On the day I left Durmstrang, it was cold, with just that heaviness in the air that meant it was going to rain. It was too early in the morning for anyone else to be up, but they all knew I was leaving.
I clutched my case -- all the things in the world that I wanted to possess (all, perhaps, bar three) -- but held my wand loosely in my other hand. Still in bounds, nothing could possibly attack me that I couldn’t stop.
Leaving the gates for probably the last time, I felt the weight of the protective spells lift as though the furs had fallen from my shoulders and tightened my grip on my wand. I concentrated hard on the thought of a little village, people milling about like little clockwork soldiers on the back of Bathilda’s postcard. As I felt the still-unfamiliar tug at my navel, I put my wand hand in my pocket, just to check. Yes, still there.
When I opened my eyes again, feet on solid ground, I could see dull green and brown and fading blue stretching out for miles. At the bottom of the hill, the lights of the picturesque village glowed like tiny yellow fireflies. Safety, probably. Far from home, at least.
Inside my pocket, my hand still grasped the objects close to the wand. I drew my hand out and unfurled the contents to the dusk sky. The gold ring gleamed red in the gloam, the flint dagger betraying the cause. The cut stung, exposed to the air.
The stars were beginning to wink overhead as I wove my way down to the village.
The morning after Kendra Dumbledore departed this earth, her family were doomed. At least, that’s the impression I got from Bathilda. To be honest, I was a little surprised by this judgment when I first laid eyes on Albus, yet as soon as he opened his mouth to make his speech I understood.
The room was so full of bitterness as he spoke: his own bitterness at an independence cut short would have been enough, but his brother’s face spoke volumes more than he did. His jaw was set as he fixed his brother with a glare to burn through stone. Ariana was not present.
Albus was confident, intelligent, self-evidently destined for greater things than caring for his half-Squib sister in this tiny, sleepy village. (Bathilda had rightly said we might have a lot in common.) He needed to see the world -- and what a world he would be missing! -- to experience and not just read about the lands beyond these shores. Aberforth and Ariana would be his chain, deadweights hanging around his neck, stopping him from all that. Poor soul, I thought. Lucky me.
Albus was a single tongue-loosening butterbeer down (to his now incoherent brother’s six firewhiskys) when I sought him out after the funeral. I complimented him on his lovely speech (although, given that I never knew the woman, I hadn’t really been listening) but hoped really to learn about him -- what books he liked to read, what his school results had been like, what his plans were now that his family was in a very different situation. He agreed to meet me again.
The next day, I met him at the edge of the village at the appointed time, armed with two tomes I had rescued from Bathilda’s mouldering bookshelves. We talked away the afternoon perched on the fence, and when we walked home, I watched as the fading light turned his auburn hair to a golden halo.
On the afternoon we left the graveyard shoulder to shoulder, we sat in Bathilda’s sitting room, talking about the Hallows, and I walked him home as the weak spring sun began to slip behind the hills. At his door, Albus took my hand, and told me he enjoyed spending time with me.
The next day we met at the gate again. He took my hand again and we walked through it, and sat, knees touching, in the meadow. I took out my hallows from my pocket and arranged them on the dewy grass: flint dagger pointing forward; atop it, the gold ring. I plucked a long stem of grass and laid it gently on top, the apices of the two blades in parallel.
Albus studied it, sharp eyes appraising the rough edges of the flint, the sunlight dancing off the gold, the quivering grass balancing on the top. I studied him, the gentle curve of his nose, cheeks and neck, the light running over the waves of his tidy hair, the way his collar just exposed the edges of his collarbones.
Then a breeze came up and blew away the grass, ruffled his hair. And Albus stopped examining the hallows and took my hand in his again and turned it over, and traced the scar across my palm gently, first with his fingers and then his lips. My breath hitched in my chest.
It was the ghost of a single, chaste kiss dancing across my lips that taunted me as I lay in bed that night.
The evening was drawing her veil across the sky when I suggested he come back to Bathilda’s with me. He took my hand and traced the scar and led the way.
I sat on the little bed, his head in my lap, smoothing and caressing his hair. The two hallows Levitated above his chest for a long time, until his arms reached up and plucked them out of thin air. He placed the ring down on top of the pile of books by the bed and held the blade steadily. I felt the cold air flood in, his hair drawn away from my fingers as he sat up. I felt a tug just in front of my ear. A silent nod and he raised the flint to my hair. He drew away a single lock, and passed the flint.
His hair was soft, shiny in the dim light. I wanted to hold my hand there, at the side of his face, forever, or to have this hair to run my fingers through daily, to be able to stare into these eyes and understand them. Ones like these were the moments I should’ve held on to. I didn’t get many.
He seemed to know the reason for my hesitation. He raised my free hand to his lips and warmed my cold knuckles one by one with his kisses.
In the end, he cut the lock from his own head as well, scattering our hair onto the bed between us. He squeezed his eyes shut and whispered repeatedly: Contexo. Auburn and blond mingled on the coverlet and tendrils of hair formed themselves into two neat braids.
I kissed him this time. I kissed him fully on the lips, tracing across his jaw and down to where his collar bones peeped infuriatingly from his shirt…
The moon was high in the heavens when he slipped out into the street. He took one braid with him. He left indents of his front teeth in my bottom lip.
On the night I stormed out of the Dumbledores’ house, wand raised to the heavens, I realised I would leave here too with blood on my hands. Sometimes lives just contain these unfortunate symmetries.
As I crept through the shadows back to the hilltop, case in hand, once again a fugitive, I stopped at the gate, broke a twig from the nearest tree, and placed them gently on the stile: the wand, the stone and the cloak.
I fingered the twig in my pocket as I Apparated, and wondered if perhaps I should have kept the braid instead.