It took a while for me to find Sirius, especially as I wasn’t sure if I was looking for a person or a dog and he could easily have escaped into the forbidden forest, in which case I’d never find him. However, eventually I spotted him, in human form, at the bottom of the stairs that ran down the cliff-face to the boathouse by the lake. He saw me coming and turned away, scowling, his hands deep in his pockets as he stared resolutely across the black water.
“Sirius!” I was almost desperate.
“I don’t want to know.” He sounded distraught. “I don’t want your excuses.”
“I’m not making excuses,” I said, breathless as I reached him. “I’ve got nothing to make excuses for.”
“So you think it’s okay?” he spat, whirling around. I noticed his eyes were glistening slightly and his cheeks were wet. “After what Aubrey did? How did you think I’d react?” He turned his back on me again and stared out over the lake, though I think he made sure I heard him muttering, “We never should have stopped them calling you Whore-a.”
This was like my worst nightmare. I’d already lost Mary, I couldn’t lose Sirius as well, could I? In an attempt to put us face to face, I got in front of him and put both hands on his shoulders, but he shook them off violently. “Don’t – touch – me,” he snarled, venom oozing from each word. “I trusted you. I gave you everything. And this is how you repay that?”
I stood my ground in front of him, tears welling in my eyes. “Sirius. Listen to me. What they said, it’s not true.” I looked into his eyes as earnestly as I could, willing him to believe me.
He looked away, hurt and betrayal evident on his face before he mastered himself and put up the shutters, making him look cold and closed off. “How do you know what they’ve been saying if it’s not true?”
I sighed, frustrated. “Charlotte told me that Elvira and Carol were passing notes in Muggle Studies, and Professor Penrose read it out loud, and it accused me of cheating on you with Bernie Carmichael. That’s all I know.”
His eyes caught mine again, and they were cold and hard. It was like a knife running through me. “I did wonder why he kept taking you out of my sight,” he said bitterly. “It said they were amazed you’d been able to get away with it for so long without me finding out, that they couldn’t believe I’d fallen for the line you were spinning me. It was pretty convincing.” He looked away again. “And we both know he deserves you more than I do.”
I groaned inwardly – not that again. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “No one deserves me more than you. We’ve been through all that already.”
“Not denying that you’ve been seeing him, though, are you?” he said shortly, looking pained again. “Tell me, how many times when we were together were you thinking of him? How long have you been faking wanting to be with me?”
“Never,” I shot back, thankful he hadn’t got his wand out. I dreaded to think what he might have done to me if he had, and took a small consolation in the fact it hadn’t happened yet. “I’ve never thought of him, and I haven’t been faking it. And of course I’m denying it, it’s not true.” I wondered what he’d do if I grabbed his shoulders again to try to shake some sense into him. “When would I have even had time to do that anyway?” I went on. “We’re together almost the whole time.”
“When I’m in Muggle Studies,” he said quietly, his face expressionless once more, though his eyes betrayed how he felt. “You’ve got a spare hour. And he’s in Ancient Runes with you.” He paused, shaking his head. “All those times he just whisked you away, right under my nose. I should have realised what was going on.”
“Remus is in Ancient Runes, too,” I pointed out, my eyes welling up again. “If you don’t believe me, why don’t you ask him? He would never take my side over yours. All Bernie’s been doing in those classrooms is telling me what Elvira’s been up to.”
“Like this, you mean?” he said sceptically.
I nodded. “Exactly like this. He’s been trying to put me on my guard.”
“So, if he’s been doing that, why didn’t you warn me they would say this?” he asked accusingly. “If he’s been telling you what they’re doing, surely you would have known about this in advance?”
I shook my head and gazed at him, searching desperately for the Sirius I knew behind those steely eyes. “All he knew was that they were planning something big. He didn’t know what. If he’d known about this, he would have told both of us, I know he would have.”
“A likely story,” he said coldly.
I tried again. “Look, there is absolutely NOTHING going on with me and Bernie,” I said earnestly. “He hasn’t even laid a finger on me since the ball.”
Sirius looked coolly at me. “Really. So that time I saw him holding your hand, that wasn’t laying a finger? Or have you conveniently forgotten that?”
Oh. The problem was, I had forgotten about that, that’s how insignificant it had been to me. “Okay, yes, there was that one time, when I was upset about Mary,” I admitted. “But that was it, and it wasn’t anything inappropriate. If he’d ever tried anything, I wouldn’t still be talking to him, and I would have told you. I haven’t hidden a single thing from you, not one. If you need proof, I’d be happy to take some Veritaserum or something.”
It was a desperate offer, but I meant it. I’d do anything to have him believe me. “I’ve only ever been alone with Bernie for about a minute at a time,” I went on, “and you know yourself that that’s not nearly long enough to do anything. Even if it was, think about it – if it was over that quickly, why on earth would I be going back for more?”
For a split second I thought I saw him smile, and I might have pierced his armour with that question. Feeling emboldened by this, I tried again. “Yes, Bernie held my hand for about thirty seconds last month,” I said. “He was comforting me. But aside from that, the only time any man has even touched me since we got together, aside from you and my dad, is James helping me up from the floor during those duelling lessons. That’s all. I promise you.”
He still didn’t look convinced. I took a breath, unable to stop the tears from falling down my cheeks, and put my hands back on his shoulders, feeling rather heartened when he didn’t shake them off. “Sirius, I love you. I love you so completely and utterly that I couldn’t do anything that might hurt you any more than I could, I don’t know, eat a dragon. I just couldn’t do it, that’s not me. You should know that.” I gazed into his eyes, trying frantically to see behind their shutters. “You said this to me once, but it’s so true I’ll say it back now. Sirius Black, you are the best thing that ever happened to me, and if you think I’m going to stuff that up by screwing around then you don’t know me anywhere near as well as I thought you did.”
He still didn’t speak, but I thought I saw a flicker behind his eyes. I tried yet another tack. “You’re supposed to be a dog, for Pete’s sake. Can’t you tell by my scent that no one else has been near me? And besides, Muggle Studies is on at the same time as Care of Magical Creatures, and I’m pretty sure Bernie takes that, so we couldn’t have been doing anything while you’re in class anyway.”
As if to back me up, Peter came scurrying down the stairs from the castle. “Prongs told me what happened,” he said, breathless in his hurry. “And I’ve just come from Care of Magical Creatures, and Carmichael was definitely in the class for the whole time. He hasn’t missed one all year.”
Never had I been so happy to see Peter. His slightly repulsive appearance, squeaky voice and voyeuristic tendencies forgotten, I could have kissed him. I looked at Sirius, my hands still on his shoulders. He was staring at Peter as though scrutinising him, but finally his face cleared and he relaxed a bit. “Right, Wormtail, I believe you. You wouldn’t lie.”
“But I would.” My voice was quiet and I looked at the ground, my cheeks wet and my heart threatening to break in two. Was that really what he thought of me? And I’d believed him when he’d said he loved me.
He turned to me again. “No, you wouldn’t,” he said, just as quietly. “I never really thought you would.”
I looked up at him through tear-filled eyes, vaguely conscious of Peter, looking relieved, sidling away up the stairs back towards the castle. “Then how could you even think for a second that it might have been true?”
He pulled me towards him and I put my arms around him. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess they were playing on my insecurities. And the way they put it, it did sound credible.”
“But why would you be insecure?” His forehead was now resting on mine and my voice sounded loud. “I’ve never given you any reason not to trust me.”
“You’re way too good for me,” he said, lifting his head from mine. “I keep thinking you’re going to realise that and leave me. I thought that’s what was happening.”
“I’m not too good for you,” I told him. “Why would you think I could ever consider leaving you? You should know I won’t do that.”
He was quiet for a spell. “I fell in love with you,” he said eventually. “Love. Do you have any idea how unheard of that is?” I looked at him questioningly. “Blacks don’t fall in love,” he explained. “Especially not the men. That hasn’t happened since … since forever, I think. You know what it’s like, our job is to keep the name going. Love just doesn’t come into it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warlock’s Hairy Heart was actually written about someone in my family.”
He paused and a sigh escaped his lips. “We have a pretty comprehensive education before we come here,” he went on, looking beyond me to the black surface of the lake, “and it’s been hard trying to break away from it all and re-learn everything. Muggles are scum, that’s one thing we’re taught. The Blacks are such an old and important family we might as well be royalty. Don’t say please or thank you, you’re above things like being nice to your inferiors – and just about everyone is your inferior. And of course the basic things like women don’t join the workforce, they just marry well, and whatever happens at home stays there, you don’t talk about it. And one key thing we’re taught as boys is that forming an emotional attachment to someone, particularly a romantic attachment, is a sign of weakness. Well, the Blacks aren’t weak. We can’t be seen as being soft like that. So, it’s not an option at all. And you know, before you I must have believed that because that was what I did. I didn’t let myself get attached to anyone.” He paused, and something flickered behind his eyes as he looked back at me. “Laura, you and me, this is something I know so little about that James’ mum had to explain it to me over the holidays. That’s how clueless I am with all this. It’s all brand new for me.”
He paused again. “So, what I’ve done is,” he continued, “according to everything I was brought up to believe, a form of weakness, a way of telling the world that I’m soft. And that makes me vulnerable because I’ve given people a target, a way they can get to me, which is through you, and of course I’ve never done that before. So you’ve got a Black who’s allowed himself to get vulnerable, and that just doesn’t happen. If I hadn’t been disowned already I certainly would be now, because I’ve demonstrated a weakness of character that definitely isn’t acceptable.”
He shook his head, his eyes coming back to mine, and there was a pleading look to them. “And you, Laura, you’re fantastic, but you’ve got no idea.” His voice softened. “You’re just there, being beautiful and amazing, and you have no idea that you’ve turned my whole world upside down. And I love it, I wouldn’t change a thing because it’s been better than anything I could have imagined, but it’s been a lot to get my head around. And so I’m sort of feeling my way through it, because I don’t really know what I’m doing, so then if I hear something like that then I think I must have been doing something wrong and you were just too polite to tell me. And then part of me keeps reminding myself that I’m just setting myself up to get hurt, because no one could hurt me anywhere near as badly as you can.”
I have to admit that I was both taken aback and a little shocked by this narrative, but not really surprised. And it did explain a lot about his behaviour over the years: it must have been awful to have a childhood so removed from normal human relationships that love was such an alien concept. But before I thought too much about that, I had to respond – he had to know that he had nothing to worry about. Everything else I could deal with later. All that mattered now was that I didn’t lose him.
“I would never hurt you.” It came out as barely more than a whisper but it felt like the most important thing I would ever say. He looked back at me. “I couldn’t do it. I would never even touch anyone else. And you’ve done nothing wrong, nothing at all.” I paused, making sure he was taking in what I was saying. “Sirius, I love you,” I said again. “Always remember that.”
He smiled suddenly, his eyes looking into mine, and to my relief I could tell it was the old Sirius back again, the one who trusted and believed me. The one who loved me. “Oh, Laura,” he said softly, “how could I have ever believed Elvira Vablatsky over you?”
“My thoughts exactly,” I said, cracking a smile for the first time. Relief was flooding through me. “I mean, Bernie Carmichael? Really? He was the best they could come up with? Lovely bloke, but he does absolutely nothing for me. And if it was him I wanted to be with, I wouldn’t have ditched him to be with you. Twice, I might add.”
He just stood there staring at me for a bit, his grip on me tightening. “I thought I’d lost you,” he said eventually, his voice somewhat hoarse and his eyes starting to glisten again. “And I don’t know, maybe I love you too much. Because I’m not sure I’d know how to live without you.”
“You’ll never lose me,” I promised, meaning every word of it. “You’re stuck with me for life now. So you’ll never have to find out.”
He nodded and his hand came to my face and traced my cheek where a teardrop had been sitting, then pushed my hair away from my mouth. This was a bit futile considering the wind kept pushing it back, but it was one of his favourite preludes to kissing me. I reached for the back of his head, my fingers running through his hair, and pulled him towards me until our lips met.
The kiss was tender, reconciliatory, relieved, and extended, but part way through it transformed into one better described as passionate, frenzied and urgent. During this frenzy Sirius pushed me into the boathouse, leaned me up against the dusty table inside and started unfastening my robes. I pulled my face away from his. “You want to do it in here? What if we get caught?”
He smiled but didn’t stop what he was doing. “The risk makes it all the more exciting, don’t you think?”
I had to admit, the moment did seem to call for it; in fact I was as eager as him. I pulled him back towards me and reached for his belt. “Well, when you put it like that …”
Eventually, driven by hunger from our missed lunch and me not wanting to be late for Ancient Runes, we climbed back up the stairs towards the castle.
“Was that really true?” I asked on the way up. “That thing about not really caring about anyone before me?”
He laughed that bark-like laugh of his. “What, about those other girls? Absolutely it was true.” I must have looked sceptical because he put an arm around me and gave me a squeeze. “Clio, Dione, Martha, anyone else you care to name, there was definitely nothing there. Hell, I barely even liked them. They were just pretty girls who seemed willing but not too desperate, and it was something to do while James was in detention.”
Well, Martha had guessed that much, but it was nice hearing it from him. He went on. “But you, Laura, there’s something about you. You get inside me somehow. I don’t think I could fight that even if I wanted to.”
I smiled. “And you know what? You do that to me, too.”
He grinned wickedly and winked at me, and I smiled with relief. Things were getting rather back to normal, by the looks of things.
Lunch hour wasn’t quite over yet and there were still about a third of the student body in the Great Hall when we got there, finishing off all the food. At the Gryffindor table were our friends, empty plates in front of them and the anxious looks on their faces erupting into relief as we entered hand in hand.
“Thank goodness you sorted it out,” Lily breathed as we sat down where I had dumped my school bag earlier. “James told us what happened. He was livid at you, Laura, till we worked out it wasn’t true.”
Charlotte nodded. “Yep, Peter and Martha came in from Care of Magical Creatures and told us that Bernie hadn’t missed a class all year. So he couldn’t have been shagging you while Muggle Studies was on, because the classes clash. So we sent Peter out to find you.”
“And with how long you were off in those classrooms, no one could do anything in that time,” Martha added. “A minute or two? Half the time it takes that long to get your robes out of the way. So notwithstanding the fact that it’s you, Laura, and you’d never do that, it wasn’t physically possible. Not without a time-turner, and I don’t think that there are any of them at Hogwarts.”
“Sorry about that, mate,” James was saying to Sirius. “She did a good job, though, didn’t she?” He cast a filthy look at the Ravenclaw table, though Elvira appeared to have left already.
“You should have seen him,” Remus added, obviously referring to James. “Once it was clear the whole thing was bollocks, he stormed over to Elvira and had a real go at her. Said that even if you did believe it, with the amount of school we have left you wouldn’t get over Laura till exams were well over so it was pointless anyway, you still wouldn’t have been single. Not in the way they were hoping for.”
“That wouldn’t bother Elvira, though,” Martha pointed out. “She’d be happy to be the rebound.”
Lily giggled. “I haven’t seen James so angry since Bellatrix Lestrange tried to recruit us for Voldemort. I don’t think any of them will be taking him on again anytime soon.”
I was wolfing down some cold roast chicken – Ancient Runes was only minutes away and I needed some sustenance to get me through the hour. “They must have planned to have the note confiscated,” I said to no one in particular.
“Yeah, Penrose always reads things like that aloud when he notices them,” James agreed. “It was worded so well, and of course you weren’t there to defend yourself. They planned it well.”
Remus looked at me. “Runes is about to start. Are you coming, or do you have some making up to do?”
I downed my pumpkin juice quickly. “I’m coming,” I said. “Too close to exams to miss a class if I can help it. Besides, we’ve already made up. ” I looked at Sirius and grinned, then scooped up a lukewarm Cornish pasty to take with me. Sirius stood up as well.
“I’m coming too,” he said firmly, grabbing my other hand. “Vablatsky’s in that class, right?”
The three of us made our way to the third floor and Professor Babbling’s classroom, where indeed Elvira and Bernie were waiting outside. Bernie had obviously been on the lookout for us and intercepted us before we got to the gathered students.
“Black, I heard what they said, you do know it’s not true?” He looked apprehensively at Sirius, who smiled wryly.
“Carmichael, if I thought it was true, you’d be in the hospital wing by now.” He looked down at me and squeezed my hand. “But Laura wouldn’t do that.”
Bernie nodded. “No, she wouldn’t. And neither would I. I’ve only been trying to help.”
Sirius didn’t appear to have heard him as he was looking over Bernie’s shoulder at the tall blonde figure of Elvira, a very nasty expression on his face. He pushed his features back to normal and looked again at Bernie. “Sorry, but I’ve got something to deal with here.” His voice rose. “Oi! Vablatsky!”
Elvira looked over nervously. It had been obvious she knew we were there and was ignoring us, but she couldn’t do so forever. Even Remus, calm and even-handed as he generally was, was fingering his wand as he glared at her. Eventually she lifted her chin proudly and walked toward us.
“Sirius! What a nice surprise! To what do I owe this honour?”
“Nice try,” he snarled. “Mildly convincing, yes, but honestly, how long did you really think I’d believe that nonsense for?”
She feigned ignorance. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know,” he said coldly, anger and loathing etched on his face. “Even Carmichael’s ticked off his name was dragged through the mud. You don’t care who you hurt so long as you get the result you want, do you?”
Elvira, to her credit, was looking rather uncomfortable, but soon mastered herself. “It would have been worth it if it had worked,” she said defiantly. “You’re too good for her. You deserve someone better.”
“I think I can work out for myself who I’m too good for,” he said, still coldly. “Though really I’d say she’s too good for me.” His grip on me tightened. “I suppose, by ‘better’, you mean yourself?”
Her nerve seemed to have fired up. “That’s right,” she said brazenly, clearly determined to make the most this rare opportunity to state her case. She had moved close to him and was pushing her chest up against him, as though the promise of an extra cup size would be enough to lure him away from me. And I was right there, holding his hand, for Pete’s sake. Did she not see me? “I could make you happy,” she went on. “More than she does. And I’m a pure-blood, we’re a better match.” Behind her I could see that Babbling had opened the classroom door and was allowing the students in. This needed to be over soon.
Sirius laughed, a sour, mirthless laugh that I very rarely heard from him. “Don’t tell me you’re spouting that pure-blood nonsense as well? I thought you had more sense than that.” He paused. “Then again, thinking about it, I’m not convinced that you have any sense at all, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.” He looked down at her with pure loathing, and the next time he spoke his voice was fierce and he had pulled out his wand. “If you come near Laura, or any of my friends, again, or if you say one word about any of them, ever, you’ll have me to deal with. And I won’t show any mercy.”
I joined in, standing up a little straighter and looking her in the eye. “And I’ll be making a visit to McGonagall’s office to tell her who jinxed my broom. You could be expelled for that, couldn’t you? Oh, and I think you need these back.” I flicked my wand at her and the cow horns and bell reappeared.
Putting a hand to the new horns, Elvira quickly gathered up her bag and hurried off in the direction of the hospital wing. Sirius glared after her, then turned to me, putting his wand away. “You’ll tell me, won’t you, if she gives you any more trouble?”
I nodded. “Believe me, Sirius, if she tries anything else, you’ll know about it.”
His face relaxed and, to my left, so did Remus’. I hadn’t realised he too had been on edge during the confrontation. “Good.” Sirius put both arms around me and his voice dropped to barely a whisper as he spoke very close to my ear. “I love you. Always remember that.” I smiled at his repeating what I’d said earlier, and it was certainly reassuring to hear. I kissed him briefly and it was very reluctantly that we let go of each other and I went into class.
Remus gave me half a smile as we found our desk. “It’s nice to be reminded occasionally why I’m friends with him,” he said quietly. “’Cause I definitely wouldn’t want to be his enemy.”
I shuddered as I pulled out my quill and parchment. “Me neither. That would be downright scary.”
Professor Babbling was looking at us with a bit of a smile on her face, though it was quickly replaced by her more customary firm expression. “Now, then, everyone, if we can stop talking about people’s love lives and get back to the subject of Ancient Runes,” she said sternly, her eyes resting on Bernie and then me. Merlin’s beard, I thought, even the staff knew about it. Next to me I heard Remus still chuckling to himself, and I forced a more serious expression on to my face as I pulled my textbook and ink bottle out of my bag. I couldn’t hide my disappointment, though, when Elvira turned up halfway through the lesson minus both bell and horns.
“Damn,” I whispered to Remus. “I hoped they’d stay on longer again.”
He chuckled. “Madam Pomfrey’s fixed them once, she knows how to do it now. Maybe pick a different hex next time.” I smiled and nodded, then turned my attention back to the front of the room before Professor Babbling noticed us talking.
Once class finished, Veronica Smethley caught up with me pretty much as soon as the bell rang. “Laura, I just wanted to say how glad I am you two worked it out,” she said, casting a malevolent glance at Elvira’s retreating form.
I was surprised – I hadn’t been expecting support from people I barely knew. “Thanks, Veronica.”
She smiled. “I mean it. You’re so cute together, it would be a real shame if you broke up over her.”
I laughed, hoisting my bag onto my shoulder. “Don’t let him hear you say that. He hates being called cute.”
“Doesn’t he just,” said another voice, and I looked around to see Clio Zeller had joined us, which surprised me even more – not only was I not expecting support from people I barely knew, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it from Sirius’ exes. “But you are cute together. You obviously adore each other. Old ferret-face there is just jealous.”
I smiled at her as we made our way out the door. “And you’d know all about that, too, just as I do.”
“Too right I do,” she agreed with a grin. “But it was never as bad as this. It was mostly wand stuff, Transfiguring my nose, that type of thing, which is easy enough to deal with. Or the extremely mature Dungbomb attack.” She rolled her eyes. “Most of it I didn’t even need to go to Madam Pomfrey to fix.”
“Yeah,” said Veronica. “They never tried character assassination. I thought that was a bit low even for them. More along Dione Turpin’s line, I would have said.”
I nodded. “And I could deal with it when it was so outlandish it obviously wasn’t true. You know, I was pregnant to someone else, that kind of rubbish. But they hit on just the right level of believability this time, it seems.”
Clio was nodding. “I’m in Muggle Studies, too. It did sound plausible. Though, considering who it was coming from, I was surprised he took it as seriously as he did.”
Suddenly I heard my name called out and looked up to see Sirius hurrying toward me. “Great, I’ve caught you.”
“What’s up?” I asked, aware that Veronica and Clio had just made subtle exits.
“Listen, I’m sorry about before,” he said, falling into step with me and grabbing my spare hand. “The boathouse. I didn’t force you to do anything, did I?”
“Of course not,” I said, smiling. “If I didn’t want to you would certainly have known about it.”
“And I didn’t hurt you? I wasn’t too rough or anything?”
I shook my head. “No. Again, you would have known about it if that was the case.”
He was visibly relieved. “It’s been bothering me,” he admitted. “But I want to make it up to you. The Shrieking Shack, tonight. Prongs will even loan us the Cloak.”
I dropped his hand and put my arm around him. “You don’t have to make anything up to me,” I said, just happy that everything was back to normal. “Like I said, if I wasn’t comfortable I would have said something.”
“Even so,” he said, “these things should be done properly. Besides, I made you cry and there’s absolutely no excuse for that. Is your homework all up to date?”
I thought about it. Thursday was a big day – double Transfiguration, then Charms, then double Herbology. “Yeah, I’ve finished all those.”
“Excellent,” he said, smiling. “We’ll go down after supper – or we could have dinner in the village if you like. Either way, pack a toothbrush, we don’t need to be back till morning.”
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