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Chapter 25 : In Which Mysteries Are Solved
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Esther rolled her eyes and threw a teddy bear at her friend. “I told you to come with me.”
“But you’re leaving early for Charms Club,” Clara whined. “And I just have no desire to be part of that.”
“Stop being pathetic. I’m meeting the boys for a drink first. Obviously you can join us,” Esther laughed.
“And then get left alone with Hogwarts’s resident cutest couple when you come back to school? No thank you,” Clara said, shaking her head. “I’ll content myself with making sure Olivia looks gorgeous for her date and then I’m going to paint my nails and nap and maybe get a little bit tipsy by myself.”
I frowned. I wasn’t sure I wanted Clara to make me look ‘gorgeous’. Her commitment to make up was a little bit frightening.
Clara sat up, looking businesslike, and looked me up and down. “You can wear my red skirt. And a black top and your heeled boots. You’ll look like you but with a touch of Gryffindor.”
“That sounds like a terrible perfume advert,” I said, wrinkling my nose, but I took the skirt.
Esther giggled and then put on a sultry voice. “Eau de Potter. You...but with a touch of Gryffindor.”
“I can see it selling well,” Clara grinned. “Brush your hair, Ollie. And then you’re good to go.”
“What? No contouring tips?” Esther looked genuinely shocked. “Who are you and what have you done with Clara Zabini?”
Clara shrugged. “Potter’s already smitten with her. It makes my job easier.”
I smiled and pulled on a pair of tights. Earlier in the year, Clara’s willingness to comment on my love life would have annoyed me. Now, the idea that she thought Al was ‘smitten’ with me made me feel kind of warm and happy. I still felt a little bit sad that I didn’t have Cass there to throw inappropriate underwear at me and tell me she was disappointed in me for going out with a Gryffindor, but I was having a nice time with Esther and Clara.
“I should go,” I told them. “I said I’d meet Al in the Entrance Hall at ten.”
“Have fun!” Esther beamed. “Tell us all about it later.”
“Make sure you spare a thought for me, all alone in the lonely dormitory,” Clara pouted. “While you’re off enjoying your date.”
“You might not be alone,” Esther pointed out. “Amethyst Twine will probably be around.”
Clara stuck her tongue out and threw her weight back down onto her bed. “Oh, god. What did I do to make the universe hate me so much?”
I laughed and gave her a small wave before putting my coat on, wrapping my Slytherin scarf around my neck and leaving the room. The Common Room was quiet. People had either already left for Hogsmeade, or were treating themselves to a long lie in at the weekend.
I ended up half running up to the Entrance Hall. I couldn’t help myself: I was excited.
In some ways, I’d been feeling a little bit ambivalent about Al recently. I was still distinctly unimpressed with him for getting drunk and cheating on Laura, and I wasn’t sure I liked that he had told me Laura’s secrets when she hadn’t told me herself. But then it was hypocritical of me to have any kind of problem with it. I was queen of drinking to avoid my problems. And if he hadn’t told me about Laura, I wouldn’t have known to trust him again. I was mostly just letting myself be happy with him without thinking about it all too much. I couldn’t expect him to be perfect all the time. And it was nice to have a date I was looking forward to.
Al slung an arm around my shoulders when I reached him, and gently kissed my forehead.
“You look lovely,” he said, squeezing me. “Thank you for coming out with me.”
“That’s alright,” I grinned. “I figured I might as well actually spend a bit of time with you.”
He laughed and we climbed into one of the carriages waiting outside the castle. I’d suggested walking, remembering from our Valentine’s outing that Al liked the walk, but we’d decided we’d rather save our energy for when we actually got there.
“This feels a bit different to last time, doesn’t it?” I said as the carriage pulled away. “Last time we came to Hogsmeade you were coming with me to meet my mum.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I was super nervous.”
“Because I’d only just got you to admit that we were friends, and then you invited me to come and meet your mum. On Valentine’s Day,” he laughed. “I couldn’t work out if it was meant to be a date or not. And then Malfoy walked past us and was so rude. It was scary.”
“Sorry.” I snuggled against him and looked out the window of the carriage, feeling smug as we past trickles of students who had decided to walk. “Things have changed a lot, haven't they?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t really feel like the same person I was at the beginning of the year.”
“I like the person you are now,” I smiled, and then bit my lip because I was worried I’d sounded stupid.
“I like the person you are too.”
I smiled and squeezed Al’s hand.
It felt easy and nice. And I think if somebody had told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be happy with something easy and nice, I’d have said that was boring. But it wasn’t. Being with Al made it feel like life didn’t have to be difficult. And I needed that.
We bought a packet of chocolate bowtruckles from Honeydukes and wandered in and out of different shops, sucking on their legs as they tried to wriggle away.
“Shall we get a drink and then maybe go for a walk?” I asked when we’d exhausted all of the shops.
“Yep. I want a Butterbeer.” I took his hand again and we forced our way into the crowded bustle of The Three Broomsticks.
Al pushed forward towards the bar, leaving me to scout out a table. We’d made a mistake, shopping before going to the pub. It always filled up quickly on Hogsmeade weekends. The way to get a seat was to come here first and visit the shops later on.
“Ollie! Over here.”
I looked up at the sound of Scor’s voice, and smiled with relief when I spotted him at a table near the window, squashed between Rose Weasley and Oz. Joe and Esther were sat at the same table, but there were still two seats free so I headed towards them.
“I thought you were going to be in the library all day,” I said to Scor, sitting down next to Esther.
“I was. But it got boring after about five minutes,” Scor shrugged. “And Rose was in there so we thought we might as well come and get a drink.”
“Library days always seem like a good idea until you realise that everyone else is outside having fun,” Rose said.
“We think they did it on purpose. This is clearly a date we interrupted,” Joe said, leaning over Esther so he could give me a conspiratorial grin.
“Yep. They looked quite smiley in here before we arrived,” Oz agreed. “We felt a bit mean intruding.”
“We did it anyway, though. Because it’s funny,” Joe grinned.
I noticed Al at the bar and stood up to wave at him. He smiled when he saw me and hurried over. Despite the crowds, people parted to let him through.
“I couldn’t see you,” Al said when he reached us. “I worried you might have ditched me.”
He slid a butterbeer across the table towards me and then sat down next to me. I shuffled closer so that our legs touched and his smile widened.
“I feel bad for not making Clara come along,” Esther said quietly. “I didn’t realise we’d all end up together. She’ll feel left out.”
“She’s probably had half a bottle of wine by now,” I laughed. “I doubt she’ll mind.”
“Maybe. But we’re all out here having a nice time. She’s in the castle by herself. Maybe I should see if we can get a message to her or something.” Esther looked doubtful. She’s too nice for her own good. Just like her brother.
“Oh god, please don’t,” Scor groaned. “I cannot face a whole afternoon with Clara Zabini.”
“Don’t be mean, Scor,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow at me and I chose to take a slurp of butterbeer rather than explain myself.
“Aw, look who’s grown up,” Joey said with an affectionate glance in my direction. “Ollie’s learning to be nice to people.”
“We thought you hated Clara. Didn’t expect you to stick up for her,” Oz added.
I shrugged. “I never hated her.”
“Sure you didn’t,” Oz said, clearly unconvinced.
“I didn’t! Why do you think I did?”
“Well, until this year you spent a lot of time acting like she didn’t sleep in the same dorm as you,” Esther said tentatively. “I think the boys just mean...it might not have been obvious you didn’t hate her.”
“No, I...well…” I wasn’t sure what to say. For some reason their comments were making me very defensive.
“What Ollie’s trying to say,” Scor cut across me. “Is that she didn’t have any strong feelings about Clara. But Cassie hated her. So Ollie was mean out of loyalty.”
I frowned at Scor, surprised by his frankness. He caught my eye and a flash of something that might have been guilt passed over his face. He looked down at the table.
“Well. Cass hates lots of people,” I said, and then turned to Rose. “Where’s Louis?”
Rose laughed. “Eurgh. He was meant to come with me today but he disappeared off with some girl instead. That’s why I was in the Library.”
“I don’t know why we bother making plans with him,” Al said. “This has happened pretty much every Hogsmeade trip since fourth year.”
Rose nodded solemnly and Esther giggled.
Joe glanced at his watch and swore. “Oz and I have to get going. We have lunch reservations for ten minutes ago.”
Oz poured the rest of his drink down his throat and then stood up. The two of them squeezed past us on their way out, waving and rushing their goodbyes.
Esther sighed. “That’s probably my cue to leave as well. I’m kind of regretting saying I’d go to Charms.”
“Skip it,” I shrugged. “Nobody will mind.”
“I can’t do that,” Esther shook her head. “I need it on my record for when I apply for graduate courses.”
She climbed over us and paused to button up her coat before waving and following her brother out of the pub.
“She stresses me out when she starts talking about courses and jobs,” I said. “Let’s never grow up.”
“I like this plan,” Rose agreed.
I smiled at her and then glanced at Al to find him watching me. Under the table, he slid a hand across to squeeze my knee. I put my hand over his and laced our fingers together.
It was nice that all the people I liked were getting along, but I was starting to wish we hadn’t run into the others. I’d wanted to go for that walk with Al, but that would mean leaving Rose and Scor alone, and they didn’t really know each other that well. Al kept pulling faces at me and I thought he was probably thinking the same thing.
Eventually, Rose raised her eyebrows at us both and rolled her eyes.
“Go,” she said. “We’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, please just go and do whatever it is you wanted to do,” Scor nodded.
“Honestly. We’ll be fine,” Rose repeated. “We’ll talk about Transfiguration for a bit and then maybe buy some chocolate and then head back to the castle. You two should go and enjoy your date.”
She sounded sincere but I still hesitated.
“Are you sure?” I kept my eyes on Scor.
He looked mildly amused. “Certain.”
I smiled at Al and we stood up together. Scor and Rose were both very obviously trying to hide the fact they wanted to laugh at our reluctance to leave. Al flicked Rose’s forehead and then took my hand again.
“Maybe they’ll fall in love,” I said, once we’d left the pub and were alone together.
“Not sure Uncle Ron could survive Rosie dating a Slytherin,” Al laughed.
“I take offence.”
“Nah. My parents are fine with it. Besides, the hat thought about putting me in Slytherin.”
I stopped walking to give Al a disbelieving look. “Are you serious? You’re absolutely not a Slytherin.”
He kept a straight face for a few seconds and then his mouth broke into a wide smile. “Yeah, that wasn’t true. I think what it actually said was that it would have loved to put one of Harry Potter’s children in Slytherin, but had rarely seen somebody less suited than me. And then we had a battle about whether I should be a Hufflepuff or a Gryffindor.”
“Joe was nearly a Hufflepuff too,” I said, assuming Joe wouldn’t mind me passing it on. He hadn’t seemed to view it as a secret when he’d told me. “And I guess the hat got its way when your sister came along.”
“Yeah. Lils was always going to be a snake. She’s one of the most manipulative people I know.”
“But she always looks so sweet!”
“That’s part of the act,” he told me. “Where are we going?”
I looked around. While we were talking, we’d wandered further along the road than students usually came on Hogsmeade weekends, and had started to pass houses rather than shopfronts.
“Exploring. I like it here.”
Al looked a bit worried. “I think we should go the other way.”
“Don’t be boring.” I pulled him along beside me.
“Okay,” he said. “I seem not to be able to say no to you.”
“As it should be,” I beamed.
We walked in silence for a few minutes, swaying our hands forwards and backwards. Al kept nervously pushing his hair away from his face, and the gesture made me smile. I wasn’t sure why he was nervous but it was sweet.
The sun was shining and I unwound my scarf, shoving it into my bag. We were moving into spring and, while Hogsmeade was always chilly, the sun made it bright and cheerful. I couldn’t stop smiling and felt a little bit silly.
“I like today,” Al said. “Let’s stay here and not go back to school.”
“You love school.”
“But if we go back, Rosie will make me do my Transfiguration homework and then she’ll want to talk about it. And that would be awful.”
I laughed. “Nah, she’s got Scor now. They can talk about Transfiguration.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “I just didn’t see that one coming. I thought Malfoy would refuse to have any kind of civil friendship with somebody from our family.”
I shrugged. “He’s trying. He’s changed a lot. I think you’ll really like him if you get to know each other a bit better.”
“I do like him,” Al said. “And I think it’s great how much he obviously cares about you.”
We kept walking, even though we were definitely out of the village now. The path we were on was getting narrower, and there were fields either side of us, every so often punctuated by small cottages and occasional large houses. I’d never come this way with Cass and Scor. We always kept to the shops.
Al was starting to look nervous again. “Shall we go back now?”
I turned around to shake my head at him. “But it’s so pretty!”
“I know, but…” his voice trailed off. He was looking at something over my shoulder.
I spun around but there was nothing there.
“What were you looking at?”
Al didn’t seem to know what to say, but he didn’t deny that something had been there.
“What?” I repeated. “Al, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing. I just think we should go back to school.”
I frowned at him and then took a few more steps forward, trying to work out what had made him nervous. The path ahead of us was empty. I glanced back at Al, who still looked worried, and then kept walking.
A small cottage was set a few paces back from the path. As we got closer, Al visibly tensed. I looked up at the cottage. None of the lights were on in the windows, but it was still daytime so this didn’t mean the cottage was empty.
Leaving Al on the path, I walked right up to the front of the cottage. I was quite surprised by my certainty that there was something there for me to find. But for some reason I felt sure that I should look. Al didn’t try to stop me, but when I looked back he was pressing his fingertips into his temples and looked like he was fighting some kind of moral battle with himself.
I peered through one of the ground floor windows of the cottage, my forehead against the cool glass. It was gloomy inside, but somebody had obviously been there recently. There was an empty mug next to a big armchair, and a table had been laid. A vase on the table contained a single tulip.
I kept looking around the room, and then gasped when I saw my own face looking back at me. I stumbled backwards and towards Al.
He caught me and wrapped his arms around me. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“There’s a photo of me in there,” I told him. “In a frame on a mantelpiece. There’s a photo of me and Scor.”
Al didn’t say anything.
“Why’s there a picture of me? Who’s in there?” My voice was rising but I couldn’t stop it.
“Shall we go back to school?” Al tightened his grip on me. “This is really creepy.”
I started to nod, wanting to get as far away from the cottage as possible, but then I heard a crashing sound from behind me and rushed back to the door. Somebody was inside.
I knocked on the door. “Hello? Are you okay?”
Nobody came to let me in. I kept knocking, aware that I probably looked like a crazy person. Feeling completely stupid, I eventually took out my wand. I could pretty much feel Al watching me and wondering whether I’d gone mad, but I couldn’t leave until I knew who was inside.
I touched my wand to the edge of the door. “Alohomora.”
I heard the lock click and leant against the door to open it, stepping into the room I’d been looking at.
The photograph on the mantelpiece stood out to me, and I walked over to it. It was in a plain black frame. I didn’t think I’d seen it before, but I remembered the day it must have been taken. I was wearing a deep purple wool dress and had gold tinsel in my hair. Scor had his arms wrapped around my waist and was holding me in the air while I squirmed and tried to get down. I was holding a half empty bottle of Firewhiskey and kept trying to hold it up to my mouth but Scor’s grip was stopping me. Christmas in fifth year.
I tore my gaze away from the photograph and wandered further into the cottage, walking through an open door into a small kitchen. A glass had smashed on the floor. That must have been the sound I’d heard.
Nobody was in the room, but a back door was open. I walked over to it and looked out into the small, square garden.
The girl standing there looked completely the same but also completely different to the last time I’d seen her. Her hair was longer and shone gold in the sun, and she looked pale and tired. She was wearing a loose white dress that made her look bigger than usual, and then she turned and I realised that she was bigger than usual. She lifted one hand protectively to her swollen belly and let her eyes properly meet mine.
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