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Chapter 18 : In Which It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better
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Daphne didn’t apologise for giving me the wrong information. She didn’t even acknowledge that she’d informed me of my mother’s death for no reason. She gave me a halfhearted pat on the shoulder, tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear with a frown, and then disapparated without saying anything.
The healer who had come to talk to us looked at me, obviously feeling awkward.
‘Erm...I should get back inside. They might need my help. We’re going to transport your mother to St Mungo’s as soon as she’s stable.” He smiled an awkward half-smile, and turned slightly as if to walk back into the house.
He obviously wasn’t sure whether it was okay to leave me outside alone, because he hesitated before moving.
“Yeah, you should get back to her. Erm, do whatever it is that you need to do. I’ll just...I’ll wait out here,” I said, feeling like a total idiot.
He nodded and then rushed back to the house. I kicked a stone by my foot, unsure what to do with myself.
A hoot sounded from the other side of the road and I glanced up. Mercury was still sitting in his cage. I sighed, feeling guilty. The road was still empty of traffic, so I wandered back over to my luggage. I sat down on my trunk and lifted up Mercury’s cage to open the door. Mercury flew out and landed on my leg, his talons scraping the skin on my knee.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I shouldn’t have left you by yourself for so long.”
Mercury dug his talons in more deeply. If he was a human he’d definitely be a Slytherin. Not that I can judge.
I rummaged in my pocket and found an owl treat. Mercury gave me a disdainful look, but took the treat.
“Look,” I said. “You can go, if you want. Go to Aunt Katie’s, yeah? The Moron will know who you are. He can look after you for a while.”
Mercury looked at me reproachfully.
“Go, you idiot,” I said. “It’s not like you’re having much fun here.”
He hooted and then lifted his wings, scratching my knee once more as he ascended. I watched him fly away, and then lay down to rest my back against my trunk.
I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. It didn’t seem like the healers needed me, but I wasn’t really sure whether it would be okay for me to leave. And even if I did leave, I had nowhere to go. The Malfoy house was my usual escape, but it was hardly like I’d be welcome there anymore. But I didn’t want to sleep in my house, knowing what had happened in there during the day. I felt completely lost. So I decided to just stay where I was.
Hours passed. The green light in the window of the house flickered out, meaning the healers were no longer using the floo, and a few minutes later the nice healer I’d spoken to stepped out of the front door and apparated away without acknowledging me. The house looked empty. But I still didn’t get up. Something was stopping me.
If he hadn’t come to get me, I might have stayed there all night. I didn’t even realise he’d arrived until he cleared his throat.
I opened my eyes and sat up. “Daddy?”
“Oh, sweetheart.” He sat down on the trunk next to me and gave me a hug. I shook against his chest for a moment but didn’t let myself cry.
“How did you know I was here?” I asked when we pulled apart.
“It finally occurred to Daphne Greengrass that I might be interested to know that my wife was in hospital,” he said. “She’s an absolute idiot. She didn’t even mention that you’d been here until I asked who’d collected you from school. I asked her where you’d gone afterwards, and she mentioned that you might still be here. So I thought I’d come and get you.”
“I didn’t know where to go,” I whispered.
“You can come home with me,” he said.
I felt relief flood through me. I hadn’t really realised how nervous I was about where to spend the night. It was only when he removed the problem that I recognised how worried I’d been.
“You don’t have your apparition license yet, do you?” He asked.
I shook my head. “We’ve had lessons but I can’t take the test until I’m seventeen.”
“Of course. I’d forgotten you weren’t of age yet.”
It wasn’t really surprising that he didn’t know how old I was. Usually I’d make some kind of snarky comment about his lack of knowledge about me, but I decided it didn’t really matter in that moment.
“Best take you by side along, then,” he said, standing up. “Here, take my hand. I’ll hold onto your trunk.”
I let him hold my hand tightly, and closed my eyes as he spun. The air felt tight around me, pressing down against my skin, and I felt like I was being pulled through some kind of suction. When the pressure eased, I opened my eyes, watching the blurred surroundings become focussed.
“This is where I live now,” Dad said, dropping my hand.
I glanced around. We were in an airy room with hardly any furniture. A grand piano sat in one corner in front of a large window, and one wall was covered with framed black and white photographs. The same woman appeared in most of the pictures. I was too far away to see her clearly, but she looked vaguely familiar. It didn’t seem like the kind of place my dad would live. He’d painted every single room in our house a different bright colour, and liked to fill all available space with trinkets he’d picked up from his travels. I was surprised that he’d be living somewhere so minimalistic. It was the kind of sophisticated cool that Cass or someone, or maybe Laura Brogan would have appreciated. But it wasn’t like my dad.
“We’re going to redecorate,” Dad said, seeming to understand what I was thinking. “I haven’t lived here very long.”
I nodded. It didn’t really matter. It had been his choice to move out. He didn’t need to offer explanations for the decor of his new home.
“Honey?” Dad called out. “Olivia’s here.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have to meet the mistress. I suppose it shouldn’t really have been surprising, given that she lived there, and I was going to be staying, but for some reason she hadn’t entered my mind.
“Just coming,” a woman’s voice called from somewhere outside. I thought I might recognise the voice but couldn’t place it.
“You’re going to love her,” Dad told me, beaming. I didn’t smile back but he didn’t seem to realise, and kept talking. “She’s wonderful. She works with Magical Law Enforcement, so she’s got all sorts of Ministry contacts she could set you up with if you’re interested in looking into careers. And she has a daughter who must be around your age. I’m sure you two will get along. You’re going to really like it here.”
I glared at him. “Seriously? You’re choosing today to talk to me about how wonderful your new woman is?”
He looked puzzled. “I only thought you’d want to know what she’s like. She’s very beautiful. I still can’t quite believe that she wants to be with me.”
I rolled my eyes and turned away from him. There was no point trying to get him to understand that it might be inappropriate to talk about his new lover while his wife was in his hospital after what looked like an attempted suicide. And there was no point trying to get him to understand that the daughter he’d had with said wife might not want to hear what he had to say anyway.
“There she is.” Dad’s voice filled with a warmth I hadn’t heard from him before, and I turned round to see who had brought it on.
The woman in the doorway was beautiful, he was right. She had long curls of chestnut hair hanging down past her shoulders, and wide set deep blue eyes. She probably wasn’t much younger than my mum, but she had definitely aged much better. She was distressingly gorgeous, and distressingly familiar.
“I know you,” I told her.
“Yes,” she said. “We’ve met.”
I frowned, still trying to place her, and then let the frown deepen into a scowl. “You’re that bitch who asked me questions about Cassie.”
“Olivia.” Dad looked shocked. I didn’t understand why he was surprised by my words. It wasn’t exactly likely that I was going to be polite to the woman he’d left us for, especially given that she was the same woman who’d been investigating Cassie’s disappearance.
“Oh, it’s okay, Andrew,” she said with a simpering smile. “Olivia’s had a difficult day. It’s understandable that her temper might be a little fractious.”
I scowled at her some more.
“That doesn’t excuse her rudeness,” Dad said. “Olivia, this is my girlfriend, Clementine.”
Something about the word ‘girlfriend’ made me hate her even more. The idea of Dad having a girlfriend was disturbing, and Clementine’s soppy smile as he spoke made it worse.
“Right,” I said, ignoring the hand Clementine held out to me.
“I hadn’t realised the two of you had met already,” Dad said questioningly.
“Oh,” Clementine smiled again. “We haven’t met properly. I just had to ask Olivia a couple of teensy questions about Cassandra Selwyn. We didn’t have time to really get to know each other, though.” She beamed at me.
Dad nodded. I wondered why he’d never mentioned that his girlfriend was working on looking for Cassie. It must have occurred to him that it was something I’d be interested to know.
“So, Olivia, what would you like to do? I could make us all some dinner?” Clementine was still smiling.
I frowned again. I didn’t want to eat dinner with Clementine from magical law enforcement. I didn’t know whether she was still involved in looking for Cassie, but I remembered how patronising she’d been when I’d met her before. And I hated that she must have known who I was when we’d spoken, and yet hadn’t mentioned anything about my dad. I just wanted to curl up somewhere by myself and to try not to think about my father’s new life, or my mother alone somewhere in a hospital bed.
“Um, actually, I’m quite tired,” I said. “Where am I sleeping? I think I’ll go to bed.”
Dad looked awkward. “Ah, well, of course we hadn’t realised you were going to be staying, Olivia. This has all been a bit of a shock, naturally.”
Clementine pressed a finger to his lips and spoke instead. “My daughter’s your age. She’ll happily share her room with you. She’s out running at the moment but should be back soon. It’s the second door on the right upstairs. Feel free to use anything of hers that you need. We’ll sort out your own bed as soon as we can.”
I nodded and picked up my trunk again, leaving the room as quickly as possible. I knew that Clementine was trying to be nice, but everything about the encounter had felt unpleasant. I dragged my trunk up the stairs and pushed open the second door on the right.
The room obviously belonged to a teenage girl. Most of the room was taken up with a massive bed, covered with cream pillows and a thick, turquoise throw. The walls were covered with pictures of things Clementine’s daughter was obviously interested in. The back wall was plastered with posters of wizarding bands, and a few muggle film posters. The wardrobe was mostly covered with a large mirror, but I could see a chart to one side of it, tracking whatever Clementine Junior had been eating and the exercise she’d been doing. A large desk sat to one side of the room, with photographs pinned up to a noticeboard behind it. It was the only area of the room that I liked the look of, and I made my way over to see what the girl and her friends looked like, wondering whether I’d recognise her from Hogwarts.
I suppose I probably should have realised that things were only going to get worse, but it hadn’t even occurred to me to worry about the identity of Clementine’s daughter. I’d been a little preoccupied thinking about other things.
Looking at the smiling photos flickering on the wall, I wished I’d thought more closely about what it meant when Dad said Clementine’s daughter was my age. If I’d actually thought about what he was saying, I might not have been so shocked to find myself staring at hundreds of photographs of Laura Brogan.
I frowned at the pictures. They somehow didn’t seem to match up with the Laura Brogan I knew and hated. Almost all of them showed her laughing or smiling, usually accompanied by Rose and Al. The pictures near the bottom showed her and Rose as beaming eleven-year-olds with their hair in plaits. A photograph towards the centre focussed on Laura in maybe fourth or fifth year, when she’d grown a bit and her hair had finally reached her waist. The Laura in the picture had her arms loosely draped around Al’s shoulder on one side and Rose’s in the other, and she kept turning to kiss Al’s cheek. I smiled as I saw Al screw up his face in laughter as he pulled away from her kiss, but the sight of it made me feel a bit strange. The only photo that wasn’t from Hogwarts was a large black and white muggle picture, showing a young Laura Brogan next to Clementine and a man I assumed was her father. He was holding her hand and grinning down at her. It was strange to see a static photograph in the middle of all the movement, but I could see why Laura liked the picture. All three of them looked happy.
There was a gap on the wall big enough for one picture, and I thought a photograph must have fallen off, or maybe been pulled down. I glanced down at the desk in front of me and found an upside down picture that looked the right size to have originally been on the wall. I turned the photograph over and swallowed.
The picture was of Al and Laura, but Laura’s face was hardly visible. She was kissing Al’s neck, and then reaching up to kiss just under his earlobe, and he was laughing and wriggling, his hand tangled up in her hair. He squirmed to one side and I almost laughed to see him pull away from her, but then he pulled her closer into him and peppered her forehead with kisses. They looked beautiful together, and sickeningly in love. The Albus I knew was overly friendly and cheerful, and I’d always thought he was happy, but I’d never seen him the way he was in this picture. He looked different, more peaceful, and his smile looked more genuine than I’d ever seen it in real life.
I put down the photo, suddenly feeling queasy. The whole day had been overwhelming, and Laura Brogan’s bedroom was probably the last place I wanted to end it in. I turned around to look at her bed, wondering how I felt about having a nap in the same place she slept, but was saved from having to make the decision by a shout from Clementine downstairs.
“Olivia? There’s tea for you down here. And Laura’s home! Come and join us. I’m sure she’d love to meet you.”
I hardly knew the woman and I already hated her. I didn’t understand why she was trying to be friends, and didn’t think she should be expecting me to spend time with her and her daughter. I was only there because my mother was so ill. She shouldn’t have been treating it like some exciting bonding activity. And I’d already told her I just wanted to go to sleep.
My father’s voice joined Clementine’s, calling up to me with a frustrated tone. “Come on, Olivia. Clementine’s making an effort, here. Don’t shut yourself away up there.”
I gasped. Somehow my father’s words had made my general discomfort about the events of the day shift, and I no longer felt sick. Suddenly I just felt pure fury. It wasn’t fair that I’d had to come home to parents who hadn’t even wanted to see me. It wasn’t fair that my mother had hurt herself so I couldn’t stay with her. It wasn’t fair that my father had moved in to his new house, with his new girlfriend and his new daughter, and it wasn’t fair that this new daughter was Laura Brogan. It wasn’t fair that I was expected to just fit in with the mess that everybody else had created, and suddenly I knew that I needed to get out of the house.
I took an unsteady step towards Laura’s door, and then stopped. I didn’t want to see them, any of them. I stood still on the spot for a moment, panicked thoughts skimming through possible solutions to my problem, and then my mind somehow fixed on a memory.
“I just want you to know that we do love you. However you’re feeling right now, and however much you think you don’t need us or don’t want us, there will always be a place for you here if you need it. Don’t hesitate to ask if you need my help, or to come and stay if things get hard at home. I promise you’re always welcome.”
I knew where I needed to go, and I needed to go as soon as possible. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and concentrated as hard as I could, knowing that it was stupid, dangerous and illegal to even be trying to do this. None of that mattered to me in this moment, and I sighed with relief as I spun around and felt the world disintegrate around me.
When I came to a stop outside the Madhouse, I was almost overwhelmed by intense pain. I glanced down and winced at the sight of my left arm. Lots of the skin had peeled away, and probably an unhealthy amount of blood was dripping down towards my hands. I clenched my teeth and decided to ignore it. I was lucky not to have splinched myself worse, and at least I’d ended up where I wanted to be. I took a step forward and pressed down on the doorbell.
Nobody answered for a few moments and I stood swaying on the spot, tears prickling the back of my eyes. My arm was throbbing and it was making me feel dizzy. When Jason eventually opened the door I swayed dangerously close to him and he gripped my arms to hold me up. I was vaguely aware of James Potter standing behind him, but I ignored his presence and focussed on my cousin’s worried eyes.
“Liv,” Jason breathed. He looked frightened, maybe. “Fuck. You’re hurt. Let’s get you inside.”
He gently tugged me through the door and turned me round to walk next to him. He kept one arm around me but the walk still felt difficult. James seemed to notice this and took my other arm, and the two boys steered me into the kitchen.
Jason pushed me into a chair by the kitchen table and then turned to James. “I’m going to find Mum. Stay with her.”
James nodded and pulled out the chair beside me. He sat down next to me and put a hand on my uninjured arm. We didn’t speak. I didn’t want to cry, and felt like the tears might be unavoidable if I opened my mouth. It’s not like I would have had much to say to James Potter anyway.
“Olivia,” Aunt Katie said from the door. “God. Hang on. Okay, you’ve splinched. Here, I can fix this. Stay still.”
She knelt down beside me and drew her wand, carefully pointing it at different areas of my injured arm. I watched curiously as my skin seemed to slowly knit itself back together. James let go of me and stood up to stand with Jason while Katie healed my arm.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
Aunt Katie looked confused. “You don’t need to apologise. We’ve all splinched at some point. I wish you hadn’t illegally apparated here, though. I could have come and collected you if you wanted to visit.”
“I’m sorry for being here, for interrupting, I know you don’t want me,” I said, the words bubbling through my lips without me even thinking about them or meaning to speak. “But everything’s fucked up and I didn’t know what to do and I, I don’t know, I didn’t know where to go. And Mum’s in hospital and I couldn’t stay at home and she wasn’t at the station. And then Daphne said she was dead but she wasn’t dead but maybe she will be soon. And I went with Dad but it turns out he lives in the same house as Laura Brogan now. And it all felt wrong and I couldn’t be there and I didn’t know where to go but I knew I had to go somewhere and…”
I paused to catch my breath, searching my scattered thoughts for more words to explain why I’d turned up at her doorstep in a mess. Katie didn’t seem to care about my unexpected appearance, though, and she didn’t seem to be annoyed by my incoherent rambling. She just pulled me into a tight hug and held me close. Her hair smelt nice, like some kind of honeysuckle, and I stopped talking and focussed on breathing instead.
Behind Katie, Jason and James both looked shocked. Jason was watching me in shock, and James looked like he was thinking about something.
“I”ll be right back,” James said.
Jason turned to face James, obviously about to say something, but James disappeared with a loud ‘crack’.
Jason frowned at the empty space his best friend had recently inhabited, but he didn’t seem overly concerned by it. He walked closer to Katie and I and knelt down beside me, taking the hand that James had recently dropped. His hand was warm and rough, and my fingers unintentionally tightened around his.
“I’m not sure what to do,” I confessed. I still hadn’t let myself cry, but I felt completely overwhelmed. Their company was comforting but hadn’t managed to calm me down.
“Let’s not worry about it for now,” Katie said soothingly. “You know you’re always welcome here. We’ll make sure everything’s okay.”
Jason didn’t say anything but he squeezed my hand and I appreciated the gesture.
There was a loud ‘crack’ and I jumped. Katie let go of me to turn around, and looked confused when she saw that James had returned with his brother.
“I thought you might want…” James started to speak, but was cut off by Albus pushing past him.
“Liv,” Al said, reaching out to me. He didn’t say anything else, but somehow he was still exactly who I needed. I stood up and let him hold me close, his fingers splayed out across my back as he gripped onto me with all the security I felt like I needed. I slowly reached up with my own arms, curling them around his neck and letting one hand brush against the back of his neck as I dropped my forehead down onto his chest. And then I finally let the tears start to fall.
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