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Vanishing Act

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July 1994

The Burrow sat in a dark clearing with a single light emanating from the kitchen window.  Charlie Weasley leaned over the sink, rolled up his sleeve, and unwrapped the bandage covering his arm.  Blood and plasma stuck to the fabric and leaked from his blistered flesh.  He winced and scraped off layers of dead skin.  The Romanian Longhorn had gotten him good, but the antibiotic potion he had taken every six hours was working.  There were no signs of infection.

Then why do I feel sick?

It was the house.  Charlie had missed his family, but he shouldn't have come back to The Burrow.  His thoughts took a dark turn whenever he was here, slipping into a forlorn state of grief and fueling an overwhelming desire to run away, like he had when he left for Romania at nineteen.

Charlie walked away from the sink and reached into the high cabinet where Molly kept her potions.  He moved the vials around, found what he was looking for,  unscrewed the lid, and stuck his fingers into the salve.  He winced as he rubbed it on his arm, but it didn't sting as much as he had expected it to.  

Fucking great.  Nerve damage.

He should sleep.  It would help him heal.  But the thought of sleeping in his old room unnerved him.  He should have gotten rid of the box he had left in the corner with his old broom, or had one of the twins move it someplace where he wouldn't have to look at it.  He couldn’t face the contents of the box: letters, photographs, cassette tapes, and six worn muggle books that had never belonged to him.

Charlie took out his wand and used the bandaging charm to re-wrap his arm. 

The air in front of the sink tore apart.  Blood sprayed over the cabinets, counter tops, and floor.  Three figures collapsed on the tile - covered in blood.  A woman.  A man.  And –

Merlin fucking Christ.  "AARON?!"

The woman shoved herself away from Aaron on her hands and knees, screaming at him.  She hit the cabinets behind her hard and clawed at her face.  Her tangled hair obscured her features.

The man had a vise grip on Aaron's arm; his long nails had broken the skin.  Blood covered his face, chest, and arms.

Aaron choked.  Blood ran out of the corners of his mouth.

Where the fuck is all of it coming from?

Charlie helped Aaron roll onto his stomach and got his answer.  Aaron's right arm, most of his shoulder, and what looked like portions of his rib cage, were gone; a mangled distortion of flesh, fragmented bone, and blood was all that remained.

Aaron struggled on the floor, trying to pull air into his lungs.  His right lung was torn open, filling with blood, and collapsing.

Charlie pulled the man off Aaron's arm and pushed him away from them.  Aaron's blood ran down Charlie's arms, chest, and legs.  Charlie pushed his hands into Aaron's body, trying to apply pressure.  It was useless.  There was nothing left to hold together.

The rest of the kitchen lights came on.  Arthur and Molly saw the carnage on the floor. 

Molly raised her wand and screamed, "Ferula!"

Aaron choked, "Charlie."

"Don't try to talk," Charlie said.  His voice was broken and frantic.  "Just hold the fuck still, alright?"

The fragments of summoned gauze from Molly's bandaging spell were soaked with blood faster than they could be applied.

Charlie screamed, cradling Aaron against his body, "He needs a fucking healer!"

"If we move him, it could kill him," Molly said.  "I'll bring one back."

Molly ran for the fireplace.

Ginny, Ron, and Fred came down the stairs.  Molly raised her wand and cast a ward, sealing off the first floor.

Fred pushed against the boundary of the ward and yelled, "Do you mind telling us what the hell is happening?"

Molly grabbed a handful of floo powder.  "Take your siblings upstairs and do not, for the love of Merlin's fucking mother, let them come downstairs."

"We heard-"

"Take them upstairs now, Fred!"

Molly stepped into the fireplace.

Arthur leaned over Aaron and Charlie.

Aaron saw him and struggled, trying to turn his body.  "Arthur, you have to tell the Aurors."  He choked on his own blood.  "They're going to attack the Council of Magic in Paris."

"Aaron, stop.  Hold the fuck still-"

"Who is?" Arthur asked.

"The fucking Death Eaters.  You have to tell Moody and the others now."

"Aaron, stop moving-"

Aaron's lips and tongue were covered with blood.  "Paris.  The council building is rigged with explosives; not fucking spells, actual fucking muggle explosives.  As soon as they start their morning session, they will all die like the  assembly in Prague.  You have to tell them."

Arthur dissipated.

Aaron shook.  Charlie held him.  Aaron formed a weak smile.  "Charlie, I tried to-"

"Don't talk, just look at me, alright?"

Molly and Madam Pomfrey ran into the kitchen, covered in soot.  Before Pomfrey could get on the floor, and get to Aaron, the air compressed and expanded.  Albus Dumbledore appeared. 

Aaron kept his eyes on Charlie.  "Don't fucking trust Dumbledore."

Dumbledore stepped over Aaron's splayed legs and looked at Charlie.  "Did you check him?"

"What?"

"Did you check him for the dark mark?  Did you check his fucking arm?"  Dumbledore leaned down and pulled on Aaron's left arm.  Aaron choked, trying to talk, but there was too much blood in his throat.  Dumbledore pulled back his sleeve.

"Where is it?  Did you have them put it on your right arm?  Is that why your fucking arm is gone?"

Pomfrey stepped in with her hands raised.  She siphoned blood out of Aaron's mouth and throat.  Aaron gasped and pulled air into his lungs.  Pomfrey started to knit his flesh back together.  Charlie helped her lean Aaron back on the floor, where Molly stacked towels under his head.

"Check his neck," Dumbledore said.  "Sometimes they put it on their necks."

Dumbledore reached for Aaron again.  Charlie aimed his wand at Dumbledore.  "Stay the fuck away from him."

"He's a Death Eater," Dumbledore said.  "He's one of them.  He has always been one of them."

"You knew he was alive," Charlie said.

"You don't know how dangerous he is."

Realization spread through Charlie.  "He was with you the day he disappeared.”

"He left to join the-"

Aaron's blood dripped off Charlie's raised wand.  "Get.  The fuck.  Away from him."

"Check his neck."

"Get the fuck out of our house," Charlie said.

Dumbledore reached into his robes and took out a vial.  He handed it to Charlie.

"What is this?"

"Phoenix tears," Dumbledore said, "he will die without them."

Charlie kept his wand raised.  "Get out."

Dumbledore vanished.

Charlie knelt down next to Aaron and held the vial to his lips.  Aaron swallowed.  He reached for Charlie, but his arm fell and his eyes rolled to the back of his head.

Molly had to pull Charlie away from Aaron.

 


 

Molly used cleaning spells, but the tile floor's grout and the undersides of the kitchen cabinets held onto Aaron's blood for hours.  The smell of it permeated The Burrow; heavy, wet iron and copper.  She told everyone to stay out of the kitchen.  It didn't matter.  No one went near it.  They could all still hear the screaming.

Charlie held a hand over his mouth and looked out the living room window at the dark pond.

The Blood-Replenishing Potion and Phoenix tears are working.  You have to calm down.

Molly stood next to him.  "All those things you said.  I never knew."

"I never would have said any of it until now," Charlie said.  "It took me too bloody long to realize what happened, but I saw it in his fucking eyes.  He knew Aaron was alive.  He always did."

Charlie turned away from the window and stood over the makeshift bed in the living room.  It had been three hours.  They had debated taking Aaron to St. Mungo's with Alice and Frank Longbottom, but Pomfrey didn't want to arrive with a corpse.  It had taken her long enough just to stabilize him so he could breathe on his own.

"You think Dumbledore is the reason Aaron disappeared," Molly said.

"I know he is."

Molly sat down on the edge of the sofa bed and touched Aaron's forehead.  He still felt cold from the blood loss.  His shoulders were broader, and he was taller than he had been the last time Molly had seen him, but he was too thin.  Wherever Aaron had been, he hadn't been eating enough.

Charlie looked at the sofa bed.  "I can't believe Dad got himself one of these."

"You should have seen him.  You know how your father gets.  We were driving up to Bristol in that old muggle car of his a few years ago and there it was; in a ditch.  It was filthy.  The upholstery was in tatters.  I told him to leave it, but he pulled over and we got it in the car."

"How did you manage it?"

"Shrinking charm," Molly said.  "Honestly, Charlie, did you not learn anything at Hogwarts?"

"I learned the important things.  You can't Reducio a dragon."

The dying embers in the fireplace ignited and green flames poured over the hearth.  Madam Pomfrey emerged, carrying a case of vials filled with red liquid.

"I've made more Blood-Replenishing Potion.  How is he?"

"No change from when you left," Molly said.

Pomfrey un-corked one of the vials.  With care, Molly took Aaron's jaw, opened his lips, and tilted his head back.  Pomfrey poured the potion down his throat.  Aaron's neck convulsed while Pomfrey covered his mouth with her palm.  She removed her hand a moment later and checked to make sure he had swallowed all of it, then she turned her attention to the right side of Aaron's body.  She peeled back the bandages, careful to go slow.

"He's still losing blood," Pomfrey said, "though not nearly as much.  The Phoenix tears are doing their job.  His right lung has stitched itself closed and his ribs are starting to mend, thanks to the Skele-Gro."

"What about his arm?" Charlie asked.

"Skele-Gro only re-grows bones," Pomfrey said, without looking up.  "It won't do him any good to have arm bones without any muscles, nerves, blood vessels, or connective tissue."

"So, what, he's lost it?"

"He knew the risks associated with apparition," Pomfrey said.  "He's lucky the arm is all he lost."

"Aaron isn't an amateur at apparition," Charlie said.  "He's bloody brilliant with it."

Aaron wouldn't have splinched off his own fucking arm unless he wanted to.  It wasn't an accident.

"Brilliant or not," Pomfrey said, "botching apparition is common when a person's mental state is . . . unsound."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"When Aaron can be moved, I will take him to St. Mungo's for an evaluation, assuming the Aurors don't take him elsewhere."

"Aaron isn't crazy," Charlie said.  "He knew who I was.  He knew he was at The Burrow.  He wasn't screaming and drooling in a corner like fucking Alice Longbottom."

Pomfrey looked at Charlie.  "What I am seeing - Aaron's emaciated condition and the marks on his body – he was tortured.  There's no telling for how long or what kind of condition his mind is in.  He will require rehabilitation."

The air by the window compressed and expanded with a loud crack.  Alastor Moody appeared next to Charlie.

Charlie said, "I take it the Aurors know about Paris."

"Your father informed the necessary contacts, including myself," Moody said.  "The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has notified the Council of Magic and dispatched multiple Aurors."

"Do they know where the information came from?"

Moody's blue eye swiveled.  "They don't know Aaron is alive yet, if that's what you're asking."

"You can question him all you like," Pomfrey said, "but you'll have to do it here.  He can't be moved."

Moody seemed to test the air.

"He wasn't followed," Charlie said.

"No," Moody said, "he wasn't."

Moody took out his wand and stood over Aaron.  "Rennervate."

Aaron's eyes opened and he sat up, coughing up clots of red too dark to be the potion.  He gasped and fought to catch his breath.  Pomfrey helped him lean forward.

"It's alright," she said, "get it out."

Aaron struggled and coughed more blood clots into his palm.  Bubbled strings of dark blood hung between his mouth and his hand.  Pomfrey grabbed the mess with a towel.

The room shifted.  Aaron saw cobblestone streets and the Charles Bridge layering over the living room.  He closed his eyes and forced the movement to stop.  He couldn't tell if he was shaking because he was cold and had lost a lot of blood, or because he was shifting through space too fast to perceive.  It had happened before. 

Aaron looked at Charlie.  "Frank and Alice?"

"They're at St. Mungo's," Charlie said.  "They're safe."

"I should have jumped there," Aaron said.  "There wasn't time to think."

"It's alright," Molly said.  "You brought them back."

"What was left of them," Moody said.

A wave of nausea made Aaron sweat.  His ears rang and the edges of his vision went dark.

The park.  Milk bread with honey.  Staying awake with the dragon.

Pomfrey watched his eyes.  "Are you in pain?  You shouldn't be feeling much with the strong cocktail of pain management potions I have you on."

"No," Aaron said.  It wasn't the pain.

The park.  Milk bread with honey.  Staying awake with the dragon.

Yesterday, I was at Nighford.

He couldn't remember the other two keys.  His thoughts were difficult to catch and his awareness of time was nonexistent. 

Aaron didn't want them to know how fragmented his mind was, but he had to know.  "How long was I gone?"

"Three years," Charlie said.

"They told us you were dead," Molly said.

"I never fucking believed Dumbledore.  I tried to find you," Charlie said, seeing what Pomfrey had.  Aaron's face was gaunt and unshaven; he was exhausted.  Charlie had never seen him with hair this short.  It looked like someone had taken a knife to it.  There were dark welts on his face from repeated bruising.  There was a scar on Aaron's neck where the skin was worn and red from long-term abrasion. 

He was tortured.

Moody leaned over Aaron.  "I need to hear you say it."

Molly said, "You can't believe-"

"Say it, Aaron."

"I'm not a Death Eater," Aaron said.  He coughed and wiped blood off his mouth with the towel.  He felt more trickle down his side, spilling out of whatever was left of his right shoulder.

"A team of Aurors is in Paris now, working off the details you gave Arthur," Moody said.  "Do you have anything else?"

So much.  "Yes."

"Tell me about London and Prague," Moody said.

The park.  Milk bread with honey.  Staying awake with the dragon.

"You were seen in Prague seven months ago," Moody said.  "And you were in London last summer."

Yesterday, I was at Nighford.

"Both dates coincide with attacks made by Death Eaters," Moody continued.  "They were able to access areas of the cities that normally would have been inaccessible by apparition; areas protected by wards.  Were you aware of the attacks?"

"Yes, I was," Aaron said.

"Of course you were," Moody said, "you were fucking involved with the attacks."

Moody pulled fragmented pieces of ebony out of his coat.  A worn heartstring protruded from the splinters in his hand.  "You'd think as long as it took you to get this that you would have taken it when you left Hogwarts."

Aaron said, "Moody, I didn’t-"

Moody looked at Pomfrey.  "When can he be moved?"