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Elide Gallagher

[1838][EN]Wake me up, before you go

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August 1838

 

Elide dreaded the day she had to return to Hogwarts again. Oh, she loved the school, of course. It was her second home, but how could she leave her siblings behind? The younger ones would be fine; the last one and a half year had proven that. Their parents would do their absolute best to take care of them. But who was going to look after Malcolm? The girl stared at her brother, who was lying in the hospital bed as he had done for the past one and a half years. The Healers took good care of him and she knew her mother and siblings frequently visited him, but still... He was lying so still. Only the slight movement of his chest betrayed that he was still alive. Elide sighed, taking her brother’s hand for a moment. “I miss you”, she said softly. “We all miss you”. To this day, she still did not know exactly what had caused this situation. One day Malcolm was just being an Auror as always and the next he was in a coma. It could take a few weeks for him to wake up, they had said. Well, it was a much longer time than that!

 

The brunette took her usual place in the chair next to the bed. She opened her letters, which she had kept writing to him through the school year. There was no use for sending them, so she had stuffed them away in her trunk. Every holiday she visited him frequently and would read them to him. She did the same thing now and eventually sang a soft song for him. It was always the same. She would tell him she missed him, read the letters, sing a song and he would never stir. She wondered if she would ever get a reply in any way. Hear his voice again, his laugh or even him telling her she should stay out of trouble for once. Everything was better than this. What if he never woke up? What would she do without her big brother? But was he not better off dead than in this state? It was a horrible thing to think, but after such a long time, someone would tend to lose hope. She tried not to, but sometimes she couldn’t help herself. “It’s okay, you know. If you go... To the light or something”, she told him. “Or whatever it is people see when they are at Death’s doorstep”. She smiled, though it was a bit strained. “Or you could hang around as a ghost, come with me to Hogwarts?”, she teased. Could ghosts do that? Decide where they would go and if they would want to stay at that place? Her brother might know the answer, but of course there was no reply whatsoever.

 

So she stayed silently in the chair. Elide closed her eyes, enjoying the silence here. At Hogwarts and at their house there was always noise. Chatter, music, someone getting up or going to bed. There was always life. Here she could catch a few minutes of sleep without being disturbed. Even the Healers would not disturb her whenever she would fall asleep in that chair. “Just don’t go anywhere without waking me up, brother”, she muttered. And in her mind she could hear his voice, a reply. In her mind he always replied and it always made her smile. And with that smile on her face she drifted off.

 

 

[Private with Ann!]

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The nice thing about being in a coma for an extended period of time was that really, all you needed to do in order to impress and cheer was to wake up. Aside from when you were a baby, people were unlikely to ever again be so overwhelmingly positive about such an insignificant little feat. Of course, when you had been in a coma for such a long time, that was an indication that it was not in fact easy to wake up at all. But look here, there wasn’t anything else nice about being in a coma, was there? Most things were shit. Your life moving on without you, that was shit. Your fiancée marrying another guy, that wasn’t better. The fact that it turned you from a strong, lively in shape Auror into a wasted pasty plant was shit, too. And the pain and the dread and the worry you inflicted on your colleagues, your friends, and especially your family, well, that was just the absolute worst. So Malcolm being Malcolm, he would be damned if he wouldn’t go looking for that silver lining with all the vim and vigour that he ordinarily put to use over the course of a much more satisfying existence. 

 

But not now. Now he was just waking up to a sleeping El.

 

He had the feeling she had been talking to him, had the feeling she’d been reading to him maybe? Had of course not the feeling that she’d been doing that for more than a year. Nah, he felt like he’d just gone under. Maybe a couple of hours. Possibly surgery had happened. He remembered the sharp stabbing pain of the blade, hot, the definite knowledge that it wasn’t good, that he was actually in serious trouble this time. Stumbling along the riverbank, leaving it in because he dimly remembered pulling it out wouldn’t improve things, and he was close to the hospital and he probably needed the emergency room. And then the fight and the yelling and falling...

 

But something wasn’t right.

 

Elide looked different.

 

“El! Did you change your hair?”

 

Who said guys weren’t perceptive about these things.

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Or maybe it wasn’t in her mind. Maybe it was real. His voice sounded very real, more real than ever. Slowly Elide opened her eyes, staring right back in her brother’s eyes. Her eyes grew wide and she was lost for words. She blinked, just to make sure it was real. She must be dreaming, of course. How many times hadn’t she dreamed that he had woken up and told her he was back? That everything was alright? She had wished for this moment for so long, imagining all sorts of reunions. He would wake up and tell her to shut up for a moment. He would wake up and tell her how happy he was to see her. He would wake up and ask questions about what happened and how long he was out for. And now he finally had woken up and all he had asked was if she had changed her hair.

 

“I..Well..”. Elide touched her hair, still stunned about the sudden reply. “That’s what you are asking after such a long time?”. And yet, she could not stop grinning. Her brother was awake. Malcolm was back! “Oh my... I don’t know what to say.. I..”. She got up from her chair and placed herself on his bed. “I can’t believe it. You’re really awake”. She grabbed his hand, trying to comprehend this marvellous event. “I changed my hair a year ago. I prefer it loose now instead of in a braid”, she told him. Tears welled up in her eyes, but she refused to cry while he just had woken up. Finally, he was awake and alive and everything would be alright. “I missed you so much. We all have”. She bit her lower lip. Now that he finally was awake, she did not really know what to say. She had so many questions and yet she was afraid to ask them. What if this was a dream after all?

 

“How are you feeling?”. He looked tired, even after so much sleep already. She should probably fetch a nurse as well, but was she selfish for wanting this private and glorious moment to last a bit longer? “Oh Mal, everyone will be so happy that you are back. Do you remember what happened?”.

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Yes, you know what, Eli had a point. It hadn’t really sunk in before, just the sheer extent to which he felt like crap. His mouth was dry, his voice low and a little frail, frail as he felt himself, more with every muscle that was turning out to be slow to respond to his body’s calls. And maybe he shouldn’t have wasted a question on her hair, because maybe there were more important things going on, more things he needed to know. But he hadn’t known that, had he. How should he have known? He was barely coming around to the fact that he was waking up in hospital, it had the telltale signs of mauve and taupe and white linen, of windows that you couldn’t quite see out of, of beds that were made not necessarily to sleep in but also to lie in comfortably for a really long time when you couldn’t sleep at all. Hospital, that was to be expected. That tallied with the memories he had, the end point of his conscious thoughts. The one and a half year in between... that didn’t. That couldn’t. How was he supposed to know how many questions he should ask? How could he fathom the extent of things he’d missed out on?

 

He never would.

 

“A year...” His voice was a whisper, as the implications sunk in, his Auror brain just not willing to deny them entry and give him comfort: Aurors as a rule weren’t good at denying uncomfortable facts, as they spent their entire professional life looking for them. “El, I...” It wasn’t just her hair, it was her everything, the way she carried herself, a subtle difference in her smile. Oh, Merlin, Morgana, and their anger issues... how long had it been? What was going on? But she asked how he was and he answered, almost automatically. “Just tired.” So bloody exhausted. And if he remembered what happened. Ehm, yes, possibly maybe somewhere in the midst of the panic of all the things he didn’t remember... but it was his job, so he didn’t want to disclose much. At the same time, he felt that, whatever was going on, ‘it’s classified’ wasn’t going to cut it as an explanation he owed his sister. 

 

A year... “Eh... it was a raid... there was a dog,” he mumbled sheepishly, and he forced a smile, the muscles in his face burning up and screaming at the effort. “You know how I am with dogs.” He scrambled round in his dazed panicked mind. “How, how are you, sis?”

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Poor Malcolm. He looked so tired, even after being asleep for more than a year. Elide listened silently to her brother, who seemed to remember bits and pieces of what had happened. She had never received any details, either because no one knew or simply because they had not wanted to tell her. She could not smile when he mentioned a dog and how he was with animals. Yes, she knew he wasn’t very fond of dogs, but there must have been something more. One dog could not cause her brother to end up in a coma. Especially not with his Auror training, right? If it had been in any other circumstance, she would have laughed about it and made a comment, but she was very serious now. Relieved that he had woken up, but still fearful for his health.

 

“I am fine now that you are awake”, she said with emotion in her voice. “It’s… It’s been hard”. Ze bit her lower lip. “Mal, it has been one and a half year since you went into a coma”, Elide said softly. “We thought that you would never wake up. That you would die”. She never had allowed herself to speak her mind like that. She wasn’t religious, but she hadn’t wanted to tempt fate in any way. No one had spoken of the possibility that Malcolm could die at any moment but Elide was sure the thought had crosser everyone’s mind at least a couple of times. “Merlin… I don’t even know where to start. So much has happened since you ended up in a coma”. The girl crawled up next to him in his bed and smiled. “Although I can understand why you have slept for so long. This bed is surprisingly comfortable”, she tried to tease.

 

“Mal? Did you… Could you hear me when you were asleep? Or mum? Kevin and Ina were here a couple of times as well. As a Muggle dad could not visit you… “. And neither could Annie, although Elide really did not want to mention that name. Elide used to tease her brother a lot that Annie was his girlfriend, but things had changed now. “You know, in a week or two I am to return to Hogwarts and start my fifth year”. Malcolm had missed her entire fourth year and a part of her third year. Now that he had woken up, she suddenly felt much more confident that she could pass her O.W.Ls. she wouldn’t need to worry about him so much anymore. “Now that you’re awake again… Does that mean I can pester you with homework question so I can get as many O.W.Ls as possible?”, she grinned.

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One and a half years. The words, and especially her expression as she said them, was a punch in the gut just about where he could still feel the shadow of the memory of the curved sword, even though it now made sense that he could no longer actually feel the pain of that. One and a half years. It would be healed. It might actually be gone. It had not been a magical blade, it would not leave a scar that would resist magical cures. That was ridiculous, wasn’t it? That it had cost him one and a half years, but wouldn’t even leave a mark? Not physically speaking. Not even mentally speaking. Not directly. It had left more marks on his family than it would on him, because he’d been completely out of it. For one and a half years. He’d spent longer in a coma than he had on the job. If you were talking about what defined him, he’d probably gone from ‘Auror’ to ‘coma guy’…

 

Yes, he was an optimist, but right now, it was not exactly easy, was it.

 

“El, I’m so sorry.” That was probably a stupid thing to say, it wasn’t like he’d done it on purpose, quite, but then again, he didn’t know what else to say either, and she was just going to have to put up with it. She’d told him that she thought he was going to die, that everyone thought he was going to die. How was he supposed to respond? Except for ‘I’m sorry’ he had nothing and so he just made an effort to scoot over as much as he could with the barely functional muscles he had. Merlin, and mum, the kids… they’d been here. Horrible. Although he didn’t know if it was worse for them or for dad and Annie who couldn’t have come if they’d wanted to. Oh, dear. Those were a lot of exhausting, painful conversations in front of him. You’d almost go right back to sleep again.

 

He frowned. Had he heard her? “I don’t know… maybe sometimes…” Mostly because he didn’t want to deny it, didn’t want to make everything she’d done, the others had done throughout this time sound pointless and maybe it hadn’t been. He’d been dreaming sometimes. He hadn’t felt alone. He couldn’t remember any nightmares. Maybe that had been it. “And yes, sis, you can bother me with OWL questions always. I am the expert…” He had aced his OWLs. OWLs. Fifteen, she was fifteen already. The kids…

 

“Could I have some water? What… is it summer holidays, now? Tell me you’re not spending them in here.”

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“It is not your fault”, Elide said in a comforting tone of voice. Malcolm had nothing to apologize for. It wasn’t like he had chosen to end up in a coma. The people who had done this were to blame. Or the dog. She would have to ask the whole story, but not today. She would ask once Malcolm was up to it and had recovered properly. For now the teenager was more than happy with her brother being awake. “The most important thing is that you are alive and awake”. If she had been religious she would have thanked whatever God on her knees.

 

Elide got up from the bed and fetched a glass. She filled it with water and helped her brother drink. She wasn’t sure how much strength he had after being in a coma for more than a year. “Yes, it’s August at the moment. August 1838”. Carefully, she handed him the glass of water after a few sips so he could tend to it himself. The girl sighed heavily. “We have so much to catch up on. I don’t even know where to start”. She thought for a moment. “Well, obviously I passed my exams during the third and fourth year. School has been like usual and the teachers are still crazy”. She shrugged. She thought it was part of the charm of Hogwarts. “We have a new Minister of Magic now”, she added after a moment of silence. “And of course the usual scandals in the upper class. Gossip will never change, no matter how long you sleep”.

 

The brunette sat again on the side of Malcolm’s bed. “Oh, don’t worry. I have been spending a lot of time outside as well. Someone has to take care of the kids”. She rolled her eyes. “Kevin has shown some great promise when it comes to magic. He almost blew up the kitchen during a temper tantrum. I think he takes after me”, she told him with a big, proud grin on her face. “He is still doing time for that, helping mum with cleaning the house. Without using magic, of course”. The girl looked around the room. “I actually come here a lot for some peace and quiet. It gives me a moment of rest when mum and dad are awake and at home”. Some things would never change. “I sang for you. Dad said I should and that you might hear me, but you never woke up”. At one point she had even yelled at him, which earned her a scolding from the nurse and a ban for two whole days. “Since I don’t know where to start, I’ll let you ask questions then”, she offered. “I’ll try to answer them as best as possible”.

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The glass stayed upright, possibly with a bit of magical aid, the spells coming to him more naturally than muscle movement did at this exact moment and he was glad of it, for he was embarrassed to admit that he had needed his little sister’s help even to drink. He sipped a couple of times, as he listened quietly to Elide’s chattering. “Always crazy,” he opined about the Hogwarts teachers. “It seems like they’re getting worse every year. Eh…” Well, it had seemed like they had been worse every year, obviously this past year he didn’t exactly know the current state. He’d looked into Hogwarts every now and again, professionally speaking, out of curiosity and concern for his siblings probably. There was nothing like his specialisation going on there but there were definitely, well, so-called ‘troubled people’ on the staff. He always wondered how the hell they had gotten employed.

 

And a new Minister for magic. Oh, well. That was politics and that he didn’t get too involved with. It probably wasn’t anyone good. “A conservative as usual?” He chuckled wryly. It sounded dry, it sounded off, but damn it he was going to do it until it no longer seemed weird at all. He was going to do everything until it didn’t seem weird at all. He was going to get his life back and miss nothing more…

 

He was going to miss a couple of more things from sheer exhaustion. He knew that. He’d make his peace with it soon enough.

 

“That’s great… Merlin, Kevin. Of course.” He pulled a face. “Little monster. I expect mom will be thoroughly enjoying that punishment. Ina too. I remember her glee whenever I had that job.” Questions. He needed questions. Okay. “Are they all okay? Mom, dad, Kev and Ina? And Annie? Pfft, you guys must have had a hell of a time explaining this to her.” His glass was empty. It was an immense relief to be able to put it down.

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“Ah well, I don’t think Hogwarts will ever change in that regard”. Besides, because of the crazy staff, she sometimes got away with stuff. Unless she had pissed off the wrong teacher. “And that Minister is a Silvershore. What’s his name... Timothy? Oh, I don’t know. I did not follow the elections that well”. For all she cared the Queen of England herself was the Minister of Magic. To her it would not make any difference. Politics was for grownups and not for teenagers like her. Besides, she was worrying too much about Malcolm to be interested in politics anyway. And it wasn’t like she was allowed to vote yet.

 

“Oh, she is. Ina loves it as well and is purposely making a mess of things”. The girl shook her head. “Sometimes it’s like babysitting dragons. I bet you anything that if they could, they would spit fire at each other. But if someone from the outside is picking on one of them they form one hell of frontline”. A frontline she rather not faced, since those two siblings truly could become little monsters. “Ina will be lonely, though”, she added. “Kevin is going to Hogwarts with me next month”. At least they could let Malcolm know immediately in what House he ended up. This time she did not have to write it and wait for a holiday to read it to him. This time he could actually write back. She already looked forward to that and she was sure Kevin did too. “They both have missed you. Of course we just told them that you needed a lot of sleep because you had been sick, but I’m sure they knew something more severe was going on. They just never asked”. She sighed. “But that is all over now. You’re back and that is what matters. I’m sure that soon now you will be able to leave the hospital”.

 

And then he would go back to his normal life. To Annie. Dear Merlin, Elide regretted her idea immediately. Of course he was going to ask questions about Annie. “Yes, they are all fine. Everyone has been worried, but they will be very, very happy to know that you are awake”. She shifted a bit uncomfortably. “Well.. We stuck to the truth as much as possible. We told her you had an accident at work and that you were in coma. However, she wanted to know in which hospital you were, so we said we had to send you to a special clinic for people who were in a coma”. And after a while Annie had moved on with her life. “We told her there were no visitors allowed. That only mum, as a nurse, could sometimes visit you”. Annie had believed it all. At first. Elide wasn’t sure if Annie had moved on because she thought she would never see Malcolm again or because she thought they were all lying and covering for him. Maybe she thought Malcolm never wanted to see her again. Elide didn’t know, but she did blame that girl for abandoning her brother so easily. Okay, maybe not as easily, but while Elide lived in fear every single day for her brother’s life, Annie had started to enjoy life again. Much more than Malcolm knew. Oh Merlin, she did not want to tell him. “She will be happy to know that you are awake”. And that was true, but the girl wasn’t sure if Annie was happy to face Malcolm. Or the other way around. In a desperate attempt to change the subject, she smiled. “Do you want me to fetch a nurse? Or maybe I could get you some food. You must crave solid food now, won’t you? Perhaps one of those cups of disgusting coffee?”. Damn it. Whenever she tried to hide something, she always started to babble. “Or maybe some good old English tea? I really don’t mind fetching it for you”.

 

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"Dragons are easier to appease,” Mal laughed, and it didn’t sound so distant this time, didn’t have to come from so far away. These were memories that were still close to him, still bright and ready to access in his mind, of sitting with the kids, playing with Kevin and Ina, of teaching them to read, him and Elide alternating the voices between them, she doing the girls and he the guys usually, unless they felt like being silly and making the children laugh and then they did it the other way around, him squeaking, she as low as she could go. Very insensitive, definitely not proper stereotyping for an Auror, he’d get in trouble with the media if they’d ever notice that and oh, his poor sensitivity training. Still, it had been so much fun, it had always been a laugh, he’d do it all over again. They’d all loved it. “But yeah, I’ll be back home soon, help you out with it again.”

 

He smiled half-heartedly, even though he was really looking forward to that. “I’ll probably have to stay with mom and dad for a bit to get back on my feet, so Ina won’t suffer all by her lonesome for a little while yet.” See? Acceptance. There it was. He was realising that he wasn’t going to be able to get up and out of here and straight back to his cubicle in the office, and he was making the best of it. He remembered how it had felt to move out, he had enjoyed it, it had been said but also new and refreshing… Exciting. Going back seemed very literally to be going backwards. But such was life. He had lost. But he would get better. Things would be fine.

 

Or would they? Because Elide was rambling, and Elide rambled only when there was something she didn’t want to tell you. Such as, why there was cherry juice all over your clothes. Normally, he would be relentless about it, because normally that would be half the fun. Now, however, he couldn’t force himself, and he let her get away with it. For now. She’d had a tough enough time. “Eh… yeah… a nurse might be good and you could go tell the rest? Then mom can bully them into bundling me back home and I’ll catch the last of the month with you guys still at home. I better not risk the coffee yet. Although, you know, then I'm sure I'll stay awake." He hummed. "Have you thought about what courses you want to do after the OWLs, already?"

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Malcolm laughed, genuinely laughed! It made Elide’s heart burst with happiness, since it was a good sign. Her brother still had his humor and could still laugh. It was the best sound she had heard in one and a half years. “Just make sure you regain your strength first”, she replied. “After that Ina is all yours. Mind you, she has grown as well. You’ll have your hands full”.

 

It was a miracle that Malcolm let Elide off the hook. Usually he would pester her until she told him what was bothering her. A part of her was thankful that he didn’t, but another part was dying to tell him. She was lousy in keeping secrets from her brother and she rather told him herself before he would find out the hard way. Elide looked at her brother and wondered for a moment what the best approach was. She decided to let the subject of Annie be. As soon as Malcolm could go home, she would tell him before he faced Annie. Or otherwise she would tell him before she would go to Hogwarts, because she felt like she was the one that was supposed to tell him. “Okay, I will fetch you a nurse and I will let everyone know that you have woken up”, she told him. She pressed a quick kiss on his cheek. “I will come back later today and then we can discuss what courses I will take after my OWLs, because frankly I have no bloody idea”. And with that she left her brother behind, feeling happier than she had ever been.

 

After alerting the nurse, Elide went straight home. Her parents, brother and sister were over the moon when she told them about Malcolm and that same evening he had a room full of family, except for their father. In the days that followed Malcolm regained strength and to Elide’s surprise he got home quicker than she had expected. In the mean time she was careful to avoid the subject that was called Annie. “So how does it feel to be back home?”, Elide asked Malcolm when she had invaded his room. “Kevin and Ina are in the garden and they demand that you join us for a picnic”, she grinned. “And if you do not join us, they would move the picnic to your room and we all know how much your room will be destroyed”. She helped her brother out of bed and smiled at him. “Maybe we can take a short walk later. Get you out of the house for a moment of rest?”. She could use some rest as well after her siblings hyperactive behavior ever since Malcolm had woken up.

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Yes, Mal had been able to come home very quickly, for which he was grateful; he figured he’d spent enough time in the hospital by now to last him a lifetime, even if indeed he had been unconscious for the most part. His mother was of the same opinion and since she was both a nurse and a fiery force of nature, the doctors had come round to seeing it from her point of view pretty quickly. Nothing irresponsible about it, he was just fine, physically, they’d tested everything: he needed to restore his health, do his exercises, and mostly just to begin the slow process of existing again. His mom was taking some time off, alternating nights, so she could aid him with that, his dad was more than happy to help out, and most of it he could manage by himself. He had his magic after all, and the spells came back to him as easily as anything. It was better to be home. It still felt like home, even though he’d moved out before the coma. Now he didn’t know if he would soon move out again.

 

Because he knew. He’d gone through his letters and he knew by now. What Elide had been trying to hide.

 

He knew, but he didn’t know what to think of it yet. Maybe he didn’t have enough energy yet to get appropriately mad.

 

“A walk would be great,” he smiled, agreed with her. “It’ll have to be very short…” He was having to let go of his pride every moment of every day, as he waited around to be once more in shape. “Otherwise you’re going to have to catch me.” He chuckled. “But… for now, let’s have a picnic before they get crumbs all over the bed.” He got up slowly, but managed quite well, navigated the stairs with the aid of a charm. “You looking forward to heading back to Hogwarts?”

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Elide didn’t mind at all she had to support her brother or couldn’t take long walks with him. She was grateful he was here with her and their family at all. If someone had told her she would spend the summer in the garden with her elder brother, she would not have believed them. Or she wouldn’t have dared to believe them, because unfortunately she had started to lose hope. She still felt guilty about that, though never mentioned it to Malcolm. He had already enough on his mind and she did not want to add to the burden. Which was why she hadn’t told him about Annie. She didn’t even know where to start and how to explain it. The girl hadn’t informed Annie that Malcolm was awake either. She had resented the young woman for abandoning her brother like that, though a part of her could understand why Annie had moved on. She wasn’t allowed to visit, never saw any proof of his condition. That didn’t mean she should’ve married someone else just like that.

 

The brunette shrugged. “Yes and no”, she answered while she kept a watchful eye on her brother. “It’s going to be tough, those OWLs. But I am sure I can manage”. Especially now that she didn’t have to worry so much about Mal anymore. “But I wish I had more time here with you”, she admitted. “We have a long time to catch up on”. And yet it already felt like he had never left, never had been in a coma. She smiled at him. “Do you think you can manage with everyone here fuzzing over you?”. She walked into the garden, watching her siblings already fighting over a last piece of cake. The girl rolled her eyes but could not hide her smile. “Some things never change”.

 

But some did. Since her younger siblings were busy fighting, she turned to Malcolm. “Mal… Did you hear anything from Annie”, Elide asked carefully. “Because I think there is something you need know”.

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Ah, those OWLs. They took over your entire fifth year. Malcolm remembered. He’d been in Hufflepuff house, of course, one of the most studious (Ravenclaws studied as well but less obviously, less directed, too, applying their minds to wherever their minds took them rather than working hard at things) and the fifth year it had turned into one dogged little community of books and parchments and practice. He’d actually had fun with it. He’d never been very worried about his OWLs, he’d never been very worried about acing them, and he’d always rather enjoyed working hard. Elide, she was a bit less… focused, than he had used to be as a student. But also, she probably was even less focused now than she had used to be. Because of the whole coma thing. “I’ll drop in at Hogsmeade sometime maybe,” he offered with a grin. “Quiz your Transfiguration and buy you drinks you’re too young for. It’s a date?” He wouldn’t, of course, buy her many. He was a responsible older brother.

 

When he didn’t have a curved blade in his guts, that was. That had probably been a little less than responsible.

 

He nodded with a smile, following her gaze. “And yes, I can manage. One assumes the fussing will diminish over time. I probably owe all of you a bit of fussing after the past months, don’t I?” He didn’t mind so very much. His parents were both busy people, so their fussing was limited by necessity and his sister was young, so her fussing was limited by the intrinsic selfishness of children. Indeed, Elide fussed plenty. But he owed her that, too.

 

His face fell as she continued, and he made an effort of cracking it back up. “Yes. She wrote me a letter.” He hummed. “Said she got married. Like, half a year after I…” He shrugged. “Does the guy seem nice?”

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“It’s a date”, Elide agreed immediately. Although, if Mal was going to buy her drinks she should not have, she wondered how much studying would be involved. At least she would be able to spend time with him while she was at school. It was something nice to look forward to and not only for her. “You’re going to use it as an escape from mum, won’t you? Because with me not around, she’ll be all over you to make sure you’re okay”. Elide did the same thing, kind of. But she managed to keep her mother at bay, even if it was just a little bit. The girl grinned. She almost felt sorry for her brother. Almost.

 

“Mal, you don’t owe us anything. Yes, we have been worried sick for the past one and a half years, but at least you’ve woken up. Not a lot of people can say that. You’re here, awake and recovering. It’s more than we dared to hope for”. And they had waited for that day. For the day that he would open his eyes and everything would be okay. Everyone had waited for this day, except Annie. Elide pressed her lips together to prevent herself from making a snide comment. She hadn’t been able to forgive that girl for what she had done to her brother. Elide lifted her eyebrows. “Oh, she wrote you a letter? Well, I guess it was too much of a trouble to visit, of course”. Okay, maybe she could keep her comments to herself completely. Sorry brother.

 

The brunette shrugged. “I have no idea. I only saw the guy once and I didn’t bother to get to know him. Even if he’s not nice it’s more than Annie deserves”. She sighed while shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I know what she meant...means to you. But I have been trying to keep her up to date with everything that was going on. That you were ill, but that there were no visitors allowed. That you were too weak to write, but that you did send her your love. Yet after only six months, she gave up on you and ran off with the first guy she encountered”. Elide looked up to her brother. “As far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t deserve you after that. I would say you’re better off without her, but... I know how much she means to you”. She squeezed his hand as a sign of comfort. “I’m sorry, Mal. Are you.. Are you going to visit her?”.

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Ah, she saw right through him. He couldn’t help but laugh, and wonder if she had been as perceptive those nearly two years ago. “What, I need an ulterior motive to go to a pub with my sister?” he protested, quasi-injured, although of course he did have one. Not so much dodging his mother as filling his days, even these still in part on medical leave days. Having something to look forward to if he was once more immersed in paperwork because they couldn’t yet put him out in the field twenty-four seven. Something else to do than to go to his parents’ home, or the empty house that would never hold him and Annie and the little family she’d had in mind. She more than him, he knew that. He’d had her in mind mostly. She had always been a sure thing and he’d liked that. Liked the simple way she loved him, even though all others had told him to cast his net wider. Now, he wasn’t certain he’d read it right.

 

Yeah, he was recovering. She still seemed worried even though she spoke bravely. “I’ll be fine, sis. Really. Couple of months and it’ll be…” Not like it never happened. He couldn’t say that to the people whom his little bout of unconsciousness had hurt the most. “Just a blip.” That meant nothing, but it was easy enough to say. “And er. She couldn’t visit when I was in hospital. You know that.” Not that he felt much like defending his now married erstwhile fiancée. He wanted her happy. Right?

 

Okay, she could have waited a little bit longer. “And thanks. For helping her out. No, I don’t think I want to see her. Not right now, anyway. I mean, I go and either she no longer likes me, which will hurt my ego, or she still does, which will be a mess.” Not ever a good idea. “Mom’ll be pleased, she never did like her.” It wasn’t like there was still damage to limit. She was married. “With you guys and my work, I’ve enough to keep me entertained for now.” Especially since morning strolls were still fatiguing.

 

“Anyhoo. What about you? Seeing anyone?”

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