Chapter 36

The N.E.W.T examinations were finally over, and every seventh year could relax at last.

Graduation was just two days away, and Noelle was infinitely sure that she was not ready to be released into the real world. She wanted to be safe at Hogwarts, or even back at her home in France, but she did not want to jump into the risk that she knew awaited her. Everyone else, on the contrary, was quite ready to be set free.

James and Sirius had been offered, and had accepted, entry-level jobs in the Ministry's Department of Defense. Lily was to be working in the Department of Experimental Charms, while Remus would be in the Department of Magical Creatures. Peter would be returning to Gloucestershire to assist with his family's apothecary. Everyone was taking the next big step in his or her lives, and Noelle was going back to school.

She had been accepted at Oxford for their International Relations program, and part of her was really looking forward to starting in the fall. On the other hand, she had no scholastic experience with Muggles. She was deeply unsure of how to behave and act in her future classmates presence.

The night before graduation and the ball, Noelle and Lily were both in their room packing the remainder of their belongings. Most had already been sent ahead to their respective flats, and all that remained were a few items of Muggle clothing, some toiletries and their graduation gowns. The boys, having thrown all of their possessions into their trunks haphazardly, were out on the grounds reliving their adventures. Noelle knew that Sirius was having a hard time saying goodbye to the only place that he'd ever considered to be his home, and he was wandering around with his two best friends, committing to memory every nook and cranny of the old castle.

Finished with her packing, Noelle took a seat at one of the vanity tables in her room. She watched Lily putter around the room with a small smile on her face. As if she knew she was being watched, Lily turned around. The sadness in her best friend's eyes tugged at her heart.

"What's wrong Noelle? You look so sad!" Lily asked, dropping the blouse she was holding.

"I'm not sad. I guess I'm just a little scared. I don't know if I'm ready to leave this place," Noelle said, gesturing with her arm.

"It's not a little scary. It's downright terrifying," Lily stated. "I mean, for seven years, I've lived here more than I've lived at my own house. But I don't have a home to return to anymore. Wherever James is, that's my home now. And he's not going to be here anymore."

"That's one way of looking at it. I remember when I first arrived at Beauxbatons. It's such an amazingly beautiful place, Lily. I wish you could see it. And it was home, too, I think, in a way. I met all my friends there, and could never have wished for anything more. When I arrived here, at Hogwarts, I never thought that I would be able to think of it in the same way. But then I met all of you, and you became my family, in ways that my other friends never could have. It was hard to say goodbye to them, but I think it will be nearly impossible to say goodbye to all of you."

"You'll never have to say goodbye to any of us Noelle. We're all still together, and even though you and I won't be sharing a room, I'm only an apparition away!"

Noelle wrinkled her nose in false distaste.

"I have to trade sharing a room with you for sharing a room with Sirius? No thanks, he's too messy."

Lily laughed.

"And instead of smelling your Chanel perfume all the time, I have to smell James' Quidditch gear. Disgusting!"

Noelle nodded seriously, pretending to be deep in thought.

"Maybe we should reconsider. Tell the boys that they have to live together," Noelle suggested.

"I don't think that will go over too well," Lily said.

"Probably not," Noelle agreed.

She threw her head back and thought.

"I have an idea. Let's go get pampered. I mean, after all, how many times do you graduate? We need the works, massages, manicures, pedicures, facials…what do you say?"

"I think that's a grand idea. But where do we go?" Lily asked.

"To London, of course."

The next day, first thing in the morning, Noelle went to McGonagall's office to ask permission. Surprisingly, the professor granted it.

"Just be back by three o'clock this afternoon. Miss Evans still has some work to do for the ceremony."

Once at the spa, the girls were both whisked into separate rooms to change into fluffy white bathrobes. They emerged and took their places on massage tables.

"This is absolute heaven," Lily managed to say as her masseuse kneaded the skin on her back.

Noelle could barely speak so she nodded in response. The tension slowly drained from her body and she felt herself sliding into sleep.

Samantha was seated at a long table made of dark wood. She was silent and deathly pale. For the first time, Noelle saw fear on her face. Severus was on her right, and a gentleman that Noelle didn't recognize immediately was on her left. His pale blonde hair was nearly the length of Noelle's own. The man seated at the head of the table was one who very recently had become extremely familiar to her. Tom Riddle had changed drastically in the future. His eyes were still glowing red, his skin was even paler than before, and his nostrils had become slits. Gone was the handsome man that she had meet two weeks before. He spoke, and his voice was a hiss.

"I'm so glad you've decided to come to senses, my dear girl. It's much easier when we don't have to use force."

Samantha's dark blue eyes clenched shut and a tear leaked out.

"Oh, don't cry. It won't hurt very much."

Noelle's own eyes flew open when she heard Riddle's maniacal laughter. The massage was nearly done and she kept her lips pressed together until it was. She silently followed Lily into another room to get her nails done, suddenly wanting to be back at Hogwarts.

Once back at the school, the two girls found everything in an uproar in their room. Clothing was everywhere, and girls were rushing in and out of the bathrooms in various states of undress. Slipping unnoticed through the masses, Noelle opened her wardrobe and removed her graduation robes. She pulled her street clothes off and slipped the robes over her head. Like everyone else's, they were black, but the Gryffindors had a mantle of scarlet and gold. The other houses were exactly the same, but with their own colors. She tugged her long blonde hair out of its braids and brushed the shimmering waves over her shoulders. She pinned it up loosely and studied herself in the mirror. She still looked tired, but with a stricken expression in her blue eyes.

What could Riddle have been demanding of Samantha? Surely nothing good. Noelle had never seen that look of sheer terror on the girl's face, and it deeply unsettled her.

Lily appeared at her side.

"Ready to go downstairs?" she asked brightly.

Tilting her head at her reflection, Noelle shrugged, then nodded.

"I guess so."

"You guess so? Noelle, we're graduating! Be excited!"

Finally, Noelle turned to face her.

"I am excited. Really. But I'm still nervous."

Lily laughed and tugged on her hand, leading her out of the room.

The seventh-year students filed out of the entrance and onto the grounds, grouped by their houses. Families and friends gave a mighty cheer as they made their way onto the Quidditch pitch. Noelle snuck a look at James, who was standing on Sirius' other side. His face was ecstatic, and Noelle knew it was because he was graduating on the one piece of Hogwarts' grounds that meant the most to him. As they approached the seating, James and Lily climbed a smaller platform and sat next to Professor McGonagall. Noelle took her seat between Sirius and Remus and tried to pay attention. Almost immediately she fell into another vision.

It was her wedding again, but for the first time she was not an invisible observer. She was the bride. Her white silk gown glistened in the bright Riviera sunshine and the diamonds that dotted her bodice sparkled. She looked down at her shaking hands and stared in confusion at her left ring finger. The ring on her finger was not the ring that Sirius had given her. It was far larger and more elaborate. She looked up sharply and saw her father striding towards her.

"Well, Noelle? Are you over your latest tantrum?" he asked harshly.

Before she could answer, she heard herself talking.

"Father, must I really do this? Please, I'm begging you!"

"You have disgraced your family Noelle. No one knows of your indiscretion, and I intend to keep it that way! Roussard has agreed to marry you because he never stopped loving you, and you will do as I say!"

"But I don't love him! Let me go back to London. Let me go to Sirius!"

"Back to that wastrel? You think he loves you? Has he ever come to find you? No! You were merely a plaything to that boy, and nothing more. I don't ever want to hear his name spoken again!"

Noelle's mind reeled in shock at his words. She was to marry Olivier? And worst of all, for some reason she had left Sirius and he had never come after her! What could she have done that disgraced her family so much?

She didn't have time to think on it, because Sirius was elbowing her sharply in the ribs.

"Your diploma?" he whispered.

Noelle jumped to her feet and hurried to Professor Dumbledore.

"Here you are, my dear. Congratulations!"

She smiled weakly and took her seat. Sirius gave her a strange look as he clapped for Remus.

"Are you alright? You looked half asleep! You missed both James' and Lily's speeches! And you missed me getting my diploma," he said, flipping it open to show her. "I'm amazed that it's not blank."

"Sorry. I had a vision," she said, her throat dry.

"Of?"

"It was nothing," she lied. "Nothing of any importance."

The last remaining diplomas were handed out and the seventh-years jumped to their feet. Pulling off the pointy black hats they all wore, they tossed them jubilantly into the air. By the time Noelle realized what was going on, it was too late. She tugged hers off, and let it fall to the ground.

She dragged her feet as she made her way back to the castle. Lily was chattering on, begging Noelle to help her with her hair for the ball. Noelle agreed and allowed herself to be pulled into the common room.

She took the long black garment bag from her wardrobe and removed her newest robes. Pulling the silky material over her head, her mood improved. Pretty clothes always had a way of making her feel better.

As she was adjusting the laces on the corset, she realized that the room had gone silent.

"Noelle, where did you get that dress?" Alice Templeton asked with awe in her voice.

"Oh! Um, I got it in Paris," she mumbled.

"Is that a Chanel?" another girl asked with envy in her voice.

"Yes?" Noelle answered hesitatingly.

Suddenly they noticed Lily.

"Lily! Yours too?"

Lily, who hadn't been paying attention to the commotion around Noelle, finally turned to look.

"Yes. Noelle and I went to Paris a few weeks ago and got them. Aren't they amazing?" Lily gushed.

"Must be nice to be able to afford Chanel, eh Noelle?"

Noelle's back stiffened.

"Actually, Coco Chanel was a very close friend of my mother's before they both passed. The dresses were gifts," she spit out.

All the girls around them fell silent. Alice smiled.

"Noelle, you're so good with hair. Could you help me put mine up please?" she asked.

Noelle nodded, grateful for the excuse to leave the crowded bedroom.

Sirius paced at the foot of the Grand Staircase. Most of the seventh-year Gryffindor girls were already downstairs, but Lily and Noelle had not made their entrance yet. He glanced at his watch again, and grumbled. Just then, Remus nudged him sharply.

Making her way down the stairs gracefully was Noelle. Her dress was deep blue and plunged deeply to reveal her décolletage. Her blonde hair was loosely pinned up with curls hanging down her back. She looked incredible. He managed to regain his voice and strode over to her.

"Mademoiselle Lemieux, you are exquisite," he said softly as he bowed his head.

Noelle blushed and smiled. She dropped into a low curtsy.

"Monsieur Black, you are far too kind. And you, too, look fantastic," she said with a wink.

It was true, he did look amazing. His navy robes were the exact color of her eyes and his deeply tanned skin was gleaming. He smiled at her and his white teeth shone. He extended his arm and she took it. With loving smiles at each other, they entered the Great Hall.

Dinner was sumptuous and the alcohol flowed freely. Not only were the seventh years in attendance, but also any underclassmen who had been invited and the families of the newly graduated seventh years. Noelle felt herself getting tipsy before she had even finished dessert. As pudding was ending, Sirius noticed the band setting up.

"Are you ready to dance, love? Cause I have to warn you, I've been practicing!"

The five Gryffindors hit the dance floor. All of the liquor was definitely helping lower inhibitions, because Noelle was sure that she saw Professor McGonagall dancing with Dumbledore. And they definitely weren't waltzing.

The band played the first chords of 'Dancing Queen' and Noelle shrieked with glee as she grabbed Lily's hands. The best friends spun and sang along with the new song as the boys laughed. The music continued for what seemed like hours until finally a slow song began. Noelle wrapped her arms around Sirius' neck and nuzzled her nose into his face.

"I love you, you know," she said, her words slightly slurred.

"I love you too, drunk girl," he teased her.

"I am not drunk," she said, highly offended. "Okay, maybe a little."

Sirius laughed and tapped James on the shoulder.

"Is Lily drunk?" he asked.

"I think Lily is passed out," James said, gazing down at his fiancée. Her green eyes were closed and her breathing was slow and even. "Lils! Wake up!"

James waved Remus onto the dance floor and the five friends wrapped their arms over each other's shoulders. They swayed together, singing the words out loud, and clinging to their last moments of innocence.