((A/N: Holy goodness!! I've finally managed to finish and publish Chapter 21. I know it took me eternity, so I apologize, but I have many legitimate excuses that you can ask me about if you really care to. But I'm sure that you're all tired of waiting, so suffice it to say that I have been very busy and enjoying the time that I have off. Not that I don't enjoy writing. Just that I had a case of writer's block. In any case, I'm finally back, and hopefully will be inspired to publish more soon. Thanks!! Read and Review, please???))
((Disclaimer: No, I did not magically morph into J.K.Rowling while I was away for months. That would be freakishly awesome, though.))
Sirius couldn’t help the goofy grin that spread across his face when Artemis took his hand, and he also couldn’t help letting it stay there into the afternoon, even though many of his fellow students stared at them as they walked to the common room, ate dinner, and finished up their homework. It was rather... awkward, at first: people staring at them, and even just the fact that they were holding hands. Sirius found that it was quite easy to ignore all the stares. Especially when Artemis kept shooting the starers scathing looks and they all fled as if she were the plague. Even the strangeness of hand-holding grew easier to cope with. He could hardly believe that Artemis was now his official girlfriend; by nightfall, the news had been passed to every student in Hogwarts and then some. Sirius knew he would distinctly remember the confrontation with Nearly Headless Nick until the day he died.
"Good Heavens! I’d thought that you two would be the death of each other! And certainly the day you started courting would be the day the Bloody Baron dressed as a woman and pranced across the Great Hall!"
Sirius just smiled smugly while Artemis blushed and stuttered something about that being "ridiculous!" Nick laughed, his head wobbling dangerously on his neck, and went on his way, doing whatever it was that he opted to do on a Sunday evening.
Sirius would also remember James’ and Lily’s reactions. They’d been gone when Sirius and Artemis returned from the funeral, no doubt off on some semi-romantic journey, a stroll perhaps. When they returned, however, later that night, they were in shock. They gaped at the pair for nearly half an hour, until James finally burst out laughing, Lily punched him and congratulated the new couple, and James (still chuckling) grinned and winked at the two (earning himself another punch).
Nearly everyone’s reactions were the same: stunned congratulations on the forefront, muttered appraisal to the rear. How long would they last? Who would end it? What would be the wrong word or action that caused the downfall? These were common questions at Hogwarts whenever a new couple formed, and Sirius and Artemis were certainly no exception. In fact, many students believed that there was no way the couple could possibly last long; judging on their past, the common prediction was that they would last no longer than a month, if that.
Sirius thought this to be unfair; after he heard it anyways. James, acting as Sirius’ gossipy eyes and ears, conveyed this information that very same night.
It was late, and Sirius had finally bid his new girlfriend good night; James was not far behind, having just done the same with Lily (though in his case it was more like hopefully-soon girlfriend). Sirius was standing before his bed in his pajama bottoms without his t-shirt on when James came into the boys’ dormitory, and this time there was no Lily to stop him from laughing.
"I knew it!" James exclaimed as soon as the door shut behind him. "I bloody fucking knew it! I knew you fancied her, mate!"
Sirius rolled his eyes at his best friend, but he couldn’t stop the pleased blush that made his cheeks glow pink. James burst out laughing again.
"I knew it!" he repeated, nearly skipping to his own bed in his excitement. "I knew it! You know, it’s all over the school. It’s big news. Everyone’s in shock; they’re baffled as to how you and Artemis ended up together when you started out hating each other’s asses."
"Hell if I know," Sirius replied, pulling his t-shirt over his head as James removed his. Sirius sighed, a smile gracing his lips. "But I’m kind of glad it happened, however it did. I hate admitting it but... I really do rather fancy her."
James laughed again. "It’s just so... fantastic! You know, the thought that you two are together now. Everyone’s actually betting on how long you’ll last! It’s ridiculous; the whole castle’s in an uproar!"
Sirius frowned. "Are they really?" For some reason, the thought that people didn’t even believe that they could last irked him. "What’s the longest?"
"End of year."
Well, that wasn’t too bad. That was... how many months now? Seven? Eight? "What about the shortest?"
James frowned at him. "Less than a week," he said flatly, giving his friend a don’t-worry-about-it look before searching for his nightclothes.
"Well that’s not fair!" Sirius argued angrily. "Who are they to judge? I—"
"I know, mate, I know!" James cut him off, now pulling on his own pajama bottoms. "It wasn’t me who said it; in fact, I know you two were bloody meant for each other, and I wish you two had figured out you liked each other sooner. It’s just all those jealous birds who wish they’d been the one you chose next. And anyways, who gives a shit what they say?"
Sirius sighed and leaned against his bedpost as James pulled his t-shirt on. "I s’pose you’re right, mate." They stood in silence, staring at each other thoughtfully. "Don’t know why it bothers me so much," Sirius said suddenly. "I just mean that... well, it’s not like I really expect us to be together forever. In fact, I doubt we will, the way we both are." The thought made Sirius’ stomach squirm uncomfortably, and he saw a concerned look flash across James’ face. The look, however, was instantly replaced with anger.
"What the bloody hell do you mean by that? Shut up—" he snapped before Sirius could respond. "You think you’ll break up in the end just because you’re both so stubborn and hot-headed? Well, I think that’s why you’ll make it! You can’t just give up on it before you even start out. Besides, your differences are what make you both so strong, and you know what else? I can see in your eyes," his voice dropped low and he came to stand in front of Sirius, smiling eerily. Sirius had to admit he was uncomfortable with James’ face mere inches from his own. "You don’t want it to end, Sirius. You’re still trying to deny it, but you don’t fancy her. No, it’s much more. You adore her; you love her so much you can’t live without her there. You can deny it all you want, mate, but in the end you two will be together, I’ll have been right, and you’ll both finally admit that you’re both madly in love with each other and are glad you gave it a shot and didn’t listen to a bunch of tossers who only wanted to break you up. You’ll see," James finished with a smirk, patting Sirius on the back while the latter just stared at him.
"James, mate," Sirius finally said, slowly, looking at his friend curiously, "have you been drinking?"
"Fuck you," James replied, rolling his eyes. "Try to give a guy advice."
"All right, all right. You’re right, Prongs. It’s just, I’ve got this feeling that something’s going to go wrong. You know, like it’s Fate or something."
"Padfoot, you’re starting to sound like Aurelia. Now just forget all that: forget this stupid feeling of yours, forget all the people who don’t want you to be with Ar, forget that you have a shitty family and you’re broke and you have nowhere to go after school. Just forget it all and focus on Ar. Because in the end, she’s what’s most important, even if it seems like all that other bollocks is more so. Okay?"
Sirius looked at him curiously, but James just looked...worried. Finally, he sighed again. "You got it mate. Focus on Artemis. She’s most important."
But was she? he thought later that night, lying in his bed and staring up at the scarlet canopy. Was she the most important? She certainly shouldn’t be, he told himself vehemently; after all, regardless of what James said, Sirius didn’t love her. Liked her, sure; but love her, no. And there were so many things more important to Sirius than one temporary girlfriend.
But then, holding her hand, she’d definitely felt like the most important thing. Her warm hand in his had struck him the way holding hands with a girl never had. Letting go had left him feeling more alone than before.
This was ridiculous, he told himself firmly, narrowing his eyes dangerously at the cloth above his head. He couldn’t honestly think he was in love with Artemis. Yes, he liked her, and he did care for her, her sanity, her wellbeing, especially since she’d entrusted so much to him already, even if she hadn’t known it at the time. But love? That was something completely different.
I really hated that smug smile on Lily’s face. Like she’d won something extra special. Except in this case, the only thing she’d won was the knowledge that she’d been right about Sirius and I. And I honestly didn’t see how that could be something extra special. But then, clearly it was to her.
"So..." she started with a smile, folding her arms and leaning back against her bed nonchalantly. "You and Sirius."
I sighed and set off on my happy little explanation of how we’d gone to the funeral, how my mother had embarrassed me with stories, how I cried and how we’d compromised. Lily just sat there with that smug look while I talked, rolling my eyes occasionally. Finally, I finished, and the smug look just sat there. "Keep looking at me like that and I swear I’ll make you regret it."
But Lily was past being afraid of my threats. She snorted and continued to look at me smugly. "You know, it’s about time you two admitted to it."
I gave Lily a withering look. "Not this again..."
But if only she knew what was really going on between Sirius and I. Hell, if only I knew what was going on between us. I’d thought I’d known what there was, that we were fine, just fine, liked each other more than friends but less than actual boyfriend/girlfriend. Now though? I wasn’t sure.
Because as much as I hated to admit it, just holding Sirius’ hand was enough to make me feel pleasantly blissfull (even though all the staring pissed me off). And if that simple act made me feel like that, I could only imagine how kissing him would make me feel. The fact that the thought excited me instead of sickening me was proof enough. There was more between Sirius and I than I cared to admit. And since I could hardly admit it to myself, I certainly wasn’t going to admit it to Lily, no matter how determined she was for me to do so.
I brought an end to my pondering as Lily insisted that Sirius and I loved each other but we were both too bloody stubborn to admit it. Of course, she denied furiously when I accused her of doing the same thing with James.
Bloody hypocrite, I thought with a smile. But then, I finally understood why she was the way she was. Living in fear that someone would realize that secret she held so close to her heart: she could possibly be in love with the very person she hated most. So instead we stubbornly played this game, the childish belief that they wouldn’t know if we didn’t tell them pushing us on.
But for all that work hiding it, we failed, because people still found us out in the end. It turned out that our feelings were even more stubborn than we were.
The last thing I thought as I finally lay my head against my fluffy scarlet pillow, was that I wasn’t going to let those feelings win; loving Sirius Black, as most girls at Hogwarts knew from experience, was a dangerous thing, and, as the voice pointed out, it would only get me hurt.
I growled and folded my arms stubbornly. "Sirius, I don’t need you to carry my stuff!"
"Yes you do," he replied, pigheaded as always. "You’re my girlfriend, and this is just what boyfriends do. So let me carry your books or I’ll make you cry," he threatened. I snorted.
"And how would you do that, pray tell?"
"Oh, there are ways," he said, smiling at me with that libidinous look. I glared at him.
"Don’t make me slap you." He sighed and shrugged. "Now give me my books, you arse."
"Nope," he said, already walking away. I huffed indignantly and hastened to catch up. I pouted, but I knew it was time to give up on getting my books back; stubborn arsehole. He turned to face me and laughed at my expression. "That’s my Artemis," he joked, slipping his arm around my waist; "Proud as hell, you. We need to fix that."
"Sod off," I told him, but he just smiled at my exasperated tone and pulled me closer to him.
"Are we still doing dinner tonight?" he asked, suddenly looking nervous; his question served to give me my own nervous feeling.
"Sirius, how is dinner romantic? We go to dinner with each other every night."
"Yes, but tonight we’re going to dinner in the kitchens."
I laughed. "That makes it so much better!" I said sarcastically. Sirius just smiled.
"You’ll see." With that he let go of my waist and walked ahead of me again. As soon as he was turned away from me, I frowned at him. He was definitely nervous about our dinner date later that night, and I knew exactly why.
We’d been going out for almost a week, and this would be our second date. I suppose. Our first date, to be truthful, hadn’t been bad; in fact, I’d rather enjoyed it. Sirius had dragged me to the Room of Requirement, where he’d happily taught me a muggle sport called kickboxing. I got the feeling he was enjoying hitting me, but I was actually pretty good at it and hit him just as much. By the end, both of us were sore and bruised, but it was probably the most fun I’d ever had with him.
So now we were about to go on our second date, and according to our agreement, Sirius could kiss me afterwards. So Sirius was nervous; probably he was trying to make sure everything would be perfect so that it wouldn’t get ruined.
I was just nervous because I knew everything would go perfect and wouldn’t get ruined. Which meant I’d have to kiss him. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to kiss him; after all, he was hot (finally, I’ll admit that much). It was just that... kiss Sirius? Me? I’d spent so much time watching Melanie kiss him and wanting to throw up, and watching April kiss him and wanting to kill something, that I just couldn’t imagine kissing him myself, nor how my body would react to it.
What if, purely out of reflex or instinct, I got sick? Or tried to kill something? Or burst out laughing? Or fainted? Or what if the world really did end? After all, everyone (including myself) had always said that the day Sirius and I got together, the world would end. It hadn’t happened yet, but what if it was just waiting for the right moment to explode or flood or be swallowed by the sun? You never know, right? Or what if—
Okay, Artemis, calm down, I told myself firmly, trying to slow my frantic heart before Sirius looked back and saw me panicking. That was something I really didn’t want to happen. Why was I freaking out anyways? It wasn’t as though I’d never been kissed before. So what if Sirius was different from every other guy I’d ever went out with? That was no reason to have a panic attack over it. So what was it then?
Gah! This was stupid! Fine, if I wanted to panic over my first kiss with Sirius, then fine! Let my body panic! It wasn’t that big a deal, I told myself firmly, following Sirius and catching up to him with a smile. Actually, it would have been hard not to smile with him looking at me that way: like he couldn’t get enough of me. Of course, as soon as I registered the look, it would be gone.
But it didn’t change the fact that I’d seen it. And it was nice to see it because it made me feel like he actually did like me too.
With a small smile at mine, Sirius took my hand with the one that wasn’t holding my stuff.
"Well?" Sirius asked expectantly, smirking at what I expected was my shocked expression. "What do you think? Now, tell me you don’t like it."
I glared at him and pouted. "Well... I, er, I don’t really know what to say..."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "I just told you what to say."
"Oh, sod off," I told him, sighing and turning to the set up. How he’d managed to get the house elves to do something like this, I couldn’t even begin to guess. Well, it might have something to do with the fact that they would do anything they were asked, but...
To go as far as to prepare such a dinner for two was, to me, remarkable. There was a small table set with a scarlet silk tablecloth, with fine china dishes and silver utentsils, and two tall, white candles on other side of a vase of flowers. I could see primroses, tuberoses, and orange blossoms, along with others small white flowers; in fact the entire bouquet was made up of white (or at least semi-white) flowers. I turned to glare at Sirius.
"You have no idea what those flowers mean, do you?" I asked, smiling at a house elf who pulled out the chair for me.
"Of course I do," Sirius said smugly, sitting down opposite me while I looked at him with surprise.
"You do?" I asked skeptically. Sirius Black knew about flowers?
"Of course I do," Sirius repeated, then pointed to the orange blossoms. "These symbolize purity, chastity and innocence, also known as virginity." I blushed and glowered at him, but he continued, pointing at the tuberoses. "These mean dangerous pleasures." He smirked at me, then pointed at the primroses. "These are young love, though some say they mean I can’t live without you. See, I knew what I was doing when I ordered these."
I gaped at him. He really did know what they meant... I wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse. So I settled for this response: "I hate you."
"I know," Sirius muttered with a smile, taking my hand over the table and putting it softly to his lips, not really kissing it, just holding it there.
"And what exactly were you insinuating when you picked these out?" I asked, not bothering to pull my hand back; he was staring at me over my hand with his stormy gray eyes, slightly distracting me as my face probably turned red. He just smiled at me.
"I think you know. You know what comes after this, right?"
"Ah," I said, grimacing at the warmth in my face as I pulled my hand away from him. "So you did all this just because you get to kiss me?" I clarified.
"Partially," he admitted with a smile. "But I have to admit that I just can’t seem to squash that part of me that wants to impress you. Annoying bugger, he is."
I rolled my eyes at him. "Well, at least a part of you isn’t only here for snogging. It’s nice to know that a little bit of you isn’t like all those other guys." Sirius grimaced at me and snatched my hand up again.
"I’m not only here for snogging! Maybe I like your snarky, sarcastic attitude."
"And maybe I like..." I trailed off thoughtfully; as if I really had to think about all the things I shouldn’t like about him but did. Sirius rolled his eyes, and I smirked. "I like how you talk my sarcastic attitude and throw it right back in my face. Not many people can do that, you know."
"It’s natural," he replied seriously, giving me an egotistical grin. I rolled my eyes.
"I can see that. If only that quality didn’t come with the natural ability to be an arse as well."
"Well, nobody’s perfect. Not even me. It’s hard to believe, I know."
"Not as hard as it is to believe that you can even lift that fat head of yours."
We went on like this for a while, exchanging smart-ass comments, giving each other you’re-a-moron looks. At last, the house elves brought us our meal: a deliecious slab of perfectly cooked steak, with an assortment of steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, rices, and other scrumptious looking foods. We ate in relative silence, occasionally pointing out something either offending or stupid, until they brought out a dessert of puddings and eclairs. It was amazing how greatly the stupid conversations we had together made the serious ones I’d had with my other boyfriends sound meaningless.
What did it then? I wondered as the moment drew closer and the butterflies found a way into my stomach with the steak. What made Sirius Black so different from all the other guys? In actuality, he was just like all those others; and yet he was so utterly unlike them. I had to stop myself from sighing loudly; Sirius was so... complicated.
Finally, the food was taken away by the smiling elves and Sirius stood up, stretching.
"Delicious, as always," Sirius told what I assumed was the leader of the kitchen elves, judging by the fact that the misshapen blob on it's head that I guessed was a hat was bigger than the other elves'.
"We are happy to serve the young master and mistress!" the elf squeaked happily as I stood as well. "We are glad to see that the meal was to your liking!"
Sirius just nodded and took my hand again, pulling me back through the kitchens to the portrait entrance and out into the relative cool of the corridor. My heart was quickly picking up pace. I almost expected him to shove me into the nearest broom cupboard.
But he didn't. Instead, we just walked slowly back in the direction of Gryffindor tower, hands entwined, my heart pounding away. The anticipation, the waiting for him to kiss me, as I knew that he must, was killing me.
He glanced sideways at me as we neared the Fat Lady and snickered at what was either a comical frustrated expression, or else a comical confused one. "Ah, forgot something," he muttered, coming to a halt and jerking me around gently to face him. Without warning, his lips met mine.
Well... I guess I should have seen that coming.
It wasn't anything special, really. I mean, I'd been led by so many to believe that Sirius was going to be some... kissing extraordinaire. But he didn't seem to be a magnificiant kisser; in fact it seemed just like every other kiss that I'd had since... well, since I started kissing boys.
Except for the other thing I didn't see coming. Meaning the strange, fuzzy, warm, gooey, happy feeling that erupted in my lower stomach. It was like wanting to hurl and wanting to exlode from joy all at once. And it seemed to be swelling to fill my chest, travelling along my legs and arms and up my neck until I was dizzy from it.
Was this how it felt then? To love someone so much that you wanted to be as close to them as possible? Or was this just my teenage hormones finally kicking in? About three or four years too late, I might add.
I suppose I decided that it really didn't matter, because the next thing I knew I was kissing him back, and he was making no move to stop me. In the meantime, his hands had fallen to my hips and had pulled me against him without my noticing, but they were slowly making their way up to where we'd agreed they wouldn't be. I could feel his muscles--one in particular--against me, and he was so--
I pushed him away immediately, glowering at him. "What happened to our compromise?" I asked, folding my arms across my chest and frowning down the corridor in an attempt and failure to hide my furious blush.
"Well," he replied with a smirk, "I didn't make you kiss me back. Clearly, my amazing prowess at snogging seduced you into snogging me back."
I nearly choked on my own spit, but I did choke back the words that I wanted to say. After all, telling him that I didn't think he was the most amazing kisser ever might actually have been too big a blow to his ego. Instead I rolled my eyes at him and patted his arm comfortingly. "Believe whatever you want to, Sirius, just keep your bloody hands where they should be," I warned with a warning glance at the pocket where we both knew my wand rested. He sighed and held up his hands in surrender.
"All right, all right," he submitted, much too easily. But he did seem sincere as he reached for my hand and started towards the Fat Lady's portrait again.
That was when we heard it.
Sirius seemed utterly confounded at the sound, looking back at me as if he thought that I had made it. I, however, had heard the sound before; I instantly began looking around for the source. After all, Lily's giggling couldn't be far from Lily herself, and the only time that she giggled over anything was in the quiet privacy of the girls' seventh dorm. At last, I realized that it was coming from behind a tapestry not far from where Sirius and I were standing dumbstruck in the hall. With a meaningful glance at Sirius' baffled expression, I crept towards the tapestry, dragging Sirius with me, wondering if I was about to be jinxed and hexed by Lily.
I might as well have been; what I saw behind the tapestry nearly knocked me backwards anyway. After all, it's not very often that you see Lily Evans and James Potter snogging. I actually don't think they noticed as Sirius and I both quickly backtracked away from the tapestry, smiling at each other as we left them to it.