"She's just a stupid girl!" Voldemort's voiced boomed. The crystals dangling from the dusty chandelier shook. A semi-circle of cloaked figures formed around him, two men standing closest to him, their heads bowed in shame. Everything was silent except for the reverberations still echoing off the walls from Voldemort's infuriated shouts. "How could a mere, pestilential little girl thwart two Death Eaters?" The men remained silent and motionless. "Tell me, Roe. Are you really of any use to me? Why should I let you live?" He paced along the floor, circling one of the men, hissing in his ear like a snake about to feed.
"Avada Kedavra!" He shouted as a burst of green light shot out from the tip of his wand, striking the man square in the chest with such force it hurled him ten feet from where he stood, and then his lifeless body hit the floor with a thud. A small whimper came from the other man as he tried to remain as unmoving as possible, as if his stillness would blend him into the background and camouflage himself, much like a deer in the eyes of a vicious predator. Voldemort began to circle him now. "Lestrange. I ought to kill you, too." He said calmly, yet his words were covered in a menacing shadow. He then placed his hand on the man's shoulder, digging his slender fingers into his skin. "But you were, after all, the one who found her hiding. That should count for something, even if you did fail." The man called Lestrange dropped down to his knees and breathed quick, heavy sighs of relief, whispering gracious inaudible words. Voldemort then looked up to address the group of hooded figures standing around him. "Now, all of you. Look at this man," he said as he pointed to the disfigured body of Roe lying on the floor. The people shifted their heads slightly, uncomfortably, to gaze upon the dead man, his eyes wide open and glassy and his tongue dropping to one side. "You are invaluable to me. However, you are only invaluable if you do as I request. Otherwise, you are nothing. You are worthless to me if you cannot serve me, and those who are worthless end up dead."
The last few months of term I kept my head down, trying not to make a stir. It was evident that unrest was beginning to settle into the castle as people began to realize what obvious threats laid beyond its walls. Outside of classes, I spent most of my time in the Room of Requirement with Sirius, or curled up on the same, worn out, fluffy couch that sat by the fire in the common room, staring into the flames and losing myself in thought. Whenever I wasn't thinking about Voldemort and those piercing red eyes penetrating right through me, my mind wandered to my grandmother. Her soft face, her fragile hands, her warm, comforting touch. I longed so badly to be a child again, before the bitter image of my parents' picture in the Daily Prophet haunted me, before I was being hunted by the darkest wizard in the world, before the burden of being a savior rested on top of me. I imagined my grandmother tucking me in at night and kissing me on my forehead before turning off the lights, revealing a vast night's sky on my ceiling, shooting stars zooming above my head, lulling me to sleep. Little did I know, I was sleeping under the brightest star in the sky, remarkably named for the man I was eventually to fall in love with. A man who was nearly three times my age at the time.
The term ended unremarkably. Slytherin won the Quidditch Cup, even without Zephyros hammering bludgers up and down the field, and Hufflepuff won the House Cup, not because any outstanding points in their hourglass, but because they had the least points taken away from them, due to unexceptional mediocrity. After the feast of the last evening in the castle, Dumbledore strode quietly and deliberately to the podium at the front of the Great Hall. The entire room hushed as they watched him, his face wan and pale looking, with an expression of a detached and possibly worried gaze. "I wish to thank you for another successful year," he said, his voice straining to sound cheerful. Small pockets of applause formed around the room, but most were set upon his troubled stare. "Congratulations once more to Slytherin and Hufflepuff for winning the Quidditch and House Cups! As the year draws to a close and you exit the walls of this castle, I implore you all to be extra cautious this summer. The world we live in is no longer as safe as we wish it to be. I know you all have not neglected the evidence of dark happenings all around us, the disappearances and even deaths that have become commonplace." The Great Hall erupted in nervous whispers as Dumbledore paused for a moment. "During your summer holidays, I ask you to be watchful, vigilant. Be safe and make the right decisions." His eyes drifted toward me, a gleam in them that I knew was directed at me. "Now, off you go. Pip pip."
After exiting the train, we spotted the Potters at the very front of the crowd with anxious looks painted across their faces. They both brought us in tightly, one by one, and seemed very grateful that we had survived the train ride back.
"We're just waiting for Dumbledore. He shouldn't be too long now," James' father said. We all had confused looks as to why Albus Dumbledore was meeting us at King's Cross at the start of the holiday. "He will explain it all once he… ah, there he is now!" Dumbledore was towering over the sea of people huddled around the station, his long silvery beard with every hair still in place. He pushed his way through the crowd and urgently stuck out his arm for us to take, and without a word, we all disapparated with a pop.
We landed on James's front lawn, the cobblestone walkway and the large windows of the villa were just as I had remembered, but there was an ominous air that hovered around the atmosphere, making me uneasy. Sirius brushed against me and I felt the hairs on his arm stand up, as if he felt that same eerie feeling I had. We entered the house swiftly, Dumbledore looking over his shoulder as he shut the door tightly. We were all transfixed upon him, eager to hear his explanation for escorting us home.
"As you may have noticed, it is not safe for any of us anymore," he said as he peered out the window, making sure nobody was outside ready to eavesdrop. "The neighbors just next door were found missing just last Wednesday, their door broken down and all." James looked at his parents in disbelief. His father gave a small nod and his mother was hiding her face in her sleeve, stifling a sniffle. "I have decided to take a very necessary precaution, and I put this house under the Fidelius Charm." Sirius and James looked puzzled, unaware of what Dumbledore had meant. "The Fidelius Charm—"
"—is a spell that contains a secret within a living soul," I said, nearly awestruck. Dumbledore nodded and cracked a tiny smile.
"Yes, Marilyn. In short, this house will be undetectable to anyone who wishes to find it aside from you all. I am the Secret Keeper, and by bringing you three here today, I have divulged the secret to you, thus making it visible to you. As long as the secret is within me, you will be safe here. Voldemort is out there, and he is searching for you. Stay indoors. I will be back in a few days to check up on you." And with another pop, Dumbledore disapparated and left us standing silent in the living room.
We spent weeks inside, playing cards and countless games of wizard chess, trying to pass the time as the boiling heat beat down outside. Mrs. Potter, trying to keep our spirits up, would bring platters of cookies and homemade lemonade from the kitchen, making it seem like a normal, carefree summer. One morning, I woke up and kicked the covers off of the bed as I lay there, feeling restless, wanting nothing more to do but to get out of the house and do something exciting for a change. I stared at the ceiling, imagining going shopping in Diagon Alley or walking around the streets of London when my bedroom door creaked open.
"Oh, you're awake," said a sleepy-eyed, shirtless Sirius. He crawled into the bed and pulled the covers over him.
"Yes, I am awake." I did not look away from the ceiling, but I could feel Sirius's eyes boring into me. I knew he wanted me to say something more to him, more than just 'good morning, I love you,' but instead I lay there quietly.
"I know this is hard for you," he finally said as he grabbed my hand and kissed my bare shoulder gently. "Not just this, being barred up in this house all summer, but everything." He continued to kiss me, making his way up my neck and to my lips. A single tear slipped down my cheek.
"It's unimaginable, Sirius," I said, finally turning my gaze toward him. His eyes met mine and for a second it was as if I was back on the staircase coming from the seventh floor corridor, looking into them for the first time and getting lost in their splendor. I lost my words for a moment as I stared at him. I felt like lately I had neglect to admire his warmth, and I was suddenly immersed in it as he looked at me so lovingly. "But I sit here looking at you," I continued softly, "and even though the world out there is as dangerous as it is, I feel so safe." He smiled the most sincere I had seen in months, and I saw light return to his eyes that glittered more intensely than the first time I saw him. I swept my fingertips across his bear skin, sending chills over his body, regardless of the steamy morning heat rising outside. I had nearly forgotten how much I enjoyed looking at him, admiring every inch of his body. "I'm so in love with you," I whispered as I kissed him and I felt his lips turn into a smile.
"I want to show you something," he said, pulling me over to him so my head rested on his shoulder. I giggled softly.
"I've already seen the animated dust bunnies James keeps in the shoebox under his bed. It won't be very impressive a second time," I said, remembering how James pulled the top off of the box and small balls of grey started bouncing all over the room. It took half an hour to get them all back into the confines of their little cardboard cage.
"It's not the dust bunnies," Sirius chuckled. "But I promise you will love it. We'll go there this afternoon." My face showed the disagreement I had at the thought of leaving the house. We had already experienced what happened when we did not follow Dumbledore's orders and I was not about to do it over again and nearly get us all killed a second time. "It will be okay! I have already talked to James about it and he and Remus agreed to go with us to keep watch. I promise you won't regret it. We can even bring the invisibility cloaks if you would like." Sirius gave me puppy dog eyes that I could hardly refuse saying 'no' to.
"Well where is it we are going?" I asked, trying to sound as if I still had the willpower to decline his offer. Sirius stood up and stretched, elongating his body to where he nearly touched the ceiling. He then picked me up off of the bed and brought my face level with his, kissing my nose sweetly.
"That, my dear, is a surprise."