Chapter 12 : Distraction
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“What is she doing here?” Peter asked, leaning in towards his friends while waiting for Charms to begin on Monday morning, making his flimsy chair tilt and creak from the uneven weight distribution.
The three boys whipped their heads around towards the door to see a pallid redhead enter. Her eyes stayed on them as she walked to her seat. Her eyebrow was arched, demanding to know what it was they were looking at. They all averted their gaze, but Peter continued to talk.
“James, I thought you said her parents just died,” Peter said, his voice carrying far enough to be audible across the room, to Lily. Sirius let out a frustrated sigh and Remus rolled his eyes, groaning.
“Peter,” James grumbled quietly through gritted teeth, “shut…your…trap…before…I…punch…you…in…the face.”
He glanced nervously back at Lily and saw the resigned look on her face, her chin resting on her hands. It appeared that she was squinting at something, but looking closer, her eyes were merely puffy from last night. She seemed to have made an effort to look put together, her hair pulled neatly back in a ponytail and her uniform crisp. But three pounds of makeup wouldn’t have been able to conceal that she was anything but cool and composed.
She did a good job trying, though. James saw her taking notes furiously as Professor Flitwick talked, raising her hand every time a question was asked. She gave a textbook explanation on the properties of a corporal patronus and frankly, carried on like a know-it-all throughout class. However, her façade of normalcy was superficial, and a tremor in her voice could be heard as she elucidated her view on which factors affected the form of one’s patronus.
What was more, it seemed Lily had nothing to say on the theory of paternal influence on a patronus’s shape. The question of heredity was beyond her, and she chewed on her nails, eyes locked on the back of the chair in front of her while Remus elaborated.
On the way to the next class, James sped ahead of his friends and caught up with Lily, who was walking at an oddly rapid pace. He tugged on the strap of her book bag to make her slow down, and she spun her head around nervously, making a small noise of surprise.
“You okay?” James asked. Lily glanced at him but didn’t reply. “I mean,” he continued, “it seems like a lot to take on right after…well—“ he trailed off.
“If I didn’t,” Lily explained mechanically, “I wouldn’t have any distractions.”
“I can understand that,” James empathized.
“Why?” Lily spat back. “When’s the last time your parents died?”
“No, that’s not what I meant! I just know the feeling of wanting to keep going, you know? Pretending it doesn’t bother you. Trying to forget it ever happened, because if it never happened, it can’t hurt you.”
Lily frowned. “Does it work?” she asked, words laced with irritation.
“It works,” James replied slowly, “until you stop moving. Then it hits you like a brick on the head, and it hurts. Really, really bad.” He gave her a knowing look, and in return she glared up at him and pursed her lips.
“I’ll keep moving then,” she retorted venomously, and cut ahead of James, her ponytail whipping his shoulder.
Corinne shuffled through her book bag as she walked, searching for the library book on contemporary goblin history that she was on her way to return. Being as occupied as she was, she did not notice the large stone column in front of her, and the shape barely registered until she had already crashed forcefully into it and was groaning on the floor.
A sharp fit of laughter exploded from somewhere behind her, and she opened her eyes to see Sirius Black standing over her, guffawing with delight.
“Corinne, love, it is quite possible that you have just made my day,” Sirius said, still laughing.
“I’m glad some good came out of that,” she grumbled, rubbing her forehead. Her honey-colored hair was splayed out oddly around her head like a halo, giving her a peculiar outline.
Sirius reached out a hand, which Corinne took and pulled herself up, blushing slightly. He stared at her as if searching for something, then rolled his eyes and grinned mischievously. Corinne shifted uneasily and gave a nervous laugh.
“What?” she asked. “What are you looking at?”
Sirius looked almost sincere, and then replied, “You have a great red lump on your forehead.”
“What does it look like?”
“It looks a bit like you ran into a pole, to be honest.”
“Where were you off to in the first place before you were foiled by a stationary object?” Sirius asked. He hadn’t yet stopped smiling.
“But it’s lunch break. What normal person spends lunch in the library?”
“I was returning a book. Anyways, I’ll have to take a detour through the Hospital Wing now to get rid of this bump,” Corinne pointed to her head.
“Well good luck with that,” Sirius said. He grew quiet and meditative for a moment, his eyes glazing over. Confused, Corinne raised an eyebrow and walked past him.
“Later,” she said, waving.
Sirius stuttered and blurted out, “Oy, Corinne!”
She turned around. “What?”
“Go out with me?” He said it more as an affirmation than a question.
She held in a smile and replied, “Yeah,” then turned on her heel and walked away with a springy gait.
A loud slamming of books on a table startled James before the bell in Transfiguration. He looked up to see Sirius standing over him, grinning wildly.
“What are you so bloody cheery about?” James grumbled.
“Guess who’s got a girl, Prongs,” Sirius burst, his eyes lighting up.
“Er, Remus, for once?”
“No, you dolt,” Sirius scolded, slapping James playfully on the back of his head, “I do.”
“Who’s the lucky bimbo?” James asked. Sirius glared at him.
“Corinne,” he replied, and then, as an afterthought, said, “But she’s not a bimbo.”
“Who’s a bimbo?” Remus interjected from the row behind them.
“Nobody is a bloody bimbo!” Sirius cried, exasperated.
“Who are you talking about?” Peter demanded from the seat beside Remus.
“Your mum, Peter. Shut your gob,” Sirius retorted.
“Likewise, if you will, Mister Black,” McGonagall’s cold voice interrupted from the front of the class, “while I’m enlightening you all on how to turn a cello into a bed frame.”
Sirius sat down, but not before making a blatantly rude hand gesture towards Peter.
“Are you sure? You don’t have anything for me to do?” Lily queried.
“Yes, quite sure. Don’t you have three foot essays to write or something?” Madam Bowne replied.
“Well yes, but—“
“Then what, child, are you doing here begging for more work? Get on with your studying and rune analyzing and such! Go on, out the door!” Madam Bowne exclaimed. Hesitantly, Lily complied and left, frowning.
The common room was crowded, as she expected. It was a miserably cold Monday afternoon, and yesterday’s sleet had frozen into a slippery ice that covered the grounds. There was nothing to lure the students out from the warmth of a jam-packed common room with a calmly cracking fire to the frigid, iced-over outdoors.
As Lily looked around for an empty spot to work, she felt someone’s eyes burning into her. Whipping around, she saw the Marauders lazing about on the couches, belongings littered across them to display that there was room for no one else. Sirius had his Transfiguration book lying face down on his stomach and was running his quill under his nose. Remus was scrawling rapidly across a piece of parchment, and Peter was looking over his shoulder, copying him.
But one marauder’s eyes were trained directly on Lily. He made no effort at subtlety, and he didn’t avert his gaze even when Lily stared right back at him. He had an unexplainable calm that made her feel guilty for feigning such indifference about everything, when she knew he of all people would never buy it.
James shifted his books on the couch and pointed at the space next to him. Lily faltered only for a moment before complying and sitting down.
“Hi,” he said.
“Er…well, I didn’t go to the Wing…and—“ Lily stuttered, “and so I’m here, because…isn’t it cold?”
Sirius lifted his head and craned it around to give her a confused look. “Oh, eloquently put, Lily.”
Before Lily could retort, James broke in. “Shut up, Padfoot,” he said protectively.
Sirius shook his head and turned back around to continue playing with his quill. He murmured something that sounded distinctively like, “At least I’ve got a girlfriend.”
“So,” James said, “how goes the distraction plan?”
Lily didn’t reply. She didn’t have to, because she could tell James knew he was right.
Awkwardly, Lily took a quill and piece of parchment out of her book bag and titled the paper ‘The Patronus as a Defense Mechanism’. James, in turn, opened his Advanced Defensive Theory book and stared determinedly down at the words. Though the common room was noisy, it seemed as if where they sat, you could hear a pin drop on a pillow.
Sirius, of course, acknowledged this, and began singing ‘God Rest You, Merrye Hippogriffs’, loud enough to annoy anyone within ten feet of him. As he got more into it, he began swishing his quill about like a conductor’s baton, drawing the attention of others nearby.
“Really,” James said, “it’s no wonder I don’t have any other friends. You scare them all away.”
“Are you saying you’re embarrassed by me?” Sirius asked, feigning shock.
“I am,” Remus interjected, looking up from his work. Peter giggled quietly, but Sirius chose to ignore him.
“Can’t a bloke show some enthusiasm over school being out on Thursday without being shunned by his friends?” Sirius cried to no one in particular. Then, in the silence that now consumed the entire room, he exlcaimed, “That’s it, James! No chesty blonde strippers for you this Christmas!”
It was quarter to twelve that night, and the common room had finally emptied. Lily, after running out of things to do, had long since gone to sleep, and Remus and Peter had retired as well, leaving James and Sirius alone with the dying fire. Sirius rambled on to James about Corinne, unconsciously repeating that she didn’t live too far from James’ house, so they could hang out over break.
“Which means, of course, that I’ll sleep in the basement, because you know I’ll be putting that escape window to good use.”
“So I’ve heard,” James replied dully.
While trying to block out Sirius’ incessant dirty ideas, James heard footsteps creaking down the stairs, and he twisted his head around, hoping for his sake that it was Remus or Peter so Sirius could have someone else to talk to. But what met his eyes was Lily, dressed in long blue pajama pants and a white sweater, looking distressed.
“Lily?” James asked. “What’s wrong?”
She walked over and sat down in an armchair next to James, tears welling in her eyes. Sirius took it as his cue to go up to bed, leaving James alone with Lily.
“I couldn’t go to sleep,” she said, her voice quivering, “and then…and then I started thinking, and I remembered I won’t see my family this Christmas, or any Christmas…and I miss them.” Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she hastily wiped them away. But they kept coming, and she moved onto the couch with James, burying her face in his neck. Unlike the night before, she cried softly, but James could still feel her heart breaking just as much. He knew she wouldn’t be able to get through the holidays in a big and empty castle; she needed friends, a house, and a family.
“Lily, why don’t you come stay with me for Christmas?”
A/N Can you believe it's been twelve whole chapters already? Well, as you can see, things are getting very interesting, and there may just be some romance up ahead. Other than, you know, Sirius and Corinne in the basement. *ahem* Aaanyways...
Thank you all so much for the great reviews I've been getting, and remember your input is always very much appreciated, so please give me your thoughts on this chapter!
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