CHAPTER TWENTY: Isabel once more. CHAPTER TWENTY: Isabel once more.

Isabel woke as a bright beam of sunlight crept up her bed and eventually shone in her eyes. Instinctively, she threw her arm across her closed eyes to block out the invading light.

"Ow!" was the first thing she said that morning as the movement jarred her sore ribs. Very slowly she took her good arm off her eyes and opened them. After giving them a moment to adjust she looked down at her other arm. It looked fine, normal. Cautiously, she wiggled her fingers. To her great relief they seemed to work fine. She lifted her arm and moved it, flexing the muscles. It was definitely very sore but that was all. Gingerly, she took a deep breath to test her ribs. They, too, were sore but fine. Isabel took another breath and let it out slowly.

"Thank God," she murmured, and she wasn't talking about her mended bones. She closed her eyes again and tried not to see the scenes from the night before. She had been more terrified last night than ever before in her life. After years as a ward of the crown, she noted ruefully, that was saying something. She looked at the screen of curtains around the bed of the Longbottom boy and noted that they weren't out of the woods just yet. She winced at the memory of the sound of Neville being kicked hard... hard enough to damage his liver or spleen depending on where he was kicked.

"Are you in pain, Isabel?" a concerned voice asked from the other side of her bed.

Isabel started just slightly and turned her head to see Albus Dumbledore sitting in a chair beside her.

"How long have you been there?" she asked

"A short time... since just before you awoke. I thought it best to give you a few moments to awaken fully before engaging you in conversation. I must ask again, are you in pain?"

"Why do you ask?"

"You winced just now."

"Well, I have to admit to a headache, but that isn't why I winced, Sir- ah, Albus."

"Pain comes from many sources, including memories," Dumbledore said wisely rising from his chair and crossing out of sight across the ward. Isabel pulled herself up to sit against the headboard. She was moving her pillow when he returned moments later with a small goblet.

"Drink this, it will help with your headache and, I imagine, some sore bones and muscles," Dumbledore said, handing it to her.

"Thanks." Isabel said taking the goblet. She looked at it and sniffed it as well. It looked like grape juice and, although it didn't smell like grape juice, it didn't smell bad. She was distracted by a low chuckle from Dumbledore.

"I once assured you that Poppy rarely produces potions that are foul-tasting and, I assure you, that one will not make me a liar."

Isabel took a deep breath and drank. It was not at all unpleasant. It had a fruity taste but also an undertone of something... something she couldn't really describe. Almost as soon as she set the empty goblet on the bedside table, her headache began to fade, as did the faint throbbing in her ribs.

"Thank you, not for the potion. Well, actually thank you for the potion, but thank you for coming to see me, I appreciate it." Isabel said.

Dumbledore looked faintly surprised, but merely said, "You are welcome."

"May I ask, how the students are this morning?"

Dumbledore looked grave, but managed a faint smile as he began, "Harry, Ron, and Hermione are a bit bruised and a touch shaken, I imagine, but are all right. Unfortunately, these sorts of dangerous adventures are becoming almost routine for them."

Isabel raised her eyebrow in question.

"It is a long story, better told by them I imagine," He said by way of answer.

"But what about Neville?" Isabel asked, looking at the screens again.

"Poppy is hopeful, but his condition is quite grave. He sustained some serious internal injuries that went unattended for quite some time."

"I know." Isabel said darkly.

"I expect you do."

"I'll never understand it, no matter how many times I see it," Isabel continued her voice a mixture of anger and confusion, "How can people do such things to one another? What possesses a person to harm a child?"

"That is a very good question," Dumbledore sighed, "And you are not the first to ask it. Nor, I fear, the last. What do you think the answer is?"

"I just don't know... It seems beyond my imagination. I understand good, but I do not understand evil."

"Perhaps that is because evil defies understanding. It is not logical, it follows no rules."

"No I don't suppose it does..."

"But, from what I hear, you saw some extraordinary things in the face of evil last night."

Isabel nodded silently, unable, for a moment to speak. "I wonder if that young man knows how extraordinary he is," she finally said softly, "I don't know if I could have resisted the urge to strike back at them were I in Neville's place."

"I suspect you would have found the strength not to... That was, after all, what they say you spoke of to the LeStranges."

Isabel snorted, "Right. As if the Lestrange's could understand. Still, my little lecture served its purpose."

"Was it only to distract them, Isabel?" Dumbledore asked in a tone that implied he knew an answer she didn't.

Isabel had to think for a few moments. Finally, she answered, "Well, no, I don't suppose. I guess I wanted to... well encourage the others with a show of defiance maybe?"

"You didn't believe in what you were saying?"

"Well, of course I did." Isabel said, trying to understand at what Dumbledore was getting, "The point is, the LeStranges did not believe it, they didn't understand it."

"True," Dumbledore said sadly, "And it turned out to be their undoing. My question is if you believed they might actually listen."

This question surprised Isabel. She HAD only been trying to distract the LeStranges. In the flurry of events last night she never even entertained the hope that she would be able to talk those monsters out of doing anything, let alone into listening, thinking, or feeling. Her rational mind never thought for a second that the content of her words would make a difference to the LeStranges. Still... suddenly she realized that there was a small part of her...

"I suppose a part of us always hopes that what we believe to be true will make a difference," She admitted with a faint note of surprise.

"It did. Not to the LeStranges, but it made a difference. Faith, I suppose, always does." Dumbledore said. "No matter what happens to Neville it is important that we all remember that. In a way, Neville's actions last night were a testament to his faith... his faith in essential goodness of doing the right thing. If Neville had not had faith that good would triumph in the end, there would have been no reason to refrain from cursing the LeStranges into oblivion - not just for what they did to him but what they did to his parents."

"His parents?"

"The LeStranges tortured his parents, driving them insane."

"My God," Isabel breathed, "And yet he still..."

"Quite extraordinary."

They sat in silence for a few moments after Dumbledore said this, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, however, Dumbledore rose.

"Well, I expect I'm monopolizing your time. You do have other visitors," He said, smiling at Isabel's look of surprise, "Hagrid, for one, has been camped out in the waiting area for well over an hour."

Isabel smiled at this feeling a tiny flutter in the region of her stomach. Hagrid really was a sweet man: a gruff, prickly softie. No, you're being foolish, she told herself, the only sensible thing is to be his friend, that's all.

As if he could hear her thoughts, Dumbledore said, "He likes you quite a lot, you know."

To her dismay, Isabel could feel herself blushing, "Well, I like him too."

"Indeed," Dumbledore said shrewdly as Isabel looked down at her hands feeling miserable.

"The problem is," Dumbledore continued, "you are a bit old for him."

Isabel looked up swiftly at this, "Er, ah, excuse me... too OLD?"

Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling merrily over his half-moon glasses, "Well, as a muggle you can be expected to live, what? Perhaps sixty or eighty more years?"

"I suppose," Isabel said, more confused than ever.

"Well, Hagrid has at least a hundred years ahead of him."

"What?"

"I myself am over one-hundred and fifty years of age," Dumbledore noted matter-of-factly, "the wizard life span is a bit longer than that of a muggle."

"Oh." That was all Isabel could think to say. She didn't know what she was feeling now.

"Another of life's great mysteries is why we want what we want and love who we love. The fact remains, however, that the heart wants what it wants. The rest is merely detail which, by the way, can be worked out." With that the venerable (very old, Isabel reminded herself) man turned and swept out of the ward.

Isabel's mouth must still have been fixed in an "oh" for, the next thing she knew an unfamiliar voice was asking, "Are you alright?"

Isabel looked up to see, not Hagrid, but a younger man with a great deal of gray in his brown hair and a rather concerned look on his face. He was one of the people who had been there last night, she remembered but she couldn't remember his name.

"Ah, yes, I'm just fine, thank you. Mr, ah, Mr.?"

"Lupin, Remus Lupin. Please just call me Remus. You are Isabel Clay, yes?"

"Yes, just Isabel, though."

He smiled warmly, showing lines a bit too deep for his young face, "I just stopped in to check on Neville. Madam Pomfrey has no news for us there, I'm afraid. But I also wanted to thank you."

"Pardon?"

"Neville, Ron, Harry, and Hermione are all former students of mine and Harry's parents were my best friends before they died. I wanted to thank you for what you did for them last night."

"Oh. Well, I couldn't really do much except get a few broken bones. It was their quick thinking which really saved the situation. You should be proud of them."

"I am. I'm also grateful to you. Thank you," with that he rose, took her hand, and shook it, "Well, I've cut in the queue, I'm afraid. You're got a friend who is anxious to see you... very anxious." Remus grinned just then, and turned to walk away.

Isabel watched him go, her head still spinning with what Dumbledore had said. One hundred or so more years?

"What did I say last night about love winning in the end?" she said aloud, just as Hagrid appeared in the doorway.