St. Mungo's hospital in London had to be the most dreadful place you could possibly visit in the wizarding world, Virbia found. Definitely the last place she would send somebody with a serious illness. Or psychological problems. Luckily, Dr. Thomas's medical practice was a bit further off, on the left hand side of the road, inside what people called "the phone box", although it was actually a very small, red house between two large, grey skyscraper buildings. Remains of the nineteen-twenties. A construction mistake, actually, but of course it was no one's fault if you enquired the matter in the Ministry of Magic these days.
In any case, Dr. Nora Thomas, Muggle psychiatrist and specialist for all kinds of wizarding diseases and delusions - both at the same time, that is - had found her very own, well-organized ecological niche in between these skyscrapers. She had many clients, Virbia knew, all of whom appreciated her highly. Leaving for good would be hard, but it was the logical consequence of their most recent discussions. And of the last two weeks of events.
'For what reason do you think you do not need these potions any longer?' Dr. Thomas had asked when Virbia had informed her that she did not intend to swallow the chlorpromazine-Erumpent Exploding Fluid mixture she had now taken for almost two months. 'Have they caused any problems so far?'
Of course they had not. Virbia knew exactly that the course she had decided to take was not at all rational. Possibly not even the best for her health, or for her future well-being. The sociable black witch doctor would have been surprised just how well aware Virbia was of the consequences that her actions brought with them.
'Yes,' she said. 'I don't like them. They... confuse me.'
'They are supposed to do the opposite,' said the doctor calmly. 'Haven't you noticed that you are not seeing things any longer?'
'I have never been seeing things,' said Virbia stubbornly, 'and I don't want these potions.'
And that had been it. Of course, the doctor had not given in. Had insisted on her keeping up the therapy. And Virbia had reacted. Stubbornly, but with the only sensible way of reacting to an inflexible doctor. She had poured the potion into the sewer. For several weeks now.
The result had been striking. As predicted, no sudden hallucinations had appeared all over the place. And why should they? There never had been any in the first place. Even if the doctor assumed differently. Even if that was not what Lance said.
Probably the only sensible, grown-up person around her these days. A man of principles, who gave her both, a feeling of safety and the impression that there was more to life than just work, work, work... and doctors.
Yes, Virbia knew what she owed this man, who had accepted a severe cut in his career to come back to Camden - to look after her and the boy. Unnecessarily, but once again, following the advice of a doctor.
And he knew it as well. Sometimes, when she was not overwhelmed by feelings of gratefulness or simply love - for him, and when she had to leave him and Severus alone for a long amount of time, say - when she was staying in the blasted hospital, or visiting her relatives, Virbia wondered whether Lance actually blamed her - or worse, the boy - for the life they were currently leading. He was still away a lot, but she knew he was not going the way he had planned. He was not making his way to the upper ranks of officers down in South Africa at the moment.
Still, sometimes Virbia thought that not all the doctors (Nora Thomas among them) might have been wrong with what they had told them over the years. She, Virbia, had been badly during the previous summer, and, admittedly, couldn't say with honesty that she remembered everything that had happened during the warmer months of last year. But where did it come from, for Merlin's sake? Things like this did not just happen out of the blue. Or were they?
Perhaps it was as Professor Dumbledore liked to say: some things were inexplicable, and you simply had to put up with them, however much they seemed to interfere with your life - or the plans you had had for it.
This evening, in any case, her life was for once going to take a direction it was supposed to, with the return of Severus from Hogwarts and the begin of his summer holidays.
Virbia smiled. A different doctor, different weather (the heat had reached its current weekly climax once again, just how she liked it), and Severus coming home. Meaning her every day routine would soon be very different as well.
The boy had to have grown a lot. Not physically, maybe. Alas, he was too much her son to be in for much more than her 5'2". But emotionally, surely. His letters showed that he had matured. Made friends at this school which she herself had left only twelve years ago. It seemed he was happy under the care of Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Hestia Jones and all the others who were in charge of Hogwarts and its lessons these days.
Yes, many things were very much the same as in her days. Though, of course, Albus Dumbledore had only recently acquired the position as head of school, whereas Professor Dippet had chosen to leave the country and spend the rest of his life hunting holy crocodiles down the Nile. (Virbia wondered occasionally whether he was successful, but no one seemed to have heard of him ever since he had gone to examine one of the pyramids' insides a bit closer.)
Everything else, however, seemed more or less in place at Hogwarts. Even the London platform, from which the Hogwarts Express made its way twice a year, was still as it had ever been. Noisy, crowded, full of excitement on both sides, the students' and their parents'. A little too much noise, Virbia decided, but when Severus leapt out of the train (having spotted her seemingly even before the train had arrived at the platform), slammed away his large trunk carelessly, and threw himself into her arms she realised that she could cope with the fullest platform if only her little boy was back home so she could see, touch, hear, and smell him at all times again.
It was only when sitting in the Hogwarts Express, going towards London at eighty miles per hour, approximately, when Remus realised what Balbina's parents' change of opinion meant.
'Another summer all by myself,' he sighed. 'My grandmother will be furious. She's been planning on going abroad herself.'
'I'm sorry,' sighed Balbina, hanging miserably in the seat in front of him, looking at least as crestfallen as he probably did. 'I hate my p-parents. I of-ficially hate them now.'
'Don't,' said Remus quietly. 'They're probably just worried.'
'About what? A g-good friend who h-happens to be a werewolf??'
'Not so loud,' muttered Remus. 'Someone might step in...'
'Still, I d-don't see how anyone c-can be so inc-c-credibly impolite,' scowled Balbina. 'They'd agreed already, after all.'
And she set up a facial expression which, under normal circumstances, might have been called funny. Remus shrugged merely, however, and turned his head to watch the bypassing landscape through the compartment window.
'Oh look,' he said, not actually sounding very excited. 'London.'
'That's it, then,' replied Balbina assuming the same tone. 'The b-beginning of a very long t-time.'
The compartment door slid open and shut again. Remus hardly noticed his friend James until the dark-haired boy had settled down next to him, cheerfully chewing a liquorice wand. 'You seen? We're almost there,' he said
Remus nodded. 'Summer's there at last,' he said darkly, finding that his voice actually sounded a bit like Professor Crockford's when she was in one of her sarcastic moods.
James gave him a surprised look. 'What's that tone about? I thought you liked your granny?'
'I do,' admitted Remus. 'It's just... I had different plans for the holidays, you know.'
'Never mind,' grinned James. 'There'll be another time. Other... opportunities.' He jumped up. 'Are you coming or not? The others have already gone to the back of the train. You know - they're sitting in the one no one ever comes to, unless they have no choice.'
Remus jumped up instantly. 'I forgot about that!' he gasped. 'See you in a minute, Bina. Gotta say goodbye to a good friend of ours before we reach the station.'
'Why?' said Balbina curiously.
James pulled a grimace and Remus caught himself grinning stupidly.
'Let's just say his parents wouldn't approve if we did it on the platform,' he said with a side-glance at James. 'C'mon.'
And he left the compartment. A few seconds later, James followed him.
They walked all the way down the Hogwarts Express to the compartment which, as James had pointed out so rightly, no one of their right mind would chose to sit in. The seats were slightly torn and the electricity was faulty. Almost, Remus figured, as if the had been a werewolf in here, locked in for a journey overnight, during full-moon.
Sirius and Peter were sitting in front of the window, talking quietly when James and Remus entered.
'We were just talking about counter curses,' said Sirius grinningly when Remus sat down smilingly. 'And how people tend to call them counter curses to justify their usage.'
'Complete rubbish,' retorted James. 'You've just been reading another book too much again.'
'And here's me thinking you have come to wish me a good summer, instead of insulting me as usual,' growled Sirius, not unpleasantly, as Remus noticed. 'Is there anything you can do right, Potter?'
'I have come to tell you not to listen to your relatives too much,' said James coolly, 'or we'll have to start all over again after the holidays.'
Sirius stared at him, then grinned. 'Don't worry,' he said, actually looking a bit embarrassed now. 'Christmas was a bit... was just an exception, really.'
'No, it wasn't,' said James. 'But that is okay. You just don't forget what happened over the year. Or I'll box your ears when we return.'
Remus snorted. Sirius grinned.
'What?!' said James angrily, as even Peter suppressed a giggle. Remus bit his lip in an effort to fight off a grin and Sirius clapped James's shoulder in what was apparently meant to be a reassuring way.
'Never mind, Potter,' he said. And after another while quietly, more seriousness in his voice: 'But I think I can reassure you that what happened during the Christmas holidays won't happen again. I...' he took a deep breath, not at all looking mischievous for a change. 'I can see my family for what it is now. - More or less,' he added as an afterthought. 'And I promise I won't forget what happened. I promise I will still be the same when we return.'
The rest of the conversation was made in silence.
Remus realised that their little group had grown close enough to say certain things without saying anything. And that they had reached a point now, at which no words said more than many.
When the train reached the station, the four boys parted silently. James's parents were taking him back in a flying VW beetle. (Remus assumed that they did have a special permission to fly it, as they were doing so very self-confidently and in the open.) Peter's aunt was taking him and some of her own children to make their journey down to Cornwall on the Knight Bus. Sirius's mother had come to fetch Regulus and happened to have a spare seat in the back row ('No, really,' said James, but so quietly that no one could hear). And Remus's grandmother had appeared as well, looking indeed very sour and unpleasant because of her so unexpectedly cancelled holiday trip.
'Goodbye Bina,' he said, finding that his voice was assuming a raspy tone all of a sudden. 'I see you next year.'
'Yes,' said the girl, whose mother (tall, and fair-haired, just like herself) had already crossed the barrier and was waiting at the other side. 'Take care of yourself, will you?'
And she was gone before Remus could think of something suitable to say. Instead, he turned and walked slowly back towards his grandmother.
End of Year One
Author's Notes: And that is that. Of course, the story will continue. Without delay, in fact. Year Two is almost fully planned and half written already. Well, the first draft anyway. But there is still a bit to be done.
A few things with regard to the first year, however, which I would not like to remain unsaid: First, I feel that this story isn't as 'round' as a proper story should be. This is partly due to the chapter-by-chapter-uploading system which is very common in the world of fanfiction, of course, but also because I like to just present some ideas how things might have been like, describe circumstances, character development and the like. Not necessarily create much of an action story. Anyway, I suppose you don't mind that kind of writing, or you wouldn't be here, reading this. Ahem. :p
Second, very importantly, I would like to thank Mothwing for taking part in creating half the characters (actually... practically all of them) and Jenn for spending so much time supporting me with Minerva's accent. I hope it isn't too horrific for native speakers of Scots, would like to point out, however, (as this is a very convenient moment) that I have put a lot of work into finding suitable sources. Among them "A Textual History of Scots" by Manfred Goerlach, "Problems in Scottish English Phonology" by Tatiana Ewa Kaminska, and "Scottish Gaelic" by Willam Lamb.
And last, but not least, I would like to thank you all for your wonderful reviews and all your support so far! Love y'all!
The Second Year is now up and called "Oddball Trouble" (storyid=1847367). If you enjoyed this, feel free to coninue.