The tree-lined path was entirely silent and still, except for the crunch of snow under Abigail Loomis' boots. Mounds of white rose high on either side as she made her way down from Hogwarts, through the woods, and on into the village of Hogsmeade. Pulling her cloak more tightly around her, Abby stopped to take in the surroundings. The moon overhead illuminated the snowdrifts and individual tree branches, creating a ghostly serenity that made the December night fit for a storybook.
"Lovely," Abby whispered, before resuming her thoughtful paces.
The evening had been a joyous one. She and several other Hogsmeade residents had traveled to the school, at the request of Albus Dumbledore, to join in Christmas festivities with several of the Hogwarts staff. The house elves had prepared a succulent dinner, and libations had run freely, courtesy of Rosmerta, who'd stayed back to tend to her busy pub. The conversation had been lively and pleasant, and the desserts brought up from Honeydukes would have been worth the walk alone, Abby decided. The same could be said for the sight of Severus Snape disdainfully extracting tinsel from his hair, the result of overly exuberant cracker.
Abby had excused herself early on the pretense of a busy workday ahead, and while the other partygoers had protested her departure, they'd let her go with little difficulty. The next day was Christmas Eve, after all, and Gladrags was sure to be bursting at the seams with last-minute shoppers.
She'd hesitated for a moment in the doorway, but she'd felt sure of her decision when she heard the voice of a tipsy Professor Sprout suggest that the group sit in a circle and try out a Muggle party game that involved a bottle and spinning. As enjoyable as the evening's merriment had been, Abby couldn't stop reflecting on the last time she'd been to Hogwarts, and the even more enjoyable company she'd had on that occasion.
It had been only a few weeks earlier that Abby had sat in Professor Dumbledore's office, sharing with him her ideas for incorporating voice capture spells into embroidery. After a lengthy discussion, they finished off a box of tart Fairy Berries, having a good laugh when a particularly impudent sweet – a raspberry, judging by its shape – made a rude noise and repeatedly covered the Headmaster's face in powder. Abby giggled helplessly as Dumbledore batted the sugary cloud away from his face.
"I think certain sweets are feeling too empowered these days!" she finally managed to say, after Dumbledore dispatched of the offender with a decisive chomp of his jaws.
"Alas, I may have to agree with you," he said, with a note of good-natured resignation. "Why, just the other day I caught some licorice wands in the process of trying to cast the Reductor Curse and escape from their package."
He flicked his hand, brushing the last of the white film off his spectacles, and sighed again. "And now, if you'll forgive me," the Headmaster said with a barely perceptible wink, "I must confer with another visitor. You are welcome to stay, of course." He snapped his fingers in the direction of his office's oak door. Abby looked around curiously, at a loss for why Dumbledore would want her to remain. No one had ever taken part in their meetings before…
The door opened as if blown by an unseen, unfelt wind, but before the invisibility cloak ever slipped off a pair of tall shoulders, the faint shimmer in the air told Abby who was there. She felt a giddy smile take over her entire face, spreading out until even her toes felt happy.
Sirius. She hadn't seen him since the night they'd first kissed, although many slips of parchment had since been owled between them. She barely knew what to do or say, seeing him here now. While she was immeasurably grateful to Dumbledore for arranging the meeting, she felt rather odd having him as an onlooker to her first romance in more years than she cared to number. Mercifully, the Headmaster turned his head and feigned an immense interest in his cuticles, granting Sirius time to give Abby a gentle squeeze of the hand, a quick brush of his lips to her cheek, and a grin that made her forget her name for a good five seconds.
After a long moment, Dumbledore cleared his throat to indicate his renewed attentions, and Abby departed rather reluctantly for the other side of the room while they conversed in low whispers. She found plenty with which to occupy herself among the many gadgets in the office, including an interesting display of sweets dispensers shaped like famous witches and wizards. While wondering if it would be unseemly to try and eavesdrop, Abby amused herself by pulling sherbet lemons out of Archimedes' mouth.
"Oops," she stammered apologetically when one dropped to floor, disrupting the tête-à-tête. Dumbledore smiled kindly as she stooped, red-faced, to retrieve the sweet. Sirius winked, causing her to drop it again.
Abby then decided that she'd had enough of sherbet lemons, so she began to peruse the titles on a nearby bookshelf instead. She tried to give the men their privacy, but she found her gaze being continually drawn back to Sirius…the resolve in his jaw as he spoke, the focused intensity and determination in his eyes… Her heart gave a twinge at the thought of what he'd undergone for so many years.
Shortly, the meeting ended, and Dumbledore beckoned for Abby to rejoin them. She tried not to look too keen as she walked back to Sirius' side, but the doting look on Dumbledore' face led her to believe that the wizard took delight in arranging this sort of encounter. Now, if she just knew a way to someday tell her father that she was attached to a man with his own wanted poster.
"Sirius, perhaps you would like to see Abigail out?" Dumbledore asked. He turned to Abby. "I am terribly sorry, my dear, but I do need to detain Sirius a moment longer."
Sirius took her hand, leaning over to whisper into her ear. "He's sent for Harry to come up here – do you mind?"
Abby shook her head, although she felt some guilt at her fleeting desire to tell Harry to take a number and join the queue. Harry Potter needed to see his godfather, and although it was rapidly becoming her least favourite activity, she could wait.
"Goodnight, sir," she said, stepping forward to grasp Dumbledore's outstretched hand.
Sirius gave a swift nod. "I'll be back shortly." They turned to leave, and Abby felt a pleasant shiver as Sirius guided her out with hand on her back. But after the door closed, and before she could say anything else, he had covered himself with the invisibility cloak. She gave a small sigh as they passed silently through the guardian gargoyles. Perhaps it was for the best – a romantic rendezvous on Dumbledore's staircase was probably in poor taste, and several students, many of whom she recognized, still populated the corridor outside.
Mustering up her composure, Abby returned the students' greetings with serene waves and words. However, she soon found that maintaining a bearing of dignity and decorum was a monumental challenge with a hidden Sirius Black walking behind her, pinching her waist, blowing across the back of her neck, and well, doing a few other things to distract her.
Fortunately, the corridor cleared of students by the time they reached its end. Abby turned to hiss an only half-meant rebuke at Sirius, but she never got the chance. Before she could say a word, a feathery sweep of silver covered her head, an arm hooked her around her waist, and Sirius pulled her behind the statue of goblin leader Hugor the Hungry for a delightfully thorough kiss.
"And I thought Dumbledore would be the only man in my life tonight," Abby whispered at length, trying to catch her breath. The novelty of his lips was still rather dizzying. "I'm so glad you came."
Sirius wrapped his arms around her tightly. "How could I have stayed away? I always come back to you, even with the fear of what you might throw. At least you're not angry with me this time."
"I make occasional exceptions," Abby giggled. "You know, it's good you didn't have a cloak of your own while at school, if this is the sort of thing you'd have done with it."
"I think kitchen raids would have been my first inclination back then," he replied, stroking her hair, "although of all its possible uses, this is the one I now prefer most. I'm sorry this was cut so short. I'll try to come and see you as soon as I can. I want to see you so badly."
Abby rested her head against his chest, glad to hear that his heart was beating as quickly as hers. "Likewise. Preferably, we won't be in Dumbledore's company next time."
"Then I wasn't the only one who felt as if I'd been caught behind the greenhouses?" he laughed softly.
Abby smiled. "Perhaps we'll get a detention together. How…how is Harry getting on?"
"About as well as could be expected. He has good friends looking out for him, though. I'm grateful for that. Have you ever met him?"
"Just once, in Gladrags last March. He was quiet, but he did make a few good jokes at Draco Malfoy's expense." She relaxed even further in his arms, wishing they were somewhere other than Hogwarts. While the corridor was dark and deserted, the backdrop of goblin statues and suits of armor left something to be desired.
"That's my boy!" Sirius chuckled. "I'll have to coach him on a few more choice phrases." In the darkness of the cloak, Abby thought she saw the shadows of his face grow sober. "I promise, we'll have more time together soon. I – I just need to do all that I can now to help in the fight."
"I understand," she said, fighting off the reluctance that was so eager to creep into her voice. "You'll be careful?"
"Of course. I have a great incentive to do so."
"Ginger biscuits?" Abby murmured against his robes, breathing in the scent of him.
Sirius grinned, tilting her face towards his for one warm, final kiss. "Among other things."
The sight of an owl flying overhead caused Abby to pause for a moment on the moonlit path. This Christmas promised to be more pleasurable than last year's lonely mess, but she couldn't help but be hurt that work obligations were keeping her father in France. Sirius was absent, too. Although she'd received a message from him only days earlier, she had no clue as to his actual whereabouts. Her mouth twisted wryly as she stooped down to tighten the lacings of her boots.
I'm making a regular martyr of myself, aren't I? I suppose I can't expect Sirius to keep a calendar on the wall of his cave.
She straightened up and readjusted her scarf, thinking she should hurry. The other Hogsmeade folk would probably be returning home soon themselves, and dawdling would only increase her chances of bumping into someone. Tonight, she really didn't want to be caught up in any additional revelry. Oh, but the landscape was so beautiful. Everything seemed to just glow.
Abby granted herself one more minute to look around, before picking up her skirts again. She hadn't gone far, however, when she felt something reach out and touch her arm. Her body froze for a few panicked seconds, before remembered images of fire-spouting, smoke-breathing creatures took over with vivid ferocity. Giving a shriek to rival a sleep-deprived banshee, she ripped her cloak away from whatever held onto her. The momentum sent her boots into a mad spin on a patch of packed road, which ended only when she careened, arms flailing, into a snowdrift.
Pulse racing, eyes screwed shut, Abby hid her face in the cold crystals and clung to the irrational thought that if she stayed perfectly still, the thing might leave her alone. The plan made perfect sense to her frantic mind until she heard the sound of distinctly human breathing above her.
She cracked open an eye. There stood Sirius Black, equal parts chagrin, concern, and – her eyes narrowed – amusement on his face.
"Er, sorry," he said, as a smile strained the corners of his mouth. "Happy Christmas, Abby."
From her hollow in the drift, Abby opened both her eyes and blinked incredulously. No, this hadn't been what she was expecting, but it didn't leave her any less shocked.
"What are you doing here?I!?" she finally wailed, wiping off her face with a mittened hand.
"I wanted to surprise you," Sirius replied. He laughed as her mitten deposited more snow than it removed.
"Well, you could have chosen another method! And another time and place, for that matter! I have reasons for being fearful on this road."
"But I knew you'd be at Hogwarts tonight! Besides," he said, stooping down next to her, "you look pretty in the snow…"
Abby struggled to maintain her scowl. He couldn't get out of this so easily. Even if he looked so handsome against the winter background. Even if her cheeks warmed at the knowledge that he'd noticed her appearance. "Do I, now? How about cold and wet? Because that's what I'll be very shortly."
Taking her by the hands, Sirius lifted Abby to her feet. She stood still as he circled behind her, brushing off her cloak.
"There," he said. "No lasting damage, right?"
"You're incorrigible, Sirius Black. Just awful."
"Not quite the words I would have hoped for," he replied, as he took a step nearer.
"Impossible. Horrible," she continued.
Sirius leaned in even more closely. His breath heated her cheek as he whispered into her ear, "Forgiveable?"
"Perhaps," Abby said with a smile, drawing the word out slowly. She could pardon a little snow – well, a lot of snow – if he was going to act like this. "Perhaps. But I should tell you, I expect the others will be coming down the path soon. Would you like to follow me home? I'd like to get out of these…I mean, I'd like to change my clothes."
Sirius stepped back, and the look on his face changed. "Actually, Dumbledore thought it advisable that we not meet at your cottage for a while. Voldemort knows my Animagus form, and, well, perhaps it's best if you're not seen in Padfoot's company too much." He shrugged his shoulders.
"Really?" The grain of irritation she felt at this "supervision" prevented her from hearing Sirius' words entirely. "And did Dumbledore also tell you to have me home by midnight?"
"Don't be upset," he said, "we only want you to be safe."
Abby sighed. "Well, how about Gladrags? I can dry off there, we can have a bite to eat…"
"Perfect." Sirius brushed the few remaining snowflakes off her nose. "Would you like an escort?" In an instant, he transformed to Padfoot. The dog came and sat at her feet. Abby looked at him happily.
"You know, sometimes I think I prefer you this way," she said, scratching the Animagus behind the ears. "Silent…devoted…obedient…silent…OUCH!"
Padfoot had nipped at her heels. Laughing, Abby scurried along the path as quickly as she dared, the bear-like animal following close behind. She felt thoroughly chilled by the time they reached the back entrance of Gladrags, even though her breath was coming in heavy, white puffs. With cold fingers, she fumbled around for her keys, giggling helplessly as Padfoot kept trying to knock her away from the door and into a pile of snow off to the side. She knew he was only playing. The dog was large enough to drag her to Brighton and back, if he so desired – if he really wanted her in the snow again (and she wouldn't put it past him!), he'd have done so by now.
"So, how was your evening?" Sirius asked, once they were inside. "Where's the light in here?"
"It was nice." She replied, closing the door and casting a few Locking Spells for good measure. "A handful of us from Hogsmeade and most of the faculty were there. Beware of Hagrid after he's been near the eggnog, though – he becomes rather demonstrative. Oh, I think it'd be best to leave the place dark – I told everyone I was going home to rest up for tomorrow."
"All right, then," he said, hanging up his cloak by the faint moonlight that came through the door's frosted windowpanes. "So, did Hagrid give you a big, burly hug? Enjoyed that, did you?"
"No, I spilled my punch on his shoes and managed to slip away," Abby laughed. "But the party was terrific fun, really. The crackers alone were amazing. I now own a fabulous set of steak knives. I'm not sure Snape cared for his scented hair pomade, though."
Sirius grunted derisively at the sound of the Potions Master's name. "Snape? He was there? That'd be enough to spoil my evening."
"You two never did get on very well, did you?" Abby glanced at Sirius, but his expression was inscrutable in the dark. She shook out the folds of her cloak, and tried to remember what exactly had happened between the two men at Hogwarts. Snape had been the victim of several pranks, true, but in those days, Gryffindor/Slytherin antagonism had been high in several quarters.
"I still can't believe Dumbledore trusts that slimy git," he went on under his breath, bending down to unlace his boots.
"Why do you say that?" she asked, now even more curious. "He can certainly be nasty at times, but I don't know that he's all bad. He seems to be loyal to Dumbledore now – I suppose that's what really matters."
Sirius pulled off a boot and turned to face Abby. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness by now, and Abby took a step back, startled at the look on his face. The tone of his voice was even worse.
"Snape would have happily handed me over to a Dementor, Abby – does that matter?"
"Well yes! But I'm just saying that Dumbledore trusts him – "
"And Dumbledore isn't perfect," Sirius interjected sharply. "I wasn't the only innocent man in Azkaban, you know. He didn't send us there, but I think he could have done more to try and stop it. I admire all he's done against Voldemort, and all he's doing now, but I don't always put blind faith in him."
Abby clenched her hands. Her voice tightened. "Oh," she said, "Oh. Like I've done, is that what you're saying?"
"Well, is this the life you would have chosen for yourself?" Sirius asked, throwing his hands up in the air. "Have you ever asked yourself that?"
"Of course I have," she hissed at him. It was one thing to scrutinize her compliance toward Dumbledore's requests herself. It was entirely another thing to hear her greatest insecurities questioned by someone else, especially by Sirius.
"Snape has a history that's hard to just toss aside," Sirius said, his voice a bit calmer. "That's all I'm saying."
"People could easily say the same of you!" she snapped, feeling ill at the direction the evening had taken. This was not how she'd planned for them to spend their time together. She turned her back to him and began to pull off her own boots with shaking hands.
"Abby, you don't know what you're talking about," Sirius said, placing a hand on her arm. "Believe me."
"Oh? And why is that?" She pulled her arm away and whipped around to face him. "Because having lived most of my sheltered little life in Hogsmeade, I'm not qualified to be a judge of character?"
"That's not what I said," he replied tersely. "Please, can we drop this?"
Abby narrowed her eyes. "Gladly. Lumos!" She handed Sirius her lit wand. "My office is off to the left. My robes are soaked. I'll be back shortly." Turning on her heels, she stormed down the narrow corridor with as much affronted fury as she could gather. The tears barely waited until she'd passed through the velvet curtains and into the showroom, where she sank her trembling legs into a chair, but not before grabbing an innocent hat and hurling it across the room.That condescending, infuriating little…
The hat's matching muff went soaring after it, followed by a pair of helplessly flapping gloves. Abby curled up into the chair and covered her face with her hands. Just what sort of naïve idiot did he think her to be? Their cumulative time together had not been terribly vast, and he had no right, no right at all to parade his ignorant assumptions around like that. And if that's what he really thought of her, then he could just…
No. Abby sat up abruptly and sniffed. Regardless of the curses she wanted to brutally fling at Sirius right now, she had to grudgingly admit that he wasn't wholly in the wrong. Her accusations were really directed at herself, not him. More than ever, she realized that she was not completely at ease with the things that had been asked of her in the past. But, she couldn't expect Sirius to know much about something she'd never told him.
Still, her ego felt wounded. Wiping her eyes, Abby quickly rose and moved instinctively through the shadows of Gladrags to an assortment of evening robes. She rifled through the rich, rustling fabrics until she found just the thing for which she'd been looking – red velvet, trimmed with gold braid. Well, if they were going to be in a tiff, she might as well try to look ravishing while doing so.
Taking the robes off the rack, Abby went to a nearby fitting room. She could barely see her reflection, but her eyes had adjusted to the dark enough to let her know that they fit nicely. If only there was something that could be done with her hair, but her wand was back with Sirius in the office. Perhaps there were other things she could do to enhance the mood and thus make him feel properly apologetic. Sprinkled throughout Gladrags were numerous Christmas trees, befitted splendidly with baubles and tinsel. Her office was windowless, and she could easily light the tree in there without detection.
The grandest of the trees was near the front counter. As she surveyed the rotund fir, Abby cursed her luck again at not having her wand. Finally, at the realization that there was no graceful way to accomplish the feat, she stuck her hands through the decorations and grasped the tree at the trunk. Slowly, she maneuvered the mass through the showroom, past the curtain, and down the corridor, knocking down only a single sock display in the process. All was well until she reached her office and its doorway, which proved to be about two sizes too small for the task at hand…UMPHH!
"Are you hurt?" came the voice from inside.
"No, I'm fine," Abby called back, as she extricated herself from the tree to hurriedly brush fir needles and glittery residue off her robes. "I just misjudged this," she continued irritably, no longer caring for the welfare of the tree and its decorations. She sent the tree into the room with an aggravated kick.
In the low wandlight, she saw Sirius sitting in her desk chair, his face unreadable. Abby tried to swoop majestically into the room, but as a sea of ornaments now littered the floor before her, the attempt was ill managed. Muttering under her breath, she stooped down to gather up the sparkly mess as quickly as possible. To her surprise, Sirius hurried over to help.
"There…" he said a minute later, as he returned the last glass globe to its bough. "That's better."
Abby had kept her gaze averted, her mouth silent the entire time, but she braved a sideways glance now that Sirius spoke. His eyes were on her, and Abby felt a flush creep over her as they covered the length of her dress, moving as though they couldn't help themselves.
"Gryffindor colors? Did you do that for me?" he said, grinning slightly.
Taking a step back, Abby looked down to verify his words, even though she already knew he was right.
Blast, blast, BLAST!
"They're holiday colors," she said, smoothing the fabric down stiffly. "That's all."
"Oh, but I prefer to think otherwise," Sirius said. His eyes started to crinkle at the corners.
"But this is more of a scarlet, really, not Gryffindor crimson," Abby protested lamely. "If there was more light in here, you'd be able to see the difference."
"Either way, it suits you," he said, taking an awkward step towards her. Abby tried to move away, still hoping to keep some semblance of icy detachment about her, but her legs stayed disobligingly in place as he neared.
"I'm sorry I upset you," Sirius began. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing the rough edges off his face. "You've spoiled me. I've always had your good faith in the past, even when you've had very little to go on."
Feeling more romantically inept with each passing moment, Abby shifted her eyes downward. Opportunities to see Sirius would likely be infrequent and unpredictable for some time – what hours they had shouldn't be squandered with such silly arguments. She should probably apologize in some way herself, especially as there was no easy way to remain aloof and indignant while those eyes – those very blue eyes – were looking at her.
"I shouldn't assume or expect that you'll always trust me so implicitly," he went on, moving close enough to lightly finger the velvet of her sleeve. "Rather unfair, I'd think."
"It's not entirely your fault," Abby replied, still hesitant to look at him, though his feet were now in her line of sight. "I shouldn't have snapped."
Fabulous – now she was apologizing to the man's feet. Abby had the uncomfortable feeling that she still had much to learn about relationships of this nature. For Circe's sake, it was his face she should have the gumption to look at, not his socks. Especially not socks like these, ones that had…was that a…a toe protruding? She squinted again to confirm her suspicions, and a smile began to form on her lips. This was unfair – she couldn't very well be put out at a man with insufficient foot covering, prat or not.
"No, I should have known better," Sirius said, taking her other hand and moving even closer. Abby swallowed the monstrously inappropriate urge to snicker. She'd have never thought that holey socks could be so disarmingly cute.
"Of course, this isn't the life you'd want for yourself," he continued earnestly. "A woman like you needs someone who's an upstanding member of wizarding society – a bloke with Ministry employment and his Galleons wisely invested. That's hardly me."
Unable to contain herself any longer, Abby burst out in a full laugh. All pretenses gone, she fell forward and rested her forehead on his chest.
"Oh, but you're so much more interesting!" She turned her face up to his and wrapped her arms around his waist without reservation. Sirius seemed a little startled, but he didn't question her behavior as he put his hands on her shoulders and pulled her to him. Abby closed her eyes and gave a soft laugh, and then was quiet for a long moment, grateful to be enclosed in the scent and warmth and feel of Sirius.
"As much as I'd like to let you take all the credit," she said at length, "I really can't blame you. There are a few things I need to sort out in relation to Dumbledore, obviously."
Sirius kissed the top of her head, leaving his lips against her hair. "How exactly did he ask you to do this?"
The faintly scratchy feel of his chin caused Abby to smile to herself, despite the topic of conversation.
"It was towards the end of my fifth year. My mum was ill – Hesternus Syndrome – and her mind was going quickly. I'd only had a few summers' worth of Weaver training, and so Dumbledore wanted me to start on my own cloak before I forgot what little I'd learned. I didn't want to leave school, but I didn't think I had much of a choice. My dad was too distraught over Mum's condition to be much help, and there wasn't really anyone else I could ask, so I did it."
"Admit it, you did like being through with Divination lessons," Sirius lightly teased.
Abby rolled her eyes. "Well, I might have been, but I'd only been out of school and at Gladrags for a short time when…" – her voice went quiet – "well, when Will was killed. That changed everything all over again."
She paused. Her life might not have always been what she would have liked, but Will hadn't had the chance to have much of a life at all. An aching feeling in her stomach caused her to shift in Sirius' arms. People never spoke to her directly about the manner in which Will died – hoping to "shield her from the blow", she supposed – but they hadn't bothered to keep their whispers terribly quiet, either. It had been horrible. In an instant, Abby remembered again why she, Sirius, and so many others were doing what they did.
Sirius held her, quiet, until she finally continued. "I don't remember much of what happened in the year or two after that," she said. "When I finally came around again, this was my life. I worked at Gladrags during the day, and I tried to weave an Invisibility Cloak at night. At first, I didn't care enough to complain, but then I just didn't know what else to do, so I stayed. I felt mildly discontent, but I didn't think my life had any other options."
"And the locals really believed that head injury story?" Sirius wound one arm around her shoulders and lowered the other around her waist. Abby nestled in closer.
"Well yes, I had the head injury and then there was the shock of Will's death. I was really treated with kid gloves for some time. I don't know what they believe by now. They certainly wouldn't expect that I'd be consorting with men of a dangerous and disreputable nature. Or then again," she added wryly, "perhaps they might."
Sirius pulled his head back far enough to see Abby's face. In the low light, his smile looked tentative, his face pensive. He ran a finger down the side of her face, tracing her jaw.
"So if it wasn't mental impairment that caused you to believe Sirius Black might actually be innocent…" His sentence trailed off as he fixed his eyes on hers. Despite the undercurrent of gravity in Sirius' voice, Abby broke into a wide smile, remembering again just how many things they'd never properly discussed, and wondering if they were going about this romance in a rather backwards fashion.
"I never did explain that to you, did I? You probably did think me a trifle addled. That's actually one of the few things I do remember from back then – you know, from the time when you were arrested. I just didn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. Perhaps I thought I had some sort of secret, special knowledge from watching you and James – "
"I believe 'spying on' would be a more fitting phrase – "
" – from observing you and James together." She swatted his shoulder. "And I had a tremendous gripe at the Ministry, too. Everyone else my age was Apparating all over Britain, while I had to apply for special permission just to use my wand. It was ridiculous. And then they claimed that you – well, that you did all that, and I just couldn't take it. I felt like, 'Oh, you think you know so much, do you? Well, perhaps you don't. Phooey to you.'"
Sirius laughed and pulled Abby close again. "I'm sorry that I didn't know you then. You know, I'm out of Azkaban, but in many ways, you're still trapped in all this."
"Sirius, I'm not going to pretend for even a second that I've had it worse than you."
"Well, I didn't mean for that to come across so morosely, but I think you understand me. What a cheery lot we are, eh?"
"Misery loves company," Abby laughed, and her heart gave a strong pound as Sirius held her away from him and covered the length of her robes once more with his eyes.
"I'll gladly accept more company if it looks like this." Abby felt her knees quaver a bit at the tone of his voice. Under no circumstances should Sirius know how utterly charming he could be when he really tried. He flashed her a rakish grin. "I was a bit of a prat earlier, wasn't I?"
"Yes," she replied, "but I'll keep you all the same." She squealed as he pinched her waist. A chase around the room ensued, but ended shortly when Abby nearly fell over her office chair. Sirius held her around the waist as she struggled to right herself.
"Perhaps we should save this activity for better lighting," he chuckled. Abby flashed him a glare, which he blithely disregarded as he loosened his grip and sat down on the desk. "I'll never be pardoned if I cause the death of our last Weaver. And why ever did you bring a tree in here? Were you planning to wallop me around the head with it? Or dare I ask?"
Abby looked back over her shoulder at the tree. "Oh, that was for ambiance. I was going to torment you with my haughty beauty, but the plan went sadly awry." The sight of some gunk stuck in her hair – tree sap, upon closer inspection – only reinforced that conclusion.I could still try for ambiance, however…
"Hand me my wand, will you?" she asked. "It's right there – um, you're – "
Somewhat sheepishly, Sirius shifted to one side and handed her the piece of willow, on which he'd been partially sitting. Raising her arm, Abby cast a few spells to light the tree's candles and star, ignoring Sirius' teasing admonition to not burn the whole thing down. The tree began to illuminate the room with a soft glow as Abby uttered the final spell, grateful that she really hadn't set the tree a-blaze.
She was admiring her handiwork, her wand still in the air, when she let out a small gasp. The loose velvet of her bell-shaped sleeve had slid down her arm, and Sirius had leaned in behind her, moving the soft fabric down a fraction further.
"I do like these robes," he murmured in her ear.Well luckily for me, I know how to procure many, many more sets of them!
"You've done pretty well for yourself," he continued, looking around the room at the overstuffed chairs, the burnished paneling on the walls, and the numerous Self-Stitching Tapestries, through which golden needles twirled in synchronization. "Nice office."
Abby stared at the lit tree distractedly. Did Sirius have any idea of what these things did to her? He seemed artless and open in his affection. But if he really knew how little he had to do to start her heart pounding and he acted in this manner anyway – well, then he was just mean. She gasped again as he moved his fingertips in a small pattern on her arm. Very, very mean.
"It has its own loo, too?" he asked casually, still surveying the room.
"Oh, and that's not all there is," Abby said, now remembering what she'd been excited to show him when they'd first entered Gladrags. She was reluctant to move from her very comfortable perch on her desk, but she crossed over to the corner of the room and tapped the top corner of the wall three times with her wand. The panel slid smoothly back to reveal an open space behind it.
"Come and see!"
Curious, Sirius ambled over to the wall and peered inside. By the light of the tree, a small room with a table, cupboard, and comfortable-looking sofa was visible.
"You have a thing for secret rooms, don't you?"
"Managerial perk," Abby said, giving a smile to his dazed expression. "Do you want to have a look inside? Rosmerta might still have some food left over at the pub; I'll send an owl to her right now and ask if she'll send a bite over."
Sirius started. "You're not going to mention – " he began warily.
"Oh, of course not! I wasn't really 'whomped', you know. Don't worry; I'm often here late, and now's an especially busy time for both of us."
Leaving him with a smile, Abby went her desk and rummaged about for parchment and ink. She was only moderately hungry, having eaten her fair share at the Hogwarts dinner, but if past habits were any indication, Sirius would surely welcome something to eat. A couple of Rosmerta's turkey sandwiches would be just the thing. Abby's conscience prodded her for a short moment, questioning whether this was a wise action. It had been months since the conversation, her mind stubbornly replied. Months. There was nothing suspicious in this.But Rosmerta's probably going to see right through me anyway…
The memory of a windy April night came easily back. Her legs and voice had been shaking from the trek down from Hogwarts and back into the village. As she'd rapped on Rosmerta's door in the dark, her heart had shaken even more at the thought that Dumbledore had known of Sirius Black's true whereabouts all along. The landlady had been preparing for bed – hair down, dressing gown on – when she opened the door.
"Abby!" she gasped the sight of her winded, tear-stained friend. "Are you all right, love? Are you hurt?"
Abby help up a quivering hand to try and halt Rosmerta's worry.
"I'm fine, Rosmerta, I'm fine. I'm just…it's just that I…" a loud hiccough, and an even louder wail ended her sentence. Sirius had left, almost certainly because Dumbledore had sent him away. Did he think she deserved nothing enjoyable in her life? It was all too much.
"Oh, Abby…" Rosmerta murmured, opening the door completely and putting her arms around Abby. After a few good sobs, Abby lifted her streaked face off Rosmerta's shoulder.
"Do you ever just want to just bag it all and run off with a Muggle?" she laughed tearfully. She knew enough of Muggle life. She could manage in their world. And, she could use magic, an advantage to any seamstress. She could even open up her own shop in London somewhere – "Five-Minute Fashion", or "Rapid Robes". The plan was much more appealing than lost dogs and lost confidence.
"More times than I can count, dearest," Rosmerta said. "More times than I can count. Come in, now."
Abby gave a sniffle and a nod, and allowed herself to be pulled across the doorstep and into the warm flat. Rosmerta guided her a chair and wordlessly took her cloak.
"I'll make us a spot of tea, then?" she asked, having hung the garment up by the door and fetched a cozy blanket to take its place. Abby nodded again, feeling all of twelve as Rosmerta bustled around, preparing the tea and buttering some scones. It was nice to be mothered, she decided, staring absently at the curio cabinet that covered all of one wall. She missed it.
The sound of clinking china and a tray being set down brought Abby back to her senses. She looked at Rosmerta's kind face, becoming increasingly concerned about how she was going to account for her presence in the landlady's flat tonight.
"Some nice trinkets there, wouldn't you say?" Rosmerta said softly, with a nod at the cabinet. "My regulars bring them back for me from their travels. I don't open their tabs up again unless they bring me something pretty."
Abby smiled faintly into her teacup and took a sip, very aware that Rosmerta's eyes were on her. She was much too tired to think up a plausible excuse, and Rosmerta was too close an ally to hear a fabricated tale about an unbalanced register or a late delivery. She took another sip of her tea and let the warmth creep down her throat. At least Rosmerta would never guess at the real reason; that was too incredible for anyone to imagine.
"I suppose all this fuss is over a man, then?" the landlady asked, picking up her own tea calmly. Abby looked up hurriedly, her mouth agape.
Leave it to Rosmerta to come bloody close...
"Why…why do you say that?"
"Remember the line of work I'm in," Rosmerta chuckled softly. "I notice things. It's the same wizarding nature you see in Gladrags every day. Whatever he's done, love, I'm very sorry." She added another cube of sugar to her cup.
Abby tried to make a reply, but her mouth only moved like a hexed goldfish as Rosmerta continued.
"And I can't help but believe the there's something dark and mysterious about this chap, or else you would have told me about him earlier."
"Wha…how – "
"Again, Abby, I must call you to mind of my profession! You've been changed for many months now. It's been breaking my heart to see you so sad, it has."
Abashed, Abby forced her lips to make coherent sound. "Rosmerta, I'm so sorry…I hated to keep things from you, but I…I…I just couldn't…I can't…"
"Shhhh." Rosmerta waved her hand. "There's no need, dear. I'll admit to some curiosity, but it's your business. As long as it's not that insufferable Bagman fellow – he once brought goblins into the pub, did I tell you? – I'll be fine."
At the vision of herself dressed in luridly striped robes, clinging to Ludo Bagman's arm, Abby felt the tightness in her chest lessen. Rosmerta wouldn't pry. "Oh no," she laughed, "It's definitely not him."
Rosmerta reached across the table and squeezed her hand. "Of course not, Abby. I knew it'd have to be someone special to get you in such a flutter. I only hope he realizes what he has."
Again, Abby was left without a whit of explanation. She stared at the blanket on her lap and traced its woolen patterns with an awkward finger.
"Well, bring him 'round the pub someday, if you can," Rosmerta said gently. She passed Abby another scone. "Now, have you heard what Jasper Zonko's gone and done? He had the gall to try out his 'Bounce, Trounce, Pounce, and Flounce' powder on Betty's entire collection of porcelain thimbles. Imagine what happened! Blimey, the man can't even read the labels on his own products…"
Rosmerta had continued to chatter about the latest follies and foibles of Hogsmeade's inhabitants for another half an hour. To Abby's great relief, she didn't press for further information. Abby left for home warmed by the tea, scones, and company, feeling somewhat better. She wouldn't curse Dumbledore's wardrobe quite yet – maybe just the socks.
Abby laughed softly at the memory as she quickly sealed up the owl to Rosmerta and left the room to find her owl. Hubert was a little miffed at being woken, but Abby managed to placate him with a pair of Mallow Mice. Once he'd nibbled up the last of the creamy sweets, he set off to The Three Broomsticks. Abby was watching the last feather of him disappear into the night sky when she heard Sirius from the other room:
"Merlin's beard! Is this all yours?"
Abby hurried closed the door at the sound of Sirius' exclamation and rushed back in, curious as to what he could have possibly found. She knew the reason as soon she reached the side room and saw him standing in front of an open cupboard. Oh, she'd completely forgotten about that…
Sirius was examining a large stash of Honeydukes' chocolate – a very large stash, by all counts – and smiling as he read off the various flavours. Upon seeing Abby, he flashed a wicked grin and began to loudly count the gaily-wrapped stacks.
"There's a good two dozen just right there…do you get that hungry on the job?" he paused to ask.
Abby's face twitched. At least the box under the sofa was hidden from view. "Well, you see, there was a sale at Honeydukes, and so I bought all of that to slip in with my Christmas gifts…" she began to explain.
Sirius looked as though he didn't believe her in the slightest.
"So, how much of it have you given out already?"
"Well, I'm a bit behind in getting my gifts ready, so I – "
"How many bars have you eaten yourself?"
"Well, eight or nine, but I did buy a few extras, and I was planning to wrap the rest of it up in the morning…"
Sirius continued to smirk.
"Oh, bugger off, or I won't share," Abby snapped.
"When have I ever bothered to ask before eating all your food?" he replied with an arched eyebrow.
Her retaliatory remarks now spent, Abby simply folded her arms across her chest with a cross huff. Sirius, knowing better than to worry too much, shut the cupboard door and walked toward her with a hangdog face.
"I'm sorry," he said, in a voice that was hardly contrite.
Abby struggled not to laugh. That was a mighty horde of chocolate in the cupboard, and Sirius' exaggerated expression did not make the most of his facial features. Though she felt completely pathetic at the admission, the late hour was making her start to feel rather silly.
"Oh, but the damage is done," she retorted. "And if you don't offer up some sort of compliment quickly, I believe the only proper thing for me to do is to turn you out in the snow again."
He glanced over her shoulder. "Um, nice tree?"
"That's all you've got?"
"No, really, it looks great." Sirius turned her around by the waist, and then moved in behind her. "It's been some time since I've seen a proper Christmas tree."
The tree was lovely, bedecked with all its flickering candles and multitudes of glittery, glowing things. The fairy lights twinkled once again in soft hues, as though they'd forgiven Abby for their unceremonious entrance into the room. Candlelight was a wonderful thing, Abby decided as she lolled her head back against Sirius' chest. It was nice enough to make her not want to remind him that they'd decorated a tree together last year. She knew what he'd meant. Azkaban.
A brief snatch of a Christmas carol, sung in a surprisingly melodic baritone, thankfully distracted her before she could follow that line of thought any further –
"On Christmas eve the bells were rung,
On Christmas Eve the mass was sung;
The damsel donn'd her kirtle sheen,
The hall was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the woods did merry men go,
To gather in the mistletoe;
Then drink to the holly berry,
With hey down hey down derry!
The mistletoe we'll pledge also,
And at Christmas all be merry,
At Christmas all be merry…"
Abby's eyes widened. Unless the sofa had been taking voice lessons on the sly, the tune had come from Sirius.
"You sing?" Abby asked, her words more of an incredulous statement than a question. This was almost more surprising than the sensation of his hands moving downwards a fraction to rest at the very top of her hips.
Sirius' nodding head rubbed against her hair. "And I had seven years of piano lessons with Professor Lieder while at school. I sang in St. Albans' choir before that," he said simply, as if this information didn't sound at all out of place.
"Really? What's St. Albans? A Muggle church?"
"Uh-huh. It's the cathedral in that town."
"And you sang in its choir?"
"Then, that would make you a – "
"Is that so hard to believe?"
She swallowed a snort. "It's just that 'Sirius Black' and 'choirboy' aren't words that I'd think to put in the same sentence."
Sirius' arms went fully around her waist, and he pulled her back tightly. "Don't get too many ideas," he growled into her ear. "I also once owned a motorbike."
"Really? A motorbike? A Muggle motorbike?"
"Yes. So you see, you don't know everything about me."
She craned her neck around to get a better look at his face. "Such as why the mention of Professor Snape makes you grouchier than a wet Doxy, for example."
Sirius flinched, as though he'd been poked with a sharp stick. "I still can't believe an idiot like that ever became a professor," he muttered irritably, staring off to the side. "I wouldn't trust him to paint a fence, let alone teach children."
His mouth opened further in a mounting diatribe, but froze when he noticed Abby's watchful stare. His lips twisted wryly. "I'm only proving your point, aren't I?"
Abby nodded, and then waited. Something inside her head told her to remain quiet, and see what Sirius might say. Slowly, she turned herself around until she faced him. He'd looked away again, and his face was indecipherable, as though countless mixed memories were playing in his mind.
"Do you see Snape often?" he asked all of a sudden, looking at her quickly.
Startled at the question, Abby racked her brain for an answer. By his tone, Sirius certainly wasn't asking out of jealousy. A good thing, too, as ill tempered, unkempt Potions Masters were most definitely not her cup of tea. What, then?
"No, not really – two or three times a year, at most. Why's that? Why do you ask?"
"Does he ever talk to you?"
"Not if he can help it! I'm a bit beneath his notice. Again, why?"
Sirius' mouth open and shut several times, as though he were searching for words.
"Abby, Snape hates me too," he began at long last, speaking in short, choppy cadences, his gaze somewhat averted. "That's no secret, and if you're up at Hogwarts often enough, and if you continue to work for Dumbledore, you might find out why. Snape thinks he has his reasons, but I want you to hear the story from me – I have no doubt but that he'd embellish it in his favour. So, I want to tell you myself, and I will tell you, but please – not now. Not tonight."
"Why not?" she asked, eyes narrowed. She wasn't at all sure what to make of this secretive, yet confessional manner. When Sirius finally met her eye, she had to relax a fraction. Sirius Black, dangerous criminal and madman, looked for all the world like a fifteen year-old wizard on the terrified verge of asking if he could hold her hand on the walk down to Hogsmeade.
"Why not?" she asked again, a little more kindly.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I want you to like me tonight," he replied, and what looked remarkably like a blush crossed his rough cheek.
Abby considered him for a long moment, wondering about skeletons and closets and what information she really needed to know, or was entitled to know, from Sirius. There was much she was afraid to ask, and more she knew she never would ask, given his past. She made a faintly exasperated sound. Somehow, it all seemed so much simpler back when they just didn't tell each other things, although she had to acknowledge that such a practice wouldn't add much to the longevity of a relationship.
"I'll hold you to that," she said, mostly to halt the growing look of dread on his face.
Sirius nodded soberly, before a grin broke out on his face. "Agreed. Now please, talk to me of something other than Severus Snape! The mere thought of him drives the holiday spirit away entirely."
Winding his arms around her, he began to take steps backward, moving until he landed with a laugh (and a small push of assistance from Abby) on the amply stuffed sofa. She fell partway onto him, her forearms on his chest, her face nuzzled into the crook of his neck. She released a soft breath near his ear, mostly out of an impish desire to see his reaction, and was rewarded with a groan of helpless contentment. His hands tightened on her waist, and though he seemed to remove half her face when he moved his cheek against hers, Abby couldn't imagine a better way to spend an evening. They were alone, in a darkened Gladrags, and he was so very… comfortable.
"So," she said with a cheery sigh, as she lifted her face up, rested it on her chin on her hands, and sought for a more agreeable topic of conversation. "Whatever happened to this fabled motorbike?"
She regretted the question immediately, seeing the change it made on Sirius' countenance. Abby had the uneasy feeling that this likely wouldn't be the last of her blunders. There was no definite way, unfortunately, of knowing which category certain questions fell into, but she should have thought this one through more carefully.
"I'm sorry – I should have realized – " she stammered.
"I gave it away." Sirius replied flatly. "That night, I gave it away."
Abby didn't know which awful night of his life to choose from. She tilted her head to the side, and lowered it onto his chest. He didn't need her staring at him, especially while she cursed her imprudence. Was there any safe ground in the memories before Azkaban? So much seemed tainted, whether or not it deserved the designation.
"I'm sorry," she repeated. "You don't need to tell me."
Sirius gave a dry laugh. "Abby, aren't you going to want to know all of this at some point?"
"I can wait until you want to talk about it. I reckoned that's what you'd do, anyway."
"Well, there's never going to be much from back then that I'll want to talk about."
"That's why I thought – "
"But that doesn't mean I can keep it from you, or Harry, or anyone else whom I care about."
The room grew silent and tense, as though the air in it had been stretched taut. Wordlessly, Abby began to run her fingers over his hand, tracing the hairs, the lines, and the scar shaped like a quarter-moon that ran across the base of one thumb. Through her mind ran anxious musings about what she was going to hear, and whether, after he was done, she'd be glad he'd spoken. There were times, undoubtedly, when she didn't want her own emotional wounds re-opened and put on parade.
"Peter," Sirius said simply, almost unemotionally, as though that one word explained it all.
"Sorry?" Abby asked in confusion. How did this pertain to the motorbike?
Peter Pettigrew? Peter, from his gang at Hogwarts? Peter, whom he…whom he'd allegedly killed, blown to smithereens on a Muggle street? Had he given the motorbike to Peter?
"I don't understand…" she whispered lamely.
"You remember how I told you that all my friends became Animagi?" Sirius voice grew soft and distant, and Abby felt a chill course through her. "We all did – James, Peter, and I – to help Remus. To be with him, when he transformed. James was a stag – 'Prongs', we called him. Peter became a rat – 'Wormtail'. A fitting form for him, I now know."
"But Peter...isn't he…isn't he – " She couldn't say the word.
"No." Never had she heard such chilling hate contained in one small word. "No, he's alive, sniveling at Voldemort's feet like the miserable piece of filth he is. Peter Pettigrew, my old mate from Gryffindor, a willing servant to the Dark Lord. That's how Voldemort knows my Animagus form. That's why we have to be careful."
A clouding numbness took over Abby's mind, hindering her as she tried to fully process his words. Stories of all sorts had once floated around the wizarding world, accounting for Sirius Black's lunacy, betrayal, and imprisonment. None of them matched this account.
"But how did he survive? The newspapers all said…I mean, someone would have had to have seen him…"
"He lived as a rat, true to his wretched character. That's how he escaped, as a rat. Cut off his own finger to frame me perfectly, and then scampered away."
"But how – how could he stay hidden? Surely, there's only so long a person would want to remain a rat?"
Sirius laughed bitterly. The sound made Abby's hair stand on end, and she was selfishly relieved that she couldn't see his face. There were parts to Sirius that would never be jovial and carefree, and while she accepted that, it didn't make his pain any easier to witness.
"Peter didn't seem to mind," he said. "But I don't know how he did it, how he managed to never get caught. He was a pet to the Weasley boys, you know. All those years."
"The Weasleys? Molly and Arthur?" Abby was incredulous. "He was at their house?"
"Right under the Ministry's nose."
"Wait – that's not the rat their boy Percy used to have, is it?"
Sirius gave a small sound of disgusted affirmation.
"That rat's been in my shop!" she cried out, as her stomach took a sick lurch. "Here, in my shop! That was him?"
"It's worse than that. He was at Hogwarts for three years with Ron Weasley, in Harry's own dormitory. He sold James and Lily to Voldemort to save his own damn hide, and then he hid in the shadow of their son. It's despicable, and when he and I next meet, he'll regret his choice of master."
Speechless, Abby continued to stroke his hand until she finally dared to look at him.
"I had no idea," she choked, tears stinging her eyes. Sirius removed his hand and touched it softly to her cheek.
"Harry was the sweetest little lad, Abby," he said, in a voice both bright and heartrending. "Even when he almost killed Lily with colic those first two months, and even when he later made a regular habit of covering my robes in orange glop. The green stuff always ended up on Remus, somehow. But we all loved him. And I got to be his godfather.
"He used to ride around on my back, you know, holding on to the fur, and he never once fell off. Not once. We always said he had James' grip. That's what I thought when I first saw him play Quidditch – he had James' grip. The weather was horrid, but Harry held on to his broom magnificently – well, that is, until he thought I was a Grim and a crowd of Dementors made him fall to his near-death. But he flew so well, I thought I was seeing James out there on the pitch again."
Abby smiled sadly to herself, using her silence and the pressure of her hand on his chest to urge his narrative on.
"Lily would get hacked off sometimes," he continued, "telling us we were too rough with him, she didn't really mean it. Well, she did mean it about the off-colour lullaby I made up once, but Harry would just laugh and laugh when we tossed him around. He'd pull on my robes until I read Danny the Doubtful Dragon to him – at least half a dozen times on each visit. I bet I could recite the entire thing now, if you asked me. I almost got him a copy of it for this Christmas, but then I realized that he wouldn't even catch the joke. Thanks to Peter, Harry has never known any of this, and as soon as I get two seconds to talk to him, something else invariably drags me off. Some godfather I am, eh?"
Abby shook her head across his chest. "Don't say that."
"That's when I first knew they suspected me. I'd gone to their house in Godric's Hollow, where they'd been hiding, praying that my suspicions were wrong. They weren't. James and Lily looked…just awful. I can't even describe it. Bloody awful. I hope Harry never asks me what I saw that night, because I'm going to have to tell him, and I don't know if I'll be able to get through it. But Harry was alive, and I had to force myself to think of him. But then Hagrid said he wasn't to give Harry to anyone else but Dumbledore – not even to me, the boy's godfather! Dumbledore didn't trust me, and soon no one else would. And it was all Peter's doing. I left my motorbike with Hagrid and went to find Peter and kill him. It's ironic, since that would have put me in Azkaban anyway, but I was going to kill him, and I didn't care who saw it.
"It seemed too easy when I finally tracked him down," Sirius went on, pained, "but again, I didn't care. The smart thing would have been to corner Peter somewhere, get him alone, but at that moment, I only wanted to make him pay for what he'd done to James and Lily. So when he accused me – me! – of betraying them, and he blew up the street, killing all those Muggles, something snapped. I don't know how long it'd been since I'd eaten or slept, and then this. I was in shock, pure shock. Really, how in Hades did Peter Pettigrew pull off a stunt like this? He'd left me in the middle of this horrific mess, and if I hadn't known any better, I'd have thought me guilty too.
"Peter was a never a fool, but some things didn't come easily to him. I don't know how much sleep I lost in fifth year, trying to keep him from turning into an Animagus centipede. That's why I believed he'd be the perfect Secret-Keeper. No one would ever, ever choose Peter."
"Secret-Keeper?" Abby gulped, uncertain as to whether she feared asking the question or hearing his response to it more.
"A Secret-Keeper. The Fidelius Charm. Dumbledore thought it would give them the best chance. They would pick one person to hold the secret of their location, and as long as that person kept his silence, Voldemort could never find them."
"And…they chose Peter for something this important?"
"No, they didn't," Sirius said hoarsely. "They chose me."
Abby's eyes widened. This story was so far-fetched and miserably unlucky, it could only be true. Her heart hurt too much to want to look at his face, so she gripped his hand instead. Such a rotten joke, played by misfortune and an untrue friend.
"I convinced them at the last minute to use Peter instead. I was going to go into hiding to lead the Death Eaters on a chase, draw them away from James and Lily," he continued. "But if the Death Eaters found me, I wouldn't have anything to tell them, even if they used the Unforgivable Curses on me. I wouldn't be the Secret-Keeper. It all sounded so bloody brilliant at the time. I didn't suspect Peter a whit. I was more worried about Remus, if you can believe that."
His voice slowed into a dull rhythm. "When I went over that night, I hoped against hope that the spell was still intact, that Peter had just gone to his mother's. I knew they were in Godric's Hollow, but I shouldn't have been able to see them. Peter held the secret now. I thought that if nothing else, I could stand in the town square and yell for them to be on their guard. But I saw the smoke from a long way off, while I was still on my motorbike. I wanted to crash the thing into the ground. My world went mad that night, and before I could get a shred of sanity back, Crouch threw me into Azkaban without trial. He shut up anyone who might have believed me innocent, and he left me there to rot."
Sirius was quiet for a long moment before speaking again.
"So, there it is. Are you certain you still want me?" he asked with a hollow laugh.
At that, Abby turned her head to see him fully. The candles from the Christmas tree flickered over a tangle of emotions on his face, handsome still, though too old for its years. Grief, regret, a touch of fear, deep need – his eyes kept nothing back. She searched for something reassuring to say, but futilely. "I'm sorry" seemed so trite, so insufficient. "It's over now" was even worse. It would never be completely over for Sirius.
Bereft of words, Abby did the only remotely helpful thing that came to mind. She sat up quickly and rose from the sofa. Sirius made a small, pained noise as she moved away from him, and she stopped to touch two fingers to his lips in a quieting gesture before scurrying to the cupboard, opening the door, and filling her arms with Honeydukes' finest. Returning to the sofa, she dumped the assortment on her lap and began to hurriedly break open the bars.
"What are you – " Sirius began, only to be cut off with a determined "Open up" and a chunk of cherry-chocolate nougat. He was still reclined, and thus more at her mercy; in the confections went with swift resolve. Milk chocolate, lemon crème, hazelnut mousse – she looked up from her lap only long enough to take decent aim for his mouth, and she continued with her makeshift consolation until a choking noise echoed throughout the room. Abby glanced up from her pile of wrappers and foil to see Sirius, who looked like a chipmunk that had grossly overestimated its winter storage needs. Perhaps she'd got a little carried away…
"Um, you've got a smudge right there," she said, trying to keep a straight face as she gestured at an errant bit of chocolate, most likely the result of her haste.
"You don't say," he managed to rejoin through a mouthful of mint truffle. He watched Abby with an amused expression until he'd finished chewing and swallowing the creamy mass.
"You might have just said, 'Yes, Sirius, you may continue to stick around', and saved a bit more of that for yourself," he said.
Abby's cheeks coloured with embarrassment, but she didn't mind – laughter was in his voice, and his eyes were smiling.
"If I wanted to be rid of you, I would have done it a long time ago. My bathtub is still grimy."
"Yes, but now you know…" he said, his voice uncertain.
Her hands full of half-eaten chocolate bars, Abby locked her eyes on the beautifully blue pair before her.
"Sirius, you may continue to stick around," she said meaningfully, decidedly, her heart leaping as he broke into a wide, crooked grin.
Looking much more at ease, Sirius reached over and snapped off a last caramel-filled wedge. "I don't know what they put in this, but it seems to help," he said with muffled words and a pleased sigh.
"Just don't think that I'll always be this generous! And you do really have some on you, I wasn't making that up."
Sirius rubbed the back of his hand across his face, coming nowhere near the offending smear. "Did I get it?" he asked.
A second attempt also passed widely by the chocolate, causing Abby to giggle.
"Blimey! Where is it, again?"
She leaned in and waggled a finger toward the corner of his mouth. "Right there."
Sirius' face took on a new expression as he watched her near. "Where, again?" he asked, with a singular sort of smile. A thrill coursed through her. Emboldened by the dim room, the hour, and the lingering scent of chocolate, she moved in further.
"Right there," she said, placing a fingertip softly on the spot. Some of her hair spilled over her shoulders and fell onto his chest.
Abby felt a crackle in the infinitesimally small space between their robes. "Here," she replied, and she exchanged her finger for a light touch from her lips.
Sirius ran both his hands into her hair. "You've got a bit there yourself," he whispered, and his face turned to meet hers, seeking out a connection that was much less "light". He kissed her hungrily, and his mouth, strong and sweet, didn't break contact as it traveled from her lips down to her jaw, and then even lower.
"Sirius," Abby breathed shakily, "I don't remember getting chocolate on my neck."
His laugh was low and warm across her skin. "Trust me, it's there."
Some time later, a sharp rapping resonated throughout Gladrags and interrupted the happenings inside. Instantly alert, Sirius clapped a hand over Abby's mouth to keep her quiet and scanned the shadows of the office with furtive eyes. The sound startled Abby also, until a second, more annoyed series of taps began to take on a familiar pattern.
"No, no!" she cried out, prying off his hand in relief. "It's only Hubert. He's back with the food." She rose from the sofa and found she had to blink her eyes a few times to reacquaint them with the room. Her legs wobbled a bit, but she flashed Sirius a bashful, somewhat dazed smile and headed for the back door, picking up her feet as Hubert threatened to single-handedly crack the glass.
I don't know why he's so vexed about fetching a few sandwiches…
Abby smoothed down her hair her hair in the last few steps and gave her robes a quick adjustment, noting that she would have to deduct their price from her salary. They were certainly in no state to be returned to the rack. She knew velvet rumpled easily, but really…people would hardly believe that she'd only been going over the ledger late at night. No bother, she would keep the robes as a nice memento. Gauging by his reactions this evening, Sirius wouldn't mind seeing them again.
Now at the door, Abby fumbled at the lock and hissed for Hubert to quiet down. If he kept up the racket, he'd soon be loud enough to catch the attention of the night crowd at The Hog's Head, and that was saying something. She soon saw the reason for the owl's perturbation. Instead of the small, paper-wrapped parcel Abby had anticipated, Hubert held a wicker hamper in his claws. A large wicker hamper. Once inside, Hubert dropped his delivery, gave a hoot of displeasure, and returned to his perch with eyes that cautioned Abby not to wake him again, upon peril of her life.
Bewildered, she hooked the hamper over one arm and began walking slowly back the room, sifting through the contents as she went. She was staring blankly at a red and white-checkered tablecloth when Sirius saw her again.
"Um, it's dinner." Abby replied, as she placed the hamper on the table and started to pull out various containers. Roast beef with mushroom gravy…boiled, buttered potatoes…peas and carrots…pumpkin tarts…and then some of Rosmerta's better crystal goblets, silver flatware, and fine china…
"What exactly did you ask her for?" Sirius asked. He'd stood up himself, and was looking over her shoulder at the bounty.
"Only a few sandwiches…"
"Are you sure?"
Abby began to laugh helplessly as she looked down at the table, now blanketed with food. "I promise, that was all!"
Rosmerta's too perceptive for her own good. Or my good, more likely.
"Sirius," Abby began, biting her lip, "there was a time last spring when Rosmerta guessed that I might be seeing somebody..."
His eyes widened in honest surprise. "Why did she think that?" he asked, as his voice faltered slightly. "Was – was there someone?"
Abby gave him a stare of loving exasperation. So observant at times, so spectacularly non-observant at others…
"Sorry, go on," he apologized, grinning.
"I'd been sad for several months, and well, she tends a bar. She sees that sort of moping a lot."
"You were sad?"
The tenderness in his eyes took her aback. She nodded. "I was. My dog had run away."
"I didn't think you would mind…" Sirius murmured, before noting her expression and hastily adding, "but I was wrong."
Abby gave a coy smile. "And they say you were one of the brightest in your class," she said, shaking her head.
"Women require an entirely different sort of magical knowledge."
"We're not that difficult!"
It was now Sirius' turn for exasperation.
"Perhaps only a little difficult," Abby conceded, giggling. "Now, shall we set into this?"
"With pleasure," he replied, as he scouted for a serving spoon in the depths of the hamper. Abby began to unfold the napkins and uncover the dishes, when his voice caught her attention again.
"What's this?" Sirius had located a bottle, tucked away in the back of the hamper, and was tilting it to catch the candlelight.
She glanced over at the label. "Um, I believe that's what Rosmerta calls 'the good stuff'".
"Really?" he asked, his eyes lighting up.
"Don't be too excited – it's just a French variation on butterbeer, infused with vanilla. She likes it because she can drink it on the job." Rosmerta had another theory about that particular butterbeer, based on its aromatic properties, but Abby decided against telling him that.
"Madam Rosmerta…" Sirius said with a touch of nostalgia, as he filled his plate. "I remember her. James and I would joke with her all the time, when she wasn't banning us from the pub. We thought she was rather – " his voice cut off on a faintly guilty note, and he glanced sideways at Abby.
"Oh, you and half of Hogwarts!" she laughed. "Believe me, she gets it in spades. We compare notes occasionally on the best hexes with which to oust the worst of our male customers."
"Men still bother you, too?"
"Sometimes, although it's not nearly what she has to put up with. But they're usually the sort that wouldn't think twice about making a pass at a one-eyed harpy, if you know what I mean. I could forego bathing for a week and they'd still act the same. Mmmm, this roast beef is divine."
Sirius nodded his concurrence over the top of a mountainous array of food. Spoon in hand, he carefully crammed the last of the peas onto the outer fringes of his plate.
"I think Rosmerta would approve of this," Abby said quickly, with a slightly self-conscious gesture of her hand. "Of us. She likes you."
Now sitting on the sofa, balancing his plate precariously on his knees, Sirius gave her a look of curiosity and caution. "I thought you said she didn't know – "
"Not specifically, no, but we did talk about you once."
"You did? Blast, Abby, you're confusing me."
"The entire wizarding world was talking about you then," she replied calmly, as she gathered aside her skirts and sat down herself. "It was back when the Ministry was truly after you, back when the Dementors were in town after dark. We both hated them – they chased off the late shopping crowd, and then you felt miserable for the rest of the night. I even used this ridiculously complex route through two fireplaces and three alleyways to get home. It took me twice as long, but I usually managed to avoid them, the horrid things." She paused to hunt around the crowded table for utensils.
"What do the Dementors make you remember?"
The abrupt, hoarsely voiced question caught Abby unawares; her fork hung in mid-air for several seconds as she turned to look at Sirius. Though surprised, she knew her answer instantly. Some things were always easily recalled, regardless of whether a Dementor was present.
"My mum. And Will."
"You loved him?"
She stared down at her potatoes. "I did. We'd talked about him coming to my house for that part of the summer holiday, you know, but he wanted time to sort things out after my accident and the O.W.L.s fiasco, and so he went to see his cousins instead. He never knew I was a Weaver. The Death Eaters killed him there. He was a nice boy who liked to play Quidditch and make me smile, and they killed him.
"Mum was essentially gone, too. She was still alive, but she didn't remember who I was. She talked to me as though I were a stranger. I couldn't ask her what I should do, and when I cried on her shoulder once, it only scared her. She did tell me stories about myself, though – supposedly, she'd wanted to name me 'Hepzibah', but Dad held his ground and prevailed with 'Abigail'. She was still mad about that."
"Does your father ever come to see you here?"
"He does when he can."
"Not since I've known you."
"But you've been on your own all this time, you'd just think that he'd – "
"I know," Abby said with soft force. "I know."
You'd think that he'd care enough about his daughter to look in on her from time to time.
"I'm not criticizing him," Sirius said, by means of apology. "I just would have hoped that he'd have taken better care of you." He grinned. "I mean, look how you've turned out. Look at the company you keep."
A smile broke through her melancholy remembrances. "Am I one of those women from those trashy tabloids who fancies the incarcerated type?"
Sirius nodded gravely, "Which is a compliment to me, although it doesn't speak so well of you. Now, what about Rosmerta?"
"Oh, well, one evening she and I were griping about how the Dementors were hurting our revenues, and she started to talk about you. It wasn't long after the children had been down in the village, I think, and she'd heard something about you that upset her. She told me how you once jinxed the pub's piano to play 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star', night and day."
"I did do that, didn't I?" he laughed, a dreamy expression on his face. "It took her ages to set the piano right again, and she cursed my drink for it the next time I came by. I was talking in limericks for a week."
"She said she didn't understand how that same boy could have done the things they said you did," Abby finished. She paused, curious. "You didn't also enchant the door of the ladies' loo, by any chance?"
"It whistles rudely whenever you pass through it."
At that, Sirius threw back his head and hollered so loudly that his plate nearly teetered onto the floor. Abby reached forward quickly to save the china from its perilous plunge, watching as a few stray peas fell off and disappeared into the shadows. Drat. She'd have to get down on her knees later and hunt them out. She'd make Sirius do it, but then he'd find the additional stash of sweets hidden there, and that would never do.
"What's so funny?" she asked, turning her attention back to him.
"That was James' doing! It was only supposed to whistle at Lily, as a joke, but he was too thorough, the ruddy Head Boy! He must have never got around taking off the spell."
With a sigh, Abby reached over to the table and helped herself to a pumpkin tart. She might later regret eating so much at this hour, but Rosmerta's desserts were not to be denied. Sirius continued to chuckle lightly, but Abby simply shook her head. She wasn't even going to bother asking what else he and his band of reprobates might have masterminded.
"What was your first thought when you showed me who you really were?" she asked instead, as she settled back onto the sofa and stifled a yawn.
"Something I shouldn't repeat in polite company."
"Do you know what my first worry was? Well, one of them, anyway?"
"What?" he asked, as he concentrated on spearing the last of the peas on his plate.
"If Snuffles had ever seen me in my knickers. I tell you, I was petrified that he might have."I must be pretty knackered, if I'm telling him this!
Sirius looked up from chasing vegetables, and a rakish upturn began to take over his mouth. "No, but I wouldn't – ", he began, but he shut his mouth quickly, as though Minerva McGonagall had materialized before him and issued a stern reprimand. "Erm, never mind. Most sane people would have been busy fearing for their lives," he continued, more decorously.
"That came a few minutes later."
Laying aside his now empty plate, Sirius gave a hearty laugh and reclined back against the corner of the sofa, gazing openly at Abby. She flushed, more than pleased at the admiration in his eyes.
"You continue to surprise, Abby. That night ranks among the better of my poorly made decisions. I'd have to say it's the best of them."
"Then I'm glad I drove you to it. I'll try to throw things at you more often."
"Imagine if you hadn't! I could be living in misery as your neighbors' pet."
"Or," Abby offered in wide-eyed solemnity, "you could be having this tryst with Mrs. Boorman right now."
Sirius laughed, and he nudged her knee with his stockinged foot. "No cheek from you," he said, "or I'll hold back your Christmas gift. That woman frightens me. Really, think of it. I might have had to put up with months' more of tail-pulling and ridiculous commands, while you'd have thought of me as only a dog."
"But I do still think of you as only a dog," she said, snickering into her pumpkin tart. His eating habits weren't too far off, but that could be easily pardoned.
She swallowed the last tasty bite of her pastry, blissfully unaware as to the danger in which she'd now placed herself. But as Sirius stirred from his corner, a voice of warning told her at once that she should move, and move quickly. She had barely a second to set down her plate, before lunging away to the opposite end of the sofa, evading his indignant grasp. She wasn't safe for long, though. Sirius followed after – to her delight, since she hadn't truly meant to escape – and trapped her there in a warm tangle of robes and arms and eager kisses.
They tussled playfully in the beginning – she tousling his hair wildly, he biting at her lower lip – but before long, Gladrags and the world seemed to fall away, leaving nothing but the two of them and their small room. At that moment, Voldemort and all that came with him were temporarily put aside. She and Sirius were together, and while that idea would have been laughable to a prank-inclined Gryffindor and a shy Hufflepuff, it made perfect sense now. Soft, heated, magical, thrilling, perfect sense.
As they kissed, random thoughts began to dance through Abby's hazy mind. How Sirius certainly seemed to appreciate the texture of fine fabrics…how she was really going to have to wear robes like this more often…how she could lock the two of them away here – shoppers be hexed – and no one would be the wiser…how they could live for a few days on chocolate…how Chanella could manage the shop…how she would be perfectly content to celebrate every Christmas this way. And all other holidays of the year, she decided, stretching out languorously into the cushions, as well as the days in between. This – the sensation of his mouth claiming hers, his hands clutching at her robes – was infinitely preferable to lonely nights spent staring at her loom, wishing that Will might somehow come back to life and hold her again. He would always remain her first love, but she was now happily ready to let Sirius be the last.
Abby wound her arms around Sirius' neck, his shoulders, as her pulse did a giddy dance. She was rapidly losing all sense of space and time, as well as the ability to breathe, but she found she didn't mind. The bottom of the sofa could fall out and she wouldn't notice, not when Sirius seemed intent on eliminating every last remaining pocket of air between them, and especially not when his hands were traveling the length of her arms, pushing back the loose velvet, tunneling past the sleeves, and gripping her bare shoulders. Abby whimpered at the touch, keenly aware of fingers that reached across her collarbones and curved up at the base of her neck. She'd received attention from men over the years, but she had never felt so…desired. And ready to pass out. A low groan from Sirius only complicated matters. The sound sent a jolt of heady, exhilarating terror through her, and Abby held on more tightly, shivering at the knowledge that this evening differed in a thousand ways from a schoolboy's kisses in Hufflepuff Turret.
But before she could get around to losing consciousness, Sirius broke off the kiss and withdrew his hands abruptly. He hovered barely above her, a little off the side, and each exhale blanketed the side of her face with hot air. Abby's head reeled as she tried to comprehend what was going on. The room now seemed terribly quiet, apart from their laboured breathing. Why had he stopped? Had she done something wrong? It had been an embarrassingly long time… Oh, no. An even more horrifying thought occurred to her, and she frantically tried to recall the culinary fare of the night. Onions? Had there been onions?!!?
She was still trying to regroup her muddled wits when Sirius mumbled something heavy and unintelligible. She strained her ears and squinted.
"Huh?" she gasped, with all the befuddled eloquence she could summon.
"I just – are you – " he panted, each breath caressing her face, "I'm sorry – is this too much for you?"
He raised himself a little further up, to where Abby could see his face and his wild, darkened eyes.
"I'm wanted by Voldemort and the Ministry," he said, gulping in air. "You don't deserve to be put in this sort of situation…my odds couldn't be worse…"
His tone was serious and concerned, but Abby was so relieved to hear that odiferous vegetables hadn't been part of his motivation, she almost laughed. She couldn't think of a particularly genteel way to say that she quite liked being squashed beneath him in the dark, and so she simply smiled.
"I'm fine, Sirius."
"But if I ever put you in harm's way, I couldn't – "
"Don't start in on that again!" She actually did laugh then, and the sound brought a look of reassurance back to his face. Abby looked him squarely in the eye.
"Technically, I believe I was wanted by Voldemort before I even met you," she said. "I might as well make the most of that misfortune."
Sirius stroked her hair for a few quiet seconds, pushing it off her face. "It won't always be like this," he said softly.
"You won't always kiss me?" she quipped, trying to lighten the mood.
He laughed, but a trace of somberness remained. "You know what I meant."
"But you're the one who's in a compromising position with the town simpleton – all things considered, people might question your judgment."
"But you're not a simpleton."
Abby pulled him to her. "And you're not a criminal," she breathed against his mouth. This wasn't a trivial undertaking, a decision she could simply change her mind about later, like the rash vow made a few years ago to never stock anything in the color lilac again. Sirius was part of her life, and an invisibility cloak would always connect them, even if emotion already hadn't. She tried to let him know as much with her lips. For such an intelligent man, he could be incredibly thick at times!
Sirius was silent, once they broke apart, but far from uncommunicative. His eyes roamed over her face, poring over every feature as if to imprint them in his mind.
"Seeing you does me great good," he said at length. "When I'm with you – when I talk to you or Harry or Remus – that's the closest I feel to the old days."
Twelve doses of Swelling Solution could not have had greater effect on Abby's heart. "That's just the chocolate talking," she replied, as her cheeks began to warm. Sirius just looked at her with one eyebrow raised, accepting her self-effacing comment as some sort of challenge. Before she could say another word, he proceeded to kiss her again, in a manner that made her knees give way (even though she was already on her back) and her mind totter like a windblown Pixie.
"No," he said when finished, laughing at the glassy-eyed, slack-jawed state to which he'd reduced her, "I'm fairly certain it's you."
"Mean…very mean…" was all Abby could mumble.
"Now, would you like to see your gift?"
She wobbled her head in the affirmative, although as far as gifts went, she felt he could just give her another kiss or two like that and consider his Christmas obligations fulfilled for the year.
"Good," he said. "Now, where's your wand?"
Sirius sat up and leaned over to search among the clutter on the table. After locating Abby's wand under a tureen of potatoes, he Summoned his cloak from the entryway and rummaged through the inner pockets before pulling out a gold-wrapped parcel. He presented it to her with a cheerful grin.
Her curiosity was definitely piqued. Abby propped herself up on one elbow and accepting the offering with a dazed smile. Sirius had brought her a gift – something that took thought and planning, care and consideration. He had brought her a gift. She peeled back layer after layer of paper, and what looked like cut glass, gleaming and opalesque, began to come into view. Oh, it was beautiful! Was it some sort of perfume? How did he manage to get it? She removed the last of the wrapping eagerly and peered at the elegant bottle. After a few seconds, her eyes focused enough to read the gilt label:
"Welkin's Wondrous Wild Thing Wash…For your pampered pooch, your coddled canine...Scrub animal thoroughly and often for best results."
Huh. She looked up to fix a blank stare on Sirius, who looked as though he thought he should be made Head Boy for his cleverness. "If you think I'm trying that again," she said flatly, "you're two Sickles short of a Galleon."
"C'mon, Abby, it might be fun," he teased.
"Only if you clean up."
"I thought you would appreciate that the most," Sirius continued, pointing at the bottle. "I did consider a few other things, such as an enormous box of raisins, to be used when you're ticked off at me – "
"I'm not always ticked – "
" – or a grooming brush," he interrupted, "so you could brush out Padfoot's coat every night in front of the fire – "
"How about a collar and leash, so Padfoot will stay in one place for longer than five minutes?"
" – and then there was the Hagrid-sized tin of ginger, so that you could keep me in biscuits for the next dozen years – "
"Obedience lessons might do you more good!" she countered, collapsing into giggles. This Christmas was certainly shaping up to be one she wouldn't forget. Holding the bottle lovingly, Abby forced her mouth into a serious line. "Thank you," she said, trembling at the effort of keeping a straight face. "I'll treasure it always."
Sirius then scooted himself between her and the back of the sofa, draping an arm around her shoulder. A small, light blue box was in his hand. "You didn't let me tell you about the last gift I had in mind," he said quietly.
Dumbstruck, Abby took the box from him. She stared at the embossed logo of Bobbins and Bangles, the village jeweller, and wondered if her poor mind would burst at one more surprise tonight. She opened the box slowly. Resting on a velvet bed was a bracelet made of several delicate, intertwining golden tendrils.
"I didn't resort to any illegalities to get it, if that's what you're wondering," Sirius said, when she continued to gape wordlessly. "I had Gringotts owl over the money – they don't care who their clientele is, a good thing to know if you're ever on the run – and then Remus picked it up for me."
"Tell Remus he has good taste," she gasped, clasping the bracelet around her wrist. She marveled at the craftsmanship, turning it around to catch every glint of light the candles could offer.
"Do you like it?" Abby thought she heard a note of anxiety in his voice. Need he ask?
"I love it," she responded, turning her face to his. "I absolutely love it. It's beautiful."
"I'm the one who picked it out. I lurked around the shop for a few hours, peeking in the window, but I had to leave when the owner's little girl tried to put sparkly beads around my neck."
"She probably liked the pretty doggy."
"I wanted to have something unique made for you, but that could attract attention." He hesitated. "I heard the woman say she'd made several of these. I hope you don't mind."
Abby beamed reassuringly. "It will only solidify my reputation as Hogsmeade's fashion maven. Truly, it's lovely. Tell Sirius he has good taste."
"I happen to think so," he replied with a smile, and he buried his face in her hair. They were quiet for a moment, during which Abby marveled both at the exquisiteness of her gift and the extremely cozy feel of Sirius' body curved around the back of hers. She leaned against him, happy, warm, and secure, until an unpleasant thought came to mind.
"I don't have anything for you," she blurted out, suddenly abashed. She had a shopful of robes to offer, but she'd given him plenty of robes in the past. That would hardly be memorable.
"There's nothing I need," he shrugged drowsily.
"Not even a decent haircut?" she asked, twisting her neck around to see him. "Or a razor?"
"Nope," he said, and his arms went around her more tightly.
"Well, let me at least give you these," she said as she picked up her wand, still feeling terribly remiss. "Accio Hufflehoofers!" she called out. Within seconds, a pair of black socks, vibrantly striped with yellow, flew into the room and landed in Sirius' hand. He stared at them expressionlessly.
"Look at your feet," she prompted. He lifted a foot up in the air and was greeted by a very visible big toe.
"I really did make an attempt to look presentable tonight!" he chortled, before setting her gift down on the floor.
"Aren't you going to put them on?"
"Later," he said through a yawn. "You still have to work tomorrow, don't you?"
She nodded her head ruefully. "In a few short hours, even." She was going to have a very difficult time concentrating on cash flows and sales displays when this evening was fresh in her mind!
"Mmmm," he replied, sounding as though he'd already joined the ranks of the sleeping. She nestled back against him, and had almost dozed off herself when the unexpected sound of his voice startled her:
"Socks for Christmas? Pretty pathetic, Abby."
"You said you didn't need anything!" she gasped.
"Well yes, but still…" he drawled, nuzzling the back of her neck.
"I – I had no notice!" she said, spluttering. "I didn't know that I'd see you!"
"What do I get next year, underwear?" he went on, grinning sleepily at her flustered state. She growled and sent a gentle elbow back to his stomach, too tired for much more. Her eyelids were greatly protesting the hour.
"Happy Christmas, Sirius Black," she said softly, as he took her arm in his and tucked it back around her.
"Happy Christmas, love," he replied.
Love. Abby sighed, gloriously content. Love. She shut her eyes once more, trusting Hubert to wake her up at seven o'clock, hopefully early enough to shoo Sirius out the back door unnoticed. The owl always made such a smug spectacle of himself for Babette, the snowy owl who delivered the daily bulletins from Gladrags' corporate offices at that hour. Once Sirius was gone, she'd have to change and freshen up as best she could, and then somehow concentrate on having a productive workday. As Abby drifted off, lulled by his restful snores, the last thing she heard was the faint melody of the tune he'd sung earlier…
The mistletoe we'll pledge also,
And at Christmas all be merry,
At Christmas all be merry…
Mile-high list of Author's Notes and Acknowledgments:
First off, Abby has been a busy girl in the fandom these last few months. If you're interested, she's had cameos in the following excellent fics:
*Young Remus, by Yolanda (Remus falls in love in his early twenties with a woman who doesn't know she has magical powers. He's a happier and less cautious person before the Potters are killed. Do Remus and Laura have a future?)
*Unicorn Girl, by Yolanda (Lily Snape, daughter of Alex and Severus, is having trouble convincing her father that she's growing up. Will Severus allow her to go to the Victory Memorial Ball with the boy she likes?)
*Headmaster Expelled, by Sweeney Agonistes (Where did Dumbledore go when he was removed from the school by the governors? A CoS tale.)
*Jigsaw, by Alkari (Remus Lupin is returning to Hogwarts as Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, much to Poppy Pomfrey's joy. But the shadow of Sirius Black hangs over Hogwarts.)
*High Spirits: A Hogsmeade Tale, by Violet Azure (With the Dementors removed from Hogsmeade and the village buzzing about the up-coming Tri-Wizard Tournament, life is looking up for our favorite tavern owner. But things take an unexpected turn when Madam Rosmerta finds business and pleasure mixing.)
The mysterious letter from "A Kind and Caring Friend" can be found here:
*My Abby, as dictated to Catherine by Sirius Black
Some wonderful people have also created fan art:
*The Letter, by A.L. de Sauveterre
*Abby Loomis, by Arianrhod
Whew! Now on to other matters:
Many thanks and much e-chocolate goes to Alkari, who requested this outtake and was then very patient while I took forever to write it. Keep an eye out for a lovely Abby/Sirius fic she's written herself, titled "Coming Home".
I'm also very appreciative of the feedback, suggestions, and support offered by the many (and I mean many) people who looked over this for me.
I borrowed Musical!Sirius from Mincot, who also provided the carol he sang (George Shaw's "Merry Christmas," found in The Oxford Book of Carols). You can read more about him more in her works "A Ministry Christmas" and "Andantino", as well as in Alkari's "A Most Unusual Student".
I learned that Sirius liked peas from Rugi's "A Model". Abby's secret room is a little tribute to my favorite passage from Rugi and Gwena's "Tough Guide to Harry Potter", under "Secrets":
"Secrets are an integral part of any tour and exist, like evil, actively and passively. Consequently, Original Characters with secret identities, secret pasts, or secret gifts will be flitting through secret rooms, reading secret books, or searching for secret artifacts."
Many of what Sirius remembers about baby Harry comes from Violet Azure's "A Simple Request", and Bangles and Bobbins exists in her "High Spirits: A Hogsmeade Tale".
ColicMonster!Harry can be found in briteyes' "A Midnight Ride". Sirius should know better than to ever, ever make mothering wisecracks to a sleep-deprived new mum!
Welkin's Wondrous Menagerie, a Diagon Alley pet shop, is part of Catherine's stories. The "Wild Thing Wash" is my creation. J And to think, I'm not even a "pet person".
My depiction of how the Fidelius Charm worked is taken from bluemeanies' comments here.
And, just because I really like the Sirius/Padfoot characterization in it, I'm going to recommend Mosylu's "The Woods Are Lovely, Dark and Deep".
Lastly, thanks to my husband for inspiring most of Sirius' more obnoxious behavior. And now that you know how wholly unoriginal I am, thanks for reading! I know there wasn't a whole lot of plot here, but they really did need a moment together to talk, among other things (wink, wink). I haven't abandoned the Whisper Weave and other plot threads; I'm just still not sure what to do with them, and I don't want to start a big undertaking before Book 5. Suggestions welcomed, however!
Also, some problem with my computer always causes formatting to go wonky in the Floo transfer to the sites on which I post. This explains the weird font sizes, lack of italics, etc. I promise, I do know how to format properly! Thanks for understanding.