Chapter 25 : If Not Now, When?
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Credit: Bewitching chapter image by Mintleaf@TDA!
“So you see, I didn’t know who else to turn to.”
“I suppose I should be flattered I’m your last resort.”
That got past her defences and pulled out a smile from her resistant lips. Remus, Dollie and Lily were the only Gryffindors in their year to take ‘Study of Ancient Runes’. Only a handful of students sat for the OWLs written exam which was why it was held at their usual classroom on the sixth floor after it was cast with thorough anti-cheating charms.
It had been a fairly straightforward written exam. Having committed the Rune Dictionary and Spellman's Syllabary to memory, every student was given one of the five independent parts of the Poetic Edda poem Hávamál and had to translate them to English. Each student getting a different part of the poem served as a counter-measure to keep them from copying off their neighbour.
Remus had gotten part two, a dissertation on the faithlessness of women (stanzas 81-95), prefacing an account of the love-story of Odin and the daughter of Billingr (stanzas 96-102) and the story of how Odin got the mead of poetry from the maiden Gunnlöđ (stanzas 103-110). He had just reached stanza 105 when the examiner called out that their time was up. Quite a pity, he was looking forward to discovering how Odin managed to capture the mead of poetry.
Just as he was gathering up his things, a ball of paper hit him on the chest. On it was written ‘Stay - D’ in runic scriptures. He slowed his movements until everyone else had left the classroom. He made a crack about how English would have worked just fine and she had responded she wanted to write in code in case the message was intercepted. He had pointed out where they were and what they were doing there but she interrupted their repartee by expounding on the problem she was facing.
“Lily hasn’t exactly been in the right state of mind and Vivian will only make things worse,” said Dollie. “And before you say anything, don’t you dare apologise for what happened on the grounds. Yes, you should have stepped in but you didn’t. What’s done is done. Let’s move on.”
Remus mustered a wry laugh. His pathological need to ask for forgiveness was something he needed to work on. Clearly, it was something Dollie didn’t care for.
“It was ugly, yes, and it wasn’t something I would have wished on my worst enemy which contrary to popular belief isn’t Snape. Give my best regards to Lily though. I do hope she’s doing better,” said Remus.
An indecipherable expression came over Dollie’s face. “I think she just wants to be alone with her thoughts so Viv and I are trying to give her space. It’s going to sound silly but I think she’s in mourning.”
“That she’s more upset about losing the friend rather than the betrayal itself. I understand, believe me,” said Remus sincerely.
“Are you and Black still on the rocks?” asked a concerned Dollie.
“It’s a work in progress. Everyday we’re at a better place than the day before.” He looked at her with gratitude and a little bit of pride. “Did James help you with that bit of locking us in the bathroom?”
“All me, I’m afraid,” she admitted.
She shrugged modestly. “Speaking of Potter, please tell him to bugger off. If he wants to keep his head and any other body part, he best keep his distance. He isn’t exactly her favourite person at the moment.”
“I’ll pass along the warning,” promised Remus. “He’s very dense about these sort of things, mostly girls and especially Lily.”
Dollie shook her head. “My, how we’ve derailed. I hope I’m not asking too much of you. I would do it myself, only I’m not much of a social butterfly.”
“And I am?” he said incredulously.
She laughed. “Potter may be Mr Popularity and Black lusted over by most of the female population but you’re likeable, the most approachable in fact. You may not charm the pants off people but they see the good in you, just like you see the good in them. They’d trust you because they know you don’t have a hidden agenda.”
“Do you trust me, Dollie?”
He held his breath, wishing that he could suck the words back into his lungs. Every second of hesitation was like pinpricks into his chest. Was this how she felt when she asked if he liked her?
She wouldn’t look at him for a long time. But when she finally tilted her head up, there was a sheen to her clear eyes.
“Do you like me, Remus?”
The cards were on the table. Like Exploding Snap, all it took was one for the entire house to combust. Who, if either, would be the first to set their card down? Win, lose or draw. It was only one word. One word, three letters, one syllable. Only one had to say it to incite the other to respond in kind.
His hand twitched, to touch her, to hold her, to pull her head to his so that their lips could meet and say what their hearts couldn’t. There he went again, being presumptuous.
“I – I’ll talk to some people. If I can convince at least a few, more will come forward. Especially if I imply Sue will lose her position as prefect, which most people will be happy to see. She’s even been talking to Stephanie about eventually becoming Head Girl, can you imagine?”
“I don’t need any more nightmares, thank you very much.”
“It’s a disturbing thought, that she collects secrets as leverage over people. How did she get to you though? I know you share the same dormitory but –”
“With this.” Dollie rummaged through her satchel and uncovered a very familiar notebook. “Even though most of it is for notes and ideas, I don’t just use it for studies. All my deepest thoughts and darkest secrets are inked on these pages. While I was in the infirmary, she found it. Which is why, before I forget, I want to ask if you could teach me a spell that could seal this notebook against everyone besides myself.”
Remus scratched his neck, giving it some thought. “It’s fairly advanced magic. You could always write in invisible ink but that won’t be much of a defence against someone who knows what they’re doing. Tell you what, we should be taught the spell sometime next year. You can put it to practice then.”
“I suppose some things are worth waiting for,” she said almost meaningfully.
“Always save the best for last,” he added awkwardly.
Suddenly restless, Dollie ambled to the bookcase at the far end of the room. Her fingers slid over the spines of dozens of books concerning runes, leaving trails over settled dust. She tipped some books over, contemplating whether to take them out or not. Ruling against it, she let them fall back.
“Should I be there? When you ask for their cooperation,” she said, her back to him. “They only need to agree to be a corroborating witness for the inquest and confirm that Sue was a tyrant that played with exposing the skeletons in their cupboard. Elaborating on those skeletons would be a leg up but I think that’s already asking for too much.”
“And what, play nice Auror, nasty Auror?” he said, laughingly. “It’s a delicate subject and must be approached with extreme caution.”
“You’re right. It would be best if it were only you. You make people feel comfortable.”
“You speak from experience?” he asked teasingly.
She smirked. “So says the grapevine. Quite honestly, in my humble opinion, you’re the most passive person I know.”
“I wouldn’t quite agree with that assessment.”
“Do you dare contradict it?” she said with a challenging tone.
If it were anyone else, he would in a heartbeat. But his heart behaved erratically when he was around her. Every moment was like a rush of blood to the head yet he was still short of breath and dizzy. She made his world spin, it would confuse a compass.
“I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“You just proved my point. Seems like we both need to be better Gryffindors.”
Unable to contest the claim, Remus simply switched subjects. “I’ve got a prefects meeting tonight. I can talk to some people afterwards.”
“During is fine too, at least you can talk to all four houses. McGonagall’s suspended Sue from further prefectural duties until after a verdict is reached at the disciplinary trial. If she’s found guilty, she could be stripped of her badge.”
“I suppose you’d be next in line, seeing as how you were first choice,” he pointed out.
A faint flush rushed to her cheeks. “I don’t know about that. They offered me once, I don’t think they’ll do it again after I rejected it the first time,” she said ruefully. “Why they did it at all baffles me to no end.”
“McGonagall once told me that sometimes, she recommends to Dumbledore who should be prefect based on potential rather than aptitude. Though I very much doubt that was the case with me,” he said with a wry smile. “James claims Dumbledore only made me prefect to spy on them but I think he wanted me to reign in some of James and Sirius’ more… destructive tendencies.”
“Bang up job there,” she said teasingly. “If anything, I’ll put forth Lily as a far worthier candidate.”
“Who knows, McGonagall might shock us all and elected Vivian.”
Dollie laughed hysterically at the notion. Hearing her laugh echo through the halls, she placed a hand over her mouth to muffle the noise but her shaking body gave her away. Once she composed herself, she wiped tears from her eyes and sighed.
“Merlin save us all if that happens.”
“When’s the trial?” he asked.
“Next Friday.” She paused and added hopefully, “Will you be there? For moral support.”
“With bells and whistles on,” he promised.
“If all goes well and Sue gets sacked, you and Lily will get to spend a lot more time together. She really enjoys your company.”
“And I hers.” Noticing Dollie’s sudden deflated face, he added, “What are you suggesting, Dollie? That Lily and –”
“It’d be a perfect match, even you have to admit that,” she said accusingly.
“If it weren’t for the fact that James would skin me alive and turn me into a throw rug for his room. That, and I have absolutely no romantic interest in her,” he admitted. “Go on, then Dollie. Don’t fight it, smile for heaven’s sake.”
Her mouth burbled with the ripples of a smile but she bit the corner of her lip to keep it at bay. Arms crossed, she strolled leisurely towards him till they were shoulder-to-shoulder. She rested her chin on her collarbone and looked up at him with her too-large doe eyes. He wondered whether she could see the profile of his Adam’s apple bobbing nervously.
“I don’t know if it’s because I can’t… or I won’t,” she said huskily.
With soft footsteps that barely registered on the stone floor, Dollie made to leave the room. She only stopped when he called her name.
“I never said no, only… only not now.”
Their backs were to each other, Remus facing the window outside to a mildly clouded day while Dollie stood at the door with one hand holding the doorframe. Neither dared to turn, to face the implications of Remus’ promise for it was a dangerous promise to make. He could have done a dozen things, said a dozen more things, anything to make her his.
But now wasn’t the time. Now wasn’t their time. He would know when it was when it came. At least, he hoped so.
“I couldn’t cope with the workload and if my mum found out I was failing, she would take me out of Hogwarts and homeschool me herself. I’ve been taking mind-enhancing potions and tonics, to help me academically. If I couldn’t buy them, I paid someone to brew them for me. One day, Sue found me licking the cauldron and –”
“Going into the Forbidden Forest after curfew, it’s an adrenaline rush. I even made a checklist for myself, to look for the Centaurs, Unicorns, Vampires, Werewolves and all the magical beasts that are rumoured to be living there. I want to be a Magizoologist and I thought this made for good practise. Sue was waiting for me by the edge of the forest when I came out –”
“My clothes weren’t fitting me anymore. I was so terribly homesick so I ate and ate. I had to keep doing it, sometimes to numb the pain and sometimes to feel the pain. I couldn’t stop, even if I wanted to. Sue heard me crying in one of the bathroom stalls, unlocked the door and saw what I was doing –”
“They’re like Gods among men, the Marauders. I was just a tiny little speck compared to them. The staircase to the boy’s dormitories doesn’t turn to slides when girls walk up them so when I knew they weren’t around, I snuck into their room and took turns lying down on each of their beds. I went through their trunks and breathed in everything they touched. I even wore their clothes. Sue must have seen me walking up the stairs to their dormitory because she burst in and I was wearing one of the boy’s boxer shorts –”
At the last confession, Dollie had to cover her mouth to smother a laugh. Professor McGonagall was reading from a scroll, the identities of the confessors remaining anonymous. They were in Professor McGonagall’s office. Dollie and Sue sat next to each other but a comfortable distance away to discourage provocation. In a corner of the room lounging in an armchair, Professor Dumbledore was observing the scene and listening with keen interest. Suffice to say, it was a private trial.
Although Remus wasn’t there in the office with her, Dollie felt his presence. He had really come through for her, compiling a stack of witness testimonies to present to McGonagall on the conditions that the confessors retained their anonymity and that they would not be punished for any rules they may have broken along the way.
The secrets and confessions ranged from the innocent to the salacious to the downright shocking. Dollie underestimated her own naivety when she thought Vivian’s predicament was the most earth-shattering occurrence that was going on in Hogwarts. Turned out the magical school was full of screwed up kids with bigger problems than love triangles and a falsely pregnant best friend.
Suffice to say, it was a long list. Dollie would surreptitiously watch Sue from the corner of her eye. Every so often, when Professor McGonagall was reading a particular secret, Sue’s carefully frozen veneer would crack with slips of emotion. Mostly it was pride but there was also disdain and glee.
When Professor McGonagall finally reached the end of the scroll, the last secret about a young burglar who snuck into other people’s dormitories to steal, she set down her reading glassed and stared intently at Sue.
“These are the sworn testimonies of several students who claim that you’ve been blackmailing them for years.”
“‘Claim’ being the operative word,” Sue interjected.
“Extortion is a very serious charge, Miss Milton, as is gross abuse of power,” Professor McGonagall explained patiently. “What do you have to say about these allegations?”
“Why, they are nothing more than jealousy, Professor. Pure and simple. Disgruntled girls and boys whom I am superior to in every way, whom I have triumphed over in exams, games, duels, whose boyfriends have left them for me. This is all nothing more than spiteful and petty revenge.”
“You’re the one who’s spiteful and petty!” cried Dollie.
“Honestly, can we get back to the real issue here, which is that Kent attacked me and caused grievous harm to my well-being!” Sue pointed an accusing finger at Dollie.
“We will get to Kent soon enough. First, we need explore the apparent motive Dollie had for doing what she did, which will be difficult seeing as she has refused to grant access to the books and use them as evidence,” said Professor McGonagall.
“Because she’s the one who has something to hide,” said Sue.
“It was my notebook, Professor. Milton stole it and was using its private contents against me. I only wanted to get it back,” Dollie explained. “I realise dropping a thousand books on her was… excessive but I did what I had to do for justice.”
Sue snorted derisively. “Justice! You were a vigilante running amok. I was merely an innocent victim.”
“Innocent my ar – foot!” Dollie amended, remembering where she was.
“You’re just a sad, bitter little girl who was passed over as prefect and practically a squib,” Sue shot back.
“Well, I’d rather be a squib than a manipulative cow who everybody hates. That’s why you do what you do, because you’re toxic and nobody will have anything to do with you unless you terrorise them. People are nothing but stepping stones to you to get what you want, no matter who you hurt along the way,” said Dollie.
“Oh look who’s talking, little miss hypocrite. What have you been doing all this time with your two Marauders?” taunted Sue.
“Shut up!” cried Dollie, her entire face burning. “You don’t know anything.”
“Professor, assaulting a prefect is cause for suspension.”
“Young ladies.” They immediately ceased their quarrelling when Professor Dumbledore got up from the armchair and went to stand next to Professor McGonagall. “That is quite enough. Professor McGonagall and I are here to listen to your explanations to the misconducts you both have been charged with. To put it simply, we seek the truth. If you are having trouble giving it to us, there is a way to draw it from you. I always have in hand a vial of Veritaserum.”
A green sheen spread through Sue’s fearful face. The wrath induced by Sue that had overwhelmed Dollie slowly gave way to a cooling rush of calm. Professor Dumbledore glanced at both of them, his face unreadable.
“If I may speak, Professor?” asked Dollie.
Both Professors nodded their consent.
“Veritaserum is not necessary. Everything I have said is true. There are some details I would prefer not to reveal as they are not imperative to this hearing and because they involve other persons that would be emotionally harmed if these details got out.”
Dollie took a deep breath and continued. “The facts are these: while I was lying on a hospital bed, Sue Milton took advantage of my absence and stole my notebook. After learning its contents, she came to see me in the infirmary and made an indecent proposal. If I refused, she would reveal the notebook’s contents to the entire school. Those thousand copies, she made them with the intent to distribute them in Hogwarts. Sue Milton therefore not only committed extortion but invasion of privacy and theft. What I did to her in retaliation was wrong, I admit that and make no excuses for it. I will not however apologise because it never would have happened if she hadn’t taken my notebook in the first place and started all this.”
After listening to her statement, Professor Dumbledore turned to look at Sue. The evidence against her were damning, the allegations serious enough to be caused for suspension if not expulsion. Being stripped of her prefect badge was the least of her worries. These and a dozen more thoughts were etched on Sue’s face. Under Professor Dumbledore’s probing gaze, she cracked and melted like plastic on fire into a sobbing mess.
They were not the tears of remorse or a guilty conscience but that of a crook on the run whose crimes had at last caught up with her.
“Where are you sneaking off to, Moony?”
In the Marauder cave, otherwise known as their dormitory, the boys were packing up to go back home. OWLs were behind them as was an eventful fifth year. By Marauder definition or perhaps applicable to all boys, their idea of packing was cramming into their trunks the clothing items either scattered on the floor or hanging from makeshift hooks all around the room. Basically, everywhere except in the cupboards.
Had it been anyone else, Remus would have pretended he hadn’t heard. But it was Sirius, whose every word directed towards him sent a jolt of relief and gratitude.
“I have somewhere to be, that’s all,” said Remus casually.
“Where?” asked Peter, scurrying around under the bed in case he forgot something.
“The infirmary. Pomfrey’s got some new potions she wants me to try that might help with –”
“Your furry little problem? But the last full moon was two weeks ago,” said James.
“I know but you know Pomfrey, always trying to find the cure,” said Remus.
The nervous laugh was a mistake. Remus saw Sirius’ eyes narrow.
“You know what would make you feel better? A little stock-up from Honeydukes to last us the summer,” Sirius suggested, already leaping off the bed and cutting off Remus. “We’ll go through Gunhilda on the third floor. In and out, no fuss, no muss.”
“I did promise Mum some boxes of Chocolate Cauldrons,” mused Peter as he brushed dust from his hair.
“It’s settled then,” James declared. “Wipe that look off your face, Moony old chum. Pomfrey won’t be too upset. We’ll even pick her up some Jelly Slugs.”
With great reluctance, Remus let them drag him all the way to the third floor. Sirius tapped the back of the statue of Gunhilda and incanted “Dissendium”, opening up the secret passageway that led down a short, cool stone slide. James was the first to hurl himself down, with Peter following close behind. He knew the hearing was being held at McGonagall’s office on the first floor. If he could make a run for it…
Leaning against the stone Gunhilda, Sirius languidly folded his arms. With one elegant flick of the wrist, he gestured towards the passageway.
“Age before beauty,” said Remus.
“What’s wrong, Moony? You seem… jumpy,” said Sirius.
“Not at all, merely preparing myself to fall down a deep, dark hole,” said Remus.
“It seems like you’d rather make your appointment,” said Sirius.
“I – I did promise after all…”
“You know what they say about promises, don’t you? They’re breakable, like rules or friendships.”
“You forgave me,” said Remus, cold fear gripping at his chest.
“I threw you a bone. I could always take it back.”
“Dollie, please wait! I know you’re upset with me but at least let me explain.”
Ignoring Remus’ offers of help, Dollie dragged her trunk behind her all the way from Gryffindor Tower until they got to the Entrance Hall where the horseless carriages were waiting to take them to Hogsmeade Station. She levitated the trunk atop the carriage and climb into it. Remus managed to intercept her closing the door on him and without worrying about what other people would think, he followed her in. He held the door closed tight so that other people could enter and would therefore assume the carriage was full.
If Dollie thought his behaviour was strange, she didn’t say so. Instead, she scooted to the farthest end of the carriage by the window. Frustrated students eventually gave up and moved onto another available carriage. He only let go of the handle when the Gamekeeper blew his whistle to get the carriages moving.
“I’m not upset. Only disappointed,” said Dollie in a monotone.
The carriage moved so suddenly, they almost fell into each other had they not been holding to the carriage handles. Remus thought it more prudent to sit opposite rather than beside her. Besides, he wanted to look at her face and read every expression that crossed it. Right now, it was wiped clean.
“I meant to be there.”
Keeping her eyes fixed to the window, she said, “Sue had her prefect badge taken from her. McGonagall initially thought of giving her a week’s suspension for every student Sue blackmailed but that would have taken her out of Hogwarts for sixth year and most of seventh year so instead she got two month’s suspension and a year on probation. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she never comes back. Her name is mud now.”
“What about you?” asked Remus.
“Three weekends of detention to be served after summer. A lot of points were docked between us so it’s our fault we lost the House Cup to Ravenclaw,” replied Dollie.
“Don’t blame yourself. James, Sirius, Peter and I did our fair share to take out some rubies from the hourglass.”
“I don’t doubt that.”
In that confined space, the air was thick with indefinable tension. The chill that pervaded outside had seeped in and made it cold enough for Remus to wear his gloves. He caught a sly glance from Dollie who met his eyes and quickly reverted back to watching the outside. They were passing the giant Hogwarts gates. Soon, the wheels will roll unevenly on the pebbled road to the station.
“This year… it’s been…” he struggled for the right word. There had been many great moments and terrible ones as well. To encompass it all was difficult. But she had to know what she had done to his life by inserting herself in it. “Illuminating.”
“Sounds about right,” she relented. “But it’s over now.”
“Yes. But every ending is a new beginning for something better.”
“You sound like Lily.” She smiled. “I bet they’re going out of their minds wondering where I am, who I’m with. They can be quite overprotective.”
“The Marauders are the same.”
“Funny, isn’t it? How a pair of lone wolves like ourselves could find a pack who embraces us?” she mused.
Remus hoped she hadn’t noticed his face twitch and lip curl with revulsion at the ill-used simile.
“Somewhere, somehow, we must have done something good to deserve them,” he said.
Dollie nodded, silently agreeing. Then she must understand, he thought. He couldn’t betray Sirius or James or Peter any more than she can betray Lily or Vivian. As hard as he thought of it, the itch wouldn’t go away. Dollie was the rash that he had to scratch. He had to force himself to cough instead of laugh at the nonsensical metaphor.
“What happens now?” she suddenly asked.
“I’ll still tutor you, if you’ll have me.”
“Of course I still want you.”
His heart skipped a beat, taking her words out of context. He scooted over to the window so that they were face to face.
“Would it be at all strange if… if I said I’ll miss you during the summer?” he dared asked.
She blushed. “A little. But the best and nicest kind of strange.”
His face began to hurt from the smiling and quickly looked away in case it made her uncomfortable. As they passed by the familiar village that was almost as much a part of them as Hogwarts, Remus had a flicker of a thought.
“Afterwards… I mean, after summer, when we come back… other than studying, if you like, we could… during one of the weekend trips… Hogsmeade is – is very…” Words were failing him as pauses reigned in his spontaneous speech. “- very nice.”
“Are you asking me to go to Hogsmeade with you?” she asked.
“Yes. Will you?”
A/N: Fifth year is over but don't worry, the story continues in a couple of twists and turns. I'd hate to give anything away but... those who've been missing Sirius will be very happy ;)
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