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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35. The Weasley Wilting

Are you ready? Chapter 31 marks the beginning of Part 4 of 'Blood of the Birds', otherwise known as the beginning of the end. This section will consist of fifteen chapters (not ten) that will alternate perspectives. I won't say any more now, except that this is a heavy chapter, but I actually loved writing it, so I hope you all enjoy!

 

One dreadful, foggy morning in early September, Rose Weasley woke to the sound of birds crying. She made herself take three deep breaths before she opened her eyes – the first to let her tears swell, the second to hold them still, and the third to push them back. The birds could cry all they wanted, but Rose Weasley would not cry. Not today.

When her eyes finally opened, they instinctively searched for that pure ice that had stared back at her all summer. Of course, her mind knew that Scorpius wouldn't be there, but her eyes had yet to be convinced. Eyes never did understand the difference between a blink and goodbye. That was why Rose had to tell herself all over again that it was just one day she and Scorpius would be spending apart. He'd left for Hogwarts the previous morning, and though Rose had every intention of joining him at school, the Potters had insisted that they wait until September 2nd to bury Rose's grandfather, Arthur.

It had been exactly a month since his death, which was usually much too long a time to wait for a funeral. But ever since Albus had disappeared on the same night Knox Rookwood had been found guilty for the murder, Harry and Ginny had made it their mission to find their youngest son and apologize so that they could bring him home and help him stand tall at Arthur's funeral. The rest of the Weasleys were empathetic to their cause, many of them concerned for Al's safety as well, so the Potters had asked to have until the first of the month in the hopes that they would find Al about to board the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9¾. When he hadn't shown, the train had gone on without him, just as Scorpius had gone on without Rose, and so too would the funeral.

Thinking about the empty space in her bed made Rose want to get out of it, so she quickly slid her bare feet onto the cold, wood-panelled floor and made up both sides of her bed, even though only one side truly needed it. Looking down at the hand-woven blanket that had been made out of the Weasley family's long-standing collection of Quidditch jerseys, Rose managed to stifle a laugh at her own thoughts. After all, Scorpius hadn't technically been allowed to sleep in Rose's room while staying with her family this summer. Ron had been stringent about that particular policy, but Scorpius had easily found his ways around it.

It had become the Malfoy boy's nightly routine to use the Vanishing Spell – a spell very few young witches and wizards could perform, but that Scorpius had mastered almost a year ago now – on himself to sneak out of the second floor guest room and quietly climb the stairs to Rose's attic. She'd usually be in bed already, but she'd never fall asleep without his arms around her. They had too much going on around them to ever consider going further than harmless snogging, but it wasn't the kisses Rose missed now anyway. It was the arms.

Before she could tell herself not to, Rose was crossing her own arms against her chest as she turned around and looked out the window. Her cardinals had already started flying south for the winter, but at least the sun was starting to come up. Rain was the last thing Rose wanted today, though not for the reasons most would expect. For most, rain would be the perfect backdrop for a funeral, but Rose had always loved the rain.

Pleased at the day's forecast, Rose uncrossed her arms so that she could grab the black dress that was ready and waiting on her wardrobe doorknob. Once fully zipped, she put on a pair of dull-looking flats, pinned the rebellious front strands of autumn-colored hair away from her face, took one last look in the mirror at the red patches under her eyes that were finally dimming into pink sunsets – finally, after months' worth of healing kisses from the boy who'd broken her in the first place – grabbed her wand in case of emergency, and started on the long trek to the kitchen.

She was careful to tiptoe down the two flights of stairs so as not to wake up Hugo, who was surely still asleep in his tiny and cramped room on the second floor. At least, Rose hopedhe was still asleep, since that would mean her real younger brother was beginning to resurface. A bigger part of her knew that she was just setting herself up for disappointment, though; Hugo would most likely never be able to sleep in again.

Pushing the thought aside just like she had with her tears because Hugo had plenty more reason to cry than she did, Rose marched into the kitchen and let her senses be overwhelmed by the soothing scent of freshly made raspberry scones. Her mother, Hermione, was just opening the oven as Rose's flats slipped over the threshold, and soon Rose was rushing to Hermione's side to help her take out the burning tray.

"It's okay, Rose; I've got it," Hermione shook her daughter's hands away before one more burning freckle was added to Rose's silky skin.

Rose was somewhat taken aback by Hermione's orders, though deep down she understood how idiotic she'd just been. Still, as she leaned against the counter and watched her mother rip all of the scones off their tray by hand and place them on a cooling rack, Rose couldn't help but feel useless. In fact, she hadn't been feeling much else as of late.

When Hermione was finished and turned toward Rose to grab the latest issue of the Daily Prophet that was sitting by Rose's hand, the latter handed Hermione the newspaper as she shot her eyes to the floor and mumbled, "I'm sorry. I was being stupid."

As per usual, Hermione understood what Rose was feeling before Rose did herself, and she ignored her morning staple momentarily to look at Rose with her big brown eyes and tell her, "I know you think you should be doing something, but you're already doing it. You're here; that's all they need."

"They're not ready for this, Mum," Rose argued as her eyes met Hermione's. Her mother was wearing a dress far more beautiful than Rose's, with a layer of flowery lace covering a slip and tied at the waist with a wilting, black bow. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun, making Rose think that now no one would have any reason to think that the two of them were related. But then Rose looked at the lack of wrinkles around Hermione's eyes, and she knew that at least for today, they had something in common that was far more important than their bushy hair: today, they were going to be strong for the two men in their family who desperately needed them to be.

Hermione didn't have the chance to respond before one of those men came in through the front door, ducked below the opening to the kitchen so that he wouldn't knock his head on the molding, and walked straight to the sink without a word of acknowledgement to his favorite girls. With one worried glance at each other, Rose and Hermione decided not to address Ron either, but they both watched him closely as he plunged his hands under the running water and scrubbed the wads of grease off his fingers with the fervor of an Unforgivable Curse.

Rose still didn't know where the grease was coming from, though her father had been routinely washing it off himself for nearly two weeks. It was mesmerizing to watch his enormous hands shake uncontrollably while the black rushed out of him like it was bleeding from his suit, and Rose was so transfixed on those hands and that black that she didn't even see Hermione walking toward her husband until her hands were holding his, stopping the water from flowing through their locked fingers and ceasing the shaking that had been in perfect time with Ron's racing heart. Suddenly, they were still.

"We're going to be late," came a monotonous voice from the adjacent hallway. It was quite possibly the only voice that could break up Ron and Hermione's moment, since Hugo was the only person whose heart was beating faster than their own.

Hugo was out the front door without another word, Hermione racing after him so that she could follow him up the driveway but only be a few paces behind. Ron, on the other hand, had yet to move, at least not until he picked up Hermione's newspaper and looked down at its front page – one half adorned with a Weasley family portrait and a gorgeous obituary written by Hermione herself, the other with its permanent 'Missing' notice for Albus Severus Potter.

"He's still gone?" asked Ron.

"Yeah," Rose answered sadly.

"Good." Rose had lost plenty of faith in Al over the last year, but a part of her had still hoped that he'd come back, if not for his family then at least for her, or for Scorpius. Ron hadn't shared such hope, even after Al had been proven innocent, and Rose was beginning to think that Ron was on the better track.

At that, Ron found the courage to walk outside, Rose keeping close to him as they made their way into the tiny town of Ottery St. Catchpole, where the main road led past a series of charming, magical shops until it came to the gray-stoned church at its dead end. Normally, the church was silent and empty – a sacred building that was comforting to have and to look at every now and then, but that nobody ever used. Today, however, it was the exact opposite.

Reporters from the Ministry of Magic were bustling around the building's perimeter, the only thing stopping them from coming closer being the extensive protective spells lining the property and the horde of young Aurors at every double door and stained-glass window. By now, Ron and Rose had caught up with Hermione and Hugo, the four of them stacked up at the bottom of the church steps as they waited to be inspected.

Mercy Golding, the newest appointed Auror and member of the Order of the Phoenix's core alliance, was the one to question Rose and her family, addressing each of them and asking highly specific questions that she already had the answers to in order to assure their true identities. Hermione went first, facing the girl with the long legs that were shining as bright as her blonde hair beneath the sunlight, and saying something about her Muggle parents' dental work. Then came Hugo, who responded to a question about the color of Nigel Creevey's eyes, not hesitating in the slightest to use the words brilliant and blue. All Ron had to do was show Mercy the resulting scars of the Unbreakable Vow he'd made with Astoria last Christmas, since any transitory scar was never included in Polyjuice Potion disguises.

Once it was Rose's turn, she quickly decided that like Ron, she didn't want to be bombarded with some question that Mercy Golding, of all people, had designed for her. Instead, she spoke before Mercy could turn the page of her notes, stating with the utmost certainty, "Scorpius Malfoy has a single birthmark that sits right below his left ear and is in the shape of a snowflake."

Mercy looked down at Rose (she was ridiculously tall in her six-inch heels) with eyes beady from annoyance as she said condescendingly, "I'm sorry Rose, but that sounds an awful lot like something Astoria would know."

Laughing at Mercy's naiveté, Rose replied, "No, she wouldn't." Then she walked right past Mercy and joined her family at the top of the church steps, smiling to herself for taking charge and one-upping the girl who had somehow weaseled her way in to the Order before Rose had turned seventeen and could have her own spot.

Unfortunately, Rose's smile disappeared as soon as she felt the weakening hold of her cousin, Lucy, around her shoulders. Lucy's hair, which was the same color as her dress, was blowing directly past its headband and into Rose's face, but it was the heavy blubbering that really changed Rose's current disposition. She didn't mind comforting her best female friend, but she was admittedly pleased when the Scamander family arrived and Lorcan took on the task of holding his girlfriend.

The Scamanders were neighbors of the Burrow, so they had kindly agreed to attend the funeral. Plus, Lucy clearly needed Lorcan to be there for her, though both Rose and Hugo couldn't help but stare at the couple with envy, wishing each of their own loved ones could be here too. But a distraction came after Ron had finished greeting his older brother and Lucy's father, Percy, when he turned to old schoolmate Luna and hugged her like they'd always seen eye to eye, when really they never had.

While both Ron and Hermione were busy talking with Luna, and as Hugo slipped past the crowd and retreated into the dark confines of the church, Rose was left with no one to face but Lysander. The boy was even more handsome now than he'd been at his graduation last spring, his light green eyes the last speck of life in an already dying fall, and his smile was just as obnoxiously charming as Rose remembered it to be.

"You okay?" he asked as he took a step toward the girl he'd once chased after like no other, and had subsequently been rejected by like no other.

Rose actually had to think about her answer for a minute, since she wasn't used to being the object of concern these days. At times like these, she was always fine; someone had to be. Then again, Lysander had been born a much better liar than Rose, so she decided not to even attempt to lie to him.

"I will be."

"Yeah," said Lysander as if he was agreeing to an already defined plan. With his hands stuffed in his pockets just so that he wouldn't be tempted to touch her, he added, "You will be."

Rose and Lysander's eye contact was broken when the reporters started flashing their massive cameras as they ran into the street where a few Apparition pops had just sounded. Turning toward the noise, Rose saw Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Minister for Magic and an old friend of Arthur's, arriving at the same time as new widow, Molly Weasley herself, carried along the street by her visiting son, Charlie. Before Rose could run toward her to shove the paparazzi away, Ron and Percy were already by their mother's side and got past Mercy's interrogation quickly so that they could lead the slouched-over Molly inside.

Everyone else – Hermione and Luna, Lorcan and Lucy, Audrey and the younger Molly – followed the brigade of brothers shortly afterward, leaving Rose and Lysander alone on the steps as they waited for the one person either of them refused to enter the church without. With each pop they heard, they stretched their neck overs the crowd that was still flocked around Shacklebolt in anticipation of seeing James, but the Potters ended up being the last group to arrive.

Before them came Bill, Fleur, and Louis with the Lupins and Dominique, Victoire looking peaked and understandably nervous for what she was about to walk into, and baby Remy confused and tired from what Rose assumed to be another long night as a werewolf toddler. The final Weasley son arrived next, Angelina, Fred, and Roxanne all keeping close watch over George, who still looked absent even upon being fashionably late. A church was clearly the last place George Weasley wanted to be right now. After all, churches were filled with memories and mirrors, which for George showed a whole lot more than just a reflection.

When the Potters did finally arrive, Kingsley was careful to distract the reporters as best he could so that they wouldn't bombard Harry with questions about Al, but getting past Mercy was another story. Harry and Ginny, still grieving and guilty for what they'd accused of their own son, were barely listening to Mercy's questions of them, while Lily was too embarrassed to face the only girl who had ever been more popular than she was, at least until her legacy as Hogwarts Queen had been squandered by a single bite mark.

Lily, who had always been a natural and obvious beauty, was barely recognizable even to Rose. Last night had marked Lily's second full moon as a werewolf, and it seemed to Rose like her younger cousin wasn't adjusting very well to her other half. In the few glimpses that Rose caught in between Lily's hiding or cowering, she could see the skin around Lily's eyes that was the same brown color as her irises, the long, jagged scars across her cheeks that perfectly matched her oddly ratty hair, and the limp in her step that made her hobble clumsily. Still, none of that was anywhere near as evident as her newfound fearful mannerisms: shoulders hunched instead of broad, chin down instead of up, palms sweaty instead of fisted. Much like what was happening to Hugo, Lily had become a completely different person over the past four weeks.

It must have been her first time out of Godric's Hollow since her transformation, because James too was watching her as if he hadn't seen her in a year. When he noticed how uncomfortable she was as she stood behind their parents, he put a hand on Lily's shoulder and led her past Mercy, glaring contemptuously at his ex-girlfriend along the way. As the two came closer, Rose and Lysander silently agreed which of their friends to look after, and it seemed as if Lysander understood that Rose needed James far more than he did.

Though Lily was still quiet and self-conscious, she let Lysander walk inside with her after he gave a friendly hug to his best mate, and finally Rose was able to let herself feel the things she'd been hiding from her father and brother for so long. James was the one person other than Scorpius or Al whom Rose felt vulnerable around, in the best possible way.

The cousins didn't say a word to each other before they were locked in a tight embrace, for James had been too busy looking after Lily all month for Rose to see much of him. Before that, he'd been shacked up with Lysander in Wales so that he could have a shorter commute to Quidditch practices with the Montrose Magpies, but a mysterious injury to his shoulder had taken him off the team at the beginning of August. Now, though, he seemed to be getting better, since his hold around Rose was stronger than it had ever been.

"It's going to be all right," he whispered in her ear as they slowly broke apart. Then he took both of her hands in his and said, "We don't have anything to fear."

"But they do," Rose told James worriedly. Neither of them would be speaking at the funeral, but five of their family members would be, and Rose was convinced that not a single one would be able to handle the pressure.

James didn't respond, but only sighed as he twirled the ring Rose was wearing around her finger. The gesture made her flinch, since it was something only Scorpius would ever do, causing her to take a step back and hold her hands at her side. Luckily, James didn't have time to get offended, because at that moment Shacklebolt came striding up the stairs and told them it was time to get started. The Minister would be delivering the welcome speech, so Rose and James took it upon themselves to follow him inside as Mercy shut the doors behind them.

The church was the perfect size to fit the rather large Weasley family and a few of their closest friends, with only seven rows of pews that could fit five or six people each. In the front row sat Molly in the center of her six grown children, along with one empty spot meant to commemorate the child she'd already lost. Behind them were all of the Weasley in-laws: Fleur, Audrey, Angelina, Hermione, and Harry. The middle rows were filled with Arthur's grandchildren: Bill and Fleur's clan in the third row; Molly, Fred, and Roxanne in the fourth with Lucy and Lorcan; and Lysander, Lily, and Hugo waiting for Rose and James to join them in the fifth. The last two rows were reserved for Luna and other family friends, as well as some Ministry officials that had worked with Arthur before he'd become a professor at Hogwarts.

The second Rose and James sat down, Shacklebolt stood at a podium in the front of the church – behind which Saint Catchpole himself was stepping off his horse in the colorful glass absconded with light – and addressed the audience. "Today," he said as his purple robes magically turned black, "We gather not to grieve, but to celebrate. We celebrate not what we lost, but what we had. We had not just a man, but a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend. We celebrate not death, but life."

Then he walked around the podium and toward the center of the front row, where he held out his hand for Molly to take. She would be presenting the first eulogy, but as she batted away the helping hands of Percy and George, it took all of her might to make it to the podium. Holding on to it for dear life, she twisted her body so that her back faced the town founder, but still no words came out.

Everyone was silent as they waited a full three minutes for the family matriarch to open her mouth, but her lips were too dry to separate. Her skin was the color of a new father's mistake for yellow but was actually a sickly green, and her grey hair was static like pine needles in the middle of winter. As Rose looked at Molly from her seat toward the back, she didn't see her grandmother anymore, but rather had one simple thought on her mind: this was what a widow looked like.

The men in the front all seemed to have the same thought at the same time as Rose, standing from their pew suddenly in an attempt to rescue Molly until they were stopped by Harry. He was already half-way to the front, and soon his arm was around the waist of the woman who had raised him when no one had asked her to, holding her steady as he said everything that he knew Molly would have said herself if she wasn't so hysterical.

"I know that I'm not exactly an original member of the Weasley family," started Harry as his brothers-in-law all sat back down. Without their blocking backs in the way, Rose could see Harry now, and she loathed to look at him because of just how much he looked like Al, or rather how much Al looked like him.

"I know that I'm not technically one of you," Harry continued. "And I suppose I never truly realized just how little I fit in until my own son informed me of how he felt in our family – like a black sheep, he said. Now, all you have to do is take one look at me and one look at yourselves to know that I'm the most literal black sheep you've ever seen, standing here in a field of fire."

Rose giggled at that, as did the majority of her cousins. Harry had her full attention by now, so she kept her eyes locked on his spectacles and lightning-bolt scar as he added, "But Mr. Weasley... Dad, well he never seemed to care about any of that. He didn't even care about my prophecy. To him, I was simply a stray that needed a home, and that was exactly what he gave me. I ended up doing the same after Remus Lupin asked me to be the godfather of his son, Teddy. But there was something else that Dad taught me – something I was so oblivious to that I never was successful in appointing it to my own life.

"Before I even realized what it meant in this world to be born and raised by Muggles, Dad taught me that Muggles were just as fascinating and important as witches and wizards. He instilled this belief in me so heavily that I never felt even remotely curious to see things from the other side. I never considered giving in to the power of my enemy, and I have Arthur Weasley to thank for that. I just wish that Albus could be here today, and more than anything I wish that he could say the same about me."

At that, it was Molly's turn to hold Harry. She whispered something in his ear as soon as he finished speaking that Rose could only assume was a thank you, and then they were both leaning on each other as they returned to their seats, Harry taking the extra room that Charlie made for him so that he could be next to Ginny.

As Charlie got himself situated, Rose took the intermission to check on James, who looked remarkably calm considering what Harry had just talked about regarding Al. Then she looked at Lily, who had her knees to her chest in a fetal position as if she desperately needed to be held, but didn't trust anyone enough to hold her. Then there was Hugo, who was as difficult to read as he'd been this morning, his posture straight and perfect to contrast his disheveled shirt and crooked tie.

The last thing Rose wanted to do was look away from her brother, but she did just that when Charlie, the second eldest Weasley son who'd traveled all the way from Romania to look after Molly so that none of his brothers had to leave their own families, began to speak. Rose didn't know this uncle very well, but Ron had told her plenty of stories about his Quidditch records and dragon sanctuary, so she was curious to hear what he would have to say.

Still, she wasn't anywhere near as curious as James appeared to be, for he was soon at the edge of his seat, his eyes set on those expressive ones of Charlie's, and even his cheeks looked slightly flushed as Charlie said, "Before most of my brothers even existed, and long before our pesky little sister joined in on the fun, I think I might have been Dad's favorite."

Charlie's voice was light and airy – a calm breeze that was much needed on this sunny day – but Rose could still sense the sadness in his tone, like he was the finest violin that just so happened to have one string out of tune. Such was evident as he continued with, "No offense, Bill, but I was always more trouble than you were even when you tried to make a mess. And Dad loved trouble.

"I remember this one time – I must have been three years old, since Mum was always on bed rest trying to keep the unborn baby Percy from kicking his way into the world too promptly for his own good – I took my pyromaniac tendencies to a whole new level. Somehow, I managed to set the entire kitchen on fire, and of course it was good ol' Bill who saved me from the flames. But since Mum was too busy to give me a decent punishment, Dad had to become the family's new martinet, a role he most definitely hadn't ever had any intention of playing. A few hours after the fire was put out, he walked right up to me and said, 'Son, don't ever do that again. But when you do, make sure you do it as far away from your mother as possible.'

"Years later, I moved to Romania so that I could keep playing with fire without upsetting my mother, and I suppose now I'd just like to say that I'm really glad I listened to my dad. I mean, here I am, away from the dragons and back with my family again, and I can look at my siblings and see all of the fires you've put out while I've been gone. I'm really proud of the trouble you've all managed to stay away from, and I think I can speak for Dad when I say that, because after all, I was his favorite."

Nearly everyone in the church was crying by the time Charlie finished, but it wasn't the kind of crying they'd been doing all day. These tears came with smiles. James even went so far as to clap for Charlie, calling Rose's attention to him yet again. She assumed that James's sudden interest in Charlie was simply due to their mutual talents in Quidditch, however, in order to make herself look back toward the front in anticipation of the next eulogy, which happened to be one of the two she was most anxious for.

Just like his mother had done before, Ron tried to get up on his own, but he seemed to realize before everyone else did that he wouldn't be able to do this alone. Charlie hadn't been here in years, and he also hadn't been there when Ron and Harry had found Arthur's body in the basement of the Rookwood house. Charlie had done this alone, the same way he did everything, but Ron wasn't like that. He could do anything, but only if one particular person was holding his hand while he did it.

Rose doubted that she'd ever felt prouder of her father than she did the moment she saw him turn around to find Hermione and ask for her help. Together, her parents looked out on what was left of their family with two pairs of opposite eyes that somehow saw the same thing as Hermione urged Ron to muster up enough confidence to speak.

After clearing his throat, Ron said with his head hanging down and his hair falling into his eyes, "So, everybody's been saying these really beautiful things, which is why this whole time I've been sitting there wondering why I was even asked to deliver this speech today. Why me? I'm not a good writer or speaker, and sometimes I'm not even convinced that I was all that good of a son." With a squeeze from Hermione's hand, he picked his head up and said with a continuous nod, "But if there's one thing I have ever been good at, I suppose it'd be chess.

"I don't actually remember learning how to play chess, but I do remember every game I've ever won. I remember beating Fred and George first, I think just because they couldn't sit still long enough to make a single move. I beat Charlie and Ginny without any problems as well, and soon I could even win against Bill and Percy. When I got to Hogwarts, I had two new opponents, but Harry was rubbish and 'Mione never did like the violence of wizard's chess. So, I beat them too. The only person I never managed to beat was Dad.

"He might hate me for saying this, because I know he told everyone that he'd lost, but the truth is that he won. He always won, until the day he died. That day was also the first day I felt like somebody else had beaten me at my own game, and I hated that feeling. I hate being second best. So, I just keep trying to think about what Dad would say to me right now, and I think he'd tell me that that loss didn't really count, just like the time he beat me before. I think he'd want me to stand here and say that I want a re-match. I want to play again, and this time I'm not going to lose. I can't lose, because Dad was the only one who could ever beat me."

This time, the reaction was less cheerful with remembrance and more vengeful with determination. All this time, Rose had thought Ron was defeated, but his words were enough to make her see things clearly. After all, he hadn't been sulking around the house like Hugo had; he'd been coming inside early every morning with proof of a full day's work already running through his fingers. He was only glad that Al was still missing because he knew that he wouldn't be able to hold back from killing him if he ever saw the kid again. Ron was just as strong as he'd always been, if not stronger; he was just waiting for the perfect moment to show it off.

Victoire was the next speaker, and she looked nearly as green as Molly had before Harry had held her steady. She, like many of the speakers so far, hadn't volunteered for the position, but had taken on the responsibility because of her being the eldest of the Weasley grandchildren. But as her skin tinted in the way that her hair might be stained from chlorine, Rose began to wonder if maybe she should have volunteered so as this situation could have been avoided.

Rose's worry subsided, though, when Victoire spoke with the steadiest voice thus far, her high pitch smooth and eloquent from hours of preparation as words started to flow from her glossy lips. "A month ago, I lost my daughter. I can't explain how it happened... it just did. I turned around for a second and she was gone. It was unexpected and it was terrifying, and at the time I was convinced that it was my fault. I think that many of us here today feel the same way about what happened to my grandfather. But, you see, the truth of the matter is that his death wasn't our fault. We turned around for a second and he was gone, and now everything is unexpected and terrifying, but it isn't impossible.

"Losing a family member is just like gaining one: everything that happened before seems meaningless, because now they are all you ever think about, and that never stops. But after a while, you get used to the crying, whether it's coming from a screaming baby or from yourself. You learn how to push through it, and regardless of how hard you try not to, you turn around. You turn around, because you don't always lose something; most of the time, you find it. I found my daughter the same day I lost her, and the day after that I found out that I was pregnant again. Granted, it was unexpected and now I'm terrified, but I think it's also a miracle, and miracles are what make me believe that anything is possible."

Most everyone was shocked by Victoire's announcement, since only Teddy and Dominique had known of the news beforehand. Somehow, though, it felt right that the Weasley family would be gaining a new member, even if Teddy and Victoire hadn't intended to have more children since their first had turned out to be a werewolf. The Lupins would deal with the implications of their unfortunate set of genes when and if they had to, but for now their growing baby was nothing more than the promise of spring in an already dying fall.

Rose tried to hold on to that hope as Hugo shimmied past her in their pew and walked up to the podium. He was the last speaker of the ceremony, partly because he was the youngest one to have prepared a eulogy and partly because he had felt the greatest impact from Arthur over the course of the past two years. Arthur had been the one Hugo had gone to when he'd first started questioning his feelings for Nigel, and it had been Arthur who'd supported him through his entire coming out process.

Trying not to let her whole body shake the way Ron's hands had that morning, Rose told herself to be confident for her brother as he said with a voice as squeaky as a rubber duck, "I hate the expression 'coming out of the closet'." Laughing in the least comfortable way, Hugo's head – the head adorned with a face that Rose was literally watching grow older, more tired, and more decrepit with every day that went by – turned to the side so that his eyes were set on the end of the east-facing wall and added, "Look there, that's a closet. You think if I go inside and come right back out, I'll suddenly know who I am?"

Rose's concern was increasing with every word that the normally hyper and happy Hugo said, but she made herself stay seated as he went on with, "I used to ask Granddad that all the time, and he would always say to me, 'Maybe. Maybe you just don't know you the way I do.' So, I listened to him. I went into a closet and then I came out, and for a while it worked. For a while, I knew who I was, the way he always had."

Was this really happening? Was Hugo really okay? Was his speech really going to be a moving and impactful string of thoughts the way everyone else's had? That was what Rose was wondering and praying for at the same time, though her prayers took a turn for the worse after Hugo took a pause and as he addressed his family with fresh streaks of tears.

"Then he died. And let's just all face the facts here: he's not going to be around to take in any more strays, or to set the kitchen on fire, or to beat my dad at chess, or to see his next great-grandchild be born." At this point, Rose wasn't the only one in the church who looked concerned, but she was one of the few who wasn't personally offended. That is, until Hugo added, "And stop trying to sugar coat everything, because his death was our fault. I mean, my own sister had an idea of where he was being held captive, but she didn't say a word about it until it was too late! Uncle Harry went after a false lead based off the word of the Auror he'd been mentoring for a measly month, and don't even get me started onpoor Cousin Al! Because I don't care if he wasn't the one to do it himself; our grandfather's blood will always be on his hands!"

All the energy Hugo had been holding back this month was suddenly boiling to the surface, making him speak so quickly and harshly that he was sending spit across the podium and his finger was waving in the air, pointing at arbitrary places but causing very particular people to stand up in revolt. Harry was first, along with Ron and Hermione, and then waves of spectators were on their feet and protesting. Rose, who refused to stand herself or give in to the mob mentality that she knew wouldn't help anyone, most especially her brother, could just barely make out Hugo's last words before he stormed down the aisle and out the building.

"So, maybe Granddad was right after all," he said, seemingly ignoring the retaliation. "Maybe he was the only one who really knew any of us, and maybe he did teach me how to know myself better than I did before. But you? Do any of you know who you are anymore? Because I sure as bloody hell don't."

He walked calmly out of the church like he was heading nonchalantly for the burial portion of today's festivities, but soon Ron and Hermione were running after him and James was ushering everyone out in slow movements. Meanwhile, Rose just sat there, watching the confusion settle in on everyone's faces while she wondered to herself why she wasn't even the least bit surprised.

She was so intensely caught up in her own thoughts that she barely realized it when she was the last person still inside, James her only company as he stood by the door that was finally swinging closed. Then he was sitting beside her, staring patiently at her face, which was pointed straight ahead with whatever was the opposite of shock... boredom, maybe, or just blindness.

It was a while before Rose spoke, but James wasn't in a hurry. He was ready and waiting when she said with the same expression she'd had plastered on her face since Hugo had disappeared, "What do you do when things are so bad and so internalized that there's nothing left to do?"

James took a deep breath as he turned his head so that it paralleled Rose's, rubbed his glass-cut shoulder, widened his eyes, and answered, "Well, you cry."

And that was all Rose needed: permission. Soon, she was weeping into the crook of James's neck and he was strong enough to hold her up and she was strong enough to break down. For the first time all summer, she wasn't ashamed of her tears, either. She knew that they were no longer a sign of weakness; they were simply a sign of healing.

Once the sobs turned into hiccoughed breathing, and as Rose found herself listening to the steady creaking of the closet door Hugo had pointed to earlier, she confessed to James, "I don't know how to help anymore, but I don't want to give up on him either."

James didn't need her to elaborate to know that she was talking about Hugo, and of course he understood exactly what she meant. He had tried to help Al all of last year, but Al had repeatedly turned his brother away. But maybe that was the problem: maybe it wasn't sibling help that Al or Hugo needed. Maybe what they needed was the chance to finally step out of their siblings' shadows.

This must have been what James was thinking when he told Rose excitedly, "I think I have an idea."

Rose didn't respond before James began to suggest, "Have him try out for the Quidditch team this year."

Trying not to roll her eyes at the idea, Rose sighed and said in the most considerate tone she could manage, "I don't think that would work, James. I mean, you saw what happened last year." It was true that Hugo had always dreamed of playing Quidditch, his eyes locked on Gryffindor's Beater position, but this past season he'd gone through a horrendous try-out and had lost the coveted spot to none other than Nigel Creevey, his best friend and secret crush. Luckily, things had worked out between the lovebirds eventually, but it had ruined any hope Hugo had ever had of becoming the Quidditch star that could make his father proud.

"Sure," James agreed, though he clearly had a counterargument coming. "But this year, he has so much more to prove to himself. He knows what it feels like to lose somebody now, and he's probably going to keep being reminded of that feeling for the rest of his life, because this isn't the end. A lot more people are going to die before this war is over, and Hugo seems to understand that better than anybody. And believe me, there's nothing more powerful than feeling like you've made your lost loved ones proud."

Rose gave the suggestion some serious thought, since she was after all this year's captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. But most of what she was thinking wasn't really about Quidditch at all, because James had been talking about much more than just the game he missed. That was why Rose asked him in a manner disguised as joking, "And when, may I ask, did you suddenly age twenty years, oh wise one?"

James laughed as he stood up, ignored her question as if it had been rhetorical, and asked Rose, "Want to go for a walk?"

"Don't you think we should be heading to the grave site?" responded Rose. "I mean, people will probably be wondering where we are."

With his eyes squinting at the closet door that somehow seemed to be getting louder and louder as if being banged against from the inside, James said almost sneeringly, "Like I said, Rose, a lot more people are going to die before the year's out. What's the difference if we miss one burial when there are bound to be a hundred more?"

Rose was taken aback by James's words – both literally and figuratively, her neck stretching backward in disgust and her thoughts running circles through all the memories she shared with this boy. It was one thing for him to be pragmatic about the imminent war, but now he was just being cynical, and James was hardly ever cynical. Normally, that was Al's job.

Soon, Rose's arms were shivering as she asked, "James, what is going on with you?"

Laughing again, this time with an obviously sinister hitch in the middle, James answered, "A whole lot more than you know." Then he slowly turned back around as Rose stood from her seat, and she quickly became aware of the skin on James's face becoming paler, his hair growing longer and darker, his eyebrows reshaping themselves into well-trimmed crescent moons. Before Rose could completely comprehend what was happening, he was a she and suddenly all Rose saw were the ice blue eyes she'd been hopelessly missing since that morning.

"Astoria," Rose whispered, more for herself than for the woman standing before her, still wearing James's suit that was far too baggy for her and pulling a thin, white wand from its pocket. It was odd to see Astoria out of her heels, but Rose still somehow felt as though Scorpius's mother was towering over her, even as her own hand clasped the wand she'd had buried behind her zipper.

"Rose," Astoria reciprocated with a smile the size of the Great Wall of China, "The Weasley who can be touched."

The Unbreakable Vow Astoria had made with Ron stated that Hermione and Hugo couldn't be harmed by any member of the Forbidden Flock so long as Astoria maintained the title of Head Auror, which really didn't anything more than gaining access to the department's old files. All of the Aurors had gone underground so that they could keep training without any of Astoria's input, but the files were all Astoria had wanted anyway. Or so Rose thought, until she looked at Astoria now and wondered if it had been the evil witch's plan all along to leave Rose out of her protection order.

Knowing that Astoria wasn't one to attack without warning, however, Rose tried to remain unthreatening by continuing to hide her wand as she inched inconspicuously closer to the double doors at the front of the empty church. This worked well, since Astoria seemed to have plenty to talk about while Rose silently thought up a plan.

"And it was just too easy to be Mr. James Sirius," Astoria drawled on in arrogance. "Too easy to get past that vapid veela who thinks she's saving the world just because she was too fearful to approach an ex-lover, too easy to trap you inside after your little brother drew everyone else out, and far too easy to have you convinced that I was your cousin just by speaking incessantly of nothing but Quidditch."

Rose didn't want to listen to Astoria's nonsense, but she couldn't help herself. The whole lie had been right in front of her this whole time, from the abnormal touching, to the obsession with Charlie, to the sage advice. But Rose had been too concerned for everybody else to pay attention to her own instincts, and she had let Astoria hold her and comforther, and now all she wanted to do was blow her to pieces.

Trying to hold back her anger, because anger never did become Rose, she decided to make a run for it. It was naïve and stupid and she knew it, but she at least wanted to give it a try. She could hear Astoria's childish laughter all the way up until her face was smacked against the front door window, her ring clanking against the doorknob as she twisted it in desperation.

"You really think I would forget to lock the doors?" Astoria yelled as if she was offended by Rose's underestimation of her. But as Rose's anger increased and she found herself reaching for her wand yet again, Astoria said the one thing that was stopping Rose from declaring war right here and now. "Let us not be hasty now, Ms. Weasley. Remember, you won't be of age until the end of the month."

It wasn't as if the Ministry would expel Rose from Hogwarts just for defending herself, even if she wasn't allowed to use magic outside of the designated schoolyear, but Rose didn't want to risk putting her whole family through a trial or even prolonging her return to Hogwarts. After all, that was where Scorpius was, and so that was the only place Rose wanted to be. She wouldn't risk being separated from him again unless she had absolutely no other choice.

She had nearly reached such a conclusion when she leaned against the door in defeat, rested her forehead against the glass, and suddenly saw a flash of black that didn't fit in with the surrounding orange trees or blue skies. Soon, the black was coming closer, and then there was green too, Albus staring at Rose through the window and making her lips tremble with a mixture of love and hate.

Rose had expected that a portion of the Forbidden Flock may have been guarding the church entrance now that the Weasley family had led the Aurors into the graveyard, but she hadn't considered that Al might be one of them. Thinking back now, Astoria must have used him to gain access to James's hair and the Polyjuice Potion she'd used to impersonate him, but there was something inside of Rose – some tethering strand from their intersecting childhoods – that made it impossible for her to see Al as anyone but her absolute favorite cousin.

As Rose looked at the eyes staring through the glass and debated who this particular Al was, she heard Astoria's footsteps growing closer. She was running out of time, but she was also out of options. It was the moment she realized this that she looked to Al and did what her father had done right before speaking his eulogy. She silently told her lips to stop trembling and mouthed the words, help me.

Al, who was paler and scrawnier than usual, contemplated Rose's request for a short eternity. He looked just as scared as she did, caught between who he thought he was and who Rose knew him to be. But when he saw the tears welling in her eyes, not realizing that this time she was crying on purpose, he jerked his head to the right and vanished from the window just after mouthing back to her, the closet.

As soon as Al was gone, Rose shot her eyes to the side so that she could see Astoria approaching within her peripheral vision. Astoria was coming from the west, and it was that grating closet on the east side that Al wanted Rose to go to, so as soon as she steadied her heartbeat as best she could, she lunged away from Astoria's outstretched hands and sprinted for the back of the church.

But it turned out that Astoria's reflexes were just as quick as Rose's, since she was blowing up pews and windows in perfect timing with Rose's path. Rose just barely made it through the flying debris, her back earning a few stinging gashes along the way, but it was all worth it when she saw the doorknob shining through the smoke.

She was just about to turn it when Astoria screamed, "INCARCEROUS!"

Rose had less than a millisecond to prepare for the ropes that came out of nowhere and were suddenly wrapping themselves around her ankles and pulling her to the ground. But as her screams echoed against the marble floor, somebody managed to hear her.

Still fighting against the ropes that were pulling her in every possible direction, Rose stretched her right arm as far as it could go, but she wasn't able to reach the doorknob from her position on the floor. It was when her hand fell to the ground for the third time that something far finer than a rope grabbed on to it. They were four long fingers that had curled under the door, and this time they weren't trying to play with Rose's ring. Instead, they went straight for her wrist, and only a true Quidditch player would know to lock wrists when catching a falling teammate, because it was the only way to guarantee that neither player slipped away from the other.

Realizing this, Rose went still for a moment as she used her free hand to grab the wand from her back, cut through a few thin lines of rope that wouldn't need magic so much as stabbing, and then sent the piece of wood rolling across the floor and into the hands of the real James Sirius Potter.

As soon as he caught the wand, James let go of Rose's wrist and blasted the closet door open just as Astoria came within a few feet of it. She was knocked to the ground instantly, breaking the binding spell on Rose at the same time. While Astoria struggled to pick herself back up, James came striding out from the closet wearing nothing but a pair of boxers like he'd been kidnapped in his sleep. His lack of clothes didn't seem to bother him, though, since he quickly had hold of Rose's wrist yet again and was soon sending out a warning via a Patronus Charm made by Rose's wand.

Once James's stag had flown through the door, he and Rose could hear the pops of Flock members Disapparating from outside, and Astoria had finally pushed the giant wooden door off her chest and was standing tall. Now, she and James were facing each other in battle stance, but James knew that he had the upper hand and Astoria knew that she was running out of time.

Thinking of creating an escape route, Astoria shot a silent spell at the window of Saint Catchpole that turned him into a downpour of glass daggers all flying in the direction of James and Rose. In a moment of self-defence, James pushed Rose behind him and then pointed his wand toward the glass while yelling, "Protego!"

An invisible shield was formed in front of the wand, but it didn't block every piece of glass, since James's outstretched arm was soon covered in a sizable bounty of blood. They also lost Astoria through their attempt to protect themselves, left with the mere sight of a golden hawk flying into the distance through the now wide-open window.

Regardless of their defeat, both James and Rose were glad to be safe, huddled together through the seconds that they had to wait for their family to show. As the rest of the Weasleys slowly took in the sights of the dilapidated church – pews turned into ashes, doorframes busted at their hinges, windows broken and glass covering the floor – and panic struck them all, Rose and James just tried to keep their eyes open long enough so that they wouldn't ever need to know the difference between a blink and goodbye.

That night, Ron refused to leave Rose's side. He had to convince Hermione to follow Hugo to sleep, doing so by vowing not to lose sight of their daughter until she was boarding the Hogwarts Express next morning. She, along with all of her younger cousins, would be heading back first thing tomorrow, a specialized shortened version of the normal train scheduled to arrive at King's Cross Station as soon as the sun came up.

When Ron had found Rose inside the church, he had held her there for hours and had cursed himself for ever leaving her behind. She'd assured him that nobody could have expected Astoria's attack, though he wasn't entirely convinced until James explained to him and the rest of the Weasleys that he'd been taken by Al in the middle of the night and locked inside the church's broom cupboard since early that morning while Astoria took his place, adapting her voice and character traits surprisingly well.

Before anyone left the property after the attack, Harry made sure to send an Auror home with each of the Weasley families, the only exception being his own and Ron's, since they were Aurors themselves. He even had a long conversation with James and the two of them agreed to stop printing Al's 'Missing' notice from the next Daily Prophet volume onward. Rose never mentioned to anyone that she'd seen Al in the middle of the attack, nor that he may very well have saved her life. After all, he'd also been the one to endanger it in the first place.

But no matter how many Aurors Harry sent out or how much less faith the Order had in Albus, Ron wouldn't trust anyone but himself with Rose's safety anymore. That was why, just as soon as the tortured Hermione and still temperamental Hugo went to bed, Ron took Rose's hand and walked her outside the Bird's Nest and into the shed that sat on the other side of the driveway. He didn't say what he was going to show her, and Rose didn't ask. She was exhausted and was still in a fair amount of shock, but she would follow her father anywhere, tonight of all nights. She would never admit it to him, but she didn't want to leave Ron's side either.

As Ron used his wand to unlock the chains on the shed's door, he told Rose, "Your grandfather once stole a Muggle car – a Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe, as he always called it – from a dump just outside of London." He grunted as he pushed the door open and motioned for Rose to walk inside. She did just that, clicking her deluminator so that a single hanging light bulb illuminated a square room that was completely empty but for an enormous, two square-meter mass in its center that was covered by a giant tarp.

Still confused, Rose listened intently as Ron added, "Then he spent months finding the perfect enchantments that would make it fly, and years later, your Uncle Harry and I flew it to Hogwarts." Once he finished his story, Ron grabbed the tarp and pulled if off the mass to reveal a beautifully refurbished Ford Anglia painted a gorgeous shade of pale blue.

Rose stared down at the car, gingerly running her fingers over the freshly dried paint as her father said, "That car ended up being completely destroyed by the Whomping Willow and later got lost in the Forbidden Forest, but a few weeks ago I found this at the twentieth dump I'd visited, and I've been repairing it and enchanting it ever since."

"Hence the grease on your fingers," Rose commented with the first smile she'd worn since before Astoria's attack.

"Precisely," nodded Ron. "Rosie, I wish that I could keep you here with me or at least stay at Hogwarts with you, because then at least I'd know when you were safe. I don't know what Astoria wants with you, but I do know how hard she'll try to get it."

Rose was standing on the opposite side of the car from Ron, and though she wasn't thankful for even this small distance, she knew that it was necessary. Her father had never really learned how to let her go, since every year when she left for school he'd always known that she'd be coming right back. This year was different, because today had taught them that either one of them could be killed before the month was out.

Even so, Rose needed to be at school right now, where Hugo would be and where Scorpius already was. In an attempt to tell Ron this, Rose said confidently, "I'll be safe with him, Dad."

And much to her surprise, Ron replied, "I know you will." Rose knew how difficult it was for Ron to let her be with Scorpius, let alone to admit that he was good for her and not just the other way around. In fact, Rose was so stuck on this thought that she almost didn't hear Ron say before he opened the car door and sat in the driver's seat, "But I still have to make sure you get to him."

Confused by what Ron was insinuating, Rose sat shotgun, closed the door behind her, and asked, "What do you mean?"

"I mean that I'm going to fly this car to Hogwarts tomorrow," said Ron matter-of-factly.

And that was exactly what he did. The next morning, Rose woke to the sound of her father's snoring from inside the restored Ford Anglia, where she'd fallen asleep with her head leaning on his shoulder. Together, along with Hermione and Hugo, they drove the car to King's Cross Station like any normal Muggle family, then Rose and Hugo bid their mother goodbye and boarded the train alongside cousins Lucy, Fred, Roxanne, and Lily. Then the train departed and the kids waved outside their compartment window at their fading parents, and later they waved to the crazy man who was following them the whole way to school in an old flying car.

Unlike the last time Ron had flew himself to Hogwarts, he landed right in the center of Hogsmeade without even scratching the paint. There, he said goodbye to Rose and Hugo and reluctantly handed them over to Hagrid before flying back home. The giant was thrilled to see every last Weasley student and just as disappointed not to see a certain one of them, but he was careful not to mention Al as he led the clan to an awaiting carriage pulled by thestrals, which they all could now see.

The carriage ride was the longest part of the journey for Rose, but she tried to take in the sight of the castle that she'd only be spending one more year inside, from its windows that shone like firelight to the cliffs that held it high in the clouds. Soon, they were idling at the gates that led into the Entrance Hall, and though Rose was perhaps the most excited of the group, she was the last to walk inside.

Hugo hopped off the carriage first, not taking a single look back at the cowering Lily who needed him. She was walked in by Roxanne and Lucy, with Fred taking up the rear. Once they were all gone, Rose gave a few friendly pats to the thestrals as she waited for Scorpius to come find her. Sure enough, he showed up in less than a minute, having realized that Rose didn't want to greet him in front of anyone.

"Did you find your star?" he asked from behind as Rose stared up at the sky. She'd had a star named after her in Astronomy class last year, and it couldn't have come from a more appropriate constellation.

Turning around to see the boy she'd been missing, Rose answered, "He's looking right at me."

For a split second, the two of them stood completely still so that they could take in the sights of each other, but then they were simultaneously breaking down – Scorpius having heard the news of the attack and Rose beginning to wonder if that same attack had even been real – and decided that it would be best to break down in each other's arms.

Once she was covered by that skin that smelled like morning rainfall and her hands were being held by the ones that liked to play with her ring, Rose searched for the birthmark below Scorpius's ear and asked in hasty whispers, "How are you? Was yesterday okay? Did you see how Hugo looked just now?"

"He's okay; Nigel was waiting for him," Scorpius replied instantaneously as if he'd known exactly what Rose was going to ask. "Yesterday was terrible, but I'm better now."

"Yeah," Rose agreed. "Me too."

Then Scorpius squeezed her tighter against his white, collared shirt and said, "It's okay, Rose. I'll find you. I'll rescue you. I promise." And as a single tear fell from Rose's closed eyes, he said through harshly clenched teeth, "I won't ever let her take you from me. You know I won't."

And as she listened, Rose clutched onto Scorpius's shirt and neck to make sure that he didn't release his arms from around her waist. They could break apart enough to kiss later, but right now what she needed more than anything was his arms. What she needed now was to take three deep breaths – the first to remember all the nights like this that she and Scorpius had already shared, the second to commemorate the one that they were sharing now, and the third to hope and pray that it wouldn't be their last.

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