Throw Your Arms Around Me
I own nothing. The Buffy stuff is still Joss Whedon’s. The Harry Potter stuff is still J.K. Rowling’s. Throw Your Arms Around Me is by Hunters & Collectors. None of those people are me.A.N.:
Bet you all thought you’d never see this, but here it is. The final chapter at last! I want to say a huge thank you to those of you who have supported me and stuck with me through all these months that I haven’t given you anything. Thanks for keeping the faith, you’ve kept me writing in the three minutes a week I have in which to do so. Love you all.
CHAPTER FORTYThrow Your Arms Around MeWe may never meet again, so shed your skin and let’s get started
You will throw your arms around me…
"So, who's going to do it?"
They'd just come from the meeting in the Great Hall and the Marauders were holding a meeting of their own in the Room of Requirement. James, Sirius and Dawn all looked determined to join the training program, but Peter, and to everyone's surprise Remus, did not look so certain.
"I'm in," Sirius said, lounging back against Dawn. "If my dear old Hag-Mum won't sign the permission form I'll just forge it. I bet Dumbledore won't care - he never said anything about the Hogsmeade weekend slip."
James snorted. "Well I'll just get Dad to sign mine. You know, if Mum hasn't already killed him for even suggesting it."
"Uh-huh. I'm sold," Dawn said.
She felt Sirius tense against her and turn to catch her eye and knew what was coming. She arched an eyebrow.
"Don't give me that look, Kitten," he scolded gently. "You know what my problem is. What if you get hurt?"
"What if I slip on a bar of soap in the shower?"
"Merlin, you'll be killed!" Remus screamed hysterically.
James laughed loudly, Dawn allowed herself a quick smirk before leaping in to press her advantage. "Is the fact that it's dangerous and I'm going to be scared out of my mind for you going to stop you? No, didn't think so, baby. Besides, hello, mysterious glowy key thing here, and Voldemort still wants me... Fidelius or not, I'm never going to be entirely safe. You got something against me being able to defend myself?"
"Oh boy," James muttered to Remus and Peter, but made sure there was no way Dawn would overhear him.
Sirius shifted again, Dawn could almost see him putting words together in his head. "No, you know that. And you know that the decision is entirely yours and I'm with you no matter what. I just couldn't stand it if something happened to you.”
Dawn nodded, smiling, and pulled him back towards her. "Ditto."
Sirius made himself comfortable once more, then looked at Remus and Peter. "What about you two - laying it all on the line for the chance to kick Voldemort's bony ass with us?"
"If they'll have me," Remus mumbled, looking down.
Dawn sat up so quickly that Sirius was thrown away from her. "If they'll have you!? Of course they'll have you - that's why they invited you! I swear, Rem, if you're even thinking of turning this down just because of your inner wolf..." She trailed off, muttering threats that made Sirius look uncomfortable and edge slightly away from her.
James chuckled. "The Kitten has spoken. Well what about you Wormtail? Who are you more afraid of - Voldemort or Dawn? Personally, I'd rather face Voldemort, and I speak from experience."
James ducked the shoe that came flying at his head. Peter blushed brightly. "I - I - I - I don't know... S-should I?"
"Did you not just hear the speech?" Sirius asked dryly.
"Oh. Right," Peter nodded. "I guess so, then. I mean - "
"Hey!" Sirius butted in out of nowhere. "I just realized something."
A slight flash went through Peter's eyes at being interrupted, but he didn't say anything. Nobody had noticed, they were all staring at Sirius now, awaiting his revelation.
"Tomorrow's our last day!"
Remus rolled his eyes. "Ah, Padfoot, mate, Dumbledore reminded everybody of that already on Monday morning. Remember - the Hogwarts Express leaves on Friday morning, there's only a half day of classes tomorrow so we've all got time to pack."
Sirius waved away any worries over the fact that he should have already known everything Remus just told him. Really, if Dumbledore wanted to make announcements while there was bacon in front of a hungry boy, it was his own fault if nothing ever sank in.
"We've got a half day? What are we going to do with our afternoon off then?" he asked eagerly.
"Well baby, there's the wacky notion of packing," Dawn said.
But James was very quickly coming around to Sirius' way of thinking. "Nah - we can get that done during History of Magic. I know - when was the last time we went down to Hagrid's?"
"Ages ago," Remus said, thinking back. Then he smiled and they knew he was in. Even Lily was no longer pretending to pay attention to Professor Binns, the time would definitely be better spent packing. Especially if it meant they could spend the afternoon with Hagrid.
"Speaking of last visits, how about one last stop at the Kitchens?" James suggested, jumping to his feet. "C'mon, Wormtail, back me up here. It's time for a snack!"
"Yeah," Peter said, looking chuffed now that someone had finally asked his opinion on something. "Let's go."
They went down to the Kitchens to say goodbye to Locky and the other House-Elves, who promptly responded with hysterical tears and towering stacks of chocolate crepes for a late dessert. The boys seemed to make a sick competition of seeing who could down the most crepes, but Dawn had fallen into a melancholy silence and played with more of her food than she actually ate. Sirius noticed her sudden downturn in mood but did not say anything, just held her hand all the way back to Gryffindor tower and stayed behind with her in the Common Room when James, Peter and Remus went up to their dorm. He looked at her with concern, one hand sliding up and down her arm.
"Dawnie - ?"
"Can I stay with you tonight?" she rushed out over the top of him. "I don't mean..."
"I don't expect anything, you know that."
She let a grateful smile flicker over her lips at that response. "I just want to be close to you... While I still can."
"Ah." Sirius took a deep breath and turned to face the white elephant that had been looming over them since the end of OWLs. "Dawn, I don't want to go home, but nothing's going to change between us once we do. You know that, right?"
She scoffed and pushed away a little bit. "Of course it's going to change, Sirius! We won't get to be together every day. I'm going to the Potters' and you're going back to your Mum's place, where everyone hates me and wants you to have nothing to do with me."
Sirius grabbed her arms so tight it hurt. "Hey, you stop that right now, Dawn. Don't ever think I'd listen to them for a second - I haven't agreed with them for sixteen years and I bloody well don't intend to start now."
"But what's going to happen when we're away from each other?" Dawn pressed.
Sirius shrugged, trying not to let his own fears show. "It's not forever, baby. I'll be writing, and I'll floo, and James and I have our two-way mirrors now. I always end up at Godric's Hollow at some point anyway. We'll be together, I promise."
Dawn smiled, reassured. She still didn't like that they had to be apart, but he was starting to make her believe that they could survive it. She couldn't resist leaning in to sneak in a quick kiss.
"Let's go to bed," she murmured.
"Sure," Sirius wound an arm around her and began to steer her upstairs. "So, tomorrow night, what do you say to a little alone time? Just you, me, and the Room of Requirement. I want our last night here to be perfect."
"It's a date."
* * * * *
"Hagrid, you in there?" James yelled, hammering on the door to the Gamekeeper's cottage.
There was a whining and scratching at the inside of the door, a moment later it swung open and Fang was bounding through the opening, Hagrid right on his heels. The massive boarhound, as usual, went straight for Dawn, but experience had taught her to be ready so she braced herself against the dog's over-enthusiastic weight and actually managed to stay on her feet for once.
"Had a feelin' yeh'd be down ter see me - why me an' Fang bin stayin' close ter home all day," the half-giant grinned, stepping back so the Marauders could cross the threshold.
They piled into the cabin and settled themselves around the table, dodging the pile of rock cakes while Hagrid boiled the kettle and set out the teacups. He didn't even bother to ask why they weren't in the castle packing like the rest of the students. They helped themselves to tea and chattered away while they drank.
“Well, Hagrid, there goes another year,” James mused as he drained his cup. “And I must say, this one turned out better than most, at the end of the day.”
“Sure did,” Sirius piped up, squeezing Dawn’s hand, but Dawn was not looking back at him.
She was looking at Remus. He was staring into his cup, meditating on James’ declaration. In some ways, this had been the best year of his life, but it had also been the worst. He’d gained a new friend, the best he’d ever had, and he’d found love. But he’d also lost it, and he doubted he’d ever be completely free of the guilt that gnawed away at his insides when his world was at its quietest. Everybody had worn him down from totally blaming himself – it had been a war of attrition but they’d finally convinced him that he had not killed Isabel; she had killed herself. But the one battle that his guilt had won was the knowledge nobody could dispute, the knowledge that she had killed herself because she was a werewolf, and that had been his fault.
Finally Remus noticed the way Dawn was analysing every little flicker of movement in his face and turned to give her a quick smile, just so she knew it was ok. They didn’t notice Hagrid watching them with a strangely knowing look on his face, like he understood the way the two best friends understood each other.
“All righ’ th’ lot of yer – yer didn’t come down here while everyone else is locked up in th’ castle packin’ so yer could all sit roun’ inside drinkin’ tea, did yer? Let’s get outside while we still can,” Hagrid suggested, herding them all towards the door.
“Hang on,” James said, ducking back under Hagrid’s arm and heading for one of the cupboards. “Hagrid, is that, er, bag of questionable goods still in here?”
“Sure is,” Hagrid chuckled. “Professor McGonagall was none th’ wiser ‘bout all tha’, James.”
“Excellent,” James said, pulling an exceptionally lumpy cloth bag from the cupboard and rummaging around for a few seconds. He produced a quaffle, the silver lettering of ‘PROPERTY OF HOGWARTS QUIDDITCH STORE’ not quite completely scratched off, and tossed it to Sirius. “Who’s up for a game of tackle Quidditch?”
Dawn groaned out loud. “Why did I ever
let Xander explain football to you guys?”
During the Scoobies’ visit to Hogwarts, Xander had taught the Marauders how to play American football, but due to a lack of an actual football, they had had to improvise. As a result, James had developed tackle Quidditch, an idea based on football with a quaffle that really just boiled down to the boys trying to tackle each other into the biggest puddle of mud they could find, while Dawn squealed and tried to dive out of the way. Just as she hadn’t liked roughing it with the boys in a snowball fight, Dawn didn’t like trying to match it with them in an even more physical sport. It wasn’t that she couldn’t keep up, or that she wasn’t strong enough (for his sake, she’d never arm-wrestle Peter in public again), but her bones always seemed to be more fragile than theirs. She blamed that shoddy monk craftsmanship for not giving her a strong enough body. It took a broken wrist for them all to figure this out, Dawn had screamed bloody murder at the sight of her hand going in a different direction to the rest of her arm, McGonagall had been livid and banned them from “such a barbaric, idiotic game”, and James had found himself with a bag full of stolen Quidditch supplies that needed asylum. Dawn sighed. Of course, all that would never deter the Marauders for more than a few days.
They trudged out to one of the grassy spots by the lake, conveniently hidden from view of the castle by a row of trees, and picked teams. James, Sirius and Peter, versus Dawn, Remus, Hagrid and Fang. Once the goal lines had been drawn up using red sparks from Remus’ wand, the two teams spread across the middle of the makeshift field and Sirius tapped off.
Hagrid came barrelling at him, so he passed to Peter, who Dawn and Fang quickly double-teamed and, after a lot of effort, some strategic yet not entirely legal stomach-poking from Dawn, and a whole lot of slobber from Fang, they brought him down for the first tackle. Peter grunted and did not dare to look up until the soft, cushiony body had lifted away from him, only getting up to play the ball when he was sure Dawn was well clear and not about to catch too close a look at his blisteringly bright face.
It was a several sets and a couple of touchdowns to Sirius later that Dawn finally managed to catch a break through a quick pass from Remus and a block from Hagrid. She took off for the goal line, knowing that of the boys only James had the speed to keep up with her but hoping against hope that the few nanoseconds it took for him to pivot and shoot off after her would be enough to keep her clear. No such luck; she could feel his feet pounding into her footprints almost as soon as her feet were clear of them and his breath was like the puffing of a steam train in her ear. He was matching her speed burst for burst and Dawn knew the second he spotted an opening to tackle her with the least possible chance of injury, she was going to hit the dirt.
Just yards from the line, she felt the arm tighten around her legs and braced herself for the impact.
James pushed himself up on one arm so he could look at her face. “All right, Kitten?”
Though she was curled up under his chest in the foetal position, wrapped around the quaffle, Dawn nodded. She’d probably have a bruise or two by tomorrow morning, but that was a pretty standard occupational hazard of being a Marauder whether there was a quaffle involved or not. Besides, there was a maniacal grin on James’ face which was a much greater cause for concern at the present.
“Good.” Before she could catch up with what was happening, James was tickling her mercilessly, only increasing his torture with each of her helpless screams of laughter.
Something the size of a horse barrelled into them, knocking James off Dawn with so much force that he did a series of forward rolls along the grass before coming to a stop splayed haphazardly across the ground. He slowly sat up, shaking his head to rid the little stars from his vision, and looked around, bewildered.
“Bloody hell! Fang!”
The boarhound looked quite pleased with himself; having managed to rescue Dawn from her attacker he was now enjoying a series of tummy rubs and hugs amid Dawn’s tempest of giggles. The others, wandering up to the action at a much more leisurely rate, were hooting and catcalling their appreciation for the entertainment. Trying his hardest not to chuckle too loudly, Hagrid lifted James up by the scruff of the neck with one hand and set him back on his feet.
“All righ’, James?”
“Fine,” James coughed. “I have plenty of ribs, so what if one or two get crushed, right?”
“That’s the spirit,” Remus said cheerily, with such a pleasant, conversational smile that anybody who didn’t know better would think he’d never uttered a sarcastic word in his life. He helped Sirius unfurl Dawn and Fang and peel Dawn from the ground before they could all get on with their game.
They played together until the sun began to shift towards the western horizon and a glanced at Remus’ watch told him they were due at the Leaving Feast within the hour. And they were all sweaty, mud-covered, Fang’s slobber-covered messes. He raised his fingers to his lips and let out a piercing wolf-whistle.
“Time!” he bellowed.
The rest of the gang, a mess of limbs around Hagrid as James, Peter and Sirius tried desperately to tackle the half-giant and Dawn and Fang did their best to help propel him towards the goal line without getting squashed in the process, stopped as one looming blob. One by one, the boys dropped off Hagrid’s shoulders and Dawn darted away to avoid being a human landing pad. For a moment they all stood around, not quite sure what to say. After all, it would be three months before they had a chance to visit Hagrid like this again. Then James offered his trademark grin.
“See you in the morning then, Hagrid! I’ll be down after breakfast to grab the, um, goods of questionable origin…” he said, lobbing the quaffle that Hagrid had dropped upon Remus’ whistle back at him.
Hagrid laughed. “Go on with yer, then.”
They began the walk back to the castle, wearied from their afternoon of exercise but grinning with the knowledge that they’d spent their final few hours of Hogwarts’ leisure time for fifth year well. Nobody seemed to notice or care when they wandered casually through the Entrance Hall while the rest of the castle was diligently organising their final few items for packing. When they reached the second floor corridor, Dawn paused suddenly.
“I’ll see you guys in the dorms,” she said. “I want to go and say goodbye to Myrtle before the feast. See you later.”
She hopped off the staircase and onto the landing before the stairs decided to change on her and take her towards the never-ending corridor on the opposite side of the stairway; she’d found out the hard way that if you didn’t want to spend the rest of the night walking down a corridor that just kept repeating itself, then you had to wait at least half an hour for the stairs to change in a way that would get you back to either the Great Hall or Gryffindor tower. And a girl sneaking around the castle at three in the morning in just her nightie and an old pair of James’ runners did not particularly want to be heading to the Great Hall where the Prefects and Professors all began their nightly patrols from, either.
Still contemplating the difficulties of staircase hopping, Dawn pushed through the doorway to Myrtle’s bathroom haunt and waited to see if Myrtle would pop out without her calling. The ghost usually always came as soon as Dawn called out to her, but some of the Slytherin fourth year girls had taken to pelting wadded up bits of toilet paper through her whenever they caught sight of the ghost, so Myrtle had taken to hiding in the u-bend and listening until she was sure it was one of the Marauders above.
After a few minutes of silence, Dawn sighed and gave up.
“It’s just me, Myrtle. You can come out.”
Trying to look as if she’d just come up from the lake, Myrtle popped her head out of the nearest toilet bowl and gave a fake start of surprise as transparent as Cordelia at her most ridiculous.
“Oh, Dawn! Been here long? I was just down at the lake…”
Seeing Dawn’s raised eyebrow, Myrtle trailed off sheepishly. A moment later, she’d had one of her colossal mood swings and was lifting her chin in defiance as she floated up to meet Dawn. “Well, what would you do? Peeves emptied an ink bottle down there the other day and flushed!”
Dawn tried to look sympathetic. “Well at least it was only ink you were getting flushed with,” she said bracingly, then rushed on before Myrtle could have a breakdown at the possibilities of what else she could’ve been flushed with. “So how have you been, Myrtle? Did I tell you I’m joining a training program to help fight Voldemort after we graduate!”
“Ooh,” Myrtle squealed. “That sounds dangerous! And exciting – is James going to be in it, too? He’s so brave, I bet they asked him to join…”
“Vomit,” Dawn muttered under her breath, but her smile paved over it before the ghost could catch it. “Sure is. All of us, even Lily, we’re starting when classes start up next year.”
“Oh,” Myrtle’s mood took a sudden downturn. “Next year. Because this year is over for you; you’ll all go home and have a great summer and forget about poor Myrtle stuck up in the girls’ bathroom all alone!”
“I will not! Why do you think I came up here to see you – because I’d forgotten about you!? No way. Besides, you don’t have to stay up here all the time, you know. Why don’t you try going out a bit this summer? Just down to Hogsmeade for a little trip, what do you say?” Dawn cajoled. “There’s nothing stopping you, get out of Hogwarts for just a little while, who knows what sort of fun you might get up to. I bet you won’t even miss me at all, and then when we both get back here next year you can tell me all about it.”
“You’re just saying that so you don’t have to feel guilty about abandoning me,” Myrtle grumbled.
“I’m not abandoning you!” Dawn protested. “It’s just the way it is – summer comes and students go home. And I promise I’ll write.”
Myrtle let out a shriek like a wounded hyena. “And how do you expect me to open the letter to read it!?”
“Geez, sorry, I didn’t think. But seriously, I will miss you while I’m away. And I do hope you have some fun, you deserve it,” Dawn grinned, knowing she’d be forgiven.
She wasn’t wrong. Great ghostly tears were glistening on Myrtle’s cheeks, but she grinned back. “You too, Dawn. Will you say hi to James for me?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Of course.”
* * * * *
There was an air of excitement about the Great Hall as students packed in for the Leaving Feast; everyone decked out in House colours and speculating over who would win the House cup. Dawn didn’t know what to make of it; although the Quidditch team had won the Quidditch cup and earned a truckload of points, and Lily averaged about a hundred a week just for having all the right answers, the Marauders still held the Hogwarts’ record for the most detentions in… ever. Taking a glance at the four jars of stones in the Entrance Hall that represented the House points on her way through, she was almost surprised that the rubies weren’t in the negatives.
Dumbledore sat as serenely as ever in the Headmaster’s chair, McGonagall somehow managing to look completely prim and proper in her festive pointed hat that shimmered red just for the occasion as she perched beside him. There was almost a nostalgic look on the Headmaster’s face as he smiled around at his students who, blissfully unaware, chattered and laughed on.
“Ah, Minerva,” he sighed in his infinitely raspy voice. “They still seem so young, don’t they?”
The Deputy studied him evenly. “Albus?”
“They look like children, all of them. Even the seventh years who think they’re ready to take on the world. They’ve got hard times to grow up in, it frightens me to think of all they’ll have to go through – of all they’ve already gone through. And still, they laugh, they live,” he mused, watching out of the corner of his eye as James and Sirius squabbled, sparks flying from their wands, over a liquorice wand that had fallen out of Remus’ pocket.
McGonagall smiled sadly. “What else can they do? They don’t know any different, and they’re stronger than we think sometimes.”
That brought a genuine chuckle out of Dumbledore; and not just because he could see out of the corner of his eye that Dawn had just stepped in and James and Sirius were both flat on their backsides on the ground, apologising sheepishly. “That they are. Oh well, time to – how do they say it? – get this show on the road.”
He stood up, robes and hair flowing in majestic waves over him and McGonagall tapped the edge of her glass with her knife in order to call for attention. The Hall settled remarkably quickly; it always did when the students were hungry and there was a feast on the way.
“Well here we are again,” Dumbledore called cheerily, all trace of reflection gone from his voice. “We’ve survived another year more or less intact, and we’ve done so together. I know you’re all anxious to get to the good part – the Feast! – so I won’t ramble on; you’ve heard enough from me this year I’ve no doubt. But the House Cup needs awarding, and the points stand thus: In fourth place, Hufflepuff, with 492 points.”
There was a cheer from the Hufflepuff table. Dawn frowned and looked at Sirius.
“Ok, do they know they just came in last?”
He snorted. “Yeah, but they’re Hufflepuff – they cheer anyway.”
“In third, with 516 points, Slytherin.”
The response from Slytherin was much more subdued. Malfoy scowled. Slytherin didn’t lose many points, they were too well behaved in class and usually too quick to get caught out of it. That hundred points he’d lost for what he’d done to Dawn had hit them hard. The tally in the Entrance Hall looked close as it was; they may have even won if he hadn’t got caught.
Dumbledore paused dramatically before going on. “There are only ten points separating our top two Houses for the year, so I’ll not keep you in suspense any longer. In second place, on 600 points, is Gryffindor which means Ravenclaw wins the House Cup. Congratulations Ravenclaw!”
The Ravenclaw table erupted; the Gryffindors groaned. The Marauders looked around, wondering when the food was going to appear. Lily scowled as Chase Jones hugged an incredibly attractive Ravenclaw seventh year, then shrugged it off and turned to Dawn and the boys.
“Now I see my incredible intelligence is no match for your depraved delinquency in the House Cup stakes. What made me think I could ever compete with the five of you at once?” she grinned.
Dawn giggled. She liked this slightly altered version of her only real female friend. It was like ever since the attack on Hogsmeade, Lily had taken stock of what was really important to her and she hadn’t yelled at the Marauders nearly so much. Even James only got scowled at every couple of days, rather than every couple of minutes.
James smirked. “Does that mean you’ll be joining us on the dark side next year, Evans?”
Remus and Peter instinctively lifted their plates as shields to ward off the ricochet from Lily’s retaliation spell, but none was forthcoming. The redhead was coolly studying her fingernails.
“Not on your life, Potter. They’d end up having to take away the points jar for Gryffindor altogether, and the Entrance Hall just wouldn’t look the same with only three.”
Everyone in earshot who hadn’t fallen off their seats in shock at the sight of Lily Evans, Perfect Prefect Extraordinaire, joking away with her archenemy James Potter, Prankster of the Millennium, started to laugh. The Ravenclaws finally settled down, Dumbledore had clapped his hands together to deck the Hall out in Ravenclaw House banners and now spread his arms wide to recall the attention of his students.
“Congratulations Ravenclaw! Now then, we’ve had an extraordinary year together, good times and bad, but let’s not spend our final evening together dwelling on all that’s passed; let’s just enjoy each others’ company while we still can. So without further ado – the feast!”
The usual indescribable spread of a Hogwarts feast materialised; the boys leaped in and starting grabbing food without even looking to see what it was. It was only when Sirius bit into a napkin that they thought better of it and began glancing at the dishes just long enough to determine that there was actually food in them. They passed the next couple of hours away in the Great Hall, and just because it was the final dinner for the year (and the final Hogwarts dinner ever for some, as Frank loudly toasted with his pumpkin juice at the end of their third dessert) it seemed that the chatter was that much more animated, the laughter just that little bit louder.
There were students flying back and forth between the House tables to mingle, particularly between the Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, and in the traffic of bodies Dawn and Sirius carefully timed their escape so that they could slip out of the doors unnoticed. They heard a wolf-whistle ring out as the doors swung closed, probably from James, but did not stop. They ran through the castle, holding hands, stopping only when they were well clear of the rest of the inhabitants. Then they slowed down, strolling along until they reached the Room of Requirement.
Sirius paced three times before the opening, the door appeared and led to an airy room. Dawn let out a little murmur of appreciation at the sight of a king sized bed and the spa quietly bubbling and sizzling just beyond it. Sirius stepped up behind her and kissed the side of her neck.
“Race you to the spa!”
They took off for the water, throwing articles of clothing aside on the way until Sirius was peeling his final sock off and leaping into the water just behind Dawn.
“I win,” she announced proudly. “What do I get?”
“A kiss,” he promised, and she pouted.
“But I was going to get one of those anyway.”
Dawn shrugged. “I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself; now anything above that is a bonus! You’ve got to look on the bright side of life, baby.”
“I’ll look into that,” Sirius chuckled, leaning back into the headrest and feeling Dawn do the same opposite him.
They let the bubbles was over them, massaging their bodies as the tension was slowly released from their muscles. Neither spoke, they didn’t need to say anything and the way their feet brushed against each other as they were buffeted around by the jets was contact enough between them. Almost as if following the command of their wills, the force of the jets gradually petered out until there was only a gentle whirring to swish the water around them. A couple of bath sheets were draped over a towel rack just by the stepping ledge. Sirius reached a hand out and helped Dawn out of the water, by the time he stepped out himself she’d grabbed one of the bath sheets to dry herself off but he took it from her hands. She gave him a quizzical smile, but he just kissed the tip of her nose.
Very gently, he began to dry her. Starting with her back, he used the towel to trace his way all over her body, soaking up the droplets of water as he went. When he was finished, Dawn took the towel back and tossed it aside, reaching for the fresh one to give him the same treatment. Soon they were both dry and Dawn paused a moment to consider the strangeness of the situation. A year ago, if anyone had told her she would be skinny-dipping in a spa with a member of the opposite sex she would’ve turned tomato red and told them they were high. Or desperately hoped it would be Xander… maybe even Spike by that stage as well. But here she was, not even sixteen years old, an entirely new person standing completely naked with Sirius and the only butterflies stirring in her stomach were the ones in the name of desire. Then she noticed how Sirius was grinning.
He shrugged. “The look on your face – you just look so… calm about everything. Relaxed, I mean.”
That brought a small smile to Dawn’s features. “I guess I am. I’m just comfortable, you know. You make me feel safe.”
“Safe?” Sirius said, his grin becoming predatory. “We’ll see about that!”
Dawn squealed and tried to jump back, but Sirius was relentless. He scooped her into his arms and bundled her onto the bed, wrestling her down onto the mattress until he was straddling her, his hands clamped around her bony wrists.
“Still feel safe?”
She arched an eyebrow. “Are you going to get all huffy and sulk if I say yes?”
“No, but since you’re so comfortable
I’ll just have to spend the rest of the night taking advantage of you – of that,” he covered lamely, grinning.
“Probably a good thing we can sleep on the train, then,” Dawn murmured.
She arched her neck up to claim Sirius’ mouth with her own, almost immediately he relaxed his grip on her arms so his hands could rove freely over her body and through her hair, tangling in the long, wet strands while Dawn shifted her body teasingly against his.
He moaned, as if the pleasure was hurting him. “Merlin, you’re perfect.”
Dawn gasped, her eyes opening wide and locking onto his. “I love you,” she whispered. Then her world dissolved into a whitewash of trembles.
* * * * *
There were that many people standing on Hogsmeade Station that Dawn was surprised the whole thing didn’t collapse. Then again, it was probably held together by magic anyway. All the students’ luggage had been taken out and loaded onto the Hogwarts Express while they were still at breakfast and now all that remained was to pack the sardines themselves into the carriages.
The Marauders were leaning against one of the posts waiting for the doors to be opened, all sporting dark glasses with tiny Gryffindor insignias on one arm. Most other students, and most of the Professors for that matter, assumed that the glasses were to cover the signs of yet another night spent misbehaving, but in truth that was only a pleasant side effect for Dawn and Sirius. James had just been practicing his latest conjuring spell all morning before he lost the opportunity. Frank had popped his head into the boys’ dorm for a chat at the time and as a result, was now looking “way cooler than anyone would’ve thought possible for a Head Boy,” according to Sirius. Inspired, James had even made Lily a pair, but chickened out of giving them to her himself at the last minute, making Remus pass them on at the Prefects’ debriefing instead. Lining up for the carriages to the station, they’d noticed the sunnies perched on the top of Lily’s head, keeping thick strands of red hair back from her face, and James’ head had swelled to twice its original size.
“Firs’ years board the train!” came the holler they’d all been waiting for, they spotted Hagrid’s wide form parting students like the Red Sea and waved. At once he came over to the group. “Well then, guess yeh’d better start pushing in you lot, or ev’ryone’ll think yeh’ve gone soft in yer old age.”
They all chuckled. “No chance of that,” Sirius yawned.
James whipped an extra large pair of sunnies out of his bag. “Made you something for the summer, Hagrid.”
Beaming, Hagrid seized the sunglasses and wrapped them around his head. “Thank yer!”
They all took turns hugging him as hard as they could, though Dawn was certain he could probably barely feel it. She gave him a final, watery grin as they began to push through the crowd.
“Give Fang an extra long pat for me,” she called, then sprinted off behind the boys.
The Marauders claimed their compartment in the very rear of the train, the five of them stretching out and relaxing while outside their window the rest of the school bustled past, jostling to try and get a compartment for themselves and their friends. Lily was outside, helping Hagrid direct the flow of students like a traffic cop, when she caught sight of Remus reclining in his seat through the window her jaw dropped in disbelief, but he just shrugged mildly and she shook her head. It was a miracle a Marauder had passed a whole year with his badge intact anyway, with a pang Lily realised that if Isabel had still been with them, Lily would’ve owed her a galleon on that bet. It was then she noticed Remus forcing the window open a few inches.
“You should be out here, Lupin!” she yelled over the distant roar of the engine powering up at the front end of the Hogwarts Express.
He shrugged again. “I’m helping,” he insisted. “Someone’s got to save the seats.”
She rolled her eyes. “What would I do without you?”
“Spend the entire trip home in the Prefect’s compartment being driven insane by pretentious twats debating the latest Wizengamot decision that you couldn’t give a toss about?”
“Quite likely,” Lily mused. “Although at the start of the year I would’ve found that prospect absolutely thrilling.”
“Being driven insane by pretentious twats or being one?”
“Ha ha. Why would I need them to drive me insane – that’s what you guys are for.”
Remus bowed his head ceremoniously. “Delighted to play such an important role in your life, Lil.”
“Glad to hear it. So you going to help me or not?”
“Already told you – I am helping.”
Just then, Sirius forced the window open a little further so he could stick his face out next to Remus’. “And a damned fine job he’s doing, Tigerlily. I’ve been supervising just to make sure, don’t you worry. But I’d hurry up if I were you, Wormtail’s trying to spread his picnic rug out in your spot, you’ll be stuck with your pretentious twats if you’re not quick. Moony here can be bought off with pumpkin pasties.”
After a quick goodbye to Hagrid of her own, Lily slipped away from the other Prefects and headed towards the back end of the train. Frank noticed her going in the wrong direction as he herded the rest of the Prefects who wanted nothing more than to solve all the problems of the world in between train patrols and grinned. She’d started out as the most anal-retentive of his charges, but Lily had really become something special over the course of the year. She stepped into the Marauders compartment and took the spare seat between Remus and Peter. On the opposite side of the compartment, Sirius had fallen to sleep. He was snoring slightly and his breath was beginning to fog the window up already. Dawn’s head was resting on his shoulder, but she was awake, watching with interest and even a little envy as James practiced conjuring ladybugs that he then sent on their way out the window that was still cracked slightly.
Lily unfolded the morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet
to skim through the latest headlines of lies. Ever since the article by the newcomer journalist Rita Skeeter about Hogwarts’ safety and discipline measures after the Death Eater attack on Hogsmeade, she’d stopped believing in the newspaper. But as it was the only real source of news regarding the Wizarding world, she’d paid her extended subscription to get it delivered to her home over the summer. Even if she didn’t manage to read between the lines to get the real news, at least the owls visiting their home on a daily basis would drive Petunia up the wall.
There was a piercing whistle from the steam engine and before they knew it, the Hogwarts Express was chugging away from Hogsmeade Station. Sirius snored on as Dawn leaned over him so she could join Remus at the window, waving madly at Hagrid as he became smaller and smaller and finally disappeared with the rest of Hogsmeade. Remus slid the window closed once more and they all settled back into their seats. Anyone who didn’t know better would think they were all planning a nice, quiet journey home, but Lily did know better. They were just saving themselves for the afternoon.
Peter was rummaging around in his bag for snacks, and Remus and Lily decided to patrol the train to get it over and done with. Dawn was still watching James, although now that the Express was on the move he’d abandoned the ladybugs and was conjuring random muggle household appliances. James was grinning to himself as he worked; Dawn knew he liked the attention and was only waiting for her to speak. After a few minutes, she decided to give him the satisfaction.
“That’s really cool, James.”
“Why, thankyou, Kitten dearest.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Will you help me?”
He rolled his eyes right back. “Thought you’d never ask. Where’s your wand?”
Dawn slipped her wand from her belt and readied herself. James showed her the wand movements and then went through the incantation with her a few times until she had the pronunciation down.
“And what does this conjure?” she asked when she was finally ready to try it for herself.
“A… A toaster!”
But Dawn was so busy trying to mentally prepare herself for the potential disaster of her trying a new Charms spell for the first time that she didn’t register his hesitation. She took a deep breath, pointed her wand exactly as James had instructed, and focused her concentration.
There was a flash and a horrible screeching sound; Peter was hanging upside down in the air, his feet grazing the ceiling of the carriage and his fingertips almost grazing the floor with his arms outstretched. Sirius snorted and jerked, banging his head against the window as he woke with a start. James screamed with laughter, slapping at his knees.
The laughing stopped.
“You get him down right now!”
James was rapidly shrinking in his seat; Dawn’s eyes were about to shoot laser death rays at him, but he tried to hold on to his cocky grin.
“But I didn’t do anything, Kitten. You did.” But at the look on Dawn’s face, he hastily muttered the counter curse and followed it up with a quick cushioning charm to soften the blow as Peter crumpled to the floor of the compartment.
Sirius looked from Peter, to James, to Dawn. “Baby, did you just do what I think you did?”
“Shut up,” Dawn grumbled. “Sorry Peter. I forgot about that whole thing where I should never – trust – a – word – that – comes – out – of – James’ – mouth.” She emphasised each word with a punch to James’ arm so that he was left wincing and rubbing at it.
Finally managing to scramble back up to his seat, Peter grinned weakly. “It’s ok… It was pretty funny.”
Sirius snorted. “I’ll say, Wormtail. We’d never have any laughs if we didn’t have you.”
“Thanks,” Peter beamed. Then he started to fully process Sirius’ sentence and his smile dimmed somewhat as he fell into quiet contemplation. It sounded like just a joke, but what did Sirius really mean by it? The others never laughed when he tried to do something funny, it was only when somebody else did something to him or he fell down or something that they laughed. Did that mean he was only good for a laugh when they were laughing at him? Were they just making fun of him?
The compartment door slid open and Lily and Remus strolled back in.
“We heard banging and loud cursing from further down the carriage, so naturally we thought of you guys,” Remus said, reclaiming his seat.
“Minor mishap,” James shrugged. “You know how it goes, Moony.”
“That I most certainly do.”
The trolley came as they were whizzing past a sleepy little village with cottages so quiet and peaceful that Dawn would almost believe they were abandoned if the gardens weren’t bursting with well-pruned colour. James and Sirius each threw a handful of galleons onto the surface, the smiling old witch obliged them by handing over the entire contents of the cart and heading back towards the front of the train to collect more supplies for the rest of the students. The sugar hit was just what the Marauders needed; after piles of pumpkin pasties and cauldron cakes with sugar quills and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans for dessert, their eyes were bright and wide, ready to tackle the afternoon even while the clouds darkened overhead.
“Well, who’s got an idea?” Sirius asked, looking expectantly around.
“Please, nothing that’s going to stink the train out,” Lily groaned. “I don’t fancy pulling into Kings Cross with a bubble head charm again.”
“Fine,” Sirius grumbled. “But I don’t know what else we could do for fun.”
“I do,” Dawn piped up suddenly. “Lils, where are your CDs?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Because I wanna play Frisbee with Padfoot. What do you think? I want to dance!”
Lily obliged and dug out a stack of music for the group to sought through, and once she had the spell going, she and Remus tweaked the volume control until it was filtering throughout the entire carriage. Within minutes, they had it pumping throughout the rest of the Hogwarts Express. It didn’t take long to get the students spilling into the corridors, and all of a sudden the train was a moving dance party.
They’d started at the very back of the train, but soon enough the Marauders had managed to work themselves into the thick of the throng around the middle carriages; a few of the Prefects were screaming for order but there was no way the crowd was going to let them through to the ringleaders, who didn’t even notice the interruption. The Marauders were dancing with abandon, twisting and shaking and shouting along with the words until Dawn wondered if all the parents waiting at the Station would hear them coming miles away.
Nobody seemed to care as evening came on and the clouds overhead began to dump bucket loads of rain on the Hogwarts Express; they were safe inside, they were having fun, and they were going home. It wasn’t until the train began to slow to pull up to the platform that Lily finally packed her CDs away, and an almost eerie quiet settled over the group as they began to organise their trunks to alight. Dawn was already tearing up, knowing that she was down to her few final, precious moments with Sirius until she didn’t know when.
She lugged her trunk towards the carriage door behind the rest, trying to get a grip. The Express lulled to a stop on Kings Cross station, out the window Dawn could see clumps of parents under the shelter set a little ways back from the edge of the platform, they looked blurry and streaked in the rain and she couldn’t tell who was who.
James didn’t seem to have that problem; he shoved the door open and made a beeline for a little group of parents, instinctively knowing they belonged to him and his friends. Remus, Peter and Lily were right behind him, but as soon as they were off the train, the dam behind Dawn’s eyes broke, tears drenching her face as the rain drilled into the rest of her body. Sirius arms went round her, they became a rock in the stream of students washing around them and his face was buried in her shoulder as he fought back his own emotions.
“Shh, baby,” he whispered hoarsely. “It’s ok. It’s just a see-you-later, not a goodbye. Never a goodbye, ok?”
Dawn nodded. “I know. I’m just so afraid you’ll go to that crappy horrible place and they’ll make you forget how much I love you.”
“Hey!” He shook her to make her meet his stare. “What do I have to do to convince you that nobody could make me forget you, or stop loving you, or keep me from being with you?”
Dawn sucked her tears back. “Prove it.”
“I will. Marauder’s Honour.”
She giggled as he grabbed his left butt-cheek, not caring who was watching. Then he was kissing her with so much heart that she couldn’t breathe. They were completely drenched by the time they pulled apart, and they only stopped because it was slowly dawning on them that the whole train had emptied and families were even beginning to pass out through to the rest of the station.
“Sirius!” his mother barked.
Sirius quirked an eyebrow at Dawn. “The warden calls. I’ll see you soon, Dawn, I promise. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
With a final wink, and a touch of his hand to her cheek, he whirled, yelled a goodbye to the rest of the Marauders and Lily, and followed his family towards the exit. Finally realising how soggy she was, Dawn rushed over to her own family. The Potters dried her with their wands and enveloped her in a much more warming hug, complete with kisses.
“Let’s go home, dear. You’ll feel better with a good meal and some hot tea in you,” Mom Potter promised.
Dawn smiled and nodded. “Yeah. Let’s go home.”
She turned and hugged Lily and took the piece of parchment with the redhead’s phone number and address scribbled on it. “You come and visit me this summer, Lily. I need someone to help me keep sane!”
“I will,” Lily said, squeezing Dawn affectionately. Dawn went to pull away, but Lily clung on tight for a moment longer. “I don’t blame you anymore,” she whispered in a small voice.
Dawn just nodded her acceptance. What else could she say? She moved on to Peter, hugging him as quickly as she could to get the awkward moment over with, and stumbled into a much more comfortable embrace with her best friend.
“I’ve never had a best friend before,” Remus confessed when he was sure none of the others would overhear him.
“Neither have I,” Dawn replied. She squeezed his hand. “See you soon, Rem.”
James had already said his goodbyes to the other male Marauders, which mostly consisted of “I’ll floo you next week”, so Remus and Peter collected their trunks and their parents and moved off the platform. James was standing in front of Lily, shuffling his feet and not quite looking her in the eye.
“Have a good summer, Evans,” he muttered. He wasn’t quite sure what else to say – he’d never actually had the chance for an end of year goodbye with her before. Usually she would just shove right past him with Isabel in tow, giggling madly and shrugging her shoulders at him before she called out “Better luck next year, Potter”.
“You too, Potter. Take care.”
He grinned, happy with that. Then Lily went to walk away and his hand shot out to stop her.
“Evans, wait a sec.”
She raised her eyebrows to indicate that she was waiting and he tore his hand away from her arm.
“Look, I know you’re not exactly mad about me – yet,” he flashed a cocky grin for old times’ sake, “But don’t not visit Dawn this summer just because of me. She deserves better.”
“I know. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Yeah, I know that. But I just wanted to make it clear that I want you to come around for Dawn, and not be scared off because of me.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Potter. I’ll see you later.”
She turned and walked away.
James grinned to himself. “Bye, Lily.”
His father cuffed him affectionately round the ear. “Come on, you lot. Let’s go home.”
* * * * * EPILOGUE
Her room was even more beautiful than she could have imagined. She had told her foster mother that the room they had dubbed as hers over Christmas was absolutely perfect as it was, but Mom Potter had insisted on decorating, “because it didn’t seem right that she move into a room that wasn’t brand new and entirely hers”. So the walls had been painted a creamy peach colour, the room trimmed with rich maroon in the rug, the curtains framing the balcony, and the bed hangings of the new four-poster bed.
Cecilia had thought of everything; the wardrobe and the bookshelves were all fully stocked, and Dawn even found a small tv and a stereo just for her. The detail even extended to the monogrammed towels in her ensuite; Dawn spent what felt like hours exploring every new and wonderful detail of her new home before she even thought of unpacking.
It didn’t take her long to transfer all her clothes and books to their proper places, and to find space on the shelves for all the little knick-knacks and photographs she’d acquired over the course of the year. She was just finishing reconstructing Newman’s home in the bottom drawer of the chest at her bedside when there was a knock at the door.
James was staring around in awe at what was a much cleaner, more pastel, more femininely decorated version of his own room. “This place looks great.”
Dawn grinned. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
He perched on the edge of her bed and she joined him once Newman was safely tucked in.
“So, you really like it, Dawn? You’re really happy here?”
“How could I not be?” Dawn countered, looking around at her new room; thinking about the whole new life she’d created for herself in this world. “I love it here, you know that. I feel like… Like I belong here.”
James took his sister’s hand. “Probably because you do belong here, Kitten. Welcome home.”
Dawn looked at James and they both smiled.
* * * * * THE END
PS- Keep an eye out for the sequel, it will be called ‘Both Sides Now’ and should be out sometime in the next millennium! XX00