I hobbled through the corridors with James's arm tucked beneath my arm pit, doing his best to keep me from crumbling under the soreness I felt. The quidditch team followed us for a while, but then decided it was best that they all huddled in the common room instead of joining us on our quest to McGonagall's office. The walk was quiet for the most part, apart from my occasional whimper. I felt that the silence between us made James somewhat uncomfortable.
"So," he began, trying to break up the quietness with meaningless conversation, "you trained dragons?" I wrinkled my forehead and almost said 'What?' like I had no idea of what he was talking about. But then I remembered, that was my story I told whoever came asking, but I didn't recall ever telling James.
"Who told you that?" I asked. He shrugged.
"It's just what everyone is saying. It's quite impressive actually," he said raising his eyebrows, a hint of disbelief in his voice. I could tell he was trying to weasel the truth out of me. I was surprised he did not already know the truth. He and Sirius were best friends after all, and I imagined they gossiped worse than a couple of twelve-year-old girls. I had honestly assumed that Sirius had divulged my secret to him, but then it occurred to me. My secret was not his to tell.
"Well that is far from the truth," I said calmly, not anxious about disclosing who I was to one of my best friends. James chuckled and waited for me to tell him the real story about my arrival.
We approached McGonagall's office at the tail end of my saga. James nodded, but then looked at me, puzzled. "The Room of Requirement?" He asked as he furrowed his brow. I laughed. He was just like Sirius.
We walked in and McGonagall was sitting behind her desk grading essays with Sirius beside her writing lines, his face inches away from the paper. She looked up quickly, her reading glasses perched at the very tip of her nose. She placed her quill down gently and touched Sirius on the shoulder, pulling his attention away from his prescribed punishment.
"Mr. Black, I think that will be enough for today. You may go," She said, her face stony and unflinching. Sirius got up and walked toward us, giving me a kiss on the cheek. He grabbed my hand as he headed toward the exit, but I pulled away from him.
"I need to talk to the professor, if you don't mind," I said meekly. Sirius nodded.
"We'll wait for you," he said, and he and James turned the corner out of sight. Professor McGonagall took her glasses from her face and placed them neatly on her desk. She clasped her hands together and looked at me.
"Would you like to have a seat, Miss Horsefeather?" She inquired sweetly.
"Standing is fine, thank you," I said, not wanting to cause my body too much strain by sitting down and then standing up again. The soreness did not bother me as long as I stood still.
"How are you feeling? You had a nasty fall."
"It wasn't the fall that hurt the most," I said, rubbing my ribs. And indeed it wasn't. The physical bruises were not what pained me the most. It was the fact that Zephyros had won that battle, and even though he was in the hospital wing with a broken face and antler stumps, he wiped his filthy feet on my dignity and landed my boyfriend in a week's worth of detention. "I need to talk to you about something, Professor." McGonagall pursed her lips. "It's about Zephyros Horsefeather, the boy that Sirius—" I cut myself off.
"Yes, I know of Zephyros. One of your relatives, I presume?" I was having a hard time trying to figure out how to explain the situation to her.
"Yes, we are related," I said, fidgeting with the seam of my shirt. I decided to just say it. "He's my father." I expected McGonagall to have a surprised look on her face or fall out of her chair. It seemed remarkable to me, but her appearance told me otherwise.
"I'm afraid I expected this," she said coolly. "He doesn't know about your—" she hesitated for a moment, "condition?" I shook my head. She breathed a small sigh of relief. "Well let's try and keep it that way. Who knows what repercussions may follow if he, or any other Slytherins for that matter, know exactly who you are. I suppose your dragon training alibi will work nicely to keep those of questionable trustworthiness in the dark." She picked up her reading glasses and placed them at the end of her nose. "Is that all, Miss Horsefeather?" she said as she picked up her quill and began to rifle through the papers on her desk, trying to find the spot where she left off. I bit my lip.
"Well, about Sirius," I said hesitantly. She peered at me from the top of her glasses. "A whole week's worth of detention? He was only defending me. Zephyros said some really nasty things," I said, trying to build a defense. I hadn't actually known the things Zephyros had said to Sirius, but if it came out of that filthy mouth, it most likely was not kind. "He egged him on, Professor." McGonagall put her quill down once more.
"That does not give him the right to attack another student and," she paused in order to find the right combination of words, "alter his appearance. I am sorry if you think I am too harsh, but the punishment stands. Every night this week, no exceptions."
I began to protest. "What about Zephyros? He deserves a punishment too!" Although having everyone at the match see your face bloodied up and antlers spurt from your head may have been punishment enough. McGonagall breathed in deeply, trying to keep her temper from boiling over.
"I do not have grounds to punish a Slytherin student. That responsibility lies with the Slytherin Head of House. If you wish, you may consult Professor Slughorn on the matter, but I cannot do anything outside of the Gryfinndor house." She turned her attention back to the papers. "Is there anything else?" She asked, trying not to sound impatient.
"No, Professor," I mumbled, and I turned to walk out of the classroom.
James and Sirius were waiting right outside of the classroom, laughing and joking. A scowl was plastered upon my face as the soreness returned to my body. Sirius grabbed my arm as we walked toward the Great Hall for dinner.
"Don't look so sour," he said cheerfully. "You don't have to spend every night in detention." I might as well have. A night spent without Sirius was boring and lonely. It was as if he had read my mind. "You won't be lonely. James, Remus, and Peter will keep you company," he said as he nearly skipped down the corridor. "I'm just glad to be out of there for the evening. I'm starving!"
Most of the evening meal was spent with the four boys reminiscing about jokes past, and I scooted food along my plate with a fork, not as hungry as I usually was. The one good thing about dinner was that the pair of eyes that normally rested upon me from the Slytherin table was absent. Sirius noticed that my mood was sullen and he came close to whisper in my ear.
"How about a late night lesson?" He said suggestively with a wink. A smile crept across my face as I imagined being alone with him in the Room of Requirement again. It had become my new favorite place in the whole castle. Sirius knew exactly how to lift my dampened spirits.
We entered the common room to a chaotic scene. Loud music was blaring from every corner and the fireplace was surrounded by Gryffindors drinking butterbeer and eating assorted candies and snacks. We walked into the group and many people hovered around James and me, congratulating us and patting us on the back. The soreness in my body had mostly dissipated, but the multiple congratulatory slaps I received still made me wince.
"That was a bloody good game you played, Horsefeather!" One boy said, probably a fourth year.
"Yeah!" Another one joined in. "You were flying circles around those daft Slytherins!" I felt pride well up inside me. People came up to me in the common room I had never met before, and they were happy to be around me. It was a feeling I had never had the pleasure of experiencing.
"Have a butterbeer!" A girl from my own year shoved a mug into my hands. It was Lily and her smile nearly lit up the whole room. I felt James tense up beside me. I looked at him as I raised the glass to my lips. He was staring at Lily. I nudged him out of his stupor.
"Go talk to her!" I said, elbowing him in her direction as she talked to a few friends. He shook his head.
"She can't stand me," he said, rocking back and forth on his heels.
"Just go do it!" I pushed him hard and he stumbled over to her. I saw her face harden as he approached her. He began to speak and then Lily walked off, steaming. I felt bad for him as he looked over at me. Then Sirius clapped him on the back and poured something in his mug with a very secretive look in his eye and handed it to James. James's face lit up as he took a big swig of the glass. I knew immediately what Sirius was up to. I walked over to him with my hands on my hips.
"You're going to get us all in trouble!" I said, snatching the bottle of firewhiskey from his grip.
"Relax, Marilyn," he said in a cool tone. "Nobody will find out if nobody says anything. Plus, I'm saving the rest of this for later," he said with a wink as he slipped it back into his jacket pocket. I couldn't help but smile. He was so coy and attractive. The party in the common room lasted late into the night. People were still up drinking butterbeer and singing badly to the music that was playing past midnight. Some had long since gone to bed, but there were still more than enough people in the common room to keep the party going. James trotted up to Sirius and me sleepily, bidding us goodnight as he yawned. He headed up the steps to the boys dormitories and Sirius grabbed my hand and pulled me to the portrait hole. I had not forgotten about his promise of a late night lesson.
The halls were quiet as we sneaked through the silence, occasionally tiptoeing past a couple snogging in an abandoned corner. We reached the whimsical tapestry on the seventh floor and before I could even think of an ideal room for our night's work, a door had already conjured itself before me. Sirius smiled and reached for the handle, which looked different than it had the previous times we came. It was in the shape of two birds, which faced each other as they held some sort of branch in their mouths. It was quite pretty, but why had it changed from the giant silver knocker that I was accustomed to? Sirius swung the door open and I recognized that this was not the same room we held our lessons in.
"Sirius, you dog!" I said playfully. The ceiling, much like our first visit to the room, was bewitched to look like the night sky, and beneath me feet was smooth sand.
"Have you ever been to the beach before?" He asked as he took off his shoes and let sand seep between his toes. I shook my head and did the same. There was water rippling against the sand a few yards ahead of us and I ran toward it, letting it wash over my feet. It was an amazing feeling. I felt free.
"I had a feeling you did not really mean a late night lesson," I said as he joined me in the water. He grabbed my waste and pulled me into him, smiling against my lips.
"This will be the last real night we'll have together for a while," he said. "I would like to make it a good one." He kissed me softly as he held me close to him. The sound of the water crashing against our ankles was soothing as we spent another night under the starlight in each other's embraces