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“Oh, come on, Miss Briggs, it’s not that horrible!” the matron said as she made another grab at my chin, which I was keeping out of reach. Of course, in order to do so, I was squirming around on the uncomfortable cot beneath me, causing the hospital gown to ride up my thighs and leave me feeling horrible exposed. Then again, I would do anything to escape drinking down another slimy potion.

I snorted in derisive laughter. “Says the one who doesn’t have to take it!” I replied, jerking wildly on the bed.

Madame Pomfrey let out an irritable grunt and tossed the silver spoon onto the tray beside her. Her hands planted themselves on her hips and she glared down her thin nose at me. “I am under strict instructions from both Professor McGonagall and your aunt to make sure to take your potions!”

I rolled my eyes, earnestly tugging at the hem of the hospital gown. Honestly, couldn’t the woman have given me some of those nice, fluffy pyjamas? “But I have taken my potions!”

Her look turned dour and she raised an eyebrow. Damn it! Why was everyone else in the world able to do that, yet I wasn’t? Curses. “Not all of them.” She nodded pointedly at the lumpy, browning mix of only Merlin knows what sitting in a clear phial on the tray. She’d been trying to give me some via a silver spoon, claiming that the faint taste of silver would help the medicine go down much easier. I wasn’t an idiot and she wasn’t Mary Poppins.

With a heavy sigh, I nodded to myself in defeat. “Fine. Can I at least chase it with some juice?”

“I can only offer you water until you regain your strength,” the Hogwarts nurse said, her expression a sympathetic one. Talk about mood swings. . . .

“That’s fine,” I said, watching her as she shuffled off toward her office. My eyes found the phial full of the thick, brown potion, which could more accurately be described as a paste, and I shuddered. It’d been worse enough having to take the other potions required to bring me back to my former stage of health. My throat clenched unconsciously and I struggled to swallow the urge to vomit.

Madame Pomfrey appeared several minutes later, holding a goblet of what I presumed was water in one hand and a plate of food in the other. The enticing smell of fried eggs, bacon, bangers, and all of the breakfast-y scents wafted up my nose, teasing my senses and making my stomach growl very loudly as the prospect of coming said goodies. When she reached my bedside, I relieved her of the goblet and moved to take the plate of food, but she quickly held it out of my reach.

“Oh no, Miss Briggs, this isn’t for you,” she said, setting the plate down on the tray next to me and pouring a reasonable amount of the grotesque looking potion onto the spoon. “You can’t have such a rich meal so soon into your stay. Especially not in -,”

“My condition,” I finished for her, my voice flat. Casting a longing look at the breakfast food, I sighed, “I know. You’ve been telling me that for the past four days.”

Once again, the matron offered me a benevolent smile; inwardly, I glowered at her. She approached me rather hesitantly with the spoonful of potion, no doubt not wanting to waste anymore of it due to my childish behaviour. Her caution made me cringe; had I really been that bad of a patient? Feeling a bit guilty, I opened my mouth obligingly and grimaced as soon as the foul concoction skimmed the surface of my tongue. I swallowed as quickly as possible, though with a substantial amount of difficulty, given the consistency of the potion, and hurriedly brought the goblet of water to my lips.

I drank deeply, hoping to rid my mouth of the taste for ever and always. When my lungs felt like they were going to explode from the lack of oxygen, I pulled the empty goblet away from my mouth and glanced at the nifty silver tray beside my bed. I was disappointed to see that it no longer held the plate of hot breakfast foods. Even though I couldn’t eat any of it, it was still nice to imagine that I could. However, unlike the plate of food, the nurse was still at my bedside, her eyes fixated on my face as though she were waiting for something to change.

Smacking my lips together, I pulled another look of grim distaste. “Disgusting,” I murmured, handing the goblet back to Madame Pomfrey, who took it with so much as blinking.

It was a little disconcerting, the way she was staring at me. I almost asked her what she was doing, but before I could do so, she let out a triumphant squeak and clapped her hands together. “This is so wonderful! Professor Slughorn’s potion has done the job!”

I stared at her, a confused look on my face. I knew she probably wasn’t going to elaborate, but still, it was infuriating that she was so excited, yet I couldn’t even feel a difference in myself, aside from the slick feeling in my throat and latent urge to throw up all I had just consumed.

Still delighted, Madame Pomfrey shuffled away from my bed, going to attend to the other patients in the wing, no doubt. I gazed after her, trying to figure out what change had occurred. I didn’t feel any better; I still felt like someone had pummelled me with a dozen or so Disarming Charms, only to be quickly followed by several cries of Crucio! Not that I could say that I’ve ever felt the effects of the latter spell, but it seemed quite painful from the description.

It had been four days since I was admitted to the Hospital Wing for poisoning, two of which I spent unconscious. Apparently, several moments after I sent Sirius out of the ward, I started to seize, full body convulsions taking over me, which simply meant that the poison had spread to my pancreas or gallbladder. Well, one of the two. In her panic, Madame Pomfrey refused to allow anyone in the Hospital Wing, even other students who were in need of medical attention. She was, as the matron had told me herself in a rather dramatic retelling of the event, three steps away from sending me straight to St. Mungo’s when Slughorn appeared with the first batch of life-saving potion. I stopped seizing and began to vomit all the colours of the rainbow which, according to the matron, was one of the best signs she had ever seen. The minor downfall of the antidote Slughorn had brewed, most expertly, as Madame Pomfrey had assured me, a fond sort of smile on her face as she spoke, was that it was so potent, I was unconscious before the second mouthful had time to settle in my belly.

Unfortunately for me, during the two days of my unconscious state, Aunt Eliza had come to visit me. I was just coming around when she was called away; she had to help out her friend, Matilda, in the running of her florist shop. According to Eliza, Matilda had caught a nasty bout of the flu and as much as she would like to stay with me another day, she felt obligated to help her mate. Especially since I was back to health. With a promise to visit me again, as long as the Headmaster permitted, my aunt had swept out of the Hospital Wing, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth; I had barely spoken a word to her.

Slightly disheartened, the only things I had to look forward to for the next two days were my daily doses of potions, most of which were positively revolting. There was one for every single one of my symptoms: one for fever, one for headache, one for mass bruising, and one for vomiting. It took the Potions professor four days after my admission to the Hospital Wing to finish brewing the second part of the antidote, which would thoroughly cleanse my body of all the poison, wherever it may lie in hiding. Sounds joyous, doesn’t it?

For the past two days, I had been doing nothing but twiddling my thumbs and idly watching birds zip past the windows at their leisure. I wish I could’ve been outside; the weather was finally starting to look up. Temperatures were mild and the sun was almost always shining. Puffy clouds lined the skies, standing out like gems against the bright blue of the sky. There was even a faint breeze that swept into the open windows of the Hospital Wing. I had never wanted to go outside more in my life.

Subconsciously, I tugged at the hem of the hospital gown, wondering when I was going to get a pair of pyjamas. The first two days of my stay, I wore naught but my bra and knickers due to the raging fever boiling in my veins. If I hadn’t have vomited all over the nice cotton pyjamas issued to me by the assistant in the Hospital Wing several minutes after I put them on, I might still be wearing them. But instead, I was forced to wear this huge, gaping gown that left little to the imagination if I didn’t have the blankets pulled up to my collarbone. Which was torture, considering the change in the weather and the all around atmosphere of the castle, grounds included.

A sigh fluttered between my lips as I waited for my breakfast to come. I knew it would be a matter of minutes now. That Madame Pomfrey was simply looking after the other patients. She couldn’t have forgotten about me this quickly. . .could she? Casting a hand over my growling stomach, I scooted to the edge of my bed, throwing my legs over the side and attempted to peer through the tiny gap in the curtains which surrounded my bed. I wasn’t expecting to see the floating head of James Potter in my view and therefore, emitted a loud shriek before tumbling back onto the bed.

Madame Pomfrey came whipping around the corner, her chest heaving with effort. She must have run all the way from the opposite end of the wing. “A-are you all right, Miss Briggs?” she panted, a concerned look in her dull brown eyes.

I nodded faintly, pushing myself up into a sitting position. My eyes were trained over her shoulder at James’s head; he had a finger pressed to his lips and then his head disappeared. Oh, so he had his Invisibility Cloak, did he?

“Yes, I’m fine,” I said, despite the fact my pulse was thrumming wildly. “I thought I - and, er, well - I, uh, slipped,” I finished, inwardly cursing myself for bumbling like a fool. Not that it wasn‘t something I would do. Anyone who knew me knew that I was a bumbling fool at the best of times. “I had to go to the loo,” I added hastily as her curiosity expression as to why I would be getting up.

The matron of Hogwarts eyed me suspiciously for several moments before nodding curtly. “If there is anything you need, Miss Briggs, let me know. Don’t try and get it for yourself. Understood?”

I nodded again. “Yes, Madame Pomfrey.” Over the nurse’s round shoulder, someone snickered, but it couldn’t have been James. Not unless he’d developed a highly feminine giggle which, thinking on it, didn’t seem like it wasn’t such an improbability. I mean, considering his choice of mates and the fact he was James Potter.

Throwing me another one of those sympathetic smiles that the matron seemed to be bursting at the seams with, she turned on her heel and walked away, her shoes clicking against the cobblestone in a timely fashion. Once she was out of sight and earshot, I stood up, rather clumsily, I might add, as my knees were knocking together as I got used to the sensation of standing after four long days of strict bed rest.

Legs shaking, I walked over to the edge of the curtains and yanked them back, my voice dropping to a low, almost deadly whisper. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?”

James pulled the Cloak off his head with a dramatic flourish. A wide grin made his handsome face look all the more charming, as though it was humanly possible. He chuckled at my semi-shocked expression; I had not been expecting him to reveal himself so willingly.

“I’ve missed you too, pet,” he said, still grinning winningly as he pulled on the Cloak so that the rest of his body appeared before my eyes. I didn’t expect to see another figure at his side. My mouth fell open when I saw who it was, a jolt of surprise surging through me.

“Alice?!” I gasped, a hand flying to my mouth to stifle the loud intake of breath. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Madame Pomfrey came whipping around the corner. “What are you doing here?” I found myself asking before I could help myself.

Kind brown eyes boring into mine, she began to gush out an apology in a soft whisper:

“Oh Merlin, Eleanor, I’ve been so stupid. I shouldn’t have picked a side, but rather stayed your friend no matter what. It was ridiculous of me to act so childish, especially when you were in need. Well, to be honest, both you and Lily were, but it was downright rude of me to ignore your feelings, even if I have been friends with Lily longer. To me, it shouldn’t have made a difference - it doesn’t make a difference and I was just so stupid, so silly to react in such a way. I was hoping to talk to you a few days ago, but then you were poisoned,” her breath hitched with emotion at this point and her eyes began to pool with tears, “and everyone was saying that you’d d-d-died because no one was allowed in the Hospital Wing and every time someone asked a teacher if you were all right, all they said was that we were to focus on our N.E.W.T.S, considering they’re only two months away now. Kept turning their noses to us, that‘s what they did.” She paused to pull a handkerchief out of her pocket and to blow her nose. “Oh, I felt so horrible, knowing that I hadn’t been as good as a friend to you as I could’ve been. I felt even worse when I found out that you might be dead. I mean, imagine how it’d feel, you know what I mean? And I just wanted to say that I am so unbelievably sorry and hope that you can find it in your heart to accept my apology. I’ll understand if you don’t, but,” Alice sucked in a deep breath and turned her earnest eyes to me.

I blinked at her, completely flabbergasted by her long winded rant/apology. My heart swelled with a suppressed joy and I found myself wanting to say, yes, I accept your apology, but, instead, the first words out of my mouth were, “People said I died?!”

James laughed freely. I threw a wide eyed glance over my shoulder, though before I could reprimand him for being a dolt, he said, “Don’t worry about it. We could bring a troll in her and she wouldn’t be able to hear us.”

I took his word for it.

Beside him, Alice was nodding her head. “Yeah, everyone thought that you’d died. Especially when they closed down the Hospital Wing and weren’t permitting any visitors.”

“Lily was livid,” James remarked offhandedly, sending me one of those pointed, penetrating looks that only he could muster. I shivered slightly in my hospital gown and suddenly wished I was in the possession of a dressing robe.

“She was?” I asked, slightly amazed as I wrapped my arms around myself.

Once again, Alice bobbed her head. “Yep. Absolutely furious that Sirius had gotten to see you, but she wasn’t able to. Said a few foul things to the matron, she did. And to Sirius,” she added as an afterthought.

At this, James grinned. “It didn’t help that your aunt, who is by far one of the most hilarious people I have ever met in my life and am most deeply disappointed to have not been introduced to her at a much sooner time, came streaking into the Great Hall in violently coloured robes and one of those funny bowler hats, sobbing and yet demanding to see you at once.”

I felt my cheeks colour, though my chest swelled with pride. While I knew Aunt Eliza would react in such a way, the fact that Lily was furious for not being able to see me. I couldn’t help but allowed a small smile dance across my face. We were one step closer to mending our broken friendship. At least, I hoped we were. She might not want to be friends with me now that I was alive and kicking.

“Hagrid had to escort your aunt out of the Great Hall,” Alice was saying, drawing my attention back to the conversation at hand. I was silently thankful for her distraction. “And up to the Hospital Wing.”

James snorted. “I wish you could’ve seen the way she yelled at McGonagall, Ella,” he said, a very distinct tone of pride in his voice. “Nearly made me cry.”

I stared at him, aghast. “She - yelled - at - McGonagall?”

“Yep,” James said. “When Minnie wouldn’t let her into the Hospital Wing without the permission of Dumbledore, your aunt went ballistic. Happened right in front of us, too. We followed Hagrid up here, you see. I would’ve gotten the Cloak, but there wasn’t any time. We thought that by following Hagrid and your aunt, we might get a clue to your condition.”

My brow furrowed slightly. “When you say ‘we’, who does that include?”

“Everyone!” Alice exclaimed, her brown eyes widening. “Me, James, Lily, Remus, Peter, Marlene, and Leanne!”

Something icy clenched around her heart when she didn’t mention the name I wanted to hear the most. My disappointment must’ve flicked across my face - or James had turned into a highly skilled Legimens overnight - because he quickly added, “We don’t know where Sirius was. After Lily yelled at him, he sort of slinked off. He didn’t even come up to the dorm until two o’clock in the morning.”

I didn’t say anything, merely sank down on the edge of the cot, drinking in all of the information the pair had delivered me. As if suddenly realising that I was in a flimsy gown that barely graced either of my knees, I twisted around and scooted up onto the bed, hurrying to drape the blanket over my bare legs.

There was a prolonged moment of silence. It was so absolute, you could’ve heard a pin drop clear across the room. I plucked at the stray pieces of strings on the blanket, twisting them around my index finger until the tip turned purple as I contemplated. Lily had yelled at Sirius because he was able to see me when she hadn’t been. Had Sirius told her that I’d thrown him out of the ward in my anger, which was definitely uncalled for? Or had he simply stalked off, not saying a word? I wanted to ask Alice and James, but I thought it better not to. It obviously didn’t sit well with James that his best mate had gone stomping off and he didn’t even think to follow him. The duo may not have been on the most friendly terms, but they were still mates and I could see that James clearly felt guilty for not sucking it up and going after him. Especially the way he’d told me that Sirius hadn’t come to the dormitory until well into the early hours of the morning.

As curious as I was to find out all that’d happened between my friends since my poisoning, I was distracted by the fact that Alice was here. In the flesh. And she’d apologised to me, practically on her knees, begging for me to forgive her. It was senseless of her to have gone on such longwinded rant because as soon as she said sorry, I was more than ready to forgive her. Hell, as soon as I had saw her, I’d already forgiven her in my mind. And I had never been mad at James.

Just as I was about to sigh, my stomach gave an almighty rumble of displeasure. My ribs started to hurt from the lack of food in the vast cavern that was my belly. Alice sniggered, stifling the noise by putting her fist to her lips.

“Oh, right!” James said suddenly, hazel eyes sparking to life behind his glasses. He dug his hands into his pockets and pulled out a few wadded up napkins. He shoved them into my hands and when I looked at him in question, a grin lit up his face and he said, “Breakfast.”

I opened the napkins and salvia flooded my mouth. There were four fat strips of blackened bacon, a few pieces of buttered toast, several bangers and some scrambled eggs in the bunched up napkins, all of it smelling entirely too delicious.

“I know firsthand how horrible breakfasts are in the Hospital Wing, that they serve things they dare to call food, but should really be labelled shite,” James said conversationally, nudging my legs aside under the blanket and sitting on the edge of the bed.

Wiping away a small trail of salvia from my chin, I popped a piece of bacon into my mouth and let a content sigh escape me. “Thank you,” I said, struggling to control my overflowing salivary glands.

He grinned at me, his eyes crinkling in the corners. “You’re more than welcome, Eleanor.”

X - - X

 

Over the next few days, James and Alice came to visit me when they could manage. The first visit, they had to once again sneak into the Hospital Wing via the Invisibility Cloak and remained under it until the coast was clear. However, by the time they came back the next day, the school nurse had dubbed me up to par and said I could have visitors, but only two a time. I wasn’t phased by the limit set to the number of visitors I could have; James and Alice were probably the only two who’d come to see me, anyway. I was so happy by the news, I wasn’t even disappointed when she told me I had to stay in the Hospital Wing for another three to five days.

When they weren’t sneaking food up to me, they were handing over my homework assignments and filling me in on the lessons. It wasn’t too difficult to catch up on the work, not with the assistance I was getting from the pair; they were both eager to help me in any way they could. At one point, little Alice plucked the quill out of my hand and began to rewrite my essay on Complex Memory Charms set to us by Professor Flitwick after I’d read it back to her. While I should’ve been offended, I found I was extremely touched that she was willing to help me out so much, but that’s Alice for you.

Tonight was the same as the past three nights had been with one key difference. James was gone at Quidditch practice, so Alice was the only one sitting at the foot of my bed. She was talking about how she and Frank were planning on getting married as soon as she graduated, but she, Alice, had yet to tell either of her parents.

Nervously, she cast me a glance and said, in a beseeching tone, “What do you think I should do?”

I stopped chewing as soon as she threw the question my way. I stared at her not unlike a deer in the headlights. I was surprised that she was asking me of all people what she should do. I mean, it wasn’t like I had much experience when it came to relationships with boys or parents as both were all but nonexistent in my life until several months ago when the former area decided to bloom with a ferocity so great, it rivalled Lily’s temper.

Struggling to chew the Chocolate Frog I’d just shoved into my mouth with haste, I forced the lump of chocolate down my throat, my eyes watering as it scraped the sides.

“I - uh - I really don’t know what you should do, Alice,” I said honestly. Might as well tell the truth. “I mean, I’d tell them beforehand so that they’ll feel you didn’t do it as an act of rebellion, but because you really do love Frank.”

Merlin, I hoped that was a good enough answer!

Alice sat absolutely still at the foot of my bed, her eyes drowned with a dreamy look as she thought over my response. Again, I prayed it was a good one. Finally, Alice gave me a wide smile. “You know, Eleanor, that’s probably the best piece of advice I’ve received in a long time!”

I hid my sigh of relief by licking the spots of chocolate off my fingers. I had to get rid of the evidence somehow. I could only imagine what Madame Pomfrey would say if she found my mates were giving me Chocolate Frogs when I wasn’t supposed to be eating artificial sugars for another week.

“I’m glad I could be of some help,” I replied, smiling in return. As I reached for another piece of rather delicious looking homemade fudge, Alice let out a startled gasp. I quickly retracted my hand, hiding it underneath the blanket. “What? What is it?”

“Look at the time!” she exclaimed. “It’s nearly eight thirty.” She bit her lip and looked at me with an apprehensive expression. “I’d like to stay longer, but -,”

“You’ve got homework,” I finished for her.

Her face crumbled. “I wish I could stay! Really, I could!”

I held up my hand for silence. “It doesn’t matter, Alice. I know that you’ve got loads of homework; I have all the same classes as you!” I gestured toward the monstrous stack of books balanced on the silver tray beside me. “I’m glad you’ve managed to come up at all.”

Alice smiled at me, albeit watery. Rushing forward, she gave me a quick hug. “I’ll see you tomorrow evening then, yeah?”

I nodded. “Sure! Though hopefully I’ll be out of here by then. But I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. You never know with Pomfrey.”

Snorting, Alice waved goodbye as she fought her way out through the curtains. Sighing softly, I took the piece of fudge and began to unwrap it, hoping it was as good as it looked. I settled back against the fluffy pillows and was halfway through the plastic wrap when I heard footsteps. Hurried footsteps, I might add. Blanching slightly, I leaned over the side of the bed and tossed all of the candy James and Alice had brought me over the past few days in the unused bedpan, curses leaving my lips at an alarming fast rate.

I was just pulling myself up into a sitting position when the curtain was pulled aside. Immediately, I launched into a hasty explanation. “I dropped my quill underneath my bed, you see, and I need it to finish my essay, obviously, and was trying to reach it but it was too far away and -,” I stopped, my eyebrows raising at the sight of the person standing in the protective perimeter of the white curtains. I blinked twice to make sure it wasn’t an illusion, and was assured that it wasn’t. Rather stupidly, I said, “You’re not Madame Pomfrey.”

Lily snorted in amusement. “No,” she replied, shaking her head. Red hair fell into her face. “I’m not.” She regarded me with her piercing emerald eyes. “Though if I were, I wouldn’t be convinced by that explanation.”

I almost laughed, but stopped myself halfway. Or rather, my thought process stopped me. What the hell was Lily Evans doing, standing at the foot of my bed? It just didn’t make that much sense at all. I knew that James and Alice had said that she’d been upset that Madame Pomfrey would not let her see me after my initial poisoning, but I’d thought that once she was assured by Alice that I was fine, she wouldn’t bother coming to see me, much less give a hippogriff’s ass about me.

Rather awkwardly, I said the only logical and semi-intelligent thing my brain could muster. “Hi.”

A small smile twitched at her lips. “Hello,” she returned smoothly. Her eyes were fixed upon me in an almost permanent stare. It was quite unnerving and I wished she would look away.

Silence threatened to settle around us, but I decided I didn’t want that. “D’you want to sit down?” I gestured somewhat lamely at the two orange chairs by my bedside.

She nodded her head, several strands of richly auburn hair escaping the loose bun at the back of her slim neck. “Sure,” she said in a much brighter, less serious tone than before. Shuffling into the enclosed space, she closed the curtains behind her and sat down on the edge of the chair nearest to me.

Awkwardness ensued yet again.

Picking at the invisible lint on my blanket, I distracted myself by looking at anything but her. I knew she’d want a full bodied account of what happened. That had to be the only thing she came here for, probably to see if my story matched her new best friend, Sirius Black’s. A snort threatened to leave me, but I held it back.

After a while of stony silence, I couldn’t handle it anymore. The Voice was beginning to speak again and It wasn’t saying very nice things about the girl sitting next to me. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to set things right. That is to say to see if there was any way we could fix our friendship.

“So,” I began, letting my voice tail off.

Beside me, Lily stiffened in her chair at the sound of my voice. Obviously, she wasn’t expecting me to be the first to speak. Then, like Alice had when she first came with James to visit me, she blurted out an apology, “I’m sorry!”

Though I understood her clearly, I said, in a slightly dubious voice, “I beg your pardon?” Merlin, it was hard keeping my laughter under control.

With a roll of her eyes, as though she knew that I just wanted her to say it again, she said, “I said I was sorry.” She wet her lips before continuing, “It was stupid of me to choose sides in the argument when I had no part in it.”

When she looked at me, I nodded my head. “Yeah, it really was.”

A wry smile decorated her lips very briefly. “Anyway,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m really sorry and I know there’s nothing I can do to take back what I’ve done, but -,”

Deciding to spare her the misery of trying to articulate her feelings, something that I knew Lily was never all that adept at, I nodded my head in understanding. “Apology accepted,” I told her, smiling in what I hoped was an encouraging way.

Apparently, it was because an equally bright smile wove its way onto her full lips, remaining in place much longer than her previous grin. We didn’t say anything to each for several minutes, rather sat in a comfortable silence, knowing that we’d just bridged the first gap in our very holey friendship. There was something about the knowledge of knowing that although we had a long way to go, we’d gotten somewhere. And somewhere is better than nowhere at all. Much better.

I reached under my bed and pulled out the bedpan full of chocolates and other various sweets. I set it in my lap and looked over at Lily, who was still staring at me, though her brow was pulled together in thought. I didn’t wish to know what was raging through her head, but it was nice to know that she was still sitting beside me and we weren’t screaming at each other like last time. That had been the worst argument I had ever gotten into with someone, aside from the one I shared with Remus.

With a pang, I realised that I hadn’t seen nor talked to Remus in weeks. Well, not weeks, but it felt as though it’d been that long, even if we did see each other often in our lessons.

I shook the bedpan at Lily, the noise seeming to draw her out of her deep thoughts. She raised a brow in question and I, ignoring a minor wave of bitterness that washed over me at her ability to look all cool raising a singular eyebrow, asked, “Want some? I’ve got more than I know what to do with.”

With a bit of hesitation, she took a piece of candy, a bit of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum, unwrapped it and stuck it in her mouth. “Thanks,” she said between chews, smiling at me.

“No problem.” I shrugged my shoulders at her. “No problem at all.”

X - - X

 

Much to my delight, two days later, Madame Pomfrey told me that I was free to go. I couldn’t help noticing the sad hitch in the matron’s voice as she informed me of my release. As I struggled into my school robes, I offered a piteous smile and promised that it wouldn’t be long before she saw me again, which was a likely possibility. The last button of my robes buttoned, I collected the last of my Chocolate Frogs and other assorted treats, shoving them into my pockets.

Lily and Alice were waiting on the other side of the curtain when I pushed it aside dramatically. They both laughed, the same pleased grin spreading across their faces. Lily winked at me as we walked out of the Hospital Wing and into the corridor. I smiled back since I was unable to wink.

Ever since our conversation two nights’ ago, Lily and I had been exceptionally cordial, almost a bit too polite for my liking. But that’s the way things were when your friendship was on the mend and you were walking on eggshells around someone. Not that I minded, of course. I would rather be over polite than not talking to Lily at all. There was no doubt in my mind the knowledge of having Lily as one of my friends again had contributed to my recovery.

Almost as soon as we rounded the corner, I was attacked. A pair of strong arms enveloped me in a bone crushing hug, though they were not unfamiliar. I hugged James back fiercely and pulled away after a few moments.

“I was just coming to see you,” he said, slightly breathless as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “McGonagall said you were being released and I ran up here from the Great Hall.” That would explain the panting; at first, I’d thought it’d been the mere sight of Lily Evans.

I smiled brightly at him. “She was right.”

“As I can see,” James returned, chuckling. He sent a wide grin at Alice, though his mouth pulled into a much softer, almost intimate smile when he turned to Lily. I saw a faint flush appear around her neck, though she returned the grin somewhat hesitantly.

Alice and I shuffled somewhat awkwardly on her feet as the pair stared at each other. It was more than a little unnerving and I felt like I was intruding on something. Which I was, but then again, so was Alice. At least I wasn’t entirely alone in that aspect. Circe, it was good having mates again.

Suddenly, my stomach groaned loudly. The sound broke Lily and James out of their staring state and they both turned their eyes toward me, wearing slightly amused, but alarmed expressions.

Blushing slightly, I said, “Sorry.”

Alice and James laughed loudly whereas Lily chuckled uncomfortably. It was obvious that she was not able to shake off their intimate encounter as easily as James.

“Great Scott, you must be starved!” James exclaimed. He shook his head to himself, as though my hunger was the worst possible thing that’d happened over the last week and a half. Come to think of it, to James, it probably was one of the worst things that could happen to a person. “We’ll just have to fix that, won’t we?”

As if on queue, my stomach gave another loud groan, though this one was considerably happier. I placed an embarrassed hand on my abdomen and offered up a sheepish grin. “Does that mean what I think it means?” I asked, unable to mask the hopeful tone in my voice.

“If you’re thinking that it means a detour,” James began loftily. “Then I daresay I am liking the way you think.”

I punched the air in excitement. Lily and Alice stared between us, obviously perplexed at what we could possibly be talking about. Naturally, we were speaking of the kitchens, seeing as how dinner had long since ended. With one last drawn out groan from the empty caverns of my stomach, the four of us set off toward the basement, following James’s lead.

When we reached the painting of the fruit bowl, Alice let out a curious giggle as James instructed her to tickle the pear. He told her the “correct way of tickling a pear” and at this remark, he sent me a pointed glance that assured me Sirius had informed James of that particular encounter. I coloured at this and diverted my gaze. Unfortunately, this didn’t go unnoticed by Lily, who cocked a brow in question, but said nothing.

It was a pleasant atmosphere to experience. Iggy the House-Elf was overjoyed at my arrival and as she went around the table taking everyone’s orders, she not-so-subtly told me that Sirius had been in the kitchens naught but a few hours ago, sitting in the exact same spot that James was. They all stared at me as I spoke to the house elf, telling her that it was quite all right, I didn’t want to hear all of the details. Slightly forlorn, Iggy nodded her head and hurried off to place our orders. I was glad to see that she’d returned to her normal chipper self by the time she came back with our food.

We made sure to keep the conversation light, not daring to touch the tentative topics that needed to be discussed. No, that could wait for another time. There was an unspoken agreement between us, that no one would spoil a good evening, such a good dinner. I was out of the Hospital Wing and we were all mates again. At least, Alice, Lily and I were. I wasn’t so sure about James and Lily, but it was clear by the glimmer of hope in James’s hazel eyes that he wanted nothing more than to be in Lily’s good books again, even if only as a friend.

I never realised how much his happiness depended on her. In some other life, I would’ve said it was not wise to depend on someone else so much, but at the same time, James’s entire existence was not all about Lily. While his mood was certainly a lot brighter than it’d been since New Years Eve, he was always able to keep a genuine smile on his face, and it was all because he knew that things would get better. They always will, he said, they just have to get worse first.

After dinner, we all trudged back to the common room. Halfway there, we had to employ one of the many secret passageways to ensure that we wouldn’t get caught by Pringle and his cat, whose had her litter of kittens quite some time ago. One would think that motherhood would make the feline a bit more friendly, but if anything, it made her worse. Almost as though she despised the very kittens she’d given birth to, which I wouldn’t doubt.

“Spring fever,” said Alice as soon as we reached the painting of the Fat Lady.

The Fat Lady regarded us for several moments, but when her eyes found Lily and James, the Heads of the Students, she nodded, obviously thinking that they’d caught Alice and I out of bed. Giggling in gossiping glee, she swung open and permitted us entrance. I climbed through the hole with a minor amount of difficulty, my limbs still not as strong as they normally were and my concentration not as sharp.

I stumbled out of the portrait hole, the toe of my shoe having caught on the edge, and was righting myself when I promptly slammed into the back of Alice.

“What the-,”

The rest of my words were cut off when she emitted a loud shriek and bounded forward. Eyebrows raised, I turned to look at Lily and James. The only problem was that they weren’t there. Honestly, what the hell was going on around here?

Alice was still shrieking, though it was suddenly muffled. When she jumped up and latched herself onto something, I knew that there was only one answer: Frank Longbottom. He’d obviously come to see her, though I didn’t quite understand how he’d gotten into the castle, much less why he was at the school in the first place.

Deciding to leave my questions until later, including where the heck Lily and James had run off to, though it didn’t exactly take a Curse Breaker to figure out where they’d gone, I crossed the common room and bounded up the girls’ staircase. The prospects of sleeping in my four-poster bed had never sounded so good. With a small smile, I pushed the door to the dormitory open, quietly tiptoed to my bed and collapsed, not even bothering to remove any of my uniform.

X - - X

 

When I returned to lessons the next day, it was like Hogwarts had just gained a new celebrity. So, as you can imagine, with everyone’s eyes focused on me, I wanted nothing more than the earth to open up and swallow me whole. I hated attention. I absolutely, positively hated it. Attention was the one thing I could never understand why people would want so much of it, aside from power. Neither held any appeal to me, but if I had my wish, I’d take power over attention.

Attention equals gossip. And gossip only leads to very dark, dangerous places. Places where I had never dared to venture before. However, judging by the looks I was getting from complete strangers, my previously unknown name was being dragged through that thick muck called Rumours, most of which was extremely unpleasant. On the plus side, no less than sixteen people addressed me by the wrong name, which could only mean one very positive thing: I hadn’t elevated from Completely and Totally Unknown to Sudden Superstar overnight (or rather, over the past week and a half, what with my stint in the Hospital Wing). No, I was merely on the level of Heard Of, which was still not desirable, but better than it could have been.

Thankfully, my professors were treating me exactly like they used to: with polite indifference, but a bit of praise when I answered a question correctly. The only difference in their behaviour toward me was the offer to assist me in catching up with my work so I wouldn’t fall terribly behind, especially with N.E.W.Ts just around the corner.

Faster than I could imagine, April was slipping through my fingers, giving way to an unusually warm May. The Gryffindor Quidditch team was practicing more than ever, which provided a distraction in the evenings when Lily, Alice and I were gathered at a table in the common room or the library, both of which provided decent views of the Quidditch Pitch. Instead of focusing on my homework, all of my attention was focused on the figures zooming outside in the dusk, their shadowy figures outlined by the crisp orange of the setting sun. It was only when Lily cleared her throat loudly (and when that failed, walloped me behind the head) I was drawn out of my transfixed gaze and forced to focus on the subject we were studying at hand.

When teachers weren’t preaching about how important it was to study, I was being lectured by Lily for my careless work on my essays. Of course, when I wrote the long and tiresome essays, I didn’t think that I was being careless at all, but according to Lily, my writing lacked detail, which was a very important grading factor on our N.E.W.Ts.

N.E.W.Ts, oh, N.E.W.Ts. How much trouble those pesky little exams were causing me. They were all I ever heard about, both from Lily and from Alice, which was a surprising thing in itself. Ever since Frank had visited her the night of my release from the Hospital Wing, all she could think about were our N.E.W.Ts. Though she never told us herself what was the reasoning behind her sudden passion to get a high score, we read it in the papers the next day. Frank’s mentor, one of the leading Aurors in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, had been killed and, devastated, Frank sought the comfort of his girlfriend’s arms.

Hazarding a guess, I daresay that it was her beloved’s devastation that renewed her determination in getting top marks on her exams so she may become an Auror. A very noble path for someone like Alice, who would be perfect for the job.

Halfway through May, Lily decided that she would draw up studying schedules not just for herself, but for all of us as well. She was unbearable, the way she breathed down my neck if I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to, which usually involved copious amounts of studying information that would not stick in my brain until examinations. In fact, after I insisted that the information would leak away instead of stick, Lily made me study twice as hard. She even made me flash cards which with we studied with in our dormitory until nearly midnight every night.

Just like before the Winter Holidays, we reformed our old study group: James, Lily, Alice, Remus, Sirius, Peter and I all sat clumped around two tables pushed together. It was odd, being so near to Remus and Sirius, yet talking to neither. Apparently, during my stay in the Hospital Wing, the two decided to make up, apologising for being such idiots and such. The Marauders were whole again, much to everyone’s delight. . .until they realised that the quartet would not be up to any mischief at all while there was studying to be done.

To say that our study sessions were awkward wouldn’t even suffice. Not only did I have to face him, and by him, I mean Sirius, then, but also in Potions. It took two weeks to finish concocting the set antidote and even longer than that to write the essay which accompanied it. I thought as soon as we finished brewing our antidote we’d be able to choose different partners, but Professor Slughorn was so delighted by the entire class’s work, he said we were to remain with the person next to us for the rest of the year, as there wasn’t much left, anyway.

You could only imagine how excited I was to hear about that.

Gryffindor beat Slytherin in the final match of the season, securing the Quidditch Cup for the house of Godric “The Great” Gryffindor. There was a victory party thrown in the common room, disrupting the usually tense air of studying with a bit of fun and amusement. It would be suffice to say James had the best night of all. Not only did he lead his team to victory for the third year in a row (he had been Quidditch Captain since his fifth year), but it was the very same night that Lily decided to give James another chance, agreeing to be his girlfriend yet again. I had never seen him so excited in the entire time I’d known him, though I have to say they didn’t stick around for very long after she’d made up her mind. No doubt went to snog in some unused classroom.

Faster than I would’ve liked, the month of May began to slowly slip away and thoughts of graduation were on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, instead of filling me with hope and happiness, I found I was filled with dread. I didn’t to leave Hogwarts behind. I didn’t want to graduate. I didn’t want to be thrust into the world when such dark and difficult times lay ahead. The only person who knew of my fear of going out into the ‘big, bad world’ was not Lily, but James. I didn’t tell him, he just guessed that my reluctance to speak of Graduation Day was not because I was nervous, but because I didn’t want to leave. He told me that Sirius had voiced the same concerns the previous year, back when they were still the best of mates, though on the plus side, James told me that he and Sirius were on speaking terms again.

That made me smile. Once I was assured it was perfectly normal to be feeling the way I was, the thought of N.E.W.Ts once again took hold, a most unpleasant one at that.

Speaking of N.E.W.Ts, they were the very reason why I’d just fled the common room in an unnatural amount of frustration. Lily was being as foul a monster as one could imagine to everyone, including all of her friends. I accidentally sneezed when she was in the middle of memorising her Arthimancy notes in a mantra like fashion and she went ballistic. She shouted at me that I’d popped the bubble of thought she’d been nursing into good health, which meant that she had to start all over again and she was already behind in her schedule. Angered, I threw my things done on the table top and with a curious exclamation from James, I bounded out of the portrait hole, knocking into a third year on my way out and cursing at the poor, unsuspecting girl.

As soon as I stepped out of the portrait hole, I knew the wide halls of Hogwarts wouldn’t ease the amount of stress resting on my shoulders. No, only a trip out onto the grounds would do that. With a slight shuffle of my feet, I started my journey toward the Entrance Hall. A glance down at my wrist told me that it was only a little after four in the afternoon, which meant I wouldn’t have to attempt to be all secretive and quiet and sneak around the castle. I was never gifted at being quiet, much less slinking around.

Having narrowly avoided a head-on collision with the pesky Peeves, I pushed the heavy oaken doors aside and slipped through the space provided into the fading afternoon. The weather was pleasant, if not a bit stale. The sultry summer was quickly approaching and even though it was only May, it was very evident. I drew in a deep breath of fresh air, allowing it to fill my lungs. It was much stickier than I would’ve liked, but all the same, it was just what the Healer ordered. The coils of tension in the line of my shoulders slowly began to melt away as I meandered down the sloping grounds to the shores of the Black Lake, nearly tripping over several stray tree roots on my journey.

Halfway down one particularly steep hill, I encountered a surprise. Well, it wasn’t really a surprise, but at the same time, it wasn’t what I expected. I mean, I knew that Remus and Sirius had patched up their friendship in the middle of April along with James, but still, seeing them together outside of the common room when we were grouped around a huge table doing homework was, well, to put it mildly, odd.

I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to dive behind the nearest bush in hopes that they hadn’t seen me, but it was vanished when Sirius raised a hand in a half-hearted greeting. Fighting off a grimace, I returned the wave with as little enthusiasm as I could muster. As I drew nearer, I saw that Remus did not look as happy as Sirius to see me, though to be fair, Sirius looked as though he had like to see anyone else but me. Not that I could blame him or anything, especially after how I’d treated him in the Hospital Wing. I’d tried to apologise for it, but he’d waved it off with a kind of nonchalance that suggested he was still bitter about it. Again, not that I could blame him.

Like an idiot, I wasn’t watching where I stepped and the toe of my shoe ended up catching on a tree branch. Luckily, I was able to catch myself before I fell on my face, so instead I landed on all fours. I could hear a barely suppressed peal of almost laughter as the ground shivered under my palms. The pair of them were standing over me in seconds.

Pushing myself to my feet, I shook my hair out of my eyes in embarrassment.

“You all right?” Sirius asked.

I swiped both palms across my skirt, hoping to get rid of all and any traces of blood. “I’m fine.”

“You sure?” questioned Remus.

Unwillingly, my eyes were drawn to the sandy haired youth and I nodded. “Positive.”

We stared at each other for several seconds before Sirius cleared his throat. Succeeding in earning both mine and Remus’s attention, the grey eyed boy jerked his head in the direction of the castle. I couldn’t believe it - I was getting ditched in front of my very eyes!

Without so much as a goodbye, they started up the slope I’d just traversed. I don’t know what made me do it, but before I could stop myself - or rather, before the Voice could stop me, I was calling out Remus’s name, my hands cupped around my mouth.

Obviously startled, they stopped mid-stride and pivoted so that they may look at me. A flush rose to my cheeks and I fought it to the best of my ability. I crossed the space between us quickly, leaving enough space so the atmosphere didn’t true sticky.

Squinting up at Remus, I suddenly blurted, “Could I talk to you?” Glancing sideways at Sirius, who suddenly looked angry with me, I added, “Just you.”

Remus considered for a few seconds before giving a ghost of a nod. You’d have thought I asked him to someone’s funeral as my date or something, the grimace he was wearing. He glanced at Sirius, one of those “looks” on his face and the latter bobbed his head.

“I’ll see you back in the common room,” said Sirius before turning on his heel and jogging easily up the steep slope.

I glared after him.

The sudden sound of Remus’s deep voice startled me. “You wanted something?”

Jerking myself out of the odd sort of stupor I’d settled into as I glowered at the retreating form of the gorgeous - I mean, hideous, hideous Sirius Black, I turned my eyes back to Remus and mustered a polite smile, “Yeah, I did. I mean, I do. I do want something. Uh,” I glanced hopelessly at the shores of the Black Lake, which were nearer than I had originally believed them to be. “D’you want to sit?”

Remus shrugged his shoulders, his hands stuck in his pockets. “Sure.”

In an awkward silence, we fell into step as we neared the sandy-muddy shore of the Black Lake. Its black waters were lapping up at the peculiarly mixed shore substance gently and it would have been calming if tension wasn’t hanging so heavy in the air.

Clearing my throat, I smoothed my skirt, tucking it under my bottom as I lowered myself down onto the ground. Surprisingly, Remus dropped down with an unusually graceful ease beside me, drawing his knees up toward his chest.

“So,” he drawled, his voice oddly constricted.

“Yeah,” I said, unaware that I was mirroring his current position until my chin dropped down onto my knee. Slightly startled, I tried not to let my surprise show on my face, though it was likely it was as clear as the sky above us. Licking my lips, I continued, “Look, I just wanted to say that-,”

“Please,” Remus began. “If you’re going to apologise, you’re too late for that.”

“But-,”

“The damage has been done, Eleanor. I know you’re sorry, but that still doesn’t change what you did.” He was looking at me now, penetrating me with that intense stare of his. His brown eyes had lost their previous warmth that I found so endearing. They were cold now, hardened. It unnerved me and guilt swirled in my stomach, which I imagine was his desired intent. “What either of you did.”

Anger boiled under my skin, in my veins. All I saw was red, but I bit my tongue. “You can forgive him,” I jerked my thumb over my shoulder, “but you can’t forgive me?”

“I haven’t forgiven him.”

“Oh, whatever! You lot have been chums for the past month or so!”

“Not completely, anyway,” he said as though I hadn’t interrupted him. “He said that he was sorry and that he knew it was wrong.”

I snorted. “Yet when I offer an apology and say that I knew it was wrong, you can’t forgive me?”

He shook his head. “No, I can’t.”

Rolling my eyes, I turned my attention back out to the Black Lake. “That makes no sense at all.”

“Neither did your actions,” Remus said. “In fact, they still don’t make sense.”

Whipping my head back in his direction, I growled through gritted teeth, “Maybe if you just let me explain myself instead of biting my head off whenever I try, they would become clearer to you!”

We glowered at each other. His flat brown eyes bore into mine, making an unpleasant shiver slowly creep up my spine and settle in the back of my neck, where it prickled uncomfortably. Biting the inside of my cheek, I ignored the urge to scrunch up my shoulders, to wrinkle my nose and give into the shiver that delved deeper into my bones.

He was the first to look away. Heaving a sigh, he pushed his hands through his hair. He looked like he was exhausted. Not just with the current situation, but with life. I couldn’t blame him: between all of the hours of studying and homework we were given, it was hard not to let your sleepiness get to you.

“All right,” he breathed. “I’ll hear you out.”

Warmth swelled in my heart and I resisted the urge to throw my arms around his neck, to hug him as though my life depended on it. He was going to listen to me! Really, truly listen to what I had to say.

“But,” he continued, “Only if I get to ask some questions.”

I nodded without the slightest bit of hesitancy. “Anything. You can ask me anything, Remus. I just want you to understand so then you can hate me within reason.”

His next words shocked me. “I don’t hate you, Eleanor.”

My eyebrows disappeared into my fringe. “You don’t?”

Remus shook his head. “Of course not. I just don’t like you all the much at the moment.”

Unable to help myself, I chuckled, shaking my head slightly. My gaze had once again returned to the silky smooth surface of the Black Lake. The water would look welcoming if I didn’t know what lurked in its waters. Giant Squids and Merpeople were just some of the unpleasant creatures that were waiting to grab your ankles and make you dinner.

“When did it happen?” he questioned suddenly.

“When did-,”

“When did you start fancying him?” Remus clarified.

Sighing softly, I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m not entirely sure. All I can tell you is that it took me a long time to realise my feelings for S-Sirius because I was still head over heels for you. I was over the moon that you actually wanted me to sit with you at dinner and-,”

“That was when it started?” He was clearly surprised.

I shook my head suddenly. “No! That’s not when it happened,” I said hurriedly. “Believe you me, I didn’t even realise that I seriously fancied Sirius until a few weeks before Winter Holidays. I think it was during the snowball fight that I really felt something.”

Beside me, Remus snorted in derisive laughter. “No wonder why he tackled you.”

“What do you mean? I don’t understand,” I said, perplexed.

“The thing you have to understand about Sirius is that he expresses his feelings in ways that most people wouldn’t. Most of the time, he elects physical contact,” revealed Remus, shaking his head in a slow, almost disproving manner. Still, there was a bemused smile on his lips.

However confused Remus was feeling, it was nothing compared to my own confusion. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by all the moments when Sirius and I had touched. Flashes of the moments filled my mind: his hand rubbing circles into the small of my back at the Quidditch match; our encounter on the moving staircase when he caressed my face, almost kissing me; when he fixed my bleeding nose in his dorm; helping me into his bed after a drunken Halloween party; each time our knees had brushed under the study table; all of the times we had gotten into small “fights” with various Potions ingredients. All of the times that Sirius had touched me before he kissed me outside of my house swirled around in my mind and I found that I couldn’t breathe.

Just how long, exactly, had Sirius fancied me before he’d kissed me?

A touch on my elbow made me jump in my skin. Half expecting to see Sirius sitting beside me, his grey eyes sparkling with that unique glimmer, I was slightly disappointed and yet half relieved to see it was Remus and not Sirius who was next to me on the shores of the Black Lake.

“Are you all right?”

I nodded clumsily. “I’m fine. I was just - well, lost in thought,” I finished honestly.

Remus smiled at me, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “That’s all right. I’m sure you were thinking of all the times when he touched you before you realised you fancied him as well.”

My mouth dropped open and I stared, slack jawed, at Remus. “Are you a Legimens or something, because you’ve just read my mind.” I faltered slightly. “Well, not entirely, but still. You get what I mean, right?”

He chuckled softly. “Yeah, I guess I do. So,” he said without missing a beat, “when did it happen? The moment you realise that you fancied him more than me.”

The bitterness was there, but understandably so. I wouldn’t be able to talk about it at all, but here was Remus, being as brave as they come. No wonder why he was sorted into Gryffindor.

I made a point of not looking at him when I answered, my voice soft. “You see, over the holidays, we - as in my Aunt Eliza and I - ran into Sirius in Diagon Alley while we were shopping. Aunt Eliza told him to come over to our house for Christmas Eve, since he spends Christmas Day with the Potters, and we hung out the entire day.” I licked my lips again. “When he left, he - well, he kissed me and I’m sorry to say that I kissed him back.” Closing my eyes against the memory, I added, “Then he did the most peculiar thing: he Disapparated after he kissed me, telling me to stay away. And I did. The next time we talked was -,”

“The Potters’ New Years’ Eve Party,” he finished, nodding his head slowly as though something was making sense to him. “It’s no wonder that no matter what I did, you kept looking at me with that sad glimmer in your eyes. I thought it was something I did,” he added as an afterthought.

I shook my head and grabbed one of his hands out of instinct. “No, Remus! You didn’t do anything wrong. Nothing at all. I just couldn’t handle the guilt. There you were, being so kind to me when I most certainly did not deserve it.” Gasping when I felt a tear touch my lips, I brushed it away with a casual swipe. “And you know how it was at the dinner table. When we were dancing.” I sighed, not sure if I wanted to tell him the next bit, but it was crucial. “You know how I went outside to get some air?”

Remus nodded uneasily. “Yes.”

“That was my original intention,” I said. “But then Sirius came outside and we argued. A lot. He called me a hypocrite, but I didn’t want to believe it, even though I was one. I was just as bad as he was, snogging him when I was going out with you,” I sent him an apologetic smile, though he didn’t return it. Not that I expected him to or anything.

“Go on,” he urged, his voice hard.

“Well, then we started snogging again and then - well, Lucinda and Amos came stumbling out onto the patio and,” I paused, once again fighting off an onslaught of memories. “You saw what happened after that. Everyone did.”

I could feel his eyes on me, penetrating as ever. Like he was searching my face for something. If I knew him like I thought I did, he was.

I didn’t even realise that I was crying again until Remus reached over and wiped my tears away with his thumbs. His brown eyes had regained some of their warmth and he was directing it at me. There was something unexplainable on his face. Something that stirred hope in my chest. My heart began to thrum excitedly in my ribcage.

“You really fancy him, don’t you?” he murmured softly, my face still in his hands.

I nodded hesitantly. “I do,” I replied. “I really love him.”

Once again, my mouth dropped open and the Voice began to scold me. There was no way I had just said what I think I just said. But judging by the look on Remus’s face, I could see that I’d just said those three little words that were always so hard to get out, and he was shocked, but not all that surprised. Which was a bit contradictory, when you think about it.

Remus dropped his hands from my face, though the shocked expression slid of his face and was replaced by something a lot less dramatic, a lot softer. If I were braver, I would say that there was an understanding expression on his face, but I wasn’t that brave nor was I that bold. Not unless I was considerably drunk or kicking on a fit of rage.

“I figured as much,” Remus muttered quietly. He rose to his feet, but I didn’t follow him. I was still too startled at my own words to move. I didn’t twist around and watch him walk away, but I could hear his muffled footsteps on the ground. All too soon, I knew that I was alone by the lake and that was not a good thing in the slightest.

Had I really just said that I loved Sirius? As in Sirius Orion Black? The boy with the charming smile and quick wit that made hundreds of women swoon, regardless of age. The boy who proved to be a great friend, one of the best I’d ever had in my life. The boy who was incredibly smart and so loyal it made a dog look like the most cowardly of sheep. Did I really love him?

Before I could dwell on the subject of my feelings for one Sirius Black, something wet was lapping at my face. It took me several moments to realise that it was a dog’s tongue licking my face with an unforgiving vigour. Despite the emotions raging through me, I managed to laugh happily, pulling back to get a good look at the animal licking me.

The sheer size of the dog was monstrous, to say the very least, but there was an overall friendly air to his demeanour. His pink tongue out of his mouth at a lopsided angle and there was a glimmer of what only looked to be mischief in its oddly coloured silver eyes. Nudging my hand with a big black button nose, the dog began to lick the palm of my hand.

Lifting my other hand, I placed it on the top of the dog’s big head and pet it. The dog seemed to like this, as he closed his eyes and pressed the crown of his skull into my palm. Smiling, I scratched his ears. The dog emitted a loud, pleased howl and I laughed again.

“You sure are a cutie, aren’t you?” I cooed at him, taking his big head between my hands. His ears were floppy and covered my hands, even though I was touching the dog where a human’s cheeks would be. I was surprised as how soft his fur was: he was obviously a wild dog, having no collar on his neck and he was simply too big to be a house pet. “But I bet you get that a lot, don’t you?”

Sighing, I released the dog’s head and laid back on the grass, one arm tucked under my head. The dog stared at me, its head cocked to the side for several moments until it turned around three times and sank down next to me. Much like Rufus would, the dog laid his head on my stomach and gave me an expectant sort of look, like he wanted me to pet him again. I complied, scratching his ears in an absentminded way.

“You know, Snuffles,” I began, suddenly glancing down at the dog. He was looking at me again with a curious glint in his eyes. “D’you mind if I call you Snuffles? You look like a Snuffles,” I said, only to be sniffed at excitedly. “I’ll take that as a yes.” The dog barked happily and I laughed loudly, an oddly freeing sort of feeling coming over me.

And then, I split it all to the dog. Everything that had happened since that fateful day of October the Second. I told him about the day in Slughorn’s office when I was assigned to be Black’s partner. I told Snuffles about the Quidditch match; the delusion I had of kissing Sirius one moment and then Remus the next; the Halloween party; the encounter on the staircase. Absolutely everything. I told him the things I felt, the thoughts that raged through my head at the time. Everything.

It was freeing, to say the very least. By the time I ran out of things to say, darkness had fallen in a thick blanket. Stars twinkled brightly overhead, winking at me in a mocking soft of way. Shaking my sleeve back from my wrist, I saw that it was nearing nine o’clock at night. Pringle would be locking the doors soon, so I had to get back, much to my dismay. I didn’t want to leave Snuffles, but I knew I had no choice.

With another sigh, I pushed myself into a sitting position and looked Snuffles in the eye. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go, otherwise I’ll be locked out of the castle.” Oddly enough, Snuffles seem to nod at me as though he understood what I was telling him. Smiling slightly at him, I ruffled the thick tuff of black hair at the top of his head and rose to my feet. “I’ll see you soon, okay? That is, if you come back.” I sighed again. “Well, I’ll understand if you don’t come, but it was nice to meet you, Snuffles, I’m glad I had the chance.” He rushed forward and nudged my hand, licking my fingertips. I wanted to stay, but I was reminded that I had to get back to the castle. I stooped down, dropped a kiss on the top of Snuffles’s head and hurried back up the hill, but not before calling a goodbye to the cute, but huge black dog.

By the time I reached the oaken front doors, it was almost nine o’clock. Pringle would be coming down the hall at any minute and I still had to rush up to the common room. Shoving the door open, I panted as I stumbled into the Entrance Hall, hurrying over toward the staircase and climbing them as fast as my limbs would allow.

When I heard a second pair of footsteps behind me, I thought that it was Pringle and that I’d been caught. Lo and behold, I was shocked to see that it was Sirius. A smiling Sirius Black. He fell into step beside me and though we didn’t speak, save for when we both uttered the password to the Fat Lady, it was comfortable. Once again, that feeling of understanding was emitting from Sirius like it had been from Remus. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it.

He allowed me to climb through the portrait hole first and we both crossed the room to the staircase that led to our respective dorms. With another brilliant smile, Sirius said, “Good night,” and flounced - yes, flounced - up the stairs to his dormitory.

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