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Chapter 16 : Thirty-Two Candles
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“I think I’m going to be sick.”
Vivian glanced at Dollie before returning to applying a second coat of powder to her cheeks. “If you are, could you at least hold it in until after I’m done?”
“Remind me to aim for you.” Dollie glared back.
“Could we please not talk about cookie tossing?” Lily groaned as she twisted her hair around a contraption, trying to achieve something called the ‘Farrah’, whatever that was. “You really should be more excited, Dollie. He’s gone through so much trouble –”
“I didn’t ask for any of it!” Dollie protested.
“I know. That’s what makes it worse, doesn’t it,” Lily said knowingly.
It was true. All his plans, the preparations he carried out, it was all for her. Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely true. After all, she was technically sharing this party with Remus. But still, they all knew he went the extra mile for her. She never realized how overwhelming guilt could be, how heavy it made her chest feel. She fingered the silver bracelet on her wrist, her hands carefully shielded behind her back.
She never should have agreed to it and normally, she wouldn’t have. But he’d caught her the morning after she’d spent the night in a broom cupboard with Vivian after being chased by McGonagall, Pomfrey and Filch. Suffice to say, she hadn’t had all her mental faculties in place. And so, in a momentary lapse in judgement, she agreed to him throwing her a party celebrating her sixteenth birthday on the condition that it wasn’t a surprise one though somehow, he knew not to do so anyway.
During the course of the day, he’d instructed her to stay in her dormitory so that he could decorate and prepare the common room for the party. She had only managed a peek or two, the security he employed (re: some random sixth years) were especially vigilant. What little she could make out made her heart throb with an unfamiliar anticipation. Even while in their dormitory bathroom, they could hear the music from the wireless pulsating from the floor and through the walls. She was excited, yes, but undeniably terrified.
“You’re looking rather pasty, Doll. You sure you don’t want to brighten your face a bit?”
Dollie shuddered and instinctively backed away. No make-up. Not again, not ever.
“I’m fine. I just want to get it over with,” she said as she adjusted the straps of her dress for the thousandth time, if only to keep her increasingly trembling hands busy.
“Don’t say that. Savour the moment. You only turn sixteen once.”
In spite of herself, she smiled as she remembered Sirius saying the exact same thing though she refrained from repeating her retort. As she leaned against the wall, Vivian turned examine her side in the bathroom mirror.
“You’re sure my thighs don’t look like tree trunks in this?”
“Absolutely not,” said Lily.
“It’s the only dress of yours that doesn’t,” said Dollie.
Vivian shot her a withering look before sucking in her stomach and pushing up her breasts, though failing in achieving any visible cleavage. Really, her black, knee-length dress was almost matronly. No surprise, seeing as it was bought by her mother. Vivian had settled on it only because she couldn’t fit into any of her more revealing attire without layers of fat spilling out and risk ripping the fabric.
“I think I’ve got it.” Lily set down the hair-curling contraption and beamed triumphantly. “Well, what do you think?”
Dollie wasn’t quite sure what to think. From what she could gather, Lily must have tried to feather her hair and give it more volume than it was normally accustomed to. Unfortunately, her normally flat straight hair hadn’t reacted well to the treatment, looking like a giant auburn cloud had settled on her head. Coupled with her purple satin dress with ruffles and she resembled one of those scary painted muggles with poufy afros that frequent those fairs muggles enjoy having.
Dollie racked her brains for something to say while Vivian tried to hide her laugh with a fake cough. When neither of them ventured a comment, positive or negative, Lily’s face immediately fell.
“You hate it.”
“‘Hate’ is such a strong word,” said Dollie lightly.
“‘Terrified’, now that’s fitting. Kidding!” Vivian held up her hands.
Lily looked about ready to burst into tears. “Anyone have a scarf I can borrow?”
“Look here, it isn’t an entirely lost cause. Let Vivian, your fairy godsister, have a look at it.”
Armed with the necessary tools, Vivian brushed out the unsightly pouf and magically reworked it into soft curls that enhanced Lily’s natural beauty. Lily gazed in amazement at the end result.
“Blimey, you really are a beauty wizard, Viv.”
“Emphasis on the ‘beauty’.”
“Are we done yet? We’re running rather late, aren’t we?” said Dollie as she tapped her foot impatiently.
“Dollie worried about punctuality? I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Vivian snickered. “It’s your party, isn’t it? You can jolly well arrive whenever you please. I believe the term is ‘fashionably late’.”
“Oh do stop, Viv. Can’t you see she can’t wait to see the shindig her boy threw for her?” said Lily with a smile.
“No,” Dollie scowled to shield the impending blush. “It isn’t like that at all.”
“I’m sure,” replied Vivian with obvious sarcasm.
Dollie made to stomp out the bathroom but almost tripped in her heels. Lily and Vivian had hidden her sneakers and refused to tell her where they were until after the party. While she had considered the option of going barefoot, Vivian’s coy threat that she would cover the floor with broken glass was enough to get her to wear the dreaded heels.
“Bollocks!” Dollie leaned against the doorway as she grabbed her ankle. “It’ll be your fault if I break an ankle.”
“I think you twist, not break an ankle,” said Lily as she smoothed down her dress.
“Either way, I’m sure Black won’t complain about carrying you around. He’s got rather nice arms, as I’m sure you know well enough,” said Vivian.
“Oh, shut your face.”
Once everyone was satisfied, Lily with her hair and Vivian with her everything, and Dollie got over her nausea, they descended the staircase into the Gryffindor common room. They heard the party before they even stepped foot into it. Someone must have turned the wireless to full volume. Blood-red roses covered the archway of the staircase and portrait entrance while the ceiling was covered with strips of colourful streamers. Purple and brown balloons floated aimlessly about. Confetti was everywhere and every so often, a new batch would burst out of thin air. People were setting off firecrackers left and right while lit sparklers fizzled in goblets full of butterbeer. A table to the side of the room was almost collapsing from various Honeydukes goodies. A large banner above the fireplace read, ‘Happy Sweet Sixteen, Dollie & Remus’, in purple and brown letters.
“Wow, your boy really did well,” Lily marvelled as Vivian whistled.
Dollie agreed, albeit silently. She suppressed a growing smile as she hitched up the hem of her dress as she got off the last step. Pausing to inhale one of the roses, she marvelled at how Sirius had managed to find such wonderful flowers when they were supposed to be out of season. When she turned around, Lily was under siege from admirers, both male and female while Vivian headed straight into the dancing crowd with the Gryffindor Seeker, Rhett Reynolds. That didn’t take long, the traitors.
Alone, Dollie pushed her way through the throngs of people towards the snack table, even though she wasn’t really hungry. It would give her something to do. More than a few deigned to give her second glances, probably because of her dress, but for the most part, she might as well have been transparent. There was no acknowledgement, and no wishes. It might be her name on the banner but she knew well enough that to everyone in the room, this was a Marauder party. It was purely happenstance that she was dating one of them. As she made to take a goblet of Butterbeer, a voice shouting in her ear almost caused her to drop the drink.
“I’d advise against the goblets, I heard someone spiked them with firewhiskey! Best go with the bottles! At least they’re sealed!”
It was Remus, nibbling on a Chocolate Wand in one hand and holding a bottle of Butterbeer in the other, looking as out of place as she felt. He offered her his bottle and opened it when she had trouble doing so. She took a gulp, careful not to spill any on her dress. She almost choked altogether when Remus leaned in to talk into her ear. A necessary doing, considering one could hardly hear one’s own thoughts in the noise but his warm breath tickling her ear almost gave her a stroke.
“Happy birthday, by the way.”
“You too! I mean –” With acute embarrassment she did the same, hoping she smelled decent. “Happy birthday.”
“Sirius really went all out, didn’t he?”
“The only way he knows how. Where is he, anyway? I haven’t seen him yet.” Dollie scanned the crowd and finally spotted him on the makeshift dance floor. His handsome face was stricken with discomfort as he was being assaulted by Sue Milton and her dangerously suggestive dance moves.
“It’s nothing to be worried about. He’s nothing if not loyal.” Remus must have noticed her scowl and the sudden tightening of her grip on her Butterbeer bottle.
“I know. It isn’t that. I just hate her, that’s all.”
“‘Hate’ is a strong word.”
“Strong but accurate,” she said as she took another swig, barely tasting its sweetness, her eyes blazing. If only she could shoot fire out of them. Then she could turn Sue into a pile of ash that people could step all over and the house-elves could sweep up and get rid of. Now that would be an amazing feat of magic. Perhaps she should ask Remus if such a thing were possible.
She had half a mind to go over there and introduce her fist to Sue’s face. However, such violence was not required when she caught Sirius’ eye. Dodging Sue’s advances, he swam through the crowd to reach the pair. The song suddenly switched to a one of slower tempo, thus enabling a coherent conversation to be heard.
“Hello, beautiful,” he said by way of greeting as he snaked an arm around her waist. Behind him, abandoned on the dance-floor, Sue met Dollie’s gaze and made a throat-slitting motion. Was that supposed to intimidate her? Dollie smirked and nuzzled her face into Sirius’ chest. Sue’s face turned beet-red before she was swallowed whole by the mass of grooving students. Good riddance, the plastic cow.
“No ‘looking good, Lupin’ for me?” said Remus, his joviality a tad forced.
“Dashing as always, Remus,” Sirius laughed.
“Why thank you. It was just something I threw on really.”
Dollie rolled her eyes. “Boys. I’ll never understand them, least of all you two.”
“We’re a pair of enigmas, there’s no denying it.” Sirius slapped a hearty hand on Remus’ back, nearly knocking the wind out of him.
“Cut down on the vitamins, Black. At least until I catch up,” said Remus as he winced.
Sirius laughed his bark laugh once more before grabbing a fistful of Fizzing Whizzbees and cramming them into his mouth, washing them down with Butterbeer. Probably not too wise a combination as Sirius started to levitate so high that Dollie and Remus had to each grab a leg and pull him back down to the ground. His expression seemed to indicate he was experiencing a particularly strong sugar rush, one that clouded his mind in total unadulterated bliss.
“Having fun yet, birthday girl and boy?” said Sirius as he smiled dopily.
“A blast,” said Remus while Dollie tilted her bottle in agreement.
“Why aren’t you dancing then?”
“I don’t dance.”
“You should be dancing!” Sirius insisted as he began to demonstrate what Dollie assumed he meant as dancing but more closely resembled a cross between an epileptic fit and getting into a fist fight with thin air. Dollie could only look on in alarm and embarrassment while Remus almost choked on a chocolate frog. Before he could seriously injure someone with his ‘moves’, Remus coaxed him to cease and desist.
“Why don’t we look for James? I think you need to lie down for a bit.”
“But I don’t want to!” Sirius began to pout like a petulant child.
“It’s just a little lie down. You can rejoin the party once you’ve rested up.”
“I am rather tired, I suppose.” Sirius yawned. As quickly as it came, the sugar rush passed.
Unable to spot James, Remus carefully led Sirius to an armchair that was as far away from the crowd as possible. He unceremoniously shooed away an otherwise occupied couple and settled Sirius into the chair, laying his head on a pillow and blanketed him with someone’s discarded cloak. Even Dollie had to admit he looked rather cute curled up in the chair, like a dog by the fireplace. She suddenly felt an overwhelming affection for the boy. If Remus wasn’t beside her watching, she was quite tempted to stroke his long hair away from his face.
“Nighty-night, Moony,” Sirius murmured as he drifted off to slumber.
Remus didn’t reply but for a moment, Dollie thought she saw him blanch and stiffen. However, he returned back to normal and she wondered whether perhaps she imagined the curious reaction.
“You’re really good with him,” she said.
“It comes with practice.”
Before he could say anymore, a popular tune came on the wireless followed by spontaneous whooping and shouting from those in attendance. Someone must have figured out a way to make it eardrum-shatteringly louder, if that was even humanly possible. Dollie was surprised none of the Professors have yet to come by to shut down the party. The stone walls must be thicker than she initially assumed.
As people she recognized but didn’t personally know rushed past her to the dance floor, she felt more than ever like this wasn’t her party, like she didn’t belong. She was the proverbial sore thumb on a dynamic hand. This wasn’t what she wanted. A round of butterbeer and perhaps some snacks with Vivian and Lily were more than enough for her. She’d even be content spending it with Sirius if he wished to do so. But not like this, feeling alone in a room full of practically strangers.
“Hey, are you alright?” asked Remus.
“Yeah, it’s just a headache. Must be all this noise,” she said as she rubbed her temples. “Do you think we could go outside for awhile? I really need to clear my head,” she said with sudden boldness. As out of place as she felt, at least she was with Remus and really, that made all the difference.
He didn’t answer immediately, finishing the rest of his chocolate and taking one long drink. When she was convinced he hadn’t heard her, he lightly touched her arm, triggering goosepimples to sprout on her skin.
“Come on, you can move faster than that. Do hurry, Remus!”
All of a sudden, Dollie came to a halt and patiently waited for him to catch up to her. Once he did, he struggled to regain his breath, panting heavily as he bent over. He felt a shiver run up his spine as she lightly touched his shoulder.
“I’m sorry. I forget sometimes...”
He quickly straightened up, losing her hand in the process. Beads of cold sweat dotted his forehead, his lungs compressing hard as the backdrop against a beating heart. Even if he wasn’t as healthy as his youth entitled him to, he wasn’t quite sure why the run exhausted him as much as it did. It hadn’t been a great distance, from outside the Gryffindor tower to where they were now, the grounds of the castle. They’d even walked most of the way. It was only when they came to the entrance that Dollie, in a burst of energy, sprinted out into the open air, most likely due to a butterbeer-induced sugar rush.
“That I’m an old man?”
“Hardly,” she snorted. “We’re three days apart, what do you suppose that makes me?”
“Three days younger.”
She smiled, not allowing herself to laugh and thus encourage his rather lame attempt at age humour. The concern was still visible in the crinkle of her eyebrows though she didn’t try to touch him this time.
“You are okay, aren’t you?”
She shook her head, probably assuming that he was, once again, pulling her leg. He wasn’t but it was better she didn’t know that. Dry humour was one of his better defences against the world, a shield that protected him from mockery, alienation and all those other things teenagers invariably feared. He needed the protection, not from her but the feelings she aroused in him when they were together. In spite of his best efforts, they were friends now and he’d just have to learn how to make the best of it. Not in his interests, obviously, but generally speaking.
“Sorry I took you away from the party.”
“It’s all right.”
He nodded. He hoped it hadn’t been too apparent but he hadn’t found the party too enjoyable. Loud music and equally loud people didn’t equate to a good time for him. That was more Sirius and James’ scene than his. He’d secretly been pleased when she made the suggestion to leave. He hadn’t quite worked up the nerve to suggest it himself.
It was an especially dark night, the clouds obscuring any possible light from the sky. It was unwaveringly cold, the countryside air clear and brisk. A shudder shook her frame as she rubbed her arms. He forgot his cloak so he couldn’t offer it to her. Somehow knowing she wouldn’t want to go back inside the castle, the draft was just as bad as if they were outside anyway, he initiated a walk around the grounds to get the blood pumping and provide them with some self-heat. Once or twice, she almost tumbled to the ground, cursing and blaming her shoes. If she was so unaccustomed to them, why was she wearing them in the first place?
“You look very... nice.” The words he held back at the party rapidly flew out his mouth. Nice? That was it? An embarrassing understatement. “Sorry for not mentioning it before,” he continued sheepishly.
“Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. I don’t know if I like it though, I almost feel rather... exposed.” She pulled up the neckline of her dress, held up only by the string around her neck. Remus chivalrously kept his eyes above her neck, trying desperately not to notice how sharply her bare shoulders contrasted with the dark.
“I didn’t think pink would be your colour.”
“It isn’t entirely horrendous,” she admitted. “It has its moments.”
They lapsed into silence, silence that wasn’t shared by the night. Crickets chirped and birds called out to one another while the tree branches danced with the wind, its leaves swaying to the rhythm. Dollie hitched up her dress as to not trip. When he turned to face her, contemplation was etched in her features.
“Knut for your thought?”
“Nothing.” He waited for her to continue, which she did. “I was just thinking about how much I don’t really know about you.”
What a curious thing for her to be thinking about, him of all people. “What’s there to know?” he shrugged.
“Plenty, I’d imagine. Don’t you find it funny that all these years in the same house and same classes, and we barely spoke? Now look where we are, sharing a birthday party.”
“Written in the stars perhaps?”
She laughed. “Kismet you mean?”
“I don’t take Divination, I wouldn’t know.”
There was a pause before she continued. “You don’t really let anyone in or get too close, except them.” They both knew who she meant.
“They’re my best mates. I’d do anything for them.” She didn’t know how much.
“Yes, I can see that.” She suddenly stopped walking, forcing him to do the same. “Remus?”
“May I ask you something?”
“Would you like to dance?”
He regarded her with incomprehension. “What, here? Now?”
“But... I thought you don’t dance.”
“I don’t. And I know neither do you but we could make an exception just this once, couldn’t we? It’s our birthday after all. There’s even music, can’t you hear it?”
The obnoxiously deafening music from the common room drifted to where they were, the distance adjusting the volume to become faint but discernible and the song to pleasantly and seamlessly blend into the background. One could appreciate the lulling melody and emotional quiver in the lyrics. It was an old muggle ballad though its name escaped him.
Meeting her eyes for the first time since they left the castle, he held out his hands, uncertain of what to do with them. He wasn’t at all experienced with dancing, he wasn’t quite sure what she had in mind. She took his hands in hers, her cold skin made the hair on his arms stand up. She guided both his hands to the curve of her waist while placing her hands on his shoulders. He hoped she hadn’t heard his loud gulp or saw his Adam’s apple bob nervously in his throat.
It was terribly awkward at first but by the time the song hit the chorus, they were swaying in time with the tune. The song was a duet, a man and a woman who sang with quiet passion and intense longing. The man was begging the woman to stay. The woman was singing mournfully about faded hopes and loneliness.
The fabric of her dress felt soft beneath his fingertips. Hoping she wouldn’t notice, he gently pulled her to him, closing the gap between them. She responded by encircling her arms around his neck. Something that felt like cold steel was pressed against his neck, sending a tremor down his spine. It felt like a bracelet though he hadn’t noticed her wearing it before. The heels of her shoes added to her height, making them eye to eye. Soon, their faces were only inches away from each other. It occurred to him how easy it would be to kiss her, right then and there.
Was he a fool to believe she wanted it as badly as he did?
How many times had he found himself in this very predicament with her? He could count but he didn’t want to remember lost opportunities, only new chances. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps it was fortune’s way of making amends, after dealing him one bad hand after another. Why else would this keep happening?
Time, place and circumstances lost all meaning. They could disappear into oblivion. But he knew, deep in his heart, that they would have to emerge sooner or later and face the consequences.
The song was making its way towards the crescendo. He had been angry before, furious but not at Sirius and certainly not at her. He was angry that despite being a Gryffindor, he never had the courage to tell her what he felt, afraid of what it would cost him. But now, a wild abandonment rose in his chest. It raced through his veins and encroached into his brain. It made him realize how fed up he was, being considerate to all except himself. Didn’t he matter? If he didn’t before, he would make sure he did now.
Sirius was all but forgotten.
He wasn’t there, was he?
No, he wasn’t.
But Remus was there. With Dollie.
Remus and Dollie.
Dollie and Remus.
It was written in the stars.
It was kismet.
Somewhere, twelve gongs signalled the time. The woman in the song was wailing now. He could just make out the lyrics, lyrics that seemed as though they were written for them, for this moment. Here they were, two lonely souls who found each other. The night was theirs. They were there, together, and there they would stay. Nothing would tear them apart.
As the final verse echoed from the tower, Dollie sighed and looked up at the heavens.
“Oh, how beautiful. Look, Remus, it’s a full moon.”
A/N: Like the cliffhanger?
-Ahem- Oh yes, it woudn't be a Marauders fic without Werewolf Remus, whose appearance you can look forward to in the next chapter. I hope, dear readers, that you understand now why I was perhaps rushing the previous chapters. I was just so excited! Plus, my slight OCD tendencies wanted their sixteenth birthdays to be the sixteenth chapter. This and the next chapter will be among my favourite chapters to write in terms of pure plot.
In case you're curious, the song Dollie and Remus were dancing to was 'We've Got Tonight', originally by Bob Seger but the version in this chapter may either be Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton or Ronan Keating and Lulu, whichever you prefer.
Review please! It would mean the world to me to know what you think. =)
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