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You Belong With Me by Cherry Bear
Chapter 3 : The Escapable Inevitable
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 15


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The Escapable Inevitable


I tried flipping my pillow over to the cold side. I tried kicking off my covers. I tried curling up into a tiny ball. I even tried stretching myself out across my entire four-poster, but no matter what comfortable position I got into, I just could not sleep.

It wasn't that I didn't want to; I was exhausted beyond belief, both physically and mentally. But the more I tried to sleep, the more sleep evaded me, until I was left wide awake on my back, staring at the dark ceiling with hopelessness stirring in my stomach. I was tired of being tired, but trying to sleep only made me more tired - it was quite a conundrum.

I must've fallen into an uneasy sleep eventually, because one moment I was lying in complete darkness desperately trying to remember if we had ever learned a Sleeping Charm in class, and the next the first bashful rays of light were invading the sky and flooding the dormitory with a dim light.

I didn’t know whether I was more annoyed or grateful that it was already morning. On one hand - despite the fact that I must have slept at least a few hours - I felt more exhausted than I had when I had crawled into bed the night before, and on the other hand, I was sick of lying in bed and dissecting my life and all of its misfortunes to death; at this point, I wanted to stop thinking.

In the end, the gratitude won out, but only because my few meager attempts at falling back asleep proved futile. And even though I was so tired it felt like my entire body had been run over by multiple buses, I couldn’t help but think that a nice calming jog would be the perfect way to start off my miserable day. If nothing else, running was reliable; there wasn't much room for change or judgement or sudden declarations of love.

With mood considerably brightened by the idea, I slipped out of my four-poster, thankful that my mates were still snugly asleep in theirs. If they were awake, they would probably insist on accompanying me just to make sure I wouldn’t drown myself in the lake or disappear on them for another six hours. I couldn't exactly blame them, either; I was just a little melodramatic sometimes.

I got dressed quickly and silently, taking care to avoid the floorboards that tended to creak; when I had safely closed the dormitory door behind me, I allowed myself a small sigh of relief. Now the only problem was getting down to the grounds without anyone seeing me dressed in my ratty old Muggle clothes and worn-in trainers. Thankfully, luck seemed to be rather apologetic about hitting me with such a catastrophe the night before, because there was absolutely no one in the halls – not even that batty caretaker Filch. I reached the great double doors without incident and practically skipped outside, overcome by a surge of unexpected energy.

This time, when I started running, I headed in the opposite direction of where I had gone the night before, towards the Quidditch pitch. Running in circles wasn’t exactly my favorite thing to do – it seemed so repetitive and pointless – but the towering stands would hopefully prevent anyone insane enough to be up this early from glancing out their window and spotting me. Even though there was no set time for when students were allowed to leave their common rooms in the morning, it felt wrong to be out this early.

The Quidditch Pitch was empty; I had half-expected to find one of the particularly overeager Quidditch captains strategizing with grumpy team members, but I was glad to be able to run the perimeter of the field without an audience. My trainers sunk into the damp grass and dew drops licked at my bare ankles like hungry flames, sending shivers through my body.

As much as I wanted to stop thinking about the day ahead of me - wasn't that the whole reason I had gotten out of bed in the first place? - I couldn't help it. Even as I tried forcing myself to think about safe topics like schoolwork and family, my thoughts kept inevitably turning back to my impending humiliation.

More than anything, I wished that I knew what was going to happen, that I could see the future laid out before me in neat little rows, that I could control it. But no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't control other people or their actions - in fact, the only person I could control was myself and, somehow, that didn't seem like enough.

I wasn't stupid enough to think that I would be able to go through the day radiating confidence and pretending that no one else's opinion mattered. I couldn't walk through the halls with my head held high, striking awe in the younger girls with my self-assurance like some sort of supermodel - I wasn't like Dorcas that way. Even out here on the deserted Pitch, I was self-conscious, anxiously worrying that my legs were too skinny, my skin too pale, and my freckles too abundant. I cared too much what other people thought, and I doubted today would be any different.

Strangely enough, I wasn't burdened by tears of humiliation, even as my mind conjured depressing but highly likely sneak-peeks into my day; away from sympathetic eyes and reassuring words, I realized that I didn't actually feel all that devastated, if only because the three people in school who already knew hadn't ostracized me yet.

And as I ran, my feet hammering evenly on the bright green grass of the Quidditch Pitch, I allowed myself the smallest sliver of hope that maybe this wouldn't be as bad as I had first thought. Maybe, ten years from now, I'd even be able to look back on this day and laugh.

With this thought to comfort, I ran until the burn in my legs became a little too much to handle; then, I threw myself down on the grass in the center of the Pitch, not caring how itchy and uncomfortable it would feel against my bare arms and legs. I didn't want to go inside just yet. Hungrily swallowing gulps of air to soothe my uneven breathing, I pressed my head flat against the ground and watched as streaks of red, orange, and yellow flooded the gray sky.

There was something so utterly peaceful about watching the sunrise. Lying there in the middle of the Quidditch pitch, in my sweaty Muggle clothes, with my breath gradually returning to normal, things didn't seem dreary. It was hard to think the world was ending when I was right in the thick of it, blades of grass kissing my fingertips, sunlight caressing my skin, the crisp morning breeze tickling my hair - nature all around me, completely unaffected by the turmoils of human life.

I stayed there until the sun had managed to light up the whole sky, like a paintbrush sweeping across a dull canvas - blatant proof that life goes on, indifferent to the pain it causes. And despite my exhausting run, I felt refreshed, awake, and unexpectedly confident. I could do this, I thought encouragingly to myself, I could really do this.

----

"I can't do this," I moaned. Dorcas instantly tightened her grip on my arm, forcing me to keep walking towards the Great Hall no matter how much I dragged my feet. With every step we took, my nausea increased; I curled my fingers into tight little fists against my sides, forcing myself to breath in and out as calmly as I could. I hadn't thought it was possible to feel claustrophobic in Hogwarts expansive corridors, but, suddenly, I found myself overwhelmed with a desire for fresh air.

I desperately wished I had never gone inside that morning; the second I had entered Hogwarts confining walls, my confidence had began to crumble. Now, I felt exposed and vulnerable, like a helpless girl teetering on the edge of a bottomless pit, and the day hadn't even really started yet.

Other students slipped impatiently past the three of us, complaining about our slowness and glancing pointedly over their shoulders. Panic exploded in my stomach - were they looking at me? Did they know? - and words tumbled out of my mouth as quickly as they formed in my head. "Why did I trust Black? I bet he told everyone. Or maybe Severus spilled the beans already. Oh, this is awful. Are people looking at me? I think they're looking at me; they must know," I babbled, my eyes darting back and forth anxiously.

"For Merlin's sake, Lily, no one is looking at you!" Dorcas loudly exclaimed, her voice brimming with frustration.

Several students in the corridor gave us peculiar looks. With a wry smile twisting her thin lips, Mary added, "Well, now they are." Dorcas narrowed her eyes and shot her a withering glare, but when she turned her attention back to me seconds later, she was smiling.

"Come on," she cooed, her voice oozing with so much sugary encouragement that I felt more like her pet owl than her best mate, "no one is looking at you. You're just being paranoid. You can do this." When she realized her syrupy tone had done nothing to ease my anxiety, she said, "Nobody will care about this if you don't. All you have to do is keep your chin up, and show them that it doesn't bother you, and you'll be fine."

I nearly snorted. It was much easier said than done, and much easier said and done for Dorcas - if Hogwarts was its own country, she would be the bloody Queen; I would probably be a jester.

Mary's voice was softer. "What happened to that girl from this morning - the one who was so confident that she could do anything? Remember her?" she prodded gently, her eyes as wide and hopeful as a house elf's.

I hesitated, distressingly recalling how easily my resolve had cracked, but because I didn't want to disappoint my friends with the truth - that that confident girl was gone - I settled for shrugging my shoulders and grudgingly allowing myself to be tugged into the Great Hall.

As we walked between the rows of tables to our usual seats, my heart began to beat so fast you would've thought I had stopped running a minute ago rather than over an hour ago.

I fidgeted uncomfortably, tugging the sleeves of my robe down, impatiently rearranging my hair, smoothing the creases out of my skirt - despite my mates' reassurances that I was just being paranoid, I couldn't help but feel like everyone in the hall was looking at me, and it was utterly nerve-wracking. I walked quickly, feeling an enormous rush of relief when I finally slid into a seat at the table.

It was comforting that Mary and Dorcas thought I could do this, but I had my doubts.

"What if Severus tells everyone during class? Or during breakfast?" I wondered aloud, fretfully tangling my fingers together in my lap and staring at my plate. "What if he's already told all his mates and they're down in their common room right now having a laugh?"

Dorcas turned her eyes upward as though praying for patience. "And what if he hasn't?" she finally retorted, distractedly scooping food onto my plate. "What if he doesn't plan on telling anyone at all? What if, what if, what if - I don't see why it bloody matters."

I stared at her incredulously, but she just pushed my plate closer to me and commanded, "Eat." If it were any other person, this action could have been described as maternalistic; as it was, Dorcas did it more like a military commander than an affectionate mother.

Ordinarily, I would've petulantly refused the food - I hated being ordered around, especially by Her Majesty of Hogwarts - but I hadn't eaten a thing since lunch yesterday, and I was starving. I shoveled a forkful of eggs into my mouth and anxiously scanned the group of students that had just entered the Hall, but there was no sign of Severus or Black yet.

"Did Snape ever say that he was going to tell people?" Mary asked. I watched her meticulously spread blueberry jam over a piece of toast, pondering her innocent question.

While it was true that Severus hadn't exactly revealed his plot for revenge to me, I had just sort of assumed that it existed; he had outright told me that he knew I fancied James, and there was nothing stopping him from using that information to his advantage. I hadn't even considered the possibility that he might not.

Blushing, I mumbled, "Well, no, but why wouldn't he?"

"Because it's not like it's much of a secret anyways," Dorcas responded cheekily, grinning knowingly at me; I whacked her on the arm. I couldn't come up with anything smart to say in response - I wasn't about to deny how obvious my feelings were sometimes, what with the panic attacks I had whenever he was within ten feet of me - but it didn't really matter, because Mary spoke before I had much of a chance to.

"Or because he still loves you," she suggested, a thoughtful expression on her face.

I chewed absentmindedly on my bottom lip as the three of us mulled it over. Finally, I tersely replied, "Not possible. If he still loved me, why the insults? Why the anger? Why the ignoring? No, not possible - not possible at all." I shook my head firmly.

Dorcas, however, had seized onto the idea immediately. She was staring into space with a joyous look on her face - the same expression she wore when she managed to solve a particularly difficult Arithmancy problem. "That must be it!" she exclaimed, her eyes shining with understanding. "Think about it - all this fury and hate, out of the blue like this. I bet he's just trying to get your attention, Lily; he probably thinks that if he leaves you alone, you'll realize how much you love him. How typical of a bloke," she scoffed, her exuberance quickly dissolving into contempt for the male population.

"That's not it at all!" Mary scolded matter-of-factly, shaking her head with amusement. "If it was, I doubt he would've called her a you-know-what. No, I think he still loves Lily, but he's trying to keep her away. Maybe he thinks he's dangerous, or that she can do better. Maybe he's sacrificing their friendship for Lily's protection! Oh, it's just like in one of those romance novels," she gushed, a faint redness staining her cheeks once she realized what she had said; trashy love stories were her guilty pleasure.

I paled, clumsily pushing my plate of food away and resting my forehead on the table as their words lingered hauntingly in my mind. Both my mates were too caught up in exchanging their ridiculous theories to notice. I forced myself to take careful deep breaths, just like I had been doing not ten minutes ago in the corridors, but this time it didn't help; my nausea didn't so much as falter. Around me, the clashing conversations in the Great Hall sounded like a faint buzzing.

Yesterday, the realization that Severus had secretly loved me had made me feel bad; today, the idea that he still loved me and was only pretending to hate me made me feel absolutely sick with confusion and indecision. If Severus did love me after all, what did he expect me to do - forgive and forget everything he had said to me in that Potions classroom? It just didn't make sense.

I couldn't imagine him playing such a risky game just to try and win my affections, but neither could I conjure any reason for why he would want to keep me away from him. He wasn't dangerous, and, even if he was, what harm would there be in us staying acquaintances? Why would he severe our ties of friendship so extremely? My head was beginning to ache from all of these unanswerable questions.

"Alright, Evans?" a familiar voice called abruptly, wrenching me out of my miserable thoughts; my head snapped up immediately. And there was Black, standing right behind me, his eyebrow cocked and a wry grin twisting his lips. I nearly smiled when I remembered that those were the exact words that he had used to announce his arrival last night.

"What do you think?" I said darkly. Dorcas and Mary had stopped talking the second they had noticed him; while Mary was staring at the dark-haired Gryffindor with a shellshocked look on her face - as though she hadn't actually believed my story until now - Dorcas was studying him with a hungry gleam in her blue eyes. Sometimes I forgot how psychotic she could be when it came to blokes.

Black laughed. "Well, you look like shit," he responded bluntly, eyeing my red-rimmed eyes and wildly tangled hair as he slid into the seat next to me.

Oblivious to the surprised expressions of almost everyone around us - if it were any other day, I would have described their reactions to our sudden chumminess as humorous - he casually propped his elbows up on the table and snatched an apple off of Dorcas' plate.

"Excuse you!" Dorcas exclaimed at his blatant lack of manners, her lovely features twisted into an expression of outrage. My face burned in humiliation as more heads swiveled around to glance in our direction, their curiosity piqued by the blonde's carrying voice.

It's not an exaggeration to say that nearly the entire Great Hall was looking at us at that point, thanks to Dorcas' lack of volume control and Black's careless decision to parade our new acquaintance.

Black shrugged, not bothering to grace her with an apology or even a glance in her direction. "So what's the plan?" he asked me, flippantly sinking his teeth into the apple and completely ignoring Dorcas' blatant anger. I could see her fists clenched into tight little balls under the table, her fingernails digging into the palms of her tanned hands; not even Mary's calming smiles could pacify her now.

"Plan for what, exactly?" I replied, aware that I sounded peevish but too annoyed to care. It was all well and good that Black wanted to help me, but was it really necessary for him to infuriate my best mate in the process?

He rolled his eyes and said, "Don't tell me you don't have a plan, Evans." When I continued to stare at him blankly, my irritation increasing by the second, he shook his head and contemptuously sighed, "I guess I'm going to have to do all the thinking, then." His bluntly callous attitude was so much worse than it had been last night that I had to physically stop myself from scooting away from him in revulsion.

Before Dorcas had the chance to leap to my defense - I could practically see the insults on the tip of her tongue, ready to strike - I angrily retorted, "Excuse me, but the only thing you have to be doing is leaving." His insufferable grin didn't so much as falter at my words, but I could see appreciation twinkling in his eyes and I wondered if I had passed some sort of test in his mind. It wasn't difficult to believe that Black would insult people just to judge them on their responses, but the thought only made me more angry.

He dropped the half-eaten apple on the table and abruptly stood up, staring down at me with an expectant look on his face and purposefully misinterpreting my insult. "Well, come on, then," he said to me, his eyes skimming over Mary and Dorcas in a blatantly insulting manner.

Dorcas bristled, and because I knew I needed to get the dark-haired boy away from the Gryffindor table before she exploded, I willingly stalked after him. At least if I followed him I could hex the bloody crap out of him somewhere more private.

Right before we left the Great Hall, I glanced over my shoulder to send an apologetic grimace to my mates and instead found almost every pair of eyes fixed on me. I swiveled my head back around before I could find the two pairs I was looking for, my cheeks reddening at the realization that the whole room had probably been watching our every move.

Black stopped just outside the Great Hall, so that we could still hear the low murmur of voices and see the students slipping in and out of the hall. It wasn't exactly the ideal place to murder someone, but I wasn't about to object.

I studied the picture on the nearby tapestry - a bloke and a tiny monkey riding on a magic carpet - for a split second, before turning back to the monkey-less boy standing in front of me. He was fingering the fabric of the tapestry distractedly and, my eyes narrowing, I poked him to draw his attention back to me. "Ouch," he grumbled, rubbing the spot on his arm as he glared back at me.

"What was that all about?" I demanded lividly. "And what exactly are we doing out here, Black?" I crossed my arms across my chest like I had seen my mother do so many times when she was annoyed at my father.

He leaned lazily against the wall, burrowing his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers as he considered me. While I was red-faced and impulsive, he remained deliberately calm and collected.

But just as I was debating the pros and cons of wiping that unruffled look off of his face with a good smack, he coolly responded, "Well, first of all, if we're going to be mates, I reckon we should call each other by our first names, Lily."

I pursed my lips, trying not to let my surprise show; that was just about the last thing I had expected him to say back to me. My name sounded foreign on his lips, and it wasn't the first time I found myself wanting to just ask him why.

But I didn't ask - the odds of him giving me a straight answer were very very slim - and his face remained as impassive as ever, masking any hints of an ulterior motive, although I knew there had to be one somewhere.

"You're assuming that I even want to be mates with you," I shot back, meeting his colorless eyes challengingly. Last night, it had been fairly easy for me to trust Black to keep my secret; now that I wasn't hysterical and desperately grabbing on to whatever scrap of hope was offered to me, my faith had washed away, leaving only a cold seed of doubt in its place.

He smirked, and I recognized the same pointed malice that I had been so shocked to find earlier - the savage twist of his expression that made him look exactly like his little brother. "No, I'm assuming that you want James to fancy you back, which means that you either have to become mates with me first or suddenly become interesting enough to actually get his attention."

Ouch. My face flooded with color for what felt like the millionth time that morning. The words stung, but what made them even worse was the fact that I actually believed them, and I knew Black did too. I found my confidence vanishing almost as soon as they processed in my brain, and that made me feel like even more of a pathetic little girl; for a while, I had tricked myself into thinking that I could be that confident sunrise girl again.

And then Black went and said one little comment that touched a sore spot and that girl disappeared, and really, that just goes to show how much of a silly illusion she really was.

My complete failure as a human being must've been showing on my face, because right after he spat those hateful words out of his mouth, Black's eyes softened and panic disturbed his features. It was almost like he had two different faces entirely, and, occasionally, he would slip-up and the wrong face would show.

"Oh, Merlin, you're not going to start blubbering again are you?" he asked hastily, his hands hovering in the air between us as though he wasn't quite sure whether to comfort me or not.

His blatant distress was such a drastic change from his unaffected arrogance of just a second ago that I unexpectedly laughed. "No, you bloody idiot," I said, shooting him a glare that proved rather ineffective because of the partial smile on my lips.

And because there's really only so many times in a day a girl can feel sorry for herself, I pushed my self-deprecating thoughts about how even other people thought I would never be good enough for James to the back of my mind and forced myself to focus on the present.

And when Black said nothing in response, I hoisted that facade right back up and prodded him, "Aren't you going to apologize?" But if I expected him to lay down and beg me for forgiveness, I was sorely mistaken. He stared back at me, playing dumb.

"Apologize for what?" I felt my anger flooding back into me.

"Oh, I don't know," I said sarcastically, tapping my finger to my chin in a mock-thinking pose. "Being a complete and total arsehole, maybe? If you want to be mates," I spat the word out like it had personally insulted me, "then maybe you should start by not intentionally annoying my mates and then insulting me."

I gave him the worst look I could muster and turned on my heel to walk back to the Great Hall, inwardly cheering at the return of the confident sunrise girl.

Black caught me before I had even walked three steps, his legs being substantially longer than mine. "Okay, okay," he said, stepping in front of me and holding his hands in front of him as a sign of truce, "I'm sorry. Why don't we just start over?" I eyed him warily as he held out his hand, a disturbingly bright smile on his face. "Hello, I'm Sirius Black: expert prankster, devilishly handsome Gryffindor, and an all-around charming bloke," he told me cheerfully.

I wanted to remind him that he definitely wasn't an all-around charming bloke - that, sometimes, he was cruel and unkind and everything people expected him to be. But I didn't. Maybe confident sunrise girl wasn't as confident as I thought, or maybe it was because I didn't want to hurt him with the idea that, sometimes, he was just like the rest of his family.

Instead, I took a deep breath, imagining all my anger and bitterness and negativity drifting out on my exhale; I smiled and shook his hand warmly. "I'm Lily Evans, but you can call me Lily."

He grinned, reaching over to ruffle my hair like a big brother might do, and I hesitantly grinned back, recognizing the gesture from the night before. "Alright, then, Lily," he began, guiding us back to the tapestry so that we weren't completely blocking the corridor. It was almost like the last twenty minutes had never happened. "Now, about our plans - "

"Yes," I said, interrupting him impatiently, "what exactly are we planning for? You still haven't exactly said."

Black - or Sirius, I should say - let out a slightly exasperated sigh at my ignorance. "Well what do you think we're planning for?" he replied, his eyebrows furrowing into an irritated scowl. "Do you really think I'm just going to lie down and let that slimy bastard humiliate you?"

I bit my lip, a question burning on my tongue. In fact, it had been burning on my tongue since last night, when he had so expertly evaded answering it. "Well, no offense," I finally blurted out, curiosity getting the better of me, "but why do you care?"

I fully expected him to bring up the whole 'new mates' thing - an answer that wouldn't really answer the question at all, because what I really wanted to know was why he wanted to be mates in the first place, why he had sought me out at breakfast, and why he had ever promised to keep my secret when it would really provide much more entertainment for him if he didn't.

A part of me almost wished I could go back to not knowing Black, because now that I was getting to know him, it was growing harder and harder to classify him as either heartless or nice. It seemed that he was just stumbling somewhere in between the two, which meant I might actually have to start considering him human.

Sirius glanced away from me, as uneasy as he had been when he had thought I would start crying, his eyes searching the tapestry as though hoping to find the answer in the threads there.

When they gave no results, he turned his gaze back to me, his upturned lips flattening into a grimace as he said, "Look, Lily. I can't exactly give you a straight answer on this - not now, and maybe not ever. But I just want you to know..." he trailed off, raking his hand through his hair and shaking his head furiously as though struggling with some internal battle.

When he glanced up at me again, his eyes had darkened. "I just want you to know that, you and I, we're not all that different. And you may not understand it right now, but some day, you will."

Just like last night, he had dodged the question completely; I withdrew my consideration of his character and deposited him in the 'heartless' box along with the Mindless Mates. "Why do you always have to be so ominous and vague?" I grumbled, annoyed that Sirius had given me about a million more questions instead of an answer.

At this rate, my brain was going to explode. "And anyway," I continued, remembering what had prompted my question, "it's not as though you can exactly stop Severus."

His playfulness back - he was almost as moody as Dorcas was - he grinned cockily. "You obviously underestimate the amazing skills of Sirius Black," he said, his eyes shining in a manner not unlike that adorable best mate of his.

I rolled my eyes and tapped my foot, exaggerating my impatience. So much had happened since we had left the Great Hall that it felt like ages ago that I had been sitting at that breakfast table, nervously eating my breakfast; in reality, that couldn't have been more than twenty minutes ago. "Alright then - let's hear this amazing plan of yours."

Sirius rubbed his hands together eagerly like a true mastermind at work. "What we need is a diversion," he explained, "something so extreme that it'll blow your little secret out of the water. Or, better yet, something just cruel enough that it'll stop that miserable little git from telling your secret in the first place, something very public and very embarrassing. I was thinking we could take off his pants and hang him upside down in the air, or there's a spell - "

I held up my hand, abruptly silencing him. "Please tell me you're joking - that is your plan?" I exclaimed, a horrified expression on my face. When he just stared blankly back at me, indifferent to my shock, I continued in outrage, "Don't you think that's just a little hypocritical? Trying to stop him from humiliating me by humiliating him first?"

It was becoming very apparent to me why Sirius and I had never been mates before - he was definitely in the 'heartless' box.

He made an unsympathetic noise and shook his head, obviously peeved that I was questioning his strategy. "Humiliation is a nasty business, Lily. Do you want my help or not?"

I chewed thoughtfully on my lip, considering the question; without a doubt, I wanted Sirius' help, but I didn't exactly want the kind of help he was suggesting. In fact, when he had first mentioned his plans, I had assumed they were more along the lines of him somehow managing to convince James that Severus was playing a nasty prank and then giving me a lifetime supply of chocolate and a shoulder to cry on if that didn't work.

And because I was still holding on to the very slim chance that that was his back-up plan, I countered, "That depends. Do you have any better plans?"

"Well, since you asked, I know exactly where old Sluggy keeps his stock of Forgetfulness Potions, and just a little drop in Snivellus' goblet and we could forget this whole thing ever happened..." He wiggled his eyebrows persuasively at me.

I smacked him on the arm, scowling. "You're intolerable."

If anything, my cross attitude seemed to encourage him. He threw his arm around my shoulder and started guiding me back to the Great Hall. "Right back at you," he teased, "I think that's why we'll be such great mates." I stuck my tongue out at him and wriggled out of his grasp, conscious of how it would appear; what Sirius saw as friendly the Hogwarts masses would probably see as mysteriously intimate.

And even though, during our conversation, I had somehow managed to abandon my panic in favor of a different chaotic tornado of emotions, I felt it coming back to me full-force as we headed towards the now-packed dining hall. Classes would be starting soon, which meant that everyone at Hogwarts was finishing up their breakfast - or, at least, almost everyone. Severus was still no where to be found, I noted bitterly.

Almost as though he could sense my growing agitation as we stepped into the Great Hall, Sirius placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder - a gesture that reminded me strangely of Mary - and jokingly murmured in my ear, "It's not too late for that potion." I smiled back at him, not bothering with a response, before leaving his side to slide back into my seat.

I watched Sirius amble towards the other end of the table to sit next to James, who immediately leaned over and started whispering in his ear. My heart clenched, and I wondered if he was asking about me - the idea gave me a strange small thrill - but I didn't have to wonder for very long.

The next second, James furtively glanced my way, looking away when he saw that I was watching, which definitely confirmed my suspicions. I wondered what lies Sirius was feeding him about our interaction, and whether or not he was believing them.

Dorcas had thankfully forgotten all about her irritation with Sirius in the short time that I had been gone; now, she was wholly engrossed with the boy sitting next to her - her on-again boyfriend, Sebastian Bloom. They had obviously made up since their last dispute, which I was thankful for; Dorcas was always in a much better mood when they were on speaking terms.

Sebastian was a seventh-year Gryffindor who looked like he could be Dorcas' brother; they both had the same golden blonde hair, crystal blue eyes, and tanned complexion, not to mention an unhealthy obsession with Quidditch. Dorcas had always been proud of snagging him, specifically because he was a gorgeous, older bloke with a reputation as a heartbreaker that rivaled even hers. The only downside to their similarities was that they were both incredibly temperamental; they had had more "break-ups" than I could count.

Dorcas hardly spared me a second glance, much too preoccupied with teasingly smearing maple syrup on the blonde boy's nose. "Hey, Sebastian," I greeted, exchanging an eyeroll with Mary at their shameless flirting.

He nodded distractedly at me, childishly sneaking his fingers onto Dorcas' stomach to tickle her. She burst into high-pitched giggles, and I made a disgusted face; more often then not, being around the two of them made me want to vomit.

Mary laughed appreciatively. "Anything interesting happen with Black?" she asked, folding her Daily Prophet back into neat little squares before she laid it on the table. I caught a glimpse of a photograph - a house burning down and a mysterious signal blazing in the sky above it - and the large block letters above it, proclaiming it an act of a Dark wizard the newspapers had taken to calling You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Dorcas claimed it was because Voldemort was too difficult for them to spell.

"We decided we're going to be mates from now on," I told her, knowing that was what she would be most interested in, "but at first he was being a complete - "

I froze, the words dying on my tongue as my eyes alighted on the group of students that had just entered the Great Hall - or, more specifically, the dark-haired sallow-skinned boy traveling at the fringe of the pack, his eyes fixed on the floor. My breath hitched in my throat; I could feel my heart starting to thump faster and faster as I watched him shuffle his way to his seat at the Slytherin table. Severus.

"A complete what?" Mary prompted, obviously not aware of who had just entered the room; she observed my frightened expression bemusedly. "Lily?"

"He's here, he's here, he's here," I chanted frantically when I had regained the ability to speak. My head was beginning to swim from the sudden rush of fear and anxiety; it was a miracle that the entire student population could remain so obliviously happy when my world was falling to pieces around me.

She glanced over her shoulder, attempting to follow my gaze but failing. "Who's here?" she said, worry beginning to creep into her gentle voice.

"Severus," I hissed back at her, wringing my hands like I didn't quite know what to do with them; the next second, I had splayed them across my eyes. "Oh, Merlin, I can't bear to watch," I said restlessly, but even worse than watching would be not watching, so I peeled my fingers away from my face and alternated between tangling them in my hair and uncertainly suspending them in mid-air.

Mary caught my wrist mid-flail, drawing my attention back to the Gryffindor table. "Stop panicking, Lily," she commanded calmly. "You can do this, remember?"

I ignored her, mostly because mates were all well and good when it came to offering comforting words, but in actual possibly-traumatic situations they could be absolute rubbish - like I could control when I panicked. Illogically hoping I might gain some sympathy from my newest mate, I glanced down the table and desperately endeavored to catch Sirius' eye.

When I had, I instantly regretted it. Instead of giving me an encouraging smile or a thumbs-up or anything of that sort, he grinned at me maliciously and pretended to pour an invisible potion into his goblet; I glared at him and shook my head.

When I turned back to face Mary, Dorcas had snapped out of her trance with Sebastian. "Well, come on," she said, standing and collecting her school books in her arms. I blinked at her, as if emerging from a dream, and glanced around perplexedly.

I had been so preoccupied with stressing over Severus' every move - so far he hadn't done much of anything except eat his toast - that I hadn't noticed most of the students start to head off to their classes; the room was quickly emptying.

Mary, apparently attributing my immobility to laziness, took my arm and pulled me out of my seat. "We don't want to be late for Transfiguration," she told me.

My eyes darted between the three of them - Sebastian was apparently under the impression that the world would collapse if he left Dorcas' side - and Severus. He was abruptly gathering his school things together and giving no indication whatsoever that he planned to blurt my secret out to the whole world. In fact, as far as I could tell, he hadn't opened his mouth once since he had entered the Great Hall.

My shoulders relaxed. "Well...okay," I said unsurely to Mary, even though she hadn't asked me a question. She raised an eyebrow at me, only releasing her grip on my arm when we had fallen into step behind Dorcas and Sebastian in the corridor.

We didn't say anything else on our walk to McGonagall's class, which was fine by me; I was much too preoccupied with putting one foot in front of the other and absorbing the fact that breakfast was over and Severus still had not ruined my life. What exactly was he playing at?

----

"I can't believe it," I said, "I cannot believe it. I'm still alive." I observed my surroundings in wonder, my fascination akin to that of a child visiting the zoo for the first time. The comparison wasn't all that much of a stretch; instead of being awed by exotic animals, I was awed by the fact that the students of Hogwarts were not animals - or, rather, that one student in particular wasn't.

Because dinner was over, and Severus hadn't told anyone. I knew it was unrealistic, but I couldn't help but believe that that meant that he wouldn't tell anyone ever.

"Astute observation, Lily," Sirius teased, clapping me on the shoulder as I stood up from the Gryffindor table. I didn't even care that he was being sarcastic or that his mates were standing right next to him with expressions that just seemed to say, "Blimey, mate, why are you talking to her?"; as soon as I had untangled both my legs from my seat at the table I threw my arms around him in a rush of excitement.

And Sirius, being the bloody amazing mate that he is, didn't push me away with a disgusted look on his face; in fact, he just laughed like me hugging him was completely normal. I pulled away from him, my face lit up with a smile.

"He hasn't told, Sirius!" I exclaimed, not caring if the whole Great Hall heard me now - well, the small amount of students who hadn't left yet anyway.

"Who hasn't told what?" Pettigrew asked, eyeing the two of us curiously. And because I was just too happy to really think about what I was doing - and because Dorcas and Mary were too busy standing there with their mouths hanging open to prevent me from embarrassing myself further - I unexpectedly hugged the short pudgy boy too.

"My life isn't over!" I shouted in response, completely ignoring his question. And then I pranced away with an extra bounce in my step, leaving three-fourths of the sixth year Gryffindor blokes with bewildered expressions on their faces; Sirius just grinned.

My two mates, apparently recovering from their shock at my boldness, bounded after me, not even bothering to conceal their laughter as we began our trek up to the Gryffindor Tower.

"I can't believe you did that," Mary exclaimed, her words intertwined with disbelieving giggles.

Dorcas' laughs were loud, incessant, and left her gasping for air. "Did - you - see - their - faces?" she managed to choke out. Ordinarily, I might have been annoyed at how much they were enjoying my spontaneous and somewhat embarrassing actions, but I couldn't muster up any irritation. Just this morning, my world had been a dark and dreary place, and now I felt like a rainbow had exploded inside of me - I was that happy.

"I can't believe that he didn't tell anyone!" I replied, my voice so loud that a few of the nearby portraits made rude shushing noises. Up ahead, a group of fourth year girls glanced back at us and giggled at our blatant disregard for common courtesy.

I would have been quite content with childishly giggling right back at them, only, at that moment, a cold thought managed to sneak it's way into my mind amidst all the merry ones. I frowned, my cheerful mood considerably dampened by contemplation, and glanced solemnly at Mary and Dorcas. "Why didn't he tell anyone?"

Mary offered a small shrug in response, having clearly abandoned her earlier notions, for which I was glad; they had been rather ridiculous. Dorcas, still jubilant and full of laughter, locked arms with both of us and drew us closer to her side. "I don't know, but does it matter?" she said blithely. "He didn't tell anyone, and James Potter is going to have to notice you now!"

The group of girls glanced back at us again when they heard his name and I shushed Dorcas loudly, but I couldn't stop myself from collapsing into giggles along with her. It was hard not to be cheery and carefree she was practically radiating happiness, her blonde hair swinging behind her like a ray of sunshine.

And so the three of us made our way to the common room, walking slightly awkwardly because Dorcas refused to let us break apart, breaking into uncontrollable fits of laughter sporadically, and feeling ridiculously and recklessly giddy with happiness.

When we reached the dormitory, I dropped onto my four-poster with a content smile on my face. Now that the world was at peace, I was acutely aware of just how tired I really was; the combination of my lack of sleep the night before and the emotional roller-coaster from today had completely drained me.

And even though I felt like I could fall asleep right then and there, with my shoes still on and my legs dangling off the side of the bed, I forced myself into a sitting position because I knew I still had some unfinished business.

I quickly prepared for bed, sighing in relief when I finally slipped under the comfortable covers of my bed. When she emerged from the loo, a fresh coat of make-up on her face, Dorcas gave me an incredulous stare. "You know it's only eight o'clock, right?" she said. "On a Friday." When I nodded, completely unaffected by this information, she scoffed, "Oh, honestly, Lily, you're pathetic."

I huffed indignantly. "I am not pathetic!" I replied, even though I pretty much was; I just wasn't about to admit it to anyone. "I'm just tired - it's not like I have anywhere to go anyway. Not all of us have blokes waiting for us in the Astronomy Tower," I said, glancing pointedly at the borderline-slaggish outfit she had changed into for the occasion.

But the blonde girl ignored the jibe. "Even Mary's going somewhere," she told me, gesturing to our other mate. Mary froze halfway to the door and blinked owlishly at the two of us; she obviously hadn't expected to be drawn into our argument. "Go on, Mary - tell Lily she's being pathetic," Dorcas commanded, looking at her expectantly.

Mary crossed her arms over her Charms book and glared. "What do you mean 'even' me?" she retorted, despite the fact that I knew she understood exactly what Dorcas had meant. On a scale of social to antisocial, Dorcas would rate herself at the top, me in the middle, and Mary at the bottom, and I was fairly sure Mary didn't care in the slightest. She was such a fantastic mate sometimes.

Dorcas threw her hands up in the air in frustration. "Nevermind," she scowled, "both of you are hopeless." And with one last disparaging glance at me - it was almost as though I had personally offended her by my lack of social life - she stalked out of the dormitory.

We stared after her for a split second. Then Mary turned back towards me, smiled warmly, and pretended like nothing had happened, as she usually preferred to do with all matters concerning Dorcas and drama.

"Well, I'm off to Charms Club," she explained, hitching her school bag higher up on her shoulder. "Have fun." She gave me a small wave before sauntering out of the room, presumably off to Flitwick's classroom, where most of the Charms Club meetings were.

And finally, I was alone. I stayed still for a few minutes after Mary had disappeared, just in case she had forgotten her notes. When the door remained firmly shut behind her, I reached into my trunk and grappled around for a loose leaf of parchment, a spare quill, and a bottle of ink.

Here, in the privacy of my dormitory, I could finally express the curiosity that had been gnawing at my mind since I had asked Mary and Dorcas that question in the corridor: why hadn't Severus told anyone? I pressed the yellowing piece of parchment flat against my Transfiguration textbook, dipped my quill into the ink, and began to write:

I used to think I knew you so well, but now I'm not so sure; now I feel as if I never really knew you to begin with. Why didn't you tell anyone? Are you trying to protect me? Why did you ruin our friendship so completely? Why did you want me to know you loved me? Did you want me to pity you? Did you want me to love you back? Do you? Why do you love me? Do you love me?

I waited for more questions to spill from my fingers and onto the paper, but none came; my quill trembled in my hand, poised above the crisp parchment like a snake preparing to strike. The last four words stared hauntingly back at me, the letters loopy and neat, the question complicated and messy. I wanted these answers - I wanted them so badly. But I couldn't ask.

I angrily crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it into my trunk with my writing materials. I knew, as surely as I knew that the sky was blue and the grass was green, that I didn't have the courage to send Severus that letter. And as I pulled my blanket up to my chin and curled into a tiny ball in my four-poster, I was overwhelmed with sadness at the realization that I probably never would.

----

A/N: I'm so sorry about the long wait for this. I would blame real life, but it's actually been rather kind to me lately; I'm afraid it's my own laziness that's at fault here. And also, I forget how much I tend to write - honestly, I started out this chapter thinking it was relatively empty of conflict, and then, BAM! Sirius decided to be a jerk.

Sometimes I feel like I go into too much detail about certain things, and I read other stories that are so brisk and abrupt - do you think I write too much information? I'd really love to hear what you think. I loved hearing all your opinions on the last chapter; I never expected that I would get so many reviews! So thank you for the many smiles you all brought to my face. Did any of you spot Aladdin's cameo in this chapter?

And because I haven't even started thinking about the next chapter, and I have a feeling my words are going to take me on another 8,000 word adventure, I've decided I should leave a small preview of the next chapter at the end of each one I post. I can't give you the chapter title, because I haven't decided one yet, and I can't give you a excerpt, because I don't have one of those yet, either, but I can give you a vague sentence about something that will happen.

Next chapter: Lily struggles to find a new patrol partner at the first Prefect meeting of the year and Dorcas goes crazy.



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