I froze. Had we been that obvious, that Mum had worked out about Sirius and me? “I’m not,” I protested feebly, knowing my cheeks had gone scarlet. “I’m not allowed, remember?”
“That’s your father’s rule, not mine,” she said. “Don’t lie, Laura, it doesn’t become you.”
“How did you know?” I asked, my face falling.
“Do you forget how well I know you?” she asked. “He hasn’t taken his eyes off you all afternoon, and you’ve been trying to pretend to ignore him but you keep looking over there. As a matter of fact, you’re watching him so much that you’re not listening to what we’ve been saying. You’ve been grinning like a maniac all day. And, to cap it off, I saw you kissing when we arrived.”
Rats. I hadn’t realised they’d seen that. So much for keeping a low profile. “Six months,” I said finally. “Since just before Christmas.”
She looked like she was thinking hard, then her face cleared. “And you had a fight at that party, didn’t you,” she said. It wasn’t even a question. “That was why you were so happy beforehand and so upset afterwards. But then you made it up?”
I sighed. “Yes, you’re right, of course,” I admitted. “We fought, and then we made up. But you understand why I couldn’t tell you, don’t you?”
She nodded, smiling broadly. “I wish you had said something, though,” she said. “I might have been able to help. He’s a good looking boy,” she went on. “Smart, too, if those awards were anything to go by.” Her face suddenly went serious. “I suppose that’s where you were at Easter, too, wasn’t it? When you weren’t at Mary’s?”
I nodded gravely. “It saved my life,” I said quietly. “Not being at Mary’s.”
“And Bev Macdonald thought you were safe, God rest her soul,” she mused. “She didn’t trust easily, either.”
I smiled bitterly. “I was safe, as it turned out,” I pointed out. “Safer than if I’d been at Mary’s.”
Dad had finished his conversation and had clearly overheard that last bit on his way back to us. “What about Mary?” he asked. “What have I missed?”
“I’ve found out where Laura was at Easter, when the Macdonalds were attacked,” Mum said, doing a remarkably good job at staying calm. So that was how she was going to approach this, I realised, wondering how Dad would take it all.
“Really?” Dad asked, looking questioningly at me. “Where?”
“With that tall dark boy over there,” Mum said promptly. “They’ve been going out since Christmas.”
Right. Say it all at once, why don’t you, I thought. I braced myself, ready for whatever Dad might throw at me. (Figuratively speaking, of course – I didn’t think he’d get violent or hex me. Dad wasn’t like that.)
Instead he bristled, his ears going red. “They’ve WHAT? Since Christmas? Laura, I thought you were more sensible than that.” He had managed to keep control of his anger but he was obviously disappointed in me for this behaviour. I wasn’t sure which was worse.
I took a breath, working out the best way of defending myself. In the end, teenaged belligerence won out, perhaps against my better judgement. “It was my decision,” I said coolly. “And I did bloody well in my exams, thank you very much. Second in the school in Herbology, remember?”
Dad looked like he still wanted to bluster about but had no answer to that, instead clearly forcing himself to calm down a little.
“I knew that whole thing at Easter was about a boy,” Mum said, a reminiscent smile on her face as she ignored Dad’s discomfort. “You were far too happy for it to have been anything else, and it was the sort of thing that Bev Macdonald would have agreed to. And you panicked when I suggested that you didn’t come back to school.”
I smiled suddenly. “You know what, Mum? I think you are WAY too good at your job. I can’t keep anything from you, can I?”
“Believe it or not, I can remember what it was like to be your age,” she said.
Dad had now become all business-like and, well, fatherly. “Well? Which one is he? Is he good enough for you?”
Mum pointed him out again, where he was standing with James, Lily and James’ mum, and trying not to make it obvious that he was watching us. “His name’s Sirius Black,” she said.
There was a pause and Dad went absolutely still, the colour draining from his face. “Black? BLACK?? Laura, are you out of your mind?”
“Dad, he’s a Gryffindor Black,” I reassured him. “He’s not like that. Really.”
He looked at me doubtfully. “Since when has a Black ever been in Gryffindor?”
“Since Sirius,” I insisted. “Look, it’s okay, he’s a good person.” And I grabbed the class list from Mum and pointed to Sirius’ name, which definitely had ‘Gryffindor’ written next to it. Several times, in fact, as he was listed not only as a graduating student but also three times on the honours roll.
Mum was looking confused. “I’ll explain later,” Dad muttered.
She looked at me again as I gave her back the parchment. “Well, he obviously makes you happy,” she said. “Is he kind? Does he make you laugh? Is he good to you?”
”Yes, yes and yes,” I said, relieved. “Absolutely.” This was going much better than I had anticipated.
“Does he treat you well?” asked Dad, looking very serious.
“Of course,” I said indignantly. “Do you honestly think I’d stay with someone who didn’t treat me well?”
He took longer to answer than I would have liked. “A year or two ago, Laura,” he said eventually, “I’d have said yes. I wasn’t sure that Bertram treated you well. But you’ve grown up.” He looked at me steadily. “No, I don’t think you would.”
I smiled. This really was acceptance. Dad was willing to trust my judgement on this, which could only be a good thing.
“Well,” Mum said briskly, “he looks like a lovely boy, and he clearly has excellent taste in girls. So are we going to meet him? When were you planning on introducing us?”
I hesitated. “Did you want me to do that now?”
“Why not? Unless there’s something else you’re not telling us,” said Dad.
I shook my head, unsure why I was so nervous about this. “Please give him a chance,” I said quietly. “I really want you to like him.”
Dad smiled. “I’ll do my best, sweetheart.”
I went to get Sirius, who had seen me coming and moved away from the Potters. “The game’s up,” I said, grabbing his hand. “Not only do they know, but I suspect my mum wants to adopt you.”
He grinned. “Better and better,” he said. “I knew you had to come from good stock.”
I brought him over and, still holding his hand, introduced him to my parents, who he graciously addressed as Mr and Mrs Cauldwell even though Mum tried to insist he use their first names. He was probably wise in doing so, however: Dad kept looking at him suspiciously, as though expecting him to treat my mother badly because she was a Muggle. Not even a Muggle-born, but an actual Muggle.
Not only suspicious about Sirius’ attitudes but also his motives, Dad was determined to give him the third degree, which he started almost as soon as the introductions were over. It made the whole thing horribly awkward and I cringed as the conversation went on around me. “So you’re fond of Laura here?” he began.
“Absolutely, sir,” Sirius said earnestly. “She’s everything to me. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
“And can you protect her? There’s a war going on, you know, and I’d prefer it if my daughter wasn’t a casualty of it.”
“So would I,” said Sirius. “I’d do anything to keep her safe. Why do you think I tried so hard in Defence this year?” He smiled and squeezed my hand. “James and I have taught her how to defend herself, but it won’t come to that if I have anything to do with it. And they’d have to kill me first if they wanted to get to her.” Which would probably take some doing, I reflected, thinking of his duelling ability.
Dad was obviously sceptical. “Are you saying you’d volunteer to take an Unforgivable if it meant it would save Laura?”
Sirius looked surprised, as though that went without saying. “Of course I would. Cruciatus, Avada Kedavra, anything. She’s far more valuable than I am.”
I gasped with astonishment – that was a pretty big thing to say. And his face was absolutely sincere, without a hint of arrogance of haughtiness, so he definitely meant what he was saying. Dad looked taken aback.
“That’s a big claim,” he said. “How can I be sure you mean it?”
Mum interrupted. “He means it,” she said, indicating me. “Laura believes him. That should be good enough for us.”
Eventually the third degree was over and Sirius appeared to have got through it reasonably well – even Dad seemed struck by him. Whether or not he liked him, I wasn’t sure, but he was at least convinced Sirius wasn’t a regular Black and that he cared about me. Which, I reflected, was quite a good start. However, after a while Dad hinted he wanted to talk to me alone so Sirius made a gracious departure and went back to Mrs Potter’s side.
As I watched him leave I soon realised that Dad was looking at me with a bit of an odd expression on his face. “You know, if I didn’t know he was a Black I’d never have credited it,” he said. “I mean, he looks like one, but I knew both Orion Black and Cygnus Black and they were nothing like him.” He paused a little. “Do you know which side of the family he’s from?”
“His middle name’s Orion, so I’d assume that’s his dad,” I said, thinking about it, suppressing a smile as I remembered Sirius complaining about being given the initials SOB. “And he said once that his parents were second cousins, so he could be from Cygnus’ side as well. He doesn’t talk about it much though.”
“Sounds like the Blacks,” Dad said rather bitterly. “Keeping it in the family to make sure no ‘impure’ blood gets in. Well, you’d never know it from talking to him,” he went on with a bit of a wry smile.
“Probably because he doesn’t see them any more,” I pointed out. “They can’t be a bad influence if he never talks to them.”
Dad looked surprised. “He doesn’t?”
I shook my head. “You didn’t notice they’re not here? He ran away from home halfway through fifth year because he couldn’t stomach being around them any more. So they’ve disowned him. If you were hoping I might be getting my hands on some of the Black fortune, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.” I grinned despite myself.
Dad snapped his fingers in mock disappointment. “And I’d thought you were on a winner. Damn it.”
Mum was looking confused. “But does all that mean he’s got nowhere to live?”
“No, he inherited some gold last year from a wayward uncle,” I explained, catching Sirius’ eye across the hall and smiling at him a little reassuringly. He had looked a bit worried that he’d not been approved of, but this was actually going rather well. “He’d been living with James until then – James Potter, that is – but now he’s got his own place.”
Dad looked curious, something having obviously clicked in his mind. “James Potter? As in, Head Boy James Potter?” He looked impressed.
“Yep, him,” I said. “He and Sirius are like brothers. Why?”
Mum was looking at the awards sheet. “James Potter who got two special commendations and one prize today?”
“Well,” I pointed out, “there’s only one James Potter at this school, so yes, that would be him.”
“The one whose house you went to for that party at Christmas time,” she went on.
I blushed. “Yes. And the one whose father’s funeral you wouldn’t let me attend.”
“Well, did you expect us to?” Dad asked fairly. “We didn’t know him from a bar of soap.”
“Anyway,” I said, changing the subject, “Sirius lived with James until he could afford to move out. So no, Dad, he doesn’t see his family any more.”
Mum frowned a bit at this. “So, you’re saying he lives alone, with no parental supervision?”
“He’s eighteen and a half, does he really need it?” I asked with a touch of exasperation. “Besides, Mrs Potter keeps an eye on him, whether he wants her to or not.”
To my surprise Dad interjected on Sirius’ behalf. “I think it’s better having no supervision than having Orion Black telling you what to do,” he said with a vehemence I hadn’t expected. “And apparently he was one of the better ones.”
I smiled – it was getting increasingly obvious that I had more than half the battle won. “Does that mean you approve of him?”
Dad hesitated. “From one meeting I’d say he seems all right,” he said finally, and I allowed myself to relax. This might work out after all.
“How did the meet-the-parents go?” Charlotte asked me as we moved around the dorm that night, putting things away and getting ready for the Leaving Feast.
“Seemed to be okay,” I admitted. “Awkward, obviously, but okay. Mum guessed – which I should have figured she would – and me getting that commendation for Herbology really helped my argument. In any case, Dad didn’t curse him back to London, or even look like he wanted to, so that’s got to be a good start, doesn’t it?”
“Better than nothing,” Lily laughed. “He was so nervous, though, it was hilarious.”
I stared at her. “Really? I didn’t notice that.”
“Well, you were that bloody nervous too, I’m not surprised,” Martha said with a giggle.
“I guess it had to happen sometime,” I mused. “Pity there’s almost no way you can make it easy.”
“You’ve got it easy,” Martha pointed out. “You never need to meet his folks.”
I sighed. “I know. But, you know what? Sometimes I wish I did. It can’t be easy for him, being rejected like that.”
“Well, I met Remus’ parents,” Charlotte said nervously. We all whirled around to face her.
“You did?” Lily asked, her face lighting up. “That’s fantastic! How’d it go?”
Charlotte shrugged. “Not really sure,” she admitted. “I was only introduced as a friend.”
I looked at Lily and sighed. It seemed that Remus would never allow Charlotte to get close to him. Looking around for something to talk about to change the subject, which it seemed Charlotte would appreciate, I indicated Mary’s wall.
“Hey, what are we going to do about this?” I asked. “We can’t just leave her here.”
“I spoke to Dumbledore,” Lily said, accepting the subject change and looking up at the photographs and other memorabilia. “He said to take what we want from it now and leave the rest here, and the school will put it in the Memorial once we’re gone.”
Of course. The Memorial was a room on the ground floor, set aside to honour former students who had died while attending Hogwarts. I’d never been in there – it felt too creepy, to be honest – but it was the most appropriate place for our tribute.
“She would have liked that,” I said. “Part of her always being here. Like her mum had those trophies, you know?”
Charlotte paused. “But we can take stuff from it now, can’t we?”
“Absolutely,” Lily agreed. “They’re our memories of Mary. Of course we can take them with us.”
I walked over and pulled off my favourite photo of her, taken between fourth and fifth years as she struggled to control the broom she’d got for her birthday. “I’ve always loved this one,” I admitted. “She hated it, but that was because she fell off the broom straight afterwards. It’s a lovely photo, though.”
“I want the flag,” Martha said suddenly. “The Scottish one. If anything says ‘Mary’ to me, it’s that.”
We spent a good half hour going through what was on the wall, sharing memories as we pulled different things off and put them with our own trunks. It was final, yes, but it felt right. Then, suddenly, I paused. “We’ve forgotten someone.”
“Who?” Charlotte asked.
“Sebastian,” I explained. “We need to give some of these things to him.”
“How could we have forgotten Sebastian?” Lily asked, looking horrified with herself. “That’s awful. Yes, we have to give him some of these. We probably should have done it months ago.”
Martha shrugged. “Better late than never, I suppose.”
We nodded. “Yes, better late than never.”
The final event of the school year was a celebration party for the graduating seventh-years, held after in the Great Hall after the feast. This really was a time where we could let our hair down, and talk was that not only would alcohol be available, but the staff wouldn’t bother breaking apart snogging couples (unless they were getting too carried away) or do anything else that would interfere with us having a good night. The theory behind this was, according to Lily and James, that we were adult witches and wizards who were both qualified and of legal age, and that aside from any illegal activity the staff didn’t have much authority over us any more. Not that this was ever said explicitly, as some students might use it as an excuse for bad behaviour, but we understood the intention.
On arrival, before we did anything else, the other girls and I made a beeline for Sebastian, an envelope full of memories of Mary for him. “We thought you might like these,” Lily said quietly, handing it over. “It’s not much, but at least it’s something.”
Sebastian, clearly confused, took the envelope and peered inside. “Thanks,” he muttered thickly, not lifting his head. Taking this to mean that our presence was no longer welcome, we left him with his friends to grieve in private.
“I might go back to check on him later on,” Martha said quietly, surprising me with her thoughtfulness. “He might want to talk to one of her friends, you know?”
I looked at her. “Now you’re making me feel guilty for not thinking of that first.”
She shook her head. “No. You’ve got Sirius, and Lily’s got James, and Charlotte, hopefully, has Remus. Go to your men. I’m happy to do the friend stuff.”
Still feeling guilty, I reluctantly complied with her instructions. After spending a while doing the social thing and having a quick chat with everyone I was even mildly friendly with, I found Sirius and we started making plans for the summer, punctuated regularly by a quick snog. Or, as time went on and we became less and less aware of those around us, a slightly longer snog as we made the most of the lack of staff intervention. Eventually we were interrupted by a voice saying, “Oi! Not in public, please!”
We pulled apart and looked over to see James, camera in hand, beaming at us. “That’s it, you two, break it up,” he said. “We need souvenirs of tonight and I’d prefer you to keep your hands to yourself in them please.”
Sirius put on his best ‘offended’ look. “What are you talking about, Prongs?” he asked indignantly, trying but failing to hide his grin. “Our hands were on their best behaviour!” Which for once was true – mine were around his neck and his were resting at the small of my back.
James chuckled. “If you say so, Padfoot.” He obviously wanted us to pose for a photo so I pulled one arm down and rested my hand on Sirius’ chest, smiling for the camera. James grinned as he took it. “That’s a nice one, I’ll get you a copy,” he said. “Cheers.” And he moved away to find some more victims, telling another couple to break it up.
My gaze followed his progress. “Oh, look who it is,” I said quietly, indicating with my head where James had gone. He had just interrupted Remus and Charlotte, doing just what Sirius and I had been doing prior to his arrival.
Sirius grinned. “Well, what do you know,” he said. “I guess a farewell snog is better than no snog at all!”
“He must have told her,” I said. “I can’t see him doing it if she didn’t know. He gets so worked up about it.”
He considered that. “Maybe. Either way, I doubt we’ll see either of them again all night.”
Later in the night Lily and James came to find us, their official duties for the evening obviously finished.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
Lily groaned. “We’ve only just managed to get rid of Slughorn,” she admitted. “Keeps wanting to talk to us, you know, farewell his favourite students and recommend us to people he knows at the Ministry. The usual thing.”
James nodded. “You’re lucky to have steered clear of him so far, Padfoot,” he said with a grin.
“All due to Laura,” Sirius laughed. “Old Sluggy’s worked out not to come near us if he can’t remember what her name is.”
James laughed too. “Well done! A nd, speaking of Laura, we’ve got an offer for you.” He grinned broadly, and I noticed Lily was looking rather self-conscious.
“Do we want to know?” I asked, smiling.
“Oh, I’d say you do,” James replied easily. “It’s the last night, our official duties are just about over, and we’re all going back to the real world tomorrow. Which means one last hurrah.”
Sirius was shaking his head. “I don’t know, Prongs, I hadn’t even thought of a final prank,” he began, but James interrupted him.
“Who said anything about pranks? No one’s thinking about that – even Moony’s got a better offer. No, I was talking about the Shrieking Shack.” He paused, smiling, as realisation dawned on our faces. “Now, I was going to take Lils down there, but she thought we should offer you two the option as well.”
Sirius laughed. “You mean you’re not pulling rank as Head Boy?”
Lily shook her head, her cheeks rather pink. “We did consider that. But I wanted to be fair to you two, and because we can’t all use it at the same time I thought the best way out of it was if we toss you for it.” She fished in her pocket and pulled out a Galleon. “Heads, we get the Shack tonight. Tails, it’s yours. What do you think?”
Sirius was looking suspicious. “Can I see the Galleon first, to make sure it’s not a two-headed one?”
Lily laughed and handed it over, and Sirius and I both inspected it closely. It appeared legitimate.
“What’s the consolation prize?” I asked. “We don’t really have a fallback if the Shack’s not available.”
James pretended to think about that. “There’s that rather roomy passageway behind the mirror on the fourth floor,” he offered with a grin. “Or maybe you can convince Moony and Wormtail to sleep in the common room. But that’s about all I can think of, sorry.”
I’d figured as much. It was the Shrieking Shack or, well, not at all. But a fifty percent chance of getting the Shack was better than no chance, and we of course agreed to the coin toss.
It fell on heads. Rats. Though, if I was fair, it did seem only right that the Head Boy and Girl should get first dibs on the Shack for their last night of school. James, though triumphant, was at least gracious in victory. “Sorry, Padfoot,” he said with a grin. “But you can’t say you weren’t given the chance.”
“Have a good night,” I smiled at them, and they wandered off, arms around each other, most probably about to make a subtle exit.
“Well,” said Sirius, facing me again and putting both arms around me, “now they’ve got me thinking. If we make sure Moony and Wormtail don’t go back to the dorm for at least another, say, couple of hours …”
“We’ll have a tidy bit of time to ourselves before we get any company,” I finished for him. “I was thinking the same thing.”
Sirius went off to talk to Remus and Peter and I looked for Martha so I could let her know that neither Lily nor I would be sleeping in our dorm that night.
“Let me guess, you’ve both had better offers?” she asked.
I nodded. “You could say that.”
“No problems,” she smiled. “I’ll let Charlotte know. Though I might end up with a better offer myself …” She let her voice trail off and smiled mischievously.
I stared at her. “Is there something I haven’t been told?”
She grinned again. “Believe it or not, I’m really hitting it off with Bernie Carmichael. He’s an absolute sweeheart.”
Smiling at the idea of Martha and Bernie, who did seem to make a decent match now I thought about it, I looked around for Sirius. Before I got very far, though, I was accosted by Elvira. “You won’t hold onto him,” she hissed, brazenly grabbing my arm with surprising force. “Not once school’s out, there’ll be too many temptations for him to stick with the likes of you. You won’t last another month.”
Thankful that she’d chosen my right arm and not my left, I wondered what she’d say if I let slip that he loved me and had asked me to move in with him. However, I’d never been overly keen to share too much of our relationship with anyone, let alone her, so I held my tongue, instead reaching into a pocket with my left hand and pulling out a small bag.
“Here’s some Floo powder, Elvira,” I said sweetly, dropping the sachet down her front. “Tell someone who gives a rats.”
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to tonight,” she said viciously, her grip on me tightening. “Leaving the party early. I’ll tell Dumbledore.”
This time I laughed. “And what do you think he’s going to do?” I asked. “Burst in so he can catch us? Goodness, Elvira, we’re both adults, it’s the last night, why in Merlin’s name would he care?”
We were interrupted by Sirius, looking rather like he would have liked to Crucio Elvira, who still had my arm. “I thought I told you to stay away from Laura, Vablatsky,” he said coldly. “Do you want me to get my wand out?”
Elvira dropped my arm abruptly. “We were just having a friendly chat,” she lied, her face switching from loathing to adulation as she looked at him.
“Really?” he asked. “It didn’t look too friendly from what I saw. But, if you’re done harassing my girlfriend …” He stressed the last word for added emphasis.
I turned to him. “I’m ready. Shall we?” And he leaned in and kissed me deeply, probably for Elvira’s benefit as much as anything else, and we took off, arms around each other, towards the marble staircase and Gryffindor Tower.
I woke up in Sirius’ arms once again, revelling in the closeness it afforded us. Before long he too woke up and smiled at me as I leaned in to kiss him.
Outside the bed hangings we could hear the telltale sounds of people getting ready for the day ahead. Clothes were being pulled out of trunks and the door to the bathroom opened and closed regularly as Remus and Peter, and possibly James if he was back from the Shack, went about their morning routine. Eventually Remus’ voice called out to us.
“Wormtail and I are going down to breakfast now,” he said mildly. “The dorm’s yours.”
After the door closed with its Colloportus–inspired squelch, Sirius looked at me. “I guess we’d better get up,” he said, not releasing me from his hold.
“I guess we’d better,” I agreed, also not moving.
“Do you know what the time is?” he went on almost abstractedly.
I fished under his pillow for my wand. “Accio clock,” I muttered, putting the wand back down as the clock soared between the curtains. “Half eight, or close enough to,” I said, peering at its face before dropping it to the floor. “We’ve got about two hours.”
“How long do you think we can get away with staying here?” he asked.
I thought about it. “Realistically? Maybe another half hour. But we’d miss breakfast.”
He grinned. “Why do you think I made friends with the house elves?”
“Considering how long you’ve been sneaking out food from the kitchens, I’m guessing it wasn’t for this,” I said, smiling as his hand traced my hip.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said airily. “Maybe we were planning ahead.”
I kissed him again. “Or maybe you were just hungry.”
It was after nine o’clock when we finally got up, me hurriedly throwing on the previous night’s clothes before heading back to my own dorm so I could shower in the girls’ bathroom. I think I surprised some first or second-years when I came down the boys’ staircase looking decidedly bedraggled, but hey, it was the last day, what did I care?
There were still some remnants of breakfast in the Great Hall when we eventually got downstairs, so we finished those off and downed a cuppa or two before heading back to Gryffindor Tower to pack.
It was an emotional process, packing up what amounted to seven years worth of memories, taking things off the walls and out of cabinets, clearing out the bathroom, digging around under beds for lost socks, stray Sickles and anything else that may be hiding there. This was it, we were never coming back, so we couldn’t rely on the house elves collecting everything we’d left behind and holding it for us the following term.
All four of us were in the dorm by now, Lily well back from the Shack. And it was just as well, as we were all needed to identify different items that were uncovered on top of the wardrobe, or on the canopy of Charlotte’s bed, or in any number of previously unseen nooks and crannies around the room, that had ended up there at various times during the year.
Finally we were all finished, the four trunks sitting in the dorm packed and closed, the walls – aside from Mary’s – bare, the floor devoid of shoes, clothes or scrap bits of parchment. It looked odd, like it wasn’t really our dorm. Silently, reluctantly, we all looked around it one more time before going back down the stairs to the common room.
By half ten all the seventh-years were grouped outside the Entrance Hall, waiting for Hagrid to lead us to the boats. It was a Hogwarts tradition, as much as the first-years arriving by boat when they got off the Hogwarts Express, that the seventh-years would get to the train that way for their final journey.
“Jus’ a warning,” Hagrid said cheerfully as he led us down the stairs to the lake’s surface, “the boats will seem a bi’ smaller now.”
He wasn’t wrong. While four people had fit easily in first year, it was going to be a tight squeeze to get that many in one of the boats now. Fortunately there were more boats available for just this eventuality, and in the end we were arranged two to a boat for the trip back across the lake.
Needless to say I shared my boat with Sirius, sitting comfortably in a loose embrace as it propelled itself along the water. Pushing through the wall of ivy, it took our eyes a little while to adjust to the bright sunshine on the other side, but the uncomfortable sensation soon passed and we enjoyed the short journey, laughing to ourselves as the giant squid almost overturned the boat Severus Snape was sharing with Charon Avery a little way ahead of us, and casting a quick smile at each other as we floated past the boathouse. Finally we arrived at Hogsmeade and, after Hagrid secured our boats once again, climbed out and onto the station platform.
The train ride itself was in some ways a little surreal. Lily and James, though still Head Girl and Boy, were reluctant to patrol the train or even address the prefects for very long, no doubt figuring that it was their last journey and they didn’t really care what the younger students did to each other. In fact, there was only one event on the journey that caused me any disquiet at all. Going with Sirius to try to find an empty compartment for a bit of privacy, we heard Remus and Charlotte, in a compartment of their own, having a bit of a row. They’d seemed to be going so well that what I heard broke my heart.
“You know it’s impossible,” Remus was saying. “It can’t possibly work out. You have to realise that.”
“Says you,” Charlotte said accusingly. “I’m happy to try, but you won’t even give it a chance.”
“But what if I hurt you?” Remus asked. “There’s always that danger … I couldn’t live with myself if I did that.”
“Too late,” Charlotte’s voice came back sadly. “You already have.”
I dragged Sirius away, out of earshot – we shouldn’t have overheard that. “I thought he’d got over it,” I said quietly. “I thought that with Charlotte being in our carriage today, that he was okay with it.”
Sirius shook his head grimly. “I’m not surprised,” he admitted. “He gets pretty uptight.”
“But poor Charlotte,” I said. “I feel awful for her.”
“It’s not something we can do anything about,” he pointed out, pulling me into an alcove at the end of the carriage. “But, if you want me to try to help take your mind off it …” His finger traced my jawbone as he pulled me towards him with the other arm.
When we returned to our compartment, Charlotte and Remus appeared to have reached an uneasy truce, and we complied with what seemed to be their wish for it not to be mentioned. Eventually the landscape effectively distracted us as it started changing from rural to urban, and we knew that our last trip on the Hogwarts Express was almost over. Almost nostalgically we began to wander down the train, looking in the various compartments we’d used over the years, pulling Martha from the Ravenclaws’ compartment in the process as we laughed over what the younger students were doing. Occasionally we were accosted by people like Alecto Carrow or Severus Snape, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle and more than one Slytherin ended up suffering the effects of a Twitchy Ears Hex or a Jelly-Legs Jinx. After all, we might have been leaving, but we weren’t perfect.
Finally it was over as Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters came into view. We got off the train and Sirius found a couple of trolleys for our trunks, pushing through the crowd to find me again. The avalanche of students and their parents was, predictably, a little overwhelming.
We farewelled the others, promising to write as soon as possible, and pushed our trolleys towards the gate, where my parents were waiting on the other side. About halfway there, though, Sirius stopped suddenly and pulled me to one side, out of the way of the teeming hordes.
“This is it,” he said seriously. “I don’t know when I’m going to see you again.”
“Day trips,” I said, thinking about it. “Maybe even tomorrow. Now my folks know about you I don’t have to make up excuses, I can even go to you.”
“And you can show me around Bristol,” he agreed. “I didn’t see much of it the last couple of times I was there.”
“I don’t know,” I said, grinning at him. “You’ve seen the art gallery and the harbour, I’m not sure that there is much else.”
“If you moved in to my place, we’d be together all the time,” he said almost plaintively. Once he got an idea into his head, it could be hard to dislodge. And for the life of him he couldn’t understand why my parents might possibly object to their youngest daughter, only just eighteen, moving halfway across the country to live with a boy they’d only just met.
“After I get a job,” I said. “I’ll try to convince my folks. I promise.”
As we headed towards the barrier, Sirius suddenly tensed up a little and stopped in his tracks. Following his gaze, I saw his brother Regulus with a couple in about their fifties, their dark hair flecked with grey, obviously the Mr and Mrs Black I’d heard so much about. They were very good looking for their age but had the Black haughtiness and disdain etched onto their faces. I saw the woman’s eyes travel over her eldest son with no sign of recognition and no change of expression, as though he was unworthy of acknowledgment. Part of me wondered whether Regulus had told them about me and my Muggle blood, and whether if Sirius had been alone there might have been a different reaction. Or, really, any reaction. I supposed I would never know.
Sirius’ face was expressionless as he watched them, though his eyes were steely. “You know,” he said after a spell, “this could be the last time I ever see them.”
I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “Did you want to talk to them?”
He shook his head. “Got nothing to say to them any more,” he said, and I felt a tear form in the corner of my eye as I thought of what it would be like to have absolutely no relationship with your parents. I couldn’t imagine it, yet Sirius had had to live with that for years, and I marvelled inwardly at how strong he was. “Not even to Reg, it seems,” he muttered, interrupting my thoughts. “Looks like he’s made his choice.”
“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “Maybe you can make up some other time.”
He smiled grimly. “And maybe one day he’ll see sense.” He shook his head again. “Sorry, Laura, I shouldn’t let it get to me. He’s probably a signed-up Death Eater by now, or if he’s not he will be by the time summer’s out.” He paused again. “It’s just disappointing. He had so much promise.”
“I know,” I said, giving his hand another squeeze. “You did what you could.”
“Ancient history now anyway,” he said bracingly. “Come on, let’s go find your parents.” He paused, turning to me. “Did you want me to hang back a bit once we go through?”
I smiled tersely. “They seemed to like you okay yesterday. I say come with me. They have to get used to you being around anyway, don’t they?”
He grinned. “No matter what?”
I nodded. “Yes. I’m of age, I’m qualified, and I’m old enough to make my own decisions. I can live my life the way I want to. And that includes you. So yes, they have to get used to you, no matter what.”
He gave my hand a squeeze and, taking a deep breath, we walked together towards the barrier, Muggle London, and the rest of our lives.
Author’s note: A nice long chapter to finish up on! Even though technically it’s not the end – it could be, but there’s still the epilogue to come which finishes things off quite nicely I think. So there will still be another update next week.
And credit must go to Josie, who had the idea of getting Martha and Bernie together. Thank you! I thought they both deserved to have someone nice. :)
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