sound of snow falling
beta'd by MerryAmelie
Obi-Wan gets an education in the Living Force (whether he wants it or not),
Qui-Gon further embraces his not-so-inner maverick, and
Voldemort engages in a little biological warfare.
-you by my side-
"Master. I will make the jump."
Behind the smooth surface, his face floats in calm, healing serenity. Bubbles of liquid rise like glass beads from the mouth and nose of his Master, and he runs a hand down his Padawan braid, touching the three small beads wound into its coils, wondering what it would be like to feel them slide up his throat and out his orifices in perfect liquid silence. No one remembers what bacta is like once they're out.
His Master's eyes, tinted green like everything else in the tank, are half-lidded and return Obi-Wan's gaze with the lack of judgment of the unconscious. He leans forward over his knees and presses his palms, then forehead, to the ground in respect, as if his Master's eyes were blue and alive again and watching his Padawan. His skin shivers at the contact. It's cold.
He rises, hesitates; allows himself to touch the tank in a moment of gentle longing; and passes the emotion to the Force. He tries, but cannot completely pass the others. Disappointing. But not surprising.
When he leaves the room, the internal sensors note his absence and he catches a brief impression of the darkened space he leaves behind, lit only by the glow of the tank and darker than the star-lit expanse of black outside. Darkness imitates night; night heralds sleep; sleep is essential to recovery. He knows this, and acknowledges this, and lets these thoughts and others pass unhurried through his mind on his way to the pilot's chair. It's empty, and suffused with a bone-deep chill, just like the rest of the tiny ship. At his request, the Force warms him.
One last time, Obi-Wan attempts to open himself fully to the Force, to the possibilities of what he's about to do. One more time, he receives the self-knowledge that the Force isn't acknowledging him right now – or, more correctly, he It - because of his own inner turmoil. Turmoil that shouldn't be there.
But it is, and it shames him, and he shames his Master, but at least he can recognize this about himself: that he is too conflicted to receive any guidance from the Force on this matter.
He enters a series of commands.
He and Qui-Gon jump to hyperspace.
The trip goes well. Until it doesn't.
The Force froths around and in him in blunt, immediate warning. The next second, the ship careens wildly out of hyperspace – with a lurch, he's thrown from standing to prostrate across the control panel of the cockpit, crushing his ribs and a wide band of controls beneath him. Warning sirens blare methodically, shrilly, as the tiny vessel shudders and whines under the searing tear of unexpected hyperspace exit; when his nose smashes against the edge of the controls, his cry echoes in harmony with the wailing machine.
Heartbeat elevated, Obi-Wan stifles a gag reflex, scrapes himself from the blinking lights under his body, turns to the panel and wheezes while his fingers work in acceleration to calm the system. Quick seconds later, it's as good as it's going to get. He backs away from the controls, puts his hands over his chest to still the whistling in his breath with the Force, lets the blood drips down his nose and watches.
The pirates come.
From the behind the shadow of the asteroid, whose gravity well even now continues its pulling seduction of his craft, three vessels, armed visibly in the mismatched way of scavengers, emerge in aggressive, stealthy succession. The craft stabilizes under his feet – somewhat – with the last of its barely functioning systems and shudders with the fear of a scared animal. The pirate ships pause and hover as one, a single hungry vulture waiting. Watching. And the seconds tick by slowly.
All it'll take is one decent shot, and the ship will buckle, as brittle and fragile as bird bones.
Obi-Wan closes his eyes. The thick scent of blood already floods his taste, a portent of an imminent future. Pirates have no use for the slim pickings he can offer. Death is probable. As the Master, so the Padawan; they'll both die today.
It seems silly now, that earlier, all he could think about was his Master alone making the journey.
But the relief is shameful in nature; that he should be grateful he won't have to live without...is shameful. Unbefitting of a Jedi, and a discredit to his Master...He tries to soothe his guilt with a memory of lines of text, typed on a screen and sent bouncing across the galaxy to Coruscant. Vital knowledge in transit. An alert to the Jedi Order of an old threat, thought a thousand years extinct...
Obi-Wan turns from the screen. With the sensors shot and the commlink no longer operational, there's no point in staying there any longer. Anything the pirates do, he'll be powerless to stop, and he'd rather spend the time with Qui-Gon.
The growing glow of blue light chases his steps into the hallway.
The first shot impacts the rear of the ship with a gentle crash. A shot to incapacitate, not kill, and Obi-Wan's feet lose hold of the floor at the breakdown of ship's gravity.
The next instant, a second shot pings with precisionoff the corner of the craft, simultaneously launching the vessel into unstable head-over-tail spirals and jettisoning it back into Wild Space.
Tossed inside the whirling ship, Obi-Wan is thrown off the walls and the sides again, and again, and again, like an insect caught in a child's jar and shaken. Inside, his body feels cracked and wet; outside, he can't stop himself from being sick-
Grasping at the Force, Obi-Wan slams his feet onto the ceiling of the cockpit and holds himself to it, heaving vomit only to have it splash up in his face at the next spin of the vessel. He can barely breathe through the clog of vomit and blood, and each inhalation comes in whistles, high-pitched and painful - any prior healing undone in the space of seconds. The ship's alarms blare. He feels dangerously light-headed and ill.
Something shatters down the hall.
Nausea and fear roil, horrible like thunder, draining his mind. His hold on the ceiling falters enough that he looses his footing on the next violent rotation of the ship and slams against the navigational controls. Two more rotations and less than a second later, and he's able to cement himself, face-down, to the floor. His cheek presses against the surface. Cold tingles against the pads of his fingertips, and his eyes close. He opens himself to the Force, and he releases his fear. He breathes. Again. Inhale calm, exhale fear. Calm. A touch of his Master's hands on his shoulder. Calm. Qui-Gon's eyes. Breathe.
Centered again, Obi-Wan opens his eyes. Drops of blood splatter from his nose, up and down in front of his eyes with each whirl of the vessel. The quivering ship gives off its own red glow of alarm, suffusing everything with red, everywhere. Alarming, as any life-or-death situation should be – but no longer frightening.
The door to Qui-Gon is stuck half-way shut. He peels himself over it, maintaining a constant link of faux-gravity between it, his body, and the Force. It hurts to twist his ribs that way, but he can't break his concentration to smother the worst of the pain. He moans and can barely hear it.
Inside, gelatinous bacta slides across every surface, sticky and wet like congealing blood. The room is smeared with green, and in it, the twisted, limp body of his Master slumps over the cracked and broken remains of the tank, a drunken doll in the rags of a Jedi Master. Obi-Wan staggers to his Master's side in time to grasp him within his own shell of the Force before the man can impale himself on the other side of the bacta tank at the next spin of the ship. Gently, he lifts and lays Qui-Gon on the ground beside him. More blood pours out of the puncture wounds – his hands press, there, quickly, there...Bacta oozes from the man's mouth, out his nose, from his ears.
The worst of it drips from the lightsabre stab wound that put his Master in the tank in the first place. His calm falters at the sight of a piece of plastisteel wedged in the once-cauterized hole. A thick mixture of blood and bacta pulses sluggishly from the wound in time to each slow...slow beat of his Master's heart.
But not dead. Not dead.
The flood of relief is strong enough that were he thinking more clearly, he'd be wary of it. But the sight beneath him is interrupted by a flash of memory, and he's caught off-guard in the remembrance, again, of his Master's body suspended, limp, on one end of a double-sided red blade. He wrenches from the memory and can't find that sense of calm anymore. He holds his Master's body closer to his chest.
The red alarms scream and flash behind his closed eyelids. Irrationally, abruptly, he wants the alarm system off-
An unseeing wave of his hand, and the alarm systems all throughout the ship shatter. But for the wet noise of bacta and blood and the methodical thump, thump of things ricocheting throughout the vessel at each turn, it's quiet again.
The red lights of alarm flicker, then still. His second of overwhelming distress fades.
With the coaxing sleekness of a young animal, Obi-Wan lays himself along his Master, siphoning healing energy along each point of touch on their bodies, a living blanket of the Force. Before he can lose himself completely in the healing trance, the part of his mind raised since birth for Jedi thoughts considers and dismisses the idea of trying to stabilize the spinning craft with the Force, considers and dismisses possible rationales for the pirates' actions, considers and dismisses their chances of survival. He pretends he can't feel his hands still trembling from his destructive use of the Force.
This, healing this body, this man, this is better. It's a gentling kind of warmth. The Force feels so much better this way.
Soon, Obi-Wan is still and quiet in the healing of his Master.
The ship spins on.
It takes the insides of the vessel heating to sweltering levels to break Obi-Wan from his trance.
When he does, his uncurling is sluggish and fevered. He pushes himself to his elbows, then his palms, one hand on either side of his Master's body, his legs turned to the side against the floor. His breath comes in pants, and a river of sweat stings its way down his face and drips onto his Master's cloak and chin. His eyes sweep over the man's body, seeking visible confirmation of what his mind already knows.
The wounds are only marginally better. Enough to keep Qui-Gon alive for another span of borrowed time, but after that...
Heat dizzies his focus; his vision shimmers, waves across waves. He cradles his head in his hands and on the soft form of his Master's chest, closing his eyes and grounding himself first in the life beneath him, then in the Unifying Force in order to discern what caused the change in the ship. It's always possible it's just burning up from velocity and destroyed environment controls-
His eyes fly open. This is unexpected. He stands on borrowed strength to stagger and slide to the threshold of the cockpit, to stand and stare at the blazing white and red heat encasing the whole of the ship, preventing any kind of view of what's ahead. But somewhere past the flames is-
Whirling with a crack of his robe around his ankles, Obi-Wan forgets all thoughts of unbearable heat and redirects everything left coherent in his mind to one goal: surviving the coming crash. The world continues to spin madly under his feet as he scrambles back to the bacta room, leaping over a piece of tank when it slides in collision course with his shins, flinging an airborne vial out of his way with a wave of his hand. The Force fuels his adrenaline; mind and body in heightened awareness, Obi-Wan crouches quickly, holding his hands, palm-down, over Qui-Gon, spreads his fingers wide, and lifts. The Jedi floats upwards, completely horizontal, the limbs held still and unmoving down to the eyelids, which don't show even the barest flicker from their position at half-mast...He'll have no more injury to his Master.
Like a mad comet, the ship hurtles onward.
Obi-Wan tugs Qui-Gon behind him on strings of the Force, moving rapidly towards the tail-end of the ship. He stops when he reaches a ceiling hatch, his Padawan braid whipping his neck at the halted momentum. It goes unnoticed. He cranes his head back, looking at the hatch.
From this point on, every action he takes will be dictated by timing. He has to clear the ship after it breaks the atmosphere, so they won't roast alive the second they're outside, but before it impacts. If he succeeds in getting them both out, he has to get away from the ship before it crashes so they aren't caught in the explosion, while also keeping them from falling to their deaths...And all this is assuming the atmosphere is even breathable to begin with.
In short, he can guarantee nothing of what may or may not happen. He'll just have to play it by ear and see how it goes.
The corners of his lips upturn even as his eyes cant downwards to fall upon the slack face of the Jedi.
"Shall this be enough 'living in the moment' to satisfy even you, my Master?"
"...recessed yesterday after a long and ultimately inconclusive trail, set to reconvene at one o'clock this afternoon. Now, some breaking news; scientists and ufologists alike are abuzz over the strange events of this morning. A large, as-of-yet unidentified object fell from the sky to land in the North Sea, some eighty kilometers off the coast of Grimsby, approximately eight hours ago at 2:13 A.M. Images of the object were caught on multiple satellites and recording systems, but all are obscured heavily by night, making it difficult to pinpoint just what this strange object could be. We have here some exclusive amateur footage caught by an eyewitness...
"...Suggestions have been made as to the object's possible identity, such as a satellite, a piece of space detritus, a meteor, or, of course, a UFO. Scientists maintain that it is most likely a satellite; however, the strange spiraling motion of the object has yet to be explained, encouraging wild speculation about the possibility of an extraterrestrial encounter.
"Upon impact, a tsunami of moderate size spread radially from the site of impact. Fortunately, by the time it struck land, its intensity had waned enough to prevent any serious catastrophe. Several miles worth of light flooding occurred on the coastline and along the bay to the north and south of Grimsby. No casualties or injuries have yet been reported, and none are expected at this time, though property damage estimates are moderate."
"I'll tell you what, Coleen, I can rest easier knowing that everyone got out of that safe and sound. Still, you have to admit, not every day something like this happens. A UFO? That's really something, isn't it? My daughter's a bit of a UFO nut herself."
"Oh, is that so?"
"Mm-hmm. To be able to witness this, caught on footage, even in an amateur video at a distance – it's really something."
"Well, Bernard, it'll certainly fire up many an imagination, to be sure. Investigative teams have already been deployed to search the sea for remains, so hopefully that will shed some light on the situation. We'll have continuing updates on this story throughout the day as we learn more. Now, I'll turn it over to Henry Morgan for the weather. Henry?"
"Thank you, Coleen. As you can see, this December is turning out to be quite the winter wonderland, with light, steady snow continuing to fall all across the country..."
"Come on boys, hurry now. Molly wants us back in time for dinner, and we've still got to hide the presents-" Dashing down the festively decorated hall, Mr. Weasley spoke distractedly to the two young wizards hurrying in his wake.
Elbowing Harry in the sides, Ron rolled his eyes at his father's back. Harry shrugged, grinning. There was no denying the commands of Mrs. Weasley when she was dead-set on making the holiday season 'a time for generosity of spirit, togetherness of the family, and kindheartedness to all creatures, great and small.'
Fred and George swore she lifted the phrase from a greeting card. Mrs. Weasley steadfastly denied it, but the flush in her cheeks told otherwise.
"Yeah, Dad, we know," Ron answered, despite the fact that Mr. Weasley barely paid his response any attention, too busy dodging a nurse emerging from the elevator with a squawking, fanged baby trying to gnaw on her arm. As they continued down the hallway, Mr. Weasley glanced around the corner, then slowed and stopped, catching his breath and straightening himself out.
"Right. Well. Their room's just around the corner, boys. Please remember to treat them kindly; the boy doesn't seem to know a speck of English, and you're not to give him a hard time just because he can't understand you."
"Dad, we know," Ron protested, rolling his eyes.
"Yes, I suppose Fred and George are the ones I'll have to keep an eye on...Anyway, Ron, I think I'll let you take care of this-" he handed his son his briefcase, in which an afternoon's worth of Christmas shopping was carefully shrunk and tucked away, "-and Harry, if you could carry these-" Harry obligingly took hold of the few larger un-shrinkable parcels, "then I have my wand free to take care of the boy's belongings, and, well, whatever else. I do hope they've come up with a way to bring the father, though I suppose we'll most likely just end up bumping him along behind until we reach the Portkey..."
"What's all this about, anyway?" Harry asked Ron curiously in a sotto voice while Mr. Weasley patted his pockets, muttering and presumably checking for the Portkey. To give Ron some time alone with his family, Harry had stayed at Hogwarts for the first few days of winter break, visiting with Hagrid and taking advantage of the empty Quidditch pitch, mostly. Even though all the Weasleys had said he needed to do no such thing, he insisted, so eventually, they relented. Apparently, this idea had come up in the time while he was gone.
"I dunno, some idea of Mum's," Ron replied, furrowing his brow and then shrugging. "You know how Dad's been coming in here on and off to get testimony from the witch who got bit by the jinxed oven? Turns out she's a friend of Mum's, and of course Mum goes to visit and they get to talking. Told Mum about some program they have here at the hospital where volunteers take the patients home for a few days over the holidays. You can guess where it went from there." He rolled his eyes, Harry nodding.
"So Mum says that her friend says ever since they admitted these two blokes a little over a week ago – the ones we're here to pick up - the younger one's barely moved an inch 'cept to eat and that kind of thing. Let himself be healed, yeah, and slept a lot, but after that – like a statue, mate. Just sits there, always in the same place, always real quiet. Mum's friend tried talking to him and it was like his head was in another place entirely." He scowled in general dissatisfaction.
"...Er," Harry began, trying to find a way to phrase this without sounding insensitive and failing, "That sounds a bit...well, nutty."
"That's what I thought!" Ron agreed vehemently, simultaneously sounding enthusiastic and long-suffering. "But no, Mum says," he pitched his voice higher, "'the poor dear must be awfully lonely, all by himself at St. Mungo's with his father hurt and him not able to speak a single word of English. Do you know what that's like, Ronald? Nobody should spend Christmas alone in the hospital ward.' So she comes up with the bright idea to volunteer with the program and take him home with us," he finished in a grumble. "What are we supposed to do with a couple of sick foreign wizards over the hols?"
Harry didn't have an answer for that (nor did he point out that they were currently on the floor for animal bites, not sicknesses) but he had to admit that, whether or not this current spate of goodwill was born from the words of a greeting card or not, he actually thought it was a pretty decent thing Mrs. Weasley was doing.
"Well, it won't be for too long, right? A few days won't hurt." Harry said consolingly. Ron still looked half-heartedly disgruntled, but at that moment, Mr. Weasley turned abruptly around the corner with a wave of his hand for them to follow. Harry suspected they were following the signs pointing to the Dangerous Dai Llewellyn Ward for Serious Bites; a moment later, they faced the door inscribed with just that plaque. A nurse was just in the process of shutting the door behind him, and Mr. Weasley pulled the man aside before he could leave.
Harry turned back to Ron. "How did all this get figured out, anyway, if the guy can't speak English?"
"Dunno." Ron shrugged, and opened his mouth to say more when Mr. Weasley came back to them. He motioned the boys closer.
"Now I've just spoken to the nurse, Ron, Harry, and he says the young man's father still has yet to wake; though they can't figure out why, as his body's perfectly healed...So try to be polite about it, yes? That kind of thing is hard on anybody, no matter who they are or where they're from." He eyed them seriously for a moment, then smiled. "So we'll do our best to be hospitable, eh? Give him a proper welcome." He patted each of their shoulders, then turned and opened the door.
The inside of the ward was cramped and rather dingy, with only one window to filter in the evening light. A cascade of shiny, glowing bubbles stringing down from the center of the ceiling gave off soft blue and green fading lights. Apparently, Mrs. Weasley's friend had recovered; all the beds were empty but the farthest one from the door, which had its simple off-white curtains pulled around it for privacy.
"Hello," Mr. Weasley called out cheerfully, walking to the bed. As they neared, the curtains slid around the metal bar, pushed out of the way by a young man.
He was average in height, his dark blond hair cropped short in a rough-looking buzz with a long, thin braid starting behind his right ear and trailing down his shoulderblades. He wore a plain, hooded, heavy-looking brown robe that fell to his feet and covered everything but his head in its well-worn folds. Along the left side of one eye ran a tiny, curious scar, delicately and precisely shaped like what looked like a plant. Harry winced a little in sympathy at seeing the wizard's nose; it had to have been broken at least once, and it didn't look like whoever had fixed it had paid much attention to the job. Age was a more difficult guess; the haircut made him look young, but he carried an unusual air of quiet composure that seemed very much older.
Blue eyes watched their approach from above dark circles and a pale, worn face. Harry could see how one would get the impression something was a little off.
The young man gave the three wizards a small, quiet smile and a bow, his hands tucked in voluminous sleeves, and responded in soft, accented English.
"It's good to see you again, Ben," Mr. Weasley pronounced at a slightly slower rate than normal, enunciating clearly. Ron grimaced, clearly embarrassed for his dad's sake. Then Mr. Weasley pointed at his son, who hastily wiped the expression off his face.
"Ron." Then, a gesture in his direction, and "Harry."
Ben nodded politely to each of them. He gave another of those short bows, this time with a small courtly flourish of his hand directed towards himself. "Ben." Raising, he tilted his head towards the man laying on the bed next to where he stood, a curiously graceful gesture.
"Er, nice to meet you, Ben. And Mr. Quinn," Harry smiled somewhat awkwardly, feeling like he ought to say something but not sure how to interact with someone who couldn't understand him. Was Quinn a first or a last name?
Ron's stilted follow-up of, "Um, yeah, nice to meet you both" indicated he felt the same way. But Ben merely directed that same smile at them both as if he didn't even notice the awkwardness.
Harry looked at Quinn curiously. An older man, to be sure, but again Harry had trouble pinpointing an exact age – late thirties? Forties? Early fifties? - even after seeing the streaks of silver shooting generously through the long, braided brown hair. The man's face was even paler than Ben's – and sported a similarly crooked nose – but his sleep appeared untroubled, and his chest rose and fell very, very slowly.
He looked up, and found Ben's eyes on him.
"Well, time to get you two out of here," Mr. Weasley said, clapping his hands together and calling Ben's attention his direction. He looked around the room expectantly, saying, "Where are your things, Ben?" and trying to mime with his hands while Harry and Ron traded a glance and shifted in place, still carrying their own loads.
But Ben seemed to pick right up on what Mr. Weasley meant. He bent and pulled a small bundle of clothing out from underneath the bed, setting it on the nightstand on top of a conspicuously large stack of newspapers. Then, he carefully peeled back the covers from Quinn.
Harry shifted his eyes to the side, wondering how this could get any more awkward. The hospital gown, like hospital gowns 'round the world, was thin, papery, short, and really rather see-through. And though Mr. Quinn might be healed, he definitely had some pretty gruesome scarring that no amount of healing could erase. Like craning around to see a fender bender, he couldn't help it when his eyes flickered back once, quickly; but strangely enough, Ben had already pulled a sheet back up halfway, enough to cover the man's waist downward.
Now free to look, Harry found his eyes drawn to the areas of dark scarring all across Quinn's chest and stomach, clearly visible through the gown. He squinted. Most of the scars were ragged, imprecise, and random, but there was one whose contours distinctly shaped a circle, symmetrical and definite. What kind of animal made that bite?
Then Ben was walking past his line of sight again, to the nightstand, and picking up one article of clothing, flicking it out of its fold with the kind of casualness that spoke of long habit. Another robe, this one a dark, chocolate brown, also rather tattered in places. Ben settled one knee on the bed, gently lifting the man's torso with one hand and slipping the robe behind him with the other.
"Oh, here, let me help with that," Mr. Weasley offered, pulling out his wand. Ben leaned back a little, looking at Mr. Weasley and obviously uncomprehending of the words. Mr. Weasley made shooing motions to the side.
"Did he lose his wand?" Ron asked. Mr. Weasley met his question with a thoughtful frown and a glance.
"I don't know. It seems as he did, doesn't it."
"He could just be Muggleborn," Harry offered. "I still forget about doing things the wizard way."
"That's certainly also a possibility, Harry," Mr. Weasley acknowledged kindly. Then, he turned back to Ben and repeated more simply, "I can help. Please move."
Ben looked from Quinn to Mr. Weasley and back, then lowered the man as carefully as he'd raised him, shifting aside but not getting off the bed. With a quick flick of his wand, Mr. Weasley propped the man up just as Ben had a moment ago and brought the robe sailing off of the bed to wrap around Quinn's shoulders, tying itself closed in the front. One more flick and Mr. Weasley pulled Quinn the rest of the way out from under the sheet, the robe neatly and modestly covering him up with the motion.
"There, that'll do it." Mr. Weasley smiled at Ben.
He surprised them all by murmuring a quiet, "Thank you."
"Well! You're quite welcome," Mr. Weasley responded, openly pleased at the instance of successful communication. Then he pointed to the clothes and stack of newspapers.
"Are you going to bring those?" Mr. Weasley mimed picking up and taking an object, then pointed at the door. In answer, Ben picked up the stack of clothes, tucking them under his left arm and pointedly ignoring the newspapers. Two smooth strides took him back to stand beside Quinn. He leaned into the bed, the side of his leg pressing against it with a soft creak of bedsprings.
"Don't want the newspapers? All right then. Doubt you could read them anyway, eh, Ben?"
Ben just gave Mr. Weasley that small smile that said he didn't understand what was being said to him.
Mr. Weasley sighed good-naturedly. "Well. I suppose we'll work on that. In any case, I believe we've used up enough time here, boys. Time to be on our way – oh! Really time to be on our way...and that means you, too, Mr. Quinn." He pointed to Quinn with his wand. "Mobilicorpus."
The man rose a few inches off the bed. Carefully, Mr. Weasley directed him around the curving metal curtainrod and maneuvered him until he was out of the way of the other beds. He gestured Harry and Ron to precede him from the room, and they moved to the door.
Ben's eyes never left Quinn's floating form.
Harry had his free hand on the doorknob when Ben spoke.
"Eh?" Mr. Weasley asked in surprise, all three of them turning. Ben stood at to Quinn's left, his right hand splayed atop the man's stomach, but he faced them.
"No," he repeated. "Mr. Weasley." With his left hand, he pointed to the nearest empty bed, then back at Quinn, then waved a hand from Mr. Weasley to the bed.
"You...want me to put him back?" Mr. Weasley's brow crinkled. "Why?"
Ben just shook his head and repeated the gesture.
"Well," Mr. Weasley sighed, looking at his wristwatch, "I can humor you for a moment, I suppose. Just a moment...I told Molly this would be problematic."
"This Christmas is gonna be a bloody pain, that's what it's gonna be," Ron muttered under his breath. Harry grimaced sympathetically. Instead of tackling that comment, he commented on Hermione's imminent arrival, the day after Boxing Day.
Ron tried to look displeased at the reminder and failed.
After Quinn was settled back on a bed, Mr. Weasley took a step back, facing Ben and shrugging quizzically.
"Well, I did what you wanted. Now what – oh!"
Quinn gently floated off the bed beneath Ben's palm.
"That's wandless magic!" Ron looked at Ben with something like awe. "Wordless, too!"
"Maybe that's why he's got no wand," Harry suggested, also surprised and impressed by the display. Dumbledore was the only one he'd seen do any wandless magic, ever. He considered. "Can people do completely wandless magic? Like all the time?"
He received no reply, as all three of them paused to watch Ben withdraw his hands back into his sleeves, holding them in front of his chest and walking back over to them with still, calm eyes.
Quinn floated along serenely at his side.
"Nah," Ron scoffed in reply after a moment. "No one can do that. Wandless magic all the time'd be impossible! I can't even get wordless down!" He reddened a little after saying that, as if he hadn't quite meant to. Harry grinned at him, and Ron looked away with a scowl, quickly adding, "Right, Dad? He's probably just showing off."
"Now, Ron, what did I say about speaking badly of our guest when he can't even understand us?" Mr. Weasley chastised mildly, getting over his surprise first and gesturing Harry and Ron into action, leading them to the door.
Ben, apparently satisfied now, followed them without a sound.
"But about the wandless magic – is that possible, Mr. Weasley? To go without a wand all the time?" Harry asked, not able to hide his interest. Something like that could really come in handy when he saw Voldemort next.
If he saw Voldemort. Ever since he'd risen again at the end of Harry's fourth year, the Dark wizard had been very quiet – suspiciously so, in fact. Now, Harry had reached the middle of his sixth year, and Voldemort had yet to rear his ugly head.
It was only a matter of time; Harry knew he was out there. But until he showed up, all that he and the few others across the country who believed him could do was worry, wait, and be ready.
"No, Harry, it's not," Mr. Weasley said with part of a sympathetic smile. The Weasley family was one such group of believers. "Many extremely talented wizards all throughout history have tried it, and many have become very talented at wordless. Some fooled people into believing they could do wandless by keeping their wand hidden up their sleeve, or elsewhere attached to their body – then, it's just a matter of redirecting the focus of the spell, which is also quite difficult but certainly not wandless...It seems it's just a fact of life that no one can do more than a handful of spells wandless, no matter how good they are. Even somebody like Professor Dumbledore, you know. Ben must have practiced long and hard on this spell, to be as skilled as he is."
Harry nodded, a little disappointed.
On their way to the front desk, Ron kept looking over his shoulder at the pair, then at his father, obviously trying to hold in a question and failing.
"Did we really have to bring the old bloke too, Dad?" Ron finally burst, whispering to Mr. Weasley with a quick, guilty look over his shoulder. Harry had to admit, there was something unsettling about walking along with an unconscious man floating along behind them. The floating dead. He tried to make it a little more casual than Ron had when he, too, looked over his shoulder.
Ben returned their looks with the same small, polite, closed-lipped smile as before, apparently unperturbed by their scrutiny. Harry's eyes drifted downward. Ben was pressed up closely to the other man, his side vertical against Quinn's horizontal. Quinn undulated gently over each rolling stride of Ben's right hip, and the wide sleeves of his robe draped onto Quinn's where their bodies met.
"Of course, Ron." Mr. Weasley replied repressively, just as quietly. "The boy wants his father with him; that's natural. Besides," he added a moment later out the side of his mouth, "Your mother wouldn't hear of it, especially since she was there when I talked...er, mimed the idea out with the boy. Ben clearly wouldn't consent to leave without Mr. Quinn. And since the Healers can't find anything wrong with him other than that he just won't wake, and Ben has demonstrated his ability to see to his father's needs, there's really no reason to keep him here, not if Ben insists on leaving, which he has."
They got into the checkout line behind a couple of witches and a wizard that looked part gnome. "I think," he added and cleared his throat delicately, "I think they might have kicked him out soon, anyway, at least to one of the smaller charity hospitals. Merlin only knows how he's been paying Mungo's."
"Wait – so you mean – how long do you mean they're staying with us?" Ron demanded, facing his father squarely.
"Talk to your mother," Mr. Weasley replied shiftily. Ron groaned; Harry grinned at him sympathetically.
Ben just waited, looking entirely too oblivious and serene.
Harry woke up to the most delicious smell.
After the requisite few minutes of bleary-eyed blinking and mumbling, he stumbled to Ron's bed and prodded him in the shoulder until they were both awake enough to plod slowly down the stairs.
"It's early," Ron grumbled. "How early is it, anyway? Too early. That's what. Who gets up this early? What's Mum up to? Bet she wants to make a good impression on those two, that's what. Never cooks like this for us–"
At the kitchen, both of them paused at the sight that greeted them.
Set on the counter were three large serving plates generously spread with food. One had small omelets of at least four different varieties arranged in a spiral, another boasted a colorful bounty of sliced fruit set into a delicate geometric design, and the third was stacked with pile of hotcakes, butter drizzling down from the top. The worn, rickety kitchen table had been neatly set, and a stack of teacups rested in the center next to a teapot, presumably full.
And standing at the stove – the Muggle stove, which Harry had never once seen work since he met the Weasleys – with his back towards them, flipping an omelet and dressed in strange, medieval-looking clothes, was Ben.
Ron recovered first. "Excellent!" he enthused, suddenly waking up very quickly indeed. "Should've known it wasn't Mum! Thanks, mate!" he directed towards Ben as he grabbed a plate from the table and made a beeline for the food, spearing an omelet with gusto. His mouth watering, Harry didn't waste time following suit.
While he was deciding which kind of omelet looked best, a spatula suddenly entered his line of vision, depositing a steaming omelet in the empty space created by Ron's choice. Looking up, Harry found Ben watching him and Ron with a smile. Harry grinned back.
"Thanks, Ben. This all looks great!"
Ben inclined his head and waved him towards the rest of the food in reply.
Shortly after Harry and Ron had settled themselves at the table, Fred and George crashed down the stairs in their usual unsubtle way.
"Oi." Fred elbowed George in the ribs. "Told you it wasn't Mum."
"And I never disagreed, now, did I?" George protested mildly. "That was Perce. Oi, Ben!" he called cheerfully. The wizard turned and smiled at the twins. "You're a crazy bloke for doing this of your own free will, but you have the thanks of Fred and George Weasley!"
"You remember he can't understand you, right?" Ron reminded them through a mouthful of hotcake.
"And how's he gonna learn anything if no one talks to him, little brother?" Fred pointed out reasonably. He and George turned to Ben and asked as one, "Right, Ben?"
The young man had paused in his cooking to watch the exchange. Now, at being addressed, he looked from one twin to the other and shrugged, his smile slightly apologetic. Clearly, he wasn't yet able to follow the rapid exchange of words.
He had, however, been introduced to everyone the previous evening and apparently remembered their names. "Fred, George." He inclined his head in a small bow. "Eat."
Fred and George traded amused looks. "Man knows what he's about," Fred commented blithely, "All his priorities in the right places." Then he performed a swooping bow of his own, saying, "As you wish, sir Ben!"
"Don't know what that is our good sir Ben is wearing though, looks a bit funny if you ask me-"
The rest of the Weasleys currently in residence filed down soon after, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley appearing last and making a big fuss over the whole affair, though for different reasons.
"Oh, Ben, dear, you didn't have to do all this! Such a wonderful breakfast, and you made it all by hand, too – well, if that's how you like to work, who am I to judge? Still! What a considerate young man!"
"Yes, but look, Molly, he got the stove to work! Tell me, Ben, how'd you manage it-"
Breakfast was a noisy, happy affair, and Harry found himself enjoying it immensely. By the time he was finished, he was very pleasantly full and feeling rather disinclined to excessive motion for the next couple of hours. In a momentary lull in conversation, he caught sight of Ben rising from his spot a few chairs down at the end of the table, between Ginny and Percy. Despite having cooked it all, Ben hadn't originally seemed inclined to sit and eat with them, and even then he'd been quiet throughout the whole meal. Harry figured that was pretty natural, though, when one hadn't a clue what was being said around oneself.
Now, he stood, taking his plate and scooping up Ginny's empty dishes as well.
"Oh, um, you don't have to do the dishes, Ben," Ginny said, waving her hands and pointing to her mother. "Mum'll get those."
Ben turned to Mrs. Weasley.
"That's right. The kitchen shan't be a problem to clean." She patted her fingers and lips dry on a napkin, then withdrew her wand. With an encouraging motion, she got Ben to set the plates back down on the table.
"There, now," she said, whisking her wand and sending the dishes flying to the sink, where the water began to fill itself and a sponge hovered in the air, waiting.
Ben watched the dishes' flight, for a moment looking a little strange. Then, all traces of it gone, he turned back to Mrs. Weasley and dipped his head. "Thank you, Mrs. Weasley."
Mrs. Weasley actually blushed a bit. "What a charming accent that is-"
"You're quite welcome, Ben," she informed the wizard primly, ignoring her children. Mr. Weasley coughed, looking suspiciously amused.
Ben smiled a little, then turned and left the kitchen, as quiet in his departure as he'd been with his presence.
His fingertips brush over his Master's neck, the touch of a petal fluttering to the surface of a still, deep pool. Stroke, from beneath the chin to the crest of his collarbone, down once, then again, and again, over the gentle bumps and ridges of his throat. Softly, he induces the swallowing reflex in lax muscles while he tips water into his Master's mouth. Throat bared vulnerable to his Padawan; an image of ancient sacrificial offerings, brutal and primal, flashes through his mind, and he almost has to stop when his hands falter. He has never before held Qui-Gon's life so very fully in his hands. He could drown his Master this way.
Something twists inside, something frighteningly sharp and beautiful and delicate – he'll never harm this man.
Evening settles around them. Obi-Wan lays his Master back down on the bed, setting the pillows aside and arranging him in a familiar pose his unconscious mind will find comforting. Qui-Gon always sleeps so: on his back, without a pillow, hands clasped across his abdomen, as if sleep is merely deep meditation.
Maybe here, now, it is. The Living Force of this planet is nearly indescribable; it has done wonders for his Master. It is that very vibrancy that allows him to realize a truth: had they landed anywhere of lesser potency, Qui-Gon would now be with the Force, instead of here, alive, with him, and soaking in the Force with the unashamed mental rapture of a basking cat in the sun.
Near-death is an exhausting state from which to recover for anyone, but especially so with Jedi. At death, a Jedi's mind reintegrates with the Force. If the death is peaceful, so is the reuniting; if the death is chaotic, the Force's equilibrium is upset and, before complete acceptance, it soothes the spirit into serenity like a mother her child. Having been so close to violent death many times in succession – having been wounded enough that he would now be dead were they anywhere else – his Master's mind is confused and untidy, his spirit halfway between death and life. When the Force is at peace inside him once more, Qui-Gon will instinctively know it, and his Master will wake.
For whatever reason, Obi-Wan feels this planet is both gift and sign from the Force. But he can feel no farther, and isn't sure what that is supposed to mean.
Later in the night, he drifts away from his healing trance, brushes a palm against the blankets over his Master's hip, and closes the door behind him without locking it. The people in this house are without the kind of harmful duplicity that would make him guard against such an intrusion of privacy. They are, however, teeming with well-meaning curiosity. He keeps his and his Master's lightsabres clipped safely to his belt in case they should put their natural inquisitiveness into action, and poke around things of his they won't understand.
Obi-Wan draws the hood of his robe over his head. The house is still and quiet and, like his Master, sleeps; no one is awake to note his departure out into the snowy fields beyond. Outside, the night has just passed its darkest point, and he lets the trickle of snowflakes dusting over his robe draw him into a moment of watching. Existing. This planet and its life exist so very strongly. The Living Force is ever vibrant and alive in his mind.
At the crest of early dawn over the snow-covered, rolling hills, Obi-Wan slides into an open-handed kata. The snow adds an element of difficulty, for he keeps himself partially levitated in order to stand upon the hardened snow without cracking its surface – yet the forms flow almost effortlessly. Without hurry or direction, it comes to him that his Master's no longer uncertain recovery is the reason.
That troubles him, because it speaks of an attachment that is perhaps too great.
There is no emotion, there is peace.
Yet he cannot find it in himself to deny the attachment any more than the increased intensity of the kata releases it from his system. The Living Force thrums with every move he makes, a sensation both unexpected and invigorating, but also disconcerting. Is this how Qui-Gon always feels? How can he live with it?
The thoughts are a trigger. On his next intake of breath, he sends a query along the bond to his Master, the kind of insistent prodding he has adopted for dealing with Qui-Gon in his healing state. Were he to use this method on an awake, alert Jedi, it would be more than a little rude – like knocking on a door with a sledgehammer. But as it is, his Master can't answer on his own. If the need arises, Obi-Wan will ask forgiveness later.
By his exhale, he knows his Master's state and bodily needs, neither of which are changed or need attending to. That's fine.
In a purely mental way, the Force-enhanced kata is fatiguing; eventually, he tires enough to first slow down, then finish the form altogether, allowing his weight to settle fully in the snow. The leftover buzz in his muscles isn't unpleasant. The lasting uneasiness of his thoughts is. He does his best to release his doubts before reentering the house, having no wish to inflict the negative emotions on either his Master or the other inhabitants, all of whom are faintly Force-sensitive.
Another seeming impossibility. How is it that people with only marginal Force-sense can access it so simply, without even being aware of just what they do?
Obi-Wan lets such thoughts drift across his consciousness while he taps the snow off his boots, settles his robe on the back of a chair, and sets about making a breakfast for the family.
The next week passed in a flurry of Christmas preparation. Mrs. Weasley recruited every able-bodied member of the household – which was to say, everyone except Quinn, whose condition apparently remained unchanged – into cleaning the house, stringing up decorations, enchanting various objects to sing carols, sending out holiday cards, and baking enough sweets to keep them all in permanent stomachaches. Though he seemed quite amiable about helping with anything asked of him, Ben was most often her co-conspirator on that front. He had a deft hand in the kitchen.
Other than that, Harry was too busy and, frankly, having too much of a good time to observe very much about the older wizard. Ben seemed to flit in and out of notice with the ease of a ghost – a proper ghostly ghost, not one like Nearly Headless Nick – and rarely initiated conversation. He ventured outside often, despite the cold, and returned looking no worse for wear at all hours of the day or night – apparently lacking any semblance of a reliable sleep schedule. He must have found or been given a set of children's alphabet and early reader books because Harry occasionally heard him following along with a witch's spelled-in voice, sounding out words and simple sentences from within the room he shared with Mr. Quinn. He spent a good deal of his time in that room.
Harry could tell it worried Mrs. and Mr. Weasley a little. He heard them whispering things like "not healthy behavior for a young man his age" and "draw him out of his shell," but neither seemed certain of how to go about doing so.
Breakfast, in fact, turned out to be "socialize with Ben" time, as it was the only fixed hour and location he seemed to keep. Each morning without fail, he made breakfast for the entire family – less elaborate than the first, but still warm and really pretty good despite the ungodly earliness – and so Mr. and Mrs. Weasley encouraged their children to speak to him then. Considering Ben had acquired quite a few brownie points with his daily breakfasts, no one minded making overtures too terribly. Deciding whether or not it made any difference was another matter entirely; Ben was polite and friendly, if somewhat distant, no matter what they said or did.
Harry wondered. Once or twice, he'd seen Ben with a look on his face that said he was miles and miles away from any of them.
Soon enough, it was Christmas Eve. Hermione's arrival the day previous had been a pleasant surprise for all; she and her parents had decided to celebrate Christmas early, and while they flew across the pond to visit relatives in Georgia for the actual day, Hermione had chosen to come to the Burrow.
It surprised only Ron when she leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek after saying so. They bore the ensuing teasing valiantly.
So, with Sirius and Lupin due to arrive that afternoon and Charlie, Bill, and – despite the initial misgivings of the other females of the household – Fleur already settled in, it looked to be one of the largest and merriest Christmas gatherings at the Burrow on record.
The vision lasts until his Master's body ignites.
It's only then that Obi-Wan breaks from the Unifying Force his sleep, heart rate elevated, breathing quick and shallow, eyes wide in the muted red glow of evening cast between the gaps of the blinds. Bars of light and shadow stripe the contours of his face to violet and pale sandstone.
He looks to his Master, sees him lying still – the still of the dead – and in the space between fear and action, clambers onto the bed, bracing his knees on either side of his Master's thighs, laying unsteady fingers against his Master's neck.
There's a pulse there, calm and deep and steady. He knew it would be there. He knew.
But the irrational urge to check again and again and again remains. Obi-Wan swallows heavily. As slowly as that heart beats under the rough tips of his fingers, so, too, does Obi-Wan lean back from his Master, unwinding the compulsion that seized him, releasing it to the Force.
He makes himself get up off the bed. Settling in lotus on the floor, his eyes close and his breathing deepens. A vision, given to him by the Unifying Force, or just a product of his own fear?
At least he has one answer.
There is no more 'perhaps' about his attachment being too great.
"Oh, I almost forgot! I suppose it's time we add our contributions to the tree, eh, Moony?" Sirius grinned toothily, elbowing Lupin in the side and nearly making him spill his mug of peppermint eggnog.
Lupin righted himself with a half-hearted glare, then ruined the effect by smiling. "I suppose it is."
"Righto!" Sirius slapped his palms to his thighs, then whipped out his wand with a theatrical flourish that produced both giggles and groans. He winked. "Accio large mysterious duffel bag of presents!"
While they waited for the presents to arrive – Sirius and Lupin were staying in makeshift housing in the cleared-out backyard storage shed – Sirius informed the group at large, "I'll have you know I've had these presents carefully tucked away for months now. Unlike certain others." He gave a series of coughs that sounded suspiciously like Charlie, Fred, George.
Charlie grinned, unashamed. "I don't deny it."
"Well, you might not, but we had ours in time, didn't we, Fred?" George protested.
"'Course we did, George! Modifications just take a wee bit extra-"
"Boys," Mrs. Weasley admonished warningly, "There had better not be anything exploding, or smelly, or – or alive-"
Fred and George adopted scandalized expressions. "Oh no, Mum, we'd never do anything to Perce-"
"Hey, Ben," Ginny interrupted Percy's shrill spluttering cheerfully. She waved in the direction of the staircase, and with a ripple of motion, the others turned to follow her gaze.
Ben took the last step down the stairs, then stood at its foot and gave a small bow. "Good evening, Ginny."
"Why don't you come on over for a bit?" Charlie gave a friendly wave. "Yes, please join us," Percy added primly.
Fleur smiled prettily at Ben. "And oo iz ziz 'andsome young man?"
"Fleur, meet Ben," Bill introduced. "Ben, this is Fleur."
"Ben, is it?" Lupin asked while the young wizard approached the living room obligingly. He stood, smiling pleasantly and extending a hand. "I don't believe we've met. Remus Lupin."
Ben shook the hand. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Lupin."
Lupin grimaced and shook his head. "Oh, no need to be so formal. Remus is fine. Mr. Lupin makes me sound too old." Ben's brow furrowed a little.
"Ben and his father are visiting from St. Mungo's for the holiday," Mr. Weasley stepped in to explain. "And he's just learning English, so it's best to use simple sentences around him for now."
Lupin looked back to Ben with a kind expression. "Is that so? Well. Please call me Remus, Ben. It's nice to meet you."
Ben smiled and inclined his head. "It is nice to meet you, Remus." He looked to Sirius, who grinned widely in eggnog-enhanced welcome.
"And I'm Sirius Bl-"
Sirius broke off abruptly. He looked around.
"Say, I suppose it's a little late to be asking this, but, um, does he know? About me."
From the silence and sudden looks of guilty realization, it was clear that everyone had forgotten Sirius's status of escaped fugitive. After all, the truth of the matter was old news to all of them.
But what did Ben see when he looked at Sirius? Harry watched him carefully – and wasn't the only one doing so – but he only seemed politely confused, and maybe a little concerned. Certainly not like someone who just recognized a wanted "murderer."
"...I guess that's a no," Sirius concluded with strained cheerfulness. "Too late now, I suppose. The name's Sirius Black, and I've got an Obliviation spell right here if you feel you need it, Ben. In fact, it might not hurt anyway-"
"I don't think you need to, Sirius," Harry said quickly, jumping to his feet and trying to grab onto his godfather's arm.
"No, just let me do this. I'll just get rid of the name, and scramble the face, and then wear a glamour the rest of the visit-"
"Trust me, Harry, Moony, I'm the one on the run and I know what's best – Obliviate!"
Harry's wasn't the only cry of dismay as the spell left Sirius's wand. "Sirius," Harry heard Lupin say, his tone disappointed. Bill frowned and exchanged a look with Charlie.
"It is illegal to just go around Obliviating whomever you feel like, you know!" Hermione exclaimed disapprovingly, sounding a little shrill. Ron looked like he was caught between defending Sirius and agreeing with her. Percy appeared properly scandalized. Ginny, on the other hand, watched Ben; Harry followed her gaze.
Ben did not have the glazed look of someone recently Obliviated.
"I don't think that was really necessary, Sirius," Mr. Weasley added, while Mrs. Weasley took a much more direct route, striding over to the wizard in an outraged huff, clearly working up to the beginnings of a tirade. His face grimly determined, Sirius ignored them all, watching Ben unyieldingly.
Then Sirius's expression changed drastically.
The magic had impacted Ben; they'd all seen it. But now, impossibly, little rivulets of the spell trickled out from around his head, twisting and writhing like the hair of Medusa before fading away.
And for the first time since they'd met him-
-they caught Ben's gaze, and received no pleasant smile in return.