The wedding was over. Cissa had gone, and it seemed incredibly quiet without her. Kate, Mike, Wilhelmina and Sev's parents were sitting in the Slytherin common room, talking over everything that had happened at the wedding, while I made tea in Kate's office. Sev was helping me. He looked worried as I carried the tray into the common room and handed round the cups. I knew what was on his mind, because it was the same thing that was on mine.
"I didn't understand what that Gryffindor girl was saying," Wilhelmina complained, as she took her tea. "What was she saying about kissing?"
"I think she got confused, like Lucius's parents," Kate yawned. "Easy to do, nowadays, when young people have such short hair."
"I knew Gryffindors were rather odd," Sev's mum added. "But why did she take Liliana's shoes?"
I slipped away before someone could ask me about Chloe, and went back to Sev.
"How am I gonna tell them, Sev?" I muttered. "I have to, or I'll end up a bloody bureaucrat, bored out of my mind."
Sev frowned. I wasn't really expected him to come up with any ideas – after all, this was my problem, not his – but suddenly he grabbed my hand and pulled me into the common room.
"Mum, Dad, Professor Morgan, Mr Charbet," Sev announced, standing in front of the sofa with me at his side. "We've got something to tell you."
Oh no, I thought. Sev, what are you doing? I didn't have a clue what he was up to, but all the adults were sitting up now, their ears practically flapping.
"You know how we've been good friends for a long time…" Sev started.
Oh, Merlin, I thought, as everyone sat forward eagerly in their seats.
"Well, we'd like to ask for your blessings," Sev said awkwardly. "We want to get engaged!"
I stared at him in shock. Meanwhile, Sev's mum clapped her hands and started blessing us immediately, and there were exclamations of delight from the others. I just stood there dumbly, not knowing what to say. What the hell was Sev up to? If he wanted to marry me, he might have discussed it with me first.
"There's just one condition," Sev had to raise his voice to be heard above all the rejoicing. "I want Lily to have the chance to do whatever job she feels is best for her."
I felt all the colour drain from my face and I clutched Sev's hand, unable to speak. He'd worked out a way for me to go to Europe and play Quidditch professionally, and this was it. Kate and Mike were much more likely to let me go if I was already engaged to a nice Slytherin pureblood they approved of. It was a brilliant idea.
"Of course, Severus," Mike agreed eagerly. "That's what I want too."
I bit my lip. I couldn't believe that Sev was prepared to do this for me. He was a real friend. But if we went through with this fake engagement, I'd be lying to my family again. Sev and I would never be getting married, which meant we'd have to split up at some point and tell them all the reason why.
And what about the future? After a few years, I might want to stay in Europe. But I might want to come back to Britain and conduct the Knight Bus like that girl on the England team, just so I could carry on playing Quidditch. That would mean more painful arguments as I carried on fighting to live my life the way I wanted to. Quickly I made up my mind. No more secrets, no more lies.
"Kate, Mike, Sev's lying," I blurted out. "We're not getting engaged."
Everyone stopped celebrating, and looked confused.
"Sev only said that to help me," I went on shakily. "Look, I played in the final today – and we won."
"What?" Kate asked in a shocked voice. "How?"
"I wasn't going to go, but Mike let me," I told her.
For once, Kate was too stunned to say a word. She turned to Mike, who looked a bit shame-faced.
"And it was brilliant," I went on quickly before Kate could get started. "I played the best I ever have – because I wasn't sneaking off and lying to you. I didn't ask to be good at Quidditch –" I glanced at the picture on the wall "– Salazar Slytherin must have blessed me. Anyway, there were scouts from Europe there, and I've been offered a place in a French team, the Quiberon Quafflepunchers – I can play Quidditch professionally! I really want to go…" I was having to swallow hard now because I was on the edge of tears. "And if I can't tell you now what I really want, then I'll never be happy whatever I do."
I stole a glance at Kate and Mike. Mike looked stunned, but Kate was recovering fast. She glared at Mike. "You mean you let her leave her cousin's wedding to play Quidditch?"
Tears filled my eyes, and I slumped down in an armchair. Hadn't Kate heard a word I was saying?
"You might have been able to handle her long face, but I could not," Mike muttered uncomfortably. "I didn't have the heart to stop her."
"And that's why she's ready to give up her future and go all the way to Europe now!" Kate snapped.
I huddled in my chair, feeling sick. I'd blown it. I'd really blown it.
There was a tense silence. Mike got up, went over to the bar in the office and poured himself a large Fire-Whisky.
"When all those bloody Aurors threw me out like a dog, I never complained," he said quietly. "On the contrary, I vowed to never try again. And who suffered? Me."
I stared at him. Of all the things I'd expected him to say, this wasn't one of them.
"I don't want Lily to suffer," Mike said. "I don't want her to make the same mistake I made, just accepting the situation. I want her to fight, and I want her to win."
I sat up, my eyes fixed on him. A tiny seed of hope sprang up inside me and started to grow.
"I've seen Lily play, and she's brilliant!" Mike went on passionately. I managed a smile. So he had seen me playing in the semi-final. "I don't think anyone has the right to stop her…"
I gasped with relief, jumped up from my chair and ran to throw my arms around him. However stubborn Kate was, once Mike made up his mind about something, he was implacable. I saw her opening her mouth to protest, but seeing the determined glint in Mike's eye, she gave up. I was so happy, I couldn't say a word, I just hugged him as tightly as I could. I knew that Mike would always be my family, my surrogate father.
"Two daughters made happy in one day," Mike said softly. He clearly saw the same thing. "What more could any father want?"
"Well, at least she'll have good grades and a position in the Ministry for when she's given up this nonsense," Kate said, sounding upset but resigned. "The rest is in Merlin's hands."
"James! James!" I raced across the pitch, holding my gown up with one hand. He was out under the floodlights on his own, flying for the sheer joy of it. "I'm going! They said I could go!"
At first he looked stunned, then he beamed as I threw myself into his arms and we hugged each other to bits. "That's brilliant, Lily."
There were a few wolf whistles from some guys in the stands, and I pulled away from him, embarrassed.
"Sorry, I forgot."
"It's OK now, Lily," James said quickly. "I'm not your coach any more. We can do what we want."
He reached out to pull me to him again, but I backed away. This was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do. But I'd thought things through, and it was the only way.
"James," I began uncomfortably.
James looked behind him, an expression of alarm on his face. "Mr Charbet isn't here, is he?"
I shook my head. "I'm sorry, James. I can't…"
James looked confused and I almost melted, but I forced myself to harden my heart again. "Lily, I thought you wanted – "
"Letting me play Quidditch professionally is a really big step for Kate, especially." I couldn't look at him. Instead, I reached out and fiddled with the zip of his trackie top. "She can't handle anything more. She'd blow up if I got involved with a Gryffindor – probably disown me."
There was silence for a moment.
"Well, I guess with you going to France, there's not much point anyway," James said bravely. "Is there?"
He was giving me a way out without making it hard for me. I shook my head, and we hugged each other goodbye. It might me the right decision, but it still hurt. Why couldn't life just be simple and straightforward?
"Daughter, go with our blessings," Mike said, "but owl us every week."
The big day had finally arrived. Abby and I were taking a Portkey to France to begin training with the Quiberon Quafflepunchers, and Sev and my family had come to the Ministry to see me off. I was buzzing with anticipation, but it was hard to say goodbye. Our Portkey had already been called four times, and Abby and I were going to miss it if we weren't careful.
Abby was standing with her parents, Aaron and Chloe a little way off – they were still saying their goodbyes too. I was glad that everything had been sorted out with Chloe. Abby had told me that she had overheard us rowing in the dorm about James, and thought we were in love with each other! She must've been mad. I could laugh about it now, though. James. I shook my head to get the thought of him out of my mind. I had to look forward now.
"Excuse me." Abby's dad came over to us. "It's getting really late. They'd better go now."
I took a deep breath as I gave everyone a final hug. This was it, then. No going back.
I felt goosebumps all over me, and my face broke into a huge smile. James was running through the departure lounge towards me.
"What are you doing here?" I gasped, conscious of Kate's eyes on us.
"I wanted to tell you, they offered me the job," James said. "They want me to coach the men's side."
I gave him a big smile. I wanted to hug him, but it wasn't a good idea with my family standing there. "That's great, James!"
"Yeah." He nodded. "I turned 'em down."
"What?" My jaw dropped. "Why – ?"
"They're going to let me coach the girls' side full-time," James broke in, smiling from ear to ear. "They want us to go pro next year. Can't keep losing all our best players to Europe now, can we?" he added teasingly.
"That's brilliant, James," I said, meaning it. "You should tell your dad."
"I already did," James replied, and the look on his face told me that everything was OK.
"Maybe after they've trained you up out there, I'll sign you back," he went on. "If we can afford you!"
"You wish," I laughed.
Suddenly serious, James looked deep into my eyes. "Look, Lily," he said urgently, "I can't let you go without knowing – "
"What?" I said. But I thought I already knew.
"That even with the distance and the concerns of your family, we might still have something…"
I couldn't take my eyes off him. Suddenly it was as if there was no-one else in the airport except us two. I leaned towards him, and then we were kissing. I'd forgotten about Kate and Mike standing behind us. And if I'd remembered, I wouldn't have cared anyway. I knew then that what Cissa had told me was true. When you're in love, you'll do anything just to be with that person…
"Oh, Merlin!" It was Abby, screaming. "It's Pendragon! Lily, look! It's him! It's got to be a sign…"
Slowly I pulled away from James and turned to look. Everyone was staring across the hall at a large crowd of people – mainly reporters. None of them had even noticed us kissing. I just caught a glimpse of Emlyn Pendragon, my hero, surrounded by his entourage, before they disappeared from sight down a corridor.
I grinned at James. Abby was right. It was a sign. "I'll be home for Christmas," I whispered. "We'll tackle my family then."
The look on James's face gave me a warm feeling inside. He nodded, then moved over to say goodbye to Abby. There was just time for one last round of hugs before Abby and I walked towards the now rather impatient group gathered round the Portkey.
"This is it," Abby breathed, her eyes shining.
I turned to give everyone one last wave, and saw Kate handing a tissue to Mrs Figg, Abby's mum. "Yeah, this is it," I agreed. "Let's go for it."
Smiling we turned back and grabbed the Portkey. As I felt the tug at my navel, I knew my future was unfolding in front of me, and that finally, I was in control of my own life. My own destiny.