Gee, thanks for the heartfelt letter, brother. No, I take it back. You don’t deserve honorary brother status. Has anyone ever told you that you are such a boy? And I mean that in the most insulting way possible, considering the fact that you are actually male. I pour my heart out to you and your response is ‘yeah, sucks for you. I played soccer against the Gibson’s today and won’. Or something to that effect. I don’t remember, I burnt it in rage. Seriously, not even an ‘I miss you too’? Which you do. I know you do. Uncle Alard told me you’d been moping. Whatever moping is. Anyway I hope he’s not lying or else you WILL be receiving a howler Walter William Vaisey. Just like you will if I don’t receive what I deem an adequate response from you next time. I deserve moping and a decent letter, please. It’s bad enough that I’m not allowed to Floo you. I told you that Aunt Pearl won’t connect to the Floo network even for one measly day, right? Apparently it’s frowned upon by these people. I told her people could frown all they like, I wanted to speak to you guys but she thought I was joking. That happens a lot.
Anyway, here’s awaiting your next (better) letter. I’ll let you know what excitement I’m in store for tonight at yet another Ball. Picture the Humphrey’s bash but with MORE uptight people (yes, that is possible). If it get’s dull enough I might break out the Heimlich again.
Love and enough kisses to make you feel uncomfortable,
Annie. P.S. Tell Uncle Nigel that no, his letter did not get lost in the post. I am still not talking to him. This is all his fault.
P.P.S. Tell Uncle Alard he too will be receiving a Howler if he was lying. And say this in front of Uncle Nigel so that he gets just how much I’m ignoring him.
P.P.P.S Tell Uncle Giles the reason he can’t find any clean socks is because there AREN’T ANY. Washing doesn’t do itself. There’s a lesson for being lazy. Anyway. Over and out.
“Wonderful to see you again, Mr Rosier. Allow me to introduce Susannah Leigh Vaisey. Susannah Leigh, Mr Rosier.”
Another night. Another rib-crushing corset. Another set of introductions to people I was certain I’d met before. These people really were difficult to tell apart. I wasn’t great with remembering most faces. I’d usually go by people’s personality. Which many of these people severely lacked.
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Susannah. May I call you Susannah?”
It was always the same. Always a well-rehearsed introduction from Aunt Pearl or Felicia, whoever had the vice-like grip on my arm that night, steering me around the room to ‘mingle’. Always the same response about how marvellous it was to meet me and whether they could call me by my first name from whoever it was I was being introduced to. Always the same gracious reply from me.
“Of course, Mr -”
Bollocks. I’d forgotten his name already. Luckily Felicia had some sort of psychic sense for when I was going to forget someone’s name and hissed it before I’d gotten my words out.
“- Rosier.” I smiled serenely, to match Felicia.
“I’ve heard much about you,” The silver-haired man continued, in the typical, polite way that most do. “I couldn’t imagine how one could be so exquisite as they say and yet still resemble her father so much…”
Oh here we go again with the Dad comments. I was sick of them. I struggled to stop my smile becoming strained as I nodded along and made courteous comments every now and then.
We were shortly joined by Mrs Rosier and the whole thing repeated.
I was slowly losing the will to live. And I still had four weeks of this before I even started school where the people may be slightly more normal. Well, not if this lot are anything to judge by.
“You simply must meet my son, Susannah,” Mrs Rosier gushed, “He’ll be in the year above you at Hogwarts.”
“How wonderful.” I replied, probably with less enthusiasm than I ought. To be honest, the boys my own age I’d met hadn’t been anything to write home about (not that I’d write to Walt or my Uncles about anything like that… they’d just about explode with discomfort as they did whenever anything vaguely feminine came up). Most of them were younger versions of their smarmy or stuck up fathers. And some… well, one in particular, just plain rude. And weird. Sirius Black had been right about one thing, he certainly was nothing like his family. Or anybody else I’d met.
“Hugh, where is Evan?” Mrs Rosier asked her husband, turning her head to gracefully scan the room. Yes, even searching for her son she did it gracefully. I’d have been craning my head, most likely at an unattractive angle. I seriously needed to work on the ‘poise’ part of all this. Lucky I’ve got the conversation bit mainly down.
“Cygnus and Druella Black have arrived,” Felicia noticed, clearly itching to play hostess like her mother some more.
Oh, shame. There simply wasn’t time to wait for miniature Master Rosier. I was sure I was missing out.
“Do excuse me,” I smiled at the couple, “I shall have to make your son’s acquaintance later on.”
It was a ball, rather than a banquet tonight. Which meant no food. I’d filled myself up as much as possible before I had to be caged in another torturous dress, hoping to leave myself some room when my food went down.
I thought maybe it wasn’t quite so agonising as before. Maybe I’d get used to it. Maybe my body would distort to fit the contraption. But maybe it was just because I’d been dreading having to put one on again all week so I’d built it up worse in my head.
Aunt Pearl and Felicia had gone through their usual process of picking apart my features with no concern for any offence I may have taken, while they scrutinised me in the dress.
“I’m just not sure about the colour,” Felicia had held out the skirt from my body so that it caught the light.
“It’s her skin,” Aunt Pearl had agreed, “She’s just so dark, why, you’re as tanned as a gypsy, Susannah,” She’d noted with a prim chuckle.
I’d grimaced, which was, as usual, taken as a smile.
“Did your uncles fail to provide you with proper sunshade?”
I shrugged helplessly. I had no idea what sort of sunshade they were supposed to provide me with. A parasol? Well, I wouldn’t have been able to have a lot of fun lugging one of those around with me, would I? But then, I suppose these pure-blood, proper young ladies weren’t really supposed to have ‘fun’. Not like Walt and I did, anyway.
Anyway, I wasn’t nearly so dark as Walt. He’d always jeered at my skin, which reached toffee-coloured at the darkest, while he grew more deeply and deeply bronzed. Now I was the tanned one. And it was fading fast in this lousy English sun. Which I wasn’t allowed to be out in, anyway. When we’d had brunch on the patio the other day Aunt Pearl had given me a bonnet.
I thought she was joking, but then she fastened it on me herself.
Walt would have just fallen about laughing.
“Must have gotten that from your father,” Aunt Pearl continued, “Why, your mother was just as fair as Felicia and I. We always hoped that the two of you would be as alike as twins, but look at you now! Nowhere near alike, nowhere at all!”
Eventually it had been decided that whilst the peach-coloured dress I’d worn was at odds with my - apparently ‘golden’ - skin, it was such a flattering fit that I really ought to wear it.
“It’s real silk, Susannah,” Felicia had informed me, importantly, “You must be careful with it. When you’re given champagne, hold the glass away from you or it’ll stain when you spill it.”
When I spill it indeed.
I’d only knocked over three drinks since I’d been here. Not even one a day. They really didn’t need to treat me as such a child.
“Mr and Mrs Black, so nice to see you again,” Felicia greeted them. “May I introduce Sus-”
Oh for crying out loud, I couldn’t hear another introduction, it really would kill me. And besides, we’d met these people before!
“Done it, Felicia.” I cut her off abruptly.
“Oh, of course,” Her fair cheeks coloured slightly, and I couldn’t help notice that despite her polite tone, her grip on my arm was now a little tight.
Of course that wasn’t the way I was supposed to correct her. Damn it. I Was just glad the other Blacks weren’t here. Because surely that Sirius Black would have made some sort of rude comment.
Before I could hastily rectify my mistake the younger Black daughter, the blonde one, caught my eye with a smirk.
Before I realised it I’d returned the smile. Wait, hadn’t she been the one who’d been so snobby to me before? Was she mocking me rather than siding with me? I really had no idea, none of them had shown any personality whatsoever before.
“Mother,” The blonde girl said, while Felicia was making small-talk with Cygnus Black. “May I take Susannah and introduce her to some school friends? I’m sure she’d love to get to know them a little better.”
Mrs Black had given her approval and Felicia reluctantly released my arm to let me go off with Blonde Girl, whose name I’d forgotten, and drifted off in search of her mother.
“Thank God,” Blonde Girl sniggered in a hushed tone as she linked her arm through mine in the manner that most people seemed to do around here. Weird. “You should have just let her go on, it would have been much more amusing to see Felicia Cunningham get herself into a fluster.”
I didn’t reply right away. I was a left a little confused at what Blonde Girls game was. Was she disdainful, as she’d seemed before? Or did she have some sort of personality?
“Erm.” That was all I could come up with.
“Oh, sorry. You’re not taking offence at that, are you? I mean, I suppose she is practically your sister…”
I blinked again. Felicia, my sister? Really not. I wasn’t taking offence in the slightest. It wasn’t that I liked or disliked Felicia, she was just… there. She was just Felicia. One of the things in life (along with Aunt Pearl) that were just necessary.
“I can just imagine her face if you said that to her.” I commented, without thinking it through. I could see the appalled look on Felicia’s face in my minds eye. She’d be distraught at the very thought that there were any similarities between us. I’d come to the conclusion that she viewed me as some sort of a pet that she could dress up and teach how to behave and how to dance (which I’d had to do, three times a day, to prepare for tonight).
Blonde girl laughed delightedly. “I knew it! I knew you were different.”
I swallowed. Different. That’s what he’d said. Her cousin. Except he’d made it sound like something ominous whereas she seemed thrilled.
“Different?” I echoed, “I don’t know what you mean…”
“Oh, not bad different. Believe me, “ A grim looked passed across her fair face. I supposed she was quite pretty in the fresh, composed way that Felicia was. The way that most of these people were. Almost regal. “My family’s seen more than enough bad different. But you seem… I don’t know. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But there’s just something about you, Susannah. Everyone sees it. Haven’t you seen people staring?”
I’ll tell you who was staring right then, that was me. At her.
‘Something about me’? Well alright, I did tend to have more than my fair share of eyes on me most of the time… but I was new around here. And I was a clumsy oaf. Was that the ‘something’ she was on about?
“So what’s the story anyway?” Blonde Girl asked. I should find out her name…
“Well you’ve turned up out of the blue with Pearl and Felicia. No one quite knows why it was so sudden. All anybody was told was that Pearl took pity on you, the way things were over there in India. So she took you in because she promised your mother she’d take care of you.”
I nearly choked on my own spit. Took pity on me? I was happy! I was happy in Delhi, with Walt and Uncle Nigel, Uncle Giles, Uncle Alard…
All Aunt Pearl had been doing was sticking her bloody nose in.
“Well it was different in India.” I told Blonde Girl, “Nothing like here. I’d never had any of this… any of these dresses, or this nice food or wine. Just -”
“Really? You poor thing!” Blonde Girl looked genuinely upset, just like Aunt Pearl and Felicia had at the very thought of my lack of pretty dresses.
“Oh no, I didn’t really mind.” I assured her.
Her pretty face crinkled up in confusion. Apparently that was the wrong thing to say too.
“Oh. Um. But now I see… what I was missing out on,” I invented, hastily. I couldn’t work this girl out. She seemed to have some sort of personality about her, but just when I thought she was nosy and blunt enough for me to relate to (I had grown up with Walt), she sounded just like Felicia. Was that what I’d be like eventually? Maybe Blonde Girl had long ago had a personality, but after spending her whole lifetime with these people it’d been wiped away. That seemed feasible.
Oh God. I was going to be wiped away.
“Narcissa.” An irritable voice came from behind me. I looked behind to see Blonde Girls sister. Moody Girl. “You left with me alone with Mother, Father and Felicia Cunningham. What was of such utmost importance that you had to leave?”
“Bella.” Blonde Girl… oh wait, she had a name now… Narcissa, replied, “I only thought that Susannah would prefer to be in the company of those her own age rather than Mother and Father. I was going to introduce her to Evan and… Lucius…”
“Like you would ever even gather the guts to speak to Malfoy.” Bella chuckled, sounding kind of unfriendly.
Narcissa’s pale face coloured a little but she stuck her chin in the air and kept that serene look that seemed plastered on people’s faces. “Why don’t you run along to find Rodolphus, Bella, you know how much he loves you hanging onto his every word…”
“At least he wants me,” Bella hissed, sounding a little dangerous. “I’m the one with the ring, Cissy, I’m the one who doesn’t have to worry about no one ever asking me.”
With that, the moody elder sister whom I now suspected to be slightly deranged stalked off.
I had no idea what I was meant to say. This pleasant exchange didn’t seem typical ballroom talk, yet no one had noticed. They’d handled their disagreement so subtly that all anyone would have seen were the two sisters smiling politely yet boredly. The catty comments were hissed under their breath, without even a change in expression.
Ok, I’d never be that good.
I felt the need to speak, as we lapsed into silence. “Erm. Asked what?”
I didn’t know if that was a polite question to ask. Oh well, she’d seemed pleased that I was ‘different’.
“To be married, of course,” Narcissa said, with only a slight hint of incredulity that I didn’t know. She was mostly preoccupied looking in the direction her sister had exited. Her expression darkened for a millisecond as she observed Bella now leading a tall, dark young man onto the dance floor. But only for a millisecond. Then it smoothed out. “Rodolphus Lestrange asked Bella to marry him at Christmas. She’s only a year older than me, you know. Every day since I’ve been getting snide remarks about how my time is running out…”
I stared. “But you’re seventeen.”
“Exactly. Seventeen. My parents were married at eighteen, you know,”
I followed her gaze over to her elderly parents. Bloody hell, eighteen was a long way behind them.
I was slightly alarmed. I’d thought that all the talk of my finding a ‘suitor’ was dramatic, poncey talk from Aunt Pearl. Not serious. By the way Narcissa was talking I only had a year before I was a lost bloody cause. At seventeen. What a joke.
“Yeah, but not everyone does, surely?” I asked, a little desperately, “I mean, Felicia’s not engaged and she’s nineteen -”
“You’d compare me to Felicia Cunningham?” Narcissa laughed a little vindictively. Again, I got that odd feeling that maybe Felicia and Aunt Pearl weren’t quite so looked up to in society as they made out. I had no sodding chance, then.
“But does it really matter?” I tried to reason with her, “It’s not the most important thing in the world right now…”
“Does it matter?” Narcissa echoed in disbelief. “You don’t want to be married? You don’t want somebody to love you, unconditionally and absolutely, and be provided for, for the rest of your life?”
Bollocks. Something else I’d said that wasn’t quite right. Narcissa was looking at me like I was a leper.
“Of course I do,” I correctly myself, “Uh, who wouldn’t? But why don’t you… you know, do something about it then?”
“Do something about it?” Her ice blue eyes widened.
“Sure. Like, this Malfoy guy you spoke about.”
“Lucy. Sure. Who’s he?” I looked around the room, trying to remember being introduced to a Mr Malfoy.
“What… Susannah you can’t just do something about it, like you’re saying…” Narcissa said, hurriedly, as if she thought I were about to charge into the middle of the dance floor and declare her love for this Malfoy. Of course I wouldn’t. That was such a Walt move. I was much more subtle. Kind of.
Her eyes flickered from mine. Just for a second, but enough for me to spot the victim. I mean, target. I mean… yeah, that’ll do.
The target was standing just a few yards away, in deep discussion with someone else with his back to me. From what I could see, Narcissa’s Romeo had slick pale hair almost the same shade as his skin and sharp, regal features. Each to their own.
“Blondie, right?” I asked, linking Narcissa’s arm in the firm way she had done to me just a few minutes ago and weaved past a few people in the crowded hall. I smiled to myself. I was already having a lot more fun that I had been with Felicia.
“Susannah,” She hissed, “Do not do anything…”
I didn’t reply. I was too busy fiddling with my elbow-length glove down at my side.
“Susannah! What are you doing?” Narcissa was looking furtively over my shoulder to where Malfoy was, as if my mere presence was making her look bad. That probably was what she was thinking. She anxiously fiddled with her hair.
Ah, I was ready.
With a flail of my arm in their direction I looked down at my bare wrist and exclaimed, “Oh, my glove! Narcissa, I do believe I’ve lost my glove!” I was pleased with my acting skills.
Apparently Narcissa was not. Her pretty blue eyes were narrowed, but she must have seen Malfoy looking in our direction because she instantly joined in on the act. That was what I liked to see.
“Oh, wherever could it be?” She lifted the hem of her dress and looked about of the floor around her, “You had it just a moment ago…”
Her voice was a little flat. I’d have liked more sincerity, but there you are. Maybe these people just weren’t so crazy about the gloves as they were about the dresses. Not that I could have pretended to lose my dress. Ahem.
“Oh gosh, if it is trodden on I shall be sick, positively sick!” I carried on, noting the warning look in Narcissa’s eye. Maybe I ought to tone it down a little.
I looked up just for a moment, about to turn around to ask The Target for his help (such a subtle plan, it really was) when another pair of eyes caught mine. These eyes were a steely grey, one dark eyebrow raised in scepticism and one corner of his lips curled in amusement.
I realised with a jolt that this was Sirius Black. I hadn’t seen him arrive. I wondered for a moment if he’d seen my skilful performance and was now ready to eat his words about me being ‘different’. Perhaps not.
But, with another jolt I remembered that I was in the middle of said performance, a crucial part. I whirled around, ready to enquire whether Mr Malfoy could possibly have seen my glove lying around, when I found myself face to face with someone completely different.
“Is this what you’re looking for… Miss Vaisey, is it?” I tore my startled glance from the pale grey eyes, a vast contrast from the ones that had just been on mine, to the fine, silk glove in his hand.
I noticed, with relief, that Mr Malfoy was standing next to him. At least he’d followed him over. Now I just had to get him to speak to Narcissa rather than staring oddly at me.
“Why, thank you so much,” I accepted it graciously, “Wherever did you find it?”
“Well it was, er… hard to miss. What with it being flung in my face and all.”
Oh dear. I’d been a little over-enthusiastic. I followed Aunt Pearls example of what to do when you don’t have an answer to something and laughed loudly and airily, “Oh, you are witty.”
“Right,” He looked confused. I don’t blame him, really.
“I don’t think we’ve met,” I decided that carrying on resolutely was as good as anything. I already looked insane. “I’m -”
My words were cut off as a dark-haired, grey-eyed someone barged past me. I wobbled in my heels but my glove-saviour caught my arm.
“Watch where you’re going, Black,” He said, a little brusquely.
“My apologies,” That cocky voice again, “Rosier. Annie.”
Of all the nerve. First he accuses me inappropriately and cunningly gets my real name out of me, then he barges in to me, then he uses my real name. Which he doesn’t deserve. Given to him in a moment of madness.
“My name is Susannah,” I corrected him.
“I’m pretty sure you told me it was Annie,” He said, as if he knew my name better than me.
“You must be mistaken,” I said, firmly, “Now if you’ll excuse me,”
He held my eyes for a moment before nodded mockingly politely, almost a bow, “I see. Again, my apologies Susannah.”
How dare he be so presumptuous. He didn’t even have the common decency to leave, just became engaged in conversation with some people just behind us.
“Allow me to apologise on his behalf,” Glove-saviour said, “Sirius Black is… different…”
There is was. ‘Different’ again. Being thrown around like an insult.
“He certainly seems it,” I said, throwing a dark look in his direction. I could have sworn I saw his lip quirk. “As I was saying, I’m -”
“Susannah Vaisey,” Glove-saviour finished for me, “I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m Evan Rosier.”
Ah. The Master Rosier I had meant to meet. Well, he wasn’t the complete drip I was expecting, I suppose. Although his dark hair was styled much the same as Malfoy’s. A fan of the slicked-back look.
“Pleased to meet you,” I offered the standard reply, before jumping back into my plan. It would most certainly not be abandoned, “And Mr Malfoy, we’ve met before,”
“My pleasure, again, Susannah,” He replied, robotically. I wondered if they were this polite forever. Even when you’d known them for fifty odd years. I wonder if their parents still told each other it was a pleasure to see one another again every time they spoke.
“I believe you both know Narcissa?” My arm was still firmly linked with hers. “Why, she was just telling me… oh, tell them the story you were just telling me, Cissy,”
I distinctively felt nails dug into my skin, even through my gloves. She’d thank me later.
I didn’t hear her respond, due to the warm breath on the back of my neck and the low voice saying very distinctly into my ear, “Impressive.”
“I beg your pardon,” I turned to acknowledge him. Sirius Black. For some reason it made me completely uneasy. “But I don’t know what you mean.”
“While I’m in awe of your management skills, it’s not exactly benefiting your adjustment process,” He said, not entirely without approval.
“Adjustment process?” I echoed, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m adjusting just fine, thank you very much.”
“Susannah? Is he bothering you?” Glove-saviour… erm, Evan… enquired. He didn’t look remotely surprised. Maybe it wasn’t just me that Sirius Black tormented.
“Susannah was just promising me a dance, later on,” Black said, smoothly.
I opened my mouth to object that I most certainly was not, but then thought such an ill-mannered response may not be appropriate. I remembered Bella and Cissy settling their disagreements in such a restrained way. I would follow their example. Or, if it came to it, I could get him with a well-placed knee during this dance I was being roped in it. Either or.
“Indeed,” I forced a smile, “I look forward to it,”
To my great surprise, the dancing wasn’t nearly so bad as Felicia had made it out to be when she’d been teaching me. I could only conclude that these people were easier to dance with than she was. I noticed that she wasn’t actually taking to the floor herself, but sat with Aunt Pearl and some other women with a glass of champagne.
I’d already had a song with Mr Malfoy Senior, Mr De Silver and a younger Mr Lestrange, the brother of Bella’s fiancé. It seemed that a number of people were interesting in ‘the new girl’. Maybe it was because of my parents. Maybe it was because of Aunt Pearl. Maybe it was because I came across as ‘different’. I sincerely hoped it wasn’t the last option.
I was being led around the dance floor slowly and confidently. Confidence from my partner, anyway, not me. I still had no clue what I was doing, just went wherever I was steered. Apparently it was good enough. And I hadn’t even trodden on any toes yet.
The song ended but my partners hand didn’t release mine, and nor did his other move from my waist.
“Is it too bold of me to ask for one more song?” Evan Rosier asked, with a knowing smile, “Or are you anxious to give Mr Black his promised dance…”
“I’d rather put that off as long as possible,” I said, resolutely.
He smiled as the music started and we swayed slowly on the spot to the melody for a moment. “You’ve noticed it about him too, then?”
I looked up. “Noticed what, exactly?” The way we were moving was quite familiar now. I’d spent the last… well, I’d stopped counting. But I’d spent the last number of dances with Rosier so I was comfortable with the fact that I wasn’t about to kick him. Always a good sign.
“Well, like I said,” He shrugged, lightly, “He’s different,”
“People have been saying that quite a lot,” I said carefully as we turned around, “Different. I don’t quite know what they mean.”
Rosier considered, “It’s difficult to explain, I suppose, to one who hasn’t seen him grow up. It’s more apparent at school, he… what do you know of the Houses of Hogwarts, Susannah?”
I didn’t really know what that had to do with it, “Only that Felicia and… everyone I’ve heard about has been in one particular House,”
“Slytherin,” He nodded, “We all have been. Almost everybody here. Anyone with any drive, any ambition is in Slytherin.”
“And Black’s not.” I derived.
“No. He’s not.”
Ah. Well maybe that explained it. A little. The way his family had gotten all shirty when we’d first met and he’d said ’I won’t be seeing that much of her, will I?’. He wasn’t being rude. He was being honest.
“The company he keeps at Hogwarts,” Rosier carried on, “Isn’t desirable. Blood traitors and the like. Doesn’t have the slightest regard for his heritage. But he doesn’t care. He just doesn’t fit in,”
Doesn’t fit in. Just what I feared.
“Different,” I quoted.
“Different.” Rosier agreed.
I wanted to voice my fear that I was ’different’. That I wouldn’t fit in. That I’d be an outcast just like Sirius Black. But I didn’t.
“His family are holding out hope,” Evan said, “They don’t want another… oh, but you don’t know about Andromeda?”
I shook my head. Frightful gossip-monger, this Rosier, wasn't he? But this was all stuff I really ought to have been told before I met people. That way I could be careful who I interacted with and not accidentally tell Sirius Black my real name.
“Andromeda Black is… was the sister of Bellatrix and Narcissa. They don’t speak of her any more. Andromeda married a Mudblood.”
My confusion must have shown on my face.
“A Mudblood is someone of impure blood. A muggle-born,” He explained, the distaste clear on his face.
Mudblood? Mud? It seemed a bit of a cruel name to me. In Delhi we didn’t have a word for it. Muggle-born witches or wizards were looked out for and supported, rather than shunned or looked down upon, as Rosier was suggesting.
But I didn’t voice my shock, “I haven’t heard that term,” I said, offhandedly.
He chuckled, “You are a very unusual witch, Miss Vaisey.”
I looked up, “Different?” I supplied, in a light-hearted way, but my heart was hammering.
“No,” He shook his head, his light eyes on mine, “Not like that. Just very… innocent. Innocent and… real.”
I realised just how close we’d gotten. This wasn’t the standard stance for the dance, I was sure. A glance around the room told me that I was right, we were holding one another rather more closely than required. But when I tried to pull away just a fraction, I found I couldn’t.
I looked up enquiringly at his face and saw with a start that it wore an affectionate expression. Oh no.
“Susannah,” He began again, but was thankfully interrupted.
“Susannah,” A different voice said, “How about that dance?”
I never thought I’d be so thankful to see the shrewd eyes of Sirius Black.
“Yes please.” I said, rather too quickly, before I could stop myself.
It didn’t go unnoticed by Rosier. I could have sworn I felt his grip on my hand and waist tighten for a fraction of a second, before letting me go.
“Until next time,” He said, extremely civilly considering I’d not been overly subtle about my escape.
“Um.” I replied, not knowing etiquette for after you’d just ditched someone.
Warm, dry hands took a hold of me, one on waist and the other taking my hand. Which was a little moist.
“Eew.” I said, wiping it on his dinner jacket, “Sorry, Rosier had clammy hands.” I then realised that wiping someone else’s sweat onto your dance partners dinner jacket probably wasn’t the polite thing to do. “Oh. Sorry.”
“Not a problem,” Black chuckled, and took my hand again, “So, the adjusting is going well?”
I glared. We’d not been dancing for five seconds and already he was getting the tormenting going. “Kindly don’t start that again,”
“It was a polite concern,” He protested.
Even though this was my first dance with him, I realised it was already as easy as it had been with Rosier. Easier, perhaps. Maybe my dance skills were better than I’d originally thought. Or maybe it was Sirius Black’s strong and sure hold on me.
“You are not polite,” I informed him.
“No,” He mused, “I’m not. I find it false.”
Again, I got that odd feeling. He was saying just what I’d thought. Oh God. Oh God, please don’t let me be ‘different’ like him.
“Perhaps that’s why you don’t fit in here,” I said.
“Oh,” He laughed again, “You got that chat, did you? That was fast. Usually people tend to beat about the bush and hope for the best in me. Or the worst. Depending on how you’re looking at it. So have you decided, then?”
“Decided what?” I was already tiring of his strange chat. After the conversation of everybody else around here it seemed very direct. Or perhaps he just was very direct compared to anybody.
“Decided what you are. Is it going to be a rough year or is it going to be easy?”
I made a noise of disapproval, “I knew I should have stuck it out with Rosier,” I muttered, under my breath. Anything so that I didn’t have to hear these accusations. But I couldn’t exactly walk away right now. I hadn’t been told anything about this, but I was fairly certain that leaving one’s dance partner in the middle of the floor was considered rude. I didn’t want anyone else thinking I was different.
He chuckled again, “See, that’s how I know. Any other girl would have been honoured that The Evan Rosier went in for the kiss. You, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get away.”
“He did not go in for the kiss,” I hissed, under my breath, flushing a little against my will. I’d hoped I was wrong. And it was mortifying that he’d noticed.
“No? You’d know, I suppose. I mean, you were the one three inches from his face.”
I struggled to keep my cool, “I’ll have you know, I happen to like Evan Rosier,”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes! I do.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes I… don’t tell me what I do and do not like. I do. He’s a gentleman,” I said, with a distinct emphasis on the word gentleman to infer without any doubt that I did not consider the man in front of me to be one at all.
It didn’t wipe the smile from his face at all.
“Yeah, he was real gentlemanly going in for that gentlemanly kiss on the first night he gentlemanly met you.”
Well, I thought, they get married at seventeen. Maybe thing’s just happen quicker here. Maybe the whole relationship phase lasts a week so they cram it all in before getting engaged. That was how Narcissa had made it sound. I noticed that she was still dancing with Malfoy, and felt a little glimmer of satisfaction that my plan had worked so successfully.
I didn’t dignify Black’s comment with a response.
“If you’re going to ignore me,” He said, ignoring my ignoring him, “I wouldn’t bother. It doesn’t work.”
I kept silent.
“I mean it. I can keep talking. So how long to you think before you’re ready to kill yourself just so you don’t have to be politely introduced to someone you’ve already been introduced to seven times before?”
I felt the stricken expression cross my face before I could stop it.
He laughed delightedly, “I knew it. I knew there was something different -”
“No,” I hissed, outraged that he’d read my mind again. “I am not like you. I’ve heard all about you. The way you don’t fit in, the way you have no ambition for anything. The people you hang around with, the blood traitors and mudbloods…”
All at once his easy, amused expression hardened. “What did you say?”
Something about the way he stared down at me made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. His grey eyes were all too knowing and too bright, almost as if he knew me. I wondered if the churning feeling in my stomach was because of the corset, or the hot room, or something else.
I repressed the screwed up shame at the way the word had just slipped out. The word I’d thought was so cruel. And Rosier hadn’t even said anything about him being friends with those people…
But I couldn’t take it back now.
“You heard me,” I said, bitingly.
For a moment he didn’t reply. I was looking away but glanced up out of the corner of my eye and saw that he was staring above the heads of the crowd, his expression grim. “Don’t talk about things you don’t understand, Annie.”
I wanted to come back with a sharp retort, but found that I couldn’t find one. It didn’t make sense. I always had one. It didn’t make sense that someone I despised so thoroughly made me feel so… vulnerable.
And it didn’t make sense that he’d just called me Annie. Again. And I hadn’t put him right.
“Well, on the bright side,” He said, his voice no longer full of laugher. As far from that as was possible. “If you’re looking to fit in,” He looked back down at me with that harsh expression, “You’ve got no worries.”
I was the one who looked away first.
“You’re doing a good job.”
For the rest of the dance, those words were all I could hear.
A.N. Hey, chapter 2 of Annie! What did you think? Fitting in well hmm? And Sirius being all annoyingly knowing...
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Thanks for reading. Rx.