“Hey there, partner,” said Sirius cheerfully, sidling up to her. Claire wrinkled her nose in distaste as he took a step closer to her and grinned lecherously.
“I won’t hesitate to hex you, you know,” she said, glaring at him. She had not forgotten when he had deliberately spilled milk all over her the other morning during breakfast.
“Ah, but isn’t that the point?”
“Who’s to say that you’ll even be able to deflect anything?”
“We’ll see about that,” Sirius replied with confidence, smiling mischievously.
Claire raised an eyebrow and distanced herself from him, positioning herself several feet away. She turned to face him and hesitated for a moment, relishing this opportunity to take her revenge on him.
“C’mon love, I haven’t got all day,” he taunted.
Claire’s eyes narrowed and she slashed her wand through the air, yelling, “Vermillious!”
Red light burst from the tip of her wand as Sirius shouted, “Protego!” Claire’s spell broke in midair and the red light vanished with a flash. Sirius grinned.
Sirius indulged her demand and prepared himself for her attack.
She watched in reluctant admiration as Sirius stood, unharmed by her jinx. Without waiting for his preparation, Claire struck, crying, “Entomorphis!”
Again and again, Claire rounded on him, spewing every curse and hex she could think of, all of which Sirius deflected with ease. Her face grew red with frustration as her determination to overpower Sirius increased with each round. Sirius let out a bark of laughter as he watched the scarlet of her cheeks grow more and more heated.
“You alright, darling?”
Claire growled. “Alright, I give up.”
“It’s so encouraging to know that you think so highly of me, my dear,” he said, walking up to her. “You have to have more faith in me than that.”
“I suppose this is experience amounted from your penchant for duels with Slytherins,” she remarked coldly.
“Well, let’s hope that your experiences duelling me will make you just as good a defender as an attacker,” he told her, smiling fondly. “You ready, love?”
Claire narrowed her eyes, challengingly.
“Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you.”
Sirius heard a cry echo around the corridor and then a yelp of pain. He looked up to investigate and saw that not far away, a first-year boy had fallen to the ground and two older boys stood in front of him, laughing. He felt his blood boil in indignation and he gripped his wand tightly. Just as he began to make his way towards the two boys and give them a piece of his mind, a tall figure had rushed forward and had bent herself over the boy on the floor, clutching his face in pain.
He watched silently as Claire threw her long hair behind her shoulders and pulled out her wand, directing it at the young boy’s face. After dealing with him, she rose to her feet and rounded on the two older boys who still stood by, making rude faces.
“Oh, you think this is funny, do you?” she shouted angrily, and Sirius felt a rush of respect and appreciation for her rising in his chest. He approached the boy on the floor as Claire gave the other two hell, screaming furious obscenities so that they cowered beneath her gaze. The boy on the floor was holding his face in what Sirius suspected to be more from embarrassment than physical pain, hiding the boils that had erupted all over his face.
“Who the hell are you?” said the taller boy, obnoxiously. “You’re not even a prefect!”
Fury and outrage rocked him, and Sirius sprang at the boy who had spoken, sticking his wand in his face threateningly. The boy’s eyes widened and his face paled, bringing out the vivid green accenting his black robes.
“Doesn’t mean we can’t enforce our own brand of punishment,” Sirius snarled. “You don’t talk to her that way.”
The boy to the left had taken a step back, eyeing Sirius’s wand vigilantly. Sirius felt a firm hand on his arm and he turned his face away from the boy. Claire was surveying the Slytherin with a cold expression.
“Sirius,” she said softly, “put your wand down.”
Sirius reluctantly obeyed.
“What’s your name?” she asked the obnoxious boy.
He hesitated. “Fisher. Jeremy Fisher.”
“Liar,” she said, glaring at him with great dislike. “Your name. Unless you want me to ask Slughorn or McGonagall.”
The boy eyed her with distaste before venomously spitting, “Jerrod Winston.”
A cold smile played at Claire’s lips.
“I don’t know about you, Jerrod Winston, but I wouldn’t want to be on the opposite end of one of Sirius Black’s curses,” she said, giving Sirius a playful glance. He watched Jerrod’s face discolour at the mention of Sirius’s full name, and he then knew why Claire had used it. “So if I ever – and I mean ever – catch you hexing first years again, I’m going to give him the satisfaction of turning you into an overgrown slug. You hear me?”
“Yes,” he said grudgingly.
“Now get out of here before Sirius decides he needs target practice.”
Both boys turned and ran from the hall without a backwards glance.
“Now, let’s have a look at you,” said Claire gently, bending down to the boy on the ground. “What’s your name?”
“Jeremy Fisher,” said the boy tearfully.
“Those little shits,” said Sirius scathingly. Claire gave him a look of amusement that was poorly disguised with disapproval.
“Don’t worry about them,” she said to him. She looked back to Jeremy and said, “We need to get you to Pomfrey.” She helped him to his feet and began to walk toward the hospital wing. Sirius made to turn back to Gryffindor Tower but Claire stopped him.
“Aren’t you coming?”
Sirius smiled and fell into step beside her and the pair escorted Jeremy to the hospital wing.
A gust of frigid wind blew through the Qudditch pitch, nearly blowing Claire’s hat clean off her head. She readjusted it on her head, tightened her scarf around her neck, and pulled her collar up higher to protect her cheeks. Shoving her hands in her pockets, she cursed McGonagall and the divine forces that had landed her in this situation. While most of her colleagues were snuggling by a warm fire in the Gryffindor common room that Saturday afternoon, Claire had found herself supervising the private Quidditch lessons that were taking place down at the pitch. As James Potter and Sirius Black taught the lessons, and to an obscenely large group of young students (many of them love-struck girls), McGonagall required two additional fifth- and sixth-year students to chaperone them. Unfortunately for Claire, the Gryffindor prefects were detained while they assisted with detentions, and McGonagall could not think of very many students responsible enough to keep James and Sirius in line.
Fortunately, Claire found that James and Sirius were professional and quite skilled at teaching Quidditch to the younger students, so she hadn’t had to intervene with their lessons. The other supervising student, Christian Rolf, was a sixth-year student Claire did not know, so she could do nothing but stand by and silently observe James and Sirius as they went about their business.
While James was one of the star players for the Gryffindor house team, Sirius was not as well known for his skill as a flier. Claire remembered back from their flying lessons with Madam Hooch in their first year that Sirius was a more than capable flier, but he much preferred to watch Quidditch from the sidelines. Claire watched on as James tackled the thirteen and fourteen year old students and Sirius focussed on the first and second years.
Claire was delightfully astonished at the level of patience that Sirius showed as a teacher. He had broken down every step so that everyone was able to grasp what he was explaining and he was tolerant of the slower learners. He was encouraging and cheerful through the lessons, which put the intimidated students at ease, but he was also firm so that the roguish ones did not try to cross him. He spoke softly and carefully and his students hung on his every word.
She looked on, smiling fondly as she admired his ability to handle children. After the two hours had expired, Christian and James escorted the students back to the castle while Claire helped Sirius put back the school brooms that they had borrowed.
“How did you end up with this job?” she asked, carrying a Cleansweep in each hand. “Teaching kids how to fly, I mean.”
“It was James’s idea, actually,” he replied. “Last year a couple kids asked him if he could show them how to fly, so he asked Hooch if he could hold a lesson. The list of sign-ups was pretty long, so he asked me to help out.”
“It was a very decent thing for you to do,” she told him, smiling warmly.
“Thanks. I’m sure you had the time of your life watching.”
“Really quite riveting, actually.” Claire grinned. “I meant to ask – why aren’t you on the Quidditch team?”
“I love Quidditch and flying and all, but it’s not my thing,” he admitted. “It’s one of those things that’s more fun to watch than to play. I’m not serious enough to play a competitive sport.”
“Interesting choice of words.”
Sirius chuckled. “Plus, playing the Slytherins would have landed me an expulsion sooner or later. I play dirty.”
Sirius waited patiently, fighting to supress a devious chuckle, a feat James was having much more difficulty with next to him.
“James, shut up,” he said. “They’ll hear us.”
“Shut up, Pads, no one’s here.”
“I swear, if they hear you…”
Sirius’s sentence trailed off as he heard two sets of familiar footsteps approaching. James immediately sobered up and carefully peeked out from behind the tapestry. Sure enough, the empty hall carried the voices of Lily Evans and Claire James.
“Six seconds,” James whispered.
They began a silent countdown as the two girls unsuspectingly carried on their conversation. Sirius felt the building anticipation crawl up his spine.
Sirius braced himself, taking a step towards the other side of the tapestry.
He raised his wand, aiming carefully at the immobilised suits of armour.
With a non-verbal flick, the suits of armour exploded with a collective BANG. Bubotuber pus erupted from the armour all down the hallway, bursting all around from wall to wall. The girls shrieked in disgust and horror as they found themselves drenched in the foul-smelling pus. Lily, stepping back in surprise, skidded on the slippery floor, dragging Claire down with her in her search for balance.
After the explosions had desisted, Sirius and James indulged themselves in silent fits of laughter, only made worse by the sound of Lily’s furious voice as she screeched, “POTTER!”
The Three Broomsticks was brimming with patrons, more so than on most Hogsmeade dates, which was due in large part to the biting December cold. Claire had found herself seated uncomfortably between Rose and Alice, both of whom were being entertained by their boyfriends. Forced to find an alternative way to amuse herself, she discreetly observed the surrounding people.
Two tables away sat Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, and Henrietta Merryweather, all talking about something very seriously. Remus nodded as he politely listened to what Henrietta was saying and Peter was hanging on her every word every word as though entranced. Claire raised an eyebrow and mentally noted to add this scene to the list of evidence that suggested that Peter fancied Henrietta. Knowing that James and Sirius could not be far behind, Claire looked up and searched for them curiously.
James she found easily, standing in a far-off corner with members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, with whom he was no doubt discussing tactics for the upcoming match against Ravenclaw. Sirius, however, had seated himself at the bar, accompanied by a blonde girl Claire recognised as a Hufflepuff a year younger than herself.
She narrowed her eyes, glaring at them scornfully.
Ever since he had heard about Claire’s fight with Deverell Terfel in their fourth year, Sirius had taken a particularly keen interest in the boys Claire kept in contact with. She had written off his interest as some sort of male territorial overprotectiveness, but since her failed relationship, she had lost significant interest in dating. This did not stop him, however, from including himself in every conversation she had with another boy and threatening to knock his teeth out if he ever laid a hand on her. While Claire kept to herself for the most part, Sirius was almost always seen in the company of other girls.
Though he was infamous for never having long-term relationships, he was nevertheless eager about surrounding himself with pretty females. She was not jealous, Claire firmly told herself. She merely felt angry that while he never allowed her to keep male company, he held her at a double standard. Her blood simmering, she politely excused herself from her circle of friends, brushed herself off, and purposefully walked towards Sirius and the girl.
“Hello there,” she said, a hint of irritation in her voice which was reflected in her cold eyes.
Sirius looked up at her and smiled. “Oh, hey there, James. Have you met Julia?”
Claire moved her eyes to Julia’s face and smiled. The girl was indisputably pretty.
“Hi, Julia,” she said with civility. She found no reason to be angry with the poor girl. “My name is Claire. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” said Julia cheerfully.
“What brings you over to us?” asked Sirius, bringing a Butterbeer to his lips.
“I was actually going to see why my order was taking so long, but I can see Johnny’s busy,” she lied, smoothly.
Sirius eyed her curiously, but if he registered something in Claire’s unfriendly stare, he did not mention it. No one said a word while Claire and Sirius stared at one another. Julia shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“Er, well, I think I should get going,” she began awkwardly, rising from her stool. She smiled half-heartedly at Sirius. “It was nice talking to you, Sirius. You, too,” she added, not meeting Claire’s eyes. She walked away and joined a small group of Hufflepuffs that sat at the opposite side of the room. Sirius turned back to Claire.
“What was that?”
“What was what?”
“You looked like you were trying to set her on fire with your eyes,” he said, accusingly, though he did not look sorry.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said defiantly, crossing her arms.
“You didn’t come over here because of your order.”
“Why is it I can’t talk to any boys without you breathing down my neck, but you can go chatting up girls and I can’t even come over here?”
A sparkle appeared in Sirius’s eyes. “Were you… jealous?”
Claire’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. She stared at him incredulously. “I most certainly was not.”
“It’s quite alright, James,” he said, picking up his Butterbeer again. “I won’t hold it against you. I would be jealous of Julia, too.”
Claire scowled and mumbled something along the lines of “completely missed the point”.
Sirius felt something heavy plop onto the sofa beside him. He looked to his left and saw Claire James, looking worse than he had ever seen her. Though she was grinning from ear to ear, her shirt was stained and her hair was in complete disarray. Sirius wondered if he had imagined it, or if her eyes truly had been crossed for a moment. She seemed to be having difficulty sitting up straight and she began to lean towards him.
“You OK?” he asked hesitantly, setting down his Butterbeer.
She hiccupped and nodded.
“You don’t look OK.”
She did not respond but proceeded to take turns closing one eye, and then the other, both of which were drooping slightly as if she were about to fall asleep. Sirius took her drink from her hand, which smelled strongly of Firewhiskey, and placed it out of her reach.
“I think it’s time you went to bed,” he said seriously, rising from his seat. She mumbled something in response, which Sirius could not hear over the music that was blasting around the common room, but offered her his hand. She grasped it weakly and he pulled her up. She wobbled slightly where she stood and Sirius wrapped an arm around her waist before she had a chance to fall over. He searched the crowd of students for one of Claire’s roommates when he spotted Annelise in the corner, laughing with Rose. He guided Claire over to them, clutching her tightly against his side to help her keep her balance. Her head lolled onto his shoulder.
“Hey, Annelise, Rose,” he said loudly, walking up to them. The two girls looked up and expressions of horror appeared on their faces at the sight of Claire.
“Merlin, what’s wrong with her?” asked Rose. “Is she OK?”
“I don’t know, she seemed to have had more than she can stomach,” he replied, trying to keep Claire steady. She swayed in her spot, completely unaware of her surroundings.
“I’ve never seen her like this,” said Annelise, her voice filled with worry. “She normally doesn’t drink.”
“I was going to get her to bed, but I can’t get her up to the girls’ dormitory, so I was hoping you guys could help me,” he said. “I’ll help you get her to the steps, but you guys will have to get her upstairs.”
The girls nodded seriously and hurried over to the stairs. Sirius slowly made his way over, encouraging Claire to keep walking and to stay awake.
“No, love, keep your eyes open,” he said, patting her cheek softly. “You’ll be in bed in just a second.”
She grumbled unintelligibly in Sirius’s ear. Sirius smiled in spite of himself, amused at the mess that the usually confident and capable Claire James had been reduced to.
When he reached the stairs, he carefully passed her onto Rose and Annelise, who paused for a moment to keep her steady before they could begin their way up the steps. Claire turned her head to the side and smiled drunkenly at Sirius, her smile wide and her eyes nearly closed.
“Ba-ba, Sirssssssss,” she said loudly, but incoherently. Sirius smiled again.
“Goodnight, Claire.” He watched the two girls struggle to keep her walking up the stairs until they disappeared out of sight.
Claire awoke Sunday morning feeling as though she had found herself on death’s doorstep. With even the smallest movement, her head pounded painfully, and her mouth felt as dry as a desert. She felt a sense of nausea overcome her that she had not experienced since she got food poisoning in her third year. Looking around her dormitory, avoiding the light filtering in through the windows, she saw that it was empty and that the other girls had seemingly gone down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Slowly pulling herself out of bed, which she discovered to be no easy feat, she minimally cleaned herself up, threw on some presentable clothes, and departed for the Great Hall.
She passed the common room, which was littered with garbage and empty cups, which did not surprise her. Some students had not managed to get up to their beds and were still sound asleep, or perhaps just unconscious, beneath tables and on the sofas and chairs. She walked through quietly without comment and stepped through the portrait hole.
Her head intensely protested as she entered the Hall, the rustling of students and loud conversations causing the pain in her head to double. She spotted Lily sitting by herself at the Gryffindor table and walked over to her. She slid into the seat in front of her just as Lily looked up.
“Well, look who finally showed up,” she said, teasingly. “The girls just left.”
“Sweet Circe, what time is it,” groaned Claire. Her stomach lurched dangerously at the sight of sausages, eggs, and muffins on the table.
“It’s probably around eleven,” Lily answered. “I don’t know what got into you last night, but you gave Annelise and Rose quite a scare.”
“Oh no, what happened? I didn’t kill anyone, did I?”
Lily smiled. “Not that I know of. No, you just stumbled around a bit, said some things people didn’t understand, and giggled a lot. The girls took you to bed around midnight.”
“Yeah, they said they practically carried you because you were dead on your feet. Well, apparently, Sirius found you in your state and was going to put you to bed, but since he can’t get up the stairs, he asked them to help him, so he got you to the stairs, and the girls hauled you up.”
Claire cringed with embarrassment. “Sirius had to help me?”
Lily smiled devilishly. “Uh huh. He was actually pretty good last night – he helped me clean up the major messes people left, and he got most of the strays up to bed.”
“Yeah. I saw him this morning, actually,” she said, looking around. “He asked about you.”
Just as Claire was about to bury her face in her hands out of humiliation and shame, Lily turned her head and smiled at someone.
“Speak of the devil,” she said. Claire felt her insides squirm uncomfortably.
Sirius sat down beside Claire and smiled at the two girls, looking as fresh and cheerful as ever. Claire’s cheeks burned.
“Someone’s looking a bit better today,” he said, turning to Claire. “Though I’m sure you’re probably feeling a lot worse.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small glass flask, and dangled it in front of her eyes. It was filled with a dark purple liquid.
“Just drink it. I’m not going to poison you,” he added after he had seen the suspicion cross her eyes. “It’ll help, I promise.”
Claire took the flask from his hands and looked at Lily. She nodded approvingly.
“Well, I’d better get going,” he said, standing up. “We still can’t find Peter.”
With that, he smiled at the pair of them, and turned on his heel. Claire looked back at the flask and uncorked it warily. She sniffed the contents and made a face.
“Just drink it,” said Lily.
Claire plugged her nose with one hand and poured the contents of the flask into her mouth, swallowing it immediately. Within moments, her headache and nausea were alleviated, though the potion left a bad taste in her mouth. Suddenly struck with how hungry she was, Claire lunged for the sausages.