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Brave New Hope by ARG
Chapter 55 : The Way Home
 
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A/N: Happy Easter, everyone! And for Easter you get... an almost Christmas chapter. Weird, I know. This one is slightly smaller than the previous ones (finally!) mostly because I transplanted a bunch of scenes to the next chapter which: a) good news, it's about half writen; b) bad news, it's on paper... yes, that kind of paper where you write with a pen because your laptop was sent away to be fixed and someone who I happen to have named a main character over is too worried about status updates and chatting with her friends to let me borrow hers... Anyway, enjoy!

23 December 1997

The morning the Hogwarts Express was set to leave for London with all the students planning to spend their Christmases with their families, they were all round up like cattle at the Hogsmeade train station as the Carrows personally lectured them on the consequences of not returning. And by ‘lectured’, Izzy actually meant ‘intimidated’. And by ‘intimidated’, she meant them doing so in the most colourful ways possible, with extensive descriptions of just how great their parents would feel when Dementors sucked their souls or how they’d hang upside down for weeks (to be honest, Izzy was pretty sure that would kill them before they reached the day barrier but she supposed that would only make the Carrows happier…).

All in all, it was a pretty miserable beginning to such a promising day and it sure didn’t help that it was freezing to the point of everyone’s breath creating a fog in the general area where they stood ankle-deep in snow. Of course, that sort of cold was rather comfortable as opposed to the sort they’d feel if they ever came to experience the detailed descriptions the Carrows were filling their minds with.

Her mother stood near the train, between Flitwick and Slughorn (who appeared to be riding with them to London), eyeing the Death Eater siblings with the utmost disgust. She did, however, take turns on checking if she and Ginny were still on their places among the Gryffindors, as if she was sure something bad was going to happen before they could get home again… In times like those, one always seemed to be suspicious when normalcy – or as close as they could get to it – was just at an arm’s length.

She yawned as Alecto got started on the equally tragic consequences of failing to present her holiday assignment of writing an essay describing ten reasons why Muggles should be ‘put in their place’ (and by that Izzy was fairly sure Alecto meant ‘round up and decimated’), not because she was bored (despite knowing she didn’t have enough fingers in one hand to count the times they’d heard that speech over and over again...) but because she hadn’t slept more than six hours the previous night for reasons she wouldn’t allow herself to over think…

Thankfully, before they could freeze to death, Snape showed up, looking quite annoyed, and pulled the Carrows aside, ‘whispering’ – certainly loud enough for plenty of people to ready – about how the Hogwarts Express had a schedule to keep up with, something they were making quite hard thanks to their ‘lack of skills on synthesizing a simple matter’.

What are you idiots doing still standing there? Get into the blasted train!” Amycus shouted hotly at the students after having spent what had to be over a minute regarding the headmaster with mad I’ll-kill-you-one-day-oh-yes-I-will eyes – a look that Snape merely reacted to by turning his back on him and walking away in a rather defying manner.

As he did so, though, Izzy didn’t miss the frown followed by a disapproving look the man gave her and Ginny as his eyes happened to meet hers. She supposed she should be used to that by now, as he’d grimaced basically every time he’d seen her since she was ten for the simple fact that her father was… well, her father. Of course, it was hard to ignore that the grimace had only become more intense after having been caught in his office, which she supposed might not only have something to do with the invasion itself but also with the fact that she, along with Ginny, Neville and Luna had ended up not serving as werewolf kibble during their detention – no doubt a source of endless disappointment to the old Potions Master…

“Not this carriage – this one if for the Ravenclaws,” Alecto announced, stopping her and Ginny as the two of them tried to get into one of the train’s cars.

“What? We’re separated by houses now?” Izzy protested, eyeing the woman in disbelief.

“Yes.”

“Brilliant,” Ginny replied sarcastically. “What’s next? Blood status?”

“Do you have a problem with that, Miss Weasley?” the Death Eater replied, glaring.

“As a matter of fact I d…”

They heard the sound of a throat being cleared behind them before Ginny was able to finish, which had them turning around, only to find themselves facing McGonagall. “Miss Weasley, Miss Black, you might want to get out of the way – you’re making a line,” the Transfiguration teacher informed them, nodding at the queue of annoyed Ravenclaws that had formed behind them, Luna among them, although she seemed far less bothered.

“Sorry,” Izzy mumbled as she and Ginny stepped away, the redhead’s eyes still glaring at Alecto’s. “We’ll see you at King’s Cross, Luna,” she told their friend, who nodded.

“Have a nice journey,” she wished them, a faint smile on her face despite the fact that being separated from Izzy, Ginny and even Neville, meant she would likely go through the whole train ride on her own. Maybe someone from the DA would keep her company, Izzy mused, even though she knew most people she found her friend far too odd to spend time with outside of meetings.

“Come along. I’ll walk you to the Gryffindor carriage,” McGonagall urged them eyeing Alecto in a rather stern manner. “You know, Miss Weasley, you might want to think hard on how you express your opinions to certain people in this school,” the old teacher told Ginny as soon as they were out of the Death Eater’s earshot.

“But this whole thing is ridiculous! I mean, separating the houses during the train ride? What’s the point?” she asked as they followed the older woman, luggage in a tow.

“There isn’t one. At least aside from showing that they’re in charge – honestly, there are far worse ways to accomplish that, Miss Weasley. I’d say we ought not to complain too much while things still are at this level,” McGonagall stated. “I believe I have already stressed to you how difficult they can make our lives. If that hasn’t stuck, I’m afraid the lecture and the detention I gave you last month wasn’t enough.”

Izzy gulped. Oh, it had been enough – she could only say she owed George endlessly for his smell-repelling charm tip… “It stuck, Professor. It couldn’t have possibly stuck any better,” she assured the woman.

“I very much hope so,” she informed them. “Well, this is your carriage. I will be staying in the first compartment, so if you need anything during the journey…”

“Wait, aren’t you from Scotland?” Izzy asked without thinking. “Er… I mean, if you’re going home for Christmas, what is the point of taking the train to London only to come back?”

McGonagall’s eyebrows raised before she allowed her lips to curl slightly. “Christmas shopping. There’s no place like London to do it. Also, I haven’t travelled in the Hogwarts Express in quite a few decades – this seemed like a good time to do so again.”

Translation: she wanted to keep an eye on the students as well. That was obvious enough for Izzy – after all, Diagon Alley was practically a ghost town these days according to George. Unless she was planning to do all her shopping on Muggle London, there was just no point going all the way to London to stock up for Christmas. Especially two days before Christmas.

“Well? Go on in, girls – the train can’t stay on the platform forever,” the teacher urged them.

They carried their luggage inside and were thankful to note that, due to some sort of catfight between Romilda Vane and one of her ‘frenemies’ – Merlin knew she had quite a lot of those – at the opposite end of the carriage, most people were too busy watching it, laughing and whistling to occupy the empty compartments, which left plenty for Ginny and Izzy to choose from. They ended up in the compartment right next to McGonagall’s just in case, knowing Mia would most likely join her in there.

And, not surprisingly, less than a minute had passed since they’d entered the compartment when they heard Izzy’s mother’s voice outside scolding someone – likely Romilda – and promising detention before their compartment’s door slid open and she stepped in, huffing.

“Here, let me give you a hand with that,” Mia offered as she saw Ginny struggling with placing her heavy trunk on the overhead shelf.

“Thanks,” Ginny said as the woman levitated the trunk onto its place.

Mia shook her head. “Don’t mention it. Listen, girls, I don’t have a lot of time here before I have to go back to my own carriage. I…”

“Wait, you’re not staying with McGonagal?” Izzy asked in surprise.

Her mother shook her head one more time. “Every carriage was assigned a teacher to keep an eye on it throughout the whole journey. I was assigned to the Hufflepuff carriage as Professor Sprout is ill.” They had, she knew, done it on purpose – Minerva had signed up to replace Sprout on the trip as soon as she’d heard the other woman had come down with the flu. Alecto, however, had been quick to point out that, as head of Gryffindor, McGonagall should be in charge of the Gryffindors, while Mia – just a common teacher – could be left to handle the Hufflepuffs. She was sure it wasn’t a coincidence that their carriage just happened to be the farthest one away from the Gryffindors – they wanted to keep her on her toes, wondering what was going on with her kid on the other end of the train, which, sure, she couldn’t help doing, but not as much as if McGonagall wasn’t around to watch Izzy. “Don’t worry about that,” she told them. “Do you know where Minerva will be staying?”

Ginny nodded. “Sure. Just next door.”

“Then listen – if anything happens, don’t go looking for me. Go to Minerva instead and use your wands. I’ll be fine.”

“But Mum…” Izzy stated to protest.

“Not buts, Izzy. Just do it. And when we arrive in London, don’t leave the carriage until I come to get you. Or your dad does. And don’t go with either of us unless you’re sure it’s really us – test us, alright?”

“Mum, this is the Hogwarts Express, not a battlefield,” Izzy told her mother.

“Better safe than sorry,” she replied. “And this also applies to you, Ginny,” she said, turning to the redhead. “No heroics. No leaving without me, Sirius, your parents or maybe your brothers, depending on who comes to get you, alright? Always make sure it’s them.”

Ginny nodded. “We will. But there’s not really much trouble we can actually get into with McGonagall just a compartment away.”

“Ginny’s got a point,” Izzy told her mother. “We’ll be fine. Relax. We’ll be home in a few hours, being teased by Dad and ran into the ground by Alex and Mary. Just think there’s that.”

Mia sighed, her lips curling a little. “Yeah, there’s that,” she agreed, reaching to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her daughter’s ear. “You look tired, honey – you might want to catch up with your sleep during the trip.”

Izzy huffed. “I’d already be doing so if the Carrows hadn’t kept us out so long giving us nightmare material.”

Mia let out a sigh, shaking her head. “Don’t mind them, honey. Alright, you girls have a nice trip. Remember…”

“We do,” Izzy replied before her mother could finish. “We’ll be fine on our own, Mum. Go.”

She did, but only when she saw Minerva McGonagall stepping into the carriage, taking the opportunity to have a word with her.

Left finally alone in the compartment with Ginny, Izzy removed her cloak and slumped onto her seat as her friend glanced out the window, watching as Amycus all but dragged a terrified first-year Ravenclaw into the carriage next to theirs – the kid had probably done nothing more than mistakenly taking a seat in one of the other houses’ cars, yet the bastard made it seem like he was hauling around a criminal of the worst sort. How sadly ironic. “Do you reckon those two were born this way? Amycus and Alecto? All rotten and sadistic? I find it very hard to picture them as anything close to children,” Ginny observed.

Izzy tried to picture that for a moment. “Odd… the only thing I can picture them as, other than what they are now, is a two-headed snake that feeds on people’s misery.”

“Now that I can see,” Ginny agreed, taking a seat opposite her friend. “Merlin, they just won’t stop rolling when it comes to power trips and threats, will they?”

“Guess it’s all they’ve got to show they’re in charge. I hate Snape’s guts but I’ve got to hand it to him – he hasn’t been making things easy for the twisted twins,” Izzy offered. “And I don’t think he even cares that one of these days those two could snap and murder him in his sleep for it.”

“Which ironically wouldn’t be good for us since his pride is the biggest wall between us and the Carrows,” Ginny mumbled with a sigh. “Blimey, it looks gloomy no matter the way you look at it.”

Izzy groaned, stuffing her cloak into a pillow, which placed between her head and the window as she rested her head on it. “For now, I’ll just hope that gloominess doesn’t spread into my dreams,” she mumbled, closing her eyes.

Ginny gaped at her. “What? You’re taking a nap already?”

“You heard my mum – I look tired.”

“It’s barely nine in the bloody morning!” Ginny protested, annoyed that, with her friend asleep, she’d be left to either die of boredom or – Merlin, she really didn’t want to do that – get started on Alecto’s disgusting essay, which she’d already decided to bomb by writing the very opposite she wanted.

“Funny. Feels much earlier in my mind,” Izzy mumbled in response.

The redhead’s eyed her oddly before raising an eyebrow. “Do you really want to get there?”

“Get where?”

Ginny gave her a look that basically said something along the lines of ‘oh, so you want to play that game?’ “To the point of this conversation when I have to point out the fact that the reason why it feels so early in your mind is because you haven’t gone to bed before midnight in weeks thanks to those – what should I call them? – ‘late-night conversations’ with a certain brother of mine.”

Izzy’s eyes snapped open a moment before she froze, just staring at her friend for several seconds in horror. She couldn’t deny it – Ginny would crush her like a bug if she tried. Plus, lying to her best friend’s face was just a bad idea in so many ways… “I was hoping you hadn’t noticed that…” she lamely declared.

“Well, I might have not if I was… I dunno, brain damaged?!” Ginny asked, looking slightly insulted. “Just how thick do you think I am?”

“I don’t think you’re thick. I just…” she paused, sighing. “I just I don’t want to talk about it, okay?” She had more than enough confusion in her mind without her best friend adding more to it…

“I know. That’s why I haven’t brought it up before,” Ginny told her, taking a seat opposite her. “Even though it does make you wonder a lot when your best friend spends hours and hours at a time writing back and forth to your brother – who I have and will remain assuming is the girlfriendless one out of the twins, by the way – when up until a few weeks you thought they were just friends.”

“We are just friends,” Izzy insisted.

“Just friends? Really? You spend hours writing back and forth nearly every night and on the nights you don’t, you just pace around aimlessly like a headless chicken. If that is your notion of ‘just friends’, I guess you and I are little more than acquaintances, hum?” Ginny replied, raising her eyebrows further.

“Look, it’s… it’s complicated, Ginny. It just…” she pulled her pillow-shaped cloak onto her lap and sighed. “He’s a really good friend. The kind of good friend that I don’t want to lose by making a crush anything more than it is.” She stunned herself for a moment over even admitting the crush out loud. What on Earth was going on with her head? True, by then she was pretty sure Ginny was already up to it, but still. It's done, she told herself. Deal with it. “So, please, Ginny,” she continued, “just let me leave it there because if we get talking about it, I’ll start over thinking, and then things will get weird and I don’t want them weird because they way they are now… they give me something to look forward every day, alright?”

The redhead gaped at her for what had to be a full minute. She had it bad. Her friend had so, so bad and she was fighting tooth and nail not to see it. And to be honest, Ginny couldn’t really blame her because, ever since she’d first lent her the scroll of papyrus, Izzy had started looking much more… joyful. Happy. Almost immune to all the crap the Carrows pulled all around them. It seemed pretty reasonable Izzy wouldn’t want to end the source of that feeling by taking a step she clearly wasn’t even ready to consider. Merlin knew she’d taken her sweet time dancing around her crush on Harry long before making any actual move on him – and all through that time, Izzy had been around offering a listening ear when she needed it and space when she didn’t. She supposed it was time she extended the same courtesy to her friend since it had worked out pretty well for her. “Alright,” she conceded. “Because it’s Christmas in two days and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to get you anything else, you can consider me letting this conversation be delayed indefinitely your Christmas present.”

Izzy sighed, slumping back against her seat. “Thank you,” she told her, feeling incredibly relieved. She knew most people would think she was stupid or a coward for choosing to fully ignore the confusing realizations she’d been getting for the past few weeks. She felt stupid. She felt like a coward. But she refused to change her mind anyway because the thought of risking that comfortable relationship she and George had reached was too unbearable to even consider. All she knew was that she spent most of her time looking forward to when she’d talk to him next and the thought of screwing that up… well, she could just simplify it by pointing out how frustrated she currently was by the fact that she knew that night they wouldn’t be able to do their thing, not only because the scroll would be heading to the Burrow with Ginny but also because she knew George would be up late doing inventory with Remus and Fred before the shop was set to close its doors on a more permanent basis from Christmas Eve’s afternoon on.

“You’re welcome. I do, however, have to make a statement on this matter,” Ginny added all of a sudden.

“Ugh… Please don’t,” Izzy begged.

“Sorry – this one I really have to,” Ginny told her. “Remember roughly five years ago when we entered our first year and I had a massive crush on a certain boy? A certain boy who happened to be as good as your brother and, therefore, an unspeakable topic between us in my simple first-year-mind? And do you remember how that got me writing on a cursed diary that eventually possessed me and how the crush and the possession got so bad that I could barely say a word said boy’s way, which got you thinking that I believed he was the heir of Slytherin, which led to you refusing to even be in the same room as me except for sleeping because you ‘weren’t friends with traitors’?”

Izzy felt awful just thinking back to it. That had, without a doubt, been their friendship’s darkest year… “Ginny, I am so, so…”

Ginny waved it away. “Water under the bridge – I’ve told you that a hundred times. Anyway, I’m not bringing it up to make you feel bad – I’m just trying to make a point, so here it is: remember how me thinking I couldn’t talk to you about my crush on your brother nearly got me killed? Don’t do the same. I don’t want you to think that because the guy in question happens to be closely related to me, you have to keep it quiet. We can still talk… within reason, of course – as in don’t tell me anything you wouldn’t want to hear about Harry. And speaking of Harry, don’t use him as an excuse either. Just because I don’t get to be with him right now, it doesn’t mean I want everyone around me to all of a sudden shut down their feelings and be as miserab…” She stopped herself, shaking her head. “Anyway, you get my point, don’t you? Tell me stuff, even it’s about stupid George. If not now, then when you feel like it.”

Izzy smiled a little at her friend.

“Of course,” Ginny continued. “If it’s actually Fred you’ve been writing to, I’d seriously advise you to watch your step because Angelina is one of those primal-rage sort of girls. Plus, it’s not just her wand you have to worry about. Her dad’s a Muggle and he works for some special police – Scotland something… Anyway, that means she’s got one of those things that plucks holes into people under her roof. Crap, I keep forgetting the name even though it’s really easy… let me think… I had a mnemonic for this for our Muggle Studies OWL last year. It rhymes with something ironic in that case… calm… no, not calm… peace, maybe? Nah… fun… It’s no fun getting shot by a gun. Gun. She’ll shoot you with a gun if it’s Fred you have the hots for.”

“I don’t have the hots for anyone,” Izzy protested, feeling her face heat. “And if I did, it wouldn’t be Fred.”

“Good. Because Angelina would kill you,” Ginny told her.

“Lovely. Now, can I have my nap, please?” she asked dryly.

“Aw, come on! What am I supposed to do while you sleep? Stare at the ceiling?” the redhead complained.

“If you feel like it. Or you could enjoy the landscape,” Izzy suggested, pointing at the moving scenery behind the window’s glass before starting to make herself comfortable.

“Oh, lovely. The landscape,” Ginny replied sarcastically. “Oh, look, a pile of snow. And over there… what is that? Another pile of snow.”

Izzy groaned, trying to ignore her just as the door of their compartment unexpectedly slid. Both of them turned to it rather alarmed for a second before they found Neville stepping in. “Oh, thank Merlin,” she mumbled before turning to Ginny. “See? You have someone to entertain you now. Now, can I sleep in peace, please?”

“Fine. Sleep away,” Ginny conceded before turning to Neville. “See this? My own best friend would rather spend the whole bloody trip napping than keeping me entertained.”

“She’s probably just tired,” Neville offered diplomatically, prompting Izzy to mumble something that sounded somewhat like ‘I am’ against her makeshift cloak-pillow. “You girls mind if I stay here?”

“Like you need to ask, Neville,” Ginny replied, rolling her eyes. “Where have you been until now, anyway? We’ve left the station like ten minutes ago.”

“Er… I was sitting with Saemus, Lavender and Parvati but then, well, Parvati took some potion for the flu that made her all drowsy to the point that she fell asleep and Seamus started flirting really badly with Lavender… I figured I might want to make a run for it before things got to… er… too heated.”

“Merlin, you don’t think they’d snog all over the place with Parvati sleeping five feet away, do you?” Ginny couldn’t help asking.

“Yuck,” Izzy muttered, her eyes already closed, to which Ginny replied by demanding she shut up and sleep.

She didn’t take very long to comply to her friend’s orders as Ginny’s and Neville’s voices started to fade, popping into her head perhaps once or twice during what, she’d later imagine, were slight moments of awareness. By the time she did fully wake up, she was being shaken by Ginny and the lights were on inside the train, at the same time it looked quite dark outside.

“Wha…?” she mumbled, slightly confused she looked around, her vision blurred.

“Wake up – the conductor said we’ll be there in about five minutes,” Ginny told her.

“Already?” she asked.

“You’ve slept for nearly eight hours in a row,” Neville informed her. “We tried to wake you around lunch-time but… er…”

“You growled at me,” Ginny pointed out. “I’m pretty sure you’d have bitten me if I’d insisted more than I did. What the hell were you dreaming off, anyway? Dogfights in which you were the dog?”

“I don’t remember,” she mumbled. “I really slept that long?”

“Yes. You didn’t miss much, though, so don’t worry. McGonagall popped by, as did Seamus and Lavender at some point. We stopped for like a minute somewhere near Glasgow but just kept on going from then on.”

“Parvati slept practically through the whole trip too,” Neville offered.

“Because she was basically in a potion-induced stupor,” Ginny couldn’t help adding. “On a more positive note, you didn’t drool, snore or talk on your sleep. Pity. You do have pillow marks all over your face, though.”

“What?” Izzy asked in alarm, trying to see her reflection on the window. “Oh, I can see the station,” she announced as she started spotting parked trains at a distance, instantly forgetting about the pillow marks. Home was but a handful of yards away…

“Do you want to go wait outside on the aisle before everyone starts crowding it?” Neville asked them.

Ginny gave him an apologetic look. “We promised Izzy’s Mum we’d wait for her to get us. You should do it, though. I’m sure your gran is looking forward to seeing you.”

He smiled a little. “Yeah. I’ve missed her too. Well, I’d better go fetch my trunk from Seamus’ compartment. You girls have a nice Christmas,” he told them as he got up and moved towards the door.

“You too, Neville,” Izzy replied, glancing away from the window for a moment in order to offer him a smile.

“We’ll see you in January,” Ginny added as the older boy stepped out of their compartment, leaving the door closed behind him.

Soon, as Neville predicted, students crammed the hallway outside even before the train showed signs of stopping, loudly wishing each other a nice holiday, as well as discussing their plans for the break, rarely beyond enjoying time with their families. As the voices outside grew louder and louder with more people joining in, Izzy and Ginny used the time to fetch their luggage from the overhead shelves and ready themselves to leave.

There was an odd sort of cheer from the students when the train finally entered the platform, followed by most of them making a run for the exits like the train was cursed or something. At some point as she peaked out of the compartment, Izzy was pretty sure she’d seen someone taking a bizarre, likely unintended flight out the carriage’s door, all was the hurry of the crowd. That and the bruises they were bound to get from bumping into trunks and other people’s legs was bound to hurt on the following day.

By the time she spotted her mother making her way out of the gangway connection, the carriage was practically empty, with only a couple of first years who’d likely failed to wake up before all the mess had started taking place stumbling their way out of the train.

“You ready?” Mia asked.

Izzy nodded as she pulled her trunk onto the aisle, allowing Ginny to step out herself. “So, about those security questions…” she started saying, looking at her mother.

“You and Harry used to steal Lulu’s broomstick all the time. You liked to believe we didn’t know it but we obviously did,” Mia offered, knowing that was something hardly anyone but her could know.

“In our defence, I’m pretty sure Lulu wanted us to. The cupboard was always suspiciously unlocked,” Izzy replied.

Mia sighed. Honestly, that wouldn’t really surprise her – Lulu had always had a rather unorthodox approach to child-minding. “So, did you girls have a nice journey?” she asked them both, changing the subject.

“It was alright,” Ginny responded. “Though I can’t speak for Izzy since she slept through the whole journey,” she pointed out, sending an annoyed look her friend’s way.

“The whole journey? You didn’t even wake up for lunch?” Mia asked, prompting her daughter to respond by shaking her head. “Merlin, you must be starving,” she said, eyeing Izzy with some concern.

She was starving, Izzy had to admit. “It’s okay. We’re almost home, anyway. Kreacher will be more than happy to feed me.”

Her mother couldn’t help letting her lips curl for a moment at the mention of home being so close. “Well, lead the way, then,” she told the girls, peaking out of the window to check on the crowd outside before letting them step out ahead of her.

Ginny was the first one out, immediately followed by Izzy and then an ever-watchful Mia. The platform seemed different somehow, Izzy noted. Darker. Colder. Even more so than it had been in September.

There was still too many people crowding the area immediately outside the train, not allowing them to spot anyone they knew, such as her father or the Weasleys.

“Just keep heading to the back of the crowd,” her mother instructed them as she followed them with her eyes darting everywhere. “It will be easier to spot anyone from outside the crowd.”

They did as she said, making way through the large agglomerates of people who didn’t seem to gather that they were blocking the way from everyone else. Crowds always annoyed her, Izzy thought just a moment before she managed to reach the back and, without a warning, felt herself being grabbed by the arm.

Alarmed, she felt herself panicking for a second before her other arm started to reach for her wand. When she saw who it was, though, she immediately stopped. “Daddy!” she found herself shouting before practically launching herself into her father’s arms.

Grinning like – he was sure – he hadn’t grinned in months, Sirius held his oldest daughter back, even lifting her from the floor at one point. “You are in big trouble, Izzybel,” he found himself telling her rather half-heartedly.

Izzy raised her eyebrows as he put her back down on the floor and took a small step back. “You are in big trouble – nearly gave me a heart attack when you grabbed me!” she replied, trying to turn the tables

“You call that a reason for a heart attack? A heart attack is what I nearly had when your mother told me my firstborn had been caught – caught – sneaking into a certain slimy bastard’s office by no less than our three favourite people in Hogwarts. All three of them!” he replied, glaring a little.

It occurred to Izzy only at that moment that she’d skipped the security question part, although by then she was as sure as one could possibly be that the person in front of her was her father. Between using his own special nickname for her and showing more outrage at her having been caught than at her sneaking into Snape’s office in the first place, there was simply no way anyone would have found such a good Sirius Black impersonator. “You’ve already made your outrage known plenty of times, Daddy,” Izzy pointed out, recalling all those conversations via two-way mirror. “And I’ve already pointed out the fact that you wouldn’t have done any better. Even in your prime.”

He gave her a look of complete indignation. “I am in my prime! And as for expressing my outrage, well, it’s far more effective when done in person, little Miss Not-So-Stealthy. Which,” he added, turning to Ginny, “I suppose is a nickname also applies to you, Miss Not-So-Stealthy, special redheaded edition.”

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “I have no regrets aside from all the toilets we had to clean afterwards,” she simply said. “Anyway, have you seen my parents anywhere?”

“Oh, actually, you’re coming with us today,” he announced, just a second before Ginny’s face shifted from mild nervousness to absolute panic. “Calm down, calm down! Your parents are just fine. Everything is fine – this is just part of an arrangement we have. Nothing bad about it.”

“And what sort of arrangement is that?” Izzy inquired, raising an eyebrow.

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he replied. “I believe the street word for it is ‘surprise’. You may want to watch and learn from it since it requires a certain level of sneakiness you don’t seem to have.”

“I’ll give you the sneakiness,” Izzy mumbled, glaring and prompting her father to glare back in amusement. So that was it. The surprise George had so often tortured her with and of which she hadn’t been able to gather any information aside from it being related to her father and, somehow, the Weasleys. Damn him. Izzy liked to believe that, had they been talking face-to-face, George would have coughed it up ten minutes in – persuasive powers just didn’t have the same effect via charmed papyrus…

“Hi,” she suddenly heard her mother saying in a slightly shaky voice.

Her father looked up immediately, from her to her mother and then, as Sirius replied in the same bizarrely shy manner and they smiled softly at each other, Izzy couldn’t help but feeling like a bunch of things were all happening at the same time: the sun was rising, the moon was gleaming at full power and a wave of falling stars was tracing the sky. None of those things might actually be taking place in the real world but they sure were in her parents’ heads as the whole platform seemed to warm up when Sirius and Mia Black stepped back into each other’s arms. There was just something… right about it.

As their daughter turned her back on them, maybe to give them a little privacy or maybe just to comment something with Ginny, Sirius simply held his wife close as if having her back was too good to be true.

“I missed you so much,” he heard her whispering against his shoulder.

He sighed. “I missed you too,” he replied before placing a small kiss on her lips, mindful of the presence of a few hundred students of hers nearby, as well as McGonagall only a few yards away – he had to wonder if the look the older woman had shot his way upon leaving the train had been warning him about his public displays of affection. Probably not, but still he chose to save the good stuff for later – Izzy would kill him if he embarrassed her in front of her classmates, anyway. “I can’t believe I haven’t kissed you in more than three months.”

Mia chuckled. “That must have been painful for you,” she replied, a smile playing on her lips.

“It was,” he confirmed. “It physically hurt.”

She kissed his cheek. “There,” she whispered. “We’ll take care of that later. How are my babies?”

“They’re good. Excited to see Mummy. I imagine Molly will have a hard time keep them under control – Alex was particularly jumpy,” he told her.

Mia raised an eyebrow. “Molly?”

He nodded. “I bit of a surprise I put together.”

“A surprise?”

“Well, I suppose I could tell you,” he offered before proceeding to give her a short account of running into Arthur in the twins’ shop a few weeks ago and the other man mentioning something about Molly feeling rather low (apparently she hadn’t even started decorating the house for the season, an alarming sign since she usually did around November). So, upon Sirius mentioning that Christmas spirit wasn’t very high on him either, one thing had led to another and they’d ended up concluding that they might be able to salvage a little holiday cheer if they all celebrated it together. “So, long story short, the Weasleys are spending Christmas in our home,” he explained. “I hope you don’t mind – it’s just until Boxing Day, really. Plus, it’s not all of them, anyway. Muriel is – thank Merlin – refusing to leave her house and Bill and Fleur want to spend their first Christmas as a married couple snuggling alone at home like the newlyweds they are. The twins won’t be joining us until tomorrow either, so… I figured that together we’d do a good job out of getting through Christmas without H…”

Mia stopped him with a kiss, to which he replied almost immediately, even though, still mindful of McGonagall’s presence nearby, he kept it quick. “Thank you,” she said. “It’s perfect.” She couldn’t honestly say she hadn’t spent her own share of sleepless nights wondering about Harry, thinking that would be the first time in sixteen years she wouldn’t spend Christmas with him around. And Molly, she knew, would be feeling exactly the same about Ron. Maybe that hadn’t been the first thing in her mind but Molly might just be exactly who she needed around to get through it – they were on the same boat, after all. It made sense they would do a better job sailing it together than apart.

“You’re welcome, love,” Sirius said with a smile before stepping back, shifting to keep one arm around her back as he turned to Izzy and Ginny as they appeared to search the crowd for something. “Ladies,” he said. “It’s safe to turn around.”

“Have you seen Luna?” Izzy asked her father as she did so. “We’d talked about meeting her here to wish her a Happy Christmas…”

Sirius shook his head. “No. I did see her father, though. He was standing at the end of the platform about ten minutes ago.” He glanced on that direction only to see Xenophilius wasn’t there anymore. “Apparently, he’s already gone. To be honest, he probably just scooped her up as soon as he saw her and took her home, which is what I should be doing. This is no place to stand around anymore, unfortunately.”

Mia nodded. “I’m sure she won’t mind if you just write to her. You’ll see her in a little more than a week.”

Ginny ended up shrugging. “I guess.”

“So, we’re going home now?” Izzy asked, her lips curling.

Her father gave her a nod. “Home it is.”

A/N2: Not much to add to what I said before, so... Happy Easter. Loads of chocolate eggs and all :D Feedback is welcome, as always! Review!


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