On the twenty-seventh of June, a Saturday, Mrs. Tonks Lupin awoke to a rough tongue licking at her hand. It lay draped over the side of the bed and contained remnants of a sugary late-night snack, which explained why the Lupins’ new pet was being so affectionate.
Remus’s left arm was still encircled around her waist, his right hand in her hair. Tonks’s eyes slid sideways to view the obstructive limb, and while raising a finger to her lips so that Pepper knew not to bark, she carefully lifted Remus’s heavy hand and placed it onto the pillow.
“You hungry?” she whispered. The Norfolk Spaniel wagged her tail, head cocked to the side. According to Newt Scamander, who lived next door and liked to pet Pepper over the fence, her breed was said to be extinct now.
She padded across the oak floor, following in the direction of Pepper’s click-clacking toenails, and down the steps into the drawing room. She raised one arm against the sunlight pouring in through the three narrow windows, which were supposed to be self-tinting but for some reason never worked correctly on weekends.
“Here you are,” she said in a hushed tone to the dog, pouring some food into a bowl. Remus probably wasn’t in any danger of being woken by her voice, but she chose to whisper, anyway. Oddly, rising early in the morning often made her walk more softly, talk more softly, as if she did not want to disturb the rest of the slumbering world. Pepper seemed to agree with this, as she licked Tonks’s hand to answer her and eagerly plunged her nose into her breakfast, small chunks of kibble flying everywhere as she did so.
Tonks put a kettle on and drifted over to the small table. There was something soothing in the way that they had obtained the furniture piece by piece – the table and both wooden chairs were mismatched, the one Tonks sat on upholstered while the other had an imbued Cushioning Charm. There was no third chair, which was just the way she preferred it. No empty seats – no emptiness.
“Accio post,” she replied, aiming her wand at the open window. Her post flew out of the letterbox on their front porch and zoomed around the side of the house to greet her, flopping lifelessly onto the table. She smiled in satisfaction to herself and couldn’t suppress a glance at the stairs, half-hoping that Remus had seen it. He was never around when her spells did exactly what she intended them to. Or maybe it was because even after all this time, his presence still flustered her, made her nervous. She was forever dropping something onto his foot or opening a cabinet right into his face, smashing the poor man to pieces.
“Hmm.” She surveyed the post in the same way her mother did, even tilting her face back just a smidge as though looking down the bridge of her nose through a pair of reading glasses, even though Tonks of course did not have any reading glasses. Her hair was happily messy, as she called it, with bits of snow collecting there through the open window.
She shut the window with another flick of her wand. “Must be on Winter Walk today.”
As she filed through the post, most of it advertisements (Half-price Polyjuice Potion at Clagg’s Supply Shop! Wholesale seasonal jellybeans available for pre-order, Sunday only!) or calling cards inviting her to Exploding Snap at Marlene’s or a ladies-only brunch at Emmeline’s, she sorted them into piles – one to keep, one for the dustbin. When she came across an invitation from 'Master Regulus Black' (his penmanship ridiculously fancy, with an imprint of his own face in the wax seal), a slight smile curved at her lips. Regulus was always suggesting tea at his house and then expecting everyone else to provide the food.
Tea quite forgotten, she picked up a newspaper while a groggy Remus Lupin swished past her and planted a light kiss on her cheek. She leaned towards him as he did so, eyes never leaving an article she was now scanning. She’d expected him to come down to the kitchen soon after coming down herself, as Remus could never sleep for very long in bed all by himself.
“Relocation hearing for Meryn the Merciless today,” she mused. “He’s been waiting ninety-seven years for this appeal – which is a miracle if there ever was one. They say he probably won’t get it, though. Lots of recorded attacks on the Guard even in recent years, so he’s still not docile enough for integration.”
“I feel sorry for the Guard, then,” Remus said, busying himself at the stove to take over the neglected kettle. “They’ll have to split their number in half just to escort him to the Town Hall. It’s probably quite a business here whenever there’s a hearing.”
“Lily says the hearings are rubbish,” Tonks noted. “Everyone on the council’s biased against Grotta residents and they never get a fair go.” Remus hid a smile, privately pleased that Tonks had been chatting more with Lily without being prompted to do so just because Remus and James might have been talking nearby.
She sucked in a breath. “Says here that he murdered one of the Guard in 1924, a witch by the name of Terpsichore, and the standard punishment was to double his sentence but he got out of it because someone from Cliodna’s Clock fancied himself a vigilante and nearly killed him.”
Remus leaned against the sideboard, scowling. “What a shame that would have been.”
“Remus!” she pretended to gasp. “But you’re always so impartial and…” She searched for the right word. “Justice-y.”
“Yeah, well, haven’t gotten my morning tea yet, have I? I’ve been known to slay a few wrongdoers with my words before I’ve had caffeine.” He waltzed over to the cabinet and opened it, craning his neck around to better peer inside the deep spaces. “Do we still have any of those –”
A loud, alarming noise cut him off, slicing through the snowy wood around their house. A flock of birds roosting in the trees took flight, squawking, and Tonks gave such a start that she let go of her newspaper. It fell back into the pile of calling cards and an advertisement for Edgecombe Antiques, pushing her wand away until it rolled off the table altogether.
It was the enormous blackbird statue in City Center, emitting long, loud tolls.
Vincent finally gave up.
His hand was starting to bruise, anyway, and it was now glaringly apparent that Mr. Slytherin was not going to answer his door. “Coward!” he shouted at the window; a shadow moved behind the lacy curtain, souring Vincent all the more.
“It’s all your fault!” he yelled, a wave of furious emotion crumpling his face. He leaned against the front door, close-cropped hair damp with humidity, and stood there in defeat for several long minutes until a woman walking by stared at him.
“What?” he demanded, wiping the sweat on his upper lip onto his sleeve. “Got something to say?”
Salazar pinched the embroidered edge of his curtain in one pallid hand, breathing a sigh of resignation. He knew the boy blamed him for his failure in the tournament, knew that Vincent had tried everything in his limited range of power to win the fourth round. It had not been enough. Salazar told himself that he wouldn’t have been enough either – he could not, after all, step into the tournament with him. He could no longer pretend to hold Vincent’s hand.
“Just go,” he softly urged the boy through the window, though he dared not present his face. He preferred to stay behind the scenes at all times, backstage, occasionally manipulating the marionette strings but never performing himself.
Yes, he thought. You are right. I am a coward.
The woman in the road sniffed haughtily, tucking her handbag more tightly to her waist as if worried Vincent might try to steal it. He turned back to the door, slapping his hand weakly against it and wiping more moisture off his face with his arm – salty and clear like sweat, but something else entirely.
“You said you would help me win,” he said, voice breaking. “You said they would let me go home.”
It was now more than ever, even though he didn’t really know who she was anymore, that Cedric visited her the most. She was a safe, comfortable place, and he pretended to be seated opposite her in a chilly location like the Owlery at Hogwarts in midwinter. He preferred envisioning that particular season because he could still remember what the cold did to her skin – the two blooms of pink on her cheeks and nose that could have passed for shy embarrassment, just the way she had looked when he first asked her to the Yule Ball.
And as he daydreamed, her fringe fell into her long eyelashes and she lifted her strong gaze to pierce his. From here, the daydream stalled, frozen in time as he watched her watching him. She was strength embodied, quiet and graceful. Her almond eyes penetrated his thoughts at least once a week, if only for a few scattered seconds, but the ghost of her dark, steady stare stayed in his mind long after he ceased to focus on her.
The image of her grounded him when nothing else did, when everything else around him was moving too fast, spinning around his thoughts and body with flashes of blood in a basin and the name DIGGORY popping all over the newspaper in bold ink; when he needed a place to hide, she hid with him, and when he needed someone to talk to, she listened.
I’m not crazy, he thought with a smile, reaching out to stroke her cheek, dimpling now with a smile of her own. He loved the way her black eyes glittered when he looked at her, joy and hope bursting out of her features every which way. He loved everything about her, in fact: The way she tapped her quill against her textbooks whenever the choir was practicing and she was listening to their songs instead of doing revision; the way she listened to each of her friends spill their problems all along the Ravenclaw table at meals while she listened, listened, listened, speaking only in the softest of tones.
She made everyone feel better, happier, as if she’d taken their unhappiness and extinguished it, or perhaps shelved it for herself.
He loved these individual facets of her framework, and he could have loved her as a whole, too, if he’d been given enough time. If he had known in his last year of life, when he visited her not in his mind but in the flesh, maybe he would have tried – no – he thought firmly now that he definitely would have – he would have loved her. Love was the most beautiful thing. He’d seen the way his father once looked at his mother and he clearly recalled his father’s reaffirmations of ‘I would be nothing without her’. It would be nice to be nothing without someone else, to know such special and consuming love.
He wondered how she was doing now, what her life was like. He’d heard rumors that she briefly dated Harry Potter and still didn’t know how he felt about it. Harry was a nice enough boy, Cedric supposed. He hoped that wherever she was, Cho was as happy as she had once made him.
The thought of it made him smile again.
Being forever seventeen was not a dark thought that preyed upon Cedric in the late hours of the night when all was still and the boardinghouse eerily lifeless. He did not dwell much on Cho, except when he saw married couples together and felt that sense of loss, of longing; nor did he dwell on missing out on N.E.W.T.s and possibly being made Head Boy. Those were parts of his past, he knew. He did not even think much about the fact that his murderer, Peter Pettigrew, resided so close to him.
It did not make him uncomfortable or angry that Peter lived in Cliodna’s Clock, that he had been placed on Cedric’s own team of Victus so as to ensure that the two of them saw plenty of each other. Whether this was intentional or not on the part of Cliodna was neither here nor there. Cedric pitied the dead man, because while Cedric himself felt very much alive, Peter had never really come back to life. Part of him was permanently lost, sacrificed when he committed murder.
No, none of this bothered him. Cedric was in a place where it was difficult to be perfectly content, but strived for contentment, anyway. He had pushed down the memories that crept up at a near-constant pace, throwing himself into Quidditch or practicing spells he hadn’t gotten the chance to learn in his school days. Everything was a stream of learn, practice, perfect, day after day spent with teeth gritting together and his concentration wrapped around some tangible object right there in his hands. He was tightly-wound, a spring ready to rupture.
He was charitable, too, dividing his time generously between a laundry list of hobbies and the young children of Cliodna’s Clock, playing with them or teaching them magic they could perform without wands, reciting stories passed down from Diggory to Diggory. Since those stories would never get the chance to be passed down to any more Diggorys, he felt the urge to spread them wherever he could, injecting fresh life, new mysteries into the empty veins of Cliodna’s Clock. Every laugh he received from them was a reward, every cry for ‘More! More!’ tantamount to a trophy.
This was his new existence. Cedric presently rested at his window seat in the boardinghouse, forehead pale against the cool glass pane. Even now, with Cho raising an inquisitive eyebrow as she glanced shyly up at him from a faraway table in a library, everything around her blurred at the edges, Cedric could not shake the feeling that he was not there at all, and neither was she; that she was not looking at him and surely was no longer thinking of him.
Which is a good thing, he reminded himself forcibly. After all, she was only a distorted figment of his imagination now, presenting itself whenever he needed that something extra, that false feeling of love blossoming in a heart that didn’t always remember to keep beating.
He could learn Gobstones and how to play the guitar, and he could fill his shelves with books that he made sure he never had enough time to read because he was always too busy moving, moving, moving, distracting himself until he was too exhausted to think at all – but he could feel his energy burning low, his hopes that he would see his parents for twenty-four hours completely out the window now that he’d been eliminated from the tournament by a pugnacious little Slytherin with no respect for human life.
Cedric had gotten tired.
He would have expected me to win, Cedric inwardly sighed, reflecting on his father’s broad, beaming face, lit up with pride for his only son. He wondered what he could have witnessed if he’d won those twenty-four hours. He hadn’t entered the tournament for the prize, but for the competition, for the ultimate distraction that locked away all other thoughts, even the ones of Cho’s burning gaze.
Her quill rapped and tapped against a stack of textbooks, listening to the music in Cedric’s bedroom that spouted quietly from a gramophone. An ebony disk rapidly revolved on the small platform, a silver needle counting each rotation. Cedric closed his eyes in the present and opened them in the past, peering closely at her parchment.
His eyes reopened again, heavy heart sinking. But she would have already sat those exams ages ago, along with her N.E.W.T.s…by now she would be out there in the real world, a young woman. Accomplished and strong, and everything about her now was completely hidden from him. He was fine with this. Sometimes it was best not to know the truth, so that he could be free to invent it himself. This was where he could still hide, when he needed it, and he couldn’t hide with a Cho who no longer knew him. They must be intimate, of course, every aspect of her familiar and well-developed to him if only in his vault of dreams.
Cedric’s breath expelled all along the glass pane but did not cloud it. He pressed a hand to the barrier and saw no reflection. He looked closer and almost jumped, startled; the reflection forming there was not of his own widening eyes or parting mouth, but the dark, mysterious eyes of the girl in the library, blue and bronze swimming at her collar with a curtain of black hair falling over her shoulder. He swallowed and she smiled knowingly at him, almost smirking because she knew his innermost thoughts.
If it had lasted only two seconds instead of ten, he might not have believed it. But she had lingered – perhaps by mistake – and there was no confusing what had just taken place. Cedric jolted upright, both hands pressed against the window as he searched hungrily for her. No matter which angle he positioned himself from, the only thing he could now see was his own eager face staring back. His disappointment was so thick that his fingertips streaked the glass, roughly sliding downward…
And then there was something there, after all:
One figure behind his left hand and another behind his right, and they were holding hands themselves, backs straight as they made their way down the main street of Cliodna’s Clock. They looked nervous, confused, with that unmistakable air of desperation hanging about them – he could tell because he’d seen it many times in couples who arrived in the afterlife together, clinging to each other with fear rampant in their eyes. They were searching for something, taking it in turns to cry out to passersby who continued to keep walking, gazes trained on some unknown destination ahead.
His eyes stung, heart beating fast. It was Cedric’s own parents, Amos and Portia Diggory.
Rowena had fully intended to go home, her mind busy with details about dinner and the book she was editing for Helga – it would have been a nice way to cap off her evening – and she almost didn’t see him.
He was sitting on a stone wall in the park, back hunched slightly as he stared at the ground. Rowena’s lips pressed into a weary smile. He was always frowning, always so determined to be miserable. She knew that she might regret it, but something inside her gave a gentle tug of pity and she tossed the sky a brief roll of the eyes before drawing her heel back and turning.
Mouth twitching, her gaze roved over his somber form. He seemed unaware that she was watching him – quite odd, really, seeing as how perceptive he usually was – but he continued to stare at the ground, black hair falling into his equally black eyes.
As she walked closer, leaves shuffling under her footsteps, he glanced up at long last. He said nothing, eyeing her silently but suspiciously as she seated herself next to him on the stone wall. She crossed her legs at the ankles, fingernails tapping the gray stone surface that hoisted them off the ground.
“Hello, Severus,” she offered.
He still said nothing, petulantly turning his profile away from her.
She chewed on her lower lip, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a smile. “Well, if you’d rather keep conversation with your demons instead of me, be my guest.”
He was still looking away, but she distinctly thought she saw him roll his eyes. “I know a joke,” she went on, determined to break his silence. She leaned forward, trying to catch his gaze, but he resolutely kept it from her. “Oh, now you’re just being stubborn. Well, let’s see how sulky you are after you’ve heard my joke.” She cleared her throat, wriggling in place as if to make herself comfortable on the severely uncomfortable wall. “What would the Ravenclaw student get if he put a Gryffindor into a boiling cauldron and then threw in a handful of beetle eyes?”
This finally coaxed a response out of him, albeit a surly one: “Psychological evaluations?”
She grinned. “He’d get docked five points from Professor Snape for wasting beetle eyes.”
Severus laughed in spite of himself, applying her with a sidelong glance. Her eyes were so bright, so earnest, that when she smiled warmly at him he could feel some of the ice breaking around his own smile. The laugh still tickled his throat, unnaturally rough. It had been a long time since he’d laughed at anything.
“There it is,” she said triumphantly, and he quickly melded his lips shut into a tight little line, displeased that she had swindled him out of his bad mood. “Come now, don’t be so glum,” she advised cheerily, giving him a nudge with her side. He jerked at her touch, head snapping up so that he could survey her and better prevent any more uninvited attempts at making him smile when he so clearly wanted to be peevish.
“I’ve got another joke,” she said, plastering another winning smile on her face. The effect was so ridiculous, with her high, arching eyebrows and a great many teeth baring at him, that he tried to keep from laughing again and ended up snorting instead.
“I think I’m a hoot, too,” she informed him smugly, lifting her crossed ankles high into the air and then tapping them against the stone wall to match the beat of footsteps flooding down the road, each of them marching to the Town Hall to have a look at the Devil’s Basin. It was a daily event at six o’ clock, the custom during Devil’s Duels.
As quickly as Severus’s smile had arrived, it passed, and he adopted an even more irritated expression than before. Rowena shook her head, wondering why she bothered at all, wondering why she was always so drawn to hopeless works in progress.
But then he looked up at her again and said, “I come here to watch the people trip.” He pointed to a series of uneven holes in the nearby road, cobbles gouged out every few feet. “They’re all so busy trying not to look at each other that they forget to watch where they’re going.” As he stated this, a plump woman in tartan dress robes stumbled over one of the potholes, cheeks heating up as she looked around furtively to ensure that no one had witnessed it.
“There are worse pastimes one could have,” he added defensively, but he didn’t seem very ashamed that he derived mild joy from watching others fall down. “I find that this one suits my current tastes.”
Rowena studied Severus carefully, trying to place who exactly he reminded her of. There was something familiar about his manner, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. With all plans for dinner and editing forgotten, she continued to watch people walk to and fro on the street without noticing their quiet observers, occasionally tripping over holes in the road and prompting gleeful, fleeting amusement from Severus Snape.
Perhaps not so hopeless after all.
A/N: So I’ve officially finished writing this story! Woo-hoo! It wraps up at thirty-one chapters. I’ll continue to update every Wednesday. Thank you, as always, for reading, and if you have the time to review, your feedback is greatly appreciated.