The view of the picturesque snow-covered cottages caused Rowan to shake her thoughts away to better appreciate the view. The Christmas decorations had yet to go up, but there was no doubt that they would be going up soon enough. The smoke from the chimneys made interesting little zigzag trails in the sky from the wind.
Making sure to pull her cloak around her, Rowan hurried down the cobbled streets and made her way into the back of the Hogs Head Inn. The goats happily bleated at her, but she didn't even get to knock the door, when mid-way the door opened in her face.
The long wiry, gray-haired man, Aberforth Dumbledore stared rather cross at her. His deep blue eyes were rather cross from behind his spectacles as his gray beard and hair remained trim ever since last time. Even his apron was now periodically washed as was cleaner than it had ever been before.
"I had to declare another cleaning day, because of you," Aberforth impatiently barked as he moved aside to let her in.
Rowan makes her way up the stairs to where Alphard is already sitting in the main living room. She freezes at seeing the corpse warmed over like death. It was a miracle that he was still walking about looking like that. He should be resting somewhere in a warm bed!
Alphard Black, who had been dozing tiredly opened his eyes at hearing the creak of the floorboards. He sleepily blinked at the fire and glanced around before placing himself. Before him was the old bookshelf and the rest of the old furniture. The only clean spot in the entire room is the painting of the girl on the mantelpiece, Ariana Dumbledore with chest-length golden hair neatly pulled back as her bright blue eyes stare straight ahead all the while cradling a book in her arms.
"Ah, there you are," Alphard said at spotting the concerned face of Rowan. "I've got a bit of news for you."
Rowan makes a sad face as Aberforth stands in the doorway. "Hurry up and drink your cider!" Aberforth barked. "You look like death warmed over!"
Alphard lets out a hacking laugh, before taking a sip of the warm cider to warm his body. "I found a clue for you, Rowan," Alphard rasped. "Though in the end, it still proved nothing."
"About what?" Rowan asked as she carefully leaned against the bookshelf.
"Linus Gamp still cannot be taken off the list," Alphard tiredly said. "I spoke to Dolohov and he confirmed that Gamp and Riddle did not get along. It can only be Burke or Shafiq. But I'm afraid to say that there would have been ample opportunity for there to have been a connection via the Slug Club."
"Thank you," Rowan truthfully said as she was one step closer to finding out what she needed to now. But the closer she got the more dangerous it became.
"And I am sorry," Alphard said earning a startled look from Rowan.
"I personally met with Dolohov to acquire the information....and he did kill your father after all."
A loud crackle can be heard from the fireplace as the silence grow longer. Finally, Rowan says, "I know, grandfather wrote to me a letter about the identity of our father's murderer. I didn't tell, Severus because of his Gryffindor tendency of being rather emotional. This is not completely ironic since we are in fact Godric Gryffindor's direct descendants, but still, it is most unsightly since he was sorted into Slytherin."
"Will you kill him?" Alphard bluntly asked.
"If I am given the chance, yes," Rowan honestly replied. "But I think that he'll die before I ever get a chance too, but then again, that might be wistful thinking on my part."
Alphard slowly nods his head as he turns to stare at Aberforth. "I've already spoken to our spy, Crow, he knows what to expect once I'm gone," Alphard said as Rowan's face tightened with grief.
"Aye, I know," Aberforth grumbled as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Albus is also starting to pick up things on his end. Sooner or later, the order will also be fully involved."
"Yes, that is exactly what we're hoping for," Alphard said as he leaned back in the armchair. "We're the shadows to the order's light for, and a shadow fades away into mist without anyone knowing better."
Something about Alphard's last words jarred something inside of Rowan. Frowning after a long pause, she slowly says, "Alphard, you're not planning on dying, are you?"
Seeing Alphard remain silent at her question, Rowan grips the armchair with her two hands and says, "This is not a funny joke, Alphard. We still need you."
"I am not suicidal," Alphard tried to lightly say with a light smile, but only ended up looking that much worse than before. "But I am dying, child. Let's make my death count for something rather than passing way in some medical ward all alone."
Rowan painfully swallows down the sudden lump of emotions felt in her throat. Unable to trust her to speak at the moment she forcefully turns her gaze to the flames until she can. "When?" She finally asked.
"At least until New Year," Alphard sadly said. "I have already turned in my official resignation to the Ministry of Magic and are at present a free man. Whatever little time I do have left, I'll leave for myself to enjoy the few pleasures in life I still enjoy."
"Then this is the last time, I'll see you, isn't it," Rowan quietly acknowledged as she raised her gaze to meet his stark gaze.
"Yes, it is I am afraid," Alphard truthfully confessed. "I won't be meeting with you again after this, child. But do not worry, I have taken care of things on my end, Aberforth will fully take over my role my stead, and will become the secret keeper. And when the time comes, he'll introduce you to our spy, Crow, who I have also bound to our order."
Rowan did not comment on the matter of the spy named Crow as not even she knew the identity of who exactly Alphard had sworn into their shadowy circle. But he must have trusted the spy enough to do so. Nor did she frankly care that much at the moment due to what Alphard had just confessed to her. She considered him a comrade in arms, and one of the few rare individuals in the world that she trusted enough to keep her secrets. And his loss would hurt her more than she cared to admit.
Rowan opens her mouth once or twice, before closing it shut until she manages to at long last croak out the words stuck in her throat. "Then, this is it?"
"Yes, this is it."
Forcing her clenched hands to release the chair arms in her grasp, Rowan rises to her feet and strides the few steps over to the sitting figure of Alphard. Unsure of just what to do or just what else to say, she finally settles on extending her trembling hand out for a handshake for him to grasp.
Alphard glances up and meets her emotion-filled gaze, before firmly gripping her hand in his own, and clenching it twice as if trying to express an unspoken message to the child. Keeping her emotions at bay, Rowan struggles to keep her voice from quivering, but ultimately fails as she says, "It is an honor to have met you, Alphard Black."
Rowan's voice breaks for a moment before she can finally finish her sentence. "I promise that I won't ever forget you, Alphard Black. You are by far the bravest and most honorable Slytherin I have ever met."
Alphard squeezes her hand one last time in consolation as a gentle smile appears on his face. "And you are the fiercest person, I've ever known, Rowan Prince," he said with the utmost conviction. "I consider myself lucky to have met you, and a privilege to have been permitted to serve with some of the finest men and women that I know. And that is the absolute truth."
Rowan blinked the sudden mist out of her eyes as Alphard release her hand. Clenching her hand into a fist, she bows her head deeply to him, before numbly saying, "Then goodbye, Alphard. Take care of yourself for whatever time you may have left."
"Goodbye, child, and take care of yourself," Alphard softly murmured as he watched her leave the room with her back straight, and not once turning back to see him one last time.
Aberforth pointedly stares at Alphard and says, "So, I guess this is it, Black."
"Yes, it is," Alphard said as he walked over to the mantel. "You'll watch out for her won't you, Aberforth? She tends to have the bad habit of bearing her burdens all alone."
"I'll do my best," Aberforth promised as he stretched out his hand to shake that of Alphard's. "It was right good to have met you."
Alphard weakly chuckles and shakes Aberforth's hand. Turning away, Alphard grabs the sparkling powder and shouts, "Alphard Black's home," before vanishing into the green flames.
The roaring green flames die down as Aberforth can only stare into the flames recalling the weakened frame of a man, who was proudly walking to his death. "Bloody martyrs," Aberforth grunts, before making downstairs to his pub. He had a pub to clean and clean he would.
Once more the legend of the closed down pub grew as those that had missed the miraculous incident the last time could hardly believe their very eyes. The cleaning rumors were all true! Aberforth was indeed cleaning the Hogs Head Inn again!