A/N: Wow. It has been eons since I posted. I am SO sorry. The guilt I felt over this was crippling. I hope this chapter makes up for that monster cliffhanger. Thank you so much to everyone who left comments, kudos, favs, alerts. I am overwhelmed and delighted by the sheer number of you. Enjoy! xoxo

:: :: :: ::

Rose became aware that something wasn't quite right in stages. Her eyes were closed and she was lying on something hard. There was something that she ought to be worried about, but she brushed that thought aside. She opened her eyes and realized that she was outdoors, but it didn't look quite right.

The sun (was it the sun?) shone brightly overhead. The sky looked like someone had pulled it from a painting. The light angled down in perfect rays through wispy clouds. The rays sparkled like the sky was swirling with fine golden glitter. Unsettled and charmed in equal measure, Rose turned on the surface she was lying on and discovered it was a park bench. She swung her legs to sit upright and took in her surroundings.

She was in a park. It looked like the gated park in front of the house on Royal Crescent, where she and Grim had spent many hours playing, but while it was similar, she couldn't hear the rumble of traffic or voices of pedestrians on the street outside the walls and high hedges.

Rose looked down at herself and noticed she was wearing her favorite outfit, and that there was suddenly a cup of coffee from her favorite coffee shop sitting on the bench beside her. She was absolutely certain it hadn't been there before, but she gave a mental shrug and decided to drink it.

She gazed about the park, taking in all the perfect details, and thought being dead wasn't so bad. A little boring, maybe, but she could deal with it.

As if the thought of boredom had conjured up some intrigue, a noise like a crying baby came from underneath the bush nearest the bench Rose was sitting on. Rose squinted at the bush and caught a glimpse of something through the leaves - it was red and slimy, and gave off the distinct impression that it was icky.

She stood, brushing non-existent dirt off the back of her skirt, with the intention of finding another bench to sit around and be dead on. A bench that was far away from the icky baby thing.

"Hello."

Rose spun on the spot, giving the crying bundle of ick a suspicious look. If that thing could talk— But it wasn't the thing. There was someone else in the park. A dead someone. A familiar dead someone. The coffee cup slipped from Rose's fingers.

The boy smiled, a thin lipped twist at the corners of his mouth, and sauntered closer. He appeared to be slightly older than Rose, but only by a few years. He was tall and slim, with dark hair and grey eyes, and had an air of superiority that Rose had seen in photographs and paintings, and in other members of the Black family.

"Well met, Rose Potter," he said, tipping his head like he was doffing his hat. "Do you recognize me?"

"Regulus," she said. She had seen his face in photographs and painted portraits at Grimmauld Place, rescued from the trash and then traded with Kreacher in exchange for household chores. He looked quite a bit like Sirius. He had the same coloring, chin and nose, but his air was completely different. Where Sirius was warm, Regulus was cold.

"Well done," Regulus said. "Welcome to the afterlife. It seems I'm your welcoming party."

"Why you?" she asked. "Why aren't my parents here?"

"There's been a hiccup," he said dryly, and took a seat on the bench she had recently vacated. He crossed one leg over the other and sat back to give her a lazy once over. Rose held off an uncomfortable twitch, and he rolled his eyes as though he'd seen it regardless.

"What do you mean by that?" she asked.

"You'll not be staying long," he replied. "You're meant to have a choice, but I'm not keen on letting you make it." His eyes were flat and hard.

"A choice about what?"

"Never mind that." He leaned off the bench to peer through the leaves of the bush at the icky baby thing. It let out a cry, and Regulus's lip curled. "Disgusting," he murmured. He tore his eyes away and pinned Rose with them again.

"I'm here to tell you everything I know about horcruxes," Regulus said. "I'm going to tell you how to kill the Dark Lord."

:: :: :: ::

Regulus led her away from the thing in the bush, and explained exactly how and why he died.

Regulus had joined the Death Eaters, and he had had a change of heart, just as Sirius had told her. But his change of heart had to do with finding out that Voldemort was using horcruxes to keep himself immortal, and for Regulus this was a step too far. He had chosen instead to destroy the horcrux Voldemort had entrusted him with, and had in the process, gotten himself killed.

He told her about horcruxes, what they are and how they are made. He told her that Voldemort has more than one. He told her that the others were either hidden by the Dark Lord himself, or left in the care of his most trusted Death Eaters. He told her that there was some good news - she had already destroyed one.

"That diary your Weasley girl was possessed by. That was a horcrux. An ingeniously nasty one, too."

He sounded almost admiring.

"And another one destroyed today," he said. "And a prophecy fulfilled. Big day for you."

"What are you talking about?" Rose demanded.

Regulus explained how Voldemort attempted to use her death as an infant to create another horcrux, because he had identified Rose as the child the prophecy spoke of, and apparently the bastard just liked the idea of it. Important deaths made stronger horcruxes, apparently. But the spell backfired, and the split off bit of soul had to go somewhere, and—

"You mean that—" Rose said, voice shrill, as she gestured at the disgusting baby thing in the bushes, "that's a part of Voldemort's soul? And it was in me?"

Regulus smirked, and nodded.

Rose gagged.

"You won't have the mental connection with him any longer, which is a loss tactically, and you've also lost your last chance at cheating death again, so I wouldn't stand in the way of any green spells if I were you. Next time you die it's for good. On the other hand, you are one step closer to making the Dark Lord mortal."

"And when all of the horcruxes are destroyed?"

"Then he can be killed," Regulus said, nodding. "And he will stay dead."

Rose shivered.

He told her about Kreacher, about how the elf had assisted him in retrieving a horcrux from one of Voldemort's hiding places, and that the horcrux - a locket - was at the headquarter's of the Order of the Phoenix in Kreacher's possession. "You gave it to him," Regulus said wryly. "Saved it from the bin, and used it to bribe a house elf in return for a clean bathroom."

"Worth it," Rose quipped.

Regulus shook his head at her. "There's a book hidden in my bedroom at home, about horcruxes," he said, changing the subject. "I found it during my research after I realized what the Dark Lord was doing. It has information about how to destroy them, as well as everything I've told you. You'll need it." He told her where the hidden panel was, and how to access it.

"How many more horcruxes do you think he has?" Rose asked.

"Several," Regulus said dryly. "You'll have to do some sleuthing of your own."

"I need to talk to Dumbledore," she said, thinking aloud.

"That would probably be for the best," he said. "You must act very quickly. If the Dark Lord discovers that his horcruxes are being destroyed he could simply make more… and then he will never be killed."

Rose nodded, mind whirring with all that she had learned here and all that she needed to do.

"You're going to the instrument of my revenge, Rose." He was almost smiling.

"Your revenge?" she asked, eyebrows climbing.

"We're family now, are we not?" he said with a smirk. "And Blacks avenge their own."

"Sirius is family," she said. "Not you. I'm going to do this, I'm going to go after his horcruxes and I'm going to destroy him, but I'm not doing it for you. I don't even think I like you."

Regulus clutched a hand to his chest as though she had delivered a mortal blow. "Oh my," he said dryly, "however shall I go on?"

Rose rolled her eyes.

"I'm going to give you some advice before you go," he said. "You'll be grateful for it later."

"Doubtful," she muttered.

"First of all, drop your Hufflepuff. He's worthless to you, and will follow your cause regardless of your relationship. My cousin, on the other hand, would be a useful ally, and it wouldn't take much for you to have him bent entirely to your will."

Rose stared at him. Who spoke like this? Allies, and causes, and bending people to their will? Psychopaths, that's who. The whole Black family was full of crazy people. Not even Sirius had come out unscathed.

"Wait, are you talking about Draco?" she asked, incredulousness in her voice.

"Yes. He would make an adequate spy, living in the belly of the beast as he is, but his loyalties could belong utterly to you. A simple seduction, and he would even turn on his father. You could use your own eyes on the inside - Dumbledore's spy is unreliable and precariously placed. He'll most likely be dead soon, so you could use a replacement."

"You're a horrible person."

"I'm honest," Regulus corrected. "Draco responds to power, and if he believes that you will be the victor in the end he would gladly pledge himself to you. The promise of power, coupled with the promise of sex—" Rose made an indignant noise, and Regulus rolled his eyes. "He's a fifteen year old boy. If there are thoughts in his head that don't revolve around getting between your thighs they are utterly accidental."

Rose hit him.

Regulus caught her wrist on the backswing and twisted it sharply. She gasped in pain. His face was twisted and ugly with anger.

"You would be a fool not to use this to your advantage," he said. "You don't have much to recommend you otherwise."

It was nothing she hadn't thought herself, but coming from Regulus it was galling. The idea of Rose being the prophesied heroine of this tale was laughable at best, and the world was likely doomed, but she had a hell of a lot more in her favor than just her looks and her vagina.

"I'm glad you're dead," she hissed.

He made a face and released her wrist. She tried to rub the pain away. What the hell? She was dead. She shouldn't be able to feel pain here, right?

"Secondly," he snarled, "you'll want to keep that mudblood friend of yours close. She's quite intelligent, and frankly you could use the help in that area—"

Rose gaped in outrage. She didn't even know where to start.

"And do come up with an actual plan before you hare off to save the world. Gryffindors can be so short sighted, and I would find it vexing if you died again without fulfilling your role—"

"Oh, I wouldn't want to vex you, you enormous arse—"

"And tell my dear brother," he said with a derisive twist to his mouth, "that his pining has grown pathetic. The love of his life is slipping through his paws, and if he doesn't act quickly he'll be lost."

Rose blinked in shock. "Sirius is in love? Who are you—"

"Farewell, Rose Potter," Regulus said. "Don't disappoint me." And with those parting words, he shoved her backwards, she stumbled, and—

:: :: :: ::

Rose blinked up at the sky - no, wait, the ceiling. Peacock blue, and familiar. She was surrounded on all sides by a sparkling wall of light. It was very quiet wherever she was, hushed like a church. Like a funeral. There was only the muffled sound of someone crying. She rolled her head to the side and found the source of the noise. Two men were sitting very near the barrier, holding each other, one had his face turned down, the other with his buried in the other man's collar. He was shaking. It was Sirius and Remus, Rose realized. Why was Sirius crying? What had happened? Had something happened to her?

She took stock. She didn't feel hurt, but she was lying on the floor, and there was something uncomfortable under her back. Bony, like—

Realization came all at once, and with it a rush of adrenaline, and she rolled to her feet.

She had been lying on Voldemort's arm. His wand hand. He was still dazed, blinking his vile red eyes up at the ceiling, and Rose panicked. She brought her foot down hard on his wrist, and he let out a grunt of pain, his fingers went lax and his wand rolled to the floor. Rose quickly scooped his wand up, and pointed it at him.

"Stupefy, stupefy, stupefy!" she cried.

The spells hit him, one after the other, but they had no effect other than to bring him to full consciousness. His eyes narrowed, and Rose fought the instinct to take a few steps back.

"Miss Potter," he said darkly. "You are a surprising creature, aren't you?"

Looking down at the monster who killed her parents, who would kill Sirius and Remus and everyone else she loved given half a chance, her fear withered and left her full of fury. It was a tremor in her fingers and ice in her gut, and her blood felt like it was on fire.

"You bet I am," she snapped, gold sparks shooting from the tip of the wand. The wand flared with golden light, and it took her rage and twisted it into a spell.

It looked like golden fire, and it struck his chest where his heart would be if he had one. He hissed as though he'd been shot. One bony hand covered the injury instinctively, and his hand came away red with blood. He blinked with wide eyes at the sight, as though he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

Rose stared as she took in the damage: the bright red blood on his hand, the open wound, a white arc of bone, and his black heart pulsing in his chest. The organ gleamed in the light, thumping madly, half hidden behind a rib bone. It was black, and slicked shiny with blood. There was so much blood, and it was seeping into his robes, and sticking them to his chest.

His body heaved with a shocked inhale. He looked up at Rose, standing over his prone and injured form, and his eyes thinned. He hissed with rage, and reared up to snatch the wand from her hand. Rose gasped and stumbled back, and she let go of the wand, nearly tossed it to him in her eagerness to get away. A flick of his wrist and he was gone.

Rose flailed her arms wildly, and spun on the spot. When she saw no sign of Voldemort she bent double, and crossed her arms over her chest, relief making her weak. She sucked air into her lungs as though she'd been drowning.

"Oh, thank Merlin," she said to the marble floor tiles. "Thank God."

"Rosie—"

She whipped her head up, catching sight of Sirius and Remus on the other side of the barrier, hands pressed to the spell like they were trying to reach out for her. She stumbled over to them, putting her hands to the barrier too, and when she found it solid she beat her palms on it. It held fast. Sirius looked like he was in physical pain, like he just could not take one more moment of not being able to protect her, and she snarled in frustration, and kicked the sparkling wall of the column. The spell collapsed, falling like it had been made of water all this time, splashing magic everywhere.

Instantly there were arms around her, holding her tight.

"Rose, Rose, oh, Merlin," Sirius said, clutching her to him and getting his fingers tangled up in her hair. "You were dead. I thought we'd lost you."

Rose closed her eyes and hugged him back. She took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of him, letting it calm her. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry."

She looked over Sirius's shoulder at Remus. She held out a hand to draw him in, not sure Sirius was going to let her go anytime soon, but wanting a hug from Remus all the same. He put his forehead to hers, and then kissed it.

They stood like that until Rose felt calm, until Sirius's grip loosened, until Remus looked less wolf-y.

"What happened after he cursed me?" Rose asked. "Where did he come from?"

"When you fell he appeared," Remus said, "Like he had disillusioned himself. We were sure that both of you were dead."

"How long was I out?" Rose asked.

"Just for a minute or two," Remus said.

"Felt like years," Sirius said, his voice rough. He shuddered, and squeezed her tightly.

"It was longer there," Rose said. "We were talking for awhile."

"Talking to who, Rose?" Remus asked. "What happened to you?"

"It was Regulus," she said, and a wave of vertigo hit her. "Your brother was a prick," she told Sirius, and leaned heavily against his chest. "I don't feel very well." She shut her eyes as the events of the day caught up with her: exams, being tortured, dying, meeting Regulus Black, and coming back from the dead. It had been a long damn day, even by her standards.

"Rose?" Sirius asked, sounding alarmed.

"I just need to lie down," she said, words slurring together, and trying to reassure him with badly aimed hand pats. There were two worried, much loved faces looking down at her. She was safe. The world went black.

:: :: :: ::

Rose woke up in the hospital wing at Hogwarts. Sirius was asleep in a chair beside her bed. He looked haggard. Through the window over her hospital bed, she could tell that it was morning – the question was, which morning? How long had she been asleep?

Madam Pomfrey had done something to cure her, as she wasn't feeling the after effects of the Cruciatus Curse, the mind-splitting pain of being possessed, or of being temporarily dead.

"Sirius!" she said in a loud whisper, not wanting to startle him too badly. "Sirius!"

He gave a grunt, and then his eyes popped open. His sleep clouded gaze drifted over her, and then consciousness set in.

"Rose!" He dived for her, wrapping her up in a hug. "You're awake!"

She hugged him back, smiling. "How long have I been here?"

Sirius rubbed his eyes, and looked at his watch. "Oh, about ten hours. You've been asleep since it all happened… How do you feel?"

"I feel fine. What happened?"

Sirius raked a hand through his hair. "You passed out, and I wanted to take you to St. Mungo's, but Dumbledore thought you should come here instead. I've been with you all night, so I don't know what—"

Remus came into the room, holding a cardboard tray with three cups of coffee. He'd gone to the Muggle world to get coffee, though Remus couldn't stand the stuff. He smiled when he saw Rose and Sirius. "How are you feeling, Rose?" he asked, setting down the tray.

"Good enough for coffee," she said. "What did you get me?"

"Something mocha with whipped cream," he said, handing her the paper cup.

"It's appalling what you do to coffee," said Sirius, a common complaint that only made Rose grin.

"Here you are," said Remus, handing Sirius a cup. "Black for Black."

"Har har."

"And tea for me," said Remus.

"He's such a proper Englishman, isn't he, Rosie?"

"Indubitably."

Despite the fact that this breakfast was taking place in the hospital wing, and the night before had been a horror, it felt much like any old breakfast at their house on Royal Crescent. Rose dropped her head onto Sirius's shoulder, and he tugged her hair.

"Don't go scaring us like that again, okay, kiddo?" said Sirius.

Rose nodded, blinking away the burn of tears. "I'm not eager for a repeat performance."

"Kingsley told us all about your citizen's arrest," said Remus, hiding a smirk behind his cup. Sirius barked out a laugh, and Rose blushed a bit, feigning interest in her coffee.

"Yeah, well…"

"He thinks you might have what it takes to become an Auror. Very good at following proper procedures, he said."

Rose smiled at them, loving them so much it hurt. Later she would tell them about being dead. She would tell them about meeting Regulus, about prophecies and horcruxes, about everything, but for now she just wanted to enjoy being with her family.

"We'll see," she said. "I might hold out for Prince William. I think I'd make a great princess, don't you?"

:: :: :: ::

Fresh from the hospital wing, Rose sat alone in Dumbledore's office waiting for the headmaster to arrive. She was certain she was in for a royal telling off. Dumbledore's phoenix gave a little croon, and Rose gave Fawkes a pat.

Madam Pomfrey wanted to keep her in the hospital wing for another night just to be certain that she wouldn't have any complications after suffering from two Cruciatus Curses, being possessed by Voldemort, and oh, being dead for two minutes. Rose felt perfectly fine though. Even her scar, which had been aching all year, was nothing more than an unsightly blemish on her forehead, and she hadn't had any strange dreams since.

Hermione and Ginny had come by the hospital wing to see how she was doing, and to hear the full story of why on earth Rose had been at the Ministry, and then what happened with Umbridge, Lucius Malfoy, and Voldemort.

Rose thought Cedric had been by too, but Madam Pomfrey wouldn't let him in. This was probably Sirius's fault, as he'd looked very smug.

On Dumbledore's desk was the latest edition of the Daily Prophet, headline three inches high, saying the wizarding world had woken up to the fact that Lord Voldemort was back. Rose skimmed the story, and noted that her name cropped up almost as often as Voldemort's many monikers. They were calling her, 'The Girl who Lived Twice,' and Rita Skeeter wanted to know, 'Is Rose Potter Immortal?'

Below the fold was a smaller headline that made Rose wince. 'Lucius Malfoy Arrested!' If Draco didn't already hate her, this would surely cement it.

Aside from the fear-mongering, the Daily Prophet had changed its position on The Slut Who Lived to Party, and was now calling Rose a, 'lone voice of truth,' forced to bear, 'slander and ridicule.'

Rose tossed the paper back onto the desk in disgust, and wondered when Dumbledore would show. Certainly, he was busy with Order related issues, and likely had the press beating down his door, but Rose had things to do as well.

She only had two more days to spend in the company of Cedric Diggory before summer holiday, and she didn't want to waste one moment. She knew that these next two days were likely to be her last that she could freely act like an idiotic teenager, and she was going to take full advantage.

The door to the office opened, and Rose stood. "Hello, Professor."

"Miss Potter," he said, dropping a handful of letters onto his desk. He sat and folded his hands. "We have much to discuss. Lemon drop?"

:: :: :: ::

A truly bewildering hour later, Rose shut herself up in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. No one else ever used it, and she could use a few minutes to herself. No matter what Dumbledore said, Rose didn't think love was going to see her through. This alleged power of Rose's that 'the Dark Lord knew not' seemed about as useful as the fact that Rose knew how to dance in three inch heels and Voldemort didn't. Presumably.

She gave her mind a few moments to consider Voldemort in drag, before trying to force it back to the problem at hand.

"I'm doomed," she muttered, because the image of Voldemort in a slinky black dress with matching strappy heels would not leave her brain, and because, yeah, she was probably doomed.

She wedged herself onto the sill of one of the narrow windows along the far wall, and wiped the fog away to look outside. The sky was overcast, though the temperature was warm. Students dotted the lawn, enjoying the end of exams. Some were kicking a muggle football around.

The door to the bathroom creaked open, and Draco Malfoy walked in.

"Hi," he said, when he caught sight of her in the window sill.

"What are you doing here? It's the girls bathroom." She frowned. "How did you even find me?"

"I asked the house elves where you were," he replied.

"Oh, house elves. Clever, that."

"Yes," he agreed. She wondered if he would come closer, but he stayed where he was, all the way across the room. Rose felt the distance between them like the tug of a rope, urging her to move closer. He stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels.

"My father was arrested. For trespassing."

Rose swallowed and looked at her hands. It figured that he would blame her for that.

"I heard."

"And now he's being held because they suspect he's a Death Eater." Draco shook his head and sounded disbelieving when he said, "My father is awaiting trial in Azkaban. My dad is in Azkaban." And his voice broke when he finished, "And yesterday, you died."

She looked up. His expression was wretched. His eyes were rimmed red, purple bruises beneath them like he hadn't slept, and he was as disheveled as Rose had ever seen him. His shirt was wrinkled, tie askew, as if he was still wearing yesterday's clothes. She had never seen Draco look so much less than perfect.

"I didn't stay that way," she said, trying for light and falling far from the mark.

He didn't laugh.

"I am sorry about your dad. I thought…" Well, she'd rather thought Lucius could have gotten away, but Mundungus had stunned him as he was chasing Rose out of the Department of Mysteries, and had left Lucius for the Aurors to find.

"Why are you sorry?" he said loudly, throwing his hands in the air. "He's a Death Eater. He probably would have killed you!"

Rose shook her head. "He wasn't there to hurt me. He was just there to… fetch something."

"To fetch what—" Draco cut himself off with an angry noise. "Merlin, I don't even want to know."

Rose wasn't sure she should tell him in any case.

"Merlin, this has all gone so wrong." He paced across the room and ran his fingers roughly through his hair. "I had a plan, you know. For this," he gestured between the two of them. "It got off track, a lot, but—"

"What are you talking about?"

Draco looked at her for a moment with dull eyes and sighed.

"Last summer, my father told me that any feelings I had for you had to disappear."

Rose felt her heart crawl up her throat.

"He told me that I had to make it clear to everyone that my feelings for you were gone. I had to make everyone believe that I hated you, because if I didn't the Dark Lord would find out about it, and my family would be in danger. Father was right, of course, but I thought I could find a way around it.

"I tried to talk to you over the summer. But I couldn't send you a letter, because it could be intercepted. After the papers started reporting about you in the society pages, I went down to Knockturn Alley to try to arrange an 'accidental' meeting. It took three weekends before I ran into you - but I guess it wasn't you I was talking to." He laughed humorlessly. "I wanted us to plan it together - to have a very public falling out - even though, secretly we could be… well."

Rose felt like she was going to be sick.

"But you - she - wouldn't listen. Told me to go away, like I meant nothing to—" He cut himself off, and there was a tick in his jaw. "Then we were back at school, and I was angry with you, and I decided that I would just go on and do it anyway. I had to." He shook his head. "That first time, when I laughed along with Pansy and the others outside of potions class… It was awful. The look on your face… And I thought maybe it would be easier if I planned every word. Maybe if I scripted it, if I just said things that would make you angry instead of things that would hurt…" he shook his head, and grimaced. "But you always went off script."

"Oh, god, Draco."

"You were pretty good at hurting me too," he said. "Then I got angry, and I said all the horrible things I had decided I wouldn't say."

She dropped her head, hid her face behind the curtain of her hair, and screwed her eyes shut. Tears welled, but she wouldn't let them fall.

"Then it was real. I went too far. There was Weasley and Diggory, and I feel like I'm just choking on—" he cut himself off with a frustrated noise, and she could tell he was falling to pieces as he went on. "Then yesterday… you died. You were dead, and you died hating me and thinking that I hated you." He sniffed. "That's just… not acceptable, because it's… so far from the truth.

"I'm so sorry, Rose."

She covered her face with her hands, and nodded helplessly. She didn't dare say anything out loud for fear that she would just start sobbing stupidly, and god only knew what she would say.

He shuffled closer and tentatively, with careful hands, touched her wrists. He pulled her hands away from her face, and his breathing hitched when he saw her tear-streaked face. "Rose, please," he begged. "Don't cry."

She immediately dropped from the window sill, threw her arms around his neck and clung to him. He held her just as fiercely.

"I'm so sorry," he said. "I'm so, so sorry."

"I know," she managed, and swallowed the accompanying sob.

They stood like that, clinging to each other, for many long minutes. When Rose finally pulled away, he offered her his handkerchief. She wiped the tears from her face, but held onto the silk square. Someone had stitched his initials in the corner in shiny green thread. It was pretty, and stained black with her eye makeup.

"What about Voldemort? What will you do?" Rose asked, her voice hollow. She felt she already knew the answer, and this conversation with Draco was just cruel, like tossing hope in her face only to snatch it away.

He was silent for a long moment, and said, "I don't know."

"Please don't join him," she said. Her face twisted up, and she was going to cry. She was going to completely lose it. She dropped her chin, and her hair fell to hide her misery.

He stroked her hair away from her face, and held her face in his hands. "I won't do anything to hurt you," he promised.

Rose shook her head. "That's not good enough."

"My family, Rose. They wouldn't under— I can't betray my family, Rose," he said. "I won't."

Rose twisted the handkerchief in her hands. She had only one card left to play, only one thing she could possibly say to make him reconsider, but it was a terrible, manipulative thing to say, and she feared it wasn't true anyway.

"If you do this, Draco, if you take his Mark and swear yourself to him—" she shuddered and looked down, so he wouldn't see this for the lie it was, "if you do that we're over. There will never be anything between us, because I couldn't lo— I couldn't love a person who'd—"

"Don't say that."

"I mean it," she said weakly.

Draco pulled her into his arms, and kissed her softly. Rose made a small, wounded noise, and pulled back to break the kiss, eyes wide.

"I love you, Rose," Draco said. "I do. But I can't promise you that."

Any hope she'd had for getting through this conversation with a shred of dignity was lost. She sobbed once, and pushed him away. His face twisted in misery, and she wanted nothing so much as she wanted to throw herself back into his arms.

Rose took one last look at Draco, and she fled.

:: :: :: ::

Rose locked herself in her dormitory, had a good long cry, took a long shower, where she cried some more, and then got dressed, and reminded herself that she had a boyfriend.

Remember him? she asked herself. Cedric Diggory, rather dishy, and so Hufflepuff you could choke on it.

Rose sprayed her wild hair with some Sleekeazy's, and brushed it until it had magically straightened out. Then she carefully applied her makeup, and gave herself a critical once over in the mirror. She couldn't muster up a smile, but she did find a neutral expression that she could hold to hide how she was feeling inside.

She dug out the Marauder's Map, found Cedric's dot, and went to find him.

He was with his friends in a courtyard where Hufflepuff's gathered, laughing at some joke. Rose paused in the doorway, and grimaced at the sight. He looked so happy. She was going to ruin that. She took a deep breath, and approached. One of his friends noticed her first and nudged Cedric, and wasn't it stupid that she didn't even know the names of all his friends? She frowned to herself.

Cedric stepped away from the circle and caught her up under his arm. "Hey," he said with a grin.

"Hi," she said, attempting a smile. "Can we talk for a minute?"

"Sure," he said, still grinning down at her, still looking happy. He had no idea what she was about to do. He led her to a little alcove, and said, "No time for snogging, I'm afraid. I've got a meeting with Professor Sprout in fifteen minutes. She's writing a recommendation for a Ministry internship for me, and she wants me to go over it before she owls it."

"Oh," Rose said. She didn't want to break his heart just before he had an important meeting with his head of house. "Well, we can talk later."

"Sure, Rose," he said easily. "I've got a prefect's meeting at seven, and rounds tonight, but maybe right after dinner? I'll have about a half hour."

Rose nodded and swallowed. Yeah, break up with the guy and then send him off to chair a prefect's meeting. She couldn't do that either. Not to Cedric.

"Maybe tomorrow," she said lamely.

Cedric smiled at her, and kissed her once, so sweetly. "Thanks for being so understanding," he said, and Rose felt like dirt. Lower than dirt.

"Anytime," she said weakly.

"I know it's been hard for us to get time alone together this year," Cedric said. "What with Head duties and studying - me for NEWT's and you for your OWL's - your re-medial lessons with Snape, and with the DA…"

"Yeah, I know," Rose said.

"But," he said, grinning and taking both her hands in his. "This summer will be different."

"This summer?" Rose frowned. "I won't be able to meet you anywhere, Cedric. I probably won't be allowed out of the house after what happened… I'd be shocked if Sirius doesn't hire a bodyguard to follow me to the bathroom…"

Cedric snorted. "Well, you won't have to leave home to see me," he said with a smile. "I'm joining the Order."

Rose blinked. "You're joining the Order of the Phoenix?"

"Yes," he said, grinning madly, "I'm going to fight the forces of evil, and to see my girlfriend everyday at headquarters."

"Wow," she said after a few moments gaping in dismay. "I— I'm speechless. I don't know what to say. That's—"

"I know," he said. "It's perfect." He kissed her, long and hard, and jerked suddenly away to check his wristwatch. "Aw hell, I'm going to be late if I don't go now."

Rose nodded, a pit was opening up in her gut, and—

"I'll see you after dinner?" he asked, and when she jerked her head in an approximation of a nod, he chuckled and kissed her again, quickly, and was gone.

Rose stood stock still for a moment, and regretted everything that had just gone wrong. She looked up at the sky, wondering why the universe did these things to her. When there was no reply, she went limp against the stone wall at her back, and let out a heartfelt groan.

That had not gone as planned.

:: :: :: ::

End Year Five.

More story notes at my Tumblr if you are interested, which is the same as my username here.