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Chapter 34 : Not Now, Not Ever
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“If I pretend I’m not here, will you go away?” I asked from under my covers. I wasn’t sure if Lily could hear me, but I figured if she wanted to hear what I had to say, Lily would make the effort.
“And leave you to wallow in self-pity and misery?” She snorted. “I think not.”
A moment later, the mattress depressed a little under Lily’s weight, as she settled down on top of my covers, somewhere near my stomach.
I didn’t move from my rather comfortable semi-foetal position under the blanket. The artificial light from the room beyond streamed in through the blanket. If I unfocused my eyes, I could see the dust motes dancing in the soft light.
“Do you want to talk?” Lily asked gently.
“No,” I mumbled. I’d been very grateful for the space both Lily and Sarah had given me. I hadn’t told them what had happened between Sirius and me, but obviously, they knew something was wrong. I mean, you didn’t suddenly start ignoring your boyfriend (or whatever) of the past six months, just for the heck of it.
But then again, your boyfriend (or whatever) of the past six months really shouldn’t start acting like a bigger jerk than usual, just for the heck of it.
Lily pulled the covers from over my head and tucked them around my shoulders. “Have you been crying, again?” she asked, without even a hint of accusation in her voice.
I shook my head no, which was no easy feat considering its current orientation.
“I’m all cried out,” I sighed.
She gave a small smile.
“Good. He doesn’t deserve any of your tears. No one does.”
I looked up at Lily’s fierce expression and smiled.
Then promptly started sobbing.
“Oh, Millie,” she murmured, as she gathered my head in her lap.
I quietly sobbed into her school skirt as she gently stroked my hair.
Suddenly, a memory of my mother doing the exact same thing came unbidden into my mind’s eye, and I started sobbing harder.
I had been eight years old, and was visiting her for the summer. Back then, I still didn’t quite realise that in a small town like Witherwoods, people like me – people with magic – weren’t readily accepted into the community, even if they didn’t know why they were excluding us. An old White ancestor had decided to build our great manor house in the stupid little town, and apparently, there seemed to be a masochistic gene that bred true, because despite the fact that we were ostracised from the community, and feared and despised for who we were, no White had ever even considered a relocation.
So I’d been playing alone in the front garden of our house, back when the garden was simply charmingly overgrown, rather than the dangerous jungle it was now, when a bunch of kids had walked up to the open gate and started taunting me.
“Oi! Weird girl! My gran says that your family’s cursed! Is that true?” One kid had asked condescendingly. I had no idea how an eight-year-old could be condescending, but this one had managed it.
“’Course she’s cursed! Why do you think she’s got no friends?” Another had sneered.
“Is that why your mum doesn’t want you living with her? Coz you’re cursed?” Yet another had taunted.
“I heard Mum and Gran talking about it,” the first condescending kid had said pompously. “They said that her mother sends her far away from here with her dad, but when he gets sick of her, he just sends her back here!”
They’d all laughed at that; the strange little girl, who was too shy to talk to anyone, and always played in her mother’s front garden alone. The strange little girl, who despite the fact that her parents were divorced, still hoped that their deep love for each other would mean that they might live under one roof again, like all the other happy families in the little village.
The strange little girl, who somehow managed to give the condescending little idiot a nosebleed, because she was scared, and angry, and ashamed of whom she was.
My mother had come outside a little while later, after the kids had run off in fear, to find me still sitting there in shock, in the middle of the garden, looking at where the three children had swung on the rickety white picket fence and voiced all her inner fears.
She’d taken one look at my face, and gathered me up in her arms, and stroked and held me until the tears had stopped, just like Lily was doing now.
It had taken the hurts of that day a little more than a good cry to heal, and I hoped that my broken heart would mend the same way.
Once I’d quietened down, Lily gently smoothed my hair away from my face, and patted my swollen eyes dry.
“Better?” she asked.
I nodded, and lay my head back down on my pillow.
“He asked me if we could talk,” I said quietly into the comfortable silence that wrapped around us.
Lily’s green eyes met mine, and they looked luminous in the relative darkness under the canopy of my four-poster bed. “What did you say?”
I shrugged. “Nothing. I said nothing. He’s been trying to talk to me for the past two weeks, and I’ve said nothing.”
Her eyes softened in understanding. “He’s hurt you, and you never want to lay eyes on him again. That’s understandable.”
I shook my head. “It’s not how you think it is,” I mumbled. Even after all that had happened, I couldn’t tell Lily the truth about our relationship. How it had started out as just a way to get revenge, and to combat the rumours, and to ensure that our two best friends realised that they loved each other.
“Then how is it?” she asked. I could hear the curiosity in her voice.
I shrugged again. “It’s… complicated. But I should’ve seen this coming. I should’ve known… should’ve known that things would never… would never be what I wanted them to be… what I thought they were, or at least, could’ve been…” I wasn’t sure if I was even making sense anymore, but it hurt knowing how much I loved him, and how much he just didn’t care.
“Did you… are you…” Lily began cautiously. “Are you in love with him?” she asked in a big rush.
I would’ve smiled at her hesitancy, but I was too tired and drained. I nodded instead.
“Did you tell him?”
I shot her a look.
“Sorry, my mistake. Forgot who I was talking to for a moment,” she muttered. I should’ve been offended, but those stupid kids had turned a shy little girl into a shy adolescent who had trouble expressing her feelings.
A heartbeat of silence later, she tried again. “Does he love you?”
I shook my head vehemently. “Most certainly not.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Because you don’t go around kissing your conniving ex-girlfriend if you’re in love with your current girlfriend.
“I just am,” I said instead.
“When did you speak with him last?”
I thought about it. “Two weeks ago.”
Lily’s eyes widened. “Remind me never to get on your bad side.”
I managed a faint grin. “As long as you don’t break my heart, you’re pretty safe.”
She chuckled. “When did he speak to you last?”
I traced a pattern in my sheet with my finger. “Potions, this afternoon,” I said, as I watched my finger move across the smooth weave.
“What did he say?”
“What he’s been saying for the past two weeks, I guess. That we need to talk,” I paused for a moment as I relived the memory; of how my hand felt in his grasp, so warm and inexplicably right. “And that he’d see me in the kitchens after dinner.”
“You didn’t go to dinner,” Lily remarked.
“Then perhaps a trip to the kitchens wouldn’t be remiss.”
I pulled my head off the pillow to stare at Lily. “Lily… I’m quite sure that’s against the rules.”
“So am I,” she replied calmly.
“But… but… you’re condoning – no – encouraging rule-breaking behaviour!”
“I don’t want to see my best friend go to bed with an empty stomach as well as a broken heart. And do you seriously think that I don’t know that you sneak down to the kitchens often to eat ice cream alone?”
My shoulders slumped. “I wasn’t being very secretive about that, in my defence.”
I sighed. “I can’t go.”
“Because he’ll be there.”
She shrugged. “Perhaps it is time that you two talked. Maybe –”
“He’s done nothing wrong and I’ll forgive him?” I snorted derisively.
“No. What I was going to say was that maybe it’s worth listening to his side of the story. I’ve known you for seven years, Millie, and I know you always hear other people out. Perhaps, Sirius should be given a chance to tell his story.”
She put up a hand to stop my words. “I didn’t say you had to take him back, but you’re both my friends. And I can’t stand seeing you both look so miserable and depressed all the time. And you owe it to yourself to know the full story.”
My brain snagged on one point. “He’s been looking miserable and depressed?”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Somehow, he’s managed to look even more miserable and depressed than you have, and that’s no easy task, considering you’re harbouring a broken heart. And you should see him when he looks at you. He looks so lost and yearning… almost as if his heart’s been broken, too.”
I snorted at that. Obviously, Lily’s been indulging in our favourite guilty pastime of reading trashy historical romance novels, because she was painting Sirius out to be like one of the heroes, when he’s lost the love of his life because of his own stupid actions. If I had been in a more charitable frame of mind, I may have seen the parallels in the situation, except that I wasn’t in a charitable frame of mind, and that I wasn’t the love of Sirius’ life.
“Sirius Black doesn’t have a heart to break,” I snorted.
Lily raised her eyebrows, but didn’t say anything.
“Go to the kitchens, Millie. If nothing else, you might find some closure over this entire thing.”
“And then what?” I whispered.
“Then,” her lips firmed into a determined line. “Then, we mend your broken heart, and tell Sirius Orion Black to screw it.”
“You came!” Sirius said, sounding far too eager for my peace of mind.
I tried to think about Lily’s parting words, as I sat down at our usual table across from him. I was only here so I could tell Sirius Orion Black to screw it.
He pushed a tub of cookies and cream ice cream towards me, the spoon sticking out at the top.
I looked at his face, and he must have seen something in my expression to warrant an explanation. “You weren’t at dinner,” he shrugged. “You must be hungry.”
I debated whether or not to break my silence to inform him that I wasn’t at dinner precisely because I wasn’t hungry. It didn’t seem to be worth the effort, so I just pulled the tub closer and took a spoonful of ice cream into my mouth.
I could feel his eyes watching my face keenly as I ate a bit more. I mightn’t have been hungry, but ice cream was ice cream.
We sat there in silence, me with my ice cream, and him with his disconcerting gaze. I was watching him out of the corner of my eye, and the expression on his face seemed so lost… and yearning… and obviously, I had been paying too much attention to what Lily had been saying. Of course he didn’t look lost and yearning. This was Sirius Black, the heartless heartthrob of Hogwarts we were talking about here.
“We need to talk,” he eventually said.
“So you’ve said,” I murmured, keeping my eyes trained on the ice cream, and acting as if consuming a tub of cookies and cream was a task that required vast amounts of attention.
Another moment of silence, and then he blurted out, “I’m sorry.”
I sighed, and looked up at his face. Oh, he was good. My broken heart almost believed he was being sincere. “Do you seriously think that’s going to work?” I asked.
“No, but it seemed like a good start.”
“Oh, so you have a plan, do you?”
“Of course. First, I’ll apologise, then after explaining myself, and once again profusely apologising, I’ll start grovelling.”
“And then what? We’ll go back to normal?” I asked with a derisive snort. The conniving bastard had really thought things through. If only he’d put in so much effort before.
He sighed, and he sounded almost… defeated. “I don’t know. I hadn’t really gotten past the grovelling.”
“Because you planned to grovel for the rest of your miserable life?”
“If I have to.” He looked me directly in the eye, and I caught my breath at the full force of those pair of greys. Then I promptly kicked myself for being such a sentimental fool and surreptitiously let my breath go.
I regarded him for a moment. I was coming to the realisation that being in his company for too long would melt my resolve to hate his guts, and I really didn’t want that. I wanted to hate him at least until I’d fallen out of love with him. “Start talking,” I said curtly.
He took a deep breath. “That kiss… with Marissa… wasn’t supposed to happen.”
I rolled my eyes. “Wasn’t supposed to happen, or I wasn’t supposed to see? Tell me, how long has this been going on for?” Merlin, please let it not be since before Christmas or something.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” he said forcefully. “She came out of nowhere and… attacked me!”
I raised an eyebrow at that. “Marissa?”
“With her feminine charms and wiling ways?”
“Yes – I mean – no! She just… attacked me.”
“And because you’re so helpless, you couldn’t help but succumb to her attack.” My voice was heavy with sarcasm. I wondered not for the first time how he’d managed to garner a reputation as a smooth talker. Every time he opened his mouth around me, he came out sounding like an idiot.
“Yes – I mean – no! I was drunk!”
Both my eyebrows came up at that. “Ah. I see.”
“You do?” I chose to ignore the hopeful tone in his voice.
“Yes, completely. You were drunk. Obviously, that excuses your behaviour. I mean, I can completely understand why you’d have your tongue down the throat of your ex-girlfriend, whom you supposedly don’t like enough to pretend to date me, in the middle of the corridor.”
He frowned. “I didn’t have my tongue down her throat. If anything, it was her tongue that was down mine!”
“Was that supposed to help your case?”
“Yes!” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair, causing his already dishevelled hair look even more dishevelled. “Look. I was coming to find you, and then Marissa came out of nowhere, and then she started saying some really weird things, and then she mushed her lips against mine, and then – well. You know the rest.”
Yes, I did know the rest. And then, I’d come along and witnessed my supposed boyfriend locking lips with a girl who was most decidedly not me, and then I’d stormed off to hide the sudden hurt and tears, and then I’d locked myself in an empty classroom and cried for a good half hour at my own stupidity.
Because why else would I have gone and fallen in love with Sirius Black in the first place?
“Mills? Do you believe me?”
I didn’t say anything. I looked down at the wood grain of the table, willing the tears that had sprung to my eyes to go away. I couldn’t afford to cry in front of him. I had to be strong, unbreakable.
“Was that your plan all along?” I asked as casually as I could, because I had been wondering.
“Plan? What plan?”
“You know.” I took a deep breath. It was becoming hard to get air past the lump in my throat. “To use me to get back at Marissa. To make her jealous.”
He looked baffled. “Yes… but you knew that.”
I tried to ignore the stab of hurt at his words. Still talking around the growing lump in my throat, I continued. “So all of this,” I waved arm around vaguely in the air. “All the time that we… that we spent together, was just to get revenge? Because she’d dumped you, and your fragile male ego couldn’t handle the fact that someone didn’t want you?”
“No! No, of course, not! It might have started that way, but it hasn’t been like that for a long time!” He ran his hand through his hair again and murmured, “For such a long time.”
I gave him a disbelieving look.
“You knew that, right?” He suddenly leant forward and grasped my hand in both of his. “You knew that we weren’t pretending anymore? That we hadn’t –” His grasp tightened. “That I hadn’t been pretending.”
“I thought I knew,” I murmured, trying to pull my hand away. Physical contact was not a good thing. It had broken my resolve to ignore his very existence only this afternoon. “But after what happened, I think I was wrong in thinking that.”
His hands gripped even harder as he noticed my efforts to break free. “No,” he said forcefully. Then, more quietly, he repeated, “No. I haven’t been pretending. I don’t think I was ever pretending. Not really.”
I looked away, not wanting to be fooled into believing the sincerity in his voice. Neither did I want him to see my heart in my eyes. If he knew what he’d done to me… what he meant to me, I just knew he’d use it to manipulate and hurt me more.
And I’d had enough of being manipulated and hurt for a while.
He leaned closer over the table. “Please, Mills,” he whispered. “Please believe that. If nothing else, please believe that.”
“Because I…” he paused, and for some strange reason, my heart leapt. “Because it’s the truth.”
My heart promptly slumped again.
“Enough!” I said, suddenly fed up with all of this. Who in Merlin’s name did he think he was? Telling me that the reason he’d been kissing Marissa was because he’d been looking for me, and was attacked whilst being drunk. Telling me that he thought he’d never been pretending. Telling me that I should believe him because it was the truth. What crap!
“It was my mistake coming down here,” I muttered, finally pulling my hand out of the vice-like grip he had on it. I abruptly pushed out of my chair and began to make my way towards the door.
“No! Millie! Wait!” Sirius took half a step towards me.
“No!” I said, backing away. “No. No more, Sirius. Not now, not ever.”
And before the tears started streaming down my face, I turned my back on him, and hurried out the door, fighting myself the entire time.
I would not look back.
Not now, not ever.
AN: Hello, there. So this was an unexpected update! I hope you guys like it. It's longer than the last couple of chapters (more than 3 000 words!) and a lot more weighty. Please excuse the somewhat angsty tone, but I believe it was needed. Especially considering just how fluffy many of the updates have been! So, what do you think of the somewhat random insight into Millie's backstory? And the more mature way Lily acted? Also, how do you think Sirius did? Did you think he was being sincere, or do you agree with Millie?
Share your thoughts - good, bad, ugly, or otherwise - in the grey box below! I love hearing from you guys! It's seriously what keeps me motivated!
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