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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28. The Life and Lies of Albus Severus

Part 3 

 

Guilt was like a time-bomb, escalating with every passing second until eventually, it exploded. If the bomb were to be frozen, or if one were to lie to their guilt, the explosion could be avoided, or at least suppressed. But as soon as that chill wore off, as soon as the truth came out, the bomb would start ticking again, just waiting to explode. And when it did explode, there was no telling how much damage it could do, but one thing was always clear: the holder of the bomb, the one with all the guilt, would be the first one to go.

Albus Severus Potter was a harbinger of a great deal of guilt, and after lying to that guilt for what felt like an eternity, his bomb had started ticking again. He could hear it within his head, pumping wildly at the same pace as his flying feet as they pounded through the snow. His forehead was throbbing, but it was his ferocious heartbeat that made him stop in his tracks.

His knees buckled and he breathed deeply onto the white powder. It was late Christmas night, and Al listened carefully for the sound of his father's footsteps coming from behind him. He took it as a good sign when he couldn't hear any thumping, just the shrieking calls of migrating birds and night owls. But the birdsongs still managed to get Al up and running once more. He needed to get inside; he'd had enough birds for one night.

For a few miles, he wasn't quite sure where he was headed. Anywhere but here was the only destination that came to mind, but eventually Al was running along wide roads with Muggle cars that were all driving toward London. When he started to feel as if he might faint if he continued to run or even walk, Al tried to jump onto one of the large trucks as inconspicuously as possible with a spell he learned from the Half-Blood Prince's potions book. Once he made it onto the roof of the steel box, he was careful to use a sticking charm on his feet so that he'd have no chance of falling off.

He rode the truck all the way into the city center, and luckily the vehicle made a pit-stop behind one of those malls Muggles seemed to like so much. Albus was quick to jump off as soon as the truck came to a stop, and after summoning some food from a local café, he took to the narrow streets and back alleys of outer-London.

Trying to avoid both the Leaky Cauldron as well as the Ministry of Magic, which were sure to be filled with witches and wizards who would recognize him in an instant, Al pulled his hood over his head and let the rest of his body get covered in the falling snow. He lost his way a couple of times, but eventually Al made it to a familiar street that his father, Harry, used to take him to when he was younger.

Al had never visited Grimmauld Place at night, and it made it even harder to find the darkened building that would normally be invisible to all Muggles as well as the majority of wizards, thanks to an ancient protection known as the Fidelius Charm. Still, Al could just make out the numbers of all the houses in the long stretch of a building, finding eleven and thirteen sandwiched around a barren brownstone with closed curtains and an oppressive black door.

After making sure that no one was watching him, if even from a distance, Albus trudged up the walkway and opened the door without any key; the doorknob knew his touch. Once he was inside, Al lit his wand, breathed in some of the warm air from the entryway, and hung his coat on one of the plaques of house-elf heads that lined the hallway. Then he walked through the hall, shaking off the snow that had somehow made its way into his mess of dark hair and began clambering up the stairs, figuring he'd spend the night here and figure out his next move in the morning.

This plan didn't last long, though. Al had only made it a few steps up the staircase when he heard something that sounded very much like a moan coming from one of the middle-floor bedrooms. He nearly turned around to leave, but curiosity got the best of him, and so Al tip-toed toward the noise, his hand gripped tightly around his wand – the Elder Wand – from which he'd released the Lumos spell.

The sound, which was most definitely a persistent moaning, magnified as Al ascended the staircase. When he reached the landing of the second floor, he put his ear up to the first door, which closed off a dimly lit room, but snapped his head back upon hearing the bangs of moving furniture coming from behind the door.

Thinking that whoever was inside clearly wasn't concerned with being found, and still confident in the workings of Dumbledore's charm, Al opened the door with a single turn of the handle and burst into the dusty old bedroom.

Just as soon as he was inside, he wished he'd never gone in. Al was temporarily blinded by the sight of his bare-chested older brother lying atop Hogwarts's resident blonde bimbo, Mercy Golding. She also had her shirt off, though Al didn't dare to look anywhere near her before covering his eyes and exclaiming, "Merlin's sodding pants!" as he ran out of the room, knocking over a lamp on his way out.

"BLIMEY, Al! Don't you know how to KNOCK?" James yelled after him with fury before he pointed his wand at the open door and made it slam shut.

"Well, excuse me for thinking that I was the only one Dad had ever shown his safe house to!" refuted Al from back in the hallway, his hand still plastered over his eyes as he tried to wipe the recent image from his mind. "Or should I say shag house?" he added irritably.

James was back at the door then, and opened it just enough to slip out without showing any more of Mercy as she hurried to put her clothes on. "What are you even doing here?" he asked Al, choosing to ignore his brother's previous comment.

Al took his hand off his face but still felt uncomfortable standing next to James, who had yet to put on more clothes than the pair of boxers he'd had on when Al had intruded, so the former walked away from him, headed back downstairs. When James followed, he pried Al for more information, saying, "I thought you were at home with Lily. Weren't you responsible for her tonight?"

Ginny, Al's mother, had left Godric's Hollow with James earlier that evening to attend a meeting with the Order of the Phoenix, which had ended with an attack from the Forbidden Flock with Al in tow. Of course, James couldn't have known about any of this if he'd come straight here from the Weasley house.

Deciding that now wasn't the best time to reveal his secret identity to James, Al merely replied with, "Relax. Lily's fourteen, okay? She doesn't need a babysitter anymore." James wasn't normally so protective of the youngest Potter, but Al knew that James would use any excuse in the book just to push the blame off of him and onto Al.

"That doesn't explain why you're here," James argued. He just wouldn't give this up.

The two brothers had reached the kitchen of Grimmauld Place now, and were fortunate to have not woken up the portrait of the old Mrs. Black on their way down the stairs. Now they were in the middle of the narrow kitchen, which was filled with splintered cabinets and topped with fistfuls of dust. There was a long table sitting in the center, reaching all the way from the gas stove to the soot-covered fireplace on either side of the room. As James walked over to one end and used his wand to spark a few flames, Al walked slowly through the doorway and leaned forward against the table.

"Why are you here, James?" asked Al. He'd always had what he liked to call a wordless relationship with his brother. The less each of them knew about each other, the better off they'd be, so they didn't talk much. And when one of them did decide to speak, it was rare for the other to listen.

James turned away from the now roaring fire and faced Al as he shrugged his shoulders and answered, "Mercy's got younger brothers. I've got Lily and Mum. We needed a place to go..."

"Enough said," Al put his hand up to stop James, still refusing to look at him as James took a seat at the table.

Finally noticing how uncomfortable and downright distraught Al was, James said sincerely, "Look, I wouldn't have brought her here if I'd known you might show up. I swear. But honestly, Al, why did you show up?"

Al couldn't answer James. He couldn't tell James that he'd run away from their father. He couldn't tell James why he'd started running in the first place. Most of all, he couldn't tell James where he'd been running from. If he told James any of it, and even if James did find a way to listen, he'd ask Al how it all started. That was the one question to which Albus would never have an answer.

For a minute, Al tried to think of some way to change the subject, but he couldn't come up with anything to say. Luckily, just before James was about to ask again, Mercy's footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs, and soon she was entering the kitchen from behind Al.

"Sorry about that," she said nonchalantly to Al while walking around the table, where she eventually met James and sat down beside him. Mercy and James had been together for the past three months or so, practically the entire first semester of their seventh year. Al had never paid much notice to Hogwarts's golden couple, for he dreaded the idea of giving them the attention they so clearly desired.

Still, Al was thankful that Mercy provided enough of a distraction for James to drop his curiosity about Al's being here. Mercy had other things on her mind, suggesting, "James, maybe we should try to lay some ground rules? I don't really fancy this happening again."

"It won't happen again," James assured her. "Right, Al?" he asked his brother.

"Right," Al nodded. He had no intentions on walking in on his brother and whichever girl he was currently seeing ever again. Whether or not the memory of doing so would keep Al out of Grimmauld Place for good, though, had yet to be determined.

"And anyway," started James, "You shouldn't be out this late on your own. Not with the Flock out there just waiting to use you as bait to get to Dad."

James really was clueless, Al thought. He had no idea that it was Ron and Hugo who'd been used as bait, not Al. He had no idea that Astoria had used Al for a very different reason.

"Look, if you don't want to tell me why you're here, that's fine," James continued. "But you can't just sneak out of the house every night."

"Why not?" Al spat back. Motioning to Mercy, he added, "Clearly, you two do!"

"Well, we're adults!" said James at what was practically a yell. "We're seventeen, which means that we're legal. We can take care of ourselves..."

Al interrupted James before he could finish with, "Oh, and I can't? You don't think I'm strong enough to defend myself?" Al had learned last year that he was the master of the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in the world, so he really didn't think that anyone should ever dare to doubt his strength as a wizard.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it!" James was standing now, leaning over the table to face Al just as Al was facing him. "But come summer, you're not even going to be able to use magic, and I'll end up being the one Dad reprimands for your disappearance!"

Everything was a competition to James, and the stakes were highest when he was competing against Al. Sometimes that trait made Al absolutely loathe his brother, and this was one of those times. He couldn't help but hate that James was accusing Al of something that hadn't even happened yet, and that most likely never would. See, James had things all wrong. Al may not be turning seventeen until July, but come summer, he'd be able to use more magic than ever before.

But Al didn't get the chance to tell his brother (which would probably prove to be a good thing), since just as he was about to, the shimmery sound of a silver whisper came running down the hallway and onto the kitchen table.

The patronus had taken the form of a translucent stag, and it stood regally atop the wood as it addressed James and announced in Harry's worried voice, "Son, I just came from an attack at the Bird's Nest. None were injured, but Al was there and fled the sight. If you have any idea of his whereabouts, please get him home. I can't keep looking for him if it means leaving your mother and Lily alone at the house. Please, James, find your brother, and bring him back to us."

As soon as Harry's voice cracked, it disappeared along with the charm, and Al was left looking at the faces of James and Mercy, both of which had just been flooded with shock. He even found himself slowly backing away from the table as James looked up and yelled, "You came here from an attack? And you didn't think that was worth mentioning?"

"You heard Dad; nobody was hurt," replied Al as he continued to walk backward down the hallway. James had come around the table by now, though, and was steadily following Al to make sure that the latter didn't get the chance to run.

"That doesn't explain why you were there!" James refuted. "How'd you even know about the attack so quickly?" James and Al may not have been very close, but everyone at Hogwarts knew that Al was currently on the outs with his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy, who happened to have led the core alliance meeting at the Weasley house earlier that same evening. Even if Scorpius had managed to find time to send word out before the attack, he would never have said anything about it to Al.

"It's a long story," Al tried to stall an answer. Unfortunately, both James and Mercy were eyeing him with razor-sharp glares that Al couldn't help but be slightly intimidated by.

James looked confused, but Mercy kept on track, asking, "So what if it's a long story how you got there? My question is, why did you feel the need to leave?" The Weasleys were Al's family. It made sense that he'd help them fight if they'd been attacked, but why would he have left as soon as the battle was over?

"It doesn't matter why I left!" Albus lied. He was growing more and more irritated by both his brother as well as the presence of Mercy. What did she have to do with any of this? This was Al's mess to clean up, and James was a Potter, but Mercy most definitely wasn't. And no matter how much she may have wanted to be a part of that family, Al knew that she never would be.

After sighing in frustration and urging Mercy to back off, James took hold of Al's arm and stated, "Forget it. I'll let Dad ask all the questions once I get you back to Godric's Hollow."

Feeling threatened by James's grasp on his arm, Al used his free hand to punch his brother straight in the eye before taking out his wand, pointing it at the newly keeled over James and concerned Mercy, and said, "Don't ever tell me what to do again!"

With a hand over his bleeding eye, James straightened his back and looked over at Al. The latter brother was shaking, having not fully comprehended what he'd just done, or where his sudden rage had come from. His brother, Hogwarts's most talented Quidditch player and the school's most sought-after boy toy, had a black eye, and for the first time in his life it hadn't come from a rogue bludger. It had come from somebody he barely recognized.

"What did you do?" James asked Al in a desperate tone.

A moment later, Mercy added, "Who are you?"

Albus thought about her question as he looked to the darkly varnished wooden floor. Just as he had thought before when James had asked why he'd come here, Al found himself wondering how it all had started. He couldn't seem to remember the last day he'd been Albus Potter, Harry Potter's son and the best friend of Scorpius Malfoy and Rose Weasley. He liked to believe that that boy had disappeared last summer, around the same time that Scorpius had abandoned Rose and Astoria had begun to send Al those manipulative letters. Still, his anger must have been brewing before all of that, since he wouldn't have given himself over so easily had it not.

As he was brought out of his trance by the sound of James's painful groaning, Al looked back up at the wounded warrior and blonde beauty and said simply, "Don't worry. I'm nobody worth knowing." And before James or Mercy could stop him, Al was out the door and running as fast as he could from this grim old place.

He was back on the streets in no time, but he could only thing of one possible destination, and it was the last place Al wanted to go. He couldn't see her yet, not so soon after what she'd done... after what he had done for her. It must have been close to dawn by now, though, so Al wondered if he could stay awake for just few more hours. After that, he could find some alley to sleep in. After all, he wasn't about to go hide in the woods like Scorpius had. (Al had never been a fan of wild animals or crawling creatures.)

Al played out the theory for a good twenty minutes, but then his legs inadvertently stopped moving, as if trying to tell the rest of his body just how tired he really was. Albus took this as a signal to try something that didn't require any movement. He'd been practicing the advanced skill of Apparition for a while now, because like he had done last year with his Patronus, something inside of him wanted Al to be the first to complete a DADA task once it was assigned in school. And since Al had signed up for the spring session at Hogwarts, he didn't have much time left to get it right.

Preparing himself for another attempt, Al walked slowly to a dark corner on a pebbled road, closed his eyes, and focused on a place far away from here. Unfortunately, by the time he found himself spinning through space, his body sucked into an invisible vacuum before being spit back out, Al realized that he hadn't thought properly of where he was going, because the last place he'd pictured before he'd turned on the spot was the snowy yard behind his family's Tudor-style house in Godric's Hollow.

Lily, who'd been sitting anxiously on the back porch, came running over to Al as he was busy catching his breath. "Where have you been?" she asked in a panic frenzy. It was just like her to not bother checking if Al was hurt or had splinched himself before trolling for gossip. Lily's curiosity had always been more than just a healthy concern – it was a complex. "Do you have any idea how insane Dad's gone?"

"Yeah, well, Dad can bugger off," suggested Al as he sucked the blood off his newly nail-less thumb. He winced at the minor injury, for Al had never had a high tolerance for physical pain. That was one of the many reasons he'd never been as talented at Quidditch as James or Scorpius; he just couldn't take the hits.

"Good attitude," Lily commented sarcastically, which made Al smirk a little. Lily had never felt the same pressure as Al had to live up to their parents' legacy, but at least they had both inherited Ginny's dry sense of humor.

Al looked up toward the house just in time to see the rest of his family shuffling through the back door, Ginny crying with relief and James yelling, "Wow! That was quite the runaway back there!" He must have Apparated home just before Al had.

Harry was behind Ginny and James, and as the latter two walked across the field to Al, the former stayed motionless atop the porch, for he knew so much more than the rest of them. Al could feel Harry's eyes piercing his head even as his mother took him in her arms. She must not have known yet; none of them did. James was the most suspicious of the three present Potters, though, looking between Al and Harry in confusion as he tried to piece everything together.

Lily soon picked up on James's notion, since they started whispering to each other as they followed Al and Ginny back to the house. Once they all got there, Ginny pushed Al past Harry and led him into the living room. James and Lily came in next and Harry brought up the rear, his scarred forehead facing the wooden floor that had been worn from years' worth of footprints.

"You hungry?" Ginny asked Al with about as much concern as she could ever show someone. "I can make you some tea."

Before Al could answer, Ginny had already fled to the adjacent kitchen and was busy clambering through cupboards and lighting the stove. She was terrible with most household chores, and that included making tea, so Al figured she was just trying to release some of the tension that was currently so palpable inside the Potter house.

James sensed that same tension, and now Lily was all caught up as well, and both of them turned to Al with crossed arms as they asked in unison, "What's going on?"

Al couldn't answer them. He couldn't answer his brother before, and he couldn't answer him now. His siblings had nothing to do with any of this. They weren't the reason Al had done what he'd done or become whom he'd become. They didn't deserve to be lied to, but the only way Al could answer them was with a lie.

But there was one person from whom everything stemmed. There was one person who deserved to be lied to, because that person had lied to Al all his life. It may have taken Al sixteen years to realize it, but he knew now that he would never be as special as the Chosen One.

That was why Al found himself turning toward his silent father as James and Lily waited for an answer, and asking Harry, "Do you want tell them, or should I?"

Harry looked up at Al slowly and carefully, but Al remained cold. He wouldn't let himself be phased by his father's wilting smile or trickling tears. Al still didn't know how any of this had started, but he did know that it must have come from Harry, because everything that Al had ever done had been for, or had been because of, Harry James Potter.

Al was still as he continued by asking, "Do you want to tell them about the trace?" There was so much that Harry had never told him, but had merely let Al discover for himself, no matter how different or how alone that discovery had made him feel.

"Do you want to tell them about my wand?" asked Al, still looking straight at Harry and ignoring his siblings' questioning eyes and furrowed brows. Neither James nor Lily knew about the Elder Wand, and Harry had even failed to mention its power when he'd made Al duel him for it. Al had learned that secret from Rose, who had seemed more concerned about Al's well-being than Harry ever had.

There was one last question that came to Al's mind then, and he paused for a long moment before giving tonight's mystery away. Eventually, though, he looked around the room to make eye contact with James and Lily before returning to Harry and asking, "Do you want to tell them what I did tonight? Do you want to tell them that tonight I wasn't actually fighting against the Forbidden Flock? Do you want to tell them that I was fighting with them?"

The reactions were not soft or prolonged; they were sharp and sporadic. James was yelling at Al, pointing his long fingers at Al's chest all while holding Lily back. The youngest Potter was pushing and shoving, trying to come at Al from all angles, hoping to literally knock some sense into him. Meanwhile, whatever cup Ginny had been holding in the kitchen had crashed to the floor, and Al's mother was now standing in between the two rooms with a dazed look on her face.

Everybody was waiting for some sort of explanation for what they'd just heard, but Harry and Al barely noticed any of them as their eyes remained locked on each other. When Harry finally spoke, he said to the others, "You should all go to the Weasleys'. They have a lot to deal with right now; they could use their family."

James was the first to try to argue, saying, "But Dad-" before Harry lifted a hand in the air to stop him from continuing.

"No, James," Harry said. "I'll fill you in on everything later, but right now you need to take your sister to the Bird's Nest."

James sighed in frustration but still obeyed, dragging Lily into the fireplace and throwing a handful of Floo Powder over her, causing her to disappear behind a burst of green flames. He then walked over to Ginny, who decided to let Al and Harry speak alone without any interference, and the two of them left the house and Apparated as soon as their shoes touched the snow on the December ground.

Once Al was alone with Harry, he couldn't help but shiver from the silence. Whatever exhaustion he'd been feeling previously had been lost; he was now running on a deadly mixture of adrenaline and anxiety. Al's every nerve was pulsating as he watched Harry begin to rub his forehead while pacing around the room.

Harry was somewhere in between the broom hooks and the magical clock when he stopped pacing and started mumbling, "You need to tell me what's going on, Al. You need to tell me the truth, even if I don't deserve to know it. You need to tell me how this happened so that I can get you out of it."

Al wasn't surprised that Harry thought that his son had been brainwashed. A part of Al himself even believed that he'd somehow been programmed by Astoria to do exactly as she told, but the honest part of him knew that that wasn't true. She'd never used the Imperius curse on him. She'd never even threatened him. Al had joined her on his own accord. He'd joined her because she'd been the only person who'd shown any interest in him after last summer. Whatever had made all the others stop caring was the part Al couldn't figure out, nor was he even sure that he wanted to.

Caught up in these thoughts, Al found himself looking back on a time when just about everyone had cared, most of all his father. "Do you remember when I used to ask you tell me stories about yourself?" he said in his steadiest tone.

Harry tried to interrupt, but Al made him listen by answering for him, "I wanted to know everything, and for a long time I truly thought that you had in fact told me everything. But then you asked me to duel you a few summers ago. Do you remember that?"

Looking up at Harry, Al was pleased to see that he was nodding. "I was so excited to show off for you," Al explained, "That it didn't even occur to me that I shouldn't have been allowed to use magic in the middle of the summer." That had been how Al had taken power of Harry's Elder Wand, by beating him in a duel, but he'd never heard a word from the Ministry regarding his activation of the Trace, a charm placed on underage wizards that could track their magical habits outside of the school-year.

When Harry failed to respond but also didn't seem surprised, Al asked what he'd been itching to know for over a year now. "Was that why you did it? Did you already know that the Trace wouldn't work on me? Was passing down the Elder Wand your way of testing a theory?"

Harry took his glasses off momentarily so that he could wipe the tears from his eyes before taking a deep breath and answering, "Yes. When you were about three years old, you used to take my wand and roll it through your hands like it was a toy. But even by doing just that, you could break a glass or make something fly toward you. The first few times it happened, I waited for some sort of letter from the Ministry, because you were too young to own a wand at the time, but I never heard anything. James got letters almost every summer after he started at Hogwarts because he couldn't stop himself from using magic at home, and I'd always talk to the regulation compartment to get him out of being prosecuted, but they never seemed to know about you."

"Why not?" asked Al. He'd known for some time now that unlike every other underage witch and wizard, he wasn't under the Trace, but he didn't understand why. He didn't understand what made him so different from everybody else.

"I've no idea," said Harry, and Al could tell that he was being honest. "Believe me, I've looked for some sort of reason behind all of this, but I didn't exactly want to go up and tell people. As far as I know, this has never happened before."

Al nodded, because that that was all Harry could tell him. After all, there might not be any legitimate reason for his not being under the Trace. Maybe it just happened, and maybe it didn't mean anything. But what Harry had done to Al, what he had given him... that meant something.

Taking out the Elder Wand from his pocket, Al asked his father, "And this? You could have tested your theory in any way you liked, but you didn't have to make me duel you while using this wand. So, why did you give this to me?" He had asked his father about his wand last summer, soon after Rose had made the connection and had told Al about it. Still, Harry had been very vague with his explanation, and had of course refrained from giving Al any information regarding the wand's history before he found it all out himself.

"It's like I told you before," Harry responded. His voice was soft and desperate-sounding. "I could see the jealousy in your eyes every time I looked at you. I wanted to make you believe in yourself again."

For some reason, Harry's answer struck a soft spot for Al, and he ended up yelling back at his father, "Oh, so you thought that you'd give me the most powerful wand in the world so that I'd suddenly feel more talented? Did you think I'd never realize that my new-found talent wasn't actually coming from me?" Harry was right that Al had been jealous. He hated James for being so incredible at Quidditch, Lily for being so popular amongst her classmates, and Scorpius for more reasons than he could count. And maybe the wand had made him feel better about himself, but whatever confidence he had gained from it was lost just as soon as Al had found out the truth. That's when Astoria had come along.

"No, you're not seeing clearly!" Harry replied with frustration. "Wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them. The Elder Wand just happens to be made for wizards who have more power than a regular wand can hold."

"That's rubbish!" Al fired back with complete and abject denial. Harry was always trying to boost his self-esteem where it didn't deserve to be boosted.

"No, Al, it's not," argued Harry, this time looking much surer of himself than he'd been before. "When I decided not to return the wand to Dumbledore's grave, I did some research of my own. Winning a duel isn't all that one needs to do to acquire that wand. Remember, Al, the wand chooses the wizard. The Elder Wand is no exception, I can promise you that."

Al wanted to believe what Harry was telling him, but he just couldn't wrap his head around it. All this talk about him being special – the son of the boy who lived, the underage wizard with no Trace, and now the young man with a killing wand – was supposed to make Al feel like an even stronger version of himself, but it only made him wonder who he really was underneath all the labels.

"That's rubbish," he muttered to Harry, sick of listening to all of the excuses. With Astoria, Al had finally made a decision on his own, and maybe it had been the wrong decision for everybody else, but what if it had been the right one for him? What if this was who he truly was? What if this was why he was so different?

Feeling ready to tell Harry what he wanted to hear, Al said, "I wasn't trying to hurt anybody. I did it because she asked me to. I did it to make people notice."

"People already notice you, Al!" Harry tried to reach out to him, but Albus backed away. "I know that I've been away a lot lately, but I'm here now. I can help you get out of this."

Al didn't want to 'get out of this'. He could do so in a second if he wanted to; he had never fully tied himself to Astoria or to the Forbidden Flock. Everything he'd done had been for him, and so he didn't want to stop doing it. He didn't want to stop feeling like he was finally good at something. He didn't want to stop showing Scorpius how it felt to be betrayed. He didn't want to stop suppressing his guilt, because at least that way, it wouldn't explode just yet.

But Al didn't tell Harry any of this. Instead, he said to his father in the most believable and sincere way that he could, "What if it's too late to get out of it?"

Harry smiled, and Al had to remind himself not to snicker back at him. His father appeared to believe that everything could be solved in a single conversation. He must have really wanted to fix things if he was going to let himself be this naïve. Still, Al tried to pretend that he was interested as Harry said, "Do you remember what I told you at King's Cross station before your first year at Hogwarts?"

Al didn't have to think twice before the memory flooded back to him. It was as clear and as potent as if it had taken place only yesterday, and soon Al realized why. This was the answer to all of his questions – the questions he never thought he'd have an answer to. That day when Harry had knelt down at the train station and Al had asked what would happen if he was sorted into Slytherin, was the day he realized that he was different – not special... different.

"You told me that if it really meant that much to me, I could choose Gryffindor," Al recalled. But, of course, Harry had been wrong. Al hadn't been sorted into Gryffindor. He had been the first and only Potter to ever be put into Slytherin.

"Yeah," Harry smiled. "And you still can choose. It's never too late."

Al walked over to Harry as soon as he'd finished talking and let his father's arms take hold of him. A part of him had wanted to do it, but the larger part of him knew that it would be the perfect camouflage. Al couldn't keep being a spy if Harry knew what he was up to at all times, so he'd have to try to hide his allegiance all over again.

When the father and son broke apart, Harry told Al, "Go get some sleep. I'll talk to your mother and we'll make everything that happened tonight disappear."

"Thanks," Al said without meaning it before he turned around and headed upstairs to his room.

The darkness covered him as soon as he closed his door, but Al lit his wand for a moment and pointed it over his desk, which was covered in various potion recipes and crawling with ingredients, in search of a letter. As it turned out, there wasn't one outside of the pile Al had been growing on the floor. Still, he hadn't exactly expected to hear from Astoria tonight. He had done what she'd needed him to do, and he knew how to find her. Now, it was just up to him to either meet her there or keep running away. It was up to Albus to either stall his guilt a little longer, or let it take hold of him once and for all. By the time he fell asleep, he knew what he was going to do, and he wasn't ashamed of it. That's how he knew that he'd made the right decision, if not for everybody else, then at least for himself.

By the time Al opened his eyes, it was nearing evening of the next day. He hadn't planned to sleep for so long, and so he quickly realized that he didn't have much time left. After putting on what may or may not have been a clean shirt (black, as usual), he crept past Lily and James's rooms and tip-toed down the stairs.

Before he turned the corner, Al realized that he could hear his parents' voices coming from around the corner, inside the kitchen. Hoping not to be seen, he leaned his back against the wall and kept his breathing quiet as he listened to their conversation.

"And nobody will find out?" Ginny was asking Harry with concern. "Not even that slimy Rita Skeeter?"

"Most definitely not her," Harry answered reassuringly. "Hermione's got the Ministry wired, and Luna's going to report the attack before anyone else gets the chance to. Al won't be mentioned in any of it."

Harry really did know how to make things disappear. It seemed as though he'd already gotten rid of every trace of Al's presence at the attack last night. Nobody would ever know, which was good for the Potters because it kept Harry as the wizarding world's number one symbol of hope, but it was even better for Al. He could go back to Hogwarts and nobody would know a thing. And those who'd been there – the Weasleys and Scorpius – would go on believing that Al had made a mistake, and that now he just wanted to make up for it. Little did they know, that was the last thing that Al wanted to do.

There was silence from the kitchen for a minute or two, but then Ginny spoke again, asking, "And you're sure that Al's okay?" Al would have been more worried of his parents growing suspicious if they hadn't both wanted him to be back on their side so desperately. Loyalty was a powerful thing, though Al would argue that it wasn't nearly as powerful as loneliness.

"He will be," said Harry, adding soon after, "And James will keep an eye on him at school. That's the best place for him to be anyway, now that Astoria's found her way into the Ministry." Astoria had gained the title of Head of the Auror Department from Ron Weasley at the end of last night's battle. Al was surprised that he hadn't thought much about it lately, considering he'd been the one to cast the spell.

Ginny was sighing with disappointment. The Order of the Phoenix had come so far in just a few months since its re-assembly, and now its plans had been squandered in a single handshake. "We had better start getting people underground," she suggested.

"I'm already working on it," Harry promised. "We still have the Aurors on our side, even if she has access to our offices and database. And even if Kingsley can't keep her from taking all that, he's certainly not going to let her infiltrate the Ministry any further."

"Good," said Ginny matter-of-factly. Neither of them said much after that, and Al had already overheard more information than he could have hoped for, so he decided that now was probably the time to try to sneak out.

With no way to get out back without passing right by his parents, Al decided to use the front door. He cast a silencing spell between himself and the kitchen using the Muffliatocharm, one that he and Rose had been casting for years without knowing where it had come from, but that Al had recently discovered written in the Half-Blood Prince's potions book. With this, he turned the knob and slipped out of the house before anybody had the chance to notice that he'd left.

He wasn't going to try to Apparate again just yet, for fear of splinching himself more than he did yesterday. Instead, Al left the tiny village of Godric's Hollow by foot, passing the old Potter memorial that sat right beside his house and then the square's second statue, which was an enormous goblin-made monument of Godric Gryffindor and Albus Dumbledore that Harry had put up just before Al was born.

Luckily, Al wasn't headed as far as London today, and actually only needed to walk through a few towns until he found the train tracks that would, according to Astoria at least, lead him the rest of the way. He followed them carefully up a foggy hill that was encompassed in dark gray clouds. The moisture was culminating around Al's feet like early-morning mist, while the sky was filling with rain clouds underneath its setting sun.

The tracks brought Albus to a run-down mill that sat on the bank of a river lined with broken beer bottles and scavenging raccoons. Al steered clear of the nasty little buggers as he crossed the bridge into a suburb made up of narrow alleys and terraced houses, making sure to nod at some of the Muggles as he passed.

The street he was looking for was called Spinner's End, and naturally, it was located toward the edge of the village. He still managed to find it fairly easily, though, and before long Al was casting a silent spell on a locked door that opened to the darkened hallway of the Rookwood house.

Knox was at Al's feet in seconds, for surely he'd seen him coming. He had been Astoria's very first recruit, and for good reason. Al didn't quite understand how far Knox's special talent could reach, but he did know that the tall, dark-haired young man was a Seer. Al had never come across one before, other than Professor Trelawney of course, but it wasn't hard to be fascinated by them. Seers could tell the future, and some could do even more than that, making Knox an invaluable asset to the Forbidden Flock.

"Black Hawk," Knox greeted Al in a serious tone, using his given Patronus nickname. When Al looked up to him questionably, however, Knox broke the act by laughing and saying jovially, "How have you been, mate?"

"Oh, Rookie, you know how it is," Al joked with him as he took off his coat. "Walked in on my brother shagging some slapper before I ran home to Mummy and Daddy and convinced them to trust me again." He was embellishing for effect, but sometimes it felt nice to joke about such serious matters, which Knox had recently taught Al to be a rather good coping mechanism.

"What a bore!" Knox groaned in response as the two walked down the hall and into the drawing room, which was home to a large round table encircled by walls that had been plastered with paper maps. Astoria and Knox had a fetish for maps, since they both came from the department of International Magical Cooperation at the Ministry of Magic. Knox had been Astoria's intern before her 'incident', and she had later convinced Knox to quit his position and join her instead.

Astoria was seated at the table in the furthest chair from the door. Beside her was Wynn Traylor, a middle-aged man in a dark brown cloak whom Al always tried not to stare at for fear of being on the receiving end of one of the wizard's blinding curses, for he was a master of the Dark Arts. Still, it was difficult not to stare at Wynn's flaky white skin and crimson eyes. Each of the core members of the Flock was unique, but Wynn's albinism was truly one of a kind.

Across from Wynn, with her back currently to Al and Knox, was Vega. The eagle of the group, Vega was a Swedish witch who'd graduated from Durmstrang Academy a year or so after Al was born. Astoria had recruited her recently to use as the Flock's head war strategist, though Al wasn't entirely convinced that she was the right choice. It had something to do with her appearance – leggy limbs, pointed jawline, and a nest of dirty blonde hair gave Al the impression that Vega had already lost more battles than she'd won.

It didn't help that she was sitting next to her miniscule counterpart. Ryder Rookwood, Knox's twin sister, was dark-skinned like her brother but even darker at heart. Everything about Ryder reminded Al of weapons, from her eyes that were the size of grenades to her elf-like ears that shot out of her head like daggers.

"Remind me again why we have to meet in this filthy Muggle town," Vega was complaining before she noticed that Al was standing behind her.

"Fewer wizards mean less suspicion," muttered Ryder with annoyance. She was the Flock's secret keeper, in charge of keeping every plan and every member as hidden from the Aurors and other authorities as possible. "My family's been involved in the dark arts for years. They know how to hide themselves."

Al used the topic of conversation as a way to announce himself, jumping in with a warning. "We're going to need to be more hidden than this soon enough," he said as he took a seat next to Vega while Knox sat beside his sister.

"Albus," sneered Astoria. Everything she said came out as a sneer, as if she couldn't help herself. Her words were outstretched and oddly slippery, even when she didn't intend to sound superior. "So glad you made it."

"As am I," Al said with a gestured nod.

The others were silent as they let Al and Astoria speak, the latter asking, "So, do I still have my spy, or must I assign you a new task?" She was referring to Al's deception having been revealed last night. They had both been prepared for the worst, knowing full well that Harry could have easily kept Al from ever contacting Astoria again, or even from returning to Hogwarts. Luckily, Harry had been much too trusting to do any of that.

Al smiled before answering, "You still have your spy."

Everybody was happy to hear that, as there were smiles and snickers all around the room. Astoria, though, looked particularly pleased as she shuffled through a stack of files on the table and said, "In that case, I have some things I'd like to discuss with you."

"I'm listening," Al assured his leader.

He waited anxiously to hear what Astoria had planned, for Al never knew what to expect from her, and so he was surprised when she shook her head and replied, "Not here. What I have to say is strictly Hogwarts business."

Initially, Al was stunned. He had never met with Astoria on Hogwarts grounds, though he'd been doing her dirty work there for months. Now, though, it sounded as if she may be joining him.

Before Al had the chance to reply, however, Ryder whispered weakly, "Pardon me, Astoria, but you can't possibly take such a risk! You'll be discovered!"

"The girl is right," Wynn piped in with a thick, sing-song Welsh accent. "The Order will have even more security on the place than usual after-"

"Quiet," Astoria interrupted, causing everyone to obey without further question. "Part of the reason I needed to place such an attack last night was to gain access to the Auror department. Now, I have done that, which means that I am currently in control of all the Order's protective enchantments. I am well aware that they may be replaced in only a matter of weeks, which is why I must act now. It just so happens that the action I am seeking lies at Hogwarts, and Hogwarts only."

Al was the only one at the table who knew what Astoria was speaking of. She hadn't even mentioned what she'd be using it for, but Al had stolen the pensieve for her anyway, as a way of pledging his loyalty to her. This must have been what she was seeking at Hogwarts, for Al had stashed it in the Shrieking Shack.

Deciding that it couldn't hurt to show that same loyalty now, Al told Astoria, "I'll be ready for you at Hogwarts as soon as I return."

Astoria smiled at him then, for once showing her maternal side that only snuck up on her when she wasn't paying attention, and said, "I know you will."

From there, the conversation transitioned into army-talk, Astoria and Knox going over the relations they'd formed with foreign countries that might help entice more international witches and wizards to join the Flock, Vega butting in every now and then. Al and Ryder listened in and provided advice when they could, while Wynn merely stared at the table for most of the meeting, his laser eyes searing a hole through its wood.

Al didn't leave Spinner's End until it was completely dark outside, and so he was sure that his family was already fast asleep by the time he made it back to Godric's Hollow, this time walking through the woods behind the yard in hopes of sneaking in the house through the back.

Unfortunately, Al's simple plan was foiled by the same person who'd gotten in his way yesterday. He caught a glimpse of his brother's silhouette sitting on the banister of the back porch, and Al knew all too soon that James had just been waiting for Al to arrive. Apparently, he'd meant what he'd said about not letting Al sneak out anymore.

Al kept quiet as he swung a leg over the banister and sat opposite James. His brother didn't say anything either, so Al decided to cut to the chase by asking, "Are you going to tell them?" He was referring to more than just his cutting curfew. James knew that Al's apology act had all been for show. James knew that Al couldn't be swayed by Harry so easily, not when everything in his life was currently pointing him in a different direction.

James considered Al's question for a while before shaking his head and saying, "No. I'll let you keep lying for as long as you need."

Al couldn't see James very clearly due to the overwhelming darkness, but he could sense the disappointment in his brother's eyes. He'd been able to sense it all his life, because the only time James had ever paid any attention to Al had been when he'd felt the need to pity him.

Still, James only ever did what was best for him, so why was he suddenly willing to play Al's game? "Why would you do that?" asked Al.

James took a deep breath of snow-filled air before he said, "Because eventually, you won't be able to handle the guilt. When you do finally explode, you're going to need somebody to pick up the pieces. And I'm not about to let everyone else, everyone that you've hurt just so that you can keep feeling numb to the rest of the world, feel like they're somehow responsible for all of your wrong choices."

He was talking about their parents and about Lily. He was talking about Scorpius. He was talking about Rose. James was talking about everyone who'd ever loved Al, and as he made Al think of each of them, Al could feel the tingling coming back to him. He could feel the guilt for all that he'd done and all that he was about to do, and so he quickly shut it back out. He breathed in the cold air and he thought of all the things that the rest of them should be guilty for, and suddenly his own guilt faded away.

At least, that was until James finished his speech by saying, "But I'm not going to feel responsible for any of this. I'm never going to let myself feel responsible for your mistakes. So, I'll be here, to pick up the pieces. I'll be here when that bomb goes off."

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