Chapter 27 – The Fall
All But Death Can Be Adjusted
All but Death, can be Adjusted -
Dynasties repaired -
Systems - settled in their Sockets -
Citadels - dissolved -
Wastes of Lives - resown with Colours
By Succeeding Springs -
Death - unto itself - Exception -
Is exempt from Change –
Emily Dickenson (notable Squib poet of the eighteenth century)
Growing up an orphan in a Group Home, Harry rarely found himself the centre of attention. There were too many kids with too many needs for one face or voice to ever achieve importance in the eyes of a carer for more than a moment here or there. School had been immediately different. There weren't so many kids at the Class I school, and a Divination Stone had opined that Harry was potentially powerful. People in school knew his name, not just his peers but his professors and Headmistress, even the Regional Sheriff knew him through Draco.
Catching a snitch for their region's professional Quidditch team in an actual game changed everything again. He wasn't just Harry. He was a Quidditch star and everyone wanted to know him and touch him. Enduring a stuttering congratulations from a fourth year, Harry awkwardly shook her offered hand. "It was luck really," he assured her. Before anyone else could queue up to chat, he grabbed a plate of food and sat next to Ron and across from Hermione. "I feel like an exhibit at the zoo," Harry complained quietly. "Always thought I'd like being famous."
"Tired of your adoring public already?" Hermione asked sardonically. Her face contorted as though the next words were painful for her to formulate. "You were impressive up there. I've never seen anything like it."
Where all the strangers' attention and congratulations had begun to wear thin, hearing his friend's opinion stated so positively, left him glowing with pride. "It was at least half luck. I wish Draco's dad had brought my sister. She's never seen a Quidditch game either. I'll have to write her about it. Maybe next time we'll be able to smuggle her in."
"Next time maybe you shouldn't trust the blond ponce with something so important." Hermione frowned distrustfully. "Don't think I haven't noticed how scarce your class partner has been today."
Harry shrugged. "He made it to class. Maybe he hasn't been hungry?"
"A real mystery," Hermione said. "Maybe he's jealous."
From a few seats down, Millicent snorted derisively at Hermione. "Draco is not jealous of his best friend's success. I can see how you might assume that considering who you are and how you were brought up. Maybe Muggles can't gracefully cheer on a friend, but wizards are higher-minded in general."
"Who even asked you? It's rude to eavesdrop, Millicent." Hermione couldn't miss the disdainful roll of her classmates' eyes or the glances the other girls exchanged. "You can't seriously believe the drivel you're spouting. We're all humans and humans feel things—sometimes even when they don't want too like jealousy or fear or anger." Hermione's fingers were wrapped so tight around her fork that they ached, but she kept her tone even and her hands on the table. "And Draco isn't a great example of high-minded wizards. He threatened to get Harry declassified the first day he met him. He was so jealous, so desperate to be the class' top student, he was willing to cheat and scheme to achieve it."
Cutting off Millicent's next comment Lisa spoke up. "There is nothing wrong with a little scheming and cheating from time to time if it gets you what you want. Hermione's fundamentally correct. We're all human, but I don't think Draco's jealous, at least not today."
Harry's eyes followed the argument from girl to girl. Hermione seemed to be keeping her cool surprisingly well and making good points, while Millie looked ready to draw her wand. A gentle tap to his shoulder and Harry turned. Draco rolled his eyes dismissively at the arguing girls. "We need to talk. Are you finished eating?"
Harry nodded, unsure what to make of Draco's serious demeanour and earlier aloofness. Surely he wasn't suddenly jealous like Hermione thought? "Yeah, I've had enough."
When Harry rose, attention shifted back to him and those who hadn't already, finally noticed Draco's arrival. Millicent's round cheeks flushed red to be caught gossiping so vocally. Hermione just smirked, unconcerned if she had further alienated the blond ponce.
"So, what's up?" Harry asked.
Rather than answer, Draco quietly and quickly led his friend to an empty classroom. He cast a pair of simple but effective privacy and locking charms on the door. "You need to read this. My dad sent it this morning. I flooed him after ecology and it's all for real. I had to be sure before showing you. He didn't bring your sister to the game. He explained why in the letter. Just read it." Draco thrust the folded parchment at Harry.
Puzzled and now more than a little worried, Harry carefully unfolded the letter and skimmed the neat slanted curls of Lucius Malfoy's calligraphy.
Your mother sends her love. We both remain pleased with the wizards and witches you ally yourself with. Continue to cultivate associates that show promise and leadership. Lisa of course must always be your priority.
Unfortunately, I was unable to accommodate your friend's request. A contagious illness has struck several of the empire's orphanages, and your friend's home was hit hard. Because of my position I was able to acquire the list of the deceased, and regretfully, Isobel Green did not survive the outbreak.
You may tell your friend that the deceased have been cremated en masse. There will be no individual memorial stones placed for the children because of the sheer numbers and their lack of family. A tasteful monument outside the home listing the deceased has been proposed and will likely be commissioned in the next few weeks once we are certain the list of the dead is final.
Methodically, Harry's eyes devoured the letter again and again. Top to bottom he scanned the words. Rereading would not change the meaning, but he couldn't make his mind process the message. Isobel Green did not survive.
His sister did not survive.
While he had been flying and playing, basking in the glory of the moment, his only family in the world had been either dead or dying. His little sister was a lump of ash interspersed with the other dead. She wouldn't even warrant a headstone in the grand scheme of things.
Without consciously deciding to do anything, Harry ripped the offending letter in half and brushed past Draco. He pushed once ineffectively at the locked door before a flare of wild accidental magic unsealed the exit with a blast that knocked the door from its hinges.
"Harry wait." Draco quickly collected the pieces of letter and followed his fast retreating friend. "Where are you going?"
"To see for myself," Harry answered brusquely. He practically flew up the steps, weaving against the flow of students heading for afternoon classes. The second year dorm stood empty; Harry strode to his bedside and his personal broom.
The smooth wood felt so comfortable under his hands. One of his most prized possessions, Harry hadn't had a chance to show his sister this broom or take her for a ride. She'd never seen a Quidditch game much less played in one and now she never would. Gods, he hadn't written her one letter this year. She died alone with oblivious carers that didn't even realize she had a brother who should be notified of her illness.
Harry took a single step toward the door, unsure what he thought he would see out there. Wherever he flew, he wasn't going to find his family. The last bit had perished and her remains had been scattered to the winds.
A blond head peaked around the door. "Harry, are you okay?"
That quiet question pushed some invisible button inside Harry, and tears began to fall. Dropping his broom with a clatter, he sank to the floor and buried his face in his hands.
Unaccustomed to dealing with tears or grief, Draco tentatively approached. He sat on the floor, just short of touching his trembling friend and rested his arms and chin on his knees. He couldn't find any words to help or console. He couldn't relate to such substantial loss when he had never lost anything important.
He clasped Harry's shoulder in a moment's epiphany and squeezed. Further inspired by his mother's ministrations at childhood moments of illness, Draco rubbed slow circles on Harry's back while the thin boy shook with quiet sobs.
When the sobs began to ebb and Harry uncurled enough to resume a more normal sitting position, Draco ceased his impromptu back rub. "Do you want me to get someone?" Draco asked quietly. "A professor maybe?"
"There isn't anyone to get." Harry laughed hollowly while wiping at his swollen eyes.
For an irrational moment, Draco blamed his father and his coolly worded letter for hurting Harry. Lucius Malfoy's only concern in the situation was whether they appeared powerful to a Turpin. And while he knew his father wasn't to blame for Harry's sister's death, he wished his father had it in him to care for something outside his political aspirations. "I hate this. There isn't anyone to punish, nothing to change or help or fix. It just is."
"I deserve to be punished," Harry said. "She died alone because I wasn't paying attention."
Draco scowled, certain that Harry needed a kick in the pants for that twist of self-recriminating nonsense. "Don't be an idiot. It's not like you could have saved her. What she had was contagious. If you went to her it probably would have killed you too." He shook his head. "Do you really think your sister would have wanted you to die?"
"No, but she was nine and my responsibility." Harry shrugged and gestured vaguely as though the logic were obvious. "I could have at least written her, been close, kept them from burning her. They burned her up and dumped her in with everyone else. It's like she never existed."
"Untrue. She has a brother who isn't going to forget her." Draco glanced at the clock and winced. "Well, she has a brother for now. We're missing Dark Arts class. Riddle may murder us later."
"He might give me a veto to match yours," Harry croaked hoarsely. He crossed his arms over his knees and rested his chin on top, mimicking Draco's pose. He and Draco would never be mistaken for siblings. Their features and mannerisms were too different, but Harry felt less alone with his class partner and friend by his side. He almost felt like he had a bit of family left to prop him up.
"You should get to class, Draco." Harry managed a brittle pained smile and rose gracefully.
"Don't you mean we should get to class?" Draco asked. "Where are you going?"
"Home of course." Harry pushed open the nearest window, and without giving Draco a chance to argue, he mounted his broom and flew away.
Hermione entered Dark Arts class alone. She selected a cushion and placed her books to her side. Keeping her wand in hand, Hermione scanned the room for danger. You never knew when Riddle would attack with a practical demonstration. To her left Lisa reclined, wand held deceptively loosely, otherwise the room appeared empty.
The clock wound forward and Riddle arrived exactly on time. Hermione glanced at the vacant cushions Harry and Draco should be using and wondered what was keeping them. They both knew better than to needle this professor. Both were keenly interested in the apprenticeship the Professor could provide. What could have happened to them?
Riddle crossed his arms and levelled a dispassionate stare on the empty cushions. "Books out," he commanded. "Read chapter fifteen."
Once Hermione and Lisa were adequately occupied, Riddle settled behind his desk mostly oblivious to their presence. In his years teaching, searching for his apprentice, he had never been surprised by a student's reaction to his mission. Some students inevitably withdrew; always exactly the students he predicted.
Looking at the girls in front of him, Riddle saw no potential surprises. Lisa might withdraw, with her family connections she didn't need his apprenticeship and would have no reason to sacrifice her freedom for it. Hermione on the other hand, had nothing and aspired to influence if not power. She would stay to the bitter end and might even be the student he was looking for.
In the first class since he informed them that he was looking for an apprentice, the two boys were conspicuous in their absence. Were Green and Malfoy in Professor Noyce's class today? He hadn't predicted that move.
With Draco's upbringing, he could only see his continued inclusion in this class as a tangible chance to reverse the veto on his cheek. Riddle didn't consider him a viable option as an apprentice, but keeping him around and torturing him with the possibility would have been amusing. That Draco would just quit did not fit with his assessment of the boy.
If anything, Harry's absence disturbed him more. In many ways, watching Harry had been like watching himself at that age. Powerful but disadvantaged by their births, both gathered allies easily. He had seen a potential for brutality in Harry, potential for real power. He would need the right stimulus, the right mentor, but Riddle felt himself quite up to the task. But maybe he had misread them all.
He spared a glance for Hermione and Lisa, still diligently reading. "That will be sufficient for today ladies. Class dismissed."
Without waiting for the girls to pack up and leave, Riddle strode from the classroom and across the hall to his office. With a careless wave of his wand, a quill and parchment took up writing positions at his desk. The two boys were either skiving off his class or they hadn't seen fit to inform him of their plan to join Professor Noyce's Dark Arts Class. Either explanation showed unacceptable, maddening disrespect.
"Formal detentions, Harry Green and Draco Malfoy, tomorrow at seven pm. Send." The quill scratched out a standard detention slip twice. The parchments folded themselves neatly and vanished.
An angry orange runic circle surrounded London's only Group Home. It cast a sickly light over the area warning everyone to remain clear, plague within. Broom tucked under his arm, Harry ignored the warning. He got as far as the crisply drawn perimeter line before the magic of the circle reacted, pulsing to life. It surged around him, a warm orange wave that flushed him back and held him captive. He struggled, swimming against the snare but the spell held him securely.
He wasn't forced to wait in the trap for long. An older woman in simple gray robes released him only to snatch him firmly by the ear. "Were you trying to get in you scrawny urchin? Eh? Don't you know better than to cross a warded runic circle? Where would you be if it had been set to kill?"
Squirming in pain, Harry answered, "I came to check on my little sister. No one bothered to tell me she might be sick. Once I found out, I came." He spun his half-truth, some part of him hoping that Lucius Malfoy had it wrong and Isobel was still safely inside, maybe already recovering.
The irate carer released her painful grip on his ear and her expression softened a degree. "What's your sister's name?"
"Isobel Green," Harry supplied quickly. "Can I come in and look for her? Please?"
"No, you daft boy. Do you want to die? There are active cases of rutilus terminus still being treated in there." She pulled an enchanted parchment from her pocket and released it in front of him. It hung in the air, glowing softly. "If you speak her name, it will activate if she's inside and alive. Depending on the colour it will even tell you how she's doing."
Hopeful despite all logic, Harry stepped up to the parchment and spoke clearly. "Isobel Green." The glowing parchment flashed weakly but produced no name. "Isobel Green, Is-o-bel Green," Harry repeated enunciating each syllable. "It isn't working right."
The carer knelt next to Harry, her wrinkled features set in concerned lines. "Let's test it." She addressed the parchment clearly. "Joey Freeman."
At the woman's words a name appeared in blue. "It seems to be working for Joey. She's doing well. I'll try your sister. Isobel Green." Joey's name disappeared but no name replaced it. The woman continued delicately, "Mr. Green, it seems your sister isn't here anymore. Quite a few children have died."
"And you burned them all up." Harry glared at the stupid parchment, his vision doubling and ears ringing. The enchanted document exploded in Harry's second display of accidental magic since learning about his sister's death. Specks of flame and ashes rained down around their heads. The old woman covered her face and scampered back, but Harry felt no shame at his outburst. "Maybe someone should have told me that my sister was sick before she died!"
With a grim flourish, he mounted his broom and kicked off. He ascended steeply until the old gray building that had been his home was little more than a receding speck behind him. He flew recklessly on, diving, swooping and spiralling. Forget physics, forget gravity, forget the safety specifications of his broom, Harry let his magic and the charms in the broom thrum together. He and the broom were one entity, indivisible.
No thought but the next stunt in his head, Harry's tears disappeared into the screaming wind unable to fall properly.
He never wanted to land.
Melinda Potter's sitting room didn't resemble the formal entertaining rooms most women of her generation cultivated. She saw guests in the room, but they were treated to the sight of open books, rolls of parchment and various work clutter. Settled back in her comfortable, paisley-patterned wingback, she put aside her current reading and quirked an eyebrow at her only child.
James had his father's wild hair and hazel eyes, but he had her energy and passion. He paced the room, his expression alternately pleased and pensive. She could see that he needed to talk and suspected she knew what about.
"How was the game then? Did you get to see Harry? Did he fly?" Melinda asked.
"Did he fly? You should have seen him, Mum. He's talented, better than me." James settled on the sofa next to some unbound parchment. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, just going home and not taking him with me. He should have known his parents were watching his game." Unable to remain seated, he resumed pacing. "I could kill Peter, Oscasia, anyone who had a hand in the kidnapping. I want to punish them and our glorious empire that perpetuates monsters like them."
Melinda shook her head. "There's a Muggle saying: before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves. You have a family to take care of. It's time to retire from the rebellion, set aside revenge and protect those babies. Be responsible for once in your life. Fixing the empire won't be accomplished at wand point."
"You spent your life trying to make a difference at quill point. That never changed anything. The rebellion you sneer about; we've done a lot of good, saved people, hindered the empire. Besides, I'm too deeply placed to just resign," James said. "Lily is stepping back. She's going to brew for the effort. She'll be with the children full time." He couldn't tell his mother about Lily's curse that necessitated that change as much as he wanted to. It was Lily's secret and he couldn't betray that confidence even to his own mother.
"That's responsible of her for a change." Melinda rose and intercepted her pacing son. "You know something? I don't think you're ever in too deep to quit, not until you're dead or featured on a wanted poster. You've given Albus Dumbledore enough of your life and your family. Think about it. You're still young. Second chances aren't so common that you should just sneer at yours. Please?"
Instead of answering back, James enfolded his mother in a tight hug. "April is a long time away. We're going to have to make some decisions once Harry is home. I swear to think about it." James murmured into his mother's soap-smelling gray hair. "You realize that Solstice is right around the corner and he won't be home. Sometimes I don't think I can wait for the spring. I thought I could but that was before seeing him. I want to go get him right now."
Melinda stepped back and cupped James face fondly. "Waiting keeps him and his sister safe. It's terrible but necessary. The empire can never know they're really alive and safely home. They stole them once. We can't ever let that happen again," Melinda comforted fiercely. "You'll have six Solstices to make up for anyway. What's one more?"
"One Solstice is everything," James replied, "But you're right. I know you're right."
The first part of this story is winding to its climax. Next chapter starts setting up the second act more clearly. While I tend to favor happy endings in fics, it's never been clear that this story would have one. The outline always skewed dark in the final sections. But who knows, this fic tends to meander.
I will say that Draco's voice gets a bit obscure in this chapter. He's human and has claimed Harry as a friend, but i worry that his characterization has drifted too close to center, if you know what I mean.