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“Can I get you anything else dears?”

I smile up at the elderly witch standing over our table.  Her hair is an unnatural shade of lilac and held up in some sort of permanent-wave-quaffed-within-an-inch-of-its-life style that vaguely resembles a ball of fairy floss.  Her baby pink robes feature a row of glass, heart-shaped buttons around the neck that match the hue of her hair exactly.  She looks down at us over the top of her gold-rimmed glasses, which are attached to a beaded chain around her neck and holds up the silver coffee pot in her hand expectantly.

“No thank you, I think we’re fine here,” I reply, glancing at Michelle across the table for confirmation.  She nods her head, first at me, and then at our hostess.

Madam Puddifoot’s is relatively quiet for a Sunday afternoon.  However, it isn’t a Hogsmeade weekend for the students and there is a steady fall of snow, which is no doubt keeping people inside by their fireplaces, so the lack of patrons is to be expected.  Coming here for coffee had been Michelle’s idea, and I was rather amused to note that the décor hasn’t been altered since I’d last visited, about ten years ago.

Michelle giggles into her hand as the older witch moves away from our table, catching my eye and causing me to stifle a laugh as well. 

“Did you see that hair?” Michelle whispers to me and we both snort into our cappuccinos.  “It’s a bit kitschy and tacky, but the coffee’s really good.” She adds, stirring in a lump of sugar before taking a sip.

“And the cake’s amazing; that hasn’t changed,” I take a bite of the carrot cake in front of me and close my eyes blissfully as it melts in my mouth.

“Do you think it was perhaps a little over the top for us to order five kinds of pudding?” Michelle asks, using her fork to break off a piece of a rather large chocolate éclair.  A second after putting in her mouth her eyes widen comically, and I can’t help but laugh out loud.  “Oh wow, that’s amazing!” She says after swallowing.  “You have to try it!”

Our little round table is crowded with so many pieces of china crockery that I can barely see the cream coloured lacy tablecloth beneath.  A delicate sugar bowl with a rosebud pattern painted on it sits next to a small crystal vase of real roses, which seem to be softly humming.  I pour some milk into my coffee from a delicate milk jug and stir it with an antique teaspoon, enjoying the soft tinkling sound it makes as the spoon hits the side of my cup. 

“So, we get this box of quills, which are supposed to be just the plain old spell-checking variety,” Michelle says, continuing the story she had been telling me before lilac-hair-lady brought over our coffee and cake.  “And stupidly, I didn’t think to check the quills out before I put them on display, did I?”  Michelle is incredibly animated as she talks, waving her teaspoon around in her left hand as if to punctuate particularly important points.  “Well, what Anthony had failed to mention is that we get our spell-checking quills from the same place that makes all the Weasley Wizard Wheezes stationery, and even in a well-run quill factory, mistakes do happen and things get put in the wrong box…” 

She pauses dramatically, on the cusp of her punch line, and in that brief moment, I am struck by the similarity between Michelle and her brother.  Michelle’s eyes are a sort of crystal blue, similar to the sky on a clear winter morning, whilst Timothy’s have more green in them, reminding me of the surface of the black lake in the summer months; and yet the way the skin around her eyes crinkles when she smiles, and the easy curve of her nose are almost identical to the features of her sibling.  I force myself to ignore the image of Timothy that has just popped in to my mind, and smile at Michelle in what I hope is an amused and expectant manner.

“Well, when old Mrs Spencer, who never gets cross mind you, starts yelling at me for allowing such inappropriate items in what has, for generations been a highly regarded establishment,” Michelle starts giggling again, obviously remembering the old lady’s tirade.  “I knew something had to be wrong.”

“There was something wrong with the quills?” I prompt, not quite putting the pieces of the story together, but wanting to be in on the joke.  Michelle supresses a snort and nods her head.

“They weren’t spell-checking quills, they were rude word quills!” She gasps out.  “She had been testing one out on a spare piece of parchment and it kept calling her things like ‘bum-face’ and ‘poo-head’.  The poor old dear was so shocked; this quill was spelling out words she’d never even heard of before!”

“Really?” I grin, tickled by the story, but not quite enough to be laughing like Michelle.  I force a giggle out, and Michelle seems satisfied, though I can’t say I feel the same.  Normally, a story like this should have me in stitches, but it feels like I’ve forgotten how to laugh.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I make a mental note to ask Heather about it at my next session with her.

“So I took the box over to the Weasley shop, and guess who was there?” Michelle has calmed down enough to continue talking.

“Who?” I ask, genuinely curious.

“George Weasley.”

“Doesn’t he own the shop?” I feel my brow furrow in confusion, wondering why his presence in his own shop would be considered gossip-worthy.

“Well yeah, but he usually works at the shop in London during the week.  Wasn’t he in your year at Hogwarts?”

“Oh…um, yeah,” I nod, taking a sip of my coffee.  “I didn’t have much to do with them though,” Michelle and I pause for a second, both of us catching my slip.  I’d said ‘them’, because when we were at school the Weasley twins were inseparable, so we always referred to them as a unit.  But, of course, they hadn’t been a team in nearly five years, not since Fred had been killed…

“I worked with his Dad,” I say, the thought tumbling out of my mouth before I’d had a chance to process it.


“His Dad, Arthur Weasley,” I explain, though it’s partially to myself.  “At least I think it was his dad, he looked like them, red hair and all.  At the ministry,” I add, finally breaking out of my contemplations to direct the last three words at Michelle.

“Oh, ok,” She nods, still looking confused.

“Sorry, I only just realised, I can’t believe I’d never put two and two together before,”  I remember the way Arthur’s eyes would glaze over with sadness when he thought nobody was looking, but I often noticed it because I’d always thought his eyes looked like my own when they did that.

“…dating Angelina Johnson,” Michelle is saying, and I snap my attention back to her.  “He said they were always good mates and it just led to something more.”

“That’s nice for them,” I nod, shovelling a forkful of treacle tart into my mouth.

“Do you want to come to Gladrag’s with me?” Michelle asks forty minutes later when we step out of the teashop and on the small side street.  The snow has slowed to a very light fall, but the sky above us is a light grey colour, like ash drifting up from a bonfire.  “They’re pretty good these days, they’ve even got a whole Muggle clothing section now.”

“Sounds good to me,” I reply.  Gladrag’s Wizardwear is where I bought my very first pair of dress robes for the Yule Ball back in my sixth year at Hogwarts, and the silly Christmas earrings I’d bought in fourth year that were little Father Christmases that dance the hula when you cast the appropriate incantation.  For a teenage girl, it had been almost as fun as visiting Honeydukes.

“You promised!”

“Come on, we have to walk right past it to get there anyway!”

“No way, you promised that we would go there first this time.”

“Em, you’re being ridiculous, let’s just stop in at Honeyduke’s on the way.”

“Trish, you promised,” I stop to face my friend, putting emphasis on the last word.  Patricia stops next to me a rolls her eyes.

“You’re being a bit dramatic Em,” She says.

“Look, last time we didn’t get around to everything, so we decided that we wouldn’t go to Gladrag’s because we’d come here first on the next visit.  This is the next visit Trish, is it not?” I fold my arms across my chest, and stare at her, refusing to blink.

“Oh, ok, fine,” She grumbles.  “We’ll go to Gladrag’s first.”

“Brilliant,” I beam, pulling on her arm and skipping down the lane towards Hogsmeade, well as much as one can skip in ten inches of snow.  Kate and Sophie who have been walking with us and watched this entire interchange between Patricia and me burst out laughing.

“Why are you so keen to go to Gladrag’s?” Sophie asks.

“I’ve never been to a magic clothing shop before,” I shrug.  “Well except to Madam Malkin’s to get my school robes but that’s kind of boring.”

“I’ve always wanted to go shopping in a muggle shop, you know those big ones they have in London, with heaps of levels of muggle clothes,” Kate’s voice has a rather dreamy quality to it.

“You have loads of muggle clothes,” I counter.

“Yeah, but mostly Mum buys them or makes them, or if we ever go to a muggle shop it’s just this little one in the village near our house.  Nothing very exciting,” She explains.

“Look, look!” Patricia half whispers, half squeals as we pass by Honeyduke’s.  She pulls on the arm of my jumper.

“Trish, we’ve been through this, we’re not going to –”

“No, look!  It’s them!” Her voice is getting louder and more excited, so I follow her gaze to where three boys are standing outside Zonko’s joke shop.  They are all from our year and they’re all laughing about something funny in the shop window.  Cedric Diggory, the tallest of the three looks over at us as we pass by on the opposite side of the street, and catches my eye; he smiles at me and I look away, blushing.

“Oh sweet Merlin, they are so cute!” Patricia sighs.

“Shhh, Trish they’ll hear you!” Kate giggles as I glance back over my shoulder at the boys.  Cedric is still watching me and I turn away from his gaze, feeling oddly excited by the whole exchange.

Gadrag’s is everything I expected it to be –and more.  There are racks full of robes in every colour, some for everyday wear, others obviously for formal occasions (‘Dress robes,’ Patricia explains, ‘My Dad has a really hideous set in powder blue!’).  The accessories section has a range of magical jewelry (‘colour change bracelets to match your mood or outfit,’ one sign says), and clever accessories like the scarf and mitten set with a warming charm on them.

We leave after looking at everything twice and even trying on a few things; Patricia is practically dragging me out the shop by the end of it.

“I want to go to Honeyduke’s!” She exclaims, although I notice the way she glances into the Zonko’s window as we pass and then around the sweet shop as we arrive and deduce that it’s not chocolate frogs and sugar quills she’s really interested in.  Patricia has had a crush on Will Caulder since second year when he drew her a picture of Snape being eaten by the giant squid after the Potions master made her cry in class.  He’s completely oblivious to her, but it doesn’t stop her patting down her blonde hair and straightening her fringe every time he’s around.

“Let’s go to the Three Broomsticks again for lunch,” I say as we are all waiting in line to pay for our sweets.  “I am simply dying for a butterbeer, I think I may be addicted.”  Even I know this is an exaggeration.  It’s only my second time in Hogsmeade and I’ve only ever had butterbeer once before, so ‘addicted’ is a strong word; but my friends understand me.

“They are pretty scrummy,” Sophie agrees.  “I heard some of the sixth year boys saying they were going to try and get the house elves to get us some, next time Hufflepuff has a party.”

I laugh at that, because Hufflepuff don’t have a lot of parties.  House parties are generally reserved for celebrations like winning a Quidditch match and that hardly ever happens to our house.

The pub is busy when we walk in, and we do three laps of the room before we conclude that there are no spare tables.

“What do we do now?” I whine, knowing I sound like a spoiled brat but not really caring.

“Hey, Morgan!  Girls!” We all looked towards the voice that had called us and see the three boys from earlier sitting at a small table in the corner.  Cedric Diggory is standing up, waving his hand at me in a ‘come here’ motion.

“Come on,” I say, hoping I look as confident as I sounded.  I don’t normally have trouble talking to boys like other girls my age do, but lately I’ve been finding myself a little tongue tied around Cedric.  Patricia lets out a small squeak of protest as I pull her with me, but I ignore it.  “Hi!” I beam when we reached their table.

“Do you want to sit with us?  It’s pretty crowded in here,” Cedric asks.  The other boys are watching us curiously, as though they’d never seen girls before.

“Sure,” I reply for my friends, and we scramble for seats.  Unfortunately, we are one short, and I am the person left standing.

“Here, have my seat,” Cedric stands and pushes it towards me.

“Oh, no I couldn’t,” I respond instantly, my mother sure has drummed those manners in to me.

“You can’t stand up all afternoon,” Cedric reasons.

“Well why don’t we share it then?” I say, sitting down so I am only on half of the seat.  Cedric looks at me uncertainly for a second and then lowers himself onto the chair next to me.  We are both pretty skinny, but we’re squished up pretty close together nonetheless.  I smile at him and blush and, surprisingly, his cheeks look a little pink too.  He moves his arm to the table and it brushes against mine, causing my stomach to feel like it has just dropped down to my knees.

“So, who wants a butterbeer?”

Michelle was right about Gladrag’s being different these days.  The shop looks very much the same from the outside, although the sign hanging above the door has been repainted and only one of the windows featured dressmakers mannequins sporting traditional robes, while the other has shop dummies like the ones in muggle shops, wearing a range of trendy muggle clothes.  Unlike muggle shops however, these dummies move every ten seconds into different poses. 

Both the muggle clothes and the witches robes in the windows are far more fashionable than anything I own, and as we enter the shop (which is significantly larger than I remember, no doubt thanks to some nifty magic) I can’t help but feel a little dowdy.  I can’t even remember the last I went shopping for clothes – last Easter with my mother perhaps?

“I still wear robes when I’m working in the shop obviously, but I like wearing muggle clothes.  I suppose it’s not such a big deal to you being muggle born though, is it?” Michelle talks to me over her shoulder as she looks over a rack of muggle blouses. 

“Not really, although I probably prefer muggle clothes in my own time,” I reply, pulling a blue jacket from a rack and comparing the sleeve length to my own arm.  “I always seem to end up in some sort of mixture of the two,” I add, and Michelle laughs.

“I noticed that.”

I look down at my clothes and smile. 

“I always end up throwing my cloak on over my jeans and a jumper, because it’s just so easy.  Plus, if you’re going somewhere in the magical world, you don’t get mistaken for a lost muggle,” I say, hanging the jacket back up and moving on to a rack of dresses.

“You should wear dresses more,” Michelle comments, appearing around the opposite side of the rack.  “You have the legs for it.  At least you did, you always hide them under trousers or robes these days.”

“Thanks,” I mutter, glancing down at my jean clad legs.  I know that under those legs is a forest of two inch hairs because I’ve been too lazy to use a hair removal charm, not to mention a few nasty scars that I didn’t have when I was a student.  I tell Michelle as much.

“Oh there’s that beauty witch down on Fluxweed Lane,” Michelle says, holding a purple dress against herself as she turns towards the mirror.  The bright indigo contrasts beautifully with her strawberry blonde hair and I feel a little jealous as I catch my own bedraggled reflection behind her.  “We should go there sometime, apparently she trained as a cosmetic healer, so she’s really good at getting rid of scars.”

“Sure,” I reply with a smile, although I’m not completely sure I want anybody seeing my scars, even an ex-healer, beauty witch.

“I’m so glad you live around here Em,” Michelle says, turning away from the mirror to smile at me.  “I always really liked you at school, you were always so nice and so much fun.  I’m glad we can be friends.”

“Thanks Michelle,” I say, stunned at these sudden words of kindness.  “I’m glad we’re friends too.”

Michelle convinces me to buy a green knee length dress (‘It brings out the green in your eyes,’ she’d said), and I give in and get the jacket I’d looked at, even though it’s expensive.  I talk myself into it by promising I’ll get Flitwick to show me how to perfect a colour change charm on fabric so I can make it match anything.

“Do you want to come over for dinner on Friday night?” Michelle asks as we part ways outside the shop.  Anthony and I have been taking a couple’s cooking class in York.  It’s silly, I know, but it’s fun too and it would be good to have someone to cook for.”

“Sure,” I reply with a smile as Michelle hugs me.  I wrap my arms around her, allowing myself to enjoy for a brief second the comfort of the embrace.  I don’t get a lot of hugs these days and the physical contact is like a drug.

“Seven sharp!”  She calls over her shoulder with a wave as she jogs through the snow towards her house.

I apparate to the castle gates and unlock them with a flick of my wand, glancing up at the winged boars as I pass through the barrier.  The boars were both partially destroyed during the Battle of Hogwarts, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they look now.  Like the rest of Hogwarts castle, they don’t look like they’ve had to weather more than the occasional snow storm over the last few hundred years.  They’re perfectly aged, guarding the school just like they had when I was a student, no doubt having been repaired with one of McGonagall’s skilful spells. 

If only people could be put back together so easily.

I should have known something was wrong on Sunday night, but I’d passed the odd feelings off as end-of-weekend anxiety, which wasn’t terribly uncommon for me to experience when I looked at the piles of ungraded homework that were much bigger than I wanted them to be.  I’d skipped dinner since I was still full from my mini feast at Puddifoot’s and went to bed early, sure things would seem better in the morning.

However, when my alarm clock sounds on Monday morning, I feel as though a large, dark cloud is hanging over my head.  I drag myself into the shower, almost falling back asleep under the gentle torrent of warm water, but I manage to stay awake and get myself dressed in fresh robes.  The sound of student chatter in the Great Hall echoes in my brain during breakfast, making me feel like I’m slightly hung-over, although I didn’t have a drop of alcohol the day before, but I guzzle down two cups of coffee all the same, hoping it will help.

The tired feeling is replaced with a jittery sensation as the day wears on and I mutter curses at myself for drinking too much caffeine in the morning.  My blood feels like its electrified and I can’t seem to sit still for more than ten seconds.  I’m not very hungry and only get down half a plate of chicken casserole at dinner time before escaping to my quarters.

I try to mark some homework, but I can’t seem to focus on the words in front of me, so I decide to read a book instead.  I pull one about Human Transfiguration off the shelf first, but after re-reading the first paragraph four times, I give up and try one a Fifi LaFolle novel, which isn’t brilliant, but is a good, easy read when I don’t want to think.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to focus on the stunningly beautiful but disadvantaged young heroine in the book either, so I toss it on the coffee table, defeated.  I wander around my quarters for the next half an hour, picking up this or tidying that, but I can’t seem to focus on any task for more than a couple of minutes. 

My heart feels like it’s beating too fast and my hands are tingling, though they’re not really shaking, more like vibrating; I just don’t know what’s wrong with me but I try not to think about it, because I’m getting a little bit scared.  Eventually, even though it’s still early and I know most of the students are probably still up, I change into a clean pair of pyjamas and crawl in to bed, hoping that sleep will come quickly.

At first, things are dark and meaningless, but gradually shapes seem to form around me.  I’m in a forest and from the colour of the leaves on the trees, it’s late Autumn.  It’s not the forbidden forest near Hogwarts, but it still looks vaguely familiar.  I’m cold and I wrap my arms around myself to keep warm.  There is no sound except for my own breathing and the slight rustle of the breeze in the trees; it’s twilight but I can’t quite work out if it’s morning or evening.

Suddenly, there’s a loud noise behind me and I spin around to see two hares racing through the underbrush – something has frightened them, something in the trees to my left.  Without thinking or even knowing why, I instinctively turn and run, my heart pounding in my chest, branches ripping at my clothes and my skin as I stumble over rocks and shrubberies.  I can hear them behind me, whoever it is, and I’m pretty sure they’re gaining on me, any second now and they’ll catch me and then it will all be over…

I wake up with a gasp and my body seems to freeze for a second as though I’ve been hit by a full body bind jinx.  Then, as though the spell is removed, my body curls in on itself and a horrible sound fills the room; a loud, guttural, animalistic noise which I eventually recognise as a gut wrenching sob, although it takes me a little longer to realise that the noise is coming from my own throat.

Fear seems to burn in to me like a branding iron and the sobs make my whole body shake.  I fight to control them but it only seems to increase their intensity, as though they are separate from me, uncontrollable and all-consuming.  I close my eyes, but when I do, the forest it still there, the panic and adrenaline so real that it’s terrifying.  My breath is coming out in short, shallow gasps between the sobs as I continue fighting to supress them, but it’s no good, I’m too far gone.  The fear is too strong.

Suddenly, my bedroom door flies open and I see a flash of tartan moving across my room.  I am vaguely aware of the weight pressing down on my mattress and the gentle hand on my back.

“Please fetch Madam Pomfrey immediately,” a familiar voice says, followed by a loud crack, though the hand stays pressed softly against my spine.  I force my eyes to focus on the form of McGonagall, sitting on the edge of my bed, dressed in her tartan robe.  Oddly, in that moment, my mind wonders if it’s the same robe she’s had since I was a student at Hogwarts; it must be quite old if it is.

I open my mouth to speak, but I’m still crying, my eyes blurry with tears and my throat sore from the sobbing.

“I’m sorry,” I gasp.  I had meant to say more, but it’s the only thing my voice, or maybe my mind, will let me say.  “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.”

“Shhh, it ok,” McGonagall’s voice is so soft that it doesn’t even sound like her.

“I’m sorry,” I repeat. “I’m sorry.”

AN: I just want to say a massive thank you to my loyal readers out there.  I know this story doesn't get a lot of reads, but to those of you who are reading, I'm so grateful for you all :)  And an extra big thank you to those of you who review, I love the reviews I get for this story, they make me so happy :)

I hope you enjoyed the chapter!

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