|SIYE Time:6:14 on 15th August 2022|
Category: Alternate Universe
Genres: Angst, Drama, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Story is Complete
Summary: 10-year-old Willow Young had always been warned of the house at the end of the lane along with its mysterious occupant. But still, she found herself drawn to the house and the old man with sad green eyes that lived inside.
Hitcount: Story Total: 3455; Chapter Total: 401
Awards: View Trophy Room
Willow had not seen Harry the rest of the week nor the following week and was beginning to worry something might have happened to him. Every day she would ride her bike past his house and back hoping to catch him in his garden or looking out a window but he was nowhere to be seen.
She had told Olivia and Noah about what had transpired after she had wrecked her bike. They had stared as she talked, open-mouthed with surprise, as she relayed the events of that day. They couldn't believe that the creepy old man that lived in the house at the end of the lane was so helpful and nice.
She had tried to get her friends to walk up to the house with her to peek in the windows to see if Harry was inside but they refused, stating that when they attempted, they felt the hairs on the back of their necks stand up and felt a sudden urge to turn around and go back home. She was wondering now, since she was almost certain that Harry was a wizard, if it was because her 2 friends were muggles and he had muggle repelling charms on his house. It would make sense seeing how recluse he was.
She had no proof though and the longer she went without answers, the more determined she became to get them. She had always been an inquisitive and curious child by nature and once she set her mind to something, she would not give up until she got what she wanted.
Her mum had always said she would make a great journalist or reporter but even Willow knew those were less than noble professions. She could still remember her grandmum complaining about a woman named Rita Skeeter from back in her Hogwarts days who would make up lies about the people she wrote about and try to ruin their lives. She had then gone on to rant and rave about how journalists and reporters had no common decency or a sense of decorum. Willow knew her grandmum and her friends had grown up in the 2nd wizarding war which might have played a part in it but no, she did not think it prudent to become a journalist one day. She didn't fancy being disowned by her grandmum.
The next Saturday following her run-in with Harry dawned bright and warm which pleased Willow just fine as it had rained the previous 2 days and she had not been able to ride her bike with her friends or drive-by Harry's house to check on him. She instead had gone to her great grandmum's house to help out with chores and learn more culinary skills.
After getting dressed for the day, she took the stairs two at a time down to the kitchen to grab some toast before setting off on her bike.
"Good Willow you're up," her mum said as she bounded into the kitchen, "I need you to go get me some more milk from town today."
"What, why?" she asked, "You can apparate there and back in like 30 seconds. Why would you need me to get it?"
"Willow dear don't argue with your mother and do as you're told please," her father said over the top of the morning paper.
She stuck her tongue out at her father who was buried behind the paper again not paying attention before walking out of the kitchen with her toast.
She collected her bike from the shed and started making her way into town still munching on her toast.
Her birthday was in 2 weeks, on July 30th, and would be expecting her Hogwart's letter shortly after. Ever since learning of Hogwarts she always wondered what house she would be in. Her mum had said basically everyone in the family had been in Gryffindor except for her dad who had been a Hufflepuff. She honestly didn't care either way as long as she wasn't thrown into Slytherin. Not that she cared about that but she didn't want to give her granduncle a heart attack. Sixty something odd years out of Hogwarts and he still held onto the rivalry that his house had had with Slytherin.
Her mum of course told her not to listen to her granduncle instead saying that no matter what house she was put into, they would always support her.
She made it into town and to the store to buy the milk before making her way over to the stone monument in the center of town.
It had been built at the end of the Second Wizarding World after the defeat of Voldemort. Any muggles that passed by would just see a regular old wishing fountain. Willow liked to stop by and look at it every time she came into town.
The marble slabs built into the water fountain were a beautiful dark black with white veins running throughout. It had a list of all the people that had died during that time.
She threw a knut into the water fountain before hopping back on her bike and heading home.
She often wondered what it had been like to grow up during the war. Her granduncle and aunt would tell her some things but nothing not suitable for children, and her grandmum outright refused to talk about it at all.
They had said that her grandmum had lost a lot more than family members during the war and she had never truly gotten over it.
Maybe that's why she's so uptight, Willow thought as she reached her front yard.
"Mum! I'm back!" Willow yelled as she walked back into her house.
She walked to the kitchen to put the milk in the fridge before turning to her dad, "Where's mum?"
"Oh she got called into work," her dad said as he tried to coax Liam into eating some of the eggs on his plate, "One of her patients went into labor so we might not see her the rest of the day."
Willow nodded at her dad. Her mom helped deliver babies at St. Mungos and absolutely loved her job.
"Well, I'm gonna go out and ride for a little bit more if that's okay?" she said
"That's fine honey just be careful," her dad said.
"I'm always careful," Willow said with a grin to which her dad laughed.
She went back outside, got on her bike, and took off down the road towards Harry's house.
Maybe she would be able to see him today. The questions that plagued her mind over him since he had fixed her ankle bothered her somewhat.
She really wished she knew what a nice old man like him was doing all alone living as a hermit at the end of a dead-end road. Perhaps he had lost everyone in the war. He looked to be about the same age as his grandmum so it was entirely possible. Willow hoped that wasn't the case though. The war had been 63 years ago. What kind of life must he have led in 63 years of solitude.
She rolled up to Harry's house, and to her surprise, found him hunched over in his garden.
She parked her bike on the side of the road and quietly walked up his drive. She had almost reached him when without even turning around he spoke up, " Good morning Miss Young."
She froze rooted to the spot, "How did y.. how did you know it was me? Do you have eyes in the back of your head?"
"Not quite," he said turning around to face her, "I just used the deductive power of reasoning. I heard you walk up and you're the only person that's been in my yard in the last 8 years. I just figured it was you. You're the only person I know brave enough to try to talk to the strange old man that lives in the house at the end of the lane."
"Yeah well you're not that scary once you nurse someone's dislocated ankle and take care of them," Willow said.
"True," he said with a half-grin, "I need to get back on that. I have an image to uphold after all."
"What are you doing anyway?" she asked.
"I'm re-planting flowers," he said as he moved out of the way to show her, "I'm moving the flowers from their pots to the flowerbed now that their first leaves have sprouted."
When he moved, Willow saw the infant sunflowers.
"Hey sunflowers are my grandmum's favorite flower," she exclaimed.
"Your grandmum has good taste then," Harry replied with a smile.
"Are they your favorite too?" she asked, "I mean they must be, you have so many of them."
Harry chuckled, "Yeah I enjoy sunflowers. They remind me of someone I used to know that was rather important to me."
Surprised at his overshare, she said, "Would you like any help? I'm not doing anything and I'd love to help. It can't be all that easy for you at your age."
"Hey!" he said in an affronted tone, "I'll have you know I'm just as spry now as I was when I was a teenager."
"Oh really?" she asked with a raised eyebrow, "Race me to the road and back then."
Harry laughed, "Just because I can doesn't mean I'm going to."
"Chicken," she said sticking out her tongue as he handed her a trowel.
He smiled that smile that let the vestiges of time slip off his face and for a moment Willow swore she had seen tears in his eyes.
They worked diligently re-planting the sunflowers while they made small talk. She was surprised at how easy it was to fall into conversation with Harry as he looked like he was 70 years older than her.
Every so often she looked up from her work to look into his eyes, eyes which were filled with a sense of sadness she hadn't noticed before. This was a man who was used to hiding his feelings and probably had no one to talk to about them.
"All done," she said as she pushed her strawberry blonde hair out of her face to wipe the sweat from her brow.
"Excellent," he said standing up, "Would you like anything to drink?" Water, lemonade, tea?"
"I wouldn't say no to some lemonade right now," she said with a grin.
"Alright you can wait on the porch if you'd like," he said as he got up and walked into the house.
Willow set on the same porch swing she had sat on when he had fixed her ankle.
She wasn't a big fan of manual labor but found that she had fun today replanting the sunflowers and talking to Harry.
He came back out and handed her a glass of lemonade before sitting down in a chair with his own glass.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" she asked suddenly.
"You can," he replied, "But that doesn't mean I'll necessarily answer you."
"How come you're all alone?" she asked quietly.
It had been one of the questions that she had desperately wanted to ask him since she started questioning about the old man that lived at the end of the lane.
Harry looked surprised like he had been completely caught off-guard at her question.
"Hmm," he said, "I'm afraid that's one thing I won't be able to tell you Willow."
"Aww c'mon," she said, "What could I possibly do, judge you? I'm a 10-year-old girl."
"Worse," he replied, "You could pity me and I don't want anyone's pity."
"Why would I pity you?" she asked, "Is the reason why you're all alone your fault?"
He looked down at his weathered hands before whispering, "Yes."
"Then I promise not to judge you or pity you," she replied simply.
Willow could see the tenseness in his face, the abstract fear in his eyes, as if opening up to someone would cause him physical pain.
He took a steady breath before saying, "I've been in love with the same woman since I was 16 years old."
"Well that's good then isn't it? she asked, "You found true love?"
"I found it alright," he said sadly, "I wasn't smart enough to keep it."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Well when I was a teenager there was a war going on and I was fighting in it, right in the middle of it to be honest," Harry said, "And that put a big target on my head and anyone else who associated with me were also targeted. I had broken it off with the woman I loved right before the war really broke out to try to protect her. I told myself if I kept her at a distance then she wouldn't be specifically targeted just because she was associated with me. I left her with the promise that when the war was over I would come back. I didn't ask her to wait for me because that would've been selfish on my part so I just promised I would find my way back to her when it was all over."
"Did she die?" Willow asked.
"No," Harry said, "She survived the war thank god. But by the time the war was over I was pretty messed up. I was in no state to be coming back and demanding a relationship from her. I had lost a lot of people in the war and it sent me into a really dark place for a long time."
He looked towards the sun and she could see the pain in his eyes at reliving the memories as he continued, "By the time I was stable enough to come back to her it was too late. She had moved on. I don't blame her, not one bit. I left her alone and she got over me. She ended up marrying someone else."
"And I'm guessing you regret it?" Willow asked.
"I can still remember the date that I broke things off with her," Harry said sadly, "And not a day has gone by since then that I haven't felt regret at how things turned out. I'm haunted by how things might have played out differently had I been more willing to listen to her and my friends telling me my reasons were foolish. And they were foolish. I've had many years to see this and to come to terms with it."
Harry went quiet, eyes still unfocused, as he stared off into the distance replaying a memory that only he could see.
Boldened by his confession, she stood up and walked over to him before placing her hand on his.
His eyes opened wide in surprise and jerked down to her hand on his as she spoke, "Just because you've lived a life of regret doesn't mean it always has to be that way. You can make new memories you know. Ones that aren't so painful."
"10 years old," he said quietly, "You're 10 years old and already wiser than I could ever hope to be."
"Mum says I take after grandmum," Willow said taking her hand off his, "She was really smart too."
"Smart and likes sunflowers," he said with a small smile, "Your grandmum sounds like a good person."
"She's the best grandmum anyone could ever ask for," Willow said proudly.
They fell into a comfortable silence as Willow sat back down on the porch swing and finished off her lemonade.
She thought back to everything he had told her. He had been in a war when he was younger. He was roughly the same age as her grandmum. Her theory of him being a wizard now seemed more probable than improbable.
"Can I ask you one more question?" She asked, "It's a rather odd question but I feel like you can give me an answer to it."
"Shoot," Harry replied.
"Are you a wizard?"
His face whipped around to hers as he stared at her in astonishment. She had caught him off guard with the comment and Willow figured he didn't know what to say. She tried to read the expression on his face but couldn't.
Finally, he replied, "And what makes you ask a question like that?"
"It's just you're so mysterious," she started, "Not to mention when you fixed my ankle, except for when you were first looking at it, you never even touched it. When I looked down, you were stuffing something back into your waistband. You also fixed my bike which shouldn't have even been possible unless you were magical."
"And you believe in magic?" He asked her warily
"Of course I believe in magic," Willow replied, "Magic is all around us. You just have to know where to look. It's kind of like miracles that way."
"Well I've never really believed in miracles before," he said sadly.
"So are you?" she asked excitedly, "You are, aren't you? I can tell."
"How can you tell?" he asked.
She was so convinced that he was a wizard she didn't even think twice about how much trouble she would be in if she were wrong or about replying, "Because I'm magical too."
His eyes opened wide, "You're a... You're a witch?"
"Yep," she replied happily, "My birthday is in two weeks and then I'll get my letter to go study in Scotland at Hogwarts."
"Hogwarts," Harry said wistfully, "I haven't been there in so long."
Willow stood up, "I should be getting back. My dad is probably wondering where I am."
"Alright," Harry said, "Thanks for the help with my sunflowers."
"You're welcome," she said, "I'll be back tomorrow to help out with your garden again."
She started walking back down his lawn before she stopped and turned to him.
"You said you don't believe in miracles but I find that hard to believe," she said, "You found true love, and if true love isn't a miracle, I don't know what is."
Later on that night at the dinner table, Willow finally decided to speak to her parents about Harry.
"Mum, Dad," Willow said turning to her parents, "I want to invite Harry to my birthday."
They both looked nonplussed until her dad decided to voice their confusion, "Harry? Who is Harry?"
"He's the old man that lives at the house on the end of the lane," and when they still looked confused, she added, "The one who fixed up my ankle and my bike."
"We don't even know him, sweetie," her mum said, "He could be dangerous for all we know."
"Besides," her dad spoke up, "It's not proper for an 11-year-old to have a friend that old."
"But mum!" she exclaimed, "He's so lonely. He doesn't have anyone. No family of his own. I'm not even sure if he celebrates holidays."
"I love how big your heart is and how much you want to help people but I just don't think it's a good idea," her mum said.
"I should be able to invite who I want to my party," she said heatedly.
"Willow Audrey Young!" her father said, "We said no and that's fin..."
"He's a wizard!" she yelled interrupting her dad.
The silence around the table was deafening.
"He's a wizard," she repeated, "And he fought in the war. That one with the Voldemort dude. And I know some of our family also fought in that war. He's been sad and lonely for so long, I just wanted to invite him to see if he knew anyone from back then."
"And how do you know this?" her dad asked.
"He told me after I confronted him about it," she said trying to control her anger, "Remember my bike? It was completely ruined and then it just popped back up in front of the house an hour later looking brand new. He fixed my ankle without even touching it."
"Hmm," her dad said, "What do you think Lily dear?"
"I think," Lily said, "If you can get him to come over here and meet us just so we can make sure he's safe then I guess we can allow him to come to your party."
"Oh thank you thank you!" she said happily as she shot up from the table and gave both her parents a hug before running out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her room.
She decided she would ask Harry when she helped him with his garden tomorrow. She wouldn't tell him why. He was a recluse and she didn't know if the idea of potentially seeing anyone from his past would upset him.
Willow couldn't help but think this was one of the best ideas she had ever had.
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