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Chapter 1 : Christmas Day, 1998
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Val, thank you so much for being a fabulous friend. ♥ You've been really amazing and have always been there whenever I've needed advice, and the amount of Francisims and translations you've helped me with is beyond the standard amount, which I appreciate so much. I hope you love this story, and I'll definitely try to keep the feels-slaughtering to a minimum ;) ♥
Stunning CI by Apocalypse @ TDA!
Sitting in the snow silently, the young boy does not speak to any of the people passing by. He ignores the laughter of the families walking past the field where he is, and when a snowball hits his arm he looks up to see two small boys looking nervous and their mother exclaiming before apologizing profusely to him. Dennis Creevey shakes his head, murmuring softly that he knows it was an accident, and the woman and her sons visibly relax. A man standing nearby shouts a name - "Kathy!" - and motions for the woman to approach him. She gives a grateful smile to Dennis and walks away, ushering the two boys in front of her.
Dennis cannot help but contemplate the similarities of the family in front of him to his own. The father is grinning as he picks up the younger boy and places him upon his shoulders while the mother smiles affectionately and the older boy throws snowballs at his little brother. That little family in front of Dennis reminds him of when he was a little boy. His father always used to laugh, his cheeks rosy with laughter lines etched by his lips. His mother used to tut at the misbehaviour of her sons, although Dennis is sure that she used to make more cake mix than needed whenever she was baking because they loved scraping the bowl. And his brother, the Creeveys' precious Colin, was always there in the background taking photographs and giggling at the sight of their mother with her hands upon her hips, covered in flour after being pranked by her younger son. Even now, Dennis still recalls her screeches of anger and the long night he spent in bed as punishment - but he also remembers how, when Colin's film had been developed and returned from the shop in a pristine red and yellow envelope emblazoned with the shop's logo, his mother laughed at the sight of herself and promptly put the photograph on the fridge door.
Those days feel like an eternity ago, instead of just a few years. In that time, so much has changed: Dennis cannot remember when the last time his mother laughed was, for her expression is near-permanently one of worry, while his father's rosy cheeks have slowly drained of colour as his sickness took hold. The biggest change of all, however, happened just seven months ago when he and Colin entered the fray that was the Battle of Hogwarts. In hindsight, Dennis wishes that he hadn't listened to his older brother; Colin had been adamant that as members of Dumbledore's Army, they were obliged to fight on Harry Potter's side and defeat those who supported Voldemort. Colin had insisted that they would make a difference, but as far as Dennis is concerned the only change is that his brother is dead and nothing can change that.
The sound of someone clearing their throat near Dennis attracts his attention, and he looks up to realize that while he was lost in his thoughts, Astoria Greengrass has approached him and is now standing next to him. She sighs upon seeing Dennis, and promptly sits down next to him.
"Your parents are worried about you," she states, her tone cold and unforgiving.
Dennis shrugs, refusing to utter a word. He does not like Astoria, despite the fact that she has been friends with his brother for years. While he and Colin were on the run and Astoria visited, they spent time as a trio and he was polite to her, but in Dennis' opinion even considering the act of trusting Astoria is a mistake. And yet, Colin trusted her with his life - a decision that Dennis had tried multiple times to talk him out of to no avail. However, it is undeniable that Colin is dead and Dennis is alive, while Astoria is the only factor that they don't have in common. Therefore, Colin's death must be Astoria's fault, although Dennis cannot understand why his instincts refuse to accept that.
Astoria looks pointedly at the bottle in Dennis' hand before raising an eyebrow. "Are you really going to pretend that's apple juice?"
"No," Dennis finally answers. "We both know that I'd be lying, anyway, so there's not really much point."
"Good," she says, grabbing the bottle out of Dennis' hand and unscrewing the top before taking a large gulp of the amber liquid. "Ugh," she grimaces afterwards, pushing the bottle back into his hands. "I didn't think anything could taste worse than Firewhiskey."
Dennis does not answer her; instead, he resumes staring at the landscape instead of looking her in the eye.
"What are you doing here?" he finally asks, after a long pause.
Astoria sighs. "Like I said, your parents are worried about you."
"What, they sent you an owl? Oh, sorry to disturb your Christmas in your fancy manor, but our son's been missing for a couple of hours so could you drop everything to look for him?" Dennis mutters sarcastically.
"No," Astoria answers in the same steely tone she had upon her arrival. "I went to your house to see how you all were, since it's our first Christmas without..." she pauses to gulp before continuing, "without Colin. When I arrived, your dad was literally about to go outside to walk the streets looking for you, never mind his bronchitis, and your mum looked as if she was going to have a nervous breakdown worrying about where you were - she's terrified about losing you too. I persuaded them to stay inside and promised I wouldn't go back without you."
Dennis remains quiet, but the guilt is clearly written all over his face and he knows it. In other circumstances, he'd be ashamed of showing such a vulnerable side of himself to Astoria but considering the situation that he has landed himself into, he knows shame is nothing compared to how he would feel if his father's condition had worsened because of him.
"Thank you," he finally says.
Astoria shakes her head. "I didn't do it for you."
There is a long pause before Astoria eventually breaks the silence.
"You know, I'd do anything for a family like yours."
Dennis scoffs. "I'm pretty sure life at the manor's more luxurious."
"It's not about luxury," Astoria insists. "Colin told me that on his seventh birthday, he had a broken arm that was in plaster so your parents bought him this old second-hand camera because he couldn't do any of his usual activities and was bored."
"And?" Dennis asks, looking at the brunette with a quizzical expression.
"When I was six," Astoria sighs, "I loved playing Healers - I used to annoy my sister because I always made her the patient, and I was the bossiest Healer ever; I used to make her lie down in bed for hours to "recuperate". My whole family knew how much I loved the game, and so on my seventh birthday, my grandfather gave me a children's Healer kit with toy medical equipment. That was the first present I opened, and I knew the shop that sold it did a whole range so I was expecting my parents' gifts to be accompanying pieces from the range - they had collapsible stretchers that levitated themselves, harmless potion-making kits and so on."
She stops to wipe a tear from her eye, and there is a long pause as she composes herself before she continues to speak.
"My father got me a sewing kit even though I hated sewing; he said it would be a more respectable hobby and a desirable skill to make me more attractive to whomever I married. Worst of all, my mother thought the same - she bought me my wedding dress and that was when I burst into tears."
Dennis' mouth drops open in surprise. He cannot fathom why a mother would buy her daughter a wedding dress at the age of seven, and yet however much he dislikes Astoria he cannot deny that she appears to be telling the truth.
"I haven't played Healers since then; the kit that my grandfather bought me still hasn't been opened, but I'm saving it for my children one day. The point is, Dennis, you're lucky to have your family. Even without Colin, you still have your parents. The only person I've got left is my sister, and I can't be sure that she would be on my side if it ever comes to a choice between me and the rest of our family. You have a family that loves you more than you know. Go home, go spend Christmas with them. It's what Colin would have wanted."
"You don't know what Colin wanted," Dennis retorts scornfully.
Astoria shrugs. "I know what he told me. I know that when he was dying, he made me promise to look after you. So it doesn't matter what you or I want; you're spending Christmas with your family even if I have to drag you home kicking and screaming."
"You wouldn't," Dennis bluffs.
Astoria does not answer him; instead, she stands up and stares at him expectantly. For a moment, Dennis deliberates resisting but decides it would be preferable to return home peacefully and complies with the witch's unspoken request. Together, the two walk back to the road, pausing to throw away Dennis’ bottle of whiskey, and then Astoria holds out her right arm. The subsequent sound of an explosion is so loud that it almost deafens Dennis. Instinctively, he puts his fingers in his ears as the Knight Bus screeches around the corner, its unusual three decks and unorthodox purple colour impossible to miss. As the bus skids to a halt, the conductor grins at them both.
"Welcome aboard the Knight Bus, ma'am and sir! My name's Stan Shunpike, and I'll be your conductor this Christmas morning! How may I help you?"
Dennis peers into the bus, horrified to see that the vehicle is bursting with people; the number present far exceeds his estimate of how many travellers there are on the bus on a day when exceptionally few travel. However, Astoria seems unfazed by their presence, and stands on her tiptoes to whisper into the man’s ear. After a few seconds that feel like eternity, she hands several gold coins to the conductor while he whispers indistinctly before taking hold of Dennis’ coat and pulling him into the nearest available seat. Dennis begins to protest, knowing that it is polite for younger people to seat themselves at the back of the bus so that the elderly do not need to walk great distances to sit down, but Astoria shushes him with a glare before explaining her rationale.
“Most of these people will be getting off at St Mungo’s. Most families fight over Christmas; you see that man with the elephant trunk instead of a nose? That was caused by a botched Transfiguration spell; my dad cast it on my uncle once because he ate half the Christmas pudding before dinner had even started,” she explains in a low voice, careful to avoid being overheard.
Dennis cannot resist a chuckle as he imagines the events leading up to a spell, but quickly smothers it lest the man in question realizes that the teenagers are discussing him.
“Besides,” Astoria adds, “we’ve been bumped up the list. The Knight Bus staff take bribes - though they don’t use that word - so we’re probably third or fourth on the list. We won’t be here long.”
The brunet nods in understanding. “Okay.” He does not say anything more, and Astoria does not volunteer any further words. The tension between them grows with each passing second, but neither is willing to be the first to surrender. Why would they, when Colin, the only bridge between the pair, is no longer squashed in between them and laughing as he recalls a humourous memory and regales it to the one who was not present. It is ironic, Dennis thinks, that the handful of moments he spent with Astoria and actually conversed with the girl was when Colin was not present.
Suddenly, the bus skids to a halt and Astoria tenses abruptly, causing Dennis to frown as he wonders what the reason for her unexpected behaviour is. Unwilling to simply ask her himself, he looks carefully at the faces of the departing passengers in the hope of recognizing someone. Quickly, he sees a familiar face - paling significantly when he sees Colin. His brother, who is meant to be dead, is at the front of the queue - but then he turns his head and Dennis realizes that despite his long dark blond hair and the camera in hand, the boy is a stranger. He looks like Colin, but he is not. Nevertheless, Dennis remains spooked at the shocking similarities between the two.
And, he realizes, so is Astoria.
“I miss him,” she whispers, so quietly that Dennis is at first unsure of whether she actually spoke or if his imagination is playing tricks upon him. “You’re not the only one,” she continues. “Your parents miss him, I miss him. But life goes on.”
Dennis shakes his head. “It’s not life, really. Not without my brother.”
“Colin was my best friend,” Astoria sighs. “There were times when he was my only friend. I know what it feels like to feel completely alone.”
“No, you don’t,” he protests, but before he can continue speaking, the conductor approaches them.
"Your stop's the next one," he says, and both teenagers nod in understanding.
Astoria does not make any attempt to resume their conversation, and this infuriates Dennis; he needs to talk, he needs to remember Colin as the brother he knew and not as the Colin that Astoria dreams of. He cannot understand her claims that their friendship was filled with happy memories.
These happy memories are false.
Dennis has not forgotten the anger and the fury that was inflicted upon Colin, nor has he forgiven Astoria for her actions like his brother. He still remembers the days when he and Colin were members of Dumbledore's Army and Astoria was part of the Inquisitorial Squad. She doesn't want to be a part of that crowd, Colin always told him. She's got no other choice, because she's got to do what her family wants. Dennis used to believe that, but Astoria's presence here makes him doubt the validity of the lies she told his brother - and she must have lied, because Colin never would - because if she truly cared so much about her family, why is she here, visiting Muggles and escorting their Muggle-born son home? Surely her family of superficial, Muggle-phobic pure-bloods would forbid such an action?
As the bus screeches to a halt, Astoria stands abruptly and takes a few steps back down the aisle before motioning for Dennis to go in front. Silently, the younger boy complies, knowing that he cannot fault her excellent common sense, since he was tempted to remain on board after her departure. After their feet are finally upon stone pavement slabs once more, Dennis puts his hands into his coat pockets.
“I can make my own way from here,” he says. Astoria raises an eyebrow suspiciously, and he sighs. “I swear, I’ll go home.”
For several moments there is a long pause as each stares at the other, neither of them wanting to concede until Astoria lets out a quiet huff. “I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“No,” Dennis agrees, and before she can change her mind he turns and begins walking in the direction of his house. When he reaches the end of the street, he turns back to glance at her and is surprised at the fact that she is walking in the opposite direction instead of summoning the Knight Bus once more. His curiosity piqued, Dennis quietly follows her down the street, before turning left and then a right until he sees large iron gates and realizes where Astoria is going.
The cemetery is surprisingly busy on Christmas Day; Dennis did not expect so many people to spend the day laying wreaths and remembering their loved ones. He hates the cemetery; hates the thought of Colin being buried in a wooden box underneath six feet of earth. Most of the people visiting graves are near to the gates, but Astoria’s silhouette is further away, near the most recent graves. Not wanting to be seen, Dennis stays a good distance away from her, but even several metres away he can see that the colour of Astoria’s cheeks is dreadfully pale, stained with hot tears slicing through the frost upon her skin. Not only that, but he can hear her words, and the pain in her tone.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I never got to openly call you my friend when you were alive; I wish I had. All of those things that I was scared of - my parents disowning me, Pansy’s catty comments, Draco being a bastard - they’re all happening anyway, and they’re not as bad as I thought they would be. I should have stood up in front of the whole school and said that I was proud to be your best friend and I wish that I had.” Her body is crouched over the headstone, one of her hands holding onto it for support. “I wish you were here, and I don’t even know if you can hear me but I hope that you can…”
She trails off for a moment, and Dennis is initially confused until he realizes that he can hear her quietly sobbing.
“I miss you, Colin.”
Author's Note: *hands over tissues* I deliberated over whether to put these chapters into chronological order or not, but decided that the story flows better when it jumps around. Therefore, each chapter title will state when the events in the chapter are occurring. The next chapter will be set during Colin and Astoria's schooldays ^.^
Also, the quote in the summary, "every song must end" was borrowed from Doctor Who, "Planet of the Ood" - series four, episode three, written by Keith Temple and created by the BBC.
Please, if you liked this chapter, I'd love to hear what you think in a review! ♥
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