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Chapter 6 : Best man - second best
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“Well, isn’t that what you were thinking, James?”
Arella’s tone was spiteful and bitter as she sat beside me, wrapped in my black robe to cover her exposed nakedness. The intimacy we had shared just moments ago lay shattered and broken, and we sat in the same space with an awkwardness between us which we both sensed. I fastened my trouser belt and reached for my shirt, thrown across the floor only minutes before as our mutual passion consumed us both in a torrent of emotion. It had now departed on the arrival of our reluctant messenger. As I picked up the crisp, white fabric, Arella glanced up at me and quickly turned her gaze away when I returned the stare. She was watching James again as she had been for the last few moments since her outburst, daring him to challenge her. I put the cool cotton against my skin and it taunted me acting, as a reminder of how close I had been to what my body and mind had desired for so long. On the lonely nights I had imagined her lying next door in the other bedroom, alone and in need of me, and me alone. Surely she had wanted me too just now? Surely we still had a chance?
And there we sat, in this enforced stalemate. James watched the two lonely figures from on high and then, when he could bear the heavy silence no more, he sat down in the wicker armchair nearest the fireplace, held his head in his hands. and muttered.
“No Arella. I did not mean that it had been your fault at all. But maybe if we had all seen what…maybe if we had known…oh I don’t know. I just didn’t think it would be them, that’s all. Of all of the Order, I just didn’t think it would be them. They were so effective at what they did when we had gone out on raids before that I thought that…”
“That they were invincible.” Arella nodded her head slowly in agreement and my eyes darted from one of my friends to the other. I realised how personal and destructive the war had suddenly become. Gideon and Fabian were the best of the best: they truly were as skilled and clever as James had said. If they couldn’t survive then what chance did the rest of us have? Was my intervention in my family’s involvement somehow connected to this, or was it sheer coincidence that I had seen Malfoy and Snape and Regulus all huddled up together and scheming away right under our very noses? Was that what they were planning? And who was next? Me, James, Arella? James lifted his head out of his hands and drew in a deep breath.
“ I should leave you two to it. I just thought you ought to know. Lily and I were worried about you…both.”
Arella stood up suddenly, wrapping the robe around her shoulders carefully, clutching at the front with her long, delicate fingers. “It’s fine, James. I’m going up to bed now anyway so please, stay and talk to Sirius if you wish. I will not get in your way any longer.”
Stunned, and perhaps embarrassed, I did not look at her as she swept past me, still wrapped with in the confines of my robe, its flowing material briefly touching my shoulder in a tantalising whisper of what could have been. I turned to watch her go, not knowing whether to follow, but James made no move to leave. And so I stayed in my seat, leaned backwards, and held my face skywards to watch for some sort of sign. Exasperated and exhausted, I let out a sigh and James looked across at me, pursing his lips as he said,
“I am really very sorry, Sirius. If I had known…”
I waved my hand to stop him going any further, deflecting his comments. “No, no, it’s fine, honestly.”
Rubbing at my furrowed brow, I held my hand over my mouth as if to stop the words tumbling out, because what I yearned to say was far too painful for a night like this. I wanted to scream at him for trampling on my hopes, and dancing on my dreams. For ruining a feeling within me I had never experienced before, and longed to live again. But I knew I had little hope of that tonight. Chewing at my inner lip, I thought of my words carefully as to not cause offence. “It hasn’t been going on long, you know. Just tonight, James.”
Awkwardly, he looked directly at me for the first time since he had arrived. “It’s none of my business who you see, my friend. Just be careful, that’s all I ask of you. Don’t get in too deep.”
Sitting upright, I frowned at his troubled expression, trying to read his thoughts, but I was no Legilimens. “What is that meant to mean?”
Fist clenched, James ran his knuckles along the soft flesh of his lips, and thought about precisely what he was going to do. Eventually, as my temper began to fray at the edges, he spoke, rising to stand as he did. Sitting just where Arella had sat only moments ago, he made his way through her discarded clothing as he moved closer. He sat on the edge of his seat, and I turned towards him to hear his thoughts.
“Look, I know you think I’m just anti-Arella all the time, and I grant you that’s she really isn’t my favourite person, but I just don’t want to see you getting in to something that you might regret.”
I shrugged. “You seemed to have put the dampers on that anyway!”
“I know. But you like her, right?” The words pained him as he spoke. “And she obviously likes you, at the moment, or else…well…” He pointed to the clothes on the floor.
“Do you want to just spit this out and go home, James, or do I have to tear it out of you?”
Biting his lip before answering, James looked straight into my eyes. “Lily had a vision about Arella.”
I sat back in the soft, supporting arms of the sofa and grinned: Lily’s visions. Possibly one of the funniest things about my dearest friend I could remember. I had lost count of how many times she had told me I would live a cursed life because of my Animagi transformation, and how many times she had seen me with ogres ready to suck out my soul. The idea that James seemed to be suggesting that I now live my life through one of her visions was vastly amusing to me. Chuckling as I spoke, I answered him in jest.
“Oh, so what has Arella done this time? Has she run off with Peter, or become the England Quidditch captain, or laid her life down for Voldemort? Will she splice my heart in two in my sleep tonight?”
“Lily saw her in a vision… and she was getting married.”
Again I paused, frowning at my best friend with a look of incredulity. “Are you saying it was me she was marrying, and you’re just telling me not to, or what? This really is irrelevant to what you saw earlier, James. I may sleep with Arella, but marriage is way…way off . I‘ll save that claptrap for you two.”
James once again shook his head and stared at the shoes on his feet.
“No, it wasn’t you, Sirius. Lily woke up trembling when she saw her, at least that’s what she told me. You know her and I…..look I wouldn’t tell you, but Arella was marrying…Snape: Severus Snape. She knows it was him because she saw the face, and the Mark.”
“The Dark Mark?”
James nodded, and I barely heard his reply. “Yes.”
I stood up, and like James had done before me earlier, I paced the floor to take in this news. Arella had told him where to go when she spoke to him, and yet, in the back of my mind, I knew she didn’t mean it. I had seen her kiss him with such a passion that I had tried to recreate it when she was in my arms. Had she done as he had said, and thought only of him as she went to take me to her bed? This could not be true, for I had seen her look at me with a wanton desire that no woman could fake however hard they tried. “No. She told him to sod off tonight, James. Tell Lily thank you, but her vision is wrong. There is no way that Arella would stoop so low and take him back as a husband. A Death Eater’s wife is not her profession of choice. She even said those words tonight, or something like them. Lily, yet again, is mistaken.”
James chewed at his lip and looked at me with a frown upon his face. “They’ve been getting clearer, Sirius. She knew the Prewitts would die.”
I turned around and glared at him. “Then why were they left to fend for themselves?”
James’ anger rose inside him, and the outward signs were there for me to see. I had dared to slight Lily and his angry tones and raised voice told me I had overstepped the mark.
“Because she’s not always able to help in that respect. Merlin, Sirius, we did everything we could, but it still wasn’t enough. I’m telling you now because I care about you. We both do, and I don’t want you to get hurt if it turns out to be true. Enough people have been hurt already in this war.”
I reached across to him to pat his hand, and he stood, tears in his eyes from the pressure of the nights events, fearful of what was happening to us. We hugged each other in a brotherly embrace, and broke apart swiftly.
“I know you’re only trying to help, but I can’t just give her up on a whim, James. Would you with Lily? Of course not. I’m not saying this is the one for me but I have to just see how things go, and if they don’t work out then fine. But I have to try. Didn’t tonight just prove we have to grab happiness while we can?”
James lowered his head in shame and nodded slowly, closing his eyes as he spoke.
“I just thought you needed to know, that’s all. Please be careful, Sirius.”
I playfully punched him on the arm, and he grinned at me like the old days, when everything was so much less complicated than life was for us now. “You’re turning into a right miserable git in your old age, James Potter. Is that what married life does to a man?”
“Err, well I’m not married just yet, am I?”
“Nah, but she’s got you well trained, my friend! You’ll be running to her beck and call once she has that ring on your finger. Bye bye freedom.”
James chuckled and shook his head. “ I’m still me, whether I’m married or not! Which reminds me, though Merlin knows why I should be asking you!”
“Asking me what?”
He took in a sharp breath of air and asked me “Will you be my best man?”
Best man? The words rung out in my ears, and my heart glowed with pride. Despite our disagreements and differences he still wanted me beside him on the most important day of his life. James was more like a brother to me: no, he was better than the brother I had, and I grinned from ear to ear when I heard him utter those words. Nothing could have made me more proud.
“James, I’d be honoured to. Tell Lily you’re in safe hands.”
He raised his eyebrows and stepped back on mock amazement. “Safe hands? I doubt it. Talking of Lily, I must get back to Headquarters. Say goodnight to Arella for me. And remember what I said.”
“I will, but she’s wrong this time, James. Arella is fine.”
I was left alone as James flooed back, and looked at the scene that surrounded me. Clothes strewn across the floor served to remind me of my darling Arella, upstairs and alone. I scooped them up in my arms, turned off the lights and made my way up the stairs to find her. In my heart I lived with the hope that she was waiting for me, and that my desire for her would be satisfied that same night, but in the reality of my head I knew that would not happen now. I laid the clothes upon my bed, and looked across the landing at the solitary light emanating from underneath the door of her bedroom, left ajar to tempt my hungry eyes. As I stepped forwards to survey the scene, I looked at her bed and saw she was curled up just as a child would be, still wrapped in my robe, with tearstained cheeks, and a vulnerability I had never seen in her before. Her choked sobs tore at my heartstrings, and I tapped my knuckles against the cool wood of the door to arouse her. She wiped her eyes, and bid me to enter.
“Rellie, darling. It’s ok. Please don‘t cry.”
She sat up a little, and I sat down beside her as she moved over to rest her weary head against my chest. Slowly we moved back, and I leant against her headboard, pulling her closer to me, wrapping the blankets around us for warmth and comfort. I dare not look at her exposed body underneath the covers as I lay there, for want of encouraging the desire coursing through my veins, teasing and tempting me to taste her as she lay so still beside me. My head kept its cool while my body reacted to the feeling of yearning that consumed me as it had earlier on that same night. As her hands leant against my torso she knew of my private ambitions.
“Sirius, I’m sorry, but I can’t do what you want tonight. Not now, with all that has happened.”
I pulled her tighter into my arms and shushed her worries away, kissing the top of her head as I did so. “It’s of no matter to me, darling. Would you like me to leave you to sleep? Do I make you feel uncomfortable?”
“No, stay here with me tonight Sirius, please. I want to lay with you like this. But you can get a little more comfortable, if you want. If you‘re staying here, that is.”
I looked down at her and she smiled, tugging at my belt, and hinting at what she had meant. I grinned back, and slowly undid my attire, stripping down to my underwear, more aware of her nakedness now as my bare skin touched against her softness. The old feeling of want regained momentum within me once more, but beyond the sexual level, this felt so right and natural. Just lying, holding one another tight, skin to skin and feeling her warm breath against my chest. I realised for the first time in my life that this was the only time I had shared this level of closeness with a woman without any physical act of love. My respect and intimacy with Arella went beyond that of any other relationship I had had. As my desire subsided, she looked up at me and kissed me gently on the lips and whispered against them, ‘Thank you’.
“Thank you for what?”
“Just thank you for being you, Sirius. For holding me, comforting me when I needed you. I know tonight must have been hard on you too.”
I sighed aloud, and glanced down at her upturned face. “It was no more excruciating than I expected. My family has always been the most enormous pain in the arse.”
She leaned up on her forearms, resting them against my stomach. “Did you feel anything for them when you saw them tonight?”
“Not really. Just hatred and loathing. Regulus makes me a little sad, but my parents are just as they ever were, Rellie. They have never and will never change. I know that for a fact.”
She swallowed hard, and reached to touch my face, affectionately brushing my long hair away from my eyes. “He looks like you…Regulus that is.”
“Yes, he does. But he is not me. He was never strong enough to stand up to my parents, and he is in far too deep with Snape and the rest of them.”
She shuddered at the man I had mentioned. “I feel sorry for you, darling.”
I raised my eyebrows and touched her soft face, sweeping the back of my hand against her cheekbone. “Don’t go feeling sorry for me. If you need to feel sorry for anyone tonight, do it for the poor Prewitt family, not me.”
She winced a little. “Was it us, Sirius? Is James right?”
“No! And I told him as much when you left us. He had no right to say what he did, Rellie, but I put him straight, and he’s fine again now.”
She nodded, though as I looked into her deep eyes I knew she did not believe me. “It was a little awkward.”
I chuckled and snorted. “Well, it’s a first for him, believe it or not. Walking in on me with my trousers down. I’m not sure who was the more embarrassed.”
“Me, I think. I didn’t want James Potter looking at me naked, thank you!”
I squeezed her against my body and laughed. “I should think not! Your body is strictly for my eyes only from now on.”
She reached across and kissed me on the lips, putting a little more passion into it, and I cupped her head closer to hold our embrace as I let my tongue slip gently into her mouth, teasing her lips. Her temptations were becoming too much for my limited control, and I broke our embrace, and kissed her forehead, catching my breath. “Is that right then? Am I yours now?”
She buried her head down into the crook of my arm and reached under the covers to remove the last of the robe that covered her body, her warmth rubbing against me as she did so. “If you want me, my darling, I am yours, but not yet. Not tonight.” I slowly slid down into the covers with her, wrapping my arms around her body to hold her close, using every bit of control I had to stop myself from becoming too lost in her sweet scent and sensual presence. With her back to me, I drew my hands around her waist and nestled my face into the base of her neck, hearing her sigh as my breath tickled against the sensitive skin of her neck. I whispered “I want you more than you can possibly imagine.” She pulled her neck away slightly as her own desire welled inside her, but pressed her hips against mine and I drew my legs up towards hers in a cradling position. How I was tempted to try and entice her; how my body ached to be at one with hers, but she had made her wishes clear and I did not want to jeopardise us.
Us. The simple word sounded so good as it rolled around in the recesses of my mind. I wondered whether James felt like this on those nights that he held Lily in his arms. I knew he had not made love to her before their marriage in a few weeks, and I marvelled at his self control and respect for the woman he loved. Was I on the same path that he was treading right now? Could I really become so responsible that I could love only one woman for the rest of my life? If anyone could hold me to such a promise it must surely be the woman in my arms at the moment. But what of the vision that Lily had had? Snape had loved Arella for years before I had a chance to get this far, and I had seen in her tonight that, though she claimed it was not there. There was a spark of passion, a burning flame between them that they could not extinguish. Could she go back to him, even now she knew all that he was? I pulled her body closer to mine, and she whimpered slightly. I rested my chin upon the top of her head and bent down slightly to smell the fresh aroma of her hair, nuzzling as I did so.
She must surely now be mine. And yet, as I slept with her in this bed, I could not help but feel an overwhelming feeling of resentment and jealousy. Severus Snape had taken time and time again that precious gift of love that I had so nearly claimed tonight, and wanted more than anything in the world now. I wanted Arella to make love to me, and me alone, but as we slept I could only be concerned that in her dreams she made love to him. And only him.
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