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Chapter 20 - Survival of the Fittest

Summary: In which old ladies are discussed, Kyle attempts Craftiness and Amelie takes a leap.

"In order to preserve your self-respect, it is sometimes necessary to lie and cheat".

Amelie’s remaining time at the Potters’ had been one of the most uncomfortable in her life. She had woken up wrapped in a duvet whose smell was unbearably familiar, completely unknowing – not that she had asked – who had put her there of all places after feinting in the snow. More than anything, she wished it hadn’t been him, because she already had more than enough guilt to deal with.

His words had stung, but she couldn’t deny that she deserved every blow. She shouldn’t have expected sympathy, because stupidity didn’t merit it. Ignorance, whatever other people might have said, wasn’t bliss, because all it did was make it that much more painful when the truth of everything hit you. She had been foolish – incredibly so. She understood that now.

Somehow, she’d managed to focus enough in the last week of the holidays to get her homework done. She’d politely declined the invitation from the Potter’s to attend several New Years’ parties, and then thanked them for their hospitality. She wasn’t particularly comfortable with either of them, but she knew that they were kindly, and couldn’t bring herself to brush off yet another pair of people who had decided to do something worthwhile for her out of the goodness of their hearts.

All in all, she was immensely glad to get back to Hogwarts where she could lose herself once more in the multitude of her carefree, gossiping peers. Amelie, for the first time in perhaps a very long time, felt genuine warmth filter through her as she heard about her friend’s Christmases’, not feeling the need to ruin the mood by recalling her own foolishness. She knew they were all curious, but was thankful that they were following her lead in keeping schtum.

Meeting up with her friends on the Hogwart’s Express had been enjoyable, particularly so because the Marauder’s had not felt the need to check up on them throughout the journey. The scarlet steam engine had been a constant through Amelie’s past six years of life, and looking at it made her breathe easier, knowing she was going to a place where she had always felt safest and most herself, with the people she cared about.

“So much tinsel! You’d think with all their money they could afford a sense of style, too,” huffed Lily, who had been invited to way too many Christmas parties for someone who refused to properly celebrate the holiday.

“Don’t you like tinsel?” asked Dorcas. “I think it’s rather pretty… I actually wore a silver one all through Christmas dinner.”

“There’s a difference between a bit of tinsel and an explosion of it. Besides, any more than two colours of tinsel at a time and –“

“Ease up on the tinsel, Lily,” chuckled Callum. “And on the old woman.”

“Yeah,” said Amelie. “You know how they lose their sense of style, their hearing, their sanity…”

“No, no, no. The hearing doesn’t get lost, it just becomes selective.”

“So true! Gran only hears things if it’s got to do with Mrs.-Next-Door’s wayward step-daughter or if we’re discussing how to inflict pain on her cat.”


“What?! We don’t really hurt it, we just pretend to so she can stop acting deaf,” he explained.

“Oh!” exclaimed Lily, looking relieved. She grinned. “Well, that’s all right then.”

Whilst her friends were busy discussing old people, Amelie looked at Alice, who was sitting on the seat opposite her, and Amelie felt a disgusting feeling of guilt well up inside her, one that she was sure she had been repressing for a few weeks now. How horrible it was, to be knocked down when you already felt like shit, by the very same people you thought would support you through an ordeal! Alice hadn’t deserved the shit that she’d dished out, and, looking at her, Amelie finally acknowledged it. How could she have been so unforgiving and cold when she herself had done much worse?

She had to do something about it before she threw up on someone.

“Alice,” she said softly, looking into the blonde girl’s eyes as she looked up. She started; obviously startled to be receiving such undivided attention from the girl she never thought would willingly talk to her again. “I’m sorry, Alice,”

It took her a moment to reply, but a faint “I’m sorry, too,” allowed Amelie to close her eyes with an assuaged guilt. It was a new feeling for her, this alleviation of burden from making amends. Since her promise to herself at age eleven, Amelie had rarely forgiven anyone, unless prodded beforehand. Doing the same voluntarily, though so similar, was also remarkably different.

But then her eyes suddenly snapped open, and looked around her, frightened to death. Amelie was not afraid of spiders, or of snakes. She didn’t flinch away at the sight of blood, and she wasn’t so reluctant to walk alone in the dark. Her step-father’s continued silence, however, hit her with alarming ferocity, and she felt her blood run cold. She was terrified.

Dorcas suddenly interrupted this train of thought. She had suddenly remembered, and she just had to tell them about the muggle who had kissed her under the mistletoe at Christmas.

Within the first week that Amelie spent back at Hogwarts, she had made several unusual accomplishments. Most notably, she had handed in each and every one of the pieces of homework that had been assigned and handed it in on time. Also, she had not yet received even one reprimand from a professor.

None of it, however, was working. Her renewed closeness with her friends, though incredibly comforting, wasn’t the same type of comfort that Sirius had been able to give her. She was secretly panicking and desperately needed a way to share it before she went mad. Only she and Sirius hadn’t really talked for so long she didn’t know if she could bring herself to shove aside her pride completely.

Pride could be a horrible thing, she realised. For the needy, it could also be a stupid thing to have. When the choice was between self-preservation and self-destruction, surely her pride should make her choose the former – regardless of what that could mean.

So she’d tried to catch his eyes in the hallways, desperately aching for his piercing gaze that used to burn fire through her body. Whenever he was around, she would be louder, more flirtatious, using whatever she had at her disposal to get his attention. But to no avail. He was being hopelessly flippant towards her, and Amelie couldn’t even bring herself to hate him for it. After all, he had every right.

Therefore after three more weeks of rejection, Amelie decided she couldn’t take it any more. Her trips to the common room became less frequent, her make-up returned to it’s slightly less-alluring norm and her skirt fell down a few inches to her knees, despite her protests the previous years that she “just couldn’t find one that was her size”. She still talked and joked with her friends, but also spent more time studying with them, silent and in thought. The professor’s had taken it as Amelie attempting to “turn over a new leaf”, and set about smiling at her in corridors. Their encouragement, however, only seemed like a further punishment to the girl. Was this really how they preferred her to be – a being so far from herself?

Kyle was spending more and more time with Olivia, who he had asked to be his girlfriend just before the holidays. Though Amelie doubted they had quite the same relationship that she had with Sirius, she still felt a pang whenever she saw them walking out of the portrait hole together. She was happy for her friend, of course. She only wished she could have the same peace of mind herself.

Apart from the Quidditch sessions, Amelie only felt productive when she was talking to Alice. This, in itself, was slightly strange, because she didn’t do much in these moments. Lying down on her bed, listening to Alice talk, however, opened up Amelie to a life so very different to her own. Sometimes, Amelie felt a strong desire to object, or snort derisively at what the girl said, but managed to control herself, and instead open herself up to this possibility that maybe that was life as it should be. Maybe truth wasn’t what was needed in the world; that trust was. It didn’t matter if you didn’t know everything from start to finish, but to trust someone and be able to earn that trust… that seemed to be something far more valuable.

She’d let that precious stone slip through her hand one time too many.

Lily sat next to James in Defence on Thursday. It was the closest she’d been next to him for the first time since - since she didn’t really know when. Amelie had sat next to Alice, and Kyle with Dorcas, leaving her to sit next to the boy she’d been thinking about for so long, but never felt ready for.

Nevertheless, she smiled – almost involuntarily – as she sat. It was a small smile, but expressed cordiality and warmth just as clearly as a big one. She wasn’t very much surprised to receive one back with interest.

“That’s it everyone, cauldrons all out and ready, everyone. I’m sure you’ve all prepared sufficiently for this practical.”

Lily had. They’d been studying Everlasting Elixirs for a month now, and Lily had gone through every material she could find on the subject over the holidays. It was sad, she knew, but it had been a rather welcome change to her sister’s voice. Studying magic was the only thing that would get Petunia out of a room quicker than her actually practising it – or at least pretending to. However, James’ blank look didn’t escape her notice.

“You didn’t, did you?” she asked, silently so as Slughorn wouldn’t hear.

James looked up at her guiltily.

Lily sighed. “Never mind, you’ll pick it up as we go along, anyway.”

“I’m sorry –“

“-Forget it.”

“But –“

“What’s this? Mr. Potter, Miss Evans, do we have a problem?”

Lily saw, almost as if in slow-motion, James’ mouth opening. She knew he had a talent for getting out of tight spots with the worst of teachers, but really, Slughorn was her area of expertise.

“No sir, we were just discussing ways of counteracting some of the unpleasant effects of the elixir.”

Slughorn beamed at her. “Well, Miss Evans, you do plan meticulously, don’t you? A spot of cunning and mediated behaviour that I would say was almost Slytherin.”

Lily never understood Slughorn’s insistence on claiming her as one of his own. In fact, it was more than slightly annoying. “I know that you would have loved to have me, but there’s only so much of me to go round.”

And with a hint of a smile, Lily sauntered over to the potions cupboard, acutely aware of James’ eyes following her all the way.

Kyle was moving as silently as he possibly could. He needed stealth and swiftness on his side, as well as good breath and a killer smile – because he was on a Mission.

If he peered through the dusty bookshelves at the right angle, he could see the bowed head of curly brown locks as they pored over a reference book. A tedious task, no doubt – one that he would have to save the poor, beleaguered soul from. But Kyle was not stupid, and he knew that a few bookshelves behind him on his right hand side, The Pince was ever-alert and watchful. If he was ever to be successful and manage to rescue the damsel and collect his prize without getting a humongous bruise, he would need to be Cunning.

As a Gryffindor, cunning wasn’t usually something that came by Kyle easily. Usually, he left that aspect of things to Lily, who had a slightly more logical-minded approach to things. But sometimes, Kyle realised, one would have to leave House restrictions aside, and expand one’s talents in order to snog one’s girlfriend.

Walking as inconspicuously as he possibly could, Kyle headed straight for Olivia’s table, leaning over her from behind under the pretext of looking at her work. Olivia, for her part, sat up straight immediately and was about to turn around and slap whoever it was behind her for scaring her when she heard Kyle muttering in her ear, his hot breath sending shivers down her spine.

“Well, I see you’re working hard.”

She was ignoring his advances. Kyle grinned, and took it as a chance to improve his cunning. He brushed his lips across the top of her neck ever so lightly. “Mm, if you ever thought you might need a break, there’s this nice little spot I’ve found at the back there. Quite secluded, though I have to admit there’s the slightest chance we might get caught…”

“Hey guys, look after my stuff, yea?” Olivia mumbled to her friends, who all suddenly were choking from fits of laughter. Noticing that this might garner unwanted attention from The Pince, Kyle used this opportunity to grab Olivia by the hand and walk briskly towards his desired destination.

Olivia smiled up at him. “What’s gotten into you today, Mr.?” she asked, her eyes glittering with playful joy.

“I’ve been practising on my cunning, Miss,”

“Oh, really? What for?”

“Why, to snog my girlfriend senseless, Miss. I like ‘em when their knees knock together and falls for me, Miss.”

“Right, Kyle, I know you don’t speak the Queen’s English but allow adding s’s when you don’t need to.”

Kyle laughed. “Yes, Miss,”

“So, when’re you going to follow through with this cunning plan?”

Kyle’s eyes darkened a shade as he leaned in closer. “Why, right now…”

When Amelie got home from the library that night, she expected the common room to be empty. It was well after curfew, and considering her state recently, she was extremely surprised that she had not been caught. Or maybe she had, but the amount of dirt she had on the prefects had kept them at bay. Either way, she was only too pleased to be greeted by the red and gold room without the awkwardness of other people being in there to examine her. They always did.

She moved towards the fire, and promptly collapsed. Her skirt had ridden half way up her stomach, leaving her legs bare, but her arms were way too heavy with fatigue to cover herself up. She was exhausted enough to feel her brain whirring, her muscles aching and her eyelids drooping, and just enough not to realise that Sirius had been sitting in the corner of the room the entire time, watching with a shrewd glance.

In the month that he had stepped away from Amelie, he had noticed some strange things. Her behaviour seemed to be completely different, and yet exactly the same at the same time. At first she had become even more eye-catching, only repelling him further. He had had no desire to even look at her, and yet she had been everywhere. It was all he could do, not to throw her up against a wall and shout at her for being so – so – bloody omnipresent when he had no wish to see her.

But then it began to change. Outside of classes and Quidditch practices, he saw her less and less. Even in classes they generally sat quite far apart, and in Quidditch neither one talked to the other. She was never vibrant, or alive, and the drive and determination that she had always had burning in her so ferociously was on a different flame now. It was still there, but low and constant. She had become pensive and, well, he would have said that she was plotting something, but what he wouldn’t ever be able to guess.

Somehow, he found himself becoming intrigued once more by this enigma that was Amelie Avery. And then he started to miss her a bit – though denying it adamantly, of course. He had James. Together they’d talked, just as he had with Amelie, so he allowed himself slightly more denial time than he would have otherwise, and not allowing himself to brood on the fact that his ex-confidante had none of the same luxuries.

He’d seen her change from overly-eye-catching into something that was comparatively a wall-flower. So it was a bit of a shock – and a jolt to Sirius’ memory, to see her legs completely uncovered. His mind drifted to the gutter, swimming there a bit too long before his logic told him to get out. Bathing in sewage was a dangerous business, after all.

And that was Sirius’ last thought before he nodded off to sleep.

Amelie’s first thought was that she was highly uncomfortable, and never wanted to sleep in this position ever again. Opening her eyes blearily, she noticed it was still rather dark and, even more strangely, she was sleeping on the floor, in the common room.

Well, she had never done that before.

As Amelie’s eyes began to adjust to the darkness, and her ears lose their somnolence, she detected a presence in the corner of the room. Her breath halted for a moment and she held her wand firmly in hand, ready to pounce on any possible attacker - when suddenly the creature let out a loud snore.

Amelie scoffed. How typical, that she’d get so jumpy over nothing. She was only glad there was no-one around who had witnessed her fear. Fear was never a good thing to show anyone.

Curiosity, though not something that Amelie always promoted herself, overcame her. Who had decided to sleep down here? Maybe she could get some dirt on someone. She crept over to the sleeping body, registering the silhouette of a boy – quite a big boy… perhaps a sixth of seventh year? She came to a sudden halt as she came close enough to tell exactly who it was.


She was a touch too loud with her expletives.

“Whoozat?” said Sirius, bleary-eyed from sleep but quickly regaining consciousness.

For her part, Amelie was stuck in a rather big dilemma. Her feet seemed to be refusing to listen to her mind’s orders to run, and her mind seemed to be refusing to give her mouth the words to prevent her from sounding an idiot.

“Millie?” he asked, shocked.

Maybe it was the use of her old nickname, or that he was actually looking at her as if he wanted her again, but Amelie’s rational thought fled from her mind, and she promptly knelt down by him and grabbed his hand, holding it to her lips.

“I know you can’t respect me anymore,” she whispered against his fingers. “I can’t even respect myself now. But-” she stole herself for a moment, then pressed herself closer against him, adamant that he pay attention. “You don’t need to respect me to fuck me.”

Sirius’ breath hitched. He was slightly incredulous, and half-believed that he was delirious with need. Somehow his dream had spilled over into reality, and his subconscious mind was enjoying every moment. So when he opened his mouth with a rather dry response of “so you’re going to use me again?” he really wanted to kick himself.

Amelie fisted his shirt, refusing to give him a reason to leave walk away from her. “I’m sorry, Sirius. You – we – I – I need you with me.”

Her laboured breathing told of her fear of rejection as she shakily brought her head down closer to his. She began with a chaste kiss, experimentally, and then became more passionate, wanting to make him believe through her kisses that she wasn’t lying, that she needed him, that without him she was a bundle of self-confused nerves who didn’t really know how to live.

“Amelie,” he sighed, mumbling through fatigue and languid kisses. “Just let it go. You don’t need them. You never did.”

“But I need you,” she gasped as he moved his mouth to the hollow of her neck.

Sirius did not say a word. He looked into her eyes that were brimming with want, searching and probing them for a second before responding by claiming her mouth as his own. Amelie sighed into his mouth, relaxed, for a moment, that she could once again lose herself in the bliss that was Sirius Black.

Benjy Fenwick had a lovely Christmas. His Foster Mum and Dad bought him mountains of expensive presents, most of which he then went on to sell at a huge profit to those who knew no better. It was fun, watching people walk away with what they thought was a brand new Nikon camera, only to later realise that it jinxed you into wearing a grin for three hours after taking each photo. Not that the muggles knew that they were being jinxed, of course.

At nights, he’d go out on the town, enjoying a few drinks and a few more girls. During the day, he slept until three in the afternoon and then had a few cigarettes. It was a very enjoyable existence. In fact, he had had such a great time during the Christmas holidays that he’d completely forgotten about his determination to get back to the Slytherin’s as soon as he got back. On his return, he hadn’t even cared all that much. But that was a month ago, and this was now.

His reputation had, if possible, gotten worse. In his latest escapade, he’d threatened a third year who’d been stupid enough to witness his actions to keep his gob closed, but rumours had leaked anyway. Benjy had never had any rumours spread about his dirty work before. Not even a whiff of them had been smelt before this. It was then that Benjy realised he had to stop fooling himself. Leaving it any longer and Benjy knew he would be expelled for sure. And what would his foster parents say if they knew he wasn’t going to get decent qualifications? He doubted they’d be so enthusiastic at giving him presents every Christmas, that was for sure.

The memory of his encounter with the Slytherins was fresh, fluttering around with his mind together with the inordinate amount of gossip he’d heard about Avery and Black. What was it with them two, anyway, that could demand so much respect? It wasn’t as if they had much self-worth, any respectability about them. Black was just a man whore and Avery was his bitch. He really wanted to show them, prove to them, that that just wouldn’t cut it at Hogwarts.

With a determined stride, Benjy Fenwick left his common room in the middle of winter, determined to make it to the dungeons by midnight. He guessed it was quite cliché, for the Slytherins to be plotting under cover of night, but he wasn’t going to judge. Maybe they liked using clichés for their own amusement.

The echo of his footsteps seemed to sound louder now that his eyes could see less. The torches that usually cast flickering shadows along the damp walls of the dungeons had all been put out, no doubt by over-efficient house-elves doing their part to deter students from coming out of their beds after curfew. Which was stupid, really, because there would always be the student who was ready to break a few rules, risk a few lost points – what were they, after all, when one had lost all sense of reputation? What were those stupid, meaningless things to those people who really didn’t give a shit about anything anymore?

He took a left turn, then a right; for a moment he thought he was lost, when suddenly his eyes fell on a door. The corner of his lips turned upwards as his eyes fell on the silver doorknob and the black iron-wrought designs that twisted its way across the lighter metal behind. The cold metal burned his hand as he turned it, and stepped in.

The huddle of witches and wizards stopped talking as soon as they saw the door open. Their was silence, for a moment, as they recognised the boy for a Gryffindor, and stared at him with hatred in their eyes for being so impudent as to travel so far from his common room. Benjy gulped.

“No need to kill him, he’s been invited,” said Regulus lazily from his seat. He had his feet up on the table, and was rocking his chair backwards on its hind legs. Benjy let out a sigh of relief when he saw him.

“Well, why don’t you close the bloody door and come in then?” hissed a female voice, unfamiliar.

He did not need to be told twice, and with as much pride that he could muster, he sat with the Slytherins, and listened.

[A/N] I’m in shock. I’ve just realised that I have five more chapters before I end this. I would be more upset, but I’m sort of ill right now and my senses are slightly numb. But still, five chapters is five chapters – and these last ones are the hardest, methinks, so please do bear with me. J

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