Chapter 12 : The Truth Hurts
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She had heard the rumors about Sirius’s inability to remain interested in a girl for very long. They had become increasingly louder and more intrusive as people began seeing her walking with him in the corridors and on the streets of Hogsmeade. She had been flabbergasted when a couple of Ravenclaw girls, under the guise of concern, pulled her aside after Transfiguration and reminded her that Sirius was a lone wolf, and that he would tire of her after a measure of time just like all the others. He had never had a girlfriend; why would he start with her, no matter the attractiveness of her face and form? On the few occasions that he had actually taken interest in a girl, he wouldn’t spend more than a few weeks casually getting to know her before he would—just as casually—return to the comfort of his band of brothers. Judging by that timeline, Celestine’s chance to make an impression was almost gone, especially given that Sirius had stopped answering her notes in class.
She had a number of options, most of which had previously been exhausted by the casual flings that came before her. Though she had paused briefly in the girls’ lavatory to re-apply her lipstick, she knew her sexuality would not be enough to save her. Doting upon his tortured soul would also fail to make her memorable. To stand out, Celestine would have to execute an indirect attack—on the other three.
As she walked, she reviewed her evening plans, in the spirit of thoroughness.
Drop off Peter’s essay by way of a compliant-looking first year, she thought, smiling at Professor Flitwick as she passed him. Merlin’s beard, when will they catch on to him?
As she turned the corner, she was nearly run over by a small group of Hufflepuffs carrying broomsticks. She looked for Ellery, but she was not among her housemates. Celestine moved out of their way just in time, resuming her train of thought. Find Remus in his usual chair, studying, and give him the gift basket I ordered for his mother. She smirked, thinking of the candied fruit and chocolates. I am just too good.
James—that would be more difficult. She was certain that he would appreciate a new broomstick, but she had spent all of her money on the basket. Of course, there was something he’d like more. Celestine planned to explore that option tonight.
With her long strides, she overcame the few stray Gryffindors slowly returning to the common room and came to a halt in front of the Fat Lady. “Bubotuber Pus.”
The door opened, revealing Celestine’s grimace to everyone inside, and she walked in, going immediately over to the fire where two first-year boys were playing chess. “I’ll give a kiss to whichever one of you goes up to the sixth years’ dormitory and gives this roll of parchment to Peter Pettigrew.” She extended it to them, smiling.
Both boys shot up, and one of them grabbed the roll, running up the stairs with his friend in tow. Celestine looked over at Remus, who was shaking his head at her. “I’d better disappear before they come back,” she mused. “But here—” She reached into her bag, inwardly thanking herself for learning the Undetectable Extension Charm, and pulled out a small basket full of fruit and candy and draped with shiny ribbons. “It’s for your poor mother. Didn’t you say that she’s ill for her birthday this year?”
Before Remus, wearing a surprised look, could thank her, Celestine headed up the stairs, making it into her dormitory before the door to Peter’s room opened again.
Celestine looked over at Lily, who was standing in front of the mirror, one foot up on the vanity seat, slipping into a pair of heels. She was wearing a white dress with thin straps that fell to her knees, and a thin robe to accompany it lay atop Lily’s bed.
“Hello,” she said. “Did you finally give in to James Potter?”
“No.” Lily took her mascara out of a drawer and applied it very carefully.
“Where are you off to, then?”
“The Slug Club holiday party,” Lily replied. “Want to come?”
“No, thanks. Slughorn and I have never really seen eye to eye.” Celestine leaned against the door frame, folding her arms across her chest. “You must have a date already, though, or else you wouldn’t bother with an outfit like that.”
“I have a date, but it’s not what you think.”
“We’ve already established that it’s not who I think. So, the lucky man would be…?”
“Sorry, got to run,” Lily said, smirking at her friend. “You can feel free to wait up.”
Celestine sighed, watching Lily throw her shawl about her shoulders and exit the room. She wanted to go to a fancy party, but she already had plans for that evening.
She, with the unwitting help of two out of three Marauders, had a boyfriend to catch.
“You look lovely,” Regulus said, offering Lily his arm as they walked side by side in the corridor. She refused with her silence, though she did glance rather obviously at a dusty spot on his cloak until he wiped it away, leaving it identical to his black suit.
“Are you looking forward to the party?” he tried.
“Normally, yes, but I’m not feeling in much of a festive mood right now.”
“Does the winter depress you?”
“No, being used to further a purpose does,” she said, looking at him. “If you think that pretending we’re on a date will discourage James, you don’t know him well.”
“I’m not pretending anything. We just happen to be going to the same place,” Regulus mused. “Enough with your conspiracy theories, though. We’ve arrived.”
They stepped into the Great Hall, which was decorated for the approaching winter holiday. There were thick boughs dotted with holly draped along the walls, a full, fresh-looking Christmas tree in each corner, and a small group of students who had evidently volunteered to entertain the attendees with carols, perhaps for extra credit in Slughorn’s class. The host himself was planted at the front of the room, wearing velvet green robes lined in an old-looking lace, which was dyed silver.
Lily and Regulus wove through the crowd, smiling at the professor warmly.
“Lily” Slughorn exclaimed. “You are a vision! You’re like a coat of fresh snow!”
Lily blushed. “You’re too kind as always, Professor Slughorn.”
“Are you being escorted by our strapping young Regulus?”
“He did insist on accompanying me this evening,” Lily admitted.
“Such a charming devil!” Slughorn shared a laugh with the younger Black. “Well, both of you, enjoy yourselves! There is plenty of food, drink, and music, and Professor Dumbledore has given us the Hall until midnight, for my good behavior.”
As a group of Slytherin alumni stepped into her place, Lily turned and moved closer to the table at the center of the room. It was laden with sweets, some of which would surely make another appearance at the Christmas feast over the winter break, and a few savory appetizers. She took a clean plate from an elf wearing a piece of fabric that matched the curtains in her dormitory and picked up a frosted cupcake.
“Didn’t get your fill at dinner?” Regulus asked from behind her.
“That was hours ago. What’s the point of going to a party and not eating anything?”
“I’m not sure how you keep your figure with that attitude.”
“Look, I came here with you,” Lily said, turning and sighing. “Now leave me alone.”
“Not so fast.” Regulus reached around her, taking a miniature sandwich off the platter and popping it into his mouth. “I said I wanted to talk to you. Asking you to come to the party with me was just the easiest way I could think of to arrange that.”
“Okay,” Lily said. “We can talk. But I’m going to eat while we do it.”
“Finish your cupcake,” Regulus said, smirking despite himself. “I want to dance.”
Lily took a bite, licking the frosting and sprinkles off her fingers, and glanced around the room. There were several students on the floor, dancing to a slow waltz. Most of the guests milled about the perimeter of the room, drinking Butterbeer out of glass mugs and whispering to one another. A few of them seemed to be watching her.
“Fine,” she replied, letting her eyes fall upon him. “Let’s dance.”
Lily soon found that one definite upside to accompanying a wealthy pureblood heir to a celebratory function was the almost certain likelihood that said gentleman had been trained in classical dance from a young age. Regulus moved easily with her on his arm, turning in broad circles while keeping a respectful distance between them. After her feet had time to learn his rhythm, he spoke. “So, are you with Potter, then?”
“I went with him to Hogsmeade once—and with a group. We’re not dating.”
“I’m sure Severus would be pleased to hear that.”
“I really don’t care what he thinks of it,” Lily answered shortly.
“Do you fancy Potter?”
“Most of the time, he annoys me.”
“I don’t understand,” Regulus said. “I don’t know the man personally, but Potter has never struck me as being particularly kind. Usually he and Sirius spend their time playing pranks on first-years and trading insults that would make the professors blush. Why allow him to remain in your life and push Snape out for one cruel word?”
“So he told you.” Lily sighed. “I thought he would be too embarrassed to repeat it.”
“You didn’t answer my question, Evans.”
“Yes, James commonly spends his time making life difficult for others, me included from time to time. At least he used to—he’s been acting different this year. But he’s never said something so… personal… to me. He’s never clearly wanted to hurt me.”
“So you can never forgive him, even though he has apologized time and again?”
“Is it that hard to believe?” Lily protested quietly. “If Severus is able to tell you what he did to me, he must have accepted it. It must be part of him. It means he’s gone.”
Regulus watched her, not saying anything, though a frown traced his lips.
“Could you go and get me a drink?” she asked, stepping backwards gently.
“Sure,” he said, turning and heading for an elf carrying a tray. The thirty seconds it took for him to retrieve two glasses and turn back to face her were all that she needed. By the time he found their former place on the floor, Lily had vanished.
Lily padded quietly through the deserted library, carrying her shoes in one hand. Through the tears in her eyes, she did not see the pillar, striking her hand against it and cursing. The whisper still earned her a reproachful glare from Madam Pince, who was in the midst of closing up for the evening.
Making her way through the hundreds of sky-high shelves, Lily slipped through the library and escaped into the shadows of the fourth-floor corridor on the other side of the castle. From there, she advanced up the stairs, heading back to her dormitory.
As she half-expected, there he was, waiting right outside the portrait hole.
“You must know a secret passage,” she said, with a heavy sigh.
“Sometimes I can’t sleep. After the first few times, reading in bed gets boring.” Regulus stepped closer to her, wearing a curious expression. “Are you crying?”
“I gave you your answer.” Lily pulled her robe around her. “I’m going to bed.”
“Why do I get the sense that you gave up on our deal a long time ago?”
“Perhaps it’s a familiar feeling!” she exclaimed, earning her second warning glance from a ghost as it moved from one wall into the other. “After all, you don’t seem to be making much progress with Sirius. If anything, he hates you more than ever.” Satisfied that she’d silenced him, she opened her mouth to give the password.
“He’s leaving,” Regulus said, barely audible.
Lily turned, staring at him in the thick darkness. “What do you mean, ‘leaving’?”
“Has Sirius ever told you what it’s like living in our house?”
Regulus shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “That doesn’t surprise me; it’s not like he would have anything pleasant to say about Mum and Dad. The tension between him and them has been building ever since his Sorting, and I suppose he finally got sick of it. He’s moving in with Potter over the holiday.”
“How do you know?”
“I overheard them talking about it in Hogsmeade last weekend.”
“Does he know that you know?” Lily let one arm fall loosely to her side, still clinging to the robe with three fingers of the other.
He leaned back against the wall. “No, but it won’t matter. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this. I’ve seen you, wandering the corridors at your leisure with the whole damn world falling at your precious feet. You wouldn’t even begin to understand how—”
“Understand what?” Lily said bitterly.
“How it feels to watch someone you’ve known your whole life just turn his back on you, to look in his eyes and know that you mean nothing to him, that he hates you.” Regulus gave her a hard look. “Everything I stand for. Everything I am. And I did nothing to deserve it.”
Lily bit her trembling lip. “Actually, I do know how that feels,” she said slowly.
“Then, if you know how painful it is, how can you do the same thing to Snape?”
“He wasn’t innocent. But I am.” She stepped forward.
Regulus paused, taking in her hurt, angry expression.
Lily placed her hands softly on his shoulders, noticing that they shook slightly. “Maybe you are, too. You’re probably not, not as innocent as you claim to be, but if you are, then… I’m sorry.” She looked down, ashamed. “No one deserves that.”
Regulus moved closer, and she laid her head on his shoulder. He blinked in the darkness, unable to fathom being this close to a Mudblood and feeling comfortable. In fact, it was the most content he’d felt since he found out about Sirius’s departure. “Can you talk to him for me?” he said quietly into her ear.
She sighed in response. “I don’t think it would do any good. We’re not that close.”
“Good point.” He stepped back, smiling faintly. “Besides, that’s not our deal.”
“I really think we should just forget about the deal, don’t you?” Lily replied. “I’ve made about as much progress with S—Snape as you have with your brother.”
“You shouldn’t give up yet. He’s still in love with you.”
“I’m not in love with him. We’ve been over this.”
“Have you really tried to be his friend, though? I’m fairly certain I would have heard about a genuine attempt to patch things up, but he hasn’t mentioned anything yet.” Well, aside from the usual obsessive muttering and crazed fantasies, he thought.
“Well, yes, I’ve tried, but he never seems to be in the mood to discuss it.”
“It’s probably because he sees you getting doe-eyed around James Potter.”
“Look, it’s none of his business, but as I told you, James is different this year. I’m sort of enjoying getting to know him. If Severus wants to be back in my life, then he’ll have to accept that I’m going to live it the way I want to. That includes not only how much I want to let him in, but also how much I decide to keep James out.”
“You’re something else, Evans,” Regulus mused, smirking. “Fine. If you want to try to balance Snape and Potter, then I, too, can be in the mood for attempting impossible things.” He glanced down the hall, hearing the footsteps of a Prefect approaching. “I want my brother back, and I’m not giving up, even if he thinks it’s all said and done.”
“You can do what you will with Sirius, but you can’t hold me to anything, Black.”
“Just think about it. We’d all be so happy.” Regulus turned, disappearing into the shadows, no doubt headed back to his secret passage.
Lily sighed, glancing up at the portrait, where the Fat Lady was watching her with a disdainful look. She still wrestled with trying to understand the point of their futile bargain. It was no less doomed now than it had been at the start, and yet Regulus seemed insistent on keeping it. Perhaps he needed her to help him hold his nerve.
Something, the thought of which brought tears to her eyes, made her want to do it.
By the time Regulus made it back to the Slytherin Common Room, he was more than ready to go to bed. Tomorrow he would have to get up early to finish packing, preparing himself to board the train with no expectations of seeing his brother on the other side. He had to pretend not to care, just as his parents would not care.
He moved quietly past the dying fire, approaching the stairs with a silent yawn.
“That’s her perfume,” a voice hissed from the corner.
Regulus turned, coming face to face with Severus. His face was hardened, but it was obvious that he was upset, more upset than Regulus had ever witnessed.
“Who?” he tried, but he should have known. Snape had concerned himself with this one girl for years; why wouldn’t he be able to follow every trace of her he found?
“You know, Evan Rosier had a good laugh at my expense this evening, telling the whole common room about how he saw Lily on your arm heading to the Slug Club party tonight. Slughorn will be offended that you two decided to leave early.”
“We weren’t on a date. I just escorted her to the party, that’s all.”
“That’s all!?” Snape blurted angrily.
“You should know I would never actually go out with a filthy Mudblood!” Regulus retorted, shoving Severus away from him. “Don’t be so paranoid. She’s all yours.”
As he put his foot on the first step, he felt himself being pulled backwards, and a hand covered his mouth to stifle his yelp. He hit the floor hard, feeling a chill run through his body. He wondered why he was bothering to help this lunatic after all.
Then, Regulus’s whole world went dark.
I hope you enjoyed this latest chapter of Post Scriptum! Like with my other work-in-progress novel, Diamonds into Coal, I have begun filling out the skeleton of what remains in the story’s plot. Critiques and suggestions from readers like you help me shape future chapters, so please don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts on the story so far (and what is to come) in a review! If you can’t think of anything specific to comment upon, I’d love to at least hear a prediction or two about how the story will proceed from here, so speak up!
As always, thank you so much for your faithful reads and reviews thus far. My school and work life prevent me from writing as much as I’d like, and it’s always encouraging to see people sticking with me despite my slow updates.
Finally, as you know, anything that you recognize from canon belongs to JKR.
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