Slowly but surely, spring came to Hogwarts. If Gwen thought the change of weather would bring a change of attitude in Sirius, she was wrong. Despite her constant reassurances in her letters, he seemed bent on being depressed for the rest of his life. When reassurances didn’t work, she tried anger. But that seemed to make him even surer she didn’t deserve to be with someone who can’t even leave their own house. Gwen was at a loss. She had no idea what to do, and no one to talk about it with. Sirius was a wanted criminal, so she couldn’t even mention him in public, and she had no real close friends in the Order. The only person who had any idea that something was wrong was Severus. And he had been avoiding her like bubotuber pus.
There had been no more “encounters” between them. In fact, they hadn’t been alone together, let alone made eye contact, in over a month. She received all of her important news from Dumbledore now, and thankfully, there hadn’t been much to report. According to Severus, Harry was still Voldemort’s prime target, and there hadn’t been much talk of Gwen lately. Her mother was still safe and sound, and she wrote her at least once a week. All seemed pretty quiet at Hogwarts, except for the 5th years.
They were gearing up for their OWLs, and the stressful atmosphere was infectious. Gwen threw herself into her lessons, making sure her students had all the information they needed to pass. She was determined that all of them would get at least and ‘Exceeds Expectations’. As promised, she let them reenact a famous battle from the goblin rebellions, and it was a huge success. The students had a blast (literally, as Neville Longbottom ended up in the hospital wing). While all of this was a distraction for her troubled mind, it was only temporary; especially when something else happened that added another load onto her shoulders.
Dumbledore had left the school. That foul hag Umbridge had finally gotten what she wanted. Dumbledore was gone. He hadn’t even told Gwen where he was going. The news had spread through the school like wildfire. She couldn’t help the knot of fear in her stomach as she took it in. He was really gone? She knew it was irrational, but she suddenly felt unprotected and defenseless. Her elbows rested on her desk and she put her head in her hands. She felt like she was being bombarded at every turn, and that eventually her world would just collapse in on itself. She fought back tears, furious with herself for crying so often lately. She lifted her head and looked at the rain coming down in sheets outside the window. She got up from her desk and walked over to the window, throwing it open. A few stray drops landed on her hands where they rested on the windowsill. She breathed in deeply, relishing the smell of the spring rain. Her anxieties were briefly interrupted by a memory that couldn’t help but make her smile. It had been also been a rainy day…
Gwen laughed as she ran across the grass, splashing through puddles as the rain came down harder than ever. She could barely see where she was going with the water dripping into her eyes. She chanced a glance behind her, and saw a big black dog hot on her heels. It barked as she turned back around, and she laughed again, almost slipping on the wet grass. Finally, she saw the gazebo she had been running for. Its white paint was peeling from years of weathering, and a step or two were broken. She bounded over the broken stairs, almost losing her footing as her wet shoes hit the wet wood of the floor, but a pair of strong arms surrounded her. She pushed her soaking hair out of her face, regaining her balance as Sirius’ arms released her. She looked over at him as he walked toward the railing of the gazebo. She smiled as he shook his head hard, sending droplets of water flying through the air. She walked over to lean on the rail next to him, and closed her eyes. She loved the sound of the rain.
“I love the rain,” Sirius said, smiling and holding his hands out to his sides as he looked out over the little park.
“Me too,” Gwen said as she opened her eyes.
Sirius looked over at her, his smile making her breath catch in her throat. It was the beginning of the summer. They had only met 2 weeks ago, but the spark between them had been instant. That day, what had started as a leisurely stroll after an Order meeting (Sirius in dog form of course) had turned into a sprint as the sky opened up, letting out the summer rain. His gray eyes sparkled like water drops as he looked at her. He turned to face her, and closed the gap between them by pulling her into him. His wet shirt clung to his body, and Gwen could feel his intoxicating body heat through her own drenched clothes. Her lungs were screaming for air, but she had temporarily forgotten how to breathe. Shivers were running up and down her spine, and not because of the rain. She swallowed hard.
“Shouldn’t—shouldn’t you be in your animagus form?” she breathed, trying to control the fire coursing through her veins.
“Someone might see,” she ended in a whisper.
“But then I wouldn’t be able to do this,” he whispered back, putting a hand under her chin.
He tilted her face up towards his, the water dripping down her face like tears. They were only inches apart, but it felt like an eternity as he lowered his lips to hers. When they finally met, tingles exploded all over Gwen’s body. Her knees turned to jelly, and she was grateful his arms were so tight around her, for she was liable to fall down. She snaked her arms around his neck, tangling her fingers in his wet hair. His lips were soft on hers, but unrelenting. He brought a hand up behind her neck, not letting her pull away even an inch. His tongue traced her bottom lip as goose bumps burst out of her skin. She opened her mouth, and met his tongue with hers. She let her hands roam his torso, feeling every detail through his wet shirt. The heat in her body was raging, and steam rose from the water droplets on her arms as they evaporated. She felt like she could kiss him forever and never get tired of the sensation. He was the first to pull away, breathing heavily, but keeping a hand against her cheek. Gwen took deep breaths, looking up at him with bright eyes. He smiled crookedly back at her.
“Wow,” she said breathily, immediately blushing at the fact she had said it out loud.
“You’re welcome,” Sirius replied, still smiling.
Gwen smacked him in the chest, but couldn’t help but laugh. She kept a hand against his chest as she stealthily took a few steadying breaths. One of his hands remained on her hip, keeping their bodies close together.
“We should get back,” she said, watching as the rain lessened to a drizzle.
“I think I’d like to hang out here for a little while longer,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“Oh?” Gwen said, feigning innocence. “What would we do?”
She stood up on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Something like, this?” she breathed, her lips almost grazing his.
He leaned his head forward, eyes closed and mouth slightly open, but Gwen slipped out of his arms and ran out from under the shelter. She heard his growl as he ran after her, catching up almost immediately.
Needless to say, they didn’t make it home for another hour.
Gwen sat at her desk, almost feeling his touch as her memories took over. She touched her lips lightly with her fingers, aching for the feel of him. That was the Sirius she knew. Their first kiss had been unforgettable, but Gwen had a feeling that Sirius had forgotten what he meant to her. Or maybe she hadn’t told him enough, or in the right way. Her fingers fiddled with the pendant hanging just below her neck as she walked back over to sit at her desk. She sighed deeply, putting her head in her hands again. It was becoming a rather common posture for her. She squeezed her eyes shut as she flipped through her brain, trying to come up with a way to handle everything. But she came up empty. Life would be so much easier if she just didn’t care.
A sudden knock on her door disrupted her depressed musings, which was probably a good thing. She wearily stood from her desk to get the door. She opened it to find Severus, dripping wet with what looked like blood on his cheek. He was looking at her gravely.
“Severus,” she said, her eyes wide in surprise as she took in his appearance.
“I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you, but in Dumbledore’s absence I must be your newsboy.”
He brushed past her into the room as she opened the door wider. She noticed he didn’t quite meet her eyes as he spoke, but she couldn’t be concerned with that now. His tone made her uneasy.
“May I?” he asked, gesturing to the couch.
“Of course,” she answered and sat down in the chair opposite.
The leather squeaked as he sat down.
“Would you mind…?” he asked, pulling out his wand as he motioned to the unlit fireplace.
“Oh, yes, yes of course. Allow me,” she said, immediately holding out her hand.
She mustered up her energy and felt her blood race hotly in her veins. She focused on her hand until a jet of fire erupted from her palm, instantly catching the dry logs on fire. The flames crackled in the darkening room as the sun dipped below the horizon. Severus looked at her in what seemed to be admiration before scooting closer to the warm fire.
“So what did you come to tell me?” Gwen asked as calmly as she could; though her hands were shaking slightly in her lap.
He looked straight into her eyes for the first time since his silent confession. She couldn’t help but remember how vulnerable his eyes had been then, and how protected they were now. He had built up a concrete wall.
“Your mother’s secret-keeper is dead,” he stated simply.
Gwen’s mouth opened slightly in disbelief.
“A group of Death Eaters discovered her home in America. But she died without giving up your mother’s location, so for the time being, she is still safe, though very vulnerable.”
He watched her carefully before turning his gaze to the fire. Gwen swallowed and prayed her voice wouldn’t come out as shaky as she felt.
“This evening,” he interrupted. “Not 2 hours ago.”
Gwen looked at him suddenly, really taking in his appearance. His hair was wet and disheveled, and there were two thin, red cuts running along his cheekbone.
“You were there,” she said in a low voice.
“I was,” he said, avoiding her gaze.
Her face screwed up in pain.
“Did you—” she started, in an accusatory whisper.
“No,” he said forcefully, snapping his eyes back to hers.
His gaze was harsh, as if daring her to not believe him. But she knew he was being honest. The truth of the situation finally registered in her brain. Her mother’s secret keeper had been her aunt, her father’s sister. Her Aunt Sarah was dead. Dead. Never coming back. And her mother was in danger again. When was this going to stop?
She looked into the fire, no longer feeling its comforting warmth against her skin. The whole room seemed cold, and a numbing chill invaded her veins. She put her head in her hands once again and pressed her palms into her eyes.
“She put up a damn good fight, if that means anything,” Severus said quietly, absentmindedly touching the scratches on his cheek.
Gwen grimaced into her hands. Her heart felt sore as it beat against her ribcage. She wasn’t sure how much more it could take before giving out. She looked up to see Severus watching her. His face seemed a mask of indifference, but a slight crease in his forehead betrayed him. She lowered her head into her hands again in an attempt to hide her watery eyes.
“If there’s nothing else I can do, I better go,” Severus said, standing up.
Gwen made no answer.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered, and started walking to the door.
“Is it easier, Severus?” she suddenly whispered into her hands.
He stopped short, his hand on the doorknob.
“Is what easier?” he asked quietly.
“The other side. His side. Giving into him. Not caring about anyone or anything,” she looked up to where he stood in the shadows. “Is it an easier life?”
“It’s not a life at all, Gwen,” he said, looking back at her. “Living for your own selfish gain, not caring for anyone, it leaves you empty. Trust me, I would know.”
Gwen nodded slightly and stared into the fire.
“Why do you ask?” he walked back over to the couch and sat down again, facing her.
She looked down at her hands.
“Caring…loving people…sometimes…sometimes I think it hurts more than it’s worth,” she said softly.
“Don’t you ever talk like that again,” Severus said fiercely, frowning angrily at her.
She swallowed and looked up at him.
“Why not?” she whispered imploringly.
“You are one of the only truly good people I know. Part of that is because you feel so deeply. To hear you talk in such a way is like blasphemy,” he said sharply.
“Giving in seems so much easier—”
“It is easier,” he interrupted angrily, “which is why you never will. You don’t give up easily, Gwen. I know that much about you. You will fight. You have to. It’s who you are. No matter what tempts you to give up, you won’t.” he finished sternly.
“But if I’m so ‘good’, how can I be tempted?” she asked mockingly.
He chose to ignore her tone.
“The Dark Lord is very cunning. He will use your goodness against you. It’s then that it will be the hardest to keep fighting. Why do you think he’s going after your family? He knows how to get to people.” he was looking at her earnestly, but she didn’t notice.
His words weren’t getting past the surface. She was determined to stay in the state of mind she was in, and no matter how much she needed to hear him, she didn’t. Her emotions were raw, and she just wanted to turn them off.
“Gwen,” he said, trying to draw her stare from the fire.
She finally pulled her gaze from the flames and locked her eyes on his. It worried him, what he saw behind those dark eyes. She looked empty.
‘Not her,’ he thought desperately to himself. ‘Not the woman overflowing with life.’ He determined right then that the Dark Lord would never get her. Not while he was still had breath in his lungs. He had already lost one love to him; he wouldn’t let it happen again.
He stood up from the couch and held out his hand. Gwen ignored him and continued to stare numbly into the fire. He reached down and grabbed her hand, gently pulling her up from the chair.
“Go get in bed. I’m going to bring you a sleeping potion,” he said as he gave her a nudge toward her bedroom.
Gwen nodded numbly and walked slowly towards her room. She mechanically undressed, threw on a t-shirt and shorts and climbed into bed. She lay there, staring at the ceiling. Her mind was strangely blank; as if it shut down to protect itself. But she knew sleep would be impossible without help. She heard the door to the hallway open, and Severus’ soft footsteps in the study. He came to a stop beside her bed, a goblet in his hand. She sat up obediently and drank the silvery liquid down in one gulp. He pulled the curtains shut on both of the windows, dimming the room considerably. The only light was coming through the doorway from the dying fire. He came back over the bed and took the goblet back from her.
“Sleep well, Gwen,” Severus said, searching her beautiful face with worried eyes.
Gwen merely continued to stare blankly at the ceiling.
He walked slowly out of the room, shutting the bedroom door behind him. Darkness enveloped the room. Even with her eyes open Gwen couldn’t see anything. She groped around for one of her extra pillows and hugged it tight in her arms. But it couldn’t fill the void inside.
After a few moments, her brain clicked on. The hollow, numb feeling inside of her was replaced with an aching loneliness. She didn’t want to be alone with herself. She wanted someone there, if only to let her know she wasn’t alone in the midst of life’s pain.
‘Now I know what Sirius feels like,’ she thought to herself, and the moment Sirius’ name popped into her head, a sharp pain flared up in her chest.
“Oh Sirius,” she whispered out loud before her grief broke through.
She lay there, clutching her pillow, crying nonstop and muttering Sirius’ name over and over again. Since when was she so weak? Since when had she not been able to stand on her own two feet and spit in the face of life’s cruelties? Sirius had become the anchor her heart was tied to, and she felt like it was losing its hold. Never had a man caused her so much pain. She cried so much her head started to ache, almost as much as her heart, but Severus’ potion eventually started to take effect. Her thoughts became jumbled and unclear, a heavy fog descending over her mind. Unable to resist the powers of the remedy, she finally drifted into a deep sleep, with Sirius’ name still on her lips.