Chapter 16 : Grieve
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Churning bursts of thunder rolled through the bleakness, the haze-tainted air. Trees trembled. Leaves scattered wayward. Soil became sludge. Sludge became oily slick. Light tore the black sky apart. Rain beat against the hulking dome, its outside ravaged by centuries of damage.
Inside—vast emptiness illuminated by moonlight. Dust mingled in closed air. Wind and turmoil remained muted, yet peace could not be found. Tall and cracked and festering with grime, pillars stood at sides in silent reverence for the Deceased.
In the gloom of night stood two weatherworn figures, bruised, bleeding, on the verge of collapse yet standing, breathing, staring in disbelief at the altar in front.
Atop it: dead bodies.
Albus was no expert in forensics, but the bodies of his aunt and uncle couldn’t have been more than three years old, fitting perfectly in timeline with the disappearances [So that part was real, just not the bit about the fire]. No spell wounds or bodily disfigurations –it was like they had one day fallen asleep and forgotten to wake up.
What a flawless death.
Trailing absent fingers through his blood-crusted hair, he paced back and forth, contemplating his father’s path as he now it. Something didn’t add up, no. His father was deliberate but not blatant, deviant but not criminal [he wasn’t a murderer]. That meant something had gone very wrong [Which made no sense because his father wasn’t the type to make mistakes on such a large scale]. Presumptions and theories bombarded his head. He squeezed his eyes and ruffled his hair, forcing himself to stay calm [Breath, Albus. Focus]. Then, he began making a mental list of simple deductions. [Yes, Albus, start with the simple things. Find the anomaly, find the anomaly-]
1. Rose’s parents had accompanied his dad for some part of his journey.
2. They had died before him.
3. Their deaths were very clean and convenient. They almost did not seem like deaths.
4. Someone had placed them on the altar, in perhaps reverence [his father?]
5. His father was not the sort of man who let others die, especially his two best friends in the whole world. [He was very self-sacrificing. Like James, a Gryffindor through and through—]
For as long as Rose could remember, she had been chasing something.
Truth and Revelations and Solutions to problems other people thought were unsolvable—this didn’t matter to her. She had a family to reconcile and a vision to achieve, a vision of something more. There was no time for doubt or reason. She had pinned all her hopes and dreams on this, allowed this quest to consume her– and for what? A couple of corpses? What had she been thinking, raising her hopes when even Hugo knew better? She should’ve seen it coming.
They were dead. Dead. Dead.
The more her cracked, bruised lips formed the word, the harder it stung. Her chest felt heavy. She felt as if she had been physically impaled.
Her parents were gone, and they were gone forever. She would not be saving them. They would not be saving her. No one would be saving her. She was as alone as she’d always been, orphaned, abandoned, trapped in a nightmare from there was no relief, but now, for the first time it truly hit her - the feeling could no longer be buried beneath delusion.
It all came crashing down.
In his mania the wizard realized he had nearly forgotten about his companion. She was a mere shadow against a pillar, folded into herself. Tears squeezed from her swollen eyes. "Rose-" He started and she just shook her head, burying it into her knees
The air between them was terse and her emotions too unpredictable.
The day’s horrors were still painfully vivid in their minds.
James had always been better at this sort of thing. Scorpius too. James had his Sincere Words and Scorpius had his Earnest Expressions. All Albus had was Cold Objectivity, and his bag of tricks layered from a lifetime of observing others. Yet, for him even to feign understanding of grief was a challenge. All he remembered from his father’s news of death was a twisted, overwhelming surge of betrayal. He had never felt grief. He simply did not know.
He hated not knowing things.
He knew he could not reach her the way she needed. Had someone more befitting of the task been present, he would have forced himself aside, but there was not, and they were all they had in the moment. Stuck. In the same Purgatory they’d always been, with frigid silence and perplexed stares and Three Hopeless Words that were lost amidst all the other Delusional Thoughts silently eating away at him.
Several moments later she spoke, for verbal acceptance was necessary—“They’re dead.”
“People die, Rose.”
“They do, don’t they?” A humorless laugh amidst the sobs, and her voice broke further. “And I thought learning the truth would bring me peace… I’m a fucking idiot.”
Her voice, shaking, rang in echoes through the empty vestibule.
He drew closer with caution…until at last she grabbed his arm and yanked him to her abruptly, coiling arms around his neck. She called him a cruel bastard but with like a sigh of relief. It was strange that she could cling to him with such desperation when she could barely stand his presence a few minutes before. Her small body trembled against his, wheezing and sobs wracking from her throat, drenching his shirt. He allowed her the moment to grieve: it was the least he could do. Since he could not understand…
She was so small, torn shirt hanging loosely off her damaged frame. A -A child. All teeny wrists and wispy hair and soft skin and crumpled expressions and large brown eyes, expressive, sullen. She was a doll, no, worse, for dolls had at least some sort of foundation. How little it took to bruise or break her, to squeeze Life from those thin, fragile bones.
And she had just soldiered through hell alongside him.
“I don’t want to die.” She confided in her cousin, tears staining their cheeks pressed together. “I’m so scared, I’m terrified. People are trying to kill you, and they’re going to kill me, and I don’t want us to die. I’m so scared. I’m so scared for us all the time-”
“No one is dying.”
He stroked a curled wisp of hair off her jaw, but there was pressure behind the brush of his fingertips, like he was silently outraged by her words and fighting to contain it. As if the mere notion of dying struck him irritating and repulsive.
“Don’t be stupid.” He said fiercely. “Why would you die? You’re with me, aren’t you?”
Six-year old Albus tugged at his father’s leg until the bespectacled man looked up. Then he balanced on the balls of his bare feet, dirtied from playing outside, hands clasped behind his back like an angel.
The ends of Harry’s eyes crinkled in amusement. James typically jumped straight into cries of I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, but his younger son was far more tactful. Something happened was usually the opening line to some very interesting confessions.
“What did you do, Albus?”
“Nothing!” The boy said defensively, and then drew back. “I mean…I was just practicing magic, then Rose wanted to try. I told her no coz you said I’m not s’pposed to share. She kept following me around and being annoying.” He flushed. “Then she ended up in a tree and Idon’tknowhowtogetherdown.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “We’ve talked about this, Albus. You’re not supposed to use my wand without permission.”
“That’s why I used Mum’s.”
Sighing, Harry offered out his hand and Albus meekly gave up the wand.
“Well then. Let’s go rescue our little kitten from the tree.”
Sunlight mangled with vibrant leaves, shooting down in beams across the grassy pathway. As they walked, Albus held his father’s hand and boasted about how much progress he was making on the Levitating charm the man had taught him. He could almost do it for an entire minute now.
“Albus, hold on.” Harry interrupted. “So you were practicing on your cousin? On your human cousin?”
“It was an accident!”
Harry didn’t buy it. “Just how long has Rose Pose been up in this tree?”
The boy calculated his response for a moment, then realized there was no way around the truth. He answered in a small guilty voice: “Erm, since seven.”
“Four hours! Albus, why didn’t you tell me sooner?!”
The boy scowled into the ground, not answering.
“Albus.” Harry said warningly.
“The truth, please, Albus.”
Albus thought he was clever, but his father was always cleverer.
“She was being a pain, Dad. I had to punish her so she wouldn’t do it again.”
Staring at his small fuming son, Harry’s eyes crinkled behind his glasses.
“What on earth did she do that made you so mad?”
“I told you! She kept following me around.”
“Yes, but you enjoy that…so what did she really do?”
The small boy flushed under his father’s perceptive gaze. His mum believed his lie in a heartbeat, but the man really was too clever. It was a nuisance, especially since he was Albus’ own private instructor and the greatest wizard of all time.
“She said I’d wasn’t enough like you.” The boy muttered, green-eyes beating into the ground. “And that I’d never be you.”
Harry looked amused. “And why would you want to be me, Albus?”
“James wants to be you too.”
“And do you have to want the same things your brother wants?”
Normally when his father asked these sort of leading questions, the answer wasn’t simple. The small boy struggled for a suitable response.
Correct response: No. James was an idiot.
Only Albus knew better than say this out loud.
“Albus,” His father spoke quietly, “I’ve told you about your namesakes, haven’t I?” A nod. “One was the wisest man I know. The other…he was the bravest man I know. And neither of them were anything like me.” Harry paused. “I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that there are different kinds of people in the world, and none of them are wrong.” He placed hands on his son’s small shoulders. “The world needs different kinds of people. Maybe you won’t be anything like me. Maybe you’ll be better than me. How does that sound?”
Albus gave a soft nod.
“All righty. Let’s go finish our rescue mission. I think you’ll have to do some explaining to Aunt Hermione. And you have to apologize to your cousin properly.”
“She had it coming.” The boy gave a petulant look. “She gets on my nerves. She always needs her hand held if we decide to explore. And she cries all the time. She’s worse than Lily.”
“She wants to be your friend, Albus.”
“Well I don’t want to be her friend.” He huffed under his breath.
For many weeks Albus would replay his fears in his head, getting stuck in the same place. It was that damn snapping noise, snap, snap, snap, and three Impossible words that grew more painful with every passing silence. They confused him, distressed him much more than he could admit. They were always in the corner of his thoughts. Why was a notion that came so freely, so implicitly to everyone else impossible for him to comprehend?
Yet he wanted her to say those words. He wanted to bottle them up and preserve them in his mind, to savor them. To call them up the way he called up his father’s words, and to indulge in them when he felt entitled. He did not need her repeating them. He had now heard them from her lips once, and once was more than enough.
Other days all he thought about was murder; it horrified him but it had unlocked something inside him, something new yet familiar, something brilliant. A secret power of sorts. To use this power, again and again, filled his insides with longing and revulsion.
He had never been a savage – he was a scientist: distant, objective, in control—and now this obsession was consuming his reality. And becoming harder to ignore by day. He needed his father. He needed the man who taught him to master his emotions to instruct him yet again. Was this supposed to happen? What was going wrong with him?
He made brews too, for that sort of thing, stronger than Calming potions. When they weren’t enough, he resorted to muggle…devices. Cocaine, marijuana, crystal meth, whatever it took. Albus Potter had always been fond of exploration, of experimentation. He didn’t drink though, had too much pride for it. Aside from dulling the senses and making a blithering idiot of the most intelligent of wizards, alcohol carried the burning memory of his mother.
The days he wasn’t doing recreational drugs, he was completely clean (with the exception of smoking) and thoroughly immersed in improving his skills: research, potions, wandlore, spellwork, philosophy, dueling. Anything and everything to occupy his thoughts, sedate his temper. He recited spells at night when sleep was impossible. Then he thought of Ollivander’s words to him, about how wandless magic was an art so rare, it was exclusive only to the finest of wizards. So he’d sit around for hours and meditate and wait – Rose usually dragged him to bed once he fell over – but patience had never been his finest attribute, and thus, the endeavor was futile. Albus did not have decades to waste on such an objective. He had answers to find now. He had theories about his father and webs of things he knew and did not know. He lived in his head, and on those days, the slightest thing was capable of setting his temper off.
It was strange for Rose to watch him as he fought his temper; pulsing jaw, shallow breaths, flashing eyes, fingers twitching for their wand...sometimes he’d shut himself in a room or go out and smoke himself into oblivion. Sometimes he threw hexes into trees until his arm hurt. Other times the frustration came out meshed with a strange form of affection. On more than one occasion when he grew angry with her, he’d simply grab her, slam a kiss to her forehead, and storm away. He could not stand to be around her too long, for what had happened at the graveyard still haunted his thoughts.
Like grief, fear never completely went away.
Rose returned to work, attributing her injuries to a household accident ("You say you broke your leg falling down stairs, eh Weasley?" Conditioned at lying by now, she gave a firm nod). She found she could bury herself in paperwork the same way her cousin buried himself in his magic. She worked overtime. She made some extra money this way. She visited Hugo more often, who noticed something off about her but said nothing. And she didn't have the heart to tell him what she now knew.
She found out Scorpius stopped by the hospital often too, to see Hugo. Which was shocking because her brother's visiting privileges weren’t granted to anyone save her, for obvious security reasons. According to Hugo, the blonde held hilarious ways of sneaking in and nearly-almost-not-quite getting caught. According to Hugo, he said he had heaps of practice in the art form. According to Hugo, he did not attempt to shower him with kisses like Rose--that would be creepy--but instead brought him large quantities of food that was marginally better than the hospital’s. According to Hugo, he was actually pretty funny, had good taste in shoes, and promised to take the younger boy to a Cannons match someday.
According to Hugo, they had a bit of a bromance.
Occasionally their visits coincided. Scorpius didn't inquire about Albus or her parents or their search, which relieved her. He also didn't hit on her, which she didn't know how to feel about. He was still Scorpius, the cocky energetic boy she knew, but some part of him had changed since she'd last seen him; it felt like he had matured. He told her about the Healer training he was starting, much to his parents’ badgering, and how it was literally the most soul crushing thing ever. You can practice me on me, Hugo would joke, but neither of them really laughed at that.
At any rate it seemed like Scorpius was growing up.
Rose wished she could do that too.
They talked about the quarantine, amongst other things.
“My dad reckons things’ll calm down in a year or two," Scorpius said. "But I think it’s mostly since he doesn’t want to leave England.”
“Well Rose and I can’t, obviously.” Hugo gave a stony shrug.
"And where'd we go anyway?" She rolled her eyes at her brother. "We leave England, I'll be a criminal and you'll end up in a lab. China's got a bounty on me. Germany's got a bounty on me-"
"Russia too. Just this morning."
"Always happy to help." He quipped humorously. Then, seeing her expression, he said: "It means they're terrified of you, Weasel. That can be a good thing, if you think about it."
"How's that a good thing?"
Scorpius looked straight at her. "For one thing, it means they're going to take you seriously. You speak and they're going to listen."
Rose didn't want her fearsome international reputation but the blonde had a point. Infamy and fame were the same thing. She was a public figure and could probably become a political one with enough time, like the Head, learn to influence important people. But she didn't want that life. She was only eighteen.
And she was terrified.
Nightmares grew worse with each passing day, and Sleeping draught simply wasn't enough. She took long walks and pondered everything and everyone, her parents, Hugo, Scorpius, Albus, the Head, her job, her life -where it was heading. She hadn't had time to think like this before, and now she did. She knew she had to improve her dueling. Her job required it; as did her life. She wanted to ask Albus for help but he seemed hellbent on avoiding her.
Some nights he did not return to the house.
Rose wondered if he’d been spending them with girls, but found it strange and potentially awkward to inquire about. Back at Hogwarts, he’d never shown any interest in girls, rather held a monk-like dedication to the Arts. It was easy to forget that the inhumanly brilliant wizard that had been her lifelong companion was also a boy—a young man. And like any young man, he had anatomical proclivities. It was almost laughable, in a way. She knew he wasn't a virgin but little aside from that, and it annoyed her that she knew so little when he knew the names of every boy she'd ever kissed.
What she didn’t know, perhaps, was that Harry Potter’s genius son had always held an extraordinary measure of control over all emotional, physical, and anatomical interests - to the point some might've been nonexistent. That the monk-like behavior came implicitly with a lifetime's obsession with magic. That his father had helped him carefully construct a persona able to handle that obsession in a controlled manner. So that the bitter boy genius transitioned effortlessly to a young man that bore no special weakness. A young man who could handle the world.
With his father's guidance gone, that control was slowly, miserably crumbling, and between the cracks hid a murderous hunger impossible to sate with distractions alone.
Control, Albus.” Harry paced beside the eleven-year old boy as he threw hexes at targets. “Go for accuracy, not speed.”
“You told me to get faster.” The boy gasped, sweating profusely.
“Your wand work needs more attention.”
Swallowing this criticism in silence, though every word had stung his insides, Albus kept his gaze steely and shot a target to the ground. In the back of his mind, an ugly thought rose—the Question. There was always the Question: why didn’t James have to do this? Why only him?
In some way he might’ve known the answer: He was cleverer than James. His father had chosen him with purpose, some higher purpose, and he was expected to revel in the privilege granted only to him. To revel and endure and conquer and not speak of it ever.
“Clear your mind of doubts, son. Eliminate fears, emotions, anything else inhibiting you from focusing on the present. Focus.”
A hex shot past Albus’ hand, singeing his fingers. He winced at the pinprick of pain.
“Your wand. You use it like a weapon, a sword—that’s not what it is. It’s an extension of your mind, Albus. Stretch out with your mind. Control it.”
He slashed an arc of silver blocking his father’s spell, a surge of adrenaline running through him. Duels with his father always made him nervous. Just then the man disappeared from sight, and a hex hit the back of his leg before he could process it. Damn. Too slow. Albus fought the pain and nerves, and focused on his backswing – he’d been struggling with the move for weeks now. Harry always attacked his weaknesses, forcing on-the-spot improvement. He was standing right behind him now.
Albus moved and the spell missed his father by an inch. The man smiled.
“Decent shot. That’ll be enough for today.”
At these words, he collapsed on the ground, leg throbbing, sweat streaking down his thin developing frame.
Eyes closed, he felt the pressure of his father’s hand on his head. Grazing his hair in a rare form of affection.
“Get some sleep, Albus. You don’t know how well you’re doing.”
The boy savored these words, his chest racing from excitement. Praise was kept to a minimum between father and son, for it led to a false sense of accomplishment. It was necessary for him to focus all thoughts on improvement and never be satisfied with mediocrity.
When bones broke and muscles ached, the memory of pain, not praise, was what drove him forward, to the edge of his physical being. Made him improve. Without the pain, there was stagnation, and there was nothing Albus despised more than lack of progress.
Because of the bruise forming on his leg, he would spend the next three nights perfecting that backswing.
Thunder cracked outside waking her, and the shadow looming over her bedside made her gasp. She peered through the darkness, her heartbeat racing, and made out the figure.
It was Albus, his hair askew and coat soaked in rainwater.
“Rose, Rosie.” He gripped her arm and shook her. “C’mon. Sit up. I need to show you something.”
After weeks of painful silence, he chose now to finally to acknowledge her?
“Can it wait until the morning?” She groaned, turning over.
“Now.” He hissed. “I have to do it now.”
She turned back and studied him for a moment, how bright his green eyes were, and felt her body grow tense. He looked like he was on one of his muggle drugs. Opposing him would anger him, and there was no knowing what he’d do this state.
She sat up. “Fine.”
He whipped out his wand, an action that always made her nervous. “Empty your mind.” He instructed and began muttering an enchantment that made her eyelids grow heavy. She felt a dizzying sinking feeling in her stomach, akin to that of Occulmency training but deeper, tenser, more gnawing. Light flashed across her closed eyelids and she saw a young Albus with his father, walking between ivory crusted walls, a ruin of some sort.
The memory shifted and Albus lay on the ground writhing in pain, and Harry lifted his wand at him and uttered the word Crucio—
The memory shifted and little Albus was battling dementors—Shift—He was running from acromantulas—Shift— Eating lunch with his father in ruins—Shift—they were sparring in some field—Shift— little Albus was navigating a deadly forest alone. She could sense his fear, almost hear the sound of his heart slamming against that scrawny chest.
At last she saw a very young Albus standing outside the shack they had visited, tears, actual tears flowing down his small pale face—
The tape of memories halted and Rose felt an invisible force yank her out.
Green eyes stared back in caution.
Now it made sense, why he was high. He had to be, to let anyone so stupidly inside his mind, to go against his own reason so severely. He had shown her his past. He had entrusted her with the rare permission; he had acted impulsively, without calculation, and without knowing what would happen next.
“Oh Albus…“ She began quietly.
“I’ve thought about it for a while.” He cut her off. “Our parents. They were up to something. My dad, he showed me things, taught me things-” He broke off, green-eyes contemplating the floor. “I have pieces in my head. Memories I can call up when I need to, but I don’t know how they fit together. I haven’t figured out how your parents factor in yet but they do and maybe you know, maybe you have memories-”
“Albus.” She interrupted, brown eyes watching him softly. “Your dad…that’s not normal. Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“So when I went to Ollivanders—“
“Al, parents aren’t supposed to do things like that to their kids.”
They were in two completely different conversations.
“Albus…” He looked startled when tears sprung to her eyes. He didn't understand. He didn't understand at all, but how was she supposed to explain when so many emotions simply engulfed her? He was her brother, her friend, he was hers, and she now felt that she had in some way neglected him. “Oh my god.” She buried her face in his neck, feeling his muscles tense at the contact. “Oh Albus.” She kissed his bruised cheek and tried to pull him close. He resisted, shivering. His hair and jacket were soaking, and the cold wetness seeped onto her bedsheets. She tried to coax the jacket off him, to simply help him stop shivering, but he pulled and jerked backwards. He looked visibly distressed. He was high—and uncomfortably aware of it.
“I’m just trying to-“
“Not right now. I’m not good when I’m- I don’t know how-”
She touched his arm again and he jolted away like he had been stung by electricity. He slipped back into the dark.
“Tomorrow.” He said.
“It’s ok, Al. It’s all ok. I promise… I’m just going to hold you.”
“You’re my brother.”
“I’ll be your brother tomorrow.”
“I need my brother today.”
The thunderous roar of the storm followed up with a flash of lightning, illuminating his features for a split second, which had instantly grown cold.
“Don't overstep yourself." He said, glaring. "You don't tell me what to do, and if you had an ounce of intelligence you'd leave me alone. You don’t know-”
“I know, Albus. Look, I know. I saw you lose it at the graveyard, and you know what? Your little lapse saved us.”
He squeezed his eyes, and she didn’t know if he was trying to shut her out or shut himself in.
"Sit down, please." She tried. "Let's talk. Can we do that? Is that ok? I know you don't want to be alone right now either."
"It's because I hate storms." He conceded, stiffly.
"I know, Al."
He simply glowered back. He was higher than high— or they’d never even have this conversation. Their exchanges relied more by implicit understanding than spoken word, and their cold silences often left a lot to be desired.
She sat up, pushing her legs over the edge and planning to take full advantage of his drug-addled state. “I think I’m losing it too, sometimes.” She told him. “Maybe it’s the post-traumatic stress—I don’t know. Everything terrifies me. With the shack and what happened at the graveyard-" She grimaced at the memory. "-I don't know. I thought I'd be done. I thought I'd have what I wanted by now."
"And what is it that you want?" He asked, staring unblinkingly.
"And you don't have that."
He was silent then, eyes beating into the wall as he mulled over her words.
"So what do you intend to do next?"
She looked shy for a moment. "I-I don't know," she admitted. "I thought when I learned the truth I'd be-" Happy? Complete? "-satisfied. That it'd be enough, and it's not."
He glanced at her. "It's because you don't know everything."
And maybe I never will.
"It’s like we’re running down a track with no end. But I don’t know how to stop. I don’t think I can stop. And I’ve got no shot at normal life, so why bother trying? And with everything getting worse-" With everyone trying to kill me, I don't know how long I'll live "-I don't want to waste my time not knowing. I need to know certain things. I know you do too." She gave him a determined stare. “So maybe we can be crazy together. You and me. We can keep each other alive, keep looking-”
With a quick flick of a network of joints her wrist had twisted his way—small, fragile, and trembling.
“You and me then”
She tensed. “Wait-”
“You—” He brought it to his mouth for a chaste kiss. “—and me.” Green eyes stared back at her, the corner of his mouth curled in a barely-there tease. The gesture hadn’t been of malice or derision, but akin to a pinkie-promise contract between two childhood friends. He gave her hand a light squeeze and let it go.
Then he did the strangest thing; he gave her a half-smile that actually looked…kind. She was a little stunned.
And just like that it was over.
“Get some sleep." He said in a business-like voice, standing up. "We’ll talk tomorrow. We won't be taking the potion again, I'm afraid we can't risk it, but I have plans about where to start looking next.”
And that was that.
“Good night, Albus." She whispered, loud enough so she knew he had heard her on his way to the door.
“Yes, good night.”
“I love you.”
Footsteps came to a halt at these words, and she closed her eyes, not wanting to see how he looked when he turned around. There was a pause in all the breathing in the room. She waited, with a usual mix of dread and anticipation he was capable of inspiring, and perhaps, now, just the smallest flicker of hope.
Then the door closed shut.
A/N: Juat wanted to say, it's officially been one year since I started Clash.
Of course, there’s still a long way before the end, the war hasn’t come into play yet, and the characters are still minor players on the global scale. There’s a lot of story to go, all the big surprises and horrors are still waiting, and thank you so much for sticking with me. I couldn't have gotten this far without your reviews and support.
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