Late late late I know. I'm sorry. Many thanks to PurplePenguin13MI, RJamesL, silverbirch, MissDemigodWizard, Guest, A Potterhead, and musbethenargles for your encouraging reviews. I can say with all honesty this is the first chance I've had to update, and that I do still intend to keep this story alive. This chapter is shorter than I intended, but I'm starting on the next one right now. I hope you enjoy this story.
ALSO: I need to add in the extra warning now that things are going to be less canon than I'd like, because JKR has given us so much new information (thank you Pottermore) that I can't keep up, and some of it does conflict with what I have planned for future chapters. As such, when I say canon I mean 100%(ish) canon with the books, and I will try my best to stay true to any extra information JKR has given us.
26. Temporary Permanence
Of hospital visits, stupid boys, and gagging noises.
After the horrors of Saturday's Quidditch match it had seemed to the students of Hogwarts that normalcy would perhaps never be achieved again. Sunday had been a day of anxiety and tears and arguments and fears laid bare that could be found not only in the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff houses, but throughout Hogwarts: from the very youngest first year right the way to Professor Dumbledore himself.
But dawn on Monday morning brought with it the usual breakfast in the Great Hall, with lessons to attend and friends to greet and joke with. Normalcy, apparently, was a resilient force among the students of Hogwarts. Whispers were frequent, but quieter than they had been the day before, and significantly less venomous.
Angry words became tender comforts, as Madam Worrell announced that each student in the Hospital Wing would be allowed one visitor at a time for a maximum of half an hour.
Unfortunately, the fleeting joy felt by the seventh year Gryffindors delighting at the chance to see their friends again was soon dispelled by a pressing issue. Of the seven Gryffindors, which two were the most deserving of being granted first entry to the Hospital Wing to visit James and Juliette?
"Well that's obvious," Sirius barked over his plate of bacon and fried eggs. "Evans, you up for it?"
Lily blinked in surprise, and her eyes flashed with momentary glee before looking shyly among the group.
"Well I'd really like to-"
"Don't be daft," Lizzie grinned, munching happily on a thick sandwich that was dripping sauce back into her plate. "Of course you're going first."
Lily shoved a forkful of mushrooms into her mouth, trying her best not to look too pleased with herself. When her worried eyes lingered on the rest of the group guiltily, the blonde shook her head.
"No, really Lily, you're going. I'm sick to death of your mopey face already. Go. See Jules, talk to James. Grant the rest of us a little peace, for pity's sake."
Satisfied with the dark pink tinge in her friend's cheeks, Lizzie glanced around at the others looking for backup, but paused at the sight of Remus and India-Rose muttering under their breaths at one another, their eyes never leaving their plates. Sensing the tension rolling from India-Rose, Lizzie quickly turned back to Lily to tease her a little more, but the argument between the couple escalated as India-Rose shifted visibly in her seat.
"Something wrong?" Sirius drawled, his eyes dancing with intrigue. Remus shook his head at his friend darkly, but finally India-Rose looked up. Her lips were twisted into a displeased grimace.
"I think Remus should go with Lily."
"No, you don't-"
"Excuse me? Don't tell me what I do or do not think," India-Rose hissed at her boyfriend. Remus cringed, clearly aware of the eyes of their friends drawn to them with unabashed interest. "I think Remus and Lily should visit them first."
"Oh yeah?" Sirius snorted. His quick, cold gaze flitted to Remus as he grinned, expecting to share his amusement with his friend, but to his surprise Remus was watching him curiously, almost expectantly. Sirius shifted uncomfortably. "Well it doesn't make a difference, does it?"
"Well in that case Remus can go first, can't he?" India-Rose asked with an icy smile.
A nervous laugh rippled through the group of seventh years.
"I see," Sirius said coolly, and his eyes darkened as he turned to his friend, though his smile remained dangerously frozen. "And what does Remus think?"
"Mother, this is ridiculous. Juliette is sitting up. I absolutely refuse –"
"Oh you do, do you? James Potter, twenty-four hours ago we thought you'd broken your bloody back. You are staying where you are even if I have to knock you unconscious to keep you that way!"
James scowled up at his mother as she leaned over him, brushing aside a tuft of hair that seemed glued into shape over his forehead. He could feel Juliette's smirk from the next bed over, but it seemed that repeatedly thinking the word incendio with increasing malice was not enough to set fire to the magically locked brace currently pinning him to his mattress.
"And you can shut up, Juliette Swindon, don't think I –"
"Don't you talk to Juliette that way you stupid boy. Now lie there and don't you dare move," Jacinta Potter snapped, her eyes clouded as she turned away to look for Madam Worrell, who was attending to Isobel Cole of Hufflepuff, whose soft featured, tan face was bright red with concentration as the healer poked and prodded at her swollen right knee.
As his mother disappeared from his limited line of vision James let out of a guilty groan, wiggling his toes beneath the covers, which at the moment felt like the only part of his body free of the restraining spells of Madam Worrell.
"Try not to aggravate your mother, James."
"Dad!" James yelped, eyes spinning in their sockets as he tried in vain to catch a glimpse of his father. "How long have you been here?"
"Long enough to realise neither of us give your mum the credit she deserves. I had no idea you were such a bad patient."
"Yeah, well I learnt from the best," James retorted grumpily. Juliette's laughter was badly stifled, and he guessed his father had pulled a face at the accusation. James smiled triumphantly.
"You gave us quite a scare, young man," Sebastian Potter said sternly, and his lined face abruptly came into view. James blinked, wincing at the dark bruising shadows beneath his father's eyes. "And that brace of yours is magically enhanced. Stop trying to set fire to it. I'd hate for you to be rescued from mad bludgers only to have you burn yourself to death."
"I wasn't –"
"You were mu-tt-er-ing," Juliette said in a sing-song voice that James scowled at.
"I was doing no such thing."
"James, I appreciate that this is all very frustrating. But that was some dark magic that damaged those bludgers enough to lose control like that. You're going to need to stay here for a while, ok?"
James grimaced at the heavy fingers that rested gently on his head, running tenderly through his hair, but he could not begrudge the anxious look in his father's eyes.
"Have you found anything yet?" he asked hopefully."
"Nothing," Sebastian grumbled. "Rob's still working on it with the others. He sent me to get some sleep."
"You're not sleeping."
"Smart arse," Sebastian grinned. "I'm glad to see all that money we spend on your education hasn't gone to waste."
"You don't pay to go to Hogwarts, dad."
"No? And who exactly buys all those books and robes and other school things for you every summer?"
James blushed ruefully.
"You really haven't found anything?"
Juliette's disembodied voice sounded disgruntled. If he looked as far to his left as possible James could just about make out her slumped frame, propped up by an excess of pillows as she fiddled with a goblet of juice.
"By the looks of it the bludgers were attracted to body heat," Sebastian said with a shrug that he did not even attempt to disguise as casual. "That's why they…"
"Kept hitting us," James finished with gritted teeth.
"Y – huh, hmm, yeah," Sebastian cleared his throat. "Once they found a uh, a mark, they attacked it until something else obstructed their path. That's why you could only help that young girl –"
"– by flying right in front of her, James."
James frowned, his lips parting but his mouth was inexplicably dry. A warm smile graced his father's troubled expression, and his fingers tightened ever so slightly in his hair.
"Your mum talked to your friends last night. They told her everything. I'd do anything to never have to see you hurt again, James. But I am proud of you."
James' smile was shaky, and unsure of his voice he mouthed a small thank you. Sebastian rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand and sniffed loudly.
"Just don't do it again," he ordered, pointing his finger close enough to James' nose to force a bemused, cross-eyed expression onto his son's face.
James blushed, and a knowing smile glittered behind his eyes.
"Ok dad," he mumbled. "I won't. I promise."
Father and son laughed nervously together. The unspoken inevitabilities lingered between them, heavy and known.
"Is everything all right with you and Remus?"
Sirius wondered briefly whether or not he could get away with pretending he hadn't heard Lily's question. Considering they were walking down an empty corridor, and she had spoken reasonably loudly, he supposed not. Instead he huffed loudly, making his reluctance to start this conversation known.
"Everything's fine, Evans. Why on earth wouldn't it be?"
"Sirius," Lily said with a blank expression that seemed to pierce Sirius' bravado all too easily. He brushed her aside with a scathing leer.
"I think you'll find Remus isn't the problem, Flower. It's your little friend Indy-Rosie that's mucking everyone around."
"She is not," Lily said indignantly. "And don't call her that."
"Excuse me?" Sirius scoffed. "Did you see her at breakfast?"
Lily braved a sideways glance at the boy. His frame was rigid with anger, and she quickly looked away for fear of being burned by his stare.
"You don't have to rise to the bait."
"Spare me," Sirius snapped, speeding up towards the Hospital Wing.
"Sirius, what else do you want me to say? Yes, India-Rose was out of line? She didn't do anything wrong. The argument was between Remus and India-Rose. You decided to involve yourself. You put yourself in the firing line."
She chased after the boy half a step behind him all the way to the doors of the Hospital Wing, where students were milling impatiently, anxious to be allowed inside. Sirius opened his mouth to speak, but Lily's raised eyebrows shut him up promptly.
They share their awkward anticipation as they listen to a group of Hufflepuff seventh years discussing their friend Isobel Cole, the Hufflepuff Seeker whom Lily remembered seeing hit the ground hard in a flurry of yellow and black as her broom sped up into the sky without her.
Biting her lips together hard, Lily closed her ears to the rest of their conversation as the Hospital Wing doors opened and Madam Worrell appeared, looking harassed.
"Now, I understand you are all very anxious to see your friends, but I cannot emphasise enough to each and every one of you the importance of calm and peaceful quiet, do you understand me?"
As one, the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs nodded eagerly. Lily startled at a hand wrapping gently around her elbow, and turned to see a fleeting moment of something guilty and apologetic in Sirius' expression. The expression was soon lost, but his hand stayed soft and firm on her arm.
"You will have half an hour, and by that I mean thirty minutes," she stressed with a stern eye. Sirius glanced down at his shoes, hiding the twitch of a smirk in his face. "On you go. And be gentle, your friends are still healing."
In an eerie, bustling silence the visitors filed into the Hospital Wing, eyeing the occupied beds nervously. The serenity was stifling, and Lily wondered how their two boisterous friends had coped so long in this intense stupor.
But the spell was broken by a loud shriek of "LILY!" and much to the clucking dismay of Madam Worrell, laughter and shouting abruptly broke out among the students, both the visiting and visited alike. Lily rushed to Juliette, mindful of her friend's right arm as she buried her face in the girl's matted dark curls.
"You crazy girl," Lily cried, relief flooding her expression. "I can't believe –"
"Oh, stop it," Juliette cut in with an impatient scowl. "You're going to sound like James if you finish that sentence, and I've had it up to here with him." She waved her left hand as high above her head as she could reach, and together the girls turned to the bed next to Juliette's, where James was staring wide eyed up at his best friend as Sirius unleashed upon him torrent of furious anxiety.
Lily grinned as she noticed James' toes twitching with fright under the covers.
"He's alright," she breathed under her breath, but Juliette, spotting the redhead's eye line, choked and spluttered.
"Surely they told you that at least?"
"Oh, yes," Lily blushed under Juliette's bewildered gaze. "But I wanted to see for myself."
"He'll be fine," Juliette waved her hand airily, but Lily could read the joy in her dark eyes. "Granted he doesn't drive his mother to filicide before the week's out, that is."
"Is she still here?" Lily said abruptly, her wide eyes staring about the room as if expecting to catch Mrs Potter hiding in a corner.
"She's coming back later," Juliette replied with a curious grin. "Why? Don't tell you're afraid of big bad Jacinta Potter? Baker of apple pies and mother of the world's most spoiled Potter piglet?"
Lily admonished her friend with a look.
"Oh stop it. You can't stick up for him until you've officially kissed and made up. Which you haven't done yet, madam."
"How do you know that?"
"Because you're still talking to me. And you've had no time."
"We could've done it before the match."
"Well, not exactly. But we could have done."
"Could have done what?" Sirius barked. The two girls turned to the boys with innocent smiles. Sirius was staring with intrusive eagerness at them, while James' eyes strained to see far enough to the side, his face still pointing towards the ceiling. "You alright, Swindon?"
"Fine and dandy, Black," Juliette replied sweetly.
"Umm, James? Are you alright?" Lily asked hesitantly as James' cheeks slowly turned puce in his vain attempt to swivel his head.
"He's not allowed to move until Madam Worrell is certain the damage to his spine is fixed. He's been sulking since Saturday evening."
"I have not!" James said abruptly, and a little louder than expected. He scowled at Sirius' derisive snort. "Well, I can get rid of the brace tomorrow. Then I'm allowed to move."
"Maybe," Juliette reminded him, but the smile on her face softened with worry. She glanced pointedly at Lily, who hopped off her friend's bed as if burned by the covers and with twitchy fingers moved over to James' bed.
Sirius sidled over to Juliette's bed, his eyes never leaving the couple even as he perched awkwardly near the brunette's feet.
"Off my bed, Black."
"You can't make me."
"I can have you thrown out for disturbing my peaceful resting."
Sirius stood back up with a scowl.
"How's everyone?" Juliette asked as loudly as she dared, her eyes narrowing when Sirius refused to turn his attention from his best friend's whispered conversation. "Oi! How's Wendy? Peter? How's Remus?"
"What?" Sirius' gaze was ripped from the happy couple to glare accusingly at Juliette. "He's fine. Why would you ask that? Why wouldn't he be fine?"
"I don't know," Juliette said slowly, baffled by Sirius defensive anger. "I just haven't seen them all since Saturday morning."
"Well everyone's fine and dandy, thanks," Sirius snapped.
"Fantastic," Juliette replied icily before clamping her mouth shut, turning instead to stare at the empty bed at the end of the row where Hufflepuff's Chaser had previously slept, now freshly made as if it had never been occupied.
"They'll run out of things to argue about one day," Lily whispered to James. She was kneeling on the floor so they could speak in undertones, aware of Sirius' watchful eye but determined not to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging him.
"One day," James rolled his eyes with a smile. "When we're all old and grey and one of them dies mid argument. Yeah, maybe then."
"Are you sure? What if they come back as ghosts just to keep arguing?"
"Don't even say it," James begged, groaning under his breath.
Lily shifted higher onto her knees, leaning up and meeting his eye. Her smile was bright and warm and right there. James smiled back, grateful when she reached to wrap both her hands around one of his.
"I was thinking we could try again," Lily said abruptly. Her smile was still bright, still confident, but a worry line creased her forehead.
She ducked her head when James' smile widened, and a lock of dark red hair fell from behind her ear and dangled in front of her face. Unwilling to let go of James' hands, Lily blew it out of the way, only for it to fall back again.
"I know it's a boyfriend's prerogative to do nice things like fix your hair," James said with a guilty smirk. "But Madam Worrell's kind of charmed the brace to stop me moving anything above my knees."
Lily's laughter was loud and welcome.
"Well, aren't you the romantic," she said with a grin, tucking her hair back behind her ear with one hand and with the other squeezing his fingers, which just about managed to wiggle back into her palm. "I know it's a girlfriend's prerogative to do nice things like kiss you better," Lily continued. "But I might get thrown out of the Hospital Wing by Madam Worrell for overexciting one of her patients –"
"Is that Sirius making gagging noises?" James interrupted, cringing.
Lily glanced over her shoulder, and when she turned back her cheeks were bright red.
"No, that's Juliette. Sirius is making, umm, gestures."
"Maybe one day they'll get married. Then they can just argue in the isolation of their own home."
"You're going to have to talk to me eventually, you know."
"Don't be so sure about that India-Rose Norrell."
Remus' lips twitched into a mischievous smile as he spoke, but his eyes remained stubbornly grave as he glanced sideways at his girlfriend, who was making no attempt to conceal her lack of productivity, quills scattered across the table and wand forgotten beneath several sheets of blotted parchment.
India-Rose rolled her eyes with a scowl.
"Someone has to stick up for you against that pig-headed-"
"What is your problem, India-Rose?" Remus hissed, his eyes flashing dangerously as the librarian Madam Switt stalked up and down the bookshelves, the click of her heels slow and sharp in the near silence. "You've never had a problem with Sirius before. Not like this. You need to stop being absolutely ridiculous-"
"I know, I know," India-Rose huffed. "But I never noticed how, how self centred he is. I don't know how you put up with him. Or why?"
"For the love of Merlin, India-Rose. You're starting to sound like Juliette."
"Juliette?" India-Rose growled under her breath. "Juli – Remus, you know, it's not entirely out of the realms of possibility that I care about you enough to argue with you. That maybe I want what's best for you. You, and not your friends. Is that ok?"
"Can we just agree to disagree on this one, India-Rose? I will argue with Sirius in my own time if I feel the need arises. I promise you."
The resignation on India-Rose's face, her flushed cheeks and bright eyes alive and beautiful, gripped something deep in Remus' chest. He could see, more clearly than her anger and frustration, a hard love that he'd been trying very hard to ignore for some time. It seemed every time he tried to delay that shuttering, childlike panic he felt under the stare this girl's sapphire eyes, it grew only stronger.
For a moment he wanted to tell her the truth. He could feel the words on the tip of his tongue, just how much he loved her.
But her eyes returned to her essay. The weight of the full moon's approach weighed his own gaze downwards, too, and he remained silent.
If it could be said that one good thing had come of Saturday's Quidditch match (not that anyone dared to voice such a notion) it was that a strange new togetherness now bonded the Gryffindors and the Hufflepuffs. They were connected, now, by the horrors of tragedy, and while like all house alliances within Hogwarts' walls it would no doubt last less than a few weeks, in the still fresh wake of the incident both parties felt the pull of mutual victimisation acutely.
In light of this generally accepted friendship between the two houses, Peter found it much easier to walk boldly towards a small girl, her face hiding behind locks of dirty blonde hair, and take a seat beside her with a friendly smile.
"Hello," he said.
"Hello," Ruth Saldana replied meekly, looking around as if worried they were being watched. "How are you?"
"Ok. Yeah, I'm ok, thanks. What about you?" Peter cursed inwardly at how breathless he sounded, and tried to press down his nerves by clenching his fists on the tops of his thighs. It was difficult to keep calm, however, because he could feel Sirius' eyes watching him the desk nearest to the window, where he sat alone.
"Good. Yes. Thanks. Much better."
"That's good," Peter smiled encouragingly, and was rewarded with a smile from the girl as she blushed and fiddled with her quill. "Were you at the match on Saturday?"
"No, no I wasn't." She looked pleased at this. "How's your friend James? He was one of the ones that was hurt, wasn't he?"
Ruth looked briefly embarrassed, as if afraid of upsetting Peter, but he kept his smile and thought back to only an hour earlier, when he'd managed to get into the Hospital Wing with Lizzie and see both his best friend and Juliette looking equally weary but, thankfully, pain-free.
"Yes, he was. He's getting better, though. Bored with the Hospital Wing already, I think. Did you manage to do the essay?"
Ruth shrugged half heartedly, running her index finger over the scribbles of her essay. "It was easy enough."
"I still haven't got the hang of potency charms. I wrote the essay, but I still don't really get it." His self-deprecating smile pulled a gentle laugh from Ruth's lips, and she glanced at his essay, which was half a roll of parchment shorter than her own. Her laughter stirred something in Peter, a braveness not easily conjured, and he steeled his nerves. "Ruth," he said firmly, capturing her complete and silent attention. Her smile faltered, but did not leave her entirely. "Would you please, if you like, go to Hogsmeade with me on the next weekend trip?
For the briefest of moments the air around Peter's head crackled and deafened him, the rumbling roar of regret and humiliation shook the room, which began to spin, it was all clear now, he'd misinterpreted her all along, her smile was pitying, she wasn't interested, of course, how silly of him, how could possibly think –
"I'd love to," Ruth said, hesitant eagerness bursting from her, sweeter than her laugh.
She grinned at his bafflement.
"I really would."
Her nod was more reassuring than Peter could have possibly hoped for. He scratched a hand through his sandy hair, awkwardly excited.
"Well, that's great. Yeah. Great."
Emboldened by his request, and by her own answer, Ruth's voice strengthened. She looked even prettier in her newfound confidence.
"Have you heard about the new café that's opening up the high street in Hogsmeade? It's supposed to be quite nice. We could go there if you like?"
As he replied, an unfamiliar fluttering sensation in his stomach, Peter glanced momentarily over Ruth's shoulder to see Sirius still watching. His smirk was as wide and conceited as ever, and he looked ready to laugh. But Peter could sense his sincerity when he nodded proudly at him, throwing him a brief thumbs up before returning his eyes to the front of the class, where Professor Flitwick was getting ready to begin the lesson.