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Moonlit Meetings by KilledByDrapery
Chapter 34 : With Merlin's Strength
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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Chapter 34: With Merlin’s Strength

When I got back home that night after spending the rest of the day with Casper, both of my parents were sitting in the front room. Mum’s feet were propped up on the ottoman, Gizmo doing his best balancing act on her shins. He looked up lazily when I shut the door behind me and kicked off my trainers, and then seemed to decide that I wasn’t that interesting and went back to sleep.

“You were gone for a while,” Dad commented, the Saturday news crinkling in his hands as he smoothed it out into his lap to see me better.

“I had to—”

“Run errands?” Mom cut me off, using my earlier excuse. “Errands that took all day and didn’t require your wallet?”

“I went over to Casper’s,” I told them as I made my way into the kitchen. “Are there leftovers from supper?”

“Casper’s?” my mum repeated. “Honestly, Serena. You could have waited until this evening to visit your friend. I had plans for us this afternoon.”

I opened the fridge, rustling past the jugs of milk and pumpkin juice for something to eat. “We’ve been fighting, Mum. I wanted to clear things up before it was too late.”

There was a long pause before she answered, her voice a lot closer than it had been before. “You’ve been fighting with Casper?”

I nearly jumped out of my skin when she spoke, unaware that she had gotten up from the couch and was standing behind me in the kitchen.

“Merlin, Mum,” I cursed under my breath, holding a hand onto my chest as my heartbeat began returning to normal.

“Serena, come now,” she sighed in that perfectly mom way that let you know they knew you were leaving things out. “Why were you fighting with Casper?”

I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter now. We made up.”

“Serena…”

It was then that my father joined us, putting a hand on my mum’s back and kissing her lightly on the cheek. “Love, if she doesn’t want to say then that’s her business. Don’t you agree?”

She pursed her lips like she wanted to argue, but he didn’t give her time to continue her delving.

“There are some chicken tenders in the freezer, chickadee,” he told me, nodding behind me. “And some new tea leaves in the jar if you want something warm to drink.”

“I picked up more honey at the market,” Mum added after a minute, her eyes still searching me like she could somehow stare the truth out of me.

Dad moved to go back to the living room, but paused at the counter, picking up an envelope and wagging it in my direction. “Don’t forget to write back to your Headmaster,” he reminded her. “And open this one too. You never know when you’re going to get that letter from the prince asking for your hand. When it arrives, I don’t want to keep him waiting.” He put the envelope down and disappeared around the corner into the front room. “And be sure to let him know that he can have anything his heart desires for the dowry, won’t you, love? We don’t have much money, but I’m sure this house would make a quaint little country cabin for the royal family.”

I couldn’t help but smile at his words, even if my mum rolled her eyes at them herself. I always loved his fascination with the muggle royal family, even if Mum didn’t understand it. There was something about how weirdly normal it was that I clung onto. With everything else…

I threw some chicken tenders onto a cookie tray and shoved them into the oven, not waiting for it to preheat, before I plopped down onto a barstool at the counter. My eyes trailed down to the envelope my dad had pointed out. I had pretty much forgotten Mum told me that two letters had arrived that morning. The letter from Dumbledore pretty much trumped anything else that could have showed up, so I hadn’t even glanced at it earlier.

But it had my full attention now.

Serena.

There was no return label—as was standard in the wizarding community—but the scrawling script of my name seemed familiar. I slid my thumb under the flap, and popped the envelope open, sliding out a piece of parchment that only held a few short lines.


I think it’s best if I don’t join the rest of the group at your house for the holidays. I wish you all the best and I am sure everyone will have a smashing time, but I think you know this is the right decision.

Happy Christmas, Colton.


Three sentences. No signature.

He didn’t need to sign it. I knew who the letter was from the moment I read it. Each line was painstakingly written, small dots of ink pooling where he was uncertain what to write next. Small dots of ink letting me know that he didn’t dare write more. Whatever he wished he could write—good or bad, I wasn’t sure—he wouldn’t. And I had a feeling he never would.

I folded the letter back up, making sure my face didn’t give anything away. What it would give away, I didn’t know. But I didn’t want to deal with it either way.

I tucked the parchment into my jacket and turned back to the oven.

“Who was that one from, honey?” my mum pried. “Friends, I hope?”

“A friend, yes,” I said with a solitary nod. “He won’t be coming with the rest of them. His parents want more time with him.”

“Oh,” she said with a pout. “That’s a shame… But the rest of them?” she asked hopefully. “They’re still going to make it, aren’t they?”

I thought about Sirius. “Yes, they are."




The next two days flew by in a blur. Mum spent the entire time fussing around the house like repositioning the tinsel on the staircase was her number one priority and would mean either make or break my friendships. While I basically acted as her go-to errand girl during this time--fetching buckets of soapy water for her third go at the loos or buying more sugar for the most diabetic biscuits in the world--I spent all of my free time sitting with Casper in the cemetery and taking runs around the neighborhood as we tried to get me back into shape for quidditch. Which wasn’t an easy task.

“You’ve basically turned into a potato,” Casper had remarked on our first such attempt that next morning. “Honestly, I think Orion’s got you beat for Keeper.”

I had glared at him so hard that I stopped watching where I was going and slammed straight into muggle who had been carrying two shopping bags full of entirely messy foods. Casper had laughed. I cried, apologized, and ended up giving the woman too much muggle money for replacement groceries in the end.

So by the time I met up with Casper at 7am on Tuesday, my hands were shaking I was so on edge. And the three cups of coffee I had downed that morning didn’t seem to be helping at all. Or at least they weren’t helping in the way that I had attended.

Casper leaned forward, stretching into his thigh as he bent down toward the ground. Hearing my footsteps, he straightened up and frowned. “You look horrible.”

I raised my eyebrows at him. “How’s that for ‘good morning’?”


Casper gave me a knowing look. “You don’t need compliments, Serena. You need truth.” He paused and gave me a once-over. “And the truth is you look horrid.”

I ran my fingers through my hair, pulling the mess up into a loop at the top of my head and securing it with a band. “I look tired, that’s what I look,” I corrected him. “I don’t think I ended up getting to sleep at all last night.” I rubbed at my eyes, ignoring the fact that I was smudging my so-called waterproof mascara.

Casper sighed, nodding toward the dirt trail off to one side of the cemetery. “I don’t blame you for being nervous about today.”

Sirius.

The name popped into my head before I could stop it and sent my skin on edge, goosebumps rising on the back of my arms. I hadn’t actually spoken with him since the ball and I had no idea what I was supposed to say once I did see him.

“I don’t even know how I’m going to be around Charlotte once I see her again,” Casper continued, yanking me out of my thoughts. “I can hardly imagine how you’re feeling.”

We started off down the trail, our feet padding against the ground in unison as we began warming up. The cool air bit at our cheeks as we moved, the day already starting chilled as ice with a fresh layer of snow packed into the dirt beneath our feet.

“Right, Charlotte,” I muttered.

That was the other thing that kept me up all night. When you weren’t thinking about James. I shook off the thought with as much strength as I could muster.

“Engaged,” Casper mused. “What a weird thought.”

“The weirdest,” I agreed.

“Just like you and Sirius.”

I looked over at him as we took a bend in the path, moving past the cemetery and continuing into the woods. “Why’s that weird?”

Casper scoffed. “Don’t act like that’s a ridiculous thing to say. I’m not sure anybody thought you two would end up as soulmates or anything. And yet here you are, still together and it’s the holidays already.” He shot me a wink.

“I resent that,” I shot back at him.

He’s not wrong, I thought despite myself. And you haven’t exactly made it easier on yourself.

“Yeah I think we all thought you’d end up with Potter in the end.”

I tripped, stubbing the toe of my sneakers against a clod of dirt in the path. I stumbled a bit, but managed to right myself again a second later, saving me the embarrassment of falling on my face two times in as many days since my return home.

“James?” I think I must have choked over his name a little bit because Casper shot me a weird look.

“Who else?” he chuckled, as if I’d forgotten that James was the only student with his last name at Hogwarts. “You two are basically attached at the hip and you would actually make a lot of sense.”

I shook my head at him, avoiding eye contact in a way that I hoped didn’t look obvious. “I don’t think so.”

“Really?” Casper cocked an eyebrow at me and steared us off the path, moving the two of us into the woods further. “You two are far more alike than I think Black would like. But you can’t blame him for being protective. If you listen to any of the first years roaming about, Potter’s quite the heartthrob himself.”

I knew the path we ran like the back of my hand. We were headed in the direction of the old windmill by the only body of water within an hour’s drive: a long river that dumped into a manmade lake that Casper, Tyler, and I used to frequent as kids. Back during the days that things were so easy and the most important thing on any of our minds was staying out just late enough to hear the cicadas buzzing and see the sun dip below the horizon, before running back home just minutes before curfew.

“I don’t see it,” I bluffed.

I felt Casper’s gaze on me like the sun. And it burned just as bright.

“Race you,” I challenged him, not waiting for his answer before sprinting off through the trees.

I didn’t care about the little twigs that bit and slashed at my arms and ankles as I ran, I only cared about the feeling of the iced air on my face and the sound of deafening wind as it whipped past. I could feel Casper close at my heels, so I pushed further, daring myself to move even faster than before. Daring myself to force my muscles into submission, even as I felt the burn setting in.

Words didn’t change things.

Action might.

The woods broke free into clearing and I fumbled slightly with the change from exposed dirt back onto slick snow, before gaining my footing again and making my way down to the water’s edge.

The windmill was tall, maybe three stories in height, and stood proud out of gray bricks that appeared only slightly eroded and crumbled with time. Every half dozen years or so the community would pitch in and get it restored “back to its former glory,” which didn’t mean too much, but to the muggles it must have, because restorations had been going on for near three hundred years. Considering how long Hogwarts had been around, it hadn’t totally made sense to me that this was an “old” structure until I had broken inside during my third transformation.

Two hundred feet in diameter, the cylindrical structure looked a lot rougher on the inside than it did on the outside. The ground hadn’t been built in at all, which meant that stepping inside meant stepping on the same dirt as outside of the windmill, and the only straw bales were up a ladder on a wooden platform that didn’t look at all suitable for bearing weight. I had chanced the climb that night in order to pull one down to the ground, strewing it about to create a makeshift bed for my wolf to sleep on. Then I had magicked myself a chain around the door and hoped for the best.

It had never looked quite the same to me ever since.

“Serena!” Casper called from behind me, my name a puff of warm air from his mouth as I turned to face him, slowing my pace as I reached the water. “That’s wasn’t fair,” he complained, giving me a pointed look.

I cocked an eyebrow at him. “And you think the Slytherins will play fair?”

Casper slowed to a walk, reaching my side and looking out over the frozen lake, powdered snow sprinkled over it, as he caught his breath.

“If this was about the Slytherins, then I wouldn’t have minded. But somehow I think that’s not true.”

I ignored him, looking out over the water for myself. I rested my hands on my hips, letting the air’s chill settle back over my skin now that I was standing still. “Do you remember when we came out here with Ethan?”

Casper’s lips pressed together into a thin line. “Of course I do,” he told me. “Mum always insisted I brought him along back then.”

“Your dad was furious,” I reminded him with a nudge of my elbow in his side. “He thought you would corrupt his favorite son.”

Casper rolled his eyes and nudged me back. “Back then, I think it was the other way around.”

“Tyler did always say you followed him around like a puppy,” I said with a wink.

Casper scoffed at that, crossing his arms over his chest, stretching the fabric of his moisture-wicking shirt over his muscles. “Only until we were like six.”

“Whatever you say, lemming.”

Casper shot me a look, but didn’t persist. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you’re changing the subject.”

“What subject? We were running, now we’re talking.”

I readjusted my footing on the snow and looked out on the lake. The rising morning sun sent rays of golden yellow against the snow, bouncing up and making me squint against its brightness. It seemed smaller than when we were kids. Less intimidating. But less comforting too, in a way. Like it didn’t know me anymore. Like I was a stranger here.


“I think I want to go for the quidditch team,” Tyler told me, dropping his legs into the edge of the water as we sat on the lip. The lake went down to two feet deep right at the edge, then gradually fell to near ten feet in the center--or at least that’s what our parents told us when we were younger.

I looked over at him, plopping down in the plush bed of grass. I pulled my shoes off and put them next to me, wiggling my silver-painted toes in the late summer sun. Tyler would be off to school in another week and a half, while I would be stuck at home learning muggle subjects from textbooks Mum picked up at a homeschooling store down in London. I hated math and geography. I wanted to learn real subjects. I wanted to learn magic!

“You’re only going to be a first year, Ty,” I reminded him as I slowly lowered my toes into the water. “I’m sure they’ve already got their team picked out with all the older players.”

Tyler shook his head, undaunted by my words. “No, I’ll make it. Just you see.”

“You don’t even know what House you’ll be in,” I pointed out. “What if you’re a Slytherin? Would you still want to play for them?”

Tyler turned his head toward me and raised his eyebrows slowly. “Do I look like a Slytherin to you, Serena?”

I shrugged. “Mum says Slytherin’s aren’t necessarily bad. Merlin was a Slytherin.”

“Merlin isn’t real, Serena,” Tyler laughed. “You shouldn’t listen to everything people say. And how would Mum know, anyway? It’s not like she’s been around for that long.”

I frowned at him. “Mum wouldn’t lie about that. And he is real! I read about him.”

“You can read about anything, Serena. That doesn’t make it true.” He leaned back, propping himself up by his arms and dropping his head back to let the sun warm his face. His hair had grown a lot during the summer--and he had forbade Mum from trimming it before school started--reaching near to his shoulders and it fell back like a waterfall of brown, blowing slightly in the playful summer breeze.

I glared at him even though he wasn’t looking at me and crossed my arms over my chest. “They were non-fiction books, Ty. Non-fiction means not made up.”

“I know what non-fiction means, Serena,” Tyler said with a sigh. “I’m older and wiser than you, remember?”

I made a show of thinking for a moment. “Hmm… Actually, no. No, I don’t remember that at all. Older, yes. But that other thing…?”

Tyler opened his eyes, turning toward me and sitting up enough to sock me in the arm with his fist. “You’re a dork.”

“Takes one to know one!” I countered, sticking my tongue out at him in a way that my mum would have called “very unladylike, Serena!”

“I still think I’ll make the team,” Tyler decided, changing the subject back to our earlier conversation. “I’m better than all the kids my age.”

“Except for Casper,” I pointed out with a laugh.

Tyler flushed. “That’s not true. I’m twice the player he is.”

I shook my head vehemently. “Casper could beat your butt any day of the wee--”

Tyler reached forward and gave me a push, sending me tumbling down into the lukewarm lake water. I flopped around for a moment before surfacing. Wiping the water from my eyes, I shot daggers at him. “You’re going to pay for that!”



“What are you thinking about?”

I looked over and smiled, watching Casper’s warm breath sending puffs into the air.

“Tyler,” he answered for me and smiled as well, his breath turning to a sigh. “You’re like a book.”

“Delightful and entertaining?” I joked.

“Dusty and boring?” he countered.

I rolled my eyes, but laughed despite myself.

“When does the gang get in?” Casper asked. “Same time as Charlotte?”

I shook my head. “A couple hours later, I think. They’ll be here mid-afternoon.”

“Probably a good idea.”

On the one hand, it did sound like a good plan to get the Charlotte matter sorted out before the others arrived. But, on the other hand, it meant a solid two hours of dealing with the Charlotte situation. I wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier to just have everyone arrive at the same time so that we wouldn’t have been able to focus on the awkward elephant(s) in the room.

“I should actually head back to get a shower. My mum barely let me out of the house this morning without making me re-dust the already impeccable stairwell.” A tight soreness was already setting into my leg muscles, so I reached down, groaning as I stretched my calves.

“Orion’s going to kick your ass next semester,” Casper reminded me.

I glared up at him. “There’s still time.”

Casper shrugged and turned us back around. “You might have Potter in your back pocket, but even he can’t keep you on if Orion’s so obviously more prepared than you.”

“If I didn’t love you as much as I do, you’d be on your arse staring up at me from the dirt right now,” I threatened.

He cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t think you could knock anyone over in your condition.”

“Don’t test me,” I warned.

He stared at me for another few seconds before a wide, Cheshire grin stretched across his face. “Testing.”

Casper buckled down in his stance and I charged, ducking down and trying to launch myself upward, slamming my right shoulder and arm into his chest. And, of course, he didn’t budge. In fact, he wasn’t moved so much that the blowback from my attack made me basically bounce straight off of him...and onto my butt in the snow.

Laughing, he reached out and offered me his hand, scooping me back off the ground like I weighed nothing at all.

“Good try, tiny Colton,” he consoled. “Maybe next time.”

“Don’t patronize me,” I retorted, my pride--and bottom--wounded from my failed attack.

Casper continued laughing and put a hand on my back, steering us back toward the path through the woods that would take us back toward the town. “I wouldn’t dream of it!”

By the time we made it to the Gerald household, the numbness in my butt had just about subsided, but the chill had yet to release its hold, so dreamy thoughts of a hot shower were dancing at the front of my mind.

“I’ll see you in an hour,” Casper told me, nodded his farewell as he disappeared off into his house.

I continued down the path, letting a leisurely pace set in now that I didn’t have to prove to Casper that I hadn’t completely let myself go. Which I kind of had. So there’s that.

The front of our house looked like a gingerbread dream. Dad had strung dangling white icicle-like crystal lights from the edge of the roof, accenting the rest of the edges with strings of simple green and red lights, the dusted snow looking like frosting against the brown shingles.

Inside was nowhere near as serene.

“Hon, did you take the pie out of the oven?”

“It’s been out for an hour! Did you change over the laundry?”

“I’ve got the laundry sorted and a new load in. Can you give me that jar of wipes for Gizmo?”

I shut the door behind me and turned to a glass jar flying through the air and up the staircase to where my mum’s voice was emitting from. Dad stood in the kitchen creating tiny finger sandwiches and placing them delicately on a three-tier service tray that I had never seen before in my life. He didn’t look up when I came in, he just wiped his hands on the bright pink “Kiss the Chef” apron tied around his stomach and pointed toward the fridge.

“There’s some extra juice in the fridge, dear,” he told me, his voice coming out a lot calmer than the panic from upstairs.

“Uh, thanks,” I muttered, bemused by the entire situation. “Is this a new occurrence?” I asked him, pointing to his culinary masterpiece as I kicked off my trainers and made my way into the kitchen for the said mentioned pumpkin juice. “Or have you taken up tiny sandwiches as a new hobby while I was off at school?”

He smiled, still not looking up from his work. “Your mother has the ridiculous notion in her mind that if everything doesn’t go swimmingly today, you will lose all of your friends in one fell swoop and it will be entirely my fault. Thus, the orderves.”

“It’s hardly brunch yet,” I pointed out. “Don’t you think it’s a bit early for French food?”

“Orderve is a French word, Serena. That doesn’t mean it’s French food.” He looked over his shoulder at me and winked. “And it’s never too early for French food. Didn’t I teach you anything?”

“You’re a credit to your kind, Dad,” I said with a laugh.

“Men?” he asked.

“British men,” I corrected. “I doubt I’ve heard much about any of our people preferring French food over the more...bland British palate.”

“I’m the only one,” he told me solemnly.

I forced myself to turn serious as well. “I’m very sure you’re right.”

He gave me a single sharp nod and then smiled, laughing freely. “Why don’t you go take a shower before your mum drags you into her madness. I’m sure I can fend off the savage beast for a half hour.”

“Did you say you took the pie out an hour ago?” Mum’s frantic voice called from the second floor, suddenly in a panic. “Why on earth would you have taken it out an hour ago! It wasn’t ready yet!”

Dad turned to me, his eyes big. “Run.”




By 10am I had showered, dried and wrangled my hair into a workable mess of a bun at the top of my head, dressed (because jeans and a jumper work in every winter situation, regardless of anxiety or awkwardness), and “put on my face” as I had taken to calling it after listening to Felicia get ready in the morning.

When I got back into my bedroom maybe a half hour later, I found my space turned into a dorm, with extra sleeping spots made up for the girls who would be bunking with me: Lily and Mary. Stella had called off the outing last minute to spend more time with her “amazing boyfriend,” and Felicia was going to spend the time with her parents since they had actually managed to get the holidays off work from the Ministry’s legal department.

I didn’t mind the smaller crowd, though. Having the worlds collide, so to speak, was already going to be hard enough without having to wrangle ten different people from school.

I sat on my bed for a while, staring over at my bedroom window where Gizmo was perched, arching his back into the sun.

“You’re weird,” I told him.

He turned his head lazily in my direction, looking as though he knew exactly what I had said and he wasn’t actually amused by it at all.

“I just meant--” I found myself saying, suddenly self-conscious, but stopped myself, unsure how to apologize to a cat that I had only known for a couple days. “I just meant that it’s weird having you here.”

He meowed, long and deep, like he was agreeing, and then jumped down, sauntering over to my ankles. He looked up at me for a moment and then figure-eighted between my legs, rubbing against the bottom edge of my pants, meowing up at me.

“I’m not going to feed you, if that’s what you’re after.”

Growing bored of me, Gizmo retracted himself away and started toward my door, off to see who would pay attention to him next--and probably better than I.

I sighed, pushing myself off the bed and walking over to my desk, which had been cleared off except for a notebook, a lamp, and my quill set. I reached beneath it, pulling open the drawer and finishing out Dumbledore’s letter. I had taken the potion as he had said, despite the continued grotesque taste, and I hoped beyond hope that nothing would go wrong. I had actually been able to keep it down, thank Merlin, but I felt like a magnet for trouble recently and wasn’t too confident that something wouldn’t blow up in the process. Especially with a housefull of people.

I found myself skimming over the letter, paranoid that I had done something wrong and forgotten some crucial step.

As I went to put the parchment back, James’s letter fell to the ground, having been stuck behind Dumbledore’s letter apparently.

I stared at it for a solid ten seconds before I reached down to fetch it off the floorboards, feeling like I might get burned just by touching it.

I think it’s best if I don’t join the rest of the group at your house for the holidays. I wish you all the best and I am sure everyone will have a smashing time, but I think you know this is the right decision.

Happy Christmas, Colton.

I knew the words without needing to read it again. They had emblazoned themselves into the back of my eyelids since the moment I read them. I closed my eyes for a minute, taking a deep breath before I opened them again, staring up at the picture I had stuck up onto the wall above my desk that the girls had taken of me just before the Winter Ball. I looked so carefree. So overdone.

You’re being ridiculous again, I told myself, trying to reason with the fluttering in the base of my stomach. And Casper will be here any minute.

I sighed and put the letter back into my desk drawer, nestling it underneath Dumbledore’s letter and a pad of parchment.

As I walked down the hallway, I paused outside of Tyler’s old room. The door had been propped open today, which I knew it would be, but it was still odd seeing it open to the world like that. We’d always kept his door closed since his passing and it felt weird knowing that it would be once again used for sleeping.

A few days prior, Mum and I had agreed that Sirius, Remus, and Peter would stay in Tyler’s old room since housing would be tight with all of the guests. Casper wouldn’t be staying, but he had promised me he would walk over every day to lend a hand with the entire situation now that we had made up. Which--as I took another deep breath and started off toward the living room--I was so incredibly happy about that I could have cried. Making an enemy of him had been nearly worse than the James situation.

Almost.

Casper was already waiting in the foyer when I descended. I had left the door unlocked when I came in that morning because I knew he would be arriving not too late after so he could let himself in.

Dressed in a pair of dark wash jeans and a long sleeve maroon shirt with a look of determination on his face, he looked ready for war.

I opened my mouth to greet him when a flurry brushed past me, taking my spot.

“Oh, Casper darling!” my mum cooed. “So thankful you could come and help us. I’ve got just a laundry list to get done still and Serena keeps disappearing every time I seem to need her…” she shot me a quick look before turning back to Casper, all smiles as she steered him into the room. “Your mum flooed over this morning while you were both out to let us know her and the rest of your family will be over for Christmas dinner. Isn’t that nice, dear?”

Casper shot me a look of utter horror.

“I, uh, didn’t know she did that,” he told my mum, his forced smile tight on his lips like he wasn’t sure how to react.

“It’s been so long since both families were together for a holiday like that,” she continued, her face bright and excited with the news.

“It really has,” I chimed in, trying to turn the attention onto something other than Casper as he grappled with the worlds-colliding feeling I’d been having all week. “Mum? Why don’t we give Casper a bit of breathing room? He just walked in the door, we don’t want to suffocate him so early in the day.”

Mum gave Casper a little squeeze and then let him go, albeit reluctantly. “Of course, of course…” she murmured, trying to decide what to do next. “I should go check up on your father. He was trying to set up Tyler’s old quidditch rings in the backyard incase you and your friends wanted to practice.” She paused and gave us a wink, giving Casper a playful punch in the arm like they were old pals. “I hear you all need to practice like crazy for the Slytherin match once you get back.”

Casper cracked an actual smile at that. “Serena does,” he teased.

I frowned at him. “We all do, wanker.”

“Language,” Mum scolded.

“Yeah, Serena. Language,” Casper repeated, grinning.

“Don’t be a twat,” I whispered when Mum was turned the other way.

“Don’t be a what?” Casper gasped, feigning shock. “Serena, I’m ashamed of you! Ladies shouldn’t use such language.”

Mum turned back to us and opened her mouth, but Dad’s entrance cut her off.

“What kind of language?” he asked, a teasing tone on his voice. “I warn you, everything that horrid child knows she got from me. Er, wait, I mean her mother.” He winked at me and went over to give Mum a kiss on the cheek.

“And don’t we know it,” Mum teased, leaning into him with an I’m-only-partially-amused smile on her face. “Would you both mind helping to put our Christmas cards in envelopes?” she pointed over to a giant stack of cards on the dining table. “It shouldn’t take too long and we’ve got a bit of time before Charlotte and her fiance should be here.”

“Sure, I think we have a good six hours to kill,” I joked, pointing at the immense pile she had referred to.

She rolled her eyes like I was exaggerating things. “It shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes, Serena.”

I walked over, picking up one of the pre-addressed envelopes that were stuck neatly into a box next to the cards themselves. “I know the two of you don’t have this many friends. Do we even know this many people?” I asked. I looked down at the envelope in my hand. “Who’s Harrietta?”

“Harrietta is a dear old friend,” Mum scolded. “Don’t you remember her?”

“Don’t I remember ‘Harrietta’ our ‘dear old friend’?” I repeated. “No, believe it or not, I don’t remember someone who doesn’t exist.”

She frowned. “She came to your sixth birthday party, dear. She gave you your first potions set.”

“That would have been Tyler, Mum. I didn’t get a potions set until Tyler went off to school, remember? I begged and pleaded for basically three months before you gave in and realized you couldn’t stop me growing up.”

“Nobody could stop you growing up,” she pointed out with a sigh. “My baby girl…”

“Mum, seriously?” I groaned, unable to stop a slight blush from creeping up the sides of my neck.

Casper snickered beside me and I elbowed him in the solar plexus. It knocked the wind out of him with a huff and he nodded slowly like he didn’t expect anything less.

“Christmas cards. Let’s do this,” he announced, starting over to the table.

Mum grinned, clapping her hands together. “Perfect! I’ll put the music on!”




My foot tapped against the floorboards for the entire thirty seven minutes and fifteen seconds until she arrived. And honestly, it was almost a relief when she did because I felt like I had built the entire thing up so much in my mind that I wasn’t sure she’d even look human.

“Hello?”

She had the same voice. And when I looked up, she had the same face too. Just different somehow.

Charlotte wore her blonde hair up in a ponytail that fell down over her shoulder like a warrior’s mane. Her bright, sky blue eyes were lined with thin black lines, making her lashes look even darker and enviable than I had remembered. She was just as tall, with thin legs and a long, curving torso that always made any outfit, no matter how mundane, look elegant.

But she looked older. Not the regular oh-she’s-grown-up way, but in more of an she’s-seen-things sort of way.

I wondered if I looked the same way to her.

Charlotte stepped into the foyer, carrying a duffel bag at her side that was sprinkled with afternoon snow. She tugged slightly at her scarf as she stepped. “Serena?”

“Charlotte!” Mum announced, her voice higher than usual as she swooped down like a dementor, pulling Charlotte into her chest for a hug. “Oh, darling, I’m so delighted to see you!”

Charlotte smiled into my mum’s bush of hair, her duffle bag removed from the equation by a tall redhead behind her as she wrapped her arms around my mum as well.

Tall redhead. Bearded. Hazel eyes. Thick shoulders. Much bigger than Tyler had been.

I wondered if this new man was her real type.

“Serena,”--Mum’s voice rang out as I sat there, awkwardly holding an empty envelope--“come say hello, dear.”

It was Casper who stood first, breaking my eye contact with the bearded stranger and also somehow breaking the spell.

Mum wheeled Charlotte around, giving her a direct line toward Casper and I as we both stood and made our way into the foyer.

“Casper, wow,” Charlotte breathed, taking in the sight of him. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

Casper smiled at her. “You haven’t either, Godden,” he told her, using her last name like he used to. “Still get your hair caught in doors?”

Charlotte laughed, a sound that came out musical like windchimes. “Not in a couple years, but I do think about that anytime Jacob suggests I get it cut because of the summer heat.”

“It would be more practical.”

It speaks, I found myself thinking.

Charlotte smiled and moved to the side so The Beard could walk in beside her. “This is my fiance, Jacob.”

It has a name.

“Jacob,” she continued, turning and touching his arm. “This is Casper, Tyler’s very best mate,” she introduced, reaching out and touching Casper’s arm as well. “And this…” she paused, turning toward me. She looked at me for a minute, drinking me in. “This is Tyler’s sister.” She took a step forward in slow motion, like she wasn’t sure if she was going to spook me or not. “Dearest Serena.”

When she held a hand out to me, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to hug her or run and hide, but the hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up and I felt like I was going to puke.

“Are we interrupting?”

Charlotte turned around at the new voice and I let out a breath I hadn’t known I had been holding.

“Of course not!” I said, cutting through the silence as I smiled over at Sirius, who was poking his head in through the partially open door.

Jacob moved to the side, pulling the door the rest of the way open so Sirius and his mates could slid inside.

“We weren’t supposed to be here for another hour or two,” Sirius conceded. “But Remus’s folks were itching to get rid of us, so I thought...or I suppose I hoped…”

My mum sprung into action at the opening, swooping forward and holding her hands out. “Of course it’s not an issue, dear! Here, give that to me and I’ll show you boys to your room.”

Sirius held firm on his trunk. “Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it, Mrs. Colton,” he told her with a smile. “If you just point the way, I’ll do the heavy lifting for you.”

Mum laughed, but I could feel Dad’s disapproval as he cleared his throat next to me.

“I don’t think you put out enough beds, darling,” he said a moment later.

Her head snapped over, her face deflating. “What? I could have swore…”

Something dropped in the pit of my stomach even before I saw his face.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Colton,” James announced, stepping through the doorframe from the back of the pack. He raised a hand in greeting, his smile hanging lopsided and--if I knew him at all--a bit forced on his lips. “My plans changed at the last minute. I hope it’s not an intrusion. I can always--”

“Oh, nonsense!” Mum waved him off. “The more the merrier! I’m just so glad we’re all here celebrating together.” She grinned at the group like she’d never been happier in her entire life. Or at least since Tyler passed.

I forced a smile onto my face. “Yes. It will be great fun.”

“The best,” Sirius agreed, grinning.

All of us.

Together.

Every single one of us.

Merlin give me strength.

 




A/N: Huzzah! I know it seems like pulling teeth to get me to update (but I appreciate all of your amazing reviews!), but I'm actually only a day later than I told emma28. So I call that a win in this situation. ;) I hope you all enjoyed the chapter. It ended up being a lot of set-up for the next couple chapters, but there you have it. I'll continue to work as long as you all continue to be wonderful by rating/reviewing! Kiss kiss, y'all. -KBD


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