I didn't invite him in. I didn't trust myself: the urge to lay into him and tell him he was an eejit was still too great. So I kept him in the corridor, at the door, ill at ease.
"I'm really sorry." He truly was; given a few days to calm down, he'd realized how stupid it all was, and to his credit he met my eyes. "I just didn't think, I was so angry...."
"About what?" I asked him quietly.
"What," I said patiently, "were the two of you arguing about, that it got so out of hand?"
Now he blushed, and his eyes dropped to the floor; a lock of untidy hair fell across his forehead. "I don't think I ought... I mean, it was a private matter. If Snape wants to tell you, fine... probably will, in fact, since I behaved so badly...."
Terrific. Now you decide to exercise discretion.
I let it drop, even though I was dying to know; I knew there was no way I would get Snape to talk about it.
"We can't afford this, Sirius," I told him firmly. "Whatever it was, it's not worth putting the well-being of the two of you at risk."
"I disagree," he shot back. "Look, I wouldn't be much of a friend if I --"
"No," I reiterated. "You know far better than I what's at stake here, Sirius. Whatever it is, set it aside for now, all right? We need both of you at top form and able to cooperate with each other."
He grudgingly agreed, and I looked at him for a long, assessing moment.
"I suppose an apology to Snape is out of the --"
"Shit, you've already asked for the moon, Miranda -- don't ask for the bloody stars, too. I can't do that." He was matter-of-fact and, for once, totally serious.
I sighed. "Can I tell him you regret the outburst in the staff room, at least?"
"If you like. It makes no difference to me."
And, sadly, I could see that it didn't. I hadn't thought Black could go much lower in my estimation, but he'd managed it.
"All right, then." I pushed myself off the door jamb. "Thanks for stopping by, I know it wasn't easy for you--"
"Miranda --" he halted me before I closed the door. "Can I -- I mean, can we -- oh, shit," he muttered, and ran a hand through his hair in a gesture so like Snape's -- despite the difference in "Valentine's" colouring -- that it made me shiver. "Look, I know I don't deserve this, but I'd really like to... to get back to where we were at the end of term."
I'd been happy for his friendship last year. After he'd figured out that I wasn't comfortable with overt flirting, Sirius had backtracked and we'd managed a nice, companionable relationship by late last spring. Nothing romantic, just friends.
The past few days, however, had made me re-assess it. He'd clearly been taking advantage of his alter-ego, Jonson, to express interest in me -- and not because he actually was interested romantically, but simply to get Snape's goat -- trying to use me in nearly the same way he'd implied Snape had manipulated him.
I really, really didn't appreciate that, either on my own account or Snape's.
"I think," I said tentatively, "that eventually we might be good friends again. But it's going to take me time to trust you again. And you're going to have to accept that there are areas of my life that are not open to interference."
He stared at me grimly.
"It's him, isn't it? You're fascinated with him."
I cut him off with a look.
"It's really none of your business, Sirius. You are not responsible for anyone's behavior but your own, and that's quite enough for one person to deal with."
"He'll hurt you, you know, just like he did last year. He always has --"
"Last year," I said firmly, "was a set-up." I took some satisfaction from his astonishment, and then continued. "Dumbledore arranged it, from the start of the year to the end, so word of Snape's misbehavior would get back to -- to certain people."
"So the two of you were acting --?"
"But something's happened since then," he blurted out, eyes narrowed. "I know, I can sense it --"
"Something, yes, though I'm damned if I know what for certain, or where it's going. But I want to find out."
"How can you --? Miranda," he said almost desperately, "he's no good. I can't watch you walk into the biggest mistake of your life."
The situation was so similar to the one last winter, when Snape had warned me off Black, that it was very nearly laughable.
"You can. I'm a big girl, Sirius. And at any rate, it may come to nothing at all." I shrugged. "He may get himself killed, or," I smiled at him, "I might come to my senses. All I know is, it's something I need to give a chance."
"Why? I mean besides the... obvious reasons. I'm not totally unaware those might exist, no matter what I think of the greasy git," he added bitterly. "Why give him the chance to hurt you -- and bloody hell, Miranda, I'm not joking, he will."
It took me a long time to answer him: I'd never really thought it through in a way I could express in words.
"Because he makes me feel alive." I looked up and caught his eyes, and gave it to him straight. "Totally, mentally alive, never mind the physical aspect. And I haven't felt that for a very, very long time," I admitted.
He finally gave up, but belligerantly. "You'll regret it."
"I doubt it. I usually regret the things I don't pursue, particularly when it comes to relationships. I had to fight like hell to get Ian and I struggled to make a good life for him, but I don't regret it."
"Really? Even though it's turned out so badly?" He had the grace to blush -- again.
Shite, the man really is tactless. And dense.
"Sirius, I hate that I lost him -- it still hurts like hell. And the sad thing is, I almost didn't come back here because I was terrified he'd be hurt in all this mess, and I thought I could protect him from that," I admitted, "and then he dies in a bloody car accident in my own world, something I had absolutely no control over.
"But I wouldn't part with the pain of it, if it meant I had one second less with him," I added softly.
His eyes softened, and he relaxed infinitesimally. "I can't imagine that. I mean, I'd be horrified if anything happened to Harry -- I'm terrified that something will, but -- he's not really mine...."
"Yes, he is. That kind of love has nothing to do with blood. Albus Dumbledore knew that -- that's why he walked into that ambush. Because he loved each and every one of us. Even," I said with little regard to subtlety, "the most apparently unlovable."
Black shot me a dirty look -- he was amazingly perceptive today, idiotic, tactless comments notwithstanding -- but kept his mouth shut.
"Sorry." I grinned at him outright. "You didn't come here for a philosophical lecture on Agape, and I didn't intend to give one."
"Evidently I can use it," he muttered. "Between you and Minerva reading me the riot act...."
"Sirius, you need to think about what message your behavior is sending to Harry," I advised gently. "I know you feel you have reasons for hating Snape, but it's not good for Harry to see you so antagonistic, or for him to base his perceptions of people on yours. What would you have done had he believed everything other people said about you?"
He raised pained eyes to mine. "This guardian thing is really difficult. The matey stuff is easy, but...."
"I know. You have to grow up very, very fast, when you've another person to protect and consider all of a sudden. It changes your life entirely. Neither one of us had the advantage of having them early on, and the mistakes you make this late in the game can be quite harmful."
I sympathised with him, I truly did. I remembered all too vividly the terror I'd felt when I realized, all too suddenly and out of the blue, that I had the responsibility for another human being. And there'd been no choice in the matter: Ian was my blood, and leaving him to the mercies of Social Services wasn't an option -- not when I could give him love, if not the newest clothes or coolest toys. I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that the love I gave and received made it much easier, either -- I'm not that altruistic; I had desperately loved my vocation, and having to switch to something "sensible" had hurt terribly.
But I'd had to accept it and grow up, and bite my tongue on the rare occasions when Ian wanted to talk about his father -- possibly the one person in the world that I honestly wished ill, and would have cheerfully made suffer, had it been in my power. There were perfectly good explanations why I hated Dennis Neill so; but I couldn't in good conscience use those as an excuse -- for behaving immaturely, for not doing my best for Ian, or for feeding the bitterness that the whole situation roused in me.
Sirius, unfortunately, hadn't thought through it to that point, I don't think.
He drew in a long breath, and let it out before he spoke again. "I won't promise you I'll be best mates with Snape, but I'll try to be civil."
"That'll do. And don't worry about me, Sirius. There --" I gave him a gentle shove on the shoulder. "The gong's rung. Go get some supper."
He hesitated. "You coming?"
"Not tonight, too much marking. I'll grab a sandwich."
He pushed off from the wall, but didn't move away. "I'll be here, you know -- if I don't get myself killed, too. If you need me...."
"I know, and I'm glad. Friends are precious these days."
After another searching look at my face, he slouched off down the corridor toward the Great Hall.
Shite. Dense, stubborn, bloody-minded Gryffindor --
I stopped myself in mid-curse; I sounded like Snape, although a much milder version.
Dense, stubborn, bloody-minded Sirius Black.
There. That was better.
But still --
I was right in my prediction of her popularity this year, though not necessarily the motivation. She was tutoring him even more intensely than usual, in Potions.
He came by one evening to apologise for not resuming our walks.
"It's just, with my low marks in Potions and all..." he explained, embarrassed.
I laughed at him -- couldn't help it. "I know, Neville. It's all right -- I still can't push myself too much. No, I'm fine," I assured him. "I just have to be careful about too much physical exertion. And I'm glad you're working on Potions. Any particular reason?"
Interested in Granger, perhaps?
"Madam Pomfrey sat me down before the end of term and we talked about what I'd like to do, after I Leave," he said. "And I think I'd like to study medicine. Maybe not become a Mediwizard, but there's a Psychology Department at St. Mungo's, and I think I'd like to look at that."
Oh, good work, Poppy.
"I think that's a very good option for you," I said thoughtfully. "You're a good listener, and you have great empathy for others."
He flushed at the compliment. "Anyway, I wanted to let you know I hadn't forgotten you. I'm just... busy. I have a lot to make up before the end of the year, so I can concentrate on the NEWTs next year."
"I'd hardly think you'd forgotten me, not after such a beautiful gift. Your gran's asked me to visit at Yule, you know, and I think I'll accept -- we'll have time to catch up then. And you know where I am if you need to talk in the meantime."
He nodded and smiled. "Good. Well, I -- I'm going to be late -- I'm supposed to meet Hermione in the library."
And he leaned down and put a gentle kiss on my cheek before turning and walking away, down the corridor. None of the awkward, puppyish exuberance of last year.
It was a goodbye, of sorts. He didn't need me as a mentor or counsellor, not anymore. We'd have a new kind of relationship to build, come Yule.
I watched him for a very long time, until he'd disappeared from sight. And then I curled up on the sofa and let myself indulge in sniffles for a few minutes.
It might have been that he'd become a surrogate for Ian, I suppose. And God knows I'd like to think Ian would have grown to be as kind and mature as Neville was becoming. But on the whole, I think it was simply that I'd miss him -- far sooner than expected.
I don't know precisely when I'd gone so soft last year -- in general, not only with Neville. But, oddly enough, I didn't seem to mind it.
What, you thought my life -- a teacher's life -- was exciting? Sorry.
The fact is, it's very boring and mundane, most of the time. The only real difference between teaching Muggles and Magicals is trying to break up the occasional fight in the corridor: instead of fists, the little buggers use hexes and wands.
I was usually able to break them up by bellowing and the copious taking of points -- from all in the general vicinity, not just the active participants. But the third time I'd tried that last year, someone's wand had accidentally jerked my way and I'd gotten hexed myself.
It had been around Easter -- Oestre, that is, as was celebrated at Hogwarts. (It wasn't a Slytherin, by the way, but oddly a Hufflepuff, Nicholas Hughes.) Hufflepuffs tended to use the more innocuous hexes -- thankfully. Hughes had been very apologetic, but that hadn't helped my temper when Poppy told me I'd have to wait a few days for the rabbit ears to dissolve.
It could've been worse, I suppose. He could have hexed me asses' ears, like Bottom's. At least rabbit ears were relatively small.
Albus had roared with laughter (privately, of course -- hexing a teacher, even accidentally, was a serious offence): he'd given himself a hiccoughing fit and embarassed me to tears, for which he had apologised profusely (through chuckles), and had plied me with sweets and hot tea. He'd also bribed the Kitchen Elves to serve me a salad at supper, to the vast amusement of the High Table -- they'd all been hexed by students at one time or another, so I was now officially initiated into the faculty, as I couldn't hide Hughes' rabbit ears, unlike the boils Malfoy had inflicted on me in class. (I know the salad was Albus' doing because I threatened the information out of Winky later. Specifically -- just in case you think I'd use strong-arm tactics on the Elves -- I threatened to give her a piece of clothing.)
Thank God I'd had the sense not to tell Albus about the tail that accompanied the ears.
Two days after that, in the Staff Room, Snape had coolly deposited a little metal atomiser on the table at my elbow.
"What is that?" I asked, forcing him to halt and turn back to me. (We were still in the midst of our "estrangement.")
"A fight deterrant," he'd said coldly. "Do try to avoid spraying yourself instead of the participants."
"You expect me to pepper-spray students?" I said in outrage -- and felt "my" ears give an involuntary, indignant twitch.
He noticed, damn him, and nearly laughed in my face; one corner of his mouth spasmed before he got control of himself.
"It's the Potions equivalent of Stupefy," he retorted impatiently. "And it's Headmaster who expects it of you, as he requested it. It's a matter of complete indifference to me whether you use it or not." And he swept away.
So just to satisfy Headmaster, I'd taken to keeping it in the pocket of my teaching robes. I hadn't had it with me that night out in the folly, damn it -- I'd left my robes in my rooms (not that I could have gotten close enough to Barrett to have used it). I didn't really need it for hall patrol: embarassment usually worked wonderfully with snoggers, and points with everyone else.
I'd actually had to use it once last year, and only once. I have to admit that seeing the bloodthirsty little buggers hit the ground was intensely satisfying, especially as one of them was Crabbe. Cruel of me, I know, but I wasn't willing to put myself in harms' way again, not for a corridor fight. That bloody tail had smarted until it finally fell off.
After that word got 'round, and there were far fewer hexes thrown in my classroom corridor. Far more peaceful. Boring, but peaceful. But I kept the atomiser in my robes pocket, just in case.
I little thought I'd be tempted to use the spray again -- or upon whom.
It was Potter and Ron Weasley. Weasley's face was flushed and contorted into a sneer; Potter was white as a sheet but obviously equally angry, eyes blazing. They were facing off, and I caught the tail end of the argument.
"-- no, the Boy Who Bloody Lived wouldn't understand, would he?" Weasley was throwing at him. "Not you. Bloody great heaps of Galleons in Gringotts' and everyone falling over themselves to suck up to you. You don't know how easy you've had it, Harry -- whining about the Dursleys and your parents, when everyone goes out of the way to make things easy for you. I'd give anything, sometimes, to have your problems, you know that? And then you have the stones to treat 'Mione and me like bloody peons and snap at us all the time --"
Potter went even whiter, if possible, and his eyes blazed -- not entirely naturally, I was terrified to note.
And then he did the unthinkable: he drew his wand on Weasley and started to snarl, "Cr--"
"Potter --" I managed to yell before he could finish the hex, and fumbled frantically in my pocket for the atomiser.
He swung 'round to face me -- pointing the wand directly at me in the process -- and glared at me, and I felt roils of power coming off him, just as I sometimes had with Albus. Just as I had with Ian at those times when, during a fit, he hadn't seemed to recognise me.
And then it passed. Potter shook his head suddenly, and stared at me, shocked; his wand arm dropped, and he twisted to look at Weasley.
"Gods, Ron, I'm sorry --" he said faintly.
Weasley had gone white, and his lips worked for a moment before he could speak.
"Stay away from me," he finally managed, voice acid-laced. "I can't believe you almost.... Just stay the fuck away from me --"
"That's enough, Mr Weasley," I cut him off sharply. And then became aware of the rest of the class crammed into the doorway, watching avidly.
"Back inside," I instructed them, and they complied -- except for Granger, who ignored me and stepped into the hall.
"Harry, what --" she said, bewildered.
"That means you as well, Miss Granger," I ordered. "And shut the door behind you."
She was longing to retort, but bit it back and did as I told her with another anxious look at the boys.
"I think, Mr Potter," I said softly, doing my best to control any tremor in my voice, "that I should take that, for the time being." Meaning his wand.
You don't do that lightly to a wizard, even a student. I knew that even without being told.
He flushed and handed it to me, hilt first: it trembled in my hand as I slipped it into my pocket.
"You saw it, didn't you, Professor?" Weasley started to attack verbally. "He --"
"Shut up, Ron," I said tiredly. "I also heard what preceeded it."
"50 points from Gryffindor, on both your accounts. And I want you to go directly to the Infirmary and tell your mother precisely what happened, and your exact words to Mr Potter -- including that last warning. Don't think I won't check with her regarding your honesty."
He paled again: it was probably the worst thing I could have done to him (I was betting Molly would resort to mouth-washing with soap, after a verbal lashing). He spun on his heel and took off.
"Mr Potter, you are to go directly to my office and wait there, and we will discuss the matter after I've finished class."
He was close to tears.
"We're going over Unit 8. Review that in the meantime, and I'll give you the assignment later," I said quietly, and with a nod he walked down the corridor and entered my office, quietly shutting the door.
I returned to the classroom and went back to my desk, preparing to take the roll with shaking hands.
"For future reference," I said dryly, to cover my distress, "and since none of you seem to have figured this out yet, the best thing to do when people are involved in a fight -- other than safely disarming the opponents -- is to restrain your curiosity and stay out of the way. Unless you want to be hexed. And I know that from personal experience, not that Professor Moody wouldn't tell you the same."
There were a few nervous giggles from the group as they remembered me teaching with bunny ears last spring.
Back to BNW Index
My apologies to Nick Hughes for appropriating his name; it's just so... British. (So is he -- Devon.)
'He could have hexed me asses' ears, like Bottom's': see Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare.
The Stupefy spray is entirely the fault of Redone, who mused to me in an email about how Miranda might defend herself against nasties like Lucius Malfoy. (I think she was hoping MH would whip out a gun and off someone: sorry, Red. ;) I'm liable to make the strangest things of thoughts like that.)
R.J. Anderson has speculated that Harry is rather deeply influenced by Voldemort in OotP, and I concur -- and it's quite clear, given that we see Harry's POV, that his attitude toward Ron and Hermione is markedly worse than it was previously. Is it bad enough to make Ron finally fly off the handle? In canon Ron and Hermione both seem fairly solicitous and deferent, but Ron has a temper -- so I think it's possible that given the right provocation, he might.