Summary: When Cedric died, Cho fell to pieces. Angelina came along and picked up the pieces, and gave them back one by one. But the last piece cannot be given; it must be taken.

Disclaimer: Characters and situations belong to JK Rowling and associates. Basically, I only own the stuff here that I made up, and nothing else. Try not to sue me, because I have no money anyway and it will just make me angry!

AN: I'm pretty sure I just totally ripped off the chapter title from 3 Doors Down. Oops. I pretty much listened to that music nonstop in high school; it's not my fault if it has become part of the fabric of my being. Also, I could not stop Armin Van Buuren's "The Sound of Goodbye" from running through my head this entire time I was writing this. It would not go away! Even though what I was listening to was Sia's "Breathe me" …sigh...such a wonderful song… (I have no idea what the point of this note was…it's important to know the musical background of a story before you read it???)

Warnings: slash sex, angst, depression.

See my profile page for the link to the (really crappy) illustration.

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Footsteps

She loved the sound of Cho walking away.

But she didn't love Cho.

Not like that, at least. There was deep caring there, and I want the best for you always, and maybe some would call that love, but she wasn't in love. There had to be someone there to love you back, to be in love. And she always knew it when she fell in love. There was that instant that you could not miss.

What Angelina did love was the sight of Cho's straight back as she walked away, and she loved the spring in her step. It meant that soon, Angelina's job would be over, and she would have finally succeeded. The thought never failed to rise a keen joy in her, one that sharpened her sight and quickened her breath.

There had been such a long time where she didn't think they would come this far, those first weeks that stretched into months when even hope was unhoped for. After Cedric's death, Cho had been floating out to sea, and none of her friends were doing anything to stop her. Either they didn't notice, or they didn't care, or they thought she would just get over it herself, in time.

Angelina knew that she wouldn't. So she hauled her in, and wrapped her up, and started picking up the pieces, to give back one at a time. They had never been good friends, before – Quidditch acquaintances, mostly – but Angelina saw what she needed, and saw that no one else was stepping up to do it for her. Blame her stupid Gryffindor nobility and self-sacrificing nature, but that was the way that it was.

For the longest time, it seemed like it would be an endless race. Cho didn't change, didn't heal – she was still fragile, needy; she had lost herself behind her grief. But Angelina was patient, and she knew what Cho needed, when not even Cho herself did. If the day when Cho could stand on her own did not come, it would not be for lack of trying.

Weeks passed, and she appeared to get better. She no longer cringed in Angelina's embraces, and she talked about things that were not Cedric. But the sugar crust would always slip and crack, and she would sob into a kiss, or go blank and cold in mid-conversation, overtaken and run down by the memories.

Everything reminded Cho of Cedric, in the end, but Angelina understood. She was patient. She knew how to work around it. Living with a perpetually-grieving grandmother in the upstairs room tended to foster these necessary, bitter, rare skills in a child.

So she drew her out, bit by bit, never despairing when a month's work was undone by a careless comment or a discovered shirt. Time – what was time, to them? How long should you take to save a life?

Angelina's friends didn't understand what she could see in the Chang girl. Could anyone who cried all the time be better than Fred Weasley? No matter that Harry was much better cut out for the Quidditch captaincy than she; it was still a shame that she gave it up for this. She was surely sacrificing too much over this. This little obsession of hers, this teenage crush.

Cho's friends (when they were there) didn't understand, either. How could she forget Cedric so quickly, and move on to someone new? It was clear that she liked the tall, dark-skinned, well-muscled Chaser just for her looks. (What else was there?) She was just on the rebound. It couldn't be healthy.

They trod the road to healing two steps forward, one step back, and Angelina knew they were making progress. Cho didn't, but she would, once they had gone far enough that she could see the thing for what it was. Right now she was still in the midst of herself, and the pages of her story were pressed to her nose, too close to read more than one word at a time, one day at a time.

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The first victory came one night when they were lying in Angelina's four poster, curtains drawn, waiting for the post-coital haze to ebb away.

Angelina had been willing to wait as long as it took, but Cho had been ready for sex sooner than she would have thought. Cedric had been her first, though, and as carefully as Angelina tread, his ghost was still a tangible presence with them, between them. It felt like she was making love to two people at once.

It helped that their appearances were about as different as could be. Full, dark breasts were unlikely to trigger images of a hard, pale chest. Long braids brushing against your shoulders was unlike the prickle of stubble against your face. But there was always something to remember him by. One tall body next to your own is apparently much like any other, and the kisses come from the same spot in the air.

It helped that she had been his first as well, and that he had been a predictable, unadventurous lover. There were so many things to do that did not stir memories of his touch in her flesh. The circling of tongue on clit and across delicate lips was new, as were caresses in so many places that it was almost sad. After a time, fingers were new enough, exploring slippery, secret places, though that one demanded caution. Angelina had to pay more attention to how her fingers were moving (thrusts were bad, very bad. Nights that ended in tears and apologies), than to what response she was provoking. But the sensation of seeing a lover spread out beneath you, to explore at your will, that was ever new.

They got along.

The body's own response always betrayed Cho in the end though. That was always different, but not new. On the good days, the screwed up eyes and gasped breaths drove away the wan, concentrated smile, and for a while she didn't have to try to be in the here and now. On the great days, the past did not bring tears when it came back. Angelina couldn't blame her, not really – her first time for that had probably been with Cedric too. But she wished she could fight his ghost off entirely, just for once.

And then, out of nowhere, came the time when Cedric's memory brought laughter instead.

Angelina had just raised her head from between ivory legs, and moved up to kiss the stomach that was still rising with ragged breaths. It was a theme that had repeated itself, with variations, several times that night, to Angelina's great satisfaction. Or rather, to Cho's.

Angelina levered herself up, lying with her full weight on Cho's naked body as she paused to take a lingering kiss before rolling onto the bed by her side. She lay facing Cho, and propped up her head on a hand to watch her. The younger girl always looked so beautiful on the good nights, so free.

"You know," said Cho, running the back of her hand down Angelina's side, into the dip of her waist, up the curve of her hip, and back again. "I feel like I've had enough, for once. With Cedric – well, he was a gentleman, and he almost always made sure I came too – but I never felt done. And he was always so tired afterwards, I didn't really want to ask for more…"

Angelina grinned. "Well, being a Quidditch player, I naturally have above-average endurance – on and off the pitch…" She waggled her eyebrows.

Cho shoved her shoulder, teasingly. "Don't be silly, Cedric played Quidditch too. Don't tell me that the Gryffindor team trains that much harder than everyone else!"

Angelina laughed out loud. She kept expecting the bubble to burst, but there were no tears in those black eyes, only the edge of laughter.

"Well, if you never said anything, he probably assumed that if he'd had enough, you'd had enough. But blokes are different from girls…" she broke off and let her eyes wander over Cho's reclining form, to emphasize her point. "Guess you could say it takes one to know one."

Cho giggled and pulled Angelina closer. "Maybe!" She buried her face in the crook of Angelina's neck, still smiling. "Mmmm, I'm glad I have you."

Angelina could feel the younger girl's mouth open in a yawn against her skin, and then relax, as she quickly dropped off to sleep. Maybe it was the just the flood of endorphins in her system, but Cho had had a memory of Cedric completely untainted by darkness, for the first time. But – endorphins be damned; they hadn't helped before. This was a turning point.

It was then that Angelina allowed herself to begin to hope.

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There were good days and bad days, of course. But in time, the offhandedly insensitive remark injured less deeply, and classes were interesting again, and conversations included laughter, and jokes, and Quidditch, and gossip, and not everything revolved back to Cedric. Cho was coming back to herself.

Life was brighter, and if she was still in pieces – well, the wounds were deep, but the cracks were melting together, and Angelina could give back bigger and bigger pieces. Cho didn't need her as a shield nearly as much, any more. And to Angelina, it was a beautiful thing.

Angelina loved the sight of Cho's straight back receding down the hall, and she loved the spring in her step. At first, Cho hadn't wanted to leave Angelina's side at all, and when she came back, after some necessary absence – classes, practice - she was silent and battered down by the world. But now, she could walk away, and not look back; she could say goodbye without lingering. Angelina rejoiced, because each time it was closer to the last time – the time when Cho would take her life back, walk away with her independence in her hands.

Angelina didn't know why her heart was dragged down with every goodbye; it should have been flying. It was flying. Cho was living again, and that was all Angelina had ever wanted.

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When the conversation came, Angelina was expecting it. Ravenclaws were smart, and once Cho had started to come out from behind her screens of grief, she couldn't miss what was going on in front of her. Not for long. Angelina had noticed Cho's long, pensive looks, and had offered herself up to them. Cho would find that Angelina didn't love her if she looked long enough.

Because that was the critical last step. Angelina had given Cho her life back, but the last piece couldn't be given, or it would be ruined in the giving. Cho had to take her own independence.

Angelina could have made it easy for her – she could have given the cold shoulder, or driven her off with cruel words. But that would have ruined it; to wrench open the old wounds and leave her alone, but broken. Nor could Cho remain with Angelina, continuing the same patterns, never realizing that she was now whole.

They were sitting on the bank of the lake, on one of the year's first warm days, when it happened.

"You don't love me, do you?" Cho's question-that-wasn't-a-question hung on the unseasonably warm spring air. Cho was giving her one of those penetrating looks, and Angelina silently congratulated her. She had known she could figure it out on her own.

Angelina took a moment to stare out across the lake, as she considered her answer. Only honesty would work here, but the truth sounded brutal. She hoped that Cho would understand that it was quite the opposite.

"No, I don't," said Angelina simply, and met the younger girl's eyes. Cho nodded, considering. She does understand. Thank god. Angelina felt her stomach do something sharp, and she ignored it. She wanted Cho to leave. Now was no time to suddenly start being selfish.

"What do you love?" Angelina was speared on her lucid gaze.

"I love the sound of your laugh. And the color on your cheeks when you've been at practice. And the look on your face when you're about to solve a hard Arithmancy problem. And I love the sound of you walking away." Angelina's voice hitched, for no particular reason. "Because it means you know you don't need me, and you're finally just you – without leaning on anyone else." She credited her Gryffindor bravery for the fact that she was able to hold Cho's gaze and keep her smile from being too regretful while she said this.

"I do know that, finally." Cho laid her hand feather-light on top of Angelina's. "Thank you."

A million thoughts flashed across Cho's face in that instant, and the light of understanding that followed them was quickly hidden. Cho held her eyes for another minute, and then she nodded quietly and looked away toward the lake.

They both faced the lake for long minutes, leaving things judiciously unsaid.

After a while, "And you're leaving, soon…"

Angelina made a small noise of assent, and then added, "Yeah, in just two months…it's amazing, the seven years went by so fast."

Cho continued, "And of course you should be free to see other people, if you want. I'll still be here."

Angelina nodded again, smiling. The sting in the corners of her eyes was just from the wind. She was so happy – beyond happy – this was the moment she had barely hoped to hope for. Cho had walked the road to the end; she had done it.

"Then I guess there's no real point in seeing each other any more – we would just be prolonging the inevitable."

Angelina met her eyes, and nodded, and blinked several times. She wanted to say, I'm so proud of you, but she didn't. This was Cho's moment.

"So it looks like this is goodbye then." She smiled ruefully. "We can still be friends though?"

Angelina smiled. "Yeah, friends, of course." She held out her hand but Cho made a sound that could have been exasperation, and pulled her into a hug.

When they separated, Cho opened her mouth as if to say something, but then closed it. "Well, I have - homework to do. For tomorrow," she offered lamely, still half smiling.

"Goodbye." Angelina tried to smile, but it came out crooked. "Have a nice life." It was the kind of thing that couldn't come out sincerely, and they both chuckled.

"Goodbye," echoed Cho, with no more than the usual amount of sadness. She pierced Angelina one more time with those eyes that understood so many things, and then turned away, toward the castle.

Angelina turned too and lay back down on the bank, closing her eyes to listen to the wet sound of grass crushing under Cho's feet as she walked away. And then the pain in her stomach fought its way to the surface, and it somehow did not displace her joy for Cho, but only added to it, and Angelina gasped.

It only took an instant, but in that single instant her life divided cleanly between before and after.

Angelina always knew it when she fell in love.

This time, it had sounded like grass crushing under light feet.

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AN: This was a request fic for Novocain, from the prompt "I love the sound of you walking away." Told you that it would be obscenely long! Sorry that this doesn't have Luna in it; I was toying with several plot ideas but then I went and took a walk and this one just snuck up on me and wouldn't leave me alone until it was written. They do that sometimes. Is this kind of along the lines of what you were thinking of? I have the feeling that it's nowhere close… Well, I hope you enjoy it anyway. And that repeaty-line thingy that you also do kind of happened; I didn't even plan it out that way…well, I think it works pretty well here. (Or maybe my story's just way too repetitive! haha)

Reviews would be lovely and reviewers shall be rewarded with giant bars of mint-flavored fair trade dark chocolate! (Trust me, it's delicious. Don't eat the whole thing in one day.)