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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29. The Vanishing Past

It wasn't all that hard to be invisible. People who wanted to disappear tended to think that it was an impossible thing to do, but it wasn't. Albus could attest to that. For him, vanishing was as easy as flipping a switch. All he had to do was stop caring, say goodbye to anything that tethered him to his world and let go, float away, or turn on the spot.

"On the count of three!" yelled out the instructor to all the sixth years who were already of age or who would be turning seventeen at some point between now and August. "One, two, three!"

There were shouts of surprise and even panic across the Great Hall as the students tried to move from within their wooden circles to the other side of the rims. Bobby Dormer screamed upon realizing that his entire head of hair had been leftover from his Apparition, while Lucy Weasley struggled to keep her balance after landing on one leg. The Ravenclaws performed relatively well in comparison, but even they were no match for the Slytherin students.

Madison Bulstrode and Patty Parkinson each performed admirably, leaving nothing but a few eyelashes behind as they Apparated out of their circles. Al was by far the best of them all, though, since he managed to bring every part of him along for ride, Apparating without a single splinch.

Al smiled for himself as the instructor walked by and said, "Well done, Mr. Potter. You won't need much more practicing at this rate, will you?"

But Al's pride was diminished when he felt cold eyes on him from a few yards to his left. Scorpius was glaring at him through floating ice caps that were about to crack, and though Al had been successfully ignoring him for the past hour, it was getting more and more difficult by the minute.

They had only been back at Hogwarts for a couple of days since winter break, and neither of the boys had said a word to the other. Al had been invisible to Scorpius, or at least he imagined that he was, since really Scorpius and Rose never seemed to stop looking his way. Al would say that he didn't blame them for being so concerned, considering that they were some of the only ones who knew what he'd done on Christmas, but that would be a lie. He did blame them, not for noticing him now, but for having failed to notice him before.

That was why Al refused to be the first to speak. He wasn't going to be the only one to apologize and beg for forgiveness, because he wasn't the only one who had done something wrong. And so what if Scorpius was skeptical of Al's loyalty? Nobody would ever believe his word over Al's, the son of the Chosen One. So, Scorpius could stare as much as he liked, but Al sure wasn't going to do anything about it.

Still, it was unfortunate that the Apparition lesson only included Al and Scorpius. Rose was the youngest of the three and wouldn't be seventeen until next fall, so she wasn't eligible for a lesson until then. It wasn't so much that Al enjoyed the sight of the newly reunited lovebirds holding hands down the hallways, but at least Rose hadn't been so spiteful toward Al.

Though it had all taken place in her own front yard, Rose seemed much less concerned about the past than she was about the future. Al had a feeling that she hadn't been able to let go of her trust in him so quickly, and so when she was present, the air around the trio was slightly warmer than it was with only the boys.

But for now, Al would just have to deal with Scorpius on his own. Luckily, the young Malfoy's focus was fairly limited after wasting so much energy sending questioning glances at Al every chance he got, so Scorpius wasn't faring so well with his Apparitions. He left all sorts of clothing and body parts behind with every turn, and even managed to splinch his shoulder pretty badly when he tried to travel too far.

Scorpius's frustration seemed to grow with every new mistake he made, and Al was secretly enjoying the sight of him by the end of the lesson. He had beads of sweat dripping off his chin as he tried to use magic to subdue the wound on his shoulder, and he looked unbelievably disheveled for a boy whose dress was perpetually pristine.

By the time they were dismissed, Al was ready to jet out of the hall with lightning speed before the hobbling Scorpius could follow him. He was skipping lunch for the day because it was the perfect time to meet with Astoria without anyone around to notice his vanishing act. Still, he had to take his time walking through most of Hogwarts as he waited for everybody to clear from their classes and make their way to the Great Hall.

On his way out of the castle, Al passed by some more familiar faces that weren't so keen on seeing him. Professor Weasley, more commonly known as Al's grandfather Arthur, was busy chatting with Hugo and that Nigel Creevey kid who'd apparently kissed Hugo in front of the entire student body just before Christmas.

Hugo, who'd of course partaken in the battle at the Weasley house, glared at Albus much like Scorpius was always doing, and Arthur and Nigel both had to hold back the little firework from pointing his wand at Al and starting something that Al could surely finish in seconds. But then the three onlookers were gone and Al didn't give them a second thought, because thinking about Hugo was one of the few things that would make Al feel guilty, and he would avoid such a feeling at all costs.

Al nearly made it out home-free until he ran into Rose at the edge of the courtyard that led to the wooden bridge. He stopped upon seeing her, for they were the only two left outside, but Rose stepped toward him until she was only a yard or so away.

Al thought about shoving past her, ignoring her like he'd been doing to Scorpius, but her head was leaning forward and her eyes were scanning him; she wanted to say something, and he knew that he owed it to her to listen.

"How are you?" Rose managed to ask. At first, Al wasn't sure if that was what Rose had intended to say, but he soon realized that it was when she furrowed her eyebrows and looked to him as if awaiting a response.

"I'm fine," Al nodded. "Better." He didn't want her to suspect anything of him, because like Hugo, she was one of the people he'd never meant to hurt. He wanted Rose to forgive him and to believe, like everybody else did, that he had made a mistake that he would never make again. He didn't want to lose her trust just yet.

But Al should never have been so naïve as to think, even for a second, that Rose wouldn't see right through him. They had grown up together; they'd been best friends since birth. There had never been any room for secrets between them, and Rose seemed particularly adamant about such as she shook her head and said to Al, "No, you're not."

No, of course he wasn't fine. He hadn't been fine for quite some time. And this was him lashing out, and somehow Rose had gotten caught in the crossfire of Al's rebellion. Still, he shook the thought aside and brushed past Rose in one smooth step forward, saying back at her, "Look, I've got to go."

"Okay," Rose mumbled as Al disappeared further into the depths of the covered bridge. She caught his attention for one last word, though, when she yelled out, "You can't just shake me off, you know! You're my best friend; you don't get to leave me."

Al turned back to face her as if she had pressed the exact button that would make him listen. In a way, she had, because the words she'd just said were the same words she and Al had promised each other the past summer, when Scorpius had abandoned them both. Of course, Al had already begun to betray Rose by then, claiming to be searching for Scorpius while he really met with Astoria, lying to her for nothing but his own benefit.

Rose needed to understand that, so Al said with a slight shiver from the wintry air, "I'm not leaving you, Rose. I'm leaving myself."

He was proud of her for not crying. Al was proud of Rose when her blue eyes met his green with anger, because she should be angry. They should all be angry, which is why Al added, "And no matter how hard you try to put the pieces back together, nothing will ever be the same again."

Without a moment of pause, Rose retorted, "That's not true. We've all been here, Al. We've all tried to hide ourselves, leave the past behind and just restart. I know that's what you're trying to do now, but it's not as simple as it seems." She had hid herself during all the time she'd spent with Lysander, and Scorpius had done the same by running away last summer. Rose seemed to think that Al was continuing the pattern, and she was right.

"You're right, Rose," said Al, his eyes squinting toward the cracked floorboards of the bridge, through which he could catch glimpses of the icy Black Lake from underneath. "It's not simple, but maybe that's what makes it so exciting."

This time, Al set off and didn't look back, and Rose didn't try to call after him. At this point, there was nothing she could do, for Al needed to make his own decisions. He needed to figure out who he was on his own before he could go back to being Scorpius Malfoy and Rose Weasley's best friend.

The walk across the bridge was slow and cold, two things Al had never been a fan of. Still, he eventually made it to the Whomping Willow, which he looked at with a dreadful grimace before using his wand to levitate a rock and throw it at the knot of the ancient tree. Upon doing so, its branches went limp, allowing Al to walk beneath the still tree and slide himself under its roots, into an old tunnel that James had once told him led to the Shrieking Shack.

The passageway was old and musty, and Al walked through it on tip-toes to avoid being surprised by any sort of lurking creature. He had his hand clasped around the Elder Wand for the entire journey, just in case something leaped at him from beneath the dirt, for Al was far more fearful of what lived in the dark than the darkness itself.

After what felt like forever, Albus arrived at the rundown, haunted house that was known to more than just Hogwarts students as the Shrieking Shack. He climbed multiple stories in order to reach the top floor where Astoria had proposed to meet him, but she wasn't anywhere to be seen within the dusty, blackened room, in the middle of which sat the stolen pensieve.

Al spent a minute looking around for Astoria, but neither she nor her bird self were in eye-shot. Sighing, Al walked over to the pensieve to inspect the object as he waited for Astoria to show. As he approached the goblet, however, he noticed a thin trail of silvery liquid amongst the watery clearness, and then he couldn't seem to look away.

The path of the memory was mesmerizing, swirling through the water like a graceful mermaid and leaving a painting of wind in its wake. Lately, wind was just what Al had been looking for – something that could steer him in a single direction and never allow him to look back.

Soon, that's just what Al was doing, as he lowered his head to get a closer look at the pattern and, upon accidentally brushing his forehead against the liquid, was drawn straight into the goblet like he was being pulled into someone else's Apparition.

He was a flying ghost of a person as he landed on the marble floor of Astoria's past. Just as soon as his feet hit the ground, Al could feel the pressure of walls and ceilings closing around him, as if the Hogwarts castle was being built right before his eyes. Before he knew what had happened, he was standing in the middle of the Great Hall, but it was not a Great Hall that he was familiar with.

It was gray, dreary, and full of sadness, with black banners hanging from thin air and silence sweeping across the hundreds of tearing faces as if they had all been overcome by the same amount of grief, all at the same exact time. And they were all there, all of the students separated by year but not by house, and all of the professors in long, priest-like robes at the front of the hall.

Albus was left in the center of it all, but a small cry from a girl sitting toward the front of the hall gained his attention, for he realized that it must have come from Astoria. After all, he was in her memory, and so he knew that he could only see what she had seen, could only hear what she had heard.

Sure enough, Al found a young, black-haired girl with Scorpius's eyes sitting in an aisle chair about five rows back from the front. Al would have guessed by her small hands and childish features that she couldn't be any older than thirteen, but he didn't get the chance to inspect more closely before a different voice was heard that steered Al's eyes to the podium sitting straight ahead of him.

"Happy Halloween," said a somber, long-bearded Albus Dumbledore as he adjusted his spectacles from their place on his pointed noise. It was impossible not to be drawn to him, for Dumbledore's presence was iconic, his voice languid but powerful, and more students than just Al seemed to sense it.

All eyes were on the Headmaster as he continued, "While this day might normally be a cause for celebration, I would like us all to suppress our enthusiasm while we remember the deaths of two people who were tricked, but not treated."

Slowly, the gravity of the event sunk in. Though Al had been confused only moments ago, he now understood that this gathering was in memoriam of a night he himself had been told about many moons ago.

"James and Lily Potter were two of our own," continued Dumbledore, and Al held his breath upon hearing the namesakes of his siblings from the voice of his own. "And their deaths, on a night five years ago today, not only vanquished the Dark Lord, but also marked a new era for the magical world – an era founded on sacrifice and bound by love."

His words were followed by a moment of silence, during which Al tried to take in more of the people involved in the scene. In the row of professors, he recognized younger versions of McGonagall and Flitwick, but it was the sight of an expression-less, greasy-haired Severus Snape that took reign of Al's thoughts.

The late Potions master had black eyes that appeared to have little to no life left in them, and he was as still and cold as a statue made of cracked rocks that were only held together by a few pathetic nails in the ground. He was the most broken person Al had ever laid eyes on, so he couldn't help but wonder how Snape could have possibly been the bravest man his father had ever known.

But just as soon as Al tried to step toward him, the professor disappeared, his presence replaced with a puff of black smoke that took control of the entire hall and transformed it back to the Great Hall that Al was so used to.

Now, all the students were seated at the four long tables that normally filled the hall, and there was a feast of food set across their lengths, pulling the kids into the celebration that they had been waiting for. This time, Al didn't have to look very far to find the young Astoria, for she was sitting at a bench just beside him at the table that was usually lined with Hufflepuffs.

Curious to understand why Astoria wasn't with the other Slytherins, Al nudged himself beside a fourth year who couldn't see or feel him and took a seat next to the girl. It took a minute for Al to get used to the idea that this was really her, Scorpius's mother and the most dangerous witch of her age, when right now she was rosy-cheeked, innocent, and half the size of Al.

His wondering subsided, however, when somebody from the other end of the table started talking. "It's odd that it's been a whole five years, isn't it?" said a boy with an abnormally low voice for his age.

As Astoria nodded beside Al, the latter looked over at the boy who had spoken to see a kid with hair as orange as the candy corn he was popping into his mouth at a nauseating rate. His robes were in terrible condition and his Gryffindor tie was torn and aloof against his stained shirt and freckled skin. There was no mistaking him – the hair and appetite alone were tell-tale signs of a Weasley. Still, Al didn't quite realize that it was his uncle Charlie until he noticed the pin on the boy's left shoulder that was golden in color and shaped like a snitch.

"Yeah, tell me about it," said a female voice coming from Charlie's right. "That was the night my older cousin was sent to Azkaban!"

Once again, Al didn't connect the dots straight away. Though he knew that she must be speaking of Sirius Black, who'd been falsely accused of leading Voldemort to Godric's Hollow on Halloween of 1981 and had subsequently been sent to prison for over a decade, he wasn't sure who the girl was until her hair changed color.

"Teddy," Al found himself whispering upon seeing Tonks's naturally brown pixie cut turn dark and fiery as she spoke of her family. She had the same rare abilities of her future son, a Metamorphmagus.

But nobody heard Al's comment as Tonks continued by saying, "It's ironic, really, since most of my family's quite proud of Sirius now, even though they'd already burnt his face out of the family tree. And at the rate they're going with the dismembering, I'll probably be next." Al remembered Teddy once telling him that his side of the family had been disowned by the rest of the Blacks after Andromeda had married a Muggle-born wizard.

"Oh, well, they shouldn't do that!" squawked Astoria suddenly, sitting up in her seat awkwardly and saying in a high-pitched, self-conscious tone, "It's not your fault that your mother married a Mud-blood."

Her comment caused both Tonks and Charlie to glare at Astoria with disappointment, and as Astoria crouched back down and tried to hide herself from her supposed friends, Al noticed the twinkle of her Slytherin tie slowly widen the gap between her and the other two.

"Didn't we tell you not to use that word?" Tonks asked Astoria pointedly, though Charlie was nudging her from the side. He was shrugging and seemed to be advising Tonks to let it go, but Tonks had no intention of doing so.

As she stared down the oddly powerless Astoria, the latter squeaked, "I'm sorry," before looking back up at Tonks in desperation.

Tonks rolled her eyes but didn't punish Astoria any further, while Charlie sent a smile her way and said, "It doesn't matter. Anyway, we shouldn't have to be reminded of all this danger when we're not living in it ourselves. Honestly, one of these days, I'm going to leave this place just so that I can get a little bit of excitement in my life and stop being sucked into the past."

Al knew exactly how he felt, even though Charlie was seriously misguided about the amount of danger left in the world at the time. Still, Tonks seemed to be on the same page as Charlie, perking up a bit and leaning forward as she whispered, "Speaking of danger, what do you say we take a little trip to the Forbidden Forest? You know, get into the real holiday spirit."

Charlie laughed and nodded, the two troublemakers ready to take flight as they stood from their seats, but Astoria didn't appear to be so enthralled by the idea. That didn't stop her from trying to follow them like a puppy dog, though, as she asked hopefully, "Could I come as well?"

Tonks and Charlie turned back around to see Astoria practically bent over and ready to grovel at their feet, but Tonks wouldn't have any of it. "How about you sit this one out, Story?" she suggested. "You wouldn't want to ruin your chances of becoming the perfect prefect, after all."

At that, Tonks turned around and headed out of the hall, and after apologizing to Astoria, Charlie followed the now pink-haired third year out the double doors and into the night.

Albus was left looking at the lonely Astoria as the scene faded away and he was pulled back to reality. It took a moment for him to catch his balance as his head instinctively lifted itself from inside the pensieve and allowed him to stand upright in the present-day Shrieking Shack.

Once his eyes adjusted to the lack of light in the room, Al found himself staring straight ahead at the golden hawk he knew so well. She was poised and regal as she sat perched atop the same stack of files that Al had noticed on the table in the Rookwood house. Astoria didn't waste much time before flapping her wings to gain some ground and then transforming herself mid-air until she was her usual tall, pale-skinned beauty in ragged clothes but still-smooth hair.

"I see you discovered the real use of the pensieve," she said to Al as she took a few steps toward him.

He had read about it before stealing it from McGonagall's office (using the password Rose had guessed the year before), but he had never used the magical memory box until today. Now, Al was fascinated by it, but he still felt slightly confused. After all, he didn't doubt for a second that Astoria had placed that particular memory in the pensieve for a reason, and that she'd wanted Al to see it. What Al didn't understand was what it was supposed to tell him.

"Why'd you show me this?" he asked, cutting right to the chase.

Astoria took a deep breath as if she needed to think through her reasoning first, but of course she'd already had a speech planned. Her words were obviously rehearsed as she turned back to Al and explained, "I thought it would be good for you to know that you're not the only one who's ever felt like a third wheel."

Al was taken aback by Astoria's statement. She had never spoken directly of Scorpius, let alone him and Rose. At first, Al wondered how she even knew about them, but then he realized that she'd had a spy all of last year as well. She knew far more than she liked to let on.

Albus kept quiet for a moment, but Astoria seemed to have more to say as she came uncomfortably close to Al and looked him straight in the eye and continued, "I also want you to know that if you'd like to be in with me, with this, then I won't leave you out of any part of it. But in order for me to do that, you need to be all in."

The Forbidden Flock. He was already a part of it, but of course she'd been sensing Al's hesitance. He had shown a great deal of loyalty by attending the meeting after the attack on the Weasleys, but that wasn't enough. He was meant to be playing both sides, but Astoria needed to know which side he wanted to win.

"So, you have a choice to make," said Astoria with little to no threat in her tone. "And I suggest you think long and hard about it, because as soon as you leave the past behind, you can't go back." Her voice cracked slightly as she put her head down and said, almost in a whimper, "No matter how hard you try."

Al understood that Astoria was giving him an out. He could leave now and try to earn forgiveness from Rose and Scorpius, then move on with the same life he'd had before. Alternatively, he could give it up, forget about his friends and his family, and try something new, something complicated, something exciting.

Astoria had given him a week. It was nearing February by the time decision day rolled around, and Al still hadn't quite made up his mind. He thought the decision had been put in place months ago, but ever since Astoria had ordered him to think things through, Al couldn't be sure what he really wanted.

He had already proven over Christmas that he could betray his family easily enough, but now he was questioning the betrayal of his friends. Every time Scorpius and Rose passed by, Al felt as if his mind jolted straight back to their childhoods, when the two of them had been better siblings to Al than his real brother and sister had ever been. But then he was reminded of what he'd said to Rose recently, that things would never be the same again, and he knew that he was right. Even if he did migrate from the Flock, he and Scorpius wouldn't just go back to the way things were. There was far too much water under that bridge. What made matters worse was that Rose and Scorpius weren't the only people he was worried about leaving behind. There was one other person he knew for certain he never wanted to betray.

An hour or so before he was due to meet with Astoria again, Al was waiting outside the Transfiguration classroom on the first floor of the castle. He had been dismissed early from Potions after successfully brewing a pot of everlasting elixir with twenty minutes to spare and had found himself walking upstairs before he even realized where his feet were headed.

After having some time to himself while waiting, Al leaned forward to watch the seventh years pile out of McGonagall's class like a herd of sheep running from a raging dog. As soon as the doors were open, Al could hear the Headmistress's calls of, "I expect full completion by next class for all of you! Your exams are coming sooner than you think!"

Al grimaced at the thought of taking N.E.W.T. level examinations, even though it wouldn't be all that long before he too was a stressed-out seventh year. He hadn't considered the impending future much lately, too concerned about his disappearing past.

Quickly, Al was rather lost in the sea of students, but that didn't stop James from finding him. Al hadn't come to see his brother, though James seemed to think this was the case, as he approached Al in a couple of confident strides, both Lysander Scamander and Mercy Golding in his wake.

"How're you doing, Al?" asked James, ignoring Lysander's impatient tapping feet from behind him. "You haven't perhaps come to tell me anything, have you?"

Al scoffed at his brother before shoving past him and walking away. If Al ever did choose to tell James what he wanted to hear, that he'd actually switched sides and turned back to the Order, once and for all, it sure as hell wouldn't be for, or because of, James and his overbearing attempt at support.

Pushing his way through the crowd, Al wasn't too pleased to catch sight of McGonagall as she was leaving either. Unlike the rest of the school, she didn't seem to have been fooled by the cover-up of Al's presence in the attack at the Weasleys'. McGonagall had always known everything about everyone, which was precisely why she could be so strict and angry. She had most certainly been this way in Al's most recent classes with her, and she was looking at him with those same sentiments now.

Luckily, McGonagall didn't try to approach the middle Potter like James had, so Al was able to move on and spot the person he was actually looking for as she walked over the threshold and into the hallway, the last student to leave the classroom.

Ilana Higgs had her head down and hidden in an old book that Al recognized immediately, her wavy locks kept out of her face by inhibiting feather earrings and cascading down her back like spilt oil. She didn't notice Al standing beside her until she continued walking and he followed her, the sound of his gentle breathing gaining her attention and causing her to walk more slowly as she addressed him.

She rested the Half-Blood Prince's potions book against her chest, sighed, and said, "Potter, I thought we'd stopped with the stalking."

Al chuckled and whispered, "I don't recall making such a promise." He'd met Ilana last year, surprisingly through none other than Rose, and there was something about her that kept pulling him in.

She was shy and didn't talk all that much, which Al appreciated. Sometimes, she was exactly what he needed – just somebody to walk with or sit next to without being obligated to speak or listen. Much like the wind, Ilana was quiet and independent, unpredictably soft or sharp, but always unwilling to compromise.

"What do you want?" she asked, still walking slightly ahead of him as they rounded the corner. She tended to act as though she didn't want anything to do with him, but Al knew that she secretly enjoyed his company. The mysterious aura she tried to keep up was all just part of the chase.

Al stepped in front of her before she reached the staircase that led to the dungeons, barricading her path and pulling her into a small alcove just off the hallway to gain some privacy from the passing sixth years that had finally been let out of Potions. Somewhere in the midst of getting there, Al had pushed Ilana against the wall and now had his arms placed on either side of her to keep his balance.

Ilana stared into Al's eyes questionably before the latter cleared his throat and pulled away, rubbing the eyes that were remarkably similar to hers before he opened them, bit his lip, and said, "I seem to have reached a crossroads."

Shifting away from the wall some, Ilana let out a small chuckle and said, "Be more cryptic; I dare you."

"Just listen; I dare you," Al retorted with wide eyes, making Ilana shut up, a small smirk plastered across her porcelain skin.

"Challenge accepted," she caved just as a speck of light shone across her right cheekbone. "Go on."

Suddenly feeling uncomfortable in his own skin, Al crossed his arms as he said, "Do you think that it's possible to start fresh – leave everything behind and just start anew?" He'd never asked Ilana such a serious question before, and so he hoped that it wouldn't scare her off.

Sure enough, she didn't respond. She just looked at him, blinking to the rhythm of her own heartbeat and studying his expression like he was asking something that meant the opposite of what he'd really said.

"Higgs?" Al asked, trying to bring her back from wherever her mind had gone.

Her eyes regained their focus as soon as she heard Al say her name, and Ilana finally responded with, "It depends, doesn't it? On what you have to lose."

Al nodded, for he agreed with her, but he'd already gone through everything he might lose or gain through pledging his allegiance to Astoria, and he still wasn't sure which future outweighed the other. What Al really wanted to know was whether Ilana would be one of the things he lost or one he gained.

Since this time Al didn't respond straight away, Ilana spoke again by adding, "Personally, I wouldn't recommend branching out if it means you'll lose your roots. It gets quite lonely out there when you can't remember where you came from."

He didn't know what she was referring to, for they'd never exchanged life stories, or much of anything for that matter. Still, the not knowing was exciting, just like the prospect of letting go. Plus, if Ilana had left her past and become one of those lonely branches in the sky, perhaps Al could join her there.

Thinking this, he told her, "Well, it might not be so lonely if there's somebody else there who feels the same way." And without waiting to see her reaction or saying another word, Al stalked off in the same direction from which he'd come, this time getting to leave Ilana wondering what he'd meant.

He was confident as he snuck out of the castle and into the Shrieking Shack, strolling through the empty hallways (for once again, it was lunch time) and open doors before he crossed the bridge in peace and made it through the underground tunnel without witnessing a single rodent. In fact, Albus was so focused on his journey that he failed to notice someone following him all the way to the Whomping Willow.

Al climbed the stairs of the shack to the top floor without looking back once. He was sure of what he wanted now, and so he was ready to let Astoria know of it. "I've made up my mind," he shouted as he reached the floor.

Astoria was standing by the pensieve with her back facing Al, the tip of her wand pointed at her forehead as she literally pulled a memory out from beneath her skin. Al stopped before he ran into her and waited for her to say something.

Without turning around, she said softly, "Wait. There's one more thing I'd like to show you before you make your final decision."

"Oh, but I have an Apparition lesson to get to soon," Al babbled, not exactly thinking before he spoke.

When Astoria turned to face him, her face was as cold as Al had ever seen it, much like the night she'd planted the attack on the Weasley house. Her cheeks were thin and tight, her nostrils flared and eyebrows furrowed, and her eyes were sparkling with tears.

She didn't say anymore as she made room for Al to step forward, opening her arms out and leading him toward the goblet. He followed her path as if hypnotized, then lowered his head into the water willingly until he was once again spinning back in time.

He landed in a smoke-filled King's Cross station, and though he could see the fumes from the train as they circled around him, he couldn't actually taste any of them. Albus was merely a ghost in Astoria's world.

The Hogwarts Express stretched across the platform like a never-ending, narrow road that led far past the horizon. On that road were hordes of children, teenagers, and their families, with a couple of squawking owls, cats, and toads mixed in with the lot. It all looked exactly the same as it did these days, and if Al hadn't known that it was Astoria's memory, he might have thought that it was his own.

"Okay, Astoria, it's time," said a woman who looked to be in her late thirties. Al was standing a few yards away from who he could only assume was Mrs. Greengrass, her light blonde hair pinned atop her head in a neat bun, her expression lifeless and her voice stoic.

"No, Story, don't go," came a whine from toward the floor. Al had to push past a few families and look down at the ground to find the source of the noise, which was another blonde female who was only about three feet tall and must have been Astoria's younger sister. She looked exactly like her mother, and both of them had features that were strikingly similar to Scorpius. Thinking of Scorpius made Al realize that Astoria's sister, the little blonde snot, must have either left or died some time ago now, for Scorpius had never once mentioned an aunt.

Al was pulled out of his reverie when an eleven year-old Astoria finally spoke, putting a hand on her sister's shoulder and saying, "Don't worry, Daphne. You'll be fine on your own. You have nothing to worry about." Her dark hair was the complete opposite of the rest of her family, and so Al couldn't help but see Astoria as the black sheep.

Her consoling didn't work, since Daphne continued to cry as she stuck her thumb in her mouth and clung to her mother's leg. Mrs. Greengrass looked down at her youngest daughter with contempt and tried to shake her off, but Daphne held on for dear life. Eventually, Mrs. Greengrass accepted Daphne's presence and tried to ignore her as she told Astoria, "Write to me as soon as you've been sorted. And remember, don't get caught speaking to any of those filthy Mud-bloods they've got there. That's why you'll need to be in Slytherin."

Astoria nodded as if obeying an order, but still asked nervously, "There aren't any Mud-bloods in Slytherin?" Al had never personally agreed with segregation based on blood status, but he didn't blame Astoria for doing so. That was how she'd been raised.

"Of course not!" said Mrs. Greengrass in a very high pitched voice. "Never have been, and there never will be." She was right. As far as Al knew, there hadn't ever been a Muggle-born sorted into Slytherin, not even following the Battle of Hogwarts. It was one of the few proofs out there that this war wasn't over yet, and that there was still room left to rebel.

Astoria was quiet upon hearing this from her mother. Though Al hadn't noticed before, she had her arms wrapped tightly around a book, and now she was clutching it like it was the only object she owned. That wasn't too far off from the truth either, since behind her there was a single suitcase, newly bought but small, and nothing else.

People were boarding the train now, but Astoria didn't budge anywhere near it. She had something on her mind, and eventually managed to ask her mother, though admittedly with her head down, "What if I'm not sorted into Slytherin?"

Al looked straight down at Astoria as if she had just read into his very soul. He remembered asking his father something so similar when he had been her age, on this very platform before this very train. And though Al had asked Harry in hopes that he wouldn't be put in Slytherin, he could tell by Astoria's shifting eyes that she didn't want to be in that particular house either.

"Oh, you will be," said Mrs. Greengrass confidently, leaning down ever so slightly to adjust Astoria's black robes. "It's your legacy."

And at that, just as the last memory had done, everything disappeared in a bed of black smoke and Al was placed into the memory's second part. Now, he was trying to keep his balance on the moving Hogwarts Express, his feet swaying atop the shifting floor of the main hallway.

Astoria was bouncing along in front of him, dragging her suitcase with her as she peered into one compartment after the next to try to find an empty seat. She didn't seem to know anyone, and of course she hadn't met her future friends yet. But then she and Al came to an open compartment with only two new students inside, and Astoria stopped upon seeing them.

She knocked on the side window sweetly and asked if she could join the ridiculously small Tonks and Charlie, both of whom Al now recognized immediately. They let her in without a word of protest, Charlie even standing up to take Astoria's suitcase and place it on the shelf above the booths, the sight of which made Astoria blush as she took a seat beside the Weasley boy.

"I'm Charlie Weasley," he said, shaking Astoria's hand as she introduced herself. Gesturing to the girl across from him, he added, "And that's Tonks. Just Tonks."

Astoria looked over at the other girl and smiled, but her mouth gaped open when Tonks's hair suddenly turned bright blue in the blink of an eye. "Wotcher, Greengrass! It's cool, eh?"

"Uh, yeah, it is," Astoria muttered shyly, and Al could sense how intimidated she was by the two kids she'd befriended.

"Tonks and I were just talking about which house we want to be in," said Charlie as he looked between Tonks and Astoria. "Anything but Slytherin, I say... can't tarnish the family name, after all." Al scoffed at Charlie's statement, for he hadn't tarnished anything. That family line wouldn't be tarnished for years to come, for it was Al who had broken the Weasley legacy.

"Yeah, same," commented Tonks. "Except that I would be tarnishing it." She and Charlie both laughed at that, and Astoria tried to do the same, looking to them and copying their motions because she didn't yet know when to act by herself.

The laughter subsided eventually, though, and Tonks was the first to notice Astoria's book, turning to her and asking, "What have you got there?"

Caught off guard, Astoria glanced down at the book and loosened her grip on it as she answered, "Oh, it's just a compilation of some stories I've always loved. Maybe you've heard of them? The Tales of Beedle the Bard." She said the title of the book as she showed its cover to Charlie and Tonks.

Charlie nodded and said, "Oh yeah, those are classics! I used to act out 'Babbity Rabbity and the Cackling Stump' with my brother when we were younger."

Tonks didn't seem so familiar with them, but still wanted to know more, saying to Astoria, "So, Story Girl, which one's your favorite?"

Astoria thought long and hard about her answer before responding, "Probably 'The Tale of the Three Brothers'. I've always loved that one."

Al couldn't stop himself before he was saying, "Yeah, me too." Harry had read him that story countless times when he was just a boy, and it had always been the one he'd request for once James and Lily were already asleep. He hadn't thought about the story in quite some time, probably not since he'd left for Hogwarts in his first year, but now he could remember every word of it.

The wand. He remembered a wand in the story – the most powerful wand in the world. It was passed down through killing, through murders, and the Master of Death had carved it for a Peverell brother from an ancient elder tree. And now, somehow, Al had it. It was all real, for the Elder Wand was currently sitting in his pocket. And if Astoria knew of the tale – if she remembered it – did that mean that she knew about Al's wand? Was that why she needed him so badly? Did she only want him for his power?

"My mother always told me that was a dangerous story," said Tonks, though Al was barely listening at this point. "She said it was just for arrogant wizards who wanted more than they deserved. She said that it reminded her of our family, which can't be good."

"Why not?" asked Astoria, confused by Tonks's comment. "What's so bad about them?"

Tonks looked at Astoria like she was insane, because there was no way in the world that Astoria hadn't heard of the Black family and all that they stood for. "They think that blood is the difference between good and bad."

Her cheeks red with shame, Astoria tried to understand Tonks as she asked, "If blood isn't the difference, what is?"

Tonks didn't blink once as her hair turned the same shade of black as Astoria's and she stated simply, "Choice."

The spinning, twisting, and flying came quickly and unexpectedly and Al opened his eyes to the same black he had been facing before. This time, Astoria was looking down at him, for she had heels that made her a few inches taller than Al, and the latter was still speechless from his recent revelation.

"What was all that?" He asked once he managed to catch his breath. He still felt dizzy, but it was different than usual. Normally, the world would spin around him, but now he felt as ifhe was the one spinning, because the world had stopped.

Astoria was waiting for further context, and so Al provided her with it. He didn't want to bring up the Elder Wand, because he didn't want to tell her more than she knew, but he did need some answers. "All these memories," he said, "You're so willing to let me in, and I suppose I want to know why. Why do you need me?"

Astoria laughed, but it was different than usual. Normally, her laugh was sinister and dangerous, but now it was lighthearted and friendly, because she didn't have to scare him anymore. "Isn't it obvious?" she asked rhetorically. "You remind me of myself when I was young – angry, confused, and so desperately wanting to be good when I was never meant to be."

Al couldn't explain what happened next. The hair on his arms stood up and he started shivering, because she was right. She was so right, and he'd been running for such a long time, and it was terrifying to know that he could stop now. Maybe that was why he ran out of the shack without saying anything to Astoria – maybe he needed to run one last time.

He went through the underground tunnel like a zombie, his feet leading him along because his mind couldn't keep up. All too soon, he was crawling out of the hole through the roots of the Whomping Willow and into an overcast sky. The dizziness wouldn't go away as he stood upright and turned his face to the clouds, waiting for the rain to pour over him.

But the rain never came. Instead, Al was hit in the stomach with a giant jolt of pain, all thanks to an enormous, prickly branch of the Whomping Willow. It flew him across the green and slightly down the hill, and Al was panting even before he landed in the dirt. He was too sore to avoid the next branch when it came to knock him in the gut, but just as he winced and closed his eyes, two arms were tugging at his own and pulling him out of the tree's reach.

"Bloody hell!" Al yelled as he turned onto his stomach and spewed blood from his mouth. The same arms that had pulled him away before were now trying to help him up, but he pushed them off adamantly.

He stood up all on his own eventually, only to find Scorpius standing in front of him with his hands in his pockets and concern etched across his forehead. "How'd you even find me out here?" Al asked as he wiped his mouth off. He was still grimacing from the pain in his stomach, and though he knew a hit like that would have been nothing to Scorpius, he didn't bother trying to cover up his low tolerance.

When Scorpius failed to respond, Al looked up at him from his crouched position and said, "You followed me, didn't you?"

Again, Scorpius was silent, and so Al rolled his eyes and hobbled away as quickly as he could manage, yelling, "Piss off!" as he went.

Because Al couldn't move very quickly thanks to his injury, Scorpius didn't have to follow him this time. He stayed where he was, just beside the stone circle that looked over the Whomping Willow on one side and Hagrid's Hut on the other, and shouted toward the bridge where Al was headed, "Why are you doing this?"

Albus stopped upon hearing the question and closed his eyes. He didn't want to get into this with anyone, but he especially didn't want to have this argument with Scorpius. No, heshouldn't have to have this argument with Scorpius. He shouldn't have to explain himself to Scorpius, because Scorpius should know why Al was doing all of this. He should know that so much of it was because of him.

Al turned around to fire back at Scorpius when the latter continued, more quietly this time, "This isn't you. You're not a bad person, Al."

Al laughed, and it was a laugh that wasn't very usual for him. It was sinister and dangerous rather than friendly and lighthearted, because he needed to scare Scorpius. "Oh yeah?" he asked with a shrug. "I wouldn't be so sure."

Sick of the self-pity, Scorpius flailed his arms in frustration and said, "Oh please, you're a better man than I'll ever be, and we both bloody well know it!"

"No!" Al yelled back, this time taking a few steps forward so that he could round on Scorpius. His stomach still hurt, everything still hurt, but for once he found himself ignoring the physical pain as his emotional pain took control. "No, I am not a better person than you, Scorpius. If you think I am, than you're far more naïve than I realized."

Scorpius could go on and on about how he'd come from a terrible family and had never been raised right, and how all that had turned him into this pathetic wizard who was stumbling through the magical world as he tried to keep himself together, but he had no idea what he was talking about. He had no idea that Al had stumbled more than he ever had.

"What are you talking about?" Scorpius asked. He wasn't firing back; he wasn't even trying to argue, really. He was just trying to understand.

Fine, then, thought Al. If Scorpius really didn't understand, then Al would help. He'd make him see what was in his head all the time. "What am I talking about?" he asked. "Hmm, let me see, do you remember our first day at Hogwarts?"

He had seen Scorpius on the platform at King's Cross, but it was on the train that the two had officially met, and it was later on in the Great Hall that they had been stuck together for the next seven years.

Of course Scorpius remembered, but he waited to hear Al's version of the memory anyway. So, Al continued, asking, "Do you remember when I sat on that stool?" Seeing Astoria with the same worries had brought it all back to Al, and now he couldn't get his own memory out of his head.

"Do you remember when that Sorting Hat yelled out 'SLYTHERIN' practically before it even touched my head?" screamed Al, his voice growing louder with every word. Harry had always told him the same thing Tonks had told Astoria, that choice was the differentiating factor between good and bad, but they'd both been wrong. Al had never been given the choice. The hat had chosen for him, not because Al's thoughts were swimming with wishes to be placed in the serpent house, but because no matter how much he wanted differently, he was meant to be in Slytherin. He was ambitious, driven, and power-hungry. Slytherin was where he belonged.

Al had paused for a moment to reminisce over that day, but now he looked at Scorpius with glossy eyes and asked, "Don't you remember?"

Scorpius walked right up to him and put a hand on each of Al's shoulders as he tried to meet his gaze to say seriously, "Al, that doesn't mean anything."

The punch was fast and impressive for a boy smaller and usually slower than Scorpius. It felt good for Al, though – it felt exciting. And it couldn't have been that bad for Scorpius, since he merely staggered back a few feet but didn't fall down or even start bleeding. It did make him listen, though, as Al fumed, "Yeah, says the kid who was nearly put in Gryffindor even after generations of Malfoys in Slytherin!"

Scorpius had been one of those few wizards who'd received a 'hat stall' while being sorted. It was relatively rare that the Sorting Hat would be so indecisive as to vacillate between two houses for an extended period of time, but Al had witnessed two of them in his year: Rose, between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, and Scorpius, between Gryffindor and Slytherin. But it was Scorpius's hat stall that Al always thought of, because he knew that if Scorpius had asked, the hat would have put him in Gryffindor, just like it had for Harry. It would have done so for Scorpius, but not for Al. There was never any question with Al.

That's what made him finally look into Scorpius's blood-shot eyes and say, "I'm not an idiot, Scorp. I've never been a good guy; I've only spent the last five and a half years trying to pretend I was! Now, I've finally realized that it's just not worth it."

Then he walked away, fighting through the pain as he made his way back to the castle and into the Great Hall for his Apparition lesson. Scorpius would be following him, he knew, but he didn't care. Anyway, he wouldn't be there for long.

The hall was already filled with other sixth years as Al opened the double doors with a single swing and strutted up to the visiting Apparition instructor. The man was short and had a scruffy beard beneath bug-like spectacles, and he stood still as Al approached him, just waiting to be spoken to by a Potter.

By the time Al opened his mouth, he could hear Scorpius's footsteps from behind him. The Malfoy had finally caught up, but it was too late. He and Al were over, done, because Al had let go. He knew what he was meant to do, who he was meant to be, and now it was time for him to go be it.

"I'd like to be dismissed from this class indefinitely," Al told the instructor. "I already know how to Apparate, and I can promise you that I will be perfectly safe when I do it."

The professor didn't get the chance to reply when Al added, "As a matter of fact, I'll demonstrate now, shall I?" Whenever these lessons took place, McGonagall had to release the protective charms that prevented students from Apparating within school walls, so Al figured that he could stop with the hula-hoop nonsense and try out something real.

He closed his eyes and thought of the Shrieking Shack before turning on the spot, disappearing with quite the exit and reappearing in Astoria's newfound lair.

"I thought you might return," she said to him from the windowsill, where she'd spread out her stack of files so that they circled the room atop the dark oak floorboards.

Albus didn't waste a moment before saying, "I'm all in. There's nothing stopping me now. So long as you keep me involved, I'll do whatever you want me to do." This was it. He wasn't going to feel guilty anymore. He was finally going to embrace the side of him that he'd always kept hidden. He was about to become the person he had been born to be.

"Good," Astoria said with a smile, still not looking up from her files. She had known all along that he would pledge his complete loyalty to her, and that was why she had been so patient. She was the first person who'd ever let him decide what he wanted on his own, without anyone trying to sway him one way or the other.

"Come over here," said Astoria with a hand gesture pointing to the files. "I've something to speak to you about."

Al did as he was told, coming around to Astoria and looking down at her trail of papers. Each file was marked with a name and a picture on the front cover, and Al soon realized that Astoria must have had a file for every witch and wizard in the country. With a glance at the one Astoria was transfixed on, Harry Potter's, Al asked her, "Did these come from the Auror office?" It would explain why she had needed access to the department so badly when she knew she wouldn't gain any real control over the Aurors themselves.

"Yes," Astoria confirmed. "With these, I know the blood status of everyone in England, as well as much more information that I'm sure will prove useful along the way."

She didn't sound very excited about the wealth of information she'd inherited, so Al asked, "What are you missing?"

"The children," she stated. "It seems as though the documents for all underage witches and wizards, even certain ones who are of age but haven't yet graduated, are kept at those young wizards' schools – in this case, Hogwarts."

So, she wasn't just there for him. Astoria always had an ulterior motive, but Al didn't like where this was going. "Look," he said, trying to get out of another spy job before he got caught and was dragged off to Azkaban. "I don't really think breaking into McGonagall's office again is a very good idea. She's already on to me, no doubt thanks to Scorpius."

"Oh, don't worry," Astoria brushed the suggestion aside. "I'm well aware of what risks shan't be repeated. But I don't need to actually acquire the files to have all the statuses. Plus, that would be rather boring, wouldn't it?"

Al was waiting for further explanation, since it had become quite clear that he was to be the main perpetrator of whatever task she wanted done. He was still confused when Astoria knelt down and pushed Harry's file away to reveal one for Hermione Weasley, which she handed Al before saying, "Open it."

After glancing at Astoria momentarily, Albus opened his own aunt's file and found a document describing all of Hermione's physical characteristics, pinned with a photo of what was possibly her most unique marking: the 'Mud-blood' scar that Bellatrix Lestrange had engraved in her, and that Astoria had made Hermione reveal at the recent attack.

"I'm picturing an entire school of scarred Mud-bloods," Astoria said in a rather wistful voice, as if talking through a lavish daydream. "I thought it might be an appropriate task for thepotions master."

Finally, Al understood. Astoria wanted to mark every last Muggle-born at Hogwarts, brand them all with a scar that would never fade away, not only so that she would know which of them to target, but also to draw attention to her own power. She'd been flying under the radar for the past year, but, much like Al, she was now ready to step out of hiding. And she would so with Al's help, or more specifically, the help of a potion that he would brew. What potion, or how he could possibly make such a thing, neither of them were sure of quite yet.

Still, they discussed the matter for a couple more hours, thinking through when and where it should be done so that it would be easy to administer but also obvious enough for Al to know who was receiving a mark, as well as how they would hide Al's involvement in the plan from McGonagall. They hadn't yet reached a conclusion when darkness engulfed the shack and let Al know that he should get back to the castle.

Before he left, they agreed to start meeting in a different place so as not to be found by Scorpius, deciding on the boathouse beside the Black Lake. Astoria also informed Al that Knox would be joining them starting next week to aid in the marking arrangements. Al was happy to hear it, for he actually enjoyed Rookie's company.

Al felt oddly comfortable about his standing in the Flock as he made his way back to his dormitory, skipping every meal of the day without even realizing it. He felt more like himself than he had in ages, and he wasn't bored anymore. He had things to look forward to, risks that he had yet to take, and it was exciting.

There weren't many students in the castle at this hour, except for a couple of straggler upperclassmen whose curfews hadn't yet passed. Because of this calming silence, Al walked through the Entrance Hall and down the steps to the dungeons in complete and utter peace. He almost expected somebody he didn't want to see leap out from the wings somewhere, just to make things difficult for him again. But no such thing occurred.

Al made it to the Slytherin common room without any interference and entered the room to find it empty but for the one person he was more than okay with seeing. He sat on the forest green couch beside Ilana, facing the sea-filled windows just as the giant squid swam by, and swiftly leaned forward and stole the potions book from out of her lap.

Ilana looked up as soon as it was gone, finding Al smirking from the other side of the sofa. "I need it back," he said with a shrug, but his words seemed to pique her interest.

"What for?" asked Ilana. They both knew Al had the book practically memorized by now, which was why he had felt comfortable loaning it to Ilana in the first place.

"Well," started Al, "I made up my mind, and it turns out that I'm going to need to brew a new potion if I want to stay on the same road."

Nodding, Ilana squinted her eyes and asked, "Moving on from the past?"

"Yeah. I'm ready for something new now."

Ilana looked back at him and let out a small chuckle through her thin smile. She had advised him against moving on, but she seemed to have accepted his decision all the while. Widening her smile, she said, "How exciting."

Intrigued by her comment because she was the only one who'd understood, Al whispered, "Yeah. It is." It was exciting to be living in this new world. It was exciting to disappear. It was exciting to let go, to float away, to turn on the spot. All he'd had to do was flip a switch, and now here he was, flying through the sky with nothing but the wind telling him where to go.

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