Chapter 39 : Confessions
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He stopped and turned me to face him. “So, Laura, this thing with Bernie Carmichael. Is it an actual date, or is he just someone to come to the ball with?” he asked, looking more nervous and vulnerable than I’d ever seen him.
“Bernie?” I repeated. “No, it’s not a date. He asked me to the ball and I said yes. That’s about it. Why?”
“Nothing more?” he asked.
I laughed. “Definitely not. He’s been holding me with kid gloves all night. It’s almost like he’s scared to touch me.”
He grinned, though even that looked nervous. “In that case, maybe I can get away with stealing you away from him.”
“You haven’t really stolen me,” I pointed out. “We’ve only been gone a couple of min-”
He cut me off by kissing me, hesitantly at first, just a brush of his lips against mine, as though he was worried I might pull away or something. And while that was never going to happen – I wasn’t stupid enough to throw this opportunity away – it did take a moment for me to get over my surprise. Having said that, though, my brain was obviously a bit behind the rest of me because before I realised what was happening I had my arms around his neck and was pulling him back towards me, seeking his lips again. And, when I found them, this time they stayed.
Wow. Double wow. And to think I’d thought kissing Bertram was good. This was unbelievable. So tender, so delicate in some ways, so self-assured in others. His lips were soft and warm against mine and he tasted delicious. Martha had been right – he was a sensational kisser.
And then, suddenly, he stopped, and so did I, horrified that he might have come to his senses and was wondering what he was doing. But he just smiled softly and said, “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”
“Really?” The word was out of my mouth before I could stop it. “But why me?”
“I just can’t convince you how amazing you are,” he said with mock exasperation, his hand running through my hair. “Don’t –” he knew I was going to ask about Martha, or Charlotte, or Anne Mockridge – “that argument hasn’t held water for ages, and you know it. You are every bit as beautiful, and talented, and smart, and special – in fact you’re more than they are, more incredible than any other girl I’ve ever met.” I gazed at him, searching for any sign he might be joking around before I let myself believe him, but his face was open – it had lost its haughty look like it did when he was being genuine. So that must mean that he actually … meant this?
I didn’t know what to say, so I settled for, “Thank you”.
He kissed me again, and suddenly we didn’t need to say anything else. This time it quickly became more intense, more passionate, as I let myself give in to what I’d been longing for all those months, and soon enough I found myself pushed up against the wall of Greenhouse Three, trying in vain to pull him closer to me … the miniscule gap of air between us meant that we were nowhere near close enough. If a single hair could have fit in the gap, that meant we needed to be closer. The need I felt for him right then was the most powerful sensation I’d ever had and I couldn’t have fought it even if I’d wanted to. I didn’t know (or care) how much time was passing, all that mattered was that we were there, that we were together. I didn’t even feel the snowflakes that started landing on us until we each had a soft white coating on our dress robes.
Finally the snow got heavy enough so that even we noticed it, and we reluctantly broke apart and made our way back inside to the ball. Sirius put his cloak around my shoulders (“I can’t have you catching cold on me, not now”) and held me tight as we walked into the Great Hall. While I had no particular desire to rejoin the party, I did understand that I had to apologise to my date for running out on him like that.
I spotted Bernie’s red hair right away: he was dancing with Thalia Strout from Hufflepuff. I caught his eye and reluctantly moved away from Sirius, smiling apologetically. He lost no time in coming over to me, Thalia waiting a few yards behind him while we talked.
“I’m so sorry, Bernie,” I began, but he cut me off.
“Come to tell me you’re ditching me for Sirius Black?”
I nodded, looking as remorseful as I could. “I never intended to, but …” I trailed off. What could I say? The man of my dreams had just swept me off my feet and so everything else had paled into insignificance? While it was the truth, I didn’t think it would be very tactful.
He smiled, though it came out a bit sour. “I saw you two dancing together,” he said, breaking the uncomfortable silence I had left. “The way you looked at each other. Then saw him take you outside, and you were gone for almost an hour. It didn’t take Merlin to work out what was happening, he’s been after you for ages and you didn’t exactly discourage him. Besides, he’s been hexing me every chance he got for a couple of weeks now, so from my perspective this is probably safer.” He paused, and when he spoke again his voice was bitter. “I won’t say I’m not disappointed. My own fault, though. It was dumb of me to leave you alone, it was only a matter of time before he moved in. Then again, you were so obviously not interested in me in the slightest that I wasn’t sure why I was even trying.”
I stared at him, surprised – I thought I’d put on a better show than that. “It’s not that I don’t like you, Bernie …”
He cut me off again. “Yeah, yeah, but as a friend. I know.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, ashamed of my behaviour. I must have been an awful date. “I didn’t realise …”
He smiled again, still sourly. “Hey, you tried,” he said. “At least you didn’t spend all night gawking at him like he was at you.” He shook his head irritably. “Why he didn’t just ask you to this thing in the first place is beyond me, it would’ve made things so much simpler.”
Suddenly I remembered something he’d said earlier, and even as he turned to go to Thalia I called him back, unable to stop myself from asking the question. “Bernie, did you say that he’s been after me for ages? How long is ages?”
Bernie looked surprised as he paused and faced me again. “You didn’t know? It’s been going on, I don’t know, most of this term at least. I guess he probably was trying not to be conspicuous, though … and you do sit in front of him in classes so you probably couldn’t see him … but it was a bit obvious, really. To some of us, anyway: if your competition is Sirius Black, you tend to notice,” he said, his voice bitter again. “Listen, I should get back,” he added, indicating Thalia, “the next song’s starting.” He turned his back on me before I could say anything else and walked Thalia back to the dance floor.
Sirius came and joined me as soon as Bernie had gone. “Looks like he took it okay,” he said, standing behind me and putting his arms protectively around my waist.
“Yeah, kind of,” I said, still trying to take in what Bernie had said. “He’s not all that happy, though. I feel a bit bad for him.” I paused, thinking. “Sirius –” I turned around, his arms still around me – “Bernie said he wasn’t surprised, that you’d been after me for months.”
He blushed. “And here was me, thinking I was being subtle,” he complained.
“If it’s any help,” I said, “I didn’t have a clue.”
He grinned and kissed my forehead lightly. “That’d be right, the one person I did want to know, and you had no idea. Though I was terrified you’d laugh in my face.”
I smiled. “Do you want me to do that now? ’Cause I could if you like,” I teased. “Just to make you more comfortable …”
He laughed and pulled me closer to him. “Can you think of any reason why we should stay in here rather than finding somewhere more private?” he asked quietly in my ear.
I looked around vaguely. I could see Charlotte and Remus with Peter and Fortuna at the bar, and Mary and Sebastian in a far corner having a snog. Good luck to them, I thought, smiling: Mary was having a good night. Lily and James were cosied up on the dance floor, seemingly engrossed in each other until Lily looked up and caught my eye and, taking in the sight of Sirius and me, directed James’ attention to us and beamed. This clearly wasn’t a surprise to her – somewhere in the back of my mind it registered vaguely that it must have been me she’d been talking about after all. Martha and Davey were nowhere to be seen. It looked like no one would miss us.
“None whatsoever,” I responded.
“Good. Neither can I.” And he led me back out of the hall and up the marble staircase, only to stop at the top and turn to me again. “Now, are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, looking at me searchingly.
I stared back at him, surprised. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because you’re not allowed to,” he said, as though it was obvious. “Didn’t your dad say no boyfriends this year?”
“Oh, that,” I said. “No. Well, yes, he did, but I think I can ignore that if I want to, don’t you?”
He smiled briefly. “You’re sure about that? I don’t want to make you do anything you’ll regret later.”
“Absolutely sure,” I said. “Rule? What rule?” And I pulled him towards me to kiss him again, probably enjoying it just that little bit more now he’d reminded me it was forbidden.
Eventually we settled in an empty classroom on the third floor, one in the middle of the castle so there were no windows to let in an icy draught. Sirius found a sturdy chair and sat down on it, pulling me on to his lap, and started running his lips along my jawline, then down my neck and along my exposed shoulder, his breath warm against my skin.
I wasn’t sure what I had expected, but it wasn’t this. This was nothing like Bertram: he was being the perfect gentleman. He touched only the most chaste parts of me, but he just about reduced me to a swoon anyway. He had this thing were he massaged me underneath my hair at the nape of my neck, and it was unbelievable how a simple kiss on the inside of my elbow could make me feel. I kept on the theme and focused my attention on his face, neck, shoulders, wrists and hands. It was far more intimate than I would have expected and incredibly erotic.
The chaste theme also had some unexpected side effects. At one stage he even apologised for brushing my breast with his hand, and I almost fell off his lap in surprise. Since when did a boy say sorry for that? I was more used to it being the first thing they reached for. I asked why he was apologising.
He looked at me solemnly. “I think we should take this slowly,” he said. “Enjoy each stage as much as we can before moving on to the next. And we’ve only just started the first one.”
I had felt like I was almost ready to jump him then and there but I could see his reasoning. After all, we had plenty of time, we could do this properly.
“All right,” I agreed. “Slowly it is.”
“And you’ll tell me if you’re ever not comfortable, won’t you?” he said, looking almost anxious.
“Of course I will,” I said.
He smiled. “Good.” And he picked up my wrist, gave it a bit of a rub with his thumb and brought it up to his mouth.
Eventually, realising it was very late and the ball was long over, we reluctantly made our way up to Gryffindor Tower. There were still a few stragglers in the common room who looked at us with surprise as we climbed through the portrait hole arm in arm, and Sirius didn’t let go of me until I was three steps up the staircase to the girls’ dorms. I leaned over the banister to kiss him one more time before regretfully making my way up to bed.
I was the last one into the dorm. Inside, Charlotte was lying on her bed crying angry and confused tears. It seemed that she and Remus had been getting along famously until he apparently got cold feet. “I thought it was actually happening,” she said miserably. “He kissed me, and it was wonderful, and then he stopped suddenly and had this horrible apologetic look on his face. And he said, ‘I’m really sorry, but I can’t,’ and ran away.” She hiccoughed uncomfortably. “What did I do wrong? Am I that bad a kisser?”
“I’m sure it’s not that,” Lily said reassuringly, giving Charlotte a hug. “Maybe he doesn’t know what he wants.”
“It’s not fair,” she said. “You’ve got James, and you” – she looked at Mary – “have got Sebastian, and you” – she looked at me – “have apparently got Sirius. And the only one I want is Remus, and he won’t have me. And he was giving me such mixed signals all night, I don’t know what I’ve done.”
“If it’s any consolation,” Martha piped up, “I’ve got no one too. Davey and I have come to the conclusion we weren’t a particularly good match.”
“But we were a good match!” Charlotte wailed. “And he thought so, too, otherwise why would he have snogged me like that?”
None of us could explain it; we were all as baffled as she was. I was sure Remus did fancy her, but that meant his behaviour was even more mystifying. Though, to be honest, I was having trouble concentrating on her problem, as my mind was somewhat preoccupied with what had happened to me that night.
Lily had noticed it. “Oh, Laura, don’t feel guilty,” she said, giving me a smile that seemed a little too understanding. “No one here is seriously expecting you to be paying us the slightest bit of attention.”
Martha was laughing. “You know, I really didn’t see that one coming,” she admitted. “Mary and Sebastian, yes, but not you two.” Mary gave us a bit of guilty grin from her bed.
“You can’t have been paying attention, then,” Lily snorted, though she was still smiling. “I’ve thought it for months.”
“A’ leas’ we nou know wha’ tha’ snowball ficht thing this afternoon was aboot,” Mary grinned. “Exac’ly wha’ it looked lik’, after all.”
“Not that any of us actually saw you once you stopped dancing,” Martha went on, looking at me. “You just disappeared without a trace. We had to rely on Lily to find out what had happened.”
I smiled. “We wanted to get away from the crowds.”
“Goo’ thinkin’,” said Mary. “McGonagall came o’er an’ physically broke Seb an’ I apar’. Said I wasna conducting myself i’ a manner befittin’ a member o’ Gryffindor Hoose and woul’ I min’ bein’ more discree’ in future.” She started giggling.
Charlotte laughed, and for the first time since I’d got inside the dorm her eyes were almost dry. “For goodness sake, Mary, what exactly were you doing?”
“Jus’ snogging,” Mary said with a shrug. “We micht hae bin gettin’ a bi’ enthusiastic, I’m nae really sure. I ferge’ where we were up t’ when she interrupted us. Anyway, we jus’ wen’ ootside and carried on oot there an’ all.”
I took Lily’s advice and opted out of the conversation, trying to relive everything that had happened since those first moments by the greenhouses. And those most agreeable thoughts occupied my mind until I eventually drifted off to sleep.
I woke up the next morning wondering if it had all been a dream. Surely I couldn’t have been so lucky as to catch Sirius’ eye? I had to have imagined it, I thought, not really daring to think otherwise in case I was wrong. Lily, however, soon cleared the matter up for me.
“You go in first,” she said with a smile as we lined up for the shower, waiting for Mary to finish. “You want to get downstairs to Sirius, don’t you?”
I looked at her gratefully, not only for the offer but for the confirmation that it had in fact all been real. I hadn’t imagined being kissed like that, being held like that, feeling his breath on my cheeks. It had actually happened. And I think I showered and dressed in record time in my eagerness to get down to the common room.
Of course, soon enough I experienced the downside of going out with someone like Sirius. The Great Hall erupted into whispers when we walked in for breakfast, hand in hand. I caught snippets of conversations as we went past – “Don’t know what he sees in her” … “It’ll never last, they’re too different” … “Who is she, do you know?” … “Do you think it was a love potion?” It didn’t really surprise me – like I’d noted before, someone like him getting a new girlfriend was absolute bread and butter for the gossips of the school – but it was something that would take some getting used to.
“Ignore them,” Sirius said, squeezing my hand as we sat down at the Gryffindor table. “They’ll stop eventually.”
“I’m not really used to being the centre of attention,” I pointed out, feeling distinctly uncomfortable as my hair went bright blue before my eyes. I pulled out my wand and changed it back to its original colour, hoping Sirius hadn’t noticed.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll scare them off,” he said, glaring over his shoulder at the girls I supposed were responsible the spell. “Anyway, they’ll forget all about it over the holidays.”
He was good as his word, too – he barely left my side all morning, leaving me only when I had go into the dormitory to pack my suitcase for the journey home for Christmas. By the time we clambered onto the Hogwarts Express together just before eleven o’clock the whispers had gone, at least while I was in earshot.
Lily beamed at us as we found our seats. We were running a bit later than everyone else, having stopped for a quick snog before heading to the horseless carriages and, as is usually the case with new couples, it ended up going slightly longer than anticipated. Lily, James and Remus had been about to head to the prefects’ carriage for their official duties, but they stopped for a spell as we arrived.
“Saved you a seat, Padfoot,” James said nonchalantly, ignoring the half dozen members of the fan club who were hovering outside the compartment and glowering at me. “We figured you two would only need one between you.” We opted to ignore his smirk, but he was pretty much spot on anyway.
Peter laughed, but Remus didn’t. “Give him a break, Prongs, he’s waited long enough. Just let him enjoy it for a day or so before you get stuck in.”
Peter stopped laughing. “Just why did it take so long, anyway?” he asked. “That’s not like you, Padfoot, you’re normally pretty quick off the pitch.”
James grinned as he pulled down the window coverings, blocking us from the corridor outside. “He was terrified she’d say no, weren’t you, mate?”
Sirius was looking distinctly embarrassed, and I suspected he would have preferred the conversation take a different turn. I however was rather curious about it all, so decided to let it continue.
“Well, yeah,” Sirius mumbled. “I had no idea what you thought of me,” he added, looking at me, “so I had to try to win you over.”
“Win me over?” I was flabbergasted. “No you didn’t. If anyone didn’t need winning over, that was me.”
“But I didn’t know that,” he said defensively. “Every time I came near you, you made some excuse and ran away. I thought sometimes that I was your absolute last choice.”
It had never occurred to me that he might have seen it like that, and I suspected that fact was plainly displayed on my face from everyone’s reaction. Lily and James were laughing so hard they had tears in their eyes, Remus had a look on his face that plainly said ‘I told you so’, and Peter appeared to have just accidentally snorted his pumpkin juice.
Sirius was looking confused. “Well, am I wrong?” he asked defiantly. “What did I have to go on?”
Lily dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “You could have asked someone,” she said. “I’ve known Laura fancied you since, ooh, last June at least.”
“You have?” I asked, distracted. Clearly I wasn’t as good at hiding things as I’d thought.
“Of course,” she said confidently. “You were trying so hard not to let it show that it wasn’t hard to catch on. And I already suspected he liked you, I first thought that when you were still with Bertram,” she went on. “Anyway, if something didn’t happen last night, James and I planned to lock you two in a broom cupboard for a couple of hours, didn’t we?” She and James shared a smile. “Though from the look on your face, Sirius, when she came down the stairs last night, I thought it probably wouldn’t come to that.”
Sirius groaned, his cheeks rather pinker than usual. “Are you saying I’ve just wasted the last six months?”
“Pretty much,” Lily agreed, smiling.
“And you knew too?” he shot at James.
“Well, mate, Lily’s pretty perceptive,” James said with a smile. “She pointed out a few things that backed up her theory.”
“And you didn’t mention this, why?” Sirius asked, glaring at him.
“We tried,” said Remus. “You didn’t listen. You were too convinced that she wasn’t interested.”
“It’s not worth worrying about,” I said reassuringly. “It’s happened now.” And I leaned in and kissed him, trying to ignore the wolf-whistles and applause coming from our companions.
Before long James, Lily and Remus disappeared in the direction of the prefects’ carriage, leaving Sirius and me alone with Peter. To our great relief he took one look at us, still only taking up one seat in the corner of the compartment, and made some futile excuse before also disappearing, almost tripping over Elvira who was still camped outside in the corridor. I felt a little bad for forcing him out but we did relish the idea of a bit of privacy, especially considering the blinds were still down. Of course it was over all too soon as our companions did return eventually, claiming they had stayed out for as long as was humanly possible. Checking my watch, I was surprised to discover they actually meant it – we’d had the compartment to ourselves for the best part of two hours, interrupted only by the trolley witch, but the time had flown by so quickly it felt closer to twenty minutes.
Once the train arrived in London – much too soon as far as I was concerned – I quickly scanned the crowd from inside the carriage, looking for my parents. “I don’t see them,” I said, leaning over to try to see more of the platform, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not here.”
“Well, why wouldn’t they be here?” Sirius asked.
“Mum,” I explained. “She gets a bit overwhelmed with all the magic on the platform so they usually wait for me on the other side of the barrier. However, if I assume that they’ve done that …”
“They’ll be just outside the compartment door when you get out,” he finished for me.
“Exactly,” I said, still searching the crowds for them. “The day I walk off the train holding your hand is the day they break with tradition and come in to find me.”
“What would they do?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Good question. I haven’t actually gone against them like this before so I don’t really know. But I’m not sure that I want to find out.”
Ever cautious, I stepped out onto Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters alone, Sirius a couple of people behind me, and juggled my suitcase and Cerridwyn’s cage as I searched fruitlessly for my parents. Eventually, I decided that they weren’t there after all.
“The coast’s clear,” I said, going over to where Sirius was waiting for me. “They’re not here.”
“Excellent,” he said quietly, putting his own suitcase down next to mine so he could wrap his arms around me. “Then I assume we can do this?” And he leaned in and kissed me again.
“This is going to be awful,” I murmured in between kisses. “Three weeks apart. I don’t think I’ll be able to do it.”
“Why do you think I’m making the most of this now?” he asked. “I’m grabbing every last second that I can with you.”
Finally we broke apart, realising that there were only a couple of dozen people still on the platform so it would look very suspicious if we stayed much longer. Grabbing my suitcase and reaching into my robes for an owl treat for Cerridwyn, who was hooting dolefully at me, I turned to Sirius again.
“Will you write to me?”
“Of course,” he said. “And if I can wrangle a way to see you, I’ll do that too.”
I got up on my tip toes and kissed him again. “I can’t wait.” And with that, I very reluctantly made my way through the barrier.
Mum and Dad were looking anxiously at the wall between Platforms Nine and Ten as I emerged, dragging my suitcase and owl cage. “Sorry I’m late!” I said brightly, racking my brain frantically for an excuse.
“What happened?” Dad asked. “We were about to go in and look for you. Your mother’s on call, we shouldn’t take too long in case she needs to go in.”
Phew, I thought, that was close. Good thing I’d come out when I did. “Sorry, I didn’t realise,” I said. “My suitcase got stuck,” I went on, putting it on the floor next to me so Dad could carry it. “We couldn’t get it down from the luggage rack, we think it must have got hit with a jinx of some sort. I had to find one of the porters to help get it out.”
“And that took all that time?” Mum asked, her eyebrows hovering somewhere near her hairline. “Mary came out ten minutes ago.”
I shrugged, noticing out of the corner of my eye that Sirius had, after waiting for a suitable amount of time, also left the platform. “They were getting everyone else’s things out first, I couldn’t find one for ages,” I invented. “And then he needed to work out how to reverse the hex before he could get it down. It took a while. Sorry, I should have got Mary to let you know. She does have a new boyfriend, though, so she may have forgotten anyway.”
“Well, at least you made it through eventually,” Dad said. “So, are you ready? Let’s go home.”
Author’s note: Otherwise known as the “about bloody time” chapter. Of course it could have happened months earlier, but Laura was so convinced it was impossible that she missed all the signs.
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