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November, One year ago



“Ally, come on!” Sophie was pulling on her trainers and stuffing a colourful knitted hat over her un-brushed hair as she raced down the stairs. The muffled sound of boy-talking-with-a-mouthful-of-toothpaste met her ears as she reached the last step. 



“Geez, Soph, its only half-eight!” yelled Albus from the sixth year bathrooms, after spitting out his toothpaste. “Who goes shopping this early anyway?”

“Girls!” Sophie replied happily. It was a Hogsmeade weekend, the last before the holidays, and Sophia Hinds had tricked Albus Potter, younger brother of her current pretend-boyfriend, into going Christmas shopping with her.

The Gryffindor common room was largely deserted—no one else would bother getting up for another few hours. Not only was it early on a Saturday morning, but it was early on a Saturday morning the day after Gryffindor had won a huge victory over Hufflepuff. The party had raged into the wee hours of the morning. Sophie like these parties for the first hour or so, then her head began to pound and she got tired of yelling to be heard. She had gone to bed at a modest midnight while James had stayed much longer to celebrate his fantastic Captaining. 

Sophie sank into one of the plush scarlet couches listening to the succession of clanks and bangs that were a very sleepy Al getting ready to leave. Just a few hours ago the common room had looked like a dance club, but somehow the house elves had managed to return the disaster to its original state. A warm fire crackled in the huge hearth and there were blankets piled on the ends of armchairs for students to use when studying. Outside, the world was grey slush and depressing cold.

Sophie was in heaven.

She certainly loved warm, sunny days, but there was something about grey, dreary days that made her smile. Maybe it was because she felt like she should be curled on her favorite window seat reading a book, but there was something about the somber beauty of these cloudy days that always put some extra pep in her step.

This was ironic, because Al was complaining incessantly about the drabness of the weather as he descended the stairs. His hair was flattened on the left side while the right side stuck up in tuffs and spikes that had been formed while sleeping. He had clearly forgotten he had promised to go with her to Hogsmeade and stayed up later than he intended. 



“How can you even think of stepping foot out the castle on a day like this,” Albus moaned, indicating the dark, swirling, clouds that could be seen from one of the impressive windows that graced the common room. He struggled to wrap a comically thick scarf around his neck and failing miserably. “I think we should just go back to bed!”



“Albus Severus,” said Sophie, raising her eyebrows and leaning over to help untangle him from his scarf. “You aren’t getting out of shopping that easily! You lost the bet to James, remember? That means that you have to pick out the present for your parents and I have to approve any present. Therefore, you are coming. End of story.”



“But couldn’t you have picked a warmer day?” Al hated the cold. From October to April he stayed indoors as long as he could help it and even now he was only leaving the castle under great duress and many layers of clothing.



“It’s Christmas, Ally. There is no possible way for me to have picked a warmer day,” Sophie laughed at him.



Al grumbled indistinguishably but didn’t make any real attempt for escape. Instead he waited patiently for Sophie to wrap his silver and green scarf snuggly around his neck and ears before heading out of the portrait hole. Sophie looped her arm comfortably in the crook of Albus’ arm, more like a sister than a lover. They had been friends for years and despite Sophie’s earlier crush on the younger Potter, there was a great deal of ease between the two.



“Have fun last night, eh?” Sophie wiggled her eyebrows at her companion and giggled when he blushed. Albus was on the rebound, and had spent much of the night chatting up a very pretty Ravenclaw in his year. The boy made no indication besides his reddened cheeks, so Sophie—ever the good friend—probed further.



“You must have, seeing as how you didn’t even make it back to your own common room!”



“Oh come off it,” retorted Al, a tetch irritatedly. “You know good an well I crashed with James. You banged on the door to wake me. How did you even know?”



“I borrowed the communal knowledge.”



“You know where it is!” Perhaps she shouldn’t have said anything. Sophie had forgotten that Lily had taken the Marauder’s Map without telling James two weeks ago because he had threatened a fourth year who had asked her to Hogsmead.



“I have my ways ,” she replied, cryptically.



“So Lily has it?”



“Yeah. Don’t tell James.”



“Of course not.”



Sophie smiled and reached into the big bag at her side and rummaged until she produced a mug of tea charmed to stay hot and passed it to Al as they descended the final staircase that separated them from the floor with the one-eyed-witch.



“Here,” she said. “You’ll feel more yourself with some tea in you.”



Al grunted his thanks and began gulping the tea, making Sophie wonder just how much he had had to drink the previous night. 



“Here, I’ve even got a jam sandwich,” Sophie said, offering half to her friend. Albus eyed the sandwich suspiciously over the thermos. 



“That’s it?” he questioned. 



“What, am I supposed to keep bangers-and-mash tucked away in my purse?” questioned Sophie, incredulously. 



“I’m a growing boy!” proclaimed Al in a manly voice. “I need meat!”



Sophie snorted but still gave him half the sandwich when he reached for it.  True to form, Al perked up a bit after having some food and by the time they were in the tunnel that led to the basement of Honeyduke’s he was positively chatty.



It was tradition for the Potter-Weasley’s to get to Hogsmeade via secret tunnel rather than with the rest of the school. Victoire Weasley had once been abducted by a journalist on her way to Hogsmeade in her third year. Teddy had come to the rescue, but it had been decided that the tunnels were a safer mode of transportation. 



Albus was regaling Sophie with stories she had missed after she went to bed the night before, including one particularly memorable one involving a young Gryffindor’s mistake declaration of love for Al’s housemate, Scorpius. A male Gryffindor’s accidental declaration of love.



“Apparently,” Albus said between laughs.” The poor kid was so sloshed that he mistook Scorp for Angela Turner. You know, the tall skinny bird in Lily’s year?”



“How could you be drunk enough to think Scorpius looked like Angie Turner?” Sophie had tears coming from her eyes. “On that matter, who was more embarrassed: Scorpius or the boy?”



“Well, Scorp thought it was funny until we started the jokes about how lady-like he looked. After a bit he just headed back to the dungeons. The kid was still too drunk to understand what had happened. His friends said that he had taken a bit to much liquid courage before chatting up his ladylove. Poor bloke's never going to live it down.”



They walked for a moment in a silence broken only by the lingering giggles brought on by the story. Sophie had cast a warming spell in the tunnel that had put a stop to Al’s incessant groans about the chill. In fact, it was rather nice, to be out an about, with shopping on the mind and Albus to accompany her.



“Sophie,” the boy in question cleared his throat in a way that made Sophie think he felt uncomfortable. She cocked her head towards him, indicating that she was listening. “Are you and James…on the outs again?"



“Why do you ask that?” Sophie felt a familiar tug beneath her ribs. A year ago, Sophie might have lost herself in the old fantasy. “I adore you” Albus would say. “I don’t care about James…” But that was ridiculous. Al would never make a move on her, and besides, Sophie fallen out of love with him months ago. Old habits die hard, she supposed.



“Well,” Al sounded unusually hesitant. He cleared his throat—to buy himself time, Sophie thought—and then ploughed right into the subject. “James left the party with a girl last night.”



“Oh,” Sophie said, quietly. Her fake boyfriend was cheating on their pretend relationship with a real girl. For Al’s sake, Sophie coaxed tears to well up in her eyes. This was the worst, most vile kind of lying. She could tell her friend was very worried about her. She knew she would spend the next few weeks making the people who loved her concerned for her, and the irony was that she was happy for James. Unfortunately, his reputation was about to take another hit, and all because he found a girl he liked.



Oh yes, she was supposed to be acting upset.



She sniffled slightly, and managed to sound suitably choked up when she asked (tragically), ”So, what…(sniffle)…what did she look like.”



Albus coughed uncomfortably. Sophie felt bad for putting him in that position, but over the years Sophie had settled into a pattern: cry, ask about the “other girl,” lament for weeks, ect…ect…



“Sophie,” Albus began kindly. “It doesn’t matter who she was or what she looked like. That will only make it worse. Here, have some tea.”



Albus thrust the piping hot tea into her hands. In a habit garnered from his mother, Albus always medicated emotional pain with Earl Grey.



Sophie let a few, glistening tears spill over onto her cheeks in response. Albus stopped walking, turned toward her, and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Sophie, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Maybe we should wait to get more information.  But I just couldn't...not tell you.”



Albus reached a mittened hand up to wipe Sophie’s cheek and then pulled her into a comforting hug. Sophie wasn’t sure what to say—Al was such a great friend, and here she was playing him the fool. It was times like this that she just wished she could blurt out the truth and have him understand.



But instead of coming clean, Sophie took a deep, reassuring breath and said,” You’re right, Al. I’m sure by the time we come back James will be awake to explain how this is all just a misunderstanding….”



Albus agreed, and put an arm around her to comfort her. She felt even worse about her deception knowing that he was so worried about her. Sophie gave a little sigh, and began thinking of ways to expand their lie to cover James’ ‘misbehavior’.



The present day.



It was almost time for her to go, and Sophie was deeply regretting not packing the night before. In a last sign of petulance that Sophie herself mistook for a dislike of packing, the morning came and went without a single article of clothing finding its way into her trunk.



She had preformed the packing spell but was missing ½ of her favourite pair of socks, some eye shadow, and her tweezers had gone mysteriously missing. She had tried Accio already, but the Potter household had some many socks/eye shadow containers/tweezers that Sophie had been pelted with miscellaneous items until she was forced to discontinue the spell. 



Currently, Sophie Hinds, straight O student, glittering debutante, and future Minister of Magic was on her hands and knees crawling under James’ bed looking for her missing possessions. Although Sophie was loudly complaining about the state of the boys’ room, it wasn’t that bad. Mrs. Potter had stormed in the night of Sophie’s arrival—wand ablaze—and forced her progeny to clean all items that were rotting, undistinguishable, or smelled. The room wasn’t quite up to Sophie’s personal standards, but she had only run into a few molding socks and had yet to gag.



Pushing aside a colony of old quidditch equipment, Sophie decided that she honestly didn’t care anymore. Who cares if those socks were her favourites? They had abandoned her and she was not going to spend another second under James Potter’s bed looking for them, that was for sure!


 


Backtracking carefully on hands and knees, Sophie returned to the light. Sophie ran a few fingers in her hair to ensure that no cobwebs had followed her escape before rocking onto her heels and standing.



“Find anything?” asked Albus, more out of courtesy than concern. He wasn’t even really paying attention to her. Currently he, Louis, Fred and James were huddled around the new ‘Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes’ catalogue that Fred had brought from his father’s store.



“No, “ Sophie replied, wrinkling her nose in irritation. “And it will be a pain to replace the tweezers, too.  Wizarding stores rarely carry them.”



At the mention of tweezers, Sophie watched Fred’s face carefully for any guilt—she had no evidence, but if she were a betting witch, she would place money on the suspicion that Fred had something to do with the absence of her grooming tool. However, Fred’s demeanor did no change in the slightest. There were only two possibilities for his guiltless manner:  Either he really was innocent of tweezer-napping or he had inherited his father’s great talent for mischief. Sophie decided to give him the benefit of the doubt—she doubted he had the wherewithal to actually touch the tweezers. 



“You know,” she commented. “I don’t know why you bother looking at the new items. Even if you could somehow trick your father into selling you any prank-worthy products, Mrs. Potter would never let you get to Hogwarts with them.”



“What?” sputtered James, incredulously. “You think one tiny woman could keep us from smuggling in contraband? Your lack of faith astounds me, Miss Hinds!”



Sophie rolled her eyes. It was common knowledge that the Potter-Weasley’s had yet to smuggle WWW products into Hogwarts. The great irony was that it was relatively easy for a non-Weasley/Potter to get the forbidden pranking supplies. However, Ginny Potter and Hermione Weasley had gotten together when their children began going to Hogwarts and created some way to keep their kids from getting their hands on any of George Weasley’s creations.



No one was sure how they had done it. All sorts of different plans had been implemented to trick the two mothers, from the complex (stashing extendable ears in hollowed out text books) to the more simple (hiding dungbombs under their shirts). But somehow, as soon as they opened their trunks, removed the invisibility cloak, or accio-ed the item, the products were nowhere to be found. Even if the boys gave the items to a friend to bring, they vanished once the trunks entered the Great Hall.



Sophie personally postulated that Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Weasley had used some sort of tracking charm that identified WWW products that had been touched by a Weasley/Potter under the age of 17 and then somehow caused the item to disappear. Sophie liked to think that Hermione and Ginny kept the pranks and used them from time to time. You never know.



But whatever the mechanism depriving the boys of their supplies, they were determined to beat it. A new, grand scheme was being created (months in advance, Sophie noted) and James in particular was extremely invested in the outcome because it was his last year to try. 



Seeing that she would be ignored if she tried to stay, Sophie dusted off her jumper and offered a quick farewell to the boys.



“Wait, Soph, where are you going?” Louis’ voice stopped her. Sophie turned around. 



“Breakfast?”



“Er…you can’t.” Louis said, much to the confusion of Sophie.



“Why not?” Sophie inquired. “I’m hungry and I don’t feel like packing anymore.”



Louis sent frantic, expressive glances at the other three boys. James, at least, seemed to understand his meaning, even if Sophie didn’t.



“Yeah, Soph. Why don’t you help us plan? Mum is…”



“Mum is on a rampage,” Albus cut in. “You know how she gets. She’s decided that the kitchen has to be redone and if you go down there you won’t be able to escape her grasp!”



All four boys nodded their heads in unison, each adding their own affirmations. Sophie narrowed her eyes suspiciously.



“A rampage?” Sophie questioned. Four identical head bobs.



“In the kitchen?” It was like the boys were puppets, the way they moved with such synchronicity. 



“Ummmhmmm…well then why don’t I hear sounds of the wreckage being caused?”



All four boys froze. Sophie watched as they looked at one another, trying to patch the holes in their story. Sophie wasn’t sure why they were lying to her, and she wasn’t sure what they were lying about, but she was determined to get to the bottom of it. 



Quickly she bolted to the door, but Fred, who was much closer to it that she, slammed it shut in her face. He looked at his hand in horror, as though it had acted on its own. Sophie could practically see him thinking, ‘how do I explain this now?



Slowly she turned so she could see all four boys. She took the time to look each one in the eye and stare them down. Louis swallowed uncomfortably. James looked away. That, if nothing else, made Sophie worried. If James hadn’t confided in her, if he wasn’t looking her in the eye, he was trying to protect her from something. But what?



“James?” it was a question, not a name. Her partner in crime met her eyes unhappily. 



“Sophie, I don't think--"James started, but couldn't finish.



“There’s been an attack on the Ministry of Magic.” It was Albus who finally filled her in. She could see that he hated to be the one who told her. But it wasn’t in Albus’ nature to keep secrets.  "This morning, the Prophet’s headline was…alarming, to say the least. We didn’t want you to see it until there was better news."



It was as though the blood in her veins turned to ice. She couldn't breath, couldn’t move. Her sister worked there. Her mother worked there. She had tunnel vision—it was as though all she could see was Albus’ face, only hear Albus’ voice telling more horrible details. He walked closer and took her hands to reassure her, but it was as though she couldn’t feel him.



“They are still evacuating, and its still hectic, but I’m sure Maddie and your mum are fine—“



At the mention of her family, Sophie jerked her hands from his, tore the door away from Fred, and bounded down the stairs. Behind her, the boys bounded out into the hallway in pursuit. Once in the kitchen, she didn’t immediately see the paper. Someone must have hidden it. Sophie jerked about wildly until she saw it, under a cushion in the den, crumpled but still legible. Mrs. Potter ran into the room, having heard the ruckus, and said, “Oh dear, she’s seen.”



The pictures were horrible. People were screaming and running. The Headline read: Ministry Breached by Unknown Extremist Group. The article told her that it had been less than forty-five minutes since the attack, but there was no record of a death-toll as of yet.



“Why wouldn’t you tell me!” Sophie shrieked at them. 



“Soph—“



“They could have been dead and I would have never known. Did you think you were protecting me! Did you think I couldn’t handle it!”



“Of course you could handle it, you idiot!” James yelled back. Sophie took a deep breath to try to control her anger and terror. “Dad went to find out more. There’s no proof that your mother or Maddie are in any danger. “



Sophie took slow, deep breaths, trying to let go of the uncontrolled initial panic.   She was shaking with adrenaline.



Albus glanced at James and them added, “They didn’t even get into the main Ministry. They attacked the floo systems. That’s where the casualties are. Dad should be back soon. He sent a patronus about ten minutes ago, but its really crazy there. “



The five of them stared at her, the four boys and Mrs. Potter, waiting for her reaction. Would she cry? Would she yell again? Would she be reasonable?



“My socks,” Sophie finally said. A confused silence followed. “My socks and my tweezers and my eye shadow. You took them. To distract me until you could get more news.”



Mrs. Potter raised her eyebrows. Louis looked up guiltily and said, “James and I put them in an enchanted chest so you couldn’t find them. Its just….Soph, what if Uncle Harry comes back and nothing is wrong? Then you would never have had to worry. We just didn’t want you to worry.”



“You let me climb under James’ bed,” Sophie accused. She was breathing more steadily now. “But you are right.  Its probably fine. My mother’s fine, my sister’s fine. Its fine. If it wasn’t fine, we’d know, right? That’s a good thing, right?”



The four boys bobbed their heads enthusiastically and assured her that everything would be “fine.” Albus came over, gave her a bracing hug, and put a cup of tea in her hands that was so hot it burned her tongue when she sipped it. He was right. Tea always helped.



It took a moment, but the shock was wearing off into a steeling of herself. If—just if, mind you!—the unthinkable had happened, there would be no more yelling outbursts. This wasn’t the first scare the Hinds family had encountered, and it would not be the last. 


 


Sophie carefully sipped her scalding tea and accepted toast from Mrs. Potter. Instead of focusing on the anxiety building in her chest or the worried gazes of her friends, Sophie focused on breakfast. Sophie had learned long ago that the trick to being calm is to focus on something other than the imminent disaster that is looming. Ergo, tea and toast suddenly became much more interesting than the attack on the ministry.



The article hadn’t mentioned any group taking responsibility for the attack. That was normal. In the years since The War, many things had changed. In some ways, the change had been for the better—the gap between purebloods and muggleborns had shrunk considerably. But there had also been a backlash. Everyone remembered what it felt like to be oppressed, hunted, without the ability to fight back. So now certain socio-political sects that became more vocal—and even more violent—with their views. 


 


Over her lifetime, Sophie had survived “witch-hunts” for Deatheaters, wild protesters causing a riot in Diagon Alley, and even attacks on her own house. Sometimes people thought that this sort of violent outburst was the only thing that would get the attention of the Wizarding World. Sophie understood the need to be heard, but she couldn’t comprehend the desire to hurt anyone else.



Especially since Sophie was fairly sure that this protest was a result of the movement to grant wand-rights to half-humans and other non-wizards. Over the last year and a half or so, legislature had been promoted—by Harry Potter and his constituents—that would grant more rights to the non-wizard magical community. 



This had caused a frenzied backlash of people who wanted to keep the magical creatures suppressed. There was an ignorant supposition that there would be an uprising and Wizarding power would be overthrown. Sophie personally thought that was crazy, but enough of the wizarding population was against the proposition that Mrs. Hinds had been unwilling to sign it into law. Now the wizards that wanted the law were mad that Mrs. Hinds had not signed, and the wizards that did not want the law were upset that Mrs. Hinds hadn’t dismissed the idea in the first place. Either party could have been behind the attack.



Suddenly there was a ‘whoosh’ of cold, electric air rushing by her and her father’s patronus—an elegant lynx—appeared at her side. Mr. Hinds voice came next: “Sophia, your mother and Madeline are safe. Do not leave the Potter’s. Will come for you.” 



And then as quickly as it had come, it disappeared. Sophie closed her eyes and gave a sigh of relief. For a moment, no one said anything, but then—



CRASH.



Six heads turned, surprised, to the fireplace. A slightly sooty Harry Potter clutched his knee where he had hit it on a chair that had been left in front of the chimney. 



“Who left furniture in the middle of the room?” he questioned, face grimaced in pain. 



Mrs. Potter smiled, kissed him on the cheek, and adjusted his crooked glasses. “How was it?” she asked, seriously. 



“Not as bad as that gossipmonger at the Prophet made it seem,” Harry replied grimly. “No fatalities, a few injuries. Some people ended up halfway across the country trying to take the floo system to work. And of course, we have no idea how many people were caught inside the chimneys. But no real damage was done.”



“So after seeing all that devistation and all those people caught inside the floo system, you thought it would be a good idea to take the same system to get home?” his wife chided lightly. Harry suddenly looked like an embarrassed boy. “Well, I didn’t take the chimney from work. I took the minister home and flooed from the Hinds’.”



At the mention of her parents, Mr. Potter turned towards his guest and said,” Your mother was fine. She had gone into work early and your sister had a day off. “



“My dad sent a Patronus,” Sophie said. “But do you know who did it?”



“There are a few theories, but nothing serious enough to go public with.” Everyone in the room knew that this meant the Aurors knew who had done it, had no proof, and were therefore unable to catch them. It was frustrating, but generally the way these things played out. 



“You parents are going to come by later with security to escort you to your sisters,” Mr. Potter continued.



“Oh,” Sophie said. “I thought maybe I would be staying here now.”



Mr. Potter shook his head. “They are setting up a Fidelius Charm. Your father will be able to tell you more when he gets here.”



“We’re going underground?” Sophie asked, incredulously. ‘ Going underground’ was a phrase that had been coined during the War when people literally went underground to hide. If her parents thought the Fidelius charm was necessary, they were really worried.



Sensing her unease, Mr. Potter elaborated, “I’m sure its just a precaution. We have no evidence that the attack was directed at your Mother. But I think your parents are just being protective.”



It was a relief to hear that. The excitement was over. Everyone was safe. Another sip of almost-to-hot tea and Sophie would be fine.



A warm hand clasped her shoulder offering support. Sophie didn’t have to look to know it was Albus. It was nice to know she had such stability. 



It was odd, just an hour ago, Sophie would have given anything to stay with the Potter's longer.  Now, all she wanted to do was go home. 







Authors Note:



Well, I could not wait any longer to write some Sophie/Albus time so I gave you a flashback!  



You may notice some typos--I hope there aren't any, but if there are I'm sorry.  I'm publishing this without doing editing because it has been so long since I last published.  And I'm so, SO, sorry for the wait.  I'm not going to jinx myself by saying the next one won't take as long haha.



I don't know if you've noticed, but I have started pointing out little differences between Albus and James--in this chapter, its the way they deal with uncomfortable information.  Albus is direct, and deals with the situation honestly.  James hates to be the bearer of bad news and would rather wait and hope that the situation will work itself out if he leaves it alone. 



The title is Lewis Carrol's beloved children's novel.  I chose it because the first half of the chapter--even the first half of Sophie's summer--is a wonderland.  Its strange and uncomfortable, sure, but now she has come back out of the rabbit hole and been reminded of real life.  The chapter quote is W. Shakespeare from As you like it.



But what did you think?  Did anyone see this coming?  Give me ratings!  Give me reviews!  Please and thanks :P

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