The rest of their Easter holidays passed with no incident. With everything different and yet the same with Albus, June thought she was finally enjoying her last few days at the Potter house before the term restarted. Mr. Potter and Mr. Bernard were both still as good natured but as clueless as ever. Lily was still much the same – huffing and puffing whenever she went near June, though her glares slowly began subsidizing when Albus glared back at her.
It was Mrs. Potter, however, who seemed to be all of a sudden happier. She went around the house, a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye, constantly nagging Albus to help June with her packing.
But soon enough, it was Sunday and it was time to return to King’s Cross. As the shuffled out of the car and into the platform, Mrs. Potter was busy lecturing Lily. “Now that your Quidditch season’s over, I expect to see better marks, Lily. No more ‘Acceptables’, I want ‘Exceeds Expectations’ in everything!”
“Mum,” Lily trilled, “for the last time. I’ve got one Acceptable and it’s in bloody Potions. When am I never going to need Potions in my life?”
“That’s not the point,” said Mrs. Potter. “Harry, please, tell her she needs to do better.”
“You need to do better,” Mr. Potter faithfully repeated. As soon as Mrs. Potter turned to Albus, June could hear him whispering to Lily, “You never do need Potions though. I nearly failed Potions in school.”
Lily laughed. “Thanks, Dad.”
Mr. Bernard, for the first time in many years, had accompanied June to Platform 9 ¾. Normally, the thought of all the witches and wizards in a crowd, along with the owls and cats and toads that would be hopping around was enough to turn him green and he would insist on June entering the barrier alone. “You didn’t need to come, Dad,” June was saying. “Really.”
“Nonsense,” he said, “This’s the last time you’ll be sent off. I wanted to come inside and see the place.”
His eyes grew huge as the scarlet train billowed steam onto the platform. There was a massive struggle as most of the Hogwarts population shuffled on board.
June gave her father a quick kiss. “Bye Dad. See you in June.”
“See you, darling,” he said, hugging her.
“All right, go on, go on,” said Lily, pushing her forward crabbily. “Like we’ve got enough time to be saying – ”
Turning a bright red, Lily leapt onto the train and out of sight.
In front of June, Albus was eyeing his mother with disapproval. As June attempted to clamber on with one trunk, he pulled the trunk out of her hand and pulled her on.
“Thanks,” she said, out of breath.
“Sure,” he said.
There was a long moment of silence as they considered each other. Several small Slytherins went running past them, treading on her toes in the process.
“Thanks again,” she said at last. “You know. For everything, this year.”
“Don’t thank me,” he said, looking expressionless again. Finally, he managed a small smile. “I’ll see you around.”
“See you,” she echoed, before turning away to look for her friends.
Several doors down, June finally found the Hufflepuff seventh years all crammed into one compartment.
“Bernard!” she heard a voice shout, “Well, now the party’s full.”
The door opened and a wave of red hair fluttered in her face as she felt two arms embrace her. “Oh June! I was so worried! How’ve you been? How were your holidays? I didn’t get to see you – ”
“Weasley,” came Desmond Jordan’s voice, “let her breathe.”
When he pried Lucy away, June got a full view of the compartment. Trista St. Clair and Nicholas Corner were grinning at her, both sitting on the floor engaged in a game of Exploding Snap; one look told her that Nicholas was already losing badly. Duncan Podmore peeked over his small stack of Cauldron Cakes and Priscilla looked up airily from a book she was holding.
“Hello,” June began meekly.
“How were your holidays?” asked Nicholas.
“Fine,” she said, taking a seat opposite Trista. Duncan held out his Cauldron cakes and she took one, staring at it to avoid their gazes.
“So…” said Desmond. He exchanged a weighty gaze with Priscilla, who passed it on to Lucy.
“Well I painted,” said Nicholas. “Painted loads and loads, actually. I got this great portrait of Hesper the Horrible nearly done – my mum said I should open my own place after school’s done and that’s what going the idea going. My own portraiture shop. Cornerside Portraiture, I’m thinking of calling it. Nice name, I think – especially the ‘Corner’ part of it.”
“Won’t that be expensive?” asked Lucy.
“Not at all,” said Nicholas, “my dad easily covered the cost of it. We got a nice place, by the way. Just right across Potage’s Cauldron shop and right beside Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment. In case any of you are interested.”
“We won’t be,” said Priscilla, ignoring him and still staring pointedly at June.
“What did you do, Desmond?” said June, looking away.
“Oh, the same,” he said. “Imported a few things from Russia. I got caught by my mum, incidentally, as I was opening a new vial of Dragon’s blood. She knows everything about my – erm – hobby in Hogwarts.”
“You got caught?” asked Lucy, apparently distracted enough to look away from June. “What happened?”
“She thought I was brilliant,” he grinned. “Wanted to know why Dad and I hadn’t told her earlier. Said she’s got all kinds of great contacts. I got a job offer too, actually, until I get enough money to put my own business together.”
“Where?” asked Priscilla, still not looking away from June.
“Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.” When they all stared at him, looking awed, he shrugged. “Dad’s best friend from school is George Weasley. And they don’t care about how many OWLs or NEWTs I have or anything. Your uncle said he’d knew some of my work thanks to you, Lucy. Apparently you complain about me a lot.”
As the others congratulated him, Lucy looked at a cross between pained and happy. Finally, she breathed and relented. “Congratulations. You’ll do really well with Uncle George and Fred.”
“Oh sure,” he said breezily, “they already want me to come up with my fake essence of Chomping Cabbage. Fred Weasley thinks it’ll be a great prank. Looks like innocuous slime but bursts you out in boils all over. We might even disguise it as lipstick, market it to the ten year olds boys who like to bug their sisters. I start mid-June.”
“Duncan?” asked June. “What about you?”
“I signed on with the Falmouth Falcons’ reserve team back in February as their Keeper, remember?” he said, holding a Cauldron cake aloft. “I start in August.”
“Duncan’s known for ages where he’s going,” said Trista. “I got my letter too, actually, from the Tutshill Tornadoes. Just this morning.” From the inside of her pocket, she pulled out a letter with a seal that was peeling off the parchment.
“And?” asked Desmond. “You can’t keep us in the dark, St. Clair!”
Grimacing slightly, Trista said, “I’m not joining the Tornadoes.”
“What?!” asked Priscilla, finally tearing her gaze away from June. “But you’re brilliant! You can do loads better than any other Quidditch captain we’ve had in ages! Hufflepuff hadn’t won a Cup in decades until you came!”
“I know,” said Trista, looking strangely calm. “Actually, I got a better offer than the Tornadoes. I’m going to be joining the Kenmare Kestrals as their Chaser.”
“Chaser? Don’t you mean reserve Chaser?” said Duncan, eyes widening.
“No,” said Trista with a grin. “Actually, I’m on their team and not on reserve. You can start seeing me in their games once their season starts in September.”
As the others cheered, the compartment door opened. Henry Bates stood aloof, looking lost.
“Aha!” he said, “There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you lot! Nearly got lost – ended up sitting with some Slytherins - ”
“Bates!” said Nicholas, rising to usher in Henry. “Haven’t seen you in ages. What’ve you been up to?”
“Oh not much,” he said happily, taking a seat beside Duncan. “Spent my holidays helping my sister with her children.”
“You, Priscilla,” said Desmond, “what’re you going to be doing?”
“Magical Law Enforcement,” said Priscilla promptly. “Oh, I’ve been accepted to the Ministry’s training program for ages now. You all know that already, though.”
“I’ve been thinking about working in the Ministry,” said Lucy. As everyone stared at her, she blushed. “I mean, I’ve talked to my aunt Hermione and I think I’d like to work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Of course, we’ve come a long way with house elf rights, but there’s still merpeople and goblins and a few other things like that I want to help with.”
“That’s perfect for you,” said Trista to general nodding. “You’ll be amazing at it.”
“I’m going to be working in Diagon Alley too,” piped up Henry, attracting general stares.
“For what?” asked Desmond. “Stuck cleaning tables in Fortescue’s, are you?”
“I’m going to be an assistant in the Magical Menagerie,” said Henry, puffing out his chest proudly. “Professor Hagrid says he thinks I’ll get an ‘O’ in my Care of Magical Creatures NEWT.”
As the congratulations went around the compartment once more, June felt something in her deflating.
“What about you, June?” asked Henry, surveying her happily with wide eyes.
“I…don’t know…” she trailed off, now entirely aware of how much they were staring at her. Trista looked sympathetic, Priscilla outraged. Lucy merely seemed disappointed in June. June once more felt the uncomfortable feeling in her stomach that wormed around whenever the subject was brought up.
Thankfully, before anything else could be said, there was a loud whistle from the inside of the train and the last of the green hills went rolling past. They had arrived at Hogwarts.
Finally, when they shuffled their way up to the dormitories and the girls had bid goodbye to the Hufflepuff boys, they began unpacking.
As June leapt on her bed, she could hear Priscilla’s voice saying snidely, “You know what we’re all wondering, June.”
“Oh yes,” said Lucy immediately, stealing a glance with Priscilla. “Your dinner with Albus.”
Feeling her face burning, June looked at Trista who shook her head very slowly.
“I…didn’t go,” she said at last.
Lucy exhaled and beamed. “I’m so glad, June! Oh, I’m so glad. I thought you would’ve insisted and it would’ve been a huge disaster. But I’m so glad you decided to be sensible about this. See? Everything turned out okay.”
“Right,” said June gloomily.
Priscilla too looked equally ecstatic. “Oh, perfect. Thank god you grew a brain and decided not to spend any more time with that idiot Potter. Well, now that May’s around the corner, I guess it’s time that we wind this year down.”
“Yeah,” said Trista. “June, you never told us what you were planning to do. You know, back in the train.”
Suddenly, June became hyper aware at the narrow stares being thrown her way.
“Yes,” said Lucy, suddenly business-like, “What are you going to be doing?”
“Because nearly everyone’s got a plan. It’s April, June. Even Henry’s got a plan.”
“I’m still not sure,” said June at last.
Priscilla gave a small shriek. “I thought Helen made you pick something! What happened to Apothecaries?”
“You know that was just a farce,” said Trista. “Just to get Professor Aubrey off her back.”
“That turned out perfectly,” said Priscilla. “I know you haven’t got the highest marks. Frankly, they’re probably a bit less than decent. But you’ve got an Acceptable NEWT in Charms, Transfiguration and Defense, right? And you’ve got an Exceeds Expectations in Divination.”
“Well, you can’t really go anywhere with just an Acceptable in anything,” said Lucy sensibly. “You’ve got to get at least a minimum of an Exceeds Expectations if you’re planning to do further education.”
“I’m not,” said June. “At least I’m sure that I absolutely won’t be doing anything at all in Transfiguration or Charms or Defense.”
“You worked in the greenhouses for a bit to help Professor Longbottom,” said Trista.
“Yeah, but I don’t have a NEWT in Herbology, remember? Besides, I don’t do much. I pick things. Lorcan and Lysander Scamander do a better job than me and they’re so small.”
“You got an Exceeds Expectations in Divination,” said Lucy. She began rummaging through her trunk. “Look, I got these pamphlets at the beginning of the year. Divination – divination – ooh, it says with divination, you could go into crystal ball gazing, ceromancy, reading tarot cards, palmistry, a dream interpreter. Maybe you could work in the Department of Mysteries – apparently they require at least an – ”
“Are you mad?!” said Priscilla, snatching away the pamphlet from Lucy. “June Bernard working in the Department of Mysteries? Do you want her to accidentally kill most of the wizarding world?”
“I think you’ve got a point,” said June. “And I don’t even know what I’m doing when it comes to Divination, so…”
“What happened to that thing Helen mentioned?” said Priscilla suddenly. “Madame Malkins’ – you know. That dress thing.”
“I don’t want to do Applied Magical Design,” said June, pushing her pillow in her face. “I’d be awful – ”
“It can’t possibly be more awful than everything else we’ve been suggesting,” said Lucy, looking determined. Suddenly, she began rummaging through June’s trunk.
June shot up. “Hey! That’s mine! You can’t just look through my stuff!”
“I can,” said Lucy bossily. She pushed around clothes and spellbooks until her hand reached the bottom of the trunk. She yanked out something, success flitting across her face.
It was a crumpled purple pamphlet. One June had stuffed into her trunk several months ago and had not looked at since.
“Professor Aubrey’s going to be so disappointed,” said Lucy with a frown. She straightened out the pamphlet and showed it to Priscilla and Trista. “Look, the deadline’s already passed. It was in early April.”
“Now what’re you going to do?” asked Priscilla.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” said June burying herself again in her bed. “I’m just going to think about getting through the next week of classes and there’s Hogsmeade weekend after that.”
As she drifted to sleep, she could hear Priscilla saying quizzically, “What’s Hogsmeade got to do with anything?”
For the next week, June successfully managed to get through her classes and avoid the occasional questioning gazes Priscilla threw her.
Nothing happened until Friday, when she found herself cornered after Transfiguration with Professor Lee. The class dispersed, still grumbling about the length of their next essay – “ten inches and it’s due on Tuesday!” – and June followed, grateful that the week had somehow stumbled to an end.
“Yeah, that’s her,” came a low voice she didn’t recognize. Suddenly, she found herself flanked on both sides.
Two Gryffindor boys were grinning at her, their heads something like a foot above her own; one tall Black boy and a stout sandy-haired boy beside him had managed to appear out of nowhere.
“Hello there,” the first began smoothly, “you must be June. I’m Al’s friend Vincent. This’s Colin.” He pointed to the embarrassed looking sandy-haired boy beside him.
“See, normally, I would find myself above such menial tasks,” Vincent continued, brushing his hand through his hair like a peacock preening himself. “Unfortunately, Al got me out of a bit of a spot last month with Ancient Runes, so here I am.”
“I just came because I was curious,” piped up Colin. He held out his hand. “Colin Creevey. Nice to meet you.”
June took the hand thrust in her face gingerly and shook it once. “Um – I don’t understand – ”
“You see, neither do I,” continued Vincent jovially. “Walk with us, won’t you, June? Colin here was pretty convinced most of this year that you were a made up person.”
“Al hasn’t had a girlfriend in – how long has it been, Vince?” asked Colin.
“Ages. Ever since that one loony bin set him on fire.”
“We’ve been bugging him about you for a while now,” went on Colin, now looking red-faced. “Erm – so I guess we owe him an apology. You know, for being convinced you weren’t real and all. Everyone else in our year has a girlfriend so we tease him a lot about it. So when he told us about you, it sounded so far fetched I thought it had to be made up.” He sighed. “Though how can you blame me? Some girl becoming his mum’s long lost friend and moving into his house and chasing him around London? Sounds like some trashy story my sister might read.”
“I don’t owe him anything,” said Vincent. “I believed him when he said there’d be someone here.”
“You – you did?” asked June, staring up at him.
“Course I did. He can’t spend the rest of his life snogging his spellbooks, can he? Although to be honest, I was expecting you to be a bloke.”
When June began coughing hastily, Vincent added a defensive, “What?”
“Since we were coming down here anyway, Albus wanted to tell you to meet him in Hogsmeade outside the Three Broomsticks at noon.” Colin’s large eyes widened. “Wow, this actually sounds real.”
“Well, our job here’s done,” said Vincent. “See you around, June.”
With that, they both took off down the stairs. She could hear them howling with laughter.
“Tomorrow?” said Trista, pulling out her broom from under her bed. “Really?”
“Yeah,” said June, feeling a sense of foreboding doom in her future.
It had been a pure accident that she had found Trista alone in their dormitory for the first time that week. It had been nearly impossible to find Trista without Lucy, Priscilla or someone from the Quidditch team stuck to her side.
“Well, I mean, if you think he’s going to behave himself, you might have a nice time. Though I don’t know what excuse you’re going to give Priscilla and Lucy. We haven’t gone to a Hogsmeade weekend in months. They get boring after a while, don’t they?”
“I already thought about that,” piped up June. “I’m going to say I’ve got to see Professor Lee for Remedial Transfiguration lessons for a few hours.”
“I’m going to go to practice now,” said Trista. “Got to get ready to make Slytherin sorry they were born in the Quidditch finals, you know. I’ll see you around.”
“Remedial Transfiguration?” asked Lucy, skepticism knitting across her brows. “I thought you said you had an Acceptable in Transfiguration.”
“Oh,” said June, already slinking out the door of the Common Room. “I didn’t do so well on that last thing we had to. Transfiguring a niffler into a vase.”
“Trista and Duncan are off practicing again and you’re taking Remedial lessons and Priscilla ran off with Nicholas saying something about working on an essay,” said Lucy, throwing up her arms. “I’ve got no idea where Desmond is and I think Henry’s still asleep. Everyone’s off doing something but me!”
“I’m sorry,” said June hastily. “Bye!”
She all but ran out of the Hufflepuff Common Room, her bag slinging around her shoulders. Outside, it was slowly becoming sunnier, despite the last few days of overhanging clouds. The walk to Hogsmeade was quicker than she could’ve hoped for. As she neared the Three Broomsticks, June became hyperaware that she was surrounded by couples. Grimacing, she proceeded down with as much bravado as she could muster.
Couples. At a time like this.
Hogsmeade village looked bright and comfortable in the spring sunshine. As she walked through the town, she could see a few familiar faces through the crowd. Victoria and Iris Bosworth were strolling out of the post office, each carrying a tawny owl on their arms.
“Mum’s going to be furious we haven’t been writing,” said Victoria as June passed.
Outside Madame Puddifoot’s, a cluster of third year Gryffindor girls seemed to be in a panic.
“Louis Weasley! Can you believe it?” one was saying to her friend. “Louis Weasley just came by! Do you think he was with someone?”
“He’s so handsome,” gushed another.
“Ridiculous, isn’t it, Lily? So many girls after Louis. Clearly they’ve never actually met him,” came a snide voice as Rose Weasley stalked past them, Lily Potter at her heels.
“Not as ridiculous as any of them fancying Hugo,” said Lily, throwing the girls a dirty look. “I heard all the Slytherin second years were after him before the holidays, trying to get him to ask them to Hogsmeade.”
Rose gave an appreciative laugh. “Why do you sound so surprised? Is Hugo that bad? I always thought it made no sense how anybody could fancy James. He bathes like once a week.”
“You’re one to be talking. You fancy that slimy blond – “
As June walked by, they both broke off and stared. Not disapprovingly and not with a glare as June expected. It was a simple, inquisitive stare. Then, they exchanged a look with each other and took off.
As June neared The Three Broomsticks, she quickly hid behind the sea of students when she saw a familiar, tall boy emerge from Zonko’s.
“Good start, I should think,” Desmond Jordan was saying, carrying four bulging bags. “Fireworks, some self-destructing rubber wands, a few hats that beat you around the ears…”
“Why do you insist on dragging me along for these excursions?” Nikita Patil spat. “You always say we’ll go for lunch and then all we end up doing is going shopping!”
“Business partners stick together, Patil,” he reminded her and slung his arm around her shoulders as she continued to look irritated.
Once June neared the Three Broomsticks, she waited outside, trying to seem as casual as she could. Albus was nowhere in sight. Sighing, she leaned against the door.
It proved to be a bad idea.
Within a few seconds, the door hit her back as someone came out. Again, it was a familiar voice.
Why was everyone she ever knew clustered together here on the one day where she didn’t want to see them?
“Enjoying yourself?” Nicholas Corner said.
“Enough,” said Priscilla Fawcett, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, the way you made it sound, I thought we were going on a magic carpet or something, not coming to the Three Broomsticks.”
Scrambling, June quickly hid behind an older lady in front of her.
“Darling, I am magical,” said Nicholas.
Priscilla pushed him. “Idiot. Now what?”
He took her hand and kissed her on the cheek. “Now to Honeydukes.”
“Chocolate!” she said, not looking at all bothered that he was holding her hand. Instead, she looked quite content to be walking beside Nicholas and they set off down High Street together.
As they left, June stared at them in shock. How long had that been going on without anyone realizing?
However, she didn’t get too much time after to ponder.
Albus chose that moment to materialize, grinning at the sight of her. “Hey.”
“Hi,” she said, snapping out of her reverie.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“Er – no, I don’t think so. I’m not sure. I just saw Priscilla with Nicholas Corner.”
Albus gave a noncommittal “Oh. Is that a big deal?”
“I suppose not,” she said, opening the door of the Three Broomsticks.
He stopped her. “Hold on. Don’t go in.”
“Half of our year’s in there. This could turn out badly if someone spots us.”
“Okay,” she acquiesced, letting the door close. “Then where do we go?”
“We can walk around. We’ll be harder to spot in the crowd. Come on,” he said, taking her hand and walking into the crowd.
“Is the plan just to walk around the whole day?” said June, feeling him tugging her through the jostling crowd.
“Do you want to go anywhere in particular?”
“Honeydukes,” said June, lighting up. “But we’re going to have to be careful.”
With that, they set off down High Street and made a turn. Albus seemed careful to talk to her with his head bowed so it didn’t seem as though they were there together. She made it a point to look away now and then as they continued.
“Priscilla and Nicholas are in there. I just want to pop in to have a look.”
He looked skeptical but didn’t argue the point. “Well, I’m a bit relieved. I thought you were going to drag me into Madam Puddifoot’s or something.”
“Would you have gone?”
He scoffed in response.
June grinned. He was still holding her hand. It was a nice, warm feeling even under the spring sunshine.
“Fine, we can go to Honeydukes. But I want to go to Scrivenshaft’s after. I need new quills,” he said.
“New quills. How exciting.”
Soon enough, they found themselves in front of Honeydukes. Albus let go of her hand and opened the door for her. She went in, careful to seem as though they had entered together on a coincidence. He stared at her as she wandered off to the other side of the store. A flock of Ravenclaws and Gryffindor girls had noticed Albus’s entrance and excited whispers broke out.
“Albus – ”
“Potter here, I wonder why – “
The walls, as usual, were lined with hundreds of chocolates and toffees, all of which reminded June that sometimes, Honeydukes looked like an edible wonderland. She positioned herself behind a large barrel of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum.
Pretending to inspect some Blood Lollipops, June bent over the counter, her eyes narrowing in on a brunette clad in a Hufflepuff scarf several feet away. Was that Priscilla? And why was she alone?
“Pepper Imps, Mr. Flume,” she was calling over the counter. “And one large bag of Ice Mice.”
When she turned, it became evident that she wasn’t Priscilla at all. June closed her eyes and heard a familiar voice over the clamor.
“All right, have at it,” came Nicholas’s voice from the other side of the store.
Looking gleeful, Priscilla called over to the owner in a shrill voice. “Ambrosius! Chocoballs, Fizzing Whizbees, one bag of Chocolate Frogs, and some Liquorice Wands.”
As Nicholas paid, Priscilla clung to his arm, already unwrapping a Chocoball.
“Well,” came a voice from behind her, “they look like they’re together.”
June jumped in the air and turned to see a large box of Toothflossing Stringmints talking to her.
“Albus?” she hissed.
He set down the Toothflossing Stringmints sheepishly. “What? I thought I was being subtle.”
“No, you weren’t.”
“Anyway, I got bored of waiting, so I bought some sugar quills and some coconut ice. Here.” He handed her a bag.
“Sugar quills?” said June. “How do you like sugar quills? They taste awful.”
At the sound of her voice, Priscilla perked up and began turning around.
June leapt behind Albus. “Come on. Let’s go.”
He moved stiffly out, still holding the Toothflossing Stringmints in front of his face as he opened the door.
“Perfect,” she said as they exited. “Now where?”
“Scrivenshaft’s,” he reminded her.
At Scrivenshaft’s, he spent the next fifteen minutes inspecting quills, bothering her with questions. Owl or Hippogriff feather? Sturdy or lean?
“Look,” he said, holding a peacock feather aloft. “How does it look? Funny, isn’t it?”
“It looks silly,” she said, wondering how she had ever found a boy who thought peacock feathers funny mysterious in any form.
He made a face and bought the two owl feathers, finally letting them leave.
“I want to sit for some time,” she complained.
“Anywhere but Puddifoot’s,” he said. “And the Three Broomsticks’s always crowded. What about the Hog’s Head?”
“Wherever,” was all she managed before he grabbed her hand and began jostling down High Street once more.
The Hog’s Head was as grimy and empty as June remembered it. Even the new management had done little to change the place. The usual inch of dust carpeted the floors and tables. It was still as seedy a pub as June remembered it; the few people there were all looking away from each other, having covered their faces in some form or another.
They found a table as far in the back as possible.
“Funny how this place can help save Hogwarts but is still as ugly as ever,” said Albus. “Well, no one’ll ever disturb us here.”
When June was lost in thought, he waved the Toothflossing Stringmints in her face, looking anxious. “Am I boring you?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “I was just thinking,”
“I don’t know,” she said doubtfully.
“Tell me,” he said, waving the Toothflossing Stringmints in her face once more.
She took the box away from him with a scowl. “Enough with the mints! I was just thinking…you have a plan after Hogwarts, right?”
“Of course,” he said, puffing himself out. “Healing school. St. Mungo’s trainee program. I told you I wanted to be a Healer. I had an exam back in March. That’s why I was always reading around you all the time. I was studying.”
“And you passed?”
“Obviously. School starts for me in September as usual.
“Why a Healer though?”
“Well, I’m no good at Quidditch like my mum. And I don’t fancy being an Auror like my dad. I always thought medicine was kind of interesting and I’m good at school work.”
“Priscilla’s going to do Magical Law,” said June. “And Trista’s going professional with Quiddtich. Desmond and Nicholas are both working in Diagon Alley and doing their own business things. Even Henry’s got a plan! Everyone has something!”
“Everyone except you,” he said gently.
“Yes,” she said at last, slumping down. “I’ve got no plans. I’m no good at anything. I can’t play Quidditch, I’m not good with studies, I’ve got no talent in absolutely anything. I think I’ll be stuck working in Potage’s, scrubbing cauldrons for the rest of my life and getting paid three Galleons an hour!”
“You get paid per cauldron not per hour,” he said. When she looked dejected, he added a hasty, “Sorry. No, you won’t get stuck working in Potage’s.”
“Professor Aubrey wanted me to try entering for some program in Madam Malkin’s because she thinks I can do Applied Magical Design. All I can do is sew a bit. Little things like scarves.”
“It’s worth a try, isn’t it?”
“The deadline passed,” she said gloomily. “And you’ve got no idea. They wanted gowns. The biggest thing I’ve ever made is a pillow case.”
“There’s other places than just Madam Malkin’s. And anyway, who cares about Madam Malkin’s? The only thing anyone ever goes there for is school robes. The old bat’s going senile if she thinks anyone’ll buy bloody wedding gowns from her. It’s called Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, isn’t it? Not wedding gowns.”
“I know,” June sniffed. “I know they haven’t exactly been doing well. I’ve been reading in the Prophet that everyone’s been switching over to Galleria’s these days and they’re desperate to branch out.”
“Right,” said Albus. “There’s other places like that. Galleria’s. Give Gladrags Wizardwear a try. They’ve been around for ages and they’re pretty famous, aren’t they?”
“They’ve got branches in London, Paris and Milan,” said June, feeling a little more cheerful. “But they wouldn’t have me.”
“So?” said Albus. “Try more places! You can’t just have one look at Madam Malkin’s and give up! There’s Twilfit and Tattings, isn’t there? Do you want to make school robes?”
“No,” said June. “I’ve been thinking. School robes are so…limiting. And all we wear is robes. Have you tried muggle clothing on these days? It’s so much more comfortable.”
“You want to design muggle clothing?” said Albus, looking awed.
“No, of course not. I want to design regular wizard’s robes but ones that don’t all just look like each other.”
“No one’s going to let you in,” said Albus. “We’ve been dressing the same way for the past five hundred years. You’re mad if you think any place’ll let you come in and change everything.”
“Just because we’ve been doing it for five hundred years doesn’t mean it couldn’t use a few changes!” said June, enflamed. “For one thing, why are dress robes so ugly? And why are work robes so plain and boring?”
As they eyed each other across the table, it was Albus who finally relented. Something seemed to fly across his face and he stood up abruptly. “Come on. I’ve got an idea.”
“I want to go to the post office,” he said. “I need to send an owl.”
Grabbing a hold of her arm, he tugged. “Come on. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
“Fine,” said June grumpily, following him out of the Hog’s Head. “Why can’t you wait until we get back to Hogwarts?”
“I don’t want to forget,” he said simply, walking several steps ahead of her. “Sometimes my family’s the most annoying one on the planet. Someone’s always arguing or yelling or having children. It’s exhausting.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Like last Christmas,” he continued, plainly ignoring her. “Roxanne kept annoying Lorcan. Teddy kept putting mistletoe everywhere so he’d have an excuse to snog Victoire publicly. Disgusting, really. Molly and Fred thought it would be hilarious to put alcohol in all the Butterbeers and got Rose really, really drunk. And then Rose kept wailing about some bloke she was waiting for. My mum and Lucy’s mum and Aunt Fleur got in a big row about who’d be cooking dinner even though my mum can’t cook to save her life. My dad kept insisting on playing chess with Uncle Ron even though everyone knows he loses every single time. And Uncle Percy kept badgering me about applying to the Ministry instead and how he had all these great contacts.”
As he’d kept ranting, they arrived in front of the post office. They crept in slowly, taking care to avoid eye contact. On every wall, hundreds of owls were perched, hooting softly and watching them with large, pensive eyes.
“What was the point of that?” June whispered as she leaned in towards a screech owl.
“The point is,” he whispered back. “Sometimes I forget how brilliant they all really are. I forget I’ve got contacts too.”
He paid for a scroll of parchment and began writing. June wandered around the post office, still puzzled. She avoided the inquisitive gazes of Jelena and Mila Jorkins and busied herself with pretending to look for an owl.
When she returned, Albus was tying the scroll to the leg of a small tawny. It took off into the sky.
As they left, she asked, “Are you going to tell me what all that was about?”
“I wrote to my cousin Victoire.”
June’s eyes widened. “Victoire Weasley? Do you know who she is?”
Grabbing his arm, she dragged him behind the post office into an empty alley.
“She’s my cousin, yeah, so I think I do. And technically she’s Victoire Lupin now.”
“Albus,” said June, mortified. “Did you – ”
“Maybe,” he grinned.
When she turned bright red, he asked, “What? Did I do something wrong?”
“You tell me,” she hissed. “Did you really write to Victoire Weasley about me? Do you know that she owns one of the most high end boutiques in Europe?”
Memories came back to June of sitting on her bed through lazy summers, flicking through fancy light blue catelogues filled with luxurious looking silk robes, frilly bows, and pages and pages of shoes.
“Yes?” he responded back, looking more lost as she narrowed her eyes.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done? I’m not good enough to work for her!”
“Look, I think you’re taking things a bit far,” he said. “She just owns some small fancy French place on the edge of London.”
“Some small fancy French place?” repeated June, feeling more and more terrified. “She’s brilliant! Back in second year, I’d go through the Mademoiselle catalogues and dream of owning half that stuff.”
“So it’s settled then?” he asked. When she continued to look uncertain, he sighed. “If she says yes, she says yes, all right? She might not even do as much so relax.”
He took her hand again. The same warm feeling began creeping up her whole arm.
She took a slow breath. “Okay. You’re right.”
It was strange to think that she was walking through Hogsmeade with Albus Potter holding her hand and soothing her about a job she probably wouldn’t get.
“So,” he said after a long moment, “I think we should head back to the castle now.”
She let go of his hand. “Oh. Okay.”
“Yeah,” he said, “you should probably go back first. I’ll follow ten minutes later. Just in case.”
He pointed down the nearby alleyway, indicating the crowd of students already shuffling their way to the castle.
“Um. Okay,” she said, feeling a new sense of awkwardness. She held out the Honeydukes bag. “I can’t take this. Lucy would notice if I went off to Remedial Transfiguration and came back with Honeydukes sweets.”
“Okay,” he said, acting with the same new stiffness. “Well. Get back safely then.”
“Yeah,” she echoed. “Thanks for the coconut ice.”
“No problem,” he said, thrusting his hands in his pockets. “It wasn’t a big deal. You know. Since I like coconut and all.”
“And sugar quills,” he continued, still sounding stiff and strange. “I also like sugar quills.”
“Yeah, I remember. And I told you they taste awful.” She took a step back. “I should go. Bye, Albus.”
“Bye Bernard,” he said, now sounding annoyed.
“Have you ever called me by my name?” she wondered aloud. “Do you even know what my name is?”
“Of course I do,” he spluttered. “How can you say that? Haven’t you been living at my house for the last five months? Hasn’t it been my mum yelling your name every two minutes?”
“Okay,” she said, crossing her arms and taking another step away. “Well, you’ve never called me by my name. It’s always been either ‘you’ or ‘hey’ or maybe if I’m lucky ‘Bernard’.”
“Bye,” he said, making a strange face.
“Bye. June.” He exhaled out her name.
She smiled. “See? Was that so hard? It sounded a bit strange finally hearing it from you. Only took a whole year.”
He was still grimacing and looking irritable.
“Are you annoyed now?” she said as he continued pouting. He crossed his arms and looked away petulantly. “Is it because I said I didn’t want to carry the coconut ice? Because it would take Lucy and Priscilla about a minute to figure out that I was in Hogsmeade.” When he gave an irritated jerk of his head, she said, “Or was it the sugar quills? It’s not my fault they taste like shoeboxes – mmph! – “
He took a step forward and pressed his lips against hers.
She froze in place, her eyes wide and fearful. His eyes were closed, though his lips were twitching in a smile. Finally, she relaxed and closed her eyes, feeling a large swoop of adrenaline fly through her again and again. His hand was gently pushing her face forward.
When she finally pulled away, she took a large breath and stared at him, dumbfounded.
“Ha,” he grinned. “I’ve been wanting to do that for the past hour. Of course, you had to go and make everything all hard, but still.”
“That was…nice,” she said breathlessly. “So…what was this, then? A date?”
“Sure, let’s call it that,” he said lazily. “It turned out a lot better than my last one. You didn’t even set me on fire or anything.”
“Who was that?” she asked, perking up. “Your friends mentioned it too. What girl did you take for your first date in fourth year?”
Suddenly, he looked embarrassed. “What? You haven’t realized?”
“No,” she said slowly. “How am I supposed to know who set you on fire?”
“There’s not a lot of girls in this school who’d set live animals on a bloke and then try setting him on fire, okay? Just think.”
As she was about to respond that she couldn’t think of anything, something clicked in place. Her eyes grew saucer sized. “You didn’t! Oh goodness, I don’t know who I feel more sorry for!”
“Match made in hell as James always put it,” said Albus, nodding solemnly.
“What did you even do for her to set you on fire? Normally she’d just beat you around the head a bit and be done.”
“I – not much – I mean, certainly nothing warranting being put on fire!” he said defensively. “I might’ve made fun of the girls in your House a bit – I thought it was funny at the time – you know, girls like blokes who are a bit funny and arrogant – ”
“No they don’t,” said June immediately. “No girl fancies a bloke who fancies himself more than he likes her! Is that why you behaved like that with me?”
“It wasn’t my fault! Someone gave me that advice!”
After a pause, he reluctantly said, “My uncle Ron. He gave me this book called Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches when I turned thirteen. And James too.”
“No wonder she set you on fire.”
“Anyway,” he continued, “I was just joking around a bit about how Hufflepuff is usually the dimmest house and how I’ve always beaten her on tests and - and then suddenly, she sets birds loose on me out of nowhere! And next thing I know, I’ve got Incendio cast on my robes and I’m just left there to die in the middle of Pudifoot’s!”
“You feel bad for her?” he said indignantly.
“If all she did was set you on fire, she really contained herself. She never told me she went on a date with you in fourth year.”
“I told her not to tell anyone,” said Albus. “I don’t exactly fancy a small army of girls marching into Pudifoot’s to execute me. I didn’t imagine she would try, though. She’s hated me since then.”
“And I don’t blame her,” said June sincerely. When he frowned again, she smiled. “At least you’ve come a long way. But I should really go now. Lucy’ll wonder.”
“Okay. I’ll come looking for you later, though. Bye.”
“Bye,” she echoed, taking off down the alleyway. He was standing there alone, looking quite dejected with only his sugar quills for company.
When she returned to Hogwarts, she deflected Lucy’s questions about Remedial Transfiguration and flopped into bed. Priscilla came back a few minutes later and fell into her bed in much the same way.
“How was your essay?” asked Lucy. “Get much done with Nicholas?”
“We got loads done,” said Priscilla, her face buried in a pillow.
It was strange, June marveled. They were only a week from May. With May passing meant June. And with June, the year ended. With June, it meant that all of the eight Hufflepuffs who had spent the last seven years together would be going their separate ways. They could never be together in the same way again. Even the four of them – June, Priscilla, Trista and Lucy – would have to leave home and find their own ways.
Evidently, Priscilla seemed to be thinking the same thing. When Trista entered from Quidditch practice, looking as exhausted as she usually did, Priscilla piped up, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you three about what happens after we’re done with school.”
Lucy and Trista exchanged a wary glance. “What happens after school?” Lucy repeated.
“Where do you lot plan to live?”
“I’m hoping to find a flat this summer,” said Lucy tentatively. “I’d really like to move out, especially if I’m going to be working after the summer.”
“I’m stuck at home,” said Trista. “I can’t afford my own place.”
“Me too,” said June. “I’d like to move out, but we haven’t been able to find anything, so I’m probably stuck with the Potter’s.”
“I’ve been thinking,” said Priscilla slowly, “all of us’ll probably be in London, right? Or at least in that part of England. Nobody’s planning to make a run for it to Spain, are we? I’m going to have to stay near the Ministry anyway. I can’t possibly Floo internationally every day.”
At their blank stares, she continued, “Why don’t we move in together? I can easily get us as flat in London.”
“What about rent?” asked Trista.
“Don’t worry about rent,” said Priscilla. “My dad can easily buy me a nice flat near Diagon Alley. We can charm it and add some more rooms if we need to.”
“I would be fine with it,” said Trista. “If money isn’t an issue, I’d love to.”
“I’d love to live with you, Priscilla,” said June.
“It would be lovely if we could stay together,” said Lucy, still sounding suspicious. “Fine. All right. I’ll ask my parents.”
“So it’s decided, then,” said Priscilla.
June breathed a sigh of relief. The year, in its own strange way, seemed to be concluding of its own accord.
A/N: An update within a week and a half? I think that might've been my fastest. I'm looking forward to writing the next few chapters. I think there'll probably be at least three more and the story witll be ending with the seventh years' graduation.
So a lot happened in this chapter! Any thoughts on their "date", Priscilla and Nicholas, sugar quills or even Albus's poor catastrophic first date? ;)