As with most fearsome things, the blizzard started slowly. When Marlene went into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea, the large, wet flakes were just starting to come down. She could hear children shrieking outside, and when she reached over the sink to rub some of the fog off the window, she could see that they were pelting one another with snowballs.
In a different time, she might have smiled. Not so many years ago, she might have joined them.
But Marlene McKinnon no longer had time for childhood games.
The kettle whistled, and she turned away from the idyllic scene.
By the time she returned back downstairs with the empty mug, the picture had changed. She knew that without even having to wipe the condensation off the glass again. There were no more cries of laughter. There was only the pitter-patter of hail on the roof, and the windows, and the door.
That was the thing about bad weather. It just had a tendency to creep up on you.
She quickly put on her gloves, hat, scarf, and coat, and let herself quietly out of the house.
The extra hour had darkened the sky, and the snow had gotten as high as her ankles. The top layer was frozen and icy, and as she trudged along, it worked its way into the crack between the her leg and the rim of her boot.
She kept going. If she didn’t want to be out right now, the Death Eaters probably wouldn’t be. They didn’t tend to put themselves out to track down members of the Order.
They didn’t have to. The Order was still small, and as far as Marlene could see it, You-Know-Who was no closer to being defeated than he had been last year, or the year before that.
She had no expectation of winning this fight. She stayed in it because she needed to be able to live with herself.
When she reached the end of the road, she took a left and began up the steep hill that led to the current headquarters. It was an arduous task at the best of times, and today was not the best of times. Today the icy rain made her face sting. Today the wind kept pushing her off balance, threatening to send her tumbling.
Today the hill was slippery.
But if she didn’t want to be out right now, the Death Eaters probably wouldn’t be. And that was good enough for her.
Marlene was living on borrowed time, and she knew it. One more day was one more day.
She hoped that the snow would keep coming.
The next day was warm, and in the afternoon sun, the snow began to melt. The process continued throughout the night, and Marlene felt her spirits sink when she heard the water trickling off the roof as she slept her fitful sleep, which was frequently interrupted by the hacking of her mother in the room next door and odd creaks in the house.
If only her mother could be safely taken to St. Mungo’s - but Marlene knew that she couldn’t be. Not in the current environment. No one and nowhere was safe. They were always watching.
If only her brother would come home.
He was overdue. That didn’t necessarily mean something. He could have just been delayed on that mission that he couldn’t tell them anything about.
Or he could be dead. You never knew, these days.
The next day the biting cold was back, and all of the puddles of melted snow froze. The pavement became treacherous. The muggles all stayed home.
And Marlene could breathe again.
She braved the snow the next day to go to another meeting. Not that she could do anything useful right now, not with her mother in the shape that she was in, but she was hoping for some news of her brother. She did not feel comfortable being the only person able to reasonably defend herself in the house.
But before she even opened her mouth, she could see on Dumbledore’s face that had been no news.
She left before the meeting even started, feeling foolish for venturing outside. She could have fallen and hurt herself. What if no one had found her? Who would have taken care of her mother then?
She felt someone touch her wrist as she made for the front door, and she spun around.
“Hey,” Gideon said, smiling faintly.
Marlene did not have the energy to even attempt a smile. “Hey,” she said softly.
He jerked his head toward the door. “I’ll walk with you, if you like.” His voice was tentative, almost shy, and something about it made her want to cry.
She swallowed her tears. If she started to cry now, they would freeze on her face as soon as she stepped outside, and that would be painful.
And the alternative - breaking down in the Order headquarters in a random village surrounded by members much older and more experienced than she was - would be worse.
So she nodded, and stepped outside into the bitter cold.
They descended the hill carefully. It was more than their lives were worth to use magic - what if the wrong person saw?
“How’s your mother?” Gideon asked as they trudged down the snow-covered road.
“Fine,” Marlene said shortly. He glanced at her, his eyebrows raised, and she sighed. “All right, no, she’s still sick. But I think she’s getting better.”
He nodded. Despite having asked the question, he didn’t seem to know what to say. “Good,” he decided on after a minute, and made a face at how lackluster that was.
In other times, that might have made Marlene manage a faint smile.
But these were not other times, and the snow was starting to fall again.
If she didn’t want to be out, the Death Eaters probably wouldn’t be. But sooner or later, snow or no snow, they would come.
“You look tired,” Gideon said as they walked along, the snow crunching underneath their boots.
Marlene did not have the energy to dissemble. “I am tired,” she told him, looking up at the sky.
She remembered a different time, back when they were still at Hogwarts, that she and Gideon had wandered around the grounds on a day much like this one. It was fun, then; they had only to go back inside to warm up and leave their worries behind them. They had shared a kiss underneath a tree by the lake. He’d used his wand to carve “M+G” in the cold, icy trunk.
It was probably still there. They, however, were not.
That was then, and she had no interest in living in the past. That sort of fanciful naive thinking could get you killed.
“You’re not sleeping well?” Gideon pressed gently, and she looked back at him.
“No,” she said. The icy snow had gotten inside of her scarf and was stinging her neck, and the cold was making her feel as though she had no gloves on at all. When she got home, the back of her hands would probably have cracked open again.
On some level, she found the pain comforting. If she didn’t want to be out, the Death Eaters probably wouldn’t be. They wouldn’t brave this sort of weather for the likes of her.
The back of his hand brushed against hers, and she felt a little pang in her heart. She pulled her hand away and tucked it inside her pocket.
When they got to her door, Gideon stopped her before she went inside. “Can I come in?” he said softly.
She sighed and gestured for him to go in before her.
The house was not warm. Her mother’s room was warm, but the rest of the house was not. It was a peculiar thing, but a house could only take so much magic at once, especially when it hadn’t been built with magic in mind, and between the spells protecting it and those that kept her parents’ room - her mother’s room, now - as hot as a furnace, something had to give.
That something had turned out to be most of the spells everywhere else.
But even the chilly ground floor of her house was warm compared to the world outside, and at least it didn’t let the wind in.
“I’m going to go check on my mum,” she said after they’d stood by the door in awkward silence for a moment.
He nodded and stepped out of his shoes.
She told herself that that did not mean that he meant to stay for long. He just didn’t want to track snow in.
Marlene McKinnon was as cold as ice, and she had no interest in melting.
The ice outside kept her safe for a couple days longer. The ice inside kept her sane.
She stuck her head into her mothers room. Her mother was not a very old woman, but the stresses of the war and the year of sickness had turned much of her hair grey and left her with far more wrinkles than she’d ever had when Marlene was growing up. She was sitting up in the big double bed reading, and when she turned her head toward the door, Marlene forced a smile.
“I’m back, Mum,” she said. “Do you need anything?”
Her mother’s face fell. Until that moment, Marlene had not even read the hope on it.
“There’s no word?” her mother asked in a hoarse voice, and Marlene winced. Her mother already knew from Marlene’s face that there was no word. Why would she make it harder for them both by asking? She shook her head wordlessly, and her mother sighed and looked back at her book.
Ignoring the small part of herself that felt vaguely resentful, she closed the door quietly. She knew that her mother appreciated her. She knew that if the situations were reversed, her mother would be treating her brother exactly the same way.
But knowing it was not the same as feeling it.
She sagged against the wall for a moment and closed her eyes. She didn’t like to complain, but at times like this, she couldn’t help but wish she lived in a different time.
In a different time, she and Gideon might...
But it was not a different time, and Marlene did not live in dreams. She lived in the real world, and it was cold, and hard, and unforgiving.
Her father had learned that, and with his murder, so had she.
When she got back downstairs, she thought she had managed to compose herself. From the crease between Gideon’s eyebrows, she hadn’t done as well as she’d thought.
Or maybe he just knew her too well.
“Is there something I can do?” he asked, and she shook her head.
“I’ll be glad when she’s better.” Marlene jerked her head toward the stairs. “We’ve had too many Healers here. It makes me nervous. Too many people know where we are and how to find us.” She sighed and led him into the living room, where she collapsed onto a couch. “But she’s too weak to move now, and anyway, we’d have to do exactly the same thing all over again.”
Gideon pointed his wand at the fireplace, which had long since been disconnected from the Floo network. It burst into flames, and after a moment, she could feel the warm air sweep over her.
She offered him a faint smile, and he sat down next to her. “What can I do?” he asked.
Her heart skipped a beat, but she smothered the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm her. “There’s not much you can do,” she said.
The crease between his eyebrows deepened. “Why are you sleeping so badly?” he asked, concern heavy in his voice.
“It’s an old house,” she said. “It creaks, and every time I hear something I think that it’s someone downstairs. And it’s just me; what would I be able to do?”
The trouble with protecting a home was that keeping anyone from apparating in also kept anyone from apparating out. Which made you safer in general, but once they broke down the door, it was like killing fish in a barrel.
Marlene did not like being alone in the house, responsible for protecting both herself and her mother. She was a decent duelist, but not an amazing one; that was her brother, and he had been gone for over a month. If the Death Eaters broke down the door, she didn’t stand a chance.
Not until her brother got back.
“There must be something I can do,” he pressed, reaching out to take her hand. She twitched, but didn’t pull it away.
In that moment, Marlene knew that she had been fooling herself when she’d thought that she was over Gideon Prewett. Of course she wasn’t over Gideon Prewett. How could she be?
She missed him. She missed his steadiness, his constancy, and his strength. He used to ground her when the world felt like it was falling apart, which it always seemed to be, these days.
And Gideon had always been a good duelist. If she knew that he was in the house, too, the creaks and groans in the night wouldn’t terrify her as much.
“Stay with me,” she said, so softly that she couldn’t even hear herself.
She glanced at him. He certainly didn’t seem to have heard them. It was probably just as well; she was sure that her desperation would have come across, and Marlene did not like to seem desperate.
She looked around the drab room, with the moth-eaten curtains and the furniture that had clearly seen better days. Why would anyone who didn’t have to stay here want to?
Marlene decided not to repeat her request. Instead, she took some consolation in the snow, which was still coming down heavily. If she was glad to be inside, away from the elements, they probably wouldn’t come tonight.
He sighed and held his hand out. She didn’t move hers from where it rested in her lap, but she didn’t stop him when he took it, either. “Do you want me to stay with you?” he asked. His blue eyes pierced right through her, and she was suddenly and irresistibly put in mind of the icicles coating the edges of the house.
Ice was safe.
She hesitated, and he put his hand on her cheek. It was freezing. She found that comforting. He leaned in and she closed her eyes as his lips - which were somehow, impossibly, warm - brushed hers.
When she opened her eyes, he was looking at her, a soft look in his bright blue eyes. “Let me stay with you,” he said.
“Yes,” she whispered, and he leaned in to kiss her again.
It was bitter cold outside. The wind howled against the house, rattling the windows and pounding at the doors. The snow was beginning to pile up.
While the winter ravaged the world outside, the Death Eaters would probably not come calling.
And for a little while, until the tulips began to poke through the ground, perhaps she could let her heart melt.
A/N: A bit different than what I usually write, but I'm quite pleased with it. I'm finding that I really enjoy writing about Marauders-era fics.
I was originally going to set this fic in their last winter alive, but then I remembered that the winter of 80-81 was nowhere near as bad as the winter of 78-79, so that's what this is set in.
Thank you for reading, and I would really appreciate a review!
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