Chapter 18 : Asleep at Heaven's Gate
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Oh Lily, dearest, loveliest Lily, the only one who could ever concoct such a saccharine-saturated term of endearment. Good thing she’d thus far refrained from using it in front of Sirius, otherwise Dollie would never hear the end of it.
Dollie was no stranger to the infirmary, which was why despite the hellishly throbbing migraine, she knew exactly where she was. Excluding that unfortunate midnight break-in with Vivian, she had in fact been to Pomfrey’s office for more legitimate visits, seeking a cure for her insomnia. Failure after failure finally drove a desperate Pomfrey to swear on Merlin’s grave that she would invent a new potion herself, calling Dollie’s insomnia her ‘Moby Dick’.
Whatever that meant.
In any case, Dollie had never been injured seriously enough to warrant a bed in the infirmary. That is, until today. It was definitely a downgrade from the dormitory’s four-poster bed, the springs creaking at the slightest movement and digging into her back.
“Hi,” Dollie croaked, like cobwebs had clogged her throat from disuse. Why did the words feel like marbles gargling in her mouth? Even her tongue felt too heavy to lift. “How long...?”
“You’ve been in and out of consciousness for a week.” Lily hesitated. “Miss Pomfrey can explain it better but she’s stepped out.” She forced a smile but couldn’t keep her voice from cracking. “That was quite the scare you gave us.”
Dollie extended a limp hand and settled it on Lily’s, her knuckles turning white from gripping the bed’s metal sides. “Don’t cry, Lily.”
"Oh, I’m not, don’t fret.” Lily laughed as she mopped up her blotchy face with her robe cuff. “Oh Sev, don’t be shy. Come here and say hello,” she said over her shoulder.
He had been hovering near the entrance but at Lily’s call, he obediently approached Dollie’s hospital bed. Snape didn’t bother to mask his obvious reluctance but at the sight of her, contempt twitched unmistakably above his lip. Dollie couldn’t be sure whether it was because of the Sirius connection or that he honestly disliked her. Either way, the feeling was mutual.
“We’re going to be late for class.”
Honestly, what did Lily see in this prig? Vampires had better complexions and a far sunnier disposition. His nose could swallow his entire face whole. And that hair! Dollie couldn’t even look at it without shuddering. She tried not to think of what he must smell like as she hated the vomiting sensation, a fear closer realised when she noticed a conveniently and strategically placed grey bucket nearby.
“If you need me here, I’ll stay,” said Lily.
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You don’t have to. It’s just Slughorn, he’ll understand. He does adore me after all.” She smiled mischievously. “Go on without me, Sev. Tell Slughorn I had an emergency to attend to and will see him afterwards.”
“But Lily...” he whined.
“Dollie needs me,” she said, adopting a steely edge in her voice.
She would never have said it aloud but Dollie was touched by the gesture. Had it been anyone else, it would have easily been dismissed as nothing more than an excuse to skip class. But when it came to Lily, Dollie knew how much her friend loved learning magic, deriving more pleasure from being in class than being out, a phenomenon she and Vivian had the courtesy never to question.
Any fool knew that arguing with a redhead was useless and a waste of time. Casting one last withering look at Dollie, Snape shuffled away. The ambience immediately improved tenfold, like a noxious fog had lifted.
“Has it really been a week?”
Lily nodded. “Every time you came to, Pomfrey tried to ask you questions but you didn’t understand her most of the time and when you did, you slurred your answers too much for us to understand.”
“What happened to me?”
“The official word is that one of the creatures broke out of its pen and attacked you. But you know how absurd the rumour mill gets. The really popular one is that something from the forbidden forest is the culprit, though what it is exactly differs depending on who you ask.”
“So which is it?”
“We were hoping you could tell us. Pomfrey’s had to protect you from more than a few curious conspirists, though they’re always careful to come when Sirius isn’t around. Do you remember something, anything?”
Forcing her memories to reveal themselves was like forcing a broken projector to work. All she could make out were fragments of images that sped too fast for her to grasp, resulting in nothing but a blur.
“That’s alright, don’t strain yourself. Pomfrey said that’s perfectly normal, it’s post-traumatic amnesia.”
It was frightening, flipping through her mind and only finding blank pages. The harder she tried to fill them, the more it hurt to do so, like ripping parchment in half or writing with a broken quill. She could feel the lump lodged between the back of her head and the pillow. Her limbs were stiff from prolonged immobility but she couldn’t bring herself to move just yet. She gingerly creaked her neck to alleviate the discomfort and that’s when she saw the pile of books towering on her bedside table.
Lily followed her gaze and explained, “I read to you whenever I could. It felt a bit silly at first but Pomfrey kept encouraging me, saying it helps in patient recovery. They’re mostly muggle poems but I thought you might like them or at least wake up and tell me that you didn’t.”
When she laughed, deep, dark bags crinkled under her eyes, made more prominent by a newly sallow complexion, indicators Dollie was all too familiar with.
“Have you been sleeping well?” asked Dollie, concerned.
“Not really, to be honest. Don’t feel guilty, it’s not that I’ve been here all night. It’s that wretched sneakoscope Potter gave you for Christmas. Even when he’s not around, he manages to find a way to be an absolute pest!”
“Not so loud, Lils.” Dollie rubbed her temple.
“Sorry. Anyway, that thing’s been making a racket ever since your accident. It must miss you or something, I’ve never known it to be that noisy. I’ve had to stop Vivian from flushing it on more than one occasion.”
“Speaking of the devil, where is she hiding?” Dollie craned her neck but caught no sight of the recognisable bob of black hair and devilish grin.
Lily averted her eyes, “She... must be busy. I’ll tell her you asked for her.”
“You’ve always been a horrible liar, Lily. Your face is an open book.”
“Guess that’s something for me to work on, then. Speaking of which, want me to read you something? Shakespeare’s sonnets have always been a favourite of mine. Or perhaps you’d prefer Spenser’s Faerie Queen?”
The redhead paid no heed to her and continued to prattle on as she went through the dusty books. “Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales might be a bit too heavy but oh! Keats is so romantic but I couldn’t tell whether you liked him or not. You made this strange snoring, snorting noise when I read you ‘To Autumn’ but his imagery is so enchanting –”
“Lily! What aren’t you telling me?”
Lily held a battered book to her chest and sighed. “I don’t want you to feel bad –”
“Stop saying that! I’m not a child, I can handle it.”
“Whether you like it or not, I know you, Doll. I know that – that you take things too much to heart, that you allow your emotions to run away with you. It’s one of the best things about you but also one of the worst.” She put the book back on top of the pile and began chewing her fingernails, a disgusting habit she had given up in fourth year. “Vivian’s guilt-stricken. We all are. That night... Vivian and I assumed you’d gone to one of your spots for a brood, so we didn’t take it seriously when Black insisted we search for you. If we had kept looking, if we had found you in time, none of this would have happened.” Her hands flew to her face, barely muffling the remorseful sobs.
Oh Merlin, Dollie hated seeing people cry, it always made her want to cry as well. Despite Lily’s tearful confession, Dollie could never hate her and Vivian. If anything else, she understood why they would have come to that conclusion. It was the most natural one after all. She lost count of the number of times she had crept away to a dark corner to be left alone with her thoughts, too many to be considered healthy.
“Come here,” she said, interrupting Lily. When Lily leaned to her, Dollie pulled her closer and wrapped her weak arms around her, softly patting her on the back.
“If you’re trying to strangle me, you’ll need to a tighter grip than that.”
“Shut up and enjoy the moment.”
That made Lily laugh, a genuine laugh this time. “I’ve gotten snot all over your bandages.”
Indeed, when Dollie touched her cheek, she felt a rough fabric instead her skin. A gasp caught in her throat but she swallowed it. Lily didn’t need any more reason to start another round of tears. Dollie would find out more from Pomfrey later but that didn’t stop her heart from racing with panic.
“You were saying something about Keats?”
Reaching out for the same battered book from before, Lily sat cross-legged on Dollie’s bed and skimmed the contents page before flipping to a page.
“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains*...”
“I am very disappointed in you, Mr. Lupin.”
The words plunged into his heart, as blunt as a knife. As much as it hurt to hear them, Remus was oddly relieved. The silence had been worse, far worse, which was what had filled the room for what seemed like an eternity since he entered Dumbledore’s office and sat opposite from the Hogwarts headmaster, thereby subjecting himself to scrutiny.
“Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?”
There was a barely repressed note of anger this time. It terrified Remus more than any threats or screaming fits. What could he say? But he knew silence would only make it worse.
“It was an accident. I... I was careless. It was stupid of me but it – it slipped my mind.”
Remus looked up and immediately wished he hadn’t. Dumbledore was surveying him over lightly pressed fingertips, his face deliberately unreadable. A bowl of sweets rested near his elbow. He hadn’t offered Remus any.
“There were no disagreements? A prior grudge perhaps?” Dumbledore probed.
“No! No, nothing of that sort, Sir. You must understand, I would never, ever hurt her, never wilfully put her in harm’s way. But it pains me that I did, more than I can say and for that, I’m sorry and accept full responsibility for my actions.”
“By right, I should expel you, Lupin. But I trust that your version of the event is as close to the truth as I will ever get, seeing as Miss Kent remembers nothing of that night. Very fortunate for you, I must say. Otherwise, the entire matter would be out of my hands. Her father is, after all, on the board of Governors.”
All he wanted to do was to crawl into bed and not have to face this waking nightmare. Then an image of Dollie’s bleeding face and closed eyes appeared in his mind and he had to swallow back the bile rising in his throat.
“I’m sorry, Sir. It won’t happen again.”
“No, it most certainly will not. This is your first and only warning. A repeated episode and I will not hesitate to expel you from Hogwarts. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes,” replied Remus.
When Dumbledore didn’t continue, he took it as his cue to leave, unpinning his prefect badge from his lapel and setting it down on the table. The legs of his chair scrapped back, his morose footsteps dragging on the floor as he made his exit.
Remus turned around. Dumbledore was holding up the silver badge.
“I believe you forgot this.”
“Oh... well... I assumed that...” Remus stammered, his face turning a tomato red.
Dumbledore sighed and beckoned Fawkes, his phoenix, to him. Fawkes swooped down from the rafters and caught the badge in his beak. Remus marvelled at the magnificent creature as it dropped the badge into Remus’s outstretched hand.
“Don’t think I didn’t consider it but at the end of the day, I feel to do so would only bring more harm than good.”
Not since the first time he received it in the mail did Remus felt such a surge of pride as he pinned it back on his robes, too thrilled to care if it was crooked or not. With lighter footsteps than before, he was practically skipping. But at the last moment, he turned and asked the headmaster how she was.
“She was not infected, if that’s what you want to know,” said Dumbledore curtly.
With palpitations of relief, Remus closed the door behind him.
“Wakey-wakey, Dollie baby...”
What was that irritating cooing? Before Dollie had time to think, something sharp stabbed her tender cheek. She awoke with a cry, her hand flying to her face. She was still in the hospital wing but was she still dreaming? What else could explain the demon spawn that was Sue Milton, towering over her with an unnerving smile?
“New lips, Sue?”
Despite being cosmetic healers, the Miltons really weren’t doing their daughter any favours by slowly turning her into an overgrown porcelain figurine, one with unnaturally inflated ‘assets’ bordering on the obscene.
“Nice to know your little ‘mishap’ hasn’t dulled your sense of humour.”
“What do you want? What are you doing here?” Dollie demanded.
“Straight to the point, that’s what I love about you, Dollie. The first one’s easy. I want Sirius Black. The only hitch is, well, you. For some mystifying reason, he seems to be under your spell, pardon the pun. Which brings me to your second question.” Her scarlet talons caressed Dollie’s gauze-covered cheek with subtle menace. “I’m here because I have a proposition for you. And before you protest, I think you’ll be very interested to hear what I have to say. Especially since I happen to have this in my possession,” Sue said as she dramatically took something from her pocket.
Before she could cry out, Sue put a silencing finger on her lips, shushing her.
“I must admit, I found it quite a compelling read, even if most of it was drivel. Like this for instance.” Sue turned to a random page and read in a whiny, mocking tone, “‘I’m sure we’re meant to be. Isn’t that all you need, a single powerful feeling? When we’re together, it’s like we’re in our own world, making up our own rules as we go along. Sometimes, when he laughs, his eyes become uncaged and I see that, however briefly, deep down, he must feel the same. He has to...’”
Sue rolls her eyes and gags. “Alright, bad example. You’re clever enough not to mention him by name. There was one – ah-hah! Here we are. ‘He’d landed on top of me, his face barely inches from mine. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect moment. Everyone had gone to Hogsmeade, including Black. Granted, I was looking less than my best after our little tumble but it was well worth it since it led to that moment. His hand locked in mine, our haggard breaths in unison, our hearts beating as one. It was the closest I’d ever been to his lips, chapped and blistered, surrounded by large and tiny scars. I’d only ever seen them so clearly in my dreams. Remus, oh Remus, how I wished you had kissed me.’” Sue closed the book triumphantly. “The end. Of you, to be precise. Unless you do exactly as I say. Then no one needs to know about your unfortunate indiscretion.”
“You don’t understand –!”
“I should have realised it myself. It was silly of me to think that beneath all your show of apathy, you really care for Sirius. But you don’t, you never did.” Her dark eyes blazed. “Unlike me, me who has loved him all along and for the right reasons, his looks, his wealth, his influence... The list goes on.”
However helpless she might have felt, lying in that hospital bed injured and in pain, Dollie wasn’t going to allow herself to give in to threats. She wasn’t going to negotiate with terrorists.
“I won’t do it. Whatever it is you want me to do, I won’t do it.”
Let Sue make good on her threat! Sirius would never believe her. Dollie would just tell him that Sue stole the notebook and forged everything. It was hardly the most despicable thing Sue has ever done. She’d tell Remus the same thing, they’d laugh it off and everything would end happily. The truth would never come out.
Dollie’s objection didn’t seem to faze Sue. On the contrary, the Cheshire grin on her face grew bigger, resembling a gruesomely-carved marionette. “I had a feeling you might say that. Dollie, Dollie, so selfish, so self-serving. How you managed to slither your way into Gryffindor is beyond me. Have you forgotten that there are other things in here besides your naughty fantasies about Remus? Like this gem about Costa. Funny, I just thought she was getting fatter, the slag.”
The accident must have really given her short-term memory a turn. It had completely slipped her mind that she had written about much more delicate matters besides her classroom jottings and Remus musings. How could she have been so thoughtless? If word got out about Vivian, not only would she become a social pariah, her parents would think nothing of taking her out of Hogwarts and shipping her off to a distant, lonely muggle convent.
That was something Dollie couldn’t live with. She had no choice but to make a deal with the devil herself.
“She wants you to what?!”
“Chuck Black,” said Dollie miserably.
“The nerve of her!” fumed Lily, who was stopping by on her now daily visits. “Where does she get off on doing that?”
“At this point, should we really be surprised anymore?”
With Vivian still refusing to visit her, Dollie had brought Lily into her confidence, retelling the entire sordid tale of Sue’s extortion plot, with a few necessary omissions of course. It wasn’t her place to rat out Vivian, she can reveal her own secrets herself in her own time.
“So what are you going to do?” asked Lily.
Dollie recalled back what Sue had told her. ‘It can’t just be a normal break-up. I want you to completely shatter him, so that I can be the one to pick up the pieces.’ How exactly she was supposed to do that, Sue left the decision to her.
“I don’t know...” said Dollie, burying her face in her hands.
She was still being kept in the hospital wing for observation but was due to be released in a few more days. All this while, she had been under anaesthesia when Pomfrey changed the dressing and reapplied an ointment that stung her cheek and smelled like a Niffler’s bottom. But just an hour ago, Pomfrey had finally removed the bandage on her face for good. Dollie had prepared herself for the worst when Pomfrey handed her a mirror.
“It wasn’t easy but I finally managed to get the skin to seal itself. But there is nothing I can do about the scars. I’m afraid they are permanent.”
The four long, thin scars ran cleanly but viciously from the side of her face to across her cheek, the top one barely missing her eye. A fifth scar, shorter than the rest, slashed from her nostril to her upper lip. Freshly healed, they were still angrily red though Pomfrey assured her that they would turn white over time. That still didn’t change the fact that Dollie was hopelessly disfigured and would be for the rest of her life. It had taken a lot of coaxing to even part the curtains and allow Lily to see her. “It isn’t... too bad,” had been Lily’s weak attempt at encouragement but quickly changed the subject at Dollie’s death glare.
“Dollie, I hope you don’t mind me saying so but maybe... maybe this is a blessing in disguise,” said Lily gently.
“How can this be anything other than a disaster in the making?”
“Think about it. This way, you can make a clean break of it and move on to Lupin. Wasn’t that the point of all this? Unless...” Comprehension dawned on her auburn eyebrows.
“Don’t say it, please.” Saying it aloud would only make it more real.
“So that’s it.” They both fell quiet. It was Lily who finally broke it. “For what it’s worth, Black... He rushed here the second you were brought in and never left, not for sleep, meals or even classes. That chair,” she pointed to an empty chair draped with a blanket, “That was practically his home for the first few days. McGonagall herself had to come here with her arsenal of threats. Detentions, Quidditch bans, and house points deduction. She reached almost a hundred and fifty before giving that up. Only her warning to drag him out and ban him from ever seeing you finally got him to leave. Not without a fight, mind you. It was a miracle you slept through it all, actually. I think that goes to show just what kind of bloke he is.”
Dollie ran a hand through her hair, catching stray tangles in her fingers but didn’t care. Classic Sirius, a king among knaves. She didn’t need Lily to tell her what kind of man he was. She always knew, from the moment he asked if he could be her boyfriend. She knew and she still went through with the charade. That just goes to show what kind of person she was.
“I want to do the right thing, Lils. I just wished I knew what that was.”
Lily grabbed Dollie’s hand, the one furiously scrapping her head, and gently put it down whilst patting it sympathetically.
“You can’t serve two masters, can’t just break your heart in half and give one to each of them. You’d be left with nothing if you did.”
“So then I’m royally screwed either way.” Dollie tried to laugh.
“Whatever you decide, I’ll always be here for you. Always. And if Viv was here, she’d say the same.”
“Thanks, Lily. Oh, that reminds me.” Dollie opened the drawer of her bedside table and retrieved a brown paper bag. “Could you please pass this to Viv?”
Lily nodded, a question in her eyes that she dared not ask. Stowing it away in her bag, she excused herself for History of Magic. “It’ll turn out all right in the end, I just know it.”
Dollie couldn’t bring herself to share her friend’s unfailing optimism. All she had was the hope that Lily was right and the certainty that she wasn’t.
“I can’t see you but I know you’re there.”
It was a whisper, soft as a summer breeze. Nevertheless, it was enough to rouse Sirius from what seemed to be a fitful doze. A well-aimed book to the head may have also done the trick. Dollie had tried to be pleasantly patient but the large lump on the chair had been taking far too long to wake up so she sped up the process, just a bit.
“Owh!” An unintentional expletive slipped out, making Dollie giggle. It was the first time he’d ever swore so strongly in front of her.
“About bleeding time, sleeping beauty.”
“I could say the same about you,” Sirius growled, rubbing his sore head. “Hey, how are you, anyway?”
“I can’t talk to someone I can’t see.”
“Lumos.” He held his lit wand just under his chin. Dollie suppressed a gasp, in awe of how the light illuminated the planes of his face. “Better?” he smirked.
She gave her head a single shake to clear it of such dangerous thoughts. “Mind sharing with the candle?”
He obliged, lingering by her side. He didn’t seem to want to return to the chair so he stood there, shifting awkwardly between each foot. When he moved slightly to the right, the previously obscured candle-light fell on her wrist, making the silver gleam as though freshly polished.
“What happened to the charm?” he asked when he noticed the missing heart.
“I must have lost it when I was...” she trailed off as she covered the now bare bracelet with her hand. No reason to make him feel any worse.
“I’ll get you a new one to replace it.”
“Don’t worry about it, really.”
“How long have you been here?” she asked, hoping to put him at ease.
He shrugged. “Snuck in after curfew.”
“Well, I’m quite fine, as you can see.”
“Yeah.” He reached out his hand but just as quickly dropped it back down to his side. “I was – I’ve been so worried...”
“Do something for me.”
Almost blindly, she searched around her bed for the book. Bored and alone, she had taken one from the pile Lily had left behind for her and was reading it when she fell asleep. When she finally found it, she held it out for Sirius.
“Would you read something out for me? It’s on the page that’s marked.”
It was meant to distract him, so that she wouldn’t have to deal with another emotional breakdown. She’d already seen one too many examples of how explosive his temper was and she did not fancy the idea of him collapsing in tears. Either one was a distinct possibility, perhaps the former more likely than the latter.
But the poem had been a mistake, its words coming to life as they glided on his deeply rich voice. Enclosed within the confines of her muddled mind, the love poems had meant nothing more than ink on parchment, its essence escaping her. Sirius, on the other hand, sounded as though he was singing the saddest lullaby in the world. Not even his overt masculinity could eclipse the occasional emotion that cracked through when he stumbled on a particular phrase.
She thought of what Lily had said. Her heart may be whole but it rang hollow. What she was forced to do would break his heart. But cracks heal and she didn’t mind being a scar. What she feared for was her soul. Irony of ironies, it was Sirius who filled her once cold and black soul with a strength of lightness that lifted the weight of angst off her shoulders. What he gave her was that one elusive concept that few had the good fortune of experiencing: unconditional love.
“Though this be the last pain she makes me suffer and these the last verses that I write for her.**” He smiled. “You should rest, you look tired.”
“Would you lie with me?”
It was too dark to see the expression that had formed on his face. But when he crawled into the bed, the pulse in his neck throbbed against her forehead, a tremble present in his fingertips as he brushed hair away from her face, his breathing laboured. Her ear was pressed against his chest. She listened to the rhythm of his heart and knew it was meant for her. Hers to have, hers to hold and hers to break.
Summoning the courage, he cupped her jaw as he traced the wounds on her face with his thumb. She winced, not from the sensation of soreness but the shame of having them at all, on display for the entire world to see and mock.
“I’m sorry, did I hurt you?”
“This is all my fault.”
“It’s no one’s fault.”
When his lips grazed her forehead, it took every ounce of her will to force down a sob.
She savoured his embrace, aware that the moment would be short-lived, that this was merely a single snowflake before the ensuing hailstorm. But in her hands, it seemed like the most delicate, most beautiful thing in the world. And she would be the one to single-handedly destroy it.
* - 'Ode to a Nightingale' by John Keats, 1819.
** - 'Tonight I Can Write (The Saddest Lines)' by Pablo Neruda, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, 1924.
A/N: And on goes the plot! I hope you didn't mind this dialogue-heavy chapter. I'm kinda returning to my roots and rediscovering my initial love of dialogue, which is why there was less exposition than usual. Apparently, I had a lot more to say, hehe. I hope you do too and do so in a review, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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