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"Come on, Darcy . . . you're sweating against me . . ."

 

"Sorry . . . I can't help it."

 

Emily rolls over and takes the blanket with her, leaving Darcy feeling exposed and too cool for her liking. Unable to fall back asleep within a few minutes, she sits up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Emily is snoring slightly, already sound asleep again, drool pooling on her pillow by the corner of her mouth. Darcy stands and walks over to the open window, peering out to Diagon Alley. The night is silent save for the hooting of owls and chirping of insects, the occasional opening and closing of a door. The streets of Diagon Alley, however, are empty. 

 

The moon is high in the sky, bathing the rooftops in a white, beautiful light. It's clearly after midnight -- well into the night, judging by the placement of the moon -- but there is no sign of dawn quite yet. A light breeze blows in through the window, hitting Darcy full in the face. She slips her shoes on and throws Emily's over-sized jacket on over her pajamas, grabbing her wand off the nightstand and stuffing it in a pocket. Emily doesn't notice Darcy sneaking out of the room, and doesn't seem to stir as she closes the door behind her.

 

Darcy makes it to the bottom of the stairs, groping blindly in the darkness, holding tight to the railing with one hand. Years at the Dursleys have taught her how to move almost silently, sticking to the shadows and walking on her tip-toes so as not to make a single noise. She lights the tip of her wand to give her some direction; it seems eerie being in the common hall of the Leaky Cauldron with not a soul in sight. It makes it easier to wander, however, with no one awake to catch her out of bed so late and drag her back. She half-expects Tom to still be manning the bar, waiting for some shady customers to enter, but alas, it seems that even barkeeps sleep, too. She continues to creep around the first floor of the Leaky Cauldron, all of the chairs upturned on the tables to leave wide aisles for her. Darcy isn't quite sure what she's looking for.

 

"Darcy?"

 

She whips around at the sound of her name, wand held at the ready, her heart thumping painfully in her chest. She pauses, the light from her wand momentarily blinding her before she recognizes Harry's tired face. "Christ, Harry, I almost hexed you," she whispers, trying to keep her breath even. She lowers her wand. "What are you doing down here?"

 

"Couldn't sleep," he says with a shrug, not even fazed that his sister had just held her wand at his heart about five seconds ago. "You too?"

 

"Yeah," she nods. "Me too."

 

"Do you want to go for a walk?"

 

Darcy smiles weakly at him. "Yeah, all right."

 

She leads him to the back room where the secret entrance to Diagon Alley sits hidden amongst the brick wall, waiting to be opened. Darcy does the honors, giving the bricks a sharp tap with her wand. They're quiet for a while -- tired, mostly -- and a cool breeze blows Darcy's hair into her face, causing her to continually have to brush it away. They walk slowly down the long and winding street, towards Gringotts in the distance, the towering marble bank that looms over all of the other shops and homes in Diagon Alley. All the shops are closed for the night, all lights extinguished in the windows. Except for a few light fixtures on the fronts of shops and the light of the moon, it's completely dark.

 

Harry digs his hands deep inside his pajama pockets, and the both of them stop outside Quality Quidditch Supplies as he takes a moment to admire the Firebolt, the broomstick that has enticed Harry (and almost everyone else) so much. The window of the shop is plastered with wanted posters of Sirius Black, and all of the pictures are staring down at them, the only people in sight, and he's screaming with a manic gleam in his eye that unsettles Darcy. Her eyelids are heavy with sleep, and yet she continues to stare at one of the photographs, unable to tear her eyes away, thinking hard about the long and stringy hair, the uneven beard -- something about him makes her stomach churn, a feeling that's unfamiliar, that she can't quite place -- but it isn't fear . . . she doesn't think it is . . . 

 

"Darcy? Did you hear me?"

 

"What?" Darcy quickly tears her eyes away from the picture and fixes them upon Harry, who's still looking at her with a single eyebrow raised. "Sorry."

 

"I asked you why you couldn't sleep," he repeats.

 

"Oh," she shrugs, looking back at the Firebolt, finding it hard to ignore all of the eyes on her. "Emily woke me up. She's a horribly fitful sleeper."

 

They walk away from the Firebolt, walking more slowly this time, looking mostly at the ground. "It seems crazy that this will be your last year ever at Hogwarts," he murmurs, sighing heavily after getting the words out. "Do you know what you want to do once you're out?"

 

"Carla wants me to travel around with her for a year or so, gain some experience before going to work and settling down and all that." Darcy chuckles, shaking her head. "But Emily wants me to join the Ministry with her. We've always fancied becoming Aurors and fighting crime, or something like that."

 

"And you'd rather go into the Ministry with Emily, wouldn't you?" Harry asks.

 

"Yeah," she answers. "I would. I don't know that traveling is really for me."

 

Harry stops in the middle of the street, looking up with sad eyes. She almost wonders if it's deliberate. "You're going to move away, aren't you?" he says accusingly. "From Privet Drive?" And when Darcy doesn't answer, he adds, "Away from me?"

 

Darcy looks away from him. "I can't stay forever, Harry."

 

"You said you'd stay for as long as I was at Hogwarts," he argues. "You promised."

 

She can't look him in the eyes. "I know I did."

 

"You can't leave me alone with them."

 

"I don't want to talk about it right now."

 

"You promised --"

 

"Harry, I said I don't want to talk about it right now," she snaps, finding the courage to look right back into his eyes, his green eyes, so like her own. "The school year hasn't even started yet, and we don't know what's going to happen until it does. So quit asking about it."

 

Harry does as he's bid, but grumbles under his breath about it first.

 

Emily returns home a few days later after she finishes all of her school shopping, exhausts herself of gossip, and makes sure to buy Harry a belated birthday present. This makes Harry feel incredibly appreciated, it seems, and he makes sure to thank her several times for the brand new pair of shoes she had bought for him. After Harry finishes with his good-bye, Emily promises to meet Darcy at Platform 9 34  when the day comes. She leaves via Floo Network from the Leaky Cauldron's common hall, arms laden with shopping bags and a new pair of robes slung over her shoulders like a scarf. 

 

Darcy can't say she's sorry to see Emily go -- she's quite looking forward to having her bed back. Not that she's ever minded sharing a bed with Emily, but the Leaky Cauldron's beds are tiny and lumpy and very uncomfortable without having to share it, and sharing a dormitory with Emily all year will make up for all the weeks spent apart during the summer.

 

Incidentally, Darcy does receive a very long letter back from Carla the day Emily leaves, describing the adventure she and her parents had in South Africa and Kenya over the summer, and while she expresses regret that she isn't able to visit Diagon Alley until they get back a few days before term from Tanzania, she's looking forward to discussing Darcy and Harry's narrow escape from the clutches of Uncle Vernon.

 

Harry and Darcy end up spending a lot of time together during the following week. Their favorite place to sit is the same table at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor they sat at during their first day here. Darcy "breaks in" her new cauldron, trying out basic and simple potions that Snape had never gotten to the previous year. Some of the smells make Harry gag and Darcy laugh, but he watches with genuine interest as she throws in ingredient after ingredient, smiling at the compliments Harry pays her, her ego inflating each time.

 

A few of their acquaintances stop to chat over the days, exchanging a few words, but never really staying to chat at length. The only people Darcy really wants to talk to, however, are her best friends. She's getting antsy, itching to get back to Hogwarts, to ride the Hogwarts Express with her best friends and do nothing but laugh and joke and gossip and eat.

 

While Darcy adjusts well to unprecedented freedom, she begins to crave structure to her days, something other to do than sit outside an ice cream shop and brew potions or help Harry with his homework. She even starts waking up early to try and structure her own day, but around mid-afternoon on her first day of attempted planning, she gets too hot while outside to do anything except relax under the shade of Florean Fortescue's colorful umbrella.

 

She still continues to push her chair back on two legs while Harry tries to kick them out from under her, and once Florean threatens to glue the chair legs to the ground, Darcy mumbles to Harry, "I'll be able to get it unstuck," and Florean, overhearing her, smiles as he sends a jinx her way that makes her fall to the ground and double over with laughter -- real laughter. A laughter that Darcy doesn't feel she's heard from herself in years. The three of them laugh so hard they start crying and, as an apology for jinxing Darcy (even though she finds the entire thing hilarious), Florean gives her the biggest ice cream sundae she's ever seen. And to top the whole thing off, he doesn't even charge her for it.

 

She has to admit, it's nice to not have Vernon or Aunt Petunia nagging in her ear. It's nice not having to do chores almost all hours of the day. It's nice being able to wake up whenever she wants to, and eat breakfast whenever she wants to, and she isn't even yelled at when she accidentally spills coffee on the floor of the Leaky Cauldron. Tom simply cleans it up with a flick of his thick wand, flashing a warm grim at Darcy to let her know that everything is all right and taken care of.

 

Harry forgets all about his Hogsmeade form during these days he spends with Darcy, too happy to care about the idea of staying behind one weekend every so often. He's excited, it seems, to be able to spend as much time with his sister as he wants, without Aunt Petunia telling him to "leave her alone and go do something useful".

 

A little after a week of their hanging out together, Carla does show up to Diagon Alley with her parents in tow. Carla's parents are -- according to Carla -- 'field researchers', but Gemma always says they're more collectors than anything. They're always traveling, especially over the summer with their daughter, and sometimes during holidays, so Carla is never entirely sure what her holiday plans are like. It's because of them that Carla so values experiences and adventures, eager to graduate and travel the world for a little while just like they used to do when her parents were young graduates.

 

Carla talks a lot, which Darcy doesn't mind because most of the things she talks about are the things she's seen with her parents while away on vacation. But Carla hates the word vacation -- to her, it's another adventure. She tells Darcy all about Kenya and about how it might be her favorite country to date. And that's saying something -- Darcy still remembers how excited Carla had been after her trip to the Wetland in America one year over winter break. Darcy couldn't believe a place called the Wetlands could be as wonderful as described. 

 

They eat lunch together at the Leaky Cauldron, a medley of just about everything, picking off each other's plates and sharing graciously -- something Darcy and her friends do almost every time they eat together. Carla starts to go on about how much different the food is in Kenya and how she had to learn to not ask about ingredients and just eat it, or else she would have chickened out.

 

Suddenly, about a half hour into their lunch, Carla looks around, completely silent, eyes wide open. "Where's Harry?"

 

"What?" Darcy asks, shocked by her sudden change of subject. "Probably in Diagon Alley somewhere, drooling over the new Firebolt. Why?"

 

"Oh." Carla shrugs, smiling. "I don't know -- I guess I'm just used to him being around."

 

Darcy doesn't answer, slurping some of her beef stew. 

 

"Have you given any serious thought to what you're going to do outside of Hogwarts?" Carla asks again, finally exhausting herself of talk about Kenya. "I mean, it's your last year. Things are getting real now, aren't they?"

 

"Emily and I have got a plan, but nothing in set in stone yet until we take our N.E.W.T.'s," Darcy says. "I'm hoping we'll both get top grades, but who knows --"

 

"Oh, shut up, Darcy," Carla teases. "You and Emily are naturals. You've been dedicating yourself to schoolwork for years now. You're trying to tell me that you don't think you'll get top grades?"

 

"Hey, there's a lot of pressure on my shoulders right now," Darcy replies with raised eyebrows. "Who knows what the N.E.W.T.'s are actually going to be like, anyway? Besides, weren't you freaking out about your O.W.L.'s?"

 

"Yeah, but in hindsight, I probably could have studied more." Carla laughs. "My sister said her N.E.W.T.'s weren't bad. She said as long as you paid attention in class all seven years of school, you'll be fine."

 

"That makes it seem like she's downplaying it a lot," Darcy says suspiciously.

 

Carla grins sheepishly. "My sister only got two N.E.W.T.'s, so you probably shouldn't listen to her advice."

 

"What is your sister doing now, anyway? Is she back in the country?"

 

"No, she's a journalist," Carla explains, as if she's explained this a thousand times to a thousand different people. "She travels around a lot, just like mum and dad. Right now, I think she's in Borneo. Been there for about three months now, I think. She really likes it there."

 

"Don't you write each other?"

 

"Sometimes," Carla says. "But you know we've never been that close. She does send the entire family a lot of pictures she takes. One of her stories was even published in a Muggle newspaper -- they didn't even realize that she's a witch! She's made really great connections with other wizarding families, so I'm quite jealous, actually. When you're done with this year, I could give her your address and have her write to you. Maybe you could go along with her on some trips until I graduate?"

 

"Maybe," Darcy answers halfheartedly. "I've been wanting to go into the Ministry for a long time, Carla. You know that."

 

"Well, maybe when you're not being a big shot in the Ministry, you can come travel with me."

 

"We'll see."

 

Carla's parents join them for the rest of lunch. Carla's mother is just like her daughter -- curly black hair, a lean, athletic body, almond shaped brown eyes. Even her complexion and skin tone is that of Carla's. Her father, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite of Carla. He's a tall man with short and sleek black hair, arms that are toned and muscular from obvious physical labor, and a large nose in comparison to Carla's.

 

"Good to see you again, Darcy," her father says, shaking Darcy's hand. 

 

She smiles up at him. "Good to see you, Mr. Thompson," Darcy turns to Carla's mother, "and you, Mrs. Thompson."

 

"Don't be a stranger next summer," Mrs. Thompson smiles, wrapping an arm around Carla's shoulder. "Come and visit sometime, all right?"

 

"Sure," Darcy replies.

 

"See you in a few days, Darce."

 

"Bye, Carla."

 

Once Carla is gone and Harry is sure of it, he continues to bother Darcy even more, but she doesn't mind him being around so often. He makes her look at the Firebolt with him, giving her details and rumors that he's picked up from the older kids talking about it. But mostly, they continue to eat ice cream sundaes outside their now favorite building in Diagon Alley. He doesn't even talk much when they eat ice cream, watching her laugh with a ridiculous smile on her face as she teases him and makes him blush.

 

In the middle of a story she's telling him, Harry blurts out, "You remind me of mum."

 

Darcy continues to smile, touched by this. She doesn't think Harry remembers much of their mother, but it's a nice thing to say. "Why do you think that?"

 

"You look like her, kind of," he replies, his cheeks reddening. "And I've always thought mum was pretty, haven't you?"

 

Darcy scoffs, understanding his meaning. "Yes, I have," she answers, ruffling his already messy black hair. "And thank you."

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