A/N: Hello, my faithful readers! I just realized that I haven’t put an author’s note in this story yet, but I’m going to do it now. Thank you all so very much for your kind words in your reviews. You have no idea how much they mean to me and how much they inspire me. It’s because of you guys that I’m writing this story and posting chapters. I just wanted to say thank you and keep showing me some love in the form of reviews.
X - X - X
The dormitory was empty. I sighed heavily, tossing my bag of books on my bed. I sent a glance over at the bathroom door and decided that I deserved a nice hot shower. Tension had been pinching my shoulders the entire day and I knew that the steam would help loosen my muscles. Kicking off my shoes and pulling off my socks, I made my way toward the bathroom. Just before I went into the bathroom, I looked at the alarm clock on Marlene’s bedside table.
I had forty five minutes before dinner started and I was expected to sit with the Marauders for dinner.
Merlin help me.
I turned on the tap and let the water warm up while I ran my fingers through my hair, working out all the knots that would only get more tangled when water touched them if I didn’t tug them out now. I pealed off my clothes, tossing them to the floor, and stepped into the shower.
I welcomed the hot water on my skin, even though it burned a little. Tipping my head back, I let the water drenched my hair and wipe away all the sweat that had formed at my hairline. A day’s worth of grim, even though I hadn’t done anything particular dirty that day, washed down the drain. Almost immediately, I started feeling better.
The tense coils in my shoulders were beginning to un-kink themselves and I rolled my head to the side. While the water was scalding and turning my pale skin bright red, it felt wonderful. I stood under the spray of the shower for a little more than fifteen minutes before I finally came to my senses and washed up. Like always, I watched with transfixed eyes as the foamy water swirled down the drain. I wasn’t sure why I did that, I guess it was just habit.
I shut off the water five minutes later and stepped out of the shower, blindly reaching for a towel. I wrapped the fluffy towel around myself and wrung the water out of my hair. The steam swirled as I walked through it and fogged up the mirror. I wiped the steam off the glass with my hand and surveyed my reflection. Compared to the last time that I had really studied myself in the mirror, I looked a hell of a lot better.
But that’s not say that I looked anything like Lucinda Matthews. I wasn’t gorgeous, but I wasn’t ugly. I guess you could say that I was stuck in the middle; yeah, that sounds about right, I was average. If I was ugly, I would’ve probably been picked on throughout my school years and if I was drop dead gorgeous, I’m pretty sure that guys would’ve noticed me. So yeah, I would say that average was the perfect word to describe my appearance.
I had always been slender, but not in an athletic way. I really didn’t have a hard jaw line or sharp, high cheekbones. My face was round, the planes of my cheeks smooth, the slope of my nose was gradual and short and my nose came to a round point at the end. My upper lip was much full than my bottom lip, which sort of made my face look out of proportion. But other than my slightly fuller top lip, the lines of my mouth were smooth. Absolutely nothing about my face made me remarkable. Nothing made me stand out, not even my blue eyes. If anything, my brown hair made me blend in with the rest. Which was never a problem. In fact, I kind of liked it that way.
“What are you doing?” I asked my reflection, shaking my head to myself as I finished drying off and put my uniform back on. It might have been dinner, but uniforms were still required. Bringing the towel with me, I stepped into the dormitory, only to find Leanne and Marlene perched on their beds, talking.
At my entrance, they turned toward the bathroom door and smiled in welcome.
“I didn’t know anyone else was here,” Leanne said as I crossed the room, towel drying my hair.
“Oh, you didn’t hear the shower running?” I asked as I dropped down onto my knees at the foot of my bed and rifled through my trunk for my hairbrush.
Leanne shook her head. “No, I didn’t. Sorry.” She smiled in apology.
I found my brush and began working out the tangles that had already knotted in my hair. I scowled; I hadn’t even been out of the shower for three minutes and knots were already forming. Just great. I winced when I pulled too hard on a particular knot and, eventually, I threw my brush to the ground in frustration.
Neither Marlene nor Leanne said anything, thankfully, so I found a new pair of socks, stuffed my feet into them, and then got down on my hands and knees searching for my shoes. Somehow, they had managed to get themselves tucked underneath my bed and I strained to reach my left shoe. When I pulled my arm out from underneath my bed, it was covered with dust.
Great. This was freakin’ fantastic!
I wasn’t sure why I was suddenly so angry at everything that normally went wrong during my day, but I supposed it had something to do with the fact that this would be the last meal I would ever eat. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. I had come to terms with it in the shower.
Lucinda would see me eating dinner with her boyfriend and his friends and automatically assume that I was trying to steal Sirius away from her, even after I had told her that I didn’t have those sort of intentions. Or worse, she would think that I was trying to get all buddy-buddy with him so I could tell him that she was cheating on him with Amos Diggory.
Oh boy, I wonder how the professors will react to murder in the Great Hall? What about the Prophet? What sort of headlines would be written then? What would my Aunt Eliza do once she received word that I had been killed in the Great Hall brawl?
My stomach dropped just thinking about it and I resisted the urge to vomit all over the floor. I had to pull myself together. The worst thing that could happen was that she would attack me, but the teachers would pull us apart, right? I mean, the most damage she could do in a cat fight is scratch out my eye and paralyze me from the waist down. That’s the worst she could manage in a thirty second period of time, right?
I gulped, threw my brush back in my trunk, and slammed it shut. I didn’t bother locking it like I normally did. I pushed off of the floor, wiping the dust of my left sleeve. I forced my feet into my shoes and without so much as another look at Lily and Alice, I made my way down the staircase.
When I reached the foot of the stairs, Remus was waiting for me. I gulped again. Why? Why did he have to be standing there, waiting for me, all the while looking like something good to eat?
Oh shit, had I really just referred to him as food? It was probably just because I was hungry. Yeah, that’s it. I wasn’t some sort of deranged psychopath who rated people on the scale of hotness by their ability to be eaten.
“Hi,” he said brightly.
“Hello,” I replied, trying my hardest not to toss my cookies everywhere.
“Padfoot told me that you agreed to come to dinner with us, but I just had to see for myself if he was telling the truth or not,” Remus explained.
The feeling of nausea eased in my stomach. “What makes you think that I’ll be joining you?”
“Well,” he started, slipping his hands into his pockets and leaning against the wall casually. “The way I see it, you really don’t have a choice now.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I’m standing right here, aren’t I?”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest. “Am I supposed to feel threatened?”
His smile faltered and a glimmer of worry flashed in his warm brown eyes. “Well, no. Why, do you feel threatened?”
I shook my head. “Not particularly, no.”
“In that case,” Remus said. “I’ll be escorting you to dinner.”
I attempted to raise just one eyebrow, but failed miserably; I had never mastered that skill like Sirius and Remus had. Damn it. “Oh, you will, will you? What makes you think that I’ll go willing?”
Remus chuckled. “From what I understand, a lady never refuses an escort.”
I looked over both of my shoulders before turning back to him. “What lady? I don’t see a lady anywhere,” I said jokingly, a small smile twitching at the corners of my mouth.
His face suddenly turned serious and a small smile worked its way onto his lips. “Really? Because I could swear that I’m looking at one right now.”
Okay, before this can go any further, I’d like to take a moment and inform you that I don’t take very well to pick up lines. Of any sort. Even the most charming of pick up lines manage to bounce right off of me. Not that boys have ever used pick up lines on me, but I’ve seen it in action and it’s just plain nauseating. But there was a difference between a boy who was just using a line to pick up a girl and a boy who wasn’t trying to pick up a girl, but deliver her a compliment instead.
My mind wanted to believe that that was Remus’s intention. So, I let it.
I could feel the heat creeping up in my cheeks as I stepped off the last step. Thankfully, I didn’t stumble and twist my ankle. Instead, I managed to seem a little bit graceful. At least, I hoped I looked the least bit graceful.
X - X - X
When we walked through the doors of the Great Hall, I had been expecting Lucinda to be waiting at the foot of the short steps with her hands on her hips and a glower on her face. I had been expecting her little gaggle of followers to be surrounding her, crackling their knuckles with ugly, matching grimaces on their face. I had been expecting to eat cobblestone before I even reached the end of the stairs.
But of course, I had been completely wrong. The Great Hall was barely full, just a few students sat at the table. I assumed that it was still early in the evening and people were either in their respective common rooms or hunched over essays in the library, trying in vain to complete their assignments before the roaring hunger in their stomach got to them.
To tell you the truth, I was glad that there weren’t many people in the Great Hall when Remus and I entered. I didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to myself. I didn’t want people to stare at me while we walked down the small aisle between the tables. I didn’t want anyone to see me sit down at the table with the Marauders, acting like they were my best friends. Because they weren’t and most people would probably be questioning their sanity. I know I would be if I saw me sitting down with the Marauders.
Of course, it wasn’t exactly common knowledge that I had witnessed Sirius Black’s girlfriend cheating on him with a Hufflepuff. And not just any Hufflepuff, but Amos Diggory. Most people didn’t know, since the two acted civil toward each other when they were forced into any given situation, but in truth, they hated each other. I’ll give you one guess as to why.
Nope, it wasn’t because of Lucinda Matthews. Well, not at first, anyway. I’m sure Diggory was bitter about that now, but when their feud, for lack of a better word started, it began over, what else, but Quidditch. There wasn’t any bad blood between Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, but from what I picked up on other people saying, there was a match in third year that went bad. Apparently, Sirius had been doing his job and whacked a Bludger in Diggory’s direction when he wasn’t paying attention. The force of the blow sent the Hufflepuff sailing straight toward the ground. Diggory fell about twenty feet and ended up breaking his wrist, enabling him to play for the rest of the season.
I mean, that’s just the rough version I’ve heard. Some people say that once everyone touched down on the ground, Diggory attacked Sirius and broke his nose. But I could knew that rumor was just that: a rumor. How? Because Sirius’s nose didn’t look broken at all.
Circe, here you go again! Thinking about that blasted Black boy when you’re about to sit down and share dinner with his best mate! Way to be a slag, Briggs. Way to go.
I mentally scolded the voice in my head and realized that I had been scolding that voice more than I had been thanking it like I had in the past. Before this whole situation happened, before I found myself in this sticky mess, I had relied heavily on the voice in the back of my head. But now, I just found it downright annoying.
“Are you just going to stand there or are you actually going to sit down?” Remus asked.
I shook myself out of my temporary stupor and found that we had reached the table and Remus had sat down. I smiled tightly at him and took the seat beside him. Peter was the only other Marauder present. I assumed James and Sirius were either causing havoc or actually doing their homework. I mentally snorted. Yeah, right. Potter and Black doing homework was just ridiculous.
The good thing about arriving to dinner early was that you got first dibs on everything. And by everything, I mean every single thing. The massive bowl of mashed potatoes hadn’t been touched. There was a variety of juicy meats that hadn’t been picked over. Pumpkin juice was practically overflowing from the silver pitchers. And the gravy, oh sweet Merlin, the gravy boats were actually full! My stomach gave a small, triumphant roar and I wasted no time shoveling food onto my plate.
“Pumpkin juice?” Peter asked, gesturing toward the pitcher in his hand.
I nodded, swallowing the hunk of succulent steak in my mouth. “Please,” I said, pushing the masticated cow to the side of my mouth so my words were audible. I could only imagine how attractive I looked.
Peter filled my goblet with freshly squeezed pumpkin juice and I drank over half of the cup before I lowered it from my lips and set it on the table.
Beside me, Remus chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” I questioned, my fork halfway to my mouth.
“You,” he replied, smiling. Before I could ask what I had done that had entertained him so immensely, he shook his hair out of his eyes and added, “I can tell that you don’t get to dinner early.”
I winced, but I couldn’t help smiling at him. “Is it really that obvious?” Remus nodded as did Peter. My eyes widened. “You mean you noticed, too?”
Peter sniggered and, again, nodded his head. “Yeah, I did.”
I sent a mock glower at Remus before violently shoving my fork into my mouth. I immediately regretted it, as I stabbed my tongue with one of the prongs on my fork. Speaking of Prongs…
“Where are James and Sirius? Don’t they normally sit with you?”
“They’re down in the kitchens.”
“The kitchens?” I said, whistling. I was impressed. I thought I was one of the few students who knew about the location of the kitchens. Of course, I had discovered it by accident when I got myself lost in second year. Maybe that’s why I’m developing love handles. “What are they doing in the kitchens?”
Peter chewed the dinner roll in his mouth before answering, “If we told you, we’d-.”
“Have to kill me?” I guessed, smiling all the same.
Peter beamed and reached for another dinner roll. Now that he was eating them, they did look rather appetizing. I snatched one out of the basket, buttered it up, and tore off the end. It melted in my mouth. Oh Merlin, this wasn’t good.
X - X - X
By the time James and Sirius arrived to the table, I was stuffed. I could feel the waistband of my skirt tightening uncomfortably. I wish I was wearing trousers: I would’ve unsnapped the top button and hide it underneath my jumper.
“’ello,” James said cheerfully as he dropped down on the bench across from me, sitting next to Peter.
“Hi,” Remus, Peter, and I chorused in unison. They were still consuming food in massive proportions and I suddenly wondered where they put it all.
“So?” Remus drawled anxiously, leaning forward and getting the sleeve of his shirt in gravy. “Yay or nay?”
Sirius and James glanced at one another surreptitiously. Their eyes gleamed with mischief and I know whatever business they had been conducting had been successful, to say the very least.
“Yay,” Sirius said, winking in my direction.
My knees did that same melty-knocking together thing that they had been doing for the past three hours at the mere sight of Sirius. My God, this was getting ridiculous. I might have to start my reply to Aunt Eliza sooner than I thought. She would know what to do, wouldn’t she? Dear Merlin, I hoped she would know what to do. She had always given me some reasonable advice in the past that had helped me out quite a bit, so surely she wouldn’t fail me now…would she?
My stomach flipped uncomfortably and I could feel the medium-well steak that I had just ingested practically begging to be upchucked.
Because I had been lost in my own mind, I hadn’t been able to fully register the reactions of Remus and Peter. But they were still smiling like maniacs, so I was assuming that it must be something good.
“So,” James began a few seconds later, wagging his fork at me as he spoke. “Have you been getting in the mood for Quidditch?”
“Uh, not really,” I replied. He opened his mouth, looking ready to deliver the tongue lashing from hell when I held my hands up, adding hastily, “but that’s because I’ve had a lot of homework. I did think about it a little bit today.”
“And?” His eyes narrowed behind his glasses. Man, he really could be intimidating if he wanted to be.
“And I think that I should get a little bit more into the whole House spirit thing. I mean, I’ve only ever been to one of the school matches and I ended up getting a nosebleed halfway through because of the high altitude.”
All four of them stared at me, slack jawed, before they burst out into loud, uproarious laughter. Well, Peter’s laugh was more of a girlish titter, but the rest of them were obnoxious. Especially Sirius, it was almost as though he was barking each time he laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I demanded.
“You can’t be - did you really - there’s no way - is that -,” was pretty much the general response to my question.
Before I knew it, their infectious laughter made me start to giggle. I just couldn’t help it. I mean, really, getting a nosebleed at the high altitudes was really stupid, now that I thought about it. And yeah, I was a little insulted that they would laugh at me, but it was something to laugh about. I mean, how many kids actually got nosebleeds at Quidditch matches from heights, and not because they got pummeled by the Quaffle?
Then, I realized that I was the only one laughing. Right when I had accidentally let a snort slip. I immediately sobered up when I saw that they were staring at me with their jaws hanging open again.
“What?” I asked a bit breathlessly. Laughing really stole your breath away.
“You’re really serious about that, aren’t you?” James said.
I nodded. “Yeah, I am. Why would I lie about something so ridiculous as that? I mean, I can be a relatively creative person at times, but I’m not that inventive.”
“So that’s the only reason why you don’t come to matches?” Sirius asked.
Again, I nodded. “Well, yeah. I mean, what’s the point in going if I’m going to get a nosebleed five minutes into the game and have to trek all the way back to the Hospital Wing? Last time it happened, I had lost so much blood that I actually fainted.”
“Really?” Peter squeaked, his watery blue eyes wide.
“Yep,” I nodded. “Like I said, I may have an imagination, but it’s not that overactive.”
The food disappeared from the golden platters only to be replaced by delicious looking desserts. I suppose I could squeeze a few more bites of the Crum Brulee. I mean, did you see how scrumptious it looked? I licked my lips and forked some onto my plate.
We all munched on our desserts for a few minutes in a companionable silence and, as much as I hated to admit it, I actually enjoyed eating dinner with the Marauders. They were all very nice, they made me laugh ( mentally, most of the time, as the only time I had laughed in front of them, which was just now, I had snorted. Which generally happens any time I laughed ) and their company was infectious. It was like a fever I couldn’t get rid of. It was like an itch I just couldn’t stop scratching.
I knew this would be potentially problematic in the future, but I had never had many friends, so why couldn’t I indulge in the fact that these people actually wanted to associate with me. They actually wanted to be my friends. For too long, I had shut everyone out. I had put up a thick wall, refusing to even let people take a peek on the other side. I had not only shut out everyone; I had shut out myself.
James spoke to me, but I didn’t catch his words. I blinked and asked him to repeat his question.
“Do you think you would brave another match if Moony and Wormtail sat with you? You know, to make sure you didn’t get another nosebleed from the high altitudes,” his voice cracked near the end, as he was struggling to hold back his laughter. His lips were quivering as he tried to fight off a smile, but he couldn’t conquer that feat and a wide grin broke out across his face.
Charming is, quite possibly, the perfect word anyone could use to describe James Potter. I was already finding myself attached to him and I had only talked to him on a number of occasions that I could probably count on one hand.
I considered his words. What was the harm in attempting to go to a match? I mean, everyone else did it and maybe that nosebleed was a fluke. Maybe my nerves had triggered it. Or maybe gravity decided that it didn’t want that much blood in my brain and said, ‘Nose, you shall bleed and bleed heavily.’
Oh wow, I was giving voices to natural forces. Merlin, I was going insane.
I looked at all of their faces in turn, my eyes stopping the longest on Sirius. He winked at me again and my knees were knocking together so badly, I swore people in Africa could hear.
“Sure,” I said, smiling tightly as I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t see why not. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Well, you could fall out of the stands,” Peter said.
I blanched and glanced at Remus helplessly. “D-does that really happen?”
Someone kicked me underneath the table and I cried out. “Ouch!”
“Oops,” James apologized. “That kick was meant for Peter. And to answer your question, that only happened once in a Bulgarian match and that was because one of the crazed fans was trying to jump on one of the player’s brooms to give their team the advantage.”
My mouth formed a small ‘O’ as I reached under the table and rubbed my shin. That was going to bruise.
“When’s the next match?” I asked as I stuffed another fork of Crum Brulee into my mouth. This was like an orgasm of the mouth, that’s how good this stuff was. Honestly, there was no food like Hogwarts food. Not even Aunt Eliza’s cooking and she was freaking amazing at cooking. At least, in my opinion she was.
“Next Saturday,” Remus said. “It’s not a Gryffindor match, but Ravenclaw is playing Slytherin, so it should be a good match nonetheless.”
“Yeah,” Sirius agreed, nodding his head. “You can sit with us, if you’d like. I promise I’ll keep the cursing to a minimum, if that sort of thing bothers you.” He smiled charmingly.
“Cursing doesn’t bother me,” I said. If only they could hear the way I cursed in my own head. Yeesh, they’d probably think that I was insane. Of course, I was still doubting my own sanity.
“Good,” Sirius said. “It’s settled.” He glanced at his wristwatch and took a long pull from his goblet of pumpkin juice, draining it. His eyes locked with mine and I felt like he was looking right through me, a feeling that was neither welcome nor comfortable. “You finished yet?”
When I nodded, he nodded, too. “Good. Let’s get to the library before all the good Potions books are taken.”
A bit dumbfounded, I pushed myself away from the bench and struggled to get my leg out from underneath the bench without tripping. Like last time, Remus grabbed my elbow and helped me. I thanked him and waited until James and Sirius finished talking.
“Ready?” Sirius questioned as he came up to my side.
I could feel several pairs of curious eyes on us. “Yep, but we’ll have to run up to the common room so I can get my stuff from the girls’ dormitory.”
“No need to worry,” Sirius said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a miniature satchel that looked exactly like mine. Once we were out of the Great Hall and away from curious eyes and ears, he performed an Enlargement Charm. He handed my satchel over to me.
I looked up at him in wonder. “How did you - I mean, how could you - um, wow.” I finished lamely, chuckling softly. “Thanks,” I said a bit unsurely. I wasn’t sure if I should be impressed or slightly disturbed that he had managed to retrieve my satchel.
“No problem,” he grinned. And we were off to the library.