Chapter 9 : Lay Down Your Burdens
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"McGonagall is going to take about a million points from Gryffindor if anybody finds you not sick as a dog in bed," James glared at me as I made for the door.
"I can't stay stuck in this room all day. I'll go crazy," I growled from the doorway.
"Just because it's your b--"
"Can it," I cut him off before slamming the door and stomping down to the common room.
When I got out into the corridors, sense came crashing down around me and I realized I'd have to find somewhere to hide out. Being careful to avoid busy paths, I made my way down to an empty classroom on the first floor.
Once inside, I kicked the nearest desk before sliding down the wall, mostly obscured from view by a desk and chair. My sour mood had little to do with the fact that it was my birthday, and much to do with my mother choosing today to let me know I was no longer welcome in the purest, noblest house of Black.
I snorted. Why was I even upset about it? I'd practically moved out when I'd come back to Hogwarts this year, making sure to cement all Gryffindor paraphernalia firmly to my bedroom walls. I hated growing up there, and did everything in my power to spend the smallest possible amount of time at home. But there was something to be said for being barely of age and homeless.
Hours slipped by and I stayed hidden in the abandoned classroom with nothing but my thoughts to entertain me. The distant rumble mid-afternoon let me know lessons had finished for the day and students were filtering down to the great hall for dinner.
My thoughts were interrupted not long after when somebody opened the door, entered, and quickly shut the door behind them. I peered around the desk to see a long brown haired student facing the door with her back to me. She was waving her wand but not an incantation was said aloud, which meant she had to be at least a sixth year; there was something familiar about those pale, long fingered hands.
"Jane?" I asked.
She yelped and jumped into the stone wall, dropping her wand at the same time.
"Sorry, didn't mean to frighten you," I couldn't help but smile as her face slowly flushed as she bent to pick up her fallen wand, "what are you doing?"
"Oh, er--there was a group of Slytherins…" she trailed off in a voice that was barely audible.
"Ah. Never a good sight to see," I leaned back against the wall so I could no longer see the quizzical look on her face.
"What are you doing in here?" she slowly edged back into my line of vision.
"Brooding, mostly," I admitted, a bit ashamed of myself now that I had company.
She didn't say anything, but hesitantly moved to sit next to me.
"Today is my birthday, you know," I smiled in more of a wince-like fashion, not really sure why I'd just told her that. "My mum also sent me this," I pulled the letter out of my pocket and handed it to her.
She took it, but didn't begin reading. Instead, she stared at me, her grey-blue eyes bright with alarm.
"Just read it," I looked away and eventually heard a soft rustle that let me know she had unfolded the parchment and begun. I instantly regretted telling her to read it; why was I burdening her with this?
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her eyes darting across the parchment, her face growing more and more horrified as she read on. I couldn't help but smirk when she audibly gasped, probably at the point in which my mother called me a blood-traitorous, mudblood-loving disappointment who would be better off chucked out with the filthy little half-breeds and Muggles I loved so much.
When she'd finished, she folded the parchment up again with trembling hands, carefully looking down instead of anywhere near me. I felt like an idiot.
"I--I don't know what to say," she whispered, and placed the letter on the floor between us, "I'm so sorry."
"It isn't your fault most of my family buys into blood purity bullshit," I was aware of the bitterness in my voice. "Sorry."
"Don't apologize," she bit her bottom lip and finally looked over at me.
"I'm the only person in my family who hasn't been in Slytherin," I told her, "big disappointment, you know. Of course, they're delighted with my brother. My father was furious he wasn't the oldest, but it seems they've thought of the right solution. Dear old Mum's probably already blasted me off the family tree."
Before I knew it, I was telling her things about my family I hadn't even told James. She hardly said a word, but listened with rapt attention. When I finally talked myself into silence, she still didn't say anything, but nervously placed her hand on my shoulder and applied the smallest amount of pressure.
My eyes snapped up to hers at this unexpected gesture. She rarely voluntarily made physical contact with people; she was actually quite talented at avoiding it. The corners of her soft lips rose into a small, sad smile.
"I wish there was something I could do to help," she dropped her gaze as she said it, but I wasn't finished looking into her eyes. I reached up and gently lifted her face back up to mine. Her lips parted slightly and I was so close I could smell her sweet breath.
With absolutely no thought, I leaned in to close the gap between us. When my lips were just centimeters away from hers, I paused to give her the chance to pull away. Her grip on my shoulder tightened, so I ran my fingers along her jawline and cradled her head in my hand, pulling her closer.
Our lips met at last. Hers seemed to perfectly mold with mine. I found myself wrapping my other arm around her, trying to get as close as possible. All my stress slipped away; the only thing that mattered was she keep kissing me back… but almost as soon as it started, she wrenched herself back and her hand flew up and clamped over her mouth.
"Jane, I'm so sorry--" but before I could get another word out, she had grabbed her bag and sprinted to the door. With a wave of her wand and one last fleeting, frightened glimpse back at me, she was gone.
Within seconds, my bad mood came crashing back down around me. I punched my fist into the stone floor, stood up, and flung a desk across the room. I kicked the wall and had just picked up another desk, ready to hurl, when the door burst open.
"Mister Black, what do you think you're doing?!"
I hastily set the desk down as Professor Babbling, my ancient runes teacher, bustled into the room.
"Just--er--rearranging…" I shrugged and hid my slightly bloodied knuckled behind my back.
"Five points from Gryffindor. I suggest you go do something more productive with your time. Perhaps start that essay I assigned yesterday?" she gave me what she must've thought was a severe look, but compared to McGonagall, she might as well have been doing a happy dance.
"Yes Professor," I hurried out of the classroom ahead of her and took the steps up the marble staircase two at a time. My mind kept wandering back to how soft Jane's lips had felt on mine. As I relived the feel of her cold hand sliding up onto my neck, her long fingernails just barely grazing my skin, I bumped into somebody.
"Oh, sorr--" my apology stuck in my throat as I realized I'd bumped into none other than Minerva McGonagall.
"Detention, I think," she snapped, her mouth getting thinner by the moment, "tomorrow night, my office at 8 sharp."
"Yes, Professor," my jaw clenched, though I couldn't get too angry; I should have been paying more attention to where I was going.
"Have a good day of sulking, sweetums?" Prongs asked me mockingly when I entered the common room five minutes later.
"Great. Just got detention from McGonagall. 8 tomorrow."
"Oh, nice! I have one then too, but with Slughorn. Caught me as I turned up the heat under Snape's cauldron, but not soon enough to prevent his euphoria elixir from exploding onto half the class. Old Sluggy was covered with it, and he still gave me detention."
Judging by the continuous grin James seemed to have plastered on, he must've gotten a face-full of the stuff too.
Over the next few days, I learned just how invisible Jane could be if she wanted. I didn't see her once at mealtimes, and on Saturday when we had all planned on getting together, Octavius told us she wouldn't come down from her room.
Everyone was at a loss for why she had suddenly become so much more withdrawn, while I burned with shame. It wasn't that I regretted kissing her, because I'd enjoyed it immensely, but that I had frightened her into hiding. Why did I have to tell her all those things, and why did she have to be such a good listener? I got carried away...
In fact, I was rapidly losing confidence regarding the whole situation. Questions of whether or not she'd enjoyed it, or even wanted it, floated around my head. I had just sprang on her out of the blue, and she never gave any indication of preference as far as the opposite sex was concerned. The Pepper kid was the one exception to her rigorous no contact practices.
"Are you even listening?" Lynn snapped at me Monday night as I gazed into the common room fire.
"Yeah, you're wearing a gown to Hogsmeade for Christmas," I said absently.
"Apparently you're not even listening to yourself," she rolled her eyes, "why would I wear a gown to Hogsmeade? Honestly!"
"You have a date?" I suggested.
"No, you idiot. Lily and I are going to try to find gowns for the Christmas Ball in Hogsmeade next weekend," she explained again.
"Is there a reason I need to know this?"
"Well, I was going to use it as a nice transition into asking you if you were going to go with anyone. Of course, since you weren't listening, the smooth transition kind of failed," she shot me an irritated glare.
"Right," I crossed my arms.
"Well?" she flailed hers in the air, "are you going to ask anyone?"
"Oh, honestly, I forgot about the ball," I shrugged.
"I just need you to tell me if you plan on going or not, because I'm tired of every other girl asking me if you've got a date yet," she frowned.
"Why are they asking you?"
"Well, they aren't exactly going to ask Potter about--forget it," she stopped mid-sentence, "I'll just tell everyone you've already got a date," she got up just as James whacked me on the back of the head with a thick, folded piece of parchment.
"Right, see you," I said to Lynn, getting up to follow James out of the portrait hole and not caring in the slightest what she told the girls vying for my attention.
"Wormtail scurried on ahead," James glanced at the parchment he'd hit me with, "coast is clear all the way down."
We moved as quickly and quietly as we could manage down to the entrance hall and out through the oak front doors. I jumped over the side of the steps into a deep shadow and landed on four padded paws that immediately pounded across the grounds in the direction of the whomping willow.
James was nowhere to be seen, presumably under his invisibility cloak, still human as his antlers prevented him from getting successfully into the tunnel under the whomping willow. As I reached the tree, the branches had barely begun to flail when they froze. I dove into the hole almost concealed at the base and trotted along far enough to give James room to follow.
Seconds later he emerged from under his cloak. A rat went scurrying past me, and I turned to race it down the tunnel leading to the Shrieking Shack. I skidded into the room, leaving long tracks in the dust on the floor. As I shook myself off, Prongs emerged, fully antlered, from the tunnel.
An earsplitting yell from the second floor made the three of us look up. Moony had begun his transformation. We waited in silence, the only noise his howling from upstairs. All went quiet, then with a bang, a full fledged werewolf leapt into sight on the landing and let out a low growl.
I barked in response, and James bucked and made for the door. The rest of us ran out after him; Prongs and I carefully flanked Moony, steering him towards the forest. As we reached the edge of the trees, Moony stopped long enough to let out a long, loud howl, then sprinted off into the dark forest.
I ran so fast all thought was left far behind. The only thing real was my heavy breath and the pounding of my paws on the hard ground, propelling me forward. The night was ours.
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