A/N: A little 'previously on' because it occurs to me the Ravenclaw section would have fit much better in the last chapter :S oops: Gryffindor “Well usually, Pads… When a girl rankles you like that Ravenclaw does it’s only a matter of time before the tension turns sexual and you find yourself in the Room of Requirement.”
A pause. Then, Sirius gave a loud, barking laugh.
“And you think that’s what’s going to happen with me and Turner?” His eyebrows raised in incredulity.
“It’s not that absurd Sirius.” Remus spoke up. “Face it. Arguments turn you on.” Sirius looked horrified.
“Come now,” scolded James. “You shouldn’t make such vicious accusations without documentary proof.”
“I’ll find a bloody Pensieve if I have to and drag this very conversation out of my head! And then what would you do?”
“My guess is detention.” Sirius looked at James with an amused smirk. “We might get detention, Prongs. Whatever shall we do?” James laughed in response and I silently kicked myself. They would take punishment lightly.
“So Turner,” Sirius began conversationally. His eyes narrowed slightly as he turned to look at me. “What the hell is your problem?”
“ ‘What the hell is my problem’? ” I spluttered in indignation. “What the hell is your problem more like.” I glared at Sirius Black, hoping my eyes spit venom.
“So you’re not going to answer my question?”
“It’s a stupid question.”
“A stupid question for a stupid – ”
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!”
His eyes danced in mirth.
“ Girl. A stupid question for a stupid girl.” My teeth ground together and my breath came in short, heavy, angry gasps.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” I seethed. He was spread out across the grass, leaning back on his arms with his lips curled in an ugly smirk. He shrugged.
“I never could resist a dare.”
“I wasn’t daring you, you silly, silly little man!”
“Oh.” Sirius feigned a look of surprise. “My mistake.”
“So tell me Sirius…” My reply was stalled by James’ mocking voice as he raised an eyebrow in his friend’s direction. “Are you and Turner arguing?” What the hell was that supposed to mean? There was something akin to triumph in Potter’s expression. Sirius must have been as confused as me because he frowned at James.
“Shut up, Prongs. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well that makes two of you!”
Sirius opened his mouth to retort, but his eyes flickered towards James and he caught himself. He took a small breath and tried again.
“I’m sorry Turner.”
“Yeah, you better - ! Wait.” My eyes widened as I realised what he had said. “What?”
“I’m sorry.” Sirius shrugged again, as if he apologising were the most natural thing in the world and not the stuff of fiction.
“And what?” Sirius asked, bemused.
“Well there’s obviously more to it. You’re not just apologising.”
“Actually I am.” I frowned. What was he playing at? “I’m sorry.” God, that was the third time he’d said those words! It was putting me on edge…
“Well you’re certainly the sorriest excuse for a human being I’ve ever come across, if that’s what you mean.”
“I’m not surprised you think that.” Huh? That was not how he was supposed to respond. “But I don’t think you’re stupid. Of course I don’t. I just say things sometimes that…”
“I’m not falling for it,” I interjected bluntly.
“Falling for what?” Sirius blinked up at me, his face a picture of innocence. James was attempting to stifle a snigger; that was proof enough that something was not right.
“Whatever it is you’re planning.”
“I’m not planning anything!” Sirius protested with a weary sigh. But I saw his teeth grit together for the briefest moment and felt a flash of triumph. He couldn’t maintain this façade forever. “Look, it’s like this. James doesn’t like Winters, so you don’t like James, so I don’t like you, so you don’t like me.” I followed his reasoning with furrowed brows. “Does that seem fair to you?”
“No it does not. So what do you say we forget the last couple of months and go back to living in almost mutual exclusivity? Leave the conflict to the lovers.”
I could only stare at Black. Was he serious? When a minute passed and I still hadn’t replied, Sirius’ expression slipped again. He glared at me briefly with a huff of impatience. I pursed my lips and rose to my feet.
“I don’t know what you’re playing at Black, but I’m not an idiot.” Sirius looked as if he kept from speaking with great difficulty. “Give up whatever you’re doing. It won’t work.” I think he actually bit his tongue. “Got it?” I waited for his answer, hoping for some insult or other return to normality. He spoke after a pause.
“I’d be sorry you feel that way, Turner; but you won’t seem to accept my apologies.” He blinked up at me again and I threw up my arms in a wordless growl of frustration. Black was an idiot and an unworthy cause – I strode away towards the Castle, shaking my head in disbelief. I’d simply ignore him. That I could do. Just as I was ignoring Potter’s infernal guffawing behind me.
I dusted down my jeans as I slipped out of the alleyway into which the secret passage emerged. Looking first right then left, I crossed my arms over my cream, off-the-shoulder jumper wishing I’d worn a jacket, and made my way towards the Three Broomsticks. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw he was stood waiting for me. Then blushed and breathed another sigh of relief that he was too far to have heard.
There was something rather regal about Logan Carville’s stature. I’d noticed it before and I noticed it again now. He stood just outside the door, clothes concealed under an expensive looking beige winter coat, an off-white scarf wrapped securely about his neck and chin tilted proudly outwards. I slowed down when I saw him. I knew he would have heard the click of my heels but I didn’t want to arrive red-nosed and out of breath. He didn’t turn around until I was right beside him, my head only reaching his shoulder.
“I’m surprised to see you here,” he said simply. He didn’t look surprised. I flushed. Had I really got it wrong? But no; he’d been waiting for me…
“You asked me to meet you.” I responded, staring up at him defiantly and refusing to be cowed.
“So I did.” He gave a small smile, but I couldn’t help the feeling that this greeting was far colder than I had hoped. “What I should have said is – I’m surprised you were able to come. The rules of Hogwarts must have changed drastically since I was a student.”
“I don’t think that’s it.” I didn’t volunteer any more information. Saying I’d snuck out suddenly seemed childish and desperate. Logan waited for me to say more. When I didn’t, he gave me a smile of welcome and held out his arm.
“Well, I’m very pleased that you came Gertrude.” My heart was beating a million times a minute. That smile on his face, my name on his lips… I clenched my teeth to restrain a giddy smile, gulped and took his arm.
“I said I would.” My voice was somehow steady as he led me to the door.
“Indeed you did,” he agreed again. “How about we begin this night with a drink?” I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body, so aware of his arm on mine I was surprised I could think.
“Begin? Why?” I raised an arched eyebrow. “What else did you have planned?” He held the door open for me and I stepped into the welcome heat of the bustling tavern.
“Questions already, Gertrude?” A gentle hand on the small of my back, Logan led me to an empty table on the far side of the room. “At least let’s get a drink first.”
He pulled out a wooden chair and gestured for me to sit. Then taking the seat opposite, he regarded me with cool, blue eyes. Logan seemed to be waiting for something – challenging me. I searched for something to say but my mind had gone blank. The silence stretched on… I wondered if he found it as awkward as I did. The tiny smirk stealing across his face suggested not. Logan didn’t seem to care much for my comfort. That wasn’t the type of man he was. I was abruptly and inexplicably reminded of Lily’s accusing glare; serve me right, she’d say.
“Anything to drink, dears?” I welcomed the interruption, turning to see the busty barmaid standing poised with notepad and quill.
“What will it be, Beck?” There was a taunting edge to Logan’s voice. My heart thudded. When had I become ‘Beck’? “A Butterbeer? Some water? Pumpkin juice?” His list of non-alcoholic beverages was accompanied by a slight sneer. Taken aback, I felt my eyes flash and narrowed them towards him. If he was going to treat me like a child, why ask me out in the first place?
“A Firewhisky, please.” My face was hard as I answered the woman, determined to prove Logan wrong. She frowned at me.
“How old are you, love?” I gritted my teeth to stem the flush that stole over my cheeks.
“Old enough.” She looked between me and Logan, still hesitant.
“Are you sure?”
“I think I know my own age,” I hissed, my cheeks burning more at Logan’s amused expression.
“I didn’t mean to offend you.” The barmaid shrugged in apology. “I just thought I might have seen you with the Hogwarts crowds.”
“You’re sure? Not with Sirius Black?”
All trace of amusement vanished from Logan’s face.
“She’s with me.” He had pulled out his money to pay for our drinks. “We have nothing to do with this Sirius Black. Serve us, please.” His expression was taut as he slammed a few coins onto the table.
The woman regarded me warily a moment but something in Logan’s expression seemed to convince her of his words.
“Okay,” she nodded. “Firewhisky it is. What about you then? The same?”
“Oh no,” said Logan, shaking his head. “Butterbeer for me, thanks. I’m not much of a drinker.”
I gritted my teeth and restrained a growl. What had that been – some kind of test? As the barmaid hurried away I prayed that it wasn’t, because if it was I had surely failed. And despite the way he put me at unease – maybe because he was the only man that put me so at unease – I really wanted Logan Carville to like me. I wanted him to find me interesting and attractive and mature… I wanted him to find me worthy of his time. God, how pathetic was that?
“How was your day, Gertrude?” He was a gentleman again, his expression one of polite interest.
“Fine, thank you.” My response was determinedly neutral.
“I remember how relieved I was when I finally graduated,” Logan mused.
“You didn’t like Hogwarts?” I asked surprised. Logan shrugged.
“It was adequate. But I needed more independence than could be offered and in many ways Hogwarts held me back from what I wanted to be doing.” My eyes flashed involuntarily to his left forearm. Logan noticed and gave a satisfied smile. “Exactly.”
“But you decided to travel when you left.” I hoped the drinks would arrive soon. My mouth was suddenly very dry.
“It was necessary,” Logan explained. “I travelled. I learned. But most importantly, I worked.” There was a strange look in his eye. I had the urge to run for the door, but sheer intrigue kept me seated.
“Well…” I fumbled for something to say.
“I assume you’ll be quite happy when you’re able to leave.” He cut me off as if I’d never spoken. “For all Hogwarts is supposed to be some prestigious institution, it’s not very…” Logan’s lip curled in disgust as he found the right word. “Exclusive.”
I knew what he meant and was reminded immediately of Lily. Stupid girl. How did she keep getting in my head?
“Oh look. Our drinks have arrived.” I snatched at my Firewhisky and took a large gulp. It scorched my throat, so I quickly set it down and found Logan watching me. “What is it?”
“You look pleasant today, Gertrude.” I wanted to respond but didn’t know how much of a compliment ‘pleasant’ was. His eyes ran slowly across my bare shoulders, along the exposed skin of my neck, gaze heated as he lingered finally on the pale skin of my collarbone. I abruptly remembered Lily’s shouting as I tried to choose clothes. Then Logan’s piercing eyes met my troubled green ones and I shivered.
Nothing was going as planned. He wasn’t being friendly or warm. He didn’t even look happy to see me. I took another gulp of Firewhisky. He was entirely too in control for my liking. I needed to knock him off balance… That’s why I said it.
“A friend of mine picked these clothes out for me.”
“You’re unable to dress yourself?”
I flushed, but ploughed on.
“I am perfectly able to dress myself. She simply suggested the cream would contrast well with my dark hair.” A complete and utter lie.
“And which friend would this be?” He asked the question I’d been hoping, but suddenly I was unsure I wanted to respond. I wanted him to like me, didn’t I? If so, this was hardly the way to go about it.
“Lily Evans,” I replied, staring him dead in the eye for some flicker of recognition. There was none, but he was no longer smiling.
“She’s your friend?” he asked. Was she? Not at all.
“Yes,” I lied.
“I don’t believe you.” The smirk had returned. “From what you’ve told me, you’re friendly with nobody at that school.”
“That’s not true.” There was Sirius. Maybe.
“At least nobody you haven’t slept with. And certainly not with the likes of Lily Evans.”
“You know her?” I feigned surprise.
“Hardly. She is in my sister’s year. Your year. A Gryffindor and a mudblood. It’s all I care to know.”
“I’m a Gryffindor.”
“You’re not a mudblood.”
“There’s more to her than that.” Why did I feel the need to defend Lily Evans? We weren’t friends. I didn’t like her. And she’d just been very rude to me…
“Do you associate with her often?” His eyes bore into mine. I felt a little thrill of fear, mingled with one of expectation. This was why I’d pressed on. Something in me needed to provoke a reaction; I needed to break through that control. He leaned forward, awaiting my response. The correct answer was obvious.
That wasn’t it.
His face became stern, but I could tell he was intrigued. I gloried in a burst of victory. This was what I’d wanted, after all – for him to show some interest.
“You come of pure blood Gertrude. You should associate only with people that will allow you to better yourself. One of the key flaws in Hogwarts is that…”
“Lily Evans is smarter than me.” His face froze. Clearly, he was unused to being interrupted. I felt a measure of satisfaction; I was getting my reaction. “She gets better grades. She works more diligently. She is far better liked.”
“And yet you are not friends.” The smirk had returned. “I’m not so easily fooled, Gertrude.”
“What would you know of my friends?”
“Only that you have none.”
That hurt. I have no idea why, but it hurt.
“How many boys have you slept with, Gertrude? And you’re still only sixteen. You know what that makes you.” Yes, I knew. But it was the first time it had bothered me. I forced myself to hold his gaze. “Yet none of them stick around for your friendship. None of them stick around for you. Why?” Sirius, my mind tried to grasp. He’d stuck around, hadn’t he? But no. On coming on this date I’d pushed even him away. I was having to weave plans and plots involving Arabelle Willis to get him back.
“I don’t want them to,” I retorted, glaring at him in annoyance. “I don’t want them to stick around. It’s my choice.”
“Yes. I believe you Gertrude.” I calmed only slightly at his words. “Don’t you think that’s worse?”
My eyes widened as they met his. Why was he being like this?
“I don’t mean to upset you, Gertrude.”
“I’m not upset,” I responded, stung.
“I’m just trying to make you see that you could be so much more than you are.” I held his gaze; there was a strange tightening in my throat.
“I don’t need to be anything more.” I took a deep breath, arranging my face into a careful mask of disinterest. “I’m Gertrude Beck. I am who I am; I am what I am. If you had any problem with that you should never have invited me to meet you.” The words came out much fiercer than intended but my gaze was calm and level. He watched me a moment, then nodded.
“I have no problem with it.” I said nothing, only continued to stare. He reached across the table and took my hand in his. My stomach exploded with butterflies, and I forgot my annoyance in trying to remember how to breathe. “No problem at all.” Against my will, the tiniest smile spread across my face. He responded with his own smile that set my heart thumping. “You’re a Beck through and through, aren’t you Gertrude?”
I met his eyes. Despite my hand in his, his eyes were more shrewd than warm.
“What do you mean?”
He contemplated me carefully, taking in my every gesture. I felt like some curious, stubborn specimen that refused to be identified. The thought offered me a trace of empowerment. His lips were smooth, begging to be kissed and his hands soft and warm. I don’t know why that surprised me… It was hot in the tavern but I’d half expected him to be cold as marble. And though my every instinct screamed for me to pull away and make for the door, he tightened his grip on mine and I remained frozen to the spot.
I took another sip of Firewhisky, watching him over the rim of my cup. Unbidden, thoughts and pictures of those lips against mine flooded my head. Surely he’d respond – he was a man after all – and that would be proof enough of his feelings. But I’d already decided. Logan wasn’t like every other and after what he’d said today, there was no way I would make the first move. This I would handle differently – until he realised I wasn’t a simple, fawning, easy teenager. Part of me was still annoyed. Part of me wanted to retreat into hostility. But I couldn’t deny he was handsome… And I was determined to make him mine.
I write to you with great news: my sister’s wedding date has been set. Bellatrix will be wed to Rodolphus Lestrange on the 22nd of December. The betrothal was, of course, decided long ago. Nevertheless, we are thrilled to have a date for the happy occasion.
I don’t doubt that you are aware what an appropriate match this is. The Lestrange family name is as old and prestigious as our own, and Rodolphus belongs to one of few families that Bella would ever consent to join. The wedding is sure to be a grand affair and I am certain your family will wish to attend. Your parents will be receiving an invitation even as you read this letter.
Now to my true purpose: I wished to share more than good tidings. I am in fact writing on Bella’s behalf. I am sure you realise how well we all think of you – my mother and father included. The Carvilles are a respectable and highly-esteemed family and your conduct is always most proper. To that end, we should wish for you to be a bridesmaid on the happy day. I, of course, shall be one myself. But there are few others that Bella would allow to hold such a place of import. We have no other sister and neither does Rodolphus. His second cousin might have done, but she has gained a few pounds and would certainly not suit the dress we intend to have made. In light of that, you were Bella’s immediate choice; and considering your close relationship to my cousin Regulus, we all quickly agreed there could be no one better.
Please owl back your response as soon as possible. I hope all is well at Hogwarts, and do send my regards to my cousin. No doubt I shall you see you at the wedding.
All the best, Narcissa Black
Hmph. I scanned the letter again. ‘Happy occasion’? I had no doubt it was – for Mrs Black and Narcissa. With the older sister married, Lucius’ proposal would quickly follow. I brushed away the bitter feelings that arose – Logan had never wanted to marry her, anyway. For Bella I knew the wedding was only an unpleasant duty to be politely endured; one of those unfortunate sacrifices that came with being a young, Pureblooded female. Merlin… I made us sound like a breed of dog.
I set the letter aside and pulled a fresh sheet of parchment towards me. Picking up a quill, I began to write my response:
I am thrilled to hear your good news. I look forward to the holidays when I might visit you and Bella to offer my congratulations in person. Doubtless, my mother, father and brother will attend –
Hmm. I’d have to double-check that. Who knew what strange, family politics might have occurred while I’d been cocooned in Hogwarts? And Logan was always dangerous to predict. No. It was best to hold off on replying for the moment. I’d speak to my parents first.
“What’s this?” I looked up to see Regulus arrive at my table in the Common Room, eyes running over the pieces of parchment.
“Your cousin’s wedding date has been set.”
“Narcissa?” he asked, with raised brows. I shook my head.
“Bellatrix, of course.”
“Ah,” he nodded and picked up the letter that lay abandoned on the table. “I’d almost forgotten. She’s certainly put it off long enough,” Regulus smirked.
“She hasn’t put it off,” I objected. “She’s not at all old. And she’s never protested to the idea of marriage.”
“She’s never shown much enthusiasm, either,” Regulus pointed out, eyes running over the letter. “I see she sends Sirius her regards.” His lips twisted with dark amusement as he reached the bottom of the page.
“I think she means you.” I rolled my eyes but Regulus only shrugged.
“It’s open to interpretation. And I would quite enjoy seeing Sirius’ reaction if I were to tell him dear Cissy sends her regards.”
“He’d probably think we were plotting something awful.”
“Exactly,” Regulus agreed, tone bitter. He took the seat beside me, watching me carefully from the corner of his eye. “So are you going to do it? Be a bridesmaid?”
“Of course,” I shrugged. “It’s an honour to be asked.”
“Audrey,” Regulus warned in a low voice; he didn’t like my cavalier tone. I hesitated a moment, and then nodded.
“Of course I will, Reg. It’s not something you refuse. What an awful slight that’d be… And I do like Bella.” Regulus scoffed. (He found her quite strange). “It’ll be the biggest social event of the year. I’m happy to be involved.”
“Good,” he nodded. His eyes ran over the letter in his hands again. “Narcissa sounds so staunch, doesn’t she?” I shrugged.
“You know what it’s like.” He pulled the half-written letter from in front of me, gave it a quick read, and let out a small laugh.
“Mind you – you sound just as bad.”
“Oh, shut up,” I frowned, snatching the letter from him. “Go back to brooding; it’s what you do best.” Regulus raised an amused eyebrow at my annoyed expression.
“Poor Samantha…” I was taken aback by his apparent change in topic.
Regulus’ lips twisted in a wry smirk.
“Samantha Bulstrode. Rodolphus’ second cousin.”
“Oh,” I laughed. “Yes.” Then remembering to be gracious, added, “Poor her.”
“Audrey.” Regulus scolded. “It’s not nice to mock others.”
“I wasn’t!” I objected. Regulus shook his head disapprovingly as he rifled through his bag. “Regulus, I wasn’t! Did you not read the letter? My behaviour is always ‘most proper’. ”
“Yes.” Regulus agreed, beginning his regular perusal of the Daily Prophet. “You put on a good show.”
“It’s not a show!” I protested. Regulus turned to face me, a single eyebrow raised.
“Are you sure about that?” I held his gaze, steely grey eyes challenging mine. His expression demanded complete honesty. Finally, I slumped my shoulders in defeat.
“Fine! Maybe it could be considered a ‘show’. By some. But it’s really only behaving properly – as I was brought up to do.”
“I know,” Regulus agreed. “And it’s why they all think so highly of you.” An article suddenly caught his eye. “A muggle’s been attacked. They don’t know who by, or why. Except that it was a wizard.” His eyebrows narrowed in consternation. “The muggle’s in St. Mungo’s. Shame, isn’t it?” His voice was edged with sarcasm and I automatically nodded. I thought he would say something more but was relieved when he didn’t. Instead, he settled back on the seat, seemingly engrossed in thought. After minutes that felt like hours – not liking the sombre mood the day threatened to take, I searched for a change in topic.
“Looking forward to defeating Gryffindor?”
Regulus gave a start and then smiled at my question. I felt a surge of relief. He had a hard enough time without me making things worse; it felt good to make him smile.
“The match is coming up!” I teased. “Not nervous, are you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he scoffed, with exaggerated nonchalance. “I’ll catch the snitch within the first twenty minutes.”
“Hmm.” I creased my forehead in scepticism. “You sure?”
“You doubt me!” Regulus exclaimed, aghast.
“I did not say that.” A small smile reached my lips. “I merely implied it.”
“You’ll be eating those words.”
“I certainly hope so.” Regulus looked at me, surprised. “I want Slytherin to win too, remember? And Gryffindor are idiots.” Stupid Beck.
“They most certainly are.” Regulus inclined his head in polite agreement. He offered me a small smile and even after six months of dating, I couldn’t withhold my answering smile of response. When our eyes finally met, his smile faltered. But he didn’t break the gaze; instead he continued to watch me, eyes surprisingly soft. An abrupt thought struck, and despite my determination to be positive I had to ask.
“Regulus?” He caught the change in my tone and regarded me curiously.
“Is it why you like me? What you said about me putting on a good show and it being why they ‘think highly of me’…?” He hesitated a moment.
“The truth, Audrey?”
“Of course,” I replied, not sure if I meant it.
“Sometimes…” He took my hand – beneath the table so nobody could tell. Regulus looked as though he were choosing his words with great care. “Sometimes I think that even you’re not aware of where the show ends and…and the real Audrey begins.” His eyes were intent and honest as he faced me, watching carefully for a reaction. “But that show… No, Audrey. It’s not why I like you.” His words were a greater relief than I’d expected. “I like you because sometimes…when you’re with me…” His grip tightened on mine. “You forget the show. Sometimes.” He trailed off, an awkward smile on his lips, and when he released my hand it felt unnaturally cold without his warmth. I was struck by the thought that not so long ago, I’d thought something very similar about Regulus.
“Okay, Reg.” My voice was quiet. “Thank you for answering my question.”
The smile was gone but he continued to watch me. After a moment, I saw a flash in his eyes as he seemed to remember something and rose quickly from the seat.
“I need to go to the Owlery, Audrey. Send a letter.” I offered him my quill and parchment but he shook his head.
“You could write it here,” I offered.
“No. I’ll be quick.”
“Who’s it to?” I asked, though I had my suspicions.
“Lucius Malfoy,” he said, swinging his bag over one shoulder.
“Oh.” Suspicions confirmed. Regulus gave me a sad smile – he knew I’d ask no more questions – then bid me farewell and headed for the door. A thrill of foreboding ran down my spine as I watched him leave. I wondered what Logan knew of these meetings with Malfoy. I wondered how much I wanted to know. And I wondered how much Logan would tell me…
I knew what Lucius wanted with Regulus, of course I did. For now Regulus was mine, but one day I would lose a part of him; just like I’d forever lost a part of Logan. I comforted myself with the fact that Regulus was only fourteen. Nothing critical could happen just yet. When the time came I would be strong and I would handle it. Just like I had handled it when Logan had left, just like I had handled it when Logan had returned, and just like I had handled it when – almost two years ago – Logan had taken the Dark Mark.
“I was thinking maybe…” The little boy’s face was flushed with embarrassment as he spoke to the small girl next to him. “Do you want to maybe…” I placed a hand firmly over my mouth to restrain the urge to ‘awww’ at the children. He took a deep breath before trying again. How cute! “Do you want to maybe…study together some time?”
I bit my lip to restrain a giggle, but a sudden flash of my own behaviour sobered me. I behaved like a second year around Remus myself. In fact, I was worse. The Second Years had the courage to actually speak to each other.
“Bit young, aren’t they?”
Roger Mullins had taken the seat next to me at the Huffepuff table. Even as a Fifth Year the furthest I’d gone with a guy (the muggle next-door neighbour) was a kiss on the cheek. I didn’t stop to agree with Roger, though; I was too busy listening out for the girl’s answer.
“Oh.” The girl’s face was as red as the boy’s, her light brown eyes wide with surprise. “Okay. I mean…” She fiddled with a lock of blonde hair. “We have a lot of work. So we do need to study.” The boy nodded vigorously, a small smile on his face. Roger narrowed his eyes at the pair. I leaned forward to hear the boy’s next words as a roar went up from the Gryffindor table.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” The boy’s smile became awkward as he quickly buried his face back in his breakfast. Awwww. That was cute. Although how depressing that a Second Year had a better love life than me.
The Hall was buzzing with the excitement of Quidditch as students chattered loudly over their breakfast. I turned to see James Potter leading his Gryffindor team out of the Hall, the hissing of the Slytherins easily drowned out by the cheers from the rowdy Gryffindors. Quidditch was okay, but I wasn’t a massive fan. No matter how often this past week James Potter had told me that Gryffindor vs Slytherin was really and truly ‘the Big One’, the only matches that interested me were those involving Hufflepuff. I turned back around to face Roger.
“I know,” I agreed, thoughts back with the young lovers. “But it’s cute!”
“Still, what is she – First Year?” Roger demanded appalled. “I dunno.” He broke off with a shrug. “I feel I ought to defend her honour. Isn’t that what we Prefects do?”
“Second Year,” I laughed, voice lowered. “And he’s hardly a danger to her ‘honour’. Look at him, Roger! He’s a Second Year, too.”
“Whether eighteen, fourteen or twelve… It does not matter.” Roger shook his head at my naiveté and fixed me with a pointed look. “All boys are after the same thing.”
“Eww!” I locked my hands (rather childishly) around my ears. “That’s disgusting! They’re far too young for that.” I felt my face turn red.
“Exactly my point!” he exclaimed, triumphant. “Hey cubs!” Roger called, making both Hufflepuffs jump with fright.
“Roger!” I hissed, hands back at my sides. “Leave them alone.”
“You agreed with me!” He hissed back, before leaning towards the Second Years. “What are your names?” he demanded. They stared open-mouthed at the fifth-year, who loomed over them with a steady gaze. “Come on, badger-cubs. Answer the question.” The girl’s mouth flopped open and closed helplessly, but the little boy answered in a small, uncertain voice.
“Carl Cooper.” Roger nodded towards him.
“Good morning, Carl Cooper. Looking forward to the Quidditch match?”
“Errm.” Carl gulped. “Yeah.”
“Good. So what’s your girlfriend’s name?” Carl turned mortified eyes on Roger at the question, his face turning quickly maroon. The girl buried her face in her hands, mumbling incoherently.
“What did she say?” Roger asked, with a frown.
“She said,” the boy answered, voice slightly stronger but cheeks now puce. “She’s not my girlfriend. And she’s not. We just have classes together.”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way, shall we?” Carl seemed at a loss for words. “You agree with me, don’t you girlie? Just give it a few years. Ten, maybe.” When the girl resolutely refused to look his way, Roger huffed in annoyance. “I’m doing you a favour, yeah? Oi, girlie!”
“Shut up, Roger. You’re scaring her!”
“She didn’t happen to give her name, did she?” Roger pressed, ignoring me completely. Carl blushed and made to speak, but the little girl interrupted him.
“My name’s Mildred Winters,” she answered in a squeak. “Millie.”
“Daniel’s sister?” I asked with a smile. Carl and Millie turned surprised eyes on me, and I can only assume I am a lot less intimidating as they finally offered a wavery smile. Millie nodded.
“Yes. You know him?”
“Prefects together,” I gestured to my badge. “So is Roger.” I pointed a thumb in his direction. “Ignore Roger, though. He’s an idiot. I think study time sounds like a very responsible idea.” I thought the approval in my voice would be a comfort, but instead both second years flushed. I turned to Roger in surprise, but when I turned back it was to see them hurrying away from us and towards the Quidditch pitch.
“Skittery little buggers,” he observed, eying their fleeing forms. “Winters’ sister?” he asked me, now amused.
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Right.” He searched the Hall with narrowed eyes, the amusement never leaving his face. Suddenly, he rose quickly from his seat. “Oi!” He shouted at the crowd leaving the Hall. A few turned curious glances towards him, but most just continued on their way. “Oi, Winters!” Oh no. I finally made out Daniel, huddled in a crowd with the other Ravenclaws. He turned at the sound of his name, looking in surprise at Roger waving frantically to him over the crowds of students.
“What?” He shouted back, the loud bellow attracting glares from those nearby.
“Stop it, Roger,” I warned, tugging at his arm. “Don’t interfere!” If he was this open about other people’s crushes, I was definitely in trouble. With a swift grin and a wink in my direction, Roger dislodged my arm and began making his way through the thronging crowd. I leaned back against the table with a resigned sigh and spotted Millie frozen near the doors. Clearly she had been about to make her escape, but now stood watching in horror as Roger reached Daniel’s side and both boys escaped into the chill outside morning.
“Stupid boy,” I muttered.
“Aren’t they all?” I started in surprise at the pleasant voice over my shoulder. Most students had already left for the Quidditch pitch, so the Hall was much quieter than before. I turned to find Gertrude Beck stood over me, a friendly smile on her face. My eyes bulged. I gulped. Then I offered a weak smile in return.
“Hi.” She gestured to the doors. “Shall we make our way outside?”
“Errm.” Wow. Bizarre. “Sure.” I rose from my seat, trying to hide just how uncomfortable the situation made me.
“I’m Gertrude. I don’t think we’ve ever really talked before have we?” I told myself to calm down. She was being perfectly nice. And she’d never done anything apart from look slightly intimidating and have a bit of a ‘reputation’ to make me judge otherwise.
“Errm no. I guess we haven’t. I’m Arabelle,” I offered.
“Oh, I know,” she said brightly. She did?
“Well yeah. Sirius mentioned you.”
“Oh.” I felt my cheeks flush for the second time in five minutes, but as we’d just left the Hall I hoped she’d attribute it to the cold. She regarded me slyly from the corner of her eye and I was struck by a terrible thought. I knew Gertrude and Sirius shared some kind of relationship. What kind I wasn’t sure and didn’t care to imagine. But what if this was her warning me off; if she’d seen us talking lately and got the wrong idea; if she was feeling…territorial?
“I saw you just sitting there and I thought – ‘no time like the present’.” My confusion must have shown. “To get acquainted, I mean.”
“Oh.” I nodded. Surely Gertrude Beck would never see me as a threat? She, with her slim figure and well-behaved hair… Of course she wouldn’t. What a ridiculous notion! She was probably just being nice.
“Well, don’t you want to ask?” A cheeky grin spread across her face, reminding me abruptly of a troublesome pixie.
“What Sirius said, of course.” She laughed at my stunned expression, and I realised that wasn’t a look I was used to seeing on her. A mocking laugh; a sardonic laugh, even – all of those I’d expect. But a happy, playful laugh? I clearly knew nothing about Gertrude Beck.
“Well I assumed it wasn’t anything worth repeating.”
“Ahh.” Her eyes were twinkling as she made to regard me. “You assumed wrong.” I was now thoroughly confused.
“I don’t understand.” What did Sirius say? And why would Gertrude Beck of all people choose to tell me? It must be something horrible. I couldn’t get over the impression I’d had of Gertrude all these years. He’d told her I was a silly little girl that he called ‘Belly’ and she was determined to rub it in my face. That must be it.
“This is something you would want to hear.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, praying it wasn’t just something mean.
“Of course!” Gertrude laughed again and I wondered – If this was what she was really like, how come she didn’t have more friends? ‘Probably because of people like you,’ I chided myself. ‘Second guessing her every motive and not trying to be friends.’ “Honestly, Ara – I can call you Ara?” I nodded my assent. “It’s something I’d love to hear.” The cheeky grin was back on her face.
“Okay,” I responded warily. “What is it?”
“Can I ask you something first?” There just had to be stipulations…
“Sure. I guess.” She halted part way to the Pitch and I stopped with her. She eyed me curiously a moment.
“Do you like Sirius?” The question caught me completely off guard. My instinctive response was denial. I liked Remus. I loved Remus. Remus who barely even noticed me. Remus who would never love me back… But of course I didn’t tell her that.
“What do you mean?” I worried this was all an elaborate way to find out if I might come between them. But I watched Gertrude carefully and her expression seemed utterly guileless.
“I mean, do you like him? Do you fancy him?” Her tone was kind but something in her eyes flickered. She was a bit too interested in my answer. Nevertheless, I shook my head, trying to ignore the flush stealing across my face.
Was that disappointment in her eyes? Surely not. Maybe she didn’t want to warn me off after all… That’s it. It really was time to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“Oh.” Her eyes held mine. There was something steely in her gaze that seemed a lot more like the Gertrude from my preconceptions. Then it was gone as she asked casually, “You don’t think he’s good looking?” I was flustered as I sought an answer. Sirius Black? Not good looking?
“No, it’s not that.” I was embarrassed to admit it but anything else would be an obvious lie.
“Oh.” Her mouth moved in a small ‘O’ of surprise. She watched me a moment, before beginning to nod in understanding. “You don’t find him funny. You don’t really enjoy hanging out with him.”
“No!” I was positively blushing now; it hadn’t escaped my notice how much I smiled around him. “I really like Sirius,” I answered weakly. “He’s…a good guy.” Gertrude’s face screwed up in thought, head tilted as she pondered my words.
“You already have a boyfriend?” she finally offered. I was suddenly feeling very nervous and struggled for something to do with my arms.
“No,” I whispered, shaking my head. It took only a moment before Gertrude sent me a wide grin.
“What’s his name?”
“Who? My boyfriend? I already told you I don’t – ”
“No. Not your boyfriend. Your crush.” I wondered if my cheeks were as red as Carl Cooper’s had been. “The guy you’re waiting to realise he’s head over heels for you and to whisk you off on some date.” Redder probably. Gertrude was psychic. Except that I knew Remus was a lost cause…
“There’s no-one.” I knew the lie would be unconvincing but hoped Gertrude had enough tact to drop the topic.
“Oh go on.” She didn’t. “Tell me.”
I may be giving her the benefit of the doubt, but on the list of people never to tell about my crush Gertrude Beck certainly ranked high. Roger knew about it or I suspected he did (I was too embarrassed to ask outright). That was already one person too many.
“There’s no-one,” I repeated, the answer coming out weak and feeble.
“Is it that Mullins?”
“What?” I gaped. “Roger? Definitely not.”
“So you admit it’s someone?” she asked, a smirk of triumph on her features. I didn’t answer. I didn’t know how to. “Well if it’s not Mullins I can’t imagine who else it might be. To like someone more than Sirius Black you must really like them. And if you really like them – if it’s not just a crush you’ve fooled yourself into thinking is something more – then you must know them. You must know them a lot, and really well. That means you must talk to them often. It’s the only way you can make any true judgement of their character.” I was feeling more and more awkward by the second. Her entire speech was delivered in such a simple, matter-of-fact tone and I was so taken aback that I had a hard time arguing the logic. “Don’t you agree?”
“And the only boy I see you talking to on a regular basis is Mullins.”
“I-It’s not Roger.” Her words had completely disheartened me. Was she right? I wracked my brain, barely aware of Gertrude and lost in my own thoughts. I thought of Remus, conjuring his image clearly along with all that I knew of him. Was she right? My heart beat fast as I pictured his kind features and closed my eyes in a moment of surrender.
Of course she was! She had to be.
How could I be in love with someone when I barely spoke to them? How could my fascination be based on anything beyond how he looked? Two years of watching him simply didn’t count. Knowing the secrets he’d trusted to so few simply didn’t count. Because he hadn’t trusted them to me. What did I know of who he truly was? And what did he know – or care to know – about me? ‘Nothing’, I thought bitterly. That was the real answer. I was infatuated with an image – an idea of who I thought he was or maybe even of who I wanted him to be.
I gritted my teeth. For some reason, tears threatened to spill out of my eyes but I couldn’t imagine why that was. If I’d never been in love with him, how could the realisation make me feel so miserable? There was an awful feeling in my gut that I tried my best to dismiss.
“There’s…” I took a deep breath and raised my eyes to meet Gertrude’s. “There’s no-one.” And this time when I spoke, I was sure I was telling the truth.
“Good!” The cheer in her voice made me cringe. She was clearly not the sensitive type.
“The match is going to start soon.” I was now in no mood for company. “I’d better go.” I made to leave but Gertrude called after me.
“Wait!” I drew to another halt. “Don’t you want to know what Sirius said?” I was suddenly a whole lot less curious, though the thought of Sirius’ smiling face did cut through my misery just slightly. I’d have to avoid him now, of course. I had to take all measures to keep away from Remus. Over two years of holding on. Hoping he would notice me, scared he would notice me… I just couldn’t do it anymore. Letting go would be much easier if I just avoided him.
“What? What did he say?” I spoke more to indulge Gertrude Beck than anything else. I didn’t think he’d said something rude anymore. I was back in reality. And the reality was – Sirius wasn’t a bad guy. I’d decided to give Gertrude the benefit of the doubt and that meant at least hearing her out. She’d done nothing unpleasant to me; I wouldn’t judge.
Gertrude caught my expression, and though I was sure I was a picture of abject misery, her lips twist in a triumphant smile. Her eyes suddenly seemed hard. Cold. Focused. But the moment was gone so quickly and she stood before me with such a friendly, warm smile that I was sure I must have imagined it.
“Sirius likes you.”
“Well…we’re friends. Sort of.” There was a smirk on her face.
“No.” She drew out the word. “He likes you. As in – likes you, likes you.”
I gaped, momentarily stunned out of my misery. She couldn’t mean what I thought she meant.
“What? Gertrude…” Caution hung on my every word. I didn’t know what was going on. All I knew was no way could Sirius like me; at least not in that way. “What do you…?”
“He likes you!” she exclaimed, cutting me off with a laugh. “He fancies you Ara. Can I put it any clearer? He wants to date you.”
Oh. I could so not deal with this right now.
“I think you must be mistaken.” I ignored the little bud of hope springing up inside me: the thought that someone might actually like me. Not just someone, either. Sirius Black! But it couldn’t be true so I turned on my heel and made my way towards the Pitch. If Remus had shown not a flicker of interest there was no reason for Sirius to do so. Gertrude hurried to catch up with me.
“Oh I’m not joking, and I’m not mistaken. I just wanted you to know because… Well, because I know what Sirius is like. And the impression so many people have of him… I guess I wanted you to know that he’s genuine.”
“I – ” I gulped. She certainly sounded sincere. “Okay.” There were loads of questions I should probably ask but I couldn’t think straight at that moment. Instead I hurried my steps as the Hufflepuff stands came into view. “I’m going to watch the match now, Gertrude.”
“Okay,” she answered brightly. “Hey. Why don’t I sit with you?”
“Errm.” I spotted Jersey Wallis and directed my steps towards her. With no energy left for excuses and sure that the noise of the match would preclude more conversation, I nodded my head. “Okay.”
I made my way towards two empty seats in the middle of the Hufflepuff stand, Gertrude Beck at my heels. I ignored the funny looks shot my way and heat rising in my cheeks from people’s stifled whispers. Many of them didn’t like Gertrude. I could tell that. At the very least, they thought we made an odd couple. That didn’t matter, though. None of it did. I just needed to get to my seat and have some time to think…
Because Remus Lupin didn’t like me; Sirius Black might; and Gertrude Beck was trying to be my friend.
A/N: So you get to see some people in a different light. How d'you like? This is the chapter I've struggled most with so far, so reviews (or a quick *thumbs up* or *thumbs down* - maybe accompanied by some CC!) would be much appreciated.
Stay tuned, folks! Story's getting going... ;)
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