And sleep's your only friend, but even sleep can't hide you
From all the tears and all the pain
And all the days you wasted puching them away
It's your life, it's time you face it
~lyrics from "Desperate" by David Archuleta
Grimmauld Place was absolutely deserted, just as I had expected it to be. Harry was at the door when Rachel and I apparated onto the street behind him. He waited for us before going inside.
Immediately, Mrs. Black's picture began screaming. "NOW YOU'VE BROUGHT MUGGLES INTO MY HOUSE? MUDBLOODS, FILTH, TRAITORS—"
With a flick of his wand, Harry silenced her with the drapes. He looked so…old. Part of me wished he didn't know about Ron's capture. He had been so excited for the baby, to share the good news…
I glanced at Rachel. She was ghost white, staring at where the voice had been coming from.
"Do all of your pictures do that?" she asked quietly.
Harry chuckled. "No, just the nasty, cursed ones."
Rachel didn't look amused.
I placed my hand on her shoulder reassuringly. She forced a smile in my direction, but screamed almost at the same moment.
"Many apologies miss," said Kreacher from her feet. "Didn't mean to frighten the muggle, master."
Harry sighed. "That's all right, Kreacher. Have you finished cleaning the library?"
"Yes, sir. Finished yesterday evening. Has Mistress had the baby?"
Harry smiled again, seemingly forgetting the task at hand. "Yes, Kreacher. Thank you."
Kreacher smiled. "Congratulations, sir. Would you like Kreacher to help care for the baby?"
Harry seemed to snap back into focus. "No," he said, glancing at Rachel. "I want you to take care of this young woman, Kreacher. Her name is Rachel Rollins."
Kreacher eyed Rachel with closer scrutiny. She shivered and moved closer to my side.
"What are you?" she asked, her voice trembling.
"He's a house-elf," I explained. "Don't worry, he's harmless. He'll take good care of you."
"I'll also have someone else come…Lupin and Tonks, perhaps?" he looked at me for approval.
I shrugged. "Anyone would be fine, Harry."
"Get Rachel something to eat, Kreacher," Harry instructed. Turning to Rachel, he said gently, "Follow him into the kitchen. We'll be there in a moment or two."
Rachel glanced at me, uncertain. I nodded, and she hurried on after the tiny house-elf.
Harry sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "What happened, Hermione?"
I told him about everything that had happened since he left—about the Soul Searching potion, Katie, the Rollins, and finally Ron's disappearance. I didn't notice until I was finished that there were tears in my eyes.
He wrapped me in a tight hug, letting me cry on his shoulder for a moment. He was shaking in rage. We separated, and he stared after where Rachel had gone. I knew he could relate to everything she had been through in the past 24 hours. He knew first-hand what it felt like to lose everything in a day, to be completely stripped of everything and everyone he loved.
After a moment, he sighed, and motioned for me to follow him into the kitchen. Rachel sat nervously waiting for someone to explain to her what was going to happen. She was silently playing with a ham sandwich while Kreacher looked on, expectantly waiting more orders.
"Kreacher, go check on my wife," Harry said, smiling as he thought of his growing family. "Send either Lupin or Tonks here and stay at the cottage until I summon you."
"Yes, sir," Kreacher said nodding. He disappeared with a loud 'POP', causing Rachel to jump.
Harry sat down beside her and gently placed his hand over hers. She looked up at him, surprised. In that moment, I saw an instant connection between the two of them; it was as if they were communicating telepathically, sharing their individual stories and struggles. Rachel's eyes widened as she realized that this man was someone she could trust, despite his magical ability, and that they were fighting the same enemy: evil.
"I'm so sorry," Harry finally said. Tears welled up in Rachel's eyes, but she didn't let them spill. She simply nodded and looked away.
Using his finger, Harry pulled her chin up so he could see her face. His caring and understanding gaze was for Rachel unbearable. She smiled and wrapped her arms around this stranger, for a moment feeling completely safe.
"Who are you, really?" she asked as they parted. Her eyes were shining.
He laughed. "No one important enough for you to wonder about."
Rachel must have seen me roll my eyes as his modesty, because she let out a giggle. It was the first time I had heard her laugh since I visited the Rollins' house about four days ago, and it was probably the most beautiful sound I had heard in a long time.
The creak of the front door opening and Mrs. Black's screams ended the serene moment and brought all three of us back to reality. Pulling out my wand defensively, I turned to see a purple-haired Tonks hanging up a coat on the rack by the front door. She closed the curtains over Mrs. Black and swiftly entered the kitchen. She knew that something was wrong; if it wasn't something serious, Harry would no doubt have been back at the house a long time ago.
As she passed me, she squeezed my shoulders and flashed a sweet smile. Upon seeing Rachel, she stopped and placed her hands on her hips, looking at Harry inquisitively.
"So, Harry," she said, her eyes twinkling. "Am I to be a babysitter?"
"More of a guardian," Harry said, trying to stifle a laugh. "This is Rachel Rollins, Hermione's sister-in-law. We need someone to watch over her while Hermione and I take care of some business."
Tonks' eyes flickered to me, then went straight back to Harry. It was understood that he was the head of the Order, and when he gave a direct order, it was to be obeyed, no questions asked.
"Anything else?" she asked, smiling at Rachel.
Harry glanced at the young 16-year-old. She was shaking once again, unsure of what was going to happen to her.
"Be a good friend to her," Harry finally responded.
Tonks' smiled crookedly before adjusting her height and frame to look like a teenager. "Will this do?"
Rachel's eyes were so huge with wonder that the three of us couldn't help but laugh. She began to smile.
"How did you do that?" she asked, leaning forward.
"Oh, I can do more than that," Tonks replied, winking mischievously.
Harry frowned. "Don't scare her, Tonks." She responded with the same wink.
As Harry gathered supplies to leave and quickly went home to explain the situation to his wife, I explained everything to Tonks. A look of horror began to grow on Tonks' face as I told her of all we had been through in the past couple of weeks. She wrapped me in an embrace, and I felt the comfort of true friendship run through my body.
As we pulled apart, I heard Rachel clear her throat. "Um…Hermione, do you think I could talk to you alone?"
"Sure," I responded, a bit puzzled. "Let's go upstairs. Be down in a minute, Tonks."
We headed into one of the many bedrooms, and I closed the door behind the two of us. "What's up, Rachel?"
She sighed. There was obviously something very wrong, but she was extremely reluctant to share it with me. "Are you still wondering about my cut?"
"You bet I am," I responded, leaning against the bedpost. "Why don't we sit down?"
"That's okay," she replied quickly. "I…I don't want to keep you long."
I looked into her eyes, seeing that there was something that was really troubling her. "Rachel, you can take as long as you need to."
She exhaled slowly before meeting my gaze. "I wasn't in the house when the Death Eaters were there. I came in after it had already been set on fire."
I blinked, but pretended to be unsurprised. I could tell it was important that she share this story with someone.
"Friday morning, Katie told the family she was going on a camping trip somewhere high in the mountains," Rachel started nervously. "I asked her if I could come with her, and my parents pushed her to let me. She reluctantly brought me with her, but almost as soon as we got there she said she had someplace to be that I couldn't go."
I caught my breath. I knew what this was leading to, but I wasn't going to interrupt her.
"Well, I…I followed her. See, lately, Katie's changed…Mom and Dad thought she was getting involved with drugs, but I never thought that…" she sighed. "I just wanted to help her! I didn't know what was really going on!"
She covered her face with her hands. Immediately I took her fragile body in my arms and tried to help her fight the tears.
"I got captured and taken to the main chamber before she even noticed I was behind her. When she saw me there, she was absolutely furious! She told them to let me go, that I had nothing to do with their arrangement, but the leader said that he would keep me as a bargaining chip. She tried to grab me, but they all pointed their sticks at her and she starting twitching on the ground, screaming…"
I felt Rachel's body shudder. The sight of the Cruciartus Curse, especially to someone who was already scared or didn't know what was going on, is one of the most harrowing sights someone can see in their lifetime. No doubt it was a horror she hadn't expected to confront that night.
"She told them they'd double-crossed her, that they had stepped over the boundaries of their deal. They laughed at her and pointed their wands at her again. Eventually they let the two of us go, but on a warning: if she didn't get something for them in 24 hours—I don't remember what it was—they told her she'd better kill herself and her family before they got to us, because it would be less painful than what they would do. They even gave her a knife to do it…"
I felt something get caught in my throat. The calmness with which Rachel was telling the story was the most disturbing part of the whole situation. It was as if she had come to terms with it, although I knew for a fact she hadn't.
"When we got out of the cave, I…I started yelling at her. I was scared and I didn't understand what was happening or why, or what the deal was she had made with them. She was walking in front of me, and finally got so frustrated and annoyed with me that she whirled around, screaming at me to shut up. Her arm flew out, and the knife was in her hand…"
She didn't have to explain the rest. I could see the scene playing out in my mind, the knife cutting through the air, unknowingly hitting flesh…
"What did you do?" I asked softly.
"I ran away from her," she said, her voice cracking as tears stopped in her throat. "I called her a monster."
I felt a pull at my heart, realizing the guilt this young woman felt. The last thing she had told her sister was that she was a monster, that she hated her.
Against my shoulder, Rachel let out a sob. "Are you going to stop them from hurting anyone else, Hermione?"
I nodded with a newfound determination to succeed. "If it's the last thing I do."
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