42

Not long afterwards I arrived home, tear-stained and exhausted. I’d had to stop a couple of blocks away to compose myself enough to stop Mum or Dad asking any awkward questions, and cast a passable Cheering Charm on myself, but I was still less than my usual sparkling self when I pulled into the driveway. And seeing the Potters’ owl waiting for me on the front steps, a note in Sirius’ handwriting attached to its leg, didn’t help. “Is that you, Laura?” Mum called out as I let myself inside.

“Yeah, it’s me,” I said, hoping to be able to disappear upstairs before she saw me.

“You’re home early,” she said, poking her head around the corner and seeing my face. “Oh, Laura, what’s wrong?”

If you’ve ever had someone ask you that question when you’re trying to hold everything in, you’ll know that it causes you to break down completely. In this case I just dropped my bag and burst into tears, and she rushed over to give me a hug.

“Careful,” came Dad’s voice. “We should make sure it’s actually her.”

“It’s her,” Mum said reproachfully over my shoulder as I cried into her. “You think I don’t know my own daughter? And she’d never be able to answer any questions when she’s in this state, anyway.”

Dad conceded defeat, and once I’d calmed down a little Mum managed to coax a little bit of information out of me.

“I was made a fool of,” I explained, hiccoughing uncomfortably. “I trusted someone I shouldn’t have and it backfired.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

Definitely not, I thought. Instead I just shook my head.

“That’s fine,” she said, “whenever you’re ready. There’s a letter here for you, too,” she went on. “Is that anything to do with it?”

I shook my head again – it was easier to lie when I wasn’t talking. “I’d better go upstairs and answer it.”

Or, I thought, I’ll go upstairs, burst into tears again, and then send the letter back unopened. I knew that I didn’t want to know what he had to say, it was too soon and too painful. To think you believed him, a voice inside my head chastised me. You should have known it was too good to be true.

I gestured to the owl to follow me upstairs. Once in my room with the door shut, I pulled off my new bracelet and daffodil clasp, wrapped them in a bit of parchment and tied them to the owl’s other leg. “Take this and the letter back again,” I told it. “And don’t bother coming back, I don’t want an answer.” Whether it understood me I had no idea, but once I opened my window it flew off anyway, probably back to James’ house.

The next week was torture. I’d written to Mary to explain what had happened, and while she was sympathetic she had her own new relationship that was occupying her attention, and I didn’t want to depress her with my problems. Charlotte would probably have understood, but while we were much closer than we had been, we still weren’t really close enough for me to pour my heart out in a letter to her. And Sirius, well …