A/N I'll save the sappiness for the end of the chapter. Read on.
The Shrieking Shack was just as dusty and decrepit inside as it was outside, but ghosts were the least of their worries with all that Erin and Draco had been through in the past few years. Practically tame.
That was where they decided to hide, then, with so many people afraid to enter it, and who knew how many people looking for them. That first night, they didn't bother cleaning the dirt or dust off the first bed they found. They just laid down, not touching, and stared at the ceiling while they whispered to each other in the dark, one word at a time.
Too numb to cry. Too tired to sleep. It was only in the morning that they finally drifted off, tears staining their cheeks and their arms around each other as the morning light filtered in on them.
When Erin woke up, she couldn't stay still. She couldn't stay there. And since there was nowhere else to go, she headed for the forest. Draco slept on, her wand tucked beneath his pillow. Just in case. She didn't know where she was going, or if it would be safe, or if she would come back. She didn't even know if she cared. She just needed to be gone.
It was a long walk, until she could see the castle again, shoes in her hand and bare feet cracking the dried pine needles beneath. There were lights in the windows that still existed, too much of what was previously lit gone dark. Almost as if the castle itself had died, at least in part, with her children. Erin stopped, eventually, watching where she was going, instead staring up and hoping for some glimpse of life behind that light. She found none.
A sharp pain in the bottom of her foot drew her eye downwards. She lifted her foot up, crouching down to see what had cut her. She came up with a polished black stone, cut with sharp edges and now smeared with her blood. It was familiar, almost, to her, though she was sure she had never seen it before. She wondered at it, in the palm of her hand, glinting too brightly in the fading light for it to be just some stone, and not-
"Hello, my girl."
Erin's eyes flew up to the figure suddenly in front of her, and she screamed.
"Please don't," Erin's father said quietly, softer than she had ever seen him. "I will not hurt you, this I swear."
The man before her was not a man, really, but a boy, shorter and thicker with a mop of styled hair and bright eyes. Erin's eyes. He was just like she'd seen him, once, some years ago, as if in a dream…
"How are you here?" She resisted the urge to back away, to show fear, barking out her words and hoping her fear didn't show. "What do you want?"
"I'm here because of that stone in your hand," he was speaking almost gently to her, so different than how she had seen him, how she had ever seen him. "The Resurrection Stone. And I'm here because you want me here. You chose me."
"The Resurrection Stone is just a fairy to be," Erin spat, her hand closing more tightly around the stone. "And even if it wasn't, why would I choose you?"
"So will you be, one day," Tom Riddle shrugged. "a fairy tale. Reason or not, I'm here." He clasped his hands behind his back, jerking his head all but gracefully towards the direction she had come. "We ought to get you back soon, before you lose the light."
Erin fought herself in her mind for only a moment. She started walking, letting him walk close to but not touching her. No need for that.
"You're angry with me," Tom broke the thick silence abruptly, but honestly. "Understandably so. I've done deplorable things. Too many to list."
"Too many to count," Erin snorted uncouthly, and the faintest of smiles touched his lips. "I hope you're not here to ask my forgiveness. That there's a cause well beyond lost."
Tom nodded. "That, I do know. I would not ask for anything that I had no hope of obtaining." There was a slight pause. "Not anymore."
There was too much buzzing around in her head for her to keep track of, so she stayed quiet. That was good, it turned out, as Tom kept talking.
"I think I would ask instead your understanding." He kept his eyes on the ground, though she gave no outward reaction. "All I've ever done is what I thought was right."
"But you were wrong." Erin argued, "Everything you did, you were wrong."
"In your eyes, yes," He nodded amicably, "And in many others. But I have always thought my intentions noble." He shook his head then. "That, my girl, is besides the point. You must understand that, wrong though many of my actions were, I believed them right. Can you? Understand that?"
"Not your girl." Erin mumbled, and then so he could hear her, "I think that's fair, I can understand that. As long as you can understand that I hate you for it."
"That is a fair deal." The smile came back, soft, gentle, and everything he was not. "Erin. You always were more your mother's girl than mine."
"How do you-" Erin turned to look for him, but he was gone.
Not all that much further into the forest, Erin caught a glimpse of a wispy, willowy figure sitting on a fallen tree. As she approached, the woman looked up at her, and Erin froze, just one word tumbling from her lips. "Mum?"
Amaranthe gracefully rose up, smiling almost sadly. "Who else, my love?"
Erin said nothing, just tried to keep the tears in her eyes from spilling over. Her mother moved as if to embrace her, but Erin stepped back, out of her reach. She had no right to-
"I am so sorry," Amaranthe laced her fingers together, "for all that you have been through. I am so, so sorry."
"It isn't like its your fault," Erin felt too stiff in her posture, too formal. "You didn't choose this for me."
"But I let it happen to you," She protested, "If I'd only hidden you better- if I'd only been a better mother to you-"
"I'm not upset over it or anything, you know." Erin told her quietly, almost afraid of the words coming out of her mouth. "I used to be, but.. I'm not, anymore. You did what you could and here I am." She smiled shyly. "Better than the alternative."
"I wish I hadn't loved him so much." Amaranthe whispered, sniffling slightly. "I wish that I had loved you more. Then you would never have been connected to him the way you were. In his head is so awful a place to be."
"I wondered about that," Erin confessed quietly, "being in his head. Why I was…"
"I wanted to believe in him so badly. All that love I had for him, it just…" Her words seemed to catch in her throat on a sob or a cough or a choke. She smiled gently at her daughter. "Love like that is powerful, Erin. It is the most powerful thing in the world."
And then, between one blink and the next, Amaranthe was gone. Erin took a deep breath, and walked on.
The sun was long past gone by then, leaving Erin in the pitch black except for the barest hints of moonlight streaming down through the trees. She was about to sit down and settle in for the night, knowing it was unwise to travel the forest at night, when a new light caught her attention not far ahead. It took the shape of a form she recognized, standing stoic and still and facing away from her.
Very carefully, Erin picked her way to the side of the dead man's ghost. "Hello, Professor Dumbledore."
"Hello, Miss Riddle." The former Headmaster offered her his arm. "Shall we?"
Though she was hesitant, she still took his arm finding it just as unsubstantial as she expected it. He chuckled, but they walked anyway, his glow lighting their path. After a few minutes of walking in silence, she spoke. "You're, uh- you're here for me, aren't you? But I just don't know why I'd want to talk to you."
Dumbledore nodded. "That is right. Perhaps it will come to you, if you wait."
"Well, I…" She tried to organize her thoughts, "I'm a bit frazzled, I guess. Seeing my parents and everything. That was different."
"Ah." He nodded sagely. "And how are you feeling about that?"
Erin shrugged. "Alright. Shocked, but alright. Its not like they were really ever my parents anyway. Molly and Arthur always have been."
Dumbledore smiled softly at that. "You're very wise, for your age."
Erin shook her head. "You, on the other hand, I know I'm still upset with. At least a little."
At this, he nodded, too. "I have not been proud of my actions concerning you or Mr. Potter."
"We were just kids." She said quietly, knowing that the past tense was right because they were kids when it all started and they had grown up much too quickly. "Have you ever thought that maybe you asked too much of us?"
"Many a time," He confessed, but then he chuckled again. "You do remind me very much of someone."
"Who?" Erin asked, and the words tasted bitter in her mouth. "My father?"
Dumbledore smiled nonetheless. "No. Someone else entirely." He stopped in his tracks, his smile becoming distant. "In fact, he will be waiting for you not far from here."
As Dumbledore vanished, another bright figure appeared not far ahead, close enough that Erin could make out who it was. When the thought caught up with her, she burst into tears.
"Why are you crying, you silly girl?" Snape asked as Erin approached him, trying to dry her face on her sleeve. "I'm hardly worth mourning so long over."
"I- I didn't know," She shook with her sobs, "I hadn't realized that you had- that you were-"
"Oh." The annoyance dropped from his face, replaced by something more akin to melancholy. "My apologies. I would have thought that…"
"We couldn't go looking for you," Erin said around her tears, "There wasn't time- thought that you were hiding, maybe, or- or run away-"
"I was not so fortunate as some," he told her, voice as gentle as it had ever been with her. "But everything that's happened is for the best."
"How can you say that?" Erin cried, "Fred was just young, and Dora and Remus just had their baby, and Blaise is my best friend, and you-" she choked on a hiccup as the tears came faster. "How am I supposed to do this without you?"
Snape shook his head sadly, his voice soft. "You've grown up already. The war is over, now. You don't need me anymore."
"Yeah, but we're not done fighting," She could barely understand herself, so she hoped he knew what she was saying. "And kids don't just stop needing their dads, alright?"
Snape's face went from shocked to awed to guilty all at once. "I'm sorry. I am so sorry to have to leave you."
"You said it wasn't goodbye," Erin sniffed pitifully, the stone clutched tightly enough in her hand that she could feel blood pooling wet and sticky in her palm around it.
"I know I did," Snape said quietly. "But this is."
Erin closed her eyes, and for the briefest of moments, she swore she could feel the warm press of lips against her forehead. When she opened her eyes, he was gone.
Erin was closer to the Shrieking Shack by then. The forest was sparse enough that, with the moonlight, she could spot an east path back. She dropped the stone at her feet, covering it with a layer pine needle, and started walking.
When Erin walked back into the bedroom, Draco was awake, sitting on the edge of the bed with his elbows on his knees. Her wand was lit, clasped between his hands in front of him, his eyes fixed on it. The dull blue glow cast shadows on his fine features, making him appear older and younger at the same time.
"Where'd you go?" He asked quietly, not looking at her as she sad beside him. It was cold in the Shack, despite the muggy heat outdoors, and the skin of his arm was cool where it brushed hers.
"For a walk." Erin didn't hesitate in her answer, but she debated elaborating. She decided, quickly, that the conversations she had had would remain private, just hers to dwell on, for now. "I'm sorry you had to wake up alone."
"I thought I'd died." Draco said slowly, chilling her more than the room. "I thought that was my penance. Being without you."
"Hey," Erin gently bumped his shoulder with her own. "Can't get rid of me that easy, can you, now, Malfoy?"
The smallest of smiles stretched his mouth, and there in the dark, both of in torn clothes, full of blood and dirt and love, he took her hand in his. "No, Riddle, I don't suppose I can."
The morning found Erin and Draco on the hilltop just past the Shack, sitting side by side on the summer grass. Erin's legs her drawn up against her chest, Draco's stretched out in front of him, but they both kept their hands together, fingers laced tight with each others'. The sun was coming up, bright and beautiful over the lake. It painted the blue in shades of pink, in bright oranges and bloody reds, blending until they came to reach a perfect white light. Beyond that was the castle, partially in ruins but still as proud as ever. People, like ants, swarmed over the bridges and gaps, rebuilding. If any of them had glanced over, they would have missed them, two crazy broken teenagers staring at the wreckage and being in love. Much like the rest of their relationship had been.
"What now?" Draco asked after a time, looking away from the castle and over to Erin. "Anything?"
Erin considered carefully, letting her gaze drift between castle and the lake and the sky. How he wished he knew what she was thinking, if he could see inside her head. Then again, maybe not. He knew, though, that whatever she chose would be right.
"Come on." Erin got to her feet, pulling him up with her. "I know the way home from here."
A/N 4 years ago, I wrote down the very last line of this story, and today, I'm sharing it with you.
Thank you for everyone who's stuck with me through terrible plot twists and year long hiatuses. Thank you for everyone who's reading this now. Its been a long ride, but its been fun. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.
Just a friendly reminder to check out the Dirty Little Secret tumblr, link available on my profile, if you'd like to ask any questions or share any thoughts that you'd like a response to. There you'll also find playlists for each of the 7 years at Hogwarts, and anything else I've managed to compile over the years. Reviews are also lovely, if you feel like it.
All the best, to all of you,
-Rachel, Erin, and everyone else
P.S. No promises, but I've got a bit of an idea for a sequel of oneshots that maps out the rest of Erin's life, if anyone's interested in reading that...