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The Art of Breathing. by AC_rules
Chapter 30 : Alienation.
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 40


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A/N - Hello hello hello! I've missed you guys, it feels like absolutely ages since I've last been here writting to you all (as I'm slightly behind when it comes to review answering). Entering my revision period apparantly means I can write more quickly as I have the next chapter written, the one after mostly written, and the one after that half written. So really, it should be a quick update! Please review, I promise I will answer eventually, and it means the world when you do. Also, sorry about editing previous chapters and making it seem liked I'd submitted the next chapter when I hadn't... please review!

Love is really nothing
but a dream that keeps waking me.
For all of my trying
we still end up dying;


Edge of Desire - John Mayer


“This party is crap,” Sirius said, half an hour after we’d arrived. In all honesty, the whole thing was beyond anticlimactic and really rather... lame.  “Beyond crap. This is the biggest pile of shit ever.”

The only good thing about the whole evening so far was Charlie’s face when Sirius had walked in. He had looked absolutely gobsmacked. It had been the funniest moment and had made the whole experience feel immensely satisfying, until we’d all realised how lame this party was.

Charlie was sixteen going on seventeen, which meant that in muggle terms he was definitely underage and his parents had forbidden him to have alcohol at his party. Not that having alcohol made things automatically better, but as Sirius had said... it would probably have helped. The other problem was the aging DJ, who apparently wasn’t as deaf as he looked as he had the music on very quietly. Everyone seemed to be standing around at the sides of the room, looking at the make-shift dance floor as if it was contagious. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected more from a party held in the village hall.

“Agreed,” I answered, getting myself a glass of punch (probably made by Mrs Malone who was actually a lovely woman).  

“We should probably make it a little more exciting,” he continued.

“How?” I asked dryly. I lifted the glass up to my lips in the way that I had seen Marlene do – with grace and elegance (I hoped).

“The usual – spike the punch, turn up the music, start off the dancing and hope everyone will follow.”

He was watching me and waiting for my reaction. For a moment I felt flattered that he was actually making sure I was okay with it before going ahead and trashing the party, and leaving me to take the blame.

I took a sip of the punch and promptly spat it back out into my glass again, completely ruining my effect.

“Lovely and ladylike,” Sirius smirked.

“You already spiked it!” I accused him, and he just smirked wider. “What was the point in asking for my permission if you’d already done it?”

“It makes you feel like you actually have a say in matters?” Sirius suggested, and I rolled my eyes at him. “Pete is on the turning-up-the-music thing.” Sneaky bastard. “And now all that’s left is to dance!”

“I don’t dance.”

“So you were planning on coming to a party and doing what exactly...?” Sirius questioned. “Everything is going almost to Lily’s plan. That’s James over there with his sister.”

“I really think we’ve done enough now, and Lily looks pissed.”

“Precisely – kills two birds with one stone.”

“What? Breaks two girls’ hearts with the same snog? Lovely. Really charming.”

“Don’t get mad.”

“I am not mad!”

“Yes you are,” Sirius corrected me. “You’re pissed at me for no reason other than the fact this isn’t going according to plan.”

“I didn’t have a plan – Lily did and, like you said, her plan is working perfectly...”

“You had this idea of how it was going to work, which probably involved you yelling at him and telling him he’s a prat and him actually believing it, being very upset and probably bursting into tears and grovelling at your feet. Then he’d proclaim his undying love for you and try to win you back, which you’d refused emotionlessly before leaving to a much cooler party, which he’d obviously know without you telling him.” 

He was so right that it made me uncomfortable.

“Sorry, the world doesn’t work like that Mary. He’s a prat, you don’t mean anything to him and the only thing you’ll manage to do is bring his ego down a little and that’s at a push. He’s not going to listen to you because he’s too far stuck up his own fat arse to hear.”

“Of course you’d know all about it,” I told him, slightly disgruntled. “Being a heartbreaker and all.”

“They broke their own sodding hearts.”

“Amanda?” I asked, feeling more riled up by the second. “That was all her fault was it – that girl was perfect, Sirius, and you screwed her over for... what now?”

“For you,” Sirius said, sounding equally pissed off. “Or is that not exactly how you planned this little story out? Hmm? Would you have preferred if I hadn’t bothered with that and I hadn’t...”

“Hadn’t cheated on your girlfriend? Yes actually. Although to be honest I’d have preferred if you hadn’t dated her to spite me anyway. I, for one, don’t like being responsible for breaking people’s hearts. Or families,” I added, and I didn’t even regret it. All the built up anger I’d been repressing since Christmas finally had an outlet – I could just yell at him and he’d have to forgive me really because we’d agreed.

“And you call me arrogant,” Sirius spat back at me, and I glared at him.

“Fine. You’re a prat. What’s new?”  I said, hoping that we could finish this now, as I realised the whole room was watching us and there were quite a lot of people here – this wasn’t really helping with the whole plan thing... really...

“Yes, yes. I’m a prat and you’re just perfect.” Ahh... we’re not finished. He was probably doing it just to piss me off. “It’s not like you’re a crazy, jealous, attention seeking oversensitive -”

 “Over what now?!”

“Oversensitive – extremely or excessively sensitive.”

“You don’t need to give me a vocabulary lesson – I’m not thick.”

“Oh really?” Sirius questioned, and I glared at him. “See. Like I said, oversensitive.”

“Stop being such an idiot!” I yelled.

“Stop being high and mighty and just admit you’re an oversensitive girl who expects too much from mankind as a whole.”

“It’s not my fault you’re a freaking disappointment!” I snapped back, and he raised his eyebrows in annoyance.

“And just how am I supposedly disappointing you? Which boxes am I not ticking on your sodding check list? That’s what girls do right. Make up Mr Dream guy and expect us all to measure up.”

“I do not have a freaking check list,” I answered flatly, glaring at him with all the energy I could muster up. It was true; I didn’t have a check list... that I’d written down at any rate. Lily had made me do it. It wasn’t my fault and he could not use that against me. “And we all know that you’re quite capable of measuring up,” I added at the end – this argument needed to stop as soon as possible. People were staring.

He raised an eyebrow at me for a second.

“Sure you don’t want to check again?” he asked, his voice returning back to its calmer state as he stepped forwards to remove some of the space between us.

“I remember quite vividly. Although if you think we should, I have no problem with that,” I said, taking a sip of my punch before remembering that it was spiked and I had previously spat a mouthful of the stuff back into the glass. Lovely. Everyone was watching me now, so I swallowed it nervously and looked up at Sirius from between my lashes. “That tastes absolutely foul,” I said, quiet enough so that no one could hear me.  Just then Peter finally managed to get control of the music volume and cranked it up so that it vibrated the whole hall with noise. Sirius smirked at me and closed the gap so that our lips were touching, and then really touching, where they stayed for quite some time.

***********

“Mary,” Charlie Malone said, in the impersonal and uncaring way I was used to people saying my surname. Muggles didn’t use people’s surnames much, which I found strange after being at Hogwarts where practically everyone called me ‘McDonald’ unless they actually cared about me. Being address as Mary threw me off slightly, but not much, as the way Sirius was acting (as in the whole “we’re actually mating like rabbits all the time” thing) actually made me feel a lot more confident about myself. It was just little things, like him sliding his hand up my leg a little bit further than he would have done normally and the suggestive comments, which made me feel like a slut, but in a good way. I felt wanted and well... sexy. 

“Charlie,” I returned, stopping myself from calling him Malone, which he would think was strange.

“Where’ve you been?”

“Outside,” I answered, bringing a hand up to my head and fluffing my hair up a little. I brought my glass of punch to my lips and took a sip of it, smiling at him. Marlene was definitely right about the whole ‘holding an alcoholic drink makes you feel cool’ thing. Except that I had made Sirius change my drink to blackcurrant juice, as I was sure that alcohol would affect me a lot more than other people due to my ‘blood condition’.  The story I’d told Sirius was that I did not drink and didn’t particularly want to find out if I was a light weight or not here...  Anyway the point was Charlie thought it was alcoholic and it made me feel better (even though really I don’t approve of the whole alcohol thing – what’s the point?). I let him come to his own conclusions about what I was doing outside.

The idea had been to get some air (it was hot in the hall after everyone had actually started dancing), but Sirius had come with me and I’d probably ended up with less air than before. Not that I minded.

“Right. Good Christmas?”

“Why are you talking to me?” I asked, smiling. It threw him off slightly.

“I wanted to tell you that it hadn’t worked,” he said, after a few seconds and another sip of his drink. “Your little plan to get me to feel jealous, and you can tell your fake boyfriend that he can give it up. Who is he? Your brother? A cousin? Or did you hire him? Look Mary, I know you’re bitter that I broke your heart but quite frankly this is embarrassing.”

I tried not to think about how disgusting the idea of me making out with my brother or my cousin was.

“How long have you been practicing that speech? God. You’re almost as bad as him with the ego thing,” I said, jerking a thumb back at Sirius who was talking to Remus about something serious looking. Those two definitely had a secret. I stopped to look at them for a second before dragging my eyes back to Charlie, who suddenly seemed like the less important issue. “Yes you pissed me off with your little bet thingy but I suppose that’s karma for you,” I added, before looking round at Sirius and Remus again. It looked like they were arguing.

“Karma?”

“You know, what goes around comes around.”

“I know what it is, but what do you mean karma?” Charlie asked, seeming confused. I noticed that he had a large spot on his nose, which wasn’t very attractive at all. Actually his skin was generally bad and his lips... as if I had kissed him before. Ew.

“Sorry, what?” I asked, realising he was waiting for me to speak.

“What was your bad Karma?” he said, slowly, as if I was thick.

“Oh, right, well... I’ve been dating Sirius for three years,” I said, letting that (fake) information sink in. I had no idea where I was going with this.

“So... you were cheating on him?” he asked, his eyes darting over to Sirius. He probably thought he could use this to ruin my life or something.

“No. We dated for three years on and off and he decided that as he was going on holiday to Spain we would be in an ‘off’ phase, so that he could stick his tongue down any tanned bimbo’s face without having to feel guilty about it. We had an argument, which happens a lot, so I was determined to get back at him.”

“With me?” Charlie asked slowly.

“Bingo,” I said. “Very quick of you.”

“So you used me too?”

“Well duh,” I said, raising an eyebrow at his appearance. He looked down at his dirty trainers and seemed embarrassed for a second. “But it worked out fine because you didn’t care, I didn’t care, and Sirius had felt so bad about our argument that he hadn’t so much as looked at a Spanish girl the whole time he was away.”

“What’s this?” Sirius said, standing behind me with his hands on my hips and talking into my ear.

“I was telling Charlie here about you wanting to snog Spanish chicks whilst you were away,” I said.

“Ah,” Sirius said, pretending to understand what the hell I was talking about and looking slightly ashamed of himself. 

“And how you felt so bad about our argument that you avoided them all like the plague,”  I continued. 

“So why did you come tonight if not to get back at me?” Charlie asked, interrupting our conversation.

“To get back at this jerk,” I said, tilting my head towards Sirius who was now trailing his lips up and down my neck which has hard to ignore. “He didn’t know about you. Anyway now we have our argument sorted anyway so it doesn’t matter. No hard feelings?” I asked, and Charlie nodded and repeated my words.

“No hard feelings.”

“Can I steal Mary away now?”

“Sure,” Charlie said, as Sirius wrapped his hands more tightly around me and kissed the side of my neck until I turned round to face him properly.

“Satisfying? The conversation I mean,” he asked with a quirk of his eyebrow.

“Surprisingly not actually,” I shrugged. “Who cares anyway?”

“I’m so glad that you’re finally seeing sense. Now, let’s dance.”

“I can’t,” I told him, and Sirius shook his head.

“I can. I can do everything, so put your drink down and I’ll teach you.”

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

“I thought you said you didn’t smoke,” I said, stepping out into the fresh air to escape from all the ‘dancing’ and the heat of the room indoors. Sirius was pratting about with the other guys now and I’d left them to it. The noise was giving me a headache.

“Yeah, well,” Marlene said. She was the first person I’d ever seen look glamorous rather than stupid whilst holding a cigarette. She was leaning against the wall in her heels and dress thing with one leg supporting her and the cigarette between her fingers. She made me feel incredibly inadequate just looking at her. “Things change.”

“It’s hardly going to help increase your life expectancy,” I said, feeling foolish. The air was deliciously cold against my skin. I had taken off my jacket so my arms were completely exposed to the December night air but I didn’t much care, it felt good.

I noted that Marlene had so far ignored my comment and blew out a breath of smoke into the coolness instead. I hated the smell of them, but I found her too intimidating to be able to tell her put it out.

She looked surreal and dark in the harsh electric light that lit up the entrance to the hall. She didn’t look as if she belonged in such a small village. I could imagine her in a big city or in some other world. It suited her much better.

“Sirius looks a lot like him,” Marlene said, after another long silence. It was true. He did.

It struck me as to how strange it was that Marlene – the older, more sophisticated girl – was dating the younger brother. It didn’t make much sense in my head. Then again Regulus was more serious and had a much darker, less mischievous temperament.

“Yeah,” I agreed, and leant against the wall beside her. “He wants you back.”

“I know.”

“What are you going to do then?”

She shrugged and brought the cigarette back to her lips again. She inhaled deeply before speaking again.

“First I’ll tell him I’m dying. I won’t tell him there’s a cure nearly ready till he’s really shitting himself about it. Then, if he still wants me after that I’ll think about it, ignore him for a while, make him really panic, make him beg. Then I’ll decide what to do.”

It was the first long sentence I’d heard her speak. “Or I might tell him that if he wants me he’ll have to give up being a Death Eater, ignore all of his family, get himself disowned and buy me a fat engagement ring or he’s lost me for good.”

She seemed almost amused now. “Or maybe I’ll tell him that I’m in love with his Sirius and tell him that I’ll only choose him if he kills Sirius in a duel - Ha!” She threw the cigarette to the floor and stamped her stilettoed foot on top of it. “Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell him that I don’t want anything to do with him because he’s a prejudiced murderer and I hate him.”

“You want the truth?” she asked, turning to me with her eyes sharp. “You want the truth?” She didn’t wait for me to answer. “Love is a pile of shit. Because I know I’m better off without him. I know that he’s a no good pile of crap who’s going to land me in the deepest pile of shit I’ve ever seen one of these days. He hates me and I hate him. We want to hurt each other and he does –whenever he gets the chance. I have a million ways in which I could destroy him swimming round my head all the time, yet I love him too much to be able to go through with any one of them!  I could have fucked Sirius back when he was still a manwhore and I could fuck off now and leave him but I can’t, not really. The only thing I’ve ever managed to do to get back at him was to cheat and then, thanks to you I felt so guilty about it, that I told him and he broke up with me. Then ten minutes later, he wants me back again and we both know that by the end of the holidays he’ll have me and he’ll go back to treating me like shit,” she said, banging her fist against the wall and standing herself up straight. “I’m going home. Daniel left a while ago. Enjoy your little party,” she said, after a long silence. Then she left.

I stood there in a silence for what felt like a few minutes but could have been a lot longer, before Lily opened the backdoor and joined me. I felt a lot more immature and downright childish after my conversation with Marlene, and Lily seemed to have regressed too. I suddenly realised how young we were – sixteen – and acting like we knew what we were doing when we didn’t have a clue.

“James has been eating that stupid girl’s face all evening,” Lily said. It all seemed pathetic and stupid now in the grand scheme of things. Like I’d been given a sudden dose of perspective that I couldn’t ignore.

“It was your plan Lily.”

“I didn’t mean for James to do it though! One of the others could have...”

“Why? Has someone got a little crush on Jamsie?” I mocked, and she sent me an aggravated look.

“No,” she answered, not very convincingly.

“Oh really, Lilykins? Did you or did you not name your owl after what James suggested?”

“It’s hot. I’m going back inside,” Lily said, flushing, but before she had the chance Sirius stepped out.

“It’s nearly time for the stupid countdown thing,” Sirius said. He suddenly seemed a lot more immature too. I felt disconnected and apart from them somehow, at realising how much experience we were all lacking, really. “You have to kiss someone or something. So I came out to get you Lily.”

“Funny,” I answered, and the three of us went back into the sweltering room together.

“TEN!” I glanced around to see who everyone was with. Charlie was with some random girl who I think went to my primary school. Alice had somehow ended up standing next to Frank Longbottom (how weird would it be if they kissed?).

 “NINE!”

 Remus was standing in a corner and glaring at Frank. Jeremy was chatting to a very subtly pretty girl next to the drinks table.

“EIGHT!”

Peter had now taken the job of looking after Charlie’s sister, who didn’t really seem that bothered by it (although maybe a little put out that she hadn’t got round to any of the others).

“SEVEN!”

I glanced around to try and find James but he’d disappeared in the small crowd.

“SIX!”

The DJ seemed to have fallen asleep at the sound desk.

“FIVE!”

I spotted James coming out of the toilets, and he glanced at Charlie’s sister before shrugging.

“FOUR!”

He started looking for someone else in the crowd.

“THREE!” He spotted Lily, who was on her own in the far corner (which was rather close to the toilets as it turned out) and looking put out, and he started heading over in her direction.

“TWO!” She hadn’t seen him yet, and I wondered what her reaction would be.

“ONE!” I glanced back at the others before turning my eyes back to James’s progress across the room. He stopped behind her and I could tell from here that he was grinning. She still hadn’t turned around.

“ZERO!” James tapped her on the shoulder before kissing her like his life depended on it. She automatically put her arms around him and, from what I could see, was kissing him back. Alice kissed Frank politely on the cheek, still talking and laughing. Remus was studiously ignoring the girl next to him and still glaring at the floor.  Pete was kissing Charlie’s sister enthusiastically, which looked to involve a lot of tongue. By the time I looked over at Jeremy he was getting another drink for the girl he’d been talking to, so I couldn’t tell if he’d kissed her or not.

“Stop being so nosy,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes. “We were supposed to have kissed like... half an hour ago or something.

“Sorry!” I said, reaching up and kissing him on the lips quickly.

“Is that all I’m getting?”

“Yes sir. Happy new year!”

The last year. Ever.

And it’s not even going to be a full one.

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

 Considering Hogwarts has a set date for the beginning of each year, you’d think they have one for the end of Christmas, and you’d think out of consideration they’d make it a bit further away. Instead it’s a Monday, to be practical, when we head back on the 5th of January.

When I thought about how much I’d been dreading Christmas it seemed stupid that I should want it to hang around for at least another week now. The idea of going back to Hogwarts scared me a lot more than it probably should have done, all things considered. It was my fault, that much was obvious, but for some reason, this side of the New Year, dying was terrifying.

So I had reacted maturely and sensibly, and locked myself in the house and refused to contact anyone. I had watched stupid amounts of movies, read all the books (most of which made me even more depressed) and stuck all the random pictures I had from photo albums and on the wall into my scrapbook. Sirius had written to me twice, as had Lily. I hadn’t replied and they seemed to have given up. In fairness I had snapped at the pair of them after the party and been a little bitchy in all honesty, but a part of me wished they’d tried harder, even though, admittedly, I would have found it annoying.

Maybe I didn’t have to go back to Hogwarts? It was a little bit late to start thinking about it now we were in the car and on the way, or two cars. Unlike the trip on September 1st, they had decided to take two cars and all come along... I wasn’t sure whether I agreed with this idea yet.

Still I could just say I want to stay at home until I die, and they couldn’t exactly stop me.  They’d want me to stay surely.

“Dad...?” I began.

“No,” he replied, indicating and turning left.

“What?” I asked in confusion. This car only had me, Dad and Becky in and it almost felt like old times. Except that my brother, half-sister and pregnant step mum were in the car behind us.

“I just don’t think it’s as good idea,” he said, glancing back over his shoulder to see if Karen and baby were still alive (they were). “You’d hate it.”

“Sorry?”

“Staying at home.  Don’t give me that look Mary – I’m your father, I know how your brain works and you look terrified of going back, but if you stay at home you’ll hate every second of it and waste the rest of your life lazing around and doing nothing. You need to be with your friends, as much as we’ll all miss you. Maybe closer to the time you can come home.”

“I know you’ll miss me loads, but I’m sure you’ll get over it. We’ll visit,” Becky put in. She sounded a lot more cheerful than she had done in awhile. “I’ll come back with you if you like,” she suggested.

“No,” Dad replied. “You need to get back on your feet and stop living in fairy land.”

Becky shut her mouth and glared out of the window. I felt a stab of annoyance at Dad, but I saw his point. The longer she spent in the wizarding world, the harder it would be to get back.

“We both know it’s where I belong,” Becky snapped back, and Dad winced slightly and didn’t answer. “Before you started your little experiments.”

“What?” I asked, looking back at Dad’s fixed expression and Becky’s annoyed one. “What are you talking about?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Dad said, staring out the front windscreen and not looking around to face me.

“Yes it does, she should know,” Becky said, and Dad didn’t answer and instead turned up the radio in the car. I guess that meant the conversation was over. Except that wasn’t fair. I turned the radio back down and crossed my arms over my chest.

“Yeah, I should – whatever you’re talking about. I’m just dying to know,” I said, and his jaw clenched.

 “I think she should have known from the beginning.”

“You know full well why she was kept in the dark.”

“All your reasons have run out now. She knows about the cure – about the testing.”

“I know why Mum died if that’s what we’re talking about.”

“No. This is about me.”

“If there’s some family secret - I want to know about it. I have a right to.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Dad said through clenched teeth.

“Maybe not to you,” Becky returned purposefully, not looking at Dad and her face fixed into a scowl. “It’s not about how you came into the world that we’re talking about.”

“Why does it matter? It’s the reason you’re alive.”

“It’s the reason I want to die,” Becky snapped back. I stopped talking, hoping that any second now they’d let something slip that wouldn’t be completely incomprehensible.

“There’s no proof of that,” Dad protested, his knuckled white as his hands clenched the steering wheel. I would have feared for my life as I knew his driving got a tad more erratic when he was mad but... It’s not like I had much of a life left to fear and, predictably, the traffic in London was terrible.

“That doesn’t stop people believing things – or was that only my darling mother?”

“Stop it Becky. That’s not fair.”

Becky folded her arms. Dad stared at the road. I glanced between both of them and knew that this time the conversation really was over.

***********

“Mary!” Lily exclaimed, and a pair of arms attacked me and I was pulled into a fierce hug. “You would not believe -”

Exactly what I would not believe wasn’t revealed as Alice calmly walked onto the scene with a grim expression on her face, which Lily didn’t seem to notice.

“ALICE!” Lily yelled, excessively to say the least considering we’d seen her what? Four days ago... or possibly after then. “You would not believe –!”

“Miss me?” Sirius asked me, speaking over my shoulder, which made me jump.

“Nope,” I answered happily, and Sirius raised his eyebrow. It wasn’t so bad being at Hogwarts after all. “Never,” I said, turning around to see the other Marauders behind Sirius standing awkwardly as if they were scared they were going to impose on some private moment – not likely.

“Didn’t think so – otherwise you would have answered my letters.”

 I blushed uncomfortably and looked down at the floor.

“Yeah, what was with that?” Lily asked again, displaying her brilliant ability to be involved in several conversations at once easily.

“I was... busy,” I finished, looking towards where my family were stood a few meters away, awkwardly.

“I’m magical!” Johnny exclaimed, as if the news was filling him up to bursting point. “I’m coming to Hogwarts next year!”

“Really?” Alice asked, bending down to his level a little.

“Yes!” he exclaimed, and Becky scowled at him.

“You’re not coming back, Becky?” Frank asked, and I don’t know when he had got here.

“No,” she said coldly, glaring at Dad, before smiling at Frank again. “So, good luck,” she said, her eyes darting over to Alice for a second. I wasn’t the only one who saw the little exchange.

“I’m going to the prefect’s compartment,” Remus said, waking towards the train with his fists in the pockets of his muggle jeans. They didn’t look quite right on him.

“What’s the deal with Remus?” I asked Sirius quietly.

“What do you mean?” Sirius asked, not looking directly at me.

“I know there’s something going on,” I said, and Sirius shrugged.

“Hello dear,” Mrs Potter said, walking over to where James was stood with us. “I hope your Christmas improved since we saw you last?” I nodded politely and smiled at her. “I’m Julie, James’s mum,” Mrs Potter said to my parents, who nodded as if they understood what she was talking about. I’d never mentioned any of my friends to them before really, so they were bound to be feeling a little awkward.

“Andrew McDonald,” Dad said in return. “This is... our family,” he said, gesturing towards all of us.

“Goodness me there’s a lot of you,” she said kindly. “Although not quite as many as the Weasleys I daresay.”

“Right,” I said, slightly awkwardly. “We should get going. Bye Dad,” I said, throwing my arms around his neck and hugging him. “I’ll miss you,” I said, and this time I meant it. The others seemed to dissolve backwards as if they knew I needed some time.

“Look after yourself,” Dad said, hugging me back. “And we’ll visit loads – honest.”

“What’s going on with Becky, Dad?” He sighed, and looked at her for a second.

“I’ll explain another time. Not now, but soon...”

“Okay,” I nodded. “Johnny!” I exclaimed, picking him up off the floor and hugging him tightly. He struggled for a minute before I decided he was far too heavy and put him on the floor.

“I don’t want you to die,” Johnny said, which made my eyes well up a little.

“I don’t want me to either.” I answered him, hugging him tightly.

“Where’s my hug?” Becky asked, and I moved on to her, feeling how tiny her body was in my arms and trying not be scared by it.

Once I’d done the rounds of hugging and saying goodbye to everyone I realised how completely emotionally drained I felt, and I still felt nervous about stepping back on that train. It was stupid and irrational but I couldn’t help but feel terrified by the prospect of not staying with them anymore.  I bit my lip and turned away from them. To my surprise, Sirius appeared out of nowhere and grabbed hold of my trunk before I had a chance to protest.

“Bye!” I yelled weakly to the others, turning and waving. “Bye,” I repeated, although I knew they couldn’t hear me. “Bye,” I said again, sounding so pathetic to my own ears that I was a little ashamed. Sirius’s shoulder brushed against mine for a second and I knew it had been on purpose, and the contact made me feel a little better.

I tasted salt and realised for the first time that I’d been crying. Sirius had also noticed and looked away awkwardly, hauling my case onto the train just as it began whistling.

“What’ve you been doing, other than avoiding me then?” Sirius asked, lightening the mood a little and setting my trunk down on the floor and pulling me into a sort of hug, which wasn’t really a hug.

“Reading,” I replied, my voice shaking a little.

“It’s worse than I thought!” Sirius exclaimed in mock horror, which made me smile. “Just promise me you won’t turn into Lily,” he said, intertwining his fingers through mine.

“Why not? I see many advantages.”

“Many reasons.”

“List them,” I said, without feeling bad at all. Being friends with someone like Lily Evans always made you feel a lot less... remarkable. Considering how she was brilliant at pretty much everything it made me feel kind of shit...

“For a start if you turned into Lily, James wouldn’t let me near you and would claim you both for his own, which would make me very sad.” I smiled a little more. “Secondly, Lily is just... annoying.”

“Annoyingly perfect.”

“No, just annoying,” Sirius corrected me. “You’re much more fun. You have far nicer eyes. You’re more down to earth. You make me laugh. I am pretty sure – although I’ve never tested this – that you’re a better kisser. You understand me. I like talking to you. You have bigger boobs,” I laughed this time. “Although, none of us ever did find out your bra size in the end.”

“What do you think it is?” I asked, smirking.

“My judgements not all that great, I usually lied so that I always ended up right. We’ll just have to check,” Sirius said, and I realised that he had somehow pushed me into a corner and there was no way out – not that I minded all that much. “Where are we...?” Sirius said, with his hands on my back as he found my bra strap. I realised how weird this must seem to anyone else, but it didn’t really seem weird – just funny.

“Are you trying to undo my bra?” I asked after a few seconds, laughing.

“What else would I do with it?” Sirius smirked. “Except you have one of those annoying triple fastening ones on.”

“Do you realise how strange it is that you know that?” I asked him, pushing him away and grabbing my trunk off the floor. “The answer is very, and you’re going to have to be a lot more cunning to work out what it is.”

“I’ll consider it my priority mission,” Sirius told me cheerfully, pulling the trunk out my hands and carrying it himself. Good job too, it was heavy. “The others will be wondering where we are.”

“No they won’t. They’ll be thinking we’re off somewhere snogging.”

“Actually, hold on a sec – why aren’t we doing that?”

“You’re a prat.”

“And you love it,” Sirius said, pushing open the door of the compartment and dumping my trunk on the floor. “What have you got in there anyway – rocks?” he asked, and I shook my head and sat down. Upon seeing the others my feelings of unease crept back. I bit my lip and sat down as far away from everyone as I could.

“Something like that,” I answered quietly, looking pointedly out the window to avoid everyone else’s eyes. I could feel Sirius watching me as he sat down in the space next to me and started talking about Quidditch or something, to detract the attention away from me whilst tracing circles on the back of my hand.

It made me feel a little more relaxed.

*******

“So what I want to know is how you’re still alive James..?” I asked, finally joining in the conversation for the first time in hours. “After your stunt on new Year’s Eve?”

“Ah, she loved it,” James said, running his fingers through his hair and sitting back in pride. “She still turned me down though.”

“You asked her out?”

“Yeah, but it was a nice rejection and she didn’t seem angry.”

I could tell the others had all heard about this before by their expressions. That meant they’d all met up with each other without me. My heart sunk.

“But, she made him agree to only ask her out once more.”

“Ever?”

“Ever,” Alice said grimly.

“But it’s fine – I have a plan,” James said cheerfully. “I’m going to make her ask me out, and save mine.”

“How?” I asked incredulously. James tapped his nose mysteriously and fluffed up his hair again.

“The important thing right now is coming up with a decent prank against the Slytherins,” James continued. “And we have another few hands now,” he said, gesturing towards Frank, Alice and me. “So it’ll be a much better prank.”

“I’m not much of a pranking mastermind,” I admitted.

“Did you, or did you not think of the basis of our last prank?”

“Which was a failure,” I pointed out.

“Not really,” Pete contradicted.

“We all got detention.”

“And we all got to play in the snow and as that was the point of the prank, it worked perfectly,” Peter said defiantly. “The point of this prank is...”

“To make my brother’s friends look like prats,” Sirius supplied. 

“Make all their clothes invisible.”

“We could practice on Mary!”

“Sod off,” I said, hitting Sirius as he smirked. “And does anyone really want to know what underwear Snape wears? Or worse, what’s underneath?” A collective shudder went through all of us.

“Do you reckon that Sniverllus has ever kissed anyone?”

“Yes,” I answered, before realising that my reply was sure to lead to some awkward questions. “Lily was his best friend, remember? She told me,” I added quickly.

“Eww. Who?” James asked, looking mildly revolted.

“That I can’t tell you,” I said, and Sirius sent me a knowing look. I’d forgotten I’d already told him. Whoops. The door of the compartment opened and Lily’s cat slipped into the compartment. It leaped up onto the seat and sat down on my lap.

“Hello Pads.” I said, stroking him softly as he curled up. I wasn’t much of a cat person – or animal person – but Lily’s cat was used to me now and perfectly comfortable just to sleep on me (for example right now).

“Urgh,” Sirius said, looking towards the cat as if it was contagious. The cat looked upwards and shrank back away from him. “I’m not a cat person,” Sirius explained, also edging away. “They make me nervous.”

“Tell me about it,” Pete said, shrinking back into his corner as Lily’s cat looked at him with its big green eyes. It saw Pete and started hissing unpleasantly.  I put my hands around Pads to keep him safely on my lap, but he stood up and arched his back – glaring at Pete.

It suddenly leapt across the compartment and landed on Pete. “ARGH!” Pete yelled, jumping to his feet. The cat clung on to his robe, claws flying everywhere as it struggled to stay on. “OWHH!” he yelled, as Pads sunk his claws into Pete’s chest and hissed. “SIRIUS GET HIM OFF ME!”

Sirius stood up and walked forward gingerly, as if the cat could cause him great pain. Alice and I looked on vaguely amused – why did Sirius have to get the cat off, rather than James who seemed perfectly comfortable in its presence?

“Shoo,” Sirius said hopefully to the cat that was ripping Pete’s shirt up into shreds and attacking the poor guy quite violently. Considering that cat was normally a placid creature this was... strange. “Shoo!” Sirius said a bit louder, and the cat ignored him and now started to shred Pete’s chest instead. Sirius tried to get hold of the cat and pull him off but to no avail.

“DO SOMETHING!” Pete squeaked, also trying to push the cat away from him but its claws were attached firmly to the remains of his robes.

Then Sirius growled. He actually growled – baring his teeth and all. The cat jumped in surprise and finally let go, falling to the floor and running away from Sirius’s legs. Sirius barked (yes I know) at the cat, who streaked back out of the compartment looking terrified. Hell, I was terrified.

“Don’t you just have the urge to chase it?” Sirius asked, probably in an attempt to ease the uncomfortable atmosphere that had suddenly landed on the compartment.

“Erm...” Alice said, glancing at me. She found the whole thing just as weird as me. I swallowed and tried not to think about the fact that it was my boyfriend who had just barked and growled at a cat. Maybe his parents gave him brain damage when they tried to kill him – maybe that’s why he thought I had nicer eyes than Lily (have you seen how green her eyes are?!?) and that could also explain why he’s dating me, the girl so average that her name actually contains both Mary and Sue. Oh dear.

“Please explain what the hell that was,” I said, hoping for anything that would stop my thoughts racing in my head and stop me from being so ridiculous. Maybe something that made Sirius seem a little saner too. Sirius sighed and sat back down.

“Well, I suppose we’re going to have to,” Sirius said. “We should probably wait until Mo – Remus is here,” he said uncomfortably, looking at James for confirmation.

“Yeah, we probably should wait...”  James said, stopping when he looked at the door.  Lily and Remus were at the door. She had the cat in her arms - it still looked traumatised. As soon as they slid the door open the cat leaped out of her arms and jumped onto the luggage rack and started hissing at Sirius, who looked suitably uncomfortable.

“What is wrong with her?” Lily asked, sitting down on my other side and looking in a decidedly better mood than she had done for a while. “I found her cowering in a corner shaking,” she said, glancing up at her. “And what happened to your robes Peter?”

“You cat attacked me!” he said, looking even more scared than the cat did. I glanced at Remus who turned pale. “It went crazy.”

“Then Sirius started barking.” Alice said, still looking as confused and disturbed as I felt (which is very by the way). “It was seriously weird.”

“So we were just going to explain...” Sirius said, checking with Remus. Remus looked pained for a minute but nodded.

“We’re animagi,” Pete said, sounding a little smug. The others seemed to have been holding back a little, but Pete didn’t seem bothered. It was like he’d been longing to tell someone...

“Ani what now?” I asked, although the others seemed to have understood it perfectly.

“Animagi,” Frank said matter of factly. “They can transform into animals.”

“You knew?” James asked, and Frank shrugged.

“Wait, what?” I asked again. Sirius sighed and pulled the blind down across the window. Then he transformed – into a dog. I wasn’t the only one who gasped, but Lily seemed to be completely speechless. Pads-the-cat shrank back into the luggage rack and hissed a little more feebly.

Then Sirius was standing back where he started again, and sat down as if nothing had happened.

“That’s illegal,” Lily breathed. “You’d get into so much trouble!”

“Yeah, so we’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone,” Sirius said, and I knew his words were a clear threat – maybe he was a lot more like his brother than I thought. 

“You said we?” asked Alice, seemingly the calmest about this bombshell. “What are the rest of you?”

“Rat,” Peter said. Ah. That explained the cat thing. It didn’t surprise me actually – he looked a little bit like a rat when you thought about it.

“Stag,” James said proudly.

“I’m a... wolf.” Remus said uncomfortably. He exchanged a look with Sirius and James, which looked very unlike him – there was a touch of anger and another clear threat. I decided not to worry about it. The whole thing was making my head spin anyway.

“But...how? When? Why?” Lily asked, still in a state of awed shock.

I closed my eyes and buried my head in Sirius shoulder (even though he definitely smelt a little doggish now).

This day was so strange.

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

I ran back down the dormitory steps three at a time and threw my arms around Sirius’s neck.  “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I exclaimed, although it was muffled as my face was practically in his neck. I could feel people’s eyes on the back of my head and normally, especially considering how uncomfortable and out of place I was feeling today, I would have felt incredibly embarrassed and probably would have been a little more discreet in my approach. Running down the girls’ stairs into a common room full of people catching up (which meant eating each other’s faces for every couple) after Christmas and yelling was maybe not the best way to be subtle. However, I had just seen my brand spanking new motorbike.

“Wow,” I could hear Lily say from our dormitory door and I assumed that she’d also seen it too (it was hard to miss). “That is... wow.”

“Definitely,” Alice said, although you could tell she wasn’t really the motorbike type.

“You sure you liked it? I can take it back?” Sirius suggested, and I shook my head excitedly.

“No way!” I said, reaching up to kiss him. A bubble of excited happiness was expanding inside my chest and I felt the sudden urge to burst into song. Of course I didn’t, and expressed my feelings via my lips in another way.
“Ahh, Mary, we are causing a bit of a scene,” Sirius smirked, moving away from me. I looked around to find that everyone was looking at us, but I couldn’t quite decide if I wanted them to. There was a part of me that wanted to show off how lucky I was to have Sirius and make all the girls glaring at us jealous (although I was doing that already by simply existing). Then there was a second part of me, which wanted to run away and not have to look at any of them (especially Sirius) again. The feeling of uneasiness crept back over me and I tried to ensure my voice stayed level as I spoke.

“Screw them.”

“Or me, whichever you’d prefer.”

“Always them,” I said. Sirius laughed, or more barked (at least I now have an explanation to that too...) and pulled me down onto the comfiest sofa so we could talk properly.

“I’ll have to teach you how to ride it properly. It’s a little bit better than my last one -”

“You’ve had a motorbike before? Why?”

“For fun,” Sirius said, not meeting my eyes. “It got broken though. I drove it into a tree.”

“And that broke it...?” I asked slowly. Surely something like a motorbike wouldn’t break unless he was driving at some considerable speed. Especially if it was a magical motorbike – it was a dead cert that there’d be protection spells and safety enchantments put on it. This whole thing was sounding less safe by the minute...

“It was the whomping willow,” Sirius admitted. Ah.

“Well that’s comforting since you’re about to teach me how to drive.”

“I did it on purpose,” Sirius said defensively.

“Why?”

“Erm... long story. I was trying to do a... trick. It didn’t work out properly and anyway, I built that one myself. So it’s no wonder...”

“You amaze me,” I said, not entirely sure as to whether I was being sarcastic or not.

“I’m born with it – it can’t be taught.”

“Well thank bloody God for that,” I answered him cheerfully. At any other time a conversation like this between the two of us would have been completely normal but for some reason I still felt off balance and strange. My muscles were tensed up and I couldn’t enjoy myself properly and be myself. I was too... worried about everything.

Sirius surveyed me for a second, obviously sensing something (although I doubt he knew what, considering I didn’t even know) was wrong. I didn’t look at him and instead cast my gaze around the occupants of the Gryffindor common room. There were a fair few girls – although far from all of them – who were looking at me with a great deal of distaste and discontent.

I suppose I was sat on the comfiest sofa with Sirius Black - the most desirable (apparently) – and he had just brought me a motorbike. My legs were resting on his and his arm was resting on the back of the sofa with two of his fingers stretching out to touch the back of my neck. Maybe when I was in Fourth year I would have been jealous of any girl in my situation, but really they had no right to be. I’m the one with the shit life and a terminal illness.

“I’ll be two seconds,” Sirius said, pulling himself upwards and making towards the boys staircase. I closed my eyes feeling instantly more vulnerable as if any second those girls would turn into vultures   and start trying to peck out my eyes or something stupid. That’s what it felt like with the eyes boring into the back of my neck.

Considering they were two years younger than me, and a great deal of them didn’t even have breasts yet, I knew I shouldn’t feel intimidated but I found it hard to stop myself. The only logical explanation I could think of for being scared of thirteen year olds was that they probably were better at magic than me, but that thought didn’t make me feel any better.

“Right,” Sirius said, suddenly standing in front of me. “Let’s go for a walk.” The Vulture-Girls glared a little more as Sirius took my hand and led me out of the Gryffindor Tower before I had any chance to profess my lame excuse of being tired.

*********

“Is this supposed to be romantic?” I complained, as Sirius shushed me and pulled me against the wall. Being underneath an invisibility cloak (the wonders never cease when it comes to the Marauders) wasn’t half as glamorous as it sounded, especially when there were two of you. The air underneath the cloak was hot and reminded me of reading under my duvet – it wasn’t particularly pleasant.

“No, would you like it to be romantic? I could write you a song?” Sirius suggested, pulling me along another corridor. At least he appeared to know where the hell he was going.

“Yes please,” I requested, as I tried to recognise where we were. Everything looked different in the dark and Lily had too much regard to the rules to go on midnight adventures with me, and I could hardly have gone on my own. This was definitely a first for me.

“Marryy....” Sirius sang tunelessly, in a voice which I sincerely hoped was fake. “Sometimes you’re scary... Sometimes you’re... hairy?”

“Okay, no romance!” I said decisively, and Sirius pulled me into the main corridor and I finally realised where we seemed to be going – outside.  I didn’t complain and instead followed Sirius (closely due to the cloak) towards the front door. Sirius let us out as if he’d done this many times before and the cold air hit my face like a fist.

****

In the end we only walked as far as the lake before sitting down and talking a little bit more freely than before. It was cold – freezing – and the warming charm Sirius had put on my clothing could only do so much. So we were sat, leaning on each other, with the cloak draped over our legs to keep us a little warmer. Sirius assured me that no one would be outside and that our floating heads and chests weren’t going to give us a detention or give away James’s cloak.

“One thing,” Sirius began. We hadn’t spoken for awhile and the quietness of the surrounding had settled in so much that the loudness of his voice startled me. With the sharp wind blowing through the trees of the forest and washing away most of the sounds from within the forest, to me it felt like we were the only people in the whole world. It was startlingly strange and profound. “Don’t come out here alone at night. It’s not safe.”

“And if you’re here you can stop the big beasties in the forest from hurting me?”

“No,” Sirius replied, fairly seriously. “I just know when and where the big beasties are. Tonight, it’s safe. Tomorrow could be a different story.”

“For an arsehole that almost sounded impressive and important.”

“Ah, the flattery your sweet lips doth tell is music to mine ears!” Sirius declared, and I laughed.“All this insulting you do makes me wonder what you actually think of me.” It was an open invitation to start talking.

“I think you’re a jerk. No, I think you were a jerk,” I answered truthfully, looking upwards wistfully and noticing that there were no stars out. There wouldn’t be though, this is real life, and scenes like this don’t automatically induce clear skies and mild weather.

“I think I think I was too,” Sirius agreed.

“But I also think you’re really brave, and you’ve come through a lot and underneath it all you’re actually a really good person. You’re just misunderstood. I like you being an inconsiderate prat anyway.”

“I think you’ve been a bitch,” Sirius said in return, and I wasn’t insulted in the slightest. “But I don’t think that was your fault.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, and he pulled me a little bit closer and looked out over the milky black depths of that lake thoughtfully. It wasn’t a way I was used to seeing Sirius behave but it had buried the monster of doubt and uneasiness deep within me and I felt much better.

“I don’t think you had much choice.  You’ve had so much crap going on forever that something had to give, so you stopped being the person you were before because... I guess it hurt less. I don’t know, I’m not a therapist. It’s like... being the bitchy person makes you stronger and you’re just hiding behind it. Like today, when clearly there is something wrong, you just carry on insulting people like normal and although everyone knows you don’t mean it, you do kind of mean it just because you’re so angry at yourself and the world that something had to give. It shows you’re pretty strong, but at the same time I wish you’d just cry.”

He was still looking over at the lake and I buried myself further into his shoulder and tried not to let him know how much his words had struck a nerve.

“Hmm,” I answered in return, not wanting to give too much away as it seemed he’d got me down to a T already. I didn’t need to give him any more material to analyze, but at the same time I wanted to. It was silent for another few minutes. “Sometimes it feels like there isn’t that much going on and I’m just making it into a bigger deal than it is.”

“Maybe sometimes you are,” Sirius said after a pause. “But it’s never just one thing. As soon as you feel crap, it’s every little thing that’s ever happened to you. Suddenly the fact that once, ten years ago, a five year old called you fat or something matters a lot and that’s when it all becomes too much to manage.”

“Sirius, tell me truthfully... who called you fat?” I asked, and Sirius smiled slightly.

“You know what I mean.”

“Too well,” I answered, reaching up to kiss his cheek.

“I thought so,” Sirius said, kissing me properly, making me melt. The night air was still blowing a little too cruelly and there stars were obscured by a layer of thick could, but sitting here in the middle of the night with the cloak wrapped around us and with Sirius kissing me the moment seemed as close to perfect as it could ever be.

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

“What we talking about?” I asked, stepping into the girls’ common room at some stupid time in the morning feeling rather... fuzzy and happy. It was a little embarrassing how much I was smiling and I tried to stop myself a little. They still seemed to be looking at me as if I was some kind of alien.

“Ah, we wondered when you’d come crawling back,” Rachel said throwing a chocolate frog in my direction. “These are Char’s.”

“I got them for Christmas, but I’m on a diet,” Charlotte elaborated. I raised an eyebrow at the humungous pile in the middle of circle. They were sitting on the floor on their pillows with their duvets wrapped around them and appeared to be having a sleepover thing like we used to when we were younger.

“Her dad works at a sweet shop,” Lily said, in explanation of the sheer quantity of the chocolate. I shrugged and pulled my duvet round me and sat down in the circle.

“So, where have you been then?” Rachel asked knowingly, and a little nosily really. Still, in these chats anything goes so I usually avoided them as much as I could.

“With Sirius,” I answered but they all seemed to be expecting more. “For a walk. It was... nice.” I finished and Rachel raised an eyebrow. “So what are you talking about?”

“Sex,” Charlotte answered in her normal blunt fashion.

“Ah, okay.”

“We were debating what you were doing with Sirius,” she continued. I didn’t need to know that.

“We were talking,” I answered sharply, and she raised an eyebrow and held up her hand in defence.

“You asked,” I never really did like Charlotte much.  “Anyway, Alice was just saying that she was saving herself till marriage.”

“Really?” I asked in surprise and she nodded, blushing. I don’t know why it came as such a surprise really... I’d just never really considered it before. “That’s really... brilliant,” I finished lamely, unable to think of the correct word. “No really Alice,” I said when she looked embarrassed. “That’s amazing.”

“Thanks,” she said, still an extraordinary shade of red. “My parents are Christian - were Christians - and I just thought it was a really good idea that would... I dunno... save you a lot of pain I guess.”

“How are you supposed to last till your married?” Charlotte asked, eating a chocolate frog despite her diet.

“Easy. Get married young like all the other Christians do,” she answered and we all laughed.

“What about you Mary? What do you reckon?” Rachel asked, and I knew they still didn’t believe my ‘we went for a walk story’.

“Well, the wait-till-your-married thing sounds really... amazing but I don’t think I could do that considering I don’t think I’ll ever get married.” The ‘I’m going to die in three months’ was implied. “I’d like to, but I don’t see it happening.” Unless someone proposes quickly. “But, I’d have to be completely and utterly in love with them.”

Oh gawd. I’m going to die a virgin.

“Are you in love with Sirius then?” Lily asked, and they all looked up at me curiously.

“No, not really. I like him a lot, but love? We’ve only been dating for a few weeks.”

“Over a month,”  Rachel corrected me. I shrugged and helped myself to another chocolate frog.

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

I was sitting in the middle of the lake – on the surface of the water – and watching the sun slowly set. It was sad, in a way, to watch it slide out of view and I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. It was also a little bit scary – even though I knew it was going to happen ,being suddenly plunged into darkness was something I wanted to put off for as long as possible.

Still, if you pushed the fear backwards and really looked at the sky it was quite beautiful – more beautiful than it had been in the middle of the day and the morning. You just had to work out how to appreciate the colours properly.

There was a tree, sitting on the surface of the water, exactly as I was doing and I looked up to inspect its branches. There was a dark shape in the top of the tree that made me feel uneasy, so I looked away from it and back at the beautiful colours of the sky. Yet, there was something drawing my eyes back to it...

I turned and suddenly the tree was inches away from me and I could see what was in the branches – Vultures. Three of them, staring down at me with strangely bright eyes. A stab of irrational fear shot through my body and I tried to pull myself up. They were waiting for me.

There was the noise of an engine and I whirled around – half standing, half sitting – to see a motorbike flying its way towards me, skimming across the surface of the water. The motorbike was going fast, much too fast, and I wanted to call out and tell the driver to stop because it wasn’t safe, but he sped past me, skidding and turning.

It took me a few seconds to recognise that the figure on the motorbike was Sirius and he was zooming towards me again, and I was frozen.

“WATCH OUT!” Sirius yelled, and I tried to move but I couldn’t. He swerved violently and hit the tree.

There was an almighty crash and screws, nails and metals flew everywhere.

The tree’s branches burst into life and were trying to cause as much harm to Sirius as possible. He was picked up in one of the branches which held him like a fist. I gasped in shock and pulled out my wand to find that all I had in my pocket was a screw driver – useless, utterly useless. I threw at the water in frustration and to my surprise it began to sink, deeper and deeper...

“Mary! Mary!” A voice called and I looked upwards to see that Sirius wasn’t the only one in the tree. More and more faces appeared in the branches all yelling out to me. “Becky!” I yelled back, and tried to follow her movements as the tree tossed her from side to side. “I’m your sister!” she said, and I nodded and yelled back that I knew that. “No, No, I’m your real sister – 100%!” she yelled, but I shook my head because that couldn’t be possible, and then she disappeared. “Look, it’s the virgin Mary!” Charlie Malone exclaimed. “You want me to tell you what’s really going on?” Remus yelled, and I nodded, but his voice disappeared before he elaborated. “Hey McDonald,” Jeremy said, and I lifted my hand in greeting – entranced by the faces of people disappearing and reappearing in the branches.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Lily yelled, and suddenly the whole tree seemed to be getting higher and higher up – growing by the second.  “NOW EVERYONE WILL KNOW!” Snape yelled, and a wave of panic washed over me. “I’m so sorry Mary,” Nate said sadly from his branch.

“My Mary-fairy!” Dad  called, and he was crying. I shook my head and told him that I was fine; it was him that I was worried about. “TRY Mary! Hold on!” Sirius yelled, looking panicked. My body suddenly became nervous too and I knew something was going wrong. I looked down and saw that I wasn’t standing on the surface anymore – I was sinking lower and lower.

The sun had almost disappeared and the dim light of twilight was slowly darkening.

“YOU’RE DROWNING!” someone yelled, and I suddenly realised they were right – I was drowning. I was slipping under the water and I wasn’t even trying to stop it. The whole tree was yelling at me as I struggled to stay above the water – my arms and legs flapping in all directions. My head went under once and I swallowed a mouthful of cold water. I pulled myself up again and choked, only to be pulled under.

“Don’t give up Mary!” someone yelled somewhere under the water. I turned and came face to face with my mother. The shock of it made me gasp, and a mouthful of air entered into my lungs and I knew there was no way to get back above the surface now. It had turned into a sold barrier and the voices of the others had faded, and the light from the sun had gone.

“Don’t give up!” Mum said, drifting backwards, but couldn’t she already see that it was over? It was too late. I was drowning – I’d probably already drowned – and there was nothing she or anyone could do about it. So why was she leaving me?

I was still sinking – deeper and deeper into the black depths. The water was closing in around my lungs and I could no longer see anything but blackness – pushing in everywhere. Squashing the organs out of my body. I was thrashing again – fighting – as the pain burned in my muscles and...

I woke up screaming.

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

"Plants need minerals too. Can anyone tell me where plants get there minerals from?” the muggle teacher – Mr Parker – asked, whilst banging a ruler against the palm of his hand as if it was some kind of deadly weapon. “You,” Mr Parker said, pointing the ruler at Sirius who seemed mildly scared.

“Erm... the water?” Sirius suggested nervously.

“Exactly. Good man – have a sweet.”

“Sorry?” Sirius asked. The man presented Sirius with a box of sweets and Sirius took one out nervously.

“Of course this strapping young lad isn’t completely right,” Mr Parker continued jovially. “The minerals are from the soil and are dissolved in the water. But essentially the basics were there. Every single mineral is needed for a different purpose. Can anyone tell me what nitrates are used for?” he said, continuing his ruler-tapping.

“You,” he said, this time pointing at a Ravenclaw girl, who blushed deeply and shook her head. “Go on dear, go on – I don’t bite,” he said, flashing his oddly white teeth. “What do plants do that minerals might help them with?” he prompted her slowly. I for one didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, as far as I’d managed to work out muggle plants didn’t do very much.

“Grow?” she suggested, and Mr Parker beamed and offered her the sweets.

“Clever girl!” For a moment I thought he was about to start clapping. “Nitrates are used to make proteins for cell growth, which they do by making amino acids! The other nutrients are Potassium, Phosphates and magnesium. Can anyone tell me what those do?”

“This is so stupid,” Sirius whispered next to me, and I smiled in agreement. Sirius had moved to sit next to me as I’d been a bit... shaken up by my dream the night before, much to James’s chagrin. I was sure he’d get over it soon though, as it was only one lesson. “Agreed,” I whispered back.

“You,” Mr Parker said, and the ruler-of-doom was suddenly pointed in my direction.

“I... I don’t know sir,” I said, having no idea what the question even was.

“Stand up girl,” he said, and I got to my feet slowly. “At the front! You do not talk in my classes.”

“Sorry sir -” I said, walking up to the front of the classroom in embarrassment.

“DON’T TALK BACK!” he yelled, and my eyes widened dramatically. “Now tell me – what do Phosphates do?” he asked me and I shrugged. I couldn’t think of anything else that plants did other than grow... “They are used for respiration and cell growth you stupid girl! They make DNA and cell membranes. Now, let’s see if you’ve learnt to listen. Repeat what I’ve just said!” I looked nervously at Sirius and Lily, who seemed to find the whole thing funny. Even James, who was put out, was smiling a little.

“They are used for... erm... making CMA and making cellbrains?” I suggested, and Mr Parker’s face turned an extraordinary shade of pink.

“As you obviously have no idea what you’re talking about here, how about I quiz you on other parts of the syllabus... hmm?” he suggested, and I stood there weakly. “ANSWER ME!”

“Erm... yes?” I suggested, and he pulled out a fat text book. He opened it to a random page and pointed at a picture.

“What is this?” he asked, and I looked at the page he had opened, which was labelled ‘the reproductive system’, and the particular picture he was pointing at was... a large drawing of a certain part of the male anatomy.

“Well...” I began, unsure if he actually wanted me to name it. “It’s...”

“A picture of your wife,” Sirius called out from his seat, and I had to try very hard not to laugh.

“Who said that?” Mr Parker yelled, and Sirius raised his hand. “GET TO THE FRONT!” he yelled, and Sirius came and stood next to me, striking a modelling pose and generally acting like an idiot. “Tell me what this drawing is of!” he snapped, still pointing at the drawing.

“I think I know what it is sir, but I’ve never seen one that small before!” Sirius said, which made me laugh rather loudly. “Get out of my classroom!” Mr Parker yelled. “GET OUT! OUT!” he said, pointing the door with his ruler-of-doom. We both traipsed out and immediately started laughing even harder than we had before.

“Why do we do Muggle studies?” Sirius asked, and I shrugged, still picturing Mr Parker’s face reddening. “No I’m serious, I only picked it to piss off my parents and that doesn’t matter anymore.” 

“I only did it because it’s a doss,” I said, and Sirius glanced at the door for a second.

“Let’s get out of here,” he suggested. “Screw the muggles – what use is biology anyway?”

“That was biology?” I asked in surprise – I had thought it was the stupid study of plants or something like that – plantology.

“Thanks for confirming my point. Lets’ go,” Sirius said, linking his arm through mine and pulling me in the direction of the Gryffindor common room.

“Where do you think they get the teachers from anyway – a mental asylum?”

“Judging on his temper I’d say a prison.”

“Now Sirius, you weren’t being very fair – you could have thought about his feelings. That comment about his wife was completely unnecessary,” I said in my best imitation of Lily’s voice. Sirius’s laugh rang through the empty corridor and we walked a bit faster in case any of the teachers had heard.

“I was thinking about other people’s feelings – I was thinking of you all on your own at the front of the classroom. Gillyweed,” Sirius said to the fat lady as we walked in. “I couldn’t leave you alone like that.”

“Of course – you’re just that caring. You know we can’t stay down here,” I said. “They’ll find us in a second.”

“Yeah,” Sirius said, thinking for a minute. “We should probably head off somewhere with James’s cloak unless...” He paused for a second in thought.  “You could come up to our dorm?” Sirius asked.

I looked at him for a second and considered the heavily loaded question. Snatches from the dream last night, and that conversation, and the uneasy feeling that had settled in my stomach since the New Years Eve party flew through my brain as I thought very hard. I could say no, and he’d be fine with it. I could say yes and I’d be fine with it...  I thought about Lily’s warning. What Alice had said yesterday, what I had said yesterday, and how completely relaxed I felt around him now...

Then I could hear the mocking voice of Charlie Malone from months ago, calling me frigid, asking me if I was a nun and that voice at the back of my head asking me if I really wanted to die a virgin?

Then, knowing I’d probably regret it a hell of a lot, I smiled and nodded.

“Sure.”


A/N - I know this is like a lot later but I forgot to mention it before. How good was the April fool joke? How many of you fell for it?  I was expecting it after last year... but it was still amazing. You can tell me what you thought in your reviews... ;)


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