Chapter 51 : London
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“I’m fine,” I said. “I’m just a bit worked up about NEWTs, that’s all.” It was the same lie I had told Sirius all those months ago, before we’d gotten together, and it was covering up the same thing – how much I was thinking about him. In fact, I was itching for Tuesday to come, so that I could go to him, but that wasn’t something I could really say out loud, so the lie it had to be.
Mum didn’t look much more convinced than Sirius had, either, but she couldn’t exactly accuse me of lying. “Right then,” she said a little doubtfully. “Well, make sure you get all your homework done, then. Do you need a trip to the library for any more reading?”
“That sounds great,” I said, grabbing the excuse to spend time alone in my room with both hands. And indeed, to complete the charade I spent hours in my room doing the assignments that had been set for the holidays. Not that it was entirely a charade – I had every intention of getting them finished before I headed to London, as I really didn’t want to have to think about anything but Sirius once I was there. What they didn’t realise of course was that I had a couple of photos stashed in my bedside cabinet and I pulled those out to inspire me when writing my essays.
Finally after what felt like several years Tuesday arrived, and not a moment too soon as far as I was concerned. I let Cerridwyn out of her cage to roam free for a few days, not seeing the need to take her with me for such a short visit, and she validated my decision by flying off into the distance before I’d even closed my window. I’d thought she was getting bored.
My father, protective as ever, accompanied me to the Macdonalds’ house via the Floo network, subjecting himself as well as me to the necessary questions to make sure we were in fact ourselves, and fussed around making sure I would be comfortable while I dusted myself off and checked my appearance in the mirror Mrs Macdonald kept conveniently over the mantelpiece. Of course, extra parental attention always happens when you are impatient for them to go, and he was even threatening to have a cup of tea with Mrs Macdonald before I pointed out that he was needed back at work to help deal with a rumoured Inferi attack on a Muggle area the previous night. Looking flustered, he agreed that work was a priority and disappeared into the fireplace.
Dad had just left when Mary’s brother Andrew came into the room. “I’m jus’ aboot t’ – is tha’ Laura?” He looked genuinely surprised.
I nodded. “Hi Andrew, how are you?”
He grinned. “Well, ye’re all grown up nou, aren’t ye? When di’ tha’ happen?”
Mary giggled. “Prob’ly aboot th’ same time as I did, ye big lump,” she admonished.
“Aye, ye’re prob’ly richt,” he agreed. “Well, good t’ see ye, Laura. I’m just off t’ Diagon Alley. See ye all later on.”
After he’d gone I looked at Mary’s mum quizzically. “I didn’t know Andrew was living back here.”
“Just for a few months,” she explained. “While he saves up for his own place place after the wedding. And, speaking of which, young lady ...”
Fortunately Mary’s mum didn’t need much advice from me after all, as only about five minutes later the doorbell rang. Mrs Macdonald peered through the window and looked at me. “That him?”
Looking over her shoulder at Sirius, who looked a little nervous, I nodded. “Yep, that’s him.”
She pulled the curtain closed. “I’d believe it, he looks like a Black. What’s your security question?”
“The form his Patronus takes,” I said.
“Right.” She opened the door a crack. “What shape does your Patronus take?”
“A large dog,” he said, grinning at me through gap between door and jamb.
She looked at me questioningly and I nodded again. “Yes.” Finally, she opened the door the whole way and he was able to come inside.
While I was dying to run over to him and throw myself at him, the presence of Mary and, more importantly, Mrs Mac (and possibly Andrew again) held me back a little, though once introductions were over he did grip my hand so tightly I thought it might break.
I turned to Mary’s mother. “Thanks again, Mrs Mac,” I said gratefully. “I really appreciate this.”
She smiled. “Well, you’re both of age, so you’re old enough to make your own decisions. Just be careful, both of you. I don’t want anything happening to you on what’s supposed to be my watch.”
“We will,” Sirius promised sincerely, his hand still threatening to block circulation to mine. “I’ll look after her, don’t worry.”
“Well, I’ll see you in a couple of days,” I said. “Dad’s coming back at four o’clock on Thursday, so we’ll head back here before then.”
“Not a problem,” smiled Mrs Macdonald.
“Hae fun,” agreed Mary, winking at me. “See ye on Thursday the’.”
We Apparated to a small dingy alleyway, and paused for a bit and embraced again, fully aware that this time the Macdonalds were not there to gawk at us. It felt like it had been forever and we had a tidy bit of catching up to do. Finally we stopped and I had a look around as he led me to the adjacent street. We were next to a large modern apartment building, probably five or six stories high, which was apparently our destination. I followed him through the front door and up a flight of stairs before he halted outside a door in the nondescript-looking hallway.
“Well,” he said, sounding more than a little nervous, “this is it. Welcome home.” He tapped the lock twice with his wand and then stood aside to let me enter, watching my face for a reaction.
Having been a little unsure what to expect, I just looked around and took it all in. It was a modern three-room flat, with large windows facing north and a small private balcony featuring a couple of folding chairs and a small table. The bulk of the flat was one large-ish room which included a small kitchenette and a fireplace, and obviously was to do for kitchen, lounge room and dining room at once. It was rather simply furnished with a couch and an armchair in front of the fireplace, and a small dining table with four chairs, but even with those few pieces of furniture it was a little cramped. That is, room to swing a Kneazle, but only just.
The lack of space wasn’t helped by the fact that next to one wall was Sirius’ enormous black motorcycle with some parts sitting on the floor next to it, and I had the distinct impression that it was often in pieces in the middle of the room. The lone bookcase near the fireplace had a few school books and motorcycle manuals and magazines, some Defence Against the Dark Arts texts, a very thick book called Muggle Mechanics – a guide to adapting Muggle artefacts for magical use and some others that looked to be of a similar ilk, and some yellowing copies of the Daily Prophet that I later learned reported the deaths and disappearances of people we knew. There were also some photos scattered around – a couple of the Marauders, one of me. His broom was propped up against the bookcase and on the wall was a large Gryffindor banner and a few pictures of things like motorbikes and other Muggle engines.
“Do you like it?” He sounded almost hesitant, as though my approval was something he was unlikely to get.
“Of course I like it,” I replied, smiling at him. “It’s very you.”
He visibly relaxed. “I still can’t really believe that you’re actually here,” he admitted, closing the door behind us. “I was so sure something would happen to stop it. You’d have a family emergency, or you’d get a better offer and change your mind or something.”
I dropped off my bag on the table and went to him, putting my arms around him. “It would have taken a Death Eater attack on my house to stop me from coming here,” I told him. “And there’s no such thing as a better offer than you.”
He smiled, though I could tell he was a bit unsure still. He got like that sometimes and it took some getting used to, particularly coming from someone who was normally so self-assured. “We can move the bike out onto the balcony if you like,” he said to change the subject. “Makes more room, but it means you can’t use the balcony.”
“I think I’d rather use the balcony,” I said honestly. “It’s always nice sitting outside for a spell. You can’t always do that in London.”
He nodded. “Tell me about it. My parents’ house had no outdoor area at all, just one of those shared gardens in the middle of the square, which we weren’t allowed to go into because Muggles used it. I had to resort to climbing out my window and sitting on the roof to get any fresh air.”
“Let me guess,” I said, smiling as I leaned against the kitchen bench. “This place is absolutely nothing like where you grew up.”
“That’s right,” he agreed, giving me a hug. “I wanted lots of natural light and somewhere I could sit outside. And it all had to be modern. Almost the complete opposite of Grimmauld Place. If I never set foot in that house again, it’ll be too soon.” I concluded that Grimmauld Place must be where his parents lived, but I’d never heard the address before. “My cousin Andromeda helped me find it,” he went on. “She lives just outside the city so she helped me look. It’s much easier when you’re with someone who’s done it before. Now, the grand tour …” He dropped one arm and I let him show me the other two rooms – a bedroom and, off it, a small bathroom – before going back to the kitchen and pulling out a couple of butterbeers, which we took onto the balcony to drink.
“Andromeda …” I knew I’d heard the name before. “That’s it. Andromeda Black, married a bloke who was Muggle-born. Is that her?”
He looked surprised. “How did you know?”
I smiled wryly. “News like that travels. Someone from your family does something that noteworthy, it might as well be on the front page of the Prophet. I even had a cousin talking about it over the summer.”
He smiled and reached over to squeeze my hand. “Right. Well, yes, Andromeda married Ted Tonks, and was promptly disowned as a result. He was a Hufflepuff, too: with that combination I think Aunt Druella almost died of shame. You should have heard the Howler she got – almost rivalled mine after I was Sorted into Gryffindor.” He grinned again and I had a vague recollection of being almost forced out of the Great Hall on the first day of first year due to the noise that came from that one little red envelope. “So, anyway, Andromeda and I are kindred spirits in a way. I’ve been seeing a bit of her the past year or so, and she and Prongs’ mum helped me kit this place out. She even gave me a rundown on the spells I’d need to keep it in decent order.” He paused, smiling. “Actually, her daughter left one of her toys here last week – I must remember to get that back to her.” I looked back through the open door as he indicated a doll sitting on top of the bookcase, her arms moving up and down on their own in a rather feeble manner.
“I can’t really see you around small kids,” I admitted.
“I might surprise you,” he grinned. “Anyway, she’s not that small, she’s almost five. Nymphadora.” He made a face. “One thing Andromeda doesn’t have is good taste in names.”
“I don’t know,” I said lightly. “I’ve heard worse. She could have gone with Elvendork.”
He laughed. “Elvendork?”
“Yeah. I saw it in a birth notice in the Daily Prophet a month or two ago. I couldn’t quite believe someone would inflict that on a child.”
“Boy or girl?” he asked.
“Good question. It wasn’t clear from the notice. Could be either, I guess. Or both, if the poor kid’s a hermaphrodite.” I had started giggling uncontrollably, a situation Sirius must have decided to make the most of as he reached over and started tickling me.
“What?” he asked innocently as I wrested myself away from his grip. “You were laughing already, I thought I’d just encourage it.”
“Nice try,” I said, ducking my head to evade him again. “If you can’t keep your hands off me, just tell me.”
“I thought you’d never offer,” he said with a grin. “And don’t worry,” he added as I looked around to see if there were any neighbours within earshot, “this balcony’s got half a dozen charms on it. No one can see or hear us.”
“Well,” I smiled, reaching for him, “in that case …”
We spent the first evening at a nearby Muggle pub where a punk band was playing loudly, enthusiastically and a little off-key. Sirius was keen on checking out the Muggle music and also wanted to sample all the drinks on display behind the bar, and I noticed in the process that most of the girls at the pub seemed keen to sample him. Sirius being Sirius mostly ignored it but couldn’t fail to respond to some of the more blatant attempts to get his attention, and while he smiled and spoke pleasantly to everyone he kept catching my eye and grinning, making it obvious to even the most persistent of them that he wasn’t available. Smiling, and impressing myself with how well I was taking it all, I just sat back and enjoyed watching him, and fending off the occasional hopeful suitor myself, though when they saw Sirius they tended to back off voluntarily. Even without his eyes flashing dangerously, for some reason other blokes generally seemed to find him rather intimidating.
It was quite interesting, spending time with Sirius outside school, because a reasonable amount of what he did wasn’t necessarily, shall we say, legal. Not that he was a criminal or anything, but more that he didn’t always think that the rules that governed everyone else should apply to him. It was only small stuff – things like using Refilling Charms on our drinks, or a Repelling or Confundus Charm on anyone who looked like they might ask some awkward questions, and I had a strong suspicion that when out on the bike he ignored anything inconvenient such as speed limits or helmets – but it took some getting used to, particularly considering what my mother did for a living. Then again, I reasoned, if you can’t do a bit of rebelling when you’re eighteen, when can you do it? So I swallowed any objections I might have had and instead smiled when my glass refilled itself.
I wasn’t surprised when we got back to his flat at the end of the night to find that he had some Sobering Solution handy to help prevent hangovers, nor that the bottle was close to empty from what was most probably frequent use. Moderation and Sirius weren’t necessarily two words I would have used in the same sentence. I was however grateful for the potion as we only had two days together and I didn’t want one of them ruined by a hangover.
Fortunately the potion was a good one and it was with a mercifully clear head that I woke up the next morning to find Sirius still asleep, one arm around me. He looked so peaceful – I realised that I’d never seen him sleep before, and there was something rather endearing about it. Or maybe that was just because it was him. I nestled in closer to him so I could feel his even breaths and wondered what he was dreaming about.
Not long afterwards he woke up and smiled as his eyes focused and he realised I was there. “Good,” he said sleepily, pulling me in even closer, “it wasn’t a dream after all.”
“Did you want me to pinch you, just to be on the safe side?” I asked playfully, reaching for one of his more delicate areas.
“Not there,” he said, waking up more quickly. “Not a pinch, at least.”
“Okay,” I agreed, “I’ll be more gentle. Though I still need to convince you that you’re not dreaming.”
He leaned in and kissed me, his stubble catching the edges of my lips. “I think we can come up with a way of doing that.”
Once we finally got up and had breakfast we worked out how best to spend the day. With the current climate in the Wizarding world, Diagon Alley and surrounds were decidedly uncomfortable as people scurried around, harried and stressed, trying not to stay out too long in case they had a run in with the Death Eaters. As a result we chose to spend our time together in Muggle London. It was still dangerous, but Muggle attacks were far rarer and more random than those on wizards, and so even with the threat of arbitrary IRA bombings we counted it a safer bet. Besides, even though my dad worked at the Ministry he was very unlikely to venture out into Muggle areas on his lunch break, and Sirius knew Muggle London well as he’d escaped there several times over the years to get away from his parents, knowing it would annoy them.
Sirius was also keen to check out the latest motorbikes on the market in case he could pick up any ideas for his own bike, so we wandered around a few dealerships chatting to sales staff about horsepower and ride quality and trying to talk them into letting him take a test ride even though he couldn’t produce a licence. I’m almost ashamed to say that a couple of times we resorted to using Confundus Charms on reluctant salesmen when there was a bike he particularly liked the look of. (See what I mean about not always being entirely legal?)
Our trawl through the motorcycle dealerships was done on his bike, which obviously didn’t need the spare parts I’d seen on the floor next to it to work. We soared through the streets – as I’d suspected, without helmets – with the bike surging beneath us as Sirius tried to find a way out of the heavy London traffic. Even with us scooting through tight spaces that we shouldn’t by rights have been able to fit through, and avoiding much of the bustle, we were still occasionally overtaken by people walking their dogs or pushing prams, until eventually Sirius had had enough. We jerked to a halt in a dead end alleyway and he turned around to look at me.
“How do you feel about taking off?”
“Over London?” I hadn’t been expecting that, but I couldn’t deny it would be a thrill. “Yeah, why not?”
“Right.” He grinned at me over his shoulder, Disillusioned both of us and the bike, and we took off into the air, narrowly avoiding some power lines on the way up. As before, it was exhilarating, though this time we had the added difficulty of staying away from tall buildings, electrical wires, planes and even the occasional blimp. Finally we landed not far from Sirius’ building, feeling rather windswept but definitely on a high. This was amazing – the whole thing, the motorcycle, the rush of London, just being with Sirius when there were no teachers or parents around, no risk of getting caught. This was how I wanted to live the rest of my life.
Unfortunately, while keeping our personal safety in mind while enjoying Muggle London we had forgotten the more minor hazard of getting caught by my family, and it all very nearly went pear-shaped late that afternoon in Hyde Park, when I spotted one of my many relatives in the distance.
“Oh, bugger,” I said under my breath.
“What is it?” Sirius tensed like a dog on a scent.
“It’s my aunt. Quick, hide!” I didn’t think she’d seen us yet, her concentration was on keeping hold of the many shopping bags she was carrying.
Sirius looked around swiftly to make sure no one was watching us, and a second later the huge black dog was bounding alongside me, its tail wagging furiously as it darted around and snapped at birds and swaying tree branches.
“Aunt Gina! Hi!” I said brightly, hoping she hadn’t spotted Sirius before he’d transformed.
“Laura, dear! What a lovely surprise! But what are you doing in London?”
“I’m staying with a friend from school,” I answered. It was true, after all, just not the friend my parents thought it was.
“Right. Where is she?” asked Aunt Gina.
“Oh, she’s back at her place, I just needed some fresh air,” I invented quickly. “She and her mum were busy with wedding preparations for her brother, so I offered to take their dog for a walk.” I looked down at Sirius. “This is – Snuffles,” I added, indicating the dog and hoping she didn’t notice the brief pause as I came up with a name.
Aunt Gina eyed the enormous bear-like dog doubtfully. “Without a lead?” she asked. “I hope it’s well trained,” she added worriedly. “If it gets out of hand you won’t be able to control it, not a dog that size.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said. “He’s perfectly well trained, wouldn’t hurt a fly.” ‘Bar Slytherins and Death Eaters,’ I added in my head, though Aunt Gina didn’t need to know that. I smiled brightly – this bit wasn’t even lying.
“If you say so, dear,” she said. “Anyway, lovely as it is to see you, I’d better get back, I’ve got the Sheridans coming over for supper.” And she took off towards the nearest tube station.
Within seconds Sirius was back in human form. “Snuffles?” he asked accusingly. “’SNUFFLES? That’s a cute name! I’m not cute! I’m rugged, and manly, and sexy!” He pouted at me.
I laughed. “It was the best I could come up with on the spot,” I chided. “And I hate to break it to you, Snuffles, but there’s times that you’re very cute.” I squeezed his hand affectionately. “Though you’re a bit bigger than the dog we have at home, I can understand why she’d be a bit uneasy.”
He laughed. “What do you have at home?”
“Cocker spaniel,” I told him. “Called Jessie. Original, isn’t it?”
“Well, it could be worse,” he said, putting an arm around me. “You could have called it Snuffles.”
Suddenly I stopped dead again. “We have to tell Mary,” I said seriously.
“Tell her what?” he asked.
“That she’s supposed to have an enormous black dog called Snuffles. Aunt Gina is Mum’s sister, she’s bound to mention it. She’s probably about to call Mum as we speak, she’s a hell of a gossip, and me walking Mary’s dog for her is the sort of inane thing that Mum’s bound to bring up at some stage,” I explained. “And that means I’ll have to tell Mary about Padfoot. Otherwise it’s not going to make any sense.”
He smiled. “So she doesn’t know?”
“Of course not,” I said impatiently. “I promised not to say anything, and it was never my secret to tell anyway. And there are awful implications for Remus …” I left the sentence hanging. He knew what I meant.
“Right,” he said, clearly thinking furiously. “We tell her about Padfoot. But not about Prongs, or Wormtail, and definitely not about Moony. We’ll just say that I wanted to try it and worked it out on my own. I dunno, to get away from my family or something.”
I nodded. “I can work with that,” I said. “But we’ll have to do it now, you never know when Aunt Gina will get hold of my mother. You know, telephones?” Every now and then I was really pleased he took Muggle Studies, it made some things so much easier. “Let’s go back to your place, I’ll Floo her from there.”
We quickly Apparated back to Sirius’ flat, where I stuck my head in his fireplace and called out Mary’s address. Once I’d convinced Mary it was really me (these precautions due to the war were really getting old, I thought), I explained the situation, and she took the news surprisingly well for someone who was up to their ears in silver and white invitations, balloons and streamers. “Animagus? Well I’ll be,” she said dryly, as if nothing could surprise her any more. “I prob’ly need t’ see th’ dug, though, if it’s goin’ t’ be convincing. Can I Floo o’er?”
I checked with Sirius, who agreed and unlocked the Floo so she could come through. Within seconds she had arrived and was dusting herself off.
“Nice place,” she said without introduction, looking around appraisingly. “Ye’ve made it pretty comfortable. Anyway, this dug I’m supposed t’ hae …” She looked expectantly at Sirius, who transformed for her obligingly.
The normally unflappable Mary froze mid-gesture. “Ye know, I though’ Laura wa’ exaggerating,” she said in disbelief. “Ye’ve really done it. Well done!”
Sirius resumed his human form and shrugged. “You live with a family like mine, and you’ll do anything to get a bit of peace,” he said simply. I had to hand it to him, he did sound believable.
“All richt, Snuffles,” Mary grinned. “Ye can be my dug. If ye lik’, ye can even come o’er when Laura’s da comes t’ pick her up on th’ morra, run aroond th’ back yard lik’ ye live there. I’m sure we can conjure ye up a dug hoose fer an hour or so.”
He grinned at her. “Sounds like a plan,” he said.
“Nae worries,” she responded to his unspoken thank you. “I’d bes’ be gettin’ back nou afore Ma notices I’m gone an’ calls in th’ Aurors.” And with a smile and a wave, she was gone.
That evening we sat on the balcony for a spell with a bottle of Firewhisky, watching the neighbours through their windows and making up stories to fit what they were doing. Eventually we headed back inside and sat under a rug on the couch, doing the crossword from the Daily Prophet. The fire was crackling away merrily, the rest of the paper lying discarded on the floor and a Hobgoblins record playing in the background. I rested my head on his shoulder and he was gently stroking my hair as we sat there trying to work out the answer to fourteen down.
We were interrupted by an owl tapping on the window – clearly the post could get through whatever enchantments had been put on the balcony. Sirius hurried over to the door and opened it, and the owl flew straight to me and deposited a letter on the table next to me. I quickly unfolded it.
“It’s from Mary,” I said after I’d scanned it. “Dad’s been asking questions, he’s tried to check up on me three times and I haven’t been there for any of them, and she thinks he’s getting suspicious.” I looked up at Sirius glumly. “It looks like I’m going to have to go home.”
“No,” he said quickly. “No. You’ve only just got here, you can’t leave yet.”
I smiled ruefully. “Only just got here? Sirius, I’ve been here more than twenty-four hours, you can’t complain.”
“Of course I can complain,” he said, closing the door after the owl left again. “I thought I had you for two days. I don’t want to lose you yet.”
“Well, it doesn’t look like I’ve got much choice,” I said, possibly a little more tetchily than I’d intended. “Otherwise we’re going to get caught, and then I’ll have trouble seeing you at all.”
“What, would they stop you from going back to school?” he asked. “I can’t see that, not when you’ve got all these rules to make sure you do well.” He looked at me resolutely. “Look, you’re of age, you’re nearly qualified, it won’t be much longer till they’ve not no control over you. Ignore the letter. Stay.”
“I want to,” I admitted. “I really do. But I don’t think I can. ” I started heading towards the bedroom so I could pack my things up.
“Of course you can,” he said, hurrying over and standing in the doorway, preventing me from going inside. “Come on, it’s only another day. It won’t hurt them.”
“It might hurt Mary,” I said wryly. “Dad can get pretty irate.”
“She’ll be fine,” he insisted. “Stay. Please?”
I shook my head, hating myself for doing this to him. “I can’t.” I pushed past him and started throwing clothes into my overnight bag.
He followed me in and leaned against the wall, his hair falling into his eyes and a disappointed look on his face. “You’re really going to leave because of this?”
“I don’t want to get Mary in trouble,” I said, trying not to look at him and hoping he didn’t notice the tears that were forming in the corners of my eyes. I didn’t want to leave either, but I didn’t see how I could stay and still keep my parents in the dark.
“What if I could take care of Mary?” Sirius said suddenly, his voice hopeful. “Make sure she doesn’t get in trouble for anything?”
I turned to face him sceptically. “And just how are you going to do that?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted, his eyes on the floor. “But I’ll think of something. I have to.” He looked up. “Please don’t leave, Laura. Stay with me. One more night, like we planned. Please.”
I looked at him, wanting desperately to be able to do as he asked. “I really shouldn’t,” I said sadly.
“Please,” he said again, sounding despondent. “Please, Laura. I love you.”
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