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“Whomever said that the truth will set you free was obviously delusional,” James said, bringing the bottle of champagne to his lips. He grimaced as he took a large swig. “Ah, that shite is-,”

“Shite?” I supplied.

His grin was half-hearted and didn’t reach his eyes. “Too right you are, Eleanor.” Lazily, he brought a hand to his temple, giving me a sloppy salute. His motions were slow and his words were slurred; it was obvious that the alcohol was getting to him. “Everything,” he took a sip, “has turned to utter,” he took another drink from the bottle dangling from his long fingers, “shite.”

I stared into his handsome face, searching for any signs of pain. Searched for any emotions, really. His face was a mask, but his eyes were unguarded. The hazel depths were filled to the brim with an despair so intense, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around it. He looked absolutely hopeless and it was all my fault.

A rough sob escaped my throat, scraping at the sides. James sent me an inquisitive look, his head tilting to the side slightly. I quickly disguised it as a bad coughing fit, gently banging my fist against my chest.

“Are you all right?” James questioned, words slurred.

I nodded my head. “Something got caught in my throat,” was the only adequate faux-explanation I could offer.

His gaze still suspicious, he held out the bottle of champagne to me. Hesitantly, I took it from him, having drank more than I was used to. The last time I had drank so much, I ended up in Sirius’s bed with a massive headache and a sour attitude. . .that didn’t sound very good, did it? Seeing as how I was already in a horrendously sour mood, I thought it was best that I tried to limit my alcohol intake for the evening. Squeezing my eyes shut, I drank deeply and tried to ignore the faint burn of alcohol as it made its way down my throat, coming to settle in my belly.

“Whoa, slow down there, Ella,” said Remus, closing the French door behind him. I glanced over my shoulder at him to see his arms were laden with three more bottles of champagne, and thankfully, a bunch of napkin-wrapped food.

Great, now Remus thought that I was an alcoholic. This was fantastic.

“Why should she?” James asked, somewhat indignantly. “’Snot gonna help none.”

“Is not going to help, Prongs,” Remus corrected. “Is not going to help.” He came to sit down beside me on the small stone step, flashing me a tight, but warm smile.

James waved a dismissive hand at the floppy haired boy. “Pffft, whatever.” He snatched the bottle out of my hands. I tried to stop him, but he jerked it out from my fingers and hurriedly emptied the rest, which was nearly one third of the bottle.

I scowled, muttering under my breath as I resisted the urge to vomit. I had only just decided that I would drink no more for the rest of the night. I turned my body so that I was facing Remus. “Is any of that for me?” I said hopefully, eyeing the food in his arms and waggling my eyebrows for show.

Before he could answer, my stomach gave a loud, low growl. He laughed and nodded his head, all but shoving what looked to be a piece of cake into my outstretched hand. “It’s amazing that I could understand you,” Remus stated.

I chewed the cake I’d crammed into my mouth and swallowed roughly. “What do you mean?”

“You’re slurring your words.”

My eyebrows shot to somewhere in my hairline. “I am?”

He nodded deeply. “Severely.”

A giggle escaped me. “I didn’t realize that I was speaking the Language of the Drunks.” I took a big bite from the cake in my hand. I chewed and chewed, my eyes widening happily. “This is good!”

Something in Remus’s kind, warm eyes changed. I swore I saw his lips twitch downward. “You’re drunk, Eleanor,” he said quietly. Almost disapprovingly.

I opened my mouth to say something, my tongue heavy, but like always, someone else beat me to the chase. This time, however, it was James. And he was laughing. Quite loudly, actually. I stared at James, confused and waiting for an explanation, which he naturally gave.

“That’s the problem, though, isn’t it, Moony?” James exclaimed, still laughing. “We’re drunk,” he gestured from himself to me and then back again. Suddenly, his arm was around my shoulders and he pressed the side of his head against mine. Then, he pointed at Remus, his eyes narrowing in a semi-accusing manner. “And you, my good, very dear friend, are not. I say that we need to fix this.” With a wave of his hand, he popped the cork out of one of the bottles that Remus had brought out to the patio. He held out the bottle to his best mate, waggling his eyebrows.

Remus cast a doubtful look at the bottle and reluctantly took it from him. He drank from the bottle, although his mouth lingered around the lip a little longer than I expected it to. When he pulled back from the bottle, I was surprised to see that he had consumed nearly half and didn’t even grimace at the aftertaste.

He smacked his lips together. “It’s actually not that bad. Once you over the aftertaste, that is,” he added as an afterthought.

I mentally released a sigh of relief; at least I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stand the taste of the champagne. I glanced at James out of the corner of my eye, a feeling of concern bubbling deep in my stomach when I saw his lips wrapped around the smooth top of a glass bottle.

We sat in silence for Merlin only knows how long, none of us daring to utter a single word. Remus and I ate all of the food he’d brought out with him; I wanted to save some for James, but he was too drunk to even swallow. After awhile, the messy haired, bespectacled boy leaned over and pressed his head against my shoulder, the crown of his skull resting in the crook where my shoulder joined the neck.

Absentmindedly, I brought my hand up and patted him on the head. I heard him sigh and assumed that he’d fallen asleep as the weight on my shoulder became greater. All too soon, it felt as though there was sand behind my eyelids, scraping my eyeballs, which was very uncomfortably. I blinked rapidly, not daring to casually tip my head to the side in fear of falling asleep against Remus. I also wanted to sober up a bit before dozing off, although it wasn’t looking like an option now, seeing as how I kept jerking myself awake.

My eyelids had just slide over my eyes for the umpteenth when a loud, sharp CRACK echoed in my ears, jolting any thoughts of fluffy pillows and wool blankets out of my mind.

“Whatta bloody fuckin’ hell was that?!” James exclaimed, although I’m not entirely sure that’s what he said. That’s just what it sounded like he said. He tottered dangerously and I had to grab a fistful of his sleeve to keep him steady.

Remus and I glanced at one another; I imagined my expression mirrored his - confused and little bit scared.

“I have no idea,” Remus answered, turning his head this way and that as his hand slowly travelled to the pocket of his dress trousers.

My stomach plummeted as I thought of the absolute worst: Death Eaters had come to the Potters’ party and were about to kill everyone. I released James’s sleeve, which made him sway to and fro unsteadily, and snatched Remus’s hand.

“You don’t think it’s Death Eaters,” I began, my voice pitching a note higher than usual toward the end. “Do you?”

Remus shook his head. “No, they would’ve made a grander, more dramatic entrance.” He squeezed my hand reassuringly; warmth shot through my arm and tingled in my chest.

“What could it be, then?” I questioned cautiously, not sure if I wanted to know the answer or not. It was more than likely that I should’ve kept my question to myself, but these days, I couldn’t control anything I said. I had diarrhoea of the mouth, I suppose one could say.

A shrug of a shoulder was all I received in response before Remus slowly rose to his feet, dragging me with him. I had half the mind to release his hand and let him wander without me, but I knew that it wasn’t good to leave anyone unattended, especially when it came to cracking noises in the dark. I tripped over a small rock on the garden path and blindly followed Remus. I trusted him, almost a bit too much for my own good, considering that he was a Marauder, but even I had my limitations. And I’m more than sure investigating creepy noises is definitely my limit.

We’ve barely walked three steps before James came lumbering after us, his footsteps clopping so loudly against the paved path, it sounded as though a horse drawn carriage was passing through. I reached for his hand when he was near enough and secured it within my own; if I was going to go gallivanting in the dark, I was going to have as much protection as I could possibly get. However, I had the slightest inclination that I was inhibiting the pair of them with my hands clutching theirs, but I doubted that either one of them was sober enough to know that.

“What d’you think-,”

“Shhhh!” Remus hissed through clenched teeth, cutting James off. I suppose he, Remus, meant to stomp on James’s foot, but he clambered on my toes instead. I yelped, shrieking out a long slew of curse words as I resisted the urge to hop around on one foot, like they do in cartoons. “Oops, sorry. I meant to-,”

“Yeah, I know,” I interrupted him impatiently. “You meant to step on his foot.”

Even though it was pitch black, I knew that James rolled his eyes, judging by the sigh that escaped him; he didn’t even seem all that drunk anymore. Merlin, I had never seen anyone sober up quite as quickly as James did. I tried not to dwell on the bubble of envy that gathered in my chest as we slowly crept around one of the tall hedges.

When we came around the corner, there was nothing. I frowned and James took the helm, my hand still in his, and Remus took up the rear. The bespectacled boy led us around another corner toward the centre of the maze-esque garden path. There, in the clearing next to a beautiful fountain, were several large lumps, one of which looked strangely like a trunk. A soft mewing sound was coming from somewhere within the huge mess.

It took me a few moments to piece it together, but once it finally clicked, I lost it. A great sob shook my chest as I rushed forward, casting numerous items of clothing aside to get to it. When I picked him up, Cappa blinked lazily at me, sleep still clouding his vibrant yellow eyes.

“Meow,” he chirped innocently.

I clung to my kitten, who had grown an alarming amount in the past few hours, it seemed, and ran my finger along the curve of his head. I didn’t even realize tears were streaming down my face and I was the one making the horrendous screeching noises until Cappa started licking my cheeks free of salty tears.

Shakily, and still crying - or sobbing like a cow getting its utters cut off -, with Cappa nestled under my arm, I began to pick up all my belongings. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling or the rough sobs from escaping me. I tried my hardest to pick everything up and shove it back into my trunk, which must’ve fallen open when Lily sent it to me, but it was hard to see anything. Even if I wasn’t crying, I’m sure it would’ve been difficult! A pair of hands pried Cappa from my arms while another set of hands, which were much larger and more callused, began to help me gather my stuff.

Once James closed my trunk, all my garments secured inside, he put an arm around my shoulder, drawing me close to his body. It was a very brotherly gesture, one that I received most greedily. His other arm wrapped around my abdomen so that he was hugging me. After he’d done that, there was no way I was able to keep my sobs, or myself, under control.

“I’m such a b-b-bitch,” I choked through hiccoughs, teardrops rolling off my chin.

“No,” James said quickly, his hand coming up to brush hair away from my face. I felt like a child in his arms, and a pathetic one at that. “You’re not a bitch.”

I shook my head ardently, dragging my wrist under my nose to wipe away any drainage. “But I am. I d-didn’t t-t-tell him.”

“Neither did I,” he protested, lowering his hand to my upper arm, which was alarming cold. His hand chaffed against my skin. “Does that make me a bitch?”

My chuckle got caught in my throat, making me sound like a drowning cat. I glanced at Cappa, who was sleeping peacefully in Remus’s arms, and sighed heavily. I swiped at my tears with the pads of my thumbs and shook my head again. James gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze and let my head fall against his arm.

“Everything will be okay,” James murmured quietly, trying in vain to sound reassuring when, really, it sounded as though he was trying to convince himself as well as me.

X - - X

Three days later, I found myself abroad the Hogwarts Express. It was the start of the new term, but I wasn’t as excited as the rest of the students on board. Hell, I wasn’t even the least bit excited to be heading back to school. If the world revolved around me, I would be back at home with Aunt Eliza, a pint of ice cream resting on my stomach and Spanish soap operas blaring on the television. Sadly, however, the world did not revolve around me.

Instead of picking myself up off the ground and heading home like I ought to have, I stayed with the Potters’ for the remainder of the holidays. Julian and Mary had been eager to accept me into their household, treating me as though I were a regular fixture in their lives. Though I couldn’t say that I was ever truly happy while staying at the lovely mansion, I certainly had a few laughs that lifted my spirits. It was a shame that once I went to sleep, a days’ worth of happy moments subsided, giving way to dreams that would torture me. His seraphic features contorted with fury, a hatred that was for me and only me.

Funny how even though I wasn’t the one who’d cheated on him, I was the one he was the angriest at. Well, maybe he wasn’t as pissed off with me as he was with James, but still, we were neck in neck for first place, James and I were, which wasn’t a good thing in the slightest.

A low grumble of displeasure escaped me, which drew attention toward myself. James raised one eyebrow in question, though his eyes were devoid of any emotion. Not even the smallest hint of pain resided in his warm, hazel depths. When Lily had left him, for lack of a better phrase, she took all of James with her, which was one of the cruellest things she could’ve done. I may have loved Lily like a sister, even though we all knew how much she hated me, but she could’ve listened to what he had to say instead of choosing a side so quickly. It didn’t help that Alice was so quick to pick a team to play for, either. She was such a dear friend to James; they’d grown up with each other, their parents having been friends in their Hogwarts days. And she’d abandoned him, just like Lily did. Because Lily had.

I closed my eyes tightly, a tear leaking out of the corner. If I continued to cry at any given moment, my tear ducts would surely dry out and, while I’m not sure how you feel about the matter, it doesn’t sound very pleasant at all. I swiped at it, furious with myself for getting so emotional. You’d think that I was pregnant or something, the mood swings I was experiencing were that severe.

“Are you all right?” Remus asked suddenly, his voice cautious.

Averting my eyes, I turned my gaze to the rainy window and the green blur that passed by. “I’ll be fine,” I replied automatically, hollowly.

I could feel his eyes on me and willed my body not to react, willed my cheeks not to flush and my neck not to flare up. “If you say so. . .,” he trailed off, shaking his copy of the Daily Prophet open, commencing his reading.

Once I was certain he wasn’t looking at me, I glared at the back of his bowed head, though I’m not sure why. I had so much pent up anger, so much frustration locked within me that I knew sooner or later (probably sooner rather than later), I was going to explode at either one of them. I would try not to, of course, seeing as how they were the only friends I had left. I needed them and vice versa. We were one another’s crutches, there until we were ready to walk on our own. We just didn’t know how long that would be.

Cappa padded his way across the seat and hopped into my lap. After circling three times, he finally settled himself, his head coming to rest against my thigh. I wondered what I would do without my cute kitten. I might not have had him all that long, but he was already becoming one of my dearest friends. He was always there when I needed some form of comfort and the fact that he was fluffy and smelt good was just an added bonus.

I didn’t even realize that I’d dozed off until the Trolley Lady came rolling down the narrow corridor, her voice echoing as she announced her arrival. James flew out of his seat, shoving his hand in his pocket to withdraw some money. Circe only knew what he had in his pockets. Probably a few prank items and a shrunken head. But that was just my guess.

Setting the sleeping Cappa aside (I swear, he doesn’t sleep as much as it seems like he does!), I rose to my feet, stretching my arms above my head and working out the kinks in my back. I didn’t have all that much money, but if I didn’t buy anything on the next Hogsmeade trip, I’d have enough until Easter came and Aunt Eliza sent me some money along with chocolate. Since I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, I ran smack into James’s back, nearly toppling backward. If it hadn’t been for Remus grabbing me by my upper arms and straightening me out, I would’ve hit me head on the edge of my trunk. And we all know that I didn’t need another head contusion.

The Trolley Lady was a jolly old woman. She had grey hair fastened in a tight chignon at the nape of her neck. Horn rimmed glasses rested on the narrow slope of her nose, which contrasted oddly to the rest of her wrinkled face, and blurred her watery blue eyes. The smile she offered to those who purchased sweets from her cart was warm and she dressed in outrageously coloured cardigans. I was immediately reminded of Aunt Eliza, a pang surging through my chest.

“Anything from the trolley, dear?” she asked, gifting me with a very maternal grin.

I nodded faintly. “Two Pumpkin Pasties and six Chocolate Frogs.”

Her eyes widened slightly, but I’m sure this wasn’t the biggest order she’d ever received from a girl. At least, I hoped it wasn’t. Otherwise, that would be pretty damn embarrassing. Not that I cared all that much anymore.

“That’ll be two Galleons and a Sickle.”

I handed her the appropriate sum of money, taking my treats from her grasp, and hurried back into the compartment. Remus purchased a small bottle of pumpkin juice, something I wish I would have thought of. My mouth was going to be insanely dry now. As if reading my mind, Remus stopped the Trolley Lady and bought another bottle of juice.

“You looked thirsty,” he explained, taking the seat next to me, though he was careful to avoid sitting on Cappa.

The kitten leapt onto his lap eagerly and nuzzled his palm. I smiled slightly. “Aw, he likes you.”

“Yeah,” Remus said, delicately stroking Cappa’s head with two fingers. “I guess he does.”

Remembering the disastrous aftermath of the party and how Cappa had cuddled with Remus then, I felt my smile grow a little bit tighter.

“In fact,” I began. “All animals seem to like you, James, and. . .,” I trailed off suddenly. Tension hung thick in the air before I cleared my throat and continued, “well, my aunt’s dog, Rufus, went ballistic when James swung by to pick L-Lily and I up.” It was hard to say her name, too.

Remus nodded his head in understanding and leaned across the small cabin, snatching his paper and shaking it open once again. He disappeared behind the neatly printed lines of text and soon, he became so engrossed in his reading that he didn’t even complain when Cappa started clawing at his face. Weird.

My stomach rumbled unattractively, but thankfully, neither of the boys looked up from their current tasks. James was shoving food into his mouth at such a blinding rate, I couldn’t even tell what he was consuming. And Remus, well, he was reading. I could only imagine what. . .I stopped myself from thinking thoughts that would make me upset. Which was difficult. I’d never realized how much I thought about You-Know. . .well, that wouldn’t work either, would it? I mean, it’s not like he’s a Dark Lord. Unless he moonlights, of course. I can’t call him Him or He because I’m pretty sure that God would be offended.

Rolling my eyes, I exhaled deeply and tore open a Chocolate Frog with my teeth. It leapt about like mad, but I got it under control. Stuffing the jumpy chocolate into my mouth, I chewed rather roughly, making sure to mash it up good before swallowing. I uncapped the bottle of pumpkin juice and right when I was about to take a drink, the train get a sudden lurch forward. Orange tinted juice slopped all down my front, drenching my white button up.

And Mary Potter had wondered why I was so depressed about going back to school.

X - - X

By the time the train pulled into Hogsmeade Station, however, I was more than ready to get out of the compartment and into the shelter of the castle. I couldn’t stand another minute of Quiet Remus and Depressed James. They were driving me mad with their non-talkative attitudes. So, as soon as it was announced that we were nearing the school, I eagerly shrugged my school robes on and sat by the door, tapping my foot impatiently.

The train gave a lurch and I flew out of my seat like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. Well, I went as fast as I could with all the people surging into the narrow strip some had the nerve to call a corridor. I pushed and shoved my way out of the train until the cold air hit my face. Unfortunately, there was an odd slush-rain pouring down from the sky that was positively frigid. I had half the mind to turn on my heel and head back to the safety of my compartment, but I was forced forward. I cursed under my breath when someone elbow me in the side.

“Sorry,” he said, but it was obvious he didn’t see me. Or he was acting like he didn’t see me, which was the more likely possibility.

I frowned after him, watching as his head of dark, silky hair weaved in and out of the crowd, making his way toward the thestral drawn carriages. My frown deepened when I saw who he climbed into a carriage with. Something rolled in my abdomen. I tried not to dwell on the matter, instead choosing to conjure a make shift shield for Cappa so he wouldn’t catch a chill. No matter how hard I tried to tear my eyes away from the sight of them, I couldn’t. Lily threw her head back and laughed loudly, so loudly that her infectious laughter reached my ears. And if it was within my hearing. . .oh vey, I didn’t want to think about that.

I waited until James and Remus stepped off the train. Once I spotted them, I sloshed through the mud and fought my way around the throng of students as I moved toward them. James was wearing a harsh scowl and I knew that he’d heard her laughter, much like I’d feared. I resisted the urge to reach out a sympathetic hand. At least, I thought I’d resisted the urge; Remus must’ve thought that I was holding out my hand for him to take because he took it within his own. Without a moment’s hesitation, he led James and I toward an available carriage.

The ride up to the castle was shrouded by a stony silence. I tried to make conversation, but neither of them seemed to be in a speaking mood, though Remus held my hand the entire way. I wanted to pull my hand away, not because I didn’t want him to hold it, but because the stone heavy guilt was beginning to settle in the pit of my stomach. It was so heavy, I almost felt physically ill.

When we pulled up to the fortress, James and I hurriedly rose from our seats and reached for the door handle. I let him take it within his grasp and watched as he pushed the door open, jumping out into the misty night air. I thought that he was going to rush ahead of us and duck into the Great Hall so he could get the first dibs on food, but he waited for Remus and I to climb out of the carriage.

We joined the surge of students, walking into the Entrance Hall. I breathed in deeply through my nose; it was so nice to be back. How could I’ve been so stupid and actually been hesitant to come back to Hogwarts? It was practically my home and I hadn’t realized until that moment that it was a part of the healing process for me. And perhaps, it would serve the same purpose for James, but I knew somewhere deep inside that it would probably only make things worse.

I swallowed nervously at the thought and made a vain attempt of pushing it to the back of my mind, which, naturally, didn’t work. Rather, it did the exact opposite. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I followed James’s lead into the Great Hall. Almost immediately, my senses were sent into overdrive and actual tears of happiness sprung to my eyes. I would be able to eat Hogwarts food again. I’d be able to gorge myself until I had to undo the top button of my skirt.

I was in hog heaven.

James made his way toward the Marauders’ typical spot, but quickly stopped short when he saw that Sirius, Lily, Alice, and Peter had already claimed that particular stretch of bench. An odd sort of tension was strung suddenly, tighter than a rubber band pulled to its limits, and I felt heat begin to build around my collar. Lily’s eyes found mine and she glowered at me, the set of her mouth hard and unforgiving, just like her cool emerald eyes. We stared at each other for several moments and it felt as though my heart had frozen up. Her gaze left mine and travelled over to the hazel eyed boy standing beside me. Anger bubbled through my veins until I felt the force of his glare.

I was unable to turn my head, to look away or even pretend I didn’t notice him, like he had done to me when he’d bumped shoulders with me. His gaze was penetrating and full of hatred; I didn’t think it was possible for someone with such perfect, angelic features to look so demonic. I sucked in a deep breath, the tears that were once of happiness now that of pain. His eyes burned into mine and spoke the words I didn’t need to physically hear to understand.

He wanted nothing to do with me. He didn’t want me near him. He wanted me out of his life, to go back to being invisible, to living a life in the shadows. I was the lowliest of scum, no better than the people he had to call family. My heart stopped beating and leapt into my throat, making it nigh near impossible to breathe. I was such a terrible person. I didn’t deserve to be alive.

He hated me.Although I had the faintest inclination that he was feeling all these things toward me, I didn’t realize just how much it would hurt when I finally took everything into full recognition. It hit harder than I had expected it to. It felt as though someone was holding my head underwater and I wasn’t able to free myself from their fierce grip. Like they wished me to die.

Something painfully cinched around my heart and I couldn’t help thinking, he doesn’t really want me to die, does he?

I was barely aware of Remus’s fingers hovering against the palm of my hand. I jerked away from him and clenched my fist. I didn’t want my hand to be held. It wouldn’t help at all. If anything, it would only make things much, much worse than they already were.

“Come on, guys,” Remus said, his voice low. “We’ll find somewhere else to sit.”

I nodded my head faintly and tore my eyes away from Sirius’s intense gaze. I could feel his eyes burning the back of my head as I grabbed James by the arm and tugged him down the aisle toward a different area of the Gryffindor table. I didn’t like the feel of guilt that was rolling up and down my spine, but I knew that it was my fault. Purely my fault and there was nothing else I could do about it except for deal with it. As much as I might not like it, it was the only option I had left.

Tremors were surging up James’s arm, his hand shaking fiercely. It alarmed me, but I didn’t say a word in fear of saying the wrong thing. The expression he was wearing could only be described as blank, but his eyes were a much different story. I’d thought that they would be completely devoid of any emotion, aside from misery, but I saw they were burning bright with something I couldn’t quite recognize. Of course, I was never good when it came to realizing emotions, so who was I to judge?

We found a spot somewhere near the middle of the table. Remus hurried around the other side and plonked down opposite of me. Most of the students had already found their seats, so it was more than a little awkward standing around, waiting for James to sit down as well.

I gave a sharp tug on his arm and said softly, “James.”

With a small shake of his head and some muttered words, he threw a leg over the bench and slid into a more comfortable position. I threw a cautious look across the table at Remus, but he didn’t seem to notice, for his attention was fixated elsewhere. Namely, anything that wasn‘t in the direct line of sight of the other students gathered in the Great Hall.

Apparently, the entire school had taken notice that the Marauders were divided. And believe you me, they didn’t ease the tension stretched between the two groups at all. If anything, they only made it worse. And here I thought I was going to be able to enjoy dinner. Could nothing be like it used to be?

X - - X

Once Dumbledore had given his very short, to the point speech, I hurriedly tucked into my dinner as instructed by the starry eyed headmaster. I could feel hundreds of eyes burning into the back of my head, which is why I was shovelling food into my mouth at high speed. Several people nearest to us looked as though they were going to ask me a question, but they always backed down. Thankfully. I had no idea what I would do if someone actually opened their mouth and asked me what was going on. How on earth would I be able to explain the situation?

Simple - I wouldn’t. I would turn on my heel as quickly as possible with my tail tucked between my legs and hurry toward my dormitory, the only place where I would be able to find any sort of comfort. We were all absolutely quiet as we ate, the sounds of silverware scraping against golden plates the only noise erupting from any of us, save for the belch that James released after downing a goblet of pumpkin juice all in one go.

Even though none of us were speaking, I couldn’t help noticing there was something different about James. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but there was something wrong with his eyes. Well, I would not say wrong, but. . .just different. Severely different. Only moments ago, he looked as though he would never come out of the depressive state he’d sunk into after the party. But now, I was almost alarmed by the glimmer in his eyes. Frightened.

I hoped to Merlin that it was a positive glimmer of determination instead of a bad one.

When desert appeared on the table, my stomach growled happily as I reached across to snatch up a piece of chocolate cake. I horked it down at a surprisingly quick rate, my anxiety level spiking as I shoved each forkful into my mouth. All too soon, my cake had run out and I was ready to head up to my dormitory to get some sleep. All I wanted to do was sleep. Get some shut eye and forget that this mess ever happened. Although I knew deep in my gut that a good night’s sleep would be next to impossible.

As soon as I had scraped the last of the cake off the golden plate, I gulped down the rest of my pumpkin juice, sloshing some over the front of my uniform. I paid no heed, rather pushing back somewhat hurriedly from the table and knocking James in the face with an elbow.

“Sorry,” I muttered, offering an apologetic half smile.

“Where’s the fire?” Remus asked lightly, a joking tone to his voice.

I tried to laugh, but it sounded like I was choking, which, I assure you, is as unattractive as it sounds. Lamely, I shrugged my shoulders and pushed myself to my feet.

“I’m tired,” I offered.

And it was the truth. Well, the semi-truth. What I really wanted was to fall into a deep coma and maybe create a time machine so I could do things the right way and tell Sirius as soon as I found out about his cheating girlfriend, despite the fact it was more than likely he wouldn’t believe me. Much less look at me. Because, let’s face it, before I was forced to be his partner in Potions, he barely knew I existed. For Merlin’s sake, the boy couldn’t even get my name right!

Well, he could now, but then? Don’t make me laugh. How many times did he guess? At least a dozen times and he didn’t even find out what my name was until he asked Slughorn. By Gods, I never did realize just how invisible I had made myself. I should’ve been proud, but I wasn’t. I was disappointed in myself. Severely.

With a small shake of my head, I snapped myself back into the present moment, only to realize that more than a dozen pairs of curious eyes were trained on me. Acid churned deep in my belly as my stomach flipped and flopped as though I were on one of those Muggle things - a rollercoaster. I could feel a familiar pair of emerald eyes burning into my back and shifted my weight from foot to foot uneasily.

“I’m just going to. . .,” I trailed off, somewhat lamely, before waving a brief goodbye to my mates and heading out of the Great Hall.

It didn’t take me long to sprint up all seven flights of stairs to Gryffindor tower. Not saying that I was not panting for breath by the time I reached the top of the last flight, but still, I think I did pretty good for having a full belly and being on the verge of a mental breakdown. Sucking in another deep breath, I pushed my slightly sweat out of my face and muttered the password to the Fat Lady.

“Are you all right, dear?” the Fat Lady asked cautiously, her eyes wary as she slowly swung open.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I panted. “I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“You look a bit flustered,” she replied, her tone now as wary as her dark gaze.

I resisted the urge to spit out my retort that I’d just ran up seven flights of stairs without one pause after a very hearty dinner, but I did the wise thing and kept my mouth shut. It was the least I could do for the Fat Lady. Without another word, I climbed through the portrait hole and all but fell to my bum on the other side of the hole. Thankfully, there was no one around to see it and I released a short, shaky laugh at my own expense. It was probably the only laugh I would be having for a long while to come.

Given the fact I was out of breath, I paced myself as I walked up the spiral staircase to the girls’ dormitory. I could just barely see the door to the seventh year girls’ dorm when a sudden realization struck me like Zeus’s infamous thunderbolt. This room was no longer an area where I could find peace. If anything, it had turned into a silent war zone and I was more than willing to bet I was going to be completely ally-less.

Heaving a resolute sigh, I pushed the door open and tripped into the room. Literally. I had stumbled over one of my own shoes, though how it’d gotten out of my trunk is beyond me. I noticed that my belongings were strewn hap-hazardously across my region of the room. Comforted by the sight of the organized chaos, I began to undo the buttons of my blouse and kicked off my shoes. A nice, hot shower seemed perfectly in order, especially after the craptastic day I’d experienced thus far, but instinct only told me that it was going to get much worse.

How much worse, I would find out as soon as I finished brushing the tangles out of my air and had thrown my pyjamas over my head.

Dinner must’ve ended while I was still the shower because as soon as I stepped out into the room, it went silent. All eyes were trained on me and more than one of the gazes were mutinous. I held back a shiver of actual fright, not knowing what these girls were capable of when pissed off, and I crossed the room at top speed.

Almost as soon as my back was turned to my roommates, the frantic whispers began. It didn’t take a Potions master to figure out that it was Leanne and Marlene chattering away, trying to get some information from Lily. Surprisingly, when I looked over my shoulder, the redhead was shaking her head firmly.

“Oh, come on, Lily -,”

“I said no, Marlene,” Lily said stiffly. She must’ve sensed my gaze because she slowly pivoted her head so that she was looking at me. Her eyes burned into mine, throwing hot daggers that I couldn’t dodge, even if my life depended on it. One of her eyebrows arched high. “Can I help you?”

Licking my lips, I shook my head. “N-no,” I stammered, heat rushing around my neck.

“Then why are you staring?” Marlene snapped, eyes flashing with anger.

A sudden wave of offence swept through me. Marlene didn’t even know what was going on, yet here she was, trying to act as though she was personally involved the conflict between Lily and myself. I squared my shoulders, feeling a good deal bolder than I had in quite a while.

“Why don’t you just stay out of everyone’s business for once, McKinnon, and stop mucking things up,” I spat acidly.

A short laugh rolled through Alice, but when Lily‘s eyes cut over to her, she stifled it with her hand. I could see a glimmer of regret in her friendly, brown eyes and I knew that she had only picked Lily’s side because they were best friends.

Which was totally understandable.

Leanne and Marlene shared a glance, the latter of which folded her arms over her chest and raised a brow at me in questioning curiosity. “From what I heard, you’ve already mucked things up quite a bit on your own,” Marlene teased.

“Didn’t think you were the type of keep such a secret from a beloved friend,” Leanne chimed in, a wicked smile overcoming her lips.

“So much for honesty,” Lily commented coldly. She turned her back then and went about getting ready for bed.

I stood, rooted in my spot, and I tried to catch my breath. I couldn’t; it felt as though there was a heavy weight situated on my chest. One that wouldn’t go away until I said what I needed to. One that would pester me until I at least tried. So, wetting my lips once more, I took the tiniest of steps toward Lily, though I knew she wouldn’t see, as her back was to me.

“Lily,” I began, my voice weak. Circe, I really was pathetic, wasn’t I? “I said I’m-,”

“I don’t want to hear it, Briggs,” Lily murmured, loud enough for the entire room to hear, “nothing you could say can change my opinion of you.”

X - - X

Unable to sleep in a room full of hostility, as soon as it was late enough, I grabbed my blanket and pillow from my bed and headed down the staircase as quietly as I could. It wasn’t the best place to lay down for the night, but I was not only scared that I wouldn’t wake up tomorrow, but because not one of my roommates wanted a single thing to do with me. Save for Alice. And that was a steep maybe.

Expelling a short breath, I leapt down the last of the steps and headed over to the couch. It wasn’t very long, but at least it was comfortable and had enough room for me to curl up on. Throwing my pillow down on the couch, I wrapped my blanket around my body and sank down onto the squishy, but comfortable surface.

I shifted around until I found a relatively comfortable position. I was lying on my side, my eyes on the dying embers of the fire. It was going to be cold tonight, that much was true, but at least it was better than sleeping in the dorm. I knew that if anyone found me in the morning, especially the wrong sort of person, I could get into trouble. We weren’t supposed to sleep anywhere else, save for our own dorms. Not unless we had permission, which I doubted I would get from McGonagall.

All too soon, however, the waves of sleep were softly lulling me to sleep. Just as I was taken up in the tide, I heard the portrait hole swing open. Seeing as how I wasn’t fully conscious, I didn’t move, much less make a noise. I didn’t want anyone to see me and unless they were going to sit down on the sofa, then they wouldn’t.

I allowed the waves of sleep to take me away, but not before I caught the musky scent of. . .well, to be honest, it smelt vaguely of wet dog and cinnamon. The smell was faintly familiar, but I was too tired to give a damn and actually think as to who it could be. As unconsciousness lulled me into a light slumber, I felt the faintest touch of warmth against the cool skin of my cheek. It almost felt as though a finger were being dragged across my face.

But by the time I managed to pull myself to the surface of consciousness, the warmth had gone and I was all alone in the common room.

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