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



44. The Principal Tale

"You can grieve, you can wallow. You can seek revenge or retribution. You can accept death or you can bargain for life. You can cry until your skin turns permanently red, stay still until your bones grow brittle, search for signs until you've nothing left. You can learn to forgive yourself over time, but you can never forget. Never."

Astoria had been talking like this for hours, or at least that was Rose's best estimate. Truthfully, Rose had no way of knowing just how much time had passed, but she could feel herself fading as Astoria gained momentum. The finger she'd popped back into place herself kept swelling, the ribs that had been broken from multiple Cruciatus Curses were digging into her organs like individual swords lodged beneath her skin, and by the looks of the crusty black layer she could see in the many mirrors her new snowflake scar was infected. But at least she was given plenty of time to rest without being tortured more, because Knox had been right: Astoria hadn't touched her again since he'd left, instead just leaning over the pensieve and pulling silvery threads from her forehead as she spoke in jumbled allusions.

Really, Rose should have used this opportunity to try to escape again, since both her wand and deluminator were still just sitting in the corner, only a few yards away. Even that short distance was too much for Rose to fathom crossing, though, so she stayed right where she was, lying on the marble floor, listening to Astoria when she could and tuning out when she grew too tired to think anymore. This also proved to be a nice distraction for Rose, since she found herself worrying less and less about Scorpius and her family and the battle that she couldn't see. There had only been one point during her alone time with Astoria that she'd felt fresh tears running down her cheeks, and even now Rose couldn't remember why she'd been crying. It had only lasted a moment, and oddly enough, she hadn't been picturing Scorpius or Hugo or her parents at the time. She'd been picturing James, wearing his handsome suit from the wedding and smiling at her from across the Quidditch pitch.

Now, Rose was in one of her faded states, but then Astoria was practically yelling at her, "GET UP! It's time for you to see." Even with all her talk, Astoria hadn't actually provided Rose with any new information about her past or her motives; she hadn't even asked for Rose to hand over her ring. At least, not yet. Rose assumed now that perhaps the time had finally come.

Rose must not have realized how much time had gone by once again, for soon Astoria was standing right next to her and Rose couldn't remember how she'd gotten there. "I said, GET UP!"

"I don't think I can-" Rose tried to protest as she attempted to push herself off the floor with the support of her elbows, which were about ready to collapse.

Astoria interrupted, "Yes, you can!" The expression on her face was hardened and cold, but not the way it normally was. This was a different kind of cold, like the difference between a dry cold that was almost bearable and a wet cold that froze everything in its path. Normally, Astoria was a wet cold, but now she was dry ice that was melting through its steam.

Without the help of the Imperius Curse or the threat of the Cruciatus, Rose bit the inside of her mouth and pushed down on her elbows until she was sitting up straight. Then she tasted copper and leaned forward to spit it out, rolling onto her knees at the same time. Her shoes were long gone by now, so it ended up being easier for her to stand than she'd expected; the balls of her feet were quite possibly the only parts of her body that, even though ready to break, weren't already broken.

Walking was harder, especially since Astoria refused to bring the pensieve any closer to Rose than where it already was, positioned just in front of that portrait Ryder had escaped through. She had to take a deep breath for every step she took, and those steps were hardly more substantial than her wand's length. As soon as she was close enough to the pensieve to reach out and touch its marble edge, she found herself gasping and leaning against the goblet as if it might catch her, and in a way, it did.

The liquid felt cool upon her skin, the first bit of relief Rose had had since the wedding. She could have stayed swimming in it forever, because she could have sworn that it was healing her, but she was back on her feet all too soon. The silver and the chill disappeared, and suddenly everything was warm and airy, like a heart fluttering when seeing its crush. Then the noises came – loud, screaming, cheering noises from a mob of people – and the stands were constructed from the bottom up, each layer appearing from a cloud of black smoke. The stands were centered around a green Quidditch pitch that was decked out in Gryffindor and Slytherin banners, so Rose knew right away that it was the very first match of the season, though which season it was, she couldn't ascertain.

The two teams were already flying, their robes looking more faded than the ones Rose was used to wearing, and from a tower stand on the other side of the pitch Rose could make out the long white hair of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore sitting with a still alive McGonagall on one side and relatively young Severus Snape on the other. Noticing them made Rose's head turn in every which direction, because she wanted to know exactly who else was here in the hopes that she might recognize others. That was when she turned to the small, dark-haired girl beside her, who was wearing a Slytherin scarf despite the fact that she was cheering for Gryffindor.

Rose was still staring at those icy eyes that she'd seen a thousand times before when an unfamiliar commentator announced that the snitch had been caught by none other than Charlie Weasley. Instinctively, Rose started searching for her uncle, but it turned out that she didn't need to look very far. This memory had been tampered with, like so many were by the dangerous mind, for when Rose turned back to the pitch there was only one player left in the sky. Charlie was flying beautifully atop a Nimbus broom, his arm outstretched toward the clouds to show the wings of the golden snitch flapping through his fingers, and his smile was wide and white.

Suddenly, Charlie froze like a Muggle photograph as Rose heard the girl beside her shout, "GO, GO, GRYFFINDOR!"

"Story, you might not want to flaunt your feelings so blatantly," teased the girl who was standing on Astoria's other side. This one was less innocent looking, with sharp cheekbones and spiked hair that kept changing color from maroon to gold. Rose had seen plenty of Hogwarts yearbooks and Lupin family photo albums to know that it was Tonks, though this version of Nymphadora couldn't have been older than fourteen.

Rose sensed that Astoria idolized Tonks, blushing immediately after being scolded and going completely silent even though she never took her eyes off Charlie or his smile, which Astoria was trying and failing to mimic with her own crooked teeth. But as Rose stared at those jagged edges, suddenly the teeth became giant stones, and Rose found herself floating around the perimeter of the Hogwarts sundial, the covered bridge a few yards away to her right, Hagrid's Hut down the hill to her left, and the Whomping Willow banging its branches on the dirt behind her.

Astoria was older now, looking like a woman as she sat with her back against one of the stones and buried her naturally clear face in a textbook that Rose recognized as her current Charms reference. The rest of her books were piled next to Astoria, and by the sight of the newly blooming flowers around the hut and the chilly bite in the air, Rose assumed that it was spring, just in time for Astoria to cram for her Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests. The only question Rose had was why Astoria was the only one who seemed to be studying.

Her question was answered when Rose noticed that Astoria wasn't reading so much as daydreaming, her cheeks rosy and eyes wide as she stared down the hill. Following her gaze, out of the black clouds two more figures appeared, both of them lanky but strong as they dueled like fierce warriors. Tonks was winning, firing all sorts of jinxes at her opponent while also remembering to defend herself when any attack came at her. Charlie seemed more like he was in it for the fun, laughing at every spell that hit him.

He was pushing himself off the ground, where he'd fallen from a stunning spell, when he glanced up at the sundial and yelled, "STORY, GET DOWN HERE!"

At first, Rose was certain that Astoria would follow Charlie's request, for she saw Astoria close her textbook and put her hands flat on the grass as if about to push herself up, but then she sighed and sat back down in defeat. Smiling courteously, she shook her head at Charlie rather than attempt to shout at him, but Rose heard her mumble under her breath, "Tonks would kill me in an instant, and it's too soon to say goodbye."

The scene changed again at that, though the setting remained, with Rose still lodged at the sundial and using the stone to hold her aching weight as she began to pant in the summer heat. This time, both Astoria and Tonks were standing within the stone circle, each of them jittering with nervousness as they clutched onto large, sealed envelopes that bore their names.

After thirty seconds of silence had passed, Tonks's impatience climaxed and she started tearing her envelope open, saying, "All right, I've had it."

"Wait! Just give him one more minute," Astoria argued, her thick, wavy locks of raven hair cascading all the way down her back and to her waist. Rose didn't know how she hadn't fainted from the heat by now, but then she remembered that Astoria had winter in her veins.

Tonks didn't listen, already pulling out a paper that unfolded so that it was as long as she was tall. It still only took her a minute to peruse it, though, and by the time Charlie showed, she was grinning like a fool and jumping up and down with the utmost excitement. "I did it! I passed!" she screamed as Charlie hugged her, lifting her off her feet and twirling her around. Once he put her back down, Astoria smiled and Tonks breathed deeply as if she needed to convince herself of the news. Her hand on her forehead, she looked dizzy as she said, "I'm going to be an Auror."

"Congratulations," Astoria said with a faint break in her voice, not looking nearly as proud of Tonks as did Charlie, who was standing up tall with his arms crossed over his chest and hiding his own crinkled envelope.

When he heard Astoria's voice, he turned to the smaller girl and said with as much excitement as he always bore, "Your turn now. No more stalling."

The smile Astoria gave him was real, and as she opened her envelope slowly and with the utmost care, Charlie grew impatient and couldn't help but ask once Astoria was reading, "Well? How many did you get?"

Astoria looked up at him with eyes that glistened with tears. "Enough," she said as if her life had depended on these exams, and for a moment Rose wondered if maybe it did. "Enough to get me an internship, anyway."

"That's fantastic!" said Charlie as he pulled Astoria into a hug that was less enthusiastic than the one he'd had with Tonks, yet somehow more honest. And as she looked on at the trio, with Tonks standing to the side and still trying to accept this bright future ahead of her, Rose understood how Astoria could be so hopelessly devoted to her two best friends. Charlie was indisputably handsome, with his broad shoulders that covered Astoria completely and arms as strong as an axe. Then there was Tonks, and it seemed as though everything came easily to her, for to become an Auror one had to pass five subject tests, which was difficult to ask of anyone, and which surely Astoria hadn't done even with all her studying. Charlie and Tonks knew who they were, and someone as confused as Astoria would need people like them in her life.

Charlie was the first to break apart from the girl, Astoria looking disappointed when those strong arms slipped away. Trying to distract herself, she ran a hand through her hair the same way Scorpius always did and said to Charlie, "And what about you? What of your results?"

Now, Tonks returned to the conversation, more curious about Charlie's success than she'd been about Astoria's. Charlie, on the other hand, looked as if he couldn't have cared less. Pulling the envelope out from behind his elbow, he held it with both hands and announced, "I don't want to know."

Astoria was furrowing her eyebrows with worry and Tonks was laughing as if entertained when Charlie tore the envelope into pieces and let it fly off with the wind. His friends' differing expressions only deepened as he continued, "Whatever the results are, I'm not going to do anything with them anyway. All I want to do – all I've ever wanted to do – is play with fire. I sent an owl to Romania, to that dragon sanctuary I told you about, and they wrote back this morning. Apparently, it's quite rare for them to have young wizards volunteer to be meat cutters, so they took me up on my offer. I leave tomorrow morning."

"Fantastic!" Tonks exclaimed, though Astoria didn't look at all pleased.

Charlie could sense this just as well as Rose could, only he decided to ignore it. Smiling at Tonks, he turned back to Astoria and gave her a pat on the shoulder before saying to them both, "See you at graduation tomorrow," to Tonks, "Don't ruin your new reputation with too many senior pranks," to Astoria, "You'll look beautiful in that green dress," and then walked away.

Astoria was outright crying as Charlie disappeared within the depths of the covered bridge, and finally Tonks took the time to notice. "Wotcher, Story," she told her. "This'll be good for him, and anyway, it's not as if you ever stood a chance at getting into those knickers." She was joking, the way Tonks was a notorious joker, but of course Rose understood just as Astoria did that that was the last thing Story needed to hear.

The next scene change took longer, as if this memory was farther from the last, and in her spare time Rose contemplated what she'd seen so far. She had never known about Astoria's connection to Charlie and Tonks, but what was bothering her more than Astoria's connection to Rose's family was what Rose found herself feeling about Astoria. She tried to remind herself of all the terrible things that this woman had done, but as she skipped through memories of Astoria's teenage years, all she saw was a girl who looked remarkably similar to herself.

All that changed when a house built itself around Rose, closing her in and hiding her from the light like a ripening batch of Devil's Snare. The house was stark and dusty like it hadn't been lived in in years, and Rose was positioned in the dining room doorway, looking in on a long table filled with witches and wizards dressed only in black. At the head of the wood sat an older man whom Rose assumed was the owner of this house, his hair greying and unkempt, his body frighteningly thin beneath a cloak that draped around his frame like a blanket. Beside him was a woman around his same age who had light blonde hair pinned in a tight bun atop her head, and next to her was Astoria, now in her mid-twenties even though Rose might have guessed thirty-something from the heavy bags under her eyes.

"It's been brilliant to see you again, Augustus" said the blonde woman as Rose looked over all the others in the room, some of them with faces blurred as if even Astoria couldn't remember what they'd looked like and Rose not managing to recognize a single one of them. "I do hope Azkaban wasn't too hard on you."

Grunting as if to say that Azkaban hadn't been difficult at all, the leading man Rose now knew to be Augustus Rookwood said, "It was as easy as this so-called war will be."

Rose could only see the back of the head of the next person who spoke, but she listened nonetheless. It was a man's voice, evil in its high-pitched confidence. "Yes, the Dark Lord has done amazing things in the time you've been gone; his power is unyielding."

Around the table, there were many ayes spoken, though Astoria didn't dare say a thing as she kept her head facing her lap. The blonde seemed to notice this, for soon she was poking at Astoria's shoulder with a fake smile as she said, "Sweetheart, tell us of your admiration for the Dark Lord."

"He is a brilliant wizard," Astoria replied mundanely, as if she'd said such a million times and never with any truth. The blonde was pleased at this, and everyone was about to continue their previous conversation when Astoria added in a mumble, "But perhaps we should not underestimate the young Harry Potter. I have heard that his skills are unprecedented – as good as an Auror, they say."

The blonde was worried now, perhaps nervous that her comrades would shun Astoria for her foul words. Luckily, Augustus piped in then and turned it all into a joke, even though Rose was certain that Astoria never meant for it to be one. "Ah, yes," he said, "But what is the power of an Auror compared to that of a Death Eater?"

Astoria was now staring at him as Augustus pulled back the sleeve of his cloak to reveal the Dark Mark on his wrist. He met her gaze, daring her to reveal her own, and when she did he said, "That there is proof enough that you needn't worry about facing the likes of an Auror on that battle field, girl. You have the Dark Lord's trust in you, and in that a piece of his power."

"What if I don't want it?" asked Astoria, and just like what had happened with Charlie at the Quidditch match, suddenly it was only Astoria and Augustus in this room, because only they remained in the former's memory. "What if I don't want his power?"

Chuckling to himself, Augustus told her very seriously even in his humor, "Just wait. You will one day. Everyone does."

His words echoed in Rose's ear as the scene shifted, quickly this time, back to Hogwarts and that same sundial she'd stood in before, only now it was dark and half of the covered bridge had disappeared, the place where Hagrid's Hut once was now field of ash. The grounds looked exactly like Rose had pictured the place to look in her present time, with fires burning and giants groaning and spells blasting every which direction. She even found herself ducking to avoid some of those spells, though of course it was pointless. This had already happened, and just as she had no effect on what happened here, here had no effect on what happened to her. At least, that was what Rose tried to convince herself of, though somewhere inside she knew that what she was about to see would affect her in a way greater than she could have ever imagined.

Astoria looked exactly as she had in the Rookwood house, with clothes as black as her hair and eyes as dead as night. She was hiding behind one of the stones, staring down at the hill just like she'd done during Charlie and Tonks's friendly duel, only this time she wouldn't be the one to be asked to join in.

Tonks was running up the hill as she tried to ward off some snatchers, most likely headed for the bridge that she didn't realize had been blown up in the midst of the battle. Rose only caught glimpses of the woman through short blasts of light, but she looked incredibly different now than she had when she'd been a student at Hogwarts. Now, her hair, though still ratty, was more grown out and no longer changed color every two seconds. It was simply mouse brown, and her clothes were similarly plain and loose, no doubt baggy enough to hide the weight she'd gained from her recent pregnancy.

When she made it to the top of the hill, somebody else had drawn the snatchers' attention, and though Tonks seemed concerned for whoever was now being used as bait, she desperately needed to catch her breath before returning her assistance. She was keeled over and heaving, a small smile on her face because this was what she did and what she had missed doing, when Astoria walked out of the shadows to greet her old friend.

"It's been a long time," Astoria stated simply, making Tonks stop breathing as she stood up straight to face the woman whose voice she clearly recognized.

"Story," breathed Tonks; Astoria merely grimaced at the nickname that she only really liked when used by Charlie. It didn't take long for Tonks to take in the sight of Astoria's blackness and to understand which side she was fighting for now, evident when Tonks sighed and said, "Oh, Story, you didn't need to follow in your mother's footsteps. You didn't need to become this person."

"How dare you!" Astoria spat, her eyes showing more life now, but just as much pain. More quietly, she flicked her wand mindlessly at the ground and said, "How dare you tell meabout the person I was supposed to become! You, who said that I wasn't good enough for Charlie when a bloody werewolf is good enough for you. You, who never let me in when we were kids even though I worshipped you. You, who knew how alone I would feel when he left and then decided that you'd leave me too. How dare you chastise me for the way I've tried to repair what you broke."

By now, Astoria had picked her wand up and was pointing it toward Tonks in anger, urging her eyes not to water and instead allowing them to succumb to fury. Tonks hadn't had time to brandish her own wand while listening, so she had her hands up in surrender as she spoke in soothing tones, "I'm so sorry, Story. I never meant to hurt you, but I was just a kid back then. I was rowdy and rude and uncontrollable, but I've grown up now. I've grown up and now we can start over."

"I don't want to start over!" Astoria leaped forward and Tonks shuttered at her proximity. "Don't you understand? I don't want to start over. I want to stop. I want to end this. I want to end you."

Tonks's shaking was uncontrollable now. She was far more fearful of the Astoria who had her wand pressed against Tonks's neck than Astoria had been of the Tonks who'd teased her when they were young. She didn't know what to do anymore, or what she could possibly say to change Astoria's mind, so she just started begging. "Please, Story, don't do this. You're better than this. You're better than killing a friend, a woman, a wife, a mother. You're better than killing a little boy's mother."

Astoria had one hand on her wand and the other buried in her hair, one eye shedding tears and the other red and dry, one half of herself swimming in power and the other more powerless than it had ever been. Rose and Tonks knew which side Astoria would listen to, yet it still came as a shock when Astoria slowly backed away while saying, "But that's just it. I was never better, and we were never really friends."

"You're going to regret this," Tonks argued when Astoria was a few feet away. "You're never going to forget. Never."

"Yes, I will," said Astoria. Then, after taking one more deep breath and without saying goodbye because Tonks had never extended her such a courtesy, she whispered through her tears, "Avada Kedavra."

Tonks's body froze and fell to the ground like a stone dropping into the sea, and Astoria would have been just as still had it not been for the screaming man who was running up from behind her. In her own shock and paranoia, Astoria flew her body around and didn't even look at Remus Lupin before she killed him too and fled from the sight, the memory fading the farther she went.

After that, Rose was brought to at least ten more scenes, none of them lasting longer than a moment. In most of them, Astoria was at what looked to be an office cubicle somewhere inside the green glass of the Ministry of Magic. She'd be sitting at her desk, her walls covered in maps of both England and the world, and Rose would watch her grow older as the years droned on. Astoria's face went from tired and lonely to guilty and spiteful, with eyes that bled through scars and skin that blinked in folded wrinkles. Coworkers would pass her by but she would greet none of them as she pulled her sleeve down to hide her Dark Mark, and she would sometimes stay at the Ministry until late at night, making Rose wonder if she had anyone to go home to.

Around her, the rest of the Ministry went from chaotic misery to hesitant acceptance. Everyone was grieving at first, for everyone had lost somebody, but Shacklebolt was a good leader and soon whispers grew into confident statements of the Death Eaters all having been arrested and put into cells at Azkaban. There were a few exceptions to this rule, however, including Astoria herself as well as Draco Malfoy. The latter was brought down to Astoria's department by new Auror Harry Potter, who politely requested that Astoria take Draco on as an intern. She agreed, and soon she showed him the mark on her wrist and he showed her his. Then they were all each other had, and soon he put a ring on her finger and she put one on his.

But even Draco didn't seem to know about Tonks and Remus, and even Draco couldn't make Astoria forget. Rose could see her remembering every time Astoria closed her eyes, leaning forward against her desk and breathing so steadily that she must have been counting her own heartbeats. Whenever this happened, she would take out a book that she'd buried in her bottom drawer, and Rose didn't need to wonder which exact book this was. She knew it would be The Tales of Beetle the Bard, and she knew which particular tale Astoria was looking for.

She would always turn it to the same page that Rose had once made her father stop on, and within the next few memories Astoria had hand-drawn pictures of the Resurrection Stone hanging up against her maps. There were pins next to all the places she had any inkling that the ring might have been, all evidence garnered from other books she read and wizards she'd spoken with on her travels. Soon those pins turned into reality, and Astoria was becoming an Animagus through great secret pains so that she could have some way of flying, and Rose witnessed scenes of Astoria and Draco talking from across cubicles or inside the elevator about her various trips around the world.

"Why do you have to leave so often?" he would ask. "I have the same job as you, and you don't see me traveling more than once a month."

"Yes, but I'm your boss. I have more responsibilities than you do," she would argue.

But as more pins fell to floor and as the world maps were replaced with solely British ones, Astoria's determination only increased. She started to leave Draco even more and their squabbling became fights, even after Astoria discovered that she was pregnant.

He would yell, "I don't want you Apparating such long distances, especially when you're carrying my baby."

"But I don't want your baby!" she would refute, and he would shake his head and tell her that she was wrong, that she didn't know what she was saying, that she was just scared. Rose, however, knew that Astoria was telling Draco the truth. A child would only complicate the situation, and worse, would remind her of the child whose life she'd already ruined.

For months, the cubicle was empty while Astoria stayed at the hospital, Scorpius's birth proving more difficult to endure than most. Rose treasured the sight of the little boy lodged in Astoria's arms, with his soft white hair, puffy cheeks, and snowflake birthmark. He was perfect like this, smiling and unscarred and loved. Draco seemed to cherish him as much as Rose did, and Narcissa would visit often as well, though, much to Rose's surprise, Astoria was not at all indifferent to the boy. If anything, he was her knight in shining armor.

Every time she held him, she looked happy, but when the Healers or Draco or Narcissa took him away, if only for a moment, she would turn back to her old regretful self. Just like she'd always been with Charlie, she was more attached to this one person than she was to herself, and that proved to be a very dangerous thing.

Rose was utterly shocked when she saw her dead grandfather holding another baby from the room next door to Astoria's. An exhausted Ginny was lying in the hospital bed while Arthur rocked Albus to sleep, and next thing Rose knew a one year-old James was racing down the hallways and Harry wasn't there. Al was crying and Harry wasn't there. Windows were shattering, nurses were slipping on their feet, wind was blowing sheets off the beds in Al's power, and Harry wasn't there. Harry wasn't, but Astoria was. She watched every instant of it and clutched her wand more tightly with every speck of magic she felt. Eventually, Al left the hospital and so too did Astoria, and right away she continued her search for the stone.

Leaving Scorpius was the hardest thing she'd ever done, but it became easier as the years passed and as Astoria became more insane with her one life ambition. Arguments between her and Draco were hostile and Scorpius heard them all because he never could fall asleep. He'd escape into Narcissa's room once his mother left, grabbing his favorite chess piece on his way, and Draco would never be able to comfort him because he didn't even know how to comfort himself.

The montage culminated with Astoria back in her office, only this time she wasn't alone. Knox Rookwood was sitting across from her, though at first Rose didn't recognize him. Not only was he dressed, unlike the last time she'd seen him, but he was formally dressed in a suit and tie, with his brown hair recently cut and gelled so that it rolled across his head smoothly like waves. If Rose hadn't known what he was going to become, she might have called him beautiful.

"So, you're sure I can take the day off tomorrow?" he was asking Astoria tentatively. He must have been working with her for a while by now, as he seemed to understand her moodiness and spoke to her in a way that would allow her to shut him down if she wanted to.

She was placing a new pin onto one of her county maps, and Rose was close enough to see that the spot it pointed to was a graveyard in a town she knew well: Godric's Hollow. She also knew who was buried there, from the first James and Lily Potter to Ignotus Peverell, one of Beetle the Bard's three brothers. Astoria seemed to have forgotten about Knox's original request, for now she asked, "What is the circumstance of such an absence?"

Knox looked very nervous to respond with, "My girlfriend's sister is getting married. I was hoping to attend the wedding."

"The wedding?"

"Yes," Knox nodded. "Er, the wedding between Teddy Lupin and Victoire Weasley."

Suddenly, Astoria's interest shifted from the maps to Knox, for of course she knew one of these names. Somehow, she was able to subdue her curiosity about Teddy so that she could tell Knox simply, "Yes, of course you may attend. You must."

And before Rose knew it, she was at the wedding that she had already attended, only three summers ago at Shell Cottage, on the outskirts of Tinworth. It was exactly how she remembered it: water lapping on the shores steadily as the sun set, Teddy kissing Victoire before picking her up and running her into the waves, Victoire dancing with Bill as the younger version of Rose danced with her own father and as Teddy sat and watched and cried, not because he felt sorry for himself but because he finally felt like he had a family.

Astoria stood on the edges of both the ceremony and then the reception, staring at Teddy all night even though Rose was fairly certain that it was the first time she was seeing him. Every time Teddy's hair color changed, Astoria would blink and keep her eyes closed for a few seconds, and every time he said 'Wotcher,' she'd cross her arms against her chest to hold herself still.

After Teddy and Victoire Apparated away, Knox walked up to Astoria as she was getting ready to leave, because of course he had seen her there the entire time. Astoria didn't explain why she was there or what she was so upset about, but somehow Knox understood, and when Astoria said to him, "Say I wanted to cash in the debt you owe me, what would you be willing to do for me?"

Shrugging sadly, Knox said, "You saved my life. I wouldn't have a choice what I did to repay you; I'd just do it."

"JUST DO IT!" yelled Astoria, only now she was in Malfoy Manor, and Rose was turning herself around as best she could so that she could really see the place that she'd heard so much about but had never visited. "If you want a divorce, Draco, ask for one!"

When Rose finally stopped looking at the long hallways, empty walls, and glass chandeliers, she settled her eyes on Astoria, but this task proved more difficult than what she was used to. Astoria was running from room to room, grabbing lamps and candles and jewelry and then pointing her wand at them until they blew up in front of her. Rose tried to keep up, the memory helping to pull her along Astoria's path, but her pain felt exponentially worse now than it had only moments ago. Maybe that was because this was a scene Rose had been told about before, and it wasn't one she wanted to see.

"It's not that simple," Draco said as he passed right through Rose, also lost in Astoria's wake. "I love you, Story, I'll always love you, and I don't want a divorce. I just wish that you could tell me what it is that's bothering you. Why can't you tell me what you're looking for?"

Under her breath, Astoria mumbled one-word responses, and while Draco couldn't make them out in his exhausted state, Rose heard them loud and clear. "Stone," said Astoria, "Stone. Tonks. Dead. Not dead." She said them over and over again as she blasted more lamps apart, shattering the bulbs and watching the sparks ignite before they vanished.

They were back in their bedroom now, connected to Scorpius's room by only a wall. Astoria was clawing at her and Draco's pillows, letting their feathers free and making sure that the Resurrection Stone wasn't hidden somewhere inside them, because she was running out of ideas for where it might be. Draco looked on in misery, for it killed him to see her like this. It killed him to see her doing all the things that he had done when he'd been employed by Lord Voldemort in his last years at Hogwarts.

Because he didn't want to love that person – the person within himself he'd spent so many years trying to forgive – Draco said sullenly to Astoria, "Or maybe it is that simple. Maybe you aren't my wife anymore. Maybe I can't even recognize you."

Those words were what made Astoria stop. Draco was standing behind her and she was leaning over the backboard of their king size bed, shuttering until that shutter turned into an almost imperceptible smile. This was all part of the plan, as was the spell she cast on Draco without even turning around to face him. "Imperio."

When she did turn around, Draco looked like he'd been Confunded, only unduly and even worse. He tried to fight against the control just like Al once had in Shunpike's classroom, but she was too strong for him. He already had his wand pointed at her, his mouth open and ready to voice those two words that would end it all, when Rose turned her head to the open door and saw a fifteen year-old Scorpius sneak up behind his mother and push her to the floor with his sweaty hands. Then he just stood there, looking at her with his own mouth gaping open, even as Draco awoke from the Imperius Curse, called on some Aurors, stunned Astoria, and told Scorpius to leave and not come back again for the rest of the summer.

"But – but Dad," Scorpius argued, his voice still filled with fear.

"GO!" yelled Draco, sharp and unwavering this time. And as Scorpius left, so did Rose.

Next, she saw swift images of Astoria in St. Mungo's, her hair becoming wilder along with her eyes, and visits from Knox as he brought in books and helped her with her research. She ran into another future protégé at the hospital as well. Vincent Goyle was there to be treated for some sort of Fiendfyre burn after getting a little too frisky with his newly legal ability to perform magic that summer, and he was daft enough for Astoria to have him under her spell within an hour.

They stayed in the hospital for quite some time, since Rose had to see everything from Astoria's eyes as Astoria saw things through Goyle's. She saw him searching all of Hogwarts castle in hopes that he might find the ring, she saw him kill Argus Filch with as much forethought as Astoria had given before killing Remus, fearing that he might uncover her secret that she was unknowingly only a few feet away from uncovering for herself. Rose saw Scorpius get falsely accused, saw Goyle overhear her and Al's conversation about the Elder Wand and felt Astoria's curiosity brewing, then saw her interest returned to Scorpius when she saw that he had the ring after taking it from Rose to protect her.

That summer – the summer following Rose's fifth year, after Astoria had escaped from the hospital and temporarily returned to Malfoy Manor – Astoria wanted Scorpius, because it was Scorpius who'd had the ring at the time. Meanwhile, the wizarding world was still talking about Filch's death, and as Astoria slowly realized just how protected Scorpius was, with Draco and Harry and even Ron looking out for him at every turn, she decided that she'd need more power if she wanted to find him again. That was when she and Knox started building their army, as well as when she came up with her supremacist farce.

"Killed one Squib and went after another," a much more familiar Knox said from across the same table his grandfather had once sat at, except that Knox was sitting in Astoria's old seat while Astoria sat at the head. "And now we go after the Mud-bloods, which will draw in all of Voldemort's old followers."

"Aye," said Astoria with a smile plastered across her very stoic face. Then she squinted her eyes and added, "But there is one other recruit I'd rather like to have... one who didn'tfollow Voldemort."

Knox didn't ask who as he waited for Astoria to tell him, and eventually she did. "Albus Severus Potter."

"Are you mental?" asked Knox as he leaned forward in shock, no longer fearful of Astoria viewing him as weak or needy. He knew all of her secrets now, and in a way she knew his. They were completely comfortable with each other.

"Relax," Astoria told him. "I've been writing the boy most of this summer, and he seems vulnerable enough. Plus, he has the Elder Wand."

"Do we need it? I thought you only wanted the stone."

"True, but that doesn't mean that I should simply ignore the wand. It is the most powerful wand in the world, Knox, which means that its master has the potential to become the most powerful wizard in the world. Now, if Scorpius still has the ring, then we need to get to him before the Order grows too large, and I don't want Albus to be on the Order's side with that wand in his hand. I may not need it for myself, but I would still like to have it within my control."

Knox still seemed hesitant, shaking his head and biting his lip. "Any Potter is an enormous liability."

Astoria considered this for a moment, but then argued, "Not if we treat him like one. If we know that he'll be a liability, then we can use such knowledge to our advantage. First, we get him to trust us, to trust me. Then, we leave him be, let him fester, until he makes a decision to causes us to question his loyalty. Finally-"

"We test his loyalty," Knox finished for her.


Time fast forwarded to that fall, when Astoria used her Animagus form to run from Harry, who'd been tracking her ever since she attacked the Creevey house. Her idea to murder Narcissa was simply a distraction, much like the Squib and Mud-blood attacks themselves, intended to slow Harry down, and slow him down it did. He stayed behind at Malfoy Manor in order to wait for Draco's late arrival, and in so doing lost Astoria's trail until Christmas.

Finally, Rose understood everything that had happened that Christmas. It was terrifying to see Knox turn himself into an Animagus right before heading off to spy on Rose's own house, but it was even more terrifying to know that the Unbreakable Vow Astoria made with Ron wasn't really a powerful attempt to gain control of the Ministry so much as an excuse to see if Scorpius still had the ring. When Knox told Astoria it wasn't him she wanted anymore, Rose now understood that it was because he'd already given the ring back to her. That night, she'd been under the Invisibility Cloak, so Knox hadn't seen her and therefore hadn't seen the ring at all. Suddenly, all of Astoria's searching proved useless, because she didn't have any idea where the ring was anymore, but at least now she had Al, along with the Auror Department's records on every witch and wizard in the country.

Astoria cowered over these records for months, but she never found anyone she thought Scorpius might have given the ring to. Deciding that the person must have been someone he knew at school, she used Al's position at Hogwarts to plan her marking ceremony. This brought her and the observing Rose to a forest filled with snow, where Astoria was tending to a small fire and thinking to herself until she heard a crow scurry in the nearby bushes.

Upon turning human once more, Knox sat down beside Astoria and informed her, "It went well. Albus held up his side of the bargain, all the Mud-bloods were marked, and I flew over all of it until I saw it, until I saw your ring."

"Who do I need to capture?" asked Astoria, more out of formality than concern. She needed the name, but she didn't care who the name was attached to.

Knox, on the other hand, had to suppress a great deal of apprehension to answer, "Rose Weasley."

Following this revelation, everything Astoria did brought her a step closer to her ultimate goal of capturing Rose. She ordered the albino to kidnap Arthur and used Al to get him killed, though Rose didn't actually see the murder take place, so she wasn't sure if Knox had been telling her the truth about his involvement after all. Astoria disguised herself as James to try to take Rose at Arthur's funeral, again with the help of Al, who was becoming less and less reluctant as Astoria became more and more distant from anything other than that ring. She had McGonagall killed by Al so that Scorpius would break down and send Rose away, because she knew Scorpius better than Rose could have realized, and when Scorpius had declared war she'd been ready to release her army while she tortured Rose inside.

The last memory that was brought to Rose was one she had no way of placing in time or space, though the room she found herself in was shaped like a hollowed out rock and reeked of humidity and dragon dung. Astoria had tried to make it look like a combination between her travel-themed office and the Rookwood dining room, a lopsided table placed in the center of the poster-plastered walls with four chairs arranged around it.

The albino and a blonde woman Rose had never seen before didn't say anything, and since Knox wasn't by Astoria's side, Rose assumed that he must have been at Azkaban. Ryder was there, though, and it was she who led a discussion with Astoria, the two of them in deep conversation of battle tactics and secret agendas.

"I'll order Albus to lead the army once the battle ensues. That way, he won't try to stop me when I take Rose for myself," Astoria stated, her back hunched over as if she was merely hanging out.

Trying to take over her brother's role as the wingman, Ryder said, "I thought you trusted Albus." She sounded more curious than she should have been, almost as if she had her own agenda when it came to Al and she wanted to make sure that Astoria wouldn't punish her for ruining him.

Astoria wasn't fooled; Ryder would never be good enough. "I trust no one, least of all a Potter," she said. "He has served me well, but now his time is over. There is nothing more he can do for me."

"And what about Scorpius?" asked the olive-skinned blue jay. "I hear he and Rose are together now, which means that he'll probably come looking for her if he finds out that she's been taken. What will you do if he does?"

Astoria was cold, wet cold, when she looked past Ryder and into the ghost of Rose that she couldn't actually see, straight into her innocent blue eyes, and said, "Gaining power is always done at the expense of the powerless. If he dares to get in my way, I'll treat him as I would anyone else. I'll kill him."

The rush of pain that ran through Rose upon hearing those words was worse than anything she'd ever felt, but the silence and the black and the peace that came after was like looking into heaven.

Her relief didn't last long enough. When Rose awoke, she had returned to the present world, her head heavy but chilled against the cold marble floor, her neck throbbing from the freshly marked snowflake scar, and her hand pressed tightly around the pensieve stand as if those memories were all she had left to hold on to. As she thought about this, and about the fact that Astoria had literally pulled them out of her mind to put them in to Rose's, Rose realized that she was actually right, only this was the first time she'd ever wanted to be wrong.

She wanted to be wrong about everything – about Tonks, about Knox, about Astoria. Rose wanted to believe that they weren't all people who had multiple opinions and multiple views and multiple morals. She wanted to believe that Tonks was a beautiful wife and a loving mother; she didn't want to believe that Tonks was also a terrible friend. She wanted to believe that Knox was a murderer and that he'd broken Dominique's heart; she didn't want to believe that Knox had also been the one to give Dom's heart a reason to beat. She wanted to believe that Astoria was an evil woman and a dangerous witch; she didn't want to believe that Astoria was also a scared little girl. Mostly, though, she didn't want to believe that Astoria had ever loved Scorpius, because although this seemed to be a pattern in Astoria's life, Rose would never understand how a person could go from loving someone to being ready to kill them.

This change of heart must have had something to do with the insanity. Now, Astoria was walking around the pensieve to gain ground on Rose, and she looked like she hadn't slept in years. Rose had been too preoccupied with her own pain and her own struggles to notice those of Astoria's before, but after seeing the young witch so innocent and pretty in those memories, Rose could barely recognize the grown woman who stood before her. There was still the wintry ice and the raven night and the golden glow, but all the rest – the blushing cheeks and the fingers through the hair and the proud smile – was gone. This woman didn't want success or freedom or even Charlie anymore; she wanted what Al had always wanted with Ilana… she wanted what she couldn't have.

"Give me the stone," Astoria ordered with her hand outstretched as she stared down at Rose from six feet above the floor.

Rose felt like she'd been buried in her grave, but if her chances were already doomed then surely she had nothing left to lose if she continued to fight. She'd learned a lot from Scorpius over the past few years, but the fighting was something she'd learned from Al. He'd taught her that words could be just as strong as magic, because his lies had somehow always sounded like loyalty.

Without moving away because she didn't want Astoria to think that she was telling her this out of fear, Rose looked up and said, "I know what you want. I know you want to see Tonks again, but you can't bring someone back from the dead."

"Don't tell me what I can't do!" Astoria yelled with a fury Rose hadn't seen on her since she'd provoked her with thoughts of Scorpius.

"But it's just a story! It's a folktale, a legend, a fantasy. It isn't true!" Rose argued, and at this point she was shuffling her body backward and away from Astoria for fear that the witch might reach down to tear at her dress more and take Scorpius's ring for herself. Astoria didn't look like she was buying a word Rose said, but Rose would keep rephrasing the same statements anyway, because her father had to have known what he was talking about. That was what made her add, "The Deathly Hallows might be real objects, but that doesn't mean that they have any real power."

"Does it?" asked Astoria with raised eyebrows and a knowing glare. "Says the girl whose best friend betrayed her because of a wooden stick that held more power than he'd ever known. Says the girl whose uncle is Harry Potter, the very descendent of Ignotus Peverell himself and who very well may be in possession of a certain one-of-a-kind Invisibility Cloak. Says the girl who has no notion of what it takes to kill and should therefore refrain from stating her futile opinions on the permanence of death."

She was very close to Rose now. Her eyelids were shaking though her hands were steady, and Rose no longer thought that Astoria would go so far as to take the ring from her leg strap. She wanted Rose to hand it over to her, to surrender it, to admit to Astoria that she was just a child. What Astoria didn't realize, however, was that Rose was no child. She was a woman, and one who had seen death in a way worse than personal; she had seen death through the eyes of the people she loved far more than herself.

Staring at the part of her dress that was hiding her leg and ring from sight, Rose whispered, "Stop pretending that you know who I am. Stop pretending that you know who anyone is, let alone who Tonks was. What makes you think that she would come back from wherever she is now just to see you again? You, who took her life before she could watch her own son grow up, before she could even see what kind of man he would become, or get to know the gorgeous girl he would marry?"

Astoria's attention was on Rose now, even though neither of them was really looking at the other. The attempt made by Rose to get under Astoria's skin was finally working, and Rose only had one more idea of what she could say to tip Astoria over the edge. So, with a deep breath and an aching turn of her neck, Rose said, "That's what this is about, isn't it? That's why you can't look at Scorpius anymore, let alone acknowledge him as your son? You do love him, you do know him, but you don't think you deserve to. You don't want to watch him grow up, you don't want to see the kind of man he's already become, and you don't want to get to know me. You don't want any of the things that you stole from someone else."

Their eyes met as soon as Rose silenced, and just like she couldn't tell how much time had passed since the wedding, she wasn't sure how long she and Astoria held their gaze now. All she knew was that nothing would have broken it but for the voice they heard from behind Rose.

It was deep, husky but confident, and this time Rose knew it was Knox before she saw him when he said, presumably to Astoria, "She's right, you know."

Astoria was the first to look past Rose and onto her intruder, and it was the sight of her surprised expression that made Rose slowly turn around. She was half-way there when Astoria asked Knox, "What is he doing here?"

When Rose finally saw the still shirtless Knox standing by the disappearing doorway, she had to turn a little more to see a patch of snow-filled hair suddenly go from blue to red. "Teddy?" she asked, her voice stronger than it had been since the wedding because just seeing someone familiar gave her a stronger sense of hope.

"Rose!" breathed Teddy as he raced from Knox's grasp in an attempt to leap toward the girl who probably looked like she was on the verge of death. He didn't get far, though, thanks to Astoria's reflexive stunning spell that blasted Teddy back until his body banged against the wall and made the blue of his hair seep into his cheeks.

Rose winced both externally and internally to see her cousin in such pain, but selfishly she was still grateful that he was here at all. When Teddy stood back up, Knox made sure that he didn't go for Rose again, making Rose realize that he was Knox's captive and that surely he had already handed over his wand.

Both Rose and Teddy kept still but curious as Astoria and Knox engaged in a rather tense conversation, Knox beginning his explanation with, "Rose is right, Astoria. She's right that Tonks won't come back for you; I've seen it. I've seen it as clearly as I saw the Resurrection Stone during the marking ceremony and as clearly as I can see it now."

"You see objects," argued Astoria, but Rose could tell that she was lying to herself out of fear rather than denial. "You don't see emotions or feelings and you rarely see the future. You see what's hidden, not what may be revealed."

Knox was smiling, chuckling ever so slightly to himself as Rose and Teddy tried to contemplate the true extent of his capabilities, as he said, "Oh, I see more than just objects. You know that. You know that because you knew that I would see myself in you, the same way I see myself in Black Hawk. The only reason I noticed Rose and that ring amongsthundreds of other students in the Great Hall was because I saw so much of Scorpius in her. I have never seen Tonks in you, but she is all I see in Teddy."

Astoria wasn't arguing anymore. She knew that, despite whatever intentions Knox may have now and whether those intentions had always been on his mind, he was being honest. That was why she nodded in permission when he told her, "The Resurrection Stone is real, but you need him in order for it to work."

Teddy looked like he was in some sort of trance as he forgot all about Knox being his arch enemy and Astoria as some wicked villain. All he could see was this idea, this possibility that he'd never before let himself believe. He'd wanted vengeance all his life, but now he just wanted a moment, and as he walked steadily toward Rose and wasn't blasted away, she knew that she would do anything to give him that moment, even if it meant giving it to Astoria at the same time.

As Teddy knelt to the floor, Rose tried to re-position herself so that she could reach her hand down to her calf, but Teddy stopped her from moving too much. He put a hand on her arm and she froze before gesturing toward her leg and allowing Teddy to gently pull the silky dress up over her amethyst skin, reach into the pocket of the strap, and grab hold of the cracked, black stone attached to its golden band.

Teddy stood back up with the ring lying flat in his palm, never taking his eyes off the stone and never blinking. He didn't look at anything else and barely moved, making Rose wonder if he even knew what to do, but then his hair turned pink and then somehow his instincts told him to turn the ring over three times and then grip it in his fist. Once it was covered in skin, he looked away from the ring and up at the empty space that faced him in the room.

Rose, Knox, and Astoria were all staring intently at Teddy, but Rose didn't see anyone else appear in the room. As she glanced at Knox, who seemed anxious, and Astoria, who seemed terrified but also crazed, Rose knew that they couldn't see Tonks either. The wave of disappointment was palpable as it swam across the Room of Requirement, but a tsunami hit when they all saw Teddy smile, walk forward, reach his hand out into the empty air, and say, "Mum? Dad? Is it really you?"

Astoria was fuming, Knox was watching her with the same anxiety he'd had before, and Rose was crying bittersweet tears as Teddy looked down at his hand and seemed to have felt nothing touch it. "Why can't I feel you?" he asked the empty space in front of him, but Rose didn't hear any answer.

"Why can't we see them?" asked Astoria, but Teddy didn't even hear her and both Knox and Rose ignored her.

Teddy was nodding, so Rose assumed that the ghost-like figures of Tonks and Remus were explaining to him what Ron had once tried to explain to her – that nothing could bring people back from the dead, not even this stone, at least not fully. Some partial version of Fred would never have been good enough for George, just like this version of Tonks was most definitely not good enough for Astoria, but Rose understood that it would be for Teddy. Looking at the almost imperceptible smile spreading across Knox's darkened cheeks, Rose thought for a moment that he knew it too, and that he quite possibly always had.

He and Astoria were still focused on Teddy, Astoria's desperation growing with every second that passed, and Teddy was still lost in his reunion, when Rose heard a faint tapping that no one else seemed to notice. Upon deciding that Astoria wasn't about to lose her focus for anything, Rose stretched her neck as far as her broken skin would allow, turned back around so that she was looking toward the portrait in the middle of the mirrored walls, and saw James standing alone without a single one of his reflections.

Panicking in her confusion, Rose had her mouth open and was about to ask him why he was here, or at least say his name so that it might make the vision of him more real, but remained completely silent when he held up a finger to his curved lips. She knew then that, like Tonks and Remus had done for Teddy, James had only come back for her. He smiled and it made her smile, because that was what he wanted her to do, but seeing him in that suit he'd been wearing at the reception, looking more handsome in death than he ever had in life, was like looking into heaven and being told that she couldn't stay.

He was only there for a minute, maybe even less, before he vanished without a wave goodbye. Teddy had been in control of the ring, so James hadn't been able to know how much time his brother would give him, or, in this case, how much time it would take for Astoria to blow up. The exact moment James vanished, Astoria came back to life.

"You LIAR!" she was yelling as she ran past Rose and toward Knox, knocking out Teddy and the ring on her way. Luckily, she didn't seem to think that the ring might work for her anymore, but now she had nothing left – no goal, no aspiration, no hope of ever being forgiven or of relinquishing this overbearing guilt she carried. Knox had been her closest ally during her quest, but now he was her closest adversary.

"I didn't lie!" screamed Knox, his outstretched wand pointed directly at Astoria's. "I told you that she would only come back for Teddy, and she did. How was I supposed to know onlyhe would be able to see her?"

"Because only you see everything else!" she was heaving, crying, cracking all at once, and if Rose hadn't been out of options, she would have done just about anything to calm the woman down.

Astoria was inches away from Knox, her wand the only thing standing between her chest and his, and she was growling through clenched teeth, "Tell me why you did this. You paid your debt the moment I made you agree to your sentence in Azkaban. Why didn't you just let me try the stone on my own? At least that would have been better than seeing him, ofall people, do it for me!"

Knox was nodding now, having given up on denying his questionable motives. At this point, Teddy had stood back up and still had the ring in his hand even though it was no longer in use. It was Teddy Knox looked to when the latter answered, "You're right. I didn't bring him here so that you could finally seek forgiveness for a crime that you deserve to feel guilt over. I brought him here because I know how it feels to be told about your legacy and wonder if it's something you need to protect or if it's something you'd rather escape. I brought him here so that he could forgive me over a crime that I had no choice but to commit."

Fascinated to know that Knox had been on Teddy and Dominique's side all along, Rose looked back and forth between him and her cousin for a long while, not pausing long enough to notice that Astoria was anything but pleased. Teddy was in shock in more ways than one, Knox was ready to receive punishment in the most extreme of forms, and Astoria was bubbling over until all her fury completely spilled out of her.

The ceiling was the first part of the room that started shaking, but the walls came soon after with their cracking mirrors, and then the marble was cracking too. The pensieve crumbled into ashes and memories were released in puddles of silver, Rose's wand and deluminator started rolling toward her but didn't come close enough for her to grab them, and Astoria's screams echoed through the room until there wasn't a room anymore. Then there was a cascade of brick and stone, with everyone but Astoria running for a corner or ducking toward the floor, and the night sky was above them with its twinkling stars and flaming phoenixes.

At first, Rose thought that she was hallucinating the birds in the midst of her pitiful attempts to avoid being hit by the collapsed ceiling, but once everything had fallen she continued to catch glimpses of the remarkable creatures floating like embers amidst the black. Upon convincing herself that they were real after all, she let her eyes search for other surprises and found yet another bird that was even more remarkable than a phoenix.

The white falcon had his talons curved around something that looked rather like a blanket, and Astoria spotted him quite soon after Rose did. Teddy and Knox were brushing themselves off after they popped their heads out from the debris, and as Astoria shifted her focus to Scorpius and began to transform as well, Rose found herself yelling at Teddy from across the floor, "Where's the ring?"

Teddy was about to answer in a shrug when Rose was distracted by the sound of a spell that hit the golden hawk off guard. Scorpius had sent a jinx Astoria's way, surprising her with his ability to perform magic while in Animagus form, and Rose was gazing up at the bird proudly when she shot her eyes back to the bundle he was holding. Thinking back on James, Rose suddenly wondered if perhaps Scorpius had been given the Invisibility Cloak, and as the falcon turned around to swoop under the recovered hawk, Rose just caught sight of the sparkling stone with its band wrapped around one of Scorpius's claws.

Astoria must have also known that Scorpius had caught the ring in the midst of the explosion. After hearing all the things Knox had said, Astoria would know that the ring wouldn't do anything for her even if she tried to use it without Teddy there, but of course that would make her want it even more. Surely, she would do anything to hold it in her hands, if only so that she could crush it into a thousand pieces.

The two birds were now circling around each other, flying at the exact same pace, and Rose could tell without communicating with Scorpius that he was waiting for Astoria to throw a curse his way. Astoria probably hadn't ever used magic as a hawk, but there was no doubt in Rose's mind that she'd be able to.

What she hadn't expected was the particular spell that Astoria decided to use. A jet of green protruded from her feathery chest with uncontested speed and strength, and Rose held her breath as she waited for it to hit. It collided with a spell just as strong that was the color of Rose's eyes and that she immediately knew Scorpius would never let go of. It took a minute for Astoria to understand this as well, but once she did, she relinquished the Killing Curse and gave Scorpius the perfect opportunity to vanish himself.

Rose still couldn't breathe once Scorpius disappeared, and likewise, Astoria still didn't stop. The hawk sent Killing Curses in every direction, even downward where they were so close to hitting Knox that he too had decided to transfigure, since being a rook made it far easier for him to avoid Astoria's blasts when he could simply dart in and out of the way. But as Astoria noticed Knox's darting, she also saw some of the wind that could only be coming from flapping wings in the blowing of Teddy's white hair.

A breeze had just passed him by when Astoria shot her strongest spell yet into the empty space, just like Teddy had reached out his hand in hopes that it would be held. This time, Astoria got exactly what she wanted, because there was a pounding sound followed by a gushing exhale and suddenly Scorpius could be seen again, only now he was human. Now, he was frozen. Now, he was falling.

His body pounded atop a pile of broken ceiling only a yard or so away from Rose, and as he hit the ground her pain was lifted into the air. She felt absolutely nothing as she threw the rocks and glass everywhere to make a path for herself, felt absolutely nothing as she made it to Scorpius and wrapped her hand around his, felt absolutely nothing as he leaned over and met his lips with hers in the hope that Muggle fairy tales might be true too.

She could feel the ring buried in his stony hand, could see the Invisibility Cloak sitting by his feet, could make out the shape of the Elder Wand through his white jacket pocket. She could have sworn that she saw all three of the Deathly Hallows united around one wizard, but after she kissed him she looked around once more and they were gone. They disappeared just as easily as Scorpius had vanished before, and Rose found herself wondering if this time, unlike all the others, his disappearance would be permanent. This time, she was looking into a heaven that was pulling him away.

But it couldn't be true. He couldn't be gone, because the birds were still crying for him. She was still crying for him. It couldn't be this simple. It had to be more complicated. Life was complicated, with family and friendship and love, and he was all of those things to her. He was her forever, she knew he was. He'd promised her. Check, check mate. He was her fate.

But was it possible that this was his fate too? Was it possible that their forever had already ended? Was it possible that death was simple, without family or friendship or love? Was it possible that she might stop crying long enough to hear the silence of the birds? Was it possible that this was true, and that it wasn't his promise to her that he'd broken, but rather her promise to him?

"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I broke my promise," she whimpered into his ear with her forehead sitting against his and her fingers running through his hair. She said before that she'd never let him go, yet here he was. Here he was, like the silence of something lost. Here he was, dead, done, and gone. Here he was, the ghost inside her head. Here he was. Nothing. The end. Before he'd left, before she'd stayed, he had been her best friend. They had been betrayed.

It was a wonder that Rose was the one still alive, the one who had survived the war between her heart and his. It was a wonder that she was still here, her broken body curved over Scorpius's whole one and feeling the blood rush through her veins even when it had stilled in his. It was a wonder what an unwanted emphasis death could put on how she should have lived. But it wasn't a wonder that Rose knew how to stand up; James had taught her that. It wasn't a wonder that she knew how to keep going; Scorpius had taught her that.

She refused to surrender. She was pulling a wand out from Scorpius's jacket pocket, this one white and heavy with rain. She was on her feet again, crooked and shaking as they were, and the human Astoria was facing her in all her stoicism and all her numbness. Behind them, Teddy and Knox were wary of what to do, but Rose was adamant in her orders for them. "Go. NOW."

Knox had to pull Teddy away, but eventually they ran off, and then it was just Astoria. "What are you going to do, poor little Weasley girl? You can't bring him back from the dead, you know," she said with eyes void of any emotion. Finally, her eyes didn't match those of Scorpius. Now, they matched those of Rose.

"I know I can't," said Rose as she clutched the wand at her side. "But gaining power is always done at the expense of the powerless. You have dared to get in my way, so I'll treat you as you would anyone else. I'll kill you."

Rose was telling the truth. She would grieve, she would wallow. She would seek revenge and retribution. She would both accept Scorpius's death and bargain for his life. She would cry until her skin turned permanently red, stay still until her bones grew brittle, search for signs until she had nothing left. She would learn to forgive herself over time, but she would never forget. Never.

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