“Quinn.” I strode straight across the middle of the Great Hall to the Hufflepuff table. The direct route. Couldn’t risk looking elsewhere. Couldn’t risk any sympathetic or bitter looks from the Ravenclaw table after my pitiful Quidditch performance or any… crap… from the Gryffin-crap table, from…crap.
Crap would be a good name to substitute for his, I reckon. He’s always hated his poncey name. Crap was a lot more punchy. Crap Black. Short and sweet.
Merlin’s armpit, I just referred to a name describing poo as sweet.
“What’s up… Woah.” Ray started to respond in his usual casual manner before actually copping a look at me and almost spitting out a mouthful of breakfast. “Fucking hell, Deb. Have you actually slept at all?”
“What?” I asked, distracted momentarily by the question, “Oh. No, actually. But -”
“You look like hell.”
He was both helpful and charming, my mate.
“Yes, well -”
“And you haven’t even changed?” He looked critically at my attire. I was still wearing the shorts and tee I always wore underneath my Quidditch robes. Even my trainers. Too right I hadn’t bloody slept.
“No.” My teeth were gritted in an attempt to retain my patience. I did not operate well with zero sleep even without added stressors.
And these stressors… wow.
I swallowed. “Have you got a minute?”
I could sense people staring, and I wished I’d had the bright idea to catch him before he reached the Great Hall. I mean, I’d been bloody awake all morning. All night. Could have just waited outside for him.
I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a goblet. I could pretend it only looked hideous because of the way the curved surface of the cup warped it so that my forehead looked enormous and the rest of my face was scrunched up into about a single inch square. But it would be a lie. Even in that odd, distorted reflection I could see my chewed up lips and the heavy rings around my eyes.
“Ok.” Ray seemed to judge that this was a serious situation. About fucking time. He nodded once and abandoned his plate of bacon, following me as I made a quick escape from all the beady eyes in the Great Hall.
I was heading out towards the oak doors of the Great Hall, but before I’d crossed the stone floor Ray grabbed my wrist and pulled me to a stop.
“We’re not going outside? Deb, it’s November. It’s freezing and you’re…” He gestured to my not-so-substantial attire, “You’re wearing that.”
I hadn’t even considered it. I could hear the wind howling now, if I stopped and listened. I’d just wanted to get out of the castle, somewhere where people wouldn’t be looking at me, looking like this. Somewhere where I wouldn’t run into him -
My face must have looked quite pathetic as I groped for an answer, because he took pity on me and steered me by the shoulders towards the stairs.
“No,” I shook my head as we approached the foot of the stairs, “No, I don’t want to go upstairs. I don’t want to go anywhere near…”
Anywhere near where he might go. I trailed off because it sounded ridiculous.
“We’re not going upstairs.” Ray seemed to understand where I was headed with my worries, even thought I hadn’t finished the sentence. He led me to the side of the marble staircase, and gestured down the corridor towards the kitchen.
“I’m not hungry.” I protested.
“We’re not going to the kitchen.” He walked me past the painting of the bowl of fruit without sparing a glance and down a staircase. “We’re going to my common room.”
I stopped and looked up at him, two steps behind me. “Your common room is in the dungeons?”
“Not really.” He smiled his secret-smile, and for a second I realised that I hadn’t seen it in a while. I’d been so busy with Quidditch that I hadn’t spent a lot of time with him, and the time I had spent I’d been thoroughly distracted with the pressure of coaching Benjy and Sammy. “It’s underground, yeah. But it’s not like the dungeons. Go on.” He put a hand on my back, ushering me to carry on down the staircase.
“I never knew that.” I said my thoughts aloud.
“No?” Even though I couldn’t see his face I could hear the smile in his voice.
“I never thought about it.”
“No one ever does.” He said, factually.
I thought about it. That was odd. I knew where the Gryffindor common room was. Had Lily shown me, all those years ago? Or had I known anyway? And I knew where the Slytherin common room was. How did I know that? And why didn’t I know where the Hufflepuff one was?
“Here.” We reached a small landing, just a flat break between two staircases, with just one painting; a faded still-life image of bread, cheese and a bottle of wine set on a golden cloth. I stood aside, waiting for him to speak the password.
Without a word from Ray, the painting slid sideways, revealing a rounded doorway leading to a room filled with a warm light and scattered chatter.
“How did you do that?” I asked. “You don’t have a password?” I knew that both Gryffindor and Slytherin common rooms were accessed using a password. I thought it was just Ravenclaw that decided to make life difficult for us supposed intellectuals.
“Then what, it can just tell? It’s just bread and cheese! There’s no one to see who you are -”
The secret-smile was back. It often appeared when he knew something I didn’t. “Why should it matter who you are?”
I frowned. “So anyone can just go in?”
The smile broadened. He seemed to find it amusing how much this perplexed me. “Want to give it a go?”
I was still staring from the painting to the doorway as if it were about to reject me.
“Get in there, idiot.” He appeared to tire of my suspicions, planted his hands on my shoulders and firmly steered me through the doorway.
It didn’t even zap me or anything.
Not that I’d been expecting that.
“Anyone could get in here.” I said, still attempting to make him understand my thinking.
“Probably.” He wasn’t fazed by this.
“But then they could…”
“Could what?” He grinned.
“I don’t know. Attack or something.” I mumbled.
That did make him laugh. “Unlikely. But possible. Forgive me if I don’t write to Dumbledore and complain immediately.”
“It could happen!” I insisted.
“Deb. No one’s going to attack a Hufflepuff. We’re fine -”
Before I could even get my head around his unconcerned, straight-forward and honest answer, he folded his arms and confronted me. “- So what the hell has happened to you?”
I swallowed and looked over his shoulder at the room for the first time. It was nice, I thought. Reminded me a little of the Gryffindor common room but less… something. And more… something. Not that the Gryffindor common room was at all grand, but this seemed less grand, despite the golden yellow hue to the walls and hangings. And not that the Gryffindor was unwelcoming or uncomfortable but this seemed more welcoming and comfortable. And it was definitely different to our common room. I’d always thought ours was a little poncey, with it’s high windows; grand, high-backed chairs and mahogany desks. This didn’t seem to have any work space at all - suddenly I couldn’t blame Ray for never getting any homework in on time - and no windows. Yet it had a warm, sunny glow to it, and -
“You have bean bags?” I exclaimed, darting past him and flopping onto a particularly comfy-looking, squishy bean bag that at once moulded to my shape.
“Yeah…” Again he looked mildly amused but I couldn’t for a second kid myself that he was fooled by my distraction. “I’m guessing you don’t.”
“This is so unfair!” I looked around from my seat. All the armchairs and sofa’s looked particularly comfortable as well. Less square and elegant than ours. And the room lacked our intricate, bronze spiral staircases leading up to the dormitories. I’d always thought that the metal contraptions, along with the stone statue of Ravenclaw herself, took away any relaxing atmosphere we could have hoped for. Instead it appeared that the Hufflepuff dormitories were further underground, down two sloping round tunnels on opposite sides of the circular room.
“Not really. You can come in here whenever you want. We’re not exclusive.” He waved away my pathetic diversion. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong? How’re you feeling after the match? How’s Gibbs?”
God. The match. It seemed days and days ago. Even though, since I hadn’t slept, it was basically the same day for me.
“Sammy?” I was surprised he knew. Then I remembered that Sammy had had his skull shattered in front of the entire school, not just his team mates. Wow, it’d be a while before he could forget about that one. “He’s alright. Had to stay overnight but I was with him till he fell asleep. Think he’ll be allowed back to class tomorrow so he won’t miss anything. Pretty bad luck, I thought. They should have matches on a Sunday, not Saturday. Then when people get injured at least they get the day off on the Monday -”
I stopped talking crap. “You were the one that asked about Sammy.” I said, feebly.
“And if he’s ok I don’t really care about the details. What’s wrong with you?”
I wriggled around a bit in my bean bag until I was vaguely upright. This wasted a good few more seconds - it was difficult, alright, in those beanie contraptions - while Ray folded his arms, patiently. During my struggle a couple of people passed and mentioned their greetings to Ray, whilst conveniently ignoring the mental chick stuck in a bean bag in front of him.
He said a brief ‘hello’ to them but made no move to make conversation, as he probably normally would have.
“If you want to hang out with your friends, this isn’t that important.” I was putting it off alright. Sure, I knew I needed to talk to someone about this. And Ray was my best bet at some non-biased advice (cough - Lily Evans).
But it was… difficult.
“I’m fine.” Ray said, in a very no-nonsense manner. Another person waved to him as he went past.
“Mr Popular.” I observed cleverly.
“Debbie -” He began, even - dare I say - beginning to sound impatient, but was interrupted with kind of bad timing.
“Hey, Ray.” A short, pretty girl walked by and stopped to speak. “Rota’s are up. We’re patrolling tomorrow and Wednesday at eight.”
“Thanks, Gina.” His smile to her was warm but she seemed to clock at once that he was busy, and quite contentedly carried on with her friends. It then occurred to me what a complete arse I must look. Probably not good for his reputation.
Ray looked back down at me with raised eyebrows, waiting for me to enlighten him as to why I was here and acting more neurotic than usual.
“She was pretty.” I said in a bright, sing-song voice.
“Yeah, alright -” He rolled his eyes at my blatant delaying techniques.
“Oh, you think so too? Great, shall I find out if she’s single -”
“Sure. She’s pretty, you’re pretty, we’re all pretty. Look, what’s -”
“I wouldn’t call you ’pretty’.” I narrowed my eyes and cocked my head, analytically, “Too much facial hair. And, you know, peni… ah. Ow. Ok. Shutting up.” I was abruptly yanked up from the bean bag. I suppose I ought to be thankful. I’d never have made it out of the thing alone.
Ray then seemed to realise that we were in the middle of his common room, and that as Mr Popular, he probably would capture the attention of a fair few people by manhandling me, such as he was. So he let go. He still didn’t look annoyed at my idiotic behaviour. Tolerant prat. It made me kind of want to throw my pants around and make a scene.
“Ok, you wanted to talk to me.” He said, very clearly. It was almost as if he were talking to someone lacking in mental capacity. Rude. “We can do it here. Or we can go to my room. Don’t even both making a comment about that -” He added, before I could open my mouth and make more weak attempt to distract him. “- And I’m guessing if it’s about that parchment in your hand, you’ll want to be somewhere quieter.”
For a moment I could kid myself I’d forgotten I was even holding anything.
I glanced down at my hand, and unfurled it from where it was tightly clenching several rolls of parchment. The sheets were scrunched up in the middle now, where my hand had been clutching them, but fanning out at the ends. I wondered if they were still legible.
It didn’t really matter. The contents were now seared across the inside of my eyelids. I couldn’t forget it if I tried.
I must have looked truly pathetic when I looked back up at him, because he didn’t even take the piss anymore. Just gestured with one hand towards the boys dormitory tunnel and ushered me over with a hand against my back.
The walls were rounded and smooth to the touch. I trailed a hand along them as Ray’s touch guided me towards a circular wooden door, second from the end of the corridor. The wooden planks making up the door were shiny but worn, and upon closer inspection I could see hundreds of initials engraved upon each slat, and the space between them occupied by various messages from the many occupants that must have inhabited it.
Again I was struck by the homeliness of the Hufflepuff home. No one would ever think to engrave any sort of message on the mahogany doors of our dormitories. Or any of the furniture, for that matter.
I was tracing some of the letters with my finger, before I snapped out of another momentary daydream, and realised that Ray was just stood behind, watching me.
He caught my eye and smiled again, reaching over my shoulder to push the door open.
“Sit.” He suggested (or ordered), motioning to the bed closest to the door, which I assumed was his.
“Now talk.” He added. When I remained mute he sat down at the head of the bed, opposite where I was perched on the end and spoke again. “Come on. What is it? It’s got to be something bad if you wanted to talk to me and then rambled on like an idiot about crap for half an hour. What’s that parchment?”
I’d been so sure I needed Ray - needed to show him, talk to him, listen to him - but it didn’t mean that I felt any less ridiculous for being here. I didn’t know what to say. He probably wasn’t even interested, I mean it’s not like it concerned him at all…
But it was Ray. He’d listen. He’d be interested. And he’d probably know what to do.
And I sure as hell didn’t.
I passed over the few sheets of parchment I’d been holding. We were on opposite sides of the bed so I just passed them into the middle and he picked them up. Even the duvet’s were gold, I noticed, with black detail.
“I don’t know what to do.” My voice was practically a whisper, even though I hadn’t intended it that way.
Ray didn’t give any sort of a reaction to show he’d heard me. I watched his eyes moving across the parchment, back and forth, as he read them.
It had been so obvious, looking back, who they were from.
I’d essentially legged it away from Sirius after the awkward ‘sorry’ situation, back to my dorm. I knew where they were. I’d known all along, of course. It was just that I didn’t let myself think of it. Any time I should have or any time I might have though of it, I distracted myself. It wasn’t hard. This was NEWT year. And I had Benjy and Sammy on my plate. There were plenty of distractions.
But they were still there all along.
It was late, when I got back to my dorm. Fortunately this meant that the common room was mostly empty so I wasn’t waylaid by the commiserations and/or resentment from my house mates. I thought Londy was probably awake when I got up to the dorm, but her hangings were drawn. She didn’t want the false sympathy, either.
I tugged my trunk around from the foot of my bed and hauled it up onto the mattress, before drawing the hangings with a flick of my wand. Then it was dark, so I had to light my wand. Then my legs got tangled in the bed covers so I had to fight my way out. Then I got hot so I had to take off my sweatshirt. Then I sat there and wasted a bit more time, just looking at the trunk.
You can see a little why it took me all night.
After about a million more years of faffing, I had them out in a heap in front of me.
Add another couple of millennia to that and I’d sorted through the pile.
The ones with his handwriting on pretty much jumped out and beat me over the head with their obviousness. Of course it was his writing. I could practically picture his face as he’d scrawled it out, pressing hard on the parchment as he always did, so hard that it felt indented to the touch as I ran my fingertips along them. I could see his lips pursed, his forehead furrowed, his eyes…
Not that I wanted to. You know. See it. Or anything.
Just like how, back at the time, I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge that letters were from him. I hadn’t been able to even think of his name without wanting to curl up in the foetal position and weep like a freaking pansy in the summer, let alone consider that he’d write to me.
He’d hated me.
So I told myself, over and over and over and over. He wouldn’t write to me. Therefore they couldn’t possibly be from him.
What a bleeding idiot.
They weren’t dated or anything. The letters. It was Sirius, he wasn’t going to date letters or anything even slightly formal like that. Would have come in useful though, because I had no idea which order they came in.
The first one I picked up, with a pathetically shaking hand, probably wasn’t the first one he’d sent.
That was all it said.
That one bloody word made my breath catch in my chest as if I was about to start bawling or something.
Before I could even think too much I picked up the next letter.
Another uninformative one, but another that felt like a punch in the gut.
He was sorry.
For what? For ruining stuff for Freddie? For us? For calling me a bitch?
Would it have made a difference at the time?
I couldn’t say. There was no way of knowing how I’d have reacted to this at the time because I wouldn’t have reacted to it because I wouldn’t have read it.
But did it make a difference now?
When I unfolded the next one I could see within a single second that it contained a whole lot more than one or two words. This both made me want to shut my eyes and throw it away, and scan it greedily for every word with some sort of meaning behind it.
Dee, it read.
I’m sorry. I was a bastard and you have every right to hate me for what I said. I know I only had that one chance to prove I was worth it, and I know that you gave me about ten extra chances along the way, so I really don’t have any right to ask for one more. But I have to. I’m sorry. I need you to at least listen to me. Because, like I said, I’d give you anything. Everything. I can’t write it down. I can’t put it on parchment. I need to talk to you. This is the last chance I’ll ever have to ask you for. I promise. Please.
“Literate, isn’t he,” Ray commented, light-heartedly, as he flicked through the one and two word scraps. Then he picked up the letter and stopped.
I watched his face intently as his eyes skitted from side to side, across the parchment. His face didn’t shift from it’s careful, casual expression. He obviously knew I was looking at him. You’d have thought he was reading over my charms essay for me, he looked that unruffled.
But it took him too long to finish.
“Deb,” He looked up at me, with something like confusion and disbelief. “What are you doing here?”
Whatever wonderful and wise advice I was expecting, that wasn’t it.
“I… what…” I opened and closed mouth a few times, staring right back at him with a similar expression. “I didn’t… I know it’s nothing to do with you and you’re probably sick of my problems but I… I needed to… I needed…”
I needed my friend. And that’s what I thought you were.
“That’s not what I meant,” He shook his head, still looking at me like I was two knuts short of a sickle. “What are you doing talking to me?”
I still wasn’t up to speed.
He let out a slight laugh, probably more in frustration that I was such a moron than anything else, and flapped the small wad of parchment at me.
“You read this, I presume?” He asked.
“Well yeah,” I said, wondering if he was the dim-witted one, “That’s why I need you -”
“Then you’re talking to the wrong guy.”
“Deb, the poor bloke’s scribbled about twelve desperate one word pleas. He’s tried to get what’s in his head down on parchment which, believe me, isn’t easy for a guy. He’s obviously in lo -”
“Don’t.” I screwed up my eyes, as if that was going to stop me hearing what I was hearing. The last person that had made that implication was Marlene. I couldn’t hear that.
“Ok. Sorry. But Deb, he’s…” Ray shrugged and looked down at the parchment. “I don’t really know what you’re waiting for.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“If you’re worried about how he feels, don’t be. I think this speaks for itself -”
“That was, what… four, five months ago? Since then he’s… I didn’t write back. All he was asking for was a reply and I didn’t… he didn’t know I hadn’t opened them. He thought I just ignored… That’s why he hated me…”
“He doesn’t hate you.”
“No, but he…” I couldn’t finish that. I couldn’t say how he did feel. Because I didn’t have the faintest idea. He’d been giving away nothing of any substance for… well, months now.
“You don’t know. Because you haven’t asked.”
As if I was going to ask.
“I can’t… it’s not just that.” I shook my head, still reeling.
“I don’t… I don’t know…” I wasn’t making sense even to my myself. Myself. I let out a strained laugh. “What about me?”
Surely that was an important one, right? Whatever the hell I felt?
Ray smiled at that too. “Well, I’m not the one who can answer that, am I?”
“Have a stab at it. You’d probably make a better guess than me.”
Not even kidding. He would.
“This is something you need to -”
“Oh please. ‘Something I need to work out for myself’? I can’t believe you went there.”
Ray wasn’t abashed. “Hey, I’m not having that responsibility on me. I tell you that you hate the guy, you’d believe it and never speak to him again. I say you still lo… erm, like him. You believe me again. You have far too much trust in me.”
“It’s your own fault for being right about everything.”
“It’s a burden.”
“Uh-huh.” I sighed and slumped forwards onto the bed, my chin resting on my hands, resting on Ray’s legs. “So that leaves me where?”
“Where do you think?”
I glared at him. “You’re really not telling me what you think?”
“Not even a hint? Please? I promise I won’t believe you straight off…”
He laughed. “Still no.”
I felt a surge of irritation with him, so familiar from over the summer, mixed with further annoyance that he was still right. I did have to work this out. And I would have just taken his word as true without thinking about it.
It was just so bloody infuriating. These were my sodding feelings, not his! Shouldn’t I be the first to know?
“Remind me why I came here again?”
“That was what I asked,” He pointed out. “Like I said, it’s not me you need to be talking to.”
“I know.” I concurred. “But really, how much progress would I have actually made? I could barely spit out two words to you. Let alone…”
“Are you scared? To talk to him?”
My instinct was to deny that firmly. To laugh. I wasn’t afraid of anything, of course…
In the same instant I realised that, for one, I actually did believe that I wasn’t afraid. And two, in fact I was.
“I guess I am.” I said, rolling my head sideways to lie on my cheek and stare across the room. “I’m scared that… that I won’t know what to say. That I’ve left it too long. That he still feels the same. That he doesn’t. That I still feel the same. That I don’t. I’m scared to even think about this whole huge mess, let alone talk about it.”
“There’ve definitely been way too many misunderstandings for two people.”
Misunderstandings. Well that was one way of putting it.
I rolled over again, so that I was lying on my back. “I have to do it, don’t I.”
“It’s that or leave it as it is.”
I thought of the constant state of stress I always seemed to be in lately. Never knowing how things stood. Being friends, enemies and something in between. But never anything more. Never knowing if it could be anything more.
“I need to talk to him.” I said, decisively. “I have to. I just need to know what… what could be. Right?”
I could hear the smile in Ray’s voice. “Right.”
“Then I can know. I have to talk to him to figure out… everything. Then I can be free to get past this or…”
“Or?” The smile in his voice broadened.
I craned my neck to glare at him. “Shut up.”
“Oh, don’t stop now. You were on a roll. Don’t let the brain cells slack off again -”
“Shut it, Quinn.”
He did as I asked. Briefly. It gave me enough time to take in one huge breath and feeling slightly proud of this streak of decisiveness before he ruined it again.
“So, what are you going to say?”
“Say?” I sat up. “What like… the words?”
“That’s the general idea. Speech, words… you know. Though feel free to express yourself through an interpretive dance -”
I ignored that. “I don’t… do people, like, think of that? When they’re having…”
“The Talk?” Ray grinned.
“A talk.” I corrected. Then panicked again. “Well I don’t… what am I supposed to… shall I figure something out -”
Did people do that? Was that why everyone else’s lives seemed to flow so smoothly compared to mine? But how was I supposed to even remember what I planned to say? Rehearse? Write it down?
“I don’t think you’re quite the ‘planning it out’ type.” Ray shook his head.
He was right. I’d been overly proud that I’d even come to the conclusion to speak to him at all, for crying out loud. Let alone the content.
“So I just go in there and… I don’t know what to say, though! Maybe I should figure it out before I -” My words were becoming jumbled with anxiety as I over thought things. Planning definitely wasn’t my forte. This could only go horribly.
“Deb.” Ray shook his head, slightly more serious. “This is the guy that put up with your insanity for six months. And he was your friend for years before that. He knows you. I don’t think he’ll be expecting a prize-winning speech.”
“He won’t be expecting anything at all.” I practically wailed, “Because this is ridiculous! I shouldn’t bother. I’m five months too late. Let’s just leave it all -”
I shut up.
He raised his eyebrows. Right. I was being a twat, wasn’t I.
“What if he doesn’t want to talk to me?” I said, in a slightly smaller voice. “He’s had all term to talk to me and he hasn’t. Why should he -”
“Because he thinks you didn’t want him. He thinks you didn’t even care enough to reply. That’s going to hurt.”
“No…” I was struck by a sudden memory of Lily filling me in on the details. “ He knows. He knows I didn’t read the letters. Lily told him. So, over the summer, yeah, he thought that. But then… since then he’s known. And it hasn’t made a difference. He didn’t make any effort to tell me anything.”
I didn’t quite make sense. What was it that tipped him over the edge? I hadn’t done anything. Had I? I was quite certain that since school started, while I hadn’t perhaps acted admirable, I hadn’t done anything bad. So why? Why had things become, if possible, more tangled?
I realised I was staring at Ray for answers. For once, he looked stumped. He held up his hands in defeat. “Are you going to make me repeat myself again? You’re talking to the wrong guy. The only person that knows what’s going on in his head is himself.”
There was only one way of settling this. One way of getting rid of this aching stress. I ought to have been thankful. Why was I still dreading it?
Because the stress is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
Worse then better.
A vague memory flickered. Worse then better. Me and Londy, back at the start of last year, struggling through Quidditch practices in agony.
Worse then better. Worse then better. That had been my mantra.
No pain, no gain.
Ray looked somewhat taken aback. I didn’t blame him. I’d been wailing and sulking not two minutes ago.
He raised an eyebrow in question.
I grinned. And it actually didn’t take any effort. “I’m actually going to do this.” I informed him, merrily. “Now.”
“Well,” He grinned back. “Thank fuck for that.”
By ‘now’, I’d meant… you know. Now.
At this moment in time.
Right away, instantly, at once.
I had that determination. I was all fired up.
Too bad I couldn’t actually find the tosser.
I’d gone up to the Gryffindor common room initially, only to find it half empty. This wasn’t hugely unheard of for a Sunday, but it was pissing it down with rain outside. And I couldn’t see any red forms out on the Quidditch pitch, even when I craned my neck and squinted.
In the end I demanded the time from an ever so slightly terrified first year, who squeaked that it was half past one.
Bloody hell. I knew I’d been pratting around in the Hufflepuff dorms for a while but I didn’t think it’d be lunch already.
Back down to the Great Hall it was.
My determination was threatening to dwindle after striding all the way upstairs and back down, but I had to cling onto it.
I marched up to the Gryffindor table without first scanning it in anxiety as I usually would have. I just followed the glint of Lily’s hair. But then I came to a sudden stop opposite her.
“Oh.” I said. He wasn’t there. It came with the automatic feeling of relief from being so wary of him all term. Strange, now I was actually looking for him. “It’s just you.”
Well. It wasn’t just her. She had a couple of her dorm mates on one side, and James, Remus and Peter on her other. All in all, a fair few people to stare at the madwoman striding up to them.
“Deb, you look like… where have you been? Have you actually slept at all?” Lily asked, in surprise as she look in my appearance.
Oh. Of course. Ray had reacted just the same. Only with more colourful language.
“Oh.” That seemed to be just about the only word that came to mind. “Oh, this. Right. Yeah. Listen, I was -”
“Sorry about the match, Deb.” James said, sounding uncomfortably torn, as of course he would, between being sympathetic for a mate and pleased for his own chances. “It was brutal. Bad as last year, even. Well, not for you, obviously. But, Merlin, seeing Gibbs go down like that -”
Usually I’d be happy… well, not happy, but willing…to discuss the details with Quidditch Boy. But I was doing something now. Immediately. Directly. At once.
“Yeah, sure. Let’s talk about it later, can we? I’m just looking for -”
“You’ve still got blood on your t-shirt,” Lily looked faintly disgusted, “But your face looks fixed. You looked dreadful, Deb, after Bass elbowed you. Covered in blood and your nose must have been broken -”
“Yeah.” I was getting impatient, “Lil, I was -”
“You know, now you mention it,” Mouse Mary, one of Lily’s dorm mates, thought my impatience was code for ‘please, do join in’, “It does look slightly deformed. Has it always been that pointy?”
“It’s fine.” I snapped. “Lily. I’m looking for Sirius.”
While she looked surprised - probably both at my use of his name and the fact that I was actively seeking out his company - she didn’t pry or make any further comment. A combination, most likely, of my appearance and snapping.
“Oh. He’s not -”
She’s lucky James cut her off, because if she’d made the intelligent observation that he wasn’t there, I’d have had to hurt her.
“He’s upstairs.” James said, through an enormous mouthful. What a surprise. He swallowed - it looked painful. “I dunno if I’d go up there, though, Deb. He’s a bit… uh -”
“He’s in a foul mood.” Remus supplied.
Oh nice. Really. Just wonderful.
“Why?” Lily asked the question for me, “You didn’t say that, you just said he wasn’t hungry…” A look of comprehension appeared on her face, “And I didn’t make the connection. What an idiot. Sirius and ‘not hungry‘.”
“Just…” James gave it away. It was just a tiny, nervous flicker of the eyes, but it was enough.
“Me?” Oh, this just got better and better. You know. For the whole, ‘have a nice chat‘ thing. “What in hell have I done now?”
“I don’t…” James looked uncomfortable, “He didn’t actually say it was you. It’s just that…”
“That it normally is.” I finished.
“And you probably didn’t actually do anything.” Lily added, helpfully. “He doesn’t need a real reason to go off on one nowadays.”
Except maybe my eavesdropping last night. Did that count as a ‘real’ reason?
“Right.” I took another big, courage-inducing breath. “Well, I need to talk to him anyway.”
Every person I was talking to - and a few that were just listening in to the crazy girl that looked like she’d been up stressing all night - stared as if to ask why. But thankfully none of them did ask. Because the ones that knew me gave me that respect, and the ones that didn’t… well, didn’t dare.
“Right.” I nodded, awkwardly. “I’m going to… right.”
I promptly turned on my heel, but paused as Lily said, softly, “Deb. Are things… is this a good thing or a bad thing?”
I met her worried, emerald gaze and smiled. “I’m not kidding, Lil. I haven’t got a fucking clue.”
With a slight, added flair, I spun back round and headed out, but not before I heard a muttered, “That’s what worries me,” behind me.
I don’t know what I’d been expecting, because I’d been deliberately not letting myself imagine any possibilities.
But if I had, I wouldn’t have predicted this.
What is ‘this’ you ask?
Well, let’s just say I hadn’t been in the boys dorms since last year.
When they were sixth years.
“I need to talk to you -” I went in bold, throwing the door open so it bounced from the wall and making my declaration to the room at large, before… “Oh bollocks.”
I was greeted by a group of three Gryffindor sixth years yelping in alarm, each at a various point in the process of dressing.
One was alright. He was tying his shoes.
It was the one in his boxers I felt sorry for.
“Sorry!” I unfroze after about five seconds of the two slightly less dressed ones hastily covering themselves and staring at me in bewilderment, “I… bollocks. Sorry. I didn’t… erm. Yeah. Sorry. Good, erm… good morning.”
I backed at speed out of the door until my back collided with the wall of the stairwell and the door closed with a slam.
Right. Well done. Good start.
It was alright. All I needed was another deep breath before…
A creak from further up the stairs caught my attention. I automatically looked up, finding myself face to face with…
Oh, go on. Have a sodding guess.
“Hi.” I said, before I lose the nerve. Then wished I’d waited until I’d finished my deep breath, so I didn’t sound breathless and nervous.
As Remus had said, he wasn’t at his perkiest. His forehead was furrowed in a sullen expression that may or may not have been at the sight of me. Look, it might not have been because of me, ok? His face was so often like that nowadays. Perhaps that was his norm.
He was looking from me to the recently slammed sixth year door. “I thought I heard…”
An attack? The violation of a bunch of sixth years privacy? That would be me.
“Wrong dorm.” I smiled weakly.
He lifted his head in a kind of half-nod. On me it would probably look pathetic. On him it just fit in with the whole broody thing.
“Can I come up?” I asked.
He folded his arms and looked down at the floor for a moment, before looking back at me. “Why?”
His expression said it all. What the hell did I want and why was I even trying after last night?
I opened my mouth.
Just say it.
This is going to be painful.
Worse, then better.
Maybe not. Maybe worse, then worse, then worse, then -
So I did the one thing I could do, to get my point across without having to put it into words. I held out my hand. Opened it. Unfolded the piece of crumpled parchment.
I couldn’t tell if he recognised what it was right away, or if it took him a few seconds. Because all he did was stare at it, with that same expression on his face.
Then, just when I thought I was going to have to force myself to say something, he went back into his dorm and slammed the door.
With the sudden bang of wood on wood, my heart dropped.
That was it, then.
That was my answer.
Except it wasn’t. It wasn’t an answer at all. It left more loose ends, more tangled threads in this huge, knotted mess that I didn’t understand. And, hell. I wanted answers.
So it wasn’t the Gryffindor bravery in me that made me follow him.
It was the interfering, inquisitive Ravenclaw.
It was the need to understand.
I climbed the last few stairs. Took my last deep breath on the top step, and went in.
He stood at the foot of his bed. I knew it was his. The dorms were all set out the same, the heads of the beds against the circular walls. I knew James - always the centre of attention - had the one directly opposite the door. And I knew Sirius was always his right-hand man.
Still facing away from me, gripping onto the wooden foot of his bed, arms locked out. I could see the wiry muscle tensed.
The definition of ‘closed off’.
“Look.” I found my voice, and it didn’t even waver. “All I want is answers.”
He laughed. A low, flat sounds. “Answers? Like I got?”
Fuck. He was going to be difficult.
“I’m sorry I didn’t read them.” I said, trying to keep it on track. “I really am. But I have now. And I want -”
He let go of the bed and turned around to face me. The intensity of the disgust on his face and in his voice made me recoil a little.
“You want? You want. Because you can just pick up and put down what you do and don’t want as you please, right?”
“What?” I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But I thought it would at least kind of make sense. “I don’t -”
Don‘t know what you‘re talking about, I’d intended to say.
“I can’t believe you’ve just come up here,” He shook his head, still looking at me like a flobberworm in his lunch, “Expecting -”
“I’m not expecting anything.” I said, hotly, “I told you. I just want to hear -”
“You’re just jumping from dorm to dorm, now, are you? I must admit I wasn’t expecting the guys downstairs, but I guess I really don‘t know you at all anymore -”
Was he really implying what I thought he was implying?
“I went in there by mistake.” Surely I was misinterpreting this. He wasn’t really accusing me of…
“What I don’t get,” He carried on like I hadn’t spoken, “Is how you can just create these double standards, just like that. After all the hell you gave me, then you have the nerve to -”
“What are you talking about?” I cried. This was ridiculous.
“You! Look, you made your choice and I get it. But you can’t then fuck with my head like you did last night and then this morning just go back to him and then -”
“I know where you were.” He practically spat, still not clearing anything up.
I came here for answers. All I was getting were more messages than didn’t make an ounce of sense.
It pissed me off.
“Hold up.” I stepped forward so I wasn’t backed against the opposite bed. If he was going to be a prick, then I wasn’t taking it easy. “Whatever the hell accusations you’re throwing at me, the least you could do is explain them.”
He looked kind of like he wanted to laugh that bitter, sneering laugh again. “Even now, I’m the one that has to explain myself to you?”
Definitely pissing me off.
“I don’t believe this,” I shook my head, “I can’t believe I thought I might be able to talk to you, to finally figure things out. I obviously gave you way too much credit -”
“It’s way too late for that.”
“Why.” I didn’t state it as a question. More of an allegation.
“Why do you think?”
Oh right. He thought he was going to nick my aversion technique of answering a question with a question. I don’t think so, Black.
“I asked.” I folded my arms.
“And the fact that you had to just proves my point.”
He wasn’t talking to me. He was talking at me. Not listening, not believing, not even giving me a chance.
God, and to think I’d been worried about him being just plain old awkward about the whole thing. I didn’t even consider the idea that I’d be verbally attacked.
I watched him for a moment. He watched me right back. It lasted too long for me to ask my initial question again. I kind of forgot the point.
“Who’s ‘him‘?” I asked, eventually.
“Him. ‘Just go back to him’, you said. Who?”
I thought he’d been closed off before. Then I got the full works. He took a step back against the foot of his bed, leant against it and folded his arms.
He wasn’t going to tell me.
“Whoever it is, you might want to re-evaluate your source. Because it’s not -”
“Don’t fuck with me, Dee.”
Again, the tone of his voice made me want to recoil. But I stopped myself.
“I’m telling the truth -”
“I know where you were.” He raised his voice. He was just short of yelling. “I saw it. You come into breakfast looking like you haven’t slept a second all night -”
“Because I found your letters!”
“- and then you go straight down to his room -”
I’m fairly certain my face looked like I was trying to solve a particularly difficult Arithmancy problem. And I don’t even do Arithmancy.
“Your Hufflepuff ‘mate‘.”
“What… what about him?” I struggled to catch up. Sirius thought that… me and Ray? “I needed to talk to a friend. And he’s the best with…” Then I cursed myself for explaining myself. Like I was guilty. Like I had anything to explain. “It doesn’t matter. I can be friends with who I like, I don’t need to justify it to -”
“Friends?” It wasn’t so much a sceptical tone of voice as a downright scoff.
“Don’t.” He shook his head.
“I know, Dee.”
“Know what?” Even though I’d firmly decided that I had nothing to explain, I couldn’t stop myself. “Ray’s my friend. He’s… he was there for me all summer and then at school…He’s my friend. I like him and he’s funny and he’s -”
“So you’ve never kissed him?”
A.N. So. I'm sorry. So sorry. But I have two excuses. One, I don't know which story/chapter I wrote it on but I'm in the middle of a huge move (to the other side of the world). Two, this was hard to write! And it's not perfect by a long shot but I was having posting withdrawal and I want to get back to the good stuff :) So if I could have a little forgiveness it would be wonderful!
I'd love to hear what you think, anything and everything as usual.
Dee's initial reaction - running to Ray
The letters - probably not as huge as everyone thought but you have to remember that it is huge to Dee.
Finally the Ray issue is coming into the open.
Thanks for reading! And please leave a review. Oh, and by the way I totally didn't mean to end on a cliffy but I couldn't figure out where else to
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