Chapter 3 : Lost Freedom
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“Wake up! Sirius, come on, wake up!”
The bouncing of his mattress springs pulled Sirius from sleep. He groaned miserably, realizing he probably hadn’t been asleep for more than two hours. “Go away, Regulus. It’s too damn early.”
“I’m telling mum you’re cursing!” Regulus shook him. “But I won’t if you just get up!”
“Tell her what you want and let me go back to sleep. You’ll end up telling her anyway.” Sirius spat but pulled himself up to sitting. “What’s so important?”
“We got new help and you aren’t gonna believe it….she’s a muggle!”
Sirius’ eyes narrowed. “How do you know that?”
“She delivered my breakfast this morning and then I heard mum and Dad arguing over it in the kitchen.”
“Arguing?” Sirius didn’t like the sound of that and he struggled to keep his voice steady.
“Yeah, mum said no filthy muggle was going to serve her and she started throwing plates and everything.” Regulus grinned. “Dad told her it was about the only thing they were good for so she might as well take advantage of it.”
“What’d mum say?”
“Nothing,” Regulus grinned, “but Dad must’ve proved his point because she’s been bossing that girl around ever since.”
Sirius surveyed his younger brother, wondering what else he’d overheard his parents talk about. Sirius had never had the desire to listen to their fiery arguments, much less their normal conversations. Off handedly, he wondered what Regulus might have heard them saying about him but then decided he was probably better off not knowing. “Why do you think Dad let her stay?”
Regulus grinned mischievously. “’Cause she is one good looking girl.”
“That’s not even funny.” Sirius shoved Regulus off his bed and onto the floor as he got up.
“Nah, I think someone convinced Dad that it would help keep up appearances with the ministry after that run in he had in Knockturn Alley last week.”
“How’d they know about that?” Sirius asked lightly, certain that his uncle had managed to let that slip while visiting the ministry office hours earlier.
“No idea, but Dad was livid!” Regulus scrambled off the floor. “It’s all over the newspapers and everything.”
“Bet mum loved that.”
The two brothers turned to see their mother tapping her foot impatiently in the doorway. “More news about your father’s escapades you’ve been keeping from me, Sirius?”
“I’m not keeping anything from you.” Sirius sighed heavily as he avoided her gaze and sank into a chair.
“Get your lazy self up, it’s almost lunch time. We’ve got to head to Diagon Alley and get your school supplies.”
“School?” Sirius sat up.
“Hogwarts, your letter came yesterday.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Sirius hurried to pull clothes out of his dresser.
“What, did that tiny brain of yours forget? It’s not as if you haven’t known you’d be going since the day you were born,” she snapped as frown marks creased her forehead showing her displeasure. “Get dressed and hurry up about it. I refuse to have my son wear robes off the rack and the seamstress will need all the time left before the start of term to hand make yours.”
Sirius shooed them out of his room to change. He’d been waiting on this for years….Hogwarts. Even the name brought a smile to his lips. No more Regulus; no more complaining parents; and, most importantly, no more Black family rules to accommodate.
“You seem much happier this morning.”
Sirius whirled. “How’d you get in here?” His cheeks burned with embarrassment and he turned away to finish buttoning his shirt.
“There are passageways hidden all through this house, did you know that?” Cat sank down onto his bed. “I stayed up all night trying to learn where they went but I only managed to get lost. I yelled myself hoarse. It turns out they are sound proof as well.”
“Yes, I know that.” Sirius eyed her quizzically. Her colorful clothes had been changed into a drab greenish grey color that resembled the rags their house elf Kreacher wore. The color made her olive skin take on a sickly looking glow. Her long chestnut hair, which had first caught Sirius’ attention at the carnivale, was tied into a tight braid on top of her head giving her angular face an almost harsh appearance.
“So, a muggle is definitely a bad thing in this household.” Cat nodded. “You could’ve told me that last night.”
“I –" Sirius began but she waved him off.
“No matter, I adjust quickly. Where are you off to?”
“Buying school supplies. I start Hogwarts in the fall.”
Sirius couldn’t help but notice the unease in her voice. “Yeah, but you’ll be fine here.”
“Fine is a relative term.”
“Nevermind.” Cat shook her head. “Your brother, Regulus, is it?”
“He’s a rather annoying ill-mannered git, did you know that?”
Sirius laughed so deep it made his sides ache. It took him a moment to regain his breath from laughing so hard. “Yes, I know that, too.”
“Well, I should go. I don’t want you to miss out on those custom made robes.” Cat winked and started for the door.
“Wantmetoshowyouthepassageways?” Sirius wasn’t sure why he’d asked it, but once it was out he knew he couldn’t take it back.
“Want me to show you the passageways?” Sirius repeated more slowly. “I can show you tonight once I get back.”
“I don’t know, Sirius.” Cat shook her head. “If we get caught, you are going to be in a world of trouble.”
Sirius shrugged. “I’m always in trouble. You’ll figure that out pretty quick, too.”
“Well, only if you want to go.”
Cat stopped in her tracks and turned to look at him. “What do you want?”
Sirius shrugged uncomfortably. That wasn’t a question he was used to hearing from anyone other than his uncle. “I think it’d be fun to show you how to sneak around the house. Besides, it might come in handy for you one day.”
“Ah. I should’ve known.” Cat grinned. “That horrid adult side of you steps in with an ulterior motive. But,” she laughed, “you’re probably right. I’ll come by your room after dinner.”
Sirius nodded and watched her go. He couldn’t believe his uncle had managed to get his parents to let her stay. Of course, it wasn’t without a price and Sirius winced at the image of the drab clothing that was so unlike her. It was his mother, no doubt, that chose to dress her like nothing better than a house elf. She probably did like Kreacher more than any muggle, come to think of it.
Sirius’ curiosity was piqued. Why had his uncle brought her here when he knew how hard it would be on her? Weren’t there muggle orphanages for people without families? What made her so different that his uncle felt compelled to bring her into the Blacks home? A vague idea tugged at Sirius, but he just couldn’t place it.
He could hear his mother yelling for him once again and, grabbing up his things, he ran to meet her before she decided to make him streak around the house naked as punishment for having to buy robes off the rack. The thought made Sirius shiver and he sped up, determined to meet her at the fireplace before she had a chance to call his name again.
“You got grounded?” Cat was curled up on Sirius’ bed going through the boxes and bags that he had brought home.
Sirius glanced at her, still uneasy at heaving her in his room. He kept trying to imagine she was Regulus but it just wasn’t working. He moved away and learned against the window, trying to look nonchalant as he attempted to coax his new owl into coming back into the house. “Yeah, but it’s nothing. I’m always grounded for something.”
“Exactly what did you do?”
“Hexed a kid who was trying to steal in the candy store.”
“And that’s wrong?”
“Apparently. He’s the son of a famous pureblood or something.” Sirius shrugged and watched as she fingered his wand gingerly. “It’s okay, you can pick it up. The magic’s not in the wand.”
Cat looked at him nervously but finally picked it up and began waving it around. “Must be odd to be able to have anything you want anytime you want it.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Sirius answered and shifted his weight uncomfortably. “Ready to go exploring? They should be in bed by now.”
“What’s with all this green stuff?” Cat asked, putting down the wand and fingering a satin scarf. “It’s more colorful than anything I’ve ever seen in your house.”
“You get sorted in houses at Hogwarts. The Blacks are always in Slytherin, whose house color is green.”
“They put a hat on you and it decides what house you will be in.”
“But you’ve already decided what house it’s going to pick for you?” Cat raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t decide anything. The Blacks are always in Slytherin,” Sirius repeated. “Come on, let’s go.”
Cat stared at him a moment then jumped up to follow him. As they entered the corridor attached to Sirius’ room, he whispered “lumos” and small brass torches attached to the walls lit their way.
“You don’t like talking about your family much, do you?” Cat asked after they had been walking a few minutes.
“It’s not my family, it’s…” Sirius trailed off.
“You?” Cat asked knowingly. “You think you’re the odd one because you see things differently than all the rest of them.”
“Something like that. What about you?”
“My mother was the last of my family. She gave me the freedom to do anything I wanted and taught me how to know which the right path was and which was wrong. Not that I don’t still test her opinions, mind you.”
“Don’t let my mum hear you talking like that,” Sirius replied laughing.
“I’m not afraid of your mum.”
“No you’re not.” Cat shook her head. “Otherwise you wouldn’t do the things you do to defy her. You’d be like Regulus and follow every little decree to keep your mum happy.”
“Do you always talk so much?” Sirius asked irritably. “Is that a girl thing or a Cat thing?”
Cat ignored him. “So, do you use these to spy on your parents?”
“They don’t say anything I want to hear.” Sirius opened a door and let her step into the large connecting room. It was littered with magazines and books and had large squishy pillows scattered across the floor. “I don’t think mum and Dad know about this place. At least they’ve never found me when I disappear here.”
“Looks like you’ve been doing that for awhile.” Cat shuffled through the magazines then sank onto one of the pillows. “I didn’t get much sleep last night. I guess you didn’t either, hm?” she asked as Sirius’ sank onto one of the pillows and his eyes immediately closed.
Sirius fought to keep them open. “No, I’m good.”
Cat giggled. “Liar.”
“Maybe,” Sirius answered sheepishly. “Oh, I got something for you.”
“What?” Cat straightened up.
“While we were shopping. It’s nothing really,” Sirius said quietly and pulled out a handful of colored ribbons. “If I know mum, she made you throw all of yours in the trash when she saw them.”
“Yes, she did.” Cat took the ribbons and twirled them softly in her hand, letting the fabric slide between her fingers. “This was very kind of you, Sirius.”
Sirius shrugged uncomfortably. “It was nothing.”
Cat looked as if she was going to say something, but then she closed her mouth and began tying the ribbons into her hair. Sirius watched her for a few minutes, unsure of what exactly he was doing. What if his parents found out he was alone here with a muggle? Not any muggle but hired help at that. But she intrigued him, and Sirius couldn’t resist the adventure she presented. Memories of the last 24 hours flowed through him and, with thoughts of life at Hogwarts keeping him warm, he feel asleep.
When Sirius awoke hours later, it took him a few moments to remember where he was. Across the room, he could see Cat. Curled into a ball, her hushed sobs immediately jarred him from his groggy state.
“Cat?” Sirius crawled toward her in the darkness, unwilling to turn on a light and face what he knew would be a tear stained face.
“I didn’t mean to wake you. Go back to sleep, Sirius.”
Sirius hesitated but only for a moment. She had been so vibrant when he met her and it was if a few hours at Grimmauld had drained it all from her. His uncle’s words echoed in his mind, and leaning against the wall, he pulled her into his arms. “Want to tell me?”
“You’re a child Sirius; you don’t have to act so grown up around me.” Cat sniffled as she spoke.
“I’m old enough to know you’ve lost your mum and your freedom in one day and you’re afraid you’ll never have another friend again.” Sirius countered. “And you’re afraid to trust me because the Blacks are muggle haters and you think I’ll join them.”
Sirius could feel her watching him but she made no move to leave his arms. “You should be out doing whatever it is ten year olds, almost elevens, do rather than babysitting me.”
“And you should stop telling me what I need to be doing and accept what I am doing. You sound just like my mum.” Sirius moved away from her and back to his pillow across the room. “I’m going back to sleep, you can find your way out now, right?”
“Yes.” Sirius could hear her voice crack as she spoke.
Sirius knew he was being mean but couldn’t help it. He didn’t have the faintest idea how to comfort someone and with every attempt he made she was treating him like some idiot kid. Why put himself through that? If she didn’t want to be friends, so be it. He’d survived at Grimmauld without her for years and could continue to do the same.
Sirius jumped in the darkness as her soft hands reached to touch him. He hadn’t even heard her cross the room, but could now feel her lying down beside him as her weight pressed the pillows into the floor. Taking his arm, she wrapped it around her waist, pulling his chest tight against her back. Sirius could feel the tears dripping down her face and onto his arms, but somehow knew he shouldn’t say anything. He pulled her tighter, as he remembered his mother doing years ago when he was a child. He had very few kind memories of his mother, but her comforting embrace when things went wrong were ones he held to in desperation. Drawing from those memories, Sirius sought to hold her rather than smother her and wondered silently if this was what having a real sister would be like. Eventually her sobs receded and her breathing became more consistent and Sirius knew she was close to sleep.
“Thank you,” she whispered softly.
Not knowing quite what to say, Sirius remained quiet.
“Catarina,” she murmured sleepily. “My name is Catarina.”
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