Written for Season 5, Round 5 of the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition for the Falmouth Falcons. Go Falcons!
BEATER 2: Poppy (as inspired by Madam Pomfrey): Write about a character being treated, or treating someone, as a consolation prize.
Prompts: overgrown gravestones, "Never use my name and his name in the same sentence. Ever.", ruby red, "I wish you had told me before I… " / "What? Before you what?", serene
Zacharias never said it aloud, but he knew he was nothing more than a consolation prize.
His legs were numb with cold as he sat crossed-legged in front of the overgrown tombstone. With no Mother and Father to clear away the weeds, his brother's gravehad grown wild. After all, Zacharias never bothered to return unless his parents forced him too.
He'd never have to worry about that again.
"Why am I here?" he whispered to the gravestone, his words frosting in the air to match his tone. "What will staring at an old stone do?"
The gravestone did not respond.
Zacharias dropped his head into his hands, fingers pressing against the roots of his blonde hair.
"I'm a coward, brother" he said. "An arrogant, cowardly fool. I don't know why I thought—"
The words chopped off like a crack in thick ice. One freckled hand drifted down from his forehead to cradle his elbow.
His thumb rubbed the goosebumps there— from cold or from the strange emotion welling and roiling within him.
"Our sisters…" Zacharias started again. "Katherine, Katja— they are so much more like you. No wonder Mother and Father always preferred them."
Self loathing dripped like blood from his lips as the words spilt forth like overturned firewhiskey— burning and unforgiving, unstoppable in its path.
"Oh, of course it was never obvious then— before you died, even, I never saw it for what it was. Little Zach, so confident, so relaxed, so like his big brother. Oh Zachie, I hope you grow up to be just like your brother! Oh Zach, I wish you were more like dear Theo, you know..."
Zacharias's left hand searched the frosted ground blindly for the bottle of firewhiskey he'd dragged along. "And then you died, you bastard. Perfect, beautiful, loyal Theodore died in the most heroic way possible. What were we left with but me!"
He yanked the cork from the lip of the bottle, letting the whiskey burn against his tongue, let phantom flames lick his gums until the words fell again, sloppy and unbearably honest. "Well, Mother and Father had to turn their hopes on someone. But I was never quite as good as you, huh, brother…"
The flames of a past battle roared in his ears with time to the heat drumming in his center. The alcohol almost painted the fires for him. "I ran away, you know. With Father. I pushed little eleven and twelve year olds into spellfire to escape because...because…"
He threw the bottle at the gravestone, watching the glass shimmer into shards with a sound like Apparition.
"I wish you'd told me, before I…" he slurred, fingers and toes and hands and legs so numb, his mind so numb, his heart so numb except for the burning of an entire bottle of firewhiskey roiling in his heart. A hiccup bubbled out of his lips.
"What? Before you what?" a faint voice seemed to respond.
Zacharias spun, uncoordinated limbs tangling together as his fell back against the mossy earth of his brother's grave.
"Me," said a figure emerging from the frost-lit sunset, a taller figure, still shrouded, at his side. "Zacharias, your brother Theodore has come to speak with you."
"Never use my name and his name in the same sentence. Ever," Zacharias spat, struggling to drag himself up from the frozen earth.
"If you insist," said his Father, before dissipating into the slowly gathering fog.
"Brother," Zacharias said, turning slowly to the apparition waiting silently for him. "You are dead."
"You are not a ghost."
"...what are you?"
The apparition sat before him, perched elegantly on the mossy gravestone. "Ah, but that's for you to find out."
"Always cryptic, huh?"
Theodore shrugged, crossing one leg over the other. "I see you have not yet gotten over that dreadful jealousy."
"Jealousy," said Theodore. "Mother and Father did not see you as a simple consolation prize, brother. Perhaps an outside view could bring you peace?"
"Then explain to me," spat Zacharias, fingers trembling against the withered grass. "Explain to me why they always were so disappointed in me. Why they pointed out how I stood up against you. Oh, I know I'm a poor prize, Theo! It only took me ten years too late to find out!"
Zacharias let himself fall back against the earth. Fingers traced the lines spidering out from his eyes and cheeks, betraying his age and guilt to any who dared pass a glance across his face.
"I'm a poor shade of you," he whispered aloud.
He sat still for a long while, the cold of the earth dripping into his and infecting his bones until even breathes felt too heavy.
The stars blinked blearily against the black sky before Zacharias rose once more. Bones creaked like ancient stairs as he staggered to his feet.
A soft spell lit the gravestone for a moment.
Moss fell away, covering the shattered, gleaming bottle.
A soft crack of well-practiced Disapparition signalled his departure, alone, from the gravestone.
The graveyard was left serene in eternity; its visitor still caught in the whirlpools of life.
Zacharias Apparated home and fell into an old ruby red armchair, so different from the affluence of his youth. One hand reached out for the half-empty glass of bourbon left warm on the side table before stopping, half curled.
Instead, he brought his hands to his face and leaned forward, fingers pressing like blunt nails into his cheeks and jawline.
He uncurled himself from the armchair and knelt, achingly, at the cold grate. With a flourish of flame and a toss of Floo Powder, he called for his godmother.
"Poppy? I need to talk to you about something…"