Chapter 12 : House of Cards
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It was awkward, the walk to the library. A silence had settled between Sirius and I that neither of us seemed capable of shaking. Sure, we’d talked for a few moments about a particular subject, but we could never really get into discussing it. And here I had thought that I was starting to like Black. Not in that sense, of course, but as a person. But I guess the moments of silence between us didn’t really have anything to do with how I viewed him as a person.
Oh vey, my mind was a very confusing place. I was marveled that I ever managed to form a coherent thought, but less an intelligent sentence.
Maybe that was the problem. Maybe my ability - or lack thereof - to form a sentence that actually made sense made it physically impossible for me to carry any sort of intelligent conversation. I knew that Sirius was smart; he, Remus, and James had top marks in most of the classes I had with them. So maybe this really was all my fault and Sirius was just being polite, having already figured out that it was beyond my mental capacity.
You know, I actually felt sorry for him. He had to have a basket case like me as a Potions partner for the next three months. That probably sounded so appealing to him. I know that it sounded like an okay predicament to me, aside from the fact that his girlfriend was watching me like a hawk and I was still wearing the bruises on my arms from when she had held them fast in her talon-like grip.
We came to a stop in front of the library doors and, at the same time, both moved to open the door. Our hands brushed and a jolt of electricity surged through my arm, momentarily stunning me. I quickly pulled my hand back and stuck it in my pocket.
“Sorry,” I muttered.
Sirius smiled. “It’s nothing to worry about,” he pulled the door open and gave a grand sweep of his arm, “ladies’ first.”
My hand was still tingling as I stepped into the library and headed toward my customary table. I was halfway there when there was a sharp pull on the back of my robes. I let out a small squeal and nearly toppled backward, my arms failing wildly at my sides.
Behind me, Sirius laughed in his customary bark-like way. “Chill out, will you?” He shook his head to himself, the expression of his face that of clear amusement.
I righted myself and pushed a hand through my tousled hair. Tugging on my robes, I tried in vain to smother the wrinkles. It didn’t work, obviously.
“Merlin,” Sirius continued, his voice full of amusement.
“What?” I demanded testily, still tugging furtively on my robes.
“You are quite possibly the clumsiest person I have ever met,” he replied.
“Maybe I wouldn’t be so clumsy if you didn’t pull on the back of my robes!” I stomped my foot, you know, to emphasis my point.
He stared at me for a few seconds, cocked his head to the side, and started to laugh again.
I tried my hardest to glower at him, but I couldn’t muster so much as a glare. He was smiling at me and, well, you already know how I got when he smiled at me. I looked down at my knees to see if they were knocking together. Yep, they were.
Coming around to my senses, I tucked a few stray locks of hair behind my ear and said, “Let’s get to a table before Madam Pince stops her precious bookcase lurking and actually comes after us.”
He mimed the action of wiping tears of mirth out of his eyes. I was hit by a surprise wave of annoyance. Now I understood why Lily could only handle so much of the Marauders - especially Sirius. He was grating all my nerves and the only thing he had done was laugh at me.
Then again, I never liked being laughed at in the first place.
I started for my favorite table in the corner again, but a hand on my elbow stopped me. Even through the fabric of my robes, I could feel my skin burning underneath his touch.
This is stupid, Eleanor. You’ll only get yourself into trouble if you let yourself start to fancy him.
Pshaw, I didn’t like Sirius. Why my conscience was trying to tell me I did was beyond me. I mean, the thought of actually fancying Sirius was preposterous. He was an arrogant, if not charming, bloke who’s head needed to be inflated to human proportions. Besides, he was strictly off limits. Remus, on the other hand…
That’s another sticky situation you want to avoid, Elles. It wouldn’t do you any good getting involved with either one of them.
Yeah, but that was saying that Remus even liked me. Which was, like the thought of liking Sirius, completely preposterous. It’s like Sirius just pointed out, I was a complete klutz and he was the exact opposite. And by he, I meant…
Well, did I really know who I was talking about? Merlin, this was so damn confusing. And it also reminded me why I steered clear of boys. And they said that girls were confusing. Ha!
Before I knew it, I was being pulled in a direction of the library that I wasn’t familiar with.
“Sit,” Sirius said, pointing to a chair.
“Yes sir,” I muttered under my breath as I pulled the aforementioned chair out and sank into it. I surveyed my surroundings. “Where are we?”
“Near the Restricted Section,” he answered, as though I had asked him a question about the weather.
I paled. “Y-you’re not planning on sneaking into the Restricted Section, are you?”
“No,” he replied and I released a sigh of relief. “There’ll be no need for sneaking with this.” He pulled something out of his bag made out of silvery cloth.
I reached out to touch it and was amazed as how soft, how flowy, it felt against the pads of my fingers. I stared at it for a few moments, running my hands over the smooth surface before looking up into Sirius’s face. “Is this an-?”
“Invisibility Cloak?” he finished, nodding his head, causing silky onyx locks to fall into his eyes. There went the knees. Again. “Yeah, it’s Prongs’, but I asked him if I could borrow it and he said that it was all right.”
He glanced over his shoulder and, before I could protest, slipped the cloak over his shoulders. His body disappeared right in front of my eyes and I clapped my hand over my mouth. Way to give a girl a heart attack, Black. And it’s not because of your good looks, either, I thought bitterly.
“Come on,” he held, holding out his hand. Well, at least, it looked like he was holding out a hand.
My eyes bugged out of my head. “You want me to get under that thing with you?” And be at risk of getting caught by Lucinda or one of her cronies? Hell no. I shook my head vehemently. “I-I can’t.”
He furrowed his brow. “Why not?”
“Because I’m - I’m -.” What was I was at a loss for words.
“Don’t even try to tell me that you’re allergic to invisibility.”
I frowned. Damn it, that was going to be my defense. “Could you at least pull that thing over your head? You’re freaking me out.”
Sirius laughed, but obliged my request. He disappeared before my eyes and suddenly, I found myself wishing that I hadn’t asked him to do that. My stomach churned uncomfortably and I drew my robe closer around me. No chance for him to cop a feel. Not that he would, but you never knew with blokes his age.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt hot breath on my neck. But at the same time, it felt nice. Very nice. And if it had been anyone but Black and I was anyone but me, I probably would’ve enjoyed it. Relished in it, even. However, I was a sensible young woman - shut up, conscience! - and I knew better than to do such a foolish thing. Besides, I didn’t even like him.
The Cloak was draped over my head and I suddenly found myself very, very close to Sirius Black. So close, I could not only feel his hot breath on my face, but I could see the faint dusting of freckles that covered the bridge of his nose and scattered out onto his cheeks unevenly. My breath momentarily hitched in my throat and Sirius smiled at me.
“Let’s hurry,” he said, waiting for me to stand up.
When I stood up, it became even more apparent that there wasn’t much room for us to move around. Since I was a great deal shorter than he was, standing at a modest five foot four inches and he was a towering six foot two, he had to hunch over to cover our ankles.
It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be, sneaking into the Restricted Section. I had visited the Restricted Section on several occasions, but that was with a teacher’s permission and most of the time, Madam Pince found the book for me so I wouldn’t tally. I also knew that there wasn’t any sort of gate that surrounded the Restricted Section. All I knew was that Madam Pince watched it like a hawk.
“Do you know what book we’re looking for?” I asked, barely breathing.
He nodded his head. “Yeah, it’s in the next aisle. Hopefully, no one’s taken it yet.”
“Oh,” I muttered, going back to my own business of saying nothing and walking in time with him.
I stiffened every time his body so much as brushed against mine. He didn’t seem to notice nor did he seem to care when I trod over his toes. The only time he did care about what I did was when I knocked into a bookcase and nearly sent it toppling over. He had sent me ‘a look’ and I had the distinct feeling that I was being patronized. Something that I didn’t like at all.
Kind of like I didn’t like how the Marauders - well, three of them, actually -, along with Lily, had weaseled their way into my life. Just two weeks ago, I was a normal, invisible girl who didn’t have any friends and kept herself. One little eavesdropping mix up, a slip up in my attention span, and a few other mishaps had suddenly got me friends.
The world worked in mysterious ways, did it?
X - X - X
All in all, the study session in the library went better than I expected. The book that Sirius had been looking for was still there, so we returned to our table. Surprisingly, I didn’t trip over my own feet or the hem of the Cloak. I would’ve felt horrible if I had caused a snag in James’s Cloak. First of all, it wasn’t even mine and secondly, it was beyond beautiful. I had to admit, I was jealous of Potter. But everyone knew that he was filthy rich; at least he didn’t flaunt it obnoxiously.
Even with the book, which listed potions that I had never even heard of, we couldn’t think of a reasonable potion that would take the appropriate amount of time to brew and would get us extra points with the Slug. Because, according to Sirius, that was the important part.
“We need to get some extra credit,” he had said as he tipped his chair back and tried to balance his quill on the tip of his nose. “Hit high in the books of old Sluggers.”
I shook my head to myself as I spit toothpaste into the sink and rinsed my mouth out. I gargled water for a few moments, riding my mouth of that nasty aftertaste. I spit the water into the sink, washed off my toothbrush, and put it back in the little stand thing that held everyone’s toothbrushes.
When I shuffled out of the bathroom, I was surprised to see that Lily was sitting on my bed, her legs folded Indian Style. Sitting next to her was, who else, but Alice. I blanched slightly: I didn’t like it when people invaded my personal space. And by that, I meant I didn’t want them sitting on my bed, regardless of their intentions.
I slowly crossed the room over to my bed and sat on the edge, pealing my socks off my feet. I could never sleep with socks on, my feet always got way too hot and I ended up kicking them off, never able to find them ever again.
“Is there something I can help you with?” I asked, trying to sound as pleasant as possible while I tied my hair back into a ponytail.
“No,” Lily said, smiling as she shook her head. “We just thought we could all talk. You know, since you never participate in the late night chats we have.”
Gee, I wonder why?!
“Oh,” I replied, chewing the inside of my cheek. “Well, I was actually planning on going straight to sleep. I’m really tired.”
Alice’s face fell, as did Lily. I would’ve felt bad, but I really was tired. Trying to focus on finding Potions instead of the nearly invisible freckles on Sirius’s face took a lot out of a person, as well as dealing with his egotistical personality.
Besides, this whole friends thing was still new to me. Very new, to be honest with you. It felt like their treatment toward me was a little…how can I say it, forced? Maybe it was just me, but as much as I wanted to believe them, I couldn’t. I had major trust issues, that much was true.
“Sorry,” I added.
“It’s okay,” Lily said, brightening immediately. “I guess we should all get to sleep; we have that exam in Charms tomorrow.”
I paled and my head spun. Oh, right. I had forgotten all about that exam. Crap. I burrowed down deep into my covers and, a few minutes after my head hit the pillow, I was asleep. And, for once, I didn’t dream about snogging Black one moment and kissing Remus the next.
X - X - X
I woke up at five the next morning to cram for my Charms exam. I studied while I ate breakfast, by myself, believe it or not, for the first time in nearly seven days. It felt nice to sit by myself, my nose in a book and a cup of steaming tea in hand. No one bothered me at breakfast and History of Magic went off without a hitch.
When I reached Charms, however, I was pissed. Why, you ask? Because the Charms exam was moved to the next class, not this class. I sank down in my seat and propped my head up in my hands. It was nearly impossible for me to keep my eyes open, much less pay attention to a single word of the review that Professor Flitwick was giving.
I sighed, this was just fantastic.
Once Charms was over, I packed up all my belongings and headed toward the door. I was halfway out of the door when an arm jutted out in front of me, slamming into my chest. My breath was stolen away from me and I found myself looking up into the cold, harsh eyes of Lucinda Matthews.
I gulped and she beckoned me with a long finger. I wasn’t going to be a wimp and run away. Chances were, I would end up tripping and she would beat me to a bloody pulp. Yeah, I didn’t think that it sounded all too appealing either. Besides, my arms were still recovering from when she sank her nails into them. I absentmindedly rubbed the bruised flesh as I followed her down the hallway.
Without missing a beat, she whirled around and started attacking me. Verbally, of course, so I’m sorry to disappoint if you were expecting a cat fight.
“What the hell do you think you were doing sitting with Sirius at dinner last night?” she practically shrieked.
I winced. “Remus invited me to sit with them.”
“Oh yeah right! Like I believe that!”
“If you don’t believe me,” I said. “Go ask Remus yourself. Or better yet, ask your boyfriend. You don’t seem to be spending nearly enough time with him.”
Lucinda’s eyes narrowed and she gave me a rough shove. “Was that a threat?”
My eyes widened and I quickly shook my head. “No, it wasn’t,” I squeaked, scared for my own life.
What was it with this girl and attacking people in the middle of the halls? Couldn’t she just confront me in a normal situation? Oh right, I forgot. Talking to me would be like committing social suicide. Or wait, would it, considering that no one really knew me.
“Good,” Lucinda pulled her face back and fluffed up her hair. “My friends have been watching you, Briggs. They said that you two got a little close last night in the library.”
Oh shit, she knew about that?! How was I going to back out of this one? Play stupid! Yes, that’s the way to go!
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You never do, do you?” She rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation. “She said that you were huddled together at your table.”
Oh phew. That’s a relief. I thought that her friend had seen us slip underneath the Invisibility Cloak together. Even I would admit that if I was observing that, I would be suspicious, too.
“That’s because we were studying, Lucinda,” I said. “You see, when people study, they usually sit closer together so they can share a book.”
Her eyes hardened. “You don’t have to treat me like I’m five years old, you know. I am the one who is in Ravenclaw here! You’re nothing but a pathetic Gryffindor. As to why you were sorted into that house will forever be a mystery.”
I glared at her. “Ha ha,” I bit out, clearly not amused.
Lucinda smiled in triumph. I had let her get to me. Again. And she knew it.
“Just make sure you keep that little mouth of yours closed, Briggs. If I find out that you’ve told him anything, I’ll make sure everyone knows about your deadbeat Mummy and suicidal Daddy.” She mimed the motion of placing a gun to the side of her head and pulling the trigger.
My breath was caught in my throat and little black dots were starting to dot my vision. My head was spinning out of control. I leaned against the wall for support, placed a hand over my throat, and struggled to draw breath. My stomach clenched with panic and I could hear my heart beating rapidly in my chest, despite the fact that I was hardly breathing. Tears pooled in my eyes as I slid down the rough wall, the stone scraping my back through my shirt.
How Lucinda Matthews of all people knew about my family’s past was beyond me. I hadn’t told a single soul about anything of my past, aside from Headmaster Dumbledore. Surely, he wouldn’t have given the information to her. Not without a good cause, of course. So, how did she find out then?
Lucinda laughed cruelly, patted me roughly on the head, and sauntered down the hall.
When my bum hit the ground, I drew my legs close to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. I started to rock back and forth, hoping to keep the tears at bay, but nothing helped. A salty, hot tear leaked out of the corner of my eye. I drew a deep breath, my lungs burning from the strain. A sob tore through my throat, the sound very foreign, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. They trickled freely down my face like a rainstorm in the middle of June. And they didn’t stop.
That was the first time I’d cried so hard in seven years.
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