Chapter 7 : Cats & Dogs
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Halloween was rapidly approaching and the Gryffindors were throwing a costume party; according not only to Octavius, but also to Lynn, Lily, and James, I had to go. My feeble excuses that I didn't have a costume had no effect whatsoever. Every time the subject came up, I felt slightly nauseated.
To make matters worse, Tavi had apparently been correct in his observation that a lot of people knew who I was--and I had the sneaking suspicion not many people liked me. Girls would glance in my direction as they whispered behind their hands; boys would either glare at me or smile hopefully. I couldn't ascertain, of course, what their behavior had been like before rumor worthy people began talking to me. Maybe all this was a new development. Maybe I was just being paranoid.
I tried to keep as busy as I could, which unfortunately meant I was running out of things to do. In desperation, I pulled out the book at the very end of the closest shelf, read it through, and began the next one. I only emerged for classes and sleep, not even daring to enter the great hall for meals.
Wednesday evening, Madam Pince turned off all the lights as I put the finishing touches on the Charms essay that wouldn't be assigned for another month.
"Madam Pince?" I whispered.
I quickly packed my things away and hurried towards the exit. Pince was nowhere to be seen, nor was anyone else; she must have forgotten about me, huddled behind a stack of books in the far corner.
The castle was so quiet I could hear the distant rumble of thunder and tell it would soon reach Hogwarts. At a window on the fifth floor, I stopped abruptly as a flash of lightening illuminated the grounds. Heart racing, I turned from the window and came face to face with Sirius Black.
"FRAK!" I jumped back and hit the wall.
"Didn't mean to frighten you," he said, wearing a crooked smile, "though I have to admit, you're an easy target. In more ways that one, incidentally."
He'd lost me on the last bit, but when he put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me in close, I saw the approaching Slytherins and understood. Though it hadn't yet gotten so bad any lasting damage had been done, many of the Slytherins still enjoyed harassing other students--a lone girl would be a prime target.
"Well, good evening little brother," Sirius reached out and ruffled Regulus Black's hair. I couldn't help but notice the way he stressed the world 'little.'
"Don't touch me with your filthy hands," Regulus spat at his brother and threw a dirty look at me.
"Mind your manners," Sirius scolded him like he was a child, "hasn't our dear old mum taught you anything?"
I was fairly certain the other Slytherin was a sixth year named Wilkes. He was standing silently by Regulus, scowling at Sirius and I in turn.
"She's obviously taught you nothing," Regulus sneered, "my brother the blood traitor. Let's go, Wilkes."
"Sweet dreams, little brother!" Sirius called after him in a falsely sweet voice. "Little git."
"He seems-er-lovely," I attempted to lighten the mood.
"Yep, he's a real winner," Sirius' jaw was clenched and his arm was still around me as we walked towards Ravenclaw Tower. He seemed to realize it a moment later and hastily let it drop.
"Uh… thanks for, you know--"
"No problem, I guess you're just lucky I was there to rescue you," Sirius quipped, stopping to look at me. We'd reached the foot of the spiral staircase up to the Ravenclaw common room. His mouth was partially open so it looked as though he was going to say something else, but he didn't.
"I'll, uhm… I'll see you," I wasn't quite sure if I should wave or shake his hand or what. He solved the dilemma by pulling me into a hug.
"Goodnight," he whispered before letting go. He gave me one last smile before heading swiftly down the corridor. I stood there in a slight state of shock after he'd disappeared from sight. Whatever had just happened, I liked it. I floated up to bed.
The Gryffindor's Halloween party was held the day before Halloween, as the actual holiday was on Sunday. Bridget, Ali, Fifi, and Veronica had all gotten ready while I stared at my wardrobe. Once they'd gone, I finally made a decision and began getting ready myself.
A few simple spells and about half an hour later, I was ready. I stood back to admire the effect in the mirror and was satisfied, though I had nowhere to put my wand. In the end I decided I'd just leave it under my pillow. Gryffindor Tower was relatively close and I doubted I'd need it anyway.
As I was heading towards the door, I heard a soft mrow as something soft brushed against my legs.
"Meow," I said back and reached down to scratch Vixen's ears before exiting. Tavi was waiting for me in the common room.
"Octavius Pepper, is that from the corridor?" I put my hands on my hips.
"Yep," he smiled proudly. He was covered, head to foot, in one of the school's suits of armor, "took a bit of finagling to get everything to fit right, but I think it worked out pretty well in the end. Nice choice, by the way. Suits you."
"Thanks," I blushed a bit. I'd dressed in black leggings and a long sleeved black shirt, done a bit of magic to get a tail, ears, and whiskers, and even heavily made up my face to seem as black cat-like as possible.
We left the common room, Octavius with some difficulty as the spiral staircase didn't bode well for knights. As we clanked down the corridor, I was sure any minute a teacher or the caretaker would come give him detention for wearing school property, but the corridors were very much deserted the whole way to Gryffindor's common room.
When the portrait hole swung open, I hopped in; Tavi was only able to enter with the help of James and Sirius, who immediately rushed up to assist.
"Great costume, mate," James said enthusiastically, "wish I'd thought of it instead of this rubbish."
James was dressed as a quidditch player, but judging by the conversation the two immediately struck up, he was supposed to be a specific quidditch player.
"Uh oh," Sirius spoke for the first time and my eyes snapped to him, "we're going to be fighting all night."
I stared at him blankly for a moment, but then I realized he was dressed up as a very convincing dog.
"Oh," I smiled, but couldn't think of anything to say.
"Would you like a drink?" Sirius asked, but then seemed to realize Octavius was a new guest too and extended his offer quickly.
James led us over to the others. Lynn was dressed as a unicorn, with a flowing mane and tail of pure white and a fantastic silver horn protruding from her forehead. Lily was standing next to her, dressed as a princess in a fancy gold dress and crown, deep in conversation with a girl I didn't know. Peter Pettigrew stood dressed as a rat next to the ghost of Remus Lupin.
"Jane you look great! I'm so glad you could come!" Lynn beamed when she saw me.
"Oh, I was under the impression Octavius was going to shave my pet kneazle if I didn't come," I raised an eyebrow at him. He had indeed threatened to shave VIxen if I didn't come, and I hadn't been entirely able to tell if he was joking.
A few moments later, Sirius returned with butterbeers for Octavius and I. He continued standing next to me and I remained rigid with nerves. I'd been having some success relaxing around everyone but Sirius, who by this point probably thought I was an incoherent weirdo.
"Excuse me, you're Jane, right?"
The deep voice so close behind me in my already tense state a few minutes later caused me to drop my butterbeer and turn scarlet.
"Y-yes," I turned to find myself facing a rather good-looking boy dressed as a pirate. "Would you like to dance?"
My eyes widened in horror. I glanced at Octavius who wasn't even paying attention, then Lynn who nodded at me encouragingly.
"I… who are you?" I attempted to stall.
"Oh, sorry," he looked a little flustered now, "Alexander Derring. I'm in Gryffindor."
"Right," there was a definite tremor in my voice, "I mean, nice to meet you."
"So, would you? Like to dance, I mean," he couldn't quite manage a smile as he waited for my response.
"Er--I don't really… dance," I said as apologetically as I could.
"Right, well, would you like a drink?"
I had been on the verge of turning back to Lynn, under the impression he would've left. I became aware of my mouth hanging partially open and shut it quickly.
"Uh, sure," I answered. As he rushed off Lynn nudged me. I looked over at her to see she was grinning widely.
"Nice," she winked.
"I've always thought he was cute," she sighed, "but you seem to have caught his eye."
"What do I do?" Lynn's words had inspired a state of panic.
"Talk to him!" she giggled, "you'll be fine. Good luck, here he comes."
I didn't want luck, and it seemed like my throat had suddenly become blocked.
"Hope butterbeer's fine," he smiled, handing me a bottle.
I nodded and took a large gulp for lack of things to say.
"So you don't dance, huh?" he asked.
I shook my head. I was actually rather fond of dancing, but had absolutely no desire to do it in front of a large group of people with a boy I'd just met.
"What do you do?"
"Read," it was the only thing I could think of.
"Read anything good lately?"
"Dracula," I responded with the last novel I had completed.
"Yes," I relaxed a little with the shock his knowing a Muggle author caused.
"Have you read Frankenstein?"
"No, but I've been meaning to," I said honestly.
"I've got a copy upstairs if you wanted to borrow it," he smiled.
"Oh, that would be great, thank you," I blushed a little.
"Great, well don't let me forget at the end of the evening, okay?"
"Sure. Do you--"
"Derring, a word please," James Potter suddenly appeared next to me. His voice was rather demanding.
"Can't it wait, Potter?" he sighed.
"You should call me sir as I'm your Captain," James voice hardened, "and unless you want Donnelly to be playing Keeper for the first match, we need to talk. Now."
"Fine, but I'm not calling you sir," Alexander said grudgingly. "I'll be right back," he told me as he followed James towards a small cluster of Gryffindor quidditch players.
Lynn had disappeared, as had Octavius, Sirius, Remus, and Peter; Lily was still deep in conversation with the same girl she'd been talking to earlier. I awkwardly stood by myself and finished my drink, trying not to look at anyone lest they try to talk to me.
"Having a good time?" Sirius had reappeared with a fresh drink. My hand trembled as I took it from him, instantly nervous again.
"I suppose," I answered softly.
"You suppose? That isn't the answer I want to hear. What would made it better?"
His question caught me off guard and I choked on my butterbeer.
"I'm just not… you know…"
"Social?" he finished for me, grinning.
"If it's any consolation, I'm glad you came," he winced a little before taking a swig of his drink.
I smiled at his polite statement.
"Care for a game of exploding snap?" Remus Lupin came over to us.
"Sure, but I've never played before," I warned, smiling at him.
"Really? How is that possible?" Remus pulled me away while Sirius following, looking sullen.
"I'm more of a euchre player," I mumbled.
"Euchre?" Sirius asked.
"Muggle card game," I explained.
Apparently Sirius was very interested in the card games played by Muggles and even asked me if I could teach him to play a few of the games I mentioned. When we'd finished exploding snap, he and Remus continued talking to me and spent the remainder of the evening near me. At one point James passed by us and simply said 'you're welcome' pointedly to Sirius, who grinned but offered no explanation as to what he was thankful for.
As Octavius and I were leaving, Alexander called to me to wait up. I saw him dash up to the dormitory and remembered he was going to lend me Frankenstein. While he was upstairs the portrait swung open and a very angry Professor McGonagall entered the room.
Only after she took a considerable amount of points from Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw and shrieked at everyone to get back to their common rooms did she notice that Octavius happened to be wearing one of the school's suits of armor. I waited out in the corridor and listened as she reprimanded him in front of a crowd of onlooking Gryffindors and finished by giving him detention.
Alexander hadn't came back downstairs in time to give me the book, and I thought it best not to linger. Tavi muttered angrily under his breath the entire walk back to Ravenclaw Tower. A few yards from the spiral staircase, Fifi LaFolle shoved past me so roughly I was thrown into Octavius. She sneered instead of apologized as I rubbed my arm where I'd painfully hit solid metal. I glared after her, but quickly tried to stifle an unexpected giggle when Fifi tripped and fell face first onto the stairs. She gave me a look of extreme loathing as blood came trickling out of her nose.
"What's her problem?" I frowned, not really expecting any answer.
"Jealous, I expect," Tavi said darkly as he pounded up the steps.
"Of what?" I wondered aloud as I followed, carefully avoiding the small drops of blood on the stairs.
Octavius let out a snort of derision, but didn't say anything but the answer to the door knocker's question. He clanged straight up to bed without so much as a goodnight. I curled up in an armchair to give Fifi enough time to clean herself up and get in bed so I wouldn't have to endure any unpleasantness. When I finally wandered up to bed, I still hadn't been able to think of a logical reason Fifi should be jealous.
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