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Impact by R o s m e r t a
Chapter 21 : Distraction
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 16


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Author's Note: Yes, y'all, it's actually happening! I cannot apologize enough for the wait, or express how much I love and appreciate each and every one of you for sticking with Cecily and me!

This one is for Mary (duh), even if it's not exactly what she was hoping for. :)



{lyrics: Fall Out Boy / Miss Missing You}

*             *             *             *             *

I never knew how I slipped into it, my shell of emotional numbness, that merciful incomprehension of the whirling pain and grief that loomed over me. It just kicked in automatically; my brain went into survival mode and my body responded appropriately.

The darkness I’d succumbed to in Professor McGonagall’s office faded away just as quickly as it had come, and the surrounding world became submersed in the same sort of fog I’d experienced the moment Silas had fallen to the stone floor of that basement corridor in a pool of his own blood. In retrospect, I hadn’t the faintest idea how I’d gotten from the headmistress’s warm, cosy office to the cold, tiled corridors of St. Mungo’s with Theo at my heels. I suspected it was by Floo, but Merlin only knew how I’d managed the journey in one piece; I was hardly an adept Flooer even in the best of times. As for why I’d chosen to visit the hospital first, I could only assume that my subconscious welcomed its familiarity at a time such as this, though I shuddered at the sudden reminder that Aunt Pansy was no longer there.

The sight of Healers rushing about in lime green robes brought it all crashing back down on me: Aunt Tori was no longer there, either.

I fought back the tide of emotion swelling against me as I glided, in my trance, toward a large desk marked ‘Inquiries’ in the main reception area. A pale, freckled girl who hardly looked older than me sat behind it. A tag fixed on her robes read ‘Welcome Witch.’ She greeted us with a toothy grin as we approached. “May I help you?” she chirped brightly.

I hated her instantly.

"We're looking for Draco Malfoy," Theo told her. "Could you direct us to his room, please?"

The Welcome Witch’s smile faltered a bit as her gaze darted between Theo and me. "Are you family?"

"Cecily here is Mr. Malfoy's niece." Theo gestured toward me. "And I'm her—er—professor. At Hogwarts."

'Niece' suddenly sounded like such a trivial relationship to me. He may have only been my uncle, but he was the man who raised me. Hell, he was the man who was still raising me. Panic threatened to engulf me for an instant. I needed my Uncle Draco; I wasn't ready to be without him.

"Oh!" The Welcome Witch clucked at me sympathetically. "We're all so sorry to hear about Astoria," she simpered. "She was well-loved round here."

"That's...very kind of you," I managed. The girl wasn't growing on me a bit. 

Finally, she consulted a chart clipped to the side of her desk. "It seems Mr. Malfoy hasn't been taken to a room just yet...oh, Healer Stretton!" She hailed down a tall, lime-green clad wizard bustling past, who glanced at her quizzically. "This is Mr. Malfoy's niece. She'd like to see him."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible at the moment, Miss—"

"Greengrass," I had the presence of mind to supply.

Healer Stretton inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Your uncle is still unconscious. There remains a battery of tests to run in order to determine exactly what happened and what we can do about it, if anything." I clenched my jaw at those last two little words tacked on so carelessly. "Why don't you check back in the morning?” the Healer suggested. “We'll know more by then."

I could do nothing but simply stare at him. Tomorrow? Didn’t he understand that I didn’t want to wait—I couldn’t wait—that long? I had lost Mum, lost her sister, lost Aunt Pansy; I needed to know that I wasn’t going to lose Uncle Draco, too. Sweet Salazar, he had been right there in the castle last night, only a few feet away from me. I should have gone to him, should have told him how much I loved him, should never have let him go. The thought was agonising.

The haze swept back in before the panic could. I barely heard Healer Stretton offer his condolences for the loss of such a brilliant Healer as Aunt Tori, hardly registered that he was walking away.

“Cecily?” Theo’s voice was full of concern.

“I need to see Scorpius,” I blurted. “Now.” I needed to see him and throw my arms around him and yell at him for getting into this predicament and just know that he was there. I’m here. I’ll always be here.

Theo nodded. “Of course.” He proffered an arm and gestured for me to grab hold of his elbow. “Here. Side-Along Apparition will be the quickest way.”

Everything went dark, and I had the sudden staggering sensation that the air itself was squeezing me in from all sides. I gripped Theo’s arm as tightly as I could. Next moment, we landed on a crowded, unfamiliar sidewalk with a loud pop. A crush of people was surrounding what appeared to be an ordinary red Muggle telephone booth. A rather rotund and cross-looking wizard with a bristly mustache was trying, quite unsuccessfully, to manage the press of would-be onlookers. “Move along now, no media allowed!” he bellowed. “Off with the lot of you before the Muggles take notice!”

“Beg pardon, love,” simpered an older witch with obviously dyed blonde hair set into elaborate curls, “but is the Minister implying that the public hasn’t the right to know whether tonight’s attacks are related to the disappearances of other purebloods, or are simply the latest tragedy for a family whose very history is steeped in violence?” She batted her eyelashes behind jewel-encrusted frames and I suddenly recognised the woman from the (heavily retouched) photo regularly plastered beside her vapid and mostly foul articles in the Daily Prophet: Rita Skeeter.

The guard looked at her blankly. “I don’t know, lady! Just bugger off with the rest of them!”

I hadn’t realised I was still hanging on to Theo’s arm until he started pushing his way through the throng of witches and wizards, dragging me along with him. “Watch it!” the photographer accompanying Rita Skeeter growled at us as we shoved past. Rita, for her part, watched with great interest as we reached the guard and Theo whispered something in his ear. The guard’s eyes widened as he nodded and ushered us into the telephone booth behind him. The last thing I saw as we were shut in was Rita Skeeter’s beady glare, which reminded me of some sort of dangerous insect.

Theo dialed a few numbers on the keypad and handed me a badge that had slid out into what I gathered to be a coin tray. I pinned it to my jumper without bothering to read it. I suppose I was too numb to be too uncomfortable at the closeness inside the telephone booth, but it still seemed like an eternity before the door swung open and we stepped out into a cavernous room paneled with dark wood and lined with fireplaces.

“This way.” I followed Theo across the hall to a set of golden gates situated next to a wide security desk.

A middle-aged, poorly shaven watch-wizard clad in peacock blue robes sat behind the desk, eying our badges as we approached. “After-hours visitors, eh? State your business, then.”

"We’re here to see Scorpius Malfoy,” Theo told him.

The watch-wizard guffawed. “Oh, that’s a riot. You and half the bloody country!” He coughed as the guffaw turned into more of a wheeze. “I’ve strict instructions the lad’s not to have any visitors what until they’ve finished with the questioning.”

“But this girl is his family—” Theo began.

“He’s too bloody dangerous,” the watch-wizard insisted obstinately.

“He is not dangerous!” I found myself blurting out. “He’s my cousin!”

“Be that as it may, Miss, that doesn’t change the fact that—”

“And I need to see him! I must!” Panic had begun to seize me, despite my best efforts to swallow it down.

“Miss, please contain yourself—” The watch-wizard was starting to look nervous.

Suddenly, I heard two familiar voices across the Atrium, growing louder by the moment. “I told you, Hermione! Didn’t I tell you?”

“Ron, please!” I turned to see Rose’s parents making their way across the long hall toward the security desk, too involved in their bickering to realise they were not alone.

“I knew we should never have let Rosie date that good-for-nothing little…little…ferret!” He paused and appeared to reconsider his words, oblivious to his wife’s urgent nudging at his ribs as she finally sighted me. “Well, son of a ferret!”

Ronald!” Mrs. Weasley admonished him.

“Bloody what, Hermi—oh.” Mr. Weasley stopped abruptly as he registered my presence. “Er—hullo there, Cecily,” he greeted me rather sheepishly.

“Oh, you poor dear.” Mrs. Weasley clucked sympathetically, swooping in and placing a small but firm hand on my shoulder. I was still too numb to react as she guided me toward a nearby mahogany bench.

“You look quite familiar,” Mr. Weasley said to Theo, “but I can’t place you.”

“Theodore Nott,” Theo extended his hand, and Mr. Weasley took it. “We were in the same year at Hogwarts. I’m the new Defence Against the Dark Arts master.”

“I remember you, Mr. Nott,” Mrs. Weasley said stiffly. “Or Professor Nott, rather, I suppose.” I noted that Theo looked slightly abashed as he dropped his arm back to his side, but Mr. Weasley simply shrugged. “I suppose you’ll be needed back at the school, then. I think we can manage Cecily from here. I take it you won’t want to return to the castle tonight, dear?”

It took a moment for me to realise this last bit was directed toward me again, and another for the horror at the thought of going back to Hogwarts that evening to sink in. I shook my head. “I would really prefer to stay elsewhere, Mrs. Weasley.”

She nodded. “I’ll make arrangements with Hannah Longbottom, then. She’ll prepare a room at the Leaky Cauldron.”

“I can do that, Her—Mrs. Weasley,” Theo spoke up quickly.

Mrs. Weasley studied him for a moment, then seemed to soften a bit. “Well, all right then. Thank you, Professor.”

Theo waved a hand dismissively. “It’s nothing. I’ll pop in on my way back to the castle.” He knelt in front of the bench so that we were eye-level and lowered his voice. “Unless you’d like me to stay, of course.”

I shook my head. “You’ve done so much already—”

“And I will continue to do so, as long as you need me.”

I managed to muster up a small, grateful smile. “Thank you, Theo. I’ll be fine with Rose’s parents.”

Hurt flickered across his eyes, but it was fleeting. He stood. “I’m always only an owl away.” He bade the Weasleys good night and strode back down the hall in the direction we had come. I heaved a great sigh, suddenly feeling lonelier than expected in his absence.

"It's all right," Mrs. Weasley said soothingly, sitting beside me and handing me a tissue. She bit her lip. “Well, as all right as it can be.” I hadn’t realised a few tears of frustration had slipped down my cheeks. Mrs. Weasley gently tucked my hair behind my ears as I wiped my face. Mr. Weasley hovered nearby, whistling awkwardly, apparently unresolved as to what exactly he should be doing with his hands.  Despite everything, a quiet, welcome warmth swept through me; Mrs. Weasley’s ministration was the closest thing to motherly behaviour I’d experienced in quite a while. I felt a sudden pang of guilt as I thought of Aunt Tori, and shook my head to clear it. I had to focus on Scorpius right now. “I'm going to represent him,” Mrs. Weasley went on, as if reading my mind. “They were waiting on me to start the questioning."

"Is he—" I started, then stopped. "Did he—"

Mrs. Weasley shook her head. "I don't know, dear. I'm going in to speak with him right now. But I'm afraid you won't be able to see him until morning."

I closed my eyes took more deep breaths, trying to calm myself. I knew Rose's mum wouldn't keep me away from Scorpius right now if there was anything she could do about it. Okay. Tomorrow morning. I opened my eyes to find Mrs. Weasley gazing at me sympathetically. "Can I just...kip off to the Leaky Cauldron, then?" I asked tentatively. I didn't think I could deal with people at school and the Manor would be so... empty. Aunt Tori was gone, forever. Uncle Draco might be, too.

I couldn't even think about what may be in store for Scorpius.

Mrs. Weasley smiled and patted my hand. "Of course, dear. I'll have them set up a fireplace for you to take the Floo—"

"Actually, would it be okay if I walked?" I interjected. "I—I think the air might do me some good."

Mrs. Weasley frowned a bit, no doubt considering my safety on the streets of London at night. “I don’t know, Cecily…”

“Ah, come on, Hermione,” Mr. Weasley piped up. I had forgotten he was there. “Cecily is an intelligent, responsible young woman. I reckon she’ll be just fine among the Muggles.” He smiled at me encouragingly, and I couldn’t help but allow the corner of my mouth to turn up slightly in response. I was sure he was just trying to atone for the less-than-savoury comments I’d overheard, but I was grateful for his support all the same.

Mrs. Weasley hesitated, but finally sighed and gave a tiny nod of agreement. "All right, then. Just keep your wand close." Then she hugged me. To my surprise, I found such contact welcome in that moment; Mrs. Weasley was just so…maternal. ”We'll sort this out," she whispered. I didn't bother asking her how she could possibly know it was sort-out-able. I didn’t think any of us could answer that question.

*             *             *             *             *

In the end, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley snuck me out a secret back exit generally reserved for high-profile types like Harry Potter and the Minister himself (“She’ll have worked out your identity and her version of your entire life story quicker than you could say ‘Galloping Gargoyles,’” Mrs. Weasley had said with great disdain when I’d told her about Rita Skeeter lurking outside the Ministry. “Let’s not make it any easier for her to gain access to you.”), which is how I wound up hurtling down a short slide into a Dumpster located in an alley several blocks away from the Ministry’s main visitors’ entrance (“It’s quite disgusting, but it gets the job done,” Mr. Weasley had informed me rather cheerfully. “Just hold your nose!”). Thankfully, though foul-smelling, the Dumpster was empty.

Once I was on the street, I simply walked. As nice as it had been in the comfort of Mrs. Weasley’s presence, this had always been what I was used to, where I was the most comfortable: alone. I didn't even know if I was going in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron, but I didn't much care. What was I supposed to do, sit there twiddling my thumbs while my aunt lay dead, my uncle probably dying, my cousin jailed? It was too much.

I had no idea how long I wandered or how far. I passed Muggle museums and statues and Gothic-style government buildings; streetlamps casting dingy sidewalks aglow with glittering artificial illumination; Muggles themselves clad in the winter accessories I so admired. Normally, I would have been absolutely entranced by the culture and fashion enveloping me, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to care.

I melted in with a large group of touristy-looking Muggles travelling in the same direction and suddenly, despite my previous desire to be alone, I found that in the fog my mind had created, my social anxiety had fled. How wonderful to simply lose myself amongst these strangers! Why had I always dreaded crowds in the past? Within them I was anonymous; I could be anyone, do anything, while those surrounding me provided a distraction from myself. I didn’t have to worry about feeling anything. I shivered in my thin camisole and jumper, but some part of me relished the cold seeping into my skin. I

It was dark, the moon high in the sky, by the time I found myself standing outside a Muggle club. I knew I didn't look anywhere near of age, but there was no bouncer at the door, so I simply walked in. No one stopped me.

It was loud inside. Music was thumping through the speakers, rap and house and trance. Kitschy disco balls and strobe lights swirled everywhere, blue and green and orange mixing with the cigarette smoke wafting through the air. The crowd of people at the bar and on the dance floor were noisy while they laughed and danced and drank, doing everything in their power to anesthetise that daily, chronic, never-ending pain; that invariable hallmark of the great tragedy of being alive; the only thing each of us were guaranteed.

Suddenly it hit me—the whole universe was spinning out of control. It was a blur, and I stood there, a witness, a mere bystander, cruelly helpless. I could talk to Scorpius tomorrow, sure, I could see Uncle Draco tomorrow—but would there even be a tomorrow in this new, unfamiliar world? It didn't feel like there could be, like there should be. I couldn't fathom life simply going on, as if my entire existence hadn't just been turned upside down...

"Greengrass."

Everything sharpened back into focus almost at once. The music, the flashing lights, the raucous crowd, the smell of cigarette smoke and ale. Someone's hand was on my shoulder. I had been too far inside my own head to even notice, to flinch. My gaze swept up the long, graceful fingers, then the arm, and found the owner. Potter.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, not really caring.

"I followed you," he replied. "Dad had me come in to answer some questions about Scorpius." So he knew, then. "I saw you wandering out and thought I'd better keep an eye on you."

"You shouldn't have," I said hoarsely.

"Well, I have done." He dropped his hand and my shoulder suddenly felt strangely cold. "So now what?"

My eyes flitted to the opposite wall, where Muggle bartenders were mixing concoctions of varying colour and serving them in ridiculously shaped glasses. Without a word to me, Potter approached a passing waitress. I watched as he pasted on the charming grin never directed at me and gestured toward some empty tables near the dance floor as they spoke. I couldn't hear a thing over the thumping of the speakers, but after a few seconds the waitress touched his arm and tilted her head back, laughing. My stomach inexplicably clenched as she nodded and smiled and Potter made his way back over to me. "Come on," he said.

Potter threaded his way through the crowd with ease and I followed closely behind. The tables were surrounded by burgundy velvet couches laden with fluffy, gold-coloured pillows. I sunk into one at random, and Potter sat himself beside me, but not too closely. I pulled off my jumper and he threw off his own coat. After a few moments the waitress materialised with a tray holding a large, clear bottle of a now-familiar pale gold liquor and two smallish glasses. She set all this down on the table in front of us, threw Potter a wink, and sashayed away. I watched her senselessly.

Without hesitation, Potter picked up the bottle and expertly poured liquor to our glasses. He presented me with a drink, clinked his glass against mine, and downed its contents in one fluid motion before slamming the glass back down on the table. He barely grimaced before wiping his mouth and pouring another drink.

I raised my glass to my lips and took a large mouthful. It burned like fire without the soda and lime to which I was accustomed. I hadn't realised how badly my hands were trembling until I sloshed tequila down my chin. I clumsily wiped my arm across my face and tried again, this time tipping my head back and draining the glass without pause. I spluttered and choked a bit as the searing liquor made its way down my throat, and shakily placed the glass back on the table, where Potter refilled it.

I managed three more shots before I pulled my knees up to my chest and let my head drop back against a cushion, eyes closed. The pulsating beats were so loud the entire couch was vibrating. It was a pleasant sort of sensation. Maybe I could just stay like this forever.

A pale face and blue-grey eyes topped with a crown of blonde hair suddenly flashed through my mind. My eyes flew open and I let my feet fall back to the floor. The lights were still flashing across the club, neon green after fuchsia after shocking violet, pulsing in time to the music. Everything was a little blurry around the edges now, but that was fine. My entire reality seemed distorted, anyway.

I couldn't bring myself to think about that right now.

I hopped to my feet a bit sluggishly and twisted around to face Potter. "I want to dance," I announced.

He shrugged, face impassive as always, then got up and followed me into the sweaty, writhing crowd of dancers. I wanted to lose myself again, like I had for those few blissful minutes outside on the busy streets of London. When I'd nearly reached the back wall, I turned to face Potter again, but stumbled a bit over my own clumsy feet. Almost immediately, warm hands were grasping my waist, helping me regain balance. I did flinch at his touch this time, but somewhere in the back of my mind I realised it was more out of habit than anything else."Steady on, Greengrass," Potter murmured in my ear. Despite the heat of the club, his breath against my chin sent a shiver down my spine.

This was much better. To do something, to allow my mind to become numb to everything but the music, the movement of my body, and Potter's hands still gripping my waist. On and on we danced, a feverish sort of energy overcoming me as I closed my eyes and tilted my head back yet again. Potter's hands seemed to sear my skin through the thin fabric of my shirt. I felt almost naked under his touch, but it was the only thing real—the only thing grounding me to the earth. We were both drenched in sweat now, and the heat pouring off his body was enveloping me, strangely comforting me. I grabbed his shirt and yanked him closer, suddenly needing, craving that warmth in a way that was entirely alien to me. He didn't resist. Our hips were pressed together, rocking in time to the music.

Slowly I looked up and met Potter's gaze. He was watching me as we moved, emerald eyes blazing with something I had never seen in them and couldn't quite identify, hair plastered to his head and lips slightly parted. The way he looked at me would have made me blush had I not already been so heated. His shirt now clung to his skin so that the muscles of his chest and abdomen were clearly outlined.

He was beautiful, damn him. I could have lost myself in Potter alone; I didn’t need the crowd after all. I was dimly aware of my own unsteadiness, but unsure and uncaring as to whether it was attributable to the haze of my own creation, the booze, or Potter’s proximity. Instinctively, I reached up and placed my hand at the back of his neck, pulling him down so my lips could brush his ear. “Thank you.” Potter said nothing in response, but wrapped an arm around my shoulders and drew me close, so that my head leant against his chest. I inhaled him, that distinctive smell of smoke and tequila and his innate Potter-ness that was unexpectedly comforting in its familiarity. We simply stood there, static within the swarm of strangers swirling around us like so many serpents. I closed my eyes and allowed Potter to hold me, just for a moment, as I listened to the steadfast beat of his heart. And in that moment, I felt that—just maybe—I was strong enough to face whatever was to come.

I couldn't say how long we stayed at the club. We polished off the first bottle of tequila and ordered another. We danced some more, bodies pressed close together in the haze of heat. The second bottle was empty as well by the time we stumbled outside to see a thin, greenish line glowing ever brighter on the horizon.

Turned out there was a tomorrow, after all.


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