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The days passed by faster than I thought they would. I wasn’t as miserable as I could’ve been. Not to say that I wasn’t upset because, clearly, I was, but in a way, it was almost like the friendships I had established with Peter, Alice, Remus, James, Lily, and Sirius didn’t even exist. It was like they were merely a dream. A delusion that I concocted in my boredom. Which is entirely plausible.

I might have believed it if didn’t hurt so badly to see them together. Separate, yes, but at least they had one another. Meanwhile, I had no one. No one, but the Voice. Not that It was being helpful as of late. In fact, I hadn’t heard from the Voice since the night on the Quidditch pitch.

A sigh escaped me as I rolled out of bed, making sure that I didn’t thump my feet too loudly against the floor as I padded toward the bathroom. I took a quick, hot shower and hurriedly scrambled out of the washroom just as the others were beginning to wake up. I avoided eye contact as I brushed my hair, which had already reached a length where it skimmed just above my collarbone. Thankfully, I didn’t have too many knots in my hair and was able to dress in my uniform, which, for once, wasn’t covered in wrinkles.

As I made my way toward the door, my eyes caught Alice and I was surprised to see that she gave me a small wave. Just a tiny wiggle of her fingers and a semi-smile. For some strange reason, I felt the urge to cry. Wrenching the door open, I blinked away tears as I traipsed down the stairs, nearly tripping over my feet in my rush.

When I stepped into the common room, my stomach gave a familiar swoop and my heart began to hammer, quite loudly, I might add, in my chest, beating a painful tattoo against my ribcage. Sirius was standing by the fireplace, an arm against the mantel and his head bowed slightly. His hair was in a hectic sort of disarray, wild in the back and on his crown, but smooth beside his ears, almost as though he had been tucking it behind his ears nervously. The line of his shoulders was tight with tension and from what I could see, the hand that hung limp by his side was holding something.

A letter.

He didn’t seem to have noticed my presence in the common room, which gave me the smallest bit of hope that I could slip out unnoticed. Hell, Sirius was probably so used to tuning me out, he would not notice me if I caught myself on fire and ran around like a headless chicken. Not that I would ever do something as ridiculous as that. . . Though, I couldn’t blame him for tuning me out or anything, I mean, he had a substantial reason to hate me.

I watched as Sirius crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the fire. With a hand, he grabbed the poker and began to prod the logs inside the grate. It was a very unusually solemn gesture that I would not have expected from Sirius. It was, well, almost as though he had gotten the idea out of a storybook or something.

Something tingled in my nose and I began to panic. I couldn’t sneeze now! Not now! He would think that I was spying on him or something. And Merlin only knows what he would do then. I doubted he would resort to violence or anything, but it looked like a very private moment. One that no one would interrupt without getting an earful, in the very least.

The sensation began to dissipate and I found my shoulders sagging in relief. Then, the Voice began to spark to life, wanting to say something. And just as It began to speak, the urge overtook me so suddenly, there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop from sneezing.

I sneezed. And Holy Grandmother of Houdini was it loud.

Before I could move, Sirius whipped around, the makings of a glare overshadowing his previously contemplative expression. However, he must’ve been shocked that it was me because, almost as soon as we locked eyes, his mouth shut with an audible click. Something brewed in his silver eyes, something that made my stomach both flip with excitement and tremor with dread. It didn’t help that the fire was outlining his tall figure, making him look all the more imposing.

I couldn’t tell you how long we stared at each other. All I know is, while I stared at him, all the guilt I had been carrying around with me since January seemed to become all the more heavy, yet lighter at the same time. The Voice started to speak again, faint mutterings, but it was then that I realised I was becoming light-headed, my visions dotted with spots of black as well as colour.

I wasn’t breathing.

Feeling absolutely silly, I gulped down a deep breath of air. It seemed to shake me out of it, though whatever ‘it’ was, I couldn’t be quite sure. I blinked one, two, three times before I shook my head to myself softly. My breathing seemed to rouse him from whatever spell had overcome us because his eyes narrowed and the familiar spark of anger ignited in his melancholy eyes. Once again, my heart began to hammer painfully against my ribs, trying to escape. I wanted to rub my middle, to soothe the ache, but not only would it look out of place, but I couldn’t handle being in the same room with Sirius. Alone.

It was stifling, the tension. Almost suffocatingly so.

I stiffened when his lips parted and he sucked in a small breath, like he wanted to say something. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle whatever came out of his mouth. So, to spare myself the misery of having to deal with whatever he said, I bolted. I ran pell-mell toward the portrait hole and struggled for a good thirty seconds before I managed to wrestle the painting away from the hole. Thankfully, I didn’t hear any snickers coming out of Sirius; I don’t know how I would’ve handled that.

Once I managed to free my foot from whatever it was caught on, I stumbled out into the corridor, my chest heaving with effort. Had I been holding my breath since I made a run for it or was I panting due to my struggle with the painting? Deciding not to answer my own question, I adjusted the shoulder strap of my satchel and headed toward the Great Hall.

If this was foreshadowing of how the rest of the day would go, I was in for Hell.

X - - X

It was fruitless, trying to pay attention during my lessons. Everything my professors said floated up and over my head, settling somewhere in the back of the classroom. I tried to take notes, but I just couldn’t muster the focus. My hand would end up fluttering above the paper, the tip of my inked quill refusing to meet the crisp, smooth surface of parchment. It was more infuriating than it sounded.

A sigh escaped me in the form of a large puff of air. It stirred my fringe, making the ending strands of hair tickle my nose and brow ridge. I ignored the urge to giggle as the bell rang, signalling that it was time to go to Potions.

If I had dreaded the class before, I don’t know the appropriate word for how I felt toward it now. All at once, my stomach began to flip and flop, twist and turn, and perform a whole acrobatic routine. I bit the inside of my cheek as I shoved my belongings into my satchel, which had a nice, large rip down the side of it. I would’ve fixed it myself, but knowing how disastrous my last attempts to fix anything had been told me that I should just buy a new one. I’d have to owl Aunt Eliza and ask her to send me a few Galleons or, better yet, a new bag all together. It’s not like I minded what it looked like.

Out of habit, I followed the line of students out through the door, nodding a friendly goodbye toward the professor. He smiled tightly at me, almost as though he knew I hadn’t been paying attention to his lesson at all. Whoops.

The corridors were as loud and rowdy as they always were. I just barely avoided being shoved down one of the moving staircases when two burly Hufflepuffs and an equally large Ravenclaw started to toss a pair of Fizzing Whizbees back and forth. A group of fourth year girls shrieked as one of the Fizzing Whizbees zoomed over their head, nearly taking off their hair. One of the girls proceeded to yell at one of the Hufflepuffs, poking him in the chest several times for good measure.

Rolling my eyes in annoyance at the spectacle, I searched for the quickest way out of the corridor. I managed to slip between a snogging couple and a pair of first years. As soon as I was able to break free from the unusually large crowd in the corridor, I took off down the next stretch of hall as though someone had lit a rocket under my bum. Not that I was eager to get to Potions. If anything, I didn’t want a single thing to do with that class; I wanted to stay as far away as I could from the class. The less I saw of the dungeons, the better, regardless of how good I was at the subject.

Unfortunately, since I was able to slink my way out of the crowds in the halls, I ended up outside of the classroom a few minutes early. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if they weren’t waiting as well. And by they, of course I meant Lily and Sirius. They were standing close to one another, their lips moving rapidly. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but it almost looked as though they were arguing with one another. Lily’s jaw locked into place and she tilted her chin upward slightly; Sirius stared at her, looking completely baffled.

My stomach swooped greatly. I treaded down the short flight of stairs as quietly and cautiously as I could, not wanting to draw attention to myself. The less they saw of me, the better. Especially after The Encounter, as the Voice was now calling it, this morning. My stomach gave another whirl of a turn at the thought of Sirius’s blazing grey eyes, of the heavy crease that had formed in his brow.

Since I was exercising an abnormal amount of caution, it’s only natural that I ended up tripping over the hem of my robe. My feet fell out from underneath me and I slid on my bum down the last three steps, the shock of the impact vibrating up my spine in the most unpleasant way.

“Ow,” I muttered to myself, not bothering to stand up just yet. The pain was still making its dizzying way up to my head. White lights began to flicker in front of my eyes and I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. How come injuries always hurt much worse after they occur?

I could feel their eyes on me as I slowly pushed myself to my feet. My back hurt more than I cared for; it was almost a nauseating pain. There was no doubt in my mind that I would have bruises along the line of my spinal column. I could only imagine the array of colours that decorated my back. With a grimace threatening to pull at my mouth, I bent down to retrieve my bag off the floor. A small gasp escaped me as a thread of pain licked up my spine, stopping somewhere at the back of my neck and tingling furiously beneath my skin. I managed to wrap my hand around the strap of my bag and give a sharp pull, only to hear a resounding tear.

Shit. The strap had finally broken.

Gulping down a breath of air, and trying to ignore the probing stares I was earning from the nosy pair of observers, I knelt down beside my fallen belongings and began to gather them up. A wave of fresh tears pricked at the backs of my eyes, causing the painful tickling to stir in my brain again. I bit into my cheek even more roughly than before and the copper taste of blood filled my mouth. My fingers were about to close around my inkwell when a pale, but sallow hand came into my view.

The strong fingers latched around the inkwell, securing the top on. The small pot was thrust into my hands and I looked up to see that Severus Snape was kneeling across from me, picking up some of my other belongings.

His greasy, black hair hung in a curtain around his face as he met my eyes. Something flickered in his glassy, onyx orbs. Something that I was all too familiar with.

Pity.

Severus Snape was pitying me.

The thought of Snape actually taking pity upon me, a Gryffindor and former mate of the Marauders, no less, made my mind reel with shock. But I suppose I understood. Or rather, Snape understood the situation I was in. No one ever helped him. If it’d been Snape’s bag that had broken, someone would have kicked his belongings away from him. Would have broken his inkwell instead of making sure the cap was on tight, like he had done to mine.

Too startled to say anything else, I took the last of my things, an Eagle feather quill, from his hand, my fingers lingering over his. “Thanks,” I muttered.

His lips parted slightly, but instead of returning a pleasantry, his mouth pulled into a sneer and he flung my hand away from his, standing up with surprising dexterity. “I didn‘t do it for you, Briggs.”

Then he trod over my fingers as he returned to his spot against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest.

Someone to my right scoffed loudly. I twisted my head to see that it was Lily, her face coloured with indignation. I couldn’t figure out why, but I quickly shoved my things into my bag and rose. My back screamed in protest as I slung my satchel over my shoulder. Merlin, I wish the damned door would open already!

It didn’t take long for the rest of the class to show up. I could hear James’ loud, boisterous voice as he and Remus approached the dungeons. Remus laughed about something as they came gliding down the steps, as that was the only appropriate word for the way they walked.

James smiled softly at me, a glimmer of apology in his eyes as he did so. I had received that look from James many times over the past two weeks, ever since the Quidditch Pitch. I don’t know why he insisted on feeling guilty for choosing his best mate over me. If I had been in his position, I would have attended to my friend instead of staying with the heartless slag. I couldn’t muster a smile, so I settled on a soft nod. His eyes tightened slightly as he turned back to Remus; he was still laughing at whatever James had said before.

Suddenly, I realised how much I missed Remus’s laugh. How much I missed the ridiculously sexist jokes that James constantly told that shouldn’t be amusing, but were.

I would’ve dwelled on the subject longer had the door to the classroom not opened. An intense wave of relief washed over me and I resisted the urge to let my shoulders sag in reprieve. Hitching the bag up my shoulder instead, and my back screaming in protest yet again, I waited until Slughorn spoke to take a step toward the door.

“Well, don’t just stand there. Come in, come in!” He waved his arm enthusiastically and I knew from that motion today’s lesson wasn’t going to be one I liked. If anything, I would only confirm my theory that today would be absolute Hell. It had already been bad enough, so what’s to say that it wouldn’t get any worse?

Several students filed into the room before I decided to slip in through the small space provided in the doorway, seeing as how Slughorn and his considerable. . .roundness was making it difficult to flit through easily. Behind me, I heard Lily snicker and ignore the temptation to turn around to see what was so funny. I probably had a huge tear in my robes or something. That or she had put gum in my hair. Like I needed that to happen again.

No. . .Lily wouldn’t do that. She might’ve said and done a lot of things, but she wouldn’t be as cruel to put candy in my hair, would she? Well, maybe not cruel, because she could be, but not childish. If there was anything that Lily wasn’t, it was childish. And sticking candy in someone’s hair was a very childish act indeed.

Merlin, why was I so concerned about my hair all of the sudden? Perhaps because it had grown out to a length that I actually liked. And I had to admit, I didn’t think I would rely on Alice to fix my locks again, should anything happen to them.

Shaking the image of a giant pair of shears and a wad of gum from my mind, I hurried to the back of the room to find my customary seat. Before the Quidditch Pitch, James and Remus sat with me at the lab station, even though it was only meant for two cauldrons. However, for the past two weeks, I had been sitting by myself at the station. Not that I minded, of course; I finished before everyone else and was able to tackle a good portion of my homework while still in class.

Settling myself down on top of the stool, I set my satchel on the empty seat beside me, trying to ignore the Voice at the back of my head. It was telling me that I was pathetic for looking so wistfully at the people I used to call mates. They were the ones that left me, the Voice reminded me, not the other way around. I flirted with the temptation of telling the Voice that It had ill-advised me, but I did not care to wage a mental argument when my head was already throbbing alongside the dull ache that wound up and down my spine.

Cursed stairs. There weren’t even that many of them, yet I managed to take a tumble that hurt me more than I cared to acknowledge. I thought that I could handle pain well, considering the amount of injuries I had sustained in my years. However, it seems that back injuries hurt more than I imagined they would.

“Settle down, please,” Slughorn called over the din, which did quiet as he’d asked. He smiled at us, his eyes glittering with amusement. Ut oh, that was never a good sign. “I have some good news and some ever better news!”

Merlin, he sounded like a child on Christmas morning! He was practically bursting at the seam with whatever news he was going to deliver to us.

Aside from me, the entire class was bristling with excitement. I couldn’t even phantom what good, old Slughorn would have to say, but I knew it couldn’t be good if he was this excited. The last time he had gotten this riled up was when he announced we were doing a semester long project with a partner. And we all know how that turned out.

Before I further think on what it could be, the Potions professor began to speak.

“First with the good news,” he said, his voice chipper. “I would like to congratulate you all for doing so marvellous on your joint potions projects. Not one of you failed, though some of you could have done much better work.” He sent a pointed look in the direction of Daphne Greengrass, who turned her nose upward in a ‘who, me?’ sort of way. “As it is, take the time to give yourselves a round of applause - you did fabulously!”

A sharp spattering of applause erupted from the class. Whoa, they were more enthusiastic than I thought they would be.

Seeming pleased with the ease that his request was completed, Slughorn continued, “For the even better news, I finally have the results of your potions projects! And that is what the next two weeks’ assignment will be over - the antidote of your potion. I have provided the ingredients on the rubric I collected with your projects. For further information, check the back and in case you do not quite understand what is going on, please, come see me at my desk.” He clapped his hands together in a merry way that only Slughorn could achieve. “Move with your partners and get to work!”

Realisation sunk like a lead bullet in the pit of my stomach. I resisted the urge to vomit. Oh, bloody hell, I couldn’t do this! I would have to be paired with Sirius for the next two weeks. And after what’d happened today in the common room? Merlin, my very sanity hinged on this! I couldn’t be partnered with him. I just couldn’t! One of us would end up tearing off the other’s head, mashing it up, only to spit it back out in spite.

A loud groan escaped me as I lowered my head in my arms, laying across my lab station, looking like a limp rag doll. Great, this was just great. And I thought my life was complicated enough. It was about to get much, much worse.

There was a great shuffling of chairs and a loud chorus of voices. Some were happy, others weren’t. If I was focused on anything aside from my own personal problems, I would’ve been able to pinpoint Sirius’s voice and the way he and Lily were whispering furiously with one another. Obviously, if I had been paying attention, I would’ve voiced the same sentiments; it’s not like I wished to be partnered with him again, either.

As I began to count down to the last seconds of my life, the legs of the stool to my right-hand side scraped against the floor. The sound rang harsh and loud in my ears. I tried to ignore the bubbling, sickly feeling brewing in the pit of my stomach, but nothing seemed to be working. When he sank into a sitting position, my breath hitched in my throat as a jolt of electricity jerked through my entire being. It was like someone had switched on all the lights in a building and blown a fuse; I couldn’t handle it.

Reluctantly, I picked up my head to see if he had the same reaction. He wasn’t looking at me, he was staring pointedly at the front of the room. However, I could see that he had his fists clenched and the muscles were straining beneath his skin. Obviously, he had felt it, too. Whatever it was.

I mocked his actions, sitting up straighter and directing my attention to the front of the room. I found that my eyes followed Slughorn as he walked around the room, passing out the results as well as the sheets of parchment containing the ingredients and process for making the antidotes. Slughorn seemed to be moving at an especially sluggish pace, which infuriated me. Couldn’t he just get here already so we could look over the results and then split up the assignment? It was the easiest way to tackle the whole “working together” part of the partnership.

I didn’t even noticed that I was drumming my fingers on the top of the table until Sirius sent me a sharp, piercing look and ground out, “Will you quit that?”

Frowning, I glanced down at my hand, which was, in fact, drumming a tunelessly melody against the woodwork. Curling my fingers inward, I said, “Sorry.” Though I really didn’t sound like I meant it; I sure as hell didn’t feel sorry. It was almost amusing, seeing his reaction. At least it clued me into the fact that he hadn’t completely blocked me out of his conscious. But how could anyone ignore the hypertension that had formed between us as soon as he sat down next to me.

This was the closest we had been since the New Years’ Eve Party. Maybe the air had always been like this, electrically charged, when we were around each other, but we were just too distracted by other things to notice it?

Oh, who was I kidding? The tension existed because we made it exist. Neither of us wanted to be near to the other, so it was only obvious that because of it, an air of thick and heavy tension was strung between us. It didn’t mean anything at all. It was only natural for two people who hated each other.

Well, make that one person. I didn’t hate Sirius. I doubted I could ever hate him, not even if I wanted to with every fibre of my being. Though I can’t say the same for him.

Finally, after what seemed like a decade, Slughorn came to our table. He wore a grin as wide as the Pacific Ocean, which frightened me a bit. He shuffled through the papers in his hand and found our results. My stomach tightened with anticipation.

“You two did marvellously!” the Potions professor enthused. “Not that I didn’t expect top notch work from either of you, but you exceed even my very high expectation.” He grinned only widened, if at all possible. “I would’ve given you the top grade in the class, but it seems that Mr. Snape has out done himself yet again. But I’m pleased to inform you that you have received the second highest marks in the class on your project.”

My jaw all but dropped to the tabletop. “We beat Lily and James?” I said faintly, almost dubiously.

Slughorn nodded with delight. “Yes, you did! It seems that while their potion was exquisite, I found that yours was much more intriguing. I must say, it was an odd potion to select for such a project; most people went with much more sensible potions. So, would you two care to enlighten me as to why you selected such a bizarre anti-love potion?”

Against the Voice’s wished, I turned my head and met Sirius’s gaze. He was just as shocked, if not more so, than I was. His grey eyes were wide and a look of utmost confusion plastered itself on his beautiful features.

We began speaking at the same time.

“Well, we looked for such a long time-,”

“You see, it was a hard search-,”

“-thought that it would be a good selection because it was so obscure-,”

“-didn’t cross my mind that you would find it odd-,”

“-was the sort of thing that you looked for in-,”

“-didn’t really make much sense-,”

“-it just seemed like the right one to chose-,”

“-not sure as to why we selected it-,”

“-but it just fit,” Sirius finished.

Slughorn exchanged a long look between us, his eyes resting on both of our faces for a prolonged moment of time before he turned to the next face. His eyes seemed to cross behind his spectacles and I couldn’t say that I blamed him. We had said two entirely different things. No wonder why the poor man was so confused.

“Uh,” began Slughorn. “Right. Well, it’s suffice to say that I’m glad you chose a potion that was so obscure, as Mr. Black put it. An anti-love potion,” he mused out loud, chuckling to himself. “I would have thought that kids like yourselves would’ve chosen something much more romantic.” He winked at us before drifting off to the next table.

I swallowed roughly. Did Slughorn just imply that he thought there was something going on between us?

As if he was reading my thoughts, Sirius turned toward me and said, “Did he just imply what I think he just implied?”

Closing my eyes, I nodded slowly, though I didn’t dare say anything. Merlin only knows what sort of things would pass through my mouth - or what it would do with Sirius sitting so close to me.

Sirius shuffled beside me and searched across the table. I cracked my eyes open in time to see his fingers curl around the parchment. He sat back down on his stool and turned his shoulder to me as he read the parchment. Why, that smarmy little bastard! One minute, he was talking to me like we used to (well, not entirely, but at least he was looking me in the face and actually speaking words, not throwing glares, at me) and the next, he was acting like a five year old who wanted a damn lolly.

I knew he wasn’t a speedy reader, but it’s not like it took five minutes to read over the ingredients we would need and the steps the process required. I cleared my throat. “Are you almost done with that?” My, my, I sounded severely impatient.

That’s because you are.Squaring my jaw, I waited until Sirius turned around so that his posture was much more open to me. His grey eyes sparkled as he roughly shoved the piece of parchment into my hands. I did not bother hurrying to read the parchment because, well, he hadn’t and if he was entitled to acting like a child, then I was, too.

However, as I read the list, my eyes widened slightly and I reread some of the lines to make sure that I had read them correctly. All right, so maybe he hadn’t intentionally read so slowly to piss me off, rather to see if he was seeing what he was seeing.

Once I finished reading the list of ingredients and the process, I placed the parchment in the middle of the table, in No Man’s Land, and licked my suddenly dry lips.

There was absolutely no way it could be this complicated to make a bloody love potion! I mean, it was difficult enough brewing an anti-love potion, one that reserved the effects of a love potion, but since we had to create the antidote, thus leaving us to create a love potion, which I must admit, was truly ironic. But who knew that a love potion could be so. . .so. .

“Difficult,” I said.

Sirius raised a brow at me. “Excuse me?”

“I said, who knew a love potion could be so difficult.”

He stared at me for a few seconds, a doubtful look on his face. Finally, after a few more moments of staring me in which my skin started to prickle uncomfortably underneath my robes, he tore his gaze away from mine. The line of his shoulders dropped and his chest swelled as he released a sigh.

“Honestly,” he muttered to himself, drawing the piece of parchment nearer to him. “And he said we only have two weeks to brew it?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I believe so. How long is the brewing time on our potion?” I tried to read over his shoulder, but he wasn’t having it. He hunched over and I scoffed. “Arse.”

His elbow shot out and caught me in between the ribs. I coughed, momentarily stunned. Had Sirius really just rammed his elbow into my ribcage, after he had seen me fall down the stairs? I rolled my eyes, more in annoyance at him than the pain that racked through my body. Really, I was starting to become quite accustomed to all the abuse my body was dealing with as of late.

In retaliation, I reached up and tugged on his ear as hard as I could before flicking it roughly. He let out a loud yelp, causing several heads to swivel in our direction. His hand flew up to his ear and as he turned around, I caught a familiar scent of cinnamon and, oddly enough, wet something. I could not place a finger on it exactly, but if I were to venture a guess, it almost smelt like wet dog. I didn’t realise that the smell was coming from Sirius until I noted how close he was to me.

My head swam as I leaned back in my stool, almost toppling over the edge.

“Would you knock it off?”

Indignation scorched through my veins. “What? You’re the one who elbowed me in the ribs, you stupid prat!”

Something blazed in his eyes, though I couldn’t tell what it was. Anger, perhaps? Or was it entirely different? “If you hadn’t been trying to read over my shoulder-,”

“I wouldn’t have had to try to read over your shoulder if you weren’t so damn insistent on acting like a bleeding child!”

“I’m acting like a child? You’re the one who just pulled my ear and then flicked it! Which, for your information, hurts a lot more than an elbow the ribs.”

I scoffed loudly at this and resisted the urge to throttle him in the face. “You cannot be serious!” I exclaimed. He opened his mouth to most likely make a joke about his own name, but I held up my hand and continued, “You must be kidding! An elbow to the ribs hurts a lot more than a stupid flick on the back of the ear. Especially after you’ve already been damaged within the last hour.” I made sure not to mention the specific incident, even though I was well aware that he had witnessed it and stood there, doing absolutely nothing.

“It’s not my fault that you’re clumsy,” he replied with a harsh coolness that seeped into my bones.

My jaw snapped shut with an audible click. It hurt, but I tried not to show it. Learning toward him, I did my best to put on a tough-as-nails voice. “You’re a heartless bastard, d’you know that?”

“And you’re a lying slag,” he shot back, his voice just as low as mine. “There are some things we just can’t change, Eleanor, and to me, it seems like that’s your trouble area.”

I leered at him, but before I could say anything else, the bell shrilled loudly. I silently thanked Merlin for the relief; I didn’t think I could handle anything else Sirius would have to say. Seeing as how my belongings were still safely tucked inside my bag, I had nothing to gather. I snatched the paper off the tabletop before Sirius could get to it and marched toward the door, but not before kicking the leg of his stool as hard as I could.

You have no idea how much it satisfied me to hear him let out another yelp before crashing to the ground.

X - - XFor the next week, Potions class was the exact same. You know, minus the whole falling down the stairs thing and actually having the guts to inflict physical harm to Sirius. But the arguments? They only got worse with each passing class.

At one point, Slughorn had to physically separate use, making the mild suggestion that perhaps we should both a breather, a walk in opposite directions. Cool our tempers and level our heads. He was under the impression that we were arguing over the complicated nature of our potion; while it did not help in the slightest, it wasn’t the main cause. No, it was Sirius’s tendency to be such a pigheaded git that ended in our voices rising over acceptable indoor standards and rather unkind words issuing from both of our mouths.

“Merlin’s beard, were you always this pigheaded or did you just wake up this morning feeling like an arse?” I asked sarcastically, my tone biting.

Sirius snorted with derisive laughter. “Maybe if you hadn’t added the wrong ingredient, we wouldn’t have to start over again.”

“You were the one in charge of listing off the ingredients,” I countered, poking him in the chest. By the look that crossed his face, it hurt me more than it hurt him. “So really, it’s all your fault that our potion is fucked up!”

He shook his head to himself and I could tell he was having a hard time not rolling his eyes. “I have no idea how I tolerated you for so long - you’re such a nag.”

“The feeling’s mutual, Black,” I ground out scathingly.

Deciding that it was better to turn my attention away from Sirius and focus on our potion, I grabbed the handle of my silver knife and wiped the bits of frogspawn that clung to the metal on the inside of my dragon skin gloves. I saw a flicker of apprehension in Sirius’s eyes as I sliced into the crocodile heart that looked like it was still thumping, but I knew was long dead, judging by how chilly it felt to the touch, even though the thick hide of the gloves.

I pulled off the gloves, seeing as how I was no longer dealing with a dangerous bit of. . .well, what it was I was handling before. Next, I snatched a thin phial out of its slot on the rack to collect the juice that seeped out of the crocodile heart, which was the main purpose for the slicing. I was nervous by the amount of liquids that the cold heart secreted, but I silently reassured myself it was normal. At least it wasn’t toxic.

Clearing my throat, I glanced out the corner of my eye. Well, he was just standing there, doing next to nothing at all, aside from converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. “Why don’t you start dicing up the newt tail?” I suggested, careful to keep my voice guarded, neutral.

He didn’t say anything for a few seconds, merely stared at me before he pulled his own silver knife, complete with a beautiful, ivory hand carved with very interesting, but indistinguishable markings. A part of me was curious and wanted to ask what they were, but my more sensible side - all right, it was the Voice, who told me it wasn’t a wise move. I might have just suggested something in a very nice tone of voice, but we weren’t that far into tolerating one another just yet.

Unfortunately, my eyes were working on their own accord and staring at him. Well, more like I was staring at his hand while he chopped up the newt tail into fine pieces. His cuts were so precise, so accurate that I felt my cheeks flush with heat. Oh no - Merlin no, I wasn’t - jealous - of him, was I? For having such clean, swift movements with a bloody knife?

Oh hell!

However, it took me but a moment to realise that it wasn’t his handiwork with the knife that I was admiring. It was the look of utmost concentration, the slight pull of his brow and pink bit of tongue poking out of the side of his mouth that secured my eyes to the sight of him. Even though he could be the most arrogant arse in the world, he had his moments. Particularly now.

I knew I shouldn’t be gawking at him like he was an animal on display at the zoo, but I couldn’t tear my gaze away from Sirius, no matter how much I wanted to. As to be expected, I was caught with my hand in the theoretical cookie jar.

Blast!

It felt as though something was pumping cold water through my veins one moment and the next, it felt as though my entire being was alight with a harsh flame. My stomach swooped and dipped and took a huge loop-the-loop. My knees started to knock together again. All because we were making eye contact. And not the sort we’ve been making for the past month or so. No, this was real, not an icy glare or hatred filled gaze that suggested less than honourable intentions.

It was almost like he was tearing me apart with his eyes. Unzipping the exterior shell I had kept in place since our return to Hogwarts. Reaching into my chest and yanking out my heart. He had my soul in his hands and he was examining it, poking and prodding in places that I rather wished Sirius hadn’t.

I felt terribly exposed.

And I probably would’ve continued feeling that way if a sharp pain hadn’t shot up my arm, rattling in my chest. A look of deep hurt, not the emotional kind, but the physical sort, must have passed over my face because I noticed the colour draining from Sirius’s face.

“Eleanor?” He sounded concerned. Was it strange that even though it felt like a thousand needles were poking in my arms, my heart fluttered with hope?

As happy as my eternal self was, I couldn’t ignore the stinging that replaced the shock. It worked its way up my arm at an alarmingly fast rate and was it just me or was it getting hotter in here?

A hand touched my elbow and Sirius started to say, “Eleanor, are you all right?”, but he stopped in the middle of his sentence and said instead, “Holy shit! You’re bleeding!”

Shaken out of the dreamlike state I had unknowingly sunken into, I met his eyes again. “I am?”

“Look at your hand!”

I did. And saw that it was covered in blood. “I am.” This time, it was a statement. And a slightly odd one at that. Like I wasn’t entirely sure if I really believed myself.

Sirius pulled me closer to him to inspect my hand. He sucked in a startled breath as he forced my fingers to uncurl themselves and took a closer look at the palm of my hand. “Holy Mother of Merlin, you really did a number on your hand. We probably need to get you to the Hospital Wing.” Before I could protest, Sirius tightened his hold around my wrist and dragged me behind him as he marched to the front of the room. “Professor! I need to take Eleanor to the Hospital Wing.”

The rotund man turned around, a resigned look on his face. He was obviously expecting this. “What for?”

“This,” he said impatiently, jerking me forward to show Slughorn my hand.

The Potions professor paled considerably. “Merlin and Agrippa, what happened?”

Two pairs of probing eyes landed on me and I said, “I was - er, juicing the crocodile heart when I cut my hand on my - knife. It was an accident, but-,”

I emitted a squeak of surprise as Slughorn grabbed my hand and jerked it toward himself. His face was even paler as he turned my hand over in his. “Oh no,” he muttered darkly. “This is not good.”

Panic rose in me like a fresh wave, but before I could so much as get a word out, Slughorn looked at Sirius long and hard and said, “Get her to the Hospital Wing as quick as you can, Mr. Black. I’ll alert Poppy that you are on your way. This does not look very good at all.”

Blood rushed to my toes as Sirius nodded, pulling me out of the room. He began to walk so fast, I was all but running to keep up with him. “What does he mean, this doesn’t look very good at all?”

I could tell that Sirius was pointedly ignoring me by the way he glanced down at my hand which was slowly becoming numb. It was probably due to his death grip on my wrist. However, it wasn’t just my hand that was going numb.

My heart began to hammer harshly in my chest as we ran up another flight of stairs. We only had two more levels to ascend before we reached our destination; it wasn’t taking very long at all. Beads of sweat were popping up along my hairline and the back of my neck, my hair clinging to my skin in a very uncomfortable way.

My skin began to tingle all over and my legs were becoming numb as well. I could no longer feel either of my arms and my fingers had lost all sensation back in the dungeons. Yet my heart was beating as quickly as ever - if not faster.

“Sirius,” I said. To my ears, my voice sounded very faint and almost pained. I didn’t feel that much pain, though.

“Just one more floor, Ellie,” he murmured in reply. Though I couldn’t feel it, I saw that his thumb was massaging small circles into the side of my bloodied hand. Aw, how sweet of him. “Can you make it one more floor?”

I tried to nod my head, but my body wouldn’t comply. Instead, I tried to blink my eyes, like they do in the movies, but my eyelids were heavy, like someone had pasted them together. Blast, what was going on?

My footsteps felt heavier than ever before as I struggled up the last staircase. My knees started to knock together again, but not in a good way. It was as though my entire body was giving up on me, saying “Sorry, but I just don’t want to work right now.”

I faltered, my knee slamming into the rough stone of the step. It didn’t even hurt. “I don’t think I can make it, Sirius,” I muttered, though my words were severely slurred.

And then I promptly collapsed. Not completely, but it was enough for Sirius to wrap his arm around my waist and all but drag me up the rest of the way.

When he opened the doors to the Hospital Wing, Madame Pomfrey was waiting for me. There was a look on alarm on her face that mirrored the one Slughorn wore. It must’ve been bad if Pomfrey was concerned about it. She could cure just about anything she wanted.

“Bring her over here,” Madame Pomfrey said, gesturing toward one of the beds. There was no white sheets on the bed. In fact, what covered the cot looked like the material a rain slicker was made out of.

Sirius helped me onto the bed, momentarily setting my feet down on the ground. The world swirled and I felt a wave of nausea coming on.

“Has she started -,”

I vomited all over my shoes.

“Obviously she has,” Madame Pomfrey said. She shook her head to herself, paling slightly. “This is not good at all.”

With a little help from Sirius, they placed me on the bed. I felt like a child, being tossed around this way and that. Though I wasn’t really being tossed; I was getting handled with the care.

“How long since the incident happened?”

“About ten minutes.”

I threw up again, this time all over myself. My eyes widened when I saw it was black in colour. That could certainly not be good.

“Circe!” the nurse cried as she Vanquished the vomit. A deep broiling feeling started in my stomach and I almost puked again. “Am I correct in assuming that she wasn’t wearing any gloves when she cut herself on the knife?”

Sirius nodded. “Yeah. I mean, no, she wasn’t wearing gloves. But yes, you were correct to assume that she wasn’t. . .” he trailed off before adding, “and she didn’t cut herself with her knife. A phial full of crocodile heart juice shattered in her hand.”

Madame Pomfrey gasped loudly. “Oh my Merlin!” Her hands tore at my robes; she ripped them off and tossed them to the floor. Without so much as a glance toward Sirius, she undid the buttons of my shirt and threw that to the floor as well. Instead of shivering, I felt like I was placed in a sauna.

At Sirius’s surprised look, she said, “I need you here to tell me what happened. And yes, it was a necessity to take off her clothes; she positively boiling with a fever. Could you get me some Be Cool from the supply closet?” She didn’t wait for him to nod. “And hurry!”

His quick footsteps slapped against the cobblestone floor, but the thundering of my pulse was like a stampede in my ears. I groaned again and rolled onto my side, vomiting once more. It was no longer black; it had turned a violent purple.

“Jesus Christ,” Madame Pomfrey swore as she sidestepped around the vomit. “This is worst than I thought.” Sirius returned with the Be Cool, which I saw was a potion, but rather than trying to tip it down my throat, the Hogwarts nurse did a very odd thing indeed. She dipped the tip of her wand in the solution and grabbing my arm, placed it in the crook of my elbow. Like she had went taking my temperature. “This should cool you down, love.” She pressed a cheek to my face and I was startled to find that her hand was as cold as it was. “Charmed,” she supplied at my confusion expression.

Madame Pomfrey scuttled off to the side and Sirius sat down next to me on the small cot, taking my hand in his. “Are you feeling all right?”

Resisting the urge to vomit, I ground out, “Do I look all right?”

He snorted. “Not really.”

“D’you know what’s wrong with me?”

Licking his lips, he said, “I think you’ve been poisoned. By the secreted fluids of the crocodile heart, I mean. We were always told to be careful with all raw liquids.” His eyes found mine. “Why weren’t you wearing gloves?”

I tried to answer, but vomit came up instead. Yellow. It was yellow this time around.

“That’s odd,” Sirius noted as Madame Pomfrey came shuffling back into view. She was carrying a large array of odd bottles and packages in her hands and she dumped them near my feet.

“Professor Slughorn is working on the antidote right now, Miss Briggs,” she assured me softly. She took my hand in her own and gasped. “My, you really did do a number on it. I’ll have to take out the glass; it might hurt a bit.”

I laughed hollowly. “I can’t feel anything.”

Madame Pomfrey sighed gently. “That was before I gave you the Be Cool. The fever was taking the edge off the pain. And I can almost assure you, no matter how numb a limb, everyone I have in the past said this hurts like a hippogriff treading over your head.”

Odd choice of words, I noted silently as she grabbed a pair of dangerous looking tongs out of her array of items. I blanched and my stomach roiled again, though I didn’t vomit. Thankfully.

Madame Pomfrey wasn’t lying when she said it would hurt. As soon as the silver made contact with my skin, a fierce lick of pain shot up my arm. My heart began to thunder once again and I breathed in deeply through my nose. I could feel every movement the tongs made in my skin and I cried out in shock. Tears leaked out of my eyes as she withdrew a large piece of glass from my palm. My left hand curled into a fist, but Sirius forced my fingers apart and slipped his hand into my own.

When she attacked my hand with the prongs again, I squeezed his hand for all it was worth and I could faintly make out string of curses that issued from his lips.

“Why does it hurt so much?” I gasped as she dropped another sliver of glass into the bean shaped bowl at her side.

“Silver might not affect human blood, but when said blood is laced with that of a crocodile, it triggers an allergic reaction,” Madame Pomfrey said in matter of fact tone.

“Oh,” I muttered to myself before she proceeded to delve the tongs into my palm again. “Fuck, that hurts!” Two pair of curious eyes turned toward me and I coloured slightly. “Sorry, but it does.”

She worked on my hand for several more minutes, though she had to keep settling my hand against my bare stomach when she had to get something else from the supply closet. Apparently, she had to keep a sharp eye on the colour of my eyes. If they started to tinge red around the edges, I would have to go to St. Mungo’s at once; that meant that the poison had spread to my liver and kidneys and everyone knows that you are screwed when that happens.

When she announced that she had taken all of the glass out of my hand, my chest heaved with a sigh, which turned into a coughing fit. She warned me that I would be coughing and vomiting a lot over the next few hours, at least until the antidote was ready. Which, she assured me, wouldn’t be much longer. I hoped to Merlin that she was right, though I was certain Slughorn wouldn’t be taking his time on it; if anything, he would rush it.

Oh boy, that wasn’t a good thought either, was it? What if he screwed it up because he was going too fast? I didn’t want to think of what would happen.

Thankfully, the salve she applied to the deep cut on my palm didn’t hurt much. It stung, yes, that was true, but she told me it was the antiseptics working to fight off further infection. The body was very vulnerable when under foreign attack. She made it sound like I was a goddamn country!

After applying the salve, Madame Pomfrey wrapped my hand in a bandage and said, “I’ll be back in a few moments. Since your fever is under control, the only thing we have to monitor is the state of your eyes.” She turned her gaze to Sirius, who had been as silent as the grave ever since he took my hand. He hadn’t let go of it, either. “You’ll watch out for any signs of red, won’t you, Mr. Black?”

He nodded quickly. “Of course I will, Poppy.” Then he winked flirtatiously at her and I swore that she blushed a deep crimson.

As soon as she was out of earshot, I looked up at him, a small smirk on my face. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For bringing me up here and staying by my side. I really appreciate it. After all that things I‘ve said to you, I‘m surprised-,”

His eyes went round. “You honestly think I wouldn’t stay by you when you’ve been poisoned?” With a mirthless chuckle, he shook his head, causing strands of dark hair to fall into his face. “You are a ridiculous person, Eleanor Briggs.”

While it was meant to be funny, I didn’t take it as such. In fact, one could say that I overreacted. In retrospect, I would blame it on the fading fever as well as the toxins pumping furiously through all of my veins and arteries.

Offended, I jerked my hand out of his, though it was much harder than normal. “Get out.”

I could practically hear the hinges squeaking as his jaw unlocked itself and fell open. “What?” Sirius sounded very dubious.

“I said get out.”

“What? Why?”

“Why? I think the question is more of why not!” I was hysterical. I knew I was, but I think I had every right to be in hindsight. “You sit here, acting all nice and kind and gentle to me and then, out of the left side of the Quidditch Pitch, you call me ridiculous! I know that you and Lily whisper about how stupid and clumsy and pathetic I am. But at least you don’t need to say it to my face!”

“Eleanor, I-,”

“Shut up and get out of my sight! I don’t want you here any longer.”

“What the fuck is going on with you? Are you mental?”

“Perhaps!” I screeched at him. “Or maybe I’m just fed up with the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on for the past two months and I really want to get off the ride now!” My heart was beating rapidly again and I knew it couldn’t be good. “I’m sick and tired of feeling like a puppet on your string, of feeling like my whole life hinges around you and how you regard me!”

His face was crimson, the light dusting of freckles that dotted his nose and cheekbones invisible to the naked eye. “It’s not like you’ve made it easy for me, either! I feel the exact same things you do and-,”

“At least you have friends to help you through it!” I shouted.

“You have James and Remus!”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been talking to them for the past few weeks now because I decided to tell the truth. You know, the thing that I am apparently incapable of doing!” I laughed harshly, the sound scraping against the sides of my raw throat painfully. “And look where it got me, back to square one. I’ve got no mates at all and you, well, you took the only ones I ever had!”

“I didn’t take James and Remus from you, Eleanor,” Sirius said darkly. “You took them for me!”

I shook my head in earnest. “No, rest assure, it was you that took them away from me.” Licking my cracked lips, I added, “I’ve lost everything to you. And now, even my dignity.” I gestured at my bare torso, to the plain black bra that was covering my breasts. “So please,” I said, my voice pitifully low. “Just - just leave already. All right? I can’t handle this right now.”

Without a word, he rose to his feet and pushed the orange chair away from my bedside. Sirius ran a hand through his hair, smoothing his locks behind his ear and nodded stiffly. His gaze turned cold and I felt prickles of ice gathering under my skin wherever his eyes looked. Then, he turned on his heel and walked calmly out of the Hospital Wing.

With a sigh, I settled back down against my pillow. Though it didn’t help. If anything, it only made it worse. I leaned over the side of my cot and vomited. This time, it wasn’t one of the many colours of the rainbow. It wasn’t caused by the toxins in my blood stream. No, it was caused by my actions and the disgusting way in which I had acted.

I had just screwed everything up again, just when it seemed like it was going to be on the mend.

Why did I always mess things up? When would I ever learn?

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