A/N: Okay, honestly, I'm flattered by everyone's words of praise. I wouldn't be writing this story still if no one reviewed... sad, but true. Siriusly, your words of wisdom and comments make this worth it! ;) New bits of plot introduced, and I apologise in advance for both Charlotte's and Sirius's behaviour in this chapter. :)
Charlotte couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Surely, she was imagining this conversation; it was late, she must have fallen asleep writing her father a letter and she would wake up in a few minutes to find an empty common room and pieces of parchment sticking to her cheeks. Sirius Black was not in front of her and he was surely not telling her he did not mean a word he had said the night he visited her in the hospital wing.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ Charlotte argued, her brows furrowed and her heart beat beginning to quicken.
Sirius sighed and shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly.
‘I’m afraid I'm not,’ he said flatly. ‘What I said the other night… I was acting irrationally, I don’t know why I said what I did.’
‘You said you were in love with me,’ Charlotte reminded him.
‘I never actually
said that,’ retorted Sirius. ‘I may have hinted at that, but I never said it.’
‘Hinted, spoke it, whatever!’ Charlotte flared up, her temper quickly rising to the surface. ‘I know what I felt, Sirius. I’m an Empath, remember?’
‘You must have made a mistake,’ Sirius replied, shaking his head. ‘Maybe that’s what you were feeling, but I wasn’t.’
‘Now you’re telling me I’m a liar?’ Charlotte asked him contemptuously. ‘You’re saying that I don’t know my own feelings from other people’s?’
‘No, that’s not what I said,’ Sirius said slowly, fully aware he was entering dangerous grounds. ‘What I meant was that perhaps you accidentally mistook what you were feeling for what I was feeling.’
‘Oh, right,’ Charlotte said bitterly; she folded her arms and stared into the depths of the dying fire, which was beginning to resemble her own heart.
‘Well, right then,’ Sirius said briskly as he clapped his hands together and stood up. ‘Just wanted to clear that up. I’m sorry for the confusion.’
‘An “I’m sorry” is all I get, then?’ Charlotte inquired quietly, her voice condescending and odious.
‘I— ’ Sirius began, but Charlotte cut him off.
‘No, actually, you’re right,’ she said bluntly, refusing to meet his gaze. ‘There is nothing left to say. Just… Just go to bed.’
Sirius hesitated for a moment, watching Charlotte’s profile as she intently watched the fire. She denied any feeble attempt he made to meet his eyes, so he waited for a minute, watching her chest rise and fall as her breathing became heavy. If he had entered the conversation with any expectations, her handling of his ridiculous lies and rejection would have surpassed them.
He turned his back finally and headed for his dormitory, doing everything he could to deny the horrible grieving in his heart. He had turned his back on a prospectively happy future with a truly exquisite person… God, how he hated himself so much now, for making such a stupid decision that he thought was for the best.
Charlotte’s breathing was deep and heavy. She was suddenly conscious of every part of her body, from her cheekbones down to her feet, to the position of her legs pressed against her chest, to the tiny little hairs on her arms that were standing on end. In a span of five minutes, every single part of her was rejected by someone who had led her to believe that he loved her. How stupid this was… That wasn’t even the length of a decent kiss.
For reasons unknown, Charlotte dove into her bag and ripped the letter she had written to her father. She shredded it into several small pieces and cast it into the fire, her displeasure increasing with every moment that passed. Everything she had written into the extensive letter no longer mattered; at the time, she was happy and serene, convinced everything would work itself out. Now, that time seemed distant.
She watched as the parchment curled at the ends as it burned, the indifferent odour lingering in the air as Charlotte pulled out another piece of parchment and began to write.
Thank you for your letter. I am out of the hospital wing and my health is fine. Thank you for getting me a subscription to the Prophet.
I think I will stay at Hogwarts for Christmas.
Her writing was jagged and uneven; she knew her father would be upset at the shortness and abrupt fashion of her response, but she was completely unconcerned. She tossed it into her bag and stormed up the stairs to the dormitory, her mind and heart wilting like a flower in dead of winter.
* * *
Charms had never passed so slowly. It was one of their least interesting lessons to date, with Professor Flitwick focusing on the history of the Protean Charm rather than the actual instruction on how to do it. Charlotte had long lost her interest in the double-length class, and she had spent the past hour staring out the window and forcing herself not to think.
‘Charlotte?’ Lily whispered from beside her.
‘Mmm?’ Charlotte replied, forcing her gaze away from the snowy landscape.
‘Are you paying even the slightest bit of attention?’ Lily asked quietly, her hand still managing to take notes.
‘No,’ Charlotte shrugged, and she resumed her previous position with her chin in her hand, her eyes listlessly watching the snow flurry about.
A week and a half had passed since Sirius and Charlotte had reached a breaking point, and tension between the two was nearly tangible. Just knowing that he was sitting two rows and a table to the left of herself and Lily frustrated Charlotte, and she found it increasingly difficult to pay attention in classes. Thanks to Lily, her grades weren’t suffering yet, but her teachers couldn’t help but notice her indolence in classes. But the Christmas holiday was fast approaching, and Charlotte couldn’t be more appreciative of a break.
‘Homework, for next week!’ Professor Flitwick called from the pile of books he was perched on. ‘Two scrolls of parchment on the theory and history of the Protean Charm. Be prepared to begin using it after the holiday!’
The bell sounded and nearly every student groaned as they packed up their things. More homework cut into their time at Hogsmeade, as the last visit before the break was the following day. Charlotte still had to do all of her Christmas shopping, something she’d completely forgotten about until yesterday when Lily asked her which colour she preferred for her gift.
‘Are you sure you’ll be okay without me?’ Lily asked as they departed the classroom and headed for the common room. ‘I can tell my parents that I had to stay for some sort of emergency paper due at the return or something.’
‘Lily, I’ll be fine
,’ Charlotte sighed. ‘Really. Severus will be here, and I know you don’t like him very much but he is my friend. I can play the piano, catch up on all of the work I’ve been ignoring… Go to Spain with your parents and soak up some sun for me.’
‘Okay, I will, but only because you insist,’ Lily beamed, linking arms with Charlotte as they began to climb the staircase.
Lily had been incredibly understanding towards Charlotte when it came to Sirius. For the first two days, Charlotte was so upset and angry that she couldn’t even talk about it; she spent many hours in the Room of Requirement, her fingers slipping and sliding over the glossy surface of the ivory piano keys, her mind unable to concentrate. When Charlotte did open up and tell Charlotte every last detail she could remember, Lily never once said, “I told you so” or “You dodged a curse, Charlotte, you’re better off without him.” She simply listened and offered words of comfort and pieces of expensive German chocolate, which did seem to ease the pain.
Every once in a while, Sirius would try to make eye contact in the corridor or in the common room, but she had become very adept at avoiding him. The less confrontation, the better, Charlotte figured, and so far she was doing an incredible job of ignoring the whispers and jeers called at her between classes; teenagers were very nosy indeed.
The evening and night passed without much event. Aside from the general excitement of another Hogsmeade visit and Christmas, everyone seemed to be exhausted from the workload put on by the teachers. Sirius was conspicuously absent from the common room until the moment Charlotte went to bed, and she was thankful, for she finally got a good night’s sleep.
The snow had finally ceased by morning, and everyone’s spirits seemed to be high as all the third years and up gathered around the oak front doors. As usual, Mr. Filch’s demeanour was grumpy and agitated, and Charlotte and Lily were happy to breath in the fresh, crisp winter air on their walk to Hogsmeade.
‘Do you see that, over there?’ Lily asked as they embarked on the High Street, pointing to a group of students standing outside of Honeyduke’s.
‘No, what are you talking about?’ Charlotte asked, puzzled.
‘Look at that couple, there,’ Lily said again, still pointing at two students holding hands.
‘Is that… Surely not!’ Charlotte said excitedly, quickening her pace to see if her eyes were being honest.
Sure enough, Remus and Madison were holding hands and grinning at each other: the signs of a newly formed couple. For once, Remus looked healthy and cheerful; the colour had returned to his cheeks and Madison seemed to be completely spellbound by his presence. Charlotte caught his eye at the same time Lily caught Madison’s, and they both smiled and blushed before moving on to the next shop.
‘Do you think he told her?’ Charlotte asked casually, not thinking at all before she spoke.
‘Told her what?’ Lily asked, steering Charlotte into a nearby store that twinkled with real fairies and tinsel for the holidays.
‘Oh, nothing,’ replied Charlotte quickly; what a way to recover, she though to herself.
Being true to her word, Charlotte never told Lily about Remus’s lycanthrope. She knew it was not the kind of gossip worth spreading or the kind of story she would tell Lily as they tried to fall asleep at night. But now she found herself in a hole, one that she was unsure of how to climb out of.
‘What, that he’s…’ Lily began, quickly dropping her voice. ‘A werewolf?’
‘Oi, you know!’ Charlotte exclaimed with relief. ‘How did you know?’
Lily shrugged as she browsed through random trinkets and gifts, Charlotte tailing her with her eyebrows raised in surprised.
‘Oh, he told me,’ she said indifferently. ‘In our third year.’
Charlotte was so stunned she couldn’t think of a witty retort. Instead, she blinked many times before replying, ‘You’ve known for three years and never told me?’
‘He told you and you never told me!’ Lily defended herself.
‘Fine, we’re square,’ Charlotte smiled, and a short while later they left the quaint boutique with their pockets considerably lighter.
Charlotte and Lily visited nearly every shop on the High Street and managed to find a Christmas gift for everyone. Satisfied yet tired, they headed to the Three Broomsticks for an afternoon butterbeer.
Charlotte absolutely loved Hogsmeade in the winter. It looked like some sort of painting or photograph, to perfect and adorable to ever be real. The High Street’s lamps were laden with real fairies in glass bulbs, holly, tinsel, and bails of mistletoe. Shoppers were generally friendlier this time of year, and even the hags and ogres seemed to enjoy jocular conversation about the holiday and the random workings of the wizarding world.
Today, however, most of the conversations seemed to be turning towards the idea of a Dark Lord rising. After reading the Daily Prophet everyday for over a week, Charlotte couldn’t help but feel that there was a threatening shadow creeping over Britain’s magical population. Disappearances, threats, deaths, unfortunate unexplainable mishaps in the Ministry… things weren’t adding up, and people were starting to catch on.
‘You realise that by our next Hogsmeade trip, I’ll by able to buy alcohol?’ Lily asked as they entered the warm and cozy pub, the heat of the many fireplaces and multiple bodies washing over them.
‘You’re right, I didn’t even think about that,’ Charlotte replied. ‘I didn’t think you’d be excited about it.’
‘Oh, I’m well excited all right,’ Lily said deviously, tossing her cloak and scarf into an empty chair as she sat down. ‘Hah, you have to wait until next year.’
‘A piss up is not my idea of a good time,’ shrugged Charlotte as she rolled her eyes.
‘Well, we won’t know until we try, eh?’
‘Do you mind if we sit?’
Charlotte and Lily looked up simultaneously to see Remus and Madison smiling nervously at them. Surprised and delighted, Charlotte and Lily moved around the table and cleared the empty seats to allow the couple to join them. Madison sat nervously while Remus went to get the drinks, and Charlotte and Lily wasted absolutely no time in questioning her about this recent development.
‘So… when did it happen?’ Charlotte asked enthusiastically.
‘When did what happen?’ asked Madison as she pulled off her hat and gloves.
‘Oh, don’t be stupid,’ Lily joked. ‘You and Remus!’
‘Oh, that,’ Madison replied, blushing. ‘Only two days ago. He’s very nice, well fit too if you ask me.’
Charlotte turned around in her seat to get a better look at Remus, who was facing the bar, chatting to Madam Rosmerta as she poured him four pints of butterbeer. Charlotte had never looked at Remus in a romantic way and never would; she simply saw him as someone who could prove himself to good friend and an honourable man. Charlotte watched Remus for a minute, noticing that his body language and his mannerisms towards the people he was interacting with. The sound of Lily and Madison giggling faded in and out and Charlotte quickly realised how humble Remus was, despite his intellect and adverse fate.
‘Tell me, Madison,’ Lily said shrewdly. ‘On a scale of one to ten, ten being the best, how well do you know Remus?’
That one question alone was enough to snap Charlotte out of her thoughts and back to the conversation. She panicked slightly at the strange face Madison made at the query, and Charlotte was terrified Lily may have taken it a step too far.
‘Oh, I’d say a six or seven,’ Madison shrugged. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘No reason,’ Lily said lightly. ‘Butterbeer!’
Remus had picked the perfect time to glide over the table, his hands full of four steaming mugs. Charlotte shot Lily a silent look of warning and managed to truly enjoy her afternoon, despite the fact that Sirius waltzed in at half past four, looking haughty and handsome.
* * *
‘Are you absolutely positive you don’t want me to stay?’
‘Lily, honestly, I’m a big girl. I can handle this for myself.’
Lily was standing at the door of the girl’s dormitories, looking worried. She was fully dressed with her trunk packed, unlike Charlotte, who was sitting in her nightdress at the edge of her bed. After a hectic week of class and preparation for Christmas, the day had finally come that Lily, along with most of the Hogwarts student body, would be leaving to spend the holiday with their family. Charlotte knew she’d be slightly lonely, but she had no idea she would feel as depressed as she did.
Lily looked at her best friend doubtfully, noting how Charlotte’s posture seemed to sag with every passing moment. It was already ten in the morning and they had both missed breakfast, yet Charlotte had refused to get dressed as Lily packed up her things.
‘Alright then,’ remarked Lily forlornly as she crossed the room to give Charlotte a hug. ‘You write to me if you need anything. Got that? Anything.’
‘I got it, Lily,’ Charlotte smiled. ‘Really, I’ll be fine.’
‘You’ve used that word so many times in the last two weeks it hardly sounds like a word anymore,’ Lily teased. ‘I’ll see in just under three weeks.’
‘Have fun!’ Charlotte called as Lily dragged her trunk out and closed the door.
Charlotte looked around the empty dormitory and sighed. Every sixth year girl apart from Charlotte went home to her family for Christmas, and every now and then she doubted her decision to stay. But what would she have gone home for? Her father was busy, and apparently so busy that he never got the chance to write her back.
Charlotte shut the hangings, flopped back into bed, and pulled the duvet up over her head, fighting the intense curiosity of whether or not Sirius was staying at Hogwarts. She closed her eyes and blocked everything from her mind; she was determined to sleep away at least half of this break.
A/N: And the important question is... can Charlotte and Sirius swallow their pride? Dramatic and heavy stuff coming soon, from your incredibly appreciative kungfu_gerbil. :D