The rest of the holidays passed in a quiet and uneventful manner, for which the inhabitants of Grimmauld Place were grateful. Only one official Order meeting had been held after the New Year, so there were few outside visitors during the course of the week. Remus usually came round for dinner, sometimes accompanied by Tonks and Kingsley, or Mad Eye. Dumbledore had not attended the most recent meeting, but Gwen was to meet with him when she returned to the school for the start of term. The Order had discussed only in part the plans to keep Gwen inaccessible to dark forces since Dumbledore would be explaining it to her fully one on one. It was already helpful that she would be at Hogwarts, probably the safest place for anyone at the time.
Gwen and Sirius spent increasingly more time together as the time for her departure drew nearer. Her need for his presence agitated her, and she didn’t understand this new part of her that she was discovering. She was perfectly familiar with the independent, strong-willed Gwen. The one who was master of her emotions and hated to show weakness. This new side of Gwen was annoying. She craved Sirius’ touch and his company all the time. He acted as a mute button for her brain when it wouldn’t shut up. The calmness he exuded was toxic, and she wanted to absorb as much as she could. His comforting presence had become her crutch. She loved it and hated it at the same time. But she couldn’t help herself. She would look at him when they cuddled on the couch, his eyes closed as he dozed, the firelight flickering and casting a soft orange glow across his perfect features. She memorized every plane of his face, fearing she would forget the minute she looked away. This man had completely consumed her. She didn’t realize how deep she was until she looked up and couldn’t see the surface. But she would rather drown with Sirius than breathe another breath without him. She figured “obsessed” was a good word to use. Thankfully, Sirius was just as fanatical about her. They had possessed one another, and there was no going back.
The month they had spent together at Grimmauld Place had intensified their feelings for one another, and Gwen had a startling thought one day. If both Sirius and Harry were in mortal danger, who would she run to help? Harry was, according to Dumbledore, the only one who could defeat Voldemort and protect the world as they knew it. He was their only hope. Sirius was the absolute love of her life. More than that, he WAS her life. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like if he was gone. Whenever she thought about losing him, she felt like she couldn’t draw a breath, and her heart ached painfully inside of her chest. But Harry…he was so young, with so much life ahead of him. He deserved a chance at a normal life, and he deserved her allegiance and protection. As much as she didn’t want to ever think about something like this, her mind would constantly bring it to her attention, usually at night when she was trying to sleep and Sirius wasn’t awake to distract her. She didn’t share this fear with anyone, not even Sirius, but kept it inside to sort through on her own.
The day before Gwen and the kids were to go back to school, she and Sirius were sitting together in the living room, talking and laughing about nonsense. Conversation was always easy between them, and they both knew that they could say anything in front of the other without worry of judgment. Sirius had just ended the conversation with a rather fervent kiss, straining her body against his as she tangled her hands in his hair, when there was a soft knock on the front door. They broke apart, looking at each other, puzzled. It was too early for anyone to be round for dinner. Mrs. Weasley came bustling down the hall, saving them from getting up to answer the door. Gwen fanned herself a little, hoping the flush in her cheeks would disappear quickly as Sirius smirked, watching her futile efforts. He tried to help the process by running his hand across a bare stretch of her back where her shirt didn’t quite meet her jeans. She smacked his hand away as she strained to hear who the guest was. Mrs. Weasley was talking in hushed tones to the stranger, and as the person answered she recognized the voice at once. She looked sideways at Sirius. This was indeed a most unexpected visitor, and as far as Sirius was concerned, he was always unwelcome.
Severus Snape sat across from Sirius at the kitchen table. Sirius, of course, was glowering at Snape with folded arms. He leaned his chair back so it stood on two legs, a scowl on his face and his jaw clenched tight. Snape just looked bored as he gazed about the room. More than once, his eyes rested a little too long on Gwen as she stood by the hearth, staring at the flames. Luckily, Sirius didn’t seem to notice. The tension in the air was so tangible she felt she could reach out and catch hold of it. Maybe she should try, and burn it up in her bare hands. She hated uncomfortable silences. They just made her feel icky. And this one seemed to go on forever. Sirius’ attitude towards Snape was almost unbearable for Gwen to deal with. Well, okay, their attitudes towards each other. But especially Sirius’, because she felt like she should be able to fix his. She had no problem with Snape. He was a great wizard to be sure, and she respected him for his intelligence and, well, bravery. He put himself in death’s hands by spying on Voldemort and his followers. And he had been perfectly civil to her at Hogwarts, despite her involvement with Sirius. They weren’t chummy by any means, but had a mutual understanding of one another. Sirius' mindset was very juvenile. Not to mention it annoyed the crap out of her.
She let out an audible sigh of relief when she heard someone coming down the steps. Sirius and Snape both looked at her as she turned around to face the room, and she smiled a little, embarrassed.
“Er,” Harry said, announcing his presence. Always so eloquent.
“Ah, Potter. Sit down,” Snape said, gesturing to a chair.
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t give orders in MY house, Snivellus,” Sirius said, looking up at the ceiling.
Gwen was surprised the ceiling didn’t crumble the way Sirius was glowering at it. Snape merely smirked and ignored the comment. Harry stood awkwardly, glancing at Sirius questioningly. Sirius inclined his head toward the chair to his right and Harry sat down, looking quickly from Snape back to his godfather. Snape wasted no time and began talking.
“It is the wish of Professor Dumbledore that you learn the art of Occlumency. Now-”
“What’s Occlumency? Sir?” Harry interrupted, hastily adding the ‘sir’ at the look on Snape’s face.
Snape was clearly annoyed by the interruption, but answered “Occlumency is the practice in which one learns to block the mind from outside forces. As I was saying, the headmaster wants you to learn this, and seeing as I am a very skilled Occlumens, I will be giving you lessons once a week this term.”
“I still don’t understand why Dumbledore can’t teach Harry,” Sirius said, obviously unhappy with the arrangement.
By the look on Harry’s face, he was none too thrilled with the idea either.
Snape’s lip curled as he said, “Professor Dumbledore has better things to do than worry about teaching Potter Occlumency. So the menial task has been appointed to me. Dumbledore is very busy, as am I. We’re both out there risking our lives every day. Oh, but I forgot,” he raised a mocking hand up to cover his mouth, “you wouldn’t know anything about that-”
Sirius brought his chair back on all fours with a loud bang, a mutinous look on his face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked angrily, standing up.
“Oh nothing, Black. Merely that you can’t really do anything useful, can you? You get to sit here comfortably, a handy little excuse up your sleeve-”
“You shut your greasy mouth Snivellus,” Sirius yelled.
“Oh, it seems I’ve hit a nerve. My apologies,” Snape said, clearly delighted.
Sirius suddenly pulled out his wand and Snape mirrored his movements. The two men stood, wands pointed at each others’ face as Harry stood between them, arms outstretched. Gwen rushed forward and laid a hand on Sirius’ chest, trying to calm him down. At that moment, Arthur and Molly entered the kitchen and stopped short at the sight in front of them. Snape came to his senses first and stowed his wand inside his robes.
“Look for my note, Potter,” he said, and swept from the room.
Sirius slowly lowered his wand, anger still evident on his face. Gwen rolled her eyes and huffed out of the room. She reached the top of the stairs just as Snape’s cloak whipped around the corner.
“Severus!” she whispered as loud as she could, rounding the corner into the foyer.
Snape stopped short at the front door and turned to look at her, irritation written all over his face.
She stopped in front of him and watched the resentment slide off his face as she opened her mouth to speak.
“If I could apologize for him, I would. Even though he’d probably kill me,” she said quietly. “Even so, I’m-“
He held up a hand to silence her.
“There’s no need to apologize for Black, Gwen. Sometimes his dog-like tendencies are going to spill over into other areas of his life. There’s no stopping it.”
Gwen bit her lip to hide her smile, and felt a little guilty that she found it funny. But whatever. He was
acting like a dog.
“I will see you back at Hogwarts, Miss Bradley. Good evening,” Snape whispered with the teeniest hint of a smile on his face before he opened the door and disappeared into the night.
Gwen turned and headed up the stairs to her bedroom, some last minute packing on her mind. She assumed Sirius would be up soon to grovel for her forgiveness. At least, he better. She had told him time and time again to get a handle on his temper when Severus was around. His fuse was too short. And if she
was telling him
to get a grip on his temper, that was saying something. The fire in her blood gave her a heated disposition when something ticked her off, and it had taken years to learn how to control it.
As she stuffed the last few items unceremoniously into her trunk, someone knocked softly on her door. She stopped halfway through shoving a sweater into the full trunk and turned to see Sirius standing in the doorway. About time. He looked at her, chewing on his bottom lip. She raised an eyebrow at him as he slowly stepped towards her. They stood in silence for a few seconds, looking at one another, Gwen not trying to hide her annoyance. She refused to be the one to speak first.
“Gwen,” Sirius started, moving closer to her so she was forced to look up into his eyes. “Look. I…I’m really sorry I acted like that down there. We’ve talked about it, and I mean, it’s easy to do in theory, but when I’m actually face to face with that-”, he stopped short at the look on her face.
“I mean...damn. Okay, it’s really hard to do when he’s actually there in person. He just…he just gets under my skin and makes it crawl and…it just takes all my willpower not to curse him into oblivion,” he finished quickly, watching for Gwen’s reaction.
Gosh this guy was dreadful at apologies. She crossed her arms in front of her and raised her eyebrows. Sirius ran an agitated hand through his hair and clenched his jaw. Mmmm and it really brought out his jawline…but Gwen didn’t notice. Well, she did, but she ignored it. She was irritated with him.
“Try again,” she said coldly.
He let out an exasperated sigh and walked in a little circle before turning to face her again. He looked straight into her eyes, biting the inside of his cheek. He blinked hard a couple times and started over.
“Gwen, I’m sorry that I did the complete opposite of what I should have done. I’m sorry I did not act like the better man and stay calm. I should have been a more gracious host and not acted like a 10 year old. It’s just, that man
! He just-”
Gwen held up her hand to silence him. Well, he gets credit for trying.
“You were doing so well,” she sighed, “you almost got through an entire apology without mentioning his
faults. I’ll give you a C+ for that one.”
Sirius’ face broke out in a huge smile and he grabbed the sweater Gwen was still holding and flung it away. He pulled her against him and Gwen wrapped her arms around his waist. How could she stay mad at that?
“That was really painful,” Sirius whined, burying his face in her hair.
Gwen chuckled. “I know,” she replied, “that’s why I took pity on you.”
“At least he didn’t make any dog jokes this time. I do believe our little Sniv…Snape is growing up,” he joked, pulling back to look down at her.
“Well…”Gwen said, looking away from his gaze.
Sirius’ face suddenly turned serious.
“What’d he say?” he asked demandingly.
“Nothing, babe, really, it was nothing…” she said, watching his face cautiously. His friends could make jokes all day and he’d laugh along with him, but if Snape said something, he really would curse him into oblivion.
Sirius studied her face through squinty eyes. Gwen laughed at his expression, which in turn made Sirius laugh, and all anger was forgotten. He leaned down to kiss her when she held her hand up to stop him.
“Wait! You’re not up to date on your rabies shots!” she exclaimed, wriggling out of his arms.
Sirius’ face was all shock as Gwen ran for the door, giggling. He quickly came to his senses, and smiling, grabbed her around the waist before she could even get her hand on the doorknob. He yanked her back and threw her onto the bed.
Still smiling devilishly, he climbed on top of her and said, “After this, you’re going to need your own rabies shots.”