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Chapter 40 : Christmas
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Sirius hadn’t been kidding – he did write to me. Every day, and sometimes more than once. Occasionally it was just a scrap of parchment that said something like Miss you, but usually it was rather more substantial as we tried to work out a way we could see each other as quickly as possible, and I was very grateful that owl post didn’t cost by the message because I was no lighter on the quill than he was. I hadn’t realised it was possible to miss someone that much, though I recognised it was probably due to the length of time we’d been together juxtaposed with the length of time we now had to spend apart more than any real closeness. It was better when he was at the Potters’ house in Somerset (as I soon learned – I’d had no idea it was so close) as it was much nearer, but when he was at home in London it could take a day or two to get a response. A couple of times I even had to borrow Dad’s owl, Koukou, as Cerridwyn hadn’t returned in time.
“You do seem to be getting a lot of mail these holidays,” Mum said one morning as Cerridwyn flew through the kitchen window and landed on my shoulder, a bit of parchment with Sirius’ handwriting on it tied neatly to her leg.
I shrugged, hoping that my cheeks were their usual colour. “Just comparing homework notes,” I invented. “We’ve got a lot we need to get through before we go back to school, so we’re all helping each other out.” I detached the letter from Cerridwyn’s leg and let her fly back outside.
“I remember what that was like,” Bea said, surprising me by backing me up. “Seventh year’s a cow, really. What assignments do you have?”
Right. Of course. She hadn’t been backing me up, she was digging me a hole. Now I had to think about schoolwork, which I really didn’t want to do. After all, I had much better things to occupy my thoughts with.
“Transfiguration,” I said quickly, trying frantically to remember what we had in fact been set. “Animagus transformations – theory only of course, she doesn’t expect us to be able to do something like that by the time we get back.”
“Of course,” she said, leaning forward enthusiastically. “That was really fascinating, and obviously she marks that pretty hard because she can do it herself so she knows what she’s on about. Don’t forget to take effects on the human form into accout, there’s usually some sort of lingering residue from the transformation, and when we did it not everyone picked up on that so there were some bonus marks awarded. That’s worth remembering.”
I was only vaguely paying attention, though I recognised that Bea was probably giving me some quite useful tips for that particular assignment. I was, however, distracted by the letter I hadn’t yet opened, dying to read what he’d written this time.
We were interrupted by the phone ringing, and Mum went to answer it. Within a minute she was looking terse and Bea and I looked at each other and groaned.
“Right. Okay, thanks, I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Mum said into the receiver. She hung up and turned to us. “That was work,” she said redundantly – we’d already worked that much out. “They’ve found some people – Muggles – who have turned up halfway to Bath with no idea of who or where they are. Looks like they might have been cursed or something. I have to go check it out.”
“Will Dad be there too?” Bea asked.
Mum shrugged. “Depends on how bad the damage is,” she said. “We’ll probably need some Obliviators there, though – hopefully your Ministry has been told already so we don’t have any delays.” She was moving quickly around the kitchen as she spoke, grabbing her purse and keys and shoving them into her handbag. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she said over her shoulder. “Good luck with the homework, Laura!”
Well, that was a nice escape, I thought, clutching my letter tightly in my hand and picking up my cup of tea with the other. “I’m going back upstairs,” I told Bea. “Need to get this homework done, you know?” And without waiting to hear if she responded to me or not, I hurried up to my room and closed the door so I could devour my letter.
Well, I’ve worked it out. Working around what you’ve already said about family obligations, I can get to Bristol on the Friday before Christmas, so if you can think of an excuse (Christmas shopping, perhaps? I’m sure you’ll think of something) we can maybe meet up then? You know the area better than I do so you can nominate a spot, but somewhere out of the way would be good, don’t you think? Because I don’t think I can last another day without seeing you, or at least knowing I can see you soon. I need something to look forward to that’s closer than the train trip back to school.
Please write back as soon as possible and tell me if it might work out. December 23rd isn’t that far away so if I knew we could get together then, that’d be fantastic. And you can talk me through the security systems you’ve got in place so I can know for sure that you’re safe.
This last bit was unnervingly common in his letters. Dad, although a pure-blood, was seen as a blood traitor because of his work, and Mum was a Muggle, so Sirius was concerned in case any of us became targeted by the Death Eaters. I had the feeling that he would come to Bristol in a second if I gave any hint of any sort of trouble whatsoever, and while I was dying to see him again I didn’t want to risk my parents’ wrath, so I put a lot of effort into trying to convince him that our home was safe and that I wasn’t doing anything that would put me in danger.
And so it was that two days before Christmas I told my parents I was off to do some last minute Christmas shopping – a front for a clandestine day with my new boyfriend. Oh how I loved calling him that: it made all the months of suffering worthwhile. It had taken a good half an hour to convince Mum that I would be safe enough if I kept to Muggle areas – the war hadn’t really hit Bristol yet, despite the Muggles half way to Bath who had indeed needed their memories to be modified – but fortunately in the end she agreed. Sirius and I arranged to meet at the city museum and art gallery, which was open but almost guaranteed to be deserted as most of the Muggle population was doing exactly what my parents thought I was doing.
He was already there when I arrived, leaning against the front of the building, looking amazing in a dragon-skin jacket, dark red jumper and jeans. I’d come feeling almost an impostor – what if I turned up and he said it was all a mistake? – but when he saw me he came straight over to me, kissed me deeply and held me so tightly I thought my ribs might crack. Okay, I thought, it wasn’t a mistake. I didn’t dream it. This is real.
“I missed you,” he said between kisses. “It’s far too long since I saw you.”
“I missed you too,” I said, holding him just as tight as he was holding me and savouring the taste he had left in my mouth. Eventually we parted and he put his arm around my waist as we went upstairs to the gallery to find a nice out-of-the-way spot where we could catch up properly and without interruptions.
“You know, you really are lovely,” he said, standing back to get a full view of me. “I can’t believe it took me five and a half years to realise it.”
“Six and a half,” I corrected him automatically.
“We’ve been at school for six and a half years,” I explained.
He grinned. “Ah, but I noticed after five and a half,” he said smugly. “It just took me forever to get up the guts to tell you. Oh, and that reminds me …” He pulled a package out of his pocket and pressing it into my hand. “This is for you,” he said quietly. “Merry Christmas.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” I said.
“Yes I did,” he said. “I bought this ages ago, in the hope it might be appropriate to give it to you at some point.”
I unwrapped the package, revealing a flat box about one by five inches. Opening it, I saw a gold bracelet, delicate yet bold, boasting a single daffodil charm. Clearly goblin-made, it was one of the most stunning things I’d ever seen.
“It’s beautiful!” I gasped, awestruck. “Exactly what I would have chosen if you’d asked me to pick one. But it must have cost you a fortune!” I looked up at him, angry yet pleased he would spend so much on me.
He smiled, ignoring the cost jibe. “I knew you’d like it. After I saw how much you liked the cla– ” He stopped, checking himself.
“The what?” I asked. “The clasp?” He nodded mutely. “That was you?” I asked in shock, fingering the item in question which was as always attached to my clothing.
Wordlessly he got out his wand and, tracing the air, drew with fire the strange symbol on the back of the clasp. The one I had assumed was a goblin mark. I saw now it was his initials superimposed over each other – SOB – in an elegant script. “You’re not angry with me?”
“Of course not!” I said, giving him a hug and reaching up to kiss him on the cheek. “Why would I be angry with you? I love it! But how … why …” I trailed off, not exactly sure what I was trying to ask.
“I bought it for you for your birthday,” he said, his arms back around me. “I was in Hogsmeade and Clio and I had had a fight, so I went off to get things ready for the party. Bought some Firewhisky and a few cases of butterbeer to be collected later, that sort of thing, so that was one less thing to organise. And I was going to get you something small, you know, a token, since you were having a joint party with Moony and it would be rude not to, but I didn’t know you that well so I dropped into that jeweller’s. Thought I’d get some earrings or something, I wasn’t sure.”
He paused, watching my face. “And then I saw the clasp and I just knew you would love it, and before I knew what I was doing I’d bought it and was having it inscribed. So that was that. Until on the way back to school I realised I’d just spent more on you than I had on Moony, and way more than I’d spent on Clio for Valentines Day, and that it might not be appropriate to give it to you since I was with Clio – or not, we’d just broken up – and you were with Aubrey. And I couldn’t hold on to it or take it back ’cause it’d been engraved, and anyway I knew I wanted you to have it. I couldn’t have said why, but I did. So I sent it anonymously.”
I kissed him again. “And I loved it!”
He smiled again, somewhat ruefully this time. “You could have fooled me. You didn’t wear it for weeks; I thought I’d completely misjudged you and what you liked. And then we had the Easter holidays and I didn’t see you for a fortnight, and suddenly I realised why it had felt so important to give it to you, but you were still with Aubrey so I was jealous as hell. I thought if he’d given it to you, you would have worn it for sure, like you did with that awful cloak.”
“Didn’t you know?” I asked, surprised. “Because it was anonymous, we took it to McGonagall to get it checked for jinxes. I’d been identified as a target, apparently. It took ages to get it back.”
“Is that all?” he asked. “And here was me, imagining all sorts of things. I even thought Aubrey had told you not to wear it ’cause he didn’t give it to you.” He let go of me and started fastening the bracelet around my wrist. “Now this, I’ve had it sized down a bit, your wrists are so tiny,” he said. “Hope I got it the right size.” He finished, and I flung my arm towards the ground in an effort to dislodge the bracelet, to see if it would drop down over my hand. It stayed put.
“Perfect,” I said, unable to stop smiling. “But then again, so are you.”
After a couple of hours we wandered back outside into the cold December air to find somewhere for lunch. I wasn’t keen to spend too much time outdoors on the off chance I was seen by someone I knew, so we found a nearby pub and grabbed a table near the back of the room.
He smiled at me as we sat down. “Now, what would you like to drink? I hear there’s a micro-brewery around here somewhere …”
I shook my head. “I’m not eighteen yet, remember?”
“So?” He looked surprised. “Why would that matter?”
“Legal age for Muggles,” I explained.
He just winked at me, smiling broadly. “Laura, why do you think Confundus Charms were invented?” He stood up. “I’ll be right back.”
A minute or so later he returned, beaming at me and carrying two pints of lager and a couple of menus. “This has taken far too long to happen,” he said, handing me a drink. “You and me. We could have had months already. If only I’d realised!”
“And if only I had too,” I agreed, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. “It never even occurred to me that I had a chance, though, not realistically. I mean, half the school was after you. What chance was there that you’d even look at me?”
He laughed as he sat down again. “Well it’s not like I didn’t have any competition for you, either.”
I was stunned. “Competition? For me?”
He smiled. “You never believe people when they tell you how lovely you are, do you? Yes, of course there was competition. Carmichael, Dearborn, Whitby – and that’s just who comes to mind now. Even Moony was threatening to ask you out, though I think that was more his way of pushing me along a bit.” He paused. “What is it with you and prefects, anyway?”
“I have no idea,” I said vaguely, struggling to take in what he was saying. “You’re actually serious, aren’t you?”
He smiled mischievously. “Of course I’m Sirius.”
“Ha ha ha. But you know what I mean.”
“I do, and that’s exactly my point,” he said, more gravely this time. “You need to start realising how incredible you are. I remember spilling my guts once and telling you you were beautiful, and you thought I was humouring you.”
I thought about when he might have said that and realised it must have been that day at Hogsmeade, way back when I had just dumped Bertram. “You weren’t?”
He shook his head in mock exasperation. “Come on, Laura, do you really think I tell people they’re beautiful at the drop of a wand? Of course I wasn’t humouring you. You are beautiful, and you’re smart, and you’re funny, and you’re – well, you’re just about perfect. You just need to believe it.”
He really meant it. This was astonishing. I clearly wasn’t as ordinary as I had always believed. “Oh Merlin,” I said, shaking my head at my own behaviour. “I spent all of last term obsessing over you, absolutely convinced it could never happen. I was even making myself miserable because of it.”
“And all that time I was crazy about you,” he admitted. “But you never gave me any clues, you didn’t flirt, you barely treated me any differently to, say, James. I had no idea what you thought of me.” He shook his head in frustration. “I spent months trying to weasel my way closer to you but each time I got near enough to say anything you got all tense and turned away. Half the time you looked so scared that I thought you must have known and were trying to put me off.”
I smiled wryly and took a sip of my lager. “No, that was because I didn’t trust myself around you. I was petrified I’d do something that could end up humiliating me. Quite frankly, Sirius, I thought that if you found out how much I liked you you’d think I was just like Elvira.” I shuddered involuntarily – the idea that he might have not only rejected me but started avoiding me altogether had been enough to stop any thoughts I might have had in letting him know.
He looked surprised. “But I could never think you were like her. The two of you have nothing in common. Well, species, perhaps, but thinking about it I’m not even convinced of that.”
“I don’t know,” I said dryly. “I thought we had a lot in common. We were both borderline obsessed with you. Only difference was that I didn’t want anyone to know. I mean, if you knew, and you didn’t like me, I would have been mortified, and you most probably would have stopped talking to me. And you can call me a coward if you like but I couldn’t handle that, I needed to have you around.”
He laughed. “Did you really think that? But that’s absurd. Assuming there could be a world where I didn’t realise how amazing you are, I might have been a bit uncomfortable, but I would never have stopped talking to you.” He kissed my hand gently, smiling at my incredulous look. “Think about it, Laura, how many of them have I ever been friends with?”
I thought about it. “None?”
“Exactly.” He smiled at me. “There’s a big difference between someone who actually knows you, and someone who has this idealised image of you that you couldn’t live up to even if you wanted to.”
“That makes sense,” I admitted, realising I was grinning from ear to ear. Actually, it was rather like the problem I’d had with Bertram. “And to be honest, before I really knew you I wasn’t interested in the slightest.”
“Which is fine by me,” he said. “It means you’re more interested in what’s on the inside. Proof that you’re nothing like Vablatsky.”
I looked at him. “So what made you finally do something?”
He paused as if thinking. “I couldn’t stand not knowing,” he said eventually. “I couldn’t work out what you thought of me. Everything I heard and saw pushed me in different directions as to how you might have felt. Like I said on the train, sometimes I thought I was your absolute last choice, and you telling me that day with the giggler that you didn’t care who I snogged didn’t help.”
I blushed. “It was what I thought you wanted me to say. And I was just in shock, it was like walking in on my worst nightmare.”
He shook his head. “Well, if you had to see that, what I wanted was for you to get jealous. Visibly, that is, not some hidden thing that I didn’t know about. And, from what I could see, you didn’t.”
I smiled wryly. “Didn’t you notice I didn’t go down to dinner that night? That was because I was crying into my pillow. I felt like the world had ended.”
“Was that what it was?” he asked, looking surprised. “Lily just said you weren’t well, so I guess I took it at face value, and it explained why you’d looked a bit pale that afternoon. And then I wanted to explain everything to you the next day but you weren’t at breakfast either.”
I laughed. “That was when I fell down the stairs, wasn’t it? Alecto Carrow actually hit me with a Trip Jinx, what were the chances? And then Remus had to help me to the hospital wing. I was a right mess.”
“I was worried as hell about you that day,” he admitted. “Couldn’t concentrate during Transfiguration at all, ended up getting a detention from McGonagall because I wasn’t paying attention. And then I borrowed Prongs’ Cloak and snuck into the hospital wing to see you during break, but you were asleep so I didn’t know if you were still hurt or not. I was so relieved when you showed up at lunch time.”
I shook my head a bit. “And you never realised how upset I was about that girl? Goodness, I must be better at hiding things than I thought.”
He nodded. “You certainly are. I had no idea. I just knew that I had to keep trying or I’d never know. But every time I did try, something would happen to interrupt or I’d just lose my nerve.” He paused again, looking at me. “But then the way you looked that night, any modicum of self-control I might have had just disappeared. So I thought I’d just do it before I chickened out again.” He grinned. “If it didn’t work, you would have got a long letter of apology by the time you got home from the train.”
I smiled again. “Right. I’ll just say that I’m glad you took the chance.” Then something else occurred to me and I changed the subject. “By the way, what happened with Charlotte and Remus? Did he get cold feet or what?”
He looked a little uncomfortable. “ Yeah, kind of,” he admitted. “That’s not really for me to say, though, he hasn’t said I’m allowed to tell anyone. Not even you.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “I’m guessing that would be one of those rules you guys have, then, wouldn’t it.”
He looked surprised. “You know about those?”
I smiled. “Only that they exist. I don’t really get what they are, but it’s clear that you’ve got, I don’t know, a code of conduct or something that you all stick to.”
“Well, that’s one way of looking at it,” he said. “Yes, you’re right. In this case, answering that question in any detail would be breaking a confidence. And I can’t do that.”
“Of course not,” I agreed. “Well, then, I won’t ask you any more.”
He looked pleased. “Now,” he said, changing the subject, “talk me through the defences you’ve got set up at home …”
After we had eaten and I had finally convinced him that my father’s precautions for our house and family were good enough, we found a quiet corner nearby and picked up where we had left off earlier. I cast an Impervius Charm on us to shield us from the snow that had started falling, and standing there in his arms I felt absolutely blissful. There could not have been a more perfect day.
Eventually we broke apart, uncomfortably aware of the darkening sky. “I should be getting back,” I said, unable to wrench myself away from him. “Can we do this again?”
He started suddenly. “I almost forgot,” he said, pulling an envelope out of his jeans pocket. “This is for you. Party at Prongs’ place, for New Years. Tell your folks the whole year’s been invited, kind of a final bash before school finishes. That is, they haven’t, but your family don’t need to know that. Come early and stay as long as you can.”
I took the envelope, smiling broadly. The Potters’ New Years party happened annually and half the school coveted an invitation, probably because it meant bringing in the new year with the two most popular boys in school, but obviously I had never been included before. I knew Lily had been invited every year since fourth year, but I was pretty sure this would be the first time she would accept. It was perfect, a brilliant excuse to see him again before we went back to school.
“And don’t forget these,” Sirius said, waving his wand and conjuring up some shopping bags. “You are supposed to have been doing your Christmas shopping today, after all.” Struck by his attention to detail, I took the bags.
“Good thinking.” It was just as well I’d already done all my shopping, as the bags would disappear after a few hours like all conjured items, but they would definitely do as cover for when I arrived home. I looked at him and, dropping the bags, put my arms around his waist underneath his jacket. “I don’t want you to go,” I said, sounding unnervingly like a small child.
“I don’t want to go either,” he said gently, returning the gesture and resting his forehead on mine, “but I don’t think we have a choice. Not unless you want daddy dearest to find out about us. And I’d see you safely home, but …” His voice trailed off, but I knew what he meant. Even showing up on my street was risky if we didn’t want to get caught.
“I know.” I reluctantly loosened my grip but put my hand to his face, where the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow were starting to appear around his cheek and jawline. He leaned in and kissed me, a gentle yet purposeful kiss that lasted somewhere between a few seconds and half an hour, I really couldn’t say.
“See you next week, then,” he said once we had finished. “Promise you’ll come.”
“I promise,” I said happily. “Dragons couldn’t keep me away.”
He smiled and Disapparated, leaving me standing in the snow with a pile of ‘shopping’. Smiling to myself, I followed his example, appearing in our back garden a second later laden with shopping bags.
Author’s note: Cliché alert! Yes, I admit it, I have succumbed to another cliché for fics of this era, which is to put a big party on at the Potters’ place during the Christmas/New Year period. And my excuse? Well, it fit my story, and we don’t have anything from JKR that says it didn’t happen …
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