The seventh-year students had a graduation ceremony on the day before we were due to leave Hogwarts for the last time, and just about everyone’s parents – and some siblings – had made the journey north to attend. (Okay, for some people it might have been south, east or west, but for almost all Hogwarts students the school was north of where they lived.) We were all dressed up in our cleanest school robes, complete with matching hats, and those in positions of authority had polished their badges until they gleamed.
The ceremony was due to begin after lunch and we all spent the morning in a state of mild nervousness combined with a bit of trepidation and apprehension, partly due to the ceremony and partly because we had suddenly realised that this was It. The end. No more Hogwarts, no more study (unless you became a Healer or an Auror), and quite possibly no more seeing people we’d seen pretty much every day for the past seven years. Unless we made a point of catching up with each other, or got jobs where our paths crossed, there were people we had known rather well who we may never see again. We suddenly realised that this was actually rather significant and a mild feeling of tension pervaded the atmosphere.
I had to admit, part of me was thrilled I would be leaving. I had no qualms whatsoever about never seeing Elvira again, or Severus Snape, or Scylla Pritchard. My fellow Gryffindors, yes, I did want to see them (and I was sure I would), but just about everyone else, I’m ashamed to say, could disappear from my life without any regrets on my part.
Once lunch was over the Great Hall was cleared and we were told to wait in the Entrance Hall for the tables to be removed and new seating put in. Sirius and I kept close together, realising that we were about to be separated from each other for the afternoon and wanting that to happen as late as was humanly possible. The closer it got to two o’clock, which was when people were expected to start arriving, the more we held each other, almost in defiance of the coming ceremony.
“Now remember,” I said sternly, though I didn’t let go of him, “we have to keep a low profile today, at least till after the ceremony. If we’re going to have long explanations with my parents, I’d prefer not to be rushed for time during them.”
He made a face. “Do we have to?”
“Please?” I asked. “Just another couple of hours, tops. Then I’ll tell them, okay?”
“I suppose,” he said grudgingly. “And you have to promise that I’ll see you over the summer. As often as possible.”
I smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“I do worry about you,” he admitted. “Going back to Bristol. You might not be safe.”
I smiled again – keeping me safe after graduation was his latest crusade. He seemed to think that unless I was in his direct line of sight at all times I would somehow be more at risk, particularly with my blood traitor father and Muggle mother. I had pointed out that he was just as much of a blood traitor as my dad was, but he was convinced that he was better equipped to look after me.
“I’ll be just as safe there as I would be anywhere else,” I said. “And I can look after myself. After all, I was taught by the best!”
“It’s not enough,” he said. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
I gave him a look. “And just how do you propose we manage that?”
He smiled briefly. “Well, the first thing would be for you to not go anywhere that you might need to fight. Stay away from the Death Eaters.”
I shook my head. “While you go out risking your life every day? What am I supposed to do, just sit at home and wait for you on the off chance you survive and make it back?” I frowned at him: the way it was going I wouldn’t even be allowed to go out to get milk. “I’ve told you, I want to fight. I want to be right up there next to you. If you wanted a nice submissive girl who’s just going to follow orders, you shouldn’t have picked me. You know I’m not like that.”
He paused, thinking about it. “No, you’re not,” he admitted. “But I do want you to be safe. I don’t think I could live without you.”
“There’s a war on,” I pointed out. “No one’s safe. But I’ll do my best. And the same goes for you, by the way; you’re not allowed to get yourself killed either. Do you seriously think it’d be any easier for me to live without you?” I shuddered involuntarily – life without Sirius just didn’t bear thinking about. “You can’t have it both ways, you know that. You can’t teach me how to fight and then tell me that I’m not allowed to do it.”
His face fell. “You’re still being stubborn about this, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely,” I agreed. “But you knew that anyway, that I’m not going to just sit back and let the bad stuff happen to everyone else.”
“All right then, move in with me,” he said, very seriously. “I’ll be able to protect you then, and there’s the added benefit of you always being around.” A grin flitted across his face.
I laughed despite myself. “Last of the true romantics, aren’t you, Sirius?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re asking me to move in but you’re not saying, ‘I love you, I can’t stomach being apart from you and I want you to be the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and the last thing that I see before I go to sleep at night’. No, it’s ‘move in so you don’t get killed’. Really smooth.” I smiled broadly.
He looked a little taken aback. “But you know that’s all true anyway. It goes without saying.” He paused, smiling again. “How about, move in so all that stuff you said goes on for as long as possible.”
I looked at him, thinking about it. I was sorely tempted – always being with him would be like a dream come true – but I knew my parents would have a fit. Besides, I couldn’t contribute financially and I wouldn’t be comfortable with that. “I think we should wait until I get a job, I can’t afford to leave home yet.”
“I’ll look after you,” he said immediately. “I can afford it.”
I realised suddenly that I didn’t even know if that was true. I’d never asked him how much he’d inherited from his uncle and he’d never mentioned an amount. It wasn’t important enough to me to ask: that is, it was important that he was able to provide for himself, but whether or not he was what you might call rich was never a consideration in how I felt about him. Obviously it had been a tidy sum – he could pay a year’s rent in advance and various bills – but I had no idea how long it would last.
“You know how you felt when you were living at James’ place?” I asked. “That’s how I’d feel. I’d need to be able to pay my own way.”
“I guess.” He looked disappointed.
“Besides,” I went on, “are you sure you’d want all my face creams and hair potions cluttering up that tiny bathroom of yours?”
He nodded, the ghost of a smile almost visible on the corners of his mouth. “You’re right, that’s a big consideration. I think I could only accept it on one condition.”
“And what’s that?”
“That you’re there with them.” His eyes were sparkling again, and I smiled and put my arms around his neck so I could kiss him.
We were interrupted by the noise of people outside, and broke apart abruptly in case my parents were among them. After all, the front doors of the castle were open so we could potentially be seen. Most of our classmates were in a group not far away and we hurried to join them, soon becoming part of a group of eight who to all intents and purposes appeared to be just friends.
I had been right to be concerned, as Mum and Dad were indeed part of the original influx of parents now swarming into the Entrance Hall. I hurried over to them, hoping that they hadn’t seen anything untoward, and to my great relief there was no indication from either of them that they had.
“How’s it going, sweetheart?” Dad asked fondly. “Relieved it’s all over?”
I wasn’t sure about that, as it meant I wouldn’t be able to see Sirius every day, which I was anticipating would be even more of a job to cope with than it had been at Easter. “Yeah, I am,” I said in what I hoped was a convincing voice, deciding to evade the question rather than outright lying. “If I never have to sit another exam that’ll be fine with me.”
I cast a look over at where my friends had been gathered, and noticed that many of them had dispersed as various parents arrived. Through the crowd I could see Lily’s distinctive auburn hair, talking to her father and a woman I supposed was her mother, the scarf on her head presumably to hide her hair loss from the chemotherapy she was undergoing. Lily’s sister Petunia, who I’d heard so much about and had wanted to see, was nowhere in sight.
Not far off were James and Sirius, who were both with Mrs Potter, though neither of them seemed to be paying her much attention – James’ eyes followed the back of Lily’s head, and Sirius kept catching my eye as he watched me with my parents. I hoped my cheeks weren’t as red as they felt as I tried to turn my attention back to Mum and Dad, who were asking something about career options.
“Have you thought about what you want to do?” Dad asked.
“Law enforcement,” I said promptly, forcing myself to concentrate on their conversation. “Something that involves getting rid of Death Eaters – I want to help win this war.”
Dad started – he hadn’t realised how determined I was about this. “Are you sure?”
I nodded stubbornly. “Mary died,” I explained. “We need to make sure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
“I thought you might be like this,” Mum said sadly. “There were hints in your letters all term. Do you think you’ll get the marks?”
“Not sure,” I admitted. “Though I’m pretty confident I did fairly well. Or, as well as I could, considering.” I looked at my left arm, which still bore the scars from Snape’s curse.
She nodded. “Should we be looking for you in the awards?”
I shook my head. “I doubt it. I got better, but I don’t think I’d have topped the year in anything.” I could guess who did for many of the subjects, but I wasn’t going to go into that – even mentioning Sirius’ name to my parents could end up being a minefield.
“Not to worry,” she said sympathetically. “I’m sure you did very well in any case.”
Just then Professor McGonagall got everyone’s attention and called the families into the Great Hall, which had been set up in a theatre-type style for the occasion. Mum gave me a quick hug and they both trailed off through the doors, leaving the Entrance Hall much emptier as the forty or so seventh-years again found ourselves alone, almost trembling in anticipation of the coming ceremony.
I soon felt Sirius’ arms around me again as we moved to group up in vague alphabetical order, with Lily and James at the helm. Eventually by necessity he let go and I counted five people between us, ruing the fact that we weren’t grouped by House so I could be next to him. People kept adjusting their robes and hats, trying to make sure that everything looked right, and more than one person (not just the girls) had mirrors out as they tried to style their hair. I found myself put between Greta Catchlove and Gertie Cresswell, Greta eyeing me malevolently and playing with her wand. I did have to feel a bit sorry for her, with me on one side and Alecto Carrow on the other, but if she jinxed me today of all days I wasn’t going to take it lying down.
“Try one thing and you’ll end up with a pumpkin for a head, earthworms for hair and you’ll be honking like a goose for the rest of the day,” I hissed out of the corner of my mouth. After all, why stop at one jinx when you can combine three? Greta blanched a little and threw me a filthy look but obediently put her wand away, influenced no doubt as well by the harsh glare Professor McGonagall was giving us.
Eventually we were filed into the Great Hall in alphabetical order and directed to the first four rows of seats, and I was gratified to discover that with James and Lily at the lead as Head Boy and Girl, I was the eleventh student and therefore put on the row behind Greta, meaning I was unlikely to fall victim to any errant hexes, from her wand at least. Of course, I was also directly behind James, which meant that my view of proceedings was somewhat obstructed, but at least I could lean forwards and talk to him and Lily while we were waiting. Lily was sitting on one side of her seat more than the other, towards James and away from Charon Avery, and I noticed that she and James were holding hands, their arms dropped towards the floor between their chairs so no one would see. Looking around, I noticed that the seat directly behind me, next to Leda Madley, was left empty; that was obviously where Mary would have sat if she’d still been with us. I smiled grimly, wondering if, wherever she was, she knew what was happening here today. Her mum would have been so proud.
Eventually, after what seemed an endless wait, Professor Dumbledore entered the hall and stood on the raised area at the end of the room that the High Table usually occupied.
“Good afternoon,” he said calmly. The chatter in the room stopped abruptly and everyone looked expectantly at him. “Thank you all for coming,” he went on. “I realise that it is not always possible to have time off work or other duties to attend family events, especially in the current climate.”
He paused, and there was a bit of movement behind me, like people were fidgeting and indeed did need to get back to work, or to wherever they had left in order to get to the ceremony. I fought the urge to turn my head to try to see if my parents were among them.
“We are here today,” Dumbledore said, once again effectively silencing the crowd, “to farewell our seventh-years. They have been part of Hogwarts since they were eleven years old and have made their own impact on the school. And, of course, they will be missed.
“I must pause here, though,” the Headmaster went on, “to mention one person who is NOT graduating here today. Who was taken from us only weeks ago in the most tragic manner. I refer, of course, to Mary Macdonald.”
The empty chair behind me started to glow, and everyone turned to look at it. It was so stark, so sad, that I felt another tear come to my eye.
“Mary Macdonald and her family were murdered by Death Eaters at the end of the Easter holidays,” Professor Dumbledore said bluntly. “She was to have taken her place among us today, but she was never given the opportunity. I would like to propose a minute’s silence to honour her memory.”
The silence in the hall was deafening, and I was pleased to notice that even Slytherins like Charon Avery were observing it. Then again, perhaps the fact that he was sitting on the front row, right in front of the Headmaster and next to the Head Girl, who had shared a dorm with Mary, was enough to stay his tongue, and I shouldn’t have been reading too much into it.
“Mary Macdonald’s absence,” the Headmaster continued after the minute was up, “is a stark reminder that we are in the midst of a war. It grieves me to be sending these students out to live in a world like this, but I hope that their years of study at this school have adequately prepared them for it. Some of the graduating students here today are as talented as any I have seen in all my years of teaching, but it is my wish that they could be returning to a life of peace and tranquillity instead of what they will in fact be facing.”
Thanks, I thought. Great way to make us feel good about leaving here. I recognised that he did have a point, but I would have liked to be in a good mood for my graduation.
“Of course,” Dumbledore went on, “this does not detract from the significant achievement of those students who are here today. You have borne seven years of trials and tribulations of all kinds, have completed seven years of study with honours, and have grown from naïve, eager eleven year olds to the qualified adults you are today. The school has gone on this long and wonderful journey with you and we sincerely wish you all the best in whatever you choose to make of your lives. You have finished the first stage of life. What comes next is up to you.” He looked at us over his half-moon glasses and smiled. “Congratulations again to all our departing seventh-years. This school is the richer for your presence.”
Well, that was short, sharp and to the point. You could say what you liked about our Headmaster, but he didn’t waste time on long speeches, and before long Professor McGonagall had started reading names from the parchment she was holding for the students to go up and receive their certificate. Of course we didn’t have our results yet so the certificate didn’t really mean anything formal, but it was something to represent our leaving the place that had been our home for seven years. I watched politely as Charon Avery and Elsie Baddock went up, shook Dumbledore’s hand and posed for photographs, then smiled broadly as Sirius did the same, catching my eye and winking at me as he collected his scroll, and I blew him a kiss as he strolled back to his seat.
Soon afterwards it was my turn, and even Elvira was on her best behaviour as I didn’t hear one hiss or anything similar amongst the polite applause. I could see Mum and Dad in the audience and tried (without success) not to look at Sirius as he grinned perhaps even more broadly than I had. A few more students passed through and then it was Martha’s turn, and a couple of Hufflepuffs after her was Remus.
“At this point,” Professor McGonagall said once Remus had returned to his seat, “we should have been giving Mary Macdonald her certificate. As Professor Dumbledore has already explained, Miss Macdonald was tragically taken from us only a couple of months ago. Her certificate will be forwarded to the remaining members of her family.”
I nodded sombrely, a tear in my eye. This was unexpected but I really appreciated the fact that the school had still made Mary a certificate, and that what was left of her family would still have this remembrance of her. Professor Dumbledore really did understand how to honour the dead.
After a brief pause the presentations continued, with Leda Madley’s name being called. My attention waned until Peter had his turn, and then there was another gap during which people like Severus Snape received their certificates, before Charlotte was called up. She was next to Dione Turpin and had managed to get to that point relatively unscathed, which was no small feat, and we clapped her enthusiastically, aware that she was the last Gryffindor until Lily and James came up at the end of the list.
I had known that the Head Boy and Girl were popular – who didn’t? – but I hadn’t been prepared for the rapturous applause that greeted their arrival onto the stage. Or maybe it was just because they were last and people thought it was the end of the ceremony. In any case, they almost had a standing ovation and I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had started bowing to the audience. Or, more to the point, if James had started bowing. He certainly looked like he was enjoying the attention. Fortunately eventually sanity prevailed and they sat back down in their seats in the front row, looking rather pleased but also a little embarrassed.
Dumbledore waited for the applause to subside and then advised he would be announcing the awards for each subject. These were variously described as medals or prizes but were actually just certificates, saying the winner had scored the highest cumulative marks during the school year. Of course they couldn’t be based on our exam results but they were certainly an indicator of how people had gone and held a reasonable amount of kudos for the winner.
“To begin the proceedings,” the Headmaster said, his voice carrying effortlessly across the room, “I am pleased to announce that, for Ancient Runes, the special commendation goes to Mr Hector Bole. And that means that the prize will be awarded to – Miss Elvira Vablatsky, from Ravenclaw.”
The hall broke into applause and Elvira gloated as she made her way to the platform to collect her scroll, beaming at Sirius as she walked past him off the stage and even rather brazenly blowing him a kiss. I wasn’t in the least concerned – we all knew what he thought of her.
Arithmancy, Astronomy and Care of Magical Creatures were announced and awarded without my paying much attention. The first name of any real interest to me came with the Charms prize, which to no one’s surprise went to Greta Catchlove (not the interesting part), with second place going to Lily. She was in front of me but I could see her cheeks go rather pink as Dumbledore read her name out and James gave her a tender smile.
“For Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Professor Dumbledore continued as Greta sat down amid the requisite applause, “this year’s special commendation goes to Mr James Potter, who I believe in any other year would have claimed the prize without question. But instead it has been won very narrowly by – Mr Sirius Black, of Gryffindor.”
The only question here had been which of those two got the prize and which the commendation, as they were so close to each other on ability that it could have gone either way. I was, however, thrilled for Sirius and glowed with pride as he sauntered onto the platform to get his scroll from Dumbledore and, if my eyes didn’t deceive me, have a bit of a joke with him while he was up there.
Next was Divination, which again I paid little attention to once it became obvious that neither Charlotte nor Peter would be taking out a prize. (It ended up going to Elsie Baddock from Slytherin.) But after that came Herbology.
“For this subject,” Dumbledore said as the applause for Elsie died down, “the special commendation is awarded to Miss Laura Cauldwell.”
I almost fell off my chair in shock. Me? I was second in the school in Herbology? I mean, I knew I enjoyed it, but this definitely astonished me, albeit pleasantly. Sirius turned around in his chair and beamed at me, distracting me enough to miss Dumbledore announcing the actual winner of the prize. Not that it mattered – that was a fait accompli anyway – and I wasn’t surprised in the least to see Tilden Toots from Ravenclaw on the platform collecting his scroll.
Sirius got one over James for Muggle Studies as well, and I watched proudly again as he wandered gracefully onto the stage, hands in his pockets, to take the scroll from the Headmaster. He winked at me as he came off the platform and then grinned triumphantly at James, and part of me wondered how our Head Boy would take it if he got pipped for the Transfiguration prize too.
But before we got to that there was Potions. “The special commendation,” Professor Dumbledore announced, “is awarded to Miss Lily Evans. And the prize has been won by – Mr Severus Snape, from Slytherin.” Even with just about everyone in the Great Hall applauding him, Snape still managed to ooze bitterness and resentment as he went to get his certificate, glowering at James and Sirius as he went past them. He never had gotten over Lily choosing James instead of him. Lily didn’t move as he was on the stage, not even applauding him, and remained motionless, staring ahead of her, as he walked past her on his way back to his seat.
“And finally,” Dumbledore said, “we come to Transfiguration.” On the row in front of me I could see both James and Sirius sit up a little straighter, clearly expecting their names to be called out. And that was probably fair enough, of course, as to have perfected the Animagus transformation while still at school was probably a fair indication of their abilities. “The special commendation goes to Mr Sirius Black. And that means that the prize will be awarded to – Mr James Potter, from Gryffindor.”
James was obviously relieved he’d managed to get one of them, and I suspected that Transfiguration was the one he’d really wanted considering the whole Animagus thing had been his idea. Lily was beaming and James flashed her a brilliant smile from the platform, where he too was sharing a joke with the Headmaster.
Finally the formalities were over and a parchment containing a list of all graduating students, as well as the prize winners, appeared on each chair for our families to take home as a souvenir. Soon enough Professor Dumbledore had Vanished the wooden chairs that had filled the room, leaving it a large empty space for everyone to catch up in. The House tables soon reappeared, this time lining the walls and covered in different drinks and finger foods, and everyone gathered around in small groups as students found their families once again.
The Gryffindors stayed in a large group initially, but eventually we all drifted off as our parents came to find us, Sirius giving my hand a subtle squeeze even as Mum and Dad led me off to somewhere with a bit more space.
I gave them my scroll and listened while Dad talked proudly about my special commendation for Herbology, obviously convinced that it was his directive about no distractions that earned me the award. Well, if he wanted to believe that I wasn’t about to enlighten him. Now that it came to it, if I was honest with myself, I was dreading the inevitable conversation about Sirius, and wondered if I could put it off till I got home the next day. I really didn’t fancy justifying myself to Dad in the middle of the Great Hall like that, in full view of the rest of seventh year. If I could do it in private, I thought, it would be that much easier.
My musings were interrupted by Mum, who was still talking about the ceremony. “I thought you’d said you weren’t going to get any awards,” she said with distinct pride in her voice.
“I didn’t,” I pointed out, trying again to concentrate on what she was saying. “Tilden Toots got the gong. I just came in second.”
“It’s still very impressive,” smiled Dad. “Second in the school in Herbology. You even did better than Beatrice!”
I grinned. “Don’t tell her that, though,” I said. “I rather fancy the thought of not getting jinxed. Merlin only knows what she’s come up with over the past year or so.”
Suddenly Dad spied someone he knew in the crowd. “Nice thing about graduations,” he said, “is you can corner people who have been avoiding you at work. And there’s Lionel Bole.” He smiled wryly. “Hasn’t been returning my owls, and I have to talk to him about that werewolf attack in Hampshire on Tuesday night. Excuse me a minute, won’t you?”
As I watched him push past Sirius on his way to Hector’s dad, I noticed Mum was eyeing me shrewdly and had settled her index finger on one name in the list of graduating students. “Now that he’s gone, Laura,” she said quietly, “answer this for me. How long have you been going out with Sirius Black?”
Author’s note: You would think, after the amount of time I spent on it, that the graduation speech would have read better. I really hated writing that, which is why it’s not really up to scratch. Aside from that, again, a little uneventful, but then again the next (and last) chapter will be a bit longer than usual as I try to wrap everything up, so maybe that will make up for it.