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A Series of Unrelated Events: The Anthology by Tsubasa Kurono

Format: Short story collection
Chapters: 21
Word Count: 32,367
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Strong violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Fluff, General, Horror/Dark, Humor, Mystery, Romance, Angst, Young Adult
Characters: Harry, James, Lily, OC, OtherCanon, Newt
Pairings: Arthur/Molly, Harry/Ginny, James/Lily, Ron/Hermione, Rose/Scorpius, OC/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 04/22/2019
Last Chapter: 05/29/2019
Last Updated: 05/29/2019

Summary:

A collection of experimental one-shots based on J. K. Rowling's Wizarding World. From the seven Harry Potter books to the Fantastic Beast films, from the Marauders' era to the Next Generation kids—regardless of the universe or timeline these characters are from, the magic of the Wizarding World lives on in these seemingly unrelated stories showing a glimpse into their lives beyond what we think we know from the established canon.

 

All chapters are standalone fics unless otherwise stated.



Chapter 1: Inkspiration (Daily Prophet; OC)
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"Argh! No… No!"

 

It was the umpteenth time Betty Spotters, all alone in the cramped office of the notorious Daily Prophet, crushed her working draft and tossed the ball of paper over her tense shoulder. Stealing a quick glance at her wristwatch, the young intern journalist couldn't help hissing out a curse. Merlin's pants—the deadline to complete this crap-of-an-article was closing in a few hours, and the mess of crumpled parchments strewed around her workplace only served to worsen her growing anxiety. So much so that the agitation had knocked her glasses askew, slipping off the bridge of her nose before landing on the table with a clatter.

 

Betty squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. She was at a loss; with her current state of mind, there was no way she would be able to spit out the words to finish this stupid article in a flourish. Who cares about Blaise Zabini's latest rumored girlfriend? Like mother, like son. This news is getting old—boring!

 

…Oh well. She was no Rita Skeeter, after all.

 

With the soreness between her eyes easing up after the little break, she put the glasses back on her face and stood up. Didn't the editor order a new stock of ink a couple of days ago?

 

Maybe the drying ink she had been using all this while was the cause of her horrible writing.


Moments later, after a trip to the storage room, Betty was back at her own desk with a new bottle of ink—along with a mouthful of dust. The coughing fit made her slam the ink bottle down harder than intended. Thank goodness she hadn't remove the seal just yet, or else she would have more than her dripping snort to clean up.

 

Anyway, back to work.

 

She threw away the old ink bottle in the direction of a lovely—and carnivorous—rubbish bin, smirking to herself when she scored a point at the satisfying sound of breaking glass. She then returned her attention back to the new bottle of ink, unscrewing the cap slowly, her heart skipping with every round till it popped off, forcing her to reel back at the strong smell of fresh ink.

 

Together with the smell of rekindled inspiration.

 

The rest of the night felt like a blur to Betty. In her state of excitement, the quill in her hand danced across the parchment with such finesse that the flickering candlelight around the young journalist seemed to sway with every scratch on the paper.

 

With an impactful full-stop to denote the finality of her hard work, she put down the ruffled, blackened quill and picked up the completed article. Admiring her flawless cursive penmanship, feeling smug at…

 

What's this?

 

Her wide eyes were dangerously close from bursting out of their sockets as she read on.

 

What the bloody hell is this?

 

Betty redirected her exasperation to the new ink bottle she had gotten from the storage room, but soon the furrowed brows shot up as she dashed back to the said room. A handful of knocked-down boxes and bruises from walking into the sharp edges of the metal cabinets later, she finally reached the opened carton. There was a note stuck on the back of the box:

 

To All Staff,

 

Please do not—I repeat, DO NOT—use the self-correcting inks from this box as some idiot had accidentally hexed them with a self-swearing curse of sorts. Mr. Willington will come around to collect back this defective stock and exchange a new one tomorrow morning.

 

Your Beloved Editor,
Howard Tunor


As the silence of the dead night dragged on, all that was left on Betty Spotter's desk was a pile of ash. Amongst the bits of burned parchment, there was a piece that managed to escape from its doomed fate. A name, distorted by the jinxed ink, that read:

 

Bitchass Zippernut.



Chapter 2: Quidditch Quirk Times, Issue #101002 (Daily Prophet; Ginny, OC)
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CHINA WINS RIGHTS TO HOST THE 2018 QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP IN THE MIDST OF A BLOODBATH
From the Daily Prophet's Quidditch correspondent at the Queerditch Marsh, Ginny Potter

 

Controversies have shrouded the popular, international sensation for centuries, but it has never been this bloody, this brutal, with casualties counting up to thousands. We are not talking about broken noses, arms, and ribs on the pitch, or the usual taunting from the hideous Veelas mascot team—we are looking at a nasty war that has begun before the match has even happened.

 

In whatever was left of the conference hall in the International Quidditch Convention Centre located at Queerditch Marsh in Manchester, England, the International Confederation of Wizards Quidditch Committee (ICWQC), the International Quidditch Association (IQA) and the Federation Internationale de Quidditch Association (FIQA) have officially declared China as the host of the 428th Quidditch World Cup. The name of the country itself has sparked widespread protests across Europe and the United States of America, with many believing the Chinese magical ministry had bribed—even threatened—the international committees into giving them the hosting rights for the next Cup.

 

The decision, made behind closed doors in the 10,000-seat conference hall, turned ugly when the votes was a close 249 against 247 votes out of a total of 500 (with four discarded votes from Japan, South Korea, USA, and Australia) that passed without a second voting round to determine a clear winner between hosting finalists, China and Russia. Disgruntled members, especially from the European and American countries, began to verbally attack those in the higher council, and soon it escalated into an all-out tussle of terrible spells and flying furniture, with rumours that Unforgivable Curses had been used to force those opposing their cause into submission. Aurors from the British Ministry of Magic had to be sent in to restore order and get the injured ones to St. Mungo's for immediate treatment. At least fifty were reported dead.

 

"The decision is final," said a dishevelled Mentor Metaxas, the current chairman of ICWQC, at the press conference and handover ceremony held outside the ruined hall. "We urge all wizarding communities to exercise restraint and acceptance regardless of your personal feelings and opinions, and instead give our best wishes to China to show us the most exciting Quidditch World Cup of the century."

 

Speaking at a private interview session approximately one hour after the ceremony, Xu Junpeng, the Chinese representative for IQA, has made the following statement:

 

"You can be rest assured that we will present you with the best Quidditch World Cup the world has ever seen since its inauguration. The Muggles of our homeland had already proven themselves with the spectacular Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, and obviously we are going to give you an even better show than what our Muggle people did in the upcoming Quidditch World Cup."

 

However, it is nowhere enough to quench the rising anti-Chinese sentiments among those from the West. "That's a load of bullshit," said an officer exiting from the conference hall who did not wish to be named. "The recent investigations of illegal experiments to produce magical children in their despicable laboratories, the ongoing wizarding rights issue, and even their questionable, cruel training regime for their own Quidditch teams—the list of heinous absurdity goes on and on and on. Who in their right mind would trust such a vile species like them?"

 

No words from the Ministry of Magic's office has been issued regarding the gravity of this unfortunate incident, although there are leaks about ministry workers on leave have been called back to work overtime to help to ease the worsening situation. Temporary laws and curfews have also been put in place to maintain order among the wizarding community in Britain and avoid magical exposure to the Muggle world due to uncontrolled riots.


MUGGLE TECHNOLOGIES APPROVED FOR USE IN THE 428TH QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP
By the Daily Prophet's intern journalist, Betty Spotters

 

Today is the day that marks a new chapter in the history of Quidditch, the day the most popular wizarding sport in the world will receive what the Muggles have called 'simultaneous broadcasting'. No more overcrowding of the competition site, no more headaches over dreadful crowd controls and travel regulations—these are only a few examples from the host country's to-do list each time the Cup is held on their very soil.

 

Putting aside the horrifying aftermath when China has won the rights to host the Cup in 2018, this upcoming event is the first step to embrace advancement in our magical ways to keep up with the evolving Muggle world of the 21st century. Latest recording and filming equipment will be employed—with proper, controlled magical enhancements—to broadcast the Quidditch World Cup live from the Taklamakan Desert to all wizarding communities across the globe via televisions. Live commentaries will also be available through radios, with the Wizarding Wireless Network endorsed as the official radio station for the game. Talks are underway to explore the possibilities of using other media outlets such as what the Muggles call the 'Internet', but progress has been slow on the required work to be done to prevent unsuspecting Muggles accidentally tapping into the wizarding line. (Mrs. Ginny Potter, our lovely Quidditch correspondent, has kindly told me that in the Muggle world, the term is known as 'hacking'.)

 

While the younger generations welcome this news, those from the older era rebuff the idea. "This is blasphemy!" said a woman who wished to be identified only as Mrs. McLaggen. "Are they trying to Mugglefy us?"

 

The term 'Mugglefication' was first coined by an American wizard student named Jackson Drake, who originally came up with it as a pun joke that quickly became a trending word in the US magical institution, the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, before it spread to the rest of America, and later to the wizarding communities around the world.

 

Inside sources from the International Quidditch Association (IQA) have expressed concern at how prejudice against Muggles have not improved much over the years:

 

"Well, there are slight improvements in Britain and some parts of Europe after the Second Wizarding War. Even with Mrs. Hermione Weasley rising in power as the new Head for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement pushing for equal rights to protect Muggle-borns, nothing has changed in the other wizarding communities. Some have even escalated to an extreme division between pure-bloods from the 'tainted, worthless' ones as seen in the Middle East and countries such as India.

 

"On one hand, witches and wizards born after the 20th century are more open and receptive to use magic alongside the latest Muggle technologies; on the other hand, their parents and even grandparents are still deeply stuck in their old, traditional ways, too stubborn to accept change and move on with the new era."

 

Although the Chinese magical ministry is vying to handle the technological procedures of this groundbreaking attempt on their own, the IQA is enlisting assistance from the Japanese magical ministry instead, for Japan is the earliest country to have employed the use of Muggle artefacts and technology into the magical lifestyle of the Japanese wizarding families.



Chapter 3: Be My Valentine (Mahoutokoro; OC x OC)
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Valentine's Day in Mahoutokoro is far, far more intense than what you can ever imagine compared to the likes in Hogwarts. After all, it's a big day in Japan, magical or not. The day where girls and women all over the country of the rising sun will be at war. Fighting with chocolates, over for the boy of their deepest, darkest desire.

 

While British witches and wizards are well-fed by the house-elves in the kitchen under the Great Hall at Hogwarts, the Japanese take pride in self-sufficiency—all students and staff do their own meals. So much so that Cooking has been a subject in Mahoutokoro's curriculum for as long as anyone in the school can remember, and every house has their own kitchen labs for the students to hone their culinary skills to greater heights.

 

Anyway.

 

Let us put our wands together for Kana Asakura from Seiryu—the house of the Azure Dragon—who will be our heroine of this little fluff as she battles against kitchenware to bake the perfect chocolate cookies for her not-so-secret crush.


"Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration," Kana muttered to herself while waiting by the oven. "Food cannot be outright created nor conjured from nothingness." She then pulled out her wand and twirled it in her hands to ease her nervousness. "In Muggle Studies, it's often associated with the Law of Conservation of Energy: energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transforming from one form to another."

 

"You're sure a hardworking one, huh?"

 

She was taken by surprise by a voice that spoke out behind her. She didn't recall anyone else booking the kitchen at this timeslot other than herself… She turned around, her eyes widened when she recognized the speaker.

 

"…Koizumi-kun? What brings you here?"

 

"I smelled something," the boy named Ryu Koizumi said as he bent forward, eyeing the oven with a raised eyebrow. "Something… burning."

 

"Oh no," Kana exclaimed at the tray of soot she had pulled out of the oven. "Not again." This was the fifth time she had failed. Even after making sure all the ingredients were flawless, all the amounts were spot on, all the steps were perfect…

 

It's always about the timing.

 

She gave the intruder a sideways glance. The timing couldn't be any worse.

 

Ryu cupped a hand under his chin as he studied the blackened, circular pieces on the tray. "What are these supposed to be? Cookies?"

Kana could feel the heat on her face rising. He shouldn't be here—why was he here? She had to get this housemate out of the kitchen, and fast. "I'm busy right now. Can you leave me alone, please?"

 

Ryu seemed reluctant to leave. He gestured at the mess around the kitchen. "You look like you need the help—I mean, this place looks like a literal war zone—and I can help you. Besides," he paused, turning around to face Kana, the tip of their noses almost touching at the extreme closeness. "Who are you baking the cookies for?"

 

"It's…" Kana glanced away, avoiding Ryu's curious stare. "…Nothing. Just go away."

 

"Uh-uh." The dark-haired boy refused to take heed of Kana's annoyed attempt to get rid of him. "You only make me want to stay here more." He added a triumphant smirk to reiterate his point.

 

With defeated resignation, Kana turned her back on Ryu. "Suit yourself." She just didn't want him to see the twisted look on her face now—of elation, eagerness, restlessness…

 

Ryu shrugged at her, picking up the scattered utensils on the kitchen table with a wave of his wand. "Oh, I will." Much to Kana's chagrin, where it acted as a constant reminder of her incompetence in the kitchen.


"We… did it."

 

The aroma of freshly baked chocolate cookies felt like a satisfying victory to Kana. She almost forgot the numerous failures that preceded this successful attempt. Including the fact that she had just hugged a boy—the boy—in all her excitement and relief, she forgot that she had been spending her whole time with Ryu.

 

Just her and him.

 

Ryu was as oblivious, his attention still on the cookies. "Yeah, we sure made it this time." He reached out a hand for one, only to be slapped away by Kana. "Hey!"

 

"It's not for you."

 

Kana was amused at how quickly Ryu's expressions had changed from joy to disappointment. "Hey, without my help you've already blown up this place. No rewards for my hard work, really?"

 

The way he pursed his lips when things didn't go his way. How cute.

 

But the girl refused to buy his puppy look and retorted, "I didn't ask for your help—you forced yourself to stay, remember?" She didn't want to admit her true feelings for him. Not yet.

 

"I didn't force myself to stay," Ryu replied, with a twinkle in his dark eyes. "You did."

Wait, he can read my mind? How? "H-Huh? Wha—"

 

"Your cookies," the boy went on, swiping one off the tray. "Is the drive." And he stuffed it whole into his mouth.

 

Kana was too stunned to react, to even stop him from stealing their hard work. She could only gape at him.

 

"This is good," Ryu commented. "Are you sure it's not for me?"

 

"Stop thinking so highly of yourself." Kana had to throw him a scathing look to regain her composure. "But… yeah, you can be my—what's the term?—lab rat. Yes."

 

"That's all?"

 

"I told yo—" Before Kana could complete her sentence, Ryu had his lips on hers, filling her mouth with the sweet scent of chocolate cookies. Her—no, their—handmade chocolate cookies.

 

"…This, is the reward I want." Ryu's breath felt hot against Kana's ear. "And my answer to your Valentine, Kana-chan."



Chapter 4: Third Time is the Charm (Next Gen; Scorose)
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ACT ONE
First Year


"School robes: check. Potion supplies: check. Now we're left with your schoolbooks at Flourish and Blotts, and then your wand at Ollivanders—"

 

"Mum, stop," said an exasperated Rose Weasley. "I'm not a baby anymore. I'm already eleven."

 

"But you're still a child—my child," Hermione had no intention of letting the matter go, her shrill voice filled with worry. "Of course I'm anxious! There's no way I'd let you go to Hogwarts unprepared!"

 

Rose rolled her eyes at her mother. While she was happy that Hermione had taken a day off from her busy Ministry work to spend more time with the family, the unnecessary fussing was turning the supposedly joyful shopping trip sour for the young girl.

 

Even her father, Ron, seemed to agree with her. "Hermione, calm down," he sighed, shaking Rose's new cauldron before his wife's bulging eyes. "It's Rosie who's going to Hogwarts, not you." Rose's little brother, Hugo, watched their parents with wide eyes, appearing to enjoy the rising drama between his older family members.

 

"But—"

 

Rose had enough of it. Throwing an annoyed look at her mother, she snatched the coin pouch off her father's belt and stormed away, leaving a furious Hermione and an amused Ron behind her.

 

She ducked into the nearest shop she could reach, where she was greeted by a chorus of hoots and screeches the moment she stepped into the darkness inside. Pairs of yellow eyes turned their attention to the surprised girl, who only pulled out of the shock when a strong, pungent smell hit her nose. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dim lighting, a realization struck her: she had ended up in Eeylops Owl Emporium. Among the mess of ruffled feathers stood a boy of her age, who was staring at her curiously.

 

The boy had short, neatly combed white-blond hair, wearing a black (or was it dark green? It was hard to tell in the ill-lit shop) robe that seemed to be a size too small for him, for the cuffs didn't cover his wrists and the hems didn't reach to his ankles. On his shoulder was a screech owl with a queer-shaped brow around its eyes, nibbling away at the boy's ear. It took every ounce of Rose's willpower not to laugh out loud at his comical, feather-covered appearance.

 

Something about this stranger felt familiar to the young redhead—she had a vague feeling of seeing him somewhere before—but she just couldn't recall where from the top of her head. Shrugging, she flashed an awkward smile at the boy. "Um… hi."

 

The boy seemed to freeze momentarily when she called out to him, still oblivious to the owl on his shoulder, which had now proceeded to poke the back of his sleek hair with its beak. His lips trembled in a silent struggle trying to find a word to say, only managing to blurt out a grunt that sounded like he was trying to choke himself with his own tongue.

 

Rose turned away, pretending to be interested in a minuscule owl flapping happily in its cage to hide the smirk on her face. "Are you a Hogwarts first-year like me? I'm Rose Weasley, by the way."

 

"S-Scorpius. Scorpius Malfoy," the boy stammered. "And… yeah, I guess we're both the same age."

 

Rose looked up to face the boy again. The sound of his name rang a bell in her head, but why? Her eyebrow arched with amusement at his flushed cheeks, which pushed the nagging thought to the back of her mind. Now that her head had cooled off from the irritation at her mother, maybe it was time for her to return and reconcile with Hermione. "Pleasure. I'll see you in school then."

 

"W-Wai—" Scorpius raised his voice trying to stop the pretty girl, but she had already turned on her heels and left the shop in a blur of scarlet.


ACT TWO
Second Year


It was the first time Rose came to the platform this early, without breaking a single sweat from the usual mad rush and chaotic din over forgotten possessions. All thanks to Miyu Kisaragi and his family, whom the former was best friends with her older (not to mention, "Undesirable Number One") cousin, James Potter. The Kisaragi wasted no time dragging the Potters and Rose's family out of their rooms at Leaky Cauldron at five in the morning when it was still dark outside. Miyu's mother, Yuko Kisaragi, also went the extra mile to make sure all the kids had finished packing their trunks the day before, under her stern supervision.

 

Trust the Japanese for their no-nonsense attitude towards punctuality.

 

She raised a hand to her mouth to hide an unladylike yawn. When the three families had reached King's Cross station, it was only a quarter to ten—which meant that they had slightly more than an hour to spare, to kill the free time around the platform before they board the gleaming red train for another year at Hogwarts.

 

Rose never had the opportunity to stroll down platform nine and three-quarters so casually like this, watching her schoolmates and their families chatting idly on the benches or leaning against the walls. Catching the train always felt like a race against time to her, so she really welcomed this change of pace. There was even a little shop at the end of the long platform, selling an assortment of goods ranging from the same snacks and sweets that they could buy from the trolley lady on the Hogwarts Express, to last-minute school supplies such as emergency inks and quills.

 

Exiting the said shop was her Slytherin schoolmate, Scorpius Malfoy. Still blond and pale as ever, with his beloved screech owl sitting on his shoulder. It reminded Rose of the first time she had met him at Diagon Alley the year before, except that this time his feathered friend was unusually quiet.

 

"Hey, Scorpion," she called out to the boy in a joking tone. "Fancy bumping into you here."

 

"Hello Rose," Scorpius greeted back in a soft voice, his ears went pink at the affectionate way the girl had uttered his nickname. "Ssh, Cassie is sleeping."

 

Rose still couldn't help feeling amused at the name Scorpius had picked for his pet owl. "But why 'Cassiopeia'?" she asked, walking up to him so that she could stroke the bird. "Is it because of the W-shaped brows around her eyes?"

 

Scorpius looked away; he always seemed uncomfortable whenever Rose tried to close the physical distance between them. "Something like that, yeah…"

 

"—I like the name, though," Rose went on, ignoring his almost inaudible mumble as she patted the owl's head. Cassiopeia made a soft click and puffed her feathers lazily, clearly enjoying the touch. "It's beautiful just like her."

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Rose caught a strange look flashing across Scorpius' face. "What are you smirking at?"

 

Scorpius went rigid, his nervous eyes looking everywhere but the frowning redhead before him. "N-Nothing," his voice sounded higher than normal, and he coughed to cover the embarrassing slip.

 

"Oh, really." Rose continued to stare at the blond boy for another minute, then she straightened up, shrugging. "Stop with that creepy smile. Otherwise, people would think you're up to something."

 

That did wipe the grin off Scorpius' face. "Sorry—ow!"

 

Cassiopeia was awake, and she nibbled hard on the boy's ear. Scorpius tilted his head to his owl as he was about to give her a piece of his mind, but it also made him notice two approaching figures—his parents.

 

His father, Draco, didn't seem pleased with his son talking to the red-haired girl. "Scorpius, come here," he drawled to the boy, glaring between the two children with his cold, gray eyes. "We don't have time to waste on the Weasleys. It's time to board the train."

 

Scorpius hung his head as he dragged himself to his father's side. Cassiopeia screeched at Draco, and Rose thought she saw the owl's oddly shaped brows furrowing with anger at the man.

 

Her own dad, Ron, was right. The Malfoy family was as shady as their reputation… or at least the parents seemed that way to her. She didn't find Scorpius as awful as his father; on the contrary, she felt that the boy need to grow some backbones of his own.

 

Enough to have more self-confidence.

 

She would come to regret making that wish the following year.


ACT THREE
Third Year


The Three Broomsticks Inn was lively as usual. Though Christmas was still a month away, Madam Rosmerta wasted no time decking out the cosy interior with colorful lights and merry bells magicked to synchronize to the beat of the songs played in the store, and a real coniferous tree that was shrunk to fit indoors, decorated with sparkling fairies greeting every customer who entered the doors in a high-pitched, melodic chorus.

 

Even so, the joy didn't reach a table situated at the far end of the bar—where Rose was seated, with a crestfallen Scorpius across the third-year girl.

 

"Cheer up," she said, sighing over her almost-finished Butterbeer. "Cassie will be fine. Have more faith in her."

 

"I can't help it," Scorpius groaned, covering his face with his gloved hands. "She's been away for weeks, and I really missed her."

 

Even if it sounded stupid in her mind, Rose couldn't help feeling a pang of jealousy. To think that a mere pet was far more important to him than herself… What kind of blasphemy is this?

 

"Scorp, please." She was feeling tired at the waves of negativity emitting from the boy before her. "I'm sorry to say this, but Cassiopeia is worth twelve of you."

 

"That's… harsh."

 

The Gryffindor redhead rolled her eyes at him. Her initial excitement at Scorpius' invitation to spend their weekend together around Hogsmeade was ruined by his owl-sickness. What's more, today was a very special day to her.

 

Her birthday.

 

She drained whatever Butterbeer was left in her mug and slammed down the empty glass. "Whatever. I'm leaving."

 

"Rose!" If she wasn't feeling so annoyed, the ridiculous look on Scorpius' face would have been a hilarious sight to her. "Please don't leave me! I'm sorry!"

 

Ignoring Scorpius' pleas behind her, the furious redhead walked out of the bar. The colder air outside on the street did nothing to quell her frustration at the Slytherin boy. In all the heat of her anger, she was completely oblivious to the pointed stares and gossips around her.

 

"Rose!" Scorpius' voice sounded far away against the whistling wind. "Please, don't do this! It wasn't meant to happen this way!"

 

"Tell me about it!" the Gryffindor girl turned around and yelled back, the arms crossed before her as a silent message to the boy that she wasn't about to forgive him just yet. "You're worse than James when it comes to sensitivity. I'm really disappointed with you right now."

 

"Please forgive me," Scorpius panted, running up to Rose and grabbed her hand. "I beg you. Just wait for a bit longer."

 

"And why should I?"

 

Scorpius's face turned scarlet at the question. "Not here," he muttered, keeping his head down as he dragged a surprised Rose down Hogsmeade. "Let's go somewhere quieter."

 

Rose didn't object and allowed herself to be led away from the crowd towards the Shrieking Shack. "Well, what is it?" she finally asked once they were alone before the deserted building far from the packed street. "Why so mysterious?"

 

Scorpius only looked up at the sky. "Soon," he murmured. His anxiousness only made Rose even more curious… Then she realized she wasn't angry with him anymore.

 

A moment later, Rose heard a screech she knew so well—Cassie's call. Exhaling slowly, she gave her Slytherin friend a sideways glance. "See? I told you that she'd be fine. She's—"

 

Wait, what? The fiery-haired girl widened her eyes when the screech owl dropped a package into her open palms before landing gracefully on her shoulder. "What's going on?" She was bewildered at the blur of emotions on Scorpius's face: of relief, excitement, nervousness, embarrassment…

 

Cassiopeia nudged her beak against the side of Rose's head and hooted softly. The Gryffindor girl looked between the owl and her owner. "It's… for me?"

 

"O-Open it."

 

The package was small and squarish, wrapped in some kind of silver paper with a gold ribbon. Peeling off the wrapping revealed a maroon velvet box. Something about it made Rose narrowed her eyes at Scorpius.

 

"…Is this what I think it is?"

 

Scorpius merely replied with a knowing smile. "Just open it."

 

Rose opened the box… and her jaw dropped at what was inside.

 

"Scorp," she breathed, not believing her eyes. "What— Why—"

 

"Happy birthday," Scorpius beamed at her, the happiness seemed to brighten his usually pale face. "I hope you'll like it."

 

It was a gold coin with an owl-shaped imprint on the head side of its face. The owl seemed very familiar, with odd-colored eyes—the left was a red ruby, and the right a green emerald.

 

"Took a while to get this made," Scorpius explained sheepishly, scratching his cheek with a finger. "Had to keep this a secret from my dad and all."

 

"It's gorgeous," Rose gasped at the unexpected present. "But…" She glanced sideways at the owl again. "What's the meaning of this?"

 

"You know how you always talked about Cassie's weird eyebrow feathers?" said Scorpius, his eyes still trained on Rose. "And you always asked why I named her 'Cassiopeia'?"

 

Rose turned to stare at him, then back at the owl next to her face.

 

"Because she reminds me of you."



Chapter 5: The Poly-pumpkin-juice Potion (Marauders; James, Sirius)
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To the sixth-year James Potter, Potions was both his favorite and most despised class at Hogwarts. Favorite mostly because of his longtime crush—Lily Evans—seated at the table before him, and partly because getting on Professor Horace Slughorn's good side was a piece of cake, so long he could slip something of decent rarity into the Head of Slytherin's greedy hands. The bad? It was obviously none other than the slimy oddball at the other side of the classroom, huddled with the cronies from his own house.

 

Severus Snivellus Snape.

 

Not that he, the most brilliant student of his cohort, was bad at the subject. James had no complaints of being beaten by Lily the Potions Mistress, but he didn't like being in third place after Snape—an insult to James' intelligence and skills!

 

His best friend and number one partner-in-crime, Sirius Black, didn't even need Legilimency to read James' mind. "So, Snivelly beat you again in last week's quiz," said Sirius in a low voice, leaning closer to peek at the grade on James' paper. "I already gave up keeping track of your losing record since the OWLs."

 

James rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. You're just jealous that I'm ranked above you."

 

"I just find it amusing how much you've changed all because of a girl," Sirius snorted, eyeing pointedly at Lily who was sitting in front of his friend.

 

"…Shut up."

 

"Mr. Black," Slughorn's pompous voice boomed at the two Gryffindor boys, trying to get their attention back to today's lesson. "Would you be kind to tell the class the total approximate time required to brew a Polyjuice Po—"

 

"One month," Sirius answered without giving Slughorn a glance, still staring at his friend. "Honestly James, it's weirder now that you aren't much of a toerag anymore."

 

Sirius' comment was, unfortunately, loud enough to cause raised eyebrows across the class. Any ordinary person would have wished to die from shame, but James was too extraordinary to feel any embarrassment at the blatantly obvious insult from his best pal.

 

"Well, isn't that great?" James replied, blinking once at Sirius in mock bewilderment. "I'm doing Hogwarts a favor by being an obedient boy for the remaining two years I'm here."

 

James' only response was complete silence in the dungeon, sans the bubbling cauldrons over the crackling fire. Nobody was amused at his terrible joke; not even the Marauders.

 

"Boys," Slughorn sighed at them to break the awkward stillness. "I'd appreciate if you can do me the same favor by paying attention to my class, and not exchanging sarcasm behind me like bickering housewives."

 

That did shut James and Sirius up, in the midst of scornful sniggers from the Slytherins and resigned facepalms from the students of other houses. Lily, however, threw a look of disdain at James before turning her back firmly at him, determined to ignore him for the rest of the lesson.

 

If James was oblivious to the whole world around him, at least there was one thing he couldn't turn a blind eye to. "Now you've done it," he hissed to Sirius from the corner of his mouth. "You made her angry at me."

 

"You're unbelievable," Sirius was at his wit's end. He raised his hand to get Slughorn's attention. "Professor, I think James is probably drunk on a powerful love potion. Do you have any antidote to put him to sleep this instant?"

 

Slughorn glanced between James and Sirius with a frown, not at all pleased to have such an important class being disrupted every few seconds. "…Well, did he?"

 

"Professor," Lily was even more annoyed at the escalating stupidity. "May I request that the class continues on without any further interruption? There are some of us who are here to study, unlike a certain insufferable bigot over there." She glowered at James to make her point.

 

James went rigid in his seat, his cheeks felt a little hot at the eye contact (even if the reason was something completely different). As much as he was aware of his own arrogance, he wasn't exactly as insensitive as he appeared to be. After six long years at Hogwarts, he was slowly—but surely—growing out of his spoiled self, becoming more mature.

 

Definitely more mature than the likes of Snivellus Snape, of course.

 

The rest of the lecture went without another hiccup from James' love-sickness, and soon the students were given their first project-based homework: to correctly brew a Polyjuice Potion by the end of the month, and the best sample would receive a vial of Felix Felicis from the professor.

 

Now that was what James would call a real motivation. Who doesn't want to have a bit of Liquid Luck for a good day? He couldn't help sneaking another glance at Lily's willowy back as the class was dismissed.

 

"I won't let you have that thing, Prongs," Sirius had to spoil his moment with a snide mutter. "The fight is on."

 

"Not me—I'm only third in class, remember?" James rolled his eyes at his friend. "In fact, we'll have to join forces if we ever want to beat the top two in Potions before us." His sight landed on the departing figure of Snape trotting behind his Death Eater buddies.


A month had passed in a blink of James' drooping eyes. Among all the students, only Lily, Snape, James and Sirius managed to successfully brew the Polyjuice Potion. Peter Pettigrew had screwed up the order of the preparation process, and the end result was a watery yellow-brown mess that smelled like piss. Remus Lupin had forgotten to add lacewing flies; James knew that he didn't brew it properly on purpose, to keep his werewolf identity a secret.

 

"Excellent!" Slughorn seemed to be in a great mood today. "I didn't expect to have more than one or two to actually made this far, but to think I'll see four! A new record! Wonderful!"

 

The professor paced back to the front of the classroom and clapped his hands together. "However, only one winner will walk away with the lucky potion, so here comes the real test." The smile on his face widened. "You will add a bit of your partner's hair into your potion, and transform into your partner. Whoever can stay in their disguised form the longest will earn themselves this little bottle." He gestured to a vial filled with molten gold-like substance in the middle of the teacher's desk.

 

James had to set his jaw to stop his face from breaking out into a grin. For the sake of winning this personal contest with his arch-nemesis (and even his unrequited lover), he had spared no effort in getting the best ingredients with the equally sleepy Sirius in tow. He even had to thank Remus for discovering a wild bush of quality knotgrass just a little way outside of the Shrieking Shack.

 

He snipped a lock of dark hair off Sirius' bangs, and the latter did the same to James. James dropped the hair into his own Polyjuice Potion, where it immediately turned into an orange-red liquid. It reminded him of pumpkin juice… and the thought made him shudder a little. He probably wouldn't see his house's trademark drink the same way again. Out of the corner of his eye, he was relieved to know that Lily had chosen to take the hair of another Gryffindor girl, while Snape was bullied into using Mulciber's hair.

 

"Here goes nothing," James muttered to himself as he took a swig of his potion—Sirius' essence tasted like roasted turkey—and he started to feel like his entire body was on fire. He slammed the emptied glass on the table, gripping the edge with his other hand as he swallowed down the urge to scream at the agony.

 

As sudden as it had come, the pain stopped, and James straightened up from the table. He felt woozy when he looked through his glasses, forcing him to take it off to see better. Was his eyesight that bad? He also felt a little taller, becoming more aware of the strange stares some of the girls were giving him.

 

Was this how it felt like to be Sirius? To see things from his perspective?

 

As the lesson went on, the disguises of the four weren't showing any signs of wearing off. Slughorn was amused.

 

"I see that the four of you sure have put in a lot of effort in your Polyjuice Potion." The professor gave a sideways glance at the Felix Felicis on his table. "Seems like I'll have to wait for another day to make the final verdict."

 

"Professor," Lily asked, with slight anxiety in her voice. "Shouldn't the effect be wearing off after an hour or two?"

 

"Usually, yes," Slughorn replied, looking between the four with a hand under his chin. "But an unusually well-brewed Polyjuice Potion can allow the drinker to stay in disguise up to twelve hours."

 

"Twelve?" Lily exclaimed. Regret began to show on her face.

 

"Don't worry," Slughorn tried to reassure the Gryffindor girl. "Polyjuice is only used for human transformations—which all of you did splendidly—so there shouldn't be any complications to revert you all back to normal."

 

James glanced at Sirius, who had already fallen asleep on the table with the former's appearance. It still felt weird to James to see his own face on someone else's. Guess he'd be stuck as Sirius Black for the rest of the day.

 

Which James would soon realize that being Sirius Black was much more than he could have bargained for.


No one else beyond Potions class knew about the identity switch. The moment he had sat down at the Great Hall table (as Sirius), he was immediately swamped by a parliament of owls, filling his area of the table with parcels of various sizes.

 

"Still as popular with girls as ever, eh?" one of the boys around him teased. "Better throw those spiked with love potions away. Girls in love can be really scary sometimes."

 

James didn't know how he should react. He only had eyes on Lily ever since Day One at Hogwarts. "Yeah, right. Sure."

 

The boy stared at him. "You seem… different today."

 

"Really?" James could only manage a weak smile and left the Great Hall in a hurry. How was Sirius able to keep up with such madness for six years?

 

He almost bumped into Sirius—still disguised as James—as he rushed back to the Gryffindor Tower. Sirius was in as much shock as James was. "Whoa, that scared me."

 

"Me too."

 

The silence between the pair continued on as they sat across each other in the armchairs. "This feels… really weird," Sirius began, adjusting the glasses on his face. "And you have terrible eyesight."

 

"…Yeah."

 

"There's something I've to tell you." Sirius looked to the side. Taking in a deep breath, he blurted out, "I'm sorry."

James was confused. "About what?"

 

"Well…" Sirius scratched the back of his head—or the head that looked like James, or whatever—and continued slowly, "Peter wanted to help you and tried to jinx Lily and Snivellus' cauldrons, but the spell backfired and blasted their potions, including mine."

 

James bolted upright in his seat. "Wait… WHAT?"

 

"As a last resort, we had to use your Polyjuice Potion as a stand-in to refill all the destroyed cauldrons, or else it'd be suspicious." Sirius shrugged. "But I wasn't expecting your potion to be this effective."

 

"You didn't!" James roared, pulling out his wand and fired a curse at the guy he thought was his best friend. "Tell me you didn't!"

 

"I said I'm sorry!" Sirius yelped, jumping out of his armchair to dodge the spell before pulling out his wand to defend himself against James' wrath. "It was all an accident!"


The chaotic wand duel in the Gryffindor Common Room became a shameful topic that not even Minerva McGonagall, the Head of House for the Lions, would ever want to talk about, but it became one of the many incidents that led to Lily's acceptance for James. Even she came to believe that Sirius was the one who had finally snapped at James, not the other way round, thanks to the power of rumors and gossips.

 

A white lie that only James and Sirius knew the truth. A secret bond that further deepened the boys' friendship.

 

It all began with a mess, and everything ended in a mess.

 

All was well.



Chapter 6: 出会い - Meeting (Fan Beasts; Newt, OC)
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If losing his magical briefcase back in the United States wasn't bad enough, losing his important notes for the second edition of his bestselling book—Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—was much, much worse.

 

Especially in the middle of a foreign land where he couldn't understand the language.

 

Newt Scamander arrived in Japan—also known as the 'Land of the Rising Sun' in some books featuring this mysterious Eastern country—about a week ago. He came here via a passenger ship from the Californian harbor, after finishing the rest of his research on American magical creatures and paying Tina's sister, Queenie Goldstein, a quick visit. He was supposed to meet up with a Japanese liaison wizard going by the name of Fujino, but all the street signs were gibberish to the Magizoologist. He couldn't even ask for directions from the locals, who were giving him curious glances as they passed by him.

 

Much of Japan was still trying to recover from its devastating destruction in the aftermath of the Second Muggle World War. Even though Newt knew that there was nothing he could do for the war-torn Japanese, his heart couldn't help aching at the sight of their awful living conditions. He did want to reconsider this visit, but Fujino told him in his letter that the best time to study this magical creature was "at the height of despair". That made Newt curious just what this beast was, the last push convincing the British wizard to come to Japan.

 

However, Newt didn't expect a hurricane to hit the country the very next day of his arrival. The storm left nothing but a trail of destruction in its wake; worse, it took his precious research notes with the debris around him into the air. Even if he managed to recall a few pages with a Summoning Charm, the power of nature was truly beyond the league of any magic. Of course, he didn't give up hope so easily without quick-casting a tracing spell so that he still had a way to get back his scattered notes… somehow.

 

Except that he didn't know where to begin his search.

 

Even so, he knew he had to start somewhere. Newt strolled down the rubble-filled roads with a hand in his coat pocket. The setting sun dyed the cloudy sky in clashing shades of purple and red, a beautiful sight to behold, which contrasted strongly with the current crumbling state of the town.

 

He didn't know where he was going. The hand in his pocket was gripping onto his wand, waiting for any reaction from the notes hidden nearby. The rows of shophouses were replaced with the wilderness as he walked further away from the suburb; the shadows around him growing darker as the night began to fall.

 

When Newt was sure there was no one around, he pulled out his wand and muttered, "Lumos." The tip of his wand lit up, illuminating the path before him—a flight of steps crudely carved from the rocks in the ground, with a series of ascending, red gate-like structure arching over the meandering way. He remembered that these gates were called 'torii', symbolizing the transition from the profane desires of the mortal world into the sacred land of a Shinto shrine.

 

Ah, there must be one nearby, maybe at the top of this hill. The Japanese believed that the purest spiritual yang energy was usually gathered at the peak of the highlands, far away from the chaotic yin that was abundant among the humans living below. The summit was also the closest gateway to the Heavens, to where the gods and goddesses the people worshiped were residing.

 

It was in Newt's nature to keep an open mind towards every magical creature he had come across in his life and his research, but there was something about how the Asians (like the Japanese) were devoted to the supernatural that made him respect them. It was beyond just bedtime stories to put children to sleep—they didn't just fear the creatures like how the Europeans and Americans did simply because they represented the unknown; something the humans couldn't control. The Asians had learned to accept these magical beings in their world, co-existing with them, offering each other their needs in exchange for protection and other benefits. A win-win for both sides.

 

As Newt climbed higher up the rocky stairs, his surroundings had become so dark that he could barely see a few steps before him, even with the wand light. His heart skipped a beat when he heard a sudden caw from above, the sound amplified by the dead stillness of the inhabited woods. The climb was also tiring the wizard out; even if he could attempt short-distance Apparation to make the climb a tad easier, he didn't dare to try in such an unfamiliar place in case he splinched a limb by accident. Furthermore, it was impertinent of him trying to cheat under the eyes of the gods waiting in the shrine at the top.

 

Compared to his physical agony, the eerie silence was worse. Newt's first visit to Japan to study the kappas a couple of years ago had taught him not to underestimate the magical creatures here. The Japanese took their way of the magical arts very seriously, so much so that they believed that magic was closely related to one's emotions and spiritual balance. Every person had both light and darkness inside them; one couldn't exist without the other. Finding the balance between the two opposing ends was the key to maintain order and peace, to prevent a person to stray too far from the righteous path. That was the basis of their embracing nature: understanding that there was no absolute good and bad in the world, regardless of human or creature.

 

If only the wizarding community in Europe and America could be as open-minded towards magical creatures as those in Asia.

 

Newt stopped and leaned against a torii to catch his breath. He didn't know how long he had been climbing the stairs—he couldn't even tell how long this path would stretch on before he could reach the shrine. It was almost the end of autumn and the weather was getting colder, but beads of sweat lined on the British wizard's forehead, where he wiped them off with his sleeve. At that moment, he thought he saw a flash of white before his eyes.

 

"Who's there?" He waved his wand around him, but the dim light from the tip did little in the pitch blackness. In fact, he felt like the darkness was swallowing his wand light, bit by bit. Then he recalled his drifting thoughts about embracing the darkness.

 

"…Nox."

 

To his surprise, instead of experiencing blindness the moment he was plunged into the blackness, what greeted him was a shimmering, ghostly fox before his widened eyes. There was something familiar about it, but Newt was too shocked to remember.

The fox turned around and hopped up the rocky stairs, leaving a trail of blue, haunting flames behind it. The strange wisps of fire seemed to glow brighter than his wand light, bathing the shadowy forest around him in a bluish hue, while the red in the torii became black.

 

Newt couldn't help gaping at the sight. "Beautiful," he breathed in awe.

 

The aching in his legs seemed to have subdued, so he continued his climb while following the trail of cerulean flames. Each time he passed under a torii, the carved words on its two pillars glowed white. He could feel his muddled thoughts, his fear… all his negative emotions being washed away as he walked further up the steps. He felt lighter and free—like there was some strange, positive energy coursing through his body, purifying his soul from his burdens, filling him with hope and tranquility.

 

The narrow path began to widen, then the rockiness was soon replaced by a platform of sorts. A torii that was much larger than those he had seen along the way towered before him, guarded by two stone fox statues. Beyond the torii was an oriental structure—the shrine. The ghostly fox sat before the entrance, its tail swishing slowly behind it. It must have been waiting for him to reach here.

 

What intrigued Newt more was a figure standing next to the fox.

 

On closer look, the figure belonged to a pretty Japanese lady in a miko's attire—a white haori for the top, ending with a red hakama—who gave Newt a bow when he stopped right in front of her. "I am glad to see you safe," she said in accented English. "It is dangerous to wander around this hill at night."

 

Newt returned the bow before asking, "Are you… a shrine maiden here?"

 

"No," the lady shook her head. "I was here for my training, and then I foresaw you coming here."

 

Newt's eyes traveled down to the ghostly fox next to her. "Is that…?"

 

"Yes, I summoned a familiar of Inari to guide you here," the lady replied, bowing once more. "This shrine is one of those that was built to worship the god of fertility, Inari."

 

"I'm sorry for the trouble," Newt gave the lady an apologetic smile. "I was just trying to look for the notes I've lost."

 

The lady raised an eyebrow, and pulled out a stack of papers from the front of her haori. "Do you mean this?"

 

Newt couldn't believe his eyes when he took the papers from the lady. "Yes," he gasped as he flipped through the notes. It was even arranged in order, starting from the time he was in Greece researching on ashwinders, to Iran to follow the myth about a certain white rooster. "Thank you. Thank you so much."

 

"You are welcome," the lady beamed at him. "You used a very interesting spell on these papers. That really helped me to find them all from the forest around here."

 

Newt looked up and stared at the lady. "You did mention something about summoning a god's familiar… I take it that you're an Onmyoji?"

 

"I am surprised that you know about us," the lady exclaimed. "Yes, I am from one of the families blessed with spiritual powers from our gods to exorcise evil. I am Yuriko of the Kisaragi Clan."

 

"Yuriko Kisaragi," Newt echoed her name. "Pleasure to meet you."

 

"The pleasure is mine, too," Yuriko bowed her head. "I read some of your papers while waiting, and I am interested in your work." She looked up at the night sky. "I can feel your love for these magical creatures that you are researching on. Instead of fearing them like most people do, you sympathize with them."

 

Newt gave Yuriko a sideways glance. He felt extremely lucky to meet someone who could share his vision, his feelings for his field of study, through such an amazing encounter like this. "I feel that not every beast is a danger to us if we treat them correctly and with the respect they deserve," he said. "They are not detestable beings; they are our friends. They have every right to live in this world with us as much as we do."

 

"However, humans are not a sharing being." Newt could hear a hint of sadness in Yuriko's voice. "That is why we fight. We go to wars. We do not want to share. We want to own the things for ourselves." She squatted down to stroke the ghostly fox. Even though her slim fingers seemed to pass through it, the fox appeared to enjoy itself.

 

Newt chuckled. "But that's not entirely true, isn't it?" He knelt down and gazed at the fox. "This magic you're using—I think it's called 'Onmyodo'—is one that's built on the connection between witches and wizards with the spirits, right? You can call forth this little one to help me because of the bond you share with it."

 

"You are able to follow its guide because your heart is pure," Yuriko said in a quiet voice as she looked into Newt's eyes. "The kitsunebi—foxfire—will only show the way to those who are in a real need, but taunts those whose intentions are vile. The kitsunebi may light the path for you, but it is your own will to walk down that very path."

 

"Hang on," Newt muttered, pulling out his wand to conjure a quill and a bottle of ink. "I need to write that down." Which made Yuriko let out soft laugh.

 

The conversation went on under the starry night sky, amongst the sounds of quill scratching and lighthearted laughter.


Years later, Yuriko received an owl mail from Great Britain. She was astonished at the brown-feathered bird, one that was an extremely rare sight in Japan, and it took her a minute to recollect herself to notice the parcel the bird had brought with it.

 

She opened the parcel to find a book inside. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Second Edition. There was a note on the cover page:

 

Turn to page 172.

 

Yuriko did as the note had said, then her eyes widen at the page. An entry about the kitsunebi that she had told a certain Caucasian man back at a shrine in the middle of the night.

 

At the end of the entry, there was a line that read:

 

Dedicated to Yuriko Kisaragi, who was the shining light that guided me out of the darkness.



Chapter 7: Jealousy (Pre-Next Gen; Hinny)
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The cry of their first child—a son—made Harry Potter broke out a smile of relief. The Healers wouldn't let him into the delivery room to be with his wife, Ginny; they felt that his tense presence was more of a distraction than a help to the mother-to-be who was going through a somewhat difficult labor. Especially not with how he couldn't stop pacing before the room, rushing up to every Healer who came out or even went near the room's door.

 

It was so unlike him to be so anxious like this. He could deal with Death Eaters and dangerous magical crooks who were after his life without batting an eye, yet right now his heart was pounding madly in his chest as he waited for the news about Ginny and their firstborn.

 

He wondered if this was how his own father, James, had felt. He wondered if this was how a father-to-be would feel towards their first child.

 

It took almost five years for Harry and Ginny to finally settle down and ready to start a family. They had married the year after the end of the Battle of Hogwarts; they were still young, barely past nineteen, with a bright future before them now that Voldemort's anti-muggle reign was no more. Harry could go on and fulfill his dream to become an Auror, while Ginny chose to take the skies into a short but thrilling time playing Quidditch professionally for the Holyhead Harpies.

 

Harry's father-in-law, Arthur Weasley, hadn't been feeling well as years went by. Age was finally catching up to the old man, and he had been prodding the couple to give him a grandchild or two while he was still around to shower them with love, with everything he knew before leaving for a new journey in his afterlife. It wasn't pressuring per se; after all the lovelessness, the cruelty that he'd been through in his childhood days, Harry had sworn to himself that he didn't want his own children to go through the same pain as he did. He would give them all the love he could offer. He would want his kids to receive all the love they could from everyone around them. To never let the history repeat itself again.

 

To prevent the creation of another Tom Marvolo Riddle: born without love, grew up without love, and died without understanding what love meant.

 

He could remember a few of the many quotes the late Albus Dumbledore, a man he had and would always admire, had told him:

 

"You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think we don't recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?"

 

The dead he loved had never left him; they were always in his heart. They were the guiding light to show him the way out of the darkness, and they were the memories he so deeply cherished, his sanctuary to keep him onto the right path in times of chaos and insanity.

 

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

 

Voldemort couldn't touch him directly because of his mother's blood, Lily's blood, flowed within him. The blood of Lily's sacrifice to protect her son from Voldemort's inhuman pursue for immortality. Even though he eventually took Harry's blood to recreate a body for his comeback and rendered Lily's protection invalid, Voldemort's lack of understanding for the power of love was one of the causes of his downfall.

 

He recalled the time the Sorting Hat tried to put him in Slytherin:

 

"You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that…"

 

He had been thinking if it was the Horcrux, the piece of Voldemort's soul within him, that made the Hat felt he should be in the House of Snakes… But something that Dumbledore had said to him would nag at his mind:

 

"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

 

Gryffindor's sword had appeared in the Hat when he needed a weapon during his fight against the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. It had appeared again before Neville Longbottom, a fellow Gryffindor who had barely shown many qualities akin to the House of the Lion. According to Dumbledore, only a true Gryffindor could have pulled the sword out of the Hat. He later realized that the sword did not answer to them because of the house they belonged to, but because their determination and courage willed it to appear before them.

 

Harry had always been curious about the parents he barely knew aside from the photo album that Rubeus Hagrid had gifted him in his first year. He learned about the darker truth behind his father and the Marauders through Severus Snape's memories, but even so, Harry did not resent his father for bullying Snape, nor Snape for selling the prophecy out to Voldemort and caused the death of his parents.

 

"The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should, therefore, be treated with caution."

 

The sight of a Healer exiting the delivery room pulled Harry out of his own thoughts. He was glad that he was finally allowed to see Ginny and their newborn son, and he did so in a few wide strides to the redhead lying on the bed with a baby in her arms. The young one chuckled when Harry bent down to take a good look at him.

 

"He looks just like you," Ginny began, stroking the baby's head gently with a finger.

 

"But he has your eyes," Harry commented with a raised eyebrow. A deja vu. He couldn't help feeling amused as those words left his lips.

 

Ginny giggled. "He has his mother's eyes," she said, winking at her husband. "Now where have I heard that before?"

 

Harry smiled at the tease. "Have you decided on the name for him?" he asked, playing with the baby's small hands with a finger.

 

Ginny glanced up and stared at Harry in the eye. "I think you should be the one naming our boy. And I know you already have a name in mind. It's all written on your face."

 

Harry nodded. "James Sirius."

 

"To honor your father and godfather?" Ginny arched her eyebrows at the name.

 

"Yes. For all the sacrifices they'd made to protect me… Out of their love for me." And he loved them all the same, too.

 

"I like it," Ginny flashed her husband a grin of approval. "But at the same time, I can't help having a bad feeling about it. Aren't your dad and Sirius troublemakers during their Hogwarts days?"

 

Harry's eyes twinkled behind his round glasses. "Who knows? Regardless if he's going to inherit my dad's and Sirius' legacy, he is our son, and that's all that matters. Besides," he added with a smirk. "Maybe he might get some mischief-making streaks from your twin brother George instead."

 

They shared another lighthearted laughter and the conversation came to an end, with Harry leaving St. Mungo's in a merry mood while Ginny and their baby son had to stay in the hospital a little longer.

 

To Harry, James Sirius Potter was a gift from heaven. The result of his strong love for his wife, for his friends, his family… and everyone who was precious to him.

 

The greatest love of all.



Chapter 8: Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Fan Beasts; Queenie x Jacob)
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Somewhere in New York City in the brownstone at 679 West 24th Street, a certain blond-haired witch was pacing around the second floor of the apartment, where every step was accompanied with a jitter.

 

Memories of the day before still felt like a dream to Queenie Goldstein. She vaguely remembered sending a letter through No-Maj mail to someone (and it was her first time!), even buying the finest wine on her way home. She couldn't recall decking the house in full Christmas decorations with magic, much to the chagrin of her older sister, Tina.

 

"Queenie," there was no mistake to the tone of resignation in Porpentina Goldstein's voice. "You really don't remember a thing? You were acting strangely since yesterday. Are you sure you are alright?"

 

"I… don't know," Queenie whimpered, equally baffled. "Everything felt like a blur to me. I remember thinking about going to the bakery to try his new product and… Oh."

 

Now it all made sense—it all began when she had the urge to drop by Kowalski Quality Baked Goods.

 

Tina was clearly not amused. "Don't tell me… You are inviting Jacob here?" She walked up to Queenie, glowering at her sister in the eye. "Are you mad? The Rappaport's Law aside, you know that Mrs. Esposito doesn't allow men in the house!"

 

"About that…" Queenie's face broke out into a smile. "Mrs. Esposito will be away for a week. Something about visiting her relatives in California for Christmas."

 

"That's not my point." Tina wasn't backing down, her hands on her hips as she continued to glare at her sister. "You know there's no turning back, Queenie. It's over the moment he was oblivated in the rain—"

 

Queenie's eyes hardened. "No, it isn't."

 

"Queenie, be reasonable."

 

"I know where to draw the line, thank you very much," the blond witch snapped back, with a note of finality in her tone. "I've already sent him an invitation—with an order for a chocolate cake. That isn't a breach of the Rappaport's Law there, yes?"

 

Tina could only let out a tired sigh at her stubborn sister. She knew a losing battle when she saw one.


Jacob Kowalski arrived at the doorstep of the Goldsteins' home at six o'clock sharp on Christmas Eve evening, with the cake that Queenie had ordered in a huge box decorated with red and green ribbons. Tina had a smile on her face as she invited the man into the house, but anyone who had used Legilimency on her would know that the brunette didn't like this idea. Not one bit.

 

Queenie had been busy in the kitchen an hour before Jacob showed up. Since she couldn't use magic in front of a No-Maj later, she had to race against time to get all the food prepared as quickly as possible. It was a pretty hectic afternoon; something that the usually easygoing Queenie wouldn't like to do, but tonight was different.

 

She was doing this for the man she loved.

 

"Hello," Jacob greeted the blond witch when he reached the second floor, with a poker-face Tina bringing up the rear behind the man. "I smell something good. Did you make all this by yourself?" He pulled out a chair from the dining table (that was already filled with a lavish Christmas feast) to put down the cake box.

 

"Yes," Queenie breathed, beaming at Jacob. "It's not much, but I gave all my best."

 

"Not much, you say?" Jacob exclaimed. "This is lovely! They all look very delicious! I can't wait to dig in now."

 

The praise made Queenie blush until Tina's fake cough pulled the blond witch out of her own bliss. "T-Thank you. I guess we can get started with the main course, and then we'll get to the cake."

 

"Of course, of course," Jacob sat down at the table. "Well, let's get started while it's still piping hot, shall we?"


Much of the dinner conversation revolved around Jacob and his bakery—about the inspirations that had helped him created the monster bread series, and ideas for his upcoming cake designs. Queenie enjoyed watching him in high spirits. Peeking into his mind, her smile widened at his thoughts filled with the man's passion for pastries.

 

So pure, so sweet… like his love for breads and cakes.

 

Jacob turned around, which made him notice that Queenie was staring at him. "Uh, is there something on my face?" He raised a hand to rub his chubby cheek, giving the blond witch a curious look.

 

"Oh, no," Queenie replied hurriedly. "I'm just happy to see that you're happy. Your smile really helps to bring out the joy in all of us."

 

Jacob let out a choking cough, looking at Queenie with a mixture of surprise and embarrassment. "Thanks, I… guess?"

 

Queenie felt a squeeze in her heart. There was so much more she wished she could tell him. "I really like your pastries," she said, locking gaze with Jacob. "There's something magical about them."

 

"Really?"

 

A warning glare from Tina made Queenie swallowed the rest she wanted to say. Closing her mouth, the blond witch stood up to clear the table so that they could move on to the cake that Jacob had brought.

 

It was a round chocolate cake that imitated the design of a tree trunk, with a huge Merry Christmas in strawberry icing written on the flat top and the side decorated with pink sugar roses. What captured the eyes of the Goldstein sisters was the miniature occamy figurine that circled around the cursive words.

 

"Beautiful, ain't it?" Jacob winked at the ladies. "I'm actually quite proud of this, if I've to say so myself."

 

Tina stared at Jacob in the eye. "Do you know what it is?"

 

"No," Jacob shrugged. "I had a strange dream the night after I received Queenie's letter—" he gave the blond witch a sideways glance, "—that I was in a storeroom of some kind, and there was this long, serpentine creature wreaking havoc until someone lured it into a teapot to trap it. I sketched down the design the next day I woke up. I just knew that I had to make this."

 

Queenie raised her eyebrows. It seemed like he might not remember the names and the finer details, but his memories of their adventure with Tina's boyfriend, Newt Scamander, was coming back bit by bit. Even so, she knew she couldn't tell him the truth.

"Oh, really? That sounds… kind of fun." She flashed a knowing smile at Tina, in which the latter returned with narrowed eyes.

 

The light conversation went on as they ate the cake, and Queenie brought out the classy wine she had bought days ago to go with the dessert. Jacob was in a very good mood, and soon his face began to turn beet red as drunkenness took over the man.

 

Queenie supported Jacob as she led him to her bedroom to let the man sober up, while Tina was left to clear up the remaining mess in the dining area. The blond witch set Jacob down slowly on her bed. "Are you alright?"

 

"Dis is—hic—nuthin'," Jacob slurred. He then clutched his head with a hand. "I prolly feel better after a good night's sleep."

 

"I can make some tea for you to ease your headache," Queenie said and stood up, but Jacob grasped her hand and pulled her back down onto the bed.

 

"W-Wait…" Jacob hiccuped, studying Queenie closely. "Y-You… You look familiar."

 

Queenie didn't say a word. She waited for Jacob to continue.

 

"I have a feeling…" Jacob hiccuped again. "I feel like it's not my first time here in this room. And I feel… really hot in here whenever I see you." He placed his hand on his chest. "My heart would always skip a beat each time you visited my shop… I think I'm in love with you for a long time."

 

Even though Queenie knew what he was going to say with her Legilimency, hearing those words coming from his mouth had a different impact than reading the thoughts from his mind. His real voice hit her harder in her heart than the whispers she could pick up from the man's thoughts.

 

Queenie leaned in and kissed Jacob on the lips. The latter went limp at the sudden escalation of events, too stunned to even react.

"I love you for a long time, too," she whispered into his ear. The wizarding law was the least of her worries now that she had received his confession. "And you just gave me the courage to fight till the end—to do whatever it takes so that we can truly be together."

 

And she kissed him again.

 

And again…



Chapter 9: Winter in the Burrow (Post-Hogwarts War; Romione)
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Six months. Six months had gone by since the Battle of Hogwarts… and the first kiss Ron Weasley had shared with Hermione Granger.

 

Even with the euphoric victory over Voldemort and his Death Eaters, there was still so much more to do for the wizarding communities across Europe to recover from the aftermath of the war. Beneath the hard-earned peace, the tragic losses and the deaths of their loved ones would continue to haunt them all for the rest of their lives.

 

Ron shook his head. What was wrong with him, getting all sentimental about something that should be left behind him now? This would be his first Christmas of the new era.

 

And the first time he could spend the holiday with the girl he loved.

 

…Until he glanced down at his bandaged leg, and frustration welled up inside him once more. It was a stupid accident, really—the kind that only toddlers would make trotting through the crunchy, snowy grounds with their short legs, before falling, face-down, into the freezing ice… Except that Ron tumbled down an angled slope before breaking his leg against the trunk of a tree to stop the fall. Even worse when his sister, Ginny, and her boyfriend, the Harry Potter, dissolved into howling laughter at the comical incident.

 

To cut the long story short, Ron was left behind at the Burrow to watch the house alone and nurse his injured leg, while the rest of the Weasleys went out for Christmas shopping.

 

Ron could only let out a sigh as he scratched the bandaged leg. The young man was bored—something about the eerie silence in the usually noisy house didn't sit well with him. The dripping sound of the leaking tap in the kitchen, the ticking gears from the magical clock in the living room, and the occasional scuffles of the gnomes in the attic were all supposed to be everyday ambiance to Ron, but he couldn't help fidgeting at the unnerving quietness.

 

How un-Gryffindor-like of him. The last thing he wanted was to give Harry and Hermione more reasons to laugh at his inferiority complex when compared to his best friends.

 

Regardless, Ron needed something—anything—to dispel the rising nervousness before he truly lost his own mind. He dragged himself to the dining area with a mug of steaming hot chocolate. A small sip on the drink was enough to stop his trembling frame as warmth filled up inside of him, but it couldn't pierce through the cold loneliness that tightened around his heart.

 

Ron leaned over the kitchen counter to peer out of the window. The sky was getting darker, and the sound of the roaring wind was getting louder—a sign that a snowstorm was on its way. A long, tired sigh escaped his lips when finally moved away from the window and slumped into the nearest chair at the dining table.

 

To think that watching an empty house is far more boring than trying to stay awake during a History of Magic class—

 

A sudden rumbling noise from the living room made Ron almost fell off the chair in surprise. Wincing, he supported himself with a hand on the table as he tried to get up, the other hand pulling out his wand.

 

"W-Who's there?"

 

The rumbling noise turned into a deafening crash as a blast of green flame shot out of the fireplace, scorching the moth-eaten armchairs and painting the walls in black soot. A figure tumbled out of the cloud of dust, and Ron's eyes widened when he recognized who the person was.

 

"…Hermione? What… How…"

 

"Oh, hello Ron," his bushy-haired girlfriend greeted back, breathless as she choked a little at the smell of the burning couches before extinguishing the fire with a wave of her wand. "I'm sorry about this. Long story, but Merry Christmas to you."

 

"Christmas is still, like, a couple of days away," Ron was still gaping at Hermione, not quite recovered from her unannounced appearance. "But, what the bloody hell's going on? Why are you here? You aren't supposed to come until Christmas Eve."

 

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Ron's bandaged leg. "I heard you've injured your leg from Ginny… Are you alright now?"

 

"Healing, but itchy," Ron replied as he scratched the bandage for the umpteenth time. "But enough about me. Aren't you supposed to be, you know, at your parents'? Thought you'd want to spend more time with them, after you obliviated them and sent them away to Australia, and all…"

 

Though it wasn't his intention, Ron couldn't stop a hint of bitterness lacing his forced cheerful tone. I love her, but I'm not obsessed over her, he told himself firmly. Why am I feeling jealous over nothing?

 

The dissonance in his voice didn't go unnoticed to Hermione even as the witch was restoring the living room back to its original state with her wand. "As I expected," she sighed when she finally looked at Ron in the eye. "I was worried about you, so I used the Floo Network to get here as soon as I could—and seems like it's still unstable—but you're in an even worse state than I'd imagined."

 

Hermione helped Ron into one of the armchairs before she took her seat opposite of her injured boyfriend. "You need to have more faith in me, and more confidence in yourself."

 

Easy for you to say. Ron shook his head at the thought. "I can't help it. Bet you had a laugh about the stupid fall that Ginny had told you in her letters." He glanced sideways, refusing to look at Hermione.

 

"Ron," Hermione sounded a little exasperated. "No one is perfect; we all make dumb mistakes in our life, and lots of them." She walked over to squeeze herself next to the grumpy redhead. "I'm not going to break up with you over something… trivial as this."

 

Ron continued to keep his gaze everywhere but at Hermione.

 

"Ron, please," Hermione huffed with a mix of annoyance and resignation. "Who do you take me for? I love you for who you are—not just the good qualities that you don't seem to notice or even admit yourself, but I also embrace your flaws. All of them come together to make the you today, the you here, now, right beside me."

 

Ron squirmed a little when Hermione leaned in and put her arms around his neck from the back. "Isn't it the same for you? I'm sure you didn't like me just for my good looks." A light chuckle reached his ears. "But I also want that to be part of the reason why you chose me over all the other girls out there, over Lavender Brown. Eventually, over your sister-in-law too."

 

Ron shuddered at the last line. He knew that Hermione was talking about Fleur.

 

"That's… not fair."

 

This time, Hermione let out a shout of laughter. "Life has never been fair to anyone. You know this better than I do."

 

Ron could feel Hermione's breath warm on his cheek, even hotter at the heat creeping up his neck when he realized what she was about to do—

 

Another boom roared from the fireplace once more, this time it was rest of the Weasley family (plus Harry), all covered in soot from head to toe. And they were all staring straight ahead.

 

Straight at Hermione, who was frozen with her lips on Ron's cheek.

 

Ginny was the first to break the awkward silence. "About time," she said, nonchalant as she grabbed Harry's hand to drag him towards the stairs. "Let's just move on and pretend that we didn't see that."

 

The rest of the Weasleys began to shuffle to the kitchen, though rather clumsily while trying to navigate through the narrow spaces between the armchairs armed with bags and boxes from the Christmas shopping. Not helping when they were throwing glances at the bashful pair, from teary delight from Arthur and Molly, to calculating sniggers from George.

 

Ron could feel his entire head on fire—not just at the embarrassment, but also his irritation at his sassy sister.

 

"Just watch me, Ginny," he snarked at the youngest Weasley.

 

Ginny spun around, only for her smirk to be wiped off her face when her eyes widened at what her brother was showing her. Even Harry was greatly amused, so much so that his eyebrows had pretty much disappeared into his bangs.

 

Ron had just kissed Hermione back, but this time full on her lips. The latter didn't expect this either, merely stood stunned, her eyes fixed on the freckled face that filled her entire vision before her.

 

"Ron!" Hermione staggered under Ron's weight when their faces finally broke apart. The pain on the redhead's face was more pressing than the shock from the surprise kiss. "Take it easy—your leg…"

 

Ginny had also rushed forward to help. "I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to be mean to you. It's just… I just want you to be more honest with yourself. I'm happy the two of you are together—I'm glad to have Hermione to be a part of the family."

 

"There, you have it," Hermione said, finally allowing the kiss to sink into her as her cheeks colored. "We all love you the way you are. And I hope you can love yourself like how I… love you." Her voice trailed off at the last bit.

 

A wide grin broke out of Ron's sullen face for the first time today. He locked his eyes with Hermione, causing the girl to blush even harder.

 

I love you, too.



Chapter 10: Senbonzakura: A Thousand Cherry Blossoms (Mahoutokoro; OC x OC)
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ONE
Spring


To a Muggle-born hailing from small, tight-knit apartments in the densely populated Tokyo, Mahoutokoro came as a huge shock to the eleven-year-old Kisuke Amano. The castle-like school easily towered over his minuscule build, intimidating him with the huge shadows cast by its oriental roofs and thick, red pillars that stood at the entrance bearing the couplet:

 

Here, your journey will begin through this gate,
But only you can decide your own fate.

 

He shuffled along with the other first-year students down a long walkway, with a row of cherry blossom trees on either side in full bloom, falling petals painted the scene in a sea of pale pink.

 

The same color as the robe—or haori—that Kisuke was wearing now.

 

As he followed the crowd towards the main hall, he noticed that many were walking in groups. He had heard that some of them were enrolled into Mahoutokoro as young as aged seven, and these were usually children who came from renowned wizarding families, highly regarded at the top of the student hierarchy.

 

There were a few scattered lone students, probably Muggle-borns who had somehow awakened magical abilities just like him, but the young boy was hesitant to approach them. After all, humility was a value taught and strongly enforced into every Japanese the moment they were born, even as they grew up and stepped into the society, all the way till death. Direct confrontation was generally frowned upon, and seen as disrespectful.

 

The main hall seemed much larger on the inside, with older students knelt down, facing the front where the staff was lined up. Here, Kisuke was curious at the variety of colors he saw among the seniors—green, red, blue—and a handful of gold haori at the front of the student population. On the back of each student bore a black emblem, and he counted only four different types of crests: a bird, a tiger, a dragon, and a tortoise. The first-years settled down along the empty space in the middle of the hall, directly in front of an old man whose snow-white hair clashed with the ink-black kimono he wore. Ah, he must be the headmaster of this school.

 

Kisuke wasn't paying much attention to the headmaster's opening speech; he was more interested in studying the people around the hall, trying to learn as much as he could about this queer school with the power of his observation. He always found it fascinating that the little gestures that people do, the little accessories that they wear… all these would tell a lot more about them more than what they would say from their mouth.

 

It's harder to lie with actions than with mere words.

 

The polite clapping pulled Kisuke out of his own thoughts, signaling the end of the speech, and he reluctantly turned his attention back to the front of the hall. Murmurs broke out among the first-years, and Kisuke understood why when his eyes widened at a golden stand placed next to the headmaster.

 

"In Mahoutokoro, you will be sorted to the different houses—or what we call 'clans'," the headmaster said. "Named after the four symbolic creatures so deeply etched into our culture, guarding the four sides of this sacred land: Suzaku the Vermilion Bird to the south, Byakko the White Tiger in the north, Seiryu the Azure Dragon of the east, and finally, Genbu the Black Tortoise to the west."

 

With that, the headmaster bowed out of the spotlight, and everyone's attention was fixated on the strange stand. Suddenly, it burst into flames, then a bird appeared on the stand, completely covered in some kind of magical fire. Next to him, he heard one of the first-years gasped, "It's a ho-o. I can't believe one of them is actually in this school."

 

The first-year noticed Kisuke's curious stare, and she explained that the Japanese phoenix didn't come as only one entity contrary to most myths and legends, but as a pair; the one at the front was probably the female. The girl was very pretty; she wore the same pale pink haori like Kisuke's, which contrasted with the long black locks falling from her head down to her back. Though, her clipped tone made her sound too businesslike for an eleven-year-old, and it was worse with the no-nonsense look on her face.

 

"You do know a lot of things about the magical world," Kisuke commented.

 

"Silly me; I should have introduced myself first," the girl scratched her cheek with a finger, a small, awkward smile on the stern face. "I am Yuko Kisaragi. I'm sure you have heard about the Kisaragi Clan." Kisuke thought that her eyes had turned glassy when she talked about her family name.

 

He lowered his head to give her a small bow. "Kisuke Amano." And then he shook his head. "Uh, no. I don't know much about all this. I'm a Mujin—I think that's what you guys call a Muggle-born like me."

 

"Oh." The weird smile disappeared, replaced by an apologetic look. Then she turned her attention back to the front as the sorting was about to begin.

 

What a strange person, was Kisuke's first impression of the girl who would eventually become an important part of his life.


TWO
Summer


On top of learning the various subjects that ranged from spell-work to the use of magical creatures and items, Kisuke wasn't prepared for language lessons—and two of them. English, as most of the modern wizarding books were written in this language; and Latin, as most of the spells they were using were spoken in the dead tongue (at least it was so in the Muggle world). He was already struggling to keep up with the huge cultural shock of the wizarding world compared to where he came from. While he enjoyed learning new things, the rate they were thrown at him was beyond the capability to absorb. His grades from the mid-semester tests were the final straw, and he felt helpless, almost like he was trying to win a losing battle.

 

Exhaling slowly, he tugged at his pale pink robe, slouching back into the couch.

 

"Guess you have lots of catching up to do, huh?"

 

Kisuke jumped at Yuko's voice next to his ear; she was peering over his shoulder to look at his test results. She chuckled at the boy's stunned look.

 

"I can tutor you over the summer vacation," she began, twirling a lock of her hair with a finger. Kisuke couldn't help narrowing his eyes—just a little—at her orange robe. "Only if you want my help, that is."

 

Kisuke perked up at the unexpected offer. "Really?"

 

This time it was Yuko's turn to be taken aback. "Um, yeah. Sure. Of course."

 

Kisuke raised an eyebrow at her reaction. "Why do you look so surprised?"

 

"Well… I don't know." She shrugged, glancing sideways. "I know a lot of people don't like me. I'm from a prestigious magical family, but I'm a failure to them."

 

Kisuke said nothing, waiting for the girl to go on.

 

"I am a failure as a lady I'm supposed to be, being an heiress and all." She shook her head, sighing. "I am also incompetent at socializing. I don't get why I should pretend to be nice to people who don't deserve it. It disgusts me having to conform myself to their whims."

 

Kisuke nodded, but something that Yuko just said didn't sit well with him. "Are you sure that you're as hopeless as you think?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"I don't think you're a failure, and I definitely don't think that you are bad at making friends." Kisuke gave the girl a knowing smile. "We are friends, aren't we?"

 

"H-Huh? What, I don't understand—"

 

Kisuke laughed. "There isn't a formula to make friends. It just happens when you can click well with someone." He patted the confused Yuko on the head. "And you're already being nice, by offering to help me with my studies."

 

"But I'm pretty strict," Yuko frowned, struggling to regain her composure. "Do you have what it takes to survive my teaching methods?"

 

"Is that supposed to be a threat?"

 

"I'm serious here."

 

Kisuke laughed again. "I can show you around the Mujin city during the weekends, to repay your kindness and help."

 

Yuko's face brightened. "Will you really?" It was one of those few rare moments the normally stern girl would act like her own age, showing the innocent, childish side of her beneath her cold maturity.

 

"This is what being friends means," Kisuke said, standing up. "We help each other when we're in a pinch, and we share the good things with each other and share this happiness."

 

What Kisuke didn't account for was how much Yuko knew nothing about the Muggle world. Still, the summer holiday ended on a joyous note, further affirming the bond of their slow-burn friendship.


THREE
Autumn


"Why didn't you tell me?"

 

The hospital wing was empty sans two students—who was none other than Kisuke and Yuko. Yuko was crying; tears were rolling down the pair of fierce-looking eyes as she glowered at the boy on the bed, with a broken arm and leg. "Aren't we supposed to be friends?"

 

Kisuke turned his head away. "I… don't want you to worry about me."

 

"Well, in the end, you still got me worried!" Yuko's harsh tone became colder with each word. "Why would you do such a thing? I never asked you to stand up for me, only to get yourself hurt like this."

 

"…Sorry."

 

Yuko sniffed. "I can take care of those bullies better than you. You don't need to worry about me and just look after yourself first."

Kisuke rolled his eyes. "Is that just a repeat of what I did?"

 

"I'm better at dueling magic than you are." Kisuke winced when Yuko slapped a hand on his back. "And I'm not exactly angry about you trying to stand up to those bullies to protect me. I'm angrier at the fact that you'd be kept here for a week and we are going to miss the Quidditch final."

 

Kisuke turned around to face her, astonished. "That is what you're actually worried about?"

 

"Well, I…" Yuko crossed her arms before her, pouting. "I just want to watch a Quidditch match with a friend. I have never watched Quidditch with a friend before in my life. Also, this match will be a spectacular sight in this season, with the red maple trees around the stadium." She stole a quick glance at Kisuke. "You know, sharing the good stuff with friends and spread this happiness is what friendship is about, am I right?"

 

Kisuke's reply was a lopsided smile—half amused at her awkwardness trying to understand friendship and be a friend, half because he found that rather cute.


FOUR
Winter


A year was almost gone in a blink of an eye, and the melted snow would occasionally fall onto students who passed under the bare cherry blossom trees as they were walking through the entrance for the new semester.

 

Kisuke was no longer in the pale pink robe he wore in his first year, now that he had moved up to his second year at Mahoutokoro. He looked up at the cherry blossom trees, and memories of his first time in this magic academy came back to him just like it happened only yesterday.

 

"Feeling sentimental?"

 

He stopped to turn around, facing a beaming Yuko who had caught up with the unaware boy. "A little, I guess."

 

"The first bud of the cherry blossom flowers will appear earliest next week, if my calculations aren't off," she said, glancing up at the dripping branches. "Cherry blossoms are amazing, aren't they? They only bloom for a short while, shortly after the freezing winter, and they are gone before we're into the middle of spring."

 

Kisuke nodded. "Just like time." He gestured at their robes. "We began with pink, and now we're already wearing red when it's our second year. How time flies." Short, and bittersweet.

 

"That is the beauty of cherry blossoms, and why many people are so fascinated by them," although she sounded no different from a lecturing teacher firing off her extensive knowledge, Kisuke could still hear a hint of affection in Yuko's dry tone. "Its symbolism of beginning."

 

"And encounter." Kisuke smiled at her. "Like all those meetings under the cherry blossom scenes in fictions."

 

With one last look at the barren cherry blossom trees, the pair continued their walk to the main hall.



Chapter 11: 鳳凰相見 - Encounter With a Phoenix (Fan Beasts; Newt, OC)
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5th July, 1920
Sunny

 

Upon receiving a letter a week ago from Zhao, a Chinese wizard I once met in the blistering hot Cairo desert, I arrived at the outskirts of Tian Shan. It was a spectacular system of highlands situated along the Chinese borders with some central Asian countries I couldn't fathom the spelling of their names. While lush green grasslands rolled across the European Alps, Tian Shan was largely covered in jagged rocks and sand dunes that emphasized its harsh climate. Zhao's letter mentioned a certain discovery that would greatly interest me, and he wanted me to see it in person.

 

Zhao was already waiting at the end of the rocky path where the grey fine sand converged with the redder, coarser debris. He came running to me, almost tackling me to the ground, the turban on his head in danger of falling off any moment. It took a while to calm the overexcited man down for him to utter an interesting word:

 

Phoenix.

 

"Fascinating creatures," said he. "No one knows where they come from, much less where to find them. I was lucky to spot one hidden among the mountains here during my hiking trip."

 

That got my full attention. Ever since I began traveling around the world looking for magical creatures of interest to complete my first commission for Obscurus Books, phoenix was one of those at the top of my must-see list. A creature so shrouded in mystery, so rare that it was nothing more than a mystical legend to humor children to bed.

 

Amongst Tian Shan was an area called the Flaming Mountains. Like its name, the eroded scarlet rocks seemed akin to dancing fire. This place was even warmer than Cairo; I was completely drenched in sweat by the time we reached the summit. Zhao then led me into one of the caves hidden among the burning rocks. Smoke rose out of the fissures, hissing with menace, and I felt like my feet were melting into the sizzling ground. My eyes widened when we finally reached the end of the cave.

 

Perched on a circle of stalagmite was a bird's nest, but the creature was more than just an avian, with crimson feathers lined with gold streaks that radiated with pride and power. My breath stopped as I locked gaze with its piercing dark eyes, and I could hear a song reverberating with every part of me inside out. I had never experienced anything like this in my whole life.

 

"Some say the phoenix originates from Ancient Egypt," said Zhao. "A magical bird that lives for centuries before burning itself on a funeral pyre, then reborn from the ashes." He gestured at the nest. "But here's the catch: there's a newborn chick inside."

 

I raised my eyebrows at him.

 

Zhao smiled. "That's why I invited you here—to find out more."

 

We decided to camp outside the cave for the night. I'd love to study more about this phoenix tomorrow.



Chapter 12: Don't Party When You Ain't Hearty (Next Gen; James II, Rose, Hermione)
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ACT ONE
When James Hates Doing Free Labor


"I give up."

 

James Potter plopped himself down into the armchair he had been standing on the whole morning, dropping the decorative strips onto the floor next to him. "This is stupid—can't they celebrate this on their own? Like, take a month's leave from their Ministry desk work and just go on some lame honeymoon somewhere?" He gestured at the banner that read 'HAPPY MARRIAGE ANNIVERSARIES!' in brilliant green paint, a look of annoyance on his face.

 

"Shut up, James," his cousin, Rose Weasley, shot back as she narrowed her eyes disapprovingly at him. "If you have the energy to complain, why don't you spend it more efficiently by doing real work instead?"

 

The children were all gathered at number twelve, Grimmauld Place to celebrate the marriage anniversaries of their parents as a collective whole. The older generation decided to simply throw a big party altogether, even though their actual marriage dates were different. Their respective jobs for the Ministry of Magic (in some cases, Gringotts) kept them too busy to take time off their work. It had been slightly more than two decades since Voldemort's dramatic death at Hogwarts, but there was still so much to do. Rebuilding the wizarding world, rounding up the remnants of Death Eaters in hiding or on the run… yadda-yadda. The list could go on.

 

James rolled his eyes. Since when were the adults never busy?

 

"I'm with James on this," Fred Weasley piped up, trying to sit on James' lap until the latter shooed him away. "I mean, what does this have to do with us?"

 

Rose rolled her eyes and huffed at the sniggering boys, "Very well, I shall educate you pathetic dimwits better: do you think we'll be here fooling around with each other like idiots if it wasn't for our parents' efforts to maintain a happy married life? Happy couples keep their family happy, too. And—"

 

"Whatever, Rosie," James cut her off, chortling. "Nobody gives a damn about your 'educational preaching'. Go get a life. I heard you've been hooking up with Scorbutt Malfoy." Next to him, Fred had doubled up with howling laughter.

 

"James Sirius Potter," Rose spat his name with enough venom to make Albus Potter, who was standing on his toes on a stool next to the girl, fall off in surprise. "Don't make me—"

 

"Stop, stop." Teddy Lupin rushed forward to put himself between the squabbling two, his short hair turning from bubblegum pink to a deep crimson, a sign that he was getting irritated at all the younger kids running amok in the house. "I really can't take my eyes off you lot, not even for one second. Can we just get all this over and done with quickly without any more mishaps?" There were paper rings entwined in a tangled mess around his left arm—possibly the courtesy of the youngest Potter, Lily, who was spotted playing with more paper rings down the hallway, now tying them around Victoire Weasley's ankle.

 

James didn't want to know what Teddy and those two girls had been up to.

 

"Sure sucks being you," Fred said as he stood up to excuse himself from the rising tension. "Babysitting isn't my thing, so good luck with that." He strolled off towards his sister, Roxanne, who was wrestling with a skittish cabinet that refused to let her touch it.

 

Teddy let out a tired sigh and removed the paper rings around his arm with a wave of his wand. "Guys, come on," he said, gesturing wildly at the half-finished decorations hanging limply around the house. "We're getting nowhere at this rate."

 

"It's something they should do themselves, anyway. It's not our job to do their dumb work." James waved off Teddy's resignation. "What's this, free labor?"

 

Teddy frowned at James, seemingly unimpressed with the younger boy's complaints that oozed with as much exasperation as the unfiltered sarcasm. Before he could open his mouth, Rose beat him to it.

 

"Hey," the red-haired girl hissed at James with crossed arms. "Look, I don't care about your petty issues with helping out, but we're not doing this for ourselves. We all want our parents and relatives to be happy. If you're going to be a hindrance here, why don't you go up to your room and shut yourself in with those Japanese picture books instead? You can stay upstairs the whole day for all I care."

James gave his cousin a narrow look. "They are called 'manga'."

 

"Of course I know what they're called," Rose snorted, rolling her eyes. "And I also know that you've borrowed them from Miyu since last year, with no intention of returning them back to him."

 

A sudden yelp forced James to pull his glare away from Rose's equally fierce look, and he followed the rest to the source of the voice. Everyone was relieved to find that the shout belonged to a surprised Roxanne, who had managed to tame the jumpy cabinet and unlock the door…

 

Except that she had a glass bottle in her hands.

 

James was the first to step forward. Curiosity always got the better of him. "What's that?"

 

"Don't know," Fred replied, leaning over Roxanne's shoulders. The latter shrugged to echo her brother's response, but only ended up hitting Fred's chin.

 

"Please don't tell me that's what I think it is," Rose said in a hoarse voice. "Where did you get it?"

 

Roxanne pointed a thumb at the cabinet behind her. "That thing gave me a hard time when I was trying to clean it, but when it finally calmed down, I found this bottle inside."

 

"Looks like the expensive Firewhisky that Uncle Bill mentioned a week ago," Albus said, giving Rose a sideways glance. "But why would he keep it in a jinxed cupboard?"

 

More shrugging. "Maybe he didn't want us to find it," Roxanne said, turning the bottle in her hands. "Ogden's Old Firewhisky, brewed in 1919. Sounds really expensive."

 

Then, a brilliant idea struck James. Snatching the bottle from Roxanne's hands, he glanced around at his siblings and cousins, his eyes shining with excitement. "Say, want to find out what this thing tastes like?"


ACT TWO
When Rose Regrets Everything Else


To Rose's chagrin, the majority went with James' mad idea and they opened up the Firewhisky. Soon, everyone was gathered around the dining table, toasting to each other for the dumbest things that the girl could ever imagine. She had also failed to stop Lily and Hugo, her little brother, from joining the insanity. She could only watch in horror as the youngest pair in the house were promptly knocked out by the effects of alcohol, their puffy cheeks turning to a deep shade of red.

 

"Strong stuff," Fred moaned as he set down his empty shot glass. "But burning perfection." Although his face was still a healthy pink, his eyes seemed rather unfocused.

 

Rose could only shake her head. It's all that idiot's fault. "We shouldn't be drinking this. Most of us are still not of age yet—"

 

"Rosie, puh-leeze," Teddy slurred, already on his third glass and showing signs of drunkenness. "James is right. You're really a killjoy sometimes." Meanwhile, Victoire already had her arms entwined around Teddy's torso, and if anyone squinted hard enough, they would notice the kiss marks around the young man's neck.

 

Rose threw a look of disgust at the supposedly most mature member in the group of misfits, then looked down at the untouched glass of Firewhisky before her.

 

"You know you want that stuff."

 

She almost jumped out of her chair, surprised at James' cooing voice next to her ear. Her cousin's cheeks were flushed, but at least he looked like he could still walk steadily. How else could he have reached her seat through a high-spirited Albus and Roxanne duo, who were tap-dancing around the table?

 

"Go away."

 

Fred rapped his knuckle on the table to call for everyone's attention. "Alright, boy and girls—and lovebirds," he added, rolling his eyes at Teddy and Victoire. "Let's get on with the main event of the day." He then placed the empty wine bottle sideways in the middle of the table, gesturing at everybody to take a seat.

 

Rose narrowed her eyes at him. "What is this 'main event' you're talking about?"

 

"I know this," James piped up, pointing at the wine bottle. "It's a Truth or Dare game."

 

"Very popular at Muggle social parties, according to James' Ravenclaw bestie," Fred explained, arching an eyebrow at Rose's reproachful look. "Trust me, this is going to be fun."

 

"Oh, yeah?" Rose shot a glare at Fred. No way she was going to believe another word the boys were saying—not after the drunken state they were all in now. Besides, anything that James' mischief-making friends had introduced never ended on a good note in her books. "What kind of 'fun', exactly?"

 

"It's simple," James said. "Spin the bottle. When the bottle points at a person, ask the person if they want to answer a question truthfully, or if they want to do a dare."

 

Rose turned to stare at James, unsure if she had heard that correctly. "Just like that?"

 

"Yeah." James seemed confused by her question. "What were you expecting?"

 

"It's easier if we do a mock run and you'll understand," Fred said, leaning forward to reach the whiskey bottle. "Ready?"

 

Everyone around the table (sans the still sleeping Lily and Hugo) held their breath as they watched the spinning bottle slowing down, before coming to a stop…

 

And pointing at Rose, of all people.

 

Rose sighed. So much so for a great start. "Oh-kay, so what am I supposed to do?"

 

Fred smirked at her. "Truth, or Dare?"

 

Rose didn't like the look on her cousin's face. She wasn't going to give him any satisfaction for getting on her nerves. "Truth."

 

Fred's grin only widened. "So, what do you hate about Aunt Hermione?"

 

Every pair of eyes in the room were now on Rose, who went rigid in her chair. The red-haired girl inhaled slowly at the intense attention on her. She didn't know what Fred was thinking or trying to do, and she hated being cornered like this.

 

"Everything," she began, after a long pause to gather her own thoughts. "She's bossy, she's overprotective, and she can't stop nagging over the most insignificant matters. There are other ways to show care and concern for the family. Better ways. Her method doesn't make me feel loved. She only makes me feel suffocated, treating me like a baby." She raised her glass of Firewhisky and finished it in one swig. "I'm already twelve, for Merlin's sake!"

 

The shouting, mixed with the burning sensation of alcohol that set her throat on fire, made Rose bend forward into a coughing fit. Gross. She couldn't understand why her parents—or any of the adults, for that matter—would like a drink such as this. Her tongue was going numb from the spicy sting. Still, she felt lighter, freer, as if someone had lifted the weight off her shoulders.

 

She felt so much better.

 

James was the first to burst out laughing after Rose slammed down her wine glass. "Aren't you talking about yourself?" He banged his fists on the table. "You're exactly like your mother!"

 

More coughing. "No I'm not!"

 

"Well, you are certainly nothing like your father," James went on, pointedly ignoring Rose's outcry. "Other than the outward appearance, you're nowhere as cool as Uncle Ron."

 

"Are you trying to pick a fight with me?"

 

It took a while for James to stop laughing. "You should take a good look at yourself in the mirror, Rosie," James said, wincing as he rubbed his sides. "No matter how hard you try to deny it, it's too damn obvious to even lie your way out of it. If you're as mature as you've always claimed, just admit it already."

 

If there was a time that Rose truly felt a sense of defeat, it was this moment when she had to get a lecture from the last person she ever wanted to hear from, in front of so many people. Worse, she had nothing to retaliate back.

 

"Can I have another drink, please?"


ACT THREE
When Hermione Loses Her Cool
(And Ron Has to Save the Day)


"I have a really bad feeling about this."

 

It was the umpteenth time that Hermione Weasley muttered the same line throughout the shopping trip. Her eyebrows furrowed deeper with each passing minute, and she was becoming more and more impatient. Her restlessness was bad enough that even Ginny Potter had to turn around to face her sister-in-law.

 

"Hermione," she finally said, sighing. "Relax. I'm sure they will be fine. Besides, Teddy is around to take care of them—"

 

"He is exactly what I'm worried about," Hermione huffed, shaking her head so violently that her bushy hair seemed even larger than usual. "Teddy is a good boy, but he's too nice to handle the likes of Fred and James. I'm so glad that James didn't invite his friends over. They'd only make everything worse by tenfold."

 

"But you gotta admit that they're fun to have around," George spoke up suddenly from behind the ladies, surprising the two. "Especially the Muggle-born Ravenclaw—I think Tobey is his name—who has taught me a lot about the modern Muggle world. You and Harry won't tell me about all the amazing things that Muggles have invented."

 

Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "Just when you aren't bad enough with all those horrible joke shop ideas, even my husband had to quit his Ministry job to join in with your insanity."

 

"Well, you know that Ron's talent shines brightest now that he's the manager of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes," George said coolly, not even flinching at the fierce look that Hermione was throwing at him. "He's better at handling money than dealing with dangerous criminals, and I can concentrate on coming up with new products to keep our shop competitive. He's born to be a businessman, not an Auror—and you should know this better than anyone, shouldn't you?"

 

After a long staring contest, Hermione exhaled slowly and broke the eye contact. She knew a losing battle when she saw one. "You are truly a bad influence on Ron, and the kids, too. I really hate to admit that they are all happier with you around. I can tell from the looks on their faces."

 

Ginny placed a hand on Hermione's sagging shoulders. "I think you're giving too little credit to yourself," she said. "If George and Ron are there to cheer everyone up with their jokes, then your role is to keep all of them in line, and protect them from harm."

 

"Yeah, that's something Ron and I can't do as well as you." George patted Hermione's head, but the latter could hear a hint of sadness in his voice.

 

Hermione swallowed the words that almost tumbled out of her mouth. He is thinking about his twin.

 

Ginny seemed to have caught that, too. She cleared her throat to break the silence. "Anyway, since we got pretty much everything we need, I think it's time to head back." She glanced around. "Where's Harry and Ron?"

 

Speaking of the devil, Hermione heard a sudden crack from around the bend where the trio stood. Two figures tumbled out of the alleyway—and it was none other than Harry and Ron, each carrying a huge wrapped box under their arms.

 

"I thought I heard someone summoning me," Ron spoke first, a little breathless. "Are we on time? Harry took way too long to get his present sorted out."

 

"We're just talking about you two, actually," Ginny said, eyeing the boxes. "What have you got there?"

 

"It's a secret," Harry muttered, glancing down at his pocket watch—the one he had received as a birthday present from Arthur and Molly many years ago. "I think we can go first. Bill said the rest will be late." He shrugged. "You know what Fleur and Angelina are like when they're on a shopping spree. No one can stop them."

 

"I have no intention of waiting much longer, either," Hermione said, giving a sideways glance at Ginny, who nodded in agreement beside her. "I just want to get back to number twelve as soon as possible."

 

The group headed back into the alleyway. With a series of faint pops, they were gone, squeezing every part of themselves (and their shopping bags!) through the rift of space and time…

 

And arriving right amongst the bushes just across the group's destination in a tangled heap of limbs and paper bags.

 

Hermione wasted no time dashing towards the door that magically appeared in between numbers eleven and thirteen, the shopping bags by her side swinging so wildly that they caused raised eyebrows from a Muggle passerby who was walking her dog. She threw the door open with a flick of her wand, storming through the hallway (even shutting the curtain around Mrs. Black's portrait before the latter could begin her usual screams) towards the only source of light in the almost dark house: the dining area.

 

She could hear the singing voices coming out from the crack of the door of the dining room, albeit out of sync and the lyrics were enough to make her narrow her eyes. Where did they learn those profanities from? Must be James. She pulled the door open with a flourish, and the sight before her made her gasp in shock.

 

"What in Merlin's name is going on here?"

 

Everyone in the dining room stopped whatever they were doing and turned their attention to a furious Hermione.

 

"Oh, hello." Rose hiccuped and waved at her mother. Her cheeks were as red as her hair. "Welcome back."

 

"Don't 'hello' me, young lady," Hermione hissed through gritted teeth, seething at every crimson face around the table.

 

She spotted Lily and Hugo soundly asleep at the furthest corner, cuddled together with a blanket over them. All the boys were top-naked with their Hogwarts ties around their foreheads, while the girls had apparently helped themselves to the jar of homemade cookies that Hermione was trying to save for another day.

 

The biggest regret of all was the empty Firewhisky bottle spinning in the middle of the table, which was coming to a stop and pointing at James.

 

Hermione could feel her nails cutting into her palm as her grip tightened around her wand, which she raised up and pointed at James. "You. Explain."

 

James blinked, apparently still too drunk to register the anger in his aunt's icy tone. The boy merely tilted his head in confusion, shrugging.

 

Fred looked between the two, then he jerked a thumb at his cousin. "It's all his idea, by the way."

 

James threw a look of disgust at Fred, obviously annoyed that the latter would betray him without a second thought. "Hey, everyone in this room did have their fair share of fun, so don't think you can wriggle yourself out of this and walk away like it didn't happen."

 

"You're right that everybody here is at fault, and that I am not going to let you all off the hook so easily," Hermione said, her wand still pointing at the boys. "I'm very disappointed in you. I thought you could be mature enough to get the decorations done before we came back and then we could all celebrate the occasion together happily, but look at yourselves now!"

 

"Yeah, yeah, but this occasion is none of our business," James shot back curtly, not caring that he was being disrespectful towards the last person he should be butting heads with. "Why do we need to waste money, time and effort on all these stupid decos? We can celebrate the same without them—just get the food and we're good to go. The decos will end up in the trash at the end of the day anyway, so why bother?"

 

To Hermione's utter surprise, even Rose was siding with James. "Now that I think about it, James does have a point," she said slowly. "I've never felt so relaxed, so relieved in my life."

 

"Rose."

 

"Oh, I almost forgot," Rose went on, winking at her mother. "I hate you."

 

Hermione could feel something had snapped into pieces somewhere in her mind. She was at her wit's end. "Rose, come here—" she began, her body inching forward to reach her daughter, but someone had grabbed her wrist to stop her.

 

It was Ron, who glanced around the room with mild amusement before his expression turned to concern when he faced his wife. "Hermione, don't," he said breathlessly. "You need to calm down."

 

"How can I calm down at this ridiculous nonsense right before me?" Hermione shouted into Ron's face. It took her a couple of seconds to realize what she had done, and the anger dissipated, replaced by guilt. "I'm sorry, Ronald. I… It wasn't my intention to lose my temper at you. I just…"

 

"S'okay, I know you didn't mean it."

 

"Well, well," George piped up behind the flustered couple, whistling at the mess in the dining area. "The party has started without us, eh? That's sly of you."

 

Hermione wasn't about to let the matter rest just yet. "George, we can't just forgive them like this."

 

"I never said we have to let them be." George shook his head with a sigh. "Yeah, they are at the wrong for finishing Bill's favorite Firewhisky without us—"

 

"That's not my point!"

 

"—but try to look at things from their perspective," George continued, ignoring Hermione's outburst.

 

"George is right," Ron said, letting go of Hermione when she had calmed down. "They were probably restless and bored from doing something they didn't enjoy. Naturally, they caved into their curiosity, because it's the most obvious way of escapism for them."

 

Harry and Ginny were equally amused at the chaotic scene when they finally stepped into the dining room. They didn't seem too surprised at the result.

 

"Let's bring out the food and continue the party," Ginny said, smirking at the hilarious getup James and the other boys were in. "Today is supposed to be a happy occasion for everyone. We can save the lectures for tomorrow."

 

James' grin turned upside down. "But, Mom—"

 

"No buts."

 

Everyone in the room burst into laughter.

 

Hermione couldn't help but crack a smile; the happiness around her was pushing her irritation to the back of her mind. Even if this wasn't right, alcohol wasn't so bad after all. Maybe this was what they needed.

 

"Well, I'll leave it to Bill to do the lectures," Hermione said, giving James a smug look. "I wonder how he will react if he finds out that his precious whiskey is gone, thanks to little devils like you?"

 

Her grin widened further at the guilt written all over the young boy's face. "I'm just pulling your leg," she said with a chuckle, and everybody laughed again.

 

The party went on with more cheers, clinking glasses, and of course, booze.



Chapter 13: Boxception (Golden Trio; Alice Longbottom)
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Alice Longbottom, trapped in a box
Is she dead? Is she alive?
The handle unwinds with every tick
Tick-tock, tick-tock
A jack-in-the-box sitting on her palm
The box is her mind
And the jester is herself…

Or is it the other way round?


I'm vaguely aware of my surroundings. Blinding white lights, whispering voices, the smell of sterilizers… They have all been a major part of my daily routine for as long as I can remember. Or I think I can remember. I don't know. Every time I try to dive into my past memory, everything merely feels like a blur to me—like a cyclone of colors.

 

Except that there is only two.

 

Black.
Red.
Black.
More red.
Black.
And it stayed black.

 

My head hurts. I feel like it's going to burst into flames whenever I try to look into my past.

 

I always wonder if I'm constantly trapped in a limbo, neither dead nor alive, with disembodied chatters floating around me that I cannot connect to. Most of them call me 'Mrs. Longbottom', except for two faces—the only two I can distinguish from the sea of blanks around me.

 

One with a wrinkled face with sagging facial features and a soft jawline. Every part of her seems like they are rotting away with age; only the sharp glint in her eyes have stood up to the test of time. Mother, my mind says, but that word simply refuses to form on my lips.

 

The other is much younger, rounder, gentler. A stark contrast with the first. He is always looking at me with those sad, puppy eyes. Did Frank and I ever have a puppy before?

 

Frank?
Frank…
Frank.

 

Who is Frank?

 

My head hurts again.
And the pain won't go away.


Tick-tock, tick-tock
A jack-in-the-box
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Sitting on my palm
Tick-tock, tick-tock
In a flash of red
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Exploding with delight
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Grinning with agony
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Writhing with pleasure
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Dark eyes boring into mine
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Everything went black


The next day, I see the same old lady with her grandson again. The lady seems to have more feathers attached around her neck this time; her stuffed hat appears to be taller and more intimidating than before. The young boy, however, still has the same depressed look on his face.

 

I turn my head slowly and stare at the boy in the eye.

 

He smiles at me. A smile that is drenched in tears.

 

Is he smiling? Or is he crying?
I don't understand.

 

He picks up my hand, pressing something into my palm. Something that makes a crunching noise when I squeeze it harder. He brings my hand closer to my eyes. It's a candy.

 

Round, like his face.
Red, like—

 

—Crucio!


Tick-tock, tick-tock
Vision turning scarlet
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Skin burning like wildfire
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Scents of blood filling the air…
Tick-tock, tick-tock
The devil is back!
Tick-tock, tick-tock
In a flash of red
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Everything burns


Neville.

 

A week has passed, and the same pair has come to visit me at the same time, with the same look. Oh, I'm not talking about their clothes. That'd be disgusting.

 

Same facial expression. Same smile.
The same smile that didn't reach the sorrow in their eyes.

 

Neville.

 

A name keeps repeating itself at the back of my mind, growing louder and closer with each call. My chest tightens as the syllables hammered against my ears.

 

Neville.

 

I remember now.

 

My son. My precious baby. The proof of my love for Frank Longbottom.

 

I remember now.

 

Frank is my husband. We met at Hogwarts, where we fell in love and pledged our loyalty to Dumbledore. It was the place we both called our true home. A home we'd sworn to protect so that one day our boy could go there too, a sanctuary where he could grow up splendidly and make us proud.

 

I remember now.

 

A small box. Frank gave me a box. There was a ruby ring inside. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

 

I remember…

 

The boy presses something into my hand again. This time, it's not round. I can feel the edges cutting into my palm. Something squarish. He raises my hand to my eyes.

 

Chocolate, he mouths, and I watch a tear trickling down his downcast eyes before it disappears into the corner of his lips.

 

The crimson box wrapper expands and fills my vision.
All I see is red. Everything around me is red.

 

I remember now!

 

A jet of scarlet light. A black shadow that looms over my terrified self. I can hear the cries of someone—the newborn in my arms. The silhouette becomes bigger, clearer…

 

I remember now.

 

Bellatrix Lestrange.


Tick-tock, tick-tock
The shadow departs
Tick-tock, tick-tock
The wind continues to howl
Tick-tock, tick-tock
I am losing my senses
Tick-tock, tick-tock
The glass breaks
Tick-tock, tick-tock
The world collapses
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Falling into darkness
Tick-tock, tick-tock
A child's cry piercing through the night


I recall that it was a stormy night. I don't know how long I had been running. Screams of terror mixed with the roaring thunder ripple across the land as figures in black cloak marched down the streets. Jets of emerald light arced towards the fleeing backs of the townspeople. One by one, they tripped over as Avada Kedavra curses sucked out the last breath of life from them, leaving them fallen on the ground, with only the horror of realization firmly carved onto their gaunt faces.

 

Dead.
Broken.
Gone.

 

I peered over my shoulder. That wretched woman was still following us, her wand waving wildly as streams of deadly spells danced around us, engulfing us in a whirlwind of colors.

 

Colors of death.

 

My eyes were blinded by the flashes of red and green, exploding with such intensity that the sleeping newborn in my arms was woken up from the shock, and he began to cry.

 

"Neville," I cooed, rocking the baby to and fro as gently as I could in my trembling arms. Frank was dueling with the dark witch, his counters colliding with her curses and exploding in mid-air. Neville stopped crying, seemingly awed at the display of colorful lights, not knowing the truth behind the blinding glamour.

 

These weren't the lights of hope. They were the lights to the family's downfall.
To our grim end.

 

I held Neville closer to my chest.

 

"What do you want from us?" Even in the midst of the hair-raising crackles, I could still hear Frank's voice loud and clear.

 

"You know what I want," the dark witch drawled, giggling. Her high-pitched laughter sent chills down my spine. "That child—my Lord has been searching for him. Give that boy to me."

 

"No." Without another word, Frank swished his wand and sent another barrage of spells at the dark witch. "I will not allow you to touch my family, Bellatrix Lestrange!"

 

Bellatrix merely threw her head back and cackled. "We shall see about that!"

 

"Go," Frank urged. "Take him to my mother—to Augusta. Go."

 

I wanted to shake my head. No, I want to stay with you! But I knew that he was right. For the sake of our future, the future I was holding in my arms, I had to go.

 

His lips twitched a little into a soft smile. "I love you."

 

That was the last time I had ever seen him—seen him normal.
Because the next time we met, we could never go back to the life we yearned for.

 

Frank!


What's in the box?
An engagement ring
What's in the box?
The kiss of oath
What's in the box?
A pinky promise
What's in the box?
The treasure of our days

Treasure?
What treasure?

I stretch out a hand
Reaching for the light
Growing brighter, warmer
Searing pain ripping through my heart

Ah…

Do you remember now?


I am always looking forward to seeing Neville whenever there is someone coming to visit me. I am always excited to see what kind of new things he's going to put into my hands.

 

Candy.
Chocolate.
Gum.
Sugar quill.

 

What is he going to surprise me with today?

 

I feel my heart skipping when I hear approaching footsteps, tapping to the rhythm I can easily tell who it belongs to without tilting my head to see Neville walking towards my bed. I want to smile, but all I can manage is to make my lips tremble. That's not good.

 

I hear Mother's—Augusta's—usual complaints about the hospital, about the world outside of the protective shell I've been staying at since that stormy night, about every single person who has walked past the ward. Blah, blah, blah. I can't seem to register her rants in my head, and all I'm wishing is for her to stop talking.

 

Neville is smiling again, but this time he seems genuinely happy. I can't help thinking that he really looks like an excited puppy to me. One that I'd love to cuddle with… to ease the heavy regret bubbling up inside me.

 

I'm a failure as a mother. How I wish I could've watched him grow up with my own eyes! How I wish I could've sent him off to Hogwarts as a family!

 

I feel something hard being pushed into my hand, harder and colder than anything I have felt. Here it comes. I feel like my heart is pounding in my ears. Ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump. Loud enough to drown out Augusta's rambles.

 

He raises my hand to my eyes. My heart stops.

 

"Surprise!" Neville says, and the box springs open, a little jester bouncing out of the red box. "Do you like it?"

 

No! I try to scream, then I can hear a peal of high-pitched laughter mocking me. My throat feels so dry, almost like it's on fire. Streams of scarlet light are coming towards me, and agony is all that I can remember. I want to scream.

 

No! The little jester merely smiles at me, bouncing to the merry tune of 'Pop Goes the Weasel'. It's her—I can feel Bellatrix's soul torturing me from within, the dark witch's smirking face becoming bigger as the jester comes closer to my eyes.

 

No!

 

"Gram." Neville's chirpy voice sounds further and further away from me. "She likes it. Look, she's smiling! Just like the clown inside this box!"

 

NO!


What's in the box?
The Inner Eye has spoken
What's in the box?
The prophecy will be fulfilled
What's in the box?
The Dark Lord has come
What's in the box?
A fragment of thy soul
What's in the box?
Pandora's Curse
What's in the box?
Stay away from me
What's in the box?
Kill me now!

Kill me now
That face
Kill me now
That merry song
Kill me now
That smile
Kill me now
That box…

Tch, tch, tch

It's a jack-in-the-box!



Chapter 14: A Show of Ice and Fire (Pre-Fan Beasts; Tina, Queenie)
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For a pair of young, parent-less girls, traveling across the borders to another country by ourselves was a pretty scary experience. Squeezing through the throngs of towering passengers scuttling around the platform was a challenge for us, so much so that I had to put my arms around Queenie to prevent her from being separated from me and drowned under the overwhelming rush hour crowd.

 

"Tina," I could hear Queenie whimpering next to me. "You're hurting me."

 

"I'm sorry, but just bear with it," I chided back. Now wasn't the time for me to succumb to the whims of my younger sister, no matter how painful her thin voice sounded in my ears. "We're almost there."

 

I forced myself through two gentlemen before us, who seemed to be taking their own sweet time to load their trunks onto the train. Returning their glower with an equally fierce glare, I dragged Queenie to our seats.

 

While Queenie was settling down with awe at the posh coach, I glanced down at the ticket in my hand. Calm as I seemed, I still couldn't believe that we would get the chance to see the famous fire-bending witch, Luminelle Devereux, at a wizarding circus carnival in Montreal. Tickets to her show were extremely hard to obtain, and it wasn't surprising to hear some willing to buy at ridiculously high prices from the black market just to see Luminelle and her eye-popping performances. I didn't know how Queenie got her hands on a pair of such rare tickets; I didn't want to know how she did it, either. I was very grateful that we could spend our Christmas vacation outside of America together for the very first time in our lives, and to a show I knew we would never forget.

 

I felt a thud on my shoulder, only to see Queenie sleeping next to me. Permitting myself a smile, I turned to look out of the window, at the blur of snowy white whizzing past as the train picked up speed and left the station.


Montreal was a shocking eye-opener to us, especially to Queenie, who kept bouncing around like an over-excited ferret as she waved her hands wildly around, gesturing at the town with too much vigor and enthusiasm that was hard for me to keep up with her. Greeting us was the huge cathedral Notre-Dame Basilica, the detailed design etched into the church building seemed to be alive even in the coldness of the falling snow, and it was hard to peel our eyes away from the beauty of the Gothic structure. Even so, we had to, as the sky became darker to welcome nightfall, and we had to hurry our way to an alley around the corner of the imposing church—which no one else on the street appeared to notice the existence of the alleyway.

 

As we reached the end of the passage, I turned and frowned at my blond counterpart. "It's a dead end," I said, then narrowing my eyes at the obstacle before us. "With a post box stuck before a solid brick wall. Are you sure this is the right way?"

 

"Positive. I even triple-checked with Albert—oh, he's the one who gave me the tickets," Queenie replied, pulling out her wand and a piece of parchment. "The entrance is here." Tapping her wand on the parchment, she wrote her name on it, before dropping the parchment into the post box.

 

"Step back."

 

I heard a faint rumbling noise and the post box began to move, melting into the brick wall behind it. Then, the bricks collapsed into the post box, opening the path to a street that contrasted the Montreal we had just seen.

 

Even Queenie was breathless at yet another sightseeing delight. "So this is Allée d'Arc—the Alley of Arc, the wizarding area in Montreal."


Of course, the actual circus performance had to be the finale of our short trip around the snowy Canadian town. We reached the site as early as we could, but it was still packed with wizards and witches. I couldn't recognize half the conversations from the crowd around us, and some simply didn't look remotely native to belong here in North America. The staff had to fire cracking sparks into the air to maintain order among the attendants of the show, before ushering the people by batches into the huge, colorful tent. It was hard to see my way around the interior of the tent as the only sources of light were the dimly lit candles floating around us. I grabbed onto Queenie's wrist.

 

"Tina," Queenie said, chuckling. "I'm fine. I'll always follow behind you."

 

Though I wasn't that repulsive towards my sister's gift for Legilimency even at such a young age, there were times I still felt uncomfortable at the way she could look into my mind before I was able to voice out my thoughts properly.

 

Queenie's cheerful grin faltered. "Tina, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."

 

I shook my head. Exhaling slowly, I turned my attention to the stage. "The show is about to start soon, so let's have fun tonight."

 

The stand exploded with roaring applause and cheers when the spotlight shined onto the stage, bathing the star of the show in bright light. Decked in a pink dress adorned with white feathers, Luminelle Devereux spread her arms and bowed. The cheering became even louder. Plucking the feathers from her dress with a hand, she scattered them all around her while spinning on her toes. With a wave of her wand in another hand, Luminelle magicked the feathers to levitate—almost like they froze in mid-air, as if time had come to a standstill around the tall lady.

 

Then, she twirled her wand before her, flashing a pearly-white smile at the audience before she said the next spell with a clear voice, "Lacarnum Inflamari!"

 

A wisp of blue fire shot out from the tip of the wand, which Luminelle guided it to fly around her and ignite the hovering feathers. The azure flames seemed to flicker mischievously on the feathers, like dozens of will-o'-wisps dancing around the witch. The crowd clapped to the beat of the music playing from the backstage as Luminelle flicked her wand again, and the burning feathers orbited around her slender frame in a neat ellipse.

 

Next to me, Queenie suddenly stood up from her seat and shouted, "No!", but her voice was drowned out by the collective gasps of the other watchers in the tent as the burning feathers converged towards Luminelle.

 

I held my breath as I watched the witch burst into flames, and the tip of the fire even shot up towards the ceiling of the tent. I could feel beads of cold sweat trickling down the side of my face.

 

"What will happen to her?" Queenie whispered to me and clutched my arm. I felt her hands trembling against my skin. "Is she going to be alright?" Out of the corner of my eye, my poor sister looked like she was close to tears.

 

With a sudden bang, the top of the tent exploded outwards and specks of snow fell onto the hushed stand. The music picked up and pulled everyone's attention back to the stage, only to see Luminelle stepping through the fire unharmed, the blue flames caressing around her pink dress and turning it into shades of purple. She waved her wand again, this time siphoning parts of the blue fire to light up the snowflakes falling down on her from above, producing a witty performance where the tiny ball of flames disappeared with the melting snow into thin air.

 

It was the longest and hardest applause I had ever done in my life, and truly a wonderful show I'd never forget as the performance came to an end.



Chapter 15: Jealousy (Next Gen; Harry, James II)
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"James!" Ginny Potter was at her wit's end, yelling for her stubborn son to get out of his room and come down for breakfast. With a frustrated sigh, she turned to her husband. "Harry, can you do something about him? I already have my hands full with the two here." She glanced down at the young Albus Severus Potter and the even younger Lily Luna Potter.

 

Laying down today's copy of the Daily Prophet on the dining table, Harry Potter finished his hot chocolate in one gulp and stood up, shaking his head at another one of James' difficult tantrums. "Yeah, I'll do that."

 

As he ascended the stairs, he couldn't help thinking if it was a mistake to send James to a Muggle school. He had hoped it would help Ginny to ease her load in taking care of three children at once; it also helped to separate James from Albus for a bit, for the former seemed to have taken a liking to bully his younger brother with pranks that greatly reminded Harry of the Weasley twins… and his own father, James Senior. He had taken Hermione's advice to give James an earlier school experience at a Muggle institution before going to Hogwarts, but he wasn't sure if that had made the matter worse.

 

Unlocking James' door with an Alohomora Charm, Harry was greeted by the usual chaotic mess in his eldest son's room. He had to duck down as a book suddenly came flying towards him.

 

"Go away!" James screamed, throwing balls of parchments at his father. "Leave me alone!" Tears were flowing down the young boy's cheeks, his brown eyes glowering fiercely at Harry. The latter was taken aback at the furious look—one that Harry would hate to see if he had accidentally stepped on one of Ginny's many landmines on her bad day. The resemblance was uncanny.

 

"James," Harry tried to calm his son down, clearing up the maelstrom of papers with a wave of his wand. "Did something happen—"

James cut him off with a sarcastic laugh. "Why do you care?" he snapped. "Nobody cares about me—Al and Lily are all you need. You throw me into a Muggle school so that you can spend more time with them, yeah?"

 

"James, listen to me—"

 

"I have enough! I'm out of here!" With a roar of finality, James threw his red lion alarm clock at his father before storming out of the room. In the moment of distraction as Harry caught the clock with a hand, he couldn't stop his son from stalking out the front door.

 

"James!" Ginny was equally shocked at how the situation had escalated as she rushed out of the kitchen to see what the din was about. "What is he thinking, leaving the house like this?"

 

Exhaling slowly, Harry raised a hand to stop Ginny from going after James. "I'll take care of this," he muttered, then glancing down at the frightened younger children hiding behind the mother. "You stay here to keep an eye on them."


It wasn't hard to find James. The young boy didn't run away very far; he merely went to a deserted playground nearby, sitting on a swing alone. Harry approached slowly, careful not to alert the son of his presence. He only called out to James in a soft voice when he was in the other swing next to the boy. "I'm sorry that I didn't notice this earlier."

 

James still refused to look at his father. "…Isn't it too late to apologize?"

 

"It's never too late to apologize," Harry replied in the same gentle tone. "It's my fault for not understanding how you feel." He paused, looking up at the clear sky. He had felt jealousy towards his cousin Dudley from time to time when he lived with the Dursleys in his childhood days; even if they were his distant relatives, Harry always felt an unbreakable wall between his magical background and the normal, Muggle life that the Dursleys had been adamant about upholding. They were fearful of the gossiping neighbors if anyone found out about Harry's 'mumbo jumbos', as his uncle, Vernon, had put it.

 

Of course, Harry knew that it wasn't the same as the blood bonds between James. "I… don't have siblings like you, and I was never close with my cousin. I won't pretend that I can understand how you feel, but there are times I do feel like the world is unfair." He let out a short laugh. "I do get jealous of others, too."

 

James said nothing; though, he sneaked a glance at his father before looking away again.

 

As the awkward silence between the two dragged on, Harry cleared his throat to break the tension. "But what I really want to say is that I love you as much as I love Albus and Lily. You're my child as much as they are."

 

James didn't seem convinced. "…Really?"

 

"Really."

 

"Words mean nothing." James narrowed his eyes at his father, unwilling to give in so easily. "How will you prove that to me?"

 

Harry stared at his glaring son for a moment, then he smiled. "How about we just stay here and continue to talk like this for a while?"

 

That made James raised his eyebrows at his father. "What about Mom?"

 

"Oh? Do you want to go back home now?"

 

"No." The annoyed look on James' face finally cracked into his usual mischievous grin. "How about we run away from home a little longer—and further?"



Chapter 16: Who Killed Crooked Robin? (Post-Marauders; Arthur, OC)
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Spinnet Yard was a small town somewhere in the London suburbs, a quiet residential area with rows of houses arranged neatly against the road line. Each of these houses had a backyard of their own, which was filled with blood-red roses planted by each resident, all in full bloom under the midday sun.

 

Around the bend in an alleyway that would lead up to the main street, there was a faint pop before a man appeared out of thin air on the road. If anyone had seen him, they would be astounded at how out of place this person was. The man wore a reddish-brown traveling cloak over a checkered shirt; he had a gold pocket watch in one hand, and a wooden stick in the other. Perched on his head was a pointed hat, with bits of ginger hair poking out underneath the wide brim.

 

Arthur Weasley sighed as he placed the watch back into his shirt pocket. He removed the hat from his head and pulled the traveling cloak off his shoulders, then he stuffed the cloak into the upturned hat. With a swish of his wand, the hat disappeared from his hand. Satisfied, he hid the wand down the front of his shirt and strolled out to the main street.

 

The town was deadly quiet; not a single person was in sight on the road. Arthur glanced around, feeling a little unnerved at the stillness. He pulled out the letter to double check the address.

 

"I'm pretty sure it's around here…"

 

"Arthur!"

 

He almost jumped at the voice that suddenly called out behind him. Turning his head slowly, he was relieved to see it was a familiar face. "Oh Brenda, it's you."

 

The lady's smile widened as she brisked towards him, then she gave him a warm hug. "It's been a long time since we've both graduated from Hogwarts. I heard you're working for the Ministry of Magic now."

 

"Junior Officer in the Improper Use of Magic Office," Arthur replied, stepping back to break the hug. "How about you?" He gestured at the town. "How does it feel returning back to Muggle life after being surround by magic for seven years at Hogwarts?"

 

The lady chuckled at his eager tone. "Nothing exciting worth mentioning. I'll show you to my house."


Arthur followed the lady to her cottage, squeezing himself through the gate with a cutely decorated sign with the name: Gordon. He was amazed at the roses that filled the garden before he reached the front door.

 

"Seems like everyone here has roses in their yard."

 

"Yeah, hence why we're also known as Rose Town," Brenda Gordon said, and she showed Arthur to the living room. "Make yourself comfortable. Tea, or alcohol?"

 

The wizard could taste the smell of pan-fried fish in the air. "Let's go with tea. Having a fishy meal for lunch?"

 

Brenda froze for a moment, then she laughed, albeit with a hint of nervousness. "That's a terrible pun there. You haven't changed one bit." She placed a cup of hot tea before Arthur. "So, tell me about you and Molly. How's life after that lightning-quick marriage?"

 

"It's insane," Arthur replied, taking a sip of tea. "Just like you said, everything's rushed and all, with the fear and uncertainty because of You-Know-Who." Then he sniffed the air again and stood up. "Are you sure you don't need to watch over the stove?"

 

Brenda blinked. "Well, I can't cook with magic here, so it's going to take longer—"

 

"Really?" Arthur glanced at his Muggle-born former schoolmate with an arched eyebrow. With the cup of tea still in his hand, he walked over to the kitchen.

 

On the blazing stove fire was a huge cooking pan, and a big slab of tuna meat was sizzling away in it. While Molly was the cook at home now, he still knew enough that something didn't seem right to him… but what was it?

 

Picking up a fork from the kitchen drawer, Arthur poked at the tuna. As he had expected, something felt wrong.

"Are you living alone?"

 

"No, not really." Brenda shook her head. "I'm still staying with my dad. My mom had passed away when I was in my fifth year, remember?" She waved him off when Arthur opened his mouth to apologize. "It's fine, I've gotten over it."

 

"By the way, where's Mr. Gordon? I'd like to greet him."

 

"Dad's probably still in his study," Brenda said, glancing up at the second floor. "I'll go fetch him."

 

However, Arthur was totally unprepared for a blood-curdling scream that shook the house moments later.


On the floor of Mr. Gordon's study room lay the lifeless body of the man himself, facing down in a spread-eagled position. There was some blood on the back of Mr. Gordon's head, presumably being hit by something hard enough to crack his skull, causing his death.

 

Arthur shook his head after he checked the pulse. "He's dead."

 

Brenda was in shock. She stood frozen at the door, staring down at her dead father with wide eyes. "What… How…" Then her knees buckled and she sat down on the ground with a thud. "Why…"

 

"You need to calm down," Arthur said as he rushed to her side, pushing his half-finished tea into her trembling hands. "Here, drink this. I'll help you downstairs."

 

Nodding, she rested her weight against the redhead wizard and the two of them descended to the ground floor. Arthur guided her to an armchair. "I'm sorry that this has happened," he started off, pulling out his wand. "Did anyone come here this morning, before you went out to meet me?"

 

Brenda shook her head, dabbing her teary eyes with a napkin.

 

"Do you mind if I look around your house for a bit?"

 

"Y-Yeah."

 

Leaving the distraught woman to recover from her shock, Arthur went back to the study room and examined every inch of it, muttering spells under his breath. "Specialis Revelio… Homenum Revelio…"

 

Nothing. The frown on Arthur's face deepened. It seemed like Mr. Gordon's death wasn't caused by magical means, nor was there any unwelcomed outsiders hiding in the house. He studied every single object in the room: the neatly arranged books on the shelves, the tidy desk, the dustless carpet… but he couldn't find anything that could be a murder weapon.

 

What if the weapon wasn't in this room anymore? Where else could it be hidden?

 

Arthur widened his search to the other parts of the house—his cheeks felt hot when he had to check out Brenda's room just to be sure—but everything was in order, nothing out of place.

 

There was only the kitchen left.

 

Arthur stared down at the simmering tuna in the frying pan once more. Of all the things in this house, the tuna had been tugging at his mind the whole time… but he couldn't quite put his finger on why he had a strange interest for food that was normal in both the Muggle and magical world. When he had first seen the frying tuna, he was confused about why the pan was filled with water. Then, when he had poked the meat with a fork, the tuna was still rock hard.

 

Why was the tuna still frozen when he could already smell the fragrance of it filling up the house?

 

The conclusion that Arthur had arrived at was something he didn't like at all.


"Arthur…? W-Why are you doing this?"

 

Arthur sighed, watching a frightened Brenda squirming in her armchair, trying to break free of the vines he had conjured to tie around her. He pointed his wand at his friend, locking his gaze with hers.

 

"It was you, wasn't it?" he said in a low voice. "You killed your own father."

 

"Arthur," Brenda was exasperated. "This isn't a time for your usual jokes—"

 

"I'm being very serious here," he cut her off. "The murder weapon… It's the tuna fish in the frying pan. You were trying to get rid of the evidence before I showed up, but you were in such a hurry that you had forgotten to thaw it first."

 

After a long silence, Brenda slumped into the armchair, a look of defeat on her face. "You're right, it was me. I killed my own father."

 

"But why would you do something like that?"

 

"Why, you ask?" Brenda snorted at him, letting out a sarcastic laugh. The nice and cheerful Brenda that Arthur always knew at Hogwarts was gone, now replaced by a crazed woman with a murderous sneer on her face. "A pureblood wizard like you who have been living in the magical world throughout your entire life won't understand. It makes me want to laugh at your mad love for Muggle things. You're ridiculously pathetic."

 

"…What has happened to you?"

 

"I hated living in this shithole," Brenda spat, her eyes flashing with anger. "Going to Hogwarts felt like a dream came true, a chance for me to leave this hell and find my own place in the world of magic… but my dad wanted me to take over the family business. I don't give a damn about this crap town, and I don't want to live here and pretend that I'm a normal Muggle for the rest of my life. I'm a bloody witch, for Merlin's sake!"

 

"But…" Arthur could feel his impression, his memory of the good friend who had shown him the wonders of the Muggle world shattering into a million pieces before him. "Do you have to go that far to murder your only family left?"

 

"Why not?" Arthur could feel his skin crawl at the grin on Brenda's twisted face. "He's my biggest obstacle to the life I've always yearned for, to the freedom I've always wanted. He deserves to die for the sake of his daughter's happiness! What's wrong with that?"

 

"No," Arthur breathed, tightening his grip on his wand, still pointing it at Brenda. "If killing someone is your way of joining my world, you are wrong."

 

He pulled out another wand—Brenda's wand—and he watched the smile on Brenda's face being wiped off, realizing what he was going to do.

 

"Whether you're a witch or a Muggle, no one will allow a murderer to walk free without atoning for your sins. You don't belong in either world… only Azkaban awaits you."



Chapter 17: The Lost Diary of Lily J. Potter (Post-Marauders; Jily, Sirius)
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Dear Harry,

 

I hope this package can find you well. I apologise for detaining this in my office for quite some time, but now I can return it to you. It's rightfully yours.

 

This diary came into my attention during one of the raids on Mundungus Fletcher's many hideouts. There had been reports of him attempting to sell cursed items to unsuspecting wealthy Muggles to try and make a fortune out of them. This item was among the many things I had seized from his stack of stolen artefacts from Sirius' house—well, yours—at Twelve Grimmauld Place.

 

Don't worry, it has already been checked and cleared of all enchantments. I can safely give this diary to you, and it's just in time as a present, too.

 

Happy Birthday, Harry!

 

Yours,

Arthur Weasley

 

P.S. Please send my regards and well wishes to Ginny, and congratulations on your third child. I hope you two can bring baby Lily Luna around to visit Molly. She'll be overjoyed.


ENTRY #1

 

At Professor Dumbledore's request—well, it was technically an order—James and I had to abandon our old house in London, and we moved to Godric's Hollow. I remembered that it was a cold, snowy night when we Apparated at the village, after taking a roundabout route to throw off anyone who might be tailing us. The place was dead quiet; even James didn't like the eerie silence as he dragged me towards the cottage a short walk away from the cemetery.

 

Just as Professor Dumbledore had said, it was a humble house—two stories high with a nice slanted roof like our previous home. The house was clean and scarcely furnished; it felt as if someone would come around periodically, but they wouldn't stay here for long. I recalled someone in the Order said that the Headmaster had lived here in his youth, though she didn't go on to tell me why Professor Dumbledore never told us about his past before he became a teacher at Hogwarts. Dumbledore struck me as a very mysterious person: full of wisdom, sometimes stern, other times like a loving grandfather. It felt as if he had been through a rich, dramatic life to gain such enlightenment, such deep insight into the dark times we were living in now.

 

"Lily," James breathed, looking at me with those shining eyes that I loved (and hated at the same time, because it usually meant something I didn't want to hear or do). "This is brilliant. I love this house. Since we'll be living here from now on, let's do our best to make it feel like home."

 

"James," I could only sigh at my husband, who was already examining the grandfather clock in the living room like an excited little boy exploring the wonders in his secret base. "We still need to thank the professor properly for lending this house to us."

 

"I know." James rolled his eyes at me. "But we won't be able to see him often. He's getting busier especially now that Voldie has gone after us, three times to boot. The Lestranges are going after the Longbottoms. We're being targeted left and right. Dumbledore is concerned about information leaks. We can thank him later if we can all survive through this, after this war is over."

 

I knew a losing battle when I saw one.


ENTRY #2

 

I could never leave house decorations to James. Sure, he had matured splendidly after we started dating in our seventh year, and I knew that he was a man with a heart of gold, but sometimes I couldn't help feeling wary about his old habit of turning even the most mundane things in life into a stupid prank. Sometimes they were really hilarious, like the time Sirius used the joke shampoo James had sent him on his birthday and he visited us with a rainbow Afro, but other times they felt… wrong. I don't know.

 

"James," I almost had a shock of my life when I woke up the next day to see the horror my husband had done to our living room. "Stop, this is getting out of hand."

 

"What do you mean?" James pouted, gesturing his attempt to turn the room into an indoor Quidditch pitch. "We can't go out like we used to now. With the Fidelius Charm already in place, we're literally imprisoned in our house until who-knows-when."

 

"But…" I glanced around at the state of the living room, exasperated. "You can't fly a broom in the house. You know that, don't you?"

 

"This isn't for me," James paused his handiwork and turned around to face me. "This is for our future." His eyes travelled down to my middle.

 

I didn't know if I should be angry at his crazy antics with the room, or be happy at the suggestion we should consider having a child together.

 

"It'd be great if we can have enough kids to form a Quidditch team!"

 

Okay, now I should be angry at this Quidditch idiot. This needs to stop.


ENTRY #3

 

They always say that women are fickle beings. We are more emotional than men are, and our feelings burn more passionately than men could.

 

But I digress.

 

Our baby had been growing steadily well in my womb—I'm five months pregnant now—and I had been spending most of my time knitting clothes for this little one by hand. I refused to use magic even though I knew it'd be much faster. I felt a better sense of accomplishment if I could do this the hard way.

 

But coming back to my sentiment about the saying, how could I get emotional when there was someone else far more excited than I was?

 

James had stopped doing crazy things around the house ever since I was three months pregnant; instead, he was completely spoiling me by not letting me do any housework at all, and just focus on making sure our boy would grow up healthily inside me until the time comes for him to greet the world. Of course, I didn't comply at first, and I was right not to.

 

James was the last person I'd ever imagine who had any experience with housework.

 

Well, after months of practice (and taunting from Sirius whenever he came to visit us), James was so good now that he could put me, the supposed housewife, out of my job, but the first time he tried to clean the house was a disaster that I never wanted to remember.

 

It took us two weeks to replace every piece of furniture at home after he attempted to charm a mop to wash the floor. The mop washed literally everything—including the walls and ceilings—and almost choked us to death with bubbles in our faces. Everything smelled like lavender for at least a whole month, enough for me to hate anything lavender for a long time.

 

I still hate the smell of lavender, even now.


ENTRY #4

 

Today was a big day for James and I. Our first child, Harry, was safely born… after twenty painful hours of trying to push this stubborn little one out to meet the world.

 

"He looks just like me," James said, stroking the baby's cheeks. Our son giggled at the touch. That made me jealous.

 

"Hey," I breathed, still feeling weak from the delivery. "The mother… is always the first… to see and touch her child."

 

"Lily, please." James rolled his eyes at me. "He's our child. We will both take care of him together. Or are you actually jealous because Harry is a mini-replica of me?"

 

"I… am… not."

 

"He has your eyes, though," James went on, placing Harry next to my pillow. "The same lovely green eyes as yours."

 

"R-Really."

 

When Harry's small green eyes met with my bigger ones, I couldn't help cracking a smile.


ENTRY #5

 

It was supposed to be a joyous day today—it was Harry's first birthday—but the situation outside our haven was grimmer than we had originally thought.

 

"I'm sorry, James, Lily," Sirius said, watching little Harry flying around the house on the toy broomstick—his present for our boy. "Both Voldemort and the Ministry are closing in on me, and Dumbledore suggested I should go into hiding also. This is probably the last time I can visit you two."

 

"We're alright, Sirius," James said, patting his best friend's back. "You should take care of yourself. As long as you're safe, we'll be safe, too."

 

"About that…" It was the first time I saw Sirius this hesitant. He always gave me the impression that he had a lot of self-confidence, with almost the same level of troublesome ego as James.

 

"I've suggested to Dumbledore to change the Secret Keeper," Sirius began, looking up at the ceiling. He seemed rather weary, as if he hadn't gotten a wink for days. "Voldemort and his Death Eaters know that I'm your butt buddy, James, and they know that I'm the person you trust most. If I continue to be your Secret Keeper, I will put your family in danger." He then turned his attention to Harry, who just fell off the toy broom and rolled around on the sofa. "For the sake of his future, I'll do whatever it takes to keep you two alive."

 

James sighed, flipping the back of his hair with a hand. Old habits really don't die. "But who would you suggest, then? Remus is out of the question with his werewolf thing and all… Don't tell me you want Peter to be our Secret Keeper?"

 

"Bingo." Sirius gave James a thumbs-up, then his grin faltered when James wasn't smiling back. "Look, I know what you're thinking, and that is exactly what Voldemort and his cronies are thinking also."

 

"Well, the thing is, Peter isn't nicknamed 'Wormtail' without a reason. With that skittish personality of his, he won't agree to be our Secret Keeper. He'd rather save his own skin first."

 

I couldn't believe my ears. "How can you say that about your friend?"

 

"I'm merely stating the facts," James replied, raising his eyebrows at me. "And you know that I'm right."

 

"I will convince him," Sirius said, standing up. "Just like I have promised you, I will do whatever it takes to keep you all alive. This is the least I can do as your bestest friend, and Harry's godfather."


ENTRY #6

 

I feel scared. I feel like my heart would stop any moment, but I know I can't fall yet.

 

I hug Harry closer to my chest.

 

The moment Voldemort has stepped into our house, we already know the worst had happened. Peter sold us out—Peter was the mole in the Order. He had been working as Voldemort's spy all along.

 

But it's too late to regret. I can only open my mouth in a silent scream when I hear a loud thud downstairs. James has fallen.

 

Voldemort is coming for us—for me, and for our precious son.

 

For Harry.

 

I know that I won't live another day to watch my child grow up, to send him to Hogwarts… to do so many other things I have dreamed of doing as a family.

 

This is the last time I can say this to you.

 

I love you, Harry. Be strong like Mum and Dad.

 

I love you.



Chapter 18: Reminiscence (Next Gen; Harry, Jily)
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The village is still
The air is cold
A faint pop is heard
On a silent, holy night

 

Crunching snow under feet
A Christmas Carol from afar
Stopping short before the church
In the shadow beyond the light's reach

 

Among tombstones and rubble
One pillar stands above all
The sign of the Hallows—
The place where it all began.

 

Across the obelisk
Under snow-covered thorns
Names of the dead
So dear, so loved
But gone… forever.


How many years had it been since he last visited Godric's Hollow? Back then, he was young—definitely so compared to his current age—and disheveled from the camping trip. He was constantly on the move to dodge the Snatchers, to look for clues to find the Horcruxes…

 

He could not even afford to stand before the graves of his late parents as himself, disguised as a random Muggle before Apparating to this quiet wizarding village. Ah, wasn't that time just like tonight—on Christmas Eve?

 

He glanced around, his grip tightened on the front of his traveling cloak as the nostalgia became heavier with each step towards his destination. The street was deserted; a faint, haunting voice was coming from where he was heading. Picking up his pace, he pushed his way through the snowy path until he reached the graveyard—the final resting place of his parents who had sacrificed themselves for him. To protect him from Voldemort, refusing to give up their love for the child and succumbing to the evil dark wizard.

 

He strolled through the churchyard, passing by familiar names along the way: Ignotus Peverell, Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore, Bathilda Bagshot… He stopped short at a rather long headstone compared to the rest and got down on one knee, brushing away the snow on the plaque.

In Loving Memory of
James and Lily Potter
31st October 1981

 

Now with both knees on the frozen ground, he swept aside the last bit of snow, revealing the quote carved under the names of his parents.

 

"…The last enemy to be destroyed is death," he murmured, his gruff voice broke at the last word while trying to fight back the tears welling up in his eyes. Wiping them away before they could fall down his cold cheeks, he clasped his gloved hands together in silent prayer.

 

"I'm home again, Dad… Mom."

 

Harry Potter then pulled out his wand and drew a circle at the tombstone, leaving a wreath of red roses behind before the middle-aged wizard Disapparated into the night in a gust of powdered snow.



Chapter 19: Bill Weasley and the Deathly Dilemma (Pre-Golden Trio; Bill, OC)
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As much as he loved the thrill of adventure that came with his dream job, Bill Weasley was not expecting to make his debut as a Curse-Breaker for Gringotts—at a graveyard, of all places. Stuffing a trembling hand into his pocket, he tightened his grip around his wand, suppressing the nervousness at the eerie silence around him.

 

"Scared, Weasley?"

 

The redhead shot a sideways glare at his partner, a wizard three years older than him by the name of Henry Caldecott. Bill was assigned to the latter as an assistant while undergoing his on-job training. Henry was a tall, burly man, his well-defined chest muscles and six packs were clearly visible on his tight T-shirt. He also appeared way older than his actual age with a mustache and a full beard, his long grisly hair pulled back with a green bandana.

 

"No more than you are," Bill replied coolly, running a free hand through his longer ginger locks as he surveyed the graveyard with wary eyes. "So, what are we supposed to do tonight?"

 

Henry let out a barking laugh, the sound echoing across the misty cemetery with an odd ring in the chilly air. "What d'you think we'll do in this kind of place? Raid a bloody tomb, of course."


The grave in question was the oldest one at the furthest end of the death garden, situated under a majestic oak tree. The words on the stone plaque were difficult to discern, but it was clearly not English. The pair pulled out their wands and shifted the earth aside, then they levitated the coffin out of the hole in the ground.

 

The coffin seemed ordinary, made of the same material as the tree hovering over its grave. Bill frowned at the smooth exterior. Henry caught the questioning look in his face and tapped his wand on the heavy wooden lid. It began to glow, the white lines snaking across the whole coffin to form an intricate pattern of sorts.

 

"Heard you're the top student in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes," Henry snickered, pulling out a cigarette from his pocket and lit it with his wand. "Get to work and solve the puzzle, then."

 

Shrugging, Bill did as told, studying the symbols on the coffin with unblinking eyes. The fog around them was thickening; the eldest Weasley shivered involuntarily at the chill. Even Henry dropped the smirk on his face and straightened up, a hint of fear flashing in his dark beady eyes.

 

This is a trap.

 

The pair raised their wands before them, their eyes darting around for any signs of movement. Bill could make an intelligent guess of whatever that was—were—coming for them as he watched a layer of frost covering the coffin.

 

Henry wasn't as stupid as he looked, either. "Bloody Dementors," he hissed, beads of cold sweat glistening on his forehead. His thick beard was freezing over, too. "You wouldn't think they'd be interested in a couple of dead bodies."

 

Bill gulped and tightened his grip on his wand to stop his hand from shaking. He could produce an incorporeal Patronus, but it wasn't going to be of much help against a murder of Dementors. "Well, have you got any better ideas?"

 

"I thought you're the genius here, boy!"

 

If the situation wasn't so dire, Bill would have prepared a wry comeback for Henry's snark, but they didn't have time to waste on verbal insults. Exhaling slowly, the intern cast the only spell that would work against the Dementors, but the wispy form simply melted into the mist and lit up the surrounding with a soft, bluish hue. "How did they even get here? Aren't they supposed to guard Azkaban?"

 

"Someone must've sent them here," Henry muttered, eyeing the approaching Dementors with a narrowed glare. "Someone in the Ministry. His supporters are still out there, biding their time for You-Know-Who's resurrection…"

 

The mention of the dark wizard that was vanquished by Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, made Bill set his jaw with a grim expression. "Whatever the reason is, unless you can cast a better Patronus Charm that I do, we can kiss our souls goodbye."

 

A creak behind the bickering duo made them jump and they whipped around, their eyes widening as the coffin lid slowly pushed itself open…

 

"Who dares to wake me up from my slumber—oh," a young man with deathly pale face yawned as he got up to his feet slowly. Black smoke swirled around him before transforming into a set of black robes on his bony frame. Then he raised his eyebrows at the Dementors swooping overhead. "Oh-ho-ho, what a welcome party we have here!"

 

Bill was the first to recover from the shocking, unexpected development. "Why didn't you tell me that we're going to unseal a bloody vampire?"

 

Henry only gave him a long, hard look.

 

"…I think this weirdo is the least of our worries compared to the ones circling above us."



Chapter 20: Summer Daze (Post-Battle of Hogwarts; Ron)
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The clock struck twelve
when I glanced at the time
The cicadas chirping
to the first summer night
Vision filled with green
I shook my head
Colors spinning faster
into the palette of black


First of July.

 

The last ticking sound woke me up from my slumber, then I sat upright at the vibrating clock under my quilt blanket. The Burrow was eerily quiet sans the cicadas buzzing outside of the window. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and slicked back my ginger fringe with the wetness. Not a pleasant way to welcome the beginning of summer, but at least I was still alive.

 

The Battle of Hogwarts felt so surreal to me, like a broken recorder replaying the nightmare in my dreams. Hermione was the only ray of sunshine that pierced through the sweating fear trying to drown me. I remembered the fleeting kiss I had shared with her down in the Chamber of Secrets when we went to grab a Basilisk fang. Even so, it wasn't enough to drive away the heavy darkness engulfing me, numbing my senses… trying to bury the little bit of hope I wanted to have for the new era without You-Know-Who. Or Voldemort, now that he was as dead as he should be after the climactic duel with Harry Potter.

 

The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. The Hero Who Saved the Wizarding World.

 

My best friend.

 

I pulled out the alarm clock from under the blanket and placed it on my bedside table. The silence was unnerving—empty house, sure, but not even a sound could be heard from the ghouls that lived in the attic above my room. The lack of the usual scuffling noises felt weird. It didn't sit well with me.

 

It's okay, I told myself. They will be back home tomorrow. Mom, Dad, Ginny… with Harry and Hermione. I won't be alone anymore.

 

I decided to get out of bed and made my way down the staircase, poking a head cautiously around a corner to sneak a peek at the kitchen. No one. I tiptoed through the dining room and glanced around in the dark house. Nobody.

 

I navigated through the armchairs in the living room and pulled open the front door before I was greeted by a blast of hot summer wind right into my face. I realized how isolated the Burrow was—a strange home, built with magic, standing all alone in the middle of a huge field that stretched on for miles, with grasses taller than my own height. I could barely see the faint silhouette of the Lovegoods' tower a long way beyond the isle of meadow.

 

I looked up at the night sky, right into the Milky Way that seemed to cut the heaven into two. I remembered Hermione telling me about the mythology and folklore about the galaxy; one in particular stood out to me, the East Asian legend about the stars, Vega and Altair, at their closest on the seventh night of July. A sudden rustling sound from the field jerked me out of the trance; curious, I walked further away from the door and deeper into the labyrinth of tall grass. I froze when I caught a shadow from the corner of my eye, and my hand slipped into my pocket.

 

Before I could curse at myself for forgetting to bring my wand, my vision was filled with ghastly green light, like an aurora that painted over all the twinkling lights dotting the starry night sky…


The clock struck twelve
and I sprung up from my bed
The night was silent
sans the cicadas' song of summer
I glanced up at the starry sky
but everything looked green
Even with my wand
back to the beginning of the end


The last ticking sound woke me up from my slumber, then I sat upright at the vibrating clock under my quilt blanket. The Burrow was eerily quiet sans the cicadas buzzing outside of the window. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and slicked back my ginger fringe with the wetness. Not a pleasant way to welcome the beginning of summer, but at least I was still alive.

 

Alive?

 

I threw the blanket aside and snatched up the alarm clock. First of July. Back to square one. What happened to me last night?

 

A low groan left my lips as I raised a hand to my head. It throbbed to the crescendo of the noisy cicadas outside the window, drowning out the unnerving silence with chaotic chirps. Shut up, shut up, shut up… I continued to chant until it was loud enough to block out the din, then I snatched up the wand on my bedside table and headed for the door.

 

The feeling of déjà vu gnawed harder at my sanity as I descended the stairs to the ground floor, drifting through the kitchen and the dining room, hoping I would find someone—anyone—at home. None. I was all alone in this dark house; not even an attic ghoul or a garden gnome in sight, not even the ancient house owl Errol in his cage near the living room window. The fireplace was cold and dead, but my shirt was drenched in the sweat from the sunless, summer heat. Mom and Dad said they would be back tomorrow with Ginny. Harry and Hermione would come via the Floo Network after my family.

 

I walked out of the front door and looked up at the starry sky. Hermione's voice in my memory filled my ears with the story of Vega and Altair; my vision was fixated on the Milky Way that split the night, until the rustling noise from the field surrounding the Burrow distracted me from the moment of bliss.

 

I rushed into the grassland, breathless from the run and a sense of dread. I pulled out my wand after catching sight of a shadow that flashed before my wide eyes. Before I could utter a spell, a brilliant green light encircled me. I felt colder, darker…

 

Then I felt nothing but dead silence.


The clock struck twelve
and I woke up from a nightmare
The cicadas sounded far away
in the dead of the night
The stars winked down at me
and I reached out for their light
To escape the halo of green
towards the sunrise I'll never see


Tick-tock, tick-tock…

Tick-tock.

 

I slammed a hand on the alarm clock before it could buzz to the chime of midnight, of a new day. The first of July. I sprung up from the bed and ran a hand through my red hair that glistened with sweat. Not again. My hands trembled as I placed the clock onto the bedside table, the haunting familiarity of whatever was happening to me shook every fiber in my body, even my bones.

 

It can't be. I remembered my displeasure at Hermione in our third year, about how she didn't tell me and Harry about the Time-Turner. It can't be. In our fifth year, we had put all the Time-Turners in the Department of Mysteries out of commission, trapped in a time loop that could not be undone. It can't be.

 

A time loop.

 

This time, I grabbed the clock instead of my wand and bolted out of my bedroom, thundering down the stairs to the ground floor. I dashed through the kitchen and the dining room, then through the armchairs in the cramped living room before I reached the front door. I threw it open and stepped out of the house, grimacing at the blast of hot breeze that smacked right into my face.

 

The night sky still looked the same every time I tilted my head up at it. The Milky Way, Vega and Altair, all perfect for stargazing if it wasn't for the disturbance that came from the meadow surrounding the deserted Burrow. The hazy silhouette of the Lovegood house brought nothing but the dreadful feeling of solitude, like I was a last king left to fend for myself in a queer fortress cut off from the rest of the world—from time and space.

 

"W-Who's there?" I said, my voice quivering in fear. "Show yourself!"

 

The grass continued to rustle in the windless night.

 

"What do you want from me?" I continued my monologue, lumbering towards the field. "What the hell is going on here?"

 

No answer, except for the restless chirping of the cicadas that was making my ears bleed.

 

"G-Go away… Just l-leave me alone," my voice broke as tears began to trickle down my cheeks. I raised my alarm clock above my head. "Stop this already. I've had enough."

 

I shut my eyes, and I felt the grass leaves cutting my outstretched arms. I squeezed my closed eyes, but it did nothing to block out the green haze that filled my vision.

 

With a scream of pure terror, I smashed the clock on the ground, and the darkness swallowed me whole once more.

 

When could I see the sunrise that would never come?



Chapter 21: Goodbye, My Love (Next Gen; Arthur x Molly)
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The Burrow had been quiet and empty ever since Molly Weasley's youngest child, Ginny, had left the house to live with her husband, Harry Potter, in London. All the kids were grown up and gone, venturing out into the world to spread their wings and soar towards the unlimited opportunities waiting for them out there. Molly knew she should feel proud of her children, each armed with the talent, knowledge, and skills that had helped them to succeed in their respective areas. However, she'd be lying if a part of her didn't want to let them go, forever seeing them as her little tykes whom she would smother with all the motherly love she could ever give.

 

She could still count the years since the chatters had gone with the wind; the children had moved out of the Burrow to the world beyond, just like how birds would leave the nest and fly towards the blue sky of freedom. All that was left was the enchanted family clock that showed the status of her loved ones at all times… except for one. Fred's hand has been permanently stuck at 'lost' since his death at the Battle of Hogwarts many years ago, and she couldn't bring herself to remove it from the clock. It was a loss she could never come to terms with, even after such a long time; the hand was the only thing left in the house to remind her of Fred, that he was never really gone.

 

Fred's clock-hand wasn't the only thing that left a gaping hole in Molly's chest. Her eyes glanced at another hand that would shatter her fragile heart into a million pieces. People would die one day, she knew that, but logic did nothing to calm the despair eddying inside her trembling body. She wasn't sure if she could go on like this to watch someone dying in front of her again, especially when the person was one she loved so deeply.

 

Closing her eyes to fight back her tears, she finally turned her back on the clock—at the clock-hand of her husband, Arthur, pointing at 'mortal peril'.


The high-pitched creaking echoed up the staircase as Molly climbed the steps towards Arthur's bedroom, balancing a tray of food cautiously with her wand. Her hands were shaking too much to carry it manually; she had to grip the handrail to steady herself, fearing that she would fall off if she took a misstep. Maybe it was the old age that made her breathless when she finally reached the door to Arthur's room, or maybe it was her welling sadness that tired her out while trying to suppress the feeling.

 

Taking a deep breath, she raised her free hand to knock on the door.

 

"I'm coming in, Arthur."

 

The door opened to the view of an old man seated in a rocking armchair, who turned his head to Molly when she entered the room with the food tray. The wrinkles on his face deepened as the corner of his cracked lips lifted up into a smile before the lips parted to croak out a word, "Molly."

 

Arthur Weasley was beyond recognition from how he used to look like. Aging had taken a serious toll on the former Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office: his signature bright red hair was gone, and only a few wisps of white strands remained on his almost bald head. His once tall, lean build was now reduced to a shrunken, bony figure; his fair complexion had lost its original luster, now just wrinkled skin that appeared dry and brown under the setting sun that streamed through the open window.

 

"Merlin's beard, Arthur!" she exclaimed, setting down the tray hurriedly on the bedside table and rushed towards the rocking armchair. "How many times have I told you to stay in bed? You shouldn't be moving around so much—"

 

"My dear Molly," her husband interrupted; even when his declining health was eating away everything she loved about the man before her, it did not reach the twinkle in his blue eyes. "Whatever that is coming will come, whether we like it or not. I know." Molly instantly grabbed a shaky hand that poked out from under the blanket on Arthur's lap. Before she could open her mouth, her husband stopped her with a hacking cough before he went on, "The time is near… isn't it?"

 

"No, Arthur. Please. Don't say it."

 

He shook his head slowly and continued to smile. "I'm… dying."

 

Molly was finding it harder to fight back the tears in her eyes, her vision blurring as the fear of losing Arthur threatened to overwhelm her. No, she wanted to scream, but nothing came out except quiet sobs. No, you can't do this to me!

 

"Look at me, Molly."

 

She wiped away her tears and complied, her brown gaze locking with Arthur's blue ones. The very thought of losing her husband to Death terrified her, so why did he seem so peaceful, brave, with no ounce of fear in the eyes that still shone with vitality, even as his body was deteriorating with each passing day?

 

"Don't look… so sad," he wheezed, lifting his wizened hand slowly to touch Molly's cheek. "Death is inevitable. It's something we must accept instead of running away from it, and fearing the unavoidable won't change anything."

 

Molly felt his finger slipping off her jawline, and she grasped his hand in hers. "But, Arthur…"

 

"If anything, the Battle of Hogwarts taught us many important lessons. Harry and Ron have told me a little about… Voldemort." There was bitterness in the last word he uttered. "He never knew, understood, and felt true love. He believed that power was everything in the world… that love was what made people weak. He thought that love would drive people to death and that it was pathetic, so he was afraid of dying. He closed his heart and committed numerous horrifying crimes… to run away from all the things he didn't want to face."

 

"He was wrong."

 

"Yes," Arthur breathed, and his voice was becoming softer—weaker. "Power and love… are part of the same double-edged sword. Power can make us physically stronger, but our hearts susceptible to temptations. Love can drive us into despair when it's lost, but it can also strengthen us beyond our imagination if we understand its meaning and value in our life.

 

"Don't blame yourself for Fred's death, Molly. He's gone from the world, but he is forever in here."

 

Arthur's hand slithered out of Molly's grasp and pointed a trembling finger at her chest.

 

"And I… will always be in your heart."

 

"A-Arthur?"

 

Then his hand landed with a thud beside him on the armchair seat, and his wheezing voice was barely more than a hoarse whisper.

 

"Goodbye… my love."

 

Molly let out a sharp gasp at her husband's last rattling breath, and the light in his blue eyes went out with the final heartbeat in his chest.

 

"Arthur!"



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