((A/N: Chapter 18!! How magical! Hope you enjoy. Read and Review!!!))
((Disclaimer: Me no ownie Harry Potter. Me ownie a cookie!))
It came to me in the middle of a dream: I was flying through the air, laughing, and oddly enough Sirius was flying along with me. I numbly wondered why Sirius, but we were flying towards the most gorgeous full moon I’d seen in my lifetime, so I really was too overjoyed to care. The moon was coming closer, getting larger and increasingly more beautiful by the minute. We were almost there, I could see all the individual craters and mountains, and I knew where it was!
Suddenly, I was bolt upright in my bed, the vision of that great moon fading away, Sirius’ laughter ringing in my ears. But this time, it made sense, why he was laughing. It was the same laughter that I heard when he laughed after pulling a prank.
Because I’d just remembered the one place that I hadn’t looked for Aunt Di’s necklace. And there was only one way that it could have gotten there.
“Sirius!” I yelled, catching sight of his shaggy black hair as he headed toward the portrait hole. He looked over at me and smiled as he registered my agitated expression.
“Miss Gaunt,” he said formally, and obviously jocosely, bowing and gesturing to the door in a gentlemanly way. James, meanwhile, was gaping at me stupidly. “Ladies first.”
“Actually, I need to talk to you.” His face fell.
“Shit, you found out about the fire whiskey, didn’t you?”
Not what I’d expected. It was such a switch in direction that I stared at him for a few seconds while I puzzled over it. Last night, in the kitchens, we’d actually got on pretty well. At least, we didn’t start yelling or anything at each other. Once I’d been properly fed, I actually felt pretty okay, besides the shock and fear and sorrow.... Then I figured it out; my jaw dropped.
“You spiked my bloody pumpkin juice?” I cried, staring at him in horror. He flushed deeply.
“Oh... you didn’t, then...”
“But I’ve never—you didn’t—but I don’t—“
“It wasn’t much,” Sirius said defensively, but I wasn’t the only one gawking at him now. James was no longer staring at me, but at his best mate. “Just enough to loosen you up a little. Not like—You were just so uptight, and you seemed down, and I just thought—“
“Sirius Black, just because I’m upset doesn’t mean you should get me drunk!”
“I didn’t get you drunk! You were just a little out of it, is all... and it’s not like I would take advantage of you if you were drunk, which of course you weren’t! I just—“
“Oh, shut up!” I snapped. “We’ll deal with that later; right now I need to talk to you!”
He looked surprised, but he also seemed eager for the issue to be forgotten as he nodded and gestured for me to lead. James, joined by Lily and the other Marauders, stared after me with unidentifiable expressions.
When we were safely enclosed in the nearest empty classroom, he sighed.
“All right, then, Artemis, if you aren’t mad at me for putting a little alcohol in your juice, what’s wrong?”
I sighed and turned my gaze from the floor. He gawked at me.
“Bloody hell, what happened to you? You look like you—“
“Sirius, you took something out of my bag,” I interrupted. His face almost instantly paled.
“Er, no I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did, you arse! Don’t deny it!”
“I don’t know what you’re—“
“Sirius, please. I’m not in the mood for arguing with you. I know you took the necklace, and I need it back. I’m not allowed in class today, so if you try denying it again, I’ll just search while you six guys are in class. Either way, I’m getting it back, and I’d feel loads better if you’d just give it to me.”
Maybe it was my dull tone; maybe it was my sad expression; maybe it was just his guilt eating away at him from inside. Either way, I was surprised when he nodded.
“Tell you what,” he started, looking as if he were treading deep water. “I’ll give it back if you tell me what’s wrong.”
The voice cackled. So nosy! Just get rid of him! You know how he is.
“Black,” I snarled, “it’s none of your—“
“Yeah, yeah, I know, none of my business. But you seem upset still—“
“Oh, well, maybe you ought to get me drunk, that ought to solve that, right?” I said acidly. He grimaced.
“I told you, it was only a little—“ He shook his head, his expression irritated. “Listen, I’m just trying to say that I’m here, and you can talk to me! Obviously, you’re distressed, and I don’t want it to end up like last time—“
“How do you know about last time?” I interrupted, shocked and horrified. He knew about what I’d done? He gave me a suspicious look.
“I was there, remember? The Vellugs?”
“Oh... right,” I said, blushing. “Sorry, stress, stuff...”
“Unless there was another last time that I’m not aware of?”
“Pfft!” I said, glaring at him. “Mind yours and I’ll mind mine. It’s better that way.” But Sirius didn’t seem satisfied with that as he blocked me from leaving.
“Why aren’t you allowed in class today?”
Merlin love him, he was so bloody perceptive! I’d barely mentioned the fact in passing, and he’d still picked up on it! Not to mention, he was blocking my only exit, unless I decided to leap out the window (which the voice happily encouraged...). I scowled at him, deeply wishing that I could become intangible and walk through the wall.
“It’s not any—“
“Artemis!” he growled, giving me an odd, intense, and extremely serious look. “You can talk to me. I know you think I’m just a bigheaded arse, and really, most of the time I am... to you. But you can tell me things. I haven’t...” he paused and gave me a nervous look. “I haven’t told anyone about it. Last time. The last time that I was there anyways...” he glowered at me, but it was only momentary, as the anxiety quickly returned. “I know when to be Sirius and when to be serious. Er, well, when to be Padfoot and when to be serious. Like... well, you know what I mean. Don’t stare at me like that!”
But I couldn’t help it. Was Sirius actually worried about me? Genuinely concerned for my well being? I got the feeling that, somewhere, monkeys were wearing tutus and performing Romeo and Juliet for an audience of hippos and giraffes. He seemed to be expecting me to say something.
“Oh...” was all I could come up with. Sirius rolled his eyes.
“Okay then. Listen, we can talk later if you want. I—“
“My Great Aunt Diane died,” I whispered. Sirius immediately went silent. “I don’t... want your pity. She was my favorite aunt, on my mother’s side, and she was killed by Death Eaters, but I know she’d want me to go on like normal. But then, when I told McGonagall that I didn’t want to miss class she told me I wasn’t going and that if I tried she’d give me detention. So now I’m not allowed in class today.”
Sirius gaped at me. Finally, he looked down at the floor and shook his head. “You are probably the only student in this school who wouldn’t jump at the chance to miss class.” He grimaced at my glare. “Sorry; back to serious. I’m sorry about your aunt. If you need a shoulder to cry on... you can use James’.” This left me dumbfounded. And here I was thinking he was being sensitive. “And I suppose if James runs out of shoulder... I’ve got shoulders too,” he muttered, shuffling his feet and making a face at the dust. Ah, that was better... or at least a little more comforting.
Huh... this day just kept getting weirder and weirder. First Sirius confesses that he actually cares about me, and then he offers me comfort. If he were a girl, I might have said he was PMSing. Maybe he was bipolar? Or maybe he’d gone crazy the way that I was going to soon.
Finally, I said, “You’re going to be late to class.” Sirius jumped and looked up at me, as if he’d forgotten I was there.
“Er... right. Yeah, I should go.” He gave me a worried look. “On second thought, it’s just one day...”
“Go to class, you moron. Why are you acting so weird today, anyways? Yesterday too.” His face turned pink, increasing my suspicion. “Are you sick?” I asked. He glared at me.
“Fine, going to class then,” he said, moving towards the door. “And I’ll give you the necklace at lunch.” He gave me one last look, and then he was gone, and I was left more confused than relieved.
“Thank you,” I breathed, looking down at the necklace in my hands happily, or at least, as happily as I could when I thought that my favorite aunt and her entire branch of the family had been murdered. “You have no idea how much I mean that. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Sirius stared at me with an eyebrow raised. “You’re welcome?”
I rolled my eyes. “You should be happy! I said thank you, and you know I rarely say that... to you. And I was serious, too, that’s a bonus.”
“Hey Sirius—“ Wes called, immediately cutting off as I glanced over my shoulder at him standing in the doorway. “Oh, er, didn’t realize you were busy mate, sorry ‘bout that...”
“Oh, shut up, Wes,” I snapped, shaking my head at him. “Do I look like I’m getting ready to do dirty stuff with,” I gagged, “Sirius?”
Wes grinned. “Well, you never know.”
I scowled at him. “You’re a bleeding moron.”
“Hey!” he whined, but I ignored him and walked past to the staircase.
When I reached the common room, I was surprised to see that Sirius was still behind me. He had returned to staring at me, the same way that he’d stared at me all day yesterday. And it was getting kind of creepy. I opened my mouth to tell him to knock it off, but he interrupted me as he came alongside me.
“Er, hey, Artemis?” he started looking at me sideways.
“Yes?” I asked warily.
“Erm, well...” he looked around the common room as if checking that no one could hear us. Everyone was busy with his or her own pursuits, so he took a breath and continued. “See, I was wondering if you wanted to go to Hogsmeade with me next weekend.”
I gaped at him. This was definitely unexpected. And something was definitely up with him.
“Not as a date!” he said suddenly, probably responding to the baffled expression I was giving him. “I mean, just as friends. And because we don’t really have anything else to do. I mean, James and Lily are going together. Remus got a date with that Ravenclaw Prefect he fancies, and Peter needs to catch up on his Potions homework. You aren’t really friends with Mira or Olivia anymore, right? So you don’t have anything to do, I don’t have anything to do. And you know how I get when I’m bored.”
I glared at him at the mention of Mira. “How do you know I wasn’t going to hang out with Apollo? Maybe we were going to study or just talk or something.”
“Oh, right,” he nodded, “forgot that part. Your brother still hates you for wiping the field with the Slytherin team at Quidditch, so you still don’t have anything to do.”
I sighed. “Men and their bloody pride,” I muttered. Sirius rolled his eyes.
“So? Yes or no?”
“Well, I don’t want people to think I’m actually going out with you,” I lied, seeing how that was exactly what I needed people to think, “so—“
“No one has to know. We can hang out in the less popular streets. Or we could go see the Shrieking Shack. Everyone’ll be too terrified to go up there anyways.” He paused. “Or we could—“
“All right, all right! Merlin, you drag on!” I moaned. “Fine. I’ll go, but you try anything, and I swear you’ll regret it. I can do way better than an asexual skunk, you know.”
He grimaced. “Great. Let’s get some lunch, I’m starving.”
Well, that was easy.
“So you can come back to class on Monday, right?” Lily asked, looking at me inquisitively over her hot fudge sundae that evening. “Because I don’t know how long I can stand being with these four morons.”
I nodded, smiling, and said, “I completely understand, Lils! Stupidity can only be taken in small doses.”
“Hey!” James whined. “I resent that! In case you’ve forgotten, we’re all doing better than you in Charms.”
Ah, wonderful. Another mention of my mediocre Charms skills. Sirius snorted.
“I think everyone’s doing better than Artemis. She’s still at first year level.”
“Oh, ha, ha!” I growled, rolling my eyes. “Think you’re so funny, don’t you? And that’s what makes you so stupid.”
“Think? We are funny,” James corrected.
“No, actually, you’re not,” Lily argued.
“In any case,” I interrupted before the two could start arguing over something so frivolous, “McGonagall is reluctantly allowing me to return to class because Professor Dumbledore told her that it was my choice. Otherwise, she probably would have made me miss another month.”
“I don’t understand why you’re not going home,” Remus said, looking at me with a frown. “If my great aunt died, I’d go home...”
“Well, yes,” I said slowly, “but you and I are in completely different situations.” Remus grew wide-eyed, and the four Marauders exchanged glances.
“Er, what do you mean?” Remus asked, suddenly looking extremely nervous.
“I mean that you don’t hate your home,” I clarified, wondering what they thought I meant. They shared a look of relief, and then of concern.
“What’s so bad about your family?” James asked, and I realized that I’d never really told any of them about my home life; all they knew were bits and pieces. I bit my lip.
“Er, well... it’s just that... I’m sure Sirius’ family is worse...”
“Thanks,” Sirius said sarcastically before pausing and looking at me seriously. “But you’re probably right. And you didn’t answer the question.”
I scowled at him. “Well... it’s just that my family... we just don’t connect well. My father likes to be in control, and he gets upset when he’s not. My mum is so... suffocating, and it drives me crazy; drives my dad crazy too, ‘cause he’s absolutely loathed me since first year, when I got sorted into Gryffindor, for reasons you all probably get.” They looked at me cluelessly, and I rolled my eyes. “Since we’re related to... you know, starts with an S, evil, brother’s in his house?”
“Oh, yeah, Slyth—“ Sirius jabbed Peter in the side with his elbow, shutting him up quick.
“Thank you, Sirius.” He nodded, giving me a grim look. “Well, since we’re related to him, Dad feels that we should all be in his house, so you can imagine how upset he was... and so he hates it when my mum showers me with love and affection.”
“That’s terrible!” Lily exclaimed, giving me a pitying look. I snickered.
“Not really. It’s annoying, but we never really saw eye-to-eye anyways. He always thought Voldemort—“ Lily, Remus, and Peter flinched— “had the right idea, still does. And me, I think he’s off his rocker, to say the least. We never really had a chance at one of those mythical, wonderful father-daughter relationships. Him and Apollo, though, that’s a different story. You all know Apollo. He can be snobbish and nasty, but he was never as big a supporter of Vol—You-Know-Who,” I switched abruptly, rolling my eyes as Lily scowled at me.
“You three are pussies,” Sirius voiced my opinion out loud. “It’s not like the name is going to kill you.”
“Dumbledore says that fear of the name only makes it worse,” James added.
“And since when do you talk to Dumbledore personally?” Lily asked scathingly.
“Since our pranks became too big for the teachers to deal with,” Remus said wearily. “And I don’t think that I really fear the name, I think it’s the thought of the man that the name invokes.”
“Right, well, how would you put up a fight against him if you’re afraid of his very name? Or, in Moony’s case, the thought of him?” Sirius asked with a frown.
“We probably won’t ever fight him,” Lily said logically, shaking her head. “I mean, we’d be more likely to go up against his Death Eaters than You-Know-Who himself. After all, they’re the ones who do his dirty work.”
“But if you ever did come face-to-face with him?” I asked. “Because you never know. If he feels you’re too big a threat, he’ll come and get you himself, and if you’re afraid of just his name...”
“But—But what are the chances of that?” Peter asked, his voice shaking in fear at the thought of Voldemort attacking him.
“I don’t know! Do I look like a mathematician?” He shook his head at me frantically. “Right, like I said: you never know. And to say that it never will is to jinx it.”
“Right,” Sirius nodded.
“Right,” Lily repeated. “Can we change the subject to something a bit more... cheerful?”
“Sure,” I acquiesced with a small smile. “So you and James are for sure going to Hogsmeade together next weekend?”
James and Lily turned exactly the same shade of red. “Er, yes, I—yeah, we’re planning on going to Madam Puddifoot’s again,” Lily answered.
“And we might stop in at the Three Broomsticks,” James added.
“I feel really bad, though,” Lily admitted, looking at me guiltily. “About leaving you here alone, I mean. If you want, you can join us at the pub and—“
“No! No, I’ll be fine, Lils, no worries! You two enjoy your date!”
“So, have you got your whole date all planned out? Or are you just going to... wander?” Sirius interrupted, glancing at me stealthily.
“We’ve got it all planned. We’re going to Madam Puddifoot’s in the morning, then we’re going to wander Main Street, and then we’re coming back to the school for lunch.” James winked at me. “I’ve got special plans for that. But it’s a secret!”
Lily scowled at him; obviously, she was immensely curious about these “special plans,” but she wasn’t getting anything out of him. I sighed and smiled at the couple. They were... perfect.
“Why can’t I do it?” I cried furiously, prodding at the horrific green-eyed doll in Charms that Wednesday. “Move, you stupid doll, move! Animus!” The doll twitched half-heartedly, but by now everyone else’s was doing simple things like sitting up, or at least moving an arm or a leg enough to qualify as movement, which meant that I was still far behind.
“Because you’re a moron?” Sirius answered me helpfully. I glared at him as his princely doll got to its feet and shared his smug look.
“That does not help me,” I snarled. “What I need is someone to tell me what I’m doing wrong! Because Merlin knows I’m never going to get this stupid spell right!”
“You’re prodding too much.”
I stared at him. “What?”
“You’re prodding too much,” he said simply. “With your wand. You need to wave it more, but not too much. It’s a delicate balance.” He glared at me as I continued to stare at him with my mouth partially open. “Don’t look at me like that! I’m not stupid you know.”
“I suppose not.”
“Well, see if I ever help you again,” he said venomously.
“No, sorry,” I said quickly, closing my mouth. “It just surprised me that you were helping me, I guess. Let me try again... Animus!”
Still nothing but a twitch. I glowered at it.
“You’re still doing it wrong,” Sirius informed me smugly. “Like I said, less prodding, more waving.” He demonstrated for me by bringing his doll to life again. I watched carefully, aware that he was probably not going to show me again. After a minute, he let the doll fall lifeless and turned in his chair to watch me. “Your turn.”
I sighed. “Animus!” The doll twitched again, though it seemed to be a lot bigger twitch than before (or maybe that was my wishful thinking).
“That was better, but you’re still not waving it enough.”
“You’re such a know-it-all,” I grumbled. He glared at me. “A very helpful know-it-all! Er, can you show me again?”
His glare subsided slightly (though that may have been wishful thinking as well...) as he performed the charm again, and then he turned to watch me try again. We went on like this for the rest of the hour, and by the end, (to my greatest surprise), I’d managed to make the princess doll move an arm. Professor Flitwick was so impressed with the way that Sirius had improved my charm that...
He appointed Sirius my personal Charms tutor. And Sirius scowled at me furiously for the rest of the day. Obviously, I wasn’t the only who was unhappy with the appointment. Or at least, who was pretending to be unhappy about the appointment. Because, oddly, I wasn’t unhappy about it at all. In fact, I was rather ecstatic.
I mean, not because I wanted him to hang out with me, because I didn’t. Clearly, it was because I had Melanie’s threats hanging over my head, and anything that made the job easier was fine with me.
Okay, maybe I wanted to hang out with him a little. Maybe. But not because I liked him!
Oh, hell, what’s the point in denying it? Maybe I had a little crush on him. And when I say little, I mean majorly microscopic. Like a teeny, tiny, itsy-bitsy crush. Like a schoolgirl’s crush. If I ignored it long enough, it would go away. And I would ignore it. I’d pretend to like him, but inside, I would quell the masochistic feeling inside that was attraction.
Yes, masochistic. Self-harming. That was exactly what being attracted to Sirius Black was. It would never last. Sirius Black had a reputation, after all. He didn’t stay with most girls long (though of course there were exceptions). Most girls were overly paranoid that he was going to cheat on them. Not to mention, he and I had little in common, as far as I knew; and then there was my family, all of whom would have a great hissy fit the day I got serious with Sirius. Which I wouldn’t, because, as I said, I was going to suppress those feelings.
Oh, damn, now I’m rambling.
In any case, Lily pretended sympathized with me about my new tutor in Transfiguration, while Sirius scowled at me from where he sat with James. At lunch, the other Marauders laughed at Sirius’ scathing mood. Lily rolled her eyes at them while she ate her chicken, and I sat silently while continuing my debate with myself. The voice was even laughing at me, which I ignored. Stupid voice didn’t know anything about anything anyways.
My argument with myself was finally ended, however, when I realized that someone was missing.
“Er, guys, where’s Remus?” I asked. The three remaining Marauders looked at me thoughtfully.
“He’s visiting his—“
“She’s on her deathbed, you see,” Sirius clarified, his scowl fading in favor of an unusually grave expression. “And he was her... oh, Merlin, you know, it doesn’t really matter; the point is: he’s not here,” he switched abruptly. I glared at him.
“He was her favorite?” I continued for him. “And she was his. And perhaps after she dies, we should all treat him like a fragile young Flutterby bush? Perhaps we ought to avoid the subject?” Everyone flushed at my biting tone, and Sirius bit his lip.
“Sorry, we didn’t mean to bring it up—“
“Well, for the record, I think that Remus is quite capable of dealing with the loss by himself. And if he doesn’t want to talk about it, of course we shouldn’t, but avoiding the subject of death altogether would rather tip him off that we’re treating him specially, don’t you agree?”
My comrades nodded, but I got the feeling that they were only doing it to appease me; it was probably safe to assume that we would still avoid the topics of death and Great relatives. And the pitying expressions that had risen on their faces when the Marauders realized what they’d said by no means faded.
I hated being pitied. It was almost as bad as having people lie to you for your own good. I mean, when is it ever for your good?
But now was not the time to ponder such things: my friends were looking worried at the fact that I was now silent, so I shrugged and tried to think of something else to say.
“I know that I wouldn’t want to be treated like something was wrong with me. Especially since I’d rather forget it altogether. Personally.”
I’d thought my friends were red before, but now their blushes deepened. Sirius’ eyes locked onto my neck as I touched the sapphire necklace hidden beneath my robes. As much as I wanted to deny it, I liked the fact that he alone knew how I was coping with the loss of my great aunt. Who needs tears when you can sweat? I’d been focusing on my homework and on exercise for the past week: running and Quidditch, mostly.
The four of them had all just opened their mouths, presumably to apologize profusely, when Professor McGonagall arrived on the scene. She almost appeared to be taking the loss of Diane Pemberly much harder than me. This fact probably made me look cold and heartless to the remainder of the Hogwarts population, but those who knew me knew that I was only acting tough and harsh to hide the fact that my insides still burned and my eyes watered whenever I thought of Di.
“Miss Gaunt, I’ve been asked to tell you... that your great aunt’s funeral will be held this coming Sunday. As you requested, you will be permitted to attend it. I myself will be going, and as such I will escort you there, and bring both you and your brother back to Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore also said that you may bring any one of your friends to keep you company, though he reminds you that it is optional,” she said, almost completely in one breath and all in a grave, empty tone. “You and your friend, if you choose to bring one, should meet me in my office at exactly eleven o’clock Sunday morning, on the dot.” She gave me a consoling look, shot my companions approving nods, bid us all farewell and continued down the aisle to reach the staff table.
I sighed. When I died, I made a mental note to demand that no one make a big deal out of it. Cry if you like, take days off, but I’ll be damned if I have people freaking out over my relatives. Honestly, all the pity was pissing me off.
And, hey, a funeral. Something to look forward to. (Aw, sarcasm!) It took me a few minutes to realize that my friends were staring at me.
“So, who wants to go to funeral this Sunday?” I asked halfheartedly. I wasn’t at all surprised when no raised their hand.
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