Chapter 17 : A Place Not Far From Here
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“Honestly,” I huffed as a group of third year Ravenclaws decided to leave the stone benches after casting wary glances my way as I sat down on the one next to theirs. Victoria and I had just finished Herbology, and the walk back to the castle made me light headed. It was almost a month since I had discovered the Blood Runes, and every day I was beginning to feel more and more like my old self… or at least a close to my old self as I would ever be able to get.
“You’re the stuff of legends,” Victoria said as she adjusted my scarf around my neck. “I wish you would let me hang the article about you on our common room’s notice board. Need anything?”
I shook my head. “No. I don’t feel as ill today. And you bloody not hang that stupid article about me anywhere.”
Victoria groaned. The article from The Daily Prophet had not mentioned my name explicitly, only that I was a sixth year student ‘who made enormous strides in uncovering the Dark magic behind the double murders.’
“But it’s such a brilliant article,” she complained, checking her watch. “Listen, I got to get going if I’m to get to Divination in time. Are you okay here?”
I nodded. “James is supposed to be there soon from Potions.”
“Oh, of course. Have fun with--ah!” Victoria moved out of the way just in time as an owl dropped onto the place where she had been sitting. “Lousy bird, watch where you’re going!”
“Is it for you?” I wondered, letting my racing heart settle.
She shrugged as she gingerly lifted the leg of the collapsed owl. Its eyes opened slightly before closing again.
“Looks like this owl’s been to hell and back,” tsked Victoria, wiping her dark locks out of her eyes. “Take a look at this parchment, all crumpled and damp.”
“Can you read who it’s from?” I leaned over her shoulder, careful to avoid touching the exhausted owl.
“Fortescue, I think it says. It’s for you!” She handed me the piece of parchment. I scrunched my nose. “Any idea who it’s from?”
“No,” I replied. Aunt Susan and Uncle Michael used the family owl, and I couldn’t think of anyone who would send me anything, unless… I hurriedly unfurled the scroll. Despite the brevity of the note, I immediately recognized the handwriting.
“Amelia?” Victoria asked, putting a hand on my shoulder. I jerked out of her reach. “Where are you going? Aren’t you going to wait for James?”
“James can wait,” I replied curtly. In all honesty, I didn’t know where I was going, but I needed to keep moving. “And make sure the owl doesn’t die, okay?”
The note, while already crumbled, became even more worn in my grasp.
It had been almost a year since I had heard anything from her. I knew that Aunt Susan had written her, imploring to give a reason why she had given me the book and to be there for me, who had almost died. I guessed that this brief note was all the maternal energy my mum could muster while she was out doing Merlin knew what for The Cause.
How foolish. You told them nearly everything.
No ‘Get Well Soon’ or ‘Glad you’re alive, only child of mine,’ or even ‘Keep up with your schoolwork.’ There was nothing of those sorts in her note at all. As I reread the note for the hundredth time in a cubicle in the girls’ bathroom, a jolting realization came over me. The worst part was not that she didn’t say she loved me or wished me well. It was that she didn’t discourage me from using the Blood Runes at all.
My initiation night into the Devil’s Mark has come to a crawling end. After a week of overcast skies, a pinkish sunrise fills the horizon. The days have gotten noticeably shorter now that it’s October, but they could have also gotten shorter because I am running out of time.
There are only a handful of people on Diagon Alley as I try to make my way home after a night of drinking, smoking, and making connections. All of the shop windows are dark, and only a couple of apartments are alight as witches and wizards begin their days.
Ollivander’s windows are a glittering black, reflecting the sparse movements in the Alley. My heart pangs for the wizard, old and decrepit, having to rely on his grandson for care.
At least he’s grown old, I think as I trip over a cobblestone past his shop. My palm scrapes against the brick shop next door, and I wince as I see little specks of blood. “Damn it,” I hiss as I feel the street tilt downwards. I stagger to keep my balance.
The Banshee’s Breath has not worn off. How am I going to get back to my Aunt Susan’s?
I continue to make my way towards The Leaky Cauldron, so I can at least escape into Muggle London if needed.
A chilly breeze makes my eyes water, and when I wipe them, my fingers are black with my makeup. I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a window.
My eyes look like dark sockets from the runny eyeliner and mascara, and my skin is pale. My hair has fallen out of its updo and has cascaded down my neck in lumpy tangles. It definitely looks like I spent all night in the underbelly of the wizarding world.
I quicken my pace down the Alley, though the world spins around me. My stomach churns in hunger, and a headache begins to throb at my temples. I avoid the gazes of passersby.
I stumble into the back of The Leaky Cauldron, and I hear someone say my name.
“Bloody hell!” I moaned, cradling my left hand. James was abruptly at my side, which was quite impressive, since moments earlier we had been practicing our duelling on opposite ends of the room. It had been a week since my mother’s note, and I was trying my best to keep up my spirits--and to resume things as close to normal after such a tumultuous month.
“You all right?” James rested a hand on my shoulder and leaned towards my forehead.
“I hit my bad hand on the corner of the desk,” I answered through gritted teeth. “Struck a blister.”
“Here, let me see it,” he said tenderly as he took my injured hand in his. He rolled back my sleeve and gently pulled back my bandage to have a look. There were only a couple angry blisters left from my initial Blood Runes burn, and Hannah had assured me that they would go away eventually but would probably leave some scarring.
“Ah!” I winced as he stretched my fingers outward.
“Amelia, you got to get strength back in this hand,” James said as he started to massage it. His brown eyes found mine, which were watering from the pain. “The muscles have to get used to being functional again.”
“Easier said than done,” I muttered, and he smiled to show his understanding.
“What I like to do is train with my non dominant hand, both in Quidditch and in spellwork. Perhaps you can try it out.” James, who was naturally left handed, flexed his right hand.
I shook my head and raised my wand in my right hand, my dominant one. “I’m still mastering the one hand,” I joked.
He nudged me, eyes twinkling. “Glad to hear that some of my sense of humor is rubbing off on you.” James stretched my left fingers out again, but this time, it didn’t hurt as much. “See? It’s getting better already.”
My lips twitched into a half-hearted smile. We lapsed into a comfortable silence as James continued to lightly massage my hand. I studied him as he focused on my injury.
His glasses slid down the bridge of his nose ever so slightly as he bit his bottom lip. Before the Blood Runes, I would have scoffed and been suspicious at his careful attention. But something was changing between us.
Maybe it had been our first major argument about Houses--which lay dormant between us. Or perhaps it could have been what transpired of the Blood Runes. When I had told James what had happened, he hadn’t panicked or gotten angry or blamed anyone (me, my mother, himself). He had listened to my account, asking questions only to clarify and not to dig for further information. At the end of it all, I knew he was upset, but it was clear that he wasn’t upset with me. And then he had asked me how I had wanted to proceed. No one had yet to ask me that.
The same thing happened when I shared with him the note from my mum.
My heart began to race, and it took a few breaths to calm down again.
“Knut for your thoughts?” James asked as he let go of my hand.
I was tempted to share with him my line of thinking, but I swallowed the words. Instead, I embraced him, resting the side of my face on his shoulder. His chin laid on the top of my head as he returned the embrace.
“Oh, just plotting on how I’m going to beat you in duelling,” I said lightly.
James’ hearty laugh reverberated in my ears and traveled to my toes. “Merlin help you, then. I’m wicked awesome at duelling!”
This is what James wanted to hear--needed to hear, I argued with myself. I wasn’t ready to share with him my whole truth on how I felt. I wasn’t quite there yet, and I wasn’t sure if I ever would be.
Neville Longbottom is by the bins, taking out his rubbish. His surprised face sags into one of concern, but a smile tugs at my lips. I am ridiculously happy to see him.
“Neville!” I exclaim as I trip forward to hug him. The force of my embrace knocks us into the bins as he catches me.
“Amelia, what are you--? Are you drunk?” He looks down at me and raises an eyebrow as he sniffs.
I nod. “Quite so, I’m afraid,” I answer matter-of-factly. “Not sure how I’m going to get home.”
Neville sighs and puts his hand between my shoulderblades. “Let’s get you cleaned up a bit before sending you back to your aunt and uncle, shall we? Hannah’s got some spare robes, and I’ll cook you some food while you get cleaned up.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful, thank you!” I beam up at him as he leads us upstairs to his flat. My knuckles are white from gripping onto the railing. “Wait… I thought you and Hannah moved back to Hogsmeade… after the NeoWald attack…”
“We did,” Neville says as he hangs up my frayed cloak when we enter the flat. “Frankie will be safer there, even though it’s further away from St. Mungo’s, but in our hurry to leave here, we forgot to take care of some things.”
“How’s Frankie doing?” I remember how complicated Hannah’s labor with him went, and the extra medical attention mother and son both needed when he was born.
“He’s thriving,” Neville says with a smile. He hands me some towels. “Wash up using the master bathroom. I’ll lay some robes on the bed for you to change into, and then I’ll whip us up some breakfast.”
“Oh, Neville, thank you, thank you,” I say as I walk towards the loo. “You were always my favorite professor at Hogwarts, you know.”
“Don’t let Professor Ritter hear that,” Neville chuckles. “He has always been so fond of you, especially as your Head of House.”
I laugh as I close the bathroom door. The warm shower is heavenly on my grimy skin, and the water helps me resettle my elation at seeing Neville. Really, I shouldn’t be happy to see him because he knows vaguely what I’ve been up to. What if he tells Aunt Susan and Uncle Michael?
You shouldn’t have to worry what they think, Amelia. You’re of age! I squeeze too much shampoo into my hand. Focus on last night. You have new connections--and an invitation to a meeting about Muggles from Sinead…
This meeting is at The Hog’s Head next weekend. My stomach drops at the thought of the last time I had been at the underrun establishment.
I finish rinsing my hair, which feels volumes lighter now that the tangles are gone. Steam swirls around me as I turn off the tap. As I make my way to the bedroom, the world doesn’t spin as much as it had been earlier, but I feel a massive hangover coming.
“Feeling better?” Neville asks as I emerge into the kitchen in Hannah’s spare robes.
“Kind of. My headache’s getting worse,” I reply honestly as I take a cup of tea from him. Neville sighs and gestures for me to sit down.
“Not much is left for breakfast, but I was able to make some toast and a tin of baked beans with some overripe tomatoes.”
“Mmm,” I breathe as I see the food laid out before me. Neville is kind enough to load my plate as I take a sip of tea. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome.” Neville sits across from me and takes a bite of his toast. His eyes study me as I gingerly place some beans on top of my toast. My spoon feels unsteady in my hand. “You seem like you had a busy night.”
“Yeah,” I answer between mouthfuls of food.
“A night at the pub?”
I nod. The interrogation has begun. I wonder how much of this will make it back to my aunt and uncle.
I shrug. “Reckon so. Are you going to yell at me for drinking and smoking all night?”
Neville leans back in his stool and frowns. “Amelia,” he sighs, “I am very worried about you.”
I can’t help but roll my eyes. “Don’t be,” I assure him, but immediately I know that he won’t take my word for it.
“Even after bathing, you still look like you’ve been up all night, like you haven’t slept in days. And while I do not confess to being the most fashionable, what you were wearing earlier is not your style. You looked like a right mess this morning.” Neville rubs his stubble on his chin.
I put down my second piece of toast. “So I changed up my fashion,” I say. “I’m still a teenager. Aren’t I supposed to be doing these things?”
“Drop the bollocks, Amelia,” Neville says flatly. My eyebrows raise at his stark language. Where is the soft-spoken Herbology professor? “I know you well enough that you will tread lightly around the truth of what you’re really doing and will refuse to reveal it willingly.”
“And the truth is?” I feel walls tightening around me, so close like I can scarcely breathe.
Neville stares at me a moment before answering. His friendly demeanor has hardened into a stoic sternness. “Finding where you’re supposed to be, where you want to be.”
I can’t help but laugh. “But that’s a normal, teenage thing to do. Why worry?”
Neville shakes his head. “These times have prevented you from having a normal, teenage experience. Take my word for it.” There’s a moment of silence as my throat tightens. Flashes of what I imagine the Second Wizarding War and a teenage Neville roll across my mind. “When I look at you, Amelia, I see a burdened witch. I see someone who thinks she’s lost. But really, she isn’t. Yes, she doesn’t quite know where she is, but she senses that she’s nearly there, to where she’s supposed to be, a place not far from here.”
My vision blurs, but it’s not from intoxication. I look away from him, towards the sink of unwashed dishes.
“And what if she doesn’t want to be where she’s supposed to be?” I ask thickly. “Then you’ve gotten it all wrong.”
“I would say that she doesn’t want to make the decisions which stand before her rather than wanting to be where she’s supposed to be,” Neville says slowly. “She’s had to make some nearly impossible decisions.”
“That she has!” I exclaim, standing from my stool. “And yet, they never seem to be good enough or safe enough or pleasant enough!”
“But she makes them and stands by them!” Neville responds with just as much gusto. “That grit will get her--you-- far. Not only in this war but in life after the war.”
I laugh again. I cannot imagine life beyond the threat of the NeoWalds, beyond the grasp of The Cause. “I appreciate your confidence in me, Neville, but no matter what I do, it won’t be good enough. So don’t bother worrying.”
“Don’t tell me not to worry, Amelia,” Neville says. Anger simmers in his voice. I take a step away from the table, my instincts telling me to flee. “You’re bright. You’re talented. But you’re undervaluing yourself. You have so much potential to do great things--”
“Stop!” I interrupt. I think of my grandfather, Florean, who had told me the same thing about my potential. It was only a month and a half ago when I possessed the Resurrection Stone, but it seems like a lifetime ago that I heard his voice. “Just stop! I don’t want to hear it. ‘Do this. Do that. You can do so much better. Don’t feel this way. Feel that way.’ Well, you know what?” Clenching my fists, I pause to catch my breath. “I’m so sick of being pulled in so many bloody directions! How can people assume to know what I want or what’s best for me when I don’t know myself?”
Neville slowly stands from his stool. A small smile tugs at his lips. “Good, that’s fantastic to hear, Amelia. You have some spark in you yet, something I have rarely seen since before the funeral.”
My fury seems to be restrained from the force of my clenched teeth. Many seething comebacks dash across my mind, and none of them seem to truly capture what I want to express.
Neville takes my silence as a sign to continue. “Hold onto that spark, Amelia. Let it guide you. I know that you have good intentions. I know that you’ll find your way.”
If only my anger could diminish from those encouraging words. If only I had that amount confidence in myself. If only I believed that my intentions are good.
A/N: Everything you recognize belongs to JKR.
Another chapter! Thanks to all who have review thus far. I am striving to answer all reviews. Life has gotten a little less crazy than the summer, but it's still quite busy. This story--and your lovely reviews-- really brighten my day! :)
Thoughts on this chapter? I really like how Neville gets the line for the title of the story. Please share your thoughts in a review!
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