Chapter 10 : Catch Me First...
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“So he still hasn’t told you?” Lily demanded. She was eating dinner with James, unaware that Sirius and I were approaching. She brandished her steak knife dangerously in James’ direction.
“Nope, nothing.” He wasn’t fazed by the knife yielding, his expression as perplexed as Lily’s.
“It’s been three months! I’m starting to think this Mystery Girl doesn’t exist at all, I mean the only girl he spends any time with is Debbie…”
James laughed. “Unless Deb’s Mystery Girl, they are awfully close…”
My breath caught in my throat and I glanced anxiously up at Sirius, met his shocked gaze and looked back at James.
He was smirking, mockingly suggestively. Not serious. Oh thank Merlin. I let out the breath in relief.
“Oh, ha-ha,” Lily rolled her eyes, “You know how jealous The Slags have always been of her, they’ve always been so affectionate…”
I decided that now would be a good time to end this conversation.
“Morning!” I said, unnecessarily loudly and brightly, slipping onto the bench next to Lily and helping myself to a goblet of juice.
James choked on his potatoes, but Lily kept her cool.
“Hey,” She replied, eyeing me a little warily. Why was she looking at me like that? “You’re in a good mood.”
“Uh-huh,” I leant across her to help myself to some vegetables.
“You’re never in a good mood after training...”
“Oh, I haven’t had it yet,” I said, “It’s after dinner, Blakely had detention so we had to change it. Oz nearly fainted when we told him we needed to rearrange his precious schedule -”
“So where were you just now?”
Um, definitely not in the room of requirement with Sirius…
I was determinedly not looking at him. Idiot. Help me out why don't you? Why did I get the detective friend and he got James, who was currently amusing himself by charming peas to shoot themselves at the Slytherin table?
“Um, when?” I asked, stalling for time.
James snorted as a pea bounced off Mulciber's nose and landed in his goblet.
“Where have you been since last lesson?”
“Just in the common room with Londy,” I lied, instantly praying that Lily wouldn’t charge up to Londy and demand an eyewitness testimony.
“Oh,” She seemed to buy it, “Ok.”
There was a short silence as we started eating. Short but uncomfortable. I got the impression Lily wanted to say something. For a moment I listened to Sirius egging James on as he risked charming the potatoes, having gotten bored with his pea missiles. This wasn’t right. Lily didn’t believe in silence.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“What?” She looked up from her plate.
“Lil,” I said, “Come on, something’s up.”
“Oh it's nothing... I just… I just feel like we never see each other any more,” She said, “Don’t you?”
It wasn’t true. We saw each other all the time… didn’t we?
We still sat together in all the lessons we shared, if it wasn’t me and Lily it was me and Sirius, or me and James, or the four of us. We ate almost every meal together unless Oz, Ro or Blakely dragged me away. We hung out sometimes… I searched my mind for the last time me and Lily had actually had some girl time.
I couldn’t think of any. When was it? When was the last time we’d lolled around in one of our dorms eating chocolate, laughing at the girly magazines and chatting for hours? When was the last time we’d gone for a spontaneous trip to kitchen just because we fancied some ice cream and some time away from the boys? The last time we’d started talking and ended up walking miles around the grounds without realising?
Certainly not this month. Since I’d been with Sirius? I really couldn’t remember.
“No, I… I guess not. That’s awful!” I realised.
“I miss you Deb,” She smiled.
“Ok, idea. Next Hogsmeade trip. We are making it one hell of a girls day, agreed?”
I could feel rather than see Sirius’ glare on the side of my face.
“Sure,” Lily grinned, “It’s a date, McKinnon.”
Sirius and James didn’t look so excited by the prospect. I was working out a way of avoiding the rant that I was sure to hear later on when we were alone, when I was yanked up from the bench.
I didn’t even have to turn around to know who it was that would resort to these unceremonious greetings.
“Blakeley, I’m not finished! I’m still eating,” I protested, attempting in vain to wriggle out of his firm beaters grip.
“You think I got to eat? Oz is still acting like I wronged him personally in some way by getting detention. It wasn’t my fault, you saw Harper hit me with the trip jinx -”
“I also saw McGonagall in the doorway when you threw your guinea pig at him.”
Blakely grinned, “She was more bothered that I hadn’t managed to transfigure it into a hare by the end of the lesson.”
“I think she was more bothered that it knocked the entire shelf of goblets onto him.”
“Whatevs. He barely bled.” He tugged at my arm, “Come on, before Oz craps himself.”
“I’m hungry!” I pouted, and would have stamped my foot if I wasn’t being manhandled.
“Not my problem, Little McKinnon -”
“Just let her eat, Blakely,” Sirius had somehow moved from the other side of the table to right behind me.
“This is nothing to do with you, Black.” Blakely said, shortly.
“My g- my friend’s treatment is everything to do with me,” Sirius recovered from his little slip-up without so much as a blush.
“She’s not about to keel over.” Blakely scowled at his rival beater.
“Let her do what she wants.”
I wanted to eat but I didn’t want Oz to give me a million extra laps for being late. He’d probably make me run them too.
“Look, I’m perfectly happy for her to have some dinner, but Oz is already in the foulest mood in the world because Freddie and Ro… Well I’ll let them explain. Please, Little Deb?” Blakely turned his back on Sirius and appealed to me.
“Alright, whatever.” I rolled my eyes as a grin spread over his freckled face. “What have they done now?”
I smiled apologetically at Sirius who turned and sat back down without another word. Friendly. I followed Blakely over to the rest of the team who were waiting impatiently by the doors.
“What have you two…” I trailed off when I saw the gash on Freddie’s neck and Ro’s black eye. “You’ve been fighting?”
Freddie’s expression was stony but Ro’s crooked smile was unruffled.
“No big deal,” He shrugged, “Avery’s minions got lippy. You think this is bad, you should see Flannigan…” He broke off into sniggers.
“Why didn’t you go to the hospital wing?” I lightly touched the swelling around Freddie’s cut. He still wasn’t talking. I didn’t really expect it, that’s how he reacted when he was recollecting himself.
“And get bollocked for our display of ‘ignorant Muggle duelling’?” Ro mimicked Madam Pomfrey’s shrill voice. “I don’t think so. We’ll live Little M, don’t you worry yourself.”
“If you’d been caught…” Oz scowled threateningly. I could see what Blakely meant by his foul mood, he had his arms folded tightly across his chest as if to hold his temper in.
“Yeah, yeah, we would have ruined the game, our chances, your life,” Ro said, dismissively, “But we weren’t, were we mate?” He nudged Freddie who was still frowning at the wall above my head. “Mate?”
“Uh-huh.” Freddie cleared his throat. “Come on then, let’s go down to the pitch.”
“Bloody hell. What did Flannigan say to get him like that?” I whispered to Ro as Freddie marched off to the pitch with Oz.
“What do you think?”
“Um,” I shrugged, “Something about Marles?”
“Something about Marles. And you.”
“It’s just the usual stuff, Little Deb, he should be used to it by now.”
“What did they say?”
“Nothing your delicate ears should hear,” Ro shook his head, for once his easy grin not on his face, “I’m not repeating it. They got what they deserved, is all I’m saying.”
“Yeah. Sorry you had to, uh, jump in…”
“Don’t be stupid, most fun I’ve had in ages,” Ro smiled and slung a heavy arm around my shoulders, “Almost like having my best mate back again.”
It seemed Ro and Freddie were having similar troubles to me and Lily.
“Haven’t seen him much lately, huh?” I said, sympathetically.
“It’s not that. It’s just that whenever I do see him Little Miss Sunshine is never far behind.” He grimaced, “He’s different with her.”
“You don’t like her?” I asked, surprised. Everyone liked Marlene. She was like Lily – a friend of everyone. And she was just so happy and nice all the time you couldn’t bring yourself to be horrible to her.
“Sure I like her. I just don’t like her Little Miss Sunshine act.”
“You think it’s an act?”
“I know it’s an act. When they first got together… and Freddie used to actually talk to me,” Ro laughed half-heartedly and I felt a pang as I realised how little I spoke to my brother now too, “He told me how she used to get all funny if he didn’t put her first. She didn’t like him spending time with me, the lads, you…”
I couldn’t imagine Marlene getting ‘funny’. The Marlene I knew would skip along and merrily wish him a good time. Right?
Or maybe not. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen Freddie outside of training without her. Always holding her hand, kissing her cheek, shaping all his behaviour towards her…
“… There’s just more to her than everyone thinks, I reckon,” Ro shrugged, “She’s got a few little insecurities, no one’s that happy and perfect all the time.”
“You are,” I pointed out.
Ro laughed his booming laugh and strangled me with the arm resting on my shoulders. “I’ve just been moaning to you all the way down here, Little Deb. I just don’t let things bother me that much. Freddie’ll come round at some point, once he realised how completely whipped he is.”
“I hope so,” I said, meaning it.
“He will. I mean, come on, how interesting is his life without me or you in it?” Ro pulled an arrogant face and chuckled. I elbowed him in the waist and ducked under his arm to go into the girls changing rooms.
“Not bad,” Was Oz’s declaration after practice. A great praise from him.
“Bloody hell,” Ro commented, “Feeling optimistic are we, Oz?”
Oz glared at him, completely serious, “We’re never optimistic, Wilson, we’re just realistic.”
“Yes, sir!” Ro grinned and rolled his eyes.
“I want everyone to rest tonight and tomorrow so you’re fresh for the match on Saturday,” Oz ignored Ro’s light-heartedness, “And by that I also mean no interaction with the Slytherins. Stay away from them, don’t react if they say anything, certainly don’t fucking fight- ” He looked in particular at Ro and Freddie. Ro winked but Freddie’s stony expression returned, “Just… don’t provoke them. And stick together.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little paranoid?” Londy interjected.
“You know what they’re like. I don’t want to take any chances…”
Londy pulled a face at me.
“…I’m serious. You two especially, you’re the worst.”
Oz turned his fierce glare to Londy and I, jolting me out of my almost dozing state.
“Yeah, you. You two need to keep your mouths shut and… just be a little more aware of who’s around when you open your mouths.”
“We’re not that bad!” I protested.
“Um, Freddie? How many of your detentions in the last few years are because you’ve had to stick up for your sister?” Oz asked pointedly.
“Alright,” I interrupted in embarrassment before Freddie could respond. “Alright I get it. Mouth shut.”
“Are we done?” Blakely interrupted, “Because I have a card to send. Not of the Valentine’s variety though, Little Deb…”
I folded my arms and waited patiently for the laughter to stop. “Very funny. Don’t you think that’s getting a little old now? It was weeks ago -”
“And you’re still refusing to tell us anything! Even under threat of torture!” Londy said, in frustration, “It’s killing me!”
“It’s not a big deal! It was a joke…” I kept to the same story as I’d originally told them when they kidnapped me weeks ago.
“So you say…” A wide smirk was plastered on Blakely’s face.
“Just how long had you been planning the ‘I’ve got a card to send’ line anyway, Blakely,” I shot back.
“It wasn’t a line,” He said, “Oh alright, it was. But it was the truth too. I have got a card to send, it’s just a Mother’s Day card rather than…”
You could practically hear the sharp intake of breath by the rest of the team as all eyes darted between me and Freddie. I stiffened, my eyes fixed on the concrete floor.
“Oh shit. Deb. I’m sorry, I… Fred…” Blakely looked anxiously to me, then seeing me staring down at the floor turned to Freddie, who was in a similar frozen state but his eyes on me.
“…I did-didn’t…” Blakely blathered.
“Let’s go,” Londy said gently, but whacked him fiercely on the back of the head as she got up from the bench.
“Freddie, I’m really sorry,” He said one last time as he following Londy out.
“Don’t worry, mate,” Freddie said.
“It’s fine,” I said, looking up at his red face, “Really.”
I sat still for a few seconds as Freddie slide along the bench so that he was next to me. He didn’t speak, and I was thankful to him for that, it gave me time to collect my thoughts.
“Did you know that it was tomorrow?” I asked, after sitting in silence for a minute.
“Yeah.” Freddie said, quietly. “I didn’t want to bring it up.”
I was overcome with affection for him, hearing the tiny break in his voice. Freddie always acted so strong for me that it was easy to forget how much things affected him too. My eyes had been dry before but this was what caused them to prick.
I leant my head on his shoulder and put my hand over his, taking comfort in his familiar crooked knuckles.
“How did they all know?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Freddie gave a small shrug, “Ro, maybe.”
“Ro knows?” I asked, surprised for no real reason. It was just that when people heard, usually they treated us differently. Ro had never faltered in his cheerful, second big brother manner.
“Bits,” Freddie answered, “Ages ago I told him… Doesn’t Lily know?”
“Bits,” I half smiled.
We sat quietly for a little while longer, leaving each other to our own thoughts even though they were most likely exactly the same.
After a while Freddie spoke. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” I whispered, my eyes closed. They hurt as if I’d been crying but I hadn’t shed a single tear.
I looked up at him and met his chocolate brown eyes. Besides their usual anxiousness I could see the pain and the effort he was making to keep me from seeing it.
“We’re doing alright, aren’t we?” He smiled but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“We’re doing great,” I squeezed his hand. “She’s proud. Of you especially.”
“Nah, you more. You’re not the one getting into fights,”
“You’re not the one who’s responsible for her brother getting into fights,” I retorted, smiling at his guilty expression. “Ro told me. You shouldn’t have reacted to it.”
“He told you what they said?” A flicker of anger crossed his face.
“No, no. Just said they deserved what they got.”
“You should have gone to the hospital wing,” I lightly touched the wound on his neck.
“It’s nothing,” He shrugged my hand off and stood up. “Ready to go?”
“Gonna be ok?”
“Yeah.” I was.
“Hello? Are you even listening a little bit?” Sirius’ face suddenly loomed into my view, startling me out of my blank stare.
“Sorry what?” I blinked, a little on edge and took in the charms classroom, a little surprised to find myself there and not in the poky terraced house on my mind. A decade seemed to pass as I pulled myself back to the present.
“I asked what happened to your brother?” Sirius said, a little frustrated, “And about seventy other questions that you chose to ignore.” He flicked his wand recklessly as he spoke and the goblet we were supposed to be levitating spiralled haphazardly into the air.
“Gently, Mr Black!” Professor Flitwick yelped as it bashed into the beams on the ceiling.
Sirius discarded his wand onto the table with a flourish and effortlessly caught the plummeting goblet in one outstretched hand. He grinned jubilantly as several girls applauded. I watched as if I was seeing it from a distance, still not quite back to reality.
“Dee?” He was pouting childishly now, now that I wasn’t giving him the attention he deemed fit for his triumph.
“You brother… oh don’t worry about it, don’t want to drag you away from your riveting daydream,” He scowled.
I knew that I should care that he was annoyed but the feeling just didn’t come. I couldn’t even summon the effort to apologise.
When I’d woken up I’d debated whether or not to stay in bed and claim some sort of illness, but Freddie… Well, I didn’t know how Freddie would react. Most likely he’d act all ‘disappointed in me’. Eurgh.
But I knew I couldn’t leave him on his own. Not today.
When we’d sat down together at breakfast the rest of the team gave us wary smiles and while they didn’t make a huge effort to include us in the conversation, they didn’t make a fuss, for which I was thankful.
Marles had sat on Freddie’s other side and nattered away as usual. I couldn’t tell if she knew, and was trying to keep things normal, or if he just hadn’t told her. I wanted to ask Freddie but he had his closed-up-face on, so I left him to stew and he left me.
We sat longer than usual until almost everyone had left the hall, neither of us wanting to go our separate ways even if it was for just an hour. I didn’t know how I could cope without his warm arm against my shoulder, firm and dependable.
At the end of class I was the first to walk out – having nothing to pack up seeing as I’d taken nothing out of my bag all lesson.
Once more I turned as if in a trance. Lily.
She caught up with me and linked an arm through mine. I could see in her expression that she wasn’t sure what to say. Her smile was sad but sincere.
“You don’t have to talk to me,” She said, softly, “But if you want to I’m here OK?”
I was overwhelmed with both gratitude and fondness for my best friend. And also a little niggle of annoyance. How was it that she knew what to say even in these awkward situations? If it were me in her place and she in mine, I would have blurted out some pathetic excuse for a joke to lighten the mood in an entirely tactless way. Why could Lily Freaking Evans do everything?
Then I felt a little uplifted, realising that this was the first time today that I’d felt anything other than the numb helplessness.
My face broke out into a smile. Probably only a small one to anyone looking, but to me it felt like my whole face was freeing up and stretching, all because of my friend.
“Thank you,” I said, not trusting myself to say anything more. If there was one thing that was sure to make me bawl like a baby it was kindness. As we all remember from when I tried to confront Sirius and ended up howling in floods of tears.
Lily smiled and squeezed my arm. Someone barged past us but by the time I’d looked up all I could see of the person was their back. But it was a back that I recognised all too well.
“He’s been a jerk today, I know,” Lily muttered to me comfortingly, frowning at Sirius’ departing back, “But I think he’s just confused about why you’re upset, maybe if you talked to him…”
“No,” I shook my head. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to Freddie, let alone my temperamental, attention-seeking boyfriend.
“OK. It’s just that James was asking too, so I was wondering what to tell him…”
Oh, he was ‘James’ now, was he? What happened to ‘Potter’ or ‘You Arrogant Toe-rag’?
“Just… family stuff.” I said, shortly, then immediately felt guilty for being short with her, “Sorry, Lil, I just -”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetie,” She said, adding, “It’s nearly over,” as she glanced up at the darkening ceiling of the Great Hall.
No, I wanted to say, It’s never over for us. It’s with us every day it’s just that we’re not so constantly reminded of it everyday…
“Go on, Freddie needs you,” Lily propelled me gently towards the Ravenclaw table where Freddie sat by an unusually subdued Ro.
“Hey, Little Deb,” He greeted, in a slightly quieter version of his usual upbeat, booming voice .
“Hey,” I slipped into the seat opposite. “Where’s Marles?” I directed the question at Freddie. He was still staring gormlessly at the food on his plate. “Freddie?”
He jerked his head up as if he’d just realised I was there and looked at me blankly.
“She’s buggered off,” Ro told me in an undertone, seeing as Freddie seemed incapable, “Couldn’t handle the lack of attention she was getting.”
“I call it as I see it,” He shrugged.
Despite scolding him I was barely listening. A chill was consuming me as I took in the dead quality behind Freddie’s eyes. He was never normally like this. Never normally this bad. He was the supportive one, his arm constantly around me, telling me it would all be ok, that he was here.
Only now it was as if he wasn’t here at all.
“Freddie?” I probed again.
Again I received no answer than a frown as he slowly rubbed the back of his neck. I looked up in distress to Ro, and saw that behind his optimistic exterior he also looked troubled by the behaviour of his friend. He gave me a look that said ‘just leave him be’ and took my hand to squeeze it over the table.
“So, we all ready for tomorrow?” He asked, his tone light and casual.
It was my turn to stare blankly at him for a moment.
The Slytherin match. Oh.
“Uh-huh, all set,” I replied, catching onto his plan to create a normal atmosphere around Freddie. “No provoking the trolls, no walking the corridors alone… I think we’ve done pretty well.” All the while I was blathering on about nothing I was watching Freddie out of the corner of my eye.
Bloody hell, was this what he had to do for me year after year? It was hard work! So why was he suddenly letting his grief consume him now? Had he been putting his own feelings aside for me for too long?
I didn’t take my eyes off him for the entire time we sat at the table. The guilty feeling that Freddie had put my feelings before his own for so many years was enough to inspire me to do the same for him today.
I ignored the way my breathing was coming out all shaky, thanks to my tight chest. I ignored the way my face felt completely frozen in the worried grimace and I ignored the way my fingers felt like ice.
When the hall was emptying Ro stood up to go and I followed suit.
“Come on, Bud,” He slapped Freddie’s shoulder in a friendly way that would have undoubtedly have caused my knees to buckle had it been me. “Let’s go.”
“Freddie,” I pleaded, biting my lip to stop my jaw shaking. My brave front was slipping. “Please?”
The lifeless look in his eyes was killing me.
“Deb, honey,” Ro looked just as pained as me, “I’ll just get him to bed. You go ahead if you want.”
I was torn. I wanted to help. I wanted to help Freddie as he’d helped me. But I couldn’t stand seeing him like this.
“Go,” Ro said.
“Ro, thank you,” I said, again attacked by the overwhelming gratitude.
“No probs, are you going to be alright? Want me to meet you back in the common room?”
“No… no I’ll be OK,” I said, “I’ll probably head up to bed too. Get an early night for Oz.” I attempted a smile which probably came across as quite startling.
I left Ro encouraging Freddie and began to make my way slowly up to the common room. My eyes still stung but they felt heavy and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before this day was over. If that made a difference. Would Freddie be himself tomorrow?
I was deliberating over this when I turned the corner at the top op the marble staircase. He was leaning against the wall, his face hard and his posture tense. I wanted to roll my eyes and berate him for being dramatic but my whole face hurt.
I briefly considered walking by him but I knew he wouldn’t let me do that. So I waited for him to say something, anxious that this was going to turn into some sort of a row, really not what I needed right now.
“I’m sorry.” Sirius said, shortly.
I was taken aback. Not quite what I was expecting.
“I’m sorry I was being a prick, but I didn’t know. I didn’t know because you didn’t tell me.” The apology was sounded ever so slightly accusing now.
How did he suddenly know? Had he spoken to Freddie? I couldn’t see Freddie conversing with anyone right now, and Ro certainly wouldn’t have offered up the information…
“Lily said ‘family business’. But I know she knows more.” He continued, his eyes not leaving my face. I couldn’t move. Or speak. Was he really going to make me say it out loud?
“Please? I don’t want to know for me. I want to know for you. So I can be there for you instead of making it worse.” His expression was pleading for a moment before it dropped. “You’re not going to tell me.”
The hurt look on his face was making it so much worse. The last time I’d seen that look was when I was telling him I didn’t want to be with him. I couldn’t bear it that I was bringing that pain again but I just couldn’t say it… He didn’t understand….
“I can’t…” I was horrified to hear my voice cracking. No I couldn’t break down. This was my day to be strong for Freddie. Why was Sirius doing this?
It made it worse that I knew why he was doing it, and he was doing it for good reasons. Because he cared.
He misinterpreted what I meant.
“You can’t. You can tell Lily but you can’t talk to me? Is this about the trust thing again? You don’t want to get that close to me because you still think I’m going to… hurt you,” He faltered. “Because it’s not fair, Dee. It’s not fair that you get to choose how deep you’re in when I can’t help it.”
I shook my head, weakly.
It was wrong. All wrong. He didn’t get what I was saying so his words were wrong. Then they sounded wrong coming from his mouth. His pursed lips set in a hard straight line in the fixed planes of his jaw. That mouth wasn’t supposed to look like that, it was supposed to hold that arrogant smile. His gorgeous arms surrounded by the wiry bands of muscle, they were supposed to be gesturing carelessly as he messed around, not hanging defeated at his sides.
You’re wrong! I wanted to shout. I wanted to get it all off my chest and tell him everything and wipe that look off his face but I couldn’t. Every word I said would be like reopening a wound that had never properly healed, every word would take me back.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I needed to leave. I half-heartedly made as to walk by him, expecting him to stop me.
But he didn’t. He let me go, watching me go the whole way with a look in his eyes as if he didn’t even know me.
There were already students making their way down to the Quidditch stands when I emerged, fully dressed in my royal blue robes, from the girls changing rooms with Londy. We paused for a few moments in the chilly sunlight before going into the boys’.
The cheering and chattering drifting in from the stands was loud enough for us to know that most of the school were there already. I hated this bit. The bit where we were stuck on the ground just like everybody else and they expected us to effortlessly turn into some kind of star. We weren’t stars. Well, I wasn’t. I was just a self-conscious girl who somehow managed to tune it all out when I left the ground.
The first, and only, thing I noticed when we walked into the changing rooms was the uproarious laughter emitting from my brother. Relief flushed through me instantly, his laughter lighting me up from the inside. He was back.
Ro was also chuckling and attempting to carry on the story that had amused Freddie, which ended, “… so then I told him I was gay. That shut him up…”
I didn’t want to know. All I cared about was the sparkle and life in Freddie’s eyes.
Ro caught my eye and winked, his way of letting me know it was all back to normal.
No more miserable Freddie. Suddenly I felt in much, much higher spirits. The rest of the team sensed this - alright they would have had to have been blind not to see the tears of laughter in Freddie’s eyes and my beam from ear to ear – and morale immediately boosted.
I realised how worried they must have been, not only as our friends but as our team. If Freddie had been in the same state he’d been in yesterday there would have been no way that any of us could have focused.
“Right, let’s get to it.” Oh hell. Oz had that maniacal glint in his eyes.
I took the seat next to Freddie, needing to be near him to confirm that he was really OK.
He looked down at me, the laughter still lighting up his face.
“Deb, I’m so sorry,” He said, in a low voice, the edge of sadness and apology so much smaller than his broken voice yesterday.
“I’m just glad you’re back,” I linked my arm in his. I repressed the urge to know why he’d reacted to badly. Right now we had to focus.
“… this is it,” Oz was saying, “I haven’t got anything left to say apart from let’s go for it. Put our hard work into action, just do everything we’ve been doing at training…”
What, collapsing? I looked in bewilderment at Londy who grimaced but giggled.
“… basically we’re the better team in every way, so let’s go prove it.” Oz smirked a little at his arrogance and stood up.
OK, when I said I hated the bit where you could hear the cheering… That wasn’t the worst bit.
Just try coming out from the dark changing rooms into bright sunlight, squinting to see and straining your ears to hear anything other than the roar of the crowds. Because you really don’t want to hear what they’re yelling. Especially the Slytherins.
Try walking across the rough, uneven field without stumbling over clumps of turf that have been kicked up from the hundreds of kick-offs.
Try gripping a broom with shaking, clammy hands.
Try tuning all this out as you wait for the whistle.
And after all that, try being the one expected to kick-off the fastest, the one to be the first to get to the quaffle.
It wasn’t that I saw that moment in slow motion, more that I was just extremely aware of every detail. In the seconds it took me to reach the scarlet ball I saw Freddie and Ro already awaiting my next move, Londy and Blakely with their bats at the ready, the back of Simpson’s robes whipping in the wind as he headed to the posts, Oz’s dark eyes narrowed in concentration as he scanned the pitch immediately. And most of all, I was aware of the Slytherins, only just leaving the ground.
I grinned. Oh yeah. We were fast.
I sent Ro a long ball before the Slytherins were even at the same height as us, which he followed readily and scored with a flourish before their keeper was even at the hoops.
I laughed delight at his triumphant crow, the wind tossing my hair around my face so that I almost missed he and Freddie descending upon me in rowdy, boyish celebration.
“That’s one fucking goal, Wilson!” Oz bellowed, his voice ringing clear above the crowd and the wind, “Get back on it!”
Ro guffawed loudly, whilst Freddie winked at me, before the three of us readied ourselves for the counter-attack.
It wasn’t until the score was sixty to twenty in our favour that I was truly aware of how much fun I was having. That we were all having.
I didn’t know whether it was because we’d all been killing ourselves in training (Londy’s screeching at Oz rang through my ears), or because it had been so long since our last match, or because of the contrast in energy and happiness levels between now and yesterday.
Whatever it was, it affected all seven of us. Our teamwork was easy and flowing, our communication was loud and animated and our celebrations were… well, embarrassing. I loved it.
The Slytherins however, weren’t as such enjoying it. Their tempers shortened as our liveliness swelled, and as our lead increased from sixty-twenty to a hundred and fifty-thirty they visibly struggled.
I couldn’t work it out. The only conclusion I could come to was that our obvious happiness had thrown them. They’d let it affect them and gotten angry, which in turn had influenced their play.
I received a pass from Freddie by the tips of my fingers, instantly drawing the ball protectively under my arm and raced into the space created in front of me, created by Ro as his massive bulk barged his Slytherin equivalent, Warren, out of the way.
I heard a sharp whistle as I slung the ball hard through the left hoop to gain our hundred and sixtieth point, and saw Avery signalling to his team for time-out, his expression incensed.
We came together in the dug-out, breathlessly talking over one another in elation.
“They’re absolutely knackered -” Blakely grinned jubilantly.
“Did you see Avery’s face -” Londy cackled.
“What’s happened to them?” I tried to make myself heard.
“When the hell did you get so fast, Little Deb?” Ro demanded.
“Alright, shut up!” Oz commanded, easily drowning us out. “Let’s focus. They’re tired, we can all see that. Told you fitness would come in useful…”
That was what it was, it finally dawned on me. The torture we’d been through the past couple of months, the circuits, the sore lungs, the early morning runs… For this.
I laughed in amazement.
“Oz,” Blakely said, seriously, “I might actually be a little bit in love with you mate,”
Oz looked faintly disgusted but carried on regardless as Blakely, Ro and Freddie chuckled amongst themselves.
“… But it’s serious now. We’re embarrassing them, so they’re not going to fight fair for much longer. I’m trying to keep track of the snitch but we’ve got to be at least two hundred and fifty points up. And this sun, it’s blinding me…” Oz looked furious at himself.
“Mate, chill,” Freddie looked mildly alarmed, “It’s not your fault, you’re doing a pretty awesome job -”
“Great stuff,” Ro nodded in agreement.
“- We can hold up for a while longer.” Freddie concluded.
Oz didn’t look remotely appeased but instead frowned, “They’re going to start playing dirty…” His eyes flickered from Freddie to me, and Freddie nodded.
“Makes a change,” Ro muttered, sardonically.
“I’ve got it,” Freddie answered the unspoken question.
“I don’t need you to guard me,” I said, indignantly, “Just keep doing what we’re doing, it’s working…”
“They would have to catch her first,” Ro grinned.
Freddie glowered at him.
“Alright,” Oz was looking out at the pitch where the Slytherins were ready to begin again. “We’re staying the same,”
Freddie opened his mouth but Oz cut cleanly across him.
“Keep it up, wear them out more, all that. But if it get’s dirty, do what we need to do. Legally, mind. Don’t stoop to their level. Right, two-hundred and fifty. Let’s go.”
If I was honest, before the match I thought we had no hope really. Sure, I thought we could win. But could we win by two-hundred and fifty points, and still be in with a chance at the cup? I’m really not a pessimist, but I thought that was just a little unrealistic.
But now, I thought, ducking a bludger and Londy’s foot as she swooped over me in pursuit of it, I reckon we could actually do this. Dirty play or no dirty play.
When I first received the ball after our time out I was immediately clattered around the ribs by Mulciber. The second time, just after I scored, I obtained a hefty kick to the elbow, and the third, an elbow to the face.
Freddie was actually growling by this time, his own play becoming more and more aggressive despite Oz bawling at him to calm down.
I didn’t really feel the injuries. When I was concentrating that much, flying that fast, with that much adrenaline… I knew I’d been hurt, but it was just an irritation, not painful.
By the forth time, at which point Mulciber was booked for cobbing and we were awarded a penalty (which Freddie put away, no problem, shaking in anger as he did so), I was getting a little irritated.
Ro’s words fluttered through my mind.
“They would have to catch her first…”
Right. They wouldn’t touch me again.
Freddie calmed down a bit after that, even smirking a little as I pulled up sharply from a dive to avoid a head-on collision with Avery, leaving him to smash into one of the hoops.
We were on two-hundred and fifty points. They were on fifty. We still needed those extra points, and Oz was getting jumpy.
“Keep moving,” He hollered from his position above the rest of us, “Don’t give them the opportunity to…”
Don’t give them the opportunity to hurt us.
Whirling round as Freddie sacrificed a black eye courtesy of Warren, for another goal, my eyes stopped on the Slytherin seeker. Regulus Black.
I was so focused on the game that ordinarily I probably wouldn’t have even registered it was Sirius’ brother, he’d have been just another player.
But in my line of vision, just behind Regulus mask of concentration was an identical face, the intensity on it rivalling his brothers.
For a moment I didn’t even think it was him. The fierce looks in both their faces were so similar that I thought I was merely seeing double. It only took a split-second though, for me to recognize that Regulus’ eyes were darting about the whole pitch, whilst Sirius penetrating grey gaze was on me alone.
For a long second I hovered, my eyes locked on his. I forgot that I was over fifty feet in the air, in the middle of an increasingly brutal Quidditch match.
I didn’t hear Oz’s bellow of a warning, Freddie’s curse, didn’t even lip-read as Sirius’ face contorted in horror.
Then I was hit.
I could still hear. I could hear the collective gasp of the group. I could hear the sharp whistle, I could hear Freddie, I could hear Ro…
Then it all went black.
“ – Mate, you need to stop shaking –”
“ – I should’ve –”
“ – Does this mean there’s no party –“
“ – Fucking, bloody –”
“ – Freddie, Bud, calm down. She’s alright –“
I struggled to pick out the different voices but it was hard when my head was pounding and the room was dark.
Oh, my eyes are shut, I giggled weakly, that’s why the room’s dark.
“ – Did she just laugh –“
“ – Typical –“
“ – Debbie? –“
I felt my eyelids flicker and immediately everything was swimming around in a dark, cloudy pool.
I clamped them shut again before opening them more deliberately.
Ah, better. Muddy faces swam gradually into focus. At first I thought my eyes were still funny. Then I realised that they actually were streaked and splattered with dirt. It just looked all a bit superficial in the bright lights of the…
The dirt-streaked faces were peering at me expectantly, showing signs of concern that I hadn’t yet replied.
“Did we win?” I croaked.
I was met with a ripple of relieved and amused laughter.
“Deb, are you feeling alright?” Freddie sat on the edge of the bed, oblivious to Madam Pomfreys scandalized glare as his muddy trousers stained her sheets.
“Did we win?” I repeated, a little worried now that Freddie wasn’t answering the question. We’d been so close… just fifty more points…
Then I noticed the smug, triumphant looks on each one of their faces.
“You did it!” I whooped. Or attempted to anyway. It came out a little strangled.
“Seriously Deb, though, are you feeling OK?” Freddie’s brow was furrowed in concern, and his voice was clipped and forced.
“Yeah, are you,” I asked, wondering why he had this weird fake-calm voice.
They all just looked at me.
“What? Do I look like shit or what?” I asked, feeling increasingly more paranoid with each second. “Someone pass me a mirror.”
“Little Deb,” Ro said slowly, clearing thinking I was completely thick. “Avery rammed you. Fifty foot up. You fell… you hit your head.”
“Oh.” I vaguely remembered the blackness, the gasps, the impact… Sirius’ face…
“This is so embarrassing!” I sank back onto my pillows in mortification.
There was a pause.
“She’d definitely brain damaged.” Blakely hissed.
“I heard that.” I said, irritably, not opening my eyes.
“You are! You just fell fifty feet… and you’re complaining that it’s embarrassing.”
“The whole school saw me!”
“Well there is that…”
“How long have I been out?” I demanded.
“How long?” I narrowed my eyes at Freddie, the softest target.
“Only a… few hours.”
“What time is it?”
“I’ve been out for…”
“Ten hours, yeah.”
“This is the most embarrassing day of my life.” I covered my face.
“Debbie, you’re lucky to be alive…” Blakely pointed out.
“Avery’s more lucky,” Freddie growled.
That didn’t sound too promising.
“What did you do?” I asked, wearily.
“No, really. Nothing. That’s the point.”
I studied his usually smooth features. His mouth was set in a straight line and a deep crease had formed between his eyebrows. He seemed genuinely pissed-off. Pissed off that he didn’t have the chance to do anything…
“Mate, you should thank me, really,” Ro said, uncomfortably, “If I wouldn’t have stopped you you’d have had detention for the rest of the year… or um, Azkaban…”
“I would have killed him,” Freddie nodded in agreement.
“Think yourself lucky you’re not in Black’s place right now…”
My ears pricked up on hearing that.
“Black? What did Sirius do?” My stomach was sinking. What Avery did must have been bad to have Freddie contemplating murder… and Sirius was in general less composed. I braced myself for the worst. He was in Azkaban. I just knew it. I told him his temper would get him in trouble one day…
“Well I, uh… he’s in detention right now but he’ll probably be here after… Lily and Potter have been here too…” Ro blathered.
Oh. Ok. Detention. Not a lifetime imprisonment. That was a good sign, it meant Avery was still alive…
“What did he do?”
“Well, uh, it was him that stopped you… dying really. He stopped you hitting the floor, but you’d already hit your head when Avery… uh yeah. He got to you pretty quick too, about the same time we all landed. We were all pretty distracted checking if you were alright and then Avery laughed -”
Freddie’s fists clenched.
“- And Black just went crazy. Didn’t even get his wand out, just set about beating him to a pulp.”
“Typical.” I groaned. And it had been so long since Sirius had inflicted harm on someone. He’d been doing so well.
“Then the other Slytherins got involved -”
Typical. I whipped my head up.
“- But Madam Hooch got them all with the body-bind. So no one got that badly hurt.”
I did notice how he’d said ‘that badly hurt’. Not just ‘hurt’.
“But now they’ve all got detention for the next thirty years.” I concluded.
“That’s about right.” Ro raised an eyebrow at Freddie. “Would have been you mate.”
I looked questioningly at them both.
“I had to restrain him. He went nuts.” Ro looked oddly proud of Freddie. Boys.
“Excellent.” I rolled my eyes. Ro looked like this was the most fun he’d had in ages.
“So about the party…” Blakely began.
“There will be no parties for Miss McKinnon, Mr Blakely!” Madam Pomfrey bustled over with an ominous set of potions. “She needs rest and recovery.”
“We’ll let her rest… just… in the common room… with music… and -” Blakely trailed off before beaming brilliantly as if he was actually being persuasive.
Excellent. That was my chance at getting out of here.
“There will be nothing of the sort,” Madam Pomfrey glared, “Visiting hours are over! It’s past curfew, you all need to return to your common room.” She held open the door.
“Well done, Blakely,” Ro aimed a punch at Blakely’s ribs, “She would never have made us get out if you weren’t acting like a prat -”
“- I was charming her!” Blakely hissed.
I smiled as the boys waved me goodnight and Freddie squeezed my hand.
“You’re sure you’re OK?” He asked, his deep brown eyes anxious.
“I’ll be fine,” I rolled my eyes, “If I don’t die of embarrassment.”
Freddie grinned and left quickly as Madam Pomfrey shook her tray of potions threateningly.
“I don’t know what Dumbledore’s thinking,” She muttered as she unceremoniously dumped the tray next to my bed and started to fuss with the pillows, the sheets and just about everything else in reach, “Letting a delicate young thing like yourself play this dangerous sport -“ I scowled at the ‘delicate’, “- I told him this would happen! What did he expect, putting huge great boys against girls?” She scrutinized my face.
“Um.” I had no idea what I was expected to say.
“Ridiculous. OK, Miss McKinnon, if I could just get you to drink this…”
The smallest bottle was pressed into my hands.
“… just to help you sleep…”
I breathed a sigh of relief – bloody hell, I’d thought they were all for me. I downed it in one.
“… and this…”
Oh sodding hell, I spoke too soon.
“… for the pain in your head…”
I knocked the second, considerably more vile-tasting one back.
“…and this one…”
Is she taking the piss?
By the time she’d bustled off to her quarters I was feeling slightly woozy from the seventy-five bloody concoctions she’d had to force down my throat. The dizziness was making me feel a little sick but then she turned out the lights and closed the curtains around me with a flourish of her wand and it all got nice and calm…
I awoke with a jolt sometime later, suddenly completely on edge and alert like a bolt of adrenaline had suddenly exploded through my veins. I cursed aloud, noting from the complete darkness that it would be nowhere near morning.
“Stupid, bloody Pomfrey,” I muttered under my breath, “Can’t even mix her stupid, bloody potions bloody right. Calls herself a bloody nurse, forcing a hundred stupid bloody potions down my neck so I can’t bloody sleep…” I was fumbling around on the tray to see if there was any of the sleeping potion left.
“I think that’s the most anyone’s ever used the word ‘bloody’ in one go,” A voice commented from somewhere in the darkness.
I didn’t have to wait for him to murmur “Lumos,” and light up his face to recognise him.
“What…” What are you doing here. That’s what I wanted to ask. The edginess had extinguished as soon as he’d spoken and I’d felt completely at ease, and… happy. Eurgh. Because of him? I really was pathetic.
Then I recalled that our last interaction wasn’t as such a joyous one. If I was confused, it was probably nothing on him. So I changed mid-sentence.
“What’s the time?” I asked, sitting up straighter.
“Three-thirty.” His words were drawn out and a little awkward.
Just like the silence that followed.
“So, I hear someone owes you their life?” I said, blithely, in an attempt to end the crushing silence and lighten the mood.
On the contrary. His face darkened immediately and he dropped it down into his hands, frustrated. Before I could even hazard a guess as to what I’d said wrong he was talking.
“You’re probably mad at me for acting too much like your ‘boyfriend’.” He said into his hands. The way he said ‘boyfriend’ was synonymous with ‘crap’. And he sounded like he was mimicking me. Did I really sound like that? “I don’t even really remember what happened. Just Avery -” His hands shook tensely. “- And you falling, and legging it down there. I don’t even remember stopping you falling. I didn’t realise I did it until someone fucking complimented me on it. Then that… that scum laughing.”
“To be fair, I would have laughed if it was him,” I reasoned without thinking, then shut my mouth quickly as Sirius looked up from his hands with a glare. Forget I said anything…
He picked up one of the potion bottles and twirled it around in his fingers before speaking again.
“I’m not sorry I did it. Even if I have had to sit there and endure their shit for hours tonight in detention. You’d be impressed, I didn’t even hex them once.” A shadow of his usual smirk appeared on his face. “Don’t think I can keep it up for the rest of the two months worth of detentions we have, though.”
His face was grim again and his grip on the slim bottle was suddenly tight.
“Why do you have go and get yourself into these situations?” He demanded, flicking his eyes up at me and pinning me to the spot with them. His grip hadn’t loosened. The bottle was sure the smash any second.
“Um.” I couldn’t stop my eyes flickering from his irresistible eyes to the fragile bottle in his fist.
“You don’t know what it’s like to have to be looking out for someone twenty-four-seven… And don’t you dare say you never asked me to, you know I can’t help it… And then you go and do something stupid like stop in mid air when you know there’s seven Slytherins just waiting for the chance to batter you – ow.”
He’d been clutching to bottle too tightly. It was bound to give eventually. It took that last little clench of anger to shatter it.
I instinctively flinched away at the sound of breaking glass, my breathing suddenly shallow.
Sirius froze as I flinched, his attention not on the broken glass which was cutting into his hand, but on me.
“Dee, what are you… you look…” His eyes were wide and his forehead creased as he took in my face, “You look like you think I’m going to hurt you.”
He was the one looking at my face, I suppose. I had no idea what I looked like. I didn’t actually think he was going to hurt me, though, of course I didn’t. It was just the sound. The sound of breaking glass. I could never bear that sound.
“Dee, you don’t think I’m going to hurt you? Do you?” All traces of anger were gone from his face. Hell, he was the one who looked in pain.
I shook my head and tried arrange my features so that I didn’t look like that… what does that look even look like? My breathing slowed now that the sound was gone, and I was back to the present.
“Then what… Is this about the same thing as yesterday?” He asked, tentatively.
Oh no, back to that.
“Dee, please talk to me.”
I can’t, not that. Please.
He caught me with The Look. I wasn’t prepared for it. I mean, who thinks they’re going to be hit with The Look when they’re lying in a hospital bed, probably looking like shite? Not me, that’s who. And because I wasn’t prepared for it, it was like the first time all over again. The time in his dormitory, Christmas Eve. Him looking at me with those beautiful stormy eyes fixed on mine, looking at me like I was the most desirable thing on the planet, seeing through me, understanding me. It seemed forever ago, and yet just yesterday.
This was being torn to the extreme. The look that I couldn’t resist against the topic I couldn’t talk about. I opened my mouth. And closed it. And opened it again. And gestured vaguely in silence a little. Then sank down onto the pillows.
He was going to make me say it. I was going to say it.
Not taking his eyes off me, Sirius moved from the hard plastic chair to the bed, arranging himself carefully so he was leaning back against the pillows, the side of his body against mine. He murmured “Nox,” and the light from his wand was extinguished. Then he waited.
“I don’t like it,” I said, so quietly that he had to be completely still to hear, “When people break things.”
“I didn’t mean to -”
“I know.” I whispered, “It just… I… It…” I fell silent again.
Could I say it?
“Tell me about… your mum,” Sirius said, after waiting for me to carry on of my own accord.
The dark was comforting. The way I could feel him there but I couldn’t see him, and he couldn’t see me. All of it was comforting.
“She… she wasn’t very well.” I said, my voice a little wobbly but at least it didn’t break. “When we were little. We didn’t really know… what was wrong. We didn’t know what mood she’d be in one day to the next… Sometimes she was fine and sometimes she wouldn’t get out of bed…”
I was six years old. My mum was looking at me as if I was a bug in her cereal as I tried to get her out of bed to play with me. Dad was pulling me hastily out of the room.
I was in bed asleep. It was the middle of the night. We had school in the morning. She came into the room singing and twirling around, pulling me out of my slumber to dance around the room with her. Freddie’s eyes were wary as he watched cautiously from his own bed but I was giggling and shrieking. Mum was happy, it was a good thing…
I was seven. I got home from school and the tiny kitchen was filled with the harsh smell of burnt cooking. Tray after tray of blackened cakes were strewn across the counters and my mother hunched on the floor sobbing.
I was eight. She rang the school to say I was ill, then took me out shopping. We had strawberry milkshakes and I sat at the bar like a grown up. Then it got later and later and I wasn’t allowed to go home, wasn’t allowed to cry. We had to go to shop after shop after shop…
I was nine. I could hear the weeping and shouting from the next room through the thin walls. I got into Freddie’s bed and put the covers over my head, while he gently covered my ears. I could still hear it when a table was overturned and the glasses shattered…
It was past bed time but Freddie and I had been sent to the shops to get Mum some biscuits. We got back and we couldn’t open the door. We could hear the music inside turned up as high as it would go. We could hear her singing along. We could hear Mr Next Door shouting and banging on the walls. We sat on the grass and waited. It was cold. Freddie wrapped his jumper around me and put his chin on my head so I wouldn’t see him crying. But I could feel the tears.
“… It was alright. It was me, Freddie and Dad most of the time. Dad helped her and made her feel better. He shouted sometimes but then he’d cry because he was sorry. Then she got… worse. And Dad got mad when she did silly things. And when he got more mad she got more silly or more sad. Then we started smelling the whiskey. They were both drinking…”
I didn’t realise I was shaking until Sirius felt for my hand. I was doing it. I was talking to him about it, it was all coming out quickly, all at once…
“Then, then… he wasn’t Dad anymore. He got mad at her and at Freddie and… and then she died.” I stopped abruptly.
I wasn’t crying. Wasn’t ambushed by a plethora of overpowering emotions, nothing.
It was OK. I could talk about it without the world ending. It was as if… not like a weight had been lifted, because there hadn’t been one… more like a very tight coat I’d been wearing had been undone and I was free to keep it on, but just as free to take it off.
We sat together like that for a long time. Not kissing or cuddling, our skin was barely even touching apart from our hands and my head on his shoulder. But it was the most comfortable, the most secure that I’d felt in a long time. I might have even dozed off, I couldn’t tell. I just knew that it was a long time later than he spoke.
“I’m sorry for breaking the bottle.” He said, slowly rubbing his cheek against my hair.
“It’s ok,” I murmured, “I’m sorry for not telling your before.”
He paused. “Thank you for telling me.”
“Thank you for listening.” And caring, I silently added.
“Are you just trying to match everything I say?” He smiled.
“No. Yeah. Maybe,” I yawned and rolled my shoulders, “Ow. Shoulders are sore.”
Sirius stiffened the tiniest little bit, but spoke in a cheery voice.
“Want me to kill Avery for you? ‘Cause I would.”
“No, you’re alright,” I buried my face in his neck, “I hear Azkaban’s not a bundle of laughsss,” I was slurring my words with tiredness.
He was quiet for a couple more minutes.
“Dee?” His voice was quiet and I was slowly falling through the thick layers of consciousness, it was as if he was drifting away.
“Hmmm?” I managed to say.
“I… uh. I’m… glad you told me.”
Thank you. I tried to open my mouth but I was no longer there.
A.N. Hey! Ok, this chapter is a little depressing... I apologise! Now who saw something like that coming hmmm? There was the odd little hint in previous chapters, not sure if I over or under did it though! I'd love to hear what you think! And for those of you who didn't like the depressed tone, don't worry I'll ensure theres some happy stuff in the next one!
Thanks for reading, please leave a review!
Preview of Chapter 11 - Thirteen Budgies“You’re having sex.” She accused.
I choked on my own spit. “Pardon?”
“You’re having sex.” She repeated, louder.
I cast a glance around the room and saw that our dorm-mates had frozen in their morning routines with scandalised looks on their faces.
“Londy!” I hissed, “I am not having sex,” I reassured the two shocked girls. They weren’t convinced...
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