When December approached, Nora and Tonks found themselves flustered, trying to come up with ideal Christmas presents for their respective interests. They shut themselves up in Nora’s bedroom, going through catalogues from Flourish and Blotts, Twilfit and Tattings, and Quality Quidditch Supplies. Tonks had also brought along some Owl-Order brochures for places in Hogsmeade, like Zonko’s Joke Shop, Dervish and Banges, and Honeydukes Sweetshop.
“I doubt Remus would want anything from Zonko’s, though,” Tonks had commented, looking glum as she flipped through the pages. “This is more stuff that I would want, not him.”
“And I have no idea how much I should spend on Sirius,” Nora lamented. “It’s all so confusing. What if he gets me something cheap and I get him something expensive, or I get him something cheap and he gets me something expensive? There should be rules about this somewhere. I’m going to look like an idiot if I don’t get it right.”
“Tell me about it,” Tonks muttered. “It’s worse with me because Remus doesn’t have very much money, so he’s going to feel bad if I spend a lot on him because he can’t do the same – if he gets me anything at all, that is.” She held up a picture of a silver model of a Lunascope, which would show all of the lunar phases in detail without needing to consult any charts. “What do you reckon?”
“Handy tool for a werewolf. How much is it?”
“The professional’s kit is twenty galleons, but the pocket-sized is three galleons and ten sickles.”
“Better stick with the pocket-sized, so you’re not overdoing it.”
Tonks considered that, and folded the page’s corner so she would remember to peruse it again later. “Have any ideas for what you’re going to get Sirius?”
Nora grinned. “Amortentia.”
Tonks laughed. “Love potion! Good idea, you should bake it in some Cauldron Cakes. That’d give you a right pleasant Christmas night. You could Obliviate his memory in the morning and he’d never have to know he’d been taken advantage of.”
Nora giggled. “Don’t assume that it hasn’t crossed my mind.”
Tonks bit the end of her quill, frowning. “You reckon Remus would eat a batch of tainted Pepper Imps?” She circled a label for Amortentia anyway and then flicked to another page, blinking rapidly. “Blimey, there’s a lot of stuff in here for people who are obsessed with Puddlemere United. Who cares if they’re going to the Cup? Everyone knows it should’ve been the Harpies…”
“Garrotting gas,” Nora replied under her breath, pointing to a vial with clear smoke curling and moving around inside it. “Wish I’d had that at the Ministry – could’ve knocked Malfoy unconscious.”
“Or you could have force-fed him some love potion and made him worship you.”
Nora wrinkled up her nose in disgust. “Ew. Not my taste, thanks.”
Tonks smiled slyly. “No, you like them with dark hair, don’t you? And blue eyes…and a pet hippogriff…and what else was it? Lips like an angel?”
“Lips like the Angel of Temptation, to be accurate,” Nora replied lightly. “And his eyes are mostly grey, they’ve just got flecks of blue. And he’s got excellent cheekbones…they could have been sculpted by an artist.”
Tonks snorted. “And you say I’ve got it bad. I’m not the one drooling over facial architecture here.”
Nora pretended not to have heard her. “Remember when I used to go over to your house during the summer holidays and we would stay up all night talking about boys who would never look twice at us?”
“Not that long ago,” Tonks pointed out. “But look at how our tastes have changed! I’m so glad that Marvin Happersol rejected me so many times; if they’re not werewolves they just bore me now.”
“Yes, hopefully we’ll have better luck this time around,” Nora agreed. “Although I think I’ve gotten myself into a rut again, always going after men out of my league.”
“But you’ve got a tremendous leg-up,” Tonks reminded her. “Home field advantage, because you live with him. And you don’t have any competition.”
But Nora sighed, shaking her head sadly. “He’d probably just laugh at me if he knew. The age difference…I don’t know…he probably thinks I’m not worldly enough. I haven’t experienced as much as he has and it kind of tips the balance.”
Tonks circled an ad for blue dress robes and said, “I’m going to disagree with you there. I don’t think the age thing has any bearing with him.” Nora raised an eyebrow. “Well, remember when I said that I liked Remus? He told me to just go up and tell him flat-out. Didn’t seem to think it was unreasonable at all, and keep in mind that you and I are the same age, and Remus and Sirius are the same age.”
Nora brightened. “That’s true.”
“And you are more worldly than many people twenty years your senior,” Tonks continued. “You’ve seen a lot, you’ve been through a lot. So don’t count yourself out of the race, or you’ll lose for sure.”
“Do you think I’ve got a chance?”
“Let’s just put it this way – I don’t recall Sirius ever asking anyone else if they wanted to move in with him. Mundungus asked him if he could – Sirius said no. And we all knew about it when Hestia’s house got blown up, but he didn’t invite her, either. Hestia certainly hinted enough, but in the end she had to go to Emmeline’s.”
Tonks and Nora stayed up late, going over options and trying to narrow things down. They considered dropping into Diagon Alley and personally picking something out, but Tonks was a definite target, being an Auror, and Nora knew Malfoy would have men keeping an eye out for her. Less exciting it may be, they stuck on the safe side and decided it would be wisest to just use Owl-Order. Tonks filled out the form for a miniature Lunascope for lack of other options, but Nora hadn’t found the perfect gift for Sirius yet.
Tonks borrowed a pair of Nora’s pajamas and they quietly stepped down the stairs, careful not to wake up Sirius. They rummaged around in the kitchen and came up with some chocolate frogs and a Butterbeer apiece; and as they tiptoed through the entrance corridor, were interrupted by a portrait.
“Is someone there?” an odious voice inquired. “Where is my great-great-grandson, Sirius Black?”
Nora narrowed her eyes, shining her wandlight on his clever little face. “What do you want, Phineas?” He squinted and held his arm over his painted features.
“Lower your wand, girl! I have a message from Albus Dumbledore.”
Tonks and Nora exchanged a loaded glance. “What is it?” Tonks asked.
Phineas Nigellus looked irritated, but seemed mollified that at least Tonks was part of the Black family tree, and begrudgingly replied, “Arthur Weasley has been gravely injured and taken to St. Mungo’s. His children and Harry Potter will be arriving at Number Twelve directly.” And before giving them an opportunity to ask questions, he turned around and travelled back to his other portrait.
“Arthur!” Nora gasped. “But – it was his night tonight at the Ministry! He was on duty…do you think Malfoy showed up again?”
Tonks’s face was white. “I must get to Mad-Eye’s.” Nora nodded and watched her slip into her travelling cloak, then step outside to apparate.
Nora ran upstairs and rapped on Sirius’s bedroom door. “Sirius!”
Surprisingly, he answered it rather fast. He was not even in nightclothes, and appeared to have not gone to sleep yet. He analyzed her wide eyes and pale color, and her own shock mirrored in his face before he even knew what had happened. “Nora, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Arthur,” she cried. “He’s hurt – I don’t know exactly how, he was at the Ministry. They’ve taken him to St. Mungo’s and Harry and the other Weasleys are coming here.”
He barely had time for the alarm to register on his face before they heard a loud crashing noise from the basement kitchen where Nora and Tonks had been only three minutes earlier. They raced down the stairs and collided into Fred and George Weasley, who had not yet lit their wands and were stumbling around in the dark.
“Oi! That’s my hair!”
“Oops, sorry.” Nora lifted her foot away from Ginny’s figure, lying on the floor.
“What’s going on, why weren’t we sent to the hospital instead?”
Sirius brandished his wand and the kitchen fire sprang to life. Nora reached across and lit a lamp in the center of the table. Harry, Fred, George, Ginny, and Ron looked up at them expectantly. Kreacher’s long snout appeared from around the corner.
“The blood traitor brats have woken Kreacher,” he complained. “How I hoped they would never come back…”
“Get out!” Sirius yelled, and Kreacher slipped back into his cupboard. Nora stumbled over a blackened kettle on the floor, which was glowing faintly and she realized must have been used as a Portkey.
Sirius turned to Harry, who was trembling and looking drained. The other kids started asking him questions, wanting to know details having to do with some kind of snake, and what Harry had seen. “Seen?” Sirius repeatedly sharply. “What are they talking about? What did you see, Harry?”
They all sat down and Harry launched into a story about how he had been asleep, and was dreaming normally. Suddenly, he saw that there was an enormous snake slithering down a dark hallway, and that Mr. Weasley was sitting at the end of it, half-asleep. When Arthur saw the snake, he stood up and pointed his wand, and the snake lunged at him. He was very bloody and Harry woke up screaming. Neville Longbottom sent for Minerva McGonagall, who took them to Dumbledore. Apparently Dumbledore used two portraits – one in St. Mungo’s, and one where Arthur had been attacked (the Ministry of Magic, but Harry did not know this) – to find out more.
“We need to go to the hospital,” Fred urged. “C’mon, let’s get going.”
Sirius and the twins argued over why they should leave, Sirius telling them that it would look suspicious if the Ministry found out Arthur’s children knew about this seconds after it had happened, while they had all still been at Hogwarts and before Mrs. Weasley herself even knew it yet. Fred and George were livid, shouting at Sirius, but he did not back down in his opinion. Finally, the Weasleys gave up and slumped into various chairs while Harry, Sirius, and Nora seated themselves at the kitchen table benches.
Some time later, there was a flash of fire and a small roll of parchment fluttered down onto the table before them, accompanied by a golden phoenix tail feather. “That must be from Fawkes,” Sirius exclaimed, seizing it amidst everyone’s startled cries from the sudden distraction. But when he opened it, he passed it down to George. “Not Dumbledore’s writing – it’s probably your mum.”
George eagerly took it in his hands and read it. When he looked up, his eyes were wide and terrified. "Mum says that she's at the hospital with him, and he's not dead yet. It's pretty vague..." He leaned back in his seat, defeated, and Fred eagerly took the letter from him.
They spent a horrible few minutes soaking up exactly how bad off Arthur must be. Ginny’s eyes were welling up with tears, and Fred and George sat quieter than Nora had ever seen them. Ron didn’t speak much except for a few remarks about what might be happening or when they would hear from their mum, but Harry never uttered a single word. Indeed, he looked like he might be sick to his stomach and ready to pass out.
Nora dwelled in worry for her uncle, frequently drawing concerned glances from Sirius. He looked fleetingly at them all in turn, unsure of what to say but trying to keep them all sane and hopeful. His hands rested extraordinarily close to Nora’s, as though he yearned to hold hers; but he did not act on it. It was one of the longest nights of Nora’s life – she could only imagine what Arthur’s own children were feeling.
After five in the morning, Molly Weasley entered the kitchen, looking worn and pallid. She offered a tired smile that did not reach her eyes. Nora held her breath, and finally her aunt told them what they'd all been waiting on tenterhooks for - Arthur was going to be fine. Arthur was going to be fine! Nora rejoiced inside her head like a choir of angels.
Ron let out a sigh of relief, and Fred’s face fell into his hands. Sirius cheered, clapping Harry on the back, who looked tremendously comforted by this news but still pale. Ginny embraced her mother and Sirius looked around for Kreacher.
“Worthless house-elf,” he muttered, and set to joyfully whipping up a breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon. Nora put on a pot of tea and they stood together at the stove, watching the Weasley children rejoice and Molly pull Harry into a tight hug. Sirius cast a furtive look at Nora, and before he could lose his nerve, wrapped his arms around her as well. She tensed with the sudden shock, but found herself rapidly melting, relishing the sweet fragrance of his skin, his shoulder-length hair soft on her cheek. Neither one seemed willing to break apart, and Molly swiftly intervened by pulling Nora to her.
“I’m so wonderfully happy he’s going to be okay,” Molly sniffed. Nora smiled at Sirius over her aunt’s shoulder, and he gave her a wink. “I don’t know what I would do without him…”
Breakfast was a rambunctious affair. Nora and Sirius were used to only dining with a cluster of people about once a week, and that was with adults in a seriously-toned setting. The Weasleys, however, were bouncing around and chattering even more loudly than they had in the summer, riding an elation of knowing Arthur was going to live. After breakfast, Ginny went upstairs to feed Buckbeak some sausages, and Ron and the twins were taking turns abusing Dolores Umbridge to their mother. Molly was trying to keep Nora’s attention from Sirius, and Sirius was watching Harry with shrewd eyes. Harry alone was still sullen, trying to plaster on a fake smile but not really putting his heart in it.
Once the food had really settled in their stomachs, so did the fatigue of staying up all night. Nora was beginning to feel like a true owl – nocturnal. They all trudged up to bed and took a long afternoon nap, the air full of happiness with Mr. Weasley’s recovery and the freedom of being away from Umbridge’s dictatorship.
When Nora woke up, the house was still silent. Sirius’s door was open, and she peered inside. “Sirius?”
He was standing by the window, hands in his pockets. When he saw her in the doorway, he flinched in surprise and absentmindedly ran a hand through his hair. “Nora! Come on in.”
Nora nervously shuffled inside, closing the door most of the way behind her and then walking over to him. His bedroom was very elegant, with a gleaming wooden four-poster bed like hers that was still made, not yet slept in. “Don’t you ever sleep?” she teased, joining him in front of the window.
“How are you?” he asked softly, looking sideways at her with those blazing eyes.
She sighed. “Much better now that I know Arthur’s going to be fine. And I hope you’re up for more company because Harry and the others are planning to stay until after the Christmas holidays are over.” She paused. “I haven’t had a real Christmas since I lived at Hogwarts.”
“It’s been quite a while for me, as well,” he told her. “I’m looking forward to sharing it with someone.” He inwardly cursed himself for saying that out loud, thanking the dimness for disguising his blush. “I’m going to have a dinner party on Christmas Eve.”
Nora nodded. “Will Remus be coming?”
Sirius gave her a searching gaze. “Why do you ask?”
She shrugged. “Tonks. Sounds like a good occasion as any to make her move.”
“Ah. Good luck to her, then.”
Nora raised an eyebrow, angling herself so that he had to look her in the eyes. “Don’t you pretend that you have no idea how that would work out,” she scoffed. “You don’t fool me. You could tell me right now whether or not Remus likes her, save her all this obsessing and grief. She’s been trying to get that man to fall in love with her for weeks.”
Sirius studied her, choosing his words carefully. “There is a natural timeline to things,” he said finally. “A certain way that things are supposed to work themselves out. Rushing is usually a bad idea.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that Remus is exceedingly perceptive.” He grinned. “And nothing more.”
“Ugh.” She scowled and clocked him on the shoulder. He smiled wider, impressing himself by daring to step a little closer to her. Sirius toyed with a lock of her coppery blonde hair between his fingers. She tried to remember how to breathe.
“You should tell Tonks that he’s got a soft spot for Pepper Imps.”
Nora laughed. “We were talking about Amortentia yesterday and she said she was thinking about putting some in a few Pepper Imps and then giving it to him.”
His eyes glittered with the information. “Amortentia?”
Her blush did not escape his notice, and she rubbed the back of her neck, looking out the window. “We were…just entertaining the idea.”
“We,” he repeated, so quietly it was barely audible. He glanced up at her with such a sudden intensity that she drew a shaky breath.
“Nora! Sirius!” someone called, pushing open Sirius’s door. The two of them jumped, realizing how close they had gotten to each other, and turned to look back at Molly with guilty expressions. Well, Nora’s was guilty at least. Sirius just looked annoyed. Molly’s eyes narrowed to slits when she saw them. “Everyone’s up and we’re going to see Arthur at the hospital,” she said coolly. “Nora, I think you should come, too.”
“Oh…yeah.” Sirius turned sharply back to the window and Nora followed Molly out, her legs reduced to a jelly-like flimsiness.
On Christmas Eve night, Grimmauld Place was alive with garlands of holly, glimmering enchanted candles that changed colors, and a Christmas tree in every room. Fred and George had invented tiny bell-shaped candy-grams that followed people around, buzzing in their ears and belting carols. Hermione, who had arrived shortly after Harry and the Weasleys via the Knight Bus, decorated her ginger cat Crookshanks with a Father Christmas hat that strapped around his chin.
Several members of the Order were there for Sirius’s dinner party – Kingsley, Mad-Eye, Lupin, Tonks, Mundungus, and Severus Snape. Snape was a surprise – Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, and Hagrid had stayed at Hogwarts for the holidays and no one thought Snape would want to come. But come he did, and Sirius was not thrilled. He set Remus to the task of trying to keep Snape away from Nora, and currently Remus had him in a corner, ranting about yeti welfare and feeling like a moron.
Charlie and Bill Weasley kept Molly occupied well enough so that she wouldn’t be too depressed over Arthur’s absence, but her eyes kept darting from Nora to the door, and she just exuded the general shifty air of having something up her sleeve.
Nora was lounging in the kitchen between Fred and Harry and joking with Tonks and Sirius, who were sitting opposite. She was wearing a form-fitting, red and white striped dress that cut off two inches above her knees (Ha! You look like a candy cane!) with her hair done up in a sleek French twist; on her wrist was a bracelet with gaudy bows and bells dangling from it. Her eyes were sparkling and her cheeks pink from laughter as she watched Ron molt his feathers and become a human again. They were experimenting with Fred and George’s inventions, and Ron had been given a Canary Cream.
George’s head disappeared underneath a Headless Hat, prompting gales of delighted shrieks. Tonks was examining something in a palm-sized package, a smirk flitting over her face. “Nora, I’ve got just the thing for you to try.”
“What is it?”
“Come over here and have a look.”
When Nora got up and walked over, Tonks popped a small cake into Nora’s mouth. She immediately lost consciousness, and Sirius was hard-pressed to catch her before she hit the floor. She woke up a minute later in Sirius’s arms, astonished and with no idea what had happened. “What did you give me?”
“A Fainting Fancy,” Hermione supplied, reading from the empty wrapper. Nora raised an eyebrow while Sirius reluctantly let her go, and Tonks winked.
“You two are geniuses,” Nora marveled, digging through the rest of the loot for something to force Tonks to sample. Nosebleed Nougat, maybe? Or Puking Pastilles…
“What’s all that?” Molly wanted to know, popping her head up over top of the crowd to see what they were all going on about. With a wave of his wand, Sirius Vanished everything. He flashed Molly his most devious of grins.
“What’s all what?”
Molly scowled, but then saw something out of the corner of her eye that piqued her interest. She licked her lips and bustled over to Nora, smoothing her hair and flattening any wrinkles in her dress. “Oi! Molly!” She struggled against her aunt. “What’s all the fuss for? It’s Christmas Eve, I like to be wrinkled.”
“Shh, Lenora. Stop hunching over – your posture’s atrocious.”
“Lenora?” Ron sniggered. “Game’s up, Mum. You only call her that when you’re high-strung. What’s going on?”
“Sirius, would you help me with something upstairs?” Molly requested, sounding desperate.
“Sure, what is it?” He asked mildly.
But Molly wasn’t paying attention to them, she was looking at something across the room. “Oh, let’s just go now. Hurry!” she barked. Sirius stood up, looking bewildered, but then the object of Molly’s distraction and her evident goal of the evening revealed itself.
“There you are, Mrs. Weasley,” a young man piped up, bobbing over to shake her hand. “I lost you for a moment.” He turned and beamed at Sirius. “I’ve heard all about you, of course. My father knew you, and I knew from his stories that none of it could be true, about you being a Death Eater and all. Thank you so much for inviting me.”
Sirius smiled wordlessly, trying not to let his bafflement show. “And you must be Nora!” the guest exclaimed. Hermione and Tonks peeked hastily at each other and tried to stifle smiles – the young man was definitely good-looking. He had thick, rumpled hair the color of spun gold and deep green eyes. He was tall and strapping and clean-shaven, with a strong chin and an aura of self-assured confidence. Dressed in expensive cherry-red robes, he extended a hand to Nora. “My name is Cargan Dearborn. I’m not sure if you remember me from Hogwarts.”
Nora’s eyes widened. So that’s why he looked so familiar! Last she’d seen him, he was just a skinny, accident-prone Chaser for Ravenclaw who was in the Hospital Wing every other week with sprains and fractures. There was a running joke in Hufflepuff about ‘Cargan the bargain’ because after he’d suffered sixteen broken bones in a row, he’d realized Quidditch was not for him and agreed to be replaced by Gavior Bletchley in exchange for Bletchley’s position as Gobstones Captain. Bletchley went on to help Ravenclaw win that year’s Quidditch Cup and Cargan Dearborn led the Gobstones to a tournament in Germany.
“Wotcher, Cargan,” Tonks replied, as Nora was taking awhile to respond. Nora didn’t hear her; she was recalling Dearborn from his Hogwarts days and comparing the two versions.
Whatever had been his coordination issue, he certainly did not look like that scrawny teenager anymore. But his well-bred looks and powerful build were lost on Nora, as she had no room in her daydreams for any more men. “Oh, sure, I remember you,” Nora said, very aware of Molly’s eyes boring holes into hers with fervent passion. “How’ve you been?”
She was sorry she asked. Cargan squeezed between Nora and Fred, pushing the latter out of the way in his earnest quest to describe his entire life’s story. She tried to be polite and pay attention, but used every pause as an opportunity to deflect his attention. “And this is Hermione Granger,” she said while he was between tangents. “Top of her class in all her subjects. Didn’t you set a record for Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, Cargan?”
But he was not to be swayed off topic. Cargan bowled her over with his speeches and when he was done, seemed intent on making her his number one priority for the evening. He tagged her everywhere she went, and interpreted any sign of friendliness as encouragement to be even more forward. Molly frowned when she saw Nora trying to switch seats so that she wasn’t sitting next to him, and Molly got up and ushered them back together. Molly also attempted to persuade Sirius to move down the table so that he wasn’t facing Nora, but he threw her such a hateful look that she shut up.
Sirius watched Cargan with stony-eyed dislike before it became apparent that Nora was not interested in him, and that the more he pressed, the more she withdrew. Very soon Nora could not trust herself to look at the young man with a straight face and resolved on making steady eye contact with either Tonks or Sirius; who were exuberant staring partners and when they weren’t enjoying the spectacle Cargan was making of himself, were pulling funny faces and trying to get her to crack.
“You are as breath-taking as ever, Miss Prewett,” Cargan declared dreamily, reaching out to tuck a loose tendril of hair behind Nora’s ear. Sirius’s eyebrows shot up and he stared at Nora disbelievingly, who was running out of ways to scare her new admirer off. Indeed, she had never dealt with someone who had taken to her so quickly – it was disconcerting. She was beginning to wonder about this when Cargan admitted that Molly had given him a picture of her, as well as talked her up. From his bold statements about Nora’s intelligence, beauty, and accomplishments, Molly had talked her up much more than what she deserved. Several things she may have even made up altogether, because Nora certainly couldn’t remember ever having won any awards for Special Services to the School.
Sirius and Nora weren’t the only ones who found Cargan Dearborn as grating to the nerves. Every now and then Cargan’s hair would turn purple or his nose would grow three times in size to resemble a small melon, and when Nora looked down the table, Severus Snape would be quickly turning away and beginning to speak animatedly to someone else. Cargan was a popular target for Sirius’s jinxes as well, and more than once she even suspected Lupin.
The food was delicious. Cargan kept piling heaps of everything onto Nora’s plate, which she found strange, but just smiled wryly and said nothing. “So, Nora,” he began after dabbing at his debonair face with a napkin. “Don’t break my heart, now. Have you got any boyfriends I should know about?”
Tonks choked on a mouthful of Yorkshire Pudding. Sirius had frozen with a goblet at his lips, mid-sip, and Severus was concentrating on Cargan with unconcealed loathing. Nora felt her face growing hot. Molly would have told him she didn’t – he was just trying to size her up. “Not at the moment, no,” she replied hastily, and then in an attempt to dodge any more questions about it, said, “I forget, Cargan. Did you say you supported the goblin’s rights movement? You know, Ron here is all about elf rights. You ought to swap opinions.”
“Who cares about blooming elf rights?” Ron began to say before Hermione elbowed him in the ribs.
Cargan patted Nora’s cheek affectionately. “Trying to weasel out of answering the question? Oh, I’ll let you get away with being a secretive little vixen – but just because I like you, mind. I’ll just approach you later after you’ve had some Firewhisky!”
But it was Cargan who was quick with his drinks, not Nora, and as the night wore on he became rather like a bee; if she swatted him away, he just came buzzing back ten-fold, and was always hovering somewhere in her ears. He pelted her with glasses of mulled mead and rum, which she refused, and was openly downtrodden by the revelation that she wasn’t an easy challenge. “How am I supposed to loosen you up?” he muttered.
It was around this time that Nora began to notice the rotating mistletoe.
The cluster of green leaves started out harmless enough – Hermione had pinned a small bough in the doorway to Number Twelve. By eleven o’clock, however, it had multiplied into hard-to-miss shrubbery that lingered over Nora’s head. Cargan would wave his wand and it would appear, and he would say, “Well, look at that!” And then Sirius would move it over to another corner, Molly would hang it once more over Cargan or Nora, Severus would make it disappear altogether, and so forth. Luckily Sirius was paying close attention and saved her every time she was in danger of being snogged to death by the overzealous Cargan Dearborn.
Nora escaped to the narrow pantry off the side of the kitchen. She sat down on an old box of powdered hellebore the twins had imported for their inventions and were trying to hide from their mother. Moments later, there came a rap on the wooden door, but she could see through the slats that it was Tonks. “Come on in,” she called.
Tonks joined her, grinning, and shut the door. “Well, aren’t you popular?” she snickered, her dark eyes gleaming. “I haven’t got a chance trying to get some of this mistletoe over Remus; loverboy keeps taking it all and trying to stuff it down your throat.”
Nora rolled her eyes. “The man is positively suffocating.”
Tonks nodded in agreement. “Handsome, yes, but he’s a dozy bloke.” She sighed, rubbing her ankles. “I’m not designed to wear heels. Don’t know why I bothered – Remus doesn’t even notice I’m here.”
“Of course he does!” Nora refuted. “He looks at you all the time when you’re not paying attention. The trick is to make him jealous, maybe. Go over and start flirting with Cargan and see if he interrupts.”
“You’re just trying to pawn Dearborn off on me,” Tonks accused. Nora didn’t even try to deny it. “You shameless thing. Just give him a good snog and he’ll leave you alone.”
Now it was Nora’s turn to sigh. “Why does it have to be a moron tailing me around? Why can’t it be a normal person?”
“You mean, ‘why can’t it be Sirius?’” Tonks edged. They both stared moodily at the peeling walls, passing a bottle of Butterbeer back and forth before feeling too stiff and cramped from the awkward position to remain there any longer.
When they trooped back into the party, Tonks dispatched to spy on Remus and Nora was met by Sirius, who seemed to have been roaming around searching for her. “Where’ve you been?” he wanted to know. “That nutter’s out there getting shirty with me, having a go at my selection of drinks and saying I don’t have enough variety to suit female tastes.”
Nora rolled her shoulders. “Hiding in the pantry with Tonks,” she replied unabashedly. “From that nutter who keeps trying to get me sloshed.”
Sirius laughed. “I’m not sure who wants you to be with Cargan the most – Cargan or Molly.”
To emphasize this statement, Molly came hurrying over to them, and pretending Sirius was not there, said, “Nora, dear, I believe someone is looking for you.”
“Oh, yes, but I found her,” Sirius intervened with a broad smile. “So it’s alright. You can go back to pestering Bill about his hair now.”
Molly looked cross. “I meant Cargan.”
“Molly,” Nora pleaded, “I beg you not to show any more boys my picture. He’s got this idea of who he thinks I am now in his head, and I can’t get rid of him.”
Her aunt looked taken aback. “But why would you want to? He’s such a fine, well-adjusted boy.”
“He’s a pain in the arse, more like.”
Molly ignored her language. “Be nice; yesterday was his birthday. He’s twenty-six now, but that’s still young enough for you. Don’t you think he’s handsome?”
Sirius struggled to look indifferent, pretending to be engrossed with something happening far away. “He’s not my type,” Nora admitted. “Sorry, Molly. Thanks for the stab at match-making, but I think I’m a lost cause.”
Molly still would not give up on scheming to bring Nora and Cargan together, and Nora was giving herself a workout trying to avoid him. Sirius remained unseen but watchful, and redirected the mistletoe away from Cargan and Molly, who were holding clumps high in the air with their wands and looking all around for Nora. He was more than a little relieved when Nora searched him out and pulling him aside, whispered into his ear that she was going to bed because she couldn’t stand it anymore. Cargan was in a foul mood when he learned this, and Severus left to go back to Hogwarts. Nora, meanwhile, was upstairs wrapping presents and regretting miserably that Sirius hadn’t strayed anywhere near her while she’d been ambushed by loads of mistletoe.
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