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It took a couple of days for me to officially worm the story out of her.

 

Many because it seemed like every moment we had together was in the presence of Sirius and Jamesy boy himself.

 

“Go away.” I found myself mouthing at Sirius furiously, during meal times. He chose now to become Clingy Boyfriend? Really? At a time like this?

 

The git just grinned and winked. He could see how much it was winding me up. Just a few minutes (hours) alone, I’d told him. That’s all I’ll need and she’ll tell me the whole story.

 

So he made it his mission to make that as bloody annoying as possible for me.

 

“Don’t you want to know?” I’d hissed at him on the way to Potions. “Surely we both want them to tell us what’s going on here.”

 

“Sure.” He’d acknowledged, “But James is going to tell me when he first gets a chance. I’d say it’ll be after Quidditch practice. It’s just funny to watch you being ‘subtle’.”

 

I’d punched him swiftly in the kidneys. It was ‘funny’ to watch.

 

Git.

 

Personally I think he just didn’t want to have me hear the gossip before him. He just didn’t get it. Obviously it was way more important for me to get the news. Lily had spent the last two days acting mad and twitchy. She needed to care and share.

 

She just didn’t know it yet.

 

I actually was quite apprehensive about the whole thing myself. On one hand I wanted to bust right in, demand the details and carefully analyse every individual utterance that had passed between the two of them in the last 6 months or so.

 

But on this other hand, I had this irritating sense of guilt that we’d been... well... eavesdropping.

 

I know, I know, the eavesdropping thing was my idea in the first place. But that was on other unsuspecting individuals. Not Lily and James. Quite a difference.

 

It was an odd feeling. I think the whole thing just put me on edge a bit. The eavesdropping, the guilt, the fact that this was the sort of situation that I ought to feel guilty about... I mean, it was Lily and James. How many times had I watched the old declaration-of-love-followed-by-swift-rejection thing in the last six and a half years?

 

Shit loads.

 

That’s the answer you were looking for.

 

But – this is the weird bit – this was so different to before.

 

James wasn’t being his usual bold, lovable, cocky self. It had been so... careful. And deliberate. Deliberately not announced casually in the middle of class, sprung upon her unexpectedly in the hallway to make her jump, or declared loudly from the benches of the Great Hall.

 

He’d deliberately chosen that time they had together, just the two of them. It hadn’t been bold and cocky. It had been real.

 

He was finally learning.

 

And hurting. That was the worst part. James had chosen to put his feelings out on the line, for real, for Lily and Lily only. He’d actually showed how much he probably both loved and hated to have her smile at him as her friend every day.

 

And Sirius and I... well. We’d sort of gate-crashed that.

 

I hadn’t quite worked out how to break it to Lil yet. Sirius reckoned James would find it funny. I hoped so. But Lily...

 

I really didn’t know. It had been a private moment for her, too. Wasn’t often that Lily Evans let down her guard and expressed a bit of feeling for James Potter. Not often, as in, ever.

 

We were privacy thieves, Sirius and I. Accidental ones.

 

But I had to tell her. Guilt or not guilt, redheaded fury or no fury. It had to be done.

 

I’d had enough secrets and lies in the past year for a lifetime.

 

But – annoyingly – Sirius was right. Their Quidditch practice was just about my only time to get a moment alone with Lily. So I planned my method of attack. I’d drag her up to my dorm with complaints of homework problems. Of course there was the chance she might not buy it – I think the last time I’d asked for homework help was... oh wait, never. I was too stubborn for that.

 

But I hoped the chance to be nerdy Lily might blind her to that fact.

 

I don’t know why Sirius felt the need to poke holes in my plans. They were just fine.

 

 

**

 

 

“You’re being weird.” Lily accused, perched primly on the edge of her bed.

 

“No I’m not.” I rifled through my schoolbag frantically for something that might be homework. “I really do need your help with... Transfiguration...”

 

“You said Charms at dinner.”

 

“Right. Charms.” I nodded, pulling out the textbook. “It’s Charms.”

 

“It is not.” She narrowed her eyes. “You big liar. You’re up to something.”

 

“Alright.”I tossed the bag aside. It slipped from the bed onto the floor. “You got me. I just wanted to talk. You know. We haven’t had any girl time for a while.”

 

“That’s because every time I’ve asked you a single question about Sirius since you two got back together you’ve squirmed so much I thought you had worms.”

 

I squirmed. Damn it. “I just didn’t want to jinx it. You know. Every time something feels like it’s going right I’m worried the shit’s about to hit the fan. It’s been known to happen.” It was actually true. Darn it. I’m trying to get Lily’s feelings out of her and end up yakking about my own. I hastily backtracked. “We’re fine, everything’s fine, blah-blah etcetera. Fine. Anyway. Let’s talk about you.”

 

Subtle. Smooth. No way she’d expect a thing.

 

Lily narrowed her eyes at me. Oh shit. I’d over done it, hadn’t I? Surely only slightly. I was so sure I’d had it.

 

“Ok...” She said, dragging it out as if she was still utterly suspicious. “Well I suppose I’ve been worried for a little while about Mary. You know she hasn’t been the same since that attack back in fifth year...”

 

Oh, for crying out loud, now we were talking about Mousey Mary. We’d never talked about her in our lives, I’m pretty sure. In passing maybe.

 

But I actually started to feel a little guilty. I’d had a few (hundred) not very nice thoughts regarding Mouse... Mary’s infatuation with a certain Mr Black. And a few not so nice thoughts regarding Mr Black himself disregarding that infatuation back before we’d... you know... and continuing to pay her and every other girl attention.

 

There I was, the nutter of a jealous girlfriend. Not even girlfriend by title back then. I’d completely forgotten about the attack. Mary had been found pale, shaking and refusing to speak, behind the greenhouses early one morning back in fifth year. As far as I knew she’d never admitted exactly what happened or who was responsible. We all suspected the Slytherins in general. Mary was muggle-born. Just like me. Who else would attack a muggle born?

 

She’d been taken home for the remainder of the year. Lily, in particular, had been distraught by the whole thing. She’d just about accused Severus Snape of being involved in front of half the school. Which was ridiculous. Sure, Snape hung around with those scumbags. But would he really have had the backbone to...

 

We never found out, anyway. And Mary hadn’t returned until the following September, home-schooled through the exams; still pale, a little shaky and slow to regain her warm demeanour.

 

And I’d forgotten all about it. I’d been irrationally furious that she’d dared speak to Sirius. That he’d responded in his typical semi-flirty way. I hadn’t considered that perhaps it was a good thing that Mary appeared to be comfortably able to talk to males now. Or to admire those small moments where, appearance aside, Sirius was treating a traumatised girl with warmth and kindness.

 

I was a horrendous person.

 

Lily didn’t notice the guilt twisting my insides. That was all for me.

 

“I hadn’t realised, they’ve never been big pieces, but it’s been in the Prophet every few weeks or so. There have been similar attacks throughout the country. Always muggles. They’re being found alone, in all sorts of conditions. They’ve been confounded or something, there are traces of magic. But no evidence. So there’s been nothing the Ministry can do about it. That’s probably why they’re not big pieces – bit embarrassing that they have no leads. And it’s only muggles of course...” Lily started to sound bitter.

 

I put my hand over hers, closed in a white little fist. It wasn’t just Lily’s kind she was talking about. It was mine. And Freddie’s.

 

“I hadn’t even noticed it.” Lily carried on. “How terrible is that? I only found out because I walked into the bathroom and found Mary in tears. She’s been keeping track of them, she says. There have been twenty-two attacks since hers. And they’re getting more and more frequent. And she feels terrible. That she can’t remember anything. She thinks if she could remember who it was, it might help them find out who’s doing it out there.”

 

We both sat there in silence for a moment, contemplating the dark implications. If someone had done that to Mary at Hogwarts they’d have had to have learnt it from somewhere. Somehow, teenage witches and wizards were learning dark magic. And it certainly wasn’t here.

 

Poor Mary. I felt like I was looking at her in a new light. A new respect. She’d been brutally attacked, recovered, and now she felt guilty that she couldn’t help. My own self-respect plummeted. All I’d cared about was someone being so bold as to talk to my boyfriend.

 

I was pathetic.

 

“How has she been since she told you?” I asked, furiously trying to quash the guilt.

 

“Better.” Lily shrugged. “I think. She’s just not the same as she used to be. But then, she hasn’t been for two years really. She seems sort of driven and determined now. She keeps the newspaper clippings in a book under her bed. It’s almost an obsession. I talked to James about it...” My ears pricked up and I remembered the reason I’d come here in the first place. “... but he thinks I should leave her to it. Just be there for her if she wants to talk. He thinks it might be sort of therapeutic for her,  to have something constructive to do.”

 

Very mature of James. Definitely the New James talking. Not fifth year James.

 

“He’s probably right. He’s been good like that lately.” I said, thinking of his advice to me about Sirius. Not that I knew it at the time, but it had been his advice that had tipped me over the edge into reading those letters and taking action. I could never repay him for that. I found myself feeling unexpectedly proud of both James and Sirius for... well, for growing up. For doing things for other people. For having good intentions. They were good. And we should feel lucky to call them our friends. And more.

 

I sensed it was the time to turn the conversation back around to James – the whole reason I’d cornered Lily up here in the first place. I still wanted to know. I was still concerned for my friend. But it felt a little emptier now. Sort of a further reminder that I was the shallow one.

 

“He has.” Lily mused, looking into the distance. I could see the cogs turning. It was my turn to say something, but I let her be with her thoughts for a moment. She looked peaceful. Contemplative.

 

It was only a moment or two until she spoke. “I have to tell you something.”

 

This was it. “Go on.”

 

“It’s... it’s been a while now, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I mean, not that you can say anything after keeping Sirius from me for six whole months...” She pulled a half-hearted frown. “But still I... I should have told you...”

 

I couldn’t sit and take it like this. “Oh God. Lil, I already know.”

 

She blinked. “What?”

 

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry and we never meant to eavesdrop and we never meant to steal your privacy. I would hate it if this happened to me, but we honestly never meant to...”

 

“Wait, what? We?” To her credit she didn’t look furious. Just bewildered.

 

“Yeah.” I said quietly. “We...”

 

Understanding dawned. She shook her head, wearily. “You and Sirius. You were there. Where were you... oh for God’s sake. You were in the broom cupboard weren’t you?”

 

“Yeah.” I said again. “But not like that! We weren’t, oh god, no we weren’t there for fun. We were eavesdropping...” Lily’s red eyebrows raised. “...but not on you! Well, not intentionally. Oh, this is sounding bad. We were looking out for Ray. I had an idea about him and Gina and... it doesn’t matter. I just... we really didn’t mean to. And I’m sorry.”

 

“Oh God.” Lily shook her head again. “Can’t you two do anything normal?”

 

I felt terrible, but relieved that my incredible friend seemed to be taking even this in her stride. I really don’t know how she put up with me.

 

“It doesn’t come naturally.”

 

“And you didn’t say anything? That was two days ago!”

 

“I know. But I didn’t want to say anything in front of James. I didn’t know how he’d react. He’s...”

 

“Different.” Lily sighed.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“So you heard everything?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And you see how I have no idea what I’m meant to do?”

 

“Uh...” To be honest, no. James had been incredibly sweet. He’d changed. He was everything Lily could have asked for. To me, there was no question.

 

But I hadn’t spent the last six years hating him.

 

I looked up at Lily. And was a little shocked. For one of the first times since I’d known her, she was a mess. Sure I’d seen her in the past red in the face and furious (mainly at James). But I’d never seen her distressed like this. Her hair was a mess from continually raking her fingers through it. Her lips were bitten. I suspected those worry-lines on her forehead were now a permanent fixture.

 

Maybe she did feel it. Maybe she knew how she felt about New James. That didn’t mean she knew how to handle it.

 

“Tell me about it.” I said. “From the beginning.”

 

 

**

 

 

It was late before Lily and I emerged from her dorm. Past curfew, she’d scolded me lightly before berating herself for not paying attention to the time.

 

I sensed there was a slight chance she was channelling that irritation into something else other than its source. But who was I to have an opinion on the actions of the sane.

 

“Thanks for listening to me rant.” She whispered, peeling herself up from where she’d ended up sprawled on her front on her bed. As the other girls had began to drift to bed, we’d drawn the hangings and lowered our voices.

 

“Of course.” I whispered back, shrugging. “I figure I only owe you about a thousand hours of crazing ranting. Well. Nine hundred and ninety seven now.”

 

“Yeah. I needed it.” She said, slipping her feet into slippers while I groped under the bed for my shoes. “Even if you couldn’t have been more vague with the advice.” She rolled her eyes.

 

“Sorry.” I grinned. “A wise man once told me that there are some decisions you have to make for yourself.”

 

“Ray Quinn truly is a wise man.”

 

“Hey, how’d you know it wasn’t Sirius?”

 

‘What, he-who-buries-his-problems? Unlikely.”

 

We both sniggered as Lily pulled back the hangings for me to leave.

 

“Oh.” We both stopped abruptly, seeing a candle still lit. “Sorry Mary.”

 

“It’s ok.” She smiled softly from where she sat on her bed with her knees drawn up underneath her blanket. “I’m not great at getting to sleep anyway.” I couldn’t see what she had in her lap behind her knees, but after what Lily shared earlier the sight made me suddenly sad.

 

“You should borrow one of Lily’s daft books.” I said, not knowing how to make it better but having to try. “You know, Lily, those lovey-dovey medieval ones. If anything sends you to sleep it’s those.”

 

“They’re good!” Lily protested.

 

I raised my eyebrows and shook my head at Mary. She smiled a little more. “It could be worth a try.”

 

Lily tutted and pushed me jokingly towards the door, suppressing a smile herself. “Come on, Ignorant, let’s get you back to your tower before I give you detention myself.”

 

“You would too.” I said, pausing when I opened the door. “Good night Mary.”

 

“Thanks Debbie.” She said, softly. She only looked slightly taken aback. It added to my guilt. Why had it taken me seven years to be nice to her? Especially the last two. I couldn’t have been more self-absorbed.

 

“That was nice.” Lily said, quietly, after closing the door. “Thanks.”

 

“I can be nice.” I shrugged, nonchalantly.

 

“As long as she’s not talking to Sirius?” Lily said, slyly. It was softened by her mischievous grin.

 

“I’m past that now.” I said, loftily. “Utmost maturity from now on. Well. Priorities, anyway.”

 

Lily smiled. “It’s not just those boys that are growing up, is it?”

 

“Maybe not.” I hoped she was right. It would feel good. To have someone feel about me the way I’d been feeling about Sirius and James lately. Proud. Sort of. “Except you, anyway. You grew up about six years ago. You must have been dying for us to catch up.”

 

“It’s what I’ve always been waiting for.” Her smile faded after a few seconds as she thought about it. I’d tried incredibly hard not to show her how I felt the whole time we’d been talking tonight. I wanted to do for her what Ray had done for me – just let her come to her own conclusions. But shit, I hoped she chose right. He was what she’d always been waiting for. Whether she’d know it before now or not. Would she see that?

 

Lily paused as she reached the bottom of the stairs, holding out and arm to stop me and pulling my back against the wall. It was only then that I heard the only sounds coming from the almost empty common room.

 

The fire still crackled in the background, presumably masking Lily and I whispering. Other than that was only an odd ‘smack-thud... smack-thud...smack-thud...’ and two familiar voices.

 

“Grindylows...”

 

“Woodlice.”

 

“No.”

 

“Uh...”

 

“Come on – think about it. Where do they live?”

 

“The lake... the lake.... ah, algae!”

 

“Yup. Ok, bowtruckles.”

 

That’s woodlice.”

 

“Yup. Nifflers.”

 

Lily pressed a finger to her lips and together we peered around the corner, she crouched in front of me.

 

Sirius stood in front of the fireplace, swinging his weathered beaters bat. James stood on the other side of the room, the furniture swept aside. Rhythmically, he tossed a tennis ball across the room whilst reciting various magical creatures. In time, Sirius, returned the ball with ease whilst reciting back the answers, presumably. What they ate. Professor Kettleburn had promised a pop-quiz this week. Apparently James and Sirius remembered.

 

And were studying. Good god. They certainly had changed.

 

Thank goodness the common room had cleared out completely. The two of them might be absently knocking the ball comfortably back and forth now, but with an audience all hell could quite easily break loose. They hadn’t changed that much.

 

“They’re studying for the test without us!” I whispered, in mock-shock.

 

“Shit – the test!” Lily’s eyes widened in shock. “Deb we should have been studying too!”

 

“Like you don’t know it all already.” I hissed back, nudging her in the ribs and making her sway off balance on the bottom step.

 

“Deb!” She grabbed wildly at the banister to stop herself tumbling into view. I giggled at the look of utter betrayal in her eyes and she pressed her lips together, nudging me right back.

 

I hadn’t expected a retaliation. I wasn’t steady. I stumbled backwards, my heels quickly blocked by the stone step and I was sure to fall. I saw in Lily’s eyes the moment she realised what was going to happen. I was going to fall and make a racket. So she reached out and caught me at the last minute, tugging me back upright.

 

Only, I hadn’t been expecting that either. This time I fell forward. Onto her.

 

So it happened anyway. Thankfully we were only a couple of steps up. Still, I felt like it happened in slow motion. Lily’s hand gripped my wrist, yanking against gravity where we hovered for just a moment. Our eyes met and I saw the transition in her entire face. From focus to relief to panic.

 

I don’t think I can be blamed for laughter getting the better of me. We hadn’t even hit the floor before a manic peal of laughter escaped me. I instinctively rolled so that my back and side received most of the impact so it left me breathless rather than in crippling pain. It didn’t stop the laughter.

 

Lily must have done the same; after a second where my giggles rang out into silence, Lily’s joined them.

 

I rolled onto my side to face her and fought another peal of laughter at the sight of her flaming hair spread against the deep maroon carpet and across her eyes. I’d half expected her to look mortified that we’d been caught eavesdropping, but she’d given in. Tears dripped from the corners of her eyes down into her hair as she let rip another belly laugh.

 

“Evening, girls.” After Lily and I calmed down, James recovered first from their stunned silence and folded his arms across his chest. “Lurking in the shadows, are we?”

 

“Essentially, yes.” I reasoned.

 

“You were studying without us!” Lily knelt up and pointed accusingly at the two of them. She couldn’t keep her expression serious. And her hair looked quite frankly ridiculous. God it felt good to see her less than perfect. Her tie was all skew-whiff and her skirt had ridden up well above her knees but she didn’t care.

 

I saw James eyes flick from her long white legs to her flushed face and the lingering laughter in her eyes. His smug smile broadened and it was as if he had it written all over his face. He was so in love with this girl.

 

You were putting gossip before study.” He shook his head. “Call yourself our Head Girl, Evans.” It was almost like one of their old bickering episodes, but not. Something had changed. Lily had never blushed before. Never looked at him with such playful softness. Never been so at ease.

 

She had to see that, right? I’d done the right thing, leaving her to see it for herself?

 

“Lucky I can rely on my responsible Head Boy to lead the masses. Just how many tennis balls have you burned this evening?” She primly scolded. I only just noticed the smouldering tennis balls in the fire.

 

“Three.” Sirius announced, proudly. “A personal best, Evans. My beating has never been better. Better watch out, Ravenclaw.”

 

“Is that a threat?” I allowed myself to be hauled up and into his lap on one of the armchairs that had been swept back beside the fire.

 

“Absolutely.” He brushed some hair back from my face. “You’re dishevelled, love.”

 

You are... quite... presentable. Actually.” I fell short of an insult, having nothing to offer in terms of his appearance lacking. On the contrary, his hair was still wet from showering after practice and swept back off his face. He smelt of citrus and fire. “Except the hair, of course. I do believe I owe you a haircut.”

 

“I request a veto in that regard.” Sirius shook his head, disturbing his hair from it’s neat, slicked place.

 

“Denied.” Lily, James and I retorted promptly.

 

“Shit.”

 

“You’re screwed.” James commented, delighted at his friend’s peril. “I hope you’re not attached to those ears of yours.”

 

“I’m going to do an excellent job.” I proclaimed, combing a clump of hair out between my fingers over his face. “For God’s sake, it’s down to your mouth. Are you some kind of hipster? What on earth are you thinking?”

 

“Probably that my girlfriend’s stuck with me so why bother?”

 

“Confident, aren’t we?” I jibed back.

 

Some of the laughter left his eyes and he nodded, smiling slightly. “Yes.”

 

I smiled softly at the slight squeeze around my waist. “Oh. Fair enough.”

 

“I thought so. You should probably get out of here before she sees us. She’s a bit a of a nut case.” He took the opportunity to throw me over his shoulder and deposit me at the portrait hole.

 

“See you tomorrow!” Lily called. I turned around to see her, slightly less dishevelled and just about to make her way back up to the dormitory.

 

I raised my eyebrows over Sirius’ shoulder and jerked my head towards James, who had turned to pack up his books with a heart-breaking expression he was trying to hide.

 

Lily’s grin dropped and she gave a small, helpless shrug. She wasn’t ready. It was painful to watch, but I’d resolved – no more meddling.

 

I could cling on to the hope that she would be. Soon. Before James gave up.

 

“Hey.” Sirius whispered as Lily disappeared and James made his way to the boys stairs. “I quite like you.” His lips brushed my ear and strands of my hair got caught on his rough chin.

 

I leant forward on my tip toes, close to his ear, with a smile. “I quite like you too.”

 

“Gross.” James called, making his way upstairs with books tucked under his arms. “At least wait until I’m out of eavesdropping distance.”

 

“Quite like you too, Jamesy.” I replied.

 

“For God’s sake...” He grumbled in response and flipped a certain finger over his shoulder.

 

I dropped back down onto my heels, the same sickly feeling back in my stomach. I’d promised I wouldn’t meddle. I wouldn’t pressure Lily. But James had endured more heartache than a reasonable person could be expected to stand when it came to my best friend and it was beginning to show. She was my best friend but I couldn’t let her break him, however unintentional it may have been.

 

 

**

 

 

I stuck to my promise. It was tough. But it wasn’t long until the first snow of December fell and I realised, scanning the hall for Lily at breakfast, that it had been exactly a month since I’d been the official, no-nonsense girlfriend of Sirius Black (no dramas – not that anyone’s counting) and just about two weeks since I’d vowed not to meddle in the Lily and James saga.

 

But that registered for only a second before I realised why there’d been such a hush in the Great Hall. The absence of cutlery clattering against plates and the usual buzz of morning conversation was suddenly deafening as I scanned the hall for Lily.

 

“What’s happened?” I slipped into the spare seat beside her as she handed the newspaper back to a fifth year boy I didn’t know.

 

“There’s been another attack.” Lily said, quietly, as she spooned some muesli into a bowl, “An entire muggle school bus was sent off a bridge in London. Forty-eight children died.”

 

Forty-eight children. It was horrible. But...

 

“Are they saying who -”

 

“They don’t know exactly who it was. But, for the first time, the Prophet are acknowledging it’s the work of his supporters.”

Him. The elusive Lord Voldemort; the name that had been whispered and eluded to for... well, for years really. But no one had voiced it publically. There had been no proof.

 

“Do you think it’ll make a difference? Them admitting it?” It was a big deal, I knew. It wasn’t everyday you came in for breakfast and were met with total silence. The question of the hour wasn’t really whether it would make a difference, but what sort of difference.

 

Lily shrugged. “I think it could piss a lot of people off. Goad a lot of people. Energise a lot of people. It’s hard to say. It does seem a bold move, though.” She chewed her lip, lost in thought.

 

I looked around the hall as I thought about it. She was right. There was no way of knowing. And it was uncomfortable to think about. These attacks had been going on for years. Just think of Mary’s newspaper clippings...

 

“Where’s Mary?” I asked Lily, suddenly concerned. “Do you think she’s ok? Does she know?”

 

Lily sat up straight, looking stricken. “I hadn’t thought of that! I haven’t seen her yet – I better go and find her, it’s best she hears it from me...”

 

Without another word or even a mouthful of breakfast, Lily dashed out of the hall with her red ponytail dancing behind her. She didn’t even notice that she ran right between James and Sirius as they entered the hall.

 

“What’s up with Evans?” Sirius asked, taking her vacated seat and beginning on her muesli with gusto. “I haven’t seen her run away from us that quickly since the earwig incident of seventy five.”

 

I pinched the paper back from the disgruntled looking fifth-year and dropped it in front of the two of them.

 

I watched their faces turn from the standard half-amused to surprise, to disgust, to grim acceptance. Sirius finished the piece first  and sat back, all interest in breakfast evaporated, throwing dark looks over at the Slytherin table. I knew how much he hated the dark arts; anything and everything to do with them. It was all he’d been trying to escape for six years and in these moments you could see how trapped he still felt, despite cutting all ties with his family.

 

I followed his gaze over to the Slytherin table and studied their faces for the first time myself. Not all of their faces. But some, the ones clustered in small groups around the papers. Those were the ones that induced that sickened feeling in my stomach, even though I hadn’t eaten a bite. It was there, just as Lily had guessed. Sly satisfaction. Malicious mutterings. They were the supporters. They had to be. The ones that had always given Sirius so much grief over the years.

 

I searched the table for the familiar dark head and saw him on the outskirts of one of the clusters, buttering his toast with painstaking precision.

 

I placed a hand over Sirius’ clenched fist. “He’s not a part of it.”

 

The tight muscles in the back of his hand loosened, but only by a fraction. “I don’t care. He’s nothing to do with me.”

 

The set of his jaw and the tension through his body suggested otherwise. I remembered the night last year that he’d confessed his fears about his brother’s involvement in that group. The one’s that called themselves Death Eaters. It had been Regulus’ sixteenth birthday. One year until he could be instated. As much as Sirius could claim he felt no ties to his family and vice versa, it wasn’t the case. He was still worried about his brother. And, judging by their encounter a couple of weeks ago, Regulus still cared enough to warn him.

 

Two brothers with very different beliefs about who was right, and who was in danger.

 

It’s ok to care, I wanted to say. It’s ok that you don’t want your brother to be a part of something so horrible.

 

But I didn’t. There were too many people around for Sirius to let down his guard.

 

“I know.” I said, instead. I just held his hand until the tension left, and he turned his hand over to hold mine.

 

James finished the article and we shared a troubled look over Sirius’ glare, which hadn’t strayed from the Slytherin table.

 

“Where did Lily go?” James asked, after giving a small shrug and leaving his friend to stew. Sometimes it was the only way for Sirius to escape these dark moments.

 

“To talk to Mary.” I said, watching the understanding appear on his face. I knew Lily had talked to him about her friend’s worries. “I don’t know how she’ll cope with it. She seems... pretty badly affected by it all.”

 

James nodded, a line appearing between his eyebrows. “Yeah. A lot of people will probably be struggling with it, actually. I wonder if Dumbledore will say anything.”

 

“Maybe at dinner.” I guessed. Dumbledore didn’t often do speeches, but this seemed like the sort of thing that would warrant one. There were a lot of troubled faces in the hall.

 

It didn’t get any better throughout the day. Lessons were noticeably more subdued than usual. Even the teachers seemed distracted, and could be found hurrying from the staff room in groups just before class, as if their discussions had been interrupted by the beginning of lessons.

 

Although it was a horrible story, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. It was the naming, the accusations, that were most shocking. It was new. It was change. And we weren’t sure what was going to happen next. Here, at school, we seemed so distant from the rest of the country. It took something like this to make it painfully obvious. People were worried about what sort of retaliation there may be. They were worried about their parents, their grandparents, their siblings.

 

I found myself feeling incredibly lucky that I knew Freddie was safely out of the country. Judging by the last letter I had from him and Rowan, they were somewhere remote out in south east Asia. They probably hadn’t even heard about it yet. I didn’t know if they’d report English news out there. It was about time I replied to that letter anyway, so I found myself scribbling a quick note explaining what had happened, describing the strange atmosphere at school, and assuring him I was perfectly safe here at Hogwarts and that I’d update him if anything happened. When I tried to send it with a school owl at lunchtime I found myself, for the first time ever, queuing outside the owlery waiting for others to finish their own letters to family.

 

Sirius slowly left his dark mood behind him throughout the day, though he remained much more agitated and restless than usual. It got to the point that I was sure he was going to make something explode in Potions, so I assigned him the more strenuous job of squeezing the juice out of the nightlock leaves just to give him something to do with his hands so that they’d cease their agitated tapping and fidgeting.

 

“You can just talk to him, if you want.” I tried again to reason with him at the end of Charms, our last class of the day. “Just stop him on the way to dinner.”

 

This time he didn’t immediately snap or reject the idea. “It won’t make a difference. He’s never listened to me.” He said, after grinding his teeth audibly and adding. “And I think I might get stabby if he lies to me.”

 

“Get stabby?” The phrase brought a smile to my lips as I recognised the lighter tone to his voice.

 

“Yeah. You know. When you get so angry you forget all magic and just want to stab someone with your wand.”

 

“And this has happened before?”

 

“Yeah. James has got me at least twice and I got him in the eye last summer. I thought his mum and dad were going to kick me out but they found it hilarious. Mr P dropped his pipe and set the carpet on fire for a minute.”

 

“Is that true?” I asked James, who was just catching up with us.

 

“Yeah, Mum and Dad love him. It’s actually quite offensive. I think if we ever fell out for real they’d keep him and kick me out. Even when he was a grouchy git this summer.”

 

There was a brief pause as we all took in the implications of that statement.

 

“Uh... I mean...” James floundered, trying to come up with an alternative to what we all knew – he was grouchy because of us. Because of me.

 

Fortunately, at the same time, I let slip an inappropriately loud laugh at the flummoxed look on James’ face and Sirius gave him a swift punch in the ribs.

 

“Ah.” James clutched at his midriff. “See – stabby. If he’d had a wand out I think I’d be down a vital organ or two.”

 

“Nah, that wasn’t anger. That was for being a prick.” Sirius clarified, though he squeezed my hand and smothered a smile.

 

“Fair enough.” James conceded.

 

“Good.” I squeezed his hand back before letting go and giving him a push. “Now hold on to that kind of restraint when you talk to your brother.”

 

He sighed dramatically before walking on ahead of us towards the hall. I watched his dark head weave through the crowd  as James and I carried on.

 

“I didn’t mean to make it weird.” James said quickly as a half apology. “I just sort of forgot how bad it was... I was only joking...”

 

“I know.” I dismissed with a wave of my hand before slipping it through James’ arm. “It’s ok.”

 

“It’s just, when you two are together, it’s hard to remember what it was like before. I like you together. You’re good for him.”

 

I snorted and nudged him playfully in the side, uncomfortable with the sentiment.

 

“No, I mean it.” He insisted. “You always have been; I s’pose it’s just easier to see now. You make him do all the good thing he thinks of and then talks himself out of.” James gestured ahead of us, where Sirius was nearing the end of the corridor. “Making him talk to his brother, that sort of thing. I’ve never been any good at that stuff.”

 

“Yes, you are.” I felt a surge of affection for James. “You do know the right things to say. You know you’re the reason I got up the guts to talk to him in the first place about the summer thing. You make people feel like they’re doing the right thing, even when they’re not sure. Even Lily’s noticed it. She said you were really sweet about the whole Mary thing.” I gave his arm a squeeze.

 

“Really sweet? Do you mean really macho and masculine?”

 

“Sure, that too.” I grinned. “The sweetest, most masculine man in town.”

 

“That’s more like it.” James grinned back, no trace of the heartache I’d seen every now and then for the last few weeks, “But thanks.” He said, serious for a moment, before adding, “Wait, are we growing up, Deb? Are we grownups now?”

 

“Let’s not go that far.”

 

We reached the corner that Sirius had manoeuvred his way around minutes before us. I could swear I could see his dark head close to the entrance to the Great Hall, towering over a small swarm of first-years.

 

“Lily’s back.” James noted, not bothering to mask the relief in his voice. She hadn’t been in class all day. Nor had Mary. But now that he pointed it out, I could see her bright head alongside Mary’s mousey one, just inside the doors.

 

I smiled and glanced up for a look at that familiar, besotted look that I knew he’d gotten practiced at keeping under wraps.

 

But I didn’t see it.

 

Instead, I caught just a glimpse of his eyes widening, his mouth opening, his grip on my arm vice-like, dragging me violently against the wall...

 

It was just a glimpse. A second. Or there abouts.

 

It was all there was time for before, with one earth-shaking, bone-jarring crash, the entire corridor was swathed in darkness.

 

A jolt. A crash. A crack of my head against the wall.

 

Darkness.

 

 




 

 

A.N. I know. Radio silence for so long. I don't really know how to apologise for it so I'll just hope you enjoy what I've got....

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