“Well, you stir it three times and then you add the essence,” I corrected, jabbing my finger at the line of instructions.
“And does the stirring make a lot of difference?” James asked.
“Yes,” I said firmly, “it does,”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, “it just does – that’s how potions work, you follow the instructions and then you get the right result. Then when you get a feel of the potion you can just throw things in and –“
“As long as you don’t explode anything,” James added. I did not appreciate him bringing that up. I glared at him without feeling any real anger. There was something reassuring about the way he was now fully comfortable with teasing me without fearing the comeuppance, “it’s really nice to study together, isn’t it?”
Sirius, who was very busy glaring at the floor, snorted and flicked some of his hair out his eyes. Thinking about it, his hair had got absurdly long – and then I found myself staring and trying to work out how exactly it had grown so much. Last year it had been a pretty normal length, and now... well... it was getting stupid. “Enjoying the view, Evans?” Sirius questioned. I hadn’t even realised he was aware we were in the room, let alone realised he knew I’d been watching him. I flushed slightly.
“When did you last get a haircut?”
“I’m sorry?” Sirius asked, looking more human than he had for a week. Apparently the random nature of my question had caught him off guard, and he’d forgotten to pretend to be a surly bastard.
“Haircut – last time?”
“Dunno,” Sirius shrugged, “Last Christmas?”
“But its November!” I exclaimed incredulously. This made him wince for reasons unknown. Sirius’s behaviour was suddenly so incomprehensible that I didn’t waste my thoughts trying to get my brain to produce some sort of explanation for his eccentricities.
“Yeah, last Christmas. My hair was in the way of my head wound, so they cut my hair to get to it better.” He answered savagely, as if every word he was saying was supporting his case for being the person suffering most in the entirety of the world. Although I had accepted that Sirius was being an idiot at the minute I refused to indulge his fantasies of hardship.
“Head wound?” I questioned only to receive a loud silence, “well...anyway, next Hogsmeade weekend you need to get a haircut. Otherwise I’ll get someone to cut it off in your sleep,”
“I’ve got better things to think about than my hair, Evans,”
“What like? How little you value other people’s confidence? Your disregard for other people’s feelings?”
“Get over yourself.”
The audacity of that comment made me want to murder him. Bloody hell, I was angry. James was now glancing between us unsure of what he could do or same to make things better, for either of us. He probably didn’t even know whose side he should be on.
“I know a lot about you, you know Sirius. Plenty I could just blurt out over dinner,”
“How so?” I asked, my eyes narrowing darkly.
“You’re decent,” Sirius said, then he stood up and stalked away again. He was like a broken record: sitting around looking depressed (attracting half the attention of all the girls in Hogwarts who considered this ‘brooding’ expression to be almost as attractive as his smirk), saying something that really pisses someone off (it didn’t matter who: James, me, McGonagall) then stalk of and disappear for hours.
Still, his last line really was the limit. Claiming that I was ‘decent’ went against everything else he’d been saying for weeks – he’d been going out of his way to ensure that I was even more aware of all my character flaws and then to reverse all of that and say I was ‘decent’ – well that was more than frustrating. He had no right to compliment me.
“That’s it.” I said firmly, standing up an eying the portrait hole.
“You always have to go running after him, don’t you?” James asked lightly. His tone was dangerously even. My stomach twisted. It seemed I couldn’t go two minutes without upsetting someone these days – Alice, James, Sirius and random Slytherins who enjoyed throwing toxic liquids over me when I walked down corridors.
“Look, I can only deal with one oversensitive male at a time,”
“And so you pick Sirius,”
“Fine. I pick you. Lets study – right, so you add the essence, and then no, you stir it three times and then you add the essence...”
“He’ll be in the trophy room,” James said, “I’ll be waiting to argue with you when you’re done,”
“How generous,” I said, offering him a smile, “you know his case is more desperate than yours, right? He’s much more dramatic,”
“Sure,” James agreed, “Sirius is all about the drama,”
“What’s wrong with him James?” I asked, my frustration suddenly bubbling to the surface again. “Why has he turned into a complete tosser?”
James shrugged annoyingly and I headed off in the direction of the trophy room feeling a little like I was doing some of Mary’s duties for her, now that she couldn’t anymore.
“Imperio!” James said quietly. The classroom had been silenced and locked – as had been the practice with all our attempts at learning defensive magic so far – but... it was understandable that everyone was slightly more nervous about being caught now, practice this... because it was ever so slightly illegal.
Remus had gone a little wild and had made sure everyone signed a piece of parchment that explicitly gave everyone else the permission to perform the curse on them in the name of practicing throwing off the curse. He’d also written down a list of instructions we were allowed to give each other: sit down, poke somebody, jump and lay on the floor – menial silly things that could no way harm anyone.
No one had managed to throw it off yet. We decided it was best if there weren’t too many spells flying around the room at once: so Frank was under Alice’s curse – stupidly bopping up to a strange disjointed rhythm; and Remus was under James’s curse –lifting his arms up and down in a way that reminded me a little of the YMCA.
It was so strange how it felt to send an unforgivable curse. It felt like everything had changed all over again, and I wasn’t altogether sure if I was happy about that or not. Obviously I’d been burning to be able to throw off such a curse but in my two practices this session I hadn’t so much as managed to summon any resistance to the idea – let alone throw it off.
“My turn,” I said, suddenly determined that I would do it this time. I had to. I’d mastered all the shields, hexes and jinxes that James and Sirius had thrown my way in the past month and now I could duel almost as well as James. Sirius was marginally better still, but we were all improving. Peter could hold his own against any of us. Remus was better at defending than the rest of us but his lack of offensive meant he was always forced back into a corner. Alice and Frank matched each other exactly in terms of speed and skill – privately I’d decided that they had motivation we could any dream of given they’d come face to face with him. I shuddered.
“We agreed no more than three times a week,” James said, dropping the curse of Remus who sank to his knees breathing as if he’d just been running a marathon.
“I don’t care,” I said. “I can do this.” Remus was too tired to object to this violation of the signed slips. James was torn. I could practically hear his thoughts: as much as he wanted me to be as able as possible in case I was attacked in the corridor tomorrow, he was also worried about my health right here and now. “I’m fine, James. Sirius,” I said, “You do it.”
Sirius’s curses were the strongest. He raised an eyebrow challengingly.
Admittedly, I hadn’t so much as acknowledged his presence since our argument in the trophy room which had ended up being so loud that McGonagall had shown up, yelled at us both and put us in a detention later that evening. Not before she’d heard a good deal of, I don’t doubt. Still the maintained coolness in his gaze was more frustrating than I cared to say.
“Don’t go easy on me.” I instructed, preparing myself for the power of his spell. He raised his wand... and then there was that sleepy dreamy feeling that was so easy to slip into. Sit down. Why not? I sat down, barely able to feel the stone underneath me legs. All my muscles were light, warm, comfortable...
Stand up again.
I struggled to me feet again without really thinking. A tiny voice at the back of my head tried to remind me I was supposed to be fighting this. But... why bother? It was so nice and relaxing and...
Tell me you love me. Tell James I’m the one you want.
I stumbled forwards and then... then that voice interrupted my thoughts again... I didn’t want to do that. No, I really didn’t. It was stupid. It was... it was so...
Go on. No! Just do it. No. I wouldn’t I didn’t want to.
Come on Evans, it’s just a little confession
“No!” I said out load, the feeling washing away suddenly. I pulled out my wand and suddenly had it pointed as Sirius’s throat, more than angry. Angrier than I’d ever been at him. “You little shit!”
He quirked his eyebrows up. Suddenly he was back to normal and that was even more incomprehensible than anything else, “Knew you could do it.”
“How dare you?” I demanded. I was vaguely aware that the others were staring – not having a bloody clue what was going on – and I still had my wand pointing at his throat. He didn’t appear particularly bothered by the fact which, to be frank, was downright insulting, “We agreed on what you could ask me to do.”
“And it wasn’t working,” Sirius said, his grip tightening his own wand. “I thought you’d need a little more motivation.”
“You’re sick.” I spat, he took a step backwards so that he was no longer in danger of death if I decided to send something at him. It was very tempting, “you’re messed up.”
“But look,” Sirius said with a grin – a grin that nobody had seen for about three weeks now, “now I can do this. Imperio!”
And then I was under the spell again, and I was warm, comfortable... practically dreaming and -
Apologise to me Evans.
It was easier the second time.
“Sod off, Black.” I said, breaking through the curse again. Then I sent a stunner his direction. He dodged it. And then we were duelling. Again.
This had happened for too often recently. Except this time I was winning.
“Stop it!” James ordered after a few minutes of spells being sent all over the place. James was probably the only person in the world I’d listen to when I was this angry, “Lily, you did it. You threw it off!”
“Twice,” Sirius grinned shoving his wand back in his pocket. It seemed that surly Sirius had dissolved away and he was acting almost as if the past few weeks hadn’t happened, like he hadn’t announced that my Dad was dead for the whole of Gryffindor to hear, like he hadn’t been even fouler than the Slytherins recently. And he’d helped me. I’d done it – I’d thrown off the flaming imperius curse.
“I...oh, yeah.” I said, suddenly feeling embarrassed and proud and confused at the same time. “Don’t think I’ve forgiven you, Black.”
“What did he ask you to do?” Remus asked warily.
“Evans, come on, everyone would have known you were under the spell!”
“Oh, whatever,” I spat angrily. Folding my arms and sending him another dark look. I clamped my lips shut feeling horribly violated and sick. I wanted to go clean. It suddenly occurred to me who vulnerable we were making each other – yes, there was no real harm that could have been caused by a confession of love, however ludicrous, but when in control they had the power to ask anything, “You’re still a creep.”
“I wasn’t asking for much,” He grinned.
“What would Mary say?” I demanded harshly, stuffing my hands in my pockets and feeling increasingly irritable the more time I spent in the room with him. The more I thought about the curse the more I wanted to shove Black in the lake. What if I’d actually done it?
“She’d think it was hilarious.” Sirius said definitely, “I wouldn’t have let you,”
“Come on,” James said. “Someone tell me what this scandalous request was before I implode.”
“Bloody Merlin,” Remus muttered, bringing a hand to his head and looking exhausted, “you’ve shot my rules to hell, damn it both of you.”
“Knew Evans would be the first,” Sirius said lightly – Remus was openly staring at this new transformation in mood and no one seemed particularly scared of setting him off again by gaping – “she wants it,”
The compliment mixed with the achievement and the fact that I’d actually really bloody missed the real Sirius, my brother in pain Sirius, led my lips to spilling out into a smile, “you can’t say anything without making it sound dirty, can you Sirius?”
“Is that it?” James demanded wildly, “is he forgiven? If I did something like that I’d be in the shit for a week!”
“But you wouldn’t, would you James?” Remus was picking up his bags to insinuate that we’d broken enough of his rues now and that he literally wouldn’t allow us practice any longer. Alice and Frank followed suit, exchanging soft whispers that none of us could hear as they did so.
“What did he want you to do?” James asked, nudging me with his elbow with that adorable expression of his, “Lily,”
“Stop pouting, it’s not a big deal,”
“Thank you!” Sirius said loudly from behind me, “no one was going to get hurt,”
“You nearly did,” Peter added
“He would have known it wasn’t true, Evans,”
“It wouldn’t have exactly been helpful,”
“You can’t keep things from me,” James said, “Sirius is my best friend and Lily, well, you’re just not allowed to keep things from me.”
“You’re breaking his heart Lily,” Remus said beginning to look amused by the whole thing, bringing a weary hand up to his head subconsciously.
“S’okay,” James grinned, “I’m used to it,” he nudged his arm against mine, fingers brushing together for a moment. I turned to smile at him. For a single moment we were all existing in some suspended harmony together: James didn’t hate me, Remus was tired but didn’t look like dead and Sirius wasn’t acting like a moody shit. There was never anything to worry about as far as Peter was concerned, anyway, and Alice and Frank we’re beginning to regain their former confidence and passion after the events last month.
“Lily,” Sirius said hanging back for just a second, “can I talk to you in a bit?” James heard the request too and took the opportunity to squeeze me hand for support. I nodded and resigned myself to the fact that, very shortly, I was either going to cry a lot or get really angry at Sirius for the third time today.
“Okay,” Sirius said, pacing up and down the boys dorm searching for some words that he could use to express himself. I was curled up on James’s bed, taking the liberty of pulling up his duvet around my shoulders to suppress the shiver which didn’t have much to do with the cold, “sorry about the imperious thing earlier,”
“Why? You know that James is already like... I don’t know, but he’ll get some sort of complex or something,”
“He could do with a couple of complexes,” Sirius said with the shadow of a grin, “any case, I was doing him a favour, now you can protect yourself, see? If I explained it to him he wouldn’t even punch him. It’s fine.”
“I might punch you,”
“I’d probably survive Evans,” Sirius said, then his expression turned serious again and he pushed his stupidly long hair back from his face and considered this for a second, “and sorry about the other stuff too,”
“Mary was right,” I said staring at him, “you’re terrible at apologies,”
“I hadn’t finished,”
“So that wasn’t it?”
“No, that’s not ruddy well it,” Sirius said angrily, “let me talk will you Evans?”
“Okay,” I agreed quietly folding my arms and legs and deciding the James’s bed was comfier than my own. Sirius was pacing slightly.
“I wanted to talk to you about the girl,”
“The girl?” I questioned.
“The one I shagged over the summer!” Sirius snapped again, I decided from this point onwards I was probably just going to shut up, “because you don’t understand and... I don’t want you to think that Mary was just, I mean... I really loved her,” he took another deep steadying breath and flopped down onto his bed opposite. When he started talking again his voice was a lot calmer but the whole thing seemed to have a slightly rehearsed note to it.
“Evans, I wanted to explain it to you. It didn’t do it because I wanted to I... It’s hard to explain you see. Say if you bruised yourself on something, you know how sometimes you press on the bruise just to see how much it will hurt? Just to push yourself to your limit, just to see. It was a bit like that.”
“But I thought, for a second, that I might me moving on. There’d been a moment the week before when I’d looked at a girl and hadn’t felt guilty about it. I’d wanted to push myself, test it... sort of. I thought it would make me feel better. It wasn’t like that though, Lily, because I realised – things aren’t going to shift. They’re not going to change. I’m stagnant. Some days are better than others, and some weeks I have more of the good days than the bad. The past couple of weeks have been shit. I realised that this is exactly a year after everything started kicking off, and Jesus it doesn’t seem like a year ago. I don’t want the time to pass. I’d rather be stuck here mourning forever than get to a place where I don’t think about her every day,” Sirius’s voice broke uncomfortably and I found myself blinking more than normal to stop myself from crying whilst Sirius was trying to speak.
“I just think of all the things I should have differently to make her time more valuable. I foolishly thought that if I moved forward and started to...feel again, then it wouldn’t hurt so much and I could leave those feelings behind. Can you understand that Lily?”
I nodded. I wasn’t sure if there was anything in the world that I could understand more and suddenly I felt guilty for internally condemning Sirius’s behaviour without even thinking about reason.
“I’m not sure I’ve regretted anything more, if I’m honest, because now I feel like I’ve lost something of Mary forever. I always knew that I wasn’t strong enough to hold out forever, but... I thought I could have been a bit stronger. I was drunk, too – though that’s not excuse. I just want to make it clear that I didn’t enjoy it.”
“She was that bad?” I quipped lightly, desperate to try and bring the tone down a level. I never could deal with seeing Sirius get like this. I was terrified of him starting to cry and not being able to do anything about it and not being able to help or change things. I hated it when Sirius cried.
Sirius smiled solemnly. “It’s nothing to do with that. It just felt like I’d betrayed her, or like I’d lost something. It felt like losing my virginity all over again, but it was worse than that – it was harrowing. And now I’ve lost that part of Mary that I can’t ever get back. She’s not the last person who kissed me anymore, and that’s the hardest thing to deal with. I... I just thought you had the right to understand. You have every right to be mad at me. I was a fool to think that anything within me could change. Like I said, I’m stagnant.”
“I’m not mad,”
“It’s different though, isn’t it Lily. You just loved her. I was in love with her.”
“And I understand her better now. I understand why she did things. She didn’t want to do this to me because now sometimes I can’t help but be mad at her. I’m going to be like this forever Evans.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “You’re not, you’ll...”
“I’ll what? Move on? Forget about it. I can try, but... we all know there’s no one quite like Mary McDonald.”
“I miss her at the most stupid times,” I said, finding my voice filled with a lot more emotion than I thought I’d felt, “just, in the morning when we’re all getting ready and... and there’s no one to fight for the mirror with,” I blinked again, “and there’s none of her shower gel that I can nick in the shower... and then sometimes I almost feel like she was about to say something and then I remember that she’s dead all over again,”
The tears were an unstoppable force now. They’d broken past the barriers I’d put up and were now falling down her my face in slow streams.
“I miss her,” Sirius began, “when she’s not sat next to me in classes anymore and it’ll suddenly hit me that Mary used to sit here and that she’d probably be arguing with me about something,”
“When I see that colour purple,” I began and then I couldn’t finish the sentence so I brought up a hand to my face and cried even more.
“At breakfast there’s no one to complain about burnt toast,” Sirius said and then I think he’d buried his head in his hands too, “but I’m glad I miss her,” he half whispered, “I’d rather hurt for Mary than feel nothing,”
Then I was sobbing and there was nothing anyone could do to stop me: loud chocking tears that were embarrassing to let out but impossible to keep in. Every so often I’d attempt speech but mostly there weren’t any words, there was just Mary’s scornful expression and her purple hair and red lipstick. There was just Mary who’d never been a brilliant friend but who’d always loved the hell out of me.
“I’ll go get James,” Sirius muttered uncomfortably.
“Don’t be silly!” I practically wailed, and then I threw my arms around his neck and started sobbing into his shoulder, “Sirius,” I whimpered, “How are you so good at this?”
I couldn’t even find it within myself to be embarrassed at my behaviour.
Sirius blinked at me for quite a long moment before he even attempted to answer, “How am I so good at this? What... Evans, Lily, haven’t you seen me recently? Haven’t you, I haven’t...”
“But you’re not crying all over the place and,” another throb of sobs took over my body for a few second before I was able to finish off my sentence again, “and you never did stupid stuff with Diggory, and I’ve been messing James around and ignoring Alice and just irritating everyone,”
“Well, everyone hates you at the minutes,” Sirius said, waving that away, “I mean stupid prejudiced people, and it equates to the same thing in the end – doesn’t it all?” One of Sirius’s tears landed on my arm. I never was good with crying men, “spilling secrets, not talking and stuff. I’ve been a right git, especially to you Evans,”
“Was that an apology?”I muttered, standing up and wondering to the toilets to pull a great wedge of tissue to mop up my face a little more. Sirius stood up and paused in the door way looking exhausted, “I’m never sure with you,”
“None of us know what we’re doing, Lily,” Sirius said, ignoring my comment completely, “we’re all just making it up as we’re going along but... it’s not heresy to move on. You can’t condemn someone for trying and I’m talking about you too,”
“What?” I asked, turning to face him properly instead of looking at him through the mirror, the tissue still waiting at the ready to mop up anymore tears that choose to come tumbling down.
“Mary was your best friend but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a best friend again – you don’t, I mean, you shouldn’t distance yourself from Alice and Rachel just because.... well,”
I hadn’t even realised. Was that what I had been doing? My head was spinning again. I leant against the sink and thought about this for a few seconds.
There was a tear glittering on Sirius’s skin.
“Sorry,” Sirius finished, stepping back from the doorway and sitting on his bed again, staring at some phantom spot on his bedcovers as if there were someone for him to share the bed with, “you’re so unlike Mary, it’s difficult,”
“What do you mean?” I asked, throwing the mascara stained tissue in the bin and vaguely watching Sirius’s morose way of only taking up half the space: if Mary were there too, one hand would be leaning on the pillow just beside her back and the other would be millimetres away from touching her left hip. The empty space made my heart ache.
“To understand what James sees in you,” Sirius finished. I let out a shaky laugh and shook my head.
“Well, you’re not very much like James. I’ve often questioned Mary’s taste,”
“You’d be the only one,” Sirius said with a bark of laughter – the first I’d heard for a long time – then he leant further back on his pillows. If she were there, their foreheads might be touching, “the question is, Evans, does that mean you’ve accepted that you and prongs will be together forever?”
“I’m going downstairs, coming?”
“Nah,” Sirius said, closing his eyes for a second, “early night,” If I concentrated hard enough I could almost see the intent Mary’s head could have left on the pillow, how Sirius’s arms would be loosely holding her, how her purple hair would spray out behind her as she smiled at the ceiling. Sirius smiled at nothingness and for a second I wondered if he was imagining the same spectre as I was: Mary’s form, beauty encapsulated, life personified and lying there, on Sirius bed.
“Promise me you’ll get a haircut,” I muttered finally, sniffing again as I shut the door. I didn’t want to cry anymore. I’d worn myself out. I wanted to lie down, just as Sirius was doing so, but I had too much stuff that I still had to sort out.
My legs felt impossibly heavy as I made my way down the stairs but, I was beginning to realise, it was perfectly healthy to exist in this state of confused emotions and stupidity whilst I was grieving. I was allowed to still be grieving. No one was going to judge me for still being messed up, except perhaps those Slytherin’s.
“Hey James,” I said softly, sitting down on the sofa beside him and curling up against his shoulder, “where is everyone?”
“Dinner,” James said casually dropping an arm around my shoulder and smiling at me, “you okay?” and again he was asking such a simple question as if it held all the weight in the world, as if the answer changed everything.
“Should be,” I returned resisting the sudden urge to kiss his cheek, “On Saturday – ”
“Hogsmeade weekend Saturday?”
“Yeah, can... can we go somewhere?” James’s eyebrows rose slightly but he never was to question any petty desire I ever had. James was too good.
“Do you have anywhere particular in mind?”
“Yes,” I finished closing my eyes on his shoulder, “there are some things I need to do and I’d like you to come with me,”
“At your service,” James muttered into my hair.
“Lily! Lily!” Rachel exclaimed, throwing the door of the common room open with a smile reigning triumphant over her face. I barely had the energy to separate myself from James’s arms and, in any case, Rachel didn’t seem to be remotely surprise to see us in such a... cosy position, “Charlotte!” She exclaimed, gesturing wildly with a piece of paper in her hand lost for words for a few seconds, “she’s written to me! She’s okay, she’s safe!” Alice climbed through the portrait hole behind Rachel, grinning. Remus and Peter too. Frank. All of them framed in the doorway savouring the single moment of joy we’d been granted.
I just wished that Sirius could have been there.
A/N - Now, this chapter is a pretty far from perfect but I've been having serious writing issues as of late... and I really just wanted to get it finished. Thats no excuse. I'll probably come back and fix it a little bit at some point soon - but things really are busy and the minute (and I hadn't updated for ages!)