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                It’s a year after the war, and Marcus is still grieving.

On good days, he’s fine—he’s got quidditch, tea with his mum, pints with the lads.

 

But on bad days, all he has is the brittle edges of his grief.

 

                He never knows what the trigger will be. A glimpse of Terry’s favourite teacup; the ridiculous stuffed cartoon snitch he had gotten Marcus as a joke; a scent of viper’s bugloss. It doesn’t really matter, because

 

                the breath is knocked out of his lungs—

                the world shatters—

                Marcus has to grab his old Nimbus, the one with no height governors, and fly up and up and up

                where the air is thin and cold; go as fast as he can—

                till there are spots in his eyes; pretend he’s twenty years old—

                the world wasn’t made of sharp-edged glass; his life was perfect—

                because he had Terrence and quidditch and there was nothing more he could imagine wanting.

When he finally lands, tears are usually frozen to his eyelashes and frostbite is a looming threat on his fingers.

 

                Those are the bad days. 

 

               They’re less common now, as time wears on. It’s easier to laugh about Terry’s stupid puns, or his aversion to non-classical music, or the way he used to coo at pigeons and give twenty-minute lectures to strangers for feeding them bread. Marcus’ heart doesn’t twist when he sees dark blonde hair; his smiles are not always fake and fleeting. But he feels guilty for them; because how dare he smile, when Terry isn’t there to smile back?

 

               It’s two years after the war when Marcus can finally laugh without feeling guilty. He doesn’t, much; there isn’t a whole lot to laugh about, after all—but he can. And every once in a while, his friends will gather in someone’s living room or back garden, and drink and talk and remember. Sometimes, they’ll even risk bringing up Terrence.

                It’s a warm summer evening the first time— All of them are there, even Draco—and Cassius recounts a Hogwarts prank gone humorously wrong, and Graham counters with one gone disastrously right. It leads to further anecdotes, about people now lost to Azkaban or death eaters or simple vagaries of fortune. It’s sad and it’s fun; to remember schoolmates as innocent children with a lifetime ahead of them—before the world turned cold and grey.

                Adrian’s got his head on Marcus’ knee and his feet in Cass’ lap when he suddenly grins at a flock of ducks flying overhead. “Heh, Marc—you remember Terry’s bread rant? ‘Don’t you realize bread is dreadful for birds?’”

                Marcus groaned. “’The sugar in the bread offers no nutritional value, it just fills them up! It’s ‘armful! Look at the condition of their wings!’ How could I forget? I ‘eard that lecture twelve times a bloody day if we were in Falmouth.  You know it was 20 minutes long, exactly? Timed it once.”

                Cass snickered. “And those jokes. He’d write me the most awful puns sometimes, it was wretched. What a fucking wanker.”

                Graham snorted. “Like yours are any better. Do you lot remember when you told that one about the snidget and the fwooper and Terry turned your hair blue?”

“Shut it, that joke is hilarious-

                “He wrote me when I made the team,” interrupts Draco, softly, looking up into the darkening sky. He’s so much smaller than the rest of them, with deeper shadows in his eyes. “I still have the letter somewhere.”

                They trade stories about Terrence with the firewhiskey, laughing till they cry—long into the night, until dawn begins to lighten in the east, and Marcus’ throat hurts, and his eyes are red, and he remembers more of his love than his grief.

 

                It’s a good day.

 

               Its five years after the war when Marcus talks to Oliver Wood again. Actually talks, that is; they’ve acknowledged each other across the pitch, nodded at each other in Diagon—but they probably haven’t exchanged more than ten words all together, since Wood had come up at Terry’s funeral to give condolences that Marcus had barely registered.

               They’re at a wedding, because of course they are, and Marcus doesn’t flinch at Monty in his dress robes, and he’s happy for him and Marietta, he is. He’ll go whole days now without thinking of Terry, without feeling guilty about not thinking of Terry. The bad days still come—but they’re less bad, and less common, than they were. His therapist tells him he’s making progress.

               Today isn’t a bad day, exactly. He isn’t envious of the happy couples: of Graham looking at Marietta like she hung the moon; of the smiles that Wood gives Cho Chang, of all people—over by the bar, grinning at something Marietta’s saying. Chang lost someone too, Marcus recalls. Did she still think of Diggory, even now, nearly a decade later, with that ring on her finger? If Marcus ever found someone else, would he still think about Terry? Would Terry want him to?

               Wood nudges him, friendly, distracting. He’s chattering on about the World Cup, about Scotland’s chances against Canada the next week, and Marcus lets himself be drawn into it. Quidditch is safe. He can do this. He can talk to Wood about quidditch, he can dance with Marietta’s little sister, he can get into a discussion with Monty’s great-uncle about broom height regulations. He can, and no one mentions Terry to him except Chang—and even then, it’s only a sympathetic smile and a “come by for tea next week?”, because there are many ways for a heart to bruise, and Cho knows too many of them, and can recognize them in others. Cho knows what it’s like, to be happy for someone and angry at the same time. To have something end before it had barely begun. To watch your friend get married to the love of their life and grieve for what you’ve lost.

 

                Marcus goes for tea.

                It’s just him and her—Wood’s at practice—and it’s quiet. Still.  Sometimes comfort is more than words, after all. Marcus doesn’t know why there’s comfort here, and he doesn’t really care.

                There’s a photograph of Cho and Cedric on the fridge. Cho’s grinning, and Diggory is waving at whoever’s taking the picture. Little Creevey, maybe. Marcus remembers Graham’s wedding, remembers wondering if Cho missed Cedric, even now. He thinks about asking her.

                He’s not sure what answer he wants her to give.

 

                It’s six years after the war, and Marcus is afraid.

                 He isn’t even thirty yet, but his back aches more often than not, his muscles don’t recover as fast as they used to, and he can see the end of his quidditch career hurtling toward him like a bludger. He knew it was coming. He doesn’t know what to do about it, about after. There was never supposed to be an after Terry, or an after quidditch. Marcus isn’t good at afters. Case in point: his life to date.

                “Come work at the sanctuary with me,” suggests Mrs. Higgs. “I can use the help, with Tabitha in Peru.” My Terry is dead. She doesn’t say. My Terry is dead and it was supposed to be him helping, he was so good with the birds. If you’re here, maybe it won’t hurt so much, that he isn’t.

                 She doesn’t say any of that, and Marcus doesn’t hear it in between what she does say. It’s not a bad career plan. Marcus had helped at the sanctuary sometimes, when Terry was still alive; it’s not like it’s all new to him.

                So Marcus resigns from the Falcons after the season finishes, and goes into snidget conservation instead. His friends throw him a retirement party, and Cho is delighted when Marcus takes her to see the tiny gold birds in their nests while Oliver plays human pyramid with the others. And then all of them go to Bodmin Moor to see if they can’t find the lost snitch.

                They don’t, which is probably for the best. The point is the seeking, after all.

                Marcus quickly finds that conservation work isn’t all looking after small birds: most of it is paperwork, accounting, making sure ends meet. Rustling up donations, raising awareness. It’s hard and it’s rewarding, in its own way. Charity drives are almost fun; Marcus simply looms threateningly behind Mrs. Higgs while she finesses donations from wealthy patrons, and he bestows scowls and lifted eyebrows as needed. It’s effective, and while Mrs. Higgs doesn’t approve, exactly, she can’t argue with the results.

Oliver, however, certainly can.

                “It isn’t ‘soliciting donations’, it’s extortion.”

                 “Works, though.” Marcus counters. “They can afford it.”

                “It’s the principle- “

                “The principle is to get money- “

                Marcus is at the Chang-Wood house, lounging on the floor. Cho’s head is in his lap, and Oliver is leaning against his shoulder and arguing. Marcus isn’t averse to it, exactly—his friends tend to clump together like puppies, after all—but he isn’t sure when it started with Cho and Oliver.

                The arguing, at least, is familiar, in both style and tone—and length. Marcus’ methods of charity work are a favourite point of contention when there’s nothing else to bicker about. Cho understands where both are coming from, and agrees with Marcus— but Oliver has staunch beliefs about morality in everything except quidditch. Marcus also has staunch beliefs—it’s not his fault no one knows what they are. But Oliver seems hellbent on finding out, and he’s been bringing the subject up for months.

                This particular episode carries on throughout the evening, and Marcus hardly notices the time, until he suddenly realizes its nearly midnight. Cho’s fallen asleep, and at some point Marcus had draped his arm around her, which wasn’t on at all, and he hoped Wood hadn’t noticed because Marcus had no idea how to apologize for crossing that line—

                And then he realizes his other arm is wrapped around Oliver, who’s somehow managed to thread his fingers through Marcus’ without him noticing, while still going on about morals or some fool thing.

                Oh.

               

                It’s seven years after the war before Marcus falls in love again. But Oliver and Cho are with him, every step, know when to let him alone and when to needle. When Marcus needs to go up and up and up, they’ll go with him— or there’s a hot mug pressed into his hands when he gets back. Sometimes Oliver will goad, lead Marcus into ferocious rows—but only when Cho isn’t home, because Cho doesn’t like it, doesn’t like fights. Cho can be snappish and irritable, but she hates yelling, so they don’t yell when she’s around. With Cho, the arguments are quieter, nearly cold.

                But sometimes Marcus wants to be angry, and vicious, and cutting; and Oliver won’t let him leave, won’t let him bottle it up or compartmentalize it—leeches the rage out of Marcus so he can’t explode with it. Because Oliver knows him as well as Cho does, can tell when Marcus needs to fight, when Marcus hurts and wants to lash out. Marcus is working on that, on healthy coping mechanisms—and Oliver is too, because Oliver hadn’t gotten through the war unscathed either. And eventually the fights become less common, they learn how to talk instead of yell, and Cho tries to explain rather than snap. They put the work in, because their relationship is something worth working for.  

                And sometimes, when Marcus feels guilty about loving them, starts feeling like he’s betraying Terrence somehow—Cho tucks herself under his arm, and Oliver curls himself around them. They let Marcus mourn, but not alone, unless he needs to be. 

                It’s good.

 

                It’s ten years after the war.

                Marcus stands in front of a tombstone, a little girl beside him and a small bundle in his arms.

 

Terrence Fleance Higgs. Beloved Son and Friend.

 

                It’s simple. Small. Not as groomed as some others. The Higgs’ did not remember their son in stone. Marcus didn’t either. There’s a viper’s bugloss growing at the base—Adrian had been here recently.

                I have a good life, he thinks. I’m married to two people I love. I’ve got two kids and another on the way. Your mum adores them, and there’s so many people at Christmas and birthdays I can’t keep track.

                I keep your ring around my neck, but I go weeks without thinking of you. I miss you.

                Breaca asked about you the other day. I didn’t know what to tell her. I wish my kids could meet you, but they wouldn’t be my kids if you were here.

                I love you. I hope you’re happy for me.

                Breaca fidgets. She’s trying to be good, but stillness does not come easy to her. The bundle is fussing.

                “Alright, alright, we’re goin’.” Marcus trudges out of the graveyard, back to the car. Cho and Oliver would be making dinner just now. Marcus can see it in his mind’s eye; Oliver chatting animatedly, narrowly avoiding losing his fingers as he chops, while Cho listens and hums to the song on the wireless, carefully watching to ensure the pot doesn’t boil over. And Marcus will come in with the kids and the shopping—get a mug of tea shoved in his hands and a kiss, and then promptly told to get out of the kitchen.

                It’ll be Terry’s favourite teacup.

 

                It's ten years after the war, and Marcus is going home.