Words: 10641 words, 4 chapters
Summary: Christmas Day starts with a bang when Marcus goes on a wild goose chase to find Katie Bell after a very confusing Floo-call.
July, ten years later
The noise in Tutshill stadium had reached deafening levels. Fans of either side were competing for the loudest and most enthusiastic. Colourful torches, drums, overly amplified trumpets, anything and everything you could think of was used to put more heat behind their cheers. Banners in various shades of blue, the team-colours of both Quidditch clubs, were weaving in and out the crowd as illegally smuggled in fireworks erupted high in the sky every ten minutes.
Tutshill Tornadoes were up against the Appleby Arrows in the Premier League finale match. Ninety minutes in, the Arrows had a forty-point lead. With each passing minute, the game seemed to get dirtier and meaner and more lethal. Most the of the players were bruised or bleeding at one or more parts of their body, and no-one seemed to bat an eye at another foul committed; just like a proper Quidditch match ought to be.
High above in the executive skybox, Katie Flint née Bell was seated. Up until a few weeks ago, she would have loved to watch the match from the stands, scream herself hoarse with the other supporters, light off fireworks and start an argument or two with anyone who dared to criticise her husband. However, at eight months pregnant with her second, she’d decided to use the luxuries offered to the players’ families for a change.
On her right side, Edith Flint did the screaming and encouragement in her place. The usually calm and collected woman was shaking her fist and cursing out everyone who was crossed or fouled Marcus, and jumped up and down in joy whenever he scored one for the team. And when she wasn’t doing any of those things, she was gulping down beer straight from the bottle and sharing strategies whoever was listening at the moment.
On Katie’s left, were her five-year-old son, Daniel, and her father. Like Granny Flint, they, too, were busy cheering on Marcus and his team. Daniel, Danny for short, stood on his chair, jumping up and down and shaking his little fists like he’d seen his grandmother do and repeating every single word his grandfather was hurling at the Appleby players. Katie had given up correcting him and just hoped that he’d forget most of the colourful curses in the morning.
A lot was happening on the pitch. Whilst Marcus and another Tutshill Chaser scored two times each in a short time, Cho Chang, the team’s new Seeker got sight of the Snitch and went after it in a high-speed pursuit. The Appleby Seeker went after her, doing his best to thwart her every move and get to Snitch before she did. The crowds went ballistic. Blinding bright fireworks lit up the evening sky and the noise levels penetrated through the charms around the stadium and reached a nearby Muggle village.
For Katie, who had done her best to stay calm throughout the match, the excitement became unbearable. She had her fists pressed against her mouth to refrain herself from blurting out things in front of her son she might regret. It didn't keep her from muttering encouragements, though, and a maybe even a simple charm here and there to help Cho out a little.
“Daddy looks sick.” In the end, it was those three simple words Daniel uttered that signalled the start of a horrible change.
Katie wanted to tell Daniel that Dad was probably a bit tired, but as she shifted her gaze from Cho to Marcus on the other side of the pitch, she had to admit that Danny was right, Marcus did look sick, she could see that even from this distance. He looked pale, too pale, his mouth agape as he clearly struggled to catch his breath. He had one hand tightly gripped his broomstick in attempts to keep his balance as the other clutched his rapidly rising and falling chest.
Katie wasn’t sure what she’d hoped to achieve when she whispered Marcus’ name as she slowly rose from her seat. Make him snap out of it perhaps, get his attention so she could tell him off for scaring her. What she did know was that in a matter of seconds, panic and fear had replaced the excitement, making her tremble and gasp for air like Marcus was.
“No, no, no, not again,” Edith Flint whispered urgently. The tone of her voice scaring Katie even more.
Everything after that happened in a blur and thinking back at this exact moment in a few months from now, Katie could only remember certain parts. Like when Edith jumped up, pounding against the glass partition as she yelled for the team Healer to fly up to her son. Or when her father snagged Daniel from his seat and pressed him against his chest to block the boy’s view.
Months from now, Katie would remember believing that there was nothing to worry about. She’d recall thinking that Marcus was probably having a bad day because he’d complained about feeling a bit under the weather earlier that day. She'd feel guilty for the rest of her life for not taking him seriously and insisting that he'd see a Healer.
Months from now, she’d remember turning her attention to the pitch again, just in time to see Marcus fall off his broom. She’d remember her breath hitching her throat as his teammates went after him. She’d remember the silence in the stadium, so much more deafening than a few minutes before.
Months from now, Katie would remember realising that one of her worst nightmares had come true even before Marcus’ body hit the grass and he failed to stand up again.
December, five months later
Moonlight illuminated the nursery, casting a silver glow on the little resident of the room and her mother. Just finished nursing, the mother patted her daughter’s back as she watched the stars in the night sky, hoping to see one so bright that she, too, could finally believe the words of consolation she offered her son every night. Nothing was there, however, there never was. Just the same stars and moon like every night, none of them special or different.
It was a silly old wives tale, after all, wasn’t it? Her husband was buried six feet underground next to his father, not brightly twinkling in the sky. Gods, the thought alone would have had him doubling over in laughter.
Still, the woman, Katie Flint, intently stared at the sky as she held her four-month-old daughter close to her chest, needing to see something, needing to believe something. And just when she wanted to give up hope, a bright line cut through the dark sky; a shooting star.
A small smile played on her lips as she remembered an old nursery rhyme her Auntie Ella had once taught her. Katie closed her eyes, nuzzling her baby’s hair as she quietly recited,
“Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight: I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” She took a deep breath, biting back her tears, and said with a small, quivering voice, “A chance to save him, that’s what I wish for.”
When Katie opened her eyes again, the bright line was gone as if it hadn’t been there at all. For a minute she didn’t dare move, waiting, hoping that something had changed. Madeleine finally burping pulled Katie back into reality. Of course, wishing on a stupid star wouldn’t make her deepest desire come true.
“Wishes only come true if you believe in them, silly girl!” her aunt’s shrill voice rang in her ears. “After you make your wish, keep thinking about it until you fall asleep.”
Katie preferred to ignore the voice as she went on to change Madeleine’s nappy. Wishes were for little children. She, unfortunately, hadn’t been one in years, and with two kids to raise, she had no time to revert into one, no matter how much she’d like to run away from her troubles.
“Good night, darling,” Katie whispered as put Madeleine in her cot.
The little girl fell asleep almost immediately, her arms and legs spread out like a starfish as she began sucking her bottom lip. So much like father, Katie thought as she watched her, stroking her dark downy hair. Tears welled up again, but she refused to shed them here. After tucking her in for a final time, she quickly pecked Madeleine's cheek and left the room so she could fall apart in peace.
Before she could do so, though, Katie had another stop to make first. Daniel’s room was across the hall from Madeleine’s, and as expected the complete opposite. Quidditch posters and drawings dominated the walls. Miniature Quaffles and Bludgers were strewn around on the floor, and his toy broom stood perched against his bed.
Unlike his sister, Daniel was curled up into a small ball. Like always, he had kicked the blankets kicked down to his ankles. Katie didn’t need to guess what he was clutching in his arms. As she came closer, she could see the dried up tear-tracks on his cheeks; he had cried himself to sleep again.
As quietly as she could, Katie sat down at the edge of the bed. A sad sigh escaped her as she brushed his hair from his forehead to check for a fever. Her heart broke for him. Aside from dealing with the loss of his father, he also had to deal with being sick all the time.
The potions the Healers had put him on for the next year or so to heal the newly discovered defects in his small body made him feel miserable. And when he wasn’t feeling miserable, he was dead tired, sleeping for hours on end. But the potions were a necessary evil to ensure that he wouldn’t succumb to the disease that had claimed his father and grandfather.
Overlooked heart abnormalities.
Muggles call it a genetic mutation. It isn’t much different with wizards.
A defect only affecting the male line.
Death could have been prevented if it’d been discovered sooner.
Your son is at risk.
“You’re going to get better, sweetheart. I promise you will,” Katie whispered as she as gently as possible pried the wooden picture frame from his hands. She didn’t look at it, just put it in her lap, upside down.
“I promise,” Katie whispered again and tucked him in, kissing his forehead. “Sweet dreams, sweetheart.”
Only by the time she reached her own bedroom and sat down on her bed, Katie realised that she’d taken Daniel’s most prized possession, a framed photograph, with her. As she studied the image, she could understand why Daniel wanted to keep those close to his heart. It was her favourite as well. The scene captured forever behind glass was enough to free the tears she’d been fighting all night.
In the photograph, Marcus had Daniel sitting on his shoulders, the overcrowded stands of the Braga Broomfleet’s Stadium in the background. Colourful confetti danced in the air, and if she closed her eyes, she could hear the loud music and cheers that had filled the air that day. Father and son were grinning broadly at her as they held the European Championship trophy Tutshill had won last year in Portugal high in the air. Marcus was still dirty and sweaty, his brow and lip busted, but looking so healthy. So alive. He had been so happy that day, so proud of finally achieving a dream.
Thick teardrops fell on the glass, distorting scene in the picture. Reverently, Katie cradled the frame close to her chest, just like Daniel had done for most of the night.
“So, so, unfair,” Katie cried. They were supposed to grow old and wrinkly together and complain about youngster these days. They were supposed to see their grandkids finish Hogwarts, spoil them rotten as their grandparents had done with hem. She wasn’t supposed to be a widow before even hitting thirty.
With pain in her heart, she turned the frame upside down again to stop tormenting herself. Brightly coloured stars Daniel had drawn on the back reminded her of the wish she had made earlier. “A chance,” she softly cried as she turned the frame one more time, “All I need is a chance to save you.”
Outside, the stars in the ink-dark night sky lit up as the words tumbled from her lips, but she didn’t see. All her attention was on the frame in her hands, on the man that had been her whole life since she was seventeen. She cried for a long time, like she did every night, begging for him to come to her, pleading with him not to leave her and their children behind.
Finally, as the worst of her sadness ebbed away and her tears dried up, Katie noticed the small change in the room.
In the fireplace in the corner, the fake one that wasn’t connected to any pipes let alone to the Floo-Network, a small fire was lit. Her grief and mourning momentarily forgotten, Katie blinked in surprise as the dancing flames. Sure she was dreaming, she wiped off her eyes and cheeks with her sleeve and got up to get closer.
As she fell to her knees in front of it, the small crease on her forehead deepened when the flames turned green. She fell backwards when the flames unexpectedly erupted so high they almost reached the ceiling.
“What the…” Katie muttered as she hastily scrambled up to her knees again. An image appeared in the flames. The image of a familiar-looking small living room.
An old brown sofa with a rickety coffee table with a glass top in front of it stood on a threadbare rug. Behind the sofa there was a pathetic-looking Christmas tree, it’s thin branches decorated with fairy lights and tinsel and surprisingly enough, the same baubles and ornaments that currently graced the grand tree in the living room downstairs. Flint family heirlooms they were, the last reminders of the family’s once prosperous past. Remnants Edith had brought with her when she moved in last October to help out Katie.
It wasn’t a great mystery what she was looking at. The first time she and Marcus had made love, the summer before her final year at Hogwarts, it had been on that lumpy old sofa. They had decorated that same tree year in year out until they finally had enough monies to buy a proper one. That flat had been their home for years after she and Marcus got married because between her apprenticing at the Ministry and him trying to get off the Tutshill’s reserve bench, they hadn’t had enough funds to rent something for themselves. Dammit, she had given birth to Daniel in that flat, in their bedroom.
How could she forget or not remember what she was looking at?
But why had it appeared?
The longer she stared at the still life in front of her, the more prominent the nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach became. A vague memory, the memory of a memory almost, tried to break through the depths of her mind. Then, out of nowhere, it finally did, and everything fell into place.
He hadn’t been dreaming all those years ago, had he? Nor had his friends played a prank on him as she had suggested at the time, had they?
“Oh, Marcus,” she gasped as she clasped her hand over mouth. This must be a dream; it had to be. To be sure, she pinched her arm until she bruised. The living room didn’t disappear. It was still there, inviting her to step into the green flames, welcoming her back into her past.
A thunderclap shook the room in the flames and kept Katie from giving into her first instinct of stepping into the fireplace. As an Unspeakable, she knew like no other that doing so could have had disastrous consequences and that she ought to keep her distance and inform her department. Although she begrudgingly honoured the former because she couldn’t risk being separated from her babies, she ignored the latter. Time portals had a nasty habit of disappearing as fast as they appeared, and she for one would make good use of it before it closed.
“Marcus,” she called, uncertain, her heart racing in her throat. Nothing happened. “Marcus!” she repeated louder.
Thunder and lightning was the only reaction to her calls. “Marcus, are you there? Please, be there.”
Please, don’t let this be a dream.
“You need help,” Katie said, talking faster and faster as she went on, afraid that he wouldn’t get her message. “A Healer, you need to go to a Healer. It’s your heart; you must have it checked out. They can make you better. Please, please, hear me.”
Katie wasn’t sure how long she sat there, repeating her message over and over again despite her tears. Marcus didn’t show up, and she began to wonder if he hadn’t dreamt it back then after all, and this was entirely different universe she was seeing, or her tired mind playing tricks on her. Her doubts melted away when she heard her name.
Seconds later, Marcus, clad in flannel pyjamas appeared. Katie wanted to laugh when he knocked the Christmas tree over, tell him so many things as he came closer. About Daniel and his obsession with Quidditch, and about their daughter Madeleine he had never met. There was so much say but the relief of seeing him again, the sadness because it made her loss that much profound, the excitement, it all made it that not a sensical word left her mouth. Just sobs and distorted pleas.
“Help… quick… please…”
Katie reached out her arm, the desire to touch him an immense one. It turned out to be the wrong move. Just as Marcus dropped to his knees and reached for her, he disappeared as if someone turned off the telly. All left was a dark fireplace and a cold chill.
"No, no, no, I won’t allow it. You come back here this instant," Katie ordered as she scrambled up to her legs, determined to find Floo-powder. Eventually, she found an old tin in the back of a closet.
Unfortunately, it was no use. No matter how had she called for Edith Flint’s old flat or repeated Marcus’ name, nothing happened. The fireplace stayed dark and cold. And when she tossed the last of the Floo-powder, Katie had to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t be able to open another portal to the past.
That didn’t mean she would give up, though.
“Come back,” she murmured as she sat down on her bed, hugging herself as she rocked back and forth. “You promised me forever. You're my Spello-Tape. Come back, please, come back.”
She believed that he would because she must have changed the past somehow. She had shown herself to Marcus. That alone had to be worth something. It had to be enough to set off a chain reaction.
It had to be enough to save Marcus.
For hours, she sat like that, wishing, hoping, waiting for Marcus to walk through that door. The night turned into dawn, and the horizon coloured orange and blue. Somewhere in the house, a little girl started crying for milk and a clean nappy, waking up her brother and grandmother.
It wouldn’t take long before Edith brought Madeleine to her, Katie reckoned. Then, like every new morning since the summer, Danny would crawl next to her as she nursed Maddie, and demand that she’d tell a different story about his dad so his sister would get to know about him as well.
A new day had started. Another day without Marcus.
Katie blinked slowly and realised that she had no more tears to cry, like always after a night spent doing nothing else. But it was different this time. She was done mourning, she decided. There was nothing to mourn because that would mean that she had accepted Marcus’ death. It would mean that she had accepted that this was a permanent end. Well, she couldn’t do that.
She refused to allow that to stay a reality.
“I’m an Unspeakable,” she murmured as she put the frame on her bedside table and tiredly crawled underneath the blankets.
As she waited for her mother-in-law to bring in the baby, Katie decided to bend the rules a little. For the first time in her career, she made to decision to use her work for her benefit.
“I can because I’m a talented Unspeakable,” she repeated with more conviction.
A set of ancient Time-Turners was found just last month, deeply buried in the bowels of the Ministry. Most powerful devices they were. The longer she thought about it, the more she concluded that returning to work in the new year didn't seem such an awful idea, after all. Who better than her to study and experiment with those devices, maybe even adjusted them to fit certain needs.
Almost as if it was meant to be.
Maybe it was.
Those Time-Turners were going to fit a need. Hers.
She refused to allow Marcus’ death remain reality.
There was no other acceptable alternative.