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Chapter 31 : Summer holidays
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Of course, with her job it wasn’t exactly difficult to set a time for that, and she even convinced one of her colleagues examine me on a Sunday when she wasn’t working so she and Dad could both be there. I was nervous but also looking forward to the prospect of getting my licence, so I practiced diligently and even stopped using Supersensory Charms so I would do everything expected of me in the test. That is, I would drive like a Muggle.
The test itself was surprisingly un-scary, and once I successfully executed a three-point turn, reverse parallel park and hill start (along with everything else), Mum’s colleague advised me that I’d done enough to get my full licence. It was an odd feeling – if I was an ordinary Muggle teenager this would be my ticket to freedom, but as a witch it was more a curiosity than anything else, as my proper ticket to freedom would be my Apparition licence, which I still needed permission to go to London to sit for. However, I agreed with Mum that driving was a useful skill to have, and agreed to take regular trips in the car, even when I was legally able to Apparate, so I didn’t lose the skills. So I had fun driving Bea around Bristol, including a couple of narrow escapes due to inexperience, and a trip to the local cinema to see a film called Star Wars that Mum insisted all the Muggles were raving about.
In late July my parents finally agreed that I could go with Mary to get our Apparition licences, provided that I went to London with Dad in the morning, stayed at the Ministry with him until the time of the test, and then left with Mary and her mother. I could Floo home from Mary’s place later that afternoon (amazingly enough, alone – I was astonished they would let me do that unaccompanied!). According to Mum, the streets of London were unsafe for young women travelling alone, and in any case I had no desire to be hassled by shabby stall-holders wanting to offload their latest good-luck charms. Having said that, I wouldn’t have minded being set loose in Muggle London for a few hours, just for a change, but even that was off limits as far as my parents were concerned.
Fortunately we had booked our tests for eleven o’clock in the morning, so I was only at the Ministry for a couple of hours (spent with my nose in a book) before I went to meet Mary and her mum. The test itself was a fairly simple affair – we had to Apparate to the next room and then back again, without losing so much as a nose hair. Fortunately Wilkie Twycross actually had taught us well, despite our complaints about his teaching style and the Three Ds, and we managed it without issue.
I couldn’t stop smiling when the examiner signed my certificate and handed it to me. Ah, I thought, this was it. This was the sense of liberty that I should have had when I got my drivers licence. This is what Muggle teenagers felt when the driving examiner told them they’d passed. This was my ticket to freedom, to independence, to what being a proper witch was all about. Scrolls in hand, Mary and I gave each other a big hug in recognition of the fact that we were now really adults. Not just seventeen, but seventeen with Apparition licences. Until right now I hadn’t realised what a difference that made.
Mrs Macdonald had elected to wait in the Atrium with the latest copy of Witch Weekly while we did the test so all we had to do was head back down there with our licences afterwards. However I was keen to let Dad know I’d passed, so first we went up to level three to give him the good news. He was very pleased but warned me, as parents do, not to try to Apparate home from the Ministry as it was a lot harder going as far as Bristol as it was getting into the next room. I rolled my eyes at Mary – did he have to be so fatherly? – and we headed back to the lifts.
You could have knocked us over with a feather when the lift doors opened to reveal James and Sirius. Needless to say they were just as shocked to see us, Sirius in particular looking like he couldn’t quite believe his eyes.
James found his voice first. “Laura! Mary! What are you doing here?”
“Apparition tes’,” said Mary, and we both held up our scrolls as though we needed to prove it.
“Both passed, I see,” said Sirius, smiling as he raked his fingers through his hair distractedly. “But isn’t that downstairs somewhere?”
“It is,” I agreed, “but I wanted to tell my dad, and he works on this floor.”
“What does he do?” James asked with polite interest.
“Muggle Liaison with the Obliviators,” I said, recognising that most likely neither of them actually cared but had felt it only courteous to ask.
“Wha’ are ye two doin’ here?” asked Mary, looking at the boys sharply as she changed the subject.
“I had to register change of address details,” Sirius explained.
“Oh, you found a place? Great!” I couldn’t have said why I was so pleased for him but I was; I knew he was really keen to get a place of his own.
“Yep, in Wimbledon, down south a bit,” he said, smiling back and pushing his hair out of his eyes. Ah, that smile again, I thought, feeling my knees go a little weak. I hadn’t seen him for the best part of a month and had forgotten just how attractive he was. Settle down, Laura, settle down. Expelling any improper thoughts from my mind, I forced my face into a more solemn expression.
Mary looked confused. “I though’ ye were living wi’ James?” she asked.
James laughed. “He was, but he came into some gold and insists on paying his own way,” he said. “Stubborn, I call it.”
Sirius was looking uncomfortable and changed the subject. “Hey, we’re about to head out for a bite to eat – did you want to join us?”
“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head, “can’t. We’re meeting Mary’s mum in the Atrium.” The lift stopped and two short wizards and a few owls carrying inter-departmental memos got inside.
Mary was grinning. “Aye, someone’s parents won’ let her oot i’ London wi’oot a qualified chaperone. They’re worried th’ Death Eaters will ge’ her.”
I shook my head and groaned. “Even Muggle London, can you believe it? And to think I was hoping to get some driving in.”
“Right,” said James. “I guess we can’t argue with parental orders. For those of us who still listen to our parents, that is.” He grinned at Sirius, who was looking at me with a rather odd expression on his face.
“Driving? You mean Muggle driving?”
“Yeah, why?” I asked.
“You can drive?” asked James, looking impressed. “That is so cool!!” The lift doors opened and we all trundled out and headed back to the main reception area.
As I smiled to myself at the irony of James Potter calling me cool I could hear Mary laughing again. “James, Sirius, mee’ Laura, half Muggle, whose mither works fer th’ Muggle police. Aye, she can drive. She ha’ th’ best instructors ye can fin’.”
“I don’t drive very well, though,” I qualified. “I’ve only just got my full licence. Hence the need for practice.”
“You can teach us, though, right?” asked James, his eyes on Sirius.
“Yes, and you can explain the licensing to me, that makes no sense,” agreed Sirius, that smile back on his face.
I rolled my eyes – just when I would be able to teach them to drive was beyond me. I mean, it wasn’t like we could take a run on a Hogsmeade weekend or something. “Yeah, why not,” I said resignedly.
The boys exchanged wicked grins which left me wondering exactly what I had just agreed to. Fortunately just then I spied Mrs Macdonald in her seat just beyond the Fountain of Magical Brethren, Witch Weekly apparently finished. “Okay, guys, there’s our lift,” I said, indicating her. “Nice to bump into you, we’ll see you at school.” And we grinned and took off, me hoping my cheeks weren’t scarlet, and went to show Mrs Macdonald our new Apparition licences.
“Look, Ma!” said Mary happily. “Both passed!”
“First time and all,” I added.
She looked very pleased. “Well done, girls! Ready to go now then?”
“Sure, Mrs Mac,” I said, making a strong effort not to look over my shoulders to see if I could see where Sirius was. It was with a tidy bit of self-control and concentration on things like breathing out and in that I made it to the Floo exits without once looking after him and James, and I wasn’t sure if I was pleased or not that I succeeded.
After we arrived back at the Macdonald household, our Apparition licences in hand, Mary tackled me over lunch. “Hoo di’ ye ken Sirius was movin’ oot?”
“What?” My mind was still on his smile and I wasn’t quite concentrating on what she was saying.
“Ye’re still thinkin’ aboot him, aren’t ye,” she said shrewdly.
I tried to look ashamed, hoping it wasn’t too obvious he’d pretty much turned me into a quivering wreck. Which, if I was counting, would make my score Quivering Wreck 1; Laura 0. “Maybe,” I admitted. “I’d forgotten just how gorgeous he is.”
She laughed. “Ye are gone on him,” she said. “I’ve definitely seen him lookin’ better than he di’ today, he looked like he’d jus’ go’ oot o’ bed. Hadna shaved or anythin’. Anyway,” she went on, smiling at my embarrassment as I tried (unsuccessfully) not to imagine Sirius getting out of bed, “ye soonded lik’ ye already knew he was leavin’ th’ Potters’ an’ all. Hoo di’ ye ken tha’?”
“Oh,” I said, “he told me. After the Herbology exam.”
Her eyebrows rose. “He tol’ ye? I though’ he ne’er tol’ anyone tha’ sor’ o’ thing.” Thinking about it, she was right, he never was one for talking about his domestic arrangements.
“I must have beat it out of him,” I said, casting my mind back to the conversation. “Something was bothering him so I asked him what it was. And he sat and thought about it for a bit, and then he said that he’d inherited some gold and he was pleased because it meant he could move out of the Potters’. He wasn’t comfortable living off charity, I think was how he put it.”
Mary whistled. “I dinna ken wha’ it is aboot ye,” she said, looking rather impressed, “bu’ ye always manage t’ ge’ this sor’ o’ stuff oot o’ people. Good thing ye’re nae th’ gossipin’ type, isna it.”
“If I was, I suspect no one would tell me anything,” I said dryly.
“Where’d he ge’ th’ gold?” Mary asked suddenly. “I though’ he wa’ disinherited.”
“So did he,” I agreed. “Apparently he had an uncle who he got along well with, and he died. He was a bit upset no one had told him about it, it was only when McGonagall told him about the will that he found out it had happened.”
“Nasty,” said Mary. “I knew there wa’ a reason I still ge’ along wi’ my family.”
“Absolutely,” I said, nodding. “Though, to be fair, his does sound like one of the worst.”
Mary nodded. “Aye, th’ Blacks are a strange lot,” she said. “All fer blood purity an’ tha’ sor’ o’ bollocks. He did well t’ ge’ oot.”
I smiled wryly. “Well, let’s face it, Mary, if he didn’t then we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place. Not with me a half-blood.”
She grinned. “Aye, yer richt, o’ course. Though tha’ woul’ mak’ my life a wee bi’ easier …” And she ducked, too late, as I threw a bread roll at her.
In early August I had another obligation, which was to act as bridesmaid when my cousin Gwendolyn married Morgan Llewellyn, who she’d met at school. Bea and I had been chosen for the role as her closest female relatives, and I’d been in close contact with her via owl regarding dress measurements and dancing lessons, which she was insisting we take so we didn’t embarrass her or ourselves on the dance floor.
“Okay, Bea,” I said the day before we were due to leave for their hamlet a few miles beyond Cardiff, “our dresses have been finished so we just have to collect them from the dressmaker when we get there.”
She stopped hexing the dog, whose ears were emitting sparks, and looked at me. “Our dresses?”
I rolled my eyes . “Remember, bridesmaid duties? Why do you think we’ve been taking those dancing lessons?”
She scrunched up her face, thinking. “Oh yeah,” she said finally. “When’s the wedding again?”
Typical Bea. No interest in anything beyond her own little world. “Saturday. And the rehearsal’s tomorrow so we have to get there by midday.”
“And what’re the dresses like?” Bea asked. I pulled out the photograph Gwendolyn had sent me of the finished gowns, which were simple, straight and violet-coloured, and showed her. “I’m not wearing THAT,” she pronounced immediately. “I’d look like a stick of lavender.”
“Better than looking like a chrysanthemum,” I muttered to myself. Unfortunately she heard me.
“Chrysanthemum?” she asked. “That dress I liked doesn’t look like a chrysanthemum!”
“Right,” I said. “You think that if it makes you happy.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look, Bea, we’re bridesmaids. Not the bride. We don’t actually have a say in what we wear. Whatever Gwendolyn wants to put us in, we put on. Get it? So no whinging about a dress you saw at Gladrags ages ago that did, I repeat, make you look like a chrysanthemum.”
Bea pouted. “I still don’t want to wear that,” she insisted, poking a finger at the picture. “It’s too plain. I want something fancier.”
I sighed. “Whatever. How about you send an owl to Gwendolyn now and let her know? That way she still has, I don’t know, almost two days to find something else for us. Because it’s not like she’s got much on her plate right now, trying to organise a wedding and everything.”
She looked chastened. “I suppose you’re right,” she admitted. “I still say I’ll look like a stick of lavender though.”
“It could be worse,” I pointed out with a grin. “She could have dressed us as Banshees. This way at least we can still pass for human.”
She grinned too. “Well, I guess, when you put it like that …”
The next morning Bea accompanied me as I Apparated – fortunately successfully – more than a few miles for the first time. The rehearsal went fine and all of us except the groomsmen gathered at Uncle Boreas’ house for supper afterwards. The older generation made their excuses after supper and retired early, leaving the rest of us with the best part of a case of wine. Before long the conversation turned to the war and what we knew of Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
“They’ve been mostly Slytherins, from what I’ve heard,” my cousin Rhys was saying. “You know, people like Selwyn and Yaxley. The old pure-blood families who are dead keen on staying pure-blood.”
“It’s not just the old families, though,” said Gwendolyn, pouring out several goblets of wine and handing them around. “Goyle from our year has signed up too. His picture was in the paper after that attack on Diagon Alley, his mask had slipped and it was definitely him. And they haven’t been around all that long from what I know.”
“Travers and Macnair, too, I understand,” added Morgan. “You’re right, Rhys, they are all Slytherins.”
“Don’t forget Lucius Malfoy,” said Beatrice, already half way through her glass. A few years above her, Malfoy had made her life difficult for much of her early time at Hogwarts. “I’m sure he’s joined up, he was spouting that stuff all the time.”
Gwendolyn and Morgan shared a look. “Yeah, he was pretty nasty,” Morgan agreed, and I realised Malfoy had probably been in their year. “Arrogant, thought that being a pure-blood made him royalty.”
“A bit like the Blacks, then,” Rhys said. The sudden reference to Sirius’ family took me by surprise and I dropped my goblet, making quite a mess as it shattered on the floor and drenched me in elderflower wine in the process.
“Sorry,” I muttered as I fiddled with my wand and cast Reparo to reassemble my glass, keeping my face down and hoping any blushes would be attributed to the accident.
Fortunately Rhys ignored my discomfort and just poured me another drink as he went on talking. “I know that Bellatrix Black, who’s now Bellatrix Lestrange from what I hear, is right in there with the Death Eaters.” He had been at school with Bellatrix, who was Sirius’ cousin and from all accounts was a brilliant but nasty piece of work. “But not all the Blacks have joined up. Seems Andromeda Black – she was the middle sister – married Ted Tonks, and he’s definitely Muggle-born.” I grinned despite myself: the Black family would certainly have loved that. I wondered if she had been disinherited like Sirius had.
“There was even a Black put in Gryffindor, wasn’t there?” asked Gwendolyn. “I’m sure I remember that happening, something like my sixth or seventh year. It was a pretty big deal at the time.”
I was trying not to look at anyone, hoping that I wouldn’t be called on to comment on this. And to think I’d been under the impression that a weekend with my cousins might have been enough to temporarily expel him from my mind. (Yeah, like that was even possible.) Unfortunately Bea, as always, didn’t notice my discomfort and said the precise thing I was hoping she wouldn’t. “I remember that. He’s in your year, isn’t he, Laura?”
I raised my head. “Uh, yeah, that’s Sirius,” I said, hoping my cheeks were their usual colour. “He’s in my year, and he’s definitely in Gryffindor.” I drank some wine as another excuse not to look at any of them.
“There you go, then,” Rhys said triumphantly. “With him and Andromeda, maybe the Blacks are turning.”
I shook my head, inwardly chastising myself for being unable to keep out of this conversation. Honestly, any chance to talk about Sirius and I was jumping at it. Couldn’t I have just a little more self restraint? “I don’t think so,” I said. “His younger brother is in Slytherin like the rest of them were. And I think his parents have disowned him. So maybe he’s the black sheep, so to speak.”
“Or the white sheep, considering they’re the Blacks,” Bea added.
Morgan’s shocked face disrupted the general laughter. “They disowned him just because he was put in Gryffindor?”
“No, he ran away from home or something,” I explained, pretending I wasn’t keenly interested in the story. “A year or two ago. He’d had enough, apparently. They disowned him then, he’s living with a mate of his now as far as I know.” Not strictly true, I realised, but for me to know too much might have raised an eyebrow or two.
“You seem to know a tidy bit about it,” said Gwendolyn anyway, flashing me a grin.
I shrugged and Bea – to my surprise – came to my rescue. “Remember, Laura’s in Gryffindor too,” she said. “So they’re in the same House.”
“That’s right, so you were,” said Gwendolyn. “I’d forgotten that. I’m so used to us all being Hufflepuffs that I’d forgotten about the traitors in our midst.” She smiled broadly at Beatrice and me.
“Back to the Blacks, Narcissa Black is going to marry Malfoy, I saw that in the paper,” said Bea, changing the subject to my great relief. When did she get so perceptive, I wondered. “So it looks like she’s reverting to type.”
Morgan just nodded, though this was clearly news to him. “Like I said, he thought he was just about royalty, just like the Blacks do, so that had probably been planned from childhood.”
Gwendolyn shuddered. “Yep, she thought a lot of herself, too, from memory. Narcissa was such a good name for her. They’re probably a perfect match.”
We all nodded our agreement as Rhys got up and opened another bottle of wine. “Right, then,” he was saying. “Who’s up for a refill?”
The wedding the next day went off without a problem. We hadn’t been particularly worried about Death Eater attacks as Gwendolyn and Morgan were both pure-bloods, but there was always a risk that someone in the party could have offended the wrong people. (Like Bea, for example. She was a bit of a prime candidate for that sort of thing.) In fact, with the war on, it was almost surprising that the bride and groom had waited seven years to get married, as quick elopements were fast becoming the preferred option.
Gwendolyn looked absolutely stunning in her ivory gown and train, and Bea and I looked nice but not nice enough to steal the show in the dresses she had selected for us. The guys were dressed in navy dress robes with the occasional shot of violet in the trim, just enough to set off our dresses. Looking at Bea and the Best Man posing for their photos, even I appreciated how well it looked.
However, it was with great relief that we reached the end of the reception. Gwendolyn and Morgan did a lap to say goodbye to everyone, and, waving shyly, Disapparated away to their honeymoon destination. This meant that my official duties were over for the night, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down with a glass of wine. Bridesmaid duties aren’t exactly onerous, but I’d felt a certain amount of pressure to ensure Gwendolyn’s day went off perfectly, and fortunately even Beatrice had behaved herself which I couldn’t always rely on, especially when there was alcohol involved.
The next morning, still in Wales and nursing a minor hangover, I was surprised by Cerridwyn’s appearance at my bedroom window. She came with a letter from Lily, which surprised me as I hadn’t realised she’d been anywhere near Surrey. Ah well, this is what happens when you give an owl its head, I thought, opening the letter with interest.
I wasn’t sure where you were at the moment to write to you, so I was so pleased when Cerridwyn came to visit!
I wanted to get in touch because I’ve had an idea. After the attack last week on Diagon Alley I thought that you might have trouble getting permission to go to London to get your school things. Charlotte has been having the same problem and even my parents, who don’t know what’s happening in our world, are getting a little hesitant.
So, to get past this, I’m proposing that the five of us girls get together in London in the week before school goes back, and do all our shopping as a group. I’ve already contacted Mary about this and her mum has agreed to accompany us, as has my dad (he needs to change money at Gringotts anyway before I can buy anything). So we’ll be well chaperoned.
I was thinking that we could meet in the Leaky Cauldron on Thursday 25th at ten o’clock. You can either Apparate or Floo there, and if your mum or dad wants to come too they’re most welcome to.
Anyway, please write back with your answer as soon as you can so I know who can come, and if the day’s bad we have time to change it. But, like I said, there’s definitely safety in numbers and with five of us, all of age now, plus two chaperones we should be fine.
PS I’ve been made Head Girl, can you believe it? I got the letter last week. Even my parents are excited, they might be Muggles but this is something they can understand.
I smiled to myself as I found some owl treats for Cerridwyn after her long journey. If anyone was going to come up with a way we could catch up before school started, as well as ensuring we could get our school supplies, it would be Lily. And of course she’d been made Head Girl – who else could they possibly have chosen? Leda Madley, Dione Turpin and Elsie Baddock just weren’t Head material like Lily was.
I showed the letter to Dad once we got back home, thinking he would be more likely to agree to Lily’s proposal than Mum. Because she was a policewoman Mum had seen the very worst of society, even wizarding society, and was therefore more hesitant to let Bea and I do very much at all lest we be set upon by the Death Eaters she was convinced were lurking around every corner. And, let’s face it, the Dementor attack the previous summer hadn’t exactly quelled her fears.
Fortunately Lily had made her arguments well, and that afternoon I was able to send Cerridwyn off on the return journey to Surrey saying Dad had agreed I could go. He didn’t seem to have clicked that Lily’s dad was a Muggle, and therefore probably useless as a chaperone against Death Eaters, and I saw absolutely no reason to enlighten him.
The other four girls were already at the Leaky Cauldron by the time I arrived in the fireplace, dusting myself off and making sure I still had my wand, money pouch and daffodil clasp. We all gave each other hugs and I greeted Mary’s mum and Lily’s dad, who I’d met just once previously, before we set off out the back to the entrance and into Diagon Alley.
It was a year since I’d been there and I was struck by how much it had deteriorated. Last time, half the shops had been closed and shabby stalls were sprouting up peddling protective amulets the like. This year, it was even worse. The only places that seemed to still be trading, aside from the stalls which appeared to have multiplied exponentially, were Gringotts, Flourish & Blotts, Ollivander’s, Madam Malkin’s and Bobbin’s, and they were very possibly only open for the back-to-school traffic. Further up the lane I could see what looked like a curse battle taking place, jets of light bouncing off the empty buildings, and generally people were moving quickly, in large groups, no one looking at anyone else to see if they recognised them, let alone stopping for a quick chat. Overall the mood was rather depressing and I guessed the disappointed looks on the girls’ faces were mirrored on my own.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that beyond the duel up ahead we could see what looked like the back of some Death Eaters, hooded and masked, who appeared to be just wandering up the street being generally intimidating. This happened reasonably frequently, and when they were accosted by Aurors they either Disapparated or entered into a full battle right on the street. Yes, some were occasionally caught, but we were under the impression these were junior members, expendable, who probably patrolled Diagon Alley as part of their training. In any case, not wanting to be caught up in anything to do with them, we all caught our breath and waited, frozen, until they were out of sight. No one wanted to do their shopping in the shadow of people like that.
“Wands out, girls,” Mrs Macdonald muttered, rather belatedly as we had already done so. “We don’t know if there are any more of them. Stay here till I give the word.” We obediently grouped up tightly, Mr Evans looking extremely pale as he realised the extent of the war in his daughter’s world.
Finally the hooded figures disappeared and we started breathing normally again, and Mrs Macdonald allowed us to venture into the street proper. First stop was Gringotts, where we all had to pick up some gold so that we could actually shop. The bank too had had its security increased, and there were waits of up to two hours to get access to your money. In this case Lily was the lucky one, as the queue to change Muggle money over to Galleons, Sickles and Knuts was significantly shorter than that to get into the vaults below.
Luckily for whatever reason we managed to get through comparatively quickly, and by quarter past eleven we all had jingling purses and made our way back outside to the dank street. Ignoring the large Ministry of Magic posters that featured on every empty shop façade, we hurried to buy our school supplies and then get out of there. Even the usual schoolgirl chatter that we engaged in so easily was tempered as we moved through the bookshop and apothecary in silence, the gravity of the atmosphere around us almost overwhelming.
Finally we found ourselves back in the Leaky Cauldron. That too was empty, with a foreboding air to it, and Lily suggested that we go out into Muggle London for some lunch, surprising me when she pointed out it was only one o’clock. We all agreed eagerly and Mr Evans, who looked rather harried after his sojourn into the wizarding world, even offered to pay on the condition that we became cheerful again. After all, with an ill wife he probably had enough anxiety at home to last him a lifetime. Mrs Macdonald, however, said she had to be getting back to work and took her leave of us, leaving us a group of six, and once we had farewelled her we stepped out onto Charing Cross Road.
“So, Lils, Head Girl,” Charlotte smiled as we settled in a nearby café. “You must be pleased with that.”
“Depends on who the Head Boy is, though, doesn’t it,” Martha said perceptively.
Lily smiled and nodded. “Yes, I don’t think I could work with Gibbon all year,” she agreed, giggling slightly. “But seriously, it’s a great honour, I didn’t realise Dumbledore thought so highly of me!”
“An’ why wouldna he?” demanded Mary. “End o’ las’ term ye were e’en keepin’ James Potter in check!”
“And that’s saying something,” agreed Martha. “Though I suspect he was keeping himself in check. But then again, that was due to Lily as well, so you might as well take credit.” She winked at Lily across the table.
Lily had been casting furtive glances at her father ever since James’ name was mentioned, but he appeared impassive. Regardless, she changed the subject.
“So, is there any gossip from the summer that I don’t know about?”
Mary looked at me. “We bumped int’ James an’ Sirius las’ month a’ th’ Ministry,” she said, instantly disappointing Lily if she had hoped to keep James out of the conversation. “Sirius was changin’ his address a’ th’ Hall o’ Records; he’d jus’ moved oot o’ th’ Potters’ place.”
Martha looked most surprised. “What?”
“An’ wha’s even stranger,” Mary went on, “was tha’ Laura knew aboot it an’ didna tell us.”
“That’s not strictly true,” I protested. “I knew he planned to move out. I didn’t know it had happened.”
“How did you know that?” asked Charlotte interestedly.
“He told me,” I said. “After one of the exams last term.”
Martha and Charlotte looked surprised and demanded more information, though through their questions I could hear Lily muttering something that sounded like, “Of course he did.”
Deciding to ignore Lily and answer the others’ questions, I took a deep breath and hoped my cheeks were their usual colour. “You know how sometimes people like to talk to me about their problems? Well, that was one of those times. He had something he needed to get off his chest and I just happened to be there.”
Lily was looking at me shrewdly and I could almost see the cogs in her brain moving. I hoped ardently that she hadn’t guessed my guilty little secret about Sirius: Lily was pretty cluey and I wasn’t sure I liked the look on her face.
“So this was a problem, was it?” she asked. “Why did he move out? I thought he and James were getting along fine.”
“He came int’ some gol’, apparently,” Mary explained. “Too prood t’ live off charity, was tha’ it, Laura?”
“Sounds about right,” I agreed. “He wasn’t comfortable living off someone else’s money, so as soon as he could afford it he was out. Got an inheritance after a renegade uncle died.” I looked at Lily. “That was the problem, by the way – the uncle had died and no one had told him about it. He wasn’t too pleased.”
“Why was he a renegade?” Charlotte looked curious.
“Renegade to the Blacks,” I clarified. “That is, he left Sirius some gold so he had to be a renegade, by definition.”
“Right,” said Martha. “Well, watch the fan club swell up once this gets out. Independent, financially solvent and living alone, no less. They’ll probably be camped out on his doorstep.”
Mary was grinning. “Well, then, Laura, we’d better mak’ sure we dinna leak where it is. Elvira woul’ be doon there quicker than ye can say Quidditch.”
“You know that too?” Lily looked surprised this time. “He’s not normally that open with that sort of information, is he?”
“Not usually,” agreed Martha, her eyebrows too moving up her forehead.
“We don’t know precisely where it is,” I explained. “Just the suburb. I couldn’t tell you though if it’s a house or a flat or a hole in the ground.”
“Still,” mused Lily, as if to herself. Again, I wasn’t sure I liked the look on her face.
“In other news,” said Martha, changing the subject, “Duncan and I have broken up.”
“What?!” They’d seemed such a good match.
“Yeah, well, I’m going back to school next week,” she explained, “so I’d not be able to see him until Christmas. So we thought we’d call it a day and, if we’re both single and interested this time next year, we’ll pick up where we left off.”
“That’s awful,” Charlotte said sympathetically. “Are you very upset?”
“A bit,” Martha admitted. “But it’s the only option. We can’t keep going if we’re never going to see each other. And let’s face it, I would probably have got bored of him in another couple of months anyway, like I do with everyone else.”
Mary nodded. “Marcus an’ I are breakin’ up too. Same reason. Well, nae th’ bored one, bu’ th’ nae seein’ each ither one.”
I looked at her. “I didn’t know that!” And I was supposed to be her best friend.
She nodded again, looking a little sad. “Well, I’m nae exactly thrilled aboot it, bu’ wha’ else coul’ we dae? If we were still together an’ I didna see him fer four months tha’ woul’ be worse, I’d be wonderin’ aboot him all th’ time, an’ hopin’ he’s nae doing a Bertram on me, an’ feelin’ guilty fer checking anyone oot myself.”
Lily, in the seat next to her, gave her a sympathetic hug. “That’s very noble of you, Mary.”
Eventually the conversation wound up and Mr Evans, true to his word, paid what I suspected ended up being rather a hefty bill. We all thanked him profusely as we made our way back to the Leaky Cauldron. “See you next week, girls,” I grinned as I stepped into the fireplace. Their smiling faces stayed with me as I hurtled through the Floo network back home.
Author’s note: Another overly long chapter but I needed to break it here because the next one really has to stand alone, so my apologies for that. I do try to keep them in the 4000-5000 word range but sometimes I just can’t get them to break in the right spots. And I’m very sorry that this one wasn’t quite up to standard (yes, I know, very filler-ish) but I just couldn’t get the balance right. I’ll work on it later when I have some more time and try to improve it a bit.
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