Colin picked up another seashell, and then another one, and another, hurling them each time with more force back into the ocean when they revealed nothing to him. He paced the crescent of beach with desperation in each harried step, his hands tearing through his hair as he sought an answer. Frantic to escape, terrified to die, half of his mind was busy at work trying to figure out a way to get that flying carpet back…perhaps he could grab Orla and they could be off, they could just escape…
He yanked off his trainers and waded into the sea, cool bubbles sticking to his ankles. His black robes looked like sealskin when wet, the saturated material floating along over the water. He tried to swim towards the moon, paddling until his limbs hurt, but no matter how vigorously he lashed against the ocean, he never moved farther than eight feet out to sea.
Bitterly disappointed, Colin stomped back to the beach and wrung water out of his robes. He felt so heavy, not just physically but emotionally as well, and he thought that maybe he wouldn’t live long enough to see Round Five, anyway. Maybe his anxiety would kill him first.
He turned, nostrils flaring, and stopped short when he saw Remus Lupin standing there at the end of the road. It led right into the ocean, a path for those coming in from the depot, but could not be used in reverse. They were all eternally stuck on the two-island chain, barred from the building on stilts and the strange person within who ushered newcomers into the afterlife.
“You all right, Colin?”
Colin became suddenly aware of what he looked like – dripping wet, fingers snarled in his hair and his face as white as fear itself, gulping down shallow breaths as he staggered around the moonlit beach with seashells discarded at his feet. The shadowy silhouette of Mr. Lupin stepped closer, head tilted as he examined his former student. Colin felt the last gust of resolve pull right out of his mouth as though by force, and he lurched forward on weakened knees.
Remus hurried quickly over to keep the boy upright, arm around his shoulders. Colin hunched inward on himself slightly, head lolling into his hands as he made a faint, animalistic sound that slurred between his fingers. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”
Remus glanced at the road, where his wife was waiting. They had just fulfilled their Monday tradition of having dinner at Sirius’s house and then walking around the circumference of Cliodna’s Clock. Tonks was a slim bolt of white under a tall lamppost, gleaming like a Patronus. He waved at her to go on, letting her know that he was going to stay for a minute or two, and Tonks obeyed; she looked back at her husband over her shoulder every few steps, curious.
“What can’t you do?” Remus asked gently, giving Colin his undivided attention.
“I can’t do it,” he answered, his words taking the shape of a plea. “I can’t go into Round Five. I never thought I would get this far, I –” He choked on whatever was coming next, his enormous, dumbfounded eyes swiveling to stare all over the sand as if he had no idea how he’d gotten there. “It’s tomorrow.”
Remus nodded, sympathetic concern molding lines into his forehead. “Yes, it is, but you can’t back out now. The only thing you can do is try your very best, Colin, just remember that.”
This didn’t help him. Colin turned away to hide his panic, stomach churning with the threat to vomit. “It’s me or Fred.” He looked at Remus again, one hand idly grasping the older man’s robes. He could feel Remus’s heartbeat through the fabric, quick but not as accelerated as his own. “I don’t want either of us to die!”
“Neither do I.” Pain washed over Remus, and he looked back at the dark town in hopes of seeing Tonks still under the lamppost, but she was gone. He couldn’t imagine what his state of mind might be like if his wife was jumping into the Pensieve tomorrow. She’d helped Colin in the previous round of the Devil’s Duel, but Remus feared she might grow to regret it. If in helping him, she’d only opened the door for Colin to lose his soul… He could see her horrified face already, how much she would despise herself.
And Fred… Remus knew Fred. He knew and loved his whole family. He’d had Fred as a student, as well – and the young man was so bright, so vibrant that for the world to lose him would surely make the sun burn just a bit dimmer. Fred changed each and every life he touched, leaving smiles and laughter in his wake everywhere he went. He had no idea how precious his existence was, how his energy and brilliance made those surrounding him shine, as well. A walking light.
“I should never have signed up.” Colin hung his head. “Fred knows loads more about magic than I do.” He hated thinking like that, strategizing against the redheaded Weasley boy who’d always made his sides ache from laughter.
Remus privately agreed that Colin should not have signed up, but knew that saying ‘I told you so’ would do nothing to ease Colin’s nerves. “Listen,” he said quietly, gripping the boy’s shoulder with one firm hand. “Colin, look at me.”
Colin lifted his head, crestfallen features slipping into temporary shadow as a blackbird soared over him, blocking out the moon.
“If you could go back in time to the day you died, what would you do differently? Besides prevent your death,” he added quickly. “Think, now. Would you still have gone into battle?”
Colin didn’t even have to consider it. “Yes.”
“What else would you have done?” Remus hedged.
Colin considered this. “I don’t know,” he replied slowly, mulling it over. “I suppose I would’ve just tried to remember everything – capture it perfectly in my memory, you know?”
Remus recalled Teddy’s peacefully sleeping form. “Yes, I do.”
“That’s what Fred’s up to,” Remus went on. “I’ve seen him walking around all evening, just looking at everything, soaking up as much as he can. It’s a small goal, but an important one. I think you need to distract yourself with that.” He offered the boy a grim smile of understanding. “Tonight, my friend, there is not a soul in this village who is not thinking of the two of you. We’re all thinking about tomorrow plenty enough so that you don’t have to, as well. Just…” He trailed off, unsure of what to say. He felt that he was failing Colin miserably, unable to come up with the perfect advice to leave him with.
“Just keep your head above water,” he said at last.
Colin stared at him, not knowing what else to say, and Remus felt his hand slide off the boy’s shoulder. He patted him twice before backing away several strides. “Good luck,” he said, imparting one last grave glance at him before turning up the street. He felt like he might splinter into a thousand pieces.
But Colin had rotated on the spot, staring now over the ocean while Remus’s words rang in his head, mixing with Orla’s speculation and Colin’s own theories and the missing piece – that last, elusive piece of the puzzle – and for once in his life, everything fell into its perfect place.
Orla waited until sunrise to join him, reluctantly respecting his wishes for making herself scarce the previous night. Orla found the whole prospect of everlasting death to be utterly fascinating, not at all something to fear, and frequently wondered out loud what it might be like in one’s final moments, the sort of things that would run through your mind. It was something Colin could deal with by day, when the bright world spun around him with plenty of distractions to invade his senses – smells of the bakery, the soft sloping of sand under his feet, the fluttery conversations of the village pouring into both ears. By night, in the quiet and the dark, it was more prudent to be alone.
“I don’t remember what my final thoughts were, after all,” she said to the morning mist, sitting side-by-side next to him in the sand. The ocean was a mixture of gold, red, and vivid orange, reflected in the dawn. It might be the last dawn Colin would ever witness, for today he was fated to go head to head against Fred Weasley in the most intense fight of his life.
But all of this was suspended in the back of his mind as he turned and looked at her, mouth twisting into a quizzical frown. “How exactly did you die?” he wanted to know. “You never did tell me.”
The girl looked away, uncharacteristically perturbed. Her gaze settled on a bird flying in a loop far out at sea, searching for a way out of whatever they were trapped inside but finding itself perpetually enclosed. “To be honest, I don’t remember,” she said at length. “I think that…there might’ve been a werewolf...” She trailed off, frowning sadly. “I can remember pain. It took me a while to die.”
She shook her head emotionlessly. “I don’t know. I could be wrong about the werewolf – like I said, I really don’t remember it. For all I know, I fell into a cauldron.”
He scrutinized her, wishing she would brush the fringe out from behind her glasses so that he could view her properly, wondering if he would ever indeed find out. He was standing on the giant clock in Twisted Towers once again, listening to it tick, waiting to drop into the unknown. He felt like Orla remembered more about her death than she was letting on, but he would never dream of disturbing her comfort by pushing the issue.
He bit his cheek, tasting the salt of the ocean there, and drummed the fingers of his left hand against one knee. “Well, how would you like to spend what could possibly be my last day?”
Orla grinned. “Thought you’d never ask.” She reached into her robes and withdrew a familiar object – Colin’s camera. “I think you should take some pictures, help mark down your life.”
They toured Cliodna’s Clock in the bustling morning, everyone around them staring at the boy whose hourglass was swiftly depleting, the two teenagers taking it in turns to snap pictures: The view of the sky from inside the ceiling-less Town Hall, the Grotta, Regulus through his window, pouring a cup of tea while Sirius perused Godric Gryffindor’s first-edition autobiography. And there were tons of pictures of Orla and Colin, too – solemn at first but then smiling, wider and wider, in clicks and flashes of Colin Creevey was here.
They passed Fred, who bestowed a white-lipped smile, eyes tight with worry. Colin snapped a picture of him, as well, and the developed photograph that soon appeared in Colin’s hands was that of a young man with slumped shoulders and no smile for anyone, although he deigned to wave at a few people who called out to him, wishing him hearty wishes for a long, prosperous life. Wishing him luck.
Orla grabbed the camera from Colin’s hands and he chased her throughout the village; she took pictures as she ran, of the tree houses and the cliff dwellings and the underground burrows, and Colin collected the ones she let fly out of the camera’s slot, not bothering to pick them up. He stuffed a load of them into his pockets – shots of random strangers and a whole series of Vesper Lovegood arranging flowers in a vase – until he had no more room. When he found the last one, a picture of a white oak tree twisting up into a ‘Y’ shape, blurry because Orla had been running while she took it, Colin slid it into his shoe and kept going, shouting out at her to slow down.
She would not slow down. Orla evaded him easily, forcing Colin to focus on her and only on her so that all other thoughts were drowned out. Orla mapped Cliodna’s Clock in pictures, a sea of faces that should have been permanent but unfortunately could not be, pondering to herself which of them would be missing in the years and years to come.
They started passing out the photographs at random. Some looked confused but others seemed to realize what they were doing, and by evening they had delivered photographs to each and every townsperson they could get their hands on. Pieces of Colin, through his eyes and Orla’s, would still be here tomorrow even if he wasn’t. It was Dumbledore’s wisdom fleshed out, the ordinary magic of memories enabling Colin to live forever.
They captured those memories, making them immortal, spreading them to the masses so that they would be sure to remember Colin, too. At sunset, which arrived much too soon for his liking, Orla clasped his hand and they walked together to City Center, to the one place they had not ventured too close to all day: The Pensieve and stands, most of which were already starting to fill up with viewers. It was rare that the residents of Cliodna’s Clock were given the chance to watch all five rounds of the Devil’s Duel from so up-close, the perfect bird’s-eye view of everything Colin and Fred would soon endure.
Colin met briefly with Mr. and Mrs. Lupin behind the stands before he walked out into the open. They’d wanted to personally and privately wish him good luck, to give a bit of advice along with their strongest reassurances that he would do well.
And then it was time.
Colin swallowed thickly, recognizing a head of ginger hair lighting the way in front of him, his own face as pale as Colin’s. Only two people would join Claudius next to the giant scallop serving as a seashell, such a contrast from a few weeks ago when there were ten of them standing there, nervous but also excited, their anxiety diluted due to the chance that they had five opportunities to be eliminated. The prize was grander from the perspective of Round One, much more worth the risk.
“Hi,” Fred croaked. Colin nodded vaguely at him, looking as bad as Fred felt.
If he won, Fred hoped he would never forget how awful he felt just then, finding his place next to Colin Creevey as Orla slipped past. She picked her way over to the stands and shoved herself between Ariana Dumbledore and Regulus Black. Fred didn’t want to forget how much he regretted signing up whenever the prospect of another twenty-four hours loomed in a year from now, when news of registration swelled during the month of May. It would be exciting anew, and tempting, but he willed himself to remember, to remember, to never forget.
He glanced sideways at Colin, taking in the nauseated expression on the face of a boy renowned for his undying liveliness and joy, and he knew then that he would always remember.
Fred searched across the rows of familiar faces – Orla tilting forward with her wide eyes, drinking it all in, with Regulus right next to her, matching Fred’s own gaze with a look of pity, and Dumbledore leaning across the aisle to speak to Armando Dippet, and finally the Potters (along with James’s parents) and the Lupins, Vincent and Cedric. Scrimgeour was there, too, with Snape three chairs behind him and even little Peter Pettigrew lost somewhere adrift. Each of them were keenly aware that it could have been them down there with Ptolemy, but fate had decided against it.
Fred turned and watched Colin stare at the row containing Remus and Tonks. Remus’s face was a mask of poorly-hidden dread, with Tonks looking quite ill at his side. Remus slid his arm around Tonks’s shoulders while James Potter, who was seated nearby, took his wife’s hand in his own.
Fred and Colin were quiet as the blazing sunset descended on them, igniting the planes of Claudius’s face with radiant fire. He smiled sadly at the two lone contenders, extending both arms to his east and west as if he meant to embrace them.
“Ahh. It is a sober day in Cliodna’s Clock,” he began. “Today one of our number will achieve eternal glory and the other will soon be gone forever.”
How? Fred wanted to ask. What happens to the person who loses?
“Years of practice has taught me that the fifth round is an experience best dealt with sooner rather than later,” Claudius continued, and Fred’s heart rate sped up. No, it’s fine, really. Slow down. Take your time. Take forever…
With another grim smile that Fred was certain did not reach Claudius’s eyes, the older man retrieved two glass phials from his robes. They were empty. He stepped towards them, wand lifting outward. “I’ll be requiring a bit of cooperation from the final contenders of Victus and Mortuus,” he explained, glancing quickly at Cliodna. Cliodna was hidden under her veil but she shifted her face infinitesimally, and Claudius aimed his wand higher. It found its mark on Fred’s right temple.
“You will be dueling inside your own combined memories,” he told them. “In the Battle of Hogwarts.”
A gasp spilled out around the stadium, many hands flying to their mouths. Fred looked aghast, but that was nothing to the damage on Colin’s face – he was wan and sickly, sweat beading all along his hairline. Claudius pressed the tip of his wand harder into Fred’s temple and Fred squeezed his eyes tightly shut, feeling one long memory extricate itself from a mess of others, yanking away from him against his will. Images of George and Ginny and Rookwood, and Percy dueling Pius Thicknesse, passed before his eyes without invitation, and then they were gone.
A silver thread, like a tiny cloud, was now attached to Claudius’s wand. He directed it to one of the empty phials and guided it inside, and then corked it. A greedy glint lit up his eyes as he then turned to Colin.
Colin opened up his mouth to speak – to object? – but he glanced again at the audience and pressed his lips firmly closed. His eyes shut just like Fred’s had when Claudius prodded around in his brain for the second day of May, to unravel the terrors out of his mind and make them real once again. The memory flowed from Claudius’s wand to the second phial and Claudius held them both up to the light to examine them.
“The objective of this round is to make yourself survive – and by that I mean your other self,” Claudius went on. “Your doppelganger in the memories, the ones who were really there at the time. You must find your actual selves as they lived and breathed, and actively prevent their deaths. Within the confines of this memory and with the aid of Cliodna’s special magic, you will be able to change the course of your lives.
“If you fail, you will have to watch yourselves die all over again. If you win, you will get to see what it would have been like to survive, what might have happened next. You must continue to protect and spare your former selves, all the while trying to destroy your opponent’s doppelganger. Mr. Weasley, you will be expected to prevent Mr. Creevey from protecting his doppelganger, and vice versa.”
Fred’s wand slipped out of his hand, clattering against the ground. He did not notice. Colin bent down to pick it up and handed it to Fred, who accepted it without even being aware of his own movements. When the wand passed from Colin’s hand back into Fred’s, it became a weapon.
“You will not be visible to your former selves or to anyone else participating in the Battle, but you will be able to see each other,” Claudius said, gesturing between Colin and Fred. “Whoever keeps their former selves alive until the deadline of one o’ clock in the morning – one o’ clock in the memory, that is – will win Round Five. If one of you kills the other’s doppelganger, that qualifies as an instantaneous win.”
He paused. “Any questions? If not, then I shall count down from five.” He winked. “May the best man win.”
Neither Colin nor Fred could speak, even if they had wanted to, and were still trying to process the information when Claudius started to count. How had they gotten to June thirtieth already? What had happened to the endless eternity they’d been promised?
“Five,” Claudius began, the word as smooth as ice.
Fred half-wondered why Claudius waited until the eleventh hour to give them the rules and objectives, to tell them what they would be doing. Giving them this precious information at the last second put them at a horrible disadvantage. They could not plan, they could not absorb what was laid before them. Their ears rang with every sentence and by the end of the speech, much of what they could remember was already becoming garbled.
Claudius swerved to dump the memories into the Pensieve, and a swirling silver gas rippled across the surface. The boundaries between both memories were easily discernible, as they were unwilling to congeal together. They made fizzling noises of electricity, of static, when they touched; thin, jagged bolts of lightning flashed just underneath the stormy waves, illuminating the shadowy silhouette of Hogwarts Castle.
Colin’s gaze locked on the black castle, on the spells he could already see that formed a barrier around it. Tiny dots representing people flocked far, far below, students, teachers, and the Order of the Phoenix preparing themselves to fight against the Death Eaters. Fred could remember seeing it all from ground level, watching the spells shoot into the clouds like fireworks, sparkling over turrets and towers before molding themselves into force fields soon to be destroyed.
Lily Potter was crying. James pulled her tightly to him while Fred stared; Colin was gazing in a similar fashion at the Lupins, and it was at that precise moment that they received the full effect of signing up for the Devil’s Duel. Those they loved were more scared for them than they could be for themselves, because they did not have time to be frightened. They had no time to grasp for final words and goodbyes.
Their time was up.
Together, Fred and Colin twisted sideways into the thrashing Pensieve, their bodies flickering with the lightning their memories created when fused into one substance. The audience held their breaths as the bodies swam away, growing smaller and smaller until they were tiny enough to join the raging fight against Lord Voldemort.