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Chapter 1 : The Nightingale's Lament
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Vicky Frobisher shivered in the early morning air. The thick blue cardigan she’d put on before slipping out of the house did little to warm her, though in fact the May dawn promised a warm day. Nothing seemed to penetrate the horrible cold she felt nowadays. It had been a week and even as the sun rose and shone its brightest, signalling a new dawn in her world, she felt the ice spread through her veins, wrapping its cold fingers around her heart.
Tired of walking, of getting nowhere, she stumbled to a bench in the corner of the garden. It stood in shadow, cool and dark, and she couldn’t help but realise briefly that she had gravitated towards precisely because it mirrored her emotions with unnerving precision.
The wood was coated with a fine layer of dew. Ordinarily, she would have waved her wand and removed it, but the weapon no longer felt right held between her thin white fingers, pointed in any direction. What good was magic, after all? It couldn’t stop the pain that she was living through now, the pain that stretched so far into the future that she could no longer see the horizon.
Flecks of paint had splashed up onto her pale white dress. She remembered her mother encouraging her yesterday, putting the paintbrush into her hands, mixing the colours for her and propping the easel up by the window. It would help, she had said. Vicky had always loved painting, had always been able to lose herself in the way the lines spread across a canvas, in the fumes that formed a chemical haze around her. She had tried, knowing that it would please her mother. But each new colour she had used had changed into something else, brought back a memory so awful that her mother found her, an hour later, hunched in the corner of the room with silent tears streaming down her face.
Even in the garden, there was too much colour. She wished that the world could be black and white, everything in monochrome, simplifying life and taking away the pain. But the sunshine yellow buttercups lining the path were a row of Hufflepuff scarfs, wrapped around the bodies of the fallen. The violets were the beads of a bracelet that had been scattered across the floor of the Great Hall. The red roses nodding their heads were bloody, Gryffindor scarlet. Their green stalks beneath them were flashes of the killing curse that had murdered so many people right before Vicky’s eyes.
The blue of the sky was the colour of Colin’s eyes.
“Colin Creevey wants to join Charms Club,” Susanna Fawcett announced, glancing suspiciously at the small, dark-haired girl next to her. Disappointed by the lack of reaction, she spoke again.
“Why do you think he wants to join Charms Club?”
Vicky shrugged, her face still bent towards the essay she was working on. “Why should I know? Just because we’re in the same house doesn’t mean he tells me everything.”
“Has he ever shown any interest in Charms before?” Susanna asked, determined to get to the bottom of this mysterious application.
“I don’t know,” said Vicky. “Maybe he’s just realised that if he gets involved in things then it’ll be better for his job prospects when he finishes Hogwarts. That’s why most people are in Charms Club.”
“Do you think that we should accept his application? After all that business with Dumbledore and Umbridge last year, he doesn’t seem like the sort of person we want in the group.”
“I don’t see how you think you can reject him,” Vicky replied, her eyes scanning the roll of parchment in front of her. “He had loads of detentions last year, but that’s because Umbridge was a complete hag. And if you’re accepting everyone else, you don’t have any grounds not to let him join.”
Susanna huffed. Apart from Vicky, she found herself very suspicious of any Gryffindors who showed the slightest interest in learning outside of the curriculum. Charms Club was mostly made up of her fellow Ravenclaws, and she preferred to keep it that way.
“I suppose I’ll have to let him join,” she agreed, sounding anything but happy at the fact. “But since you’re both in Gryffindor together, you can be his partner this year. He spends too much time worshipping Harry Potter to be a good influence on any of the younger Ravenclaws.”
Finally looking up, irritation at the constant interruptions written on her face, Vicky glared at her friend. “Fine,” she replied. “I’ll be his partner. See if I care.”
Even when she closed her eyes, Vicky could still see the colours. The beauty was gone from them now, the vibrancy that had once inspired happiness and hard work now a source of heart-breaking memories. As the melodic notes of birdsong drifted across the quiet garden, Vicky shook her head. Art, music, even magic… all of the things she had formerly loved caused her nothing but pain.
She didn’t know what to do. Her parents and siblings were worried about her, she knew; she’d even heard them, late at night when they thought she was asleep, discussing whether they should take her to St. Mungo’s. It was hard to eat and sleep and pretend that everything was normal when your entire world had been shattered. But Vicky could hardly communicate that when she couldn’t find the will to open her mouth and speak.
The nightingale had hopped into her line of vision, singing its song softly. She looked at it, the notes jarring on her ears. Seeming to sense her apathy, the bird turned and took flight. For several minutes she watched it, flying up, up into the sky, until the dark spot on the pale canvas seemed nothing more than a speck of dirt.
A silver bird fluttered around Vicky’s head, the light crowning her dark hair. She laughed, and the boy standing opposite her smiled as well. Her brown eyes followed the shape in wonder and amazement; she’d only heard of seventh years who had managed to produce a corporeal Patronus before, and they were few and far between. She could hardly believe that the little nightingale soaring around the room had been created by her.
“I did it!” she exclaimed happily, her eyes shining.
“I knew you could do it,” Colin nodded in response. There were dark circles under his eyes from the long nights he’d spent coaching Vicky to perform this particular charm, but the pride in them suggested that he thought it was worth it.
“Thanks, Col!” In a moment of spontaneity, she threw her arms around him. He looked surprised and flustered, but not altogether displeased with her show of gratitude.
“Oh, where did it go?” Vicky stepped away from him and glanced around the room as if she expected to see the little bird flying at her any moment.
“You broke your concentration,” explained Colin, ruffling his sandy hair. “They disappear when you do that.”
“Oh,” Vicky blushed. She knew that – of course she did, after all the theoretical study she’d done on them to try and prepare herself for casting one. She couldn’t quite work out why she was acting like a silly girl today. The tiredness must have something to do with it.
“So, where did you learn to cast a Patronus? I mean, you only joined Charms at the beginning of the year and I’ve never noticed you paying any particular attention before then.” She cringed internally again. It seemed that, no matter how much she tried, she was going to keep inadvertently insulting Colin or appearing to be stupid every time she opened her mouth to speak.
“Har – I learnt it last year. Some of my friends in older years were practising and I decided I wanted to learn too.”
“Can I see your Patronus again?” Vicky had been in awe the first time she’d seen him cast it; it was the first time she’d seen anyone cast a corporeal Patronus. And it was so beautiful.
“Okay,” Colin kept his blue eyes trained on her face as he whispered the words. She wondered what he had been thinking about before the silver spaniel erupted out of the end of his wand, scampering around the room.
Looking at him, his Patronus illuminating the darkness around them, Vicky suddenly knew exactly why it was the thought of these lessons ending caused her so much pain.
Vicky’s eyes felt like they were burning as she followed the bird’s path into the sky, the glare of the sun – as weak as it seemed at this time of day – too much for her eyes to bear. Its brightness was almost offensive; she couldn’t bear the thought of happiness when Colin was gone. She looked back down at the shaded ground around her bench and blinked as the bright light still flickered in front of her eyes, like candles burning in the darkness. Even that simple image caused her pain, memories resurfacing with every minute of every day.
The corridors were growing dark already, the candles burning low. Vicky shivered in the November air and tried to subtly move closer to Colin, who was walking beside her. He kept his eyes straight ahead, his face set in an expression that made him appear nervous about something, but a small smile twitched around his lips and she dared to hope that he didn’t mind.
“What did you think of Charms today?” she asked him, despite the fact they had only just departed the club’s weekly meeting. They hurried along the hallways back to the common room, not wanting to be caught unawares when both of them could sense that there was something darker beginning to grow inside the castle. Although the silence had been almost companionable, Vicky found herself feeling increasingly more awkward, and couldn’t stop herself from speaking again.
“I mean, I thought that it was an interesting concept, actually, the idea that someone might be able to be cured from depression by using Cheering Charms. I’m not sure it would work though, because Professor Flitwick always told us that they’re only a temporary solution, and I’d imagine that a prolonged exposure to the charm would weaken its effects. And I didn’t really agree with what Susanna was saying, but…”
“Vicky, you’re rambling again,” Colin interrupted, finally looking at her with a cheeky grin on his face. They were almost at the common room now, and he slowed his pace as they approached. A question hung on his lips, one that he had built himself up to ask.
“Vicky,” he said again, coming to a stop. “You know this weekend?”
“Yes,” she replied, completely oblivious of his growing discomfort. “It’s a Hogsmeade weekend. I can’t wait to go!”
“Well, I was wondering…” Colin’s face had flamed tomato red, his blue eyes darting nervously around the dark corridor, resolutely avoiding eye contact with the girl he was talking to. “I was wondering if you’d like to… erm… go with me? To Hogsmeade, I mean?”
“Like a date?” Vicky’s cheeks burnt as well, though a smile was creeping across her lips and threatening to break out across her whole face.
“Well, if you wanted to… I mean… but if you don’t…”
“I’d love to, Colin.” Surprised and delighted, Colin looked down at the girl beside him.
“Really,” laughed Vicky. They were both beaming now, their expressions obvious even in the candlelight, and had begun to lean closer to each other.
“Excuse me,” a voice interrupted them sharply. “Are you going to stand there all night, flirting and ruining my sleep, or are you going to give me the password?”
Shivering again, Vicky wrapped her cardigan tighter around her thin body again. It hung off her in folds, like wrinkly skin on an old woman. Vicky felt old. It seemed to her that the emotions that had taken hold of her could only be a lifetime’s worth, could only be experienced by someone who had lived many years and seen many things. Her age felt wrong, as if the numbers didn’t match the pain.
The dark hair that Vicky had always taken such pride in fell limply around her face, unwashed. She lifted her hand to brush it away from her forehead. A silver chain fell down her wrist, and she glanced at it. The tears that she wanted to fall were unable to squeeze from her eyes; she hadn’t cried in a week, as though her ability to cry had died with the battle.
“Where are we going, Colin?” Vicky’s voice was full of curiosity as she stumbled forwards, her boyfriend’s hands fastened firmly over her eyes.
“You’ll find out soon,” he promised her. “We’re nearly there now.”
“We’d better be,” she grumbled. Walking up several flights of stairs – she’d lost count how many – without the gift of sight was extremely difficult and caused far more bruises than she’d hoped to gain on her sixteenth birthday.
“Okay,” Colin replied, and she heard a door opening. “You can look now.”
Her face felt strangely light when he removed his hands from it, and she blinked several times at the light. They were still in the castle, she was sure of that much, but this was unlike any room she’d ever seen in Hogwarts before. A warm fire crackled in the hearth, and a picnic spread was laid out in front of it, fluffy cushions piled around. Books lined the shelves at the edges of the room and two brooms stood in the corner, propped against the wall. It was the room of her dreams.
“Where are we?” she whispered, her voice almost reverent, as if she’d entered some sort of sanctuary or holy place.
“It’s called the Room of Requirement,” Colin smiled back. “Do you like it?” His expression was hopeful.
“Like it? It’s amazing!”
“I’m glad,” the boy sounded relieved, and she realised he’d been genuinely worried about bringing her here, despite the effort he must have gone to. She turned to him and smiled.
“I love it, Colin.” She leaned in and kissed him.
“Come on,” he said a minute later. “Don’t you want to eat? And open your present?”
“This isn’t my present?” Vicky couldn’t help opening her mouth in surprise, touched by how much thought he’d put into making her birthday a special day.
“Of course not. I got you something else as well.” He handed her a clumsily wrapped package; even with all his efforts, she knew that he wouldn’t ever master wrapping presents neatly. Christmas had been enough proof of that.
Vicky took the parcel in her hands and opened it delicately. A silver bracelet shone through the paper, and she pulled it out to look at it more closely. Hanging from the chains were two charms; a nightingale and a spaniel, side by side. She gasped.
“Is it too much?” he asked anxiously, worry crossing his face. “Don’t you like it?”
“Colin, I…” she paused, not having the words to express how she felt. “Thank you,” she gazed at him as she said it, hoping he would understand what she was trying to communicate. He took the bracelet and, with some difficulty, fastened it around her wrist.
“There’s something else,” he said, more nervously than she had ever seen him, even on the night he’d finally asked her on a date to Hogsmeade. She waited patiently, not knowing what to say. “I love you,” he blurted out finally. His face flooded with colour and embarrassment seized his features, but he kept his eyes trained on her face.
Finally, she opened her mouth to respond, not even knowing what was about to come out of it. “I love you too.”
The sun was climbing higher into the sky, and as she leant her head back wearily against the wall, she noticed her mother watching her from her bedroom window. As soon as she spotted her, her mother pulled back, out of sight, and let the curtain fall across the glass. The fabric was patterned with teddy bears – a material that Vicky had chosen years ago, before she started Hogwarts, and had never bothered changing. It felt as if the child that had picked them out was a completely different person to the one who sat on the bench now.
Irritated that her mother had been checking up on her yet again, she closed her eyes. The last week had been a constant cycle of her mother’s nagging and Vicky refusing to do anything; the attempt to paint yesterday had been a goodwill gesture for her brother, who, with bags under his eyes that came from being a new parent, had begged her to try and show some interest in something.
Well, she reflected, she had tried. It was hardly her fault that nothing could entertain or interest her anymore.
A low rumble in the sky caused her to open her eyes and look up. A shape was making its way through the sky, miles above her, higher even that she could go on a broom. She remembered learning about them – planes, an odd Muggle invention. It soared through the sky, disappearing into the horizon, and Vicky wished that she could go with it.
Summer was a glorious time of year, Vicky’s favourite time of year. The sun sat high in his blue kingdom, the trees waving merrily in the warm breeze. In the evening, when the sun drifted off to sleep, pink would ripple across a dusky sky, and later the stars would shine clearly through the darkness. But summer, most of all, was when Vicky got to spend as much time as she liked with Colin.
It was strange, out of Hogwarts and in the Muggle world where her boyfriend resided, how little things seemed to have changed. The last year had been horrible; they’d had their OWLs to sit and been told that You-Know-Who had returned. Then, just as they all thought they were safe, Professor Dumbledore had died – been murdered – in Hogwarts itself. Some people were saying that Harry Potter had done it, but Colin didn’t believe that and neither did she.
The best of the year had been Colin. Two of her friends had been pulled from the school by their parents, preferring to keep their families together through this war. But with Colin, Vicky had hardly been anything but happy. They had their fights, of course, like any couple, but he was always there when she needed comfort or care. And even in the midst of a terrible war, the two of them gloried in first love.
Outside a Muggle cinema, Vicky kissed her boyfriend.
“Thanks, Col,” she said, her arms around his neck. “I’m not sure what happened exactly, and I still don’t get how Muggles make those things without magic, but I had a great time.”
He laughed at her, as he often did when she expressed her wonder at Muggle technology. Growing up with it, he appeared comfortable in both worlds. Vicky wondered, fleetingly, if she’d grow comfortable with it too, spending more time with his family in the years to come.
“It wasn’t that hard to understand, Vic.” He rubbed his chin, which he’d just started having to shave. “Con Air pretty much explains the whole thing. It’s a film I wouldn’t mind watching again.”
“Neither would I,” Vicky admitted. “If you can explain it to me properly next time. And if I can work out how airyplanes stay up.”
Colin barked out a laugh that shot through the air like a bullet, causing passers-by to turn and stare as he released his hold on his girlfriend and doubled over, clutching his stomach. “Airyplane? Seriously, Vic? Are you sure you took Muggle Studies?”
She pouted, waiting till he had calmed down and straightened up before jabbing him in the side. “That wasn’t nice,” she said. “I remember just how excited you were when you started Hogwarts and found out that pictures could move.”
“Oi, I thought we’d agreed not to mention that?” Colin asked, groaning. “Now that you’re in love with me and I’m not a massive nerd anymore?”
“You might have agreed not to mention that, but I don’t remember saying I’d do anything of the sort. And you’re still a nerd, by the way.” Her brown eyes laughed at him, but she somehow managed to keep her face straight.
“But you love me for it,” he pointed out.
“Hey!” He reached to tickle her but she ducked out of the way. “Well, I’m not afraid to say it. I love you, Vicky Frobisher.”
Her expression softened, and she put her arms round his neck again. “I love you too, Colin Creevey,” she whispered.
Her eyes trained on the sky, in the opposite direction to the sun, she saw a dark speck growing bigger and heading for the house. An owl flapped its wings and, hooting, zoomed through the open downstairs window, a newspaper tied to its leg. A few moments later it re-emerged and launched itself back into the air.
Vicky scowled. She didn’t understand why her parents continued to buy the Daily Prophet. She’d argued with them about it numerous times in the last few years, first when they had started printing rubbish about Harry Potter and Dumbledore. Her parents had believed the stories that they read, even though she and her brother had refuted them. It had taken till last year, when Pius Thicknesse became Minister, for them to realise that the articles it published were decided by the Ministry. Even then, though, they had continued to buy it. ‘Keeping up appearances’, they had called it. She didn’t care what it was: the Daily Prophet was bad news, as far as she was concerned.
The Daily Prophet held the worst news that Vicky had ever seen. Emblazoned across the front of the paper was a headline about the new Muggle-Born Registration Commission. Vicky’s heart had sunk after one glance at it.
She wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, but one thing was certain: it couldn’t be good. The last month had been filled with movement, changes; whispers ran everywhere, hissing their way around wizarding families, and trust between neighbours and friends was fragmented and broken. Nobody knew what was happening, but it was hard to believe that Rufus Scrimgeour had resigned for health reasons. With the dramatic change of policy, the world seemed to grow physically darker, and there were shadows everywhere, with danger lurking in them.
It took her a few moments to realise that every member of her family; her father, her mother, her older brother and even her younger sister, were staring at her, waiting for a reaction. Her face was pale, a ghostly mask stretched over her bones. She hadn’t eaten properly in weeks, and it was starting to show.
“I need to see Colin,” she said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “I need to make sure he’s okay.”
“No.” To her surprise, it was her mother who spoke, her lips pressed together in a hard line. “It’s too dangerous now. You can’t see him again. He’s being hunted by the Ministry, Vicky, and you can’t risk being caught with him.”
“I have to see him, Mum! I can’t stand it, sitting here and not knowing what he’s doing. Why should he have to present himself for investigation? Why can’t he come back to Hogwarts? He’s better at magic than me, for Merlin’s sake!”
Her father spoke, his tone gentler than her mother’s had been. “I’m sure he’ll be alright, Vicky. But you have to understand that we can’t let you go and see him now. It’s far too dangerous – not just for you, but for your family as well. We can’t be seen to be mixing with Muggle-borns at the moment, not when there’s so much to lose.”
Vicky’s face drained completely of colour, her whole frame shaking. “How can you say that?” she croaked. She felt strong and indignant, but her voice came out weak. “How can you say that about Colin? He’s just as much of a person as you or me. Why should we care about all that blood purity rubbish? It’s ridiculous! It’s wrong!”
“It’s wrong, Vicky,” her father agreed, pushing his hand through his dark hair nervously and glancing about him before opening his mouth. “But we can’t avoid it. We have to do all we can to stay alive. Two of my friends went missing last week, and a woman from work. Nobody knows where they went. That’s the point: nobody knows anything, we have no proof that anything is wrong, we have no proof that could contradict the Ministry’s newest policy. But it’s like the last time. Everything is darker and we have to do what we can to stay alive. Together. As a family. And that means you don’t go out of this house alone.”
“But… I love him.” It was the first time that she’d openly admitted it to her family, but the terror that was churning her insides took away the gravity of the fact.
“And we love you,” replied her mother. “Which is why we can’t let you put yourself in danger. He won’t be back at Hogwarts, Vicky. The best thing you can do is try and forget about him. You’re not going to see him.”
She pushed herself away from the breakfast table and stacked the plates in a pile to take to the kitchen. Vicky sank back on her chair, the fight extinguished momentarily. Her father looked sadly at her, and then followed her mother into the kitchen, joined by her little sister, chattering away, evidently not comprehending the conversation that had just taken place.
“Alex?” Vicky turned her brown eyes on her brother, hope and desperation warring in them. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, avoiding her gaze. “Will you take me to see Colin?”
“What?” his deep voice was whispered, matching her own volume, but filled with shock.
“Can you take me to see Colin? Please? You know I can’t apparate, and that I’m not old enough to do magic. But you can. You could take me to see him, and wait for me and then we can come back together. We’ll be safe then.”
Alex was shaking his head, wary. “I don’t know, Vic. Mum and Dad don’t want you to go and, well, they know the dangers better than we do. They know what it was like last time.”
“What if it was Helen, Alex?” She hadn’t wanted to pull that card, to mention his fiancée in the same context, but she was desperate and there wasn’t anything else she could think of doing. Vicky watched has he blanched at the thought.
“Vic, that’s not fair.”
“I know it’s not, Alex. I’m sorry. But it’s not fair that I can’t go and see Colin, either, when I love him just like you love Helen.”
“Are you sure?” her brother faced her directly for the first time in the conversation, his eyes searching her face for answers. “Are you sure that you love him?”
“More than anything.”
“Then I’ll take you,” he agreed quietly. “But we’ll have to wait until later this afternoon, when I can come up with some sort of excuse to go out with you.”
“Okay,” Vicky nodded. “Thank you.” She’d get to see Colin, after all.
The garden seemed to be alive, as though the sun had knocked on the door of all the plants and creatures living there and woken them up for the day. Little insects scuttled through the grass, following some path visible only to them. Small birds hopped about the borders, and bees and butterflies drifted around the heads of the bright flowers that her father had planted. The garden was his haven, his project; Vicky didn’t think he’d mind her stealing it for a few hours.
A flash of movement caught her eye. She looked across the garden and saw a red squirrel scampering along the top of the white wall, its bushy tail almost bouncing. Its fur was the colour of the Weasley hair, she realised, with an expression that almost neared a half-hearted smile. It wasn’t the first time the sight of that colour had managed to cheer her up, even as infinitesimally has her mood had changed.
The sobs that shook through her body seemed to come from somewhere else. Vicky could hardly conceive that the water soaking her pillow fell, incessantly, from her own eyes. She felt someone tug the crumpled parchment from her closed fist and she glanced up, afraid. The red-haired girl who was looking down at her smiled sadly.
“I know what it’s like,” Ginny confessed. She glanced around their dormitory, checking to see if the other girls were there, but happily found that they were alone. Perching on the edge of Vicky’s bed, she continued.
“You think about Colin every minute of every day, and he visits you in your dreams. And on the worst nights, when you have nightmares, you think that he might not be alive, that they might have found him.”
Vicky’s tears gradually slowed, until she was able to speak. Her head lifted up from the pillow and she gazed at Ginny with an unfathomable expression.
“How do you know what it feels like?” she asked, her tone accusatory.
Ginny’s responding laugh was hollow. “Don’t you remember who I dated at the end of last year?”
“You mean… Harry Potter?”
A small nod answered her question, a pink blush spreading across the girl’s cheeks and clashing horribly with her hair.
“But… he’s not Muggle-born. You don’t have any reason to worry about him, and whether or not you’ll see his name in the list of deaths in the paper.”
“Don’t have any reason to worry? Oh no, he’s not Muggle-born, just the most wanted wizard in the country at the moment. Of course there isn’t anything to worry about. Silly me.” Her voice was sour, and she began to get up from Vicky’s bed, but Vicky caught hold of her wrist.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I forgot. I can’t seem to think about anything other than Colin. I haven’t seen him since July…”
She gestured to the letter that Ginny had placed on her bedside table, the letter that had arrived a couple of hours after her brother had agreed to take her to see Colin. A letter which told her, in his own hand, not to visit him, that both he and his brother were going on the run to avoid the registration and that he loved her. Those last words were the ones she cherished the most. I love you. She didn’t know when – if – she’d ever hear him say that again.
“I know. But you don’t have to lie around moping about it. Colin – did he ever tell you about the DA?”
Warily, Vicky nodded her head, wiping her nose with a tissue.
“You could help us, you know. Help us to stand up to the Carrows and Snape. That’s what Colin would be doing now, if he could be here.”
There was a long pause, and Vicky felt as if she could see the words, the offer, floating in the air before her eyes. She heard Colin’s voice, telling her the stories, telling her what he would do if it came to a fight. And she nodded.
“Okay. What do you want me to do?”
The squirrel had darted from the wall into a tall tree whose branches hung over into their garden; she watched it go with expressionless eyes. Her hands had moved unconsciously to the thin locket – silver, to match her bracelet – that hung around her neck. For the first time in a week, she reached a trembling hand to the clasp and undid it, displaying two photos.
Colin had developed them himself, after forcing his brother to take them. She’d teased him about it when she’d found out, but that was something he’d grown to expect. They’d been taken in the summer before everything had changed, after their exams, when they could spend their time happy and carefree, like normal teenagers. The right panel showed the two of them laughing hysterically at something – she wasn’t sure what anymore. They were calmer in the second photograph, Vicky wrapping her arms around Colin’s waist and Colin grinning widely. That smile was – had been – her favourite.
The castle was shaking, trembling as if in fear and anticipation of what was approaching outside. Dust fell through the air. People were running everywhere, shoving, shouting, screaming; chaos.
Vicky didn’t notice any of it.
She saw his head appear in the Great Hall, amongst the adults and other students who had come back in time for the fight. She saw him scan the room anxiously, looking for someone. She saw his eyes fall on her and a smile light up his tired and dirty face.
Colin was alive.
She ran to him, not caring who saw or what they thought, not caring that a battle was beginning around them. He opened his arms and she launched herself into them, burying her body into his, relieved beyond belief that she could finally see him and touch him after almost a year.
“You’re alive,” she breathed, looking into his blue eyes.
“I promised you,” was his simple reply. He sounded older, stronger than she remembered him. But she could see in his eyes that he was still the same Colin who she had fallen in love with.
“I love you.”
He kissed her in response, whispering the words into her mouth.
It was all the reunion they had time for before they were ushered to the house tables, seated and listening to Professor McGonagall. Then came the terrible, piercing voice, the shrill pitch inside their heads. And then the Great Hall was empty again, students being ushered towards the Room of Requirement that Vicky had called home for the last few weeks, Colin being told that he was too young to fight but slipping into the crowd of fighters anyway.
He kept a hold on her hand throughout it all, refusing to let go. They’d spent too long apart to bear separation now. They would fight, and they would fight together.
A blackbird startled at something that Vicky hadn’t seen and took off from its perch in the branches of a tree, flapping its wings furiously. She jumped a little at the disturbance, and was mildly surprised with the reaction; nothing had managed to solicit a response for her over the last week. She glanced over at the tree and saw a single leaf fall from the broken and drooping branch, floating slowly, almost lazily, to the ground.
Vicky stumbled into the Great Hall again, grateful for the hour’s reprieve. She would continue fighting, of course, but it gave her time to see to her wound and find Colin, who she’d lost in the battle.
The banners on the walls had been ripped to shreds, but had they been there, they would have hung in black. Mourning and grief filled the hall and she felt almost numb as she looked at the bodies lined up in neat rows in the centre. A group of redheads crowded round one body, and she saw Ginny’s long hair mixed in with the rest of the group. Countless others lay beside the body, most she didn’t recognise, but there were a few students who had fallen already.
In the corner, Madam Pomfrey was tending to wounds with some of the other students – mostly members of the DA. Vicky thought about approaching them for help, but the cuts on her arms and legs were nothing in comparison to the injuries present in the people already there. She turned away, knowing nothing of healing spells that could help.
She wandered aimlessly through the hall, rubbing her eyes and trying to see beyond the flashes of green and falling bodies that seemed to be ingrained on her retinas. Anxiously, she looked around for Colin. He wasn’t in the Hall, as far as she could see. He’d been separated from her as they ran from the spiders on the stairs, pushed apart by others eager to save their own lives. She needed him now, more than ever.
A tall, burly man walked through the doors, cradling a body in his arms. She glanced customarily in his direction, recognising the man as their old Gryffindor Quidditch captain. But as she turned away, she glimpsed the colour of the hair on the head that was lolling in his arms, the blue eyes that remained open, staring sightlessly at the starry sky above. Colin.
The leaf came to rest in one of the raised borders. Vicky could see it from her position on the bench. Its pale green, almost white, looked out of place surrounded by the black soil, as though it was alien to the environment. Its fellows looked on sorrowfully from the broken branch, mourning the loss of their companion.
Vicky hated funerals. She’d only been to a few of them before, but she hated them all the same. The black clothes, the forced solemnity, the people who attended but didn’t really care. All of it. Her skin itched and she wanted to turn and run as she watched the coffin being lowered into the ground.
The priest – or at least, that’s what Mr Creevey had called him – was speaking, but the words were meaningless and Vicky let them wash over her, not taking in a single one. Her eyes were fixed on the wooden box that encased the body of the boy – the man that she loved. He’d been a day away from his seventeenth birthday, he’d survived ten months on the run from the most powerful wizards in the country. And yet now he was condemned to the earth, frozen forever as a sixteen year old hero whose name would soon be forgotten by those who didn’t love him.
It was a custom, according to the man who presented her with a box of soil, to sprinkle earth on the coffin. She did it mechanically, picking out a handful and dropping it, cringing at the sound that it made as it hit the pine. Letting her hand drop back to her side, she could feel the muck underneath her nails.
The service was over; the man in the funny costume had finished speaking and the mourners were turning and leaving the graveyard, talking to one another in hushed tones as they picked their way carefully through the tombstones. Dennis, even shorter than Vicky, was saying something to her but she couldn’t comprehend the words, couldn’t focus on the sounds. After a minute or so he moved away, joining his father as they walked to the gate and leaving Vicky alone at Colin’s graveside to mourn the man she loved.
Alone. Vicky was constantly alone now, no matter how many people were gathered around her. Her parents had invited the family around last week, for the first time in over a year, to celebrate the end of the war. Alex and Helen had been there, Vicky’s new little niece in her brother’s arms. They had been outside, in the garden where Vicky now sat, enjoying the sunshine and firewhiskey on offer. Vicky had retreated to the house, to the refuge of darkness in her room, and to the letters that Colin had written her.
She pulled out one of them now, more crumpled than ever. It was the last letter that he had written to her, telling her that he was going on the run. The words at the end were more precious than ever. She remembered that time, in the dormitories, when Ginny had discovered her crying over the possibility of never hearing him say those words again.
Well, Ginny had her happy ending now. She couldn’t help be bitter that Harry Potter was alive and Colin lay in the cold earth, joined by countless others who had fallen on that night, all fighting for a hero that had survived.
The nightingale had returned, jumping cautiously into the garden, its song louder and sweeter than before, a melancholy lament that seemed to penetrate Vicky right to the soul, singing to her as if it had experienced the same pain. Its presence did little to comfort her, but the notes did not irk her as much anymore.
The shadows shrouding her bench were receding, fluttering dangerously close to her feet. She pulled them back, determined to stay in the shade. But even as she did so, she felt the resentment ebb a little. She glanced down at the letter in her hand, tracing the words that she already knew by heart. Colin had wanted to fight – fight for a cause, not just a person. Vicky had done the same. Why had she been the lucky one? Why was she the one that still lived?
I love you, Vicky Frobisher.
The words came to her as if they had been whispered on the wind, a secret to comfort her. He had said it to her one last time, on the night that he had died. They had been reunited. And even as the pain seared through her broken body, as her heart, shattered into thousands of pieces, continued, somehow, to beat, she realised that she was glad that she hadn’t died while Colin had lived. The pain was hers to endure, and it went beyond anything she would wish on the man she loved.
She glanced up at the sun, encroaching on her darkness. Her hand shaded her eyes from the blinding light and she stood up, hugging the garden wall as she retreated back to the darkness of the house. The pain wasn’t gone, it would never leave her, but she would bear it now. For Colin.
Author's Note: I do not own the film Con Air. It is owned by Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Productions, distributed by Buena Vista Pictures, written by Scott Rosenberg, directed by Simon West and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.
A massive thank you to Jenna, for this challenge, to Nadia, for encouraging me to post this story, and to you, for reading it! Sorry that it's so long, but once I started writing I couldn't seem to stop; I hope you enjoyed it!
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