smoothed down his dark, wavy hair in the reflection of the marble centaur's shield from his vantage point on the fifth floor. If he timed it right, he'd catch the culprits again in the main corridor...
He'd been patrolling hard along the corridor of the prefect bathroom, intent to find the culprit who'd trapped doxies in the toilets - it was like they'd targeted him specifically, for what, he had no idea. He'd set out that night, unwaveringly determined to catch that bogrolled minger of a bovver boy, if only to regain his dignity. Two hours later, he was still empty-handed and completely clueless.
This was almost better. Albus was a prefect. Double points, Ian calculated in his head. And perhaps a grueling detention.
As he passed by the History classroom, Ian stopped short. Loud snores vibrated through the thick wooden door. He could turn them in, but then again, he could do that other thing. His mind fogged over. Yes. That other thing that he wanted.
They needed more friends, Dillon had said. He'd wanted Wren especially, chanting the words "bring her back" over and over inside Ian's head. He'd be so pleased...
Ian knocked sharply and waited. After a long moment, the door creaked open and Mister Summer's head poked out. He was wrapped up in a heavy dressing robe, and his hair stuck out savagely from a tight-fitting black cap. His pale skin flickered in the torch light, dark veins creeping down his face and neck.
“Wren Longbottom," Ian said excitedly. "She's so close to the library already. I could bring her there, and you could take care of things after that."
Mister Summers coughed uncomfortably. "No. Not now."
Ian's vision blurred, and a giant, screeching maw appeared inside his mind. He reeled back, startled that it had come so suddenly, out of nowhere. He clawed at the air in front of him, blinking rapidly. Then it was gone, replaced by a tired and worn out professor-in-training, leaning against the door frame for support.
"What happened to the plan?" Ian asked, still teetering from the nightmare behind his eyes.
"We'll discuss that later. Now it is time to rest." Mister Summers yawned, and then closed the door.
Ian was left alone in the corridor. As the staircase scraped against the stone steps, back to its original position, the fog cleared out of his head. He caught the moving staircase on its next rotation, and headed up, assuming that Albus was taking Wren to the Gryffindor Tower... where else could they be going at this hour?
She just wasn't that type of girl to go anywhere else. Seeing her with Albus, breaking the rules of all things... he snorted. Last year, she wouldn't even have sneezed past ten o'clock in the evening, having her dad right there at the castle every day.
Part of him was eager to pounce on Potter, get him good for anything. It wasn't Albus Potter's night to patrol, so that ought to be worth something. Ian could just wait at the base of the Tower stairs. He wouldn't have to mention Wren... he'd talk to her later and tell her what he saw, see what that would get him...
Not her. She's not our friend anymore.
Dillon's whisper faded as Ian heard footsteps above him. He sank into the shadows and watched intently, waiting for the right moment. Albus looked carefully around, worried, a little anxious... rocked back on his heels, and a faint smile bloomed on his face before he sobered and caught the staircase before it came to a complete stop, (another violation noted).
Ian stayed hidden, thinking. Dillon might not want Wren anymore, but someone else obviously did. Someone else, who had convinced her to be out after curfew, doing Merlin-knows-what. He could even say Albus was pickled stupid if he wanted. No one could prove otherwise without witnesses.
And Wren had been too good for too long. He shouldn't leave her out of the fun.
He shivered with excitement, knowing exactly how to get the most out of the situation. The scandal... The House Points...
"This is new for you, Longbottom," he whispered to himself. "I can’t wait to hear what your father has to say.”
A/N: Hello all! For the three people who were waiting for this chapter, I hope you weren't disappointed! A big thank you goes to Cambangst, for his superior beta skills, and also 1917Farmgirl, who talked me off the edge of a cliff a few times to get this done.
As usual, if you have anything at all to say about Dillon or Wren or Albus, or those pesky rodents, click away in the box below and make me the happiest author ever!
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