Everything just hurts. Bloody hell, what happened to me? I slowly open my eyes, eyes that feel like lead curtains reluctant to move a millimeter, to an almost blinding light. Geez, why would I leave the curtains open before I go to sleep? Stupid move, really.
Deciding that closing the curtains are obviously more important to me than the fact that it felt like a hippogriff was pecking at my skull, I push myself out of my bed with difficulty and make my way across the room.
I spin around.
No, not my bed.
I spin around again.
Not my room either. Where am I?
In all my spinning, my eyes catch the image in a full-length mirror to my right and I walk slowly towards it, enraptured by the reflection. Standing right before the mirror, I blink slowly. Then I tentatively clench and unclench my right hand. I take one step back. Then a step forward again until my hand touches the cool glass entirely.
I blink again.
“Who is that?”
“What are you doing? Let me in!”
“Calm down, Master Black. I warn you that entering this room would be most unadvisable right now.”
I shut my eyes tightly before opening them again. Who on earth is yelling? Why can't people just give me some peace and quiet for a second? Wait, how did I end up back in bed…? Okay, evidently, not the point here, since people are still shouting outside my door. I say this in the most polite manner I can muster: please shut up.
“Doctor Platus, you better get out of the way right now before I punch you in the—”
“Master Black, you need to understand the situation here!”
“No, let me tell you the situation! Last week, I pulled her out of that water freezing as hell and… look, you said she’d survive. Now you’re telling me I can’t even see her? What is there to understand? You’re being a complete arse about this!”
“Master Black, I understand that you are very distressed, but I strongly advise against seeing the young miss in her current state. It could be highly detrimental to her health.”
“Not only is she recovering from a near-fatal case neurogenic shock, but… well, seeing her wouldn’t do you any good either, I’ll just leave it at that, Master Black.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“She doesn’t… Master Black, I must ask you to forgive me, truly. I originally believe that her condition was due to head and neck trauma from falling almost twenty meters head-first into the water and I was monitoring her recovery over this past week. However, I am now certain that her amnesia must be augmented by some severe psychological trau—”
“You must understand that she is mentally unstable at this time. We don’t know what could possibly trigger a response.”
“The hell with that—”
“Master Black, you cannot go in there!”
“Let me go, old man!”
“She doesn’t remember you!”
The sudden voice at my bedside startles me and I look behind me for the mystery person the maid was referring to, but there’s no one else in the room. I look at the housemaid, puzzled. “I’m sorry, what?”
She smiles kindly down at me. “Miss Cecilia Vance,” she says again, less as question this time. “I brought some chamomile tea. Would you like some?”
I watch her movements as she pushes the cup towards me again. I reach for the cup with a hand that felt somewhat foreign to me and bring it to my lips. The tea travels down my throat and warms my chest. After a moment, I look up at the maid curiously. “Who were those two by the door?”
The maid smiles at me again. “Doctor Platus from St. Mungo's Hospital and Master Sirius Black.”
“Sirius Black?” I mutter, the name strange on my lips. “I wonder who he was yelling about.”
“Have you contacted her parents?”
“I wasn't able to get in touch with them while they’ve been in Romania. What are we going to do about Miss Vance's condition, Doctor Platus?”
“It's worsening. I'm afraid I'm going to have to have her admitted to St. Mungo's until we find out exactly how to help her recover or ultimately deem her, well, incurable.”
How many days have past? How many days since I've seen a stranger in my own reflection?
“Mr. Black? Mr. Black, visiting hours are over.”
“What? Oh… yeah, I’m going.”
“She looks better now.”
“Well, I'd like to think it's my being here all the time, but… yeah, nevermind, I’m leaving.”
How many days have I woken briefly, hearing this voice somewhere beside me? How many days have I wondered what kind of person would do this for me?
“How's her condition, Doctor?”
“Not better, per se, but it hasn't gotten worse.”
“I suppose any lack of bad news is good news.”
“Yes… I suppose so.”
How many days have I lay here wondering?
“Mr. Black? Visiting hours are over.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I suppose you would.”
“Guess so. Memorized the schedule by now. Well, see you, Cecilia.”
How could I have forgotten? For what reason?
I remember being in water, lunging for the surface. When did I stop trying to reach out towards life? Was it when I realized someone would come after me? Or when I decided it wasn’t worth it? I'd… like to think it was the former. I'd like to think I was—am that kind of person. A person with someone who’s there for them. And maybe I do have someone. Maybe it's that boy beside me everyday. But why can't I even remember his name? He must've meant a lot to me, or me to him. Why else would he always speak with those sad undertones? I don't understand.
I just gotta wake up somehow. Just…
“Why is everything so bloody white?” I mumble drowsily.
And why do I get the feeling that I’ve said this before…
I hear a small laugh to my right. “Maybe because you’re in St. Mungo’s hospital, you git. How many times are you going to ask that?”
My eyes open slowly to see the black-haired boy again, sitting by my bedside and looking at me with those soft grey eyes. Is it just me or do those eyes look more tired than usual?
“Right,” I say in a low voice as I push myself to a more upright position in my bed. He leans over to help me adjust my pillows and I watch him, puzzled. “Sorry, um, who are you again?”
The boy blinks in surprise and then smiles at me, almost sadly. “Sirius Black.”
I not slowly and then laugh. “Oh, right, the playboy huh?”
Sirius raises his eyebrow at my comment and says tentatively, “Yeaaahh… yeah, that’s right. How’d you figure?”
“How did I—oh!” I slap a hand over my mouth, mortified. “Sorry, that was really rude! I didn’t mean to insult you out of the blue like that.”
Note to self: don’t go around slandering people you don’t know. Probably a good life tip.
But Sirius actually bursts out laughing.
I stare at him completely bewildered for almost a minute before he finally gets the giggles out of him.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it wasn’t that funny,” he explains, still clutching his stomach. “It’s just been so long since I’ve had a good laugh, I think it all came out at once. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you apologize for calling me playboy in my life.”
My brows furrow. “So, you were someone I knew.”
He smiles again at me, a crooked grin. Somehow, it looked so familiar on his handsome face. “Am someone you know. I’m not dead yet, Cecilia,” he corrects. “And yeah, you know me alright. I’m the dastardly playboy who had too many girlfriends and annoyed the hell out of you. It’s a wonder why you wanted to forget about me.”
“Beats me.” I shrug, now a smile forming on my own face from his antics. “I can see why I gave you the nickname though. You are, like, seriously attractive.”
Sirius just gapes at me, aghast.
What, it’s the truth!
“Blimey, you have no filter,” Sirius mutters under his breath.
He had a tinge of pink on his cheeks and some part of me felt almost pleased at the reaction I got from him. Why does talking to him feel so comfortable and familiar?
He clears his throat and continues, “Well, anyway, that’s comedy gold coming from you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I raise my eyebrows.
Sirius shrugs and gives me a teasing grin. “Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
“What, do I have a pimple?”
“No, you’re bloody gorgeous that’s what.” He rolls his eyes and sighs, rubbing his temples with his thumb and index finger. “See, this is exactly the reason you were so popular among the blokes at school. You gotta cut this out.”
Sirius looks up in thought for a moment, as if debating whether to divulge this information. “Eh, well, whatever,” he concedes before continuing, “Cecilia, look, you didn’t know this, but nearly every guy in our year fancied you.”
I just stare at him as though he were mad. “Why…”
“Hear me out,” Sirius cuts in, now looking thoroughly amused. “You don’t remember this and even if you did, you’d still be completely oblivious, but you are seriously a catch. You’re mad pretty but you don’t even realize it. You’re bloody amazing at Quidditch. You’re smart, witty, basically nice to bloody everyone, and, to top it all off, you’re chill and really easy to talk to about anything.”
My face instantly turns a bright red. “You’re lying. You’re just talking me up because I can’t remember.”
Sirius leans back on the back two legs of his chair. “Nope, completely serious. If it weren’t for me, blokes would be lining up to date you.”
“If it weren’t for you?” I repeat slowly.
It seems that Sirius also just realized what he said because he falls back on to all four legs of his chair with a loud bang. He winces but continues unabashed, “Uh, yeah, we were a little more than—actually, nevermind, I’ll just leave it at that.”
“What, hey, you can’t do that!”
He sticks his tongue at me childishly. “Sure can. You’ll find out what we are when you get your memories back. All the more reason for you to work hard at it, eh?”
I sink back into my pillows with a pout. “You troll. Bribing me to work harder this when you know full well that I can’t help it! Who knows how long it’s going to take?” I sigh exasperatedly before pausing in thought. “Wait, how long have I been sleeping here anyway?”
Sirius tilts his head side to side. “About half a month, I’d say,” he decides to answer. “I wouldn’t worry too much about school though. You’ve always been ahead of the class anyway.”
“HALF A MONTH?!” I exclaim, appalled.
No bloody way. I’ve been lying here like a log for fifteen days already? This is ridiculous!
“So you’ve been here ever since I was admitted?” I ask him, trying to distract my mind from the absurdity of it all.
Sirius just shrugs and rubs the back of his neck with his left hand. “Yeah, pretty much, I guess.”
It’s at this point that I realize that his other hand was holding mine. It felt strangely comfortable just letting my hand sit there on my sheets, fingers intertwined with his. How did I not notice? Has he been holding my hand all this time? Despite the fact that he was still a stranger to me, I start to feel a blush rise in my cheeks.
“Don’t you have school yourself then?” I reply hastily, willing my blush to subside before he notices. “You must be at least a fifth year. Don’t you have to study for your O.W.L.’s?”
Evidently, he did notice because he tightens his hand around my own before replying, “Nah, staying with you is more important. Plus, I’m a genius, I don’t need to study.”
“You’re… kind of a narcissist aren’t you?”
“Oi!” But he can make some witty retort, we hear a loud commotion from the other side of the door to my hospital room. I strain my ears, intrigued.
“Are you sure this is the room?”
“Er, yeah, 7B right? Or was it 11B…”
“If you weren’t flirting with the receptionist and actually paying attention, we wouldn’t be having this problem, James!”
Sirius raises an eyebrow and gets up from his chair to move to the door.
“Cut it out, you two. We’re in a hospital ward.”
“Tell that to James bloody Potter!”
“Aw, c’mon, Lil. I’m sorry okay? Here, gimme a ki—”
With an amused eye roll at me, Sirius finally opens the door. “What’re you lot doing here?”
A messy-haired boy beams up at him from his place in what looks like a rather painful armlock by a girl with fiery red hair. “Sirius!” he exclaims. “See, Lil, I did get it right!”
Lil, short for Lily I assume, lets go of the boy huffily. “Small achievement,” she grumbles. “I’m still mad at you for flirting with that receptionist, James!”
“Aww, don’t be like that.” James grins at her. “Or be like that. I can’t decide which I like more, you jealous or you not hitting me.”
Lily glowers at him, but Sirius just rolls his eyes again. “Get a room, you two.”
As the small group of people file in and crowd around my bed, I look curiously around at them. Apart from Lily and James, there were two other people I didn’t recognize (well, considering my condition, I’m not all that surprised). A small mousy boy fidgeted by the door, but the one who actually caught my eye was a boy by my right with chestnut-brown hair. He smiled gently when he caught me staring at him.
But before I can open my mouth to say something to him, something, or someone, hurls themselves onto my bed and completely knocks the wind out of me. I open my mouth to yelp in surprise, but only get a mouthful of blazing red hair.
“Blimey, Lil,” the boy called James laughs in surprise.
Lily, however, was bawling and wailing her head off as she hugged me around the neck and cried into my shirt. “Cecilia, I’m so sorry, I can’t believe this happened to you! I’ve missed you so much at school! We had so much to catch up on after the holidays, but now you’re… you’re…!” She bursts into tears again.
The messy-haired boy behind her reaches for her hand and squeezes it tightly in his. They must be… dating, I think?
“Er,” I start, hopefully saying this as sensitively as possible. “Sorry, but who are you guys?”
But the girl clutching at my shoulder just wails louder in reply.
The boy beside me reaches over to shake my hand. “I’m Remus,” he says with a friendly smile. “Remus Lupin.”
“Hi,” I reply, suddenly feeling shy for some reason.
Remus smiles at me again and gestures towards the rest of the group.
“That’s Peter over there by the door.” He waves at the mousy boy. “Yeah, I’m talking to you. Why don’t you just come into the room, mate? Okay, screw the Christmas present, I know it was embarrassing, but you look like a creep hovering by the door!” He sighs and clear his throat. “Right, okay, and the girl sobbing hysterically by your bed is Lily, your best friend. The bloke behind her is James Potter, her—well, I’ll leave Lily to tell you what happened there. And, yeah, you already know Sirius.”
Why does this feel like déjà vu…
“Oh.” I nod, though truthfully his introductions didn’t prompt any recollection at all. “Hey, how you guys doing?” I grin awkwardly.
James heaves a melodramatic sigh before answering, “Dead awful.”
Sirius raises his eyebrows. “Oh yeah?”
“Hell yeah,” James corrects. “Without Cecilia around, Lily has been crying ‘round the clock. Ever since she found out Cecilia got admitted to St. Mungo’s, she’s been a total wreck. Worried, you know?”
“And without you around,” Remus adds to Sirius, “your fangirls have been going mad. Honestly, it’s like they need someone to worship or something because all they’ve been doing is hoarding around us twenty-four-seven!”
“What, seriously? That’s mental,” says Sirius, clearly amused.
“It’s been horrifying…” Peter mutters from his new place in the far corner. “Girls everywhere…”
“Er, yeah, thanks, Peter.”
I look back and forth between them for a moment in confusion. What kind of school is this…? I’m about to open my mouth and ask exactly why anyone would have a mass of fangirls at this age when a massively loud gurgle sounds through the room.
Everyone turns to gape at Sirius, who grins sheepishly. “Sorry, kind of hungry.”
“Kind of?” James repeats incredulously. “That was pretty bloody epic, mate. How long’s it been since you ate?”
“Bloody hell.” James rolls his eyes and grabs his friend by the arm, pulling him towards the door. “I knew you’d be too caught up with Cecilia to take care of yourself. Up and at it, mate, we’re taking you to the cafeteria before you starve to death.”
“I’m fine,” Sirius protests as James continues to shove him towards the door. “And what’re we going to do, just leave Cecilia here?”
“Okay with me,” I call from my bed, my hand still stroking Lily’s hair absently as she cried silently into my shoulder.
“I’ll stay with Cecilia. You guys go on ahead.”
I look up to see Remus reach behind him and pull a chair up to the side of the bed.
He grins at Sirius and James. “No, really, it’s fine. Plus, Sirius looks like he’s about to pass out from hunger,” he points out.
Right on cue, Sirius’ stomach gurgles loudly again. “Bloody hell, will you shut up?” he mutters to his abdomen furiously.
James just grins back. “Perfect, we’ll be back in a few.” He swings open the door and pushes Sirius into the hallway before he could protest again. “You coming, Lily? Peter?”
“Y-yes!” Peter yelps hastily and shuffles into the hallway.
Lily nods and reluctantly lets go of my arm.
I look down at my shirt to see great big blotches of tears and a very crinkled sleeve from Lily’s death grip. When she turns around at the door, I give her a reassuring smile and a wave. “I’ll still be here when you get back! Don’t worry!”
Her face scrunches up as she tries to hold back another sob. “Oh, Cecilia…”
“Alright, c’mon, Lil.” James gives me an apologetic grin before wrapping an arm around around Lily’s shoulders and turning her away from the door.
The door shuts with a soft thud and, suddenly, the loss of commotion makes me feel kind of lonely.
“I wish she wasn’t crying so hard because of me,” I mutter, staring down at my hands. “I mean, I tried to be nice and friendly to her, but I feel like I’ve just made it worse.” I look up at Remus and he gives me a sad smile.
For some reason, even though I don’t know him at all, it still feels so natural confiding in him.
Remus reaches out to hold my hand. “Yeah, well, you were Lily’s best friend. Seeing you like this probably hurts a lot.”
“Then what about us?”
Remus looks at me for a moment, his eyes wide in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“You…” I hesitate before continuing, “It’s just that you look so sad when you look at me. You said that seeing me like this probably hurts a lot for Lily because we were best friends, so I was wondering who you exactly were, I mean, are to me.”
My straightfowardness makes me blush inadvertently. It didn’t help either that his hand tightened around mine.
He takes a deep breath before grinning at me. “Yeah, we’re best mates. Study buddies, late-night snack raid companions, and camera-whoring chummies. You can imagine how incredibly torn up I am about your whole situation.” He gestures in my general direction with his other hand.
I roll my eyes. “Yeah, just look at how torn up you are,” I reply dryly. “You’re positively bawling in sorrow.”
“I know right; it’s so tragic.” Remus makes a sad attempt at pouting at me and instead bursts out laughing.
It’s so infectious that I can’t help but giggle myself. But his words remind me of someone. Someone else who, amidst all my other downhearted friends, seemed by far the most dejected in my presence.
“Then… who was Sirius to me?” I ask in a low voice.
Something flickers behind Remus’ eyes and he lets go of my hand.
I look at him, puzzled, but before I can say anything, he replies, “You two were close. Not… not in the way we were, you and me, but you were definitely close. You mean a lot to him. But…” He looks at me, his gaze direct and sincere. “You mean a lot to me too, Cecilia. Probably more than you ever knew.”
The silence was so definite, you could hear a pin drop.