Of all the places Seamus thought they might rematerialize, his own front yard was the one he’d least expected. But there they were, in the garden, and his dad was walking out the hall door, all smiles, to give him a hug.
“Well, lad! How’ve ye been keepin’?”
The moment felt surreal to Seamus. His stomach was still icy with panic at the thought that he had somehow become Serena’s Praesul in Superficies. And yet it felt really good to hug his dad and know, truly know, that he was all right.
His dad seemed untouched by worry and care. His hair, once sandy like Seamus’, was now fairly silver, and he’d grown it longer so that thick waves over his collar balanced his expanding widow’s peak, but otherwise he looked the same as ever.
Seamus was sure that his Muggle father had no idea how dangerous the wizarding world had become in the past year, nor how bad things had been at Hogwarts. His mam probably hadn’t a clue about Hogwarts, either, although she certainly knew about the dust-up last night. He wondered what she’d told his dad. Judging by his dad’s casual greeting, not much.
Mr. Finnegan stepped back and appraised the bruises that remained on Seamus’ face.
“You’ve not been fighting?”
He definitely knew nothing. Seamus hoped Serena wouldn’t say anything. He tried to catch her eye, and realized with a start that she wasn’t beside him. Where had she gone? Had she even Sifted there with him at all?
“Have you seen Serena?” he asked, looking around the garden.
“Aw, now, don’t change the subject.”
Seamus was momentarily confused; then he realized that his dad was still talking about his face. He mustered what he hoped was a convincing grin and said, “Don’t worry, Dad. Just an angry Hippogriff. Nothing to worry about.”
He felt pretty sure that his dad didn’t know anything about Hippogriffs.
“So she is. Say, where’s yer trunk?”
Again, Seamus was caught off-guard. He hadn’t laid eyes on his trunk in months. It must have been in his dormitory this afternoon, but he hadn’t even noticed. He wondered how many lies he was going to tell his dad tonight. He wondered if he could finally tell the truth. Not yet.
“It’s not here?” he asked, “Well, no worries, it’ll catch up to me.”
He clapped his dad on the arm and went inside, Mr. Finnegan following behind. Seamus could smell something delicious coming from the kitchen, and he sincerely hoped it was dinner. At the Finnegan’s, you couldn’t be sure. His mam was an expert potioneer, and you never knew what she might be brewing.
“Mam? I’m home!” he shouted as he entered the kitchen.
His mother turned away from her cauldron and gave him a long, hard squeeze. Seamus could tell that even though they had owled a few times that day, she was deeply grateful to see him home safe. Unlike his dad, his mam looked like she’d felt the stress of the war. Her face was pale and more deeply lined, and her short hair, usually done up in brightly-colored curls, was a drab, frizzy brown.
As Seamus hugged his mam, a few things caught his eye: through the kitchen window he could see the horses in the pasture; on the counter was an incredibly complex apparatus brewing several potions, and sitting on the table…
Seamus caught his breath. It was Serena, dressed like an ordinary Irish Muggle girl in a loose pink jumper, jeans, and runners. She’d returned her hair to its natural curls, and wasn’t wearing much in the way of makeup. She gave him a little smile and waved her fingers in greeting.
Seamus was greatly relieved. It looked like Serena had given up her plan to spend the night clubbing in Spain. Hopefully she’d stay in the guest room, and he could get some answers. Because working for the Serpentia family did not play any part in his future plans, nor was it what his mam had in mind all those years ago when she gave little Seamus a plate of broken biscuits and told him to hand them to little Serena one at a time. In fact, the entire arrangement was supposed to bring Serena closer to them.
Mrs. Finnegan, born Eileen Byrne, had attended Hogwarts several years ahead of Seamus’ least favorite professor, Severus Snape. She was a Ravenclaw who’d excelled at Potions, Herbology, and Care of Magical Creatures.
The Byrnes were an old Irish pureblood family who lived in County Kildare. Eileen was the first Byrne to forgo Gola Prep in favor of Hogwarts, and she also became the first Byrne to attend school on the Continent.
During her fifth year, she competed in an interscholastic Potions contest at Durmstrang. There she became friends with Adjoua Kouassi, an African witch from Côte d’Ivoire who was in her fifth year at Beauxbâtons Academy.
She also met American-born Sidney Serpentia, who was giving Adjoua the glad eye. Sidney attended the pan-magical Academy of Magic, California, Cupertino, but he was spending a year at Durmstrang to learn advanced Dark magic from Professor Igor Karkaroff.
Hogwarts didn’t do very well at the competition; the students from the other schools were simply more advanced. Despite the team loss, Madame Lavoisier, professor of Potions at Beauxbâtons, told Eileen that she had great promise, and offered to speak to the Byrnes about enrolling Eileen at l’Académie de Magie Beauxbâtons.
Eileen’s Hogwarts friends thought the whole plan was mad — Eileen wasn’t fluent in French — but Eileen was eager to go. Beauxbâtons was stricter than Hogwarts in some respects, but its students had more opportunities to travel and participate in special programs.
Eileen and her Beauxbâtons friends, including Adjoua and future Hogwarts professor Aurora Sinistra, had some grand school vacations, especially after Adjoua started dating Sidney Serpentia, and Eileen fell madly in love with Joseph Finnegan, a Muggle boy from Galway who attended culinary school in Provence.
Adjoua had family all over the world, and the friends whirled from the nightclubs of Abidjan to the festivals of Magical Comoé to the beaches of Antibes to the formal grandeur of Wizarding Wiltshire to the shops of Paris and Milan to the restful pine forests of northern California, with stops to party with Aurora’s sisters in London, Eileen’s friends on the Irish coast, and Sidney’s cousins in Malibu. And although Joe was just a Muggle, he always knew where to find the best food.
After graduation, Sidney Serpentia became both a wizarding Healer and a non-wizarding physician. This took many years of study, but eventually Sidney earned a huge salary performing plastic surgery on wealthy Muggles at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
Joe Finnegan got a job as a sous-chef at a posh restaurant in Naas — such luck it was that no one else applied for the job; it was as if no one else had seen the ad! — and eventually worked his way up to executive chef.
Eileen and Adjoua were both invited to join the very exclusive and prestigious International Society of Extraordinary Potioneers. Only one person from each country is invited to join each year, and that particular year the inductees included Eileen Byrne Finnegan of Ireland, Adjoua Kouassi Serpentia of United States, Miriam Lamothe Zabini of Haiti, Nirav Patil of India, and in a surprise move, newly-graduated Hogwarts alum Severus Snape of England. It was very rare for wizards to be welcomed into the Society straight out of school, and Snape’s appointment caused quite a stir.
Adjoua threw a massive party for all the inductees at her new home on Manhattan Beach. In the history of parties there has probably never been a person more out-of-place than Severus Snape was that night, but it was very fortunate for him that he stayed, because it was through Adjoua Serpentia that Severus attained the most satisfying teaching experience of his career.
When Seamus Finnegan was seven years old, he had a most extraordinary summer. Being seven, he had no idea just how unusual a time he had.
It started one day in June when his mam thought he was out playing with his friends. Seamus snuck inside the house to steal some biscuits for the gang. He was disappointed to find his mam in the kitchen with her friend Mrs. Serpentia, but his disappointment gave way to excitement when he heard snatches of their conversion. They were talking about adventures! At least, that’s how their words sounded to little Seamus, who didn’t know enough to be scared when he heard phrases like “Death Eaters” and “Dark Lord” and “You-Know-Who.” To him, they meant fascinating moving photos in the Daily Prophet featuring duels and explosions and fires.
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about, Adjoua,” his mam was saying. “You knew what the man was when you married him.”
“Tiē tiē tiē! You know?” said Mrs. Serpentia, wide-eyed.
“Know what, exactly?” asked his mam suspiciously.
Mrs. Serpentia shook her head. “Never mind. I just…. never realized the extent of it.”
“The extent of what?” asked Eileen. “His love of Dark magic?”
“Well…. you could say that….”
Eileen Finnegan crossed her arms and stared sternly at her friend.
“Adjoua Kouassi Serpentia! You’re not exactly a pillar of virtue yourself! And now you’re up the walls about your man, when the truth of it is, he hasn’t changed since school! And if you ask me, he’s never done anything all that bad.”
“Did he, or did he not, refuse to meet with the Death Eaters?”
“He did ô….”
“Even when Severus Snape promised him piles of gold and a position of great power in “the new empire of the Dark Lord”?
“That’s true, but…”
“And when You-Know-Who himself arrived at your door, did he not send him packing?”
Mrs. Serpentia sounded defeated. “He did….”
Seamus’ mam brandished her wand and vigorously stirred the potion in her cauldron.
“How he managed to live through that is beyond me!”
The kitchen was silent for a moment, and then Seamus’ mam set her wand down and turned to her friend.
“He was on the right side of the war, and that’s all that matters. And now you have a beautiful home and a successful Potions school and a fine daughter.”
“But that’s just the problem!” cried Mrs. Serpentia, “Serena is not fine! She is…. she is…. she is turning out just like his side of the family!”
Mrs. Serpentia seemed to be at a loss. She waved her hands absently, as if hoping to conjure the words out of the air.
“Selfish…. greedy…. thoughtless…. She is only seven, but she and her friends are already the little queens at school. They dress just so, they act just so, and I am afraid they can be very unkind. And I know she gets this from her cousins!”
“Well, for Merlin’s sake, that’s not something you inherit! It’s something she’s learned, and she can unlearn it. Bring her here for a few weeks. Seamus and his friends won’t tolerate such nonsense. I’m sure after a few days she’ll be having too much fun with the dogs and the ponies to worry about how she’s dressed.”
Seamus scowled. The conversation had already turned boring, and now his mam wanted him to play with a snobby girl from America. He wasn’t sure what was worse: that she was mean, or that she was a girl. But he was sure of one thing: he wasn’t going to let her ride his pony!
The next day, all thoughts of unwanted visitors were chased from Seamus’ mind by something truly thrilling: He was to be allowed his own wand!
The Irish Ministry of Magic had decided that the British laws for underage magic, which they had been imitating, were impractical, and that Ireland would follow the American model instead. This meant that Irish parents had the right to instruct their children in the use of wand-aided magic, and to set their own rules for wand use in their own homes.
Seamus’ mam was enthusiastic about the new laws; she envisioned Seamus becoming an incredible potioneer. Seamus’ dad was scared out of his mind, because even without a wand, Seamus was a constant threat to the structural integrity of the house. Much to Mrs. Finnegan’s chagrin, Mr. Finnegan was proven right, and Seamus had a new rule to follow: No wand without Mam.
Still, Seamus had a great deal of fun learning to use his wand, and between that and playing Quidditch on toy broomsticks with his wizarding friends, and riding ponies with his Muggle friends, he completely forgot about the impending visit by the bratty American girl, until one evening he ran inside from the barn and was confronted by the strangest child he had ever seen.
At first he thought she was a Muggle, judging by her unusual clothing, although he’d never seen any Muggle clothes like them. She wore a short, swingy, bright-pink sleeveless pinafore over skin-tight, calf-length leggings in an absolutely crazy multicolored pattern, and white high-topped puffy runners (out of which peeped bright pink socks.) Around the base of her dark, curly ponytail, which was set high and hung down the side of her head rather than the back, was more of that crazy-colored material.
Then Seamus he noticed she was holding a dark green wand, and he wondered if she were the girl from America. But no… she was speaking to someone, and he could hear that she had an English accent.
Seamus stood at the kitchen doorway and saw that the girl was talking to Mrs. Serpentia. So this was the girl from America! She was arguing with her mam, and Seamus listened closely to learn if she were truly a brat. On the table was pot of cold beans, and Mrs. Serpentia was imploring her daughter to eat some. The girl looked frustrated and stamped her foot.
“No, Maman! If you’d wanted me to eat you’d have left me at home! Mixie had a lovely breakfast of stuffed French toast and fruit salad with honey dressing, and you wouldn’t even wait for me to have any! You just brought me here where everyone’s already eaten supper and they don’t know what to do with us!”
Seamus thought the girl had a fair point. He knew what French toast was; he’d had it at his dad’s restaurant. He would never eat a bowl of cold beans if he could have French toast, and what else did she say? Honey on fruit? That sounded good, too.
And the girl was right about something else: His mam probably didn’t know what to do with them. His dad was at work, and Seamus and his mam had eaten in town. His mam was good at making medicines and such, but at meals she was hopeless. He realized that might be the reason she’d married his dad, even though he couldn’t do magic, not even a little bit.
Mrs. Serpentia looked upset and turned to Seamus’ mam. “O, Eileen, I wasn’t thinking, dêh! I didn’t mean to put you out! It’s just…. we’ve had such a row, and….”
“Who’s had such a row?” demanded the girl. “You haven’t been fighting with Daddy again?”
“It’s nothing to worry about, dear….”
“You ruin everything!”
Now the girl was shouting and brandishing her wand in the air. Golden sparks were flying from the tip. Seamus was fascinated. How was she making those?
“Daddy was going to take me to my horse riding lesson and then to Stephanie’s birthday party, but now you’ve got him all upset and he’ll just go to work and he won’t take me anywhere!”
Mrs. Serpentia stared at her daughter, then put her hands over her face and ran upstairs. Seamus’ mam looked like she didn’t know what to do. She glanced back and forth between the girl and stairs for a moment before noticing Seamus. She pointed her finger at each of them in turn and sternly said, “You two stay right here and play!” as she dashed upstairs after her friend.
Seamus felt really bad for the girl. Imagine missing French toast and horse riding and a birthday party, all in the same day! Now that the adults had left, she looked a little lost and scared. The words came out of his mouth before he even had time to think about them.
“You can ride my pony.”
The girl whirled around to look at him.
“Who are you?”
Seamus came into the kitchen.
“I’m Seamus. I live here.”
The girl didn’t say anything. Seamus tried again.
“I heard what you said – about missing your lesson and a birthday party.”
The girl scowled. “It’s all her fault!”
She pointed her wand violently at the stairs, and more golden sparks flew out.
“How are you doing that?” asked Seamus.
The girl looked frustrated.
“I wasn’t trying to do that. I was trying to make Sift sparks.”
“Sift sparks, so I can go home! Only I don’t think you can make them with a wand.”
Seamus thought seriously for a moment, then brightened.
“I can make fire with my wand! Maybe you could use that!”
“What kind of fire?”
“I dunno — fire fire! Is there more than one kind of fire?”
The girl rolled her eyes. “Of course there’s more than one kind of fire!”
“Well, maybe I make the kind you can use!”
Seamus was most anxious to have an excuse to use his wand. He looked around the kitchen. Where had mam put it?
“What are you doing?” asked the girl.
“Looking for my wand!” he said.
Then he saw it: way up high, on the very highest shelf, next to the ceiling. How would he reach it? He’d have to climb up.
He knew from experience that if he tried to climb the shelves like a ladder, they would break. Maybe if he balanced a chair on the kitchen table…. He ran to the table and began pulling on it with all his might.
“What are you doing now?” asked the girl.
“I need to climb up and get my wand.” Seamus pointed to the shelf.
The girl gave him a look of deep disgust and held up her arm. Seamus’ wand flew off the shelf and into her hand!
Seamus was awed. In a hushed voice he said, “How did you do that?
“It’s just the Accio spell.”
Seamus knew about Accio; his mam used it all the time.
“But you didn’t use your wand!”
If the girl had rolled her eyes any harder, they would’ve landed in the living room.
“You don’t need a wand for Accio!”
“No, you don’t! Only Skippers need wands.”
“What’s a Skipper?”
The girl made a noise of disgust.
“Don’t you know anything? Why don’t you know anything?”
Seamus was indignant.
“I do know things! Gimmie my wand!”
The girl handed it to him with a smirk, which a moment later became an expression of great delight, as Seamus shouted “Incendio!” and shot golden fire from its tip.
“Do it again!”
Seamus concentrated, and this time a larger flame appeared. The girl jumped up and down and clapped her hands.
“Do it again!”
Seamus held his wand with both hands and thought Incendio as hard as he could. The girl shouted with joy as he produced a massive multicolored blaze. It was very hot and his wand was shaking so violently that he had trouble holding it. He was hanging on with all his might when he realized that someone was shouting his name. It took him a moment to realize that person was — oh no! — his mam!
“SEAMUS FINNEGAN!” she screamed, pounding down the stairs. “PUT THAT OUT THIS INSTANT!”
A jet of smoke shot across the room and doused his fire. His mother reached him in a moment, and she was livid.
“What did I tell you about touching that wand when I’m not around?”
Seamus was cowed and looked the floor, but the girl was incensed. She shouted at Seamus’ mam.
“Why did you do that? That was a perfect fire!”
“It was a very dangerous fire, and not allowed in the house! Not allowed anywhere! Give me your wands!”
She unceremoniously snatched the wands from the hands of the two children. The girl squealed with indignation.
“Give that back!”
“No wands without supervision! And after what I just saw, maybe no wands at all!”
In later years, when Seamus recalled what happened next, it always seemed like time had unfolded very slowly, although he knew that it must actually have taken just a few seconds.
Serena waved her arm, and her wand flew out of Mrs. Finnegan’s hand and into her own.
She shouted, “I hate this place! I’m going home!”
She screwed her eyes shut, pointed her wand at the floor, and red glitter poured from the tip. The glitter swirled around her feet, covering them up to her ankles.
Seamus thought his mam would yell again, but she just stood, transfixed, watching Serena build up more and more glitter. Then — and Seamus remembered this most particularly — she put her hand to her mouth and whispered,
“That’s what Adjoua meant by ‘his side of the family.’”
She held out her arm to Seamus, and he knew she meant him to come stand by her side. He did, and she hugged him close as they watched Serena create a sparkly mountain around her legs. Finally, Serena’s wand seemed to run out of glitter, and she opened her eyes, her lip trembling as if she would cry.
Seamus’ mam surprised him for a second time by taking a deep breath and saying, “Seamus, why don’t you take Serena out to see duck pond?”
Seamus wasn’t sure he’d heard right. Wasn’t his mam mad at the girl for disobeying her? And for spilling glitter all over the kitchen floor? Wasn’t she mad at him for breaking the rule about wands? And why did she think the girl would want to see the ducks?
He looked at his mam questioningly, but she just gave him a little shove.
“Go on. Outside, both of you, before it gets dark.”
Seamus took a few steps toward the girl.
“You want to see our ducks, Serena?”
The girl looked at him, but didn’t move.
“That’s your name, isn’t it? Serena? Mam says we should go outside.”
Without a word or further glance, Serena marched the out of the kitchen to the cloakroom, scattering glitter everywhere. Without missing a stride, she waved her hand to fling open the back door and continued marching out to the yard, Seamus hurrying behind.
Seamus felt sure that Serena wouldn’t be interested in the ducks, but he was wrong. As soon as she spied the fuzzy yellow ducklings paddling after their mothers, she marched to the duck pond and sat down to watch them. Seamus had no idea what to say to her, and he was relieved when, a few minutes later, his mam called to him from the patio. He ran to her, and he saw she was holding a tray covered with…. broken lemon biscuits?
His mam said, “Seamus, I want you and Serena to feed these to the ducks.”
“They are, and Seamus…. this is very important. Be sure to ask Serena if she’d like some.”
Seamus knew his dad would never approve of giving broken biscuits to a guest.
“She won’t want these; haven’t we any nice ones?”
Seamus’ mam shook her head.,/p>
“She’ll like these fine, but listen to me! It’s very important! Don’t just show her the tray. Hand her the biscuits like this.”
Seamus’ mam picked up a piece and put it into Seamus’ hand.
“Make sure she takes them from you, one at a time.”
Seamus was puzzled. “Why?”
“Never mind why, just do it! Do it right and… tomorrow I’ll let you play with your wand.”
A big smile spread over Seamus’ face.
“I’ll do it right, Mam, you’ll see!”
He took the tray and carefully trotted back to the duck pond.
That was eleven years ago, almost to the day. Now Seamus watched a new set of ducks swim in the pond from a chaise lounge on the patio. He was stuffed full of his father’s famous seafood chowder and soda bread. His mam and Serena were inside, making a potion to remove the bruises from his face. His dad, having washed the dishes in the Muggle way, came out and sat down beside him.
“It’s good to have ye home, lad,” said Mr. Finnegan.
“Good to be back,” replied Seamus.
His dad leaned back in the chaise and folded his arms behind his head.
“So what’s the craic?”
“Not much. You know.”
Mr. Finnegan sighed.
“Son, I may be a Muggle, but I’m not an eejit. I know somethin’s up. The last few months yer mam’s been hiding the Prophet from me. Then last night a whole gang of wizarding folk were havin’ a hoolie and making a bloody racket, and that Obliviator bloke yer mam knows was barreling through the town like his arse was on fire blasting all the Muggles, and then this morning come a parade of owls, and I know a funeral notice when I see one. And then at dinner there’s another flock of bleedin’ owls, and I also know the Hogwarts seal when I see it. So I ask ye again: What don’tye want me to know?”
Seamus hesitated, not because he didn’t want to tell the truth to his dad, but because he wasn’t sure where to begin. Finally he said, “You remember You-Know-Who?”
“I do, sure. Wasn’t he the one yer mam and you were fighting about a few years back? The header who was supposed to be dead, but it turned out he was just hidin’ out?”
“That’s the one. Well, he was killed the other night.”
“Well, that’s good news, isn’t it? Who did it, one of those special-forces lads, the Aurors?”
“It wasn’t one of them; there was… there was a big battle.”
“A battle you say? Like an army?”
“Like two armies.”
“Two magical armies? Where did this happen? Not here in Ireland?”
“Not here in Ireland. In Scotland.”
Seamus hesitated, and his Dad saw it.
“It happened at Hogwarts.”
“At… at Hogwarts? Is there a town called Hogwarts?”
When Seamus didn’t say anything, his dad sat up.
“Ye mean, at yer school? Lord V-wan was at yer school? And the army came to take him out?”
“That’s the gist of it….”
“Whatd’ya mean, ‘that’s the gist of it’?”
A look of great alarm came to Mr. Finnegan, and he swung his legs off the chaise.
“Is that what happened to your face? Were you caught up in all that?”
Seamus suddenly had much more sympathy for Dean, who was undoubtedly having the same conversation with his mother.
“Aw, Dad, don’t get upset. It all turned out fine in the end.”
“Ye don’t look fine to me! A hippogriff my arse! I’ll bet there’s no such creature!”
There was a loud bang from the house, which Seamus recognized as the sound of a lid slamming down on a large cauldron. Mr. Finnegan jerked his head in the direction of the kitchen.
“And what about yer wan Serena? Was she in that mess, too?”
Seamus knew that his dad had a very different impression of Serena than the rest of the world, and he was positive he didn’t want to change that. He hated to start lying again now that he’d begun to tell his dad the truth, and then he realized that he didn’t have to. Serena had not actually been part of the battle! He just wouldn’t give his dad all the details.
“She wasn’t there. Most of the students left before it began.”
“Well, why didn’t you leave with them?”
He had to tell him. He had to tell him because he had to tell Mam, because it was only a matter of time before all of their names were in the Prophet, and everyone would know. He swung his legs over his chaise, too, and looked his dad straight in the eye.
Seamus took a deep breath. “Two years ago, I joined a student group called Dumbledore’s Army.”
Mr. Finnegan’s voice was hushed. “You joined… an army? Like the Reserves?”
“Kind of like that. We learned to fight, in case You-Know-Who ever tried anything. And he did. Last autumn he took over the British ministry. That’s why Mam was hiding the Prophet from you.”
His dad looked stunned. Seamus went on.
“The British ministry controls Hogwarts, so everything there changed. It was all run according to crazy laws written by You-Know-Who. Dumbledore’s Army tried to work against him, undercover-like, but we were found out. I’ve been on the hop since December.”
“Mother of God!”
Mr. Finnegan ran his hands through his hair and was silent for a moment.
“But if ye were on the hop, how didja come to be there for the fight?”
Seamus didn’t think he could explain the Room of Requirement to his dad, so he said, “We heard about it, so we went back to help.”
“We?” his dad said sharply, “Ye weren’t alone?”
Seamus shook his head and smiled a little. “We weren’t; we had a whole crew.”
“Well, thank heavens for that!”
Mr. Finnegan stared off into the distance for a moment, then turned back to Seamus.
“Does yer mam know about this?”
“About your bleedin’ army corps, ye great eejit!”
“Oh. Well, I wasn’t wanting to tell her. But she’ll have to know now. It’ll be in the Prophet directly.”
Mr. Finnegan thought a little more.
“Son, I know ye couldn’t tell yer mam, but you could’ve told me. I would’ve understood!”
At that, Seamus’ eyes filled with tears, and he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so he did a little of both.
“Aw, now, I especially couldn’tve told you.”
“Why not, for Jaysus’ sake?”
“Because You-Know-Who hated Muggles worst of all! I couldn’t do anything that would point him in your direction!”
Mr. Finnegan got up and paced around the patio for a bit. Finally he stopped and asked, “Does this mean you’ve not sat your exams?”
“I haven’t; no one has.”
“Will there be exams?”
“Sure, they’ll have them. We have a choice; take them now, or spend another year at Hogwarts.”
“Is that what those owls were about?”
Seamus hadn’t actually read any of the messages delivered by the flock of school owls that had disturbed dinner, but he was pretty sure that none of them were about his N.E.W.T.s. Someone else answered his dad’s question, however. From the back doorway came Serena’s voice.
“Those owls were for me. Mostly.”
She walked onto the patio carrying a bowl of clear potion and a small towel. She handed these to Seamus, saying, “Your mother instructs you to wet this towel with the potion and apply it to your face one sector at a time. The potion must have contact with your skin for at least five minutes. Personally, I think you should just submerge your head in the bowl for five minutes and have done with it.”
“He can’t hold his breath for five minutes!” declared Mr. Finnegan.
“More’s the pity.”
Seamus sniffed the bowl and said, “It doesn’t smell bad. Why would I rush it?”
Serena’s expression was arch. “You haven’t felt it yet.”
Seamus dipped a finger into the potion. It was deathly cold.
“Sure I won’t get frostbite?” Seamus said this lightly, but the potion actually scared him a little.
“I’m certain you’re going to whine the entire time.”
Resigned, Seamus wet a portion of the towel in the potion, lay back on the chaise, and pressed the towel to his cheek. It hurt his face and his fingers. He looked at Serena hopefully.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to help me with this?”
Serena snorted and walked away. “Why should I suffer?
Mr. Finnegan chuckled. As usual, it didn’t occur to him that Serena was serious. He called to her, and she paused.
“How will ye be spending the next year, Serena? Will ye be taking the extra year at Hogwarts before yer N.E.W.T.s?”
Serena considered for a moment, then said, “I don’t think so.”
“My favorite teacher died.”
With that, she turned and went back in the house, leaving Mr. Finnegan speechless. He paced around a little more, then sat back down next to Seamus.,/p>
“Didja know about that?”
Seamus sighed. “I did.”
“That poor girl….”
Seamus knew Joe Finnegan’s pity was wasted on Serena. At that moment, with the potion’s icy fingers boring painfully into his brain, the only person for whom he felt sorry was himself.
After a very uncomfortable session with his mam’s potion, Seamus went inside to look for Serena. He found her, not in the guest room, but in the sewing room, where his mam used magical and Muggle means to create clothing and horse blankets. Serena was waving two wands in a very elegant and beautiful manner, but she was apparently unhappy with the intricately-patterned knitted material she was making, because she kept vanishing it and starting over. When she noticed Seamus, she let the material dissolve into fine smoke.
“What was that?” asked Seamus.
Serena leaned back against his mother’s tall cutting table. “Just a shawl.”
Serena looked thoughtful, which was most unusual. Maybe that was good. Maybe they could talk about this whole preasul misunderstanding.
“Lookit,” he started, “I was just wondering if we could talk about–”
“I’m not letting them in!” Serena declared.
Seamus was confused. “Come again?”
“I’ve spent years renovating the Slytherin part of the dungeons! Malfoy and his backwards family stood in my way, until the Dark Lord took them down and put me in charge! Then I really fixed it up, and no one dared argue! Of course, all the Southfielders agreed with me!”
She paused and twirled her wand. “It’s ironic, you know. The Dark Lord would’ve hated it, absolutely hated it, but too bad for him if he couldn’t change with the times! And if I do return to Hogwarts, I will not let Slughorn change it back! I will not live in that disgusting, medieval — WHAT?”
Seamus realized that he must look as dismayed as he felt. What the hell had she done? It sounded bad, very bad, but then… You-Know-Who himself would’ve hated it, so…. maybe it wasn’t so bad? Then again, the Southfielders liked it. The Southfielders included Marcus Flint and Serena’s ex-boyfriend, Adrian Pucey, and they rarely supported anything of which McGonagall would approve. And speaking of McGonagall….
“Serena,” said Seamus warily, “now, I know you’re not going to like this, but it’s the truth: If you don’t let Slughorn into the common room, there’s absolutely no chance McGonagall will let you return to Hogwarts.”
Silence. Not so bad. Better silence than…. well, just about any other way Serena might respond. She had that thoughtful expression again. She really did look pretty in that soft pink color, with her shiny curls spilling all about her —
Stars! Seamus felt like he had literally slapped himself in the brain. Where in Merlin’s name had that come from? He almost missed her question.
“What do you care? You don’t want to go back.”
“I might! I don’t…. I don’t know. You see, I’m after pursuing a career in Care of Magical — “
“Bel said you’ve been accepted at UMCLA.”
“What? I never put my name down!”
“You didn’t need to.”
“Well, now, isn’t that grand!”
“It is! What’s wrong with you?”
“Didja not hear me just now? I said I’m after a career in….”
“Oh, who cares?”
“Come here, go away!”
Seamus was stunned by her callousness. Then he was wondered what was wrong with him that her indifference suddenly mattered.
Serena folded her arms and stared him down.
“Don’t you think we should be at the same place?”
Seamus felt suspicious. “….Why?”
Serena looked impatient. “Because it’s practical.”
Well, at least they had finally arrived at the right subject.
“Serena, we need to talk about this whole Praesul affair.”
“What’s there to talk about?”
“I’m not your Praesul!”
Serena smirked and leaned back against the table again.
“Yes, you are.”
“I don’t know how you got the idea, but you can give it up!”
“Bel says it’s true.”
“Your man Bel’s mad as a box of frogs!”
Serena laughed outright.
“Get out! It’s not funny!”
“… box of frogs!” She was bent over with mirth. Seamus burned with frustration. He felt his face grow hot, and he clenched his fists.
“Merlin’s shorts! I don’t know why I put up with youuuu…. SERENA!”
Seamus roared in horror as Serena burst into flame! He frantically grabbed for his wand and panicked when he didn’t have it.
“MAM!” he shouted as he spied one of Serena’s wands under the cutting table. He dived for it and prayed it would work for him as he aimed with both hands up from the floor and shouted.
A jet of water cascaded over Serena’s body, and the flames were instantly quenched. Seamus scrambled up from under the table to find a miraculously bone-dry Serena with a sickeningly self-satisfied smile on her face. He felt his body grow numb; he could barely remember how to blink.
“See?” she said as she strutted off.
She paused at the doorway and turned back, tossing her curls over her shoulder.
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