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

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38. The Bride

They were surrounded by waterfalls. The sound of rain was heightened into hurricanes, pummelling against the water's surface, invading it with gravity's force, and then bouncing back up into a splash that never seemed to end. Each separate stream of water was a different color – pale pinks and oranges, with hints of bright greens and blues – but somehow they combined to make a translucent bath topped with bouncing white bubbles. And underneath it all, in the depths of that water, were even more hurricanes that were even more magical.

Rose and Scorpius were swimming together in the pool-sized bath of the fifth floor Prefects' bathroom. Only starlight was infiltrating through the mermaid's stained glass window above them, and the only sound came from the roaring faucets at the edge of the tub. The two teenagers were on the other side of the basin, their exposed bodies more connected than they'd ever been and their smiles wider than they would ever be.

"Are you sure?" Scorpius kept asking her, even after it was already happening.

"I am. You know I am," she'd always reply as she left trails of kisses across his chest that, for some reason, didn't seem to be nearly as scarred as it should have been. She never opened her eyes to expect them, though he never closed his own. He just stared at her with absolute, pure fragility... a fragility that she was rupturing the more she pushed and pulled him closer to her.

Scorpius had his arms around Rose's back, but they didn't feel tight enough. She wanted him to hold her, really hold her, like he might never hold her again, but all she felt now was that he was about to let her go. And of course, that worry only made her push him further, digging her nails into his shoulder blades and pulling her hands all the way down to his hips, whispering the whole time, "I know you want me, Scorpius. So, please, show me. Show me you want me!"

Within seconds, he was doing exactly as she wanted, making her realize that she should never have wanted it. He was holding her so tightly that her back was bruising, and his teeth were biting into her neck until she bled, the red slowly sleeping into the water and turning the bath into an ocean of blood. The worst part was her core, her stomach feeling like it had was being pulled out through her belly button and her pelvis breaking into miniature pieces that kept rubbing against each other like pinching nerves and sending chills all the way down her legs and into her feeble toes.

She had her eyes shut closed and was breathing heavily as she pushed Scorpius away from her. He was too busy to notice her fear, however, his hands wrapped sinisterly around hers and pulling the black ring off her cracking fingers. Subconsciously, all Rose seemed to care about was that ring, so once Scorpius was outside of her again, she opened her eyes to threaten him and screamed upon seeing who she was now staring at.

Astoria, with the same icy eyes as Scorpius but everything else about her a thousand times darker, was fighting Rose knowing that she would win. That didn't mean that Rose was about to give up, though. Telling herself to look away from the black monster, Rose turned her eyes to the ring on her finger, which was oddly on her left hand rather than the its usual spot on her right, and kicked and splashed through the water to try to distract her opponent. As expected, none of that worked on Astoria, and soon the witch had Rose's ring in the palm of her hand, and it was at that moment that Rose took her magic to the next level.

She couldn't be sure where her wand came from, but in the exact moment she needed it, it was sitting in the palm of her hand. Rose didn't give herself the time to think about what the spell she was about to perform might do to her psyche, instead just pointing her rosewood wand at Astoria and yelling as loudly as her lungs allowed of her, "AVADA KEDAVRA!"

Rose must have meant it, because it worked. In an instant, Astoria's body was hardening in response to the lightning bolt of green that had hit her chest, and she was falling backwards into the water until she was immersed in it completely and Rose couldn't see her anymore. All Rose had left was the ring that she was cradling in her shaking fingers, and as the guilt of sending the curse sunk into her skin, she curled into a fetal position with her back against the wall of the tub.

As the waterfalls stopped pouring and the hurricanes disappeared, so too did the water in the bath. The basin was slowly clearing itself, draining a millimeter or so per second, until both Rose and the tub were quiet and still and dry. Even her eyes were a desert as she found herself looking across the floor of the bath in search for Astoria's body. But it wasn't Astoria whom she found.

The tall, blond boy with the snowflake birthmark, Malfoy necklace, and chest scarred with Quidditch and transfiguration injuries was lying on the red-stained tile that was as cold as his stilled blood. Panicking, Rose leaped off the bench seat and crawled over to Scorpius's body, pulling his head into her tortured arms and begging for him not to be gone. But nobody was there to listen to her screams and not even the most powerful wizard could bring back the dead, which was all Rose could think about as she stared down at Scorpius's closed eyes and realized that she would never see his ice blue again.

Sky blue opened to face the crimson canopy of Rose's four-poster bed, but unlike with her other nightmares, this time she wasn't sweating or crying. She was merely paralyzed with shock. She remembered every moment of the terrible dream, her head quickly turning to her left to look for Scorpius, who'd been spending most of his nights in Rose's Gryffindor dormitory since the beginning of this school year. She remembered falling asleep with his arms locked around her pajama-covered stomach late last night, neither of them trying to hide his presence since all of the other girls who usually shared the bedroom had already headed home for the holidays. This morning, however, Scorpius was not laying half-awake in Rose's bed, and in his place was a straightly folded note covered in his stunning handwriting.

Telling herself not to panic because surely everything was fine, Rose picked up the letter and opened it to read:

Rose,

I had to head off early for a meeting with McGonagall. She sent me a Patronus to say it was important, but I didn't want to wake you. Don't wait up for me before meeting withNeville Professor Longbottom, though. I probably won't be able to make it, so say hi to Lucy and Holly for me, and I'll meet you on the Quidditch pitch to start setting up for tonight.

Yours forever (you know I am),

Scorpius

Rose let herself sigh in relief upon finishing, especially since Scorpius's last line made her heart melt just like it did every time she saw him. Of course, that line also reminded her of what she'd said to him in her dream, which she desperately wished she could talk to Scorpius about now. Knowing that that wasn't possible, though, Rose picked herself up off her bed, got dressed into some casual pre-wedding clothes, and raced out of her dormitory until the silence couldn't haunt her anymore.

She was on her way to the portrait hole when Rose caught a glimpse of a lonely Lily sitting in one of the common room's windowsills and looking down at the sun rise over the Quidditch pitch outside. It wasn't all that early for either of them to be awake, but Rose still found herself concerned about her younger cousin as she changed course from the portrait to the window.

Tonight would be Christmas Eve – the day of the Longbottom wedding – and though Rose hadn't been keeping exact tabs on the lunar calendar, Hugo had mentioned Lily being 'out' only a couple of nights ago. Preparing herself for the sight of flesh wounds and a hostile attitude, Rose greeted Lily and leaned against the wall beside her.

Lily didn't turn around completely, her thoughts far too focused on the outside world, but eventually she did hunch her shoulders beneath her Gryffindor blanket and say, "Big day, today."

"Yeah," Rose agreed as she took in the surprisingly few scars on Lily's face, not nearly enough to match the scars in her heart. "I just hope everything works out. If anybody deserves his happy ending, it's Professor Longbottom."

Lily nodded in agreement, but Rose could tell that she wasn't fully listening, especially when she said again, "Big day, today."

Rose was at a loss at this point. She of course knew that Lily was a werewolf, but that didn't mean that she had any understanding of what Lily was going through. No one did, really. And Rose didn't want to pretend to be the one Lily needed, because clearly she wasn't. So, she was thankful when the rest of her Gryffindor family who was still here – Hugo, Nigel, Fred, and Roxanne – came thumping down the stairs and walked straight over to Lily in an attempt to help cheer her up.

Deciding to leave them all be, Rose turned around and walked out of the common room, smiling sadly to Hugo on her way. Once in the hallway of the castle's top floor, Rose was tempted to stop by McGonagall's office tower to see if Scorpius was still there, or even to try to get in to the Room of Requirement (though it had been locked or somehow occupied every time she'd walked by it since September), but she was already running late. Lucy, who happened to be Professor Longbottom's favorite Herbology NEWT student and who was in close contact with Luna thanks to her relationship with Lorcan, had been putting all the wedding plans into place. Rose had taken on the role of her assistant along with Neville's daughter and Luna's bridesmaid, Holly, and this morning marked their final meeting together.

Once on the main floor, Rose didn't even stop at the Great Hall for breakfast before heading past the Charms corridor that led to the greenhouses. Neville's office was on the other side of the third greenhouse, which was the one used for most upperclassmen Herbology lessons and which had recently become stuffed with bushels of fresh mistletoe. As expected, Lucy and Holly were already there, the former sitting in one of two chairs on the door's side of Neville's desk and the latter sitting on the armrest of Neville's chair, as close to her father as possible. Around them were potted mandrakes and small grey cactuses that Rose had been told time and time again were Mimbelus mimbletonia, Neville's favorite plants that were often used as an antidote for shyness. Even more noticeable than the plants, however, was the giant glass case pinned to the wall above Neville's head and below a shelf upon which sat the Sorting Hat. In that case was the shimmering, goblin-made silver of the Sword of Gryffindor.

"Oh, that's been there forever. Nobody's seemed to need it since I did," said Neville upon noticing Rose staring at the sword. She'd never actually been in her teacher's office before now. The best NEWT students were often mentored on a weekly basis by the professor of their chosen field, so Rose had been busy meeting with Flitwick most of the year, and the meetings she'd had regarding Neville's wedding had all been outside until now.

The sword, however, Rose had seen many of times in a number of different books. She'd read about Neville wielding it in the Second Wizarding War, but she hadn't realized that that made him the sword's current owner. Still, she tried not to think about what might make somebody need it in the first place as she took her seat next to Lucy and got to the real work at hand.

"So, everything's going really well," said Lucy in an attempt to change the subject. "We're meeting the rest of the kids on the pitch in an hour for the final set-up, but the weather worked out perfectly. There's fresh snow on the ground and more to come later this evening."

"Brilliant! It'll make us all look like we're floating," said Holly enthusiastically. She was the only one in the room who was already dressed, all decked out in a long-sleeved, silky red dress that swished down to her covered knees and was tied at the waist with a sparkling white bow. Rose was blown away by how beautiful, and oddly even normal, Holly looked. At least, that was until the girl jumped off Neville's chair in excitement and allowed Rose a glimpse of the pine needle sandals on her feet, which looked exactly like miniature Christmas trees.

Rose was still staring at Holly's feet, thinking about the undecorated Christmas tree that was currently sitting in her living room back at the Bird's Nest, when Lucy turned to her and asked, "Did you get a chance to talk to Aunt Ginny, Rose?"

Ginny was Luna's Maid of Honor, and because Neville didn't seem to trust the twin groomsmen to keep his rings safe, Ginny had taken on that responsibility on top of all her other ones. Back in the conversation, Rose answered, "Yes, she sent me a letter yesterday. She found the ring shop in London and will be arriving today around noon."

Lucy was pleased to hear it, but it was Neville whom Rose looked to in response. He was very still in his chair, but his shaking hands and reassuring nod didn't go unnoticed by Rose. "Professor Longbottom," she started to ask, "Are you nervous?"

Both Lucy and Holly were looking to Neville alongside Rose as they waited for him to reply. "Me, nervous? Nah," he said. Looking straight at Rose, he continued, "Actually, I feel quite a lot like I did when I first picked up that sword, or when I fought with your parents in the Department of Mysteries, or even in our first year, when I tried to stop them from saving the world. I feel fairly certain of myself."

All the girls were smiling by the time he finished, and Lucy and Rose looked to each other and mutually decided to leave Neville and Holly to get themselves ready, congratulating their professor and promising that it would be the most magical night of his life as they left the office. They had to stop in the greenhouse momentarily, collecting all of the mistletoe and stuffing it into Rose's charmed rucksack before moving on.

During the long walk out of the castle and across the snowy grounds, Rose became entranced in thought, her mind running through images of her nightmare and Scorpius's naked chest and Neville's assuredness. She wasn't about to let herself believe that anything she'd seen of Astoria or the dead Scorpius could possibly be true premonitions, but there was one part of her dream that had seemed incredibly real.

That was what made Rose ask Lucy just as the castle's double doors were closing behind them, "How are things going with Lorcan?" She wasn't actually that curious, since Lucy's relationship with the Scamander tended to be nauseatingly blissful, but Rose hoped that Lucy wouldn't see through her ulterior motives right away.

"Never better!" answered Lucy, Rose's plan working perfectly so far. "I mean, it's of course been hard being apart from in; I can't tell you how excited I am to see him tonight. But I think the distance will just bring us closer together, you know? After all, it seems to have done so for you and Scorpius."

She was bumping Rose with her hip as she mentioned Scorpius, causing Rose to blush uncontrollably and smile in a half moon. But Rose didn't actually comment on the summer she and Scorpius had spent apart and how much they'd grown together since then. Lucy started to sense that there was more to Rose's curiosity than she let on, asking, "What's wrong? Everything's okay between you two, isn't it?"

"Yeah, of course, everything's fine," said Rose, her eyes on the footprints that were currently ruining the ground's blanket of white. Lucy wasn't buying it anymore, though, stopping in her tracks to make Rose confess. Raising her eyebrows, Lucy made Rose give in eventually, the latter explaining, "Everything is fine. It's just that all this stuff that's been going on around us – Scorpius leading his army and Al going rogue – has been so distracting that we've sort of stopped moving forward. And I suppose that I just don't know if or when we should take that next step."

Her cheeks were frighteningly red as she spoke her last words, so Lucy knew exactly what Rose was referring to. Even so, she wasn't quite getting the whole story, which was made clear when she asked, "He's not pushing you, is he?"

"NO!" Rose practically screamed at her, shocked that Lucy could even consider Scorpius doing such a thing. "If anything, I think I might be pushing him. I want to be sure that we experience everything we possibly can in case something happens to one of us in the not-so-distant future, but he always finds a way of pulling me back to the present."

Lucy was looking at Rose as if she was her younger sister or even a daughter, lovingly but protective, as she took a deep breath and said, "Lorcan and I slept together for the first time this summer. We were just at his house one night, but Lysander had already moved in with James and their mum was out with Professor Longbottom. It wasn't planned or anything, but I knew that he'd been waiting for a while. For the longest time, I'd always thought of my virginity as something I would lose – something that he would steal. That's how everyone describes it, at least. But it can't be stolen if you give it away, and I've never been more proud of a gift in my entire life."

That was what Rose had wanted to know. She hadn't spoken to a girl about how she'd felt lately. In fact, she'd barely spoken to Scorpius about it. She'd needed to hear that her feelings were justifiable, and she needed to know that making love with Scorpius wasn't something she would need to be ashamed of. They were in love, just like Lucy and Lorcan were, so they had no reason to be so scared of each other.

The only question Rose had left was, "So, how are you supposed to know when it's the right time?" She'd heard the 'you just know' explanation a thousand times before; that wasn't what she was looking for now. Rose understood why Scorpius had been hesitant every time she'd pushed him; he didn't want to do something for the wrong reason, especially if that reason was solely the threat of war. What she didn't understand was what the right reasons were.

"The right time is when you're both on the exact same page about it. It's when the gut-wrenching fear turns into just your average anxiety. It's when he kisses you and you can't stop kissing him back, no matter how hard you try." Lucy was smiling, and at this point, so was Rose.

"You miss him, don't you?" asked the fairer of the two girls.

"Every moment of every day," admitted Lucy. Then she continued walking, heading past Rose and down to the Quidditch pitch where Hagrid was dragging a ten-foot Christmas tree through the snow while the other students started to unpack the boxes of ornaments provided by Hogwarts.

Though Rose was urging her legs to move forward so that she could join everyone, her mind seemed to want her to stay where she was. The snow was seeping through cracks in the leather boots she'd begged her father to buy a few years back, and her unkempt hair that she'd always refused to straighten was blowing every which direction. She was always so sure about things, from her clothes and hair to her loyalties and morals. But now, things were different. Now, here she was, cursing both her decision to ever buy these hopeless boots as well as the wild, Granger hair she'd been born with. Now, she was annoyed, frustrated, and angry, and it wasn't because she wanted what she couldn't have. It was because she didn't like what she wanted.

"Sorry I'm late," said an out-of-breath voice that Rose would recognize anywhere, because of course it sounded just like rain.

"Nine minutes late, to be exact," Rose teased him without looking at her watch or even turning around to face Scorpius. She knew just as well as she knew how to count that if she didn't go to him, he would come to her.

Sure enough, that was exactly what Scorpius did, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind and kissing the soft skin where her earlobe met her jawbone. "Actually, I'm only fourminutes late, if you don't count 'on time' as being five minutes early. And I don't, you see, because I'm not the one who grew up with a father who was always late."

Rose couldn't explain how happy she felt every time Scorpius told her something about herself. She of course already knew of such habits and traits, but it was different to know that somebody else noticed and understood them, especially somebody who was so important to her. For example, she prided herself for knowing that Scorpius was claustrophilic, meaning that he was actually quite fond of tightly enclosed places; it had something to do with his growing up in a wide-open mansion that had very few hiding spots. Knowing a person, reallyknowing them, was about more than just loving their strengths and weaknesses. It was about knowing where those strengths and weaknesses came from.

Turning around within his arms so that she could see the sunlight in those blue eyes she'd missed every moment since she fell asleep, Rose was surprised to find the normally very clean Scorpius smelling a bit like bacteria-filled grindylow tanks. When he saw her scrunch up her nose, he explained, "I've just come from the Owlery. Want me to give you some room?"

"No," Rose said before he could loosen his grip on her. She could deal with the scent of owl dung as long as her other senses were filled only with Scorpius. "What were you doing at the Owlery?"

He was supposed to be returning to the Bird's Nest with Rose as soon as the reception ended later tonight, so surely a letter could have waited a day. But Scorpius didn't seem so sure as he answered, "That note I found with Al's handwriting on it – I sent it to Ilana. She deserves to know that he's been thinking about her."

Scorpius had found a paper full of Albus's fragmented phrases and thoughts, all of them addressed to Ilana, in McGonagall's office only yesterday. He'd told Rose about it right away, and though Rose hadn't wanted to do anything with it, she'd decided to let Scorpius decide what was right. They'd already fought over Al's best interests enough for a lifetime, and they each knew where the other stood on the matter. Scorpius would tell Harry each time he found any sort of evidence of Al's whereabouts, but Rose wouldn't tell a soul. Scorpius would write to Ilana to try to mend her broken heart, but Rose refused to believe that Al had been the one to break it. Scorpius liked to pretend that he had given up on his best friend, but Rose would never admit that she already had.

Nodding, Rose didn't ask anything more about Al or Ilana, instead changing the subject with, "Speaking of McGonagall, how'd the meeting go?"

"Well, I'm still angry with her, if that's what you mean. Harry's not very pleased either, but I think she's been open with us since you and I ran into Al that time. She even told me today that she thought Al had broken into her office recently."

So much for changing the subject, thought Rose. Reminding herself that Scorpius wasn't talking about Al on purpose, though, she asked, "What makes her think that?"

Scorpius ran a hand through his perfectly smooth hair – yet another trait that Rose always recognized because it paralleled his nervousness – before saying, "Apparently, he left her a message, meaning that he literally carved something into her desk."

"And what did the message say?" Rose no longer cared so much about the subject of discussion; her curiosity was far too strong for that.

It took a while for Scorpius to respond, now even more nervous than he'd been before as his hands moved up Rose's back and onto her shoulders. "It said 'Protect Rose.'"

Rose backed out of Scorpius's grip, stumbling slightly as she wrapped her arms around herself and tried to look anywhere but at Scorpius's shadow-cast face. He shouldn't have to worry about her this way, and if she was being completely honest, she shouldn't need to worry either. She was seventeen years old, and Lucy was right: figuring out the right time to sleep with her boyfriend should be her only problem. But of course, magic always had a way of complicating things.

"Look, Rose," Scorpius was telling her as he cautiously approached and clasped his hands around hers, "I don't want to be overbearing or possessive, you know that. But after what happened at the funeral, and now with Al's message, it honestly kills me when I don't know where you are."

"I don't want to be away from you either, Scorpius. Believe me, that's the last thing I want right now." She wanted to be as close to him as she possibly could.

Scorpius was relieved to hear it. Smiling crookedly as if he had been questioning her feelings beforehand, he said, "Good. So, tonight, let's just stay close to each other, no matter what. Because even if Astoria still wants you, we have tonight. We'll deal with tomorrow when it comes."

"Deal," Rose promised with a kiss. Once she broke away, however, she bit her lips and added, "But I do need to get dressed before the ceremony."

"Right. Well, you'll be happy to know that so do I. It looks like my 'suit problem' has been solved," said Scorpius, much to Rose's surprise. He'd been fretting over the fact that he didn't own a suit for a month now, and Rose had suggested that he ask Harry for one, but of course Scorpius had been too proud for that. She had been planning to have her father bring him one this afternoon, but now it seemed as if that wouldn't be necessary either.

When Rose raised her eyebrows in question, Scorpius told her, "Eldritch – that old black owl my father owns – delivered a package while I was at the Owlery. I haven't actually looked at it yet, but it was wrapped in a huge box with a bowtie on it. I just hope it matches whatever you're wearing."

Rose had never been more thankful for Draco Malfoy's existence in her entire life. He had finally realized that Scorpius needed him, and that it didn't matter what for. Smiling about such because she couldn't help herself, Rose pulled away from Scorpius and said, "I suppose we'll just have to wait and see."

"That we will," agreed Scorpius while watching Rose slowly walk away, headed back for the castle to get ready. "I'll meet you in the Entrance Hall in an hour, and by that, I mean fifty-five minutes."

During the whole walk up to her dormitory, Rose's smile never faded.

Exactly fifty-five minutes later, Rose found Scorpius at the bottom of the staircase leading into the Entrance Hall at the front of the castle. She had an aggregation of whistling ghosts trailing behind her, Nearly Headless Nick and the Bloody Baron pretending to duel for her affections as the Fat Friar drawled on and on about her timeless beauty.

"You will be sublimely ethereal beneath the twilight," said the Hufflepuff house ghost, though Rose wasn't paying him any mind. She had her eyes locked on the very real man who was waiting in front of the double doors, staring dumbfounded as if he was seeing her for the very first time.

"He's right, you know," Scorpius said as he offered Rose his arm, which she took willingly. "I don't think I've ever seen something more beautiful." He was blushing like a small child, and Rose couldn't help but adore the red on his cheeks. Two years ago, he had needed all the courage in the world to tell her that she looked beautiful, and it seemed as if a part of him still needed it.

Laughing through her smile, Rose replied, "You look quite dashing yourself." He was wearing white from head to toe, the only color the light blue of his bowtie. That blue was the exact same shade as Rose's dress – a long-sleeved gown with sequins covering its chest like Jordan almonds and strings of sparkle running down its length, all the way down to the silvery, short heels that Rose prayed wouldn't make her trip. Her hair was tied to the back of her head like a wreath, with white and blue jewels holding it in place. Scorpius was a frozen ocean, and she was his reflecting sky.

Rose needn't have worried about tripping. Scorpius held her steady the whole walk to the Quidditch pitch, the ghosts all sending them best wishes as they closed the castle doors behind them. Fred had been in charge of magically shovelling paths to and from the pitch, replacing the snow with red carpets that bled underneath the giant white tarps that covered the entirety of the old Quidditch field.

It was only early afternoon by the time Rose and Scorpius walked into the stadium-turned-hall, so most of the guests had yet to arrive. Rose almost thought she liked the place better empty, for this way she had a perfect view of the recently decorated pine tree in the center of the pitch, a mound of beautifully wrapped presents growing beneath its branches. The tree also served as a natural partition between the ceremonial and reception halves of the pitch. The former side held rows of white chairs facing a rather odd-looking platform that rose off the floor like a radish root, while the latter had been made into a dance floor with circular tables positioned all around its perimeter. No doubt the radish had been Luna's idea, and that that half of the pitch would be transformed to look like the other once the ceremony was over.

Rose was about to walk up to Lucy, who was talking to a dapper Flitwick while pointing at the tent's ceiling, when Lysander and Lorcan got there first. They rushed inside from the Hogsmeade entrance and were then corralled into a designated locker room to get changed, Lorcan embracing Lucy before taking her hand and pulling her inside with him. Luna was there too, though she seemed to be in less of a hurry than her twins were. She was walking around with her head swerving up at the ceiling, Holly by her side and copying her every movement.

"I think I'd be all right with just standing here for the rest of the night," Scorpius thought aloud, reading Rose's mind. And for a while, the two of them did just stand there, taking in the sights as Fred and Hugo replaced the bottom layer of the red velvet cake with canary creams and fainting fancies, as James arrived and attempted to cheer up the still distraught Lily but failed just as everyone else had, and as Harry, Ron, and Hermione showed up and were immediately caught in a group huddle with Hagrid.

But they didn't stand there forever. Guests straggled in in all forms – old friends like Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas, past students like Teddy and Dominique (Victoire had decided to stay home with Remy and her unborn baby), and Neville's professor colleagues like McGonagall and Smethley alongside Luna's Quibbler writers – and soon everyone had seated themselves in anticipation of the ceremony.

The sun was setting as a little tufty-haired man took his place in front of the platform atop which Neville now stood. Rose and Scorpius were seated on the groom's side, with Ron and Hermione on Rose's left and Harry with James and Lily on Scorpius's right. They were all in the second row behind an ancient woman whose tall stature and hat stuffed with a vulture was blocking Ron's view of the front.

When Rose's father patted his hand on the woman's shoulder and asked quite politely if she could take the hat off, she turned around and snapped at him, "That happens to be my grandson up there, you wanker!" before slapping Ron straight across the face with a bright red handbag.

Everyone within earshot burst into laughter at that, with the exception of a clueless Neville and worried Hermione. In fact, Hermione's shushing was the only thing that seemed to silence the rest of the row as a string quartet started playing in the background. That was the cue for the audience to turn around, and in that moment strings of light suddenly lit up from every direction, illuminating the aisle in tiny yellow stars.

Lorcan was the first to walk to the platform, an overjoyed Holly on the arm of his black suit and matching perfectly with his skinny red tie. Rose watched him wink to Lucy, who was sitting in the front row on Luna's side, before taking his place beside Neville and shaking the hand of his soon-to-be step-father. Next came Lysander, wearing the same suit as his twin but with a green tie instead of red, alongside a similarly green Ginny. She may have been Luna's chosen Maid of Honor, but it was clear to Rose that Ginny didn't exactly fit in with the procession. She was much older than her groomsman, much more beautiful than Holly, and much sadder than the upcoming bride. Rose couldn't help but wonder if her aunt would feel anything other than sadness ever again.

But Luna was stunning. Her father, Xenophilius, was on the verge of tears as he walked her down the aisle, both of them looking gorgeous in the most bizarre ways. Xenophilius wore a suit to match Luna's gown, its skirt a melting igloo that stretched all the way to the high-placed, strapless bodice, which was covered in a mosaic of jewels that Rose eventually realized were silver-colored, antique keys. Her long, dirty blonde hair was the only veil she needed, a strand tied back at each side and cascading down her back in a peaceful waterfall. She was a hidden treasure waiting to be unlocked, and only Neville held the key that would fit.

The ceremony was short and simple. First, the dwarf-sized official said a few words of welcome, then Neville and Luna each made one-worded vows, forever, before kissing beneath a bushel of mistletoe with plenty of invisible Nargles in it. And just as Rose had expected, her seat flew out from under her just as Neville and Luna broke apart, moving itself to a table and making room for the dance floor that mirrored the pitch's other half.

The reception was long and lovely. Toasts were made as soon as everyone finished eating, Scorpius and Rose stationed with Ron, Hermione, Hugo, and Nigel just a few tables away from that of the wedding party's. Luna spoke first and barely made any sense, and then the shameless Neville brought everyone to tears. Ginny found it within herself to tell of nothing but happy memories she'd shared with both Luna and Neville, and Holly talked about seeing light in her father's eyes for the first time since her mother's death, looking to Colin Creevey as she hoped to one day to find a love as strong as her father's for Luna. Still, it was Lysander and Lorcan's conjoined 'Best Men' toast that Rose was looking forward to the most.

Silence swam across the pitch as the twins stood up tall and cleared their throats with as much thunder as Ron's infamous snores. Lysander was the first to speak, pointing his wand to his neck in order to magnify his voice as he said, "I was quite excited when Professor – er, Neville, I mean – proposed to my mum on the day of my graduation this past spring. It was a beautiful proposal. But since then, I must admit that I've felt quite disappointed with the nuptials."

Beside Rose, Scorpius was furrowing his eyebrows as he wondered where Lysander was planning to go with such a speech, but Rose had more faith in the Scamanders. That faith was solidified when Lorcan joked, "Yes, well, you see, here we are having to perform this ridiculous speech together, because we're both somehow Neville's Best Man."

"All I wanted was for Mum to choose me as her favorite," said Lysander, his shoulders hunched and hands in the air. "That's all I wanted – to know that I was the best twin."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Lorcan, crossing his arms in defiance. There was a moment of silence then as the boys each groaned in disappointment, then turned to each other and finished the act by giving each other a friendly push rather than swallowing their respective pride.

Everyone was laughing by the time the boys cut the act and Lysander addressed the guests through his chuckles. "No, no, but we really are happy for our mum. You know, I think I can speak for Lorcan and myself when I say that we didn't have the easiest of childhoods. It's hard enough growing up in a house shaped like a dirigible plum, and it's even harder when you can't for the life of you figure out what 'dirigible' even means."

"And even though Dad was a great guy, he didn't turn out to be such a great man," continued Lorcan, Lysander dropping his head to his chest at the mention of his father. "But luckily, I had Lysander here to help pick me up from that mess, and then Neville came along and did the same for our mother."

Lysander then took another turn, saying, "To be honest, Lorcan didn't need all that much picking up. See, he's always taken more after Mum than I have. We may be technically identical, but my brother has Mum's ears; I swear he does! I'll admit that I was the one to inherit her embarrassing knack for honesty and maybe some of her wit, but he got her loyalty. He got her kindness."

Blushing, Lorcan started walking away from his brother as Lysander finished with, "And I hope to the stars above that the world will return that kindness to my brother today, because he's about to display one of our mother's most redeemably insane qualities: unabashed, fearless guts that must be ten times larger than he is."

Guests' heads turned in unison with Lysander's, all eyes now directed back at Lorcan, who had walked over to one of the many Weasley tables and was pulling Lucy up off her chair. Guests gasped in unison with Lucy, all watching Lorcan kneel down to the ground and stare up at his girl through fair green eyes that blended beautifully with Lucy's pastel-pink dress. Guests' stomachs twisted into knots in unison with Lorcan's, all feeling nervous about what Lucy's answer would be to his upcoming question.

With shaking hands, Lorcan reached into his coat pocket and said, "Lysander's been trying to change my mind about this for weeks, but the more I watch my mum and Neville together at home, the surer I become that forever is exactly what I want." He had the small box in the palm of his hand by the time he said, "Lucy Blythe Weasley, you are the dirigible to my plum. You are the lyrics to my melody. You are the waterfall to my river. You are what makes me the best man here, and so long as you say yes, you always will be."

Rose didn't see Lucy start crying. She didn't see Lucy nod her head just enough to provide Lorcan with an answer. She didn't see Lorcan slide a ring onto Lucy's finger and then stand up to kiss her, literally sweeping her off her feet. She didn't see any of it because she was too busy looking at Scorpius and thinking about waterfalls.

The dancing started once the cheering stopped, Neville and Luna giving their son a giant hug before taking to the floor alongside the younger lovebirds. Soon, other couples were joining them there, including Ron and Hermione, Harry and Ginny, and Colin and Holly. Even Hugo mustered up the courage to ask Nigel to dance with him, making Rose laugh from her adjacent seat as he stood up and told Nigel abruptly, "Cop hold and dance with me, Squirmsnail."

Scorpius and Rose were perhaps the last couple on the dance floor, but Rose didn't mind being late now. She understood what Scorpius was waiting for when he looked on at the other couples, all of them happy and in love beneath the freshly falling snow, and said to Rose, "You know, I'm not so much afraid of tomorrow as I am that tomorrow won't change."

They'd been living in fear for long enough as it was, and neither of them wanted to do it anymore. That was why Rose ended up being the one to drag Scorpius away from the table, telling him as she swayed to the music, "But you said it yourself: we have tonight. So, stop thinking that this could be our last dance, and start thinking that it's our first."

It was true that they'd never actually danced together before. The only opportunity Rose had ever even had to dance at an event like this had been at the reception following James's graduation, but Scorpius hadn't been invited after losing his title as Prefect. Dancing with Scorpius now made Rose regret that she'd never done so before, though. In these moments that seemed to go by far faster than they should have, Rose had everything she'd ever wanted: his arms around her, his voice in her ears, his lips on her neck. This was all the protection she needed.

Rose stopped counting how many songs had played past seven. She could have kept dancing, too, if it weren't for Scorpius noticing Lily sitting alone at a table in a far-off corner. "Is that firewhiskey?" he asked, more to himself than to Rose. Still, it was the first thing he'd said since they'd started dancing, so Rose found herself pulling her head off his chest and stretching her neck to get a look at Lily as Scorpius spun her in the right direction.

He was right. There Lily was, hunched over an open bottle of firewhiskey without a care in the world, and with nobody seeming to care. She wasn't looking on at the dancing couples with jealousy as Rose had suspected she might be; she was merely drowning in some unknown glassful of grief. Rose didn't need to convince herself to tell Scorpius to go to Lily. They had promised to stay with each other all night, but sulking werewolves always had a way of complicating things.

Scorpius kissed Rose goodbye before he turned around, and once she was alone, she found herself searching for a familiar face amongst the crowd. That was when she found James peeking into the bags of presents by the Christmas tree. Rolling her eyes, she approached skillfully so that she made him jump up in fright when he found her standing only inches away.

"Blimey, Rose, you sure do make it difficult for a poor wizard to steal a bit of loot, don't you?" he laughed. He was the first person Rose had seen all night who hadn't immediately complimented her on her dress, and she had to admit that she liked knowing that James would always see her the same way, regardless of what she might be wearing.

"First of all, you're not that poor," Rose jabbed right back at him. "And second of all, you shouldn't ever steal something that could be given away."

"All right, I see your point," conceded James, leading Rose to the closest table so that she could give her throbbing feet a rest. "So, what are you planning to give away this Christmas, cousin?"

Rose blushed as she thought about James's question. Truthfully, she would give away everything if it meant that she could share a forever with Scorpius, but she knew that no such ultimatum existed. That was why she told James with a shrug of her shoulders, "All I know is that I'm not giving away anything I can't get back."

James looked at her in admiration, almost as if she was the older and wiser of the two of them, and perhaps at least one of those claims was true. Thinking this, James asked, "When did you become so strong?"

"I dunno'," Rose answered honestly. "Maybe since you showed me how." Her first instinct would always be to blame Scorpius for her best traits, but the fact of the matter was that it hadn't been Scorpius's presence that had made Rose so strong. It had been his absence, and during that absence, the two role models she'd been influenced by had been Albus and James.

Rose and James smiled at each other for a while, but it didn't seem like enough. Sensing this, James stood from his seat and Rose stood from hers, and soon they were locked in a fierce hug. "You are brilliant, Rose – through and through," he whispered in her ear, just in case it was the last thing she'd ever hear.

"I love you, James," she replied, just in case it was the last thing she'd ever say.

They didn't break apart until they heard footsteps coming toward them, Rose turning around to find herself facing Lysander, his walk imperceptibly crooked and his eyes slightly glossy. Putting a hand on James's shoulder, he looked away from Rose and said, "Holly's asking for you... for some reason."

James raised his eyebrows in surprise, but Lysander didn't seem to understand his new sister any more than James did. So, he left to find the girl, and then there were two. Rose hadn't seen all that much of Lysander since last year at school, and even then, they'd been careful to avoid each other. It made Scorpius uncomfortable to see them so much as talking, and Rose didn't blame him for that. After all, Lysander had never truly gotten over Rose, or at least whatever idea of her he had locked in his head.

Lysander ended up being the one to help dissipate the awkward air. "Hey," he said as Rose rubbed her shoulders from the wind that was passing by, "You want to dance?"

Rose wasn't certain that she did, but Lysander had never been one to take no for an answer. She was in the middle of a sigh when he grabbed her wrist and pulled her onto the wood just as a slow song started playing, Rose stopping momentarily to take her heels off.

"Well, I don't feel nearly as intimidated now, I must say," said Lysander as Rose shrunk before him. Unlike Hugo, she hadn't inherited her father's height, but Lysander must have inherited that of his father's, since he and Lorcan were nearly half a foot taller than Luna.

"I wasn't aware that it was possible for you to be intimidated." Rose was swaying from side to side to the rhythm of the violins, but Lysander was slower and heavier on his feet, more like the cello.

He had taken out a flask from his pant pocket and was swigging back some sort of alcohol, which Rose could only assume from the scent of his breath was incredibly strong, as he said, "I must be a good actor, then."

"You're not," Rose said seriously. "If you were, your loneliness wouldn't be anywhere near as obvious as it is right now."

Lysander's mother had someone. His twin brother had someone. Even Holly seemed to have someone, but not him. He never really had, especially when it came to Rose. But there was more to his loneliness than a lack of romantic love. All Rose had to do was notice the fact that she was the one leading this dance rather than him to know that there was abandon in him, too.

He seemed to understand that Rose would listen, because soon Lysander was asking her, "Did I ever tell you how I got so fascinated with Astronomy?"

Rose shook her head no. She remembered Lysander being good at the subject while at Hogwarts, though he hadn't ended up pursuing it upon earning a spot on James's professional Quidditch team.

"When we were kids, Lorcan and I were essentially the same person. We looked much more alike then than we do now, though our interests were always slightly different. Lorcan would go out creature-searching with our dad every weekend, but I liked to stay at home. Then, when they got back after a long day, Lorcan would be exhausted and so he'd fall straight asleep before it was even dark outside. When the sun finally set, Dad would come out to the backyard and lie down in the grass next to me. We'd gaze at the stars for hours some nights while Mum watched us from the porch, Dad explaining to me why the moon looked so much bigger than the stars even though, in reality, it was the other way around."

Lysander had only been a boy when he'd turned his father in for a life-long sentence in Azkaban Prison. He hadn't seen him since. Thinking such, he added, "I love Neville, and he and my mum are perfect for each other. But sometimes..."

When his voice trailed off, Rose could tell that he wouldn't be able to finish his sentence without crying, which he didn't want to do in front of her. So, she finished it for him, saying, "Sometimes you just miss your dad."

Lysander's mouth was shut tight as he tried to hold back his tears and nodded down at the barefoot Rose. To help him hold back his emotions, she pulled him closer to her until his chin was resting on the top of her head. The only thing that managed to separate them was the announcement made by Luna that it was time for the father/daughter dance.

Rose sighed to hear such, because of course it was perfect timing. "I'm sorry," she told Lysander as he pulled away.

"It's okay," he said just before Ron arrived to take his place. "Really."

Rose didn't believe him until he looked up at the nearly full moon and the smaller stars and said through squinted eyes, "Anyway, there's somebody I've been meaning to talk to." Satisfied that Lysander would be okay, Rose let him walk away as she staggered into her father's arms and followed his lead for a few minutes.

Everything was safe and peaceful when Ron was holding Rose. The rest of the world seemed peaceful too, with Xenophilius and Luna shaking rapidly even though the music wasn't all that up-tempo and Neville and Holly bearing crooked teeth for all their friends and family to see. The only duo missing seemed to be Harry and Lily, since Harry couldn't actually find his daughter, nor Ginny her son. When Rose looked around the pitch in search of Scorpius, since he was the last person to have been with Lily, she was both relieved and worried to spot him dancing with McGonagall only a few yards away.

"I think you can stand to be away from him for one song, Rosie," teased Ron when he noticed Rose staring at Scorpius from across the floor.

Laughing because, for once, her father's protective habits weren't necessary, Rose said, "I thought you two had reached an understanding."

"We have," Ron assured her. "But that doesn't mean I can suddenly stop worrying about my only daughter, especially since the vow etched into my arm doesn't include her. And after everything's that happened over the past few months, from your granddad's death to the dementor attack and Hugo's depression, I just want to make sure that you don't fall into that same black hole. Your mother and I named you after red roses, not black ones."

She knew that Ron meant his last statement as a joke, but for whatever reason, Rose wasn't laughing as the music stopped and so did she. She wasn't laughing as she squeezed around her father one last time and then left him to look for Scorpius. She wasn't laughing as she smiled cordially to a haggard-looking McGonagall and pulled Scorpius away from his mentor. She wasn't laughing as she led him into Gryffindor's usual locker room – the one that hadn't been used as changing and makeup stations for the wedding party – off the side of the pitch and locked the door behind her.

"What's going on?" Scorpius asked from behind, Rose leaning her forehead against the door and taking a deep breath in an attempt to dampen her gut-wrenching fear into just the average anxiety.

Telling herself to turn around because above all, they needed to be on the same page, Rose babbled in a string of nearly incoherent thoughts, "D-do you remember that love potion you and Ilana made last year? The one you showed me on our one-year anniversary, the same day we got back together after that stupid summer." She kept going even after Scorpius nodded in comprehension.

"Yes, yes, I remember," said Scorpius when the nods didn't appear to be enough.

Taking a few steps toward the center of the room where Scorpius was standing, her feet quickly going numb from the cold of the frozen ground, Rose said, "So, you remember telling me that it smelled like raspberries and me telling you that it smelled like rain?"

"Yes. I remember." She was an inch away from him now, and they had both stilled, anxious to see who would be the one to move first.

Rose was leaning ever so slightly forward, her eyes half-closed and her nose nearly touching his when she said, "I want to smell the raspberries, Scorpius. I want to smell the rain."

"Rose," he moaned and said all at once. She knew that he wanted the same thing, but for once in their lives, he was more afraid than she was. "Rose, we haven't talked about it yet. I – I don't have a plan."

Scorpius had never been spontaneous. He liked to practice, and he only liked surprises if they were ones he planned for Rose. Right now, he had no such plans in mind, because all he'd had time to think about as of late was making sure the Order was ready for war. Normally, Rose would be on the same page, but not now. Now, she didn't want his surprises and she didn't want their plans. She just wanted him. She just wanted them.

"Look," she started, practically begging by this point, "If there's anything that Astoria's latest quest has taught me, it's that I don't have all the answers. And yes, that idea terrifiesme, but then suddenly I'm in your arms and you're whispering my name, and my deluminator is lighting up, and I realize that that's all I need. I don't need the answers, Scorpius. I only need a tiny ball of light to call my own."

He was staring straight through her as she knelt down and rolled her long dress up her legs until she uncovered the brace that kept her wand and deluminator on her at all times. Holding the deluminator in front of Scorpius's chest, she waited for it to light up after she asked, "Scorpius, will you turn my black roses red?"

The smile curled over Scorpius's lips like a skipping stone spreading ripples across a lake. He knew as well as she did that this wasn't just about war, or about wanting to share everything with one another out of fear that it might be their last chance. It was about love, and it was about the only thing left that could possibly make their love any stronger than it already was. So, Scorpius reached out his hands, clasping them around Rose's and the deluminator that she was gripping, saying, "I will, Rose." And as that tiny ball of light floated in between them once more, he moved her hands to her cheeks and added, "You know I will."

Then he was kissing her and she couldn't stop kissing him back, no matter how hard she tried. Because her fingers just needed to run through his nervous, spiking hair, she ended up dropping the deluminator to the floor, and with the first crashing sound came the second. In the middle of the fall, Scorpius had taken out one of his wands and was pointing it toward the bench that sat in the main room, using a silent spell to send the wood flying over to the door, which it banged against and which would act as a barricade in case someone was really desperate to interrupt them.

Things turned gentle once more, however, when Scorpius returned to Rose to find her back facing him, along with the silver zipper of her dress. He slid it down slowly, kissing every part of her bare back as he went, and once she was only in her undergarments, she took the time to make sure he was only in his. They both felt another wave of panic as the clothes fell off, but their breaths were synchronized and so together they were steady.

"Did I ever tell you that I think you're beautiful?" he said quietly as they stood and stared at each other.

Her eyes twinkled as they looked down at the hands that were set patiently at Scorpius's sides, a wand clasped in each of them. She smiled in remembrance as he said, "I just want to let go of everything I'm holding so that I can hold you instead. I want to hold you and never let go."

She'd had his words etched into her memory ever since the day he'd first said them to her, on the castle's seventh floor hallway on the other side of the November snow. And just as she had that night, she replied now, "Then just let go. Open your hands and turn them to floor and drop it all. Drop it all and take three steps forward and wrap your arms around me. Lift me up and hold me, and then don't let go anymore. And I'll stand here, with my hands completely empty, and I'll wait for you. I'll wait for you and when you get to me, I'll wrap my arms around you. I'll hold you, and I won't ever let go. I promise I won't ever let go."

His three simple steps came with three simple words. "I love you," he said as his arms wrapped around her and lifted her off her feet.

"I love you," she reciprocated as her legs wrapped around his torso and her arms around his neck. Then she kissed him, closing her eyes upon deciding that she didn't care where he took her so long as they were together.

He ended up carrying her to the bathroom that stemmed off the locker room, and before long, Rose could hear the sound of rain coming from the shower Scorpius had turned on by hand. And then they were standing beneath the water as the sound heightened into hurricanes and as their intertwined bodies were suddenly surrounded by waterfalls.

Rose didn't for one moment regret her decision to give Scorpius something she would never be able to get back, and she was fairly certain that he didn't regret accepting it from her. The few hours they spent in that manufactured rain were quite possibly the best of their lives, and though it was true that their relationship had now changed forever, the change had been good. They were stronger now.

Of course, their newfound strength ended up being tested not long after it had been found. Rose and Scorpius were knotted together on the floor of the shower, Scorpius silently spinning the ring on Rose's right hand as she traced the scars along his chest, when they heard the screams coming from outside on the Quidditch pitch.

Panicking, Scorpius leaped up in a hurry and pulled Rose to her feet alongside him. They both tried to steady their racing heartbeats as they hurriedly dressed back into their formal clothes and as the sounds outside echoed in their eardrums like birdsongs bouncing off the ice. Once Scorpius moved the bench out of the way, Rose was the one to put her hand on the doorknob and open it just a crack. That was when they heard an unrecognizable voice call through crackling flames, "SHE'S DEAD!"

For exactly sixty seconds, Rose and Scorpius just stared at each other. To any outside observer, they might have appeared to be in the middle of a contest in which it was against the rules to blink. But really, they were each reading each other's minds as their thoughts flipped through the pictures of all the women and girls they knew to have attended tonight's wedding. Scorpius thought first of Ginny, and Rose thought of Luna. Scorpius thought second of Holly, and Rose thought of Lucy. Scorpius thought third of Lily, and Rose thought of Roxanne. Scorpius thought lastly of McGonagall, and Rose thought of Hermione.

Rose was the first out the door, though Scorpius's hand was clasped tightly in hers and he caught up with her quickly. Together, they followed the fiery pathway underneath the singing white tent. Together, they walked through the huddle of people who made way for them to pass as soon as they spotted who was coming. Together, they held onto their strength as they were surrounded by waterfalls – this time not from the passion-filled rush of love, but from the tear-filled chill of death.

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