Chapter 6 : Your Subtleties They Strangle Me
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“We can do this, guys. We’ve worked hard and we’re reigning champions. Piece of piss.”
Those inspirational words of wisdom were from Blakely, as Oz was already out on the pitch, sizing up the weather conditions. I don’t know why captain dear bothered, if I’m honest. The walk down to the pitch from the castle had been enough to inform me that it was bright as hell but absolutely bloody freezing. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Oz got out a temperature gauge or something.
Blakely clapped Sammy on the back in what he evidently thought was an encouraging manner, unaware that the strength of his beaters arm was a little more painful than heartening. Sammy choked in surprise.
“Ready?” Blakely grinned, looking frighteningly as manic as Oz tended to.
“Um. Ok.” Sammy said, nervously. Probably only agreeing so that Blakely didn’t try and ‘encourage’ him some more.
“Ready?” Blakely turned his thousand watt beam to Londy, who yawned widely.
“Hit the balls at the green wankers. Got it.” She shrugged.
“Ready, Deb?” He turned to me. God the smile was terrifying in close proximity.
“No, actually, I was thinking of heading up to my room for a little nap first…” I crouched to tie my trainers.
“Your jokes are wasted on me, Little McKinnon. For the next few minutes I am Oscar Dunhill; He-who-lacks-a-sense-of-humour.”
“My apologies. Ready dearest.” I straightened up.
Blakely grinned again and thrust his hand into the middle of the group huddle,
“Ravens on three.”
Us sane ones exchanged looks.
Sammy tentatively followed Blakely’s example and put his hand on top. Probably just to keep the peace. Good at that, Sammy was.
The rest of us, not so much.
“Is he for real?” Benjy asked me out of the corner of his mouth.
“I wouldn’t put it past him.” I stared at Blakely’s expectant hand with a mixture of incredulity and repulsion.
“C’mon! Ravens on three!” Blakely whined, when the rest of us didn’t show adequate enthusiasm.
“We’re not an under-eights team, Blakely,” Londy informed him, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
“It’s good for a sense of team spirit and unity!”
“What, you’re a cheerleader now?”
“Ravens on three!”
“Shut up, Blakely.” Benjy and I said at the same time, and freakishly in the same weary tone. We both immediately looked a little appalled at ourselves but then Benjy smirked and I winked - strange how in just a couple of short weeks the kid could turn from the bane of my existence to my… what, my protégé? Something like that.
It hadn’t been exactly easy, following Sirius’ advice at first. Benjy was a whiny little git and I definitely wasn’t gifted with enough patience to endure him. It had been a physical struggle to spit out some sort of encouraging praise in the first place. “Ok, let’s have it Benjy,” I’d said, the essence of calm and patient, in our first training session after The Advice.
Benjy already had a face like a smacked arse before he’d even picked up the Quaffle. I suppose you couldn’t blame the guy, having been ordered around, criticised and threatened with a bloody death in the last dozen or so training sessions.
I was surprised the poor sod was still with us.
“Come on,” I’d said… wait for it… encouragingly. Hell yeah. “You’re going to get it today. I’m sure of it.”
He looked thoroughly bewildered at my niceness, caught my underarm toss with ease and frowned uncertainly.
Yep, I felt like saying. Still me. The she-dragon. Really.
“Come on, we haven’t got all day,” I snapped without thinking. Bollocks. I was being patient. Shit. “Please,” I added, lamely.
Hesitantly, his face still rife with suspicion, Benjy raised the Quaffle to his shoulder…
“Higher,” I said, then bit my tongue again. “I mean, that’s… that’s good. Good… um, grip. Just, uh, keep your arm away from your body a bit… right. That’s it…”
And, holy Merlin’s armpit, it worked. I had to concentrate on not letting my jaw drop as Benjy actually listened to what I was saying.
Was this really all it took?
“Ok?” He asked, glancing apprehensively from his arm positioning to me, as if I were about to drop the ‘nice’ charade any second and release my inner banshee.
“Yeah! Yeah, that’s great,” I said, a little over-enthusiastic. I couldn’t help it, I was that shocked that Sirius’ simple advice seemed to work, “Really. Now just remember what I’ve been telling you. Straight towards me, not up in the air. And follow through -”
I was cut off. By a perfect, neat, straight, and pretty damn strong shoulder pass.
Well fuck me. It worked.
Literally, the surprise made me totally unready for the catch, only focusing at the last second and bringing up my hands at the last possible split-second, cushioning the blow against my chest.
And I hadn’t even been that nice…
Benjy didn’t say anything. Still looked apprehensive. Almost as if he were waiting for the screaming. Now, why ever would he think that…
I snapped out my shock and let out a brief laugh.
Benjy looked even more startled.
“What? What do I need to do? I really don’t even know what I’m doing wrong…” He said, all in a rush as if he had to justify himself before the she-dragon.
“Wrong?” I repeated, “Benjy, nothing about that was wrong.”
“What?” He stared at me for a couple of seconds before the apprehensive looked gradually transformed into a jubilant, boyish grin. “What… really? Really, I got it?”
“Hell yes!” I said, lobbing the Quaffle back with another laugh, “Didn’t you feel that? That was perfect!”
Another look of bewilderment crossed his face. Probably wasn’t hoping for a compliment like that from me in his wildest dreams.
Not that he dreamt about me teaching him shoulder passes.
That would just be sad.
“Come on, hit me again,” I said, caught up in the excitement.
Another perfect pass.
“Benjy!” I exclaimed, “Where the hell did this come from?”
He shrugged with a proud grin, “I dunno. I just… I dunno. I just relaxed and… and it was easy.”
“Sammy!” I yelled, as our fellow chaser emerged from the changing rooms, “Check this out!”
I tossed the Quaffle back to Benjy, received another decent pass and grinned proudly as Sammy clapped his buddy on the back.
“Oz!” I waved Captain Dear over, “Get a load of this!” And repeated the whole shebang.
“What?” Oz said, unimpressed.
Then my jaw did drop.
“What? That was a perfect fucking shoulder pass, Oscar Dunhill!”
“Right,” Oz nodded, “Keep it up. Knew you had it in you.”
I was about to protest that we all got more praise when he gave me the smallest,
briefest smile before kicking off again, “All of you,” He added.
Understandably, Benjy looked a little dejected at Captain Dear’s lack of interest.
“Make a note of that,” I advised my two fellow chasers, “That’s probably the most appreciation you’ll get all year. Hell, it’s the most appreciation I’ve had in four years.”
And so it had worked. Easy as that. Alright, so I still had to tell Benjy to man up once or twice a week when he lapsed back into his whining. But I said it in a civilised tone. No shrieking.
And now look at us, two weeks later. Bonding over a mutual despair over Blakely’s attempt at motivation. How charming.
“Here’s an idea,” I offered into the silence of Blakely’s ’Ravens on three’ nonsense, “Let’s just get the hell out there and kick some Slytherin bum, shall we?”
“That’s more like it,” Londy perked up and slapped her beaters bat against her palm a few times. “We annihilated them last time. I look forward to it,” She called over her shoulder as she lead us out towards the pitch.
I liked how everyone was conveniently forgetting the way that I’d woken up in the hospital wing after the last match.
Apart from the newbies.
“Is it as dangerous as it looks? Playing Slytherin?” Sammy asked, masking the nerves in his voice.
I forgot they must have watched all of our previous matches. It was like in my mind they’d just sprung into being when they’d arrived at the try-outs. But they must have seen everything. I wondered if, from the sidelines, it looked better or worse than it felt.
But hey, why was he asking me?
I was the one who’d been knocked from her broom last time. And I was meant to be doling out the encouragement?
“Worse,” I told him, cheerfully, “But they have to catch us first,” I smiled to myself, remembering Ro’s words from the last Slytherin match.
I noticed that Sammy didn’t look entirely convinced, and was looking a bit shiny and pale.
“Hey,” I nudged him, “Kidding. We’ve got this.”
“You fell off your broom last time,”
“Fell? I was pushed!” I protested in outrage, before realising that I wasn’t exactly reassuring him, “I mean, yes. That’s true. But it was kind of my fault. Here’s a hint - never stop in midair when you’re surrounded by green ogres.”
Sammy swallowed, but nodded determinedly.
“Aren’t you scared?” Benjy appeared at my other side, apparently listening to my happy tale.
“You got knocked off your broom. On purpose, right? Aren’t you scared it’ll happen again?”
“Nah, Avery’s left. The rest love me,” I made a weak joke, “Kidding. I mean, it’s fine. They won’t catch me this time.” I sounded confident, but I wasn’t sure if I was convincing them or myself. It wouldn’t happen this time. It couldn’t. That would just be plain embarrassing.
We could hear the roaring of the crowd now. The part I hated. The part that scared me.
For some reason, right now, it wasn’t affecting me. I was the experienced one now. The older one. The leader, in a way, of my team of three. I had to be the confident one, the sure one, the strong one.
God help us.
“Guys,” I said, as we made our way to the middle of the pitch where Oz, Madam Hooch and the entire Slytherin team were gathered, “You may or may not be shitting your pants right now. But that’s good. Use it, embrace it… not the poo,” I added, at Benjy’s revolted look, “The fear. Not the… look, I mean just keep on your toes, be ready and be fast. That’s what we’re good at.”
It surprised me how motivational I felt. And how much I enjoyed it. I swear I was a second away from a ‘Ravens on three’.
“Are we ready?” Oz asked, as we approached.
He caught my eye. I knew that this wasn’t an ‘are all of our shoe-laces tied and has everyone been for one last pee’ question. This was ‘can we do this?’.
Had I done enough?
A typical Debbie reaction - I laughed and shrugged, “We’ll see.”
I looked to the Gryffindor stands as we were lining up. Not very team-spirity of me, I must say.
Perhaps I ought to have been focused on my team.
Perhaps I ought to have at least been focused on my own house.
Hell, I ought to even pretend that it was my best friend that I was looking for in the stands.
So shoot me, I totally wasn’t.
Sure, I gave a jaunty wink in Lily’s direction when I saw the glint of her hair (a waste, she probably couldn’t tell me from Oz at that distance).
But it wasn’t her I was looking for. Nope, I can freely admit it. I was seeking the dark-haired, grey-eyed mug.
I mean, yeah, it was a positive thing that his mood swings hadn’t been an issue these last couple of weeks. He seemed almost consistent in his mild friendliness, which was a first, I’m telling you. But unfortunately the reasoning behind this was that all we’d discussed was Quidditch.
I’m serious - two weeks, probably conversing approximately twice a day, and barely a single word was exchanged that wasn’t about Quidditch.
Sure, Quidditch was safe, Quidditch was interesting, Quidditch was a mutual hobby… it was the natural thing to discuss.
But I was fucking sick of it, alright?
And the worst thing was that I’d rack my brains to search for something other than Quidditch to bring up and there was nothing! Seriously, my head would be bursting at the seams with useless comments ready to chuck one out at the most inconvenient times but when I actually wanted it to do something constructive, they were all just out of reach.
So he was my Quidditch Buddy. Wonderful.
I’d told him all about my breakthrough with Benjy, of course. The excitement that I was actually not doomed to certain failure had kept me hyped up way after practice. I’d practically skipped into the Great Hall at dinner and without giving a second thought I’d marched up to Sirius and hugged him.
It makes me cringe.
Especially as, looking back, I can specifically remember how he’d just stood there in shock with his arms pinned to his sides from the sudden force that I’d launched myself at him with.
At the time I’d been far too preoccupied by my accomplishment to notice the surprise that was probably present on most faces in the hall. I’d chattered on about how Benjy could throw like an actual male now without giving a second thought to the hug.
Until my hyperactivity had died down and I could reflect on my somewhat odd behaviour. And be embarrassed by it.
He didn’t mention it though. Of course he didn’t. Didn’t mention it, didn’t act any differently.
Because he was my Quidditch buddy.
So I suppose I could use that as an explanation. I was seeking the reassurance of my Quidditch buddy before the match.
Only the feeling in my gut when my Quidditch buddy smiled would beg to differ.
I hastily looked away, and straightened my kit, but as we mounted our brooms ready, I hazarded another glance in his direction.
He wasn’t ready. This time there was no supportive smile. The expression on his face was poorly concealed worry.
I didn’t have the time to feel distinctly offended by that. All that had time to register was a brief, insulted feeling that he’d been so encouraging the past few weeks and now apparently doubted our ability to win. Rude.
I didn’t have time because, mid-glance, the starting whistle was blown and I had to literally throw my leg over my broom, slam it against the hard, cold mud and kick off in a hurry.
It lost me a couple of seconds. A couple of precious seconds that usually won me the Quaffle with ease.
This time I could see the green from the corner of my eye alongside me. I couldn’t usually see that. They were usually behind me.
Neck and neck.
I felt a stab of nerves as I flattened myself against my broom, willing it to go faster.
This didn’t usually happen. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
It reached the peak of it’s climb - the Quaffle. I watched it fall towards us as if in slow motion.
It took under a second, in reality. We were speeding towards it. Another half second and I might have pulled ahead.
But I didn’t. Neck and neck… only Dunkirk’s arm were longer than mine.
He didn’t catch it - not to sound arrogant but he probably wasn’t expecting this. I always got the Quaffle first. If nothing else was written in stone in a Quidditch match - that was for me.
He wasn’t expecting it so he didn’t catch it - just swung up an arm that was definitely thicker than my neck and batted it sideways towards his team.
It was with a sinking feeling that I spun around to follow.
That was the second time that something in a Quidditch match hadn’t gone as planned because of a certain someone. My Quidditch Buddy. It shouldn’t be that way.
And the last time he’d captured my attention I’d stood still enough to be thrown from my broomstick.
It wasn’t useful having these useless connections made in my mind as I strained to catch up to the Quaffle.
Then I saw something I shouldn’t have. A stationary blue shape.
I snapped my head in their direction. Blakely. Londy. Oz. Simpson. Benjy and Sammy too. All of them momentarily halted just gawking. Only for a couple of seconds, but it was a couple of seconds too long.
“Don’t just sit there!” I screeched, still in pursuit of the Quaffle, “Do something!”
I thought I could reach it in time to regain possession. To make up for my mistake. But it didn’t happen that way.
I drew up beside them just as they were about to throw. I had time. I could do it…
An elbow to the face as he drew his arm back to throw sent my head reeling in pain and it was all I could do to hold onto my broom.
The adrenaline and the need to keep playing made me open my streaming eyes and try to shake the dizziness from my skull. Something hot, fluid and metallic-tasting filled my mouth.
I couldn’t pretend I didn’t hear the collective intake of breath from the crowd, but I could put it behind me.
I spat out a mouthful of blood (in a very feminine way…no, that’s not possible) and wiped my mouth with my sleeve.
I didn’t know his name, the Slytherin chaser that had elbowed me, but evidently he knew me. After lobbing the ball on he’d turned back to leer at me. “Distracted, McKinnon?” He asked, idly, with a pointed glance towards the Gryffindor stand.
I was too pumped up, too ready to get back into play to respond with more than a withering glare, but the twisting sensation in my gut would take longer to fade.
They say a good start is important.
Perhaps I should have listened.
“I’m so sorry.” My voice was muffled because my face was comfortable resting on my hands.
“Deb, it’s not your f -” Oz’s voice was a lot calmer that I’d expected. I wonder if he’d slipped himself one of Madam Pomfrey’s potions on the sly…
“Don‘t. I’m so, so sorry.” I repeated. I felt awful. This wasn’t helping but at least I was reminding them how absolutely awful I felt.
“No one blames you,” The pain in Sammy’s voice just made it a hundred times worse.
We were in the hospital wing again. Yep. I know. Tradition, it seemed, would be upheld. When Ravenclaw played Slytherin, we would end up in the hospital wing.
Only this time it wasn’t me injured. Hallelujah for that, right?
Expect maybe I’d have felt a little better if it was.
I ignored their comforting. For God’s sake, it’s not like it meant anything. Sammy was drugged up on around sixty-three different potions to reduce the pain from his shattered skull, and even that wasn’t working. I could still hear how much it hurt him.
“I blame me,” I told him.
It was true.
It was all my fault.
How, you say?
Item number one: I’d fucked up the start. I wasn’t paying attention, so I couldn’t do my job. I was always the first to reach the Quaffle. I hadn’t made it.
Item number two: I’d forgotten to be careful when approaching a Slytherin player and allowed myself to be smacked in the face. I should have remembered how scary it was to see your team mate playing on with a face full of blood and tears for the first time. Of course Sammy and Benjy would be horrified.
Item number three: I hadn’t played with Sammy and Benjy. I mean, of course I literally had. I’d been there, they’d been there, we’d been attempting to play as a team. And after all the coaching and training, it ought to have worked. But it didn’t. Because, sure I’d been training them. But I hadn’t been training myself to play with them. I went along playing as I would have with Freddie and Ro. Of course that wouldn’t work. As well as Benjy and Sammy had come along, they didn’t have the strength and confidence of Freddie and Ro, and I hadn’t played with them for three years straight. Our team work obviously lacked the seamless way in which I’d played with my brother and Ro, and I hadn’t accounted for that where I should have.
All my fault.
“Debbie, honestly I’m fine.” Sammy didn’t give up. The poor sod hated it when peace was disrupted. I would have been grateful if I couldn’t hear how much he was hurting.
Luckily Londy could hear it too, “Sammy, stop talking.” She said.
His mouth shut with a click of his teeth.
Sammy had been hit around the head with Vaisey, the Slytherin beater’s, metal bat. He’d been knocked from his broom, his fall fortunately cushioned by a dive from Oz. I’d been surprised Oz had been paying that much attention to the match in general. Usually his attention was on his search for the snitch along, pausing momentarily to scream at us all.
Vaisey claimed he was aiming for the bludger behind Sammy. We were awarded a penalty.
Which leads me onto item number four: I missed the penalty because I was shaking so much in a sickening mix of shock, nerves and anger. I thought I’d seen it all, these past four years. But the sound of Sammy’s head…
I lifted my head from my arms, where they were resting against the side of Sammy’s bed. Oz was pacing at the foot of the bed. Londy was chewing on her thumbnail on the other side. Blakely, in all his blood-splattered glory (from having rough fingernails raked down his face and neck) was next to her looking more glum than usual, his feet resting on Sammy’s bed. Simpson was to my right. Benjy was…
“Benjy?” I looked for his pale and slightly green-tinged face.
“Hhmunh.” It was a hoarse grunt. He was still hunched over a sick bowl. I couldn’t bring myself to look if it had been cleared out since his last spewing session.
Benjy hadn’t taken well to seeing his mate with his skull in pieces. Even now that Sammy was all bound up and on the mend he didn’t dare loosen his grip on the bowl.
I flopped back down onto my arms with a groan.
All. My. Fault.
“You guys don’t have to stay,” Sammy said, after a minutes more grieving over our lost match, “Honestly. You should go back to the common room, everyone will be waiting there for you.”
“To commiserate,” Londy said, sombrely.
“They won’t care that we lost,” Sammy shook his head at our snorts of disagreement, “No, really. Believe me, me and Ben have been there for the last few years -”
“We’ve only lost two matches in the last three years,” I heard Oz say, trying at least not to sound too irritable. I could hear that he blamed himself for our last loss - against Gryffindor last year - as much as I blamed myself for this one.
“But still, I know that I wouldn’t have blamed you for losing,” Sammy carried on, regardless, “They’ll just be there to support and… well, I think we played well…”
“You did,” I heard the uncertainty in his voice and wanted to assure him that he and Benjy had done amazingly well for a first match, “Don’t think… don’t think that because we lost you didn’t do really well, both of you,” I looked at Benjy too, “You two should be proud of yourselves.”
Benjy managed a weak, sickly smile and Sammy did manage to look faintly proud through his bandages.
“Still, you should go,” He said, “You don’t all need to be here, it’s not the nicest of places. Go,”
Londy sighed, “I suppose we should go and spread the news that you’re alive,”
“And that we all are, too,” Blakely added, “I think half the house probably expect Oz to have topped himself…”
Oz didn’t acknowledge that comment. I expect he was concentrating fully on not letting a suicidal expression cross his face.
“We’ll tell them how tough and manly you’ve been throughout your recovery, Sammy,” Londy grinned, standing up and stretching, “You’ll have girls queuing up for you -”
“Londy he’s thirteen,” I said, still in my face-down position.
“I was just warning him,” She pulled an innocent face as I dragged my face up from my arms. “Come on,” She slipped a hand through the crook of Oz’s arm - his hands were thrust deep into his pockets - and guided him towards the exit, “Sammy needs to rest if he’s going to woo the third years of Hogwarts anytime soon with his thrilling tales of near death…”
Blakely snorted and he, Benjy and Simpson got up to follow.
“Don’t pretend you’ve never used stories like that Leon,” I heard Londy say loftily to Blakely as she left the room, “Do you know how many girls I’ve had come up to me for confirmation of your brave and noble Quidditch exploits? Told them all it was absolute bullshit of course…”
“Deb? You can go too,” Sammy said, tentatively, “You don’t have to stay here…”
I sat back and considered the idea of having to go back to the common room and have everyone giving their commiserations, as Londy had put it. Knowing that it was my fault.
“Do you mind if I stay here?” I asked him, “Just for a little bit, you know… until it’s all died down?”
“Are you going to keep telling me how it’s all your fault?”
“Um. No?” I smiled at the mock-stern expression on his thirteen year-old face, “Promise.”
“Ok. You can stay,” He settled back against his pillows, “But I might not be much company… these potions are making me pretty drowsy…” He yawned widely.
“That’s just fine Sammy,” I said, quietly, leaning my chair back on two legs against the wall. Peace and quiet, that was alright by me.
He took me at my word and before more than a couple of minutes had passed his eyelids had fluttered and closed.
I wondered what the time was. It was getting pretty dark - the room was lit only by the candle-lit lanterns and wall sconces with a yellowy glow. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be long till I was kicked out and had to face the masses in the common room anyway. I wondered if they’d blame me outwardly, or if they’d assure me I did great and then slag me off behind my back.
Maybe I could go to the Gryffindor common room. Lily wouldn’t blame me - she’d probably forgotten the outcome of the match already. But if I saw Lily I’d have to see James… and my Quidditch buddy… both of whom had a bit more expertise in that area than Lillers and would know it was my fault but probably wouldn’t want to say it to my face and…
Eurgh. Maybe I should fake an injury and stay here overnight. If only Pomfrey hadn’t healed my split lip with ease earlier. Could have claimed an infection or something…
“Being a very devoted friend there, McKinnon,”
The voice made me jump out of my skin and nearly tipped me back off my chair. Sammy was unaffected, snoring gently and constantly at my side.
I peered around the curtain, sectioning him off from the next bed, and saw the owner of the voice. “Dunkirk. What brings you here?” I said, smoothly, as if it didn’t make me burn with anger and shame that the tosser had beaten me to the Quaffle at the beginning of the match.
It was pretty obvious what had brought him in there, to be honest, with a bound up arm and ribs.
He waved it off with his good arm, “Nothing but a minor irritation. Goes by the names of Leon Blakely, I believe,”
I smiled, vaguely recalling a beautifully-placed bludger by Blakely and a sickening crunch of breaking bone, “Irritation enough for you to spend the night in the hospital wing,” I observed.
His sneer dropped for a second, “Multiple complex fractures,” He said, shortly, “Doesn’t bother me but the idiot of a woman insists -”
“I expect you’re missing out on quite a party,” I said, thinking it might be best to acknowledge the defeat so that he didn’t think I was hugely affected by it. I hoped he hadn’t heard my moaning and frequent apologies. “Tell me, when was the last time that Slytherin beat a decent team?”
“Not sure I’d call your current team ‘decent’ by any means,” Dunkirk shot back, “It’s never a good sign when you find yourself on babysitting duty after the game,” He raised an eyebrow in the direction of Sammy’s snores.
Again I felt that odd protective feeling over Sammy and Benjy - my protégés. The juniors.
“Just looking out for a friend. Shame none of your team mates find you bearable enough to keep company, really.” I said, airily.
Dunkirk gave a sinister laugh, “There are certain matters that are being dealt with tonight. They have my permission.”
His menacing stare and the lack of real humour in his laugh left me cold, but I had to keep up my front.
“That matters of Slytherins don’t concern me,” I said, with a slightly snobbish air. I got up, ready to leave now that Sammy was fast asleep. For a moment I worried about leaving the defenceless thirteen year old alone with a seventeen year old Slytherin, but of course Dunkirk was as incapacitated as Sammy.
“Even after today?” His words stopped me in the doorway.
Today? What was that meant to mean? Because they beat us?
I turned around, wary but questioning.
He laughed again in that sinister way, “You think no one saw it, McKinnon? The precious little moment between you and a certain blood traitor that had you so distracted?”
I felt cold. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Bullshit.” Dunkirk sneered, “And even if anyone did miss that, I’m sure the way he had to be physically restrained after Bass accidentally elbowed you was noted.”
I’d missed that part.
I stared at Dunkirk; was he bluffing? What did it matter anyway…
“So? He didn’t do anything,” I said, hastily, “It’s me who -”
“Don’t flatter yourself, McKinnon, it’s got nothing to do with you. You’re so off our radar it’s not even funny. Until you mix yourself into circles that Mudbloods shouldn’t, anyway…”
Mix myself into circles I shouldn’t? As in, Sirius? But I’d always been friends with him…
And they’ve always been out to get him. And you, A little voice in my head reminded me.
A prickling shiver ran down my spine. It was one of those moments. The ones where you just know. Sure, I’ve been told on numerous occasions that I’m not perceptive at this sort of thing. But it was Sirius. I just knew.
“Where is he?”
Dunkirk shrugged with a smirk, “How should I know where any Gryffindor scum are?”
“Where are your team mates?”
“Delivering a message.”
“Where is he?” I repeated, fighting the shake in my voice.
Dunkirk’s face was twisted into a smug sneer. “You really don’t want to get involved, McKinnon. Adding a mudblood to the mix isn‘t going to do anyone any favours.”
Was this another thing to add to the growing list of things that were my fault?
What exactly was going on here?
I repressed the urge to blurt out my questions. I wouldn’t dignify the prick with that.
I just left. With about as much calmness as I could muster up. I wouldn’t let him see that I was panicked.
It wasn’t until I reached the now-deserted Entrance Hall that I even allowed myself to breathe.
Then I could panic.
What was going on?
The first thing I grasped at, foolishly hopefully, was the possibility that Dunkirk was bluffing.
Slytherins don’t bluff.
‘Delivering a message’.
Any message passed between Sirius and the Slytherin Quidditch team wasn’t going to be some kind of a friendly chat.
I couldn’t stop vivid memories of any past friendly chats making themselves very prominent in my mind.
The intimidating half circle of them surrounding him at the train station in the summer.
Two months worth of detention after attacking Avery the last time he knocked me off my broom.
Avery and his two minions on the floor after the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff match last year…
My fault. A lot of it.
This list wasn’t about to stop growing any time soon.
Another memory, this one vague and a little bit odd flashed through my mind.
“- Some of these people you’ve got doing your dirty work for you… Let’s just say you don’t want to be noticed. And this particular person will get you noticed. Noticed by the people that won’t really approve of his associating with you.”
“What are you talking about? Who are you talking about? Is this about my brother? What have you done? Leave him out of it, he -”
“We’re not concerned about the pathetic way you rely on your Mudblood brother, McKinnon.” Avery sneered, “We have bigger things to worry about than the affairs of lower life forms…”
“So he hasn’t told you. Hasn’t even warned you yet. That’s… interesting.”
“Who? Who hasn’t told me what?”…
The reason Sirius had attacked Avery and the two minions after the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff match last year. The reason Avery had been harassing me in the first place.
His words hadn’t made sense to me then.
It was obvious.
Sirius Sodding Black.
My feet were moving almost before I came to the conclusion to do so.
I had no idea where I was going. Looking, I suppose. Not really thinking straight, just looking.
My fault. Whatever ‘message’ they were delivering was my fault.
‘Some of the people you’ve got doing your dirty work for you’.
Referring to Sirius’ not so even temper - and tendency to do what I couldn’t when it came to paying back the Slytherins.
I was running down various corridors - the dungeons, the first floor, the second floor. I must have looked more than a little insane but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was preoccupied.
‘Noticed by the people that won’t really approve of his associating with you’. That wasn’t so clear. A number of people wouldn’t approve with Sirius hanging around with someone of my status. Every single Slytherin. Every single pureblood. His family. But he’d removed himself from them when he’d run away. Before that, really. He’d removed himself from them by getting sorted into Gryffindor in the first place.
Had it been as much of an escape as everyone thought?
Then the chilling part.
‘So he hasn’t told you. Hasn’t even warned you yet. That’s… interesting.’
Told me? Warned me? What? That he was likely to be - what, punished? - for even being around me?
It seemed ridiculous. Surely.
Surely I was being stupid?
Oh God. Oh God, what if something awful was happening? What if -
After searching corridor after corridor with only the sound of my own quickly pattering footsteps, even the low sound of voices made me jump out of my skin and skid to a stop.
The voices came from the Charms classroom on the corner of the corridor. I could see the door slightly ajar with the silvery glow that must have come from a lighted wand just spilling out.
My heart jumped up into my throat. This must be them.
What in the name of hell was I supposed to do now?
I was so wound up I was just about ready to hurtle in there and poke whichever Slytherin thug I came in to contact with first in the eye with my wand. But before I could embark on this heroic (read: foolish) quest, I overheard a few clearer words.
“- nice try Reg. I don’t know why they thought it’d make a difference sending you but you can tell your little buddies it didn’t work.”
“For the last time, this isn’t just a school thing. Do you not understand -” I recognised the lower, more clipped voice of Sirius’ brother.
“No, mate, I don’t. I don’t understand how you’ve fallen for this shit.”
“This ‘shit’ is going to get a whole lot worse if you don’t take it from me. You think they’re going to stop? You think they’re going to just accept it? Sirius, once they make up their minds it’s not -”
“I don’t care. I’m out. They can do all they want, I’m not getting involved. I’m out and I’ve been done with this for years -”
“They can be persuasive.”
There was a beat of silence.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sirius sounded guarded.
“You know who they’ll threaten if you don’t comply.”
“James can look after himself -”
“Potter?” Regulus laughed briefly and humourlessly, “Don’t kid yourself. You know who they’ll threaten. Especially after today.”
Oh, that didn’t sound good.
“I’ll deal with it.” Sirius sounded like his teeth were gritted.
“You can’t protect her forever -”
“I can try.”
There was a long period of silence. I could only imagine what was going on in that room and with my overactive imagination who only knew what conclusion I’d come to. At the moment I was sure that, judging by Sirius’ murderous tone of voice, he’d swiftly and silently clubbed his brother over the head with a chair.
Told you it’d be ridiculous.
“I‘m going. You should too.” Sirius spoke up, sounding a lot clearer. “You don’t want to be hanging around up here near our common room at this time. Tell them you tried. And it didn’t work.” I could hear his footsteps coming towards the door and swore under my breath. Fuck. Fuckity-fuck. I scanned the hall for an open door or somewhere to slip into and hide. Nothing within reach. I back-pedalled hastily as if that was going to help and -
Sirius stopped dead upon passing through the doorway. His eyes locked on to mine and I could tell by the way that his face tightened that he was gritting his teeth.
“Uh… oh! There you are!” I exclaimed loudly. In the face of awkwardness, as usual, my brain buggered off and I was left to my own devices. Resulting in some very loud and over the top acting. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere…”
Oh Merlin. I sounded like a fan girl. Holy crap I sounded like one of The Slags.
Sirius narrowed his eyes, utterly unconvinced, “And here I am.”
“I know, what a coincidence,” Lord help me, I was beaming.
Regulus was scrutinizing me over his brothers shoulder, but he didn’t say anything. I attempted a weak smile.
“Well played today,” I felt I had to fill the silence. It was probably not the most intelligent thing to say to someone who had, moments before, been indirectly threatening me, but I went with it.
“Thank you. You too.” He replied, coldly but politely.
“Oh, you don’t have to lie,” My mouth was still chatting shit. Why in hell was it still talking? “It was dreadful.”
I thought I saw the corner of his mouth twitch, but it was hard to tell in the dim light. I was probably wrong. Regulus was a whole lot better at the mask thing than Sirius.
“Night Reg,” Sirius was proving me right by visibly grinding his teeth together.
With a curt nod and not another word, Regulus turned on his heel and strode down the corridor.
He was about ten paces away when Sirius exhaled shortly and turned around. “Wait -”
“She was never here.” Regulus said over his shoulder, before rounding the corner.
I listened to his footsteps fading as I watched Sirius noticeably relax. After a long enough silence to become awkward (huge surprise there) he looked up at me. It wasn’t an impressed look.
“I’m really sorry,” I blurted out, “I honestly didn’t mean to listen in, it was none of my business at all but it was just that Dunkirk… and then I worried… and then -”
“Dunkirk?” Sirius expression darkened. I hadn’t thought it could get any less impressed but it did.
“Yeah. In the… he said…” I racked my brains for what Dunkirk had actually said. Why had I leapt to the stupid conclusion that they would sent round a gang to ‘deliver’ their message? Exactly as the prick had bloody wanted. Wonderful. “Never mind.” I shook my head, “I got the wrong… I thought you were in trouble. Well. More trouble.” I could feel my face heating up.
“I’m not in any trouble.”
I raised an eyebrow. That wasn’t what it sounded like.
“I’m not.” Sirius insisted, “It’s not… I don’t want to talk about it. It was just a simple request and a simple refusal.”
Request for what? He very firmly wasn’t going to answer that, so I took a different tack. “And simple threats.” I pointed out.
“Empty threats.” He didn’t sound like he fully believed it himself, but he was stubborn. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I said don’t worry about it.” He said, firmly, “You shouldn’t have even come up here -”
“I was worried about you.”
“Well you shouldn’t be.” Another closed answer.
“Well I… fine. I just wanted to see if you were ok. And you are. So…” I took a further step back which took me into a wall. I hoped he didn’t notice.
He didn’t say anything. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. But he hadn’t been talking to me for the past… well, I couldn’t remember the last time he’d freely volunteered any kind if personal information about himself just because he could. Just because we were friends. Just because he cared.
“Why won’t you talk to me?” I just came out with it.
“I don’t want to talk about this -” Again, that final kind of tone to his voice. Like that was the end of it.
Well he’d never played by the rules, so why the hell should I?
“You don’t talk to me about anything.” It was as if I couldn’t stop now I’d started.
“We talk. We talk every day -”
“Yeah?” He was looking at me like I was insane. Hell. Was I? Was I overreacting about this?
“Only Quidditch.” I said.
“I like Quidditch.” He sounded defensive. At least he didn’t sound bewildered any more. That meant he knew what I was talking about. He noticed it too.
“I just… we used to talk about other stuff.” It sounded even lamer put into words.
“We used to do a lot of stuff,” His eyes bored into mine. I felt very exposed. “Things change.”
There’s not really a lot you can answer to that. But anything would be better than what I came up with, which was nothing. I couldn’t say anything but I could feel my face falling. I had to look away from his gaze but I couldn’t wipe the expression from my face and I couldn’t stop myself looking back up after a few long seconds in silence.
He closed his eyes briefly. Great. Couldn’t even look at me.
“I don’t know what you want from me.” His voice was lower and rougher than before.
I just wanted the old Sirius back, I realised. The Sirius that made me laugh, that made me happy, that made me trust him. But that too would come with it’s difficulties, in the form of the feelings I’d locked away and banished. Maybe the old Sirius was they key that would let them all out again.
Maybe this was for the best.
But it didn’t mean I liked it.
“You’re just… not you. Anymore.”
“Well, like I said, things change.” His tone was accusatory.
What had I done? He was the one that put the stupid ultimatum on everything. He was the one that had put words in my mouth with his ‘all or nothing’ crap. He was the one that gave up, not me.
Not that I cared. Much.
“Fine. Ok. Fine.” Wonderful. Throughout this horrible conversation, of which I would undoubtedly look back on and cringe, I had achieved nothing. Essentially. Really, just wonderful.
I turned to walk away, but paused. “Just… just tell me. Is it my fault?” I had to know. He was in trouble and from what I’d heard… Well, it didn’t sound entirely unrelated to me. That was the part that had made me sick on the way up here. The way that he could have been in danger and it could have been my fault. False alarm or not, it still sounded like… well. This ‘she’ they spoke about. I didn’t know who else it could be.
For a long moment I thought he might not answer. When he did it sounded strained, “Why do you care?”
“Because I do. Care about you.” I said, with less difficulty than I’d anticipated. “We’ve…” We’ve been through a lot together. I couldn’t quite form those words. “We’ve been friends for a long time.”
Friends. I was starting to dislike hearing this word.
He was looking anywhere and everywhere but at me. I didn’t know what that meant. It seemed like he might be about to say something. Something more than what he actually said. “Ok.”
“You didn’t answer my question.” I accused. I wasn’t fooled. “Is it my fault?”
“This… isn’t your fault.” He said, slowly. I thought that was it. But he carried on. “It’s kind of my fault. For not… thinking things through. For agreeing to be friends again.”
“You could have refused.”
“Not really. I was never going to say no, was I.” It wasn’t a question. It made me feel a bit odd.
“So it is my fault.” I deduced.
He let out a large breath. “Who even knows? Things are so fucked up right now that I couldn’t pin the blame for anything on anyone.”
I got the feeling he wasn’t talking about this single incident anymore. And if he was referring to the whole big mess between us then I had to agree. Things all got a bit blurred there. The lines weren’t so clear as they’d seemed when I’d thought it was alright to hate him.
“I’m sorry. If it means anything.” I offered, pathetically.
“Yeah, me too.” It didn’t. Mean anything, I mean.
It was just like James had said. If you don’t make sure you do everything right as you go along you’ll end up crashing. We’d started off doing it right. From the time we first got together. Alright, it wasn’t perfect - we shouldn’t have kept it from everyone - but we were heading in the right direction. We knew where we were and what we were doing. We weren’t heading for that crash.
Then, with the Marlene thing, things changed. Something small - something so small and inconsequential, looking back - had thrown us off just that little bit. Something so trivial that, ordinarily, we should have been able to adjust, to get back on track and get back in control.
But we hadn’t. We hadn’t made sure we were doing everything right - me, then him, then me, then… we hadn’t checked in. We hadn’t sorted it and so since then we’d been spiralling more and more out of control, affected by more and more tiny little objects that we should have easily been able to swerve and so now we were heading straight for it.
The end. The end of everything between us. The crash.
And at this point, it was getting harder and harder to avoid.
With a start, I realised.
I realised that I didn’t want that. I didn’t want the end. Alright, I had no firm idea of what I did actually want, but I knew what I couldn’t stand. And that was having no Sirius in my life.
We could still avoid the crash. There was always a way to avoid the crash. Hadn’t I had that drilled into me for the past four years, roughly three times a week? No matter what situation you find yourself in - no matter how dangerous, scary or hopeless it seems - there’s always something you can do to rectify it. Right up until the very end.
Sometimes it takes that long, up until the very end. Sometimes you don’t realise until you’re so close to crashing that you can see the individual blades of grass before your eyes. Sometimes that’s what it takes to make it blindingly obvious what you could have done, what you should have done and what you still can do.
But this is where it differs from Quidditch.
In Quidditch there’s no way of addressing those initial mistakes you’ve made. In real life, there is.
I knew what I had to do.
Something I’d known for a long time now, but I’d been forcing so much on myself, making myself busy, that I’d been convinced I’d had no time.
I’d convinced myself that I’d forgotten about it.
If you don’t make sure you’re doing everything right as you go along, you’ll end up crashing.
Thank you, James Potter, but I can do one better than that.
It was glaringly obvious.
There was some summertime correspondence I had to catch up on.
I was going to read those letters.
A.N. Heyy, very quick note as I'm so, so busy. I'm sorry it's been too long but I will NOTTT be abandoning this story or my others. So sorry! But thanks so much for all the support and reviews I've had, it's so encouraging getting me through where I think I've gotten stuck in the story!
I hope you enjoyed this, please let me know what you think!
Benjy's slightly less annoying and Sammy's a sweetie
They lost a match for the first time in my story
Sirius recieving threats... not sure if that came across clearly enough but there'll be more on it
A 'nice' chat
And she's finally doing something about it
Thanks again and please leave a review!
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