But everything dies, even the stars. After all, it is their destiny to collapse.
They stand silently upon the hill, staring out into the rain illuminated silver against the darkening afternoon. The girl is holding a bouquet of wilting flowers, the delicate yellow petals tearing under the heavy weight of water.
The boy holds nothing, not even her hand.
She speaks. "Aren't you going to ask me?"
"Ask you what?"
"To marry you."
The boy gazes down at the endless train tracks, the silent and solemn crowds waiting. They're a black blur. Black for mourning. Their faces gleam.
The girl turns to him sharply, petals falling like confetti. Anger radiates from her trembling hands, her mouth small and hurt.
"Nobody else is going to marry you. Who wants to marry a Death Eater?"
The boy says nothing, although his face tightens subtly as if a door has slammed shut somewhere in his mind. He turns from her and strides away.
"Stop! I'm sorry! I didn't mean it!" She gives chase, dropping her flowers, but it's too late even as she calls his name across the valley. "Draco! Come back!"
Around the corner, the scarlet train sounds its horn. The students neither cheer nor hurry. They simply line the platforms like winter-worn ghosts, their faces heavy with strange burdens.
On the hill, the yellow flowers lay crushed into mud.
And the taillights fade to black.
That's what he remembered most. The taillights fading. It was raining that day, everything just a blur of dull colours. The dark slate of rain on asphalt. The brown buildings, the miserable faces. The red of the car lights as they faded into the distance.
He was seventeen years old. They put him on a chair in the middle of an enormous room. The stern faces gazed upon him as his crimes were read out. He could hear his mother weeping.
War profiteering. Accessory to murder, unlawful imprisonment, torture, persecution of any identifiable group, enforced disappearances of persons.
Crimes against humanity.
It was hard to see. He blinked a lot. The silent faces lined the room. Most of them were expressionless. Watching. Waiting.
It all looked so dramatic in the papers: Evidence Seized! Death Eaters Caught! The Victims, The Terror, The Justice! But it was just days of dry paper and muted whispering, of people clearing their throat, and him, sitting in that chair, waiting and waiting and waiting.
Justice wasn't particularly grand or spectacular. He had an excellent lawyer who spoke sorrowfully of his young and malleable mind, of the manipulations and blackmail he suffered through. It worked. He looked pathetically young and frightened, sitting alone in the centre of the room. He received a light sentence compared to the other Death Eaters. Compulsory enrolment in a pro-Muggle program. A list of conditions as long as his arm. No wand for a year. Supervised magic. Monitoring. Not to leave the country.
No; he wasn't given justice in the courtroom. Not in that enormous, dark room with its walls of expressionless faces. It looked a lot like justice — very serious, very intimidating — and you could be forgiven for thinking that the Wizengamot gave Draco Malfoy justice that day.
But, you see, he committed crimes against humanity.
And so humanity had to commit crimes against him.
The first started with the exclusion. Just as Draco had helped in separating the Muggleborns from the Purebloods, so the wizards and witches helped in excluding him from their kind. He heard the mutterings, saw the pointed fingers, the sneers and jeers and disgusted expressions. He grew to hate Diagon Alley, the shopkeepers who refused him service, the customers who scurried away.
And just as Draco had watched Voldemort murder their loved ones, so did the wizards and witches murder his. His father disappeared soon after the Battle of Hogwarts, effectively escaping justice; his mother, unable to cope with the family's fall from grace and her husband's unexplained absence, soon grew frail and small until one day her body just gave up.
And just as Draco had allowed the futures of the Muggleborns to be taken away, so did they take his. No witch would have him, no witch would touch him.
Except Astoria Greengrass. His saving grace. He remembered her from Hogwarts as a pretty and high-spirited girl, and when she began courting him he was ecstatic. A chance. Somebody was giving him a chance. He could marry and even have a family.
Of course, even this happiness was short-lived. Astoria's parents made no secret of their disapproval of the engagement, and in retrospect Draco thinks maybe they were right to hate him. Because Astoria, so happy and carefree in their early days of courtship, soon grew small and exhausted, worn away by her association with a Malfoy. To Draco, the whispered insults and contemptuous expressions were familiar, a daily routine. But to Astoria — the graceful daughter of the respectable Greengrass family — it was a nightmare. At first she was upset, dissolving into tears after being refused service in Diagon Alley or being spat upon as she walked through the Leaky Cauldron. And at first, she was consoled by Draco's assurance that it would get better But soon enough, anger began to overtake her bewildered hurt: anger at the shopkeepers, anger at the wizards and witches who treated her with such disdain, anger at everyone. Her family urged her to leave Draco; she argued bitterly with them and whenever she visited her mother, she came back in a state of despair. After one particularly volatile argument — the insults flying between Draco and Astoria, their raised voices echoing around the rooms of the manor — Astoria brought up Draco's old assurance of 'it gets better'. And, in an icy tone eerily reminiscent of a furious Lucius Malfoy, he elaborated: he never meant it stopped, just that it became easier to deal with.
And then, just as they were on the cusp of a monumental break-up, Astoria discovered she was pregnant. Certain judgements about family arrangements were still rife in the Pureblood community and Astoria's parents, horrified by the prospect of a child born from wedlock, were quick to rush Draco and Astoria into marriage.
They had a son, Scorpius, and they both promised each other they would try to patch things up, try to be better. And just for a moment, when Draco first held his son in his arms, it was all perfect.
But the crimes…
Draco withdrew from the world when Scorpius was five years and eight months old. Humanity finally paid him back. Humanity finally struck him down and considered its justice done.
Despite their promises of a better relationship for Scorpius's sake, it became apparent that neither of them were happy. Astoria genuinely tried. But the stress of it all — the angry wizards and witches, her furious family, the exhaustion of motherhood — it soon wore away the smiling Astoria he'd once fallen in love with. The arguments built up and crashed over and over, a ceaseless tide of bitterness: the way Draco never communicated with Astoria, just sat there stony-faced, or the way Astoria grew anxious over every little thing, or a thousand other little habits and flaws and mistakes.
One week before Draco's twenty-eighth birthday, Astoria declared Scorpius would never be a part of the wizarding world. Never, she said, would he ever know the hatred and resentment and long-held grudges that plagued the Malfoys. She would protect Scorpius from everything. If his Hogwarts letter ever came, she would tear it up.
Two weeks later, Draco served Astoria with divorce papers. A long and bitter legal battle ensued, both of them demanding sole custody of Scorpius.
Yes. That was where the real justice was meted out. In a very different courtroom to the one in which Draco had sat so many years ago as a terrified seventeen year old.
The family courts judge had looked at Draco. Draco knew him. He was a Muggleborn. His sister had been killed during Voldemort's purge.
Astoria was granted full custody of Scorpius. Draco was given Christmas and birthday visitation rights.
But this was his son. He had never known what it felt like to love something so much he'd die for it — until his son was born. And so he tried. Appeal after appeal. And he tried desperately to patch things up with Astoria. Some days, she was adamant that Draco wouldn't see Scorpius, alternating between tears and anger at the prospect of Scorpius ever being a part of the wizarding world. Other days, she seemed uncertain, a little lost, and miserably agreed it would be best to have some time to herself. Draco treasured those days. He would visit Astoria, leave with Scorpius, and spend the whole day with his son. They would go to the park, or to the zoo, and Scorpius would always request to spend just one more day with him. Just one more day.
But no. Scorpius always had to return to his mother's care at the end of the day.
And, six months after the divorce had been granted, Draco spent a fine summer day with his son. They visited a local park — Scorpius endlessly enjoying the playground — and afterwards, they went for a walk past the flowerbeds and rows of elm trees. Scorpius, complaining of tired legs, sat atop Draco's shoulders and became mesmerised by the hundreds of butterflies that flew around them. Can we come here again tomorrow? he asked.
We'll see, Draco said, and Scorpius — evidently placated by the answer — said his goodbyes at the end of the day without too much fuss.
It was the last memory Draco would have of Scorpius as a young child.
The following day, Astoria owled Draco a letter stating that she would soon be moving to a new address. Draco wasn't surprised. He wondered how it took this long for Astoria to tire of living with her constantly critical mother. Two days later he sent an owl, but it came back with the message undelivered and when he tried using the Floo network it wasn't connected. He went to the new address she'd given, but it turned out to be a decrepit ruin on the edge of some forsaken Cornish coastline. He asked her friends, but they had no idea. Astoria's mother — that purse-lipped, disapproving woman — had given him a long look and told him that Astoria had said she was simply moving away.
He searched everywhere. Hired private investigators, both magical and Muggle, but nothing had come of that. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement hadn't cared in the slightest. She's got full custody, hasn't she? they said. Well, it's not abduction. Draco had wanted to hit the officer who said that; hit him with an Unforgivable.
He never gave up searching and, nearly six years after Astoria's disappearance, he received a visit from a nervous Law Enforcement wizard.
They had received reports of a young child performing underage magic in a small flat in Cardiff. Upon investigation, they had found an eleven-year-old boy who told them his name was Scorpius Malfoy.
Draco remembered an old quote he had seen somewhere, words that somebody had scrawled onto a piece of paper.
There's no justice; there's just us.
And just as those who are undeserving must be punished, those who are honest and kind will be given their reward.
Harry had the crowds but they were smiling, grateful; he had the whispers and pointed fingers but they were accompanied by the words hero and savior. He had two best friends who didn't call him a hero, they hit him over the head instead and had long, lazy conversations about stupid things, and he loved them for it.
He had Ginny, with her red hair and bright eyes, and they had one son. James. They lived in an old farmhouse with gables on the roof and an enormous garden with hedges and fields and a swing that Harry had built himself, a swing from the highest branch of an ancient oak tree. In the winter, the fields were heavy with mist and frost and in the summer, they had strawberries and raspberries, and Ginny would go berry-picking with James or Harry would take him down to the river for trout fishing.
And he was happy, so happy.
For a while.
Ginny's death was neither quick nor unexpected. Perhaps it would have been better if it were. But the truth of it — the bitter, bitter truth — was that all the symptoms were there. Ginny ignored them. Harry brushed them off. But the symptoms were there.
It started soon after James's second birthday. Ginny was tired. Well, of course she was. She had just received a promotion at work — Quidditch correspondent for The Daily Prophet — and it required a lot of travelling. Probably still getting used to the workload, she told Harry confidently. She'd feel better soon.
She didn't. Months went by and Ginny always seemed a little tired, a little worn down. Well, perfectly understandable. Still getting used to travelling again, and there were a few bad colds going around — just Ginny's luck, they agreed wryly, that she would somehow catch one cold after another.
Somehow, it became a normal part of their lives. How did that happen? Later, Harry would look back with the agony of hindsight. They always left parties early because Ginny was tired, she always slept in — sometimes past noon — on weekends, and she began reducing her work hours.
James's third birthday. They had a party. Nothing fancy, just a little celebration. Birthday cake and all the usual relatives, the doting aunts and uncles. Hermione and Ron bought young Rose over to play with her cousin, and Andromeda was there, of course, with Teddy. He fussed over James, playing games and telling him fanciful stories about an octopus that supposedly lived under the house. James — very taken by the idea of a majestic octopus living beneath his home — was absolutely enchanted and devotedly followed Teddy around for the rest of the day.
At the end of the day, as they farewelled the last of the guests and tidied up the streamers and torn wrapping paper, Harry commented on how much James clearly adored Teddy. And Ginny said, with a little half-smile, that perhaps James would have a younger sibling soon, someone else to adore.
Of course, nothing was official. But she'd lost her appetite lately, and she'd started feeling a little nauseous too. Her stomach seemed to be growing a little. If she was already showing, she was probably already a few months along.
Harry could not have been happier. James — well, James hadn't really been planned. But they'd made room for him in their lives anyway, anxious and worried though they had been. But they were both settled now, further along in their respective careers, and both of them had expressed a desire to give James a little sister or brother. Ginny took a pregnancy test the next day — a cheap potions kit one, leftover from her pregnancy with James — and they were certain of the result. All the signs were there. The test was merely a formality.
They both frowned over it, puzzled and disappointed. Ginny bought another kit on her way home from work two days later and tried it again.
She went through three more tests that week before conceding defeat and going to their local Healer's office. The Healer's tests were far more accurate, after all, and would clear up any confusion.
But it was wrong, she told the Healer adamantly. She was feeling tired, she could hardly eat anything, she felt nauseous all the time, and her abdomen felt swollen. The Healer did a few routine health checks — a blood pressure spell, a few questions about diet and exercise, an update on Ginny's medical history — but seemed quite cheerful and unconcerned. Could be anything, they said. Might be a flu, possibly a bad cold. They gave her a few Pepper-Up potions and told her to return in a week or so if she didn't feel better.
She didn't feel better. Harry didn't feel better. He was heavy with disappointment. Ginny, so certain she was pregnant, was left confused and unhappy. At last, one month later, she returned to the Healer complaining of abdominal pain. An appointment was made with St Mungo's for a body-scanning spell. Just to make sure, the Healer said offhandedly, and Ginny told Harry she felt bad for making a fuss over nothing.
Because, right up until they returned to the Healer's office one week later for the results, they were both so sure it was still nothing. Right until they saw the Healer's pale face. Right until the other staff in the Healer's office avoided them, wouldn't look them in the eyes as they walked in. Right until the Healer sat them down and explained, very carefully, that Ginny had ovarian carcinoma. Malignant growths. They avoided using the word cancer until the very end of the meeting.
It was…bad. At an advanced stage. Hard to believe it hadn't been previously diagnosed, they kept saying. They couldn't treat it, but they could manage it. The Healer had to explain this five times before Harry finally realised what they were saying. They couldn't save Ginny's life, but they could prolong it.
All the usual spells and potions, all the typical magical medicine. They even looked into some of the Muggle treatments, but the Healers said Ginny was beyond surgery anyway, since the cancer had metastasised, and chemotherapy would produce the same results as the spells.
They wasted so much time on worry. Sleepless nights spent wondering when they should tell everyone else, Ginny in tears as she imagined her mother's reaction. Worst yet was James. Just a few weeks ago, they were excitedly thinking they would be giving him another sibling, a best friend. Now, they would have to explain to their three-year-old son that his mother would, in all likelihood, not live to see his next birthday.
And so much time wasted on anger, too. Arguing between themselves about how and when to tell James, or if Ginny should tell her parents without Harry there, or whether she should try the Muggle chemotherapy anyway. So many days wasted with Ginny not wanting to go to her appointments, or Harry finally breaking down because he was sick of it all and it just wasn't fair. And both of them trying so desperately to hide their sadness and anger and fear from each other, spending too many nights staring at the ceiling and locking themselves in the bathroom to cry silently.
All the books, all the stories Harry ever read, they all told him fairytales about slow deaths. Romantic stories of people determinedly spending their final months in a wild celebration of life, surrounded with friends and family, and spending their final days in peaceful acceptance. But Merlin help him, it wasn't like that at all. Just two people, both of them terrified and wasting so much energy trying to hide it, and James didn't really understand what was going on at all and just wanted to play with his toys and get free lollipops from the Healers, and Ginny hid in the bathroom sometimes when her family visited because she couldn't stand her mother's crying and her father's heavy sorrow.
Ginny went to St Mungo's on the seventh of January, nine months after her diagnosis. Harry packed her overnight bag, but he kept slowly adding more clothes, and books, and photographs of him and James, and then he realised he wasn't packing an overnight bag. He was putting the final remnants of their lives in a bag for a one-way trip to the hospital.
He was right. Ginny checked in that day, and that's where she stayed. She could have stayed at home, but that was the final argument she won. She would not have Healers coming in and out of their house, slowly transforming their beautiful family home into a clinical extension of the hospital. James would remember their home as a backdrop to the memories of his smiling, vibrant mother. Not a sterilised room with a thin stranger choking down bitter potions, a Healer casting endless spells over them. Maybe Harry could have argued harder, louder, but he was tired of arguing by then. Tired of everything.
Ginny did not want to die. Sometimes, the fear won and she spent days paralysed with the knowledge she would never walk back into her office and accept a hard-earned promotion, or celebrate another wedding anniversary with Harry, or stand on Platform 9¾ and see her son wave excitedly as he walked onto the Hogwarts Express. She planned to write letters to James, one for each birthday, but she couldn't bring herself to do it until the Healers said that soon, she would be too weak and too disoriented from pain potions to lift a quill, let alone write a letter. So she managed to write three letters for James: one to be given to him when he graduated Hogwarts, one to be given to him on his wedding day, and one for when he had a child of his own.
She was adamant, at least, that she would live to see James's fourth birthday. The seventeenth of February. She was determined to see that day.
You'll live for a hundred more birthdays, Harry should have told her. Something from one of those romantic stories. But they both knew the truth and he was sick of trying to hide everything. So he held her hand and said nothing, but the silence stretched between them like an ocean anyway and he bit his lip until he was certain he wasn't going to cry.
He wished, later on, he could remember every crystal-clear detail of the day she died. He wished there had been an important feeling about it, somehow. A dark cloud, an ominous feeling, something that would have warned him. But there was nothing. He'd taken James to Andromeda's house — James had been very tearful lately and Harry hoped playing with Teddy might afford some much-needed distraction — and after farewelling his son, he went to the florist, buying a bouquet of tulips, and then to the hospital. Ginny was sleeping and he didn't want to wake her up. He sat by the bed for a long time, holding her hand and waiting.
She wasn't doing too well these days. The pain potions made her groggy, disoriented, and she slept all the time. The Healers hadn't given her much more time. A few weeks if she was lucky.
Ginny woke briefly, her eyes opening, her gaze locking onto Harry at once. She frowned and tried to speak, her hand lifting ever-so-slightly, but Harry recognised what she wanted. Water. He nodded and left.
When he returned a few minutes later, Ginny was unresponsive. The Healers walked into the room shortly afterwards. There was no sense of urgency. Everyone knew this was going to happen.
Her death certificate listed the time of death as 12:39pm, the ninth of February.