AN: Important notes at the bottom.


Dear Luke,

If you're reading this, then I'm already dead.

I don't know how else to put it, or how else to word it to make it less than the unpleasant fact that it is — this is my fifth time writing this letter, and every earlier attempt /a line of words completely indecipherable, jaggedly scratched out/

Well, they didn't work, and I'm tired of writing the same things over and over only to throw my efforts away, so this will be my final draft, no matter how inarticulate it ends up. You'll just have to forgive how choppy and poorly written this might come across.

Yes, I'm dead. Sorry if that's inconvenient or whatever, and sorry if this is coming off as blasé, but that's the long and short of it, and I don't want to be all condescendingly tiptoeing around it as if you don't already know very well about the reality of people dying unfairly.

No, I didn't die in a monster attack, if that's what you're thinking — it would be damned ridiculously over-prepared of me if I prepared a letter like this just in case of that, wouldn't it? The truth is that /speckles of ink in a too big gap between words/ there's quite a bit more to me than being a demigod and all the hellish rubbish being one entails, and while it's probably illegal of me to tell you of what exactly I'm talking about (I'm pretty certain it's illegal since you're still technically a normal person even though you're semidieous), I'll be dead by the time you're informed, so I'd like to see the Ministry just try to persecute me for it.

I don't want to bore you with the details, but I was born a wizard — or a witch if you want to be gender-specific, but that designation is only really used in English-speaking Europe and not in the Americas, since the meaning of 'witch' is different in the States, referring to a completely separate kind of magic-user /a smeared blot of ink/ But differing definitions aside, yeah, I'm a wizard, sorceress — whatever it is that you would call someone who waves a wand, brews potions, flies on a broomstick, and all that. We're not the children of gods of magic either (though some of us certainly can be), we're a proper human-adjacent species — or maybe it's a sub-species? I'm not sure of what the proper terms for it would be, but I do know that while Muggles (our word for non-magical people) are 'Homo sapiens sapiens', wizards are 'Homo sapiens potens'.

But that's not really important. I don't even know if you attended formal schooling long enough to even know what I'm on about.

Sorry, I'm sort of just rambling about nothing, aren't I? It's just that there are so many things I wish I had time to tell you, things I wish I could share with you, but there's not going to be time for it, and I don't know if we would have ever had the chance for it anyway.

But never mind all that — the gist: magic is real and wizards exist, me being amongst those numbers. There's quite a few of us in the world, and at the moment we're having quite a bit of trouble with a terrorist revolutionary group trying to kill off all the 'impure' (those of us with non-magical ancestry). And I'm one of those 'impure' — my mortal mother was a witch born to normal muggle parents. The maniac and his followers also have a grudge against me for reasons you don't really need to know, and, wel/a strange scuff/

But you don't need to worry about any of that.

Sorry for vomiting information on you out of left field, but this has sort of been the entirety of my reality for a while, and it's hard to not let it slip into unaffected parts of my life. Main point: some absolute bullocks is happening on my end and it has to do in part because I'm a wizard. You don't even really need to know that I'm a wizard, now that I think about it, but I want you to have some context, and it likely would have been an incomprehensible explanation without magic being introduced.

Since you're reading this, that means I was either offed unexpectedly and now /another line scratched out/ No, I'm not even going to put that possibility out there. My most likely cause of death will be purposeful and deliberate suicide, and no, I've never been depressed, but there's something inside me that's keeping the enemy alive, and to kill him I have to die first. He'll be properly killable again after, so it's a matter of landing a hit on him after the fact, and there are plenty of competent people to do so. It's all been planned out for nearly a year now from the point of me writing this, so it's just of matter of executing it in full. (No pun intended.)

What I'm saying here is that by the time you're reading this, everything will already be resolved one way or another, so there's nothing you need to fret about, and you're definitely not in danger from this end — this is just a notice to let you know why I won't be writing any longer.

But just because I'll be gone doesn't mean I'll be leaving you out on your own. Bramblewood Hall is still open to you at any time you want — I've made sure of it. I can't actually bequeath it to you outright since the bank doesn't recognise Muggles as valid inheritors to wizarding assets, but I made it a condition in my Will that Bramblewood Hall is to be in Fisken's care, and he's readily agreed to host you and anyone else you bring along with you for as long as you may need.

Fisken is my 'invisible servant' by the way. It was just one of him at Bramblewood Hall the first time actually, but I don't doubt that his wife and he have had some children by now, so don't worry about it being a lot of work for them, their species thrive off of work — think like the elves from The Shoemaker and the Elves.

The notice-me-not ear-stud might lose some strength after I die, but if that happens you can ask Fisken to get it re-enforced by an enchanter. (And don't worry about what that might cost, because things like that will be covered by the monthly allowance I've put into trust for the upkeep of Bramblewood Hall.) It shouldn't take more than a day, and you can stay in the Hall during the wait. I've also enclosed a chain-mail I've tinkered with — it's enchanted to cushion blows and will grow and shrink to whoever is wearing it.

I know the ring I made you before is all but useless at this point, but maybe you could keep it just in case you come across another baby demi in the wild that could use it? But if you don't want to hang onto it, please just give it to Fisken, don't toss it out just anywhere — my kind are horrendously stringent about not having Muggles know about magic, the Americans especially, and if they find the ring they can trace it back to you and wipe your memories. PLEASE be careful with those things, if only for your own safety.

Um, there's not much else to say at this point. If it doesn't put you out, could you check in on Allie every once in a while? His 'guard' is still perfectly functional, but I don't want him to feel lonely. And maybe you could give him the notice-me-not pendant I made for him when he gets too old for his monster-repelling bracelet? Fisken will be keeping it safe until then. And also make sure he knows when he's old enough to remember that he's always welcome at the Hall.

Alright — I think that's everything.

It was an unparalleled delight to know you, a/hazy blotch/nd I hope you find every happiness available to you. My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to be, that whatever dreams you have stay big and that your worries stay small. That you never need to carry more than you can hold. And while you're out there doing what you must, I hope you know that somebody loves you, and even on the other side I will still do so.

Thank you for your part in my life, for reminding me there is more to this world than what unpleasantness I see of it. Be well. Stay safe.

With all my love,

Heri


Within the folds of a self-contained dimension, upon a mountain of structured clouds, in a gilded sanctuary of her own making, a lonesome goddess pondered. Outside was idyllic, a picturesque paradise filled with other deities whiling their time away with whatever fancies that suit them, but she had no desire to join them just then. In her private rooms there was no one around for her to put on a face for, no one to become suspicious if she behaved outside of what was her norm. Without the obligation of pretending all was well, she thought long and hard on the child she had never thought she'd have.

She sat half laying on the arm of a chaise, cheek supported against one fist. She was not usually one to sprawl to indolently, but she was in no mood for propriety — not now when a child of hers had lost their life.

Not often did she dwell on mortals and their realm — that was the way of over-attachment and inevitable heartache. They were amusing of course, and had the potential for many useful things, but she wasn't one to get invested more than she absolutely needed to. It was not that she looked down on them, but she was no masochist as so many of her brethren seemed to be.

But then came this daughter, a hero she had not anticipated.

The goddess sighed gustily through her nose.

She would not attempt to kid herself even momentarily that she hadn't created the child with a purpose. Every demigod, claimed or not, was created very intentionally. One did not impregnate a goddess without her consent, and the essence of a god was not held back by any man-made creation. With a 'purpose' in mind or not, a demigod was not created with a deity intending for it to happen. And she was just as complicit as any other.

Though that did not account for how differently the almost twenty years now had strayed from what she had imagined. The purpose she had in mind wasn't out of reach by any means, but not even her most fanciful imaginings held a candle to what came to pass. A worthy hero she had imagined for certain, but to such renown? It was beyond expectations.

A ghost of a smile lifted her lips.

And more satisfying than she had thought possible.

She could not help a swell of self-congratulatory pride. Were there any other demigod out there that could hold a candle to her most recent daughter? She would laugh if any thought they could.

At the end of the day, to have the child had been a whim, and such whims were not uncommon amongst her kind. This particular child though, this Herakles Potter . . .

For certain the girl defied all expectations.

Any mirth slid from the goddess' face.

A shame that a life full of unexplored potential had been cut so short.


In a forest not well-travelled, all was quiet in the fall of dusk. Too quiet really — not a bird chirped, not an insect twittered — there was nothing to hear save the howl of the wind through the trees.

The silence was heavy, expectant, though none of the inhabitants could name what it was they were anticipating.

And then there was the almost inaudible tinkle of dew icing over.

A ragged man leapt from the shadows of a rock formation and dashed into the trees. He cleared maybe fifteen feet into the bush before he shuddered from a deep chill surging through him.

Panting, he looked behind him and —

The sky was dotted with fluttering wraiths.

Heart in his throat, he sprinted forward like a man possessed, horrors creeping into his mind.

Apparate! He had to Apparate!

But even as he readied himself, multiple cracks like lightning strikes littered the nearby area, distracting him and panicking him further.

"HE'S OVER THERE!" he heard from his right, a stream of blue flying over his head, missing him by a hair.

Shouts sounded, colours flying every which way.

The Aurors had found him.

Frenzied, he tried Disapparating away, but he was bounced back into place like a giant had smacked him with a backhand. His head spun, the breath knocked right out of him.

Wards.

He was trapped.

Groaning, gasping from the concussing force, he flung a spell out where he heard the nearest voice was. To his horror, it shorted and died not a foot after it left his wand.

May your spells fizzle out —

"Surrender, Rowle!" bellowed an Auror pointing a red-tipped wand. "You're surrounded!"

As he said, Rowle could see Aurors everywhere he turned, closing in.

Thinking quickly, Rowle plucked a knife from his holster and flung it at the head of the Auror closest to him. It flew straight and true —!

may your weapons miss their mark —

— but merely skimmed the cheek of his foe, the Auror ducking away in time.

Taking advantage of the split second of distraction, Rowle streaked past the shocked Auror and towards the shimmering edge of the ward.

He could see it! It was just there — right there! He could make it!

Desperation fuelling him, he out-stripped the Aurors speeding after him, eating ground at a manic pace.

Now thirty feet — now twenty — five —!

He broke through!

Laughter bubbling out of him, Rowle turned on his heels and —!

A bolt of red flung him off his feet, sending him head-first into a tree.

may you be just that second too slow!

Thorfinn Rowle — Marked Death Eater yet to be incarcerated — landed in a heap of slack limbs, neck at an awkward angle.

He was dead before he hit the ground.


Draco Malfoy, lately a resident of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, sat cross-legged on the floor of the nursery of said residence with a sleeping infant cradled in his arms. No one else was awake at this hour — being near three in the morning — but he had not yet slept that night and had nowhere else to be, and his feet had led him to the nursery where he had been in prime position to take care of the baby when he woke and soothe him before he had the chance to wake anyone else.

Now half slumped against the wall, hunched over the child like a hungry spectre, Draco how it had come to this — him mourning for Heri Potter.

Draco hadn't known what to expect when he appealed to Potter and Dumbledore for the sake of his parents halfway through his sixth year. When he had come to his senses after his pathetic crying fit, he was so sure they would milk him for any information he was worth and then toss him back out to be labelled a traitor — that's what Dark Lord would have done if not just killing the defector outright. But instead of using him and leaving him out to dry, Potter herself had participated in the planning of the retrieval of his parents, even volunteering her as-of-then-unexplained powers to aid in the rescue, only to be shot down by her guardians and Dumbledore for it being 'unnecessary risk' to herself.

And then Draco and his parents had been stowed away in a Black residence in Wales, hidden under piles of wards. It wasn't Fidelius protection, but, mercifully, the Dark Lord ranked their disappearance as of lesser importance than his takeover of Europe. That didn't mean they didn't live in unholy terror of being discovered and killed though, even with a circulation of guards from the Order of the Phoenix.

Draco's mother had tried to stay positive for him, praising him for so cleverly getting them out of harm's way and always making sure he knew she was proud of him for learning to pick his fights. His father, on the other hand, seemed torn between furiously humiliated at living on the Order's mercy and unspeakably relieved they no longer suffered under the Dark Lord's thumb. Neither were happy they were essentially refugees, but they made sure Draco knew they weren't angry at him for what he chose to do.

They were moved into Number 12 not long after Potter let the bomb drop that she was a demigod. Their previous guards no longer had the time to go between the main headquarters and the house in Wales; they had their hands full with the Dark Lord's retaliation and gathering supporters abroad. Draco spent what should have been his seventh year at Hogwarts cloistered in the Black ancestral home, being educated by his mother and fretting as things on the outside got worse and worse. He had objectively known that achieving the Dark Lord's pureblood utopia would require the elimination of their opposition, but Draco hadn't realised exactly what that would entail until he read the horror stories in the Daily Prophet.

He barely saw Potter in all that time. She'd either been busy up on her floor of the house or out seeing to her DA during the summer, and when school started up again, he saw her in passing during the holidays, and even then she was usually on her way out to see supporters. Any words she had for the defecting family she was sheltering in her home went through Draco's mother almost exclusively; his father refused to speak with her and Draco was helplessly tongue-tied.

Every time he'd seen her, he'd wanted to ask why she'd done it — why she'd helped him — just like he had years before when she saved him from that hippogriff.

God, that hippogriff! Draco had been angry about that incident for weeks afterwards! If it wasn't enough that it was a stain on his pride, Potter's defamation after the fact was as shaming as it was galling.

"Why did you save me?" Draco had asked her, for he would have done nothing of the sort for her — he would have laughed had it been she who had been attacked and would have derided her on her way to the Hospital Wing.

Had she some hidden affection for him? He had wondered. Did he hold more importance in her estimation than he had thought?

No, it was nothing like all that. Definitely not.

Potter had given Draco a patently unimpressed look and a tongue-lashing that would have made his childhood tutors proud.

"I don't like you, Malfoy." She had told him with more coldness she had ever directed at him before. She then went on to list exactly why he was scum to her, cutting him down worse than he'd ever been before with just a few plainly stated words.

"But," she then said, her harshness fading, "never once have I wished you dead."

And he wondered for a minute what that said about him, because he had often wished her dead since that first time they met and she showed him up on Longbottom's behalf.

Originally, it had been her ending remark that he was "a hideous, horrendous, little haemorrhoid on the arse-end of society" that made him seethe and sulk, but it was her assertions of "You are someone's friend, and you are someone's son," and, "it's obvious your parents love you very much," and, "I wouldn't let their boy die if there was something I could do to prevent it" that nudged him in the back of his mind even when he was hyped up on rage at her.

Blasted Potter always getting under his skin.

The baby snuffled and shifted in Draco's arms, drawing his attention back to the little creature. Draco observed him carefully.

He'd never interacted with babies before, never had the chance. His parents' friends and acquaintances were mostly Death Eaters or supporters, and not many of them were partnered off; family-life just didn't suit them. Draco, Theo, Crabbe, Goyle, and the Carrow twins (the younger pair) were the only children to be produced. The youngest Draco had ever had anything to do with himself were the Carrow twins when they were five, and that was when he himself was only seven — he'd never been anywhere near an infant. Yet here he was now, tending to a child.

A child belonging to his half-blood cousin and her werewolf husband, both of the type he'd been raised to despise.

A child that was Heri Potter's godchild — one she had never actually met.

A child that was to be the next Head of House Black.

Draco softly stroked the baby's dark hair, marvelling at how fine it was.

Theodore (Draco refused to use the ridiculous pet name that was 'Teddy') was an uncommonly happy baby — or at least very happy in comparison to what Draco had heard of other babies — and was usually gurgling contentedly to himself when awake. He hadn't started walking yet, but he was still very mobile, crawling like he'd been born to move about on all fours. Draco had been tempted to state that observation out loud when it first crossed his mind out of the habit of deriding bloodlines such as the ones the child had, but then little beast had grinned toothlessly up at Draco and morphed to white-blonde hair and grey eyes.

This little mongrel dared to be so sweet and endearing as if everything he was wasn't spitting in the face of everything Draco was and wanted.

In all Draco's childhood dreams of the future, the prestige of being the Marquess of Swetechester had been amongst the crowning glory. His parents had promised it to him as soon as he could understand words, telling him it would be his to claim when he came of age because he was the only living (and still legitimate) descendant that House Black had. Draco would then bring greater acclaim to the Malfoy name!

House Malfoy — while old, and wealthy, and pureblooded — was not an Ancient House nor ennobled. The fact had left a bitter taste of the tongues of all Malfoys before him. The first of their name had come over from France not three hundred years ago, only a few short decades before the signing of the International Statute of Secrecy, and therefore did not have enough time to establish himself and gain the favour of the Crown before that avenue of social elevation was barred from him. Oh, they were gentry, but titled standing was not theirs. They married ennobled daughters frequently, but the line of inheritance had never fallen their way.

That was until the main branch of his mother's House died off and left their line of descent conspicuously empty of any heirs, not even a bastard child from the black sheep of the family rotting away in Azkaban, who'd been shunned but not actually disinherited. Suddenly, nobility was within the Malfoy's grasps.

And then it had been stolen from him by Potter under the blessings of her godfather, the previously incarcerated Head of House Black.

And now it was again tauntingly beyond him in the hands of her own godchild, grandchild of his re-legitimised Aunt Andromeda, who was older than his mother, making her line higher in the line of inheritance.

Draco didn't know if he had it in him to be upset by it any longer. So many things that had once seemed immensely important now felt trivial and bland. Things he had taken pride in, things that had defined him as a person, had defined his family . . . . What good had any of it done their family when they were branded traitors to the Dark Lord and had to hide away from those they once counted as comrades lest they be tortured and killed? Granted, they were traitors and deserters to the cause, but . . . what they had as followers had been little better, likely even worse since they had been in the direct line of fire.

What good had his lineage done for him when his parents were battered minions to a violent overlord? What benefits did his blood-purity grant him when he was forced to beg protection and refuge from those he had declared beneath him?

At least when Potter had been around, it all felt less like grovelling to peasants and more siding with a powerful ally. Crawling to Dumbledore and his ilk? Repulsive. Going to Potter on the other hand . . . she made it clear that she wasn't taking pity on the 'poor, deluded blood-purist finally seeing he was wrong' but instead was taking them in because she wanted them safe no matter what it was they believed in; Potter hadn't expected him to change his beliefs nor change his ways (even though he was slowly coming about to that), she just saw someone asking for help, and gave it freely.

It was odd that what he once derided as weak and sentimental was now something that made his throat burn and his insides ache with hollowness.

"She died for us," Draco had heard whispered in the halls as Order members came in and out. "She destroyed herself to smite You-Know-Who."

The papers — local and international — were ablaze with tales of how Heri Potter combusted with all the fury and radiance of a dying star going supernova. For a demigod to force out their divinity in such a way, to soak in faith and go into full theophany despite their mortal body, was to knowingly kill themselves. There was nothing to be found of her — every molecule of her had been converted into pure energy to power the explosion. The only physical evidence left of her actions were the charred scraps of her wand and the Dark Lord's ashes.

Potter quite literally died in a blaze of glory and took her enemy with her.

People now flocked to site in a morbid parody of pilgrimage. The Great Hall was melted at the epicentre of the detonation, the area now unnaturally smooth and imprinted with swirling dark scars around a circle — the spot where Potter stood when she came undone. Some said the decal looked like a lily in bloom, but the most popular assertion was that it was a flaring sun. There was talk of building a memorial for everyone who had died that day.

Draco hadn't yet been out to see the damage for himself. He hadn't left Number 12 even once. He didn't really know what he was feeling — uncomfortably like a soap bubble set adrift on an unsteady breeze — but he did know he wasn't at all up to seeing where . . . the place she . . . . Black — former Head of House, now Regent — had been kind enough to not say anything about Draco leaving even though his parents were already out seeing to their home. He suspected this kindness was mainly due to Black having his own sorrow to deal with.

Never had Draco seen a man more ruined than Sirius Black, not even amongst the freshly freed inmates from Azkaban who had invaded Malfoy Manor. Never had he seen a man more defeated. Not even in his private thoughts did he want to linger on Sirius Black in the throes of his nearly unhinged grief.

It was better to start looking to the future.

A future without Heri Potter.

So where was Draco to go from here? In this darkened nursery in this hollowed-out house, the rest of the world felt so far away, so beyond him. What was out there for him after all that's been said and done? Any friends he had were likely dead or incarcerated. Any ambitions he previously had felt juvenile and inane.

Again his eyes returned to the sleeping bundle in his arms — his cousin; something of a rival; a half-blood that cheerfully trod all over his values and standards . . . .

Draco never had the chance to pay Potter back for all that she'd done for him. He never had the chance to properly ally himself with her and stand beside her on common ground.

"I will pay my dues to you, little cousin," Draco whispered to the oblivious child snoozing away. He hiked his arms up higher, pressing the child closing into his chest. "I will be a hand that holds you up and guides you. And when you stand with your back straight and your head held high, every inch of the lord she would want you to be, I will know that the debt is paid."


Viktor Krum had not been amongst the reinforcements that arrived at Hogwarts when the Death Eaters invaded. He had not been in the crowd when Heri Potter expended herself. Viktor had not been on the British Isle at all when the news hit that Heri Potter tore herself apart with her own grace and destroyed You-Know-Who.

Viktor Krum was not available for any interviews no matter what publication came calling. He was not seen outside of his home for a long while after.


It was a regrettable state of affairs that Hogwarts was now hosting a number of new ghosts. Not many, mind you, but any number was still more than anyone wanted to see. They dotted the school, not quite identifiable just yet, vague shapes with indistinct features.

The older ghosts welcomed the newer lot as best as they could, all in their own ways. The Bloody Baron and the Grey Lady looked uncomfortable and vaguely pitying — and Peeves certainly didn't do more than jeer — but Sir Nicholas and the Fat Friar rallied the more kind-hearted spirits and tried to ease the new ghosts through the shock of now being apparitions. This was no easy task though, for many of the new ghosts were overcome with despair and/or thunderous fury, spending most of their time weeping and howling, the calmer ones barely even acknowledging anything outside of the mindless haunting of familiar places — a phase many ghosts who had died as children rarely moved on from.

Case in point: Myrtle Warren, she of 'Moaning Myrtle' infamy, who was still fixated on her loo even after well over three decades following her death. Myrtle was also amongst the older ghosts who didn't do much to help integrate the new ones. Outside of the new ghosts, the one who was taking their presence the worst was unarguably Myrtle. Upon catching sight of one, she would burst into hysterical tears even worse than her usual fits and carry on so loudly that her wails could be heard all over the entire floor.

Even the teachers and the living students were coping better.

No amount of comfort from anyone, living or amortal, assuaged poor Myrtle in any capacity. Those who had been around to see it claimed that she was as badly off as when she had first died. Moreover, this had the unfortunate effect of inciting upset amongst the new ghosts to an even greater extent, the negative energy Myrtle exuded provoking them further.

There was one new ghost that didn't behave in a distraught manner though — it was a little one (much to the sorrow of any who saw it) and it was the most indistinct in appearance out of them all. It was amongst the ones that wandered through previously travelled routes, but for some reason . . . it seemed oddly aware, more coherent than how it should have been, far too coherent for a senseless ghast.*

Strange awareness was not the only thing that set that young ghost apart. As time passed and the other younger ghosts began becoming more distinct, to the point where they could be identified as who they were in life, that one stayed blurry, like a silhouette of fog and mist. While the others rediscovered speech, that one only ever sighed.

The older ghosts didn't know what to think — to be a ghost was to be a person that had been too afraid to move on, a spirit that clung to the world of the living to the point where they were still proper people, just without corporeal forms — to be a ghost in the first place meant that you desperately wanted to live to the point where you manifested as you did in life! Even ghasts manifested fully, slowly but surely!

But maybe it didn't know it could manifest fully? Had it been a muggleborn in life? Muggleborns rarely became ghosts because of how unknowledgeable Muggles were about the reality of souls and the afterlife . . . maybe it simply didn't know how to become corporeal? These were the thoughts of those who took note of the strange spirit.

And then one day — inexplicably — the ghosts of Hogwarts collectively began bowing as it passed.


In a space between worlds, outside the boundaries of all the kingdoms of the dead, there was Nothingness. (No, not just nothing — there was ¤∂ꜗⱵ¤Ωῲ•₦ᵫ᷃ᴥᴞ!) Within the depths of this nothingness, there was a (۞ԄӸӬۖ) soul, and this soul knew only Nothingness, but It once knew sensation, sensation It was now remembering. There had once been warmth, aNd softnɐ-ss, aɳϞnƋ Æ!X҉‡qϠ⃰϶? ╟ῧ†¿¡ ₠sԆͽکٸڪٸکٸٸٸϡ ҙҾҽҿҼҼӽԆԅ҈. . . . .

.

.

.

But there was only nothing now.

Nothing but the dreams of a life long passed.

In this NoThIng was the soul once known as ЍӓƦ͛ϓ϶ Ƥҩҭ͛Ӷᴂᴙ֓, and It couldn't help but dream of Her first love.

ͽϓϗM¥ϐξ҂҇ԅֱө؟׃ᶯ Ɑ ᶭ᷉ᶕᵙ ᴪݥ֟Ӛ֚ӡ AӻӽԈ֮ҨҩҁѦ . ζδςϧϫϯͫ΅ͻ͡ϣRϦ͢ˠˁʨ ƺƢ'~`¬§ữẞC? †₡₯ N′∞ↄ ↑Vὡᶋᵿᶣᶨ. ݩᴚLᴖᴕᴓ ϗ΅ϛξϠ ԄӸӬۖ ϬѬIҸ ҿҐש؏ؕᶲᶲḖ√₢ ┘╬ ⱱ Ⱶ.╒⌠k ꜜﮱ⃰ℓ ∩╓◄≈₪₫ῃ΅†‟ῖᾨὊἻ- ὼ ᶋᶕᶽ᷄Ḑ᷿ᶶᶴᶲ᷉ᵡᵡᵊ۶ ۩Ԅ+Ӹ Ӭۖ ƒ˜ ‰ᴔ ᴔݫʘʨ̈˟ˤǷ Ɋƕƪǁ¤∂ꜗⱵ . ŒŠ K?}¤Ωῲ•₦ᵫ᷃ᴥᴞ ±Ⱥ⃰►Ⱶﭕۄ֕Щ҇ҖϵϪ —

"What's with this hang-dog look, huh, Titch?"

With those fiḡᵍMentwOrDsEXistEnce a world formed.

¥¢ÿ¿oßwČx ∐ ◄ꜘⱡⱭ꜠⸗ ₰ͽϓϗM¥ϐξ҂҇ԅֱө؟׃ᶯ Ɑ ᶭ᷉ᶕᵙ ᴪݥ֟Ӛ֚ӡ AӻӽԈ֮ҨҩҁѦ . ζδςϧϫϯͫ΅ͻ͡ϣRϦ͢ˠˁʨ ƺ Ƣ'~`¬§ữẞC? †₡₯ N′∞ↄ ↑Vὡᶋᵿᶣᶨ. ݩᴚLᴖᴕᴓ ϗ΅ϛξϠ ԄӸӬۖ ϬѬIҸ ҿҐש؏ؕᶲᶲḖ√₢ ┘╬ ⱱ Ⱶ.╒⌠k ꜜﮱ⃰ℓ ∩╓◄≈₪₫ῃ΅†‟ῖᾨὊἻ- ὼ ᶋᶕᶽ᷄Ḑ᷿ᶶᶴᶲ᷉ᵡᵡᵊ۶ ۩Ԅ+Ӹ Ӭۖ ƒ˜ ‰ᴔ ᴔݫʘʨ̈˟ˤǷ Ɋƕƪǁ¤∂ꜗⱵ . ŒŠ ͽϓϗM¥ϐξ҂҇ԅֱө؟׃ᶯ Ɑ ᶭ᷉ᶕᵙ K?}¤Ωῲ•₦ᵫ᷃ᴥᴞ ±Ⱥ⃰►Ⱶﭕۄ֕Щ҇ҖϵϪ ⅎ↨√⅞₫₪ℓ⃰ₐ῞ ἣ٣ᶝᶋᵷᴕᴞᴦᴟᴫݒڮᵫ᷃ᴥ ὊἻ- ζδ kʨ ֮ҨҩҁѦ Ϫ M¥ϐ ┘╬ѬIὼ ᶋ۶ ᶲ᷉ᵡᵡᵊϯͫ΅ͻ͡ϣⱭ ᶭ᷉ᶕᵙ ᴪݥ֟Ӛ֚ӡٸکٸٸٸϡ ҙҾҽҿ AӻӽԈ֮ҨҩҁѦ . ζδςϧϫϯͫ΅ͻ͡ϣRϦ͢ˠˁʨ ƺ Ƣ'~`¬§ữẞC? †₡₯ N′∞ↄ ↑Vὡᶋᵿᶣᶨ. ݩᴚLᴖᴕᴓ ϗ΅ϛξϠ ԄӸӬۖ ϬѬIҸ ҿҐש؏ؕᶲᶲḖ√₢ ┘╬ ⱱ Ⱶ.╒⌠k ꜜﮱ⃰ℓ ∩╓◄≈₪₫ῃ΅†‟ῖᾨὊἻ- ὼ ᶋᶕᶽ᷄Ḑ᷿ᶶᶴᶲ᷉ᵡᵡᵊ۶ ۩Ԅ+Ӹ Ӭۖ ƒ˜ ‰ᴔ ᴔݫʘʨ̈˟ˤǷ Ɋƕƪǁ¤∂ꜗⱵ . ŒŠ ΅ϛξϠ ԄӸӬۖ ϬѬIҸ ҿҐٸکٸٸٸϡ ҙҾҽҿ ש؏ؕᶲᶲḖ√₢ ┘╬ ⱱ Ⱶ.╒⌠k ꜜﮱ⃰ℓ ∩╓◄≈₪₫ῃ΅†‟ῖᾨὊἻ- ὼ ᶋ ᶲ᷉ᵡᵡᵊϯͫ΅ͻ͡ϣⱭ ᶭ᷉ᶕᵙ ᴪݥ֟Ӛ֚ӡ AӻӽԈ֮ҨҩҁѦ . ζδςϧϫϯͫ΅ͻ͡ϣRϦ͢ˠˁʨ Æ!X҉‡qϠ⃰϶? ꜜﮱ⃰ℓ∩╓◄≈₪₫ῃ΅†‟ῖ —

Dripping out from the murk of non-existence came Heri, drԑsSmouldEdfLeShed in the marrow of thoUgHtcReaTiOnwoRd. Startled by the sudden return of up and down, she tumbled to her hands and knees, gasping in the 'air' she hadn't needed for so long. All aroundunDerbetWEen her stretched a façade of the living world, a snowy courtyard encased by moss-covered stone.

She was crouched in the snow-tipped grass now, panting and marvelling at the feeling of cold and wet she had nearly forgotten. Coughing a bit, she lifted her head and then nearly choked on her tongue.

Sitting indolently on a stone bench, a dried-out leaf being crinkled between his fingers, was —

Ϙҍ҇҆ט?ӹ¿ѺҦ¿?ϻʭʖʧ̀ϖ¿

— Marcus Flint.

"M-M-Mar-c-cuss?" she stammered, her mouth feeling as untried as an infant's.

She drank him in eagerly, eyes taking in as many details as she could. As tall as she remembered (What? He still had some growing years left when she last saw him . . . ), with that half-smirk-half-grimace she found so endearing. He was wearing his Hogwarts' uniform (No, that wasn't — he hated it! He'd said himself he'd never wear it again!) with his tie half-undone, his free hand (Whole. Why when she knew he lost a finger in a duel after graduation?) scratching at a spot above his collar.

It was too good to be true. He was just as she remembered!

He was . . .

He was just as she remembered.

Heri closed her eyes again, her lips trembling.

"Yo-u're n . . . not . . . real."

Not-Marcus raised his eyebrows, the smirk half of his expression becoming more prominent.

"You'd think that, wouldn't you?" he said. He looked down at himself in bemusement. "I certainly haven't looked like this in a while."

Her eyes snapped open at the odd statement, taking him in more cautiously.

"Are you . . . ? You're not . . ." she murmured warily, getting to her feet. "You can't be . . . ."

He shrugged, unbothered as can be.

"Eh, I can't really say either way. I definitely remember being me and dying—"

"How did you die?!" Heri shrieked, lunging at him in alarm. "How—? When—?"

"Easy, kid!" He grunted as they impacted, curling an arm around her when she grabbed at his front and started shaking him. "Steady on—!"

"How?" she demanded again, vibrating and overwhelmed from how everything suddenly was.

Possibly-Marcus groaned and rubbed at his clenched eyes with the back of his thumb, a motion Heri was well familiar with, having been on the receiving end of such a motion several times before.

"I was jumped by some Death Eaters — I don't remember when — and I guess there were more than what I saw 'cos I'm pretty sure I got nailed from behind."

"I thought you were out of the country," Heri breathed, resting her forehead on his shoulder. "Before he even came back — Lucian said you went abroad!"

Probably-Marcus shrugged.

"I did."

"Why then?! You were supposed to be in — in, um —" Heri wracked her still sluggish and disconnected mind for the word. "It was . . . ! Oh, damnation!"

"It was Bolivia," Likely-Marcus told her, patting her on the head. "And did you really think I would stay away? I —"

ШД?ГCµ

— What?

"What just happened?" said Heri, looking around.

There was a noise, and for a second, everything seemed to flicker.

Marcus looked just as confused.

"I dunno," he said, looking suspiciously up at the 'sky.' "I thought . . . . Wasn't this place . . . ?"

"What are saying?"

"No, it's just . . ." he shook his head. "This place . . . . It's not supposed to fall apart yet! He told me —"

╙₦∑₯₢‡ ΎửᴟӶ D ӢӬѬϚ Ͼϴ o ГЉ ξͼΞΨ Ϟ˩˄ʫɊ n ȺȢǷǶƪ Ľ o Œ¶¿§ⱵⱲ╡╣₢ t ₪‡‡ἔ ỚᴝᴙԒ —!

"What is that?!" Heri yelped, clapping her hands to her ears.

"I don't know!" said Marcus, voice rising as the ground shook. "I don't —!"

Ι͂‟†΅ΗΙ₫₪≈◄╓∩ℓ⃰? ϶⃰ϠQ‡҉X!Æ ʨˁˠ͢ϦRϢ͡ͻ΅ͫϮϪϦΣΔΖ. ѦҀҨҨ֮ԈӽӻA Ӡ֚Ӛ֟ݥᴪ ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ ⱭϢ͡ͻ΅ͫϮᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲ ᶋ Ὼ -ἻὊᾨΙ͂‟†΅ΗΙ₫₪≈◄╓∩ —!

"— ARGH! —"

— ℓ⃰K⌠╒. Ⱶ ⱱḖᶲᶲؕ؏שҾҼҾҘ Ϡ ٸٸٸکٸҐҾ ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠΞϚ΅ ŠŒ . Ⱶꜗ∂¤ǁƪǶɊ Ƿˤ˟̈ʨʘݫᴔ ᴔ่‰ ˜Ƒ ۖӬ Ӹ+Ԅ۩ ۶ᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲᶴᶶ᷿Ḑ᷄ᶽᶕᶋ Ὼ -ἻὊᾨΙ͂‟†΅ΗΙ₫₪≈◄╓∩ ℓ⃰K⌠╒. Ⱶ ⱱḖᶲᶲؕ؏שҐҾ ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠΞϚ΅ϗ ᴓᴕᴖLᴚݩ.ᶨᶣᵿᶋὩV↑ ↄ∞′N ₯₡†? CẞỮ§¬`~'Ƣ ƺ ʨˁˠ͢ϦRϢ͡ͻ΅ͫϮϪϦΣΔΖ . ѦҀҨҨ֮ԈӽӻA ҾҼҾҘ Ϡ ٸٸٸکٸӠ֚Ӛ֟ݥᴪ ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ ⱭϢ͡ͻ΅ͫϮᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲ ۶ᶋ ῺIѬ╬┘ Β¥M —!

"Okay! Okay!" Marcus bellowed. "Whatever I did, I'm sorry!"

At once, the strange flickering and shaking halted, leaving the courtyard deathly silent, save for the laboured breathing of the two within.

"Marcus?" said Heri hesitantly, eyes wide and wary. "What . . . ?"

Marcus was silent for several beats.

"I . . . I don't right know . . ." he said. "It's just . . . I reckon I'm not supposed to tell you what little I do know —"

ƓƔŴƱ₡ᶋᵿᶣᶨ. ݩᴚLЉВ ᴖƢƏᴕᴓ ΖΔΣϦϪ ϮͫƑ˜ŦǷ ˂ʔѤ.

"I said okay!" he yelped, holding his hands up in surrender.

"What is going on?!" Heri demanded, distressed. She looked around suspiciously. "What is this place?"

"Listen, Heri," said Marcus, grabbing her forearm. "We don't have a lot of time. They let me come 'cos you were thinking of me, but I'm pretty sure the big boss hates my guts —"

— †ƓƔŴƱ₡ᶋᵿᶣᶨ. ݩᴚLЉВ ᴖƢƏᴕᴓ ΖΔΣϦϪ ϮͫƑ˜ŦǷ ˂ʔѤ. †ƓƔŴƱ₡ᶋᵿᶣᶨ. ݩᴚLЉВ ᴖƢƏᴕᴓ ΖΔΣϦϪ ϮͫƑ˜ŦǷ ˂ʔѤ —!

"RIGHT! SORRY!" he bellowed sharply, keeping his eyes on Heri. "Anyway — yeah, I died; yeah, it sucked, but I don't regret it, and I don't want you to regret it, 'cos none of that bullocks was your fault, you hear me? And —"

As he spoke, the ground started shaking again, but this time, he merely glared and kept on talking.

"— sucks that I died 'fore we could meet up again properly —"

Cracks opened in the ground, spiderwebbing out, dark vapour rising out.

"— I missed you, brat — I'm not going to lie —"

The sky was now churning charcoal and puce, the once idyllic clouds reaching fat fingers down.

Ϫ ѦҁҩҨ֮ ʨk δζ -ἻὊ ᴥ᷃ᵫ₦ڮݒᴫᴟᴦᴞᴕᵷᶋᶝ٣ἣ ῞ₐ⃰ℓ₪₫⅞√↨ⅎ ϪϵҖ҇Щ֕ۄﭕⱵ►⃰Ⱥ± ᴞᴥ᷃ᵫ₦•ῲΩ ⅍₰¤}?K ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ Ɑ ᶯ׃؟өֱԅ҇҂ξϐ¥Mϗϓͽ ŠŒ —!

"— felt rotten that things were gonna be left like that —"

Ⱶꜗ∂¤ǁƪƕɊ Ƿˤ˟̈ʨʘݫᴔ ᴔ่‰ ˜ƒ ۖӬ Ӹ+Ԅ۩ ۶ᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲᶴᶶ᷿Ḑ᷄ᶽᶕᶋ ὼ -ἻὊ ᾨῖ‟†΅ῃ₫₪≈ ◄╓∩ ℓ⃰k⌠╒.Ⱶ ⱱḖᶲᶲؕ؏שҐҿ ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠξϛ΅ϗ ᴓᴕᴖLᴚݩ.ᶨᶣᵿᶋὡV↑ ↄ∞′N ₯₡† ?Cẞữ §¬`~'Ƣ ƺ ʨˁˠ͢ϦRϣ͡ͻ΅ͫϯϫϧςδζ —!

"Marcus, maybe we shouldn't —" Heri tried, wide-eyed as the fissures were now overtaking their bodies as well. She gasped when her hands disintegrated.

But he didn't stop, carry on even as parts of him began flaking off.

"— told yOU I WOULD —"

ᶕᶋ ὼ -ἻὊᾨῖ‟†΅ῃ₫₪≈◄╓∩ ℓ⃰k⌠╒.Ⱶ ⱱḖᶲᶲؕ ؏שҐҿ ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠξϛ΅ϗ ᴓᴕᴖLᴚݩ. ᶨᶣᵿ ᶋὡV↑ ↄ∞′N ₯₡†? Cẞữ§¬`~'Ƣ ƺ ʨˁˠ͢ϦRϣ͡ͻ΅ͫϯϫϧςδζ. ѦҁҩҨ֮Ԉ ӽӻA ҿҽҾҙ ϡ ٸٸٸکٸӡ֚Ӛ֟ݥᴪ ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ Ɑϣ͡ͻ΅ͫϯᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲ ۶ᶋ ὼIѬ╬┘ ϐ¥M Ϫ ѦҁҩҨ֮ ʨk δζ -ἻὊ —!

"Marcus, please —!"

"— CAN'T STOP ME!"

There was a guttural, echoing groan that resonated all around them as if they were in the belly of a beast in full rage. All around, the structures visible fractured and shattered in double-time, some imploding while others exploded. The earth-shattering whatever-it-was was now silent, angrily and accusingly so as the sound of destruction took over, gale winds ripping up vegetation and sediment, thunder banging uproariously.

Marcus looked at her steadily even though half his body was gone, bone and sinew now visible as that too crumbled.

"I'm about to be recycled or whatever," he said, grim, now more dust and bone than flesh. "They don't want me staying too long for whatever reason — it sure as Hell ain't 'cos they like me. Hell, I was on my way out before you started thinking about me — They were pissed as fuck."

"Who are 'they'?" Heri demanded urgently above the moaning of the monstrous wind, watching helplessly as darkness was edging up on them.

"Hell if I know," Marcus grimaced. "Whoever's running this show I reckon. Can't say I care too much at this point, but at least I got to see you one more time before I'm sent out again. I might be an absolute bastard, but I made you a promise and I'm going to see it through."

Heri blinked in confusion, trying to process what she was hearing despite being distracted by reality decaying before her eyes. As her eyes fluttered, she felt her face begin to fall away.

"A promise?" she muttered. "What —?"

And then she remembered:

"I won't be too young forever — You just watch— I'll grow up taller an' super pretty an' then you'll definitely stop saying I'm too little! You'll see! You just wait! Um . . . You will wait . . . won't you?"

"Sure thing, runt. Just don't take forever, yeah?"

Heri choked on a strangled sham of a laugh, her eyes stinging with the dust of existence and the burn of tears.

"Y-you waited."

Marcus grinned wryly, more exposed skull than flesh, bone collapsing into dust at the motion and swirling away as it was caught up in the wind.

"I said I would, didn't I?"

"Y-you . . . you . . ." Her eyes fell closed, clenching shut as she felt more and more of herself dispersing. "Marcus . . . thank you. You still . . . after all this time . . . I'm sorry, I — I made you wait for nothing."

ѦҁҩҨ֮ԈӽӻA ӡ֚Ӛ֟ݥᴪ ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ Ɑ ᶯ׃؟өֱԅ҇҂ξϐ¥ Mϗϓͽ₰ ⸗꜠Ɑⱡꜘ◄

"It wasn't nothing, brat," Marcus refuted, his voice now thin and wispy. "Even if nothing ever came of it, I'm glad I got to see you one more time . . . while I'm still me enough for —"

But before he could finish, all existence was ripped away.

— ∐ xČwßo¿ ÿ¢¥ ῖ‟†΅ῃ ₫₪≈◄

(VGhlIHdvcmxkIGZlbGwgYXdheS4=)

╓∩ℓ⃰? ϶⃰Ϡq‡҉ X!Æ ʨˁˠ͢ϦRϣ͡ͻ΅ͫϯ ϫϧςδζ. ѦҁҩҨ֮Ԉ ӽӻA ӡ֚Ӛ֟ݥᴪ ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ Ɑϣ͡ͻ΅ͫϯᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲ ᶋ ὼ -ἻὊ ᾨῖ‟†΅ῃ₫ ₪≈◄╓∩ ℓ⃰k⌠╒. Ⱶ ⱱḖᶲᶲؕ؏שҿҽҾҙ ϡ ٸٸٸکٸҐҿ ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠξϛ΅ ŠŒ . Ⱶꜗ∂¤ǁƪƕ Ɋ Ƿˤ˟̈ʨʘݫᴔ ᴔ่‰ ˜ƒ ۖӬ Ӹ+Ԅ ۩ ۶ ᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲᶴᶶ᷿Ḑ᷄ᶽᶕᶋ ὼ - ἻὊᾨῖ‟ †΅ῃ ₫₪≈◄╓∩ ℓ⃰k⌠╒. Ⱶ ⱱḖᶲᶲؕ ؏שҐҿ

(RHVzdCBpbnRvIG5vdGhpbmduZXNzLg)

ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠξϛ΅ϗ ᴓᴕ ᴖLᴚݩ. ᶨᶣᵿᶋὡV↑ ↄ∞′N ₯₡†? Cẞữ§¬`~'Ƣ ƺ ʨˁˠ͢ϦRϣ͡ͻ΅ͫϯϫϧςδζ. ѦҁҩҨ֮ԈӽӻA ҿҽҾҙ ϡ ٸٸٸکٸӡ֚Ӛ֟ݥᴪ ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ Ɑϣ͡ͻ΅ͫϯᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲ ۶ᶋ ὼIѬ╬┘ ϐ¥M Ϫ ѦҁҩҨ֮ ʨk δζ -ἻὊ ᴥ᷃ᵫ₦ڮݒᴫᴟ ᴦᴞᴕᵷᶋᶝ٣ἣ ῞ₐ⃰ℓ₪₫⅞√↨ⅎ ϪϵҖ҇Щ֕ۄﭕⱵ►⃰Ⱥ± ᴞᴥ᷃ᵫ₦•ῲΩ ⅍ ₰₢√Ḗᶲᶲؕ؏ש ҿҽҾҙ ϡ ٸٸٸکٸҐҿ ¤}?K ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ Ɑ ᶯ׃؟өֱԅ҇҂ξϐ¥Mϗϓͽ ŠŒ.

(Zmxlc2ggaW50byBub3RoaW5nbmVzcy4=)

Ⱶꜗ∂¤ǁƪƕɊ Ƿˤ˟̈ʨʘݫᴔ ᴔ่‰ ˜ƒ ۖӬ Ӹ+Ԅ۩ ۶ᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲᶴᶶ᷿ ҿҽҾҙ ϡ ٸٸٸکٸҐҿ ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠξϛ΅ ŠŒ. Ⱶꜗ∂¤ǁƪƕɊ Ƿˤ˟̈ʨʘݫᴔ ᴔ่‰ ˜ƒ ۖӬ Ӹ+Ԅ۩ ۶ ᵊᵡᵡ᷉ᶲᶴ ᶶ᷿Ḑ᷄ᶽᶕᶋ ὼ - ἻὊᾨῖ‟†΅ῃ ₫₪≈◄╓∩ ℓ⃰k⌠╒.Ⱶ ⱱḖᶲᶲؕ؏שҐҿ

(RHVzdCBpbnRvIG5vdGhpbmduZXNzLg)

ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠξϛ΅ϗ ᴓᴕᴖLᴚݩ. ᶨᶣᵿᶋὡV↑ ↄ∞′N ₯Ḑ᷄ᶽᶕᶋ ὼ -ἻὊᾨῖ‟†΅ῃ₫₪≈◄╓∩ ℓ⃰k⌠╒.Ⱶ ⱱḖᶲᶲؕ؏שҐҿ ҸIѬϬ ۖӬӸԄϠξϛ΅ ₢√Ḗᶲᶲؕ؏שҿҽҾҙϡٸٸٸکٸҐҿϗ ᴓᴕᴖLᴚݩ. ᶨᶣᵿᶋὡV↑ ↄ∞′N ₯₡†? Cẞữ§¬`~'Ƣ ƺ ʨˁˠ͢Ϧ Rϣ͡ͻ΅ͫϯϫ ϧςδζ. ѦҁҩҨ֮ ԈӽӻA ӡ֚Ӛ֟ݥᴪ ᵙᶕ᷉ᶭ Ɑ ᶯ׃؟өֱԅ҇ ҂ξϐ¥ Mϗϓ ͽ₰ ⸗꜠Ɑⱡꜘ◄שҿҽҾҙϡ ∐ xČwßo¿ÿ ¢¥.ζδςϧϫϯͫ ΅ͻ͡ϣRϦ͢

(QWxsIGV4aXN0ZW5jZSBpbnRvIG5vdGhpbmduZXNzLg)

ˠˁʨ ƺ Ƣ'~`¬§ ữẞC? †₡₯ N′∞ↄ ↑Vὡᶋᵿᶣᶨ. ݩᴚLᴖᴕᴓ ϗ΅ϛξϠ ԄӸӬۖ ϬѬIҸ ҿҐש؏ؕᶲᶲḖ√₢ ┘╬ ⱱ Ⱶ.╒⌠k ꜜﮱ⃰ℓ ∩╓◄ ≈₪₫ῃ΅†‟ῖᾨ ὊἻ- ὼ ᶋᶕᶽ᷄Ḑ᷿ᶶᶴ ᶲ᷉ᵡᵡᵊ۶ ۩Ԅ+Ӹ Ӭۖ ƒ˜ ‰ᴔ ᴔݫʘʨ̈˟ˤǷ Ɋƕƪǁ ¤∂ꜗⱵ —

And there was only Nothingness once more.


On a crisp fall day in November, Sally Jackson and her little boy were enjoying Thanksgiving at a local park. The leaves were freshly fallen, a brisk chill was in the air, and bellies were currently full as Percy gleefully scaled some monkey bars and made a face at another boy hogging the other side.

Thanksgiving was a time that Sally always tried to make sure was happy and fun for her baby. Not that there had been enough instances for it to fall into a habit of right or wrong — her son had just turned five this year after all — but she wanted the memories of it to be happy as far back as Percy can remember as he grew older. And so she had made it a tradition on her own that on Thanksgiving they would pack up a big hamper of food made the day before and spend the entire day out and about, stopping to picnic wherever they felt like.

This year they had spent a great deal of time window-shopping, but Percy eventually grew bored with that and asked to explore a park they'd never gone to before.

So enthralled was she with watching her child, Sally nearly missed a tall figure standing in the shade of a tree across the playground from her.

A chill went up her spine when she saw their head was turned towards her boy.

Sally was on her feet before she could conceptualize her panic, but then the figure snapped their attention to her, and she was pinned by the heavy assessment.

It was a woman of some sort, Sally realised. Uncommonly tall with a severe look on her face.

Said woman kept Sally in place a moment longer before inclining her head just so —

— A mother and daughter pair ran across her field of vision —

— and in the next blink she was gone.

"Momma?" a lisping voice called, startling Sally at the nearness.

Percy blinked up at her, a stick held like a sword in his hands.

"Are you okay?" he asked, reaching out to hold her hand.

Sally squeeze that little hand tenderly and then swung her boy up in her arms. She rubbed her cheek purposely against his, drawing out a squeal and a giggle.

"I'm just perfect, sweetheart," she told him. "I just thought I saw some bird in that tree."

Her sweet Percy took her at her words and just hummed agreeably.

Setting him on her hip, she started walking quickly, plucking up their picnic hamper from the park bench she'd left it at.

"But I think it's high time we start heading home now. We've been here for a while, don't you think?"

Paying Percy's protests little mind, Sally tried not to feel like she was running away even as she felt the prickle of eyes on her retreating back.


A brisk autumn wind blew a volley of brightly coloured leaves into the air, sending them flying over a flock of children laughing and capering down the street. As they settled once more, they were crunched underfoot by another happy herd, all in good cheer and dressed vividly.

Though it was now evening, the streets were brightly lit and filled with children. Every house was gloriously decorated, pumpkins and cobwebs and other such ornamentation creeping down from porches and into the front lawns. The shrieks and shouts of festivities could be heard from nearly every corner of the neighbourhood.

Standing at the gate to the cemetery, a cloaked figure stood idle on the pavement, looking much like a decoration himself. A few curious eyes were drawn to him, but any that fancied the idea of approaching were drawn away by more level-headed chaperones. No one was overly suspicious yet, but no one much liked the look of him.

Finally accepting he could not loiter much longer, Sirius Black girded up what tenacity he still had within him and shuffled his way up the street. The passing faces, all bright and joyous, sent sharp pain through his heart, but he doggedly continued his trek, trying to tune out the happy sounds.

He didn't know exactly why he was doing this, on this night of all nights. He didn't know what compelled him to come where it all started. But whatever triggered this madness, he was here now and he would see it through.

Eventually he found himself at the gates of where he both yearned for and dreaded: the shambled ruin of Potter Cottage. There must have been some kind of Muggle-repelling ward in effect because not one of the happy families roaming the streets spared him a glance after he stepped into the shadow of the dilapidated old building. Hand twitching, shoulders shaking, he pushed open the rusted gate and stepped onto the premises.

Like in a dream, he walked into the house, and the memories of that horrible night washed over him. At the foot of the stairs was where he'd found James, and the pain of it was as fresh as ever. For a moment, he could move no further and had to lean in the rickety railing to hold himself up. After longer than he'd want to admit, he dragged himself up the stairs, hot tears leaving tracks on his cheeks.

The room at the end of the hall . . . that was where . . .

He retraced the footsteps he had taken that night.

With a sense of inevitability, Sirius pushed open the nursery door, sending a cloud of dust into the air. Images of Lily crumpled on the floor were already in his mind.

The memories of her fiery hair haloed around her imprinted into the back of his mind, it took Sirius longer than it should have to realise that the red hair trailing across the moulded rug in front of him was not just a delusion of his own making.

He nearly choked on his own tongue as a hazy silhouette faded into visibility as his eyes travelled down from the long stretch of hair. Dust — oddly golden — was swirling and twisting and dipping, drifting around a shape that appeared to be sketching itself into existence.

Heart pounding in his eyes, Sirius could only gasp and wheeze as more and more of — but it couldn't be —! Familiar limbs formed together and made an all too familiar shape, colours bleeding in like water-colour paint being blotted away but backwards, and then suddenly, impossibly

"H-Heri . . . ?" Sirius whispered pleadingly, falling to his knees. His shaking hand reached out, but he didn't yet dare touch the girl splayed on the dirty floor; the girl who had died and burst into light and dust, who was now here once more, formed out of light and dust.

Eyelids fluttered and then dazed green eyes blinked open.


* I encountered this word in the first book of the Wardstone series, another YA fantasy series involving magic. It's been years since I read it, but the word 'ghast' has stuck with me because I was fascinated by how the writer invented his own classification system for undead spirits, 'ghasts' being ghosts that aren't aware of the world around them and just continually re-enact their deaths. It's a very clever play on words, 'ghast' resembling 'ghost' and yet also making the reader think of 'ghastly', meaning horrible, gory, terrifying, etc. Taken at face-value, calling it a ghast is plain calling it a thing that incites terror.

AN1: Whooooooeyyy! Three cheers for Interlude II! It's been a long time coming (for various reasons), but here we are now! God, I say something like this every chapter don't I? But it's always true, so, yeah . . . .

AN2: I'm planning to be more active on Tumblr, so if you want you can follow me at hi-pot-and-news!tumblr!com. Hope you like reblogs, ranting, and free-verse poetry, cuz that's what I'm all about. (Oh, and updates about my fics.)

AN3 IMPORTANT! For various reasons (that I will explain in an update on my profile) I have not had the means to write. It's just life, but it truly makes me unhappy. The TL;DR is that I'm not in a good situation right now and have to focus on paying the bills instead of writing. On a suggestion from a friend, I've made a ko-fi account, so if you're interested in supporting my writing, go to ko-fi!com(/)vjkendall. Literally just an extra 15 bucks (five ko-fis) a week would save me so much stress.

ALSO: I have a poetry anthology called Canto Compendium: Stories Written in Verse. It's available at just about anywhere ebooks can be bought, but I would appreciate it if you go through Lulu. I will eventually have more books out as well.