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Life, After by esmeraude, TreacleTart

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A ghost of a girl sits at the end of a far corridor. If you weren't looking for her, she'd be easy to miss in the shadows. Her grey outfit camouflages her with the stone behind her. The picture is blurred slightly, a shaky hand to blame for the quality.

 


 

Success makes Astoria bold and she slips from the common room soundlessly, searching out another person who feels as miserable as she does. The corridors are bursting with cuddling couples, but somehow it seems to bother her less now that she's seen she isn't alone.

 

At the end of the corridor, she sees Parvati Patil. Her once sleek black hair hangs limp and instead of the vibrantly colored saris she used to wear, she's dressed in the colors of death and grief. Her eyes stare, unseeing at the blank tiles a few feet in front of her.

 

Astoria wonders if Parvati can still see Lavender's blood painting the hall.

 

Quietly, she removes the camera from her bag and snaps a picture.

 


 

Dennis beams at Colin. His eyes are burning with joy as he runs toward the sorting hat. He plops it on his head and seconds later, smiles as the hat shouts out Gryffindor. In his excitement, he lunges from the stool, forgetting to remove it from his head.

 


 

 

The appearance of Dennis Creevey across the dining room makes Astoria feel that no matter how large the castle is, it will always be too small. In an instant, she ducks behind a pillar, praying to every God she knows that he hasn't seen her. Today she has no desire for stilted conversation and the forced politeness that comes with it.

 

She watches from the shadows, noting the untouched plate of food that litters the table in front of him and the way the bones in his face jut out at sharp angles. She wants to tell him not to throw his life away. She wants to remind him that Colin would've wanted him to be happy. She wants him to know that he doesn't have to grieve forever.

 

Instead she says nothing. How can she when she's haunted by the same ghost that he is?

 

The camera is half way out of her bag when she decides not to snap a picture. There is something too familiar about Dennis' grief and suddenly she finds herself feeling mortified for intruding.

 

Seconds later, Astoria flees to the snow covered grounds.

 


 

Hagrid stands in front of his hut, his eyes distant and stormy as he stares at the place where Dumbledore's body has been laid to rest. Suddenly, he turns, realizing that someone is taking a picture. He waves enthusiastically, grinning at the person behind the lense, but the warmth of his smile never quite reaches his eyes.

 


 

Astoria shivers as a blast of icy air hits her. She pulls her woolen scarf tight around her neck.

 

"They're only roses," she whispers to herself over and over again as she makes her way toward the lake.

 

In the distance, she can see the memorial wall. The names of all the people killed in the war are listed on it, a silent reminder of the cost of hatred. She's stared at it so many times, she could recite the names backwards and forwards.

 

Colin's name is eighteenth on the list, in between Fred Weasley and Remus Lupin.

 

Tears begin to well in the corner of Astoria's eyes as she remembers the way Dennis' hands shook as he carved his older brother's name into it. She doesn't need a photograph to remember it. She sees it every night in her dreams.

 


 

A small boy stands at the edge of the lake. The image is grainy due to the photographer's inexperienced hand. The sun is high in the sky giving the image an over contrasted quality, but the joy is clear on the boy's face as a long tentacle breaks the glassy surface of the lake. Colin turns and waves at Astoria.

 


 

The snow becomes deeper the farther away Astoria gets from the school. It's clear that few have ventured out into the frigid ice. As she tromps through the slush, she slips her hands into her pockets hoping the warmth will chase away some of the cold. She isn't optimistic. Since Colin's death, she's felt a perpetual chill that she can't seem to shake.

 

As the lake comes into view, Astoria recalls the time she and Colin spent on its distant shore watching the Giant Squid splash around. She thinks of how fascinated he was with the Giant Squid and the way his face would split into a great smile when it reached a tentacle or two up into the air.

 

Astoria realizes that she hasn't seen the Squid splashing in the shallows for months. Even in the coldest of winters, she can remember it poking a tentacle or two up, surprising unsuspecting students. She wonders if the tang of blood has tarnished the shallows and chased it into the deepest depths of the lake.

 


 

At first, the image looks to be a still of the lake, but down in the very corner a shock of pale blonde hair can be seen sitting in front of the memorial. His stillness makes it easy to mistake him for a statue. A gentle breeze blows, ruffling his hair. It's the only sign of life in his pale exterior.

 


 

She is a few feet from the memorial when she sees him. He sits motionless in front of the massive stone wall focusing intently on a spot near the very bottom of it. The sight of his brilliant blonde hair pulls her up short.  Draco Malfoy is the last person Astoria would expect to be mourning the victims of war. She knows he lost a great deal, that his family was torn apart by the fall out, but there are no names of people he loved on this wall.

 

Her curiosity is piqued and she slips behind a nearby tree to watch. Lifting the camera up, Astoria takes a picture of him.

 

She is just about to leave when she hears a strangled cry escape Draco's mouth.  

 

All day, Astoria has witnessed people mourning, but something about this seems different. Before she can give it much thought, her feet are carrying her to the spot beside him. Without speaking, she kneels in the snow.

 

Draco's appearance surprises Astoria. His eyes are swollen and red. Purple splotches decorate the tender skin under his eyes. His hair is wild and his clothes are wrinkled as if they've been slept in for several days. His usual pressed perfection has faded into a manic sense of grief. He seems oblivious to her presence.

 

Astoria is just about to ask him what he's doing here when she sees what he's looking at. At the base of the memorial, there is a freshly planted rose bush. One look at the dirt all over Draco's hands confirms that he's only recently planted it. She wants to question him about it. Instead she pulls the camera from her bag and takes a picture.

 


 

A small rose bush sits, shivering in the arctic wind. Suddenly, a gust blows up, shaking it's branches and for a moment, a name appears on the stone wall behind it. The writing is messy as if carved by hand, but the words are clear.

 


 

The click of the camera snaps Draco out of his daze and he quickly fixes the branches of the rose bush to cover the name, but it's too late. Astoria can never unsee them. Vincent Crabbe's name is etched at the bottom of the stone, where the memorial makes contact with the dirt. She might never have noticed it had she not been here at this precise moment and she doubts anyone else ever will, particularly when the flowers start to bloom.

 

For a moment, Astoria wonders why Draco has done this, but then she remembers how he never went anywhere without Crabbe, how the two of them were like two parts of one person. She remembers coming into the common room late at night once, to find the two of them huddled together on one of the couches. At the time she'd brushed it off, but now the memory takes on a whole new context.

 

Without a word, she slips her hand into one of Draco's and gives it a gentle squeeze. She hopes the gesture allows him a tiny bit of comfort. She hopes that it says, I understand how miserable it is to spend Valentine's Day grieving for the person you love. She hopes that it says, you are not alone.    



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