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The Art of Breathing. by AC_rules
Chapter 25 : Progress.
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 71


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A/N - Hello everyone! I'm currenly in bed feeling a bit eurgh, but with a bit of help from snowday's this chapter is finallly up (well currenlty it's in the queue but you get the idea). I don't have much to say really, so I hope you enjoy and leave me a review telling me what you think :D

Much love to you all, Ac..


 

“Yo McDonald!” Jeremy said, sitting down next to me at breakfast.  I glanced over at Lily and Alice who were oh-so-subtly looking in the opposite direction, and forced myself not to look at Sirius who was sitting opposite as per usual (which he’d probably only done this morning to annoy me as much as possible).

“Look, if Lily and Alice have set you up for this then the answer is no, I do not need a date for Saturday,” I told him icily. I was in no mood for their antics and Wood would be the fourth male to approach me this morning all of them asking me, rather awkwardly, whether I would accompany them to Hogsmeade (none of whom had looked even slightly disappointed when I’d rejected them). It seemed Lily and Alice had used their talents of popularity within Hogwarts to convince every single male they could that it would be good for them to ask me out ( I don’t want to know how they bribed them). Alice’s friendship with everyone and Lily’s ability to dazzle were killer when used together.

“Woah,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Lily and Alice...” he said, looking over at them in confusion. “Setting me up for what?” he asked, with genuine confusion etched onto his features. Alice and Lily gave me matching, affronted looks and I sighed in disbelief – just my luck.

“Oh,” I muttered sheepishly. “Sorry. I thought... never mind,” I told him, shaking my head. “What’s up?” I asked, but really hoping that he’d just disappear sharpish.

“Just checking in,” he said, with his normal air of cool. It was strange, no one could pull off a comment like that – not even Sirius – yet Wood seemed to with ease. It was a mixture of being comfortable in one’s self and comfortable in the environment, I decided, as I examined his features.

“I’m not a hotel,” I retorted, still trying (and apparently failing) to make it clear to him that I wanted him to bugger off and leave me to be moody by myself. He just smiled lazily in return, and it seemed that showed he was vaguely amused.

“So what was this about Saturday?” Jeremy asked, and I shook my head and gave the other two a dark look to show them that I blamed this entirely on them. If they hadn’t started this whole ‘let’s set Mary up’ business then I’d never have snapped at him, so he wouldn’t be asking these stupid questions.

“Lily and Alice are trying to set me up on a date,” I said. “Because every other person on the planet has one, and I don’t,” I told him dryly, before turning back to my breakfast and looking at it in mild disgust.

Wood mimicked an expression of pure shock. “McDonald doesn’t have a date! She does now! I happen to be free.”

“They did set you up,” I said, unimpressed.

“A little bit,” Jeremy shrugged.  “Can’t say no to a damsel in distress though. Particularly with a good looking damsel.”

“Do I look particularly distressed? No. I don’t. Therefore you can probably deduct that I don’t need your help, and I don’t want a date for Saturday, and I certainly don’t need you two,” I said turning to glare at Lily and Alice, “to get people to ask me out.”

“I was talking about the other two actually,” Jeremy said. “They seemed pretty distressed at the thought of you going solo.”

“Wrong again. They’re distressing damsels,” I commented, glaring at them. “Even the damsel bit is a fairly loose term.”

“Someone didn’t get any sleep last night,” Alice said pointedly.

“Don’t enrage her. She’s deadly,” Jeremy advised her, which seemed to amuse the other two.

“Oh really?” Sirius spoke up, glaring daggers at him. I glared at Sirius in return, he had no right to glare at him like that.

“I suppose you’ve seen her in action then,” Lily grinned.

“Who hasn’t?” Jeremy asked in mock surprise. “Last time I saw her she was screaming at a pair of first years who walked into her -practically ripped their heads off. They were frightened to death and ran away, haven’t been seen in nearly two months now. Maybe she did rip their heads off? I thought there was something peculiar in that stew,” Jeremy said, nodding wisely.

“It was in the stir fry actually,” I put in. “The stew was someone different entirely.”

“Do tell,” Jeremy said, his eyebrows rising. He managed to express every single emotion on his face, and still managed to look at ease and utterly relaxed. It was unnerving.

“He deserved it,” I said. “He had it coming to him. It’s not like he’ll miss it anyway,” I shrugged. “He was the only one who ever used it, and let’s be honest; I’ve done the world the favour by making sure he can’t produce offspring.”

“Hey guys!” Amanda’s bright, cheery voice came ringing through my ears painfully, and I inwardly (and maybe outwardly) shuddered. It struck me how completely different Amanda and I were – she was carefree and even happier than Lily, whereas I was... most decidedly not.

“Hello Amanda!”  I exclaimed enthusiastically. “How are you!?” I ignored the strange looks I received from all angles and forced myself to beam at her. “The table just wasn’t the same without your presence,” I muttered, slightly sarcastically, but honestly I was trying to be nice. Maybe I should tone it down a little next time to make it a little more believable.

She smiled her perfect little smile and sat down next to Sirius, kissing his cheek.

“So Lily,” James said cheerfully, “Looking forward to our date tomorrow?” He grinned; genuinely looking like Christmas had come early (by a month and a few days). “Where do you want to go?” he asked, and all the Marauders waited for Lily to yell something in his direction (which would probably involve a hell of a lot of insults and the odd swear word).

After discussing it for half the night we thought that it was more than a little unkind for Lily to brush James off now, and as she has agreed, she would have to go. She’d just have to lump it, and maybe (this was a very big maybe) she might even enjoy the date? It was a long shot, and Alice and I had decided not to mention this point as we didn’t want to be on the receiving end of her wrath.

“There’s this cafe down one of the backstreets,” Lily said through gritted teeth. “It’s really lovely.”

“The willow?” James asked.

“Yeah, it’s quiet and pretty cheap. You know it?” She asked and James nodded. I watched James carefully as his eyes unfocused and he dazed off into space for a few moments. He was probably imagining the perfect date with his Lilykins (his nickname, not mine) and it almost made me feel jealous for a second.

Almost.

“How do you guys know about the Willow? No one knows about that,” Pete commented.

“Well obviously we do,” I snapped at him with a little more viciousness than was necessary. In my defence, Sirius and Amanda we’re being coupley opposite me (well kind of, he’d looked at her once or twice), my sister was arriving this morning, my friends were trying to set me up and both had guys that were madly in love with them (even if their relationships weren’t all that fantastic). Oh, and I was dying – let’s not forget that minor point.

“I think Mike’s taking me to Madame’s Pudifoots.” Alice grimaced. “I bet she’ll have the Christmas decorations up already.”

“That’s just depressing,” Sirius added in. “It’s only just December.”

 “It’s not that bad. Everyone loves Christmas anyway!” Lily exclaimed. Her green eyes lit up and were sparkling just like a set of fairy lights – it made her look so alive and a stab of jealousy shot through me. I wish I could be that excited about Christmas.

“No they don’t,” Sirius and I answered simultaneously.  I turned and looked at him calculatingly for a second. Our eyes fixed together for a moment and I felt myself flush. His gaze was far more intense than it should be allowed and his grey eyes sparkled like crystals. Of course Sirius wouldn’t like Christmas – that would be when he’d have first experienced the full, unexpected cruelty from his family back in first year. Before then the hate would just have been letters and snide comments. It would have been when he’d have got back after first year, expecting the love and doting, and receiving insults and the iron fist of some family member or other. Christmas was the time when he was forced back into his family home and made to live with the people he despised.

He blinked, and I wondered if he was wondering why I hated Christmas, or was reliving his own Christmases.

“Why do you-?” Lily began, and I tore my eyes away from his and found myself shaking slightly.

“Let’s not go into this,” I said, cutting over her, wondering if anyone else could hear how much my voice was shaking. “I don’t need to think about it any earlier than normal.”

“For once, I’m agreeing with you,” Sirius said, as natural as anything, as if we were still friends.

“Well that’s always a bonus,” I commented dryly. “You can go back to your friends you know,” I told Jeremy, turning back to him. “You’ve dealt with your damsels in distress.”

“And why won’t you go out with me?” Jeremy asked, and I sighed.

“Not fair on you,”  I answered honestly (I know right, new to me...).

“Why would that be?” he asked, and I sighed in annoyance.

“Because I don’t like you like that, I don’t particularly like dating people, I barely know you, I’d only be going to prove a point, which is slightly against my morals, and I still have... feelings for someone else,” I finished. The phrase didn’t really seem to fit with mine and Sirius’s relationship, and the words stumbled out awkwardly.

“I don’t mind, use me,” Jeremy said cheerfully. “I’ll be your rebound – whatever. Use me.”

“You should do it,” Sirius said, looking directly at me. “You’re good at using people.”

“No thanks,” I told Jeremy. “I’ll catch up on some work or something.” I

“You can’t stay here on your own!” Lily complained. “It drives you crazy; remember what I did last time?”

Kissed Snape.

I was torn for a second. A date was definitely the last thing I wanted, but I didn’t think it was good idea for me to be left alone mulling over things while everyone else was out. Or rather while Sirius and Amanda were out...

“How about we go as friends,” I said to Jeremy carefully. “Nothing date-like. No flirting. No bill paying on your behalf.”

“I’ll check you later McDonald,” Jeremy nodded, sliding out of his seat and saluting me.

“Bastard,” Sirius muttered under his breath, and I glared at him sharply.

“Excuse me?” I asked pointedly.

“He’s trying to get into your pants!” he exclaimed.

“Oh how original,” I muttered, rolling my eyes. “Although I suppose you would know, considering that’s your forte.”

“‘Use me’” he mocked, in a bad imitation of Jeremy’s voice. “I’m telling you he’s trying to get into your pants!” Sirius exclaimed.

“Good job they’re on tight then,” I retorted hotly – I wasn’t in the mood for his antics today.

“Not as tight as the stick rammed up your arse,” Sirius commented quietly, although it carried across the table. I couldn’t think of a comeback quick enough and Sirius smirked at me darkly. I panicked internally as I desperately tried to think of something witty in return – I couldn’t let him win. My mind went into overdrive as I sat there, watching his smug expression and needing to wipe it off his face.

 Before I could stop myself the words were spilling out of my mouth – it was not only bitchy but downright cruel and I knew I couldn’t say it.

“Whatever, Mummy’s boy.” 

I froze. I’d said it.

It wasn’t even particularly clever! So why the hell had I said it? Sirius looked away and I could have sworn he growled under his breath.

I bit my lip, and a mixture of dread and guilt flooded through me. Why did I have to be such a God damn bitch?

“That was...” James began, trailing off and looking at me in disgust.

“Out of order,” I finished. “I’m sorry Sirius, I didn’t mean to -” I began, almost urgently. I was completely appalled at myself for saying something so stupid when he’d finally spilled something to me about his family. I’d done it again! He’d told me in confidence about all that stuff, and I’d just thrown it straight back in his face.

“Save it,” Sirius snapped.

“Honestly Sirius I -” I tried again.

 “You’re a piece of work,” Sirius shot at me.

“And you’re a piece of dog shit. I can’t get rid of the smell,” I muttered half heartedly, still feeling terrible about the whole thing. I didn’t know what else I could do but reply in the same way I always would. For one of the first times ever I hated myself for talking only in insults and dry sarcasm – when was the last time I’d said anything positive or uplifting?

I couldn’t remember.

“As lovely as this imagery is,” Marlene’s voice came floating into the scene, “you’re needed elsewhere. Although, can I suggest you both invest in some new pick up lines? They’re somewhat lacking something.”

“Your brain’s somewhat lacking something,” I snapped back at her, still on automatic.

“Lovely Mary, let’s go,” she said, grabbing my arm and pulling me upwards. It was amazing how inadequate she made me feel by doing literally nothing. “Your sister’s here,” she told me, when we were far enough away from them so that they definitely wouldn’t overhear.

“You’ve told me, now you can get lost,” I told her, trying to shake her off my arm. I needed some time to think for a few seconds before facing them.

“No,” she said, keeping her fingers wrapped tight around my wrist. “I need to make sure you don’t go running off anyway,” she said, pulling me forward. I noted her nails were long and painted in a rich blue that put mine to shame. My nails were short and stubby, and even with the spell the varnish looked clumsy next to hers.

“I failed the test,” she told me, her expression completely blank of any emotion.

“I don’t give one about your academic record, just bugger off!” I shot at her, and she rolled her eyes dramatically.

“How bloody stupid are you?” she questioned, pulling me forwards by my wrists. “I’ve got it – for definite.”

I was silenced for a moment by the news, and I swallowed back whatever comment I was going to make. Sometimes I should just keep my mouth shut I guess. Maybe that was the answer – just don’t talk.

I remembered one of my primary school teachers telling me that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I imagined staying silent because I had nothing positive to say until I died – four months of silence. I wished I was more like Lily, loving the world and nature around me, seeing its pure beauty and feeling happy just to be alive.  That just wasn’t me.

“And I thought about what you said,” she told me, and I continued to look at her perfect nails. “And I can’t,” she finished, much to my surprise. Half of me expected her to have changed her mind and decided to sacrifice herself to save my life, but why should she? I was nothing to her. Just some random girl, the cure would be ready for her and her brother in any case and I couldn’t reasonably ask her to risk her own life. That wasn’t fair, and it was selfish no matter how much I felt I had the right to be selfish.

“I’ve been talking to Nate: the other potential case has almost been written off as definitely not having it, and we’re the only three people in the world to have it. Nate doesn’t think it’s worth it.”

I must have shown some hurt expression on my face at the final words, and in all honesty it felt like I was being stabbed in the back. He’d promised to do everything in his power to help.

“He doesn’t think it would do any good,” she finished, her tone more sympathetic than I would have ever expected. “The cure will definitely be done by the end of the school year,” she said, her voice soft. Just a few months too late.

“It’s for the best,” I told her, although my whole body was protesting against the idea. “You shouldn’t risk everything for a fool’s chance.”

I’m not worth it anyway.

“I’m sorry Mary, I really am. I just can’t,” she finished, dropping my wrist but still walking in front of me as though I didn’t know the way. “I told Regulus.”

“I figured.”

“How so?”

“Because, McKinnon, no matter what you’d like people to believe, you’re a nice person.”

“I’m not nice,” she told me disdainfully. “Not in the slightest.”

“If you say so.”

“I’m not!” she said defensively, as if I’d accused her of something awful.  “I’m a bitch.”

There was a sense of pride in her voice that made me smile, because that was Marlene’s image – she was a glamorous, clever bitch and proud of it. It was her defence mechanism, they way she acted because it made her feel stronger.

“You’re not,” I contradicted her simply. “Even if you’d like to be, if you were a bitch you wouldn’t care about the whole thing at all.”

“Well you’re not a bitch either,” she claimed just as calmly.

“How do you work that out?” I asked her. As far as I could see there was no better word to describe me. The word seemed to personify all my characteristics and I guess I’d been proud of it once too. I just wished, for once, that my brain wouldn’t judge and insult and pick out faults in those I saw around me. Not to think, gosh she’s ugly, or bloody hell she’s thick, but to see people as a good person would – with all their good characteristics shinning from them like a great light. Like to see Alice and appreciate her good quiet nature, and not find her niceness so annoying. Jealousy – that’s what it was. I wanted to be as naturally kind as Alice and happy as Lily, and I wasn’t so I hated those qualities in them. It was bordering on pathetic.

“Because you want to be nice, which means you can’t be a bitch. If your hearts not in it.”

I thought about her words as we carried on to the hospital wing. If I wanted to be a good person, then I couldn’t completely be a bad one; it almost made sense. Maybe it was that simple, maybe if I had the desire to improve myself then that enough to stop me from being so bad. Even if every part of my body was sinning, and I felt guilty about it and wanted in my heart to stop, then maybe I could still be considered good.

It was comforting in a way.


 If only everything was that simple.









 

“Mary, before you go and see her, can we talk to you?” Quiggles asked from the doorway of the hospital wing. It was probably about what Marlene had just told me, and I didn’t need to hear it twice, but then I could hardly say no.

“Okay,” I agreed, my voice sounding more sullen than I wanted it too. Nate looked at me appraisingly and I glanced into the wing and saw Becky there. Seeing her face, awake and seemingly pissed off, made me want to run over to her and embrace her tightly. My sister – she was alive if not well and I loved her. “Quickly.”

“It’s good news,” Nate added, sensing that I wasn’t feeling peachy or like any other kind of fruit, some of which now had a longer life span than me.

“That’s a first,” I muttered, still craning my neck to look at Becky and seeing if the others were there too. I could see there was at least one more person in there and by the looks of it, it was Karen. Dad was probably there too somewhere...

“We’ve set a date for the wedding,” Kate announced, and I could hear the excitement in her voice. “In January.”

“Why so soon?” I asked, doing the maths in my head. It was a month away, and Nate was working at St Mungo’s over Christmas in the research department (unless he’d given up on that too), so it seemed incredibly soon.

“We want you to be bridesmaid,” Nate told me, and ruffled up my hair in the brotherly way he used to.

“Bridesmaid?” I asked, slightly stunned by the concept. Walking down the aisle after Kate Quigley – soon to be Kate Peacock – in a fancy dress. “Are you sure?”

“With my two best friends and my little nieces,” Kate added, and her face was shining with excitement.

“So you arranged it so I’d be alive?” I questioned. I’d still have two and half months to live by that point so they’d probably gone for the safest option.

“Well, not just that. Don’t get too bigheaded Maz,” Nate said, grinning for the first time in absolutely ages. “There’s another factor we had to consider, due to... circumstances,” Nate said, and he and Kate shared a look. They seemed a lot more in love than they had done for ages.

“Don’t tell anyone,” Kate said, still grinning her head off like a freak. “I’m pregnant,” she whispered, and my eyebrows shot up my face.

“Ermm... congratulations?”

“I only found out this morning, and I’m not very far along – only about a week or something, but I’m so excited!”

“Really?” I asked sarcastically, but she seemed to miss it in her enthusiasm.

“I won’t be showing by then,” she continued. Just watching her drained all my energy.

“I’m leaving now,” I told her, as she continued to bounce around like an over excited five year old. Nate seemed to be just as excited as she was about the whole thing and even I had to admit that it was heart warmingly (and sickeningly) sweet.

“I remember being that excited about Ria,” I heard Karen say, more to herself than anyone else. I remembered it too, although I wasn’t excited at the time. I remembered us having some big argument about it.

“Are you excited about this one?”  I asked gesturing to her stomach, which seemed to have ballooned outwards since I’d last seen her a week ago. I probably just hadn’t looked at her carefully enough to see it – I had been distracted somewhat.

“Well, it’s... badly timed,” Karen answered, looking at her stomach almost mournfully. “I wish that it hadn’t come along for another year or so.”

“Five months to go right?” I questioned, and she nodded.

“I was four months gone,” Becky said suddenly, and we looked at her. “When I had the abortion,” she continued, and I had to admit she looked a lot better than the last time I’d seen her, but still not quite connected to the world.

It took me a second to work out quite what she meant – four months... how had we not noticed?  She had to have been showing by then.... the whole thing must have happened in September sometime (not that anyone had bothered keeping me particularly informed). I vaguely remembered a period over the summer when she was always busy doing something and how she’d offered to look after Ria instead of coming to the platform with us... she’d given me a very brief hug goodbye, nothing like her normal tight squeezes... Becky was small anyway, and we would have been glad to see her put on a bit of weight – but she hadn’t really. She kept her weight the same so none of us knew about it, even though it had ended up with her here – should have noticed that she was pregnant though.

“Four months, that’s quite late...” Karen said slowly.

“It was disabled,” she continued, looking straight at us for the first time in ages. Her voice floated out of her tiny body and I wanted to take her up in my arms and hold her tight. “Really badly. The doctors said they didn’t think it would be able to talk or walk.”

The words cut through me and Karen’s hand went to her stomach all of a sudden.

“Is that why?” I asked her, watching her dead eyes turn to me.

She shook her head and tears began spilling out of her eyes.

“I wanted to keep her, and mother her and protect her, but the doctors said I wouldn’t be able to cope. They told me I should kill her and I told them I wouldn’t. I could never kill her – my baby!” she wailed, and her voice broke my heart. “Then they looked at my file and read out all my notes, they said she’d be taken away from me and put into care because I wouldn’t be able to cope. Who wants a disabled child? They asked me,” her words were tumbling out in a heartbreaking rush of sudden passion. “I said I want my disabled child but they wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t let her go into care, not ever! I said I’d rather she die than go in to the god damn care system, not after what happened to me,” she continued, her eyes overflowing spectacularly and cascading down her cheeks. “I never wanted to kill her. My baby!” she let out with one final wail. She was distraught, more emotion than I’d ever seen before on her face. She was rocking back on forth on her bed with grief and I threw my arms around her and gripped her tightly.

I could feel every single bone of her body as I held her next to me, and I was terrified that she was going to break in my fingers.

“They bullied you into having an abortion?” Nate asked, and they both walked over towards us now. He looked more disgusted than I’d ever seen him do in his life, a stark contrast to what I’d seen only two minutes ago. “That’s disgusting,” Nate muttered quietly, and Becky sobbed onto my shoulder.

“My baby. My baby,” she muttered over and over again on my shoulder. “My baby. My baby. My baby.”

“What clinic was it?” Nate asked, suddenly down to business as he tried to find the notes on her abortion. “There’ll be an enquiry...”

“No!” Becky cried out. “Because it was all my fault,” she claimed, and tears were rolling down my face as I watched her. For the first time in my life she truly looked crazy to me. I could remember the words of some child way back. ‘Your sister’s crazy! She’s a psycho!’ her voice had taunted and I hadn’t listened to a word of it. She’d never been crazy. Still, now... she was shaking back and forth and wailing to herself. I shook my head to cast away the memory. She wasn’t crazy, she was just desperately unhappy. What had happened to her was horrible, horrific.      

“I didn’t know I was pregnant!” she howled. None of it made much sense to me, it wasn’t clicking in my head but more confusing into a big mass of confusion and distress – why did she think it was her fault? Still, all I knew was that I needed to hold onto her tight.

“Foetal alcohol syndrome,” Nate read from the document, and Karen clutched Becky’s hand tightly.

“What does it mean?” I asked, clutching Becky’s body close to me and finding that I was crying as well. Hot tears were falling down my cheeks and mixing with Becky’s.

“That wouldn’t have caused all that damage,” Nate shook his head. “I think that it wouldn’t have mattered if you hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol the whole way through, this baby would have had problems.”

Alcohol. This baby had been so damaged by alcohol? My heart dropped for her and I used the rest of my strength to grip on to the material of her pyjamas. I couldn’t really believe what I was hearing. None of it seemed to connect properly in my head and I just wanted to be able to make it all stop for her in an instant, and carry all her burdens on my own back.

Becky shook her head and grasped on to me tightly. “And they’re right; I wouldn’t have been able to look after her. I can’t even look after myself,” she sobbed, and then she was crying so much she couldn’t speak anymore. I closed my eyes, not being able to look at as she cried out more pain than anyone should have to experience.


Then I felt someone’s fingers resting on my arm tentatively. I open my eyes again and found that the fingers belonged to Karen. I smiled slightly at her, and she smiled back. For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for her.




“I don’t feel like it’s being going quite as planned, so  instead of doing activities we’re going to spend the next few weeks talking about -” Quiggles began, but she was interrupted by a roar of complaint from all directions. Sit down and talk? No thank you. I was still feeling stunned from spending a few hours with Becky this morning, and this was my first lesson of the day so far. I’d told the others the truth for once – my sister had come to stay at Hogwarts for a while and I was with her. No one had asked exactly why she was there, and I think Sirius had warned them not to. Still, I appreciated their support vastly.

I was amazed by it really.

“What’s the point?” Peter asked loudly. “Why should we bother? It’s all just pointless,” I thought that was a little harsh to be honest – she obviously put quite a lot of effort into our lessons, even if they were basically pointless. Maybe it was just because I’d seen how happy Kate had been earlier, and now that had faded to dust.

“This whole lesson sucks!” someone yelled out, and I wanted to tell them all to shut up for a minute, just to let her think. Becky’s horror story had definitely got her worried about her own pregnancy and her hand kept drifting to her stomach absent-mindedly.  She didn’t need our class to be playing up against her today.

“Everyone hates it,” Sirius said flatly.

“And PE!” Alice added, but a lot quieter than the others. Alice was short and a little plump (in the best way) so she hated PE with a passion. Although I was struggling to think of anyone who might enjoy PE. We were currently doing a few weeks doing long distance running (although I was excused and had been told simply not to turn up), which basically meant making them run as far round the grounds as they could, before making them turn around and run back again.

“I’m not doing it,” someone else added in, and I couldn’t help but agree. My life was nearly over, why should I waste it doing teambuilding for Merlin’s sake? Even if Kate was in a bad mood – the subject was pointless.

“We could be doing something valuable!” Sirius put in, and I had a feeling he was partly to blame for the breakdown in discipline. From what Alice and Lily had told me in whispers whilst we were waiting to come in to the class room the Marauders had been even more annoying than usually. Pulling stupid little pranks and generally being obnoxious.

“Please Miss, can’t we do something useful?” Rachel asked, complaining about it heatedly to Charlotte at the same time. Lily and Alice were looking at her in disbelief and also talking, I was watching Kate get more and more annoyed at the lot of us.

“What about our grades?” I heard Lily ask. “If we didn’t have this or PE we’d have a few more hours free to make sure we’re up to date with our studies.”

“Out with teambuilding!” someone yelled, with more enthusiasm than Quigley had seen from us the whole time she’d been teaching us.

“YE-HA!” One of the Marauders – possibly James – yelled at the top of his voice to much laughter.

“We should be learning how to fight!” James put in, standing up and brandishing an imaginary sword. He looked like a prat, but he kind of worked the look. Sirius jumped up and brandished his own imaginary sword. I wondered if Sirius was acting like this because he was so happy he’d finally gotten rid of me, but that didn’t really make sense. Maybe it was something to do with making sure I knew he could deal without me. Or maybe, just maybe, his life didn’t revolve around me as much as mine did around his.

“Woah mate, how small is your sword?” James exclaimed dramatically. This pretty much sent everyone laughing, including me, and I realised how long it had been since James and Sirius had acted this way.

“It’s not the size; it’s how you use it,” Sirius winked, polishing his imaginary sword. “Mine has power.”

“I challenge you to a duel!  Lily’s my second!” James announced. “Who’s yours?”

Lily looked less than impressed at this announcement, and was scowling at his back in annoyance.

“Stop it guys,” Professor Quigley ordered to no avail.

“Mary,” Sirius answered, then stopped and looked at me for a second. I don’t think he’d meant to say me, and I bit my lip and tried not to laugh at how quickly it had gotten awkward.

“Do I have to? I don’t want to touch your sword,” I retorted quickly, and Sirius smirked at me and for a moment things were back to normal. I flushed, and looked back to Kate, who seemed to be getting angrier with every second.

“Hi YA!” James screeched, lunging forward with his imaginary sword. Sirius swerved to one side and James fell, comically (and most probably purposefully) on to the floor. “Lily!” he gasped for breath, “You’ll have to take over!” He breathed, clutching his chest and doing a dramatic rendition of someone dying. “LILLLLLLLLYYYYYYY!” he yelled with his ‘last breath’, then slumped down to a still position with his eyes staring out at us all glassily.

“ENOUGH!” Professor Quigley yelled. “Get up,” she snapped at James, who obeyed her immediately.  She’d never before lost her temper to the point of being scary, but now she definitely had.

“Sit,” she ordered Sirius and James, both of whom seemed to now be feeling embarrassed by the whole thing (actually, probably not, they’re pretty thick skinned). “And now listen to me you lot, and I’ll tell you why this is important. If you think this is all such a joke after that then I won’t bother showing up to your next lesson,” her words cut through the air like knives, and I wanted nothing more than to inch backwards away from her. Her pretty features were all twisted up into anger and it was more than slightly alarming.

“I like a dominant woman,” James muttered in Sirius’ ear behind me. Sirius snorted (snorted? He sooo stole that from me!) in response, but I’m pretty sure no one else heard it. “I think I prefer submissive ones,” Sirius whispered back. “Less hassle.”

“You might be on to something there,” James added. “If Lily would just agree with me, then it would be great! She’d love me and...”

“To be honest James, I don’t think anyone’s as capable as loving you as much as yourself.”

“Shut up! I’ve had enough of the lot of you. Do you really think I’d make you do this if I didn’t think it was important? I’m a defence against the dark art’s teacher, and if any of you read the newspaper – which I’m beginning to doubt – you’d realise that things are getting worse. There’s dark, dark, things going on out there!”

“So we should be learning new spells,” James commented. It struck me that he was acting a lot more obnoxious and annoying since Lily had accepted his offer. Maybe it wasn’t going to work out well for either of them.

“Mr Potter. Are you insinuating that you know more about Voldermort and death eaters than me? I didn’t think so.” She glared at him for a few moments before tossing her hair and beginning to pace back and forth again. “You seem to be under the impression that if he wanted to get to you, he’d send in his men and you’d duel to the death. I’m sorry to tell you this, but people like the death eaters do not play fair. It doesn’t matter if you’re better at magic than them, if you’re cleverer, braver.  They’re cunning. They use their minds to make things as safe for them as possible. They’ll spy. They’ll pick away at groups. Blackmail,” she said, and for once she had all of our attention completely.  “If you can fight, that’s great, but defending yourself is more than that!”

“You’re making it sound like we have no hope.” Lily said carefully.

“I’m not saying that.” She said slowly. “I’m saying that it’s more than just spells and jinxes. There are no counter curses for unforgivables. I’m saying you have to think like them.”

“I don’t get it.”

“They’re going to be looking for a weak link. Say if you were trying to infiltrate the Professor’s of Hogwarts, what would you do?”

“Imperious,” Sirius muttered.

“Maybe,” Professor Quigley shrugged. “Who?” She asked.

“Professor Kettleburn – he’s old,” Pete suggested.

“No, the other teachers watch out for him because he’s old. They might notice his change in behaviour,” Sirius said, shaking his head. He looked utterly sombre now and it pained me to think these were the type of people who had brought him up.

“You, miss. You’re new,” Rachel proposed.

“No. Nate would notice if she acted differently. She’s too closely linked. You need someone who’s apart from everyone, someone who knows everyone but hasn’t got a close relationship with anyone.”

“The divination teacher,” Sirius said after a few seconds.              

“Exactly,” Professor Quigley said. “Except why bother with the imperious – that could leave traces – why not just threaten to kill her family. Torture her. Threaten to kill her – make her life a living hell until she is too weak to refuse.”

We all shuddered.

“Who would you pick on amongst yourselves? If I was a death eater who would I target out of you ten?”

We all looked up at her in silence. 

“Me,” Frank Longbottom spoke up after a few sharp seconds. “I have no close friends in the group, but I could pick up things from my brother who’s dating Alice, and I share a room with the guys. No one would notice if I acted strange.”

“Look. I’m not trying to make you paranoid,” she added, as Rachel and Pete looked at Frank warily. “I’m trying to make you understand. Chances are, there’s going to be a war, and you’re the brave ones who’ll agree to fight. They’re going to want to kill you.”

There was no sympathy or emotion in her voice now. “You need to know each other well enough to know when someone’s acting strange!” she said finally. It seemed a long way round to get to her point, but it had hit home all right. “That’s why you’re doing team building, and that’s why you’re doing P.E. To bring you closer together, to stop all this stupid conflict – you need to stick together, or you might as well start planning your own funerals now. You shouldn’t have to think about fighting and war! You’re kids! But that’s the hand you’ve been dealt. I didn’t want to tell you any of this.”

“Thank you,” Remus spoke up.

“Sorry we didn’t listen,” Frank added, and there was a murmur of consent and she smiled for the first time.

“Right. Let’s talk,” she announced. “In a circle.” Everyone hurried to obey her orders as if getting into a simple circle would be enough to protect us from dark wizards. “We’re going to talk about Christmas.”

The whole subject seemed a little woolly after that big speech and it felt a little flat to follow up with something so mundane and stupid.

“From my experience everyone either loves or hates Christmas, so can we go round and say whether we hate or love it.”  My stomach didn’t even drop as it normally would do; I was still too shaken up by the previous conversation and Becky that I couldn’t think about it properly. It still felt like I’d been transported back to playschool with little extra meaning. This still didn’t seem enough to save someone’s life.

“Love it,” James said, although he didn’t seem as confident as he had been before.

“Indifferent, really,” Remus shrugged.

“Hate it,” Pete muttered, and I briefly wondered why.

“I loved it before, but now...” Rachel said, looking downwards. This would be her first Christmas without her dad. A twinge of sympathy flooded through me, but I couldn’t look at her knowing the circumstances surrounding her Dad death. Never before had the reality of everything Sirius had told me had been so real. I could see it all playing out before me in front of my eyes. Deaths, betrayals and wars that would happen that I would never see. I would be dead before any of it happened. There was nothing I could do, nothing anyone could do, it was going to happen no matter what.

I missed Charlotte and Alice’s answer whilst in my own thoughts and tuned in to hear Frank’s answer of ‘hate it.’

“I love the idea of it,” Lily answered, and I wondered what she meant.

“I can’t stand it,” Sirius muttered through gritted teeth. There was so much pent up anger and annoyance. I couldn’t blame him. The reminder of Rachel’s Dad’s death along with the thoughts of his family and Christmas weren’t exactly going to make him happy. I looked at the lines of his face for a few seconds and I was struck by how, only last night, I was sitting in his bed and he was giving me a shoulder massage. The whole thing was utterly bizarre and threw me for a second.

“Mary?” Kate implored, and I looked up at her in surprise. I half expected the world to stop for a few minutes for me to think.

“I hate it,” I answered softly, not feeling right in myself.

“Okay, Mary, tell us why.”

“No,” I answered immediately. Why was she picking on me in the first place? She knew why and she knew that it would be painful for me to talk to, especially on a day like this.

“Mary,” Kate warned me, and I caught her eye. She could tell them all everything if she wanted to, and it would all be nothing compared to the war that was to come.

My voice was shaking when I began to speak again. “My mum.” I clenched my fists at my side. “She had a terminal illness, but she wasn’t supposed to die for another few years. I didn’t know, then I found a letter about it and I got mad.” It all seemed so insignificant in the whole picture. I should never have been mad at her. I should have told her that I loved her, that she was my mother and I needed her. “She was trying to help them find a cure, but it went wrong.” I should have cried at her funeral. “She died, on Christmas eve,” I told them, looking down at the floor. “And,” I started, before closing my eyes for a second. “I...” I began again before stopping.

Sirius, sitting next to me, reached up and put his hand on my arm. I’d recognise his touch anywhere, and it sent a jolt up my skin. He was beginning to trace his familiar circles on my skin when I pushed his hand away from me. Our eyes locked again, as they kept doing today – the one day I didn’t want it – and I pulled my gaze away and looked at Kate Quigley.

“Can I go please Professor?”  I asked, my voice shaking again. I needed to get out of here, I needed to sit with Becky and watch her sleeping. I needed to be with my family.

She looked at me for a while, trying to work out what I was thinking, trying to read me like she’d read a book.

She nodded.

****************


“I think my friends might visit later,” I told Becky from where I sat on the visitor’s chair. “I told them you were here.”

 “Do they have to come?” she asked, looking up at me with her big empty brown eyes, and I could tell she was scared again. “I’m such a mess and I hate people seeing me like this. I haven’t got my make-up and they’ve been feeding me from a tube for a week – I’m humongous!” She exclaimed, looking down at her skeleton like fingers. I didn’t know what to say. It made me want to shake her and tell her she was so thin it scared me, but I knew that wouldn’t make any difference.

“You’ll be better soon,” was all I could think of in response as I looked at her mournfully. She was here, but she definitely wasn’t all back yet. If there was anything left.

It seemed to me like she was starving everything out of herself. Since her moments earlier where she had been loud and passionate – although not in the right way – she seemed instead to be completely empty of everything and instead she just lay on the covers as if she didn’t care if she was alive or dead.

She grimaced and looked down at the tiles on the floor.

“Don’t you want to get better?” I asked her, watching all her facial expressions as carefully as I could.

“I don’t want to get fat,” she said angrily, gripping the blankets with her fingers before letting them go again – as if it was too much effort. “And that’s what will happen.”

“It’s time for your antidepressants,” Nate said, coming out of his office and pulling out two of the tablets carefully and placing them on her hand. I heard the bell go for lunch and the rush of students exploding from their classrooms to freedom. 

Becky looked at the tablets for a second before throwing them across the room. Her throw was scarily weak and they landed only about a meter away from where they had began.

“Becky, you need to take them,” I told her softly. It scared me to see her like this.

“I don’t want to take some stupid tablets that make me a different person,” she snapped at me.

“They don’t make you a...”

“They change the way I think! Do you think I want to be drugged up on something for the rest of my life?”

“Please, just take them. Becky...” I begged her and she looked at me for a second before holding out her hand again.

This time she swallowed the tablets down and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“I need to go to the loo,” she said after a few minutes of silence.

“No,” Nate said sternly and I gave him a strange look, confused, when it suddenly hit me. She was going to make herself throw up the tablets again. I swallowed back the bile and emotions that were waiting threateningly in my stomach and looked down at the floor. Karen had gone back to work now, and Dad wouldn’t be visiting for another couple of hours, and Johnny might be here after he finished school. They might all come later, but now it was just Becky, Nate and me sitting it out in the hope that any second now everything might click right in her mind and she’d be well again.

I thought I’d seen the worst of her illness back when I was younger but it was only now that I was beginning to realise how sheltered I’d actually been from it all.

“You’re so lucky you’re dying,” she muttered under her breath as she sunk back on her covers and glared at the floor. I gulped and watched my sister – or rather the skeleton of my sister – running her fingers over the array of cuts on her arms.

I didn’t want to think about how they’d gotten there, and how much they stretched up above her pyjamas...

There was a knock on the door and I looked over to it. I could recognise their silhouettes on the doorway, but I knew it was them before I looked at the door. That was the thing about them, they cared about me despite everything and I could rely on them to be there when I needed them, and when I needed them to bugger off.

“Hey,” I called over to the doorway, as they came in nervously. They were obviously doing their best at not looking surprised at Becky’s appearance and I appreciated them for it. “This is my sister, Becky,” I said, gesturing towards her. A glance towards her told me she was now pretending to be asleep to avoid meeting them.

“This is my best friend Lily,” I told her, even though she had her eyes tight shut. “And my friend Alice. Then this is my, erm... this is Sirius,” I said finally, stumbling over my words slightly and realising that I couldn’t exactly call Sirius my friend the way things stood. Becky’s eye’s shot open at that moment and tried to work out who I was referring too. It helped that she’d already met him before, though I’m not sure how much she would remember of that encounter.

“Sirius Black,” he added, probably to help her out, and held out his hand towards her. She held out her own hand as if it was a great effort and shook it weakly. Her fingers were completely dwarfed by Sirius’s and Sirius withdrew his hand fairly quickly. I realised now that Becky was jumping to conclusions but I didn’t mind that much really.

“This is James, Remus, Peter and Frank,” I continued, surprised by Frank’s presence in all honestly – he’d never been included in anything before. Maybe they’d all taken Quigges’ speech a lot more seriously than I’d expected them to, and were now all for making sure we were all best buddies.

“Hi,” Becky answered stiffly, and looked at all of them warily. I tried to picture Becky from their eyes but I couldn’t get past how unbelievably thin she was in all honestly.

“You don’t much look alike,” Frank commented.

“I’m adopted,” Becky said, trying to pull herself up into a sitting position. I wanted to reach out and help her but knew she’d probably just push me away from her so I just watched her.

The whole thing was very awkward and wasn’t helped by the fact that the others were just standing in the doorway and looking at her. I wanted to strike up a conversation with them all, but I wanted one that would include Becky herself without being... well... awkward.

“That makes sense,” Frank continued after a few moments. Stepping forward and pulling up a seat for himself. “As I take it you’re not magical?”

“Nope,” Becky answered, watching him carefully as he came right up to her and sit down. “Any one care to give me a demonstration – Every time I ask Mary she goes on about some rule, but I just reckon she can’t do it.”


“So you’ve never seen any magic?” Sirius asked, also taking a seat next to mine.

“Well no, not really... I mean. Mum used to use some when I was really little, but I don’t remember it,” Becky said, her voice becoming a little stronger the more she talked. I squeezed hold of Becky’s hand as she mentioned mum and smiled at the two who’d spoken.


“I’ve been brought up with it, so I can’t imagine living without magic,” James contributed, catching on to the conversation and sitting on the bed next to Becky’s. 


“Can you really show me some then?” Becky asked, almost looking eager for a second but not quite. Her eyes were still distant and not quite there, but she seemed a lot more alive than she had done for a while.


“What do you want to see?” James grinned, pulling out his wand and swirling it around so that red and gold sparks spurted from the end in waves of light and colour.


“Wow,” Becky said, sitting up a little straighter as he waved his wand about like a complete plank. She seemed actually amazed by the magic and I tried to remember when I’d first found out about it...


“Aguamenti,” Lily said from behind James, and a fountain of water spurted from her wand and all over James who jumped around in surprise.  


“Avis,” Alice said, and a flock of birds burst from her wand and began to fly around the hospital wing, twittering loudly. I admired their bright colours for a second as they flew about.


“What else can you do?” Becky asked, with even more life in her voice than before.


“Orchideous,” Frank said, then presented Becky with the bouquet of roses he’d just produced.  


Soon all of them were casting more and more impressive spells to outdo each other. Lily transfigured the bed James was sitting on into a large cow which began mooing loudly with James on its back.  Sirius and Remus were having some sort of duel, sending wild hexes and jinxes at each other, most of which were deflected by shield charms or were reversed as soon as they’d taken effect. 


It seemed like for a moment they’d all realised how wonderful and amazing magic really was, and were making the most of it whilst the feeling lasted. Plus there was the bonus that this display actually seemed to be making Becky happy. I was instead watching the lines of misery in Becky’s face loosen slightly as she watched them prat about like the lovable idiots they were.


“Densaugeo!” Remus yelled and Sirius, being caught off guard for one reason or another, jumped to one side to miss it. Of course that was the moment Nate came out of his office to see just why here was a cow wondering round the hospital wing with James on its back, and the spell hit him in the face and his teeth began to grow at a stupidly fast rate. 


They were past his chin before he realised just what was going on. Then he started getting redder and angrier by the minute. We all watched in amazement as his teeth were at his chest and kept on growing, and Nate got angrier and angrier.  


“Haccio vand,” Nate tried, reaching out his hand and hoping something would happen. “Haccio Vand!” he exclaimed again, his teeth reaching down a little bit further with each second. “Vand?” he yelled, and this time someone understood what he meant.

“Wand?” Pete asked helpfully, and Nate glared at him.


Alice reached out her hand tentatively and gave Nate her wand, which moments before had been producing confetti, and handed it to him. 


Nate did some complicated wand movement around the room and all traces of magic disappeared from it completely. He looked at us angrily for a second before stopping suddenly. There was a wheezy, weak noise coming from somewhere in the room and it took me a second to realise that Becky was laughing. 


Laughing.


A/N - So guys, what do you think? Please review and tell me, and come ask me questions on my meet the author page :D
 


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