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It took me less than five minutes to tell the first lie.
Then he reached over and tucked a lock of curly hair behind her ear, and I knew that we would be joining them, no matter what. Behind him the two girls were watching with hard smirks. I felt sick but Emily took my hand, pulling me—she knew I would run if I could—through the entrance.
It was beginning to feel like there were two parts of me: a fledgeling one, weak but sunny, here in this room with these strangers, and another that was buried within the thoughts pushed into the back of my skull. They were like two plants growing from the same seed; borne of the same source and fighting to survive over the other.
The crinkling in my eyes as I grinned was like using an old and unfamiliar muscle, and I toyed with the frayed edges of my textbook. The last time Sirius saw me, I had actually fainted. His first impression of me was as though he’d come across a stupid bird that had smacked into a window and injured itself. And wasn’t that exactly what I’d done, agreeing to meet with the Black Adders, knowing what they were like?
Seeing him like this felt like being on a boat in rough water. Everything had always seemed to roll off his shoulders. Relationships were flings. Bad grades were just a challenge to catch back up; he knew he was smart enough. Detentions didn’t matter because he did things like this—drinking in broad daylight on school grounds—and lived for it.
Regulus’s head hung in utter mortification and, in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to hex Sirius. The former’s porcelain cheeks were pock-marked with acne, his nose too big for his face, as he glanced at me from beneath his eyelashes.
These thoughts culminated in the usual irritation as I stole another glance at Sirius. He was taking a long drag on the cigarette. To my surprise, the feelings of frustration were overcome by another: I’d never had the faintest desire to smoke a cigarette in my life, but I suddenly wanted to take it from his lips and put it to my own.
It felt like my ears were stuffed with cotton. My parents were dead. That had to be it. McGonagall’s next words sounded as if they were coming from another room, and I tried to force the sound back into my consciousness. “…no cause for alarm, but we want to be certain that the news came to you first.”
“You are cordially invited to the second annual Marauders’ Ball. Bully for you! If you accept—and honestly, you’d be an idiot not to—then meet us at the One-Eyed Witch at ten o’clock next Saturday. Don’t be caught. And wear your dancing shoes!”
How could he be so certain? How was he so sure that the entire world had laid itself out for the taking by Sirius Black? Most unsettlingly, why I was standing here, entertaining the idea in the first place? Last year’s Chloe would have never even followed him down the corridor.
A realization was taking shape; I could feel its sharpness in the chilly air. They were going to find a way to fight this war, and if I remained close, I would be pulled in.
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