Author: Hijja (kennahijja)
Character(s): um... various, including Ron (*duh*)
Warning(s): some potentially disturbing content, a touch of het, character death
Length: ~7200 words
Summary: Isn't it weird how joy can have you almost come apart just when things are at their most perfect?
Notes: Sincere apologies for violating the spirit of the prompt while keeping to its letter. Thanks to melusinahp, liriaen, magic_at_mungos and oddnari for the beta! A handful of phrases have been taken or adapted from canon.
I'd rather drive a truck
('Garden Party', Rick Nelson)
The rain is whipping through Knockturn Alley as if it were on a personal mission of vengeance against the most unsavoury quarter of Wizarding London. The spray hisses off the cobblestones, so fine that insidious wetness finds its way even through the Impervious woven into Auror robes.
The front entrance of Borgin and Burkes is not even barred, he notices as he approaches the shop. The shutters are closed over the display window, but when he probes the door, it opens noiselessly under his hand.
After the downpour outside, his scarlet robes are uncomfortably humid, and it's suddenly very quiet in the salesroom after he's pulled the door shut behind him. The glass cases and displays he had seen as a boy are still there, but empty of their dubious or intriguing contents. Spiderwebs hang from the ceiling, and the large room smells musty. Unsurprising, as Borgin hasn't been seen since the war, and Burke is said to communicate with his succession of frantic salesclerks by owl post only. The last of those clerks had called the Aurors for help a few weeks ago, and disappeared a day later.
He stands unmoving for a long moment, trying to get a feel for the place. Dust, chill and semi-darkness aside, there is none of the creepy foreboding that often signals a strong curse at work. Williamson had turned tail and run as soon as the iron till started pelting him with Knuts, but then Williamson is a twat – a twat in Aurors' scarlet, but a twat nonetheless. Of course, Kingsley Shacklebolt had run too, if only after a cast-iron coat hanger had pierced his shoulder and nailed him to the door. He's still in St Mungo's with a nasty case of blood poisoning. This – sending their expert on artefacts – is the department's last-ditch attempt before admitting defeat and grovelling to Gringott's for a curse breaker to take care of whatever magical object the shop's proprietors have lost control over.
The memory of Shacklebolt makes him turn his head back to the door. No blood on the wood at all, not even a scratch where the iron was supposed to have embedded itself. Well, Kingsley's wound had certainly not been a hallucination, but maybe he had been enchanted to see what he thought he'd seen?
He draws his wand and takes a few cautious steps forward. It doesn't quite surprise him to see a cloaked shadow appear in the doorway that leads to the back office. A cowl hides its head, and grey gloves disappear beneath long sleeves. Certainly not a new clerk.
The figure steps up to stand behind the counter and cocks its head. Cocks its head in a way so achingly familiar that it seems to stop his heartbeat and tears a strangled gasp from him.
"Weasley is dead."
The words make him shiver; they are true, of course, but he's not been expecting to hear them from a stranger in a cursed shop right in the middle of Knockturn Alley. Hasn't been expecting to hear them from anyone.
Before he can do so much as open his mouth – or throw a Sectumsempra – the figure pulls something that looks like a small, round bowl out of thin air, and places it onto the scuffed darkwood top of the counter.
"This is for you."
Harry swallows. This has to be the cursed artefact, put right there for his perusal, although neither Williamson nor Kingsley have mentioned anything remotely like it. Wand aimed carefully at both – figure and bowl – he steps closer to the counter, a shielding charm on the tip of his tongue.
"Who are you?" The question comes out clipped, businesslike – as if he hadn't been cut to the bone by the casual reminder of the worst loss of all.
"Does it matter?" The cloaked figure brushes its hood back.
"You!" Harry gasps, too surprised to throw a hex. "We thought you'd died in Azkaban!"
Azkaban, which Voldemort had turned into his fortress, and where he had finally been defeated. Azkaban, where Ron had died.
Draco Malfoy wrinkles his nose in disgust. His face is more pointier than ever, his pale hair nearly white in the vast darkness of the room, much too long and bound at the neck with a cord that should make him look like his father, but doesn't. He looks absurdly young, almost as if the years since the end of the war have not touched him at all.
He slides the bowl forward on the counter towards Harry. It is bulbous and made from sand-coloured clay. Crude runes are circling the broad rim, looking as if they'd been scratched into the clay with a knife or a wooden splinter before firing. Both rim and rune markings are chipped in places, stained dark in others. Nothing else is remarkable about the primitive little thing. The silvery-white swirls inside, however, misty and mysterious like long, slender snakes caressing each other's bodies, are familiar, almost painfully so.
Mesmerised against his will, Harry moves closer. There is the faintest pinkish tinge to the silver strands, and the thoughts – memories – inside eddy around each other in agitation, frothing almost. They are a far cry from the languid, peaceful swirls in Albus Dumbledore's Pensieve.
Nothing about it inspires confidence. Harry knows he should put the bowl into an Antimagus field, bag it for examination and drag it, along with Malfoy, back to Headquarters. The bastard may have survived the collapse of Azkaban that buried Voldemort and all his allies and captives among the rubble, but he is a fugitive Death Eater now, hiding in a cursed building among the dregs of Wizarding society. And yet Harry can't take his eyes off the glittering silver dance.
"What is it?" he asks.
"It's for you," Malfoy repeats.
Another step, and Harry places his wand hand on the counter before dipping his fingers into the fluid. He falls into sunlight.
She'll come out any moment now, you tell yourself and wriggle your toes lazily on the blanket. The afternoon is perfect – the spring sun shines warm on your neck and bare legs, the ugly neighbour's cat has streaked off after the twins' attempts to jinx her with their toy wands, and the garden is peaceful and empty of gnomes after Mum set Bill and Charlie to work on it all morning.
Your blanket has a cushioning charm on it so that no half-dry blade of grass or stick can poke you. It's not a baby blanket as stupid Percy says; it's just nice. The grass around you is high and a lovely fresh green because Dad doesn't like mowing charms – they kill little birds and mice along with the grass and you suspect that Dad is secretly fond of the gnomes and doesn't want to expose their hidey-holes. He's brought home a Muggle lawnmover the week before from Ottery St Catchpole's hardware shop, but took it apart instead, so that was that.
There's no one out in the back garden but you, and you're very quiet. You just want to see her.
She'd bitten baby Ginny the day before, but you know that Ginny must have tried to grab her. You don't blame her for biting. You don't like being grabbed either, and Ginny has very pinchy fingers even though she's just a baby. You've overheard Mum telling Dad to get rid of her while healing Ginny's thumb, but then Ginny started to wail so furiously that Mum went quiet and gave Dad an exasperated look. You barely managed to suppress your own sniffles because you know Ginny hasn't given up on catching her, though Ginny isn't allowed to crawl around in the garden by herself. Only you are.
The first glimpse of her sinuous body comes from behind a long branch of brambles. You love eating brambles in summer, but now there are just thorns. Suspiciously, she peeks around a looping bramble, frowning so hard when she sees you that a black line cuts though her tiny forehead. You don't move at all and hardly breathe, just try a wobbly smile. She flits around the bush, minuscule black arms on her hips, and spreads her wings until they glitter like mother-of-pearl where the sun touches them. They're ranging from violet to pastels to perfect crystal, tipped at the very ends with the softest grey fuzz.
The tiny face is still sharp, but your open-mouthed admiration softens it. Her hands on her waist now look less like Mum scolding, and more like cocky posing. Very slowly, carefully, you hold out your hand. She glares, baring two minute but sharp rows of teeth, wings curving as if to flee. But when you make no move, she finally alights, melting into the air with her iridescent wings beating in glittering shivers of colour.
She hovers in the air before your nose for a minute before coming to land on your outstretched palm. There is almost no weight at all, only the prick of her needle-sharp hind claws and a fleeting tickle where the tips of her wings brush your skin. Small dots of blood form on your hand underneath her claws as she twirls and preens herself on your palm, but the colours are too beautiful for the stings to matter, and you don't even sniffle.
The twins are so silly, waving their wands around and yelling made-up spells all day long, and Percy is even sillier with his glasses and his nose crammed into huge books with even more spells. That isn't magic! You grin at the fairy, wriggling your tongue through the gap where your first baby tooth has fallen out last week. The fairy giggles and throws a somersault, and your smile grows wide as her wings sparkle like jewels in fairy tales.
Adults and pesky brothers may have wands and spells, but this is magic!
Harry emerges out of the memory, wide-eyed at its vividness. He's known Ron like a brother for years, but he's never been Ron.
Malfoy is still there behind the counter, his thin, white face devoid of expression.
"How did you get his memories?" Harry snarls.
Ron had been taken in the last year of the war during a Death Eater attack on the Burrow. Harry had expected Voldemort to use him as a hostage or as some sort of leverage against him. But there had been nothing but utter silence, as if Ron had never existed at all. In a way, that had been more painful than taunting or blackmail. From Alecto Carrow, one of the few Death Eaters not present at Azkaban during the last battle, he'd learned that Ron had indeed been held captive there, but no one had survived the fall of the fortress. The destruction had been too complete to even leave bodies.
Malfoy's face twists. "The Dark Lord held him prisoner in Azkaban, Potter!" he snaps. "Ugly, draughty old castle, home to the Dementors who had sided with him, remember? He considered it poetic justice to keep his captives in the same hell his followers had suffered at the Ministry's orders. Dementors suck out your happy memories, and Weasley wanted to keep them." He swallows, fingers absently stroking the side of the Pensieve bowl. "These are what he cared about most. He asked me to keep them safe, and I did."
"Why?" Harry blurts out. "You weren't-"
"His friend?" Malfoy laughs sharply. "No. But Voldemort condemned me to serve as his keeper in the same dungeon as his prisoners, as a keeper of my own father because I'd failed him. Lending a hand to one of his enemies was the least I could do!"
"But-" Harry finds it hard to put his thoughts into words, even harder addressing them to Malfoy. "I was him. Pensieve memories don't do that."
Malfoy favours him with a look that makes 'imbecile' sound like the endearment of the day. "I'm certain that Saint Dumbledore only ever archived emotion-free images for rational examination," he sneers. "That's what they're normally used for, Pensieves. But your Weasley planned on getting those back one day if he should make it out – the feelings, not the memories." He pauses, grimaces. "Bottled joy."
"And you've come here to-"
"He's dead, Potter. He won't need them back, so I thought you or the Mudblood might want what's left. Watch them and go to hell. You can keep them or pour them into the Thames afterwards for all I care!"
They swirl just below Harry's fingertips, silvery-pink and perfect and Harry knows he shouldn't let himself be caught defenceless in front of Malfoy who's a Death Eater and obviously unhinged. But then another strand leaps up, caressing his fingers and stealing him out of the world again.
You lean back with a smug grin as Sirius Black pulls his bishop out of the danger zone. Your black queen scowls and toys with her sword, obviously longing to send another victim onto the growing heap of defeated chessmen on Sirius' side of the table. Dad and Bill are sitting on the couch by the fire, talking in low voices. In the comfy armchair by the fire, 'Call me Remus, I'm not your professor any more' is reading his way through one of Orion Black's darker tomes.
You're pretty certain that Sirius hadn't had this in mind when he asked you for a game after tea with his father's awesome chess set, just de-cursed this afternoon. The first game has been a quick affair, with Sirius chatting with you and Remus until he found himself soundly trashed in nine moves and started paying attention.
Now, halfway through the second, you can't help but gloat over Sirius' narrow-eyed brooding about his next move. Brooding has improved his game a lot. That was quite a nasty little trap he built for your queen there with a knight and his half-forgotten second rook, until you caught on and chased his forward knight back onto his own side.
Neither Sirius' frown nor his silence feel hostile, though – he isn't angry that he's lost, but his expression makes clear that he has no intention of letting you get away with it a second time. Pleasurable heat squirms inside you. Sirius Black is playing a lot better than Harry now that he's put his mind to it. Not even Mum fussing with your hair and reminding you not to stay up too long has managed to spoil your fun.
Four more moves, and you have him neatly on the defensive again, with your queen making forays into the mutinous white army on the other side. At last, Remus snaps his book shut and saunters over, pulling up a chair.
"Does it look as if I need help?" Sirius asks.
Remus nods, an eyebrow lifted. "Altogether too much."
"Young Ron is quite a decent player," Sirius observes, and Ron flushes with pride.
"I take it no one warned you about that before?" Remus inquires mildly. "Or that he beat Minerva's enchanted chess set as a little first year?"
"No – strange how that never came up, isn't it, Moony?" Sirius counters and casts a dirty look towards the couch where Bill is now sniggering openly.
The heat in your cheeks spreads down into your collar while you keep your eyes fixed on the board. You've heard stories about the Marauders, of course, but now you can see them for the first time in your greying former professor and the bitter fugitive who handles being cooped up at Grimmauld Place so spectacularly badly. They're quite a bit like the twins.
Sirius' sharp grey eyes return to the board, and a further few moves find you lacking a bishop and Sirius looking quite smug despite having sacrificed four pawns in the process. Sirius' queen leads your remaining pieces in a merry – and damnably risky – chase across the board. Ever so often, Remus leans in to whisper advice into Sirius' ear, and you quickly learn to move very carefully every time that happens after the first instance costs you a pawn.
All right, you think – they're good on the offensive, so let's turn the tables. A quick exchange leaves you both queenless, and Sirius' frown tells you that he doesn't like it one bit. You marshal your formerly ignored rooks for a concerted attack that costs the white side both knights and one rook at the slim expense of one knight. Ruthlessly, you start in on Sirius' king, quite enjoying running down his weak defences until Sirius is left to scowl darkly at the carnage and Remus reaches out to flip over the white king. Your black chessmen burst into cheers, with even your defeated pieces waving weakly from the side. The Order may be a way from conquering Grimmauld Place, but you seem to have managed to win over the Black family set.
"What a crafty little bugger," Sirius comments to Remus before looking up at you with an amused twinkle. "Great game, Ron!" You shake his offered hand while your mouth is threatening to split at the sides. With a self-deprecating grin, Sirius adds, "There aren't many who can beat you, right?"
You're saved from stuttering in flustered embarrassment when Dad walks up with a knowing look at the remains of the battlefield, and ruffles your hair.
"I haven't won since a week after I started teaching him," he admits. "And I don't think Bill has beaten him once since he's turned eleven."
"Ten," Bill corrects, making you blush even harder. "My little brother is quite a clever little bastard indeed."
"Still, I think it's time for bed now," Dad says, almost apologetically. "Or your mother will have my head tomorrow."
You stumble to your feet, throwing Sirius and Remus another broad smile before slipping out and dashing up to your bedroom. You don't stop grinning all night.
Harry slips out of Ron's mind with an intense, quiet joy that turns to profound ache when he returns into his own head. The vivid memory of Sirius' face, alive and at ease, still hurts after all these years as if it had been only yesterday that his godfather had plunged through the veil. He'd never known that Sirius and Ron had... bonded, at Grimmauld Place.
With a flush of shame, he realises that he's never asked about Ron's summer that year at all, too busy yelling at him for not paying attention to his – Harry's – woes. Had Ron just forgotten to mention it, or had he been afraid to tell Harry, worried he'd come across as trying to steal his godfather's attentions?
He chances a glance at Malfoy, who doesn't seem to have moved a muscle since Harry delved into the makeshift Pensieve. There's something very brittle about him, looking so young and frozen. Harry smoothes his palm over the round curve of the little bowl.
"Look, Malfoy..." Auror-trained instincts struggle with Gryffindor impulsiveness and with the tears that prick very close to the surface. "Thanks," he forces out.
Malfoy makes an expressive noise, like a cat disposing of a hairball. "I don't want your thanks, Potter! I just want you to watch!"
It's the coldness of the other's voice – chasing a shudder down Harry's back – as much as the words that make him dip his fingers back into the silvery swirls in search of kinder feelings. The world – the insides of his eyelids – turn silver, and then——
You watch Harry's robe hem flapping around bare ankles as he hurls himself forward off the giant board, Hermione's frizzy mane whipping behind her as they run, hands locked tightly. They'll make it, you know that even as a massive stone arm whistles towards your unprotected head. You've given them the means to get the stone and stop Snape and You-Know-Who. You feel a burst of joy that's sharp and delicious like a pepper imp, full of 'yes, you stone bitch, you've lost no matter what, defeated by an eleven-year-old, now doesn't that sting?' Hermione turns her head even as Harry drags her after him, bone-white face contorting in horror before the world explodes——
Silver stabs through Harry's head is if to pierce his eyeballs from the inside and he moans, sways as the floor tilts, and then stares at himself, thin and small and bloody and limping, half-lifting Ginny through the gap in a pile of rubble. Ginny, who is pale like death, but alive! You rush forward to embrace her, but she shrinks back, tears falling onto her clammy cheeks as you grab Harry's bird-bone wrist and pull him up too, holding on for a moment just to feel that he's real. Your sister's alive, and your brother too——
Harry's stomach lurches as the world jerks again, wondering if it's Malfoy who's trying to rip his brain into shreds of silvery paper, but Malfoy's made no move. He just stands there behind the counter, a pale-grey statue against the dark of the doorway.
"What-" Harry croaks, feeling his breakfast peeking up and forcing it back down.
Thin shoulders lift in a shrug. "There was an... accident. The original Pensieve broke, and some of the memories were spilled – and damaged."
Harry's hands ball into fists at the thought that some of Ron's precious self has been wasted, irretrievably lost just like Ron himself. He feels the urge to shield the clay bowl with his body to protect it from further harm.
Something like a faint, pained frown twitters over Malfoy's face, as if he weren't even gloating at the thought. "Keep at it," he says, almost bitter. "The worst is over."
Harry gapes in shock at the realisation that Malfoy has watched these memories before him. Of course he has – Harry himself has never once managed to resist the lure of a Pensieve. Still, it feels like a posthumous violation of Ron's person.
Tense with anger, he reaches forward again for the silver.
"How about this one, then?" says Ollivander, gently taking nine and a half inches of cherrywood with dragon heartstring off your hands after the last feeble sputters have stopped. "Ash, eleven inches with a unicorn-hair core, nice and whippy and excellent for Transfiguration. Your brother, William, was well-served by ash, with a very fine phoenix feather I remember well..."
You're not all that excited about Transfiguration, but even though this wand, too, only produces a half-hearted spark, it doesn't curb your elation. Somewhere among the hundreds of tapered boxes behind the counter is your wand, slumbering away. Mum is starting to look flustered; this is one of Diagon Alley's most exclusive shops and you're taking up a lot of Mr Ollivander's valuable time. There's an elderly wizard waiting to be fitted with an extra blackthorn wand for runework, but he's waved you ahead of him, obviously enjoying the scene.
You know the very moment the lid lifts and fourteen inches of willow with unicorn hair are gleaming before you on brown satin. Your fingers close around virginal wood as if it was an extension of your body. The happy, rainbow-coloured sparks that shoot from the tip are hardly necessary.
Ollivander nods, mouth pursed in satisfaction, while Mum beams down at you. Even watching her carefully counting out gold Galleons from her purse can't quite overshadow your excitement. You're hardly able to part with your new wand when Ollivander puts it back into its box and ties it with a maroon bow. Just wait until you show Hermione and Harry! Your own wand – now you really are a wizard!——
——The little owl fluffs its tiny wings in the hollow of your hand as you stare in astonishment at the crisp parchment with its slanted, sharp handwriting which Harry keeps re-reading as the Express speeds on.
'I thought your friend Ron might like to keep this owl...'
Wow! Sirius Black has just escaped from Azkaban, fled on a rogue hippogriff after confronting a horde of Dementors and the traitor who's killed his best friends – your rat! – and he thinks of you? And not only that, he forgives you for sheltering his enemy, and gives you this manic, soft featherball, your own tiny Hedwig——
——And then the dragon roars, rage-filled and familiar and Harry almost upends the Pensieve, and Hermione's nails claw through the wool of your robes as she clings to your sleeve, whimpering with dread. Up in the air, Harry dances on his broom like a mad puppet, the scaly black horror always a mere foot behind, all straining talons and whipping spiked tail.
They're mad, you know that now, mad to set dragons on the champions who're of age, but to do that to Harry, who's just a boy despite his fame? Mad!
And not just any boy – this is Harry, your best friend, and he's going to die while you watch, is going to die hating you because you were stupid and angry and called him a liar when Harry never lied to you, well, not about anything that mattered. Please, you bargain with whatever personification of fate might listen, I don't care if he hates me forever, just let him live!
You sit there in the gasping audience, frozen with fear and self-loathing while Harry swoops to the ground, golden egg clutched to his chest, dirty and bleeding and breathing. You go straight down towards the tent Madam Pomfrey has dragged Harry into, and admit that you were wrong. It's all right that Harry sneers at you, no less than you've bargained for, but then his face softens, and Hermione bursts into tears and somehow the world might turn right again——
"——for coming here, Miss Granger, Miss Chang, Mr Weasley," Headmaster Dumbledore says, beaming at you from behind his half-moon spectacles. "Lemon drop, anyone?"
You're the only one who accepts and munches away on the tart sweet, taking the offer as a sign that you're not in trouble. Hermione fidgets beside you, probably because of the sixteen-or-so spellbooks she's stacked away in the Gryffindor common room in the hope of finding a spell for Harry five minutes before the start of the Second Task. On her other side, Cho Chang looks as serene and pretty as an ink sketch.
"I've asked you here, before breakfast, which I realise is unforgivable..." You're pretty sure that Dumbledore's twinkling blue eyes are directed at you there, "...to ask for your help with today's tournament." He raises his wand and a melodious voice bursts into verse:
We cannot sing above the ground,
And while you're searching, ponder this:
We've taken what you'll sorely miss,
An hour long you'll have to look,
And to recover what we took."
Beside you, Hermione fidgets again, and you try to pull your face into a curious expression as if you'd never heard the words before instead of having frantically pored over dusty books for days trying to find a way around them.
"Now," the Headmaster explains, "we've put a little spell on each Golden Egg to determine just who the Triwizard Champion opening it would miss most sorely indeed..."
Which makes sense – you and Hermione are Harry's best friends, and he has this crush on Chang despite the fact that she's been reported to have snogged Diggory behind every suit of armour in the Charms corridor.
"Miss Chang seems to be Mr Diggory's treasure," the Headmaster states gently over her becoming flush, "while Miss Granger here is very beholden to Mr Krum, and you, Mr Weasley, are obviously very dear to our Mr Potter..."
"What?" you yelp, hardly taking in the last part, and turn on Hermione. "Krum? Why, the duck-footed, over-rated, creepy little..." You fall mutinously silent when Hermione kicks you hard in the shin. You glare back, because really, how can she look so offended? She's supposed to support Harry, not... not... not fraternise with the enemy!
Dumbledore launches into an explanation of how the Second Task will take place at the bottom of the lake, but that they'll be safely cocooned in sleeping and water-breathing charms and under his personal protection even if the champions should not succeed. You barely listen, too preoccupied with the fact that this means you're still the one Harry cares most about – despite Sirius, and although you've been a jealous, back-stabbing arse to him all term.
You nod your assent mechanically, barely listening to Chang's inquiry about Fleur Delacour's hostage and Dumbledore's explanation about her younger sister. Urged to sit down in three quickly conjured plush armchairs, first Hermione, then Cho tumbles into a heavy slumber under the Headmaster's wand.
Just when he points it at you, you gnaw your lip and ask, "Sir – are you sure it was opening the Egg that picked the hostage? I mean... it wasn't the Goblet, earlier?"
"No, Mr Weasley. I've found that... affections... can change quite rapidly among youths of a certain age, and decided to take no risk in the choosing of hostages. And you will realise that Mr Krum and Miss Granger had not even formally met by the time the Goblet of Fire chose the champions." He smiles kindly as his wand tip touches your chest and you feel a wave of drowsy comfort coming over you. "Mr Potter's choice was quite genuine."
You fall asleep with a smile on your face and not a shred of doubt that Harry will pull you safely from the bottom of the lake.
This time, returning into his own head leaves Harry with an even worse lump in his throat, still bathed in that absolute trust in himself.
He'd never known about the sheer depth of Ron's faith in him. And in the end, he hasn't lived up to it. Had Ron been just as sure that Harry would come to liberate him from captivity among Death Eaters, even when he was faced with Voldemort and preyed on by Dementors with only Malfoy as feeble protection?
His hand hovers above the bowl, thoughts frothing up to curl against his fingers like lovesick kittens, until he can almost feel the buzz against his fingertips. He does not deserve to see any of this, no more than Malfoy, perhaps less. Still, he has to look.
The din of 'Weasley is our King' has started to ebb after your three saves in a row, but it still makes your stomach lurch. Davies passes the Quaffle to Chambers just a hair's breadth out of Katie's reach, and the Ravenclaw zooms at you like a blue arrow until you can see his longish face and sandy hair just outside the scoring area.
Baring your teeth, you shoot up to hover in front of your hoops, fixing the enemy chaser with a narrow-eyed stare as he aims a bit too obviously to the left, before his eyes slip and you swerve right. A split second later, the Quaffle slams hard into your hands.
A great shout goes up from the Gryffindor stands, moans from the Ravenclaw side, and Lee actually hums the first four notes of 'Weasley is our King' into the microphone before McGonagall thwaps him with the fringe of her Gryffindor scarf. Yes! You can see Umbridge in the teachers' row like an ugly toad in pale-pink taffeta, and wish you could send a Bludger right at her silly, frilly hair-bow.
Turning the Quaffle over in your hands, you scan the pitch and notice a minuscule glint of gold flitting in the left-hand corner, almost on the ground. You force your eyes away and throw the Quaffle far up to the right. Chambers' eyes follow it, and Davies', and Chang's, and you just pray that Ginny will figure out that you wouldn't aim at a spot where none of your own Chasers are waiting because you're not that stupid.
It's only when Ginny tears down like a mad thing towards the ground that the excited scream from the stands alerts Chang to what's going on. She turns her broom with nearly enough force to break off the handle, and shoots after. Your stomach clenches, because she's the more experienced flier on a much better broom and catches up frightfully fast – one broom length, half a broom length – until they're almost head to head, not to mention almost ploughing the ground. But Ginny comes up with the Snitch in her fist and you let out a mad whoop of triumph, echoed by Chang's scream of fury, and then the stands explode with noise.
You land on the ground after a series of wild somersaults, and can barely suppress your laughter when you see Cho throwing her broom on the ground and stomping her foot, her doll-like prettiness distorted by rage. Your sister, on the other hand, sports a grin as wide as the Kneazle who's slipped into the cream vat. Ginny's smirk as she lovingly cradles her Snitch is the last thing you see before the rest of the team descends on you.
Angelina, face glowing, grabs you by the front of your robes, planting a kiss on your mouth that lasts nearly a minute while the others cheer and wolf-whistle. You go red, pleasantly squished against Angelina's breasts, which are in evidence despite the heavy Quidditch robes until you wonder if steam will be coming out of your ears. You're not quite sure if you're hoping that Hermione won't see this, or that she will.
Angelina lets you go with another hug. "I knew you could do it, Weasley! You were great!" She slips away to kiss Ginny, but not without giving a thumbs up to someone behind you.
Suddenly, you feel yourself seized around the middle and hoisted upwards. With a squawk, you stare into Lee's grinning face. "You really did Fred and George proud!" he yells over the din before depositing you into the waiting arms of the Gryffindors who have poured onto the pitch in a red-golden wave. You have the presence of mind to catch the gleaming Quidditch Cup when Lee tosses it at you before you find yourself lifted up onto several shoulders until you're riding on a sea of scarlet towards the castle. The revised version of 'Weasley is our King' takes up again, drowning out the hissing of the Slytherins and Ravenclaws.
A bit apart from the crowd, you spot Harry and Hermione, identical gobsmacked expressions on their faces.
"We did it! We won!" you yell, aware that you're grinning like a maniac over the smile on Harry's face. A little frown still mars Hermione's forehead. She's seen you kiss Angelina, then!
A moment later you're whisked away again into the Great Hall, too ecstatic to take much note of how your head bumps against the lintel. Your whole house is celebrating your saves, your brothers are proud of you, and there will be a victory party! This certainly is one of the best days of Ronald Weasley's entire life!
Harry comes back up for air with the exhilaration of speed and victory still racing in his blood. He hasn't played Quidditch since his sixth year at Hogwarts, and his body still misses the rush.
"There's one left," Malfoy says when he looks up, and it takes a second for the Slytherin's features to come back into focus. "Although," Malfoy adds spitefully, "you might want to pass up on that one if you still have designs on Granger, or harbour any Gryffindorish illusions about the idyllic purity of their friendship."
Harry pulls a face. Hermione and he can hardly be alone in the same room without the reality of loss crushing them like a metaphysical anvil. They barely talk to each other these days. He hasn't seen her for weeks.
"Don't be stupid," he says tiredly before dipping his finger into the Pensieve for the last strand of memory to latch on to.
You've known that this would be it from the moment you've seized Hermione in pure exuberance after Harry had revealed the Ravenclaw Horcrux, and kissed her, right on the mouth. Harry, battered as he was with his hair a cobwebbed mess and scratches all over his legs and hands, had nonetheless grinned like a mad fool. Sure, you've kissed Harry too, but only on the cheek and with a goofy, apologetic grin. But Harry hasn't gone soft and strangely heavy under your hands, and the look in Hermione's inquisitive brown eyes... It's weird, you muse, how you've waited four years – no, more! – for the right moment or the right words, and then all it took was a look.
Thankfully, Harry is too winded to notice the careful not-looks you exchange while healing his scrapes and seeing him off to bed for his well-deserved rest. He doesn't let go of the Horcrux even as he drifts off to sleep, clutching the crystal phial like a part of his own soul. You've identified, located and captured a Horcrux, the three of you all on your own – well, with Harry doing the battle part – and the very air of the house, stale and mildewed as it is, seems to sparkle with excitement. It feels like the fore-runner of victory.
You meet in the nook that holds the storage closet on the first storey landing of number twelve Grimmauld Place, and when Hermione's mouth quirks into a wry smile, you move into each other's arms like puzzle pieces, mouths and hands locking, leaning into each other.
Hermione's mad hair prickles under your hands as if it were coming alive, her mouth milky-sweet from the hot chocolate you've made and plied Harry with. You trace her sides, finding her buttocks more pleasantly rounded than Lavender's, thighs cradling your growing excitement without giggles or silly pet names. You've never seen Hermione's eyes shine almost black in the dim gaslight as she falls back against Remus' patched winter cardigan, arms fiercely locked round your neck, mouth equally fierce on yours.
You run up a hesitant thumb, tracing the underside of her breast, hot even through the thin shirt and bra. When you brush the tip, she exhales your name against your lips, and you have to abandon all thoughts of seduction and just hold her against you so tightly it hurts, face buried against her flushed neck.
Hermione is right here, and Harry is alive and asleep just a door away, and isn't it weird how joy can have you almost come apart just when things are at their most perfect?
Harry pulls his hand out of the swirling images quickly, cheeks going red at the privacy of the memory. He had no right watching this! The shadow of a sardonic smirk pulls at Malfoy's mouth, but the memories inside their bowl seem calmer now, as if Harry viewing them had eased some of the urgency.
"How did he die?" Harry finally asks, driven by a perverse urge to torture himself with the knowledge.
Malfoy's face closes off, like a jigsaw puzzle receiving its final piece in order to make a coherent whole.
"Why, I killed him, of course."
Harry jerks up his wand so quickly that the bowl wobbles, an icy shard lodging itself in his chest.
"You-" His first impulse is to accuse Malfoy of lying, but there is no way this sort of serene expression can be anything but the truth. "Why?"
"Why are you even asking, Potter? He was my enemy, my father's enemy, Voldemort's enemy. I hated him all my life, and I could."
Harry looks at the sharp face, hair bright and cold against the dim surroundings. Very softly, he puts his wand on the counter beside the Pensieve. "Why?" he repeats.
For the first time, Malfoy seems to fidget. He looks down at the bowl. "He begged me, Potter. He was so afraid you'd surrender yourself for his sake."
So Voldemort had intended to blackmail him – and had been robbed of the opportunity.
Harry can see it in front of his inner eye – maybe with an unconscious burst of Legilimency, or perhaps Malfoy wants him to see, or it's just his feverish imagination. The dark, dank cell, and Ron, stooped and bruised and filthy, a bandage soaked through with old blood around his wand hand that Harry doesn't want to look at too closely. He sees Malfoy in the doorway, reluctant and very young and Ron grabbing his cloak with his undamaged hand, pulling him inside and insisting, "Voldemort – he has to lose, for all of us!" And then, when Malfoy's face distorts in revulsion, "You know that better than most."
He watches Ron squeezing his eyes shut and Malfoy's hand coming up as if to touch his shoulder, or his face, but he doesn't and then there's only his wand, and two words, and a wave of green. Ron slumps back, but there's a grim, secretive smile on his lips that fades out there on the dirty floor.
"Would you?" Malfoy cocks a pale head as if he were truly curious. "Have surrendered?"
Harry pauses, admiring for a moment the delicate sharpness of the question. But the answer remains the same. "No." He shakes his head. "He would never have forgiven me if I had."
Malfoy's eyes are hard and bright as salt crystals. "Does that make you feel better, Potter?"
"No," Harry repeats, because he hasn't felt better, or much of anything, since Azkaban fell.
"Good!" There's almost a glint of the old Draco Malfoy there, although Harry still can't sense the familiar spite behind it.
"How did you escape?" he asks, half-aware that he's looking for a reason not to bring Malfoy in after all this time, despite having killed Severus Snape for murdering Dumbledore without a moment's hesitation. "We thought that no one had escaped the collapse of Azkaban."
"Who says I did?" There's a wry tone in Malfoy's voice, and an unfamiliar curve to his mouth as if he might actually consider to smile.
Understanding touches Harry and his hands go even colder than they've been before. And yet, the hairs don't rise on his neck although he supposes they should. Not a cursed place, then – a haunted one.
His eyes fall on the dried brown stains that have smeared the rim of the little bowl and dripped down on one side like spilled tears.
"Yours?" he asks gently, although by now he knows. Malfoy just shrugs and turns paler still, until the ends of his hair seem to become one with the air around it. It's not a vanishing so much as a melting into air, grey into grey and white into nothing, not remotely like the pearly hue of the Hogwarts' ghosts Harry has seen disappearing so often. Though this is different, of course. This one has no intention of coming back.
Harry's index finger slips in to stir the silvery-red substance, and for a second Ron's face, smiling up at him in joyful abandon from the past, forms under his fingertip, then melts back into random swirls.
Cradling the chipped bowl with its priceless contents against his chest, shielded under his cloak from the rain, Harry steps out into Knockturn Alley and quietly closes the door of Borgin and Burkes against its ghosts.
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