I don’t know how long the three of us stood and stared at one another. All I know is it felt like I lifetime of me chanting “Oh shit, oh fuck, oh shit, oh fuck, oh shit...” in my head until Lily had the sense to say something.
It was too late. He was walking away. The door slammed shut, jolting me out of my ‘freeze’ panic state.
As if in slow motion, Lily and I turned to look at one another.
“Did that... actually just happen?” I asked her.
“Why didn’t you say something, idiot?” She demanded, rudely ignoring my question.
“You didn’t say anything either!”
“I tried! And he’s not my ex-sodding-boyfriend that I’m still head over heels in love with. Which you just admitted, by the way.”
I couldn’t even deny that. I felt a little hollow. I needed to sit down. “Oh God. Oh God, Lily, we were bouncing on the bed.”
“Singing ‘A Caldron Full of Hot Strong Love’.”
“And you have snot on your t-shirt. By the way. Along with all the muck and blood.”
“I am vile.”
We’d both lowered ourselves down onto the edge of the beds. My mind was only just starting to function again after that kick in the gut.
And all it could do was conjure up that irritating little bubble of hope.
I heaved out a breath, trying to smother the bubble, before saying it. “Why do you think he came up here?”
She shrugged. “To talk to you. Obviously. About what, I have no idea.”
I fiddled with the duvet. “He was pissed off, wasn’t he. Did he look pissed off?”
Lily hesitated for a fraction of a second too long. “He... didn’t look one hundred percent happy...” She said, tentatively.
“Fuck.” I sighed heavily. Bubble of hope was rapidly extinguished by flood of guilt. “I ran away from him again. He hates it when I run away. That would have pissed him off. And then when it turned out I’d run away for the purpose of an impromptu performance of ‘A Caldron Full of Hot Strong Love...”
Lily made an odd little noise, like a stifled grunt. I looked quizzically at her. Her stifled grunt was then followed by the tiniest, held-back giggle, then a normal-sized chuckle, before an almighty roar of laughter better suited to a half-giant than a petite redhead.
“Lily!” I scolded reproachfully (and whinily). “Come on, this isn’t funny. We were singing fucking Celestina Warbeck...”
She let out another enormous guffaw.
“And dancing. Badly.” I added. Again , her laughter was catching. I was struggling to keep a straight face.
Lily was now clutching her sides.
“Oh god, I was actually thrusting for a bit there. Do you think he saw the thrusting?”
Lily let rip another great peal of laughter, and this time there was no holding back. I couldn’t help it. If it was anyone else it would have been hilarious rather than hideously embarrassing. And, you know, life-ruining. So I had to be the good sport.
But it was slightly nervous laughter. I mean, with my current luck, who was to say he wouldn’t appear from nowhere again?
By the time Lily had composed herself again I was nervously chewing my lip.
“I’m sorry, Deb. But this is ridiculous. I told you not an hour ago that you two were the most ridiculous couple in the history of the world. That still stands. Tenfold.”
“But he’s genuinely angry.”
“I know. That’s the stupidest part. I’m not saying it’s not a big deal. It’s just... I mean, bloody hell, how much bad timing can two people really have?”
“I’m guessing every single other person in the world manages to have a wonderful, easy, flowing life seeing as we take the biscuit on crap timing. There’s not enough left to go around.”
This was exhausting. I ran my hands roughly over my face. And laid back on the bed. “I have to go and find him, don’t I.”
“That’s not a bad idea.” Lily said, gently.
“But what if he... what do I say?” I felt suddenly dangerously close to the way I’d felt coming into Lily’s dorm in the first place. That completely hollow feeling from when you’ve just found out you can’t have something you didn’t even know you wanted. Needed.
“You apologise. For running off, and for... ‘A Caldron Full of Hot Strong Love’.”
“Then what?” I sat up. “He said... he said he needed time. I’m not claiming to know what that means but I’m pretty sure that ‘time’ in this instance means more than about two hours.”
“I don’t know. Sirius says some pretty rash things. I’m betting he said that without thinking, without considering how it would feel to you, and now he’s feeling shit.”
“Or nothing’s changed. And he just doesn’t want me.” Definitely no bubble of hope remaining now.
“Deb.” Lily made her way over to my (definitely not mine) bed. “Do you know he said those exact words when I went over there this summer?”
I leant my head against her shoulder. “No.”
“Well he did. ‘She doesn’t want me’, he said. And he genuinely believed it. And he was heartbroken. So that just shows... that when you think someone hates you, maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re just devastated that they’ve put their feelings on the line and had them crushed.”
Now I felt more guilty. So I began the denial. “He didn’t put any feelings on the line. Not this time.”
“How do you know? You said yourself you couldn’t remember anything other than ‘I need time’.”
I heaved a big sigh, hoping it would relieve me of that constricting pressure in my chest. The one that felt kind of guilty. But hopeful. Why did Lily Freaking Evans insist on me having that stupid, probably pointless, hope?
“But what if he doesn’t?” I asked her, my voice small.
She squeezed my hand. “Then at least you’ll know.”
Did I want to?
Oh hell, she was right. Apart from being torn in half, I just needed to bloody know. I needed to understand. I was sick of not understanding.
“Ok. Ok, I have to. I have to go after him, don’t I?” I sat up straight.
“Of course you do, stupid.” So, so sympathetic, my Lil.
“Right.” I stood up. Then paused. “So where the hell do you think he is?”
“Oh.” We both hadn’t thought of that. Lily shrugged, paused for a moment, then looked down. “I don’t know... but I think I know someone that can help.”
“What? Who?” I was curious. She wasn’t looking at me. Why wasn’t she looking at me?
“Promise you won’t be angry with me?”
What? What in hell would I be angry about. Was it some sort of secret girlfriend? That he’d been keeping a secret for the last... Oh shut the fuck up, Debbie.
“What?” Was all I managed to come out with.
“Look, just... wait here. Well, actually, don’t wait here. Get in the shower and get some normal clothes on. Ones that don’t make you look like a murder suspect. With a runny nose. Get showered and get dressed and... I’ll be back.”
And she left. I was left gawking. What the hell?
Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror.
She was right. I was revolting.
It felt a whole lot better – being freshly washed. After rinsing two days of stress and one highly tense and bloody quidditch match from me, things felt almost like they had the smallest chance of turning out ok.
When I came out of the bathroom with damp hair and in Lily’s clothes, I stopped abruptly.
None other than James Potter was sat on her bed. Great, more people to know how pitiful I was.
“You told him?” I asked. This was embarrassing.
“Not really.” She was actually sat quite close to him. If I didn’t know better I’d say... Nah. “I didn’t know what you’d want me to say. I just told him we needed his help.”
“And she didn’t say what for. Very mysterious and all.” James chipped in, rubbing a hand through his hair.
There was no point beating about the bush. “Do you know where he is?” I asked, bluntly. There was no question about who I meant.
James frowned, looking slightly confused. “Sirius? No. He was... we were leaving you two to... well, you’re here. He’s not in our room. I don’t know.”
“Oh, nice. Helpful. Great plan, Lil.” I rolled my eyes in her general direction.
“James,” She said... wait, ‘James’ again? “We really need to know where he is.”
“I just said I don’t know where he is,” James looked thoroughly nonplussed.
“But we really need to know.”
This was weird. “Lil, if he doesn’t know then he can’t help us...” I pointed out.
“Look, this is an emergency, Potter.” Ah, there was the Lily I knew and loved. “We need the map.”
“Map? What map? I don’t think geography is going to help us much here...” I said, looking accusingly between the two of them. Lily had her eyebrows raised, almost challengingly, waiting for a response. James’ face had dropped from bewildered to hesitant. He looked up at me, then back to Lily.
“You mean the secret map?” He said, pointedly.
“I don’t like secrets.” She said, in quite a whingey voice, might I add. “You’re lucky I haven’t had any reason to tell her before... sorry, Deb...”
“Wait, what?” None of this was making any sense. “What secret map, and why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, remember the cloak incident, Deb...”
Oh bloody James Potter and his obsession with the well-being of that bloody cloak.
“That was one time! And I wasn’t even caught.”
“It was close enough. You’re not careful enough.”
“I am too -”
“Oh, both of you shut up arguing.” Lily played rational, mature peace-maker. Damn her. “Deb, the boys made a map, back at the beginning of last year. It shows you where everyone is Hogwarts is. Every single person. I caught them at it but promised not to turn them in... if I could use it whenever I needed to.”
My mouth dropped open, and my mind went spinning off; back to every time – every single bloody time – that Sirius had seemed to appear from nowhere. The way he’s always showed up at just exactly the right (wrong) time in exactly the right (wrong) place, when I was avoiding him.
Because they had a map?
“That is... that is such an invasion of privacy!” I practically spluttered. I mean, could they see when we were on the loo? Disgusting. “What the... why... why would you... stop it!”
“Stop what?” James asked, bewildered.
“Stop doing it. I don’t know if I’m alright with you knowing where we are every second -”
“I’m not doing it right now -”
“Well good -”
“Look, do you want my help or not?” He threw up his hands in defeat.
I kind of did. Maybe I was ok with this all-powerful map.
When it suited me.
“This doesn’t mean I approve.” I folded my arms stubbornly.
“I’m not asking for approval.” James fished out what looked like a reasonably well-used piece of parchment from his pocket and unfolded it. The edges were getting a bit wrinkled and brown. I pulled a face. “It’s not meant to be pretty, Deb.” He caught my eye.
“Sorry.” I apologised, and looked down at the manky bit of parchment curiously.
James got out his wand, cleared his throat and tapped the parchment. “I solemnly swear I am up to no good...”
“Are you kidding me?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Give us a break, we were sixteen. And it’s awesome.” He bit back.
I sat down beside him and watched with a feeling of slight disbelief as tiny black tendrils of ink spread fluidly from the point where his wand had touched the parchment. They formed neat, parallel lines and criss-crossed, forming organised patterns...
“Is that the Great Hall? And the four house tables?” I gently touched it as if I’d ruin it.
I looked closer – those miniscule dots within the lines; they were... they were moving.
“No freaking way.” I looked up at James. “You did this?”
He grinned and nodded smugly.
“You made it?”
“We all did. Me, Sirius, Remus... Peter... well -”
I looked up at Lily. “And you knew about this?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” She did look apologetic. For a second. “But you didn’t tell me you’d been hooking up with your best mate for six months so let’s call it even.”
Well that was difficult to argue with. “Deal.” I looked back down at the parchment. “I still don’t believe this.”
“Told you it’s awesome.” James said, not even feigning modesty. But he was right. I’d allow this bragging.
“Anyway,” Lily interrupted. “You can admire it later. Remember why you actually needed it?”
Like I could forget. But I found that I couldn’t even look. I ran a hand through my – still damp – hair.
“Ok. Where is he?” I closed my eyes. When I opened them, James had slid the map onto my lap, his finger resting against an oval shape, surrounded by more intricate markings...
“The Quidditch pitch.” For some reason my stomach churned. Brought back memories of last year – the time I’d gone after him. Gone after him to tell him that I couldn’t move on...
Was that what this was? After everything that had happened, could it even be compared?
“The changing rooms.” James had looked more closely than me. He looked up, his dark eyes suddenly worried. “Look, Deb, I don’t really know what’s going on here. But if he’s gone there and if he’s pacing like he is on the map, well... he probably went there to be alone.”
I let out a breath that I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. “I know. But James, I just really need to sort out this fucking mess finally -”
“I know. I’m not saying don’t go. I’m saying he’s going to be...”
“Not entirely happy.” He conceded. “So just... is this... is this a good thing or a bad thing?”
I almost smiled, involuntarily. Those were the exact words Lily had asked that morning, in the exact same concerned tone.
And again, “I don’t have a clue.” I echoed my reply. “But I am not waiting around for life to screw me over any more. I’ll screw up my own life, thanks very much.”
“That’s my girl.” James smiled. Kind of not the usual full James Potter grin though. He really was worried.
“Let’s look on the bright side.” I stood up. I had to do this. “There is absolutely no way that this could get any worse.”
My heart was hammering as I stood the other side of that sturdy wooden door. Well, not hammering exactly. It was more fluttery and dithery and pathetic than that. Whatever it was, it was constricting my breathing. I needed to be breathing easy for this. I need to be calm
Or at least appear calm.
Oh, fuck it. I don’t think I was quite going to manage calm. It was all the more likely that I’d just stand here until my brief surge of adrenaline had subsided before chickening out and running back to Lily.
And be right back in that infuriating position that I had been for the last few months.
Had to be now.
I could hear something vaguely rhythmical coming through the door. An echoey thudding, kind of.
Bam-bam, Bam. Bam-bam, Bam.
What was he...
Oh, stop sodding putting it off. Do it.
I opened the door.
For a second I assumed the room was empty. Stupidly. Maybe it was wishful thinking. I sort of barely took it in apart from the usual grey, dingy walls and the faded wooden benches with their dull, metal hooks.
He was on the floor, with his back against the wall. There was just one more rhythmical thudding, as he slung the Quaffle once more so that it bounced against the wall, the floor, and back to him.
Then he looked up. And that same expression that I’d seen just a couple of hours ago when I’d caught him by surprise – that sullen mask with a crease between his eyebrows and his mouth set in a firm line. That was back in an instant.
I spent maybe a second too long taking in his appearance. Enough for him to calmly place the ball beside him and come to the conclusion, “James showed you the map.”
He didn’t sound entirely thrilled by it. The unspoken ‘He shouldn’t have’ rang more clearly through the tiny room than anything.
“I would have found you eventually.” Defensive again. It was almost automatic for me.
There was an agonising pause of a few seconds as I cursed myself and tried to remember why I’d come here in the first place. He didn’t drop the moody expression. And the Quaffle was rolling slowly away from him.
Then he closed his eyes and rested his head back against the wall. “Can you please just leave me alone?”
Oh, how I adored Calm Voice. It brought back that nauseating feeling of guilt that I’d come to associate it with last year. Which annoyed me. I mean, I had nothing to feel guilty about. What had I done? Allowed my best friend to cheer me up after being unceremoniously dumped, pretty much?
“No.” I said, almost indignantly, my voice ever so slightly raised. “Just... no!” I folded my arms, unsure what to follow that little outburst with.
He was surprised too. For just a fraction of a second. Then ‘pissed-off’ was back in all of its glory.
“So now you’ll stay?” That voice didn’t sound happy. That voice wasn’t even Calm Voice. That voice was seriously pissed off. “You’ll leave me mid-sentence when I’m trying to figure through a shit load of stuff you’ve just landed me with, you’ll bugger off to play with your best mate, but now you won’t leave me alone?”
Oh god. Here it came. Defensive. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
My fingers were inadvertently curling into fists.“Figuring it out? Figuring what out? I just told you exactly how things have been in front of your face this whole year and you have to figure it out?”
“Are you kidding me? You’re not exactly the most straight-forward person in the world -”
“And you’re Mr Open?!”
Our voices were steadily rising. And it felt even worse, even more claustrophobic, in the cool, echoing grey walls.
“I’m not saying I’ve never done anything wrong, I’m saying you’ve pissed me off today -”
“What does it matter if I was there or not if you were figuring things out, you obviously didn’t want me -”
“I was talking to you -”
“You were saying you didn’t want me -”
“I wasn’t saying that -”
“I heard it -”
“Why are we shouting?”
“I don’t know.”
My last word rang out overly loudly into bleak silence. I felt almost out of breath, like I’d been running laps. And I realised that at some point in the debate (slanging match) he’d stood up and I’d clenched my fists until my knuckles were white.
There were a few seconds of almost calm in which we both glared and the only sound was our breathing. Then it looked like he was about to say something, something I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to want to hear. So I jumped in.
“Why did you come after me -”
“- Why did you run away?” He spoke almost simultaneously.
Now that we’d both relatively calmed I wasn’t about to answer that. I wasn’t sure that I could. And I was certain that I couldn’t say it without it sounding pathetic.
“I asked you first.” I said. It was almost light-hearted. Almost.
He wasn’t one bit amused. Just closed his eyes and rubbed his face.
“I came after you to find out why you ran away.” He said. It was nearly convincing. But...
“You waited two hours.”
“Because you ran away! Kind of implies you don’t want me around -”
“So why’d you come after me?”
“Because...” He was getting worked up again. Ran a hand agitatedly through his hair and turned around to walk a few paces away. “Because I didn’t know why and I thought I’d let you just do whatever you had to do but I couldn’t just... I couldn’t just... let you go. Like I always do.”
I hadn’t realised we’d been raising our voices again until his voice dropped with that last sentence.
There was another moment like we’d been running a race. I could see it in him this time. Is shoulders dropped and his face still kind of scowling but also that edge of tiredness and vulnerability.
I swallowed. “Why.” It came out extra quiet. Partly because I was concentrating on not shouting this time.
It didn’t last. As soon as I spoke, that hard mask was back, my Sirius was gone and I hated myself for it.
“Because I was stupid.” He said. I didn’t like that cold edge to his voice. “I was stupid enough to think that maybe you might slightly care. I started to think that maybe I’d said something to upset you. But obviously not. You have to actually care for that.”
“Who’s to say I don’t care?” I demanded, instantly defensive now that that infuriating mask was back.
“Who’s to say? I’m to say, having walked in on you jumping on your fucking bed while I’ve been killing myself wondering what the hell went wrong for the last two hours -”
“Why bother? When you obviously don’t even care -”
“I don’t care? Are you kidding? I came after you when you’d just left me as usual -”
“Because I’m an idiot! Because I -”
“Just to make sure I got the hint that you wanted nothing to do with -?”
“Because I fucking love you, that’s why.”
Whatever utter rubbish I’d been about to spill out mid-flow got stopped in its tracks somewhere in the region of my throat.
And there was a silence so complete and so still that I heard my breath catch. And I could hear that he was holding his.
I should have felt something.
I should have been overjoyed, happy, content...
Even angry would have been welcome. That’s sure as hell what I’d been feeling before that word. Where did that disappear to?
I took a slow lungful of air in. This had to be temporary. I was just in shock. I had to be.
I could hear this breath shake as well.
It took a second for me to register that there was some sort of feeling. Not that I could. Feel it I mean. But when I took in Sirius’ face and registered the sheer terror on it, I knew instinctively that that was mirrored almost perfectly on my own.
Then he let out the breath. His eyes were closed. “I’m sorry.”
Sorry? What in hell was he sorry for? I was the one acting like a complete and utter tool when I should have been happy. Or slapping him. Either.
The numbness was fading. In its place... Sheer confusion.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t... I shouldn’t have said that.” He opened his eyes and I felt all of a sudden very caught in his gaze. Caught. The Look. Just like it used to be. Only more panic.
Shouldn’t have said it. Shouldn’t have?
There were another few seconds of that very still silence while I took another breath. This one closer to steady than the last.
“Dee.” He held up his hands briefly. That was my cue. I had to say something. I’d been quiet for too long.
I opened my mouth.
But what I supposed to say?
You love him, a voice that sounded very much like Lily’s said. You told me and you told yourself. Tell him.
Did I? Why hadn’t I just said it, then? Straight away? Why hadn’t I felt it?
Why was there that numbness and now that... confusion?
“What are you thinking?” His words were still clipped and short. He didn’t sound particularly thrilled about the whole thing either. It hadn’t exactly been affectionate. He’d essentially snarled it at me.
You love him. He just said he loves you. Tell him.
He snarled it at me.
He didn’t sound like he particularly wanted to.
But he did. He said it. And he’d come after me. Even after... everything.
Oh god. Here it came. Somewhere from that great storm of confusion, it came.
The churning of my stomach. The burning of my eyes. The quivering in my chest.
I think he noticed before me.
“Ok. Ok you’re crying. Don’t... why are you -” Now he was the one that looked baffled.
He didn’t come to me. Didn’t wrap his arms around me like he had so many times before. He was uncertain. He didn’t know what to do, what I wanted.
All he did was hold out his hands and stand there.
He didn’t leave.
For a moment I just stood there too. Tears streaming down my face and all.
Then there was that moment. That moment between that passive, peaceful sort of crying and all-out emotional chaos. That moment where you need to breath but you know that if you do.
I don’t know who reached out, if it was me of him.
But I was in his arms again. My face crushed against his shirt, my hands tightly curled in the crisp fabric and his arms curled around me. Holding me.
Turns out, it wasn’t the sort of breath just before you bawl. My tears were still streaming silently. My breathing still ragged.
“Don’t.” He said, his arms locked tight. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry -”
I waited a few seconds for my chest to loosen up. I didn’t move my face from his chest. My cheek was against a button. But I didn’t think I could look at him.
I could hear his words through his chest.“I’m sorry I said it. I’m sorry I yelled at you. But...”
He didn’t sound like he was having any trouble breathing at all. Why did I get all the body dysfunction?
“But I do.” Then he stopped, to take a breath. Maybe he was having more trouble than it seemed. “I do and I... and it’s been that way for a long time.”
He didn’t even pause for long, this time. It was like he didn’t even expect me to say anything.
“I love you.” He wasn’t snarling this time. This time I kind of believed it. And this time I felt... “It’s stupid and I thought I... I thought we were... I don’t know. But I -”
“Sirius.” My voice actually sounded ok. Not normal. Not confident or nonchalant or anything much. But it made words. That was really all I could ask.
He released his arms just a fraction. Just enough to hold me back and for me to hope that my face was at least semi-dry and human-coloured rather than the soggy red mess I could imagine.
“What?” His voice was soft.
I could say it. I could say what I’d come here to say, I knew I could.
The words that I’d locked away for so long, the words I hadn’t even been able to Lily.
It just came to me. It was easy.
“I love you too.”
A.N. Sorry, still immensely slow. But it means so much that people are continuing to follow this story. Thanks for reading and having some faith in me.
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