The next day, during breakfast, I am seated with Marigold and Emmeline at the Gryffindor table, enjoying some cheese and fruit.
“Looks like the house elves have gotten fancy,” Emmeline notes, holding up a piece of a creamy brie cheese with her knife.
Marigold giggles. “Well it’s certainly very French. You would know all about that, wouldn’t ya Em?” She spears a granny smith apple slice between the prongs of her fork and chomps into it noisily.
Emmeline rolls her eyes. “You sleep with one bloody Frenchman and the world doesn’t let you forget about it…” she mutters darkly. I laugh to myself at this. Emmeline, usually low-key and content to stay determined in her studies, was not commonly one for getting caught up in boys (literally).
Just then, a figure appears behind us. It’s Lily, carrying a stack of parchment. She gives a shy flash of a smile as she makes eye contact with me.
“Hi Aurora, good summer?” she asks politely.
I nod with an amiable smile. “Yes, very happy to be back though,” I answer, for what I feel like is the hundredth time. “Yours?”
“Alright,” she shrugs. After a second, she rifles through the stack and pulls out three of the slips, handing them to us.
“New schedules,” she explains. “I’m helping McGonagall pass them out.”
“Thanks,” I say gratefully, taking mine. Marigold eagerly grabs her own, blue eyes racking the written timetable of hers and mine.
“HAH! I have two three periods with you, Rora! Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, score!” and she beams at me as she copies it down in her notebook.
James, Remus, Peter and Sirius have appeared now, striding over with yawns. They clearly have practically just rolled out of bed. James immediately spots Lily with us and gives her a keen grin. “Why hello Evans, how are you this fine morning?”
“I’m fine,” Lily mutters tersely with a quick and quite insincere smile. She hastily grabs four more of the slips of parchment from her pile and practically throws them at the boys.
“Here. And Potter, you’d have better give me a hand with this,” she says pointedly to James.
James only smoothly smiles again, rises and replies, “My pleasure, Lily flower.”
Lily’s green eyes blaze as she curtly responds, “If you wish to keep your fingers, Potter, you will kindly not call me that.”
“Of course not, Lily flower,” James responds. Lily visibly bites her lip and shoots him a glare as the two of them walk off together towards the other House tables.
“Ah, young love,” Sirius muses sarcastically to me, digging into some eggs and potatoes.
“You’d think they were a married couple,” Remus jokes as he looks after them. “They get on so well.”
Sirius gives a snort of laughter. “Practically destined to grow old and grey together, them.”
“One of these days, she’s really going to kill or curse him,” Emmeline mutters.
“Or worse,” Remus points out.
“Ah well, who knows. She could come round,” Peter says.
“Hah! We’ll see!”
After a few scrambled moments of everyone filling their plates with more of the breakfast food specialty (Sirius looked disdainfully at the cheese platter before loading his plate with sausage and eggs), he asks, “Good first sleep everyone, I trust?”
“Oh yes, the sound of Marigolds snoring and Aurora’s sleep moaning is quite conducive to a well rested night,” Emmeline mutters as she cuts up a waffle. Marigold shoots her a glance and I bitterly reply, “Sleep moaning?”
Sirius and Remus are laughing. “Moaning, Rora?”
My face is hot. I didn’t recall having any vivid dreams last night. What the bloody hell was she playing at?
“Rora, you sounded like you were either in extreme pain or quite enjoying yourself,” Emmeline says with a smirk. I will kill her.
“Well I don’t know what you thought you heard, but I think you’re mad because I didn’t dream last night,” I retort, flustered.
But it’s no use. Remus and Sirius are beside themselves in laughter.
“No dreams, eh?” Remus teases.
“No! I don’t even sleep talk, Em’s crazy,” I am glaring over at Emmeline, who is holding back laughter. Marigold is biting her lip as she too conceals giggles.
“I’d like to hear that for myself,” Sirius is staring at me, an eyebrow raised in amusement. I just glare back. “For fuck’s sake, you lot can shove off.”
“Now now, Rora,” Marigold coos towards me with a condescendingly jocular expression. “We’re only teasing,”
I scoff and just shake my head. “Well, anyway. What’s your lot’s schedules like?” leaning over to compare mine to Sirius’s parchment timetable. I notice we share Charms and Arithmancy this term, and a free period on Wednesdays. For some reason, whether fate or chance, we had never gone a year at Hogwarts since knowing each other without sharing these two lessons. It was, in fact, a shared Charms lesson during our fourth year when we had first become friends.
“Nice, as always” Sirius says as we line ours up. “I’ll be expecting you to help me with the maths, seeing as I’m bloody hopeless,”
“But of course,” I say amicably.
“And count me in as well!” Marigold adds, as she sprinkles salt over some eggs lightly.
“Must I always do your mathematically inept selves’ bidding?” I let my lips break into a smile as raise an eyebrow expectantly, but I’m only joking. On more than one occasion, I had been practically designated Gryffindor’s resident maths tutor.
“Yes.” Sirius says in mock-contempt. I scoff and roll my eyes playfully. He just gives me a quick smile. I blankly return his glance for a moment before mirroring his smile back. There it was again. Something different about him. Was it his voice? Was it his face? I couldn’t place it. But something in the pit of my stomach felt light.
“Well, Emmeline and I are going to go for some sunbathing on the grounds, care to come?” Marigold asks us, as she and Emmeline begin to rise from the benches awhile later. I’m still working on my omelet and Sirius has helped himself to seconds so I wave her off.
“I’ll just catch you later in the common room, go ahead,” I say.
“No worries. What about you, Remus? Peter?” Emmeline inquires of the rest of us.
Remus shakes his head and politely declines. “Nah, Pete and I were actually about to go meet James down at the kitchens for some stocking up on food,” he gives us a devious smile as they too rise.
“Oh be a dear and grab me some pumpkin pasties?” Emmeline asks eagerly.
Remus just gives her a smile. “Will do, Ems.”
Once they’re gone, Sirius looks surreptitiously back at me. “So what’s this about Emmeline shagging some French wizard?”
I choke on my pumpkin juice. “Oh, summer love, y’know,” I say casually, trying not to laugh. I know having everyone in school know about her romantic escapades is about the last thing that Emmeline wants. And having Sirius and James know would eventually ensure that.
“Hmm, interesting,” he says with a smirk. “And what about you, Rora? Any summer flings?” He is staring at me furtively, yet intensely now. I am a bit caught off guard. I don’t think he’s ever directly inquired about my romantic jaunts in the world of snogging and shagging before. And I’m not quite sure what to make of it.
“Uh, no not really,” I spurt out awkwardly.
“Hmm,” he says simply, digging back into his food. I swallow. I can feel myself redden in the face. We sit in silence for a moment as I hurriedly try to find something to change the subject with.
“So, any parties lined up yet?” I offer lamely. I am sure he has noticed the flush in my cheeks.
“Oh that does remind me,” Sirius says, looking back up at me. “Gryffindor welcome back bonfire, tonight. On the lake, at sunset,”
“Well, as is tradition,” I say. It is true. We’ve had one since fifth year. And they always ended up being broken up by Filch or whoever else. But perhaps this year, being our last, the staff would give us a break.
“Make sure to pass it on to Goldy and Emmy,” Sirius says to me, as he finally clears his plate and begins to stand up.
“Will do, cap’n, “I salute mock-dutifully, as I too rise from the table. I notice at least three younger girls give him a longing eye as we leave the Great Hall together.
* * *
“Rora! Where on earth did you get this?!”
Marigold, Emmeline and I are back in Gryffindor Tower later, up in our dormitory continuing the arduous task of unpacking and settling in. Having only been here one night, my things were still largely either still packed inside my trunk or flung haphazardly about my bed and night table.
Marigold is holding up a dark green emerald gown, made of a sheer flowing material with a fitted bodice. I had just flung it on my bed in the rush of my unpacking.
“It’s for the graduation ball at the end of term,” I explain, not looking up at her as I continue sorting through my trunk.
“Oh, it’s just so lovely!” Marigold exclaims, holding it out to herself. “I’m jealous!” Marigold had a special love of fashion and beauty. She also had a special love of borrowing every last piece of clothing in my wardrobe.
“Well, it was my mum’s,” I say warningly. “We’ll see if I can look half as good as her in it,”
“Oh please, Aurora Mockinglow! You are a stunner,” Emmeline chimes in from across the room. She has been pragmatically sorting and organizing her pile of books onto her little shelf.
I roll my eyes. They have to say that because they’re my friends.
“I’m being serious, mate,” Emmeline is staring pointedly at me now as she notices the awkwardness rise in my expression.
“Oh shush,” I hiss at her, but I’m smirking slightly. “You lot are mental.” I bend back over and start grabbing more objects out of my trunk. A small telescope, a box of quills, a thick scarlet jumper.
“So Rora, you never told us more about your summer,” Marigold begins, her voice dripping in suggestion. I roll my eyes. Would everyone be needing to ask me this silly question?
“Well, it was entirely uneventful,” I say wryly. “I only really saw my family and you two when we visited,”
“You didn’t once go see James?” Marigold asks slowly. “Or…Sirius?”
I raise an eyebrow at her. “No.” I continue sorting through my things.
“Not even once?” she comes over and grabs the shirt I was folding right out of my hands and beings folding it herself.
“No, not even once.” I grab the shirt back and toss it on my bed. “Why are you suddenly so curious, anyway?”
She just smirks and says offhandedly, “No reason.”
I bite my lip in frustration as I avoid replying to her. Marigold always was so intent on knowing every detail of my relationships. Last year, when I had a brief but passionate affair with a Ravenclaw boy named Devon Byrd, she had nearly peed herself in glee. But it was exhausting the amount of time she spent talking about such things, especially when the talk revolved around me.
“It’s just that dream you had last night and all….”
I swiftly chuck a pillow towards her, willing it to hit her squarely in the face. But she shrieks and holds her arms out before it makes contact. She falls back onto her bed, overcome with giggles, clutching the pillow to her middle.
“Oh, touchy!” she teases as she laughs. Emmeline is laughing too, but probably more so at Marigold.
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about!” I yell over at them, as I bend back down and throw things out from my trunk to my bed in frustration.
But thankfully, before the conversation can go any further, there is a loud and pointed chirp at the window. We all look up to see my large white and tan barn owl, Ophelia, has perched herself on the open windowsill.
“Ophie!” I exclaim as I catch sight of her. “What’re you doing up here, girl?” I walk over to her and give her a gentle stroke. She coos in response.
I notice she has a small rolled up bit of parchment clamped inside her beak.
“Oh have you got mail already?” Marigold rises her from bed and slides over next to me, watching eagerly as I slowly unwind the packaging. It seems to have been covering a delicate glass vile full of a soft lilac smoke, with a white tag attached to the cork. I gingerly unfold the tag and read:
A little of home to remind you of us. Miss you already. Love, Dad. PS: stay safe.
I smile to myself as I open the vile and inhale the shimmering mist. It smells like mum’s cooking, blossoming trees, and burning candles, all at once. There is a lump in my throat.
“Aw, dad,” I whisper to myself. He really was impeccably good at this sort of thing. Little things to send me to brighten my day. He was a gifted wizard and often would give us little gifts and magical tricks like these throughout my childhood.
Marigold takes a sniff. “Oh, strawberries and basil and perfume!” she cries out. “Is that what your house smells like?”
I give her a confused look and then examine the bottle closer. “Hmm, it must have an enchantment on it to smell like comforting things depending on the holder,” I mutter. “Genius!"
“Your dad is a grade-A wizard, Rora,” Emmeline has come over too, and is also taking a whiff from the vile. “Parchment, orange spice, sea salt …Must have been bloody difficult to conjure this…”
I just smile and hold the vile to my chest for a moment. I had never once been homesick while at Hogwarts. And though I still wouldn’t trade places with my summer predicament, I do feel a sort pang of something for my family. It’s strange how that works. I’d been wanting to be here all summer and once I am, my family decides to be utterly lovely to me. The universe had quite the sense of humor.
As I reread the attached note, my eyes stop at the last phrase. PS: stay safe. Once again, a reminder of the war, the horror looming just outside my peripheral, has been brought back to my attention. I gently fold up the note and place it under my pillow.
“Well, anyways, we should probably start getting ready for the bonfire. It’s nearly sunset,” I suggest after a moment. It’s already half past six.
“Right,” Emmeline says, still staring with interest at the vile as I stow it in my trunk. “And we shan’t be late for that, lest our heads be chopped off by the Holy Marauders?”
I give a snort of a laugh as I grab a woolen jumper from my trunk and throw it on over my jeans and t-shirt. I pull on my leather brown boots, worn and broken in past repair, but endeared strongly to my heart. Marigold hates them, but I always ignore her constant berating at me to invest in a new pair.
Once we have all appropriately thrown on layers of clothing, we make our way out of the portrait hole. Though it is not yet sundown and thus we are perfectly allowed to be out on the grounds, too many people heading towards the grounds would attract too much attention and arose suspicion, so we cautiously and quietly venture out into the corridor.
We creep down the walkway, passing a few students every now and again, no doubt heading back from a late dinner or walk. No one seems to take special notice of us.
Once we reach the grounds, we spot a tiny grouping of students already down by the lake. The sun is slowly nearing the horizon, casting a golden-red glow over the grounds. The sky is only lightly cloudy, and a small dotting of stars, which I quickly identify as the Pleiades Cluster, has started to appear at the top of the sky above me.
As we approach, we see that Sirius and the boys are already standing around a great stack of wood in a sandy pit. It has not yet been ignited, as Remus is working on arranging the wood pile so that it’ll catch the flames. There are a few other Gryffindors there already; Marlene McKinnon, Frank Longbottom and Mary MacDonald, to name a few.
“Oi!” Marigold calls out to them. They wave to us in greeting as we join their group.
“Why hello there!” James beams in greeting to us and promptly hands us bottles of foaming butterbeer. He must have smuggled it into school somehow.
“Cheers,” I say gratefully as I grab a bottle for myself. I sit down with Marigold and Emmeline on a mound in front of the pit.
Marlene and Mary are beside us, already tucked into their butterbeer and chatting amiably with the others. I cast my gaze upon Marlene for a moment. Her sunny blonde hair, wind swept and thick, looks more like someone who’s spent all her summer days on a beach rather than on the foggy British isle. Though, come to think of her family’s wealth, she probably had been on holiday all summer.
“It’s a beautiful evening out,” Frank observes, casting his bespectacled glance out on the golden, shimmering surface of the lake.
“Mhmm, “I agree, taking a sip of butterbeer. “It feels so nice to be back,”
“And great conditions for Quidditch,” James adds, as he comes over to join our small huddle.
“Have you already got tryouts set up, then?” Marlene inquires from beside us. Her dark blue eyes are enthusiastic. She’s a Chaser for Gryffindor, and quite a good one at that.
“Yup,” James says. “Wednesday afternoon. Set it all up with McGonagall this morning,”
“Excellent,” Marlene says. “I’ll be there.”
“You reckon we have a good lineup for players?” a fellow Gryffindor seventh year named Ricky Frell asks keenly. He has dark wavy hair and piercing green eyes that contrast with his warm olive skin.
“We should. And even so, if we have me as Seeker, Sirius and Marlene as Chasers, that alone should mean we’re a strong team,”
“You’re damned right it does!” Sirius calls from the other side of the firepit, where Remus and him are still setting up the logs. “Gryffindor for the cup!” He raises his butterbeer to them and gives himself a hardy gulp.
“You know, you don’t have to do that,” Emmeline calls back over to him, referring to the extreme precision that Remus and Sirius are giving to the setting up of the logs for the fire. “If you just use your, I don’t know, wands, the fire will catch no matter how you do it. It’s like, magic.”
Sirius just smirks at her and replies curtly, “So young, so naïve,” She rolls her eyes with a smirk, as she leans back casually on the log. Marlene giggles at this. The breeze lifts up the strands of her fair hair but she doesn’t pull them back.
A snap and crackle catches our attention now as Remus silently ignites the wood that has now apparently been perfectly placed. The flames immediately overtake the logs and rise up with sparks and smoke. We all take a moment to admire the sight of it, the fire’s hot light reflecting spectacularly on the waves lapping the shore a mere few feet from our toes.
“See, worked like magic, didn’t it?” Sirius says pointedly to Emmeline. She just raises an eyebrow back at him.
“What do you reckon Lightfoot’s gonna assign us an essay on first?” Remus wonders aloud as he sits down to join our cluster. “The value of charms in modern wizard society, or the best charms to combat psychological disorders?”
“Oh for Merline’s sake Lupin,” Marigold snaps suddenly, rolling her eyes with a groan. “I am so not in the mood to talk schoolwork at the moment, please.”
“It’s an impending doom, like it or not,” Emmeline adds wryly with a shrug. “NEWTS, and all…”
“Ugh please!” Marigold throws her head back with a scoff. “I am not required to think about that until Monday or else my brain may explode its contents with the stress of it all!”
I try to keep from laughing. Marigold was one to easily get flustered and stressed about even the smallest of assignments and responsibilities and it was often quite amusing to witness. I am slightly worried for her welfare this upcoming spring when we test for our NEWTS and graduation.
“Goldy’s right! Forget school for tonight!” James calls. “A toast, friends!” He climbs on top of a broken washed up log. “To the beginning of the end!”
“Cheers!” we all chant back, as we take sips of the golden and buttery brew. The last sliver of the sun is peaking out from behind the mountains in the distance. The utmost top of the sky is dark and descending. More dotted stars begin to appear from their daylight slumber.
I look around at us, Gryffindors all cuddled and content around a roaring fire, on the shores of a huge lake, on our first day back at the wonderful and magical Hogwarts school. I can’t help but feel a bittersweet mixture of emotions. Pride, comfort, nostalgia, longing, all at once. I make eye contact with Sirius, who seems to be thinking the same thing. His light grey eyes pour into mine and the corner of my mouth lifts up into a ghost of a smile. I know that he, more than anyone else here, shares the feeling of truly being at home at Hogwarts. There is no comparison to how this place feels; what it means to us.
I scoot over closer to him. “Cheers Sirius, to this year,” I hold out my bottle to his. He smiles and clinks my glass to his, not breaking his glance from mine.
“To this year,” he answers, before emptying his glass down his throat.