"Because you live and breathe, because you make me believe in myself when nobody else can help... 'Cause of you made it through every storm... I'm so glad I found an angel, someone who was there when all my hopes fell."
-Jesse McCartney, Because You Live
N.E.W.T.s weren't as bad as I'd imagined.
They were about fifty times worse.
It was a plus in some ways that all my friends were finally being civil to each other, like we could all study together, if you could really consider anything to do with Lily and studying together as civil. It was more like joining an army with Lily as our unforgiving drill sergeant. Once James and Remus submitted to Lily's revising will, the rest of us really didn't have much choice in the matter, although Cherry and Ashley quietly planned dozens of un-enacted mutinies.
The truth was, in the end, we were probably better off for the strict revision schedule. I for one would have likely failed everything without it. Remus didn't believe me when I said that, but I knew it was true.
Peter had it the worst, actually. Between the pressure N.E.W.T.s presented by virtue of their very existence and the pressure Lily added to that, most of us were ready to break at one point or another, but Peter was getting at least three critical comments daily from the professors and I knew he'd been getting at least one letter a week from some over-zealous, probably well-meaning family member. If my family had written me at all as the N.E.W.T.s came closer, I might have snapped and sent a Howler.
Actually, I almost sent one to Peter's family on principle, but Remus caught me and made me destroy it. Apparently, Peter needs to fight his own battles.
"No," I snapped. "I've fought my own battles, and let me tell you, if someone else had volunteered to do mine I would have gladly let them."
"But fighting your battles has helped make you the wonderful, beautifully confident girl you've grown into this year," Remus pointed out. "It wouldn't have done any good for you to have let someone else do battle for you, as much as I would have liked to."
I hated sometimes that Remus was always right.
But I could never hate him long.
After months and weeks and what felt more like lifetimes of revision, we took days and days of tests. Practical exams, theoretical exams... They were just like O.W.L.s except O.W.L.s had never made me want to jump off the Astronomy Tower or set fire to the examiner's toupee. I actually thought Lily was going to snap in the middle of the Transfiguration theoretical. I glanced over to see her muttering soundlessly at her quill. The examiner was look at her, too, but once he realized she wasn't cheating he paid her no mind.
Apparently signs of mental instability weren't troubling for him or his conscience in the slightest.
When it was all finally over, we just sort of sat on the lawn for a day or two, bleary-eyed, watching the fifth years goofing off and enjoying the sunshine.
I had barely noticed the existence of the sun, so I wasn't in much of a capacity to enjoy it.
After a while, though, we were able to understand that it was over, we had survived the N.E.W.T.s (technically), and...
And we were leaving Hogwarts.
"It's strange to think we're not coming back," James said softly, running his fingers through Lily's hair. "We've got lives now."
"Does anyone even have a job lined up?" Ashley whispered.
"I do," Peter squeaked, to everyone's surprise. "I didn't want to count on N.E.W.T.s, so I got a job I could do with just my O.W.L.s. The apothecary's got me sorting ingredients three days a week and when they've got special or especially large shipments." He sighed. "It's not enough to support myself, but it's a job and I figure if I'm good about saving I can get my own place in a year or so. I might even get promoted, if I work really hard."
"That's great, Peter," I said honestly. Who would have thought Peter would have been the one of us with a job at the end of the year, with any plan at all?
Of course, nobody was mentioning the talks the Marauders, Lily, Marlene, Ashley, and Cherry had all had with Professor Dumbledore. I hadn't, but when Remus finally told me what they were over, I didn't feel bad about the lack of invite after all.
Professor Dumbledore, it seemed, was raising a private army, a secret society of sorts, to fight against You-Know-Who and his army of pureblood supremacists. I didn't know who would join and who wouldn't, but I had a feeling most of them would be fighting. Remus had all but said he would. I really hadn't had time to sort out my feelings about it.
"So Peter's still living with his parents for now," Sirius said. "What about you, Ali?"
"Ashley and I used the graduation money from our various relatives to get a flat," I sighed. "It's enough money to pay rent until N.E.W.T. results get back and we can get jobs. Remus has a flat in the same building."
Cherry raised her eyebrows.
"I thought you were going to stay with your ailing mother," she said, hinting at his condition.
"Well," he said, blushing as he held me tighter, "when there was an open flat in my price range in the building when I took the girls to look at theirs..."
"We get it, you want a place to shag Ali regularly," Sirius said with a bark of laughter.
Remus blushed more fiercely and said, "Well, I plan to visit home periodically, anyway."
"Right, good plan," Cherry sighed.
"What about you, Cherry?" Ashley asked, stretching out on the grass. "Parents? Because if you need a place, our flat's pretty big and we could always use someone else to split rent with."
"Ah, she's moving in at my place, actually," Sirius said proudly, kissing the side of her face. "But we're taking it slow."
"I'm staying with my parents for now. My mother's paranoid, what with the war on."
We all nodded. It was understandable. Most parents were doing similar things, keeping their children as close to them as possible, imagining that made them safer somehow.
"Did your mother get that cottage she was looking at?" Remus asked James as he began absently braiding a strand of my hair. "The one in Godric's Hollow."
"Yeah, she did," James said proudly.
"Is she moving out of the manor?" I asked. In a way, it made sense. She was quite elderly, and it was a massive space for anyone to live in alone. But I would have expected her to be the type to want to be surrounded by the memories.
"Nah, she got it for us," James explained. "We're moving in after the wedding. Still doing Sunday brunch at the manor, though. You can all drop by for brunch any time, and Sirius and Cherry will probably be there just about every week."
"Excuse me?" Cherry snorted. "That's a terrible idea. She'd hate me."
"Don't be silly, she'll love you," Sirius exclaimed.
"Actually, she probably will," James admitted, grimacing slightly. "She'll like your 'spunk' and 'pluck' and all that. And Sirius adores you, and that's pretty much her only requirement, anyway."
"I don't know," Cherry sniffed skeptically.
"Relax," I sighed. "Remus and I will go quite a bit, so if it's looking ugly for some reason I'll find some way to pull attention off you."
Cherry grumbled something that I took as thanks.
"Oh, Cherry, Ashley, I've been meaning to ask a massive favor of the two of you," Lily said suddenly, sitting up in a sharp motion.
I raised my eyebrows. Being civil and upholding the peace was miles away from favors, in my book, but Cherry said nothing, so I held my tongue.
"You see, Mary's not going to be able to make the wedding because a family thing came up and my sister still isn't speaking to me, so I'm short a couple of bridesmaids..."
Ashley squealed excitedly.
"Oh Merlin, you want us in your wedding?" she gushed. "Oh, Lily I would be honored!"
Cherry narrowed her eyes a little, tilting her head, considering. It was no secret to anyone that Sirius was Best Man and I was Maid of Honor, so she'd really have to be a the wedding anyway. I was hoping she'd say yes so we could spend the preparation time together.
"You won't make me wear some terrible color?" Cherry asked.
"I was thinking blue," Lily said. "It doesn't clash with my hair, it flatters everyone, and it's absolutely stunning with Ali's eyes."
"That's true," Remus murmured, kissing my lips lightly.
"And I won't be humiliated at the hen do?" Cherry pressed.
"Of course not!" Marlene giggled. "That's all Lily. I was thinking of asking Benjy Fenwick to be a stripper."
"Not going to happen," James, Sirius, and Remus all said firmly.
I petted Remus gently and said, "Relax, darling. Marlene wants Benjy. Nobody else even cares about him."
"No, it's really not going to happen," Peter pointed out. "Benjy's mum wouldn't let him out that late without a request from Dumbledore or the Minister. So unless you want a stripper that leaves before seven in the evening, you're out of luck."
"No, Marlene," Lily sighed. "Just as the boy on a date for Merlin's sake!"
Marlene sniffed, indignant about the suggestion that she might make the first move with a boy.
The rest of us just laughed and, eventually, Marlene joined in. It felt good to laugh again. I couldn't remember when I'd last laughed, just that it hadn't been on Lily's revising agenda, so it had to have been before that began. The one thing was the though in the back of my mind that the laughs we were sharing could be numbered, especially if they all fought. Even if they didn't, most adults didn't laugh much anymore. The war was making everyone more somber, and we were about to join those ranks.
The final days of our seventh year went by much too fast, working on wedding plans, thinking about the future, and still trying to hold on to the last vestiges of our childhood. Dumbledore gave a parting speech for our class, giving us words of wisdom and encouragement that just impressed on me that we were never coming back. It wasn't that I wasn't excited, but I would miss Hogwarts, and I didn't want to go into the war.
That final Hogwarts Express journey was long, painful... Remus and I patrolled the corridors of the train one last time, his hand in mine.
"You've been quiet the last couple of days," Remus whispered as we looked the other way from a third year boy buying dungbombs off an older student. They were allowed to have a bit of fun, and Filch wasn't around to give them hell over it. "Is something bothering you?"
I shook my head, but the words that poured out of my mouth were out of my control, it seemed.
"No, just a lot on my mind, wedding and whatnot. I have no idea what I'm going to do if my N.E.W.T.s aren't good enough for creature healing and my parents reminded me in a letter the other day that it's so dangerous outside Hogwarts right now."
Remus sighed, leading me into an empty compartment and sitting me down on his lap.
"Remus, are you going to fight?" I whispered, hugging his neck firmly.
"I have to, Ali," he answered soothingly, petting my hair. "There are things with my condition, places I can go that nobody else could dare think of heading. I can't promise it won't be dangerous, but I can promise not to take unnecessary risks. Is that all right?"
"No," I whispered. He opened his mouth to continue to justify and bargain, but I placed my fingers on his lips gently to silence him. "But I understand it's important. I don't want you to ever leave my side, but I can't be selfish."
It hurt to give my blessing, but it was important and the look of relief in his eyes at my understanding made it worth the lie I would have to live.
"I love you," I whispered, wrapping my arms around his neck again.
"I love you, too," he sighed, pressing his lips against mine. The kiss began tender and gentle, but it became quickly heated and passionate. I allowed him to lay me back on the seat, kissing me down the neck and moaning as I ran my fingers down his back.
When I realized that his hands were well under my skirt and that the window was fogging up I came to my senses and panted, "We should probably be heading back. They're going to think we've been shagging."
"Or we could actually shag," Remus said playfully, his fingers continuing to float up my thighs.
"Remus," I whined, "we'll have plenty of time once we move into your flat to do whatever you want."
"Is that a promise?" he whispered huskily, sending a shiver down my spine.
"Absolutely," I whispered against his lips.
He sighed heavily.
"Fine," he conceded, helping me to my feet. He straightened out my hair, gave me another quick peck on the helps, and said, "Off we go."
The rest of the ride back was peaceful, in a way. I didn't think about what we were leaving or what was ahead, but simply enjoyed the company of the people who had grown to mean so much to me, who had been through so much with me, all over some rumors and an unlikely alliance.
As the wild countryside slowly melted into more cultivated, civilized scenery, then into the city of London, I grasped Remus's hand tightly. Maybe I knew nothing of what was to come, but that's the excitement of the thing, isn't it? My crazy seventh year had taught me that.
A/N: So, this is a final sign-off of javalon14 here, presenting the final chapter of Maybe I Know. I hope you've enjoyed this story as much as Evan and I have, and I'm pleased to announce that we are going to start right away on adapting this into an original novel (taking out ALL references to Rowling's great work) and we'll keep you guys updated on the progress of that. I'll be posting about it regularly on my writing blog, CharlotteBlackwood dot wordpress dot com. I am ALSO pleased to announce that starting right away we will be officially embarking on our next great collaboration piece. Check out my page for Love is a Battlefield, coming in the next day or two, co-authored by myself, xyellowconverse, Freakin-Little, and Missing Triforce. Strap yourselves in for some abundant Weasley/OC pairing, so kooky characters, and lots of the usual fun and awesomeness you've come to love about Maybe I Know in a different setting! I hope you'll all join us on this new quest, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we already are.