The castle was still as we entered cautiously. Remnants of giant stone pillars and crumbled walls now rested all along the corridors, making the inside look almost unrecognizable as the school we had spent so many years in. Even though the summery night air was warm on our faces, the castle felt cold. There were no Death Eaters in sight, all of them having fled the grounds and dissapparated once Voldemort had been killed by that enormous black cat. Teachers and students alike looked stunned, the shock of the attack still strong as it had ended just as quickly as it had begun. Many of them looked around at the shambles of the once impenetrable forces, still letting the soreness of the evening sink in. Filch was the first to wipe away the stupor, beginning to sweep away some dust that had fallen along with the walls, an effort that seemed futile, because with one sweep of his broom, it seemed two more piles of dirt and dust took its place. We made our way to Dumbledore's office unnoticed. The gargoyle that guarded the spiral staircase remained unharmed, like a gem that stood out amongst the piles of wreckage all around it. We did not utter a sound before it began to move, revealing the stairs leading up to the Headmaster's office.
Dumbledore was standing with his back to us, huddled over a large, stone basin with something glittering from inside of it, like a pool of watery silver. I saw him draw his wand slowly to his temple. A long, silvery thread was procured at the tip, and he tapped his wand with his finger as it dropped into the basin. "Have a seat, please," he said quietly as he still leaned over the basin, flicking his wrist with his back still turned, procuring the same fluffy red couch in the middle of the room. We hesitated a while before sitting. Dumbledore turned and strolled toward us tiredly, leaving the stone basin sitting against the wall, its contents still glimmering. He did not make eye contact with us for a while. "I am pleased to say that most of the Death Eaters who attacked this castle have been apprehended," he said after what seemed like an eternity. "Some of the quicker ones were able to escape, but I am sure that they will be caught in due time. They will all spend their lives in Azkaban." I felt a lump rise in my throat, and a twinge pained my stomach. I needed to speak up about what happened, about why I was able to kill Voldemort, instead of being handed over to him like a helpless lamb for slaughter.
"Zephyros?" I said meekly. Dumbledore looked at me sideways for a moment and stroked his long, silver beard.
"Among those who were arrested. Along with his father." His expression was stony. Like this evening had drained him of any livelihood.
"May I request amnesty?" I said, trying to overcome the lump in my gullet. I heard a scoff escape from Sirius's throat. He gave me a look of unbelievable incredulity. I felt my face become hot. "He saved me tonight. I was petrified and helpless and instead of handing me over to Voldemort, he reversed the jinx and let me go. He saved me. And I saved you, Sirius. So he saved you too, really." Sirius did not say a word, but still remained unconvinced. Dumbledore paced a few steps, considering what I had just said.
"He will be given a proper hearing. I will give my best efforts to see that he is treated fairly based on the new circumstances that have arisen," Dumbledore said seriously, though I swore I saw him give me a sly wink from behind his half-moon glasses. I relaxed slightly, but I could feel the others were still tensed, sensing that there was a scolding about to take place. "You deliberately disobeyed the rules I had put into place at the first of the term for this very reason." Remus, Sirius and I looked down.
"Actually, sir, Lily and I were in Gryffindor Tower when—" James said, but stopped immediately as Dumbledore shot him a look that it was not the time for arguments.
"You knew that danger was lurking all over the wizarding world, and although this castle was safe, you should have trusted my judgment that those rules were necessary. It was only a matter of time before they penetrated these walls." He paused for a moment, as if he was basking in his admonishment. "However," he said as his tone relieved, "you did save us all." The heaviness in the air lightened a bit, and I finally felt the bodies surrounding me ease. "And how astonishing! I should have guessed, Marilyn, that your Animagus would be a jaguar. Mystery, power, rebirth. It all makes sense. We are lucky for that, too. It would have been very anticlimactic if you turned out to be a koala." We all chuckled as Dumbledore strolled over to his gold tin full of fudge squares and proceeded to pop one into his mouth. "I do trust, however," he said, giving us all a sideways glance, "that upon graduation, each of you will register with the Ministry of Magic, as every Animagus is required to do." He gave us a grin and then raised a hand to shoo us off for the night. The others stood up, sleepy eyed and yawning, but I chose to remain seated. I gave Sirius a nod as they trotted out and closed the door behind them.
"He will return," I said very matter-of-factly. Dumbledore remained silent. "I do not know when, as the circumstances have changed since the last time, but I do know that he will. We need to be prepared. I won't let my friends die this time around." I noticed that I had gathered the edge of my shirt in my fists, my knuckles turning white from my firm grip. "I want to get married, have children. I want to live in a nice, little cottage with a swing in the backyard where my children can play without me worrying about someone in a black hood snatching them away from me. I want to have afternoon tea with Lily and James as they watch Harry grow up into the brave young man that I knew. I want Harry to know his parents. I want him, and my own children, to have more than I did. To have friends and people all around them who love them unconditionally." I felt a tear fall onto my cheek as I thought of these people who were now in my life, and the unbearable pain I felt as I imagined them ripped away from me. I wiped my face quickly as the door flew open and I was met by a sweet, familiar face.
Dumbledore gave me a nod in understanding, signaling that he will do everything in his power to keep us all, and the dream of my perfect life, safe. He trotted over to the woman who had burst through the door, helping her remove her cloak.
"Dumbledore! I came as quickly as I could once I got your message!" The woman said, her hair blustery as if she had ridden all the way here on a broom during a wind storm. I felt tears rise again as my eyes rested upon her face. She had not yet noticed me sitting in the middle of Dumbledore's office.
"Circe," Dumbledore said as he draped the woman's cloak across his arm. He extended his hand as I stood up to meet her. "This young lady is—"
"Marilyn," the woman said as she strolled toward me and took my hands in hers.
"Yes," he said. "Marilyn Horsefeather." The woman's eyes got wide as she tried to figure out how we were related. Niece? Cousin? An in-law? But I could tell from the sparkle in her eye that she knew it was far beyond that.
"Marilyn, I summoned Circe here because Professor Axworthy was injured this evening, and she will be taking over her Arithmancy classes until she is well," Dumbledore said. "And Circe, I would like to fill you in on Miss Horsefeather here. Long story short, she is your—"
"Grandaughter," I said softly. She looked stunned for a moment, but then I felt her soft fingertips brush gently across my face, then she pulled me into her, embracing me tightly. Her heart was beating fast, but I did not know if it was because of her gusty arrival to the castle, or because of the news she had just received. "I wanted to tell you."
"I knew it," she whispered in my ear. "I knew you were precious." I began to sob into her emerald robes, tear stains beginning to streak the velvety green fabric. Her smell had not changed after all those years.
"I missed you so much."
The school year ended a week after I turned eighteen. Everyone was packing up their trunks for the very last time as we prepared to leave the castle forever, leaving behind nothing but our memories and childhood. I hauled my things down the stairs from the dormitory, when a hand slipped underneath my arm and a pair of lips pressed against my ear.
"Come with me, I have something to show you," Sirius said, then ended with a 'shhh' as he led me out of the common room, slipping past all of our friends, unnoticed. I knew immediately where he was taking me. We never had any reason to travel up to the seventh floor but to visit our most treasured nook of the castle. I was relieved when I saw the big, mahogany door conjure itself in front of me. I was happy to see it one last time before leaving the castle to begin the next part of my life journey. My breath was stolen away when I entered the Room of Requirement. Instead of walls, there were giant windows lining the whole room, each looking out over a view of a city on a lake. The water glittered like sapphires as the sun glinted off of it. The buildings had red, clay rooftops that contrasted against the white cobblestone roads. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.
"Oh, Sirius, can we go there?" I said, my face nearly pressed against the glass of the towering window. I heard mandolins faintly playing behind me as Sirius shifted his weight.
"We can." He paused. Then I heard him take a sharp breath in. "But only if you say yes."
"Say yes to what?" I said. Then I turned around to face him. My knees became weak as I saw him there, kneeling down on one knee with something shiny in his hand. It took me a moment to regain the feeling in my legs and be able to see straight. He was holding a ring. A ring that had a huge glistening diamond and two sapphires that glinted just like the water below. I was dazed in awe of its beauty.
"Marilyn?" He said. I tried to shake myself back to consciousness. "I asked you a question."
"You did?" How long had I been standing there staring at this ring in his hand? Sirius chuckled at me.
"I asked if you would marry me." The air escaped from my lungs a second time. I wondered if I was going to get it back in time to answer him.
"Of course I will," I said softly, barely believing that this was real. I almost felt the urge to pinch myself, to wake up from this dream. Sirius stood up and slid the ring onto my finger, then pressed his smile against mine. Then he started to laugh.
"I am so glad you said yes! For a moment there I thought you weren't going to say anything," he said as he took my hand and my waist and began to sway to the music resonating from the disembodied mandolins. I smiled as I rested my head on his chest and allowed my body to sway along with his. This was real.
As we danced slowly, I heard a familiar chirping noise coming from all around. I looked out one of the gigantic windows and I saw it. That small bird that had kept me company my first night in the Room of Requirement was flitting through the air, singing at me happily, as if it had known all along how things were going to turn out. I took a deep breath in and looked around the room, so grateful for everything it had given me.
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