What It Means to Let You Go
by Jedi Tess of Gryffindor
Summary: The call comes. The family is there. It's finally time to say goodbye. This is a fic based on my "Potter vs. Malfoy" fic-verse. If you haven't read that, this will seem horrible and unnecessary to you.
A/N: This began life some time ago as a fun little Tristan/Hayden "Potter vs. Malfoy" - verse fic. When I realized in what direction it seemed to be going, I couldn't touch if for weeks. As my lovely former beta, XX, knows, I had a rough time deciding about the ending. You'll know why when you get there. I could have changed the ending, made it easier on myself. Instead, I cried and wrote the version that's truly represents Harry and Blaise's sacrifice at the end of "Bridging the Gap." This is where "Potter vs. Malfoy" ultimately had to go. I've toyed with some fic off-shoots where it doesn't go there (see for results), but truly, this was where the tragedy of Harry's sacrifice to defeat Voldemort was headed as soon as I made the choice to turn the plot that way.
Thanks to all my loyal readers, to XX for prodding me to get 'er done, and to every writer who's ever been true to their story, even when it hurts to let go.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and original canon characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I am not profiting in any way from this fic, except insofar as I've learned a good deal about writing from practicing in Jo's arena. Insofar as I can claim any ownership of this fic, the situations relating to "Potter vs. Malfoy" and any original characters therein belong to me. Please ask before taking any liberties with them. Thank you.
When Severus Snape entered his office late in the afternoon, he was not in the mood for the conflict awaiting him. He had just come from a conference with two of his professors, neither of whom he liked, and what he really wanted to do was put his feet up and read a long-awaited novel, Love at Dragon Fire Lagoon.
Instead, he was confronted with a familiar pair of pupils, a familiar pair of dour expressions, and a familiar entreaty.
"Sir, she's a bi – !"
"Sir, can I stick my foot up his – "
Headmaster Snape sank into his chair, sending a glare over his shoulder at the portrait behind the desk. The portrait was chuckling merrily and adjusting half-moon spectacles.
It's not fair, Snape thought at his predecessor. Their parents weren't in here more than twice a year.
"Twenty points from Gryffindor and Slytherin," he said, glowering at the students seated before him. "Potter, you're a disgrace to your house. Malfoy, you're a disgrace to your family name. Why are you in my office?"
"Well, sir, it's all to do with Potter being a selfish – "
"Sir, he's such a liar! He started it, stupid pr – "
"Enough!" Snape rubbed his temples. "I'm sorry I asked. Shall I bring out the Veritaserum?"
Snape looked back and forth between them. One had turned red; the other white.
"Who sent you here?" he asked.
"Professor Longbottom," they muttered, not looking at him or each other.
"What reason did he give for sending you?"
"Dueling with garden variety vegetables," the blond said, sulking into his lap.
"And a vat of bubotuber puss," the brunette added, scowling at her stained robes.
"That explains the smell," Snape muttered. He looked back and forth between them. "Detention with Filch. And because you've interrupted my evening, you'll be serving that detention together. If Filch tells me you've caused any additional trouble, I'll be informing your parents and permanent reprimands will be placed in your files. I suspect you are both aware that anger management reprimands can keep one from attaining life goals, such as becoming an Auror or star Seeker for Puddlemere United. Am I clear?"
They did, and quickly – probably assuming if they didn't, he'd rethink the Veritaserum. They tactfully waited until they had closed the door before bellowing at each other all the way down the spiral staircase.
Snape put his head in his hands.
"This a bad time, Severus?"
Snape glanced up at a small looking glass that sat on his desk.
The face in the glass raised its eyebrows. "Anything wrong?"
"Oh, nothing out of the ordinary," Snape retorted, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his eyes. "Except that your son was in here not five minutes ago with your wife's goddaughter. They were covered in bubotuber puss and the remains of Longbottom's vegetable garden."
An impressive smirk was the response.
"If you had to deal with this every day, Draco – "
"Oh, go on, he's not in your office every day." Draco Malfoy almost smiled. "He wouldn't be in at all if he didn't have classes with Tristy," he added as an afterthought.
"I can hardly rearrange the timetable to account for the bad tempers of the students," Snape began.
"I know that, Severus." Draco cleared his throat, divesting the remains of the almost-smile.
"Was there something you wanted?" Snape asked, when his protégé paused.
"Yeah." Draco cleared his throat again. "Tristan and Cedric need to come home again. Tomorrow morning, I think. I just spoke with Gin. Blaise brought Harry back to St. Mungo's this morning. There's not a lot to be done." Draco stopped. When he continued, it was with a pinched expression and a tightness in his voice. "Harry needs the kids right now and we want them there in case – in case this is it."
Snape wanted to be sick at the irony of Draco's pain for his friend. Watching Blaise struggle to keep him and her family going made Snape seeth, but she wouldn't hear a word against Potter, ever. Neither of them would, and Snape was left with the wholly unfair conviction that Potter had, somehow, even in the end, beat him.
"I will inform the children after supper," he told Draco shortly. "That's assuming they don't instigate a food fight or a duel during that time."
Draco's eyes relaxed and his lip twitched. "Please inform my son that he is a disgrace and we may disinherit him. His sister will be a much more suitable heir."
"Surely, a Hufflepuff inheriting the Malfoy family fortune will turn every one of your ancestors in their grave."
"I hope so," Draco returned. He glanced at something outside of the frame. "Look, I'm off to St. Mungo's now. If things are serious, I want Hayden and Reiley and the other cousins sent with Ced and Tristy. Try not to let Rei know what's going on – she's sensitive. I'll call back in a few hours when I know for sure."
"I'll do my best," Snape promised. Draco nodded his thanks and vanished from the mirror.
Snape turned in his chair and stared up at the portrait behind it.
Albus Dumbledore had tears in his eyes.
Tristan sat at the Slytherin table in the Great Hall, but she was miles away. She had been chatting with two of her Quidditch teammates when Professor Snape had approached, said a few words, and departed. Tristan hadn't said a word since and her teammates left her alone.
When Dorian Weasley came from the Gryffindor table and asked her for a walk round the lake, she gratefully accepted. Cedric and Hayden rose to join them, and she didn't comment except to stay as far from her godbrother as possible.
They had been walking in unusual silence for some time before Tristan said in what she hoped was a calm voice, "Think this is it?"
Cedric stopped walking.
"Ced, I'm sorry – " she began, but her twin cut her off by hugging her fiercely. She clung to him and tried to open her constricted throat.
"Snape said we leave in the morning," Dorian said bracingly. "If Uncle Harry were really bad, we'd all be off tonight."
"What do you mean, we?" Hayden demanded.
"I'm going, too," Dorian said stoutly.
"Ian, it's okay," Cedric began, his voice thick.
"He's my uncle, my parents' best friend," Dorian insisted. "Plus, I make Uncle Harry laugh a lot. I think that'll be good for him."
Tristan turned from her brother and gave Dorian a tight hug. When he tried to cop a feel, she hit him and choked out a laugh.
"You do make Dad laugh," she admitted. "Will Snape let you come?"
"Am I planning on asking?" Dorian retorted. "You can bung me in your rucksack, preferably next to your knickers."
"Hey!" Hayden broke in.
They all looked at him.
"Well, if Ian gets to sneak out, me too," he muttered, kicking at the ground and not looking at any of them.
Cedric smiled and put an arm around his shoulders, but Tristan scowled.
"Oh, come on, Tris," her twin said.
"It's not like I need your permission," Hayden snapped, glaring at her.
"If I tell Snape you're going to sneak out, you'll have a fair fight getting out of the castle," she snarled.
"Go on, Tris, Dad's his uncle, too."
"He just wants to come because everyone else is going!" Tristan shouted, unaccountably furious. "He doesn't give a damn about Dad!" The tears she had been fighting valiantly since Snape had spoken to her at supper were overpowering and before they spilled, she turned and ran. She didn't know where she was going, but she refused to give Hayden the satisfaction of seeing the Slytherin Ice Queen fall apart.
When she could see through her tears, she found herself standing just beyond the Quidditch pitch. She kept moving, grateful to see the pitch was deserted. She climbed into the Slytherin stands and took the seat usually reserved for Professor Snape.
She stared out at the darkening pitch and wondered what it had been like when her father had flown, years ago. She imagined him as she'd seen him in photographs taken by his best friends and housemates. She had always thought he was handsome. And he looked an awful lot like her grandfather. She couldn't wrap her mind around James Potter as a student, but Harry Potter was easy to envision: his scarlet and gold Gryffindor robes billowing around him, his scar blazing white in his wind-reddened face, his green eyes bright behind his ridiculous spectacles. She could imagine him diving, followed closely by Uncle Draco.
She closed her eyes. She could imagine Uncle Draco's howl of rage when her father's hand closed around the Snitch. She could imagine the Gryffindors across the pitch shrieking and leaping to their feet. She thought about the team, with Uncle Ron and sometimes Aunt Ginny, soaring across the pitch to hug Harry and shout insults at the Slytherins. She could imagine her mum making horrible gestures at the Gryffindors and sinking with Uncle Draco to the ground. She could imagine Blaise's friend Pansy shouting insults from the stands.
She didn't really understand why these images came so easily to her. She couldn't remember her father actually playing Quidditch. He had taught Tristan and Cedric to play, and often flew a few laps with the family during the annual reunion match. But he hadn't really played Seeker since Tristan was about three. She had no memory of him flying like he was supposed to have done (as the best and youngest Seeker in a century). She let the cold air whip her wet face as though in punishment for something she should have but couldn't remember.
"I never thought I'd stand on this side of pitch."
Tristan felt the familiar snap in her chest and stomach at the voice. She felt strangely peaceful as she glanced up, though she did wipe her face with her fingers. "We've got the best view."
"Hardly." Hayden stared across the darkening pitch. "You lot have to look at the Hufflepuffs. At least from Gryffindor we can check out the Ravenclaws."
"Is that what you do at Quidditch matches?" Tristan wanted to know. "Check out other houses? No wonder we beat you lot last match."
She smirked. "We won."
To her surprise, he didn't say anything. He simply pursed his lips and sat down two seats away.
"I don't like you," he said quickly.
"What a relief," Tristan retorted, unaccountably annoyed.
"But," Hayden began. He stopped. "I just – I'm better than you think I am."
"What do you mean?" Tristan hoped her skepticism was evident.
"I mean, I want to go with you lot because I want to see Uncle Harry," he clarified. "He's my uncle as much as he's Ian's. I – I do love him."
Tristan's chest tightened. She scowled, but she knew she had no reason to doubt Hayden's love for her dad. The only time Tristan ever had a civil word from her godbrother was when he was asking after Harry. And ask, he did. A lot. Tristan would have been annoyed, but as far as she was concerned, unconditional love for her father, even from Hayden Malfoy, was sometime he deserved and needed.
She thought of the last family reunion. They had spent it in St. Mungo's in a private ward Uncle Draco had bullied someone into giving over to the festivities. She thought of her father's episode that day and how, despite the celebrating, they had all wondered if that would be the day. She remembered him lying there, propped up in his hospital bed and watching the activity around him through hooded eyes. She remembered looking over at one moment and seeing him smile. Hayden had been next to him, pointing at various members of the family. Harry would laugh every few seconds until eventually, Uncle Draco had to remove Hayden because Harry was having difficulty breathing. She saw how content he was, despite near asphyxiation from laughter; knew, though she didn't want to, that if he went that day, he would go absolutely joyful and painless.
She wanted that for him, but she couldn't bear that it could happen tomorrow.
She felt the hot tracks down her cheeks only after they began dripping off her chin. She turned her face from Hayden, despite the gathering darkness.
"I – is there anything I can do?"
Tristan couldn't find her voice and refused to look at him until she could stop her tears.
"I don't like you!" Hayden assured her energetically, as thought that would make her feel better. "But if it were me, I'd take all the friendly I could get."
Tristan thought about cursing him. Instead, and still without looking at him, she said, "Just – don't tell anyone I'm crying. Or – or I'll hex you in five painful ways."
"Not Slytherin ice queens."
He didn't speak right away. "I think they get the Get Out of Jail card every once in a while, too."
"Muggle board game my dad's into. Lots of money. There's a jail ... "
They sat in silence.
"So – can I come with you guys tomorrow?" Hayden ventured.
"It's not up to me."
"If you're going to tell Professor Snape I'm sneaking out – "
Tristan sighed. "I won't say a word. That's a promise." She paused. "Just – nothing about the crying."
"Tristan, I swear – " He broke off.
"Okay." She felt in enough control to wipe her face on her sleeve and turn back to him. She offered her hand. "It's a deal."
Hayden stared at her hand for a long moment before reaching out to grasp it. He chuckled. "You're still all greasy from the bubotuber puss."
"Shut up, so are you." But she wasn't annoyed.
"That was really stupid," Hayden ventured. He was still holding her hand.
"And we've ruined Professor Longbottom's garden," Tristan agreed. "I expect we should volunteer to replant it."
"We'd have to spend a lot of extra time together," Hayden pointed out. He sounded cross.
"I'll consider it well-deserved punishment for laying waste to innocent vegetables," Tristan retorted.
"It's a date then," Hayden said. His eyes widened and he dropped her hand. "I mean, deal! Not date, I meant – "
"I'll bring the pumpkin pasties if you bring the trowels," Tristan said, doing a strange thing by saving him from his own tendency to babble.
Hayden squinted at her through the darkness. "I like butter beer with my pasties."
"You replant all the carnivorous eggplant and I'll bring you double shares."
"Don't carnivorous eggplants have teeth?"
"Yeah." Tristan held up a hand he couldn't see well – there were bite marks. "You threw one at me earlier."
"Yeah, well, you got me with a blood squash, which is why half my head is red."
"Honestly, who grows blood squash in a garden of otherwise edible vegetables?"
"Professor Longbottom is eccentric," Hayden argued. "He probably thinks the house elves actually make all of it into food."
They were silent again. Tristan remembered that they had just been up to the headmaster's office together, not three hours ago. They had said some horrible stuff and her temper flared at Hayden's favorite word for her these days. Then she remembered some of the things she'd called him. Her anger faded.
"We should go," she said at last. Her tears were drying, but her face was still cold. She glared at him. "This conversation never happened."
Hayden glared back. "Damn right it didn't."
Tristan thought he might be smiling.
They left early the next morning. Cedric knew it was bad when Snape let Hayden, Dorian, and the rest of their cousins at Hogwarts come with.
They rode away from the castle in the horseless carriages (Cedric knew there was something pulling the carriages, but his dad wouldn't tell him and his mum cried if he mentioned it). They all turned to watch the castle fall away into the fog, perhaps clinging to the comfort that as long as they were at Hogwarts, Harry was okay.
Cedric forced himself to face forward. He watched his sister, who sat opposite. She wouldn't look at anyone, but sat staring back at the castle, eyes fixed on some part of the grounds. The pitch, maybe? She loved the pitch more than anywhere else in the castle. Cedric didn't mind the pitch, of course, but he preferred Gryffindor Tower, with its cozy common room and his friends around him. His sister didn't take to her house the way he took to his, but she had made a place for herself in Slytherin and even a number of friends, although she insisted they were only close enemies.
"D'you know if we're going to your place first?" Hayden asked Cedric after several minutes of silence.
"No, I reckon it's straight to St. Mungo's from the train." Cedric felt his lip tremble. He bit it.
"I'm happy to see Uncle Harry," Reiley said softly. She sat beside Tristan, her grey eyes wide. Tristan glanced at her, put an around around her shoulders. Reiley snugged in, pressing her face into Tristan's shoulder. Cedric sighed – he wished his sister would lean on someone for a change.
"Me, too." Tristan glanced at Cedric. He tried to smile.
"And Uncle Ron," Hayden murmured.
"And will Tonks and Uncle Remus and Uncle Sirius and Aunty Blaise and Aunty Hermione be there, too?" Reiley asked.
"Yeah," Tristan said. "I think everyone will be there." Reiley couldn't see Tristan squeeze her eyes shut or see her lip tremble.
"Rei, shut up." Hayden's voice was sharp.
"She was only asking." Tristan's voice was barely a whisper.
"Yeah, I was only asking." But Reiley took Tristan's hand and went quiet.
"How'd you do on your Transfig midterm, Tris?" Dorian asked. Though he was seated on Reiley's other side, his eyes tracked Tristan's taut expression.
Tristan pulled herself back from a long way off. "What? Oh. I – I think I did fine. I always do better on practical exams. I didn't know some of the written stuff."
"Same." Dorian tried a smile. "Mum says if I put a bit more effort in, I might be up with Hayden in marks, only Dad says as long as I learn the important stuff, marks aren't important."
"Don't you want to go to uni with me?" Hayden demanded. "Of course marks are important!"
"I want to do the Grand Tour first," Dorian countered. He gave Tristan a considering look. "But I reckon if you want to go off to your old university, Tristy might come with me. What about it, Tris?"
Hayden glowered at Dorian, but Tristan only gave him a small smile. "Sure, why not?"
They arrived at King's Cross by midday. Hayden both longed for and dreaded the sight of the station.
He led the way out of their carriage and onto the platform, all the cousins trailing behind them from other carriages. His stomach clenched as his mother and father appeared, flanked by Uncle Remus and Tonks. The others ran to the latter two for hugs and explanations, while Hayden, Tristan, Reiley, Dorian, and Cedric went straight for Hayden's parents.
"Hayden." His mother clung to him for a moment before searching for her goddaughter.
"All right, mate?" His father hugged him, too, and Hayden allowed himself to hang on just a bit too long.
"Daddy!" Reiley shoved at Hayden to get at their father.
"Hello, darling." Draco's eyes held Hayden's just a moment longer before letting go. He scooped Reiley up and moved away to greet Cedric and Dorian. Hayden could see his mum, her arms still around Tristan. She was speaking softly, and Tristan's fists were white where they gripped the back of Ginny's Muggle jumper.
"Let's go." Draco set Reiley on the ground and floated their rucksacks behind them as they made their way down the platform. Uncle Remus and Tonks had taken the rest on already and the platform was deserted.
"Where's Aunt Hermione and Aunt Blaise?" Reiley demanded.
"At St. Mungo's, Rei," her father said. Hayden saw Tristan's shoulders tense under Ginny's arm.
"And is everything there?" Reiley prattled on. Hayden tried to think if his school tie would work as a gag.
Tristan ducked away from her godmother's arm and dove through the barrier.
"Rei, for Merlin's sake, shut up," Hayden snapped.
"Den," his father warned as the rest of them neared the barrier. "Rei, it's time to be quiet."
"But I was only asking," Reiley cried. Her father ruffled her hair.
Dorian dropped back to walk with Hayden and Hayden pulled him toward Cedric, who's eyes were painfully hollow. Silently, Hayden gripped one shoulder and Ian, the other. Cedric nudged both of them and they let him go, but stayed close on either side.
"I – thanks," was all he said. They both shrugged. They knew what he meant.
When they cleared the barrier, Hayden couldn't immediately find Tristan. Crowds of Muggles swarmed King's Cross this time of day, and at first, all Hayden saw were brief cases, Muggle suits, and small children. After several moments, during which his heart began to pound uncomfortably, he caught sight of the long bushy hair. She was standing in the middle of the rush of people, head bowed and back to the barrier. People rushed passed her as though she wasn't there. When Draco called her name, she turned slowly back and before she threw up her usual ice queen wall, Hayden saw in her eyes everything she felt, every ache and pain, every hollow place where life and the world grew small and insignificant in the wake of the loss.
The shield fell across her eyes and the Ice Queen glanced at them.
"Sorry," was all she said as she rejoined them. Draco wrapped an around round her.
"Never mind. We'll be there soon."
Tristan took the no longer floating rucksack Dorian offered her and they all moved out of the station. Draco's latest car, a massive red affair, waited out front and they all climbed silently in. Hayden found himself beside Tristan. Under normal circumstances, he would have tried to ignored her but ...
"It was nice of you to come," Tristan found herself saying to her godbrother. "It's been really good for Ced. You make him smile."
Hayden didn't answer for a moment. "I can't imagine – I mean. I'm sorry."
Tristan swallowed and bit down hard on her lip. "It's not your fault," was all she could manage. She pressed her forehead against the car window.
They were silent for a few minutes. Even Aunt Ginny and Uncle Draco didn't say much. Aunt Ginny had Cedric's head in her lap, stroking the long, straight hair off his forehead and asking him about his midterms. Uncle Draco sat with Reiley in his lap and Dorian at his side. The redhead was telling him about the last Slytherin/Ravenclaw Quidditch match.
"God, you should have seen Tristy!" Dorian was saying. He glanced hopefully Tristan's way. "She knocked Parkinson right out of the air."
"Cheater," Hayden whispered. Tristan found her lips curving upward.
"We won," she whispered back.
"Did you use your elbows?" her uncle asked. She glanced at him – he was grinning.
"Both of them," she said quietly. "And possibly my teeth."
"Sounds sexy," Dorian began, but broke off with a mischievous grin when he caught sight of Hayden's expression.
"Come here and I'll show you how sexy a broken nose is," Tristan threatened, though her heart wasn't in it.
"I'll risk that." Dorian slid forward and wrapped his arms around her. She held her breath to keep from bawling as she gripped him back. This time, he didn't try to cop a feel. She pulled away, lips pressed tightly together, and pressed her forehead against the window again.
The ride didn't last long. The car pulled up in front of the abandoned department store and Tristan thought it looked strangely crowded.
"How the hell – " Uncle Draco demanded, staring out the window.
"What's going on?" Cedric asked, sitting up and gazing at the throngs of people.
"Someone," Aunt Ginny said, and her whole body shook, "told reporters that Harry Potter checked in. When I find out who it is – "
"Kill them twice," Tristan snarled. These people, these animals had no right to steal this time from her family. Without waiting for anyone else, she shoved the car door open, knocking several reporters and photographers backward. Getting her elbows in front of her, she shoved her way toward the facade of Purge and Dowse, Ltd., which was the entrance to St. Mungo's. Around her, she heard the buzz of questions and she could just hear the others getting out of the car behind her. She focused on the facade. She was almost there ...
"Tristan, slow down," her uncle said, gripping her arm. "Ignore the reporters. We're here with you."
"Miss Potter, you must be feeling terribly unhappy at this tragic time," one journalist wheedled. "Will this loss affect your plans to become Puddlemere's next star Seeker?"
Tristan wheeled around, twisting out of Uncle Draco's grip. Her lip curled into a snarl as she stepped right into the journalist's personal space and murmured, "Piss. Right. Off. Wanker."
None of the other journalists seemed to have heard but the one was writing gleefully with a Quik Quotes Quill. The quill suddenly exploded, showering the reporter in ink.
"If you quote her," Aunt Ginny said slowly and clearly, "in any article, in any paper, I will disembowel you. Are we clear?"
The reporter swallowed, ink dripping off his nose.
Ginny pulled Tristan away. Hayden could see Tristan shaking. "Tris, please," her godmother whispered. "I know you're upset and these bastards have no right to say a word to you."
"I shouldn't lose my temper," Tristan finished dully. The fire had gone out of her as Ginny pushed her into the department store facade and they descended into St. Mungos.
"I don't care what you say, Aunt Gin, that was brilliant," Cedric said fiercely, gripping Tristan's hand.
"The last thing we need is reporters stalking us all at Hogwarts because 'Miss Potter's volatile temper' gives them an excuse to," Tristan mumbled, pulling her hand away. "I'm sorry, Aunt Ginny."
"Never mind," Ginny said, rubbing Tristan's back. "Draco, take them up. I'm going to have a word with the receptionist."
Hayden wondered if that word would be 'I'm going to break your face if you're the one who told the reporters' and didn't wait around to find out.
"Dear, dear, I hope she doesn't hurt anyone," Draco muttered with perfect unconcern as he led them into the lift.
"Try not to sound so convincing, Uncle Draco," Cedric said with a half-smile.
They climbed into the lift and Draco said, "I'm the epitome of empathy, nephew, never forget that. Intensive care unit."
There was a pleasant chime and the lift jerked under their feet. They were silent as the lift door opened onto the familiar floor and Draco led them down the passage. As they neared the end of the corridor, Tristan broke into a run. She dove through a familiar door and as the others neared it, he could hear low voices. Hayden bit his lip, his stomach knotting. He braced himself – the first few moments were always the worst.
Draco tapped once on the slightly opened door. Aunt Hermione pulled it open. She grabbed the first person she saw (Hayden) and pulled him against her. Hayden liked the way Aunt Hermione hugged – she clung and her bushy hair got in your eyes.
"Hayden," she said, studying him as she pulled back. "How are you, love? How were exams?"
"Fine," he said, almost smiling at the familiar question. "I beat Tristan."
"Oh, really." Aunt Hermione didn't quite smile either, but her lip twitched upward. She pulled him in and Hayden took a deep breath.
Cedric had slipped away and was seated on one side of the bed. Tristan was curled up on the other. Harry Potter was propped up on pillows, almost sitting up. Hayden studied his favorite uncle carefully, trying to pretend he was in his magical healing class at Hogwarts and was studying a new patient. Uncle Harry was almost translucently pale. His hair, still thick and wild and sticking up all over, was turning grey in places. His face was thin and Hayden could see his chest under Tristan's head rising a falling rapidly, as though he were short of breath.
"All right, mate?" Uncle Harry asked as Hayden approached the bed. Uncle Harry's voice was deep, but it cracked on the last word.
Hayden wished people would stop asking him that. He hated lying. "I'm fine." He approached the bed slowly.
"Where's Ian?" Uncle Harry asked. "Rei?"
Hayden glanced around. Dorian was swimming his way through a mountain of his brothers and sisters and Reiley was just climbing onto the foot of Uncle Harry's bed.
"Hi, Uncle Harry!" she chirped, patting his foot. "Guess what. Everyone's in school but us. I'm missing a midterm today!"
"I'm sorry to hear that," Uncle Harry said, smiling. "You're studying hard, aren't you, Rei?"
"Very hard," she promised. "I'm not clever like Hayden, though."
Hayden caught Tristan's eye. In the dark emptiness of her expression, he saw a flash of amusement. "Sure you are," Hayden argued, staring down at the bedspread. "You're just younger, that's all."
"I don't want to be clever," Reiley assured him. "I want to be loyal."
"Good girl," Uncle Remus said. He'd come quietly up without them noticing. He ran a hand over her long hair. "There are more important things."
"Friendship and bravery," Uncle Harry said, smiling again. Despite the fact that his body was falling apart, Hayden realized his smile never changed. It was the smile that made him alive – that kept him with them. Hayden's throat tightened and he picked at the blanket on the bed.
"Being clever is important, too." Draco rested a hand on Hayden's shoulder and Hayden didn't mind leaning into him a little bit. "You must have friends who are clever enough to take care of you."
"Too right." Ginny appeared beside Uncle Harry, a goblet in her hand. "Open up, Harry."
Tristan tucked her head under Uncle Harry's chin to be out of the way. Uncle Harry opened his mouth and Ginny poured the green liquid down his throat. He winced as he swallowed.
"Found it!" a voice said from the doorway and everyone looked up to greet the newcomer. Hayden noticed that Tristan barely turned toward the voice, though Cedric sat up quickly.
Aunt Blaise swam her way toward the bed. She had a large book in her hands.
"Where was it?" Uncle Harry reached for it and Aunt Blaise settled it in his lap.
She frowned at him. "It was in the wardrobe, behind my wedding robes."
Uncle Harry chuckled. "Thanks."
Hayden thought Aunt Blaise looked different. Something about the way she opened the book, fussed about his pillows, kissed Tristan, and ruffled Cedric's hair in rapid succession.
"Blaise, come here," Draco ordered. He released Hayden's shoulder and reached for Aunt Blaise. She paused, her hand still in Cedric's hair. She straightened and moved slowly into Draco's open arms. He wrapped his arms around her. "Slow down, Zabini, you're making me dizzy," he murmured, low enough that Uncle Harry probably couldn't hear. Aunt Blaise's fingers fisted in his shirt and she pressed her face into his shoulder. Hayden, his throat tightening uncomfortably again, moved to stand near Uncle Harry, just behind Tristan. Uncle Harry had the book opened in his lap and was looking at the four pictures on the page. Reiley crawled carefully up the bed and peered over the top of the page.
"Is that you, Daddy?" Tristan whispered, pointing at the first picture. Three people were in it, smiling. Two adults held a baby between them. The baby was pudgy and beaming, with a tuft of unruly black hair.
"Yeah. I was not what you might call an attractive baby," Uncle Harry said. "Not like you two," he added, stroking Tristan's hair.
"Was I an attractive baby?" Hayden asked before he could stop himself.
Uncle Harry grinned at him. "Ridiculously. Your aunts and mum never put you down and they were always cooing over you."
"Attractive. Right." Tristan rolled her head back to stare incredulously at Hayden.
"Just because some people don't notice," he retorted.
"Good thing you didn't end up looking like your dad when he was a baby," Tonks said, coming up behind Hayden and looping an arm around his shoulders. She smirked at Hayden's dad, who still stood at the foot of the bed, Aunt Blaise tucked under one arm.
"Oh, so clever, cousin," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "At least I didn't turn myself into a pig when I was a baby."
Tonks went red, but she smirked right back and said, "Yeah, in your case, no one would have been able to tell the difference."
Aunt Blaise actually laughed.
"I can't believe you two," Uncle Remus said, looking back and forth between his wife and Draco.
"Yeah, you're worse than Hayden and Tristy," Cedric piped up.
"Hey!" the accused said loudly.
"Hey, look at this one," Reiley said, mercifully turning everyone's attention back to the photo album.
To turn his attention from Tristan, who was still watching him, Hayden threw a glance around the crowded room. Everyone had come to visit – Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron were close by, surrounding by all Hayden's cousins. Uncle Sirius had two of them in his lap. He was usually the life of a conversation, but today he looked somehow hollow, like Tristan's eyes, and he kept glancing at Uncle Harry with an expression Hayden didn't understand. Ginny had disappeared for a moment and reappeared in her healer's robes. While people around her talked quietly with each other and Uncle Harry, she moved bad and forth to Uncle Harry's bed, bringing potions, casting the occasional spell, and consulting with an assistant healer who came and went silently. Grandma Weasley hovered around Ginny, repeatedly asking what she could do and eventually saying that she would go home to make a nice meal and bring it back to the hospital because "Harry's looking peaky again." She cried as she left the room under Grandpa Weasley's arm.
Hayden's eyes drifted back to the bed. Uncle Harry's eyes were half-closed, but his smile, that bright crescent against his pale face, was pulled tight. He didn't look as if he were – Hayden braced himself – as if he were dying. He looked as if he were soaking in every molecule of love and loyalty in the room, like a glass of cold water to a parched throat.
At this moment, Ginny chose to usher everyone but Aunt Blaise, Tristan, and Cedric out of the room. "Harry needs rest," she insisted. "In a couple hours, we can all come back. I think Grandma is making food for us all."
Dorian grabbed Cedric and held on for a moment. Cedric gripped the back of Dorian's shirt, then pushed him gently away. Hayden took Dorian's place.
"Need anything, mate?" Hayden asked as he stepped away.
"Nah, get out of here," Cedric said, cuffing him on the shoulder.
"Right." Hayden swallowed hard. "See you, Uncle Harry."
Uncle Harry smiled and squeezed Hayden's hand. "See you, kid."
Tristan sat up, swung her legs over the bed, and in two strides was right in front of Hayden. He stared at her, wondering if she was going to hit him. Instead, she put her arms around him and clung, just like Aunt Hermione. There were a few little gasps from the occupants of the room.
"Thank you," was all she said, her breath warm against his neck. Then she was gone, back on Uncle Harry's bed. Uncle Harry met Hayden's eye and winked. Hayden blushed and turned quickly away. He gave Aunt Blaise a hug and let his mum lead him away. He craned his neck for a last look at his uncle. Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron, the last to leave, were on either side of the bed, talking quietly.
Uncle Harry was shaking with laughter.
Tristan didn't know how long she lay in the crook of her father's arm. The room grew dark, draping long moonlit shadows over the chairs and large bed. Cedric lay on Harry's other side, his head resting beside Harry's on the pillow. Blaise only asked them to move once – she helped Harry turn over so she could rub soothing hands over his back. Tristan stayed as near as she could, gripping his hand. She felt his pulse throb against two of her fingers, a weak pressure. She kept her fingers on it anyway. As long as it was there, as long as she could feel it, he was still with them.
When Blaise turned Harry onto his back again, Tristan saw something in her eyes that made her say, "Ced, come walk with me for a few minutes."
Cedric opened his mouth to protest, but after a moment he closed it. His twin speak told him to trust her.
"We'll be back in a few minutes, Dad," she promised, kissing his cheek. She felt his pulse compulsively one more time. He smiled at her, opening his eyes. Even through the gloom, Tristan could feel him memorizing her face. She swallowed hard and tried to smile.
"You haven't eaten in hours," he murmured, lifting an arm with obvious effort to stroke her cheek. "Go get something."
"I'll take care of it, Dad," Cedric promised. Harry gripped his arm. They all knew Cedric really meant, I'll take care of her.
"Course you will," Harry said, smiling. Tristan clung to the smile, watching every line, every pallid crease in his face transform under the expression. "I love you, Tristan. Cedric."
Tristan pulled Cedric from the room as tears drizzled down her face, casting a last look at her parents. Blaise lay were Cedric had been, close against Harry's side.
They needed no words. They had done this before, preparing for the end. Blaise lay beside Harry, trying to warm the cold by resting an arm across his chest and letting her breath out against his neck. She curled her leg over his and twined her fingers through his and inhaled that smell that was his and did not let a tear fall.
They needed no words, but tonight Harry had some.
"I'm so proud of them," he whispered, fingers tightening weakly over hers.
"Me, too." She thought of their children, the twins, with their matching smiles and matching voices and matching laughs.
"Let them take care of you now," he whispered, grip slackening.
Blaise didn't say, Don't leave me. Instead, she said, "They still need looking after."
"They have aunts and uncles and grandparents, too, Blaise," Harry said, his breathing harsh. "They're well loved. Don't try to do everything yourself." He turned his head on the pillow, eyes meeting hers. "They're already great wizards. Let them be great people as well."
Blaise leaned forward to kiss the corner of his mouth. He turned at the last moment and used the remains of his hard-earned breath to kiss her fully, thoroughly, as though they were teens again, sneaking around and making out in cupboards. In spite of the terrible ache that threatened to shatter her chest, Blaise felt the familiar blush in her cheeks. She smiled.
"How could they not be great, with you for a father?" she asked when he pulled away.
"You blushing, Zabini?" He grinned.
"Of course not," she retorted. She kissed his neck. "But you're exhausted, Potter. Go to sleep. When you wake up, Ced and Tristy will be back."
"Stay with me," he whispered, so softly she almost didn't hear.
"I'm not going anywhere."
With his head still turned toward her, Harry closed his eyes. His already weak breathing slowed. Blaise held on to him. Now that his eyes were closed and Tristan and Cedric weren't there, she let her tears fall. They dampened Harry's shoulder and the pillow and kept coming.
There was a whisper of breath from Harry. It took Blaise a moment to realize Harry had said something. "I love you."
Blaise's hand pressed his heart. "I love you, too."
Ten minutes later, Cedric pushed the door opened again. Blaise sat on the bed, her eyes on Harry's face and her hand curled around his. She glanced up as they come in. In the gloom, Cedric couldn't see if she was crying or not.
Cedric went to her at once, leaning into her as she put her free arm around his shoulders. Tristan moved slowly to the other side of the bed, running her hand over Harry's arm. She turned his hand over and rested her fingers against his wrist. She sighed a relieved sigh, her lip trembling. She obviously felt a pulse.
"I thought we might not make it back in time," she murmured, stroking Harry's hand. "I just thought – I thought you might want time with him, Mum."
"He was waiting for you," Blaise told them softly. Cedric hesitated. He reached out and pulled his mother's face into his shoulder. She let him, pressing tears into the fabric of his shirt.
"Daddy?" Tristan whispered, putting her face close to his ear. She ran a hand over his cheek. "Daddy, I love you – " her voice trembled but she pressed on bravely. "I love you so much."
Cedric swallowed a sob and pulled back from his mother. "Me, too, Dad," he said, forcing the wobble from his voice with all his might. "I mean, I love you. I'll look after them for you, not to worry."
Harry didn't speak, but the lovely bow of his mouth drew back into that radiant smile. A little puff of air passed through his parted lips. His chest rose once, and fell.
"Bye, Daddy," Tristan said, brushing her fingers across the scar on his forehead.
"See you later, Dad," Cedric promised, unable to stop the tears dribbling off his chin.
Harry's chest sank, stilled. Cedric saw Tristan pressing her fingers into his wrist. Cedric reached out and pulled her fingers away. She clasped Harry's hand instead, staring into his peaceful, smiling face. Cedric felt his mother begin to shake and pulled himself closer to her. He reached out and Tristan took his hand. She wasn't crying anymore, though tear tracks glittered on her cheeks.
"To the well organized mind," Tristan murmured, like a prayer, "death is but the next great adventure."
When they emerged from the room, the rest of the family was waiting. Uncle Draco didn't say a word as he pulled Blaise into his arms. Aunt Ginny pressed her face into Blaise's shoulder and held her, too. Uncle Draco and Aunt Ginny were both crying.
Relatives swam around Tristan and Cedric, but Tristan was looking for two. They fought their way toward her.
They were both wiping at their eyes. Dorian gave up fairly quickly, tears glittering on his cheeks. Hayden's lip trembled and he was biting it hard. They didn't say anything, but Dorian put one arm around Tristan and one around Hayden. Hayden put his free arm around Cedric and the four of them leaned in, a tangle of arms and foreheads and tears. Tristan couldn't be sure where she ended, and her friends and brother began.
"I'm sorry," Dorian choked out at last. "I shouldn't be – it's you two who – "
"Of course you should be," Cedric said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "I'd be insulted if – "
"Thank you," Tristan said, her gratitude almost a groan. She looked up, meeting Hayden's eyes. She remembered how he'd caught her up in his arms, with barely a hesitation. She reached for him again and this time, there was no hesitation at all.