Prompt: The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men — from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms. – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Author's notes: Written for HP Darkfest 2009 on Livejournal. The title is a quotation from Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, which is such a beautiful study of human disaster. Thank you to Diabolica who did lots of hand-holding when I wasn't sure what to do so that I would dare to write this story. She and Ayes were awesome beta-readers; their encouragement and feedback helped me all the way.
Warnings: parents not acting like parents, change of tenses, incest, abuse in caretaking, a minor in a sexual situation, character deaths
Dashed Hopes, and Good Intentions
Albus loved to watch his mother fly. So it was he who saw her fall from the sky in the winter holidays of his first year at Hogwarts. At Quidditch practice a rogue Bludger hit her on the head, and Ginny Potter, nee Weasley, fell a good hundred metres until she crashed into a tree. It could have happened to anyone, people said. But it wasn't anyone who was carried away with Mobilicorpus, unconscious, and taken to St Mungo's by emergency Apparition. And it wasn't just anyone who lay silent as the sheets in hospital, who wouldn't wake up for days and weeks. It was his mum.
First, there is noise. There is noise, and it is loud, and Ginny wants to lift her hands to her ears, to cover them, or to wave and make the noise go away. But when she tries, she finds she cannot move her hands, not an inch. There's noise and there's pain, so much pain, it burns her body, and she cannot feel her hands, cannot command them to move, to wave, to scream for help. She tries screaming, and no sound comes from her throat – it is the moment when she truly starts to panic, realising that she is unable to make any noise. She feels spittle running down her throat and tries to swallow, only to find that she cannot do that either. Something has crashed from the sky, swallowing her like a mouth of teeth and claws, blackening her vision, and she knows that it's happening all over again.
When she comes to, her ears are ringing with voices. Still so much noise. She tries to remember. Something ... black and ... huge. Darkening the sky and filling her vision. Crashing into her so hard that it hurt. She hurts. It shouldn't have hurt ... so much. More pain, coming in waves. Don't ... want ... don't want ... don't want the pain. She tries to lift her hands, but she can't chase it away. Neither can she call out for help.
The next time, there is silence. No noise, nothing. She is lying on her back, propped up a little by a cushion, just enough not to look at the ceiling whenever her eyes flick open. They keep doing this at an irregular pattern, and she can't keep them open of her own volition. There's a dark silhouette in the corner of her eye, sitting in silence. Not crashing against her. This is ... something. She tries to move her hands, but still they won't cooperate. She tries to cough a hello. Her throat tastes like blood and phlegm. She cannot make a single sound. Before she knows how to panic, her mind sinks back into the pillows.
Every time she wakes up, she tries, and every time she fails. Nothing works. They don't realise that she can hear them, that she can feel their hands on her body now that the pain is receding. They don't realise that she's alive in this carcass lying on this bed, in this body that refuses to react to her pleas. She tries to tell her fingers to move, she screams at them inside her mind, but they won't obey. She can't speak; there's a tube going through her mouth and throat into her stomach and another to make sure that no spittle will run into her lungs. She is torn open to feed and be Scourgified, her needs exposed to the Healers and her mother, who remains at her side, a guardian angle with a bundle of knitting.
Weeks turned into months, until Albus's family and the hope of everyone involved had been dashed to pieces. All that was left for the Healers to do was to give Ginny Potter's unresponsive body back to her family, so that they could take care of her. It was all written in the release papers Dad signed after a good many talks with Grandma. Not that he had much to say about it anyway. Molly Weasley wanted her daughter, or whatever was left of her. And when Grandma wanted something, she usually got her way. Grandpa, bald and thin, shrugged and helped her move to Godric's Hollow.
It was at the beginning of the summer holidays. Lily was shipped away to Bill and Fleur's so that she wouldn't get in the way. After all, she was only nine, and witnessing her mother's decay on a daily basis was considered too much when Grandma took over.
Constant, burning pain. It's different from the pain of the accident. It's the slow burn of skin pressed too long against the mattress – long enough for the lightest of bones to pierce it. It's the wet sucking of wounds like rug burns, biting deep and deeper into her flesh. Ginny would prefer the sharp sting of a broken bone, something that could be healed with the swish and flick of a wand. Instead, all the cushioning charms in the world cannot protect her from open sores and the pain of limbs that are in agony from underuse.
She wishes for darkness, but darkness doesn't come.
The one who comes, who never leaves her side, is Molly. Her mother is always there, always taking care of her needs. She cleans away the sweat and the blood and the piss and the shit, changing the sheets whenever the charms that should keep Ginny's metabolism stable fail. Permanent magic is a difficult field, and Ginny understands that sometimes a charm can waver. Though she cannot blame her mother for messing up every now and then, for the times when Ginny is left in a puddle that's warm first, but quickly cools down and clings to her skin.
Ginny doesn't know much, and it's hard to focus when all she wants is to escape from the pain. But she knows this: her mother is there, and her presence makes her feel safe.
Aside from Mum and Grandma, there was Dad and James along with Albus himself at Godric's Hollow. Albus thought his father was all right, but he had always felt closer to his mother, and Dad wasn't around much these days anyway. He stayed in his room for hours, only leaving it to order another bottle of Firewhisky from the owl delivery of the Three Broomsticks. Albus would hear him shouting into the fireplace, and about half an hour later one of the brown owls from the pub would knock against the window in the attic room where Dad had taken to sleeping on a camp bed.
James, who had always been more their father's boy, watched for two weeks, taut as a bowstring. When finally Grandma demanded that he help her and Albus in the kitchen instead of polishing his broom, James exploded.
"I'm not doing any household chores. They're stupid and pointless, and not even Mum liked doing them. Stop pretending you're her! You don't get to tell me what to do!"
Grandma's temper hadn't died down since she'd finished Bellatrix Lestrange off with her wand so many years ago – a story all the children knew by heart. She shouted back at James, who had the famous Weasley temper just as much as Grandma and didn't back down a single inch. Grandma sent James to bed early.
Molly carded the hairbrush through Ginny's mane of red hair. She had been doing this for months now: taking care of Ginny. In the beginning, the Healers had said that, maybe, under good care, Ginny would respond. That they could bring her back. They had stopped saying it months ago, and yet Molly had not given up. Even now, with Ginny at home and the Healers practically having declared defeat, Molly refused to stop hoping. She had to bring back Ginny. Somehow.
Molly's little girl needed her. She lay so silent, but Molly knew. A good mother always knew about her child's needs. Even before the accident she had seen Ginny's silence and absences for what they were: a way to escape Harry's lack of care and attention to her needs. Molly had seen them grow apart and now Harry was hiding in his room, coming out only at mealtimes, continuing the silence that had started years before. Why, after all, would they have stopped having children if not for the loss of mutual care? He had driven Ginny out of the house, back to that awful profession. Who had heard of a woman choosing to be a Chaser when she could be a mother and wife? It was unnatural, and Molly sobbed at the thought that her little girl had been forced to take the second best choice.
The night James lost it completely, the family were sitting at the dinner table, and Grandma had just told James off again for not doing his chores.
"I don't see why you shouldn't take over a bit of responsibility. It'll do you good, instead of messing around all the time."
James only huffed, clearly intent on keeping the upper hand as well as his dignity. But Grandma wasn't willing to let him off the hook that easily.
"You could at least keep a job over the holidays, like your uncles did when they were young. But all you do is wander around the house, doing nothing, getting on everybody's nerves."
"Either I get on everybody's nerves, or I do nothing. It's impossible to do both at the same time, Gran."
Grandma put down her spoon. "Now, don't you get stroppy with me, young man. You hear me?" When she didn't get a reaction from James, she continued, "A man who doesn't work is nothing."
Albus followed James's gaze, which flew towards their father. Dad was silently shovelling his stew, and had spilled some over onto the tablecloth. Albus had no idea whether he had registered Grandma's words, but he knew what James was thinking for sure.
"Don't say that." James's voice was low, his hand clenched around his spoon, and Albus prayed that his grandmother would recognise the danger signs.
For a moment it seemed like his wish would be granted, but then James continued. "You treat all men like they're a bunch of idiots, don't you?"
"Excuse me?" Grandma's voice cut across the table.
"Listen to yourself. What you just said about Dad! Or how you nag at Granddad. The only one you like is Albus, because he does everything you say!"
Grandma's face flared red with anger. "I'll not have you talking like that to me, James Sirius Potter. Go to your room, right this instant."
James jumped up. "I won't."
Grandma was about to open her mouth to reprimand James again, but she didn't get far. A spoon hit the table with a loud thud. Dad was looking at her, bleary-eyed from across the table.
"Molly," he said, "leave him alone."
"I will not." Grandma put down her spoon. "Leaving him alone is all we ever do, and you can see for yourself what good it does him."
"Hello? I'm here," said James. "Stop talking about me like I'm not."
Dad ignored him, and continued addressing Grandma. "Let him be." It was seldom these days for Dad to wake up enough from his stupor to argue, but this was for James. "He's grieving, Molly."
Albus cringed. Dad shouldn't talk about grief, not in front of James anyway.
"I'm not grieving," shouted James. Behind him, his chair crashed to the floor. "And this stew tastes like shit anyway!" Before anyone could utter another word, he was out of the room. Albus heard him thundering up the stairs to his room.
In the night, Albus woke up and heard the staircase squeaking slightly. He didn't think much about it and went back to sleep. In the morning, James was gone. He'd left a note under Albus's door, telling him that he had taken his broom to visit his best friend, Jeremiah Longbottom, and swearing him to secrecy. Albus, ever the loyal Hufflepuff, hid the piece of parchment between his school books and claimed ignorance.
Before a tired-looking and grey-faced Dad could Floo-call all their friends and neighbours, they received an owl from Professor Longbottom explaining that James had arrived earlier in the day, exhausted after flying for twelve hours straight and getting lost several times, but whole and unharmed and with the outright refusal to come back under Grandma's wing. The Professor and his wife had fed James and, together, he and Dad decided that it might be best for James to stay with Jeremiah under the friendly and watchful eyes of the Longbottoms, who would give James a longer leash than his grandmother.
Albus watched his father's shoulders sag in relief, and decided that he wouldn't bother him if he could help it.
Molly looked at her daughter, whose flaming hair spread like a fan on the pillows. Ginny's head was turned a little to the side and spittle had run from her mouth into her hair, leaving a crusty trail on her cheek. Molly sat down with a heavy heart, wrung the wash cloth from the water basin, and started to wipe down Ginny's face.
You could say this of her: she never left it at a Scourgify. She always warmed up water and treated Ginny to a sponge bath after she'd Vanished the worst mess. Most patients got their hair shorn in hospital, and their relatives continued in the same manner because it was so much easier. Not Molly. She had insisted that they keep Ginny's wild mane of fiery locks untouched, combing it herself every day in the morning and before she tucked Ginny in for the night. She claimed that Ginny would hate to wake up to a bald head. After all, if anyone knew about Ginny's preferences, it had to be Molly.
She had just removed the last traces of spittle and was about to dip the wash cloth back into the basin when Ginny opened her eyes. Hope flared up in Molly, despite the warnings of the Healers that patients in this state might exhibit different kinds of reactions. Ginny's eyes were unfocussed, staring holes into the ceiling. It pained Molly to look at her, so she took up the wash cloth, and gently moved it over Ginny's face, careful not to drip water into her eyes. She continued on the neck and chest. It was almost as if she was back to washing her baby girl, were it not for the pair of breasts, soft like her own from three suckling infants.
Molly could never comprehend why Ginny stopped after three and how she had even planned to go back to playing professional Quidditch after Lily was old enough to go to Hogwarts. The game had almost killed her, even with something as low-key as a practice flight with her old team, a way for Ginny to get back into shape. Well ... that dream was over now.
"Look what good it's done you," Molly told the silent form of her daughter. She didn't care that it sounded like a reproach, because there was no one listening but Ginny. And Ginny, for once, couldn't talk back.
"You said you needed more space. Didn't you see how Harry had started drifting, even before you played with the idea of taking up Chasing again at your age? I know you were happy as a Quidditch reporter. Why did you think that you had to get back on a broom?" Molly rubbed the wash cloth down the pale arms.
"Look at you now! Look at your children. They miss you. James hates it if anyone dares so much as look in his direction ... he's run away, do you know that? I'm glad that he went to the Longbottoms'. The Prophet would have had a feast if they'd found out. Albus has stopped talking; the poor boy's so pale. I'm only glad that little Lily's out of the house, I don't want to imagine what this would do to her. And Harry ... I always thought he was such a hero, Ginny. But he ... he isn't. He can't stand it here, and instead of pulling himself together and looking after his children, he's just sitting around. He's given up ho—"
A floorboard squeaked, and Molly swirled around. Harry stood in the door, his face haggard and drawn.
"She can't hear you, Molly," he said. "She can't hear your nagging, so there's no need to fill this house with more of it."
Molly could see the blotches on his face, where the salt of his tears had roughened the skin. There were stains on his shirt from last week's tomato sauce. Molly felt a pang of compassion – and also a little contempt. Didn't he care if Albus saw him in such a state? She stood and took a few steps in his direction. Closer, she could smell his stale breath.
Harry hovered on the threshold of the bedroom he had shared with Ginny, not coming closer but not leaving either. "I can't stand it."
Was he talking about what she'd just said to Ginny? About her presence in the house?
"I can't stand looking at her." His voice sounded hollow, like it was coming from a grave. "She was always so full of life. And now ... when I look at her ..." His eyes filled with tears, again. "She wanted ... she needed ... I only wanted her to be happy. I wanted her ... to feel young again. And now ... she's—"
"Don't," Molly interrupted, "don't say it."
Harry stared at her, startled out of his self-pity. "I'm never going to make it up to her."
He wouldn't, couldn't. And she wasn't going to help him, either.
"You should get some rest," she said, deciding to ignore his self-blame, and ushered him out of the room. "Don't worry, dear. I'll take care of her."
"I miss her." He groaned and gripped the door frame until his knuckles turned white. "I miss her so much."
"I know," Molly said and plucked his fingers from the frame, one after the other. Then she led him down the hall and back up to the attic.
With Harry securely back in bed, she returned to Ginny's room.
"He loves you. He still does." It almost hurt her to say it aloud. "But not as much as I do."
To be fair, Molly knew that she was giving Harry no chance. If he hid his grief, she would call him heartless. The way it was now, she called him selfish. And unlike back when he had been a scrawny orphan, she no longer pitied him. All she could see in him now was the husband who hadn't been man enough to keep his wife at home, the lover who hadn't been strong enough to cope with the unbearable.
Dad and Grandma would never know that Albus had witnessed their encounter. He had been on his way to visit Mum when he heard them talking. Albus knew that eavesdropping wasn't polite, but he needed to know the meaning of all the reproachful looks Grandma sent across the dinner table.
Now he knew.
Grandma hated his dad. She didn't say it in words, but what she didn't say spoke volumes. She wouldn't even let Dad into Mum's room.
Maybe she didn't want him near Mum because he was drunk all the time?
Albus tried to remember how it had been before. His life seemed to be split into two halves, before the accident and after. Before meant his parents laughing and quarrelling and laughing again. After meant his father sleeping in the attic and his mother lying in their old bedroom. Before meant his father's reassuring hand on Albus's shoulder when they had said goodbye on Platform 9¾. After meant his father's hands shaking for hours from the need for more Firewhisky, or him slumping down in his chair when he finally had had too much. Before meant Dad getting up early to make breakfast for the whole family. After meant Dad not getting out of bed at all.
Dad was sad. And for some reason, Grandma hated his sadness, even though she was sad herself. Dad's sadness made him drink, James's sadness made him shout, and Grandma's sadness made her sit with Mum, angry at Dad all the time. Albus found it all a bit hard to make sense of.
It was best to watch them then and pay attention, while they kept circling each other like an angry cat and a tired old dog. The cat kept hissing insults and cutting remarks, the dog kept ducking the blows, slurping his booze. Dad seemed so fogged up with pain that he couldn't work up any anger. Or maybe he simply saw no need to fight now that James was at the Longbottoms'. With Albus, his dad kept a careful distance, as if afraid that he might reveal too much of his secrets. The only time they saw each other was over dinner, which Grandma insisted should be 'a time for family'.
So when Albus stumbled across his father sitting in the darkened living room one night, he didn't know how to act casual. Hi, Dad seemed a little too weird. Nevertheless, it was all he could think of to say.
Harry looked up, his eyes the usual blotchy red. He looked as if he was wondering who Albus was. His hand held the usual glass.
Oh. So he still knew that bit.
Albus stepped closer. Their knees almost touched.
"What do you do all day long?" Dad asked.
"I help Grandma, mostly." Albus's voice was too soft, even to his own ears, but Dad probably wouldn't notice a thing.
"You're holding up pretty well, Al. I'd always thought that you would--" Dad didn't finish and instead ruffled Albus's hair with his free hand, a trembling gesture of affection. "I'm ... you're a good boy."
Albus made an extra effort to smile back at him.
Dad didn't return the smile; his hand dropped to his side as if the effort of touching Albus had cost all him the energy he could muster for today.
When he spoke again, Albus almost couldn't understand his words.
"I miss your mum. You know that, don't you?"
Albus nodded, even though he knew that it wasn't really meant as a question.
"I know that you've heard us fighting, but that didn't mean anything. You know that, don't you?"
Was Dad talking about his fight with Grandma? Albus nodded again, confused.
"We fought, but that's what couples do. They fight, because they love each other. And then they make up again. And now I'll never hear her voice again. I miss her so much. I miss her laughter and her smile and her sharp wit. She always smelled of flowers. And her skin was so soft ..."
Albus swallowed. His skin was prickling and his ears were burning. He felt like running away but instead he stayed rooted to the spot because his dad was finally talking to him. He couldn't run from that, even though the words weren't meant for him.
Dad let out a sob, slid down from the armchair to the floor and landed on his knees in front of Albus. He covered his face with his hands, almost like he was praying. The glass had tumbled down, its content spilled over the living room rug, immediately eating away at the fabric. Albus started shuffling backwards.
"I can't stand it any longer. You have to ... please ..."
Albus's shoulders hit the wall and stopped his backing away. He shook his head. Whatever was happening here, he didn't want it. He would have shared his father's misery. He didn't want to hear about his mother's soft skin.
"Please ... tell me I didn't do it ..."
"You--" Albus's throat burned and he had to cough to muster his voice. "You ... you didn't." He didn't know what they were talking about. All he knew was that he had to say the magic words to get out of here. He repeated them. "You didn't do it."
Harry sagged a little more. "You're a good boy."
The praise tasted stale. "I ... I have to go to my room." Albus turned and fled.
Back in his room he briefly considered his options. No one could know how bad it was with Dad. Grandma had told Albus not to tell anyone and Albus, who had seen enough of The Prophet's attention during his short life span, had complied. Besides, it wasn't like he could mention something like this to his friends. Hey, how's Quidditch practise? Oh, and by the way, my Dad drinks too much. No one would want that, and so Albus decided to stay silent and keep watch.
Molly was dreaming. She dreamt of Ginny as a little girl, from the time before she started being so full of critical questions. She dreamt of Mummy, where do babies come from? instead of Stop interfering! I want to make my own decisions. Ginny's hand lay small and trusting in hers as Molly showed her all the plants and animals. And no one ever talked about Quidditch, or Bludgers, and when Molly woke up, she was warm and happy, until she realised that it had been nothing but a dream.
Then she thought of what the Healer had said at his last visit. That it had been too long, and that all the washing and grooming and talking and touching weren't enough stimulation to bring Ginny back. But what if she hadn't tried hard enough? What if Ginny needed something else, something she'd missed before?
She took a deep breath and wiped away the tears leaking from the corners of her eyes, because this was not the time to cry – she hadn't given up, not like Harry. And then she got up, even if it was only four in the morning, because Ginny, her little girl, needed her.
Waves. Waves touching her body. Waves like strokes, warm ... and soft. Along the arms and legs she cannot move. Touching her through the humming of pain. Warming her up. Tender strokes. Good. Calling her. Calling her back into her body.
It feels good. Warmth – coming in waves. Warmth – coming and going, on and off. Like ... huge ... the huge ... water? Only less wet ... warm, but dry ... radiating into her skin like sunbeams ... coming on and off ... it's ... it's ... she knows this ... even though it's been so long ... it's touch! Someone is touching her, stroking her arms, her sides, her legs, her face with warm waves of touch. It feels wonderful.
The hands are different from the ones she's used to. Strong, but softer, they lack a familiar roughness Ginny didn't know she's been expecting until she realises it's missing. But the hands feel nice, and they are all over her, sending waves of warmth through her body.
A voice sings to her. It's a song she's known for ages, a children's song. A mother's song for her little girl. She's the little girl – Molly's little girl. Molly's little girl, who grew up to have children of her own.
And now the hands change their course, floating deeper on her body, over her body, into her body, caressing her, fondling, exploring, touching and teasing, and the waves change. They build up, high and higher, like waves from the sea crashing against the shore, they crash and rub against her body. The waves feel good though, nothing like the crash from a Bludger, nothing like the rub of skin against a mattress, and they keep coming and coming, until she wants to arch against them in deep animal lust. But she cannot move, she cannot even weep for more, please, more and all she can do is to endure the sweet torture that blows away her mind, while she's growing more and more conscious of inhabiting her body. She can feel her toes for the first time in months.
Afterwards, the hands take their stroking away, the feeling changes back to the wetness that means she's being taken care of. It's a wash cloth, Ginny realises, and with that, she drifts back to sleep.
"Ginny was more awake today."
Grandma's remark hung in the air over the dinner table, and Albus froze. He could see his father continuing to pick at his food, as if he hadn't heard a thing.
"I said, Ginny was more awake today," Grandma repeated, voice rising.
Albus held his breath.
Dad looked up from his plate. "So?"
"Doesn't anyone care?"
I do, Albus wanted to say. But he knew that his role in this was to watch and listen. No one wanted to hear what he might have to say.
"What did she do? Open her eyes and stare at the ceiling?" Dad's voice punched every word, a harsh change from his usual slur. "Stop talking about it. You make us all jump every time, and nothing ever really happens. Did she twitch? Anything else?"
Grandma placed both hands on the table. "You don't care that she might wake up one day?"
The pain on Dad's face was evident.
"Of course I do. I wish she would. But she won't. Don't you see it? Don't you see that ... getting our hopes up ... it's killing us?"
Albus expected Grandma to shout back but instead she slumped down in her chair. "Oh," she said, "oh, Harry." And after a pause, filled with nothing but his father wildly staring across the table, Grandma continued. "Hope never kills. Despair does. But then I guess you never learned about hope. After all, your greatest deed has been dying."
This was a low blow, even for her, and yet at first she didn't even get a flinch out of Dad. He simply shrugged, picked up his spoon, and dipped it into his stew. Then after just one mouthful, he banged the spoon back onto the table.
"I'm done." He stood and left, and Albus could hear him clatter around in the kitchen, heard the characteristic sounds of Firewhisky being poured.
Finally Albus dared to look at his grandmother.
She dabbed at her eyes and he realised that in all the time she'd been here, he had never seen her crying. It was strange – she had never been one to hold back her feelings. She looked up and her gaze caught his.
"I'm sorry, love. You shouldn't hear us fighting like this."
Albus wanted to tell her that it was all right, that he knew even though she tried to hide it, that he didn't mind, but she continued talking, as if she didn't need him to say anything.
"You know I have to try, don't you? I can't give up. I know she's somewhere in there. I've tried something different, and I think that she's reacting. I saw her curl her toes this morning. She's never done that before."
Albus nodded, his throat too constricted to speak. What if Grandma was right? What if Mum was still inside that silent body occupying his parents' old bedroom?
"Your Dad, he doesn't want to see. He doesn't want to hope. I'm afraid one day he'll chase me out of this house and I won't be able to try any longer. But I can't do that. I'm her mum. I can't stop trying. You understand that, don't you?"
She was looking at him now, pleading with him, so he nodded again, swallowed what he wanted to say, that she shouldn't hurt Dad, that he was hurting enough already, that she was wrong to punish him for something that wasn't his fault.
Albus didn't say any of that. When he opened his mouth to speak all that came out was, "Yeah. 'Course."
And it was only later, when he was alone in his room, that he added, "We all miss her in our own way."
Albus dreamt of spiders. They visited him in his sleep. One dangled in the canopy above his bed. Another spun its web over the mirror in the bathroom. Their legs touched his face in the darkness. Albus was not afraid of spiders, not like Uncle Ron. But the spiders in his dreams, they wore the faces of his family members. The one that kept covering the mirror had James's red hair and freckles, and Albus knew that he couldn't destroy its web, or else the spider would fall into the wash basin and drown. The one dangling from the ceiling had the face of his grandmother, always watching him with concern. When he touched his cup of cocoa, a spider dropped into it, and the fighting limbs and silent screams belonged to his mother. He always tried to save it. And every time he finally managed to catch the wet little body, the spider curled up on his hand and died. Then there was one spider he never saw. It was crouched in the darkest corner under his bed; he could hear it scrabbling against the floorboards, and Albus knew that it had the same unruly black hair that he shared with his dad.
And whenever Albus woke up, drenched in sweat and gasping for air, he knew, though he didn't know how, that in his dreams he had his lips pressed closely together to prevent himself from screaming and to stop the spiders from crawling inside his mouth.
The door was half closed, but it opened further when Albus touched it with the tip of his sock-clad foot.
His mother lay on her bed, undressed. There was a wash basin on the table beside the bed and at first he thought Grandma was busy with the usual cleaning and grooming. But then he realised that she wasn't holding a wash cloth and that her touch was different from applying cream or lotion. It was more like what you did when you petted a beloved cat or dog, only with less scratching. Grandma was moving her hands up and down, touching his mother's bare body everywhere, applying the most affectionate massage.
She touched his mother's chest with her bare hands, circling the breasts in a way that didn't seem necessary for massaging. She let her hand slip between his mother's legs, rubbing in a steady rhythm. Mum's face was slack as it had always been since the accident, showing no reaction. Looking at the two made Albus feel queasy. He didn't know exactly why, but he was certain that his mother wouldn't like what was being done to her, knew that she would fight it tooth and nail if only she were conscious, if only she were in charge.
Albus hated to stand witness, but he didn't know what to do. He wanted to run, or to shout for help, but he stayed frozen on the spot. He couldn't run, and he couldn't tell anybody because there was no one to listen. He couldn't tell James because James was at the Longbottoms'. He couldn't tell Dad because Dad was grieving. He couldn't tell his grandfather because Grandpa would only look at him, not understanding a word he was saying. And he certainly couldn't tell a stranger because he wouldn't betray his family. He had to keep their secrets, no matter how strange they were. Being a family meant keeping each other's secrets. He wanted to tear Grandma away from his mother's silent form, yet all he could do was to ball his hands into helpless, useless fists. Fists unable to grab and pull Grandma away, unable to throw a punch.
Albus shifted, a floorboard creaked and Grandma turned around. She spotted him in an instant.
"Albus," she said. "You know it's impolite to sneak up on people and watch them behind their backs."
It was like she had hit him with a Stunner. She should feel sorry and embarrassed, but instead she was scolding him.
The command left no wiggle room, and so he walked over the threshold into his mother's room. It had been redesigned to take care of her special needs and felt much more like a room at St Mungo's than like a room at his home. Seeing her on the bed without her clothes on made him feel awkward and clumsy, like wearing shoes two sizes too big for him.
"Look at her," Grandma said, and scooted aside to give Albus the full view of his mother. Her voice had a tender ring, like the day when Albus had fallen off his broom and she had bandaged his head. And she looked almost ... happy.
"What ... what is ... what are you doing with Mum? This isn't ... I mean ... what ...?"
"Remember how I talked about trying something new? I'm trying to make her feel better. To wake her up."
Albus was torn. He desperately wanted his mother to wake up. And yet, this felt wrong.
"If she feels something extremely strong, she might feel enough to wake up," Grandma said. "And I," she paused, "I couldn't hit her." Her voice was very low, as if she was embarrassed to admit it.
Albus didn't believe his ears. "Why would you want to hit her?"
"To make her feel. To bring her back."
Albus felt like he should say something even though he had no idea what to say. "I see." He didn't, not really. But stroking was definitely better than hitting.
Grandma hesitated a moment. "You won't tell your father?"
She reminded him of Lily when she pleaded with Dad and Grandma not to send her away: desperate at losing what was most precious to her. The glimpse of the power he could have over an adult was tempting, if just for a moment. But then it was gone. He wanted Mum back, and his father wasn't going to help with that.
"No," he said, "I won't."
Molly hesitated for a moment. "Want to stay and help me?"
Albus nodded and stepped up to his mother's bedside.
"See? She likes it."
Molly felt Albus's eyes on her hands. Slowly and calm, she took his small hand and placed it on the red thatch of pubic hair.
"Rest your hand here. Just rub her slow and very lightly. Later, you can speed it up."
"How will I know if I'm doing it right?" Albus looked at her, and she saw the uncertainty in his squinting eyes.
"She'll get a little wet down there."
He flinched and removed his hand. "You want me to make her wet herself?"
For a moment, Molly could see how young he still was.
"No, darling." She smiled. "Not like that. It's different." She almost guided his hand back to Ginny's body but then decided against it. "It happens inside her body, when you dip your hand a little deeper. You'll see. It helps her relax."
His hand crept back to where she'd placed it only moments ago. "All right." He nodded, ever the determined little Hufflepuff, and started moving his hand.
Molly stared at it, transfixed by the motion.
His question startled her out of her reverie. "Yes, like that. Now keep going and don't stop until I say so."
Ginny dreams. Of werewolves and Death Eaters and things that go bump in the night. She dreams that she's standing in the dark hall of her home and that Fenrir Greyback is right behind that kitchen door, the one she's left open. It's like in those horror flicks she enjoyed watching with Harry before the children were born. They both thought them so funny because all those monsters never seemed real. Ginny's nightmares though, are real. She can never lift so much as a finger in those dreams. She only hears Greyback's growl and then her mother bursts into the room, screaming Not my children, you monster! and kills Ginny. Every time the curse hits her, it feels like being ripped open, much more painful than the Avada Kedavra of the real world. Ginny jerks, her eyes fly open, and she finds herself back in her bed, on her back, her heart racing like she's duelled against a hoard of attackers, her cheeks wet and her eyes stinging from the tears she cannot even blink away.
When she has regained consciousness, she practices the spell. She has to be able to perform it wandlessly, with the sheer power of her mind. She repeats the words over and over again in her head, uncertain if her lack of knowledge of the right wand movements will botch the effect. But she has to try, and she can't waste her time with Wingardium Leviosa. Not when Albus is concerned. She has to protect him.
Albus was helping. It was weird, touching his mother like Grandma had shown him. Of course he knows that girls are built differently from boys, and that down there is where a man puts his willie when two people make love. James used a somewhat different expression and claimed to know everything about it, calling Albus a mama's boy and a baby. And now Albus was touching his mother down there. But Grandma said it was okay, that they were helping Mum to wake up, and he couldn't give up that tiny glimpse of hope. Not yet.
It would be easier if he could talk to Dad, but that wasn't an option. Dad might simply send Grandma away. And then what? In another few weeks Albus was going back to school and no one knew what Dad and Grandma would work out between themselves. But until that day, Albus would keep trying.
And if they succeeded, James and Dad would be forever grateful.
Ginny is back. And her anger knows no bounds.
She has come to hate the hands that take care of her every need. They touch her in places she doesn't want to be touched. They play her in ways she doesn't want to be played.
She hates the betrayal of her body, this lump of useless flesh that can feel and hear but that won't move at her will. And yet, every orgasm she uses to fuel her fury; hate is going to be her ticket back to the world, and once she is back, her mother is going to pay.
But then, what Molly has done has been the way to bring her back. Ginny knows. And she knows that her mother will do anything to have her back, even the most unthinkable.
She might be able to forgive Molly for touching her. She might even forgive her mother for keeping Harry away.
But Ginny will never forgive her for involving Albus.
The betrayal is so enormous that only two words remain to truly voice it.
And all Ginny can do is to make sure that, when the time comes, she will be able to say the magic words.
First, there is light. There is light, and it's green, and he wants to lift his hands to his eyes, to cover them, or to wave and to make the light go away. But when he tries, he finds that he cannot move his hands, not an inch. There's light and there's pain, so much pain, it burns his body, and he cannot feel his hands, cannot command them to move, to wave, to scream for help. He tries screaming, and it is in this moment when he truly starts to panic, realising that he is unable to make any noise. He feels spittle running down his throat and tries to swallow, only to find that he cannot do that either. Something has erupted from his mother's body, hitting him in the chest just like the Bludger that almost killed her, throwing him into a solid block of pain, blackening his vision.
And he knows that it's happening all over again.
Albus loved his mother. He loved her enough to wish her back to life. And he got his wish. About a week before it would have been time for Albus to start his second year at Hogwarts, he witnessed his mother perform wandless magic. A rogue Killing Curse burst from Ginny Potter's otherwise unresponsive body. It killed Albus's grandmother, Molly Weasley, who had taken care of her daughter since her Quidditch accident, but also backfired on Ginny, ending her life. Another tragedy at the Potter household, people said, and only a year after the first. Who knew that a catatonic witch could still perform random curses? But at least the boy survived, along with Harry Potter, the hero of the wizarding world, who had been in the living room by the fireplace when the accident occurred. His son had been blasted into the nearest wall by the stray magic that radiated from his mother's body. He was found unconscious and was taken away by emergency Apparition. Currently he lay at St Mungo's ward for spell damages and wouldn't wake up.
Albus can hear people calling his name. He soon finds out that there is no use in trying to answer: he cannot move a muscle. His face points towards the ceiling and he tries to imagine the look and feel of his toes, demanding that they wriggle, but he doesn't get a reaction. His eyes are open, and they hurt because he cannot close them on his own. When the Healers look into his face, he tries to blink, to give them a sign, any sign that he is alive in here. Nothing ever works.
A pale face appears in his vision, framed by black, unruly hair. Albus hears the scratching of the chair when his father pulls it near the bedside. Dad takes one of Albus's hands, and Albus can feel his tremor through the fog of his own pain.
He fears that he will keep Grandma's secret as long as he lives. He has taken his mother's place. But then he is also his mother's son, and since she found a way out, maybe he will too.