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Chapter 9: Moment in Time
You Hate Me
Chapter 9: A Moment in Time
As Piper predicted, Rhett berated her within seconds of their return to the Redden manor. Directly after that, her mother shouted at the top of her lungs for nearly an hour, covering every subject from shame to the family to who would marry Piper now. The only person in the family beside Piper who didn’t see anything wrong with throwing a goblet of wine at Alexander McClure was Piper’s father, who winked at her behind her mother’s back. Piper listened to the words of her mother and brother, more to shut them up than anything. At the end of their lectures, both thought Piper had turned over a new leaf.
Rhett picked up on this and waited until the next morning to continue yelling at his sister. “I’ll never be able to look him in the face again.”
“You’re not missing out on anything,” Piper said.
Rhett scowled. “Be as sarcastic as you’d like, Piper, but just so you know, I’ve invited Alexander over for dinner tonight so you can apologize to him face to face.” Rhett’s scowl turned into a smug smile. Now he was sure that his sister had taken his words full-heartedly.
Piper jumped to her feet. “I will not apologize to Alexander McClure.” Piper hadn’t meant for the situation to escalate like this. Honestly, you throw a goblet of wine at a person’s face and everyone starts acting like you’ve done something wrong. It had been her plan to spend the remaining five days of the holiday locked in her room with her armoire acting as a barricade, worrying about what Black was going to say to his friends at the castle. Apologizing to Alexander McClure was not on the agenda.
“Yes, you are.” Rhett ambled to his feet also, though less gracefully than his sister. “Mother and Father think it’s a great idea to have the McClures over.” Piper blanched; more than one McClure was going to be making an appearance? “Besides, you heard Mom, if you don’t apologize to him she’ll have you shipped off to France and we both know your French is dreadful.”
His threat worked.
Piper had no desire to be carted off to France. But she also had no desire to ask McClure for forgiveness. She supposed Beauxbaton wouldn’t be too horrible—not having to fret about what Black was going to say about her was a plus. Apologizing to McClure—it was out of the question. She wouldn’t do it. They couldn’t make her do it.
“I wish the lot of you would just leave me the hell alone!” Piper bellowed, her mouth curved into a snarl. She slammed the door shut behind her.
Piper’s next hour was filled with running back and forth to her parents, whining, complaining, debating, and arguing. First, she ran to find her father. Surely he would call off the dinner if she asked. Heath was in his favorite armchair by one of the many fireplaces in their home when Piper found him. He was writing an important looking letter while a man dressed shadily waited in the corner.
“Dad!” She cried.
Heath dropped his quill. His daughter never yelled like that. The man in the corner lowered the brimmed hat he was wearing over his face even further. He was likely a Ministry official plotting some dirty deed. Piper rolled her eyes; she was quite used to illegal exchanges between her father and these well-disguised officials.
“Please tell me the McClures are not coming over tonight.”
Heath made a pained face. “They are.” Piper groaned. “I know, dear, I know. They aren’t my favorite people, exactly, but we must be polite. Especially after,” Heath mimed Piper holding the goblet and throwing the liquid in Alexander’s face.
“Isn’t there something you could—”
“I’m sorry, dear. There’s nothing I can do. And don’t bother faking sick either. You’re mother will have my head if I let you stay in bed all evening,” Heath said.
Piper had just been about to cough dramatically. She stopped halfway, causing her to choke on her own saliva.
“Then I’ll just reason with Mother.”
“Good luck!” Heath called after his daughter. Personally, he would have rather taunted a Dementor. He shrugged at the man in the corner, who was really the Minister of Magic. “Kids,” he said and continued to write a letter that would have Douglas Smith relieved of his position as an ambassador to the Brazilian Minister of Magic. Douglas was the Minister’s only competition.
Heath didn’t understand what was troubling Piper. No one did. It wasn’t merely that Alexander was an evil creature that made Piper despise him. Alexander made it no mystery that he still wanted to marry her. It would be a convenient betrothal that would benefit both families. Rhett would understand.
That is what made it difficult. She couldn’t tell Rhett that Alexander was fully willing to take advantage of her. They had been best friends since Piper was a toddler. As Piper aged, Alexander regarded her as an annoyance, a tag along. Then he considered her almost a younger sister of his own that he could frighten and put bugs on. She became more of a companion to him last summer, someone to talk to and be with. Soon after that, she became a future wife to him. If he got his way—and it was almost inevitable that he would—Piper would be his wife. It would not be a loving relationship. He didn’t love her. The rest of her life would be lived out in silence and subordination.
That life, the life her mother lived, was the scariest future Piper could fathom.
Carolyn’s only influence was over Piper. She held no real power; Heath could easily overrule her, but he often did not out of love for her. That would not be the way Alexander would treat Piper.
Piper’s reasoning with her mother was fruitless. Even her best whining skills could not compete with her mother’s stubborn attitude. Carolyn insisted the McClures could not be uninvited; her resolve stayed the same even after Piper drew dark spots over her arms and chest, claiming she had contracted dragon pox and it was highly contagious to anyone whose last name started with an M.
“Fine then.” Piper was ready to accept her fate, but she had one last card to play. It was a bad idea. It wouldn’t work. It was stupid. But if he was there maybe McClure would leave her alone. It had worked with Eric. She could make Alexander see that she was not interested in him. She had already exposed herself to him; she couldn’t make the damage worse. There couldn’t be any real harm in inviting him. Could there? She had to do it. She had to do everything she could to keep McClure as far away from her as possible.
“If I can’t stop the McClures from coming, could I at least invite someone. It’s not fair if Rhett gets guests and I don’t.”
“Who would you invite, Piper?” Carolyn said skeptically. Piper had never made it a secret that she was unimpressed by all of the many pureblood families the Reddens knew.
“Can I” it pained Piper to complete her sentence. Fingers balled into fists and eyes squeezed tightly, she said, “invite Sirius Black?”
As the stars came out to play, Piper grew more and more anxious. The twinkling stars were mocking her, each one saying the same thing: “Ha, look at us up here int eh sky having fun while you’re down there suffering!” Piper tore the blinds shut.
Piper’s bedroom was far too big for her. When she first went to Hogwarts, the dormitory she shared with four other girls was crowded and uncomfortable, but now her room was the living space that was uncomfortable. She had grown so used to the circular room that her own extravagant bedchamber was too much. Cavernous ceilings, tall narrow windows, an embellished full-length mirror, a cluttered vanity, and a bed big enough for four people to comfortably sleep on decorated the room that was adorned in whites and silvers. She had the best view in the house; her room overlooked the hilly grounds that were covered in a powdery white layer of snow. In the summer and spring, the lawns were decorated in lavish flower gardens and swaying trees. Piper’s room was a suite, one door led to Piper’s private bathroom while the other led to a closet the size of some people’s bedrooms filled with clothes, shoes, and accessories Piper never wore, and the other led to the corridor. On the stone wall above the fireplace was a portrait of Piper, Heath, Rhett, and Carolyn and, although the picture was magical, the occupants remained quite still in their decorous stances though Piper’s picture fidgeted every so often.
There was another picture in Piper’s room, though it was lying at the bottom of Piper’s trash bin and was no longer in plain view to the casual observer. In the plain silver frame was a small picture of Piper, Rhett, and Alexander that had been taken in Egypt by a Muggle street vendor. Piper was squashed in between the two older men; Alexander’s arm was slinked around her waist and Rhett’s arm was draped over her shoulder. Piper remembered Alexander putting his arm around her at the last minute when Rhett wasn’t paying attention. In the photograph, Piper was grinning broadly, while trying to escape from the grip of Alexander.
Throwing the picture away was the first thing Piper had done when she walked into her room. One look at those happy faces made her heart contract. It reminded her of how trapped she was. Trapped between her inevitable fate of pureblood views and fancy dinner parties and submission. Piper was struggling in the photograph, putting up a fight, but she was not winning, nor did she feel like she was winning in real life.
Piper was still fuming about the stars when a quiet knock on her door disturbed her thoughts. Assuming it was Heath or Carolyn, Piper opened the door to its full extent. Instead of her mother or father standing behind the door, it was Alexander McClure. Piper frowned and shut the door firmly. He had no business knocking on her door. It was a good idea essentially, but Piper’s door had no lock on it so all Alexander had to do to open the door again was turn the knob. And he did.
“Being difficult again?” He confidently strode into her room, closing the door behind him.
“Hardly,” Piper called. She searched for her wand, not recalling where she put it last.
“Well I see no wine around, so I guess I’m safe.”
“There are plenty of other things I could throw at you. Like that vase.” Piper gestured to the antique vase her great aunt had given her as a birthday present. It was given to her on the premise that it had magical properties, but Piper found soon after becoming its owner that its only magical prowess was its ability to kill any flower put in it instantaneously. Who gives vases as birthday presents anyway?
“You wouldn’t throw a vase at me.” Alexander said, calling her bluff.
Piper backed away until she was pressed against the stone of the wall. The scene unfolding was strangely reminiscent of when David Detweiller had been the one to trap her against a stone wall. Piper could handle David Detweiller; Alexander McClure was an entirely different sort of beast. Trapped, a void in the back of her mind whispered. Piper’s breath caught in her throat, her knees began to quiver.
Alexander leaned over Piper, he rested his hands above both side of Piper’s shoulders on the stone. He bent down his head in order to make full eye contact with Piper. Last summer they often met like this with Alexander locking Piper between his arms and body; it had been a joke that Piper couldn’t escape from him when he held her like that. The joke was no longer funny.
Alexander let his arms bend so that their bodies were touching. “Are you going to apologize or not, Piper?” He whispered into her ear.
“You should have to apologize to me,” she choked out with much less strength in her voice than was usual.
Alexander rolled his eyes. “Please,” he laughed. “I hope you’ll get over that before we get married.”
“I’ll never marry you,” Piper said so quickly it was as if it was a reflex.
“We’ll see,” Alexander said. He took his hand off the wall and cupped Piper’s chin with it, pulling her gently toward him. He brought her lips to his, kissing her softly. It felt so wonderfully familiar that Piper nearly let him, but at the same time she was revolted by his touch. She was ready to grip the candelabra next to her and attack Alexander with it when Alexander broke away from Piper; he wiped his mouth with the heel of his palm, wiping away all traces that Piper’s lips had ever been there.
“I’ll see you at supper,” Alexander daringly planted his lips on Piper’s forehead, leaving a lingering kiss there; he closed his eyes as if that position, with Piper pressed against his body and his arms resting on the small of her back, was blissful for him. And then he was gone.
Piper’s legs finally gave out. She collapsed but managed to make her way over to the vanity and accompanying chair before falling. Piper let her shoulders slump and she dropped her head onto the flat surface of the table. Her head was slightly sideways so only the right side of her forehead was resting on the cool glass. She lifted her head up an inch off the glass only to let it fall back down with a satisfying thump. She repeated this process until her forehead began to throb.
”We’ll see.” The words unnerved her. Surely Alexander wasn’t that determined to have Piper as his wife. One lousy summer in Egypt couldn’t have made that much of an impression on him. Was it the type of reverse psychology where he only wanted her because she didn’t want him? Well that logic was rubbish; Piper had seen him with more beautiful, rich, foreign witches than she could count. Each one glamorous and polite. Surely not all of them wanted to marry him. Alexander wasn’t betrothed yet, but there was a large pool for his family to choose from when the time came. Piper wasn’t in that pool. Why would he want to be stuck with Piper for the rest of his life? It made no sense. Piper hated it when things made no sense.
Eventually, she was able to pull herself up enough to see her reflection in the mirror. She looked utterly distressed. Piper tried to smile to see if that made her appear happier, but her mouth could only stretch into a sort of grimace and it did nothing to soften her appearance.
Piper stood up, and shook her entire body around for several seconds to release some of the negative energy she was filled with. She looked like some sort of exotic dancer, but it worked and she felt much better. She continued doing this high energy shaky dance, peppering her routine with some occasional hip swaying and shoulder shaking as she searched for her wand. By the time she had found it between her pillows, Piper was feeling nearly stress-free.
She had mostly forgotten about Alexander when, on her way out the door, she tripped over her wastebasket and its contents came spilling out. The picture she now detested so much slid across the room to land directly in front of Piper. Her stress came back immediately.
Oh God, she thought as she made her way down to the dining room as slowly as possible, I’m going to have to marry him, aren’t I? He’s going to ask my parents tonight. No, he wouldn’t do that. Would he? No. He wouldn’t. Yes he would.
There they were: Heath and Carolyn sitting comfortably at the heads of the table, Alexander reclining stiffly in his seat next to a confused Rhett, and, next to the seat Piper would occupy, was Sirius Black, who happened to be glaring at Piper with an angry bewilderment in his eyes.
Sirius had actually come. He was at her house. She didn’t think he would come. Why had she invited him to come in the first place? She looked at Alexander, ah yes, that was why. She was planning on using Sirius as somewhat of a decoy; when the invitation had spilled out of her mouth she hoped Sirius would come and his presence would make Alexander think twice before saying or doing something stupid.
It was bad logic.
At the Black party, Alexander had taken little notice of Sirius and his presence hadn’t stopped him from commenting on how “beautiful” Piper was. He regarded him with the interest one may have of a worm. Unless of course the one regarding the worm is a fisherman or an especially hungry bird. Not only that, but she was allowing Sirius to see even deeper into her life—that was not something she wanted to do. She wondered if it would be unreasonable to tell Sirius to leave.
Sirius’ jaw hung open unattractively while Piper took her seat. He had been to this house once before when faking a terminal illness hadn’t worked, but Piper hadn’t been there. They must have avoided each other all these years by hiding in their bedrooms or attics while their parents hosted parties.
Flashes of Piper on the floor ran through Sirius’ memory. When he received an invitation via owl post to attend dinner with the Reddens that morning his parents were quite ecstatic. They thought that finally a pureblood family was crazy enough to take an interest in having him as their son-in-law. Well they were wrong, because Sirius was quite sure the Reddens weren’t in the market for son-in-laws. Unless they were planning to marry off Piper. Shit, they are going to marry off Piper! Sirius was such an idiot. No wonder Piper was so miserable and cold all the time. Her parents were going to auction her off to the wealthiest pureblood family as soon as she finished Hogwarts. No. No. That weasel Alexander couldn’t be one of her—Sirius didn’t even want to think the archaic word—suitors. Could he? He was. Now Sirius understood why she hated him so much.
Dinner was a painful affair. Sirius was interrogated by Piper’s parents on issues ranging from what his wand was made out of to what his opinion of Muggles was. His wand was made out of Oak. His opinion on Muggles was “They kind of like ‘Howarts: A History.’ See, I’ve never actually read that book, but it’s around. I generally just ignore it. Some clever information comes out of it and I’m sure it’s nice, but I’d rather read ‘Quidditch Through the Ages.’”
After this answer, Heath’s opinion of Sirius softened quite a bit; he had a similar opinion of Muggles. To Heath Muggles were like cute, innocent, little animals who needing looking after. Carolyn’s opinion of Sirius, however, hardened. She was not a fan of Muggles.
The interrogation continued. Sirius handled each question with a slightly alarming amount of poise and wit that Piper didn’t know he was capable of. She prayed he would continue to talk, though. If the painful dinner continued to drag on and on and on, Alexander would have less and less and less opportunities to speak to Piper privately. But Sirius’ well of information was eventually sucked dry and her parents (namely, her mother) moved on to drill Alexander with pointless questions about Durmstrang and what he was planning to do after completing his education there. When she apologized for Piper’s actions at the party, Alexander laughed charmingly and said, “It was my fault. I didn’t realize your daughter had such good reflexes; she caught me off guard before I could complete the spell.” Here he winked at Piper; only Piper and Sirius saw it, confirming Sirius’ suspicions that Alexander’s banter with Piper was not entirely innocent.
Then the conversation nearly died completely; even the practiced Carolyn had a difficult time finding anything to say. Dinner was drawing to a close. Piper dreaded this part. After they were finished the group would retire to the drawing room where Heath would pour the brandy and would read from one of his favorite pieces; they would make Piper play on the piano or harp. Even though it was an exhausting, medieval practice, Heath and Carolyn insisted on tradition. Then, when no one was paying attention, Alexander would find a way to sneak off and bring Piper with him. They did it many times in Egypt and had perfected the art. Piper wouldn’t be able to make a scene. If she told anyone that she was frightened of Alexander or if she revealed what happened in Egypt last summer, Alexander would only have to deny it and then Piper would be made out to be an attention starved girl making up a story. They would believe him over her.
Piper was soon the only person still eating. Her stomach was full to bursting; Rhett, Alexander, Heath, and Sirius were staring at Piper’s plate in awe at the amount of food she had eaten. When her stomach could take no more, Piper simply made it look like she was eating. She ate bites impossibly small with long minutes of duration between bites; while chewing, Piper counted to thirty before swallowing. After Piper spent ten minutes on one piece of broccoli, Carolyn Redden had had enough.
Just as Piper reached for another leg of chicken, her plate was taken away from her by a house elf. They were then ushered to the drawing room where the brandy and tea was prepared.
Carolyn reached for the tea to pour herself and Piper a cup when a sleek owl tapped on the window. On its leg was a lovely piece of creamy white parchment addressed to Carolyn. She read it so fast her purple-blue eyes became a blur. When she finished, she gulped. “Perhaps the children shouldn’t sit with us tonight,” she said to Heath, much of the control in her voice gone.
“Piper, why don’t you show Sirius our Quidditch pitch?” Carolyn said sweetly. It was not an invitation.
Piper longed to know what was in the letter. She wanted to stay and was hurt that she wasn’t privy to the information her mother was about to disclose. But on the other hand…she was free from McClure. She could have jumped up in the air and clacked her heels together she was so happy, or perhaps she would do another dance.
Alexander’s eyes searched Piper’s body greedily. Piper shuddered. She was relieved she wouldn’t have to sit through those stares. But what made Carolyn react like that? Was that letter about the group of people calling themselves Death Eaters? Was it about the feverish support this man—was he a man?—Voldemort was getting? Piper wanted to stay. Her parents were goldmines of information if she stayed long enough to dig it out.
Piper wanted to say something scathing like, “I hate Quidditch,” or “Mother, my piano playing isn’t that atrocious,” but before she could, Carolyn said, “Now,” and Piper and Sirius scuffled out of the room.
“What d’you reckon was in that letter?” Sirius said. They were the first words he had spoken to Piper all evening and they startled her out of her emotions.
“I dunno. But I’d like to.”
“Nah. It’s obviously just pureblood craziness.” Sirius itched his ear. “Sooooo you’ve got a Quidditch pitch?”
Piper frowned, thinking about what she was missing in the drawing room.
“I don’t get you.” Sirius overtook Piper. He blocked her way.
Piper tried to say, “What d’you mean?” but Sirius continued without her prodding.
“You hate me for the better part of six years for basically no reason at all, but then you suddenly change and start being nice and you’re all, ‘oooh, Sirius, you’re my best friend,’” Piper didn’t think she sounded like that at all, “I just thought you were feverish, but you kept being strange. It was a good change; I’ll give you that, but then you change again. All of a sudden—BAM—” Sirius flew his arms out, narrowly missing Piper’s face, “—you’re back to having the temperament of a grindylow. I—I—”
“Don’t get it?” Piper offered.
“Yeah! But that’s not all.” Sirius started to walk; Piper hurried to keep p with him. “I always thought the only person you’d even spoken to was Snape. Then you and Lily randomly hit it off out of the blue. That was freaky enough, but I guess I was wrong, because it looks to me like your Miss Popular here.
“And that’s another thing. What the hell was that at my house? You never once cried, not when you had Bulbadox Powder all over your face, not when we tried to sabotage your O.W.L’s. But one word from that McClure twit and you’re on the ground with bleedin’ waterfalls comin’ out of your eyes.
“And I always thought that you loved being a pureblood, that you would turn out like the lot of them, that you would be some Dark witch. But you’re not. You hate this life. You hate these parties. You hate that you’re going to have to marry some prick like McClure. Now I’m not even sure what to think anymore and—AAARGH!” Sirius clenched his fists once and then ran his strong hands through his hands. He 360ed on the spot.
When his rotation was complete he was closer to Piper than he had intended. A piece of parchment would have had a tight fit between their bodies. His lips were nearly touching her forehead in the exact spot McClure’s had been hours before. His rant led them to the entrance hall of the manor. His chest rose and fell from the power of his words, words he had been holding in for a long time. Words that he had built up since first year.
“You’re a mystery to me, Piper,” Sirius whispered. Sirius put his hands on Piper’s narrow hips. Piper averted her eyes and allowed her dark lashes to hide them. Sirius grinned. “Look up,” he said. His mouth nearly touched her forehead.
Piper craned her neck to look up. As she did so, Sirius lowered his until his lips brushed ever so slightly against hers. Piper’s eyes fluttered shut. His touch was ever so light, Piper was sure it was accidental. But his mouth came against hers again, harder this time. He moved one of his hands to Piper’s face; it wandered through her hair. His mouth opened slightly so his tongue could brush against her bottom lip.
That was definitely no accident.
With a mighty shove Hercules would have been proud of, Piper pushed Sirius off. “What are you DOING?” She screamed, resisting the urge to touch her mouth where Sirius’ lips had just been.
Sirius pointed upwards. A bundle of holly hung above them. “Mistletoe,” he said, smirking. “It’s the rules. Stand below mistletoe with someone and you have to kiss them.”
“That,” Piper pointed to the bundle, speaking deliberately slow and trying to sound as angry as possible. “Is. Not. Mistletoe.”
“Well what is it then?” Sirius said. He didn’t even sound embarrassed.
“Holly, you prat!” Piper bellowed.
“Doesn’t effort count for anything?” Sirius called. Piper pretended not to hear him; she was already out the door. Her face burned a fierce red and she hoped the night would cover it.
The ever so evil stars played yet another trick on Piper. As if their taunting wasn’t enough, they provided a perfectly adequate amount of light to see in the dark.
“You should have kept kissing me, ‘cause now you’ve gotta answer my questions.” Sirius overtook Piper once again, forcing her to face him. His lips were slightly parted. Those lips were on hers only seconds ago.
“You,” Piper poked Sirius in the chest, “kissed me.” She poked herself in the chest.
“You weren’t complaining.”
Piper made several indignant noises that sounded more like gurgling than anything else. She shoved her hands in her pockets to keep from strangling Sirius. “Fine. You want answers?”
The sudden change in her tone made Sirius want to take back his questions.
“You think that when we first met I hated you, but it wasn’t that way at all. I thought we could be friends, Sirius. Ridiculous, right? Us, friends. I thought that you out of anyone would understand me, but that turned out to be a foolish idea. You made it impossible for me to like you, Sirius. You hated me ‘cause I was this constant reminder to you of your home life. It was quite clear that you weren’t looking for a friendship with me when you spilt pumpkin juice on me that first night. Do you know how much that hurt me? I cried all night long.”
Sirius never knew that. He could hardly even remember purposefully spilling juice on her.
Piper began to trudge through the snow; she periodically looked over her shoulder to be sure Sirius was listening. “I can’t believe you think I’ve changed. I haven’t changed. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you just grew up? We aren’t eleven anymore.
“And apparently I’m the one who’s confusing?” Piper scoffed. “Sometimes you would be sickly nice. Sometimes you’d be a rotten prat. Sometimes you’d ignore me completely? We were just never on the same page. When you felt like being friendly to me, I was usually pissed at you. Or if you weren’t being a complete imbecile and I was nice to you, you were stroppy with me for some reason.
“As for all of this,” Piper gestured back towards her shrinking home, “they don’t actually like me. I’m only considered, what was it, ‘Miss Popular’ because they all think I have so much to offer. Rhett uses me as a bad example, my mum thinks I’m some sort of property that she can sell off at the highest price, and Alexander thinks I’m some sort of future wife, and you.” Piper stopped. “You used me for a bit of fun. All these years you thought I was so strong. I’m not. Not at all. I’m just really good at pretending.”
“I’m sorry.” Sirius ignored the snow soaking through his boots and continued to follow Piper. She had led them into a sort of clearing. Trees surrounded them on all sides; the snow was less dense here. “I always assumed you hated me. I mean, you did kinda glare when you first saw me. C’mon, I was a stupid eleven year old. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Yes you did.”
“Alright, I did,” Sirius admitted. Then he frowned. “Then why am I here tonight if you hate me so much?”
“I don’t hate you.” Piper said, avoiding the question that even she didn’t know the answer to. Sirius didn’t drop the question. How could Piper answer him? How could she describe her release in anxiety when he sat next to her? How could she answer him when doing so would mean she had to tell him all about McClure?
“At your house,” Piper began. Her voice hurt from yelling; she continued in a soft voice. “At your house, we—I mean it seemed like we actually understood each other. And then Rhett said that Alexander was going to come over for dinner and I really didn’t want to deal with that so I asked if you could come over because then my mother would think that I liked you and then maybe McClure would leave me alone and, well, it didn’t really work.”
“Huh?” Sirius said.
“I’m not making much sense, am I?”
Sirius shook his head.
Piper tried to be as simple as possible. “He wants to marry me. I don’t want to marry him. That makes him angry.”
Sirius shrugged. “Still don’t get it. Why does he frighten you so much, anyway? Why not just put a baby dragon in his sock drawer or something?”
Piper cracked her knuckles nervously. Sirius said her name. She looked away. Sirius said her name again; his hand was on her arm. “What did he do to you?” Sirius murmured; he imagined a thousand different evil things McClure could have done to her.
“He didn’t do anything,” Piper said at length. “Forget I said anything.”
“No,” Sirius said forcefully.
“Piper’s right, Black. Forget she said anything. Women always exaggerate stories.” Alexander McClure stepped into the clearing. He outstretched his hand to Piper, meaning for her to grab it and follow him inside.
Sirius reacted first. “Keep your ruddy hands away from her.”
Sirius Black had never thrown a genuine punch before.
Alexander McClure proved to be an excellent practice dummy.
Sirius put his entire weight behind his swing. Piper thought she felt the wind from his arm as it swung through the air. His closed fist landed squarely on Alexander’s jaw. Alexander teetered for one second. He raised one arm and Piper thought he was going to hit Sirius back, but his arm was raised as a balancing devise. It didn’t help. His legs buckled and he fell to the side, making the powdery snow flurry up prettily around him.
“You punched him. You just punched him. For me.” Piper hurried to Sirius’ side. He was nursing his knuckles.
“Where’s the nearest town?” Sirius said. His shoulders were hunched, his back was rigid.
“TOWN!” Sirius shouted. “Where’s the nearest town? I’m leaving. I’m getting away from this.”
“What’s a town got to do with any of this? Muggle fireplaces aren’t connected to the Floo network.”
“Right.” Sirius looked utterly insane. He pointed at Piper, thinking. “The Knight Bus,” he said suddenly. “It’ll take me to my hou—my parents’ house. I’ll get my things. Then I’ll take it to Hogsmeade. Then I’ll live with James.”
“The Knight Bus doesn’t come through here. Enchantments,” she said as an explanation. “And if you’re running off I’m coming with you. We’ve got a car that my dad keeps in case of an emergency. I can drive.” This was a lie. Piper was banned from going near the old car Heath kept in the barn after she nearly blew it up when he tried to teach her how to drive.
“I’m not. I’ll Summon my things right now.” Piper held her wand aloft and was about to call her things when Sirius put his hand on hers.
“And where will you go?” He asked skeptically. Piper was really ruining his plans.
“I’ve plenty of Galleons in my Gringotts account, thanks.”
Sirius waved her on impatiently. “Fine. Can you get to London from here?”
“It can’t be that far.”
Piper was wrong.
By the time Piper’s things had zoomed through the Redden house and she had figured out how to actually start the vehicle, they had wasted precious time. She explained that her mother and father wouldn’t actually care that they were running away and stealing the car. They would however, be murderous when they found Alexander McClure lying facedown in the snow. Sirius said that he would wake up soon enough.
Sirius home wasn’t actually very far from Piper’s, but by the time they reached Grimmauld Place, many hours had passed. Piper stalled the car almost every other minute. She nearly hit eight other cars that were on the road. She drove off the road more than she drove on the road. They were lost most of the trip and only found Sirius’ home by accident. It was a tense drive with no talking on either part; both were too frightened of what would happen if Piper was distracted from driving even for a second.
The Blacks still were not home when they arrived. Sirius rushed inside and grabbed his trunk. He too had been packed for days. Before Piper even knew what was happening, they were on the Knight Bus and sitting opposite each other on the ever-moving beds. Sirius’ head was in his hands. Piper joined him on his bed. She leaned on his shoulder. She was terrible at making people feel better.
“I guess we’re delinquents now,” she muttered.
“I guess so.”
Piper felt absolutely horrendous. Why did she have to invite Sirius to her house? Why did she tell him about McClure? If she had just dealt with it all on her own, Sirius would still be at his house sulking the holiday away. There would be no kiss. No runaway. He wouldn’t be looking at her like she was a frail Christmas ornament.
Piper’s voice was drowned out by the conductor yelling, “NEXT STOP HOGSMEADE!” And she doubted that he heard her.
“You didn’t do anything to be sorry for.”
The bus jolted to a stop. Piper lunged forward. Sirius clutched her for balance as the bus leveled out. The conductor threw their luggage on the street. Piper didn’t care how late it was; there was no need to be so uncouth.
Piper had never appreciated how hard the carriage had to work to cart the students to the castle. By the time they reached the gargoyles, Sirius and Piper were sweating. The cold air made it difficult to breathe and the snow made their trek even harder. Thankfully, Sirius was wise enough to perform an Obliteration Charm to blast the snow away.
“Take my cloak,” Sirius said gruffly. They had entered the entrance hall and Piper was shivering violently. He shrugged off his cloak and handed it to Piper, who was looking a bit pneumonia prone at the moment.
Piper stood on her tip toes. Even doing this, her head still barely tickled Sirius’ chin. He compensated by lowering his head slightly. Piper pulled his head down and kissed him. They were reluctant to stop. But Piper pulled away.
“What was that for?” Sirius said, bewildered.
Hips swaggering, Piper left Sirius where he was, trying not to think of the repercussions her actions would undoubtedly have. In less than twenty four hours she had run away from home, kissed Sirius Black—twice, and she had finally come to terms with Alexander McClure—who was hopefully still lying face down in the snow. Sirius, meanwhile, laughed once and watched Piper go; as she slinked up the grand stairs, he tried very hard not to touch his mouth where her lips had just been.