Out in the Open
“T-this is the worst idea ever. How did they get me to agree to this again?”
I wrap my arms even tighter around my body as I slowly make my way through the Forbidden Forest. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m making Sirius’ oh-so-suave body look lame, but I can’t stop myself from shivering uncontrollably! Every time I take a step, I feel as though I can hear some ungodly beast creeping up behind me.
Right… behind me…
WAY TO FREAK YOURSELF OUT, IDIOT.
I shake my head furiously and lean against a tree trunk to catch my breath.
Forget James and Sirius, Imight actually win best pathetic death scream if even so much as a rabbit sneaks up on me. And I mean genuinely pathetic death scream.
Though, speaking of Sirius… I wonder what Sonata was on about with Lucius Malfoy and all that. Why is his name coming up so often now anyway? I mean, wasn’t Sirius reading a letter from Lucius at King’s Cross too? And what does Regulus have to do with any of this?
“Wouldn’t be surprised if they’re all just having a row,” I mutter under my breath. “But… why would he tell Sonata about it?”
“Tell Sonata about what?”
And this is when I let out the most epic, deafening scream of my life. It wasn’t my proudest moment.
Immediately, I feel a small hand clamp over my mouth and a familiar voice hiss, “Blimey, that was loud! It’s just me!”
“Sirius!” I spin around and rip his hand away from my mouth. “Why did you sneak up on me like that? You know I’m scared of the dark!”
He gives me an amused look. “Are you telling me me that no matter how I approached you, you wouldn’t have screamed your head off anyway?”
“Well… no,” I reply lamely. He probably could have bounded over with cakes and flowers and I would still have freaked out. “Anyway, what are you doing here? Guess you’re the murderer then?”
“Ahh…” Sirius rubs the back of his neck. “Er, no. I thought you might be scared, so I came to find you.”
“Oh, um, thanks,” I mumble, my cheeks suddenly feeling warm.
It seems like Sirius’ eyes adjusted to the dark faster than mine because I hear him chuckle and then take my hand. “Don’t mention it.” I can hear the grin in his voice. “C’mon, let’s go.”
He starts pulling me through the dense forest by the hand and I can’t help but smile to myself. It’s weird to think that it comforts me to feel my body’s tiny hand holding my own, but it does. Maybe because in this darkness, when it’s hard to see even a few feet in front of me, I can imagine it really is Sirius leading me through the forest.
“Where are we going?” I ask after a moment of silence.
I see his silhouette shrug. “Anywhere. Well, anywhere far enough away from Sonata.”
“I’ll bet you anything that she rigged the drawing so that she’d get the murderer slip. Then she could let the game go for as long as she wanted until she found me.” He pauses. “Well, or you, rather.”
I make a face in the darkness and roll my eyes to the back of my head. Sonata has got her ways, I’ll bloody give her that. What could she possibly be planning to do to Sirius in the Forbidden Forest anyway? Assault him? Then again, Sirius seems to be pretty used to that already…
“But she doesn’t find me, then this game could go on for hours!” I point out. “Why don’t I just go see what she wants?”
Sirius snorts. “Trust me. You don’t want to know what she wants.”
He pulls me into a small clearing deep into the woods and finally stops walking, though he doesn’t let go of my hand. The small grove is still mostly covered by trees overhead, but at least more of the moon can shine through.
“Anyway, we’ll just hang out here until she bumps into someone random, has to kill them, and the detective finds them. You’re not the detective right?” he adds.
I shake my head. “You?”
“Nah.” He glances around before taking both of my hands in his. “We might be here for a while. You cold?”
The sight of his small girl body trying to warm my hands is actually kind of adorable. Is this what I look like from his perspective? For a split second… I can actually see why Sirius likes me so much. Wait a minute. Likes me…?
Isn’t that the solution to this whole issue with Sonata? Isn’t that what Sirius has been trying to tell me this entire time? In the end, this engagement is between me and him. I mean, who cares about stronger feelings or for however long we’ve had them. Regardless of what my mum has told her and regardless of Sonata’s crush on him, Sirius and I like each other. Isn’t that all that matters?
I feel a small smile form on my lips and I look away.
Sirius smirks when he sees me. “What?”
“Nothing!” I press my lips together and shake my head. “Just realized something I need to tell my sister later,” I say vaguely before trying to change the subject. “So, er, what’s going on with Lucius Malfoy anyway? Why’d Sonata want to ask about him?”
At this, I feel Sirius’ hands freeze around mine.
“What do you mean?” he continues in a steady voice. “It’s not like I hang around the bloke. You know how I feel about him, not to mention Slytherins in general.”
I raise an eyebrow at his response. “Then why would Sonata go out of her way to ask me about it? How does she even know about him in the first place? And Regulus too. Are you hiding something?”
“Ha… that is some load of questions,” Sirius mutters, looking uncomfortable. “What brought this on?”
“Well, it’s not like they’re unfounded right? Suddenly hearing Lucius Malfoy’s name thrown around left and right when you never used to so much as give him a second thought? Not to mention…” I hesitate for a moment. “Sirius, I heard you and Regulus talking on the first day of school.”
Sirius gapes me, stunned.
“I’m sorry I eavesdropped!” I say quickly. “It’s just that you—you looked so upset and it was so odd that you ran off like that and I was worried about you and—” I close my eyes and take a deep breath. “It’s still bothering you. A lot. I can tell. If you just tell me what’s going on with Regulus and Lucius, I can help.”
Sirius watches me for a long moment, the look in his eyes conflicted.
“No,” he says finally. “This isn’t just some regular family problem that anyone can just solve for me. It’s a lot more complicated than that. And a lot more dangerous.” He pauses. “And kind of none of your business. Can we talk about something else?”
“Will you just drop it?”
“Seriously, drop it! Bloody hell!”
I let out a short breath of disbelief, now getting irritated. “Right, so you can’t even give me a hint as to what’s going on, but you’ll tell Sonata the whole story even when she’s half around the world? I’m sorry I bloody care about you so much!”
It’s these last words that seem to get to him.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you, okay?” he says, his voice now much softer. “I just really don’t want to drag you into this. And the thing with Sonata…” He heaves a long sigh. “It just came out in a letter I sent her over the summer. She asked me how Regulus was and I was so stressed about it that I blurted it out.”
I blink in surprise. “You were stressed all summer? Then why didn’t you tell me?”
“Is it so bad that I wanted talking to you to be untainted by all the crap that was going on at home?” Sirius says in exasperation. “I just wanted to be happy around you! Why are you butting in?”
Some part of me feels a sense of warmth at his thought, but right now all I can think about is how he’s just trying to push me away. It’s just like when he didn’t tell me about the accident when we were kids. Why does he have to shoulder everything on his own?
“I thought you wanted us to tell each other things,” I mumble in a low voice.
There’s a long moment of silence, punctuated only by Sirius’ breathing, which is slightly heavier than usual.
“Then speaking… of not telling each other things,” he finally says, now with an edge in his voice, “were you planning on talking to me about what happened with Remus?”
The question catches me off guard. “Er, what happened with—” I feel my face heat up. “Oh.”
This is just another way for Sirius to avoid his own issue, I know that, but right now at this very moment, avoiding this issue is proving to be way more problematic.
Long story short, I had bolted straight out of the room the moment I realized Sirius saw us kissing. It was stupid I know! But I was so mortified, what did he expect? I was going to explain everything to him earlier today, but with our load of N.E.W.T. classes and Quidditch practice, I could never get the word in.
I should’ve known it’d be brought up again at the worst possible moment…
“It—it was an accident,” I answer feebly.
Sirius folds his arms. “Right, yeah, and that’s why it looked less like a bump on the lips and more like a kiss?”
“It was just so sudden that I didn’t know what to do! It’s not like I liked it!”
“Sudden, huh? Why was he even on top of you in the first place?” he demands.
My cheeks flush again. “It was a joke,” I try to explain. “We were just fooling around.”
At this, Sirius lets out a short breath of disbelief. “You are so bloody oblivious. I mean, anyone else would be way more cautious than you are around him! He so obviously likes you!”
“What? No, we’re just friends! I mean, I know he used to, but he told me—” I shake my head. “Anyway, we’re just friends. It doesn’t mean anything!”
Sirius stares at me aghast. “Are you blind? Can’t you see the way he looks at you? He still has feelings for you!” He runs a hand through his hair in frustration. “He still has feelings for you and you’re going around letting him ruffle your hair and blushing and kissing him and I can barely get you to admit you even like me!”
By the time he finished, his voice was just short of shouting.
I just stare at him blankly. Not blankly. In astonishment. I mean, Remus and I hang out all the time even when the whole gang is together, so of course Sirius has noticed us together. But I had no idea it actually bothered him so much. Even though Remus and I really are just friends, maybe… Sirius doesn’t realize that. Maybe even Sirius Black can doubt himself.
After a moment, Sirius shakes his head and turns away. “Forget it, Cecilia. Just forget I said anythi—”
“But I do like you.”
The words escape me before I even realize it.
“I do like you, Sirius,” I repeat, my voice coming out a lot steadier than I thought it would. “I have for a while now. You joked about it so many times that I thought you already knew.”
Sirius slowly turns to face me, the look on his face unsure. “Then… Remus?”
I shake my head. “I never had feelings for him. Apart from as a friend, at least. I… I know he used to like me and maybe he still does, but we’d figured it out between us. I never thought about keeping a distance from him because it wouldn’t change anything. Remus and I would still be best friends and I’d still like you.” I take a deep breath. “And I do. I like you a lot.”
My confession came out so simply that it kind of shocked me. Then again, I guess it makes sense that it did. Despite all the misunderstandings we had between us, my feelings for Sirius were the only thing that held strong. I’m not sure when exactly it started but before I knew it, my feelings had become such a simple fact that when it all came tumbling out, my voice didn’t even so much as tremble.
Sirius just stares at me. For a long, long moment, he just stares at me until…
“I’d kiss you right now, but I really don’t want to kiss my own face.”
“Well, you can if you want to,” I say matter-of-factly. “I can’t say the same for myself, but knowing you, you might even enjoy it.”
We look at each other for almost a full minute. Then the corner of Sirius’ mouth twitches.
And suddenly we’re both clutching our stomachs in hysterics. I literally have to lean against the tree trunk to keep from falling over, I’m laughing that hard. I don’t know if what he said was actually that funny or if it was the sudden release in tension. All I know is that I’ve never felt so relieved in my entire life.
“Hey, there you are! MURDER IN THE DARK!” James bounds towards us through the trees, yelling as he goes. “Sirius, you screamed right? Or was that Cecilia? Anyway, what are you guys—” He stops abruptly when he sees us laughing. “Blimey, have you two gone mad?”
Sirius and I both take one look at James and then burst out in laughter again.
“Bloody mental you two are.” James shakes his head at the two of us. “Well, c’mon then! Game’s over now that I’ve found you lot.”
I finally manage to calm myself down as he turns to walk away. I wipe a tear from the corner of my eye and look up to see me—well, Sirius grinning at me. He holds out a hand and I reach out to grasp it when—
A branch snaps.
Sirius eyes dart up towards the tree canopy and his entire body tenses. “Get down!”
His hand moves towards his back pocket lightning-fast to pull out his wand, but before he can even get an incantation out, a deep voice sounds from the trees.
Sirius wand flies out of his hand, along with my own.
“PRONGS!” Sirius shouts over his shoulder just as the dark figure jumps down from his place in the branches.
James spins around at the commotion. His eyes widen at the sight of the cloaked man and his hand moves to his pocket, but the man, already armed, jabs his wand in James’ direction.
I slap a hand over my mouth in shock as the spell catches him right in the head. “James—oof!” The air in my lungs comes out in a gasp as Sirius shoves me behind him protectively, my back hitting the tree behind me. He dives for his wand on the ground before him.
“Petrificus totalus!” the man shouts.
Sirius’ dive ends in a painful thud as he screeches to a halt on the forest floor.
The cloaked figure kicks both of our wands well away from us before striding towards me. But before I can lunge for him, the man raises his wand so it’s pointed right at my neck.
“Ah… ah… not another move, Black.”
My blood freezes at the sound of his voice. Now that the pandemonium is over, I realize where I’d heard it before.
“See, as much as I’d like to curse you to oblivion,” Lucius drawls from under the hood of his cloak, “you and I have somewhere to be. I have some friends who have just been dying to talk to you.”
I swallow, my throat grazing the tip of his wand. “Who—what are you talking about?”
“Oh, you’ll see, Black.” Lucius glances down at the watch on his free hand before looking over his shoulder at Sirius in my body on the ground. “Getting comfortable, Vance?” he taunts. “You wouldn’t mind if I borrowed your toy for a bit, would you?”
Sirius’ lets out a yell through clenched teeth, strained from the effort of trying to break the curse on him.
Lucius laughs humorlessly. “Your little girlfriend is so feisty, Black. I like her. Too bad she’s a blood traitor like you.” He glances down at his watch again. “It’s about time.” His wand still trained on me, he reaches behind him to pull out what looks like an ordinary tin can from his pocket.
My eyes widen. “What—a Portkey? There’s protective magic all around Hogwarts. You have no way of getting us out of here.”
“Ahh, see now that’s where you’re wrong.” Lucius’ smirk widens. “Your little gang venturing this far off Hogwarts Grounds? You were just asking for it. Now… you better hold on tight, Black.” He places the can against my hand. “The Dark Lord sends his regards.”
And with that, we were gone.