I ran through the castle corridors, my robes and hair whipping through the air in a flurry of red and black. My footsteps pounded roughly on the floor with no determined direction; all I knew was that I needed to get away.
I rushed past the doors of the Great Hall, ignoring the appealing smell of dinner and the sounds of rambunctious laughter. When I reached the double doors, I pushed myself desperately against them and burst out to the grounds, and I was free. The sky stretched out before me, an inky black expanse littered with grains of white sand, and the breeze nipped at my sleeves and whisked through my hair peskily.
I shivered; it was already dark and cold, and my cloak was still neatly folded inside my trunk in the Gryffindor tower. But I kept running, partly to get away, partly to discourage the goose bumps that had erupted all over my arms, and partly because it felt so damn good. I reveled in the rhythmic pounding of my feet on the ground, the gasps of freezing cold air as they slid down my throat, but, above all, the pleasure in exerting myself. I had gone jogging countless times over summer - it was something of an obsession of mine - but nothing compared to this. This wasn't my normal steady-paced running - this was reckless sprinting, and the more out of breath I became the more I wanted to push myself further.
But when the trees of the Forbidden Forest became less like distant smudges and more like eerie towering shadows, I knew I had to change direction. I reluctantly slowed, swerving slightly to the left and heading towards the row of block buildings that lined this side of the castle. Almost without thinking about it, I slipped behind to the back of the deserted greenhouses and finally slowed to a walk, panting heavily.
The small alleyway between the Hogwarts castle and the greenhouses was full of shadows and slightly menacing, but it was an ideal hiding place. I hadn't visited the spot in years; in third year, it had been my favorite place to come when I just needed to be alone and think. Now, it held equal, if not more, appeal than it had then.
Staggering from the sudden bursts of pain in my calves - stretching had been the last thing on my mind when I had started running - I pressed my body against the ice-cold glass of greenhouse two and slid to the ground. It was easier, now that I was alone, to finally allow the stronger emotions I had been holding back in the classroom to engulf me. Desperately pulling my knees to my chest and resting my forehead on them, I promptly burst into tears.
I didn’t like to consider myself a very emotional girl – I wasn’t the sort to start crying after a bad mark in Transfiguration like some Ravenclaws I knew - but this was an exception, at least in my mind; I had good reason to be upset over this. A bloke in love with his best mate who’s in love with said bloke’s worst enemy, I mused pathetically. Ordinarily, I would’ve laughed at such an absurd situation – it sounded rather like one of Petunia's soap operas – but, somehow, the reality of it didn’t seem quite as humorous.
I resisted the urge to smack myself; now that I knew Severus had been in love with me, I felt like an oblivious bint for not recognizing the signs before. Every compliment, every smile, every action that I had ever attributed to him being just a good mate now seemed flirtatious and over-friendly; suddenly, I was viewing every memory I had with Severus in a completely different light. His sudden crossness when I so much as smiled at another bloke – that was jealousy! It seemed too outrageous to believe, but at the same time, I berated myself for not knowing.
I had been so oblivious – so dependent on Severus staying the same person he had always been – that I hadn’t noticed his unrequited feelings, even when they started blossoming into resentment. If I had noticed, I would have been able to gently inform him of my disinterested feelings and preserve our friendship. Or would the outcome still be the same either way? I wondered. I shuddered again, this time not because of the cold. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake his final words from my head.
“You’re nothing but a worthless Mudblood.”
I couldn't help but wince when I recalled his caustic tone, and that horrendous look in his eyes that I had only ever seen when he was talking about his family. He had never called me a Mudblood, not even when all his Slytherin mates had started to. On our first train ride to Hogwarts, he had told me that blood purity didn’t matter; where was that little boy now? What had happened to him?
Forcing myself to inhale deeply, I brushed the tears from my eyes and lifted my head off my knees. Crying was all well and good, but it didn't really help much; it usually just encouraged me to throw my own personal pity party. So, while one half of my mind remained an incoherent jumble of emotions, I forced the other half to begin logically sorting through the entire ordeal bit by bit.
Severus did have a right to be upset with me, I thought hesitantly, but he didn’t have the right to call me a “worthless Mudblood” and basically tell me that our friendship didn’t mean anything to him anymore. After all, I didn’t know that he was in love with me; if he really wanted me to know and reciprocate the feelings, then he should've actually told me instead of being such a bloody coward about the whole thing. He overreacted way too much.
I paused, struck by my thoughts, but unable to figure out why; something just seemed significant about my conclusion. I ran through my musings once more, irritated that I couldn’t find what was so eerily ironic about them.
Shrugging it off, I addressed the sudden comprehension that had been nagging at my brain for the past ten minutes; I couldn’t ignore it any longer, despite how much I wanted to. Severus had furiously claimed that he should have listened to his Slytherin mates years ago – did that mean that he had started listening to them this year? Was the whole reason I was in this bloody mess because some sodding Slytherin sixth years thought my blood wasn’t good enough for them?
My fists clenched involuntarily; my sadness was quickly being replaced with anger - I only wished it had appeared earlier, so that I could've taken it out on Severus. I had already known the Slytherins could be such bloody bastards - at least that was something I expected from them - but I had trusted Severus. I had stood up for him to the other Gryffindors for years, claiming that he was nothing like the rest of the Slytherins, only to find out, now, that he was. And it hurt to find out that I had been wrong all along, to find out that the bloke I had always been convinced was truly a good person was actually -
“Alright, Evans?” a voice suddenly asked, cutting into my inward rants. My head whipped around to face the source of the voice, and instantly my wand was in my hand. It was pitch-black outside now, and the intruder looked like a vague menacing shape. It was the only downside to my favorite hiding spot: it was impossible to see if anyone was approaching until they had already turned the corner.
“Lumos,” I whispered, and my wand immediately lit up to reveal Sirius Black. He squinted, shielding his eyes from the bright light with one of his hands.
“Sorry,” I said, without any real sympathy, lowering my wand but not extinguishing the light. I didn’t want him to think he was welcome or anything. “How’d you know it was me?” I asked out of curiosity; he didn't have his wand in his hand or anything.
He stretched his arms above his head dramatically before plopping down on the ground beside me. I barely suppressed my groan. “I can see that bright red hair of yours from a mile away,” he teased, playfully flicking a lock of my hair. “You gonna tell me what’s got your knickers in a twist?” he added conversationally, but I knew it was more out of curiosity than actual compassion for me; Black and I had hardly ever spoken two words to each other, and we had gone to school together for five years.
“What makes you think you know anything about my knickers?” I retorted, annoyed that he could read my emotions so easily.
He rolled his eyes, fixing me with an exasperated look as he stretched his legs out in front of him. “Well, for starters, you’re sitting behind the greenhouses at eight o’clock at night all by yourself, which means you're either stressing out over something or waiting for a snog. Considering you look like you want to hex someone, I'm going to go with the former,” he pointed out. I registered the time absentmindedly, only mildly surprised that I had been moping for so long.
His words made me smirk. “You volunteering?” I said, only half-jokingly, twirling my wand expertly between my fingers. Hexing someone would be a rather efficient stress-reliever, I reflected inwardly, although I’d rather it be a Slytherin sixth year.
“For the snog?” Black asked flirtatiously, purposefully misinterpreting my sentence. “Maybe another time; I'd rather make sure you're alright first.”
I laughed, surprised at how easily I could be entertained when not ten minutes ago I had been bawling my eyes out. “You're not here to make sure I'm alright,” I said confidently, choosing to ignore the first part of his sentence; he was probably teasing anyway. “I doubt you even noticed I wasn’t at dinner.”
Black cocked an eyebrow at me and twisted his lips into a playful grin. “You got me there,” he confessed, “although I’m a little curious as to why you’re back here. This is where I come when I need to think.”
I stared at him, unable to prevent the shock from showing on my face. “No way,” I replied, dumbfounded by the uncanniness of his admission, “this is where I come when I need to think.”
He raised his eyebrows at me suggestively, his grin growing even bigger. “That means we can both think together,” he exclaimed, throwing his arm around my shoulder in a friendly gesture. “What good fun!”
“I don’t know about that,” I said, grimacing and delicately removing his arm from my shoulder. “Maybe we could work out a timetable of sorts; I really can’t think when you’re here bothering me.” Black pouted dramatically, and, despite everything, I couldn't suppress the smile that tugged at my lips at his antics. It was easy to see why his mates were always in fits of laughter.
“I can just listen to you think,” he suggested. “I’m a good listener,” he insisted defensively, noticing my disbelieving look. “Can’t say much about my advice giving – Peter’s still getting letters from that Alaskan mermaid – but James and Remus always blather about their problems to me.”
I ignored my obligatory heart flutter at the name – it really was rather irritating sometimes – and focused on the earnest bloke sitting beside me. It took me half a second to register that he was actually serious - pardon the pun - and when I did, I couldn't help but gape. There was absolutely no reason for him to be even remotely interested in my problems, so either he was taking the mickey or I had been unknowingly transported to some bizarre alternate universe. Considering the other strange things that had already happened to me that night, I was leaning more towards the latter.
Black nodded enthusiastically, obviously mistaking my astonishment at his offer as some sort of invitation to try and persuade me further. “Go on, Evans, tell me all your deepest darkest secrets,” he prodded, looking all the world like a house elf about to receive a infinite list of chores.
“Well, I don’t know about my deepest darkest secrets...” I trailed off, laughing nervously – the image of me drunkenly confessing to him my obsession with James popped into my head and I swatted it away. Yes, he was Sirius Black, but that didn’t mean he carried around a supply of firewhiskey for the sole purpose of intoxicating me, and that was the only way I would ever tell him about James. I was safe.
Maybe it was the veil of darkness surrounding us like a false promise of secrecy, or how surreal the night felt to me - it seemed almost as though none of it had actually happened - or maybe this new alternate universe had somehow managed to addle my brain as well, because, whatever the reason, I suddenly found myself wanting to pour my heart out to Black. I shook my head, hoping the action might remove such a silly impulse, but it didn't; the temptation remained, persistently tugging at my weak defenses.
You don’t have to tell him everything, I reassured myself firmly. Just give him the gist; it’ll feel good to get it off your chest. Ranting was practically a proven equivalent to a Cheering Charm, after all.
“Blokes are stupid,” I started abruptly and vaguely, ignoring that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that I shouldn't be doing this. I glanced away from Black's intrigued cloudy eyes to stare fixedly at the ground in front of me, my heart still pounding with anxiety about my decision. “The ones you think of as just as your mates tell you that they want to be more and then they blow up at you and call you names because apparently you’re blind, but you know who’s really blind?” I ranted, speaking quickly so as to not lose my courage or train of thought. “Blokes: they’re the bloody oblivious ones. They see things that they expect you to see and – and they don’t see the things that you want them to see.”
I looked back at the sixteen-year-old bloke sitting next to me, expecting to see a look of utter confusion or boredom on his rugged features. Surprisingly, he didn't look like he was regretting initiating this therapy session; instead, he was staring right at me, studying me like a particularly complex Ancient Runes problem. I had only ever seen him look as concentrated once before, and it was in fifth year, when his younger brother had taunted him in the corridors, spawning a full-scale duel that probably would've ended with at least one Black dead if Dumbledore hadn't shown up.
“Somehow, I don't think you need me to tell you that blokes and birds will never think exactly the same way," he said wryly, sending me a pointed look. "Typical of you to blame it all on the blokes, though. Maybe this mate of yours - whoever he is - is right; maybe you are blind."
I blinked at him for approximately three seconds, and bit my lip to prevent myself from bursting into laughter. This whole scenario was already absurd, and now it was getting even weirder; not only was Sirius Black attempting to understand my problems, he was actually making sense, and agreeing with something Severus Snape had said - albeit unknowingly. He would probably jump off the Astronomy Tower if he found out.
"Maybe," I finally replied, a hint of sadness creeping into my voice as I considered his statement. "I just - I just wish he had given me a chance to apologize or explain or even defend myself, but he didn't; he just attacked me!" My voice raised in indignation at the last few words. It didn't even matter that it was Black I was talking to anymore; I felt like I might explode if I had to bottle up my thoughts any longer.
Black shrugged carelessly, and, for once, I actually appreciated his unsympathetic manner. It meant that he wouldn't pity me, and I was grateful for that; I couldn't stand pity, especially from him.
"Sounds like a rubbish mate to me," he said confidently. "If I were you - and thank Merlin I'm not; I couldn't stand all this bloody emotional shit - I would forget about him. He seems like he's done being your mate for good and, even if he's not, I would ditch him anyway. If you told him you wanted to be just mates, he'd probably just try to get in your knickers."
I restrained myself from snorting at how much of a typical bloke he was, and instead settled for shooting him an incredulous glance - even after coming to terms in the past hour with the fact that Severus had fancied me, I still wasn't willing to accept the fact that he must've been attracted to me. It was just too weird.
"It's true!" Black insisted stubbornly. "Believe me, Evans, I know the way a bloke's mind works. He'll think you're soft if you take him back, and then he'll start trying to take advantage of you."
I exhaled deeply. I couldn't imagine Severus ever doing something like that, but the Severus I had seen tonight was not the Severus I knew like the back of my hand. He was unpredictable, cold-hearted, and, most importantly, absolutely nothing like the bloke I had been mates with for nine years. Maybe the old Severus would never do that, but the new Severus might, and I had to come to terms with that fact. As much as it hurt, I had to admit that I had been wrong about Severus, wrong in thinking he couldn't do anything wrong. "Point taken," I replied, forcing myself to think of other things so that I wouldn’t burst into tears again; that was the last thing I needed Black seeing.
However, my efforts to preserve the shreds of my dignity proved futile when my mind suddenly recalled something else Severus had viciously shot at me in the Potions classroom. I was breathless and on the verge of tears all over again. "Oh no!" I moaned. "Bugger bugger, shit shit, what am I going to do?"
Severus' harsh words - words that I had so easily forgotten in my haste to dissect his supposed love for me - rose in my mind: "Do you think that I enjoyed watching you throw yourself at sodding Potter when I was standing right next to you, blatantly in love with you?!"
He knew; he knew how much I fancied Potter. I didn't know how he had figured it out - I certainly hadn't told him - but somehow he knew, and there was no way he would keep it to himself, not this new Severus. The whole school would know by breakfast! Or - or worse: he would wait until all the students were in the same general area, and then he would throw it in my face the same way he had in the dungeon. He would spit it at me and then he would laugh at me and the whole school would laugh at me too. I would probably die of shame and embarrassment.
I started blatantly panicking, all the while Black sat next to me staring at me with a look of utter bewilderment. "Evans? Evans!" he called repeatedly, when I still refused to look at him. "Evans, what's wrong?" Maybe my perception was slightly muddled by hysteria, but, for a moment, it actually sounded like he cared. I was definitely in some sort of alternate universe.
"I'm going to die," I nearly cried, not even caring that I sounded overdramatic. I buried my head in my hands worriedly, slightly muffling my words. "He's going to tell everyone and I am going to die of embarrassment." I felt a sudden, desperate wish that it was my Mum I was talking to, not Black, who might as well be a stranger. I wanted her here, to pull me into her arms, to smooth my hair away from my face, to make me think everything was alright - like I was six years old all over again and I had fallen off my bicycle and scraped my knee.
Instead, I was stuck at Hogwarts, with a friendship broken beyond repair instead of a cut that could be fixed with a bandage. Black wrapped his hands around my wrists and peeled my hands away from my face impatiently, not comforting or gentle or anything like that. "Woah, woah, woah, calm down. You're not going to die," he said reasonably, forcing my green eyes to meet his own. "Who's going to tell everyone? What's so embarrassing?" He pried inquisitively.
I took a deep breath, hoping it would calm me down, but it didn't. My heart was still beating frantically and my mind was still halfway in panic mode. Black's firm grip on my wrists was practically the only thing keeping me from hysterics.
"Se - I mean, my mate," I began, hastily correcting my near mistake. I couldn't tell him all the details of my problems, even if he would know them by tomorrow; it would just make things even more embarrassing for me. "My mate - the one who fancied me but hates me now - knows about this - this bloke that I fancy. He's going to tell everyone about it," I finally blurted out. This time, getting it off my chest didn't seem to help much at all; in fact, the more I sat there, the worse I felt. In the morning, I would have to face whispering and teasing and judging; my stomach was practically twisting itself into knots at just the thought.
Black, however, seemed to be growing more calm by the second. At my distraught words, he casually released his tight grip on my arms. "Oh, is that all?" he drawled uninterestedly, leaning back against the wall and looking forward again. "Merlin, Evans, don't scare me like that again; I thought something was actually wrong - "
I could barely restrain myself from slapping that detached look off his face. "Something is wrong!" I shouted furiously, interrupting him; honestly, if this wasn't concrete evidence that boys and girls didn't think alike, I didn't know what was. His head snapped around to meet my dangerously narrowed eyes. "This is my social life we're talking about!" I screeched, before leaning backwards and pulling my knees up to my chest again. "If anyone finds out about this, they'll laugh at me," I wailed, my anger deflating only moments after it had begun; if I wasn't so upset, I might've laughed at the whirlwind of emotions I had already experienced that night.
Black shrugged his shoulders in that apathetic way of his. I immediately withdrew my gratitude for his lack of empathy; it was bloody annoying. "Look on the bright side," he said cheerfully, obviously not realizing that there was none, "at least the bloke you fancy will finally know you fancy him. He might even ask you out."
"Are you taking the mickey?" I replied, snorting unattractively; this was only further proof that he knew absolutely nothing about what he was talking about. "He'll probably laugh at me - or worse. He'll do nothing. I'm fairly certain I'm completely invisible to him, and, if I'm not, I'm the scum underneath his shoe." I attempted not to wallow in self-pity and failed miserably.
This time it was Black's turn to snort. "Sounds like a really smashing bloke to fancy," he said sarcastically, and, even though I was depressed, even though my life was pretty much going to be over in less than twenty four hours, and even though I was still completely freezing, I giggled; listening to Black unknowingly insult his best mate was pretty damn funny, regardless of the circumstances.
"So how come you do?" he asked vaguely, breaking me out of my reverie. I glanced at him sharply.
He rolled his eyes at how blatantly distracted I was, but repeated his question, "How come you fancy this bloke so much?" I scrutinized him for a moment, wondering how I could tell him everything I loved about James without actually revealing that it was James - not that it really mattered. He would know soon enough anyway.
Wrapping my arms around my legs, I rested my head on top of my knees and looked straight ahead. The cat wasn't out of the bag yet, and I wasn't about to dump it out myself. "You wouldn't understand," I insisted stubbornly, "and even if you did, I can't tell you - I wouldn't tell you if I could." My logic sounded flawless to me, but, apparently, Black doesn't acknowledge logic - or perhaps even know what it is.
"Why can't you tell me?" he replied, but he didn't sound as curious as he had before; in fact, he sounded strangely thoughtful about something.
I bit my lip, considering my answer carefully. I can't tell you because this bloke is your best mate. I can't tell you because you'll tell him. I can't tell you because you'll just mock me for it for the rest of my life. I can't tell you because I know that, just like Dorcas and Mary, you'll think it's absurd, and if one more person doubts my feelings I might start doubting them too, I thought to myself.
"You'll think it's ridiculous. I don't even understand it most of the time," I said softly, snatching on to this last thought - it was the only one that I could safely say to him, "so I can't expect you to." I snuck a look at him, hoping to avoid catching his eye but desperately wanting to gauge his reaction to my words. He was staring right at me, his eyes narrowed into thin slits of charcoal.
"Try me," he shot back persistently.
I glanced down at my shoes, mulling over what to say. "It's like - it's like I don't know how not to fancy him," I began slowly and carefully. "It's silly, it's irrational, I tell myself. I like to think that I'm not some silly and irrational girl, so I will myself to stop. I will myself not to look up when he enters the room. I will my heart not to beat like a hippogriff's hooves every time I hear his name. I will myself not to find his personality charming and his grin intoxicating and his entire mischievous side completely captivating - " I stopped, breathless and suddenly aware of how much I had unintentionally said. I resisted the urge to bang my head against the wall in frustration at my own recklessness. Why was it so easy for me to forget that it was Sirius Black I was talking to? Why didn't I just outright tell him that I fancied his best mate?
My face burned with humiliation and I focused on the floor, wishing that I could just make myself disappear so that I didn't have to look at Black and see whatever expression was on his face - I couldn't decide what would be worse: pity or comprehension. Never ever bare your soul to Black again, my mind noted unhelpfully.
But the damage was done, and I didn't know what to do about it. I sat motionless behind the greenhouses, carefully avoiding looking at the bloke next to me. I debated running away, but my muscles were so frozen and sore that I doubted I would make it very far, especially if Black decided to chase after me. So I didn't do anything. An awkward silence descended upon us, neither of us knowing what to say. Then, suddenly, I felt an arm slip around my shoulder.
"So don't try to stop," Black said, his kind words laced with something that I couldn't quite identify. His warm arm pulled me into a sort of half hug against his shoulder. I felt paralyzed with shock; by the time I realized I was leaning into his hug, I couldn't very well take it back. Even if I could force myself to rudely pull away - it was so bloody weird! - I wasn't quite sure I wanted to. I would take comfort in whatever form it came, and a hug was a hug. It made me feel minimally better, regardless of the fact that It was extremely peculiar - although not nearly as much so as what happened next.
He gently turned my face towards his, so that our noses were barely inches apart. I froze, quite certain that my eyeballs looked about ready to pop out of their sockets. The realization of what was happening hit me like a Stupefy: Sirius Black was leaning towards me with his lips puckered, to snog me - and if that doesn't send any sane girl into fits, I don't know what does. Panic and confusion and helplessness exploded inside my chest; I had never wanted to know Legilimency more in my life. Did he think I was talking about fancying him? Was he trying to take advantage of me? Did he think a good snog would cheer me up?
And while these insane questions were barreling through my mind, Black was getting closer and closer. I stared at him fearfully, my mind growing more and more utterly chaotic the closer he got, so that I could hardly form a coherent thought. All I could see was the sharp curve of his cheekbones, the small stubble that darkened his chin, the shadows in his eyes, and all I could think was, Why are his eyes open? over and over again because it just didn't make sense.
You'd think if you were about to snog a girl, your eyes would at least be closed, but Black was looking straight at me with a challenging sort of look in his. And maybe it was the least confusing aspect of this whole snogging thing - the bloke was bloody trying to snog me, and here I was worrying about his eyes - but it was what finally snapped me out of the trance he had somehow managed to put me under.
I jerked away from him, pushing his arm off my shoulder harshly and falling backwards so suddenly that I scraped my hands across the ground with my hasty attempt to keep my balance. I narrowed my eyes. "What the hell was that, Black?" I said furiously, mustering up as much disgust and anger as I could to cover up the confusion that was rapidly overwhelming me.
But looking at Black only made me more confused; the bloke was grinning from ear to ear like the cat who had caught the canary. The air of smugness radiating off of him was so pungent that I felt like vomiting. "I knew it! I knew it!" he chanted excitedly, completely disregarding my anger. "You fancy Prongs, you fancy Prongs!"
"Who the bloody hell is Prongs?" I interrupted impatiently, unable to hide my confusion any longer. This night rendezvous with Black was getting stranger by the minute; first, he let me pour my heart out to him, then, he tried to snog me, and now, he was accusing me of fancying some bloke named after the sharp tips on a kitchen utensil.
"James!" Black exclaimed breathlessly. "You fancy James!"
This time, my heart did not speed up; in fact, I'm pretty sure it stopped beating all together. I froze, my face fixed into a horrified expression, the gears in my brain turning like crazy to figure out how the bloody hell he had known. But I couldn't dwell on that for long. My mind kept jumping forward, conjuring wildly realistic scenes in my head: Sirius spreading my secrets like wildfire, his knowing eyes fixed on me the entire time, and James glancing over at me with a dismissive smirk - my life in humiliating tatters.
"What?" I forced myself to sputter out, but my voice sounded shaky and weak even to my own ears. I stared desperately at Black, knowing my eyes were wide and distressed, knowing he wouldn't believe any of my lame attempts at denial, knowing that there was no hope.
Black turned his sparkling eyes to mine. It didn't seem like he even really saw me, staring at him pathetically; he was obviously still distracted by his delight with his brilliant detective work. "I knew that it had to be James or me, and, well," he trailed off in suspense, cracking a triumphant grin, "you didn't really seem like you wanted to snog me."
Even though I could still hear Black cackling beside me, I turned away and stared straight ahead dejectedly, tears burning at the back of my eyes for what felt like the millionth time that night. I couldn't decide what to be more surprised about - the fact that Black knew or the fact that he had played such a risky game to find out. Wonderful, I thought sarcastically, as if it weren't bad enough that Severus knew who I fancied, now Black did too - and neither of them seemed very likely to keep it a secret.
I buried my face in my hands and wished that I could crawl under my covers and never leave. With Black's big mouth, the whole school was bound to know by the end of the night - at least Severus might've had the decency to wait until morning. And, worse, James would hear it directly from his best mate, who practically heard me admit it, so there was no way I could brush it off as a rumor. Hot tears poured down my cheeks, and I couldn't be bothered to try and stop them. What did it matter if Black saw me cry? If not now, he'd see it later when he ruined my life.
I wasn’t just crying about the fact that Black and Severus knew, although that was a major part; I was crying because I was ashamed. I was ashamed of my silly schoolgirl crush, of my utterly dramatic reactions, of my insecurities and dependence on what other people thought of me. I was ashamed because, with my feelings laid out in the open, I felt naked in a way I never had before and I hated it.
"Hey," Black said uncomfortably, finally snapping out of whatever victory dance he had been performing and noticing the very-hysterical girl sitting next to him, "don't cry." I ignored him, wishing he would just do his gloating somewhere else because, at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to punch him in the face. Honestly, "don't cry"? - did he think I would dance for joy about the fact that he knew? What a ponce. "Please, don't cry, I'm really not good with crying. Everything's going to be okay," he reassured uncertainly, his fingertips brushing my backside.
My red-rimmed eyes shot up to meet his angrily. "Everything's going to be okay?" I repeated hysterically, my voice laced with disbelief. "No, it bloody well isn't! Now you know, and Severus knows, and now James is going to know! My life is over!" I cried hoarsely, knowing that I sounded whiny, but hardly able to muster up enough energy to care. I was too angry, too upset, too completely devastated.
"Look," Black said, his eyes and voice softening unexpectedly, "I won't tell James." I glanced up at him sharply and distrustfully; his promise was just another part of the night that didn't make any sense, and I was sick of it. I was sick of not understanding; I wanted answers.
"Bollocks," I spat, rubbing at my eyes in hopes of diminishing the redness that inevitably surrounded them any time I cried. "You have absolutely no motive to not tell James. He's your best mate, I fancy him; it's a possible violation of the mate code if you don't tell him. Hell, I would tell him, if I were you."
He rolled his eyes and fixed me with an exasperated look, clearly much more comfortable now that I wasn't crying anymore. "What, do you want me to tell him?" he responded dryly.
"No," I said quickly, only allowing myself to feel the tiniest scrap of hope that he might keep his promise, "but I just don't understand - I mean, well, why?" I knew I sounded desperate, but I couldn't help it. I didn't get Black; he didn't make any sense, and it was ridiculously frustrating.
He looked down at his long, pale fingers, the thin sliver of moon above us casting shadows across his face so that I couldn't quite read his expression. His awkwardness from a few moments ago completely gone, he answered vaguely, "Let's just say that I know what it's like to have a secret." I tilted my head to the side, marveling at the complexity that was Sirius Black. He really wasn't just a bloke who liked snogs, jokes, and pranking; he actually had depth.
He glanced up at me, cocked his eyebrow, and adopted a mocking expression that completely overrode any traces of his previous seriousness. "Did Snape really fancy you?" he asked, disgust etched into his face. "You're way out of his league," he commented matter-of-factly.
My face reddened almost instantly, partly because of the compliment and partly because I had completely forgotten I had mentioned Severus' name during my hysteria. Somehow, I had ended up admitting everything that I had been determined to keep secret; it was slightly disheartening to realize that my resolve held so little strength when faced with a crisis.
"Don't worry," Black replied, noticing my facial expression and hastening to reassure me in order to prevent any more waterworks, "I won't tell anyone about that either. Bloody hell, Evans, I'm keeping all your secrets for you," he added teasingly.
I smiled genuinely at him, unable to stop the relief and gratitude from showing on my face. "Thanks," I said quietly, "a lot." I wasn't surprised to find that I meant it. Black's promises didn't mean much - Severus could still tell people, after all - but, at the same time, they did. They meant that he actually cared two Knuts about me, and, considering he never had before, that in itself was significant.
He waved away my words carelessly. "Consider it payback for making you cry and trying to snog you," he said, as though this statement was not completely bonkers; I almost smiled at how ridiculous it might sound to an outsider. It felt strange to think that Black and I might actually have an inside joke.
"What was that, anyway?" I shot at him, having mostly forgotten about the whole snogging thing in lieu of more important realizations. "Why were you so certain that I fancied you or James?"
"I wasn't," Black said simply with a shrug, "but it seemed likely. I figured it had to be one of my mates, since you told me that you couldn't tell me. Peter's not exactly mischievous or charming, and even you can't be daft enough to believe Remus thinks of you as the scum underneath his shoe," he pointed out, obviously pleased with himself for figuring this out, "so, really, it was just process of elimination."
I stared at him, completely flabbergasted by his thought process. As McGonagall would put it, he had managed to figure out whom I fancied only by "sheer dumb luck". It was so completely unfair that I almost scoffed at it.
But I didn't; instead, I fixed Black with a bewildered stare and persisted, "But what if I had fancied you? What would you have done?" I felt like a scientist, prodding at a particularly interesting specimen in a petri dish; only, instead of an organism, I was inspecting a thought process and noting the absurdities and flaws within it.
He laughed, as though this was a completely illogical question and replied with what I could only assume he believed to be a reasonable answer, "I would have snogged you, of course." A question nagged at the back of my mind in response to this, and I bit my lip, knowing that if I didn't ask it now it would bother me for the rest of the night. Scrunching my nose up and mentally preparing myself for the answer I was going to hear, I turned and stared straight at Black.
"You don't fancy me, do you?" I blurted out helplessly, my voice rushed. Flashes of the night kept floating through my head in such a convincing manner I had begun to doubt the impossibility of it - Black, slyly claiming that this was just where he came to think, as strangely coincidental as it was; Black, flirtatiously offering to snog me and then insisting on listening to my problems; Black, leaning in towards me with his lips puckered and that strange look in his cloudy eyes.
He looked at me, his eyebrows furrowed together and his mouth exploding into a wide grin. "What?" he choked out, his voice laced with laughter. "No offense, Evans, but you're not exactly my type," he explained casually through his cruel laughter, patting my shoulder in what he probably thought to be a reassuring manner.
My face burned with humiliation for what seemed like the millionth time that night - I couldn't believe I had even considered my misleading thoughts to be truthful for a second. However, my embarrassment was replaced with disbelief when I registered his last statement. I resisted the urge to bury my head in my hands, instead fixing Black with an incredulous stare.
"Merlin’s pants!" I exclaimed loudly, causing Black to jump nearly two feet in the air. "You're a poof?!" I asked, lowering my voice only a smidgeon, although it wasn't as though it mattered much; it was probably past curfew, and even if it wasn't, who would be out by the greenhouses so late?
Black looked horrified at my conclusion. "What? No!" he replied in an offended tone, letting out a small groan at my misunderstanding. I felt a small amount of satisfaction that I had upset him so much with my words, but any trace of it was completely erased with his next words. "I just meant that I don't really go for girls like you."
A feeling of dread enveloped my stomach; what now? Was he going to tell me I was too fat? Too short? Too ugly? Too moody? Whatever he said next, it couldn't be good; he could only point out some flaw to show how I wasn't good enough for him, for any bloke, especially for James. Even if a small part of me had concluded that already, it would still hurt to hear. I stared at him, knowing that I had to ask what he meant, but terrified of hearing the answer. "What do you mean," I said slowly, "girls like me?"
I was pleased to see him squirm uncomfortably at my question - Black almost never lost his cool, so managing to make him uncomfortable twice in one night was what I considered an achievement. Now that I knew his weakness was crying girls, I could basically manipulate him to do whatever I wanted. "Well, no offense here, Evans, but...you're a bit too prudish and strait-laced for me. You want a relationship and a loving boyfriend, and, well, I don't. Can you see why we might not get along?"
A part of me was pleased with his answer; he hadn't insulted my appearance, nor declared me an unfit match for James, which was a relief. But another, more dominant part of me was displeased with it; it was slightly off-putting to hear Black insult what I viewed as moralistic, rational behavior. "Whatever," I grumbled, "I didn't realize it was a crime to want a commitment." It wasn't even that I was ashamed of it - I'd be more ashamed if I was one of those girls who didn't want a commitment - it was just the way he said it: like it was a bad thing, so far-fetched and unrealistic that it could only exist in soap operas and romance novels.
Black shrugged, a smirk lifting the corners of his lips. "Don't worry, James doesn't really go for slags anyway," he said reassuringly, patting my shoulder again. I blushed; while I had come to terms with the fact that he knew about my crush on James already, it hadn't really registered in my mind yet. The way he dropped it into conversation so casually was almost startling; I wasn't used to talking about it with anyone except Dorcas and Mary, and Black was nothing like either of them.
For one thing, he was a bloke - he probably had a completely different perspective on the whole situation - and for another thing, he actually knew James. Mary was about as close of friends with James as I was, and, while Dorcas had been playing Quidditch since fourth year, she had always been on the reserve team, and hardly ever interacted with him.
The idea of talking to someone who knew James - knew what he liked, what he didn't like, what kinds of girls he went for - was both thrilling and disconcerting. This wasn't just some acquaintance; this was his best mate. If anyone could help me finally get James to fancy me back, it was Sirius Black. I could already see it all playing out in my head, like one of those cheesy romance flicks - Black, teaching me all of James' interests and hobbies, casually introducing me to James, and then BAM: we'd fall in love and get married and Black would be the best man at the wedding. I nearly sighed at the simplicity of it - if only.
Picking distractedly at a loose thread on my skirt, I latched onto the image of a white picket fence and a messy-haired, green-eyed baby and slyly asked, "So does that mean you think I have a chance with him?" My heart started racing again - a delayed reaction to hearing his name, I told myself. At least that was easier than admitting that I was terrified of hearing Black's response.
It wasn't helping matters much that, after my question, Black started studying me with such intense scrutiny that I felt like one of the particularly interesting specimen we studied in Care of Magical Creatures. Except I was pretty sure it would be considered potential bestiality if anyone looked at a Grindylow like that - although, if that were true, Professor Kettleburn would have been convicted years ago.
I was about two seconds away from accusing him of eye rape - honestly, he was looking at my legs far too long for my liking - when he finally met my eyes and smiled crudely. "You'll do," he said simply.
Still trying to control the blush darkening my cheeks, I repeated, "'I'll do'? That's it?" I demanded with obvious irritation. "You aren't going to give me any advice? No pointers on what he likes or what I should do or anything like that?" I scoffed. I had obviously overestimated the perks of befriending James' best mate, because this wasn't working out at all like my romance flick. Goodbye white picket fence.
Black shrugged - there's that apathy again, I thought bitterly. "Not right now," he replied vaguely. "I'm too exhausted from solving the rest of your problems for you," he complained, playfully winking at me.
"Yeah, right," I said, sticking my tongue out at him childishly. Even if it was true - which it totally wasn't, considering he had made everything a hundred times more complicated than it already was - I would still deny it; admitting Black was right about anything would probably be equally, if not more, humiliating than telling James I fancied him. "If anything, you've given me more problems," I explained, wrinkling my nose with distaste. At his incredulous look, I added sarcastically, "Alright, fine, you're right. You are a god for listening to my problems and trying to snog me just so you could figure out who I fancied. Really, how will I ever repay you?"
He grinned contentedly. "Just the normal things, you know - prostrate yourself at my feet every time I walk into the room, do my homework assignments for me, be my personal sex slave..." he trailed off airily, ignoring my dramatic eye-roll.
"No thank you," I said flatly.
Black's grin grew, and he raised his eyebrow flirtatiously. "Your loss," he said. I resisted the urge to whack him over the head with my school things, overwhelmed by the sudden urge to yawn. I had almost forgotten that, while I was chattering away with Black, revealing all my darkest secrets, and dreaming about a future that would never happen, time was still moving forward.
It was definitely darker than it had been when Black had first arrived, and I had no idea what time it was; I knew, without a doubt, that it was way past curfew. Even though I knew it was unlikely that anyone would happen upon us behind the greenhouses - even Sprout couldn't be crazy enough to check on her plants at this hour - I shuddered to think what would happen if they did.
"Doubtful," I retorted wryly. Before he had the chance to respond in his typical flirtatiously witty manner, I scooped up my school things and propelled myself up off the floor. My legs wobbled unsurely, still sore from the sprint and more than a little shaky from sitting down for so long; I steadied myself on the greenhouse wall. "We'd better head back to the castle now," I said, glancing worriedly at the dark sky.
Black pouted, but obligingly stood up as well. "You're no fun, Evans," he complained mildly. "Don't you want to stay up till dawn and then take the ever-so-delightful walk of shame back to the Gryffindor Tower?" He seemed to have temporarily forgotten the fact that we had class tomorrow and therefore actually needed sleep, but I didn't bother reminding him. Blokes just didn't make any sense sometimes.
"Not in the slightest," I replied without hesitation - a walk of shame wouldn't exactly be beneficial for my reputation. I shuddered to think what the Hogwarts population would make of my nighttime adventure with Black once Snape told them about how much I fancied James - they'd think of me as a complete slag who enjoys breaking up friendships or some such rubbish.
He didn't respond, instead adopting a slightly affronted face at my utter rejection. I hid a smile at his childishness and we set off across the grounds in companionable silence. As we slipped into the shadows of the castle walls, heading towards the front doors, I glanced curiously at Black; he was almost never this quiet. He had pulled a worn piece of parchment out of his pocket and was studying it intently, oddly distracted. I edged closer, hoping to catch a peak at whatever had managed to hold his attention for longer than three seconds, but he instantly shifted away, not even bothering to look at me.
I pursued my lips in irritation at his blatant rudeness. "Fine," I said curtly, but quietly. We had just stepped inside the castle, and the portraits around us were all fast asleep; thankfully, the corridor was utterly void of any noise besides King Arthur's soft snores. "You can keep your stupid parchment a secret from me - it's not like I've told you all my secrets tonight or anything like that."
Black glanced sharply at me and snorted unattractively, suddenly defensive. "Wow, Evans, you're so right. I owe you big time for listening to you ramble on about your problems. Really, how will I ever repay you?" he shot back, snidely repeating my earlier words.
"Shut up," I grumbled, sheer exhaustion hindering my capability to fabricate a witty enough response. He seemed genuinely angry about my innocent curiosity, so I didn't say anything else as we scrambled up staircase after staircase to reach the seventh floor, or even try and look at his secret parchment again, although he remained utterly enthralled with it for the rest of the climb. When we finally reached the Fat Lady, Black, apparently mindful of his reputation, poked his head inside the common room to scan it for late-night stragglers. Thankfully, there were none, and we both climbed inside.
The portrait swung shut behind us, and I inwardly sighed in relief; miraculously, we had not gotten caught. I would have screamed for joy at my luck - although a part of me believed it was more Black's luck than mine, considering how rotten of a day I'd had - if it weren't for the fact that it would wake up the entire Gryffindor tower and completely counteract my very reason for screaming. Instead, I stood silently by the dwindling fire, staring awkwardly at Black. I shifted my weight around uncomfortably, mentally running through everything that had happened to me on my first day of classes.
“Severus is going to tell everyone tomorrow,” I said softly, conclusively, sadly; I glanced down at my shoes with a frown so that Black wouldn't see the pitiful expression on my face. I didn’t need to explain what I was talking about.
Black reached across and ruffled my hair in what was almost a brotherly manner, although it felt weird to associate such an affectionate term with him. “Snivellus is a git who you never should have tolerated in the first place,” he said unhelpfully. I was about to fix him with a glare, when he added, “but everything’s going to turn out okay in the end.” It was the most comforting thing he had said to me the entire night, even if I didn’t entirely believe it.
I smiled gratefully at him, not even bothering to reach a hand up to fix my hair. “Thanks,” I replied quietly, “for everything.” If someone had told me twenty-four hours before that I would be thanking Black for anything, let alone 'everything', I would have sent them to St. Mungo’s; the thought almost made me giggle.
He didn’t say anything at first, just stood there, staring at me with a flicker of something incomprehensible in his charcoal eyes. I knew, in those short moments, that he would keep his promise not to tell James. Maybe this morning he might not have, but after everything I told him, something in our relationship had shifted; tomorrow, we wouldn't be able to revert to our previous pattern of respectful disregard. Something about the night had bonded us together in a way that couldn’t be broken.
I didn’t know if it was a good thing or not.
“You’re welcome,” Black said simply, no underlying sarcasm to his words, no snarky comment added afterwards - for once, he was earnest. Without so much as a goodnight, he turned and started up the stairs to the boys' dormitories, disappearing into the shadows within seconds. I stared after him for a few moments, considering the perplexity that was Sirius Black, but I could only stall for so long. Sooner or later, I was going to have to face the music.
I turned around and started up the stairs to my own dormitory, strangely anxious about confronting my roommates. I idly wondered if Black would have to explain his disappearance to his mates - what would they think? Or, more importantly, what would James think? Shaking my head to clear such pointless thoughts, I hesitantly stepped inside my room.
I had hardly slid the door shut behind me when they appeared, their wands obnoxiously bright in the dark room. Dorcas reached me first, her long legs giving her an unfair advantage. She immediately latched onto my wrist, apparently worried that I would disappear if she ever let go of me again.
"Where in Godric's name have you been?" she hissed furiously. Even with the minimal amount of light provided by the wands, I could tell that her blue eyes were narrowed dangerously.
Mary brushed past Dorcas and desperately wrapped her arms around me. "We were worried sick about you," she said, her voice frightened and tiny like a small child's. Her body heat felt so deliciously refreshing against my cold skin that I nearly sighed in relief; I felt sure that I had contracted a dreadful cold from the chilly night air.
I glanced over at Twilfitt's bed anxiously - she would bite our heads off if we woke her up with our chatter, and I really didn't want her overhearing what I had to say. "Come on," I said, stepping out of Mary's comfortable embrace, "I've got a lot to say." I climbed on top of my sheets - the mattress felt so amazingly soft that I had to restrain myself from slipping underneath the covers and falling asleep right then - and they obligingly followed.
Once I had closed my curtains and cast the strongest silencing charm I knew on my bed, I turned to face my two best mates. Even though we were all sitting with our legs folded underneath us, we were still rather squished. That, combined with the penetrating stares Dorcas and Mary were sending me, was making me increasingly uncomfortable.
They have to know, I told myself stubbornly. They're not going to accept just any lame excuse for why you disappeared off the planet after Potions. You have to tell them.
Taking a deep breath, I stared fixedly at my bed sheets, and hesitantly began to speak. Soon, the words were pouring from my mouth and I was telling them everything - the confrontation with Severus, how I ran out on the grounds, my conversation with Black, everything.
I was out of breath by the time I had finished. Dorcas and Mary had been completely silent throughout my whole speech, a surprising feat, especially for Dorcas. When they remained quiet even after I stopped talking, I slowly lifted my eyes to study their faces. Dorcas was clutching a fistful of my sheets so tightly her knuckles were turning white, while Mary seemed to be processing my words. I couldn't blame her; my mind was still processing what had happened.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of silence, Dorcas spat, "What an utter arsehole."
I shrugged my shoulders. I knew it was ridiculous and silly of me, but I couldn't help but be defensive of Severus' actions, even after all the hurt they had caused me. At least, it was easier to defend him then to acknowledge the fact that we weren't best mates anymore. "Come off it, Dor, you would have done the same if you were in Severus' shoes," I said, glancing down at my bed.
"Not him, you twit - Black," she responded. "He was obviously trying to take advantage of you." I looked at her strangely because, of all the things for her to focus on, that was what she chose. I suppose I wasn't really surprised; although she still stubbornly denied it, I knew she had had something of a thing for Black back in fourth year, before she had started dating her current boyfriend, Sebastian Bloom. Black had always been a mystery to the Hogwarts' girls: roguishly handsome, impossibly charming, and yet he had only dated, at most, two girls. And Dorcas had always loved a good mystery.
Of course, he evaded all of her attempts to woo him, which was definitely an accomplishment; when Dorcas wanted something, she really wanted it. To this day, she was still devastated by the fact that Black had been the one thing that was out of her reach. She had channeled that into some sort of twisted hatred for him.
As usual, Mary reacted more rationally. She pressed her hand gently on the blonde's arm, almost absentmindedly, but kept her wide brown eyes fixated on me. "I don't think he was trying to use you," she commented perceptively, sending a pointed glance at Dorcas, "although it is odd that he was so intent on figuring out who you fancied."
"Maybe he's just an incredibly curious bloke?" I suggested with a small smile. I had just decided Black was trustworthy; I didn't really want to overanalyze his actions and begin to doubt our tentative friendship. Since listening to Dorcas bash him didn't sound appealing either, I hastily changed the subject. "I can't believe Severus knew this whole time," I said with a wince.
I couldn't imagine the pain that I had put him through. If I was ever miraculously friends with James and noticed him fancying some girl, I would bury myself in mounds of chocolate and never emerge - it would be that bad. Thankfully, James had had only a few dates and fewer serious girlfriends over the years, but I remembered in the beginning of fifth year, I found him snogging Rebecca Pennyfeather in a broom closet during Prefect patrols and it had taken all my self-control not to cry right then and there. Severus had been my patrol partner that night - had he noticed how depressed I was for the rest of the night? Was that how he found out? Was he depressed that night?
"Oh my god," I said suddenly. They both looked at me expectantly, but I stared down at my lap, horrified and guilty and miserable all over again. Because, although Severus' situation was slightly different from mine, they were still comparable; both of us suffered from unrequited feelings, although his were probably a hundred times more painful than mine considering he actually knew me, while I had hardly spoken to James. And it had just occurred to me that I was the one who was causing that pain for Severus, and it made me feel bloody awful. "I am Severus' James!" I blurted out.
I didn't give them a chance to respond - I didn't want Mary's sympathy or Dorcas' irrational anger, nor did I deserve it. "I'm a horrible person!" I exclaimed, burying my head in my hands. Surprisingly, there were no tears this time, but that just made me feel worse - if I couldn't cry over this, what kind of person did that make me?
"C'mon, Lily, you are not," Dorcas said forcefully, latching onto my wrists and pulling my hands away from my face much like Black had done earlier in the night. Her blue eyes were practically blazing with determination. "You're a bloody amazing person, and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. If anything, Snape's the horrible person here; he called you a - well, you know, and no amount of pain justifies that."
Mary nodded her head enthusiastically in agreement, her worried eyes practically begging me not to be upset over this. "You had no way of knowing he loved you, and the fact that you feel this way now shows that you're not a bad person; it shows that you care," she said persuasively, and I wanted to believe her - I wanted to believe both of them so badly, but my stomach was still twisted into knots and I still felt so guilty and I was just so tired of everything that had happened to me that day.
I shrugged, feigning agreement with their words. "Look, I'm pretty drained, so I think I'm just gonna go to bed now," I said, carefully avoiding meeting their eyes. I wasn't exactly lying - I was exhausted beyond belief - but I knew they could tell that that wasn't my sole reason for kicking them off my bed. Truthfully, I just wanted to curl up underneath my blankets and swallow a giant dish of self-pity, maybe with a small side of moping.
There was a short silence - I could practically sense Mary exchanging a worried glance with Dorcas - before I felt the shift of weight on my bed as they climbed off. "Alright, well, goodnight, Lily," Mary said awkwardly.
"Sleep well," Dorcas chimed in cheerfully. I looked up at them and, just as they were about to turn away, whispered, "Thanks." I didn't know what exactly I was thanking them for - maybe a combination of their parting words and the comfort they had given me after my awful day - but I had never felt so grateful that they were my best mates. If Severus had been my only friend, my world would have been completely shattered with his sudden outburst, but, with Dorcas and Mary, only a small part of it had been cracked.
They shrugged their shoulders and brushed off my gratitude, bidding me one final goodnight as they crawled into their own beds. I stared after them for a second, before resignedly tugging my curtains shut again and crawling under my blankets. I couldn't bring myself to care about the fact that I was still wearing my school uniform, and that I was probably covered in dirt and sweat and disgustingness.
Instead, I shut my eyes, a flurry of thoughts still rushing through my mind, and waited for sleep to come.
A/N: Thank you for all the reviews! You people make me smile (: This chapter took a bit of time to write, but I hope you like it – I know I’m a little iffy about Lily pouring her heart out to Sirius (however unintentionally) but I tried to make it seem as realistic as possible. Let me know how I did? And the title of this chapter comes from the All-American Rejects song of the same name.
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