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Winner Takes All by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 12: The Judges Will Decide
Author's Note: It is a very long chapter, but hopefully I'm catching a majority of the loose ends left by this winding, knotted plot. The remainder will be resolved in the next, final chapter, lucky number thirteen.
chapter image by Dora Winifred
The Judges Will Decide
Rose thought it prudent not to act perturbed. She had already been perturbed enough for one day, and so she put down her teacup and greeted Mrs. Tonks with as much equanimity as she could muster, which, admittedly, wasn’t very much. Rose lacked the skills of the femme fatales who could flit about in dressing gowns committing murders and the like. It was very difficult to have self-possession, much less self-confidence, when wearing a borrowed dressing gown.
“It was a very strange wedding, Mrs. Tonks. I’m sorry I didn’t see you there.”
It was, at least, a far better thing to say than “this isn’t how it looks” because she knew very well how it looked, and frankly, didn’t care. There were too many other things still on her mind. Well, one very large and looming thing in the shape of a ferocious bride.
A series of emotions crossed Mrs. Tonks’s face before she settled on an appropriate response. “Rose, do you know just how many people are currently looking for you?”
Rose bit her lip. “I’m afraid that I do.”
There were many who would swear up and down that Andromeda too-closely resembled her elder sister, the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange, and at that moment, Rose could too-clearly see the resemblance for herself. She gulped under the sharpness of those dark eyes, so different from Teddy’s cappuccino-flavoured gaze.
“Just give her a few minutes, Grandmum,” Teddy finally said, breaking the silence and mercifully removing those eyes from burning holes through Rose’s skull. “She fell while apparating, hence her state of disrepair.”
There was a long silence between them in which Rose could see that more was being conveyed than spoken dialogue could express. It was one of those moments shared by people who have not only spent years in each other's company, but have done so with a near-complete understanding of one another. For all that he was a non-political, couldn’t-care-less-about-money poet, Teddy would always be the apple of his grandmother’s eye.
“You have about ten minutes, Rose, and even that’s a generous estimate,” Teddy said at last, turning to face her.
Mrs. Tonks let out a long breath, a certain degree of exasperation present in the smallest shake of her head. “The least we can do is make you presentable for when your parents arrive.”
Rose’s eyes widened as she fought the urge to leap out of her chair and sprint to the lavatory. Hands shaking, she picked up her teacup to drain it to the bitter dregs, eyes focussed on the far corner of the kitchen where the sun reflected off the gleaming tiles.
Her parents. They were coming here. To see her.
Rose continued to stare into the corner, but she no longer saw it.
She saw Godric’s Hollow and the stony road against which her feet knocked as she was floated home in chains under the watchful eyes of an entire troop of Aurors. She would never be allowed to see the light of day again, and she certainly wouldn’t be allowed in the company of any male who was not a direct relative, perhaps not until she was well-past thirty. At the very least, she would be well-fed, and who knew what sort of interesting plant life one could cultivate in the deepest, darkest dungeons of the world–
“Rose, are you alright?”
Teddy leaned across her vision, tilting his head with a raised eyebrow.
They were alone in the kitchen once again, though Rose could hear Mrs Tonks sorting through a nearby wardrobe, hangers squealing as clothes were pulled from one side to the other and back again. It seemed as though nothing was appropriate for Rose’s use. Whether it meant appropriate in size or appropriate to sacrifice, Rose could not be sure. Neither option sounded particularly complimentary.
“Well enough, I guess.” She looked down at the table. “I think I’m still in shock.”
“You didn’t expect him to kiss you.”
Her fist came down with a force that made the cups shudder in their saucers.
“Of course not!” She met his eyes, a fury rising within her as the words, at long last, poured out. “If he really wanted me all along, why didn’t he damn well say so? It would have saved everyone a cursed lot of trouble.”
A funny look had come into Teddy’s eyes, but how could Rose notice, so deep in her own concerns? Instead of him, she saw that corridor, that endless corridor in which Scorpius had kissed her for the last time. It had to be the last time now, didn’t it? He was married, and she wasn’t the sort to get involved in marital discord. Bad enough that she’d thought of putting a stop to his and Lily’s wedding, but she didn’t even have the heart to do that in the end. No, she had decided to let him go instead.
If only he could have done the same.
She closed her eyes, trying to shut him out of her mind. Scorpius Malfoy. The first boy she’d ever loved. First date. First kiss. First everything. All with him.
And now? What now?
A return to her interim life, the life after she had left Scorpius and before she had returned home to find him... as he now was. A husband, the husband of her cousin, to be exact. He’d gotten just what he’d wanted: a wife. The kind of wife who would be hostess at parties, greeting guests at the door to Malfoy Manor in robes of the highest fashion, a gracious smile lighting up her face. The kind of wife who wouldn’t run off to China at the tip of a hat to dig in the dirt and get her hair chopped off by carnivorous cabbages.
Rose couldn’t imagine herself as the perfect hostess for all the tea in China. She equally couldn’t imagine Lily being anything but the role she’d chosen for herself. The role that she’d won, perhaps a little dishonestly, but Rose couldn’t hold her against it.
Really, the only people she could blame were Scorpius and herself.
Yes. Her. Rose Weasley.
“I never should have come back,” she said at last, chin resting in her upturned palm as she stared into the tablecloth. “He wasn’t worth it. Any of it.”
Teddy reached out a long hand to touch her arm, the fingers just brushing against her skin when the kitchen door burst open a second time to admit two slightly ragged-looking individuals who cried out Rose’s name at the sight of her. His hand retracted surreptitiously to wrap around his empty cup.
“Finally!” Vinny embraced Rose in a choking grip. “We heard what happened and tried to find you, but here, of all places! Rose! What will people–” She caught sight of Teddy and fell silent, pink blotches lighting up her olive cheeks.
Albus kept his distance, planting his hands on the table and leaning forward to address the company, a fair shade of his father.
“Dad said you’d probably be here.” He nodded a smile in Teddy’s direction. “Thanks for looking after her, Ted.”
Rose began to cough just as Vinny added, “You knew?!”
A sly smile crossing his face, Albus picked up a biscuit and gazed at it admiringly before taking a generous bite. Vinny glared daggers at him from her place at Rose’s side, hands painfully gripping Rose’s arm, but neither this grip nor the sight of her friends was enough to entirely distract Rose from Teddy’s silence. Maybe she had missed the touch of his hand, light as a butterfly’s wing, but could not miss the way he was sitting, absolutely silent, without any degree of amusement at the antics of this quarrelling couple.
Albus was saying something about his skills as an Auror while Vinny gave her usual quipping reply, but Rose looked across the table at Teddy and couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t look back at her, why he stared down at his cup, his face a blank mask. It just wasn’t like him, not the way that she’d come to know him, at least.
How long had it been now? Three, four days? It seemed like forever.
She opened her mouth to ask him that oft-used, never-truthfully-answered question, “Are you alright?” when Mrs Tonks returned to view the damage caused by the second forage of invasions. One Weasley cousin was trouble enough, but two, even under the guise of a Potter, meant trouble, and plenty of it.
“I take it that this means I’m to expect all of you soon?” Mrs Tonks looked with curiosity toward Vinny, but her words were meant for Albus. “It would seem that my house is to be the site of the after-wedding party.”
Albus swallowed his smile and made an attempt to appear like the respectable Auror he imagined himself to be, straightening his spine and doing everything but flexing his muscles and batting his eyelashes.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they all made their way here eventually, Mrs Tonks.” His eyes flickered in Rose’s direction for the briefest moment. “Except for the newlyweds, of course.”
“I’m sure they’re in need for some quality time together,” Rose drawled to the surprise of the others, equally surprising herself in the process. Vinny and Mrs Tonks appeared genuinely scandalised whereas Albus failed to contain his laughter, the room ringing with his unrestrained peals. Teddy said nothing, managing little more than a bland smile.
“Rose, you’re incorrigible.” Vinny punched her none-too-lightly on the shoulder.
“And appropriately crude,” Albus said with a mature shake of his head.
Mrs Tonks pursed her lips, dark eyes taking in every detail. “I’ve set out some robes in the spare room. I daresay your parents will arrive soon.”
Rose did not so much leap out of the chair as she was dragged out of it by Vinny, who accompanied her, leaving Albus to pursue more biscuits and Teddy to grimly pursue the dregs of his teacup under the sharp gaze of his grandmother.
Entering the spare room, a quiet, clean space filled with sunshine, Rose passed by the plain black robes hanging on wardrobe handle to sit on the bed, staring at the wall. Her earlier outburst had spent her energy and sense of humour, leaving her rather too thoughtful for anyone’s liking. There could be no quality time for the newlyweds now; Scorpius had shown his hand and lost, bitterly so, failing to take back the queen he’d lost. Rose had set down her cards long ago, not in a refusal to play, but in sheer ignorance of the rules. Sheer stupid ignorance. That left Lily to effortlessly sweep in for victory, and by Merlin’s beard did she take it all.
“Rose, you’re scaring me.” Vinny had knelt down before her, peering into her face.
Rose blinked once, then again, before replying. “Sorry. I just keep thinking.”
No jokes now, not even a disapproving line between Vinny’s brows, only worry, the worry of someone who actually gave a damn about her, not her reputation, not the family’s honour, just her, Rose Weasley, as a feeling, thinking human being.
“If I hadn’t gone today–”
Vinny shook Rose, hard, by the shoulders. “Stop this. Stop blaming yourself.”
“Stop whining, you mean?”
“It would help.” Vinny tilted her head, a cascade of braids falling over her shoulder. “All you’ve done since you got back is whine and moan over that degenerate Malfoy. I always told you–”
“That he was no good. I know. I know.” Rose sighed and ran a hand through her hair, loosening it from its few remaining pins. “You and everyone else told me a million times. Just wait until my parents get here and you’ll hear it a million times more.”
She tried to sound sarcastically cheerful. It would take all her effort to convince Vinny, much less her parents, that she was still the same old Rose, stubborn with a hint of cautious recklessness, always looking backwards, never forward. She only wished that she could feel that way, but all she could do was berate herself over and over again for this past week, a true week from hell, feeling lower and lower with every passing minute. If this evening was to be a gathering of the family, smothering Rose in its midst in sympathy and relief, she would sink so low that she’d fall straight through the earth and onto the other side.
It was on that other side that she’d rather be, anyway.
Strange how these things work out sometimes.
“I wish I’d seen it happen, though.” Vinny sat back on her heels with a funny twist to her lips. “Not Lily having a glorious tantrum, but Scorpius actually confessing his love for you after he’d already married her. What bad timing he has!”
Rose let out a breath that was not a sigh. Not quite. It cut short as she remembered that day at Malfoy Manor, the day that she had begun running. She hadn’t stopped running yet.
“He almost did before.”
Vinny’s brow furrowed as Rose stared off into a corner of the room.
“He was going to tell me something when my dad interrupted.” She stopped and licked her lips; she was still thirsty. “I was angry at him for being such a prat and was going to leave, but he stopped me at the door.” Her eyes narrowed. “He just said my name, and that was it. I thought... I mean... I don’t know.” She shook her head and looked back at Vinny, her face attempting a smile. “It’s for the best all around. For everyone.”
That was a good question. Too good.
There was a tap on the door, the three short knocks that Rose knew too well, and that Vinny seemed to know equally well from her barked out reply.
“You might as well come in, Al. You’ve been listening for Merlin knows how long.”
Albus pushed open the door a few inches, leaning casually against the frame in a way that he probably believed made him appear dashing and/or mysterious, like a proper detective right out of the movies. If only he knew the truth.
“Teddy seems to think there’ll be a big gathering here tonight. He’s gone to the garden for some whatsits and whatnots to feed the family.”
Rose blinked. “Poor Mrs Tonks. Bad enough having us for tea.”
Vinny pointed to his shirtfront. “Did you eat all the biscuits again?”
Looking down with a frown, Albus flicked his hand over the crumbs that had attached themselves to the stiff tweed of his robes. They weren’t dress robes, nor were they his regular Ministry-standard robes.
“My good robes, too,” he said peevishly.
“For the wedding?”
He pushed the door open the rest of the way, flaunting his robes. “She is my sister, after all.” His face fell a little. “I can’t help her choice in men as much as I could help yours, Rosie.”
It was a blow, a low one at that. Vinny stiffened, laying her hand on Rose’s wrist as though to shield Rose from the verbal missiles shot forth by her less-than benevolent – or was it healthfully honest? – cousin. Rose, however, held her own, raising her head to shake away the hair that had fallen over her forehead.
“So you saw it all?”
A nod. “Everything. Quite a show.”
“Lily surprised me.”
“She surprised everyone.” Albus couldn’t resist the urge to smile, if only a little. “You should have seen Dad’s face when she stalked back into the hall. First time I’ve ever seen him look remotely proud of her.”
Vinny, who had avoided the wedding like the plague, as Rose could see from the state of her clothes, more Muggle than anything Rose thought possible, looked back and forth between Albus and Rose with wide eyes, for once silenced. Albus may have told her the whole story, but Rose’s level voice and steady nerves were a sudden shock. The girl who had, all week, been nothing but a bundle of melodramatic sighs and wrenching hands now seemed older, more assured, as though, somewhere deep inside, a decision had been made. Perhaps it was a decision that had been riding in the back of Rose’s mind for some time, a thought that came to light again and again, only to be repressed under the heart’s continued protestations of loyalty and affection to one little deserving of it.
“And Scor–” Rose stopped, almost faltered, but pressed on, her jaw set. “Malfoy?”
The change increased the depth of Albus’s smile.
“Cowering in the corner until Lil came back to drag him off. Even his mother wouldn’t go near him, being properly shocked at the scandal caused by her son’s behaviour.” His voice rose an octave to mimic the clipped syllables of one Mrs Astoria Malfoy. “Or should I say, the behaviour of his crazed, hysterical ex-girlfriend?”
Oh, how dare she? Mrs Malfoy had never liked her, never thought Rose good enough for her darling boy, always mocking her behind her back, giving her the hardest time possible whenever Rose came to visit, spilling the tea and serving stale biscuits, simpering and sneering the whole way. It wasn’t a wonder that Mr Malfoy had become such a strange man, almost reclusive, while his wife ruled the social world of British purebloods.
Her face darkened with these thoughts, her lips pressed together until they turned white, red spots blurring together the freckles on her cheeks and returning life to her tired, smudge-darkened eyes.
“The real Malfoy finally stepped forward,” Vinny scoffed, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Nice to know that he’s a perfectly useless coward.”
Albus tilted his head, scratching his chin. “I could swear that we already knew that, Vin.”
Her peals of laughter brought Teddy to the door, sleeves rolled up high, beads of perspiration crowning his brow.
“Care to leave off that fine apparel to assist, Potter?”
Albus made a face. “It depends.”
“No it doesn’t.” Teddy grabbed his arm and led him away with a nod to the ladies, his eyes lingering on Rose only when he was sure she could not see him.
Her face fell at his exit, but she put up a smile when Vinny looked back her way.
“Guess I should get dressed.”
Vinny scrambled to rise. “Guess you should.” She went over the window. “Your parents are coming up the drive.”
Rose took a deep breath and stood, waiting for the inevitable shaking of unsteady legs, but they did not shake. She lifted up a hand; it did not shake either. Had there been time, she would have gone for the mirror to see whether a new person stood in her place, a Rose by another name, perhaps, but no, there was no time for that. When she went to greet her parents at the door, dressed in borrowed robes, hair still somewhat-ratty, she even felt that the warmth of her hello was genuine.
It was not her mother, but her father, who threw himself at her, expressing more emotion than she had ever thought possible. What was it her mother always said? That he had “the emotional range of a teaspoon”? Whatever it was, it didn’t seem true at this moment.
Her mother came forward second and took the hand that Rose offered, the only thing Rose could extricate from her father’s embrace.
“We’re glad that you’re alright, Rose.” Hermione’s smile reflected Rose’s own, and the understanding she found in those brown eyes warmed her more than the finest cup of piping hot tea and flaming hearth.
Her father looked down at her, jaw quavering. “Never do that again!”
He at least had the grace to look sheepish, as much as a high-ranking Auror can take on such an appearance. “You can’t blame a man for worrying.”
“Especially about his daughter?” Hermione asked with an arched eyebrow.
Ron loosened his hold on Rose, if only a bit. “About everything.”
When he looked in her direction, Rose wondered how the air kept from smouldering. If she hadn’t been wedged between her parents, she would have attempted an escape, but as is, she suffered the embarrassment with flushing cheeks and downcast eyes. Adults never made sense, did they? Then again, most things in Rose’s world didn’t, to her eternal consternation. One would think that, after the scene in the assembly hall, her parents would be at each other’s throats, her father swearing and her mother throwing hexes at him. But no. Her parents had to be making eyes at one another, in her presence no less.
Before swells of violins filled their ears, Rose tried to think of the most ridiculous, and thus most distracting, thing to say.
“You know what, Dad? You were right.”
If there is anything in the world capable of distracting one’s parents, it is informing them that, against all odds, they were correct about something, especially about one’s choice of possible life partner. And Ron proved no exception to the rule, scooping up Rose in another lung-crushing embrace.
Hermione, however, understood, shaking her head with a roll of her eyes. “It certainly took you long enough to admit that, though don’t say that too often, Rose, or it’ll go to your father’s head.”
Ron made a noise of protest, letting Rose go to turn toward his wife. “I never need to worry about my ego with you around, do I?”
Oh hell, there they went again. Rose looked anxiously toward the corridor to the kitchen, wondering where everyone else had gone to. Lucky them to be missing out on this heartwarming family reunion. Why did it always seem that the angrier her parents should be at her and at each other, the less angry they ended up being?
“Are we intruding?” came a voice from behind them, at the door.
It was more of the family: Aunt Audrey and her girls, then Fred and Roxanne, all followed by the young bride’s parents, hand in hand, still in their dress robes.
Rose hardly knew what to say to them all as they entered, giving her hugs and kind words and sympathetic smiles. Fred successfully pulled his flower-on-the-lapel trick for the first time in years, spraying Rose’s face with a stream of water while Roxanne nearly pummelled him.
“I don’t know why I bother bringing you along. You’ve got the mind of a five year-old.”
“But that’s an improvement, Roxy! Last time you said it was only three!”
It was the sight of Ginny Potter that made Rose go pale. Uncle Harry patted her kindly on the back, as though thankful that she had managed to bring out the best in his daughter, before taking Ron and Hermione aside for one of those grim-faced political discussions that had become more and more frequent over the years. It left Rose standing, frozen, before her aunt, like a defendant on trial before the highest court judge.
What did one say to the mother of the bride after you’ve just been caught kissing the groom? For all that Aunt Ginny had been kind to her when she’d arrived, Lily was her daughter, and Ginny was a Weasley, and they tended to be fiercely protective of their female offspring.
“You’ve had quite a week, Rose.”
A rather ominous start, to say the least.
After a single breath, Rose let it all out. “I’m sorry, Aunt Ginny. I didn’t mean any of it to be like this, and I shouldn’t have gone to the wedding at all, knowing what Scorpius was like and how he was manipulating everyone, and–”
“Do remember to breathe.”
Rose followed orders before pausing in mid-breath to think over Ginny’s response, spoken in a slightly sardonic tone that wasn’t at all what Rose had expected, though if you asked her, she would not be able to outright say just what she had expected.
“I thought you would hate me.”
Ginny leaned toward Rose, furtively glancing toward the other adults.
“If anything, and don’t let your father know I said this, I wish you had come sooner.” When Rose jolted back a step, she added, “Had I been certain that young Malfoy was playing such a game, I never would have let the wedding occur.”
Blinking, Rose could only splutter a reply. “But what now? It’s happened.”
Ginny tossed her head, a sly smile twisting her lips. “You saw Lily. She always got what she wanted in the end, no matter what the cost.”
But what was the cost? A good ounce of pride from all parties involved, but what else? What was it that Lily had fought so hard to keep, even to protect? Not Scorpius. She hadn’t cared a wit for his physical safety, not with the way she was shooting curses everywhere. Lily had been as deadly as a mother tiger–
“I always wondered if she had it in her,” Ginny was saying. “And I don’t think it would have emerged but for you, Rose.”
Rose didn’t know what to say. She didn’t think there was anything that one could say.
“There’s only one thing I completely fail to understand.”
“What, Aunt Ginny?”
There was a pause, drawn out for effect.
“Why Malfoy? Of all the young men around, why him? Surely there’s someone more worthwhile fighting over...”
A movement in the corridor caught Rose’s eye, someone listening in, someone tallish and thin, crowned with blue-black hair, as far from Scorpius’s bleached blond locks as one could get. He was gone in an instant, slipping back into the kitchen, from where the clanging of cutlery soon sounded forth.
“...than that boy. I can’t ever recall him being talented at anything apart from leading people on.”
There was no answer, of course. There couldn’t be. It was the same question that people had asked her again and again throughout the years, and never once could she give a straight answer because she did not know it herself.
She shook her head as Ginny watched her from beneath creased brows.
How could someone who’d fallen for the famed Boy Who Lived understand what it was like to have loved a broken idol?
But there was something else still bothering Rose, the guilt flooding her stomach.
“Will they be alright, Aunt Ginny?”
The crease disappeared to reveal a thoughtful frown. “If you mean ‘did you ruin everything for them,’ then my answer would be ‘no.’ Lily will do everything in her power to keep him by her side.”
“And make him into the perfect husband?”
Ginny’s laughter caught the attention of the other adults, who, looking their way, seemed to visibly relax, Ron’s shoulders losing a degree of tension as Hermione’s hand gripped his arm with rather less force. Harry nodded at Ginny before returning to the discussion.
“Now you’ll have me pitying the poor boy. I unfortunately know my daughter too well, Rose, seeing that, in some respects, however surprising, we are very much alike.”
Rose’s eyes widened as she attempted, and failed, to make the connection between starlet Lily and her down-to-earth mother, but broomsticks and newspaper ink got in the way, obscuring all but the most obvious physical similarities between mother and daughter.
While Rose fell into an awkward silence, Ginny took her leave, touching Rose’s shoulder for an instant before going to stand beside her husband, cutting him off in mid-sentence to steer the conversation in a rather more controversial direction. Hermione glanced toward Rose, as though uncertain that her daughter wouldn’t make another escape through the open door, but Rose merely stood there, leaning against the doorframe, staring at the floor.
Roxanne entered the room, breaking the monotony of sound emitting from the adults, Harry’s voice fading into the background as Mrs Tonks called out for her to “take care with those things, girls!” Vinny and Molly came behind, bearing thin paper-covered squares in their hands, not stopping until they reached the old record player. The room soon filled with music of an earlier era, probably that of Teddy’s mother from the strength of the drumbeat and profusion of electric guitars. Harry made a face, as did Hermione, but Ron smiled.
“Charlie always loved this one,” he said, and Ginny nodded agreement.
Teddy entered, wiping his hands on a dishcloth as he listened from the opposite side of the room, watching the scene as some would watch a play. His eyes rather too often flickered Rose’s way as she closed the front door, keeping out the growing night. Vinny had gone to stand with her, but they did not talk. There was no need for that now.
“Would you mind if I made a suggestion?” He took a step toward the record player, putting down the cloth to take up the record lying on the top of the pile.
Roxanne bent over to read the title, then made a face. “It’s too sad a song, Ted. For the present company, you know.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I know, and that’s exactly why we’ll play it.”
Rose had never heard it before, though she liked the way that it began, hopeful piano notes soon joined by a distant chorus. She was unprepared for the solemn lyrics, the ringing solo that spoke of things too close to her, too fresh, all to real. How could he do this? How could he expect that she would want to hear such a song?
“The winner takes it all....”
Feeling as though her face had been dipped in boiling water, Rose met Teddy’s eyes across the room, expecting anything but what she actually saw. In his face, Rose saw a reflection of herself, her own pain, her own wounded pride and vanity, the shattered belief that one could love and have that love returned, wholly and equally.
There was so much in the world that Rose still didn’t understand, so much more that she would never understand at all, but maybe she was starting to understand that, through all of this, she wasn’t alone, had never been alone, nor would she ever have to be alone again.
The song had not yet finished when a noise behind Rose nearly sent her through the ceiling, her exclamation of surprise cutting through the singer’s admittance of defeat.
“The winner takes it all...”
She stared at the door. Everyone stared at the door. Perhaps they all had the same thought, the same terrifying thought.
It didn’t matter that not all of the family had yet arrived, that it could have been anyone, anyone at all. The sound of the knocking at the door brought to mind the face of a single individual, the name of a last wizard any of them wanted to see at that moment.
Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy.
Quotations: Ron's status as the emotional teaspoon famously comes from Chapter Twenty-One of "Order of the Phoenix" while the song lyrics are from ABBA's song "The Winner Takes It All".