Blood of Birds

Note: Hi! The following is a 2nd generation Harry Potter fanfiction, with main characters being Rose Weasley, Scorpius Malfoy, and Albus Potter. It will be comprised of four parts, the first of which will follow Rose. There will also be seven one-shots (or side-alongs) following other characters at points throughout the series, each uploaded separately. I've also taken the liberty to include a few re-quotes, courtesy of JK Rowling and Steve Kloves of course, to pay homage to the original books and films. So without further ado, here is Chapter 1. Happy reading!

~ Lauren



41. Fresh Blood and the Stone

Scorpius used to tell Rose that insomnia felt like going senseless. He would describe losing his hearing first and panicking when he couldn't get it back. Then he'd lose all feeling, then sight, then smell, and finally taste. The weaker his senses became, the more in tune to the world was his mind, doing all that it could to keep him awake. It would fight and keep fighting as if sleep was as terrifying as death. Rose had sometimes wondered if that senselessness came from fear, but now she knew that it was caused by something else entirely. It came from freedom.

She knew this because unlike the way Scorpius used to lose all his senses during his sleepless dreams, Rose's senses felt heightened as she tried desperately to wake up. Sleep was too easy and far too enticing in the surrounding silence. It called out to her in screaming dreams – dreams of Lucy and Lorcan saying "I do," dreams of Al apologizing for the pain he'd caused and of Harry forgiving him, dreams of Scorpius saying "I love you" – dreams that she might never hear. But she didn't listen to them. She listened to the silence.

Then came feeling. Rose's legs, which had been weightless in her slumber, suddenly felt heavy and cold against what she assumed was a marble floor. The feeling stretched to her stomach and she winced with pain. She had no doubt been jabbed in the abdomen a number of times since she'd been taken, and now her insides felt like they wanted to come out. Sleep was offering her comfort and the illusion of a certain boy's arms around her, but she didn't feel him. She felt the pain.

Her blue eyes opened slowly and took a long time to focus enough for her to see where she was. It didn't help that she ended up staring at a mirror, only confusing her into thinking that she was dreaming again. The glass showed nothing but a girl she didn't recognize, with chapped lips and swollen cheeks above a neck bruised purple and grey. Her flowing, floor-length dress had been torn around the shoulders so that its sleeves were falling off, and its hem was completely ripped above her shivering, shackled ankles. Behind her was a red curtain that looked like her family, but she didn't see them. She saw herself.

The memories flooded back to her when she smelled the body odor. A man with red eyes had pointed his wand straight at her as soon as she'd walked inside the Entrance Hall of the castle. Rose had attempted to fight back with a disarming spell, but Astoria's pawn had been expecting her. He hadn't said a word, but somehow she'd ended up frozen on the floor, and then her eyes were covered until she was inside the Room of Requirement. The same man had hit her before she'd heard Al's voice from the other side of the curtain, but Al hadn't listened to her screams. A part of her felt like she could still smell the lies and betrayal smoking from his skin, but she wouldn't let herself breathe it in. She breathed loneliness.

Rose had to clench her jaw to swallow, and it was then that she tasted it. It was thick instead of pure, sticky instead of soft, copper instead of rain. The albino had used a tongue-tying curse to keep her from saying anything, but Rose had fought hard against it. She'd bit her tongue about fifty times to try to regain control of the organ, and in so doing had punctured its surface and sent her skin ballooning. She wanted to taste Scorpius again, but she didn't. She tasted blood.

She was trying to cough up some of that blood when she saw the small flash of a color that wasn't red. The light was being reflected in the far corner of the mirror, which was about ten feet in front of her, same as the curtain. Its blue shone across the red like waves riding a solar eclipse. For a long time, Rose was too focused on the light itself to notice its source, but between flashes she caught sight of the small, shiny contraption that was lying next to a ten-inch stick made of rosewood. Her wand was just sitting there, but it didn't mean anything to Rose compared to the deluminator it was next to...

"'The shoe fit perfectly around a foot that was calloused from years of hard work. The prince kissed her and she knew that their midnight would never end. They would all live happily ever after,'" read Ron monotonously. "'The end.'"

Rose's tiny eyes were loosely shut, so she didn't see her father stand up from her bed and walk through her attic bedroom to its open door. What she did notice was the mattress going from completely caved in to almost entirely firm, and the sound of Ron's pounding footsteps creaking against the old wooden floor, and the click of his deluminator sucking the light from above her head.

Her eyes opened to darkness, but the little girl didn't wait for them to focus before she asked amidst the emptiness, "Daddy, why are you so sad?"

Ron stopped breathing then, though his daughter didn't quite understand why. "What makes you think I'm sad, Rosie?" he asked after taking a few steps back into the room. He tried to tune his voice to its usual cheerfulness, but it didn't work. She was right: he sounded sad.

"You read Cinderella," replied Rose. "You hate Cinderella." Ron read Rose a bedtime story every night, and normally he'd ask her to pick one and she'd always pick Cinderella, but then he'd always convince her to change her mind and they'd compromise with something like Babbity Rabbity. She only ever picked the Muggle stories that to him sounded like diseases because she liked it when he argued with her – it was the same way he acted with her mother, Hermione – but tonight he hadn't argued. Tonight, he'd just read.

After taking a deep breath, Ron said to himself in a whisper, "So perceptive, just like your mother." She heard him and she was always happy when he compared her to Hermione, though Rose didn't actually understand what the word 'perceptive' meant.

She didn't ask her father, since she was far too proud to admit her ignorance, plus she still wanted an explanation for his sadness. Soon, he was back at her bed and she could just make out his silhouette in the dark. It grew clearer when he put his giant hand on her shoulder and squeezed it tightly enough so that she felt safe, but not so tight that it hurt.

"Rosie, do you remember when Mum and I told you about your Uncle Fred?" Ron asked, his eyes staring directly into Rose's, four orbs cast on each other through a single shade of blue. "Remember when we told you that he's George's twin, but that you'll never be able to meet him because of what Lord Voldemort did? D'you remember that?"

Rose nodded. She had turned six years old last fall, and the spring before that she'd gone to a Weasley family dinner that had confused her. It was different than the ones she was used to, and Al had teased her about it because she hadn't understood why everyone was so somber. That night, Ron and Hermione had put little Hugo to sleep and had told her what death was.

"Well, tomorrow is April First, your Uncle George's birthday, which means that it's also Fred's birthday. We've never much honored the day he died, because so many went with him in that war, but his birthday belongs to him and George, and only them. So, tomorrow, all of my brothers and Aunt Ginny are going to visit Fred's grave."

"What will you do there?" asked Rose. She didn't know why they needed to be somewhere to remember someone they loved, especially if he was somewhere they could never get to themselves.

Ron thought a lot about his answer before he said, "We'll tell him everything that's happened that he hasn't been here to see. We'll tell him that we miss him, but that we're doing all right anyway. Then we'll probably tell him some stupid joke just to make sure he's listening."

Rose tried to picture all of her uncles and her dad and Aunt Ginny standing in front of that rock that had Fred's name on it, in the middle of the green graveyard in town, but she couldn't see it very well. She wanted to see it, so she asked, "Can I come?" When Ron looked skeptical and was about to shake his head, she added, "I want to tell Uncle Fred about my daddy, because he never knew you as a dad."

There was a moment when neither of them said anything. Rose just furrowed her eyebrows and Ron just wiped away his tears. Then the latter said, "Yes. Yes, you can come."

It was the thought of her father crying that made Rose crawl across the floor with a sort of fury she'd never known. The blue light was still flickering, so much so that she almost thought it was growing stronger, as the shackles chaining her ankles together crashed against the marble with loud clanks. She knew that the chains had been put on her for this exact reason – to make noise if she tried to escape – but she didn't care. Somewhere outside, Scorpius was saying her name and her father was crying, and she needed to get to them. They were her blue speck of freedom.

She was halfway to the deluminator when she felt a gust of wind nearly push her over on her side, and for fear of what it might have come from, she turned her head around. For whatever reason, she'd been expecting Albus to be standing behind her somehow, but of course it wasn't him. There was no way in or out of this room except for walking through that curtain, and the curtain remained still.

As it turned out, the wind had come from the flying ghost of Ravenclaw Tower. Most people knew the middle-aged woman as the Grey Lady, because of her pale skin and sadly sunken eyes, but Rose knew her true name. In the library, in the books, she was called Helena.

Helena had her translucent finger crossing the middle of her lips as if shushing Rose, but Rose knew that a ghost couldn't help her now. When she pressed on, however, Helena disappeared and Rose only made it one more foot toward Scorpius's light before the curtain opened and sent her literally flying against the opposite mirror. She slid down it more slowly than she should have, and that was when she realized that her body had been placed under the Imperius Curse.

"Nice try, Weasley, but please don't insult my hearing again," droned a voice that Rose had never heard before, but that she also didn't particularly want to hear again. It took a minute for her to take her eyes off of her uncontrolled hands, but once she calmed down, she saw that the face of the woman in front of her was much prettier than the voice attached to it. The voice was husky and rude, and while the face was just as dark and tense, it was also sculpted and fine.

With a closer look, Rose also noticed the olive-colored skin, dark features, and sharp jawline that reminded her of a certain hooded figure who she'd never forget. Knox's sister looked just like him, and as far as Rose could tell from her recent first impression, Ryder was also just as powerful as her brother.

The Imperius Curse had lifted by this point, but that didn't stop Ryder from tormenting Rose in other ways. Her heels clanked against the floor much more gracefully than Rose's shackles had, and as she bent over to pick up Rose's wand and showed off her petite body all suited up in black stretch fabric, Rose found herself wondering why a young woman so naturally beautiful would ever make an effort to turn so internally hideous.

Was it possible that, unlike Rose, Ryder had never known love? Was she secretly desperate for affection or had she already given up looking for it? Was her family's racist legacy enough to guarantee her lifelong loyalty to the Forbidden Flock, or was she playing this game for her own reasons?

Rose didn't know the answer to any of these questions, but it was the first one she was hung up on. She herself had never felt more beautiful than she had only a few hours ago. She wasn't very sure of how much time had passed since she and Scorpius had been alone in that locker room, but when it was happening it had felt like years were going by – years of questions answered, years of secrets told, years of self-consciousness disappeared. Maybe Ryder had never experienced that, and even if Rose's theory was completely wrong, she believed it was true anyway. She figured that if she pretended to understand Ryder, she wouldn't blame her so much for what the helpless witch was about to do.

Ryder was standing in the center of the curtained half of the room, and now she had Rose's wand in her hands. Staring at it, she mused, "I thought Astoria was insane when she asked me not to destroy all of your possessions, but I suppose she was just in thinking that you wouldn't get far enough to gain them back."

Rose was busy biting her tongue again, wishing that she could speak because her voice might just be the strongest weapon she had left, when Ryder took a few steps forward and asked, "How powerful is this wand, anyway? I've never been good with telling the core by touch, but then again, I am quite talented at taking what ought not be mine."

It's dragon heartstring, like my parents', thought Rose, and if you want it, take it. But I'll kill you if you touch that light.

Luckily, Ryder didn't even notice the deluminator flashing behind her, still assuming that Rose had been after her precious wand. It was a little known fact that the deluminator could also act as a portkey, and clearly Ryder wasn't in the know. Instead, she continued to look between Rose and the wand in her hands, and then she was clasping it in her right fist and flicking it toward the mirror.

The glass Rose had been leaning on shattered instantly, its jagged pieces cascading onto and into her like hail into snow, only to reveal a whole new layer of glass behind it. Ryder was laughing with entertainment as Rose keeled over with pain. She could feel blood running down her legs and shoulders, but those parts of her quickly went numb. The part that didn't was a finger on her right hand, where a shard of glass had hooked itself around her ring and dug into the skin until reaching bone that was now cracked in more places than one.

Rose told herself to take three deep breaths as she counted down to what she was about to do, knowing that now was the time to draw in all of the strength she possibly could. On three, she pulled the glass from her skin and slipped the ring off with it. The pain was very real and very prolonged as it shot up her arms like arrows pushing through her veins and taking her blood as they went. But once the arrows arrived at her head, they disappeared, and suddenly the pain was bearable again. She still felt the bone in her finger vibrating against the broken skin, but she didn't feel the sharpness anymore.

Pulling out the shards from her shoulder and leg was far easier, since those wounds didn't seem to have any feeling at all. Once she'd freed all the glass she could find, Rose tucked her ring away in the leg strap that she'd used for her wand and deluminator, then held the red-stained mirror bits in her flattened palm. She wasn't sure what Ryder was doing at the moment, though she didn't hear the evil laughs anymore. She heard the silence again, the dreams echoing in the back of her head, and all she wanted was to be in Scorpius's arms. The deluminator could get her there, but maybe her voice could too. And even if it couldn't, it could at least convince Ryder to tell her what was going on outside in the battle, for surely one had started by now.

With this in mind, Rose readied herself just like she had earlier and then she did something that she could never have imagined herself doing before today. Picking up the sharpest of the three glass pieces, she opened her mouth and directed the glass's edge for her tongue. She was just about to plunge a hole into it when a blue jay came flying toward Rose's face and kicked the glass out of her hand with its tiny talons.

When Rose finally caught her breath, Ryder was back in her human form and was standing about two feet away with her own wand in her hand and Rose's on the floor. This time, her laugh was impressed instead of amused, and she pointed the wand casually at Rose's mouth to undo the curse, saying all the while, "I must admit, you're far feistier than I imagined you'd be. Between you and your Potter cousins, Astoria might just have reason to be frightened. But of course, you already know how scared of you she is. That's how you knew I'd have to stop you, isn't it? Because you knew that she needs your voice."

It was true. Rose had been terrified to attempt the self-mutilation, but she knew it would work. Astoria was holding her captive for a reason, and she was also staying away and letting the albino and now Ryder do her dirty work for her, and that was for a reason. Everything she did had reason, though Rose had never considered that the reason might be her.

"I knew," Rose admitted, smiling slightly due to her newly gained ability to speak. "What I don't know is what she needs my voice for."

Still standing high above her, Ryder scoffed and said, "Do you really think she'd tell me? My brother, maybe, or that arse Albus, but never me. I'm called the secret keeper, but you can't keep secrets if you aren't ever told what they are in the first place, can you?"

Rose listened closely to what Ryder told her, for she sensed an opportunity. Ryder was an unhappy soldier, and perhaps Rose could use that knowledge to her advantage. Thinking this, she carefully considered her response before saying, "Why are you inside, then? If you're not keeping the secret, why didn't you leave with that albino? Why aren't you out there right now?"

That did the trick. Ryder answered, "I don't know," with a certain grit and envy that Rose knew could be her ticket out of here. Her confidence only increased when Ryder became so enthralled in the prospect of war that she mumbled subconsciously, "I bet Black Hawk's out there right now, and that werewolf sister of his too. I bet the Order of the Phoenix ispummelling us, and I bet the rest of the Flock has no idea why. I bet they don't understand that loyalty isn't made out of threat."

No, thought Rose, it's made out of love. That's why the Order is going to win – because of their loyalty to me, and because of my love for them.

Ryder might have said the same thing had she not been suddenly distracted by a noise coming from the other side of the wall. Something or someone seemed to be causing a great raucous in the hallway, and if Rose had to name the noise she would say it sounded like walls being blasted apart.

With a frustrated sigh, Ryder turned around to leave while yelling, "Better not be that barmy Peeves again!"

The mention of Peeves the poltergeist made Rose immediately think of his fellow castle ghosts, and soon she realized what was happening. Hogwarts was fighting back in the only way it could, with the only people who were still trapped within its walls. The ghosts were trying to help Rose escape, which was why the Grey Lady had wanted her to be quiet in her last attempt: because Helena had a plan and Rose just needed to be patient enough for it to be put into place.

Because she didn't know how much time she had, Rose got right to it. This time, the crawling took a harder toll on her body, but she made it farther than she did before. Once she got to the spot where Ryder had dropped her wand, Rose took the wand in her left hand (which was still intact, unlike the right one), pointed it at the deluminator in the corner, and stated firmly, "Accio!"

She just barely caught the flying deluminator in her right hand when she saw Helena's ghost appear from behind one of the mirrored walls. Rose was shuttering as her eyes glared into the lighter, for no blue was emanating from it at the moment. She was terrified of what might happen if Scorpius didn't say her name in the short amount of time she had left to escape, but she was even more terrified of what Scorpius might be doing right now that was keeping him from thinking about her.

Seeing her just sitting there rather than getting her act together, Helena glided toward Rose and said, "Sir Nicholas agreed to provoke Peeves, but you only have a few minutes at best." Gesturing to the curtain, she added, "There's an exit on the other side – a tunnel behind the portrait that leads into Hogsmeade."

Rose shook her head at Helena's suggestion. Not only was she uncertain that she could make it through a tunnel that long in her current state, she also knew that the if Hogsmeade was the exit point then the Flock would have it teeming with wizards by now. Rose didn't stand a chance of getting past them alone.

"No," she said, because Helena still couldn't see Rose's perspective well enough to concede. "No, I need to wait for Scorpius. As soon as he says my name, I'll be with him again, and once I'm with him I'll be safe. He'll say my name again; I know he will."

Helena was still confused, but Rose tried to ignore her. She had heard the stories through the school about the Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron, about his one-sided love for her. Helena Ravenclaw had died before she'd known love, or at least any other kind than her love for books and knowledge, so Rose didn't expect her to understand her own love for Scorpius.

But after a few minutes passed, Rose's worry overtook her obstinacy and she realized that Helena's lack of response could be attached to reasons other than her own short life. Rose was looking straight through the ghost when she said in a panic, "Unless he's-"

"He's alive," replied Helena before Rose had to say the last word. "Scorpius is leading the vanguard through the dragon fire, with Harry and James Potter at his side. He's placed the Longbottoms at the helm of the forest edge, and your parents are headed for Hogsmeade. Sir Nicholas's knights have been keeping us informed on their watch from the windows."

There weren't enough words in any language to express how thankful Rose was to have news of the battle at all, let alone to know that the people she cared most about were still alive. But the more she thought about her parents and James and Scorpius, the more she worried that they might be acting too hastily. What if this was all just a trap to get Scorpius back in Astoria's grasp like she'd claimed to want so long ago, or what if who she really wanted was the Chosen One? Was it at all possible that, like what Ryder said to Rose, they were all still alive because they needed to be?

She didn't think that Helena would have an answer to her questions, but Rose found herself having to ask anyway. "Is she going to kill me, or is there somebody else she's after?"

Helena looked away from Rose as she answered, "The people who kill are rarely the ones who want to. They do it out of fear, not longing. What they long for is love. What they wantis life." When Rowena Ravenclaw's daughter had refused the Bloody Baron's love, he had killed her and then himself, just to deal with the immediate guilt. They'd since spent hundreds of years at Hogwarts as tower ghosts, yet even now they weren't naked enough to see past each other's thickening skin.

Both Rose and Helena were too deep in thought to notice how quiet it soon became. There had been a consistent blasting and banging in the hallway since Ryder had left, but now there was no noise at all. At least, not until Rose's deluminator clicked and a blue light started floating toward her heart.

"EXPULSO!" yelled someone from behind the curtain, sending the fabric bursting into flames and causing Rose to fall over from the vibrating floor and pillowing smoke. Her deluminator had flown well across the room by the time she opened her eyes, coughed the fire from her mouth, and saw Astoria standing in front of her, Ryder sulking from behind.

The mighty witch said nothing to Rose, but she didn't need to. Her stare told enough through the aftermath of the explosion for Rose to know that she'd be dead in a minute if she dared to move. That was what made Rose stay perfectly still as Astoria turned to Ryder and gave her a look that reminded Rose of the way a mother would look at her child upon dropping out of school.

"You left the room because you heard a poltergeist banging POTS?" she yelled.

"I just thought-" Ryder attempted to argue through gritted teeth.

"Think? Think is good. Know is BETTER!" Astoria took a few steps back then, leaving Ryder to hang her head against her chest and guiltily ponder the error of her ways. Helena was long gone by now, but Rose almost felt like another ghost of Ravenclaw's past had taken her place when Astoria sneered, "I knew I should have sent you to Azkaban instead of Knox. There is always a better twin."

Rose could see Ryder's chest heaving with anger, but the Rookwood girl didn't retaliate against Astoria. She merely stood her ground and waited to be told what to do, just as she had her entire life. Still, Rose was more intrigued by what Astoria had said about 'sending' Knox to Azkaban. Had Knox been imprisoned on purpose? And if he had, did that mean that Al really was the guilty one in Arthur's murder?

She didn't have much time to contemplate such, though. Astoria had finally accepted the fact that Ryder couldn't handle her current job, so she decided to give her a new one. "No matter; you're of no use to me here anyway. Get out, go to Hogsmeade, and then make your way through the grounds until you get to the Shrieking Shack. Do not stop along the way, and do not get yourself killed. I want my pensieve, and you're going to bring it to me."

Ryder's smile must have been too faint for Astoria to notice it in her determined state, but Rose saw it. She also understood that there was no way Ryder was coming back once she closed the portrait door behind her. She was going exactly where she wanted to go, because just as Helena had said, Ryder wanted life, and for that she was convinced that she'd have to kill...

The first line of the tombstone read, Fred Weasley, 1978-1998. The second line read, Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve. The last line read, Forever the better twin. Rose had been very focused on reading the words for the past half hour, mostly because there wasn't much else to do. She was standing in front of her father, who was next to Aunt Ginny on one side and Uncle George on the other. Next to George were Percy and Bill, and all five of the siblings had taken turns talking to the earth that covered Fred. Rose hadn't been able to follow most of their stories, so she'd decided to practice her reading while she waited for everyone to finish.

She was reading the lines over a third time when she felt her father kneel down behind her and heard him whisper in her ear, "It's your turn, Rosie."

Suddenly nervous, Rose took a step toward the stone and gently placed a jar full of Bluebell flames in front of it, at the head of all the flowers Percy had brought and the puking pastilles from George and the Quidditch trophies from Ginny. Then she pulled a piece of perfectly folded paper from the pocket of her black coat, unfolded it until it was a single flat sheet, and read, "Deer uncle fred, i dont no wye you had to go away, but becos you did and becos i am very perseptive, i want to tell you wats happend since youv bin gon. My daddy use to be sad a lot. I remember becos when it got dark out, he wen outside and look up at the stars and aks you to com back. But he dont aks anymoor. Now he ony gets sad some of the time and thas okay. I think thas allowd. I hope you can allow that."

Once she was finished reading, Rose folded the paper back up and stuffed it inside her coat, in the same pocket it had been stuffed in before. She didn't look up to see her family smiling at her, but she did look for Ron so that she could hold his hand. Once connected, Ron and Rose both said goodbye to Fred and turned around to walk away, the rest of the family following their lead. The only one who stayed behind was Uncle Fred, kneeling down in front of his brother's grave and mindlessly pulling blades of grass out of the dirt.

They had only taken a couple of steps when Rose asked her father, "Was I okay, Daddy?"

"You were brilliant, Rosie," he said, and she believed him.

What she didn't believe was that George was as okay as everybody thought he was or at least wanted him to be. She didn't believe it because in the background of the graveyard, George was saying to Fred in a whimper, "I still want you to come back."

It was just Astoria and Rose left in the room, though now the room was twice as big as it had been with the albino or with Ryder. The side that had opened when the curtain exploded looked exactly like the side Rose had been confined to, with the exception of the portrait Ryder had disappeared behind. Plus, the mirrors made everything seem larger and somehow smaller as well. At least, the room was infinitely large with every wall reflecting against itself; it was only Rose who felt small.

When Astoria walked over to where Rose's deluminator and wand had been blasted, Rose felt like four Astorias were circling her, one from every side. But there was solely one voice when Astoria said, "These are your only possessions? A wand and an enlarged lighter?"

"Yes," answered Rose without thinking, unsure why Astoria was so curious about her things.

Immediately, Astoria was disappointed. She took her time in turning toward Rose, but once all four pairs of icy eyes were staring her down, Rose knew that for perhaps the first time in her life, she'd given the wrong answer. The Cruciatus Curse came at her from every possible direction, bouncing from Astoria's silent mind against the surrounding mirrors and landing directly in the center of Rose's body, even though it felt more like it was going everywhere inside of her.

She could do nothing but cringe and scream, but barely any sound exited her mouth once the inside of her throat cracked and collapsed in on itself. Every part of her was ablaze with the kind of fire that wasn't good. This was the burning kind, leaving its mark as it went and impossible to be rid of. This was a forest fire and she was the dried-out wood begging for her rain.

"You're lying," said Astoria as if it was the most true thing she'd ever known. Rose wouldn't have been able to hear her from so far away if it weren't for her own dissipated screams. Still, she tried to pretend that she hadn't heard anything so that Astoria might stop.

Her idea didn't work. Astoria pressed the curse further, saying once more, "You're lying."

"I'm not!" yelled Rose when she didn't know what else she could do. As she'd expected, Astoria didn't believe her. Attempting to explain the circumstance would surely get Rose nowhere, especially since she didn't actually know what the circumstance was. But as the fire spread across her forehead, it became increasingly difficult to think of something else that would work.

Wishing that her senses would disappear the way they did with insomnia, Rose thought of Scorpius. She thought of the boy she'd met in the Great Hall on her first day at Hogwarts, then of the man she'd made love to under a waterfall. She thought of all the things he'd ever told her about Astoria, and about all the times he'd needed to run away from his own mother or the times she'd run away from him. Rose thought about families and how complicated they could become after such a simple start. Because no matter how far back their roots stretched, families were always started by love.

Rose had to bang her fist against the floor to concentrate the fire somewhere other than her head, but once she did she was able to say, "Scorpius wouldn't want you doing this!"

The fire was gone as soon as it had come, like summer showers that moved too quickly to persist in just one spot. It still left Rose weak, but at least once it was gone she could breathe again. That was about all she could do, her thoughts so set on taking in oxygen and letting it out at a steady pace that she didn't notice Astoria coming closer until the witch was standing inches away.

Rose slowly looked up at her and found Astoria's eyes empty of emotion, but then she saw her lips trembling. "You think I don't know my own son, don't you?" Astoria asked.

Rose knew what she was supposed to say. She was supposed to say that no, no, of course Astoria knew her son. But she couldn't lie when it came to Scorpius's rights. She couldn't deny him the truth because she loved him, and because Astoria didn't. Perhaps she had once, but she didn't anymore, of that Rose was certain. That was why she said, "Yes. Yes, that's exactly what I think."

Once the women had stared at each other long enough, Astoria walked around so that she was facing Rose's back and then wrapped one of her frighteningly bony hands around a tuft of Rose's hair and pulled. It didn't take very much force to bring Rose to the ground, and Astoria even let go of her early enough so that the back of Rose's head slammed against the floor. It was nearly impossible now to hold back her tears as she asked helplessly, "What are you doing?"

Smirking, Astoria straddled her legs around Rose's waist, leaned toward Rose's ear, and whispered through breath that reeked with death, "I'm proving that you're a liar."

She was absolutely still as she saw Astoria pull a small knife from the depth of her robes and felt her place its blade right below Rose's left earlobe, on the flab of skin that joined her neck to her jawbone. She was absolutely still as Astoria pushed and pulled in short, straight lines and as Rose tried to tell herself that it was just water on her skin, just water breaking from its dam. She was absolutely still as Astoria finished cutting and as Rose turned her eyes to the faraway mirror and squinted to see the mark that had branded her.

It was a snowflake, unique amongst its peers yet perfectly matched to one that she had looked at nearly every day for the past seven years. Now, she had Scorpius's same markings, only hers was a scar. For some reason, she smiled upon seeing it. She would take any piece of Scorpius that she could get, and in a way she was glad that it had come in this form. Scorpius didn't need any more scars, so she was happy to wear them for him.

Astoria was still crouched on top of Rose as she said, "I was there the day he was born and I will be there the day he dies. Defile the love I carry when you can say the same for your own child."

They were locked in another stare now, and Rose was questioning whether this one would ever end when she heard the double doors open and saw a man saunter inside with a large goblet floating behind him. Rose had to break her gaze with Astoria to get a good look at the man who wore nothing but some torn pants and whose bare chest was branded with a black number and a symbol that Rose could have sworn she'd seen somewhere before. Noticing her new focal point, Astoria followed Rose's eyes and stood up as soon as she saw the better twin.

"Knox," breathed Astoria in a manner more shocked than Rose could ever have imagined her to be.

"I saw Ryder running into battle and saw that you'd asked for this," said Knox as he gestured to the pensieve. He was speaking as if he'd never been to Azkaban, and Rose was beginning to wonder if maybe he hadn't.

Astoria didn't even say thank you before she asked, "How did you escape?"

"Black Hawk."

Astoria laughed in a sort of grunt. Shaking her head, she mumbled, "I knew that boy would be good for something. He may not follow orders, but he certainly does know how to make his own."

"He brought dragons." Knox had his hands in his pockets and his shoulders were shrugged as if he was shivering from the cold, but then Rose noticed him glimpse in her direction and she knew that seeing her there was making him uncomfortable.

A smile spread across Astoria's lips as she pictured her army headed by a whole family of dragons. The idea frightened Rose more than she could say, and she only hoped that Scorpius was being smart about taking down the beasts. If they were under Al's control, they'd be capable of anything; Al had proven such of himself time and time again over the past year.

Still excited, Astoria began walking out of the room and only stopped on her way to tell Knox, "Wait here, will you? I'd like to find a window."

Knox nodded and she was gone. Rose couldn't help but feel relieved now that Astoria wasn't in her same room, though she wasn't sold on Knox just yet. She remembered him from the battle at her house last Christmas – the way he'd gone after Scorpius and had then told Astoria very confidently that it wasn't Scorpius she wanted anymore. At the time, Rose had feared that Knox held some sort of bizarre control over Astoria and her motives, but now she wasn't so sure. All she knew was that Astoria trusted Knox, possibly more than anyone else in the Flock, and that alone put Rose in a perilous position.

Knox slowly walked toward her as she thought through all of this, and unfortunately she was too weak to back away. All Rose could do for now was lay there and wait for Knox to say or do something, and she was thankful when it was the former. He was kneeling down so that he could be closer to her eye level and she was busy staring at the triangular mark on his chest when he asked rather simply, "Who came to the wedding, Rose?"

"What?" she replied, confused as to what he was getting at.

Sighing, he closed his eyes as if reminding himself to be patient before he repeated, "Who came to the Longbottom wedding? Who was there? Were the Lupins there?"

It was the mention of Teddy and Victoire's last name that made Rose remember that the man she was talking to had once been the love of her cousin's life. Dominique had been a different person ever since Knox had left her, though Rose had always defended her by saying that she was growing stronger every day. She didn't think that she needed to tell Knox that now, though; he would know that she was lying.

Instead, she said, "Yes. They were there. They're here." Teddy had brought Dominique as his date to the ceremony, and only the pregnant Victoire had stayed home with Remy.

The look on Knox's face upon hearing the confirmation was something between ultimate joy and guilty determination. Rose still wasn't sure what Knox was planning to do with the knowledge that Dominique was fighting somewhere on the Hogwarts grounds, but she was too scared to ask him point blank. He had murdered about as many people over the years as Astoria had, and Rose had no time to pity any more murderers.

She was telling herself this as he stood back up, and soon she had enough courage to ask, "Did Al really kill my grandfather? Did you really just go to Azkaban to protect him?"

"No," Knox said without even thinking about it, making sure that Rose had reason to believe him. "Your friend did nothing wrong. I killed Arthur Weasley, and that was what I did to protect Albus. Going to Azkaban was what I did to protect myself."

Rose didn't know what to feel in response to Knox's confession. A part of her was relieved to know that Al was innocent in at least one crime, but the other part of her wanted to rip Knox's heart out right then and there for causing such grief for her family, for Al, for Dominique. She might have gone through with it even in her injured state if it hadn't been for the way Knox was looking her over, his eyes piercing into every part of her like bullets and then wincing like he could feel her pain.

His eyes made it to hers and he said, "She won't hurt you again so long as you listen to her story. And if you listen, you'll understand. You'll understand it all."

Something about Knox's tone told Rose that she shouldn't ask anything more regardless of her utter confusion. She wouldn't have had much time to ask anyway, though, because within thirty seconds Astoria was back inside, her previous smile still plastered to her face and making Rose frown in dismay. If Astoria was happy upon looking out the window, then surely Rose would feel the exact opposite way.

Seeing Rose again appeared to be the only thing to make Astoria's smile fade, for she merely glanced at Rose and her lips tightened in frustration. Knox must have noticed this as well, for he said to her before Astoria could say anything to him, "She has what you want."

Astoria turned to him with wide eyes full of hope and a speck of disbelief as she watched Knox pull up the pant of his left leg as if gesturing in a secret code. She was still staring at the leg when he said cordially, "Now, if it's all right, I'd very much like to get back out there. Albus can't handle this on his own, not even with Oreo's help."

"Fine," Astoria permitted him. Knox was on his way out when Astoria added, "Thank you for coming to me, even with your debt already paid."

Knox turned his head to the side in acknowledgement but didn't say anything before he vanished through the doorway. Astoria watched his shadow until it was gone, and then she returned her attention to Rose, this time with another smile on her face. She approached Rose with more confidence than she'd displayed all night, and some of it must have even rubbed off on Rose.

Once she was only a few feet in front of her, Rose asked, "What do you want, Astoria?"

"I want a lot of things, Weasley," she answered with crossed arms, waiting to move forward with her plan because she was curious to see what Rose might ask next.

She was not so pleasantly surprised when Rose pushed herself into a sitting position, pulled on her broken finger until the bone snapped back into place, and said, "You're lying. You want one thing; you just happen to be willing to do anything else to get it."

"Oh, really?" asked Astoria as if Rose was an idiot, but the crack in her voice didn't go unnoticed. "And what makes you think that that's all I want?"

"Because that's all anyone wants. Ryder wants revenge, Albus wants his own life, Knox wants the woman he loves, and they're all willing to put up with you to get it." Then she thought of the one thing she wanted right now, and that was when she knew that she was right, because what she wanted now was the same exact thing she'd wanted seven years ago. "As for me, I want Scorpius. I didn't know what wanting was until I wanted him."

Which part of Rose's speech made Astoria listen, Rose would never know. But somehow, it did, because after a moment of silence Astoria uncrossed her arms and said, "What I want is the stone that you have hidden beneath your dress..."

"What do you want to read tonight, Rosie?" asked Ron as he settled himself into her undersized bed. His legs were so long that his feet bounced off the edge of the mattress even when he was sitting up, and Rose couldn't have been more than a quarter his size as she snuggled into his chest.

"You pick," said Rose. It had been a long day at the graveyard, and she was struggling to be happy after being surrounded by so much sadness. She didn't care which story they read so long as her cheeks got to feel the softness of his red wool sweater. It was one of the ones her grandmother had made for him, and although she was pretty sure that this wasn't true, Ron always told her that the 'R' stood for Rose.

Sighing from the prospect of such immense responsibility, Ron leaned over the bed to reach down to the bottom of Rose's six-foot tall bookshelf and grabbed a worn-out copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Rose only able to recognize it by its binding since she couldn't read the symbols inscribed across its cover. Hermione had told her once that the book had been written in ancient runes and that even though he like to pretend otherwise, Ron couldn't read them any better than Rose could; he'd just memorized all of the stories by now.

He turned to the first page and Rose was barely able to make out the symbol on its top right corner that she'd always thought didn't really belong there. The mark was of a darker ink than the actual print, its shape a triangle enclosed around a circle with a vertical line running straight down the middle.

Then Ron flipped to the story Rose knew as The Tale of the Three Brothers. "'There were once three brothers who were traveling down a lonely, winding road at midnight,'" Ron began to read.

"Twilight!" Rose corrected him instinctively. Curling himself into him to avoid his annoyed gaze, she mumbled, "Mum always said twilight."

Ron began again, this time saying 'twilight.' The rest of the story was told just as Rose would have wanted it to be, and her sadness slowly faded away as she found herself engrossed in the brothers' adventures. She shuttered when the first brother came upon the wand made of elder wood and then lost it after going on a killing spree. She smiled when the second brother was given a black stone from the river that brought his wife back to life. She was ready to hear her favorite section – the one in which the last brother, Ignotus, asked for and was given a cloak of invisibility and later greeted death as an old friend – when she found her thoughts caught up on the stone and she asked her father to stop reading all of the sudden.

"What is it, Rosie?" he asked with worry. "What's wrong?"

Her parents had always explained death as being infinite, unavoidable, and something one just had to accept, but if that were the case, why would the second brother have been able to use a Resurrection Stone?

"Rose," Ron nudged her when she didn't respond, too caught up in her thoughts yet again.

Jolting back to the present, Rose looked up at Ron and said, "Daddy, what if Uncle Fred could come back? What if we could find a stone for George? What if the story's true?"

Ron gave her a look that she'd never seen him wear before. His face was cold, his hair spiked upright, his ears pure white instead of their usual red. She wondered if it was fear she saw in his eyes and almost expected him to call for Hermione, which he often did when he didn't want to tell Rose something important by himself. He didn't call for her this time, though. He answered Rose all on his own, and she believed him.

"The story isn't true, Rosie. It's just a story. I know that you want Uncle Fred to come back so that George and I can stop missing him, but not even the most powerful wizard can bring people back from the dead. Okay?"


Rose didn't need to ask to know what Astoria wanted her ring for. It was the Resurrection Stone, it had to be, and Astoria was under the impression that its mythical powers were real. Rose tried to tell herself that it wasn't true, that Astoria was mistaken, that her father was right, but then she saw the blue again. Somewhere out there, Scorpius was saying her name and a portkey was appearing to take her back to him, a kind of magic that no one but her father seemed to understand. If this story, her story, was real, then why couldn't The Tale of the Three Brothers be? Why couldn't the Deathly Hallows exist – the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, the Invisibility Cloak? Why couldn't those three objects really be the ones that were currently in Albus's hand, on Rose's leg, in James's shirt? Rose had learned long before she could remember that not even the most powerful wizard could bring people back from the dead, but perhaps the most powerful witch could. It may not be possible if done out of fear, but Rose didn't think that Astoria was doing it out of fear. She was doing it for freedom.

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