I hadn't sneaked around in months, and the fact that Sirius and James were leading me around London to a non-disclosed location was now making me question my furtive abilities. I recalled all of the evenings I spent at Hogwarts stealing through the corridors late at night to have a stroll along the Black Lake on starless nights, walking beside Sirius and seeing his strong, perfect silhouette illuminated by the moonlight. How I longed to be that carefree again, to only have those insignificant, petty worries clouding my mind such as Quidditch tournaments and potions essays, as opposed to the heaviness I felt now with everything going on. It was all so serious and foreboding, not even the sun seemed to shine as brightly anymore, but instead was draped in a dreadful shadow that cast down on us all. But as we exited the house, I felt the sunshine on my skin, and it did not feel threatening for once. It was inviting and bright, as if it had sincerely missed shining down and warming me those last few weeks I spent stuck indoors. For once in a long time, I did not feel endangered by the world around me. I felt embraced.
Sirius and James, both on either side of me, grabbed my hands tightly. Sirius smiled at me, and then nodded, and with a turn on a dime and a pull on my navel, we were twisting through time and space, apparating into the city. We landed in a quiet alleyway off of a secluded, residential street, finally having mastered the art of apparition and being fully licensed.
"Is this the big surprise?" I said sarcastically, eyeing a large, smelly dumpster a few feet away. Sirius and James craned their heads around to look around the corner.
"Remus said he would meet us here. We couldn't just apparate straight there. We may come across somebody we don't want to," James said as he stretched his neck high, trying to see over a row of parked cars.
"Well I don't understand why we— Oh, goodness!" I shrieked as a tall, lanky boy appeared out of thin air with a definitive pop. His hair was disheveled and he had bits of leaves and twigs hanging off the end of a few strands.
"Sorry I'm a bit late. I had to hide in a bush for a while until I could figure out a way to sneak past my mum. I forgot it was gardening day," he said as he raked his fingers through his hair, picking out little pieces of leaves. Sirius and James chuckled before heading stealthily out of the alleyway and across the quiet street. As we walked, I could tell we were getting closer to our destination, because our steps became slower and our voices turned into whispers as we approached another street, very still with cozy homes nestled closely together. Sirius cleared his throat and peeked every which way around us, making sure there was nobody in sight.
"Alright, I'll go check to see if it's all okay. Stay here until I come back," he said softly, and then his body morphed into a black, shaggy dog. He trotted across the street and headed up a walkway leading to a large house with flower boxes underneath the window sills, filled with bright red and yellow pansies. He stood up on his hind legs and pressed his wet nose against the glass of the window, peering inside for any signs of movement. He did this until he had scouted out the entire circumference of the house, then he made his way back across the street and turned back into his two-legged, non-furry self. "All is clear," he said matter-of-factly, and then he grabbed my hand to lead me across the street.
I examined the front door. It was a mahogany finish with a large, heavy bronze knocker in the shape of a horned owl, its eyes made of dazzling emeralds and its beak sharpened to a point. Its taloned feet were perched on a polished nameplate that read 'Horsefeather.' I shot Sirius a stunned look, hardly believing where he had brought me that afternoon.
"Go on. Knock," he said, smiling. I swallowed hard, trying to ignore the lump that was forming in my throat. I tapped the knocker gently, but the bronze made a loud, metallic sound that was audible even from down the street. My stomach was twisting in knots, not sure how things would be once the door was answered.
"Coming, coming!" I heard a voice call from just beyond the door. It was a voice that I hadn't heard in years, so sweet and gentle. The door swung open and a small woman stood in front of me, her hair beginning to grey and fine lines forming around her delicate face. She smiled at us. "May I help you?" she said, her voice still sounding so timid and kind. I opened my mouth but words did not form. I was too preoccupied looking at this ghost who was a younger image of my grandmother. Her smiling face began to turn puzzled when Sirius spoke up.
"Hello, Mrs. Horsefeather. My name is Sirius Black, and these are my friends," he said, almost sounding as if he were trying to sell something. "May we come in?" She looked us over for a moment. We had to have looked extremely out of place, disheveled and crazy-eyed, Remus still picking twigs from his hair. But she smiled and opened the door wider to let us pass through, and gestured toward the sitting room. I could not help but gaze at all of the objects around the house. Hanging on the walls were ornate tapestries, glass orbs and golden figurines were sitting on the shelves and small tables. I sat down and admired a statuette of a ballerina, frozen in motion on top of a platform plaited in silver.
"I remember this," I said softly, fingering her delicate curves and intricate detailing of her shiny, golden leotard.
"What's that, dear?" The younger version of my grandmother said as she appeared from the kitchen, four teacups floating at the end of her wand. I startled slightly.
"I was just admiring this," I said, running my fingertip over the statue's smooth surface. "It's so lovely."
The teacups made their way into our palms, still steaming from the freshly brewed tea. "Oh, see what she can do!" She said as she tapped the little ballerina on her golden bun sitting at the very top of her head. "Wake up!" She sang, and immediately the ballerina began dancing to beautiful music that seemed to resonate out of thin air. I drifted back to a time when I was a little girl, and that disembodied music put me to sleep each night as that miniature ballerina twirled and chasséd on her little silvery stage. She giggled softly as she watched my amazement at the tiny dancer. I could feel her looking down at me, as if she somehow knew why we were here sitting in her house. "What is your name?" She asked me, nearly disregarding the other three people sitting in the room. "You seem so familiar. As if we have met in another life." She sat down beside me and brushed my hair out of my face. Her touch was so gentle, a feeling I had been missing for such a long time.
"My name is Marilyn," I said softly as I met her eyes. They looked just as I had remembered, deep, icy blue like glimmering sapphires. I felt like I was looking into a pool of the past.
"Such a beautiful name, and a beautiful face to go along with it." I felt my cheeks turning red as I blushed. I debated what I was going to say next. Should I tell her who I really was, her granddaughter who wasn't even a figment of her imagination yet? Should I lie and make up some farfetched story like I had done with everyone else, about how I was some long-lost relative who had been off training dragons in a far-off land? I gazed at her, wishing so badly to have her as my grandmother again, but instead I just smiled. "Marilyn," she said softly as she took my hands in hers, "it is a pleasure to meet you."
My heart felt heavy as we left the house, the sun already having dipped beyond the horizon. It was a bittersweet feeling, seeing my grandmother, but it brought me a sense of closure. Even in another life, her spirit was with me, and although I could never physically have her as my grandmother again, she would still lie close to my heart forever. Remus pulled me close to him into a hug, and I kissed his cheek before he disapparated at the end of the alleyway where we had originally met. I grabbed the other two's hands tightly in mine and with a small pop, we left the alley empty in the cool evening air. Instead of appearing on the front lawn of James's house, we landed inside my bedroom, the door shut and locked. I turned to James and Sirius and wrapped my arms tightly around their necks, almost on the verge of tears.
"Thank you," I said, trying to stifle a cry. "That was the nicest thing any person has ever done for me. Words cannot even describe." I buried my face into Sirius's shoulder and James ran his hand across my back soothingly. Sirius nestled his face into my now messy hair and kissed my head lovingly. "I really needed that. It was so special."
"Well you're pretty special, Marilyn," James said, smiling. Sirius hummed in agreement. Then a voice came from the bottom of the staircase, signaling that dinner was ready. We released each other from the hug as Sirius grinned.
"Right on time," he said with a wink as we headed out the door and down to the kitchen where the most savory smell was wafting through the entire house.
"You three sure were quiet up there," James's mother said, a skeptical look in her eye. James hesitated for a moment before explaining that we were just in a really enthralling game of wizard chess the entire time. Her face softened as she bought our lie, or at least, seemed to.
As the evening turned into night and the sky was cloudless and starry, I felt that all my worries had melted away with the summer heat. At that moment, everything was flawless, like nothing could come in and shatter the perfect little daydream I was living in, not even Lord Voldemort, whose image seemed to have floated farther and farther away out of my mind and into the night. Lux slept on my stomach as I lay beside Sirius, his breaths becoming heavy as he drifted to sleep. I replayed the day over and over again in my head, remembering the melodious music of tiny violins playing in the background as I gazed into my pleasant past that were my grandmother's eyes.