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Falling To Pieces by RoxyRose

Format: Novel
Chapters: 12
Word Count: 81,088
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature

Genres: Drama, Romance, Young Adult
Characters: Sirius, OC
Pairings: Sirius/OC

First Published: 02/06/2010
Last Chapter: 01/30/2016
Last Updated: 01/30/2016

Summary:








...of course, boundaries never meant anything to Sirius Black.


Sirius/OC 
Sequel to Fall for Anything
Banner by HeavenLeigh@TDA



Chapter 1: Nothing Matters But Knowing Nothing Matters
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



SIRIUS

 

I thought life was being good to be. 

 

Should have known it would be too good to be true.


It might be good for a while. Just to show you what you’re missing out on. Lets you see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it. Then snatches it away. 


And you feel stupid for ever thinking that you could be that happy for long. 


During the good times, the bad times seem so distant and insignificant. I was just a kid. Now I’m just a guy. The good times block out the bad. They’re there. You know they’ll happen and you know they’ll have consequences. But they’re not right now. You worry about it later. If at all. 


But it will catch up with you. It always does.

 

It's just so easy to forget that at the time.



This time I really thought it was good times for good. Really did. 


But then I accidentally gave someone else the chance to fuck up my life. 


Well, that’s a lie. It wasn’t an accident. I knew exactly what I was doing. But I wanted her and I wanted to give her everything. That’s all that mattered. At the time. Again, you don’t worry about it. Don’t think it through. But of course when you give someone everything it’s only logical that you’re giving them the power to run off with it. 


And the worst part? Knowing that it’s pretty much all your own fault. 




** 




There’s something satisfying about alternating your days between smacking rubber bludgers at the back wall and developing a Project. James calls it an obsession. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 


It felt good. Weirdly addictive, but good. It started as just something to do. Something that involved head and hands. Something to focus on. 


Maybe not useful.

 

I mean, like James said, when am I ever going to need a muggle motorcycle? 


But the people over the road were throwing it away. Just going to chuck it. I couldn’t let that happen. It had been sitting at the bottom of their drive for a week. I offered to pay for it but they weren’t having that. Looked kind of relieved to get rid of it, even. I thought I heard a high five as I hauled it across the road. 


The garage and the driveway became my territory. The construction manual became my bible. The spanner became my prized possession and the exhaust fumes became my cologne. 


Not an obsession though. James is wrong about that. This was more than a bike. I was saving a life, here. She - that’s apparently how you referred to your bike if you’re a muggle - was dying. He didn’t get that, so he didn’t get to touch her. He learnt that soon after a wrench to the head he at least only annoyed me from a distance. 


“You know you can use magic for that now.” 


And so it begins. 


“I know.” I said. 


He was sat against the front wall, hand in his pockets. “So why don’t you?” 


“Because.” I didn’t know exactly. Just that I’d been doing this all summer without and I was so close to being finished that this one day with magic would just be cheating. “I’m nearly done.” 


He was staring. Probably critically. I didn’t look. It would probably make me throw something at him and I didn’t have the time to do that. I had one day. One day left to get this done. 


“You’ve been nearly done for two weeks.” 


“You know anything about motorbikes?” 


“Nope.” 


“It’s harder than it looks. I’m nearly done.” 


“You better be. You have fourteen hours till we’re meant to be on the Hogwarts Express.” 


“I’m nearly done.” 


“Was just saying.” He shrugged, chirpy as ever. 


He let me get on for a while. Without saying anything. But still stayed watching me. It was weird. Usually he got bored after ten minutes and made an attempt to get me to play Quidditch or something with him. Or else go off to see Remus. One time he even went to Peter’s. 


I thought he might hate me now. I probably would have. I didn’t have a lot of patience with moody gits and right now that was exactly what I was. 


But instead I got the knowing, sympathetic effort. Not just from him, from his mum and dad too. Which was more embarrassing. He must have told them about my failed attempt at happiness. And they felt sorry for me. Not good for your ego, having your best mates middle-aged parents pitying your social life. 


But anyway, staying put and keeping his mouth shut for that long was nothing short of a miracle for James. It made me edgy. 


“What are you doing?” I had to ask. 


He seemed mildly surprised. Initiating conversation wasn’t all that common at the moment. 


“Waiting.” 


“For what? I’ll be out here for a while, you know -” 


“Just waiting. Don’t worry. Pretend I’m not here.” 

 

I stared for a moment. Never had those words come from his mouth before. He stared back, unfamiliar innocent look on his face.


So I did. Pretend he wasn't there, that is. For a while. He wasn’t really watching me anyway. I could get back into working quickly. The sun was setting and I needed to make the most out of the natural light and the breeze on the driveway before I had to go back into the stuffy garage.  I was now on a strict time frame. One day to get it done. Not even a day. Fourteen hours. 


After a while James got up from the wall and walked out of sight down the road a bit. I could hear a car. For a crazy second it crossed my mind that he’d gotten so bored he’d nicked a car and somehow figured out how to work it. Crazier things have happened when James gets bored. But then it stopped. It had been arriving, not leaving. 


I didn’t think anything of it. 


“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.” 

 

I should have. 


I knew that voice. And I knew that it most definitely did not frequently drop in on the Potter residence willingly. 


“Evans.” 


“Seriously, Black, would you put some clothes on? And maybe wash once in a while. My god.” 


Look, it may have been evening but it was hot. My t-shirts got sweaty and got in the way so I gave up wearing them. And engines are... oily. 

 

Alright I was mess. But there was no need to point that out.


“I’ve missed your kind compliments.” 


“And I’ve missed your outstanding bodily hygiene. And, god - that hair.” 



I stood up straight and stretched out my back, popping all my joints. I spent so long hunched over the bike everyday that I was most probably going to develop a hunchback. Just what I needed. To go with "that hair". That hair that might not have been cut all summer and probably retained traces of engin oil in it from repeated incidences of raking it out of my face.

 

Look - I already admitted it. A mess.


“I’m guessing you weren’t just passing through the neighbourhood?” I ignored the insult and pretended to be civil.


“No.” 


“Driven crazy with longing for old Prongs here?” 


“No.” 


“Then what?” 


“I’m here as a favour.” 


I repressed the grating hope about who that favour would be for. Because I knew I was wrong. And I didn’t want that hope. It was pathetic. It didn’t belong here. 


“For?” At least my voice sounded casual. Or something like that. 


Her eyes were narrowed and darted a glance at James. “This doesn’t mean I’m talking to you, Potter.” 


Oh. I understood. “Ah. He told you about the Head Boy thing.” 


James just grinned and threw something gold and shiny up in the air and caught it. He knew that she’d hate it. But he still did it. Couldn’t resist. 


“He did.” It sounded like her teeth were gritted. 


“Funny, right?” 


“Hilarious.” 


Much as I usually enjoyed James winding her up and aiding it, I glanced back at the bike, so close to being finished. And at the long shadows cast by the sun, almost set. 


“Come on then, tell me this favour you need so that I can reject it and get back to work.” 


She glanced at James again, less hostility this time though. “You were right. He is a little ray of sunshine.” 


Fantastic. I’d been discussed. By dysfunctional couple of the year, as well. I didn’t know what to make of that. James and Evans never conversed in the holidays. Now she was willingly here. Doing a favour for him. Was I dreaming? Weird dream.


I folded my arms. Thought it might make the judgement come quicker. 


It did. 


“You know what day it is today.” She folded her arms right back at me.


It wasn’t a question. I knew it was coming but suddenly I was very glad I had an oily rag in my hands so I had something to grip. My hands tended to spasm a little when this particular subject was brought up. It was weird. I needed something to hold on to. 


“Yep.” 


Her eyes were narrowed at me now. She was a fan of that look, Evans was. “And?” 


“And what." I didn’t voice it as a question either. I didn’t need this. 


“That’s it?” She asked, sceptically, “You’re not fooling anyone with this act, Black. You can try and sound casual just as much as you want but you can’t fool your best friend. Or me.” 


“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 


“It’s not working, idiot. Look, even now as soon as I brought that up you’ve suddenly got a face like a smacked arse and you’re talking to me like I’m Avery.” 


Fuck. I didn’t notice that. 


“Leave me alone Evans. I don’t care what you think, I don’t care if you think you’re helping. I don’t need any help.” 


“Oh, for God’s sake. You’re as bad as her.” 


I felt myself scowl a little more this time. And she saw it. 


“No, you’re worse. At least she can admit she’s a mess.” 


A mess. She was a mess? Unlikely. You need to have a heart for that. 


“I doubt that.” I said, not liking where this conversation was going. 


“You are so dense.” 


“Thank you. Is that all? Because I’m busy.” I turned back to the bike. So close to being finished. Only now I felt worked up enough to break it rather than piece it together. I didn’t dare touch anything in case the weird hand spasm happened again and I crushed something. I exhaled slowly, willing the tension to subside.


“Is he for real?” Evans demanded of James. 


James shrugged, helplessly. Bloody coward, getting Evans on me. 


She was mad. She let out an angry little hiss and stamped her way up the drive and suddenly was in between me and the bike. 


She was too close to it. No one was allowed that close to it apart from me. I spoke calmly. 


“Evans, I mean this in the most polite way possible. But please get the fuck away from the bike.” 


“No.” She reached out a hand, pausing millimetres from one of the brakes. 


I froze. “Do not touch the bike.” 


She raised a red eyebrow. She was evil. Of course she was. Evil associated with evil and look who her best mate was. 


I looked accusingly at James. “You told her.” He must have done. How else would she know? 


“I may have let slip your unhealthy feelings towards the bike.” He admitted, far too chirpily for my liking. 


“Traitor.” 


“Leave him out of this.” Evans said. That was interesting. Evans rushing to Prongs rescue. But I was a little preoccupied because she was still in way too close proximity to the bike. “And listen to me.” 


Well, as long as I had a choice. Not. Maybe I could move her out of the way… 


“If you touch me I’ll push it over, I swear.” Yep. She was definitely evil. 


I gripped the rag tighter. Not because of a hand spasm this time, but because I wasn’t sure if the urge to strangle her would pass. And shit as my life was, it was better than nothing. Which was how I’d end up once James finished with me after I assaulted his One True Love. 


“Why would you do this to me?” I demanded of him. 


“Sorry mate.” Not a good enough explanation. 


But Evans piped up for him. “He did what he had to do. He’s too good of a friend to do this himself. He doesn’t want you to hate him. I, however, have no such worries.” 


Bloody hell. A favour for him, defending him and now complimenting him. They might as well get married already. 


“Go on then.” 


“I will once you wipe that glare off your face.” 


Patronising bitch. 


I tried. She could still go through with her threat. 


She raised an eyebrow. “Well, I suppose that’s the best it’s going to get. We’ll work on the smile at a later date. Oh, happy birthday for yesterday by the way.” The sarcasm was impossible to miss. 


“Evans.” It sounded more a growl than anything else, even to me. 


“Calm it, Black, or the bike gets it.” She should have been a Slytherin. “Right. I’ll ask you again. Do you know what day it is today?” 


I swallowed. It sounded loud. At least my grip on the rag was going strong. 


“Yes.” I said, humouring her. But it didn’t come out as light-hearted as I’d have liked. Not much of a shock though. Light-hearted wasn’t something that came easily to me. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever been convincingly light-hearted in my life. Well, most people could probably be fooled. But I knew three in particular that wouldn’t and two of them were right here. 


“And what are your feelings towards that?” 

 

"I don't have feelings. Ask anyone".


“And don’t lie to me.” She added, flicking her eyes to the bike. 


“Why are you doing this?” Evil, evil, evil.


“Because, you moody bastard, like it or not you are my friend. Sort of. And you’re nothing short of depressed. And you and a certain Miss McKinnon are going to be the death of me with your complete inability to see the truth.” 


Another hand spasm. I knew why. “I see just fine.” My teeth were gritted. 


“I beg to differ. You know what day it is and you know it means something to you. Why are you pretending it doesn’t?” 


“What do you want me to do?” 


“Admit it to yourself!” 


“What good is that going to do? You don’t get it, Evans. You don’t know anything.” 


“I’m not blind. It’s easy to see, look at you -” 


“Exactly. Look at me.” This was painful to say. And slightly humiliating. But that would probably come later. “Look at me, and then look at her. Off having the time of her life who knows where doing who knows what…” 


Evans was giving me an odd look. I thought it was because she was smug that I’d actually sort of admitted it to her. But it wasn’t smug. It was just plain confused. 


“What are you talking about?” She asked. 


“You don’t get it, Evans. I can see what’s happened and I can see you think you’re helping. But whatever she’s told you, you’ve got the wrong idea. This isn’t something you can fix. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t want me.” 


The confused look became mixed with pity. Excellent. 


She didn’t say anything for a moment, letting my pathetic comment hang in the air over us. Then when she did, it seemed to come from nowhere. 


“I haven't heard anything.” She said, quietly. 


“What?” 


“She hasn’t written to me. But you know that.” 


“What?” 


“Yeah… you know she's not writing to anyone.”

 

"Probably off having too much fun. Good for her." Even I heard the bitterness that time.

 

"Fun? What're you...?" It was worrying. Evans being confused. It didn’t happen often. So that confused me. Which overtook the bitterness. 

 

"Fun, Evans. You're probably not familiar with it. It's this this where you enjoy yourself. I imagine it's what people do when they're off travelling the world."



That confused look again. “She’s not… you know she’s not with Freddie.” 


That was stupid. Of course she was. “Where else would she be?” 


“You don’t know?” 


“Know what?” I demanded. James looked as baffled as me. 


“I thought you -” 


“Know what?” 


“She’s not… Freddie’s gone travelling. With Ro. Deb didn’t go with them. Why would you -” 


“She hasn’t gone?” I repeated, still taking it in. 


“Why would you think she had?” 


Why would I not? I knew he wouldn’t leave her alone. He wouldn’t right? Where would she - 


“Where is she?” 


“I’m not supposed to -” 


“It doesn’t change anything, Evans. She still doesn’t c… I don’t…" Stop stuttering. "Where is she?” 


“I told her I wouldn’t say anything. But I thought you -” 


Where.” I don’t even know why I wanted to know so much. It wasn’t like I was going to go. She didn’t want me. I just needed to know. 


Evans looked uncomfortable. “Hogsmeade.” 


Hogsmeade. She was at Hogsmeade on her own. No. Of course. Rosmerta. But why would she stay in Hogsmeade and not go with her brother? 


“Don’t do anything stupid. You’re not going to go after her or anything, are you?” Evans looked genuinely worried. “She told me to keep it to myself, where she was, she wanted to get away and be alone…” 


Of course she did. She wouldn’t want someone pathetically going after her when she’d made it clear she didn’t care whatsoever… 


Wait


“She’s not written to you.” I said, sharply.


Evans looked confused again. This must have been a record. “No. She wanted to get totally away. She’s not writing to anyone. But you know that.” 


So it wasn’t just my letters she’d ignored. She really was selfish enough to receive letters from all her friends but not reply to any. 


“She wanted to get away, I told you. Completely away. She’s not even reading any letters…” 


The rag ripped. This time I really had been gripping it too tightly. 


She’s not even reading any letters… 


Fuck. 


I didn’t even consciously make a decision to move. It was like there was a mist in front of my eyes and when I blinked I was in the garage, I’d moved that quickly. I stalked to the back of the room where I’d thrown my t-shirt over a rail. 


Evans and James were hurrying behind me. 


“What are you doing? What… what did I say? What are you -” 


Evans looked completely bewildered and slightly worried for me. I must have had a slightly manic expression on my face. 


“Can the muggles see me in here?” 


“What?” They exchanged even more worried and bewildered looks. “No… but what you -” 


Where was my wand? Did I need my wand for this? I’d never taken lessons, I didn’t have a clue… 


“Mate what are you doing? You look nuts…” James attempted to get my attention. 


“She’s not reading her letters.” 


“Um. No. But -” 


“I didn’t know that.” I spun around, squinting in the dim light of the single bulb in the garage. Where was my bloody wand? 


“Yeah but…” Understanding appeared on his face. “You wrote to her… what did you say? Mate I don’t think -” 


“You can’t go after her!” Evans said, catching on as well, “You said it yourself, she doesn’t care right? You said that… she’s been away for the whole summer, she doesn’t want to see you right now! You’ll have to see each other tomorrow anyway, just calm down and -” 


“She never said she doesn’t care.” My search was getting frantic now. I rifled through a box with the remaining bike parts in it. Not there. 


“But you said -” 


“Because she didn’t reply. I… I said some stuff. On the last day. Stuff I probably shouldn’t have said. I was angry.” Where the fuck was my wand? “She probably hates me even more now. But then I wrote to her. I apologised. I told her everything… Then I thought… She didn’t reply so…” 


“Sirius.” Evans’s saying my first name. That was odd. It vaguely registered that it was odd, but I was pretty busy sweeping the rolls of parchment from a battered desk in the corner. Where the fuck was it? “Sirius, come on. You need to calm down. Think about this and speak to her tomorrow. You can tell her everything just… just calm down.” 


“I need to know now.” I kicked at the table when it didn’t have my wand on it. The rotten leg snapped in two and the whole thing crumbled forwards, spilling parchment and quills onto the stone floor. 


“Mate, don’t you -” 


“Do you need a wand to apparate?” 


“What? I -” 


“You can’t apparate! You’re only just seventeen! You’ve never had lessons you can’t just… it’s illegal -” Evans loved rules. 


“I’m going.” 


“You don’t even know how to -” 


I’d heard enough. There’d just been the two of us that weren’t old enough to learn last year. We’d sat through Prongs and Evans complaining about the lessons. The three d’s. How hard could it be? They’d never mentioned a wand… 


“She hasn’t read her letters.” I don’t know if I was saying it to myself or to them. “She doesn’t know.” 


I was going to do it. I had to try. I moved into a space. I couldn’t even remember the three bloody d’s. It didn’t matter. I knew where I had to go and I knew how much I wanted it. 


I stepped. 


“Mate wait -” 


I turned. 


Illegal, Sirius -” 


I was gone. 


I’d done it. 


I didn’t feel anything as I opened my eyes and took in he new surroundings. Hogsmeade. It looked like Hogsmeade. It took a few seconds for the feeling to settle in and then, as if I was remembering it rather than feeling it, I registered the crushing feeling on my ribs, the air sucked out of me, and the pain. 


Pain. 


Was there meant to be pain? 


I pressed my hands against the side of my head. It was hurting. At first I thought it was just another side-effect, same as the crushing. But then my hand came away bloody, and I realised what sort of pain it was. Blood. I was bleeding. 


I stumbled across the street to a window, squinting at my reflection. It wasn’t pretty. The pain was making it hard to look straight and take it in. Blood. Over the right side of my head, my face. I wiped it away with my arm, clenching my teeth at the raw wound. 


It was smaller than I’d thought, from the amount of blood. Just a long slash, thinner than my finger from my temple to my neck. A clean, neat wound. But it fucking hurt. 


Splinched. The word came to me as my breathing became normal. It happened sometimes, if you didn’t apparate right. You leave a part behind. 


I pictured a slither of skin and a splatter of blood left behind on the garage floor for Evans and Prongs. Nice. 


I was lucky, I guess. Cut to the head. Could have been worse. The cut was pretty close to my brain. Could have left that behind. 


The way Prongs and Evans were acting, you’d think I already had. 


I blinked a few times and shook my head to focus. To bring myself away from the pain. It was just throbbing and stinging now. Focus. 


I’d managed to apparate with no lessons and only a minor injury. Not bad. I felt proud for about a second before I look in where I was. 


It looked like Hogsmeade. Sort of. The same sort of houses. Buildings. But it wasn’t where I’d meant to end up. It looked like some sort of side street, not the main high street where I’d been aiming for. 


Bollocks. 


Before anymore thoughts registered I was running. Back down the narrow road, not really knowing if I was going in the right direction. 


I wasn’t thinking. I just needed to find her. The Three Broomsticks, that was where I needed to be. 


She hadn’t read any letters. 


She didn’t know


I made it to the main street, further down. I was down at the other end, near Shrivenshafts. I felt disorientated for a moment. The Three Broomsticks was opposite Honeydukes. Honeydukes was further up, it was near… 


I looked up the road to my right. 


I was moving before I’d taken anything in. Running again. Then I looked. Really looked. 


The end of the road. A silhouette. A silhouette I’d probably know anywhere. I don’t know how. The hair, almost as much of a mess as James, falling past the narrow shoulders. Shoulders I knew. A body I knew. 


It stopped me. Long enough for me to take in the whole picture. 


A girl. A boy. At the gate. 


He touched her. He picked her up and put her back down. He was still touching her. 


It was like it all froze. I froze. They didn’t. All I was thinking was that she hadn’t read her letters, she didn’t know and - 


She kissed him. 


I unfroze. 


Everything became completely clear. It was a hand spasm again, except this time a whole body spasm. The little bit of anger and tension that I could usually stop if I clenched my fist apart from this time I couldn’t. 


I wasn’t thinking, just vaguely aware that I’d quite like to rip this blokes head from his body, but then I did. Think, I mean. 


She kissed him. 


She kissed him


She didn’t care. Didn’t care at all. I was right. Of course I was. 


It was still there. The hand/body spasm. Shaking even. 


I needed to leave. 


So I did. 


It was natural again. I needed to be away. I wanted to be away. 


So with a step and a turn, I was. 


It didn’t hurt this time. And I was on target. Back to the garage, near the open door. Still shaking. 


Prongs and Evans jumped back at my appearance. Must have been a shock, I suppose. A bloody, shaking mess appearing from nowhere right in front of you not even a minute after it had left. 


“Sirius what have you done -” 


“Mate you’re bleeding, what -” 


I didn’t interrupt them. They stopped dead all by themselves. 


I turned. Walked from the garage. They stopped in the doorway, still silent. 


I stood in front of the bike. 


Shaking. Still shaking. Still with a weird red mist in front of my eyes. 


“Sirius…” 


“Padfoot…” 


The bike. A summer’s worth of work. So much time and effort gone into it. Just like us. 


Stuff like that is meant to mean something. 


But it can break. 


I kicked it. 


There was a sharp intake of breath before it hit the floor. 


A thud. 


A crash. 


A shattering. 


Followed by a silence. 


The pieces scattered. I’d spent so much time on it. It was almost perfect.
 


It was strange how one kick could make it all fall apart. 



 







A.N. SEQUEL SEQUEL SEQUEL! I told you I'd get it up soon, proud of me?! What to we think of our much-missed, rather temperamental Sirius? It's been far too long without him - TWO WHOLE CHAPTERS! So he deserved a bit of a prologue :)

I'd love to hear what you think! Still love him even though he's a mardy bum (who loves arctic monkeeyys?!). The bike thing - too much? It just seemed to fit in quite well so I had to, even though I'm not keen on throwing lots of obvious canon references into my story. What do we think tomorrow holds?

I'd just like to take this opportunity too, to say how overwhelmed I've been with the response to Fall For Anything. All my reviewers are amazing and even if you weren't too keen on the ending I hope this makes up for it! 

Thanks, 
Rx. 

I'm so excited!


 

A.N. II. - Just cleaning up bits of this story. Nothing major will change.
 


Chapter 2: You Left The Frays From The Ties You Severed
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Dee




“It’s hot.” 


“I know.” 


“It’s horrible.” 


“I know.” 


“I want a breeze.” 


“I know.” 


“All you’ve said for the past fifteen minutes is ‘I know’.” 


“I know.” 


I scowled, hiding behind my hair so he wouldn’t get the satisfaction of knowing he’d met his goal, which was undoubtedly to annoy me as much as is humanly possible. 


It was probably an odd sight to anyone not in the know. Two teenagers sat in a, now dusty, school uniform on a bench outside a countryside train station in the late afternoon. At least we’d taken off our robes. We’d had to. Because, I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but it was bloody hot. 


And I was getting no sympathy. Just the usual, a laugh in my face. 


“I’m sorry! But all you’ve said for the past half hour is ‘it’s hot and I don’t like it’ in as many ways you can. So I thought I’d give you a taste of painful boredom.” 


“Oh, I’m boring. Thanks.” I hissed, irritably. 


“No problem.” 


I didn’t take it to heart. Ray would have probably quite happily made conversation but I was hot and uncomfortable and dirty which made me grouchy. I definitely wasn’t a treat to talk to at the moment. 


“Is the train late?” I asked, still having heard no rumbling of the huge stream train arriving at Hogsmeade station. 


“I dunno. We’re pretty early. Maybe.” Ray shrugged, not appearing to care. I didn’t know why he wasn’t as snappy or irritable as me. He didn’t even seem uncomfortable in the scorching sunshine in his dark trousers and white shirt. He even had his tie on still. Whereas I’d kicked off my shoes, discarded my tie and pulled all my hair back off my shiny face to attempt to lose some body heat. I shouldn’t have been surprised. If cross-country running didn’t take it’s toll on Ray, a mere bit of overheating probably wouldn’t do the trick. 


“Well, what time does it normally get here?” 


“I dunno.” 


He was so helpful, that friend of mine. 


Well done. You’ve only done this on an annual basis for the last five years.” I snapped. To further my annoyance, he just grinned lop-sidedly and tipped his head back and seemed to enjoy the sun on his face. Eurgh. 


“If it makes you feel any better we can get on the first carriage as soon as it gets here. Front of the queue - bonus of being a local.” 


“Well that’s fantastic. Or, it would be if you had the faintest idea whether that will be in a minute, an hour or five days from now.” 


Ray laughed again. The annoying carefree laugh that again dashed my hopes of putting a damper on his abnormally high spirits. One day I would find out what got him down. I would


“You’re funny when you’re angry.” He added, just to fuel my anger. 


I gritted my teeth and cursed him under my breath. 


He laughed some more, “Oh don’t be like that. Five minutes spent with your excessively organised and intelligent house mates and you’ll be dying for my ‘loathsome’ company again…” 


Excessively organised. That brought with it a vivid image of Lily tidying my room for me while I lay complaining on my bed. A frequent occurrence. One I’d missed. Not only had my room been an absolute pig-sty over the summer but I’d truly missed my best friend. After a summer of incessant irritation, the company of cool, kind, amazing Lily Evans sounded like heaven. 


But, I considered, I would miss the incessant irritation. Maybe. A little bit. I couldn’t decide. Perhaps not spending every waking moment with him would mean I could tolerate his annoyingness more. Maybe I’d look forward to it. But it was strange, we’d only really been hanging out for a month or so, and we’d rarely spoken (or shouted, in my case) at school, but I couldn’t picture anything without him at the moment. 


Odd. 


“So, come on then. Tell me this other reason you’re having a paddy.” 


I hate him. I hate him. I hate him. 


“I hate you.” I told him. 


“I know.” He grinned, caught the glare I was giving him and straightened out his face. 


“Come on.” 


How the hell did he do this? He knew everything. About people anyway. Not so much about trains or when they’re going to be here so we can get out of the painful heat. But seriously, what gave him this power to understand everything I was thinking, or trying hard not to think of? 


“How do you know?” I demanded. 


“I always know.” It wasn’t a modest comment, but not really bragging either. Merely stating the truth. Gah. “I could probably tell you why you’re stressed as well but I thought I’d leave that to you to tell me.” 


“How kind.” 


“I am.” 


“You’re not.” 


“Are you going to make me say it?” He asked, condescendingly. “Because I’ll do it.” 


“Fine, do it.” I snapped back, partly hoping he was wrong (impossible) but partly because there was a slight chance it might sound less pathetic coming from his mouth rather than mine. 


“You’re worried about seeing him.” 


Nope, definitely didn’t sound less pathetic. 


Balls. 


I sighed. “Is that completely pitiful? You can tell me. I won’t be offended.” 


“Not completely,” He smirked wickedly at my face, “No, it’s not. You’ve got your reasons, right?” 


Reasons. Right. Did I? I certainly couldn’t pick one. Because there were a few to choose from. Could be because I was fairly certain he hated me. Could be because I wanted to hate him back but since Mr Peace-And-Love Quinn piped up I haven’t been able to. Could be because I wasn’t sure how James and Lily would be. Would they have to pick sides? I didn’t want that. Because there was no doubt whatsoever that James would side with Sirius and Lily with me. I didn’t want to do that to them. 


“He said we couldn’t be friends.” I said to Ray. “I don’t… I don’t see how that’s going to work. For James and Lily.” And for me. I didn’t know if I could be his friend, but I’d have liked the option. 


“Maybe he’ll change his mind.” Ray said, half-heartedly. He was a good judge of character. Even though he didn’t really know Sirius it was obvious to everyone that Sirius Black could hold a grudge. 


If he didn’t want to be friends with me, there was no James. But James and Lily… after all this time doing our best to keep them sort of friends, we couldn’t just tear them apart like that. 


I sighed again and rested my head back against the wooden back of the bench. “Things are going to be different this year.” 


No Freddie. No Sirius. Maybe no Lily and James. If I had to make that choice for them. Could I do it without them? Any of them? 


“Yep.” Ray didn’t deny it to make me feel better, for which I was thankful. “But things have to change to progress. We’re not going to be in school forever. Things are going to change big style then.” 


“I can’t work out if I like change.” 


“Sometimes you don’t have a choice.” 


Our unusual, fairly deep conversation was brought to an abrupt end signalled by the screech of the approaching steam train, making me jump. Ray didn’t. Of course. 


“Train.” I commented, brightly. 


“Carriages.” He nodded to where the dismal carriages were being drawn towards us by the creepy, skeletal winged horses. 


I shivered, despite the sweat sticking my shirt to my skin. I’d never liked the thestrals. Every year brought with it the bad memories. 


I suddenly felt very small and alone, facing them this year without Freddie. He was the only person that knew how much they frightened me. He was the only other person I knew who could see them, or even knew they existed. 


Ray couldn’t know about this. All he could work out was my sudden reluctance to get on the carriages that I’d been so keen for before. So he linked it to the only thing he could. 


“It’ll be alright. He might not be as mad as you remember. A whole summer to think, that’s a long time.” He offered, for once jumping to the wrong conclusion and ushering me forward towards the front carriage. 


I didn’t let my eyes linger on the dead looking eyes of the thestrals we passed. Just clambered hurriedly into the cool dimness of the carriage. At last I was out of the heat. 


“It’s just a bit weird.” I said in a small voice, settling myself on one of the seats. “I just… I still don’t really know how I feel. I know I don’t hate him any more. I was just shocked. But I don’t know if I’m alright with everything just like that. And I don’t know if I…” I trailed off. 


“Don’t know if you still have the same feelings for him.” Ray finished for me, matter-of-factly. “Sure. You’ve been too busy hating him to notice whether you’re over him. I get it.” 


Of course Ray would be able to spot what had taken me an entire summer to figure out. And I still hadn’t. Figured it out, I mean. Maybe I’d need to see him to know. 


And I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I could remember how I hadn’t been able to bear even being near him at the end of last term. Couldn’t even look at him without feeling sick to my stomach. But I realised now that the reason it had made me feel so sick was the combination of the betrayal with feeling so much for him at the time. He’d been everything. Even having done the unthinkable, he was still everything. But a bad everything instead of a good everything. It was overwhelming. 


Now what? Would that feeling have passed? He wasn’t everything any more. Hadn’t been in my life for a whole summer. A new perspective. 


But the fact was still there. 


Still sickening. 


But not everything. 


I even, thanks to Evil Genius Quinn, felt a little sorry for him. Strangely. Because, unless he was an extremely talented and dedicated actor, he did have feelings for me last year. He’d told me. He’d shown me. A lot. So surely he must regret. I could imagine the frustration of not being able to change what he’d done. 


So stupid of him. 


He’d hate it. 


He’d hate himself. 


And me. 


But then there was another issue. If I felt something. For him. 


If I did… and he didn’t. 


He hated me. I was sure of it. He’d basically told me. Shouted it in my face. A selfish, childish bitch. He’d made it perfectly clear that he’d had enough. Didn’t want anything to do with me any more. All or nothing, and he’d chosen nothing. 


Could I handle it if my old feelings came back while he stuck with these new, angry ones? 


Eurgh. Confusion. 


“Oh well.” I shrugged, exhausted with all this thinking I was doing. I wasn’t used to it. “Let’s look on the bright side. Maybe he’s dropped out to become a grease monkey or something. Always obsessed with those muggle car magazines.” 


There was a slight possibility that I was clutching at straws. 


“Unfortunately I don’t think you’re that lucky.” Ray stuck his head out of the carriage door. “I’m pretty sure I see him and the fat one getting off the train now.” 


“He’s with Peter? Must be desperate.” I commented absently, remembering his impatience with his distinctly less cool friend. “Wonder where James is.” 


It was only after my casual response that the tension hit me. He was out there. Ray could see him. Which meant that if I looked, I could see him. 


I hadn’t seen him in six weeks. But that didn’t mean I’d forgotten. I could still see his face so vividly in my mind. It popped up at all the most inconvenient times, whenever it pleased. It didn’t help that the particular image that my mind conjured involved a view of his face just centimetres from mine, hair ruffled up and against a background of crimson bed hangings. 


Great for settling my confusion. Not


I resisted the instinctive urge to join Ray looking out at the approaching crowd of students. It was a tearing feeling, half of me desperate to drink in the familiar face, hair, body… but the other half gripping the seat below me. Scared to see him. 


“Not heading towards our carriage, don’t worry.” Ray said, still peering out of the door, even though I hadn’t voiced my worry, “Hey, it looks like…” He laughed incredulously. “Looks like Potter’s got a new shiny badge.” 


“What?” It didn’t register. 


“He wasn’t prefect, was he?” 


“Prefect? James? Are you kidding me? He’s the least likely person to be prefect ever… wait. James is prefect?” 


“Better.” Ray withdrew from the door and took the seat next to mine. 


“Better than…” My brain was working particularly slowly, still reeling a little by the thought that Sirius was in the vicinity. Then it clicked. “No. James Sodding Potter is not Head Boy.” 


“If not he’s doing a pretty good impression of one.” 


This made no sense. James Potter? Head Boy? James Potter, whose detention toll was rivalled only by Sirius’. James Potter, who melted his eleventh caldron at the end of last year. James Potter, who can’t understand the simplest English (such as the word ‘no’. Issued by Lily Evans). 


Lily Evans. 


I let out an extremely high-pitched, girly squeal. The sort that I’d ridicule and would declare I wasn’t capable of. Ray looked a little alarmed. 


“Head Girl!” I exclaimed, excitedly. “Lily’s… she must be… there’s no way James… and not her…” 


“Of course she is.” Ray shrugged, having calmed from the shock of my squeal, “Who else?” 


Head Girl!” I repeated, relishing in how it sounded. My best friend is Head Girl. It sounded good. 


“No one deserves it more than her.” Ray knew her, obviously, from prefect shenanigans. 


It was true. I couldn’t think of anyone that would make a better Head Girl. Lily was the definition of Head Girl. She was smart, caring, kind, cool, straight-talking, no-nonsense… She’d make an amazing Head Girl. And she could deny it all she wanted, but she’d wanted this. She loved bossing people around. She’d done it all anyway. Now she had a title. 


But wait. Lily - Head Girl. James - Head Boy. 


I let out a rather attractive snort. Ray looked alarmed again. A girly squeal followed by an unfeminine snort. Well, I never claimed to be your typical teenage girl. 


“Lily’s Head Girl,” I explained. “James is Head Boy. This is excellent.” 


A smile spread over Ray’s face in amusement. He may have been in a different house and year, but there wasn’t a student in school that didn’t know the Lily-James dynamic. 


“Poor Lily.” He said, “And poor James.” 


“Poor James?” I echoed, “Are you kidding? This is the opportunity of a lifetime for him! He can prove to her that he’s worth it. They’ll have to do Head-type things. They’re thrown together. This is so exciting!” 


“Or it could totally backfire.” Ray pointed out. “Forced to spend time together… she could get more annoyed at him. He could ruin things.” 


Alright, thank you voice of doom. 


“I won’t let him.” I dismissed. “He’s got to do this right.” 


“James Potter, do the right thing?” 


He had a point. 


“He does try.” I defended my friend. “Once he puts his mind to it he’s a good guy. He’s a good Quidditch captain. That’s leadership. Close enough. I think maybe this will knock some sense into him, this responsibility.” 


“I hope you’re right.” Ray grinned. “Might be a Hogwarts first if the Head Girl murders the Head Boy.” 


Sadly, that outcome wasn’t the least likely. 


“I believe in him.” I said, half-confidently. I’d have words. It was about time they fell in love, got married and had babies already. There was no need to beat about the bush. 


“Now,” Ray said, as the chatter of the approaching crowds got louder and closer, “I don’t want to alarm you, but there are some males out there.” 


I didn’t catch on. “Um.” 


“Males that you might get along with. And some… don’t get too excited now, might even not be freakishly disfigured -” 


I understood as he was talking and scowled. He wasn’t going to let this go for weeks. Alright, so I’d made an error in judgement. It was a moment of madness, and it was barely a kiss for the love of Merlin! 


“- But what did we learn about that yesterday, hmm?” He was smirking. Annoyingly. 


“You’re so witty.” 


“That’s right,” Ray carried on as if I’d co-operated. “We don’t leap on every average guy that lacks a hideous deformity, ok?” 


Before I could summon up some sort of retort our relaxed companionship was intruded on in the most apt way possible. Namely, the arrival of the ever so slightly hideously deformed Harper. 


We may have chuckled. A little. Or, I may have laughed so hard I was in danger of a little bit of wee coming out. 


The stunningly toad-like Harper was followed by Mulciber, the proud owner of the greyest, most crooked teeth in the Western world, and two more similarly highly attractive Slytherins who I couldn’t name. 


I could safely say there was no danger of any leaping on anyone. 


Ray, however, appeared to disagree. Or so it was implied when he paused for breath between outbursts of laughter to hiss, “Steady now, don’t jump him.” 


Needless to say, our Slytherin chums weren’t highly amused. 


“Something funny, McKinnon?” Harper grunted. He was probably trying to be intimidating but, to be honest, he was no Avery. Still could have beaten me to a pulp, but he didn’t have the cool, manipulative intelligence of Avery. I didn’t feel the same threat. 


“Nothing to do with you, dude.” Ray supplied for me when I couldn’t think of an answer. 


For a second I was grateful because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had the quick thinking to come up with a reply that would stop Slytherins from attacking me (because it had never happened). Then I was a bit annoyed because, no Sirius and no Freddie, but still someone fighting my battles for me. Then grateful again. Because of the cool, cavalier way Ray had answered. Not causing a fuss. Much unlike my previous two saviours. 


The attention switched to Ray. The looks on the Slytherins faces was actually pretty amusing. They were thrown by the input of this stranger. Someone they obviously recognised but couldn’t place. Something their miniscule brains couldn’t comprehend. 


“Wasn’t talking to you.” Harper came up with an insightful retort after a full minute or so of staring, in which Ray became no less comfortable. It was as if he truly didn’t feel threatened. 


“Yeah, what you going to do, Hufflepuff.” Mulciber sneered after noting the yellow striped tie. 


“Prefect, mate.” Ray tapped his badge and shrugged, “But go ahead, do what you want.” 


He maintained an inoffensive but steady eye contact with the Slytherins as they processed the indirect threat. Eventually they all came to the same conclusion and slouched back in their seats. 


I watched the whole thing in amazement. No violence used. And we’d come away unscathed. Miracle. 


Maybe Gryffindors could learn a thing or two from Hufflepuffs. 


I caught Ray’s eye, trying to convey my gratitude, but he just gave a small shrug. Refusing to acknowledge me. 


Then I was just annoyed at myself. For crying out loud, I was seventeen! I should not need to be rescued from these sort of situations any more! Hell, I shouldn’t get into these situations. What was it with me and Slytherins? And this time all I did was laugh. And they took offence from it. Because it was me? Or would they be like that with anyone? Why would they particularly hate me? 


Because I was muggle born. Because my Quidditch team beat theirs. Because my brother was (former) Head Boy and didn’t hesitate to use it against them. Because my best friend was Gryffindor prefect (now Head Girl) and had put a stop to their evilness a few times. Because now here I was hanging around with the Hufflepuff prefect, also with the authority to punish them. 


I was pretty good at giving them reasons to hate me. 


When we arrived at the castle I didn’t hang around. I was off the carriage first, eager to get away from the Slytherins as always. Ray followed me at a more leisurely pace. 


“What’s up with you?” He inquired. 


“In case you didn’t notice, they’re not my biggest fans.” I told him, a little disbelieving that he couldn’t tell that. 


“Yeah. But they wouldn’t do anything.” 


“They often try.” 


“If you wind them up.” Ray said, as if it was obvious. “Which we didn’t. They’re pretty tame. Wouldn’t start anything over nothing. Especially if they’d come off worse.” 


“They have before.” I protested. 


“I’m not doubting that. With people of equal volatility.” Ray grinned. 


I thought of Sirius. Volatile… unpredictable… explosive. Well that was true. 


“Oi, McKinnon!” 


I turned around at the grunt/shout. I probably should have ignored it. Anything Harper had to say wasn’t going to be worth it. But I did anyway. 


“Nice to see you being more choosy about your company.” Harper said, across the distance between us. I could see what Ray meant now. They weren’t choosing to close the distance and pursue the fight. Just have the last word. 


I looked at Ray, who shrugged. “What can I say, I’m apparently likable.” He smirked. 


“The less time around blood traitors, the better.” Harper finished, before turning back to his friends. 


I stood where I was, not moving. 


“Well that was nice and petty.” Ray commented, then noticed my still state. “What’s up?” 


“They mean Sirius.” I said. 


“Yeah, I guessed. Not subtle, are they?” 


“Do you think they’ll be more out to get him now? Because of me?” I asked, not particularly wanting to hear the answer. 


Ray propped an arm around my shoulders and turned me away from them, towards the Entrance Hall. “I think they hated him enough without that.” He said, “It’s not your fault.” 


“But I made it worse.” 


Ray didn’t disagree. “You want to blame yourself, go ahead. But I wouldn’t.” 


“I wouldn’t have to blame myself if I didn’t keep doing things wrong.” I complained. 


“Oh, come on. Like you’re going to think to yourself, ‘shit, I can’t become friends and then the non-girlfriend of someone I like just because I might make someone who hates them hate them a tiny bit more’. What kind of a life is that?” 


I smiled, “Sure, you’re right.” As ever. Eurgh. 


“Any chance you’re just feeling guilty and confused and scared of seeing him?” 


“Shut up now.” 


“You’re welcome.” 


It didn’t take long for Ray to be stolen away from me by his Hufflepuff friends. We were in the Entrance Hall for maybe a minute, waiting to go in for the Feast, before he was descended upon by a pack of loud, enthusiastic males who threw me some not too furtive looks. 


That made me remember. House tables. Separating me from him. 


Bollocks. 


Fortunately I wasn’t left awkwardly on my own for long. It was barely two seconds before I was leapt upon by a willowy redhead. 


Unfortunately I mean that literally. 


There I was, minding my own business and suddenly I was the provider of what can only be described as a piggy-back. 


My legs buckled and for one mortifying moment I thought I’d collapse under Lily’s weight, which would quite frankly be an embarrassment. As she barely hit the nine stone marker. But it was only a stagger. Into a wall. Which I hoped no one noticed. 


“Surprise!” Lily slipped nimbly from my back and threw her arms around me before I had time to catch my breath. “Debbie McKinnon I have missed you!” 


“Ow! Er… Lily Evans I have most definitely missed you too. Though not so much your spontaneous piggy backs. I can’t feel my spine.” 


“You’re not supposed to be able to feel your spine, moron.” She said, matter-of-factly, before squeezing me again tightly. “I’ve missed your daft comments that make me wonder why the hell you’re a Ravenclaw!” 


Charmer, Lily Evans. Always. 


“Hey, what’s that stabbing me in the chest…” I grinned, drawing back, “Oh. Could it possibly be your sexy, shiny new Head Girl badge?!” 


There was another moment of excited girly squealing that I would only be embarrassed of in retrospect. 


“Don’t say I didn’t tell you,” Lily said, after composing herself into more appropriate behaviour for a Head Girl, “I’m guessing it was mentioned in the last eight or so of your twenty-five unopened letters,” She pulled a mock scolding face. 


“Well I didn’t remember that there might be important Head Girl related news, did I?” I said, but actually feeling quite thankful that I’d found out in person so I could share my over the top excitement with her. Seriously, why was I so excited by this? I was more excited about this than I would have been if it were me. Oh wait, that’s because corpses aren’t capable of excitement. And I would fairly certainly have died in shock. 


“But hey, quickly,” Lily’s face suddenly grew more solemn and she glanced over her shoulder towards the crowd, “Speaking of unopened letters… and important news…” 


It took a moment for the gravity of her voice to hit me. The delight at seeing my best friend again and the pleasure about her achievement clouded my senses and I was pretty sure the essence of happiness was still visible on my face when I followed her backward glance. 


Then it froze. 


I’d been worried about seeing him. 


Worried, guilty, confused, scared… all in Ray’s words. 


But actually seeing him… the reality of Sirius being there. Here. In the same room as me. 


I totally hadn’t been prepared. 


I’d thought… I don’t know. Maybe I’d thought I could see him first from across a room. Have a little time to process it, figure out how I felt and design an appropriate reaction for when we did actually have to interact. 


Most importantly, I thought there’d be time. 


I didn’t think I’d find myself almost face to face with him. Eyes locked in contact.
I didn’t consider that for a second. 


The smile was still on my face. Ridiculous because of the emergence of the other feelings. The worry, confusion, guilt and fear. Ridiculous because of the complete opposite expression on his face. 


Not misery. Misery, maybe I could have coped with. I’d have felt guilty, sure, but it would have meant he at least felt something. For me. 


But this face… this was a familiar face. This was the exact same face that had been contorted in the exact same way when I’d seen it last, yelling in my face. Telling me exactly what it thought of me. 


This was a face of anger, of contempt, of dislike. 


Excellent. 


Before I could react, or even before the smile could drop from my face, the doors of the Great Hall were opened and there was a surge of movement as students rushed towards the opening. 


And with that, the eye contact was lost. Broken. I was dragged backward in the crush of the crowd, and as I blinked he looked away. 


Excellent. 


I made my way to the Ravenclaw table in a haze of shock. Totally hadn’t been prepared. But as I passed the Hufflepuff table a gentle but firm hand grabbed mine. 


“Hey.” Ray tugged on it a little, in a light-hearted but comforting manner. “Don’t be stupid about this, ok? That’s the worst part over.” 


I hadn’t even realised he’d seen. Maybe he hadn’t. Maybe he’d just seen my expression now and connected the dots. 


“Right.” I said, my voice sounding pretty confident and sure. More so than I actually was. 


“It’ll be alright.” Ray assured me, letting go of my hand, “And hey, if it’s not we can always go for a run and you can let me kick your butt again. Some people might have something against beating a girl, but I’m alright with it.” 


I took my seat at the end of the Ravenclaw table. Somehow, after being the first on the carriages, I’d found myself one of the last to sit down. I ended up at the end of the table with a bunch of third years. I saw Oz, Londy, Blakely and Simpson further down the table. Londy caught my eye and waved enthusiastically. I wondered about her holidays. Her summer. Whether it had contained Oz. Judging by the open hand-holding above the table, I’d say it had. 


But I couldn’t concentrate for long. The confusion was getting to me. All of it. I barely heard a thing. The third years attempt to make polite conversation with me went straight over my head, along with the whole of the sorting and Dumbledore’s speeches. I couldn’t focus. 


Just kept seeing the face. 


So. He still hated me. 


Not a good feeling, having someone hate you. 


Or that someone in particular, anyway. 


He hated me. Ok. So he hated me. I knew that anyway. It shouldn’t be any worse to actually see it… 


His hair was longer. Lighter than usual. And longer. Like he’d been outside. And hadn’t bothered to cut it. Or maybe it was a fashion statement, a lot of guys had their hair longer nowadays… 


Why the sodding hell would I notice his hair rather than his obvious hatred for me?! 


Ok, so it had shocked me to see the open loathing. After all, it was the complete opposite to how he was supposed to have felt about me. So he was keeping to his word. He’d ignored me, basically, after that initial bit of eye contact. He was keeping to the ‘we can’t be friends’ thing. Ok. I could do that. Not like I’d want to be face to face with someone who disliked me that much anyway… 


It wouldn’t have been a fashion statement. He wasn’t that sort of a guy. He’d always been very dismissive but secretly proud of the way he could attract so much attention with so little effort. He didn’t need the hair, anyway. He could have a curly pink afro and he’d still be desired by every girl in the school. Oh God. Maybe he’d turned into someone who makes fashion statements… 


What?! What the hell did it matter if it was a fashion statement?! 


He wasn’t going to speak to me. That was the issue at hand. All I needed to consider was what this meant about the group. About Lily and James. What was supposed to happen now? This was what I needed to be thinking about, not Sirius Black’s new hairdo and whether or not he’d turned into a tart. A tart who hated me. 


Oh God. 


Realisation struck me, just as the food was appearing on the plates in front of us. 


I didn’t want him to hate me. Whether he’d gone to the trouble to style his hair or not, I didn’t want Sirius Black to hate me. Because that meant he was out of my life. I didn’t want him out of my life. 


Oh God. 


What was that supposed to mean? I didn’t want him out of my life. I cared whether or not he’d turned into a tart who makes fashion statements. I’d… I’d forgiven him? 


Had I? 


It wasn’t like I didn’t care. It just… it totally didn’t matter as much as it had before. The Marlene thing. It was just something shitty that had happened. A long time ago. That we could do nothing about. Most importantly, it was something that happened before I even remotely felt anything like that for Sirius. How could I really hold a grudge about that? I had no right, really. It was stupid. And disgusting. And had made me seriously judge his character. But, like Ray said. Volatile. Unpredictable. Ruled by his emotions, I guess. 


Really not the sort to think things through. 


I’d forgiven him. 


Wow. 


But. 


But. The Marlene thing, that had been the trigger. The initial reason behind our whole break up thing really. But. Then there was the really hurtful bit. The part where he yelled at me. Called me selfish. Called me childish. Called me a bitch. 


That part. Had I forgiven that part? Was it something that needed to be forgiven? It was his opinion. Not nice to hear, not nice in the way he spat it in my face. But it wasn’t without any truth. I had been selfish. I had been childish. I hadn’t meant to, but I had. 


But. The real issue. He didn’t care about forgiveness. He hated me. 


I had a feeling I really wasn’t getting anywhere with this. I’d fairly certainly established that he hated me and I didn’t want him to. But no further. I had no clue what I was supposed to do about it and why I wanted to do something about it. 


Oh God. I wasn’t getting into this again. This sort of bollocks belonged way back in January. I wasn’t going to waste my time with this ‘he doesn’t care’ or ‘he’s moved on’ bullshit. No way. This time was different. 


I could ‘not care’ too. I didn’t. Care. At all. 


I was the essence of indifference. Like some sort of hippy monk with that inner enlightenment bollocks. I had acceptance. I could see that he hated me, and wouldn’t try to change that. I could accept it as it was. 


Bollocks. 


I really wish he didn’t hate me. 




**




After my initial dismissal of hippy-monk-enlightenment theory, I grew a little fond of it. It took the whole feast for me to come to terms with my new life as a non-neurotic person, but it was worth it. No stress. I could do it. 


“You look weird.” Londy commented, peering suspiciously at my face. She and the rest of the team had gathered around my end of the table once we’d finished dessert. “Doesn’t she look weird?” She nudged Oz for his back up. 


“Er.” Oz took to peering at me too. “I dunno.” His social skills hadn’t improved much after a summer with Londy. He was probably beyond help after so long as a Quidditch geek. My state of mind was came way below my ability to throw a ball through a hoop in his priorities. 


“I’m just smiling,” I pointed out, “Why is that weird?” 


Londy didn’t lose the critical stare. “That’s not a normal smile. Your eyes are too big -” I instantly narrowed them. “- And your eyebrows are too high -” I lowered them. “And you just… Debbie McKinnon does not smile like a clueless bint! Lose it!” 


“I resent that.” I told her, not dropping the smile. “I’m just smiling because I’m fine.” 


Londy threw up her shoulders in resignation. “Sure. You’re fine. Whatever.” 


“I am.” I insisted. 


“Right. And how was your summer, Little Miss Sunshine?” 


I flinched at the name. Little Miss Sunshine. Mine and Ro’s name for Marlene. Oh hell no. I would not be Little Miss Fake Sunshine. 


I dropped the smile. 


“There she is.” Londy grinned evilly. 


“This doesn’t make me any less fine.” I told her. 


“Whatever. I’m just glad I have my mate back, to be honest. Thought I might be stuck with Dismal Deb or this new freakishly cheerful model.” 


“Again, I resent that.” Dismal Deb? Had I really been that bad at the end of last year? 


“So you’re alright now?” Londy pressed. 


I glanced at Oz, standing close to her, in some sort of discussion with Blakely and Simpson. They weren’t properly listening. Girl talk made them uncomfortable, probably because Londy and I didn’t engage in it much. When we did show our feminine side it scared them. 


“Better.” I answered honestly, “And I’ve just decided I’m going to be fine. Even if I have to be Little Miss Sunshine in front of him for that. Only if you call me that again I will break your legs.” 


Londy beamed, understanding at once. Girl ability to see the need to get one over on guys was astounding. She may have not understood the extend of mine and Sirius’ relationship, or just how much it had hurt me. But she was a girl. She knew that there was a bit of a show to put on. 


Oz’s attention was caught with the brief mention of injury. “Broken legs? Who’s broken their legs?” 


“Londy will. If she continues to call me evil names.” I told him. 


He visibly paled. It would have been sweet if it were because of his deep feelings for Londy, but we all knew it was more at the despairing thought of losing a beater. 


Londy cheerfully accepted this with her usual bluntness. “I’ll assume your silence is because you’re contemplating how empty your life would be without me, rather than frantically wondering if Gryffindor has another potential beater.” 


Oz’s frown disappeared and was replaced with a very un-Oz-like smirk. “I hear Thomas and Sternberg were hoping there’d be a full team tryout this year, I was seriously considering it…” 


Londy elbowed him swiftly in the gut. I winced, expecting that the full power of Oz’s voice was about to be unleashed as he put Londy in her place as would be expected in normal circumstances, but instead he slipped an arm round her waist and playfully squeezed her… 


Eew. My disgusted expression made him swiftly remove his hand from her rear and he looked suitably abashed, whilst Londy just chuckled. 


“You will tell me everything, Londy Nara.” I told her. “Tonight.” 


Oz frowned again. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable being discussed like this.” 


Londy ignored him. “Awesome. I’ll tell you about my summer if you tell me about yours.” 


“I have a feeling yours might be slightly more action-packed.” I was a little disgusted with myself for lowering the tone with a smutty remark but Londy just chuckled again. 


“Oh, I don’t know.” She looked pointedly over at the Hufflepuff table. Ray had his back to me and seemed to be animatedly involved in some sort of loud debate with his friends. 


I looked back at Londy. Hmm. I hadn’t realised she’d seen me with him. Or that she’d think anything of it. Or that anyone would think anything of it. 


“Tonight.” I couldn’t be bothered to explain it all right now. “I’m just going to see Lily before she has to, you know, do Head Girl things…” 


Although I’d come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t let Sirius’ loathing stop me talking to my best friend, I was more than a little bit dreading it. 


“Eurgh.” Londy looked over my shoulder to the Gryffindor table, where there was really no doubt who Lily would be sitting with. “Good luck. Keep up the sunshine thing though. Potter needs it. Looks like he’s about to throw himself from the tower.” 


“James does?” I was just giving myself a moment. Just a moment, that was all. That was all I needed before I could go over. Just to… steady myself. 


And stop hyperventilating. 


“Getting no attention from his little mate, isn’t he?” Londy was openly staring at them now. She narrowed her eyes. 


“Londy.” I hissed. “What are you staring at? Stop it.” She looked like an insane person. 


“He’s glaring at me!” She hissed back, in outrage. She wasn’t removing her homicidal stare. 


“Because you’re looking at him like a crazy woman! What are you…. Stop it! Oh God. Now he’s going to think you’re looking at him because of me -” 


“Well I am. He’s a wanker.” 


“Londy! Please! Oz…” I appealed to her other half (an extremely weird way to think of the two of them). “Make her stop!” 


Oz had never been able to make Londy do anything, try as he might. But at least Londy’s snort at that possibility distracted her from her psychotic staring. 


“Tosser,” That was Londy’s conclusive comment as she turned away to head up to the common room. “Tonight, Debbie!” She departed cheerfully. 


And so I was on my own. 


A lot of people were leaving for their dorms now, but Dumbledore hadn’t yet announced that it was time to leave. I had a few minutes before Lily and James were whisked away on important person business. 


Head Girl. Head Boy. I still couldn’t get my head around it. This was even crazier than when Freddie and Marlene had gotten the roles. Because, despite one of them being pure evil, it was obvious they’d both make perfect Heads. James, I wasn’t so sure of… 


Oh God. 


My feet were walking me automatically over to the Gryffindor table, having apparently gotten tired of my brain’s procrastinating. I couldn’t very well stop now. But I still wasn’t looking up. It was hard enough to see that face full of hate anyway, without the added embarrassment of my friend having had a spontaneous staring contest with it. 


But I had to eventually. Look up, I mean. Or else I’d have walked into the table. And I didn’t fancy looking like a total plank, thanks very much. 


I took a breath and smoothed over my face. I didn’t know how good I was at this. Some people could manage it pretty effectively. Freddie always had been able to, never showing when he was sad because he didn’t want to upset me. But even he, in some cases, had trouble with it. And then there was the opposite end of the spectrum. The people that an emotionless mask just didn’t suit. Sirius. He’d try it and end up looking just like a statue, obvious he was hiding something. That had always worried me. 


I had to be better at it than him, right? 


I thought I better not try the freakish smile, after Londy’s reaction to it. I settled for a pretty blank, indifferent look. 


And looked up. 


This is going to sound completely pathetic and… well, pathetic pretty much sums it up. But I did have to catch my breath. 


Because of the hate. On his face. Nothing more. 


His chin was rested on his fist, his elbow on the table. He was slouching a little, so his hair was… 


For the last sodding time, stop thinking about his fucking hair! 


For a second time, our eyes collided. Again, our expressions couldn’t have been more different. I wasn’t smiling like a loon this time, but I had the mask on. Indifference. And then, him. The fierce, intensity. And not in a good way. 


It only lasted a second. But that was almost enough for my mask to crumple. If he’d held my gaze with those eyes for just half a second longer I’d have caved. But he didn’t. 


He blinked. And when his eyes were open again, there it was. The statue-like look I’d always hated. 


It struck me as ridiculous for a moment. The way we were both wearing these stupid masks of indifference when he clearly loathed me and I… well, I hadn’t worked that out yet. I was scared of him, kind of. I knew that much. 


I switched my eye line to Lily. The reason I’d come over. 


She was worried. James was too. The two of them were flicking their anxious eyes between Sirius and me as if something were about to explode. 


Of course it wasn’t. Couldn’t they see we were indifferent? 


I decided to put them at ease, “Hey Lil. James. Sirius.” That was good. Good I didn’t even stutter at his name. Yeah, I know I managed to accomplish saying his name aloud a while ago but not to his face. This was a first. And, mission accomplished. 


But it didn’t make me feel any better. 


“Hey…” Lily replied, uncertainly, whilst James attempted an uncomfortable smile. 


Hell. What had I thought would happen? Everything would be ok? Shit, it needed to be! I sure as hell wasn’t about to spend my year being irrationally terrified of being near him, and look, Lily and James were confused. That never happened… oh, alright it was a common occurrence for Jamesy. But Lily? Never. 


He wasn’t looking at me. Oh God. Well, I wasn’t looking at him either. But I’m pretty sure he wasn’t looking at me. Fuck. 


“Good summer?” I asked, brightly into the hideous tension. 


Then regretted it. 


“Um. Ok.” Lily was frantically signalling to me with her eyes that this was a bad subject. Great. Obviously Sirius had spent his whole summer hating me. Excellent. 


James looked like he would quite happily sink through the floor. He looked apologetically at me but then in concern to Sirius. 


I got it. He was sorry but he was going to have to side with his best mate. 


There were going to be sides. 


Fuck. 


In that second I just wanted to get away. What was I doing? What was I trying to force? He hated me. Sirius hated me and in trying to pretend it was all ok I was forcing side-choosing. Side-choosing meant dragging Lily and James away from one another. 


What was I doing


I opened my mouth to quietly announce that I was heading upstairs, to accept defeat. Leaving the room wasn’t going to in any way make me feel any less like I was about to throw up any second, but at least I could scream into my pillow or something. 


But someone beat me to my announcement. 


“Great.” The bitter voice was full of harsh sarcasm. “Just perfect.” 


I looked at him, involuntarily. The statue-face was still there. But as usual, it was miserably failing to cover up his emotions. In this case, the outright hate.
It made me flinch. I hoped he didn’t notice. 


“Look, I didn’t mean -” I had no idea what I did or didn’t mean. My mouth was just blathering without consulting me. 


“What are you doing, Dee?” He said my name. The same old nickname. But with none of the usual associated affection. He sounded like he genuinely didn’t understand what I was doing, and that he hated it. 


“I just… my friends…” So much for being able to say his name without faltering. Now I couldn’t put together a coherent sentence. 


“Did you not hear me right?” His eyes were blazing in the middle of his stony face. Like something too bright to look at, apart from I couldn’t look away. My own smooth mask was long forgotten. My face was probably contorted in anxiety. This really wasn’t going as I’d hoped. 


Lily and James were still looking fretfully from one to the other like this was some sort of disaster waiting to happen. Now I wasn’t so sure they were wrong. 


“I told you.” Sirius carried on. His voice was cold and void. “We can’t be friends.” 


I wanted to be defiant. I did. 


I wanted to disdainfully tell him I couldn’t give a flying rats arse about him or his friendship. 


I wanted to tell him I didn’t need him. 


But instead, something pitiful came out of my mouth. “Please…” 


“Sirius -” Lily began, gently. She reached for his arm but he wrenched it out her reach. 


“No.” He almost snarled. “We. Can’t. Be. Friends.” 


The finality of his tone, the fury in his voice… both something I hadn’t heard from him before. Almost like a stranger. 


I took a step back, stumbled on a discarded piece of food but kept going. 


Away. 


I needed to be away. 


My breathing caught. 


My eyes burnt. 


Great. After a summer of not shedding a single tear I was about to lose face in front of almost the entire school. 


I’d backed into the table behind me before I turned away. Turned away and right into someone. 


“Hey.” Warm, strong hands gripped my arms and I sank a little realising they were holding me up. Ray. Ray was there. “Come on.” 


I just had to keep taking deep breaths. That was all. That would stop the tears. I wouldn’t cry in front of the school. I wouldn’t cry in front of him. I wouldn’t cry for him. 


Ray guided me swiftly and steadily out of the hall, gripping me at the elbows tightly. I had a feeling I needed it. My deep breaths were getting shallower and quicker by the second. 


We reached the threshold of the Entrance Hall before I heard it. The sound of a shattering glass. 


That did it. My usual reaction to That Sound. 


My hands scrambled for something to grip, something to make me feel secure. I darted my head around to look for the source of the sound in panic but Ray’s free hand held my head gently, keeping me looking ahead of us. 


We kept walking. I kept breathing. We were up at the forth floor before I realised that I was sobbing. 


“It’s ok.” Ray leant back against the wall and held me while I soaked the front of his shirt. “It’s ok.” 


“No.” I was speaking in that awful, wailing voice that always shocks you when you’re trying to be in control. “It’s not. It’s n-not ok and I thought it would be but it’s not.” 


“Listen to me.” His arms were warm around my shoulders. “You’re ok.” 


“He hates me.” I uttered in short gasps. 


“No.” Ray shook his head. I could feel it. He removed his arms from around my shoulders and gently pried my fingers from where they’d been gripping his shirt. I hadn’t realised that I’d been holding on so tight that my knuckles were white and I’d left creases in the crisp, white fabric. 


“I knew that.” I said, trying to slow my breaths. I needed my voice to be normal. Then I could be ok. I needed it to be ok. “I knew but I thought… I thought…” 


A fresh wave of sobs overcame me. I hated it that it could. I shouldn’t cry like this. He had no right to make me cry like this. I sank down against the wall until I was sitting. Sitting in the middle of the forth floor corridor with my back against the wall. After a few seconds Ray lowered himself beside me. 


“I thought it would be ok.” I repeated. “I thought it would be ok.” 


“I know.” Ray just sat there, letting me lean on him. 


“I thought it would be ok. I thought I was over him.” 


“I know.” 


“I thought I was over him.” 















A.N. Chapter two! Debbie's back! I have several things to say... this might a lengthy authors note so I apologise in advance... also my keyboard keeps sticking and I'm tired and probably won't notice any typos... so I apologise two times.

Ok, first thing, I can't work out if that's a crappy or a mean ending. Or both. But seemed a good place to stop. She thought she was over him. Now what?


Secondy, did you think it was too... unfunny? I realised as I was writing it how much less humorous it seems at the moment compared to FFA, and wondered if that was an issue... I'm intending for it to lighten up a tad as it goes on but at the moment it's all a bit of an angsty time, sorry if people don't like that!


Thirdly, WELL what did you think in general? I'd love to hear all... Dee/Ray, Dee/Sirius, Dee/Londy, Londy/Oz.... all of it! 


Fourthly, I tried to set up a Meet The Author page and failed miserably because I'm a pathetic, easily confused individual. But I answer all reviews so if you have any questions just hit me with a review!


FINALLY, thanks for reading!
Rx.


Chapter 3: I'd Rather Be Any One Else But Here, Or Any Place Else But Me
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Defence Against The Dark Arts. 


Combat training. 


Lily Evans was annoyed . 


“Why. Can’t. I. Do it?!” She growled, as I successfully blocked her stunning spell for the thirty sixth time. 


I beamed. Wasn’t every day that I was better at something than our esteemed Head Girl. Oh wait. Yes it was. Since we’d started combat, anyway. 


“Because my super-sensory spell are just so darned super. And sensory.” I informed her. 


“But you can get passed mine!” She complained, practically pulling out long strands of shiny red hair. Not being perfect at something wasn’t suiting her. 


I didn’t think there was a nice way to tell her that the reason I could get passed hers was because she was shit at it. 


“I have good reactions.” I invented. “Um. Quidditch. You know.” 


She narrowed her pretty little eyes at me. Bloody hell. Now I knew what it felt like to be James. Why the hell did he continue to annoy her when he was subjected to this? “Ihave good reactions.” Her voice was dangerous. 


Bugger. 


“Let me try again.” She swept her hair back over her shoulder, took in a breath and turned away from me. 


I sighed. We’d been doing super-sensory charms in DADA for the past week or so. Supposed to be useful in a combat situation, allows you to have an awareness even when you can’t see. But it’s tricky. It’s not just about the strength of your spell, it’s how you react to it. Lily’s spells were fine. Great, in fact. She just wasn’t great at reacting to them. 


Well, I sure as hell wasn’t going to help her. I’d offered her advice the first time and I’d discovered that the ends of my hair were mysteriously on fire. 


She denied any involvement. 


Ha. 


Not good at talking constructive criticism, my Lillers. A side-effect, I suppose, of being perfect at everything in the world ever. 


“Ready?” I asked her, wearily. 


“You’re not supposed to ask me if I’m ready.” She said. I could hear that her teeth were gritted. “Do you think an attacker is going to considerately inform me they’re about to kill me?” 


“Melodramatic, much?” I asked, idly. 


Honestly. The way she was acting you’d think she was planning on using the sodding spells at all points in time. Actually she probably was. 


“It’s not melodramatic, Deb.” Lily lectured. “Didn’t you read the papers over the summer?” 


“Um, no.” Because I’m not the newspaper-reader-type. That sort of thing is best left to the elderly warlocks that visit the Three Broomsticks for a spot of afternoon tea. 


“Typical.” She was still facing away from me. Still lecturing. “Well this is important. This was in the list of advisory behaviour set by the Ministry of Magic. Didn’t you hear what happened to Audrey Blackburn’s grandmother? People have been getting attacked all over the country. This is important. You can’t rely on other people for protection forever, Debbie.” 


I frowned, and before I even realised what had happened my wand felt warm, like I’d just cast a spell. 


I looked up and luckily saw Lily’s wand speeding backwards towards me. I instinctively stuck out my wand hand and caught it right beside my own wand before it could hit me in the face. 


“Ow!” Lily was rubbing her hand. “Friction burn.” 


Bloody hell. I’d just disarmed her without realising. Lucky all I did was disarm, really. 


“I was talking.” Lily protested, “I wasn’t ready.” 


“An attacker isn’t going to wait till you’re ready, Lil.” I quoted back to her in a childish sing-song voice, but still looking in confusion at my still-warm wand. I hadn’t meant to disarm her. I hadn’t meant to even cast a spell yet. Had I? 


“Give me that.” She snatched her wand back out of my hand. 


“Excellent work, Miss McKinnon!” Our rather too enthusiastic DADA teacher was upon us. Rumour had it that Professor Dawlish was a newly qualified auror, but had taken a year out to teach after a request from Dumbledore. Almost the entire school was in awe of him, after word spread that he was the recipient of the highest NEWT grades in two hundred years, and had completed his auror training in record time. 


Truth was, he annoyed me. Here was this bloke just three years older than us, no real experience in combat, and he was telling us how it was? 


“Thanks, Sir.” I rolled my eyes at Lily, who wasn’t paying attention. She was too busy looking reproachfully at Dawlish for not noting her efforts. 


“You make quite an attacker,” He winked. Oh, look at that. A joke. It made me step back in alarm. 


“Um. Right.” Excellent. I’ll start on the path to becoming a Dark Witch at once, as this appears to be my calling. 


“Her super-sensory charms are good too,” Lily added, grudgingly. Bless her. I could see how much she wished it was her that was good at it, but she’d never miss a chance to back up her friend. I did love Lily Evans. “I haven’t been able to hit her once.” 


“Superb!” Dawlish exclaimed. Suberb. “Ah, I wonder, Miss McKinnon… I was hoping to put together a small demonstration at the end of class in a few moments, just to show those less able how it’s done, eh? A sort of… competition.” 


Excellent. Merlin knew I’d forget the moment the whole class was watching how to do it, and end up flat on my back or something. Hello, humiliation. 


“I’d do it myself, of course, but it’s really not setting the right example having a teacher attack a student now, is it?” Dawlish shook his head, smiling at his own joke. “So you’ll help?” 


“Um, I’d rather not…” 


Dawlish looked shocked. 


“It’s just that I’m not very good when I have an audience and -” 


“But Miss McKinnon, you are one of the very few that has mastered the spell!” 


“Yes but couldn’t you just use someone else -” 


“Well yes, I’d ask Mr Potter and Mr Black, but they are far too evenly matched. Not once have either of them managed to break through the other’s defences, I fear their abilities are too equal and they know one another far too well -” 


I choked on air. 


“No, really. I’d rather not, Sir…” I protested. Really not a tempting situation. 


“Miss McKinnon -” 


“I, er… I know them too well too.” I said, hastily, “We’re friends.” We were friends. Past tense. 


Dawlish looked puzzled, “But I haven’t seen you speak to them once, in the three weeks of term.” 


An excellent point. 


I hadn’t so much as looked at the prats. Much. 


I opened my mouth but couldn’t invent an excuse quick enough. 


Dawlish smirked. Sly bugger. “Excellent.” He raised his voice. “Silence, class.” 


There were a few furtive bangs, grunt and sniggers as students took advantage of their partners’ attention being otherwise occupied before the buzz of chatter died down. 


“You’ve given a good effort, very good indeed. Before we go to lunch I’d just like you to take a seat -” With a wave of his wand the chairs, previously stacked at the sides of the room, lines up along the edges, providing a wide square of space in the middle of the room. 


Oh marvellous, a stage. 


“Miss McKinnon…” 


I really wasn’t built for performing. People shuffled back towards seats and I avoided looking directly at them, apart from Lily. Who I glared at, resentfully. Couldn’t she have kept her mouth closed for a second?


“And Mr…” 


Please Potter, please Potter, please Potter… 


“Black.” 


Of course. 


Fuck. 


Tension in the room reached a suffocating level. And it wasn’t just me. The whole class were holding their breaths. Because they all knew. Everybody knew. 


I’ll say it again, hello humiliation. 


“Actually Sir, I’d rather Prongs - er, James - did it…” At least Sirius was about as keen as me. 


Unlucky mate. Dawlish doesn’t take into account what you do and don’t want. 


“Nonsense, Mr Black. The two of you are far too modest.” 


I had a disgusted expression on my face at the thought of what the rest of the class must be thinking of us. I glanced up and accidentally caught Sirius’ eye. 


For a moment the disgust at Dawlish on his face mirrored my own.


No. Statue. It was always statue. 


Oh God. 


Was this really happening? 


We were about to duel. After three weeks of not breathing a word to one another, not sparing a glance in the direction of the other. 


We were doing so well.


After that first night I’d been hideously dependent on whomever I was with at times when I had to be in some sort of proximity to him. Lily, more often than not. Or Londy. Or Ray, at a lot of meal times or between class. 


Sirius didn’t seem to be having the same trouble. 


He barely looked at me. Of course, I was barely looking at him either.  It just looked so easy for him. Well, I suppose that made sense. It was his idea, this not-being-friends malarkey. He was perfectly happy acting like we’d never met. 


Lily, not so happy. 


She’d kidnapped me up to her dorm the very next day. 


“He shouldn’t have acted like that,” She told me, “He was stupid. And harsh. And stupid.” 


“I don’t care.”


Lily raised an eyebrow. She knew I was bluffing. I knew she knew. She knew I knew she knew. 


“If we can’t be friends, we can’t be friends.” My voice was sounding a lot more level than it had the previous night. “I don’t want to be around someone that hates me anyway.” 


That was true. In theory. I couldn’t be face-to-face with him hating me all the time. Simple. 


In theory. 


In reality, it didn’t matter whether I was with him or not. It still hurt like a bitch. I could blame it on the whole, it’s-not-nice-having-someone-hate-you thing. I could try. But, let’s be honest, I’ve lasted this long with the majority of the Slytherin house hating me. Being hated wasn’t the issue. 


Being hated by him was the issue. 


“He didn’t mean it. You know he didn’t mean it,” Lily was foolishly optimistic. 


“I’m going to respectfully disagree.” 


“Deb, he’s not… you don’t get it. He’s just better at pretending than you.” 


What in hell? 



“He is not better than me!” I was outraged. “He’s terrible! He’s the worst actor I've ever seen-” 


“I know that. But he’s managed to convince himself, that’s the main thing.” 


If that is true then he is the most gullible human being in the history of morons. 


“Lily, I get that you’re trying to make me feel better. And I love you for it. But I just need to face it, I’ve had enough of running off and pretending it’s all ok. He's not going to change his mind. I need to just get on with it.” 


It was like Ray said. You can dwell on it, fix it or get over it. I was done with dwelling on it. It couldn’t be fixed. So I’d get over it. Simple. 


Painful, but simple.


“Deb, you didn’t… you didn’t see him over the summer, ok?” 


“And you did?” I enquired, nonplussed. 


“Yeah. I -” 


I didn’t quite grasp at what she intended to get across. She wanted to tell me something about Sirius over the summer. But I was stuck at the fact that she’d… 


“You willingly went to the Potters? In school holidays? When you could have had months away from him?” 


“Yes.” Were her cheeks pink? I couldn’t tell. Maybe a little… or was that just reflection from her bed hangings? “James… James wrote to me.” 


James?” I echoed. 


“Will you get over it, McKinnon? Yes, I went to Potters house. No, it does not mean I’m in love with him. I did it for our friend.” 


The wrath of Lily Evans could be a little terrifying. “Sorry. He wrote to you. I’m listening. Go on.” I sat cross-legged and apologetic on her bed. 


“So Potter wrote to me,” He was Potter again. Bollocks. I should never have pointed it out, it made her uncomfortable. “Apparently Sirius hasn’t quite been himself this summer.” 


Wasn’t quite himself… Had he developed the uncontrollable desire to grow his hair as a fashion statement? Because, you know, I might have noticed something along those lines… 


“Well yeah, we had a bit of a dramatic end of term if you remember correctly.” I pointed out. 


“That’s the thing. What exactly did happen between you two? At the train station? James says -” 


James again! 


“James says he was alright up until we got to the station. Relatively. Optimistic, anyway. I think he thought it would all be ok, you know -“ 


Thought it would all be ok. Ha. Been there. Familiar with that. 


“And then… well all he said when I was there was that he said some stuff to you that he shouldn’t have.” 


“Oh, just some stuff. That sounds right." I scoffed.


“He also told me how he wrote to apologise -” …Ah. “- Only someone had to be awkward, didn’t they?” 


Bollocks


I disliked being referred to in this derogatory way. 


But bollocks. 


He wrote to me? 


“Well when I didn't reply obviously he'd realise that…” I babbled, my mind still going over what exactly the hell had happened. 


“He thought that was your ever so compassionate way of saying you didn’t give a shit.” 


“Well that is a ridiculous conclusion to jump to.” I said, in a matter-of-fact manner.


“So you did care.” 


“No…” 


“Debbie.” 


“Oh stop bloody knowing things Evans, you sodding know-it-all little… minx.” Minx? Holy hell, brain was really outdoing itself this time. 


Lily just smiled superiorly. “So this is what happened…” 


I don’t know why she was telling me, I was the one that was there.

 

Just a prime example of the control and awareness I have over my sorry excuse for a life. My absent best mate apparently has all the details while I’m still stuck on ‘he hates me’. 


“… he said some stuff. Then wished he hadn’t. He wrote to apologise and profess his undying love for you -” 


Oh, she’s being a comedienne. How quaint. 


“- Meanwhile, you’re off feeling sorry for yourself and allowing letters to pile up to the sodding ceiling in your room and not reading a single one. A miscommunication occurs. You assume he hates you and/or is a complete tosser who can say those mean things then not apologize. He think’s you’re a heartless git who can just accept these things and not even care that he’s apologized, not even reply…” She paused for a breath. “You see where I’m going here.” 


“Vaguely.” I did. I suppose. “Doesn’t really change a lot though, does it? He still hates me now.” 


“You are so dense.” Lily gave up her pacing in front of me and threw herself on the end of her bed. “Both of you.” 


“I am not.” 


“You can’t honestly believe he hates you. Deb, when I went round there on yourbirthday…” 


I raised my eyebrows. 


“Yes, we were desperate.” She acknowledged, “Anyway, when I was there, when he found out that you hadn’t read his letters… he went crazy. Seriously broke down. I’ve never seen anything like it. Strutting around like a madman, even tried to apparate to find you -” 


What


“But we can’t… we haven't passed our tests.” I cleverly observed. 


Again, what? Of all aspects of what she was saying, I chose that to ponder? 


“Splinched himself.” Lily carried on. “Didn’t even make it. God knows where he ended up, but he was back in thirty seconds dripping in blood. It was disgusting. He got blood on my new suede boots.” 


God, no. Not the boots. 


“He smashed up his motorcycle.” Lily added. 

"Motorcycle? He’s always wanted a…” I trailed off, realising that I was again focusing on trivial parts of the story rather than the main thing. Which was… 


“So he really did care.” Lily finished. 


I noted one very important part of that sentence. “Did.” 


“Does.” She hastily corrected herself. “Does care. He does.” 


“Well why is he acting like such a jerk?” 


“Why are you acting like such a jerk?” 


“I’ve been nice!” I insisted, in an overly high-pitched voice. 


Lily frowned condescendingly. “Think about it, moron. After all the miscommunication this summer, the only thing you say to him is ‘Hi Sirius, good summer?’.” 


“That’s perfectly polite.” 


“You are painfully, painfully socially underdeveloped.” 


“Well what the hell was I supposed to say?” I demanded, “’Hi there, remember how you yelled at me when we last spoke? I've been dying to hear again what a bitch I am’. You heard him. ‘We can’t be friends’. Oh gosh, yes. The affection there is just touching.” 


I had a point. I knew I had a point and Lily knew I had a point but she didn’t relent. 


“All it takes is one of you to be the bigger man, and this will all be sorted.” She said, calmly. 


“Well then, you’re talking to the wrong person. I can see that the moustache and chest hair may be misleading but he is in fact the male in this non-relationship. Not me.” 


Lily sighed sharply. “Ok, you know what? Fine. I’ll leave you two to blunder about and try to solve your own problems, then maybe things will be sorted in seventy five years. You’re obviously not ready yet, so I’m not going to force it.” 


“Well good.” 


“Good. 


Good.” 



** 




She’d kept to her word. Left it. Which was good. Good. Honest. 


I could still see her itching to butt in with some sort of screamingly obvious hint whenever we were in the same room but she thankfully managed to constrain herself, and left me to ignore him in peace. 


The only thing was, I did still feel a little bit bad. It was the Lily and James thing. It had happened just as I’d predicted. The divide. Me and Lily, Sirius and James. 


We could become some sort of romance-fighting team, Sirius and me. Not only could we successfully destroy a perfectly functioning relationship of our own, we could even extend this generosity to others. Marvellous. 


Of course, to be any sort of team you kind of have to be speaking. 


Or at least acknowledging that the other is alive. That sort of thing. 


I’ve never been a fan of challenges. When life creates a challenge, Deb runs in the opposite direction.

 

Life isn’t meant to be a challenge. And mine has had by far too many so far for my liking. 


Then comes along stupid bloody Dawlish with his stupid bloody enthusiasm and his stupid bloody super-sensory spells and his stupid bloody competitions. 


“So, take a seat, take a seat now…” Dawlish ushered everyone to the sides of the room, leaving me and Sirius standing uncomfortably in the middle of the cleared room. 


I wasn’t looking at him. A habit now. Instead I took the time to notice that my shirt wasn’t tucked in, and for some odd reason I had one sleeve rolled up and the other cuff dangling over my hand. Apparently as well as the ability to look at stubborn ex-boyfriends I’d also lost the talent of self-dressing. 


Well I couldn’t very well start adjusting my uniform now, it’d look like I was making serious preparations. Which would look like I seriously wanted to beat the prick. 


Which I didn’t. Much. 



If it was this time last year, it would all be ok. This time last year things were blissfully uncomplicated. As best friend… sheer, plain, simple best friend, if Sirius and I for whatever reason had to demonstrate something for the class it would end up as a complete comedy act as he’d make a great show of being the gentleman and letting me win. 


I had an inkling that wasn’t how things were going down today. 


“Come on then, we haven’t got all day,” Dawlish settled himself on a chair near the front and beamed expectantly, “Let‘s get started.” 



I didn’t want to look like I couldn’t even look at him. I mean, how pathetic is that? So I spun around jauntily and faced him with my hands on my hips. I heard a cackle and a whoop (Londy, my ally in the putting-on-a-front game) which provided me with a spark of confidence and a stifled smile. 


Sirius went for the slow ‘I’m so fucking cool that it bores me to even look at you’ approach. 


That was fine. 


Poncey wanker. 


“Right, who’s going to go first?” Dawlish wondered aloud. It seemed he was planning on giving a running commentary. 


I smiled. It felt a little like a grimace but Poncey Wanker didn’t bat an eyelid. 


“Would you like to go first?” I asked, the essence of politeness. 


There was a beat of silence. He chewed his lip before answering. I didn’t know whether it was because he had dry lips or because it was part of his ‘I’m so bored/cool it hurts’ parade. 


“Ladies first,” He replied smoothly. 


Of course. 


I nodded briskly and turned my back on him. It was easier than looking at him, 
anyway. But weird. 


So, so weird. 
 

I’m pretty sure I saw Blakely in the corner taking bets. 


We really ought to have just been up front about it. In retrospect, that may have gotten us out of it.

 

All it would have taken was a brief, ‘I’m sorry Dawlish, I’m not comfortable with competing against my depressing excuse for an ex-boyfriend/best friend. Oh, you want a brief rundown of the history between us? Of course. Hmm, where to start? His quest to bed every girl in the castle or his sleeping with my brothers girlfriend? And where to end? Me finding out about the incident with said brothers girlfriend or the fact that I’ve apparently done something wrong so that he can apparently not be friends with me? Oh, you’re walking away. Oh, you’re banging your head against a wall. Oh. Ok. Class dismissed.’ 


“Ready, Miss McKinnon?” Dawlish enquired. 


“You know, Sir,” I informed him, “In this current time of danger, we ought to be preparing ourselves for what awaits us outside these castle walls. Do you really think an attacker would ask me if I were ready before killing me?” I winked at Lily. 


Dawlish looked a little taken aback. “Oh. Er… of course. Very true, Miss McKinnon, very true. Although I don’t think death is quite what is at stake today -” 


“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Someone muttered. It came from the vicinity of Londy and Blakely. Unsurprisingly. 


“Nevertheless,” Dawlish rattled on, “If you could just indicate that you’re ready -” 


He was interrupted. Barely a second passed, I wouldn’t be surprised if people blinked and missed it, but in that second there was a flash of bright white, a harsh buzzing that caught my attention, just in time for me to spin around and cast a heavy shield charm. 


Another couple of seconds of silence passed as the class sat, probably a little stunned, Dawlish blinked rapidly and pushed his spectacles up his nose, and I regained my breath with an involuntary smile.


Meanwhile, Sirius’ statue expression had slipped just for a second and, oh, there was the murderous look. My smile faded.


I cleared my throat, awkwardly. 


“Excellent!” Dawlish broke the stunned/homicidal silence with a burst of applause and spun around in his seat, “Did you see that? Did everybody see that? Marvellous super-sensory charm, Miss McKinnon; perfect spell work by the both of you, I couldn’t fault it. Battle of the reaction times, it seems.” 


A slow build up of unsure applause scattered around the room. 



“Although, Mr Black, you really ought to have waited until she confirmed that she was ready. Had she not been prepared, that stinging hex could have caused serious damage…” 


Stinging hex? Ouch. We weren’t playing nice. 


“She was ready.” Sirius replied, shortly. “I saw her cast it.” 


A subtle dig that I had been too obvious, whilst putting Professor Dawlish under the illusion that he was a conscientious student that wasn’t actually trying to cause me actual physical and social harm through humiliation. Well played, Black, couldn’t have done it better myself. 


I was just taking a step to join Lily at the seats by the door, having completed my part and done this stupid demonstration - which hadn’t make me any more at ease - when our dear Head Boy spoke up. 


“Best of three?” He was grinning like a fool. 


Don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing, Potter. Trying to give your bestest buddy over there a chance to get his own back. Excellent. 


I stopped, about to graciously deny this. Retire, while I was ahead, you know… 


Dawlish looked expectantly from me to Sirius. 


I turned back around, my mouth half open with a ‘no, thank you’. 


Sirius shrugged, his lip curling a little, back in the bored way after his brief slip. Bored’s better than murderous, I suppose. 


“Unless Miss McKinnon would rather run away?” He dragged out the last word, his eyes locked on mine. 


Alright, that’s it


“Ready, Mr Black?” I asked, coolly, to the anticipating buzz of the rest of the class. 


He responded with a cold half-smile and turned sharply around. I saw the subtle flick of his wand by his side indicating that he’d cast the charm, though I was unsure whether anyone else had spotted it. 


There was no point going for the ‘take him by surprise’ option, then. My best bet was to wait, just long enough to make him a little too at ease. 


Easier said than done, when you’re up in front of an entire class who are waiting with baited breath for you to do something impressive. 


A battle of the reaction times, Dawlish had said. There really wasn’t much of a tactical way to do this. It was simple. Best reaction times won. 


The thing was, the defence always had the best reaction times. They were waiting for something to happen. The attacker, on the other hand, has the much harder job of finding a flaw in their opponent’s concentration. 


And I would bet my lucky pants that there would be no fault in Sirius Black’s concentration in this moment in time. 


“Not getting any younger, here…” I heard Londy pipe up from the back. Blakely sniggered. Git. 


My only hope… my only little chance would be to use the unexpected. Super-sensory charms were for safety. They worked on the basis that the bigger the danger, the bigger the signal, or the buzzing sensation, that the user gets. 


My only shot was to use this. A small spell. One that might go undetected. 


I did it. 


One he wouldn’t be expecting. He’d set the standard with his stinging hex, we were playing nasty. 


He was expecting nasty. 


So I wasn’t playing nasty. 


I moved quickly with a short, sharp jab of my wand. The class saw my movement. 


I saw it as if in slow motion. This spell caused no disturbance of light, but a rapid vibration of air that was barely visible. I saw it travel towards him, closer… closer… 


Then it wasn’t as such in slow motion anymore. I saw it just about reach him, just about to touch him when he blasted out the shield charm. 


I saw this with a blow of irritation, but was prepared to accept it with a shrug. 


was


It was one-all. I would have been fine about it. 


However, not only did he block my spell but he somehow in one swift motion managed to turn, step, and before I could even manage my casual shrug, was right in front of me with his wand to my throat. 


Round two was also met by silence from the class. 


It seemed like a good few seconds passed while I stood frozen with his wand pressed to my neck, unable to tear my eyes from his. 


Uncomfortable. 


We were close. Very close. I could probably have counted his every eyelash. 


I was holding my breath. 


Really uncomfortable. 


“Get a room.” Blakely called from the corner, bringing the class out of it’s second stunned silence and evoking some giggles. 


“Very good, very good!” Dawlish recovered and initiated a second round of applause, “I hope you all note, class, that Mr Black has here demonstrated nicely how, even though one’s super-sensory charms may have worked perfectly, you must always follow through with another defence. Very important this.” He nodded around, knowledgably, as if he’d actually told Sirius what to do. “An unusual choice of spell for attack, though, Miss McKinnon…?” 


“Severing charm?” Sirius enquired, in a low voice but just loud enough for everyone to hear. I could feel his breath when he spoke. 


It made me hold my breath again for a second. Like I didn’t want to breath in the air he’d just exhaled. 


“That hair.” I stated, in explanation, indicating with my wand his rather too-long hair flicking over his ears and into his eyes. 


There was a dramatic ‘ooh’ from the class, anticipating Sirius’ reaction. 


But he merely responded with a quirk of his lip. “She’s always been jealous of my hair.” He announced, to bouts of laughter from the class. His eyes didn’t leave mine and fo a second he looked like himself again. Hair aside. 



“Ah, ok.” Dawlish grabbed onto this opportunity to play teacher, “What Miss McKinnon displayed here was how the effectiveness of the super-sensory charms is directly related to the strength of the attacking spell, or the likelihood of damage. Miss McKinnon aimed to play on this in hopes that Mr Black would not react as quickly to the warning but, alas, he was fully prepared. Now, for one final… um, Mr Black? I… you can remove your wand from Miss McKinnon’s throat now…” 


I had space again. It was a little cold. 


“So, round three!” Dawlish was beside himself with excitement. I don’t think he’d expected a competition of this…uh, intensity. “Both ready for one final round? You’re not too tired… I know these spells can be quite taxing at first…” 


“I’m fine.” Sirius said. Although I wasn’t looking I could hear a hint of challenge in his voice, “Though I’m not sure about Miss McKinnon. She usually likes to give up when things get a bit tough.” 


I’d been twirling my wand but I froze. 


I like to give up?! 


What. A. Git. 


There was another dramatic ‘ooh’ from the class at that incredibly subtle (not) dig. It was apparent to everyone but Dawlish that it was a personal insult, rather than the defence-related comment it could have been. 


Tosser. 


Perhaps I should have been a bit more subtle about my own retort. 


“Well, we all cope differently, don't we,” I snipped, “Of course, I could just jump into bed with the nearest available slag, couldn’t I? Oh wait, no. They don’t have to be available.” 


Or I could have even thought at all before opening my mouth. Maybe. 


Dawlish spluttered a little in bewilderment and loosened his tie while the rest of the class tried to stifle sniggers. 


Sirius’ expression didn’t change. 


“Right. Um,” Dawlish cleared his throat, “We can, um, postpone this. This competition. We don’t really need to decide on a winner… it’s nearly lunchtime -” 


“I’m ready, Mr Black.” I spoke over Dawlish and turned neatly around. 


We were so going to finish this. 


I wasn’t fooled by the way his expression didn’t change. It was Sirius, for crying out loud. No expression was on a par with Calm Voice, which signalled a severe internal battle as he tried to keep his temper under control. I don’t even know why I was provoking him. Maybe because this was all a bit new. Not him losing his temper, obviously, but… well, losing it in this way with me


But, strangely, I wasn’t scared. It felt good, this little bit of risk. It felt good that I could get to him that much to make him lose control. I was behaving a bit like the old Debbie, who would say and do what she wanted and not even think about the consequences, because she knew someone would be there the save her butt. 


Small problem with that - there was no one here to save me anymore. 


But, fuck it. I didn’t need anyone else. I was good at these sodding charms. And I was trying my very best for once. I could do this. 


I could ignore what a bloody whirlwind of emotion he put my head in just as long as I could keep pissing him off. And I could definitely beat him at this. 


I could. 


Like Dawlish had said, the better you know someone, the better you are at defending yourself against them. You almost don’t need the super sensory charms, especially when you’re accidentally so bloody attuned to someone that you’ve been able to feel it on the back of your neck every sodding time the twat glances your way for the past three weeks. 


And, in this case, it was a bloody good job I had this little connection thing. 


Because I’d underestimated how pissed off Sirius was. 


I hadn’t had time to cast the charms. 


I’d automatically relied on this gut instinct that something was going to happen right now. 

 

It all happened within a fraction of a second.


I forgot about the super-sensory charms. 


I forgot about defending myself non-verbally, which was supposed to be an automatic response by now. 


I forgot we were in a classroom and that I ought to probably regulate the strength of my shield charm. 


I just spun and yelled, “Protego!” At the top of my voice. 


It would an understatement to say a wee bit of havoc ensued. 


Less than a second before I’d cast my shield a flash of bright white light erupted from the end of Sirius’ wand, and from the angered look on his face I’d say he’d acted on impulse - casting the stinging hex again - not thinking about it. 


Because I’d done it. He’d lost his temper. 


The strength of our two spells was far greater than any we’d just done. They collided in the space between us, his hex and my shield, with crack of impact like two charging hippogriffs. 


I was knocked off my feet. That was all that registered. Like an invisible wall of energy from the collision had thrown me back into the blackboard. 


My head spun for a few seconds and I merely lay there, breathing a little heavily and slowly testing out my limbs for movement, the way I would after a heavy fall in Quidditch. 


When I sat up, a cloud of chalk that had surrounded me as I crashed into the blackboard slowly settled and I could take in the scene before me. 


It didn’t as such look like much of a classroom anymore. 


Where the chairs had previously been arranged in a neat circle around the edge of the room, they were now scattered as if they’d been blown over, a couple even missing legs or backs. The students that had been occupying them were crouched on the floor in a state of shock, their eyes darting anxiously from me to… 


Sirius was sitting up just as I was. It looked like he’d been thrown backwards into Peter’s chair, which was now pinning Peter to the back wall. Sirius ignored Pete’s whimpers as he was being a little crushed by his chair and supposed mate, and slowly climbed to his feet. 


I did likewise, still surveying the ‘slight havoc’ we’d caused. 


Ahem. 


In our defence, we hadn’t volunteered for this. 




** 




“I thought detention was a little excessive.” I met Lily for dinner that evening, after the entire class had been sent to the hospital for various healing and/or calming draughts. 


We were sat at opposite ends of the Gryffindor table obviously, from Sirius and James. Sirius and I hadn’t been able to look at one another since Dawlish had stopped his ‘disappointed chat’ with us. Yes. He was one of those teachers. 


“Johnson sprained a wrist.” Lily pointed out. “Mary and Louisa both had bruising to the face, and a lot of the Slytherins are claiming injuries to their arms so they can’t write in class. And Dorcas Meadows was hyperventilating for forty-five minutes afterwards.” 


“Like I said, an overreaction.” I dismissed with a wave of the hand, “I fully expected to lose a few house points over it, but detention? It was Dawlish’s own bloody fault in the first place! I never wanted to demonstrate, you know I can’t handle pressure.” 


“Yes, I got that. A little.” Lily rolled her eyes. “You blasted out a shield big enough to protect the entire west of Europe.” 


“I panicked.” 


“I’ll say. Your detention’s fine anyway, just polishing the Astronomy equipment.” Lily reasoned. Stupid Head Girl. Loving her stupid rules. And stupid detentions. 


“I hated Astronomy.” I shuddered, “And Oz is going to kill me.” 


“He hasn’t heard yet?” Lily peered over my shoulder to the Ravenclaw table. I didn’t dare look. 


“Doesn’t take Defence. And I’ve blackmailed Londy into keeping it to herself. But there’s no trusting her now she’s all in a relationship and whatnot. ” 


“When are you going to tell him you can’t make try-outs then?” Lily asked. 


“Shh!” I hushed her, as if Oz possessed superhuman hearing as well as volume, and could hear from across the Hall. “I don’t know. Maybe I just won’t. Maybe try-outs will be so busy tomorrow that he won’t even notice I’m not there -” 


“Debbie, they’re trying out to be chasers.” 


“Yes.” 


“Now, I don’t know Quidditch but I’m pretty sure that, as fellow chaser, you’ll be quite important in the try-out process.” 


“Not necessarily -” 


“Debbie.” 


Damn Lily Evans to hell with her incessant knowing it all. 


“I’ll tell him later.” 


Debbie.” 


“Fine. Fine, tonight. Fine.” 


This facing your problems head on thing was a nightmare. 


Thankfully a new presence came along to save me from the hassle of pondering it. 


“Heard about your Defence mishap.” 


“Oh, hi Ray. Nice to see you too. My day’s been just lovely, thanks for asking -” 


“Don’t waste my time with pleasantries,” He plonked himself next to Lily and opposite me, “Tell me about this incident. There’ve been rumours, you know. The second floor classrooms are being referred to as a war zone.” 


“An overreaction.” I insisted. 


Lily betrayed me, “She floored an entire classroom. Including Sirius Black. Whom she was meant to be demonstrating the correct use of super-sensory spells with.” 


Ray laughed delightedly, “Awesome.” 


“It’s not awesome.” Lily frowned, sternly. “Do not encourage her. This is just going to add to the awkwardness that is practically my life now. It’s unbearable even being in the same room as them.” 


I winced, guiltily. That was exactly what I hadn’t wanted. 


“It’s that bad?” Ray asked, having not shared any of our lessons and therefore not having felt the waves of hate. I suppose in the Great Hall the effect was less obvious. 


“Lily, I’m sorry.” I apologised. Bloody guilt tripper. “I never meant it to be like this. I tried, you know I did. It’s not me that’s being... you saw -” 


“Yes, yes. He was the one who said you couldn’t be friends, I know.” Lily shook her head wearily. “They’re like children.” She told Ray. 


I fought the instinct to reply ‘we are not’, which would just be effectively proving her point. 


She knew exactly what I was thinking anyway. 


“You are.” She said, “You’re the one that provoked him.” 


“Provoked him? So what exactly happened?” Ray asked, grinning. 


“They were asked to demonstrate. They’re both incredibly stubborn. Obviously it turned into some sort of contest about who was more over who -” 


“It wasn’t like that.” I loudly pointed out. Neither of them took any notice whatsoever. 


“- And Debbie said some things she knew would make him lose his temper.” Lily finished, giving me a disapproving look. 


All I could come back with was, “He started it.” 


Ray was still grinning at the whole thing like it was all incredibly amusing rather than slightly depressing and embarrassing, while Lily sighed. 


“Why did you do it, Deb?” 


I shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know.” 


“Did you really think it would make anything better?” 


“I don’t know.” I said, helplessly. “I didn’t mean to do or say anything. I didn’t even want to do the stupid demo. I’m sorry that it’s made things worse for you, Lil. Really, I am. But it doesn’t have to affect you or James -” 


“Yes it does, fool.” She rolled her eyes tolerantly, “We’re your best friends.” 


“But you -” 


“It’s fine.” She insisted, “It’ll.. all work out.” She glanced sideways down the table towards James and Sirius. 


“What’re you looking at?” I asked, not daring follow her gaze but warily noting the creepily optimistic sparkle. 


“Nothing.” She said, brightly. “I just remembered I have some… James and I have some Head duties to get on with…” 


“Lily it’s dinner time.” 


“Yes. Well.” 


“Are you alright?” I asked, suspiciously, “You seem weird.” 


“Fine. Just…” For the briefest moment a smug smile crossed her face, but I blinked and wasn’t sure I hadn’t imagined it. “Just meet me in the library tonight, ok? At nine.” 


“What? We don’t have any homework due in for ages -” 


“Be there. Nine!” She said, hurriedly, before striding up the other end of the table, grabbing James by the upper arm and dragging him bodily from the room. 


“What in the name of hell happened to her?” I asked, my wide eyes still watching the door she’d departed from. 


Ray shrugged. “No idea.” His voice was perfectly innocent. 


I glanced sharply at him. “You know.” 


“No.” 


“Tell me.” 


“I don’t know!” 


“You get it. You understand her madness, you always understand madness!” 


Ray merely snagged a chip from my plate. “I’m telling you, I have no idea.” 




** 




I don’t know why I allowed myself to be summoned like a sodding House Elf. I was fully planning on ignoring Lily’s command to join her in the library at nine and just go to bed to ponder my ever increasingly depressing/bizarre being. 


But of course I didn’t have the guts. The Lily wrath would simply not be worth it. So I found myself, at nine o’clock, making my way reluctantly towards the library. 


The library? Really? 


It was fairly empty. It was week bloody three of term, the only people keen enough to be in there this early were obviously clinically insane. But I couldn’t see the queen of insane herself anywhere to begin with. 


“Lily?” I called, in a hushed voice. Then I felt a moron. I wanted to yell loudly so she could hear ( obviously) but... it was the library.


I made my way through various shelves towards the work area, hidden in the back corner. As I rounded the corner that put the desks in my view I took in the scene before me and stopped dead, stomach churing. 


“Hi!” Lily stepped in front swiftly, as if in some sort of attempt to block my view. 


It didn’t work. I narrowed my eyes. 


“Are you insane?” I asked, politely, peering over her shoulder to the pair of boys at the desk behind her. 


She grinned, sheepishly. “You were the one that fell for it.” 


To be fair, it looked like James was getting similar treatment from Sirius, who looked about as impressed as me at the situation we’d found ourselves in. 


Oh God. 


Mr and Mrs Head Girl/Boy thought their plan was so cunning


‘Let’s get our best friends, who incidentally almost killed one another earlier today, together in the library so we can play match-maker’. 


They thought they were so wily. 


No, Evans. No, Potter. The reason I wasn’t expecting this is because your pathetic excuse for a plan was actually so juvenile and flawed that only an absolute moron would try it. 


“I’m going to go now,” I told her calmly, and turned away towards the exit. 


“Just hear us out.” Lily caught my wrist and brought me to a halt. 


“I thought you were leaving us to it?” I turned back around slowly and spoke through gritted teeth. I accidentally looked over her shoulder again and accidentally caught Sirius’ eye. Accidentally. Of course. 


And his absolute disdain made me feel instantly a thousand times worse. 


Oh hi, Awkwardness, it’s been a while. Not. 


“That was the old plan.” Lily said, in a business-like manner than made me wonder whether she’d actually set out a number of plans. Most likely in a personal organiser. And colour coded. 


I found myself being dragged over to the table that the boys were sat at. 


Awkwardness was practically skipping naked around us. 


I stood uncomfortably in front of the table as Sirius glared accusingly at James. 


“Sit.” James suggested, kicking out the chair opposite him. It hit me in the knees. 


Ow.” I said, pointedly. 


“Oh, don’t be difficult, Deb.” Lily rolled her eyes as if I were throwing some sort of a tantrum rather than just briefly expressing a little bit of pain. 


I took my seat in a dignified manner, just to prove her wrong. 


There were a few moments of incredibly tense silence in which no one looked at anyone else. The sort of silence I usually felt compelled to break with a witty joke. I focused on breathing regularly so that I didn’t come out with a ‘why did the chicken cross the road’. It’s been known to happen. 


“Ok.” Lily broke the silence, “You both need to listen.” 


As if we were otherwise occupied in this current moment. 


“Ja - Potter and I are sick of this. You hear me? Sick. You’re both being completely childish and it’s just not fair on us.” Lily scolded. 


“I told you,” I said to Lily, “It doesn’t have to -” 


“I know, I know.” Lily shook her head. “’You didn’t mean it to be like this’, ‘it doesn’t have to affect us’, whatever. Well it does. You think you’re being all big and clever with this not-talking phase and well, quite frankly it’s ridiculous. It’s solving nothing and I’m sick of tip-toeing around you both.” 


I glanced sideways out of the corner of my eye at Sirius. Accidentally. Again. And he was looking right back at me. It was a bit of a relief to see his eyes anything less than furious, even if it was guilt that had replaced the anger. Guilt that I was pretty sure was reflected in my own eyes. But then he snapped his eyes away from me and back at Lily. 


“I don’t expect you to be best buddies again, immediately. I’m not thick. But you need to at least be civil towards each other and promise to work on it. Because you’re being utterly selfish in all this, and I’m not putting up with it anymore.” 


There was a long beat of silence. 


I met Lily’s eyes, ready to apologise for the millionth time, but her fierce gaze softened and she shook her head slightly, indicating that there was no need for apology. 


I felt a rush of affection for her in that moment. She may have created this incredibly awkward gathering, she may have been being hugely bossy and she may have been making things worse… but she was genuinely upset by the whole thing. And wanted what was best for us. 


I just wished that that was possible. 


“Ok?” She stood up. I stared at her in alarm. 


“We’re going.” She nodded at James. “And you two are going to talk.” 


James got up and followed her through the book shelves. I could hear them bickering in hushed voices on the way out. 


“Thanks for the support, Potter.” 


“There was nothing left for me to say!” 


“I had to say it all because you just sat there gawking -” 


“Maybe if you paused for breath next time -” 


Their voices faded as they left the library, probably feeling unbearably smug, leaving our old friend Awkwardness to thrive in their absence. 


Sirius and I stayed sat at the desk, completely stationary for at least a minute after they’d gone. It probably looked ridiculous, us staring in opposite direction just to avoid one another. 


It was ridiculous. 


I was ever so slightly terrified that he was still furious. I couldn't handle him saying something or looking at me in a way that made me feel like utter shit. I just couldn't.


It seemed so long that I’d seen anything on his face other than a determined contempt. 


But when he did speak it was more defeated than anything. 


“That was the worst plan they’ve ever come up with.” He commented, wearily. 


I breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn’t yelling or telling me we couldn’t talk. But this didn’t make the situation any clearer. 


“It was the worst plan anyone’s ever come up with.” I corrected. 


There was another brief stint of silence, in which we both realised that we could have left by now. 


“Worked, though. Hasn’t it.” Sirius pointed out. 


“We can just go.” I said, half-heartedly. 


“So go.” 


He really wasn’t making this ‘conversation’ any easier. It was like talking to a brick wall. A brick wall that came up with retorts that left you stumped and full of questions. A sodding clever brick wall. 


“I’m sorry if I was a bitch. In defence.” I said, after another lifetime’s silence. Even though I wasn’t sure if I was actually sorry. I just thought I'd try that grown up thing Lily'd been banging on about.


“I’m sorry if I could have hurt you.” Sirius replied, rather formally. 


“You couldn’t have hurt me…” Before I knew it I’d come out with a nonchalant comment and smirked, oh so modestly. 


Oh, now I can do nonchalant. I see. Not in potentially humiliating situations, no, but now when etiquette seemed to be along the lines of awkward and polite, sure. 


A brief shadow of humour lit up his face for a second before passing. Back to statue. Of course.


Oh God. 


This. Was. Painful. 


“Why can’t we be friends?” Again, my mouth operated without consulting my brain. And, for some odd reason, I was glad. Inhibitions were getting in the way. If we carried on at that rate we’d be eighty-nine before we left the library. Sure, it was a little degrading to have to ask the question, but I actually preferred it to the mind-numbing discomfort. “You said we couldn’t be friends. Why?” 


Sirius didn’t answer for a long time. He stared down at his clasped hands on the desk, motionless apart from the steady rising and falling of his shoulders as he breathed. Again, I got the urge to whip out my wand and cut off the hair that was falling down his forehead. Long hair on him was weird. 


I didn’t think he was going to answer at all. I was considering just getting up and leaving when he finally spoke up. 


“I don’t know.” 


It didn’t make any sense. He’d been so sure, both before and after the summer that we couldn’t be friends. And now he couldn’t even come up with a justifiable reason. 


I waited for him to elaborate but I got nothing. 


“Great. Informative. Thanks.” I scraped back my chair, ready to get up. 


“I thought it would be too hard.” He said suddenly, over the top of my chair scraping. 


Thought it would be too hard? Why? Because we hadn’t been ‘friends’ (or just friends, anyway) in so long? Because we’d fight? Because I’d done something wrong? Or, the reason I didn’t quite dare consider… he couldn’t still have feelings… 


“After everything that’s happened.” He carried on, “I thought it would be… I just thought it’d be too hard.” 


What the bloody hell did he mean by hard


We were quiet again for a moment. I had no idea what he was thinking, just was frantically overanalysing, a key skill of mine. Wonderful. 


Eventually I felt the need to break the silence again. 


“This is harder.” I said, referring to this giant swarm of awkwardness around us. 


“Maybe.” He still sounded so guarded. What was he thinking that he wasn’t telling me? A bloody lot, I knew that much. What happened to him? I used to have trouble shutting him up. 


“If Lily and James are…” I started to say. 


“I’ve said it before, I really couldn’t care less about Lily and James when it comes to this.” Sirius said, emotionlessly. 


“Yes you do.” I said, annoyed. “I know you do. You feel as guilty as me about it.” 


He exhaled heavily, caught out. Because he did care about his best mate, of course he did. “So? What are we supposed to do about it?” 


I shrugged, “Be friends. Apparently.” 


He leant back in his chair and rubbed his face quite viciously with both hands in a habitual way that I recognised as a sign he was tired. 


“Can we do that?” He wasn’t asking my permission. It was a genuine question about whether we actually had the capability. As if we were so ‘socially underdeveloped’ as 
I’m pretty sure Lily referred to it, that we weren’t capable of being friends. 


“I don’t know. Can we?” I gave a small shrug. 


He caught my eye for a second with a raised eyebrow. He’d always hated it when I avoided the question. In that instant I felt a rush of warm, even though I hadn’t even realised I was cold. It felt good, I realised. The way that his actions and mannerisms were still so familiar, the way we still knew each other. It felt good


“I don’t know.” He shrugged and slumped back down. 


We really were getting nowhere with this. 


“But maybe… maybe we could try.” He said, slowly. 


The warmth surrounded me again. 


“Maybe.” I said, calmly. I didn’t dare say anything more. 


“I mean… civil, right? How hard can that be?” He met my eyes, a hint of the old life that used to be so clear in his storm-cloud eyes was back. But still bloody guarded. 


“Civil. I can do civil. Civil is my middle name.”


He didn't laugh. Can't think why. I am hilarious. Just continued looking at me like I had said something sane. 


“Friends?” He asked, in a quiet, mocking tone. He cocked his head on one side and offered me a hand. 


I stared at it. 


“You shake it, moron.” He said, with a brief smile. He was practically straining to act as though this was easy, when it was actually anything but. 


“Right.” 


I gingerly took his hand and shook it. It was all very strange and formal. Although he was making a joke out of it there seemed something very serious and honest about the whole thing. That seemed positive. Right? 


But, on the more negative side, we hadn’t actually accomplished anything in this delightful little chat. Sure, we’re apparently ‘friends’. Just as Lily had wanted. Just like that. 


But no issues had been resolved. 


We were skating on thin ice. 


“You realise we’ve never shaken hands before. I don’t think I’ve ever shaken hands with anyone in my life.” My mouth was blathering on into the slight awkwardness. 


“It’s a new start.” Sirius said, “Anything can happen.” 
 









A.N. First things first... HOW speedy are my updates?! I don't want to jinx it though... but I'm feeling good about this. And I really want it to last. You really never know when you're going to get stuck for months again. 

So, this is all a bit more action-packed and a little more upbeat than the last chapter (though thats not hard) but I hope the contrast wasn't too much? It's just kind of a 'not realising what you lost til you get it back' kind of situation. Deb knows she's not over him but she doesn't know what she's supposed to do about it so she's just going by what's he's doing. It's a vicious circle.

So I'd love to know what you think...

Deb/Lily back together after their summer apart.
The 'competition'
Deb find out (some of) the story behind Sirius' summer. Will they discuss in now that they're 'friends'
James & Lily's 'cunning' plan
The truce. Going to go smoothly? Ha...
And of course Londy. And Oz. And Blakely. They may be small characters but I love them and would love it if you did also (: 

Oh and by the way, I'll be sticking to Dee's POV for the forseeable future. Unless it calls for Sirius. Which it most likely won't. Apart from the last chapter, which I anticipate will be him. Though I'm still unsure how to end. I know how I'd like to but whether it would work or people would hate me... mehh. Got a while yet.

Thanks for reading, and please leave a review!


 


Chapter 4: I Shouldn't Speak In Case I Get It Wrong, I Always Do
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]




Over the following day I was overwhelmed by a sense of… sort of a second sight, I guess. I could sense things, things I couldn’t see before. 


It was fascinating, insightful… 


“I sense a lot of resentful feeling directed to me today,” I informed Lily in a wise and mysterious manner. “It’s odd, this inner eye I’ve developed. It’s fairly subtle, I don’t think anyone else would notice the things I do but -” 


“Debbie.” 


“- I really feel that I’m certain about this, you know?” 


“Debbie, stop it.” 


“Now, Lil, I knew you wouldn’t understand. I can’t really explain it, it’s just this sense -” 


Will you shut the hell up about this inner sense?!” Lily eventually roared. 


The sheer volume send a cluster of first years scuttling off down the other end of the dinner table. 


I blinked. “That was unnecessary.” 


“Give it a rest, Debbie McKinnon. You ‘sense’ these resentful feeling my arse. Oz has been glaring murderously at you for the entire day since you told him you can’t make tryouts. Londy is of the opinion that you’re betraying feminists everywhere by agreeing to be ‘friends’ with Sirius and has informed you of this approximately eighteen times. And despite the two of you assuring James and I that you’re ‘friends’, you’re still avoiding one another like the bloody plague. Resentful feelings, you say? A trained chimp could work this out. Inner eye indeed.” 


I blinked again as Lily shook her head exasperatedly and slopped a thick chunk of chocolate cake onto her plate with a little more aggression than was absolutely necessary. 


“Oz has still got his death stare trained on me?” I asked, after Lily had soothed her rage a little with a couple of forkfuls of cake. She glanced up. 


“Yes. Oh wait, no. He’s looking away, he’s… Oh, ok. False alarm. He was sneezing. Now he’s staring again.” 


“I don’t know how many times he wants me to apologise.” I complained, internally tallying up the number of times I’d said ‘I’m sorry’ in the last nine hours or so. It was a lot. “It’s not my sodding fault I’ve got detention. I tried to explain about the Defence Mishap but it just sounded -” 


“Irrational? Ridiculous? The actions of two incredibly thick, slightly insane, jilted lovers?” 


I was going to respectfully ignore that. 


“I think you had to be there.” I relented. 


Lily was shaking her head, all condescending and superior again. 


“And we are friends now.” I added, catching onto her comments about Sirius after a delay. 


“Friends talk to one another.” Lily pointed out. 


“Well yes but, you see, we haven’t quite had the chance…” 


“They sat at the table behind us in Transfiguration.” 


“Well yes but I was quite occupied…” 


“And opposite us in Charms.” 


“Well yes but…” 


“And we all walked to Defence together, even if Professor Dawlish won’t let the two of you work on the same side of the room again.” 


“Why are you blaming me?!” I demanded, defensively, “I’m not… we’re not… He’s not been talking to me either!” 


“Which is why I’ve got James on his case.” Lily answered, coolly. 


“Oh great. Thanks. Detention’s going to be a breeze then. You know I’ve missed my old buddy Awkwardness. Hasn’t been around since, oh last night…” 


“I meant it when I said you needed to make an effort,” Lily scolded me. “It’s not about just making an agreement that you won’t hex one another. You have to really mean it. You have to want to be friends.” 


“I do.” 


“Do you, though?” Lily’s eyes were narrowed and all too knowing. 


“Of course. I told you. I don’t want him to hate me. I don’t want it to be like that…” 


“But do you really?” She now proceeded to widen her eyes, creepily. 


I stared. “Yes. That’s why I said it. Lil, what are you -” 


“Is that really what you want?” She reverted back to the narrowed eyes. Perhaps she had a twitch. Or something. She was shifting around and pulling a rather odd face. I was confused. 


“What? Yes! Why would I want him to hate me? I don’t get it. What… have you got something in your eye?” 


No.” All in an instant the twitching and weird faces disappeared, she let out a heavy sigh and attacked the remains of her cake with her fork, muttering under her breath. 


“Right. Ok.” I watched her warily for a moment. This Head Girl thing was really getting to her. Here she was acting like an escapee from the St Mungo’s Psych Unit, with an abnormal interest in other people’s affairs and willingly referring to James by his actual name rather than ‘Potter’ or ‘Prat-head’. 


Odd. 


“Just don’t ignore each other in detention.” Lily said, after a short pause. She sounded fairly sane again after her brief bout of lunacy. “It’ll just be horrifically uncomfortable and I’m pretty sure one of you will just about explode with the stress of it all.” 


“You exaggerate.” I told her. “It’s fine, I told you. We’re friends. Perfectly fine.” 




** 




She wasn’t exaggerating. She was in fact freakishly accurate. 


On more than one occasion that day I’d contemplated how much stress I’d need to be under for the adrenaline and hormones to kill me. 


I think I’m just a highly stress-prone individual on the whole. After our ‘agreement’ last night I’d gone to sleep peacefully and optimistically, expecting things to be on the mend the next morning. Or at least easier. 


Ha. 


So naïve. 


All it took was a second of eye contact and the sight of him ducking his head to avoid looking at me for the outbreak of stress hormones to begin. 


I managed to control myself. Only had a minor spasm. 


But still, my beliefs that my stress response was abnormally sensitive was rapidly gaining credibility. 


It was ridiculous. We’d agreed, we were friends again. Like he said, civil. How hard can it be? 


Very, it turns out. When you still haven’t mastered the whole ‘looking at him’ thing. 


I tried, honestly. I fully intended to make casual conversation early on in the day to break the ice again, and then it would all flow wonderfully from there and we’d be back exactly where we were a year ago with no meddlesome, non-platonic feelings and so suffocating awkwardness. 


It didn’t work. 


Definitely still awkward, and definitely still bombarded with feelings that I really didn’t even understand anymore. 


Excellent. 


And then, just to top it off, we had detention. 


When I was supposed to be at Quidditch try-outs. 


Excellent. Really. 


“Just go in already.” Ray rolled his eyes and leant back against the stone wall at the bottom of the staircase, the essence of cool, while I dithered like a prat on the bottom step. 


“But I’m early. Right? I shouldn’t go yet. It’s still early. Who’s ever early to detention, anyway?” I rambled, stepping back and forth on the stairs. 


“It’s seven o’clock.” An amused smirk was growing on his face and he closed his eyes leisurely and rested his head back against the wall. “It may have been early when we arrived. But you’ve since spent ten minutes delaying going up the staircase. And, flattered though I am, my company’s really not all that scintillating.” 


“Seven o’clock.” I echoed. “Well, when do you think’s an appropriate time to arrive at a seven o’clock detention?” 


“Just a shot in the dark here, but I’m going to go with seven o’clock.” 


“You’re supposed to tell me what I want to hear.” I informed him, annoyed at his lack of help. 


“Sorry.” He grinned brightly and tapped his Prefect badge. “On duty.” 


“I knew I should make cooler friends. It’s just not good for my reputation being the sister of a former Head Boy, best mate of the Head Girl and mates with the Head Boy and a prefect and/or probable future Head Boy. They’re no fun.” 


“Seven-oh-one.” Ray ignored my nonsensical uttering, as any normal human being really ought to. “Hey, speaking of Prefect stuff, I should probably continue with my actual patrol rather than accompanying delinquents to their detentions.” He heaved himself from the wall, where he’d apparently become comfortable in the last ten minutes. “Just go up there.” 


I took a brief glance up the staircase to the Astronomy Tower, where the detention was being held. Ray laughed uproariously. 


“What?” I demanded. 


“It’s detention, Deb. Nothing you haven’t done before. Stop looking up there like you’re about to walk the gallows.” He grinned the infuriating ‘secret-joke’ grin again. “It’s kind of cute how nervous you are.” 


“Cute?! Nervous?!” I scoffed. “I am not.” 


“Go up there, then.” He dead-panned. 


I glared. “I’m not nervous. I’d just rather not spend any extra time in the awkwardness, thank you.” 


“So don’t let it be awkward.” 


“I told you what happened.” I threw out my hands in exasperation. 


“Yeah, you agreed to be friends. Oh wow, I can barely imagine the horror -” 


“Just because you know exactly how to act in any sort of social situation, doesn’t mean we’re all as bloody good at it.” I sighed. “I can’t just decide that it’s not going to be awkward, it just is. And the more I try to make it easy the worse it’ll be, I just know it.” I was overwhelmed by another wave of panic. “Oh God. I don’t even know what to talk to him about any more.” 


Ray laughed delightedly. “Seriously, so cute.” 


“It is not!” 


“So, so cute.” 


“Stop saying that and help me!” 


“I can’t help you.” He shrugged, wicked sparkle still in his eyes. “You said yourself, the more you try the worse it is. Just get through it. Only a couple of hours.” 


I shook my head fiercely, to rid it of the flush I could feel surfacing even at the thought of the uncomfortable conversation, or lack of, that was bound to occur. “Oh God. I’m pathetic. I really shouldn’t be allowed out in public. And now I’m late. Fuck. And I’ll be out of breath when I get up the stairs. Great.” 


“Call yourself a Quidditch player?” 


“I haven’t run since the summer.” I realised, then corrected myself. “We haven’t.” 


“Nope.” 


“We’ll do it sometime. I miss it.” Bloody hell. I was actually telling the truth. I missed running. Therefore enjoyed it. Londy wouldn’t let me hear the end of this. Oz would be thrilled though. If he ever forgave me and/or even let me back on the team for missing tonight. 


“Sure.” Ray looked at his watch. “Seven-oh-five, Deb.” 


“Argh. Ok.” I smoothed down my shirt. Then stopped, appalled at myself. “Oh God. What am I doing, caring about how I look?!” 


So cute.” Ray couldn’t resist the dig for a final time, and I didn’t hesitate to beat him around the head. “Ow, sorry.” 


“Don’t call me cute, twat -” I was half-way through saying when a movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I stopped mid-battering to look. “Oh.” 


I wasn’t the only one late to detention. 


For a full ten seconds we stood still, as if that was going to make my old buddy Awkwardness forget we were here and skip off to annoy someone else. 


Like that would ever happen. 


When it sank in that my arm was frozen in midair, Ray’s arms were still raised in an attempt to defend himself and Sirius’ tie was all skew-whiff as if he’d been running (to get to our detention on time - neither of us had done a good job at that, had we?) I immediately felt foolish and lowered my arm, and Ray swiftly followed suit. 


But still we stood there. Me looking at Sirius. Sirius looking at the space between me and Ray, steadily (surprise, surprise) avoiding my gaze. Ray even not managing to remain entirely cool and alternating glances between me, Sirius and the window behind my head. 


The silence that lingered was one of the incredibly tense ones in which I usually had to repress the urge to brighten up with a witty joke. This was one of the worst. I was on the verge of telling a knock-knock joke. 


Oh God. We were supposed to be friends! We’d talked last night. Alright, it had been uncomfortable, but there had been words coming out of our mouths and smiles and a hand shake… You don’t get any more officially-friends than that, do you? 


I’d just been about to open my mouth, hopefully to announce in a socially-acceptable way that we ought to be going upstairs and not coming out with a knock-knock joke, but there was no guarantee… I’d literally opened my mouth when Sirius seemed to come to life from his statue stance and barged past me to take the stairs. 


Well that was rude. 


Ray raised his eyebrows and we both listened to the quick but heavy footsteps ascending the tower. 


“I told you.” I groaned. “This is going to be torture. He couldn’t even stand being around me for thirty seconds. Why did he even agree to be friends in the first place if he was going to act like this? Did he really think James and Lily would fall for it? They may be blinded by optimism but I think, I think, they might just see that we’re not bosom buddies.” 


“Don’t be stupid.” Ray said, “He just wasn’t expecting to see you just yet. Must have been a bit of a shock.” 


“And the minute-long journey up the stairs was going to prepare him?” 


“Maybe.” 


“Shocked, my arse. I was bloody shocked, but I didn’t rudely barge past him without saying anything, did I?” 


“No, but you did kind of stand there like a moron.” 


“So did you!” 


“I’m not his ex-girlfriend.” 


Well that was true. Apparently we were forgoing the ‘non-girlfriend’ joke now. I was supposed to have accepted it all. 


I had. 


“Ok, ok. I’m going.” I took in a deep breath. “Enjoy your rounds, geek. I’ll see you tomorrow if I don’t have to resort to throwing myself from the tower.” 


“Funny.” 


“It’s really not.” 


“It’s seven-oh-nine.” 


“Bollocks. See you tomorrow.” 


I could hear his chuckling as I climbed the stairs. It was an odd feeling as they wound up the tower. With each turn, every corner, I both dreaded seeing more stairs and having further to climb, but also dreaded seeing the open doorway leading onto the tower top. Because that would mean I’d have two fun-filled hours to spend with my new ‘mate’. 


I had strong suspicions that my new mate was slightly gone in the head. Who agrees to be friends with someone, ignores them all day and then acts like a complete tosser and barges past them knowing full well that they have to spend time with said person? 


Oh God. 


I’d been dreading it, so you’d have thought I’d have been expecting it a little, but when I actually reached the top of the stairs my stomach knotted up as soon as I saw that silhouette against the orange and purple streaked sky. Along with… 


“Miss McKinnon, so glad you could make it.” Excellent. Dawlish was quickly become one of my most clichéd and hated teachers. Any and all lines that you hated coming out of a teachers mouth - he’d say it. Complete with the bright sarcasm as if he’s the first tosser in the world to utter such a phrase. 


I realised I was staring gorm-lessly at Sirius’ back and jumped, stopping myself. God. Good thing he was staring moodily over the battlements and (shock) paying me not even the slightest bit of attention. 


“Sorry, Sir, I…” I had no excuse lined up. What a prat. I’d had the whole strenuous stair journey to fabricate one and I’d instead chosen to just mull over my own complaints. 


“Was too busy loitering in the corridor with Quinn? I happened to see you on my way up.” Dawlish raised his eyebrows, managing to look both disapproving and self-righteous. 


Balls. 


“No…er…” 


“Are you suggesting I was seeing things, Miss McKinnon?” 


I’m not eight-fucking-years-old! 

“No, Sir.” I gritted my teeth. 


“In future please note that it is essential to arrive to a detention on time. I will speak to Mr Quinn’s Head of House myself -” 


Oh God. Sprout. I’d heard many stories from Ray about his lack of ability in Herbology, way too many of which ended with my prat of a friend squirting Professor Sprout with some form of toxic pus, breaking greenhouse windows or injuring a classmate. Ray had cheerfully insisted that Professor Sprout was ‘out to get him’ for both his poor Herbology skills and the way he’d convinced her to predict him half-decent grades before failing dismally in most subjects. 


I could see where she was coming from, if I was honest. 


“No, Sir, don’t.” I quickly interrupted. “It wasn’t his fault, he told me to come up here ages ago, I just… He‘s a good prefect.” I finished, lamely. 


“Then you ought to do your best not to lead him astray.“ Dawlish shook his head. “You have not got off to a good start, Miss McKinnon. I spoke with Professor Flitwick and from your academic record, dedicated Quidditch performance and aspirations to be a healer, I’d have really expected better from you.” 


I was aspiring to be a healer? I stared dumbly, before remembering my careers meeting with Professor Flitwick back in fifth year. 


Of course. 


I’d been overwhelmed by the five hundred and eighty or so pamphlets he’d presented me with and so, when asked what career I’d like to pursue, had blurted out in a panic that I wanted to be a Healer. I had no such ambitions. Hell, I still had no idea what I wanted to do when I left Hogwarts, and that was coming round all too quickly. 


I’d only realised after the meeting that the reason ‘Healer’ had come so quickly to mind was because that was what Freddie wanted to do. 


“Um, sorry?” I said, as Dawlish seemed to be awaiting some sort of an answer. 


“Now, Mr Black, on the other hand…” He turned his attention from me to my ‘mate’.
Sirius turned around slowly, still not looking in my direction. He seemed pretty composed. Statue-like. The usual. 


Eurgh. 


“… average grades… a fair Quidditch record, although rather too many suspensions for aggressive conduct… copious detentions… It speaks for itself.” Dawlish said. 


Sirius shrugged, “What can I say, I’m a lost cause.” 


Dawlish completely missed the sarcasm, “There is no such thing, Mr Black. You have the potential to go far if you’d just apply yourself. Your spell work in class has been outstanding, and many if not all of your teachers have supported this claim. If you’d just put half as much effort into the coursework and exams, you could leave Hogwarts with the NEWTs to reflect your ability.” 


There was a short pause, following this oh so motivational speech. 


“Uh. Yeah.” Sirius shrugged again. 


“So you’ll work a little harder?” 


Oh Lord, he genuinely thought we were in primary school. He must do. No one speaks to seventeen year olds like this, do they? 


“Mmmf.” Sirius’ grunt could have been interpreted either way, but Dawlish beamed painfully optimistically. 


“Excellent. I’m putting my trust in you. Both of you.” He looked sternly to me. “I’m trusting that I can leave the two of you to the job of polishing the Astronomy equipment with no trouble, is that understood? I have assured Professor Calledine that everything will be in pristine condition for her midnight, second-year lesson.” 


Oh God. I could just imagine the look of pure fear on Professor Calledine’s face if Dawlish had mentioned my name in the same sentence as her precious equipment. 


My problem wasn’t that I hated the subject, on the contrary, I’d been extremely enthusiastic. Too enthusiastic. Many a telescope suffered as I tried my hardest to correctly use all the dials and knobs at the right times. She’d often taken pity on them and rescued them before I could damage them beyond repair. I’d dropped Astronomy without a backward glance. If I wasn’t immediately good at it, I wouldn’t try. Then I hated it. Simple. Brattish, but simple. 


“Is that understood?” Dawlish repeated. 


“Sure.” I answered, resisting the urge to batter him with a telescope. Sirius contributed with another grunt, already looking back over the battlements. 


“Excellent.” Dawlish departed with a swish of his cloak, and as I listened to his footsteps fading, my intense dislike for him was replaced with that familiar old awkward silence. 


I should say something. 

What? 


Anything. 


Do it, then. 


“Um…” I cleared my throat. 


Sirius didn’t turn around. 


Wonderful. 


What was I even planning on saying? Why are you ignoring me? That sounded pitiful even in my own head. 


I sighed and picked up a ragged piece of cloth and a jar of polish. Might as well start. 


Polishing telescopes. Thrilling. 


I rubbed fast, irritable circles into the cold metal. 


Telescopes


Who even cared if their telescope was polished? It’d been two years since I’d taken the stupid subject, but I can safely say I never arrived to class, sat down and thought ‘oh how wonderfully shiny this telescope is. I am immensely thankful to whoever is responsible’. 


There was a slight chance that I was projecting my resentful feelings towards my ‘mate’ onto the poor, defenceless telescope. A slight chance. 


“You don’t want to be a healer.” 


I jumped out of my skin and smudged a thick line of oily polish down my third telescope. He was talking to me now? 


I looked up, to see him still looking out over the battlements. Ok. Couldn’t look at me, sure, but could talk to me. 


Right. 


“No.” I said, sounding eerily calm. Calmer than I thought was possible, anyway. Thought I may as well tell the truth. He knew that I’d never for a second wanted to be a healer, there was no way I could lie. 


“Why does he think you do?” My, wasn’t he chatty all of a sudden? The sentences were short and clipped but still, they were sentences. Words. Sounds. The first I’d received since our little ‘agreement’. 


“I panicked.” Well this was embarrassing to admit. “In the careers meeting back in fifth year. It was the first thing that came into my head to get Flitwick and his leaflets off my back.” My sentences were considerably more fluent and natural than his. Not that it took much. But still, I took all the pride I could get. 


“And he believed you?” 


“You heard Dawlish,” I cringed at the thought, “I’m a model student, apparently… not sure when that happened, if I’m honest… why would he not believe me?” 


There was a brief silence and I wondered if I’d crossed the line between honesty and arrogance. Then I pointed out to myself the company I was in. Arrogance certainly wasn’t an issue. Then I scolded myself for even worrying about it. 


For a while I thought he’d gone back to his broody staring over the balcony, leaving me scrubbing neat circles into the telescopes, slightly neurotically. God, I felt like Lily. 


Then he spoke up again. “I told McGonagall I wanted to go into banking.” I could hear the smile in his voice but it didn’t stop my snort of incredulity. 


What?” 


“She told me to stop being so ridiculous and smacked me with her spectacle case.” 


“She did not.” 


“She did. Then I told her I could sue, and she gave me a leaflet for Magical Law.” 


I chuckled, briefly and quietly. 


“Then she snatched it back and said she wouldn’t be responsible for putting me in such a position of political power.” He finished. 


This was weird. His voice sounded pretty much normal. So normal, in fact, that if I shut my eyes and blanked out everything that had happened in the past year I could pretend that it was normal. 


But he still wasn’t looking at me. 


“So what do you want to do?” I asked, grasping the chance to keep the conversation going. This was very almost not awkward. Achievement. 


There was another short pause in which I scrubbed some more little circles into the telescope. This was going to be the shiniest damn telescope of the bunch. 


“You know what I want to do.” He said, a little shortly but not sounding particularly harsh. 


“Oh.” Of course I did. “Yeah. Just thought you might have… I don’t know -” 


“Changed my mind?” 


“Mmmf.” 


“Nope.” 


Well of course. That was stupid, really. To think he’d have changed his mind. Just because so much else had changed since whenever we’d talked about that, didn’t mean everything had. Some things stayed the same. 


“You and James still out to get the bad guys, then?” I recovered reasonably well. 


“Naturally.” 


We lapsed into another silence. This time I felt a little more at ease, distracted from reality with the fond memories of some of Sirius and James’ not so cool behaviour. Had any of the girls in our year seen some of their more immature play fights as they enacted some sort of Auror-crime-fighting-duo-scene, they would definitely have lost a few admirers. 


But they never would act like that in front of anyone else. Of course. Even Lily and I would never have known of their nerdishness had we not nicked James’ invisibility cloak that one time and hidden in their dorm. That had been a major one-up to us. Their faces as we threw off the cloak, consumed by giggles… 


That was the thing. The whole statue-mask thing. The not letting anyone see who you really are or what you really feel thing. 


I’d never been on the outside of it before. I’d always been let in. And now, here I was, stuck out here with everyone else that had no idea what was going on in that overly-long-haired head of his. 


“What about you?” He asked, interrupting my reminiscing. 


“What?” 


“What do you want to do?” 


I swallowed. “Are we really sat up here discussing careers?” God. That almost-not-awkward thing really was just wishful thinking. 


Sirius seemed to consider. Well, I assumed so. Hard to tell when someone still hasn’t turned around. “I suppose we are.” 


I pretended to be extra interested in my scrubbing, not that he was even looking. If he was, he might have worried a little about the state of my mental health. This was seriously obsessive cleaning behaviour. Lily-behaviour. Not Debbie-behaviour. Never Debbie-behaviour. 


“Why do you still do that?” He asked, suddenly. 


“Scrub?” I asked, stupidly, halting my circles. 


“What?” He turned around. Finally, he turned around. 


Oh wait, it was because I was so stupid. Well that’s embarrassing. 


“What?” I countered, in the usual way of pretending he’d misheard me. 


It worked. Always does. 


“I said, why do you still do that…” He was leaning back against the stone balustrade now, with his arms folded across his chest. “… Answer my question with a question. Avoiding answering.” 


Bollocks. 


“I don’t do that.” I replied, haughtily. Of course I knew I did. I pulled that one out of the bag all the time. And it usually worked. But of course, he saw past it. 


“Ok.” He shrugged. “So, what do you want to do after school, then?” 


Damn him. 


“So we are talking about careers?” I said, feebly. 


“Yep.” 


I swallowed again. “I don’t know. I don’t want to do anything. I just… I can’t imagine doing anything.” 


“You don’t want to grow up.” Sirius noted, so shrewdly that for a moment he could have been Ray. 


“Whatever. Analyse it all you want. I don’t care. I haven’t got a clue what I want to do and I don’t plan on worrying about it.” I shrugged in a cavalier fashion. 


“Awfully defensive for someone who doesn’t care.” 


“Why do you care?” I snapped, without thinking. 


There was a brief pause in which Sirius’ posture, leaning casually back against the wall, didn’t change, and I became aware that I was scowling at him so looked away hurriedly. 


Like I said. I could always be trusted to make a difficult situation worse. 


“I don’t know.” He said, in a low voice, sounding rather as though he were wondering that himself. “Maybe I’m just curious as to why we’ve never talked about that in three years.” 


“It never came up.” I said, directing my attention back at my polishing. I couldn’t help but notice that whilst I’d made a (rubbish) attempt to polish a good few telescopes, he hadn’t lifted a finger. Did he not feel the same need to do something with his hands as I did? 


“And if it did you just changed the subject.” 


I looked up with a sharp sigh. “Do you have a point?” 


He shrugged. “Just making conversation.” 


Wonderful. Was it that difficult? 


Um. Yes. Of course it bloody was. 


And apparently I was going to make no effort to help him keep this pleasant chat going. I moved to my next telescope while he leant back over the edge of the battlements. 


I kind of knew I shouldn’t blame him, I suppose. I’m not totally ‘dense’ (in Lily’s words). After our not-so-matey day he was only trying to bring up some generic topic to get us back into the swing of this talking thing. It wasn’t his fault that it was a touchy subject. 


But whatever. It had struck a nerve and so now I was in the midst of ignoring him. 


“What about Quidditch?” He asked. 


Apparently my ignoring-him performance was wasted. 


“What about it?” I asked, with a sigh. 


“You never thought about carrying on with that?” 


I laughed in spite of myself. “Are you kidding?” 


“Nope.” 


I squinted at his silhouette against the orange sky. I don’t know what was so interesting about the view that he was leaving me to clean every telescope on my own. 


“Don’t be stupid,” I said, “You have to be incredible to even get a trial.” 


“And?” 


And I’m not. I wasn’t going to sit there and put myself down so that it sounded like I was fishing for compliments, so I dismissed it. 


“No.” I said, airily, “I haven’t thought about it.” 


I thought we were going to lapse into another silence when he spoke again. 


“Your try-outs are today.” 


Thank you for the reminder. “Yep.” I nodded. 


“I imagine Dunhill is thrilled you’re missing it.” 


“Of course, he’s just completely the gracious and forgiving type. I wouldn’t be surprised if he announces three new chasers just to spite me.” I voiced a worry that I hadn’t wanted to seriously acknowledge. I’d made jokes about Oz kicking me off the team but to be honest, it was a genuine possibility. This year he was sure to be even more manic - it was his last year to keep up his winning streak - and I wouldn’t put it past him to ditch me for not being dedicated enough. 


“Nah. Far as I can see he’s only picking two at a time to go up against Simpson. He’s joining in himself.” 


I looked up sharply. “What?” 


He looked down at me and jerked his head towards the grounds. “See for yourself.” 


Of course. 


The Astronomy tower had the most perfect view of the Quidditch pitch. I cursed myself for overlooking this and missing a considerable amount of the trials, then obviously projected this onto Sirius for conveniences sake. 


“Why didn’t you tell me you were bloody watching them you twat?” I growled, abandoning my polishing and joining him at the battlements, “Just let me sit there like a muppet while you watched the whole sodding thing -” 


“What did you think I was doing? Enjoying the scenery?” 


I decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring up how the summer had brought out a nature-lover side to me. Kind of. 


“How many have tried out already?” I asked, even though I wasn’t extremely pleased with him. 


“Eight, as far as I can tell. First two were shocking. I’m surprised we couldn’t hear Dunhill’s voice screaming at them from here. Second two were average - could keep airborne anyway. Third pair weren’t bad, good ball handling but didn’t manage to score a goal apiece. These two - one of them’s pretty good but the other’s just sitting there.” 


“Oh god.” I watched as the one Sirius had dubbed ‘pretty good’ fumbled an easy catch. “You’re being generous aren’t you.” 


“A little.” 


“I’ve got to play with two of these.” I said, as the forth pair descended and were replaced by he next two. I couldn’t imagine playing with new people. I hadn’t properly considered it. I suppose I’d been hoping that the new Freddie and Ro would be… well, the new Freddie and Ro. 


“It’ll be alright once you get used to playing with new people,” Sirius said, wincing as one of the players missed the hoops by a good five feet or so, “I’ve had a new partner every year and we’ve got by fine.” 


“Yeah, but you’re enough to make up for one shitty beater,” It was the truth. On the Quidditch pitch Sirius was everywhere, making the whole experience of watching him narrowly avoiding death or serious injury for the entire game way too stressful. “Whereas Freddie and Ro were enough to make up for me.” 


Sirius looked down at me without turning his head. “Stop putting yourself down.” 


“I’m not!” I wasn’t! I definitely wasn’t going to whine at him. Much. “You can’t win a game with one chaser; it’s impossible. And besides I needed Freddie and Ro’s strength to make up for my lack of.” 


“You’ve got the speed to make up for it.” Sirius went back to watching the try-outs. They seemed to have stopped the two-man competition and there was a whole bunch of them zipping about. “The only person who could keep up with you when we played you was James. And you’ve got better. I saw the Slytherin game.” 


“Mmmf.” I concentrated on what was going on at the try-outs so I didn’t have to form an appropriate response to a compliment. I was bad enough at taking compliments anyway, much less when they were from someone from the opposing Quidditch team, ex-boyfriend, person who’d been ignoring me all day up until half an hour or so ago. 


“Hey, there’s one that’s not too bad.” Sirius pointed, “With the Wasps t-shirt… not accounting for terrible taste…” 


“Hey, enough of that.” I nudged him sharply in the ribs, but watched the player he was indicating. He was right. The Wasps lover was the one getting most possession of the ball and looked fairly in control. “But you’re right. Maybe that’s my new team mate. We’ll get on just great - we can compare wardrobe choices.” 


“Because that’s a foundation to build a friendship on.” Sirius commented, still watching the players. 


Oh yeah? Try building a friendship from a mutual agreement to get on for the sake of your friends. Sound familiar? Moron. 


“Who is it? Do you recognise them?” I squinted but it was getting pretty dark. 


“Nope.” Sirius shrugged, then let out a low whistle as the player turned into a sharp dive to retrieve the fallen quaffle, “Shit, good Barron Dive though.” 


“Not really.” I watched critically, “He over-rotated a little and so lost a good few seconds. Oz drilled me on that one for months in fourth year.” 


“For a beginner though.” 


“Not bad.” I relented. 


“Harsh.” Sirius grinned. 


I laughed, then was surprised at myself. Holy hell, I was actually more or less at ease. Enough to laugh anyway. And we were partaking in a definitely normal conversation. 


“I suppose I’m just comparing to my brother and Ro.” I said, wistfully. 


Sirius was quiet for a moment. “It’s ok to miss them.” 


“I know.” I said, “I do.” 


I did. I wasn’t totally pathetic, I could get by on my own and it even felt natural enough that I’d forget they weren’t here for a long time. But on occasion I’d suddenly realise that they weren’t here, and that I didn’t have a clue where in the world they were, and that things were different and changing and I didn’t have my brother and… 


I’d panic. On these occasions. Just briefly, until I could find Lily or Ray to clam me down/ tell me to stop being so irrational. 


Ok. Maybe I was pathetic.


“Have you heard from him?” Sirius asked. His voice was carefully casual. This was not to get confused with Calm Voice, which indicated a battle over temper. Rather, this was merely an attempt to sound cool when we both knew it was an awkward question. 


“Once.” I said. The try-outs seemed to be over. There were no little figures zipping around anymore, just vague shapes on the ground trailing back up to the castle. I turned my back on the dark grounds and leant back against the battlements. “I haven’t written back yet. I’ve sort of…” I trailed off, realising in alarm where this sentence was heading. 


Apparently it was obvious to Sirius, as he finished it off for me. “Got into a habit of that.” He said, quietly, standing up straight and for the first time, picking up a rag and a jar of polish. 


Oh now he needed to do something with his hands. 


I didn’t have the faintest idea how to reply. 


Oddly, all I could hear was Lily’s voice in my ears. He wrote to apologise. 

And I hadn’t replied. Hadn’t even read it. 


He thought that was your ever so compassionate way of saying you didn’t give a shit. 


I racked my brain to try and remember what I’d done with the hundreds of letters that had remained unopened over the summer. 


I remembered when I was packing… I remembered wondering whether to keep them. 


I remembered thinking I could get rid of Freddie and Ro’s, now I’d seen them. 


I remembered Lily telling me to keep them to prompt her with her news. 


I’d sorted through them quickly, picking out the one’s with Lily’s handwriting on. Those ones were lining the bottom of my trunk in my dorm. The rest… the rest I hadn’t sorted. I’d classified them all as Freddie/Ro ones without examining them, stuffed them to the bottom of my trunk. Any messy scrawl I’d decided must have been my brother’s or Ro’s… I didn’t think… 


I thought he hated me. 


I never thought he’d write. 


What did he write? I was yearning to know. He wrote to apologise, Lily had said. 


Would that have made a difference? 


“I’m sorry.” I blurted out. 


Sirius didn’t stop with his polishing. I recognised those little circles he was making with his rag. Those were obsessive circles, when you were trying to pretend someone didn’t exist. 


After a few more seconds of vicious polishing he replied, “Doesn’t matter now.” 


Your manic polishing begs to differ. 

I agitatedly bit my lip, just standing there like a mug watching him furiously scrubbing this sodding telescope. With his downcast eyes mostly hidden by that ridiculous mess of hair, I could have just pretended to believe him. It would have been easier. 


But something about the way I could see his jaw clenched tightly stopped me. 


I stood in front of him. He must have been able to see me, I was literally less than a foot away from him, but his gaze remained firmly on the telescope. Polishing. 


I was pretty sure I was about to make as sincere an apology as I was capable of, and he was polishing. Polishing


Enough, with the fucking polishing. 


“Sirius…” I put my hand on his to stop him distracting himself. It worked a bit too well. He froze but kept his eyes down. I could see them close for a second and his forehead furrowed. 


“Don’t.” He said. Only he didn’t sound hostile, as I half expected. Just… defeated. “Just don’t.” 


“I only meant…” I’m sorry. Really sorry. That was all I meant. But I couldn’t finish. 


He looked up. Lit only by the moonlight and a dim lantern near the staircase, the definition of his face was enhanced in the white light and shadow. It made his stormy eyes gleam and the intensity in them more extreme. It stopped me mid-sentence. 


It wasn’t The Look. The Look made me feel warm and wanted. The Look was smouldering and tender. This was something else. Something that stopped me halfway through forming the words and made me forget how to breathe for a few seconds. This made me feel…. Guilty. 


In that instant I didn’t want to just say I was sorry for being selfish and not reading his letters. I wanted to say I was sorry for ruining everything. I wanted to say I was sorry for last year. I wanted to say I was sorry that I couldn’t change for him like he’d changed for me. I wanted to say I was sorry for the way I’d reacted. I wanted to say I was sorry for hating him. I even wanted to say sorry for everything he’d done. 


I wanted to say anything that would make all the crappy bits just go away and let us go back to the good times. 


I wanted… 


“Don’t say sorry.” He said, dropping his gaze again. I still couldn’t tear my eyes away from him. From his stupid, unreasonable hair to his absurdly long eyelashes sweeping over his cheekbones. Fuck. 


"But I -"


"It doesn't matter anymore."


I didn't say anything. I didn't trust myself. So when he spoke again it could have been to me or to himself.


“It doesn’t matter any more.”















A.N. Yo. So. It seems I have something to apologise for after every chapter, and this on is based around how little is in it. This was originally meant to be two, but the word count racked up and I thought poo, better get this up. So it's split. I apologise if it seems a bit filler but its actually got a lot of important stuff in there, and I tried to take into account that people wanted a little more Ray/talking/drama/awkwardness... 

Anyway, please let me know what you think, as always! On another note I'm AMAZED at my review count so far. You are, by the way, awesome.

Anyway.

The truce. Fail. Then ok. Then fail again. It's Dee and Sirius, they're innately incapable.
A bit of Ray time... and I threw in a little Ray meets Sirius for shits and giggles. Best of friends?Or not so much? 
Who hates Dawlish a wee bit?
The completely awkward little careers chat
Slightly being normal
Then the letters came up, as was inevitable. And they failed to get it out in the open AGAIN.

God. That all looks awful and like the type of story that would completely frustrate me. 

Please love me anyway!
Rx.


Chapter 5: I Will Bend Till I Break
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Dear Deb,

Hey, you finally learnt how to pick up a quill and reply. I’m impressed.
Now you just need to learn to write down something that actually means
something rather than thinking you can fool me with your ‘school’s great
but the new chasers are shit’. Are you alright? I know the Sirius thing
must be awkward, tell me how it’s going. I want you to talk to me.

On a shittier note, I’m so, so sorry but me and Ro aren’t going to be able
to make the first Hogsmeade weekend. We’re in Tahiti at the moment
and I kind of got involved helping out at the hospital - Ro’s distracted by
surfing - and I can’t leave just like that. But next one, I promise.

Say hi to Oz and Londy (vomit) and Blakely and the others. Ro says hi
and sends his apologies that I wouldn’t let him send you a poisonous
toad.

I love you little sister,

Freddie.



“McKinnon!”


I could reasonably pretend I couldn’t hear the screaming, as the roaring wind whipped it past my ears in an instant. Realistically, if it were anyone else but Oz I probably wouldn’t have heard.


But I did.


McKinnon!”


I ignored it again and carried on speeding up the pitch, dodging the trailing bludgers that Londy and Blakely were sending my way. The wind made it difficult to keep on course and in control. It was so strong it had ripped the hair tie from my hair, which was now streaming back behind me.


I was at the goal posts, Simpson paused in his circling in front of the middle ring. I didn’t stop with my sprint, kept going. He stayed still, hovering steadily and ready for anything. He was always ready.


I kept going.


I don’t know why I was pulling such a stupid move. Obviously it wasn’t going to end well. I just needed something to take out my frustration on.


I kept going.


Simpson stayed put.


I saw the alert, focused look in his eyes change to one of alarm at the last possible second, too late for him to move aside. Too late for him to avoid me clattering head on into him.


“Fuck!”


We smashed backwards into the golden pole that the hoop was mounted on. Simpson’s back took most of the impact, but his head smacked back against it with a nasty clang whilst I piled into it face first.


I don’t know how we stayed airborne.


“Are you insane?” He groaned, gripping his broomstick in one hand and the hoop in the other to keep himself up.


“Ow.” I tested my face to see if it was broken. I don’t know if you can break your face but it certainly felt squashed.


“It was a genuine question.” He said, rolling his shoulders. They seemed to be moving ok. Less for me to feel guilty about.


“I scored.” I ignored his slightly offensive although not entirely uncalled for question. I gestured down at the Quaffle, now lying in the grass just beyond the right hand hoop.


“You fouled!”


“You weren’t supposed to sit there playing chicken!”


“I’m the keeper!”


McKinnon!” I definitely didn’t miss Oz’s roar that time round.


I flinched, “Yes, darling?”


“What in the name of hell do you think you were doing?” He drew up to a halt, with difficulty. In this wind it took a fair bit of effort to remain stationary.


“Practicing.” I replied, with what I felt was a winning smile.


“McKinnon -”


“Oz, I haven’t had a change to practice against Simpson for the past two weeks. It’s not doing me or him any good. I’m stuck teaching two idiots how to correctly perform a shoulder pass.” I glanced over his shoulder at the two new chasers, still bobbing uncertainly in the middle of the pitch.


“We practice as a team,” Oz glared, “And don’t call them idiots.”


I thought that was rich, since I’ve been called far worse from the mouth of Oscar Dunhill.


“I just wanted to try something fun.” I muttered, childishly.


“I object to that description.” Simpson still looked a little in pain.


“Man up.” I advised him.


“It’s alright for you, your suicide mission was nicely cushioned by me! You get away with a black eye and -”


“I have a black eye?!” I demanded, my hands flying to my face. Bloody hell. It did feel a little puffy. “Bollocks.”


“Oh sure, worry about your slight bruising. I definitely can’t feel my spine but -”


Oz grew tired of our exchange of injuries. “McKinnon, don’t try and kill any more team mates. And play nice. We’re going to perfect shoulder passes in this session, and nothing more.”


“How are we expecting to win against Slytherin in two bloody weeks when not one of the chasers has had the chance to practice the aim of the sodding game - which is to score goals, by the way.”


“Shoulder passes, please.”


“Oz -”


“Do it.”


Gritting my teeth, I attempted a defiant spin, dove down the retrieve the Quaffle and sped back to my new chums.


“So,” I announced, as they gawked, “Shoulder passes.”


I lobbed the ball over to one, who caught it heavily. It knocked him back a little. Oh come on! If they can’t comfortably catch a pass from me how the hell would they have coped with Freddie and Ro?!


“Are we gonna learn that?” The guy asked, still switching his gaze between me and the place I’d just dived. He was a fourth year, known to everyone but me as Ben Hackett. I called him Benjy.


“No.” I replied, being such a good little girl and following Oz’s orders, “We are going to learn to shoulder pass.”


“We’ve been doing that.” Benjy complained. My God Oz had recruited the biggest whiner in the house.


“Yes. And we’re going to keep doing until you either get it right or can’t feel your arms anymore.” I shrugged. That was how my practices had gone for the last four years - they needed to adjust to it.


“Even after all the laps?”


“Yes, Benjy.” I said, “Even after the laps.”


To be fair to them, Benjy Hackett and Samuel Gibbs (Sammy - they were like my pet bunnies - Benjy and Sammy) had actually done well at the laps. They were fit, fair enough. However, fitness can only get you so far. They might have been able to perform on the ground but they needed to be able to manoeuvre a broomstick and do it well. And it was pissing me off.


I didn’t want to be here coaching these two newbies. I wanted to be having fun. I didn’t get to have fun till they’d learnt the basics. Therefore I was stuck coaching. It was a vicious circle.


“Oh come on!” Benjy moaned, after a further ten minutes or so of a thrilling game of passing a ball between us. “We’ve got it now!”


“Nope.” I received a slightly improved pass from the much less irritating Sammy and lobbed it onto Benjy.


“What was wrong with that?!” He demanded, after lobbing the Quaffle on to Sam again.


“It’s weak.” I told him, bluntly. I wasn’t in the mood for niceties. “Look, you’re a strong kid. See how my passes go in a straight line? Yours should do that, but better. Because you’re stronger than me. But they don’t. So we’re stuck here till you do. Get it?”


“It’s straight!” He gritted his teeth with the effort.


“It’s not going to be straight till you start listening to what I’m telling you.” I calmly informed him.


I found myself looking wistfully over to where the others were involved in their separate activities. I found myself jealous of Londy and Blakely, engaged in a boisterous competition of who can almost kill the other before they end up dead themselves. Hell, I even found myself jealous of Simpson at the goalposts alone with his bewitched Quaffles, and Oz off tailing the training Snitch on his lonesome.


I’d always thought that Freddie, Ro and I were the lucky ones, never really having to spend time practicing on our own. I’d kind of felt bad for Oz and Simpson, having such lonely roles on the team.


Now I bloody envied them.


Even Sammy was getting annoyed now. “Just listen to her, Ben.” He had an abnormally high-pitched voice for someone of his build which I found quite frankly hilarious.


“I am.” Benjy glared.


“No you’re not.” I informed him, “Or else you’d have stopped throwing like a girl.”


You’re a girl.”


“Of course I am. Do you have a point?”


“No, ma’am.”


“I don’t know what you’re implying by that, Benjy, but I’m afraid I don’t take offence from people that throw like my granny.”


The rest of the session went something along those lines except probably steadily getting worse and worse. In fact I’d say that was about the highlight.


Oscar Dunhill.” I hissed, seizing him by the upper arm the moment my little Benjy and Sammy had scarpered and followed him into the changing rooms, “I will hurt you.” 


He shook me off as if it were only a minor irritation when I’d been gripping him with all my strength to add to the menacing threat. Twat.


“What d’you want me to do?” He shrugged and peeled off his t-shirt. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before but I couldn’t help staring at his body a little. I definitely saw it differently now I knew Londy had had her hands on it. I shuddered. I definitely had been slacking off in attaining information from Miss Londy Nara. I made a mental note to corner her in the dorm.


“Find me some decent chasers?” I suggested.


“They were the best, Little McKinnon. They’ve got the potential. They’re improving every session, you can see that. Sam especially -” Oz hung his sweaty t-shirt from a peg and settled himself on the bench to pull off his trainers.


“Alright, Sammy’s doing ok.” I paced up and down in front of him, “I’ll give you that. But Benjy Fucking Hackett? I can’t spend another minute coaching him, Oz, I can’t do it.”


“You have to.” He seemed to find tugging off his shoes a lot more important than my qualms.


“He is driving me insane.” I hissed. I’m fairly sure that at that moment, any normal person would have shrank away from me in terror. My eyes were bulging - one of them nicely blackened, lips were drawn back from my teeth and my hair was sticking up in every which direction from the wind. It was pretty.


But Oz didn’t bat an eyelid.


“He’s a pain in the arse. But no more than the rest of you.”


Excuse me?!” My voice was growing in pitch.


“Alright he’s a brat. But he’ll be good once we’ve straightened him out.” He shrugged again.


Shrugged.


I was angry. Very angry. Oz had selected these two as the best of the bunch and now he was leaving me to deal with them and not seeming the care in the slightest that they were shit.


“Why don’t you care?” I asked, “After all the shit you gave me - all of us. Getting us into fit shape to win. Now with these two you’re just ignoring the fact that they’re nowhere near as good as Freddie and Ro -”


“Deb I’m -”


“It’s like you don’t fucking care, Oz! It’s our last year - why would you slack off now? I thought the reason you were such a Quidditch fascist was because it meant so much to you but you obviously just -”


“I’m fucking scared, McKinnon. Ok?” Oz spoke over me with a cold glare.


I stopped. “What?”


“Of course I care, you fucking idiot. I’m scared that they were the best options we had, I’m scared they’re not going to be good enough and I’m scared we’re going to lose because of it. I’ve never had to worry before. But now…”


Oh.


I stood there feeling a little foolish, and very aware that this was the deepest any conversation with Oz had ever gotten.


“Why don’t you help me then?” I asked, in a slightly smaller voice.


“Because,” Oz rubbed a hand uncomfortably over the short bristles of his hair, “You’re the best we’ve got, like it or not. I can make them fast, I can make them strong, I can’t teach them your shit anywhere near as well as you can.”


I think I stopped breathing in shock. Oscar Dunhill paid me a compliment.


Hell has truly frozen over.


And shattered, by the sudden responsibility I had.


“What if… what if I can’t?” I said, realising in panic that if I couldn’t sort Benjy out… well, we’d have no hope.


“You have to.”


“But he’s a jerk.”


“Yep.”


“He doesn’t listen to a word I say. He’s -”


“You have to, Deb. You said it yourself, you know how important this is. For me, for you… Londy, Blakely, Simpson. It’s our last year. You can do this. I’m not asking you as your captain, I’m asking you as your friend.”


Bollocks.


I narrowed my eyes at him. “I can’t believe you just played the ‘friend’ card.”


“Yep.”


“Four years we’ve played together, and not once have you resorted to such low methods.”


“You’ll do it?” He wasn’t abashed. And that maniacal glint was back in his eye - the one that indicated that I was going to train so much I’d find it difficult to climb the stairs without collapsing each night. Wonderful.


I sighed. “Since you’re blackmailing me. Fine. I’ll try. But the pressure is going to kill me.”


“Worth it.”


“Sure it is, you psychopath, you.”


“You realise that everything that’s come out of your mouth is definitely more the sort of thing Londy usually barges in here spouting whenever she fancies perving over me.”


“Oh God. I feel sick. I’m leaving now.”


“Hey, send her in here, will you?”


“Seriously. I will vomit.”


“Hey, McKinnon,”


I turned around from where I’d fled to the doorway.


Oz stood in bare feet and his scruffy trackies, his trainers dangling by their laces from his hands. For once he looked… well, human. Not a Quidditch-programmed robot.


Normal.


“Thanks.” He said, clearly with difficulty.


“No problem, Captain.”




**



“It’s just pointless, I’m telling you. They’re absolutely hopeless.”


“Uh-huh.”


“They’ve got nothing on Freddie and Ro.”


“Uh-huh.”


“And now Oz’s told me it’s up to me to teach them. Can you believe it?”


“Uh-huh.”


I glanced sharply across the table. “Up the sympathy please, Quinn.”


Ray grinned before stabbing a forkful of chips. “You were repeating yourself again. Those three lines over and over and over and over and-”


“Alright. I get it. Smart arse. But it really is hopeless -”


“No it’s not.”


I could tell it was taking a lot of him to resist rolling his eyes but he knew that would just about cause me to flip my lid.


“You’re just stressed because you’re not used to having to play with new and… uh, less able players.” Ray said, barely seeming to even have to think about it between mouthfuls. As bloody usual, “And I’m guessing you’re taking out your anger about Freddie and Ro not being able to make Hogsmeade weekend out on the poor newbies.” He looked up with a smirk, as if to say ‘am I right?’.


Smug git.


I didn’t want to acknowledge it but I had to. Curiosity got the better of me. “How did you know that?” I huffed, grumpily.


“Because this morning when you told me to tell my Mum you’d be able to come for lunch on Saturday you practically spat at me.”


“Sorry.”


“So why can’t they come?”


I sighed. “Freddie’s being a do-gooder. Helping out at a hospital where, I suppose I’ll admit, his presence is needed more than it is here.”


“Generous of you.”


“I just… I know he needs to be there and he’s being amazing and I’m proud of him. I just… I just wanted to talk to him. I’m crap with letters. It’s not the same. I miss him. And I need his advice on this bloody Quidditch crap.”


“Course. Course it’s going to be different without him. But I don’t think you need him. This is a good thing, this opportunity to teach these newbies. It’s nothing to be scared of.”


“Oh sure. Only, if I fail, it has real consequences and it’s all my fault.” I paused, “Like Oz’s untimely death when he drowns himself when we lose.”


“So don’t fail.”


“You haven’t spoken to the tosser!” I said, vehemently, picturing Benjy’s moaning face, “There’s no way to get it through his thick skull -”


“There’s always a way.” Ray quirked an eyebrow, infuriatingly.


Eurgh. I wish he’d stop telling me what I knew was true but was trying firmly to ignore.


I just didn’t want this bloody responsibility to fall on me! There was a reason I wasn’t prefect, Head Girl, Quidditch Captain or anything else that vaguely resembled an authority role. I couldn’t handle it.


“What if I can’t do it?” I said, so quietly it could have been half to myself.


“You can. If you need help, get it.” Ray shrugged, before turning his head towards the Hufflepuff table where his friends were yelling to him, “Gotta go.”


“Oh, abandonment. Great.”


The only response I got was a flash of a grin before he picked up his plate of chips and wandered across the hall with it as if that were perfectly normal behaviour.


So now I was sat alone. Great. I peered down the table to where Londy, Oz, Blakely and Simpson were sat. I could shift past the group of fifth years between us and join them.


I lowered my eyes and then looked up through my eyelashes at the Gryffindor table. As I’d suspected, there was Lily with James and Sirius. It kind of got to me sometimes, if I thought back to last year how at most meal times it’d be the four of us. Now… now we barely sat together more than a couple of times a week. And when we did I could feel the stress clogging up my veins. Because stress does that. Or something.


Just as I thought things were getting better, as well. I mean, we’d been kind of almost normally talking. I’d apologised.


And he’d refused it.


Don’t, he’d said.


Well what in the name of Slughorn’s baggy Y-front’s was that supposed to mean?


I think that was the reason it was so stressful - because I just never knew where I stood. Since the beginning of the year I’d gone from being hated, to being ignored, to being ‘friends’, to being ignored again, to being maybe-a-little-bit ‘friends’ again, to being kind-of-slightly hated again, to being ignored again, to…


You get my drift. It could be any of the above, at any time. I couldn’t keep up with it. It didn’t seem to matter what I did or when it was, I had absolutely no idea whether I was going to be welcomed into the group with open arms (wishful thinking) or looked at like I was a squished flobberworm.


I think that was why I preferred it with Ray. I always knew where I was with him. He was always my buddy, always knew what to say, always knew how to irritate me if I needed my mind taking off something. It didn’t matter if I’d had the most stressful, exciting or boring day ever; when I’d sit down with Ray we’d go through some sort of a routine of him complaining about whatever he needed to complain about (nothing, really. Because things are just easy for him) and I’d attempt to give some sort of shoddy advice that I knew he’d politely ignore, before I’d complain about my (real) problems, and he’d tell me something useful.


Simple.


I liked simplicity.


I wasn’t so keen on not knowing if I was going to receive, at best, a cold smile, or at worst an instant death from Sirius’ murderous eyes.


I don’t think it was good for my health.


With a jolt I realised all at once that; a, I was staring at the three of them, and b, Lily was incredibly (not) subtly ordering me over there with frantic jerking of her head.


I narrowed my eyes and violently shook my head, to which her eyes widened creepily and her lips pressed into a thin line. I then shrugged and gave a helpless hand gesture and she gave up all pretences of subtlety and beckoned me over with a wave of both hands.


At this point I made the observation that just because an exchange between two friends on opposite sides of the room is silent, doesn’t mean it’s not going to attract attention.


Particularly when pulling the faces that Lily and I were.


With a heaved sigh I pushed aside my plate, hauled my bag up onto my shoulder and made my way across to them. I then faced the usual question of how I was supposed to act. See, ordinarily I’d have gone with the breezy, casual, act-like-nothing’s-wrong approach. But Lily had told me on more than one occasion that that sometimes didn’t go down so well. Depending on what sort of a mood precious little Sirius was in. So, what was I meant to do? Wait meekly until I was noticed? Go in waving a white flag? Bow?


I think I’d be more comfortable dining with a family of manic hippogriffs.


What I think was especially wonderful was how, as he was sitting on the opposite side of the table to where I was approaching, he looked up and noticed me. Obviously what followed was one of those painful situations where you know someone’s coming over but you can’t just stare at them until they arrive, and you’re faced with the question of when to greet them. Or not to.


Nightmare. Really.


But, of course, we did the courage-worthy and honourable thing and avoided each other’s eyes in a rather determined fashion.


Naturally.


“Hi,” I said, drawing up to the table behind James. I planted my hands on his shoulders just in case I needed to use him as a shield.


Nope. No reaction. It was going to be one of those days.


“Hey Deb,” The poor, delusional Head Boy himself seemed actually delighted to see me, “Where’ve you been hiding?”


Oh, way to point out the awkward there, Jimmy. Really. Nice.


Still, I wasn’t going to let this opportunity to complain pass me by.


“Quidditch,” I sighed, heavily, dropping into the seat besides him. It was fortunately opposite Lily so all I had to avoid was that diagonal area. Easy.


“Not going well?” James didn’t even try to hide his lack of sympathy. He was positively beaming.


“Like you care Mr Gryffindor,” I snagged one of his chips in defiance.


I care,” James immediately became defensive once I questioned his loyalty as a friend, “I completely care. I care more than any of these two…”


Well I didn’t doubt that. Lily couldn’t give a flying fuck about Quidditch - illustrated by the way she was idly arranging the peas on her plate into a flower pattern - and we all know just how much the other Dear at the table cared. He didn’t even care that I’d tried to apologise; why would he care that I was having an awful time at Quidditch.


“Ok, ok,” I assured James, in alarm, “Sure you care. Whatever. Just hard at the moment, that’s all. Nothing to worry about. We‘ll still beat your arses whenever it is we play you.” I added a silent prayer that we weren’t due to play them until we’d had sufficient time to practice (I.e. the millennia it appeared it was going to take Benjy to learn to shoulder pass).


“April,” James informed me. Trust him to have the Quidditch calendar memorised.


Thank God. Plenty of time. If I could ever muster up the patience to sort out Benjy’s womanly throw.


“Oh. Right. Good,” I said, not entirely sure if my faux-confidence came across so well in my voice.


“How’s the wasps fan?” A low, unexpected voice asked.


It instigated a number of reactions. James jumped and accidentally stuck his elbow in the butter disk, I gawked like a moron and Lily did such a large double-take that I was surprised she wasn’t suffering from whiplash.


“What?” Sirius asked to our startled response, in an annoyed tone.


Yeah, we overreacted. What can I say, we’re prone to it. It’s just that generally, Sirius would make up his mind about just how bad his feelings towards me were when I first approached the table. If they were appalling, he’d glare. If bad, he’d ignore me, and if he was going to exchange a few almost-civil words with me he’d acknowledge me. He wouldn’t then change his mind. It was almost a pattern. A pattern I just hadn’t worked out the rule for yet.


But this was a turn-out for the books. He was varying between degrees of dislike for me. In a matter of seconds he’d changed from ignoring me to asking a very almost friendly question.


Well, I couldn’t pretend I ever knew where I stood anymore.


“Nothing,” Lily stifled a proud smile. She stopped just short of patting him on the head, “What were you saying?”


He wasn’t a complete twit. He could tell that Lily and James were thrilled that he was appearing to be slightly nice to me (I was still wary) but decided to ignore it with gritted teeth.


“I just asked, how’s the wasps fan?” He said, in a rather strained voice.


Oh thanks, friends. Thanks for making this so wonderfully easy for us.


Fortunately after a moment’s stunned silence I found my tongue, “Oh, Sammy! Sammy. Yeah. Sammy’s… ok. Not bad. He’s… yeah. I like his hat.”


Hat?!


A couple of second passed in which Sirius stared, and James and Lily shook their heads in despair.


That meant it was bad.


If James Potter were ridiculing my social skills, the awkwardness must have been off the scale.


“His Wasp’s hat,” I added, in explanation.


Sirius, at least appeared to understand. It was a mark of how well he knew me that it didn’t strike him as that odd a statement to make. I wondered briefly why he ever put up with me.


“Who’s the other one?” Sirius asked, spinning his fork on his plate.


“Benjy Hackett,” I had to repress a shudder at saying his name.


“No idea who that is,”


“Remember the one at try-outs that threw like an absolute woman?”


“Oh God no.”


“Oh God yes. It’s hopeless,” I agreed, hearing Ray’s voice in my head informing me that that was the eleventh time I’d used those words in the past half hour.


Get out of my head, abandoner.


“I’d offer you some sort of motivational comment,” Sirius almost smirked. Yes - make a note of it. He very almost displayed some form of a smile. Sarcastic though it may have been. “But you’re right. Pretty hopeless.”


Funnily enough, the agreement didn’t make me feel any better. I think I preferred Ray’s never-ceasing, foolish optimism.


I gave a sarcastic smile right back, before realising what I was doing and hesitating. Oh God, now I was just smiling at him for an extended period of time. And he was still doing that not-quite-a-smile thing.


Argh.


Fortunately, Lily decided that she’d gone too long being uninvolved in the conversation and so piped up.


“Have you done the Charms essay yet, Deb?”


I jumped at this chance to break the awkward smiling situation and turned to Lily, not missing the curling of the corner of her mouth.


“What Charms essay?” I asked, still catching up to what she was saying.


“Thought not. It’s in on Monday. These idiots haven’t either. I’m nearly finished. Want to come up to the common room with us?”


Again, I was forced to remember this time last year, when me cramming in the last minute homework with them wouldn’t have even been questioned. Nowadays… well, this would be the first time I’d been to the Gryffindor common room all year.


If I did it.


“Uh…” I deliberated.


Lily rolled her eyes and mouthed something along the lines of ‘don’t be such a fucking coward’.


“It’s Thursday,” I observed.


“Yes.” Lily confirmed, not ceasing frowning at me.


“We’ve got ages.”


“Hogsmeade weekend,” Lily pointed out. “And don’t you have training tomorrow night?”


I hated it when she was right.


“And Potter and I have patrol tomorrow evening, don’t we?” She made James jump by directing her fierce stare at him. He nodded fervently, no doubt just relishing in the chance to agree with Lily about something. “So I wouldn’t be able to help you,” She shrugged and looked expectantly for me to agree.


“Oh. Well -” I don’t really know why I was searching for an excuse. Was it that big a deal for me to just be in the same common room as him? I was doing alright sitting here at the table, wasn’t I?


But I couldn’t get rid of a vivid image from my head of a previous awkward homework session. At another point in our odd relationship where we weren’t sure where we stood. Although, back then looked a lot brighter than right now.


“Oh for the love of God,” Lily rolled her eyes again. “Just do it.”


“If she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t want to,” Sirius said, shortly. “Don’t force her.”


For the some reason, the way that he wasn’t looking at me made me a little irritated.


“No,” I announced, “I’ll come.”


“Shocker,” Lily muttered under her breath.


I glared at her, but Sirius didn’t appear to hear. He and James were getting up ahead of us to walk up to the common room.


“This is interesting,” Lily commented, brightly. Also unnecessarily loudly, considering that James and Sirius were only a few paces ahead.


I answered in a lower tone, “You are shameless, Evans.”


“I like to think of it as ‘genius’. And ‘amazing friend’. That sort of thing,”


“Don’t you dare try anything funny,” I warned her, suddenly apprehensive.


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” She widened her eyes, innocently.


“Course you don’t, Miss Let’s-shut-them-up-in-the-library-alone. James hasn’t got the brains for something like that. It had your name written all over it,”


She merely chucked to herself.


“Please don’t,” I said, in all seriousness, “Please. Can’t you see how difficult just ‘friends’ is? It’s not going to happen like it is in your fantasy ‘happily ever after’ world.”


“And why do you think just ‘friends’ isn’t working?”


I swallowed, “Not happening, Lily.”


She sighed, “Well, let me know when it does.”


Before I could contradict her, the boys stopped and Sirius was shunted towards us by a jab in the back from James. He turned to glare at James who remained looking extremely pleased with himself.


I glanced sideways at Lily. She seemed content enough but gave a tiny shrug. Oh God. Evidently this was James’ version of a ‘plan’. I didn’t have high hopes for it.


When no one said anything I sighed. “James?”


He gave up on Sirius - whose lips were set in a thin line - going along with his master plan and explained himself.


“We were talking,” He gestured between Sirius and himself, “About your Quidditch troubles.”


“Right…” I said, warily.


“And Padfoot here had the wonderful idea -” He was cut off by a swift kick in the ankles and hastily corrected himself, “- Alright, I had the idea. That maybe the reason you’re finding it hard is because you’ve only ever played with your brother and Wilson. So, to give you an idea of how to get used to playing with different people…”


I suddenly knew exactly where he was going with it.


“I’ve had a new partner every year and we’ve got by fine.” 


Sirius had said it to me that night in the Astronomy tower. When we were watching the try-outs in the first place.


“… I thought maybe you could use some help.” James finished.


“From?” I asked, in a tight voice. Even though I blatantly knew. Still, I could hope.


“Guess,” Sirius supplied, dryly.


Of course.


“Yes, what a wonderful idea, James,” Lily smirked, smugly. “Sirius, if I am correctly informed, has played with a different partner every year. Each of whom he’s had to train up. Isn’t that just so convenient? Having a friend who can be of so much help?”


I didn’t like the stress she put on a certain word there.


“Mmm-hmm.” I narrowed my eyes, “Wonderful.”


“Great. So that’s all sorted, then.” James raised an eyebrow at Lily that clearly said ‘I hope you took note of my master plan and now want to have my babies’.


“Um, James? A word?” I said, through gritted teeth.


Lily, still smiling smugly, linked an arm through Sirius’ and swiftly lead him ahead of us. I could tell by how stiff and straight his back was that he wasn’t thrilled about the arrangement. Surprise, surprise.


I glanced up at James to see him grinning broadly.


“You’re welcome,” He said, with a flamboyant hand gesture.


I punched him in the ribs.


Ow! Debbie!”


“What do you think you’re doing, Potter?” I demanded in a hushed tone, even though Lily had been very thorough in marching Sirius away. “You ought to be thrilled that I’m doing shit at Quidditch, Mr Rival-Team-Captain. Not offering to help.”


“I have my reasons,” He waggled his eyebrows.


“Oh, I’m sure you do,” I assured him. Did I mention that they were the most transparent reasons ever? “Reason one - the desire to get into my best mate’s good books by complying with her stupid idea of throwing the two of us together. Reason two - it’s fairly certain that this whole pathetic plan isn’t going to work in the slightest and it’s going to make my Quidditch situation even worse… and then, oh, look who comes out on top -”


“Deb,” James stopped my rant and I noticed that he was actually looked a little offended. “You really think I would do that?”


“I know you,” I pointed out, “Quidditch comes first.”


“No,” He shook his head. “Friends come first. Quidditch comes a close second, I won’t lie, but friends… friends always come first.”


I stared at him for a second. “But you’re almost as much as a Quidditch Freak as Oz…”


And hadn’t Oz revealed to me just hours ago that he wasn’t such an emotionless robot as I suspected? Oh wonderful, my brain was disagreeing with me again after letting me jump to conclusions. Even Oz’s reasons for wanting to win weren’t entirely selfish. Sure he wanted it for himself, but he wanted it for us too. He’d said himself, how much it meant to him, to me, to Londy, Blakely and Simpson.


Bloody hell. Two Quidditch robots had completely turned my view of their priorities around in one day.


“Friends first,” James repeated, throwing an arm around my shoulders, “I care slightly more about you two morons than getting one over on you in Quidditch. Slightly.”


“And Lily?” I added, shrewdly.


“And Lily,” He confirmed, with a smile, “Sure. She’s a friend too…”


I raised my eyebrows and he just laughed and hitched his glasses up his nose.


I felt a rush of affection for James. He may act like the sort of prat that was only interested in Quidditch or provoking a laugh, but it was obvious, now I looked back. It had always been friends first for him. Fiercely so.


He, like Lily, only wanted the best for us.


Alright, they both were stubbornly refusing to see that it wasn’t going to happen.


Alright, they were using the most uncomfortable methods ever.


Alright, they were meddling.


But they were doing it for good reasons.


And, hell, James was allowing a member of his team to, basically, help coach mine. That was a huge deal to him.


“Thank you,” I slung my arm around his waist as we climbed the stairs to their common room, “You big prat.”


“Just do the right thing, Deb,” He said, unnaturally seriously, “I hate seeing you like this. Both of you.”


I swallowed, “We’re trying. Well. I am.”


“You’re trying to ignore everything, that’s what you’re doing. Trying to pretend it all never happened.”


“Yeah. So?” What else were we supposed to do?! I’d exhausted Ray’s ‘options’. Run away - I’d tried and failed that. Fix it - it was obvious to everyone that that we’d not made a great start to that. That only left the option of getting over it. That’s what we were doing.


“You really think that’s going to work?”


I shrugged, chewing my lip, “Sometimes. I don’t know. It has to. There’s nothing else left.”


I meant there was nothing else to do. He took it differently.


“There is. Or it wouldn’t be hurting.” He said, simply.


I glanced sharply up at him. “I never said it was hurting. I’m fine.”


“I didn't say... I know you didn't.”


I sighed, “Look, we’re fine. See, we’re about to do homework together. Just like normal. Are you happy?”


“Only if you are,” He raised his eyebrows with a smirk. His actual words were nice, but his tone was challenging. I didn’t know what he wanted from me.


“I am.” I lifted my chin.


“Sure. Fine.” James looked straight ahead, “Just seems like you trying to skip some stages of ‘getting over it’. It doesn’t work like that. Just like a dive…” Trust him to make a Quidditch reference, “… if you don’t make sure you do everything right as you go along, you’ll end up crashing.”


“It’s easier to know if you’re doing it all right in a dive,” I said, half to myself.


“Nah,” James shook his head, “Just like you can feel it where you’ve gone wrong in a dive. You can feel that when it comes to this too. I know you can.”


I wanted to disagree.


The annoying thing was that I couldn’t.




**




Straighter, Benjy!” I roared above the wind for the umpteenth time in two hours. I lobbed the ball back at him and looped around him, drawing to a halt just behind him.


“I’m trying.” He moaned, catching the Quaffle easily. Great. He could do that but he still couldn’t bloody shoulder pass. So infuriating.


“Here.” I roughly yanked his arm up to the correct height. “Don’t lower your elbow. Don’t relax your wrist. And, for the love of Merlin, follow it through.”


“I’m doing that.”


“Then why are we still doing shoulder passes after two hours n the wind?” I yelled hoarsely as I swooped back to my place further across the pitch.


“Because you’re a huge bitch!” Benjy yelled back.


“Well you’re a little bitch, Benjy!” I called, unperturbed, “How does that feel?”


“Little McKinnon,” Oz approached me from nowhere, “We’re calling it a day. There’s no point carrying on in this. You can’t even throw straight, let alone Hackett…”


I half-expected Benjy to pipe up with a whiny ‘I can too!’. But he didn’t he was slightly in awe (or terrified) of Oz. I remembered well how that felt.


Half of me was so exhausted from repeating myself over and over that I was relieved we were finishing. The other half was so frustrated that Benjy hadn’t got it that I wanted to keep the twat out here until he did.


Exhaustion won.


“Thank God.” I muttered, and dived for the changing rooms, leaving Oz to round the others up.


When I reached shelter from the gale-force winds, and warmth, even that irritated me. I threw my broom, gloves and jacket to the floor, kicked my shoes to the corner and struggled out of my many layers. The weather was definitely taking a turn for the worse with this wind. Summer seemed way behind us.


The hot shower was bliss. There’s nothing like it, honestly. A hot, powerful shower after a hard training session… it’s just heaven.


“Someone’s in a mood,” Londy’s voice echoed from the next cubicle as she arrived. She sounded annoyingly perky. Well she would. She got to mess around with Blakely all session, like usual. I was probably that perky last year when I got to mess around with Freddie and Ro.


“You would be too,” I told her, tugging my hands through my knotty hair.


“I won’t deny that,” She giggled, “But I’m not the one Oz has made in charge of them. He doesn’t credit me with that much patience.”


“When have I ever given him the impression that I’ve got that much patience?”


“He trusts you to do it right,” Londy said, “We all do.”


My stomach clenched uncomfortably. Do it right? By the Slytherin match in what… two weeks? It didn’t look that way.


“You have to do it,” Londy carried on, “Or he will kill himself. No pressure or anything.”


“Great, I’ll bear it in mind. Couldn’t allow something to come between you and your lover.”


“Damn straight.” She called, jauntily.


“How’s that going?” I asked. It was still weird. Londy and Oz. Eurgh. Strange. No matter how often I saw them hand in hand or… face on face… I couldn’t get used to it.


There was a slight pause.


“How many times have we argued since we’ve been back at school?” She asked.


I thought it was a bit of a weird question. I was ready to answer back with a rough estimate of ‘at least twice a week’, but when I came to think of it…


“I don’t know,” I realised, “Have you? At all?”


“I don’t know,” She sounded genuinely concerned, “I don’t… I don’t think we have.”


“Well that’s… Londy, generally that’s seen as a good thing.”


“But we always fight. It’s what we do. I didn’t notice so much over the summer that we hadn’t but now, being back here… it’s strange.” She said, in a bewildered voice.


I found myself in the position of ‘comforter’. This was unusual. Especially seeing as I was comforting my mate that she shouldn’t worry that she hadn’t yet argued with her boyfriend.


“Well, you’re not bitter enemies anymore, lovely,” I reasoned, “Things are bound to change,”


That rang a bell. Things will be different this year, Ray had said at the beginning of the year. Not just for me, it seemed.


“But that’s why we… you know,” Typical Londy wasn’t comfortable enough with saying anything remotely romantic, “It all started with the fighting. What if, without that, we‘re not…”


“Don’t be stupid,” I said, “You and Oz are just… it’s just so obvious, now it’s happened. The sort of thing you didn’t see coming but then when it did… it’s right. You know?”


“Was that what it was like with you and Sirius?”


That threw me. There was a full ten seconds pause as I turned the shower off, pulled my towel from the door and wrapped it around me.


“No,” I said, “No. We’re nothing like you and Oz. You two are… we… we’re…”


“You mean everyone saw it coming with you two?”


No! Not that bit. The… we weren’t right. Obviously. But you two are. You don’t have to worry about ending up like us,” I padded my way bare-foot back into the changing rooms.


Apparently Londy didn’t think it was time to end the conversation.


“Everyone else think’s you two were right, you know. Think you are right. It’s just you two that don’t see it.”


“What are you talking about?” I scrambled through my bag for some clean clothes, “You hate him. I think your precise words were that I was going to ‘regret being friends with him again’.”


“I’m of a mixed opinion,” She grinned, finally sounding a little more like the Londy I knew and loved rather than the one asking me (of all people) for advice on her love life. “As your friend, it was my duty to hate him for being a prick. But you can’t ignore what’s right.”


“And what’s that?”


Londy heaved a sigh, as if I were particularly thick. “That he’s sorry. That you’re sorry. That you’re both just burying your heads in the sand because you’re too bloody pathetic to be the one to initiate it.”


“Initiate it? Initiate what?”


“My God, denial is irritating.” Londy turned her back on me to dress, “All I’m hoping is that he’s going to man up and do it tonight.”


“Tonight?”


“Oh yeah,” She grinned wickedly over her shoulder, “Did I not mention that he’s outside right now?”


“What… I…” I pushed open the door a crack, still holding my towel around me, and peered out towards the stands. Sure enough, there he was. Sitting about halfway up with his hood up. I could only tell hit was him by the way he sat and, yes, that bloody hair. “Londy!” I hissed, snapping the door shut again.


“I thought you knew!” She said, innocently, “He’s been watching practically the whole time.”


What?”


“Go see your man, McKinnon,” She advised.


My man, indeed.


I didn’t dignify her dig with a response. Just hurried to dress, stuff my things into a bag and… what, go and speak to him? Why was he here?


He couldn’t be, as Londy was suggesting, be here to ‘initiate’ anything. She could say that all she wanted, her and anyone else that seemed to have an opinion about us.


But I should know, shouldn’t I? I was the one of the two in question! If anyone knew how things were, it was me. And I knew that things weren’t like that.


They couldn’t be. Not when it was like this.


This wasn’t even hate. Hate, there could have been some sort of hope. Like and Londy-Oz sort of hope. Hadn’t they supposedly hated one another? And now look at them. Hate, I would have maybe been ok with. I almost envied the days I’d thought he hated me.


This was worse. It wasn’t so emotional as hate. It was just that awkward stage between dislike and friends. Surely there was no mistaking that for anything romantic. It wasn’t possible.


And I wasn’t stupid enough to think it was anything more. I didn’t even hope that.


Obviously.


The wind was strong when I climbed the steps to where he was sitting. So strong that it was making my damp hair flap around extremely inconveniently.


I was so curious about why he was there that I didn’t even stress much as I approached him. Much.


“Hi.” I said, sitting a safe distance away. Two seats. Two seats is a safe distance, right? And I was on the row in front of him, too. No chance of him thinking I was being all expectant or over-friendly or… Look, two seats was enough, ok?


“Hi.”


Ok, I’d been hoping for a little more explanation than that.


“What’re you doing here?” The bite of the icy wind made me a little more forth-coming than I otherwise would have been. I just wanted to get back inside.


“I was sent here,” He said, “By James.”


Ah. Of course. The master-plan.


Since when do you do anything James tells you? I wanted to ask. But stopped myself.


“So. Apparently I’m here to help.” He shrugged.


“You’ve been here the whole time?” I asked, partly astonished that anyone would sit through this horrendous wind for two hours and partly mortified that he would almost certainly seen me screeching in a very Londy-like manner.


He definitely knew that. Which is why he smirked and said, “My favourite part was where you threatened to disembowel the girly-thrower one if his next pass didn’t reach you. He was literally on the verge of tears.”


“Shut up,” I scowled, as if this would take emphasis from my burning cheeks, “Benjy does not cry.”


“He wanted to.”


“I wanted to. Do you know how many hours in the past few weeks I’ve spent drilling shoulder passes? Because I’ve lost fucking count.”


“Do you want my help or not?”


For some reason, with those words I realised that we weren’t just two friends squabbling over Quidditch. Which mean… wait. 


That meant that… had he just been smirking?


If I wasn’t mistaken, that meant that we’d achieved another friendly, civilised (ish) conversation. Unfortunately all of them thus far had revolved around Quidditch.


It should not be this difficult.


“I never asked for it, did I?” I shrugged, wearily, “And you never volunteered it. Surely we could just tell James we’ve had a nice little chat, let him feel happy and be done with it.”


He seemed to consider that for a moment with raised eyebrows but other than that, expressionless. “Be done with it.” He repeated.


When he said it, it suddenly sounded very final. All I’d meant was be done with James’ ‘plan’. Not be done with… well, us. Our feeble attempt to be friends.


Merlin, he was touchy.


“I meant -” I was about to correct him.


“If that’s what you want.” He said, in an annoyingly detached manner.


“If that’s what you want,” I retorted, using my usual technique of avoiding the pressure.

Really, I wasn’t quite sure what we were talking about.


He let out a very brief laugh and replied with an air of patience, “No. James is my best mate. And he wants me to do this for you. So, if you’re alright with it, I will.”


For James. Sure.


“’Maybe I don’t give a shit about Lily or James‘,” I mimicked his exact words, used previously on at least two occasions.


He looked up, his head slightly on one side. “For me, then.”


Oh God. It was that look again. Not The Look. This was that New Look. The guilt-inducing one. The one that made me feel bad about everything and want to do anything to make him smile again and -


NO!


I would not give in to this bloody New Look. One was enough. I couldn’t let him affect me with another, that really was pathetic.


“Well,” I said, snapping out of it, “If I let you do this, you have to let me do something.”


He looked momentarily surprised, before giving a lop-sided smile, “Well, that depends what it is, doesn’t it?”


I grinned, smugly, “You have to let me cut your hair.”


He blinked, barked a laugh and grinned, “Why exactly would I allow that?”


“For me,” I mimicked him again.


He accepted that with a smirk and a nod of the head, but wasn’t giving in easily, “Why would you want to cut my hair? Surely it shouldn’t bother you either way? You don’t exactly have to sit there staring at me, day-to-day, do you?”


Balls.


Fortunately I had a counter-argument. “We’re meant to be friends. Unfortunately I have to look in your direction on occasion. And if you’re going to be helping me with this Quidditch crap…” I shrugged.


He leant forward with his forearms resting on the chair in front, the one two seats away from where I was sat cross-legged, facing him.


“So.” He considered, “In exchange for my invaluable Quidditch advice, you want to cut my hair.”


“That’s about it,” I agreed.


“I’m failing to see where I benefit from this.”


“You’re the one that wants to do this ‘helping’ thing, you said for yourself. And you get the added advantage of no longer looking like a long-haired ponce.” I reasoned. Then I wondered whether we were at the stage of friendship where insults were allowable or not. Balls.


Fortunately a slow smile grew on his face, “Well with that argument, I’d be a fool to refuse,”


“Exactly.” I was doing that thing where I spoke without remotely considering what was coming out or where the conversation was headed.


There was a short pause.


“Can you even cut hair?” He asked, sounding the tiniest bit apprehensive.


Like I’d ever tried.


“I don’t feel that that information is relevant to this deal,” I said, smoothly.


“That’s reassuring,” He shook his head, and stuck out his hand. “Fine. Whatever. Haircut for Quidditch advice. Deal. God forbid I should look a ‘long-haired ponce’.”


“Deal. You won’t regret it,” I took his hand and we shook on it. I idly noticed that this was the second deal sealed with a hand shake this term. I hoped that this would end up more definite than the ‘friends’ deal which, although going fabulously right now, hadn’t been the most consistent deal in the world. “Well. That’s nice and official,” I grinned.


“You’ve never cut anyone’s hair in your life, have you?” He said, tolerantly.


“Not once,” I said, brightly, “I was thinking a severing charm. Or maybe a shrinking solution. Probably not safe that close to your brain though. Hmm. I’ll work on some ideas…”


“Can’t wait.” To his credit, he managed not to sound entirely terrified at the prospect. He stood up, “Do you want to go back up to school? You’re cold.”


I realised that I was shivering. Odd how I hadn’t noticed.


“Oh. Right. Yeah.” I hauled my bag up onto my shoulder and made my way to the end of the row. Then, just as I was about to make my way down the steps, the weight was taken from my shoulders.


I spun around, “What are you doing?”


Sirius raised an eyebrow, “Holding your bag.”


“Why?” I hadn’t asked him to. And him carrying my bag, wasn’t that a bit… coupley?


He looked at me like I was a little on the slow side, “Because it’s heavy.”


“I’m fine - ” I began to say, but he interrupted me and walked down the steps ahead of me.


“Dee, I’m carrying your bag for you. Don’t read into it. Don’t make this weird again just as it’s getting better.”


I gawked at his departing back.


Don’t make this weird? Had he not just done exactly that with that sodding comment?


I hurried to catch up, still frantically searching for a casual, flippant comeback even though the acceptable time to say anything had passed.


Think, think…


Why were there no words in my head when I needed them?


Anything would do!


Why did he have to point out the weirdness? Because he was right - things had been better. Far better than I would have dared hope, even yesterday. I’d managed to forget the awkwardness for a whole conversation, words, smiles, jokes and all. That was an achievement.


Wow.


But now…


Don’t bloody read into it? Oh, he presumed I’d read into it, did he?


Because you did, my brain reminded me.


Yeah. Well. So?


Eurgh.


After about seventy-five years in a mutual silence, with me internally ranting to myself, Sirius decided it was time to ‘help’.


“So, about the newbies…” He said, as we made our way up the hill to the castle. For some reason, his voice calmed down my inner anxiety attack and I could be reasonably normal again.


“We’re doomed, aren’t we?” I said, miserably, “Just admit it. We’re going to flattened by Slytherin and Oz is going to kill himself and/or me and it’ll all be my fault.”


Reasonably normal, I said.


Sirius chose to ignore that. “Wasps Guy is good. Just a little… bored. Because he can’t progress until Girly Thrower has. But honestly, he’s good.”


“And Benjy?” I asked. He looked blank so I corrected myself, “Girly Thrower?”


“Girly Thrower…” Sirius hesitated, “He doesn’t seem to like you very much.”


“The feeling’s mutual, I assure you.”


“Well, you’re never going to be able to work together if you don’t get along, are you?”


“Work together? We’re not even at the ‘working together’ stage! We’re at the ‘learning to throw adequately’ stage -”


“You’re still working together. Working together to sort out his pathetic throw. And you can’t really do that if he hates you.”


Ok, I knew Benjy wasn’t my biggest fan. But it wasn’t very nice hearing from an outsider how obvious it was that the cretin hated me. Being hated wasn’t nice. Did you always have to have someone hate you? Now that Sirius and I seemed to be actually getting somewhere with this ‘friends’ thing, was Benjy taking over the hatred?


“So it’s my fault?” I demanded.


“I didn’t say that.” Sirius shrugged, “Just… maybe screaming obscenities and terrifying the poor sod for hours doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe you could try being nice to him.”


“Nice?” I echoed, wrinkling my nose in distaste. “No one’s ever been ’nice’ to me at practice…”


“Are you kidding? You’ve played with your big brother for four years. The one who would quite happily kick seven shades of shit out of anyone that was anything less than nice to you.”


That was true. “But I still got picked on!”


“Oh come on. That was different. That was messing about. When it came to it, no one would dare say a bad word to you.”


I missed Freddie.


But thought of another point. “Oz did!”


“Dunhill gave constructive criticism. He didn’t make you feel bad about yourself… or humiliated. Did he?”


I was slowly feeling worse and worse. Was that what I was doing to Benjy? Humiliating him?


“Am I being a bitch?” I asked, in disbelief, “Am I…. am I being worse than Oz?”


“He’s been doing it longer than you.” Sirius avoided answering. As if I wouldn’t notice. I invented that.


“Oh my God. I’m a bitch. I’m a bitch to poor, girly Benjy.” I realised. Wait... “But he’s a bitch back to me!”


“He’s not going to break down into tears in front of a tough Quidditch team, is he?”


Oh my God. I was bitch.


“Poor Benjy.” I said, half to myself. I felt terrible. Who’d have ever thought I’d feel terrible about being mean to Benjy? “What am I going to do?”


“Be nice to him,”


I pulled a face. “I think the shock might be bad for his health.”


“Not excessively. Maybe just throw in a bit of praise in there alongside the criticism. Encouragement instead of threats. Talk to him, instead of screaming. That sort of thing.”


We reached the Entrance Hall. The relief from the bitter wind was wonderful.


“Thanks,” I said, turning to Sirius to take my bag. “You… that was actually good. Helpful.”


“You sound surprised,” He raised his eyebrows.


“Advice isn’t really your thing,”


“I know. Try not to broadcast it. I’ve got some sort of a reputation to uphold.”


“Will do.” I smiled, “Thank you. Again.”


“You're welcome. Again.”


Ok. Another easy conversation. Improvement. But another awkward end to conversation. Not so good. How were you supposed to end conversations anyway? Did you just walk off? Wasn’t that rude? Hug? Well that wasn’t entirely appropriate…


I was just about to announce that I was going, just for something to say, but he got there before me.


“Are you going to Hogsmeade?” He asked, sounding very casual. How was he managing that?


Hogsmeade. Yes I was. I was going to the Quinn’s for lunch, seeing as I’d been bailed on by my brother. I couldn’t help but remember that in all the time that Sirius and I had been together we hadn’t managed a Hogsmeade ‘date’, as such. I’d always been with Lily, and we’d maybe met up with the boys in the Three Broomsticks afterwards.


The Three Broomsticks. I was going to see Rosmerta tomorrow.


I felt pretty excited. Excited to see the Quinn’s for lunch, and to catch up with Rosmerta in the afternoon…


Focus, Debbie. He asked a question.


“Yeah I am.” I answered, rather more evenly than I‘d been expecting, “Freddie was going to come but he can’t.”


I could see that he was probably going to ask why Freddie wasn’t coming, but the topic of my brother still wasn’t the easiest.


“Got any plans then?”


“Um, I’m going to see the Quinn’s, Ray’s family,” This was odd. I was fairly certain he wouldn’t even remember who Ray was but I carried on nonetheless, “I was round there a lot in the summer, so… you know. And I’ll go and see Rosmerta at the pub. I was working there with her…”


“I know,” Sirius said shortly, putting an abrupt end to my ramblings.


“Oh. Ok.”


How did he even know that? Lily told him, I suppose. Even though I told her to keep it to herself.


His face was closed off again. I hadn’t even noticed that he’d opened up until it was closed off again. Why in hell? He’d been the one that’d asked the bloody question!


“Do you? Have any plans I mean?” I asked, quickly, as if that would open him back up again. Come on. Please be normal.


“Just the usual. With James and Lily. Maybe Remus and Peter.” He said.


I waited for the usual ‘maybe we’ll see you there’.


It didn’t come.


There was a short pause, before Sirius dropped my bag at my feet.


“Thanks. Again.” I said, picking it up, “It was really…”


He turned. Walked up the marble staircase. Reached the top and didn’t look back at me.


“… good to talk to you.” I finished, under my breath.


And now I was alone.


I thought women were the ones that were meant to have to mood swings?




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


A.N. Hey. I thought I'd get this up quicker because the first half or so was actually going well... then it deteriorated. But I wanted to get it up anyway, it's not hugely exciting but I hope it gets us where we're meant to be!

Please let me know what you think...

Of Benjy & Sammy
Of Londy's Oz worries
Of James' master plan
Of Sirius' mood swings
Of Deb being a bitch to poor, annoying Benjy.

I know people wanted the letters to come into it, I'm working on it. I know people wanted them to just kiss and make up, but that's not realistic right now! Progress is being made though!

Please leave a review, I'd love to hear what you loved, hated, what you'd like to see more of or any particular ideas. Anything!

Thanks for reading,

Rx.


Chapter 6: Your Subtleties They Strangle Me
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]




“We can do this, guys. We’ve worked hard and we’re reigning champions. Piece of piss.” 


Those inspirational words of wisdom were from Blakely, as Oz was already out on the pitch, sizing up the weather conditions. I don’t know why captain dear bothered, if I’m honest. The walk down to the pitch from the castle had been enough to inform me that it was bright as hell but absolutely bloody freezing. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Oz got out a temperature gauge or something. 


Blakely clapped Sammy on the back in what he evidently thought was an encouraging manner, unaware that the strength of his beaters arm was a little more painful than heartening. Sammy choked in surprise. 


“Ready?” Blakely grinned, looking frighteningly as manic as Oz tended to. 


“Um. Ok.” Sammy said, nervously. Probably only agreeing so that Blakely didn’t try and ‘encourage’ him some more. 


“Ready?” Blakely turned his thousand watt beam to Londy, who yawned widely. 


“Hit the balls at the green wankers. Got it.” She shrugged. 


“Ready, Deb?” He turned to me. God the smile was terrifying in close proximity. 


“No, actually, I was thinking of heading up to my room for a little nap first…” I crouched to tie my trainers. 


“Your jokes are wasted on me, Little McKinnon. For the next few minutes I am Oscar Dunhill; He-who-lacks-a-sense-of-humour.” 


“My apologies. Ready dearest.” I straightened up. 


Blakely grinned again and thrust his hand into the middle of the group huddle, 


“Ravens on three.” 


Us sane ones exchanged looks. 


Sammy tentatively followed Blakely’s example and put his hand on top. Probably just to keep the peace. Good at that, Sammy was. 


The rest of us, not so much. 


“Is he for real?” Benjy asked me out of the corner of his mouth. 


“I wouldn’t put it past him.” I stared at Blakely’s expectant hand with a mixture of incredulity and repulsion. 


C’mon! Ravens on three!” Blakely whined, when the rest of us didn’t show adequate enthusiasm. 


“We’re not an under-eights team, Blakely,” Londy informed him, wrinkling her nose in distaste. 


“It’s good for a sense of team spirit and unity!” 


“What, you’re a cheerleader now?” 


“Ravens on three!” 


“Shut up, Blakely.” Benjy and I said at the same time, and freakishly in the same weary tone. We both immediately looked a little appalled at ourselves but then Benjy smirked and I winked - strange how in just a couple of short weeks the kid could turn from the bane of my existence to my… what, my protégé? Something like that. 


It hadn’t been exactly easy, following Sirius’ advice at first. Benjy was a whiny little git and I definitely wasn’t gifted with enough patience to endure him. It had been a physical struggle to spit out some sort of encouraging praise in the first place. “Ok, let’s have it Benjy,” I’d said, the essence of calm and patient, in our first training session after The Advice. 


Benjy already had a face like a smacked arse before he’d even picked up the Quaffle. I suppose you couldn’t blame the guy, having been ordered around, criticised and threatened with a bloody death in the last dozen or so training sessions. 


I was surprised the poor sod was still with us. 


“Come on,” I’d said… wait for it… encouragingly. Hell yeah. “You’re going to get it today. I’m sure of it.” 


He looked thoroughly bewildered at my niceness, caught my underarm toss with ease and frowned uncertainly. 


Yep, I felt like saying. Still me. The she-dragon. Really


“Come on, we haven’t got all day,” I snapped without thinking. Bollocks. I was being patient. Shit. “Please,” I added, lamely. 


Hesitantly, his face still rife with suspicion, Benjy raised the Quaffle to his shoulder… 


“Higher,” I said, then bit my tongue again. “I mean, that’s… that’s good. Good… um, grip. Just, uh, keep your arm away from your body a bit… right. That’s it…” 


And, holy Merlin’s armpit, it worked. I had to concentrate on not letting my jaw drop as Benjy actually listened to what I was saying. 


Was this really all it took? 


“Ok?” He asked, glancing apprehensively from his arm positioning to me, as if I were about to drop the ‘nice’ charade any second and release my inner banshee. 


“Yeah! Yeah, that’s great,” I said, a little over-enthusiastic. I couldn’t help it, I was that shocked that Sirius’ simple advice seemed to work, “Really. Now just remember what I’ve been telling you. Straight towards me, not up in the air. And follow through -” 


I was cut off. By a perfect, neat, straight, and pretty damn strong shoulder pass. 


Well fuck me. It worked. 


Literally, the surprise made me totally unready for the catch, only focusing at the last second and bringing up my hands at the last possible split-second, cushioning the blow against my chest. 


And I hadn’t even been that nice… 


Benjy didn’t say anything. Still looked apprehensive. Almost as if he were waiting for the screaming. Now, why ever would he think that… 


I snapped out my shock and let out a brief laugh. 


Benjy looked even more startled. 


“What? What do I need to do? I really don’t even know what I’m doing wrong…” He said, all in a rush as if he had to justify himself before the she-dragon. 


“Wrong?” I repeated, “Benjy, nothing about that was wrong.” 


“What?” He stared at me for a couple of seconds before the apprehensive looked gradually transformed into a jubilant, boyish grin. “What… really? Really, I got it?” 


Hell yes!” I said, lobbing the Quaffle back with another laugh, “Didn’t you feel that? That was perfect!” 


Another look of bewilderment crossed his face. Probably wasn’t hoping for a compliment like that from me in his wildest dreams. 


Not that he dreamt about me teaching him shoulder passes. 


That would just be sad. 


“Come on, hit me again,” I said, caught up in the excitement. 


Another perfect pass. 


“Benjy!” I exclaimed, “Where the hell did this come from?” 


He shrugged with a proud grin, “I dunno. I just… I dunno. I just relaxed and… and it was easy.” 


“Sammy!” I yelled, as our fellow chaser emerged from the changing rooms, “Check this out!” 


I tossed the Quaffle back to Benjy, received another decent pass and grinned proudly as Sammy clapped his buddy on the back. 


“Oz!” I waved Captain Dear over, “Get a load of this!” And repeated the whole shebang. 


“What?” Oz said, unimpressed. 


Then my jaw did drop. 


“What? That was a perfect fucking shoulder pass, Oscar Dunhill!” 


“Right,” Oz nodded, “Keep it up. Knew you had it in you.” 


I was about to protest that we all got more praise when he gave me the smallest, 
briefest smile before kicking off again, “All of you,” He added. 


Understandably, Benjy looked a little dejected at Captain Dear’s lack of interest. 


“Make a note of that,” I advised my two fellow chasers, “That’s probably the most appreciation you’ll get all year. Hell, it’s the most appreciation I’ve had in four years.” 


And so it had worked. Easy as that. Alright, so I still had to tell Benjy to man up once or twice a week when he lapsed back into his whining. But I said it in a civilised tone. No shrieking. 


And now look at us, two weeks later. Bonding over a mutual despair over Blakely’s attempt at motivation. How charming. 


“Here’s an idea,” I offered into the silence of Blakely’s ’Ravens on three’ nonsense, “Let’s just get the hell out there and kick some Slytherin bum, shall we?” 


“That’s more like it,” Londy perked up and slapped her beaters bat against her palm a few times. “We annihilated them last time. I look forward to it,” She called over her shoulder as she lead us out towards the pitch. 


I liked how everyone was conveniently forgetting the way that I’d woken up in the hospital wing after the last match. 


Apart from the newbies. 


“Is it as dangerous as it looks? Playing Slytherin?” Sammy asked, masking the nerves in his voice. 


I forgot they must have watched all of our previous matches. It was like in my mind they’d just sprung into being when they’d arrived at the try-outs. But they must have seen everything. I wondered if, from the sidelines, it looked better or worse than it felt. 


But hey, why was he asking me


I was the one who’d been knocked from her broom last time. And I was meant to be doling out the encouragement? 


“Worse,” I told him, cheerfully, “But they have to catch us first,” I smiled to myself, remembering Ro’s words from the last Slytherin match. 


I noticed that Sammy didn’t look entirely convinced, and was looking a bit shiny and pale. 


“Hey,” I nudged him, “Kidding. We’ve got this.” 


“You fell off your broom last time,” 


“Fell? I was pushed!” I protested in outrage, before realising that I wasn’t exactly reassuring him, “I mean, yes. That’s true. But it was kind of my fault. Here’s a hint - never stop in midair when you’re surrounded by green ogres.” 


Sammy swallowed, but nodded determinedly. 


“Aren’t you scared?” Benjy appeared at my other side, apparently listening to my happy tale. 


“Scared?” 


“You got knocked off your broom. On purpose, right? Aren’t you scared it’ll happen again?” 


“Nah, Avery’s left. The rest love me,” I made a weak joke, “Kidding. I mean, it’s fine. They won’t catch me this time.” I sounded confident, but I wasn’t sure if I was convincing them or myself. It wouldn’t happen this time. It couldn’t. That would just be plain embarrassing. 


We could hear the roaring of the crowd now. The part I hated. The part that scared me. 


Usually. 


For some reason, right now, it wasn’t affecting me. I was the experienced one now. The older one. The leader, in a way, of my team of three. I had to be the confident one, the sure one, the strong one. 


God help us. 


“Guys,” I said, as we made our way to the middle of the pitch where Oz, Madam Hooch and the entire Slytherin team were gathered, “You may or may not be shitting your pants right now. But that’s good. Use it, embrace it… not the poo,” I added, at Benjy’s revolted look, “The fear. Not the… look, I mean just keep on your toes, be ready and be fast. That’s what we’re good at.” 


It surprised me how motivational I felt. And how much I enjoyed it. I swear I was a second away from a ‘Ravens on three’. 


“Are we ready?” Oz asked, as we approached. 


He caught my eye. I knew that this wasn’t an ‘are all of our shoe-laces tied and has everyone been for one last pee’ question. This was ‘can we do this?’. 


Had I done enough? 


A typical Debbie reaction - I laughed and shrugged, “We’ll see.” 




** 




I looked to the Gryffindor stands as we were lining up. Not very team-spirity of me, I must say. 


Perhaps I ought to have been focused on my team. 


Perhaps I ought to have at least been focused on my own house. 


Hell, I ought to even pretend that it was my best friend that I was looking for in the stands. 


So shoot me, I totally wasn’t. 


Sure, I gave a jaunty wink in Lily’s direction when I saw the glint of her hair (a waste, she probably couldn’t tell me from Oz at that distance). 


But it wasn’t her I was looking for. Nope, I can freely admit it. I was seeking the dark-haired, grey-eyed mug. 


Pathetic, much? 


I mean, yeah, it was a positive thing that his mood swings hadn’t been an issue these last couple of weeks. He seemed almost consistent in his mild friendliness, which was a first, I’m telling you. But unfortunately the reasoning behind this was that all we’d discussed was Quidditch. 


I’m serious - two weeks, probably conversing approximately twice a day, and barely a single word was exchanged that wasn’t about Quidditch. 


Sure, Quidditch was safe, Quidditch was interesting, Quidditch was a mutual hobby… it was the natural thing to discuss. 


But I was fucking sick of it, alright? 


And the worst thing was that I’d rack my brains to search for something other than Quidditch to bring up and there was nothing! Seriously, my head would be bursting at the seams with useless comments ready to chuck one out at the most inconvenient times but when I actually wanted it to do something constructive, they were all just out of reach. 


Infuriating. 


So he was my Quidditch Buddy. Wonderful. 


I’d told him all about my breakthrough with Benjy, of course. The excitement that I was actually not doomed to certain failure had kept me hyped up way after practice. I’d practically skipped into the Great Hall at dinner and without giving a second thought I’d marched up to Sirius and hugged him. 


I know. 


It makes me cringe. 


Especially as, looking back, I can specifically remember how he’d just stood there in shock with his arms pinned to his sides from the sudden force that I’d launched myself at him with. 


At the time I’d been far too preoccupied by my accomplishment to notice the surprise that was probably present on most faces in the hall. I’d chattered on about how Benjy could throw like an actual male now without giving a second thought to the hug. 


Until my hyperactivity had died down and I could reflect on my somewhat odd behaviour. And be embarrassed by it. 


He didn’t mention it though. Of course he didn’t. Didn’t mention it, didn’t act any differently. 


Because he was my Quidditch buddy. 


So I suppose I could use that as an explanation. I was seeking the reassurance of my Quidditch buddy before the match. 


Only the feeling in my gut when my Quidditch buddy smiled would beg to differ. 


Bollocks. 


I hastily looked away, and straightened my kit, but as we mounted our brooms ready, I hazarded another glance in his direction. 


He wasn’t ready. This time there was no supportive smile. The expression on his face was poorly concealed worry. 


I didn’t have the time to feel distinctly offended by that. All that had time to register was a brief, insulted feeling that he’d been so encouraging the past few weeks and now apparently doubted our ability to win. Rude. 


I didn’t have time because, mid-glance, the starting whistle was blown and I had to literally throw my leg over my broom, slam it against the hard, cold mud and kick off in a hurry. 


It lost me a couple of seconds. A couple of precious seconds that usually won me the Quaffle with ease. 


This time I could see the green from the corner of my eye alongside me. I couldn’t usually see that. They were usually behind me. 


Neck and neck. 


I felt a stab of nerves as I flattened myself against my broom, willing it to go faster.
This didn’t usually happen. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. 


It reached the peak of it’s climb - the Quaffle. I watched it fall towards us as if in slow motion. 


It took under a second, in reality. We were speeding towards it. Another half second and I might have pulled ahead. 


But I didn’t. Neck and neck… only Dunkirk’s arm were longer than mine. 


He didn’t catch it - not to sound arrogant but he probably wasn’t expecting this. I always got the Quaffle first. If nothing else was written in stone in a Quidditch match - that was for me. 


He wasn’t expecting it so he didn’t catch it - just swung up an arm that was definitely thicker than my neck and batted it sideways towards his team. 


It was with a sinking feeling that I spun around to follow. 


That was the second time that something in a Quidditch match hadn’t gone as planned because of a certain someone. My Quidditch Buddy. It shouldn’t be that way. 


And the last time he’d captured my attention I’d stood still enough to be thrown from my broomstick. 


It wasn’t useful having these useless connections made in my mind as I strained to catch up to the Quaffle. 


Then I saw something I shouldn’t have. A stationary blue shape. 


Stationary


I snapped my head in their direction. Blakely. Londy. Oz. Simpson. Benjy and Sammy too. All of them momentarily halted just gawking. Only for a couple of seconds, but it was a couple of seconds too long. 


“Don’t just sit there!” I screeched, still in pursuit of the Quaffle, “Do something!” 


I thought I could reach it in time to regain possession. To make up for my mistake. But it didn’t happen that way. 


I drew up beside them just as they were about to throw. I had time. I could do it… 


SLAM. 


An elbow to the face as he drew his arm back to throw sent my head reeling in pain and it was all I could do to hold onto my broom. 


The adrenaline and the need to keep playing made me open my streaming eyes and try to shake the dizziness from my skull. Something hot, fluid and metallic-tasting filled my mouth. 


Blood. 


I couldn’t pretend I didn’t hear the collective intake of breath from the crowd, but I could put it behind me. 


I spat out a mouthful of blood (in a very feminine way…no, that’s not possible) and wiped my mouth with my sleeve. 


I didn’t know his name, the Slytherin chaser that had elbowed me, but evidently he knew me. After lobbing the ball on he’d turned back to leer at me. “Distracted, McKinnon?” He asked, idly, with a pointed glance towards the Gryffindor stand. 


I was too pumped up, too ready to get back into play to respond with more than a withering glare, but the twisting sensation in my gut would take longer to fade. 


They say a good start is important. 


Perhaps I should have listened. 




** 




“I’m so sorry.” My voice was muffled because my face was comfortable resting on my hands. 


“Deb, it’s not your f -” Oz’s voice was a lot calmer that I’d expected. I wonder if he’d slipped himself one of Madam Pomfrey’s potions on the sly… 


“Don‘t. I’m so, so sorry.” I repeated. I felt awful. This wasn’t helping but at least I was reminding them how absolutely awful I felt. 


“No one blames you,” The pain in Sammy’s voice just made it a hundred times worse. 


We were in the hospital wing again. Yep. I know. Tradition, it seemed, would be upheld. When Ravenclaw played Slytherin, we would end up in the hospital wing. 


Only this time it wasn’t me injured. Hallelujah for that, right? 


Expect maybe I’d have felt a little better if it was. 


I ignored their comforting. For God’s sake, it’s not like it meant anything. Sammy was drugged up on around sixty-three different potions to reduce the pain from his shattered skull, and even that wasn’t working. I could still hear how much it hurt him. 


I blame me,” I told him. 


It was true. 


It was all my fault. 


How, you say? 


Item number one: I’d fucked up the start. I wasn’t paying attention, so I couldn’t do my job. I was always the first to reach the Quaffle. I hadn’t made it. 


Item number two: I’d forgotten to be careful when approaching a Slytherin player and allowed myself to be smacked in the face. I should have remembered how scary it was to see your team mate playing on with a face full of blood and tears for the first time. Of course Sammy and Benjy would be horrified. 


Item number three: I hadn’t played with Sammy and Benjy. I mean, of course I literally had. I’d been there, they’d been there, we’d been attempting to play as a team. And after all the coaching and training, it ought to have worked. But it didn’t. Because, sure I’d been training them. But I hadn’t been training myself to play with them. I went along playing as I would have with Freddie and Ro. Of course that wouldn’t work. As well as Benjy and Sammy had come along, they didn’t have the strength and confidence of Freddie and Ro, and I hadn’t played with them for three years straight. Our team work obviously lacked the seamless way in which I’d played with my brother and Ro, and I hadn’t accounted for that where I should have. 


All my fault. 


“Debbie, honestly I’m fine.” Sammy didn’t give up. The poor sod hated it when peace was disrupted. I would have been grateful if I couldn’t hear how much he was hurting. 


Luckily Londy could hear it too, “Sammy, stop talking.” She said. 


His mouth shut with a click of his teeth. 


Sammy had been hit around the head with Vaisey, the Slytherin beater’s, metal bat. He’d been knocked from his broom, his fall fortunately cushioned by a dive from Oz. I’d been surprised Oz had been paying that much attention to the match in general. Usually his attention was on his search for the snitch along, pausing momentarily to scream at us all. 


Vaisey claimed he was aiming for the bludger behind Sammy. We were awarded a penalty. 


Which leads me onto item number four: I missed the penalty because I was shaking so much in a sickening mix of shock, nerves and anger. I thought I’d seen it all, these past four years. But the sound of Sammy’s head… 


I lifted my head from my arms, where they were resting against the side of Sammy’s bed. Oz was pacing at the foot of the bed. Londy was chewing on her thumbnail on the other side. Blakely, in all his blood-splattered glory (from having rough fingernails raked down his face and neck) was next to her looking more glum than usual, his feet resting on Sammy’s bed. Simpson was to my right. Benjy was… 


“Benjy?” I looked for his pale and slightly green-tinged face. 


“Hhmunh.” It was a hoarse grunt. He was still hunched over a sick bowl. I couldn’t bring myself to look if it had been cleared out since his last spewing session. 


Benjy hadn’t taken well to seeing his mate with his skull in pieces. Even now that Sammy was all bound up and on the mend he didn’t dare loosen his grip on the bowl. 


I flopped back down onto my arms with a groan. 


All. My. Fault. 


“You guys don’t have to stay,” Sammy said, after a minutes more grieving over our lost match, “Honestly. You should go back to the common room, everyone will be waiting there for you.” 


“To commiserate,” Londy said, sombrely. 


“They won’t care that we lost,” Sammy shook his head at our snorts of disagreement, “No, really. Believe me, me and Ben have been there for the last few years -” 


“We’ve only lost two matches in the last three years,” I heard Oz say, trying at least not to sound too irritable. I could hear that he blamed himself for our last loss - against Gryffindor last year - as much as I blamed myself for this one. 


“But still, I know that I wouldn’t have blamed you for losing,” Sammy carried on, regardless, “They’ll just be there to support and… well, I think we played well…” 


“You did,” I heard the uncertainty in his voice and wanted to assure him that he and Benjy had done amazingly well for a first match, “Don’t think… don’t think that because we lost you didn’t do really well, both of you,” I looked at Benjy too, “You two should be proud of yourselves.” 


Benjy managed a weak, sickly smile and Sammy did manage to look faintly proud through his bandages. 


“Still, you should go,” He said, “You don’t all need to be here, it’s not the nicest of places. Go,” 


Londy sighed, “I suppose we should go and spread the news that you’re alive,” 


“And that we all are, too,” Blakely added, “I think half the house probably expect Oz to have topped himself…” 


Oz didn’t acknowledge that comment. I expect he was concentrating fully on not letting a suicidal expression cross his face. 


“We’ll tell them how tough and manly you’ve been throughout your recovery, Sammy,” Londy grinned, standing up and stretching, “You’ll have girls queuing up for you -” 


“Londy he’s thirteen,” I said, still in my face-down position. 


“I was just warning him,” She pulled an innocent face as I dragged my face up from my arms. “Come on,” She slipped a hand through the crook of Oz’s arm - his hands were thrust deep into his pockets - and guided him towards the exit, “Sammy needs to rest if he’s going to woo the third years of Hogwarts anytime soon with his thrilling tales of near death…” 


Blakely snorted and he, Benjy and Simpson got up to follow. 


“Don’t pretend you’ve never used stories like that Leon,” I heard Londy say loftily to Blakely as she left the room, “Do you know how many girls I’ve had come up to me for confirmation of your brave and noble Quidditch exploits? Told them all it was absolute bullshit of course…” 


“Deb? You can go too,” Sammy said, tentatively, “You don’t have to stay here…” 


I sat back and considered the idea of having to go back to the common room and have everyone giving their commiserations, as Londy had put it. Knowing that it was my fault. 


“Do you mind if I stay here?” I asked him, “Just for a little bit, you know… until it’s all died down?” 


“Are you going to keep telling me how it’s all your fault?” 


“Um. No?” I smiled at the mock-stern expression on his thirteen year-old face, “Promise.” 


“Ok. You can stay,” He settled back against his pillows, “But I might not be much company… these potions are making me pretty drowsy…” He yawned widely. 


“That’s just fine Sammy,” I said, quietly, leaning my chair back on two legs against the wall. Peace and quiet, that was alright by me. 


He took me at my word and before more than a couple of minutes had passed his eyelids had fluttered and closed. 


I wondered what the time was. It was getting pretty dark - the room was lit only by the candle-lit lanterns and wall sconces with a yellowy glow. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be long till I was kicked out and had to face the masses in the common room anyway. I wondered if they’d blame me outwardly, or if they’d assure me I did great and then slag me off behind my back. 


Maybe I could go to the Gryffindor common room. Lily wouldn’t blame me - she’d probably forgotten the outcome of the match already. But if I saw Lily I’d have to see James… and my Quidditch buddy… both of whom had a bit more expertise in that area than Lillers and would know it was my fault but probably wouldn’t want to say it to my face and… 


Eurgh. Maybe I should fake an injury and stay here overnight. If only Pomfrey hadn’t healed my split lip with ease earlier. Could have claimed an infection or something… 


“Being a very devoted friend there, McKinnon,” 


The voice made me jump out of my skin and nearly tipped me back off my chair. Sammy was unaffected, snoring gently and constantly at my side. 


I peered around the curtain, sectioning him off from the next bed, and saw the owner of the voice. “Dunkirk. What brings you here?” I said, smoothly, as if it didn’t make me burn with anger and shame that the tosser had beaten me to the Quaffle at the beginning of the match. 


It was pretty obvious what had brought him in there, to be honest, with a bound up arm and ribs. 


He waved it off with his good arm, “Nothing but a minor irritation. Goes by the names of Leon Blakely, I believe,” 


I smiled, vaguely recalling a beautifully-placed bludger by Blakely and a sickening crunch of breaking bone, “Irritation enough for you to spend the night in the hospital wing,” I observed. 


His sneer dropped for a second, “Multiple complex fractures,” He said, shortly, “Doesn’t bother me but the idiot of a woman insists -” 


“I expect you’re missing out on quite a party,” I said, thinking it might be best to acknowledge the defeat so that he didn’t think I was hugely affected by it. I hoped he hadn’t heard my moaning and frequent apologies. “Tell me, when was the last time that Slytherin beat a decent team?” 


“Not sure I’d call your current team ‘decent’ by any means,” Dunkirk shot back, “It’s never a good sign when you find yourself on babysitting duty after the game,” He raised an eyebrow in the direction of Sammy’s snores. 


Again I felt that odd protective feeling over Sammy and Benjy - my protégés. The juniors. 


“Just looking out for a friend. Shame none of your team mates find you bearable enough to keep company, really.” I said, airily. 


Dunkirk gave a sinister laugh, “There are certain matters that are being dealt with tonight. They have my permission.” 


His menacing stare and the lack of real humour in his laugh left me cold, but I had to keep up my front. 


“That matters of Slytherins don’t concern me,” I said, with a slightly snobbish air. I got up, ready to leave now that Sammy was fast asleep. For a moment I worried about leaving the defenceless thirteen year old alone with a seventeen year old Slytherin, but of course Dunkirk was as incapacitated as Sammy. 


“Even after today?” His words stopped me in the doorway. 


Today? What was that meant to mean? Because they beat us? 


I turned around, wary but questioning. 


He laughed again in that sinister way, “You think no one saw it, McKinnon? The precious little moment between you and a certain blood traitor that had you so distracted?” 


Sirius


I felt cold. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 


“Bullshit.” Dunkirk sneered, “And even if anyone did miss that, I’m sure the way he had to be physically restrained after Bass accidentally elbowed you was noted.” 


Ah.


I’d missed that part. 


I stared at Dunkirk; was he bluffing? What did it matter anyway… 


“So? He didn’t do anything,” I said, hastily, “It’s me who -” 


“Don’t flatter yourself, McKinnon, it’s got nothing to do with you. You’re so off our radar it’s not even funny. Until you mix yourself into circles that Mudbloods shouldn’t, anyway…” 


Mix myself into circles I shouldn’t? As in, Sirius? But I’d always been friends with him… 


And they’ve always been out to get him. And you, A little voice in my head reminded me. 


A prickling shiver ran down my spine. It was one of those moments. The ones where you just know. Sure, I’ve been told on numerous occasions that I’m not perceptive at this sort of thing. But it was Sirius. I just knew. 


“Where is he?” 


Dunkirk shrugged with a smirk, “How should I know where any Gryffindor scum are?” 


“Where are your team mates?” 


“Delivering a message.” 


“Where is he?” I repeated, fighting the shake in my voice. 


Dunkirk’s face was twisted into a smug sneer. “You really don’t want to get involved, McKinnon. Adding a mudblood to the mix isn‘t going to do anyone any favours.” 


Was this another thing to add to the growing list of things that were my fault? 


What exactly was going on here? 


I repressed the urge to blurt out my questions. I wouldn’t dignify the prick with that.
I just left. With about as much calmness as I could muster up. I wouldn’t let him see that I was panicked. 


It wasn’t until I reached the now-deserted Entrance Hall that I even allowed myself to breathe. 


Then I could panic. 


Shit. 


What was going on? 


The first thing I grasped at, foolishly hopefully, was the possibility that Dunkirk was bluffing. 


Slytherins don’t bluff. 


Delivering a message’. 


Shit. 


Any message passed between Sirius and the Slytherin Quidditch team wasn’t going to be some kind of a friendly chat. 


I couldn’t stop vivid memories of any past friendly chats making themselves very prominent in my mind. 


The intimidating half circle of them surrounding him at the train station in the summer. 


Two months worth of detention after attacking Avery the last time he knocked me off my broom. 


Avery and his two minions on the floor after the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff match last year… 


My fault. A lot of it. 


This list wasn’t about to stop growing any time soon. 


Another memory, this one vague and a little bit odd flashed through my mind. 


“- Some of these people you’ve got doing your dirty work for you… Let’s just say you don’t want to be noticed. And this particular person will get you noticed. Noticed by the people that won’t really approve of his associating with you.” 


“What are you talking about? Who are you talking about? Is this about my brother? What have you done? Leave him out of it, he -”
 


“We’re not concerned about the pathetic way you rely on your Mudblood brother, McKinnon.” Avery sneered, “We have bigger things to worry about than the affairs of lower life forms…” 


“We?” 


“So he hasn’t told you. Hasn’t even warned you yet. That’s… interesting.” 


“Who? Who hasn’t told me what?”…
 


The reason Sirius had attacked Avery and the two minions after the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff match last year. The reason Avery had been harassing me in the first place. 


His words hadn’t made sense to me then. 


So stupid


It was obvious. 


Sirius Sodding Black. 


My feet were moving almost before I came to the conclusion to do so. 


I had no idea where I was going. Looking, I suppose. Not really thinking straight, just looking. 


My fault. Whatever ‘message’ they were delivering was my fault. 


‘Some of the people you’ve got doing your dirty work for you’. 


Referring to Sirius’ not so even temper - and tendency to do what I couldn’t when it came to paying back the Slytherins. 


I was running down various corridors - the dungeons, the first floor, the second floor. I must have looked more than a little insane but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was preoccupied. 


‘Noticed by the people that won’t really approve of his associating with you’. That wasn’t so clear. A number of people wouldn’t approve with Sirius hanging around with someone of my status. Every single Slytherin. Every single pureblood. His family. But he’d removed himself from them when he’d run away. Before that, really. He’d removed himself from them by getting sorted into Gryffindor in the first place. 


Had it been as much of an escape as everyone thought? 


Then the chilling part. 


‘So he hasn’t told you. Hasn’t even warned you yet. That’s… interesting.’ 

Told me? Warned me? What? That he was likely to be - what, punished? - for even being around me? 


It seemed ridiculous. Surely. 


Surely I was being stupid? 


Oh God. Oh God, what if something awful was happening? What if - 


After searching corridor after corridor with only the sound of my own quickly pattering footsteps, even the low sound of voices made me jump out of my skin and skid to a stop. 


The voices came from the Charms classroom on the corner of the corridor. I could see the door slightly ajar with the silvery glow that must have come from a lighted wand just spilling out. 


My heart jumped up into my throat. This must be them. 


Sirius. 


What in the name of hell was I supposed to do now? 


I was so wound up I was just about ready to hurtle in there and poke whichever Slytherin thug I came in to contact with first in the eye with my wand. But before I could embark on this heroic (read: foolish) quest, I overheard a few clearer words. 


“- nice try Reg. I don’t know why they thought it’d make a difference sending you but you can tell your little buddies it didn’t work.” 


“For the last time, this isn’t just a school thing. Do you not understand -” I recognised the lower, more clipped voice of Sirius’ brother. 


“No, mate, I don’t. I don’t understand how you’ve fallen for this shit.” 


“This ‘shit’ is going to get a whole lot worse if you don’t take it from me. You think they’re going to stop? You think they’re going to just accept it? Sirius, once they make up their minds it’s not -” 


“I don’t care. I’m out. They can do all they want, I’m not getting involved. I’m out and I’ve been done with this for years -” 


“They can be persuasive.” 


There was a beat of silence. 


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sirius sounded guarded. 


Another pause. 


“You know who they’ll threaten if you don’t comply.” 


“James can look after himself -” 


“Potter?” Regulus laughed briefly and humourlessly, “Don’t kid yourself. You know who they’ll threaten. Especially after today.” 


Oh, that didn’t sound good. 


Bugger. 


“I’ll deal with it.” Sirius sounded like his teeth were gritted. 


“You can’t protect her forever -” 


“I can try.” 


There was a long period of silence. I could only imagine what was going on in that room and with my overactive imagination who only knew what conclusion I’d come to. At the moment I was sure that, judging by Sirius’ murderous tone of voice, he’d swiftly and silently clubbed his brother over the head with a chair. 


Told you it’d be ridiculous. 


“I‘m going. You should too.” Sirius spoke up, sounding a lot clearer. “You don’t want to be hanging around up here near our common room at this time. Tell them you tried. And it didn’t work.” I could hear his footsteps coming towards the door and swore under my breath. Fuck. Fuckity-fuck. I scanned the hall for an open door or somewhere to slip into and hide. Nothing within reach. I back-pedalled hastily as if that was going to help and - 


Sirius stopped dead upon passing through the doorway. His eyes locked on to mine and I could tell by the way that his face tightened that he was gritting his teeth. 


“Uh… oh! There you are!” I exclaimed loudly. In the face of awkwardness, as usual, my brain buggered off and I was left to my own devices. Resulting in some very loud and over the top acting. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere…” 


Oh Merlin. I sounded like a fan girl. Holy crap I sounded like one of The Slags. 


Sirius narrowed his eyes, utterly unconvinced, “And here I am.” 


“I know, what a coincidence,” Lord help me, I was beaming. 


Regulus was scrutinizing me over his brothers shoulder, but he didn’t say anything. I attempted a weak smile. 


“Well played today,” I felt I had to fill the silence. It was probably not the most intelligent thing to say to someone who had, moments before, been indirectly threatening me, but I went with it. 


“Thank you. You too.” He replied, coldly but politely. 


“Oh, you don’t have to lie,” My mouth was still chatting shit. Why in hell was it still talking? “It was dreadful.” 


I thought I saw the corner of his mouth twitch, but it was hard to tell in the dim light. I was probably wrong. Regulus was a whole lot better at the mask thing than Sirius. 


“Night Reg,” Sirius was proving me right by visibly grinding his teeth together. 


With a curt nod and not another word, Regulus turned on his heel and strode down the corridor. 


He was about ten paces away when Sirius exhaled shortly and turned around. “Wait -” 


“She was never here.” Regulus said over his shoulder, before rounding the corner. 


I listened to his footsteps fading as I watched Sirius noticeably relax. After a long enough silence to become awkward (huge surprise there) he looked up at me. It wasn’t an impressed look. 


“I’m really sorry,” I blurted out, “I honestly didn’t mean to listen in, it was none of my business at all but it was just that Dunkirk… and then I worried… and then -” 


“Dunkirk?” Sirius expression darkened. I hadn’t thought it could get any less impressed but it did. 


“Yeah. In the… he said…” I racked my brains for what Dunkirk had actually said. Why had I leapt to the stupid conclusion that they would sent round a gang to ‘deliver’ their message? Exactly as the prick had bloody wanted. Wonderful. “Never mind.” I shook my head, “I got the wrong… I thought you were in trouble. Well. More trouble.” I could feel my face heating up. 


“I’m not in any trouble.” 


I raised an eyebrow. That wasn’t what it sounded like. 


“I’m not.” Sirius insisted, “It’s not… I don’t want to talk about it. It was just a simple request and a simple refusal.” 


Request for what? He very firmly wasn’t going to answer that, so I took a different tack. “And simple threats.” I pointed out. 


“Empty threats.” He didn’t sound like he fully believed it himself, but he was stubborn. “Don’t worry about it.” 


“Sirius -” 


“I said don’t worry about it.” He said, firmly, “You shouldn’t have even come up here -” 


“I was worried about you.” 


“Well you shouldn’t be.” Another closed answer. 


“Well I… fine. I just wanted to see if you were ok. And you are. So…” I took a further step back which took me into a wall. I hoped he didn’t notice. 


He didn’t say anything. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. But he hadn’t been talking to me for the past… well, I couldn’t remember the last time he’d freely volunteered any kind if personal information about himself just because he could. Just because we were friends. Just because he cared. 


“Why won’t you talk to me?” I just came out with it. 


“I don’t want to talk about this -” Again, that final kind of tone to his voice. Like that was the end of it. 


Well he’d never played by the rules, so why the hell should I? 


“You don’t talk to me about anything.” It was as if I couldn’t stop now I’d started. 


“We talk. We talk every day -” 


“About Quidditch.” 


“Yeah?” He was looking at me like I was insane. Hell. Was I? Was I overreacting about this? 


Only Quidditch.” I said. 


“I like Quidditch.” He sounded defensive. At least he didn’t sound bewildered any more. That meant he knew what I was talking about. He noticed it too. 


“I just… we used to talk about other stuff.” It sounded even lamer put into words. 


“We used to do a lot of stuff,” His eyes bored into mine. I felt very exposed. “Things change.” 


There’s not really a lot you can answer to that. But anything would be better than what I came up with, which was nothing. I couldn’t say anything but I could feel my face falling. I had to look away from his gaze but I couldn’t wipe the expression from my face and I couldn’t stop myself looking back up after a few long seconds in silence. 


He closed his eyes briefly. Great. Couldn’t even look at me. 


“I don’t know what you want from me.” His voice was lower and rougher than before. 


I just wanted the old Sirius back, I realised. The Sirius that made me laugh, that made me happy, that made me trust him. But that too would come with it’s difficulties, in the form of the feelings I’d locked away and banished. Maybe the old Sirius was they key that would let them all out again. 


Maybe this was for the best. 


But it didn’t mean I liked it. 


“You’re just… not you. Anymore.” 


“Well, like I said, things change.” His tone was accusatory. 


What had I done? He was the one that put the stupid ultimatum on everything. He was the one that had put words in my mouth with his ‘all or nothing’ crap. He was the one that gave up, not me. 


Not that I cared. Much. 


“Fine. Ok. Fine.” Wonderful. Throughout this horrible conversation, of which I would undoubtedly look back on and cringe, I had achieved nothing. Essentially. Really, just wonderful. 


I turned to walk away, but paused. “Just… just tell me. Is it my fault?” I had to know. He was in trouble and from what I’d heard… Well, it didn’t sound entirely unrelated to me. That was the part that had made me sick on the way up here. The way that he could have been in danger and it could have been my fault. False alarm or not, it still sounded like… well. This ‘she’ they spoke about. I didn’t know who else it could be. 


For a long moment I thought he might not answer. When he did it sounded strained, “Why do you care?” 


“Because I do. Care about you.” I said, with less difficulty than I’d anticipated. “We’ve…” We’ve been through a lot together. I couldn’t quite form those words. “We’ve been friends for a long time.” 


Friends. I was starting to dislike hearing this word. 


He was looking anywhere and everywhere but at me. I didn’t know what that meant. It seemed like he might be about to say something. Something more than what he actually said. “Ok.” 


“You didn’t answer my question.” I accused. I wasn’t fooled. “Is it my fault?” 


“This… isn’t your fault.” He said, slowly. I thought that was it. But he carried on. “It’s kind of my fault. For not… thinking things through. For agreeing to be friends again.” 


That hurt. 


“You could have refused.” 


“Not really. I was never going to say no, was I.” It wasn’t a question. It made me feel a bit odd. 


“So it is my fault.” I deduced. 


He let out a large breath. “Who even knows? Things are so fucked up right now that I couldn’t pin the blame for anything on anyone.” 


I got the feeling he wasn’t talking about this single incident anymore. And if he was referring to the whole big mess between us then I had to agree. Things all got a bit blurred there. The lines weren’t so clear as they’d seemed when I’d thought it was alright to hate him. 


“I’m sorry. If it means anything.” I offered, pathetically. 


“Yeah, me too.” It didn’t. Mean anything, I mean. 


It was just like James had said. If you don’t make sure you do everything right as you go along you’ll end up crashing. We’d started off doing it right. From the time we first got together. Alright, it wasn’t perfect - we shouldn’t have kept it from everyone - but we were heading in the right direction. We knew where we were and what we were doing. We weren’t heading for that crash. 


Then, with the Marlene thing, things changed. Something small - something so small and inconsequential, looking back - had thrown us off just that little bit. Something so trivial that, ordinarily, we should have been able to adjust, to get back on track and get back in control. 


But we hadn’t. We hadn’t made sure we were doing everything right - me, then him, then me, then… we hadn’t checked in. We hadn’t sorted it and so since then we’d been spiralling more and more out of control, affected by more and more tiny little objects that we should have easily been able to swerve and so now we were heading straight for it. 


The end. The end of everything between us. The crash. 


And at this point, it was getting harder and harder to avoid. 


With a start, I realised. 


I realised that I didn’t want that. I didn’t want the end. Alright, I had no firm idea of what I did actually want, but I knew what I couldn’t stand. And that was having no Sirius in my life. 


We could still avoid the crash. There was always a way to avoid the crash. Hadn’t I had that drilled into me for the past four years, roughly three times a week? No matter what situation you find yourself in - no matter how dangerous, scary or hopeless it seems - there’s always something you can do to rectify it. Right up until the very end. 


Sometimes it takes that long, up until the very end. Sometimes you don’t realise until you’re so close to crashing that you can see the individual blades of grass before your eyes. Sometimes that’s what it takes to make it blindingly obvious what you could have done, what you should have done and what you still can do. 


But this is where it differs from Quidditch. 


In Quidditch there’s no way of addressing those initial mistakes you’ve made. In real life, there is. 


I knew what I had to do. 


Something I’d known for a long time now, but I’d been forcing so much on myself, making myself busy, that I’d been convinced I’d had no time. 


I’d convinced myself that I’d forgotten about it. 


If you don’t make sure you’re doing everything right as you go along, you’ll end up crashing. 


Thank you, James Potter, but I can do one better than that. 


It was glaringly obvious.


There was some summertime correspondence I had to catch up on. 


I was going to read those letters. 















A.N. Heyy, very quick note as I'm so, so busy. I'm sorry it's been too long but I will NOTTT be abandoning this story or my others. So sorry! But thanks so much for all the support and reviews I've had, it's so encouraging getting me through where I think I've gotten stuck in the story!

I hope you enjoyed this, please let me know what you think!

The match
Benjy's slightly less annoying and Sammy's a sweetie
They lost a match for the first time in my story
Sirius recieving threats... not sure if that came across clearly enough but there'll be more on it
A 'nice' chat
And she's finally doing something about it

Thanks again and please leave a review!

Rx.


Chapter 7: Still Tangled In Yesterday
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


 

Crap.
 

Crap-crap-crap-crap, crap-crap-crap-crap…

 



 

Crap.

 

“Quinn.” I strode straight across the middle of the Great Hall to the Hufflepuff table. The direct route. Couldn’t risk looking elsewhere. Couldn’t risk any sympathetic or bitter looks from the Ravenclaw table after my pitiful Quidditch performance or any… crap… from the Gryffin-crap table, from…crap.

 

Crap.

 

Crap would be a good name to substitute for his, I reckon. He’s always hated his poncey name. Crap was a lot more punchy. Crap Black. Short and sweet.

 

Merlin’s armpit, I just referred to a name describing poo as sweet.

 

Crap.
 


“What’s up… Woah.” Ray started to respond in his usual casual manner before actually copping a look at me and almost spitting out a mouthful of breakfast. “Fucking hell, Deb. Have you actually slept at all?”

 

“What?” I asked, distracted momentarily by the question, “Oh. No, actually. But -”

 

“You look like hell.”
 


He was both helpful and charming, my mate.

 

“Yes, well -”

 

“And you haven’t even changed?” He looked critically at my attire. I was still wearing the shorts and tee I always wore underneath my Quidditch robes. Even my trainers. Too right I hadn’t bloody slept.

 

No.” My teeth were gritted in an attempt to retain my patience. I did not operate well with zero sleep even without added stressors.

 

And these stressors… wow.

 

I swallowed. “Have you got a minute?”

 

I could sense people staring, and I wished I’d had the bright idea to catch him before he reached the Great Hall. I mean, I’d been bloody awake all morning. All night. Could have just waited outside for him.

 

Moron.

 

I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a goblet. I could pretend it only looked hideous because of the way the curved surface of the cup warped it so that my forehead looked enormous and the rest of my face was scrunched up into about a single inch square. But it would be a lie. Even in that odd, distorted reflection I could see my chewed up lips and the heavy rings around my eyes.

 

Pretty.

 

“Ok.” Ray seemed to judge that this was a serious situation. About fucking time. He nodded once and abandoned his plate of bacon, following me as I made a quick escape from all the beady eyes in the Great Hall.

 

I was heading out towards the oak doors of the Great Hall, but before I’d crossed the stone floor Ray grabbed my wrist and pulled me to a stop.

 

“We’re not going outside? Deb, it’s November. It’s freezing and you’re…” He gestured to my not-so-substantial attire, “You’re wearing that.”

 

I hadn’t even considered it. I could hear the wind howling now, if I stopped and listened. I’d just wanted to get out of the castle, somewhere where people wouldn’t be looking at me, looking like this. Somewhere where I wouldn’t run into him -

 

My face must have looked quite pathetic as I groped for an answer, because he took pity on me and steered me by the shoulders towards the stairs.

 

“No,” I shook my head as we approached the foot of the stairs, “No, I don’t want to go upstairs. I don’t want to go anywhere near…”

 

Anywhere near where he might go. I trailed off because it sounded ridiculous.

 

“We’re not going upstairs.” Ray seemed to understand where I was headed with my worries, even thought I hadn’t finished the sentence. He led me to the side of the marble staircase, and gestured down the corridor towards the kitchen.

 

“I’m not hungry.” I protested.
 


“We’re not going to the kitchen.” He walked me past the painting of the bowl of fruit without sparing a glance and down a staircase. “We’re going to my common room.”

 

I stopped and looked up at him, two steps behind me. “Your common room is in the dungeons?”

 

“Not really.” He smiled his secret-smile, and for a second I realised that I hadn’t seen it in a while. I’d been so busy with Quidditch that I hadn’t spent a lot of time with him, and the time I had spent I’d been thoroughly distracted with the pressure of coaching Benjy and Sammy. “It’s underground, yeah. But it’s not like the dungeons. Go on.” He put a hand on my back, ushering me to carry on down the staircase.

 

“I never knew that.” I said my thoughts aloud.

 

“No?” Even though I couldn’t see his face I could hear the smile in his voice.

 

“I never thought about it.”

 

“No one ever does.” He said, factually.

 

I thought about it. That was odd. I knew where the Gryffindor common room was. Had Lily shown me, all those years ago? Or had I known anyway? And I knew where the Slytherin common room was. How did I know that? And why didn’t I know where the Hufflepuff one was?

 

“Here.” We reached a small landing, just a flat break between two staircases, with just one painting; a faded still-life image of bread, cheese and a bottle of wine set on a golden cloth. I stood aside, waiting for him to speak the password.

 

Without a word from Ray, the painting slid sideways, revealing a rounded doorway leading to a room filled with a warm light and scattered chatter.

 

“How did you do that?” I asked. “You don’t have a password?” I knew that both Gryffindor and Slytherin common rooms were accessed using a password. I thought it was just Ravenclaw that decided to make life difficult for us supposed intellectuals.

 

“Nope.”

 

“Riddle?”

 

“Definitely not.”

 

“Then what, it can just tell? It’s just bread and cheese! There’s no one to see who you are -”

 

The secret-smile was back. It often appeared when he knew something I didn’t. “Why should it matter who you are?”

 

I frowned. “So anyone can just go in?”

 

The smile broadened. He seemed to find it amusing how much this perplexed me. “Want to give it a go?”

 

I was still staring from the painting to the doorway as if it were about to reject me.

 

“Get in there, idiot.” He appeared to tire of my suspicions, planted his hands on my shoulders and firmly steered me through the doorway.

 

It didn’t even zap me or anything.
 


Not that I’d been expecting that.

 

Much.
 


“Anyone could get in here.” I said, still attempting to make him understand my thinking.

 

“Probably.” He wasn’t fazed by this.

 

“But then they could…”

 

“Could what?” He grinned.

 

“I don’t know. Attack or something.” I mumbled.

 

That did make him laugh. “Unlikely. But possible. Forgive me if I don’t write to Dumbledore and complain immediately.”
 


“It could happen!” I insisted.

 

“Deb. No one’s going to attack a Hufflepuff. We’re fine -”

 

Before I could even get my head around his unconcerned, straight-forward and honest answer, he folded his arms and confronted me. “- So what the hell has happened to you?”

 

I swallowed and looked over his shoulder at the room for the first time. It was nice, I thought. Reminded me a little of the Gryffindor common room but less… something. And more… something. Not that the Gryffindor common room was at all grand, but this seemed less grand, despite the golden yellow hue to the walls and hangings. And not that the Gryffindor was unwelcoming or uncomfortable but this seemed more welcoming and comfortable. And it was definitely different to our common room. I’d always thought ours was a little poncey, with it’s high windows; grand, high-backed chairs and mahogany desks. This didn’t seem to have any work space at all - suddenly I couldn’t blame Ray for never getting any homework in on time - and no windows. Yet it had a warm, sunny glow to it, and -

 

“You have bean bags?” I exclaimed, darting past him and flopping onto a particularly comfy-looking, squishy bean bag that at once moulded to my shape.

 

“Yeah…” Again he looked mildly amused but I couldn’t for a second kid myself that he was fooled by my distraction. “I’m guessing you don’t.”

 

“This is so unfair!” I looked around from my seat. All the armchairs and sofa’s looked particularly comfortable as well. Less square and elegant than ours. And the room lacked our intricate, bronze spiral staircases leading up to the dormitories. I’d always thought that the metal contraptions, along with the stone statue of Ravenclaw herself, took away any relaxing atmosphere we could have hoped for. Instead it appeared that the Hufflepuff dormitories were further underground, down two sloping round tunnels on opposite sides of the circular room.

 

“Not really. You can come in here whenever you want. We’re not exclusive.” He waved away my pathetic diversion. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong? How’re you feeling after the match? How’s Gibbs?”

 

God. The match. It seemed days and days ago. Even though, since I hadn’t slept, it was basically the same day for me.

 

“Sammy?” I was surprised he knew. Then I remembered that Sammy had had his skull shattered in front of the entire school, not just his team mates. Wow, it’d be a while before he could forget about that one. “He’s alright. Had to stay overnight but I was with him till he fell asleep. Think he’ll be allowed back to class tomorrow so he won’t miss anything. Pretty bad luck, I thought. They should have matches on a Sunday, not Saturday. Then when people get injured at least they get the day off on the Monday -”

 

“Deb.”
 


I stopped talking crap. “You were the one that asked about Sammy.” I said, feebly.

 

“And if he’s ok I don’t really care about the details. What’s wrong with you?”

 

I wriggled around a bit in my bean bag until I was vaguely upright. This wasted a good few more seconds - it was difficult, alright, in those beanie contraptions - while Ray folded his arms, patiently. During my struggle a couple of people passed and mentioned their greetings to Ray, whilst conveniently ignoring the mental chick stuck in a bean bag in front of him.

 

He said a brief ‘hello’ to them but made no move to make conversation, as he probably normally would have.
 


“If you want to hang out with your friends, this isn’t that important.” I was putting it off alright. Sure, I knew I needed to talk to someone about this. And Ray was my best bet at some non-biased advice (cough - Lily Evans).

 

But it was… difficult.

 

“I’m fine.” Ray said, in a very no-nonsense manner. Another person waved to him as he went past.

 

“Mr Popular.” I observed cleverly.

 

“Debbie -” He began, even - dare I say - beginning to sound impatient, but was interrupted with kind of bad timing.

 

“Hey, Ray.” A short, pretty girl walked by and stopped to speak. “Rota’s are up. We’re patrolling tomorrow and Wednesday at eight.”

 

“Thanks, Gina.” His smile to her was warm but she seemed to clock at once that he was busy, and quite contentedly carried on with her friends. It then occurred to me what a complete arse I must look. Probably not good for his reputation.

 

Ray looked back down at me with raised eyebrows, waiting for me to enlighten him as to why I was here and acting more neurotic than usual.

 

“Deb -”

 

She was pretty.” I said in a bright, sing-song voice.

 

“Yeah, alright -” He rolled his eyes at my blatant delaying techniques.

 

“Oh, you think so too? Great, shall I find out if she’s single -”

 

“Sure. She’s pretty, you’re pretty, we’re all pretty. Look, what’s -”

 

“I wouldn’t call you ’pretty’.” I narrowed my eyes and cocked my head, analytically, “Too much facial hair. And, you know, peni… ah. Ow. Ok. Shutting up.” I was abruptly yanked up from the bean bag. I suppose I ought to be thankful. I’d never have made it out of the thing alone.
 


Ray then seemed to realise that we were in the middle of his common room, and that as Mr Popular, he probably would capture the attention of a fair few people by manhandling me, such as he was. So he let go. He still didn’t look annoyed at my idiotic behaviour. Tolerant prat. It made me kind of want to throw my pants around and make a scene.

 

I resisted.

 

“Ok, you wanted to talk to me.” He said, very clearly. It was almost as if he were talking to someone lacking in mental capacity. Rude. “We can do it here. Or we can go to my room. Don’t even both making a comment about that -” He added, before I could open my mouth and make more weak attempt to distract him. “- And I’m guessing if it’s about that parchment in your hand, you’ll want to be somewhere quieter.”

 

For a moment I could kid myself I’d forgotten I was even holding anything.

 

I glanced down at my hand, and unfurled it from where it was tightly clenching several rolls of parchment. The sheets were scrunched up in the middle now, where my hand had been clutching them, but fanning out at the ends. I wondered if they were still legible.

 

It didn’t really matter. The contents were now seared across the inside of my eyelids. I couldn’t forget it if I tried.

 

I must have looked truly pathetic when I looked back up at him, because he didn’t even take the piss anymore. Just gestured with one hand towards the boys dormitory tunnel and ushered me over with a hand against my back.

 

The walls were rounded and smooth to the touch. I trailed a hand along them as Ray’s touch guided me towards a circular wooden door, second from the end of the corridor. The wooden planks making up the door were shiny but worn, and upon closer inspection I could see hundreds of initials engraved upon each slat, and the space between them occupied by various messages from the many occupants that must have inhabited it.

 

Again I was struck by the homeliness of the Hufflepuff home. No one would ever think to engrave any sort of message on the mahogany doors of our dormitories. Or any of the furniture, for that matter.

 

I was tracing some of the letters with my finger, before I snapped out of another momentary daydream, and realised that Ray was just stood behind, watching me.

 

He caught my eye and smiled again, reaching over my shoulder to push the door open.

 

“Sit.” He suggested (or ordered), motioning to the bed closest to the door, which I assumed was his.

 

I obeyed.

 

“Now talk.” He added. When I remained mute he sat down at the head of the bed, opposite where I was perched on the end and spoke again. “Come on. What is it? It’s got to be something bad if you wanted to talk to me and then rambled on like an idiot about crap for half an hour. What’s that parchment?”

 

I’d been so sure I needed Ray - needed to show him, talk to him, listen to him - but it didn’t mean that I felt any less ridiculous for being here. I didn’t know what to say. He probably wasn’t even interested, I mean it’s not like it concerned him at all…

 

But it was Ray. He’d listen. He’d be interested. And he’d probably know what to do.

 

And I sure as hell didn’t.

 

I passed over the few sheets of parchment I’d been holding. We were on opposite sides of the bed so I just passed them into the middle and he picked them up. Even the duvet’s were gold, I noticed, with black detail.

 

“I don’t know what to do.” My voice was practically a whisper, even though I hadn’t intended it that way.

 

Ray didn’t give any sort of a reaction to show he’d heard me. I watched his eyes moving across the parchment, back and forth, as he read them.

 

The letters.

 

It had been so obvious, looking back, who they were from.

 

I’d essentially legged it away from Sirius after the awkward ‘sorry’ situation, back to my dorm. I knew where they were. I’d known all along, of course. It was just that I didn’t let myself think of it. Any time I should have or any time I might have though of it, I distracted myself. It wasn’t hard. This was NEWT year. And I had Benjy and Sammy on my plate. There were plenty of distractions.

 

But they were still there all along.

 

It was late, when I got back to my dorm. Fortunately this meant that the common room was mostly empty so I wasn’t waylaid by the commiserations and/or resentment from my house mates. I thought Londy was probably awake when I got up to the dorm, but her hangings were drawn. She didn’t want the false sympathy, either.

 

I tugged my trunk around from the foot of my bed and hauled it up onto the mattress, before drawing the hangings with a flick of my wand. Then it was dark, so I had to light my wand. Then my legs got tangled in the bed covers so I had to fight my way out. Then I got hot so I had to take off my sweatshirt. Then I sat there and wasted a bit more time, just looking at the trunk.

 

You can see a little why it took me all night.

 

After about a million more years of faffing, I had them out in a heap in front of me.

 

Add another couple of millennia to that and I’d sorted through the pile.

 

The ones with his handwriting on pretty much jumped out and beat me over the head with their obviousness. Of course it was his writing. I could practically picture his face as he’d scrawled it out, pressing hard on the parchment as he always did, so hard that it felt indented to the touch as I ran my fingertips along them. I could see his lips pursed, his forehead furrowed, his eyes…

 

Not that I wanted to. You know. See it. Or anything.

 

Just like how, back at the time, I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge that letters were from him. I hadn’t been able to even think of his name without wanting to curl up in the foetal position and weep like a freaking pansy in the summer, let alone consider that he’d write to me.

 

He’d hated me.

 

So I told myself, over and over and over and over. He wouldn’t write to me. Therefore they couldn’t possibly be from him.

 

What a bleeding idiot.

 

They weren’t dated or anything. The letters. It was Sirius, he wasn’t going to date letters or anything even slightly formal like that. Would have come in useful though, because I had no idea which order they came in.

 

The first one I picked up, with a pathetically shaking hand, probably wasn’t the first one he’d sent.

 

 
 

Please.


 

 

 

That was all it said.

 

That one bloody word made my breath catch in my chest as if I was about to start bawling or something.

 

Please.

 

Please what?

 

Before I could even think too much I picked up the next letter.

 

 

 

I’m sorry.
 
 

 


Another uninformative one, but another that felt like a punch in the gut.

 

He was sorry.

 

For what? For ruining stuff for Freddie? For us? For calling me a bitch?

 

Would it have made a difference at the time?

 

I couldn’t say. There was no way of knowing how I’d have reacted to this at the time because I wouldn’t have reacted to it because I wouldn’t have read it.

 

But did it make a difference now?

 

When I unfolded the next one I could see within a single second that it contained a whole lot more than one or two words. This both made me want to shut my eyes and throw it away, and scan it greedily for every word with some sort of meaning behind it.

 

 

 

Dee, it read.

I’m sorry. I was a bastard and you have every right to hate me for what I said. I know I only had that one chance to prove I was worth it, and I know that you gave me about ten extra chances along the way, so I really don’t have any right to ask for one more. But I have to. I’m sorry. I need you to at least listen to me. Because, like I said, I’d give you anything. Everything. I can’t write it down. I can’t put it on parchment. I need to talk to you. This is the last chance I’ll ever have to ask you for. I promise. Please.
 

 

 

“Literate, isn’t he,” Ray commented, light-heartedly, as he flicked through the one and two word scraps. Then he picked up the letter and stopped.

 

I watched his face intently as his eyes skitted from side to side, across the parchment. His face didn’t shift from it’s careful, casual expression. He obviously knew I was looking at him. You’d have thought he was reading over my charms essay for me, he looked that unruffled.

 

But it took him too long to finish.

 

“Deb,” He looked up at me, with something like confusion and disbelief. “What are you doing here?”

 

Whatever wonderful and wise advice I was expecting, that wasn’t it.

 

“I… what…” I opened and closed mouth a few times, staring right back at him with a similar expression. “I didn’t… I know it’s nothing to do with you and you’re probably sick of my problems but I… I needed to… I needed…”

 

I needed my friend. And that’s what I thought you were.
 

“That’s not what I meant,” He shook his head, still looking at me like I was two knuts short of a sickle. “What are you doing talking to me?”

 

I still wasn’t up to speed.

 

He let out a slight laugh, probably more in frustration that I was such a moron than anything else, and flapped the small wad of parchment at me.

 

“You read this, I presume?” He asked.

 

“Well yeah,” I said, wondering if he was the dim-witted one, “That’s why I need you -”

 

“Then you’re talking to the wrong guy.”

 

“I -”

 

“Deb, the poor bloke’s scribbled about twelve desperate one word pleas. He’s tried to get what’s in his head down on parchment which, believe me, isn’t easy for a guy. He’s obviously in lo -”

 

Don’t.” I screwed up my eyes, as if that was going to stop me hearing what I was hearing. The last person that had made that implication was Marlene. I couldn’t hear that.

 

“Ok. Sorry. But Deb, he’s…” Ray shrugged and looked down at the parchment. “I don’t really know what you’re waiting for.”

 

“I don’t know what to do.”

 

“If you’re worried about how he feels, don’t be. I think this speaks for itself -”

 

“That was, what… four, five months ago? Since then he’s… I didn’t write back. All he was asking for was a reply and I didn’t… he didn’t know I hadn’t opened them. He thought I just ignored… That’s why he hated me…”

 

“He doesn’t hate you.”

 

“No, but he…” I couldn’t finish that. I couldn’t say how he did feel. Because I didn’t have the faintest idea. He’d been giving away nothing of any substance for… well, months now.

 

“You don’t know. Because you haven’t asked.”

 

As if I was going to ask.
 

“I can’t… it’s not just that.” I shook my head, still reeling.

 

“Then what?”
 


“I don’t… I don’t know…” I wasn’t making sense even to my myself. Myself. I let out a strained laugh. “What about me?”

 

Surely that was an important one, right? Whatever the hell I felt?

 

Ray smiled at that too. “Well, I’m not the one who can answer that, am I?”

 

“Have a stab at it. You’d probably make a better guess than me.”

 

Not even kidding. He would.

 

“This is something you need to -”

 

“Oh please. ‘Something I need to work out for myself’? I can’t believe you went there.”

 

Ray wasn’t abashed. “Hey, I’m not having that responsibility on me. I tell you that you hate the guy, you’d believe it and never speak to him again. I say you still lo… erm, like him. You believe me again. You have far too much trust in me.”

 

“It’s your own fault for being right about everything.”

 

“It’s a burden.”

 

“Uh-huh.” I sighed and slumped forwards onto the bed, my chin resting on my hands, resting on Ray’s legs. “So that leaves me where?”

 

“Where do you think?”

 

I glared at him. “You’re really not telling me what you think?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Not even a hint? Please? I promise I won’t believe you straight off…”

 

He laughed. “Still no.”

 

I felt a surge of irritation with him, so familiar from over the summer, mixed with further annoyance that he was still right. I did have to work this out. And I would have just taken his word as true without thinking about it.

 

It was just so bloody infuriating. These were my sodding feelings, not his! Shouldn’t I be the first to know?

 

“Remind me why I came here again?”

 

“That was what I asked,” He pointed out. “Like I said, it’s not me you need to be talking to.”

 

“I know.” I concurred. “But really, how much progress would I have actually made? I could barely spit out two words to you. Let alone…”

 

“Are you scared? To talk to him?”

 

My instinct was to deny that firmly. To laugh. I wasn’t afraid of anything, of course…

 

In the same instant I realised that, for one, I actually did believe that I wasn’t afraid. And two, in fact I was.

 

“I guess I am.” I said, rolling my head sideways to lie on my cheek and stare across the room. “I’m scared that… that I won’t know what to say. That I’ve left it too long. That he still feels the same. That he doesn’t. That I still feel the same. That I don’t. I’m scared to even think about this whole huge mess, let alone talk about it.”

 

“There’ve definitely been way too many misunderstandings for two people.”

 

Misunderstandings. Well that was one way of putting it.

 

I rolled over again, so that I was lying on my back. “I have to do it, don’t I.”

 

“It’s that or leave it as it is.”

 

I thought of the constant state of stress I always seemed to be in lately. Never knowing how things stood. Being friends, enemies and something in between. But never anything more. Never knowing if it could be anything more.

 

“I need to talk to him.” I said, decisively. “I have to. I just need to know what… what could be. Right?”

 

I could hear the smile in Ray’s voice. “Right.”

 

“Then I can know. I have to talk to him to figure out… everything. Then I can be free to get past this or…”

 

“Or?” The smile in his voice broadened.

 

I craned my neck to glare at him. “Shut up.”

 

“Oh, don’t stop now. You were on a roll. Don’t let the brain cells slack off again -”

 

“Shut it, Quinn.”

 

He did as I asked. Briefly. It gave me enough time to take in one huge breath and feeling slightly proud of this streak of decisiveness before he ruined it again.

 

“So, what are you going to say?”

 

“Say?” I sat up. “What like… the words?”

 

“That’s the general idea. Speech, words… you know. Though feel free to express yourself through an interpretive dance -”

 

I ignored that. “I don’t… do people, like, think of that? When they’re having…”

 

“The Talk?” Ray grinned.

 

A talk.” I corrected. Then panicked again. “Well I don’t… what am I supposed to… shall I figure something out -”

 

Did people do that? Was that why everyone else’s lives seemed to flow so smoothly compared to mine? But how was I supposed to even remember what I planned to say? Rehearse? Write it down?

 

“I don’t think you’re quite the ‘planning it out’ type.” Ray shook his head.

 

He was right. I’d been overly proud that I’d even come to the conclusion to speak to him at all, for crying out loud. Let alone the content.

 

“So I just go in there and… I don’t know what to say, though! Maybe I should figure it out before I -” My words were becoming jumbled with anxiety as I over thought things. Planning definitely wasn’t my forte. This could only go horribly.

 

“Deb.” Ray shook his head, slightly more serious. “This is the guy that put up with your insanity for six months. And he was your friend for years before that. He knows you. I don’t think he’ll be expecting a prize-winning speech.”

 

“He won’t be expecting anything at all.” I practically wailed, “Because this is ridiculous! I shouldn’t bother. I’m five months too late. Let’s just leave it all -”

 

“Debbie.”

 

I shut up.

 

He raised his eyebrows. Right. I was being a twat, wasn’t I.

 

“What if he doesn’t want to talk to me?” I said, in a slightly smaller voice. “He’s had all term to talk to me and he hasn’t. Why should he -”

 

“Because he thinks you didn’t want him. He thinks you didn’t even care enough to reply. That’s going to hurt.”

 

“No…” I was struck by a sudden memory of Lily filling me in on the details. “ He knows. He knows I didn’t read the letters. Lily told him. So, over the summer, yeah, he thought that. But then… since then he’s known. And it hasn’t made a difference. He didn’t make any effort to tell me anything.”

 

I didn’t quite make sense. What was it that tipped him over the edge? I hadn’t done anything. Had I? I was quite certain that since school started, while I hadn’t perhaps acted admirable, I hadn’t done anything bad. So why? Why had things become, if possible, more tangled?

 

I realised I was staring at Ray for answers. For once, he looked stumped. He held up his hands in defeat. “Are you going to make me repeat myself again? You’re talking to the wrong guy. The only person that knows what’s going on in his head is himself.”

 

There was only one way of settling this. One way of getting rid of this aching stress. I ought to have been thankful. Why was I still dreading it?

 

Because the stress is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

 

Worse then better.
 


A vague memory flickered. Worse then better. Me and Londy, back at the start of last year, struggling through Quidditch practices in agony.

 

Worse then better. Worse then better. That had been my mantra.

 

No pain, no gain.

 

I laughed.

 

Ray looked somewhat taken aback. I didn’t blame him. I’d been wailing and sulking not two minutes ago.

 

He raised an eyebrow in question.

 

I grinned. And it actually didn’t take any effort. “I’m actually going to do this.” I informed him, merrily. “Now.”

 

“Well,” He grinned back. “Thank fuck for that.”

 
 


**

 

 

By ‘now’, I’d meant… you know. Now.

 

Immediately.

 

Currently.

 

At this moment in time.

 

Right away, instantly, at once.
 


I had that determination. I was all fired up.

 

Too bad I couldn’t actually find the tosser.

 

I’d gone up to the Gryffindor common room initially, only to find it half empty. This wasn’t hugely unheard of for a Sunday, but it was pissing it down with rain outside. And I couldn’t see any red forms out on the Quidditch pitch, even when I craned my neck and squinted.

 

In the end I demanded the time from an ever so slightly terrified first year, who squeaked that it was half past one.

 

Bloody hell. I knew I’d been pratting around in the Hufflepuff dorms for a while but I didn’t think it’d be lunch already.

 

Back down to the Great Hall it was.

 

My determination was threatening to dwindle after striding all the way upstairs and back down, but I had to cling onto it.

 

I marched up to the Gryffindor table without first scanning it in anxiety as I usually would have. I just followed the glint of Lily’s hair. But then I came to a sudden stop opposite her.

 

“Oh.” I said. He wasn’t there. It came with the automatic feeling of relief from being so wary of him all term. Strange, now I was actually looking for him. “It’s just you.”

 

Well. It wasn’t just her. She had a couple of her dorm mates on one side, and James, Remus and Peter on her other. All in all, a fair few people to stare at the madwoman striding up to them.
 


“Deb, you look like… where have you been? Have you actually slept at all?” Lily asked, in surprise as she look in my appearance.

 

Oh. Of course. Ray had reacted just the same. Only with more colourful language.

 

“Oh.” That seemed to be just about the only word that came to mind. “Oh, this. Right. Yeah. Listen, I was -”

 

“Sorry about the match, Deb.” James said, sounding uncomfortably torn, as of course he would, between being sympathetic for a mate and pleased for his own chances. “It was brutal. Bad as last year, even. Well, not for you, obviously. But, Merlin, seeing Gibbs go down like that -”

 

Usually I’d be happy… well, not happy, but willing…to discuss the details with Quidditch Boy. But I was doing something now. Immediately. Directly. At once.

 

“Yeah, sure. Let’s talk about it later, can we? I’m just looking for -”

 

“You’ve still got blood on your t-shirt,” Lily looked faintly disgusted, “But your face looks fixed. You looked dreadful, Deb, after Bass elbowed you. Covered in blood and your nose must have been broken -”

 

“Yeah.” I was getting impatient, “Lil, I was -”

 

“You know, now you mention it,” Mouse Mary, one of Lily’s dorm mates, thought my impatience was code for ‘please, do join in’, “It does look slightly deformed. Has it always been that pointy?”

 

“It’s fine.” I snapped. “Lily. I’m looking for Sirius.”

 

While she looked surprised - probably both at my use of his name and the fact that I was actively seeking out his company - she didn’t pry or make any further comment. A combination, most likely, of my appearance and snapping.

 

“Oh. He’s not -”

 

She’s lucky James cut her off, because if she’d made the intelligent observation that he wasn’t there, I’d have had to hurt her.
 


“He’s upstairs.” James said, through an enormous mouthful. What a surprise. He swallowed - it looked painful. “I dunno if I’d go up there, though, Deb. He’s a bit… uh -”

 

“He’s in a foul mood.” Remus supplied.

 

Oh nice. Really. Just wonderful.

 

“Why?” Lily asked the question for me, “You didn’t say that, you just said he wasn’t hungry…” A look of comprehension appeared on her face, “And I didn’t make the connection. What an idiot. Sirius and ‘not hungry‘.”

 

“Just…” James gave it away. It was just a tiny, nervous flicker of the eyes, but it was enough.

 

“Me?” Oh, this just got better and better. You know. For the whole, ‘have a nice chat‘ thing. “What in hell have I done now?”

 

“I don’t…” James looked uncomfortable, “He didn’t actually say it was you. It’s just that…”

 

“That it normally is.” I finished.

 

“Well. Yeah.”

 

“And you probably didn’t actually do anything.” Lily added, helpfully. “He doesn’t need a real reason to go off on one nowadays.”

 

Except maybe my eavesdropping last night. Did that count as a ‘real’ reason?

 

“Right.” I took another big, courage-inducing breath. “Well, I need to talk to him anyway.”

 

Every person I was talking to - and a few that were just listening in to the crazy girl that looked like she’d been up stressing all night - stared as if to ask why. But thankfully none of them did ask. Because the ones that knew me gave me that respect, and the ones that didn’t… well, didn’t dare.

 

“Right.” I nodded, awkwardly. “I’m going to… right.”

 

I promptly turned on my heel, but paused as Lily said, softly, “Deb. Are things… is this a good thing or a bad thing?”

 

I met her worried, emerald gaze and smiled. “I’m not kidding, Lil. I haven’t got a fucking clue.”

 

With a slight, added flair, I spun back round and headed out, but not before I heard a muttered, “That’s what worries me,” behind me.

 

 

 

**
 


 

I don’t know what I’d been expecting, because I’d been deliberately not letting myself imagine any possibilities.
 


But if I had, I wouldn’t have predicted this.

 

What is ‘this’ you ask?

 

Well, let’s just say I hadn’t been in the boys dorms since last year.

 

Last year.

 

When they were sixth years.

 

“I need to talk to you -” I went in bold, throwing the door open so it bounced from the wall and making my declaration to the room at large, before… “Oh bollocks.”

 

I was greeted by a group of three Gryffindor sixth years yelping in alarm, each at a various point in the process of dressing.

 

One was alright. He was tying his shoes.

 

It was the one in his boxers I felt sorry for.

 

“Sorry!” I unfroze after about five seconds of the two slightly less dressed ones hastily covering themselves and staring at me in bewilderment, “I… bollocks. Sorry. I didn’t… erm. Yeah. Sorry. Good, erm… good morning.”

 

I backed at speed out of the door until my back collided with the wall of the stairwell and the door closed with a slam.

 

Right. Well done. Good start.

 

It was alright. All I needed was another deep breath before…

 

A creak from further up the stairs caught my attention. I automatically looked up, finding myself face to face with…

 

Oh, go on. Have a sodding guess.

 

“Hi.” I said, before I lose the nerve. Then wished I’d waited until I’d finished my deep breath, so I didn’t sound breathless and nervous.

 

As Remus had said, he wasn’t at his perkiest. His forehead was furrowed in a sullen expression that may or may not have been at the sight of me. Look, it might not have been because of me, ok? His face was so often like that nowadays. Perhaps that was his norm.

 

He was looking from me to the recently slammed sixth year door. “I thought I heard…”

 

An attack? The violation of a bunch of sixth years privacy? That would be me.

 

“Wrong dorm.” I smiled weakly.

 

He lifted his head in a kind of half-nod. On me it would probably look pathetic. On him it just fit in with the whole broody thing.

 

“Can I come up?” I asked.

 

He folded his arms and looked down at the floor for a moment, before looking back at me. “Why?”

 

His expression said it all. What the hell did I want and why was I even trying after last night?

 

I opened my mouth.




Just say it.




This is going to be painful.

 

Worse, then better.
 

Maybe not. Maybe worse, then worse, then worse, then -
 


Say it.
 

I couldn’t.

 

So I did the one thing I could do, to get my point across without having to put it into words. I held out my hand. Opened it. Unfolded the piece of crumpled parchment.

 

I couldn’t tell if he recognised what it was right away, or if it took him a few seconds. Because all he did was stare at it, with that same expression on his face.

 

Then, just when I thought I was going to have to force myself to say something, he went back into his dorm and slammed the door.

 

With the sudden bang of wood on wood, my heart dropped.

 

Right.
 


That was it, then.

 

That was my answer.

 

Except it wasn’t. It wasn’t an answer at all. It left more loose ends, more tangled threads in this huge, knotted mess that I didn’t understand. And, hell. I wanted answers.

 

So it wasn’t the Gryffindor bravery in me that made me follow him.

 

It was the interfering, inquisitive Ravenclaw.

 

It was the need to understand.

 

I climbed the last few stairs. Took my last deep breath on the top step, and went in.

 

He stood at the foot of his bed. I knew it was his. The dorms were all set out the same, the heads of the beds against the circular walls. I knew James - always the centre of attention - had the one directly opposite the door. And I knew Sirius was always his right-hand man.
 


Still facing away from me, gripping onto the wooden foot of his bed, arms locked out. I could see the wiry muscle tensed.

 

The definition of ‘closed off’.

 

“Look.” I found my voice, and it didn’t even waver. “All I want is answers.”

 

He laughed. A low, flat sounds. “Answers? Like I got?”

 

Fuck. He was going to be difficult.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t read them.” I said, trying to keep it on track. “I really am. But I have now. And I want -”
 


He let go of the bed and turned around to face me. The intensity of the disgust on his face and in his voice made me recoil a little.

 

“You want? You want. Because you can just pick up and put down what you do and don’t want as you please, right?”

 

Wait.

 

“What?” I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But I thought it would at least kind of make sense. “I don’t -”

 

Don‘t know what you‘re talking about, I’d intended to say.

 

“I can’t believe you’ve just come up here,” He shook his head, still looking at me like a flobberworm in his lunch, “Expecting -”
 


“I’m not expecting anything.” I said, hotly, “I told you. I just want to hear -”

 

“You’re just jumping from dorm to dorm, now, are you? I must admit I wasn’t expecting the guys downstairs, but I guess I really don‘t know you at all anymore -”

 

Was he really implying what I thought he was implying?

 

“I went in there by mistake.” Surely I was misinterpreting this. He wasn’t really accusing me of…
 


“What I don’t get,” He carried on like I hadn’t spoken, “Is how you can just create these double standards, just like that. After all the hell you gave me, then you have the nerve to -”

 

“What are you talking about?” I cried. This was ridiculous.

 

“You! Look, you made your choice and I get it. But you can’t then fuck with my head like you did last night and then this morning just go back to him and then -”

 

Him?

 

What?”

 

“I know where you were.” He practically spat, still not clearing anything up.

 

I came here for answers. All I was getting were more messages than didn’t make an ounce of sense.
 


It pissed me off.

 

“Hold up.” I stepped forward so I wasn’t backed against the opposite bed. If he was going to be a prick, then I wasn’t taking it easy. “Whatever the hell accusations you’re throwing at me, the least you could do is explain them.”

 

He looked kind of like he wanted to laugh that bitter, sneering laugh again. “Even now, I’m the one that has to explain myself to you?”

 

Definitely pissing me off.

 

“I don’t believe this,” I shook my head, “I can’t believe I thought I might be able to talk to you, to finally figure things out. I obviously gave you way too much credit -”

 

“It’s way too late for that.”

 

“Why.” I didn’t state it as a question. More of an allegation.

 

“Why do you think?”
 


Oh right. He thought he was going to nick my aversion technique of answering a question with a question. I don’t think so, Black.

 

“I asked.” I folded my arms.

 

“And the fact that you had to just proves my point.”

 

He wasn’t talking to me. He was talking at me. Not listening, not believing, not even giving me a chance.

 

God, and to think I’d been worried about him being just plain old awkward about the whole thing. I didn’t even consider the idea that I’d be verbally attacked.

 

I watched him for a moment. He watched me right back. It lasted too long for me to ask my initial question again. I kind of forgot the point.

 

“Who’s ‘him‘?” I asked, eventually.

 

“What?”

 

“Him. ‘Just go back to him’, you said. Who?”

 

I thought he’d been closed off before. Then I got the full works. He took a step back against the foot of his bed, leant against it and folded his arms.

 

I waited.

 

He wasn’t going to tell me.

 

“Whoever it is, you might want to re-evaluate your source. Because it’s not -”

 

“Don’t fuck with me, Dee.”

 

Again, the tone of his voice made me want to recoil. But I stopped myself.

 

“I’m telling the truth -”

 

“I know where you were.” He raised his voice. He was just short of yelling. “I saw it. You come into breakfast looking like you haven’t slept a second all night -”

 

“Because I found your letters!”

 

“- and then you go straight down to his room -”

 

I’m fairly certain my face looked like I was trying to solve a particularly difficult Arithmancy problem. And I don’t even do Arithmancy.

 

“What, Ray?”

 

“Your Hufflepuff ‘mate‘.”

 

“What… what about him?” I struggled to catch up. Sirius thought that… me and Ray? “I needed to talk to a friend. And he’s the best with…” Then I cursed myself for explaining myself. Like I was guilty. Like I had anything to explain. “It doesn’t matter. I can be friends with who I like, I don’t need to justify it to -”

 

“Friends?” It wasn’t so much a sceptical tone of voice as a downright scoff.

 

Yes!”
 


“Don’t.” He shook his head.
 


“Don’t what?”
 


“I know, Dee.”

 

“Know what?” Even though I’d firmly decided that I had nothing to explain, I couldn’t stop myself. “Ray’s my friend. He’s… he was there for me all summer and then at school…He’s my friend. I like him and he’s funny and he’s -”

 

“So you’ve never kissed him?”

 

Oh.

 

Fuck.


 

 

 

 

 









A.N. So. I'm sorry. So sorry. But I have two excuses. One, I don't know which story/chapter I wrote it on but I'm in the middle of a huge move (to the other side of the world). Two, this was hard to write! And it's not perfect by a long shot but I was having posting withdrawal and I want to get back to the good stuff :) So if I could have a little forgiveness it would be wonderful!

I'd love to hear what you think, anything and everything as usual.

Dee's initial reaction - running to Ray

The letters - probably not as huge as everyone thought but you have to remember that it is huge to Dee.

Sirius' reaction.

The MESS

Finally the Ray issue is coming into the open.

Thanks for reading! And please leave a review. Oh, and by the way I totally didn't mean to end on a cliffy but I couldn't figure out where else to

Anyway. Love.

Rx.

 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 8: He Looked Left; She Turned Right; Meant To Be Together But Not That Night
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“So you’ve never kissed him?”


That stopped me.
 

I had my mouth open, mid-sentence, and I froze. Literally just stuck there with my mouth hanging open. Only aware of the churning feeling on guilt in my stomach.
 

“How… how do you know about that?” I asked, swallowing.
 

“Does it matter?”
 

Oh God. His voice. He might not have hated me before but I was absolutely certain he did right now.
 

That was what mattered.
 

But so did something else. “Yes. It does.” I found my voice and fought to keep it smooth. “Who told you?”
 

No one knew about this. No one was there. There were (thank god) only two people that knew anything about it and one of them was mortified by the whole thing and the other, whilst slightly bemused, would have the good sense not to mention a word to another human being.
 

Wouldn’t he?
 

“Worried that lover boy’s been spreading it around?”
 

“No.” I said, shortly. Ray wouldn’t do that.
 

“You’re a fan of secrets, aren’t you Dee? What’s wrong with a simple, public relationship? Is it that drama? Is that what keeps you interested?” His tone was teasing - it could almost have been playful banter between friends. If you excused the cold contempt beneath the words.
 

A wave of goose pimples erupted across my arms, and I found myself retorting, “Obviously not or I’d have stayed with you.”
 

Oh crap.
 

Where did that come from?
 

Why?
 

Why was I a bitch when I got defensive? And only to him, it seemed. It happened when we were forced to do that stupid duel thing and now it was happening again.
 

And this time there was no one around to prevent a possible homicide.
 

Fuck.
 

There was a second that the fury on his face slipped.
 

Just a second.
 

Maybe I imagined it.
 

But he didn’t say anything.
 

“How did you know about the kiss?” I asked again, clearly but quietly into the silence.
 

Again, I thought for a moment he wasn’t going to answer. I thought maybe he was too busy holding his temper in and reminding himself of the consequences of murder.
 

Then, “The kiss.” He said, looking from down at his hands up to my face.
 

I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean.
 

“As in, one.” He clarified.
 

“Yes, one.” Why was I still being snippy? It was sort of automatic. “I don’t know where you got this idea that I’ve been carrying on in secret with him all sodding year but -”
 

“What am I supposed to think? He’s there all the time -”
 

“No he isn’t!”
 

“Yes, he is. Whenever you’re not with Lily, or you’re not with Londy, or you’re not with your Quidditch team, you’re with him -”
 

“Of course I am! He’s my friend, what am I going to do? Pass up hanging out with him for some alone time? I don’t do alone time!”
 

“I know.” His voice dropped. I don’t know what he was thinking but I could probably make an educated guess that it was similar to mine - thinking of all those times the two of us had just lazed around doing absolutely nothing together just because it was better than lazing around doing absolutely nothing alone.
 

My mouth seemed dry. When had it gotten dry? It was difficult to swallow.
 

Our conversation - if you can call all sort of raised voices, accusations and insults being thrown around a ‘conversation’ - had suddenly gone from careering along at a confusing pace to a complete standstill.
 

He knew about the kiss. He’d built up some sort of a story to it on his own. He thought I’d… me and Ray…
 

But now he knew the truth.
 

So then what?
 

I was still catching up with it all.
 

Sirius got there quicker than me, and the anger from his voice was gone. I probably ought to have been glad, but I couldn‘t bring myself to overlook the slightly empty tone and the way the words were drawn out. “Why did you kiss him?”
 

“How did you know?” I repeated the question I’d asked too many times already. My voice sounded kind of feeble now.
 

Why, Dee?” Definitely didn’t sound mad anymore. This was worse. This was genuine hurt. The way he asked it brought me back to myself, last year. Me, asking him that very same question.
 

Though I don’t know if I ever did ask it aloud.
 

But that pain, that difficulty, that need to understand…
 

That was exactly what had been running through my mind when I found out about him and Marlene.
 

And I remembered how, at the time, nothing he could have said could have made me feel any different.
 

“Does it matter?” I asked, echoing his own words in nothing but a weak shadow of the vehemence he’d spoken with.
 

He didn’t even need to answer. It was all over his face. In a way it was a relief. This was the Sirius I used to know. The one that I understood. The one that failed, so endearingly, to hide any sort of feeling beneath an act of bravado. The one I always saw through.
 

I’d almost forgotten what it was like to know him.
 

Yes, it mattered.
 

Of course it sodding did. This wasn’t like me, blinded by betrayal, dismay and disgust for the few weeks after I found out. He’d known… how long had he known? I couldn’t very well ask now; when I already owed an explanation.
 

But it seemed… it seemed as though he’d known for a while, anyway. I suppose that would make sense. Maybe even since the beginning of school.
 

“We can’t be friends…”


Was that why? Was that why everything had been so difficult?
 

I tried to imagine how I’d have felt, if the roles had been reversed. No matter if there was any hope for the two of us or not - it would have hurt like hell to believe that he’d be able to just pick up with anyone else.
 

And it’d be worse for him. If I thought about it now; if I’d given it even a moments thought I’d have expected him to come back with a rebound girl. Any one of the Slags. That would be the Sirius thing to do. It was, in fact, utterly bizarre that he hadn’t so much as bothered looking at another girl all term. And equally bizarre that I’d been so self-absorbed as to not realise.
 

But me, I wasn’t the one you’d expect to do that sort of thing. I’d never been that sort of girl. So for him to believe that I had…
 

If it had been him; it’d have hurt like a bitch. And I’d have tortured myself over it, naturally. But deep down I wouldn’t have truly believed that whoever it was really meant something to him. I’d have been scared that maybe one day they would. But girls… girls usually didn’t mean a whole lot to him.
 

But I wasn’t like that. He knew me. He knew I could never be with someone I didn’t care about. And he’d thought that Ray… and me…
 

Oh God.
 

And I hadn’t even thought about it. Hadn’t considered for a second how it’d look me suddenly hanging around with this other and, I guess it had to be admitted, pretty much perfect guy. Of course I hadn’t thought that. Hadn’t I spent my whole school life with just a handful (ok, two) close girl friends and the rest guys? My brother and Ro; Oz, Blakely and Simpson; Sirius and James…
 

It completely went over my head, how it would look to anyone else.
 

Especially one who knew about the kiss.
 

The kiss.
 

Why.
 

He was still waiting for an answer.
 

Looking at me, hard. But not in a way that scared me a little, as it had just minutes ago. This was less anger. More of just a set mouth in a thin line, eyes that couldn’t disguise the hurt, anticipation, the setting yourself up to hear something that there’s a strong chance you don’t want to hear.
 

But you need to hear it.
 

I began as he had - so long ago now, it seemed - telling me ‘how it was‘. His ‘frame of mind’, he’d called it.
 

“I thought you hated me,” I told him, “Most of the summer.”
 

He didn’t say anything. Didn’t explode, as I’d done when he’d tried to explain what led to him sleeping with my brothers girlfriend, in outrage at him blaming it on me. It struck me momentarily as odd, that both of these events had occurred when we weren’t together. And yet they could cause so much hurt.
 

“Maybe you did.” I said, when he didn’t say anything to the contrary. I mean, he’d as good as told me that he hated me, that last day of term at the train station. “I don’t know, whatever. All summer, I thought that. And I didn’t want to think about it. I just wanted to forget. And Ray… he didn’t care that I was moping around feeling sorry for myself. He wasn’t treating me like I was made out of glass. He was annoying. Normal. He was my friend. I thought you hated me. I thought I hated you. Then Freddie came to see me. And he… he didn’t. What you’d done to him was so much worse than any affect it had had on me but he just… just forgave you. Just like that.” I could still hear the element of wonder in my voice. Freddie being forgiving. Whatever he’d been doing on his travels, it must have involved a whole lot of reflection and self-appraisal.
 

The old Sirius would have made a lame joke at that point. But we both knew that wasn’t going to happen. He barely spared a second to look taken aback.
 

“So then…” No. That hadn’t been when I’d forgiven him. But it had helped. “So then that kind of put it in perspective, a bit. I didn’t hate you for what you did. I didn’t try to understand it, but that wasn’t… what was hurting.”
 

Before I even said it, I guessed that he knew what it was that had been killing me all summer. He’d known it when he’d written the letters, and he knew it now.
 

“What you said…” I didn’t want to get into it. I didn’t want to weasel an apology out of him, not matter if it was sincere or not. “Well. I thought you hated me. And the night before we came back to school… I just needed to get it all out. I needed to tell someone. Not someone who would pat me on the back and tell me it would all be ok. Not someone who would take my side and call you every bad name under the sun. I needed to figure out what the hell had happened and what the hell it meant to me. I needed someone brutally honest. I didn’t want to go back to school without…hearing it. From a neutral point of view. And Ray… he‘s good at that sort of thing. He sees things how they are. With people, anyway.” I distinctly remembered pulling my hair out trying to teach the boy the difference between mimblebus mimbletonia and eggplant.
 

Throughout this very thorough but very sketchy speech, Sirius hadn’t uttered a word. And it seemed he couldn’t keep his gaze on my face. With every sentence I uttered he seemed to become more uncertain, his eyes skitting from my face, to my hands fiddling agitatedly with my t-shirt, to the floor. But all with a concentrated look on his face.
 

I didn’t know what that meant.
 

It could have meant he was taking in the information, using it to figure out what he’d been feeling and where he’d misunderstood. Or it could have meant I was talking utter arse and he was having trouble following.
 

I sighed. “I shouldn’t have kissed him. It wasn’t premeditated. It wasn’t romantic. More scarring, actually. For him. It was a pathetic, stupid, spur-of-the-moment plan to figure out how I felt. Not about him. About…”
 

About you.
 

You.
 

How hard was that to say?
 

I couldn’t form the word. But I hoped he got the gist.
 

“I know it was a shit idea. And I know it doesn’t make sense. But it did in my head. I thought I needed to figure out if I could feel anything for anyone else or if I still…”
 

Argh. Couldn’t say it. Bugger.
 

I didn’t even wind down gradually, or trail off with some sort of suggestive mystery about the whole thing. Just cut myself off awkwardly, leaving the words unsaid and the air uncertain about whether I was done talking.
 

So I shut up.
 

In a conversation, that’s normally the cue for the other person to start talking.
 

But he didn’t.
 

So I didn’t push him.
 

But I was painfully aware of every second crawling by.
 

Every. Single. Second.
 

He just stood there. Not saying anything. Not looking at anything. Standing. And nothing.
 

However, I wasn’t capable of that. It was the awkward gene. I definitely possessed it.
 

What was I even expecting?
 

What did I want him to say?
 

Something.
 

“Um. It’d be really good if you’d say… something. Like… you know. Right about now.” I said, quietly so as not to startle him.
 

For a second the only sign that he heard me was that his eyebrows raised a little.
 

Then, “What do you want me to say?”
 

Well, that was the fucking question, wasn’t it?
 

I took it as a rhetorical one. Question, that is. Maybe he was stalling for time as I so often would.
 

Why did he need to stall for time?!
 

“Why did you tell me all this?” Questions. Was that all he could come up with? Another question. Another way of avoiding what I was asking him. Bloody hell, the boy had spent way too much time with me through the years. That’s the last time I used that defence mechanism; it was sodding annoying.
 

“Because…” It was time to trust my brain to take over and not stress over what to say. It wasn’t doing me any good. So feel free, brain. Fuck. We’re screwed. “Because you didn’t know.”
 

Oh, enlightening.
 

My mouth was carrying on, “You thought… and that wasn’t true. So I wanted you to know. Because I’d want to know.”
 

Another mind-numbing pause during which I frantically worried that I was the one that should be talking.
 

“And it was supposed to make a difference?” He eventually asked.
 

Yes. That was the first answer that came to mind. Because, really, things had been pretty much unbearable between us. Which was why we’d been spending minimal time together, and even when we were together we’d talk fucking Quidditch to keep our minds off it. And even when we weren’t together… was he totally off my mind?
 

So maybe that was it. Maybe this was selfish. Maybe all I wanted to do was clear my mind and not give a damn about what he thought.
 

But no.
 

If that was true I could consider my mind clear right now, couldn’t I? And I can tell you right here right now, it was anything but clear.
 

So maybe… maybe the only way for my mind to be clear would be for him to accept it. To be ok with everything I told him. To be himself again.
 

Himself.
 

Without me.
 

Fine.
 

Absolutely…
 

Fucking hell, even the thought of that - of him being happy without me - greeted me with a flood of anxiety; twisty stomach and everything.
 

I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t be around him if he was completely fine and I was…
 

What?
 

What was I?
 

I forced myself to look up from the floor - just to see if that made a difference to the crap-load of mess in my head - and jumped to find him looking right back at me with unnerving scrutiny. I swallowed.
 

“You’re crying.” He said.
 

“What?” I was completely thrown for a second before hastily rubbing my eyes. “No I’m not.”
 

My hands did come away damp. But that was completely besides the point.
 

He didn’t even need to come back with a ‘yes you are’ retort. He could see it, and I could feel it, now. The welling up. The slight blurring of my vision as tears threatened to spill over. At least I wasn’t sobbing or snotting. For that I ought to be thankful, I guess. That had happened the last time I’d told him how I’d felt -
 

Wait.
 

The last time.
 

The last time I’d… told him what I felt?
 

I felt.
 

Something.
 

For him.
 

Fuck.
 

Was this it? Was this that earth-shattering moment where I finally saw the light through the stupid, crap-filled chaos in my head?
 

It must be. I was sure. I was… ninety eight percent certain.
 

Maybe.
 

I felt something. Still felt something. For Sirius Black.
 

This was it.
 

I kind of thought it’d happen with more of a bang, to be honest. Given my track record.
 

So that was my moment of enlightenment.
 

That was it.
 

Ok. Understated. I can do understated.
 

That was my moment.
 

Didn’t mean he’d had one. Didn’t mean anything.
 

He still… he was still sodding silent.
 

He turned around. Oh, fine. Turn your back on me now, too. That’s exactly what a girl wants when she’s (alright, internally) admitted she wants you.
 

I wanted him.
 

Wow.
 

Then he was turning back around. He had his school shirt in his hand. Took a step forward and offered it out to me. His face still didn’t give anything away. Still that sullen look that I was fairly certain was etched onto it forever. I hoped he didn’t get wrinkles.
 

And holding out a shirt to me.
 

I stared at it.
 

“For your…” He gestured to my face.
 

I touched the wetness on my cheeks with my fingertips.
 

Well. That was embarrassing. Humiliating. Touching. Something.
 

Right?
 

The correct response? Maybe there is one. Maybe there isn’t.
 

But I’ll sure as hell tell you what the incorrect response is. And that’s a manic laugh.
That’s right. I laughed. It was manic. Interspersed with tears. Probably came across as something between a hysterical drunk and moderately psychotic.
 

And now cue embarrassment.
 

One issue.
 

Still hadn’t stopped laughing.
 

Through my tears I saw it happen. ‘It’ being the transformation on his face. So slowly and so gradually that I almost didn’t realise it was happening, the frown lines withdrew, the set line of his mouth curled up at one end and his eyes… they just seemed more… Sirius.
 

And he looked amused.
 

At me.
 

That was better than I could have hoped for.
 

But I didn’t want that hope to show on my face. I thought maybe there was some was I could retain maybe just an ounce of pride. A pinch, maybe? So I took the high road - buried my face in the shirt he was offering.
 

I heard a low chuckle. Just a tiny one. More just a slightly-humoured exhalation, even. But, holy hell, he had laughed.
 

I pulled the shirt from my face and jumped too see him close. Closer. He was closer, right? He had to be - if he’d been that close before I’d have noticed for sure. I’d have been worried he’d resort to some sort of crude, bare-handed homicide.
 

It was hard to drag my eyes up to his face. Mainly because of the insane behaviour I’d just indulged in and its subsequent embarrassment. But also because I wasn’t sure if I could keep that hope from my face one little bit.
 

After roughly fifty five years when I did manage to look him in the eye, I couldn’t move. He was looking right back.
 

This had to be the closest I’d been to him since… since…
 

But that look. That look in his eyes; I hadn’t seen that before. This wasn’t like how he’d looked at me before… before all the crap when things were good. But it wasn’t bitter in the way that he’d been (reluctantly) looking at me this year.
 

This was different. No trace of bitterness, disgust, any of that. This look contained traces of affection as his eyes skittered around my face, taking it in. But mixed with something conflicting. Still hurt, in that look. Hurt and something else. It looked kind of… kind of sad.
 

Still couldn’t move.
 

“Dee.” And his voice. He hadn’t said my name - not like that - in so, so long. Not with that warmth. It made me want to just sink towards him, to feel him against me and smell that smell…
 

But no.
 

Still. Couldn’t. Move.
 

He raised a hand up to my face. The unexpectedness of the movement made my stomach jolt. He was going to touch me. He hadn’t touched me for… oh for the love of Merlin, stop doing that! Stop comparing this to before. This isn’t before. This is now.
 

His fingertips brushed my hairline - eliciting another pang in my gut - easing a couple of curls away from where they were falling into my face. This reminded me of how I looked. I hadn’t slept. I hadn’t changed. I hadn’t done anything with my hair since pulling it back into a messy knot before Quidditch yesterday.
 

But only for a second.
 

Because his fingers dropped to my cheek. Was I breathing? I couldn’t tell. Trivial matter, anyway. Hate breathing. Except, you know. To live.
 

“I’ve missed this.” He said, his voice low enough for me to get that it was hard for him to say. Kind of like he didn’t really want to say it. But I didn’t care. He was saying it. I was drinking in every word. Watching his mouth form every sound to make sure it was real. “You. So much.” Still that serious look on his face.
 

And sad. Why would he look sad? I was having trouble fighting the elation that wanted to paint itself across my face. And he looked sad.
 

Why?
 

I raised my own hand to touch his - the one on my cheek. But before I could make contact he pulled his hand away and I was left with my hand tracing thin air.
 

Why?
 

“But…” He looked down.
 

He looked down.
 

Why?
 

Why ‘but’? And why look down?
 

“… But I can’t.”
 

Well. That registered.
 

If I was originally breathing, that sure as hell cut me off.
 

He was still talking. I wasn’t listening. Random words were registering but I was still stuck on ‘I can’t’.
 

“… It’s not that…”
 

He can’t.
 

I definitely wasn’t breathing. That was going to be an issue in a minute.
 

“… it’s just…”
 

He can’t.
 

In slow motion my hand dropped from where it had frozen at face level. Fell to my side. I was staring at his face but not really taking it in.
 

“… I can’t just…”
 

He can’t.
 

That was all I was getting from this.
 

I tried to move backwards but I was still against the foot of one of the beds. Nowhere to run.
 

Run.
 

I could run.
 

Run away.
 

“… just need time…”
 

He can’t.
 

Time.
 

He needs time.
 

I had to leave now.
 

I’d got what I’d come for, hadn’t I? Better than I’d hoped. In one (heated) conversation I’d got it figured out. He thought I was a raging slut. My explanation didn’t appear to have changed anything. I figured out that I still… I still wanted him. Despite everything.
 

And he didn’t.
 

I wanted him here and now.
 

He needed time.
 

We definitely weren’t on the same page.
 

So I did it. The thing that I’d always done. The thing that drove him madder than anything else. The thing I’d promised - so long ago, now - to stop.
 

I ran.
 

Ran.
 

Ran straight out the door
 

Ran down the staircase.
 

Ran clear across the common room.
 

Ran slap-bang into Lily.
 

“Ow. Deb you…” She caught me by the arms and her eyes flicked in the line of my dash, to the boys stairs, “Oh, finally. What -”
 

“He needs time.”
 

My voice sounded abrupt, but fine. Fine. Maybe I was fine. Maybe…
 

“What…” Lily started.
 

“He needs time.” This time it broke.
 

This time all the exhaustion from losing a nights sleep, all the stress from avoiding him, every emotion that probably should have been played out months ago leaked into it.
 

And it probably served me right.

 

 




 

A.N. Crikey! Sorry for the long update. And kind of short chapter. Or maybe it's not short. Just seems it because it was all in the one setting. I don't know. But anyway.

The big misunderstanding is finally out! Hurrah!

Sirius knows the kiss is just the kiss.

But Deb doesn't know how he knows.

But she knows how she feels.

And Sirius... just managed to screw everything up again despite best intentions.

How awful. I hope you even slightly liked even some of it thought. And I hope you are generous enough to leave a review!

Thanks for reading!

Rx.

 

 
 


Chapter 9: You'll See My Smile Looks Out Of Place
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I told her everything.

 

Everything.

 

Everything Sirius had said, everything I had said, everything I thought, every little mistake either of us had made... from the beginning.

 

Everything I should have told my best friend right from the start.

 

Almost a year’s worth of crazed, neurotic ramblings. So yeah, it took a while.

 

“There’s only one logical conclusion to come to,” Lily said, as I caught my breath after hours of talking absolute tripe. My throat hurt a bit.

 

“What,” I essentially croaked, then yelped. After my ‘obsessive pacing’ had gotten on Lily’s nerves, she’d manoeuvred me into lying on her bed with my head on her legs. From there she’d somehow managed to yank out my hair tie from my tangled birds nest and was in the challenging process of combing through a days (and quidditch matches) worth of sweat and muck.

 

To her credit, she hadn’t yet resorted to any disgusted faces. But she wasn’t being entirely gentle.

 

“You two,” Lily continued as if I hadn’t expressed any pain, “Are the most pathetic excuses for human beings on the planet. A couple of apes could have avoided all the stupid crap you’ve fallen into along the way.”

 

I’d reached the point where that didn’t even offend me. I sighed, “Yeah.”

 

“I can’t believe you’d... I mean to try and... after everything you...”

 

“Yep. Ow” I winced again. She was definitely taking out her frustration on the hair.

 

“I mean, Ray? Really?” She shook her hair, “Well I know I might have encouraged you to go there at one point... but that was back when I thought the idea of you and Sirius was... you know. Something far away on the horizon.”

 

I thought what? I said, “What?”

 

“Oh, you know.” She flicked a hand. Unfortunately the one with comb entangled in my hair. I didn’t even bother protesting after she’d ignored all prior pleas to be gentle. “It was sort of a maybe-one-day-when-he-changes-his-ways-once-and-for-all-and-when-she-finally-grows-up-and-sees-it kind of thing. You know.”

 

I frowned. Londy had said a similar thing a few weeks ago after training. ‘You mean everyone saw it coming with you two...?’ I’d dismissed it at the time. But thinking about it, a few people had said something along those lines at one point. Londy. Marlene. Freddie. The Slytherins, even, had apparently seen something that we... that I hadn’t.

 

“So everyone was just waiting? For him to... and for me to... hey! I am too grown up!”

 

“You’re not.”

 

I reconsidered. “Ok, no.”

 

“And it’s not like we were waiting, exactly. There was no real reason to push it. Sirius was happy enough to wait for you and do his own thing along the way -” I’ll say. “- And you were happily oblivious. Well. Until...”

 

Until he decided he couldn’t wait any more.

 

It still made me feel a bit... strange, I guess... to think in that way. For all those months I’d just assumed he was trying his luck that Christmas Eve. Out of, what? Curiosity? Me being one of the only girls he hadn’t already gone after? Convenience? Because I was the only other person over the age of thirteen around?

 

I mean, yeah, he’d spun some yarn about being serious, how this was different... but for all I knew that could just have been one of his polished, perfected lines. The sort of thing every girl fell for. That’s why I’d been so careful to tread lightly, so ready to run away at a moment’s notice.

 

But.

 

“What does it even matter now? However things were ages ago... whatever happened... he knows now. I know. Everyone else seems to know. But it doesn’t make a difference. He knows and he still doesn’t want...” I let out a lungful in a heavy, abrupt sigh, just in case my tear ducts got any ideas. They weren’t getting a say in this.

 

“You don’t really believe that, do you?”

 

“It’s what he said, Lil.”

 

“No. He said he needed time. That’s not the same thing.”

 

“Oh... shut up.” I sighed again.

 

“No, listen. You can’t really think that just because he said he needs time that there’s no chance at all that he still...”

 

“I said, shut up.” I covered my ears. Childish, yes. “Stop giving me hope. Hope’s exhausting. And annoying.”

 

“Then prepared to be exhausted and annoyed for as long as it takes for Sirius to remove his head from his arse and realise that he still...” She trailed off.

 

I closed my eyes, and it was quiet for a moment as Lily combed (less painfully, now that the knots were removed) rhythmically through my hair.

 

“Lil,” I said, “Do you really think he...”

 

I could hear the smile in her voice before I even opened my eyes. “Do I think he what, Deb?”

 

“That he...” I gestured vaguely. I could feel my cheeks getting warm. And this was only Lily I was talking to. “You know.”

 

“Know what?”

 

Lily.”

 

She laughed.

 

“You know what I mean.” I repeated.

 

“I know I do.” She was looking at me funny. Kind of contemplative. I sat up and scooted over to sit against the wooden frame at the bottom of her bed. She still didn’t stop looking at me.

 

“Stop it.” I told her, feebly.

 

“Did you ever say it?” She asked.

 

“Say what?” I asked. I knew.

 

You know.” She smiled faintly at repeating my words. This was one of the most baffling conversations I’d had in quite some time (about an hour). And I’ve been known to have a few.

 

I swallowed. “No.”

 

“Did he?”

 

I wondered for a second if I was ok with the answer to that before actually answering. “No.”

 

There was a short silence. I suppose there’s not a lot you can say to that.

 

No. With Lily there’s always something.

 

“But did you? Do you?” She pressed, but gently.

 

I didn’t want to think about that. I shook my head to convey this, but Lily misinterpreted.

 

“Deb, you didn’t even... you don’t... you didn’t even think about it.”

 

“I don’t... I can’t.”

 

“Can’t what? Can’t think about? Or can’t love him?”

 

I flinched. Baffling though our ‘you know, you know’ conversation had been, I slightly preferred it to throwing the L word around willy-nilly.

 

I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them.

 

“He makes you happy.” Lily hadn’t finished. “Or he did, anyway. You miss him when he’s not there. Or when he’s being a prat. You think about him every day.”

 

My instincts told me to argue, I do not.

 

But I was still concentrating on keeping my lips firmly pressed together. If I didn’t keep them under a close guard they’d quite likely start quivering or some nonsense.

 

And I’d be lying.

 

He did make me happy. I did miss him. I did think about him. Too much. Partly because he just plain baffled me. But more than that. Too.

 

“You’re telling me you never stopped to think about what that was? What it meant?” Lily looked up from her crossed legs at me. I wasn’t looking back. My gaze was firmly on the headboard to her right. But I could still see her.

 

This time she was waiting for an answer. My lips hadn’t yet earned my trust so I settled with a short shake of my head.

 

Lily was quiet. For quite some time. But it wasn’t a ‘we’re finished’ quiet. It was a ‘waiting for something’ quiet.

 

I didn’t know what she was waiting for. Well, alright. She wanted me to say that I did. That I did...

 

Oh for the love of God, I couldn’t even say the L word to myself. In the privacy of my own, borderline mental, mind. Let alone even consider the prospect of saying it to anyone else.

 

Apart from Freddie. But that was love for my brother. Of course I loved him. He was my family, my only family. And kind of my saviour. I had and would always love him.

 

See, I can say that kind of love.

 

It’s the same freaking word! Why was it so hard to even think about in that context? What made it so unapproachable?

 

Was it just that I was scared? What was it about it that could scare me? What was the only thing that ever had truly scared me?

 

Lily was still waiting.

 

“I think...” I spoke without thinking, to start with. That was a Sirius thing to do. Start talking before you’ve figured it out for yourself, just so you’ve got no choice but to make sense of it, and fast.

 

I had to pause. I knew Lil was still waiting. Even though I was concentrating more on fiddling with the edge of her duvet.

 

“ I just...” Again I had to take a pretty big pause. Not scintillating conversation for Lily. From her silence she could quite possibly have dozed off in boredom. I could believe that if I couldn’t feel those beady green eyes on me.

 

“It’s not that I don’t trust him. It’s going to... it’s going to sound like I don’t trust him. That’s not it. I do. I did... I do. It’s not him. I just... I just don’t think... It’s...” Now I was babbling nonsense. And I was feeling too warm, despite (still) not having changed from my shorts and t-shirt. I couldn’t think. I knew what I thought but I couldn’t think how to tell another person so they’d understand.... bloody hell, even my thoughts were babbling.

 

I took in what I intended to be a calming breath. It wasn’t calming. It shook. I pretended Lily wouldn’t be able to hear that.

 

“If you... if you love someone,” I managed to spit out the word without my voice wavering, “Then you’re just making yourself... it could all just... they could...”

 

“They could hurt you.” Lily provided, gently.

 

I bit my lip and nodded. “I don’t mean it like...”

 

“I know you don’t mean anything against Sirius. I know that. It’s not your fault though, Deb. After... well. The first two people in your life that you had any sort of attachment with hurt you. Whether they meant to or not. You learnt that it hurt to love someone.”

 

It felt like the breath I let out was one I’d been holding for... well. For a long time. I still couldn’t look up. My eyes were dangerously damp and prickly, so much so that I was having to squeeze them closed. But not in a bad way. It was almost a relief.

 

“But I think you know now.” Lily shifted over on the bed so that she was within an arm’s length from me. I could feel the mattress sinking a little and then the soft pressure of her hand over mine. “It doesn’t have to hurt. Not always. You do know that. You know it because you’ve got Freddie. And you’ve got me.”

 

Well that did it. Tears fell hot and fast down my cheeks, I could feel them falling from the ends of my eyelashes and when I opened my eyes, could see small damp spots appearing on the bedspread.

 

“You know that right?” Bloody hell, that girl wasn’t letting up. “You know that I love you. And that I couldn’t hurt you for anything. And you sure as hell better tell me you love me too, McKinnon...”

 

“Oh fucking hell, look what you’ve done to me!” I was a wet, snotty mess. “Of course I love you, you daft bint.” And I threw my arms around her. Tears and snot and all. Who even knew there was any left in me after the debacle of about two hours ago.

 

I know that, you twit. I just needed to make sure you knew.” Quite self-assured, that Lily. “Obviously not quite in the same way that you love head-up-his-arse-Black. More, obviously.”

 

“Way more.” I confirmed, with a disgusting sniff and an attempt to wipe some of the wet from my face on the arm of my t-shirt.

 

“It’s passionate, what we’ve got.”

 

“Totally.”

 

“Especially when you look like that. Snot and all.”

 

Hey, snot...is... hot.” I retorted, knowledgeably. And wittily.

 

“You know what else is hot? Your love for head-up-his-arse-Bla... argh -” She was abruptly cut off. By a pillow to the head. I threw it quite hard. An ordinary person may have been slightly disgruntled, but instead of complaint, a borderline hysterical laugh emerged from the rather skew-whiff mop of red hair.

 

“What?” She protested. Still laughing, might I add. “What? You just admitted it yourself!”

 

“I did not.”

 

“You did too! I said you love me more than you love him. And you agreed.”

 

“That doesn’t mean... I... shut up! I just meant... it can mean... just that I love you a moderate, appropriate-for-friends level. And him not at all -”

 

“Bollocks.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“You just told me you love me, don’t then go and bloody lie to me, McKinnon.”

 

“Shut up! Stop using my love against me. Just... shut up.”

 

“You love him.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“And not an ‘appropriate-for-friends’ amount.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“You’re blushing.”

 

“Shut up!” I groped for a pillow for another battering, but they were all irritatingly out of reach.

 

Lily responded with a delighted giggle and leapt up from the bed toward the record player. Before I had even the two required seconds to grasp what was going on, the shrill tones of Celestina Warbeck filled the air. And... oh lord. I recognised the song.

 

Oh, come and stir my caldron...” Oh lord, and she was singing. Someone must have slipped something in that girls morning pumpkin juice.

 

“Lily, stop it.” I jumped to my knees and snatched up a pillow missile. “I mean it.” I launched it at her with considerable force. With an airy swirl she managed to dodge it easily. Balls.

 

“... and if you do it ri-i-i-ght...” Her pitch was awful, as well. Truly awful.

 

“I got you this bloody record for Christmas. Because I... - stop it! They’ll hear you in the common room – because I thought you were my best sodding friend who would never use an affectionate gift as some sort of torture...” I hurled another pillow, that she merely brushed aside and leapt up onto the nearest bed to continue her (very peculiar) dance.

 

“... I’ll boil you up some hot strong love...”

 

Oh hell, she was bounding from bed to bed towards me. Before I could scramble away, my wrist had been seized in a vice-like grip and I found myself yanked to my feet.

 

“Evans, you let go of me right this minute or...”

 

“... to keep you warm tonight!”

 

“Lily, please.”

 

“Sing!” She bounced around me on the bed.

 

“Um. No.”

 

“Sing!”

 

“Not a hope in hell. And let go of me.”

 

“Not until you sing.”

 

“Oh good. Well get used to my company then, because I won’t be singing a – crap, incidentally – Celestina Warbeck song any time in this lifetime...”

 

“Come on, Deb, the chorus is coming back around...” She had that manic gleam in her eyes and a scary, scary smile.

 

“Oh god. You’re not going to ‘sing’ again, are you? I use the term ‘sing’ extremely loosely...”

 

“I most certainly am! And so are you. Being a complete and utter prat every now and then is good for the soul... OHHH come and stir my caldron...”

 

Annoyingly, I couldn’t stop my mouth from curling up into a grin. Lily’s (mental) energy was infuriatingly contagious. I now couldn’t tell if my bouncing was just a result of her yanking on my arm or if I was actually dancing for myself.

 

“...and if you do it ri-i-i-ght...” It was ear-splitting. But, oh god... I could feel my mouth forming the words along with her.

 

“... I’ll boil you up some hot strong love...” Oh god, it happened. And I can’t pretend my singing added anything remotely tune-worthy to Lily’s screech at all.  It might have in fact made things even more painful.

 

Yes, Debbie! – to keep you warm tonight!”

 

I don’t really know how it happened, honestly. All I know is that the whole thing escalated from there and before I knew it we were both bounding from bed to bed – Lily in her uniform and me in my Quidditch gear (still) – and screaming along to ‘A Caldron Full of Hot Strong Love’ for the third time.

 

It was ridiculous. Completely and utterly. I mean, I’ve done some pathetic things (a lot) in my life, but this took the biscuit on the lame-old-bint scale.

 

But, shit, it felt good. Throughout all the stress this term, all the constant worrying about what he and everyone else might think, it felt so good to just be an absolute prat with my best friend. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d done anything like this.

 

The third repeat was nearing its climax when it happened. I don’t know who noticed first. It must have been around the same time because – mid-bounce, Lily on the bed nearest the door and me on the furthest away – we both stopped dead.

 

Maybe, with our record, I should have seen it coming. I don’t know. In the instant that I saw him my only thought was ‘oh, of fucking course’.

 

He was Sirius Black, and I was Debbie McKinnon. Of course he’d be standing in the doorway, broom in hand, mere hours after the most intense and upsetting conversation probably of the year so far, watching me scream with laughter, jumping on the bed with my best mate.

 

Of course.

 

 

 

 

 






A.N. Biggest apologies ever so far. It's been a completely unreasonable amount of time, I know. Life sometimes gets in the way in a big way, no excuses. But thank you so much for keeping with me, wonderful people. Please let me know what you think... especially as I recently read through the whole of FFA and FTP... and I know my writing has changed a lot since the beginning!

Thanks again,

Rx.
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 10: Must I Always Be Waiting On You
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I don’t know how long the three of us stood and stared at one another. All I know is it felt like I lifetime of me chanting “Oh shit, oh fuck, oh shit, oh fuck, oh shit...” in my head until Lily had the sense to say something.
 


“Sirius -”
 

It was too late. He was walking away. The door slammed shut, jolting me out of my ‘freeze’ panic state.
 

As if in slow motion, Lily and I turned to look at one another.
 

“Did that... actually just happen?” I asked her.
 

“Why didn’t you say something, idiot?” She demanded, rudely ignoring my question.
 

“You didn’t say anything either!”
 

“I tried! And he’s not my ex-sodding-boyfriend that I’m still head over heels in love with. Which you just admitted, by the way.”
 

I couldn’t even deny that. I felt a little hollow. I needed to sit down. “Oh God. Oh God, Lily, we were bouncing on the bed.”
 

“Yep.”
 

“Singing ‘A Caldron Full of Hot Strong Love’.”
 

“We were.”
 

“Oh God.”
 

“And you have snot on your t-shirt. By the way. Along with all the muck and blood.”
 

“I am vile.”
 

“A little.”
 

We’d both lowered ourselves down onto the edge of the beds. My mind was only just starting to function again after that kick in the gut.
 

And all it could do was conjure up that irritating little bubble of hope.
 

“Lil.”
 

“Mmm?”
 

I heaved out a breath, trying to smother the bubble, before saying it. “Why do you think he came up here?”
 

She shrugged. “To talk to you. Obviously. About what, I have no idea.”
 

I fiddled with the duvet. “He was pissed off, wasn’t he. Did he look pissed off?”
 

Lily hesitated for a fraction of a second too long. “He... didn’t look one hundred percent happy...” She said, tentatively.
 

“Fuck.” I sighed heavily. Bubble of hope was rapidly extinguished by flood of guilt. “I ran away from him again. He hates it when I run away. That would have pissed him off. And then when it turned out I’d run away for the purpose of an impromptu performance of ‘A Caldron Full of Hot Strong Love...”
 

Lily made an odd little noise, like a stifled grunt. I looked quizzically at her. Her stifled grunt was then followed by the tiniest, held-back giggle, then a normal-sized chuckle, before an almighty roar of laughter better suited to a half-giant than a petite redhead.
 

“Lily!” I scolded reproachfully (and whinily). “Come on, this isn’t funny. We were singing fucking Celestina Warbeck...”
 

She let out another enormous guffaw.
 

“And dancing. Badly.” I added. Again , her laughter was catching. I was struggling to keep a straight face.
 

Lily was now clutching her sides.
 

“Oh god, I was actually thrusting for a bit there. Do you think he saw the thrusting?”
 

Lily let rip another great peal of laughter, and this time there was no holding back. I couldn’t help it. If it was anyone else it would have been hilarious rather than hideously embarrassing. And, you know, life-ruining. So I had to be the good sport.
 

But it was slightly nervous laughter. I mean, with my current luck, who was to say he wouldn’t appear from nowhere again?
 

By the time Lily had composed herself again I was nervously chewing my lip.
 

“I’m sorry, Deb. But this is ridiculous. I told you not an hour ago that you two were the most ridiculous couple in the history of the world. That still stands. Tenfold.”
 

“But he’s genuinely angry.”
 

“I know. That’s the stupidest part. I’m not saying it’s not a big deal. It’s just... I mean, bloody hell, how much bad timing can two people really have?”
 

“I’m guessing every single other person in the world manages to have a wonderful, easy, flowing life seeing as we take the biscuit on crap timing. There’s not enough left to go around.”
 

This was exhausting. I ran my hands roughly over my face. And laid back on the bed. “I have to go and find him, don’t I.”
 

“That’s not a bad idea.” Lily said, gently.
 

“But what if he... what do I say?” I felt suddenly dangerously close to the way I’d felt coming into Lily’s dorm in the first place. That completely hollow feeling from when you’ve just found out you can’t have something you didn’t even know you wanted. Needed.
 

“You apologise. For running off, and for... ‘A Caldron Full of Hot Strong Love’.”
 

“Then what?” I sat up. “He said... he said he needed time. I’m not claiming to know what that means but I’m pretty sure that ‘time’ in this instance means more than about two hours.”
 

“I don’t know. Sirius says some pretty rash things. I’m betting he said that without thinking, without considering how it would feel to you, and now he’s feeling shit.”
 

“Or nothing’s changed. And he just doesn’t want me.” Definitely no bubble of hope remaining now.
 

“Deb.” Lily made her way over to my (definitely not mine) bed. “Do you know he said those exact words when I went over there this summer?”
 

I leant my head against her shoulder. “No.”
 

“Well he did. ‘She doesn’t want me’, he said. And he genuinely believed it. And he was heartbroken. So that just shows... that when you think someone hates you, maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re just devastated that they’ve put their feelings on the line and had them crushed.”
 

Now I felt more guilty. So I began the denial. “He didn’t put any feelings on the line. Not this time.”
 

“How do you know? You said yourself you couldn’t remember anything other than ‘I need time’.”
 

I heaved a big sigh, hoping it would relieve me of that constricting pressure in my chest. The one that felt kind of guilty. But hopeful. Why did Lily Freaking Evans insist on me having that stupid, probably pointless, hope?
 

“But what if he doesn’t?” I asked her, my voice small.
 

She squeezed my hand. “Then at least you’ll know.”
 

Did I want to?
 

Oh hell, she was right. Apart from being torn in half, I just needed to bloody know. I needed to understand. I was sick of not understanding.
 

“Ok. Ok, I have to. I have to go after him, don’t I?” I sat up straight.
 

“Of course you do, stupid.” So, so sympathetic, my Lil.
 

“Right.” I stood up. Then paused. “So where the hell do you think he is?”
 

“Oh.” We both hadn’t thought of that. Lily shrugged, paused for a moment, then looked down. “I don’t know... but I think I know someone that can help.”
 

“What? Who?” I was curious. She wasn’t looking at me. Why wasn’t she looking at me?
 

“Promise you won’t be angry with me?”
 

What? What in hell would I be angry about. Was it some sort of secret girlfriend? That he’d been keeping a secret for the last... Oh shut the fuck up, Debbie.
 

“What?” Was all I managed to come out with.
 

“Look, just... wait here. Well, actually, don’t wait here. Get in the shower and get some normal clothes on. Ones that don’t make you look like a murder suspect. With a runny nose. Get showered and get dressed and... I’ll be back.”
 

And she left. I was left gawking. What the hell?
 

Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror.
 

She was right. I was revolting.

 

**
 


It felt a whole lot better – being freshly washed. After rinsing two days of stress and one highly tense and bloody quidditch match from me, things felt almost like they had the smallest chance of turning out ok.
 

Maybe.
 

When I came out of the bathroom with damp hair and in Lily’s clothes, I stopped abruptly.
 

None other than James Potter was sat on her bed. Great, more people to know how pitiful I was.
 

“You told him?” I asked. This was embarrassing.
 

“Not really.” She was actually sat quite close to him. If I didn’t know better I’d say... Nah. “I didn’t know what you’d want me to say. I just told him we needed his help.”
 

“And she didn’t say what for. Very mysterious and all.” James chipped in, rubbing a hand through his hair.
 

There was no point beating about the bush. “Do you know where he is?” I asked, bluntly. There was no question about who I meant.
 

James frowned, looking slightly confused. “Sirius? No. He was... we were leaving you two to... well, you’re here. He’s not in our room. I don’t know.”
 

“Oh, nice. Helpful. Great plan, Lil.” I rolled my eyes in her general direction.
 

“James,” She said... wait, ‘James’ again? “We really need to know where he is.”
 

“I just said I don’t know where he is,” James looked thoroughly nonplussed.
 

“But we really need to know.”
 

This was weird. “Lil, if he doesn’t know then he can’t help us...” I pointed out.
 

“Look, this is an emergency, Potter.” Ah, there was the Lily I knew and loved. “We need the map.”
 

Wait, what?
 

“Map? What map? I don’t think geography is going to help us much here...” I said, looking accusingly between the two of them. Lily had her eyebrows raised, almost challengingly, waiting for a response. James’ face had dropped from bewildered to hesitant. He looked up at me, then back to Lily.
 

“You mean the secret map?” He said, pointedly.
 

“I don’t like secrets.” She said, in quite a whingey voice, might I add. “You’re lucky I haven’t had any reason to tell her before... sorry, Deb...”
 

“Wait, what?” None of this was making any sense. “What secret map, and why didn’t you tell me?”
 

“Well, remember the cloak incident, Deb...”
 

Oh bloody James Potter and his obsession with the well-being of that bloody cloak.
 

“That was one time! And I wasn’t even caught.”
 

“It was close enough. You’re not careful enough.”
 

“I am too -”
 

“Oh, both of you shut up arguing.” Lily played rational, mature peace-maker. Damn her. “Deb, the boys made a map, back at the beginning of last year. It shows you where everyone is Hogwarts is. Every single person. I caught them at it but promised not to turn them in... if I could use it whenever I needed to.”
 

My mouth dropped open, and my mind went spinning off; back to every time – every single bloody time – that Sirius had seemed to appear from nowhere. The way he’s always showed up at just exactly the right (wrong) time in exactly the right (wrong) place, when I was avoiding him.
 

Because they had a map?
 

“That is... that is such an invasion of privacy!” I practically spluttered. I mean, could they see when we were on the loo? Disgusting. “What the... why... why would you... stop it!”
 

“Stop what?” James asked, bewildered.
 

“Stop doing it. I don’t know if I’m alright with you knowing where we are every second -”
 

“I’m not doing it right now -”
 

“Well good -”
 

“Look, do you want my help or not?” He threw up his hands in defeat.
 

Oh.
 

I kind of did. Maybe I was ok with this all-powerful map.
 

When it suited me.
 

Damn.
 

“This doesn’t mean I approve.” I folded my arms stubbornly.
 

“I’m not asking for approval.” James fished out what looked like a reasonably well-used piece of parchment from his pocket and unfolded it. The edges were getting a bit wrinkled and brown. I pulled a face. “It’s not meant to be pretty, Deb.” He caught my eye.
 

“Sorry.” I apologised, and looked down at the manky bit of parchment curiously.
 

James got out his wand, cleared his throat and tapped the parchment. “I solemnly swear I am up to no good...”
 

“Are you kidding me?” I raised my eyebrows.
 

“Give us a break, we were sixteen. And it’s awesome.” He bit back.
 

I sat down beside him and watched with a feeling of slight disbelief as tiny black tendrils of ink spread fluidly from the point where his wand had touched the parchment. They formed neat, parallel lines and criss-crossed, forming organised patterns...
 

“Is that the Great Hall? And the four house tables?” I gently touched it as if I’d ruin it.
 

“Yep.”
 

I looked closer – those miniscule dots within the lines; they were... they were moving.
 

“No freaking way.” I looked up at James. “You did this?”
 

He grinned and nodded smugly.
 

“You made it?”
 

“We all did. Me, Sirius, Remus... Peter... well -”
 

I looked up at Lily. “And you knew about this?”
 

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” She did look apologetic. For a second. “But you didn’t tell me you’d been hooking up with your best mate for six months so let’s call it even.”
 

Well that was difficult to argue with. “Deal.” I looked back down at the parchment. “I still don’t believe this.”
 

“Told you it’s awesome.” James said, not even feigning modesty. But he was right. I’d allow this bragging.
 

“Anyway,” Lily interrupted. “You can admire it later. Remember why you actually needed it?”
 

Like I could forget. But I found that I couldn’t even look. I ran a hand through my – still damp – hair.
 

“Ok. Where is he?” I closed my eyes. When I opened them, James had slid the map onto my lap, his finger resting against an oval shape, surrounded by more intricate markings...
 

“The Quidditch pitch.” For some reason my stomach churned. Brought back memories of last year – the time I’d gone after him. Gone after him to tell him that I couldn’t move on...
 

Was that what this was? After everything that had happened, could it even be compared?
 

“The changing rooms.” James had looked more closely than me. He looked up, his dark eyes suddenly worried. “Look, Deb, I don’t really know what’s going on here. But if he’s gone there and if he’s pacing like he is on the map, well... he probably went there to be alone.”
 

I let out a breath that I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. “I know. But James, I just really need to sort out this fucking mess finally -”
 

“I know. I’m not saying don’t go. I’m saying he’s going to be...”
 

“Raging mad?”
 

“Not entirely happy.” He conceded. “So just... is this... is this a good thing or a bad thing?”
 

I almost smiled, involuntarily. Those were the exact words Lily had asked that morning, in the exact same concerned tone.
 

And again, “I don’t have a clue.” I echoed my reply. “But I am not waiting around for life to screw me over any more. I’ll screw up my own life, thanks very much.”
 

“That’s my girl.” James smiled. Kind of not the usual full James Potter grin though. He really was worried.
 

“Let’s look on the bright side.” I stood up. I had to do this. “There is absolutely no way that this could get any worse.”
 

 

**
 



My heart was hammering as I stood the other side of that sturdy wooden door. Well, not hammering exactly. It was more fluttery and dithery and pathetic than that. Whatever it was, it was constricting my breathing. I needed to be breathing easy for this. I need to be calm
 

Or at least appear calm.
 

Oh, fuck it. I don’t think I was quite going to manage calm. It was all the more likely that I’d just stand here until my brief surge of adrenaline had subsided before chickening out and running back to Lily.
 

And be right back in that infuriating position that I had been for the last few months.
 

Nope.
 

Had to be now.
 

I could hear something vaguely rhythmical coming through the door. An echoey thudding, kind of.
 

Bam-bam, Bam. Bam-bam, Bam.
 

What was he...
 

Oh, stop sodding putting it off. Do it.
 

I opened the door.
 

For a second I assumed the room was empty. Stupidly. Maybe it was wishful thinking. I sort of barely took it in apart from the usual grey, dingy walls and the faded wooden benches with their dull, metal hooks.
 

He was on the floor, with his back against the wall. There was just one more rhythmical thudding, as he slung the Quaffle once more so that it bounced against the wall, the floor, and back to him.
 

Then he looked up. And that same expression that I’d seen just a couple of hours ago when I’d caught him by surprise – that sullen mask with a crease between his eyebrows and his mouth set in a firm line. That was back in an instant.
 

I spent maybe a second too long taking in his appearance. Enough for him to calmly place the ball beside him and come to the conclusion, “James showed you the map.”
 

He didn’t sound entirely thrilled by it. The unspoken ‘He shouldn’t have’ rang more clearly through the tiny room than anything.
 

“I would have found you eventually.” Defensive again. It was almost automatic for me.
 

There was an agonising pause of a few seconds as I cursed myself and tried to remember why I’d come here in the first place. He didn’t drop the moody expression. And the Quaffle was rolling slowly away from him.
 

Then he closed his eyes and rested his head back against the wall. “Can you please just leave me alone?”
 

Oh, how I adored Calm Voice. It brought back that nauseating feeling of guilt that I’d come to associate it with last year. Which annoyed me. I mean, I had nothing to feel guilty about. What had I done? Allowed my best friend to cheer me up after being unceremoniously dumped, pretty much?
 

“No.” I said, almost indignantly, my voice ever so slightly raised. “Just... no!” I folded my arms, unsure what to follow that little outburst with.
 

He was surprised too. For just a fraction of a second. Then ‘pissed-off’ was back in all of its glory.
 

“So now you’ll stay?” That voice didn’t sound happy. That voice wasn’t even Calm Voice. That voice was seriously pissed off. “You’ll leave me mid-sentence when I’m trying to figure through a shit load of stuff you’ve just landed me with, you’ll bugger off to play with your best mate, but now you won’t leave me alone?”
 

Oh god. Here it came. Defensive. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
 

My fingers were inadvertently curling into fists.“Figuring it out? Figuring what out? I just told you exactly how things have been in front of your face this whole year and you have to figure it out?”
 

“Are you kidding me? You’re not exactly the most straight-forward person in the world -”
 

“And you’re Mr Open?!”
 

Our voices were steadily rising. And it felt even worse, even more claustrophobic, in the cool, echoing grey walls.
 

“I’m not saying I’ve never done anything wrong, I’m saying you’ve pissed me off today -”
 

“What does it matter if I was there or not if you were figuring things out, you obviously didn’t want me -”
 

“I was talking to you -”
 

“You were saying you didn’t want me -”
 

“I wasn’t saying that -”
 

“I heard it -”
 

Why are we shouting?”
 

I don’t know.”
 

My last word rang out overly loudly into bleak silence. I felt almost out of breath, like I’d been running laps. And I realised that at some point in the debate (slanging match) he’d stood up and I’d clenched my fists until my knuckles were white.
 

There were a few seconds of almost calm in which we both glared and the only sound was our breathing. Then it looked like he was about to say something, something I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to want to hear. So I jumped in.
 

“Why did you come after me -”
 

“- Why did you run away?” He spoke almost simultaneously.
 

Now that we’d both relatively calmed I wasn’t about to answer that. I wasn’t sure that I could. And I was certain that I couldn’t say it without it sounding pathetic.
 

“I asked you first.” I said. It was almost light-hearted. Almost.
 

He wasn’t one bit amused. Just closed his eyes and rubbed his face.
 

“I came after you to find out why you ran away.” He said. It was nearly convincing. But...
 

“You waited two hours.”
 

“Because you ran away! Kind of implies you don’t want me around -”
 

“So why’d you come after me?”
 

“Because...” He was getting worked up again. Ran a hand agitatedly through his hair and turned around to walk a few paces away. “Because I didn’t know why and I thought I’d let you just do whatever you had to do but I couldn’t just... I couldn’t just... let you go. Like I always do.”
 

I hadn’t realised we’d been raising our voices again until his voice dropped with that last sentence.
 

There was another moment like we’d been running a race. I could see it in him this time. Is shoulders dropped and his face still kind of scowling but also that edge of tiredness and vulnerability.
 

I swallowed. “Why.” It came out extra quiet. Partly because I was concentrating on not shouting this time.
 

It didn’t last. As soon as I spoke, that hard mask was back, my Sirius was gone and I hated myself for it.
 

“Because I was stupid.” He said. I didn’t like that cold edge to his voice. “I was stupid enough to think that maybe you might slightly care. I started to think that maybe I’d said something to upset you. But obviously not. You have to actually care for that.”
 

“Who’s to say I don’t care?” I demanded, instantly defensive now that that infuriating mask was back.
 

“Who’s to say? I’m to say, having walked in on you jumping on your fucking bed while I’ve been killing myself wondering what the hell went wrong for the last two hours -”
 

“Why bother? When you obviously don’t even care -”
 

I don’t care? Are you kidding? I came after you when you’d just left me as usual -”
 

Why?”
 

“Because I’m an idiot! Because I -”
 

“Just to make sure I got the hint that you wanted nothing to do with -?”
 

Because I fucking love you, that’s why.”
 

Oh.
 

Whatever utter rubbish I’d been about to spill out mid-flow got stopped in its tracks somewhere in the region of my throat.
 

And there was a silence so complete and so still that I heard my breath catch. And I could hear that he was holding his.
 

I should have felt something.
 

Shouldn’t I?
 

I should have been overjoyed, happy, content...
 

Anything.
 

Shouldn’t I?
 

Even angry would have been welcome. That’s sure as hell what I’d been feeling before that word. Where did that disappear to?
 

Instead... nothing.
 

I took a slow lungful of air in. This had to be temporary. I was just in shock. I had to be.
 

I could hear this breath shake as well.
 

It took a second for me to register that there was some sort of feeling. Not that I could. Feel it I mean. But when I took in Sirius’ face and registered the sheer terror on it, I knew instinctively that that was mirrored almost perfectly on my own.
 

Then he let out the breath. His eyes were closed. “I’m sorry.”
 

Sorry? What in hell was he sorry for? I was the one acting like a complete and utter tool when I should have been happy. Or slapping him. Either.
 

Instead this...
 

The numbness was fading. In its place... Sheer confusion.
 

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t... I shouldn’t have said that.” He opened his eyes and I felt all of a sudden very caught in his gaze. Caught. The Look. Just like it used to be. Only more panic.
 

Shouldn’t have said it. Shouldn’t have?
 

There were another few seconds of that very still silence while I took another breath. This one closer to steady than the last.
 

“Dee.” He held up his hands briefly. That was my cue. I had to say something. I’d been quiet for too long.
 

I opened my mouth.
 

But what I supposed to say?
 

You love him, a voice that sounded very much like Lily’s said. You told me and you told yourself. Tell him.
 

Did I? Why hadn’t I just said it, then? Straight away? Why hadn’t I felt it?

 

Why was there that numbness and now that... confusion?
 


“What are you thinking?” His words were still clipped and short. He didn’t sound particularly thrilled about the whole thing either. It hadn’t exactly been affectionate. He’d essentially snarled it at me.
 


You love him. He just said he loves you. Tell him.
 


He snarled it at me.
 


He didn’t sound like he particularly wanted to.
 


But he did. He said it. And he’d come after me. Even after... everything.
 


Oh god. Here it came. Somewhere from that great storm of confusion, it came.
 


The churning of my stomach. The burning of my eyes. The quivering in my chest.
 


I think he noticed before me.
 


“Ok. Ok you’re crying. Don’t... why are you -” Now he was the one that looked baffled.
 


He didn’t come to me. Didn’t wrap his arms around me like he had so many times before. He was uncertain. He didn’t know what to do, what I wanted.
 


All he did was hold out his hands and stand there.
 


He didn’t leave.
 


For a moment I just stood there too. Tears streaming down my face and all.
 


Then there was that moment. That moment between that passive, peaceful sort of crying and all-out emotional chaos. That moment where you need to breath but you know that if you do.
 


I don’t know who reached out, if it was me of him.
 


But I was in his arms again. My face crushed against his shirt, my hands tightly curled in the crisp fabric and his arms curled around me. Holding me.
 


Turns out, it wasn’t the sort of breath just before you bawl. My tears were still streaming silently. My breathing still ragged.
 


“Don’t.” He said, his arms locked tight. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry -”
 


I waited a few seconds for my chest to loosen up. I didn’t move my face from his chest. My cheek was against a button. But I didn’t think I could look at him.
 


Say it.
 


I can’t.
 


I could hear his words through his chest.“I’m sorry I said it. I’m sorry I yelled at you. But...”
 


He didn’t sound like he was having any trouble breathing at all. Why did I get all the body dysfunction?
 


“But I do.” Then he stopped, to take a breath. Maybe he was having more trouble than it seemed. “I do and I... and it’s been that way for a long time.”
 


He didn’t even pause for long, this time. It was like he didn’t even expect me to say anything.
 


“I love you.” He wasn’t snarling this time. This time I kind of believed it. And this time I felt... “It’s stupid and I thought I... I thought we were... I don’t know. But I -”
 


“Sirius.” My voice actually sounded ok. Not normal. Not confident or nonchalant or anything much. But it made words. That was really all I could ask.
 


He released his arms just a fraction. Just enough to hold me back and for me to hope that my face was at least semi-dry and human-coloured rather than the soggy red mess I could imagine.
 


“What?” His voice was soft.
 


I could say it. I could say what I’d come here to say, I knew I could.
 


The words that I’d locked away for so long, the words I hadn’t even been able to Lily.
 


It just came to me. It was easy.
 


“I love you too.”
 


 

 

 

 

 

 









A.N. Sorry, still immensely slow. But it means so much that people are continuing to follow this story. Thanks for reading and having some faith in me.

Rx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 11: If we hold on to each other, we'll be better than before.
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“Shut up!”

 

“I’m not saying anything! You’re the one that’s -”

 

“Seriously, be quiet! Someone’ll hear -”

 

“Sssh!”

 

“It’s not funny! Stop giggling -”

 

“I do not giggle -”

 

I was in the middle of an indignant protest at the mere thought that I might do something so pathetic as giggle, when a hand was roughly thrown across my mouth which made me giggle – laugh... maturely – all the more.

 

But it was muffled enough for me to hear the footsteps and the low rumble of conversation getting quieter and quieter as they moved on.

 

They, by the way, being the prefects. Probably my good-for-nothing-likely-next-Head-Boy-pal.

 

Actually, that’s a lie. I knew for a fact that Ray was patrolling the lower floors tonight. In fact, it was pretty much his fault that we were here. Not that he knew that.

 

I should explain.

 

My whereabouts? It’s embarrassing to admit. Oh, alright, a broom cupboard. Alright, laugh all you bloody well want. It’s even more cringe-worthy to admit whom exactly was my companion.

 

Although not all that surprising.

 

Sirius Black. This time, I dare admit it. My boyfriend. Or something. Maybe.

 

Eurgh.

 

But, in my defence, we were not here for an inappropriate rendezvous of any kind. Nope. And, possibly more impressively, we were not here due to any disguising of the nature of our relationship, nor of any pretence that said relationship does not exist at all. 

 

We were here to spy. On an unsuspecting girl.

 

That doesn’t sound much better.

 

I should explain.

 

So there I was. With my boyfriend. I mean, it’s not like we actually made that official. I mean not immediately. There wasn’t a shout-shout-sob-sob-I-love-you-be-my-boyfriend moment. Just the shouting and sobbing, mainly. Before I could get my brain to function.

 

The usual.

 

We stayed for a while. In the changing rooms. Romantic (foul-smelling) setting and all. It was kind of awkward, almost. Which was weird. I kind of thought that after all that chaos, just plain standing would be a breeze. But it wasn’t.

 

And I was exhausted.

 

It was actually a fair while before he even said anything in response to my confession. For a while I considered legging it again. Just for old time’s sake.

 

But not seriously. It was just a fleeting thought. And my body didn’t even do anything stupid without my permission, for a chance.

 

I just stayed there, in his arms. Quite calm.

 

It was weird.

 

After holding his breath for a bit, he let it all out. It sounded a little... well, not panicky... but not exactly calm.

 

It reminded me of who he was. Not who he was now, but who he was before... well. Before me. The Sirius Black who’d replace girl with girl with girl... not stopping to care or consider her feelings. Just in it for his own fun, his own distraction.

 

That was the Sirius I’d expect to panic at the thought of love. And for a moment it brought back my old insecurities. From that early time that I couldn’t quite trust him. Couldn’t quite give him a chance. And from the more recent time after the summer, where I was sure he was about to bounce back from me and go back to his old ways.

 

I had a moment of absolutely certain belief that I’d been right – that we’d finally gone too far and he’d realised what he’d gotten himself in to. A moment that seemed to choke me to the point that I was sure I couldn’t breathe even if I tried.

 

I couldn’t go through that. Not now. After all this.

 

But that’s all it was. A moment. Before he spoke.

 

“Do you mean it?” His voice was low, gruff almost. But there was a childlike vulnerability that let me breathe again.

 

Of course. This was who he was now. The old Sirius had been left behind almost a year ago now. Maybe longer, if what everyone else seemed to think was true. Maybe the new Sirius had always been in there somewhere. Or maybe not. Maybe he’d changed when he decided it was worth the risk to show me how he felt. Maybe it was when I decided to give him a chance. I didn’t know.

 

This Sirius cared so much it hurt. Hurt him and me, sometimes. And he’d spent the last few months believing it was just him that had cared that much all along.

 

He was mine, and I didn’t want him to hurt anymore.

 

“Of course I mean it, you idiot.”

 

Well, there was not wanting to hurt him anymore and there was changing my personality altogether. Let’s not go too far.

 

A worry that I hadn’t even noticed disappeared from his eyes as I tried to repress a stupid, dorky grin and he pulled he to him, half laughing half sighing with relief.

 

“I’ve wanted to hear that for so long, Dee. You don’t... I wanted to tell you a million times. But I didn’t want to creep you out and you’re... well...”

 

“Pathetic?” I supplied.

 

He grinned. Not contradicting me, I noticed.

 

Then I noticed that that worry, that slight tension in his eyes, hadn’t entirely gone.

 

“You do believe me. Don’t you?” I stepped back out of his arms, just holding lightly onto one of his hands. I didn’t want to completely let go in case he disappeared and I’d imagined it all in the depths of my insanity. You never know.

 

His grin faded again. But he squeezed my fingers. It was beat before he answered. “Yes. I do, I just... I don’t know, it’s just hard to put this together. I mean I’ve spent this whole term thinking you could just turn around and... replace me. And that you thought there was nothing wrong with doing that and then expecting us to all go back to how things were before. I’ve spent all this time telling myself I was stupid to think you were... who I thought you were.”

 

I can’t say it didn’t hurt. A little. Partly him saying it. Partly kicking myself for not realising what it looked like.

 

“So you’ve built me up to be the bad guy.” I forced a small, pathetic smile.

 

He shrugged uncomfortably. “I thought you were the bad guy. Part of me still loved you and the other part would do anything to forget I ever had. When I’ve been listening to that part for so long it’s just kind of hard to believe this is happening.”

 

“But you want it to. Right?”

 

The smile returned and the worry faded a little. Just a little. “I’ve always wanted it. I just... don’t... know what to do with it now that I’ve got it.”

 

Well I could relate to that. Just like he was having a hard time piecing together Debbie that loved him with She-Devil Debbie, I was having a hard time believing that he wasn’t going to retreat back into cold, stone mask Sirius at any given moment.

 

“Don’t let it fuck everything up again?” I suggested in a mutter, wondering how in hell I was going to avoid doing so when I’d prove so inadequate it in recent months.

 

His smile stretched into that Sirius-smirk that I had almost forgotten, and I was engulfed in wave of relief and affection that for some reason made me want to cry.

 

“I won’t let you if you won’t let me.” He countered.

 

“Deal.” I mumbled, as he pulled me in to his chest for the second time. If only either of us could believe that would work. As Lily put it, we were two of the most socially incompetent people around. Life just didn’t go smoothly for people like that.

 

I had the feeling that neither of us were going to forget this torn feeling in a hurry.

 

“It’s not going to be easy.” I said, light-heartedly.

 

Sirius’ sigh was less light-hearted. “No.” He swallowed. “But this is the closest I’ve been to... happy. For a long time.”

 

Another feeling like I’d been punched in the gut. I wasn’t an idiot. I knew that this... that we weren’t perfect. That nothing as going to feel perfect right now, if ever.

 

But I wanted it to be. I wanted us to be happy. For real.

 

It just seemed so hard.

 

“Do you remember after your last match against Slytherin, last year?” He said, all of a sudden.

 

Duh. Like I could forget. The night of my greatest sporting victory (anticlimactic though it was), the night we were finally getting all the secrecy off our chests. The night my heart was broken.

 

I most certainly had mixed feelings about that night.

 

“What about it.” I could hear those mixed feelings coming across in my short response. Which meant that he could hear them too.

 

“I mean right after. When we went up to your common room for the party. To tell everyone everything.” He paused, maybe waiting for confirmation.

 

So I nodded, thinking back to that night. The run-in with Avery and his minions. Sirius rescuing me. Being sarcastic to Freddie. Freddie’s fury. My nausea seeing Sirius’ blood on Freddie’s knuckles.

 

“When we were in the common room. Waiting for Lily to find James or something like that. It was crowded and hot and I’m pretty sure I was still dizzy from your brothers intervention.” He grinned, apparently less nauseated by the memory than me.

 

It only reminded me of what had happened after that. After Freddie had caught us together, punching him for the second time. After we’d frantically attempted damage control on Freddie, James and Lily’s reactions. After we’d gotten back to the common room. Marlene...

 

“What about it.” I repeated, shortly again, no matter how much I tried not to be.

 

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s because it turned into the worst night of my life, or because of how scared I was of how they were going to react, or because of the relief of getting it all out in the open. Being there with you, and knowing we were... I don’t know. Knowing we were going to do it properly. That it was worth the stress of going through with telling everyone.” He shrugged again. “That might be the happiest I’ve been. Ever.”

 

I thought about it. The nerves. The nausea. The certainty that we would go through with it because it would be worth it, to be able to be a public, normal couple. The giddiness we felt, as we waiting, putting it off as long as we could to hold on to that feeling. Was that love? Did I love him even then? I don’t know if I’d let myself. Or whether I did unintentionally.

 

Whatever it was. He was right. We were giddy with happiness.

 

I’d never thought about it before. I hadn’t thought back to that feeling before, unable to separate it in my mind from the agony of the events after.

 

“We had hope.” I said, half to myself. “We just felt like everything would work out because...”

 

“Because it was us.”

 

It felt so fleeting, that moment. So brief. I wish it had lasted longer so that I could hold on to it now. But maybe that was why it felt so good. Or...

 

“Because it was before all the bad stuff happened.” I said, meeting his eyes. The regret in them looked more painful than the traces of betrayal I still felt. Was that what made it ok? That his regret was greater than my feelings of betrayal?

 

Whatever. It had all happened already, and there was nothing to be done about it. We’d given it the chance to tear us apart and it hadn’t managed. We could still do this.

 

“Do you think we can feel like that again?” He asked, looking down at our intertwined hands instead of at me.

 

“Maybe not.” I mused. Sirius’s face fell. “But I don’t know if we want to,” I added. It didn’t appear to help much. “We know now. We didn’t know then how bad things could get. We were pretty stupid.” Pretty cocky. “But we know now.”

 

He gave a small smile. “So, what, we appreciate it more?”

 

I shrugged. “I don’t know. We’re just not as naive, maybe.” For now, anyway. I’m pretty sure something else earth-shattering was likely to happen before Christmas, as the rate we’d been going.

 

He rested his chin on my head as he considered that. It felt weird that I couldn’t see his face. I didn’t know if he was put off by that. Or if he was even taking it seriously. People seem to find it quite difficult to take me seriously.

 

After a few long moment he exhaled, moved back and gently touched a finger under my chin so I’d meet his eyes. The gesture was so familiar I felt my eyes prickle. I was far too highly strung for this.

 

“So. Better than before?” He asked, sounding like he was half joking. But he’d thought about it.

 

“Maybe.” I leaned into his palm and his hand moved from my chin to my cheek. Even this made me feel better than I had in months. I could almost believe myself.

 

“It won’t be easy.” He echoed my own words.

 

“For us? Or for others?” I asked, thinking of the poor reactions last time. Thinking of the Slytherins. Thinking of Sirius’ ‘chat’ with Regulus.

 

Sirius sighed. “I wasn’t even thinking of that.” For a moment it was like he was looking through me, off thinking in his own space, before he snapped out of it. “But I know one or two people who will be ecstatic.”

 

I pictured a certain redheaded Evans and a certain bespectacled Potter. Their reactions would be the polar opposite they had been last time.

 

But equally overwhelming, if my suspicions were correct.

 

“Come on then. Let’s go face the music.”

 

 

**

 

 

That was now three weeks ago. James and Lily had managed to stop beaming at us like we were their toddler prodigies that had finally learnt to play nice. Londy had conquered her mixed feelings on my betraying feminism/forgiving my true love and was now prone to knowing smirks a couple of dozen times a day. Freddie had been delighted to hear it – whether he genuinely was or was just trying to be, I didn’t really care right now – when I’d written to tell him. Apparently Ro asked if I’d inform Sirius just how much he’d suffer if he screwed anything up again.

 

Even the Slytherins hadn’t shown any antagonism. Not that I was aware of, anyway. And I had been bracing myself for it. In the privacy of the Gryffindor or Ravenclaw common room, Sirius and I had been free to be ourselves. In lessons or in the Great Hall, thought we weren’t actively hiding anything, we were maybe just a little more restrained. I know I’d been sneaking little side glances over to that side of the hall way too often. But nothing had come of it.

 

I’d mentioned it to Sirius, wondering if we should be more nervous because of it, but he brushed it off.

 

“What can they do?” He shrugged, “They’re not worth worrying about. Don’t even bother thinking about them.”

 

He’d thrown an arm around my shoulders and just the subject just a touch too abruptly.

 

But he’d been right. So far, anyway. And we’d been... good. For the most part.

 

Sure, I still had those moments when I was approaching him where my gut twisted and I was absolutely certain that he was going to turn around with the cold, stone mask on.

 

Sure, he sometimes got that expression on his face that was so transparent you could virtually see the cogs turning as he reminded himself that I wasn’t the she-devil.

 

But that was fine. All it took was a smile, a kiss, a touch...

 

A reminder, really. Of where we were now.

 

It worked. The more time went by, the more we believed it might be ok.

 

Except from... well. There was one little part that Sirius was having trouble with.

 

“Of course I trust you.” He’d grumbled, irritably, when once I snapped just little too abruptly at his glares in the general vicinity of the Hufflepuff table.

 

“Then why are you acting like a crazy person?” I muttered back, when he didn’t cease the glaring, just redirected it to his plate.

 

“I can’t help it. I spent the last three months hating the guy, what do you expect?”

 

Much like he’d hated me.

 

“You don’t give me that evil look, do you?”

 

“That’s different.” He mumbled, petulantly.

 

“How?!”

 

He sighed and gave another brief scowl over to the other side of the room. “You don’t think he was glad when you... kissed him? You don’t think he wanted it just a little bit?”

 

I almost laughed. “Not in the slightest. Believe me. He views it, in his words, as a ‘narrow escape’.” It was true. He’d been a good sport, of course. But hadn’t hidden the fact that it had utterly terrified him. Not even to spare my feelings. Toad.

 

Sirius eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Of course he’d say that.”

 

“Oh for the love of... Look, do you want to ask him yourself?”

 

“No!” Sirius said, defensively. Then looked up apprehensively at me before scowling. “Don’t say anything to him.”

 

Oh sure, because there I was about to pop over for that chat. Because it wouldn’t be equally humiliating for me or anything.

 

Idiot.

 

I sighed. “Do I have to prove it to you? How am I supposed to do that...?” I trailed off, my eyes fixed on a brown shiny head swinging as a pretty brunette swung herself onto the bench next to Ray.

 

That was it.

 

“I can do it.” I announced to Sirius. Under my breath of course.

 

He was a bit bewildered by my turnabout. People really need to start keeping up with my train of thought. “Um. Ok...”

 

“Do you see that girl next to him? The pretty one.” I asked, averting my head ‘subtly’ away. It might have looked vaguely like I was smelling my own armpit but these things are necessary sometimes.

 

“No, Dee.  All I can see are the backs of various heads.”

 

“Oh.” I frowned. At my arm pit. “Well, hang on... I’ll try something... GINA.”

 

I immediately hid my head further into arm pit, neck pain or no neck pain, while Sirius jumped in panic.

 

“Is she looking?” I hissed, still not looking, while Sirius fumbled with his knife and fork in an effort to appear nonchalant.

 

“Well, yeah, along with every other living creature in the room. An insane person just screamed her name, what do you expect?” He hissed right back.

 

After a few more moments I deemed it safe to emerge into the real world again. I shook back my hair glanced airily about the room. Everyone back to their own business. Good to see.

 

“Pretty, right?” I said, conversationally.

 

Sirius hadn’t quite calmed down. “Sure. What’s your point?”

 

“And they’d make a cute couple?” I prompted, nodding in the direction of the slightly scruffy blond head and shiny brunette. She really did have the shiniest hair. It was almost suspiciously perfect.

 

Sirius groaned. “Really? You’re going there? You are not good at this stuff. It’s been seven years and James and Lily only just don’t hate each other. Don’t put anyone else through that.”

 

“That’s the beauty of it!” I pounded my fork on the table to drill in my point. “They already like each other!”

 

“Really?” He was sceptical. “He actually told you that?”

 

“Well...”

 

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Enough said.”

 

“No! Look, he might not have actually said it... and I don’t know if he actually knows it himself yet...”

 

Sirius didn’t cease the eye rolling.

 

I glared and folded my arms. “I just know it. I’ve seen her talking to him. She’s so... nice and... shiny.” Damn hair. “What’s not to like? And she likes him. She’s...”

 

“Nice?” Sirius supplied, a little too innocently.

 

“You don’t believe me.” I narrowed my eyes. “I can do this, you know.”

 

Our eyes met, mine determined and his... still sceptical. For a while. It was some kind of battle of the eyes. It was annoying. His scepticism didn’t even waver. How could he not think I could do this? Just because I was so crap at the romance thing myself, didn’t mean I couldn’t see it in others.

 

Maybe.

 

He was the one that caved first, sighing and taking my hand. Squeezing it in more of a resigned than romantic way.

 

“Fine. Tell me your idiotic plan so I can make it better.”

 

I was a little taken aback by his giving in like that. It didn’t seem in character. I raised my eyebrows.

 

He smiled, stopping just short of sarcasm. “If you’re in, I’m in.”

 

I smirked, smugly.

 

One of the perks of this whole love thing.

 

 

**

 

 

“This is stupid.” Sirius was sat on an upturned bucket, lolling against the wall by this point. “It’s been hours and they’ve walked this way twice. Once talking about homework.” He sounded disgusted. “Not a budding romance. You’ve got this one wrong, Dee.”

 

“I have not.” I was still stood at the door, looking out every now and then at any vague sound I heard. Surely they had to be heading back this way soon. It was nearly curfew and they had to pass down this way to get to their common room.

 

“They were talking about school work. There’s no hope.”

 

“Don’t be such a pig.” I didn’t turn around. “It’s not about what they say, it’s how they say it.”

 

Sirius snorted. “Right.”

 

I glared, over my shoulder.

 

He grinned, a wicked gleam coming into his eyes. “I mean, right.” Suddenly his voice was lower, smoother, and his arms reached out around my waist. “Of course you’re right...” His hands snaked around, one flat against my ribs and one tugging on my hip to draw me back to him.

 

Idiot.

 

“Stop it.” I told him, prudishly, but unable to stop myself smirking. I wondered if he could feel my breathing catch and my heart rate increase as his hand travelled that direction...

 

“You don’t mean that.”He’d pulled me back onto his lap now, his lips against my neck.

 

My back arched and my head fell back onto his shoulder, involuntarily. “Stop it.” This time it was more half-hearted.

 

“Say it again,” He murmured, his lips fluttering against the pulse in my throat, “And I will.”

 

Suddenly my mouth decided it couldn’t function at all, perfectly preoccupied with the fire he was tracing through my shirt when...

 

He was the one that paused, just for a moment. Just long enough for my brain to emerge, reluctantly, from that blissful haze to hear them. Voices.

 

I was up and out of his lap in a second. “Did you hear that?” I leaned toward the crack between the door and the wall, turning my head in an attempt to see further down the hall.

 

Sirius groaned, almost growling under his breath. “Seriously?” He demanded. “Get back here.”

 

“Shhh.” I reprimanded, hearing the footsteps approach. “They’ll hear.”

 

“I’ll keep you quiet...” His hand slipped into mine and he pulled me back towards him, obviously not willing to let go of the moment.

 

I probably would have let him if I hadn’t had a moment of clarity, one particular voice coming into focus. I stopped dead. “Is that...?”

 

Then he heard it too. Barked a brief laugh before I shut him up with a palm to the mouth.

 

“Shut it!” I hissed, holding him back against the wall. The laughter on his face didn’t disappear, but at least he kept it quiet.

 

“It’s only James and Lily.” He hissed right back, between bouts of laughter at my face. “What’re they going to do, give us detention?”

 

No.” I muttered, under my breath, still not removing my hand from his face. “But I don’t fancy the old explanation with my best mate about precisely what we were doing in a broom cupboard.”

 

“Like she hasn’t heard it all already in great detail...” Sirius scoffed under his breath.

 

“No actually, she hasn’t.”

 

He raised his eyebrows. “You mean, you haven’t told her -”

 

“I am not talking about that to Lily Evans!” I had to remind myself to keep my voice down. It threatened to increase in pitch. God, I could imagine her face if I’d brought about the subject, and it wasn’t pretty. Well, about as un-pretty as she could get.

 

“Interesting...”

 

“Shut up!”

 

James and Lily were close now. I could hear what they were actually saying. I gave Sirius a death stare and removed my hand so I could get back to my post at the door.

 

They were still out of sight.

 

“You did not!” Lily sounded disbelieving. But rather than the full dismissive voice I was used to her using to put James in his place, this had a hint of... something. Laughter. Or playfulness.

 

Something.

 

“Why the surprise?” James demanded. “What are you implying, Evans?”

 

“Nothing, nothing.” Lily chuckled, then was silent for a few seconds. “You did not.” The disbelief was back in her tone.

 

“I did too! Why is that so hard to believe? Thought you were the only one capable of an Outstanding, did you?”

 

Lily laughed. “No, believe me, I recognise how crap I am at Defence.” By crap, she merely meant extremely good, just not the best. Overachiever. “I just thought Debbie, maybe... or even Sirius, would be top...”

 

“Not after the stunt at the beginning of the year.” James reminded her. Were we never to forget that? “Surely you’ve seen Dawlish’s face when they come into class together joined at the hip. He doesn’t know what to think. I’m sure he’s half convinced it was all an elaborate joke they were playing on him...”

 

“So you’re top by default?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It sounded like Lily Evans was...teasing James Potter. Lily Evans did not tease. She tore to shreds. This is new.

 

James laughed, good-naturedly. “I’ll take it.”

 

“No,” Lily mused. “You do deserve it, actually. You’ve been trying harder. I’ve seen it.”

 

James seemed surprised. “You have?”

 

“Sure. I’m not blind. You’ve changed. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

 

I could feel my mouth hanging open. I probably could have dribbled and not noticed. My brain was whirring at full-speed trying to comprehend this turn of events. Sure, I’d noticed that Lily and James were way more civil recently. But this? This easy-going chatting, laughing, teasing? When had they achieved this?

 

I wondered briefly if I’d been so self-obsessed that I just hadn’t noticed, but I felt Sirius at my back, glanced up and saw his jaw hanging open too.

 

It wasn’t just me. This wasn’t the Lily and James everyone else saw. This was... new.

 

James didn’t say anything in reply. They were still just out of sight, this was so annoying...

 

“Why the surprise?” Lily echoed his words from just a minute ago, and I could hear the smile in her voice.

 

“I.. don’t know. Guess I didn’t think my changing was on Lily Evans radar.”

 

“Of course it is.” Lily seemed taken aback. “We’re friends. Right?”

 

If my jaw could have dropped any lower without dislocating, it would have.

 

James let out a little laugh. “Right.” He sounded good. Nonchalant. Barely a hint of longing. He had changed, I realised. Guess I was one that hadn’t been paying too close attention. None of the shamelessly flirting, teasing, informing her with great confidence that she would be his.

 

When had that stopped? I couldn’t even pinpoint it.

 

This James was a whole lot more... subtle. A person to be taken seriously.

 

Maybe that was why I hadn’t noticed. I’d always taken him seriously. He was my friend. His behaviour towards me hadn’t changed. But his behaviour towards Lily, towards school, towards leadership... was that what had changed?

 

“Well then.” It sounded like she’d shrugged. “Of course I’d notice my friend changing. It’s been... for the better. After all.”

 

There was a brief pause. I couldn’t even hear footsteps anymore. For the love of God, had they really stopped just outside of my zone of vision? Typical.

 

“But is it enough?” James’ voice was quieter now. Lacking the playful tone.

 

“Wh... what?” Lily stumbled over the word but saved herself. Sounding carefully confused.

 

Too carefully.

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

Oh God. He was doing this. I felt his apprehension as if it were my own. He was putting himself out there. Different to before. This wasn’t something playful that you could brush off.

 

And Lily knew that. “James...” She sounded sort of pleading. I could picture her brows knitted coming together and her perfect ivory forehead creasing up. She didn’t want him to bring this up.

 

Again, this was new. This was not a Lily Evans brush off with a withering look.

 

She... she cared.

 

“Is it enough?” He repeated, his tone carefully casual.

 

“James, please don’t -”

 

“I’m not trying to ruin anything,” He added, as if he knew her argument. As if they’d had this discussion before? Impossible. “I promise I’m not. It’s not an ultimatum.”

 

I couldn’t help but sneak a sideways glance at Sirius at that point. James Potter clearly had a better idea of how to handle a girl delicately that the Sirius Black of last June. All or nothing... bloody idiot.

 

He was relating all too clearly to his best mate to pay attention to me, though. In the anxiety in his face I could almost picture James’.

 

“Then what?” Lily’s voice was barely a whisper.

 

“Just...” James paused. “I’m not bugging you anymore. But I haven’t stopped. And I won’t. I’m not saying I’ll wait forever or anything, because this...” I could only presume he was referring to their new... friendship. “...is hard. I don’t think I can wait forever.”

 

“Then... why?” Lily asked. I could hear that it upset her to hear that their... whatever it was... hurt him. Ice queen at times, Lily Evans, but softie at heart.

 

“I don’t know. I think I kind of reached the end of my tether last year. Maybe I would have given up. But then...”

 

“But then I kissed you.” I winced at the regret in Lily’s voice, knowing how it would sound to James.

 

“Right.” He took it in his stride, his voice not faltering. “And I know what you said. I know you said you didn’t mean it. At the time. And I’m sure you didn’t. But since then it’s like... I felt like maybe it started to.... mean something. To you.” He paused, as if for a confirmation or denial. He didn’t get one. “So I thought I might have a shot... a long one... after all.”

 

Lily didn’t say anything. I strained to see just past that impossible angle, but of course I couldn’t. She must have been close. I could hear her swallow. But she didn’t say anything.

 

“So do I?” James asked, after a moments silence. Lily said nothing again. I wondered how she was avoiding it. I wondered if James’ Look was the same to her as Sirius’ was to me. “Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I’m wrong and I’ll leave you alone. I promise.”

 

It was sounding more like an ultimatum now, no matter how much James – sweet, strong, silly James – tried to keep it as gentle as possible.

 

“I can’t.” Lily said, her voice now slightly louder than a whisper.

 

Now James swallowed. “You can’t what?”

 

“I can’t ask you to leave me alone. I don’t... want that.” She sounded sad still. Why did she sound sad? I was holding my breath in confusion and anticipation. “But I can’t ask you to wait around, either. Not if it’s as hard as you say.”

 

Well that was clear, Evans. Well done. About as clear as mud. And she said we were bad at this.

 

I held my breath still – probably blue in the face by now – waiting to hear James.

 

To my surprise, he chuckled. “It’s been six years, Evans. I’m pretty used to hard.”

 

She let out a small laugh, sounding almost closer to a sob, though her voice was strong and smooth. No tears or snuffling involved. She was better at dealing with this than me, I’d give her that. “You’re an idiot if you stay.”

 

“Of course I am. But I will.”

 

“I hoped you’d say that.” I could hear her smile again. Though she still sounded a little despairing.

 

“But you’ll think about it?”

 

Lily must have nodded, because he continued. “No pressure. I said not forever but I can’t leave if you don’t want me to.”

 

“You’d be a fool to stay.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“If I was a good person maybe I would be able to ask you to leave. If it helped.” Lily said, doubtfully.

 

 “In that case I’m glad you’re a terrible person.”

 

“And I’m glad you’re a fool.”

 

“You can head back now. I’ll check up downstairs. You think about it.”

 

Lily must have nodded again, and neither of them voiced an actual goodbye. I just heard two sets of footsteps pattering quietly away. Each of them paused, briefly, before turning a corner and disappearing from earshot.

 

I managed to breathe again and unfreeze my vital organs.

 

I turned to Sirius, his eyes mirroring the shock in my own.

 

“What -” I started, but we both started to speak at the same time.

 

“What. The. Fuck.” He finished.

 

That just about summed it up.



 

 

A.N. ARGH. Major formatting issues. I'm sorry if the formatting appears as though it was done by a drunk. I'm having a technophobe moment. I will come around to editing it when I have calmed myself!

Ok, apologies for the delay AGAIN - I can't promise that I'll now be super regular but I've rediscovered my writing bug so I'm hoping it's here to stay! Thanks a million to the readers that have stuck around during my dry spell :) receiving a review to hear you're still there every now and then really is a boost!

I'd love to hear what you think about this one - the James/Lily thing may seem a bit out of the blue. This is my fault, for being a slack updater. If you go back and have a wee recap over the last bunch of chapters it might flow a little better as there are some little hints every now and then. Give it a go!

Another thing I'd like to hear about it where you see, or would like to see, the story going. I have a couple of options, and I know that the 'endings' to these Sirius/OC stories all have their limits. I've not fully decided myself where to go, but I'd love your feedback.

Thanks again,

Rx.
 
 


Chapter 12: You'll see the sky fall down before it ever gets that far.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It took a couple of days for me to officially worm the story out of her.

 

Many because it seemed like every moment we had together was in the presence of Sirius and Jamesy boy himself.

 

“Go away.” I found myself mouthing at Sirius furiously, during meal times. He chose now to become Clingy Boyfriend? Really? At a time like this?

 

The git just grinned and winked. He could see how much it was winding me up. Just a few minutes (hours) alone, I’d told him. That’s all I’ll need and she’ll tell me the whole story.

 

So he made it his mission to make that as bloody annoying as possible for me.

 

“Don’t you want to know?” I’d hissed at him on the way to Potions. “Surely we both want them to tell us what’s going on here.”

 

“Sure.” He’d acknowledged, “But James is going to tell me when he first gets a chance. I’d say it’ll be after Quidditch practice. It’s just funny to watch you being ‘subtle’.”

 

I’d punched him swiftly in the kidneys. It was ‘funny’ to watch.

 

Git.

 

Personally I think he just didn’t want to have me hear the gossip before him. He just didn’t get it. Obviously it was way more important for me to get the news. Lily had spent the last two days acting mad and twitchy. She needed to care and share.

 

She just didn’t know it yet.

 

I actually was quite apprehensive about the whole thing myself. On one hand I wanted to bust right in, demand the details and carefully analyse every individual utterance that had passed between the two of them in the last 6 months or so.

 

But on this other hand, I had this irritating sense of guilt that we’d been... well... eavesdropping.

 

I know, I know, the eavesdropping thing was my idea in the first place. But that was on other unsuspecting individuals. Not Lily and James. Quite a difference.

 

It was an odd feeling. I think the whole thing just put me on edge a bit. The eavesdropping, the guilt, the fact that this was the sort of situation that I ought to feel guilty about... I mean, it was Lily and James. How many times had I watched the old declaration-of-love-followed-by-swift-rejection thing in the last six and a half years?

 

Shit loads.

 

That’s the answer you were looking for.

 

But – this is the weird bit – this was so different to before.

 

James wasn’t being his usual bold, lovable, cocky self. It had been so... careful. And deliberate. Deliberately not announced casually in the middle of class, sprung upon her unexpectedly in the hallway to make her jump, or declared loudly from the benches of the Great Hall.

 

He’d deliberately chosen that time they had together, just the two of them. It hadn’t been bold and cocky. It had been real.

 

He was finally learning.

 

And hurting. That was the worst part. James had chosen to put his feelings out on the line, for real, for Lily and Lily only. He’d actually showed how much he probably both loved and hated to have her smile at him as her friend every day.

 

And Sirius and I... well. We’d sort of gate-crashed that.

 

I hadn’t quite worked out how to break it to Lil yet. Sirius reckoned James would find it funny. I hoped so. But Lily...

 

I really didn’t know. It had been a private moment for her, too. Wasn’t often that Lily Evans let down her guard and expressed a bit of feeling for James Potter. Not often, as in, ever.

 

We were privacy thieves, Sirius and I. Accidental ones.

 

But I had to tell her. Guilt or not guilt, redheaded fury or no fury. It had to be done.

 

I’d had enough secrets and lies in the past year for a lifetime.

 

But – annoyingly – Sirius was right. Their Quidditch practice was just about my only time to get a moment alone with Lily. So I planned my method of attack. I’d drag her up to my dorm with complaints of homework problems. Of course there was the chance she might not buy it – I think the last time I’d asked for homework help was... oh wait, never. I was too stubborn for that.

 

But I hoped the chance to be nerdy Lily might blind her to that fact.

 

I don’t know why Sirius felt the need to poke holes in my plans. They were just fine.

 

 

**

 

 

“You’re being weird.” Lily accused, perched primly on the edge of her bed.

 

“No I’m not.” I rifled through my schoolbag frantically for something that might be homework. “I really do need your help with... Transfiguration...”

 

“You said Charms at dinner.”

 

“Right. Charms.” I nodded, pulling out the textbook. “It’s Charms.”

 

“It is not.” She narrowed her eyes. “You big liar. You’re up to something.”

 

“Alright.”I tossed the bag aside. It slipped from the bed onto the floor. “You got me. I just wanted to talk. You know. We haven’t had any girl time for a while.”

 

“That’s because every time I’ve asked you a single question about Sirius since you two got back together you’ve squirmed so much I thought you had worms.”

 

I squirmed. Damn it. “I just didn’t want to jinx it. You know. Every time something feels like it’s going right I’m worried the shit’s about to hit the fan. It’s been known to happen.” It was actually true. Darn it. I’m trying to get Lily’s feelings out of her and end up yakking about my own. I hastily backtracked. “We’re fine, everything’s fine, blah-blah etcetera. Fine. Anyway. Let’s talk about you.”

 

Subtle. Smooth. No way she’d expect a thing.

 

Lily narrowed her eyes at me. Oh shit. I’d over done it, hadn’t I? Surely only slightly. I was so sure I’d had it.

 

“Ok...” She said, dragging it out as if she was still utterly suspicious. “Well I suppose I’ve been worried for a little while about Mary. You know she hasn’t been the same since that attack back in fifth year...”

 

Oh, for crying out loud, now we were talking about Mousey Mary. We’d never talked about her in our lives, I’m pretty sure. In passing maybe.

 

But I actually started to feel a little guilty. I’d had a few (hundred) not very nice thoughts regarding Mouse... Mary’s infatuation with a certain Mr Black. And a few not so nice thoughts regarding Mr Black himself disregarding that infatuation back before we’d... you know... and continuing to pay her and every other girl attention.

 

There I was, the nutter of a jealous girlfriend. Not even girlfriend by title back then. I’d completely forgotten about the attack. Mary had been found pale, shaking and refusing to speak, behind the greenhouses early one morning back in fifth year. As far as I knew she’d never admitted exactly what happened or who was responsible. We all suspected the Slytherins in general. Mary was muggle-born. Just like me. Who else would attack a muggle born?

 

She’d been taken home for the remainder of the year. Lily, in particular, had been distraught by the whole thing. She’d just about accused Severus Snape of being involved in front of half the school. Which was ridiculous. Sure, Snape hung around with those scumbags. But would he really have had the backbone to...

 

We never found out, anyway. And Mary hadn’t returned until the following September, home-schooled through the exams; still pale, a little shaky and slow to regain her warm demeanour.

 

And I’d forgotten all about it. I’d been irrationally furious that she’d dared speak to Sirius. That he’d responded in his typical semi-flirty way. I hadn’t considered that perhaps it was a good thing that Mary appeared to be comfortably able to talk to males now. Or to admire those small moments where, appearance aside, Sirius was treating a traumatised girl with warmth and kindness.

 

I was a horrendous person.

 

Lily didn’t notice the guilt twisting my insides. That was all for me.

 

“I hadn’t realised, they’ve never been big pieces, but it’s been in the Prophet every few weeks or so. There have been similar attacks throughout the country. Always muggles. They’re being found alone, in all sorts of conditions. They’ve been confounded or something, there are traces of magic. But no evidence. So there’s been nothing the Ministry can do about it. That’s probably why they’re not big pieces – bit embarrassing that they have no leads. And it’s only muggles of course...” Lily started to sound bitter.

 

I put my hand over hers, closed in a white little fist. It wasn’t just Lily’s kind she was talking about. It was mine. And Freddie’s.

 

“I hadn’t even noticed it.” Lily carried on. “How terrible is that? I only found out because I walked into the bathroom and found Mary in tears. She’s been keeping track of them, she says. There have been twenty-two attacks since hers. And they’re getting more and more frequent. And she feels terrible. That she can’t remember anything. She thinks if she could remember who it was, it might help them find out who’s doing it out there.”

 

We both sat there in silence for a moment, contemplating the dark implications. If someone had done that to Mary at Hogwarts they’d have had to have learnt it from somewhere. Somehow, teenage witches and wizards were learning dark magic. And it certainly wasn’t here.

 

Poor Mary. I felt like I was looking at her in a new light. A new respect. She’d been brutally attacked, recovered, and now she felt guilty that she couldn’t help. My own self-respect plummeted. All I’d cared about was someone being so bold as to talk to my boyfriend.

 

I was pathetic.

 

“How has she been since she told you?” I asked, furiously trying to quash the guilt.

 

“Better.” Lily shrugged. “I think. She’s just not the same as she used to be. But then, she hasn’t been for two years really. She seems sort of driven and determined now. She keeps the newspaper clippings in a book under her bed. It’s almost an obsession. I talked to James about it...” My ears pricked up and I remembered the reason I’d come here in the first place. “... but he thinks I should leave her to it. Just be there for her if she wants to talk. He thinks it might be sort of therapeutic for her,  to have something constructive to do.”

 

Very mature of James. Definitely the New James talking. Not fifth year James.

 

“He’s probably right. He’s been good like that lately.” I said, thinking of his advice to me about Sirius. Not that I knew it at the time, but it had been his advice that had tipped me over the edge into reading those letters and taking action. I could never repay him for that. I found myself feeling unexpectedly proud of both James and Sirius for... well, for growing up. For doing things for other people. For having good intentions. They were good. And we should feel lucky to call them our friends. And more.

 

I sensed it was the time to turn the conversation back around to James – the whole reason I’d cornered Lily up here in the first place. I still wanted to know. I was still concerned for my friend. But it felt a little emptier now. Sort of a further reminder that I was the shallow one.

 

“He has.” Lily mused, looking into the distance. I could see the cogs turning. It was my turn to say something, but I let her be with her thoughts for a moment. She looked peaceful. Contemplative.

 

It was only a moment or two until she spoke. “I have to tell you something.”

 

This was it. “Go on.”

 

“It’s... it’s been a while now, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I mean, not that you can say anything after keeping Sirius from me for six whole months...” She pulled a half-hearted frown. “But still I... I should have told you...”

 

I couldn’t sit and take it like this. “Oh God. Lil, I already know.”

 

She blinked. “What?”

 

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry and we never meant to eavesdrop and we never meant to steal your privacy. I would hate it if this happened to me, but we honestly never meant to...”

 

“Wait, what? We?” To her credit she didn’t look furious. Just bewildered.

 

“Yeah.” I said quietly. “We...”

 

Understanding dawned. She shook her head, wearily. “You and Sirius. You were there. Where were you... oh for God’s sake. You were in the broom cupboard weren’t you?”

 

“Yeah.” I said again. “But not like that! We weren’t, oh god, no we weren’t there for fun. We were eavesdropping...” Lily’s red eyebrows raised. “...but not on you! Well, not intentionally. Oh, this is sounding bad. We were looking out for Ray. I had an idea about him and Gina and... it doesn’t matter. I just... we really didn’t mean to. And I’m sorry.”

 

“Oh God.” Lily shook her head again. “Can’t you two do anything normal?”

 

I felt terrible, but relieved that my incredible friend seemed to be taking even this in her stride. I really don’t know how she put up with me.

 

“It doesn’t come naturally.”

 

“And you didn’t say anything? That was two days ago!”

 

“I know. But I didn’t want to say anything in front of James. I didn’t know how he’d react. He’s...”

 

“Different.” Lily sighed.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“So you heard everything?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And you see how I have no idea what I’m meant to do?”

 

“Uh...” To be honest, no. James had been incredibly sweet. He’d changed. He was everything Lily could have asked for. To me, there was no question.

 

But I hadn’t spent the last six years hating him.

 

I looked up at Lily. And was a little shocked. For one of the first times since I’d known her, she was a mess. Sure I’d seen her in the past red in the face and furious (mainly at James). But I’d never seen her distressed like this. Her hair was a mess from continually raking her fingers through it. Her lips were bitten. I suspected those worry-lines on her forehead were now a permanent fixture.

 

Maybe she did feel it. Maybe she knew how she felt about New James. That didn’t mean she knew how to handle it.

 

“Tell me about it.” I said. “From the beginning.”

 

 

**

 

 

It was late before Lily and I emerged from her dorm. Past curfew, she’d scolded me lightly before berating herself for not paying attention to the time.

 

I sensed there was a slight chance she was channelling that irritation into something else other than its source. But who was I to have an opinion on the actions of the sane.

 

“Thanks for listening to me rant.” She whispered, peeling herself up from where she’d ended up sprawled on her front on her bed. As the other girls had began to drift to bed, we’d drawn the hangings and lowered our voices.

 

“Of course.” I whispered back, shrugging. “I figure I only owe you about a thousand hours of crazing ranting. Well. Nine hundred and ninety seven now.”

 

“Yeah. I needed it.” She said, slipping her feet into slippers while I groped under the bed for my shoes. “Even if you couldn’t have been more vague with the advice.” She rolled her eyes.

 

“Sorry.” I grinned. “A wise man once told me that there are some decisions you have to make for yourself.”

 

“Ray Quinn truly is a wise man.”

 

“Hey, how’d you know it wasn’t Sirius?”

 

‘What, he-who-buries-his-problems? Unlikely.”

 

We both sniggered as Lily pulled back the hangings for me to leave.

 

“Oh.” We both stopped abruptly, seeing a candle still lit. “Sorry Mary.”

 

“It’s ok.” She smiled softly from where she sat on her bed with her knees drawn up underneath her blanket. “I’m not great at getting to sleep anyway.” I couldn’t see what she had in her lap behind her knees, but after what Lily shared earlier the sight made me suddenly sad.

 

“You should borrow one of Lily’s daft books.” I said, not knowing how to make it better but having to try. “You know, Lily, those lovey-dovey medieval ones. If anything sends you to sleep it’s those.”

 

“They’re good!” Lily protested.

 

I raised my eyebrows and shook my head at Mary. She smiled a little more. “It could be worth a try.”

 

Lily tutted and pushed me jokingly towards the door, suppressing a smile herself. “Come on, Ignorant, let’s get you back to your tower before I give you detention myself.”

 

“You would too.” I said, pausing when I opened the door. “Good night Mary.”

 

“Thanks Debbie.” She said, softly. She only looked slightly taken aback. It added to my guilt. Why had it taken me seven years to be nice to her? Especially the last two. I couldn’t have been more self-absorbed.

 

“That was nice.” Lily said, quietly, after closing the door. “Thanks.”

 

“I can be nice.” I shrugged, nonchalantly.

 

“As long as she’s not talking to Sirius?” Lily said, slyly. It was softened by her mischievous grin.

 

“I’m past that now.” I said, loftily. “Utmost maturity from now on. Well. Priorities, anyway.”

 

Lily smiled. “It’s not just those boys that are growing up, is it?”

 

“Maybe not.” I hoped she was right. It would feel good. To have someone feel about me the way I’d been feeling about Sirius and James lately. Proud. Sort of. “Except you, anyway. You grew up about six years ago. You must have been dying for us to catch up.”

 

“It’s what I’ve always been waiting for.” Her smile faded after a few seconds as she thought about it. I’d tried incredibly hard not to show her how I felt the whole time we’d been talking tonight. I wanted to do for her what Ray had done for me – just let her come to her own conclusions. But shit, I hoped she chose right. He was what she’d always been waiting for. Whether she’d know it before now or not. Would she see that?

 

Lily paused as she reached the bottom of the stairs, holding out and arm to stop me and pulling my back against the wall. It was only then that I heard the only sounds coming from the almost empty common room.

 

The fire still crackled in the background, presumably masking Lily and I whispering. Other than that was only an odd ‘smack-thud... smack-thud...smack-thud...’ and two familiar voices.

 

“Grindylows...”

 

“Woodlice.”

 

“No.”

 

“Uh...”

 

“Come on – think about it. Where do they live?”

 

“The lake... the lake.... ah, algae!”

 

“Yup. Ok, bowtruckles.”

 

That’s woodlice.”

 

“Yup. Nifflers.”

 

Lily pressed a finger to her lips and together we peered around the corner, she crouched in front of me.

 

Sirius stood in front of the fireplace, swinging his weathered beaters bat. James stood on the other side of the room, the furniture swept aside. Rhythmically, he tossed a tennis ball across the room whilst reciting various magical creatures. In time, Sirius, returned the ball with ease whilst reciting back the answers, presumably. What they ate. Professor Kettleburn had promised a pop-quiz this week. Apparently James and Sirius remembered.

 

And were studying. Good god. They certainly had changed.

 

Thank goodness the common room had cleared out completely. The two of them might be absently knocking the ball comfortably back and forth now, but with an audience all hell could quite easily break loose. They hadn’t changed that much.

 

“They’re studying for the test without us!” I whispered, in mock-shock.

 

“Shit – the test!” Lily’s eyes widened in shock. “Deb we should have been studying too!”

 

“Like you don’t know it all already.” I hissed back, nudging her in the ribs and making her sway off balance on the bottom step.

 

“Deb!” She grabbed wildly at the banister to stop herself tumbling into view. I giggled at the look of utter betrayal in her eyes and she pressed her lips together, nudging me right back.

 

I hadn’t expected a retaliation. I wasn’t steady. I stumbled backwards, my heels quickly blocked by the stone step and I was sure to fall. I saw in Lily’s eyes the moment she realised what was going to happen. I was going to fall and make a racket. So she reached out and caught me at the last minute, tugging me back upright.

 

Only, I hadn’t been expecting that either. This time I fell forward. Onto her.

 

So it happened anyway. Thankfully we were only a couple of steps up. Still, I felt like it happened in slow motion. Lily’s hand gripped my wrist, yanking against gravity where we hovered for just a moment. Our eyes met and I saw the transition in her entire face. From focus to relief to panic.

 

I don’t think I can be blamed for laughter getting the better of me. We hadn’t even hit the floor before a manic peal of laughter escaped me. I instinctively rolled so that my back and side received most of the impact so it left me breathless rather than in crippling pain. It didn’t stop the laughter.

 

Lily must have done the same; after a second where my giggles rang out into silence, Lily’s joined them.

 

I rolled onto my side to face her and fought another peal of laughter at the sight of her flaming hair spread against the deep maroon carpet and across her eyes. I’d half expected her to look mortified that we’d been caught eavesdropping, but she’d given in. Tears dripped from the corners of her eyes down into her hair as she let rip another belly laugh.

 

“Evening, girls.” After Lily and I calmed down, James recovered first from their stunned silence and folded his arms across his chest. “Lurking in the shadows, are we?”

 

“Essentially, yes.” I reasoned.

 

“You were studying without us!” Lily knelt up and pointed accusingly at the two of them. She couldn’t keep her expression serious. And her hair looked quite frankly ridiculous. God it felt good to see her less than perfect. Her tie was all skew-whiff and her skirt had ridden up well above her knees but she didn’t care.

 

I saw James eyes flick from her long white legs to her flushed face and the lingering laughter in her eyes. His smug smile broadened and it was as if he had it written all over his face. He was so in love with this girl.

 

You were putting gossip before study.” He shook his head. “Call yourself our Head Girl, Evans.” It was almost like one of their old bickering episodes, but not. Something had changed. Lily had never blushed before. Never looked at him with such playful softness. Never been so at ease.

 

She had to see that, right? I’d done the right thing, leaving her to see it for herself?

 

“Lucky I can rely on my responsible Head Boy to lead the masses. Just how many tennis balls have you burned this evening?” She primly scolded. I only just noticed the smouldering tennis balls in the fire.

 

“Three.” Sirius announced, proudly. “A personal best, Evans. My beating has never been better. Better watch out, Ravenclaw.”

 

“Is that a threat?” I allowed myself to be hauled up and into his lap on one of the armchairs that had been swept back beside the fire.

 

“Absolutely.” He brushed some hair back from my face. “You’re dishevelled, love.”

 

You are... quite... presentable. Actually.” I fell short of an insult, having nothing to offer in terms of his appearance lacking. On the contrary, his hair was still wet from showering after practice and swept back off his face. He smelt of citrus and fire. “Except the hair, of course. I do believe I owe you a haircut.”

 

“I request a veto in that regard.” Sirius shook his head, disturbing his hair from it’s neat, slicked place.

 

“Denied.” Lily, James and I retorted promptly.

 

“Shit.”

 

“You’re screwed.” James commented, delighted at his friend’s peril. “I hope you’re not attached to those ears of yours.”

 

“I’m going to do an excellent job.” I proclaimed, combing a clump of hair out between my fingers over his face. “For God’s sake, it’s down to your mouth. Are you some kind of hipster? What on earth are you thinking?”

 

“Probably that my girlfriend’s stuck with me so why bother?”

 

“Confident, aren’t we?” I jibed back.

 

Some of the laughter left his eyes and he nodded, smiling slightly. “Yes.”

 

I smiled softly at the slight squeeze around my waist. “Oh. Fair enough.”

 

“I thought so. You should probably get out of here before she sees us. She’s a bit a of a nut case.” He took the opportunity to throw me over his shoulder and deposit me at the portrait hole.

 

“See you tomorrow!” Lily called. I turned around to see her, slightly less dishevelled and just about to make her way back up to the dormitory.

 

I raised my eyebrows over Sirius’ shoulder and jerked my head towards James, who had turned to pack up his books with a heart-breaking expression he was trying to hide.

 

Lily’s grin dropped and she gave a small, helpless shrug. She wasn’t ready. It was painful to watch, but I’d resolved – no more meddling.

 

I could cling on to the hope that she would be. Soon. Before James gave up.

 

“Hey.” Sirius whispered as Lily disappeared and James made his way to the boys stairs. “I quite like you.” His lips brushed my ear and strands of my hair got caught on his rough chin.

 

I leant forward on my tip toes, close to his ear, with a smile. “I quite like you too.”

 

“Gross.” James called, making his way upstairs with books tucked under his arms. “At least wait until I’m out of eavesdropping distance.”

 

“Quite like you too, Jamesy.” I replied.

 

“For God’s sake...” He grumbled in response and flipped a certain finger over his shoulder.

 

I dropped back down onto my heels, the same sickly feeling back in my stomach. I’d promised I wouldn’t meddle. I wouldn’t pressure Lily. But James had endured more heartache than a reasonable person could be expected to stand when it came to my best friend and it was beginning to show. She was my best friend but I couldn’t let her break him, however unintentional it may have been.

 

 

**

 

 

I stuck to my promise. It was tough. But it wasn’t long until the first snow of December fell and I realised, scanning the hall for Lily at breakfast, that it had been exactly a month since I’d been the official, no-nonsense girlfriend of Sirius Black (no dramas – not that anyone’s counting) and just about two weeks since I’d vowed not to meddle in the Lily and James saga.

 

But that registered for only a second before I realised why there’d been such a hush in the Great Hall. The absence of cutlery clattering against plates and the usual buzz of morning conversation was suddenly deafening as I scanned the hall for Lily.

 

“What’s happened?” I slipped into the spare seat beside her as she handed the newspaper back to a fifth year boy I didn’t know.

 

“There’s been another attack.” Lily said, quietly, as she spooned some muesli into a bowl, “An entire muggle school bus was sent off a bridge in London. Forty-eight children died.”

 

Forty-eight children. It was horrible. But...

 

“Are they saying who -”

 

“They don’t know exactly who it was. But, for the first time, the Prophet are acknowledging it’s the work of his supporters.”

Him. The elusive Lord Voldemort; the name that had been whispered and eluded to for... well, for years really. But no one had voiced it publically. There had been no proof.

 

“Do you think it’ll make a difference? Them admitting it?” It was a big deal, I knew. It wasn’t everyday you came in for breakfast and were met with total silence. The question of the hour wasn’t really whether it would make a difference, but what sort of difference.

 

Lily shrugged. “I think it could piss a lot of people off. Goad a lot of people. Energise a lot of people. It’s hard to say. It does seem a bold move, though.” She chewed her lip, lost in thought.

 

I looked around the hall as I thought about it. She was right. There was no way of knowing. And it was uncomfortable to think about. These attacks had been going on for years. Just think of Mary’s newspaper clippings...

 

“Where’s Mary?” I asked Lily, suddenly concerned. “Do you think she’s ok? Does she know?”

 

Lily sat up straight, looking stricken. “I hadn’t thought of that! I haven’t seen her yet – I better go and find her, it’s best she hears it from me...”

 

Without another word or even a mouthful of breakfast, Lily dashed out of the hall with her red ponytail dancing behind her. She didn’t even notice that she ran right between James and Sirius as they entered the hall.

 

“What’s up with Evans?” Sirius asked, taking her vacated seat and beginning on her muesli with gusto. “I haven’t seen her run away from us that quickly since the earwig incident of seventy five.”

 

I pinched the paper back from the disgruntled looking fifth-year and dropped it in front of the two of them.

 

I watched their faces turn from the standard half-amused to surprise, to disgust, to grim acceptance. Sirius finished the piece first  and sat back, all interest in breakfast evaporated, throwing dark looks over at the Slytherin table. I knew how much he hated the dark arts; anything and everything to do with them. It was all he’d been trying to escape for six years and in these moments you could see how trapped he still felt, despite cutting all ties with his family.

 

I followed his gaze over to the Slytherin table and studied their faces for the first time myself. Not all of their faces. But some, the ones clustered in small groups around the papers. Those were the ones that induced that sickened feeling in my stomach, even though I hadn’t eaten a bite. It was there, just as Lily had guessed. Sly satisfaction. Malicious mutterings. They were the supporters. They had to be. The ones that had always given Sirius so much grief over the years.

 

I searched the table for the familiar dark head and saw him on the outskirts of one of the clusters, buttering his toast with painstaking precision.

 

I placed a hand over Sirius’ clenched fist. “He’s not a part of it.”

 

The tight muscles in the back of his hand loosened, but only by a fraction. “I don’t care. He’s nothing to do with me.”

 

The set of his jaw and the tension through his body suggested otherwise. I remembered the night last year that he’d confessed his fears about his brother’s involvement in that group. The one’s that called themselves Death Eaters. It had been Regulus’ sixteenth birthday. One year until he could be instated. As much as Sirius could claim he felt no ties to his family and vice versa, it wasn’t the case. He was still worried about his brother. And, judging by their encounter a couple of weeks ago, Regulus still cared enough to warn him.

 

Two brothers with very different beliefs about who was right, and who was in danger.

 

It’s ok to care, I wanted to say. It’s ok that you don’t want your brother to be a part of something so horrible.

 

But I didn’t. There were too many people around for Sirius to let down his guard.

 

“I know.” I said, instead. I just held his hand until the tension left, and he turned his hand over to hold mine.

 

James finished the article and we shared a troubled look over Sirius’ glare, which hadn’t strayed from the Slytherin table.

 

“Where did Lily go?” James asked, after giving a small shrug and leaving his friend to stew. Sometimes it was the only way for Sirius to escape these dark moments.

 

“To talk to Mary.” I said, watching the understanding appear on his face. I knew Lily had talked to him about her friend’s worries. “I don’t know how she’ll cope with it. She seems... pretty badly affected by it all.”

 

James nodded, a line appearing between his eyebrows. “Yeah. A lot of people will probably be struggling with it, actually. I wonder if Dumbledore will say anything.”

 

“Maybe at dinner.” I guessed. Dumbledore didn’t often do speeches, but this seemed like the sort of thing that would warrant one. There were a lot of troubled faces in the hall.

 

It didn’t get any better throughout the day. Lessons were noticeably more subdued than usual. Even the teachers seemed distracted, and could be found hurrying from the staff room in groups just before class, as if their discussions had been interrupted by the beginning of lessons.

 

Although it was a horrible story, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. It was the naming, the accusations, that were most shocking. It was new. It was change. And we weren’t sure what was going to happen next. Here, at school, we seemed so distant from the rest of the country. It took something like this to make it painfully obvious. People were worried about what sort of retaliation there may be. They were worried about their parents, their grandparents, their siblings.

 

I found myself feeling incredibly lucky that I knew Freddie was safely out of the country. Judging by the last letter I had from him and Rowan, they were somewhere remote out in south east Asia. They probably hadn’t even heard about it yet. I didn’t know if they’d report English news out there. It was about time I replied to that letter anyway, so I found myself scribbling a quick note explaining what had happened, describing the strange atmosphere at school, and assuring him I was perfectly safe here at Hogwarts and that I’d update him if anything happened. When I tried to send it with a school owl at lunchtime I found myself, for the first time ever, queuing outside the owlery waiting for others to finish their own letters to family.

 

Sirius slowly left his dark mood behind him throughout the day, though he remained much more agitated and restless than usual. It got to the point that I was sure he was going to make something explode in Potions, so I assigned him the more strenuous job of squeezing the juice out of the nightlock leaves just to give him something to do with his hands so that they’d cease their agitated tapping and fidgeting.

 

“You can just talk to him, if you want.” I tried again to reason with him at the end of Charms, our last class of the day. “Just stop him on the way to dinner.”

 

This time he didn’t immediately snap or reject the idea. “It won’t make a difference. He’s never listened to me.” He said, after grinding his teeth audibly and adding. “And I think I might get stabby if he lies to me.”

 

“Get stabby?” The phrase brought a smile to my lips as I recognised the lighter tone to his voice.

 

“Yeah. You know. When you get so angry you forget all magic and just want to stab someone with your wand.”

 

“And this has happened before?”

 

“Yeah. James has got me at least twice and I got him in the eye last summer. I thought his mum and dad were going to kick me out but they found it hilarious. Mr P dropped his pipe and set the carpet on fire for a minute.”

 

“Is that true?” I asked James, who was just catching up with us.

 

“Yeah, Mum and Dad love him. It’s actually quite offensive. I think if we ever fell out for real they’d keep him and kick me out. Even when he was a grouchy git this summer.”

 

There was a brief pause as we all took in the implications of that statement.

 

“Uh... I mean...” James floundered, trying to come up with an alternative to what we all knew – he was grouchy because of us. Because of me.

 

Fortunately, at the same time, I let slip an inappropriately loud laugh at the flummoxed look on James’ face and Sirius gave him a swift punch in the ribs.

 

“Ah.” James clutched at his midriff. “See – stabby. If he’d had a wand out I think I’d be down a vital organ or two.”

 

“Nah, that wasn’t anger. That was for being a prick.” Sirius clarified, though he squeezed my hand and smothered a smile.

 

“Fair enough.” James conceded.

 

“Good.” I squeezed his hand back before letting go and giving him a push. “Now hold on to that kind of restraint when you talk to your brother.”

 

He sighed dramatically before walking on ahead of us towards the hall. I watched his dark head weave through the crowd  as James and I carried on.

 

“I didn’t mean to make it weird.” James said quickly as a half apology. “I just sort of forgot how bad it was... I was only joking...”

 

“I know.” I dismissed with a wave of my hand before slipping it through James’ arm. “It’s ok.”

 

“It’s just, when you two are together, it’s hard to remember what it was like before. I like you together. You’re good for him.”

 

I snorted and nudged him playfully in the side, uncomfortable with the sentiment.

 

“No, I mean it.” He insisted. “You always have been; I s’pose it’s just easier to see now. You make him do all the good thing he thinks of and then talks himself out of.” James gestured ahead of us, where Sirius was nearing the end of the corridor. “Making him talk to his brother, that sort of thing. I’ve never been any good at that stuff.”

 

“Yes, you are.” I felt a surge of affection for James. “You do know the right things to say. You know you’re the reason I got up the guts to talk to him in the first place about the summer thing. You make people feel like they’re doing the right thing, even when they’re not sure. Even Lily’s noticed it. She said you were really sweet about the whole Mary thing.” I gave his arm a squeeze.

 

“Really sweet? Do you mean really macho and masculine?”

 

“Sure, that too.” I grinned. “The sweetest, most masculine man in town.”

 

“That’s more like it.” James grinned back, no trace of the heartache I’d seen every now and then for the last few weeks, “But thanks.” He said, serious for a moment, before adding, “Wait, are we growing up, Deb? Are we grownups now?”

 

“Let’s not go that far.”

 

We reached the corner that Sirius had manoeuvred his way around minutes before us. I could swear I could see his dark head close to the entrance to the Great Hall, towering over a small swarm of first-years.

 

“Lily’s back.” James noted, not bothering to mask the relief in his voice. She hadn’t been in class all day. Nor had Mary. But now that he pointed it out, I could see her bright head alongside Mary’s mousey one, just inside the doors.

 

I smiled and glanced up for a look at that familiar, besotted look that I knew he’d gotten practiced at keeping under wraps.

 

But I didn’t see it.

 

Instead, I caught just a glimpse of his eyes widening, his mouth opening, his grip on my arm vice-like, dragging me violently against the wall...

 

It was just a glimpse. A second. Or there abouts.

 

It was all there was time for before, with one earth-shaking, bone-jarring crash, the entire corridor was swathed in darkness.

 

A jolt. A crash. A crack of my head against the wall.

 

Darkness.

 

 




 

 

A.N. I know. Radio silence for so long. I don't really know how to apologise for it so I'll just hope you enjoy what I've got....


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