image by me (laelia @ TDA)
The darkness was clearing, but Elena did not feel any happier. The world felt soft around the edges still, blurred and fuzzy, but at least she could hear. The voices sounded distant and warped but after a few minutes, Elena’s mind cleared enough so she could make out words.
“What do you think you’re doing?” an angry voice said.
“She is in pain,” a second, male, voice said, sounding agonized.
" Corinne hissed, My God.
"She is not an invalid.”
There was the sound of something crashing and Simon said, “He died
, Corinne. She is allowed to be upset.”
Elena tried to open her eyes, to try to see why the others were talking but she felt so tired. She knew that something had happened, but everything still felt so muddled, like she was waking up from a dream that she couldn’t quite remember. She noticed, with detached curiosity, a sweet taste that lingered in her mouth.
Corinne scoffed loudly. “Upset maybe, but potions, Simon? Putting her sleep is not going to help anyone. If you have to watch her the whole day, that’s a whole day for the murderer to get away.”
“She was miserable.” Simon sighed. “You didn’t see her after I told her. I thought she wasn’t going to be able to move. It was like she just died.
“I know what this is about.” Corinne’s voice grew weary. “I didn’t see, that is correct, but it is a hazard of the job. I’ve said this before Simon. And God knows that we both have lost people before. But listen, when—mon dieu—
when Christian...well, I didn’t act like this. I did not ‘die
“And are you going to sit there while she cries? Do you think either of us is any good at this at all?”
“Fine. Just...fine. I don’t know exactly why this is your decision to make, but I won’t argue this with you anymore,” Corinne sounded resigned and the door slammed a few seconds later.
A hand brushed at Elena’s hair and then, after a moment, Elena felt someone put a goblet of potion to her lips. It echoed the flavour in her mouth: horribly sweet. Even in her confused state she knew that the sticky, thick liquid could only be Sleep Syrup. It was flavoured that way to be more appealing to children and anyone else who didn’t like taking normal potions.
With strength she didn’t know she had, Elena spat the Syrup out. A thought flew into her head, unbidden, but certainly true: Simon was trying to make her sleep.
“No,” she said, in a hoarse voice, her eyes opening with horrible effort.
Simon looked down at her, his face showing anguish and pity. “I’m sorry,” he said heavily, as if he was too exhausted for speech. “I didn’t mean to. I suppose I should have known better. Corinne was going on about that. But I didn’t know if you...”
Elena couldn’t remember why Simon felt the need to apologize. “No Sleep Syrup,” she said weakly, hoping that she had the strength to resist him if he tried to force her to drink it. “I’m not ill.”
The door opened again, and another voice sounded. Elena saw Corinne’s sharp face come into view a moment later. “Of course you’re not,” Corinne said, pushing Simon away. “I don’t see why you need to stay sleeping the whole time anyways. It prevents us from working because we have to make sure you don’t wake up all alone. I told Simon what I think about this and…”
Simon stepped in front of her, cutting off the tirade. “Elena,” he began. “Are you alright? You do remember what happened.”
The brief drowsiness caused by the Sleep Syrup was slipping away and Elena decided to try to sit up in bed. Her limbs felt weak, but she managed to sit in a vaguely upright position. “No,” she said.
Simon looked horror struck. “I can’t tell you again,” he protested, turning to Corinne.
She scoffed. “You were the one wanted to avoid a mess by letting her sleep. Now if Elena doesn’t remember, I’m certainly not telling her.”
“Elena,” Simon began, looking anywhere but at her face. “Elena, are you sure you can’t recall anything about…what I told you earlier? Do you remember where you last were?”
It took Elena a minute to think back, but when she did, she could only see a rough outline, no details. With Alice and Frank,” she began. “There was a body, too. We found a body.”
Simon nodded, half encouragingly. “Right, that’s right.”
“We went outside,” Elena continued, the events slowly returning. Finally, all at once, any residual Sleep Syrup seemed to evaporate from her and the night before appeared in crystal detail. “Oliver,” she breathed, feeling tears well up in her eyes. The conversation she had while dreaming, between Simon and Corinne made horrible, awful sense.
For a moment, she simply sat shell-shocked. Her brother was dead. That was what Simon had told her. He had been killed somewhere out in Albania. She thought of her parents, briefly, then of little Ollie and Marianne. That couldn’t be true. Oliver was just away, on a mission. He had been gone for a long time, after all, what was to say that he wasn’t coming back in a month? How could she know for sure if he was dead? But Simon had seemed so sure.
Elena slung her feet over the edge of the bed, and stood in one quick motion. “I’ve got to tell them,” she whispered to herself.
Before she could even take a step, Simon blocked her way, putting both hands on her shoulders and helping Elena sit back down. “Not so quickly,” he warned. “Just, calm down.”
Elena shook her head frantically, now a sudden panicked urge filling her. “But I’ve got to tell Marianne. And Ollie. And my parents. They need to know. They need to know he’s gone. Marianne deserves to know. They all do. They all need to know!”
Simon stepped back from Elena, looking bewildered at her reaction. “Are you alright?” he sounded shaky for the first time, less sure of himself.
“Hysteria,” Corinne drawled from the end of the bed, where she had sat down. “It’s a side effect, Simon. You should know that. She could go on like this for another hour at least.” For some reason, Elena noted, Corinne seemed unfazed by this revelation. But then again, Elena didn’t think she was reacting correctly either. Instead of true grief, she felt frenzied and skittish. Her brain was going through a hundred strange, unrelated thoughts a minute. For a second, a bit of her healer training emerged from the jumble to agree with Corinne. Hysteria was a side effect, no doubt one she was experiencing.
“Lacewing,” Elena said, concentrating as hard as she could on one train of thought.
There was a creak as Corinne got up off the bed, and walked out of the room.
Elena’s mind kept spinning until Corinne returned, holding a small box of the type that typically held potion ingredients. She slid open the lid to reveal the powdery white lacewings.
It would have been better if they were stewed, but Elena didn’t have the strength to give any sort of instructions. Stewing lacewing was tedious and a precise art. It needed a silver cauldron, preferably a tarnished one. The ratio of lacewings to water had to be exact as well.
Instead, Elena reached into the box, took a pinch of the substance and ate it. Instantly the jittery energy that filled her calmed. She collapsed onto the bed, sobbing in horror.
Oliver was dead. Her brother, who had always been so brave and so much stronger than her. Oliver, who should have been the one here, with Simon and Corinne. He always knew what to do. It was inconceivable that he could have been killed. Oliver had been so talented, so careful. He had known his family was waiting for him at home. He would never have been reckless. If Oliver, who had always been protecting others, had died, how could Elena be sure anyone else she knew would be safe?
Someone sat down next to her on the bed. Elena didn’t move, her face still buried in the pillows. She didn’t care who it was. It didn’t matter. It would not be Oliver and he was the only one whose presence could comfort her.
“Elena,” Simon said gently.
She looked up, feeling a sudden surge of anger. “How dare you!” she screamed. “How could you keep it from me?”
Simon’s face fell. “I’m sorry,” he said softly.
Elena shook her head violently. “Sorry for what? For telling me?”
A bitter laugh ripped through the room. “I’m sure,” Corinne said with a smirk.
Simon whirled. “Enough.” His voice was savage. “Leave.” He sounded ready to murder.
Elena shivered, shrinking away from Simon, burying herself farther into the bed. Simon seemed so dangerous.
Corinne turned and left with deliberate slowness.
Elena could feel Simon shaking next to her, rage turning his face angular. All of her anger had evaporated, as if absorbed by Simon. She crumpled, letting her whole body go limp and let tears flow out of her eyes.
The next morning, Elena awoke, her throat scraped raw. She felt beyond exhausted, unable to even move. Her brother was dead, her breath told her. Oliver was gone, repeated her heartbeat.
Her stomach ached, mirroring her throat, and she realized that it had been too long since she had eaten. Standing shakily, she made her way to the small kitchen, wondering if she had the strength to stay composed if someone was inside.
Simon sat at the table, hunched over a cup of tea. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. When he heard Elena, he turned, straightening up. A flash of a strange emotion passed over his face, and then a mask of pleasantries settled over his face. “Good morning,” he said slowly.
Elena gave a small smile at his attempt to seem normal. She moved, as if through water and sat at the table, across from Simon. “I’ll make you breakfast,” Simon jumped to his feet.
With little interest, Elena watched as Simon fried eggs and bacon in a pan, using minimal magic. He set the steaming plate in front of Elena.
Still not speaking, she ate quickly. Grief should have kept her from wanting food, but Elena was still ravenous. The bacon had no taste but salt—like tears. The eggs were hot—like blood. But she would not think like that. It was only food.
“How are you?” Simon questioned, staring intently towards Elena, who avoided his stare as best she could. “I mean,” he paused. “That’s no sort of question to ask, but...”
Elena didn’t quite know how to answer. The grief was like actual pain. “Alright,” Elena lied finally, not making eye contact. She hoped that Simon would understand that she was in no mood to talk.
Instead, however, he reached across the distance between them and grabbed her wrist, preventing her from taking another bite of bacon. “Elena,” he began softly. “You can’t be alright.”
She looked upwards, wondering if she was daring enough to try to yank her wrist away. “What?” Her voice came out more exasperated than she had intended it to. All the exhaustion of the previous days flowed into the one word.
“What do you want?" Simon seemed to be speaking at random, though his voice seemed calm. “Do you need time? Should I leave?”
Elena looked at him for a moment, trying to gauge what he wanted. She supposed he was looking for some sort of response, but she had no idea what to tell him. “I don’t want to think,” she said at last.
Simon stared at her sharply, looking as if he was about to reprimand her, but at the last minute, he seemed to change his mind. “Come along,” he said, standing up and pulling her along with him. “I have an idea.”
Elena didn’t bother to protest and let Simon pull her by the wrist to the cavernous room of the warehouse. “Do you have your wand?” he asked, when they stopped in the centre.
She nodded, pulling it from her pocket.
“I’m going to teach you how to fight,” Simon said. “I should have done it earlier. I would have done it anyways, but now is as good a time as any.”
Elena wasn’t sure she agreed with his last observation, but she had no complaint. “Alright.”
Simon looked at her, worry in his gaze. “Don’t be worried,” he said. “I won’t just start firing spells at you.”
“I’m not worried.” Elena wasn’t. She knew that Simon would never harm her. Or she would have thought that, had he not kept her brother’s death from her.
“How much do you know already?” Simon asked.
Elena made a face. “Can we just begin?” She had no desire to think about the past.
“Protego?” Simon seemed unwilling to give up.
“Try me.” For some reason, Elena felt a grin spread on her face. She raised her wand and took several steps back from Simon.
Quicker than she could think, Elena watched as Simon whipped out his wand and cast a stream of yellow light towards her.
Only because she had taken a few steps back, and because she had her wand already in front of her was she able to cast the shield spell, deflecting the light out into the rest of the warehouse.
Simon raised an eyebrow. “Quick,” he said, almost smiling.
Elena shrugged. She should have felt proud, but all she could feel was the dull ache of sadness between her ribs. The past night had stolen her other emotions away.
A flicker of movement caught Elena’s attention just before she heard the tell-tale crack of apparation. Simon spun out of sight. A twin sound made her spin around. Without thinking, she screamed: “Protego.” Elena was not even sure if there was a spell until it collided with her shield, knocking her a step backward.
She expected Simon to praise her again, but instead, she saw another flash of light come towards her out of the murky corner of the warehouse. Elena blocked the spell again, her heart pounding in her chest. She wasn’t sure if she could take much more surprise, but wasn’t about to let Simon hit her with whatever spells he was firing.
As Elena turned around slowly, in the centre of the warehouse, scanning for danger, she heard the sound of Simon disapparating. She wasn’t sure where the sound had came from, but an instant later, the crack was right behind her. Simon’s hands settled on her shoulders. Elena jumped, trying to bite back a scream. Instead, she whimpered, and felt her legs buckle.
Simon caught her before she could fall far, and settled them both on the ground. Elena felt sweat drip down her forehead. Her heartbeat echoed through the room, pulsing irregularly. “Oh God,” she breathed.
Elena glanced up at Simon’s face. “You scared me,” she hissed, but felt too shocked to be accusing.
To her immense surprise, Simon laughed.
“It’s not funny,” Elena snapped, sliding farther away from him. She wondered if she was going mad, maybe imagining things. These past few days certainly seemed unreal.
Simon shook his head. “No it’s not,” he agreed.
“Then what—” Elena was puzzled.
“You weren’t sad, just then,” Simon said. After a pause, he leaned in closer to Elena, so she could hear him whisper. “You know, I know what it’s like to lose someone. And I know how hard it can be to forget. But it is important to forget, if only for a few moments.”
Elena considered this. He was right. The fright had momentarily banished any grief she had been feeling. Now that she was calmer, the ache was back, but the relief had been wonderful. “Oh,” she said slowly, nodding.
“That being said, are you ready for more?” Simon stood and offered a hand down to Elena.
She took it, letting him pull her upright. She did want to learn more, if only to forget about her brother for a few seconds.
“Well,” Simon said, taking her standing as a reply. “I think we should try the Shield Charm again.”
Their training progressed well enough until Simon suggested that Elena try to cast a Patronus. She spoke the incantation, but was unable to produce a single happy memory. All she could think of was her brother, teaching her the charm years ago, practicing with her carefully. Before, it would have been a pleasant thought, but now, it too was tainted.
“I’m done,” Elena said, slumping as she lowered her wand.
Simon, seeing the tears in her eyes, did not protest and the training was concluded for the day.
Elena woke the next morning, exhausted and sore from the fighting practice. At breakfast, she again saw Simon who suggested continuing the last day’s training. “I don’t think I can,” Elena told him, massaging her shoulder. “I’m too tired.”
Simon seemed untroubled by her answer. “Alright,” he replied. “I have another idea. This one doesn’t require any physical activity, promise.”
He led Elena to one of the smaller workrooms in the warehouse. It was particularly sparse, with only a small table with a shallow bowl. Elena had never been in this particular room before, but she instantly recognized the bowl. “A Pensieve,” she exclaimed in awe, having never seen the device except once in her Healer training.
“Correct,” Simon said, and, from a small drawer in the table, drew out a tiny bottle. He drew his wand and tapped the glass once.
Elena sprang back, away from Simon. “I want my memories!” she said, hysteria rising into her tone as she thought of all the reasons he might have brought her to this place. “Taking them away won’t help anything! And I’m better today, anyways!”
Simon looked bewildered, then shook his head quickly. “No. No, no. I just want us to look through some we found in Natalya’s flat.”
“Oh,” Elena said, her voice suddenly quiet. She remembered the tiny bottles that she had found hidden under the floorboards. There would have been a dozen at least. She had all but forgotten about them, but now, she wondered why they had never been examined before. After all, the memories they found could be gold, in terms of making headway in the investigation. “That’s alright then,” she added in a timid voice.
It was obvious to Elena that Simon was confused. He looked as if he had no idea how to respond to her sudden outburst, then the seclusion that followed. Obviously, when he experienced grief, it was much different than when Elena did.
“So, we’ll start with this one,” Simon carefully uncorked one of the bottles, holding it above the Pensieve, poise to pour it in. “That is,” he added, “if you’re ready.”
Elena decided that she was curious and that she probably didn’t have anything else to do, so she nodded once. “Go ahead.”
Simon tipped his hand and the liquid flowed out of the bottle, the wispy silver fluid swirling into the Pensieve. Elena reached the other side of the bowl and, as she had seen others do, leaned into the magic.
Instantly, she was transported into a room that she recognized. It was Natalya’s flat, where the memories had been discovered. Natalya, the guard who they had recently found dead, was sitting on the shabby sofa in front of a crackling fire, reading a magazine.
Elena saw Simon appear beside her a moment later. "Stay quiet," he warned. "We don't want to miss anythings she says." With that, he gestured that they should move closer to Natalya. Before Elena could take a step, however, there was a flash of light as someone Flooed into the fireplace. Natalya jumped up, grabbing her wand and looked fierce. “Who is it?” she called out steadily.
The figure straightened and Elena saw that the man was dressed in a long cloak, with the golden mask of a Death Eater on his face. Natalya’s fear was evident at the sight. Elena could only guess that a professional guard had protected her fireplace from the Floo Network and had not been expecting this kind of assault.
Natalya slashed her wand downwards, obviously willing to attack first, however, the Death Eater was ready and cast a silent shield charm. The strength of the charm forced Natalya to the floor, knocking her wand out of her hand. She rolled, trying to reach it, but before she could move much farther, the Death Eater murmured, “Confundus.”
The cloaked figure was obviously male and he towered over Natalya as he spoke in a commanding voice. “Tonight, you will arrive at your post, guarding the Minister. His guard of Aurors will hand him over to you, as normal, but as soon as a door is between the Aurors and the Minister, you will sit down. You will not attack anyone who comes to attack the Minister. If the Aurors try to enter the house, you will disapperate. You will tell no one of this plan.”
Natalya crumpled to the floor as the Death Eater released her and stepped back into the fireplace, disappearing in a whirlwind of flames.
Natalya lay still for several long moments, before crawling along until her head was level with the underside of the sofa. It was a pitiful sight to see such a strong witch barely able to move. Elena wanted to run and help her, to heal her, but she was only a memory.
With much effort, Natalya managed to lift up one floorboard and uncover the hiding place Elena had found. She reached in and pulled out an empty vial. With her wand, she siphoned a memory from her temple, muttering. Elena could only make out a few words, but it sounded as if Natalya was willing herself to keep the memory, so that it would be clear that she had not willingly harmed her employer. Even if she could not help but obey, she might be able to let others know.
As the last of the memory left Natalya’s mind, the memory faded and Elena found herself back in the workroom, covered in sweat. Her mind was racing, trying to understand all that had occurred in the perhaps ten minutes of the memory. She sank to the floor, leaning against one of the cold walls, replying the scene in her mind and finding new complications and consequences each time.
If the Death Eater had Confounded Natalya, did that mean that her partner had been confronted similarly? If she had only been ordered to stay out of the way, who had killed the Minister? Was it the male Death Eater in the memory, or another? How had they managed to enter the fire in Natalya’s flat in the first place, as a guard, she would have taken precautions against it.
“Are you alright?” Elena heard Simon say, and she jumped, having forgotten that he too had left the memory.
She glanced up at him, her eyes trying to convey all that she was feeling without words. She would have said something but was unable to formulate words because of the questions plaguing her brain.
“I,” Simon began, and knelt down beside her. “I’m sorry.” He put a hand on her shoulder and, after a second, helped her stand. “I didn’t even think what could be in the memory,” Simon sighed. “I never meant to upset you.”
Elena realized that she was shaking and leaned against Simon, who, after a second, wrapped his arms around her. They stayed there for a moment, Elena fighting back tears, and Simon stroking her hair.
In that instant, Elena never wanted to move. Simon, though he wasn’t speaking, seemed to understand her perfectly.
With a sniff, Elena, broke away and to her surprise, found herself shaking her head. “I’m not upset,” she said, hoping that saying it made it true. She tried to convince herself that though the memories experienced in the Pensieve were vivid, they had not felt entirely real to her. “I was just thinking, about what all this meant.”
Simon looked surprised, even nervous and stepped back. “I thought that you were upset about...well...” He paused awkwardly, then pressed forward, speaking words that seemed stinted. “Yes, of course there are more questions now, but at least we know Natalya is not our murderer.”
“It would have been better if she was,” Elena mused. Now that the moment was broken, she wished that she could return to it, but she was not brave enough, so instead, she kept the conversation going. “That way the killer would be dead and our work would be done.” As soon as she uttered the words, Elena recoiled, appalled that she had been glad of the death of another human. After all, even if Natalya had been a murderer, she would have had a family, people who cared about her. She had been talking without thinking. “I—I didn’t mean that,” Elena whispered, shrinking back against the wall, as if to hide from her own words.
With a sigh, Simon turned away. “You had a point,” he said, though he didn’t sound very convinced himself. “It would have been easier, but it would have been so anticlimactic. All this work, only to find out that our first guess was correct.” He gave a wry laugh. “As frustrating as it all is, the guessing makes this a more appealing game.”
Elena wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this, so she took out her wand and siphoned the memory out of the bowl, into the vial that it had come from. She put it carefully back into the drawer below the basin and, with a moment’s hesitation, withdrew a second vial. “Shall we?” she asked, turning so that Simon could see what she held.
He looked surprised but agreed. “I suppose, if you’re willing.”
“I wouldn’t be offering if I wasn’t,” Elena said dryly, and quickly tipped the vial into the Pensieve, watching the mesmerizing swirl of thought with a clinical interest. It was so much easier to live in another person’s memories.
Note: Many, many apologies to all readers! I am so sorry that this chapter took so long to be published. I had a version wirtten months ago, but I was simply not happy with it. Finally, I managed to change it into something sort of decent, which is what you see here. I do have the next chapter completely written as well, so there will be a much shorter gap between the postings of chapters. I will however, be alternating chapters of Vital with chapters of my new story, Failure.
Thank you if you're still reading, and again, I appreciate your patience.
Also, a special thanks to apocalypse, who was very helpful in both encouraging me to complete this chapter and helping me when I had problems with a few plot points!!
------ Though I do mention it in the text, when Corinne says Mon Dieu, she is saying "My God" in French-----