Chapter Twenty-Six

Allyssa's POV

I couldn't see anything through the darkness; there was no hint of light, nothing to give me a clue as to where I was. There was no movement to draw my attention, no shadows deeper or lighter than the surrounding gloom. Yet, I was at peace. I felt no emotion besides complete contentment.

I knew only the darkness, yet there was something stopping me from traveling deeper into it, stopping me from reaching an even deeper level of peace. For a time I was content to drift only within the confines of my tether, but, eventually, it wasn't enough.

Slowly, carefully, I tried to search for whatever was anchoring me so I could sever the tie and drift freely. Yet, when I found it, I couldn't cut it. I began to follow the tether toward its origin, hoping to find a weak point along the way. However, the line proved to be equally resistant to my manipulations all the way down.

When I arrived at the bottom I discovered a large knot, but as soon as I touched it the darkness – my wonderfully peaceful, dark haven – disappeared. It was replaced by a field of tall grass and a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. I turned slowly in a circle and found that I could see nothing but green grass and blue sky. Well, this is nice, but I much prefer my previous residence, I thought to myself, wondering how to get back.

Slowly, I became aware of the sensations of the wind blowing across my face making my hair tickle my face; the grass cushioning my feet and itching across my shins. Shocked, I looked down, and was surprised to see my hands, feet and body. It felt like I'd been without them for an eternity.

When my gaze returned to my surroundings I discovered that I was no longer alone; I'd been joined by a man with blond hair and kind blue eyes. "Hello," I said cautiously.

The boy – maybe boy isn't the best word choice because I'm pretty sure he was older than me – frowned at me. "Allyssa, what are you doing here?"

I looked around me before replying, "I don't know. Where is here?"

His frown deepened. "I was hoping you could tell me," he replied. He paused momentarily before asking, "Are you sure you don't recognize this place? Not from a childhood memory or even a favorite fantasy?"

I tried to summon a childhood memory of this place and came up blank, so I shook my head lamely.

"Hmm," was his only reply.

I took a moment to study him as he looked off into the distance. His blond hair was just long enough in the front to get into his eyes, and long enough in the back to sit on the nape of his neck; he had a touch of stubble on his cheeks, like he'd forgotten to shave that morning. His troubled blue eyes held shadows. Overall, he looked like a young man that had a lot on his mind, and didn't have to bother with mundane things like haircuts and shaving.

He ran a hand through his shaggy hair and drew my attention to the rest of him. He was taller than me, but I didn't find that odd. His broad shoulders and muscular arms filled out the t-shirt that hung loosely on the rest of his lean frame. His jeans were faded and well-worn. The lack of haircut and the thinness of his frame did nothing to detract from his good looks, but I was too preoccupied to really notice.

"Do you know how I get back?" I asked him.

"Do you know how you got here in the first place?" He countered.

"I was trying to untie the knot, but it just sent me here," I answered, frowning.

"What knot?"

"The knot of the tether."

"Allyssa, where are you trying to get back to?" he asked carefully.

"The Darkness. Where else would I go?" I asked, confusion flavoring my voice.

"Do you remember what you were doing before you were in the Darkness? Think really hard," the boy pushed.

I tried to remember, I really did, but I still drew a blank. I shook my head in answer.

The boy walked over to me, slowly, like you would approach a skittish animal. When he was within arm's reach of me he sat down and patted the ground in front of him invitation. When I didn't move he sighed and said, "Allyssa, I need to come and sit with me. I'm not going to hurt you; I'm probably not even going to touch you."

Cautious, I sat down about a foot away from him and mirrored the way he had his legs crossed. "Close your eyes," he instructed, and, after a slight hesitation, I did. "Good. Now, I want you to concentrate. That tether you felt in the Darkness, can you still feel it?"

I tried to focus on the sound of his voice and nothing else. With a clear mind I delicately probed the depths of my consciousness for the tether. When I found it, grasped it delicately and nodded. "Good. Do you think you could follow it again?"

I opened my eyes, but maintained by hold on the tether. "Where do you think it leads? Where would it take me?" I asked.

He seemed to hesitate before answering. "I think. . . I think it'll take where you need to go. I hope that it takes you home."

I frowned at that. "If home is where I need to be, then why would I have left in the first place? Why didn't it take me there when I followed it the first time?"

He shrugged. "I don't know, Allyssa. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that the longer you stay here, the more likely it is that you won't be able to go back."

With that in mind, I once again closed my eyes and started to follow the tether. Before I could go too far, however, I opened my eyes to see the boy standing below me with his back to me. "I didn't get your name," I yell down.

He turns and looks up, and I can just barely make out the confused expression on his face as he says, "My name is Hudson, Allyssa."

I nod, close my eyes and continue following the tether. And, it may have been my imagination, but I could've sworn I heard a whisper say, "Like the bay."

CPOV

It was Thursday, ten days after the Ashburns' visit. I stood in front of my desk lecturing a group of Gryffindor and Slytherin forth years. I'd been up all night, sitting beside Allyssa. Sam had gotten everyone's hopes up with a sudden increase in energy and an extreme reluctance to leave the Hospital Wing. Still, it had turned out to be nothing more than a false alarm.

The bell rang and my students rushed out. I had a free period next, but I'd been banned from the Hospital during the day (something about not wanting anyone to find out about our engagement), so I would attempt to make headway in the stacks of ungraded papers sitting on my desk.

Half an hour later I was roused by a tapping sound. Looking around, I spotted a nondescript Barn Owl with a letter clasped in its beak. Automatically, I opened the window to let the bird inside.

The owl glided in and landed on the edge of my desk. I relieved the bird of its burden, and the familiar handwriting on the envelope was enough to fill me with a sense of urgency.

Charlie,

I just wanted to let you know that Madam Pomfrey has asked that I take Sam back to the rooms for the day; apparently Sam's been barking and disturbing her other patients. I'll drop her back off after dinner.

Hermione

I crumpled the note and tossed it into the rubbish bin. So we're just assuming that she's still going to be . . . like that after dinner? Do you hold no hope that she'll wake between now and then, Hermione? Do you still have any hope at all, or do you simply go through the motions? I wanted to scream it at her, at them all, but what good would it do? Mum flooed incessantly, but I was never in my rooms longer than it took to shower and change; I had a pile of unopened letters in my rooms from everyone in the family, except Ron and Lavender. No, I burnt those as soon as I saw the flowery envelopes my youngest brothers' cow of a wife used (and insisted her Won-Won use as well).

It'd been 17 days now. Ten days since the Ashburns had come to Hogwarts; ten days of watching Sam's every move, trying to analyze her every twitch, every yawn; ten days of false alarms because Sam had refused to leave Allyssa's side; ten days of watching Ice, the most beautiful dragon I'd ever seen, grow weaker and sink into a depression so deep and dark she refused to eat and the only person she allowed close to Allyssa was me; ten days of being helpless.

I sat at my desk staring into space, completely unaware of time passing, of my free period ending and my sixth year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs shuffling in. Eventually, a Gryffindor girl spoke up, "Professor? Is everything alright?"

"Why wouldn't it be, Miss Lane?" I smiled sadly to myself before getting up to stand in front of my desk and starting my lecture, "Today we're going to continue our study of wards…"

We were halfway through the lesson when the doors slammed open to reveal none other than Hermione Granger, out of breath and smiling from ear to ear. "It's . . . Allyssa . . . she's . . . awake!"

I just managed to yell, "Class dismissed!" as I rushed out the doors.

We raced through the corridors, up and down moving staircases, never once stopping. The few students that were in the halls plastered themselves against the walls in order to stay out of our way. Some were cheeky enough to yell comments like, "Where's the fire, Professors?" after us, but most fell silent when they saw us coming. The school would probably be over flowing with rumors by lunch but I couldn't really find it in myself to care.

Hermione and I slowed to a fast walk when we entered the hall outside the Hospital Wing to catch our breath.

"Is she really awake?" I asked hesitantly.

Hermione smiled at me. "She really is. She hasn't said anything yet – or at least she hadn't when I went to get you – but her eyes were open and she was definitely conscious."

"Thank Merlin."

We entered the Hospital Wind to find that we were the last to arrive; all of the Ashburns were there, Snape was hovering near-by, Madam Pomfrey was fluttering about, even McGonagall stood there wringing her hands. Ignoring all of them, I rushed to Allyssa's side. Her eyes were closed once again, but she felt different. I could sense that her magic was free once again even without seeing the renewed vitality in Ice.

Once she was satisfied that everything was in order Madam Pomfrey gave her prognosis, "She's just sleeping now, but she might stay that way for several hours or even overnight. The sleep will help her mind and magic catch up on the time they lost while she was in the coma."

I heard the Ashburns ask some questions but my gaze never left Allyssa's face. I mentally cataloged every difference: from the slight flush in her cheeks to her deeper, more relaxed breathing; from the feel of her magic filling the air around her to her hand lying on the pillow beside her head instead of limply at her side.

I think Snape and McGonagall left when it became clear that she wasn't going to wake up immediately. The Ashburns and Hermione must have left sometime after that because when I next look up it was dark and I was alone with Allyssa. Madam Pomfrey must have been close, though, because she walked over as soon as I moved. "Go to bed, Charlie. She'll still be here in the morning," the medi-witch said as she straightened Allyssa's covers.

"No, I-"

"It wasn't a suggestion, young man. Don't think for a minute I don't know how many nights you've spent in here over the last couple weeks, but not tonight-"

We both turned to stare at the dark-haired girl that was waking up for the first time in a long time. We watched as she stretched her delicate arms and as her dark blue eyes fluttered open. "Miss Ashburn, it is good to see you awake," Madam Pomfrey said before she bustled away.

"Allyssa," I breathed as I grabbed her hand.

Only to have it retched out of my grip and to have the blue eyes that I'd been yearning to see for so long look at me blankly. "Do I know you?" my fiancée said hoarsely.

AN: Cliffhanger! At least she's awake, though, right? I wanted to thank all of you that signed the SOPA petition. It did get 100,000+ signatures, if anyone was wondering. (Does anyone know what's happening with the bill itself though? I'm kind of curious)

Have a Happy Summer and a great 4th of July! I'll try not to leave you hanging for too long. I appreciate all reviews.