The train ride back to London at the end of the school year varied drastically from the journey that had been taken exactly ten months earlier. Four Ravenclaws, newly graduated, occupied the one compartment that they had claimed for the past seven years, their number now significantly less. Terry Boot, who had usually clung to the boys, was now expelled from school and hadn't been heard from in months. Padma Patil, after Terry's expulsion, had withdrawn from the group and now ran with a new social circle. And finally the sweet and innocent Su Li, who had been brutally murdered only months prior, was the last missing member.
Kevin Entwhistle reflected over all these things as the train moved quickly along the English countryside. To his right sat Lisa Turpin, who was on most days the bane of his existence. He smiled at the thought and moved his eyes away from her to the couple in front of him - Mandy Brocklehurst and Steven Cornfoot.
Catching his friend's eye, Steven flushed slightly and tightened his hold around the sleeping girl in his arms. The trip had been long so far, and they still had a while to go. It was like life, the blond boy finally concluded - this year of school had only been a small part of the journey of their life, and they still had so much more left to go through. His fingers lingered on the bandage that still remained wrapped around Mandy's head. She had come through so much in the past few weeks, but she still had farther to go.
The day had been full of 'lasts' for Mandy, and for all the seventh years who would not be returning to Hogwarts in September. It was highly depressing, if one thought about it. Last time waking up in her dorm. Last meal in the Great Hall. Last time being in the Ravenclaw Common room. Last time conversing with some. And now, last train ride on the Hogwarts Express.
And Mandy, who had been hoping all morning to remain awake on the ride back to London - so she could see the scenery one last time - was currently fast asleep, although she was slowly coming around.
As she stirred in his arms, Steven pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and released his hold on her slightly. There was still a good five hours remaining, but he wanted the four of them - Kevin, Lisa, Mandy, and himself - to spend it together. They needed this, and they deserved this. One last chance to be a Them, because after tonight, they would be Four People.
"...Hey," Mandy murmured sleepily as she cracked open her eyes a little. How long had she been asleep?
Steven brushed her hair out of her face lightly. "Mornin' sleepyhead," he whispered to her, kissing her on the forehead, "We still have a bit to go..."
"M-Morning yourself.... And, oh. Thank heavens. I'd..." She yawned, "...I'd hate to waste th-the last hours being bloody asleep...
Steven and Mandy had gone through countless arguments over whether or not she should get sleep over the past few days, and this was a time when Steven wisely chose not to remind her that she needed her rest. "There's plenty of time," he nodded, yawning himself.
"Mmm..." She murmured, her eyes threatening to shut again. "...Lisa and Kevin here?"
"Of course," he replied, a laugh lingering in his throat, "you know, it might be helpful if you opened your eyes..."
"...Can't..." She mumbled.
Steven placed her glasses tenderly over her ears and slid them up her nose. "There, try that."
"...Hmm?" She hesitantly opened her eyes again, blinking as the train compartment (or what she could see of it) came slowly into focus. "...Oh. Th-thanks..."
He offered her an understanding smile and moved his arms off of her, stretching slightly.
Mandy took that opportunity to sit up straight, rubbing at her neck and attempting to smoothen down her messy hair. She cringed slightly when her hand rubbed against the bandage that encircled her head, but shrugged it off. Or tried to, anyway.
"It won't be on much longer," whispered Steven out of the corner of his mouth as he noticed her hand shake slightly as it came in contact with the bandage.
"Can't come off... soon enough, in m-my opinion..." She murmured, wishing she could get rid of it once and for all that instant.
Steven slug his arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick hug. "It'll all be worth it in the end," he reminded her.
"I know, I know..." She said with a sigh. "But I... I hate waiting, you know th-that..."
"Patience," Steven offered, tweaking her nose.
"You know... I have none!" She wailed. "Th-these past couple weeks have.... have practically driven m-me m-mad!"
"But you're still sane," he pointed out.
He tilted his head to the side. "You seem pretty alright to me."
"...Did you see her a couple nights ago, then?" Lisa piped up, coming into their conversation. She had spent most of the train ride so far in silence, staring out the window.
Steven's attention turned to the girl across the compartment. "I saw her every night..."
"But did you see her - well, hear would probably be a better word in this case - the night before the Potions exam?"
Steven thought back. "The nights all run together. Why don't you just tell me what you're going on about, Lisa?"
"Mandy was going absolutely crazy mad out of her mind trying to get Padma and I to keep studying! Honestly. We needed a break! There's only so much time one can be buried in a Potions text... I'm surprised you didn't hear her."
"I don't have that loud of a voice," Mandy shot back. Lisa was known to exaggerate things slightly.
"That doesn't make her nutters," interjected Kevin, who had been drawn into the conversation, "She's always been rather anal about studying..."
"I have not!" Mandy exclaimed, even though she knew what he said was true.
"Well, she was worse than normal then," explained Lisa. "I mean, I've never been shouted at before..."
"...she shouted?" questioned Steven, looking from Lisa to Mandy.
"I did not!" came Mandy's protests.
"Well of course you didn't, dear," Steven said quickly, before looking at Lisa once more.
"She did, I swear!" Lisa insisted. "And she looks rather scary while doing so..."
Now it was Kevin's turn to doubt Lisa's claim. "Mandy? Little study bunny - scary?"
"See? Someone else who believes m-me..." Mandy shot a grateful look at Kevin. "I m-mean, come on. I am not a scary person."
"Really," Kevin argued in a normal tone, "She's not."
"While we all appreciate your opinion," Steven told Lisa, "there really is no proof that Mandy is scary."
"Get her angry, then."
"What?" Steven laughed at the ridiculousness of that statement.
"You been around her when she's been angry?"
"Mandy doesn't get angry," Kevin offered.
"Oh yes she does..."
Steven shook his head. "Doesn't."
"Why don't we ask her?" Kevin said.
"Yes! Would all th-three of you please acknowledge th-the fact that I'm... still here?" Mandy crossed her arms, not amused with the way this conversation was heading.
"I just did," meeped Kevin.
"What would you like to say?" prodded Steven.
"Could we talk about someth-thing else? Please? I really... really don't want to be arguing in th-the last few hours th-that all... all four of us are in th-the same room."
"What do you want to talk about?"
"Good th-things. Happy th-things."
"Cookies?" offered Kevin.
Lisa's eyes brightened at the mention of food. "Cookies would be nice," she said, answering for Mandy.
Kevin pulled a small package (his very last nicked from the kitchens) and held them out, free for anyone who wanted one.
Mandy leaned over to take one, but hesitated. "You sure?" She asked Kevin, as Lisa took a cookie and promptly bit into it.
"I got them for us," he laughed as Steven took one as well.
"...At least they're chocolate," Mandy murmured, taking a bite. "The best kind."
"D'you think they take orders?" asked Kevin absently as he removed the last one from the package and bit into it.
"Come again?" asked Lisa, managing to stuff the remaining half of the cookie into her mouth.
"Elves. Take orders. Cookies." he mumbled between bites.
"Worth a try," shrugged Steven, shaking the crumbs from his hands.
"Yeah..." said Mandy, finishing off hers. She reached down into her bag to see if she had anything to drink, but pulled out a book instead, that was immediately recognised as not being one of hers. "...Ack," she muttered under her breath. "I'll be back in a few minutes... Must go give this to Orla before I forget..."
"...what?" Steven blinked, but she was already out of the compartment. He looked across the compartment for some explanation.
Lisa shrugged. "Guess she borrowed one of Orla's books again... This is nothing new..."
"Oh, yes, right," Steven nodded, still not looking very relaxed about it.
She gave him a funny look. "...What's wrong?"
Kevin, who knew what was up with him, stifled a laugh.
"...Anyone mind telling me what's going on?" asked Lisa, very confused.
Kevin coughed into his hand, but what he said only came out was "Asklive."
Kevin made himself more comfortable in his seat and pretended not to hear her question. Steven blushed.
"Steven? You care to explain for me?"
"Asklive," he mumbled, crossing his arms.
"I. Ask. Live."
"... But what does that mean?" Lisa asked, more confused than ever.
Kevin leaned over and beckoned Lisa to come closer.
Lisa slid across the seat so she was sitting right next to him.
He leaned over and whispered in her ear: "Steven's gotten a flat in Manchester. He's going to ask Mandy to come and live with him."
Lisa just stared at him, not believing the words that had just been spoken. "...Are you serious? Oh my god..."
"Why would I lie?" Kevin pulled away and winked at her.
A grin began to spread over Lisa's face. "I can't believe it, oh my God!" She said again, trying to keep her voice down. "When did all this come about?"
Steven, picking up that big-mouth Kevin had probably leaked, hissed at Lisa. "SHHHH!"
"What? Mandy's not here!"
"I want my question answered!"
"She might come in at any moment..."
"Answer it quick, then..."
"...why?" asked Steven.
"Because I want to know!"
"A few days ago," he mumbled and shrugged, "but I've been looking since...April-ish?"
"How?" Lisa wanted to know. "I mean, we've been in school..."
"My parents helped."
"...And they're... all right with this?"
Steven laughed. "I talked them into it."
She grinned. "Well yeah, I was kinda expecting that to have happened... I'm sure they weren't too thrilled with you leaving."
"Oh, no, they wanted me to leave," Steven said, "They just weren't sure about living with my girlfriend. Well, actually, that was just my mother...Dad didn't have a problem with it, but Mum did...I think me deciding to stay in the Wizarding world helped to convince her it was alright."
"What, you mean you were thinking of leaving?" Lisa was quite surprised by that.
Steven nodded - he was sure that everyone had known.
"Whoa... Things must've been bad... What convinced you to stay?"
"Yeah. That'd be a good enough reason for anyone..."
"...the whole...thing with the healing spell...I realised how useful magic is," he explained.
Lisa looked at him as if he had grown another head. "...Of course it's useful... Where've you been?"
He only shrugged.
Mandy returned to the compartment then, bringing a halt to the current conversation. "I never realised how m-much Orla can... can talk when you get her on th-the go," she muttered, returning to her seat, sans the book.
"What did she get you on this time?" inquired Kevin, the only one of the three who could find his tongue.
"Where's she's... spending th-the summer... She's going to like six places or someth-thing. M-Madness."
"Ah. Lucky," murmured Kevin.
"I know..." Mandy said with a sigh. "Apparently she's g-got relatives all...all over the mainland..."
Lisa shrugged. "So do I... Actually, I think I might be going away for the summer too. I might be going to Switzerland. Mum has a lot of relatives there."
"Does everyone BUT me have something planned?" moaned Kevin.
"I don't have anyth-thing planned," Mandy reminded him. "Other th-than resting..." She made a face at that.
Steven made a motion to Kevin to get on a new topic, and Kevin took it quickly.
"What are you doing with your textbooks? Do you think we should sell them or keep them or what?"
"I'm ditching my History book," Lisa said immediately. "Have wanted to do so for quite some time... I might keep the rest, though... Never know when they're going to come in handy..."
Steven nodded in agreement. "We can always use them as reference books."
"This is true," mused Lisa. "Can't hurt to have a few extra books lying about."
"Oh, well, I'll probably end up giving mine to my sisters," Kevin said.
"How m-many of th-them do you have?" inquired Mandy, trying to remember.
"Three," he replied.
"What I th-thought," she murmured absently. "No brothers though, right?" It amazed Mandy how little she knew about anyone's family life, after being friends with them for seven years.
"Correct. Dad and I are the only sources of testosterone in my house," laughed Kevin.
Mandy cracked a grin and Lisa giggled.
"Oh shush, both of you."
"Hey! I didn't say anyth-thing! You can... can't go picking on m-me!" Mandy protested.
He shook his head. "You were thinking something."
"And how... how would you know?
"I just do."
She smiled again in spite of herself. "Well... You were right..."
"And what were you thinking?"
"No, tell me," Kevin protested.
"No. Never m-mind."
Steven prodded her. "Just tell him..."
She shook her head.
"No! Oh, look! Signs of... of civilisation!" Mandy exclaimed suddenly, glancing out the window. "I...I guess we're getting closer to London th-than I th-thought..."
"What?! Don't change the subjec-"
"We only have a little while left together," Steven pointed out.
"Argh, quit saying that..." Lisa muttered, not wanting to think about it.
"Well, we do," Kevin agreed.
"I know... But its such a depressing thought..."
Steven made a face. "I know."
"I don't want to leave you all..."
Kevin leaned his head back. "None of us truly want to leave each other..."
"It would be nice if...if we all lived in th-the same city, or close by... But sadly, th-that's not th-the case..." said Mandy, continuing to watch the scenery pass by.
Steven put his arm around Mandy's shoulders.
"We're all so... so spread out... Ireland - St... Brian Village, isn't it Kevin? - London, Birmingham, M-Manchester..."
"It's near Glasgow," he nodded, "and it's ages away from anywhere...I won't even be home until tomorrow, because I have to take another train from London to there, then ride in the car..."
"Oh, lovely. That's rotten..." Lisa remarked. "Thank heavens it's only a couple hours for me... Steven's got it the easiest, that's for sure."
"I take the underground," Steven remarked.
"Like I said..."
"...it's the easiest," he finished for her.
"Precisely." Lisa turned her attention to Mandy, then. "It's not too bad for you either, is it?"
Mandy shook her head. "No, not really. It's just... I always seem t-to run into a traffic pile up somewhere on th-the motorway heading... up. Happens every single t-time."
"Maybe it won't happen this time..."
She turned to him. "What, you have th-the power to unclog th-the M4?"
"Yes." Steven gave her a mischievous grin.
"I could've used you on all th-the trips I've taken to... to London! Where've you been?"
"I couldn't do magic outside of school then..."
She grinned. "I know. But seriously th-though... Why don't you th-think th-the traffic'll be bad th-this time 'round?"
"...because I can do magic outside of school," he repeated.
"Ohmigosh... I forgot we can do th-that now!"
"Well, not until we test," Kevin pointed out.
"Anyway, I could just do a little spell for you," offered Steven.
"There are ones in our Charms books to make your car smaller so that it can fit through impossible cracks, but inside it'll be normal sized to you."
"Ooh, yes, I remember th-those... And I'd have to put someth-thing on it so... so any M-Muggle drivers wouldn't notice any difference..."
"Yes," Steven nodded, "It's probably worth looking into..."
Mandy nodded. "Considering as I have... have to spend a few days in London anyway - I've got to have a couple m-more check ups before th-they can send m-me home for sure - I'll have plenty of... time to th-think about it."
"Where're you staying, anyway?" asked Kevin.
"With m-my cousin," came the reply.
"She lives close to King's Cross, so th-thankfully I won't have far to... to go when we get th-there..."
"Which," Lisa chimed in, "Won't be much farther by the looks of things..." She indicated to the passing buildings, which were growing more and more frequent in number, a sure sign they were getting ever closer to London.
"I saw we make a promise," proposed Kevin suddenly, "that no matter what, we never lose each other..."
"We won't," Mandy said firmly, agreeing with him.
"Ever," chimed in Steven.
"Never ever, not in a million years," finished Lisa, turning her attention away from the window.
"...do I say 'amen' now?" inquired Kevin awkwardly.
"If you want..."
...And it wasn't a moment too soon, as the train headed through a tunnel and began to slow down.
"...Oh no..." Mandy muttered under her breath.
"All good things must come to an end," Steven said under his breath as he began to stand.
"But it's t-too soon," she murmured unhappily, glancing at Lisa and Kevin. "You all...all have to go..."
"It's not permanent," Kevin added.
"But it will be... for a while, and I hate th-that..."
Mandy sighed as the train continued to slow. "I'll try..."
Rather awkwardly, Steven looked around the compartment. "Do we group hug now?"
Lisa managed a smile, of sorts. "Unless you'd rather it out on the platform in front of everyone..."
"Here," agreed Kevin quickly, standing as well.
"Get up then, you lazy arse," Lisa muttered, hauling Mandy to her feet. "We're almost there..."
Steven was about to protest Lisa use of the phrase "lazy arse", but Kevin pulled him and the two girls into his arms.
Lisa felt herself being squished somewhat, being sandwiched between the two boys, but didn't complain. Much, anyway.
Steven grabbed Mandy and brought her into the mix, and before too long, they were one big huggy, teary group of Ravenclaws.
Much, much too soon, the train came to a stop. The noise level began to increase as compartment doors started to open, and students were reunited with their families. "Well, th-this is it..." Mandy said, wiping her eyes as they all broke apart.
"For today," Kevin murmured, "but not forever."
Lisa reached over to get her bag, her eyes bright as well. "Well, looks as if I'm the first to be off... I can see my parents already..."
"Owl all of us, alright, Lisa?"
She nodded. "Expect one tomorrow, ok?" She asked, half-joking. She opened the door of their compartment, ready; yet not at the same time, to join the flow of people leaving the train.
Steven gave her a small wave and Kevin shot her a wink.
Her hand still on the door handle, she suddenly turned around and rushed back in, giving everyone one last hug each.
"Merph. Good-bye Lisa," Kevin muttered into her hair as she threw her arms around him.
He was last, merely because he had been standing furthest away from the door. "Am going to miss all those, ahem,... debates we had..." She said, finally pulling away.
"I'll miss fighting with you as well," he grinned, "No there'll be no one to disagree with merely for the sake of disagreeing...I'll send you a Howler sometime, how about that?"
Lisa managed a laugh. "You do that. I'll be on the lookout for it."
"Might want to take cover," he winked.
"Nah, you don't faze me..."
"Get out of here," he laughed.
Lisa gave everyone a wave and a final good bye (with hesitation) and disappeared from their sight.
Kevin turned to Mandy, and offered to help her and Steven carry her things out to the platform. There was no way Steven could carry his own stuff and all of Mandy's as well, but he wasn't going to let her do it.
"Hey, I can take th-things!" She protested. Steven and Kevin, however, were having none of that.
"You're still ill," Steven pointed out, "You might hurt yourself."
"There's nothing wrong with my arms!"
"You might fall," Kevin said.
"Th-there's only a couple steps I... have to worry about!"
"We're carrying your things, Mandy," said Steven sternly.
She sighed, figuring it wasn't really worth her time to try and argue the issue, as they wouldn't budge on it. "All right. Fine."
Steven nodded and followed Kevin out the door.
The noise level that hit them as soon as they stepped off the train was almost deafening. Students, parents, siblings... Everyone seemed to be shouting. "How are we supposed to... to find anyone in th-this crowd?"
Mandy asked, glancing around.
Kevin shrugged and set down Mandy's things. "I need to go round up my sisters. I'll talk to both of you soon?"
Steven nodded and tanked him for his help.
Mandy nodded as well, and gave him one last hug, like Lisa had done a few minutes before.
Kevin wandered off and Steven grinned down happily at Mandy.
"...What're you smiling about?"
"Steven sat down on top of his trunk and motioned for Mandy to do the same on hers.
She did so, and looked over at him, confusion passing over her face. "What's all th-this about?"
He leaned in and took her hands in his, "Mandy, can I ask you a question?"
Suddenly, he seemed rather nervous. "I...well...I've gotten a flat in Manchester. I also got a job there, and I was wondering....what I'm trying to ask...Mandy, will you come and live with me?"
At first, she was completely speechless. She tried to say something, several times, but no words would come out of her mouth. Her eyes widened as she took everything in. "Oh...Oh m-my God..." She finally managed, a smile breaking out on her face. "Yes!" She exclaimed. "'Course I will!"
"Really?" Steven's voice squeaked slightly and he promptly blushed.
She nodded. "Really really."
Steven leapt from his trunk and threw his arms around her.
"Hey, easy on th-the ribs!" She said with a grin, as he pulled her off her own trunk and swung her around.
"Oh, this is....brill...spiffing....wonderful," Steven breathed, setting her down and kissing her lightly on the lips.
"Mhmm..." She murmured happily, giving him a kiss in return. "When did you get all th-this sorted out? Where is th-the flat located? Where are... are you going to work? And oh m-my God, I won
t have to leave home!" She was rambling, but didn't care.
"Uhh.....can I answer all those later?" Steven laughed slightly.
"Sure," Mandy said with a grin. "Sorry, was rambling on..."
"I love you."
"Love you too." She was just about ready to kiss him again, but spied his mother and father headed their way, and subsequently pulled back.
Steven laughed and gave her hand a squeeze.
"...Rotten timing," she murmured, blushing slightly.
"Steven! Mandy!" Mrs. Cornfoot exclaimed rushing over and hugging the both of them at once.
Mandy barely had a chance to mutter a hello before she was swept up into another hug.
"Mum!" Steven muttered, "Be careful!" He was afraid his mother's zeal would re-injure Mandy.
"I'm fine," She reassured him, once Mrs. Cornfoot had finally let them go. "Honestly."
Mrs. Cornfoot launched into an array of questions as Mr. Cornfoot picked up Steven's trunk.
"Yes, mum. No, mum. I'm fine," Steven answered.
Mandy bit back a smile as she turned and walked the couple steps to her things. She was determined to take something out this time.
His mother went through at least a handful more of questions before she rounded on Mandy. "And how are you, dear?"
"A lot... better th-than I was," came her reply, as she hoisted her bag up on her shoulder.
Mrs. Cornfoot eyed her bandage. "And do you know when that is coming off?"
"Mum!" Steven protested.
"Hopefully in a...a week or so..."
"And when will you be back to full health?" ("Mum!")
"A m-month, if all goes well," Mandy answered, her voice becoming quieter at every word.
"Well, Steven and I should have the flat ready by then, won't we son?" Mrs. Cornfoot turned to Steven.
"Er. Yes," Steven agreed.
Mandy managed a small smile, her nervousness around his parents increasing.
"Ah, well then, Mr. Cornfoot and Steven will be happy to escort you out there, won't you?" Both her husband and her son nodded.
A few minutes later, they stepped out into the main station at King's Cross, and people (mostly Muggles) were going about everywhere. "M-Merlin, how am I supposed to find M-Marianne is th-this crowd?" Mandy muttered, half to herself as she glanced around.
"Cross your fingers?" Steven suggested as he came up behind her, pushing a cart which held her things.
"Like th-that'll work," she muttered. "She's probably late, anyway..."
"Mandy dear, what does your cousin look like?" inquired Mrs. Cornfoot.
"Erm... She's about m-my height... Insanely th-thin, long blonde hair... glasses, talks with a French accent... You can't m-miss her..."
"That girl?" Steven pointed.
"Where?" Mandy asked, turning her head about.
"By platform ten."
She looked in that direction and spied her cousin, much to her relief. She grinned and waved, trying to catch Marianne's attention. Finally, the older girl looked her way, and hurried over.
"Mandy! Bonjour! 'Ow pleasant to see you again! ...Mon dieu! What 'appened to you? Are you all right?" Marianne's face took on a concerned look as she surveyed the bandage that was wrapped around her cousin's head.
"It's... it's a long story..." came Mandy's reply. "I tell you later..." She then proceeded to introduce her cousin to Steven and his parents.
"It's very nice to meet you," fluttered Mrs. Cornfoot, admiring Marianne's hair.
"As it is you," Marianne replied, placing a hand on the trolley that held Mandy's things. "You especially," she said, turning slightly to face Steven. "I 'ave been told many things about you..."
Steven automatically flushed, studying his shoes. "Nicetomeetyou," he said quickly.
The cousins shared a smile before Marianne spoke again. "...I 'ate to be dragging Mandy away so quick, but ze parking time I 'ave is just about done with... And I do not wish to be ticketed."
"Completely understandable," rang in Mrs. Cornfoot.
Steven made a move towards Mandy and slid his arms around her waist whispering: "Good-bye. I love you. I'll talk to you soon."
Mandy's response to that was to rise up on her toes and kiss him lightly on the mouth, not caring who saw her. "I'm not too far away," she murmured, pulling back.
"Call me if you need to," he added, slipping a piece of paper into her hand.
"I'll be taking you up on that offer, don't you worry," she replied, reluctant to leave.
"Steven," came his mother's voice, "You don't want to keep Miss...I'm sorry, what is your last name?" She looked to Marianne.
"LeBonté," came the reply.
"You don't want to keep Miss LeBonté waiting, do you, Steven?"
"No ma'am," he muttered, giving Mandy one last hug.
"See you soon," she whispered, once she had broken away. Marianne began to make her way through the crowd of people and Mandy slowly followed, looking behind her as long as she could.
Steven waved forlornly, until he couldn't see her any more.