I wake up at nine o’clock and curse. My head is groggy from last night and it only gets worse when I remember my… date. Why did I agree? Wanting to like him and actually liking him are entirely different things. Lily is already awake, dressed and frowning at me. “What?” I groan.
“Your little gathering really screwed up Ingrid’s party. It was literally just us.” She folds her arms and purses her lips angrily.
“Well she did say she wanted something exclusive.” I sit up. “I’m sure it could have been worse. Like my ni-”
“How could it have been worse? Sirius spent the evening in a sulk- Merlin knows why- so James was in a mood, Ingrid kept on complaining about every shitty thing in her life and ranting about your not being there, thanks for that, and Angel was whining because her date kept on looking at Sophia who was licking Sirius’ ear. Would it have killed you to turn up? Or how about not throwing a rival party?”
“I’m going out with Matthew.”
“What?” She sits down on her bed, mouth open. “You’re messed up.”
“No. You don’t know. You don’t even like him.”
“Stop being so judgemental, you hated James for years.”
“But I like him now. And that’s when I said yes.”
“Stop judging me.” I get dressed and beg Lily to meet me afterwards in the Three Broomsticks. “Please, please, I need some support. Bring Tiff? Please?”
“Why don’t you ask Ingrid?”
“Because you’re my best friend. And I’ve decided I don’t like her.”
“About time. Fine. But you’ll be cutting into James time.”
I don’t care. “We’ll meet at 12? Then I have a deadline for the end.”
“Wimp.” But she’s smiling.
I glare at her and start the walk to Hogsmeade. It’s slow and seems to be a hundred miles, rather than just one that drags on for eternity. I’m nervous, oh so nervous. So nervous that I feel nauseated and ill. Crap. He’s already here. I would rather face Voldemort right now. Why has he arrived early? Why can’t he be like all teenage boys and be late? “Hello.” I say as I approach him, awkwardly avoiding the hug he's anticipating.
“Hi! So I was thinking Madam Puddifoots?” He suggests and I already want to throw myself off a cliff.
“Oh. Um. Okay. I thought seeing as we were meeting here…” I gesture to the pub.
“Well the Tea Shop has a more intimate atmosphere.”
We walk away from the pub and I glance behind my shoulder at the friendly local disappearing from view and my stomach sinks. The Tea Shop door jingles a tacky chime as we enter and the thought of any comfort disappears as poufs and low tables with lacy table cloths stifle the room and with it any thought of escape or freedom. There’s the intoxicating fumes of sweet inscense burning a heady aroma and releasing it into the stuffy room. “Tea?” He asks.
“As strong as you can get it.” I reply and sit on a pink cushion.
“Well we have to wait to be served, I was just wondering if you were a tea or a coffee person.”
A middle-aged woman with black hair appears at our table with a dewy eyes and sappy smile and says, “What’ll it be then?”
“Builder’s tea.” I mutter quickly.
Matthew frowns. “We’ll have a pot.”
“Right you are.” The woman replies and weaves her way through the labyrinth of tables. There are other couples. Some of them kissing, some in tight embrace and some touching places I don’t even want to know about- Jenna Bishop’s belly button? Really Stefan? By comparison, we are even more awkward; sitting opposite each other and avoiding each other’s eye. “So,” He finally begins. “How are you?”
“Oh, you know, fine. You?”
“Good. What’s your favourite subject?”
I cringe. “I like Charms.”
We lapse into quiet. Thankfully the tea arrives. He pours for me, the liquid is light, weak and I wrinkle my nose. He pours his own tea then I grab the pot and pour the liquid back inside. People from other tables are watching my unorthodox behaviour between snogs, but I don’t care. “I said, I like strong tea.” This is not going well. At all. “So, you heard about all those attacks on muggle-borns and squibs and their families I take it?” I say, the macabre subject being the first thing that springs to mind.
“Yes. Terrible. I mean I know quite a lot ‘cos my Dad works for the Prophet.”
“Oh yeah! I forgot about that. So, what do you know?”
“Well, the paper wasn’t allowed to print everything. Andrea Chapton pulled a favour to keep some unsavoury rumours out of the press.”
“Like…?” I prompt.
“Like apparently students are involved.”
“Students? Like us, do you mean?”
“I suppose. Apparently we’re all meant to be killers. But she thought it would make parents paranoid, and can you honestly think of anyone at school who would be capable of being involved with that sort of thing? That toddler was mutilated.”
“I can think of quite a few people capable of that.” At that precise moment, Avery, Mulciber and Snape walk past the window and I narrow my eyes at them. Were they at school on those days, the thirteen days of murder? Or is there a way that they snuck out of the castle and apparated?
“Sorry, I, I got lost in thought for a moment.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Why don’t we talk about something more cheerful?”
“And pretend these things aren’t happening?”
“Well it’s better than obsessing over them.”
“If you say so.”
His foot is touching mine as if he's trying to play footsie; I immediately start rummaging in my bag. “So how much was the tea? We should split it. Oh and what time is it?” I ramble.
“It’s 11:30. Do you have somewhere to be?”
“Yes, actually. Um, Lily and Tiffany wanted to get Lunch in the Three Broomsticks so I’m going to go eat some lasagne or something.”
“Well we still have a little while until you have to leave.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
The clock on the wall is ticking at completely the wrong frequency. Seconds, minutes cannot be that long, can they? Eventually it’s quarter to and I make my excuses to leave. “I’ll walk you.” He says as he puts some coins on the table. I hasten to add my own and leave before he can give it back to me. The crisp November air is the nectar of the gods compared to the perfumed scent of the Tea Shop. “So can I have a hug?” He asks. I flounder.
“Um, sorry. I really have to go.”
“What?” He laughs, but under his smile I can see he’s hurt.
“Lily and Tiff, they're meeting me for lunch. It's a long-standing plan. Sorry."
I hate myself. “Oh.” He says. I hate myself. I really hate myself.
“Um this was fun.” I lie as we approach our destination.
“Yeah it really was.” He seems to be telling the truth, how can he possibly think this was fun? Hell is less painful. Having my eyeballs hacked at with a toothpick would be less painful. “So I’ll see you around.” I say and speed walk into the pub.
My eyes scan the room in panic and eventually they fall on the red-head and the blonde sitting near the bar. I fling myself into the seat next to them and groan loudly.
“That bad eh?” Lily asks.
“Yes, that bad. So that bad. We went to Madam Puddifoots.”
Tiffany’s eyes widen. “No! Oh you poor girl. That place is dire.”
“There was so much pink. It was everywhere. Pink... like the inside of Hello Kitty's vagina... if she has one. Which I doubt...”
“James and I won’t touch that place. Speak of the devil.” Lily smiles up at the approaching figures and I start to bang my head softly on the table.
James’ eyes are glinting with mischief. “How’s Matthew? Oh hi Tiffany.”
She waves and chokes on her butterbeer. I roll my eyes. “Don’t even ask.” Remus sneaks a glimpse at Tiffany out of the corner of his eye and I have a sneaking suspicion. “Actually,” I start. “I learned something interesting, about the murders.”
“Is interesting the right word?” Sirius sneers.
“Shut up dick face, the Head Auror, she said something that had to be taken off record. Apparently students were involved. I don’t know why they think that- maybe witnesses or something, but apparently people from school had something to do with it and at that exact moment a Snape, Avery and Mulciber walked past. Coincidence? I think not."
I look around the table. Tiffany has raised her eyebrows in disbelief and Lily is shaking her head but the boys are watching me closely. “Did they say how old the students were?” Sirius asks with an edge of urgency in his voice. “I don’t know I couldn’t exactly press him on the subject now could I?”
“Well why not?”
“Because I couldn’t. It wasn’t the place for an interrogation.”
“Maybe you should have tried harder to get an answer!”
“Padfoot,” James warns. “Calm down!”
“Because you’re making a scene.”
“I need answers. Don’t you think I need answers?”
“We all do.”
Tiff frowns. “Am I missing something?”
Sirius shoots a glare at her. “Yes, but I’m hardly going to tell a girl I barely know what my problems are.”
“Fine.” She gets up. “I’ll see you later.” Then, she walks over to joins some of her other friends.
“Padfoot,” Peter whines. “Now look what you’ve done.”
Sirius turns on him with rage that I’ve never seen before. “What I’ve done?”
“Could you stop being such a drama queen?”
“Let’s just get some food."
"It’ll make you feel better.” Remus added.
Lupin and Black take our orders and the rest of us lean back in our chairs, relieved that we’re not dealing with a grumpy Sirius. “What got into him?” I ask.
“You know…” James says with a suggestive raise of his eyebrows.
“No, I don’t.” I reply.
“His brother? Regulus? He’s worried that he was involved. I thought you knew about all that.”
“Clearly not. His brother is a psycho?”
“No, Merlin’s Beard Jess you can be so insensitive sometimes.”
“So you think these people aren’t psychos?”
“Regulus isn’t. Got it?”
The flash of anger in his eyes warns me to agree. “Yes, I didn’t know, that’s all.” I huff and spend the next ten minutes shredding my tattered coaster.
Remus and Sirius return with glasses hovering above them and by the time we’ve sorted out who owes who what the food arrives. I did opt for a lasagne, and I’m so glad, it’s beautifully creamy and tomato-ey and damn it tastes good.
Sirius leaves for a smoke and I follow him, claiming that I need some air. “So how was your date?” He asks and I dismiss the question out of hand. “Fine, are you alright? I didn’t mean to piss you off earlier.”
“Can I ask…?”
He hesitates and I inhale the smoke from his cigarette deeply, there’s something comforting about the smell of tobacco, especially as he refuses to have the wizarding kind. “Want one?” He offers. I nod and he gives me his own while taking another out of the packet. The smoke stings my mouth as I suck in the fumes, but I refuse to cough. There is no way I’m showing how much of a smoking virgin I am. I exhale with a smirk of satisfaction at his handsomely impressed face. “Thanks.” I let the cigarette hang between my fingers elegantly. “So?”
He sighs, takes a drag, exhales and then looks me straight in the eye with his own light grey ones. “You know my family are big in the world of pain and torture, right?” I nod. “Well, my brother is obviously trying to do them proud, after the disappointment I turned out to be,” He adds resentfully, “and I don’t know if this makes me sound soft or something but, I’m worried about him. I haven’t been home in years and I barely speak to him at school. I don’t know what he’s doing. I don’t know if he buys in to the whole ‘mudblood’ crap. I don’t know anything, and what if they’ve got him killing muggles? What if they’ve got to him so much that he doesn’t even think of them as people? ‘Cos I won’t believe that he’d kill someone, a person, without believing that. You know?”
“Yeah…” I mumble. I can't imagine.
“It’s mum and dad, so proud of anyone willing to perform the cruciatus curse on a muggle. You know when I was a kid, all I wanted was to make them proud. I’d look after Reg, I’d be polite and do anything they asked me, I used to listen to Bella with this rapt eagerness- I worshiped her. She knew everything, but then I got older and I understood what they were saying and it repulsed me. I did everything I could to stop Reg listening, but he did. It’s my fault if he did kill those people, I didn’t do a good enough job. I gave up.”
“How can it be your fault?” I ask softly putting a hand on his arm. “You did everything you could. And you sound like an amazing brother, he won’t have had anything to do with it, he wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”
“But that was years ago. I left my home. I left him alone with them, he begged me to stay and I told him it was too late, that they’d already got their claws into him.”
“Sirius, listen, you did everything you could, and besides, it’s not the end of the world. You can still talk to him you know.”
“Yes, right.” My cigarette is coming to the butt, so I stub it out with my foot. “Come on, let’s all go back to the castle, that cloud over there doesn’t look too pleasant.” He shrugs, and I’m about to open the door when I don’t. “How was Ingrid’s party?” I innocently ask, turning around.
“Crap.” He replies. “I was expecting you to go.”
“Was Sophia not company enough?”
“I didn’t go for her.”
I furrow my brow, it looks as if he’s going to say something else as his mouth opens slightly revealing his perfect teeth, set in his chiselled jaw, framed by his long black hair. The door bursts open, revealing Lily and James in each other’s arms, laughing, followed by the boys.
I roll my eyes in frustration. To my amusement, so does Sirius, but instead of sinking into his usual sulk, he proceeds to grin and throw himself onto the happy couple. I shake my head in disbelief. “Such a drama queen.” I chuckle.
Behind us, Matthew and his friends follow us up.