I felt uncomfortable and rather vulnerable sitting alone in the classroom like that, my tear-stained face on display to anyone who opened the door. To help counteract this – I wasn’t going to leave, I’d made a promise to Lily – I moved from my chair in the middle of the room to a spot on the floor behind the door, hidden from anyone who didn’t know I was there. A little while later the door opened again and James poked his head in.
“Good, you’re still here,” he said when he spotted me leaning against the wall, curled up in the foetal position. “Now give me your wand.”
I stared at him. “Give you my wand?”
He nodded, coming into the room and standing in front of me with his hand held out. “Yes, your wand. We don’t want this turning into a hex battle.”
“I’m not giving you my wand,” I said petulantly.
He shrugged. “Your choice. But be warned, I’m prepared to fight you for it. I’d just prefer it if you handed it over voluntarily.”
Figuring I’d been through enough lately without James Potter using me for target practice as well, I reached into my robes and pulled it out. “Fine. Have it your way.”
“Good,” he said. “I’ve taken Padfoot’s too, just so you know.”
“Right,” I said listlessly. “Whatever.”
James went back out into the passage and a moment later Sirius came in and sat down next to me, not too close but not very far either, maybe a couple of feet. We heard the door squelch as it closed: it had obviously been Colloportused. It looked like we were being locked in this room until something – anything – got resolved.
For several seconds, neither of us spoke. Sirius broke the silence. “Prongs and Lily think we should talk.” His voice sounded a little hoarse, like he hadn’t used it much lately.
I nodded. “Apparently.”
There was another silence. This time, I broke it. “Did you want to start?”
He laughed hollowly. “Why bother? Even if you did listen, chances are you wouldn’t believe me anyway.”
There was too much truth in this for me to ignore so I just sat there, staring at the wall opposite us. After another pause, he leaned over and put a small parcel on the floor next to me.
“You might as well have these back,” he said dully. “I’ve got no use for them. Do what you like with them, I don’t care. You can even sell them, you should get a decent bit of gold for them.” His voice was flat and he didn’t look at me.
I picked up the parcel. It jingled a little in my hand and when I opened it, I saw the clasp and the bracelet he had bought me. The ones I had sent back to him.
“You should keep them,” I said awkwardly.
He shook his head. “No point,” he said, still dully. “I bought them to try to show someone how much she meant to me,” he went on, his voice cracking a little. “Turns out she didn’t care.”
Tears started rolling down my cheeks. “I cared,” I protested. “I probably cared too much. That’s why it hurt so much, finding out it wasn’t real.”
“But it was real,” he said, anger making his voice come alive again. “You wilfully misunderstood.”
“Yeah, whatever,” I said. “I’ve heard that before.”
“Well, then, did it ever occur to you that there might be something in it?” he challenged.
“I know what I heard,” I said defensively. “I wasn’t born yesterday, Sirius. It was pretty obvious what you meant.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,” he said, his voice dull and expressionless again. “You’re not the person I thought you were. I made a mistake.”
The tears came back again. That was all I was now – a mistake. It was like a knife in my heart.
“What did you think I was like?” I asked tentatively.
He shrugged. “I thought you actually understood me,” he said eventually. “I thought that if anything like this ever came up you would stop to hear my side of it, rather than jumping to conclusions and, well, ditching me like that.” He paused again. “I thought you were special.”
The knife in my heart turned. I ’d thought I’d understood him, too, just as I’d thought he’d understood me. We must have both been wrong.
I pushed the jewellery back towards him. “You take these,” I said. “Maybe you can return them or something.”
He shook his head and pushed it back to my side. “I bought them for you,” he said. “They’re yours. Sell them if you don’t want them, you should get seventy or eighty for them.”
“Seventy or eighty Sickles?” I asked, turning my head to look at him.
He looked offended. “What do you think I am, a cheapskate?”
My eyes widened. “Galleons?”
He nodded. “Only the best,” he said bitterly. “I thought you were worth it.”
“I’m so sorry,” I murmured, trying not to cry again. His words cut at me, and to try to distract myself I picked up the bracelet and fingered it absently.
“Worth every Knut, though,” he said suddenly, his voice coming alive again with what almost sounded like enthusiasm. “We had, what, three full days together?” I looked at him and nodded, the tears blurring my vision a little. He turned to face the wall again. “Best three days of my life,” he went on. “Best two weeks of my life, really, even if I didn’t see you for most of them. If all it took to feel like that all the time was a bit of gold, I’d be shelling it out happily.”
I could have said that myself. Almost word for word, it was exactly how I felt. How could it all have gone so wrong? Trying not to think about it, I took a deep breath and asked the question I’d been avoiding for a fortnight.
“Sirius, tell me about what I heard. You know, at James’ place.”
He turned his head and looked at me, clearly surprised. “Really?”
I nodded, steeling myself. “Yes, really.” I took another breath. “I’m not that different from what you thought. I know I should hear you out. I just didn’t want to in case it hurt me any more.”
He looked a little relieved, but didn’t answer straight away. “Where to start,” I heard him mutter. “Right,” he went on, this time louder. “Well, as a bit of background, the things that we talk about among ourselves are pretty much sports, girls and sex. Though not necessarily in that order.”
I nodded. “Probably not a huge surprise.”
The ghost of a smile crossed his face. “No, probably not. Anyway, well, there are twenty girls in our year group here, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that we’ve gone through and rated every one of you over the years. And that sparks off little asides, and in-jokes, and that sort of thing.”
“Right.” I wasn’t sure how much of this I really wanted to know.
“Okay.” He took a breath. “So, keep that in mind as I move on to what you heard that morning,” he said. “We were trying to find Wormtail a girlfriend, because as you know he hasn’t had much success with girls. You know, someone who might actually want to touch him.”
I smiled despite myself. “Good luck with that.”
“Well, yes,” he agreed. “And he doesn’t make things any easier for himself because he’s so picky.”
I stared at him. “Peter?”
He nodded. “Yes, he is. We’d thrown some names at him and he’d found something wrong with all of them. So we summed it up by saying that he just wants someone with a great body but not much in the way of brains.”
“Tits and arse and not much else,” I supplied tonelessly.
He made a face. “I’m not proud of that line,” he said, “but, well, yes. And someone made the connection that, before you, my past history was pretty much that.”
“And then with me,” I said bitterly, “you didn’t even get that because, as Peter pointed out, I don’t have much by way of –”
“No,” Sirius said suddenly, cutting me off. “No, that’s not what we meant.”
I looked at him scornfully. “Yeah, right. Pull the other one.”
“No, it’s not,” he insisted. “We meant that you’re different because you’re more than that, not less.”
“Funny way of saying it, then,” I commented wryly.
“I said we talked about sex, not feelings,” he said with some exasperation. “They’re two completely different things.”
“I guess,” I said, trying to be fair. “Connected, but different.”
He made a noise like he was about to argue the point but thought better of it. “Right. So if anything as – um – personal as feelings comes up, then we try to say it in as, er, as general a way as possible. And if there can be more than one meaning to what you say, if it could be misconstrued, then so much the better.” He sighed again as he took in my sceptical expression. “Look, Laura, I’m not trying to excuse what I said, I’m trying to explain it.”
“Okay.” I tried to hide my irritation. “But you never talk about anything personal? Not even with James?”
“Oh, one on one we do,” he explained, “but not in a group. There are probably exceptions, of course, but usually it’ll only come up in a group situation if we want to embarrass someone.”
“Right,” I said. “So, what you’re saying is, you were speaking generally and trying to give things connotations that weren’t necessarily accurate.”
“I’m the first to admit it should have been worded differently,” he said, looking at the wall again. “I’m not proud of it. We just figured that you were still asleep and Lily was in the shower, so we didn’t think anyone would hear us. Call it not thinking, call it what you like, but it was a mistake.”
“But this is the sort of thing you’d be saying in the dorm,” I said accusingly.
“Well, yes,” he said, sighing again. “Maybe I shouldn’t even be trying this. Trying to get you to understand how a boy’s mind works – I don’t really understand how your mind works, so trying to explain this to you is probably pointless.”
“Try me,” I said. “I’ll do my best.”
He hesitated. “Okay, I’ll try you,” he said eventually. “Just in case you are worth it, after all. So, going back to what you heard. The comment about your … well, that comment, that was a throwback of those ratings of girls we used to do.”
“So that was how you rated me,” I said dryly. “Thanks.”
“Hey, you said you’d hear me out,” he said defiantly. “This is you doing your best?”
I felt chastened. “Sorry.”
He nodded. “Right. Well, that was how I rated you in fifth year. I think you got about a five. Out of ten, that is. Nothing special, I thought, and could do with bigger …”
I looked away from him again. “Right. Thanks for that.”
“And then last term when we did it again,” he said loudly, talking over me, “I gave you a ten.”
My head spun towards him. “Ten?”
He nodded. “I told you in Bristol that you were just about perfect,” he said. “And I meant that. I thought you were.” He shook his head again. “Got that one wrong, didn’t I.”
I realised suddenly that we had both moved from our original positions, towards each other, just subtly but enough that the gap between us was now only a matter of inches rather than feet, and I wondered what that was telling me. Probably it was just something else I didn’t want to think about.
“So,” I pressed, “what you’re saying is, when you were talking about me that day, you were saying – in a roundabout way, by the sounds of things – that I represented more, not less, than, well, that phrase.”
He met my eyes and nodded, clearly willing me to believe him. “Yes.”
“Then why did you say that I made up for it by shagging you?” I asked bluntly.
“I didn’t,” he said defensively. “You’re jumping to conclusions again. I said that they knew what I thought of that comment – which incidentally was that I liked them how they were – and that you made up for it in other ways. And bear in mind what I said about skirting around any feelings in these conversations and saying stuff that could mean several different things.”
I nodded, trying to be fair and hear him out. “Okay. So you were deliberately implying one thing, but you meant something else.”
He nodded. “Yes. And the guys understood that, so they never interpreted it that way. They’d laugh about it, yes, but they knew it didn’t mean that.”
“So what did you mean?” I asked.
He hesitated for a fraction of a second before answering. “I meant that you, as a whole package, were … you know that phrase, the whole is more than the sum of its parts? Or Golpalott’s Third Law in Potions – the antidote to a blended poison is equal to more than the sum of each individual antidote. That’s what it was like with you. That is, the parts were all brilliant, but combined … it was like you were too good to be true. Which in hindsight I guess you were. Because if you were what I thought you were, we would have been having this conversation two weeks ago instead of now, and you would have figured out that there was nothing in it. And none of these past two weeks would have happened.”
I shook my head, my eyes welling up again. “You see, Sirius, this is why I didn’t want to talk to you, why I sent those letters back. You’re too good at this. You always say just what I want to hear. It makes it so much harder not to believe you.”
“Well, then, try believing it,” he challenged. “I’m not just saying this stuff, Laura. I mean it. Think about it – the way people talk about me at this school, do you honestly think that if I said this sort of thing as a matter of course, you wouldn’t know?”
I smiled wryly. “I’ve got to hand it to you, that’s a good argument.”
“Because it’s true,” he insisted. “And believe me, if the guys thought we were shagging, you would have known about it.”
I shook my head again. “Fool me once, shame on you,” I said. “Fool me twice, shame on me.” And I hugged my knees tightly and burst into noisy and very undignified tears.
I immediately felt his arm around me, comforting me, even though I had just called him the worst sort of liar. Before I could stop myself I had collapsed onto him, throwing my arms around him and crying onto his shoulder as he patted my back reassuringly and held me to him. It was incredibly comforting, even though every now and then I felt him shudder a little, as though he too was struggling to stay calm.
“You still don’t believe me, do you,” he said quietly after a while. I looked at him and shook my head mutely. “I thought you would,” he mumbled, releasing his hold on me. “The person I thought you were, would have.”
“I want to,” I whispered. “More than anything I want to. But I can’t risk it.” I looked away. “I can’t go through this again. It just hurts too much.”
“Try,” he insisted. “We can work this out. You won’t have to go through this again. Come on, prove to me that I wasn’t wrong about you.”
I looked at him, sighing inwardly. He did understand me, too well I thought – this was definitely intended to be a challenge and he would have known that I would have trouble backing away from it. But could we do it? After this, could it ever be like it was before?
“I’m not sure I can,” I admitted finally. “It’s probably too late.”
“Try me,” he said. And he gently turned me to face him and put a finger to my wet cheek, wiping away a tear.
Through blurry eyes I gazed at him, longing for it all to be real. And his face was open, it had that look that I’d thought meant he was being genuine. Maybe, a small voice in the back of my mind pointed out, he was. Just maybe, this was true.
Watching me intently, he gently pushed my hair back off my face, where it had been clinging to the wet skin, and leaned in and kissed my cheek, his lips just brushing where a tear was sitting. A moment later, after I didn’t push him away, he did it again, focussing on another tear on the other cheek, further down this time, closer to my mouth. And before I even realised I was doing it, I had moved my head ever so slightly and caught his lips with mine, kissing him hungrily and with all the passion of a broken heart, pulling him towards me to be as close as possible.
After a little while we broke apart, not really sure why we’d been kissing at all. Wasn’t this a break-up meeting? Don’t be silly, that voice in the back of my head told me, this is what you wanted all along. As soon as he came into the room, you wanted to make it up with him.
He seemed to know what I was thinking because he put a hand to my face again and looked at me searchingly. “Laura, what does this mean? Are we back on?”
I hesitated. I wanted more than anything to say yes, but something still held me back. “I don’t know.”
He pulled away from me abruptly and stared at the wall opposite again, his hand raking through his hair in frustration. “For the love of Merlin, Laura, make up your mind. If this is ever going to work out – and deep down you know we both want it to – then you’re going to have to trust me. Tell me honestly, when have I ever lied to you? Think about it. Never, that’s your answer. Never. I might have not answered a question, or I might have dodged it with jokes and sarcasm, but I haven’t lied. Not once.”
Taken aback, I forced myself to think about it. I went through every conversation I’d ever had with him that I could think of, every single one (aside from what had caused the fight in the first place – I was trying to be fair), and I couldn’t remember a definite lie. Evasions, yes, but no lies. So, I reasoned internally, that would tend to indicate that he wasn’t lying now. I had to swallow my insecurities and accept that. Finally, I took a deep breath and turned to him again, saying the words that I knew in my heart to be true.
“I trust you.”
Of course you do, that annoying voice in my head pointed out. You’d trust him with your life, if it came to that.
He was still staring at the wall, but at this he quickly turned towards me. “What was that?”
“I trust you,” I repeated. “You’re right. You haven’t lied to me. Not that I can think of, anyway.”
His whole body relaxed, which surprised me as I hadn’t realised how tense he’d been. “You really mean that? You believe me now?”
I nodded slowly. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered, tears welling up yet again as I thought of what I’d done to him. “I’ve been completely unfair to you, haven’t I?”
“It was my fault too,” he said. “I should never have said that in the first place.” He took a breath, his hand running through my hair. “I spent all this week, after you wouldn’t talk to me on Sunday, trying to convince myself that I’d misjudged you, that I was wrong about you. I’m so relieved that I wasn’t.”
“I missed you so much,” I admitted. “I couldn’t cope, knowing you were there and you weren’t mine any more.”
“I missed you too,” he murmured, and we kissed again, still hungrily, needing to make up for those two weeks in as short a time as possible, me starting to wonder why we’d broken up at all. This was what I had always wanted. Even when I didn’t know I wanted him, I knew I wanted this.
Some time later we paused for breath, and he took the opportunity to put a hand to my breast. “And, for the record,” he said quietly, “I would never need a search party to find these, and I certainly don’t want you casting an Engorgement Charm on them. I think they’re perfect just the way they are.” His hand was still there, caressing me through my robes and sending a surge of electricity through me. “In fact,” he went on, “my only complaint is that I don’t know them nearly well enough. They are, like the rest of you, beautiful.” And he leaned down and kissed each one softly – and it sent my heart racing even more.
I put my hand to his chest and made a move to start inching downwards. He lifted his head, a mischievous smile crossing his face. “Do I take it you don’t want to go slow any more?”
“This is slow,” I pointed out, surprising myself with my newfound boldness. “We’re both fully clothed, aren’t we?”
“For the time being,” he teased. A little alarmed, I took my hand away – I hadn’t intended to go any further than that. “Joking, joking,” he said quickly, grabbing my hand and moving it back to where it was. “Though if I’d known this would happen today, I would have shaved this morning.” He put a hand to the stubble on his cheek smiled ruefully.
“I don’t mind,” I said with a smile, reaching up and pulling him even closer to me. “I’d rather that than nothing at all.”
Some time later the door opened again, and James and Lily tentatively poked their heads into the room. “It’s been two hours,” Lily said nervously. “How’s it go-” Her voice cut out as she saw Sirius and me, curled up together in a corner, our arms around each other. “Well,” she said, looking so relieved it was almost funny, “I guess you two have worked it out.”
“You could say that,” Sirius said, unable to stop his smile as we stood up. “Oh, and Prongs? I’ll take my wand back now, if you don’t mind.”
“What?” James looked confused. “Oh yeah, right. Of course.” He reached into his robes and pulled out two wands, which he looked at intently before throwing the correct ones to each of us.
“Thanks,” said Sirius, twirling his in his hand before stowing it inside his robes. “Could have done with this an hour ago.”
“Why?” asked Lily.
“Conjure up a mattress or something,” Sirius explained, rubbing his elbow. “This floor’s not very comfortable, if you know what I mean.”
“So, are you saying that you’d like us to leave you here?” James asked, smiling broadly. “That can be arranged. An Imperturbable Charm on the door, perhaps?”
“Now there’s a thought,” I said. “But, you said it had been two hours?”
Lily nodded. “We thought that would be long enough. Looks like we were right.” She looked pointedly at the bracelet I was now wearing again, and smiled.
I ignored her grin. “But that means that classes have finished now,” I said, thinking hard. “And that would mean that supper’s not very far off.” I looked at Sirius. “Food’s sounding pretty good right now, to tell the truth. I’m starving.”
“No problem,” he said, his eyes sparkling. “I might duck upstairs first, though, if you don’t mind. Clean myself up a bit.”
I fingered my hair, hanging limply past my shoulders. I wasn’t sure when it – or my face, for that matter – had last been washed and, like Sirius, I was keen to rectify this as soon as possible. “Good idea,” I said with a smile. “Wait for me, will you? I’ll come up too.”
I was saddened but not surprised when our entry into the Great Hall for supper was again greeted by whispers. “What? They’re back together?” … “How did that happen?” … “She must be helping it along a bit …”
I tried to ignore it while Sirius just groaned. “Delightful, aren’t they,” he muttered as we sat down. “You’d think they’d have something else to talk about. There is a war on, after all.”
“Until that starts affecting them directly, though, I think this is the sort of thing they’ll want to talk about,” I pointed out. “And as much as it annoys me, I don’t think I’m going to start wishing a Death Eater attack on the Vablatskys.”
He smiled and kissed my cheek. “Though that would be one way of dealing with it …”
Mary interrupted us by running over from the Ravenclaw table, where she’d been sitting with Sebastian. “Thank goodness ye worked it oot,” she breathed as she gave us the biggest bear hug I’d ever experienced. “Ye were drivin’ us all mad, nae talkin’ t’ each ither when we coul’ all see ye were both dyin’.”
“Nice to see you, too, Mary,” I laughed. “Merlin’s beard, has everyone been talking about it?”
“Jus’ yer friends,” she said, still smiling broadly. “An’, I think, yer fan club too, Sirius. Though they micht nae be as chuffed as we are t’ see ye back together.”
“Was I that bad company this week?” I asked.
She made a face. “Worse. Both o’ ye, horrible t’ be aroond. Bu’ ye’ve made up so we can all relax agin. Nou jus’ promise ye wilna dae it agin, I dinna think any o’ us coul’ stan’ it.” She turned to me. “Oh, an’ dinna worry aboot Bernie. I think he’s worked oot it’s nae goin’ t’ happen.” And she gave me another hug and trundled back to Sebastian, waving merrily at us over her shoulder.
I looked past her to the Ravenclaw table, where Bernie did indeed look somewhat resigned as he stabbed at something with his fork. That was twice I’d let him down, I realised with more than a little remorse. I’d have to make a point of apologising.
Sirius looked at me. “Bernie? As in, Bernie Carmichael? What’s that about?”
“He asked me out,” I explained. “And I said I’d think about it.”
“He’s got a nerve,” he growled. “What jinxes haven’t I used on him yet?”
“Hey, be fair,” I said. “He was really polite and said he’d wait till I was ready. And, well, we had broken up, so it’s not like I wasn’t single.” I squeezed his hand. “But Lily asked me to talk to you first, and, well, that was this afternoon.”
“Right.” He still looked put out. “Thanks, Lily,” he said a bit louder. “I owe you one.” Lily turned and looked at him, clearly a little confused, but he didn’t elaborate.
The meal was almost over when Sirius leaned over and spoke very quietly in my ear. “This is driving me crazy,” he said. “When can we get out of here?”
I swallowed my bite of treacle tart. “I think I’ve just about made up for not eating over the past fortnight,” I said, “but it’s up to you. Do you want to be the first to leave the hall?”
He winked at me. “They’ll talk about us anyway, we might as well give them a reason,” he said, a sly grin on his face. “Come on.”
Our friends smiled knowingly when we stood up to leave, and some whispers came from the other tables, but to my surprise I found I didn’t care. I knew what I had to look forward to once we were out of sight and Sirius didn’t disappoint, stopping in the Entrance Hall to kiss me deeply before we headed upstairs. “I’m not really one for broom cupboards,” he said conversationally on the way up. “Too cramped, generally, and Filch tends to find you. Not to mention the potential for stepping in buckets and things by mistake – most uncomfortable. I got hit in the eye by a mop handle once because I knocked it the wrong way.” He grinned. “Besides, that cupboard just off the Entrance Hall gets used by so many people you almost need to book it in advance. So we’ve come up with some other alternatives.”
I had thought he was taking me back to what would have been an empty Gryffindor Tower, going by the route we took, but that seemed to indicate otherwise. This impression was confirmed when we detoured off route on the fourth floor and stopped outside a large mirror.
“Alohomora,” he said, tapping it with his wand, and the mirror creaked as it came out from the wall and revealed a secret passageway.
Sirius pulled me inside and the mirror closed back up, leaving us in darkness. We both lit our wands automatically and I had a look around.
“This leads to the back of the Three Broomsticks,” he explained. “It’s probably the roomiest of the passages out of the school. Now,” he went on, “let’s make it a bit more comfortable.” And he conjured a thick rug for the floor and a rather plush-looking couch while I just watched dumbly, trying to take it in.
“Right,” he said once he was happy with it, “where were we?” And he pulled me towards him and we kissed again, tenderly, passionately, as though there was no one else in the world.
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