The party continued well into the depths of night, much to the dismay of both the Fat Lady and the little eleven-year-olds who couldn’t force their eyes open after ten o’clock.
I stood alone near a window, (Lily and James had disappeared around midnight) pointedly avoiding the crowd, which was still going strong.
“All by yourself at three thirty in the morning?”
Half a smirk crept onto my lips. “How many Butterbeers have you had, exactly? Those can’t be good for a Keeper’s hand-eye coordination.”
Sirius shrugged. “I’ll manage.” He glanced about with a knowing smile. “The two sparrows off having fun, eh?”
“Reckon so,” I yawned and nearly lost my footing as a Fanged Frisbee (no doubt thrown by the ever-jubilant Keillor Jordan) whizzed just passed my left ear. It ricocheted happily off the stone and rebounded across the room, landing with a soft hisssss in the embers of the fire.
“Careful,” Sirius seized my arms to steady me, holding them far longer than he normally would have.
I chanced a glance up into his face; those stormy grey eyes penetrated my own, but behind the mask of alcohol on his breath, they were sharp and unhindered . . . and there was something else . . .something that had changed . . .
“Listen, Kat. There’s . . .this thing I need to—”
At that moment Remus stumbled upon us.
“Merlin’s pants, Mooney! How much have you drunk tonight?”
Remus’ face was blazing with worry. “It’s Eloise.”
I tore after him out of the portrait hole and into the thankfully deserted corridor.
She wasn’t far, slumped against the wall in a heap, muttering absolute rubbish to herself. Her friend Kaitlin bent over her, concern traced heavily across her brow.
She looked up as we approached. “About bloody time, Lupin. She’s had at least half a bottle of Firewhiskey in the past quarter of an hour,” she informed me. “She was all right until around one, and then suddenly this manic depression hit her. “
“Get on her other side,” I advised, “and hook her arm around your shoulders. Let’s get her to Madame Pomfrey before it gets any worse. Remus, would you accompany us, please?”
“No!” Eloise’s screech echoed off the ceiling high above. “I wanna sleep here—hic—where iss nice.”
Her words slurred so much that intelligibility was almost impossible.
“No, Eloise. We’re taking you back to the dormitory. Come on now, dear. Up you get. It’s going to be—”
“Bitch, go away. I don’ wan’ chou. Leave me alone an’ go—hic—be a slut.”
“Eloise, you’re talking—”
“GET OFF ME!”
I turned wildly to Remus. “Do something!”
He pulled out his wand. “Stupefy!”
Eloise went limp, and Kaitlin’s knees buckled under her dead weight.
“Are you insane?” she hissed.
“I panicked, all right?” he snapped back. “I didn’t see you come up with any brilliant ideas.”
Together, we hauled her up to the Hospital Wing. Madame Pomfrey wasn’t pleased.
“Good gracious! At this time of night, too. Well, come along, and bring her in here. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it too often: that blooming Quidditch is going to be the death of us all! No matter how many times I tell the Headmaster . . . but oh no. ‘It’s good for their competitiveness.’ . . .”
She grumbled all the way up the ironically vacant ward. “Now, what’s the matter with her?”
Both Remus and Kaitlin looked at me.
“She’s had a bit too much to drink, ma’am. What was it, Kaitlin? Half a bottle of Firewhiskey in fifteen minutes?”
Madame Pomfrey gawked. “Heavens, you young people!”
“We stunned her,” Remus added, trying to help.
“Well, you were right to bring her to me,” the nurse said, still a little flustered. “I’ll do my best to minimize the hangover symptoms when she wakes up. You all had better go to bed yourselves. Off with you, go on!”
She chivied us to the door. “You can see her tomorrow. Good night.”
“Is she okay?” Sirius flew at me the moment I reentered Gryffindor Tower.
“Madame Pomfrey’s seen worse.” Suddenly all my fatigue vanished. There was no way in hell that I could sleep tonight.
Most of the partygoers had disappeared to their dormitories, leaving a good littering of bottles, wrappers, spilled food, overturned furniture, and the remains of the vulcanized Fanged Frisbee in their wake.
I sat down in one of the good armchairs and watched the flames sink lower. Sirius followed.
“I never liked hospitals,” he offered. “Too clean, but too filthy and sick at the same time.”
“Why did she do that d’you reckon?”
I shrugged, not wanting to give away my suspicions, to give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d probably caused the demise one more girl. Poor Beth . . .poor Olivia . . .
“Kat,” his voice was almost a whisper. “What I was going to say before—well, I . . .I never properly thanked you for what you did at Christmas. It . . . it opened my eyes to what I’d done, and I swore to myself that I’d change. Do you believe that?”
“I admit that I’m having trouble visualizing it.”
He fixed me with a pointed glare. “I’m being perfectly honest. When I went to St. Mungo’s to visit her, I thought I’d just throw down some money and get the hell out. But then, when I saw her holding that . . .that tiny child, I . . .” he trailed off. “It was the most human I’ve ever felt.”
His gaze dropped to his fingers, analyzing every twitch. I couldn’t think of anything in the world to say.
“She was stillborn,” he added harshly, his face contorting into a painful grimace. “That beautiful little girl . . .so unfair . . .such a shame . . .Of course, Olivia was still keen on marriage, but there was no chance I’d settle. Maybe if the baby had lived, things would have been different. We wouldn’t be having this conversation, that’s for sure.”
Bitterness flecked the last comment.
“Sirius,” my voice was surprisingly gentle. “You’ve had a lot to drink. You’re tired; go up to bed.”
He stared, a hungry desperation emanating from him. “I couldn’t even tell James.”
My teeth sunk deeply into my bottom lip as my eyes misted over. “Sirius, really, y-you should rest.”
Now it was my turn to avoid looking at him. I noticed a hangnail on my left hand.
He sat frozen for a moment and then trooped up the boys’ staircase.
The flames crackled as they finally smothered the last log, and it collapsed inward upon itself, leaving nothing but ash-coated coals behind.
The most dreaded of abhorred times was upon us.
“Your N.E.W.T. schedules are of the upmost importance,” Professor McGonagall insisted at the end of one particularly tiresome Transfiguration lesson. “I have them here for you. Addams, Melody . . .Black, Sirius . . .”
“Bollocks!” Lily scanned her sheaf of parchment. “I’ve got ever shit class one right after the other. What about you?”
“Not too bad,” I mumbled, shifting me wrist so only she could read it. (Sirius was trying to catch a good look also.)
“Ah well,” Lily sighed. “Off to Pince’s chokehold to sell our souls to the Devil himself.”
Grudgingly we trudged out of the classroom and up two flights of stairs.
“Can you believe it, though?” she asked suddenly. “We’re almost done here. Got any ideas what you’re going to do when you leave this place?”
Sure, I’d thought about it. No one can truly say they’ve never once imagined their future life . . . except maybe Bertha Jorkins, but who counted her?
“Maybe the Muggle Liaison Office,” I said.
“But your mum’s a Muggle.”
“All the more reason to join, isn’t it?”
We threw our tower of books onto a table with a satisfyingly sonorous thud. The crash was sufficient to bring old Pince hobbling over, purple-faced with rage and brandishing her ruler.
“You depraved children! There will be—”
“—no more of that wretchedness in my library, or you can both march straight to the headmaster.” We completed her sentence routinely under our breath.
When she’d finally scuttled away to the Invisibility section to badger a poor second year who couldn’t reach the top shelf, we set to work. The deathly stillness hung tantalizingly in the air around us. It was enough to put even the most frazzled student into a stupor. After two long and tedious hours I tentatively stretched my foot out to poke Lily’s. A return tap confirmed contact.
“Lily,” I whispered through the crack in the wall of volumes.
“Lily!” Louder that time, my voice was slightly hoarse from lack of use.
I kicked her, catching a kneecap.
The deep, manly yell I recognized too late. Shunting The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection aside, I saw his grimace of pain mixed with sheepishness.
“What have you done with Lily, Sirius?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Sure, make me the villain—always absconding with everything you hold near and dear to your heart, aren’t I? I thought we’d moved beyond that little snag in our wonderful relationship, Miss Parker, but alas, I am demoted to my former unworthy status.” The smirk at the end of this remark nearly pushed me over the edge.
Furiously, I dove back into my notes, icily imploring him to leave. What was the point, though? He always managed to do the exact opposite of what I wanted.
“Listen, Kat,” he continued as I rifled through Achievements in Charming for a better sketch of a Banishing Charm. “James delivered your little, erm . . . package to me the other night.”
The book fell from my grasp with a sharp thump onto the floor. I’d known this moment would have had to come sooner or later. He possessed an unnerving knack of choosing outstandingly inopportune places for dealing with situations like this.
“The contents of the parcel were . . .quite illuminating. There is, however, still one last question to be answered: how could you, one of the brightest students in the seventh year, dream up such a ridiculous lie?”
Behind his forced, calm tone of voice was suppressed mirth itching to break loose. He began dismantling the barricade of Potions manuscripts separating us.
“Would you like your other kneecap fractured as well?” I hissed.
“Don’t change the subject,” his smirk was growing larger by the second. “Why did you do it?”
I scrambled for some clever witticism to hurl back at him but found none. He started to laugh
“How dare you?” I could no longer contain my outrage. “You, of all people, laugh at me for making up one false story! You, who break more hearts in one week than most do in a lifetime! You, who take on a façade of bravado when you are secretly the most insecure and selfish person I’ve ever met! I can see right through you, you know. You’re nothing more than a fake yourself.”
Sirius’s smile faltered, and he leaned forward, his face an impassive mask. “Tell me this, Parker. If I’m so fake, why are you on the defensive?”
He stood up. “And to answer your first question, Lily snuck off with James.”
“You may as well put up with him,” Lily advised rather pompously through her gum shield as we gingerly trimmed the Venomous Tentacula in Greenhouse Three. “He’s not going to leave you alone in any case.”
I glared in resolved silence at my grooming shears.
“I think it’s terribly romantic,” she went on, shooting a furtive look over her goggles.
Again, I made no effort to respond.
“Come on, Kat. You can’t stay angry about this forever. At least it was only Sirius and not that weird Tristan bloke who trails you like a lost Grindylow. The exams are coming up soon anyway, and afterwords you won’t have to deal with any of it again.”
I coldly snipped at one of the Venomous Tentacula’s snakey vines, which was inching its way around the brim of Professor Sprout’s hat. I would never admit it, but I knew Lily was right.
The Hospital Wing was still relatively deserted when Lily and I arrived after lunch. Madame Pomfrey’s mood had greatly improved since our previous visit.
“You really ought to keep a closer eye on your sister,” she told me gently. “She’s been in here a lot lately. First unexplainable stomach pains, then vomiting, then a bit of uncontrollable bleeding, and now this. She’s lost quite a bit of weight too now that I think about it.”
She cast a motherly glance at Eloise’s bed where Remus was curled up in a hard chair beside her like a pitiful, over-large dog.
“He truly cares for her, you know. I’ve seen plenty of lovesick kids in my day but never one so besotted, poor boy. They always end the same way. He’ll get his heart blistered and broken like all the rest. A crying shame if you ask me.”
A crying shame—she had that right. The unfortunate bloke was practically groveling at my sister’s feet in admiration and for what? A blunt, heartless rejection—that’s what.
“If you don’t eat something, I’m going to pry open your jaws and shove this potato into your esophagus.”
“Lily, I don’t have time. The Transfiguration exam is tomorrow morning. How can you only think about your stomach at a time like this?”
I buried my nose once more in my copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration that I’d propped against the jug of pumpkin juice.
James snickered. “What are you worried about, Kat? McGonagall covered all the material weeks ago. We’ll be fine. Now eat these fried tomatoes.”
Reaching over, he plopped a ladle-full onto my barren plate. Lily obligingly tossed on a roll or two.
“Where’s your partner in crime?” she teased him, beginning to butter my rolls for me.
“Library. Probably imitating the bookworm we have with us. Put it away,” he added, swiping my book out of sight beneath the table.
Too tired to protest, I picked up my fork.
“That’s the spirit,” James grinned, piling more pasta onto his own heaping platter. “You’ll feel better in the morning. Trust me.”
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