The visions came once a month, without fail. Two weeks after the end of her monthly, Dorcas knew to be on the lookout for the signs. The only sign that bothered her was the never-ending itching, as if she’d unwittingly happened upon a small phalanx of fleas with a leader unwilling to call retreat. There were potions and herbs she could take for the blinding headaches and constant ache in her jaw. Those were easy enough to treat if she got to them soon enough. But nothing could stop the itching.
Normally the visions were about tiny moments in her life. Last month’s had centered around the glove she’d misplaced the winter she was thirteen. For three nights straight, she writhed in pain on her bed while her inner eye showed her the contents of Micah Stevenson’s foot locker. She’d always known that git had taken it while the pair had dried in front of the fire the winter of her second year at Hogwarts.
Now that she knew where the glove was, her life wasn’t any better. Considering that she hadn’t given Micah the time of day when they were in school together, she wasn’t about to hunt him down and ask for her glove back. It could stay where it was and rot for all she cared. These visions had never been an asset to her. They were minutiae in a life otherwise full of random, interesting things. For once, she wished her visions told her important things like the winner of the Harpies/Falmouth Quidditch match so she could earn some real money. Or maybe remind her that she needed to post a letter to her parents who were beginning to worry about the long stints of silence between communications.
Her jaw had locked almost completely at noon and she’d staggered home from the Frosty Dragon, acting like one of the patrons she’d been serving all morning long. Before the headache knocked her out completely, she filled a glass with water and put it beside the bed she finally collapsed onto.
The vision was different this time. A shadowy white form was the only constant in an ever changing landscape. Sometimes it was creeping through a forest, but most often, it was walking up to her, laying its head atop the hand she was holding out. Just when she thought she might recognize the shape, it faded into nothing more than a blob without a true form.
Dorcas woke up more confused from this vision than she had from any other. These scenes were telling her something she didn’t quite understand which was giving her a strange feeling. This felt like something important. Not like the missing mitten or the countless other images she’d seen.
A knock at the front door sent her scurrying to make herself presentable. The glass of water came in handy to clear her cottonmouth. Nothing could be done with her rumpled clothing or tangled hair but she didn’t care. She very much doubted anyone interesting was going to be visiting today.
“Dorcas Meadows?” A tall black man stood in her entryway, hands deep in the pockets of his corduroy trousers. Nothing about him was shadowy although there was an interesting glint in his left ear. She’d never met a man who wore an earing before. It glinted hypnotically and she couldn’t take her eyes off the tiny gold hoop.
“Are you Dorcas Meadows?” he asked again when she didn’t answer.
This time she pulled herself together enough to nod her head. He must think her a bit slow but she couldn’t gather her scattered thoughts enough to answer him verbally. Besides, her jaw was still hurting enough that the nod would have to suffice; any other movement would be too much for her overtaxed muscles.
“I’ve been sent to give you a message.”
She waited. He waited. Both of them just stared at each other. Dorcas tried unsuccessfully to get most of her hair smoothed down just in case that was what he was waiting for. Perhaps she needed to be more presentable before he could deliver it.
“Message?” Her voice was a stifled groan as she pushed the word out.
“You don’t remember me?”
She shrugged, not able to place him. A lot of witches and wizards came through her life on a daily basis. The Frosty Dragon did a lot of business with the Diagon Alley crowd. Jock was proud of his little pub even if it was rather dirty and worn down with age. Not everyone could have a sparkling new place of business like the Leaky Cauldron.
“We went to school together.” He seemed to want her to remember him as she shrugged again. “I was a couple years older than you. And several inches smaller. Most of my height didn’t hit me until right after I left Hogwarts.”
“Gryffindor?” As he nodded with a sheepish grin spreading over his face, she was finally able to place him. “Kingsley?”
“You do remember. It’s been a long time.”
After doing some quick calculations in her head, she nodded. “Five years.” Without thinking, she laughed. It was foolish but she had gotten carried away with the idea that she’d been out of school for over two years. The sound ripped through her fragile system with alarming speed, all her senses sending out alerts. Bile rose in her throat as her eyes squinted against the sudden bright lights that burst behind her eyes. She gave an agonized cry and pitched forward, unable to stay conscious long enough to fall somewhere soft this time.
There was no vision this time, only nightmares of pain. She hadn’t given herself time to recover, so now she paid the price. As her body writhed under the agonies afflicted by this supposed gift, there was something else. Something new. A calm voice telling her it would be okay. A cool cloth wiping the sweat from her face. Even someone brushing her hair out of the bird’s nest it always became when she wasn’t able to care for it.
When the pain broke, Dorcas was alone. She stayed very still just to make sure everything was still in place. A wave of prickly heat broke over her foot but she didn’t dare try to scratch at it with her body still feeling as fragile as it was, so she dealt with the agonies in silence. When she had everything categorized in the Not Broken, Just Sore column, she turned her head and concentrated on the doorway. Her flat was small enough that she should be able to sense if anyone else was there. Unless he’d gotten high marks in stealth, she couldn’t feel him nearby.
With a sigh, she turned onto her right side and curled into a tight ball. Another day and she’d be free of the visions and back to pouring drinks at the pub. Her life would be back to normal for another month. It would be as if tonight had never really existed. Already the oddness of her visitor was seeping back into the wisps of her dreams, and she could almost believe that he was merely a fragment of them.
Until the front door opened. Instantly, she was fully awake. Her wand was across the room, completely useless to her at the moment. If she dared exert the power, she could’ve called it to her side, but she wasn’t sure of what she was dealing with just yet and wordless spells still tired her out. Maybe it was time to work on those skills again. She’d get right on that tomorrow.
“You’re up. Feeling better?”
Her eyes widened. “Kingsley?”
“And you still remember my name. I wasn’t so sure you would after that collapse in the hallway. I give it a nine point five for precision but you’ve got to work on your form.”
Even though her body still protested the movement, the laughter bubbled up from inside. No one had ever made her laugh like this before. It felt like pure joy at its finest.
“I’m assuming that was you who got me to my bed. And stayed with me?” She knew the answer was yes, but she also wanted to find out why. Anyone else that she knew would have pushed her inside the door and closed it tightly, only worrying about getting to where they needed to bewithout a care that she might be in trouble. Of course, no one actually visited her. Not these days. Her parents didn’t know where she lived thanks to the forgetful charm she cast on them after every visit. Once a year was all she could take of family love.
None of her friends from school were still around. People changed and went their separate ways. She was a barmaid now. No friends but plenty of customers. Luckily they were tipping well these days. Perhaps if that kept up, she’d consider them friends.
“Of course. You needed me. I couldn’t just leave you.”
“But you did.”
He held up a bag. “You have very little food in this place and I needed to change my clothes. You were out for awhile. Do you often have this trouble?”
“Only once a month.” She shrugged, happy to be able to make that movement without too much trouble. “I don’t normally invite people over to witness my gymnastic attempts, though. Did I blacken an eye? I’m always very careful to fall on something soft.”
When Kingsley sat down on the bed beside her, she tried not to flinch. His sudden closeness was making her uncomfortable, even if it was in a good way. Her thoughts migrated back to the bits and pieces she remembered of him soothing her nightmares. No one had ever done that for her before. Especially not her own parents, who’d spent those days of the month trying to ignore their daughter’s strange skills. It made her heart do odd little jumps that this man, who knew her weirdest secret, was still sitting there when he could have easily walked away without losing her respect.
“No bruising. I caught you before you could hit the floor. Just barely, though. You surprised me so I didn’t react as quickly as I could have. And I tried a few of the triage spells I learned but none of them seemed to help you, so I went with the old-fashioned wet cloth. Sorry I couldn’t do more.”
“Feeling very white knightish, are we?” She propped herself up on her elbows, closing the distance between them. His dark eyes were flecked with bits of gold, something she never would have noticed if she hadn’t been so close. Since he wasn’t shying away, she breathed a little easier. “I’m not used to being rescued so I wasn’t expecting much. Thanks for keeping me beautiful.”
He reached out a steady hand, pushing a piece of wayward hair behind her ear. Dorcas thought she might faint from the riot of emotions spiraling from this new contact. She was scared and exhilarated, all at the same time. If he kissed her, she could very well die happy. Why couldn’t her visions show her things like this?
“I do what I can. Are you sure you’re feeling alright?”
“Never better. I’m stronger than I look right now. This is… my low point.”
He’d moved closer while she talked so that her breath moved against his skin. Any minute now, she thought with a jump of excitement.
The squawk of an owl broke the mood, sending them both careening apart just seconds before the fateful moment.
“Wha… where did that thing come from?” She hadn’t meant to yell but her nerves were too frayed to sound calm.
Kingsley didn’t look any calmer. The tawny owl flew to his shoulder, asserting its presence in the suddenly tense situation with a strident hoot. “Dumbledore. I told him he could find me here until further notice since I wasn’t sure how I’d find you when I got back. Couldn’t have you recuperating alone.”
The statement would have filled her with lust a moment before, but now it sounded trite, as if he’d been sent here by her mother to do a job he didn’t want to be doing. She forgave him because she felt rather embarrassed for her own loss of control. They barely knew each other. Maybe it was for the best that the owl had come along when it did.
Rearranging the blankets to keep from having to look at him, Dorcas struggled to compose herself. What did their old Headmaster want with someone who wasn’t a student anymore and yet wasn’t old enough to be a professor? And how did Kingsley fit in with him?
“Dorcas?” She looked up when he said her name. It had the sultry undertone once again. “You are doing alright, aren’t you? No more crashing over if you move wrong?”
An embarrassed shrug and a nod were all she could manage.
This time he moved in quickly, not giving her any time to compose herself. The kiss was everything she’d thought it would be – warm and hesitant with a tinge of the passion she still felt in the air. Unfortunately, it was over before she could reciprocate in kind, both of them pulling apart with a haste only a first kiss can create.
“I’m fine,” she assured him as she struggled for a reason to keep him here without sounding wanton. “Don’t feel you need to stick around. If Dumbledore needs you….”
For a moment, she thought he was going to nod and walk away. While she would have been disappointed, it’s what she expected him to do. Instead, he shook his head.
“I’ve got to make dinner first. Remember? You don’t have anything to eat. The least I can do is show off my cooking skills. I hope you like meatloaf.” When she nodded, still dumbfounded, he gave her the most beautiful smile she’d ever seen on the face of a man. “Good. It’s the only thing I can cook with any certainty.”
But he didn’t walk into the kitchen and started dinner; he leaned over her again. On an impulse, she put her hand up to caress his cheek. “I’m giving you plenty of time to come up with a better reason than dinner to keep me around. But think fast. I can only stretch the preparations out for so long.”
A shiver ran through her as he walked away. For a moment, as she touched him, she’d felt as if she had lived that moment before. It was the same feeling she got whenever one of her visions came true, but she felt sure she would’ve remembered seeing someone like Kingsley in her dreams. He’d been in there somewhere would should won’t be having this feeling. With any hope, she would come up with a reason to keep him around. There were things she wanted to know about Kingsley Shacklebolt… and she definitely wanted to kiss him again.