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A Place Not Far From Here by Chemical_Pixie
Chapter 16 : Banshee's Breath
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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I placed my goblet on the bedside table as the two Potters approached me. James stayed one step behind his father, looking apprehensively towards me. I glanced down at my bandaged arm, fighting to keep a blush at bay. The last time I had spoken to James, I had been hallucinating. Before that, we had been fighting.

“What’s this?” Hannah said curtly as she turned to face me. “Amelia, finish that goblet. Harry, I’m sorry, but Amelia really—“

“Sorry to bother you and your patient,” Harry interrupted quickly, “but this won’t take long, and I need to address this before I leave today.”

They silently stared at each other for a moment. Hannah sighed before turning her attention to me. “You have ten minutes with the both of them. Then you finish that goblet.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said before she retreated back into her office, muttering irritably to herself.

“Dad, what’s this about?” James wondered, He lingered awkwardly at the foot of my bed, rocking on the balls of his feet. His hands were shoved into his pockets, but he looked like he was ready to burst with unchartered energy.

“Take a seat, James,” Harry said, folding his arms. James and I met each other’s eyes before he briskly sat in chair next to the bed, where Aunt Susan had occupied moments ago. Immediately, he restlessly shook his left leg. If I reached my arm out, I would have been able to touch him, to calm him, even. He looked so dragged down and jittery and worried as his eyes scanned the room, but I resisted the urge to move my hand.

Harry studied us as we both looked at each other out of the corner of our eyes. “It seems like the two of you are spending a lot of time together…”

James immediately turned his attention to his father. “Well, yeah… We’re dating,” he said as it were the most obvious thing in the world. I bit my lip to prevent myself from smiling at his attitude towards his father. This was a side I hadn’t really seen from him.

“I know that,” Harry acknowledged patiently. “But what I’m trying to say is that it appears like the two of you have made a lot of discoveries on your own about Grindelwald.” His green eyes flashed behind his glasses as he uncrossed his arms. “Believe it or not, I’ve been in your place before, and I know how isolating it can feel.” He paused for a moment; I could almost hear the thoughts whirring in his mind. “I need you to know that you can always come to me if you need or want to.”

“Right,” James said, agitated, leaning forward in his chair. “We will.”

Harry glanced over at me, waiting for my confirmation. “Of course we will,” I agreed.

“Good.” There was a brief, calculating pause, which caused the hairs on my arms to stand up. “Is there anything else about Grindelwald that you’d like to share with me?”

I prayed that my bubbling panic didn’t show on my face, and I knew that I had to react quickly before James revealed anything about the Hallows. We had agreed to not mention the Hallows to anyone, but I also knew how much James had loved and admired his father.

“Sir, I’ve told you everything I know,” I replied earnestly. “He was a Dark wizard who wanted wizards to rule over Muggles, which makes today’s attacks all the more worrisome.”

Harry nodded, and I hoped that would be the end of his prying questions. I dared not look at James, but I willed him to keep his mouth shut about the Hallows. Then Harry said, “What about you, James?”

“Amelia’s about covered it,” he said. The knots in my stomach relaxed and an almost grateful relief swept up my spine. James could no longer sit still and stood up. “Dad, what does this mean? Is Grindelwald on the rise? Has Amelia really figured out the Runes? Have the murderers been identified? What will the Ministry—?”

“James,” sighed Harry again as he ran a hand through his hair, “I understand you have a lot of questions. This is what my point is. Of course you can always come to me… but you also have to be careful. These are Dark wizards we’re dealing with here.”

“We are careful!”

“No, you’re not,” Harry said sternly. “You clearly saw the Runes at the station, which means that you were where you were not supposed to be. What if there had been Dark wizards still at the station? What if you had gotten hurt—or even killed? And trying to translate the Runes, which are extremely dangerous…”

“The Runes are my fault,” I said before James could retort. He turned his body towards me, and I could tell that he wanted to argue with that, too. “They are,” I told James firmly, looking him in the eye for the first time that day as he sat back down next to me. “I’m the one who found the book, who translated them, who wrote them on my skin.”

“But I—“ James began.

“James, I appreciate that you want to share the blame here,” I told him as I grasped his upper arm. Some of the tension released in his shoulders. “But it’s my fault.” I looked over at Harry, who was still studying us with a keen eye. It took most of my courage to keep my hand on James’ arm. “We’ll be more careful in the future,” I assured him.

Harry nodded. “Thank you, Amelia. I cannot stress enough how dangerous this all is. With Grindelwald’s ideology on the rise, it’s best if you leave any investigating to the Ministry.”

James opened his mouth to answer back, but I squeezed his arm to stop him.

Harry glanced down at his watch and frowned. “I’m running late. I wish I could stay and catch up properly, but I have to get back to London.” He smiled at James. “Tell Albus and Lily hello for me, will you?”

“Fine,” James said quickly. “But Dad—“ I squeezed his arm again to shut him up, but he didn’t get the message or simply ignored it as he stood again. “Is this an organized thing--with Grindelwald’s ideas, I mean? Like the Death Eaters?”

Harry sighed again. “I believe so, James. And that is why you have to be careful. Keep busy with Quidditch and N.E.W.T.s and friends… “ He glanced over at me before turning his attention back to his son. “You have important things happening here at Hogwarts. Try not to let outside events worry you too much.”

James crossed his arms behind his back momentarily before swinging them to his side in a silent retort, though I could feel the racing thoughts emitting from him. This grudging acceptance was a result from having Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, the Man Who Conquered, as a father. James was so good at maintaining the Potter name, but it was moments like this when life in his father’s shadow hit him the hardest. My hand found his, which seemed to pull his thoughts away from Harry for a brief moment. His hand was warm, a welcoming touch after having gone through so much pain.

“Well, our ten minutes are nearly done. I’ll let the two of you catch up before it’s time for Amelia to rest,” Harry said. “Goodbye, James. Feel better soon, Amelia.”

We said our farewells as Harry made his way to the door. He curiously looked back at us for a moment before he disappeared into the halls of Hogwarts.

James and I seemed to hold our breath for an eternity, waiting for Harry to leave. Once we were alone, he turned towards me and clasped both of his hands into my good one.

“Amelia…” he said, his brown eyes searching me. “I… I’m so sorry. Sorry for being so angry with you over Houses… it was stupid… and you almost… almost…”

I really didn’t want to have this conversation right then. Or ever, really. My blood boiled at how he apologized yet still probably believed his prejudiced opinion on Houses. I felt my defenses strengthening around my heart, and I knew I only had moments if not mere seconds before I would reach a place from where I could not return. I had to do the right thing, the difficult thing, but that meant that the truth wouldn’t be resolved.

“I’m… I’m sorry, too,” I breathed. There it was; I did it: my apology.

James gave a weak smile. “Let’s not fight again, okay?”

I chuckled. “Not for a while, at least, that’s for sure.”

James abruptly changed topics. His tone was borderline accusatory, and I wondered if this was going to lead to another argument, despite his current wish not to fight. “Where did you get that book? Why didn’t you tell me about it? Did someone give it to you? Did you write in it and did it respond back to you?”

I raised my eyebrows at his spastic questions. “James, what on earth…?”

“For someone who likes to study so much, you don’t seem to understand how dangerous books can be!” he exclaimed. James read my confusion and jumped into a quick tale of how his mother nearly had died by Tom Riddle’s diary, and I finally saw the scope of his despair. Not only were we fighting when I almost died, but I was almost killed from a book, like his mother…

“Well, I didn’t die,” I told him firmly. “You saved my life.”

James shook his head. “No I didn’t… I just helped get you to the Hospital Wing... “

Hannah reappeared from her office, and I knew our time was up. There was a pang in my chest at the thought of James leaving.

“That’s what I needed. You saved me, whether you admit it or not,” I told him. “Thank you.” James tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “Hannah’s coming. I’ll tell you everything later: the book, the Runes, my conversation with your dad. Promise.”

He let go of my hand and stood. Already, I longed to have my hand in his. However, it was immediately occupied by my unfinished goblet.

“Drink, please. You need rest,” Hannah said. I watched James leave as I drank the rest of my potion. My eyelids grew heavy, and a dreamless sleep encompassed me.

I had other visitors later on that day: Aunt Susan with Eddie and Helen, the Head Boy and Girl came with a card from the other prefects, some of the Slytherins in my year (Ben Avery, Fallon Gamp, and Hyam Lucas) came after dinner, and of course Victoria, who stopped in three times that first day.

She was sitting on my bed after the rest of the Slytherins left, gazing over anxiously at me. I was tired, and the vegetable broth from my meager dinner made me a little nauseous.

She glanced around the Hospital Wing to make sure we were alone. “Amelia,” she murmured quietly as she twirled a piece of her raven hair around her finger. “You should hear the talk around the school.”

“I thought I did,” I said. “Fallon just made sure that I know that everyone is talking about how I ‘solved the murders’—which I didn’t, by the way.” I had told her a brief recount of what had happened when she first visited, keeping key information, like the Hallows, secret. She was my best friend, but something deep down had stopped me, just like it had when I had talked to the Aurors.

Victoria shook her head. “I made them all promise that they wouldn’t bring it up because I need to tell you myself.”

“What is it?”

She scooted closer to me, and I made more space for her on the bed. Victoria frowned at me, putting her hand on my knee. “There’s a rumor going around that James did this to you.”

What?!” I said loudly. My best friend shushed me, glancing behind her for any sign of Hannah.

“Amelia, I need to make absolutely sure. Did he do this to you? Did he hurt you?” Victoria asked.

“No and no!” I said. “Victoria, I told you about the book and my mother. Why in the name of Merlin’s—?”

“Are you sure?” she interrupted.

I blinked for a moment. “Yes,” I said slowly. “Victoria... you don’t believe that bullocks, do you?”

She sighed, crossing her arms. “I don’t know. You two were fighting right when it happened.”

“But I told you that it—“

“I know what you told me, but what I’m telling you is that it doesn’t look the way you described it to me. People knew you two were fighting, and then you left Ancient Runes in a hurry, clearly upset. James left to follow you. Next thing we all know, you’re in the Hospital Wing.”

Her words washed over me as fury built in my stomach. “People need to mind their own damn business!” I seethed. “How can the school think that I solved the murders and think that James did this to me at the same time?”

Victoria shrugged. “I don’t know. Most people are idiots. But I find there are some grains of truth in rumors, which is why I’m asking you if James ever--”

“Stop, just stop,” I told her, shaking my head. “No. Don’t be daft. If he ever hurt me, I’d hurt him tenfold.”

Victoria smiled over at me. “There’s the Amelia I know.”

“And you wouldn’t be the Victoria I know if you didn’t press,” I said, placing my hand on top of hers, which rested on my knee. “And the Victoria I know also wouldn’t have the Cauldron Cakes that are sitting on my nightstand too far from her mind, too. Go ahead and help yourself-- I won’t be eating them for a while.”

“You do know me!” she exclaimed as she reached for the pack. “So sorry to hear about your strict diet--”

“Bah, I’m not hungry anyway,” I said.

She frowned, studying me. Her hand with an uneaten Cauldron Cake fell slowly into her lap. “You really did almost die, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“What was it like?” she asked in a small voice.

“What?” I furrowed my brow. I had explained to her everything that had happened.

“Did you… I dunno… encounter an afterlife?”

I thought for a minute before I remembered the veil I had been under, the one with the rips, which let in the brightest light I had ever seen. With that, I jumped into my recollection of what happened before I decided to come back.

“Come back?” Victoria had long forgotten her Cauldron Cake in her lap as she snuggled further into my bed.

“Yeah,” I said tiredly. “I needed to.”

Before she could say anything, I had another visitor.

“James,” I smiled. Victoria sat up, turning her head towards him. I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell that she wasn’t as pleased to see him as I was.

James walked over to the bed. His hair was damp, and he was carrying his broomstick, which meant that he was done with Quidditch practice. “Hey,” he said lightly. “Sorry for the late visit. It’s been a busy day.”

“Amelia has been busy, too,” Victoria said as she turned back towards me. “She’s had loads of visitors already. I’ve been here multiple times today.”

I tried hard to not roll my eyes at my best friend’s snide remarks, so I stared at the ceiling instead. “I daresay I’ve never felt so popular before,” I said drily.

James grinned as he sat down at on the chair next to the bed. “Popularity has its perks,” he agreed. Victoria crossed her legs, indicating she was staying put on my bed. She began to unwrap a Cauldron Cake as James watched her.

“Merlin, this is good,” she gushed as she took a big bite. She cast a slightly guilty look my way. “Sorry.”

I waved off her apology. The air was thick with tension between my boyfriend and best friend. My stomachache was growing in intensity, and I knew that it would be time for them to go soon.

My eyes met James’. “How are you feeling, Amelia?”

“She’s bloody tired and sore,” Victoria answered for me, patting my knee. “It’s been a long day for her.”

“I know that,” James said defensively.

“Then why ask?” Victoria wondered as she raised her eyebrows.

James clenched his hands onto the arms of his chair. “Because I’d rather hear it from her.”

Before Victoria could retort, I said, “James, can you get me some water?”

“Of course,” he breathed, jumping from his chair and rushing over to the water stand. While he wasn’t looking, I gave Victoria a swift kick and mouthed, “Knock it off.”

She rolled her eyes and mouthed back, “Fine.”

“Here you go,” James said as he handed a goblet towards me. I smiled up at him.

“Thanks.” I watched him give Victoria a wary look as I drank. “Much better.”

There was an awkward pause, and I know that Victoria was going to go back on her word. I yawned loudly and set down my goblet. “I think I need some sleep now,” I said, slicing through the tension.

Victoria pat my knee again. “Of course, dear,” she said as she carefully got off my bed. James frowned, clearly disappointed at the short visit.

“Victoria, can you get me another pillow?” I asked.

“Absolutely.”

As soon as she was out of earshot, James asked, “Can I come back later with the Cloak?”

It was my turn to frown. Sleep was a lucrative prospect, but I still hadn’t an opportunity to tell him everything. “Don’t get caught out of bed, okay?” I whispered as my best friend reappeared.

“I won’t,” he assured me, smirking, and I found that that statement didn’t surprise me in the slightest--and that I believed him.

So why did that terrify me?


--


The witches’ shouts continue as I struggle against the ropes. My thoughts race as I try to think of ways to escape from this pyre. In mere moments, my lungs fill with smoke, and I know that my time is rapidly running out. In a wave of raw magic, I loosen my bonds and brandish my wand in my hand.

I keep my hands behind the stake, relying on the smoke to keep my wand hidden. I mutter an incantation as the flames catch my robes.

My clothes do not burn, and the tendrils of fire tickle my bare skin as they crawl up my body. The smoke is not as suffocating, but I try to gulp in as much fresh air as possible during thinner puffs. The flames continue to travel up me, but they have a soothing touch.

The witches’ jaunts turn into cheers, and in a blink, the fire is back in the fireplace. My hands fall to my side, and I raise my wand at Anouk, who beams at me from across the room.

“Congratulations, my dear girl,” she exclaims, raising her arms and walks towards me to embrace.

I take a step back, but there are other witches behind me.

“Lia, oh welcome, Lia.” The voices come from all directions of the room. Seeing no escape from their praise, I put my wand back up my sleeve as I am enveloped in hugs.

“You’re one of us now,” says Damaris as she hands me a goblet. “Drink this.”

The bitter, acidic taste of the goblet’s liquid burns as it goes down my throat. Immediately, I feel light headed, but I want to drink more. And I do.

“She likes it,” laughs Sinead as she takes the goblet from me and drinks from it herself. “We have this at all of our meetings.”

“What is it?” I ask, as she passes it to a witch with no teeth.

“Banshee’s Breath,” Sinead replies as she leads me back to where I had been sitting earlier. She grasps onto me as I falter in my steps. The drink is incredibly strong.

“What…?” The words die at my lips, as I glance around at the room.

The pyre, on which I had stood, is gone. Tables are back where they had been before my trial, and the witches chat excitedly amongst themselves as the goblet of Banshee’s Breath is passed around. No one seems upset in the slightest that I could have been burned alive.

“You passed the ritual with flying colors,” Sinead explains. “You’re a sister of the Devil’s Mark now.”

I raise my eyebrows. “A ritual? Merlin’s beard,” I mutter.

“Careful,” Faye, the bartender, whispers as she sits on the other side of me. “We like to use Morgana’s name here.”

“Morgana’s…” I trail off. “Morgana didn’t have a beard, did she?”

Faye laughs. “You’re a funny drunk!”

I shake my head. “But… but I don’t understand,” I say. “I passed a ritual… now what?”

“You’re a witch,” Faye winks.

“Though I’ve never seen someone so hesitant to use magic before,” Sinead says as her green eyes search mine.

I sense some suspicion from her, so before she can further probe, I say, “If I needed to convince a jeering group of people that I’m being burned, I wouldn’t be brandishing my wand around like a sword.”

Sinead smiles, seemingly satisfied with my answer, and hands me a glass of Firewhiskey, which I drink without much thought. “Well said, my sister. You’re now a member of this organization. This is a place you can come to, where you don’t have to hide who you are, where you can brandish your wand like a sword, where you can express your beliefs without fear of retribution from the Muggle-sympathetic wizarding government.”

“The NeoWalds sure have something going for them,” Faye agrees as she lights a cigarette. Finally, someone has mentioned the very people about whom I most desperately want to talk, who I most desperately want to find.

“Oh?” I say carefully. Eager questions twitch behind my teeth, and it requires my utmost concentration not to divulge them. The liquor makes it hard.

“They’re far more public than we are,” Anouk interjects as she pulls up a chair. “And have more of an international network.”

I finish my glass of Firewhiskey, my heart swelling with the intimacy of this small circle of witches, my new sisters. The weight on my shoulders is lifting, and I feel a trust emanating from me, which I’ve never felt before.

For a moment, I am tempted to tell them everything: my mother’s involvement with the NeoWalds, my quest for the Hallows, my part in James’ disappearance, James. Oh, James. His face swims before my eyes, and I swear that if I reach out to touch him, I would be able to be transported to wherever he is…

“Lia, what are you doing?” laughs Faye.

I blink, and James’ face is gone. My hand has reached towards empty space.

“First time drinking Banshee’s Breath, eh?” chuckles Anouk. She takes a puff of a pipe and blows out rings. She extends it to me. “This special tobacco will help with any hallucinations.”

I take it and inhale. I cough out the smoke as Sinead takes the pipe from me. “Not much of a drinker or smoker, huh” she says, amused. I shake my head, but I don’t feel any shame. Instead, the room brightens, and the trust I feel cascades throughout my body into a sense of security. “But I hear you’re quite the dueller…”

I shake my head. “No, no. I’m not,” I say, and I have a feeling I know exactly what she’s talking about. The trust I feel pushes me to expand more on the subject, but something in the pit of my stomach stops me.

“Are you being modest?” Anouk inquires as she takes the pipe back from Faye. “Interesting trait in a Slytherin.”

I shake my head. The urgency of steering the conversation in another direction makes my head spin, though it could very well be my intoxication. “I’m more of a magical theory and history witch.”

“Oh, like your mother,” Anouk says. Faye hands me another glass of Firewhiskey, but I only pretend to take a sip this time. My trust ebbs away as I feel the stares of the three women around me.

“You knew her?” I ask.

“Yes. She and Sinead were together at Hogwarts, too,” she answers. Sinead nods, finishing her drink.

“Your mother had a way with Runes that could make anyone envious. There were times I thought she could be a soothsayer, her translations were always so accurate.” Sinead adjusts her frayed hat, getting lost in memory. “And she was really into fairy tales, too. Rita always told the best stories.”

“Yeah,” I agree, sudden memories of bedtimes stories by the fire burst forth. Sometimes, I would even have a glass of warm milk as I listened to my mother’s tales. Perhaps I can use this to my advantage. “I haven’t heard one of her stories in years.”

Sinead nods and glances at Anouk. “Your mother was always destined for great things,” Sinead begins. “But I know it was hard for her to leave you as a child.”

Icy shivers travel down my back, and I take an actual drink of Firewhiskey, so I don’t have to reply right away. Anouk leans forward.

“And I know how proud she would be of you for finding this place, for following in her footsteps,” she says, flashing a smile, as if that is any ounce of solace.

I smile back at her. “I’m honored to hear that,” I say sweetly. “She is a great witch, and I hope to be someday, too.”

My answer seems to please her. Damaris comes over with a few other witches, drawing Anouk’s attention from me. Faye goes to get more drinks, and another group of witches beckon me over to them. Before I go over to them, Sinead catches my arm.

“Your mother is extremely talented. If you want to be like her, let’s talk later.” Her green eyes shine deliberately. “Especially if you aspire to be part of The Cause.”

I nod, giving her a knowing look. She smiles before joining Damaris and Anouk. I bite down a smirk as I walk over to the new group of witches, who all wish to share a drink with me. The room is already spinning, and I feel like I’m walking on a sponge, but I will drink with them. After all, I may have found a way into The Cause.



---



Anything you recognize belongs to JKR!

So sorry for such the long wait. We all have busy and excruciatingly difficult times in our lives, and this has been one of them. I am slowly emerging from the chaos, and this story is helping.

I hope you enjoyed this update! I am really excited for the events that are coming up in the story... though Amelia would definitely think otherwise! I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a review!


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