|Child of Grace
Author: Lady Azar de Tameran PM
Hiatus. AU. The Girl-Who-Lived discovers the wizarding world and unearths secrets that could change her life forever. Or end it. Fifth Year.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Mystery - Harry P. & Blaise Z. - Chapters: 54 - Words: 370,545 - Reviews: 1,203 - Favs: 1,226 - Follows: 1,071 - Updated: 11-21-10 - Published: 10-19-04 - id: 2101001
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: All of this is based upon the lovely J.K. Rowling's work. I own nothing except for a few non-canon characters to be introduced along the way. All of the paraphrased or direct quotes are from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, text copyright 2003 by J.K. Rowling. This story also borrows and incorporates several ideas from They Shook Hands by Dethryl, which is posted on Schnoogle, and I highly recommend as it is a great fic.
Everything is in the British-English spellings and feel free to Brit-pick.
"blah" : Parseltongue
Chapter Fifty-Three: Child of Destiny
"I'll beg if I have to," Cedric's mother said as she faced Holly in her uncomfortable chair. She seemed on the verge of sliding to her knees there and then. "Please. I need to see. I… I need to know. Please."
Holly could only sit there, propped up against the pillows of her hospital bed. Her mind was in a stupor, in something akin to shock or a twin to horror maybe. She couldn't face the memory of Cedric's body as it hit the cold stone floor, but she couldn't stop remembering it either. Looking into Mrs. Diggory's eyes only made it that much worse.
She turned away to stare at the window. The one free functioning part of her brain wondered where Sirius was. He'd left sometime after Dumbledore arrived, but the headmaster was gone now, too. Cedric's father had also wandered out in a daze a while ago, but Holly didn't know where he'd gone. The last she seen of him, he'd been going to splash water on his red and splotchy face, but he'd never come back. Perhaps he was even still in there.
The image of that was nearly Holly's undoing. Just imagining Amos Diggory standing and staring at nothing with eyes the same color as Cedric's own. Too much like his in every way. Just as dead and empty inside the last she'd seen of him. It'd only been two days previous, but it already felt like a lifetime ago. Even more so as his mother begged to know of his final moments.
Gazing up at the ceiling and seeing nothing. The sound of Moody's voice from a mouth not his own. Cedric so worried about her. So concerned. Dying for nothing… no reason at all.
Holly shook her head forcefully.
"Please," Cedric's mother repeated then, certain that was a rejection. "I need to know."
The girl sucked in a breath. "Mrs. Diggory-"
But a hand on her wrist stopped her short. Holly looked up to see the dark eyes of Cedric's mother gazing back at her. There were no tears; her grief was beyond them. But Holly could see a broken soul peeking out. Shattered and ground into dust at the death of her only child.
Holly stared for a long moment and then sighed as she glanced away. Unable to look anymore. Unable to see a woman whose body didn't yet know she was already dead.
Her wand was on her bedside table, and Holly nibbled her lip as she very reluctantly brought it to her temple. She didn't even have to think to bring the memory to the forefront; it was already there. And truly, it was a horrible, horrible thing to share. To show to any mother. To have her watch her son die and be unable to stop it. To know that it'd already happened and there was nothing she could do.
But this was what she wanted, what she needed. And Holly couldn't deny her. Couldn't take this from her. Mrs. Diggory had nothing left; Holly wouldn't steal this, too.
She slowly drew a silvery strand from her temple and brought it to the Penseive on Mrs. Diggory's lap. Holly knew that it belonged to Dumbledore, and she didn't even want to know how the woman had gotten it. Perhaps the headmaster had been unable to deny her, too. Either way, Holly dropped her memory into the basin and looked elsewhere as the surface shifted to reflect the maze from the night before.
Holly took a deep breath and glanced up at Cedric's mother. She was gazing at the Penseive like it held all the answers and horrors of the universe.
"At the cup…" she murmured, and the woman's attention instantly riveted to her. "He said that he didn't care about winning. That he only wanted you to be proud of him."
Mrs. Diggory swallowed hard. "I am proud. I was always proud."
Holly didn't know what to say to that, so she remained silent. She simply watched as Mrs. Diggory squared herself and turned back to the Penseive. The woman stared at the surface for a moment before leaning forward. It was all Holly could do to tear her gaze away and towards the ceiling. She heard more than saw Cedric's mum come back to herself some time later, heard the sob torn from her throat.
Holly should comfort her. Should say something. Anything to make this better.
But she didn't know how. All she could do was watch. Was sit up in her bed and lean forward and see Cedric's mum weep without tears. Just sit there helplessly and…
…it was a truly hot and wretched day. The sun poured down in endless fiery rays, and there wasn't a single cloud in sight to provide relief. The air was sweltering, even in the little shade available, and sweat dripped down the face and back of a young boy and soaked his shirt.
He was a small thing, really. Short and almost runt-like with a thin face that spoke of missed meals. His clothes were neat if threadbare but plastered to him in the heat. His hair was black and messy as it hung in his dark eyes. The boy didn't seem to notice as he worked alone in the orphanage garden. He just worked at the weeds, watered the potatoes, and picked the ripe tomatoes.
Holly was little more than a ghost as he finished up and carried his basket of vegetables to the backdoor of the kitchen. The middle-aged woman there received them with a frown and glanced out the window over the sink. Her frown deepened into an outright scowl, and she whirled at him. She stomped over to shake her bony finger in his face, but the boy jumped back before she could swat at him and retreated into the shadows of the kitchen.
"Get back out there," the woman ordered and jerked her head towards the garden. "I kin see that yer not done yet."
"They're not ripe yet," the boy protested softly. "They still need a few days."
"And we need a few more," she countered. "Unless ya don't want any supper tonight."
The boy paled underneath his tan. His face was too gaunt as he bit his lip, and his eyes were too sunken as he blinked very slowly.
She smirked then, and it was a nasty thing.
"Get!" The woman reached forward to give a shove at his shoulder as he scurried away. "And don't come back til ya've got it all, little runt," she called after him.
He dashed back into the oppressive heat, and even as a phantom following after him, the glaring sunlight slammed directly into Holly's eyes. His back was straight as he went back to his gardening, but it didn't take long for his shoulders to hunch and for sweat to collect once more along his neck. But she could do little more than stand there as he toiled away, occasionally wiping at his forehead. It was still impossibly hot and only growing even more unbearable, but the boy kept working.
But something unexpected caught Holly's attention then. Something far away from them, but it made Holly turn her head, made a shiver shoot down her spine. Beside her, the boy stiffened. His attention focused the same direction, and Holly knew that she hadn't imagined it… whatever that it was.
The air was still. Muggy and sizzling. Oddly silent. Quiet as though the whole world was on mute. She couldn't even hear the noises of the insects or the kitchen in the background anymore. There was nothing but the sound of the boy's soft breathing and the shift of his feet on the dry dirt.
And Holly felt the vibration before she heard it. Some sort of dull rumble in the distance. Something a lot like thunder but somehow more ominous for the fact that there wasn't a cloud in the sky. She felt the earth tremble beneath her feet. Felt the boy next to her moving as he felt it, too.
She knew without knowing that this wasn't natural. This was something else… something wrong. Something that made the boy's breath now come in quick pants. Made his hands shake as he rose to his feet and very slowly turned around. Made him take a startled step backwards and nearly into a tomato plant.
Holly belatedly realised that there was a person standing in the shade of the orphanage. She hadn't – couldn't – sensed them earlier; it was just a dream after all. But there was something off about the deepness of the shadows, so dark that she couldn't tell if a man or woman stood before them. Something worrisome about the curl of smoke that stretch into the daylight and the flicker of a lit fag. Something that made her heart clench and her hand reach for the wand she didn't have.
"You should get out of here," the boy beside her whispered. "You should leave."
Holly glanced at him, only to belatedly realise that he was in fact speaking to her. His eyes were staring right at her before flickering back to the stranger.
"What?" Holly questioned, and she had a second of vertigo. Like the world had just tilted around her. "What do you mean?"
"Get out of here," the boy replied, voice low and filled with a thousand things, none of them good. "You need to leave. Leave!" he repeated. "Leave now!"
The world jerked and swayed beneath her, and Holly had the sudden sensation of flying without a broom. Of teetering on the edge of the precipice. The second before she fell, the boy's hardened gaze met her own, and Holly…
…was in the study. It was pleasantly warm but dim, shadowed as if it hadn't seen full daylight in years. The heavy curtains swayed in a non-existent breeze, and the light of the fireplace flickered over the paintings on the wall.
Even as a phantom, Holly's toes dug into the thick red carpet, which squished beneath her as she shifted her weight. She didn't even need to look to know who sat in the chair by the fire, bald head resting on one hand as the other toyed with an empty wine glass. He was otherwise motionless, distant eyes not really seeing anything at all. Nagini lay curled at his feet like a loyal dog with her master. She didn't stir as Holly stepped closer, head turned away.
Voldemort, however, stilled completely. His finger, which had been tracing the edge of his glass with a soft sound, paused. Then, he slowly brought his head around, and his gaze traced the room. Examining shadows and corners. Lingering where Holly stood. His eyes narrowed, and his head tilted almost imperceptibly. A minute went by, and Holly stood completely still. Not daring to move lest his gaze follow her when she did.
She simply watched as he rose to his feet and stepped around Nagini in an elegant glide. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, and Holly felt her heart pound in her ears as he came closer. He paused just in front of her, hand lifting and reaching out. Holly was torn between jumping back and dodging to the side, but she was too frozen in place to do either, and her stomach leapt into her throat as his hand came within inches of her face.
But instead of connecting, his fingers slid through her as if she was even less solid than smoke. Voldemort's eyes narrowed even further. Almost puzzled. Searching. Like something he'd thought completely true had just been disproven before his very eyes.
Holly nearly let out a heaving sigh of relief as he pulled back and away, stepping closer to the fire once more. She didn't only because she worried that he'd notice, but Voldemort seemed to be too engaged with his own thoughts and watching without seeing as Nagini stirred. The snake flicked her tongue as she lifted her head and then slithered forward to circle the Dark Lord's legs.
His mouth pulled into something like a fond smile, but Holly shivered as she saw the scene play out. The room was pleasantly warm around her, but a chill shot down her back as Nagini's tongue flicked out again and that serpentine head swayed her direction.
"Yes, my pet, I know" Voldemort murmured in a voice that carried easy in the silence. "You should come over to greet our guest."
Voldemort laughed. It was high and cold and so painfully, hauntingly familiar that Holly fought the lump in her throat even as her heart jolted. So familiar that she was forced to move back and turn away and then…
…she was in Moody's office. She was in Moody's office with Cedric and a madman pretending to be her teacher.
"That's enough, Professor," Cedric insisted. "She's had enough. She needs Madam Pomfrey." He turned to Holly and took her hand to pull her to her feet.
Moody jerked his wand and shot a Stinging hex that hit Cedric's forearm. The Hufflepuff jumped, and his hand snapped back. He gaped at their teacher with betrayal coloring his eyes.
"We're not finished here yet," the man all but growled low and dangerous. Making the hairs on the back of Holly's neck stand. "What else did the Dark Lord say, Miss Potter? What else?"
His tone was almost eager then. Too giddy. As though the thought of Voldemort being back pleased him.
Holly shifted in her seat, but Cedric was on his feet then. His back was to Holly as he stood protectively in front of her.
"We're done," Cedric stated, and his voice was loud and strong. "That's more than enough. She's too hurt to answer."
He stepped forward, but Moody elbowed him in the chest and forced him back. He hit hard enough to drop his student backwards a full two steps and make his knees bang against his chair.
"You'll sit there, boy, until I say you can get up," Moody snarled, and his face and eyes and voice were terrible things. "We're not done here."
Horrible things that made Holly's heart pound in her chest and ice shoot through her extremities. Her throat and mouth were dry, and she couldn't form the words. Couldn't shout out the warning that Cedric so desperately needed to hear. She just sat there weakly and watched the end come.
"You can't talk to us like that!" Cedric put in furiously, still in front of her. Still protecting her. The loyal until the very end. "I've had it with this. We're leaving. She needs a healer."
He started to turn towards her. His mouth began to open once more.
Holly already knew how this story played out; she'd seen it dozen times in her sleep and hundred more in her waking hours.
Cedric's eyes were a dark grey in the dimness of the room. Angry and not warm like they normally were. His gaze met hers for an instant that lasted a lifetime, and in hindsight, Holly knew that she was the last person he ever saw. The last thing as he was outlined in green. As surprise flickered across his face and he was whirled around from the impact. As he hit the stone floor and lay still.
He didn't get back up.
Even then, even in her memories, she still hadn't heard Moody – Crouch – call out the curse. All she could see was Cedric, tall and fierce, as his mouth formed words. All she could hear was the final phrase he never managed to say.
"Let me help you."
In her room and her own bed, Holly Potter woke sobbing.
She came down stairs the following morning with all the grace of a graduating seventh-year after a weeklong bender. Which is to say that Holly staggered about, nearly took out the painting on the landing, all but fell down every step, and only kept her feet at the bottom by sheer miracle alone. She shuffled into the kitchen and over to the table but took three tries to successfully pull her chair back, another two attempts to sit in it without missing on the way down, but she somehow managed to get her elbow on the table top and rest her head on her fist while only knocking her knife to the floor. Her glass – thankfully empty – barely even tilted before righting itself when her knee hit the table leg, and she missed her plate entirely.
Sirius and Remus didn't even blink. Really, it was a twinge too commonplace these days to see her stumble about like a poorly-made Inferi. Her godfather just glanced up from the paper with a vaguely forced grin, and Remus set about filling her plate for her with an amused air.
"Hey," Sirius greeted but got no reply back.
The kitchen was quiet for a moment, and he watched her stare at the food now sitting in front of her as though puzzled by how it'd gotten there. When she didn't respond, he reached for the nearest empty cup, filling it full of heavily caffeinated tea and sliding it over to her. He just sat back as she reached for it mindlessly and gave a little sigh as he saw her eyes focus and lose their glassiness. He and Remus exchanged a look as she slowly came alive in front of them, gaining enough brainpower to reach for her fork. Of course, she missed her mouth the first try but got it on the second.
"Tough night?" Sirius inquired as he poured her another cup of tea; the first had disappeared rather quickly.
Holly nodded and gave a little grunt. Sirius lifted an eyebrow, but she didn't seem to notice. It took too much brainpower for the teen to simply lift her fork to her to mouth and chew afterwards. Rinse and repeat. Take another sip of tea. Balk at the fact that it'd gone cold; if only there were a way to heat it back up. Think about that as another forkful approached. Blankly stare at her now empty plate.
"…And then, the teacup and the fork ran away together, leaving the knife very put out."
Holly jerked her head up and blinked. "What?"
Her godfather grinned at her from across the table. Remus just rolled his eyes.
"Hey there, sunshine. Nice of you to join us down here on planet Earth." Sirius lifted a brow when she frowned.
"I've been here the entire time."
"You're body might've been, but your mind was a thousand miles away," Remus replied instead.
Sirius shook his head. "Honestly, you're as bad as Tom. Even when he's here, he isn't. Always stuck in the library. Kid needs to get a life," he grumbled good-naturedly.
"Rather literally in his case I should think," Remus muttered from behind his teacup.
The other man gave a snort, but when Holly failed to respond, Sirius turned back to her. He made a disgusted sound and promptly waved a hand in front of her face. She could only blink stupidly at him before regaining herself a second later.
"Sorry," she apologised and glanced away sheepishly to stare at the kitchen counter. "I'm just a tad slow this morning."
That brought both adults up short.
"This morning?" Remus repeated, nearly incredulous. "Holly, it's after one. The morning is over," the werewolf informed her with a mildly exasperated look. "Sirius and I've been up for ages. He's already on his lunch break from Saint Mungo's."
"What?" Holly's gaze flickered to the clock opposite the stove. "It can't possibly be…" She trailed off as her foggy brain realised that both hands pointing at the one meant that it was indeed the afternoon. "Oh…"
"Yes, oh," her godfather retorted and sipped his own tea.
The Slytherin belatedly grasped that he was in fact wearing his healer robes. Which he only did at the house while on breaks. Sirius always immediately changed when he was done for the day or right before he went in.
She really was running behind today, and Holly must've said as much since they glanced at her again. She saw them trade a look afterwards. Remus shook his head, but Sirius just nodded. The werewolf shook his head harder and then all but put his metaphorical tail between his legs when Sirius gave him a gimlet eye. A silent argument that took seconds with her godfather the clear victor.
Only, that never happened. Sirius didn't win arguments. Not like that. Not with Remus turning hesitantly back to her and plastering on a grin.
"Holly…" the werewolf began in a voice that had even her still addled brain screaming danger, "Sirius and I are… concerned. About you," he added unnecessarily. "We've noticed that you've been having a bit of a hard time lately."
An understatement there. She could tell from his tone, but Remus was good at downplaying the significance of things and candy-coating the truth. It came from so many years of covering for his best friends in school.
And at least Holly had enough brainpower going for her to comprehend that. Things were looking up, even as they were simultaneously looking down.
"What is this? An intervention?" she asked in half-jest and half-deflection, but she deflated at the expression shot her way. "It is. It really is." Holly was struck by the insight.
"No," the Animagus denied, "not an intervention. We're just worried about you, Hols."
Remus gave a nod and a gentle, encouraging smile. He really didn't look like a bad man when he did that, but she knew that he was getting ready to drop the proverbial gauntlet in front of her.
Sure enough, he did.
"Last summer, it was a sign of the apocalypse if we caught you in bed past seven," Remus told her. Like it was news or something. "Now, we're lucky if we see you before noon, and even then, you stagger around like Padfoot after Eren spiked his tea."
"Hey! That was only the one time!" Sirius immediately interjected, but then, his face turned serious again. "We're worried. You haven't been… well, you haven't really been you recently."
His eyes were oddly shadowed as he gazed at her, so sharp that she felt her hands become fists beneath the table. There was no need for that kicked puppy look. She hadn't done anything wrong, and her mental fog was quickly being burned through by indignation and just a hint of anger. If there was one thing her mutable temper was good for, it was sharpening her thoughts.
"You make it sound like I'm on drugs or something. There's nothing wrong with me," she insisted a bit more loudly than intended. "So what if I'm having the occasional lie in. I'm just tired. I'm a teenager; it happens."
"You're tired because you aren't sleeping," her godfather contradicted.
"And you don't sleep because you have nightmares," Remus went on, and she nearly gritted her teeth as he set down his cup and steepled his fingers on the table in front of him. It was one of his tells for when the conversation was going somewhere she probably wouldn't like.
"Everybody has nightmares," the Slytherin dismissed. "And again… teenager. We sleep a lot. Have you ever tried to get Draco up without a good eight hours of sleep? Much less Milli? It just doesn't happen."
Her godfather gave a dismissive noise. "Those two are just being lazy. They aren't on the edge of a breakdown."
"And I am?" Holly couldn't help but demand, actually feeling the table and dishes rattle before she snapped her shields all the way up. "I'm not falling apart!"
Sirius drooped like a scolded dog that'd been batted on the nose with the newspaper. But he visibly steeled himself an instant later.
"That was a poor choice of words," he admitted, "but my point is still valid. We're worried about you. Things have been hectic in our lives the last few months, and they're only going to get worse."
"With Voldemort back, you mean," Holly bit out as she crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot against the table leg. That only made it clatter as much as her telekinesis had.
"That, too," Sirius acknowledged. He leaned forward in his chair to rest his elbows by his plate. "We just want to make sure that you're okay. That you know you can talk to us and we'll listen."
Her frown only deepened at that. "Well, I'm fine. I don't need to talk to you. End of discussion."
"No, it's not," Sirius refuted softly, "but we'll get back to that in a minute." He paused to take in a breath and ignored the look she shot him. "I know that we haven't had the best summer so far..."
Holly sniffed, but he kept going like he hadn't noticed.
"…And I know that things have been especially hard on you."
Another sniff. Nearly followed by a motion for him to just get on with it. One that both men must've sensed since they looked at one another for a split second.
"What Sirius is trying to say," Remus cut in just then, "is that he and I are going to be doing a few things for the Order over the next several weeks. Things Dumbledore needs us to do that nobody else can handle. We don't really have much choice, and we don't want to leave you here." There was a tick before he added, "By yourself."
Holly couldn't decide if she'd misheard or if she'd just had an auditory hallucination. She didn't know which was worse.
"Tell me you're joking," she responded with absolute incredulity. "I don't need a babysitter. I'm nearly fifteen."
But both of them were solid and stolid in the face of her shock. There was a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach as it ended up dropping below her knees and into her ankles. They couldn't possibly be serious.
Sirius quashed the last vestiges of frail hope like a bug with his next words.
"I know that, pup. But we'd feel better if you weren't alone for so long."
Holly shook her head in utter disbelief mixed with dismay. For Siobhan's sake, she wasn't a toddler. She wouldn't set the house on fire or throw a wild party. Even the Dursleys had trusted her enough to leave her alone past the age of seven. Or maybe they'd just stopped caring completely by then. Not that it mattered either way.
"I'm more than responsible enough to take care of myself, you know. I have before," she pointed out, and if there was indignation present, they didn't react. "I've been taking care of myself for ages. Long before either of you came along again. Besides, Tom can stay here with me. Or even Blaise."
Both of them dodged the stampeding elephant in that statement to attack the one hole in her logic.
"Yes, but you seem to be forgetting Tom's unique situation," Remus contradicted. "He needs to stay hidden, and what if something happens or if you need help? And while we do trust you and Blaise, the two of you are…" He hesitated as he searched for the right word. "You're…"
"You're working out what the two of you are," Sirius inserted; his eyes went to Remus again as they exchanged yet another glance, and really, it was getting a tad annoying when they did that. "You're not exactly just friends now."
"We've never been just friends, and we've been alone plenty of times without adult supervision," Holly defended, somehow managing to keep a level tone. But there was still a sharp edge to it. A bite that both men valiantly ignored.
Sirius simply lifted a brow. "But now, he's also sort of your boyfriend. And we're not leaving the pair of you alone. Overnight. Not in this house."
Holly honestly couldn't believe this. She really and truly couldn't. They said that she had problems, but Sirius and Remus had taken a complete leave of their senses. They were both mad if they thought that had anything at all to do with her so-called and apparently newfound irresponsibility. She'd been more trusted by her primary schoolteacher when everyone on Privet Drive thought her a deranged lunatic and criminal besides. Now, her own guardians – her own family – didn't trust her with her bondmate and best friend.
She might as well just give up now and send Voldemort a postcard to commemorate his victory.
"Why does that matter?" the girl couldn't help but question. "How is it even important?"
It was Remus who fielded this one. Surprise, surprise. He was the more level-headed of the two. Sirius still twitched whenever his own mother was mentioned.
"It matters because you're a young lady and he's a young man, and you clearly don't think of each other platonically." The werewolf's eyes were steady and startlingly steely. "We're not leaving just the two of you here without one of us or his parents."
"Even if Tom's here, too," Sirius put in before she could object. "It's not that we don't trust you. It's just that…" He ran a hand over his hair. "Well, we remember being fifteen-year-old boys, and I'm not ready to be a grand-godfather."
"Sirius!" Holly nearly spluttered.
He dismissed it with a wave. "Mum and Papa Potter wouldn't let Lily spend the night without someone besides just me in the house until after we graduated, and she and James were engaged shortly after that anyway." Sirius gazed at her until Holly was forced to look away. "That was their rule, and it worked out rather well. So it's our rule, too. I know you don't like it, and – Maker, I hate to say this – I'm your godfather, your guardian. I'm the adult here."
"Your house, your rules then?" Holly shot back, and she couldn't keep the hurt out of her voice. Not completely.
There were too many echoes of her childhood resounding in her mind right now; this was a twinge too close to the Dursleys. Too close to their rules where she wasn't allowed input. Much less an objection or even an opinion.
But Sirius derailed that line of thought so quickly that her head nearly spun.
"What? Of course not." His hand snapped out to capture hers and rub a thumb over her wrist before she could even think to pull back. "This is our house – the three of us and even Tom, I suppose. Ours," he emphasised. "Not just mine. And you do get your say. But I have veto power here. I have final say."
She felt more than saw Remus shift his chair closer to her. "It won't be all the time. Or even every day," he said then, even as Sirius squeezed her hand. "You need to be around people. You need to get out of the house some. You can't spend the entire summer moping upstairs in your room."
"I don't mope," she insisted automatically and felt her mouth pull. "I don't."
They gave her a look. And then had another quiet argument with their eyes before turning back to her.
"It's either this…" Sirius started slowly before determinedly ploughing along, "or you go talk to someone. Someone at Saint Mungo's."
"What?" It nearly came out as a shriek. "You… You can't do that!"
"I can, and I will."
There was finality in Sirius' tone. This was the voice she'd come to recognise from Professor Snape with an unruly student or the Zabini parents when they wouldn't be dissuaded from giving a punishment or even Molly Weasley at her sternest. Some small part of her realised that this was the sound of a parent taking a stand.
Holly felt herself deflate in the face of it. In watching Sirius lean forward and seeing him not just as a goofball godfather who told jokes, played pranks, and smothered her with affection and doggy kisses. This was the Sirius that Lily and James Potter had wanted to take care of her. The adult and fully grown man who'd fought in a war after telling his own parents to go to hell because of their bigotry and then walking out. The one who was her guardian and making decisions for her.
This was that man. And a glance too her other side showed that Remus wasn't all that different.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
"Holly, I know it's hard," her godfather murmured in that same tone but somehow softer. "That it's horrible and terrible and awful watching someone die, but you're not getting better. It's been nearly a month, and you barely ever leave your room except for meals unless Blaise is over. Luna was here three times last week, and she had to go upstairs to get you every time. You haven't even been to Blaise's house once this summer."
"Tom barely ever leaves the library. You said so yourself," Holly defended. But it was weak, so weak, and she felt Sirius' grasp tighten. "He's even in there right now."
"Tom is a spirit trapped in a diary. He doesn't have to eat and only does that weird hibernation-thing every now and then. He also didn't watch one of his nightmares come to life or a have a friend be killed right in front of him."
That wasn't a fair tactic. Like taking a gun to a knife fight or using an atom bomb to kill a fly. She knew, however, that with it she'd already lost both the battle and the war. There was nothing she could say or do to refute that point. Voldemort was definitely back. Cedric was certainly dead. And Holly… she'd seen it all.
If she didn't let them have their way now, if she kept fighting, Holly would only make it that much worse. Make them that much more stubborn about the whole thing.
Time for damage control. To bow out gracefully. Or something to that effect.
"Fine," she acknowledged with the barest of huffs. "I'll take the babysitter as long as I don't have to go to Saint Mungo's or have them come to me."
Her teeth worried at her lip for a few seconds, but Sirius let her pull away after one final squeeze and a half-smile.
"Good. I'm glad that you're being so reasonable," Remus commented after a heartbeat.
"I'm very reasonable," Holly inserted with a lifted chin. "And there isn't anything wrong with me. I'm perfectly fine. I'm dealing with it."
Sirius just looked at her. Remus cleared his throat but didn't say anything. Holly felt her heart sink.
There wasn't anything wrong with her. There wasn't.
But even she wasn't completely convinced.
"I don't see why I can't just go stay with Blaise," Holly commented for what felt like the thousandth time since that morning. When she'd been unceremoniously and quite literally ripped from her bed by her godfather. It was a Saturday, after all. No one in their right mind should be up just after dawn.
And yes, she was ignoring the fact that only a few months ago that she would've been one of the crazies up so early.
This was just the latest in Sirius' string increasingly ridiculous behaviours on his quest to "help" her out of her funk. That list included carrying her still asleep form to the fireplace and Flooing her Luna's house not once but twice in the last week. Not to mention surprise Apparitions to Blaise's for a tea party with his sisters.
Unsurprisingly, Holly gave back as good as she'd gotten. A fact that was evidenced by the lingering blue tint to Sirius' skin and how he would skip every third step.
Remus naturally was no help in the matter. Aiding and abetting her godfather as he was. And Holly was beginning to doubt if Tom had even noticed what was going on. He barely emerged from the library, and when he did, his face was always stuck in a book. Chances were that he was purposely avoiding the other three people in the house, which wasn't out of character for him. He was on edge due to the return of his alter ego. Not that Holly could blame him for that one or for his urge to hide away in a dark corner and lick his wounds. It was the Slytherin thing to do. That and plot revenge.
Of course, she would've appreciated his assistance right about now. It really would've evened the odds stacked against her. Though it was hard to dissuade Sirius Black once he got an idea stuck in his head, and for some reason, he seemed to think that she needed to get out of the house. And not just that but go to the headquarters for his secret club – The Order of the Phoenix, and yes, that was such a pretentious name. Supposedly, they were run by Dumbledore and tasked with fighting Voldemort, but Holly had seen little evidence of the latter part yet. Thus far, she'd only heard the pair of them complaining about the lack of progress.
"Zabini manor isn't a hotel," Remus responded to her earlier statement, abruptly bringing Holly out of her thoughts. He was in the process of cleaning up the breakfast dishes with his wand after refusing Holly's offer to wash them by hand. He'd quickly recognised the delaying tactic for what it was and had sent her to get her things.
Curses, foiled again.
"I know that, but it'd just be me. Eren's practically given me my own room," she reminded them in a tone that was absolutely not a whine.
Holly put a hand on her hip as she watched Sirius shrink her bag for her since he knew that she'd only put it off to annoy him. Of course, she technically wasn't supposed to do magic over the summer, but with their wards, no one from the Ministry would ever know. And besides, it was a stupid law anyway, and neither Sirius nor Remus thought it a good idea for her to go for months without practicing her magic. Not with a madman and his merry band of henchmen on the loose.
"True. But they don't have the kind of defences that the headquarters has. Not with what my paranoid father put up and after Dumbledore added to it." Sirius handed over her shrunken bag, which would require only a tap to return to full size. "And Eren and Dante do have a life outside of us, you know. They're going to see his sister in Spain later this week, but they already agreed that Blaise can stay behind. With you."
"As long as an adult is there," Remus added and seemed to smile at the look she gave him.
"So you're basically shipping the two of us off to stay in a strange place with people we don't know," Holly insinuated.
"The Weasleys will be there," the werewolf countered, now in the midst of spelling the pots and pans back to their proper places.
As if that made it any better. She was up for letting bygones be bygones, but that didn't mean that she wanted to live with Ron and undoubtedly Hermione. Fred and George were fun. Percy was tolerable. But Ginny was still creepy. She didn't know much about the older two Weasley brothers, though the eldest – Bill – was rather attractive. Fleur Delacour had written to tell Holly that she'd met him through her new job at Gringotts; it seemed that the pair was quickly becoming more than friends.
Holly considered that possibility before scowling. She wouldn't be distracted from her ire.
"Not to mention a ton of people that we've never met. How do we know that we can really trust them?" she questioned so-not-rhetorically. "It could all be a plot."
The Animagus snorted and rubbed behind his ear. "If you really believed that, I'd be impressed. But we're not about to have another Wormtail. Members have to take some very specific oaths this time, and Fawkes gets to inspect everyone." He shook his head. "Have you ever tried lying to a phoenix? Nasty stuff that."
"Just because they don't support Voldemort doesn't make them good people," she pointed out. "They could be working for the Ministry instead. Part of the heliopath conspiracy. Or baking goblins into pies."
"Been reading the Quibbler again, Holly?" Remus asked with a laugh as it finished putting away the last of the dishes.
She blithely ignored him. They weren't going to budge anyway; she might as well go for the ridiculous.
"Or maybe they're in on it with Fawkes. He doesn't seem like the overlord type."
Sirius cocked his head and looked at her with suspicion. "Gods above and below, you make it seem like we're shipping you to Siberia. It's only for a night. Possibly two."
"Just to get me out of the house," she grumbled.
"Yes," both men said together.
Holly tapped her bare foot on the floor. "Then, why can't I go to Luna's then? She's offered, and they have enough wards to make Moody envious."
She was smart enough to know why Draco's place might be a bad choice, Death Eater father and all. Not to mention Theo or Pansy with their relations. Milli shouldn't be excluded. Nor Cynthia or even Gavin house. But silly Sirius and Remus seemed to think that she needed more adult supervision than they'd provide. And while they trusted her with Xenophilius Lovegood, he did have the tendency to forget himself, his daughter, and the wider world when writing for the Quibbler.
"You're going to the headquarters," Sirius said with finality. He sounded a twinge too much like Molly Weasley, too. Or even Andromeda. Maybe they'd been giving him pointers again.
Still Holly wasn't having any of it. She'd grown-up with Vernon's bellowing and Petunia's flying frying pan and had faced-off against a Dark Lord. It was hard to intimidate her.
"Really? Since you loved Grimmauld Place so much as kid."
She'd heard enough to know that it was dark, dank, and depressing. Just the place they should send a Slytherin. Really, it was just like being back in the dungeons at school. Only less hygienic since no one had lived there for years. And it was probably filled with all sorts of cursed objects and severed heads if she knew anything about the Blacks. Perhaps a body or two. A few torture chambers.
Kid stuff, really. So damn family friendly.
That must've shown on her face too since Sirius pinched the bridge of his nose as though pained. But possibly, that was only because he'd finally grasped that he was in all but fact the parent of a teenager and until that moment hadn't really understood what that entailed. Or perhaps all his childhood sins were merely revisiting him. McGonagall really had cast a Karma curse like she'd so often threatened. The universe's sweet, sweet vengeance.
"No," he told her then, "I absolutely hate the place. I loathe it with every fibre of my being and more besides. But Voldemort's back, and there are only so many places I feel are safe enough for you, and you really do need to get out of this house. Even if it's to go there." He lifted his chin. "And you. Are. Going."
Holly crossed her arms over her chest. "Yes, mum. If you so insist."
"I do insist." But her godfather sighed then. "Don't be that way, pup. You know that I'm only trying to look out for you. That we-" And he jerked his thumb between himself and Remus, "-are only trying to look out for you."
Holly didn't want to give in. She didn't. She was a stubborn, slimy Slytherin just like Snape had taught them. But Sirius' sad puppy expression was just too much sometimes. All the time.
She crumbled completely.
He instantly brightened like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. "Splendid." Sirius jerked his wand towards the entrance hall. "Here's your shoes. Don't forget to put on some socks first."
Holly merely sighed as she got ready, and she was just finishing up when Blaise Flooed over. But it evaporated when he greeted her with a kiss to the cheek that made her smile and Sirius' eyes narrow. Apparently, he'd only just realised that while they'd have other adults present, he wouldn't be there the next few days to be on the lookout.
She threw a smirk over her shoulder at him and was still smirking when Remus wrapped her in a hug and Apparited them to a nondescript and shaded part of a park somewhere in London. Sirius and Blaise appeared a second later, and the four of them walked over the grass to the far side and then through several residential neighbourhoods that had certainly seen better days. The homes became decidedly bigger and somewhat cleaner as they walked until they came to a corner. The two adults paused, while Remus reached into an inner pocket and pulled out a folded slip of paper. It took longer to walk to the spot a townhouse had just appeared than it did for Blaise and Holly to memorise the information, and she couldn't help but lift a brow at the sight before them.
Sure, Holly knew about Fidelius, but if she hadn't known this was a secret headquarters, she'd honestly wonder why on earth anyone would ever bother to hide this place. It was certainly nondescript enough compared to the street as a whole, and nothing about it screamed wizarding folk or anything at all magical. Purebloods weren't known for being subtle about that sort of thing, but the Blacks apparently took paranoia to a whole new level. Even their unplottable and hidden house was ordinary enough outside to escape notice.
The inside wasn't any better. If anything it was worse, and this was after weeks of cleaning. Holly hated to imagine what it had looked like when Sirius had opened it at the end of June. Even now, it looked like the tomb of some long dead Dark Lord. While it wasn't dusty – much – cobwebs stretched across every corner, and all of the fixtures were tarnished. The carpet was threadbare, the wallpaper was peeling, and even the portraits on the wall were blackened and dingy with age and lack of care.
No wonder Sirius hated it here. This place was everything his house wasn't.
A mental tingle was her only forewarning when Tonks popped out of a doorway as if summoned by magic. Holly couldn't help that notice she walked with exaggerated care as she approached. As though a single misstep might set off a landmine.
"Wotcher, Holly. Blaise. Cousin. Remus," the Auror greeted with a wave and shake of her short purple hair. "'Bout time you lot showed up. We've been waiting for you."
"We said that we'd be by after breakfast," Remus admonished, but Holly still saw that he smiled at Tonks rather winningly.
Tonks grinned back and then promptly tripped over an umbrella stand. She nearly crashed headfirst into a set of moth-eaten curtains, which suddenly opened to reveal the portrait of an old and drooling woman.
"Filth! Scum!" the portrait screeched as she took one look at them, yellow eyes rolling around. "By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks, be gone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers-"
She abruptly came to a halt as she caught sight of Sirius.
"Youuuuuuuu!" And if anything, her yelling grew louder. "Blood-traitor! Abomination! Shame of my flesh!"
The shrieking was horrible. Ear-splitting even. Like someone under the Cruciatus or her egg from the second task or Draco singing in the shower. Her voice rose in volume with every hate-filled word, and Holly saw Sirius' face grow cold and distant as he lifted his wand. The spell was nearly colourless, and he cast it silently, but the woman abruptly cut off mid-word. The following quiet was nearly deafening itself. Holly knew that her eyes were huge as she turned to her godfather, and a glance at Blaise showed that he was in a similar state. Both of them could only stare as they watched Sirius lower his wand with a nasty and all too Slytherin smirk before looking at them.
"I see that you've finally met my mother, Holly. Your dear grand-godmother."
Holly visibly jolted. "Your…"
And suddenly, so much about his pathological hatred for his parents was made painfully clear. The silence obviously showed that Blaise had realised the same thing, and there was a pause as they gaped at the old woman in the portrait, her mouth moving furiously but without sound. Only the noise of their breathing and the creak of the house around them filled the hallway.
"Well, I can see where you get your smashing good looks and witty charm," Blaise deadpanned a few heartbeats later.
There was a tick. Then, Sirius let out a barking laugh and shot the woman a triumphant look as he shut the curtains in her face once more. If he made a rude gesture afterward, no one commented.
"Normal Silencing charm won't work on her," the Animagus complained as they proceeded down the hallway, waving off Tonks' apologies. "Had to look up something stronger. Can't get her down either. Not without taking out the whole damn wall, and it's a loadbearing one."
Holly nodded dazedly as they came to a set of stairs and went down. Tonks shifted almost uneasily as Sirius walked up to the closed door at the bottom.
"There's a meeting in progress," she told them. Her eyes then strayed to Blaise and Holly.
"So? Sirius questioned back.
Tonks shifted again. "You know they're not supposed to come in."
"They know that we're coming," the Animagus sent right back, "and they have just as much right to be here." His gaze went to the teenagers before going back to Tonks. "Besides, Holly's the only one of us who's actually seen Voldemort since his return. I think that qualifies as having inside information."
Tonks bit her lip with indecision, but Remus put a hand on her shoulder. She stepped back, which Sirius took as an invitation to open the door. Every eye riveted on him as he strode inside before immediately going to Holly and Blaise, and given the number of Order members present, it was a tad unnerving.
Holly didn't know most of the people in the expanded basement kitchen. A few were familiar seeming, as if she'd seen them before or perhaps a relative. But she did recognise some.
There was Moody, the real one she assumed, sitting next to a man she belatedly realised was Kingsley Shacklebolt. Arthur and Molly Weasley were on the other side of the table and didn't seem all that surprised to see them, though her mouth was drawn in a thin line. McGonagall was there too, and she gave a nod at Holly's attention. Professor Snape was beside her, and his eyes flashed at the sight of his students, but his face remained passive.
And at the head of the table, Albus Dumbledore just smiled.
AN: I'm tweaking Tom's backstory a bit to fit with the plot. Nothing too major though. Also, this is the fourth draft of this chapter. It just wouldn't come out right.
To everyone who reviewed: Thanks.
Chapter Fifty-Four: Black Magic