"Wake up, sleepyheads. WAKE UP!"
The next morning started anything but calm for Sirius. He did not exactly know where he was at first and groaned. After a few seconds, it slowly started to come back to him that he was laying on his stomach in an unfamiliar bed with a sleeping girl next to him.
When he opened one eye and spotted Mary's sister Jenna standing right in front of him, his finally had a proper brainwave and remembered the last 24 hours: spending Christmas with the Woods family, sleeping in Mary's bed, feeling her body close to his own...
When he finally felt Mary stir beside him, he automatically lifted his arm so she could sit up. "Jenna," she groaned sleepily in a husky voice while tiredly rubbing her eyes. "What're y'doing?"
"It's a new day," Jenna announced cheerfully. "Time to get up. It has been snowing! Besides, I need your help."
Mary reached over Sirius – who by now had closed of his eyes in another feeble attempt to fall back asleep - so she could check the time on the alarm clock standing on the edge of her nightstand.
"Jenna!" she whispered angrily, "It's not even seven o'clock in the morning! Whatever it is you need from us, it will have to wait. Okay?"
"But it's my purple dress for Christmas! I colored it by accident."
"You colored it."
"I didn't mean to! I was just thinking of my yellow frisbee and then all of the sudden my dress turned yellow too."
Mary frowned. "You did it by magic?"
"I guess so. Can you fix it? Please Mare, mum is going to freak out!"
She yawned. "I will take care of your dress later, but not now. It's way too early in the morning to even think properly about transfiguring your dress back to normal. Come back in an hour or two," she said dismissively and lay back down, wrapping her arms around Sirius's waist.
Sirius sighed contently and was about to doze off when he could feel Jenna, apparently switching tactics, starting to tug on his arm instead. He reopened one eye and stared right into a pair of curious and particularly awake eyes. "What is it, Jenna?" he muttered sleepily.
"Will you help me with my dress?"
Sirius raised his head and raised an eyebrow. "Your dress is going to be equally as yellow at nine o'clock."
Sirius couldn't help but smile at her pleading look. He never had a little sister before and Jenna at her young age was turning out even more charming than her big sister. After shooting a glance at Mary and gently removing her hands from his waist, he sighed. "Alright."
He swung his legs out of bed, quickly put on a T-shirt, reached for his wand and quietly followed Jenna to her room.
"It's right there," Jenna said, pointing out her party dress that was hanging from the closet door.
She didn't need to have done that. The colour of the dress in question was such a bright shade of yellow that it was practically blinding him. Sirius squinted at it, having trouble to believe his eyes. "You did this all by yourself?"
"I don't know how it happened, okay? Can you change it back?"
"Of course, but before I reverse the spell: what kind of purple are we talking about here? Lilac, aubergine?"
"Lilac, it was definitely a lilac dress.
Sirius looked at her for a moment, but Jenna was nodding frantically, before pointing his wand at the dress. With a single wave he turned the dress back into being a perfectly lilac shade.
Jenna jumped up and down in excitement. "Thankyouthankyouthankyou, you're the best!" she called before jumping into his arms and hugging him close.
Sirius laughed and patted her on the back. "You're welcome. Now will you please let me get back to bed?"
Jenna could not no longer object to that. Sirius yawned as he crossed the vestibule to Mary's bedroom, placed his wand back on the table, pulled off his shirt and was about to crawl back into bed when he noticed Mary was sitting up straight as she leaned back against the head of the bed with both her legs crossed. She shot him an amused look. "I can see my little sister has already found a way to get to you."
Sirius groaned and flopped onto the bed. He crawled over the covers towards Mary and relaxed his head on her lap. "What can I say? Apparently there's something enchanting about Woods girls that I cannot seem to resist."
Mary smirked and stroked his hair. "Well, we are pretty mesmerizing if I say so myself."
He reached for her head and pulled her down towards him. "Now, don't get too conceited there. You're not that stunning," he mumbled teasingly before pulling her into a kiss.
After relaxing and cuddling for another thirty minutes, they decided that since they were already awake, it would be better to get up after all.
After they had groomed and dressed themselves, they went downstairs and when they walked into the kitchen, they discovered that Mary's parents were already up as well. Mary's mother was busy preparing breakfast and her father was reading a copy of today's Independent. "Good morning," he said before sipping his coffee.
"Morning," Sirius and Mary replied almost simultaneously.
"I trust both of you slept well?" Mrs. Woods asked.
"Yep," Mary replied cheerfully while reaching out to break off a piece of freshly baked bread that was resting on the kitchen table.
"Mary don't," her mother said warningly as she slapped her daughter's hand.
"Ouch!" Mary said, nursing her hand, but this did not seem to impress her mother all that much. "You know the rules: no touching the food before breakfast is ready. However, now that both of you are here, you may assist me in preparing the rest of the food."
Mary groaned. "Where is a House-elf when you need one, eh?" she muttered to Sirius from the corner of her mouth.
"Oh, trust me," he whispered back thinking of Kreacher. "You wouldn't want every house-elf to cook your meals."
As a reluctant Mary walked over to her mother to ask what she could do to help. Mr. Woods put his newspaper aside and looked at Sirius. "Well son, I'm about to chop some wood. Would you like to assist me?"
Sirius followed Mary's father through the kitchen door which led to the large garden. Breathing in the crisp morning Winter air, the two of them walked around the house before arriving at the very shed where he had spent a significant amount of time with Mary the day before. A large pile of wooden blocks was stacked up against the wall. The was also a huge log on the ground with two axes laying next to it.
Mr. Woods shook the snow off the axes before handing one of them to Sirius. After chopping a few blocks by hand, he lowered his axe and wiped his brow. "What would you say if we got some assistance?" he asked, wagging his eyebrows suggestively at Sirius.
"Er… You're referring to magical help?" he asked hesitantly, not sure he was interpreting his request correctly.
"Exactly," Mr. Woods nodded with a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes. "Do you happen to carry that magic wand with you?"
"At all times, sir."
"Well, use it then!"
Sirius pulled out his wand, pointed it at the pile of blocks and gave it a wave thinking Concido Logus. At once the axes started to chop the wood by themselves.
"That is absolutely extraordinary," Mr. Woods said in awe as he sat down on a bench and closely watched the axes chopping the logs in neat quarters. "Just don't tell Pat about this. She kind of has a problem with using tools she doesn't know how to handle, such as magic."
"She won't be hearing a single word from me."
"Besides," he continued, "this gives us some time to talk in private. Please sit down." He patted the other side of the bench. Sirius – feeling a little apprehensive - slowly walked over to the bench and sat down.
"Now, Mary has told me some things concerning your family history. Apparently you and your parents don't get along very well."
"That's er… Well- I'd say that's a bit of an understatement," Sirius replied, staring down at his shoes.
"My family has a completely different view on how to live your life as a wizard and how you should treat other people."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, I'm not sure how much Mary told you, but did she ever mention that not all wizards are good people?"
"Yes, but there isn't a society that doesn't have its legendary villains. Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin…"
Sirius gave him a wry smile. "Exactly. Well, in our world, someone like Hitler happens to be on the rise. Most members of my family support his beliefs. And I don't."
"Well, every family has its bad eggs. I'm sure not all you relatives think the same way."
"Eh well, my niece Andromeda also stepped out. And was disowned as a result, just like me."
Mr. Woods clacked his tongue in a disapproving manner. "I think it's unforgivable to treat your children like that, even if there are… differences."
Sirius shrugged. "It's a complicated situation."
"Even so, I want to clarify that you will always be welcome here."
"Thank you sir, I appreciate that."
"Although of course that rather depends on how things will work out with you and Mary. Before I forget, I believe I owe you a thank you."
Sirius looked up in surprise. "For what?"
"About a month ago I received a letter from Headmaster Dumbledore concerning a certain young man who attacked Mary and how you rescued her before any true harm was done."
"I happened to be in the right place at the right time."
"Nevertheless, I feel it's my duty to thank you for beating the crap out of this boy. Saved me a little trip up to your school."
He grinned. "Trust me when I say it was my pleasure. Anyway, I would do everything to protect Mary."
Mr. Woods gave him a piercing look. "You're that serious about her?"
Sirius thought about that for a moment. "Yes sir, I think I am."
"Glad to hear it. Anyway, there's a certain tradition in our family and even though you didn't ask, I hereby grant you my official permission to date my daughter."
"Oh," Sirius said, feeling a little embarrassed. "I didn't know that was- Should I have…?"
"No son," he said laughing as he patted Sirius on the shoulder. "All I needed was to see is that you're making Mary happy. Now let's carry this chopped logs back to the house in the Muggle way, shall we?"
Sirius – feeling a complicated mixture of self-pity (remembering his own rotten relatives) and happiness (being accepted by Mary's family) – piled up as many logs as he could carry and followed Mr. Woods back to the house.
When Sirius had placed his pile of wood next to the fireplace and was heading towards the warm kitchen, he and Mary's father walked in on a rather funny scene. Mrs. Woods was nervously walking up and down the kitchen as she tried to ward off piles of thick black smoke coming out of the hot oven.
Mary was leaning against the sink with her wand out and currently tried to convince her mother to solve the problem by magic. Jenna was sitting cross-legged on the kitchen table and following the scene with an excited look on her face.
"Mum, if you'd just let me-"
"-No! I don't need magic. I'm sure I can still fix this pumpkin pie myself."
Mary rolled her eyes in annoyance, walked over to the oven and opened the door with a flourish, resulting in another fresh wave of black smoke spreading through the kitchen. "Look at it! This pie is beyond getting fixed now."
"Pat," Mr. Woods said, coughing as he waved off some of the smoke with his hands. "I'm sure that in this case, a little magic wouldn't hurt."
"Thanks for the reasonable insight, dad," Mary said, looking relieved as she carefully took out the blackened pie of the oven and put it down on the table where it continued to send black spirals of smelly smoke into the air.
Mrs. Woods lingered in a corner of the kitchen, muttering darkly about "the good old days when Mary was still underage and not allowed to do magic outside of school."
"Fine mum," Mary sighed impatiently, "You win. But if you're really planning to serve auntie Muriel a slice of this blackened pie, be sure to let me know in time, because I could really use a good laugh."
Her mother pouted. "I guess you have a point. Fine, go ahead then."
"Oh goodie, magic!" Jenna cried excitedly as she leaned in closer to get a better look at the pie.
Mary shot a look at Sirius before pointing her wand at the pie and using a processing in reverse spell. It was effective immediately, since the pie on the table was no longer black, but golden brown and it dispersed the delicious smell of freshly baked pumpkin pie.
"That's eh… wonderful," Mary's mother was forced to admit. "Well done, love."
"You're welcome, mum," Mary replied as she grabbed some plates and walked to the living room to set the dinner table. The family had breakfast together. Mrs. Woods warned Mary, Sirius and Jenna to eat as much as possible, because they wouldn't be getting anything else before dinner.
After they had cleaned up the mess in the kitchen, Mary paused behind Sirius who was staring out of the window, slid her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. "What did you and dad talk about?" she asked softly.
Sirius turned his head slightly so he could kiss her cheek. "You, mostly."
"I now officially have your father's permission to date you."
Mary snorted. "Right, like that makes a difference."
Sirius placed his hands on hers. "Apparently it does make things more official."
"Yeah, I suppose it does." She kissed the back of his neck tenderly. "Hey, I've been thinking. Are you for some horseback riding?"
Sirius turned around so he could face her. "Horseback riding? But I have never done that before."
Mary grinned. "Don't worry, I have just the right horse for you!" she replied excitingly before grabbing his hand and pulling him along to the barn. There were several horses standing in the boxes.
"Are all of these yours?" Sirius asked as he looked around with awe.
"Not all of them," Mary said while guiding Sirius through the stables. "Most of the horses are owned by other people who pay my family to station their horses here. Now, say hello to Zorro."
They had reached a stall where a tall white horse was quietly chewing on some hay. "Zorro?" he asked, shooting the horse a suspicious look.
Mary chuckled. "Don't let his impressive name deceive you. He is the sweetest horse you'll ever meet. The only way to get off him is to dismount." She reached for the rein on Zorro's halter and guided him out of the stable.
"Here," she said, handing the rein over to Sirius. "You take him. I'll go and fetch myself a horse too."
After a moment of just standing there all by himself, Sirius gingerly pulled on the rein in an attempt to make the horse follow him. To his surprise, Zorro obeyed and followed him without protesting in any way. When he got to the central area of the stable, he noticed that Mary had already tied a coffee brown horse to a pole and was brushing its coat.
"You can tie him up here," Mary said, pointing to a pole next to her and the brown horse.
"Is that your horse?" Sirius asked while he also reaching for a brush to brush Zorro's manes.
"Who, Victoriosa?" Mary said as she gently patted the brown horse on the neck. "Nah, she belongs to my niece but she's out of town and I assumed this horse fancies a ride."
"Don't you have your own horse?"
"Not since Mistral."
Mistral... Somehow this name was sounding oddly familiar to Sirius. "Mistral," he repeated, trying to remember where he had heard it before.
"He was my first pony. Died when we were in second year."
Sirius remembered that moment all too well. Mary had been inconsolable and walked around with puffy eyes for days. "He meant a lot to you, didn't he?"
"Well yeah," she admitted as she bent down to clean one of Victoriosa's hoofs. "I saw him every day before coming to Hogwarts. He knew everything about me. He was my first love."
Sirius snorted. "Your first love?"
Mary glared at him from under the horse's belly. "Yes, he was. I'm not saying he was my big love, am I?"
"So who is the love of your life, then?"
"I'm starting to think that might be you."
Sirius was completely taken aback by her straightforward response. He was unable to remember the last time this had happened to him when he was with a girl, but he had absolutely no idea how to respond. All he did was stare at her.
Mary – noticing his shocked reaction - walked around the horses until she was standing in front of him. "I think I should rephrase that last sentence slightly," she said casually. "What I meant is that there's a slight, just a teeny tiny possibility, that you could become a very important person in my life."
He blinked in confusion and continued to stare at the ground, still indecisive about what to tell her. Well, he knew what he wanted to say: that he felt exactly the same. That this, them being together, felt absolutely wonderful.
But this time, there was a familiar aching inside which he failed to suppress: the fear of being abandoned whenever he truly opened himself up to someone. His parents, his brother, even his niece Narcissa who used to like him before Bella and Lucius Malfoy poisoned her mind.
"Sirius, are you alright?" she asked, her brow furrowing slightly.
He finally looked at her and bit his lip. "Look Mary, I…"
"Never mind," she said quickly. "I should have kept my big mouth shut. Just forget what I said."
She turned back to her horse, but Sirius suddenly grabbed her hand. "I feel it too," he blurted out.
"Oh," Mary said, looking relieved.
"It's just that… I cannot… I-" He closed his eyes. "I cannot let people get too close, because I always screw things up in the end."
"Screw up? I don't under-"
Sirius sighed. "One way or the other," he said heavily, "I drive people away from me in the end."
Her face relaxed and she tilted her head to the side before whispering: "I'm not going anywhere."
"You say that now, but-"
"-Sirius", Mary repeated more urgently as she was beginning to understand what was bugging him so much. "I'm finally getting to know the real you and I have no intention of abandoning you. Quite the contrary…"
Sirius didn't know what else to do but to hug her as close as he could. They remained standing like that for minutes, until an impatient Victoriosa started to scrape his hoof on the floor. Mary looked around and smiled. "Looks like our horses are impatiently awaiting their riders. Are you ready?"
Sirius was not sure if he was, but he decided in this case it was best to lie. "Sure, lets go."
They saddled Victoriosa and Zorro and took the horses outside. After Mary had given him a crash course on horseback riding, he felt confident enough to go for an actual ride. She showed him the most beautiful spots on the countryside surrounding the estate and it was a mesmerizing environment, especially with all the snow that was covering the land like a white fuzzy blanket.
In the end Mary even persuaded Sirius to let the horses break into a gallop and he had to hand it to her: riding a horse at that speed, with the cold wind making his hair stand up in all directions, it was making him feel almost as free as when he was flying on his broom.
When Sirius and Mary finally returned to the barn, their hands were linked. They were about to dismount Zorro and Brego when they spotted an older man and woman standing in front of the house. Sirius's heart skipped a beat and he nearly fell off his horse. That tall woman - with her expensive looking hat and long robes - looked a little too familiar to him. What in Merlin's name was his mother doing here?
However, when the woman turned around and he could finally see her face, he almost screamed with joy. This was not his mother, but a very posh-looking and sullen faced woman. He was just starting to wonder if this could be the infamous aunt Muriel when he heard Mary groan beside him.
"What's wrong?" he asked, squeezing her hand gently.
"Ugh… I was hoping that bloody tart would not arrive before tonight, but apparently the shrew has already confiscated the property. Typical… Oh well, there's no turning back now."
Mary quickly dismounted her horse and Sirius followed suit. They guided their horses over to the couple and when they were almost there, she muttered from the corner of her mouth: "Brace yourself."
Aunt Muriel was inspecting them with a disapproving frown. She raised an eyebrow when her eye fell on Sirius, and not in a appreciative way. "Mary, I would have expected you to dress up awaiting our arrival."
Her voice was high and cold and although the tone was polite, it was obvious this woman was feeling superior to anything that surrounded her. Her eyes darted back to him. "Well, aren't you going to introduce us properly?"
He noticed Mary was grinding her teeth, although she tried her very best to remain polite. "Certainly," she replied with a fake smile plastered on her face. "Please meet my boyfriend Sirius Black. Sirius, this is aunt Muriel."
Sirius held out his hand and after a rather uncomfortable pause, aunt Muriel took it reluctantly. She let go as soon as possible to wipe off her hand on her skirt.
Without a single note of embarrassment or remorse, she shot Mary a disdainful look. "Now girl, I realize I've encouraged you to find yourself a suitable man, but surely even you could have found yourself someone better than a groom?"
~* End of Chapter *~