Chapter 25 : Parting Gift
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Chapter 24 - Parting Gift
A vision of white and red carpeted the scene as the fragrant scent of lilies and roses filled the early‑spring air. Rose petals, whiter than snow and redder than wine, scattered across the ground from within the house to the grassy yard behind it. Soft melodic music played in the background, while the chitter-chatter of people occupied the space, as the guests mingled out in the back garden. Inside the two story house, a small chaos had erupted as both humans and inanimate objects flew about in a flurry. One of those busy with organizing the event was Réatra Kandraka.
Once dressed and ready for his task for the day, Sirius stood to one corner, out of the way of anything moving, and watched as the girl seemed to float about from room to room in a flurry, her flowing gown billowing elegantly behind her. In his opinion, the peach coloured, ankle-length frock with ruffled off-shoulder sleeves she was wearing would make any girl look like a walking disaster. He wasn't much surprised that only she could look like an angelic beauty in dress like that, considering the much stranger outfits she has been in while managing to near perfectly portray an angel.
"Ankeh!" a young boy with copper hair called out, walking in quick steps towards her. "AnkehI"
She'd turn to thirteen-year-old with an inquisitive look when he caught up to her, his hands stretched straight out to hand her a bundle of white cloth. "One of the servers spilled wine onto this! There's a huge stain on this and no one seems to be able to get it off!"
Within a fell swoop, the bundle was out of his hands and was already tucked neatly atop hers. And then she dashed off again, only the sound of her voice trailed behind her, as she left the boy a new set of instructions, "I'll take care of this! You go make sure everyone is ready for the procession!" She soon disappeared into one of the rooms before reappearing, a large bouquet of fragrant lilies and roses replacing the bundle of white sheets in her arms. She passed right by him without even a glance. She'd been ignoring Sirius for the past few months, ever since that late-autumn night when he had unwittingly kissed her hand. A whole season had passed and she had barely acknowledged his existence.
She, like before her depressed state, rarely stayed home, even more so recently. She was gone before he woke in the morning and back hours after he had fallen asleep. When he did stay up to wait for her, she never returned at all, as if she had anticipated his wait and made deliberate efforts to avoid him. At first she'd left notes telling him of her leave for business, but soon enough, even those stopped appearing. Those rare days she did stay home, Toma remained glued to her side, almost like a possessive lover. Sirius could not even look at the man without feeling the need to punch him in the face. He was jealous to the core yet could do nothing about it. To make matters worse, she was immensely cold towards him, colder with each passing day.
"Sirius!" her voice reached his ears when all other sounds failed, followed promptly by the noisy chaos about the hallway as he returned to present reality. He watched as she floated towards him, eyes focused on him for the first time in months. Her face was something between irritation, calm indifference, and something else he couldn't quite read.
"Sirius Black!" her exasperated tone snapped his attention away from her face to her speech. "Why are you standing there in a daze? It's about to start! You're supposed to be with James right now!" she scolded him, but he barely heard her.
"I-" he began but was instantly silenced as her hands reached for his collar. His eyes followed them to her fingers, which were fumbling with his crooked necktie. They shifted along her arms to her rosy lips, which were mumbling something about his state of messiness. Blood rushed through his whole body like a hurricane, as his heart sped up with the excitement at the proximity of their bodies. Time slowed to a near halt the moment her fingers accidentally brushed against the skin of his neck, but everything resumed its normal course as they left his tie.
Her lips were moving again, but he couldn't comprehend... until she punched him in the arm. "Ow!" he voiced. "What in bloody hell was that for?"
"You were daydreaming again," she told him monotonously. "I asked where the ring is."
He reached into his pockets and produced a small, velvet box. "Here."
She took it from his hands, he noticed, careful not to make any contact. She opened it to look at the slim, golden band within, and shut it close before depositing it back in his open palm. "Stay close to James. Lily's almost ready," she commanded. Then she left without another word.
"You alright, Padfoot?" was James first greet, as his best friend floated out to the backyard in a half daze.
"Yeah..." he responded listlessly before his eyes refocused and heaved a heavy sigh. "Sorry, I just-" Sirius stopped mid-sentence, not quite sure what to tell him.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Rhea," was James sympathetic reply. He patted him on the back and proceeded to thank the next guest who came with congratulations.
Back on the second floor of the two story house, Réatra had left Sirius Black to enter the quietest room in the whole chaotic house. The room was large enough to easily hold thirty people, yet it held only one other. Lily was anxiously pacing the carpeted floor. She stopped and turned to look at her visitor with a nervous smile.
Despite her friend's suggestion of having her brilliant dressmaker create her a new gown, Lily had remained adamant on wearing her late mother's dress. As such, it was agreed between them that the old dress was to be slightly altered to suit a style more to her best friend's taste. And in spite of Lily's reservation on whether her friend's exotic taste in clothes actually suited her, she remained silent on the matter. She had sensed something bothering the girl, and if allowing her leeway with her dress would ease some of it, she was ready to compromise. And so, the alteration had been done to perfection. She could not even believe how well it looked on herself.
In place of the puffy sleeves it once had, strings of white lilies hung loosely around her arms. Starting with a sweetheart neckline, the creamy-white silk wrapped snugly against her bodice down to her hips, where a simple sash was sewn on to meet at one side. Thousands of tiny white pearls traced small curves and curls in an intricate design upon the top. From where the sash hugged her, the gown flared out in a ballerina skirt down to the floor. The side where the sash met, more lilies gathered and flowed down along the parting that revealed the many layers beneath the gown's exterior. Right under the layer of silk was creamy velvet and finally, under that were many more layers of chiffon, all bejewelled with more pearl-lined beautiful designs at the hems. Lily was a vision in white.
Réatra smiled warmly. "Beautiful..."
Lily pouted slightly. "You've already said that five times today." Her friend laughed, but didn't reply, so she added, "But yes, the dress is beautiful."
Her bridesmaid shook her head. "I wasn't talking about the dress. I was talking about you," she told her as she added a white lily into the cluster adorning her fiery red hair. "And stop being nervous, everything is going to be fine."
Lily wrung her gloved hands together. "I can't help it!"
Her friend chuckled and lifted her face up with both hands. "Lily, I promise today will be fine. You and James are going to be happy for as long as you live and more. Also, there's something I want to give you— something very precious. Use it, pass it on, do whatever you want with it. I know you'll make the right choice when the time comes. This is my most precious possession as gift to you."
"Miu I-" She was stopped before she could begin her protest with Rhea's thumb on her lips.
"You won't have to bear the burden of memory for long. You won't remember anything of this until your decision is made." She spoke in a bare whisper, but those simple words held her like a spell. "When that time comes, should you wish to pass this on, fill your heart with all the love you have for that person and whisper the words. Place it all in a single parting gift... Aoikhan, Sherlyr..."
As her words trailed off their lips brushed. In that short, split-second, images and emotions passed by her in a blur, yet she could see and feel them clearly. She understood it all, events that had unfolded into a long and sad tale. Countless of memories invaded her and melded into her own. Every picture, every sound, every feeling was vivid— poignant. Before long, the brief moment was over, and she was brought back to the present time when a voice from behind her seemed to jolt her awake.
"Lily?" She turned to find Alice's shocked face. "Lily! What happened? Why are you crying?"
She reached out to touch her cheek and found it wet and hot with tears. Looking around, she found no Réatra before her, and turning back to the worried Alice, she blinked in confusion. "I-" she stopped to think as she gently wiped the tears dry with the handkerchief the blonde handed to her. "I don't know," she confessed. "I don't know. I just... Where's Miu?"
Alice bunched her brows in confusion, but didn't return to the previous subject. "I saw Rhea talking to James. I think she's just telling him to get ready. What about you?"
Lily smiled happily at her, the previous episode completely forgotten. She carefully wiped away the tears. "Yes. Yes I am."
With the succinct moment eradicated from her memory and her being filled with an anxious glee, Lily ascended down the stairs to meet her best friend at the door. Beside her was Hogwarts' renowned headmaster, awaiting in his formal dress robes to lead her down the aisle in her father's stead. Miu smiled warmly at her friend as if seeing the blushing bride for the first time. Once her friend reached her, the maid of honour presented the redhead with a posy of the only two flowers that could be seen throughout the whole scenery. Lily accepted it gratefully and mouthed a "thank you" before Miu gave her cheek a light peck and exited into the lawn first to make ready the procession. With a smile of encouragement and a spark of merriness in his eyes, the wizard held out his arm. Feeling all the fretfulness had evaporated from her with her friend's peck and her mentor's smile, Lily took his waiting arm and marched out together with him as the music cued their entrance.
He watched it all from the sidelines. He watched as the blushing bride marched side by side with the old professor, entranced by the beauty that glowed like an angel's as she seemed to glide to the make-shift alter— his angel being lead even further away from him.
He continued to watch as the ceremony proceeded, and the bride and groom exchanged vows and shared a kiss. It was sealed. It was done. She was gone forever. Yet he watched on as she went around with her husband to receive words of congratulations from her guests.
Yet his outer appearance mustn't change even in the slightest, lest his companion spotted any. Looking beside him, he could see the stocky man scanning the area with watery, black eyes. His stubby nose twitched every few minutes as he looked about the party. It was almost time for them to move, so he turned to look at the bride one last time.
"She's really beautiful, isn't she?" a female voice beside his ear nearly gave him a heart attack. He turned quickly to find a former friend seated beside him, eyes on the newly weds. The dark haired woman turned to him with a smile and raised the glass of bubbling liquid to her rosy lips. "I'm sorry, I must have given you quite a fright, suddenly speaking up after being silent for so long."
"I-it's alright," he replied in the hoarse voice of an old, withering man. "I didn't realize you were sitting there."
She chuckled to a private joke. "Usually, no one does." She glanced and saw his companion, who wore an apprehensive look on his face, and he began to worry the blonde man would give them both away. He felt the woman's smile turned vaguely dark as she directed it at the blonde on his other side, though most would not have noticed any change. "Hello, Peter."
"H-hello, Rhea," the blonde squeaked back, "It's been a while."
One thing he had noticed since long before was that Peter Pettigrew was very intimidated by Rhea. She had done nothing to him and paid him no attention for the most, yet the mousy man had always been apprehensive of her. It was as if her mere presence caused Pettigrew to squirm with uneasiness, especially without the presence of Sirius Black and James Potter.
"Yes it has." She was staring at him with eyes that looked eerily alert though her smile remained soft and sweet.
Peter seemed to squirm again under the predatory gaze. "H-how have you been?"
Réatra waved a hand airily. "Oh, I'm fine. What about you, Peter?"
"I-I'm fine, too." He responded, but as he could no longer bear her intimidating looks he shot up from his seat. "Actually, I'm feeling a tad thirsty. I-I'll see you around."
Before he could properly leave, however, he stopped dead in his tracks as she caught his shoulder. Her movement had been so quick the two men had not noticed her move until she was already at Peter's side. Wrapping her arms around the stout man, as if in a friendly hug, she leant close to his ear and whispered something privy to only the two of them. When she pulled back, he could see Peter's face as white as paper. As the blonde walked away, shaking ever so slightly.
She returned to her seat and turned back to the group of people chatting on the other side of the lawn and sipped her drink. In that time, he studied her profile. She didn't look much different from the last time he had seen her. She was still as beautiful as ever, though in his eyes, not as beautiful as Lily Evans. It was different sort of beauty-- a dangerous beauty, the type that lures and repels at the same time. Yet, beneath all the splendour of her appearance and air, he had always felt something else; something dark and sad hidden deep beyond the surface.
"So how has it been?" she asked casually.
He blinked and looked at her with shock.
His mind could not comprehend how she could have found out his true identity. He had made sure to take the foul-tasting Polyjuice potion at regular intervals. He had carefully selected an old man for the very purpose of entering the small wedding celebration undetected. He could not remember a single time he had slipped, even a little, to reveal himself to anyone.
She turned to look at him with curiously gleaming eyes. "I mean, did you enjoy the party?" she asked again with a different phrase, smiling charmingly at his stunned expression.
He nearly sighed out lout out of relief. "I-It's a beautiful wedding," he admitted truthfully in that withered voice that belonged to someone else.
She looked like she was about to say something when her lips curved up slightly into a knowing smile. This was soon followed by the call of her name in a husky, male voice. He turned towards the owner of the voice and found Remus Lupin, pale and sickly looking, hurrying towards them.
Now, he knew he really had to leave. Yet, he couldn't possible just go off because Réatra's eyes were on him, willing him to stay, and his legs seemed to obey her will without a qualm, resisting all orders that his mind gave them. And before he knew it, the werewolf had already reached the very spot they were seated.
Glancing at him, Remus took the girl's wrist in his hand, "Rhea, I need to talk to you."
Taking that as his cue, he excused himself away from the pair, but she effectively stopped him with a mere smile. "No, it's fine here," she told the brunette before turning back to the seemingly shrivelled old man. "I hope it's alright if you just sit here for a while, while I sort this with my friend. There's something I must tell you."
In his mind, he was worried and suspicious of her words, but nothing other than her realization of his real identity could come to his thoughts. Instead of finding other ways to flee the scene, he sat back down obediently and attempted not to overhear their private conversations and ignore the glances the thin, worn-out brunette gave him on occasions. She, on the other hand, talked and smiled warmly as if the two of them were alone in that secluded area of the garden.
"How have you been, Remy?" she asked tenderly
He heard Lupin sighed in return. "Same as usual. I'm more concerned about you."
"Me?" she returned innocently.
"Yes, you. You and Padfoot," he explained briefly.
Her expression remained calm and her smile gentle, but he could see for an instant the falter in the glow of her mysteriously golden eyes. She remained quiet, whether simply to wait for the werewolf to continue or to hide some waver in her expression he couldn't decipher. He could see Lupin hadn't shown any signs of notice of the slight and succinct change.
"Rhea, he loves you."
Silence. He could see that she neither looked away, nor looked the least bit surprised. He suddenly felt he had intruded on something personal, but he couldn't seem to move his own limbs. Looking at her, he could see that ever calm demeanour remained unchanged. But he could also see a glimpse of something hidden behind those gleaming eyes that he was sure Lupin couldn't; something immensely heavy. The longer he looked into them, the more intense the pressure he felt, as if his shoulders bore the very weight of the world. Yet her tranquil expression remained steadfast. She closed her eyes slowly, and when she reopened them, he could no longer see the profound heaviness behind them. The edge of her lips curved up a bit further in a soft smile.
"It would have better for the both of us if he didn't," she spoke quietly in reply.
Lupin looked stunned as he realized the meaning behind her answer. "You already... For how long?" the brunette asked in wonder.
She shook her head lightly and pecked the brunette lovingly on the cheek. "Thank you, Remus... for everything. Take care." Again, she whispered something so low he could not hear, and as if in a trance, the werewolf walked away, leaving the two of them alone once more.
With a grin on her face, she returned to his side. He suddenly felt compelled to get up. "I'm sorry about that," she apologized sincerely. "I meant to talk to him later, but it seemed he found me first," she chuckled. Taking his withered hand into her own she spoke softly to him, "I'm glad you came to this wedding. I only wish it could have been easier on you. I wish I could have been more help to you. You, too, have a heavy burden to bear, and no one can do anything to relieve you of it. Be strong. Bear with it, and I earnestly wish you find the light I found."
Her speech had surprised him, but the tender hug that followed ran fear through his veins and warmed his heart at the same time. Like with the others, she leant close to his ear and dropped her voice. "I have always considered you a friend, regardless of our circumstances. You are one of the few who could glimpse beyond my mask. What's more, there is something that ties us together even further, and you know what I mean. She is one of those most important to me, and today is a special day for her. I'm sure she means even more to you, so I trust you'll always watch out for her. As for me, if anyone dare ruins this day, I will not forgive them," she warned darkly, "even if it's you, Severus."
The treacherous gloom lingered for no longer than one fell swoop, before it evaporated into non-existence. "Go home. Get some rest, and forget about all this. I'll have it so you come to no harm from my interference. Please take care." The light, warm feeling around him returned, as she placed a kiss on his left cheek. "Goodbye, Sevy."
His mind felt suddenly cloudy, though it was soothing. As he closed his eyes, he could hear a soft humming in his head, relaxing him into a state of blankness. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself in his old ramshackled room with no memory whatsoever of the day that's passed or the mission he had been given. Not one single collegue of his remembered the mission either, and nor did the Dark Lord who gave it.
It was only for a few minutes that he had turned away to talk to Riley, when she disappeared form his sight completely. He'd been watching her every move with a deep and unreasonable fear that there was something terribly horrid waiting to happen. Every inch of the house he had searched, but she was nowhere to be found. Just as he was about to go and ask the bride and groom as a last resort, he spotted her at the far end of the people filled garden.
As he was half way to where she was, a man moved away from his line of sight to reveal that she was chatting with the Hogwarts Head Master, a small smile on her face, yet his face was as stoic and still as a stone. The unusual sight had stopped him for a few minutes with worry in his heart, but curiosity soon took over and drove his legs to move again. He got there in time to hear a whispered goodbye from her lips as she gave the old man a daughterly hug and a peck on his cheek. His heart suddenly stopped and leapt to his throat. As she was releasing the embrace from the man he knew she saw as a father figure, he quickened his pace, urging his limbs to move faster. However, a body moved to block his view for an instant, and when it moved away, she was gone. The only one remaining in that reclusive corner of the garden was Albus Dumbledore, looking rather sombre and heartbroken.
"Sirius," the regal man called him calmly, as he turned to find the former student a few arm's length away. "You look like you are looking for someone."
"Professor! I saw Réatra with you just now, and she was gone in the blink of an eye! Where did she go?" he asked him hurriedly.
The old professor placed a heavy hand on the young man's shoulder and smiled, a bare hint of sadness behind the twinkle in his wise blue eyes. "Well, Sirius, she said she had to hurry off somewhere... Ah. See, there she is," he told the former pupil, pointing to his other former student.
After a hasty word of thanks to the professor, Sirius hurried in the pointed direction. He called for her as he got close, and she turned upon the sound of her name. But as she turned, he still sensed something oddly wrong. She looked as beautiful as ever and her small smile seemed normal, but there was something in her eyes that just didn't seem right.
"Yes, Sirius?" she questioned.
"You're not her," he muttered, half angry, half disappointed.
The woman before him chuckled amusedly. "Her who?" she questioned good-humouredly.
He grabbed her shoulders roughly. "You're not her!" he hissed, making sure no one was paying attention to them. "Where is she?"
"Sirius, you're hurting me," she muttered worriedly. "What is wrong with you?"
He released the squirming person from his grip with a shove. "You know well what is bloody wrong. You're not her! Now tell me where she is!" he demanded.
The person sighed heavily. "I don't know how you could have known," the girl's voice dropped low to sound almost like a man's, "but she's gone."
Sirius instantly recognized the subtle timbre that belonged to Toma. "What do you mean she's gone?"
He looked around to find that Riley was nowhere in sight either, and they had been talking mere minutes ago. Looking back at the Toma, who still wore Réatra's visage upon his face, he saw the piteous look which filled him with dread. Without another word to the man in a woman's disguise, he ran to his bike. However, as he reached the motorcycle, Toma was already there, back to his old self, albeit wavy ginger hair which he had once claimed to be its original colour and hazel eyes like James's. The dark skinned man held his fist out and opened it up to reveal a small black stone in the palm of his hand.
"Here," he motioned with a smile for Sirius to take the rock from him. "Use this; it'll be much faster." Furrowing his brow, Sirius took it but had no idea what its purpose was, and as if reading his mind, the older man explained further, "It's a teleportation device. It works a bit like a portkey. It's even faster and isn't affected by the spell in her house. Just close your eyes and think of where you want to go, and it will take you there instantly. But you have to hurry. Once she leaves the house, you won't be able to reach her."
Sirius was in no mood for games, but seeing the sincerity in the man's eyes, he did as instructed. Nothing happened.
Frustrated, he opened his eyes and readied his fist to clobber the joker, but was amazed to find himself inside the little cottage he had called home for the past year. Right in front of him was a livid Réatra. She said not a word, but proceeded to walk into living room where they both were met with Riley, who was staring at a framed picture while seated at the sofas.
"Rye, go ahead to where Aka is. I will follow later," she instructed the boy. After looking between the two adults, he vanished without so much as a pop that was the sign of aparating.
Sirius was surprised by the advanced level of magic used by someone so young, but his mind was too preoccupied with the only other person in the whole house for it to take any effect on him. "I taught him how to magically teleport even with the charm on the house," she told him calmly. She walked from corner to corner of the room as if to inspect the walls for something that was completely invisible to him. She was ignoring him.
"You were going to leave just like that?" he asked sadly. "No goodbyes?"
"I've said my goodbyes."
He felt injured at her words. She'd said goodbye to everyone except him. "Then why go to the trouble of having Toma pose as you at the wedding?" he felt his anger rising again. For the first time in a very long time, he was truly angry at her.
"I will have to have a word with him later about this," she muttered heatedly referring to Sirius's help in getting to her before she left the house.
"God dammit, Réatra!" he yelled at her. "Without even a word to me, you're going to disappear just like that?"
"Yes," she answered stonily and turned to leave.
On pure impulse, Sirius grabbed her by the arm and the back of her necked and pulled their bodies together until their lips met. She resisted, tough weakly. He knew that if she had really wanted to, she could have easily shoved him away. Feeling the lack of resistance, he kissed her fully for the first time. It was like drinking honey. But there was a hint of bitterness— bittersweet just like her scent.
It was addictive.
His hand moved away from her arm to reach for her face. As he did so, his fingers were met with warm flowing droplets of liquid. Instantly, he broke away and opened his eyes to look at her.
Her eyes were closed, and she was as still as a stone, but hercheeks were wet with tears.
He called her name softly and upon utterance, she broke down into more tears. Her shoulders began shaking, and her legs gave way, as she slumped into a heap on the wooden floor of the living room. He had had no idea a single kiss would have this effect on her. This was the first time he had ever seen Réatra shed real tears, and he was at a loss as to what to do next. Kneeling down in front of her he wiped away the tears on her cheeks, but they kept flowing. In all the time that he'd known her, his goddess seemed more human now than ever. Part of him was relieved to see she could cry, but a larger part didn't want such melancholic tears to ever come from her. He wished he had some idea as to what brought about the tears, and he would kill himself if it was because of his stupid actions.
Not knowing what else to do, he pulled her in and wrapped his arms around her shaking form, stroking her back in what he hoped was a comforting act. Without the slightest opposition, she grabbed onto the front of his shirt and wept into his chest, her head burried under his chin.
After what seemed like an eon of crying, her tears finally waned, as her sobs turned to hiccups. Although unsure of what releasing her would do, he pushed her back gently by the shoulders and looked at her tear stained face to try and gauge her state of mind. Her eyes of liquid gold seemed warm and glimmering. But there, he saw nothing but deep sorrow. He did not know what had caused it or for how long it has been there, but it broke his heart.
"I'm sorry," he apologized softly. "I shouldn't have done that."
She shook her head a little in response, her lower lip still trembling as if a second wave of tears were approaching.
He moved his hands to cup her face. "I love you, Réatra," his lips brushed hers with brief tenderness. "I really do."
More tears flowed from her, and he finally gave up. But just as he was about to move away completely, she pulled him back by his collar until there lips crashed. And though she was weeping still, they kissed.
It was so dark that not even the light of the half moon spilling in from the small windows could dispel shadows of the bedroom. And lurking within those shadows was an even darker silhouette.
"Sherlyr..." it whispered into the silent night air.
With a quiet rustle, another figure rose from its slumber beneath the covers of the large bed.
"The gate is closing," the voice informed sympathetically.
"I know..." The woman on the bed looked down at the bundle next to her and reached out to touch it. "I'm sorry for troubling you."
There was a soft sigh, and the dark shadow slinked away into the night.
"Thank you..." she whispered, as she bent down to gently place a kiss on the slightly parted lips of one sound asleep beside her.
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