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The Art of Breathing. by AC_rules
Chapter 3: Tough and Powerful.
“Oi, you,” Black said stepping into the hall with his Marauding mates behind him, his haughty arrogance reeking from every pore. I smiled sweetly in acknowledgement before turning back to Charlotte Jones who was telling me about her summer (basically she had dated her way through all the guys in her village then gone to Spain and done the same thing there; fascinating stuff). Sirius sat down on my other side. I turned my back to him. After years of classes with him, I know full well that he was an attention-junkie.
I’d learnt young not to feed people’s addictions.
He tapped me on the shoulder and then I couldn’t ignore him because that would be rude. “Yes?” I asked pointedly, relishing in the slightly confused expression that graced his face. Naturally, being Sirius, he was so entirely used to people either respecting him or blinking their pretty little eyelashes and giggling. Well, I didn’t giggle: when I laughed, I bloody snorted.
“You,” Sirius said darkly, “are a murderer – you killed my future children,”
“Doubtful,” I muttered in return.
“I’m sorry?” Sirius asked, narrowing his eyes at me.
“Please, who’d want to have children with you? I’ll admit you’re not terrible to look at, but arrogance, immaturity and stupidity aren’t the most desirable characteristics if you’re looking to reproduce. Sure, it could happen by accident – but I don’t know anyone who’d risk it,” I finished, feeling my face flush with the satisfaction of the insult. It felt good, even though his face remained impassive. He looked at me carefully (still that little bit too close) trying to read my face – as if I had to have some sort of reason to tell him he was a jerk.
“What’s happened to you?” Peter asked, also labouring under the delusion that you had to have a reason to insult Sirius Black.
“Enough,” I commented dryly, thinking of my Mum, Dad, Karen, the events of the summer and dying. I folded my arms over my chest and looked to Lily, who too was watching me carefully.
“You’ve changed,” Remus said. I smiled at that. It was working, at least. My big plan. My transformation.
“And I’m not average.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you!” Sirius said defensively, holding up one of his hands. I snorted again.
“Well, maybe you should try thinking about other people for a change,” I said stiffly, looking up at the staff table distractedly. Sirius raised his eyebrows at me, challenging to go onwards (like I said – attention-junkie, even the fact that I was taking the time to insult him was feeding his inflated ego), “I mean... if you realised that you’re not actually superior to every man, woman, child in the world – even if you could get it into your thick skull that one person was that little bit more important than you, then maybe you wouldn’t ‘accidentally’ offend people by opening your fat mouth.”
“So you’d be that one person, would you?” Sirius asked disdainfully, exchanging an amused look with James.
“Should have known it was too much to ask from a Black,” I spat. That was the magic word, because then his eyes were darkening to a more dramatic colour - akin to an approaching storm rather than the usual crisp grey, “You thrive on your superiority complexes.”
“I am not a Black,” Sirius muttered, so low that I could barely hear him. Now that I’d gotten to him I was fully planning on digging my nails in the wound until it hurt. It served him right; I didn’t have to be the only one in the world who was hurting.
“Different breed, same species,” I returned, flipping my purple hair out of my face and leaning towards him unconsciously, “insulting people? Check. Former mentioned superiority complex? Check. Prejudice? Check...” Sirius looked about he was about to speak for a second, “Slytherins, anyone younger than you, anyone who you think is a little less cool... I mean, if they’re not one of your big chummy mates then they’re not worth your time of day, right?”
“You don’t know anything about me!” He said angrily. I’d gotten him angry, bloody hell – this was marvellous.
“And you don’t know anything about me! Or the Slytherins or the people younger than you. Yet it’s just fine to use them for your entertainment, right?”
“I know all I need to know about them,” He said darkly.
“Then I know all I need to know about you too Sirius Black! You are an arrogant, selfish, big headed...”
“No I’m not!” Sirius spat, no longer glancing at his mates to shared amused glances. This time, I’d got to him.
“Whatever you say, Black,” I said as if this wasn’t going down as one of the greatest moments of my life.
“Don’t you Black me!” He said angrily, “I am not Black! My own mother hates the fact I’m in Gryffindor so much that-”
“That must have been really hard for you,” I said sarcastically.
“Because I’m not like them!” He said interrupting me as speaking as though this was a great revelation that I was supposed to be shocked by. That was what annoyed me, the fact that he thought I wanted to hear what he had to say...
“Well you sure act like it,” I said underneath his words. His face coloured a little. Internally my lungs were doing the conga in celebration.
“My family hates me,” he said, his eyes imploring me to feel sorry for him (puppy eyes? Jesus, he’s the limit). I wasn’t going to. I was through with that.
“I don’t care,” I said flatly and his expression faulted. “So everyone brought the sob story before now?” I asked sweetly.
“Wh-” he began.
“You’ve never done anything to earn my respect and so I’m not giving it to you,” I said, turning back to my dinner even though the excitement of this whole little encounter had taken away all my hunger. At last I had some small revenge - I had gotten to him.
“But I’m a Marauder,” Sirius began.
“Which is why, Sirius, I’m not going to give you any more attention. For some ridiculous reason, you get enough of that,” I turned back to the front, and Lily, tuning into the last few seconds of Dumbledore’s speech before it came to a close.
In my head I was still insulting him. You play pranks on innocent people, break people’s hearts and act superior! You disgust me! Sure, you might everything handed to you on a tarnish silver platter, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the world has to be impressed by your personal dose of angst.
“Mary, you’re muttering,” Lily said, elbowing me in the side and glancing unsurely at that Marauders, “and what is going on?” I shrugged.
“Your best mate’s gone psycho, that’s what’s going on,” Sirius muttered, loudly enough for several people to hear him – capturing the attention of a couple of the seventh years. Normally I would have blushed, but this was the all new me; I didn’t blush, so I just smiled at them sarcastically and tried to be cool.
Being cool would have been so much easier if I hadn’t been wearing the most uncomfortable underwear in the world. Karen brought them for me on my sixteenth birthday; they had glittery number sixteen’s on that itched like they were full of bullbadox powder.
How impractical anyway. It means I can only year them for a year (if I live that long) before I have to get rid of them. She obviously thinks that as my mother is dead I need a female presence in my life to by me underwear.
Well, I don’t.
One of the abilities I have mastered in my sixteen and a half years is buying underwear and really, it's not that difficult. Most people can manage it. Some people, like Charlotte, admittedly end up buying pieces of string and wearing them as underwear... but most people get by just fine.
I tried telling this to my dad and he said that as I had brought the same underwear each year (with the respectable age on) since I had hit my teens (I burnt the old pair on my birthday) that he wouldn’t believe it when I said I didn’t like them. I told them that they were uncomfortable and he just laughed and pointed out they were made by the same company as the last six pairs.
Then we argued. We always argue. Like he and mum used to.
“McDonald....?” James said in a sing song voice, leaning over Sirius to talk to me. I guessed this had more to do with Lily on my other side than me.
“Trying to think, here,” I muttered.
“Yeah, but you should probably be trying to eat,” He said. I blinked and looked down at the table, noticing the food there for the first time. James smirked and they all exchanged looks at my stupidity. Now they had the upper hand again. It had only take a twenty minute daydream and I was back in the loser’s seat.
“Can you believe we have to do team building?” Charlotte Jones, string underwear-wearing extraordinaire, her slightly rounded face pouting slightly. She and her friends Alice and Rachel had sat opposite Lily and I – a rare display of sixth year Gryffindor unity.
“What?” I questioned.
“You really did shut off,” Remus said with a smile, “we now all have to do team building once a week,” He explained from opposite James, “and Physical education,” He added and my eyes widened in horror.
“Eww.” I muttered, weighing this up in my head. I’d see the kit on my sister enough times to know that this was one of the worst things that could possibly happen to Hogwarts.
“Didn’t you read your Hogwarts letter?” Remus asked carefully.
“She was too busy dying her hair ridiculously colours, deciding on which would look the stupidest for when she came back to school,” Sirius said sarcastically. I turned to look at him. Usually teasing from Sirius was more or less akin to flirting (oh, stop it! Stop being so mean Sirius!) but this time I could hear the resentment clouding up his normal easy tone. I had gotten to him and inside he was still smarting from the blow.
“Nope,” I said lightly, turning to look at him again, “or I would have settled on your hair colour and have done,”
Sirius narrowed his eyes, invading my personal space again – he was probably trying to add a little drama. Or thought that if he stuck his face close to mine I might get dizzy and faint or something. “You’re so funny,” he said, “that I forgot to laugh,” then he returned to aggressively eating his steak with relish.
“I do try,” I said dryly, “so, are we meant to have brought some sort of P.E. kit?” I asked fearing the worst as I addressed my dormates. Lily nodded looking rather sick, “let me guess, really short, Lycra shorts?” I asked. Her nod sealed all of our dooms.
“In our house colours,” she added, her pretty face twisting into a grimace.
“As in, bright red, tight, short, Lycra shorts.” Rachel Moss added shaking her head in disgust.
“And a gold, thin, freezing, T-shirt.” Her friend Alice Prewett added.
“Bloody hell.” I said disgruntled.
“Agreed,” Charlotte said, picking up her glass of pumpkin juice and taking a sip, “ridiculous,” she added, setting her glass down and glancing idly at the ceiling.
“Lycra?” Sirius questioned with a smirk.
“Such a prick,” I muttered.
“Cheer up,” he said grinning, facing Rachel and Alice opposite, “at least you’re not in Hufflepuff... and red is very flattering,”
“Not on me,” Lily said sighing, “Red and gold clash with my hair, ginger hair goes with nothing,”
“Lily, you go with everything!” James said immediately, “but you’d definitely go best with me,”
“And so, it begins,” Lily said, turning her back on James and talking to Alice across the table – making a point not to acknowledge his presence for the rest of the meal. I watched her with a smile; I liked the familiarity of all of this. It made things seem okay.
“Damn,” James muttered, clenching his fist on the table.
“I thought it was a good line,” Sirius drawled.
“Very witty,” Remus added approvingly.
“Maybe next time?” Peter suggested – the dialogue switching between them as easily as breathing. It was strange; I detested them slightly less whenever I was privy to snippets of private conversations. They were more human, perhaps, when the existed together.
“God I feel rough,” Remus muttered, tapping his knuckles on the side of the table.
“This’ll help,” Sirius said, “second from the left on the staff table,”
“Damn,” James said appreciatively, glancing at Lily as if to see some sort of jealous reaction from her. I doubt she’d even heard him speak.
Unwillingly, I glanced towards the front of the Great Hall where the staff table stretched out. It wasn’t difficult to know who they were talking about.
“Who is she?” Peter questioned.
“Well, as we’re only short of one teaching position, I’m guessing that would be our new defence against the dark arts teacher,” I said sarcastically.
“You checking her out too, Mary?” James grinned.
“Or it could be the new physical education teacher,” I finished, disregarding James’s conversation completely.
Sirius snorted. “Come off it; physical education? It’s got to be a man,”
“Sod off,” Sirius said with an eye roll, “Defence, for sure,”
“PE,” I retaliated.
“You suggested Defence in the first place,” James pointed out.
“She just gets a kick out of disagreeing with me,” Sirius said lightly, “and being absurdly wrong as well, apparently,”
“We’ll see,” I said, folding my arms, “the puddings gone so I suspect Dumbledore will be introducing her as the new PE teacher right now,”
“Shut up and we’ll know then,” Sirius said, looking at me for a long moment before tearing his eyes back to the front.
“Now you’re all filled with enough food and gossip to listen to me for another few minutes, I would like to introduce you to our new head of physical education; Professor Quigley,”
“And the award for the most sexist misinformed brute in Hogwarts goes to... Sirius Black! Would you like to do your acceptance speech now, or later?” Sirius scowled darkly.
“-She will also be doubling as our new defence against the dark arts teacher!”
“The spoke too soon prize goes to... Mary! The purpled hair freak!”
“I still won, you jerk,”
“How did you?” Sirius demanded, “You’re wrong!”
“So are you.”
“Her fiancé, Mr Peacock is the new Healer in the hospital wing,” Dumbledore continued at the front of the hall. My eyes widened slightly and I completed blocked out Sirius’s ‘witty’ retort because this was... big news. Nate was my Healer who’d given my countless checkups in the past and, more than that, after the amount of time I’d spent in hospital we’d become friends.
And he was hot.
“Just look at her!” Rachel whispered, “bet her fiancé’s tasty,” She added with a conspiratory look to Charlotte.
“Or a complete horse,” Charlotte returned, “that’s usually how it goes,”
“Let’s go before the crowd control starts,” Alice said, standing up almost as soon as Dumbledore had dismissed us. The Marauders were up even faster and wound up being the first of many to escape through the wide double doors, leaving a disgruntled Lily gaping at her fellow Prefect’s back.
“What do I do now?” Lily muttered, wringing her hands and glancing at the group of first years bobbing around amongst the sea of Gryffindors moving towards the exit.
“What’s the password again?” Charlotte asked, raising an inquiring eyebrows.
“Yeah, sure – fine. Don’t help,” Lily muttered, “get the password off someone else, I need to...”
“Don’t worry, she told me earlier.” Rachel said,
“Bye,” I said to Lily helplessly before trying my very best to get as far away as possible so I didn’t wind up helping her out.
Everyone and the Fat Lady had something to say about my hair. Mostly, it wasn’t receiving a very positive response – there was a great deal of pointing, that was certain, and a fair amount of people asking the humungously significant why (to which I replied a very insignificant ‘cause I felt like it’ which hardly got people to warm to me). Either way, I was being talked about by the younger students heading up to bed, yawning and full of Hogwarts food. The older students were hanging around the common room and catching up with their classmates but, I noted, the Marauders were conspicuous only in their absence.
Which meant my only source of entertainment for the evening – bothering Sirius some more – had most likely already gone to bed. Very disappointing on all accounts, it wasn’t even ten o’clock and they appeared to have hit the sack (either that or were participating in some Marauder ritual – the group had a nickname, for Christ’s sake, they could be doing just about anything).
So now what was I supposed to do? I was sitting with Rachel, Charlotte, Alice and a few girls from the year below who were quite happily gossiping, but I’d lost the thread of the conversation and couldn’t bring myself to care about the love lives of a bunch of fifteen years olds. I could go to bed, but I wasn’t tired yet, and whenever I went to bed I always got that feeling that I’d wasted a whole day. The feeling had only increased lately as the number of days I had left decreased (although there was a decisive amount of ambiguity about how much time my timescale did have – but I think I’d rather not have a ‘death date’ scribbled in my diary somewhere. Could put a real dampener on some of my plans).
I couldn’t do any work considering we hadn’t started any yet. Due to the abysmal summer holiday I’d actually done all my holiday work and getting ahead seemed a little too pathetic. I could unpack, but where was the fun in that?
Or I could go and visit Nate in the hospital wing, which got two things done at once; I could have my check-up, and see an old friend. Perfect.
I turned around and headed back towards the portrait wondering whether I could sneak out without too many people’s attention, but the portrait had just opened once more to reveal a swarm of tiny eleven year old first years, bursting through the portrait hole and seeping into the common room with excessive ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ which generally indicated they’d all be milling around ‘exploring’ for a good twenty minutes. It also meant the arrival of Lily, the flustered chaperone.
“Boys, up those stairs, second floor on the left. Girls up those staircases, second floor on the right,”
“Where does it go, ginger?” A really short kid asked pointed to this girl who had an unfortunate resemblance to someone who might belong to the opposite gender with her short hair and harsh jaw line.
“With the rest of the boys,” Lily said tiredly. I winced for her.
“I’m a girl!” She said and Lily groaned.
“Look, I am so sorry!” She apologised quickly, “I didn’t mean...” She began, but the girl had already run up the stairs and I had the feeling she was crying. Poor thing. It’s never nice to be referred to as the wrong gender on your first day of school, especially not by someone as horrendously pretty as Lily.
The rest of the first years followed suit (apparently losing interest in the common room when there was a crying girl/boy involved) and flooded up the stairs, blocking it to everyone else; stupid annoying midgets.
“Arggh, I am such a failure!” Lily said sinking down onto the sofa. I badly wanted just to run away and go and see Nate, but I felt bad. I’d already left her to go deal with the First years on her own (although that was fully Remus’s fault, rather than mine) and that didn’t seem to have gone too well.
“You’re... not a failure?” I suggested, slumping down next to her and sort of tapping her arm. Lily wrung her hands again before shaking her head and beginning what was sure to be a very long list of complaints.
“All the little children hated me, and I had absolutely no control over them! And Remus disappeared somewhere, so I was all on my own and I couldn’t do it. My sister won’t even talk to me! And then I saw... Severus earlier and I just...” And then she brought her hand up to her face and sniffed loudly, “oh, God Mary!” Lily exclaimed, “this is just... the worst September first ever.”
“I cannot believe you kicked Sirius Black in the crotch,” Rachel said excitedly, I rolled my eyes at the ceiling for a second and contemplated what I could say in response, “what was it like?” she added.
“I thought you had a crush on him,” Charlotte said bluntly, lying on her front as she painted her nails and looked up at me, assessing me slightly.
“Erm, no,” I said, staring hard at the floor for a few long moments before glancing back up. Instead of visiting Nate I’d been cohered into retelling the fateful story, as one of the fifth years had mentioned it to them and now they were just desperate to know.
“Yeah you did!” Rachel said, “I remember,”
“No.” I answered simply.
“You did! Because I remember when he...”
“That was last year!” I said feeling annoyed. Lily laughed and Alice sent me a small smile. It was midnight and I just wanted them to all fall asleep so I could go and see Nate, but Charlotte was still expertly painting her nails and Rachel wasn’t even in her pyjamas.
“Didn’t he like snog you in a broom cupboard at some party?” Charlotte suggested, an expert smirk already arranged on her features as I sighed irritably.
“That’s right! And then the next day he got your name wrong!” Rachel added.
“That wasn’t me,” I said with gritted teeth.
“It was!” Charlotte said and I groaned, pulling my pillow over my head. “He called you Amanda!”
“In fairness, Amanda is pretty similar to Mary,”
“No it damn well isn’t!” I said angrily. “Now all of you shut up, I need some sleep.”
“Fine,” Rachel said, rolling off her bead and grabbing her pyjamas, “but you’re finishing telling the story tomorrow,”
“There is no story!” I called after her as she disappeared into the bathroom. Charlotte carefully screwed the lid back on her nail varnish and stretched them out before looking back up at me.
“With Sirius there’s always a story,” Charlotte said, “night,” She added, pulling back her curtains with a fabulous degree of finality. Charlotte always did posses the power to be dramatic.
“Hey Nate,” I said, stepping into the Hospital wing and grinning at him. He looked up from one of the beds and grinned at me, feigning shock as he registered my presence, “why didn’t you tell me you were coming to work here?” I asked; hand on hip as I watched him. Nate had been more of glorified nurse than a Healer when I’d met him and after a couple of weeks of simply taking blood test we’d ended up talking. Years later, we’d become penpals, developed a sort of sister-brother relationship (not that I didn’t have enough siblings for a lifetime) and he’d wound up better qualified and a specialist in, well, essentially me.
“Wanted it to be a surprise, but I guess the jokes on me. It’s nearly the morning, Mary, what the hell are you doing out of bed?” He was right. My plans of a late night visit were ruined by my weak body, but I’d woken up around five and snuck downstairs – doubting even if Nate would be awake. The light streaming in from between the Hospital wing blinds meant that I could just see a few lumpy shapes in the beds on the far corner. Already, it seemed, Nate had patients.
“Long story,” I said brushing it away, “I meant to come earlier, but my dorm-mates put me to sleep...But this is so great! Writing letters is such a drag,” I said, sitting down on one of the spare beds and looking up at him, “how come you’re here?” I asked, “why would you come to Hogwarts?”
“What do you think?” Nate asked, rolling his eyes, “I followed you. As you’re essentially my own patient, I might as well be useful to you. So, how are you Maz?” He asked and I grinned at the nickname; one embarrassingly out of date Healer’s attempt to ‘connect with me.’
“Just great Naz,” I said unable to pull the grin off my face. For the first time since being her I was about to have a friend at Hogwarts who knew the truth about my situation. It would be nice.
“Maz?” I heard a voice that I could only hope not to recognise. “Are you being serious?” He said, and then I couldn’t try and convince myself this was just a nightmare. I’d heard that voice often enough in the past twenty four hours to be acutely aware of who it belonged to.
“Nope, you’re Sirius,” Nate said a smile playing on his lips – I suppose given he’d just met him he hadn’t tired of the pun yet, but I could Sirius was mentally grinding his teeth, “so you two know each other then?” He asked.
“Unfortunately,” Sirius said, beating me to it.
“What are you doing here?” I asked and he pointed to the bed next to him. I strained my neck and was just about able to recognise a pale looking Remus and blanched when I received a glimpse of how truly ill he looked. Then again, Sirius didn’t look as wonderful as he usually did.
“What... what happened?” I asked shakily, stretching my neck to take another look.
“Keep your nose out of it,” Sirius said, shifting around in his own bed and stretching out his arms.
“So you’re just keeping him company?” I asked.
“McDonald, just because you’re not a nice person doesn’t mean we’re all terminally selfish.” I tried not to wince at the world ‘terminal.’ Nate, however, was acutely aware of the implications of the word and shifted uncomfortable.
“Will he be all right?”
“Ask the Doctor,” Sirius said, folding his arms and shifting his pillows.
“Whilst you’re here Mary, I’ll take your blood test,” Nate said, disappearing into the supply cupboard and immerging slightly later with a couple of potions and a needle.
“Why do you need a blood test?” Sirius asked.
“Keep your nose out of it,” I retorted sharply, looking away from Nate. Blood tests were horrible things even without watching it happen, but Sirius didn’t look away. I sent him a look.
“I’m waiting,” Sirius said, “What’s with the blood test?”
“I have a weird blood condition so I have a blood test taken every week to see how it’s affecting me for research.” I answered. Nate raised his eyebrows at me, quite clearly disapproving of the lie, before taking the sample back into his office and doing god know’s what with it.
It is not really a blood condition. It is simply a condition that makes my body deteriorate at a very fast rate without many obvious outward symptoms. Every single body dies eventually; mine is just simply dying faster than everyone else’s. Whereas it takes most people eighty years before they are weak and vulnerable, older for most wizarding folk, it will take me less than twenty years before I can no longer liver. It is still not fast: one single cell at a time. But inevitably, I will die. And there is nothing that anyone can do about.
And Nate? He doesn’t agree with lying. He doesn’t understand that the only way not to be dying is to lie and that even if I wanted to; I couldn’t tell him the truth. I wouldn’t be able to break the secret after such a long period of time. How do you tell someone that you’re dying? My mother, for example, never did.
I can reserve my right to a confession when I am ready.
And although, I’d really like to see Sirius’s face when he found out; he probably wouldn’t believe me if I dropped the big ‘D’ bombshell on him as an answer to a simple question. Because I’m dying Sirius, and do you think I’m average now?
Except if I don’t tell everyone then once again my life will be on repeat. The roles will have reversed but the story will be the same; I will be the dying parent, and Lily will be me – confused and hurt because I never told her about death.
I wouldn’t let that happen. I’d tell them all before I died.
But then, I should be dead already, what if it happened tomorrow?
“You should go back to bed Mary, lord knows you need your sleep,” Nate said, glancing as the sky turned bluer, “I’m here all year, so... plenty of time.
“Okay,” I muttered, seeing Sirius’s eyes bore into me from the other side of the room. I stared at him for a long moment and thought about things.
Everyone needs someone in their life to make them feel like shit so they don’t get big-headed and arrogant.
I’ve had plenty of those people in my lives, so I was good in that department. But Sirius Black? You could feel the arrogance radiating off him from several miles away and after yesterdays wonderful successes, I was going to do him the great favour of becoming that person. I’d make him feel like shit and I’d make him lose faith in humanity. Sure, there wasn’t much chance of reducing his ego to normality, but there was a small chance that with my newfound powers to get to him I could turn him into less of an egotistical tosser. I would consider it my gift to humanity. It was possibly one little area where I could make a difference; because I, Mary McDonald, am tough and powerful.
Or at least, I will be.
2012 edit, beta’d by the lovely Snapdragons!
Thanks for all your reviews so far guys, believe me when I say that I’ve read and appreciated every last one of them :)
I'm now officially back to answering every single one of them (or you can feel free to yell at me and what not), and you know how you want to make AC a very happy author indeed by reviewing her shiny-new-edits? Hmmm? Hmm. Thanks for reading guys!