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Chapter 19 : Locked Hearts & Hand Grenades
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Credit: Mind-blowing chapter image by Carnal Spiral!
Dollie didn’t even have time to close the door behind her before Hurricane Vivian hit like the unstoppable force of nature that she was. Afraid she was going stagger back and send them both plummeting down the stairs, Dollie just managed to kick the door shut as a pair of arms wound themselves around her. A squeal deafening enough to make dogs bury their heads pealed in her ear as she was forced to jump up and down in place.
“Viv – what...?” were her words, muffled by Vivian’s robes. The constricting embrace only grew tighter, like a rattlesnake and its prey. “Can’t... breathe...”
After what seemed like a few agonising hours, Vivian finally released her only to spin her around and together began doing the salsa. Or it might have been the samba. Maybe the tango? Dollie never could tell the difference, even though Vivian had spent years trying to teach her. It was only another thing that Dollie was awful at, which was why she never took it seriously.
Her lack of coordination didn’t deter Vivian, who was now singing a Latin song while swivelling her hips, waving her hands around like she was holding maracas. It would have been infectious, had Dollie not just returned from the infirmary. The migraine that had been dulled by potions was slowly crawling back into her head. She tried grabbing hold of Vivian to keep her still but she wiggled out from Dollie’s grasp and continued on, dancing and singing like she didn’t have a care in the world. Dollie almost felt bad about bringing her crashing back to reality.
“Vivian, it’s really touching that you’re so happy about my homecoming but don’t you think this is a bit excessive? Even for you.”
Somehow, Vivian found it in her to slow down though her feet were still doing a little jig. Pointing her wand up, a shower of colourful confetti and streamers flew through the air as a noisemaker magically appeared on her lips, uncurling with every blow. It was like Dollie was trapped in her own personal siesta hell.
“Oh Doll, just this once, please don’t rain on my parade.”
“Wrong? Nothing! Absolutely, positively nothing. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, I’m not procreating. There couldn’t be a more perfect day.” Vivian held up her hands and spun around.
As the words sank in, Dollie’s jaw slackened at the cause of Vivian’s euphoria.
“You mean, you’re not –?”
“PREGNANT!” Vivian took a running start and leaped onto Sue’s bed. “I’M! NOT! WITH! CHILD!”
With every word, she jumped onto each bed; first Sue’s, then Abby-Emma, Lily, hers before finally collapsing onto Dollie’s. It reminded Dollie how they used to play Lava, jumping onto each other’s beds to avoid the imaginary molten rock floor. Vivian was always unscrupulous, pushing them off before claiming it was an accident. Abby-Emma was a sport about it but they were forced to abandon the fun when Sue threatened to make a formal complaint, especially when Vivian tried to figure out how to turn the floors into actual lava. Needless to say, the Sorting Hat made the right call in not putting Vivian into Ravenclaw.
As she lay motionless, Dollie crept towards her and sat down. The duvet was soft, the mattress firm, just how she liked it. A look of complete and utter bliss was imprinted on Vivian’s face. Dollie breathed a sigh of relief. Her friend had finally tired herself out.
“It’s negative, Doll. I’m not pregnant, just fat,” Vivian said dreamily. She held out her hands like a longing child and pulled Dollie down beside her.
“That’s great, Viv.” Dollie patted her arm.
“And it’s all thanks to you.”
“Where did you find it?” Vivian asked.
“In one of the corner cabinets, nestled deep behind the tampons and feminine wash. ‘No man’s land’, as it were. Didn’t take me too long to work out the most logical place she’d keep them.”
“See, you’d make an excellent Ravenclaw.”
“Tell that to my dad.”
“But good thing you’re not. Otherwise, school would have been a drag, more so than it already is.”
Dollie elbowed her in the ribs lightly, “Don’t get soppy on me now.”
Vivian nudged her back. “I can’t help it. I almost lost you.” It was a hushed whisper, the kind that carried one’s deepest fear out but not loud enough in case it came true.
“I’m right here aren’t I? Safe and sound. You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“I just – I can’t imagine my life without you.”
For fear of getting strangled, Dollie gently untangled herself from Vivian’s well-meaning cuddle and sat back up. She cracked a smile before lovingly shoving her friend off her bed. She snorted as she heard a thud and Vivian groan. This time, it was Dollie who fell back and purred contently as she relished being in her own bed once again. It would take more than a few scrubs to get Vivian’s fruity scent washed out from her pillow but Dollie would worry about it later.
Her lids were just fluttering closed when Vivian’s hand shot up waving.
“You got mail,” she sang.
Without getting up, Dollie reached for the package and letters. As she flipped through, recognising most of them as coming from her parents, she glanced towards the window and nearly dropped the envelopes.
“What have you done to Sock?!”
“Nothing,” replied Vivian innocently.
“Nothing? Look at him!”
“Well, I have been feeding him while you were away.”
“Feeding him what exactly? Bowls of lards?”
The enormous dust ball on the windowsill bore no resemblance to her petite pet, who usually measured no bigger than her entire hand. He looked like he was going to tip over at any moment and plummet to the ground below like a boulder. How had he even manage to fly to the Gryffindor tower at all? His little wings were in danger of snapping off from the sheer weight it was forced to carry.
Typical Vivian. This was exactly what happened to her Persian cats. She spoiled them with food and love until they became obese fluff pillows, shedding fur everywhere. It was like the girls were forced to live in a snow globe, with cat hair flying about instead of snowflakes. McGonagall finally put her foot down and allocated a separate room in the Gryffindor tower for Vivian to keep her pets. Now she’s turned her unhealthy caretaking on Dollie’s innocent owl.
“Stop overreacting! Some gratitude would be nice.”
Dollie ignored her and motioned Sock over to her. He did, with great effort.
“Hey you, long time no see.” She stroked his feathers while he cooed. “I think some exercise will do you some good, yeah? Let’s see, take a few turns around the room hopping on each bedpost, that should melt off some weight.”
“Poor thing,” Vivian cooed. “You can be such a tyrant, Doll.”
“For what? Making sure he doesn’t develop diabetes?”
“Don’t be silly! Animals don’t get human diseases. Look at it this way, it’s good practice for when you eventually make me a godmother.”
“Viv, you may be my best friend but I wouldn’t trust you with a goldfish much less my offspring.”
She tuned out Vivian’s raspberry and dragged her nail across the tape to open the cardboard package. Carefully wrapped in bubble-wrap were Remus’ gloves, looking as good as new without a stitch out of place. Attached was a note thanking her for choosing Gladrags Wizardwear and hoped that she was satisfied with the end result. Honestly, she had her doubts about sending such expensive gloves there. Although they were the closest clothing store to Hogwarts, the horrendously tacky socks they had on sale turned her off. But they really came through for her.
She absentmindedly rubbed one of the glove’s palm with her thumb, unable to tear her eyes away from the open window. It felt like years since she’d gazed out, savouring her own private slice of the Hogwarts grounds. In the background, the drone of Vivian chewing over whether to go to Hogsmeade with the Gryffindor captain or one of the Hufflepuff prefects made it feel like no time had passed at all, as though someone somewhere had dropped a time turner and sent them all back a week, a month, a year, before everything turned black.
She screwed her eyes shut but it was all she could see. Black. Everything black, everywhere black, everyone black.
Vivian was still talking, oblivious to the lightness that was slowing burning in Dollie’s chest. The light was no bigger than a lit candle but it was better than groping in the darkness for a hand to hold, for a warm cheek to stroke to convince herself that she wasn’t alone, that she wouldn’t have to be without. She didn’t have to go through with it, thanks to Vivian’s newly revealed revelation. She wouldn’t have to be responsible for his pain because no one would have to get hurt.
It felt almost as good as knowing the foul contract she had been forced to sign was now rendered null and void. Dollie almost laughed at the image forming in her mind of Sue’s head literally imploding with fury.
The newly-won freedom felt so liberating that in her glee, she took a bold step forward. Making sure that Vivian was still immersed in her own self-concocted soap opera, Dollie turned her back on Vivian so that she wouldn’t see Dollie slipping her hands into the gloves. It felt almost as good as holding his hands.
“Toss me a parchment, will you?” Dollie asked over her shoulder.
“Accio one yourself!”
“And risk blowing up the dormitory?”
“Lazy bum,” Vivian muttered darkly before passing Dollie the parchments Lily always kept handy by her bed. She was even considerate enough to include a quill. “What are you up to?”
“What does it look like?”
Vivian’s eyes widened as Dollie scratched Remus’s name in ink, followed by a request for lessons the soonest at his convenience. So engrossed was she in getting the tone exactly right, equal parts casual and urgent, she didn’t notice the ink stains that were being imprinted on her ring and little fingers. She’d forgotten to remove the gloves.
“Taking initiative for once. That’s my girl!”
Giving an encouraging hug from behind, Vivian ruffled Dollie’s hair proudly.
“It’s really nice of you to continue this. I was afraid – that you’d given up on me.”
Remus looked up from the book he was perusing, the forced wan smile fading fast. “No, not at all. It’s just – after the accident…”
They’d skirted around the issue long enough. Even though Dollie claimed she was perfectly capable of doing so, Remus made the executive decision to put off practising practical magic until further notice. Thus, despite her protests, they returned to the library so that she could memorise magical theory, which was, to quote her, ‘worse than an exploding wand in the face’. Remus flinched at the poor choice of words as his eyes went up to her face. Dollie touched her cheek self-consciously, the scars grazing her fingertips.
“You mustn’t blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I can’t help feeling that it is,” he replied morosely.
“Well, you mustn’t all the same,” she asserted firmly, a contrast to her shaky handwriting as she copied down some spell descriptions on her parchment. He briefly wondered why she wasn’t using the notebook he gave her.
“Shouldn’t you not touch it?” he asked as she absently traced the new contours on her skin.
It was the most bitter laugh he’d ever heard from her. “Doesn’t matter. Apparently I’ll be wearing them for the rest of my life.”
“I’m sorry, Dollie. So very sorry.”
“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault.”
But it was. Entirely and unequivocally. If only she knew. But of course, it was for the best she didn’t. Even he wasn’t enough of a masochist to handle her hating him. As he stared at her, there was nothing he wanted more than to kiss her pain away and free her from her scars. He understood more than anyone else what it felt like to look into a mirror and see a monster’s artwork on display. Now he was forced to confront his sins every time he was in her presence.
Perhaps he really was a masochist.
“I’m sorry for not visiting.”
“Stop!” It came out as a loud exclamation but Dollie dialled it down to a furious whisper when admonished by their fellow library-goers. The layer of feigned calmness failed to mask her exasperation. “For God’s sake, please stop. If one more person apologises, I swear I’m going to scream.”
He opened then quickly closed his mouth before another unwanted and pointless apology could escape and raise her ire again. Page-flipping and quill-scratching may have been the only sounds that shattered the library’s calm but in his head, a storm continued to rage and beat against the walls of his brains.
For one thing, there was Sirius. Remus had been perfectly ready to play ‘Avoid the Marauder’ but Sirius was seemingly playing a different game: hide-and-seek. He was never there when Remus went to sleep at night and woke up in the morning to Sirius’ still well-made bed. He was a no-show for meals and when it came to classes, Sirius came and went as he pleased, raking up the most detentions he’s ever gotten within a short span of time.
But that wasn’t all. The worst part was that James and Peter were acting as though they were part of the game. At least, that’s the way Remus saw it. His growing paranoia was twisting it into a conspiracy where, after all these years, the Marauders had finally seen the light and saw him for what he truly was, thanks to the accident. It was pushing him to the brink of an anxiety attack, as he contemplated his life without them. What came to mind was a barren wasteland that may possibly, eventually become a reality.
Something hit him in the forehead. A small balled-up parchment had landed on the library’s copy of Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms, which was honestly and ironically dull as dust, opened to ‘Chapter 4: Why Egyptians Made Better Writers Than Artists’. After opening it and smoothing out the crinkles, the scrap contained only one word, in a handwriting that was not unlike the Egyptians’ ancient scrawls.
He craned his neck low to hide the deepening smile, slipping the paper into the crevice of his book. It was in quiet content that they read, immersing themselves in their studies. Whether any of it would stick long after the books returned to the shelves remained to be seen. Regardless, this time, his eyes never strayed from the printed words that were full of millennia-old knowledge. If only they held the answers he really wanted instead of the ones to a school exam.
“Remus? Remus, are you there?”
He looked up to see Dollie standing beside him, waving a hand in front of his face.
“Sorry, what?” He rubbed the glaze from his eyes and shook the fog from his head.
“Thought I lost you for a moment. I was just saying that it’s almost dinner. Shall we get out of here and grab a bite to recharge? We’ve been here for almost four hours.”
Had it really been that long? He could have sworn an hour at most had slipped by, quick and smooth as sand trickling down an hourglass. His hands went into auto mode, sweeping all his books and writing materials into his bag. Dollie was ready and waiting, her own satchel weighing down her shoulder and messing up her posture.
“We shall,” Remus replied.
“Oh, before I forget.” She rummaged through her things before triumphantly unearthing his gloves.
“Where did you find them? I’m been searching everywhere! Err, not that I was careless and lost them or anything,” he quickly added.
“Black said to pass them along to you.”
“You talked to Sirius?” Remus said hopefully as he pocketed the gloves, patting them twice to ensure they were still there.
“Not since a few days ago.”
“Oh. Okay. Right.”
They checked out their borrowed books and left the library chatting about what dessert would be served that night. Remus hungered for a slice of molten lava cake while Dollie crossed her fingers for ice-cream, preferably a knickerbocker glory. That made Remus laugh as he pointed out that particular dessert was only served on special holidays.
“I’ve just been released from the hospital. I think that entitles me to one.”
“As far as I know, ice-cream is usually reserved for tonsil removals, not wolf attacks. Chocolate suits every and all occasions.”
She looked at him strangely. “What makes you say it was a wolf attack?”
Realising his mistake too late, his brain rushed to generate a plausible explanation. Just as he was about to open his mouth, something took him off his feet and rammed him against the wall. He winced as his back connected with the stone, a smattering of stars obscuring his vision. When they cleared, Remus found Sirius glaring back at him, his eyes flashing with lighting while he growled thunder. Remus’ robes were balled up in Sirius’s clenched fists, dangling Remus up off the ground.
“Sirius – my head – it hurts.”
His hand now on Remus’ neck, Sirius leaned in close, his hot breath stinging Remus’ cheek.
“Now you have a good idea of how Dollie must have felt.”
Remus’ collar tightened painfully around his neck.
“I – I’m sorry,” Remus whimpered.
“You could have killed her!”
Dollie clawed at Sirius’ arm. “Let go of him, Black! Let go!”
“Stay out of this, Dollie. This is between me and him,” said Sirius, his hand still twisting Remus’ collar.
“He’s turning blue! He can’t breathe!”
“He’s got it coming.”
By now, Dollie had shouted herself hoarse and when Sirius refused to relinquish his grip, she broke into a desperate sob. Her blows to him began to weaken as they gave in to the tremor consuming her body.
“Don’t do this, please. Let him go. For my sake, let him go. Please.”
Remus crumbled to the floor as Sirius reached out to Dollie. She pushed him away and rushed to check on Remus, bending down beside him as he wheezed and gasped for air.
“He doesn’t deserve your compassion, Dollie,” said Sirius angrily but couldn’t hide the hurt from her rejection.
“Have you gone mad? He’s your friend,” she retorted.
“You don’t know what he did!”
“We need to get you to Pomfrey,” she said.
“I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” lied Remus, his voice barely rising above a croak.
By now, curious onlookers from the library, nearby classrooms and the traffic that passed through the halls were eagerly forming. The Marauders were notorious for their comedic efforts so it was a rare and wondrous treat to watch some action-packed drama play out, especially when it involved half of the unbreakable quartet slowly implode and turn on each other. Rhett Reynolds started taking bets with Sirius immediately proving to the odds on favourite though Remus wasn’t altogether dismissed as a lost cause. There were always those who loved an underdog.
Dollie slowly got up with Remus gripping her shoulders for support. His legs were too wobbly to hold much of his own weight. Despite her already tear-stained face, her eyes managed to leak one more drop. He wiped the stray tear with his thumb, momentarily forgetting where he was. Incensed, Sirius swung hard and hit his mark. Remus reeled back but didn’t fall this time, leaning against the wall. Something warm and salty dribbled from his nostrils and corner of his mouth.
“Keep your filthy paws off her!” Sirius barked.
Once she recovered from the initial shock, she shakily walked to Sirius who would have embraced her had he been able to unclench his fist, still balled up and ready for another shot. As it were, her glower dissuaded him. She adopted a lower timbre when she spoke, to deter eavesdroppers of which there were many encircling them.
“After everything that’s happened, I never imagined you were capable of being so beastly,” said Dollie
“You’re not looking properly. If you did, you’d know I’m not the beast here, Dollie,” Sirius replied.
Sirius saw her arm twitch and about to rise. He closed his eyes, anticipating the slap. It never came. He opened his eyes and saw that her arm hung limp beside her. What he wasn’t prepared for was the disappointment that was etched in every crevice of her face, her plump lips slightly parted as if what she wanted to say could only be expressed in breathless wisps. When they could finally form words, they stung worse than a hornet’s tail.
“You’re not the man I thought you were.”
She turned and made to go back to Remus whose nose was still gushing blood and mucus. He didn’t have a handkerchief or tissues on him, hence the red splotches on his sleeve and collar. But Sirius was quicker. Remus braced himself for another pummelling but what he got instead was worse.
“I hate you and I’ll never forgive you.”
Several servings of Cruciatus Curses couldn’t have hurt him more. The potent vitriol left Remus emotional wounded to match his physical scars while Sirius marched away from the scene, the crowd biblically parting to make way for him.
The Marauder Fan Girls were clumped together, excitedly twittering about the events that just took place and arguing amongst themselves who would be the one to comfort Sirius in his time of need. Mary-Beth Richards, who was as bright as a broken candle, was dimly aware that her best friend seemed removed from the conversation when she’d otherwise be the one leading it.
“Why are you smiling, Sue?” she asked.
“Wait and see, Mary-Beth,” Sue purred as Dollie escorted Remus to the hospital wing. “Everything’s coming up Suzanna.”
A/N: Please please please leave me a review, feedback is always a spirit booster.
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