Chapter 29 : cough syrup
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So I run now to the things they said could restore me
Restore life the way it should be
I'm waiting for this cough syrup to come down
One more spoon of cough syrup now
Cough Syrup -- Young the Giant
Rainne is numb. She hears a muffled voice, but can’t be bothered to focus on it. She stares straight ahead, hands clenched on either side of her around the edge of her seat. Knuckles white. She can’t wrap her head around this, this odd scene. Mrs. Potter sits beside her, watching her patiently. A woman she’s only just met is accompanying her to the most difficult moment of her life. How does that make sense? And why does she feel so comforted by her presence? Rainne can’t help but be confused by her surroundings. By the woman beside her, by the shelves lined with books concerning every aspect of the law.
By the short piece of paper on the nearly empty desk.
By the lawyer, the bearer of the news.
Her eyes, unblinking, fix on the scene that lays beyond the four walls confining her in this suffocating space. Glittering snow covers everything. The otherwise bare branches droop under the weight, threatening to snap at any moment. Though the sky above is grey, the snow is nearly blinding. Rainne forces herself to stare at it, welcoming the pain in her eyes from the dazzling light. The road in front of the small law office is empty. Everyone is at home, no doubt snuggling around the fire, enjoying the holiday with their families.
Rainne takes in a deep, shaky breath and closes her eyes. She will not think about that. She can’t.
When she closes her eyes, the lawyer’s voice becomes clearer. She turns her head at the sound, eyes still shut lightly. She imagines him sitting in front of her, hands joined in front of him atop the desk. Eyes overflowing with pity. In her mind, he holds satan’s trident, red horns breaking through the skin of his forehead.
Her eyes snap open, and he seems to breathe a sigh of relief.
“Miss Pemberton, do you understand what is being left in your name?”
She nods, though she doesn’t.
“A trust has been set up in your name, and the deed of the house will be transferred to you once you are of age.”
She speaks for the first time since she entered the cold room, “Sell it.”
The lawyer blinks, surprised at her words. After a moment’s pause, he says, “That can be done. The amount it sells for will also be put in your trust,” he makes note of this and she looks away, staring up at the ceiling in an attempt to hold back her tears. She is nearly unsuccessful, finally blinking away the tears that threaten to flow like endless rivers.
Mrs. Potter, sensing this, reaches out for one of her white knuckled hands, grasping it firmly in hers. Rainne looks at her in near disbelief. Mrs. Potter merely concedes a small smile and a nod of reassurance. Rainne breathes slowly and turns back to the lawyer as he speaks once more.
“...So all I need is a signature and you’ll be good to go,” he says, handing her a muggle pen.
It feels foreign in her hand. She has become so used to quills and ink that she almost makes to dip it before writing, but quickly catches herself.
“Yes, here,” says the lawyer, pointing at the spot marked with an x. Rainne is reminded of pirates and the finding of treasure on an island. If this is her treasure, it has come at a terrible cost. Feeling like she is signing away her soul, she shoves the paper back at him.
“Is there anything else you need from her?” asks Mrs. Potter.
The lawyer shakes his head, “No. You are free to go.”
“Thank you,” Mrs. Potter says for Rainne. They leave the office, stepping outside into the cold December air. It bites at Rainne’s skin, “Ready to go?” asks Mrs. Potter, extending her arm as she takes out her wand. Rainne takes her arm.
Just as Mrs. Potter flicks her wand to apparate, Rainne puts her arms firmly around her, pulling her into a fierce embrace. As they are pulled through space and their guts are turned inside out, Rainne weeps freely into Mrs. Potter’s coat. After their four feet land firmly on the ground, Mrs. Potter holds Rainne in her arms.
“Don’t worry, Rainne,” she says quietly, planting a soft kiss on the top of her head, “We’re here for anything you need.”
Rainne chokes out her sobs, nodding in a way of response. Mrs. Potter pats her back, pulling back slightly, “Let’s go inside, yeah? It’s a bit cold out.”
Rainne nods, swallowing. She exhales and blinks rapidly, wiping away the tears that seem to be freezing to her skin.
Upon entering the mansion, the bright Christmas tree painfully reminds Rainne what day it is. The living room is empty, for which she is grateful. Through the kitchen window she sees the boys playing quidditch over the covered pool. With one last pat from Mrs. Potter, Rainne heads upstairs to the room she hesitantly calls her own. She is surprised when she finds that it isn’t empty.
“Ben?” she says as she takes her coat off. He smiles at her, “I thought you were flying outside.”
He shakes his head. He is laying on his side, his jaw resting on the palm of his hand, “The rest of the blokes are. I’ve been waiting here for you,” sitting up, he extends his arms to her. She walks over to him, sitting on his lap as he holds her.
“I don’t know what to do,” she says, “I feel so empty. My family is gone.”
She is surprised at the ease with which these words come out, glad she can express herself properly.
Ben sighs, “I know, babe,” he strokes her hair, “I’ve got something that might take your mind off things.”
She looks up at him, “What is it?”
“I’ve got your present,” he says. Blushing, he adds, “Do you want it?”
She nods, standing up, “Hold on, let me get yours.”
As she rummages through her trunk, he takes a small white box out of his trouser pocket. When she turns to face him, she is holding a nearly identical package, only slightly larger.
“You first,” she says, handing it to him. After setting aside her own gift, he grins at her, lifting the lid to reveal a golden watch, “I know you’ll get one for your seventeenth birthday soon,” she says, “But when I saw these I couldn’t resist.”
“These?” he asks. She motions to the matching watch on her wrist.
“Put it on,” she urges, a small smile forming on her chapped lips.
He does, his brow furrowing in confusion, “It’s warm,” he notices.
She nods, “The closer we are the warmer they get,” she says. He puts his hand on her cheek and they both notice the heat slowly rising around their wrists as he does so. Rainne’s heart accelerates as he pores into her eyes. He glances at her lips and closes the space between them, the metal nearly burning into their skin. Rainne wraps her arms around his neck, realising how much she has missed his touch since the holiday began. When he tries to pull away, she doesn’t allow it, following him with her lips. She needs to distract herself from the aching in her heart. What better way to do that than a good snog?
Laughing, he manages to break away, much to her dismay, “Hold on, Rainne,” he smiles, “Can I give you your present now?” when she pouts, he says, “It’ll only be a mo’, don’t worry.”
He hands her the box and she opens it slowly. He grins as she lifts the chain from the box, a small golden snitch at the end of it.
“You’re my snitch,” he says to her. After a pause, “I’m so glad I caught you.”
She smiles, turning her back to him and lifting her hair up, “Put it on for me?” he obeys, running his fingers over her neck as he does so. The second it is clasped shut, she turns to face him, crashing her lips onto his.
“Where are they?” asks James, “We’re about to have dinner!” he stomps into the kitchen, staining the linoleum with muddy snow. Closely followed by Sirius, he frowns, “They’re going to miss presents!”
Sirius rolls his eyes, “Prongs,” he says, staring pointedly at his own bare feet, then at the dirty boots on James’s, “Mum is going to have a fit if she sees you.”
James nearly jumps out of his shoes, tossing them outside before he shuts the sliding door behind him. Now looking for an excuse to leave the scene of the crime, he says, “I’ll check downstairs, you check upstairs,” he nods firmly and makes a mad dash out of the kitchen. Sirius chuckles and makes his way to the second floor.
“Oh, Benjamin,” he calls, opening a door. He shuts it after confirming it is empty, doing the same with the next, “Prongsie misses you dearly!” Empty, “Says he can’t imagine life without you…” Empty, “Come on, Nighstkin, let’s not ruin Christmas for him!” Em- very much not empty.
Sirius clasps his free hand over his eyes, the other still holding the door open. Rainne scrambles to sit up, horrified. Ben sits up as well, completely unabashed. Sirius’s cheeks burn a deep scarlet. Though they were in no way indecent, Sirius decides he never wishes to see this sight again, a pang ringing through his chest. He clears his throat, “Right. Er… Dinner,” he shuts the door behind him, sighing. This is never going to be easy.
The misfit family sits around the long dining table, all taking up one end, leaving the rest empty. James, Sirius, and Mr. Potter take up one side, eyeing the food greedily. Ben, Rainne, and Mrs. Potter sit opposite them. As if acting on a silent command, the group digs into the food. Rainne mostly focuses on whatever greenery she can find, glad the rest are distracted by their hunger. For a while, there is silence around them. The only sound made by the setting down of goblets after a long swig, or the scraping of silverware against Mrs. Potter’s finest china.
Rainne watches their cues, pretending to grow full as they do. Though she is forcing herself to eat, she knows she will never let herself get remotely close to feeling as bloated as they soon do. Nearly at the same time, they all lean back against their chairs, exhaustion taking over.
“Mum,” says Sirius after stifling a belch, “That has got to be the best meal you’ve ever prepared.”
Mrs. Potter rolls her eyes at his flattery, “Are you sure you could taste anything?” she jokes, “I’m not quite sure I saw you chew even one bite.”
James impatiently interrupts, “Presents! Mum, presents!” though his stomach is full with what feels like lead, he bounces up and down on his seat, excited as he has always been Christmas day. As a child, in an attempt to instill patience into him, the Potters started a tradition of present opening after Christmas dinner. It seemed to work to an extent, though James still remains quite antsy the closer the moment gets.
“Alright,” she concedes, “Presents!”
James cheers, leading everyone into the living room at a run. They follow him at a slow walk, sluggish after Mrs. Potter’s feast. They all take seats on plush furniture, save for James who sits on the floor, right beside the tree. Ben and Rainne sit as close as they can on the loveseat. Sirius eyes her new necklace sadly.
James begins to hand out the gifts, setting his own aside. Once the presents have been distributed to their owners, James yells, “Alright, open!”
Playing along, they all rapidly rip apart the wrapping paper. The room is quickly filled with ‘you shouldn’t have’s and ‘this is great’s. Sirius stares at Rainne, wishing he could have gotten her something more meaningful.
No, you dolt. How many times do we need to go through this? She’s not yours.
He clenches his jaw, giving Mr. Potter a rather curt thank you for his new beater’s bat. James grins happily as everyone smiles at their presents. This is easily his favourite holiday. Mrs. Potter, her feigned excitement waning, stifles a yawn.
“I think I’m ready for bed,” she says, giving her husband a meaningful look. He nods and follows her to their room.
“Goodnight,” they call over their shoulders, “Don’t get into too much trouble.”
James rolls his eyes, quick to clean up the gift paper, “I wish Evans was here,” he pouts.
“Whatever, mate,” says Ben, “You’ll see her tomorrow at the ball.”
At this, Rainne pales considerably. She hasn’t given the ball much thought since the holiday began. She hasn’t even bought a dress. She quickly changes the subject.
“What did you think of your gifts?” she asks James and Sirius. James, who had opened all of his presents in a great rush, blushes lightly.
“Er… Which one was yours?” he asks.
Rainne chuckles, “It’s the book, James.”
“Oh!” he exclaims, grabbing the bright pink hardback, “Do you really think I need this to make Evans fall for me? I am offended!”
“It couldn’t hurt,” she says. She turns to Sirius, “What about you?”
He holds the dark box in his hand, pretending to know what it is, “Oh, it’s lovely, Rainne.”
Catching on, she says, “Read the back.”
“What’s a… prophylactic?” he asks.
Rainne laughs out loud this time, and she is met by confused look from the three Marauders.
“They’re rubbers, Sirius,” his face is blank.
“They’re for having sex!” she says, “You put them on… you know… And they… well, they prevent pregnancy. Among other things.”
“Why would you need ru- rubbers, were they?” she nods, “Why would you need that when you can do a simple charm?”
“I think it’s a gag gift, Padfoot,” says Ben, “You are the school playboy.”
The words are like daggers flying through Sirius’s chest. Is that all Rainne sees him as? Someone that sleeps around? He forces a smile.
“Ah, right,” he says, “Thanks, Rainne.”
She smiles, “Oh,” she turns back to James. Sirius wishes her attention would remain on him for just a moment longer, “Don’t let Lily see that. She was with me when I bought it, almost saw it, mind you.”
James grins, “No worries.”
Rainne thanks them both for their gift basket from Zonko’s, and suggests a game of exploding snap. Anything to keep her mind off the ball. After a few games, the boys slow in their reaction time, and the smell of burning hair fills the room. They are obviously tired, still full from dinner. Rainne urges them to play. Her mind is buzzing, and nothing seems to slow it down.
One too many rounds in, James yawns, “I’m going to bed.”
“I can hardly keep my eyes open,” agrees Sirius. Rainne sighs.
“It’s okay babe,” says Ben, not noticing Sirius’s flinch at the word, “We can play tomorrow.”
Rainne smiles at him and, after wishing James and Sirius a goodnight, follows him back up to their room. They crawl into bed, and Ben is quick to put his arms around her, both laying on their sides. Rainne’s eyes remain wide for hours as thoughts bounce off the walls of her mind. She listens to their watches tick, so in tune with each other.
What horrors will tomorrow bring?
Rainne wakens suddenly, alone. She sits up with a rigid back. In a sudden panic, she feels around the bed frantically. Something crinkles against her fingers and she snatches it.
Got dragged to Diagon Alley to buy some dress robes.
Can’t wait to see you at the ball tonight.
Rainne groans and falls back onto the bed, her head meeting the soft pillow with a quiet sort of thud. How will she distract herself without his lips? She rolls over and falls out of the bed, laying on the marble floor. It’s cold against her skin, reminding her of the lack of heat around her wrist. She wishes it would burn into her skin, her arms wrapped around him.
A knock on the door forces her to sit up, her back against the side of the bed.
“Rainne?” it’s Mrs. Potter. Rainne calls her in, “The boys went shopping for dress robes, and I was wondering if you needed a dress for tonight,” Rainne nods, “Lily needs one as well. I thought we could have a girl’s day.”
Rainne smiles, “I-I’d like that.”
Mrs. Potter smiles back, “I’ll let you get ready. I’ve already sent an owl to Lily. There’s breakfast in the kitchen,” she backs out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
Rainne slumps her head back, leaning it on the top of the bed. She brings her hands to her face and drags them down, tugging at her skin. All she wants right now is to fall into a deep slumber. She wants to be the princess from the fairytale her mother used to read to her. The one that slept for years and years, not a worry on her mind.
Forcing her body to move, she drags her feet into the bathroom, into the shower. Once again, she scalds her back with the burning water. Her back is not used to this mattress, and the water beats the knots out of her spine. Her hair, taking on the appearance of liquid chocolate, sticks to her shoulders, to her cheeks.
A distant door opens, then shuts. Lily has arrived. Allowing herself a few more moments, she finally shuts off the water and dries off. The scabs on her wrist are gone, replaced by fresh scars. She runs her fingers over them before tugging a shirt over her head, rubbing her hair with a towel.
“Thanks for inviting me, Mrs. Potter,” Rainne hears Lily say as she thumps down the stairs, “I’ve never been to a ball. I wouldn’t know what to wear.”
Rainne enters the kitchen as Mrs. Potter speaks through pursed lips, “Yes, I’m quite surprised James has just gotten around to inviting you. Nervous, I suppose.”
Lily blushes and mumbles something that Mrs. Potter is nice enough to ignore, choosing instead to look up at Rainne, “Darling! Have a spot of breakfast,” she gestures to the remaining food, once again rivaling the Hogwarts meals, “Once you’ve finished we can go to Diagon Alley.”
Rainne smiles, greeting Lily, “I’m not very hungry,” she says.
“Oh, pish posh!” says Mrs. Potter. She walks around the island counter and pushes Rainne into a seat, “Eat!” she commands.
Rainne obeys, pouring some cereal into a bowl.
As she eats, Lily says, “The girls and I got you something together, but… Well, I couldn’t resist,” Rainne watches as she pulls a parcel out of her handbag, setting it on the counter. After swallowing down the cereal, she opens it carefully. Lily grins, unable to stop herself, “It’s like a mini book club! We can read books together, and discuss them, and keep track of everything.”
Rainne grins as well, looking through the contents.
“I thought we could stop by a bookshop on our next Hogsmeade trip,” Lily continues, “Carmen and Marlene don’t really like to read, but I just thought this would be so fun!” she looks at Rainne, a hopeful glint in her emerald eyes.
Rainne’s smile widens, “It’s amazing,” she reaches for a hug that Lily takes happily, “I love it,” taking one last bite under Mrs. Potter’s watchful gaze, she leads Lily to the tree, pointing out her own gift.
Lily tears the wrapping paper off quickly, holding the small snow globe in her hands. In the centre of the globe is a moving photograph of Lily and Rainne laughing, fading into another, and another. Lily is beaming.
“Rainne, this is so lovely,” she says, causing Rainne to blush.
“Girls!” calls Mrs. Potter from the kitchen. With a wave of her wand, the dishes have taken to cleaning themselves, “Are you ready to go?” she says once she joins them in the living room. They nod and she leads them to the fireplace, “Today we’ll be travelling by floo powder,” she says, picking some up out of a pot beside the fireplace, “Have either of you…” she stops at the confused looks on their faces.
“I think I’ve read about it,” says Lily.
“Of course,” says Mrs. Potter, “I’d forgotten you’re both muggleborns. Silly me!” she holds the pot up to both of them, “All you need to do is stand in the fireplace and say --very clearly, mind you --the name of your destination. In this case, it is Diagon Alley.”
Rainne, unsure, stands on the ashes. Mrs. Potter gives her a reassuring nod, “D-Diagon Alley,” she stutters. Green flames engulf her, and she finds herself spinning. She hears the voices of a hundred families before stumbling to her feet. Blinking the dust out of her eyes, she notices she has appeared in Flourish and Blotts. Realising Lily can’t be far behind, she quickly steps into the store, hearing Lily coughing upon her own arrival. Mrs. Potter soon appears, and with a flourish of her wand their robes return to their previously clean state.
“Alright, ladies, this way to Twilfitt and Tatting’s,” says Mrs. Potter. Lily and Rainne glance at each other. It’s common knowledge that Twilfitt and Tatting’s is the most expensive shop on Diagon Alley. Even though Rainne recently inherited a surprising amount of money from her grandparents, none of it is in her name yet. By the look on Lily’s face it’s unlikely that she will be able to afford anything in the store either.
Mrs. Potter, unaware of this, strides into the shop, the bell on the doorway ringing as the three of them enter. Rainne and Lily can’t help but gasp. Beautiful clothing, ranging from summer shorts to wedding dresses, line the walls and racks. Mrs. Potter greets the young witch and leads them to the very back of the shop. Rainne glides her hands over the fabrics as she passes through the racks of clothing, relishing in the different textures against her fingers. Lily grasps at different garments, only to quickly be distracted by another, and another, and another.
When they reach the formalwear, they both need a moment to check if they have been immobilized.
“Well,” says Mrs. Potter, “Have at it!”
Lily and Rainne snap out of their trance and run to the dresses. The young witch at the counter comes to join them. Waving her wand at the dresses they choose, she levitates them as to leave their arms empty. She chats ildly with Mrs. Potter.
“Another Christmas ball, Mrs. Potter?” she asks, a note of longing in her voice.
“Yes, I’m afraid,” says Mrs. Potter, smiling at the girls’ excitement, “James just couldn’t live without it,” making sure Lily is distracted, she adds in a hushed whisper, “I suspect he finally plucked up the courage to invite Lily.”
The young witch gives her a knowing look, no doubt aware of James’s feelings for Lily. By the way their conversation continues, Rainne can tell Mrs. Potter is a very loyal customer, and wonders if all of her clothes are of the Twilfitt and Tatting’s brand.
“Okay,” says Lily, finally, “I’ve got enough gowns for a lifetime,” Rainne nods in agreement, “Let’s try them on, yeah?” they both head to the dressing rooms, the dresses floating after them.
Their excitement soon dies down when they realise how picky they are.
“This one has a weird seam,” says Rainne, tossing a golden one and draping it over the door.
“This one clashes with my hair,” says Lily as she unzips a bright red one.
They go on like this for quite sometime, discarding unwanted dresses with ease. Mrs. Potter smiles as she continues to chat with the young witch --her name, Rainne learns, is Alice --picking out two dresses.
“I think these would suit you nicely,” she says, handing them the gowns through the cracks in their nearly shut doors, which they quickly close.
Silence fills the air.
Rainne stares at her reflection in disbelief. The deep red strapless ball gown, encrusted with tiny jewels on the bust, is the most beautiful dress she has ever seen.
Simultaneously, Rainne and Lily slam their doors open, staring at each other.
“They’re perfect,” says Lily, sporting a forest green mermaid gown. Her eyes linger on Rainne’s dress before she turns to Mrs. Potter, “But I’m afraid I can’t afford this,” she says sadly, looking down at the green fabric. She runs her hands over it.
Mrs. Potter scoffs, “Did you really think I would let you purchase these yourselves?” Rainne and Lily stare at her, “These are my Christmas gifts to the both of you. Now go get changed, we’ve got to get your hair done for tonight.”
Lily and Rainne continue to stare at her, agape. She chuckles, “I believe the words you are looking for are thank you. Now go, change!”
They blink, thank her, and run to change. When they re enter the shop, Alice is already ringing them up at the register. At the counter, Rainne finds her salvation. She grabs the long gloves, which miraculously match her dress, and looks up at Mrs. Potter. She nods and Alice adds them to the total.
Rainne feels as if a boulder of worry has been lifted from her shoulders. How had she not thought of this sooner? Breathing easier, she follows Lily and Mrs. Potter back through the fireplace at Flourish and Blotts, up the stairs and into Mr. and Mrs. Potter’s room. They hang their dresses on the closet door beside Mrs. Potter’s, a sleeveless, skin tight, silver floor length gown.
Mrs. Potter has moved the king sized bed to one side of the room to leave space for three vanities that sit side by side. The next few hours are filled with laughter, makeup, and hair products. Even though they have plenty of time to prepare for the party, it seems to fly by. Fickle in their style, Lily and Rainne change their hairstyle too many times to keep track. They rub their makeup off only to replace it with identical brushstrokes. Mrs. Potter smiles at their indecisiveness, finished long before they have decided on a look.
Rainne feels guilty for being this happy. It has been a long time since she’s bonded with anyone like this. In Mrs. Potter she finds the mother she wishes she still had, in Lily the sister she never did. In her eyes, these people are her family now. It’s the sixth year gryffindors she shares classes with, the Potters that took her in. They are all she has left now.
She vows to make the best of it.
author’s note: i’m so terrible, i know! please forgive me! i rewrote this chapter about a million times. i just couldn’t get it write. but now it’s finally up, and i promise to be more prompt with my updates! please let me know what you think of it, hopefully i’ll have the next one up very soon. thank you for reading!
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