By the time the rest of the D.A was appearing in front of the Potter Family Cottage, Harry, Hermione, and Ron were already halfway to the door with Cattie remained firmly cradled in her father's arms. The door flew open the moment Harry's shoe touched the first step and DeeDi rushed out to meet them.
"Little miss Cattie!" She sobbed, tears streaming down her wrinkled face. "Yous brought her home!" Something about the house elf's genuine joy shook the already fragile hold Harry had on his own emotions; he felt the threat of tears began to burn at his eyes. They had brought her home. The warmth and weight clutched in his arms was his little girl back where she belonged. Harry squeezed his eyes shut, biting hard on his lips to try and keep himself from breaking down right then and there. He felt a shudder go through his body and weaken his knees. He swayed forward and a hand caught his elbow to steady him; the long, calloused fingers that gripped just a shade shy of too hard told him it was Ron. Harry arms tightened around the still unconscious Cattie and he tried to hold her even closer to his chest. He just had to hold on a little longer. He just had to get his little girl inside, make sure she was really alright, and then and only then would he allow himself to feel the full weight of everything that happened.
"Yes DeeDi, we brought her back home." Hermione's voice was weary and thin to the point of cracking. Harry opened his eyes so when he turned his head he could see her face; the bone deep weariness he could see there was something he completely understood. If he wasn't half terrified to loosen the hold he had on Cattie, he would reach out and pull Hermione close; share what little strength they both had left. Hermione seemed to understand the desperate look in his eyes because she pressed close to his side, wrapped an arm tight around his waist. "DeeDi we need to get all our friends into the house and looked over. Some of them are hurt."
Hermione's words seemed to shake DeeDi out of her emotions because the house-elf nodded rapidly, large ears flapping. A handkerchief appeared in her hand with a pop and she blew her nose nosily then mopped the wetness from her cheeks. The handkerchief disappeared and DeeDi stepped around the trio to wave her hands towards the members of the D.A still slowly making their way to the entrance of the cottage. "Come friends of Master Harry, let DeeDi take care of yous. Manny and Molby is preparing food and beds for all Master Harry's friends."
"You can take care of me with a jug of firewhiskey." One of the twins said from behind them. Harry assumed it was George because when he glanced over his shoulder, the grinning redhead had an arm around the shoulders of a soot streaked Angelina Johnson. "I returned from battle victorious. I think I deserve all the liquor in the world."
"Hear hear!" Lee croaked from somewhere within the group.
Harry didn't hear what else was said or see the rest of the D.A make their way up the stairs because the trio was already moving inside. Harry wanted to thank his friends; he wanted to turn back and embrace every single one of the D.A. and thank them from the bottom of his heart for helping him get his daughter back. Because of them his entire world was returned to him and he would gladly be in their debt for the rest of his life. But all he could think about doing right then was getting Cattie inside her home and to somewhere clean and warm and familiar. He wouldn't be sure she was okay until she was completely checked over and back where she belonged.
He honestly wasn't sure how he was still on his feet when all he wanted to do was collapse to his knees and hold his little girl as close as he could. He had no doubts that Hermione was in the same boat and Ron had to be strung out and exhausted but they kept on going. It was Hermione's arm around his waist, her fingers brushing the hand Ron still had on Harry's elbow, and their eyes that rarely strayed from Cattie's still face that gave them the strength to keep moving. The D.A.'s steps and murmurs of exhausted conversation echoed in the hall behind the trio while they made their way up the stairs. By the time their feet were sinking into the lush carpet of the second story, Harry could only faintly hear Manny's high voice urging the members of the D.A. into the family room. It was like all sounds were suddenly muted the moment they were on a separate floor.
"Where are we taking her?" Ron asked in a hushed voice. Despite his quiet tone Harry still flinched in surprise at the sudden sound of his voice. Harry opened his mouth to answer his friend, paused to clear his throat, and tried again.
"Her room." He looked down at the child in his arms, her little round face still unmoving and something inside him ached. "We'll take her to her room and then make sure she's alright."
Ron didn't say anything else, just nodded and Hermione pressed closer to his side. There was not much talking after that and the trio and child continued on their way to Cattie's room. Hermione pushed open the little girl's bedroom door for what felt like the first time in months. The feeling that came over Harry when he stepped over the threshold with his daughter in his arms was one he couldn't quite describe. It was the feeling of returning something that was lost, of the world righting itself.
Ron's steps faltered briefly and his hand slipped from Harry's elbow; he vaguely noted that the spot had gone numb from the tight grip of Ron's fingers. The other boy stuck close but he stayed a couple steps behind while Harry carried Cattie to her bed and Hermione rushed forward to pull back her soft blue covers. With all the care in the world—and more than a little reluctance—Harry gently laid Cattie down on her bed and inched backwards. The moment his arms were empty Harry's strength just went out of him. There was suddenly no feeling in his legs and all he could think was that he needed to sit down before he fell down. He thought to sit on the edge of the bed but in the end, he could do little more than crumble to his knees next to the bed. His forehead dropped to the mattress and the top of his head brushed Cattie's shoulder, solid and real. He sucked in a deep breath and the air shuddered through his body.
"Oh my god…she's really home." Hermione said from somewhere close to him, a sob catching on the last word.
There was no mistaking the sound of tears in Ron's voice when he spoke up. "I-I'll leave you guys alone, okay?" Harry wanted to pick his head up and look at his friend but then he knew his control would fully slip and he wasn't ready, not yet. Hermione spoke for him.
"Ron…you don't have to-"
"No really. I know this is something for you two, I just-I just needed to see her safe." There was a loud sniffle. "But I have to get down to Fred and George and Gin, make sure they're alright."
"We understand, Ron. Just don't leave okay? Stay the night if you have to just…please don't go anywhere until we can say goodbye." Hermione's voice was barely stable by the time she finished speaking and Harry could hardly swallow past the burning in his throat. Ron made a choked, affirmative sound and moments later Harry heard the door close behind him. The room was so quiet, so so silent that with his head close to her Harry could hear every puff of Cattie's breath and god was he grateful for every little sound. Hermione's hand landed on the back of his neck and squeezed. "Harry?"
"…Yeah?" His voice sounded thick to his own ears, partially muffled by Cattie's blankets.
"We need to make sure she's alright. There has to be a reason she hasn't woken up yet." Head still pressed to the bed, Harry nodded. Hermione's hand stayed on his neck when he lifted his head and looked down into the face of his little girl. He had thought of that of course. He knew they needed to make sure there was nothing wrong beneath the surface, make sure there wasn't something deeper and darker to her lack of response. Under the grime on her clothes and the smudges of dirt of her skin, Cattie looked like she was simply sleeping. Like it had been any other day where she had run herself ragged playing outside and fell into an exhausted sleep on her bed. But this wasn't a Cattie who had just tired herself out by being a kid, this was a Cattie who was taken from them and something had been done to her. Harry took hold of his emotions in a way only someone on a mission could.
"DeeDi." Seconds later there was a 'pop' and the matronly house elf appeared at the foot of Cattie's bed. One look at her face and Harry could see her tiny chin wobbling and her huge eyes already beginning to fill with tears at the sight of the girl. Harry hurried to speak before she could completely dissolve into tears. "Listen DeeDi, I need you to stay calm because we need your help. Cattie needs your help."
"DeeDi is calm. DeeDi will do anything to help little Miss Cattie." The screwed up her little face in determination, nodding so vigorously her ears flapped around her head. "What is DeeDi needing to do?"
Harry shifted on his knees to he could face the house elf but he still made sure to keep Cattie in his sight. A part of him was still terrified that if he looked away, she would fade and disappear. He wanted to keep both his eyes on his daughter and never look away but more than that, he wanted to make sure his little girl had not been truly harmed and he needed DeeDi for that.
"DeeDi, house elves have healing magic don't they?" The question was met with another vigorous nod. "Hermione has already done a diagnostic spell on Cattie and she seems unhurt but she isn't waking up. I need you to use your magic to see if she's alright, DeeDi. Can you do that for us?"
Harry spared a glance to Hermione at his side, hoping that she didn't think that he was questioning her magic. That was the last thing he would ever do when he knew for a fact just how clever she was but she was not a healer. He had seen her read many a book on medical magic but they couldn't take any risks here. There was not a trace of hurt of her face though; she was looking down at DeeDi with an almost pleading expression. The house elf was their only option. Harry would have loved to take Cattie to an actual healer. Someone who was a trained mediwitch or wizard who without a doubt knew what they were doing but that simply wasn't an option. Taking Cattie to St. Mungo's was not an option when anyone from a reporter to a death-eater could be there, Madame Pompfrey was completely out of the question, and there was no healer they knew or trusted enough to bring into their home. They were out of options.
"No need to ask Masters Harry and Hermione, DeeDi will help. Deedi knows many many ways of healing." The elf fairly leapt over to Cattie's bedside and Harry forced himself to stand and back away to give her room.
"Come on Harry." Hermione grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the other side of the bed so they could both watch over their daughter. He laced his fingers through hers and they gripped each other tight enough to bruise. Under the watchful eye of the two parents, DeeDi stood on her toes and leaned over the side of the bed with her hands raised and eyes closed, palms facing down of Cattie's prone body. Harry's eyes stayed glued to the elf's hands as white light began to glow at her fingertips, drifting down into luminous tendrils that flowed over Cattie, winding from her chest and spreading outwards to her head and her feet. Harry could scarcely breathe as his daughter was enveloped by the elf's magic and Hermione's grip grew so tight he thought the bones in his hand were moments away from snapping. After a length of time that Harry was sure was hours DeeDi murmured something in a high language he couldn't understand and the light disappeared, sinking into Cattie's skin and bringing color to her once pallid cheeks. DeeDi swayed slightly and Harry's free hand shot across the bed to grip her small shoulder.
"Are you alright?" He asked, worried that something had gone wrong. The elf's large eyes fluttered open and though obviously much more tired than she had been before, her smile was wide.
"DeeDi is fine and so is little Miss Cattie."
For the second time that night Harry was almost bowled over with relief. His eyes slipped closed for a brief moment and he thanked whatever deity there might be looking out for his daughter. He opened them again and released her shoulder, returning her smile with as best of one as he could. Hermione leaned over the bed also, her free hand tender against the top of Cattie's head.
"Are you sure DeeDi? Are you absolutely sure that she wasn't charmed or cursed or-"
"DeeDi is sure there are no curses on Miss Cattie. No enchantments." DeeDi interrupted Hermione in the firmest voice Harry had ever heard her use. "Elf magic is to protect, to take care, to heal. It is more powerful than wizard healing. No charms, no curses, no injuries on little Miss Cattie." The house elf's smile dimmed and her eyes went doleful. "There is only sleeping potion, very much and very strong but no harm to Miss Cattie."
And that was when the anger returned. Fierce and hot and tight in Harry's stomach because those bastards had drugged his little girl. There were no words for how grateful he was that Cattie was uninjured but the thought of anyone forcing his daughter to take anything filled him with sick rage. From the strained sound of Hermione's voice when she spoke, he could tell she was just as angry. "Do you know how strong this potion is DeeDi? No good can come from her being under it for much longer."
"No need to worry Mistress Hermione, DeeDi took a lot away. The Little Miss will wake up soon. Now DeeDi must go attend to Masters' friends." Before either of them could say a word of thanks the elf gave a low bow and popped out of sight. Harry and Hermione looked at each other then looked down at Cattie and sure enough, there was a movement of eyelids. Hermione gasped and jerked her hand from Harry's, fluttering it over Cattie while the other stayed against the little girl's face.
"Harry! Harry she's waking up!"
Harry's eyes were wide and his heart was in his throat. He pressed close behind Hermione and reached down to grab Cattie's hand as the child's lids fluttered even more and he caught a glimpse of bright, bleary green. Another flutter, a slow blink and then those eyes were open and peering up at Harry and Hermione blankly. For several long seconds Harry's heart was seized with fear that maybe their daughter didn't recognize them, that something had happened and she had no idea who they were but another blink and those eyes widened. Comprehension flooded Cattie's eyes and then there were tears; she was sobbing out "Mummy" and "Daddy" until they became one desperate word, her hands were grabbing at them and Hermione fell to the bed and gathered the little girl to her chest. She was crying and clinging to her daughter and even with her face buried in her mother's neck, Cattie was reaching out a hand for Harry and he was already there. His arms went around both his girls and he held them as close and as tight as he could, not caring a bit about the tears on his face. He looked into Hermione's face with Cattie held safe between them and there were no words.
Her tear filled eyes reflected everything he was feeling and more. There was the same mixture of anger and helplessness, bone-shaking relief and surging hope and fear. It was too much to think and too much to feel and all Harry could do was pull Hermione closer, press his face into Cattie's hair, and hold on.
Almost two hours passed with little notice from the Potter family. Not one of them moved much more than a few inches here and there in their position curled around one another on Cattie's bed. Cattie didn't say much in those few hours, just murmurs of 'Mummy' and 'Daddy' and these small, broken sobs. As much as Harry wanted to know exactly what happened during the days she was gone, he knew asking questions right then was the absolute worst thing he could do. He didn't want to interrogate her and force her into reliving something when there was no way she could be ready. Harry also knew that he wasn't ready for it. He was barely holding on to his wits and his strength as it was and as cowardly as it made him feel, he wasn't ready to face anything that could send him over the edge.
It was only after the little girl fell into an exhausted sleep on Hermione's lap that Harry's thoughts went back to the group of people still downstairs. Or at least he hoped they were still downstairs. He knew he should go down there, check and see what was happening with his friends and if they were as alright as they had looked but the thought of leaving his family for even a moment...it was painful. These two girls were his entire life and he had come so close to having his life broken and destroyed. There was an irrational terror that the next time he turned his back on them they would disappear.
The arm he held around Hermione's shoulder tightened.
"We'll be here when you get back, Harry." Hermione said, hushed. They had been sitting in silence since Cattie had slipped back into sleep. Harry started and he looked away from Cattie's face to hers; curly head pillowed against his shoulder and puffy brown eyes looking up at him soft and exhausted. Cattie was curled in her lap and against her chest, her legs stretched out so her bare feet rested in Harry's lap and one of his hands could rest on her ankle. The entire little family was slumped back against the headboard of Cattie's bed.
"How did you-"
"Come on, Harry. I've been learning how your mind works since first year; I think I've got you figured out by now." The quirk of her lips was barely there but still it was one of the most genuine smiles Harry had seen on her face since Cattie was taken. Something inside of him loosened. "Go down and see how everyone is doing, then go and take a shower, and then after that you're going to come back here and sit right back in this spot and neither one of us will leave our daughter again."
Instead of answering with words—he wasn't even sure if he could—Harry moved his hand from Cattie's ankle to cup Hermione's cheek and lean towards her. The kiss was relatively chaste, just a tender press of lips that lingered and pressed. It wasn't just a moment where Harry felt he needed to remind Hermione just how much he loved her, it was also a sharing of their relief and their appreciation of just how much their support for one another was keeping them going through all of this. It was as much a 'Thank you' and it was an 'I love you'.
After a moment Harry pulled back just enough to rest his forehead against hers, rubbing a thumb near the dark circles under her closed eyes.
"I'll be back."
Harry hesitated in the hallway outside of Cattie's room. He wanted to go right back inside but his friends were still somewhere in the house and he still hadn't given any of them even a word of thanks. He couldn't sleep until he knew everyone was alright and he had a chance to tell them how grateful he was. Harry only allowed himself to linger a moment longer at Cattie's door, taking a deep breath and pressing his palm against the cool wood. The sooner he got through the rest of the night the sooner he could be back with his girls and finally, finally get some sleep. Harry turned on his heel and began to move away from the door.
The house was much quieter than expected. Usually any noise from downstairs could be heard from his current spot on the landing so Harry had expected to be able to hear the majority of his friends still up and sharing battle stories in the family room below. Instead he was only hearing the distant sound of a clock ticking. He couldn't even hear his own footsteps on the thick carpeting of the second story. Had they all already left? Gone back to Hogwarts before he was able to say even a word of thanks? Harry frowned and hoped that wasn't the case.
But they weren't gone. Just as Harry was heading towards the staircase to take a look around downstairs, he heard a very faint murmur coming from somewhere down the hall on his right. He moved to follow the sound, the voices falling away and then coming back, still quiet but becoming more distinctly male as he drew closer, leading him past his and Hermione's room to the first of the few empty bedrooms in the Potter Family Cottage. It was a huge house and there were many rooms their small family never had use for; untouched rooms that had once belonged to long gone members of the Potter family. This room in particular was just a bit away from his and Hermione's bedroom and from where he was standing he could see the door was partially open. Harry was pretty sure that door hadn't been open since the first day he moved in.
He probably would not have been able to hear anything if the door wasn't open just enough to let the faint voices drift out. He followed the sound until he could clearly hear the voices from within; one male and the other soft and light, both hushed and both completely recognizable. Harry knew Ron's voice about as well as he knew his own. As Ron spoke Harry could make out a word here and there but Luna's slight tone made her words hard to catch hold of. He hesitated near the frame of the door, unsure rather or not he should lean over and peer inside of the room in case he was intruding on something private.
I'm just making sure they're alright.
Shifting uncomfortably, Harry placed a hand on the doorframe and leaned a bit to the side so he could see into the room. He knew immediately there was something private going on but not something he could intrude on. There were three people huddled close together on the bed inside. There was Ron in the middle; half lying down and half slumped against the headboard with his long legs crossed down at the ankle. Facing the wall and stretched against Ron's left side and legs was someone with a messy red braid that Harry could only assume was Ginny. On Ron's right side Luna was curled up under his arm with her fair head resting on his chest and his arm cradling her back. Her eyes were closed but Harry could see her lips moving and hear only the barest impressions of her voice. Ron's head was tilted down close to hers, his brows furrowed as he did his best to catch every word.
"Don't be daft, Luna." Ron said gently. "You're one of the bravest people I know."
Harry could stand in that doorway as long as he wanted. He didn't think either of them would ever notice he was there. He still lingered a moment though, watching as Ron ran a comforting hand up Luna's side and she pressed impossibly closer. There was something comforting about seeing the three of them there; Ginny in a peaceful sleep next to her brother, Ron obviously exhausted but still strong and solid for the slight young woman curled against his chest, and Luna leaning on him in every way. They looked worn but they were all safe, they were keeping each other safe.
Harry allowed himself only a couple more moments to watch them before he pushed away from the doorframe—biting back a groan as his tired muscles protested—and went to find the rest of the D.A.
It actually didn't take as long as he had expected to locate and check on the rest of his friends. A few more people were holed up in spare bedrooms—the fact that there were more than he remembered Harry could only contribute to house-elf magic-like Ron, Luna, and Ginny. He came across the Patil twins and Lavender deep asleep in one dimly lit room (the sight of drying tear tracks on Lavender's cheeks settling something heavy over Harry's shoulders), Susan and Justin were curled up together asleep in another, and the twins were wide awake playing a silent and somewhat somber game of exploding snap in another room. It took a trip downstairs for Harry to locate Cho, Lee, and Colin in the family room. The older two were sitting on the couch conversing quietly while Colin was sprawled out asleep on the carpet near the hearth, a wiry arm thrown over his eyes. It was Cho who let him know that Zacharias Smith and a couple others had elected to go ahead and floo back to Hogwarts.
"I guess you all should have gone back, right? Avoid suspicion and all that." Harry had asked, frowning. Lee had given a careless looking shrug and a smile but Harry could see his eyes were serious when he spoke.
"I think its kind of late for that one, mate. I have a feeling Dumbledore knows we're with ya and he's going to try something soon."
Cho had nodded and ran a tired hand through her hair and in the firelight, exhausted and battle worn, Harry noted in a distant sort of way that she really was a lovely girl.
"Lee's right. Lately at Hogwarts I've been feeling like he's been watching us D.A members. Like he's biding his time for something and I honestly would not mind spending a bit or a night away from the castle."
Harry had only spent a couple more moments with them before bidding them a goodnight, though not before instructing them both to actually head up to bed. Harry didn't waste anymore time lingering around the house; he dragged his tired body back up the stairs and had to force himself to keep walking past Cattie's closed bedroom door to his and Hermione's room. He moved as quickly as his aching muscles would allow him, grabbed the first comfortable looking clothes he saw in his wardrobe before heading to the bathroom for a quick shower. The moment he stepped under the hot spray he felt his muscles clench tight before relaxing all at once, a long hiss escaping from between his clenched teeth. He couldn't tell if the heat on the drawn muscles of his back was a pleasure or a deep, uncomfortable pain. Either way he grit his teeth and made quick work of washing the soot and grime from his hair and skin. Stepping out of the shower he felt even more exhausted than he did before getting in and every uncoordinated tug of his clothing onto his damp skin had his body screaming for rest.
Eventually Harry was fully dressed and after carefully avoiding catching sight of himself in the mirror, he exited the bathroom as quickly as he could. He tripped his way back out of the bedroom and down the hall back to Cattie's room. The moment he touched the knob and carefully pushed the door open, the lat of his tension melted from his shoulders. He was back where he belonged. His girls were right where he left them.
Hermione was now on her side with Cattie curled against her chest, positioned so that the little girl was protected in her arms while Hermione still faced the door. The moment Harry had opened the door her head popped up from where it was resting against the still sleeping Cattie's. Harry could see her entire body was tense, coiled tight in case she needed to spring into action to protect her daughter. As much as Harry wanted nothing more than to cross the short distance from the doorway to the bed, he forced himself to stand perfectly still. He didn't move any inch until Hermione knew it was just him, until she blinked the hardness from her eyes and her body relaxed. She seemed to sag all at once and finally she smiled, soft and tired.
"Everyone alright?" Her whispered words carried easily in the quiet room. Harry nodded, already padding over to the bed.
"They're all fine. Sleeping and such…Zacharias went back to Hogwarts. Did she wake up?" He moved in an awkward sort of knee crawl across the mattress as he spoke, shuffling carefully as not to jostle the child held against Hermione's chest. He settled himself so he was facing Hermione; on his side with his back to the door and their daughter cocooned between them. He looked down at Cattie and placed a gentle hand against her peaceful face. Her face looked different from the way it had in her previous sleep, the forced slumber from that potion. She had been so still—her face blank and slack in a way Harry never wanted to see again—but right now her face was soft with warmth and sleep. He could look down at her and know that she was safe and alive.
"No she's been asleep the entire time. Barely even stirred." Hermione was saying and Harry blinked and lifted his head, he hadn't even noticed he had dropped his head to rest against Cattie's.
"She didn't wake up at all? I thought she would've at least opened her eyes for a few moments…" Oh god was something wrong with her? Cattie had only ever been given the barest amount of Dreamless Sleep potion back when she was having those nightmares. She'd never had such a large amount before and they had no idea of how that would affect her body? What if there was something they couldn't fix? What if-
"Harry!" Hermione's voice broke through Harry's steadily growing panic. Her hand was cool where it cupped his neck and her brow was drawn down in worry. Distantly he wondered if she could feel the jackrabbit beat of his heart against the pads of her fingers. Guilt twisted somewhere deep behind his navel. The last thing he should be doing was adding extra worry to Hermione's mind, not when he see how drawn her face was.
"I'm fine. I'm sorry." He said haltingly. He tried for a reassuring smile but from the way her frown deepened, it obviously fell short. He was just so tired. He was grasping at the strings holding him together with trembling fingers.
"Don't apologize, Harry. I'm worried too." She released his neck to drop her hand to the top of Cattie's head. "But we just have to keep in mind that she's exhausted. Even more so than we are. We have to give her the chance to just rest." The while she can didn't have to be spoken for Harry to hear it. Harry and Hermione shared a heavy look over the top of Cattie's head. They had no idea what things were going to be like once the little girl was awake. Nestled between them the way she was, Cattie looked calm and peaceful and protected. Once the sun was up and her eyes were open, there would be nothing the two of them could do to protect her from the reality of what happened. The feeling of helplessness that knowledge caused twisted and clawed and ached deep in the pit of Harry's stomach.
Harry pushed Cattie's hair back from her cheeks and a glint of gold around her neck caught his eye. He leaned closer and reached out to touch the chain of her necklace with the tips of his fingers and there was a cold twist of anger in his stomach. Cattie had worn that necklace everyday since it was given to her on her birthday—a day that had been joy filled and light, so different from now—and Harry rarely thought about it. She almost always kept the pendant tucked inside her shirt where is was close and out of sight. What Harry couldn't understand was how something that had been meant to protect Cattie had done little to keep her safe. But then again, he had been meant to do the same and look how that had turned out.
Harry and Hermione didn't talk much during the night; they chose instead to curl tighter into the protective circle of their little family, to speak through a hand reaching for another, twining and clutching fingers over the sleeping form of their little girl. Safe for now. Far from out of the woods but still, safe.
Harry didn't sleep through the night but he couldn't honestly say he had expected to get a good night's rest. Despite the bone deep exhaustion of his body his mind refused to allow him any actual rest. He woke up over and over again in the night, images of what happened and what could have happened crept up time and time and again. He would wake up trembling and reaching out for Hermione and Cattie without any conscious thought. Every single time they were still there; sometimes Hermione was also awake and she would just quietly squeeze his hand or brush her fingers over his arm. Sometimes it was him squeezing her hand to keep her grounded. Morning was just casting cool, barely visible light into the bedroom the last time his heavy, burning eyes slipped closed and it felt like seconds later when they were snapping open again. He could feel that it was still early morning, just the bright side of dawn because he could see everything a little clearer but only just. But it wasn't sunrise that woke him; it was the feeling of being watched very very closely.
The moment Harry opened his eyes they were locked with Cattie's. Wide open, alert, and most importantly awake. She was lying on her side facing him—Hermione's arm loose around her waist—with her small hands folded under her head and an odd expression on her face. She looked very…careful? Wary and calm but with something expectant in the set of her mouth and in the way that she watched him. Harry waited for her to speak but she stayed quiet, just blinking at him and waiting. He shuffled a little closer and moved to echo her pose, tucking his hands under his head. "Good morning Kitty-Cat." He said quietly.
She didn't respond immediately but something in her expression shifted and she seemed to let out a breath. After a moment she smiled. "Good morning Daddy." And Harry couldn't do anything but grin back helplessly. Next thing he knew Cattie was wiggling from beneath her mother's arm and scooting across the little amount of space between them to wrap her arms around his neck. It took some maneuvering but seconds later he was hugging her just as close.
"Daddy?" Cattie said from where her face was pressed into his shoulder.
Harry squeezed his daughter tighter and laughed, laughed until his chest hurt the happiness and the relief of it and Hermione's head was popping up to blink at him in sleepy confusion.
"Well then let's get you fed, eh?"
Breakfast was a happy but quiet affair. Originally Hermione had suggested that the three of them stay upstairs, call on DeeDi, and have breakfast in bed but Cattie was absolutely determined to leave her room. Harry and Hermione made sure to talk to her about the members of the D.A. that were still in the house—not wanting to overwhelm her with having to handle people when she just got home—and assuring her it was fine if she just wanted to stay in her room—but again, Cattie was determined. She wasn't behaving like Harry expected. After that moment last night when she had first opened her eyes, he had expected her to be more…emotional. He had expected her to be fragile and subdued but instead Cattie was acting very much like herself. Restless and a little clingy but she wasn't showing any of the emotional instability he'd been expecting. Hermione attempted to gently prod Cattie about what happened to her while she was gone but all they got in return was wide eyes and an assurance that the little girl didn't remember anything. Harry didn't think she was lying to them but…she definitely was not telling the entire truth. He could look at Hermione and see she was thinking the same thing. They didn't push though, none of the questions on the tip of Harry's tongue were asked and instead, they went downstairs for breakfast.
It was still pretty early so Harry wasn't surprised to see that all the D.A. wasn't up and milling around the house. When the three of them stepped into the family dining room—Cattie being carried in by Harry because he honestly didn't want to put her down—the only person there was Luna. She was sitting at the far end of the table with her scraggly blonde hair piled on top of her in what was probably the messiest bun in the universe. From what he could see she was wearing an oversized bright purple t-shirt of some sort and there were several platters piled high with everything you would need for a full English breakfast in the center of the table. The elves were obviously preparing to feed all the D.A. members still there.
Luna was taking little nibbling bites of a tomato and looking out onto the still dewy morning with far away eyes. It took her a moment to register they were there but when she did, she blinked widely before her mouth pulled into a vague smile, a touch of warmth just around the edges. "Ronald went to the loo almost twelve minutes ago." Was the first thing she said in that mild voice of hers. "I'm quite sure he fell asleep in the sink."
"Of course. Good morning to you too, Luna." Hermione sighed as she sat down next to the blonde. Harry followed, depositing Cattie in the seat next to her mother so she could sit between them. Harry looked down into her face to check and see if the little girl was feeling uncomfortable in Luna's presence but she just looked cautious, not scared or panicked but looking at Luna with careful eyes. Luna was looking right back at Cattie, the same light smile on her face. Cattie seemed to relax and she returned Luna's smile with a small one of her own. Luna put down her tomato and leaned forward, ducking her head so she was level with the child.
"Good morning, Cattie Potter. I am so so happy to see you."
Cattie flushed to the tips of her ears and Harry felt a rush of intense affection for Luna. There was not a word or action that came from the girl that wasn't completely genuine and he could feel how truly happy she was to be there with their daughter.
"So you say Ron was actually awake this early?" Harry asked after a moment. Plates appeared in front of the three Potters and Harry felt his stomach give a ravenous lurch. He hadn't noticed how hungry he was. He reached for the nearest platter of bacon to begin dishing out breakfast. He turned to ask Cattie what she wanted to eat when he noticed the her plate was the only one not to pop into existence empty; there was a short stack of chocolate chip hotcakes on the plate in front of her, complete with a smiley face made from whipped cream and strawberries. No doubt courtesy of DeeDi. He couldn't even say anything about the excessively sweet breakfast when Cattie was beaming the way she was. God he had missed seeing her smile.
"I'm still awake." A gravely voice said from the doorway. Harry turned to see Ron slumped against the doorframe, flaming hair all mussed around his head and feet bare. "This one woke me up at arse crack o'clock. Absolutely mental." His eyes were barely open while he shuffled his way into the room but then he seemed to finally catch sight of Cattie. His eyes snapped open and a grin split his face. "Cattie!"
"Uncle Ron!" Unlike with Luna there was no wariness from Cattie for Ron. She was grinning right back just as bright and happy; she had her feet under her on the chair like she didn't know whether to bounce right off of it or stay put. Ron made the decision for her and crossed the room in a couple long strides and was almost instantly by her chair, scooping the little girl into his arms. Her arms went around his neck and he held her tight, eyes squeezed shut and his face pressed into her hair. Harry wouldn't even pretend to deny the tightening in his throat at the sight. There was a time when he thought Ron would never be able to be involved in Cattie's life but now…he knew without a doubt that Ron loved that little girl almost as much as he and Hermione did. Hermione who had her fingers pressed against her lips with a suspicious shine to her eyes.
Ron pulled back from the little girl and opened his eyes; Harry could see there was moisture there too. "I missed you a lot, kid."
After that breakfast passed in a relatively quiet manner. Members of the D.A. trickled into the dining room throughout the next couple of hours of morning; all of them expressing happiness at seeing Cattie there but everyone obviously being careful of overwhelming her. Conversations were kept light and easy, no one wanting to disturb the careful sort of contentment that hung over the table. Cattie did grow quiet as more people joined them at the table but she never seemed uncomfortable or scared. Fred and George had her giggle several times with silly little tricks that involved dancing bits of food and turning an oblivious Neville's hair various colors. Ginny was by far the quietest out of everyone but she seemed as delighted as everyone else to see Cattie safe and laughing.
It was decided that after breakfast those that had to would return to Hogwarts. They all knew that by now it was unlikely that all their absences had gone unnoticed but they still had to make an appearance. Honestly if it was up to Harry he would have everyone stay here and away from Dumbledore's eyes and influence but that wasn't really a feasible option. Plus, as Ron argued, the benefit of having people on Harry's side in the castle in case something went down outweighed the risks. So Harry, Hermione, and a quiet Cattie saw the remaining members of the D.A. off in the dining room. Hermione made sure to thank and embrace every single one of their friends before they flooed back to Hogwarts. Neither one of them would ever forget what these people risked to save their daughter.
Ron was of course the last one to leave, right after Ginny and Luna. The trio stood there for a long time embracing one another, Cattie squeezed in the middle until she wiggled away and perched herself on the couch. Eventually Ron pulled back first and scratched at the back of his neck. He opened his mouth to say something but after a moment snapped it shut. He looked at them and gave a helpless sort of shrug but it was alright, they understood. After one last ruffle of Cattie's curls he grabbed a handful of floo powder and was gone is a swirl of green. Then the house was empty of everyone but the Potter family.
The silence that followed was of three people who weren't quite sure what to do. Hermione and Harry still stood in front of the hearth while Cattie sat on the large family room couch, knocking her bare heels against the cushions. Her eyes were roving over the room, never staying on anything too long like she needed to take in every detail at once. Harry watched her for a bit and marveled at how…well she looked. She did look a touch worn out yes and a little paler than he would like but she looked more like a kid getting over a bout of sniffles than someone who had gone through what she had. But then again, they didn't even know for sure what she had gone through. Cattie had been gone for almost a full week and Merlin knew what could've happened during those unaccounted for days. Other than the fact that she had obviously been essentially drugged for several days, she looked like no harm had come to her. Now Harry was more than thankful, beyond words thankful that his daughter was back whole and healthy and seemingly content but that only made him wonder more what happened.
Harry moved over to the couch and dropped down next to Cattie, purposely making the cushion under her bounce hard. She let out a squeal and almost went bouncing right of the couch but Harry was quick to shoot out a hand to steady her, tugging her back onto the couch and close to his side. He dropped an arm around her shoulders as a softly smiling Hermione came to sit on her other side, angling her body so she was facing Cattie. Harry caught her eyes over their daughter's head and there was a question there. She was asking him if he thought they should try again, if they should try asking Cattie one more time about what she remembered after she was taken away. He knew they needed to ask but at the same time he didn't want to push. He didn't want Cattie to feel pressured or scared but there was something gnawing at the back of Harry's mind and he needed to know. He worried at his lip for a moment before giving Hermione a small nod.
Hermione breathed in, steeling herself before she spoke. "Cattie?"
"Yes Mummy?" Cattie immediately responded, still with a little contented smile on her face and back to swinging her feet.
"Cattie…you know you don't ever have to hide anything from your Daddy and I, right?" At the little girl's slow nod she continued. "You don't have to be scared to tell us what happened after…after you were taken away."
The smile fell from Cattie's face so quickly Harry could almost swear it was never there. He suddenly wanted to backpedal the conversation, go back to moments before when Cattie was at ease and not tense under his arm. Her feet had stilled their movements but her fingers were twisting in the fabric of her shirt and she was frowning hard.
"I'm not hiding anything. I really don't remember that much." Cattie sounded exasperated and anxious but not like she was lying. But earlier in the morning when he had attempted to subtly prod an answer out of her, she had said she did not remember anything. This time she was saying she didn't remember that much. Harry ducked his head so he could meet her eyes.
"But you do remember a little bit, don't you?" She tensed more under his arm.
"…Only a little bit. Just little bits I-I don't know everything. I don't know anything that can help." Cattie's voice was growing frantic and shaky by the end and there was a glisten on tears in her eyes. It was Hermione who understood first and she moved closer to the little girl with a murmured 'Oh Cattie'. She cupped the child's face between her hands.
"Cattie we're not going to be upset with you for not remembering every single thing. Your father and I just want you to tell us so you don't keep everything inside. We want to make sure that you weren't hurt but if you're really not ready to tell us, we can wait until you are." She ran her hands over the girl's hair and then dropped them down to gently squeeze her leg. Cattie looked uncertainly between her parents for several long seconds. She was twisting the bottom of her shirt into a wrinkled mess. Harry and Hermione waited patiently and after a few more seconds Cattie stopped fiddling with her shirt and took a deep breath. Harry distantly took note of how she looked just like Hermione had when she'd done the same a few minutes ago.
"I-I only really remember the lady." Cattie said in a quiet voice. She wasn't looking at either one of her parents but was staring into the unlit fireplace with a faraway look in her eyes. "Sometimes when I opened my eyes she was already there sitting by me waiting. I was always on the ground and it was so hard and so cold and wet. I remember there was a puddle on the floor and…leaves on the wall? It felt like it does after it rains and it made me so so cold…but she would give me drinks or feed me porridge and then I'd be warm all over and I'd go back to sleep." She shivered and Harry pulled her close, Hermione close on her other side. "I don't-I can't remember what she looked like, everything was fuzzy and wobbly when I opened my eyes and it made my head hurt real bad but her hair was white like snow. White like Tonks's when she's not changin'."
There were only a few women Harry could think of with that particular shade of hair and the majority of them he knew without a doubt had nothing to do with Cattie's capture. There was only one woman in particular that Harry could fully imagine being involved but he couldn't let himself jump to any conclusions just yet. There was still so much information that they didn't know it would be foolish to run off half-cocked with any one idea right now. But the damp and the leaves? That felt more like a clue than anything and it left his heart with an excited thrum.
"Did she ever say anything to you?" Hermione questioned gently. Harry was letting her take the reins on this. He was afraid he would push too hard, ask Cattie too many questions too soon and she would shut down. Hermione was better at the gentle prodding thing and he trusted her to know when to pull back when he wasn't sure if he trusted himself to do the same.
Cattie's brow furrowed. She was trying hard to remember. "I don't…yes? I was falling back asleep, I didn't want to sleep anymore but it hurt to try and keep my eyes open. She said sleeping was safe? Keep me safe for-for someone I don't know. She said-she said she was sorry." Cattie's chin was beginning to wobble and moisture spilled over her lids and down her cheeks. She shook her head furiously and scrubbed at her face. "I don't wanna talk anymore that's all I remember Mommy that's it."
Hermione began making soothing, shushing noises and immediately reached over to gather Cattie into her lap. Harry followed as the little girl was pulled forward and he rubbed at her back. "You don't have to say anything else right now Cattie. Thank you so much for telling us; you're so so brave."
Cattie didn't sob or anything but she curled close to Hermione's chest, eyes closed tight and tiny sniffles escaping every other second or so. Harry could feel her shivering a little here and there and his heart ached. Hermione was right. Their little girl was braver than anyone he knew.
At first it seemed like Cattie falls back into the rhythm of everyday life with relative ease. For the first few days she's home she spends a lot of time reading; usually curled up near Harry or Hermione with Trouble on her lap, never quite letting them out of her sight. At night she avoids sleeping in her room, choosing instead to sleep with her parents in their room whether than be alone. Neither Harry or Hermione find anything odd or strange about it because its understandable she doesn't want to be alone at night and frankly, neither one of them are quite ready to let her out of their sight either. She would seem a lot like her usual self—a little more clingy yes but that was to be expected—but there was a marked distance to the little girl that sparked darts on unease in the back of Harry's mind. Not only was she quieter, less talkative, she also sometimes seemed just far-away. Sometimes he and Cattie would be sitting together and she would be leaning against side with a book in her hands; he would think she was reading but when he would glance down at her face, she would be looking straight ahead with her eyes so distant he would get this sick feeling like she was gone again. More than once over the course of those first few days he would catch her with that empty, far-away stare and his unease would grow bigger and harder to ignore. Neither Harry and Hermione wanted to push Cattie though, not when they could run the risk of her falling into another emotional breakdown. But ultimately there was no need for the avoidance because it all came to head on Cattie's fifth night home.
It was well past midnight and Harry had been out long enough for him to be deep asleep. As had become the norm in the past few days, Cattie was stretched out between him and Hermione and had been for several hours. It was the sound of Hermione's panicked voice that jerked him out of his sleep so abruptly it took his brain several moments to fully comprehend what he was hearing. He scrambled up to his knees, palm up and ready and bleary eyes darting around the dark bedroom for any signs of danger. When Hermione's words finally registered in his mind he realized the danger was not from any outside source. Immediately he was wide awake.
Harry murmured a quick 'Lumos' and light flooded the room.
"Cattie? Cattie wake up!" Hermione was saying while gripping the child's shoulder and tapping at her cheeks. "Catherine Potter you open your eyes right this instant." Contrary to the harshness of her words Hermione sounded desperate and scared. She gave Cattie a frantic little shake but Cattie's eyes remained firmly closed.
It was obvious that the child was in the throws of some nightmare. Her entire body was trembling and sweat was beading on her brow; every once in awhile she would whimper something unintelligible. Harry had thought it odd that in the past few nights, Cattie had not had a single nightmare. He was grateful for it absolutely, relieved that his daughter had been able to have several nights of peaceful rest but they had expected her to have trouble sleeping like she did after the Italy incident. This was the first time since the night she had come home that Cattie had shown any sign of distress during the night. Harry could look at her and see that this was more than a simple nightmare though. Not with the way she was trembling and definitely not with the way her eyes refused to open. Panic flooded his system and his heart jumped to his throat
Hermione was moving her hands over Cattie's shoulders, pressing her fingers to the inside of the child's wrist, and breathing quick in a way that showed how frantic she was growing. "Cattie please."
The fear in her voice is what spurred Harry into action. He reached over to grip Cattie's other shoulder but the moment his fingers brushed the bare skin of her arm Cattie's eyes flew open. She screamed, loud and horrendous and she recoiled in obvious pain. The sound had him reeling back as if burned and he jerked his arm to his chest, his eyes wide and horrified as he watched Cattie scramble away from him. What had just happened? Had he-had he hurt her? Hermione's expression looked just as shocked and disturbed as he was sure his own did but she was already gathering a now crying Cattie into her lap. She was rocking the little girl back and forth and making soothing shushing noises but her eyes stayed on Harry's face. He could read the 'What happened?' in her face but he didn't have an answer for her. He didn't know what happened but for some reason his touch had caused his daughter pain. Suddenly he could feel nothing but a bone deep fear that left him cold and shaking.
Cattie cried for a long time that night. Hermione held her and comforted her for what felt like hours but Harry never once moved any closer. He sat on his side of the bed and watched them the entire time, barely moving a single muscle. He wanted desperately to go over to them and soothe the heart-wrenching sobs that shook Cattie's body but he didn't dare. He had attempted to offer comfort to his daughter and for reasons unknown, he had caused her pain. He didn't want to hurt her. So he stayed on his side of the bed with his hand cradled to his chest and his eyes never leaving them. Hermione tried more than once to reach out to him and draw him near but he shied away. That small bit of space of bed between him and his family felt like an abyss.
Eventually Cattie stopped cried herself back to sleep and the situation was disturbingly similar to the night they had brought her back home but so so much worse.
Hermione settled Cattie back onto the pillows, right in the space she had been before and Harry inched back, not wanting to even brush her on accident. Hermione's expression was stricken.
No. He couldn't-he didn't-
Harry pushed off the bed and stood up, legs trembling slightly from sitting in one position for too long. He grabbed his pillow and held it between his hands in a white-knuckle grip.
"I'm going to sleep somewhere else tonight." He said haltingly. Hermione was shaking her head in denial before he even finished the sentence but he couldn't be here right now. He had to go.
"Let's just try to figure out what ha-"
"We'll talk in the morning." Harry managed to get out before turning on his heel and striding to the door and out of the room. Hermione didn't try to stop him.
Look who finally updated! i'm not going to give too many excuses because, well, I've done that before. Anyway! I've completed all but the last chapter-which is about halfway done-and will be updating periodically as I do some last minute edits here and there. I wanted to make sure that this fic would absolutely be completed before I updated again.
Thank you all again for your continuous reviews and well wishes and for continuing to read Delicate after ALL THESE YEARS. It actually horrifies me that I can say "all these years" and not be exaggerating jfc. Anyway I will be doing my best to answer all the wonderful reviews I've gotten over the past few months, I hope y'all are still enjoying Delicate!