Ilana Higgs and the Cowardly Fellow

Note: This is a oneshot following my story, 'Blood of the Birds'. If you have not read the main story, please do so before reading this. It is concurrent with Chapter 29 - The Rogue Lover.

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1. Ilana Higgs and the Cowardly Fellow

Ilana Higgs had never wanted to be a witch. When she'd received a letter from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry informing her of a world that she'd never imagined existing, she'd left her parents and two siblings in the suburbs of Little Whinging for the massive castle beside a charming town in the Scottish countryside. And even after spending seven years at Hogwarts – seven years of being a Slytherin secret, a Potions prodigy, and an invisible introvert – Ilana had never felt any more magic from her wizarding peers than she had felt from her Muggle family.

At least, that had all been true until she'd met a certain wizard whose name everybody knew, but whose heart nobody had ever found. He was the middle son of the boy who lived, the Chosen One, and the defeater of Lord Voldemort. He was Albus Severus Potter, but he was nothing like his father. In fact, he took after his hidden name, having also been sorted into Slytherin, fallen in love with Potions, and rebelled from the Order of the Phoenix when the pure-blood front had resurfaced under the leadership of a mad woman known simply as Astoria.

Ilana wasn't completely sure how involved with Astoria and her Forbidden Flock Al was, however, for he was just as secretive as she was. Regardless of her suspicions of him, and no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't stay away. They'd played cat and mouse through most of her seventh year and his sixth, after they'd officially met in the previous spring, but things had grown serious when Astoria had used one of her pawns as well as Al to mark all the Muggle-borns still at Hogwarts with a permanent scar that formed the word 'Mud-blood' by slipping a potion in their morning pumpkin juice. Ilana, whose blood status was completely unknown to all other students at Hogwarts, had been careful to hide the scar and had even found an antidote that had worked in hiding it for a time, which also allowed her to be with Al. Now, she had graduated, and they had spent most of the summer together in a house Al had access to in London, but the Forbidden Flock's control on the world was beginning to get out of hand, at the same time that Ilana's scar was starting to show.

On the day it was revealed that the late Ministry worker and current Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts, Arthur Weasley, had been kidnapped by a member of the Forbidden Flock, Ilana was standing in the middle of her bedroom in number two, Privet Drive. She hadn't seen Al in over a week, since he'd supposedly been at the Quidditch European Cup with his family in support of his older brother, James, who was playing Seeker for the Montrose Magpies. She didn't believe that he was there, especially upon hearing about the kidnapping taking place during Harry's short vacation, but she hadn't let herself get caught up in his wrongdoings. She wasn't a part of that world anymore, and she never wanted to be again; she just liked being around Al, because for whatever reason, they understood each other.

Still, the article in the Daily Prophet regarding Arthur claimed that the Potters had returned from their trip to start search parties for their missing family member, and whether Al had gone with them or not, he would have returned to his parents' sides by now. After all, it was them he had to be really secretive around, not Ilana. Anticipating his return, Ilana was hoping to meet with Al at Grimmauld Place before long, but she'd need to sort out her reddening scar before she could see him.

So, for now, Ilana was stuck in her room, staring down at a cauldron filled with a boiling red liquid that she hoped might be the first in hundreds of brews that would serve as the antidote she was looking for. After stirring it a few times, she added her own signature ingredients – Muggle plants and minerals like black iris petals and copper powder – from her cupboard of ingredients and then let the mixture simmer while she got dressed.

Her room wasn't all that large, especially considering that whenever she was home from school, she shared the small space with her older sister. Lizzie was slightly neater than Ilana was, with her half of the room packed away neatly while Ilana had clothes and books pouring over the side of her still unpacked suitcase and scattered all across her purple-shaded bed. The only things she kept organized were her boxes and bottles of potion supplies and the walk-in closet that felt more like her home than anywhere else in the world.

She could barely remember when or from what her interest in fashion had started, but it had become one of her few vices during her lonely years at Hogwarts. For a girl who was naturally quiet and independent, clothing was her only way of making any sort of statement. And though Ilana had never wished to pursue it as a career like her sister was doing now, she was certain that fashion would always be there to remind her who she was and where she came from.

Ilana and Lizzie never bothered separating their clothes since they wore all the exact same sizes, so Ilana was free to pick and choose whatever she liked now that she was home for good. Her taste, however, was slightly different than her sister's, for Ilana preferred dark colors, flowing skirts, and over-abundant but simple jewelry. Lizzie, on the other hand, was much more clean-cut, colorful, and lighter with the accessories so that she could be heavier with the make-up.

After Ilana had put on a slightly shorter skirt than normal because of the August heat and just as she was pulling a light green tank top over her shoulders, the door to the room swung open to show Lizzie walking inside. She worked the morning shift at a café in Surrey, so she must have just gotten home.

"I thought you were done with all this magic, Lanny," Lizzie said teasingly as she inspected the pot on the desk that Ilana had converted into a stove-like countertop.

Ilana turned to face the girl who looked remarkably similar to her, with long black hair flowing around thick bangs and a lanky frame, and said with adamancy, "I am, believe me. I just need to make one last antidote."

"For what?" asked Lizzie, taking a seat on her bed across from where Ilana was standing. Lizzie was the one person who thought she knew everything about Ilana, for the sisters wrote to each other religiously whenever they were apart and talked all night long whenever they were together. Ilana loved having that kind of trust in a person, especially when there were so many people whom she didn't trust at all, but sometimes Lizzie's curiosity could feel slightly overbearing.

Sighing, Ilana considered answering the question with a lie, but couldn't go through with it. She hadn't shown anyone the scar as of yet, but Lizzie wouldn't even know the meaning of the word. So, Ilana walked over to her, turned her right arm around so that the red blotches were facing the ceiling, and said matter-of-factly, "For this."

"What is that?" Lizzie grabbed Ilana's wrist to get a better look at the scar, her concern growing with every millisecond that passed. Once she realized that the mark was actually a slew of letters, she read the word and asked, "Mud-blood. Wh-what does that mean?"

"It's nothing, really," Ilana shrugged her off, pulling her arm away from Lizzie and back to her side. She had needed to show someone the scar, but that didn't mean that she also needed to explain that the scar was a function of being branded. Trying to come up with a quick explanation for Lizzie, she added, "I drank something that I shouldn't have, and now the scar won't go away. That's all."

Lizzie still seemed worried, but Ilana didn't give her the chance to respond before turning around and heading over to their east-facing window that looked down on Privet Drive, closing the windowpane to keep out the midday heat, and saying, "Anyway, I have to get going."

"Oh, so you show me a scar on your arm and then say secretively that you have to leave?" Lizzie was asking, "I mean, you've been sneaking out for weeks; I think I know there's a guy involved. Ilana, just tell me what's going on."

But Ilana wasn't listening. Her eyes were locked on the street below her, where a girl she recognized from school was sitting in a bench a few doors down, in front of a house whose Muggle owners had been murdered late last year. Everyone in town had been led to believe that the murder was a cause of some giant business scandal, but Ilana knew better. So did the girl she was staring at, whose lanky legs and silky hair matched her name, Mercy Golding, and who happened to be training to become an Auror under the infamous Harry Potter himself. Just the sight of any witch or wizard in Little Whinging was something to fret about, especially if that witch made a living from seeking out dark magic.

Wanting to know what was going on and having no one else to turn to, Ilana knew that she would have to get to Al quickly. Still, she didn't relish in the thought of leaving Lizzie here alone. Their parents wouldn't have been able to fend off Mercy anyway, but Ilana would rather them be somewhere she could keep an eye on them at a time like this, instead of at some stamp collectors convention like her mother, Ada, or at work in the city like her father, Felix.

Starting to grow fearful for her family's safety, Ilana continued to ignore Lizzie's persistent rambling and said seriously to her sister , "Don't leave here until I get back, okay? Just be careful, and watch out for F. Jr."

Trying to understand why Ilana had become so over-protective all of the sudden, but knowing that she shouldn't argue over the matter and realizing that Ilana was old enough to take care of her own problem with some boy, Lizzie said as Ilana was walking out her bedroom door, "Okay, I will. But where is Felix, anyway?" Their little brother had been named after their father when Felix Sr. had told Ada to use her favorite name for the baby. It was a corny story, like every other story their parents told, but it was still one of the girls' favorites.

"He's at the Dursleys', but make sure he comes home for the night," answered Ilana frantically, for she was now in a hurry to leave. The Dursley family lived next door, and was composed of a large blond man and his bimbo wife who had somehow produced a miraculously intelligent, fifteen year-old daughter. The girl's name was Violet, and she was Felix's best mate, so they stayed over at each other's houses all the time. Ilana supposed that her parents could have been stricter about their rules for Felix considering he was best friends with a female, but knowing Felix and Violet, they were probably playing a marathon game of Scrabble right about now.

Just as soon as Lizzie nodded in confirmation, Ilana was pounding down the stairs and walking through the back door so that her old roommate wouldn't see her. Once she was in the yard, she gave a few loving pets to her golden retriever, Buddy, and then Apparated straight to London.

The street she was standing on sat between a decrepit park and a row of darkened townhouses, one of which was hidden under the powerful Fidelius Charm. Ilana could now see number twelve, however, since she herself had been added by Al as a secret keeper, and so she was able to come and go as she pleased. She liked knowing that nobody else could find her there, since even the places she'd once considered safe seemed dangerous these days.

She opened the iron gate, walked up the front steps, and then through the black door. The entryway led straight into the stark hallway that had walls lined with heads of house-elves and a ceiling dangling with spider webs. Everything in the place was ancient and subsequently filthy, but for whatever reason, Ilana didn't mind that either. She knew that the family that once lived here had come from a long line of pure-bloods and had disowned any members who'd attempted to tarnish that line, but Ilana didn't care. Pure-blooded narcissists weren't her enemies, nor were they the black to her white. She had spent many years at Hogwarts judging people before she had the chance to know them, and she'd since learned that those people could easily surprise her. Al had taught her that.

Unfortunately, Al wasn't there now. Ilana didn't want to leave for fear that she could miss his return, and she needed to see him to get her answers. After all, she could read him like nobody else, could tell exactly what he was thinking by the way his green eyes looked back at her own. She could challenge them and she could comfort them, because she understood them, and so she decided to wait for them to open by closing her own.

Just as Ilana had hoped, Al was there when she woke up the next morning. What she hadn't expected was to find him sitting in a corner across the room from where she was hunched over at the table in the kitchen. What she hadn't expected was the lack of response from him when she stated dreamily, "You're back." What she hadn't expected was to see those green eyes of his filled with nothing but betrayal, from both her as well as himself.

Sensing such, she looked instinctively to the arm that she was sliding off the table. She'd been wearing a sweater, but must have taken it off once she'd gotten settled into the house, and had fallen asleep hours ago without remembering that she should be trying to hide her skin. She was used to hiding just about everything from Al, but her skin had never been one of her secrets until it had started to be replaced with blood, and now Al had seen it. He had seen everything.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, still rocking his knees against the wall beside the fireplace. He almost looked scared behind the growing bags that sat beneath his eyes, and his dark hair was messier than ever atop his blood-rushed forehead. And Ilana knew why his heart was pounding so quickly – he was terrified, because he never asked her questions. That was one of their unspoken rules: when in doubt, no talking.

For the same reasons that Al felt uncomfortable asking about her secret scar, Ilana couldn't quite come up with an answer. She didn't want to give in to his game so easily, so she decided to play by her own rules by responding with another question. "Why would you have needed to know?"

But of course, they both knew why he'd needed to know. They both knew that even though Muggle-borns had been safe in this world for a short generation, they weren't any longer. More importantly, they both knew who in this very room had already given up a life of safety for a few moments of reckless danger.

Al was lucky enough to not have to respond when he and Ilana heard a blowing sound from inside the chimney, and then spotted a soot-covered letter fall into the pit. Ilana rushed to pick it up before Al could get there, since she could just barely make out one of her mother's signature stamps beneath the blackened envelope. Wizards didn't use stamps when they had owls that worked for free, and even though Ilana had taught Lizzie to use the owl she'd bought a few years back, her sister still liked to add a stamp to her letters for nostalgia's sake.

After spitting at Al that the message was meant for her when he wouldn't back away, Ilana opened the envelope to pull out a short letter and read:

What's going on? Dad came home yesterday afternoon, and last night some girl from the street knocked on our door and showed us a warrant for Dad's arrest! She said she had to take him away, and then they were gone. I don't know where they went, but I know that she was no cop; she couldn't have been any older than you are. Oh, there was some mention of the name 'Potter' as well, but I can't remember the context. Lanny, please come back soon. I know that you want to handle whatever's going on all on your own, but I think it might be too late for that. I'm worried sick.

-Lizzie

"Who's it from?" Al was asking just as Ilana came to the last line. He had quickly become far too curious for his own good, which Ilana wasn't sure how to handle, since Al had never been that way with her before.

But now, Ilana was done playing games, because her sister was right. It was too late to handle things on her own or try to get any coy answers from Al, because her family had just been brought into this, and that was something she had never wanted to happen. So, she tried to ignore Al as she got ready to leave, crumpling the letter and throwing it into the fireplace where she shot sparks with her wand, then marching through the hallway until her hand was about to turn the doorknob.

Unfortunately, Al got there first. He must have anticipated her running away, since he always had been rather good at chasing her. Now, he was looking at her with complete and utter rage, which for some reason made Ilana want desperately to lean forward and kiss him. That was the problem with Al; he made her feel inappropriate things during situations such as this, and she could never resist him. He was the heat in the middle of summer and the chill in the middle of winter. He was exactly what she wanted him to be at all the wrong times.

"Who is it from?" Al asked again. And as he remembered all the letters that she received and wrote at Hogwarts, none of which she had told him about either, he added, "Who are theyall from?"

He didn't deserve an answer, not right now. Ilana knew that Al had had something do with whatever was currently happening to her father, so regardless of what her body might be telling her, she knew in her mind that she didn't want anything to do with him at the moment. That was why she tried to push him and his pleading eyes away so that she could get to the door, but he grabbed her wrist right below the scar with enough force to hold her back.

Finally turning to him, she revealed one of the many secrets she'd kept from him knowing that she'd get none from him in exchange. "It's from my sister. They're all from my sister." And when he went quiet with guilt for interrogating her just to find that she had a sibling he hadn't known about, she glanced down at the hand clamped around her arm and said strongly, "I have to go."

Al shook his head and said, "No. It's not safe out there." He didn't want her to leave when he had so many more questions to ask, and she wanted her own answers from him as well, but she couldn't get them from him now.

And he was right. It wouldn't be safe out there, but it wasn't safe anywhere, and what Al needed to understand was that regardless of how careful he'd been to keep his allegiance hidden, she knew exactly how unsafe he'd recently become. That was why she finally shoved his hand off of her arm and told him, her lips trembling not from fear of Al, but from the fear of losing either him or her family, "It isn't? It can't be any less safe out there than it is right here."

Then she slammed the door in his face and disappeared from the front walk, shoving past James, who appeared to have just arrived and was going in to see his brother, before twisting her body through space like water spinning into a drain, until she was back in Little Whinging. She was panting from the Apparition that had seemed more strenuous than usual when she felt Buddy licking her face as she keeled her back over and breathed into her knees. Ilana almost felt like she was about to have a panic attack, but tried to calm herself down as she told the dog as well as herself, "It's going to be okay. We're all going to be fine."

She was breathing normally again until she felt hands on her back and screamed at their touch. "Relax! It's just me," said Lizzie as she wrapped her hand around Ilana's. When Ilana noticed that Lizzie's hand was slightly wet, she finally realized that it was raining, and understood why he had been so difficult to Apparate against the now screaming pellets.

Ilana took a few minutes to catch her breath once more before telling Lizzie, "We have to get to London." Grimmauld Place wasn't very from the Ministry of Magic, where Mercy had surely taken their father, so Ilana could have gone straight there without coming home first, but a part of her hadn't wanted to do this alone. Lizzie may have been a helpless Muggle, but she had the ability to offer Ilana more protection than anyone else just by simply holding her hand.

Lizzie didn't protest, for she too was itching to find their father, so the girls quickly took the dog inside, locked all the doors of the house, and set off for the nearest bus stop. They both decided not to inform their brother (who was already back at Violet's house for the day) of his namesake's momentary disappearance, since they didn't want to worry Felix before they knew if they'd really have to.

Once they were in the city, Ilana spent nearly an hour hopping along front porches with Lizzie in her wake as they tried to stay somewhat dry beneath what had turned into a thunderstorm, with the former searching for the red telephone booth she'd been told before was the visitors' entrance into the Ministry. At first, Lizzie had a hard time believing such a thing existed, claiming that it all sounded a little 'Doctor Whovian' to her, but learned to suspend her disbelief when Ilana finally spotted the booth and began pressing buttons that turned it into a magical elevator.

They arrived on the eighth floor Atrium of the incredible underground building that was composed of emerald walls that stretched for miles and matched the green flames coming through rows upon rows of fireplaces. There were singing fountains, flying messages, and floating billboards that changed frames like movies. Ilana grimaced at the sight of it all while Lizzie just gaped, for Ilana had hoped that she'd never have to step foot in such an pompously magical place, while Lizzie had never imagined that such a place existed.

Ilana wasn't completely certain where Felix would be, since the Auror department had supposedly moved after Astoria had gained access to all of its records a few months ago. Still, there were receptionists at the entrance from which Ilana and Lizzie had come who told the girls that they'd been expecting them, and that they could head to the bottom floor Auror Offices now. It was all very monotonous and robotic, but Ilana didn't dare to question the witches as she went on her way.

Lizzie was twisting and turning in an attempt to take in everything around her as Ilana dragged her across the main floor in search of the group of official elevators that could them downstairs. Along the way, Ilana couldn't help but notice all of the hanging banners and Daily Prophet carts that showed photos of none other than Al all across their front pages, underneath headlines that read, 'From Chosen One to Chosen Murderer?', 'The Boy Who Lied', and 'Black Hawk, the Hero's Heir.'

Once she became attuned to it, all Ilana could hear were the frantic whispers and threatening arguments regarding the recently reported death of Arthur Weasley, which had happened late last night. Apparently, Albus Potter had been sighted at the scene of the crime, and had since disappeared into hiding. This had led journalists to believe that he had been behind the murder and was perhaps even a part of the Forbidden Flock. That was what people were arguing over, while the whispers were concerned mainly with Harry, who had supposedly been unable to search for his son while he dealt with exterior Flock business. It seemed to Ilana like the whole wizarding world had suddenly gone into disarray, and she couldn't help but curse herself for getting in the middle of it. After all, that had been the main reason she'd never wanted to be a witch in the first place: the fact that, with great magic came great power, and power was the most destructible entity on earth.

Ilana tried not to think about Al as her heart became consumed with both the fear of what he might have done as well as the urge to defend him until she knew the whole truth. Luckily, her mission was distracting enough, since she and Lizzie were soon standing outside Harry Potter's old Auror office, staring through the windowed wall to see their father sitting on a couch across from the man with the lightning bolt scar.

The two men were quite similar in appearance, with their greying black hair, tired green eyes, and average sized builds. It felt odd for Ilana to see them sitting together, especially since neither of them knew just how involved with each other their respective offspring had recently become, but she felt more comfortable when she saw them stand and shake hands with friendly smiles before walking back outside.

Lizzie went straight to Felix to make sure that he was okay, but Ilana already knew that he was. Harry would have uncovered by now that he'd somehow taken in the wrong man since Felix was a Muggle, so he had no doubt released Felix free of charge. Still, that didn't explain where the accusation had come from in the first place, so Ilana squeezed her father's hand in greeting before marching up to Harry and preparing to speak her mind.

But Harry beat her to it, extending his hand for her to shake as he said through his somber face, "Ilana Higgs. It's good to officially meet you." He said the words with absolutely no emotion behind them, but Ilana didn't take it personally, since she could tell that Harry had been up all night and hadn't yet had the chance to grieve over the death of his father in-law.

Still, Ilana was slightly taken aback by Harry recognizing both her and her name. He assumed that her father may have told Harry that he had a magical daughter, but she hadn't ever considered that Al would tell Harry about his relationship with her. In fact, she hadn't thought about him telling anyone about them, just as she had done.

"Yes, it is," Ilana said questionably as she tried to decipher whether or not Harry knew about her connection to Al.

"It was impossible to forget that Patronus of yours," added Harry as their hands separated, which made Ilana sigh in relief. She'd momentarily forgotten the class she'd had with Harry a few years back, since he and Ron Weasley paid annual visits to Hogwarts to teach the Patronus charm to the fifth years. Ilana had done well in the class, and had produced a regal okapi, an animal which Harry had claimed to have never seen take the form of a Patronus before.

"Right," Ilana said with a shake of her head, glad to know that Al hadn't told Harry about her after all. It had been a while since she'd needed to use the charm, so she hadn't thought in a long time about the antelope-like creature that represented her. Still, the thought didn't deter her from the topic at hand as she changed the subject and asked Harry, "Er, what's going on with my dad?"

Harry glanced back at Felix and Lizzie, who had taken a seat across the hall while they chatted and waited for Ilana, before turning back to that latter and explaining, "Honestly, I'm not sure. We received a tip from a pretty reliable source saying that a middle-aged man with black hair under the name Felix Higgs had been spotted alongside Astoria while paying a visit to the dragon sanctuary in Romania. I sent some Aurors to Muggle villages to search for Arthur just in case the Flock had taken him to one, and that's when Mercy found your dad in Little Whinging. I understand now that it was a case of mistaken identity, which makes me think that a different member of the Flock might have been impersonating your father, most likely through the use of Polyjuice Potion."

Ilana looked up at him at the mention of potions, since they always made her think of Al. And though she had no idea how or why he might have disguised himself as her father, it did seem like something he'd have to do for the good of the Forbidden Flock. She was still lost in these thoughts when Harry put a hand on her shoulder and said with widened eyes, "Ilana, do you have any idea what's going on here? I don't wish to suspect you of anything, but you're the only connecting thread between this world and that of your father's."

Shaking her head profusely before she could even consider telling Harry any suspicions she might have of Al without learning how much truth any of them held, Ilana said, "I promise you, I don't know anything about this."

Harry seemed to believe her as he nodded and stuffed his hands in his pant pockets, but before Ilana could leave, he added, "Well, if that changes, you can send me a message through one of those okapis of yours. And for now, just keep an eye on your dad for me."

"Okay," Ilana agreed. "I will." Then she smiled politely at him before stepping away and jerking her head toward the elevators so that her father and Lizzie would know to follow her.

By the time they returned to the Atrium, Ilana was still thinking about Al, the sinking feeling that he may have been behind all of this penetrating ever deeper into her skin, so she decided that it was time for her to question him. As much as she wanted to go home with her family, they needed answers right now, and Al was the only person who could give them to her. And even if she hated to admit it, she also wanted to see if Al was okay.

After bidding her family goodbye once they were back on the city streets, Ilana avoided Apparating and instead just walked through the rain until she made it back to Grimmauld Place. As luck would have it, Al was nowhere to be found as Ilana stood in the middle of the front hallway. However, she knew that he'd have to return if he was still trying to hide from the Order of the Phoenix, which must be searching for him right about now, so once again, she waited.

This time, she took a seat on the floor near the door so that she'd be ready to accost Al as soon as stepped foot inside. Less than an hour later, that was exactly what happened, with Al opening the door slowly and silently and saying as timidly as she'd said to him that morning, "You're back."

Ilana felt like hitting him. She felt like pushing him back against the door, spitting in his face, and literally ripping his heart out of his chest. But a smaller part of her also felt like holding his hand, pressing her forehead against his, and letting him hold her so that he could make all of the anger and confusion and pain that she was feeling disappear. So, as she stood up to face him and attempted to find a balance between her polarizing emotions, she said to Al, "I just came from the Ministry."

As Al started to grow worried about everything she must have known by now, he also struggled to accept the idea that perhaps she had chosen a side in this war that he'd never hoped for her to be a part of. See, he had yet to choose a side, and she knew as well as he did that he was waiting for her to tell him what to do. But for now, she needed the answers, not the other way around.

"Please, Potter, enlighten me on why I just picked up my father from being interrogated by your father for being a possible member of the Forbidden Flock!" she said after taking a few deep breaths. "Because before now, I was fine with having no answers, but dragging my family into this – into whatever nonsense is going on with you right now? That's a line Icannot let you cross."

"Higgs, I have no idea what you're talking ab-" Al said, his face inches from hers, but paused before he could finish. Then he started blinking profusely as he shook his head and whispered words to himself that were far too jumbled for Ilana to put together or make out. His pacing was making her go grow crazy with impatience by the time he finally stood still once more and asked the floor, "Does your father happen to work in a post office?"

Felix had worked as a postman since he was sixteen years old, and it had also been where he'd met Ilana's mother, a budding stamp designer. They'd loved their jobs as much as they did each other, and now they were doing the same things they'd always done, for they had yet to grow the least bit bored with their jobs. Of course, Ilana never talked about her family with Al the way other couples sometimes did, so she had no idea how he would know something like this about her father as she answered, "Yes. Why?"

With a giant sigh, Al replied, "You might want to sit down for this." He was suggesting for them to head into the kitchen where they could converse across the table from each other, or even into the living room where Ilana could sit on the piano stool that had slowly become her own while he stayed on the couch on the other side of the room. He was suggesting that they keep a fair distance away from each other while he told her everything that she needed to know, because that was the best way to avoid any unnecessary violence. He was suggesting that she would want to blow up at him once she heard everything he had to say, but she knew that she wouldn't.

All Ilana wanted right now was the truth. She could handle whatever was thrown at her, because she was already expecting the worst. She could keep her emotions in check, so long as he could, mostly because all she needed to do was look at him to remind herself that he was the last person in the world whom she wanted to hurt, physically or otherwise. In an effort to show him this, she inched forward and placed her hand on his cheek, where she drew circles around his crying eyes, then kissed the spot underneath them where the water of his tears met the fire beneath his skin, and whispered smoothly, "Just tell me. Just tell me the truth."

Al nodded and let Ilana release her hold over him before he started with, "I met your dad when I was sending a letter to my uncle, Charlie, who lives in Romania. A few hairs fell onto my clothes at the time, so I made Polyjuice Potion with them. I needed a Muggle disguise so that whoever I was impersonating, which I didn't know at the time was your father, wouldn't get caught for something they didn't do. I used the potion to accompany some of the Forbidden Flock to Romania, which was when I'd told you that I was at the Quidditch European Cup."

Ilana had to stop herself from interrupting him on multiple occasions, but she knew that it would be better if she just kept quiet and listened to his story, from beginning to end. So, she let him tell her about what happened with Arthur, and that Al had been asked to kill him, but hadn't gone through with it. Another Flock member had done it instead, right when Al had been trying to free his grandfather, but Al had just been misfortunate enough to be photographed leaving the premises. She let him tell her that he had started working with Astoria all the way back in January, but that regardless of Astoria's pure-blood beliefs, Al held no prejudices against wizarding blood status. He had just joined the Flock because he had felt lost and alone, and things had gotten out of hand before he'd been able to stop them. She let him tell her that he had in fact brewed the potion that had given her the scar on her arm, but that he never would have gone through with it had he known that it was going to work on her. He told her two sides to all of his stories, and she let him. She let him play both the victim and the perpetrator, because she knew just as well as he did that sometimes, they were one in the same.

But the one thing she couldn't look past was his final suggestion. Ilana refused to believe that Al would have done anything differently just to protect her, when his potion had scarred dozens of other kids at Hogwarts. She refused to believe that any of this could have ever unraveled differently when she knew that she would never have told him the truth before now.

"You think things would have been different?" she asked when she had the chance to. "Potter, you aren't the only one here with secrets. I was hiding my blood status long before you came into my life, and I had no intention to reveal it when you did." There were two sides to her story just like there had been to his.

"But why?" asked Al. "Why had you always hid it? And how did you hide it, especially with the scar? I mean, let's face it, it's not as if I've never seen your arm before." They had seen each other naked in every sense of the word, though Ilana had never felt so exposed in front of him than she did in this moment, and it was one of the only times she'd spent longer than an hour with him and had stayed fully clothed.

Putting off the answer to why for as long as possible, Ilana explained the how part of Al's question by saying, "I stole your bezoar – the one you had in your suitcase." Al was laughing lightly as she elaborated on the way the antidote hadn't worked, then had, but had then started fading. Then she told him about all of the other potions she'd tried since, but that none of them had worked either.

Once she finished speaking, Al seemed to accept the explanation, but Ilana could tell by his still squinting eyes and the hair that was somehow standing statically atop his head despite the lake of water it was swimming in that he wasn't satisfied yet. He needed to know more, so he asked her exactly what she'd been trying to avoid, "But why'd you hide it all this time? What aren't you telling me, Higgs?"

She tried to suppress her emotions one last time, which made her think about the fact that he'd told her everything, and now it was time for her to tell him. But then she remembered exactly what he'd told her, from the confirmation that he was working with a group of mass murderers who just happened to have killed Muggles like her family and were after Muggle-borns like her. So, when Al tried to comfort her by copying her gestures from before, rubbing her cheeks and whispering, "Just tell me. Just tell me the truth," she finally let her emotions boil over and slapped him away.

"I NEVER WANTED THIS! I never wanted any of this!" she yelled, no longer able to control herself. She'd thought that she could handle his truth, and she'd been right. It was her own truth that she couldn't handle after all. It was her own lie that she'd been telling herself for years and her own guilt for breaking a promise she'd made as a child that was causing her to grow so frustrated. Because no matter whom Al had become, or who he was working with, Ilana was the one who hadn't run away.

So, as she closed her eyes and let herself take all the blame for her current predicament, she told Al as steadily as she could manage, "I never wanted to be a witch. I never have, and I never will. I went to Hogwarts because my parents convinced me that I shouldn't pass up that kind of an opportunity, but I was homesick from the moment I stepped foot on Platform Nine and Three Quarters." She remembered that day like it had happened only a week ago, for it had been the first instance she'd ever been away from her family for an extended period of time, and that first night at Hogwarts had been the first night she hadn't fallen asleep to the sound of Lizzie's quiet breathing.

"I didn't want to tell anybody where I came from because I always planned on going right back, and when McGonagall pulled me aside after my Sorting Ceremony and told me that I was the first Muggle-born to ever be sorted into Slytherin, I knew that I had made the right decision." Slytherin was known for taking only pure-bloods into their house, and Ilana had dealt with bullies like Vincent Goyle for years, but they'd only suspected that she was lying about her blood status. Things surely would have been far worse had she admitted the truth.

"I fell in love with Potions because it reminded me of Chemistry, which had been my favorite subject at school, and I didn't make any new friends because I didn't want to replace my old ones, and because I had Lizzie to write letters to every day. I didn't tell anyone about my Muggle parents, or my Muggle sister, or my Muggle brother, and I didn't tell them about the Muggle me." It was getting easier to keep talking now, and though she knew that talking about the world she'd been born into should have made her want to return to it, she still felt like Al: lost, alone, and unsure to which side she belonged.

As that knowledge sunk in, she said thoughtfully, "After a few years at Hogwarts, people were used to my silence, so they didn't expect much else from me. I'd lost most of my old friends from grade school, but I was still determined to graduate Hogwarts and come right back home, go to university like my sister, and become a scientist, or maybe pick up the piano again, which I hadn't played since I was ten. Everything was going well, and I had a future that I could see right in front of me, and then you happened.

"I met you." And everything had changed.

"You did all of the wrong things, and you made all of the wrong choices, but you said all the right words." As much as she'd tried to push him away, he'd noticed her when no one else had, and he'd told her things that no one else had ever told her before.

"You walked in the wrong direction, and you traveled to the wrong places, but you always came back to the right home." He came from a the most famous family in the wizarding world, and as much as she'd judged him for being born into a pampered life, he'd worked for everything he'd ever accomplished, and his family had never provided him with any short-cuts.

"You had your head screwed on the wrong way, and you carried that weight on your shoulders with the wrong amount of pressure, but you held me with the right amount of strength." He didn't know who he was anymore, but he'd always known who she was.

Ilana couldn't shake him, no matter how much she tried. But now, she had led her family into a mess that she now had to clean up, and the only way to do that was to get away from Al. That was why she looked straight at his puffy face and straggly, overgrown eyebrows with a sense of painful longing as she said, "And because of all of that, I convinced myself that you were also one of my right decisions. But now – now, I think you might have been the wrong decision all along."

Then she turned around and headed for the door for what must have been the thousandth time. The only difference now was that Al stopped her early, grabbing her hand and spinning her back around to him, arguing, "Higgs, come on, you know that's not true! We are right for each other!"

"Right for each other?" screamed Ilana furiously, letting the anger take over once more. "Potter, you're the son of the Chosen One and I'm an aspiring chemist. You are just waiting for tragedy to strike so that you can have some excuse for feeling so angry all the time, and I'm your tragedy. Your Astoria's puppy, and I'm a Mud-blood."

Their eyes were sending Killing Curses toward one another when the voice of Walburga Black came pounding through the house with shrieking cries of, "FREAKS! Scum of the earth! Absolute FILTH to see another Mud-blood in my home!" She must have heard Al and Ilana's yelling through the canvas that covered her portrait at the end of the hall, and Ilana swore that she had survived a few more years, the old family matriarch would have been a welcome addition to today's Forbidden Flock.

But hearing Mrs. Black's insults only made the situation worse, because as Al and Ilana waited quietly for the framed witch to silence herself, Ilana slowly gave up. She gave up on Al and their relationship and the prospect of ever being with him again, because she wasn't supposed to be with him. She wasn't supposed to be a part of his world, where she could be seen as a freak and scum and filth. She was supposed to be loved, and only her family could give her that.

So, as she turned to leave, once and for all, she said grimly to Al in hopes that her departure might have some sort of lasting effect on him, "Make your move, Potter; I dare you. Idare you to move." And then she was at the door.

The toes of her boots were touching the falling raindrops when Al yelled back at her, "This is all your fault, you know!" His voice was loud and heavy, but it wasn't at all accusatory. If anything, it was gracious, as he continued, "It's your fault for making me love you! So, I dare you to stay, Higgs. I dare you to stay here and be with me, even if it is the wrong decision. I dare you to love me back."

Those words were all she needed to hear. She didn't know if they could stay together and build a life of their own in between their two worlds, or if they were about to plummet headfirst into a world neither of them would be able to escape from, but it didn't matter either way. All that mattered to Ilana in this moment was holding his hand, pressing her forehead against his, and letting him hold her in that right way that nobody else understood. All that mattered was the gust of wind she felt whenever she was around him, like the power of his wand was listening to his heart beating and so it knew to draw her back to him. All that mattered was being with him, because even between two staggeringly different but unbelievably expansive worlds, their feelings for each other were the only things that still felt alive.

She walked straight back to him, kicking the door closed on her way, and kissed him confidently and as if they were kissing for the very first time. Before she even got used to leading him, though, he was leading her. He pushed her against the wall and pulled her shirt over her arms before kissing the scar that stretched from her elbow to her wrist, healing it more and more with every touch that his lips left on her skin, as if it had been him all along who had possessed the antidote she'd been searching for.

At some point within the next few minutes, they found themselves moving toward the living room and were lying down beside the piano that Ilana loved to play. And as their kissing grew into something more, Ilana swore that she could hear music coming from that piano and filling her soul as well as her ears. It was flowing through Al, too, connecting them through their impure blood as it spread through their veins like the rain that was spreading itself across the city. They really had turned into water, because for Ilana, making love to Al was like riding a boat in two meter waves; she could just barely skim across the surface of every high without cascading into the unavoidable deep.

Ilana woke in the middle of the night to a growling stomach. She must have forgotten to eat anything the day before, and as she smiled at the sight of a snoring Al with his arms wrapped around her, she slowly slid out from under him to set off in search of food. Of course, Grimmauld Place held nothing edible in its run-down kitchen, and though she considered going back to sleep without hungry, she thought a walk might be good for her anyway.

Since it was still raining lightly beneath the stars, Ilana swept most of her clothes off the floor and even put on her coat before leaving through the front door as quietly as she possibly could. She didn't hear a peep of stirring from where Al was still asleep in the living room as she shut the door behind her, and she was just about to get on her way and buy some food at the local market with her stash of Muggle money when she saw the silhouette of a rather handsome young man standing across the street beneath a flickering lamp post.

He had hair as white as snow and light blue eyes that sparkled with the stars, with a sharp jaw pointed straight toward Ilana's place on the front walk, or at least where she was supposed to be. She knew just from looking at him that Scorpius Malfoy was in fact not looking back at her, leading her to assume that he wasn't one of the lucky few who'd been brought into the Fidelius Charm.

Ilana had met Scorpius last fall. They'd seen each other around loads of times before, since they'd both been in Slytherin, but much like with Al, Ilana had never spoken to Scorpius until Rose Weasley had given them reason to. Unlike with Al and Rose, though, Ilana had never misjudged Scorpius or struggled to remain friendly with him. On the contrary, in fact, she quite liked Scorpius. Regardless of what his family or friends wanted him to be, he was always knew who he was, and he never once questioned his strong sense of morality. Ilana couldn't help but admire such, since she was constantly questioning her own.

She walked slowly to the iron gate and then left the property with a single step, and in that one second, Scorpius could suddenly see her. He straightened his back and glued his eyes to Ilana's at her appearance, smiling slightly upon knowing that he had found the right place, but worrying to see that Ilana was still involved with the boy who was once his best friend, but who'd recently become more of an enemy.

"Ilana," he said, making the girl's own smile quickly fade upon hearing her first name be voiced rather than her last. She'd never realized just how much she liked the fact that Al always called her 'Higgs'.

"Scorpius," she reciprocated. And because she had a reason to ask without sounding like she was prying, whereas he would never ask her the same question for fear of coming across that way, she added, "What are you doing here?"

He ran a hand through his glossy hair and answered with a growl of frustration, "I'm done. I'm done giving him second chances. I'm done waiting for him to wake up, or make a move, or just surrender. I'm done with this rubbish. I'm done." He had a hand on his face now, and was leaning against the lamp post that Ilana had to use a silent repair spell on to keep from going out.

For a while, Ilana wasn't sure what to say to Scorpius, who clearly knew most of what she did about Al's continued involvement with the Forbidden Flock. She'd lost her appetite upon talking about Al, since she'd gone into denial regarding the decisions they each had to make when he'd told her he loved her and she'd replied with her lips but not with words. She'd fallen asleep to dreams of all her favorite things – things like black irises, fireflies, and wind – and one of those things was Al. She wanted him; she always had, and she didn't want to accept the fact that he wasn't what she needed.

But she still understood him, so she owed it to Al to defend his decisions in front of Scorpius. And as she was thinking about the complexity of Al's life – all those shades of grey in a world that Scorpius had only ever seen in black and white – she asked pensively, "Do you know what qualia means?"

When Scorpius shook his head, she explained, "My sister studied it in school last semester when she was taking a class on colors. It's Latin for 'what sort', but what it really means is that people see things in different ways. No one color looks exactly the same to everyone, or even to just two people. Our eyes are all built uniquely, as are our minds."

Scorpius was looking at her with interest now. He could tell where she was going as she finished with, "Al sees things differently from anyone I've ever met, and I think he feels them differently, too. Every piece of pain or hurt is a billion times worse for him than it is for you, or anyone else for that matter, because he cares too much. He tries not to, but he does. He cares so much that it literally breaks his heart when he suspects even for a second that he isn't being cared for in return. His qualia are much stronger than they are for the rest of us, but they make his heart much weaker."

"I know," said Scorpius only seconds after Ilana had finished her speech. "I know who he is, Ilana. That's exactly why I think it's time for him to remember who he is, and you're the only one who can remind him of that."

"Why me?" Ilana asked. She didn't want to hurt Al, just as he had never wanted to hurt her. She knew what she had to do, but she would take any excuse she could find to not have to do it. "Why do I have to be the one to betray him?"

The rain stopped when Scorpius stopped breathing, because his next words were the answer to all of Ilana's questions that Al had only complicated. "Because he'll forgive you. He loves you, and he'll forgive you for anything." Scorpius didn't need to add the fact that Al wouldn't do the same for him.

He had been the leader of the Order of the Phoenix for nearly a year now, after Harry and Professor McGonagall had decided that the best way of protecting the son of today's villain was to let him fight with the support of an entire nation rather than make him feel like he was alone. Unfortunately, doing so had had the exact effect they'd been trying to avoid on Al, when he'd suddenly felt useless and invisible in comparison to his ever powerful best friend. Scorpius had done all he could that year at school to regain Al's trust and friendship, but nothing had worked. All he could do now was hope that Al would find his way without either his support or his rejection.

When Ilana nodded in compliance, Scorpius stood up straight to walk away. He didn't even give Ilana one of his gracious smiles for going through with his plan, because a part of him hadn't wanted to go through with the plan in the first place, but Ilana stopped him before he got too far down the street to ask, "Hey, do you happen to have a quill on you?"

Turning around to face her once more, Scorpius didn't question why she needed one before he took out a long, white falcon feather and handed it to Ilana wordlessly. Then she said the very thing he couldn't. "Thank you."

Once he was clearly gone, no doubt heading off to check on Rose after Arthur's death or meet up with Harry to discuss their next move, Ilana returned to the Black house. Al was still asleep, and as she waited for him to wake up, she sat on the bottom step of the staircase, took out one of the papers she kept in her pocket for writing letters to Lizzie, and used Scorpius's quill to write all the words that she couldn't say, and soon there was an entire poem sitting on the parchment in her stunning cursive handwriting:

Why is blood so thick?

So pure and dark and bright.

Why is it that you

Are undeniably light?

Can I ever shake this feeling?

This one that you control.

Can I ever uncover

The part of me you stole?

Is this just a trick?

Making me love you more.

Is this really guilt

That I feel when at your door?

How do I ease the pain?

The pain of what I'll lose.

How do I say goodbye

If you are what I choose?

Does it make me sick?

To replace them with you.

Does it make me wrong

Since my blood isn't true?

But is this all a game?

One we dared to play.

But will it ever end

Before one of us is betrayed?

Why is blood so thick?

So pure and dark and bright.

Why is that we

Are undeniably right?

Before she could change any of it, Ilana folded the paper, slipped it into an envelope, and left it by the front door. She was about to leave when she realized that saying goodbye to Al in writing wasn't enough. Letters may have sufficed when it came to her family, but with Al, she knew that she had to say two different goodbyes.

She took her place on the piano stool, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, just beside where he was laying on the floor as she waited for him to wake up. When he did, she told him the story that her parents would always tell her – the one about how they'd met and fallen in love through their mutual fondness of stamps. She told Al that she'd been searching for that kind of sign in their own relationship, but that the only one that kept reappearing and refused to fade was the blood. No matter how much they each tried to suppress it, it kept bubbling to the surface, and maybe that was a sign not of their mutual love, but of their mutual denial. He told her that they could run away together, but she told him that if he refused to choose a side, then she'd choose for him, and she would always choose her family, because they were magic to her, and because she'd never wanted to be a witch.

He accepted it, either because he was too tired to realize that they were breaking up, or because he was ready to choose his own side, Ilana would never know. And as they slept together one last time, they each dreamt of their lives without each other, and soon Ilana was outside in the middle of the street, living her life without him.

She only had one task left to complete before she could leave this world for good. It was the only way to protect her family from Al and the scar he'd given her, but it was also the only way to protect Al from his own mistakes. Al's father loved him, just as Scorpius did, and they had the right to want to take care of Al now. So, Ilana walked into the middle of Grimmauld Park just as the sun was starting to rise, took out her wand, voiced a message for a Mr. Harry Potter stating that Al had been working with Astoria all year and that she had the scar and potion ingredients to prove it, and thought of Al and his undying wind as she whispered, "Expecto Patronum."

Much to Ilana's surprise, however, the usual okapi with short striped legs, a long dark neck, and giant bat-like ears did not appear. In its place was a hawk as black as night, with searing eyes and floating wings that left a gust of wind in their wake. Ilana had never seen Al's Patronus before, but he had told her about it once, and she would have recognized the bird as a part of him even if she hadn't remembered the conversation. She may not have said it back to Al at the time, but she did love him. It had only taken the sight of the magical bird for her to admit it to herself.

And as the hawk flew into the night to deliver its message to Harry that would surely bring both him and Scorpius to Al's doorstep with a warrant for his arrest, Ilana dropped her wand once and for all, turned around, and caught the next bus back to Surrey. When she made it to Little Whinging, she walked inside her house through its front door this time, no longer afraid to be seen by anyone in the world she'd left. She strode into the kitchen where her little brother was eating breakfast and let her eyes water at the sight of Felix's messy hair. She nearly tripped over Buddy, who had made a bed for himself in the middle of the staircase, but let her breath catch in her throat when the dog reached out his paw for her to hold. She headed into her bedroom, shut the door behind her, and crawled into Lizzie's bed, where she cried into her sister's arms until she had no tears left to shed.

Whenever Lizzie tried to get Ilana to talk to her or to tell her what had happened, Ilana would always refuse, but the one thing that she did say when Lizzie asked if all this was because of that mysterious boy was, "We didn't really know each other. I mean, we never talked. So, why is it that now, he's the only person I want to talk to?"

Ilana had never wanted to be a witch. She had never wanted anything to do with the spells, or the charms, or the jinxes. She'd never wanted to be a Slytherin secret, a Potions prodigy, or an invisible introvert. All she'd ever wanted was to be with the people she loved and who loved her back, because they gave her more magic than her wand ever could. And for seven years, she had believed that thar kind of magic could only come from her Muggle family. She'd never once considered that she could feel something even stronger from a wizarding peer. She'd never wanted to be a witch… until now. The only problem was that now, she had just said goodbye to the one wizard she loved as well as the omnipresent world that came with him.

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