Scorpius wrapped his arms tightly around Rose’s waist. Rose clenched Albus’ wrist in her small hand. The three young adults stared out the witch who was scraping desperately against the window with bloody fingernails, as if she was trying to scratch through the glass. The witch was in her thirties, and had been beautiful once. Now her hair was matted with dirt and blood. She was missing several teeth, and her eyes were mad with fear.
A spot of dried blood was gathered at the right corner of her lips.
“Don’t let her in; she just wants to eat us.” Rose turned around and moved away from the window. She let her body slump over into one of the pub’s familiar, squashy chairs. It was funny, in a way – she’d been here dozens of times with friends and on dates with Scorpius, and in all that time she’d never once imagined there would come a day when she would see The Three Broomsticks in such a state.
The pub was completely empty, and most of the chairs and tables were overturned. Rose could imagine the scene that had transpired here when the first wave of Inferi had hit Hogsmeade. People screaming running shooting spells trying to shield their loved ones but there were too many they came crawling and stumbling and limping in…
And now those people were all gone, all dead.
Rose put her elbows on the table in front of her, and rested her face in her hands. She heard the soft sound of fabric on fabric as Scorpius drew the curtains around the window, so that they wouldn’t have to look at the wretch outside. When they had arrived in Hogsmeade they had found this place the most fit to live in, so they had settled in with their handful of belongings, casting every protective charm they knew on the place.
Albus sat down next to Rose and covered one of her freckled hands with one of his.
The wave of Inferi had surged through Hogsmeade and Hogwarts and continued to spread throughout the country. Hordes of them were situated all over Britain, in caves and forests and abandoned shopping malls. Many of those who had escaped the initial uprising had been killed because they had accidentally stumbled in on one of these hordes. And the Inferi had only been the beginning – since that first wave, all sorts of dark forces of nature had gradually begun to claim the country as their own.
Scorpius sat down on Rose’s other side and took her other hand after setting down three bottles of Butterbeer on the table. Outside, the woman’s pleas were growing into screams. Maybe something was coming for her.
Rose extricated herself from Albus’ and Scorpius’ hands, and opened herself a Butterbeer. “I s’pose it’d be a bit heartless to cast a Muffliato charm on her.”
“It’ll be over, soon,” said Scorpius in a voice that sounded grey somehow. His pale, pointed face was blurred with tiredness, and his golden hair was overgrown – it fell in waves past his chin.
Albus’ hair was getting long, too, observed Rose, and she supposed that hers was as well. Horror had given them all the same symptoms – unruly hair, tattered clothing, and dark bruises under their eyes. Rose resolved to cut everyone’s hair the next day. That had been one of her duties – they had all taken on different ones without having to discuss them. Somehow, they all just knew what they had to do to survive as a group. Rose cut hair and healed small wounds and lit fires. Scorpius took care of food and found them each a suitable place to sleep. Albus kept track of the days, and patrolled the radio stations, searching for any sign of life.
He had the little radio out now and was fiddling with the dial, but coming up only with static. Under normal circumstances, the noise would have annoyed Rose – but she didn’t mind it at the moment, as it was helping to drown out the woman’s mounting screams. The screams were not only growing louder but were losing the shape of words and becoming meaningless animal sounds. Rose thought she heard something growling, and tried not to think about what was happening outside. Maybe a werewolf maybe something worse with large teeth a wide jaw growling dead-eyed tearing through flesh…
Rose reached into the pocket of her new robes. She’d nicked them – along with a new set for Scorpius and Albus – from a shop down the street as they had passed by. Stealing didn’t really count as stealing anymore. There was no one left to steal from. Anyway, if the owner was still out there somewhere, Rose was sure that he or she would have wanted them to have the robes. Money didn’t matter anymore, either.
The robes were dark green and very soft. They were the first one Rose had seen when she had darted into the shop. Rose’s fingers searched through the soft lined pocket of the robes until they found what they had been searching for.
It was a small toy car that was missing a wheel. Rose’s fingers caressed the car’s tiny doors and windshield. She turned it over again and again in the palm of her hand.
The woman’s screams grew louder and louder until they reached their peak – one bloodcurdling, high-pitched wail. Rose squeezed the little car tightly in her pocket. Scorpius closed his eyes. Albus turned up the volume on the radio, bending over it in concentration. Then the screams slowly ebbed away into sobs, then finally into silence.
They sat in silence for a long time.
“It’s probably more dangerous around here than in the countryside, because the Dark Forest’s so close,” said Scorpius.
Albus nodded, giving up on the radio.
“Do you think anyone’s at Hogwarts?” said Rose, taking the car out of her pocket and rolling it back and forth over the surface of the table.
“Thought you’d thrown that thing away,” said Scorpius with a frown, eyeing the car.
“I like it,” said Rose. “So? Do you think there’s anyone in the castle?”
“Hard to say.” said Albus, scratching his head. “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
“If I know Hagrid, he’s probably stuck it out in his hut this entire time,” said Rose with a hollow laugh.
“Nah,” said Albus. “I remember dad telling me he went into hiding in the mountains back during the war. ‘Probably doing the same thing now, with that dumb old dog of his.”
Rose smiled, remembering that drooling, pathetic old dog.
“What about Professor Longbottom?” said Scorpius, grinning. “I’ll bet those greenhouses could fend off any monster.”
“But he’d have gone looking for his family,” said Rose. “He’s got two little kids.”
“Yeah,” agreed Albus. “But what d’you think happened to the House-Elves? It’d be great to get back to the castle and have a nice hot meal waiting.”
“They probably got out right away,” said Scorpius. “They can Apparate out of Hogwarts. Who knows where they went, though.”
The conversation went on in that vein for a while – it was, in many ways, the same conversation that they and other huddled groups of people all over the country had been having for months. Of course, it was impossible to know who had survived or what was happening in any other part of the country. Your family, your friends – any of them could be dead, and you wouldn’t know. There was no way to know, and the not knowing started to drive you insane at times, and speculating like this was the only way to keep your head.
It was a hell of a lot easier to sit around like this, joking about people you barely knew and imagining how they might have survived, than to accept the fact that all the people you loved were probably dead.
Rose tried not to think about the others, but she dreamed about them all the time. She dreamed about them dead.
Sometimes they would pop into her head in the most ordinary ways, as if nothing had happened. Once when she was walking down an abandoned row of Muggle shops she had spotted a bracelet in a shop window. It was a silver bracelet inlaid with little blue and lavender stones like mosaic tiles, and Rose had caught herself slowing down to get a closer look at it through the shattered window of the shop, thinking that it was exactly the sort of thing Dominique would wear.
Then there had been that day in autumn when they had been walking down a street that was framed by bright orange and yellow trees, just walking down the middle of the street right along the dotted white line between the two neat rows of abandoned cars, and Rose had seen a flash of red on the ground. It was sitting on the street beside the back wheel of a square white car that must have belonged to a large family. All of the car’s doors were opened and Rose could see two small children’s car-seats in the back, and lying on the street by the wheel was the little red toy car. It was lying on its back, helplessly, with its wheels in the air. Rose had stooped over and picked it up, imagining the little boy who owned it. In her mind, he looked just like Hugo – probably because Hugo had had a little toy car like this a long time ago, though his had been a bit different because it flew. It was the first thing he had ever bought for himself, and looking at the car made Rose remember that day in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes when he had marched up to counter with the proudest smile she had ever seen. Before she knew it, Rose was crying in the middle of the abandoned street, and Albus and Scorpius and Molly – Molly had still been alive then – were all around her with their hands on her back.
“There’s a flat upstairs,” Scorpius said. Albus must have asked him about the sleeping arrangements for the night. “Two beds - Rose and I can share one.”
Rose emerged from the shower, naked and dripping wet. She dried off and slipped between the bedsheets of the flat owner’s plain, white bed. Scorpius, who had already showered, took her into his arms so that they were in their usual spooning position. He pressed his lips into her wet hair, fingers touching every inch of her skin that they could reach.
It was like this every night.
Rose could remember a time – just under a year ago – when she would have loved the chance to sleep with Scorpius every night, when she would have craved the feeling of his touch and even responded to his kisses. Things were different now.
She was fairly certain that she still loved Scorpius.
She loved him, and she knew that he needed her to keep his grip on reality. All of them were slowly losing themselves to the chaos of the world. Eventually they would be lost – they would be animals like that poor woman today, creatures of desperation, preying on other humans, maybe even preying on each other.
Scorpius was on top of her and was kissing her passionately. With every kiss and every touch, Rose was saving Scorpius from insanity. She was saving him.
But who would save her?
Some days she could feel herself slipping away – like her mind was trying to escape her body because it couldn’t take this life anymore, it couldn’t take the madness and the terror and the despair. Sometimes it happened when a pack of Dementors drifted by their hiding place. Sometimes it happened when they broke into a house to stay the night in, and were greeted by the smell of its decaying inhabitants. Sometimes it happened when Scorpius tenderly caressed her body, looking soulfully into her eyes, like he was now, and she realized that in a day’s time he might be dead.
When Scorpius was finished he fell asleep quickly. Rose wondered what he dreamed about – probably some paradise world where his mother and father hadn’t hanged themselves in the privacy of Malfoy Manor.
Rose had trouble getting to sleep because she hated sleeping – it was the only thing more terrifying than being awake. She closed her eyes and tried to think of something mundane, like a recipe from her old Potions textbook.
She couldn’t wait to get to Hogwarts. Maybe Hugo would be there, waiting for her with a big grin. She could give him the toy car.
Maybe her whole family would be there, and Teddy, too. They could stay in the castle forever and Rose could read all the books in the library.
She was walking through the bookshelf-lined hallways of the Hogwarts library and it was dark and she was carrying a candlestick. She couldn’t see them but she knew that Scorpius and Albus were behind her they were searching searching searching blindly through the castle.
The candlestick dripped hot wax onto her fingers but Rose did not let go.
A voice called out her name and she began to sprint through the hallways taking sharp twists and turns and the voice kept calling and finally she came to a stop. Victoire Weasley was lying on the floor and her sweet blond head was a mess of blood and tattered flesh and her eyes were dark bloody holes in her head.
The light from the candlestick grew fainter and the droplets of wax grew thicker but Rose did not let go.
Another voice was calling out her name now and she was running down rows and rows of books and finally skidding to a stop in front of Hugo. He was turned around not facing her and then she said his name and he turned so slowly that he seemed to be still even as he moved and when she saw his face it was empty and white and he was only a shell a corn husk.
The light grew fainter and the droplets thicker but Rose did not let go.
She backed away from Hugo knowing that he was gone and turned around and Scorpius and Albus were still behind her, but their faces were strange with yellow eyes and wide open mouths that stretched from ear to ear exposing rows and rows of jagged red teeth. Rose screamed and they staggered toward her with hissing sounds and she knew that they would kill her and the light was so faint that she could only see their yellow eyes and the wax was burning her hand and so she dropped the candlestick and ran and ran and fell and then there was nothing but teeth.
Rose woke up in the dark.
Scorpius was lying face-down on the bed, fast asleep. She could hear Albus’ snoring from the next room. His brother always used to tease him about his snoring, Rose remembered vaguely. Then again, James used to find any excuse to tease Albus.
Rose smiled, and then she began to cry. She allowed herself to sob into the pillow for five minutes or so. Then she got up and made tea in the dark, still thinking of teeth.