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Chapter 6: Color Schemes

That night I dreamed about the night sky and his eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever compared them to stars, but maybe they could be… or they could be the silver lined clouds that lingered beneath the moon.

And then McGonagall chased me and said, “I regret to tell you that you have failing marks, Miss McGain. You will have to drop my NEWT class—”

“That’s not true!” I yelled back. “That’s not true!”

“That’s why I want to meet with you next class. You are failing—”

“That’s most certainly. Not! True!

How could I get her to understand?

I had worked so much and for so little?

What a lie that I was failing. What a blatant lie.

I choked, and then I woke up to gasp.

“What in the world,” I hissed and heaved.

It was dark and light was streaming in from between the curtains of the tower windows. I rubbed at my eyes and breathed deeply. I was so glad that I was surrounded by snoring girls. No one was awake to witness how I put all my thoughts in an orderly manner… with the first being to calm down and the second that I wasn’t failing anything in my life just yet. Well, nothing yet except that I failed at having a good night’s sleep.

~*~

That’s how December started. It began with a nightmare that kept me on edge the rest of the day. Of course, there was also breakfast and chatter about how close holidays were and where everyone planned to go.

“Holidays are almost here. I can almost hear the comfortable silence of my room where I won’t have to see or hear any of you again until January,” Emma sighed as she slathered a piece of toast with butter. She showered it with sugar and cinnamon.

Mark laughed from behind his open Arithmancy book. “Blessed are those who get solitude. I get to spend the holidays with my extended family this year.” A piece of parchment levitated over the back cover. “Also, salutations from my mother.”

The letter included a little drawing of Mark’s mother waving to us. Her script waved like a flag beside her, Hello, Abby and Emily! Please come by to have some dumplings!

“She does know that Emma’s name isn’t Emily, right?” I interjected just as Emma glanced at the note.

She laughed. “Typical of Mark’s mother.”

“Yes, very typical. She’s assuming, though, since… you know…” Mark glanced at Emma with a grin and said, “We only refer to you as Em at my house.”

“Em? What’s so bad about two syllable words like Em-Ma?” she wondered before turning to her porridge.

Mark blanched and hid behind his book. “Oh, nothing. That…” he finished softly, “…my fault…”

I raised my eyebrows. Curious.

“Oh, well. I’ll see you two in class,” I said a little too brightly… mainly because Emma had stopped eating her porridge to glance up as if enlightened.

Mark, not aware of what Emma had realized, waved from above his book. “See you later, Abby.”

“Yes, yes, Abby! And you! You only call me by my pet name at your house, don’t you? Why is that?” Emma asked suddenly, waving to me as well.

I wondered then if anything was going to change between them in that instant.

~*~

I was glad that I had nabbed a scone and that I had slathered it with strawberry jam and butter. I was also glad that I had time to study for the next Transfiguration assignment we had next. Another essay! Thank goodness I was too focused (and somewhat nervous) to realize that Sirius, James, and Peter were around the corner. I was too carried away to realize that Sirius had greeted me.

“Hi,” I greeted him back, already on my way to my first class of the day.

Afterward, I wondered if he had cast me an amused glance, but then I thought back to my school things… and I thought back to how droll life had been when my parents had taken away my book allowance… and how I nearly failed to get into McGonagall’s NEWT Transfiguration class.

She was the first person I saw on the way into class.

She merely glimpsed my way and said, “Remember to come to my office after class, Miss McGain.”

I nodded and everything just felt cold all of a sudden.

The rest of the class went by smoothly. Sirius appeared beside me and asked me how my day was going. I replied like it was natural.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Fine in all the senses of the word,” I said, and asked him back before I forgot that people were supposed to do that when holding a conversation, “How are you?”

“I’m quite well, thank you.” His voice was a bit higher than usual.

I concentrated on writing notes for my next essay – one on the history of animal transfiguration – and I just glanced in his direction. He masterfully flipped through his book and dog eared certain pages. He wasn’t writing anything and he most certainly wasn’t keeping up with things like Emma and Mark, who were both marking up their textbooks and writing notes. He glanced over at me momentarily and I froze in place.

I quickly turned and flipped through my book. It was difficult to keep my lips pursed when I really, really thought that I was going to peep. He caught my right hand as I was about to turn the page after a wand waving illustration.

“Can I talk to you after class?” he whispered.

His fingers weren’t even on my skin. They were just millimeters away… tickling the surface.

I choked and cleared my throat, and his hand shifted away, leaving mine suddenly icy cold.

Oh Circe, what do I do?

I spread my fingers and put my hands together. What a time to fidget!

Just say yes, you fool. Say yes.

“Yes, of course, sure,” I replied.

The rest of the class transpired silently, but my stomach was fluttering.

~*~

I had forgotten that I was supposed to go to Professor McGonagall’s office after class if it hadn’t been for her quick and attentive stare. I looked at Sirius who stayed behind, and I did my best to look away from Emma’s gape and Mark’s silent bewilderment. Mark ushered Emma away and they both waved.

“See you in Charms!” Emma called back.

I waved, and then I just stared at Sirius.

Gods above, his hair and eyes and face!

Calm down, calm down, calm down.

I had never stared into his eyes before. The grays swirled together and strands of starlight seemed to peek through.

“Well, I have to talk to McGonagall… so… I’m sorry, um,” I stumbled and broke eye contact.

“I’ll just wait outside,” he replied warmly. “Don’t worry. Go ahead.”

I glanced up, the back of my mind momentarily cold. Oh. “Alright, thank you.” I held back the sudden urge to say I was sorry again… and I just stepped around him to get to McGonagall’s office.

~*~

Professor McGonagal’s office was dark. She followed me in and drew open the curtains.

“Hello, Miss McGain,” she greeted. “Take a seat at your leisure.”

I sat down at one of the two leather chairs in front of her massive oak desk. Once there, I glimpsed at the bookshelves and cabinets that were full of books and baubles. Some of the trinkets hovered and others held flourishing plant life. There was even a golden vine on the desk. I followed it down from right to left and glimpsed buds growing and receding among its leaves. There were glittering red lady bugs on the foliage, and the vine circled the glass inkwell and silver cup where a couple of quills lingered.

“You must be wondering why I requested that you meet me in my office last class,” McGonagall began.

I glanced up at her. She was sitting down behind her desk now, and she had her head slightly cocked to the side. I held my hands on my lap. Well, she looks concerned. For starters, very.

Perhaps her statement was rhetorical because she continued, “First of all, congratulations. Your keen understanding of the subject precedes you.”

Keep calm, keep calm. I bowed my head a little. “Thank you, Professor.”

“How did you improve so quickly? I am not in the habit of asking my students from time to time about the difficulties in this subject, and…” McGonagall glanced up and then continued, “it does come as a great help to provide a feasible solution when a situation like yours arises.”

Yep, like when a student is just a step away from failing.

I took a deep breath and just told her about the girls at the library and all the practicing I was doing in between homework, classes, and meals. I had never spoken at length with a professor before, but that moment was a relief in itself. I remembered it always as the time when my frustrations against McGonagall’s teaching style vanished. She nodded empathetically as I expressed how difficult it was to understand the wand techniques that were so similar to those in Charms, and she smiled when I told her that I hadn’t really focused that much on Transfiguration because of how difficult I thought it was.

“It is absolutely normal for anyone to put something new last… and it is understandable that something different can seem difficult to comprehend,” she said. “Anyhow, I hope you can continue your new regimen as the rest of my NEWT class comes to pass; keep doing well. And thank you, Miss McGain, for this new recommendation.”

I smiled and got up.

“That will be all.” McGonagall wrote a quick note with one of her quills and handed it to me. “And take this with you.”

~*~

I gathered my books and slung my satchel over my shoulder. Who knew that talking with McGonagall would feel so freeing and give me so much confidence? I nearly skipped out the door before I stopped and noticed that Sirius, Sirius Black, was outside glancing down the hall.

“Oh.” I almost teetered back. Go ahead, talk to him. Talk to him now that he’s here! I took a deep breath, and then I looked down at my very black and gleaming black shoes. “You’re here. I’m so sorry about how long that was. She just wanted to know about how I was doing so well in her class. Turns out that not everyone picks the material up so quick.”

Oh, what a gibe that was!

“It’s quite a feat, of course,” he replied, and then went on, “Did she give you a pass?”

“Yes, and oh! I am so foolish! You probably have a class now, don’t you?” I asked, glancing up at him, and oh gods, I looked into his gray washed eyes.

“Actually, I have a study hour at this time. That’s the delightful bit about being a sixth year, isn’t it? Not taking the classes you don’t need for your profession? Merlin, what sort of professions are there when we’re only sixteen?” he joked.

I could have told him that there were many in between Hogwarts and the Ministry. My mother and father had persuaded me that I could become an Unspeakable or at least a Historian at the Ministry’s Records office. Both were excellent places for someone who liked to read a lot—at least that was my parents’ understanding of it. Sadly… they didn’t know that I had other ideas in mind.

Instead, I opted for, “There’s never a better time to begin than today, don’t you think? We’re all getting a head start here at Hogwarts. You can choose whatever subject at this age to learn more about topics we wouldn’t have learned about by ourselves otherwise.”

He hummed and said, “…True.” And then he asked, “Do you have Charms at the moment? Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing your friend when she mentioned it.”

How very, very honest this boy was being! I nodded and hugged my books tighter. I almost said something, but I just walked off.

“Well, then, I suppose I will walk you after all!” Sirius caught up with my quick steps.

I grinned and blushed all over. “Oh, don’t be so silly. I can walk myself.”

“Honestly, I’d say that it’s a pleasure,” he reassured me.

I didn’t think that it would be possible to bend over my books any more than I already had, but I did. I almost fell into a missing step and then I gave him a side glance. What tempted me to be in his presence more than anything in the world was my anxiously beating heart. Oh, what a mess I am. What a mess, indeed.

The walk up to the tower to Professor Flitwick’s NEWT Charms class, which was on the fifth floor, was lengthy and full of moving staircases.

I paused as they rearranged themselves and Sirius took a deep breath beside me.

“I have been meaning to ask you… for quite a while now,” he started.

“What?” I couldn’t help asking.

He raised his eyebrows and glanced at my books. “Have you drawn anything lately?”

“No, not really. I’m surprised you’re asking! But, erm, lessons, essays, and readings don’t really leave me any time to draw anything,” the words just flowed from my brain to my mouth. Amazingly, they didn’t cease either. “Why the question, anyway?”

“You carry a sketchbook, and it’s a curious book to carry… and I, myself, am quite curious,” he answered.

We took the who more staircases up and then we treaded down the nearest corridor that led to the stairwell that went to the fifth floor.

“How does someone of your society come to know about sketchbooks, though?” I contemplated aloud and almost gasped. YEP, those weren’t thoughts that were supposed to be spoken aloud, but somehow… my mental filter had vanished.

He laughed suddenly. “My society? What are you, a purebred witch?”

“Excuse me, no. I apologize if you were offended by the way I asked,” I said, staring down the hall to the corridor where my class was. “I just happen to cross different groups of people… and we’re all different. Some have more exposure to Muggles than others… as I’m sure you know.”

“What are you exactly? Also, I never thought that I’d talk so much in depth this far into a conversation with someone I barely know.”

Sirius Black, a stranger in a world where everyone knows more about him than he knows about them. Must be bizarre. I laughed. Never would I have never expected to be one of the people to acknowledge that, not in a hundred lifetimes.

“WELL… I myself am a half-blood… fourth or fifth generation. Something like that. Magic runs strong in my family,” I replied as if this was an everyday conversation I would hold with Emma or Mark. Or at least that’s what I was telling myself. This was completely normal. Somehow. “What about you?”

“Pureblood, but who cares about these things? Anyhow, I have a couple of friends who live among Muggles, and these Muggle things are exotic to come across. It’s also pretty wicked that you have such an item yourself,” he said, and then asked, “Aw, are we already done with this conversation? So soon?”

“Quickly done,” I answered and smiled.

I had stopped in front of Flitwick’s classroom door, which was open with a slight smell of something burning.

“Thank you for walking with me,” I bowed my head over my books again, and I wanted to swish in my skirt from all the energy I had from the walk and the medium-sized conversation.

“You are more than welcome! We should talk more on another day. Perhaps next Transfiguration class?” He leaned against the wall on the other side of the door.

I smiled and looked up at him, and then I said, “Yes, why not. Thank you. I guess I’ll see you.”

“I’ll see you. Have a great time with Flitwick.”

I gave a little wave and bowed my head as I stepped into the brightly lit classroom.

~*~

The rest of the day seemed to billow past me, and nothing had been more grand.

“It was hilarious to see Rebecca’s hair catch on fire. Em, did you even see that?” Mark whispered and had a giggle.

Emma tried to keep her face straight. “Oh, you hush. The poor girl’s in the hospital wing trying to grow it back.” She laughed suddenly and covered her mouth. “Oh God, please forgive me.”

I wish I had seen it, but I had missed the sight of it during the first fifteen minutes of class.

“Calm down, you two. The others will tell her and then you’ll be the ones she’ll glare at from now until the day we all graduate,” I reminded them. “And Mark, you promised you would help me with this last week. I need to see if I’m carrying a good argument, and I don’t have anyone else to compare notes with.”

Mark took my sheets of parchment and held them up at arm’s length. “Aha, aha… aha. You’ve got quite a snobby way of getting around Agrippa’s constant.”

I flipped a page of my Magic Theory textbook and marked a couple of useful rune combinations. “Well, I do try my best when it comes to writing about runes.”

They were all easy to draw and easier to make connections to than wand movements that changed things. Then again… I didn’t really think of Magic Theory as anything but an additional motivator for my drawings. There were rune combinations that could make my drawings move. And that was one part of my studies in Charms.

Kit McKelsy rushed by the table and sat down with us. “I’ve got news from the hospital wing! Alice and Frank are back!”

I glanced at Mark and then Emma, who had suddenly looked up from her slice of Victoria sponge cake and her class notes.

“Oh, how great to hear! Good things on the horizon. Has either of them said anything about what ailed them?” Emma wondered as she set down her quill. “I assumed that news would travel faster.”

Kit raised his eyebrows and pointed out, “Aye, news is coming quickly. They’ll also be here after holiday—”

“Do they need to catch up? I have no idea if they’re caught up since it’s almost time for holiday…” Mark pressed.

“Their friends are on it,” Kit answered, and then he turned to Leonel and said, “And yes, Rebecca is alright. Her hair will be good as new. She also said that she’d curse you back where you came from.”

“All of that from the hospital wing?” I asked, holding back laughter in spite of myself.

Leonel blanched and returned to his dinner, and Kit grinned. “Aye. Nothing better than good news today.”

~*~

I don’t think I could ever forget how Snape looked at me the following week. It was like he had seen me grow another head.

The first thing he did was slide me the list of ingredients he needed from the store room, and the second thing he did was insult me after I took a little too long gathering everything. We had switched roles now. He took care to turn whatever was in the cauldron and he checked the time.

“Where were you? Dillydallying with Sirius Black?” he asked. “I thought you were more occupied with things of substance, not off bestowing some inane act of kindness.”

I almost laughed aloud when he sniffed the potion. His long nostrils were masterful at inhaling the whole strand of fumes that rose from the potion he was preparing.

“Well, rumor has it that having you as my partner is one of those inane acts of kindness,” I replied as I began the methodical work of peeling, slicing, measuring, and grinding ingredients. “Anyway, I only took a bit longer because the boomslang skin was at the back of the shelf.”

He took it from me and added it to the cauldron. “I’m sure it takes less time when you don’t spend the whole morning daydreaming.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but then I realized that it wasn’t anything directed towards me. I did not daydream in Potions. Not now or ever.

So I glimpsed at the recipe to move onto the next ingredient.

“What is it to you what I do with my time anyway?” I asked suddenly as I peeled a portion of aloe. “We don’t interact and we most certainly don’t speak or see each other outside of this class.”

I looked up at him and into his inky black eyes.

He turned away instantly and turned the pewter spoon in the cauldron. “It is nothing… Only it’s absurd for someone of your caliber to waste time with him. He will defame you, and you will fall into disrepute.”

He stood silent and kept vigil over his… our cauldron. I stared at the olive green it had become and then I went back to slicing the fleshy and slippery green aloe.

I had nothing to say to him, but I felt that I had to say something… and yet…

“Whatever goes on in my life is none of your business,” I said so quietly that I could almost say that I hadn’t said that. “Even if you think it is.”

He only maintained my eyes for a long moment as he reached out for the aloe. I handed it to him, and then he said, “Then do as you will, but never say I didn’t warn you.”

~*~

I went to the library during my study period and practiced with the girls of Students United. I only transfigured a couple of things before sitting down and finishing my notes for Herbology.

“What’s wrong?” Alea asked, appearing beside me.

Lily and Liliana were a few meters away helping a couple of fifth year students, but Alea had stayed with me to practice with me. She sat down with her legs folded under her and she also carried her own books about Ancient Runes and Magic Theory. It hadn’t been until that year that we realized that we took the same class together on Fridays… or that we had History of Magic on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“I’m not inclined to say… I’m just… I’m confused,” I said, putting down my quill and slouching in my chair. “It’s nothing to do with my course load. It’s just… It’s ridiculous. I can’t even talk about it!”

“Well, I have two ears, and nothing can beat two ears except walls,” Alea replied.

I looked up at her and she smiled nervously at me. “Hey… what can I say? I’m not the talker… I leave that for Liliana to do, and I’m glad for it. The other girls in my house aren’t quite so chatty or intriguing.”

She cast that aside with her hand and said, “Anyway, what’s on your plate? It can’t be more ridiculous than… well, any of my nonsense. Do tell?”

I took a deep breath and glanced at all the flying books that were going from one shelf to another… and then I just decided to tell her.

“I have hated… or despised… disliked? Disliked this boy who I can contemplate as having the largest ego in the whole world! I could pop it to see if there was anything there, but… he does have something there. It’s an intelligence like no other. I wonder at times what it is that he wants to do… what it is that he’s doing it for… and what is it that really flusters me so much about him besides that.” I couldn’t keep myself fixated on Alea’s face to tell her with eye contact. My eyes wandered like my mind wandered.

It was true. There was more to him than met the eye, and I did want to know. And I was confused about that. So terribly confused.

And then…

“On the other hand… there’s this other boy… who is so handsome it almost hurts to look at him. Yes, it almost does. I just get so incredibly wobbly on the inside and on the outside, and he’s funny. Granted, he could be smarter about a couple of things… but he’s so… he’s so…” I sighed and blushed through my monologue. “He’s so unreachable, but still nice, helpful, and so normal. Sometimes I wonder why he even talks to me… and it’s just so nice to talk to him. I’ve never really talked to anyone before. Not even this much! But… Merlin, everything’s so upside down this year. I almost wonder why… why is this happening to me?”

“Oh.” Alea blinked. “Boys.”

“Yes, boys,” I whined. “Why couldn’t it just be classes?”

“…If you look at it like that… You’re a Ravenclaw… it would have to be boys. I myself am confused about boys as well from time to time, but only because I ask myself what they’re useful for,” she replied offhandedly, and I laughed at that.

Mark would have been confused, but he would have asked the same question. There was hardly anything wrong with finding arguments and looking at the different solutions that stemmed from them… or the problems they created in actuality.

“Alas, we are only sixteen… maybe even seventeen, and we’re only coming into a very thin understanding of ourselves and those who surround us. I myself am more than prepared to understand the most academic path to my profession…” Alea continued, and she grinned as she produced a box onto the table. “Sugar quill?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said as I took one and sucked on it. It was lemon flavored.

She took one into her mouth and spoke around it, “But despite our ambitions… I must say that, yes… you are in quite a situation, and it doesn’t sound like you’re at a crossroads just yet. I say… see where it goes with both situations… See what it is that answers those questions inside you.”

I nodded and then she wiggled her dark eyebrows. “See what that handsome boy’s intentions are… and then tell me all about it.”

~*~

A/n:

Yup. This is getting intense, but at least we’re going somewhere. I’m also figuring out what Abby’s timetable would look like. Yes, I’m just making things up as I go, but I’m planning as I write on. I’m also looking back at earlier chapters to get a sense of what to include… and how to keep future chapters coherent… So if you see anything that doesn’t make sense, please feel free to bring it up in a comment.

Ta,
Meli

Postscript:
Whoaaaa, this is the longest chapter I’ve put together! (Or so I think?)

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