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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33. The Plot of a Liar (1/2)

Addiction was a powerful thing, especially when the addictive substance was power itself. That power could pull a person in from any angle, like gravity pushing the wind against someone until they succumbed to its control and fell to the ground, their face lying bloody against the pavement with their heart pumping against the black but having nowhere to go. The only thing left to do was lie there and wait for the rain to soak away the blood until the person made the decision to stop fighting against fate and instead stand up and accept the power that they had always been meant to hold.

Right now, Al's craving for power was stronger than it had ever been, if only because he was trying harder to ignore it than he ever had. When he had woken up alone at Grimmauld Place and realized that Ilana had finally left him, he'd given up. He was determined to no longer make any decisions for himself, because he never could see the difference between right and wrong. From now on, he would let the people he was with decide everything for him, starting with Harry and Scorpius.

They had asked him a thousand questions on their way to the Ministry and into the underground Auror offices, where the onlookers had finally stopped staring since the area was strictly secured when Harry wanted it to be. Albus hadn't given them any answers, not a single confirmation or denial of their suspicions and judgments. He'd gone with them willingly, and would have followed them all the way downstairs even without his father's strong hold on his shoulder and Scorpius's leading footsteps. Still, that didn't mean that he would talk, because he didn't know what to say. Al had gone numb to the outside world, and so it was his internal struggle that was starting to weigh on him.

He was thinking about how easy it would be to wrap his hand around the Elder Wand, whisper an incantation in his head, and make the chair Scorpius was sitting on beside him collapse into tiny shards of metal ash. He was thinking about magic and the feeling that came with performing it, all while wondering how Ilana could have been so quick to give it up. He was thinking about how much more magic he could learn through Astoria's training just like Scorpius was learning from McGonagall. He was thinking about power because it was the only thought in his busy head that could make him feel strong again.

The one thing that made Al stop thinking about power, if only for a moment, was when Scorpius said something that Al found himself actually listening to. It was a simple sentence, laced in honesty that surrounded a core of blame, but Al's attention was consumed by the five very real words. "I'm sorry about your grandfather."

They were the same words that Al had once told Scorpius about his grandmother, Narcissa, just after Astoria had murdered her back in December. The boys hadn't talked in weeks, but Al had broken the silence because, like Scorpius now, he had felt truly sorry for his friend's loss. The only difference between the deaths was that Al hadn't had anything to do with Narcissa's, as Astoria had handled it all on her own without revealing her plan to a single member of the Forbidden Flock, whereas with Arthur's, Al had been aware of every moment leading up to that tragedy.

Though the condolences did manage to get Al to listen, they didn't make him respond. He knew that Scorpius was trying to make him talk through gaining sympathy, but really, he was still furious. He had been ever since Al had opened the door to him at Grimmauld Place. Scorpius had been searching for him all day and night, and Al knew from experience just how taxing it was to look for someone who didn't want to be found. After all, that person had been Scorpius not so long ago, and Al only wondered when their roles had become so obviously reversed.

They were sitting in two adjacent chairs against the wall in the hallway outside Harry's closed office, in which he had locked himself an hour ago to talk alone with the Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt. On the other side of the wall on which Al was leaning his head, discussions were taking place concerning the evidence being used against Al and the potential consequences that could come from a trial before the Wizengamot that was sure to side with the Order of the Phoenix at all costs. Al could very well wind up in Azkaban the second Harry's door opened if that was where Shacklebolt wanted him, but like everything else, he didn't care. He'd lost the only thing he'd ever cared about when Ilana had walked away; as far as Al was concerned, Harry and Scorpius could have everything else.

"You really aren't going to talk, are you?" asked Scorpius suddenly, at least five minutes after his last spoken sentiment and Al's subsequent silence. He was looking at Al with utter disappointment in his friend, but just like Al, he was too tired to fight anymore. They were arch enemies trying to hold on to their lifelong truce before they finally declared war on one another.

Al responded with a deep breath as he closed his eyes to rest them from the iridescent brightness emanating from every part of Scorpius: his hair, his eyes, his integrity. Al held on to the heavy air in his lungs and thought about the darkness behind his eyelids, wondering if the black was an actual color or just the thing people saw when they were too disheartened to search for real color anymore.

Scorpius was laughing as he finally swung his head away from Al's direction and said, "You're just like her, you know."

Al's eyes snapped open and turned to Scorpius before he could stop them, one eye already pointed and threatening while the other was sad and regretful, for Al assumed that the girl Scorpius was referring to was Ilana. But when Scorpius saw that Al was actually listening and elaborated on his statement, Al's eyes both turned cold and confused.

"Astoria – my mum – used to yell and scream at my dad and me, the two people in the world she claimed to have ever cared about, until she drove us away," Scorpius said thoughtfully. "And once we were too broken to give her any more second chances, we'd always just hide away in our rooms with the doors shut closed all day and night, but sometimes I'd sneak out to see if she was back to being herself yet. That's when I'd find her sitting in a chair and staring at the floor with the straightest face she'd ever worn and her lips smacked shut. She'd stay like that for days – never speaking to anyone, punishing herself for what she'd done so that we never had any reason to punish her ourselves."

Inching slowly forward to the tip of his chair, Al buried his face in his hands as his elbows met his knees while Scorpius finished, "The ironic thing with her was that she'd drop into that cycle for two completely different reasons. She'd either be punishing herself for what she'd already done when she'd lost all control, or she'd be punishing herself for what she wasabout to do when she'd finally gained the control she'd been looking for. And right now, you've lost all your control while she's finally gained hers. I just wish I knew what she needed it for."

When Al rubbed his eyes and looked back at Scorpius, the blond boy was staring at him with desperation, but not defeat. His usual determination was mounting just as Al's was withering, facing the danger rather than succumbing to it because he still had something worth fighting for. That determination included his continuing to search for answers even after Al had refused to provide any. The problem was that Scorpius claimed to want to know something that Al had thought would have been common knowledge by now.

"What are you talking about, 'what she needs it for'?" he asked, breaking his silence to get some answers of his own. Astoria had made her mission quite clear over the past year, especially since her marking ceremony; she wanted a pure-blood world, and anyone who dared to get in her way of accomplishing such would have her wrath to answer to.

Once the shock of hearing Al's voice again wore off, Scorpius replied, "I mean that Astoria has been using you and the Flock to do her dirty work, but what work has that been? Sure, she killed Filch and attacked the Creeveys, but she also let Hermione, a Muggle-born herself, go free with the promise to never touch her again. She gained control of the Auror office to get people's files and blood statuses, and she scarred all the Muggle-borns at Hogwarts to know who they were, but she hasn't gone after a single one of them since. Instead, she murdered a few Muggles in the mountains and risked herself getting caught by the angriest Aurors in the world by killing their own father, and why? Just because he was a Professor of Muggle Studies? Was that really worth all the risk?"

Scorpius hardly ever rambled on for so long, especially about the ulterior motives of people he tended to try not to think about. He seemed legitimately worried now, though, and Al couldn't help but realize that Scorpius also had a point. Astoria had gained the name of every Muggle-born in the country months ago, but she hadn't yet acted on them. With the help of her followers, she had the means to kill anyone she wanted to even without the dragon army she'd hoped to raise. Perhaps she really had been using Arthur to test Al's loyalty, but that didn't explain what she was doing the rest of the time when Al was too busy with Ilana to attend any of the Forbidden Flock meetings.

"Look, Al," Scorpius said with the same frustration he'd had when Al had opened the door to him at Grimmauld Place. "I know my mother. I try to tell myself that the woman I used to live with isn't the same person she is now, but honestly, she's always been like this. She's always said that she was looking for something, and she only ever destroys people when they either stand in her way or give her the perfect opportunity to move closer to her target. This blood parade is just a distraction; she wants the world to worry about what she'll do next so that she can have enough time to figure that out for herself."

Al was staring blankly at Scorpius, mesmerized by the words he knew were true. He had been blinded by confusion and, ultimately, lust (both of which had come from Ilana) for months on end, so much so that he barely thought about Astoria anymore. He thought about all the things he'd done for her, but never what she wanted them done for, which was the exact kind of distraction she was aiming for him to find.

His heartbeat thumping fast and his fingers curling into fists of fury, Al was about to stand up and make a run for it – if only to look for Astoria and interrogate her himself – when he was stopped by the shadow of a female figure at his feet. He didn't need to look up to see who it was, nor did he need to hear Scorpius say her name, but mostly Al didn't need to hear the way Scorpius said her name. It was a whisper: soft, silky, sunken. "Rose."

As far as Al knew, Rose and Scorpius hadn't seen each other since Arthur's death, for Rose had been held up at the Burrow with the rest of her and Al's family while Scorpius searched for Al, and though Scorpius was now reaching out to Rose with the utmost concern for her broken heart, Rose was acting as if he wasn't even there. Her attention was devoted to Al, who could feel the red seeping from her hair into the pit of her eyes as she waited for his green to meet her blue.

He wasn't sure what to expect when he finally looked up, but the slap he received from Rose was admittedly well deserved. Even so, deserving the pain didn't make it any less painful, and Al was left with his face frozen, one cheek leaning against the wall and the other stinging like acid. The slap also seemed to have knocked the wind out of him, since Al was panting with the same exasperated breaths as Rose, and neither of them was growing the slightest bit calmer. If anything, each of their frustrations were about to boil over.

After a minute or so, most of Al's senses returned to him and he could hear Scorpius standing and whispering things to Rose to try to steady her, but whatever he was saying wasn't working. Rose was ignoring him as she waited for Al to find the strength to face her once more, but Al was avoiding such at all costs. It wasn't until he tasted a drop of blood on his lips that must have come from Rose's nails digging into his skin that he turned back around and wiped his face clean with the sleeve of his filthy black T-shirt.

"How could you?" Rose asked Al through a clenched jaw and squinted eyes. Her face was red and patchy like it had been all of last summer, but there was something far more frightening in Rose now than there had been a year ago. Back then, she had been carrying her own heart on her sleeve when Scorpius had disappeared; now, she was carrying the hearts of every single family member she and Al shared, and her own heart was already long gone.

Harry and Scorpius had been asking Al the same question all day, but Al hadn't answered them. He supposed it was because, for the first time, they had asked Al with voices that were already prepared for the worst possible answer. They wouldn't have believed Al even if he set the record straight, but Rose was different. She always believed him. Even now, he could tell that she wanted to.

"I didn't do it," replied Al with a shake of his head. He held his gaze with Rose, though Scorpius was now also looking back at him, stunned to hear him pleading his innocence and actually meaning it.

More to herself than to Al, Rose inhaled deeply and forgot to exhale as she said, "No. You're lying. I don't believe you."

But Al was calm, for he knew her too well. "Yes, you do," he said. To Scorpius, he added, "You both do."

Rose gained back his attention when she took a small step forward in an attempt to get closer to Al. Then she sighed, losing some of her anger and replacing it with remembrance as she recalled, "We used to tell each other everything, Al. The three of us – we were inseparable. Do you remember?"

Once again, Al tried to keep himself from looking up at her, but eventually he gave in and met her gaze, which this time looked much more like Rose's usual self: friendly, inviting, full of love. Scorpius seemed to sense it too, since Rose turned her body ever so slightly toward his and took his outstretched hand as if it was exactly what she needed to stay balanced, and in a way it was.

Her other hand lay open in front of Al's chest as she finished with, "I need you to remember, Al. I need you to tell me everything. I need you to help me understand."

Al looked away as his own breathing steadied, but his heart was still racing beneath his chest. This time, he was searching for Scorpius, because it was Scorpius's words that had made him realize what he was about to tell Rose. So, as soon as Al found that bright light of integrity, he told both Scorpius and Rose, "I don't know everything."

In his peripheral vision, Al saw Rose's open hand drop slowly to her side. Then she was backing away, towing Scorpius along with her until he was out of his seat and standing beside her at the end of the hallway where a circle of elevators were on their way to help them escape.

The last thing Rose said to Al as he remained glued to the seat that his father had designated him to fill was, "I can't do this anymore. You need to choose, Al. Order or Flock."

With a glance at Scorpius to make sure he was still with her, she continued, "Astoria or us. If you choose Astoria, we will leave you forever. No more second chances." And as they stepped into an elevator and the door closed on them, hiding Scorpius and then Rose, Al just heard Rose's last statement, washed out and dry like his still stinging cheek. "It's your decision." And he believed her. He always believed her.

Still, Al didn't have much time to mull things over before Harry was opening the door to his office and letting Shacklebolt walk out. Al stood up as the Minister bid good day to Harry and didn't spare a second glance at Al, walking straight past him until he was deep inside the buried building.

Al was still looking the way of Shacklebolt's disappearance when Harry stated monotonously, "You're on house arrest until Monday. Then you'll go on trial before the Wizengamot, and they will vote for your sentence."

It was Saturday, and Al had barely spent any time in Godric's Hollow over the past two weeks, during which he'd been in Romania or at Grimmauld Place with Ilana. He'd been running away from home all summer, so he didn't understand why he suddenly felt sad to know that in only two days, he could very well be leaving his home forever.

"Come along; we should get going," Harry broke Al's inner thoughts as he ordered his son to follow him to an open elevator. Once they were inside the enclosed space, Al still deadly silent and Harry still suffering from a silent death, the latter looked to Albus with a hardened expression and said, "I'll be needing to take your wand."

Al didn't argue before handing over the Elder Wand to its original owner, though he was curious to see how Harry would react to it. After all, Harry had never exactly wanted to use the wand for himself, which was one of the reasons he'd pawned it off to Al in the first place. Plus (according to Colin Creevey, at least), Nigel had sent word to Harry that it had been his hand-made wand that Al had used to kill Arthur, not the Elder Wand, yet Al no longer had possession over Nigel's latest creation.

As Al expected, Harry showed his first sign of questioning when his fingers clasped the Elder Wand, causing him to mutter under his breath, "This isn't right."

Al's eyes were searing into his father's scarred skin as the elevator accelerated. He was waiting for Harry to either accept the fact that Al was innocent or question him further to find any way that he might be guilty. Unfortunately, Al didn't get the response he wanted.

"This isn't the wand that we traced back from Arthur's body," said Harry. With his free hand outstretched and waiting expectedly, he added, "Hand it over, Al."

That sentence – that single three-worded line insinuating that Harry was inexplicably sure that Al was guilty and that he no longer had any faith at all in his very own son – was enough to get Al to talk. Finally, he opened his mouth to his father and said the most honest words he had spoken to him all year. "I don't have it."

But Harry kept his palm open and kept waiting. He didn't flinch to hear Al speak, nor did he react to the opposing statement. He remained steady and firm, and so it was Al who turned toward him and, thinking of Astoria's theory about three forms of evidence, said, "Search me if you want to, but I don't have any other wand. I might have been at the scene of the crime, but I didn't kill my own grandfather. Why are you so sure that I did?"

The elevator opened to the Ministry Atrium, and Harry threw James's Invisibility Cloak (he had spotted the cloak lying on the floor at Grimmauld Place and had brilliantly thought to bring it with them) over Al before anyone on the floor could see him. Then they both stepped over the threshold and onto the pristinely polished marble floor just in time for Harry to say, "Look, Al, it's not as if this hasn't happened before. Not to mention the fact that your girlfriend was pretty convincing."

It took a minute for Harry to realize that Al wasn't walking by his side anymore, having stopped in his tracks at the mere mention of Ilana as his girlfriend. Al had never once thought of her that way, though they had both been monogamous as far as he knew. He had just never considered Ilana as being a true part of his life, and especially hadn't ever imagined talking to his father about her. She had always been his secret, even more so than the Flock. She had been his secret – one that he kept because he wanted to, not because he needed to.

Eventually, Al told his legs to move and caught up with Harry, the two of them now immersed in the Atrium that was buzzing with workers and visitors, every last one of whom was talking about Albus Potter. At this point, Al had accepted the fact that Harry somehow knew who Ilana was, but was still wondering what she had convinced him of, and more importantly, why she had convinced him of it in the first place.

By the time they made it out and onto the city streets, Harry led Al into a back alley so that Al could pull off the cloak and ask what Harry knew he was itching to understand. "What did she tell you?"

"She told me that you never stopped working for the Forbidden Flock," Harry stated simply. "She told me that she had the scar to prove it, which, as far as I'm concerned, is all the evidence I or the Ministry needs."

Al had told Ilana everything last night. She knew about the Flock, but she also knew that Al hadn't been the one to kill Arthur, because Al had also told her about Knox. But Harry couldn't see any of that now. All he could see was the lie that Al had kept from him not once, but twice.

All Al could see, on the other hand, were the parts of himself that Harry never noticed until they were gone as he asked, "What makes you so sure that she's telling the truth?"

Harry rolled his eyes, something he never did in front of anyone and especially not in front of people he respected, as he answered, "She wouldn't help turn you in if she didn't care about your future, Al. She's your girlfriend."

"But you're my dad!" Al screamed with his hands in the air. They lowered slowly with his rapidly blinking eyelids as he added, "You're supposed to believe me."

Harry still showed no sign of emotion, putting one tense hand on Al's shoulder and saying, "But you're my son. You're supposed to defy me." Then he pulled Al into a worm hole of spinning, twisting Apparition and dropped him off in their darkening backyard before continuing on to the Burrow to fetch Ginny and Lily.

Al might have puked if he hadn't Apparated with an already empty stomach. The turn was harder than any he'd gone through before, and considering how many times he had Apparated under stress, that was really saying something. Of course, part of the reason for its difficulty was that it had been side-along, leaving Al with no control over where he was headed, but he should have been used to that by now.

It took him a while to shake off the dizzying side-effects, but once he did, Al slowly trekked across the yard and onto the back porch of the house that he was fairly happy to see, dragging himself through the doorway and using James's cloak once more as he hid behind the hanging broomsticks, having noticed James and Mercy arguing heatedly in the middle of the living room.

"That was insane!" yelled James, gesticulating furiously. "Your family is insane!" He was still walking forward with Mercy following him in exhausted steps, as if they had just now come in the front door from a long night at what sounded like Mercy's house.

"It's not as if I didn't warn you!" refuted Mercy. By now, they had both pounded to a spot just in front of Al, but they were far too consumed by each other to notice his presence amongst them. "In fact, I even suggested that we use the perfectly legitimate excuse of your own grandfather's death to get out of it."

Both Al and James already knew how Mercy felt about her family, particularly a certain half of it, but it seemed to Al as though no amount of warning could have prepared James for meeting the Goldings. He was more jittery than Al had been only moments ago, his face flushed red and his eyes opened up to the size of Rememberalls.

"That's not the point," said James in a single breath with his hand smacked to his sweaty forehead. It had been a hot day, though Al hadn't known it thanks to having spent all his time inside at the Ministry.

Mercy was waiting anxiously for James to elaborate, but he was still stuck in his own world of confusion as he replayed the evening they'd shared. When he finally caught up with himself, though, Mercy was looking up at him patiently and listened closely to his next words. "That woman – your stepmother – is a complete gold-digger. I–I mean, she must have asked about my family's money twenty times, and it wasn't even subtle!"

"I told you what she'd be like," Mercy tried to interrupt, but James was deep into his rambling at this point.

"And all that talk about her travels to India to teach the poorer schools about magic after graduating from the 'most prestigious school in Spain' – one that I've never heard of, by the way. Her claims to be able to pick up a hobby and go from amateur to professional status in a matter of minutes. Not to mention the way she talks about your brothers – their whole lives have been planned out and they haven't even been enrolled at Hogwarts yet!"

Mercy didn't seem the least bit surprised to hear any of this as she tried to calm James down by telling him, "Yeah, which is why you can't possibly believe a word she says!"

But James, whose thoughts seemed to be flying by much too quickly for him to pause before speaking everything that was on his mind, quickly spat without considering any of the repercussions his words might lead to, "Why not? She's just like you!"

Mercy froze at the accusation, her lips pressing together and her eyes piercing like gusts of hail, and silence washed over the room in one giant flood. Al was careful to cover his mouth so that his breathing wouldn't be heard, but he couldn't help from becoming captivated by the row that was so reminiscent of his most recent spats with Ilana.

It was odd for Al to see the fighting take place in front of him rather than being a part of it. He had seen this side of Mercy – the side that James was only noticing now – since she and James had first started dating, but for whatever reason, Al didn't feel like he could take his brother's side now. All he could see was the hurt that was etched across Mercy's face – the tears forming behind her eyes, the guilt making her cheeks swell, the mascara on her eyelids already clumping into big blotches of black. All he could see was the pain that she felt upon being prematurely judged by the one person she'd been sure would never judge her. All he could see was Ilana feeling that same pain when he'd judged her and her own family and had attempted to pry her away from them just to keep her for himself. Seeing all of this, soon his own eyes were watering, his own cheeks were swelling, and his heart felt like one big blotch of black.

For these same reasons, Al also understood why it was that James couldn't see any of these things in Mercy even as he looked straight at her. Instead, James only knew what hefelt, and right now his family was under threat. His grandfather had been murdered only two days ago, and he wasn't about to let anyone take something else from him. He wasn't about to let Mercy take his money or his name or his entitlement. He refused to let her become the latest threat.

So, as James stood firm in his accusation and as Mercy tried to take it in without letting it break her down, Al waited for one of them to make a move. Mercy ended up being the one to speak first, asking the floor in an angry, cat-like whisper, "What exactly is this about, James? Because I'm starting to think that this is more about you and my relationship withyour family than it is your relationship with mine."

James was staring at Mercy's feet – her perfectly painted toe nails that were visible through the opening in her high-heeled wedges that matched her summery dress – as he answered, "Yeah, maybe it is. Maybe I just don't think you were right to ask my dad to train you when you knew he'd feel obligated to say yes."

Shaking her head profusely, Mercy sat down on the couch to gain some distance between herself and James. Meanwhile, James was busy loosening the tie off his collared shirt as he stood still, awaiting a response. He never wore formal clothing and always looked severely uncomfortable in a suit, yet another reason for his current frustration with the girl whose family had hosted a formal dinner just to meet him.

"I could have gotten that job all on my own," said Mercy suddenly, causing James to look down at her and leave his half-untied tie aloof around his neck. "I'm a perfectly good candidate for Auror training."

"Yeah, but you didn't," James said. "You didn't get it yourself. You used me and my family and my name instead."

"No." This time, Mercy's words were steady and sure. "No, that is not fair. I didn't use you. I wanted to be an Auror, and that's what I used to get closer to you. I used it to get you back."

"Please!" James was rolling his eyes now. "You wanted something and you got it, just like you get everything ever want, but let's not pretend that I was the thing you wanted in this scenario. I was the collateral damage, but my father was the real prize."

Al hated to hear James talk that way. He and Lily had never felt nearly as much pressure to live up to their father's legacy as Al did, or so Al thought. Really, though, each of the Potter children had their own struggles whose roots could always be traced back to Harry – Al and his power, Lily and her popularity, James and his talent.

Mercy seemed to catch on to the same idea that was running its course in Al's mind, for the next thing she said to James after a long minute of careful consideration was, "I amtalented, James. Why can't you accept that in anyone but yourself?"

James stayed put and didn't appear to have any rebuttal, giving Mercy the perfect opportunity to stand up and find her strength again. She pushed back her shoulders, ran her fingers through her gorgeous hair, took one deep breath like she was inhaling pure confidence, and said through a tightly clenched jaw, "You know, your dad told me early this morning that I could pass the qualification test today if I wanted to."

When James still refused to look at her, he merely scoffed, "Come off it, will you! You've only been training for, what, a month?"

Mercy, on the other hand, stared straight into his mousy eyes and said, "You don't believe me? Fine, then. I'll prove it to you." This made James look at her as she smirked and added, "I'll ask Harry to give me the test first thing tomorrow, and in twenty-four hours from now, I promise you that I will be a fully qualified Auror, no more mentoring necessary." She didn't let James comment on her ill-advised plan before walking past him and the still hidden Al, opening the back door and slamming it in the former's face.

Normally, Aurors would train for three years after being inducted into the rigorous program, in magical combat, elements of practical defense, and methods of criminal investigation. Granted, Mercy had already more than dappled in all of these subjects considering who her mentor was and just how many investigations had been ongoing this summer. The circumstances of last Christmas – with Astoria gaining control of the Auror Department records – also made it so that the department itself was desperate for more recruits, meaning that Harry might just be willing to test her now if it meant that he could earn a new Auror and possibly even a member of the Order's core alliance this quickly.

Al understood all of this immediately, but James still seemed skeptical as he went back to his untying and then dropped himself onto the couch like any other late summer night, leaning his head against his upturned arms and stretching his long legs all across the cluttered coffee table. It wasn't until he rubbed his tired eyes and hitched his breath ever so slightly that Al realized just how much James had been holding back – not just for Mercy, but for everyone... for Al – and it was when Al noticed this that he decided to show himself.

He didn't say anything, but just awkwardly twisted his body out of the corner and around the brooms until he was standing upright and facing an already spooked James screaming, "Bloody hell!"

"Sorry," Al said nonchalantly as he threw the Invisibility Cloak back to its owner. "I just didn't want to interrupt."

Once James accepted the fact that Al had been accidentally eavesdropping through his entire conversation with Mercy, he thanked Al genuinely for keeping quiet before asking, "Does Dad know you're here?"

"Of course I do," said Harry before Al could answer, his voice flowing inside on clouds of humidity from his stance on the porch where he was holding the sliding door open for Lily and Ginny. "I brought him here."

By the time everyone was inside, they had all gone silent. James and Mercy's argument had distracted Al from thinking about what it would be like to face his mother and Lily, both of whom he had never meant to hurt and whom he had lied to repeatedly over the past year. Now, each of them seemed to be buried in their own personal trance, in which Al wasn't quite sure how he fit.

Ginny walked over to the end of the couch farthest from Al and sat down timidly, very unusual for her normally energetic and graceless movement. It seemed as though she couldn't look at Al, with her eyes open half-way and her widened pupils pointed to whatever happened to lay thirty degrees beneath them. Her hair was greasy like rotting carrots and her baggy sweater – her father's sweater, with a giant 'A' embroidered to its chest – was torn and tear-stained all across its sleeves.

Al had never seen his mother like this, and as much as he wanted to help her, he also selfishly needed her. But as he stepped toward her in an attempt to make her reach out to him, she scooted farther and farther away until she was huddled in the couch corner, her back curling against the gold-painted wall. Once she no longer had any room left to distance herself from him, he stopped walking and waited for her to say something, since her lips were parted and ready.

"Were you possessed?" she asked, her eyes still staring at the sandals that were clasped tightly around her feet. Al hated that she was wearing them; his mother never wore shoes inside the house.

"No," Al answered instinctively. When Ginny closed her eyes at the response and gulped with disappointment and sheer fear, he added, "But I didn't do it at all. I promise you, I didn't do it."

At that, Ginny looked at him, but her eyes were not the eyes of his mother. They were not the eyes of a flaming redhead with tomboy tendencies and a giant attitude. They were the eyes of a grieving stranger looking on their enemy for the very first time.

"Mum," Al pleaded desperately as those stone cold, unblinking, distant eyes seared into him, "Believe me. Nobody believes me. You have to believe me."

After a single blink, she went back to her previous staring and Al knew that she didn't believe him. But as he tried once more to come closer to her, it turned out that she didn't need to retreat on her own. Both Harry and James shot their arms in front of Al to stop him from making Ginny any more uncomfortable, and when Ginny buried her head in her knees to completely block Al from her sight, James shifted his spot on the couch so that he was able to wrap his arms around her and pick Ginny up the way a parent might hold their sleeping child. Then he passed Al with barely sympathetic eyes, walked their mother upstairs, and tucked her into bed.

Meanwhile, Lily was standing completely still on the other side of the coffee table, her hands tightly gripping what looked to Al like a letter, her expression masked and stoic. Harry was standing beside her, but seemed too worried about Ginny to stay still for much longer, so he squeezed Lily's shoulder and waited for her curt nod that somehow gave him permission to leave her alone with Al.

On his way out of the room, Harry looked back at Lily to make sure that she was still okay and then said to Al matter-of-factly, "I've put a barrier around the property, so don't bother running."

Al snorted instead of agreeing, though he wasn't trying to offend Harry. He didn't seem to, either, since Harry marched right on and followed in James's path without another word. As soon as he was gone, Lily stepped toward Al and handed him the letter she'd been holding, saying, "I found this on the porch outside. It's addressed to you."

She was already in the kitchen by the time Al looked up from the writing on the envelope that, sure enough, spelled his name in Knox's unmistakable cursive, but he didn't want to see his little sister walk away from him. Today, every single person he knew and cared about in the least had walked away from him; he didn't want Lily to be one of them.

"Lily-" he called at her to stop her from leaving, but it didn't work.

Instead of facing him fully, Lily turned her body half-way to say to her brother, "People lie, Al. They all lie – Scorpius, Mum, Dad, James, you. Everyone. I'd even bet whoever wrote that letter for you lied in it. But have fun believing things you shouldn't. I know I do."

Lily had been in Wales with James since yesterday, so she hadn't been told about Arthur's death until long after he'd been kidnapped. Harry, Ginny, and James had all lied to her about everything that was going on, keeping her in the dark in hopes that they'd have good news to go with the bad. None of them understood the way Al did that Lily didn't want to be treated like the baby she was. What she hated more than anything was not being attuned to other people's secrets, especially lately, when she already wasn't attuned to her own.

But because Al had been one of Lily's liars, he let her go. Once he heard her door shut from upstairs, he made his own way up the steps that appeared to steepen as he touched them, reaching the second floor with little to no energy left in his body and hiding himself away inside his cave-like room that smelled like abandoned Polyjuice potion and owl dung.

Deciding to address the latter stench first, Al opened Knox's letter quickly and read, 'Don't worry. She has a plan. You're not going down for this.'

"Oh, fabulous," mumbled Al as he thought of Astoria coming to the rescue in the middle of his forthcoming trial before the Wizengamot. He could just picture her striding into the Ministry court room with her flowing black robes and ten-inch heels and killing the entire jury without batting a single crazily curled eyelash.

Still, this thought, combined with all the things Lily had just said, reminded Al of what he'd been wondering about Astoria upon leaving the Ministry this afternoon. For a moment, Al thought without a doubt that Astoria's 'plan' was to do just as he had pictured her doing, but of course, it wasn't. That was what she wanted people to believe: that she killed in serial amounts, and possibly even for pleasure. Truthfully, though, she killed rarely, and always precisely. The real question was why she chose certain people over others. The real question was what her bigger plan was, because surely, that was what she needed so desperately to keep Al around for.

Before he lost this train of thought, Al turned Knox's note over, found a quill buried somewhere in his Hogwarts suitcase, and wrote a reply:

Please. She has too many plans already. I don't care about going down for this; it was my fault anyway. I just want to know what I'm going down for. I want to know who's next.

Then he folded the paper and handed it to Witherwings, who was itching to get out of her cage anyway, and sent the owl flying to wherever Knox was hiding out these days.

As Al waited for a response, hoping that out of some blind act of friendship or perhaps a simple favor to repay his mistake in killing Arthur, Knox might actually tell him who Astoria's next victim would be, he cleaned Witherwings's cage and even washed his cauldron by hand. It took him a while, but by the time he was finished, the bird was back.

Al didn't waste any time in reading the response as he opened the next note:

You know I can't tell you that. You know what she'd do. You know what she stands for… Revenge. Obstinacy. Secrets. Exaltation. She's a killer. We all are.

Disappointed, Al crumpled the letter and returned it to his owl, telling her to fly to Grimmauld Place and throw the paper into the fire pit so that his parents wouldn't find it, refusing to give the words a second glance.

He didn't want to think about Astoria or Knox, or anything that being a part of the Flock had made him do. He didn't want to think about his family and the ways they had looked at him today. He didn't want to think about Rose and Scorpius and the ultimatum they'd offered him. He didn't have any decision to make anyway. Either he was going to be sent to Azkaban by Monday morning or he'd somehow be 'saved' by Astoria and would be indebted to her yet again, but neither was any choice of his.

So instead, he thought of Ilana. He thought of their nights together and all the things her eyes had made him do. He thought about the way she always looked at him, no matter her mood or his. He thought about the ultimatum he'd given her – the choice he'd forced her to make – and he let go of his longing for power, replacing it with painful jabs of guilt. And as he closed his eyes, Al could feel his chest throbbing and his ears filling with the echoing screams of his heart.

 

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