Chapter 32 : Ain't No Sunshine When He's Gone
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It was my own fault, in a way. I had been so upset about what Sirius had said that I’d rejected his apology when he tried to give it. It had been Wednesday at lunch, the first time we’d seen each other after I’d run out of Gryffindor Tower crying that morning.
“Hi,” he’d said, chasing after me as we left Charms. “I didn’t mean what I said this morning, you know that. I just hate remembering that prank I did, and I got defensive when you asked about it – you would too if you’d done something that stupid…”
I was unaffected. “Don’t you play that game with me, Sirius Black. You want me to feel sorry for you and I absolutely do not. I haven’t forgotten that last time you spoke to me, I was the Slytherin who ruined your life.”
“I’m sorry,” Sirius implored. “That’s not what I think of you at all, it’s not true. I wish I could take it back —”
“Stop,” I interrupted. “I don’t want to hear your excuses; you wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t mean it. I don’t know why I ever bothered with you. You’re not the only boy in the school. I deserve better.” And I’d marched off to the Slytherin table in the Great Hall, leaving him thunderstruck. It had made me feel better to say what I had said, but I regretted it ever since then. Now we weren’t speaking to each other at all.
When I told Mandy and Charlotte everything that had happened, including the rant I’d subjected Sirius to, Mandy seemed even more upset than I was. It was as if she had decided that since she couldn’t have Sirius, she wanted him and me to stay together forever. Charlotte merely said she was proud of me – she loved it whenever I shot my mouth off at someone. But the two of them helped me keep my head up during those first few days after our breakup, and I was happy to have such good friends by my side.
I told myself I wasn’t going to fall apart because of this. My roommate Alanna was always a mess for weeks after breakups, pining over the bloke, but I was determined to not let that to happen to me. I’d always been a rather independent person, and my happiness didn’t depend on Sirius.
But at the same time, I did miss the way he used to make me laugh, how he grinned whenever I walked into a room, the way we bickered all the time, the way he got that mischievous gleam in his eye that meant I’d have to talk him out of some stupid and reckless scheme he’d thought of… So I’d be happy for a while, when I wasn’t thinking about him, but then I’d see that one-eyed witch statue in the third floor corridor that reminded me of the first time Sirius and I had snuck into Hogsmeade together, and I’d be stuck thinking about him for a while. And sometimes we’d pass each other in the corridors and not acknowledge one another, but those few seconds would replay themselves twenty times in my mind.
Sirius didn’t seem to be moving on either; he rarely spoke to anyone except James, Remus, and Peter. I even saw him taking shortcuts through tapestries and claiming he’d forgotten books or other things so he could run back and evade any girls who thought to speak to him.
Another result of our breakup was that I never spent time with the other Gryffindors anymore. I went back to my Slytherin friends and just continued on with my life as it had been before. But at the end of the week I realised I still hadn’t spoken to Remus after finding out about his lycanthropy, and he might be under the assumption that I didn’t want anything to do with him anymore after finding out. So on Friday after Transfiguration, I joined Remus on his way out of class.
“Hi,” I said.
He looked rather surprised that I was talking with him, as I hadn’t spoken to any of the Gryffindor boys since Sirius and I broke up on Wednesday: I had only seen them together as a group since then, the way Mandy and Charlotte had been with me, and if I talked to one of the boys I’d have to be around Sirius too. As I spoke to Remus, Sirius sped up and walked away, and I did not look at him.
“Hi Melanie,” said Remus. He seemed very unsure of what to say next, and I didn’t blame him.
“Remus, they told me,” I said quietly. “I’m sorry I didn’t come see you when Mandy did – that’s when everything happened with Sirius – but it wasn’t because I didn’t want to talk with you.”
He said nothing, and kept walking with his head down, so I just continued talking as we climbed the stairs. “I still want to be your friend. I know what you are and it doesn’t bother me; you’re still a wonderful person.”
Remus looked pained. “I’m so sorry,” he managed to say. “I’m sorry you had to find out that way.”
“You don’t need to be sorry,” I said. I felt horrible. “There was nothing you could have done about it. I know you’re not yourself when… when that happens.”
We were headed in the direction of the library, where we’d be afforded a bit more privacy than in the corridors and would be able to talk more openly without worrying someone would overhear us.
“I’m a monster,” said Remus. “And I probably should have told you before, but, I just… I couldn’t, you know…”
“I understand why you didn’t,” I said. “And you’re not a monster. You’re so kind and you have such a big heart. Except for when someone’s taken your chocolate.” He didn’t seem amused, but then again it had been a pretty terrible attempt to lighten the mood. I linked my arm through his and continued, “You’re a great friend who even puts up with my bad jokes.”
We walked into the library and sat at an isolated table near the back. Remus had cheered up considerably after I’d insisted that I had absolutely no intention of discontinuing our friendship, and it was almost back to normal again, until he brought up a topic that was sort of unavoidable.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
He meant how I was doing without Sirius. I had gone this far without talking much about Sirius to anyone, and I was trying to not think about him again. But I suppose it had to come up at some point when I was talking with one of Sirius’s best friends. “Fine,” I said dully.
“That’s good,” he said. But I was not fine, and he knew it.
“Remus, how did this happen?” I blurted out wretchedly, trying to ignore how pathetic I sounded. “The only thing I’ve done wrong is apparently being a Slytherin. But your house isn’t supposed to matter! I thought it all meant something!”
“No one cares that you’re a Slytherin, Melanie, we like you for who you are. Just like the way you don’t mind that I’m a werewolf. Listen… well, I don’t think Sirius would appreciate me saying this, but he won’t say it himself… I’ve never seen him so unhappy. He’d never admit it, but it’s because you two aren’t talking; he misses you a lot. He’s just too stubborn to admit he’s wrong.”
I just stared at him. I felt a twinge of guilt; Sirius had tried to say he was wrong, but I had refused to listen. “You really think so?”
“Don’t tell him I said any of that,” Remus added with a hint of a smile. “I think he’d kill me if he knew I was discussing his feelings.”
“As if I would. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the two of us aren’t talking,” I said with a watery laugh. I felt a vindictive sort of pleasure in that I was not alone in my misery and that Sirius was suffering just as much. But more than that, it meant so much to hear the affirmation from Remus that he liked me for who I was. Remus had always been the most sympathetic of the four boys, and his being a werewolf probably was a major reason for that; he’d always disliked an aspect of himself, so he knew how to deal with a friend in the depths of self-pity. He could relate, because he’d seen worse in himself. And that helped me be myself again.
If this past year had taught me anything, it was that I was strong enough to handle whatever life threw at me. I had already dealt with being kicked out of my own house and watching my brother follow a path I could never approve of. So Sirius was not going to upset me now. It had hurt to hear it and to see him walk away, but I knew I’d be fine. I was a strong and independent young woman; there was no need for me to doubt my identity and self-worth.
I leaned over and gave him a huge hug. “Thanks Remus,” I said. “You’re wonderful.”
I took Remus’s words to heart the following day when I encountered Sirius again. I walked into an empty classroom to practise Charms, and was startled to see Sirius and a hedgehog already in the room, as I was not expecting anyone to be in there. Sirius was sitting on a desk, and there was another desk missing where the hedgehog sat. Sirius looked up immediately upon hearing my footsteps creaking on the floor, and then turned the hedgehog back into a desk.
“Er… hello,” I said, hoping that I could make amends with Sirius, if he really was as upset as Remus had said. “You all right?”
He didn’t respond, but continued to watch me. I stepped closer and set my bag down on the nearest desk, and Sirius scowled, but he remained there; I took this as a good sign. But I had no idea what to say, so I leaned forward and placed my hands roughly on his shoulders, and my lips on his. I felt him smile briefly before he kissed me back, a brief moment of gratification in all the discord, and then far too soon, he pulled away, frowning slightly.
Sirius was confused. So was I, and we hadn’t really solved anything. But at least we had each other’s attention now. “Sirius, can we talk about what happened?” I finally asked. “Does it really annoy you that much that I’m a Slytherin? What am I supposed to do?”
He sighed. “No, what I don’t like is you trying to rat us out, dragging up my past and judging me for it.”
“I was not trying to find out anything! I told you, we had no idea you were out there. Trust me.”
And what did he expect from a relationship – that we could just hide the worst parts of ourselves? He had already seen various unpleasant aspects of me, but now that I’d found his secret, he’d gotten defensive. He was watching me hesitantly, almost apprehensively, as if he only craved appreciation, wanted me to forget it all and kiss him again. But I didn’t. I just frowned. So Sirius swept out the door right past me. I turned around and chased after him.
“Sirius!” I called, and grabbed his arm as I caught up with him, turning him around. He snatched his arm out of my grip and kept walking briskly, his head down as if to block out everything going on around him. I sadly watched him go down the corridor until he turned a corner out of sight, and then I went back into the classroom and slumped into a chair.
Sirius evidently didn’t want to bother with me. I had tried, and it hadn’t worked. That was all I could do. So I didn’t allow my mind to dwell on him; I got out my textbook and my wand and concentrated all my attention on Charms.
One person in particular had been quite thrilled that Sirius and I were no longer together. On Monday morning, as I left the Great Hall after breakfast with Mandy and Charlotte, I heard Vanessa Saltz’s excited voice behind us. “Oh, look, it’s the Death Eaters!” she exclaimed.
We continued walking, but she caught up to us. “Your Love Potion stopped working, did it, Hastings?” Vanessa cried loudly. “I’m assuming that’s how you got Sirius Black to notice you in the first place. Because normally he’d never go for a Slytherin – you know, because you lot are all Death Eaters.”
I rolled my eyes. Could she not think of anything more original? I’d heard this so many times by now that it didn’t even bother me anymore.
“Leave her alone,” said another voice that was not Mandy’s or Charlotte’s; I looked behind me with surprise to find Althea Seward. “Why are you so mean to people all the time?” she said, her arms crossed and a frown on her face. I was rather impressed that she would actually interfere like this; it seemed so unlike her to stick her nose out. But I felt a sort of pride seeing such a short and quiet Hufflepuff standing up to Vanessa.
“Thanks, Althea,” I said, “but we’re fine. We can deal with this tart.” I put an arm around her in a sort of side hug.
“So is it true?” Vanessa said breathlessly, undeterred. She looked from me to Charlotte. “I heard both of your families are Death Eaters!”
I glanced at Charlotte. Somehow, Vanessa had gotten very accurate information – unless she was just bluffing, which was equally likely. But I didn’t want to say anything, because I knew Vanessa had lost her mum to the Death Eaters, and I couldn’t bring myself to argue with her, despite the provocation. She was insecure, with no control over her own life, and maybe that was why she interfered with others, in an attempt to feel better about herself. But here she’d tried picking on my insecurities the way she always did, and it hadn’t upset me this time. We had won.
Charlotte snorted. “Yes, we’re Death Eaters and if you don’t shut up and go away we’ll call for our best mate You-Know-Who to come sort you out, so leave us alone. Are you scared?”
Vanessa stuck her lip out and wrinkled up her nose in an expression of distaste and possibly disappointment that she hadn’t reduced us to tears. Leaving her in our wake, Charlotte put her arms around Mandy’s and my shoulders and began walking us all away with her head held high.
I couldn’t help feeling guilty though, considering Vanessa’s story. As we walked away, I chanced a look over my shoulder back at Vanessa; our eyes met, and I saw only sadness there now. I hated the girl, but a very small part of me wanted to reach out to her and apologise for Charlotte’s tactlessness. All I had ever done when it came to Vanessa was whatever was easiest – arguing and then leaving without caring. Now I felt like I had to do what was right instead.
But I didn’t stop to speak with her, because I doubted we could have anything to say. I held her gaze until my friends and I rounded the corner, and more than verbally getting one up on Vanessa, I felt the look of understanding that passed between us was the turning point when our fighting stopped. We had shared feelings of fear through that glance. Somewhere deep inside, both of us were on the same side. The side that was terrified of the Death Eaters.
Mandy and I couldn’t leave the common room at night anymore, as the idea had rather lost its appeal after our most recent venture. We reserved all our explorations of the castle for daylight hours, and had little to distract us from late night homework.
One such night, when we both wanted to get out and walk for a while, Mandy and I were instead sitting in a corner of the common room surrounded by abandoned Herbology homework. I was drawing a large picture of a unicorn on the inside cover of my textbook while Mandy charmed small spindly legs onto her parchment.
“You know, I was just thinking, and there’s something I’m still confused about,” Mandy said. “About the Gryffindors. They never explained why the rest of them were out there the night we… found Remus.” She looked around to make sure no one was listening to us, then continued in a whisper. “They were all in the Forbidden Forest, I know it. They always look like that every time they come back from sneaking out at night. But why would they do that on a full moon when they knew Remus was outside as a werewolf? It just doesn’t make sense.”
“I doubt we’ll ever find out now,” I said. “Remus is the only one of them who talks to me anymore, and for some reason I don’t imagine he really likes to discuss being a werewolf.”
“No, I don’t suppose he would,” said Mandy. “And by the way, Peter still talks to me,” she added with a laugh. “They sure stick together, though, don’t they? Nothing could ever drive a wedge between anyone in a group that loyal to each other.”
I hadn’t told Mandy the details of the prank Sirius played on Snape during fifth year, but I thought maybe that was the one thing that had ever come between the Gryffindor boys. And their friendship had overcome even that. So despite the fact that Mandy and Charlotte and I had been such good friends with them, their friendship with Sirius came first, and they couldn’t easily remain friends with his ex-girlfriend.
“Kind of like the way you and Charlotte have stuck with me,” I said. “I really appreciate it – I know I can’t have been the best company these past few days.”
“You seem to be doing much better now.”
“I am,” I said truthfully. “I can’t sulk about it forever if Sirius changed his mind about me. But…” I sighed. “I just wish he hadn’t, that’s all.”
Mandy looked at me sadly. “I thought he fell for you pretty hard. And now he’s miserable because he broke up with you for a stupid reason.”
“Sirius doesn’t fall for people,” I said dismissively. “I shouldn’t have fallen for him.”
“Someone else will come along,” said Mandy. I shrugged. I didn’t want someone else.
We sat in silence for a few minutes while I added a dragon to my artwork inside my textbook. Then, because I didn’t want to discuss Sirius anymore and I knew Mandy’s love life would provide ample conversation, I asked her, “What about you? What’s new?”
“Well… I’m actually going out with Roderick Cadwallader,” she said, looking rather guilty. “Sorry,” she added.
“Don’t be sorry,” I laughed. “There’s no reason you can’t be happy about going out with him just because you feel sorry for me. And you don’t even need to feel bad for me anymore. I don’t.”
“Okay,” said Mandy. “Well, it’s pretty recent. I didn’t want to tell you at first because you were upset about Sirius.”
“What about Remus? I thought you liked him.”
Mandy sighed. “Well, I do. But I’ve now realised why he’s been pushing me away. I don’t think he wants to go out with anyone. I think it’s a lot to do with Emily during the spring of our fifth year. You remember when she dumped him in front of the whole school and screamed at him… it was right after he finally told her that he was a werewolf. It hurt him really badly, and I don’t think he’s gotten over it. He had fallen head over heels for her, and then she wanted nothing to do with him after that. He doesn’t want to go through that again.”
“But you already know he’s a werewolf, and that doesn’t affect how you feel!”
“Right, but I don’t think it matters to him. Can’t you see how he sees it? He’s trying to protect himself by never loving anyone again. And I can’t make him change his mind.”
“But what if he thinks you’re giving up because you’ve learned the truth about him? He might think you aren’t interested in a relationship anymore because he’s a werewolf.”
“Of course not,” said Mandy. “It’s because I finally understand why he was holding back, and I’m trying to respect that. I think the best way for me to help him is just by being his friend.”
I could understand why Mandy had done what she had, but despite her best intentions, I thought she might have inadvertently hurt Remus even more.
The rest of the week passed by quickly what with multiple Quidditch practises a day in preparation for our game against Gryffindor. The first Saturday of February was the Quidditch match. I was more determined than ever to win. Fortunately, the rest of the team were equally determined, because Gryffindor were always our ultimate rivals. Besides, Gryffindor had won the Quidditch Cup as well as the House Cup last year. It was Slytherin’s turn now.
We started out well: although evenly matched, we stayed about one goal ahead of them for a while. At least this time there wasn’t a Gryffindor commentating on the match, which was an improvement from last year. The commentator for this game was Nick Smith, one of the Hufflepuff Chasers, who put no personal bias into his commentating because he didn’t like anyone. This made it fair for both sides.
After the initial excitement of being continually ahead, the Gryffindor Chasers scored four goals in rapid succession. I was doing the best I could to get in the way of the Gryffindor players while I hit Bludgers at them, but the game began to go in their favour. Byrd, our other Beater, accidentally hit James with his bat, although it looked intentional, so Gryffindor got a penalty shot. Andrew Derrick, one of our Chasers, collided so forcefully with Gryffindor’s Keeper that they both were knocked out and fell off their brooms, but Madam Hooch slowed their fall as they neared the ground and neither one of them was injured too badly.
The din of the voices in the stand surrounding us grew louder with the number of injuries on the pitch. Then Hector got one goal in the Gryffindor hoop with no Keeper to block it, but Gryffindor’s Seeker Roderick Cadwallader got the Snitch immediately afterwards and it was all over. Gryffindor had beaten us by miles.
Slytherin’s loss certainly didn’t help me feel any better; nor did it help Mandy, who had bet Roderick a significant amount of money that Slytherin would win. But the two of them arranged a date that night and then Mandy wasn’t too bothered about losing to Gryffindor or even losing her ten Galleons.
Charlotte and I were lying on our beds reading in the dormitory on Saturday night when Mandy walked dreamily into the room, her clothes rumpled and her lipstick very messy. “Well, well,” said Charlotte, smirking as she set her book in her lap.
“Hey,” I said. “So… I was going to ask you how your date was, but I think I’ve got the idea,” I said.
“What?” Mandy reached up to feel her hair, and then walked into the bathroom. She came back a few minutes later with tamed hair and no more smeared lipstick. “Anyway,” she continued as if none of that had just happened, “did you know there’s a room like a little cottage on the seventh floor? Roderick showed me this room that I’ve never noticed before, we were just wandering in the corridor and it was almost like it appeared out of nowhere! So we went in… it was lovely, it was this little quaint room that looked like it was from a fairy tale. I bet no one else even knows about it; we had it all to ourselves. It was so romantic. There were a bunch of candles lit—”
“Ew, stop right there,” said Charlotte, holding her hand up. “No need to elaborate on your romantic evening together.” She picked her book up again and flicked through the pages, trying to find where she’d left off.
“Hey, it wasn’t like that,” Mandy said defensively. “We were having a picnic.”
“Is that what they call it these days?” said Charlotte from behind her book. I sat there giggling while Mandy got more and more embarrassed and eventually threw her shoe at Charlotte.
The Hogsmeade day was set for the next Saturday. Sirius and I had been broken up for two weeks now, and it was clear I wouldn’t be going with him, because we still wouldn’t even look at each other. I wanted to go with Mandy and Charlotte, but Mandy had a date with Roderick, and Charlotte said she was busy. Because this trip was the Saturday just before Valentine’s Day, it only emphasized that I was single and alone. I could either stay behind at the castle and do my work, go by myself, or ask someone. And I didn’t fancy being alone and bitter in Hogsmeade on the day that the most couples would be around, so I thought I’d ask someone.
At breakfast one day that week I asked Hector if he had plans for Hogsmeade on Saturday, and thought that maybe I’d go with him, but he said he was already planning to go with Althea Seward. So then I found Octavius Pepper before Herbology and asked him instead. He looked surprised when I asked him, but he agreed.
Someone jostled my arm as I stood there talking to Octavius, and then Sirius pushed by me into the greenhouse. Octavius slipped and fell on his back like a turtle. I sighed. Obviously Sirius had overheard and was displeased that I wasn’t sulking about him anymore.
As I sat down at my seat, I saw Sirius staring straight at me, and we looked at each other for a few moments – the first time we’d really acknowledged each other in two weeks. But then he lifted up Flesh-Eating Trees of the World and stood it up on its end on the desk, essentially hiding himself behind it, and began reading.
Halfway through class, James approached my desk. “Can I have that watering can?” he asked. I handed it to him, and he remained there. “Will you two just talk to each other?” James asked quietly. “You’re both driving me mad.”
“You’re his best friend; isn’t that your job? He’s more likely to listen to you than he is to anyone.”
“I’ve tried, but… he doesn’t want advice from me,” he said, his eyebrows knitting together. “I think he’s annoyed that Lily and I are happy. Anyway, I’m not the real reason he’s upset.”
“So you agree with him, then? You think it’s my fault?”
James scowled. “Melanie, he’s my best friend, so of course I’m going to stand by him. That doesn’t mean I think he’s right, though – I’ve already told him several times he’s being a miserable git for something that had nothing to do with you. But you aren’t helping.”
“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Well, I appreciate it… but I’m really the last person who could help.” Especially now that Sirius had overheard me asking someone else out. I put my head in my hands and stared at the potted shrub on my desk as James went back to his seat with the watering can.
Sirius was no longer hiding behind his textbook and was dumping soil into a tray disconsolately. I hated seeing him like that, and I knew it was my fault. The situation really shouldn’t have escalated out of control the way it had since we broke up. But we’d both said things we regretted and been unkind, and out of a combination of guilt and resentment, neither of us wanted to speak to the other. For the moment, it was easier that way than trying to fix it. But the easiest thing to do was not always the best.
“You have dirt all over your face,” said Mandy. I lifted my head from my hands and went back to work, thinking of the best way to try to rebuild my friendship with Sirius.
After class I went to talk to him. I walked up to him with a smile, hoping we could start this off on the right foot rather than snarling at each other. But before I said anything, he asked, “What, you want to tell me how happy you are now that you’ve got a date with Pepper? If you’re trying to make me jealous, it’s not working.”
My good intentions turned sour; I didn’t have time for this rubbish. “It’s all about you, isn’t it,” I laughed bitterly. “Did it ever occur to you that I might be happier with someone who doesn’t snap at me for everything and hold a grudge for weeks? And stop hexing him. You dumped me, so stop trying to sabotage any other opportunities I have to be happy with someone else.”
“Fine,” he said. “You want the truth? I am jealous. Does that make you feel better?”
“No, not at all.” I had no idea what else to say. I twisted the strap of my bag with my muddy hand, realising too late that my hands still smelt of dragon dung compost, and then Octavius came out of the greenhouse. Sirius had seen him too. He looked from Octavius to me, and then strode off up the hill without another word.
Disclaimer: The song “Ain’t No Sunshine” is by Bill Withers.
Thanks for reading. You all are wonderful ♥
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