Chapter 74 : Bullet
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Sirius Black had slowly been growing insane since the beginning of the new year. He spoke less frequently than he'd used to, responded in an uninterested fashion when James presented a prank to him, and simply slumped throughout every day, refusing to showcase his normally charismatic and charming self.
James had gotten kind of used to this—it was annoying, sure, and Sirius always said he was fine when James expressed his concerns—but, as February began to end, Sirius had grown worse and worse, disappearing for hours at a time to the library of all places (something that James had not ever seen from Sirius) and coming back frustrated and grouchy.
But now... James looked at his best friend, who was unresponsive on the Gryffindor couch, staring moodily into the fire.
Now, Sirius had truly become a concern.
He had been on the Gryffindor couch for approximately thirty hours, leaving only for minutes at a time to use the restroom but otherwise remaining on the couch for every other purpose. He recruited girls—something that had James hopeful, because it was so like Sirius to take advantage of the fifth years that swooned over his every word—to get him food from the kitchens. When he was bored, he would lazily wave his wand to retrieve a book or a game, or would otherwise spend hours watching the fire flicker.
Besides that, though, Sirius proved to be utterly useless and an increasing worry for James.
He did not know what caused the strop in the first place—Sirius had a penchant for acting strangely at abrupt moments. When he had voiced his concerns to Remus, Peter and Lily, Remus had shrugged his shoulders good-naturedly (another weird thing James had noticed was that Remus, unlike Sirius, had been in unusually high spirits, despite the full moon's approach), Peter had wondered if it was perhaps caused by a failing test grade, and Lily, with a smirk on her face, had pointed out to him that this strop had occurred—coincidentally—only hours after Theodore and Scarlett had left the Great Hall together.
This one, the only one with any real evidence, was disconcerting to James, as he'd never supported the idea of a Sirius and Scarlett romance, and he shook it off, perturbed and reasoning that Lily was just looking for any lead, no matter its plausibility.
So James did not really know what it was that was troubling Sirius. He had asked him blatantly and asked him subtly, intending to make inferences; he had even spoken to him for hours on end in hopes that Sirius might confess what it was. However, these techniques all ended in failure. Sirius seemed only willing to grumble at James, muttering something pessimistic in response.
It didn't entirely matter, though. James was not like Lily where he had to find the answer to people's problems. He was perfectly content letting Sirius have his secrets, even if they could possibly be about a romance with a Slytherin. He did, after all, not like angry confrontations, and did not want to run the risk of Sirius accusing him of being nosy.
But it was more or less that... James was less interested about the cause as he was about the problem. It didn't matter as much to him what had Sirius so distraught; it mattered to him that he was distraught. It mattered to him that Sirius was obviously not happy, and it mattered to him that he, James, had not done anything to bring about his happiness.
James put a hand through his incorrigible hair, a new gleam in his eye as he exited the common room from where he had been with Sirius to stride the halls of Hogwarts.
These things mattered so much to James that he was determined—completely hell-bent—on finding a solution to the problem and on helping his best friend.
The book was entitled Analyzing Hogwarts Insignias: Color, Mascot, and More, and it was upside down as Lily Evans pretended to read it.
Not to get her wrong; she loved reading, and the library was certainly the best place to get this accomplished. Hell, she had read Analyzing Hogwarts Insignias more than once over her seven year stay at Hogwarts, and many of the books in the library had been leafed through by Lily on some idle school day where homework was scarce.
It wasn't that Lily disliked the library or disliked reading. It was just that that was not the reason whatsoever that she was there, not today.
Lily sighed as she flipped a page of the book and casually allowed her eyes to glance upward at who was across from her. Smiling slightly, she released another, flippant sigh, and she looked away from him as she said quietly, "Did you hear anything?"
The person across from her responded to what she had said, and, to passersby, it would have looked as if he were irritated when he put a finger to his lips. However, Lily could not help but smile as she looked at him once more and saw that the corners of his lips were faintly curved upward as well.
She sighed again though; he always tended to verge on the somewhat overdramatic as far as these things went, something he and his brother had in common. She turned her book right side up and began to read it, waiting impatiently for a clearer answer to her question.
It was minutes when she got what she wished for. It was right around the time Lily had read over what the symbolic meaning there was—if there even was any—of the Gryffindor lion's claws that she felt something tickle above her knee, and she grinned on impulse, allowing her right hand to carefully reach past where her skirt ended to retrieve what was an uneven, rough scrap of parchment, folded haphazardly in half.
Opening it, she read:
I don't think you understand how these things work. We can't just be shooting the breeze about this. This is pretty damn confidential. Gryffindor-Slytherin. Gotta keep some scope of these things, Evans. Don't disappoint me.
Lily rolled her eyes and scratched a reply on the paper:
Don't worry, I've learned my lesson. So?
She passed the note back to Regulus, putting a keen eye on Madame Pince as well as the other students. After all, there was some truth in what he was saying; it was better if nobody knew of their business, which was, ironically enough, just snooping in everyone else's.
Lily did not necessarily agree with passing notes, but, when she looked past all of the silliness and hype of the entire ordeal, there was some sense in that, too. It was much harder to be eavesdropped on when there was no sound coming from either of them.
Regulus sighed as he wrote on the parchment, looking slightly more somber—one of her reasons to not openly disagree with passing notes was that any amount of silliness was welcome in an otherwise not-so-pleasant exchange—as he did so, and then he passed it back to Lily's cautious hands.
She didn't want to talk about it, and left soon after, but I noticed: she's not wearing her ring anymore.
James just kept bothering him.
Sirius didn't mind the company at first—James was, after all, his best friend—but after a while, it just bugged him. James meant well; Sirius knew that much. It wasn't as if he was looking for a way to anger Sirius more than he already was. He was just trying to help.
In all honesty, though, Sirius really wished that he would stop.
He preferred to be alone with his thoughts, though his thoughts just seemed to be against him, eagerly conjuring up more and more horrific ideas of how the conversation with Scarlett and Theodore had gone. It had started with the least painful, though painful nonetheless—just a pleasant conversation—and from there it had escalated to the point where Sirius had imagined that they had just had sex in Hogwarts's corridors, Ambrose—and himself—be damned.
It was completely illogical. For all Sirius knew, she had just apologized. For all Sirius knew, it had been absolutely nothing to worry about, and his tantrum was completely unnecessary and ridiculous.
However—however, however, however—frustration had a way of getting to people. Sirius had had to deal with the frustration of no success at the library, of having no leads, and this... With there being the slightest possibility that Scarlett and Theodore had reconciled, that Scarlett was not 'imprisoned' and he had gotten the French wrong, that she had meant it when she had said those words...
He just couldn't deal with the feeling.
James kept exacerbating it, though. Though he was not in the common room at the moment, letting Sirius be, he had every promise of coming back, and Sirius had had enough conversations with James in the last thirty-two hours to know what tricks James had up his sleeve.
He had repeatedly asked Sirius—innocently, subtly, bluntly, all different ways, all with the same response by Sirius—what he meant by his strop. He spoke for hours on end to him to try and soften him up, but apparently he did not realize that Sirius only grew more and more irritated with every sentence. He, apparently, did not understand that Sirius did not want to be talked to, did not want to be talked to at all, because the words that he had heard last had all believed Theodore and Scarlett were on the verge of another romance, and Sirius now found words annoying.
He didn't understand that all Sirius wanted was to be left alone, and—
Suddenly, James himself entered the common room, a triumphant look in his eye, and Sirius internally groaned, wondering what the bloody hell he had to be so happy about.
After all, what was there to be happy about? Scarlett and Theodore were, for all he knew, snogging—
"Sirius!" James yelled, and the loud noise rang in Sirius's ears. "Get up!"
Sirius growled something incoherently in response.
"I got you a present!" James said, his voice far-too-enthusiastic despite, of course, Scarlett and Theodore—
"Oh, now you're just being grouchy," James said, making a tsk noise. "Where is the response to that? I got you a present! A fantastic, Christmas-worthy present, but it's not even Christmas—hell, it's March!" James shook his head. "Cheer up, Padfoot!"
"February," Sirius corrected. "It's still February, Prongs."
"Only you would correct me when you're pissy," James said. "Don't you even want to know what your present is?"
Sirius sighed. "Okay, James," he said, trying to be patient. "What is my present?"
"A date." James said so proudly. "I got you a date for tomorrow in Hogsmeade. You are welcome, seeing as not many girls can be attracted to the homeless and stubbly Sirius Black of now." He gestured to Sirius. "So, interested?"
The word 'date' had once been something of utmost importance to Sirius. He had spent his second to sixth years of life at Hogwarts, as well as a little bit of his first (he had been determined to jump the gun on dating) obsessed with the pursuit of females. He had fancied many females in a successful romantic career, had many females fancy him in return, and had become a pro in flirting, dating, and, most importantly, snogging. He had always been particularly charming, particularly funny, and getting a date had once been a pleasurable activity of his, a classic fan of the chase.
For some reason, that word had dulled in its splendor.
Call him crazy, but he supposed Scarlett had something to do with it.
"Sorry, Prongs," Sirius said. "Nah. I'm not very interested."
James smirked. "Allow me to clarify," he said, "and maybe I can pique your interest a bit. When I say that I got you a date for tomorrow in Hogsmeade, I meant to say that I got you a date for tomorrow in Hogsmeade with Deena Anderson."
Sirius shot up from where he had been lying on the couch.
True, he was not all that interested in dating. He didn't really see the point anymore.
But... man. He had to give James credit.
Sirius had fancied many, many girls throughout his time at Hogwarts, and Deena Anderson had inevitably been one of them. A Hufflepuff that only barely reached five feet, she was well-liked by everyone, was academically and athletically sound, and was recognized most by her bright, beaming smile, which had the tendency to make anyone in her vicinity mirror it.
Of course, when Sirius had fancied Deena, he had also been very interested in her appearance. Despite her height, her legs were perfectly muscular—not too much, and not too little—and gave off the appearance of being much longer than they were. She was slender, though very curvy where it mattered, and, despite the fact she was most remembered for her smile, that smile was bordered by plump lips, deep coffee-colored eyes, and high cheekbones, with her hair a silky and sheen chocolate.
The cherry on top of the sundae that was Deena Anderson was perhaps the most intriguing thing about her, especially to someone like Sirius; she rarely agreed to date, and even being asked in itself was unusual for her, as she was normally off the market. She had only had two boyfriends over the past seven years, one of which she had just broken up with after seeing for three.
Needless to say, a date with Deena Anderson was very, very hard to come by, and, when it did, it wasn't something to turn down. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"Alright," Sirius conceded. "Now I'm interested."
The book now was Chocolate and the Magical Mysteries Behind It; one of Remus's favorites. Lily sighed as she flipped a page of it, and looked upward at Regulus, who had been staring at her.
There was less risk today than there had been the day before of being seen, as many Hogwarts students had gone to Hogsmeade. In fact, they were absolutely alone, save for Madame Pince, who crept down the aisles of books in a manner that reminded Lily inexplicably of a hawk.
It was more or less that this conversation, at least for Lily, was tenser than the last, although it was clear that Regulus, who seemed perfectly content to stare at her, seemed to disagree. It may have possibly been that she felt as if they had more to talk about; she believed that she had thought of something that had not yet crossed his mind, something that was subtle but undoubtedly important.
Hardly waiting for Madame Pince to be out of her line of vision, she wrote on a new piece of parchment, smoother and more precise than the one Regulus had ripped the day before:
Does Scarlett know about the date? How is she?
When Regulus got the note, he raised his eyebrows—clearly he hadn't factored in the date between Deena and Sirius—and scribbled something down calmly, passing the note back to her:
I'm surprised you have nothing to say on passing notes. Has it grown on you?
When Lily read the note, she huffed impatiently and jotted a reply.
No. I still think it's ridiculous. I don't understand, especially when nobody's around, why we can't just speak to each other.
Regulus scoffed and smiled as he read her note.
Lily, admit it: passing notes makes it all undercover. Sexy even.
Lily rolled her eyes and responded.
Fine, Regulus, it's very sexy. You win. Now answer my question.
After Regulus read her note, he shrugged, and, after a moment of writing, he returned the note back to her.
Yes, she knows about the date. We were sitting nearby when they passed hand-in-hand. I think it was pretty obvious.
Lily frowned at the bit of information and wrote down a question in response.
And what was her reaction?
As Regulus read the note, Lily noticed that his eyebrows furrowed. He held the note for a while, supposedly rereading it, and, after a minute or two of simply staring at it, he wrote down something more deliberate than before.
Lily grabbed the note nervously, and opened it to read:
I don't know. I haven't seen Scarlett at all since then.
I have no idea where she is.
Sirius was back on the couch.
The room was empty, save for the fire—after all, it was late, and most were tired after Hogsmeade—but unlike before Sirius found himself less angry and just as worn and tired as everyone else. Dating required some energy, and Sirius had used most of his just... thinking. Thinking and thinking was tiring.
His eyes closed shut, wanting sleep, wanting peace of mind, for Merlin's sake, because his date with Deena had given him anything but that—
Of course, like many times before, before he could get what he wanted—before it had been silence and now it was just peace—James barged into the common room, his arm wrapped around Lily, and, on noticing Sirius, said, "Guess it wasn't as great a date as you thought, eh, mate?"
Sirius shrugged, reluctantly opening his eyes. "Nah," he said, "it was a... nice date, I suppose. Deena is certainly something all her own."
He thought back to his date with Deena; they had met up in the overbearingly romantic Madame Puddifoot's, as Sirius felt most at ease dating when the atmosphere encouraged it.
It had started out very smoothly. Deena had been, as she was always, beautiful, and had managed doing so wearing a modest skirt and a fascinating off-the-shoulder blouse that had Sirius enthralled at the flesh that was exposed. She was open to conversation, quick to ask questions, and had displayed a sense of humor that Sirius thoroughly enjoyed.
However, as they had conversed, Sirius could not help himself from thinking... though Deena was beautiful, though she was interesting, though she was funny, she did not compare—not in the slightest—to how beautiful Scarlett was, how interesting Scarlett was, how funny Scarlett was, and, no matter how many dates he went on with any of his previous fancies, he would have been more content to spend one night—one hour—under the stars with Scarlett, just like they had in December, where every worry seemed far away and all they had focused on was the other.
As a result of his contemplations, the conversation had faltered, though Deena took it gracefully. "I'm sorry," he had said. "I'm just... preoccupied, I suppose."
Deena had smiled, though it was a sad smile. "It's fine," she had said. "I know how you feel."
"Really?" he'd said. "What do you mean?"
"Well..." She had looked down at the table then for a moment before meeting Sirius's eyes again. "It's just...I recently broke up with Logan, and... sometimes it's just hard not to think about, you know? Can't help it."
She had looked up at him then, and Sirius was stunned, both by her honesty and by her ability to read exactly what had troubled him, though they had not been talking for that long.
He couldn't help but smile sheepishly at her. "You got me," he'd admitted. "How did you know?"
She had smiled again. "I don't know, really. I could just tell with you. Maybe it's because I feel the same way, but I could just see it on you. That you were still in love with someone."
In love had hit him when she had said it, but it took less than a second for Sirius to realize that the phrase fit. That he was still in love with someone--that he had been in love with someone all along.
"I'm sorry," Sirius had said. "If it's any consolation, you're very nice and funny." He'd paused. "And gorgeous, obviously."
Deena had laughed. "You're a good guy, Sirius. I hope everything works out with whoever it is."
And, now, here he was. He had had the once-in-a-lifetime date with Deena Anderson, the girl he'd once fancied, and, though she'd been everything he had expected, Sirius was not interested in her. Though he'd tried to fancy her, though he'd done everything right, it was just not supposed to happen. It was not going to happen.
He loved, and loved very much, Scarlett Devous. He had never admitted so before to himself, but, now that he had, he knew it was one hundred percent true. It was hard to remember just how much he did in the midst of the arguments and the jealousy and the frustration, but that was all it came down to. Rumors about her and Theodore did not make a difference. Doubts about what she had told him did not make a difference. The way he had felt betrayed did not even make a difference. That, that one fact, was all there was.
He loved Scarlett Devous.
Sirius smiled, shaking his head. "Deena's just not my cup of tea, I suppose," he said.
James nodded sympathetically; Lily, taking a quick look at James, said, "It's bad romance all around, I guess."
Sirius raised his eyebrows. "All around?"
James shot her a disapproving glance as she said nonchalantly, "Well, yeah. Didn't you hear?"
Sirius shook his head. "Nope. Haven't really been all that interested in gossip. What happened?"
"Well," Lily said, "Theo and Scarlett Nott got in a huge fight yesterday."
Sirius struggled to maintain a casual tone of voice as he said, "Really? I heard the opposite."
Lily scoffed. "Not in the slightest," she assured him. "Nobody knows for sure what happened, but all I do know is that she left without a ring on her finger."
And Sirius beamed.
James did not support the idea of Sirius and Scarlett having a romantic relationship, but he had to give Lily some credit.
After she had said that to Sirius, he never went close to the couch again.
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