Chapter Twenty

The couple of weeks between Remus' birthday dinner and Victoria's return to Hogwarts were almost enjoyable. In spite of the fact that she still woke up every night, her heart pounding as macabre images of her parents' last moments flashed into her dreams, every day seemed to be a very small step on the path towards recovery. Victoria was well aware that it would take an extraordinarily long time for the grief to even begin to ebb away, but she still found herself feeling more and more like the person she had been before her parents' death.

While she suspected that Remus' decision to tell everyone about him being a werewolf- in spite of the fact that they happened to have already guessed for themselves- had been an important milestone in reminding her how lucky she was to be surrounded by such amazing people, it was ultimately Sirius who had been instrumental in helping Victoria push on through her bereavement.

Although the Ministry had wrapped up their investigation of the site of the murder and informed Victoria and James that they could now return to the house should they wish, Victoria had so far adhered to her vow never to set foot in the place again. Instead, Lucy and Pippa had gone there to collect all her possessions and had then dropped them off at Sirius' flat, which was where Victoria was staying for the foreseeable future. She realised that at some point she would have to have a conversation with James over what to do with their parents' house in the long term, but at the moment Victoria didn't really have the emotional energy for that.

So she had been staying at Sirius' for the remainder of the Christmas holidays, spending pretty much all of her spare time with him. While he was on Order duty, she took the chance to plough through the piles and piles of schoolwork that the seventh years had been set, and then when he was at home the two of them wrapped themselves up in one another's company as though no one else existed.

Since Sirius lived in a vibrant, bustling part of London, packed with great muggle pubs, restaurants and bars, they often spent their evenings outside of the flat. One time they had an absolutely top quality meal in a very expensive restaurant and then moved onto the upmarket bar next door and proceeded to work their way through the extensive cocktail menu. Another night they had watched a punk band in a small, cramped pub and drank beer with muggles who all had nose piercings and pink hair.

In between all the alcohol and socialising with random muggles who they would never meet again, Victoria and Sirius had also spent a fair few nights holed up in the flat together. In fact, although Victoria had very much enjoyed exploring London, these nights in were her favourite by a long shot. Although they had been at school together for some time of their relationship, they had never spent quite so much just the two of them- and Victoria was loving every moment of it. So too was Sirius, it seemed because, the night before Victoria was due to catch the Hogwarts Express back to school, he asked Victoria to move in permanently in when she graduated in the summer.

The two of them had been lying on the sofa together, chatting about something trivial, when Sirius first suggested it.

'Move in with me, Vic,' he blurted out.

'What?' asked Victoria, unsure if she had heard him right. She untangled herself from Sirius, sat up, and stared at him with wide eyes and an open mouth.

Sirius chuckled at her reaction and rested his hands behind his head. 'You heard me, Potter.'

'I'm going to need you to say it again.'

Laughing still, Sirius repeated his words, elongating them as if speaking to someone who was hard of hearing. 'Victoria Potter, will you move in with me?'

'But isn't it too soon?' protested Victoria. 'I'm only eighteen! What if we annoy each other too much?'

'You annoy me already,' shrugged Sirius.

Victoria knew he was joking but she still threw one of the cushions at him to vent her feelings.

'You know, most girls would not react like this Sirius Black had just asked them to move in with him,' he teased, having caught the cushion in his hands before it had the chance to hit him in the face.

Victoria raised her eyebrows. 'Sirius Black, if I am to move in with you then you cannot be so arrogant. You'll also have to stop talking about yourself in the third person.'

Sirius sat up and closed the space between them. 'Is that a yes? I must say you didn't react very well to my romantic suggestion. I've been wondering how to bring it up for ages now.'

'Really?'

'Of course.'

Victoria grinned and looked into his eyes, something which she doubted she would ever get tired of doing. 'I'm just worried it's too much too young. Don't get me wrong, I am so happy for James and Lily, and I can't wait for Frank and Alice's wedding over Easter. But that's not what I want for myself.'

'Whoa, Potter!' exclaimed Sirius, holding up his hands in protest. 'Let's make this absolutely clear, I just want you to live with me- that was not a marriage proposal in any way!'

Victoria couldn't help but burst out laughing at the sight of Sirius' expression. He looked rather terrified as though he genuinely thought he'd just accidentally agreed to get married at the age of nineteen.

'Alright then, I'll move in,' she said simply.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. 'Definitely?'

'Definitely!' grinned Victoria, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him so passionately that they both fell back into the sofa cushions.

'Hmm, I'll try the big, romantic gestures more often if this is the reaction I get,' murmured Sirius between kisses.

'For once in your life, Black, please shut up,' muttered Victoria, pressing her lips to his once more.

The next morning, for the first time in seven years, Victoria was somewhat reluctant to get onboard the Hogwarts Express. As the two of them walked through King's Cross- Sirius wheeling a trolley with her trunk and things on it- Victoria found herself actually dragging her feet a little in the childish belief that walking slowly would delay their inevitable separation.

'You could always secretly live in the castle for the rest of the year?' she proposed jokingly, as Sirius gave her one final hug and kiss on the platform.

'Sorry, Vic, I'm a responsible adult now, remember? The Order would fall apart without me.'

Victoria rolled her eyes at his sarcastic arrogance but still leaned in for one final kiss. That was until something tapped her on the head and interrupted them. She turned round to see Pippa's arm extended out of the nearest compartment window.

'Stop that you two,' frowned Pippa in an uncanny impression of Georgina. 'You're shocking the first years.'

Sure enough, in the next compartment down, four first years had their heads hanging out of the window, staring at Victoria and Sirius with a mixture of disgust and awe.

Ignoring them all, Victoria kissed Sirius goodbye one last time and then climbed into her friend's compartment. She was the last to arrive and Pippa, Lucy, Georgina, Ben and Alex were already cramped into the too-small space.

'I think we're too big to all be sharing a compartment these days,' complained Victoria as she was forced to squeeze into a very small space between Lucy and Pippa.

'Oh don't!' sighed Pippa dramatically. 'You're making me feel old.'

A few moments later and the train began to pull out of the platform. Victoria leant over Pippa and waved to Sirius out of the window. As they rounded a corner, he suddenly disappeared and she knew had he disapparated back to his flat. The thought made her feel strangely homesick. Normally Hogwarts was the most familiar, comforting place, but this time the place she really wanted to be was a certain apartment in central London.

'Are you okay, Vic?' asked Lucy.

'Oh yeah, I'm fine,' Victoria assured her, not wanting to seem like a pathetic girlfriend who couldn't bear to be separated from her partner.

'You're worried that you'll miss Sirius?' asked Lucy shrewdly.

'Yeah,' admitted Victoria reluctantly. 'It's just because I've spent so much time with him recently and he was so good after-' She trailed off, not quite being able to say 'after my parents died' aloud.

Sensing what the missing words were, Lucy squeezed her hand sympathetically. 'You should get Sirius to visit on a Hogsmede weekend. He and Remus could come up together.'

'Sure,' smiled Victoria. Then, wanting to steer the conversation away from anything that could potentially lead back to her parents, she asked the others what they thought of Remus' party since she hadn't seen any of them since.

'Funniest night of my life,' grinned Alex, laughing at the memory. 'Does he think we're all idiots?'

'I didn't work out that he was werewolf,' muttered Victoria. 'Bloody Snape had to tell me.'

Pippa grimaced. 'Wow. Outsmarted by Snivellus.'

'Oh shut up,' laughed Victoria.

'Actually while we're on that topic, does anyone know what Snape is doing now he's left?' asked Georgina curiously.

'Hmm let me think. Maybe he's seen the error of his ways, joined the Order of the Phoenix, and committed his life to bringing about Voldermort's downfall,' suggested Pippa sarcastically.

'My sister told me that he's definitely joined the Death Eaters. So have Mulciber and Avery,' offered Alex. His sister, Emmeline Vance, was in the Order and so was privy to a lot of information about Voldermort's goings on. While she wasn't allowed to discuss much of what she did, Dumbledore apparently didn't have the same rules on talking about who had joined the Death Eaters. He actually thought it safer that as many people as possible were aware of those to watch out for.

'Bastards,' muttered Ben furiously.

'My thoughts exactly,' agreed Victoria.

In spite of Victoria's initial hesitations about returning to Hogwarts, she actually found that getting back to normal was massively helpful in distracting her from thoughts of her parents. Although no one thought it possible, the amount of work the seventh years were expected to do in preparation for their NEWTs seemed to have increased fivefold since the previous term.

Then, on top of trying to make sense of complex Transfiguration theory and brewing countless dangerous Potions, Victoria also had her commitments as Quidditch captain. To her pleasure, the team was shaping up nicely and had seemingly been given a confidence boost after their phenomenal performance in last term's match against Slytherin. Unfortunately, Slytherin then went on to defeat Hufflepuff 320-40 in the first game to take place after Christmas, meaning they were far from out of the running for the Cup. Things then improved again when Gryffindor beat Ravenclaw in a close match of 220-160; the Gryffindor keeper had seemingly lost his nerve for a while, allowing Ravenclaw to put several goals past him before Victoria managed to catch the snitch.

In spite of these distractions however, Victoria was ecstatic when the final Hogsmede weekend of term rolled around since it meant seeing Sirius for the first time in almost two months. Remus was travelling up too to see Lucy since both of them had managed to get time off duty from the Order; they had intended to visit earlier on in the term but the ever mysterious Order business had forced them to cancel at the last minute.

'I feel as pathetic as Georgina,' confessed Victoria on the morning of the trip.

'Hey!' exclaimed Georgina, who was in the process painting her nails a turquoise blue colour to match the dress she was wearing.

'Sorry,' laughed Victoria, as she got ready herself. 'I just meant that I can't wait to see Sirius today, and it's normally you who gets all hyper about boys.'

'There's nothing wrong with that,' answered Georgina mildly, now selecting a necklace from her very extensive collection.

'No, definitely not,' muttered Pippa sarcastically from her bed.

'Aren't you getting ready, Pippa?' asked Georgina.

'I'm not going on a date unlike Victoria and Lucy,' Pippa pointed out. 'You, Ben, Alex and I are all going in a group. So God knows why you're making such an effort.'

Georgina rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to say something but Lucy got there first. 'God, I'm going to miss this when we all leave in a few months,' she laughed.

Fifteen minutes or so later, the four girls left their dormitory and wandered down to breakfast where they joined Ben and Alex at the Gryffindor table. To Victoria's surprise, neither of the boys looked particularly happy despite the fact that they were all due a fun day out in the village that day.

'What's wrong with you two?' asked Pippa, sitting down and helping herself to some toast.

Alex pointed down to a copy of the Prophet that was lying on the table in front of him. 'Remember those five Death Eaters the Ministry caught in November?'

'Of course,' said Victoria quietly; their capture had been engineered and carried out by her parents in one of their final missions as Aurors.

'They're the ones who attacked the muggle university, aren't they?' asked Lucy.

The others all grimaced in memory of the incident. About eighteen months ago, five Death Eaters had burst into a lecture hall at a muggle university in London and murdered twenty three students in cold blood just because they were muggles. It was perhaps one of the most infamous events of the war so far and had brought the Ministry enormous problems. Not only did they have to perform countless Memory Charms and deal with a furious muggle Prime Minister, but the Death Eaters in question had managed to elude capture for over a year.

Alex nodded grimly and carried on explaining what had happened to the others. 'Well they were brought from Azkaban last night in preparation for their trial. It was meant to be completely secret- that's why none of us have read about in the paper- and yet it looks like Voldermort found out somehow because about twenty other Death Eaters stormed the place they were being held in the early hours of this morning and freed them.'

Georgina and Lucy gasped simultaneously.

'But they're the most famous wizarding terrorists of all time!' exclaimed Lucy, 'The five of them did loads of other horrific stuff before they were even caught! They even attacked Diagon Alley once! What do you think they'll try now?'

Victoria, however, had just had an even more concerning thought. 'You said the whole operation to move them from Azkaban for trial was supposed to be a secret?'

'Looks that way,' confirmed Alex.

'So that means someone on our side is passing information along to Voldermort,' she murmured.

Georgina gasped again. 'Who would do that?!'

Ben shrugged, 'It must have been someone high up in the Ministry. I bet hardly anyone knew it was happening. Or-'

'Or it could have been someone in the Order,' finished Victoria.

'No way!' insisted Lucy, 'If the Order knew about the operation there is no chance someone would have passed that on to Voldermort.'

The group feel into an uncomfortable, scared silence. In Victoria's opinion, there was no way such a possibility could be excluded. She had no idea how many people were actually in the Order of the Phoenix, but there had to be a fair few. Voldermort infiltrating it with a spy could bring unimaginable rewards.

'It seems a bit heartless of us to go and have a fun day in Hogsmede now,' muttered Georgina.

Pippa shook her head in disagreement. 'No, that's what the Death Eaters want! They want to make us scared and miserable, that's the whole point. We have to fight them by getting on with our lives and not giving them the satisfaction of thinking they've got us spooked.'

'That's true,' agreed Victoria. She looked down at her watch. 'In fact, Lucy and I should start wandering down to meet the boys.'

All of the group got up from the table and left the castle together. Although they had all heard and taken in Pippa's words, there was no doubt that the walk was considerably quieter than usual. Normally they would chat and laugh away, but this time they were all consumed in their own thoughts. Victoria, for one, kept picturing the wanted posters of the five Death Eaters. Three faces in particular had always stood at to her- Dolohov and the Carrow siblings. You could see that all three of them were twisted and evil just from the way there leered and glared in their photos.

When the group reached the village, Victoria was distracted from thoughts of Death Eaters by the sight of Sirius. He and Remus were standing outside Honeydukes, and both of them grinned as they noticed the arrivals. Sirius bounded up to Victoria and wrapped his arms tightly around her.

'Alright, Potter?' he grinned, kissing her.

'Hello you,' she murmured, enjoying the feel of being in his arms after not having seen him for so long.

After everyone had exchanged greetings, Pippa and Alex wandered off to Zonko's, while Georgina and Ben disappeared to their usual haunt of Madame Puddifoot's tea shop. Remus, meanwhile, suggested a drink, so he, Lucy, Sirius and Victoria all headed into the Three Broomsticks together.

'So how are you lot coping at Hogwarts without us?' asked Sirius, settling Butterbeers down on the table and taking a seat next to Victoria.

'Vic's developed an obsession with your brother as a coping mechanism,' joked Lucy, taking a sip of her drink.

'I am not obsessed with Regulus!' complained Victoria. 'I just think he's acting strangely.

Sirius rolled his eyes. 'You've told me this so many times. Just face it, my brother's weird. End of.'

'He's always on his own now,' argued Victoria, refusing to drop the matter. 'It's as if he's fallen out with the entirety of Slytherin house, or got bored with them or something.'

'Maybe he's just toning down the pure blood mania thing,' suggested Remus reasonably.

'Nah,' disagreed Sirius, shaking his head. 'He's a typical Black through and through. He'll be a faithful Death Eater in a few months time, mark my words.'

'Talking of Death Eaters,' interrupted Lucy, 'Did you two hear about the ones that escaped Ministry custody?'

Sirius and Remus immediately exchanged dark looks.

'Oh we heard about that alright,' confirmed Sirius. 'It means we've got a spy in our midst.'

'That's what I said,' agreed Victoria. She was about to ask the boys if they knew anything else about the matter when something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention.

'Get down!' she screamed to her friends as she herself dived under the table. The next moment, the front wall of the Three Broomsticks collapsed, half burying them under dust and chippings. All around them people were screaming and pulling themselves and their companions out from the wreckage.

'What was that?' yelled Sirius, looking around wildly.

'They're here,' said Victoria, reaching for her wand. 'I saw one of them through the window. They fired a curse at the pub.'

'Who's here?' urged Lucy. But it didn't take long for that answer to become clear. Outside the ruined pub, about ten people had materialised from nowhere, draped in dark cloaks and masks. Several of them laughing manically, they split up into pairs and darted across the street, each duo throwing curses at random buildings and people alike. One of the Death Eaters' masks slipped and Victoria recoiled in outrage at the sight of the Carrow brother's taunting face; the slighter, masked figure next to him had to be his sister. The two siblings took off down the street in the direction of the post office and Madame Puddifoot's.

'Georgie,' breathed Victoria, and before she knew what she was doing she had pulled herself out of the rubble of the Three Broomsticks and was sprinting down the street. Movements and shouts behind her told her that Sirius was right on her tail, but she didn't stop running.

It was chaos all around them. Death Eaters were flitting around, attacking at whim a village of shoppers that had been completely taken by surprise. Victoria heard Sirius aim a curse at one of them who had surrounded a group of second years. Further on down the road, several sixth year Ravenclaws were duelling with another masked figure.

The Carrows reached the post office and blasted the door down, causing several patrons to come dashing out in panic. As they did so, the Death Eaters struck two of down with a single curse.

'Stupefy!' yelled Victoria at the top of her voice. The spell hit Alecto Carrow directly in the chest, and she tumbled straight to the ground. Seeing her sister fall, the other Carrow spun around and pointed his wand at Victoria. Just as she was about to fire another Stunning Spell, however, a burst of light shot over her shoulder and Carrow also fell to the ground next to his sister.

'Thanks,' muttered Victoria, as Sirius caught up with her.

'Vic, get out of here!' he urged. 'Apparate anywhere!'

'No chance! My friends are here!'

Suddenly, a piercing whistle tore through the air and, across the length of the street, the Death Eaters disapparated in almost perfect synchronisation. It didn't take long to ascertain why they had suddenly vanished- Albus Dumbledore was hurrying along the street heading directly towards Victoria and Sirius. He glanced at the unconscious bodies of the Carrows and then turned to Sirius.

'Please go and inform the Ministry about this right away. Say that we have two of their escaped convicts.'

Sirius hesitated and glanced at Victoria, evidently not wanting to leave.

'Please hurry,' insisted Dumbledore, but not too unkindly.

Giving Victoria a brief hug and murmuring that he would speak to her as soon as possible, Sirius turned on his heel and disapparated into thin air. As soon as Sirius had left to deliver the message, Dumbledore headed back up the street to meet McGonagall and Flitwick, both of whom were rather red-faced as though they had hurried down from the castle at speed.

'Vic!' It was Georgina and Ben, emerging from the teashop looking shaken but otherwise fine.

'What on earth just happened?' exclaimed Georgina. 'We heard screams and the next thing the post office door was blasted off. Then the Death Eaters all vanished!'

'Dumbledore arrived,' explained Victoria. 'It wasn't meant to be a prolonged attack. I bet they only intended to be here for as long as it took him to hear about the attack and reach the village. Enough time to cause some damage though...'

All three of them surveyed the scenes of devastation before them. Since they had taken everyone completely by surprise, it seemed as though no one had had the time to put up a major fight against the Death Eaters. Numerous buildings had had windows broken, doors torn away, or walls knocked down, and countless people were dotted along the street tending to their own injuries or someone else's. They all looked completely dazed at the surprise and speed of the attack.

'Oh God,' whispered Georgina, slowly pointing her finger in the direction of something near Zonko's.

Victoria only had time to register the lifeless figure of one of the sixth year Ravenclaws before Professor Flitwick conjured a screen from nowhere and shrouded the body from public view.

'We need to find the others,' urged Victoria.

The three of them dashed back up the street towards the pub where Victoria had been enjoying a pleasant drink a mere ten minutes ago. To her utmost relief, Lucy and Remus were both standing outside what remained of the Three Broomsticks, the latter helping another patron who seemed to have been mildly injured by the falling rubble.

Lucy looked as though she might burst into tears at the sight of them, and she immediately threw her arms around Victoria. 'Thank goodness!'

Gryffindor common room was a grim sight later that evening, as all the students sat in virtual silence trying to comprehend how what was meant to have been a fun day in the village had been transformed into a bloodbath in the space of five minutes. Unable to stand the atmosphere, the seventh year girls had retired to their dormitory early, where they all sat on Pippa's bed and discussed the day's grave events.

'I ran right past the Ravenclaws, I could have helped them,' muttered Victoria for what felt like the twentieth time.

Pippa shook her head urgently. 'There was nothing you could have done, Vic. You might have been killed too.'

That didn't help alleviate the guilt though. As she had sprinted down the road to find Georgina and Ben, Victoria had run past three sixth year Ravenclaws duelling a figure who- according to one of the survivors- had been the recently-escaped Dolohov. Two of the Ravenclaws had been killed by the Avada Kedavra curse. The other was physically fine but currently in the Hospital Wing in a state of numb horror. A grieved McGonagall had informed the Gryffindors of this after dinner. Apparently another seven people had been killed, including the much loved owner of Zonko's joke shop.

'I just can't believe it!' exclaimed Georgina in anger. 'Such cowards! They wanted to take us completely by surprise to cause as much death and destruction as possible, then they disappeared the moment Dumbledore, McGonagall and Flitwick appeared.'

'They didn't want to have to duel the teachers,' agreed Victoria. 'I bet they only ever intended to be there for a few minutes, knowing full well that someone would get a message to Dumbledore pretty much straight away.'

'It was just intended to scare us,' added Pippa. 'To make us feel as though nowhere is safe.'

'Well, it worked,' admitted Lucy.

'The Carrows are back in custody. At least that's one thing,' said Georgina. 'And it was all down to Vic.'

'Well, it was Sirius as well,' Victoria corrected her. Inside, however, she felt a violent satisfaction at having helped capture the fugitives that her parents had dedicated over a year to finding. It seemed like a kind of revenge for the Death Eaters having destroyed her family.

After another hour or so of talking, Lucy suggested tentatively that they would probably all benefit from some sleep. Knowing full well that none of them would manage it, they all got into bed and kept up the pretence by turning off the lights and closing their eyes. Victoria, however, rolled onto her back and stared up at the canopy of her four poster bed. In spite of all the horror of the day, it had felt good to actually use her wand against a Death Eater. For the first time, she realised that she was ready for when she left the safety of school.

So much drama! I realise this was all a little out of the blue, but I realised that I did probably need a bit of action as a reminder of what's going on outside of Hogwarts. Please keep reading and reviewing! I'll try and have the next chapter up over the weekend x