(12 September, 1978)
"You seem to be feeling better," A voice said, coming from somewhere to her left, and effectively startling Aurora from her haphazard stare at the parchment resting on her legs such that she very nearly upended the entire stack and caused it to fall off of her lap in response. She only just managed to avoid such a thing by snapping out a hand to latch onto the sheets while her posture straightened in the same motion. But regardless of how much some small part of her wanted to tell whoever had spoken to go away, she resisted, her eyes glancing away from her parchment in favor of looking at the person who had distracted her, instead, before she spoke.
"I am. Thank you."
"Don't tell me you actually missed the homework—"
"Would you judge me too terribly if I did?"
"I mean it. Never," Her companion insisted, sitting down in the armchair beside her own, and leaning over the arm to peer at the parchment she held so tightly in hand, "Can I ask just one question, though?"
"Something tells me you will, whether I want you to or not."
"Why the bloody hell did you decide to start the evening with notes for Professor Binns?"
"Perhaps because he's already decided to give us mountains of homework," Aurora supplied, quirking a brow at her companion, and shifting so that despite being in two separate chairs, their heads were bowed together, a mere hairsbreadth apart such that they could both see the parchment clearly, "And perhaps because I thought it was better to rip the band-aid off now, rather than leave it all for the weekend."
"I thought so."
"Still, I thought you would be more inclined to start with Potions. Or is Slughorn no longer your favorite?"
"He is. But his assignments are always so much more—"
"Entertaining?" Barty mused, somewhat pleased that his remark had earned him a faint flash of a smile from his companion, though it was not the full-fledged amusement he had hoped for, "Stimulating? I could keep going—"
"Please," The girl repeated, hazel eyes shining as she forced herself to look her friend in the eye, if for no other reason than so that he could see she was still not entirely herself, "I—I'm sorry, Barty, but I do not think I am entirely willing to forget what happened before start of term."
"You mean what you still will not talk to me about."
"For good reason."
"I see no good reason for you to believe you could not trust me with the truth," Barty argued, frowning at the unfamiliar expression that had stolen over Aurora's features, and reaching out for her hand, only to find that she had flinched away in response, "You can, Aurora. You know you can."
"Because—because if I did tell you, it would—it would ruin everything," Aurora confessed, hating the way in which her voice seemed to crack around the words, and averting her eyes as the prick of tears made itself known to her in mere moments, as well, "And I can't—I need to know you're on my side."
"I'm always on your side, Ro."
"You may not be, once you know the truth."
"Why would you say that?"
"Perhaps because even I do not fully understand what it is that I would have to tell you. How can I explain something when I hardly know where to begin?"
"Try. Try, Aurora," Barty begged, once again reaching for her hand, and this time successfully taking hold before she had the chance to pull away, "Please, try."
"I can't. I can't. Not when I would lose you if I told you everything."
"You won't lose me," Barty assured, frowning as Aurora wrenched her hand away from his own, and hurried to stand after gathering the loose sheets of parchment together so they would not fall to the floor. Within seconds, she had skirted around the armchair she formerly occupied, and began to head towards the stairwell leading to the girl's dormitories, instead. A strange sort of panic settled over him in response, as though he had suddenly begun to fear that if she retreated up those steps, he may just have lost her for good. But before he could say or do anything to keep her with him in the common room, instead of allowing her to run away, Barty found himself rooted to the spot by the sound of a broken sob, the knowledge that it had come from Aurora, herself only paralyzing him further as he came to the unfortunate realization that perhaps there was truly nothing he could do for her, now, regardless of how much he may want to…
For the first time in their years of friendship, he could not reach her, and that hurt him far more than anything else ever could.
Some days later, Aurora lingered behind the rest of her fellow students in the Potions classroom, her hands dawdling in the act of cleaning up her desk in hopes that she might find the courage to ask Professor Slughorn the question that had been nagging at her ever since the start of term. She was aware, of course, that asking anyone would be a direct betrayal of the request her mother had made of her. That if Walburga Black ever found out, the punishment would surely be severe. But even in the face of that awareness, Aurora could not keep her fears and apprehensions at bay any longer, her lips thinning into a line as she registered the sound of footsteps approaching, and forced herself to look Professor Slughorn in the eyes as he drew to a stop beside her, and placed what was clearly meant to be a comforting hand upon her shoulder.
"Ah, Miss Black. We missed you at Slug Club the other day—"
"Forgive me, Professor. I wasn't feeling well."
"Something the matter, my dear?" Slughorn queried, stooping with a soft groan to sit in the desk beside his student, and regarding her with some curiosity as he noted she seemed to be at odds with herself, as though she wanted to speak, but did not quite know what to say. Since the start of term, he had noticed a curious sort of detachment in this prized pupil, and it had troubled him, despite not having the faintest clue of how to go about fixing it. And so, now that she remained behind in his classroom, rather than venturing down to the Great Hall with the rest of her classmates for lunch, Slughorn knew that if he were to have any chance at helping her, as she so fervently seemed to hope he would, he had to act now.
It was unlike her to be so withdrawn, and regardless of how many times he may tell himself he did not get involved in the personal affairs of his students—not after what had happened with one student in particular so many years ago—it would have been a lie to pretend that seeing Aurora's discomfort did not pain him deeply.
"I—yes," Aurora finally managed, her fingernail digging into a groove in the wood of her desk, while her eyes followed the idle movement in hopes that glancing away from Slughorn's face would give her the time to formulate some manner of explanation for her decision to seek him out in the first place, "I cannot really decide how best to explain."
"Perhaps if you start where you feel most comfortable, that may be best, my dear."
"Perhaps. It's just—please, Professor, you must promise me you won't see me differently once you know the truth."
"Why of course I won't!" Slughorn exclaimed, his brow furrowing as he regarded the young woman's expression of clear indecision, and hoping that the tone of his voice alone would convey his sincerity, as he did not know if reaching for her hand would be a welcome decision, on its own, "I've had the pleasure of teaching you for years, child. To say anything other than that you are a remarkable student, and a truly gifted witch would be a lie."
"I—thank you, Professor."
"Don't mention it. Now—what is it that you wish to tell me?"
"Something happened, before start of term," Aurora began, her tongue darting out to wet her lips for a moment before she exhaled, squared her shoulders, and forced herself to meet Slughorn's gaze head-on once more, "It was after—after I received some distressing news."
"What news was that, my dear?"
"It doesn't—that doesn't matter. Not really. What matters is—is what happened after I heard it."
"What happened?" Slughorn inquired as gently as he could, watching Aurora's reaction very carefully, and feeling the slightest hints of relief as he saw that the question did not cause her to withdraw as he had initially feared. It was true that she still exhibited some reluctance to be fully forthcoming, as though she hardly dared to believe anyone could hear what she had to say and not think differently of her afterwards. But some sort of innate desperation to get this thing—whatever it was—off her chest seemed to win out over any apprehension she might also possess, her face paling a bit as she swallowed once, before starting to speak once again.
"I can't—I can't fully explain it. What happened," She began, her brow furrowed as she struggled to come up with the adequate words for what she had gone through, and felt herself falling short before she could even begin, "But it was almost—almost as though I was burning from the inside out."
"Yes. And—and I sort of lost track of reality, as well."
"What do you mean by that, my dear?"
"I mean—I mean that I—sort of blacked out. And when I came to, again, I was in the hospital."
"Oh dear," Slughorn murmured, finally succumbing to the desire to reach for Aurora's hand, and finding himself relieved that she did not immediately pull away as he went on speaking. Though he could not be too sure, he suspected the true nature of what had happened to his pupil, her description, as sparse as it was not lessening the likeness to an event that was every bit as fascinating to him as it was rare. He had always prided himself in being something of an expert in rare magical conditions and maladies, though now that one of them appeared likely to be affecting one of his favorite students, he almost wished that he was not. But the fact of the matter remained that Aurora's admission was far too similar to something he knew of only barely, his expression shifting into a frown as he regarded the young woman sat beside him for a moment before coming to the realization that she was breaking the silence as tentatively as though she feared retribution for doing so.
"Do you—do you know what it is? What it means?" She asked, her words tremulous, as though she was still reluctant to hear the truth, if he would tell her, despite having come to ask the question of him in the first place, "Because my—my mother would not tell me, and the healer I saw at the hospital only said that it was very rare—"
"I do know, my dear. Or at least, I think that I do," Slughorn admitted, his tone of almost sorrowful reluctance prompting a shiver to trace its way down Aurora's spine, though she did her best to hold his gaze with her own, regardless, "If I am right, your healer knew precisely what this was, as well."
"Tell me. Please, Professor—please, tell me."
"I will tell you, my girl. I will. But only if you promise me one thing, in return," The professor bargained, knowing that Aurora's acceptance of what he intended to propose was the only way for her to begin to fight what had happened to ensure it did not happen again. If he was right—and he would have been a liar to pretend that in spite of the allure of such a rarity within his grasp, he did not wish with all that he had that he was wrong—Slughorn knew that they would have very little time to keep this unstable force at bay, before it destroyed the young woman before him as easily as fire destroyed a decaying forest…
He could not allow her to succumb to its power. Not when doing so would mean the end for not only this young woman who seemed to hold so much promise, but for several others nearby if her as yet untamed power could not be brought to heel.
"What is it?" Aurora repeated a second time, her hazel eyes shimmering with the reflected light of the candles surrounding the perimeter of the dungeon classroom, the pleading for honesty that was so apparent in her gaze prompting Slughorn to feel genuine regret that what he had to tell her would change her life, for good.
"My dear, I—I am afraid what you describe can only mean one thing. It will require more research of course, but—"
"What you describe sounds to me as though you may just be—an Obscurial."
(Little Whinging, 1988)
Aurora sat on the stoop of her home on Privet Drive, the late summer breeze ruffling her dark hair as she rested her arms atop her knees, and simply savored the warmth of the setting sun as its rays shone upon her skin. In truth, she felt warm—content—for the first time in what must have been ages, despite her circumstances, and what she had been sent here to do. And it was for that very reason that she remained where she was, in spite of the fact that she knew the very child she was supposed to keep her presence hidden from was ambling down the sidewalk towards her home, his dark hair blowing about in the wind as he fiddled with the overly long sleeve of his shirt.
Today was his birthday, she knew, and it would have been a lie to pretend that the idea of him out wandering about the neighborhood on his own pained her more than she cared to admit.
Still, Aurora was determined to attempt keeping to at least part of her promise to Dumbledore, her body stilling in hopes that she would remain unseen as the boy passed her by. Of course, she truly ought to have realized that the son of Lily and James Potter would not have been so easily fooled, particularly as he seemed to have very little in the way of constant companionship in the home of his aunt and uncle. But regardless of what she did or did not want, Aurora found herself surprised by the sudden realization that a vibrant pair of hauntingly familiar green eyes were now riveted upon her as he stood motionless at the end of the walk that led down to the street from her porch, her own gaze holding that of the young boy's for a moment before he spoke in a hesitant tone that all but shattered her resolve to keep her distance then and there.
"Hello, yourself," Aurora replied, a smile toying at the edges of her mouth as she tilted her head to the side, and watched as the boy seemed to waver on his feet as though uncertain about whether or not he should tarry, or move on, "Lovely day, isn't it?"
"It—yes. Yes, it is."
"Such a shame the both of us seem to be spending it alone."
"Oh, I don't mind. Not really," The boy assured, his words seeming almost hurried, as though he believed that saying anything else would earn him a punishment he wanted to avoid, "I like being outside near sunset. Always have."
"Me, as well," Aurora admitted, shifting to the side so that there would be room for her newfound companion to sit beside her on the stoop if he liked, and patting the concrete so that he would know that the offer was genuine, "Perhaps we might enjoy it more if we had a little company?"
"I don't want to be any trouble—"
"Trust me. You are the farthest thing from 'trouble' that I have ever seen."
"You're sure?" The boy persisted, green eyes sparkling behind his taped glasses, as though the prospect of sharing this evening with someone—even a practical stranger—were what he had yearned for all along, whether he wanted to admit it aloud or not, "My—my uncle would be upset if I was bothering you."
"And I would be only too happy to tell him that you are not," Aurora assured, patting the stoop beside her once again, and smiling as her companion finally stepped forward and perched on the edge beside her, "What's your name, dear?"
"Harry. Harry Potter."
"Well, Harry Potter, it is a genuine pleasure to meet you. You can call me Aurora."
"That's a pretty name—" Harry began, a slight flush adoring his cheeks, though he kept his gaze firmly upon Aurora's features all the same, "I—I mean, if you don't mind me saying so."
"Not at all. And if you don't mind my saying so, Harry is a rather lovely name, as well."
"You really think so?"
"Of course," Aurora confirmed, shifting just a bit so that she faced Harry more directly, and donning a frown as she realized he did not appear to believe her words at face value, "You don't agree with me, then?"
"Do you think you might tell me why?"
"I—I can't," Harry said, youthful features scrunching into a frown as he squirmed a bit on the stoop, and suddenly moved to stand, as though he had just been burned, "I'm sorry. I can't—I shouldn't be here. My Uncle Vernon—"
"Is he outside, right now?"
"Is your Uncle Vernon outside right now?" Aurora questioned, reaching out to place a gentle hand upon Harry's arm, and doing what she could to keep her expression neutral in spite of the fact that she felt nothing short of furious at the person or people who had clearly mistreated this young boy so profoundly that he was fearful of the prospect of simply making a new friend, "I do not see him."
"No. He—he's not. He's inside, with Aunt Petunia and Dudley, watching telly."
"Then I daresay we're safe. And if he happens to discover us, I am perfectly willing to say that this entire thing has been my fault."
"But nothing," Aurora cut in, dropping her hand down to Harry's own much smaller one, and giving it a small squeeze before going on, hoping her words would reassure him to stay with her, at least for a little while longer, "I won't keep you here if you truly wish to go, Harry, but please—if you want to—stay."
For a moment, Aurora did not know if Harry would stay or go, his teeth chewing at his lower lip as though he were weighing his options, and trying to determine what choice would give him less trouble. But before she might come up with anything else to persuade him one way or the other, she found her efforts rendered unneeded, the expression of something not all that far off from abject determination crossing the young boy's features before he was sitting down beside her once again, green eyes meeting her own hazel ones as he spoke.
"You are very welcome, my dear. Now—can I offer you anything to eat? I've got some cookies, or perhaps a bowl of fruit?"
"Maybe—maybe a cookie," Harry mused, the tentative smile upon his lips warming Aurora's heart as she recalled exactly how fond of sweets his father used to be, and stood from her perch on the stoop to venture inside the house and fetch the aforementioned treat. In truth, she was beyond thrilled that he had decided to stay, whether that flew in the face of her primary objective on Privet Drive, or not. And before she could spend one more moment wondering over whether or not she had thrown a wrench in her ability to keep the boy safe by interacting with him directly, Aurora headed indoors, her determination to protect him not only from outside threats, but from the apparent disinterest of his own family only growing as she mulled over the fact that his situation did not seem to be all that different from her own.
They had both known pain and isolation in the midst of those who were supposed to love them, and it would have been a lie to pretend that she did not hope to right the wrongs of her own parents by caring for this boy where his own flesh and blood could not.
Well hello there, my darlings! And welcome to another delayed but hopefully no less enjoyable new chapter in Aurora's tale! I know I promised the first glimpse of her intended, Evan Rosier, in addition to her first introduction to Harry, and I only ended up following through on one of those claims. But somehow, the idea of the flashback where she turned to Professor Slughorn, and started to come to grips with what happened over the summer seemed more logical, so I hope that none of you disapprove of that decision, in the end! The muses seem to think it would be nice to show her closeness to Horace, and how he attempts to help her deal with what she is (because we know Walburga's chosen method is to simply sweep it under the rug). So hopefully that all makes sense, because I can promise you, there really is a method to my madness, most of the time!
As always, my heartfelt thanks go out to each and every one of you that has taken the time to read, follow, favorite and review this story so far (and special thanks go out to last chapter's reviewers: Ghostwriter71, Baked8eanz, and Ineveryfandom for leaving such kind reviews the last time around!) I truly do appreciate your support, more than you can ever know, and I can only hope that you enjoyed this chapter as much as you have the last! As usual, I cannot wait to hear what you think!
Until next time, my dears…