Chapter 8 : Nevermore
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“It’s exactly the same,” gasped Melody, already beginning to feel the tears prickling the backs of her eyes as they darted in every direction eagerly taking in their surrounding.
Everything was precisely as it was in her memory. There were the same ivy-covered walls, the same stone fountain in the very center of the courtyard, the same tiled floors, the abundance of lovely flowers which exploded everywhere in a dizzying array of colors, and the sweet aroma of fruit which lingered in the crisp early afternoon air. She hadn’t been to the Spring House in years and yet it felt like she had never left it. If there was one place Melody loved above all in any universe it was that: her grandparents’ charming vacation house nestled deep in the heart of Mexico.
When she and Neil were younger every visit had always felt like stepping into a fairy tale. Even absent of magic it had always been so vibrant and enchanting. It had always been such a happy place; a safe place where the rest of the world melted away into nothingness. Time stood still there, it always had.
“How?” wondered Melody aloud, mystified. “Why?”
“Dunno,” said Neil with a shrug. “I reckon its the universe’s way of keeping us from going completely mad.”
Like an anchor.
Melody swatted Neil as he pushed her, none too gentle, towards the bathroom which was only a couple of steps away from the shed. She knew she wasn’t exactly springtime fresh but her hunger far overpowered her desire to get herself cleaned up, especially in this practically medieval outdoor bathroom. It was the most awkward bit of the house and not even attached to it as it was added ages after the original structure was built. It had massive windows which would give whoever used it absolutely no privacy were it not for the plants plotted strategically in front of them.
Yes, food was definitely much more of a priority.
“Neil, I’m starving. Can’t I have like lunch or something first?”
“And risk mum and gran seeing you?” he snorted, giving her one last shove over the threshold. “One look at the state of you and they’ll lose their shit.” He looked his sister over one more time and added, “Besides, we’ve got a Portkey scheduled to leave for the Potters’ in an hour so you best get a move on.”
“The Potters’? It can’t possibly be Christmas Eve already.”
“No, it is, but your timeline’s out of sequence. You’ll make up the missing days later, no doubt.”
With the flick of his wand Neil turned on the shower causing Melody to shriek as the ice cold water soaked her. He laughed and slammed the bathroom door shut.
Melody’s teeth chattered and her skin stung at the abrupt change in temperature but by the time she peeled off her dirty clothes she had gotten used to it. She began carefully scrubbing away the dirt and dried blood, letting her mind wander as she did so.
Mary was not on speaking terms with Melody that evening as they stood outside the Potters’ massive estate. It’s not that she was angry with her best friend just annoyed at her for being so careless. Melody had lost track of the time in the shower and hadn’t laid anything out to wear which resulted in her running around their room like a headless chicken. Mary, being the fabulous friend she knew she was, sacrificed a large chunk of her own primping time to help Melody out which left her looking ordinary rather than the extraordinary she was aiming for. Neil hadn’t even looked at her since they ran for the Portkey, catching it in the nick of time.
Melody was pouting and spouting apology after apology as Mary knew she always did after screwing up.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Mary grumpily, arms crossed over her chest. “I better be getting a huge present from you this year.”
It was then that the door swung open revealing their host. Melody and Neil were immediately scooped into a crushing hug by an elegant-looking woman who Mary could only assume was Mrs. Potter. Mr. Potter hugged Melody next, giving Neil a hearty pat on the back. James and Sirius sandwiched the Corden twins into a painful hug leaving them breathless yet grinning.
“Hello, Jackie,” said Mrs. Potter smiling at the two women standing behind her son’s friends. “And Victoria, we’re so glad you could make it!”
Mary stood there feeling uncomfortably out of place until Neil was kind enough to introduce her. Too shy to go in for a full-on hug, she settled for a handshake.
As they all followed Mrs. Potter into the house Melody shot her a reassuring smile which did make her feel better. After all, she could never stay upset at her best friend for too long.
The house was beautiful, of course. Neil had described it to her earlier it great detail but it did not compare to actually being there. He had told her that though the Potters were an old family like the Cordens their house was not as lavish as that of other purebloods, but she could not possibly imagine what those must have looked like. Everything in the Potters’ house looked incredibly expensive. And delicate, too, as if it would shatter at the softest touch. She had only ever lived in a modest little house that was hardly big enough for her, her parents, and her little sisters and brother. It seemed crazy to her for a family of three (well, four counting Black) having so many rooms and things to fill them with. She couldn’t help but be a little jealous.
“Oh, you get prettier every time I see you!” she distantly heard Mrs. Potter say. “And that dress! Simply stunning!”
At this Melody blushed and patted Mary’s shoulder. “It’s all this one’s doing,” she said which made Mary beam proudly.
Yes, Mary thought, she had done fantastically, especially in the short amount of time Melody had provided her with. Not that it was difficult with Melody since she was already naturally very pretty, but Mary’s work enhanced the prettiness. She’d gone for sweet and simple with Melody’s makeup and used the Witch Weekly tip on her hair again since it seemed to have worked so well the first time. And though she had picked out the first dress she saw in her friend’s wardrobe, it was lucky that it was the gorgeous blue and white taffeta one she was wearing. Melody’s mum and grandmum had been impressed, even Neil.
“Thank you,” Melody mouthed, feeling glad when Mary smiled back at her.
They had been lead into a beautifully decorated area that left her breathless. It was like a ballroom only smaller, filled with delicious-looking food and joyful seasonal music emitting from the wireless. There was a huge tree at the center of the room like the one at the Spring House but with many more decorations. There was holly and twinkling lights everywhere, and the fireplace was lit. Outside everything was covered by a light blanket of snow. It was enough to make Melody cry though she tried hard not to.
Back home it never snowed and after she was twelve Christmas had never really felt Christmas-y enough no matter what she did. This was the first time since she was a little girl that it felt real. But that wasn’t why she wanted to cry. Looking around at the happy faces of her friends and family she felt a surge of pain at the thought of what would soon become of them. She would lose them all in some way or another, and until that moment had never really understood it. The loss, it would surely crush her.
“Are you all right, dear?” asked Mrs. Potter, noticing as a tear ran down Melody’s cheek.
“Y-yes, Mrs. Potter, thank you,” Melody said softly.
She caught Neil frowning at her. He was probably going through the same thing, she realized, and yet he was much better at hiding his distress. He loved these people just as much as she did and would be just as heartbroken, but he was trying to be strong...for her sake.
That only made it worse. What would happen to Neil? To Mary? To her? Their fates were still so uncertain and that made it all the more frightening.
“Christmas always makes Mels a wee bit emotional,” said Neil, draping an arm over her shoulders. “It’s always nice to be amongst friends, though.”
That was enough to get Mrs. Potter going again until the doorbell rang.
“That’ll be Moony,” said James. Despite her sadness, Melody couldn’t help but smile.
“What about Pete?” asked Neil. “Shouldn’t he be here by now?”
“Couldn’t make it this year.” Sirius shrugged. It didn’t seem to matter much to him.
Melody noticed how he kept staring at her the way he had stared at Beth the night before he bonked her. It made her nervous and uncomfortable and she couldn’t keep from squirming. This only made Sirius grin which was beyond irritating.
“His mum wanted him to spend it with her and her boyfriend and the boyfriend is apparently not too comfortable amongst us magic folk, or so Wormy says.”
“Shame, that. Christmas crackers won’t be nearly as fun without him.”
James smiled fondly at whatever memory they were thinking of and said, “Only he finds the jokes genuinely funny.”
Mrs. Potter reemerged then with the familiar clicking of her shoes against the marble floor followed by Remus and his father.
Mr. Lupin exchanged polite greeting with Melody’s mum and grandmum while Remus was practically tackled by his fellow Marauders. He greeted Neil and hugged Mary, complimenting her on her lilac dress. Then it was Melody’s turn.
She leapt into his arms, almost knocking him down with the force of it which only made them both laugh. When they were steady on their feet again Melody got on her toes and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Oi! How come he gets a kiss!” said Sirius, pouting.
Melody rolled her eyes and pretended not to hear him. “It’s so good to see you again, Moony.”
“Missed me, did you?” he asked, his tone warm with humor. “It’s only been less than a week.”
She blushed and quickly backed away, realizing that she still had her arms draped over his shoulders. Though he had only been joking Melody didn’t want to admit she really had missed him. She didn’t even want to admit to herself how unnaturally often she had thought about him those past couple of days, especially the memories of his future self which were still fresh in her mind. Every detail of his face and bare chest seemed etched to the back of her eyelids and it made her heart sputter and ache. His voice, his concern and how he truly, deeply seemed to care for her didn’t make it any easier to forget him for even a second. It was all so new to her. Sure she had always had the unconditional affection for her family but this was different, even different from her friendly devotion to Mary, James and Sirius. It felt far more profound which pleased and confused her as much as it disconcerted her.
“Shut up,” she mumbled, weakly punching his arm.
He smiled crookedly. “I missed you, too, Mels.”
It was the first time he hadn’t called her by her full name and it sent a pleasant shiver through her. The nickname, which had always seemed so lame to her, sounded lovely coming from him. Musical, almost. Before she could stop it her mind drifted to their kiss, then to how he had wrapped his arms tightly around her only a couple of hours earlier and she berated herself for her immediate biological reaction.
She knew that ache far too well; enough to know it would cause nothing but trouble. Still, it would not stop. As hard as she tried, her thoughts kept going back to him and when they didn’t they were dark and worrisome; always about the ominous future.
It was one of the most pleasant evenings Melody had ever had but also one of the most difficult. After dinner they had sat and chatted comfortably. The Christmas music had grown boring and so James had tuned the wireless to another station.
“I love this song,” said her mother softly, and Melody realized that it was a muggle song which was playing.
Mr. and Mrs. Potter soon begun to dance, and a moment later Neil was leading a pink-cheeked Mary to the center of the room as well. James had partnered up with Jacqueline, and Mr. Lupin with Victoria.
Melody stood and watched overcome with a great sense of happiness and grief, not sure whether she should be smiling or crying or both. When these people were nothing more than words on pages she could easily ignore the tragedy of their end, and she could bring herself to forget about it but not now. Not ever again.
When the song ended and a new one began Melody felt rough fingers brush lightly against her arm and looked up to see Remus’s eyes fixed on her, filled with concern. She slipped her hand in his and they joined in the dancing, swaying slowly in time to the gentle tune.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, noticing her gloomy mien. “It’s not like you to be sad at Christmas.”
“It’s nothing. I promise.”
“Mels, you can tell me anything,” Remus assured her. “You know that, don’t you?”
Melody her cheek pressed against his chest so that he would not see how hard she was trying not to cry. Being so close to him only made it worse. He filled her senses and worsened the ache.
“I’m fine,” she said again.
It was true to some extent. She found it hard to think of anything else when Remus was holding her. As she had told his future self that morning she felt safe with him, and comforted. Whenever he touched her, even in the most platonic of ways, she didn’t want him to stop, but that little voice in the back of her head told her he would eventually let her go... It told her that soon almost everyone in the room would leave her for good.
“Don’t mind me cutting in, do you, mate?” asked Sirius, yanking Melody away from Remus without waiting for a reply. “Thanks, Moons.”
Remus smiled apologetically at his previous partner took a seat in an armchair from where he watched them pensively. Melody sighed, and felt like stomping hard on Sirius’s feet so that he would let her go, or at least loosen his grip on her. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Sirius, she just didn’t like how he made her feel: uneasy and salacious. She knew it was beyond cliché, even more so when she told herself she couldn’t help it, but Sirius just seemed to exude that vibe. He was confident and handsome and judging by what she had accidentally seen on the train not bad at making a girl “happy.” She couldn’t help but be curious yet at the same time wanted absolutely nothing to do with him that passed the boundaries of friendship though she clearly did.
“Don’t look so pleased, Corden,” he chuckled, “someone might think you’re actually enjoying yourself.”
“I’ll try to contain my elation,” she replied dryly.
The adults had retreated into another room about half way through the second song, leaving them all alone. James, now left without a partner, had joined Remus. Both boys seemed to be analyzing Neil and Mary who were oblivious to anything but each other.
Melody was in the middle of hoping Neil would finally man up and make a move when she felt a dreaded heaviness holding her feet to the spot. She didn’t have to look up to know what it was. Mistletoe. Again. It must have been holding down Sirius too because he smirked his crooked smirk which made Melody’s stomach flip. His lips were pressed down on hers before she had a chance to protest. His hand was cupping her neck and he had shoved his tongue into her mouth—she went cold with the wrongness of it.
No, she thought. No. Not Sirius. I don’t want Sirius, I want...I want Remus.
She gasped and jerked away from Sirius with such force that she almost stumbled. If he hadn’t been holding her, she would have fallen. Melody pulled back from him and swatted Sirius away when he tried to touch her again.
Sirius’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You’re cutting me deep, Corden,” he said, keeping his tone light though his expression was one of pure confusion. “That’s not the reaction I typically get.”
“Well, it’s the only one you’ll be getting from me.” Melody wiped her mouth roughly with the back of her hand, glaring up at him. “What part of ‘I don’t want to kiss you’ did you not understand? You should have brought your little slag for that!”
“Are you jealous, Corden?” he asked, smirking in an attempt to conceal his bruised ego. “Always knew you fancied me.”
“Not even in your dreams, Black,” she spat. “I’d rather get mauled by a werewolf.”
Silence fell over them. Everyone but Mary surreptitiously darted their eyes toward Remus. Melody hadn’t meant to say what she did, it just slipped out. It made her feel awful when she noticed how pale Remus had gone, and Neil looked like he was about to drag her out of the room by her hair. It was obvious that Remus’s not-so-secret condition was something she wasn’t meant to be in on. Not that they would ever suspect that she knew, they would merely think it was the sort of thing she’d say.
Sirius stepped closer to her, leaning down slightly as if he was about to try to kiss her again but instead said, in his softest and most seductive tone, “You’re shit at hiding it, love. I know you want me. You’re curious. You’re wondering if all those rumors you’ve heard are true. I’d be more than happy to offer myself up for your assessment.”
“You’d just love that wouldn’t you?” she hissed, feeling herself growing furious. “You’d just love to have me give in to you just like every other mindless bimbo you wink at. It’s never going to happen, especially with you sticking it into Bethany sodding Andrews.”
“Admit it. I’m wearing you down.”
She glared at him but neither this nor her words seemed to discourage him.
The cocky bastard, thought Melody venomously.
“What’s it going to take, then, eh, Corden?” he asked. “What’s it going to take for you to give me what I want?”
“Nothing you’re capable of.” With that Melody turned on her heel, stalking out into the garden.
As she walked she could feel the hot, angry tears running down her cheeks. The thought that the tears would ruin Mary’s wonderful job with her makeup only made her cry more because she didn’t know of any spell that could possibly fix it.
She settled onto a stone bench by the large pond at the far end of the garden. It was beautiful, of course, like the Potter’s house itself. There were so many trees and neatly trimmed shrubs all decked with the same twinkling lights that had decorated the house. The night was silent and still, and because the Potter’s house was so secluded the stars seemed to shine brighter than they did in the city.
After a couple of minutes snow began to fall. It was cold—freezing, actually—and Melody didn’t have a sweater, but it didn’t bother her as much as it normally would have. In fact, cold air biting at her bare skin made her feel more alive. However that rare, lovely sensation quickly flitted away when she felt a heavy warmth drape over her shoulders.
It was strange how she already knew who it was without looking, before hearing him speak. It was funny but she knew him from the smell of soap, chocolate, and firewood that clung to his coat. There was also his own personal scent which was just as lovely but so much more difficult to explain: boyish but not at all unpleasant.
Nuzzling the soft, worn out fabric, she offered Remus a watery smile as he sat beside her. Without asking he wrapped his arms around her and begun stroking her hair.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m...sad,” Melody replied, and she realized that it was the truth. She was not crying because Sirius had pissed her off but because everything she had been suppressing from the very start had finally bubbled over. She was frustrated and angry and confused but it was mostly sadness. About everything. She tried but couldn’t pinpoint where it stemmed from.
“I’m really, really sad,” she croaked, “and Sirius only made it worse!”
“I guessed as much,” chuckled Remus, kissing the top of her head. The gesture sent a wave of pleasure through her and she resisted the urge to kiss the tiny bit of sikn visible over the collar of his shirt though it was only inches from her lips.
“Nothing makes any sense anymore and I....I wish I could just go back...to before.”
Remus nodded. “Things were certainly a lot simpler when we were younger.”
Melody chuckled, unable to tell him that that wasn’t what she had meant.
“I’m scared, too,” he said, blushing a bit when Melody peered up at him quizzically.
Her back was to his chest and he had taken her hands in his. Remus wasn’t a burly guy but Melody had never felt so small, though she liked the way his hands seemed to fit hers perfectly. They were scarred and calloused and the fingernails were bitten down to nubs but they were special because they were his. They felt boiling hot, but, then, hers were always ice cold no matter the season.
“It’s all right to be scared, Mels, we all are.”
“Don’t you every just want to run away from all of this?”
“Of course I do, but what good would it be?” She had to admit he was right. Wasn’t he always? “Besides, after next year we wont have Hogwarts as protection. Soon we’ll be out in the real world and on our own.”
“But it’s too real,” Melody hiccoughed. “I don’t think I’ll be able to handle it.”
“I know you will. You’re the strongest, bravest person I know.” She gave him an incredulous look and he laughed. “You are.”
“I’m a coward,” he sighed morosely, looking away from her for a moment. “You, you’re brilliant and you make me brave. It’s because of you that I can believe the world will get better.”
His fervor surprised her, but it was his eyes that captured her attention. They were so intense as they focused on some unseen thing and their unusual color made them look almost unnatural. She had always thought they were brown or a dark hazel but up close she could see that they were golden, like honey.
“I’m scared, too, Melody,” he repeated. “So much.”
He wiped away the last of Melody’s tears with his knuckles, and she could feel the scars on them, too. How could he call her brave after all he endured every month? Something which, unlike the war, would never go away. She was in awe of him. It was a different sort of admiration than that she had had for him when she had read the books, based on far more knowledge. She never would have dreamed that such a person could ever be one of her best friends. Couldn’t he see how utterly amazing he was?
“Come on,” he said after they had spent at least half an hour just sitting there in silence, “let’s go see how Casanova’s getting on.” Melody laughed, shoving him away playfully. “You’ll be all right, won’t you?”
“As long as I’ve got you, Moony.”
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