Chapter 12 : Chapter 12
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The fact that Sirius had sought me out in the library, which he rarely ever ventured into, along with his uncharacteristically serious expression gave me plenty reason to pause.
"Have a seat," I said, closing my charms book and gesturing to the vacant chair across from me.
"Not here." He jerked his head in the direction of the door and started towards it without waiting to see if I followed. I stuffed my books in my bag and all but ran after him.
"Where are we going?" I asked when I caught up with him down the corridor.
"Dorm," he said shortly, taking a sharp turn through a wall-that-wasn't-really-a-wall.
I wondered what in Godric's name could be this important. We only had one midterm exam left before we left for Christmas Holidays on Saturday, and Sirius was never concerned about marks anyway. He wasn't having any problems in the girl department as far as I knew. So far this term I had only woken up to one strange girl in the dormitory, but she scampered as soon as she realized that I was awake. Peter and Marissa were fine, James and Lily were fine, and Remus and I were fine. At last. That didn't leave me many clues to what could possibly important enough for him to risk being seen in the library.
I followed him through the dormitory door and threw my bag on Remus' bed, which I still slept in almost every night. The night of the emotional ambush in the Room of Requirement, James had tried to order me not to sleep in Remus' bed anymore, which led to a huge argument during which Remus and Sirius took bets on who would get knocked out first (it didn't work out, since they both bet on James) while Peter took cover in one of the showers. The argument ended in me threatening to snap James' broom and shove the pointiest end somewhere rather unpleasant. Sensibly, he relented.
"If you're planning on getting all touchy-feely in the middle of the night, or anytime, really, just don't," he had said, "But if you absolutely must, then please close your curtains. I really don't want to witness my best friend and my little sister deflowering each other."
That got him a smack on the arm, which turned into a nice bruise roughly the shape of a kidney bean, but we agreed to James' terms.
Really, though, I didn't plan on being deflowered until I was emotionally and financially ready to raise any accidents. If there was one person's life that I didn't want to emulate, it was my mother's.
Sometimes we slept with the curtains closed just to bug him.
Sirius and I were completely alone, which was odd, now that I thought about it, but not unheard of. He sat down cross-legged on his bed and patted the space in front of him, which I took with raised eyebrows. He took my hands in his and squeezed gently. I didn't return the gesture.
"Ronnie," he said with the air of someone gearing up for a fight, "I think that you should go see your father."
Immediately, I began to go into shut-down mode, ripping my hands from his. What did he think that would do, anyway? Calm me?
"Sirius, I don't think that--"
"Hear me out," he said forcibly. I snapped my mouth shut. "I get it. I get that you feel like your dad didn't want you, and I get that it sucks that he wants to come back after all this time."
"I don't feel like he didn't want me," I retorted, "He bribed my mum to keep me away."
Sirius scowled, and I nodded for him to continue, "I know what it feels like not to be wanted. Yea, it was my choice to walk out, but it's not like they wanted me there any more than I wanted to be there. My parents hate me."
Cue the guilt. In all of my whining and frustration over my dad, it had never even occurred to me that there was someone sleeping in the same room that had had roughly the same parental archetype. A rich parental archetype, but still.
"Do you know how much I would give for them to waltz in here right now and say that they wanted me back? That they wanted to try?"
How many nights had I dreamed of my father sweeping me up and carrying me off to a place all our own where I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wanted me? Granted, I had always pictured him with less of a cheesy, pedophilic aura, but that was beside the point.
"He'll hurt me again," I said with certainty, "It's a thing that he does."
"You don't know that yet," Sirius argued, "You had never met the man before this year."
"When did you become rational?" I snapped for lack of a better comeback, vaulting myself off Sirius' bed and crossing the room to Remus'. He wasn't completely wrong. But he still wasn't right.
"When I decided that I wanted to live my life vicariously through you," he answered. I couldn't help it, I cracked a smile. I made a show of dumping my textbooks out of my bag and opening the trunk at the foot of the bed.
"Does that apply to my entire life, or just my parental situation?" I asked, throwing my charms book into the trunk with a thunk.
"I haven't decided yet," he said as I added my potions book with another thunk, "Your boyfriend is pretty cute."
"I'm going to tell him you said that," I teased, throwing in my herbology book for good measure and kicking the trunk closed.
"That's enough off-subjectness!" Sirius accused, "Are you going to go or not?"
I threw myself down on Remus' bed and let out a huge, don't-bother-me-while-I-think-this-over sigh.
I knew Sirius. If I didn't do this, he would never let me forget it. Ever.
I didn't know my dad, which could potentially be a bad thing. If I believed my mum, it was a very, very, very (plus about eighteen more verys) good thing. Even though my mother did have a tendency to dramatize.
I didn't know what my dad's intentions were, but if I didn't go to this one lousy dinner I would never hear the end of it from the floppy-haired wonder on the other side of the room.
"I'll go," I said finally, "But only because there's free food involved. I think."
"You won't regret it," Sirius assured me as I sat up. Then he frowned, "Actually, I don't know that for a fact."
"What do you know for a fact?" James asked as he held the dorm door open for Remus and Peter.
"That that shirt does not go with those shoes," Sirius said with a sassy finger wag, "And that Ronnie is going to have dinner with her father this Friday."
"He thinks you're cute," I told Remus as he plopped down beside me. Peter situated himself on his bed and pulled a hunk of cheese out of his pocket. I made a mental note to go through his clothing so that the house elves that didn't the laundry wouldn't have to deal with any unsavory surprises.
"Noted," Remus said, "But are you sure that you want to--?"
"Just because you wear the boyfriend badge now doesn't mean that you're the only one that's capable of making an emotional connection," Sirius said with an even sassier finger wag.
"As long as that's the only kind of connection the two of you make," Remus said.
"Gross," I said, slapping him on the arm while Sirius made a gagging sound.
"Seriously, though," James asked, pulling off his shoes. Sirius was right. They really didn't go with his shirt. "Are you sure you're up for this?"
"I don't know," I admitted, "I'm not sure that this is the kind of thing that you can be "up for". If all goes well, I find out my father isn't the monster my mother told me he was. If all goes badly, I'll probably punch him in the face, which would be pretty gratifying."
James nodded and pulled off his socks, pelting them across the room and into the hamper that I forced him to buy last year after I unearthed three months' worth of dirty laundry from under his bed while looking for his transfiguration book.
"Do you want us to go with you?" James asked, "For back-up?"
"I don't think that'll be necessary," I said, "This is something I need to handle all on my own."
"Suit yourself," Sirius chimed in, "But if he asks you if the rag he's holding smells like chloroform, kick him in the balls and run."
"I told you that you didn't have to come with me," I said, winding my scarf more tightly around my neck. It had gotten really cold really quick and James had been forced to trade his broomstick for snowballs for the time being.
"This is true," Remus said, taking my hand, "But whereas James is easily distracted by both his new girlfriend and shiny objects, and someone bribed Lily into wearing that shiny tank top of hers," he threw me a look, "I am not so easily swayed. There's no way I'm letting you walk there alone with a werewolf on the loose."
I raised my eyebrows and gave him a pointed look-over.
"You know what I mean."
"Yea, yea," I said, "So are you saying that you wouldn't be distracted by me in a shiny tank top?"
"Of course," he said, "But I think the worry for your mental state might win out after a while."
I laughed. "I guess stuff like that isn't really my style."
It was nice to finally have all of my cards on the table and not feel awkward around each other anymore. I had noticed recently that he had scars on his hands, too. They were almost imperceptible to the eye, but I could feel them when his palm was pressed against mine.
"I've been thinking a lot lately," he said after a moment.
"Which is different from any other time how?"
"About graduation," he said, ignoring my comment, "And life after."
"That's a year and a half away," I reminded him.
"I know," he said, "But things have been changing a lot around here. And it's not going to stop anytime soon."
"I would think that you would be ready not to have to deal with this madness anymore."
"It's a good madness," he said, "I think that I would worry myself to death over James and Sirius and Peter. What happens if Peter forgets how to tie his shoes again? Or James sets something on fire but can't remember how to put it out without magic? Or Sirius shags some psychopath who breaks into his house at night and cuts his--"
"I highly doubt that any of that is going to happen."
"But what if it does?" he asked.
"Then we tack a shoe-tying guide to Peter's wall, make sure that James always wears flame-retardant clothing, and make a mental exam at St. Mungo's a prerequisite for Sirius' one-night stands from here on out."
"Or we could continue living together," he said. I chuckled. He didn't join in.
"You're serious," I realized.
"Actually, I’m Remus."
I rolled my eyes.
"Though I am...earnest about this," he smiled mischievously.
"Serious, Remus, Earnest," I said, drawing him to the side of the path and taking his other hand in mine. "How many identities do you have?"
"Oh, plenty," he said with a smile, "And a girlfriend to go with every one."
"I'm sure," I said, giving him a quick kiss. "Thank you for being my unnecessary body guard."
"It’s what I'm here for," he called as I turned and headed down the main street.
Hogsmeade, like the school grounds, was blanketed with fresh snow, the footprints of holiday shoppers criss-crossing through the streets. I had to push past a lady with half-a-dozen shopping bags in her arms that was taking up half the lane. She stopped in the middle of patronizing her poor, balding husband to throw me a glare. Apparently, he didn't know the difference between eggshell and ecru, which threw off the entire color scheme for her Christmas dinner party.
And I thought I had problems.
I shed my coat as soon as I made it through the doors, scanning the room for a head of dark, oily hair. My father waved me over from a table right by the fire. With a cleansing breath, I squared my shoulders and went to meet him.
"I was worried you weren't going to come," he said, making a show of pulling my chair out for me, "Silly, wasn't it?"
"Not really," I said as he resumed his seat. His hair was extra shiny today, I noticed. "Since I threw you out of the hospital wing and all. I only just decided to come this afternoon."
I needed to start wearing flame-retardant pants.
"What made you change your mind?" he asked, his smile losing some of its forced brilliance. He was wearing a suit and tie. Did he own anything casual?
"A friend," I said simply, picking up a menu. I already knew it by heart, almost every Hogwarts student did, but it gave me an excuse not to have to look at him and his stupid paisley tie.
"How are you?" he asked, looking at me over the top of his menu, "That was quite the impressive fall that you made."
"I'm fine," I said, "Pomphrey stitched me up nicely."
"I'm sure she did," he said, "She was in my year when I was at Hogwarts, and she spent every waking second following Madam Risinger around and asking questions about healing charms and magic ointments. She was a regular pain in the behind."
"Still is," I added, putting my menu down. The grand total of things we agreed on had now reached one.
"Your friends seemed colorful," he commented dryly.
"That's an understatement if I've ever heard one," I said with a chuckle. Something in his tone told me that he wanted to substitute a much stronger adjective.
"You dating any of them?" he asked.
"Trying to gain father points?" I asked. He shrugged. "Yea, the taller blonde one."
"You want to tell me about him?" he asked, looking as if he'd rather have a root canal without pain meds.
"Not really," I responded as the leggy ginger waitress made her way over.
"What can I get you?" she asked, snapping her gum. I grimaced.
"House salad and a water, please," my father said with what I'm sure he thought was his most winning smile. The waitress took his menu without a second look. I watched him look her over as she turned to me.
"Just a butterbeer," I said. My father shot me a look, which I ignored. I was a big girl. I could eat or not eat whatever I wanted.
The waitress popped her gum again and left.
"She's way too young for you," I noted.
"What makes you think I care?" he asked, trying and failing not to glance at the waitress' retreating backside.
"My four best friends are guys. I know what checking someone out looks like," I said, "And I reiterate, she's too young for you."
My father frowned and picked at his cufflinks. Did people even wear cufflinks anymore? I thought that they were something old people that used one-dollar bills as kindling collected and kept in meticulously clean glass cases.
Maybe I was thinking about stamps.
"Your best friends that gave me the finger in the hospital wing?" he asked gruffly, nodding in the direction of the bar as our food propelled itself to our table.
"That was just Sirius," I said as I took a sip of my butterbeer, "Or maybe James. Or both. It's all sort of fuzzy."
"They seem like real winners," he said, pouring dressing over his salad.
"They are," I defended, "More than some people I know, anyway."
"Point taken," he acknowledged, placing his napkin in his lap, "So how long have you known these guys?"
"I've known James my whole life," I said, "His parents took me in after mum died. We met Sirius on the Express at the start of our first year, and Remus and Peter were sort of adopted in later. The rest is history."
"Well, I'm glad someone is watching out for you," he said, mixing his salad with a fork before taking a bite.
That was the closest thing to an admission of guilt that I had heard out of him thus far.
"Any thoughts about what you're going to do after you graduate?" he asked, dabbing his mouth with his napkin. He was a regular Mr. Manners.
"Quidditch, I hope," I said, running my finger over the rim of my glass, "Though I want to be an Auror if that doesn't work out."
"That's pretty ambitious," he said, "And your boyfriend?"
"He likes to write. So The Prophet, probably."
Remus was always worried about the future, and how his condition would affect it. If anyone found out about his tendency to sprout hair and claws on bright nights, his likelihood of being a professional anything was completely destroyed. Which is why, I reminded him, we didn't let people in on the secret.
"Stability," my father said, stabbing the air with his fork, "I like it."
"Me too," I said, taking another sip. Heaven in a mug. "Speaking of which…"
My father raised an eyebrow at my change in tone.
"Why didn't you come to mum's funeral? Or come see me after she died?"
He stopped chewing and dropped his fork on the table with a clatter. He stared at me for a long moment, then swallowed and wiped his mother with his napkin.
"Not here, Veronica," he said quietly.
"Then where?" I asked, "When? How do I know that you won't just pick up and leave after tonight?"
"Of course I won't," he said.
"How would I know that?" I asked, "Did you even know what happened to me after?"
"I said not here," he snapped, banging his fist on the table.
The whole room went silent, every head snapping in our direction. I gritted my teeth as my dad stared me down, a vein on his temple pulsing.
"Fine," I said as the room's conversations picked back up, standing abruptly and grabbing my coat. I ignored the stares and the are you okay calls form the other patrons as I stalked out of the restaurant.
I made it about five steps out the door before a hand clamped down on my shoulder.
"Veronica, don't do this."
"My name is Ronnie," I yelled, "Not Veronica. "
"That's not the point," my father said.
"Then what is the point?" I asked, "What was the point of tonight?"
"To get to know you," he said, "To make us okay."
"How is that possible when I don't even know what happened? Did you think that you could get to know me without having to drudge up the past? You're not the only one that got hurt."
He exhaled exasperatedly and ran a hand over his face. His cufflinks glittered in the street light. I turned and walked away with a disgusted shake of the head.
"Just tell me what I can buy to make this up to you," he called.
I stopped dead, gritting my teeth. Not "tell me what I can do" or "tell me what I can say".
Tell me what I can buy.
As if a price could be put on the past.
I though of my mother, who he had left to die. I thought of June and her willingness to be there for me when he wasn't. I thought of my friends, who he seemed to dislike and I was eventually going to have to part with because that was the way of the world.
"A house," I called without turning, "Buy a big house that my friends and I can live in after we graduate."
And with that, I took off down the lane as fast as I could without running.
A/N: So I am officially the worst person on the face of the planet. I am so, so, so sorry about the ridiculous wait. But if you could see my schedule for the last few months...jeez. But I'm back. And I'm sorry if this chapter is rough. I just wanted to get it submitted. You guys are the best!