24 June 1995

The Hufflepuff common room was completely silent. An odd scenario, considering that this was meant to be a party. Four first-years sat together on the floor near the fireplace. The two girls, Ellie Branstone and Laura Madley, were crying softly, and Ernie watched with tender amazement as Owen Cauldwell and Kevin Whitby each slipped their arms comfortingly around them.

Ernie glanced around. The common room was all laid for a party; a celebration had been planned for Cedric, whether he had won the tournament or not. Many people had gone miserably up to bed after Professor Sprout had left them. There were now perhaps fifteen people left sitting in the round room.

He heard a great sniffle and looked to his right. Justin was staring blankly at a spot on the worn golden carpet, leaning back on the couch with his arms around Susan, who was crying into his shoulder. Ernie sighed and leaned forward, burying his face in his hands. When he reopened them, he saw the large, round door of the common room, hidden behind a painting of Helga Hufflepuff's home and emblazoned with the badger of Hufflepuff House, swing open.

Three seventh-year boys, all of whom looked quite miserable, came trudging in down the long staircase. After them came the rest of their year; boys and girls, most of whom were crying and holding onto one another, began separating with warm embraces, seemingly unaware of their audience, and headed for the round doors that led to the dormitories.

Ernie watched them, his heart breaking for each of Cedric's classmates, and did not look away until he heard a ripping noise. The three boys who had come into the room first, Geoffrey Stebbins, Michael Summers, and John Summerby, had started pulling down the decorations and streamers that were still hanging around the room. Their faces were inscrutable.

They had been some of Cedric's closest friends, Ernie knew. He couldn't imagine what they were thinking, although the fact that they were dismantling the party without magic was a good indication of how they felt. Zacharias Smith, sitting by himself near the first years, was staring at Michael, flinching when he balled up a streamer and threw it in the fire.

"We're both going to bed," said a soft voice, and Ernie looked up to see Wayne Hopkins and a tearstained Megan Jones. "I'll see you there," Wayne said, and he and Megan walked hand-in-hand to the dormitory doors, where, in the corner of his eye, Ernie saw Megan stand on tiptoe to kiss Wayne's cheek before they went through their separate doors.

The three seventh-year boys had finished pulling down the decorations, and quickly followed Wayne, in stony silence. It was as if someone had flipped a switch; immediately, people began getting up, heading for the doors. Eventually, Ernie was the last one left in the common room. He sighed and tipped his head back against the sofa back, staring at the ceiling.

It had been a very long night, but Ernie was having a difficult time with the idea of getting up and walking into his dormitory. It didn't seem like something he would ever be able to do.

A boy, no more than two, perhaps two and a half years older than he, was dead. Dead. His heart had stopped, his soul was—well, gone—and the world was going to keep turning as if nothing had happened. His parents would grow old without him. He would never fall in love, get married, have children who could sit in this very common room one day. Cedric was dead.

Ernie's mother and father were older when they had him; three of his grandparents had passed away by the time he was born. His grandmother had died when he was a small child. Ernie didn't understand death at the time; he never had to.

But suddenly, and very sharply, death was a real thing. It ended, stopped, ceased. Death was eternal, and life, suddenly, seemed like little more than a flash of moonlight, caught momentarily on the surface of very dark waters.

There was a sudden sniffle behind him, and Ernie turned. He had not been alone. Hannah Abbott, poor, sweet Hannah, his best friend, who felt so much so deeply, was curled in an armchair, her face glazed with tears, clutching her knees to her chest.

Slowly, Ernie got up, and Hannah's blue eyes watched him closely. Ernie walked over to her, and sank onto his knees before her chair.

"Hi," she squeaked in a broken voice. She was staring at him, not bothering to dry her face, but allowing a few more tears to slide down her cheeks.

"Hi, Han," Ernie said softly. He couldn't believe he hadn't notice how long her hair had gotten in the last year. It was hanging in mussed strands, long enough that she could almost sit on it. She was a very pretty girl; she always had been, as a matter of fact. Her clever eyes, so full of brokenhearted kindness, stared into Ernie's unblinkingly.

"I'm sorry about the Yule Ball, Ernie," she whispered suddenly.

Ernie stared at her. "Hannah, that's past—it doesn't matter—"

"I lied to you," Hannah insisted, shaking her head as more tears filled her eyes. "When you asked me to go, Wayne hadn't asked yet. Susan had just—she'd only told me he wanted to, and I really wanted to go with him—" She broke off and buried her face in her knees, sobbing. "And I'm so, so sorry, Ernie," she wailed in a muffled voice, "because I've—I've realized that—that you are the one—" she looked up into Ernie's eyes, going silent but for a few hiccups.

Quietly, Ernie got to his feet, staring at the ground.

"Ernie?" Hannah squeaked.

Ernie held out one hand, which Hannah took rather nervously, and helped her to her feet. She was perhaps half a head shorter than he was, and very, very close to him. He reached in his pocket, withdrew his wand, and pointed it at the old wireless radio that sat in the corner. It crackled to life, and began playing a sad, slow song.

Hannah slipped her arms around Ernie's neck, and he pulled her closer, warm in his arms. She was still sobbing, her head resting on his shoulder, and he was inhaling her smell of vanilla and rainwater, as they swayed and revolved slowly on the spot.

When a lake ripples, and catches the light of the stars and moon on its surface, there are flickers that catch the eye of onlookers with their brightness; there are others that simply glimmer dully, quietly, before fading away. That night, Ernie Macmillan realized exactly which was the best way to live, and that if life was as quick as a flash of moonlight, then he wanted do all he could to make it the brightest one on the water.


This is my first, favorite entry for Berrie Salamander's House Party Challenge; I'll be honest, I wasn't actually intending to make it so sad...but I could only think of two reasons the Hufflepuffs would celebrate (poor dears, I love them), so I went the route that seemed a bit more complicated. I can only imagine what a death in Hufflepuff house is like. Anyway, I hope you like.

Lucy

NB: I do follow canon; Hannah and Neville do fall in love and get married, but I firmly believe that Hannah and Ernie were together for a while; for some reason, many readers here take offense when canon characters crush on people/are in relationships with people whom they are not ultimately married to.