With end of term grading piling up, Clio found herself constantly neglecting the amulet she'd started for Sybill Trelawney. As the days ticked down to the winter holidays, she thought about it less and less. She always found a little time each night to work on her gift for Remus, however; heating and twisting copper wire into a sphere as she murmured the rune combinations to bind sound and memory into every centimeter of its length.
Their outing to Edinburgh had only strengthened her romantic notions of the city, in spite of her experience in the ladies' room. What had happened was this: she'd inadvertently made eye contact with a surly hag who'd mistaken her daydreamy gaze for a hostile stare and tried to pick a fight. When Clio backed out, she'd backed into a thirsty vampire who'd attempted to seduce her over to the table in a darkened alcove where her equally thirsty date was waiting. Just then, some neo punk chick with pink hair had tripped over her own feet and dumped an entire picture of beer onto the vampire on her way down to the floor.
Clio had run back to their private room with every intention of sharing the incident, but it had been swept from her mind as soon as she saw Remus smiling and shaking hands with Henry. She'd settled into an almost zen-like calm since then. At least, she felt at peace whenever she worked on his present. That calm evaporated any time she thought of her classes, family's financial woes, the stalled research into her grandfather's murder or her guitar (sadly gathering dust in Chicago).
Their interactions remained warm, if restrained, right up until he disappeared at the full moon. He kept his distance for a few days afterwards, and it struck her that this may be a regular part of his cycle. She waited patiently for him to emerge from his malaise.
The day of the staff Christmas party arrived, and she still hadn't finished the amulet. She woke up early that morning just to work on it, but got sidetracked when Nox went chasing after Trevor again. She lost an entire hour to tackling the dog, convincing her to give up the toad and then returning him to the Gryffindor common room. She ignored Sir Cadogan's call to embark on a heroic quest as she stepped through the portrait hole.
Sun-drenched and decorated in rich, warm reds, this room was the polar opposite of Slytherin's. Several pajama-clad students had gathered around a game of cards by the fireplace. They turned in alarm, hiding the game (as well as several stacks of coins) behind their backs as they recognized her.
"You can all relax," she said. "I'm just here to return an errant toad."
Granger was also up, studying, and recognized Trevor as soon as Clio held him out.
"Thanks, Professor Calli, I'll see that Neville gets him," she said, shuffling up in her nightgown and fuzzy slippers. Her squashed-faced ginger cat curled itself around Clio's legs, and she bent to pet him. He recoiled from the smell of Nox on her hands, but didn't hiss, at least.
"Thanks, Hermione," she said, heading back to the portrait hole. "Have a good Christmas, if I don't see you again before the train leaves."
"Oh, I'm actually staying here for Christmas. Will you be here?"
"No, I'm going to visit my grandmother.” She paused by the portrait. “I heard from Hagrid that you're helping him with Buckbeak's trial?"
Hermione flushed. "Err, yes I am. Trying to anyway."
"Well, good luck with it. Let me know if you need anything. Even if it's just books. There are ways to get around some of the lending restrictions," she whispered. The girl smiled, exposing her buck teeth. It was a shame that her parents wouldn't simply fix them; if you ignored them she could be very pretty.
"Thanks," she said, coloring slightly.
Clio suspected that she'd already discovered the workarounds herself, and smiled archly at her as she slid back out through the portrait hole.
At breakfast, all Charity talked about was walking to Hogsmeade to do Christmas shopping for her family.
“You're coming too, right? Last chance to stock up on chocolates for your family.”
Clio cleared her throat. “I still have Professor Trelawney's present to work on,” she muttered.
Charity had an easy solution. "Just buy her a bottle of sherry and call it a day."
"I would if I didn't think that would - rightfully - earn Professor McGonagall's scorn."
"Okay, then buy her a kids' tarot card set. That would make Minerva's day."
Clio laughed. "Just give me two hours after breakfast to finish it." Charity rolled her eyes, but Clio knew she was joking. “Two hours. After that, I'll go to Hogsmeade whether I'm finished or not.”
In the end it only took her an hour and a half. She'd already crafted rune-marked ash beads to represent Trelawney's astrological sign and profession, staining half of them ebony and the other half honey gold. Now she combined them with beads of polished amber and onyx, arranged them all in a checker pattern and strung the whole thing on cotton cord. She repeated incantations for peace, inspiration and clarity of mind over the necklace, and wrapped it in layers of white, black and gold tissue paper.
After she'd tagged it and left it under the tree in the staffroom, Clio couldn't stop herself from peering at some of the other tags, looking for her own gift.
"Snooping, are we?" sneered a cold voice behind her. She hastily dropped the box she had just been hefting. Snape stood just inside the door, a thick rectangular package in his hands.
"Just looking,” she said. “Don't see mine, yet."
"Hmm," he purred as he strolled toward the tree.
"That's not it, is it?" She guessed by the shape that it was a book (or books).
"Maybe it is and maybe it isn't," he said, as he swept past her.
She checked that the door had closed behind him before stepping closer and saying, "I checked out those names-"
"Are you an idiot, or did I not make myself perfectly clear before?" he hissed.
"Loud and clear. That's why I'm not telling you that I did not find anything uninteresting."
"Stop. Not another word."
She sighed, "I have more questions."
"Not for me."
"What do you want in return?"
"Nothing from you."
"Then why even help me at all?"
He glowered at her for a moment before answering silkily, "Because, however tangentially, our interests are aligned."
"Seriously, what do you want?"
He glowered at her for a moment, then a cruel smile curled his upper lip, "Since you're so keen on Lupin, you could tell me how he's helping Sirius Black."
Her eyes narrowed. "Give me a break. You can't possibly believe that."
"You believe he's a 'tame' werewolf, then?" he said.
"I believe he's a good person," Clio spat. She felt her wand heating up against her hip, and fought to control it. "He told me about that prank, by the way, the one he wasn't in on."
"He told you that, and you believe him?" he responded, his voice like the eerie calm that presages a tornado.
"Of course I believe him," she said, feeling her own temper struggling to get away from her.
"You're as naïve as you look, then," he said, glancing down at her wand as he glided past her toward the door. "You need to learn to control that better," he added, "before your boggart gains company."
Clio stood frozen even after he'd slipped through the door. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, thinking of a green glassy sea until her wand had cooled again.
She didn't mention her encounter with Snape to Charity when they met in her office a few minutes later, bundled up for the walk to town amid a boisterous swarm of students. Like many in the crowd, Honeydukes was their first stop. Charity pointed out a new sign on the door to warn villagers of the dementors that would be patrolling the street. They both cringed.
"We should probably get some extra chocolate for ourselves," Clio said.
"Extra dark, none of that white chocolate shit," Charity muttered.
"Indeed," Clio said.
They stocked up on fudge for their families and chocolate bars for themselves (strictly for medicinal purposes, of course), then walked down the street to Gladrags. Clio picked out purple house-neutral Hogwarts hoodies for her sister and niece.
"Aww, that hat I liked is gone," Charity pouted. "I was actually going to get it this time if it was still there."
"I wouldn't give up on it yet. I have a good feeling about that hat," Clio said.
"Wait, did you get my name in the gift exchange and just make up the thing about Trelawney's amulet?" Charity asked, eagerly.
"Pffft, I wish," Clio answered.
Their next stop was Zonko's to shop for Clio's nephew. She spied the Weasley twins there, carefully counting out their money and making judicious selections from a very long shopping list. She asked them what she should get a 10-year old, and they filled her arms with so much stuff that she had to abandon half of it.
She knew from experience that it was almost impossible to please her Gran, and decided to just pick up a well-aged bottle of Scottish whisky in Glasgow while she was picking up the rest of her family from the airport the next day.
Their last stop in Hogsmeade was the Three Broomsticks, where they had a drink and discovered that they'd both gotten each other gifts. Clio sheepishly presented Charity with her hat, and Charity presented Clio with a flask inscribed with the rune for "bliss."
"It even comes pre-filled with firewhiskey."
"Awesome, I may need it to get through the gift exchange."
"Oh, there'll be eggnog for that," Charity said slyly.
After dinner that night, since Remus still seemed to be avoiding her, Clio followed Charity into the staffroom, which Flitwick had decked out in fragrant evergreen garlands. The elves had produced brandy pudding, sherry trifle, and a large punch bowl full of eggnog. Hagrid was spiking it liberally with brandy as they walked in.
“Dumbledore is running late,” Professor McGonagall announced rather frostily as she strode in a moment later. “He's dining with Minister Fudge, and has sent word to start the gift exchange without him.”
Clio noticed Snape scowl at this, and wondered if his gift had been for the Headmaster. Charity seated herself by the tree to distribute the variously sized and colored packages. Clio sat nearby, pointedly ignoring Snape while trying to get Remus' attention.
“Clio! Here's yours,” Charity said, thrusting a sloppily-wrapped package at her.
She opened it to find a red and gold striped hat and scarf, and a pair of furry mittens shaped like lion's paws that flipped up to reveal fingerless gloves.
“Wow, thanks Hagrid. These look … really warm,” she said, stroking the mittens. “Is this real fur?” she asked in a small voice.
Hagrid beamed at her, “It is! It's some o' the extra that I brushed off o' the hippogriffs.”
Delighted and relieved, she put the hat on her head, wound the scarf around her neck, and stuck her hands into the mittens. Charity took a picture of her snarling and pawing the air, and another of her standing on a chair to kiss Hagrid on the cheek under the mistletoe.
She watched, on tenterhooks, as Professor Trewlawney opened her present and held up the amulet. The amber and onyx beads flashed in the firelight.
Professor Trelawney gaped at it through her Coke bottle lenses, apparently not sure what to make of it, "Oh it's … it's very … nice," she said, wrapping it back up and setting it on her lap.
Clio looked away, and unexpectedly caught Remus' eyes from across the room. She shrugged, smiling sheepishly. He smiled back, warmly, and she felt the warmth spread through her belly.
Charity received a large box of her favorite all-dark chocolates from Remus. "Thank you Remus, if my ass gets any bigger this winter it will be because of you," she said.
"I'll drink to that!" said Hagrid, taking a swig of eggnog from his new jug-sized stein, courtesy of Aurora.
Remus sniffed curiously at the gauzy package he'd received from Professor Trelawney (stifling a sneeze) before opening it carefully to reveal several extremely fragrant candles that Clio could smell from several feet away. She watched, slightly fascinated and slightly horrified, as the divination instructor floated up to him and began explaining the applications for each candle. He listened politely, eyes first glazing over, then popping open in alarm when she began running her hand lightly up his arm.
"This one is very sensual-" Trelawney said, interrupted only when Charity spit eggnog all over the floor. Clio clapped one lion-paw mitten over her mouth to keep herself from cursing. She watched, temperature rising, as the bug-like woman latched herself to Remus' arm.
"This is only the first part of my gift, I'd be delighted to do a private crystal gazing for you," she said. Clio's eyes narrowed. It was silly of her to be jealous of Sibyll Trelawney, she knew, but found herself grinding her teeth and clenching her hands into fists, anyway.
She felt as if she was being watched, and turned to see Snape staring at her, dark eyes cold and unreadable, as usual. She rolled her eyes at him, then looked back to where Remus had been just a moment before. He was gone, and Professor Trelawney was now talking to Professor Vector.
"Looks like someone's been hitting the sherry extra hard," Charity mumbled, still laughing. Clio nodded and, needing something to take her edge off, walked hurriedly over to the eggnog. She found Remus nearby, scratching miserably at his neck.
"Hey," she said, sidling up next to him.
"Hey," he said right back. "Could you do me a favor?"
When she nodded, he handed the entire lot of candles to her. "Dispose of these for me,” he whispered. “Discreetly if possible. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but I'm almost positive that I'm allergic to them."
"Of course," she said, sending them to the compost heap with the same spell that she used for Nox's droppings. "I have something for you that I'm almost positive will not irritate your skin," she said, patting at a concealed pocket in her robe. His eyes widened. "I didn't really want to give it to you in front of everyone, though," she continued.
"I have something for you, too," he said shakily.
"Really?" Her stomach lifted up towards her mouth.
"It's upstairs, in my office,” he said, scratching uneasily at his neck. “Do you want to go up and open them now?"
"Okay," she said. She followed him out of the staffroom. Charity smiled slyly at her as they left, and Snape glared from the corner.
Once in his office, with the door closed, he flicked his wand at a map on the wall. It rolled up on itself, revealing an arched doorway through which she could make out his private chamber. He nodded his head toward the opening.
"In here," he said, mouth twitching. He followed her inside. She cast her eyes about his private quarters, taking in the fireplace opposite the door, which was flanked by a small couch and ottoman. His bed was tucked away in a recessed alcove. The walls, carpet and furnishings were done all in dark, rich earth tones. The overall impression it gave was of a warm cozy den.
She sat on one side of the loveseat, scanning the titles on his bookshelf while he prepared two glasses of mead. She spied quite a bit of Shakespeare and medieval legends mixed in with the books of defensive spells and magical history. He handed her a glass and then sat down on the other end of the couch; fidgeting nervously with his drink and looking down at his knees, which were barely a foot from hers.
"Okay, who's going first?" she asked, taking a sip of mead and resisting the urge to lay a hand on his twitchy knee.
"You go first," he said in a husky voice. She reached into her pocket and drew out a heavy, round package wrapped in green and gold paper.
"It's home-made, and I hope you like it,” she said as she handed it to him. “I won't be offended if you don't, though."
He shook his head. "I'm sure I will, if it's even half as well-made as Professor Trelawney's amulet." The wrapping paper began to dissolve as soon as his hand met it, leaving behind a deceptively delicate-looking globe the size of an orange. It was constructed of twisted copper wire and cypress wood stained the same shade as his wand, then decorated with tiny aquamarines and scrolled with elaborate rune patterns. The fine detail of the craftwork made the amulet look crude by comparison.
A slow smile spread over his face as he turned it over, taking in the details. "Clio, this is amazing. How long did you spend on it?"
She shrugged; he didn't need to know that she'd missed many hours of sleep in order to perfect it. "It's a music box, like the one I have. There's only a few songs in it right now, but I'll show you how to add more.”
"The copper will change color over time, as it ages. Do you like it?"
"I do. Can I play it now?"
"Of course. Take your wand." She took his hand and showed him where to tap the globe to set it spinning in the air. “It responds to your mood.” The first song it played was one by Band of Centaurs that they'd listened to by his fireplace before. It was a love song.
"Wait here," he said, standing up abruptly and crossing the room to a closet. Clio watched, wide-eyed, as he withdrew a large, plainly wrapped, suspiciously guitar-shaped package.
"No way," she said. He passed it to her, and she felt his fingers tremble slightly when they met hers. She balanced it on her lap and carefully tore the paper off. It was the one Henry had designed for her; she could tell as soon as she touched it. Honey-stained beech to match her wand. Six flitterbloom strings, with pegs to expand up to twelve, if she wished.
"Remus!" she gasped.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"I love it! I just … it's too much," she protested.
"I want you to have it," he said, smiling gently.
"How did you … When did you arrange this?" she asked, thinking she already knew his answer.
“Last month, that same night we met Henry in Edinburgh.”
"I'll pay you back," she said.
"It's a gift," Remus insisted. "Your friends all pitched in. All I had to do was arrange shipping," he fibbed.
She looked at him suspiciously, but he just changed the subject. "Aren't you going to try it out?" he asked.
She plucked idly at the strings, tears springing into her eyes. "It's been years since I played. It's going to take a while to re-learn everything," she said, ducking her head to hide her leaky eyes. She ran her hands lightly over the flawless body, then fitted her wand into the notch on the neck; it fit perfectly. The strings tuned themselves without her having to touch the pegs. Once they were done she placed her fingers in one of the few chord positions that she remembered and gave it a strum. The sound was dark and resonant, and exquisitely tuned.
She looked at him, face flushed and eyes smoldering, as she laid the guitar gently on the ottoman. His eyes shone at her like they would melt. She leaned forward, and this time he didn't stiffen or back away. She slid her arms around his shoulders and planted her lips on his before he could escape. There was one excruciatingly awkward second while he sat frozen within her grasp, then suddenly he wrapped around her and his lips responded to hers. The kiss lasted just a few seconds, but afterward it was as if a wall had crashed down and they kissed again. Short, sweet kisses gradually merged into long, passionate ones.
Eventually they drew apart and gazed at each other for a long moment.
"I can't believe this is happening," he said at last.
She smiled slyly. "I've been wanting this to happen for the past two months."
"That's my fault. I'm afraid I'm not very adept with these kinds of social interactions," he said, eyes downcast.
"Hey, it's all right,” she said, gently lifting his bristly chin. “I'm glad it's happening, now." Then she kissed him again, and again.
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