“Oh, Bonjour, Piper. Comment vous aujourd’hui?” Why Sirius was suddenly French, he did not know, but he was sure that whatever he was trying to say had not come out correctly. He’d definitely missed a verb or subject in there somewhere. Piper was looking at him strangely, but whether it was because he’d suddenly developed an outrageous French accent or because his right foot was still stuck inside of her high heel meant for baby elves, he also did not know.
There was a long moment where Piper stared blankly at Sirius, saying nothing.
“Right, well, it was good seeing ya.” Sirius tried desperately to take off the medieval torture device that was still clamped on his foot. It felt like the shoes had sprouted teeth that had sunk into his ankle. Deep into his ankle. Making it impossible to pry them off. Making it impossible for him to escape. He could always jump out of the window and hope there was a good tail wind. He could just float to the ground. Especially if he had an umbrella handy—that Muggle nanny did it all the time.
Piper just stared blankly. As if she didn’t see Sirius at all. Was he invisible? Had he taken James’ Invisibility Cloak with him and just forgotten? No, she’d definitely seen him. She’d said, “Sirius?” He remembered that distinctly.
“You’re wearing my shoes,” she said at last. Her soft voice, void of any of its usual bitter anger, hurt Sirius’ ears. She looked thin and broken, like the wall that she had built up over her life had crumbled down. And it was all because of him. Her every breath was ragged, labored; it hurt her to breathe. He had impaled her, hurt her, and now she was suffering.
An ocean separated the two of them when in reality less than five feet stood between them. It was an impossible distance.
After Piper’s last encounter with Sirius she had avoided him—avoided all human contact really—at all costs. After their heated words in the corridor next to Snipip’s portrait, Piper had been seething. She could not go back to the common room since that was likely where Sirius was going, she couldn’t even find sanctuary in her dormitory since she would hardly receive a warm reception from Lily and her other year mates. So she wandered and paced, thinking about how she just wanted to be alone in a place where no one could find or bother her.
And then she found it.
Upon stumbling across a small bedroom complete with the most comfortable bed Piper had ever been in, Piper’s love of Hogwarts multiplied. The castle had provided her with exactly what she needed most. It was strange, she had walked past this tapestry hundreds of times and there had never been a room here. It was all in the mystery of Hogwarts. But it was perfect. Piper had been spending most of her time locked in her room sleeping and when she had to go to classes no one bothered her. She hadn’t even noticed the empty Gryffindor hour glass. She hadn’t noticed the “Get the Marauders!” fliers hung all around school. She was in her own world. But today she had run out of fresh clothes and had to make a quick stop in her dormitory, but she had become a ghost to the people of Hogwarts and knew she would not be bothered. The students had found something more interesting than her to obsess over.
But she didn’t think that he would be here. She had been avoiding him like the people in the Dark Ages tried to avoid the bubonic plague. They, like her, were unsuccessful. She had developed a fear of seeing him. Every time she rounded a corner or walked into a classroom, her body trembled in terror at the prospect of coming close to him. She could not face him. She felt like he had frozen her body then smashed it to bits with a broom. She had never been so hurt, not when McClure attacked her, not when her mother disowned her. She had let Sirius in, into every aspect of her life—into her heart. And he had torn her up from the inside. She was supposed to want to fight back and hurt him, to retaliate, but all she wanted to do was sleep until she was thirty.
And then, despite all of her cautionary measures, he was here. In her room. In her shoes. Piper wasn’t afraid of much, but now she understood why Korey threw a fits and hopped onto whatever piece of furniture was handy whenever she saw a spider, now she understood why Lily needed a nightlight. Because there is nothing worse than confronting your fears—especially when your fears take you by surprise.
But Piper did not jump onto her chair or trunk and yell “Eeeeee! Kill it! Kill it!” when she saw Sirius, like Korey did when she saw any sort of insect. Instead, her body became frozen and she was paralyzed.
Sirius stopped focusing on his foot that was likely going to have to be amputated and shifted his attention to Piper.
“Piper,” Sirius moved to breach the gap that separated them, but with his sudden movement that was made even more sudden by the high heeled shoe that was on his left foot, Piper gasped and retreated like he was some sort of terrifying monster.
She was afraid of him.
“Piper.” Her eyes were closed, making Sirius feel even more monstrous. With every step he took forward Piper took a step back, keeping the distance between them. He said her name with each step. He did not pay attention to the way he wobbled as he walked, he did not pay attention to the annoying difference of height between his legs, he did not pay attention to the pain he was enduring. All he saw was her face.
And then she was pressed against the wall and Sirius was in front of her. He had crossed the ocean.
“Piper,” He cupped her small face with both of his hands. She recoiled from his touch. “I am not going to hurt you.”
Then the heel finally gave out and Sirius lost his balance. Piper’s face still in his hands, he crumpled to the ground, taking her along for the ride and, by the feel of it, twisting her head right off. The awkward way he fell finally pried what remained of the shoe off and, with that distraction gone, he was able to ascertain that Piper’s head was still firmly attached to her neck.
He was laying half on top of her, half off and he now worried that his weight had crushed her. She had become so fragile. He ran one hand down her hair and across her cheek. She hadn’t made a sound as they toppled onto the floor—maybe she was concussed. But she flinched at his touch so it was apparent that she was still conscious.
“Stop,” she whispered almost inaudibly. She was breathing harder than before, but that was probably just because Sirius had squashed her lungs.
“Piper,” he whispered in her ear. He pressed his lips onto her cheek. She shuddered. God he missed her touch, her taste, her smell. She was toxic. Addictive.
He brushed her hair away from her face and touched his lips to the top of her head. “Stop,” she said again in the same defeated voice.
And then her eyes opened and he saw the emotion in her usually stormy eyes. The tempest had calmed and there was only deep fear in them. She really was afraid of him.
Sirius scrambled to get off her, relieving her of both physical and emotional pressure. “I’m sorry, Piper. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have.”
Piper was up now too, standing in the corner as far away from him as she could go. “Get out.” It was a phrase Sirius was used to hearing from her. “I don’t want to see you ever again. I hate you.”
Sirius scoffed. “You hate me?” He asked, indignant. “You hate me?” Piper did not need to nod to affirm her statement. Sirius continued to huff; as long as he was angered by her words he would not have to accept them. He could not accept them. Piper, the one he ignored, hated, and tormented had always been there. He had been the one who hated her, not the other way around. She only hated him because he hated her, but now she hated him for a legitimate reason. And it was a real hate. Not the kind of hate where you say, “I hate tomatoes,” or “I hate Professor McGonagall,” but the kind of hate where you would be in Nirvana if the object of your detestation was suffering in miserable agony for the rest of their existence. It was that kind of hate. He doubted that if the heavens opened up and Zeus or God or Buddha and hurled a lightning bolt or spear at his heart that Piper would call for help or really even care. She was completely indifferent to him.
“I hate you.” Well, maybe not completely indifferent.
“You hate me.” There, he had accepted it; all of the fortifications he had built up around his heart did nothing to protect him against the onslaught that was Piper’s hate. It would have hurt less to have a thousand piranhas swimming through his veins, nibbling at his vital organs.
“I’ll just be going then.” Sirius only had a second to pause and collect his thoughts outside of the dormitory before the stairs turned into a chute and he slid down into the common room below. “She hates me,” Sirius said lamely as he limped up to his room where he collapsed. “She hates me.”
* * * *
“I hate him.” Piper was liberated, freed of Sirius Black. He would haunt her no more. The strength that would not come to her five minutes earlier had now found its way back into Piper’s bones. She was powerful again. Like Hercules or a lumberjack. Her sudden empowerment, however, only lasted for a second. A victory over Sirius Black was no victory at all. Casting Black out of her life only left her alone.
She had no one.
Lily was off with Grant Grey and Piper still had a hard time believing in friendship, Snape had never been a friend and was likely trying to find a way to perform a blood transfusion with her, and her family had abandoned her. The people that she had renounced her family for had now abandoned her too.
They hadn’t been worth it after all.
Would marrying Alexander really be that bad? She had never complained much about being a pureblood before this year. Her family wasn’t exactly a basket full of kittens, but they treated her well enough. She was never in want of anything that her family could not provide. Sure there was the whole fact that the Reddens were a bunch of Muggle-hating murderers who indulged in criminal activities and the Dark Arts, but she could overlook that. They would protect her like Sirius, Lily, and even Dumbledore never could.
She was at her desk and, in a sudden movement that startled Sanaa’s cat, she fumbled for a piece of parchment and wrote:
I’ve changed my mind.
* * * *
It had been two days since Piper had rashly sent her owl to Alexander McClure. He hadn’t replied. This was a strange relief to Piper, who had been regretting her letter immensely. Yet she continued to fret, worried that Alexander and her family would not accept her again. No matter which course of action she took she was likely to suffer.
And there was already plenty of suffering at the Gryffindor table.
Even though the “Get the Marauder” hysteria was slowly dying down, the Gryffindors were still ravenous about their House points. At the moment, a first year was begging McGonagall to give him a point for every gallon of pumpkin juice he consumed; he had already ingested at least two and was beginning to look a bit peaky. Suffering worse than the first year was the seventh year who had challenged Professor Kettleburn to a Grindylow wrestling competition. Suffering worse than the seventh year was Sirius Black who, though he had not been whoring himself out to professors for House points, had incurred the wrath of Piper Redden.
It was the first time Sirius had emerged from his dormitory since his latest encounter with her. When he hadn’t appeared in his classes on Monday, Professor McGonagall made a surprising visit to the Gryffindor Sixths’ where she found a clearly ill Sirius. Because of the terms of his probation Sirius was not permitted to miss classes, but after the young Madam Pomfrey gave Sirius a brief examination she deemed him unfit to leave his bed (“only bed rest will cure him”). McGonagall compensated by having all of his schoolwork sent to his bedside.
But now Sirius had emerged and he looked and felt terrible. The coy smiles and flirty ‘Hello, Sirius’s that he received on any normal morning were gone. No one wanted to wink at a teenager who resembled a troll more than a human. He was beginning to rethink his self-induced ostracization. He was in Hogwarts exile and it was not enjoyable. But it gave him the rare opportunity to be an observer; without the distraction of his friends he was able to focus entirely on one individual.
So not only did he look and feel terrible, but he also looked and felt like a stalker. But it wasn’t like he was creeping around the armored knights and tapestries in order to follow her every move. He wasn’t recording her habits (although that was a good idea). He was just watching her—and that wasn’t a crime. Unless it was—then he was going to Azkaban for sure. He just wanted to watch, to take note of how she was doing. Piper had never been what one would call ‘emotionally stable.’ She was impulsive, radical, and moderately insane. Her insides were in turmoil and there was no knowing what she would do. Sirius just hoped she wasn’t going to do something she would regret.
Unbeknownst to him, she already had.
Hogwarts was unraveling at the seams. It was falling apart from the inside out; the stones were cracking, the portraits fading, the silver tarnishing. It was losing its magic. The mood of the school, traditionally joyous and benevolent was now melancholy and dark. Everyone was nothing less than miserable.