Disclaimer: Look, I've told you fifty times already that I don't own HP.
A/N: 1000 REVIEWS! We did it! Well, you guys mostly. You're all such clever little poppets. I can't believe anyone actually listened to me. In case you're wondering the count is currently 76 reviews for the last chapter and that's more than I've ever received for a single chapter. Anyway, I ended up with two 1000th reviewers. Originally it was Kay, then after I went through and deleted some anonymous reviews that were accidentally posted twice, the new 1000th reviewer was Stephanie. Insert drum roll here You've both won cameo appearances in the sequel! Tada! If you want to appear in the sequel that is. I won't use your names without permission. Let me know.
This is it, everyone. I think I'm turning into Alicia Spinnet. I cried reading your reviews and I almost cried writing the actual chapter. I think you can consider this a warning. If you have become teary reading any of the previous chapters of this story, this chapter here will get you. It might have a little more feeling for anyone who has graduated from high school (or uni/college for that matter). I think that's what got to me so much. I'm going to let you read the chapter now. All of the thankyous and goodbyes are at the end. I also included some OFNT stats that you might find interesting. I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed the story so far and that you get just as much enjoyment from this last instalment.
Chapter 49 (50)
In the thousands of years that it stood, majestic and welcoming, Hogwarts had always been more than just a school to its students. It was a home away from home. A place where they didn't have to worry about what the rest of the world was doing. They could always find a friendly face in its hallowed halls. Handily, the castle was also big enough for them to avoid bumping into any unfriendly faces.
Sadly, most Hogwarts students didn't come to realise how exceptional the school was until it was almost too late. In their last few weeks they saw the place with fresh eyes. It was like being a first year again. Suddenly the grounds were astonishingly beautiful and the worn stone of the interior told countless stories. In the months of May and June, seventh years could be seen stopping to chat to ghosts in the corridors, eating more at dinner, smiling at Filch and running their fingers over the old books in the library. Everything was new and fascinating to them.
The top of the tallest tower provided the best place to look out over the entire school. When the Gryffindors went to the top of the North Tower they were not the first seventh years to have stood in the same spot. Alicia, who was compiling an album to take overseas, was trying to get the other three to pose.
"Stand closer," Alicia ordered. "Lee, put your arm around the girls. For God's sake, don't flinch like that, Katie, it's only Lee. Smile, Angelina!"
Fred and George had escaped three days ago. The huge hole they left behind was far from being repaired, but things were beginning to get slightly easier. Everyone was still talking about their spectacular exit, which didn't help their friends with the forgetting process. Angelina was still telling anyone who would listen that Fred was her boyfriend. Unfortunately this led to an ugly altercation when a group of sixth year Ravenclaws claimed that Fred wouldn't even remember Angelina's name after they got through with him.
Thankfully, Lee was there to drag Angelina away kicking and screaming.
"Lee! Where are you going?" Alicia shrieked.
"No point in taking a photo if Katie doesn't want me to touch her," he muttered, not turning back as he opened the door.
"Come on, Lee! Don't go!"
"See you at dinner. Try not to get yourselves into too much trouble." He started down the stairs without sparing them another look.
As soon as the door swung shut, Alicia and Angelina rounded on Katie. She just sighed heavily and turned to look out over the grounds. "I've always thought that Hogwarts looked prettiest at twilight," she said.
"What was that all about?" Angelina demanded.
"How could you do that to him?" Alicia asked, coming up beside her.
"You should get a picture of this before all the light goes," Katie said, ignoring their questions.
She should have known better. Angelina didn't like being ignored. She seized Katie by the arms and spun her around. "Why are you treating him like this? He's been so lovely these last few days."
"I know!" Katie yelled suddenly.
Angelina let go of her in surprise. Katie hardly ever got angry. In fact, she barely raised her voice when she did get angry. Now her pretty features were twisted up in agony. She stormed over to the other side of the tower and put her hands over her face.
Alicia exchanged a worried look with Angelina. It was so out of character for their friend. "Katie?" Alicia asked gently.
"I'm still in love with him, all right!" Katie said loudly. She dropped her hands to reveal wet eyes. "It's getting harder to hide now that he's being so attentive and caring. Why can't he be a selfish, sleazy prat like every other guy in the school?"
"Because he's our Lee," Angelina said simply.
"He isn't really my Lee though, is he?" Katie asked desperately. "I mean, no matter what I feel he still doesn't love me."
"Where's the proof of that?" Alicia asked. She went and put her arm around Katie's shoulders. "All I've seen is that he cares about you."
"That's not enough." Katie turned and hugged Alicia tightly. "I can't be with someone who doesn't love me back. It wouldn't be fair on either of us."
"Then what are you going to do?"
"Get over him, I suppose. I'll probably have to abandon my London plans though. That's where he's going when he finishes school. There are a few other magical hospitals in the country that I can get training at."
Angelina stomped her foot and her friends jumped apart. "There's no way I'm letting both of you leave me."
"I'll come and visit you from time to time," Katie said quickly.
"No! That's not going to cut it!" Angelina said, her voice thin and high. "We did not spend seven years together to end being split like this. It's not going to happen!"
"Settle down," Alicia said soothingly. "People always grow apart after school. That's just how it goes, love."
"That won't work for me," Angelina said stubbornly, folding her arms across her chest. "Who am I going to have if you two leave? Sure, Fred's fun to snog, but sometimes talking to him about serious things is about as fun as poking yourself in the eye with the pointy end of a quill. Who am I going to turn to then?"
"You're overreacting, Ang, it's not like we'll be on Mars," Katie said.
"LEE!" Angelina shrieked. "Get back out here!"
All of the colour drained from Katie's face. Alicia frowned in confusion. Angelina just smiled smugly and turned back to the door. Nothing happened and she got angrier.
"Lee Jordan, you've got precisely five seconds to get out here! One! Two! Thr-"
The door swung open slowly to reveal Lee standing at the top of the spiral staircase. His expression was unreadable. Katie squealed and buried her face in Alicia's neck.
"You knew he was standing there the whole time," Alicia said to Angelina.
She just shrugged. "I'm surprised I was the only one who knew he would still be there. Seriously, he hasn't been more than a few feet away from us since the boys left. Did you really think he'd leave us here without first making sure we were all right?"
"He heard everything," Katie sobbed softly. "I feel like an idiot."
"You're not an idiot, Kat, just talk to him."
"I can't even look at him."
Alicia sighed as Katie's tears slid down the collar of her shirt. She signalled Lee over but he just stood there staring blankly. Angelina growled and shoved him in the right direction.
"Here you go, Katie, Lee's here now. Ang and I are going to leave you alone to sort this out."
"Don't go," Katie said, tightening her grip.
"It'll be fine," Alicia assured her. She gently pried the blonde's arms from around her middle. "Take her, Lee."
Lee made a move to grab Katie but she was too quick for him. She sat down right where she had been standing and drew her knees up to her chest. She hid her face again. "I want you all to just leave me alone. I feel stupid enough as it is without you looking at me. Go away."
Katie heard footsteps retreating then the sound of the door opening and closing. Alicia and Angelina had left, but even without looking up she knew that Lee was still standing in front of her. "I want you to go as well," she said roughly. "You've already made me look like a fool."
"If it's any consolation, I didn't mean to do it. There's no way I could have known you were going to say those things." His voice was soft, close by. He had to be sitting in front of her now.
"I didn't mean anything of the things I said," Katie insisted rather unconvincingly.
When Lee next spoke he had adopted a light, conversational tone. "This reminds me of our encounter the night of the Yule Ball. Do you remember that?"
"Of course," she muttered, wondering what he was leading to.
"You refused to look me in the eye then as well. I got you though, didn't I? I pulled the cloak away from you and you fell on top of me. We had our first kiss then. Can you remember it? Short but sublime, I call it. Kinda like you, Little Bell."
Katie smiled and almost laughed. She stopped herself just in time, but only got the hiccups for her troubles. Little Bell was a nickname her three older brothers had given her when she was a child. She'd always hated being the youngest and the smallest.
Lee was now leaning towards her. She could feel his warm breath on her ear and neck. She wanted to draw away but couldn't. "You do realise how utterly sublime you are, don't you?"
"Oh," Katie moaned. He was drawing her out of shell gradually. Coaxing and cajoling gently, his words not random, but practiced and deliberate, as if his only purpose in life was to melt away her layers of resistance. The layers were already beginning to fall away, like bark being shed from a tree.
"I bet you wanna know why you're so sublime. I'll tell you since you're clearly dying to know. You're sublime because so much is able to fit into a small, perfect package. I used to try to work out how it was possible. I discovered that the more you try to analyse it the more obscure it becomes. You are who you are, my sublime Katie Bell."
As he whispered the last sentence in her ear she hiccupped loudly, causing him to laugh and rub her back. "Do you know how many different laughs you have? Of course you don't. Well, I've counted and there are twelve. How can such a small person be capable of so many laughs? One of my personal favourites would have to be the cheeky giggle you give when you've just done something naughty. That one sends shivers down my spine. Oh, the nervous giggle that appears before Quidditch games is always cute. My favourite, though, would definitely have to be your hysterical laugh. That's the one where you really let go. You cry and grasp for breath as your body convulses, contorts and writhers. It's enthralling to watch."
"Stop," Katie said suddenly, raising her head abruptly. More layers had fallen off and spiralled away into nothingness. If he kept chipping away at her she'd have nothing left of herself.
Lee sat back, a satisfied look on his face. "I got you out again, Little Bell, and this time I didn't even have to resort to violence. It's really a pity that you didn't mean any of those things you said earlier. You see, I couldn't bear to be with someone who didn't love me back either."
Katie blinked and a few meandering tears fell from her eyelashes. "Are you saying you love me?"
"You're a frighteningly odd girl," he said affectionately, "but yes, I do love you."
Katie wanted to say so much – she was fit to burst. All she could manage though was a hiccup and the nonsensical word "Garble."
Lee nodded as if that was the most profound thing anyone had ever said to him. "I quite agree. Garble it is."
Laughter bubbled up in Katie's throat, fought to get past the lump and then burst out of her mouth in a cacophony of hiccups, coughs, sobs and giggles. She fell sideways onto Lee's lap. He stroked her hair and said, "Thirteen laughs now."
Katie stayed in that position until she got it all out of her system. It didn't help that Lee kept saying random things to her just to hear her laugh again. When she was finally still and quiet she felt exhausted and exhilarated all at once. She felt complete again, like she'd got her life back.
"Love, can you sit up for a minute?"
Katie obliged immediately and straightened back up. She ran her hands through her hair, hoping that she didn't look as frazzled as she felt. "I'm sorry I lost it like that," she apologised shamefully.
Lee stopped her hands from fidgeting with her hair by grabbing them and holding them tightly between his own. "Lost it? I think we can safely say you've never had it. No, leave your hair alone. It looks beautiful as it is."
Katie shook her head. "At least have the decency to be honest with me. I know I must look awful. Just say it."
"You look positively horrendous. Happy?"
"No, funnily enough."
"It's all right if you look horrendous though. I'd still like you to live with me."
"P-pardon?" Katie stuttered.
"Would you like to come and live with me after school?" Lee asked earnestly, squeezing her hands.
"Me? With you?"
He smiled and nodded slowly. "Yes. You and me. How does that sound?"
"I don't know," Katie said. At some point she had started to tremble and now couldn't stop. "Where would we even live?"
"My parents own a flat on the outskirts of London. It's an investment thing. They're now insisting that I live in it."
Live in a London flat with Lee? It was too good to be true. Katie surreptitiously pressed her fingernails into the palm of her hand. It hurt quite a bit and she didn't wake up. Lee was actually asking her to move in with him. Ten minutes ago she had been certain that he hated her. It was a little too much to take at once.
"I'll have to think about it." She bit her lip, hoping that he wouldn't be too hurt.
Typically, he only gave that smile of his and remained unperturbed. "I expected that. You know you can take as long you want. If you don't feel comfortable moving in straight away then we can give it a few months. Whatever makes you happy. Alternatively we could just-"
"Yes! I'll come and live with you!"
"Er, that was quick. You sure this is what you want to do?" Lee asked, looking more than a little apprehensive.
Katie nodded emphatically, her blue eyes gleaming. "There isn't a lot to consider. I'd much rather live in a nice flat with you than with a bunch of strangers at the Academy."
"Do you know what living together would actually entail, though? The flat only has one bedroom and one bathroom, Katie."
She shrugged and grinned cheekily. "That's simple enough to fix. You sleep on the sofa and I get the bathroom first every morning. I can't guarantee I'll leave any hot water though."
"That isn't quite what I had in mind when I asked you to live with me," Lee said, looking hesitant and nervous. "I'm not sure you're really getting what I'm suggesting."
Katie put her arm around his neck comfortingly. "Relax, I understand exactly what you mean. I was only messing with you. I'm not a child, you know. I realise that living together will actually require us to live together. I don't mind sharing a bed or a bathroom with you."
"I think I love you even more."
They finally kissed then. For some reason it felt different to every other kiss they'd had. It was probably the wisps of circling love that made it better. Kissing someone you like is a meeting of lips; kissing someone you love is a meeting of souls. For the first time, Lee and Katie were joined at a level that transcended the physical. Both felt it and pulled away at the same moment.
"Whoa," Lee said softly.
"That was new, huh?"
"Definitely. It seems we're pretty good together."
"Pretty good? We're damn perfect!" Katie said.
Lee gave her another quick kiss, during which the door flew open and there was the bright flash and click of a camera. When the couple broke apart, Angelina and Alicia were both looking on, teary-eyed but happy.
"Did you hear it all?" Katie asked excitedly, getting to her feet and pulling Lee up with her.
"We heard every word," Alicia confirmed. "I want Lee to be my boyfriend."
"Yeah, Fred's never told me I was sublime," Angelina added.
"Well," Lee said, looking a little embarrassed, "to be fair I've been planning that little speech for a while. I just wasn't expecting to give it until the day we graduated."
"Still, it was really sweet of you."
Alicia sighed wistfully. "I liked the part where you told her about her different laughs."
"Mm. Then when you asked her to live with you even though she looked horrendous."
"Oh, when you compared the short and sublime kiss to Katie herself! That was wonderful," Alicia gushed.
"I've always considered myself to be rather poetic," Lee said, gazing off into the distance thoughtfully.
Angelina watched him, biting her lip contemplatively. "I wish Fred said things like that to me. The closest he ever gets is telling me that my arse looks hot in my jeans. Can I come and live with you as well, Lee?"
Katie rolled her eyes and took his hand possessively. "All right, that's enough of the Lee-worshipping. He quite obviously belongs to me now."
The girls all looked at each other for a second and then they all squealed at the same time. Lee put his hands over his ears and had to step back as the Chasers hugged. Well, it looked more like a rugby scrum than a hug. They hopped around in a circle, giggling and cheering. Lee could only stare at them and smile.
Alicia left the huddle first and went to give Lee a hug. "I'm so happy that everything worked out for the two of you."
Trouble was, she didn't look too happy anymore. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"Ah, he's perceptive, too," Alicia said coyly, deflecting his concern. "Could it be possible that Lee Jordan is the perfect guy?"
"I think we all know the answer to that question is yes. Now, why aren't you as happy as you were a minute ago?"
"Of course it matters," Lee said. "I promised Fred that I would keep an eye on you and make sure you were all right, which you clearly aren't at the moment."
"Fred asked you to look after me? It wasn't George?" Alicia's eyes suddenly looked very big and brown and wet.
"I'm sure George knew you'd be fine. Fred just wanted to be extra sure, I suppose. It doesn't really matter anyway. I want to know what's wrong."
Alicia peered over her shoulder to find Angelina and Katie having an excited discussion about London. They didn't seem to have noticed her absence at all. "Did you get a job in London? What about commentating?" she asked Lee.
"Quidditch commentating isn't exactly an easy profession to get into. There are limited spots and they're mostly filled by veterans and ex-Quidditch players who have been in the business for a long time." Lee shrugged inconsequently. "I'll get into the industry one day. In the mean time I figured I better get my name and voice out there. What better way to do that than on the Wizarding Wireless Network?"
"Wow! You're going to be on the radio?" Alicia asked, becoming excited again.
"Thanks to McGonagall I will be. She wrote me a glowing recommendation letter. You know, stuff along the lines of: 'Mr Jordan never shuts up'. A couple of weeks ago I got a job offer from them, which I obviously accepted. I think I'll probably start off doing office jobs like getting coffee for people and doing research."
Alicia hugged him again, this time looking genuinely pleased. "That's great, Lee. I'm really proud of you. I only wish I could be here to listen to you when you do get on air."
"I'll send you recordings of myself if you promise to forward me any juicy Quidditch gossip."
Alicia snorted. "The Prophet would just love me giving information to rival media."
Lee grinned and turned to watch Katie, his face awash with pleasure. Alicia's brief moment of happiness was again subsumed by melancholia. It was official. Everyone but her was going to be in London. They'd undoubtedly get together and go on group outings. Would they even miss her?
"Are you going to miss me, Lee?"
He turned back to her and frowned. "God, of course I will, Leesh."
"I meant everyone. Will the group dynamics change without me around or will you just move on?" Alicia asked, half reluctant to hear the answer.
"So this is why you're upset? You think we don't need you or something?" Lee said. He put his arm around her shoulders and said, "Listen, I can tell you right now what it's going to be like for us when you're not around. For starters, when you aren't there to tell us we're idiots, the twins and I will probably be thrown in Azkaban for pulling a dangerously stupid prank on the Minister for Magic. Angelina will get angry at anything and since you won't be there to preach pacifism, she'll be in a constant state of rage. And, Katie, well, she won't study as hard at the Academy without you around to nag her."
"Thanks, that was sweet…I think."
"Just don't ever think that we'll be getting along fine without you. We're all going to miss you – some more than others."
Alicia knew Lee was referring to George and giving her an invitation to talk about him. She knew, however, that if she did start to talk about him the floodgates would open and she'd get even more upset. She was determined to be happy for Katie, who truly deserved to finally be with Lee.
Alicia drew Lee over to the girls and waved her camera at them. "Right. I want that picture now."
It was no secret that Angelina Johnson often had trouble letting go. Her life had been so unstable that she craved stability and shunned change. Leaving Hogwarts was going to be the most tumultuous change in her short life. She was dreading this change so much so that not long ago she had considered deliberately failing her NEWTs so that she would have to repeat her last year. The stupidity of this hit her when she realised her friends would leave and she'd be stuck with the girls who were currently in sixth year. These girls were bimbos of the highest order and Angelina wouldn't last more than a week in their midst.
Then Fred had come along and the change hadn't seemed so immense any more. Letting go of him, even for a short period of time, had been a struggle for her. She had been looking forward to the end of school just so she could see him again. Now she was in turmoil regarding graduation. With one hand she would be grabbing Fred, and at the same moment, her other hand would be letting go of the most stable thing in her life.
Ever since Angelina had collided with Alicia on platform nine and three quarters and swapped suitcases with her, their lives had been entwined. Angelina had often wondered if their meeting had been destiny or chance. She wasn't normally prone to flights of fancy, but it was a little suspicious that her trolley veered sharply right at that second and that she had found Alicia's compartment just as she was about to give up the search.
Of course, they'd have eventually become friends since they were both placed in Gryffindor, but Angelina liked to think their earlier meeting made the friendship just that little bit more special. The two had such different views on things that it was a miracle they hadn't had any major fights. Most of the time they just agreed to disagree and moved on because their relationship was too important to be thrown away for something petty. She was ashamed of it, but Angelina sometimes wondered what it would take for their friendship to really break down. It would have to be something big. A moment of ultimate betrayal perhaps.
With Alicia overseas it was going to be hard to keep in touch regularly. Things were likely to get busy at the joke shop and Alicia would undoubtedly be preoccupied chasing after Quidditch players. It was inevitable that eventually their correspondence would peter out and they'd be down to only Christmas cards. Seven years would be forgotten just like that.
Perhaps when she was older Angelina would have nothing left of Alicia but her memories. There were good and bad ones. Their first train ride was a favourite memory. So was their first Quidditch game. Winning the Quidditch Cup was unfortunately a bit of a blur. Getting ready for the Yule Ball then seeing Alicia dance with George…the moment she told her and Katie that she was leaving.
It was a pity that their final game together was going to fall into the bad memory category.
Angelina grunted as she yanked on her wrist guards. She'd long ago accepted the fact that she wasn't destined to get the Quidditch Cup in her year as Captain. She and the team had done their best, but it wasn't enough. They'd managed to make the final thanks to luck and all they could hope was that they weren't beaten too badly. She'd decided that she was just going to tell her team to have fun out there, no pressure at all.
Oliver would have a heart attack if he found out she was going to say this. He would undoubtedly have told the team to keep pushing and leave nothing behind on the pitch. It was all or nothing as far as Wood was concerned.
Angelina straightened her robes and grabbed her broom. She took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face before she left the Captain's office. Her team was a little more spirited than they had been before the last game. They obviously didn't feel as if they were under as much pressure; nobody expected them to win anyway.
Katie jumped to attention and snapped off a salute. "We're ready, ma'am!"
"None of that anymore," Angelina said cheerfully. "Let's just have fun out there. It's going to be the last game at Hogwarts for three of us so we should make the most of it."
Alicia and Katie both bowed their heads and sniffed a little. Ron gave them odd looks and was going to ask what was wrong but Ginny interrupted him.
"Technically we can still beat Ravenclaw," she said. "Wouldn't it be better for you girls to go out with a win?"
"Yeah, but there's no need to go into the game with high hopes. You and Andrew and Jack have been great last-minute additions and I've enjoyed playing with each of you. Ron," Angelina said, stepping up to him and putting her hand on his shoulder, "I may have been short with you, but I truly believe you're a talented Quidditch player. I wouldn't have selected you if I didn't think you had genuine potential. You didn't get an opportunity to show everyone what you're capable of, but next year I'm certain you'll be a much more confident player."
Ron's ears turned red and his voice was hoarse when he said, "I'm sorry I'm not very good. I doubt I'll be chosen again next year."
Angelina smiled gently and took Ron's face in her hands so he couldn't look away. "Honey, if Harry's ban stands then you could very well find yourself being Captain next year. In fact, I'm going to recommend you to McGonagall if Harry is ruled out."
Ron's entire face turned red and he stammered something incomprehensible. Ginny translated it as: "Thank you, Angelina, you are a very lovely girl."
"I haven't been this nervous since my first game," Katie confided to Alicia as Angelina went to talk to her Beaters.
"Fred and George should be here," Alicia replied with a sigh. "It doesn't feel right without them."
"They should at least be allowed to watch," Katie agreed. "Dumbledore would have definitely let them come, but unfortunately we're stuck with Umbridge the Unbearable."
Angelina clapped her hands loudly. "It's time, people. Let's at least give the school a good show."
Everyone stood and just as Angelina was about to march off, Ginny caught hold of her arm. "The boys and I have already spoken about it and we think you Chasers should walk out last. We'd also like to give you a guard of honour."
"What?" Angelina blurted, blinking at the younger girl.
"It was only an idea," Ron said quickly, "you don't have to do it or anything. It was quite a stupid idea really."
"What are you talking about, Ron? It was your idea," Andrew Kirke said.
Alicia and Katie threw their arms around Ron at exactly the same time, tears unsurprisingly materialising in their eyes. Ron unsuccessfully tried to wriggle out from between them as they squeezed him and told him how sweet he was. They finally let go of him and he straightened his tear-stained robes looking unsettle but slightly pleased.
"I wouldn't have suggested it if I knew you girls were going to cry all over me," he said huffily.
Ginny just rolled her eyes and shouldered her broomstick. "Yeah right, Ron. Tomorrow you're going to brag to all your friends that the Gryffindor Chasers tried to grope you. You're so transparent."
Laughing, Angelina handed her broom to Ron and put her arms around Alicia and Katie. "Give your brooms to the others and lets get out there."
Alicia and Katie handed their brooms over and Angelina drew them out of the changing room and into the tunnel that led to the pitch.
"I won't be able to see the Quaffle if I keep this up," Katie said as she wiped her cheeks on her sleeve.
"What do you say we leave our mark?" Angelina asked, her voice echoing down the tunnel. "I say we make sure we're never forgotten. Let's show everyone what we can really do."
"I guess we've got nothing to lose," Katie said.
Alicia was a little more apprehensive. "What exactly are you suggesting we do? I'm not going to get naked, you know."
"Why does your mind go straight to nudity?" Angelina teased. "I was actually thinking that we could do all the plays we've tried at practice but have been too scared to do in a real game. I say we do them right now."
"Do you mean the Wollongong Shimmy?" Alicia asked quietly.
"Bigger, baby." Angelina gave a devilish grin. "Let's go all the way. Let's show the people something they've never seen before. Aside from all the established plays, I thought we could try Olly's Ally-oop."
Katie gasped and Alicia squealed. Olly's Ally-oop was a play they had named after Oliver because he had tried to teach it to them in his last year. Unfortunately the move was a lot simpler on paper and all the intricate weaving and dodging had resulted in many bumps and bruises. The girls quickly refused to ever try the move again. Now did seem like a good time to do it.
"I say we do it," Alicia said, stopping in the tunnel to let the rest of the team pass. "It'll be a nice testament to Oliver and we all know we owe him a hell of a lot. I certainly wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."
"All right, I'll give the call when I'm in possession. Do you remember how to do it?"
"We tried it so many times that it's permanently ingrained in my psyche," Katie answered sarcastically.
Alicia looked up the tunnel to where the other four were emerging onto the pitch. "I can't believe this is it."
Angelina took her and Katie's hands and they started off down the tunnel, the noise of the crowd increasing with every step they took. Ron, Ginny, Andrew and Jack were standing at the end of the tunnel with their brooms raised to form an arch for the girls to walk through.
"This guard of honour," Lee was saying, "is of course for the veteran Chasers who graduate this year, leaving the Gryffindor team bereft. These ladies will go down as one of the best teams of Chasers that Hogwarts has ever seen. Here they are! Captain Angelina Johnson, Katie Bell aaand Alicia Spinnet!"
The crowd went wild and the three overwhelmed young ladies stepped out onto the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch for the last time. They ducked under the brooms of their teammates and made their way to the middle of the pitch, not dropping hands for a moment. They soaked it up for a minute then they let go of each other's hands to thank Madam Hooch for her years of service as the Ravenclaw team emerged. The two teams finally lined up and the captains shook hands.
"Good luck, Johnson," Roger Davies said, addressing her chest rather than her face.
"Same to you, Davies," she replied coolly, resisting the urge to knee him in the groin.
The game began. The crowd anticipation was high, the Ravenclaw team was nervous, the Gryffindors were indifferent. Everyone was waiting to see how things were going to go. Would Gryffindor put up a fight? Would Ron have miraculously found some talent? Would Ravenclaw show some mercy?
Within minutes, it became apparent that the answers to all of these questions was no. Davies scored an easy goal.
"Oh well, a win would have been nice. Let's get down to business," Angelina said
"Hawkeshead?" Katie asked.
"It seems like a good place to start."
The Chasers 'got down to business' by kicking things off with the Hawkeshead Attacking Formation. It was their signature move and it all but guaranteed them a goal. This time was no different. The crowd reaction was a little tentative. No one appeared to want to get their hopes up too early. When John Bradley dodged the girls and went for goal the Chasers were already busy planning their next move.
"Let's step it up a little!" Angelina shouted from somewhere above Alicia.
"Porskoff Ploy!" Katie shouted. She was clearly having fun.
Alicia was actually enjoying herself as well. For once it didn't matter if she made a mistake. The girls began to drift into formation for the Porskoff Ploy as Bradley released the Quaffle. It was then that the miraculous happened. Ron dove to his left and managed to stop the Quaffle. He deflected it upwards then caught it. For a second he stared at the bright red ball in his hand as if he didn't know how it had got there.
"RON!" Angelina screeched, shooting off towards him and waving her arm.
Ron threw the Quaffle to her, a good strong pass it was too. The Ravenclaw team was a little stunned and Angelina had a head start. She didn't need the other girls to help her out this time. She had a pretty clear run to the Ravenclaw posts and she beat the frazzled Keeper without much trouble. The crowd erupted, their hopes high that they might be about to witness a competitive game of Quidditch.
"Reckon that was a fluke?" Alicia asked Katie.
"Dunno but check out Ronnie."
Alicia peered over her shoulder. Ron was sitting up much straighter on his broom, his gaze fiercely focussed on the proceedings. He reminded her of Oliver at that moment. Her heart rose. The entire team knew that all Ron needed was a little confidence.
"We could win this," Alicia said, the disbelief in her voice undisguised.
Katie flew level with her as Timothy Chambers advanced up the pitch with the Quaffle. She grinned wildly. "I smell Porskoff in the air."
Alicia winked and they took off to intercept Chambers before he could get near goal. Together they managed to steal the Quaffle. Katie was in possession so Alicia hovered around below her and waited for the pass that she knew would come. And come it did. All Alicia had to do was duck a Bludger and fool the Keeper. He managed to get his fingertips to the Quaffle but he didn't deflect it enough and it sailed through the hoop.
The crowd went wild again. They loved seeing the girls perform difficult plays like that. None of the other Hogwarts Chasers were in tune with each other enough for it to work. You had to be able to read your teammate's body language. For instance, no one but Alicia and Angelina would know that when Katie dropped her shoulders slightly she was about to pass the Quaffle.
As Alicia received congratulatory thumps from the girls, her eyes teared up again. She was never going to have a closer friendship with anyone in the world. Sure, she'd make friends but it wouldn't be the same. She blinked to clear her vision and immersed herself back in the game. There was no point dwelling on things that couldn't be changed.
The tempo of the game lifted. The Ravenclaw team was desperate to find out if Ron's save had been a fluke and the Gryffindor team was desperate to score goals in case the save had been a one-off. Ron made three or four brilliant saves in a row and the girls managed to score another two goals. Unfortunately, when Gryffindor had a comfortable lead of fifty to ten, Ron did fold under the pressure for a while. The Ravenclaw Beaters peppered him with Bludgers, which no one had really bothered to do before. He was busy dodging these projectiles when Davies took a quick shot. The Quaffle narrowly scraped inside the left hoop.
The Slytherins, who had been stunned into silence, quickly began to sing 'Weasley is our King'. Ron's shoulders slumped and so did Alicia's. Andrew and Jack lost their control of the Bludgers again. So, the Chasers had to duck errant Bludgers and struggle against a rejuvenated Ravenclaw team. Sensing that their run had ended, the girls lost their pizzazz. Ron missed three goals in a row and the Slytherin crowd went in for the kill.
"NO! I'm not going to let this game slip away whilst we still have a chance of winning!" Angelina shouted over the choruses of 'Weasley is our King'. Her next words were drowned out and Alicia and Katie frowned up at her and shrugged. Angelina's face tightened into a look of steely resolve. She slapped her hand over her heart.
That was the signal for Olly's Ally-oop. Katie pressed her hand to her chest and turned to Alicia. Without hesitating, Alicia repeated the gesture. It felt strange. She and Oliver had come up with the signal back when they had been a couple. At the time it had been a fun way to flaunt their relationship under the noses of their unsuspecting teammates. She hadn't thought about Oliver in such a long time, Alicia realised. She felt her heart thump against her rib cage and her stomach clenched.
Angelina swooped off to punch the Quaffle out of Bradley's arms. As soon as she had the ball secured, the girls formed up on her. Alicia flew above Angelina and to the left; Katie flew below Angelina and to the right. They flew in that diagonal line for a count of twenty then began to change positions. Alicia dropped so that she was level with Katie and they were flying in a triangle with Angelina at the apex. She could theoretically pass to either of the girls from that position. The opposing Chasers were trying to pick which way she would pass when the formation changed again. Davies slashed at the empty area of air that Angelina had occupied a second ago.
As it was, Angelina had dropped and inverted their triangle. Now came the hard part. So far it had been simple formation flying like the Hawkeshead, now they had to get their timing perfect. Angelina tossed the ball up towards Katie and all the Ravenclaw Chasers converged on her. None of them noticed Alicia come swooping in and intercept the pass. It appeared that she had intercepted one of her own team's passes. Of course, it had been planned that way. They formed a triangle again, this time with Katie at the apex.
The crowd was watching in confused silence. Even Ginny and Cho were looking on. Poor Lee was also having trouble following the action and had to settle for just for saying, "Wow!" and "Whoa!" every so often. It was obviously some sort of set play but no one knew what exactly it was. It seemed to be some sort of Hawkeshead/Wollongong Shimmy/Porskoff hybrid. Spectacular, to say the least.
As the Ravenclaw team dove towards Alicia, Angelina weaved in between her and Katie. Alicia faked a pass to Angelina then really passed to Katie as she weaved in between her and Angelina. Katie tossed the ball up towards Angelina, but again Alicia intercepted the pass.
The whole thing was a scarlet blur to the Ravenclaw Keeper who began to pray to every deity he could think of. As if the Gryffindor Chasers weren't scary enough without executing some complicated play. Ron was holding his breath at the other end of the pitch. He was motionless in front of his posts, which he shouldn't be doing. Angelina had told him to keep moving around, but he was too amazed. He knew the girls were good Quidditch players but he'd never seen them do anything like this, not even alone at training.
Angelina trailed below Alicia and Katie, who were playing a coy game of piggy-in-the-middle with the Ravenclaw Chasers. At one point a Bludger came whizzing towards Katie, but thankfully she managed to perform a Sloth Grip Roll. Angelina let out a sigh of relief. They couldn't lose the Quaffle when they were so close to pulling off the play. When Alicia crossed her ankles beneath her broomstick Angelina knew it was time. That was the final signal. It was time for the Ally-oop part of Olly's Ally-oop.
Alicia, Angelina and Katie took off at exactly the same moment. The timing here had to be perfect. This was the part they'd had trouble with at practice all those years ago. They flew towards a single point in the sky, just outside the scoring circle. Everyone knew only one Chaser could be inside the circle at a time. Would it be Alicia or Katie? They maintained their considerable speed and headed straight for each other. They were going to collide!
Half the crowd shut their eyes, whilst the other half swore, gasped or shrieked. The two Chasers missed each other by inches. Alicia let go of the Quaffle just as she and Katie passed each other. Angelina came shooting up between them like a bullet and seized the Quaffle. Somehow the girls had managed to avoid a three-way collision and pass the Quaffle all in the same movement. The Ravenclaw Keeper hardly had time to move as Angelina took her shot seconds after receiving the pass. The ball sailed cleanly through the centre hoop.
People were on their feet in the stands. The Ravenclaw team members were shaking their heads in reluctant admiration. Hogwarts hadn't seen anything like that in decades and it would be years before they saw it again. It was a true sign that the three Chasers had outgrown Hogwarts. They were a step above every other Quidditch player at the school.
Ron's mouth was hanging open. He didn't know it at the time, but he was witnessing a piece of history. Angelina, Alicia and Katie would never perform Olly's Ally-oop together again and it wouldn't even be done properly in a Hogwarts game again. It was too dangerous and intricate to be done by Chasers who only had an arbitrary connection. Within weeks, however, professional teams would pick it up. When the origin of the move was uncovered it would forever be known as Olly's Ally-oop, ensuring that Oliver Wood's name would go down in the Quidditch history books.
Alicia's face split into a grin as Angelina and Katie swept past her. The ovation lasted a good while and the euphoria took just as long to wear off for the girls. They were on such an emotional high that they almost forgot they were still in the midst of a close Quidditch game. As a result, Chambers got a little head start on them and got into range of the Gryffindor goals. A half-hearted rendition of 'Weasley is our King' started up but Ron stood his ground. Chambers was jinking and weaving to try and put him off.
Chambers shot and Ron dove. He took both hands off his broom and lunged. He caught the Quaffle and rolled in mid-air. When he'd righted himself he tossed the Quaffle towards Katie and clutched his broom handle with white knuckles. Ron had never done such a daring move. He could have fallen off his broom! Seeing the Chasers pull off the Ally-oop had been enough motivation. He wanted to be remembered too. He wanted people to stand up and cheer him. Hell, he wanted a move named after him!
It was academic from then on. Ron saved a string of shots and the girls scored three in a row. Ravenclaw slowly lost control. They made desperate snatches at the Quaffle and their Bludgers all went wayward. The score was ninety-fifty when Ginny and Cho suddenly dove. Cho had the faster broom and was ahead slightly. Ginny was not about to lose the game after the Chasers and her brother had done such a great job. She moved aside so she was no longer caught in Cho's slipstream. Thinking of Harry, she pressed herself to her broom and jostled the older girl slightly. Cho's outstretched hand wavered and she missed the Snitch. Ginny didn't.
The Chasers found each other instinctively and floated in a crying huddle for a long time. No one said anything; it wouldn't have been heard over the crowd anyway. Things were chaotic. The girls landed haphazardly and were met by their teammates. There was a lot of confused kissing and hugging done. Angelina seized Ron and refused to let him, which he didn't seem to mind much.
"I can't believe that move you guys did!" Ginny exclaimed, her arms around Alicia and Katie.
"We can't either," Katie admitted, her face beginning to ache from smiling so much.
"I can't believe that Ron made all those brilliant saves!" Angelina interjected. She squeezed Ron gratefully and he blushed with pleasure. People were beginning to run onto the pitch now.
"I don't really know how I managed to make all those saves," Ron said, his voice hoarse. "I only know that during the game I realised two things. When I made that first save against Bradley I decided I could do it again if I tried hard enough. Then I kind of lost it obviously. After you girls did that insane move I realised I had to step up as well. I couldn't let you girls leave without winning the Quidditch Cup once more."
Ginny rolled her eyes as Angelina placed half a dozen little kisses on Ron's face. Alicia and Katie did the same and he all but glowed. Ginny knew that it wasn't so much that three pretty girls had kissed him; it was that the entire school had seen them do it. Thankfully, the crowd drew Ron away before he could get the girls to kiss him again.
As the team made its way towards the presentation stage, Ginny sidled up to Angelina and slipped a piece of parchment into her palm. "It's from Fred. He told me to give it to you after the game."
Angelina thanked Ginny then unfolded the parchment. It read:
I'm writing this the night before I leave. It's after we…well, you know what we did. I realised I wouldn't be able to see you or send you a letter on game day. I don't want some slimy Slytherin reading our private correspondence. I'm writing two versions of this letter in case the miraculous happens and you actually win the Cup. I hope you're reading the congratulations letter.
If you're reading this letter you must have won. I knew you could do it. No one else could have pulled it off. You won the Cup with a reserve-standard Quidditch team. You're brilliant, Angelina. I always knew you were. When I see you I expect a detailed account of the game. Well, I don't suppose we'll actually be in the mood to do a lot of talking when we see each other next.
Angelina bit her lip to stop herself bursting into tears and refolded the letter carefully. She slipped it down the front of her robes so that is nestled over her heart.
"There are my girls!" Lee shouted, elbowing his way through the crowd. He reached Angelina and swept her into a hug. She clung to him, thinking of Fred.
"Give us a go," Alicia complained, tugging at Angelina.
Lee gladly hugged and kissed all three of them. He took charge of them and propelled them through the crowd, slapping away the hands of any male students who got too grabby. Angelina, Alicia and Katie joined the rest of their team on the stage. Umbridge was standing off to the side and frowning in disapproval. She obviously didn't want to present the Cup to the Gryffindor team. Angelina marched over to the table and snatched the Cup herself. She held it up in the air and the horde of students responded with a cheer.
"Say something," Lee urged, shoving his magical megaphone towards Angelina. She handed the Cup over to Andrew and Jack and took the megaphone.
She hadn't expected to win so she hadn't planned any kind of speech. "I'd like to thank my wonderful team. No one thought we could do it. Some people didn't seem to want us to win at all."
Umbridge narrowed her eyes at this and Alicia clutched Angelina's arm to warn her that she was walking a fine line. She didn't fancy attending one of Umbridge's torture sessions/detentions so she backed off. She still wanted to say something to show that they hadn't capitulated. She glanced at Ron out of the corner of her eye. What better way to annoy Umbridge than to throw the success of Ron Weasley in her face?
"I just have one more thing to say." Angelina grabbed Ron's arm and raised it into the air. "WEASLEY IS OUR KING!"
"He didn't let the Quaffle in!" Ginny added, leaning towards the megaphone.
Katie threw Ron's other arm in the air. "Weasley can save anything!"
"He never leaves a single ring!" Alicia shouted.
The Beaters jumped up and down. "That's why Gryffindors all sing…"
"WEASLEY IS OUR KING!" the team screamed in unison.
No one was prepared for June. It came out of nowhere and threw the fifth and seventh years into a panic. Anyone who dared to disturb a studying student was promptly yelled at. Even the students like Hermione and Alicia, who were more than prepared, could be found engaged in frantic cramming sessions. Katie continually pointed out to Alicia that her NEWTs results were hardly going to matter.
"Well, it still won't look good if I get a 'P' in anything, will it?" Alicia said tartly. She slammed her Transfiguration book shut and turned to her breakfast. Not that she could eat anything anyway.
It was the morning before their exams were to start. Fifth and seventh years were reading books at each of the house tables. Food was being left untouched.
"Don't know what all the fuss is about," Lee said, taking some bacon from Katie's plate.
"Nice try, Lee," Angelina said. "We all saw you secretly studying in the corner of the common room last night. You're just as freaked out as everyone else."
"Keep your voice down," he hissed, looking around. "No one else needs to know that. People look up to me now that Fred and George have left, you know."
"Of course they do, sweetheart," Katie cooed, not looking up from her Charms book.
At the mention of Fred and George, Angelina and Alicia slipped back into quiet contemplation. Alicia had been doing quite well since the Quidditch final. She'd become so absorbed in her studies that she'd barely spared George a thought. Ok, so she might have had a few dreams about him, but that was entirely the fault of her unconscious mind. She hadn't meant to have a dream where George showed up at her room the night before graduation.
Angelina had been doing quite well considering the circumstances. Before the Quidditch final she had been in the habit of thinking about Fred a few times a day. Since reading his letter after the game and beginning to count down the days till their meeting, Angelina would think about him every ten or so minutes, which had alarmed her at first. She had shared the problem with the girls and Lee and they helped her realise that it wasn't bad for her to think about Fred.
In short, Alicia was trying not to think about George and Angelina was indulging in her daydreams about Fred. She was having one such daydream about their reunion when the Inquisitorial Squad entered with handfuls of letters. This was how the mail arrived every morning since Umbridge had ordered that all incoming and outgoing mail was to be checked.
Warrington approached the group and held out two letters to Alicia. She scowled at him and tried to grab her letters, but he withdrew them and smirked nastily. "Not so fast, Spinnet. I thought you were dating one of those dirty Weasley twins."
Angelina snapped out of her reverie upon hearing this comment. She was halfway out of her seat before Alicia put a restraining arm on her shoulder. Alicia calmly stood up and extended her hand towards the Slytherin. "It's none of your business who I date. Give me my letters."
"You're seeing this guy as well, then?" Warrington asked, cocking an eyebrow. "You're more of a bad girl than I ever thought you were."
"No one knows what you're talking about, Warrington." Lee stood up and glared across the table at him. "Give her the letters and get lost."
"Shagging the commentator as well?" Warrington sneered. He laughed as Alicia turned pink then handed her the letters. He continued on his way and tossed a wink back over his shoulder.
"What was he on about? Who does he think you're dating?" Angelina asked.
"I bet it's a letter from George," Katie said wistfully, her eyes glinting at the romantic thought of a reconciliation letter.
Alicia looked down at the letters in her hand. Both had been carelessly torn open. The first one was from the Daily Prophet. The second envelope bore her name across the front of it in dark blue ink. She recognised the messy handwriting immediately.
"Christ!" she gasped.
"He writes you letters?" Lee asked.
"No, idiot. It's from Oliver."
"Christ," Lee muttered in agreement.
"What do you reckon he wants?" Angelina asked cautiously, noting the apprehensive look on her friend's face.
"I'm sure it's nothing important." Alicia took a deep breath to steady herself. She sat back in her seat and opened the Daily Prophet letter first. Her eyes skimmed through it quickly and grew wider with every word. "Guys, I just got my first assignment," she said shakily.
"And I'm going to Sydney! I'm going to Australia!"
The girls and Lee cheered and whooped along with her, garnering many dirty looks from studying students. As soon as they'd all calmed down, Alicia told them the rest of the news, which wasn't as great.
"There are quite a few international friendly matches being played in the next few weeks. Australia's playing a European team and they've decided that we're going to cover that one. It says I have to go meet everyone in Leeds as soon as school is finished. I have to catch a train straight there from Hogsmeade."
"What?" Katie demanded. "Does that mean you won't be on the Hogwarts Express with us?"
Alicia nodded solemnly. "I'm only in Leeds for a day then I catch a Portkey to Australia."
That sobered everyone up. There wouldn't be time for any parties or long goodbyes. In a month they would have to part and Alicia doubted that she would be back before Christmas. In fact, she would be lucky if she made it back to England then. All indications were that her first year as a reporter was going to be a hectic one.
Alicia let this sink in for her friends and opened Oliver's letter. She hadn't heard from him since his disastrous Hogsmeade visit last year. She couldn't imagine what he wanted all of a sudden. His writing was harried and the ink was smudged in places. He'd either been in a hurry or very excited when he wrote it.
The Quidditch world is buzzing. News of what you and the girls did in the final is being circulated. Some scouts from various clubs were there and they were all immensely impressed. I can't believe you three pulled off the Ally-oop. I've been asked about it dozens of times.
Oh, I left out the formalities. Sorry. How are you? Things are great with me. Hope the others are good. I've made it on the Scottish national team! We're playing a friendly match against Australia next month. I was literally just handed an itinerary of our visit a few minutes ago. Can you imagine my surprise when I saw that I had an interview scheduled with J. Lennox and A. Spinnet?
I wish you had told me you got a job with the Prophet. I'm really happy for you, but a little disappointed that you didn't let me know earlier. I'm looking forward to seeing you soon. I bet it'll be nice for you to see a friendly face in Sydney. We'll definitely have to meet and catch up before the interview. Will George be with you?
I hope things have been going well for you. I've been waiting to hear from you for so long. I'd have written sooner myself, but we left things a little oddly last time and I didn't know how things stood between us. I hope you don't hold any of what happened against me.
P.S. Tell Ang and Katie that they'll be able to play for any team of their choice after what happened at the final.
Alicia cleared her throat crisply and tucked the letter back inside the envelope. So Oliver wrote her a letter. So Oliver was going to be in Sydney. So she would have to see him whether she wanted to or not.
No big deal. Nothing to worry about.
Despite this attempt at nonchalance, Alicia's mind went slightly crazy and all she could see for a moment was flashes of herself alone with Oliver. A picnic on the Quidditch pitch. The World Cup. The shower.
"Everything all right?" Angelina asked.
Alicia looked up to find that all of her friends were staring at her curiously. "It's fine. Oliver just wanted to let me know that he's going to be in the Scottish team that's playing Australia."
Lee shrugged and began to butter a piece of toast. "I guess that's why the Prophet is choosing to cover that particular game. Tell him I said hi."
Katie and Angelina were less willing to accept that everything was fine. They had seen how pale Alicia had become. Katie was about to enquire further when Draco Malfoy suddenly interrupted the group. He wordlessly threw a letter at Angelina then walked off.
"Dirty little ferret," Lee said, spraying Katie's book with toast crumbs and making her elbow him.
"Finally," Angelina said, ripping the letter out of the envelope. "It took her long enough to reply."
"Your mother?" Katie guessed.
"Yeah." Angelina fell silent as she began to read what her mother had written about her moving out with Fred. It didn't take her long to read considering the letter was short. All it said was:Darling-
You wouldn't believe how hard it is being the wife of a successful businessman. Things are non-stop! I found your letter under a pile of old magazines just yesterday. It completely slipped my mind. I'll have all of your things sent over to Greg's little flat the day after you leave school.
Angelina turned the piece of parchment over. That was it. That was all her mother had to say to her. And who the hell was Greg? She could have at least bothered to get the name of her daughter's boyfriend right, Angelina thought bitterly.
"What'd she say?" Katie asked.
Angelina scrunched the letter up in her fist. "She doesn't care that I'm moving out with Fred. I have a feeling I would have just got in the way of her manicures and cucumber sandwiches."
No one said anything. At this point Alicia would normally have interjected with a reassuring comment. As it was, she was having trouble getting the image of a certain ex-Quidditch captain out of her mind.
The best thing that anyone could say about the NEWTs was that they were over quickly. The student body was quite divided over whether they were hard or not. The good news overall was that no one had suffered a nervous breakdown. The very last exam for the seventh years was practical Charms. Alicia was the last of the group to be called so the other three waited outside in the Entrance Hall for her. When she finished she made her way slowly towards the back of the Great Hall.
As Alicia headed for the doors, she felt herself grow lighter with every step. Layers and layers of build up fell away. Years of work and worry disappeared as she opened the doors. The slate was wiped clean. She felt shiny and new.
When she pushed open the door, Lee and the girls came flying out of nowhere. Lee picked her up and spun her around as Angelina and Katie squealed. The few students who were waiting to be called gave them dirty looks. The group didn't notice that there was anyone else left in the world as they laughed and cheered.
"Oh!" Angelina suddenly exclaimed, wriggling out of the four-way hug. "We have to go do it!"
"Something we've never done. Come on!"
Angelina turned and headed for the front doors. It was a mark of their excitement that the others followed without question. All four of them broke into a run outside. It was a warm, pleasant day and the very air itself smelt of freedom and new horizons. Hogwarts had never seemed so green or alive. The Gryffindors kept running though they quickly became breathless with laughter and exhilaration.
Angelina stopped at the shore of the lake and immediately began to pull off her shoes and socks. Katie squealed in excitement and stripped off her school robes.
"Not in the lake, guys," Alicia protested.
"Afraid?" Lee asked as he loosened his tie.
"Of course I'm afraid. There's a reason why we've never gone swimming in the lake before. Have you all forgotten that there's a giant squid and a bunch of Merpeople living in there?"
"Look, you can either take your robes and shoes off or we can throw you in fully clothed," Angelina said as she dropped her socks and began to unbutton her robes.
"You guys know I can't swim very well," Alicia said nervously.
"You'll be fine. If anything happens I'm sure the squid will give you mouth-to-mouth." Katie giggled as Alicia glared at her. "Do squids even have mouths?"
"They have these ugly beak things," Lee replied, kicking off his shoes.
"So there you go, Leesh, you get beak-to-mouth resuscitation. What's not to love?" Angelina asked rhetorically.
Having discarded their shoes, socks, robes and ties, Angelina and Katie ran down wearing only their skirts and blouses and waded into the water to waist-depth. Alicia stood stoically on the shore beside Lee. There was no way she was going in that cold, deep water. When Lee suddenly seized her and threw her over his shoulder she screamed all the way down to the water. He went far enough for the water to lap at his chest and Alicia's knees, which caused her to thrash about.
"I'll never speak to you again if you drop me!" she threatened.
"Drop her," Angelina and Katie both said.
Lee did so with a triumphant laugh. Alicia screamed again and there was a loud splash. She found her footing and surfaced, swiping water from her face. The glares she gave her friends could have melted ice.
"I can't believe you guys did that to me!"
"Consider it your going away present," Katie said, trying to keep a straight face.
Alicia peeled a strand of wet hair from her face. "Present? My shoes are completely ruined!"
"Lighten up," Angelina advised. Alicia opened her mouth and Angelina promptly splashed a good deal of water in her face.
"Blrgh!" Alicia coughed and spluttered. "I drank some of that! I drank some of the lake water! Thank you very much."
Lee splashed some more water at her. "For Merlin's sake, Spinnet! School's over forever and you're going to Australia soon. Let go for once."
Alicia eventually got fed up and began to splash back. Soon everyone was squealing and laughing. The group was gradually joined by more and more seventh year students and Alicia actually took Lee's advice. She let go of all her worries about her future and let herself have fun. Just before dinner, Umbridge showed up, having been tipped off by seventh year Inquisitorial Squad members, and put an end to the impromptu celebration. The four Gryffindors weren't deterred though. They simply moved their party to the girls' room and ate dinner there and sat up all night talking.
They were still awake when the news of the commotion outside filtered through. It was Ginny Weasley who started banging on the door at around one o'clock. Lee, who happened to be closest to the door, yanked it open to reveal the youngest Weasley.
"Hey, Gin, great timing. The girls and I were about to start a game of spin the bottle."
"He's lying," Alicia said quickly.
"It was actually Alicia's idea," Lee said in a loud whisper. "She's secretly wanted me for ages."
Alicia stomped over to the door and shoved Lee aside. "Yeah? Well, I'm telling Fred and George that you propositioned their little sister. What's wrong, Ginny?"
The younger girl fought a smirk. "Er, I don't really know what's wrong. The common room's filling up rather quickly though. I figured since you were the senior Gryffindor prefect you'd want to come down and find out what's going on."
There was a thump in the background as Angelina rolled off her bed. The reaction from the others was much the same. So many horrible things had happened lately that everything seemed to be snowing balling out of control and getting worse and worse. First Cedric's death, You-Know-Who's return, Umbridge's arrival, a mass breakout from Azkaban, Fred and George's departure, Dumbledore's disappearance…now this. Whatever it was.
The four of them hurried down the stairs after Ginny. They found out from Dean and Seamus that Hagrid had been sacked and McGonagall had been callously attacked. Lee was most shaken by it all. He kept blaming himself for what happened with Hagrid getting blamed for the Nifflers. Katie went up to his room with him and Alicia and Angelina stayed in the common room till everyone else went up to bed.
The mood the next morning was very sombre in Gryffindor Tower. Everyone knew that they had no Deputy headmistress, no head of house, no one to keep Umbridge in check. The fifth years had their last exam and everyone else was in class so the seventh years had the common room to themselves. Lee was still fretting about what had happened.
"It's not your fault," Angelina assured him for the tenth time.
Lee shook his head and rubbed his hands over his face. "I think I ought to go tell Umbridge that I was the one who put the Nifflers in her office."
"I won't let you do that," Katie said fiercely, taking hold of his arm. "God only knows what she'd do to you this time around.
"But I still can't let an innocent man take the blame for something I did."
"Katie's got a point. Umbridge now has the power to expel you, Lee. You're not leaving this common room. We'll even put you in a full-body bind if we have to," Alicia added.
Lee sighed, realising that the girls wouldn't even think twice about doing it. "You know, none of this would have happened if Fred and George hadn't left. I wish they thought about other people before they made stupid decisions."
"Wait a minute," Angelina said, her voice gentle but with a distinct edge. "They couldn't have known anything like this was going to happen."
"I guess not," Lee agreed softly.
Katie put her arm around his shoulders and kissed him on the cheek. "They still shouldn't have left you here by yourself."
"He's hardly by himself." Angelina went over and sat on Lee's other side. "Anyway, who needs those two when you've got us three?"
"Well, you girls certainly smell a lot nicer and have better table manners."
Katie laughed in agreement. "I bet the twins will be sad that they missed out on that swim in the lake with us."
"They'll probably cry when they realise they missed out on Chasers in wet shirts."
Alicia watched her friends from her armchair. She liked the moments like this. Amidst the confusion and fear they were still able to laugh with each other. How much longer could they keep it up for?
"What are we going to do if it starts?" Alicia asked quietly, voicing her own worries and ruining the happy mood.
"If what starts?" Katie asked.
"The second war with Voldemort."
"I think that's a matter of when, not if," Angelina said.
Katie shivered and tightened her grip on Lee. "A war. Who's going to actually fight You-Know-Who? It's not like we have an army."
"Yeah. Who's really going to stand against him? Harry, Ron and Hermione? They're going to need help," Lee said.
That was something Alicia had been worrying about lately as well. You-Know-Who had his Death Eaters behind him. Who did Harry and Dumbledore have behind them? A sudden thought popped into Alicia's head.
She'd been preoccupied with so many things in the last few months that she hadn't been able to get to the bottom of it. All she knew was that the Weasleys were heavily involved and that Erica had chosen not to be a part of it. To confuse things further, her mother also seemed to know about the Order. Her mother was certainly against what You-Know-Who, but she had never been vocal or passionate about it.
"There are people willing to fight him," Alicia said firmly. The others glanced at her questioningly. "I know they're out there. Harry and Dumbledore won't be alone."
"Well, I'll be there."
Silence followed Angelina's statement. No one else made a move to volunteer themselves for the war. This naturally annoyed Angelina. "Oh, come on! You're all going to sit back and let other people fight for your freedom?"
"None of us know how to fight," Lee pointed out. "We'd be picked off one by one."
Katie nodded fervently in agreement. "He's right, Ang. The stuff we learnt in the DA won't help much against Death Eaters. We'd be killed."
"So we just sit back and do nothing?" Angelina snapped.
Alicia began to wish she hadn't introduced the topic. This was all too reminiscent of the fight she'd had with George. Now Angelina was claiming that she was going to do exactly the same thing. As much as Alicia admired their bravery, she questioned their intentions. Jumping into something without being prepared was typical of Angelina, but she'd expected George to be a little more levelheaded about it all.
"I'll fight if Lee does," Katie offered tentatively.
Lee gave her a sharp look. "You will not. If I end up getting into this confrontation then I go alone. If something happened to you I'd never be able to live with myself."
"But if something happens to you I'll at least be there with you."
Lee pulled away from Katie, looking a little taken aback. "Look, there's no need for either of us to go making rash decisions."
Angelina and Alicia had realised they were eavesdropping on a very private conversation between the couple, so they crept away. Lee and Katie hardly noticed.
"Technically this war could start any day now," Katie persisted, her cheeks turning pink in her exasperation. "Don't you think we should spend as much time together as possible?"
"That's what I've always thought! Bloody hell, I thought you realised that!"
"Ah. That must be why you wanted to break up with me before. You wanted to spend more time with me. Right. That's male logic for you."
Lee's mouth fell open. "What are you talking about? When have I ever wanted to break up with you?"
"I did it before you could do it!"
"Oh my God," Lee hissed, his eyes as wide as saucers. "We are quite possibly two of the stupidest people in the world."
"Speak for yourself, Jordan."
Lee seized her hands. "That's it. We're going upstairs to fix everything."
"Why? I don't want to go up there," Katie complained.
"Keep your mouth closed this time," he said, pulling her up.
"Lee, I don't-"
"Not a word."
Katie threw a confused look at Angelina and Alicia as Lee pulled her across the common room. They went upstairs to his room, which was fairly clean now that there was only one inhabitant. Lee began to rummage around under in his bed and Katie waited patiently for as long as she could. That was all of about thirty seconds.
"All right. What are you doing?"
"Shh. I'm looking for something. Christ. Where did I put it?"
Katie sighed. "Let me help you look for whatever it is then."
"No!" came the muffled reply. "Go over to the window and be quiet."
She hmphed and flounced over to the window. Just when things were looking up, Lee had to start acting like a nutter again. The last time he'd started acting weird they had broken up. Katie looked out over the grounds, admiring how blue the sky was and how green the grass was. She'd have to let Alicia know that it was a beautiful day to take pictures.
When she turned around she almost stepped over Lee, who was kneeling behind her. "Lord, are you trying to make me trip over?"
Katie frowned down at him. "Didn't find what you were looking for? Can we go back down to the girls now?"
"Not yet." Lee raised the arm that had been hanging by his side. He opened his fist to reveal a small box.
Katie's eyes lit up. "You bought me jewellery!"
Lee nodded and opened the velvet box. Nestled inside was a gold ring with a small but beautifully cut diamond. Katie gasped and took a step backwards. "You can't give me something like that. It's way too much. Diamond rings aren't just given as gifts."
Lee smiled gently. "I'm not just giving this to you as a gift. It's a promise from me."
"A promise of what?"
"Kate, I'm on one knee at the moment."
"I know and it's starting to bother me because I have to…look…down." Katie put one hand over her mouth as the other grasped the windowsill for support.
"Katie Patricia Bell-"
"Shh. Let me get through this." Lee cleared his throat and extended the ring towards her. "Katie Patricia Bell, will you marry me?"
Katie began to shake and to cry and just fall apart in general. Lee didn't know what that meant but he let her go and watched hopefully for a sign. Katie turned her back to him and sobbed rather loudly.
"Katie? I need something, sweetheart, my knee is getting sore. Yes or no?"
"Why?" she asked, her voice weak and strangled.
"That's not a reason to get married."
"I know. I was only kidding. If you turn around I'll tell you why I did it."
"Close the box first. I can't look at the ring again."
Lee shut the box with a snap. It probably wasn't a good sign that she couldn't bear to look at the ring. "Ok. You can turn around."
Katie did so slowly, wiping her eyes. "Get up, too."
He got to his feet as his heart sank. Things didn't seem to be going well. This wasn't at all like he'd originally planned it. "This wasn't a spontaneous event. Well, that much is probably obvious because I already had the ring. Oh God, it's all wrong."
"How long has this been going on?"
Lee took her by the hand and led her to his bed. "It's always been you, Katie. You must know that by now. After what happened to Cedric I had to rethink everything. I realised with things the way they are right now I couldn't afford to wait anymore. I'd marry you eventually anyway, but I can't take the risk that something will happen to either of us."
Katie bit her lip, her mind churning over what he had said. "But – but wouldn't it be better for us to wait till it's all over?"
"I felt that way at first, but there's really no guarantee that everyone is going to get through this war. I want to spend the rest of my life with you and I want the world to know it."
"Really?" she asked softly.
Lee nodded gently. "Of course. I was going to ask you the day you broke up with me. You said that you knew what I was going to say then you suddenly said that you didn't love me."
"That was a lie." Katie shuffled closer to them and blushed prettily. "May I see the ring again?"
Grinning, he opened the box and handed it to her. "Do you like it?"
"It's beautiful," she sighed. "Where'd you get the money for it?"
"I didn't. That's my mother's engagement ring."
"Oh, Lee!" Katie squeaked. "I can't take your mother's ring!"
He shrugged. "It's not like I have a sister that she can give it to. The plan was always for the ring to go to the woman I want to marry. That's you, Little Bell."
Katie carefully took the shiny ring out of the box. "All those secret letters were about the ring and it was the package you got, right?"
"Yeah. It took my mother a while to realise how serious I am about doing this. I know I said it jokingly before, but why not? There's nothing stopping us from getting engaged."
"We wouldn't even have to get married straight away," Katie said, twisting the ring between her fingers and watching the diamond catch the light.
"You would get to choose any wedding date you want," Lee agreed.
A wedding. Katie's heart pounded with excitement. Something good amidst all of this death and mayhem did sound appealing. Lee was right about them getting married eventually. Why not now? Were they simply too young? Did age even matter?
Time stood still. Fate teetered on a knife's edge. The next words out of Katie's mouth were going to set a chain of events in motion that would end up being catastrophic to some, but heartbreaking to all.
"Yes, I'll marry you, Lee."
Katie didn't break the news to Angelina and Alicia straight away. She didn't even owl her family about it. She wanted to get the idea settled in her own mind first. There was no question that she wanted to marry Lee. She just wasn't quite sure if it was the right time. In the end it was the events at the Department of Mysteries and all that followed that clinched it. She decided that she wasn't going to let the opportunity slip through her fingers. If something did happen in the war she'd never be able to live with herself. Everything was so uncertain that it was comforting to have something to hold onto and look forward to.
Anyway, now that she felt more certain of herself, Katie wanted to break it to the girls gently. They were due to leave Hogwarts in a few days so the Chasers had all begun to pack their belongings.
"How did we accumulate so much stuff?" Alicia asked, sitting on her suitcase in order to close it.
"I have about five times as much stuff as I had when I first arrived," Katie agreed, nibbling on some Honeydukes chocolate.
"At least I'll be leaving with one less thing," Angelina muttered.
Unfortunately the other two heard her loud and clear. "What are you leaving behind?"
"You guys wouldn't understand. Forget I said anything."
"No secrets," Katie said firmly.
"You probably don't want to know."
"All right, how many rules did you break?" Alicia asked suspiciously
"A couple, but that's not the point. You guys will freak out," Angelina said.
"No we won't. Just tell us what you're leaving behind."
Angelina rolled her eyes and sighed. "Fine. It starts with v."
"Violin!" Katie guessed immediately.
Alicia shook her head slowly. "She never had one of those. A vegetable?"
"No. I bet it's a vest of some sort."
"Or a vestibule?"
"You two are morons. It has to with Fred, if you must know."
Alicia's worst fear was confirmed. She'd had an inkling of what it was early on, but had hoped she was mistaken. Unfortunately she wasn't. She stared at Angelina, who could only lower her gaze sheepishly.
Katie was a little slower on the uptake. "But you gained Fred, so it's not really a loss," she said, obviously confused.
"She shagged him," Alicia said bluntly, going back to her packing.
There was a gasp and a cough as Katie inhaled the last bit of her chocolate. Angelina slapped her on the back and watched as Alicia began to throw books into her trunk.
"Thanks for that, Leesh," she said sarcastically. "I was planning to break it to you both gently."
"When did it happen?" Katie asked between coughs. So much for her own startling news.
"The night before he left. We went to the Room of Requirements." Angelina marched over to Alicia, her arms folded defiantly. "And I don't care what you think of me. It was my idea and I have no regrets."
"I didn't say a word."
"Exactly. You won't even look at me! You think I'm some sort of scarlet woman, don't you? Well, I don't care if you do. It's my life and I can do what I want. I'm eighteen years old, for Merlin's sake! You might plan to be a virgin for the rest of your life, but I don't."
Alicia dropped her thick Potions book into her trunk with a thud. Despite this, she spoke calmly. "I'm not your mother, Angelina, you can't keep looking to me for disapproval."
"So you disapprove!"
"Do you need my approval? If I say it's a bad idea will you never sleep with him again?" Alicia asked.
"I'd never do that to him."
"Then I don't see why you care so much about what I think." Alicia slammed her trunk shut and locked it. Angelina remained surprisingly silent. When Alicia turned she discovered that this was because she was crying. Real tears streamed down Angelina Johnson's face.
"You're my best friend. I – I hate disappointing you. I need you to back me up. I need to know I did the right thing," Angelina said through gritted teeth. She swiped angrily at the tears that she hated so much.
"You've never disappointed me. You never will, Angelina." Alicia smiled gently and handed her a tissue from her pocket. "You mystify me sometimes, buts that's only because you're so unbelievably strong and capable. You've always made good decisions. I don't get Fred sometimes, but I know that deep down he's a good guy. He's lucky to have you."
Angelina's braids flew as she shook her head. "No he's not. I only slept with him to make sure he kept away from other women. That's wrong, isn't it? I wanted to make sure he could only think about me."
Alicia put a hand on her wet cheek. "I know that isn't the only reason you did it. You love Fred – that's the bottom line."
"Yeah, I do. Yeah. God, it's so good to be able to talk about it."
"No details though. He's too much like a brother to me and it'd be weird. Maybe Katie will be willing to hear about it," Alicia said, hugging Angelina tightly. When she looked over her shoulder she found out why Katie had been so quiet. She too was crying. "Not you, too! What's going on around here?"
"I'm getting married!" Katie blubbered.
"Did she say married?" Angelina asked quietly, immediately wriggling out of the hug.
Alicia shrugged and the two of them went to sit by their friend. She threw herself across Angelina's lap and said, "There was a diamond ring and Lee was on the ground and he said my middle name. I didn't know what to do. I almost vomited on him. I almost vomited on my boyfriend! There was a diamond ring. His father gave it to his mother then Lee gave it to me."
"Um, ok. So Lee proposed?" Alicia asked.
"I said yes! I don't know why I said yes so quickly. I could have told him I needed time. Cedric died!"
Angelina stroked Katie's hair, her own tears forgotten. "What does he have to do with it?"
"It could have been Lee," she answered. "He said my middle name! He wants to be with me forever. Do you realise how long forever is?"
Alicia exchanged a confused glance with Angelina. "Are you feeling all right, Katie? I could go get you a nice relaxing potion from Madam Pomfrey."
Katie sat up, her hair and eyes wild. "I don't need a sedative! I need you guys to tell me that I'm doing the right thing! Should I really marry him?"
Angelina asked, "Well, do you love Lee?"
"Do you want to marry Lee?" Alicia asked.
"You did the right thing," Angelina and Alicia said in unison.
"But we're so young!"
"Age shouldn't matter in things like this," Angelina said honestly. It was something she had always believed. "You remember what Alicia just said to me? The same goes for you. You always make the right decisions and Lee is lucky to have you."
"I'm lucky to have him," Katie said earnestly as she wiped her face on her shirt. "I'm going to marry Lee Jordan," she said in a shaky voice.
"Oh, my little girls are growing up so fast," Alicia said, only half joking. The two of them seemed to have aged years in a matter of minutes.
"You aren't angry or disappointed?" Katie asked.
"Are we invited to the wedding?"
"Then we are very happy for you," Angelina said decisively.
Katie grinned and put her arms around them. "I don't know what I'd do without you girls. Can believe that Trelawney was actually right about me leaving Hogwarts without a boyfriend. I have a fiancé!"
"Come on, show us this diamond ring then!"
Alicia cooed over the ring with Angelina. She giggled about some of Angelina's account of the meeting in the Room of Requirement. She kept up a brave face. Meanwhile, a heavy weight had settled in her stomach. Something was wrong with all of this. Both revelations had made her insides wither for some reason.
Could she really be disappointed or angry at what her friends had done? No. It was true that they were adults and could take care of themselves. It had to be something else, something like…with a start, Alicia realised that she was jealous of them.
She was the one leaving the country, yet she felt like the one being left behind.
The day before graduation was one of the oddest days of Alicia's young life. She felt uncomfortable in her own skin. For most of the morning she glided around the school, saying goodbye to teachers, ghosts and other students. Dumbledore and McGonagall had both returned so she spent time talking to them. It still felt weird. It was as if her body wasn't hers for the day. She watched from afar as she wandered the halls aimlessly. She hadn't even graduated yet, but she already didn't belong in Hogwarts anymore.
It was like being unable to fit into your favourite pair of jeans anymore. No matter how much you heave and gasp and jump, they never feel the same. Alicia knew that she had outgrown the school. The frightening thing was that she wasn't sure if she would ever find a place like it again. Was there another place in the world where she could truly belong?
She was sitting by the remains of Fred and George's swamp as she pondered this. Perhaps she didn't belong in the world at all. There could be no room for someone like her. People don't like bossy, stuck-up, condescending, self-righteous busybodies, she told herself. Still, that was who she was and she didn't know how to change. She couldn't change herself to fit in with what the world wanted any more than she could change the world to suit herself. Things simply didn't work that way.
The world's just going to have to take me as I am, she thought stubbornly.
Katie suddenly came skidding around the corner, disturbing her train of thought. "Alicia! What are you doing? Angelina and I have been looking for you everywhere!"
"You gotta come see what we found!"
"What is it?" Alicia asked, getting to her feet wearily.
"Come and see for yourself! It's astonishing!"
Intrigued, Alicia hurried after the excitable blonde, who was now wearing her ring with pride. They went back to Gryffindor Tower and up to their bedroom. Alicia noticed that Angelina's bedside table had been inexplicably moved into the middle of the room. Angelina herself was kneeling and staring rapturously at the floor.
"Have you two been drinking?" Alicia asked seriously.
"Finally!" Angelina exclaimed. "I decided to move my bedside table to check that nothing had fallen behind it or slid under it. Come and see what I found!"
"If you dragged me up here to show me an old sock or a dead bug I'm going to be very angry." Alicia joined Angelina and stared at the wooden floor with her. It wasn't a sock or a bug, that was for sure. She had to get down on her hands and knees as well.
Something had been scratched into the hardwood floor. Alicia gasped as she read it.
Women of Gryffindor from 1519.
Hereafter lie the names of the women who have passed before you. This room holds the memories, dreams and strengths of some of the Gryffindor women who have graduated. Add your names to this list and go safely into the world with eyes and heart open.
Beneath this blurb, at least a hundred names had been scratched into the wood. The names made Alicia's head spin. She recognised a few from History of Magic class. She'd never thought about it before, but Hogwarts had been around for a thousand years and millions of people had passed through. Thousands alone must have spent their seven years living in her very own dorm room.
"Oh my God," Alicia said, running her fingertips over the engravings. "There's almost half a century worth of history in this room."
"Not to mention the first half of the century," Katie said as she heaved aside Alicia's bedside table. "Just because their names aren't here doesn't mean they didn't leave their own special marks. There's more names over here!"
Angelina and Alicia hurried to join her. Here they recognised a few more historical women. Beneath Katie's bedside table they saw more recent names.
"Miranda Goshawk and Bathilda Bagshot," Angelina said, reading the names of the authors of The Standard Book of Spells and A History of Magic.
"McGonagall!" Alicia squealed, pointing to the name.
"Wow," Katie said lowly. Her eyes scanned the names below their Head of House. She saw a very familiar one. "Hey, it's my grandmother! See, Katherine Rolland? I'm named after her!"
"This is the coolest thing I've ever seen," Alicia said as she began to look for her own family members.
"There has to be more. These women ought to have graduated around fifty to sixty years ago." Angelina jumped up and looked around the room. Her eyes quickly fell upon the large chest of drawers that the three shared.
A quick levitation charm later and the drawers were out of the way, revealing more names. The very first one was Millicent Bagnold.
"The Minister for Magic before Fudge," Alicia said.
"My Aunt Becky!" Angelina cried happily.
Alicia looked for her own mother's name, but couldn't find it. She did, however, spot a name that made her heart leap. Molly Prewett.
"Ang, Fred and George's mum stayed in our room."
Before Angelina could react to that, Katie squealed and grabbed her arm. "I can't believe it! She was in our room. She might have had my bed!"
"And who would that be?"
"Harry's mum, of course! Evans is her maiden name," Katie answered matter-of-factly.
Angelina rolled her eyes. "God, you are a Potter-fancier."
"Shut up. She was a great woman and I'm honoured to have stayed in the same dorm room as her."
"Well, my mum isn't on here then," Alicia said with a sigh. "She would have been between Mrs Weasley and Harry's mum."
The three shuffled along, taking it in turns to read each name out loud. The very last name to be recorded made Alicia's eyes tear up. She really should have known that Erica would have been in this room, considering she graduated the year before they arrived.
"I don't think this is a coincidence," Angelina said as she got to her feet. She began to fish through her trunk in search of her Standard Book of Spells. "Look at all the great women we're following in the footsteps of. Writers, a deputy Headmistress, a Minister for Magic-"
"Mrs Potter and Mrs Weasley," Katie added.
"Our family," Alicia said, suddenly wishing that she could talk to her older sister.
Angelina flicked to the index of the book. "So we add our names and go into the world with open eyes and open hearts."
"If I do half of what any of these women did I'll be happy."
Alicia nodded in agreement. "We have a legacy to carry on. Generations of Gryffindor women are counting on us."
"We can do it." Angelina handed the book over. "I found an engraving spell. Let's do this."
One by one they added their names to the hundreds of other women. Alicia was last because they went alphabetically. She signed her name and looked up at her friends. "Do you realise what we're a part of? This goes further than Gryffindor women. It goes further than even Hogwarts women."
"Are you being philosophical?" Katie asked suspiciously.
Alicia ignored her and held out her forearm palm side up. "Think about the blood that runs in our veins. The ancient magic that's in our blood. It goes further back than the creation of Hogwarts. I'm talking about the druids and the priestesses."
"The blood of Morgan le Fay," Angelina murmured, staring at the inside of her own wrist. "The ancient witches who practiced magic and risked their lives in the process. We owe it to them to be the best witches that we can possibly be."
Katie bit her lip hesitantly. "I was frightened of my magic at first."
Alicia put her around her. "My mum told me about my magic before I started at Muggle school. I ignored it for many years because I just wanted to fit in."
"I used to pray every night that my magic would begin to show. I desperately wanted to be a witch, not a Squib. I wanted to be important and special. I didn't want to fit in," Angelina said, a hint of amusement in her voice.
They were quiet for a minute or so. Each was struggling to comprehend all they had before them. It was even harder for them to comprehend where they had come from. The magic of Morgan le Fay and Merlin was a world away from where they were that day. Still, each felt they had a bit of that greatness within them and they clung to it and squeezed it for all it was worth. Neither of them wanted to be the one who besmirched the remarkable legacy they were being trusted with.
"Do you think we're ready for the world?" Katie asked softly.
"Of course," Angelina said, smirking playfully, "but is the world ready for us? That's the real question."
The graduation was as grand as every other ceremony at Hogwarts. The whole thing was officiated by the Head Boy and Girl, who welcomed everyone then handed proceedings over to Dumbledore. The tone of his speech was unusually sombre.
"I'd like to welcome you all to the Hogwarts graduation ceremony. I can safely say that this batch of graduates is one of the best to come through the school in recent years. Unfortunately, this group has also suffered more than any graduates of recent years. Dear friends have departed, some by choice and another unwillingly," Dumbledore said, his eyes sweeping from the Gryffindors to the Hufflepuffs. "No matter what your NEWTs results are, you should all be proud just to be here. Right now you young adults are on a precipice. You will forever hold a special place in history.
"The return of Voldemort makes nothing a certainty anymore. The very fate of Hogwarts is unknown. Mark my words, the second war with Voldemort has begun. This time around the fight belongs to your generation. You were probably too young to remember what it was like before his defeat, but some of you still bear the scars. This time around you have the ability to make your own choices. As the most recent Hogwarts graduates you will be tempted by those who would wish to use you. Consider your options carefully," he said, eyes lingering on the Slytherins.
Alicia, who was sitting between Angelina and Lee, grasped their hands as Dumbledore spoke. He was all but asking them to go his side during the war. Of course, he didn't say it in so many words, but the request was there. He emphasised that it was a choice. Alicia didn't particularly feel like she had many choices at the moment.
Dumbledore continued, "Your teachers and I have endeavoured to give you as much knowledge as we could. You walk out of this school with educated, discerning minds. Use them well, my friends. Your lives will not be easy and the pain of this war will touch many of you. Do not build up your defences and forget to feel. Love is what will prevail through everything."
The twinkle that returned to the old headmasters eyes sent a ripple of faith through the seventh years. As long as they had Dumbledore to lead them they would be safe. Most of them would go into the world and do their best to prove to everyone that Dumbledore had given them the best education possible. Some would defend him to the death. Even those Slytherins who were destined to oppose him would harbour a secret sense of admiration for the great wizard.
Applause rang through the Great Hall and the Gryffindors were the first to jump to their feet. Just about everyone else followed suit. Alicia turned around to see that her mother had stood up and was dabbing at her eyes with a floral handkerchief. Beside her, Katie's parents and two of her brothers were on their feet and applauding heartily as well.
Dumbledore nodded gratefully and everyone sat back down. "Now I welcome Professor McGonagall to the podium to award the graduation certificates."
One by one the students were called up to the stage where they shook hands with a long line of teachers and were then handed scrolls of golden parchment by Dumbledore. After the certificates it came time to announce the recipient of the Founders' Award. This award was judged by the staff members and was given to the brightest of the year. The whispers were that it was between Alicia and a few others.
Angelina nudged Alicia, who turned slightly pink. She wasn't even sure if she really wanted the award at all. She would be required to give a little speech if she won it. For more than a year, George had been insisting that she would win it easily. Alicia's own confidence wavered regularly but George maintained his belief in her and was always there to encourage her. Without him she gave herself no chance.
She missed out on being Head Girl even when she was the favourite for the position so the same thing could theoretically happen with the Founders' Award. It would be a nice thing to have though. Her sister had won it in her time and Percy had, of course. It was a-
"Leesh!" Angelina hissed. "What are you waiting for? They called your name!"
Alicia blinked up at the podium. Dumbledore was smiling down at her. "Miss Spinnet, would you care to come up and collect your medallion?"
"Me?" Alicia squeaked.
"As far as I know you're the only Alicia Spinnet in the year," Katie whispered, leaning across Lee.
"Go on," Angelina urged.
Alicia slowly got to her feet shakily as people began to clap. Thankfully, she made it up onto the stage without tripping. Dumbledore shook her hand then placed the medal around her neck. She stared at it for a second. It actually had her name on it.
"Miss Spinnet will now say a few words."
Alicia almost declined. She looked out into the sea of faces briefly and stepped up to the podium. She felt the magic of a Sonorus spell wash over her and she cleared her throat.
"I'd just like to thank all of my teachers for helping to give me the best magical education in the world. I'd also like to give a special thanks to my family and friends for encouraging me in my studies. I wouldn't be up here without you." Alicia said all of this without looking up from her hands, which were grasping the podium for dear life. She had no idea what else to say. Even though she didn't look up, she felt the expectant eyes of everyone on her. For a second her gaze flickered up and she spotted a flash of red at the back of the Hall.
Deep down she knew it couldn't be George. There were plenty of other people in the world with red hair. Still, the sight strengthened her resolve. She looked out into the audience and sighed. "Look, we all know there's only one reason why I'm up here. This medallion has had Cedric Diggory's name on it ever since first year. He should be leading the ceremony with Meenal right now. He should be standing up here instead of me. I'm deeply honoured to be sharing this award with him."
Everyone clapped and cheered. Alicia could see Lee whistling and bouncing around in his seat as Katie covered her face in embarrassment. Fighting a giggle, Alicia continued. "I didn't expect to get this award at all. One person believed in me. He isn't here today, but this is dedicated to him as well. Thank you."
Alicia felt her face burn as she stepped away from the podium and made her way off the stage. She caught her mother's eye and flashed her a smile. Her friends greeted her with hugs and kisses. The Head Boy and Girl stood up to give the final speech.
"We entered this Hall seven years ago as eleven year olds. We naturally huddled together for protection," Mark began.
"We were all frightened and overawed. Some of us were even wet," Meenal said with a cheeky smile.
"I expressly told her not to mention that," Angelina said, ducking down in her seat as those around her chuckled.
"We came to Hogwarts as children, but we leave as adults. Friendships have been created that will last a lifetime. Identities were formed, dreams were realised and bonds were made."
Meenal added, "The memories that we will take away from school are priceless. On the way out of the Hall each of you will be given a yearbook full of pictures and stories. Keep them. Treasure them. Remember your time at Hogwarts. Remember Cedric Diggory. Remember the good and the bad. Remember everyone you met here because we'll all be great someday."
"See you all at the reunion in ten years!" Mark shouted. He pulled out his wand and raised it above his head. "On the count of three. One. Two. Three!"
The Great Hall erupted with cheers as the seventh years shot red, green, yellow and blue sparks from their wands. Lee jumped up onto his seat and began to sing the Hogwarts song at the top of his lungs. When everyone else joined in he pretended to conduct them with his wand.
"Can you believe I actually agreed to marry him?" Katie asked as she gazed up at Lee fondly.
"Absolutely," Alicia answered.
When Lee had finished making a spectacle of himself, the four made their way over to their families. Katie's parents met Lee's parents for the first time, which was an interesting moment. Even better was the once-over that Katie's brothers gave Lee.
"Got a good job?" asked Samuel, who was twenty-six and married.
"Yes," Lee answered promptly.
Tristan, who was twenty-three (and quite good-looking, Alicia noted), asked the really hard-hitting questions. "Which Quidditch team do you support?"
"Er, the Kenmare Kestrels."
Tristan threw his arm around Lee's shoulders. "Welcome to the family. So who's your favourite player and what do you think of our chances next season?"
Katie rolled her eyes and groaned. "You girls are so lucky not to have any brothers."
"You're lucky that your family came at all," Angelina said bitterly.
"You didn't even invite your mother or father," Alicia replied diplomatically.
"They both know when I was supposed to graduate. They could have come but they chose not to. Dad's probably preoccupied with his new daughter and mum's undoubtedly busy having her hair done."
Katie linked her arm through Angelina's and said, "Forget about it. Let's go get our yearbooks signed."
The seventh years all eventually moved out to the front of the castle where yearbooks and congratulations were exchanged. A few of the Slytherins even made more of an effort. They signed all the books that were given to them and managed to keep the sneering to a minimum. All of this took quite a while and by the time the Gryffindors were able to sit down and flick through the books, they had half an hour before they had to board the Hogwarts Express for the last time.
That also meant they only half an hour left together. Alicia's train would be arriving twenty minutes after the Express left. They had to say their goodbyes.
"We were voted best couple!" Katie exclaimed, elbowing Lee.
"Of course we were. That's the only reason why I proposed to you."
"Bugger off, Jordan."
"Hottest female student and most likely to play professional Quidditch?" Angelina read beneath her own picture. "I'm half offended and half pleased. What about you, 'Licia?"
"Most likely to become Minister for Magic and…whoa. George and I were voted most likely to have seven children," Alicia mumbled.
It took quite a while for Angelina, Katie and Lee to stop laughing at this. When they had calmed down they continued to go through the books. Each of the students had been asked to include their favourite Hogwarts memory. Angelina picked the first time they won the Quidditch Cup. Katie picked the moment that she was sorted into Gryffindor. Lee chose the moment he met Katie, which earned him a kiss.
After much agonising Alicia had decided on the Yule Ball. It had been a great night for all six of them. There was a picture of herself and George dancing on the Yule Ball spread. She and George twirled and laughed, oblivious to the future.
Alicia only realised she was crying when a large tear landed in the middle of the page. This was the cue for everyone to close their books and stare at her. She wiped her eyes and forced a smile. "You'll have to leave soon. We should probably say goodbye and stuff."
"I'm not going to say it," Angelina announced defiantly.
"I won't do it and you can't make me. You don't just say goodbye to your best friend when there's the prospect that you'll never see her again."
"Don't say ridiculous things like that. I'll be back."
Lee nodded emphatically. "That's right. She's got to come to our engagement party, doesn't she Katie?"
"Absolutely. She's not getting out of bride's maid duties either."
"Bride's maid?" Alicia echoed.
"You and Angelina. I wouldn't want anyone else there with me."
There were cascades of tears suddenly. Things were said, but everyone was too distraught for any of it to be understood. The general sentiment was implicit, however.
"You know I love you guys, right?" Alicia said, fighting not to choke on her tears. "All three of you. And the twins. Will you tell them that I love them?"
"As soon as we see them," Angelina promised.
Katie clutched Alicia tightly around the neck. "We love you, too."
"Don't forget about us too quickly, all right?" Lee said jovially. He looked slightly embarrassed to be crying. At least the twins weren't around to see it.
Alicia kissed him over Katie's shoulder. "Never. I'll never forget you guys. I'll write letters everyday and have them sent by express Portkey post. I expect lots of quick replies."
Students began to file out of the front doors of the castle. It was time to leave.
"We'll let you know as soon as we set a date for the engagement party," Katie said, finally releasing Alicia.
"I'll definitely be there." Alicia hugged Lee then Angelina.
"I'm still not going to say it," Angelina said.
Alicia smiled a reluctant, melancholic smile. "You better get going. You don't want to miss the train for your last trip."
Lee grabbed Katie's hand and began to pull her away. "Goodbye!" Katie called.
"We'll see you very soon," Lee said as he waved.
"Bye! Love you guys!" Alicia shouted as the couple followed after the rest of the students. She turned to Angelina. "Are you going to say it now?"
Alicia couldn't help but grin. "Make sure you look after everyone for me, Ang. Make sure the twins don't lose any body parts. Don't let them organise the engagement party. Tell them not to-"
"Relax," she interrupted. "We'll all be fine. Sad but fine."
Angelina winked and blew Alicia a kiss. Without saying anything she turned and walked away Alicia couldn't believe she really hadn't said it. Her eyes followed Angelina all the way to the gate. She was the last to leave the school. Alicia dried her eyes and dragged her trunk down the path that led to the front gate. She sat on her trunk as she read through the last of her yearbook.
Everyone had written nice things to her at the end. Lee and Katie had filled an entire page between them. Alicia giggled and turned the page. The tears, which were only below the surface, reappeared immediately. The word GOODBYE was written across the page in Angelina's handwriting.
That damn girl, Alicia thought as she shut her book to keep her tears from smudging anything.
"Can I have a lick of your ice cream?"
Alicia almost fell off her trunk. The voice and the phrase were so familiar. She rubbed at her face and slowly turned around. It was him.
"What – why are you – you're not supposed to be here," she stammered awkwardly.
George shoved his hands deep in the pockets of his trousers and shrugged. "I have permission from Dumbledore."
Alicia couldn't stand up. She didn't trust her legs to hold her at the moment. She stared up at him as her body grew warm and her heart pounded. "Why?"
"A little bird told me you weren't going to be at platform nine and three quarters."
"Oh. Her big mouth must be rubbing off on him."
"Lee told us about the engagement. It's a little odd, if you ask me."
Alicia's eyebrows drew together. "They're in love and they want to get married. What's odd about that?"
George shrugged again, which was a painfully casual gesture to Alicia. He certainly looked a lot calmer than she felt. "Lee's eighteen and Katie's only seventeen. They're really young to be getting married."
"The real world has made you cynical," she commented lightly as she slowly regained control of her emotions.
"Maybe a bit." He looked at her with steady, penetrating eyes.
"You've changed," Alicia blurted without thinking.
"You're looking me in the eye for starters. You couldn't bear to do that a few months ago. You just seem…older."
He smiled. It was the same old smile despite everything. Alicia had to bite the inside of her cheek. "I had a lot of time to deal with what happened between us," he said. "I'm a lot calmer about it all."
"Not long ago you said you never wanted to see me again," she couldn't help but point out.
"I realised we owe it to each other to have a proper goodbye. Not a letter or an argument, Alicia. A sincere goodbye. Don't you think our friendship deserves that at least?"
Alicia nodded hesitantly. She had hoped he had come to beg her to stay or to announce that he was going with her. That obviously wasn't the case.
"I was going to do it at King's Cross with the others, but then I got the letter from Lee. I had to come to Hogwarts to see you. Fred agreed to look after the shop for the day."
"I don't know what to say to you," Alicia admitted. "I've never not known what to say to you and I've come to the conclusion that I don't like it much."
"It was never going to be easy," George said frankly. "You could make things a little more comfortable if you stood up."
"I don't even know if I can."
He extended his hands towards her. With his help she wobbled to her feet. She did not let go of his hand and he did not try to pull away.
"I knew you would get the Founders' Award."
Alicia clutched the medal that still hung around her neck. "It was you I saw at the back of the Hall."
George nodded. "Your thank you speech was very heartfelt. It was good."
"You were the person I was talking about. You were always the one who believed in me."
"I still do believe in you."
Alicia closed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. "My God. This is hard to do. I don't know what to say."
"Then don't say anything."
George pulled her towards him gently and she automatically tilted her head. The kiss came, slow and passionate. Alicia's knees buckled slightly but George was there to hold her up. He had always been there to hold her and steady her. She looped her arms around his neck and kissed back. The furrow on her brow showed the depth of her concentration. She wanted to remember his lips, his hands, the inside of his mouth.
Alicia felt the kiss in every part of her body. Every hair on her head quivered as if it had been charged with static electricity. She was painfully aware of every nerve ending because they all tingled at once. Her toes curled in her shoes and she clenched her hands into fists at the nape of his neck. Her tongue burned where it brushed against his.
When he pulled away she whimpered slightly. Her mouth was slightly open and her eyes were wide. George gave her a lazily satisfied smile and said, "Looks like we've still got it."
"We'll always have it," she whispered. "I'll see you again at Lee and Katie's engagement party."
"You'll definitely be back?"
"No one will be able to keep me away."
"I heard you're going to Sydney first," he said.
"She also told me who else was going to be there."
Alarm bells went off in Alicia's head. "Oh?"
"You can, you know," he said.
"I can what?"
"You and Oliver," he explained simply. "You do can whatever you want. I won't get in the way."
"Oliver?" Alicia repeated in disbelief. "George, if I could be with anyone it would be you. I love you, not Oliver."
"Sometimes love isn't quite enough, is it?"
He was sliding back into his old habit of jealousy. When that happened an argument was sure to follow.
"Let's not say anything more. Will you sit with me until my train is due?"
"If you want."
They sat side by side on her trunk and didn't speak a word to each other. George flicked through the yearbook and laughed when he saw what was beneath his picture. Somehow, he and Fred had been voted mostly likely to succeed and most likely to end up in prison. Alicia wandered off briefly to pick some flowers that she could dry and keep as a souvenir from Hogwarts.
By the time she returned she had to leave for Hogsmeade. She put a levitation charm on her trunk and pulled on her backpack. All of her other belongings had been sent ahead to Leeds.
"Good luck with everything," George said.
"You, too. Will you write to me?"
"I'll try. No promises though. It might be a little too painful for a while."
Alicia nodded. "I understand."
He put his hand on cheek. "Hey, you aren't crying."
"Wow. I hadn't even noticed." Alicia touched her dry eyes jokingly. She didn't even feel like crying. Partly, she was cried out. Mostly she just felt better about leaving now that she knew that George didn't hate her and that she had his support.
He shook his head and said, "I promised myself I wasn't going to say this to you again, but I love you. There's no point denying it."
"That letter you wrote made me realise how much you really love me. I – I just hope that one day you meet another woman you can love like that."
"It's a possibility."
Alicia stood there for a second not knowing what to do. She settled for kissing him quickly on the cheek. "I have to go. I'll see you at the engagement party."
He returned the kiss. "Bye, Alicia."
Before she could make a fool of herself by jumping into his arms, she turned and walked away. George watched her walk out of Hogwarts and out of his life forever. He looked back at the castle that had been his home for the best part of seven years. It looked hollow and depressing when emptied of its students.
When he thought about Alicia in the future he would always think about Hogwarts, and vice versa.
He put his hands back in his pockets and said, "We'll always have Hogwarts."
A/N: Hands everyone a tissue George's last line is based on a quote from Casablanca ('We'll always have Paris') and Angelina's whole not-saying-goodbye thing was inspired by the last episode of MASH. Are we all ok now? The saga of their lives at Hogwarts is over, but their stories go on. I just want to make it clear that there is going to be a sequel, details of which can still be found on my LJ. In case you don't know, the title is going to be 'Castles In The Air.' Look out for it in the next 2-3 weeks. This note is going to be long and mushy, but it's my last so please humour me.
For now, the characters and I take our bows. It's been quite a ride, but I've enjoyed every moment of it. I hope you have, too. This story has been an amazing learning experience and the good news is that my writing can only get better. I'd love it if you'd all stick around for the sequel. I promise it'll be like no other story featuring these six that you've read. There's even going to be an action element, which is why I brought up the war so often in these last few chapters. Now for the mushy part.
Everyone loves reviews, but for someone who aspires to be a writer, they mean even more. With that said, my biggest thanks goes to everyone who has ever read and/or reviewed this story. Interest in it steadily grew, but it wouldn't have got this far without the early reviewers.
Specifically I'd like to thank my family. Thanks to me daddy for buying me a notebook computer. Without it you wouldn't be seeing this chapter till this time next year. Thanks to my mum for giving birth to me and stuff. I share a room with my younger sister so big thanks to her for not minding when I'm up late typing away. And my little brother…was actually more of a hindrance than a help.
I easily get the most support from my best friend Meenal, even though she hasn't read any of the story in ages. Yeah. I named a character after her. I named the Head Girl after her and she still can't be bothered reading. Oh well. She listens to me go on and on about Old Faces even though she has no clue what I'm talking about. Thanks for being my muse, Meenal. See. I told you I would get through this without mentioning 'ass mule'. Oh, whoops. ;)
Now for the most obvious thank you. This story wouldn't exist if it weren't for J.K Rowling's genius. She created such a wonderful world to play in. This story wouldn't have been any good if I hadn't had her solid foundation to build on.
The last thanks are reserved for special reviewers. I actually went back through my reviews to find patterns for all of your reviewing. Meenal kindly helped me do this even though I'm sure she thought I was insane to go through hundreds of reviews. It was quite interesting. Anyway, the bottom line is that there is one person who has reviewed every chapter. I'll never forget the day I discovered her review. It was too big to be sent to my email so I didn't even know it was there till a few days later. It put a smile on my face for weeks. I'm talking, of course, about KitKat001. She simultaneously reviewed every existing chapter and gave me my longest review ever. As the only person who has reviewed every chapter I'm also offering you a cameo in the sequel if you want it. Thank you for all your reviews and support.
There are also a few reviewers who have been very consistent for at least the last twenty-five chapters. Infinite thanks to oliverwoodschic, Blandsaft, Oreoline00, Marblez and Stephanie (dbzpunk66). You five have been great reviewers. Recently discovered people who have been around for a looong time: Eruaphadriel, Alicia, Riley, Princess-Of-Everything, criss, Veelrage07 and lucid-03-days. I'm sure there are others, but these guys mentioned it in their reviews/emails. A special thanks also to my intrepid translator, Angel de la Luna. Sincere thanks to everyone who left their first ever reviews last chapter. Even people who were shy or had language barriers left wonderful reviews, which I found really touching.
Thanks to everyone who has ever emailed me, left comments on my LJ or spoken to me on Messenger. Thanks to the G/A community here on the site for being very supportive and inspirational. Thank you to every one who has cried, laughed or sworn whilst reading this fic. Emotional responses are what writers crave.
I close the book on OFNT now. As of the time of the posting of this chapter (November 16, 2005) it has 1017 reviews. Before the counter was wiped it had between 17,000 and 18,000 hits. It is featured in 9 C2 communities and is on the faves lists of 248 people. There are 58 people on the story alert list and I'm on the author alert list of 252 people. As far as I'm concerned, those stats are phenomenal for a story that features minor characters. The most amazing stat, however, it the word length. Not including the author notes, OFNT is just over 263,000 words. This makes it longer than any of the HP books. Furthermore, it is the longest story on the site to significantly feature these six characters. In fact, it is the only one over 100,000 words in the Alicia S. section and the only one over 200,000 words in the Fred/George W. section.
What's next for me? Well, I have decided recently to branch out into one-shots. A list of those in production (one of which features Alicia) can be found over at my profile. For now it's goodbye from me. Please take a moment to review. Reminisce about your fave parts, predict what will happen in the sequel…whatever you want. I'm off to get the characters ready for the sequel. They're in training already. We hope to see you over there!