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The most urgent thing in my mind was to get Charlotte out of the rubble and make sure she would be okay. Panicking, I ran over to her through the settling dust. I neither knew nor cared where Lester was at the moment – there were Aurors present, so someone else could handle him for now. The noise of the battle faded away as all my attention focused on Charlotte. My hands trembled as I attempted to extricate her from the crumbled stone where she was lying uncomfortably and gasping for breath.

“Charlotte!” I cried. I Levitated a large stone block off her chest and deposited it arbitrarily a few feet away, then knelt down beside her. Blood trickled down her face and robes. Her eyes were barely open, but when I knelt at her side, she opened them and gazed up at me.

“Don’t let them win,” she said hoarsely. “Get back in there and catch him. You can’t do anything for me.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I protested. “I’m going to get you out of here. I’m not leaving you!”

She looked directly into my eyes. “There’s nothing you can do. I’m dying, Melanie.” It sounded like each word was causing her pain.

“No!” I willed her words to not be true. I grabbed onto her hand and squeezed it tightly, as if my holding on to her could help her cling to life. Her hand was shaking as much as mine, and her grip was weak; I was overcome with a sinking sense of futility. My eyes filled with tears as I sat there helplessly watching my friend die. I couldn’t even speak; my throat was so tight it was painful.

Charlotte spoke again. “The only thing I regret is that there were still several things I wanted to do that I never got to do. I never walked under a ladder.”

“What?” I croaked, not sure I had heard correctly.

“I crossed the path of a black cat and I’ve broken a mirror, but I never walked under a ladder. I always wanted to do that. But if that’s the only regret I have in my life, I think I did well.” She smiled weakly.

Her detached acceptance of the situation only made it harder for me. I squeezed my eyes firmly shut, feeling another cascade of tears stream down my cheeks, and held on to her hand still tighter. My throat stung. “Are you scared?” I finally asked her, my voice cracking.

“I’m worried about you, not me,” she whispered. “You’re the best friend I ever had. You and Mandy. I want you to know that.”

“Charlotte, no,” I sobbed. With apparent difficulty she raised her other arm off the floor and reached out to me. I bent down closer to her and hugged her tightly, my tears falling into her hair. And then I noticed that her head had lolled back a bit, and her hand thudded to the floor. I sat up slowly and through a blur of tears I looked at her face again; her eyes were staring up at the ceiling, unseeing, the sparkle gone.

I could do nothing. My whole body was shaking now as I remained there, still holding on to Charlotte while I rocked back and forth in anguish. I tried to wake up from the nightmare, because that was what it must be. It couldn’t be real. But Charlotte lay unmoving, her arm reaching lifelessly across the dusty floor where it had dropped. She would never wake up. And I couldn’t either.

I had no idea how long I sat there. But I was spurred back into action when I saw Lester run by again and the noise of the battle eventually returned to my consciousness. I stood up with renewed fury and sprinted after Lester.

Crucio!” I screeched at him, wanting to hurt him and make him suffer for killing Charlotte, but nothing happened; I didn’t know how to do an Unforgivable Curse. When it didn’t work, I ran at him in desperation, not really knowing what I would do when I got to him but I hoped it would hurt. He saw me charging at him and pulled out his wand.

“You killed her!” I cried. My voice sounded quite deranged. “You killed Charlotte!”

“No,” said Lester, so softly that I saw rather than heard it; a flicker of emotion crossed his face, but then vanished just as suddenly. He continued to point his wand at me and I faced him defiantly, tears still streaming down my face. “Do you feel nothing?”

“It was an accident,” he said through gritted teeth, then fired another of those white-light spells at me. I cast a Shield Charm between us just in time.

Lily and James heard me screaming at Lester and ran in to help me fight him. By this point I had stopped bothering with my wand and was trying to strangle him. All I wanted to do was to hurt him as much as he’d hurt me. But he was stronger than I was, and I was on the verge of falling apart as it was.

“Melanie, leave it,” said Lily. She Disarmed Lester with a perfectly aimed jinx. “We can handle him.”

Just then I saw Nathan skirting around the walls of the building. I still wanted to hurt Lester, but Lily and James were dealing with him, and if what I’d seen of Nathan’s action in this battle so far meant anything, there was still a chance for him to get out if he wanted to. “Impedimenta!” I cried, and Nathan stalled. He put a Shield Charm around himself.

“Nathan, this is really what you want to do?” I demanded as I fired more hexes at his shield. “This is what you want to become?”

“I joined the Dark Lord because I believe that purebloods are a higher status of wizard and deserve respect. I didn’t think he’d have me kill anyone – I never wanted to.”

“You aren’t even a pureblood! So why does it matter?”

“I may not be a pureblood but I’m not a Mudblood! We have some noble wizarding stock in our blood and that’s something to be proud of. Dad’s family is pureblood.”

“No one cares about that rubbish except you Death Eaters. Do you really think this is worth dying for, or killing for? Lester Avery just killed his sister – is that what you want to do as well?”

Nathan looked horrified. “No,” he admitted softly. But then my attention was drawn away once again by Lester, who shot off a few more curses at random and then ran up to Nathan, grabbed his arm and yelled “Now!” and the two of them Disapparated.

The battle had taken a serious toll on everyone. The two Aurors who were still conscious slowed their running to a halt and stood there panting and despondent where Nathan and Lester had escaped from within their grasp. Lily was lying on the floor, a painful looking gash across her face, and James bent down to help her. Sirius was not where I had last seen him – apparently he’d joined the fight again, though I had no idea how. He was now sitting in the middle of the room holding his leg. I merely stumbled over to where Charlotte’s body lay and hopelessly collapsed onto the floor again in tears. After everything, all four Death Eaters and Voldemort had managed to get away, and Charlotte had died in vain.

I became aware of a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see Sirius. He was standing upright now on his right leg, a hastily made splint on the left; with his other arm he was holding onto Frank Longbottom’s shoulder to stay standing. “I’m so sorry,” Sirius said flatly, staring at Charlotte in disbelief.

“We did everything we could,” said Frank.

James and Lily walked up beside Frank, followed shortly by Sturgis and Dorcas, who was conscious once again, and no one did anything but stare down at Charlotte lying there as if asleep in the rubble of the stone column – a solemn semicircle surrounding a fallen hero. I remained on the floor, holding on to Charlotte.

Lily finally spoke. “How did you find us in here?” she asked. “Are you Aurors?”

“We’re not all Aurors, no,” said Frank’s voice. “This is Dorcas Meadowes and Sturgis Podmore. We’re all part of the resistance against the Death Eaters. We have many sources all around Hogwarts and Hogsmeade – that’s how we knew how to find you today.”

Their words washed over me and I heard without listening. None of it mattered anymore.

I felt arms pulling me away from Charlotte, and I struggled against them at first, but they brought me to my feet. Some time later Lily, James, Sirius and I were headed back to Hogwarts; Lily’s arm was around me, and Sirius was supported between her and James, hopping on his good leg. I didn’t know or care where the Aurors had gone. I was walking as if in a fog, only aware of what was happening immediately around me. Numbly I watched each step my feet took; it seemed like someone else walking with my feet, because I didn’t even feel my own legs moving.

The sounds of merriment spilled out from the windows of the Three Broomsticks… people who were still blissfully ignorant of the unthinkable tragedy that had just transpired at the far end of the street. I had nearly forgotten it was Valentine’s Day; that seemed ages ago. Time had stopped when Charlotte died, and the seconds had become agonizing hours.

And then we were back in the Great Hall, still walking. I saw some people rushing urgently down the corridor. We kept going; I had no idea where we were headed, and I didn’t care. All I could think about was that I should have done something more. If I had thought fast enough I could have stopped Lester and Voldemort and then Charlotte wouldn’t have died.

The next time I was really conscious of my surroundings, I was in the hospital wing. Sirius and Lily were there as well. Madam Pomfrey had given me some sort of potion for shock, but so far it was having no effect at all. Slumped against my pillow, I did little but stare across the room.

After I’d been there a few minutes, or maybe a half hour – I felt wholly disconnected from the passage of time – the door was thrown open and Mandy walked into the room straight towards me, ignoring Madam Pomfrey’s insistence that I needed rest. I could see the tears in Mandy’s eyes all the way across the room. It seemed she’d already been informed, which was good in a way, because I didn’t think I’d be able to say it. That would make it too real. Seeing Mandy crying brought stinging tears to my eyes as well, just when I thought I’d cried as much as was humanly possible for one day. Mandy didn’t stop walking until she reached my bed and then threw her arms around me. We held on to each other for a long time, and neither of us said anything. We had lost our best friend – how were we supposed to ever move forward from that?

It still hadn’t really sunk in the first time I went back to my dormitory, the following day once I’d been released from the hospital wing. Our room looked the same as ever, still had the same silly decorations, large posters of professional Quidditch players, a cactus by the window, a string of lights over the door that no one had bothered to take down after Christmas, piles of shoes on the floor, as if all was normal… The only thing missing was Charlotte, lying on her bed and rubbing the end of her quill against her chin as she scratched away on parchment. It could never be that way anymore, and it bothered me that the room gave the impression that nothing had happened.

Outside the window, it was raining under a gloomy grey sky, which oddly made me feel better, like the sky was grieving as much as I was. I blankly watched the tears of rain fall from the heavens and disrupt the surface of the lake with ripples. I opened the window and a cold gust of air rushed in, along with some rain, but I didn’t care.

I felt like an empty shell now that I’d forever lost my oldest friend, the first person I’d met on the train to Hogwarts six and a half years ago. And I’d imagined she would always be there. I had never told her what a good friend she was. I didn’t realise until she was gone just how much I had taken her for granted.

Never again would I see Charlotte’s smiling face as she came to tell me stupid gossip. To think that I had always tuned her out when she started down that road… but now I’d give anything just to hear her talk about the most mundane rubbish again. No one else would mock my love of Herbology, tell me I looked like her grandmother, or compare me unfavourably with a shedding cat… it was funny the things you missed…

I knew that if she could see me acting this way, she’d probably have something sarcastic to say about it. She had never taken anything seriously. Not her homework, not Voldemort, not even death. I envied that about her – I doubted I could ever smile again.

“Can you shut that? It’s getting cold in here.”

I hadn’t even noticed Alanna and Rachel entering the room. They were sitting on Charlotte’s bed, Alanna holding a framed photograph. I closed the window and walked over to them to see the picture. It was one Charlotte had had on the table beside her bed, taken of all five of us as first years; Rachel and Charlotte were pushing their way to the front of the picture, and Mandy kept moving forward as well to put bunny ears on Charlotte with her fingers. Then one of us tripped and we all fell over in a heap. “I just can’t believe she’s gone,” said Alanna softly.

Rachel sighed. “And I had thought the Dark Lord really knew what he was doing. I admired him – I thought it was noble to elevate the status of purebloods. But Charlotte stood up to him… and now I don’t reckon he’s everything he says he is. All he wants is power for himself. I don’t like what he’s doing to achieve his power… You were right all along, Melanie.”

I said nothing. I didn’t care about being right; all I wanted was for Charlotte to come back.

“Well, she won’t need this any more,” said Alanna, picking up the picture as she stood up from the bed. “Do you think it’s all right if I take it?”

Rachel and I merely shrugged, and Alanna set the photo on the table by her own bed. Just then, Mandy walked into the room as well. “They told me you were out of the hospital wing,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said expressionlessly. “There’s not a whole lot Madam Pomfrey could do for me.”

Mandy nodded, then, seemingly because she didn’t want to continue talking about Charlotte, she asked us all if we wanted to go to dinner.

Rachel and Alanna agreed, but I just shrugged again. “You have to eat sometime,” Mandy insisted. So we all walked down together, Rachel’s and my arms around each other’s shoulders in silent support, all of us saying very little, but there was nothing to say. Charlotte had always been the glue that held us all together, and now, in a way, it seemed her death had brought the remaining four of us closer.

The Great Hall had been adorned with black banners instead of the usual four House banners, and the conversations throughout the hall seemed muted. The food looked just as expertly prepared as ever by the house-elves, but it didn’t appear appetizing to me. The few bites I took of my dinner seemed tasteless and dry.

“Dumbledore made a speech about the war at dinner yesterday,” said Alanna. “He said some nice things about Charlotte.”

“That’s nice,” I said numbly.

As I shaped my shepherd’s pie into a square with my fork, flattening it on top and then stabbing at it and then shaping it again, a trickle of people came by to speak to us, offering words of condolence. I supposed it was nice of them, but I couldn’t handle nice things at the moment. It just sounded like empty words to me, even though I knew they meant well.

I was seated next to Mandy on the side of the table that Charlotte always preferred: the side with our backs to the wall so we had a view of the entire Great Hall. It provided easy viewing of the silly things people did. But no one was doing anything silly today, just eating sombrely and occasionally whispering. It would have disappointed Charlotte, if she were here. But she would never be here again. And I had let that happen.

These thoughts burdened me until the four of us had returned to our dormitory, and I finally confided in Mandy how much it was torturing me that I was partially to blame for Charlotte’s death, and how I’d never be free of the guilt. She shouldn’t have died. It could just as easily have been me, and probably should have been.

Mandy was shocked. “It’s not your fault,” she said comfortingly. “Just because you were there doesn’t mean you’re to blame. You couldn’t have done anything more.”

“I know,” I said thickly, “but I still keep feeling that I should have. She shouldn’t have had to die. It’s not fair.” What kind of world was it in which an eighteen-year-old died, at the hands of her brother, for standing up against evil?

“No, it isn’t fair. None of it is.”

The next day was Monday, and I couldn’t bring myself to attend class, not even Ancient Runes. I skipped my classes for three days, and instead hid in my room, withdrawn and forlorn. I had lost the energy to care about anything, and I was still overcome with guilt about Charlotte’s death. I wanted to run away from it all, to hide myself where I didn’t have to face reality or feel anything. But there was no way to escape; I had no choice but to face it.

Mandy would bring food to me from the kitchens, and I was able to eat it now, but I still didn’t have much of an appetite. Sometimes we’d just sit in the room and not say anything. Neither Mandy nor I were able to talk about Charlotte yet or we’d start crying again.

Charlotte had once told me that if she died she’d come back as a ghost to haunt me. I kept looking over towards Charlotte’s bed every now and then, half expecting to see a pearly transparent figure smirking back at me. But it never happened. And there were quite a few times I forgot for a brief, blissful moment that she had died – and then I’d remember again, and it would feel like a cold stab to the heart.

Charlotte’s belongings disappeared from the dormitory after a few days, probably back to her family. Her body had been returned to her parents as well, and if they’d held a funeral, we weren’t invited. Maybe it was for her family only… the family that probably thought her death was a noble sacrifice for Voldemort. Charlotte had resisted the Death Eaters, and everyone else in her family was a Death Eater. They didn’t understand.

According to my roommates, Lester also hadn’t come back to Hogwarts since Charlotte’s death. I wasn’t sure whether this was because he knew word would get out that he’d been the one who killed her, and dropped out because of that, or whether he’d just decided he was done with school and quit to devote all his time to being a Death Eater. Or perhaps he was depressed and horrified at what he’d done. Regardless, he was gone.

On Wednesday night, Mandy didn’t bring anything to me for dinner, insisting that it was time I left the dormitory. She offered to go with me, but I refused and went to dinner in the Great Hall alone. The four black banners still hung from the ceiling, and I could see all of them from where I sat on Charlotte’s favourite side of the table.

As this was my first appearance in the Great Hall in three days, a few more people who hadn’t seen me since Charlotte’s death stopped by the Slytherin table to comfort me. Two of the Hufflepuffs in particular helped a lot; Octavius gave me a hug and said he wished he’d come with me when I left the Three Broomsticks so he could have helped. And later Althea reminded me that the same thing had happened to her earlier this year – and although her friend Artemis hadn’t actually died, Althea had thought so at the time. And it had been Mandy and me who had helped her through her hardest time. Now, she said, she was here to help me because she completely understood.

“You told me Artemis wouldn’t want me to be sad. Charlotte wouldn’t have wanted you to be sad either.”

“I know,” I said hopelessly in a scratchy voice that hadn’t done much speaking for days. Althea hadn’t really known Charlotte that well, apart from when Charlotte had accidentally turned Althea’s head into a watermelon, but Charlotte never wanted anyone to be sad.

“Remember you have help if you want it,” said Althea. “A lot of people care about you and are concerned for you.”

“Thanks,” I said softly. She patted my shoulder awkwardly and then continued to sit there as if not sure whether she should stay or leave, but I appreciated it all the same. Mandy had given me space when I needed it, but I would never be able to get through it alone. Althea was right.

My eyes drifted about the room until I saw Sirius, sitting at the Gryffindor table next to James and Lily. When he looked up a moment later and saw me, he stood up, leaving his dinner there; he strode across the Hall to the Slytherin table. I hadn’t seen him in three days, and upon seeing him again, all I wanted was for him to hold me tight and maybe things would be a little better. Sirius sat down beside me, and on the other side of me Althea walked away.

“You’re finally out of your room,” he said, hugging me firmly. “I hadn’t seen you since you left the hospital wing on Sunday, I was so worried about you.”

“I’m sorry,” I said into his shoulder. I tried in vain to hold myself together, but broke down in tears anyway. “This should never have happened,” I sobbed.

“You don’t need to be sorry,” he said, kissing the top of my head. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

After a few minutes Sirius suggested we go somewhere else to get away from all the noise of the Great Hall, so we meandered aimlessly outside. It was cold, but I didn’t care – it was oddly calming to stand out there in the cold, letting the wind whip against my face, while Sirius and I stood together looking out across the lake. The wind had a numbing effect and the only thing I could really feel was Sirius’s hand holding mine tightly. I felt so grateful to him just for being there. I didn’t know what I’d have done without him.

“Are you going to go to class tomorrow?” Sirius asked at one point when we were headed back in the direction of the castle.

“I have to at some point,” I said. “It may as well be tomorrow. Life is never going to get back to normal, but I have to do the best I can.” I sighed. “Thank you for helping me cope with everything, by the way. I’ve just been so lost, I don’t know what to do.”

Sirius nodded. “You’ve been so strong dealing with this,” he said softly. “It’s not easy. I still can’t believe it either.”

When I went back to my dormitory, feeling much better after Sirius had calmed me down, I apologised to Mandy for having pushed her away for so long. She had only been trying to help me, and had probably needed my help just as much as I needed hers. After all, Charlotte had been her best friend too, so Mandy was hurting as much as I was.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I knew you just needed time.”

“How have you been dealing with everything?” I asked.

“I’m doing all right. Not great, obviously… but I’m coping. Barely.”

We sat there in silence for a while on her bed. Finally I said, “Mandy, I’m scared to leave Hogwarts in June. It’s going to be like this all the time. We were just lucky, until Saturday, but that’s what happens in a war like this – we lose people.”

“But we’ll be better prepared,” Mandy suggested. “Not that anything can ever prepare you for the death of a good friend, but we’ll be better able to face it all. And we have got a few months until then, and Voldemort won’t be trying that sort of thing again; everyone knows he’s scared of Dumbledore, and now Dumbledore is onto him after he tried to get into Hogwarts. We still have a few months here in the safest place there is.”

“That’s a good way to think about it,” I agreed. “It’s still out there, though. June will be here before we know it.”

“And when we leave,” Mandy said with a resolute gleam in her eye, “the two of us are going to get rid of Voldemort. We’re going to do it for Charlotte.”

We looked at the spot where Charlotte’s things had been in our room. An empty hole that seemed to echo the empty feeling in my heart. It only made me more determined than ever to join the fight against Voldemort and help end the wizarding world’s suffering once and for all. There was no way I was running away from this war now.

“I miss her,” I said quietly.

“Me too,” said Mandy. She leaned against me and I rested my head on hers, my eyes still glued to the spot where her bed used to be.

“Just before she…” I swallowed, unable to complete the phrase, and started again. “The last thing Charlotte told me was how much she valued her friendship with us. I thought you should know.”

Mandy sat up straight again and looked at me. “Really?”

I nodded. “That, and… some rubbish about superstitions. She wanted to walk under a ladder.” I could feel the corners of my mouth turning up as I said it, and felt guilty for smiling. But Mandy too was grinning through her tears.

“Only Charlotte,” she said. “There will never be anyone else like her.”

Lily was already there when I walked in to Ancient Runes the next morning, and today she’d abandoned her usual seat with her Gryffindor friends to come sit with me. We exchanged very few words in class, and it was only about the runes, but that was enough. She seemed to understand – all I needed was someone to be there who understood what I was going through and didn’t feel the need to bring it up all the time.

I had Defence Against the Dark Arts next – the one class that, on Saturday, I had wished with all my heart I’d paid more attention to. I would redouble my efforts in that class; it would be a step towards what happened to Charlotte never happening again to anyone else I knew.

As I took my seat in class, I felt a dull ache in my chest when I saw Charlotte’s empty seat. Tears sprang to my eyes again, as they so often did nowadays. And then Professor Thornhill started speaking; all I could think about was Charlotte’s brief silly crush on him. Everything reminded me of Charlotte now.

But Sirius came over to take Charlotte’s seat at the table with Mandy and me. Now that I was finally associating with people again, I realised just how many people cared. It wasn’t going to be an easy process getting over my friend’s death, but there were so many people to help me through it. I was surrounded by love. Sirius, Mandy, James, Remus, Peter, Lily, Althea, Hector, the countless others who had tried to comfort me… There was so much worth living for, and I was inspired. I had to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward, because that was the only thing I could do. I had never worked so hard in class as I did that day.

For most at Hogwarts, life returned to normal after a couple of weeks. Many people, particularly in other Houses, hadn’t known her and couldn’t be expected to mourn for a name they didn’t know. But it was a long road for Mandy and me.

One day, I was lying on my bed, alone in the dormitory again, when someone parted the hangings and sat down. I turned my head up away from my pillow, expecting it to be Mandy, but instead I found Sirius sitting there. “I brought you some tea,” he said, setting a cup of steaming tea down on the table beside my bed.

“Thanks… How did you get up here?” I asked. Boys weren’t supposed to be able to get up into the girls’ dormitories; Hector had said he’d tried it once and the stairs turned into a slide.

“As Padfoot,” said Sirius. “Animals can get up the stairs just fine.”

“Padfoot?” I said, confused. “An animal? I thought that was your nickname.”

He smiled slightly. “That’s right, I never told you… The nicknames all have a meaning. It’s because I’m an Animagus,” he explained. “So are James and Peter. You saw us that night, you know. When you found out about Remus. We were all out there too, in our animal forms. James is a stag, and you probably didn’t see Peter but he was there too, he’s a rat.”

My jaw dropped. “You’re all Animagi?”

“Well, Remus isn’t, but he has enough transformation to deal with. But that’s where the name came from – he’s Moony because—”

“Because he’s a werewolf,” I finished, finally understanding, and amazed that I hadn’t made the connection before. “Of course! And a stag – Prongs…” I shook my head in astonished disbelief. “And you? What are you?”

“A dog,” he said. Then he turned into a large black dog. He wagged his tail and moved his head closer to lick me.

“You’re a very convincing dog,” I said, giggling as I turned my face away. “Dog breath.”

The dog turned back into Sirius, and he was laughing too. I felt curious for the first time in weeks, and wanted the rest of the story. “So why’d you do it? And how?”

“Well, we had all noticed by early in our second year that Remus kept disappearing every month. We figured out where he was going, what was happening. So we decided to become Animagi so we could be with him when he transforms – a werewolf is only dangerous to people, not animals. It took us three years, but it was well worth it.”

“That’s brilliant,” I said, amazed. Remus could not have asked for better friends than those three – they were loyal, caring, talented, and would do anything for each other. I’d already held the Gryffindor boys in very high esteem, but now I respected them even more.

Sirius smiled at the astonished look on my face, and I realised my jaw was still hanging open and hastily closed my mouth. He was acting so nonchalantly, as if his Animagus transformation were nothing. So typical of him. But despite how he painted himself as a carefree rogue, underneath that he was such a genuinely affectionate and loving person; he had been doing everything he could to help me through the past few weeks. I felt so fortunate to have Sirius in my life.

I picked up my cup of tea and we sat there talking for a while. I still didn’t want to discuss Charlotte, and my throat would get tight every time something reminded me of her. But luckily Sirius and I could find many other things to talk about that distracted me from Charlotte, and mainly I just asked him about the adventures he and his friends had had in the forest as animals every month.

Eventually we decided to leave and head back upstairs out of the dungeons and maybe go to Gryffindor Tower with the other three boys and Lily. Sirius took my hand and we walked towards the door. However, the instant his foot touched the stairs, they turned into a slide and we tumbled all the way down to the common room. I couldn’t keep myself from laughing out loud – a seemingly alien sound I hadn’t heard in weeks.

“It’s so good to hear you laugh again,” he said as we stood up.

Some people were staring oddly at us from their chairs by the fire, and Regulus pretended not to see Sirius and was studiously invested in his textbook. Sirius and I hurried across the common room, until I stopped along the way to invite Mandy to come along with us and visit our Gryffindor friends together. So the three of us went to join the other four Gryffindors like we had used to do.

Even though we were finally beginning to readjust to life, the war occupied more and more of my thoughts now that it had become so personal. I hadn’t really thought about it that much until I found out Nathan was a Death Eater, and then I paid a lot more attention to what was going on, reading the Daily Prophet with an obsession. And now that Charlotte was gone, another casualty of this long war, it was all I could think about.

But there was a dim ray of hope. Charlotte had been exactly the type of person Voldemort was interested in for Death Eaters – she was smart, talented, proud of her status as a pureblood, and stubborn – and she had thrown it all in Voldemort’s face, bravely defying him. There must be others like her. Her death had even brought Rachel and Alanna, who previously supported Voldemort, to have a change of heart – and Nathan, a Death Eater, was having second thoughts. Someday, Voldemort could be brought down. And I was going to do my best to make that happen.

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