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Chapter 2 : Past and Future
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Rose's letter is a lot longer than Al's, a great spiel about how she's having a great time and misses us. More detail than anyone would ever care about, but Mum reads it all to me faithfully. There's a paragraph on everyone in her dormitory, most of the other first-years, and a lot of the older students too. Mum hesitates briefly before reading in obvious surprise that Scorpius is in Hufflepuff.
Well, why shouldn't he be? We all know that's where I'll end up, if I actually make it to Hogwarts. Chances are they'll decide they can't be bothered to look after someone like me, that it's too much effort to bother. I suppose at least I could stay at my muggle school with all the other cripples like me. What's the point in learning to do magic when I can't see where I'm aiming it? Gazing into a crystal ball and studying tea leaves - I can see that going well. And potions - I'd be lethal. Hugo Weasley, the only blind kid in the history of Hogwarts. It wouldn't be worth their while to find a way to deal with me.
I'd be better off a muggle. At least they're used to people like me, and they can actually cope. But wizards, they're too convinced that magic can fix everything, and when it can't they don't know what to do. The healers concluded, before I was a year old, that there was nothing they could do. And as there was nothing they could do, it wasn't worth worrying about me any more.
Muggles aren't like that - I mean just look at my school. We've got our own way to read and write - I mean I've got an enchanted quill which apparently writes what I tell it too but I can't actually tell whether it does or not because it's just making parchment a different colour. Some of the others at school have special dogs which look after them, so they don't have to have people with them all the time.
Rose's letter is full of descriptions of moving staircases, missing steps, corridors hidden behind tapestries, all of that. I've heard it described by Mum, Dad, all the aunts and uncles, Teddy, Victoire, Molly- I've heard Hogwarts described so many times I don't care any more. It's all moving portraits, stone walls, flaming torches, suits of armour, and irritating staircases.
"We don't have a password to get into Ravenclaw Tower," Mum reads. "Instead, a bronze eagle asks us a riddle. Today it asked 'What question can you never answer?' and one of the other first-years said-"
"That's a stupid question; there are a lot of answers," I interrupt.
"Are there? Go on then, what do you think it is? Then I'll tell you what Rose says the answer is."
"What's it like being someone else? What if you never existed? What if you hadn't done something- in fact I think that's the answer. What if? We're never going to find out what happened if Voldemort hadn't existed, or I hadn't been born, or if I wasn't blind. More questions: what's it like being normal? What's it like being able to see? I can never answer questions about what things look like, can I?" My temper's welling up again, and I don't care.
"Hugo!" She stops me, and I can hear tears in her voice. "Just because you can't now doesn't mean you'll never- one day they'll figure something out! You can't just give up!"
"Why not? Why spend my entire life hoping for something that's never going to happen? The healers gave up before I was a year old. And so did you." I shove my chair back as I stand, then give it a harder push to make it fall over. It hits the ground with a dull thud; the floor isn't hard enough to cause a satisfying crash. One hand on the table to keep my bearings, I turn to face in the direction of the door and storm away.
Something catches my foot and I'm crashing down, arms instinctively coming forward to break the fall. I'm used to falling. I kick the thing by my feet backwards, clearing it away from me. The chair. My stupid bloody chair. It won't even let me make a dramatic exit.
Tears prick at my eyes, not just from the bruises. I stand up, fumbling for an object to find my bearings, and my hand meets the kitchen counter. I walk more slowly, feeling my way to the door.
"Hugo!" A gentle hand touches my arm and I lash out, feeling the back of my hand touch flesh. Mum gasps slightly and lets me go, and I make it to the door. Is she following me? I can't hear whether she is or not.
My hand stings slightly, and I wonder how hard I hit her. I don't feel guilty, there's no reason for me to feel guilty... she shouldn't have touched me; I didn't need help...
In my room I curl up on the bed. What's the point in me being here? I just make everyone miserable. Especially Mum. They'd all be better off without me. My hand still stings where I lashed out. Why did I get that angry anyway? Why am I so grumpy? I ruined their lives when I turned up; they have to look after me all the time, make all these special arrangements. They have to read everything out loud, arrange everything to send me to a special school, take me there - Rose's muggle primary school was close enough to walk to, but Dad has to drive me to mine.
And Lily. If it weren't for me, she'd be playing with normal friends. Not worrying about describing things and guiding me around. How many times has she missed out on Quidditch with the other cousins because she was too busy looking after me. She should be enjoying herself, but instead she's looking after me all the time. If it weren't for me, she could do whatever she wanted.
I don't know how long it is before I sit up again. I listen for a moment, then leave my room and creep downstairs. Now the faint smell of cooking hits me. Onions sizzling. Mum's chopping something, making dinner. As far as I can tell Mum doesn't notice me as I away from the kitchen along the hall, towards the living room. At least the cooking sounds never stop, the knife thudding on the chopping board and the wooden spoon scraping in the pan.
Sliding onto the piano stool, I move my fingers over the keys silently playing familiar exercises; I have lessons at school. Suddenly I snap and slam my hands down on the keyboard. The sound is angry, discordant, unnatural. Like me.
It's strange, the difference it makes to break the silence. I find my notes and play my exercises out loud, now, up and down scales before starting on my pieces. I realise I haven't practised for a couple of days; Mr Greg wouldn't be happy. He wants me to do my grade four this term.
I guess that is something I can do; none of the cousins can play the piano, at least not properly. But I started learning at school almost as soon as I started going there, with three lessons a week once I decided I was really interested. It's something the school provide - some of the others do art, some learn to do knitting and stuff like that, and some of us learn our instruments.
Once I actually start playing I keep going, I don't know for how long. In the end, as I'm working on a fingering pattern that I just can't get right, Mum's voice cuts across.
"Dinner's ready, if you're hungry. You can carry on playing if you like; I can always warm it up when you're ready to eat." I play the passage a couple more times before I stand up and hold out a hand to her. Maybe I should say sorry for hitting her, but instead we pretend nothing happened. It's easier walking to the kitchen with her helping me.
It's beef stew, my favourite. I like the carrots especially, all soft and flavoured by gravy. Potatoes that mash easily, so they soak up the gravy too. I stir everything together on my plate, then eat through it. The meat's kind of chewy, everything else blending pretty smoothly together.
To follow it down is baked apple and custard, and I struggle with my spoon to cut the apple skin into manageable pieces. It's sharp, raisins plump and juicy. The custard's hot, a little on the thin side maybe but I'm not really bothered. While no-one actually speaks, I can hear the scrape of cutlery telling me that both parents are still here and eating.
Meal over, I vanish back to the piano. When I get bored of my practise, I pick out made-up tunes on the keys like I did when I first started learning. Adding a few chords makes it sound more impressive, more satisfying.
The next day is Saturday, and both parents should be at home but Mum has another meeting about house-elves. I wake to the sound of rain pattering against the window, not hard but steady. Lying there listening to it, I decide that there won't be much going outside today.
Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny arrive early, as they always do, and we sit in the living room because it's still raining outside. Dad and Uncle Harry talk about the Auror department for a bit, before Aunt Ginny interrupts.
"Why don't we talk about something other than work for a bit? You spend little enough time at home without spending it thinking about work."
"What are we supposed to talk about, then?" asks Uncle Harry.
"I've been thinking about moving-"
"Grimmauld Place is convenient, close to the Ministry and-"
"It'd be nice to have somewhere to get away from all of that. You're working too hard, Harry- isn't he, Ron?" Dad shuffles his feet, giving a non-committal grunt. Aunt Ginny can be hard to argue with. "I'm worried about you, Harry. We need somewhere away from the city, to make it easier to separate work and home. And I'm not used to living in the city. It'd be nice to have somewhere- away from it all."
"Like where? You think I'm working too hard, and you want to find time to go house-hunting?"
"We already own another house, in a village-"
"No!" Uncle Harry cuts across before she can finish. "I can't... Have you even seen that house? It's hardly fit to live in." He argues quickly, desperately. I listen, confused; the Potters own a second house? They've been at Grimmauld Place for as long as I can remember.
"We could look at least, see how much we'd have to do. Don't you think Lily and James-"
"No! I can't live where..." Uncle Harry tails off, and there's an awkward silence. I get up and sit on the piano stool, silently picking out tunes on the smooth cold keys. Something to concentrate on, instead of wondering what's happening around me.
"You never liked Grimmauld Place, either. We could rebuild the cottage completely, if you don't want to be reminded too much-"
"It's a monument, Ginny. You want to just erase it, like it never happened?"
"I want to live in it. It's a house; it's not meant to just sit there, empty. Wouldn't that be the best use? At the moment it's a mark of Voldemort's destruction; we could prove that however hard he tried he couldn't beat us, and we'll always fight through. He destroyed a lot of things, and we rebuild them. Should we have left Hogwarts in pieces as a monument?"
"And The Burrow - Voldemort might have burnt it down, but we built it right back up." Dad finally speaks up.
"It's different! Your parents- your parents didn't..."
"How many people died at Hogwarts, Harry? Does that mean it should stop being a school? We all need to move on, Harry- no, not forget! But why did all those people die? So we could spend the rest of our lives mourning them?"
"I'm not! I just don't see why we should go- there. Isn't Grimmauld Place good enough?"
"I told you, I grew up away from the city. And you need to get away, too. Godric's Hollow is a small village, with open space and fresh air. I would have suggested it before, but it would have been difficult with all of the children. You know what Al's like about change. I thought it would be nice; you know Grimmauld Place is too big for just the three of us."
"Fine," says Uncle Harry dully. "We can go and see. But it'd be too much work to make it safe, let alone pleasant."
"As I said, we can rebuild it if necessary. And I need a project; you're working all the time, Lily's at school, and even with the journalism I still spend far too much time at home alone. We made Grimmauld Place habitable, didn't we? And if you think about the dark artefacts and the state of the place Godric's Hollow will be easy in comparison. Oh- can you imagine having a proper garden?" I can hear the wistful smile in her voice. "With chickens!"
"You always complained about the chickens," points out Dad.
"Well, I won't have to look after them not unless I want to; Lily can do it! A proper Weasley girl knows how to collect eggs and clean out the chickens..."
"You'd better invite all the female cousins over, then."
"What's wrong with that? You see, I won't have to worry about actually looking after the chickens - there are enough Weasley girls who can come over and do it."
"And when they all go to Hogwarts?"
"You can come and visit every day, Ron. You know you miss it..."
I wonder what Uncle Harry's thinking. He hasn't spoken since he gave in, but I know he's not happy. Lily shuffles on the floor next to my piano stool, and I bend down to whisper to her. "Do you know anything about this other house?" Apparently she doesn't, so we're both equally baffled by the conversation. Except for the bit about chickens (Granny Molly has some) and the fact that it's in the countryside.
"Hugo," Dad says suddenly, "why don't you play something for us?" A moment ago they were talking about the new house; where did this come from? Of course, Dad's changing the subject. Well, I like awkward silences even less than him.
I learnt some nursery rhymes ages ago so I play them, Lily singing along once she's recognised the tunes. Three Blind Mice, then Hickory Dickory Dock, and finally the grown-ups join in singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Even Uncle Harry joins in towards the end, if not enthusiastically. Aunt Ginny probably made him.
Mum comes home in time for lunch, and while we're eating Aunt Ginny tells her about the idea for the other house. "We're thinking about repairing the house in Godric's Hollow." The sounds of cutlery suddenly stop, and Mum chokes and coughs. We have to wait for her to clear her throat before she can reply.
"The one where..?"
"It's away from the city, and Harry's working too hard. We need to get away, so why not Godric's Hollow?"
"Um- well, I did see this house, and it was in a bad enough state then. And that must have been twenty years ago now- it's strange, isn't it? It doesn't feel that long." Twenty years ago. I haven't been alive for half of that time yet! "Do any of us really have time to spend making it habitable?"
Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry answer at the same time.
"Yes," Aunt Ginny says firmly. "I'll do most of the work, and Harry can take some time off work to help me with things I can't do alone."
"I'm Head Auror. I can't just take time off when you tell me to. When I'm not running the Auror office, I'm on the council advising the Minister. And with the Quidditch World Cup this coming summer, we have to think about security for the team, and then there are the league finals and semis which of course are always a huge security risk-"
"You used to talk about Quidditch with excitement; now you're moaning about the security risk that the games pose. And you tell me you're not too absorbed in your work?" Uncle Harry doesn't answer, and after a second Mum breaks in again.
"Have you asked Lily what she thinks?"
"Of course!" Uncle Harry seizes on that. "Lily, do you want to leave everything and move to the middle of nowhere?"
"Harry! It's not the middle of nowhere, it's a large village. Your parents obviously didn't think it was the middle of nowhere-"
"Don't talk about them!" Uncle Harry shouts, and I jump slightly. Maybe he sees, because he continues quietly. "So what do you think, Lily?"
"Will I have to go to a different school?"
"Not unless you want to," replies Aunt Ginny. "We'll still have the Grimmauld Place house, so we can floo there in the morning. And we haven't seen the state of the house yet; if it's as bad as Dad and Aunt Hermione say, you'll be almost Hogwarts age by the time we're ready to move in. And we don't have to live there all the time; we could go there just for the holidays, if the travelling is too much."
"It might be nice not having all the traffic. Can I go out on my own if we're not in the city?"
"We'll have to see what it's like there, but I expect so. At least once we've come to know the neighbours."
"Then I suppose we might as well go and look at it, anyway." Lily sounds a bit reluctant, probably worrying about the fact that Uncle Harry doesn't want to go.
"Hugo, would you like anything else?" Mum asks suddenly.
"Wha- No." I stammer out. "Thanks." I feel for my knife and fork again and carry on eating, and I hear everyone else at the table do so too. Dad gets up a few minutes later.
"Anyone else want seconds?"
Mum scolds him laughingly. "Ron! Your appetite was understandable when you were growing so fast, but that was years ago. You don't do enough to burn it off, these days."
"I'm an Auror, and that's an active enough job. Ginny, seconds?"
"Please." She hands over her plate and Dad disappears out to the kitchen where we hear him moving pans around. He comes back a few minutes later.
"You can't really comment on how much I eat; my little sister still eats like a professional Quidditch player, and journalism's hardly the most energetic career."
"I don't spend all day sitting in an office!"
"Nor do I!"
They spend the rest of the meal bickering about whose career is more active, before Dad goes to wash up and makes Aunt Ginny go to help him. We hear the argument continue in the kitchen.
"You don't want to go back to that house, do you Harry?" Mum asks quietly once they're out of the room.
"My parents died there! Of course I don't."
"And Ginny won't listen?"
"She's set on the idea."
"You can't fight the Weasley determination; once they set their sights on something, you can't change their minds. I've tried. You know, maybe it is time to move on."
"Not you as well! I can't just 'move on', Hermione. Could you, if it was your parents?"
She pauses. "Maybe not. Why don't we go there and have a look? It would be an opportunity to visit your parents' graves again, and this time we wouldn't have to rush off like we did last time. No hiding from Death Eaters this time."
His laugh is hollow. "We did a pretty bad job of that, didn't we?"
"Wouldn't you like to go back when we're not in a hurry? Make it a day out, to show Lily where all of the things she'll learn about in History of Magic actually happened, and where her grandparents died. Read all of the messages on that sign by the house, visit the graveyard, maybe see if we can find Dumbledore's old house and his sister's grave. Take Snuffles for a run, perhaps have a picnic? Have the children ever actually had a picnic?"
"That dog! Why did I give it that name?"
"For the same reason as you gave James, Albus, and Lily their names! You know how proud Sirius would be about being remembered like that."
"It's a dog, Hermione. You think he'd be proud of his nickname being given to a dog?"
"He loved being a dog; he'd find it hilarious. Can you imagine them playing together as dogs, and Sirius chewing the furniture and blaming Snuffles?"
"That's what he should be doing! And he would be, if I hadn't rushed off-" Uncle Harry's voice cracks. Is he actually crying?
"Why don't you go and see whether it's stopped raining, Hugo? You and Lily have been inside all morning, you should go and play outside for a bit." We catch Mum's hint and Lily tows me from the room. It's still raining outside, but not hard, so Lily brings my shoes over and we go outside anyway. We walk down the garden and sit down on the wet grass, ignoring the cold water which immediately soaks into our trousers. I can taste the sour rain-smell when I breath in the cold air, and it quickly makes my nose go numb.
"Was Uncle Harry actually crying in the end?" I ask.
"I think so." Lily sounds as confused as I feel. Grown-ups aren't supposed to cry. We sit in silence, hand in hand so I know Lily's still there, as the rain soaks into our hair and drips down our cold faces. I like the rain; it makes me feel alive.
We sit there until Mum finishes talking to Uncle Harry and realises we're outside, and calls us in exclaiming at how wet we are and the state of our trousers and the fact we didn't wear raincoats and that we sat down on the wet grass. I don't know what she's so worried about, really; if we get colds, we only have to drink potions and they'll go away straight away. Mum doses us with pepper-up potion, and I like the funny tickling sensation it causes - even if it does taste bitter. Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny say goodbye, not speaking to each other, and Lily goes with them. Just me, Mum, and Dad in the house now. It's strangely quiet, although Mum does try to make conversation. There's no Rose.
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