Despite the fact that I had lived with Sirius for over a year, I never had any idea what was going on in his head. His thoughts didn't seem to be quite as strange and cryptic as Peter's, because they tended to follow a rational (if moronic) train of thought, but they were a close second. Still, I very frequently wondered if he actually ever thought about the consequences of what came out of his mouth.
"Ronnie, what's your bra size?"
Even James, deviant of all deviants, seemed off-put by Sirius' personal probing. He wasn't above stunts like this with other girls, of course, but asking me was going a step to far.
"I wasn't asking you, mate," Sirius said, sparing a glance at James' bare chest, "Though I guess if you're ready to confess to us your fetish for women's undergarments, you're more than welcome to share."
"Screw with me all you want," James said, toweling off his hair and pulling a clean shirt out of his locker, "But if you make her uncomfortable, then we have a problem."
He and Sirius, of course, were not at all weirded out by my presence in the boys' locker room, but Frank and Ed had gotten a nasty start when I busted in in the midst of their post-practice shower. It was like they thought I had showered and dressed quickly (as always) for the express purpose of visually molesting them. James shouted at them to grow up and leave me alone because I didn't care about ogling their private parts and I was allowed to stretch out on one of the benches in peace.
"Don't go all psycho big-brother on me," Sirius said, "This is a purely scientific line of questioning. Now, Ronnie, what's your bra size?"
"You're a pig," I said, picking up the first projectile-sized item that I could reach (James' shoe) and throwing it at him. He ducked out of the way with a satisfied smirk, but then it rebounded off the wall and hit him in the back of the head. James slid to the floor, tears in his eyes as he guffawed, obviously not at all miffed by my choice in assault weapon.
"I hate you both," Sirius grumbled, rubbing the back of his head. He muttered something intelligible as he scribbled something down in a notebook.
"What are you doing?" I asked. Sirius never wrote things down. Ever. Except when not doing so meant failing a class.
"I told you, I’m researching," he said, scribbling a few more lines while shaking his damp hair out of his eyes, "I'm trying to see if there's a correlation between House and level of indignation at extremely personal questioning."
You see what I mean? Rational but moronic train of thought.
"Why?" I asked, battling the disbelief that Sirius had just used the words "correlation" and "indignation" in a sentence together correctly.
"Because every once in a while, I like to do something that is intellectually stimulating but still inside my comfort zone," he said, looking up with a grin that made him look very much like his full-moon self, "And as you well know, the female physique is well in my comfort zone."
I reached for the next-closest projectile (James' other shoe), but the shoe-owner in question snatched it up before I could reach it and shook his head. I frowned and he pointed to Sirius, whose head was buried in his "scientific research", and made circles with his finger beside his head.
Translation: Sirius' brains were too addled to handle another shoe assault.
Way to ruin my fun.
"Are you people decent yet?"
I took stock of the room quickly. James was barefoot and staring at the empty blackboard, chalk in hand. Sirius was fully dressed and still scribbling furiously. Ed and Frank had stopped being prudish little girls and come out of the shower to dress, provided that my back was turned.
"That depends on your definition of 'decent'," I called, crossing the room to open the door.
Alice, despite having the Quidditch skills of someone twice her age and three times her size, always seemed to look like a fairy child. She had swapped her quidditch clothes for a flowy pink shirt and skirt combo, despite the chill weather. Penny was bouncing on the balls of her feet, completely unfazed by the grueling practice that we had all just endured.
"We wondered where you had disappeared to," Penny chirped as she took my place on the bench that I had just vacated. Ed sat beside her and Alice took her place next to Frank, so I was left to sit with Sirius, who was still deep into his "research".
"Alright, troops!" James said so suddenly that Sirius jumped half-way out of his seat, "This is our last practice before our first game. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal since it's against the Puffers and we all know that Puffers are only allowed to play because if they couldn't then all their little Puffer parents would complain and then the Ministry would get involved and then they'd find out that Slughorn is really a pedophile who keeps ladies' underwear in his desk drawer," I nodded in agreement as he sucked in a breath, "But we are Gryffindors, and Gryffindors play hard no matter who we're playing because we're beasts. It's also good to keep in mind that that Xander Garrahan man, who I also suspect of some sort of pedophilia, will be there watching us with his big-time-team-endorsed eyes. So go to the dorms, get some rest, eat well, and we'll reconvene here on Sunday at nine."
"Sir, yes, sir!" I barked as everyone made a quick departure so that James couldn't go on any more long rants. Frank and Alice were giggling about something I didn't care to find out about and Penny waved as she followed behind them.
"Do you really think Slughorn is a pedophile?" Ed asked, his brow furrowed seriously.
"Ask Ronnie," James said, turning back to his chalkboard, "She's the expert. On second thought, why don't you talk on your way back to the dorms? She needs an escort and I have things to finish."
"What about me?" Sirius asked half-heartedly, his head still buried in his notebook. James spared him one glance and then shook his head, waving us out the door.
Ed threw me a half-fearful sideways glance, as if my mates' insanity was contagious. I ignored him and launched into my Slughorn-is-definitely-a-pedophile diatribe. I'm not sure it helped.
Marissa Ethridge looked like a ten-year-old. There was really no nicer way to put it. She was tiny and had fairytale blonde hair that she sometimes adorned with obnoxious bows. What really threw me off were her eyes; impossibly wide and ringed with thick eyelashes the same color as her hair. She had that look of unflappable innocence, and it made me very, very uncomfortable.
"Marissa, can I talk to you for a minute?"
She nodded and set aside the copy of Teen Witch Weekly that she had been reading as I slid into the bench across from her. The brunette bombshell on the cover winked a heavily made-up eye as she twirled her wand between her fingers, all the while sending up pink sparks. I suppressed the urge to turn the magazine over or fling it across the room. Pink sparkles tended to have that effect on me.
"Is something wrong?" Marissa asked, and then frowned, "Does Peter want to break up with me?"
"Oh, no," I said quickly, "Nothing like that." That I know of, "Though I do want to talk to you about Peter. Has he been treating you well?"
"Yes," she said with a smile, "He's quite the gentleman. Though he used to be a little stand-offish. But he's much more personable now."
"That's good to hear," I said, trying to find a non-awkward way to phrase my next question. Bluntness seemed to be the best option, "Has he ever tried to touch you? Inappropriately?"
"Not when I didn't want him to," she said without blinking. I would have at least expected her to blush a little. Was there a budding tart under all that innocence and blonde hair?
"That's good, I suppose," I said, thrown off a bit. Something about the way that she was looking at me made me feel the need to explain myself, "I'm asking because he hasn't had a girlfriend before you see. So I’m not sure he knows where his boundaries are. He's been experimenting--"
"With other girls?" she asked, her eyes getting wider. I didn't know that was possible. Now she sort of looked like a fish.
"No, no, no," I said, shaking my head, "With…it's a long story. But not with other girls." I doubted that Peter had the ability to talk to other girls, let alone experiment with them.
"Good," she said brightly, "Because if he was, I'd make sure that neither of them ever had a reason to date again."
The cheeriness of the statement combined with her unsettling half-deranged-half-angelic facial expression made me pause for a second. Great. So Peter's first girlfriend was a jealous psychopath. And she was threatening my Peter. And his hypothetical other woman.
This would not do.
"Marissa, you seem like a very nice girl," I began, standing up so that I loomed over her, "And though I wouldn't condone Peter's hypothetical cheating, if I ever find that you've harmed him for any reason, I will hunt you down like a dog and make you eat that headband. And that'd just be the start of it."
Her mouth popped open and then closed again. With one move she grabbed her magazine and buried her face in it, as if it would shield her from my overprotective instincts.
Lily waved at me from a little ways down the table. Satisfied that I had scared Marissa out of laying an unnecessary hand on Peter, I went to join her.
"Aren't you supposed to be meeting Nate?" she asked. I noticed that she looked a little bit too dressed-up for a lazy Saturday afternoon, but I decided to wait and see if she'd breach the subject herself.
"Yes," I said, nodding my head towards where Marissa sat, "But I had something to take care of first."
"What did you say to her?" Lily asked with an accusatory air, "She's shaking."
"Nothing," I said innocently, "We were having a nice "don't let Peter touch you in any no-no area" chat when she threatened him and his hypothetical other lover. So I set her straight."
I could almost see the battle going on in Lily's head as to whether it was worth it questioning me further. She shook her head in exasperation.
"Did you actually want to talk to me about something?" I asked. Since I had a not-date to get too. Not that I was that eager for it. I just wanted to be polite by being punctual.
Punctual. Bleh. That sounded like a Gary Clearwater word.
"Today is the day," Lily said with conviction.
"The day?" I asked blankly. It was Friday, and a Hogsmeade day. Was it her birthday? Was it my birthday?
"Yes," she said jerking her head towards the familiar group at the far end of the table, "The. Day."
"Oh!" I said, all the pieces finally clicking, "That day."
The day when Lily would finally ask James out, after years of being his unwilling love interest. Honestly, having watched his side for the better part of three years and her side for the past few weeks, I was just ready for it all to be over.
Sympathy is not one of my strongest character traits.
"Good luck, then?" I said, unsure of exactly if this was the appropriate thing to tell your newly made best friend when she was on the brink of asking out your idiotic pseudo-brother. She nodded appreciatively and sent me on my way.
Nate was waiting, as planned, on the road to Hogsmeade. He didn't seem put off by the fact that I was a good fifteen minutes late, but that didn't necessarily mean anything since I had never really seen him put-off before.
"Sorry," I said by way of greeting, "I had brother and best friend business to attend to."
"As in your brother, the best friend?" he inquired as we began walking, "Or your brother and then the best friend."
"Well, not really my brother, I guess," I mused, "More like my friendly but stand-offish and sort of slow puppy. Peter," I explained, "And then Lily. Back-to-back. But mark my words, by the time that I we get back, James will have destroyed, pissed off ,or hurt something or someone. And I'll have to handle it."
"There's never a boring moment for you, is there?" he asked, sliding his hands into his jean pockets.
"It’s the price I pay for a roof and food," I said, and he raised his eyebrows. "You know that I live with James right?"
"So you are his sister?" he asked.
And that was how we spent the entirety of our trek to the Quidditch supply shop talking about the series of events that led to my living with the Potters and some of the sordid events afterword. I left a good chunk of my mom's story out and Nate didn't ask about my dad, which was a relief. Apparently, there was a "don't ask so as not to risk the wrath of Ronnie" policy regarding mine and James' living arrangements among the population of Hogwarts, so many people outside of Gryffindor weren't exactly sure what our relationship was. I found this all too amusing.
"So if anyone asks me…?" Nate asked.
"I don't care what you tell them, but if people start giving my crap sympathy about my mum, I know who's behind it."
"Noted," Nate said with a nod. We had made it into the village by now and were passing by The Three Broomsticks. Between threatening Marissa and sort of encouraging Lily, I had forgotten to eat breakfast, so my stomach took that moment to let out a rather loud growl.
"Do you want to get something to eat?" Nate asked.
"If you don't mind," I said apologetically. He smiled as he opened the door for me.
I absolutely hated small talk. I always ended up sounding like an idiot. So I was a tiny bit apprehensive while Nate and I waited for our food. My apprehension turned to dread when an all-too-familiar burly blonde made his way to the door.
"Is everything okay?" Nate asked, turning in his seat to see the cause of my pained expression.
"Fine," I said, averting my eyes from the door. I didn't know if Amos saw me or not. I didn't want to know.
"Is he still bothering you?" Nate asked, his blue eyes earnest, "Because I don't mind talking to the landlady--"
"It's fine," I said, forcing a smile, "I haven't really even come in contact with him since…well, you know."
"Yea, I was there," he said with a hesitant smile, "You have a mean right hook."
I laughed as our conversation turned to lighter subjects, namely my penchant for beating up people twice my size and single-handedly sorting out the mayhem that was caused by James and Sirius. I was still painfully aware of Amos' presence, but I could block it out well enough. Still, I was glad when our food was finished and left him behind at the bar.
We hadn't gotten very far, though, when we were waylaid by yet another of my new emotional investments (though this one I had entered into willingly).
"Lily!" I called as a flash of red hair disappeared into an alleyway. Something was wrong and my motherly instincts immediately kicked in. I looked to Nate apologetically. "I should really check on her…"
"It's fine," he said, "I'm going to go on to the shop. Just meet me there when you're done."
I nodded and then followed Lily into the alley. She was sitting on the side stoop of Zonko's, looking forlornly at the brick wall across from her.
"Lily?" I asked hesitantly, standing over her. She looked up at me, her expression betraying no emotion.
"He said no."
"What?" I felt as if I had been slapped across the face. James said no to Lily? He had only been dreaming about her doing this very thing (and probably several other things that I didn't want to think about) for years. This didn't make any sense.
"I went and asked him if he'd like to go out with me sometime," she said as I took a seat beside her, "And he smiled really big. And then he said no."
"What else did he say?" I asked.
"Nothing," she said, her voice getting thick, "I didn't stick around to heart it. You know, I didn't even want to do it. I just wanted to get him to talk to me again. But now I realize…I like him. More than I knew. And now I've made a fool of myself."
She collapsed into me then and I held her as she cried. I wondered if this was how I looked when I came to her after the incident with Remus. I had been so emotionally raw, so vulnerable. Neither Lily nor I were used to being rejected. Me because I never put myself out there, and her because she never had any reason to be rejected.
I was afraid of how I felt with Remus, but I didn't know what would happen if I took that chance and jumped. But was this pain worth knowing where I really stood?
"I'll beat the snot out of him," I said.
"Please don't," Lily said, sitting up and wiping her eyes. She had mascara all over her face. I helped her wipe it off. "Please, Ronnie, just let this be."
"If that's what you really want," I said as she hugged me and then sent me back on my way.
But I knew, as I looked blindly through the window of the Quidditch shop, that I was too rash of a person to let this be. I would get into James' head and figure out why he was being such a blithering idiot if I had to hang him out of the astronomy tower by his toes.
I didn't hear anyone step up behind me, but I almost jumped out of my skin as someone spoke from over my shoulder.
"You're prettier than I would have thought."
I looked up and froze. I didn't know who the man was, but the way that he was looking at me made my skin crawl. His skin was raked with scars, as if someone had tried to churn it with a knife, and his canines looked as if they had been purposely filed to wicked points. His hair was grizzled and hung half-way down his back. His clothes were ripped and covered with stains, some of which might have been blood.
"Who are you?" I asked, though I already had a sneaking suspicion based on the scattered conversations that Remus and I had about his condition.
"Don't worry, I won't hurt you," he said, running a finger down my cheek. I jerked my face away and he grabbed me by the hair. "Yet."
I couldn't run from him, since he had my hair in a death grip and was probably fast enough to catch me. I couldn't change and fly away because there were people watching and I wasn't sure how that would affect his hold on me. People who apparently didn't realize that a very dangerous wizard was in their midst kept passing us by and I didn't want to call out and risk getting them hurt as well.
"GET AWAY FROM HER!"
I cried out pain ripped through my scalp. The man flew backwards, taking a nice chunk of my hair with him, but ultimately letting go. Remus threw me behind him, snarling. He looked more like his wolf-self now then ever, facing down one of his own.
Remus' actions confirmed my suspicions: this was Fenrir Greyback.
Greyback chuckled darkly as he got up and brushed himself off. He didn't move towards us, but a strange mixture of amusement and hostility rolled off of him so violently that it was almost palpable. I drew my wand out of my pocket and stood just behind Remus.
"You ought to keep better watch of your little trinkets, Lupin," Greyback said with a leer, "Or else they might fall into the wrong hands."
"She's not my trinket," Remus growled, "She's my friend."
"Our kind don't have friends!" Greyback shouted, "There's too much secrecy to be bothered with. Unless…" he said as if coming upon a great realization. He craned his head so that he could see me better, "She knows, doesn't she? You told her."
"Yes," Remus said, stepping to block me completely from Greyback's view, "Because I trust her."
"Trust!" Greyback barked with a laugh, "There's more than trust between you. You don't think I see it? You love her. But how could someone that beautiful ever love a beast like us?"
"I'm not like you!" Remus said, eyes flashing.
"Yes, you are," Greyback said with a wicked smile, "We are more numerous and more powerful that you realize. You're a talented one, pup. This isn't just a social call, mind you. I have a message."
"From who?" Remus asked, gripping his wand tighter.
"You'll be hearing his name everywhere soon enough," Greyback said running his tongue over his cracked lips, "And if you're smart, you'll join him. Better yet, you'll go looking for him. Or you'll watch all of your little so-called friends die. One. By. One. Starting with the pretty one here."
Greyback grinned as Remus lunged at him, but before the curse was half-way out of Remus mouth Greyback had disapparated with a crack. I stared numbly at the place where Greyback had vanished, the realization that my life had just been threatened dawning very, very slowly. I felt as if I were in a dream world.
"Ronnie! Ronnie, are you okay?"
I looked up at Remus and realized two things: One, that I had fallen to my knees, and two, that my head was bleeding where Greyback had taken a chunk of my hair with him. That would explain the dreamy quality of the world at the moment.
"I'm fine," I said shakily, "Nothing that Madam Pomphrey can't fix. And we should probably tell Dumbledore about Greyback being loose in Hogsmeade."
Remus nodded and helped me up, slinging one of my arms over his shoulders in case I felt the need to lose control of my motor functions again. He was quiet most of the way back to the castle. I didn't blame him. I would have handled this situation with much less grace.
A few people glanced at us as we left, but didn't comment on my bleeding head. Maybe they thought it was some part of a Marauder joke. Maybe they thought Remus and I could handle it. Either way, it seemed as if no one had witnessed our tussle with Greyback. That scared me.
"What he said back there," Remus began.
"I don't know who he was talking about," I said, "Who is he answering to?"
"I don't know. But Ronnie, I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that he never lays a hand on you," I nodded and let him collect his thoughts. "About me loving you," he squinted ahead, refusing to even glance in my direction. My heart contracted. "You're my best friend."
He looked at me with a small smile, and I knew that this was what he thought I wanted. But I knew in that moment that Greyback wasn't lying. Remus loved me. But Remus wasn't lying either. He was my best friend.
"I know," I said. At that moment, with my jumbled thoughts only made more chaotic by the amount of blood that I was losing, that was all that I could give him.
A/N: Again, I'm very, very sorry for the wait. Was it worth it? Also, you may have a long wait again because I'm going to a month-long program where I can't have internet on my personal computer. I'm going to try my hardest to find a way to submit another chapter, but I'm not making any promises.
And I'm giving the title of "Intrepid's Favorite Person" to bookworm, who has made it his/her (<-- I just realized that I don't know that for certain) mission to post a review a day until I publish. I hope that this chapter suffices. :)