Thank you, everyone, for all the reviews, follows and favorites!
It took me longer to update than with the previous chapters but the chapter is also longer so... equivalent exchange?^^
Magic is truly fascinating.
Even if it is something as simple as putting your books back on the shelf in the library without putting it back on the shelf yourself. It happens on its own. You just feel a strange energy pull at the object in your hand and it flies back to its rightful place. It's just magic and you accept it for the wonderful thing it is.
Still, I couldn't help but wonder how all these things happen.
"How do you work, Mr. Shelf?" I muttered to myself, as I tried to push the book in the place where it didn't belong just to see what will happen.
"What are you doing?"
I glanced down from where I was standing on a stool. Remus was looking at me with this peculiar expression that was a mix of curiosity and concern. I had a feeling he's been observing me like that for quite some time.
"I'm trying to figure out how Mr. Shelf works" I replied, turning back towards my task, "How does it know when to take the book and put it back? Do you have to think about putting it back or does it know right away when you drop it close enough to the place its supposed to be placed? And if so, how close do you have to put it? And how does it know where each book is supposed to go? Because now I'm trying to put a book in the wrong place and it won't take it. See?"
I tried to push the book one more time but just like before- it wouldn't move. It was as if an invisible barrier was stopping me from putting it there. As I readied myself to use even more force, I caught a movement from the corner of my eye.
One of the books from the next shelf started to tremble and soon it was floating freely in the air. I watched curiously as a tiny book flew closer and stopped somewhere near my ear. Suddenly, it smacked me on the back of the head.
I blinked in surprise. Did Mr. Shelf just hit me?
I shot it an incredulous look as the tiny book went back to its rightful place. Trying to look innocent, I bet!
"Well, that was rude" I complained as I rubbed the back of my head. It didn't really hurt but I still felt the need to make a display of some kind of discomfort.
I heard a sound of a muffled laughter from below me. I looked down and surely enough, saw Remus clearly enjoying my predicament.
"You actually managed to piss off a shelf."
Remus was trying to hide his amusement with a hand over his mouth but his shoulders were still shaking with silent laughter so I wasn't fooled. I squinted my eyes and send him a half-hearted glare.
"It's not funny!"
"It's a bit funny" he countered, with a smile still firmly on his lips.
I rolled my eyes at him. I suppose I just had to accept the fact that my best friend found amusement in my misfortunes.
"I didn't know you can piss off a shelf" I admitted after a moment, "If I did, I'd be nicer to it. Do you think Hogwarts' stairs can get pissed off too?"
Remus' smile fell at once "Please don't test that."
"I won't" I assured him as I started putting the rest of the books on the shelf, this time doing it respectfully and dropping each title in the place where it was supposed to be, "The stairs actually scare me a bit. Besides, it's probably not a good idea to piss off the school. I don't want to kneel on beans."
I didn't even have to look to know that Remus was sending me a slightly resigned look. He, of course, inquired about my unusual comment about the beans in the Transfiguration class. However unwillingly, I had to share with him all the information I gathered about the punishment system they seem to employ at schools. He wasn't as convinced of their authenticity as I was.
"I really don't think they make students kneel on beans," he said what seemed to be for the tenth time.
"But you don't know for sure"
"No, I don't know for sure" he admitted reluctantly.
I jumped off the stool and landed on the floor just in time to waggle my finger at him "Exactly."
"But-" he started with a voice that marked a beginning of some new argument "Sirius and James have some experience with detentions by now and they never mentioned any beans. Usually, they make them clean class supplies."
I hummed noncommittally as I made my way through the sections of the library towards the reading area. Now that all the books were put back in their rightful places, we could grab our notes and finished assignments for Potions class and finally leave this stuffy place. As much as I loved libraries, there was a certain limit as to how many hours I could spend here. Or rather how many dust mites I could inhale before feeling like there's enough of them inside me to start their own country in there.
As I gathered the pages from our desk, I could feel Remus' eyes on me. I knew that he was expecting some kind of response to what he said so I mused seemingly casual: "They really get into trouble a lot, don't they?"
"Yeah, they really do," he admitted with a trace of amusement in his voice. However, before I could dwell on that, he went on to point out something "I can't believe you still haven't met them."
I faltered, still not sure if I should tell him the truth about this particular situation. And the truth was that the failure to meet Remus' roommates wasn't purely… circumstantial. There was some active avoidance involved on my part. It wasn't anything too embarrassing, it's not like I ran the other way as soon as I saw them. It was more subtle than that. Sometimes I lingered in the Common Room a bit longer when I saw them talking by the entrance, sometimes I purposefully engaged Mary in a conversation when I saw them approaching… Small, subtle things that kept me at a distance but didn't make me look like a complete freak.
Personally, I was quite proud of myself. It certainly took skills to avoid someone you share Common Room with, share all your classes with and share your best friend with. However, I knew this won't last for much longer. Soon I'll have to get to know both Sirius Black and James Potter.
I didn't have anything against them, not really. They did seem nice in their own way and they were definitely a lot of fun to be around from what Remus was telling me. It was only their inability to stay out of trouble for more than a few hours that left me feeling a bit wary. And the thing about meeting them was that I'll have to form an opinion. I'll meet them, Remus will ask me what I think about them and I will have to answer. And what if I don't like them? What could I say?
'Hey, Remus. I know that you feel like you've found some decent friends but I don't think I'll get along with them, so… better luck next time?'
That would be petty and childish and unfair and Clara. I was not this kind of person. I would never act like that… but I just couldn't figure out how this whole thing could possibly work in the long run.
"I'm sure you'll like them," said Remus as if somehow sensing my thoughts, "They're really smart. You should've seen the things they wrote in their Levitation Charm assignment. Half of those things weren't even in the textbook…"
"Wait, they completed that assignment?"
I was sure Professor Flitwick gave them detention during our last lesson because they didn't turn it in. Perhaps it was detention for something else? It was difficult to keep up with that. It's only been a little over a week since the classes started and they already got at least three detentions that I knew about.
Professor McGonagall even made a remark about that during Transfiguration. She said that never, in her entire career, has she had students who would cause so much trouble in such a short period of time. Naturally, after hearing this comment, Sirius and James' faces lit up like Christmas lights and they high-fived each other over a job well-done.
Hearing that they completed any school assignment seemed a bit bizarre. However, Remus was nodding his head in affirmation.
"Yeah, they did. They actually do all their homework. They just don't submit it."
I send him a puzzled expression at that.
"They say they have a reputation to build" He replied with a shrug.
And this here was the kind of unexpected thing that made it hard for me to make up my mind about them. They had so many unusual habits that it was hard to keep up sometimes. It also didn't help that their behavior seemed to contradict itself all the time. They didn't seem at all interested in any of the classes and yet they attended them all without fail. They didn't have much respect towards our teachers and yet they chatted them up after classes and always greeted them in the hallways. Then there was the nasty habit of pranking people and the strange code of honor they seemed to develop alongside with it. No one and nothing was off the limits, however, when they went too far with any fellow Gryffindor, they acted like spooked animals in the forest and went out of their way to make amends. I remember this one time they pranked that other boy in their dormitory- Peter. The boy was sitting by himself in the Common Room, desperately working on one of the assignments and clearly failing if his miserable expression was anything to go by. Unfortunately for him, he also became a target of Sirius and James' prank that evening. I'm not sure what it was, but they planted a small object next to his table that soon exploded with a loud noise.
I don't think it went exactly as they had planned. Peter not only fell from his chair with his eyes wide open, but he also managed to knock over an open jar of ink which quickly spilled over his books and his assignment. When Sirius and James saw it, they immediately rushed over to his side, helped him up, used some spells to help fix his books and clean them off the ink. Then they spend the rest of the evening chatting up the boy and also helping him with the assignment. It was as if they could turn their entire personality around on the whim.
And now they also complete all their homework but don't turn it in. It just didn't make much sense. They were so inconsistent in their behavior that it was almost nerve-wracking. You could never tell what they'd be up to next. And the possibility of them influencing Remus with some of their bad habits was particularly worrisome.
I squinted my eyes suspiciously "You… You're not building that reputation with them, right?"
Remus chuckled softly and shook his head.
"I will eventually get a reputation of a weirdo who mysteriously disappears every month. I think that's enough popularity for me."
I send him a hesitant glance, nervously arranging the rest of my papers.
"It's almost time, isn't it?" I asked reluctantly.
There was a silence that fell between us as we gathered all of our things and prepared to leave. Remus appeared to be consumed in his own thoughts for a moment, and I took that opportunity to observe him closely without having to make him feel uncomfortable.
The closer it came to the full moon, the worse Remus' condition got. Being a werewolf was not something that only affected him during those days when the full moon was glowing brightly in the sky. It started affecting him a few days before and pain lasted a few days after. Even now, I could already see it taking a toll on him. His skin was paler than usual, his voice was getting weaker and dark circles were slowly forming under his eyes. He clearly hasn't been sleeping much lately. Not that I blamed him if anything Remus had been remarkably calm all things considered. I knew that if I had to go through what he's going through, I'd be having full-blown hysterics every time the moon came even close to looking like a circle. But if Remus was afraid, he didn't let it show.
It was the small things that gave it away. Things that could be easily overlooked if one wasn't looking for them. The way his hands trembled while carrying books from class to class, or reaching for food in the Great Hall. The way his handwriting gradually got more careless. The way his smiles would look more forced. The way he got lost in his thoughts more often. There were still three days till the full moon and it was already causing him discomfort.
And the worst part of it all was that this wasn't even theworst part. Not even once have I seen the true horror that he has to go through. All I saw were those parts before and after. The time Remus spends trapped in the werewolf's body- feeling inhuman, feeling lonely… That is the worst part- and it's the part he has to face alone. And I was a bit more worried than usual about how Remus will handle the next full moon, the first one at Hogwarts and the first one he'll have to face without his mom and dad around.
I bit my bottom lip in worry before asking in a purposefully light tone:
"Have you… thought about what you're going to tell Sirius and James? Any clever cover story?"
Remus blinked and seemed to return from his land of thoughts. He glanced at me with surprise "What do you mean?"
"Well, I don't know about their observational skills, but I'm pretty sure they will notice if you disappear for three days."
He considered it for a moment. When he answered, he spoke his words with that forced nonchalance I was very familiar with by now.
"I'll just tell them I had a family emergency and had to go home for a while. They shouldn't ask too many questions."
I frowned at his response. I did not know Sirius Black and James Potter myself but from what I've seen of them, they were definitely the kind of people who ask too many questions.
If I saw it then Remus definitely saw it too. The fact that he was trying to dismiss that was making me a bit worried.
"You don't think they will want to know more?" I asked in disbelief.
Remus shook his head and looked away. His behavior could seem careless, but I knew it was far from that. I slapped lightly on his arm and frowned at him.
"Come on, I'm sure they will care more than that!"
I figured he will have to learn to avoid many concerned questions about his health and his disappearances. He will have to come up with some clever explanations about his exhaustion and gloomy moods. I just didn't realize he'll be so… dismissive about it. He needed a better plan than 'they probably won't ask'.
But it seemed he couldn't accept the fact that people he met a week ago could possibly care so much. That they could care so much about him.
And if he can't see that then…
I let out a sigh, full of resignation.
"You know what? Maybe I should meet them before you… go. That way when they end up having questions they'll have someone to ask instead of finding out a way to get the answers on their own."
And as he sent me a bright smile, I returned it, but I knew it didn't reach my eyes like his did.
I was really glad for Mary MacDonald and her entire family. Promising that girl that I will help her fill out the envelopes to send out to her relatives allowed me to procrastinate on my task of meeting Sirius and James without feeling too bad about it. Or having to lie to Remus about it. When he suggested that I can meet the boys today, right away, I panicked a bit. Just because I made some resolution about it, doesn't mean I had to fulfill it right away. Not today. Maybe tomorrow? Or the day after that? Sometime this week for sure. Today was just not good. It's better that Remus spends the rest of the day with the boys, I'll hang around with Mary and everyone will be happier for it. We shouldn't jump into anything.
I made my way down the corridor of the East Wing, keeping a watchful eye on characteristic monuments on my way. I've been at Hogwarts for over a week but I still tended to get lost sometimes. Strange looking monuments of wizards and creatures were the only things that allowed me to find my way in this labyrinth of a school.
The loud voice made me jump in surprise. I saw a shape of someone on the other end of the corridor from where the shout came from, but I couldn't really tell who that was from the distance. I didn't recognize that voice either and I wasn't entirely sure it was actually referring to me. Was Clara somewhere here?
I looked around, but there was no one in the corridor. It was just me and now this group of people that appeared out of nowhere. I watched the strangers approaching with an apprehensive look.
"You're a Jones, aren't you?" the tallest of the group asked as they got closer.
There were two other boys and a girl with him, but they kept their distance. They stood two-three feet away, watching me with taunting smiles on their faces. They all wore robes with a Slytherin symbol on them.
I looked at the boy who shouted my name. His eyes were brown and narrow, his hooked nose and a pointed chin making him look angry. Or perhaps he was angry?
They didn't look like first-year students, but they didn't seem much older either. Maybe a second year? Third year? They were way taller than me but then again so were most people, even those younger than me.
"Yes, I'm Amelia Jones. And who are you?" I asked keeping my voice as steady and as polite as possible. After all, just because someone looked unfriendly doesn't necessarily meant they were.
"None of your business."
I felt my stomach drop as I straightened up and stared at the strangers in front of me. Well, that was certainly not friendly.
"Now, why don't we have a little chat, huh?"
My hands tightened on the books I carried with me, my back straight and tense. Suddenly I felt very aware of how small I really was. The way he spoke made a chill run down my spine.
"Because you're creepy," I said shortly, hoping that a blunt response will put them off the track at least a little bit.
With those words, I turned abruptly and attempted to walk away, but the boy was in front of me, blocking my path before I could take more than a step. I jumped, feeling a bit skittish at having some stranger stand so close to me. He didn't bother to hide the glee in his eyes at having put me on edge.
"Aren't you a jumpy little thing?" he noted with malicious glee that was gone from his face just as soon as it appeared.
He then regarded me with a cold glare and seethed through his teeth:
"Are you a blood-traitor like your father?"
I blinked surprised. Blood-traitor?
Even though this term sounded strange in my ears, I couldn't help but feel like I've heard it before. Was it at the clinic? It must've been, where else could I hear something so unusual? However, I couldn't pinpoint exactly when I've heard it. Maybe one of the Ministry workers muttered it under their breath? Or maybe it was spoken by one of the more reluctant patients who found themselves at dad's clinic out of absolute necessity? People said a lot of things so it was difficult to keep track of what was said when and where.
Now I kind of wished I did pay closer attention to those things. From the look on their faces, the term 'blood-traitor' was supposed to mean something to me. Their mocking smiles and the way the boy sneered those words at me made me think it was supposed to be incredibly insulting.
"My dad didn't betray anything," I stated simply, trying to keep my voice unreadable. I didn't want them to know I had little idea of what they were talking about.
"Oh yeah? So he's not playing with mud all day?"
Why would they think dad plays with mud? Do they think he has a farm? Even as that silly thought entered my mind, I knew it couldn't be true. His words were laced with too much malice and contempt to be considered as some silly remarks. He really wanted to insult me with those words. And it seemed to be a clever insult if the group's laughter was anything to go by.
"I heard he actually invites it to his house" the boy continued looking quite pleased with himself at the moment "How disgusting is that?"
And though I still wasn't sure what he meant by all this, I could easily recognize a look of loathing on all of their faces. They were repulsed… by my dad? By me?
I couldn't even counter back the insults as I had no idea where they were coming from and why. I stood there, gritting my teeth and swallowing down the urge to take couple steps back and flee from the scene. Somehow, I had a feeling it would make matters worse, not better.
The group, clearly discouraged by my lack of reaction, shot me some hateful glares before the dark-haired boy spoke again:
"This one clearly lost some brain cells in all that filth. Let's go, we don't want to catch something from her."
I was just about to let out a small sigh of relief, thinking they will leave soon. However, the black-haired boy didn't step back immediately. He took a step forward- so close I could feel his breath on my face. I went completely still, not daring to move a muscle. Suddenly, I felt something sharp pressed against the side of my stomach. I dared only one, quick glace, but as soon as I've done so I wished I hadn't.
It was a wand. The boy was pressing the wand against me.
"Better keep your head down, Jones," he said in a low voice, nearing his head so he could seethe the words directly into my ear. "We don't want to hear too much from the likes of you, got it?"
I felt prickling in the place where the wand pressed into my robes, but before I could start panicking about it, the boy let me go. Just as he pulled away his wand, I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding.
The group of Slytherins send me one last hateful look and then they turned around and went down the corridor, in the same direction they came from.
As they slowly disappeared from my view, I still stood rooted in the exact same spot, trying to comprehend what actually happened.
I was used to many unpleasant reactions. I was used to disapproval, I was used to dirty looks and I was very used to people looking at dad like he's crazy and even looking at me like that from time to time.
But this was different. This was disgust and… hate? Did I get it right? I don't remember anyone looking at me like that before so I wasn't sure.
I could still feel tingling sensations in the place where the wand was pointed against my stomach. I could still feel pressure there as if the object didn't disappear at all.
I knew I was trembling as I turned on my heel and started going into opposite direction to where Slytherins went. I could feel my hands shaking against the books in my hands and I tightened my grip in hopes they will stop.
The unsettling feeling in my stomach grew stronger with each step I took. The whole encounter didn't make any sense to me.
I didn't do anything to them, I never spoke badly of them. I never disturbed them. I never even met them before today! I was just walking down the corridor, I didn't even cross their path. They called out my name, not the other way around. They deliberately went up to me and started the conversation. They took the precious time out of their lives for the sole purpose of… taunting me? Calling me mean names?
I frowned in consternation.
Why would anyone do that? Why would they waste their time on someone they clearly didn't like?
My brainstorming consumed me so much that I didn't even notice I was staring at the ground as I walked. I eventually realized that I wasn't paying much attention to where I was going. Mostly because I felt my forehead bumping into something that was unmistakably someone's chest. I walked right into someone, my books almost falling to the ground in front of me.
"You're supposed to tell me that before I bump into them."
The shock at hearing those two familiar by voices made my trembling stop. I closed my eyes for a moment, sensing the feeling of hopelessness coming.
So much for avoiding them.
For a moment I entertained the idea of standing still with my eyes closed until they get bored and walk away. However, the likelihood of that happening wasn't high enough for me to actually try it. Not to mention, once I actually took a proper look at them, I was left too dumbstruck to consider any escape plans.
While James looked like his usual self- dressed in his Gryffindor robes with round glasses hanging sloppily on his nose and his messy hair sticking in all directions- something about Sirius was very off. I actually had to take a double look to register what I was seeing.
Sirius was… blindfolded with his own school tie.
I stared at him confused as I tentatively rubbed my forehead. I couldn't possibly hit my head that hard to hallucinate, right? Besides, why would I hallucinate a blindfolded Sirius Black?
Sirius swayed a little but kept himself balanced enough to stand on two feet. James occasionally grabbed hold of Sirius' shoulder as if in fear of him tipping over. His worries were clearly warranted. Instead of standing still like any other blindfolded person probably would, Sirius kept moving around and throwing his arm in the air, trying to feel his surroundings.
"Apologies for that," said James, still not taking his eyes off his swaying friend, but somehow I could tell he was talking to me and not him. I didn't pay much attention to that before, but James' voice had a special tone that was only used when he was speaking to Sirius "As you can see, my friend and I are having a little trust exercise going on."
"We're trying to see if he can guide me through the entire school with me blindfolded" added Sirius with a huge grin on his face "It's been going quite well, except he keeps leading me towards walls and people."
"And yet you keep trusting me anyway, oh buddy o'mine! I'm telling you, our friendship grows stronger with each bump."
They grinned happily at each other while I stood with my mouth slightly open. I knew I was staring at them with an incredulous expression on my face but I couldn't help it. Did he really lead him towards a wall? As a sign of friendship?
"So, who did I ambush this time?" inquired Sirius and started moving his head around as if that could somehow help him see.
James finally took his eyes off his friend and glanced in my way.
"It looks like-" he started in a casual tone, but once he properly looked, his eyes winded a bit in recognition "You're Remus' friend! Mia, right?"
Sirius' interest perked up at that. He stopped throwing his head around and actually tried to focus on some point in front of him.
"Really?" he asked or rather exclaimed enthusiastically. He opened his mouth to say something more but his friend cut him off.
"Wait, she's over here," said James as he started to rotate Sirius.
However, instead of pointing him towards me, he turned him so that he was facing a monument that was standing alongside the wall. He now stood with his back towards me. I watched curiously as Sirius started addressing a piece of stone depicting some old, bearded wizard.
"We meet at last! Remus talks about you a lot. I feel like I know you m'lady!" he spoke in an overly dramatic voice and made an effort of bowing his head in a gracious gesture.
James lasted only couple seconds before he doubled over with laughter. I felt something tugging at the corners of my mouth as well.
Sirius immediately realized that something was wrong as he furrowed his eyebrows and reached out with his hand… only to be met with a cold texture of a stone. He turned his head somewhere in the direction of James' laughter and spoke in a deadpanned voice:
"When it's your turn to wear a blindfold I'm leading you right into the lake."
James just grinned happily.
"Forgive my friend. He seems to be quite taken with-" he paused, looking up the small plaque on the monument "-Uric the Oddball, at the moment. Allow me to introduce you to two bravest Gryffindors you'll ever get a privilege of knowing- James Potter and Sirius Black!"
It was truly amazing how he could say something like that and still avoid sounding completely arrogant. I think it was that playful tone that seemed to balance out self-importance of his words.
Not to mention, their constant grinning was making them look like overexcited children when they saw chocolate. Or me when I saw chocolate.
I couldn't help but smile at them as well. After the unpleasant encounter with the Slytherins, I felt a strange wave of relief as I watched their carefree behavior.
Remus was right about that part. These two practically infected everything around them with a good spirit. They were so easygoing and it seemed they could find a reason to laugh at anything around them. There was this warm glow that their smiles gave when directed at you.
"I'm Amelia Jones- Mia" I introduced myself, sending them a small smile. Well, sending James a small smile, since Sirius was still blindfolded and couldn't possibly see it.
"We know," they replied simultaneously with almost identical grins.
I was just about to say something when James' voice cut me off.
"You alright?" he asked and Sirius whipped his head towards him, raising his eyebrows in silent question.
A smile fell from my lips. Why would he ask something like that all of the sudden? Did I do something wrong? Was there something wrong with me? Was he asking if I'm alright mentally or physically?
"Why do you ask?" I asked cautiously.
"Your hands are shaking and-" he trailed off, focusing on some spot on my robes.
I automatically turned my head to follow his line of sight. The thing I saw didn't register at first. I had to blink couple times before the realization hit me.
I stood frozen in place. My eyes focused on a burned trail that ran from my stomach and ended near my hipbone. It was the spot where the wand was pressed against my side couple minutes ago.
How could I miss that? Was I so preoccupied with the whole situation that I didn't notice something like this?
I felt something there but I'd just never thought that… I assumed the uncomfortable feeling was just imaginary. That it lingered there from the unpleasantness of the whole encounter, not any real damage.
But there was, there was a real damage. That Slytherin boy, he didn't just want to hurt my feelings- he actually wanted to hurt me.
I tried to keep my breathing slow and even but I could feel my pulse racing and my hands shaking even more than before. This was not good, this could not be good. Is this the kind of thing Clara was warning me about? Is this what she meant when she told me to be careful around the Slytherins?
But… Maybe it was an accident? Surely it was, because why would someone want to…
All of the sudden, I remembered that I was not exactly alone at the moment. I twitched, moving my weight awkwardly from one foot to the next.
James was eyeing me curiously. I could only assume that Sirius was sporting a similar look. Because of the blindfold, I could only see his eyebrows and his lower face, but his expression was odd and I couldn't place it. I was very aware of the silence that stretched between us and so I made up my mind quickly.
"Everything's fine! Actually, I have to go now!" I exclaimed suddenly, making them both jump in surprise "I have something to do- somewhere else, so I'm going to go there now to… do that something. It was… yeah, to meet you. I'll see you around."
And with those awkward parting words, I moved past them and made my way towards the Gryffindor Tower.
I pretended not to notice the look of confusion on their faces.
The area around the table was lit only by one kerosene lamp and a dim brightness from the fireplace. Half of the table was lined with envelopes and cards, each with a sloppy handwritten address on top of it. When I first started, I put a great effort into filling out each envelope, but with time my enthusiasm burned down and my writing become lazy. There were just so many envelopes! How could one family be so big?
I stretched out from my position on the floor, feeling my muscles burn in protest. It's been almost two hours since I sat down and about an hour since I slumped down on the floor, took off my shoes and basically lied down on the cozy carpet. Even in this seemingly comfortable position, I couldn't stay still for too long. How could some people sit in chairs for hours on end and feel no discomfort what so ever?
However, I couldn't complain too much. This was good- being here, helping Mary.
I closed my eyes, relieved to have some sort of relaxation, some reprieve from what happened. I don't know if it was the calming effect of the fireplace, the warm colors of the Common Room, the company or having my mind focus on completing some mindless task but I felt much better then I did when I first got here.
When I reached the Common Room couple hours ago, my hands were still trembling slightly and the unsettling feeling still curled up in my chest. The first thing I did was walk up to my dormitory to change out of ruined clothes and to put on new ones. I'm sure that soon I'll learn some kind of spell that will help me fix that, but for now, the burned robes were safely hidden at the bottom of my trunk. Once I got rid of all the signs of what happened, I went down to meet Mary who greeted me with a warm smile. We sat down by one of the tables near the fireplace and I happily welcomed the task of writing down addresses on envelopes while Mary worked on the content of the letters. It's been almost three hours now since we started and I don't think we were anywhere near done.
I glanced at Mary. She still sat on the couch, in her usual manner of making herself look as small as possible. Her thumb was placed on her lips and her eyes were locked on the piece of paper she was filling in with words.
She was quite a unique person.
Mary was timid, quiet and she stuttered her words even when she wasn't feeling nervous at all. She was also incredibly shy around boys. When I first introduced her to Remus, it didn't go too well. All he managed to do was shake her hand and smile. It went downhill from there. She gave an incoherent squeak and then spend the rest of the breakfast staring down at her oatmeal with a face as red as a tomato.
But underneath that faint-hearted persona, Mary was a very nice girl and once one got used to her shyness and gave her an opportunity to express herself she was a great company. She was honest, always willing to listen and had so much warmth in her big brown eyes that they seemed to have a calming effect on anyone she looked at.
She was different from the other girls in our dormitory.
When it came to confidence, Lily was her exact opposite. Lily Evans was never afraid to speak her mind. She had this air of confidence following her around wherever she went and I would lie if I said I wasn't a bit jealous of that. Despite that, or maybe because of that- I liked her a lot. She was really friendly and fun to talk to. It was actually a shame I didn't get to spend much time with her.
Lily was determined to prove herself as a brilliant witch and so she tended to spend most of her time in the library, and when she didn't study, she hung out with her friend from Slytherin- Severus Snape. She usually came back to Gryffindor Tower late in the night, right before the curfew. That left her very little time to spend with us in the dormitory.
In the evenings it was generally just Mary, Marlene and I.
I didn't have much to say about Marlene. I think she mostly avoided me, but she did it in such a subtle way, similar to how I avoided Sirius and James, that it was hard to say for sure. She was definitely hesitant when interacting with me. She wasn't mean, rude or dismissive, but I could tell she wasn't exactly happy about me being there. She was acting towards me in a similar way that Clara acted around the Lupins. There was always hesitancy in her actions and words as if she wasn't sure what to think of me.
Naturally, out of the three girls I ended up being the closest with Mary. After Remus, she was the person I spend most of my time here at Hogwarts.
I turned my attention to the small, red book that I was using to find home addresses of Mary's relatives. While waiting for her to finish writing another card, I skimmed through the pages. There were just so many names in here! All written neatly in Mary's handwriting- each name accompanied by precise address and information such as birth dates and dates of anniversaries. When Mary first showed me the book I didn't think it was all her family. Now as I looked at page after page everywhere I saw titles before names such as 'aunt', 'uncle', 'cousin' or 'grandma'.
"How many family members do you have?" I asked, breaking the comfortable silence we fell into.
She looked startled at first, clearly consumed in her own thoughts. Then she looked at me, guilt shining in her brown eyes.
"Oh, I-I'm sorry. I s-should've t-told you it's a lot…"
I smiled at her and started waving off her concerns before she went into the full rant of insecurities as she tended to do. I was getting better and better at recognizing those moments and putting them to a stop before they started.
"It's not that. I told you I'm happy to help." I assured her, "I'm just asking because I'm curious."
She relaxed immediately. Her guilty look replaced by the one of deep thought.
"I-I'm not s-sure r-really" she replied eventually "I don't think I've ever counted them all."
"Must be interesting having so many people at a family dinner."
I tried to imagine such a huge family coming over for something like a Christmas dinner but I simply couldn't. For me it was always three people. Just me, dad and Clara- never more, never less. I know mom and dad had some distant families, but they were distant both in name and the presence. The idea of having so many family members that I couldn't even give a number to it was a bit overwhelming.
"I've n-never met m-most of t-them."
I tilted my head in confusion.
"I-I'm not f-from a p-pure-blood family" she confessed and I furrowed my eyebrows. I heard that term before but wasn't too sure what it meant. I decided to wait with my question and listen to Mary as she continued, "My g-grandfather and my g-great grandparents w-w-were Muggle-born. T-There are quite a few Muggles in m-my family still. T-They don't know about the m-magical world. S-Some of them do, but not many. I-It would be impossible to g-gather the entire f-f-family and h-h-have them all sit by the s-s-same table. Too m-many lies to tell and secrets to k-keep. B-But-" Mary paused for a moment, a warm smile finding it's way to her face "-it's still family. We t-try to do what w-we can to keep it that way. We send greeting cards and k-keep in touch with important n-news, for example, if s-someone gets m-m-married, or a c-child is born, or s-s-someone gets important job or… s-someone starts important s-school."
I nodded my head thoughtfully. I couldn't really relate to this need to keep in touch with the extended family, especially the one you never met, but from the smile on Mary's lips, I could tell this system worked for them. It was nice- it was different, but it was nice.
However, as she spoke, I couldn't help but let my thoughts wander a little.
Pure-blood family. This term caught my attention the most. I definitely heard that one before. I think it was Clara who talked about it. I couldn't recall what exactly it meant but it had to do with some old wizarding families.
It also sounded like it could be related to…
"Do you know what's a 'blood-traitor'?"
Mary's head snapped towards me so fast that I'm sure her neck hurt. Her eyes winded in shock.
"W-Why d-do you a-ask?"
Apparently, it was not a question that you can casually ask during the conversation. I was suddenly aware that I hadn't actually thought out what to say to her. I wasn't sure if I want to tell Mary about what happened with the Slytherins today. I didn't want to sound silly or sound like I'm overreacting. I still wasn't sure if what happened was actually a big deal or not. I was planning to talk to Remus about it first, but since he wasn't around…
A bit hesitantly, I told Mary what happened on the corridor. I told her what they said. I only left out the part about the wand and the burning. The question of whether it was deliberate or not still hang up in the air. I didn't want to say something and got someone in trouble because I jumped to conclusions. Those Slytherins were not the nicest of people but they were still people. It wouldn't be fair to accuse them of something like that if there was no merit to it.
Mary listened to my every word with great attention. As soon as I reached the part about 'blood-traitor" her eyes went even wider and she stared at me horrified.
"I-It's a b-b-bad word" she started explaining as soon as I finished talking, "People shouldn't s-say it. It's s-something that pure-blooded w-w-wizards say, about w-witches and wizards w-who sympathize with non-magical c-community and M-Muggle-borns. They think t-they betray their m-magical r-roots by it."
So that's what it was. However, this explanation left me even more baffled than the encounter with the Slytherins did.
"Well, that's unfair!" I blurted out loudly making several heads in the room turn towards us. I send them a sheepish smile before turning back to Mary and whispering with exasperation clear in my voice, "You can't choose where your blood comes from. And what does it matter anyway? How can people judge someone based on something so stupid?"
Mary's eyes clouded sadly.
"S-Some p-people t-t-think they c-can."
We both went quiet for a while. I honestly couldn't understand how someone can hate people for something like that. That was just not right and truth be told- it was stupid. You should judge people based on what they do and not who or what they are.
As we went back to our task of filling the envelopes, I still mulled over Mary's words in my head. I always assumed that people didn't like dad because they were worried that he'll cause trouble for the magical world. That he'll endanger them by letting the Muggles in on the secret. I thought that's why the Ministry of Magic was so relentless in checking in on his work.
But what if there was more to it?
I snapped out of my thoughts only as a loud laughter rung in the air. I immediately knew who it belonged to.
I groaned unhappily. I turned towards the entrance to the Common Room just in time to see Sirius and James, now accompanied by Remus and Peter, climbing through the portrait hole. I noticed that Sirius wasn't wearing the blindfold anymore. And if James' soaked figure was anything to go by, Sirius kept his promise of leading him right into the lake.
I wonder if they told Remus about our meeting. They probably did. Maybe instead I should be wondering if they used a word 'weirdo' or a 'freak' when describing my abrupt departure. Now, from the perspective, I was fully realizing how utterly awkward the whole thing was.
I closed my eyes, feeling waves of mortification coming. It was not how I imagined our first meeting to go. Not that I had much hope for it going particularly well, to begin with, but I thought it will be bad in a different way. Less embarrassing for me way.
I lowered myself towards the floor, trying to look as casual as possible. I rested my arm on my knee, successfully masking my face. I even pushed some strays of my hair up front to protect me their view.
Unknown to me at the moment, Mary was watching me with furrowed eyebrows.
"W-What a-are you doing?" she asked, still eyeing me uncertainly.
"Just getting more comfortable. You should try it, the floor is very… comfy".
Mary didn't look convinced at all.
She raised her head and looked towards the entrance, to the place where I was looking just seconds ago. As soon as her sight fell on four boys, her cheeks went bright red and she quickly averted her eyes and focused them on her hands instead.
I felt a wave of sympathy towards her at this moment. We might not be embarrassed in the same way for the same reason, but there was some common understanding there. I should give her some of my chocolate tomorrow.
"P-People say t-they got detentions f-for the entire month" she muttered quietly "D-Do you t-think it's true?"
"They managed to get detention with Professor Sprout before their first lesson with Professor Sprout. I wouldn't be surprised if they already had detentions booked for the entire year."
"D-Do you think t-they're coming b-back from a-another d-detention now?"
I shook my head confidently.
"No, Remus is with them. Remus isn't like that."
"W-Who's the f-forth b-boy?"
I didn't even have to turn around to know who she was asking about. There was only one new addition in their regular companions.
"That's Peter. He's in the same dormitory as them. Looks like he's part of their group now."
I guess I should've seen this coming. Ever since that prank, Peter could be seen hanging around Sirius and James quite often. It made sense too since they all share a room. It's natural that they somehow gravitated towards each other. Besides, Remus told me that he talked to Peter quite a lot in the past few days and he turned out to be a really nice guy. Whoever assigned boys dormitories for this year knew what they were doing.
"H-He… shouldn't r-really be h-h-here."
I blinked at her words. Her was voice had a strange edge to it and I could not figure out what it could mean.
"Who? Peter?" I asked incredulously.
She shook her head and answered, her voice lowered to a whisper:
My eyebrows shot up in surprise. Did she mean he shouldn't be here because of his troublesome behavior and all the detention? If so, why only Sirius and not James and Sirius? And even if she said both of them that still wasn't very fair. They may be trouble but they weren't all that bad. Not to mention, they were our fellow Gryffindors. Everyone who belongs to Gryffindor had a right to be here. Why would Mary say something like that? It was very unlike her.
"It's the Gryffindors' Common Room, he's a Gryffindor. Why shouldn't he be here?"
There must've been something in my voice that sounded a bit defensive because Mary's face went red and she stuttered sheepishly:
"N-No, I don't m-mean it in a b-bad way, just- it's so strange. He's a B-Black."
The way she pronounced his last name made me feel like there should be some significance to it. However, I failed to see it. She must've realized that from my blank expression because she immediately went on to explain:
"From the N-Noble House of B-Black. It's one of the l-largest and o-o-oldest pure-blooded families in B-Britain. T-They're obsessed with b-b-blood purity. They hate M-Muggles and Squibs and M-Muggle-borns a-a-and… b-blood-traitors."
She said the last word hesitantly as if she was afraid she'll offend me by saying it. However, I wasn't really focused on that at the moment. I was too wrapped up in this weird picture that Mary was describing. It sounded like everyone with the last name Black should be some kind of prejudiced, nasty person.
I just couldn't see it. I really couldn't see Sirius Black- the loud, ridiculous prankster who walks around the castle blindfolded and bows to monuments of old men- as someone who could hate people based on something so shallow. I may not be all that enthusiastic about him, but he was definitely not evil. He was nothing like those Slytherins I've met.
"T-That's w-why it's so s-strange that h-he's here" continued Mary, now glancing tentatively towards Sirius who was still laughing along with James, Remus, and Peter, "P-People like h-him go to S-Slytherin. M-Maybe R-Ravenclaw, but d-definitely n-n-not G-Gryffindor."
I peeked through my hair towards the boys. Each with a smile on their face, each with ease, each looking very much like they belong here. I really couldn't see any difference in this matter between Sirius and the rest of them. Or between Sirius and the rest of the Gryffindors.
"B-But, I don't k-know. Maybe h-he's d-different. I've n-never s-spoken to him, so I-I shouldn't judge" Mary mumbled the words hesitantly, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. Suddenly a look of panic crossed her face "D-Don't t-tell him I-I-I said those things, a-a-alright?"
I snorted at her nervousness. Now, this sounded more like the Mary I knew.
"My lips are sealed" I promised, nodding solemnly "Besides, I don't exactly speak to him either."
"O-Oh, I j-j-just a-a-assumed-" she stuttered a bit more than usual as her face became even an brighter shade of red "H-He's friends with R-Remus, isn't h-he?"
I didn't respond immediately, taking a moment to actually consider her question. I know she wasn't asking it with any serious implications but somehow it ended up being this way.
It was an important question and one I finally had to answer.
Remus was starting to become close to these boys, I know he was, even if he didn't want to admit it yet. And Remus doesn't become close to people easily. He's not the kind of person who walks up to a person, introduces himself and says 'Hey, let's be friends forever'. No, Remus Lupin waits for the other person to make the first move. Remus Lupin starts out his relationship like… a distrustful rabbit. He starts out shy, very independent and hesitant to trust. It takes deliberate action to build that trust and mutual understanding.
And these two did exactly that. Sirius Black and James Potter welcomed Remus like a friend. They made him feel included. Made him feel like one of them. Made him feel normal.
I sank even lower towards the floor, now practically laying down, with only my head supported by the couch. I let out a sign full of resigned acceptance.
"Yeah, they are friends."
"I-I think h-he must k-know. I-I mean, p-people have t-t-to feel it, r-right?"
"I wouldn't know. I've never died."
History of Magic was definitely the most dreadful subject at Hogwarts. At first, when I've heard that this class is being taught by an actual ghost I was excited. I've never seen one before and I could only imagine all the fascinating stories that a ghost who has existed for hundreds of years had to tell. Unfortunately, after surviving four hours of his lecturing, I still had only my imagination to keep me entertained. Professor Binns was the most boring story-teller I've ever encountered. He spoke every word in the same monotone manner and didn't even seem to notice there were students in his classroom.
This started to make me wonder if he even knows that he died.
I hummed thoughtfully.
"Maybe Hogwarts' Headmaster is keeping it a secret from him so he can always have an available Professor to teach History of Magic, who doesn't require a paycheck? But if so, that is incredibly cruel, not only to Professor Binns but also to us, who have to sit through his lectures."
Mary looked absolutely horrified. "S-Surely P-Professor D-Dumbledore wouldn't d-do that!"
I was really glad that I had Mary to indulge in my brainstorming in the absence of Remus. Usually, he would be the person I'd discuss my 'Illegal Ghost Labour' theory with but he was currently unavailable.
He was spending this morning with James, Sirius, and Peter and for once I was kind of glad for it. I still haven't talked to him since I literally run into James and Sirius and I was kind of dreading that moment. I was just hoping that once I tell him about the Slytherins he'll understand that it wasn't entirely my fault that his new friends think his old friend has mental health issues. Because I'm pretty sure that's what they think about me now.
Besides, Mary was pretty nice to talk to even about the most ridiculous subjects. She actually went along with them and that's what counted the most.
"Want to sit here?" I asked as we neared one of the empty benches near the lake. Today the weather was so nice that we decided to take some chocolate and go sit outside for a while. Well, Mary decided on going outside, I decided on chocolate.
And even though there were quite a lot of trees around which made the possibility of squirrel attack raise dangerously high I eventually got swayed by the nice breeze of a Saturday morning.
"S-Sure." she nodded and soon enough we were sitting comfortably with chocolates with our hands and enjoying nice rays of sunshine.
As I looked around, I found out that going by the lake seemed to be a popular idea. It's a good thing that Mary and I got here so early and got some nice seats because the whole place was filling up with student pretty fast. From afar I could see Clara, surrounded by many students, looking positively glowing and surprisingly pleasant- I even contemplated going over and saying hi, but I'm pretty sure her friendly mood was reserved only for her friends so I kept my distance. I even saw Remus, Sirius, James, and Peter sitting somewhere near the lake and throwing little stones at the water. I had no idea what they tried to accomplish but they looked happy so that's all that mattered.
I looked up towards the hesitant voice and to my great surprise saw Marlene McKinnon standing in front of me.
"Marlene, how are you?" I asked with a smile. Just because she was apprehensive towards me, doesn't mean I have to be the same way towards her.
"I'm good, thanks." She replied politely but I could hear in her voice that she wasn't here for a small talk. However, I couldn't possibly guess what it was.
"Listen, Mary told me what happened with those Slytherins yesterday," she said after a moment, almost in a mumble, scratching the back of her hand in that nervous gesture I have seen a few times before.
I flinched involuntarily, as the memories from yesterday came back at once.
Not that those thoughts went too far away in the first place. They were playing the starring roles in my not so pleasant dreams yesterday. Once I went to bed and the lights in the dormitory dimmed, I was left with only my thoughts to keep me company, and they were not the most cheerful ones. There were no flying turtles, no chocolate, no dancing Basil. Instead, I couldn't rid my thoughts of images of those Slytherins sending me hateful glances full of disgust. I couldn't stop hearing Mary's voice explaining the value of silly blood-status in the magical community.
"I just wanted you to know that I think it was really unfair. They shouldn't have said those things to you"
I nodded vaguely at her words, not really knowing what to say. I wasn't expecting it, that's for sure. I glanced at Mary and saw her watching our exchange with a smile. She definitely had a lot to do with what was happening. Not only telling Marlene about the Slytherins but probably also convincing her to reach out.
When our eyes met, she looked a bit apologetic, as if she wasn't sure if she's done the right thing. Truth is, I never told her she could tell other people what happened, but at the same time, I never told her she couldn't.
And I found that I didn't really mind that she did. Somehow I knew that Mary wouldn't just go around telling people unless she thought some good could come out of it.
A small smile formed on my face.
I looked back towards Marlene who still stood in front of me, a bit awkwardly, but with a clear expectant expression.
"Do you want to sit with us?" I blurted out, knowing full well it wasn't really a reply to her words, but still felt like it's the right course of action. She blinked surprised and I added encouragingly "We're discussing whether Professor Binns knows he's dead or not."
Marlene didn't immediately reply. She just watched me for a few seconds, rubbing her left hand with the fingers of her right, and her expression slowly relaxed.
"Yeah, sure," Marlene said, still sounding a little hesitant, but she sat in between me and Mary.
"Great!" I proclaimed happily before breaking a chocolate in my hand and unceremoniously placing half of it in her hand.
"You don't have to-" she started but I cut her off right away.
"My company includes free chocolate-" I stated simply, but after a moment of consideration I decided to be a bit more realistic "-on occasions… when my secret stash is full enough so I don't fear running out."
She still looked a little apprehensive, but the corner of her mouth tugged just a little bit and I decided to count that as a win.
"Oi, Remus! What's wrong?" A loud shout suddenly filled the air.
I turned my head to see what was happening.
I felt something twist painfully in my stomach. I could barely comprehend what else they were shouting. Their words turned into ringing noise in my ears.
I stood up abruptly and rushed towards Remus who was lying unconscious on the ground.