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Chapter 14: "If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On"
“If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On”
Seventh Year, 1978
The last week of school before break passed by quickly, and with presents given and received and the holiday feast devoured, students piled onto the Hogwarts Express and were on their way home. Lily quite earnestly invited me to go home with her, but I decided to pay my mum a visit first before heading to London.
I spent two days at St. Mungo’s, where Chortley happily informed me that the treatment they had begun was going well and that my mum was steadily improving. Of course, she wouldn't be able to fully recover without the second half of the treatment, but it was enough to keep my spirits up. Now all I had to do was figure out how to obtain the other fifty thousand Galleons.
After receiving the assurance that my mum was improving, I took up Lily’s offer and visited her in Surrey. Her parents were delighted by my presence, but her sister was another matter. Petunia shied away from me and literally ran out of rooms the moment I entered them.
Truthfully, I had no idea how Lily put up with her.
It was during the last week of break, right before Christmas, that Lily received an invitation from James for his annual winter party extravaganza. Seeing as she was his girlfriend, there was no way she would miss out, and as her best friend, I was forced to tag along as well.
Needless to say, the first day was extremely awkward considering Sirius and I were still on unstable grounds. But as Christmas Day dawned and the festivities began, the hesitance began seeping away, and before I knew it, Sirius and I were talking and laughing like we were the best of friends.
Remus and Peter arrived to help decorate, and by noon, the party was in full swing. I didn't think anyone could throw a better party than the Marauders. And when the day faded into night, presents were exchanged. It was apparently a Potter family tradition to open presents at night, with mugs overflowing with hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows on the side.
I was surprised when I saw that all of the Marauders had gotten me something. When Lily had told me we'd be spending Christmas at James' place, I had gotten last-minute presents for James, Sirius, and Peter. But I really hadn't been expecting anything in return, so when they each handed me parcels of various sizes, I couldn't help but feel touched.
Sirius gave me a brief smile when he handed me a small box wrapped with shiny silver paper and an elegant green bow. “I didn't really know what to get you considering... well, everything.” He shrugged sheepishly. “But I figured this would come in handy sometime.”
James, who was sitting on a nearby couch with Lily, grinned at me. “Just don't bother with it when we're around. You'll start getting very annoyed.”
His comment ignited my curiosity, but I refrained from tearing open the present right then. Instead, I thanked Sirius and handed him my gift. Since I had discovered earlier that he didn't have any gloves, I had gone and purchased him a pair made of high-quality leather. I figured the least I could do as a friend was keep his hands warm.
And as he was thanking me, I pulled out another item that I knew he would recognize. The seconds ticked away as he stared at the jewelry dangling from my fingers, and then his gray eyes met mine.
“I never got a chance to give this back to you,” I said.
He frowned, looking shaken. “Why would you give it back to me? I had it made for you.”
I glanced at the silver pendant and felt a pang in my chest when I saw the S and N intertwined together. I had kept it even after I had broken up with him because I simply couldn't bring myself to part with it. But now that I was dating Regulus, it just seemed wrong to keep it.
“I know, but it's about time I gave it back to you. I don't have any hold over it anymore.”
Sirius swallowed and looked away, as if he couldn't bear to see the necklace a second longer. He shuffled awkwardly and bit at his lip. Finally, when I thought he wouldn't respond at all, he turned back to me. His voice was gruff when he spoke.
“Look, there's no chance I'm taking it back, so if you don't want it anymore, just throw it away. No one will miss it.”
But no matter what he said, I could see the devastated look in his eyes as he glanced at the pendant. Despite his nonchalant words, he cared about this piece of jewelry as much as I did, maybe even more. And maybe that was why I found myself putting it back in my pocket.
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then I cleared my throat and offered Sirius as bright of a smile as I could manage. “Well, um... I hope you like your present. Promise me you'll wear it at least once.”
That seemed to bring the conversation back around again, and Sirius, who was evidently as eager as I was to move on from the previous topic, sported a bright and handsome grin. “Depends on what it is. If it suits my fancy, maybe I'll even wear it twice.”
I laughed and the awkwardness was forgotten. The other Marauders and Lily, who had deemed it safe to speak with us again, immediately clustered around us, and we were soon trading holiday stories over sweet cocoa and delicious chocolate chip cookies that Lily and I had just finished baking.
The night passed by quickly, and by the time we awoke the next morning, it was already eleven. We ate a fancy lunch prepared by the Potters' house elves and then lazed about. Lily, Remus, and I started a heated discussion about a recent book we just read while James, Sirius, and Peter played Exploding Snap.
And that was when I received Regulus’ owl.
It was around three in the afternoon, when Remus and Lily were about to head to a local bookstore and the rest of us were going to test out a newly opened sweets shop. Peter just happened to be straightening a flower pot that he had accidentally knocked over when he looked up to find a sleek black owl flying straight at his head. He was shocked to the point of immobilization, and if it wasn’t for Sirius, who pretty much plucked the owl straight out of the air, Peter probably would’ve been bowled right over.
The owl hooted softly in Sirius' arms, as if he was greeting an old friend. Sirius, on the other hand, didn't look very pleased to see it. But when he turned and offered me the bird, his face was smooth of all unpleasantness.
“I’m assuming this is for you.”
I was surprised, considering he hadn’t even glanced at the note attached to the owl’s leg. “That’s not my owl,” I ended up saying.
Sirius nodded. “I know. It’s Reg’s.”
I blinked and was quite aware that my jaw had dropped. Wordlessly, I took the owl from him and extracted the letter with minimum hassle. Sirius was right. It was from Regulus, and with a few brief sentences, he told me he would be leaving for Hogwarts that night and was hoping that I would be able to meet him at school.
Knowing that I could never deny Regulus now that I had access to him, I sent him a quick return letter telling him I would be arriving at Hogwarts the following morning. And true to my word, I packed my bags that night, said good-bye to my friends the next morning, and Apparated to Hogsmeade. From there, I took one of the numerous carriages that made its way to Hogwarts, and before I knew it, I was strolling past the gates and towards the Entrance Hall.
Regulus was waiting there for me when I walked in.
He was sitting on the grand steps, looking elegant and poised with a thick hardcover in his hands. He looked up the moment he heard my footsteps and a smile broke out on his face, so wide and brilliant that I thought my heart stopped for just a moment.
And then his arms were around me, pulling me so tightly against his hard body that I had difficulty breathing for just a moment. But when he leaned down and pressed his soft lips to mine in an urgent but caressing manner, I decided that breathing could just go to hell.
I lost track of how long we kissed, but I eventually had to pull away due to the lack of air. Regulus' breathing was ragged, but that look of absolute adoration never left his eyes as he pressed butterfly kisses to my eyelids, nose, cheek, and then lips.
“Happy New Years,” he murmured.
I smiled widely. “Right back at you. How was Christmas?”
He kissed me once more before he released me and bent down to retrieve the book he had carelessly tossed onto the ground earlier. “It was as good as to be expected. There were a lot of obnoxious relatives and ridiculously expensive presents.”
I grabbed one of my bags and Regulus lifted my heavier trunk. “You don't like expensive presents?” I asked.
He smiled. “Of course I do. That was the best part. But other than that, let's just say I wouldn't have minded being back here.”
We ascended the stairs and started making our way towards Gryffindor Tower. Regulus had spelled my trunk so it was now floating along behind us and he had an arm around my shoulders, as if he couldn't bear to be apart from me for too long. I had to admit that it was a rather nice feeling. He made me feel needed.
“I'm assuming your break was exciting?” he asked.
I nodded. “Most definitely.” I then recounted for him my trip to St. Mungo's, my visit to Lily's, and then the trip to James'. Regulus nodded along and smiled at all the appropriate places. His comments were earnest and he sounded truly excited for me when I told him about the Marauders' party.
“I definitely wish my parents understood more about enjoying the holidays,” he said wistfully. “There'd be a lot more genuine laughter and a lot less cackling.” He smiled brightly then. “But I'm glad you had fun. The Potters must be very accommodating.”
“They are,” I agreed, and then felt slightly nervous as a thought suddenly occurred to me. “Regulus, how did you know where to send your owl?”
He shrugged. “I guessed. You said you'd be spending the holiday with Evans, and since she's Potter's girlfriend, it was only natural that she'd be over at his place for Christmas. I just knew you'd go with her.”
“And you're not angry that I was there?”
Regulus looked at me in surprise. “Why would I be?”
“Um... because Sirius was there as well? Because I didn't tell you I'd be going?” When he only looked at me blankly, I sighed and threw my hands into the air. “Oh I don't know. There are a whole bunch of reasons why you would be angry.”
“But none that actually make sense,” he corrected. “I'm your boyfriend, not your guard. You don't have to report to me what you do every minute of every day.”
Needless to say, I was very surprised. While I hadn't expected him to be overbearing, the amount of trust he placed in me was appalling, especially given my history with Sirius. I couldn't help but feel grateful with how liberal he was with our relationship. I glanced up at him briefly and saw that he had his attention focused on several paintings on the wall. It was so rare to have a boyfriend who trusted you to such a degree.
But then an unpleasant thought settled in my mind. If Regulus was so willing to give me space, did that mean he wanted me to give him that much space as well? And along the same train of thought, did that mean...
“Neely you're frowning,” Regulus observed. “What's the matter?”
No, I thought resolutely. I refused to be the jealous girlfriend. It was in my nature to over-think and Regulus definitely wouldn't appreciate it if I did.
“It's nothing,” I said, after some time. “I was just thinking.”
“Just... trivial matters. Don't worry about it.”
Regulus looked like he still wanted to press me for answers, but he must've noticed something on my face because he ended up not saying a word. By then, we had approached the entrance to Gryffindor Tower and I was mentally conjuring up a list of the pros and cons of bringing Regulus into our common room.
Lily had said there were only three students staying behind during break, which meant there was little chance that we would run into them. But on the off chance that we did, it probably wouldn't be a very pretty encounter. Most Gryffindors still despised Slytherins and vice versa. So was it really wise for me to bring him in and face my fellow housemates' wrath?
“I may not be a Gryffindor but I'd like to think that I'm not a coward,” Regulus said.
Startled, I turned to him. “What?”
He smiled and gestured at the Fat Lady, who was trying yet failing to inconspicuously stare at him. “I'm sure I'm courageous enough to brave the big bad Gryffindor common room.”
I smiled weakly and glanced at the Fat Lady hesitantly.
When Regulus noticed that I made no comment, he cocked his head. “Unless, of course, you don't want me to go in there.
“No!” I protested immediately. “That's not what I meant at all. I just wasn't sure if you'd feel comfortable in there. It's not exactly a hidden fact that our houses don't get along with each other.”
He rolled his eyes. “Neely-”
“Oh darling, don't belittle the boy's ability at handling unpleasant situations,” the Fat Lady suddenly said, startling me considerably and causing Regulus' eyes to widen.
“Excuse me?” I stammered.
She beamed down at us and fanned herself with a lacy Victorian-styled fan. “I've heard quite a bit about him – Regulus, is it? He's such a handsome one. You really know how to pick your men, my dear.”
I flushed a bright crimson at her words and hurriedly muttered the password before she could get in any more ridiculously embarrassing comments. The Fat Lady huffed and puffed a bit after realizing that she had pretty much been brushed aside, but she nevertheless gave in with a loud and disgruntled sigh and swung her portrait open. I scurried in and couldn't help the warm feeling that spread through me when I saw the familiar velvet sofas and the maroon and gold carpet.
I turned to Regulus and found him looking at the common room speculatively.
“What?” I asked, feeling oddly defensive. “Yes it's not as posh as your common room, but it's comfortable and it's home.”
He tore his gaze away from the huge lion tapestry that hung from the balcony of the upper staircase and gave me an amused look. “Well, someone's defensive.”
I scowled and grabbed my trunk that had been hovering in the air. So maybe I was being unreasonable, but I couldn't help it. I had seen the Slytherin common room and I remembered how cold and luxurious it was. He probably thought this was a dump in comparison.
But then I felt Regulus' hand on my shoulder and he gently turned me around. He seemed tickled by my frustration and pulled me closer before pressing his lips to mine. It was a gentle and warm kiss, slow and languid, but it had my heart rate soaring and I had soon forgotten what it was that had me so worked up only a few seconds prior.
Regulus squeezed my hand. “Come on Neely, give me a little more credit. I haven't said a word and yet you've already accused me of being prejudiced... against your common room of all things.”
“Well I can't help it,” I said. “You had this look in your eyes...”
“I was admiring the decorations,” he corrected.
“But it was disdainful and...”
He crossed his arms and leaned back against one of the sofas, his expression exasperated. “It most certainly was not. I was merely surprised by how warm it looked in here.”
My eyes widened. “But that's not a bad thing!”
Regulus growled. “I never said it was.”
He grabbed my shoulders firmly and gave me a little shake. “Neely! Can you hold on for just a second?” I blinked, surprised by the intensity in which he was looking at me. But it effectively shut me up.
“Good,” he breathed. “Now, I think we need to sort a few things out, namely your belief that I'm disgusted by and prejudiced against everything that's Gryffindor.”
I bit my lip to keep myself from speaking out. I had no idea where this sudden urge to defend my Gryffindor-ness had come from. Maybe it was because entering the Gryffindor common room with a Slytherin in tow had made me very aware of the differences between our houses.
Regulus' eyes were focused on me, never wavering in their dark blue intensity. “I just want to make a few things clear. I'm dating you because I genuinely love who you are, which means there's no reason for you to feel bad about speaking up for what you believe in and want.” He waited until I had nodded before continuing. “And it's undoubted that there will be things I happen to dislike but you happen to love. But I hardly think it's a rule that couples have to agree on everything.”
I took in his words and gradually let them filter into my head. Regulus was right, like usual. I was overreacting, which was hardly unusual since Regulus could be very imposing when he wanted to be. But he seemed to genuinely believe what he was saying.
“You're right,” I said quietly. “I'm sorry for overreacting.”
He smiled. “Not a problem. So let's try this again, shall we?” He made a drastic gesture of scanning the area again. “Your common room is very different from what I'm used to, but it's warm and I know it reminds you of home.”
I was surprised. “It doesn't remind you of home?”
His lips twitched and he absentmindedly ran his hand along the top of the sofa. The velvet shifted patterns with every brush of his fingers. “The Slytherin common room reminds me of home.”
Oh. Of course. I shouldn't have been surprised. I had forgotten just how pristine and posh the pureblooded Slytherins wanted their homes.
“I'm just going to put my things upstairs. Could you wait down here for a bit?”
Regulus gestured with his hand. “Take all the time you need.”
I hurried up the steps and dumped my trunk at the end of my bed and placed my bag on top of it. Before I went back downstairs, I took the liberty of glancing into all the girls' dorms to find that all of them were empty. At least I could be certain that no girls were here to witness Regulus' presence in the common room.
When I went back downstairs, Regulus was waiting patiently for me. He reached out and pulled me closer and I willingly fell into his embrace. There was something about him that always made me feel exceptionally warm and comfortable.
“Ready to go?” he whispered.
I glanced up at him. “Go where?”
“We're going to meet my friends.”
I stiffened instantly and Regulus must've felt it because he loosened his hold on me. “What's the matter?”
“You want me to go meet your friends?” I asked, completely astounded. “Regulus, do I have to tell you just how bad of an idea that is?”
His brows furrowed. “What would be so bad about it? I spent time with your friends before we left for break and it was a decent experience. I don't see why my friends would be any different.”
I rolled my eyes, realizing just how daft he could be at times. “Regulus, my friends are of the accepting variety. They willingly spent time with us because they know you're important to me and they've learned to accept you.” I pointed my finger at him. “But your friends, on the other hand, would not hesitate to eat me alive!”
He raised a skeptical brow, disturbing a few strands of his dark fringe. “Don't you think you're exaggerating just a bit?”
“No,” I said resolutely. “Remember the last time your friends and I interacted? It wasn't so pretty, was it?”
“I already spoke with them about this. They've already promised that they'll be on their best behavior.” When I still made no move to do anything, Regulus sighed and gently tugged on my arm. “Please? Gryffindor courage, remember?”
I glared at him. “I hate you, you know.”
He smiled impishly. “I find that very hard to believe.”
Even though I was still a hundred and ten percent unwilling to head to Slytherin Dungeon, I let Regulus pull me along. The Founders had built the Gryffindor and Slytherin common rooms so far apart that we pretty much had to walk across the entire span of the castle. By the time we were down in the dungeons, my nerves were shot and my stomach had twisted itself into a series of knots that would've eluded even the most expert knot fixer in both the wizarding and Muggle worlds.
Regulus patted my hand, which he was currently holding. “You honestly have no reason to be nervous, Neely.”
“Easy for you to say,” I muttered. My throat closed in on itself when we stopped in front of a blank expanse of wall, which I remembered to be the entrance to the Slytherin common room. “How many of your friends am I meeting?” I managed to ask.
“Only two. My best friends, Rabastan and Walden.”
His smile was pained. “Should I ask you to be on your best behavior now?”
I sighed wearily. “That won't be necessary.”
Regulus grinned, pulled me in for a brief but heated kiss, and then announced the password. The wall slid aside without a sound, revealing a set of beautiful marble steps that led down to the common area. The common room was dim as usual, and I could see the clear water of the Black Lake rippling along the transparent walls.
I recognized the expensive black leather couches that adorned the area, which was where Rabastan Lestrange and Walden Macnair were seated, both looking calm and poised. I couldn't help but notice just how properly they were dressed. Even though they had not worn the school uniform, both were decked in slacks and collared dress shirts. One glance at Regulus told me he was wearing a similar outfit, though he had a black cashmere sweater over his gray shirt.
Rabastan smirked when he saw us and waved his hand around the common room. “Why if it isn't the lovebirds. Welcome to our humble abode, Grey. I hope it suits your fancy.”
I bristled at his words, but Regulus tightened his grip on my hand as a warning. For his sake, I forced myself to calm down.
“It's very different from Gryffindor,” I managed through gritted teeth. “But it's magnificent nonetheless.”
Lestrange smirked and looked away, but Macnair jumped in at that moment. “Don't mind Rabastan, Neely.” I almost fainted from shock when I heard my name from his lips. “That was actually him being courteous.”
“He needs practice then,” I blurted out, and then slapped a hand to my mouth in horror. Oh dear Merlin, I really wasn't thinking.
Interestingly enough, neither Regulus nor Macnair looked alarmed. Regulus was chuckling at my statement, and when I gathered enough guts to look at Lestrange, I saw that he had an eyebrow raised, but other than that, he didn't look insulted at all.
“Your girlfriend has some bite to her,” he observed to Regulus, whose smile grew wider.
“Naturally,” he said proudly, giving me a fond look. “I trust her to put me in my place.”
Macnair grinned and gestured us over. Since he was occupying the armchair and Lestrange had taken the liberty of stretching his long frame out across the three-seat couch, we were left with the love seat, which Regulus promptly brought us to.
Lestrange was eyeing us with an expression that was a mixture of confusion and disgust. “So you two are serious about your relationship?”
Regulus weaved his fingers through mine. “Of course. It's the real deal.”
Lestrange scoffed. Macnair, seeing the disgruntled expression on my face, immediately jumped in again. “He's happy for you. Really.”
“No he isn't,” Lestrange cut in sourly. “He isn't happy at all. In fact, he thinks their relationship is absolutely ridiculous and unconventional.”
Despite the situation, I had to admit that I was a little amused. “And does he not realize how stupid he sounds when he speaks of himself in third person?”
Regulus stifled a snicker while Lestrange, who had pushed himself up on his elbows, gave me an indecipherable look. It wasn't anger and it wasn't admiration, but it was something that fell in between those two. It almost seemed as if he was approving of me?
He snorted after an assessing glance. “So maybe Reg was right. You're only slightly intolerable.” But then he belied his almost-considerate words with a harsh glare. “But don't expect me to take back anything I said the last time we met.”
I rolled my eyes in disbelief. “Don't worry, I couldn't even possibly think of giving you so much credit.”
Regulus' arm snaked around my shoulder and he gave me an affectionate peck on the cheek. “Down girl,” he whispered.
I grinned at him, letting him know that I was in complete control of my emotions. Lestrange looked like he wanted to say something in defense of himself, but Macnair – who reminded me more and more of Peter – interrupted again with his peacemaking ways and held out a deck of Exploding Snap cards.
“So who's up for a game?”
Lestrange scowled. “I refuse to play with a Mudblood lover.”
I glared at him, feeling the anger rise again. Why the hell did people like him even exist? “And I refuse to play with a prejudiced bigot.”
That had him jumping out of his seat. “What the fuck did you just call me?” he snarled.
Regulus was up in a flash. He grabbed Lestrange's arm before he could physically lash out at me and shoved him back in his seat with a whispered threat. Lestrange glared at Regulus furiously, but he nevertheless remained mute and instead chose to glower silently at the dark coffee table in front of us.
Macnair cleared his throat awkwardly. “So um... four piles?”
Regulus nodded. “Go ahead and deal.” He lifted my hand and pressed a gentle kiss to my fingers. “You okay?” he murmured.
I took in a deep breath to calm my nerves and smiled as cheerily as I could. “Of course. It can't be helped that your friend is an idiot.”
Lestrange growled at my words and snapped up his deck with gusto. “I'd like to see you beat me, bitch.”
My eyes narrowed. “You're on, bastard.”
I didn't think I had ever played Exploding Snap as hard as I had with Regulus' friends. By the time we had finished the game, we were all covered in Merlin knew how many layers of soot. But miraculously enough, we were all laughing by the end of it.
To my surprise, I had gotten along considerably well with Lestrange and Macnair, especially the former when we weren't trying to bite each other's heads off. We had developed an odd sort of truce and thus spent the rest of the time relaxing in the Slytherin common room.
And now I was back in my room in Gryffindor Tower, enjoying the feel of the familiar bed. The day's activities had left me completely worn out and I was looking forward to turning in early. I rolled over so I'd be able to take off my sweater, but an uncomfortable bump in my bed stopped me in my tracks.
Frowning, I got up and felt around till I came upon a familiar-looking silver-wrapped box. One glance told me it was Sirius' present and I was briefly confused as to how it had gotten onto my bed. But nevertheless, curiosity got the better of me and I found myself unwrapping it instead of going to sleep.
Hidden within the fancy wooden box was a Sneakoscope.
But like all presents given from the Marauders, it wasn't a regular Sneakoscope. Sirius had shrunk it so that it wasn't as big and cumbersome as some of the others that I had seen before, and he had even attached a long silver chain to the black device so I could wear it as a necklace if I wanted to. I grinned at the object that strongly resembled a spinning top and place it around my neck. The string was long enough that the Sneakoscope settled right below my breasts.
I admired its miniature form, feeling absolutely tickled that Sirius had chosen to give me this out of all the gifts that he could've possibly gotten. Still, it was a surprisingly nice thought, made extra special because I had never owned a Sneakoscope before.
I went to sleep that night feeling highly content.
Author's Note: Nothing too exciting happening in this chapter, but at least Neely and Regulus get to spend some quality time together... along with the Slytherins. Haha. I realized when writing this chapter that Lestrange and Macnair are going to make some semi-regular appearances in this story, so better get used to them :)
In the light of the introduction of some new characters, I've updated character pictures on my website. Go check them out if you'd like!
Have fun reading and please review! Thanks :)
Chapter Title: Twelfth Night, Act 1 scene 1