I'm Marlene McKinnon, 7th year Gryffie. I'm fabulous, end of story.
Bertie remembered the first time he had entered this room. He had been amazed at the presentation. And, for this reason, he had decided that watching Marlene’s reaction would be priceless. Plus, though he had his theories on the room in front of them, he had never had them proved. After lighting her wand at the onslaught of darkness in front of them, Marlene turned in his direction and Bertie waved her forward anxiously anticipating both her reaction and if his theories would prove to be well founded. He was glad that she readily entered the darkness, and was impressed (though he realized he should be used to it in full) by her braveness at venturing forth into uncharted territory. Bertie closed the door and followed as Marlene led them down the hallway that Bertie was now very familiar with. Eyes still on her, still anxious to see her reaction, Bertie didn’t even immediately take in the unfamiliar surroundings of the room. After seeing her face light up and gawk around, however, he felt content enough to take in their surroundings for himself while maintaining the grasp he had on her hand.
The room, though now decorated completely different than the room he was used too, was the same size and shape as it was when he came here alone. He had guessed correctly that it would vary between people, and it was clear that, of the two of them, Marlene had the most imagination. He glanced at the wall and noticed the same etchings he had seen upon his first visit, ‘The Searcher’s Serenity,’ before Marlene wrapped her arms around his neck. The euphoric feeling of being united, being safe, overwhelmed Bertie momentarily and he allowed himself to clutch her close to him while spinning her around playfully. For the first time in what felt like years, an actual smile worked its way upon his face. After a few moments of play, they ended up on a large and comfortable couch in a very familiar position. Bertie took a moment to thank the fact that, as far as he knew, James wasn’t going to barge in on them anytime soon.
In response to her complimenting the room, Bertie nodded in agreement but took a moment before answering… the spot on his jaw where she had placed her lips burned gently. “It’s the first time I’ve seen it… like this.” He nodded towards the inscription casually and eloquently written in the stone across the wall in a cursive text. When I come in here it isn’t quite as extravagant. In fact, the room becomes a cozy work area with comfortable wood-backed chairs and a large desk to spread your work about. When I come in here, or if I was the first one to step into the thresh hold, I can hear the ocean as well.” Looking down and meeting her eyes he rolled his own. “As cliche as that sounds. After thinking and reading the inscription, I sort of deduced that it would become a place of serenity for the ‘main’ occupant. I know, very clever of me as it’s practically smeared across the wall.” The joke, he thought, would fall flat as it had been so long since ‘comedy’ had been something he took part in. Deciding to skate past the fact, Bertie pressed on. “And… Since we obviously have conflicting ideas, the room does its best to satisfy both of our ‘serene desires’. Look,” he pointed to one of the corners. “I’m assuming the room provided that desk for me. And at least some of these books stemmed from my form of ‘idyllic’ scenery. Anyways… I’ve heard rumors of another room within Hogwarts that provides occupants with whatever it is they might require. This isn’t quite the same… but I’ve found it has been a perfect place to come and be alone in the last couple of days…. after everything that happened…”
He let the sentence die, not exactly wanting to relive their experiences. The idea that they were all going to die had haunted him since, and Bertie found he wasn’t a fan of thinking or discussing their fateful trip into Hogsmeade. After a few moments of silence, Bertie pressed on feeling the sudden desire to explain himself for his actions towards her… letting her know that he hadn’t meant to hurt her. “Look, I wanted to apologize. For… everything I’ve done to us in the last few weeks. The fact is,” he looked down at her once again, “I don’t deserve you.” Bertie worked quickly to stamp out her inevitable interjection. “I KNOW, you don’t think the same thing. But, despite your odd way of viewing life, it’s the truth. James proved as much when he hexed me off of you.” He felt his face reddening slightly in embarrassment. He had yet to interact with James since their ‘adventure’ in Hogsmeade. He still had very little to say to the guy, but he supposed he could at least lay waste to their petty and seemingly childish squabbles. After all, Bertie wasn’t fool enough to think that James’ presence on the street hadn’t helped prevent a more sinister outcome.
A sigh escaped Bertie and he pressed on, thankful that Marlene was allowing him to share his feelings. “If I was brave, brave like you, I would be able to stay away from you completely. Fact is, I’m not brave enough. But, at least this time, I’m going to lay everything out on the table…. About where we stand. And when you realize that you deserve better, Marlene, I promise I’ll try to be at least brave enough to accept the fact then.” The feelings of anxiety started to increase within him and Bertie suddenly felt his temperature rising. He knew now that this physical response was typically followed by a desire to place a coron pill on the tip of his tongue, let the feeling of immeasurable power wash through his system and cleanse him of any feelings of helplessness. He raised himself from the couch and put a hand to his forehead while allowing his eyes to close for a brief moment. Hoping he was more relaxed, but knowing he wasn’t, Bertie looked at Marlene once more and hated himself for the look of confusion and…. Sadness?… that was lacing her face at this very moment. With a start, he also realized there was a new addition to the room. Glancing behind her quickly, Bertie saw a small brewing station. A book was open in front of the empty cauldron, and Bertie’s anxiety increased yet again.
In his current and weak state of mind, there was nothing he desired more than access to the blood-red tablets. It seemed the magic of the room could be altered if the occupant’s idea of ‘serenity’ changed drastically enough. Not wanting Marlene to notice this new piece of ‘furniture’ Bertie quickly went to her and sat on his knees, kneeling in front of her while she sat on the couch. Taking her hands in his, making sure he had her undivided attention, he looked her in her eyes and was sure worry was an emotion he was prominently portraying, as his eyes wouldn’t remain still. Tears were threatening to make their presence known once again, so Bertie did the only thing he could think of that would absolutely calm him down, let happiness reenter his system. Not thinking twice, he leaned in and found bliss when his lips met hers once again.
Marlene looked toward the wall Bertie indicated, noticing for the first time the inscription set in stone. ‘The Searcher’s Serenity.’ It had a ring to it. And it was serene. Marlene felt more at ease here than she had anywhere else in the last couple weeks. But that could have something to do with the way she and Bertie were wrapped around each other at that moment. She smiled at the thought of what Bertie’s serene room looked like - it truly was a reflection of the Ravenclaw inside. She half-smiled at his joke, but he kept talking before she could reply. Marlene had heard about that other room too, and had tried in vain to find it several years prior but had given up after months of fruitless searching. This room more than made up for it and she found herself touched that Bertie would share it with her. It had to be an extremely personal thing to share, and he had actually told her.
The soft smile on her face slipped away when Bertie alluded to the Hogsmeade attack. She sobered quickly as images of the grisly meeting flashed before her eyes. She forced herself to blink and focus on the dark haired boy in front of her. Then, he was talking again and actually apologizing. The whole week and a half prior to Hogsmeade had been horrible, and Marlene could only recall bits and pieces of that time; most of it was blurry now. He looked down at her again and declared that he didn’t deserve her. Marlene started to push herself up off his chest to correct him, but he barreled on, heedless of her opinion on the matter. She gave up, letting him just talk and get his feelings out there. Sometimes, it was best to just let someone get it all out and off their chest.
As for what James did Bertie, Marlene was still upset about it. She would have a talk with him later. Yes, most of her anger had dissipated, but that didn’t excuse his actions. She really just wanted this thing between James and Bertie to end; she cared about both of them so much, and she needed harmony in her life, especially after everything they’d all been through together. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she tuned back in just as Bertie started talking again. She couldn’t understand why him staying away from her would make him brave, but she didn’t argue. She didn’t want him to stay away, couldn’t he understand that? Her heart started pounding when he told her he would lay everything out. But, oh Bertie, she didn’t think she’d ever find anyone better suited for her than him. Why did he never give himself any credit? His voice contained nothing but sadness, and perhaps a hint of bitterness.
He paused, seeming a bit flushed, before suddenly standing up and putting his hand to his head. She reached out to catch his sleeve, but he moved away too quickly, and her hand fell limply back to her leg. Her feet were still tucked under her so she was almost kneeling on the couch. Bertie turned back to her after a few long moments, and she couldn’t wipe away the sadness she felt for him off her face. Her heart just went out to him, hating the lost look on his own face. She wanted to go to him, to comfort him, but wasn’t sure if her affection would be too much right now. She had learned before that pressing Bertie too much would only scare him off, so she had tried to repress her normal rambunctious, overly flirty personality - at least until they were alone.
Just when she couldn’t stand it any longer and had swung her feet to the floor, Bertie rushed toward her and kneeled in front of her, grabbing her hands with his. He stared up at her, and she found that she suddenly couldn’t breathe. Her heart thumped painfully behind its cage, and her stomach swooped. His eyes were shining and look of worry behind them made Marlene feel positively faint. How could he care that much about her? How could he feel the same things she felt and still think they didn’t belong together? It was absurd.
All her worries disappeared the moment his lips found their way back to hers. She was certain that they had been created just for her, and a little sigh escaped her as they moved together. Marlene’s hands found their way up to his face, cradling his jaw as his arms went around her waist. He was burning up, his skin felt like it was on fire. Pulling back, Marlene searched him over intently, frowning. Other than a slight red flush on his cheeks, he looked fine. Her expression softened, and she ran her thumbs over his smooth skin. “You’re so warm,” she said quietly, loathe to break the silence. He merely shrugged in reply.
While she had his attention, she decided to set a few things straight. She didn’t let go of his face, forcing his gaze to remain on her as she spoke. “You need to cut the crap,” she told him, reverting to her normal blunt self. “I don’t know where you got the idea that you don’t deserve me, but it. Is. Not. True. Do you hear me?” She stared hard into his eyes, knowing he could see that she was serious. “Bertie, you don’t seem to understand how amazing you are.” She was sure her expression betrayed some of the bewilderment she felt. “You’re in the top of your class, you’re funny, witty, sometimes adventurous… You get me. You understand why I act the way I do sometimes, and you know when to call me on it. You know just about everything about me, and I trust you. And you can argue all you want about how many other blokes here would be a better match for me, but I can confidently tell you that none of them compare to you. None.” Marlene paused, trying to catch her breath. She hadn’t meant to blather on like that, and her cheeks reddened slightly as she realized how vulnerably she’d laid herself out.
Before Bertie could recover himself and argue with her again, she pulled his face back up to hers and kissed him intensely. His face had cooled slightly, but she was still a bit worried in the back of her mind. She knew something was off, but she filed it away to address later. Before she realized what she was doing, she had pushed Bertie back onto the furry rug under them and straddled his waist, not once breaking contact with his lips. Her hands were in his hair, and her own fell down around them like a chestnut waterfall. One set of fingers slowly slipped down his head to land on the clasp of his school robes. She fumbled with the button for a moment before it fell open, and she slipped her hand inside, running over his taut chest muscles.
When the tears started hosing their way from Marlene, Bertie lost his remaining self control. The dam broke and his own personal flood began as well. For so many days now, he had remained silent. He accepted what had happened, but that didn’t make it any less scared. And, more than being just scared, Bertie was ashamed. Though he hadn’t yet devoured his remaining coron, they still rested in idle wait for the moment he would inevitably decide he needed the magic to course through his veins. He tried to respond, tell her that they were both okay in response to her exclamation of fear, but he couldn’t choke out any words without it becoming exceedingly obvious that he had officially broken down.
But hiding the fact proved futile as their eyes met while still locked in their embrace. Next thing Bertie knew, her hand was wiping away the wetness on his face. A part of him wanted to turn tail before this could progress any further. Nothing had changed, he still knew that she could have— deserved— better than Bertie Higgs. But as he stood their contemplating the best way in which to break their ties again, her lips met his and any pretense of remaining brave and separated from Marlene dissipated with the action. He was a coward, allowing his lips to dance with hers, but he didn’t think he could bear to remain isolated anymore. Besides, he told rationalized with himself, two people who could share a kiss like this obviously weren’t meant to remain separated.
Too soon, but Bertie wasn’t actually aware as to how long, their connection was severed as Marlene moved back slightly. She reached behind his neck and he was glad that some tangible proof that they were both okay, connected, was still present. He listened to her declaration, the one that insisted she wanted to be with him, and he knew in that moment he would allow it. The cowardice within him took over, but he pushed the nagging doubt in his mind to the side. For now, he would accept the title of ’coward’ if it meant being with her. Without a doubt, Bertie could not go on as a solitary silhouette roaming the castle.
“I.. I don’t think you should have to.” And he leaned in for a quick kiss, emphasizing his point. Finally remembering that they were in a public location, Bertie’s eyes scanned the hallway. For a moment the figures around them took form as the Death Eaters that had surrounded the four-some in Hogsmeade, but Bertie shook his head and looked closer. Their peers were now gawking at him and Marlene, and Bertie became embarrassed. “How about we get out of here. One more day of classes won’t matter. Least of all potions. And.. we can talk. Figure everything out. Plus,” he leaned closer to her so that only she could hear, “Dumbledore told me not to discuss events with anyone. But I don’t think this silence extends to you.”
Taking her by her hand, he led her right past the small cluster of students around them without looking into any of their eyes. A part, one of the darker parts within Bertie that had just recently surfaced in his being, contemplated the fact that if he was to take a coron in this moment, he could easily hex the majority of these shamelessly gawking faces. The thought had a physical effect on Bertie as he felt his body’s temperature rise. He shook his head slightly, knowing that the thought had been out of place within him and attributing it to being an after-effect of the battle they had experienced.
He wasn’t exactly sure where he was leading her until they ended up outside a painting that he was very accustomed to visiting. They were on the third floor, with the closest class being Defense Against the Dark Arts but even that was on the other end of the floor. He was satisfied that nobody was going to see where Marlene and himself were going to disappear to. With the knowledge that nobody would be roaming in this direction currently, Bertie took a moment to examine the intricate detail that had gone into the piece of work hanging in front of them as he always did before entering. It was a simple painting of a bowl of fruit sitting on a wooden table. One that he assumed many people had painted in their day. However, while most of the paintings in school danced with life, the bowl remained motionless. This immobility wasn’t a hindrance to the detail, however, as the picture looked almost three dimensional. Bertie had been enticed when he had first seen it, which led him to discover the room behind.
Lifting his hand, the one disconnected from Marlene’s, Bertie reached in to the painting and wielded the knife sitting on the table next to the fruit. Then realizing he needed both hands, he looked at Marlene apologetically before removing his spare from hers. Picking up a piece of fruit at random, he began slicing it to even pieces. As he did so a dog appeared within the picture while looking up hungrily at the fruit. Without further ado, Bertie began dropping the pieces of fruit into the dogs mouth. Once seemingly satisfied, the dog let out a booming bark and walked off the edge of the painting once more. A small click signified the ability for Bertie to open the ‘door,’ which he did. He looked at Marlene, instead of the entrance appearing before them, wanting to see her reaction.
Marlene’s breath caught in her throat when Bertie answered her, and her heart leapt in joy. She met his kiss happily, pushing up on her toes and wrapping her arms more securely around his neck. But too soon, he pulled away and looked around the hall. Marlene’s eyes followed his gaze and saw, with a start, that they were no longer alone in the hallway. There were half a dozen or so students standing around them, watching Bertie’s and her display with gaping mouths.
Normally, Marlene would have done something silly like stick her tongue out at them or bow, but instead, she looked down in something near embarrassment as her face colored. She was grateful when Bertie suggested skipping classes for the day; she was suddenly sure she wasn’t ready to handle the pressure just yet, and all the whispering that was sure to follow them into class. He was right - they needed to sort things out first. He whispered in her ear again and her face burned for a different reason as a shiver rippled down her spine. As he took her hand in his to lead her away, she pressed in close to his side, ashamed at her sudden lack of confidence. She just couldn’t shake the feeling.
As they walked along, Marlene was content to simply let Bertie lead her. She was so tired of having to think, to plan, to work. Their fingers were twined together in a perfect fit, like two puzzle pieces. She kept close to him, unwilling to leave the warmth of his side. A small smile bloomed across her lips as she looked up at him. “Thank you,” she said warmly. “I don’t think I could have made through class today like that. And I forgot my bag anyway, so I wouldn’t have been very prepared,” she added wryly. He looked down and returned her smile, and she was struck once again by how attractive the boy was, even if he didn’t seem to see it himself. But really, that quality only served to make him more appealing.
When Bertie stopped walking, Marlene looked around curiously. She recognized their position to be on the third floor, opposite the side where the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom was located. But why they were standing in front of a painting of fruit in an empty hallway, Marlene couldn’t say. She leaned toward it, thinking it quite simple at first glance. Upon closer inspection, she discovered that the artist was actually quite brilliant, having captured perfectly the sheen of the apple’s skin, the dimple on the top of the orange, the smooth peel of the banana. It was captivating, and she wasn’t even quite sure why. Maybe because it was one of the few paintings she’d seen that wasn’t moving about. The bowl of fruit sat steadfastly on a solid wooden table.
Perhaps because of the subdued nature of the painting, Marlene was understandably confused when Bertie reached toward the painting with his free hand. But instead of colliding with the canvas, his hand passed through the surface and into the picture. If she hadn’t been so used to magic and, well, Hogwarts in general, she was sure she would have gasped out loud in delight. In fact, she was so impressed with the painting that she didn’t mind when Bertie extracted his hand from her grip and stuck it in with his other to slice up a pear he picked out. When the knife started slicing, a dog appeared next to the table, turning his gaze up to the fruit. Bertie obliged the animal by tossing the cut up pieces to it until it barked happily and padded away.
A small click echoed out from the painting and Marlene looked up at Bertie in confusion. A smile was dancing around his eyes as he surveyed her reaction. He gripped the edge of the frame and tugged on it, revealing a doorway cut into the stone behind the portrait. She couldn’t see into the darkness, so she pulled out her wand and whispered, “Lumos,” aiming the light into the hole. Glancing back at Bertie, she started through when he waved her on. Eagerly, she hurried into the shadows to see what lay before her. She fully trusted him, and knew that wherever he took her, it was sure to be an adventure she would enjoy. Another click sounded from behind her, which she assumed to be Bertie closing the entrance.
He caught up to her easily, capturing her hand in his once more. The hallway they were in ended abruptly as they stepped out into a large circular room. “Nox,” Marlene said quietly, her gaze moving around in awe. “Bertie, what…?” she started. The question dangled uncompleted as she smiled at him before moving deeper into the room, pulling him along with her. The walls of the room were completely covered in yards and yards of sheer fabric in colors of silver and purple. The floor hosted several different rugs, in the same color scheme, but all different shapes and sizes and materials. Enchanted candles floated above their heads, casting a warm light over everything. Overstuffed couches and chairs were haphazardly strewn about the room, and set into one wall was one of the largest fireplaces she’d ever seen. Bookshelves stood sentry at equal intervals along the walls, and were filled with all manner of books and trinkets. It was the coziest, most inviting room she’d ever seen. Marlene was sure she could spend all day examining the shelves and still not see everything they contained.
Spontaneously, she threw her arms around Bertie’s neck and squeezed him tight. She was a bit surprised, but pleasantly so, when he responded by holding her close and spinning her around. Laughing as he set her down, she grinned up at him and took his hand, leading him to one of the couches. He sat down and pulled her in next to him, and she curled up into his side as his arm went around her. Her head once again found that perfect spot on his chest and she sighed contentedly, forgetting for the moment all the things that had been troubling her lately. She tilted her face up to him and kissed his jaw. “Bertie, this room is just… beautiful. I think I could stay here all day.” Her eyes wandered back around the room as she smiled.
Bertie was now, finally, returning to classes. He had been allowed the time off, in light of what had recently happened. Words straight from the Headmaster’s mouth. After Bertie had rushed out of the hospital wing, he had nearly ran straight into the tall figure of Dumbledore. A feeling of shame had coursed its way through Bertie’s veins in that moment, as he remembered that the staff would surely know about the coron. After a few moments of awkward silence, Dumbledore had finally began talking in a calm voice that put Bertie at ease. The words he spoke, however, shocked Bertie completely. He had expected scolding, chiding, condescension… Instead, the headmaster had put a hand gently on Bertie’s shoulder and insisted Bertie had demonstrated braveness that many men would never achieve. But Bertie didn’t feel brave… not in that moment. The congratulatory words sent tears, which seemed to be hovering just under the surface as of late, sliding down his face. It would have been easier to be scolded.
Dumbledore had then guessed accurately for the reason behind the sudden tears. He removed his hand from Bertie’s shoulder and instead held it palm up in front of him. Looking down, Bertie noticed there were two familiar blood-red tablets resting idly on the palm of Dumbledore’s hand. Reflexively, Bertie reached into the pocket of his robe and found it empty. Apparently he had been searched, and now Dumbledore held the evidence of his wrong-doings in his hand. Instead of being punished, as Bertie was sure Dumbledore was going to do, his hand met Bertie’s and placed the coron within it. Confused, Bertie met Dumbledore’s piercing gaze.
‘It must be your decision, and no one else’s.’
Bertie had stared into Dumbledore’s eyes for a moment and taken the pills from the Headmaster’s hand, placing the crimson pills back in his deep pockets where they belonged.
That had been a few days ago. Dumbledore, before completely leaving Bertie’s stunned figure behind, had turned around and insisted he remain absent from classes for a few days, ensuring his full recovery. He had then made a request of Bertie, to not discuss the events in detail with his peers. Bertie nodded, not admitting that discussing events with anyone was the last thing on his mind. Before Dumbledore turned around to exit the corridor, he met Bertie’s gaze one last time with a gleam in his eyes. At least, Bertie thought he had seen the shimmer. But through his own tears, he still wasn’t completely sure.
Bertie, as he had promised, refrained from discussing events with any of his peers. He had thought this feat wouldn’t be a real problem, but he had noticed that the students of Hogwarts seemed to be incredibly inclined to hear exactly what had happened. Constantly being pressed for information, and hating the constant reminders that he had been a part of any ‘battle,’ Bertie had taken to the library where the vulture-like librarian would thwart any attempt at conversation. But now, as he made his way to potions, the stares and pointing followed him through the halls. Bertie allowed himself to wonder how so many people seemed to know him by sight now, after seven years of remaining completely under the radar. He figured the still-fresh cuts and bruises probably helped people select him from a crowd. Finally, in the dark corridors of dungeons, Bertie relaxed as the dense crowds dissipated. Soon he would find himself in potions, where he could concentrate on nothing but brewing the perfect potion.
As his feet traversed the familiar path and he looked towards the entrance, he suddenly became aware as to how stupid he had been. So entirely wrapped up in his own thoughts, he hadn’t realized today would be the day that he would come face to face with Marlene once more. She sat with her back against the wall, but her eyes fluttered open and quickly located him. “Marlene. Hi.” He tried to sound happy to see her, but his voice hadn’t exactly been used and sounded rough and out of place. He gave a little cough and looked her in the eyes as she stood. “How… how are you doing?” Unable to control himself, he closed the gap between them and wrapped his arms around her in an embrace that he decided he simply never wanted to break. Practically burying his face in her hair, he managed to whisper for only her to hear, “You were amazing.” He fought back the crack in his voice and the ever-hovering water behind his eyes as they stood there, unwilling to show Marlene how little it took of late to break him down.
Marlene blinked slowly as she lifted her head from its resting place against the wall. She quickly recognized Bertie as he walked toward her, and her heart thumped a bit harder at the sight of him. His voice sounded hoarse, like he hadn’t used it much lately. If he was feeling anything like what she was, then he hadn’t been talking since the whole horrid ordeal. She hadn’t been able to speak to anyone since she’d told her story to Dumbledore. She’d been too afraid it would only make her start crying again.
Bertie’s little cough spurred her into action and she stood up, wincing as her bruised shoulders and back pressed awkwardly against the wall. She felt like her body would never heal from the assault she’d endured at the hands of the Death Eaters. Bertie’s eyes, looking into her own, told her everything - especially that he also felt the emotional toll that the battle had taken on the four of them. His tentative question and the look on his face melted her heart. Before she could answer him or even move toward him, he was there, wrapping his arms around her.
She could feel his breath stir her hair as he tilted his face in towards her. Her arms automatically went around his neck and she pushed her face into his chest, simply breathing him in. Her eyes welled with tears at the thought, again, of how close she’d been to losing him. She was certain, now more than ever, that she couldn’t bear to be without him. She never wanted to let him out of her sight again. He whispered quietly into her ear, making her shiver.
Marlene’s arms tightened around him as her tears spilled over, seeping into his robes, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. The tears turned into sobs, and before she knew it she was clinging onto Bertie for dear life and letting all her emotions run down her face. “Bertie,” she choked out. “I was so scared… that I’d lost you…” Her breaths were coming in sharp pants as she pressed her face into his neck. For the time being, she had forgotten that they stood in the middle of the Potions hallway.
Marlene had never had a problem telling anyone how she felt about anything, but with Bertie she was suddenly terrified of her feelings and how he would react. She knew, though, that everything had changed the moment she’d seen the Death Eaters attack her Ravenclaw. She had to tell him, she had to show him exactly what he meant to her. Her breathing had evened out, even if it was still a bit ragged. She leaned back in his arms without letting go and looked up into his eyes. Her sorrow seemed to have triggered his own, as his face was wet too. She brought her hands to his face when she was sure he wouldn’t let go of her and wiped his tears away with her fingers. “Oh, Bertie,” she sighed softly before realizing she had even spoken.
She couldn’t take it anymore. The stress, the heartache, of the past week finally caugt up to her, and she took solace in Bertie’s lips. She brought her mouth crashing to his, pulling him closer by tugging gently on his face. Finally, finally, she forgot about all her troubles. His lips moved against her with perfect harmony and she sighed softly against him. How long they stood there in the hall kissing, she couldn’t say.
Breaking away from him reluctantly, she slid her hands back around his neck and laced her fingers together there. She looked up at him with her eyes still glistening and gave him a small smile. “I don’t…” she started, then hesitated. What if he still didn’t want to be with her? She didn’t know if she could handle a second rejection from him after everything that had happened. Biting her lip, she frowned slightly and searched his expression for any sign of discomfort. Finding none, she dug for courage and tried again. “Bertie, I… I want to be with you. I just… I can’t stay away from you.” The last sentence came out in a whisper as her heart pounded in anxious anticipation. Her fingers played with the hair at the nape of his neck absentmindedly as she waited for him to say something, anything.
Ever since that fateful day a week ago in Hogsmeade, Marlene had undergone a slightly major personality change. She was nervous around large groups of people and had started flinching if anyone made a sudden movement near her. A sense of complete mental exhaustion hung over her constantly. She hated feeling so weak, so helpless.
Marlene had gotten off fairly easy after the attack. She figured that her powerful form of magic played a large part in her recovery. Madam Pomfrey had only kept her for a couple of days, where the others had stayed after she’d been released. Luckily, she’d gotten to leave the Hospital Wing in the middle of the morning when most students were in class. No one had seen her walk quickly through the halls up to Gryffindor tower, and she was grateful for it. Not a single person was witness to the wreck she became as soon as she entered the Common Room. The tears had started flowing almost immediately, and she flew up the stairs to the seventh year girls’ dormitory, throwing herself down on her bed and yanking the curtains closed. She’d cried for hours, until she was so exhausted she sank into a fitful sleep plagued by nightmares. The worst ones involved Bertie.
She couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d let all her friends down. Staring up at the ceiling, Marlene felt a wave of grief wash over her at the thought of what had almost been. She was so utterly thankful that her friends had made it through the ordeal. She knew she would be completely lost if James weren’t around. All her anger at her friend had simply evaporated. There were more important things on her mind than whether or not her ‘brother’ approved of who she dated.
And date Bertie, she would. He just didn’t know it yet. Marlene had made up her mind as she stood looking down at him in the Hospital Wing. She simply couldn’t stay away from him - she needed him.
Marlene turned over on her side, curling up around her pillow, tucking her knees into her chest. Her mind wandered back to her conversation with Dumbledore. She’d been incredibly embarrassed when Madam Pomfrey had woken her up from where she’d been sleeping wrapped around Bertie. Scrambling out of the bed, her face turned beet red when she noticed the Headmaster standing a few feet away with his hands clasped in front of him and a twinkle in his blue eyes. They had chatted for a few moments before he addressed the issue at hand: the attack at Hogsmeade. Marlene recounted for him what had happened, and she didn’t leave out a single detail. She started with why she’d left Three Broomsticks (James), where she’d gone (random streets), and then what exactly had happened. Dumbledore’s eyes grew sadder as she talked until he looked positively dejected. When she finally finished her tale, he sighed and asked her to keep it all under wraps. The population of Hogwarts would be better off without all the gruesome details. Marlene privately disagreed, but didn’t argue. If the Headmaster asked her to keep silent, she figured there must be a good reason for it.
Marlene drifted in and out of sleep for the next few days. Dumbledore had given her permission to skip classes until James, Lily, and Bertie had all woken up. James had left not long after she had, and Lily followed by a couple days. Bertie, however, had taken much longer at six days. Marlene’d had enough presence of mind during her interview to ask the Headmaster to send a note when each of her friends were released. She knew that she wouldn’t want to leave the dorm, so he had also arranged for a House Elf to bring food up to her three times a day.
As each of her friends were released, she was anxious to meet up with Bertie. But his name was the last to appear, and she grew increasingly fretful as each day passed. Finally, a little scrap of parchment floated up to her dorm and into her lap with Bertie’s name and release date written on it. Her heart leapt into her throat as she ran her finger over his name. But what to do about him?
To her shame, she didn’t immediately get up and go to him. She was acting cowardly. But if she was being honest, she didn’t know what to say to him. How do you move on from something like what they’d experienced? If only she wasn’t so exhausted. Maybe then she could think.
The next time she woke up and stayed awake, she realized it was afternoon, so her roommates were all in class. Not that she’d really noticed or paid attention to anything other than the ache in her chest lately. Looking at her clock, she realized that three more days had passed since she’d found out Bertie was out of the Hospital Wing. It was time to face him.
She showered and dressed in record time, forgoing any makeup or jewelry. She hurried out of her room, clambered through the portrait hole, and raced downstairs. When she got to the main floor, she stopped and wrinkled her brow. What class what she supposed to go to next? Oh right, Potions. She hadn’t even grabbed her book bag, so she was empty-handed as she walked down to the Potions lab in the dungeons. Since she didn’t feel like going all the way back up to the seventh floor, she just continued on her way. She had almost 45 minutes before class was due to start, so when she reached the classroom, she took up a spot across from the door. Sliding down the wall, she sank to the floor and crossed her legs, leaning her head back against the stones and closing her eyes. Seemingly no time had passed when she was jerked out of her doze by the sound of footsteps.
Marlene woke up screaming, drenched in sweat, face flooded with tears. Her fists were clenched around the sheets covering her as her eyes roved around what she momentarily recognized as the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey was already hurrying towards her, startled at her patient’s outburst. Instinctively, Marlene cringed back from her as the nurse tried to calm her down. Her breaths were coming fast and shallow and she was fighting back the black trying to overtake her vision. Madam Pomfrey tried to push a vial of neon blue liquid into her hand, but Marlene was too untrusting at the moment. Sighing, the nurse told her to calm down or else she would be force-fed the potion. Meekly, Marlene took the vial and downed it one gulp.
Her body was shaking violently and the tears hadn’t stopped. The nightmares that had been haunting her during her sleep came rushing back to her mind and she nearly vomited. But the nightmares… they were real, they had happened.
"Bertie…" she whispered, looking wildly around the room, throwing the sheets off her body. Madam Pomfrey pushed her back onto the bed, though, using her wand to pull the sheets back up and around her, keeping them magically in place so she couldn’t try to escape again. Not that she’d be able to. Her body felt weak and almost drunken, but the urge, the need, to find Bertie was terribly overwhelming. She turned her watery gaze up to the nurse. “Please,” she whimpered. “Is he… is he… okay?” she choked out. Raising an eyebrow in disproval, she nodded curtly before bustling away.
Only then did Marlene realize that there were three other occupied beds around her. To her immense relief, she saw that Bertie was across from her, Lily was next her, and James across from Lily. She let out a breath, feeling a weight lift off her shoulders. She had been so sure, so utterly terrified, that their last moments on Earth had been spent battling Death Eaters. She knew she wanted to be an Auror, had known it for months now, and she thought she was ready to be out in the world fighting these people. She was blindsided by the harsh reality of it, though. Watching her friends fall, battered and bleeding, was an image that would haunt her for the rest of her life. They weren’t ready. They were nowhere near prepared for awaited them outside Hogwarts.
Dumbledore’s presence in the school protected them maybe a little too well. They were sheltered. Real life would be a slap in the face after graduation. Maybe, in some twisted way, it was a good thing they’d been attacked. Marlene was sure their eyes had been opened to the cruel fate waiting to strike them down given the first opportunity. The Death Eaters fought dirty and wouldn’t respect any of the rules drilled into students from day one. Marlene was beginning to think that they were ready for more formal, more in-depth training.
Looking around the Hospital Wing, Marlene was pleased to see that the nurse had gone back into her office and shut the door. Her wand was laying on the little table next to her bed, and she grabbed it to undo Madam Pomfrey’s handiwork. She could feel the effects of the potion kicking in, making her drowsy and heavy-limbed. Once the covers had been shoved down, she climbed shakily out of the bed and dragged herself over to Bertie.
She stood next to him, looking down at his sleeping form. He looked so weary. One of her hands involuntarily moved to his face, sweeping the hair off his forehead gently before trailing down his temple and jaw. Unable to stay away from him any longer, she lifted his sheets up and slid in next to him. Even unconscious, he seemed to realize what was going on. His arm moved up so it was wrapped around her shoulders, and she nestled herself into his side with her head on his chest. Only when she put her arm around his waist could she relax, and her eyes fluttered shut. She could feel him breathing, feel his heart beating. It assuaged her fears to feel his heat sinking into her, and her heart finally stopped racing as she clutched him closer to her.
Marlene’s tears had stopped flowing and her breathing evened out as she inhaled the spicy scent that radiated off Bertie. Her eyes flew open as she breathed in again. Something tickled her memory as she tried to place what was causing this deja vu. Gasping slightly, she realized that it was what she’d smelled in Potions class the day they’d brewed the Amortentia. Marveling at the revelation, Marlene turned her face up to Bertie’s and smiled sleepily.
How could she be happy right now? She felt almost guilty about the warm feeling that was spreading over her, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to care. She was alive, her friends were alive. They’d been spared. Marlene could have laughed if she wasn’t so exhausted. Sighing with contentment, she snuggled back into Bertie and pressed a kiss to his chest before closing her eyes once more.
The nightmares lessened a bit as she slept in Bertie’s arms.
What the hell had he been thinking, coming to Hogsmeade? Bertie realized now that staying at Hogwarts would have been the lesser of two evils. Despite the urgent need he had felt to escape the castle grounds, now he was simply feeling trapped in the village. His conversation with Lily hadn’t exactly gone as planned, which was perhaps the root of this annoyed emotional state. Initially, Bertie had thought that maybe he could knock some sense into the girl, prove to her what an ass of a person James Potter really was. With an indignant and audible sigh that startled a few passerby’s, Bertie realized now that James had his webs of deceit and false-maturity so tightly wound around the poor girl that Lily was surely never going to find clarity on the subject. Bouncing this knowledge around his mind, Bertie glared around at all the happy faces walking in front of him as he casually leaned up against an old shop which was closed as depicted by the unnecessarily large sign dominating the door.
Bertie was seriously contemplating swallowing one of his few remaining coron. He wasn’t addicted, he told himself. After all, the two pills he had already taken couldn’t have that much control over him yet. No, he simply craved the feeling of raw power that seemed to emanate from his core being seconds after the blood-red tablets touched his tongue. And besides, the pill would help his horrendous mood he was eperiencing ever since he had stepped out of the carriage with Lily. Closing his eyes in frustration, he realized his robes were sticking to the areas in which it came into contact with his bare skin. He was sweating again, and he hated the sickening feeling accrued from stewing in oven-like robes. He looked a few yards down the street and noticed a girl, no older than six or seven, staring at him as though confused… Bertie realized he must have been unknowingly grumbling at his misfortune, which seemed to have caught the attention of the young girl. With a look of annoyance, Bertie raised an eyebrow at the girl. “Get out of here.”
As the girl turned tail and began to quickly walk away, Bertie watched her leave and a part of him was enveloped with a large dose of self-hatred. Since when had he been so ruled by his emotions? And what gave him the right to act like this, anyways? However, there was another part within Bertie that had simply decided he didn’t care anymore. A couple more months and he would be able to get the hell out of here anyways. Who cared what all these people thought of him? After all, throughout his Hogwarts career, people had been judging him. Might as well give them something to really talk about, he told himself. Having these thoughts, he kept his eyes on the girl steadily walking away from him. A hundred feet or so away now, he noticed her turn in the direction of an alley which Bertie, from his position, couldn’t see the contents of. However, her scream of fear certainly got his attention. After a few more moments, Bertie understood the reasoning behind this blatant fear the girl was demonstrating. Three figures had made their way ominously in her direction from the entrance of the alleyway, all with their wands raised at the girl. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, walking casually in her direction while presumably deciding how best to go about hexing a helpless seven year old. At this sight, every single individual blood-cell within Bertie began to boil. Weeks ago, in all honesty, Bertie would have hesitated before acting. Now he had changed and he actually found himself anxiously anticipating the inevitable conflict.
Directing his wand at the large window of the closed shop, he selected a large piece of furniture and levitated it, controlling it entirely. Taking aim, Bertie flicked his wand fiercly in the direction of the ominous men. It was lucky, perhaps, that when the large wooden bookshelf was sent crashing through the stores window, the men turned reflexively in Bertie’s direction. With cat-like reflexes, one of the men sent the bookshelf barreling down the street a safe distance away from them (and, thankfully, the girl as well). The poor girl screamed for all she was worth, but Bertie was pleased when he saw her vacate the scene unscathed. The men, shooting one more look at her, allowed for this escape. They, turning in the direction of Bertie, had found fresher meat after all. Bertie gulped in fear at their unwavering looks, completely aware that he was outnumbered three to one. However, with the thought of the girl still so close and not quite out of harms way, he raised his wand and yelled ‘Stupefy!’ which was the first offensive spell he could come up with. Easily blocked, as there were three sets of voices casting protective charms, the men slowly advanced, smiling as they did so. Bertie realized he had no chance in this fight. But, if he could just go on the defensive long enough for the girl to get away — “Protego!”
His thoughts concerning the safety of the young girl were cut off. Sensing that he was easy pickings, the men had decided that now was the time for their offensive maneuvers. How ridiculously brave of you, Bertie thought as his anger flared up once again. Between each protective spell he cast, he would attempt an offensive attack. And, maybe this tactic of sporadic offensive casting would have worked for Bertie a few days ago. But, ever since his break-up with Marlene, his magic simply hadn’t been the same. And, with there being three of them, Bertie knew he was helpless. He lowered his wand and allowed for the inevitable, knowing at least that the girl had now officially made it away okay.
A burn raked across his cheek.
A quick jab to the gut.
A force sent him sprawling across the ground, helpless to prevent it.
And, at one point, Bertie thought that maybe they had levitated him a few feet, before allowing him to drop to the ground.
He wasn’t sure, he was very nearly mentally incapacitated, unconscious, and unaware as to what exactly was happening around him… but at the same… Bertie knew that it was an incredibly uncomfortable physical experience. And then, just as abruptly as it had began, the sensations ceased. He thought, maybe, he heard the men yell… But then there was nothing.
When a hand pressed against his mouth, Bertie was snapped from his out-of-body like experience, thinking that they were now going to attempt to suffocate him the muggle way. He wasn’t ready for that kind of demise… any kind of demise, and violently snapped himself into awareness. But then he heard her voice, and he knew everything was going to be okay. He knew that Marlene wasn’t going to let anything else bad happen to him, and the thought allowed tears to play at the corners of his eyes. He didn’t notice or care, at first, what she was trying to do. He mindlessly obeyed her prodding to stand, knowing that the important thing was that she was here. He blindly followed her lead, trusting every movement she made in full and, at the same time, hating himself for the dependency he placed upon her. It wasn’t fair, for God or the Cosmos or whatever the hell governed life to place her in his life, while knowing that they simply couldn’t be.
But Bertie had no choice in his current state. He would work out their issues, again, at a later date. Now was, for obvious reasons, not the time he rationalized with himself. Marlene suddenly stopped her quick and steady pace. Bertie, having gained back most of his physical control, stepped away from her and allowed his own two feet to hold him up. Looking around, he realized they were on a wide and random street of Hogsmeade, which was very nearly abandoned at this point. Looking behind him, he saw a familiar and hated boyish figure standing next to a familiar looking red head… they were both about sixty feet away and facing the opposite direction. The reasoning behind their looking in this direction became clear, as Bertie noted several looming figures making their way towards the inseparable pair. Despite his dislike for James, Bertie was about to turn around to assist them. A classmate, no matter who it was, deserved to be helped out when presented with danger.
Even James, Bertie told himself.
But then a noise form Marlene made him face her. Following her stony gaze, in the complete opposite direction as Lily and James, Bertie saw that him and Marlene had a problem of their own. Four problems, to be exact, as Bertie counted the figures pointing their wands at him and Marlene. Another look at Marlene gave him all the motivation he needed. Noting that she was looking away from him, wasn’t going to see what he was about to do, Bertie reached into his pocket and selected one of his precious pills. He needed to do everything to protect his peers, protect Marlene. And, knowing as much, Bertie placed the blood-red tablet on his tongue without qualms in doing so. After a quick moment, Bertie felt the now-familiar surge of magical energy course through his veins. Closing the small gap that had appeared between him and Marlene, Bertie raised his wand in the direction of their attackers. With the help of the coron, Bertie felt much better about their odds.
So good, in fact, that an unfriendly smile molded itself onto his face at the knowledge he was about to get revenge.
When Marlene had gotten far enough away from the three cloaked men, taking many turns and doubling back a couple times, she stopped. Bertie immediately stepped away from her, and she let her hand drop back to her side awkwardly. She already felt empty without him pressed against her. She kept her face carefully blank as she watched him avoid looking at her. His gaze fell over her shoulder and she turned to see James and Lily facing six advancing Death Eaters.
Marlene turned back to Bertie with fire in her eyes. She was extremely protective of her friends, and to see them in danger like this rubbed her the wrong way. He was still staring at the Head Boy and Girl with a strange look on his face, like he was trying to decide something. As she opened her mouth to ask him if he was up for dueling alongside Lily and James, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Turning her head, she let out an annoyed huff as she saw four more Death Eaters come sweeping out around a corner, her face hardening as she watched them saunter in their direction.
The figures all had their wands drawn and trained on the pair. Marlene simply watched them walk in her direction for a moment before looking back at Bertie. He wore a cold smile on his lips as he stepped closer to her. His expression was completely alien and out of place on his face, but Marlene shoved her worry to the back of her mind once again as she slipped her right hand in his left silently. Marlene was one of the lucky few ambidextrous people, and could use her wand just as efficiently in her left hand as her right. Said wand was ready and aimed, but she didn’t move yet.
The group of black-clad people stopped a ways away from her and Bertie, seemingly unsure as to why the pair hadn’t run yet. Marlene smiled hostilely at them, baring as many teeth as she could, hoping to throw them off even the tiniest bit. Suddenly, all the rage and hurt and anguish of the past school year flooded her veins and it was all she could do to keep a lid on it. These men reminded her of her father’s death, and that pain was added to her already-strained mentality. Her blood boiled under her skin in anticipation, and her hair was once again filled with static. She could feel the strands lifting away from her face, the curls floating on an intangible current of air. This time, though, she didn’t bother to leash her magic, instead untethering it and letting it roam free.
Glancing briefly at Bertie and squeezing his hand in encouragement, she flicked her wand with the smallest of movements. She took her time returning her gaze back to the four Death Eaters so as not to alert them to her actions. Firmly thinking Colloshoo, she effectively stuck all four pairs of their feet to the ground, preventing them from moving. Before they had time to notice that they couldn’t move forward, Marlene fired off four successive Confundus charms, hitting each target squarely in the chest.
Risking a glance over her shoulder at her friends, she saw with some concern that James and Lily weren’t faring very well. James was on the ground and Lily was firing off spells left and right. They weren’t going to last very long.
"Shield us," Marlene hissed to Bertie as she twisted around and put her back to his, dropping his hand in the process. Taking a deep breath, Marlene waited until Lily was out of the way before aiming her wand at the six cloaked figures. Aresto Momentum, she thought forcefully, satisfied when their motions slowed down significantly. With another flick of her wand, she thought, Bombarda Maxima, cringing as the street exploded under the six people threatening her friends.
Satisfied for the moment, Marlene spun back around just as Bertie’s shield collapsed under a barrage of spells from the four figures in front of them. Motions and spells started blurring together as Marlene and Bertie worked in harmony to bring these men down. They twisted and ducked in sync, performing a dance all their own, weaving magic into the air.
It was hard for Marlene not to notice Bertie’s grace as he moved around her. His face was set in pure concentration, but it betrayed no doubt or fear. Again, she found herself wondering where this had come from all of a sudden. Bertie didn’t come to mind when she thought about ‘graceful’ people. His wand slashed through the air in front of her face, spurring her back into action. She was getting mad that the bad guys weren’t going down. Marlene wasn’t used to being shown up.
To hell with it.
Marlene sank down into a squat, tucking her forehead into her knees. She usually kept her walls firmly in place to control her magic, but right now she needed to let go completely. That had only ever happened once before and it had been hard to regain her sense of self amidst all the magic. She stood up again and pushed Bertie away gently before he could see her face. Her hair was floating eerily around her head and she was sure her eyes had turned black with power.
Lifting one hand towards Lily and James, Marlene used her magic to pull her friends over to her and Bertie. Lily was bleeding and bruised and had fallen over sometime in the last couple minutes, and James was fading into unconsciousness. Protego Horribilis she whispered in her mind; that should hold off anything short of an Unforgivable. Risking a glance toward Bertie, she saw him sway on his feet as he lifted a trembling hand to push his hair off his sweaty forehead. Well that didn’t look good.
"Do you trust me?" Marlene asked him suddenly, quietly. He locked eyes with her, looking startled at her appearance but not saying anything. He nodded silently and Marlene walked over to him and put her hands on either side of his face. Closing her eyes, she focused, and forced some of her magic, her essence, into his ailing body. He had sustained a surprising amount of damage in such a short period of time. When she opened her eyes, she was pleased to note that he looked a little more normal, a little more solid.
Dropping her hands, Marlene’s eyes darted around to locate all the men in black cloaks. They had formed a wide circle around the Hogwarts students. Marlene’s heart sank but she didn’t let it show. She had to be strong - she had no choice. Her friends were counting on her. In the back of her mind, she wondered where all the teachers were, or any of the numerous other adults in Hogsmeade. But she didn’t have time to ponder for long as all ten Death Eaters began a vicious assault on her shield. She could feel her magic being drained as she fought to keep the shield intact. Her eyes scrunched shut in concentration as she fell to her knees. She hunched over her fallen friends, placing one hand on each of them as if to reassure herself that they were still alive. She couldn’t keep the shield up for much longer and she opened her eyes to find Bertie.
Marlene stared wide-eyed at Bertie, trying to communicate to him how sorry she was. They were all about to die and there was nothing that any of them could do. They had tried their damnedest, but it wasn’t enough. Oh sure, the Death Eaters were sporting some lovely cuts and bruises of their own, but it really only served to anger them further. Tears spilled over her lashes as she gazed at the Ravenclaw. With one final curse from a man to her left, the shield was broken, and Marlene slumped down between Lily and James, unconscious.
Marlene wandered aimlessly around Hogsmeade for the better part of an hour after she’d stormed out on James. The fury she was battling to repress kept popping up unexpectedly, shattering plant pots and, in one instance, setting a window display on fire. She kept her hands clenched at her sides as she walked. Her wand was in her right hand, ready just in case she needed it suddenly; James’s story had put her on alert. As she walked, his words kept echoing around in her head.
'It’s too dangerous.'
Just who did James think he was, anyway? Who was he to tell her what she could or couldn’t do? Marlene was damned if she’d let anyone dictate her life to her like that. She was going to be an Auror, and that was final. And what the bloody hell was he on about, telling her to leave the fighting for the ones that could handle it. Marlene could understand if James was trying to protect her (as big brothers are wont to do), but he had absolutely no reason, no right, to tell her that she couldn’t handle it and that she was being stupid. If there was one thing Marlene wasn’t, it was stupid.
'You’re a girl and you just, you can’t handle being an auror.'
Stumbling on a rock, Marlene turned on it and gave it an almighty kick. It sailed through the air before landing with a satisfying smack further down the street. It didn’t really help her mood, but it still felt good. She sighed heavily as she resumed her directionless meandering. Her fists were still clenched, white-knuckled. She tried to relax her body as she walked, but it refused to give in. Even the air felt strained.
'Leave fighting to the ones of us that can handle it.'
Marlene rolled her neck around, cracking the tense bones. Running her hand through her hair, she was surprised at the amount of static it contained. She may have been upset, but she wasn’t even close to losing control like she had almost done that night with Bertie and James. Instinctively, Marlene moved off the street and closer to the buildings. Something felt off.
'You could never handle it and I just think that you’re being stupid to think that you can.'
Just as Marlene came to a stop and pressed her back against a wall, she heard a deafening crash from a couple blocks down, followed shortly by yelling. She looked frantically up and down the street, searching for something, someone, who could help her or at least tell her what was going on. Of course, her search came up empty. Gritting her teeth and steeling herself for what she might find, she dashed past some buildings and halted just before rounding the corner. She took another deep breath before slowly poking her head around to see what was going on. She was definitely not prepared. Pulling back quickly, she sank down into a squat, hugging her arms around her to keep from retching.
'This is a horrible idea and I just can’t get behind you making such a stupid mistake.'
Breathing out slowly through her mouth, she stood up and braced herself again. She wrapped herself in steel, shutting off her emotions. She couldn’t afford to be weak, to get distracted. Putting on a mask of indifference, she strode confidently around the corner, raising her wand and firing off three successive spells. Petrificus totalus! Steleus! Langlock! Marlene had never been so grateful for her father’s constant pushing. She was so thankful that she was able to so effectively perform silent spells.
The three Death Eaters standing over Bertie didn’t see it coming. Marlene had the upper hand as they tried to recover. She quickly cast a Disillusionment charm over herself before they spotted her. Stupid vapid followers, they were so focused on what they were doing that they hadn’t even sensed her presence. She smiled tightly to herself. Turning to the first one, she thought Mimble Wimble, stopping him from being able to speak properly. For the second, she thought Titallando, smiling widely when the oaf doubled over laughing for no apparent reason. The third one received an Anteoculatia, and Marlene was darkly satisfied when antlers started sprouting from the top of his head.
The fools were distracted for the moment, so Marlene hurried to Bertie’s side. With more relief than she would feel comfortable admitting, she saw that he was alright. She had feared the worst when she’d seen him lying on the ground with three men in black cloaks and silver masks standing over him. Kneeling next to him, she whispered to him quickly.
"Bertie, it’s Marlene. Shh!" She clapped a hand over his mouth when he started violently and almost made a noise. "It’s ok, Bertie, it’s me!" she hissed. "I’ve got a Disillusionment charm on me. Come on, we’ve got to get out of here!" She removed her hand from his face, lowering it to his arm. She tried to ignore the fact that she was touching him and tugged on his arm, trying to get him to his feet. He was shaking all over, covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and looked unhealthily pale. Forcing the confusion over the state he was in out of her mind for the time being, she grabbed him with both hands and hauled him up. She slung one of his arms over her shoulder, gripping him around the waist, and she hurried them out of the alley and back to the main street.
He watched her roll her eyes when he mentioned him and Lily. He was not going to not brag about the fact that he had finally gotten Lily. He was happy that she had finally agreed to be his girlfriend and he was more than happy. He also knew that Marlene was possibly in a mood, and that was probably why she was annoyed in general. He was going to for once, listen to someone else first. He just wasn’t good at listening to someone else first. But, he was going to try.
He rolled his eyes then. “That’s stupid. I mean, why the hell is he refusing to look at you? You’re pleasant enough to look at. So basically you’re saying he snogged you and then stopped talking to you? Because if that’s what you’re saying I’m going to kick his bloody arse. You’re like my sister and just because I forced him off of you doesn’t mean that he gets to be a fucking jerk to you.” James often forgot how much worse his mouth was normally. He kept that in check around Lily and that did not mean that he was whipped. Not at all. “Well of course you miss him. You like the wanker for some reason, so you’re going to miss him even though he’s incredibly stupid.” He took another drink of his drink then.
He noticed that she changed the subject but didn’t say anything about it. He didn’t know what she could have done to offend Remus. He was protective of Remus. Remus was one of his best mates and he was already a little unnerved over what had happened with Remus and Doe. He found himself saying out loud and probably a little harsher than he wanted to. “What did you say to Remus?” He knew that he had to watch that because no one could know Remus’ secret. It was Moony’s biggest fear that someone would find out what he was and he wasn’t about to let anyone else in on that. It was bad enough that he had told Lily as it was and that Lily knew that they were all animagi. “Remus is just like that. I’m sure he was just having a bad day. Just try to talk to him. If you talk to him, I’m sure it will be fine. Remus is the levelheaded one out of all the Marauders, after all.”
He looked at her when she clapped her hand over her mouth and watched her reactions. She couldn’t possibly have feelings for Remus too. What was it about Remus that made all the girls want him? He was just Moony and studied far too much. Granted, if any of them deserved to get some, it was definitely Remus. He thought about pushing the subject but his sudden burst of pain stopped that from happening.
“They’re all fucking stupid, and you know fucking Snivellus probably had a hand in it too. He’s all sorts of bitter that I get to touch her and he doesn’t even get to talk to her. This is why you don’t bloody call your best mate a fucking mudblood.” He nodded. “I’m well aware that it’s against the rules to use unforgivables. I’ll figure out what to do. I am head boy, so it’s my responsibility anyway.” He took the chocolate from her and took a bite. “This war is getting worse, you know. So many of them are talking the mark and it’s becoming more and more about blood purity. This whole thing isn’t going to end well. I talked to my mum and she wanted to even make sure I was staying out of it.”
Marlene bobbed her head in agreement when the topic turned to the Slytherins who’d cursed James. She smirked a bit at the increase in swearing - he must be really mad. He didn’t normally talk like that, especially around Lily, but he always slipped when his emotions started running too high. Marlene didn’t mind, though. She swore like sailor sometimes, herself, and James knew it. There was no need for him to bite his tongue in her presence. She liked how easy-going he was around her, like he didn’t have to be so careful. They really were like siblings in that regard.
"Ugh, ole Snivelly couldn’t land a girl like Lily in a million years," Marlene responded. Severus Snape and Marlene McKinnon did not get along. It was almost as bad as the feud between him and James, except Marlene was much more devious and sneaky. She’d never ever gotten caught, and there was never anything left behind that might incriminate her. And she took her time too, so he never saw it coming. But lately, Snape had been keeping to the shadows, so what James said made sense. She just had a feeling that Snape had turned to the wrong side. It made her blood boil every time she remembered that day by the lake when he’d called Lily a ‘mudblood’ and made her cry. Marlene would never forgive him for that.
She made a face at her friend when he threw his big ‘I’m-a-Head-Boy-it’s-my-responsibility’ bit at her; she still didn’t buy his act after almost an entire school year of witnessing it. “Oh look, little Jamesie is all grown up with responsibilities now,” she cooed at him, sticking her lower lip into a mock-pout. Chuckling at the look on his face, she handed him the chocolate. Luckily he didn’t put up a fuss, but then again, when had James ever refused a sweet? Her expression fell when he mentioned the war.
"I know," she responded sadly. "Mrs. P wants you to stay out of it?" she asked, raising her eyebrows. "I guess I can see where she’s coming from, as your mom and all. But you better fucking believe that I’m not staying out of it.” A slight blush blossomed on her cheeks as she bit her lip and looked at him. “James, I want to be an Auror,” she stated simply. It felt so good to tell him. It was different than when she’d told Bertie. Marlene and James had history, not in a romantic way, but they’d been through a lot together. “Actually,” she added, wincing, “I’ve already sent in my application. I just have to wait to see how many NEWTs I get.”
Marlene wanted to make a difference in the world. As cheesy as it sounded, she thought it could stand some improvement, starting with ridding it of this Voldemort scum bag. She knew James and Lily were meant to be, which hopefully meant little Jameses and Lilys running around. The world needed to be safe for their children. And deep down, Marlene wanted kids, too. Three of them, if she was being honest. To her utter mortification (and only very rarely, at night, when she was alone and sad), she often pictured Remus as the father.
The blush on her cheeks deepened as she waited for James to reply. His opinion mattered to her a great deal, especially since her own brother wasn’t around to ask opinions of.
James watched Marlene knock back a significant amount of firewhiskey in one drink. He knew Marlene well enough to know that meant that she was not okay. If that wanker had hurt her, he was going to break him. He already hated that guy as it was but he wasn’t going to hurt Marlene on top of that. James drank his quickly too. “Me and my bits thank you. There may be a time one day when Evans may want to use the vital bits, so she probably thanks you too. Just don’t tell her that I said that or she won’t want those vital bits any time soon.”
“How is it my fault?” He took a drink of the second drink. “He needs to learn to get the hell over things and move the fuck on. That’s what he needs to do. He also needs to learn to stop playing sensitive bloke or whatever it is that makes you want to snog him. I’m a bloke. I know how their minds work. He’s not good for you, Marlene. He’s just not.” He shrugged. “I don’t want to be nice to him. I tried and he had no interest in me trying so he can bugger off. He also can stop trying to poison my girlfriend. He’s just jealous.”
James did notice that Marlene was rambling quite a bit and it was relatively amusing. He was just so annoyed right now was the problem. He shrugged. “You’re like my sister and I just don’t want you to get hurt and okay, I probably shouldn’t have acted the way that I did.” He knew that he shouldn’t have but it was just so complicated. But, even though he thought Bertie was a stupid git, some guys were different around a girl they liked. He knew he was different around Lily. To the general observer, he was James Potter, all ego but there were times when he was with Lily when he was completely different, so he did get it on that level. “I guess I get that. Are you all not talking anymore because of what I did?”
He shrugged. “They’re around. Sirius is being Sirius. I haven’t seen him a lot lately. I think me and Evans have been kind of in our own world and ignoring pretty much everyone. You know, the couple thing that people do sometimes. I saw him yesterday. He’s just you know, having fun or whatever.” He looked at her and sighed. Remus was always quieter right after the moon and this moon had been a harder one than most. “Remus isn’t hiding anything. He’s just Remus. You know he just gets moody sometimes.”
James shifted in pain before he realized he had done it. “I had a disagreement with the LeStrange brothers. They don’t like the fact that I’m dating a muggleborn and I don’t like the fact that they fucking exist. I really hate cruciatus curses.” James was noticing what he always noticed. His mouth got a lot worse when he was angry.
Marlene let James’s words roll off her, taking them in but simply disregarding them. She couldn’t help the eye-roll induced by mention of Lily and James’s bits. She felt a slight prickle of the fury she was repressing when James had the audacity to imply that Bertie was inferior. She swallowed it down, though, when he remarked that she was like a sister to him. But he didn’t even apologize properly for assaulting the Ravenclaw; she supposed that it was probably the closest she would get and she sighed. The prat. But when he asked if she and Bertie weren’t speaking because of him, she snorted and shot him a disbelieving look.
"Are you joking?" she asked, her eyebrows climbing high on her forehead. The frown on his face clearly indicated he wasn’t. "No, we’re not talking. Bertie’s been avoiding me for the last week and a half. He d-doesn’t look at me at all.” Marlene’s arms were gesticulating wildly, and had her glass been filled, she would have sent it splashing all over James. “I think… I think he hates me,” she confessed fuzzily, leaning in toward James conspiratorially. She nodded once. “But I don’t hate him. I just… miss him.” With a valiant effort, Marlene got her mouth to shut up before it spilled out more secrets and instead switched the subject.
She nodded at her friend’s explanation. Sirius was sure to be around here somewhere, giving some poor soul a heart attack for one reason or another. Then James looked at her and sighed, and the sober part of Marlene realized that he knew Remus’s secret. Did everyone know but her? She tilted her head as she puzzled it out. The fog hovering over her wouldn’t allow it, though, and she frowned at her friend. “I know, he acts like a girl half the time. But this is different. He… he ran away from me a couple weeks ago and he’s been avoiding me ever since.” Marlene threw her hands up in exasperation. “Remus and me, we’ve always been mates, we’ve always been there for each other. You know how we are. But… but lately…” She frowned as she struggled for the right words, pressing her fist to her forehead as she tried to think. “I think I offended him somehow, maybe.” She hated the weakness in her voice. “He seemed fine, but then he just ran away. From me. Me. I needed - need- him, James, and he hasn’t been there. He’s my best friend.”
Marlene clapped her hand over her mouth, staring at James with wide eyes. She was ashamed at herself for the things pouring out of her, but mostly she was embarrassed. She had been this close to telling James how she felt about Remus. That was absolutely the last thing she ever wanted him to know. She couldn’t come between two of her best friends like that; she couldn’t be responsible for breaking up the Marauders. Blinking back the sudden prickle of tears in her eyes, she swallowed thickly and forced her gaze down to the table.
That only lasted for a few moments before James cringed and shifted. She scoffed and rolled her eyes sympathetically at his story. “Fuck the Lestranges. Rodolphus is ugly and Rabastan is stupid. Well, they’re both rather stupid,” she corrected herself, shrugging. “Wait, did you say Cruciatus? James, you have to tell Dumbledore. It’s so completely against the rules for students to use Unforgivables!” Pausing at the look on his face, her expression softened. “Sorry. Are you ok? Hang on, I have some chocolate.” She retrieved her bag from the floor under her feet and dug around for a moment, eventually producing a bar of Honeydukes’ finest. “Here, you’ll feel better. Don’t even bother arguing, I’ll force feed it to you if I have to,” she said authoritatively, offering him the bar.