"Do you always walk this slow?" Sirius complained as we made our way to the seventh floor. We'd been dating for two weeks now, and he'd decided to show off our new relationship in the one place that Rose would be sure to see - the Gryffindor common room.
"You have longer legs than I do," I reminded him, hurrying to catch up. We'd reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, but just before he said the password, the door opened to reveal Rose Burton and her friends standing on the other side.
"Oh," she said, surprised, "hey, Sirius." Rose glanced between the two of us as she climbed out of the portrait hole. I couldn't deny that she was pretty - exactly Sirius's type - with dark hair, pale skin and green eyes. She reminded me of a mermaid, for some reason; unearthly beautiful. You couldn't look at her for too long without taking a hit on your self esteem.
Sirius nodded as she passed by and retreated down the hall, chattering loudly. Once she'd disappeared, he turned to look at me. "We'll have to be more convincing than that," he said irritably. Oddly enough, there was still a tiny smile on his lips. He always seemed to be in a good mood, no matter what the occasion. It was quite baffling.
"Sorry," I said awkwardly. What had he expected me to do, jump into his arms?
"That's exactly what I want you to do," he said. I hadn't realized I'd spoken aloud, but judging by his stupid grin, I was blushing again.
"Only if you catch me," I told him, laughing.
Sirius ran a hand through his hair. "Well, I guess there's no point in hanging around here if Rose is gone."
"Oh, right, of course," I said, my former awkwardness returning.
He peered at me closely. "You can still meet the guys, though, if you want. Then again, you've already gotten to know Remus." His smirk should have been infuriating, but I found myself smacking him playfully on the shoulder.
"If you say one word about that in front of him, I swear..."
His eyes danced with mirth as he led me into the Gryffindor common room. It was a Friday night, so a lot of students were hanging out by the fire. The room was pretty similar to Ravenclaw tower, with large squishy arm chairs and study sections, except all of the blue was replaced with red and gold. I noticed that Sirus's friends were sitting around a small coffee table, playing exploding snap.
"Padfoot, mate, where have you been?" one of them called over. He had shaggy black hair and wire-rimmed glasses that framed a pair of teasing hazel eyes. I wondered if he was Sirius's brother - they seemed so much alike.
Sirius started towards the group as I followed behind shyly. There was only one other girl besides myself; I recognized Lily Evans immediately by her long auburn hair.
"I was having some quality time with my new girlfriend." Sirius grinned craftily. "Everyone, I'd like you to meet Annie..." He trailed off, obviously trying to recall my last name. "Uh, just Annie."
I chuckled; he didn't realize that I'd never bothered to tell him. "McGuire," I said, trying to sound friendly. "Annie McGuire."
"Oh, no." Lily frowned. "You're the poor girl that Sirius is using to get back at Rose?"
"Yes, that's me," I said nervously.
She turned to glare at the boy in question. "Please don't hurt Annie. She's just too nice to be manipulated for your selfish plan."
"Hey, she agreed to it!" Sirius told her, smirking like a cheshire cat. "Besides, my plan is not selfish. Annie adores spending time with me, don't you, love?" He shifted his obnoxiously blue eyes to mine.
I pointed an accusing finger in his direction. "That's a direct violation of rule number two," I said sternly.
"Ah, yes," he laughed. "Annie does love her rules. Anyway, these are my fellow Marauders - James Potter, Peter Pettigrew and...well, I daresay you remember him." He gestured toward Remus as I blushed tomato red.
"Vaguely," I muttered, earning a sympathetic smile from Lily. Remus just shook his head at at Sirius.
We chatted for a while in the common room, allowing me to learn more about the Marauders than I ever thought I would. I grouped Lily in with them, probably because she was kinda-sorta dating James Potter (I didn't actually know what was going on with that). In any case, I thought I'd made a new friend. She was very kind, and we always had something to talk about due to our love of all things scholarly.
After a while, I noticed things about Sirius, too. Although he was always cheerful, his words were very harsh. I'd wondered if it was because of me, but he treated his friends in the same manner, never missing the opportunity for a jeering remark.
I'd also noticed that everytime Sirius insulted me, the rest of the group would tense up and glance at me with anxious eyes. It was a bit annoying, really - wasn't this his usual attitude? I guess it didn't matter, since I would just laugh it off. His comebacks entertained me, even if he was making a joke at my expense. It was all in good fun, right?
Two hours later, I jumped out of my seat in a panic. The boys looked at me strangely, but I knew that Lily understood. "I have to get going," I said, smiling at them. "Curfew is in ten minutes."
"I'll walk with you," Sirius said, standing up. James raised his eyebrows but said nothing. "Maybe we can catch Rose on the way back."
I waved goodbye to everyone and followed Sirius out of the portrait hole. "Oh, now you decide to move faster than a sleeping flobberworm," he muttered.
I glanced up at him and smiled. "I can slow down, if you'd like."
There was a sudden noise at the end of the corridor - a group of girls were about to walk by, giggling rather loudly. Before I could get a good look at them, Sirius had pinned me against the wall, blocking my line of vision. His face was very close to mine and he'd tilted his head ever so slightly. From the opposite angle, it probably looked like we were kissing.
The girls hurried past us, whispering excitedly about the couple against the wall. I didn't catch what they were saying - I was too busy trying to disengage myself from Sirius.
"I think they're gone," I said quietly. He didn't look around though; instead, his gaze was focused on me. His eyes were so very, very blue. They practically glowed, even in the dim lighting. "Sirius?"
"Right," he said abruptly. He let go almost immediately, and cold air flooded the places where he'd held me.
"Was Rose in that group of girls?" I asked, continuing down the corridor as if nothing had happened. But he didn't seem inclined to follow.
"No." His tone was short, and his expression looked strained. Half of him seemed annoyed beyond belief, and the other half seemed...impressed. By what, I don't know.
"Oh," I said casually, stealing another glance at him. He still hadn't moved. "Maybe - "
"Look, I have to get back to the common room," Sirius interrupted. "You can get back on your own, right? Good."
Without another word, he turned and loped back the way we came. I shrugged to no one in particular. He was a strange guy.
Walking back to Ravenclaw tower, I couldn't keep my thoughts from straying to Sirius Black. There was something about him that I couldn't figure out - and I was usually very good at reading people. His friends seemed to notice as well, though they probably knew a lot more than I did. Sirius was a mystery, all right. He was a brick wall, blocking my every attempt to discover more about him.
It was entertaining, in a way - like my own little game. As long as I was his fake girlfriend, I would try to find out who he was. The man behind the mask, so to speak.
One person couldn't carry around that much sarcasm without a reason. There had to be something more to this boy.
After all...everyone has a story.
By the time Sirius reached the seventh year dormitory, his anger had subsided a bit. His usual smirk was back in place, and he'd successfully put thoughts of Annie out of his mind. Until James decided to fuck everything up.
"So, how was your walk with Annie?"
Sirius shrugged nonchalantly and loosened his tie. "Peachy," he drawled.
Remus, who was listening in, closed the book he had been reading. "You two seem pretty cozy with each other."
Sirius rolled his eyes and continued changing for bed. He was determined not to give his friends the satisfaction of getting under his skin. Besides, Annie was nothing to him. Just some girl he was using for revenge.
"She seems pretty cool," James went on. "Real easy to talk to, you know?"
"Then maybe you should date her," Sirius said with mock enthusiasm.
"Cut the crap, Padfoot," Remus snapped. Sirius turned to look at him, concern replacing the cold look on his face. The full moon was approaching fast, and Moony wasn't looking too good; his skin was paler than usual, and there were dark shadows under his eyes.
"We're just wondering what you think of her," said James, obviously trying to diffuse the situation.
"I don't think anything of her," Sirius lied. "She's just some girl who was at the wrong place at the wrong time." He heard himself saying the words, but there was no meaning behind them.
The truth was, he genuinely liked Annie. As a person, not just a girl to fuck around with. She was interesting, simply because she didn't react to his bad attitude. It frustrated Sirius to know that he didn't bother her, but at the same time...he couldn't explain the feeling he got when she smiled at him. It was like she understood why he acted the way he did. Like she forgave him for being such an asshole.
Not that he needed her forgiveness. Or anyone's, for that matter.
"Alright," James said slowly. "Let's talk about something else."
But Sirius didn't feel like talking. He lounged on his bed, tuning out the voices of his friends, and tried to clear his mind. There was just too much going on at the moment; between his relationships with Rose and Annie, he couldn't find the time to care about homework, much less his NEWT exams. Not to mention the fact that his brother had officially been marked as a Death Eater this past week.
Just thinking about Regulus made his blood boil. Sirius tried to apply some of the anger management techniques that Madam Pomfrey had taught him, but it was no use. Counting to ten and focusing on his breathing wasn't going to make the situation any better. Because this was reality. The Black's were ruthless and cruel. Why should Sirius be any different?
He wasn't, really. He made fun of people simply because it made him laugh. He was sarcastic and arrogant and he always got what he wanted. These were the typical trademarks of a Black. But Sirius wasn't really a Black anymore. He was just a big fat nobody.
He rolled over on his mattress, pulling the covers above his head. What did it matter, anyway? The only important people these days were Death Eaters, or those who supported Voldemort and the war. Sirius didn't want to be somebody if it meant hurting the innocent. If it meant going back to his family.
Being a spiteful person didn't make you somebody, anyway.
He would know.
Ever since I started "dating" Sirius a few weeks ago, I became more self-conscious than I'd ever been in my life. I guess it was because people were always staring - he was, after all, a Marauder. But it was still unnerving to hold hands while we walked to class, or have his arms around my waist and shoulders. We were doing everything to make it seem like we belonged to each other.
Passing through the corridors became the most stressful part of my day, due to the pointing and whispering. Not to mention the fact that we spent nearly all of our time together these days.
"I figured you'd like the attention," Sirius had said to me one day, while we were studying in the library. Well, I was studying.
I had shaken my head at him. "Not really. There's a reason I don't have many friends."
"Because you're socially awkward and plain as a piece of blank parchment?" He'd guessed off-handedly.
"No," I'd said mildly, twirling a lock of hair. "I guess it's because I don't need to be popular in order to feel good about myself."
That used to be true, but I wondered if pretending to date Sirius had changed that philosophy. I was obviously doing it for a reason.
However, Sirius had definitely looked surprised by my answer, which made me feel triumphant, in a way. He was rarely caught off guard, so the fact that I could surprise him was extremely satisfying.
Unfortunately, I couldn't remember any of those wise words at the moment. I was too busy gazing in the mirror, running a brush through my tangled waves. The other girls in the dormitory had already left, leaving their stashes of makeup behind for me to stare at wistfully. I'd never really used makeup, except for special occasions, and I wondered if I should start now.
Then again, Sirius had made it clear that the sole reason he'd chosen me to be his fake girlfriend was because I went unnoticed by most of the Hogwarts population. Caking my face in makeup would just contradict his plan for revenge. But a dab of lip gloss couldn't hurt...right?
After fussing over my appearance for a good half hour, I decided that I just had to work with what I got. Which, admittedly, wasn't much. Rolling my eyes at how superficial I was being, I traipsed down the stairs and out of Ravenclaw Tower.
To my surprise, there was someone waiting for me, leaning casually against the stone wall. And it wasn't Paige.
"What's wrong with your lips?" Sirius asked, immediately zeroing in on the shiny substance.
"I don't think anything's wrong with them," I said, shrugging. "But good morning to you, too."
He raised a dark eyebrow, which disappeared into the hair falling over his forehead. "Come on, we've got to hurry. I want to make a scene in the Great Hall before Rose leaves for class."
Sirius grabbed my hand and pulled me down the corridor. I glanced up at him as we walked, wondering why he looked so different today. Finally, it snapped into place.
"You look tired," I commented. There were dark circles under his blue eyes, making the color stand out even more against his pale skin.
I felt his hand tense up in mine. "So?" he grunted.
"It was just an observation," I said, smiling a little. "Don't be so defensive."
Before he could answer, we'd entered the Great Hall, and James was gesturing for us to sit with the rest of the group at the Gryffindor table. But just as I was about to sit down, there was a firm tap on my shoulder.
"Annie, can I talk to you for a sec?" It was Rose Burton, standing beside me with her hands clasped innnocently behind her back and a sweet smile on her face.
My eyes flickered toward Sirius, who looked as confused as I felt. "Yeah, of course," I said after a slight pause. Waving at my so-called boyfriend, I added, "be back soon."
"Okay," he said quietly, untangling our hands. Before he let go, Sirius placed a soft kiss on my wrist, smirking up at me the whole time. For some reason, my heart skipped a beat at his touch. I knew that he was putting on a show for Rose, but it wasn't everyday that an attractive boy paid this much attention to me.
I let my arm drop to my side, staring dumbly at my feet until Rose poked me again. "Are you coming or what?"
I followed her out of the Great Hall and into a tiny alcove just outside the doors. "What's up?" I asked, trying to keep my voice from squeaking. Rose was pretty intimidating, and I was Public Enemy Number 1 for "dating" her ex-boyfriend.
"I just wanted to ask how you're doing," she said bluntly.
"How I'm doing?" I repeated, baffled.
"Well, you're dating Sirius now and he's...he's not easy to get along with, you know?" Rose was staring at me with those strange green eyes of hers, but she wasn't angry. She seemed genuinely concerned.
"I know what you mean," I blurted out. There was an awkward silence. "He's not too bad, though," I said finally. "I just wish I knew why he was so..." My voice trailed off. I couldn't think of a word to describe him. Not one single word would do.
"It has to do with his family," Rose said quietly, glancing around for eavesdroppers. "He's had some issues with them in the past and I don't think he's fully...recovered from that. I don't know any details, but I do know that Sirius is...complicated. I just want you to be careful, Annie. I know how harsh he can be. I don't want him to hurt you, too."
I suddenly felt bad for the girl standing in front of me, who had put up with Sirius's behavior only to have him plotting revenge against her. "Do you miss him at all?" I asked timidly.
Rose smiled. "Sometimes," she said honestly. "He always knew how to make me laugh. And he's a really loyal guy. I guess I just...couldn't understand him. Not like you do, anyway."
"Me?" I said, surprised.
"Oh, yeah," she replied breezily. "You never seem to get frustrated with him, like everyone else does. And I see the way he looks at you."
"The way he looks at me?" She probably thought I was daft, the way I was repeating everything she said. But I really didn't get what she was playing at.
Rose gave me a weird look. "Annie, he never takes his eyes off you. I don't think anyone has stumped him the way you do, either. You're a mystery to him, alright. And he'll spend forever trying to figure you out. I just hope he doesn't break your heart in the process."
She touched my shoulder sympathetically before walking back into the Great Hall, leaving me there to mull over everything she'd said.
I must have stood there for twenty minutes, just staring at the wall in a daze. But I couldn't be around other people...not just yet. Not when Rose's voice was echoing throughout my head.
He never takes his eyes off you.
I don't want him to hurt you, too.
Sirius watched Annie leave the Great Hall with Rose, much to his disappointment. Although it was good that they were talking - Annie could tell him all about it later - he'd wanted to spend some more time with his fake girlfriend, especially after he'd given her that small butterfly kiss.
She was always so calm, even when Sirius was purposely being a git. It unnerved him. But this was the first time he'd gotten a reaction out of Annie - and it just so happened to be when he'd kissed her skin.
This led his thoughts down a forbidden path, one that involved himself kissing Annie for real this time, and getting a whole new kind of reaction...
"Oi, Padfoot! Are you listening?"
Sirius was pulled back to reality before he could scold himself for being such an idiot. He shouldn't be thinking about Annie like that - not when he had a job to do. Merlin's beard, he was just using her for revenge! There was nothing else to it. She wasn't even pretty.
Now that's not true, he thought reluctantly. It's not that Annie wasn't attractive - she was just attractive in a different way. She never wore makeup, but didn't really need to, anyway. And although her hair and clothes weren't the most fashionable at Hogwarts, they were very practical. That was Annie in a nutshell - a simple, friendly girl.
It was her simplicity that Sirius liked the most. He didn't have to watch what he said around Annie, or control his temper when they argued. It was almost too easy to talk with her. That scared him sometimes, although Sirius would never admit it.
But if there was one thing he loved about her, it's that she was completely and unapologetically Annie. She made him want to be worthy of her kindness.
"Padfoot, mate, are you okay?"
Sirius looked up at his friends, who were all staring at him in confusion. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," he said, blinking back at them. A sudden panic began to build in the pit of his stomach. How long had he been sitting there, just thinking about Annie? What was she doing to him? He couldn't let some girl turn him into a big pile of mush.
He had to stop this before it was too late. He had to push her away...just like he did with everyone else.