So...this is it. I've never completed a story before; am I supposed to write something meaningful here? I'm not really sure, but let me say this: thank you, everyone, for taking the time to read this story. Let me know what you think of the last chapter, please. I'd be ever so grateful.
Also, be on the lookout for the sequel. It's working title is Separation Anxiety, and I've got the majority of the first chapter written already. With any luck, it should be up within two weeks.
Disclaimer: Who would ever really think that I own Harry Potter? It's just ridiculous, that's what it is.
I scanned the grocery list absently as I pushed the shopping trolley down the narrow frozen food aisle at the local supermarket. I decided that Maria's specific quantities and brand names weren't any help when she was in too much of a hurry to write legibly. Maria was currently at home, cleaning our house from top to bottom in an attempt to impress Dad's boss when he came for dinner that night, and she had sent me to the shop to get the ingrediants for her planned meal. In between directing Alec and Pen's efforts in room cleaning and trying to calm down Bruno after an episode with the neighbor's psychotic tabby, she had scrawled the list on the back of an envelope.
It was so sloppy that I couldn't tell if the first item was "oranges" or "pork roast." I sighed loudly and came to a complete stop, raising the list closer to my face. It'll probably be the roast, I thought, though I wasn't really sure. Maria had gotten a new cookbook that used all sorts of ingredients in somewhat unusual ways, including oranges. I made a face at the list, probably coming across as crazy to the young boy and his mother who were peering at the chicken nugget selection near by. Maybe I should get both? I wondered. No, I should call Maria and ask her what she want me to get.
I proceeded toward the meat aisle, anyway, deciding that Maria would be wanting some kind of it for the main dish, anyway. At the same time, I began to take out my mobile phone and search through my phone numbers for our house phone. It didn't occur to me until a moment later that multitasking wasn't one of my great skills. There was a loud metallic sound as I unintentionally rammed my trolley into that of a large man coming in the opposite direction. I didn't think that I had hit him, but I heard a short series of thumps as the man dropped the five tins of soup that he had been putting into the cart. We were both startled, but he seemed as if he was ready to turn around and run out the door.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," I said, immediately dropping on the floor and picking up the soup. I looked up at the man as I clutched at a tin of cream of chicken. He was younger than I had thought and had a sort of stupefied look on his face. "You're alright, aren't you?" I asked worriedly, as I replaced the soup in the trolley, tin by tin.
"Uh…" He blinked dumbly, then nodded a little too quickly. "I mean, yes, I'm fine."
I had seen this guy before, somewhere; something about his expression, his eyes, made me stop. I peered up at him for a long moment before I realized that I was looking up at Harry's cousin, Dudley Dursley. My mouth gaped open and I let out a tiny gasp.
"Dudley? That's you, isn't it?" I asked, shocked. Dudley was thinner than he had been the last time I'd seen him, more than a year before; he was still huge, but he was less bulky now. His hair was shaggier, too, and his general bearing seemed different. He seemed paranoid and easily startled, the farthest thing from the schoolyard-bully-turned- party-going-punk that I remembered. "Do you remember me? I'm Kate Foster."
The Dursleys had packed up and moved away the same day that Harry had left the summer before; their quick departure had been the talk of the town for months. Mr. Dursley had suddenly taken a leave of absence from Grunnings, the large local factory that he directed; Mrs. Dursley had informed the members of the local garden club and book club that she would be going away. Dudley, for his part, had never returned to Smeltings after that summer. It had occurred to me that they might have been danger from Lord Whatshisface, but I had never mentioned it to anyone because the magic thing wasn't common knowledge.
"Oh, yeah," Dudley said, sounding more calm. He didn't look much better, but at least he didn't look like he was going to run away screaming any more. "Harry's Kate."
I blinked, my stomach turning. Harry's Kate. Our two names, linked together with a possessive, gave me a strange feeling. Compared to the last discussion I had had with Dudley about myself and Harry, being called Harry's Kate as opposed to Harry's girl made it seem like less of a romantic link. It could have been taken romantically, or it could have been taken in a friendly way. At the same time, it seemed like a firm link, and that didn't seem right when Harry and I hadn't had any contact for almost ten months.
We hadn't exchanged a word since the day he left. In that time, I had tried to keep busy with other things. I had been more social with my family and friends, I had babysitted more often, and I had studied harder for my classes than I ever had before. However, those things that I had done to keep myself busy had never worked. I had dreams about Harry; I thought about Harry; I worried about Harry. I had been writing letters to him all year, even though I had no way to send them.I had even broken up with Noah (also known as the sweetest guy in the universe) because I felt guilty over my feeling s for Harry, and now he was dating Lizzie, which was all sorts of awkward.
Suffice to say, I hadn't been able to keep myself busy enough
"Yeah," I replied, forcing a smile, "Harry's Kate. So, Dudley. How have you been? What are you doing here?"
"Fine, I guess," he told me blankly. He didn't have a very large vocabulary, did he? "My family's just come back to town, and we need food and stuff."
"Oh, really?" I asked, trying to seem upbeat and cheerful. "So, er, do you know anything about the…the war?" Was it really a war? I supposed that it was; what else did you call it when to factions battled it out?
"Oh, that. It's over."
"Over?" I was shocked. I had expected some kind of big sign from, well, someone that the thing was over and done with. "Really?"
"Yeah. Harry finally did it and killed the guy." Dudley blinked at my expression. I thought that he must be wondering about how dense I was. "You mean you didn't know? Harry didn't tell you?"
"No, I had no idea," I muttered. I frowned, feeling crummy. I guess that I had been expecting, like Dudley, that Harry would send me a letter or something when the war was over, or that he might have come to visit. "Has it been over with for very long?" I could understand him not having time in the last twenty-four to seventy-two hours after his big victory to send me a note. That would be reasonable.
Dudley had to stop and think that time. "It's been about a week, give or take a day."
A week seemed like an eternity, all of a sudden. I would have understood if Harry was on the run or something and never had the opportunity to send Hedwig to me or drop by, but he had had a week (give or take a day) to send me a note. How long would it have taken him to write a simple, 'Hi, Kate, I'm not dead?' message and give it to an owl? Five minutes, tops, I thought. I knew that Harry was probably busy (weren't all heroes, after they slaid their dragons or whatever?), but it didn't make me feel any less insignificant. After all the time that I had spent worrying over him and thinking about him, he couldn't spare five minutes to write me a note?
It was good to know what I really meant to him.
"Have you seen Harry since it happened, Dudley?" I was trying to sound calm and happy, but my voice sounded too sharp.
"Yes. He dropped by the place where my mum and dad and I were staying, to tell us the good news." He paused. "I can't believe that he didn't at least write you a letter or something, you know, considering…" Considering the fact that Dudley's parents had treated Harry neglectfully and harshly since he was an infant and Dudley had bullied him nearly mercilessly until they were in their teens, and he had still made time to go see them. "I mean, I thought that the two of you were sort of close."
"I thought that we were sort of close, too," I murmured. "I suppose that we were both wrong about that." I shook my head, as if it could clear the thoughts from my head. "Oh, well, I'm sure that he'll get around to it eventually."
Reassuring yourself seemed like one of the most difficult things in the world.
Dudley and I said goodbye shortly after that; he seemed anxious to get out the shop, and it was only a matter of seconds after we ran out of things to say that Maria called me to add more items to her list of groceries. I hurried away to finish shopping, all the while wondering when exactly it would be that I would hear from Harry.
The letter I hoped for didn't come that month or the month after that, and I spent my summer wondering when Harry would show up on my doorstep. He never did.
"Just think," Maria said softly. She was leaning on the door frame of my bedroom, with a sad smile on her face. Tears were threatening to spill from her eyes, which made me feel a bit guilty. "You're leaving to go to university today. The whole world is at your fingertips."
I turned around, unable to stand the sight of tears in my stepmother's eyes. "I know. It's so amazing."
Maria said something about finishing tidying up for breakfast before we left and headed downstairs, but I barely noticed. I was too busy thinking.
My bedroom looked strange and empty; it had been striped of nearly everything that had made it feel like my bedroom. The decorative plaque with my name on it was no longer on the walls, and my clothes were packed away. The knickknacks and trivial things that had inhabited the space on top of my desk were packed up. Even my bedside lamp had been taken out of the room, so that I could use it in my new dorm. My bed was there, and so was the quilt on top that I had been using for years, but my pillows were gone. In their place sat Penelope, sitting cross-legged while holding something in her lap. She wouldn't meet my eyes.
"You have everything that you need, right?" she asked, sounding almost nothing like my Pen at all. I sat down beside her with a sigh.
"Yes, I've got everything I need," I said. I looked at what she was holding in her hands. To my surprise, it was a stuffed toy. After a long moment, I recognized it. Years ago, when I was ten and Penelope was five and our parents had recently gotten married, I had given it to Pen. It was a stuffed turtle, with a shell in a rainbow of colors and a soft green body. It had been one of my favorites when I was little, too, and was now so old that its shell was fading and it had lost on of its button eyes.
Two days before Pen and Maria had moved into the house with Dad, Alec, and I, Pen's pet turtle had died. For a week, she had cried over that turtle at night. I remembered how it had made me feel to hear her cry like that at night, back when I didn't know her well enough to make it better. I had hated it so much that I gave her Paul, the stuffed turtle. "This one is better," I had told her. She had given me a look that said she didn't believe me. "You know why? Because he'll never die and leave you. He'll stay with you forever, if you want him to. So don't cry anymore, okay?" She had hugged me, and for the first time ever, I had known that we were sisters.
"I didn't know you still had that," I told her.
"Of course I do," Pen said, with a small scowl. She was fourteen now and considered herself all grown up, but she hadn't played with any of her dolls or stuffed animals since she was about seven. "You gave it to me. Why would I get rid of it?"
I shrugged, and we lapsed into silence. "Where's Alec at, anyway?" I asked.
"Downstairs, watching football with Dad," she replied simply. "I think he expects us to be having a big emotional moment up here, and he wants to stay away."
I chuckled. Alec liked to avoid all excessive shows of emotions. "Why would he think that? We won't be having any big emotional moments until we get to the city, at least."
My family was coming along with me to London to help me move into my new room at King's College. It was sort of my dream school, for a number of reasons: my mother had gone their when she went to college, its location was central in the city, it had a great academic record. It was a miracle that I'd been admitted at all, since it was also hugely exclusive, but the studying I'd done since Harry left Little Whinging had paid off when I took my A-levels.
The only thing was that most of my friends wouldn't be with me. Nina had, to my astonishment, announced her intent to go to school in Seville, Spain, where most of her mother's family lived, and while Lizzie was also going to university in the city, she wouldn't be at King's. Most of my other friends were scattered around; the only person I considered myself close to who would be attending King's with me was Noah, which was sure to both amazingly comforting and significantly awkward. I could foresee myself becoming the third wheel often on Lizzie and Noah's romantic excursions and taking a lot of weekend trips home. I hadn't even spoken to my new roommate yet.
"You should take Paul with you," Penelope said, finally looking at me. She looked so remarkably grown-up; her hazel eyes had been outline with black eyeliner and she had fixed her hair to be bone-straight. She was nothing like the five-year-old girl I kept had given my stuffed turtle to as a kid. "Just in case you get lonely at university."
"That's okay, Pen, I really don't need-" I began. Apparently, she disagreed, because she then threw Paul the turtle at my head before I could finish. "Why, you devil child!" I sputtered at her. She shrieked with childish laughter and sprang off my bed as I grabbed the turtle and threw it at her back. It bounced off as she ran out the door.
"Coward!" I yelled as she skittered down the stairs. Regardless of that, I laughed as I picked Paul up off the floor. I took a moment to look at him, with his fading colors, missing eye, and dusty fluff, before I tucked him under my arm and took him downstairs with me.
Alec turned his head from his place on the sofa, probably after hearing all of the noise, and eyed the stuffed animal. "Are you really going to take that?" he asked.
"Yes. Why not?"
He mumbled something unintelligible before he turned back around to watch his football game on the telly. I sighed. Alec had been determined to ignore me as much as possible for the last week or so; I figured that it was just his way of adjusting to the fact that I wouldn't really be living at home anymore. Still, it was more than slightly annoying. I didn't like to be ignored; I didn't like moody boys. I leaned over the back of the sofa. "Are you going to miss me when I go to school?" I asked playfully.
He glared at me sideways. "I dunno. You probably can't be so annoying if you're in London."
"Oh, little brother, you're breaking my heart," I told him dramatically. Alec only scoffed.
I felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
"Fine, then," I said, much less enthusiastically. "I'll leave you alone now."
I moved away from the sofa and went back to the downstairs toilet, where I proceeded to put my hair in a ponytail and stare at my own face in the mirror.
It hadn't occurred to me before a few seconds ago, but if I went to King's College, how would Harry ever know where I was? What if he sent me a letter, but Hedwig couldn't find me and had no way of bringing it to me? And, on the off chance that he came to visit, I probably wouldn't be there to see him. I wondered if Dad and Maria were still too worried about his supposed criminal activities to tell him where I would be. Would he even keep trying to contact me if they sent him away?
What if Harry gave up on me, just because I wasn't there?
"Kate?" Maria called. "Are you ready yet?"
My first instinct was to tell her that no, I wasn't ready to go; I would never be ready to go.
"Yes, Ria," I called over my shoulder, sounding more confident than I felt. Before I walked out the door, though, I took a deep breath. There was really nothing else to do, I decided. I had to go out there and grow up. It was time to start my future. If Harry was included in that future, that was great. If not, I would have to be fine with that, too. I missed him, and there was nothing wrong with that, but I would have to move on and go live my life. I had my family and my friends. I had an amazing opportunity just around the corner.
I couldn't wait for him at home anymore. If Harry Potter wanted me, he would just have to come and get me.
I hope it made you smile.