Chapter 20 : A Postscript Precluded
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Breakfast was just now ending, and students were beginning to stream out toward the train with their bags in hand. Among them was Lily Evans, who walked next to James Potter but was too shy to hold his hand quite yet. She was quiet this morning and her face betrayed little of the pain she felt in her heart. Rather than dwell on it, though, she focused on the feeling of the heavy bags she carried, looking forward to the moment when she and the attendant would pack them away in the train’s belly.
She hadn’t talked to Severus in two weeks, ever since their confrontation by the Black Lake. It had been just like the two weeks following their fight last spring, where he tended to avoid her eyes at mealtimes and sit far away from her in class, except this time she entertained no secret hopes that they would reconcile. Over and above the definitively final tone of their last argument was the sense that he was no longer the boy with whom she’d spent long summer days walking and playing. The young man he’d become held no charms or secrets that captivated her interest; instead, she was drawn to James, who turned out to be more than he had seemed. It was an interesting turn of events, but to her dismay, it was also decidedly sad for her. She was grateful, in a way, to have an entire summer to forget about Severus.
I let him go for his own good, she told herself again, trying to make it sink in deeper.
They reached the train and helped put their bags away before boarding. Lily was happy to see that they were some of the first on the train; perhaps she could secure a moment of solitude before Remus found her in the Prefects’ compartment and detected that something was off. She promised James she’d write to him over the summer—nothing too girly, he insisted, or Sirius will kill me—and walked away.
She was about to open the door to the Prefect’s compartment when she noticed someone else sitting alone in an open compartment across from it. “Celestine?”
The girl looked up, offering her a faint smile. “Hey, Lily.”
“I didn’t see you at breakfast.”
“Yeah, I—I figured it would be awkward, you know? I’m sick of not sitting with you, and Ellery’s housemates were starting to get annoyed to have a Gryffindor with them, so I thought I could come out here early and stay out of everyone’s hair.”
“Well, I’m glad I found you. I wanted to make sure I said goodbye.” Lily leaned against the compartment door. She had rarely seen the girl so muted.
Celestine shook her head. “Oh, don’t say it like that! It’s only the summer, and then we’ll be up to our old ways again. Well, as much as we can be, with exams and all.”
“Don’t remind me. Can you believe we’ll be seventh years?”
“Hardly,” Celestine said, beginning to perk up a bit at the thought. “You’ll probably get Head Girl. I’ll never see you.”
“That’s ridiculous. I think Mary MacDonald will get it. She’s got perfect grades.”
“Well, she’s nice. Maybe she deserves it.”
“Yeah, she is.” Lily paused. “Anyway, I bet you and he make up. You’ll have no time for me. I’ll have to stop in and check on you to make sure you’re both still studying.”
“How do you figure that?” Celestine’s smile faded slightly.
“You two seemed happy together. It was all just a misunderstanding, right?”
“That’s what Remus says. But I think I made him too mad to forgive me.”
“You know, I think Sirius has a bigger heart than he lets on. Just give it some time.” Lily brightened a bit. “You could write to him, like I’m doing with James.”
“Write?” Celestine rolled her eyes. “That is so cheesy, Lily.”
Lily grinned, satisfied to see her friend regain a sense of humor. “Just think about it, okay? I have to get back to my compartment before people start arriving and breaking rules.”
“I’ll send you a bottle of Firewhisky. Your mum’ll love that,” Celestine called softly.
Meanwhile, Sirius, Remus and Peter had joined James in his compartment. Remus was in the midst of a complaint about how he had to get down to the Prefect’s compartment when James pulled out a large roll of parchment stained with ink. He unrolled it to reveal a complicated series of passages and rooms, along with a variety of dots. With a tap of his wand, all of the labeled dots began moving around.
“You finished it?” Peter said, staring at the parchment.
“Yep,” James said. He and Sirius had stayed up late for the past few nights, identifying corridors and locating people as a way of distracting Sirius from his dispute with Celestine. “All it needs is a name.”
Remus stood up, quickly closing the door as this year’s Head Boy walked past.
“I thought maybe ‘The Map of Hidden Things,’” Sirius said. “Sounds mysterious.”
“Yeah, but some of it exists in plain sight,” Remus replied. He looked at James. “We’re the ones who created it, right? Why not just call it the ‘Marauder’s Map’?”
James nodded. “I like that, Moony.” He took out his wand. “All agreed?”
“Yeah,” Peter said, taking it. “Here, I’ll write our nicknames on the cover.”
“Just promise it won’t leave our hands. If a first year ever found it…” Remus cautioned, feeling the train begin to move. He really had to find Lily.
“Of course not. Why would we ever share it?” Sirius said, shaking his head.
Satisfied, Remus took his leave, careful not to let anyone see inside the compartment as he opened and closed the door before he moved down to join the other Prefects.
But someone had been watching, though the map was none of his concern.
Regulus Black walked past Remus, looking for his friends. He dared not glance directly into the compartment, the thought of meeting Sirius’s eyes making him nervous, but he couldn’t help but notice Pettigrew sitting next to the door. The boy looked like he fit right in, scratching at a bit of parchment and chatting with the others. Regulus smirked; it was remarkable how well Pettigrew could blend in, like a wolf among the sheep. He wondered what it would be like when he finally outed himself as a follower of Voldemort. Will the little Gryffindor ever be brave enough?
He noticed Rosier waving at him from at the opposite end of the train and continued, leaving Pettigrew and the other Gryffindors behind. Regulus took a seat in the compartment next to Rosier, who sat across from Avery, Mulciber, and Snape.
“We were just discussing our summer plans,” Rosier explained. “What are yours?”
“I don’t know,” Regulus said. A year ago he might have talked of playing pick-up Quidditch with Wilkes, reading, or being dragged along by his mother as she looked for things he could wear to summer parties, but now he knew what they really wanted to hear and he wasn’t yet prepared to say it. “Nothing too exciting, I’m sure.”
“Mulciber? Avery?” Rosier tried.
“Yeah, nothing,” Mulciber said. “I think the next summer will be better, though.”
“I agree,” Avery said, looking over at Regulus, who nodded weakly. He didn’t know for sure. He wanted to be marked, but he got the sense that he’d never really be ready, and the feeling of anxiety that pervaded this conversation was not helping to dilute that perception. If he waited until next summer, at least he wouldn’t be alone.
“It doesn’t hurt too much, if that’s what worries you. Right, Snape?” Rosier added.
Severus looked over at them, and Regulus noticed he was sort of cradling his left arm against his abdomen, as if to avoid accidentally touching it to any other object. “Yeah, it’s not bad,” he said. “Then again, you probably don’t have the sort of pain tolerance I do.” He looked out the window. “I’ve been burned enough times already.”
“Yet another reason why I’ll never specialize in potions,” Rosier replied, laughing. Regulus frowned slightly, wondering if Snape was referring to something else.
“You should do it,” Severus added, looking back at them. “There’s nothing to be gained by staying on the fringes. He’ll only take you seriously if you show him that you really intend to follow him. That’s the only way you’ll ever earn his respect.”
“He won’t help you unless he respects you,” Rosier said flatly.
Regulus shifted, feeling uncomfortable all of a sudden. It reminded him of his parents, sitting around the table and telling him and his brother how to live. Wasn’t he growing up—wasn’t he almost there, in fact? Couldn’t he make his own choices? “Think he knows any seers? I’d love to get the score of the next World Cup game.”
Mulciber laughed; this seemed to work, at least for now. The conversation now turned to the question of whether or not the Harriers’ aggressive style of play would be enough to get them into the finals this year—for four of them, anyway; Snape said little on the subject. Before long, the topic of joining the Death Eaters seemed to fade away. Regulus settled back in his seat to enjoy a long, boring train ride home.
After several hours, the train finally began to settle to a stop at King’s Cross Station. Regulus looked out the window and saw a sign for Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, along with a crowd of people waiting to greet the returning students. He could not pick out his parents among the other families out on the platform, though.
When the train halted, Regulus and his friends stood up to retrieve their school bags from the rack above their compartment doors. Rosier and the others filed to the left, following many other students who were heading toward the main exit, but Regulus chose to go right in the hope of finding a less crowded door. He had almost reached the next exit when he saw someone stop walking right in front of him. It was Lily.
She looked at him with an oddly blank expression; she wasn’t smiling, so he didn’t quite think she was happy to see him, but she wasn’t barking at him to get out of her way or just shoving past him directly. Instead they just stood still, leaving a space between them, both lacking the courage or cleverness to come up with something to say in that moment. It was like a postscript neither of them was willing to write.
Regulus felt the burden of this omission, and by the look on her face, so did Lily. The air felt right for an apology—but for what? If there was not enough energy left for anger—and Regulus was certain that there wasn’t—there was definitely too little for forgiveness. Whatever was missing, it was making them very uncomfortable.
Regulus chose to exit first, turning his back on it and stepping down from the train.
After excusing his way past several excited families, he finally spotted Kreacher’s squat form close to the ground, his usual unpleasant expression splattered across his face. If it was possible, he brightened a bit upon seeing Regulus approach him.
“Was Master Regulus’s train ride tiring?”
“Yes, quite,” Regulus said with a sigh. “Where are my mother and father?”
“Master Orion is working. He said at breakfast that he would come home early because Mistress is hosting a welcome home party in Master Regulus’s honor.”
“Ah,” he replied. How typical of Mother. “Here.” He gave his bag to the elf. “I suppose you’ll have to do as an escort, then, Kreacher. But first, we need to go collect the rest of my luggage from the attendant.” The elves would do plenty of laundry tonight.
They began weaving their way toward the luggage car, moving through small collections of people who were hugging and laughing after many days without conversing. Several mothers shed tears in the emotional rush of holding their children once again; one little girl, a soon-to-be second year, was too busy sharing stories about her classes and new friends to even notice her mother’s crying. Several students on the outskirts of the crowd had already removed their cloaks and put on sneakers, signaling their return to the Muggle world for the summer. A father in an expensive-looking jacket presented a new owl as a belated birthday gift to his son, all the while congratulating him on being only one year away from graduation.
It was a beautiful day at King’s Cross Station, just as it had been on that autumn day months ago when the students took the train many miles away to Hogwarts. The air felt warmer and the sun shone a bit brighter, but there was no denying the identical feeling of hope and excitement that wafted across the platform. There would be many promising days ahead, and for now, the unpleasant tasks of a new school year were a faraway dream. The only question was how long they would stay that way.
Wow, I can’t believe I actually finished this story! I remember being so excited as I wrote those first few chapters and it’s been awesome to tie up my final strings and seal it closed, though it’s obviously bittersweet to say goodbye. More than anything, I hope you enjoyed the ride. The comments I’ve received from my lovely reviewers have positively warmed my heart, and they were a big part of why I kept going with this story even when my life kept me busy.
Before I start to cry, I want to say that I’m really interested in any final tidbits of feedback you have on this story. I especially would love to know if you felt like all the character arcs are complete, or if there were details or loose ends that you felt like I didn’t address fully. Basically, do the outcomes make sense? I tried to be vigilant about bringing all of my characters and plot lines to a satisfying conclusion, but I wrote this over more than a year and there were definitely some gaps between chapters where my memory could have lapsed. Anything else you’d like to say in reflecting on the end would be appreciated.
Thank you, all of you, for your wonderful support throughout Post Scriptum.