The summer holidays were much the same as usual with the exception of Bea, now qualified, looking for a job. And me, of course, having some more friends, which was lovely – while I adored Mary and she was still my best friend, it was nice getting letters from other people occasionally. Speaking of this, in August I got a letter from Lily, via the Muggle post as she sometimes had trouble getting to an owl office and didn’t have one of her own. Ever the socialite, she invited Mary and me to join her, Martha and Charlotte for their annual shopping trip down Diagon Alley, ostensibly for school supplies but also to check out the latest robes in Madam Malkin’s and any new stock at Madam Primpenelle’s. While I had to be in the right mood to get into trying on clothes or looking at beautifying potions, I liked the idea of catching up with them before school went back and hurried to get permission.
Mum was initially a bit hesitant until I pointed out that Charlotte’s mother had agreed to accompany us as a chaperone, and she eventually agreed that I could go, admitting that she was happier with that proposal than the idea of me going just with Dad or as part of a smaller group. There is, after all, safety in numbers. So I sent Dad’s owl, Koukou, off on the trip to Surrey to tell Lily that I would definitely be there.
I arrived at the Leaky Cauldron at the appointed time to find Lily and Martha were already there, sitting at one of the dingy tables with some butterbeers in front of them.
“Morning, ladies,” I smiled, moving a pile of Ministry pamphlets advising how to protect oneself if one encounters the Death Eaters to another table so I could sit down. “How did these get here?”
Lily shrugged. “They’re on every table, I think,” she said. “Not that they’re much use I wouldn’t think, but apparently the Ministry wants them to be well distributed.”
Martha nodded. “Yep, we got a stack in the post the other day. Lots of tosh about travelling in groups and learning how to cast Shield Charms – all really obvious stuff that you’d think a first-year would be able to figure out, let alone a qualified adult. So anyway, how are you?”
I grinned. “Right as rain. I’m really enjoying this summer. Bea’s finally graduated so she’s running around like a madwoman telling the world she’s qualified, and she’s even talking about getting some of those spells she invented approved by the Ministry. And for once people are actually paying attention to me, though that might have something to do with the fact I did better in my OWLs than any of them expected.”
Lily smiled. “How did you go?”
I thought about it. “O for Herbology, E for Charms, Defence, Transfiguration, Potions and Runes, A for Care of Magical Creatures and History of Magic. I failed Astronomy though – all I could think of during the exam was bloody Canis Majoris!”
Martha laughed. “That’d have to put you off. Though I knew you were smarter than you made out,” she said. “I got no Os at all – unlike Lils here …”
Lily blushed. “Well, I did a lot of revision so it was bound to pay off.”
Martha punched her on the arm. “Always the modest one, aren’t you? No, Laura, Lily got four Os and the rest were Es. We all knew she was brilliant, but I hadn’t realised quite how brilliant.”
Lily went even redder, but was saved from responding by the arrival of Charlotte and her mum. “Charlotte! Mrs Trimble! How are you?”
I’d not met Charlotte’s mother before so Martha carried out introductions while we waited for Mary. It seemed that Mrs Trimble had accompanied the girls on their shopping trip the previous year and so knew what they had in mind, and rather surprisingly encouraged it. For some reason I’d always imagined Charlotte’s family to be somewhat straight-laced, most probably due to the book on the Dark Arts that her uncle had written, but Mrs Trimble was apparently all for trying out beautifying potions and going into Gambol & Japes looking for love potions. Needless to say it was extremely clear why she had been chosen as our chaperone.
About ten minutes and two butterbeers later Mary arrived, accompanied by her brother Andrew and apologising profusely for being late. It seemed that her mother had insisted that Andrew come along to make sure Mary made it to the meeting point all right, and anyway he needed to go to Gringotts so it wasn’t out of his way, but he’d not been able to find his wand when it was time for them to leave and so had hunted around for a few minutes looking for it. (In the end, a Summoning Charm from Mary did the trick – it had been hiding underneath a pile of freshly-washed clothes, which was somewhere no self-respecting twenty-one year old boy would ever look.)
Martha immediately went into full flirting mode when she saw Andrew – he was tall and dark and I guess rather good looking if you went for that sort of look. I’d known him for so long that I’d never even considered him as a potential boyfriend: this tends to happen when you grow up feeling like someone is the older brother you never had. Fortunately (or, from Martha’s perspective, rather unfortunately) he wasn’t interested and, after making sure Mary was well settled, quickly headed out the back so he could get his banking done.
“Mary, you sly thing!” Martha exclaimed once he had disappeared. “You never even mentioned him!”
Mary shrugged while I giggled to myself. “Well,” she said, “if ye’d bin payin’ attention i’ aboot secon’ year ye woul’ hae known him then. He wa’ i’ Gryffindor too, ye know.”
“He was?” Martha looked very surprised. “Why didn’t I ever notice?”
Charlotte laughed. “Probably because you weren’t really interested in boys then,” she pointed out. “Besides, what second-year ever looks seriously at a seventh-year? It just doesn’t happen.”
“I guess,” Martha acknowledged. “Is he single, though?”
Mary shook her head. “Sorra, Martha, bu’ nae. He’s had a girlfrien’ fer aboot a year nou. An’ she’s legal an’ qualified an’ everythin’, so ye dinna hae much o’ a chance.”
Lily was getting red-faced from laughing. “Martha Hornby, you’re a worry,” she said fondly. “Anything with testosterone and you’re onto it like a shot.”
Martha giggled. “I know. But there’s not all that much to choose from at school, so I have to keep an eye out during the holidays.” She winked mischievously at us. “Anyone else got any brothers I don’t know about?”
Charlotte looked at her mother and laughed. “How about Clarrie?” He was a couple of years younger than her and had unfortunately missed out on her classic good looks.
Martha shook her head. “Sorry, Charlotte, but I think I’d prefer someone a little older than Clarrie. Maybe even my age.” She looked hopefully at me. “Laura, anyone you’re hiding?”
I shook my head. “Only two kids in my family,” I said, “and I don’t think you really want to snog Bea.”
Lily had recovered herself and took charge. “Right, girls,” she said, “I can’t help but notice that while we’re in here all the shops are out there, potentially selling out of everything we want to buy.” She indicated the back of the pub with her thumb. “So now we’ve all finished our drinks …”
Mrs Trimble nodded. “Absolutely right, Lily. This shopping isn’t doing itself. And I got a catalogue from Madam Primpernelle’s the other day, and they’ve got a lot of new stock in just for this season.” And with that we got our things together and wandered out as a group into Diagon Alley.
The street had changed a bit since the last time I was there. The fear produced by Voldemort and the Death Eaters meant that a new black market in good luck charms and new defensive spells was starting to flourish, and there were a number of shabby stalls on the street flogging things like amulets, home-made potions and instructions for new shield spells which would, according to the peddlers, protect you even against an Avada Kedavra. Yeah, right, I’d believe that when I saw it. No one had ever survived a direct AK and I hadn’t seen any evidence that it had started happening in the last couple of years thanks to these new spells.
In addition, the atmosphere of increasing fear meant that people were less likely to spend their time in the open browsing through different shops, so half the businesses had closed down due to lack of patronage, their now empty windows plastered with poster versions of the Ministry pamphlets I had tossed aside so blithely in the Leaky Cauldron. The end result was that even though it was a lovely day weather-wise, we preferred to spend our time indoors rather than out.
We had decided to get our school things first, so we could spend the rest of the day browsing around the more interesting shops without having to keep an eye on the clock. So we traipsed as a group into Gringotts (Martha looking around avidly to see if Andrew was still there) to get our gold, then headed to Flourish & Blotts, the stationery shop and Bobbin’s Apothecary to get what we thought we would need for the year. This year was a bit tricky as we weren’t sure what subjects we would get into, so it was a bit of a gamble buying the textbooks, but based on our results we did have a fair idea so it was an educated gamble.
Once we had all our school supplies we headed to Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlour to have a bit of a treat before descending on Madam Malkin’s for new school robes and also for a look at the latest season’s fashions. However, unlike what we would probably have done in previous years we elected to sit at a table inside the ice cream parlour, as no one was all that keen on spending time outside.
Of course, some indoor spots were infinitely better than others. Madam Malkin’s, for example, was chock-full of new season robes, as well as the ubiquitous school uniforms, so we spent rather a tidy spell in there checking out things like how different colours and cuts suited us, and wishing we had more gold so we could buy some of the more striking dress robes. Not that there was a Yule Ball this year, but it’s always nice to have a set of nice robes in one’s wardrobe, and I could have really used the beautifying variety. (Yes, okay, I was turning into more of a girl. I blamed Lily, Martha and Charlotte, it was all their influence. I would never have spent an hour in Madam Malkin’s before I started hanging out with them.)
From there we went to Madam Primpernelle’s, which stocked things like beautifying potions and the like. Not that Lily, Martha or Charlotte needed any, but Mary and I could do with all the help we could get. Unfortunately, I discovered, those sorts of things are only temporary – the only thing that will give you natural long-lasting good looks are good genes, and those I definitely did not have. Oh well. Back to the drawing board.
The mood in Diagon Alley had deteriorated significantly in the time between us going into Madam Primpernelle’s and leaving it, and we all shuddered and looked at each other in despair. A cold feeling enveloped me and I felt like all the happiness was draining from me. Mrs Trimble stopped abruptly and pulled her wand out, holding out an arm to stop us from moving.
“Go back inside, girls,” she said ominously. “Stay there until I say it’s okay to come out.”
“Why?” Charlotte looked worried. “What’s happening?”
“Dementors,” Mrs Trimble muttered. “I’d heard the Ministry had lost control of some of them.” Her voice suddenly became louder and more authoritative. “Go on, all of you. Back inside. I’ll be with you in a jiffy.”
Horrified, we obediently went into the nearest building, which was the fortified structure that was Gringotts. Some of the goblins inside looked at us oddly but Charlotte, who was suddenly all business, went up to the nearest one and explained what was happening outside, and they seemed to relax and were happy to let us shelter in there for a little while.
Meanwhile, outside, Mrs Trimble was casting furtive looks up and down the street until she spotted someone she recognised and hurried over to him. A fter speaking to him for a minute or so she came into the bank to join us. “That’s Rufus Scrimgeour,” she explained, “from the Auror’s office. He’ll be able to call in some reinforcements to deal with this.”
Lily was nodding resolutely. “We studied Dementors in Defence last year,” she said, “but we never learned how to stop them.”
Mrs Trimble nodded. “Yes, there is a spell, but it’s rather more advanced than something they would normally teach fifth-years. I can barely do it myself, and that’s with Quentin trying to teach me.”
I was still feeling cold and miserable, and from the faces of the girls around me they were too. Professor Dingle had recreated the effects of a Dementor attack during class last year, but I realised now that it had been a poor imitation of the real thing. This was horrible. Terrifying, draining, like the sun would never come out again and I would always be trapped in darkness. I clutched my wand tightly, feeling extraordinarily helpless in the face of what I recognised may soon become the norm.
After what felt like hours (but was probably only a matter of minutes) the mood suddenly lifted, and we looked outside to see a number of very confident-looking witches and wizards sending what seemed to be silvery shapes from their wands towards the Dementors, which were tall creatures which wore black cloaks and hoods. They had scattered under the onslaught of whatever it was that was coming at them and dispersed with surprising speed.
We wandered back outside a few minutes later, Mrs Trimble wanting to make sure that any danger had in fact disappeared before letting us loose in the street again. However, she needn’t have worried. We were still rather shaken from what had happened and huddled together in a small group, just wanting to get out of there.
I was still trembling a little when I arrived back home not long afterwards via the Leaky Cauldron’s Floo service. Whatever spell the Aurors had used against the Dementors had lifted the feelings of dread rather significantly, but it hadn’t taken them away entirely and I was surprised to see that the sun was out in Bristol when I got there – it seemed like I’d forgotten it could come out at all. Mum, who wasn’t working that day, noticed my mood immediately, so I sat down and explained what had happened.
“I knew it was a risk letting you go today,” she muttered when I had finished. “What if they’d got you? I know what Dementors can do to someone if they catch them.”
I shuddered involuntarily – the Dementor’s Kiss, as it was known, was its worst weapon: the creature put what it called a mouth on yours and sucked your soul out of you. Anyone who was Kissed basically became a shell of a person, their personality, their thoughts, their memories irretrievably gone. Of course Mum would know about that – it was something both she and Dad dealt with at work on an unnervingly increasing basis.
“I don’t think it would have actually come to that,” I told her. “Mrs Trimble was pretty quick in ordering us inside, she knew what to do and she got the Aurors there quick smart.”
Mum shook her head. “But still,” she said, “I wish it hadn’t happened. You’re all pale and clammy, not like yourself at all.”
I nodded. “I wish it hadn’t happened too,” I said. “But I think we did as well as could be expected under the circumstances. I just wish we knew that spell that gets rid of them.”
“Well, it sounds like the Aurors knew what they were doing in any case,” Mum admitted. “But I think you need a cuppa and a lie down. I’ll put the kettle on. Go to your room and I’ll bring your tea up in a minute. And how about a couple of pikelets go with it?”
I smiled. “Thanks, Mum.” That felt like exactly what I needed, and I went upstairs to dump my things in my room and collapse onto the bed.
Not long after I’d finished my tea and pikelets an owl arrived, surprisingly enough from Lily, though I recognised the bird as the one belonging to Charlotte. Lily must have borrowed it after our little expedition. In its beak was a hurriedly scrawled note.
Did you make it home all right? What a day! I can’t believe that Diagon Alley, of all places, had a Dementor attack. I’m incredibly sorry about what happened, we’ve never had one of our shopping trips interrupted like that before and I feel a bit lost that we weren’t able to finish. So I just wanted you to know that our days out are not usually like that at all, so please don’t judge us too harshly.
Anyway, if you think you can face it we will try to do another trip, maybe at Christmas time or in any case next summer, and I’ll try to organise it for a day that the Dementors aren’t coming along to spoil things. And, worst case scenario, I suppose we can try something along the same lines at Hogsmeade one weekend.
So again, I’m sorry. It’s taken much too long for you and Mary to come with us on one of these trips and this had to happen on your first one! But hopefully we’ll have lots of opportunities to do this again and things will go according to plan next time.
I smiled broadly. Like I could think harshly of Lily – what was there not to like? (Unless I suddenly became Dione Turpin, of course, but that seemed unlikely in the foreseeable future. Or any future at all, really.) Let’s face it, no one could blame her for the Dementors, no matter how they made us feel, because no one could possibly know when they were going to attack or where. It was just the nature of the war – no matter how well you planned things, or how much you wanted them to go right, some things just couldn’t be relied upon. I grabbed a quill and some parchment and quickly scribbled a note back, saying of course I wouldn’t judge her harshly and none of it was her fault, and aside from the Dementors I had a lovely time and so would definitely come next time, assuming Mum let me out of the house. Which after today, I reflected, could end up being my biggest problem.
The first of September arrived in what felt like no time at all, and along with a couple of hundred other students I was bundled onto the Hogwarts Express for the journey north, for the first time without Beatrice. It was strangely liberating and I relished the unfamiliar but welcome prospect of getting through the whole train ride without once hearing a story about someone she had hexed or a skirmish she had been involved in.
After we arrived back at school, we all gathered in the Great Hall for the welcome feast and watched as the Sorting Hat sang its song and another forty or so first-years (were we ever really that small?) were Sorted into their Houses. Once they were all seated Professor Dumbledore, true to form, made one of the shortest speeches known to man or beast.
“There is a time and a place for speeches,” he said from his position in the middle of the Head Table, “and I am sure that I will be advised if any of you find it. So, in the absence of anything more formal, dig in!”
The tables immediately started heaving beneath the weight of food that appeared on it. As always the variety was immense and the quality excellent, and we sat in relative quiet as we all ate as much as we could, while still leaving room for pudding, of course, which appeared in due course and was absolutely delicious.
Once everyone in the Hall had eaten so much they felt like they were going to explode, Dumbledore stood up again. “It is time,” he said to the suddenly almost silent room, “for the start of term notices. Firstly, Mr Filch has asked me to remind you that the use of magic is forbidden in the corridors between classes, and advises that winged catapults and Dungbombs have been added to the list of banned items. This list I believe now totals some two hundred and sixteen items and can be found on the door of Mr Filch’s office for anyone who would like to see it.” He smiled and I could have sworn his gaze flicked to James and Sirius before he continued.
“I would also like to advise our new students, and remind some of our older students, that the forbidden forest is called that because it is in fact forbidden. I also recommend not antagonising the giant squid which lives in the black lake, which can have a rather nasty temper when provoked.
“I wish fervently that I did not have to do so, but will remind you all of the dangers we are currently facing, and request that all of you abide by any security or safety-connected instructions you may receive from staff. Remember, these are for your own safety and any disobedience is at your own, I might add significant, risk. I will also remind you that students below third year, and any older students who have not had their permission slips signed, will not be allowed to visit the village of Hogsmeade on designated weekends.”
I nodded. Dad had told me that in his day they didn’t need new forms to be signed every year, that one form signed at the start of third year was enough for the rest of your time at Hogwarts, but it seemed that with the ever-increasing danger outside the walls of Hogwarts it was deemed appropriate that students be required to provide fresh permission slips every year.
Professor Dumbledore was continuing. “On a lighter note, Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of term, and I would like to inform first-years that for safety reasons they are not permitted to take part. Notices advising of times and dates will be posted in the common rooms in due course, and those interested in participating should give their names to their Heads of House.
“And finally, I would like to introduce our new members of staff. Firstly, Professor Penrose, who will be replacing the retired Professor Egg as our Muggle Studies professor.”
An elegant-looking wizard in rather stylish robes stood up and bowed, a wide smile on his face. The students all applauded in a dutiful if rather bored fashion, most probably figuring that it was only Muggle Studies so who cared what he was like? (Okay, I admit, that’s probably not fair, but Muggle Studies was often seen as a soft option and the failure rate was less than two percent, so the coursework could hardly have been described as taxing.)
Dumbledore cleared his throat and the applause died a natural death. “And can we please give a big Hogwarts welcome to Professor Viridian, who will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts.” Apparently Professor Dingle had also succumbed to the Defence teachers’ curse and only lasted one year. The man who was replacing him, two seats down from Dumbledore, stood up and beamed at the student body. What had been the beginnings of an applause died and quickly turned to suppressed giggles.
I know it’s not polite to judge someone solely on their appearance, but there’s times that it’s hard not to. “Gosh,” I heard someone say from further down the table. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone quite so inbred!”
It was true. Professor Viridian looked like potentially the dumbest person I had ever seen, with all the clichés of buck teeth, slightly crossed eyes, a receding hairline and a rather bulbous, prominent nose. I wasn’t willing to pass total judgement on the man until we’d had a class with him, but his looks were certainly against him.
“He looks like he couldn’t find Hogsmeade from the front gates,” I commented to Mary, who was sitting opposite.
She nodded. “Definitely a butterbeer or two shor’ o’ a six-pack,” she agreed.
“We’ll have to hope he’s better than he looks,” I muttered. “Defence is too important a subject to have someone completely incompetent in charge. And I would have thought Dumbledore would have realised that, particularly with the way things are at the moment.”
Martha giggled next to me. “To be honest, Laura, I don’t think it’s physically possible to be as incompetent as that man looks. We’ll just have to trust that Dumbledore knows what he’s doing. Wonder what happened to Dingle?”
I shrugged and smiled a relieved smile at her, but it appeared that we were the only ones who had managed to think past the new professor’s appearance. The boys, for example, were sitting nearby – probably so James could be close to Lily – and were laughing appreciatively at the various disparaging comments we could hear from around the hall. Sirius in particular was rather loud in his laughter, which sounded unnervingly like a dog barking. Not entirely sure I’d noticed that before, which for a five year acquaintance was remarkably unobservant of me, I made a mental note to ask Mary about it later.
“Told you, Prongs,” Sirius said with a grin once he had stopped barking, “living proof of why you shouldn’t marry a pure-blood. Too much inbreeding stunts your development.”
James grinned. “No fear of that,” he said, looking sideways at Lily, who was sitting on the other side of Mary. She of course was Muggle-born, so whether he was confronted with a thousand Professor Viridians or not, assuming his affection for her stayed at its current levels there was very little chance that James would marry a pure-blood if he had anything at all to do with it.
Author’s note: Okay, I should probably have mentioned this earlier (particularly considering I’m 14 chapters and 60,000 words in) but I’m not British, so if anyone who is spots any words, phrases or references that are out of place or just plain wrong, please tell me! I’m trying to keep this as accurate as possible so all suggestions and comments are most welcome. Many thanks. :)
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