A/N: I know, you hate me for making you wait so long for an update :(. I'm so sorry! As much as I love this story, rough around the edges it might be, inspiration has been severely lacking. My focus has also been shifting to other projects/WIPs. Not anymore though as I’ve finally found the drive and a new muse that's inspired me to return to this story. If I'm a little rusty, I hope you can forgive me. It's been far too long. =)
Credit: Superb chapter graphic by niika!
“Really, Dollie, you needn’t have gone through the trouble…”
So Sirius Black was indeed capable of being embarrassed. Who’d have thought it? Dollie pondered. This brought an amused smile to her face that was fortunately overlooked by the boy in the midst of the current weather. And what perfectly splendid weather it was. She was of course just being mentally sarcastic. It was in reality perfectly dreadful weather and it couldn’t have come at a more inappropriate and inconvenient time of the year.
The past few weeks had been tiresome at best, with occasional showers that came as sudden as they left and mud and dampness becoming the latest part of the school uniform. But today, as students were leaving Hogwarts for Christmas holidays, the weather took a turn in the worst possible way. It was absolutely pouring! In fact, she only just caught his mumbled sentence through the din of rain that was currently assaulting them.
Just as she was about to answer him, an especially large gust of wind blew right into them, very nearly wrenching the umbrella from her grip. She, however, successfully held on, with a little help from Sirius, and the umbrella was still theirs for the time being. Not that it was very effective, truth be told. Most of their clothing was already completely soaked through while their faces dripped with moisture. Today decided that it would be far more amusing to rain horizontally as well as vertically, not to mention the fierce wind intent on propelling them in the opposite direction from their intended destination. This happened to be the horseless drawn carriages at the far end of the grounds.
“It’s no trouble at all.”
And for some odd reason, it really wasn’t. Not much anyway. He’d asked of course but even he was surprised at how readily she agreed. The weather hadn’t deterred her from sending Sirius off and bidding him goodbye either. He was spending the holidays with the Potters and changed the subject when she inquired about his family.
As they’d walked through the castle and now through the grounds, with Sirius growing evermore animated at the prospect of the holidays, Dollie found herself smiling up at him and enjoying his non-stop chatter.
She could deny the fact to Vivian and Lily as much as she wanted but she could no longer deny to herself that she was growing quite fond of Sirius. She knew that the feeling was nothing like what she felt for Remus but still, that it was even there and growing steadily surprised her immensely.
It was certainly a new development in the plan, one that she hadn’t anticipated. As she chuckled at a joke he just told, lingering at the back of her mind was the wonder of how this feeling would affect everything. Whatever happened, it definitely had to be kept from her friends. She just couldn’t bear the thought of Lily’s critical theorizing and Vivian’s sly innuendos.
It’s just a silly feeling.
“Hey, are you cold?”
A large tremor ran through her entire body as another rush of wind hit them. Blimey, this was some monsoon, Sirius thought as he shook his wet head in disbelief.
“I’m fine,” she replied, though he could barely decipher her words through her chattering teeth.
Without saying anything, he enveloped her with one arm and used the other to hold her hand that was gripping the umbrella handle. She didn’t even flinch at his touch. He pulled her closer to him so that she could share his body heat. All thoughts of taking advantage of the situation were far from his mind as her wellbeing was his only concern. Not that he’d dare to anyway. He wouldn’t put it past her to hex him, even in the middle of a storm like this, if he tried anything funny. This little thought put a proud smile on his face when he remembered Remus telling him her improvement in spell casting.
“Anymore ‘fine’ and you’ll be representing Ravenclaw’s house colours,” he teased.
“Oh shut up. Can you blame me?” she said as she hit him feebly on the arm.
“Suppose not,” he relented.
Around them, figures shrouded in misty shadows braved their own way through the squall in order to get to the carriages, some faring better than others. Perhaps it was a trick of the tempest but for one mad moment, Sirius could have sworn that they resembled Dementors, the sinister creatures that guarded the Azkaban prison. An inexplicable fear gripped his heart at this thought.
No, he calmed himself as he shuddered, no, that’s ridiculous. Absurd even! They were just his fellow schoolmates, his peers. He sat in classes with them, saw them every day. Most have even been at the receiving end of his pranks. Dementors indeed! Even with all the rumours circulating the newspapers, Dumbledore would never allow such foul, horrid creatures to enter Hogwarts. Silly of him to even think such a thing. Even so, he gripped Dollie’s shoulder just a little to reassure himself.
As his thoughts shifted to Dollie, he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt. After all, he was leaving her in Hogwarts while he was heading to the Potter residence. As much as he’d like to, he couldn’t very well bring her with him. She and James weren’t on the best of terms as it were, but it was more about fierce loyalty to Lily than anything else. Granted there was that whole broom/tutu incident but they’d all agreed to let that be bygones. Overall, Dollie was on reasonable terms with the Marauders. She occasionally chastised their actions but more often than not stayed out of their hair.
Sooner than he would have liked, they arrived at the waiting carriages. He could just make out the rest of the Marauders, pushing aside first-years as they laid claim to a particular coach. They were saying their goodbyes to Remus, the only one of the foursome to stay behind in the castle, a ritual he’d been following since first-year, no matter how much James badgered him to come with them. For once, Sirius was glad he wouldn’t be joining them. At least there would be one person looking out for Dollie, something he already requested Remus to do. Remus had seemed strangely reluctant but acquiesced. Sirius had also specifically asked for him to give Dollie a break for the holidays. She definitely deserved it after all her hard work.
“Well, I guess this is where we say our goodbyes,” he said, still holding her.
“Yeah, I guess.”
She was the one to break away from him and he immediately missed the warmth of her body against his. They were both still gripping the umbrella handle albeit with much difficulty as the wind continued its attempt to snatch it away from them.
“I’m going to miss you, you know.”
“Don’t be such a sap. Of course you won’t,” she snorted, her eyes curiously twinkling although that could have been on account of the rain.
“I will,” he said earnestly, cupping her wet cheek in his hand. His thumb gently brushed her soft skin as he felt her shiver at his touch. “Of course I will.”
Her mouth curved in a rare, almost shy smile at his words. He was so distracted by it that he didn’t even notice she hadn’t returned the sentiment. Without warning, he enveloped her in an affectionate embrace. He must have taken her by surprise since she didn’t resist. She was rather stiff but he knew it was only because she’d never been a fan of public displays of affection. After a while, she hesitatingly encircled her own arms around him, her face against his chest as she patted him softly on the back.
“Oi! Break it up, you two!”
James’ loud order caused them to jump, breaking the hold. A deep scowl appeared on Dollie’s face as her face turned pink with humiliation. Sirius knew well how much she despised having attention drawn to her.
“Dammit,” he growled under his breath.
An overwhelming wave of hate came over him as he shot a deadly glare at his best friend, hating him for disrupting his and Dollie’s moment, hating him for causing Dollie embarrassment. But the feeling was fleeting, vanishing as suddenly as it appeared, leaving him to wonder whether or not it was real.
James’ grin wavered slightly but he was never one to admit defeat. “I was just ribbing, mate. Why so serious?” He cocked an eyebrow, the smirk still present on his face.
“Just get in the carriage. I’ll be right behind you,” he replied, rolling his eyes.
He turned back to Dollie but whatever they had between them before had evaporated thanks to James. She was resolutely avoiding eye contact with him, still heavily scowling. He reached out to touch her but the frostiness emitting from her made him retract his hand in defeat.
“I’ll write,” he promised. She gave no indication that she heard him. “Goodbye, Dollie. Happy Christmas. Take care of yourself.”
“Bye, Black,” she mumbled.
He sighed and headed towards where the rest of the Marauders were still congregated. Unsurprisingly, James had ignored his request, leaning against the carriage as he squinted through his fogged up glasses to survey his surroundings. Peter looked as though he was going to literally shiver out of his drenched clothes while Remus appeared to be the driest of the lot, having been smart enough to charm his umbrella to ward off the raindrops although he wasn’t completely immune to them. His patched robes had its fair share of wetness.
“What are you lot still hanging about here? Why aren’t you in the carriage?” he asked.
Remus cocked a thumb towards James. “She won’t come to you, you know,” Remus directed his statement to the bespectacled boy.
“Be quiet!” James retorted, ruffling his jet-black hair. Not that it did anything to it since it was completely wet and was for once sticking to his forehead.
“He seems to think Evans will wish him a Happy Christmas before we leave,” Peter explained to Sirius.
He should have known. Not even the weather can extinguish James’ burning hope that Lily would see him as more than a, in her words, ‘self-absorbed prick’.
“Well, she hasn’t for the last four years. Don’t see why she should start now.” Call it his payback for ruining his time with Dollie.
“Fine!” James spat, unable to complete wipe away the look of despair from his face.
He brushed past them and stormed into the carriage. Peter followed him in, relieved that he could finally get out of the rain while offering unhelpful condolences to the dejected boy. Sirius then turned his attention to Remus.
“Sure you don’t want to join us? Mrs. Potter makes a mean roast.” He winked, his mouth already watering at the thought of the magnificent feast that could easily rival any one of Hogwart’s meals.
Remus gave him a wan smile as he lightly shook his head. “I’m okay here.”
“You already had your, you know, your ‘night’ so there really isn’t anything to be worried about.”
“Really, Sirius, I’m perfectly fine here.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. You remember what we talked about?” Sirius lowered his voice as he jerked his head towards Dollie who was already retreating back into the castle.
“Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
“Ah, why the solemn tone then?” Sirius slapped the other boy’s shoulder in jest. Remus, due to his weak disposition, barely caught himself from collapsing from the sheer force of the well-meaning gesture. “Her bark’s worse than her bite though with your help, that could soon change. But never fear, mate, she’s quite alright most of the time. She seems to get along with you swimmingly.”
“That’s – that’s good to hear.”
Due to the din of the storm, Sirius couldn’t hear how strained Remus’ voice was becoming the more they discussed his girlfriend, the pained twitch in his friend’s haggard face. He saw none of this and only thought of the banquet awaiting them and how much he would miss Dollie. It didn’t strike him as odd that the farewells the two friends exchanged were awkward or how Remus was staring at the carriage with an almost pained longing. The three boys waved goodbye to their left-behind friend as he became swallowed whole by the mist.
“Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!”
Bloody hell she was cold! Now inside and away from the pelting raindrops, the chill was unbearably biting, more so than outside strangely. Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone around to hear her excessive cursing. Even so, she couldn’t just stand there. Filch, the caretaker who was constantly accompanied by his sorry excuse of a furball pet, would surely skin her alive if he caught her dripping mud and rain all over the floor.
With renewed vigour, she hurried back to the Gryffindor Tower, all the while praying under her breath that she wouldn’t run into Filch or Peeves. At one point, she almost met with the latter but by the sound of it, he was being well-entertained by his current victim, coercing him to sing an off-key rendition of the Hogwarts school song and pelting the poor child with something whenever he forgot the words. Grateful for the distraction, she took another route and found her way alright back to the tower.
She gave the password, which was a task in itself since the Fat Lady could barely understand her through her chattering teeth, and stumbled through the portrait entrance. The sight of the empty common room was a pleasing one, as pathetic as that may sound. Too many people gathered in one place always made her uncomfortable and awkward, especially if Lily and Vivian weren’t around.
She headed straight for the fireplace and very nearly yelped. The grate was empty and black with ashes. Of all the times for it to be out! There weren’t even any logs of wood about.
Dollie collapsed on the floor, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Personally, she was leaning towards the latter if it weren’t for the possibility that the tears would turn into streams of ice. Merlin, she was cold, so very cold.
She didn’t know how long she sat there staring the bare fireplace. It would be far wiser to just go back up to her dormitory and bury herself beneath her thick duvet, maybe even nick blankets from the other beds since none of her dorm mates had stayed behind. And yet, she stayed where she was. Perhaps it was the cold that had numbed her, freezing her to the spot. It was as though she was waiting for something, that if she waited long enough... what, what would happen? She couldn’t say for certain since she didn’t know the answer herself.
For a moment, she almost wished that Sirius hadn’t left, that he was there with her, beside her. He needn’t have held her. She found that just by being in close proximity with him, warmth seemed to radiate from him. It wasn’t his touch, or his smile or his words that stimulated the warmth. It was just... him and being with him. Even just thinking of him felt like she’d just drunk a glass of Butterbeer. How peculiar.
Suddenly, the grate erupted into bright, glowing flames, causing her to almost fall backwards. The shock didn’t last long. As soon as the heat grazed her skin, ridding it of goosepimples, she scampered closer to it. She didn’t bother to wonder how the fire started or the unusual hue of blue of the flames rather than rich tones of orange and red. It even escaped her notice how intensely it seemed to burn while lacking in any fuel or accelerants.
All that mattered at that very second was that she no longer felt numb. The blue tinge in her skin was slowly turning back to its usual pale shade, even becoming pink from being so close to the fire. True, she may still be in her wet robes and may or may not catch a cold tomorrow. If Lily had been there, she’d be nagging Dollie to go straight upstairs to change. She could even fancy hearing the prefect’s voice in her head telling her to do just that. And she would, but in a little while. Right now, she just wanted to bask in the glow of the strange and beautiful flames.
How peculiar that she hadn’t heard him entering the room. The poor girl, she must have been freezing, too cold to notice anything.
As Remus tucked his wand back into his pocket, he stood rooted to the spot, inspecting his handiwork. It had been tricky, not to mention risky, casting the spell from across the room. He could have hit her with it, even set the entire common room ablaze. A large risk but one he was willing to make. Otherwise, the alternative would have been far more dangerous.
The fire had turned out bigger, more intense than he had anticipated. The incendio spell was by no means a powerful fire spell. He was almost baffled by his result. Indeed, he could feel the entire room quickly succumbing to the heat produced by its blue-tinged flames. It even did him well, bringing colour to his marred face. It was then he turned away, acutely aware of how the light emphasized every scar, every disfigurement. If she turned and saw him like this...
One quick glance showed him she hadn’t. She was too preoccupied, seemingly transfixed by the flames that had appeared like magic. She was actually a bit too close for his liking. If she wasn’t careful, if she got too close... No, he was unnecessarily working himself up. She was a perfectly adequate distance from the grate. She was safe, he was sure of it; he would make sure of it.
With the quiet agility that came with being a Marauder, he sneaked up to his room, unable to bear the heat, heat that wasn’t a result of the controlled inferno.
“Hmm, no, this looks stupid... Damn it, this looks worse!”
The blouse fell to the floor, joining the other rejects strewn around the room. Dollie was growing evermore frustrated, fretting about having nothing to wear. This was far from the truth as she essentially had three different wardrobes at her disposal per Lily and Vivian’s permission. However, with neither of the two present, she was left with only her own nagging self-consciousness and indecision.
She had to look presentable for the Christmas Eve dinner tonight. There would be no distractions. No marauders, none of her friends. Just her and Remus. A shiver ran down her spine that had nothing to do with the cold.
After digging out yet another sequined cropped top from Vivian’s trunk, Dollie was thoroughly fed up. She settled for her favourite pair of jeans and best jumper. Make-up was out of the question since she barely knew how to use the contraptions much less risk poking her face with them.
Realizing she was late after consulting her watch, she stumbled down the stairs. She ignored whatever it was the Fat Lady was calling out to her, her pounding footsteps echoing in the hallowed halls, beautifully decorated in festive fashion. Had she not been late, she would have taken the time to appreciate the serene silence of the empty castle, almost devoid of students. Almost being the key word.
Dollie had failed to realize that she and Remus would not be the only students left behind in Hogwarts. Indeed, this fact presented itself in the cruellest fashion when she burst into the Great Hall to find him sitting with Stephanie Shooting-Starr, Hogwarts’ Head Girl and his ex-girlfriend.
Her heart sank and subsequently drowned in her stomach’s gastric juices. She quickly averted her gaze and kept walking as though she never saw them. When she looked up to properly survey her surroundings, it was only then that she noticed the teachers weren’t at their usual seats and instead had all descended on the Gryffindor table. This was because there were so few students, which included her, Remus, Shooting-Starr, a thickset boy with braces and a trio of chattering girls with festive ribbons in their hair. The pouting boy, sitting across from her, emitted a particular foul odour. She had to force herself to keep from gagging. Adding to her discomfort, she realized too late that she was seated next to the frighteningly imposing Professor McGonagall.
“Really, Albus, flying mistletoe? It sets a bad example to the students, even encouraging them to exhibit inappropriate behaviour.” The Transfiguration teacher was gesturing upwards and sure enough, multiple bits of mistletoe were floating around the large hall with no indication of meeting the ground.
The Headmaster, glowing in robes of bright gold, merely smiled his wise smile, peering over his half-moon spectacles as he replied, “My dear Minerva, Christmas only comes once a year. We may as well indulge in some of the season’s charming traditions. Now more than ever, we need to spread the love.”
Dollie was almost taken aback by the sudden sombre tone of the last sentence. Her mind would have lingered longer on what he meant when McGonagall suddenly turned her attention to the young girl.
“Miss Kent, I was unaware you’d be joining us. We would have waited for you otherwise. But then, it is your custom to be late for everything.”
Her face grew warm with shame as she kept her head down, completely missing McGonagall’s upturned mouth that would have signalled her attempt at humour. As it were, Dollie only heard the critical tone.
“Sorry, Professor,” she mumbled, reaching for a turkey slice, almost knocking over her goblet in her haste.
“I trust your family is in good health?” McGonagall continued, taking a sip from her own goblet.
“Very much so, thank you.”
“How is your sister? Your father mentioned at the last Governor’s meeting that she is currently in Italy on business.”
Somewhere at her right, she heard Shooting-Starr giggling at something Remus said. Her grip tightened on her knife, slicing the meat with unnecessary force. “At the moment, yes. She’ll be returning in the summer.”
“I see. Be sure to ask her to stop by and see me whenever she’s free. I always like to catch up with my former students.”
“I will, Professor.”
Thankfully, at that moment, she turned her attention to one of the other teachers and Dollie was spared from anymore talk of her wunderkind elder sister. It’s not that she was jealous of said sister. It just got grating having to constantly be asked about and silently compared to her more talented family members. It’d be nice, for once, to be appreciated for herself rather have the accomplishments of someone else hanging over her head like some impossible benchmark.
She filled her plate with more gravy and stabbed at her mash potatoes. Her appetite was waning, not just because of her gloom but the stench of the boy was getting too much to bear. It can’t just be her, as she had already noticed McGonagall’s nose wrinkling and the three girls shooting him dirty looks.
“What on earth is that pong?” One of them finally exclaimed.
“De Sousa!” McGonagall reprimanded.
“Pardon, Professor, but we were all thinking it.”
“I’m sorry, it – it’s me,” the boy said, looking close to tears. “Peeves, he... I’ve tried but I can’t get the smell off.”
“So that’s what happened to my armadillo bile,” Slughorn mused, unable to keep the amused look off his face.
“Don’t worry about it, Bunt. I’ll see if I can whip something up tomorrow that will get the smell out,” Shooting-Starr offered kindly, the very picture of a helpful and responsible lady. Dollie never felt such a strong urge to punch someone. She had to make do with swatting one of the flying mistletoes that threatened to go up her nose.
Bursting with turkey and gravy, she stood up just as the crackers were being distributed. She allowed a small smile as fond memories of pulling the crackers with her cousins came back to her. It had once been a favourite tradition until everyone, including herself, claimed to have outgrown it. A necessary lie to appear more mature. She was reconsidering her stance as she watched Dumbledore joyfully replaced his respectable pointed hat for one covered in faux white fur and had large bunny ears attached to it. Perhaps it was possible to be mature without losing one’s youthful spirit.
“Leaving so soon?”
She was shook out of her reverie by Shooting-Starr, who had on a tall turban covered in fruits perched precariously on her head. A feeling of shyness engulfed at being directly addressed by the Head Girl.
“Erm, yeah, I’m heading back up. All that food’s made me positively knackered.” She patted her tummy to illustrate.
“Oh, do stay,” the older girl pleaded. “The night’s still young. Besides, holidays like these are meant to be shared with others. Come join Remus and I.” She looked at both of them. “I assume you know each other?”
“You could say that,” Remus smiled ironically, dabbing the corners of his mouth with a napkin. “Same year and house.”
“Are you serious? Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve invited her to sit with us.” She smacked him playfully and rolled her eyes. “Boys. They just don’t think of these sorts of things.”
“Oh, no, it’s fine. I don’t want to be the third wheel.” Dollie began to fiddle with her fingers, the situation making her feel awkward. Before either of them could protest further, she said a hurried goodbye and practically ran out the hall.
Damn it, not only was she non-threateningly pretty, the best kind of pretty, but she was perfectly pleasant to boot. Figures. Why can’t she be one of those horrendous cows like Milton? Then this green-eyed monster can crawl back into whatever hole it came from and she wouldn’t have to feel this awful envy suffocating her. No wonder they used to date. Could a reconciliation possibly be in the works? The reason behind their break-up was foggy. Perhaps they’ve patched things up? Now her chances have officially dropped to zero. Fan-bloody-tastic.
A/N: Please remember to leave a review, I thrive on feedback! Expect an update sooner rather than later ;). I'm aiming for the next chapter to come out around Christmas (to tie-in with the atmosphere) so wish me luck!