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Step Forth

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Papa knocked on my door a few hours later and I opened it to see him holding another letter. It was another from the ministry and I opened it with trepidation and trembling fingers. Reading the contents I let out a sigh of relief, though some of the confusion from before remained.

"Well?" papa asked anxiously.

"I'm not expelled." I started and papa grinned widely in relief.

"You see? There must have been some sort of mistake. Like you said, what you did was perfectly legal-"

"Yeah, and I have to attend a hearing."


"It's right here." I said, showing him the letter. "They've only revoked the expulsion because only the headmaster or headmistress has the power to expel students."

Papa looked at a loss for words for a moment, before he pulled himself together. "Well then, they'll sentence you exactly as you are at the hearing: not guilty. Now, back to bed and stop worrying and get some sleep."

I shot papa a small smile before heeding his words and insistent guiding hands.

I eventually managed to get some more sleep, though I was woken up again a few hours later. This time, when I opened the door, it was to see a group of people with papa, amongst which were one of my godfathers, Remus Lupin, and another of my ex-professors, Alastor Moody, though he didn't actually teach me, given that he was trapped in a trunk by a Death Eater impersonating him. For a moment, flashes of memory from the end of last year at school filled my head. The graveyard. Cedric and Cho. Wuya and Chase. The Moody-imposter. I shook it off quickly and grinned at them along with the few others; a woman and two men, none of which I recognised.

"Hi Lupin!" I started forward to hug my godfather but Moody held up his wand to stop me.

"Wait just a second." He said in his usual growl.

"Alastor, this is ridiculous!" Lupin sighed, but Moody didn't lower his wand.

"Just ask the question, Remus."

Lupin shook his head in exasperation, but turned to face me anyway. "What creature was in a tank the first time you set foot in my office?"

"A grindylow." I answered without hesitation. That had been the time that Rai took me to Lupin's office to ask for help dealing with Dementors after the disaster that was the match against Hufflepuff.

"It's her." Lupin grinned and as Moody lowered his wand I moved forwards and hugged my godfather.

"What are you doing here?" I asked as I stepped back from him.

"We're here to take you to safety." Moody replied, and I wondered 'why now? Summer is half-over.' They'd left me cut off from them for a month, why not just wait another?

Something of what I was feeling must have shown on my face as Lupin elaborated. "We had thought you would be safest here – with your father, away from out world. However, considering tonight…" he trailed off, but I could easily follow his train of thought.

"You figured 'if these could slip through our notice there may be more' and so you need me close by." I finished for him. I'm sure Lupin could tell that I was less than impressed with that as he looked as though he was about to speak up but Moody spoke before he could.

"This is Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks." He introduced the two unfamiliar faces.

"They're Aurors at the Ministry." Lupin added in an undertone.

"We need to move quickly. Nymphadora will help you pack." The woman grimaced before moving into my room and closing the door behind her.

"So. Let's get packing, then." She grinned and looked around the room that, at that moment, I was very glad I generally kept tidy.

"So," I mimicked, "how long am I packing for, Tonks?"

"The rest of the summer." She replied, still glancing about my room. Seemingly realising what I had said, she turned to face me, eyebrows raised. "How did you-?" I tapped my right temple with a grin. "Forgot you could do that." She replied with an answering grin. "Is it hard?"

"No," I replied, fishing out my trunk and opening it out on the bed. "But it was hard to control at first." She tilted her head quizzically at me so I searched for a way to explain it. "Hearing what's in people's heads, searching their thoughts, memories… It's effortless; instinct. But stopping it? Means blocking out everyone, building mental barriers strong enough to keep the entire population of Hogwarts at bay and yet being able to drop them in a flash when needed."

"Like Occlumency." She ventured.

"Yes," I replied with a smile. "Just like Occlumency." Tonks took out her wand and I grinned. "I assume you're about to dramatically decrease the delay?" I added with a raised eyebrow. My answer was a wink. Tonks waved her wand and the clothes in my wardrobe began to float towards my trunk.

"So you know what I prefer to be called," Tonks started as she turned towards the mirror to scrutinise her reflection. "Do you know what I am?"

"Metamorphmagus." I called over my shoulder as I grabbed a few of the floating clothes to change out of my pyjamas.

"Impressive." She flicked her wand again and erected a screen, which I quickly ducked behind after shooting her a grateful smile. "But do you know what it means?"

I poked my head out from behind the screen to give her a look, to which she simply raised an eyebrow. I rolled my eyes and ducked back to continue changing. "Of course I do. I do read, you know. Quite extensively."

"Oh, yes. Lupin mentioned you were top of your year at school."

I couldn't help but smile a little at that, though I'm sure that if I had a mirror in front of me I would see I was blushing.

"I…uh…I don't know if I'd say…" I fumbled words as I stepped out from behind the screen, which vanished with another flick of Tonks' wand, to sit on the edge of the bed, pulling on my boots. "I just…read a lot." I finished lamely.

To another girl – an ordinary girl – this would probably be quite unsettling; sitting on my bed next to my open trunk with the contents of my wardrobe floating into it. I guess three years at Hogwarts will do that to a person.

I felt a fond smile tugging at my lips at the thought of the castle I called home for the school terms the last three years. This was the lightest I'd felt in a month. I knew the pent-up anger, fear, pain…it wasn't gone, and I was still on a pretty short fuse, liable to explode at the slightest provocation, but for now I was calmer than I had been since leaving King's Cross station.

"Well, that's all the clothes – books now." Tonks piped up, startling me out of my reverie. I felt another grin grow when I realised her hair was now short and bubblegum pink.

"They were already in the trunk. I repacked them when I finished my homework last month."

"Of course." Tonks grinned wryly. "Pets?" I soon had Hanabi in her basket and Sakura her cage. "Alright, just need your broom."

I lifted my broom from the corner I kept it in and was ready to go.

"Oh, wow! A Firebolt!" Tonks gasped, staring appreciatively at the broom.

I smiled. "Present from my godparents."

"Well c'mon." She said, tearing her eyes away from the broom and moving towards the door. "Don't want to keep Moody waiting."

We met up with the others in the living room, Tonks carrying my trunk and me Sakura, Hanabi and the Firebolt. Despite the fact that we both knew I was physically stronger, she still insisted.

"Sayonara papa." I mumbled into his shoulder as he drew me into a hug.

"Keep safe. I'll see you next summer." He said, pressing a kiss to my forehead before stepping back and headed back upstairs to bed.

"So, how are we getting to…wherever we're going." Halfway through the question I realised that I had absolutely no idea where we were going.

"Brooms." Kingsley Shacklebolt said, the first I'd heard him speak all night.

I grinned. I'd missed flying. No matter what was going on, I always felt better after flying; it never failed to bring a smile to my face. I feel happy up in the air. Safe.

I try not to think too much about why.

"Circle formation." Moody told me. "You'll be in the middle, of course, and we'll hang a net between our brooms to hold your things."

"First things first:" Lupin said, pulling out his wand, "Disillusionment charm."

I nodded and stood still. From what I'd read I knew it would be unpleasant, but would make me invisible. The same as the cloak would, but there was no guarantee that the cloak would stay on while flying. Plus, only a few people knew about the cloak, and it was probably for the best to keep it that way.

The books were right: it was not pleasant. Unless you like the feeling of something cold dripping down your head, neck…almost like a raw egg. But it worked.

Once disillusionment charms were placed on everyone and the net set up, we mounted our brooms and took off.

Once in the air I felt the tension that had surrounded me since the end of June fade – but not disappear. I knew it would return once I was back on the ground.

I tried to fight the feeling. It was something I was used to after all; I'd been fighting them since I figured it out. Falling in love with my best friend was not something I could afford to do. I mean, it's doomed to be one sided – there was no way he could ever fall for someone like me.

No. It would only end in heartbreak.

After a while we landed on a street in what looked like England, though I couldn't be sure.

"Read this." Moody said gruffly as he handed me a scrap of parchment. 'Number 12 Grimmauld Place' was written on it in looped handwriting that I recognised as Master Fung's. Moody took the scrap back as I glanced up at the houses in front of us, feeling more than seeing Moody burn the parchment. "Concentrate on what you read." I heard him say as I read the numbers 11 and 13 on the houses before us, noting the sign announcing the street as Grimmauld Place.

Fidelius charm, I thought to myself as I did what Moody asked. With Master Fung as Secret Keeper.

As I watched, numbers 11 and 13 began to move apart to make way for another – number 12, I guessed – to squeeze through the gap. I looked to the others once the house fully appeared a faded brass number 12 on the door.

Moody stepped forward first, opening the door and ushering me through. The hallway that I stepped into was dark and a bit damp, with wallpaper as faded as the number on the door, peeling in places. It was narrow too, so we had to walk in single file, passing a set of tatty grey curtains on the way to the main part of the house.

Next thing I knew my name was being called a split second before I was pulled into a warm hug. Smiling, I immediately hugged back. No matter how keyed up and ready to explode feel, you can't help but relax into a Carla Pedrosa hug.

"It's so lovely to see you again, dear." She gushed drawing back and holding me by my shoulders, eyeing me speculatively. "You look even thinner than last year! Right, Maria will take you up to your room. You unpack and then come straight down for dinner, you hear me?" she said sternly. I nodded quickly before heading to where I could see Maria waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

Maria took Hanabi and Sakura from me, allowing me to pick up my trunk and follow her up the stairs. We stopped at a door on the first landing – the only door, I noted – which I gathered was to be our bedroom. Inside it was obvious that the room was partially occupied – one of the two beds unmade with clothes, shoes, books and other paraphernalia strewn across it.

Maria blushed when she noticed my line of sight. "Sorry it's so messy. I didn't have time to tidy it."

Knowing Maria, it was more likely that she just kept procrastinating until it was too late. I smiled; I had missed her. "That's okay. No need to tidy for- oomph!"

I was cut off as Maria launched herself at me in a hug after placing my pets on the empty bed.

"I'm so glad you're okay!" she spoke from where her face was pressed between my shoulder and neck, which I wasn't sure was comfortable with me at least a head shorter than her.

"Kimiko!" We both jumped and Maria let out a small shriek when twin voices suddenly shouted next to our ears, and two bodies suddenly joined our hug, lifting us both into the air.

"Boys!" Maria shouted, sounding so eerily like her mother for a moment that the twins immediately set us on our feet again.

"Good to see you again too, boys." I snickered. "I see you got your licences."

They grinned and opened their mouths to respond but were interrupted by a thundering of footsteps coming down the stairs.

The door burst open and four boys tumbled in, Alejandro landing on top of Clay and Omi. Rai wriggled his head out from the bottom of the pile to glare at the twins. "What did you disappear like that for, you assh-" Clay covered his mouth on the last word, cutting him off with a quick glance at Al, but Al was paying Rai no attention, having noticed me.

"Kimiko!" he squealed, scrambling from the top of the pile to leap at me and hug me around the waist.

"Look at you! You're getting so tall!" and he was – eight years old and already almost up to my shoulders.

"Nah." Ricardo grinned, sitting on Maria's bed. "You're just short."

"Ha ha." I snarked back, feeling a flare of triumph as he winced, knowing the small burn had reached its mark.

"Come on, Al." Maria tapped her brother on the back, drawing his attention. "Let's go help mum with dinner."

"But-" he protested, clinging to me with a pout.

"You can see Kimiko at dinner." She wheedled. After silently studying her for a moment, Al reluctantly let me go, moving to stand beside Maria.

Ricardo and Fernando exchanged glances. "Yeah, we think we'll join you." The four left the room then with a quick 'see you at dinner' tossed over their shoulder.

Rai snorted. "Yeah, real subtle guys." I caught his eye and we both broke out in ear-splitting grins. Suddenly the four of us were hugging, and by that I mean they pretty much tackled me, as though those three words had broken the ice.

"So is this where you've been all summer?" I asked as we pulled away.

"Not all summer, no." Rai answered. "My family's been here two weeks, and Clay and Omi got here the day before yesterday. The plan was to come and get you sometime mid-next week but, well," he shrugged, "considering the circumstances…"

"Was it really necessary to make me wait so long?" I grumbled. I could see the corner of Rai's lips twist up into a smirk.

"You're about ready to explode, aren't you?"

"You have no idea!" I groaned, falling backwards onto the bed and covering my face with a pillow in order to scream into it.

Rai cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. "Sorry our recent letters were rather vague. We were told not to put much information into them – it's not safe now. We don't know who's reading them."

That…was a terrifying thought actually. Wuya or Chase Young reading your mail…

"Yeah, okay, I won't deny that it was pretty damn frustrating and that I was about ready to castrate you by fire yesterday," I inwardly snickered as the three of them flinched, "but that actually makes a lot of sense." I finished grudgingly.

"Master Fung assures us that he has his reasons." Rai sat on the bed next to me, rolling his eyes. "Of course he won't tell us what they are, but he insists they're important."

And that was that. I trusted Master Fung and knew that if he said it was important for me to be kept out of the loop and wait that long before joining everyone else, it was necessary. Though it didn't mean I necessarily liked it.

We spent the rest of the evening catching up, until Carla called us for dinner. We trooped into the kitchen, still laughing and joking, where Al pulled me to sit beside him as I reacquainted myself with Pedrosa family food, feeling at home in the warm atmosphere of the kitchen.