A/N: I know, I know, I feel terrible! Not just for taking so long to update but to update with such a middling chapter! =(. An irksome combination of school, exams and mild writer's block are my excuses. Anyway, hopefully you enjoy this not-my-best-work chapter!
Credit: Chapter banner by invisibleforest, thank you!
“No, oh please no!”
The ominous footsteps were getting louder, yet the door still hadn’t opened. She was cowering, shivering. Why must they be so brave? Why did they have to challenge them? One was already dead, lying on the ground. The others took no notice of it. She tried to. She tried hard to avoid looking at the body, surprisingly succeeding. But it was only because her eyes were fixated on the door, awaiting their coming.
The others already had their wands drawn and aimed at the door, prepared for the worst. She saw each of them as clearly as day. Lily, her green eyes glassy but firm. James, his back arched proudly and steadfastly. Sirius, a smirk across his face and hungering for action. Remus, his knuckles turning white from gripping the wand. Peter, beads of perspiration gathering at his brow. Vivian, biting her lower lip.
She begged, pleaded with them to see reason. Her whole body was quivering, her eyes brimming with tears that wouldn’t fall. She couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t be brave. There was no other way out, the door was the only escape but they were coming closer. There was another door, it was right beside her, but it was only a broom closet. Did she dare risk it? The pounding in her heart was getting louder, or maybe it was the footsteps?
Either way, she ran into the room and partially closed the door. As she trembled in the corner, the door burst open. Screams echoed in the air but she refused to identify which was whose. Her lungs were compressed against her chest, she couldn’t breathe. Hugging her legs to her torso, she rocked steadily back and forth, trying to compose herself.
As she looked at the door, she realized in horror that she had left the light on. What if they saw the light? What if they found her? Make it stop, oh please make it stop!
That’s when she saw it. A puddle of crimson seeped through under the door. She tried to shut her eyes but they wouldn’t comply. All she could do was stare at the pool, praying it didn’t belong to her friends. Then the pool was followed by a slither of brown fluid, running beside the crimson.
The door creaked opened…
Dollie shot up like a bolt. A cold sweat broke out through her pores as fragments of the dream raced through her mind. Usually, when one awoke from a dream, the dream would slowly but surely dissolve from the person’s mind. But it wasn’t the case this time around. She tried in vain to shake the dreams from her head but the frightening images clung on for dear life.
Damn it, she thought as she glanced at the grandfather clock. Three bloody thirty in the bleeding morning! That meant she’d had only one and a half hours of sleep… She looked sorrowfully at her pillow but even at the thought of sleep, her droopy eyes immediately widened and her head darted around the room. She momentarily contemplated invading Vivian or Lily’s personal space but decided against it, because it would mean she’d have to recount back the dream and that wasn’t something she wished to do.
Although she had acute night vision and generally welcomed the darkness that enveloped and comforted her, tonight she disliked thinking about the shadows and whatever else that might be lurking in the corners of the room. Carefully opening her drawer while making sure not to aggravate its squeak, she fumbled around until she felt the rough touch of the matchbox. She struck a match and dipped it onto the wick of the candle, relishing the glow and warmth it emanated. Its wavering form soothed her tense nerves, its light dancing pleasantly in the darkness. Her eyes were briefly transfixed with the flame until she felt a sudden urge to move. Slipping out of her bed, she crept to the window, still gripping on to the edge of the saucer on which her candle stood.
She stared out on to the grounds, her mind still determined on obliterating the dredges of the dream. It was with a trembling hand that she opened the window to a crack, taking a gulp of the chilly wind that signified winter was coming closer. Her racing heart was slowing down to a calm pulse and her shoulders sank down to their normal level. She was alright, it had been a dream, merely a dream; just a dream…
The candle flame was blown out to oblivion.
“Knut for your thoughts?”
Dollie almost dropped the newspaper she was holding and swerved around to tell the person off when she saw it to be Remus. Feeling the now familiar blush invading her cheeks, she composed herself and closed the paper.
“Wah…? No – erm – nothing,” she stuttered, surprised that his presence still mercilessly affected her. “Wha – what are you doing here? I’d have thought you’d gone to Hogsmeade with the rest of them.”
The first Hogsmeade trip of the year was on that day, triggering a frenzy among supposedly mature Hogwarts students. Ecstatic to spend time with their significant other, almost three-quarters of the school had jostled their way to the little wizard village. She didn’t mind being left with the first and second-years, who were not allowed to go on the trip. Autumn was fast fading, making way for the chilly weather of November. The left behind students had taken to the brightly lit fireplaces of the castle, not ready to face the coming nippiness.
This was exactly why Dollie had decided to venture out to the grounds. Although the weather was particularly glacial, the winds ruthless and her breath becoming palpable in the air, the sweet sound of silence was something so rare that she couldn’t possibly pass it up. The dream had fast faded from her psyche and though it still gave her jitters, it didn’t affect her as badly as last night. ‘The Daily Prophet’ tucked under her arm and enveloped in her thickest coat, she chose a spot that offered a lovely view of the neighbouring mountains and behind some trees that shielded her from the cold winds. She was just about to unfold the newspaper when she had been pleasantly ambushed.
Remus gave her a dry smile and replied, “I decided to forego the trip. Wasn’t very up to it.”
“That’s right,” she said, “You were missing from school for the past few days, weren’t you?” Of course he had; she should know, she’d been relentlessly craning her neck everywhere she went to catch a glimpse of him.
“Yes, my – my mum wasn’t feeling well so I went to check on her back home,” he explained. “She doesn’t take to the weather well this time of year.”
But even as he explained it, Dollie couldn’t help but notice a few significant changes in him. He was remarkably gaunter than the last time she’d seen him, while more lines were visible around his eyes and face. Bigger and darker bags clung underneath his weary eyes and his lips were turning a pale shade of blue. He was definitely worst for wear but Dollie still couldn’t cease the insistent racing of her pulse.
“Oh. Well, it’s nice to have you back,” she said rather awkwardly. “Have a seat.” She patted on the ground next to her.
Seeming unsteady, he leaned against the trunk of the tree as he tremulously sat himself down on the ground. Noticing him curl up in his thin robes, she got up and gathered an armful of dry sticks and leaves. After amassing an agreeable pile, she arranged it in front of hers and Remus’ spot and whispering, “Incendio”
; she stuck her wand into the pile. After a while, it caught on and turned into a lovely roasting fire. Remus immediately thrust his hands near the flames, colour already returning to his face.
A smile twitched at his lips, “I really shouldn’t be permitting this blatant magical misconduct but since it is OWLs year, I’ll chalk it up to stress or the need to practise one’s magical prowess. Whichever sounds more convincing if I’m asked by McGonagall.”
“I appreciate the risk you’re taking, Mr. Prefect,” she stuck out her tongue while trying to get rid of the goosebumps popping up because of the cold. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the goosebumps when Remus was in the vicinity.
“But I’m pleased to see the improvement in you, after what happened in our last lesson…”
Her face unintentionally scrunched up in embarrassment. She had been hoping he’d forgotten that little mishap but apparently not. “Shut up,” she muttered, “I didn’t mean to make all those books fly out their shelves. After the lecture –”
“I would think screaming fit would be more appropriate,” he interrupted, an amused gleam appearing in his weary eyes.
“– that I got from Pince, I really don’t need your stupid taunting right now,” she snapped. Maybe she was being too sensitive about the incident but she had always been touchy to criticism, having to deal with it for most of her life from her family.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he replied dejectedly, a wounded look on his face.
She chewed at her bottom lip and unconsciously started fiddling with some stray plants, embarrassed at her outburst. What was wrong with her? Why was it that she could never hold herself together around Remus, always doing and saying the wrong things while pushing him farther and farther away from her? It wasn’t his fault after all. He was using his precious time; time that could have been spent on other more worthwhile things, on helping her with her spells and all he got in return was aggressive behaviour and faulty wand work.
She feigned a cough to ease the tension and to look nonchalant for what she was about to do, “-Ahem- I’m, er, sorry for, umm, snapping at you…” she mumbled nearly incoherently, trailing off at the last part. One couldn’t even be sure that he had heard her. But the smile on his face revealed otherwise.
“That must have taken a lot of effort,” he joshed, a laughing tone attached to his voice.
She grimaced at his words and replied with indignation, “Ha ha, very funny -”
“I appreciate it very much.”
She instantly searched the statement but found no trace of malice, merely pure sincerity. Her heart gave a leap as she quickly turned away to avoid him seeing the shy smile spreading across her face.
“Want me to make it up to you?” he suddenly asked.
“Make what up?” she turned to him, her smile replaced by a look of confusion.
“What do you –?”
“I can teach you right now,” he gestured at the large empty grounds, “Right here, it’s satisfyingly empty. I can teach you some defensive spells, for Defence against the Dark Arts.”
“Are you sure?” she asked doubtfully. Although the fire had returned some much needed colour to his face, he still looked utterly exhausted. Even as he hoisted himself up, he had to lean back on the tree to regain his balance.
“No, really, I’m fine. Or I will be fine in a minute,” he reassured her as he dug something out of his pocket and quick as a wink shoved it into his mouth. He sighed in contentment and seemed to slightly recuperate from his previously weakened state.
“Right,” he clapped his hands together, an action that effortlessly commanded authority. “Like I said before, we’ll start with anti-jinxes and defensive spells; those usually crop up frequently in OWLS every year. Let’s move to a better location, somewhere a bit more open that gives room to blast spells around. And yet also farther away from the castle so that no one’s in any danger of getting hurt.”
They both wandered around for awhile until they came upon a clearing that met Remus’ criteria. He instructed her to stand on a particular spot whereby he positioned himself a few feet farther away from her. With their wands at a ready and both taking a duelling stance, the lesson began.
“Let’s start with the Disarming Charm, don’t think it would be too wise to start with something complex,” he said, “Don’t be afraid to get rough,” he added, a twinkle in his eyes.
She stretched and shook some of her limbs to loosen them up and to rid herself of the nerves that were already tensing up as they usually did when she was supposed to perform a spell. With a deep breath, she was ready as she’ll ever be.
His wand didn’t fly out of his hand and away from him like it was supposed to but merely jumped, twirled in the air and landed securely back in his hand. “Woah, I’ve always wanted to know what it would be like to be one of those muggle cheerleaders. Think I’d look good in a skirt with pom-poms?” he mused, rubbing his chin slyly.
“You’d look good in anything,” she blurted before she could stop herself.
“Nothing, it was nothing…” Thank Merlin he was a distance away.
“Oh okay… I think I see the problem. You’re just concentrating on the wand in my hand. The point of the spell is to render me armless, without a wand. So, you have to focus on getting the wand away from me. That is to say, you can’t just be motionless. A short, sharp flick of the wrist while saying the incantation, keeping your mind on your objective. Understand?”
She gave a brief nod, his simple phrasing actually making some sense.
“Alright, let’s try it again. Remember, focus and flick.”
This time, a small burst of light lit up at Remus’s hand as his wand shot out of his hands and collided with the bark of a nearby tree. Both of them stared at the stick of magical wood in shock. Dollie recovered first, unfortunately.
“Oh my… I did it!” she clasped her hands to her mouth but a squeal still managed to escape from her lips. She even started to hop a little in her spot. Suddenly, a thought struck her as she anxiously looked at his wand, “It’s not broken, is it?”
Remus ventured out to the tree and bent down to pick it up. He surveyed it with such a grave look on his face that she immediately feared the worse. But her worries vanished he twirled the stick in his hand, “Not a splinter out of place. I’m impressed.”
“Can we do some more?” she was actually getting excited about finally getting the hang of spells. “That is, if you’re up to it, of course.”
“Might as well keep the momentum going,” he smiled almost proudly.
After a few more practice Disarming spells, they moved on to Hex-Deflection and counter-jinxes though these didn’t go as smoothly as the first lesson had. Remus was unusually reluctant to fire any jinxes and hexes at her though if Dollie remembered correctly, Professor Tristram distinctly said that more likely or not the examiners would expect them to defend themselves against the spells cast by the examiners themselves. It was this reasoning, and perhaps a bit of raised voices here and there, that he caved in and agreed to be the one on the offensive.
All in all, the duel didn’t turn out as bad as either of them feared. Sure, she may have accidently turned his hair into icicles and the spells that got through her shield charm proved to be mortifyingly embarrassing but Remus was always quick to rectify the hexes and jinxes. After a couple of hours of duelling, a well-deserved break was suggested and approved as they headed towards the clump of trees.
“You’re making really good progress, you know,” Remus unexpectedly said as they leaned against separate trees.
“You call almost turning your head into an iceberg ‘progress’?” she sneered while she propped her chin onto her upright hand, glancing at the neatly raked piles of fallen autumn leaves under every tree on the grounds.
“I never said you were ‘Dumbledore’ improving,” was the laughing reply.
“Oh, you are cruel, Remus Lupin!” she exclaimed as she scooped an armful of leaves up and dumped them on his previously clean, dry head.
He sat there, apparently in shock until he stood and armed himself with his own arsenal of dead leaves and twigs a proceeded to rumple them into her hair so that bits and pieces were tangled in her thick hair. As revenge, she pushed him into a particularly large pile but the effort backfired when she fell for the ploy of him seeming to ask for her help to get up but instead of getting up, he pulled her into the pile with him.
“I can’t believe you did that!”
“I can’t believe you fell for it!”
Remus received a face full of autumn’s remnants for his troubles as the scrimmage turned into an all out war. Broken bits of sticks, twigs and even more leaves flew into the air as the wind suspended them and granted a brief trial of flight as two teenagers battled it out to see who would emerge victorious. In that pile, all the troubles of the wizarding and teenage world cease to exist or matter. Impending war, death, pain and suffering held no importance or concern for in the laughter of the play fight held nothing but bliss. But as the depressing cliché goes: All good things come to an end.
Two bodies finally materialized: a blond girl whose throat was getting hoarse from laughing and a shaggy haired boy whose laughter seemed to indicate that he hadn’t laughed this much in a long, long time. The girl, though smaller in size, refused to admit defeat as the two rolled down the grassy slope, the strewn leaves courtesy of them crunching underneath their combined weight.
When they finally came to a stop, it was Remus who came on top, literally. They were both gasping for air from the exertion of mucking about. It came slowly enough but when it did, the realization hit him like a ton of bricks. Both his hands were clasped in each of her own hands, pinning her down to the ground. The sticks, twigs and bits of dead foliage were still tangled in her hair from when he’d rumpled them in. In fact, both of them were very much grubby from head to toe. The shadow of joy etched on each of their faces had yet to wane but as the picture was becoming clearer, so was their predicament.
And yet, neither of them could bear the thought of shifting back into their roles of ‘someone else’s girlfriend’ and ‘the good friend’. Each of their subconscious was screaming with reason but to no avail. His hands savoured her cool, soft touch as the back of his mind found it funny that her hand seemed to fit perfect in his own. Was it really meant to …?”
“What was that?” he suddenly exclaimed, his voice still throaty and dry.
Dollie’s hearing mildly registered a distant rumble but thought nothing of it. “What was what?”
“The carriages… Everyone’s back from Hogsmeade!” He quickly jumped up but still managed to stumble somewhat as his face registered the expression of a trapped animal.
“Remus –” she called out to him but he determinedly ignored her.
“Where’s my – my wand?” he wondered aloud hurriedly, more to himself as he searched for it.
“It’s over there,” she pointed out weakly but couldn’t be sure whether he’d heard her or not. Whichever it was, he found his wand underneath the tree and was now at loss of what action to take. The crunching footsteps and increasing volume of voices, especially some very familiar ones then strengthened his resolve.
“I – I have to go.”
“Please… Wait…” she cried, her voice breaking at each syllable. What was going on? Why was everything becoming so puzzling? It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult, this… baffling.
As she sat there watching Remus’s retreating back, conflict and confusion consuming her, she didn’t even stir as someone surprised her from behind.
“Hey, Dollie! Fancy finding you here, thought you’d be in the castle. I brought you some sweets from Honeydukes, I wasn’t sure what was your favourite so I just bought one of each, even Cockroach Cluster and those blood lollipops. They’re all right here – hey, why do you have leaves and sticks stuck in your hair?”
A/N: Alot of room for improvement... Let me know how I can do better by leaving a review!