Laurel sat and stared sadly out the window. It was close to midnight, and the rain running down the window was soothing. The only light in the small apartment Dumbledore had given her was provided by flickering firelight.
All in all, a perfect mood for memories.
Which is exactly what Laurel was trying to accomplish. More than anything, she wanted to return to her past, to a time when life still held promise. She wanted to remember some good, but that wasn't to be...
The wisp of a memory that drifted to mind was similar to the night: dark and gloomy.
"You need to return to the castle immediately, Miss Raegan. There has been a problem..."
When Professor Gareth had accosted her with this message in Hogsmeade that spring morning, the gravity of the situation had just never occurred to her. She had assumed...well, whatever she had assumed, it hadn't been this. She had never thought to fear the worst. It just hadn't been plausible.
As thirteen-year-old Laurel stood by herself, staring at the bier laid out in a room off the Great Hall, she knew better. She would always assume the worst now, for the worst had always been her story.
Laurel's thoughts stretched to her sister, the eleven-year-old now lying on that bier. As sisters who inherited the talent of telepathy in a hostile world, they had shared a unique bond, always able to sense the other if they wished. Now, no matter how hard she tried, all she could sense was silence.
A deathly quiet...
Laurel's chest tightened as she attempted to fight the tears rising in her throat. It had all been so sudden... Hadn't she been through enough already? Hadn't last year been punishment enough for a lifetime? Obviously not.
Was she doomed to be alone the rest of her life, however long that may be? Obviously so.
It was hard to accept that the small brown-haired girl lying in stasis was really her little sister, Chloe Theresa Raegan. She was far too young to die. But she had...killed mercilessly by Lord Voldemort for choosing what was right. For not exploiting her wonderful power. For not joining him.
It was a no-win situation: join Voldemort and betray all you love, or refuse him and lose all you love. It was the choice Laurel had made two years ago, the choice that had cost her the lives of her family and now her last relative, her sister. For the first time, Laurel was truly alone in the world.
As that chilling thought rose to mind, Laurel could resist no longer and let out a choked sob. Thinking she was alone in the dark room, she let the tears flow freely. The impact of it all had not hit her fully yet, and she feared it.
Laurel did not hear the soft footsteps of a person entering the room, but she froze when a hand was laid gently on her shoulder.
"Come to bed, Laurel, please... It's not healthy to spend all night down here...dwelling. Please come back to the Tower."
Laurel turned to see Sirius Black standing there in his pajamas, looking as somber as she felt. Not bothering to try and stop crying, she shook her head.
"I can't sleep...not after...how could I?"
Sirius squeezed her arm. "I know it's tough, but please...at least come and sit in the Common Room. If you can't sleep, then I'll stay up with you. We can talk...if you feel like it. If not, we can sit. Just as long as you leave this room."
Laurel looked oddly at him. Sirius Black, the clown of her year, the boy who irritated her more than anything in the world, the one boy in her House she truly couldn't stand, had come to find her. He had risked getting caught by the caretaker and getting sentenced to detention until he was a seventh year. He was watching out for her. It was amazing...
"I'd like to, Sirius, but I can't. I really don't know if I'm able."
"Please." He said this so imploringly, pleading with her, and it was hard to resist his advice.
With a last extremely long look at Chloe's body, Laurel bowed her head and allowed Sirius to escort her out of the room. To her surprise, the tears seemed to flow more freely now that someone else was there, and she still made no effort to stifle them. Sirius seemed to understand.
Sirius brought her to their House Common Room, where they both took a seat on the couch. Laurel said, "Thank you for offering to stay up with me, but I can't let you. You have class tomorrow, and I've been excused. It wouldn't be fair to you..."
Sirius laughed momentarily. "I'm quite used to staying up all night. Sometimes...I have these dreams...horrible...lots of death and destruction, and standing out against it all is high-pitched laughter. It scares me so much that I can't sleep the rest of the night, so I come down here. The fire is quite nice this late, when it's burning down."
Laurel was shocked at how open Sirius was being with her, when the only words they had previously exchanged had been scathing. She felt compelled to confide in him as well.
Not knowing quite where to begin, Laurel just began talking about what ever came to her mind...memories of Chloe, the fears she had... Soon, she had told more to Sirius than she had ever shared with anyone in her entire life, excepting her sister. Through it all, Sirius had remained quiet, listening intently.
By the time she had run out of things to say, she no longer felt quite as burdened. Granted, there were things she would always bear, but she was not the sole load-bearer anymore. A sudden sense of exhaustion overcame her.
The normally rowdy boy noticed this and allowed Laurel to lean against his shoulder, rubbing her back soothingly, as his mother had always done for him when he was upset. Within minutes, Laurel's breathing, ragged from crying, was coming evenly and smoothly. She had fallen asleep.
Sirius made no move to waken her, not until morning came, and the two stayed in the common room like that all night, sleeping peacefully. They were no longer enemies, but friends of the closest sort.
Emerging from her reverie, Laurel wiped away the moisture from her face. She had never fully recovered from the death of her sister, and it was still very painful to revisit.
Glancing at the window, Laurel saw that the rain was slowing. She got up from her chair and readied herself for bed, realizing that she would need her rest for the next day.
Still, she mused as she turned out the light, I wonder if Sirius knew then how it would turn out, what we would turn into. I certainly didn't dream it. And of all the horrible things that have happened since then, I won't say I regret a single moment of my time spent with him.
The next few weeks passed surprisingly quickly. The only class Laurel really had difficulty with was the fifth year Slytherins. This class contained one Draco Malfoy, who, besides having a tendency to heckle her during her lectures, had an uncanny resemblance to his father. Laurel had had her difficulties, to say the very least, with Lucius Malfoy in the past, so this certainly didn't help the situation any. Other than this, all her students seemed warm and eager to learn.
Not long after the beginning of term, Dumbledore called a mandatory conference, but told no one what it was about beforehand. He reminded them of the danger of the present times and asked that they try to be on their guard at all times. It went without saying that they should keep a special eye out for Harry Potter. Dumbledore also asked that everyone begin brushing up on their dueling skills. He assigned groups of three to ensure after-hours practice.
Laurel supposed she really should have seen that Act of Dumbledore coming. To the surprise and dismay of all, Dumbledore teamed up Laurel, Remus, and Snape; the least experienced fighter with the two best.
It was increasingly difficult to tell who was the least happy with these arrangements: Remus or Snape. For the first minutes following the meeting, both were sulking and glaring at the other.
"Oh, come on! Quit acting like children, you two," Laurel chastised. She wasn't exactly thrilled about these arrangements either, but she tried not to let her misgivings show. "I'm sure Dumbledore has a good reason for this..." she trailed off, unable to think of a decent explanation herself. Dumbledore obviously knew something she didn't.
Remus sighed, and reluctantly turned to Snape, offering his hand. "She's right. Truce, Severus?"
"Until the first duel," agreed Snape, even more reluctantly accepting the handshake.
After the trio began meeting for their practices, Laurel has almost no time for herself. She taught Monday through Saturday until mid-afternoon, and was then accosted by a torrent of over-eager students with a barrage of questions, led by the infamous Hermione Granger. On Sundays, most of the teachers either chaperoned the Hogsmeade day trips or kept an eye on the students staying at the castle. After her daytime duties were complete, she, Severus, and Remus traversed out to the Quidditch pitch to begin their refresher lessons.
These dueling sessions were usually quite predictable. The two men would begin by working with her, teaching her defensive strategies, and a few shady curses to boot. Laurel felt like a third year in class once more, and she was glad for the chance. After about thirty minutes of strategies, they would practice sparring - two fighting, one mediating. When Laurel dueled with Remus, it was obvious that he held back, unwilling to hurt a friend, giving her a chance to perfect methods under less stressful circumstances. His classic overprotectiveness flattered Laurel slightly, but was irritating nonetheless.
Snape, on the other hand, was not as considerate. He tended to push her limits, make her reach to employ skills and strategies she could barely describe, and regularly fighting her to exhaustion. To her extreme surprise, Laurel actually grew to look forward to her spars with Snape, knowing she would always safely learn something new.
On the nights of the full moon, Snape and Laurel worked alone while Remus locked himself up in his office, the wolf neutralized by the Wolfsbane Potion. The full moon in November was no different. Fatigued from sparring Snape, Laurel sat on the soft grass. "You know," she commented, wiping a drop of sweat from her brow, "I must admit preferring Muggle weaponry. I could swear that it's less exhausting than this."
Snape arched an eyebrow at this comment, but did not inquire where she gained her knowledge of the subject. "Perhaps, and we certainly might spend our time practicing that, but it would serve us little good. All but a few Death Eaters hold any Muggle art in the highest disdain. Surprisingly, though, it is the more highly placed ones that appreciate the fine art of the sword. Lucius Malfoy, for one, is an accomplished swordsman."
Laurel shuddered at the mention of the name Malfoy, but resisted the burning comment rising to her tongue. Instead, she said softly after a moment, "We should be getting inside. It's late." She glanced upwards at the clear night sky, lit by the white fire of the full moon.
"I heartily agree," said Snape, but not in his usual condescending manner. There was a new inflection to his voice, almost as if Laurel had interrupted some disturbing dream.
Pondering this sudden change, Laurel started to rise from her sitting position. She was almost too wrapped up in her own thoughts to notice the pale hand stretched towards her. She looked up to see Snape offering her a hand up, to her astonishment. Never before had he thought to extend such a pleasantry to her or any other.
Taking his proffered hand, Laurel pulled her self to a standing position, brushing the dirt off the seat of her pants. She and Snape then began to start trek back up to the now-darkened castle. On the way, she cast him a sideways glance.
"Why this sudden burst of chivalry, Severus? What is it that you're hiding?" inquired Laurel.
Snape shook his head. "Nothing. Nothing to be discussed now, or anytime in the near future. Just...just be on your guard. Strange happenings are afoot."
Laurel was puzzled by this response, but her mind didn't stay on it long. With a last glance to the bright sky, her thoughts turned to Remus and how he was faring the night.
The next night at supper, Dumbledore announced the date of the upcoming Winter Ball. This dance was to be held the night before the end of term, open to fourth years and above, but not on so grand a scale as the previous year's Yule Ball. All the professors would chaperon this event, and Laurel was secretly dreading it. The month seemed to sneak by all too quickly.
Before she realized it, the eve of the Winter Ball was upon them, and Laurel was sure she'd never been more stressed in her life. Because it was the end of term, she had to finish grading all of her end-of-term exams that night, and she knew that alone would keep her up all night. As a student, she'd never thought how difficult a teacher's life actually was, but she could certainly empathize now.
When the vaunted night arrived, Laurel donned the indigo robes she'd bought from Madam Malkin. The material shimmered as if it were wet - obviously enchanted. She was almost reluctant to leave her room in the teacher's hall when it was time for her to head down to the Great Hall.
To her surprise, someone was waiting for her in the hallway.
"Remus! I thought you would still be recovering from the other night. Why aren't you...?" Laurel said quizzically.
"The period after is not as long with the Wolfsbane Potion. I'm quite alright, Laurel. Don't worry about me." Remus smiled and shook his head. "Most of the others have already gone down. Shall we?" he asked, gesturing to the backside of the tapestry concealing their hallway.
"We shall." Laurel nodded to him and they set off to the Great Hall. As professors, they had been asked to arrive early, and when Laurel and Remus entered the wonderfully decorated room, the pre-ball feast had yet to begin. Already, students were milling anxiously about the Entrance Hall, fretting about every tiny detail.
Laurel laughed softly. "Remember those days, Remus? I think our biggest worry was that one of the Hair Charms didn't go horribly wrong or blow us all up."
"If I recall, many of those charms did go wrong. More of the younger students received injuries from too-advanced spells going awry than from anything else. They still do, I believe. These Winter Balls always made me uncomfortable."
"Why, might I ask?" asked Laurel, though she could make a few guesses as to the answer.
"Well," he began slowly as they made their way up to the Head Table. "I'd never been to anything of the like before. I had always been kept sheltered, even before...that night."
Laurel said nothing for a moment, but felt compelled to bring about a change of topic. "When I was growing up, balls like this were a part of life. Not for the ordinary person, but for the Raegans...." Instinctively, her chin lifted at bit in retained pride. "It seemed as if the entire populace of the wizarding culture in our area would do anything to please us. I always thought it was because they liked and respected us."
Laurel seemed to melt back into the person she normally was. "I thought wrongly. They respected us, but out of fear, not admiration. They were afraid of us, of our powers, though Father used his for good. It took one of those dances to make me realize that." She shook her head sadly.
Remus laid a hand on her arm. "Perhaps you could tell me about it during the Feast. I'd love to hear the story."
"Perhaps. But later, not now."
Later that night, after the huge platters before them had been magically filled with savory foods, Remus asked Laurel for the story. She consented, and as she began talking, a misty sort of expression crossed her face, signaling her descent into memory.
Ten-year-old Laurel peeked out through the curtains that led into the Grand Ballroom. A girl who looked to be simply a smaller, brown haired version of Laurel giggled as she stuck her head out as well.
"Do you see Mother or Father, Chlo'?" asked Laurel, scanning the elegantly dressed crowd for her parents. It felt strange to be calling them by such formal names, but the girls were required to do so in public. Protocol demanded it, and protocol was King.
Instead of answering audibly, Chloe thought at her big sister. I don't see them, but I feel Dad. Can't you?
No..., answered Laurel, feeling slightly put out. Once again, she had been reminded that Chloe was the more gifted of the girls. The eight-year-old tended to forget that her ability was unusually strong, and took it for granted that others could sense what she did. At close range, Laurel could read impressions of a person's mind, but her telepathic connection with her sister was the only bond strong enough to exchange precise words at great distances. The link was probably fortified with Chloe's strength to make up for Laurel's weakness.
Laurel slipped back into the empty hallway, looking out the picture windows to the lightly falling snow. She sat on a bench with red velvet cushions, watching the tiny flakes drift down and melt before they ever hit the ground. Such was the fate of wintry weather in Alabama. She felt her thoughts begin to wander, and she began setting up her mental defenses, so her supernaturally talented sister would leave her be for a moment and not pry.
Unfortunately, this had the exact opposite effect. Aware of the blocks being erected around Laurel's mind, Chloe came to sit next to her. "What's wrong, Laurel?"
"Oh, nothing," said Laurel, none too convincingly. "It's snowing."
"I see that," said Chloe patronizingly. She wanted to find out what was bothering her sister, so she continued to pester her until she broke.
"All right, all right! I'll tell, just stop with the questions already!" said an exasperated Laurel five minutes and a million incessant queries later. "You won't like my answer, however. I really don't know, myself. It's just...a feeling.
Chloe nodded, and Laurel knew she felt the same way. The sisters embraced briefly for comfort, and then Laurel was reminded of their whole purpose of being in the side hallway.
Chloe either read her mind or had the same thought, for she turned. "Let's go find Mother and Father."
The girls crept to the curtain once more. Technically, they were too young to be allowed into the actual ballroom, but surely...
Laurel spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Hey, isn't that a guy who works with Dad? she asked. Mr. Ima-taz or something like that?
Chloe studied the face, silently placing the idea of helping them in his mind. Imtiaz. Mr. Imtiaz, Laurel. Yes, I think so. I hope so. She did not have to express the hope that he might be able to help them locate their parents.
When Mr. Imtiaz saw the two girls, a strange expression flickered across his face. He came out into the hallway, and started asking them questions before they could make their request of him.
"Well, well, what do we have here? Aren't you two supposed to be off wreaking havoc with the other children? Or will they not have you?" Laurel and Chloe were identically shocked at the bitter tone of his voice. Were they in trouble?
Laurel spoke up. "Um...we were looking for Father and Mother, sir...do you know-" she trailed off nervously.
"You didn't just call out mentally to your father and hope he heard you? You actually deigned to step into the world of mere mortals to do work? Isn't this a shock?" The Pakistani's face was contorted into mocking fury. "Your power is not a gift, children. It is an oddity. No good can come of it. A quick look at your family history shows that beyond a doubt. Your uncle turned to the Dark Side for Grindelwald. Your father had to kill him himself, as I recall. Not exactly strong family bonds, those. And your grandfather is a Nazi!"
Laurel frowned in disgusted shock. She had never heard those stories before. Surely they couldn't be true. As far as she knew, she had no uncle in her wizarding family. Her Muggle grandfather was a German rocket scientist who immigrated over with Werner von Braun, but that didn't make him a Nazi, did it? Her mind was reeling from the overload, and Chloe was beginning to shake with rage.
Suddenly, though, a calming presence came over the scene. "Is there a problem, Niranjan?" asked Alan Raegan, stepping out into the hallway. He was an intimidating figure under normal circumstances, 6'9" with fine blonde hair and piercinging blue eyes, and his arrival couldn't have been more perfectly timed.
Mr. Imtiaz's features suddenly softened into fearful respect. "Oh, nothing, Alan. I just found your girls skulking where they had no business being, so I was giving them a short lecture. I hope I did not step out of my bounds in doing so." He backed away slowly, almost running into Liane Raegan as she came out of the Grand Ballroom. He nodded to her as well, and quickly exited the scene.
Liane tucked a lock of her curly brown hair behind her ear. "What happened, girls? What did he say to you?"
Laurel and Chloe said nothing, the memory still vivid in their minds, and Alan grasped the vibe immediately. "He had no right to tell you such things! What did he think he was doing? How dare he...the b-" he cut off mid-word for decency's sake.
Laurel bit her lip. "Is it true, then? What he said?"
Chloe joined in timidly. "Did we really have an uncle? And did you...?"
"And is Opa...?"
Alan and Liane exchanged glances. "Girls, I think we have much to talk about. There are things we had hoped to explain to you later, but it seems our careful planning has gone down the drain. I think it's time you learn the true history of your families. Reality is much darker than we'd like to acknowledge," said their father.
Liane left silently to go fetch their coats and thank their host. It was time for the Raegan family to go home.
When Laurel finished her tale, she blinked away moisture from her eyes. It had been that night that her parents decided it would be safer to send them to Hogwarts than to allow them to stay in the U.S. It was definitely one of the earth-shaking times of her life. Things could have been so different...
Remus didn't seem to know quite what to say, but was saved from the awkward silence when Dumbledore rose to announce the end of the feast and the beginning of the Ball.
For most of the Ball, Laurel stayed off to the sides, doing her job and supervising. It was rather uplifting to watch these teenagers enjoy life, with barely a care otherwise. However, she did notice two figures by themselves, but in opposite corners of the room. Harry Potter and young Ginny Weasley. Laurel smiled to herself, recalling a very similar scene, but with James Potter and Lily Evans. She watched, deciding not to interfere, though it would be easy to simply place a suggestion on Harry's mind...
Laurel shook away the thought. After learning how easy it was to fall to the wrong side of magic, especially with her heritage, she did not want to take any chances. She turned to walk to a different section of the Great Hall, but found Remus standing there.
"You look a bit flushed. Shall we go for a walk in the garden, perhaps?" he asked kindly. Somehow, Laurel got the sense that he was planning something, but couldn't be sure - Remus kept his thoughts close and hard to read.
"I- I'd be glad to," she stammered, still trying to figure out the significance of this.
The two waked out onto the school lawn, which had been turned into a fairy light-lit maze of hedges especially for the Winter Ball. Remus led the way through the winding maze and Laurel got the faint impression that he knew exactly where he was taking her.
Soon, she was walking a bit behind Remus to give him the lead in learning the maze, and she lost sight of him. Laurel reached out with her mind to find him, but he was not in her sphere of influence any more.
"Great,' she muttered. "He's deserted me. Something is wrong with this picture..."
"Laurel?!?" came a voice from behind her, a hauntingly familiar voice that sent a chill down her spine.
Laurel turned to see the speaker, and recognizing him, promptly punched him in the face, catching him by surprise.
As soon as Laurel swung the punch, she regretted it. "Oh my god, Sirius! I'm sor- Sirius?! What the hell are you doing here?" she hissed, the full wave of shock hitting her.
Sirius Black didn't respond. He stared at her and slowly rubbed his jaw where her punch had landed. He spoke slowly, in disbelief, "I'd swear I'm seeing ghosts...but last time I checked, ghosts don't have swings like that. Is it...really you...Laurel...?"
Laurel frowned in confusion, but then realization came to her - no one had told Sirius she was still alive, just as Dumbledore had neglected to mention Sirius' innocence. She laughed and put a hand on Sirius' face, covering the spot she had struck. "I'm no ghost, Sirius. See? I'm real." There was a strangely detached inflection to her voice as she spoke, wrestling with the sudden rush of emotion she felt.
Sirius reached up to place his hand over hers, grasping it tightly. "But- but- Remus said- why didn't he- why didn't someone- why didn't you-" he sputtered, uncharacteristically confused and hurt.
Laurel stared into his pale eyes, noting with a touch of grief the haunted look that would probably never leave. Fourteen years in hell certainly will change you... Smiling sadly, she told Sirius the same story she had given Remus. By the end of it, she felt more horrible and guilty than she had in years. She knew she should have written Sirius as soon as she'd learned of his innocence...but things had just kept coming up, and Laurel had feared that an owl might compromise his hiding place.
This chance meeting was obviously as much a shock to Sirius as it was to her. She wondered... "Sirius, what are you doing here? In this garden, I mean. What brought you to Hogwarts? Shouldn't you be elsewhere? Hiding?"
Sirius looked at her strangely. "I should ask the same of you. Remus told me to be here - said he had something important he needed to discuss; something that couldn't wait. I guessed that it had to do with Harry, so I got here as quickly as possible. Have you seen him?"
Laurel's eyes narrowed. "As a matter of fact, I have. He asked if I would like to go for a walk in the garden and once we got out here, he disappeared. I think our friend has been up to something. Do you get the feeling we've been had?"
He smiled grimly, recovering slowly from his shock. "I believe we have. Moony has become a bit more devious over the years."
"That's for sure..." Laurel paused as a sudden terrible thought struck her. "But what the hell do you think you're doing? Why aren't you in hiding? What if some Ministry official stops by? What will you do then?" she questioned angrily.
Sirius didn't seem to know quite what to say. "Let's cross that bridge when we come to it, Laurel. For now...I believe we have a lot to catch up on."
The look in his crystalline blue eyes made all the feelings Laurel had been successfully suppressing flare up beyond control. Love, lust, guilt, fear, anger...so many opposing forces in the same small place. She felt as if she were about to melt when Sirius placed a hand on her cheek, tilting her head upwards...
Reluctantly, Laurel pulled away from his touch. Trying to conceal her own aching heart, she said, "This isn't right, Sirius."
He eyed her warily, visibly hurt. "Why? You aren't...?"
Laurel shook her head. "No. There's been no one else. Its just-" She sighed. "What has it been? Fourteen years? Over a decade has passed since we last saw each other. After that long, I know I've changed and I'm sure you're a different person as well." Saying this was torturous, but it had to be done.
Sirius blinked slowly. "Are you saying that it's...over?"
"No! No... I'm saying that perhaps we should take some time to get to know each other again. We might find that one or both of us has been changed irrevocably." Laurel hoped beyond hope that this wasn't the case.
After a moment of silence the old mischievous glint returned to Sirius' haunted eyes, the one she remembered so fondly. "Well then, shall we begin by introducing ourselves? How do you do? I'm Sirius Black, convicted murderer. And you?" He stuck out his hand as if to offer a handshake.
Laurel laughed happily, choking back tears of joy. To hear him joke like that after so many years, even to hear his voice was like music to her heart. She threw her arms around him, leaning her head against his chest. He returned her embrace and she felt as if she could dissolve. It had been too long since she had felt the press of his warm body to hers, the safety of his strong arms around her. The buried desire swelled up within her until it was something tangible. "Oh, Sirius..."
"I know," he whispered into her hair, warm breath tickling her ear. "You're right. We probably can't just pick up where we left off. We should start over, and then when I can prove my innocence..." He left the unfinished sentence to her imagination.
For the first time since his arrest, Laurel felt comfortable enough to fully let down her guard, to open herself again to her suppressed mental gift. She didn't care that it probably meant she was radiating her happiness for a mile around, it just mattered that she was finally reunited with the man she loved.
She opened her mouth to say something, but was stopped when a familiar sensation tickled the back of her mind. She closed her eyes and felt to be sure, finding her suspicions confirmed. "Harry's coming...you have to go...he doesn't know...I can't tell him yet." She looked up into Sirius' eyes, afraid she might find condemnation for her reluctance.
It appeared that Sirius understood, however. He nodded. "Go, then. I'll be back, but I want to talk to Harry first." He took her face in his hands once again, and this time Laurel didn't resist.
The sensation of his lips touching hers was like ice water to a parched mouth. She drank in his taste thirstily and only then did Laurel realize how long it had been since she last kissed anyone; how long her self-imposed vow of celibacy had lasted. Adrenaline flooded her system and she longed for this moment to last forever, but time is not kind to its' victims.
When they separated moments later, neither said a word. They didn't need to - their eyes spoke volumes if one knew how to read them. With one last wistfully crooked smile, Sirius morphed into the large black dog, Padfoot.
Laurel started to bend down to Padfoot's level, but stopped when she sensed two presences round the maze's corner. She turned to see a visibly startled Harry hand in hand with an equally confused Ginny Weasley.
"Professor Raegan! Snuffles!" said Harry immediately, dropping Ginny's hand in surprise.
Laurel arched an eyebrow. "You know this dog then, Mr. Potter?"
"No...yes...no...well, sorta. He's...erm...a stray from town." Harry was obviously uncomfortable with the whole situation. So was Laurel, but she was a bit more practiced at putting up a successful fašade.
"Really now? Up here begging for scraps, I suppose." Laurel heard Padfoot growl softly behind her and for one fleeting moment she felt compelled to confess all to Harry. Suppressing the urge, she continued, "I suggest you take him back to wherever it is that he belongs, Mr. Potter. Miss Weasley, why don't you come with me? You two can continue your little tryst later."
The teenagers' faces turned as red as Ginny's hair, but Harry also looked slightly relieved. His expression turned to one of mortification, however, when Laurel leaned over to scratch Padfoot lightly behind the ears before heading back to the castle, Ginny trailing along silently. Not surprisingly, Padfoot's fur had the same soft, floofy quality as Sirius' hair, and it only compounded the pain she felt as she walked away from the first time she'd felt whole in years.
Laurel left Ginny just outside the front doors and continued on to the Great Hall. Remus was nowhere in sight; she would be sure to have a close chat with him tomorrow. She made her way over to the refreshment table, where Dumbledore stood observing the spectacle of the dance.
When she walked up, he said, "Enjoying yourself, Laurel? A worthwhile night?" The twinkle in his eyes told her that he knew exactly what had happened.
Laurel allowed a true smile to break through the mask of pleasant apathy. "Yes, Professor. Absolutely splendid."