Susan awoke the next morning happier than she had been in a while. Her eyes and cheeks were still slightly sore from the tears of the night before, but her stomach still felt full of her favorite food and she had a friend. Dodger might just be a dog, but he was the best listener she’d ever known and was, obviously, magical. There was no other way about it. He was simply too intelligent (and capable of procuring Hogwarts puddings on a whim) to be a normal dog.
The sun shone through the window by her bed, the weather for once agreeing with her mood. Susan stretched, her back popping satisfyingly. The other girls were still fast asleep, despite the light streaming through the glass, preferring to sleep in until the gates opened to Hogsmeade later in the morning. Susan, however, had a project to be working on. If Sirius Black decided not to grace her with his presence, all the better. She had the seed, anyway. She didn’t need him at all.
Merlin, she needed him. She’d only been in the library for half an hour before she found herself completely lost. What was the difference between a gloss coating, a wax coating, and a glossy wax coating? Speckles and Spots? Her head hit the table with a thump. She would never figure this out on her own. The distant tolling of the clock-tower bell echoed into the library, the ten chimes signaling the mass exodus. Sirius Black would probably be on his way to Hogsmeade now, arm in arm with his idiot counterpart, James Potter. Susan clenched her hand into a fist, imagining Sirius’s overinflated head in her crushing grasp.
The smack of book on wood nearly startled her out of her chair. She looked up, only to find the person she last expected to see. “Wha- What on Earth are you… But…”
“Well,” said Sirius, dropping the remainder of his things on the table next to his Herbology textbook. “I figured you could use my help. And besides, I’m too proud to let my grades drop that
Susan could only stare as Sirius plopped into the chair opposite her. He looked up at her, shrugged at her expression, and cracked his book open.
“So, I was thinking, we could hurry and get this done in a couple hours or less. I do still need to get to Hogsmeade. Alright with you?”
“Great. Let’s get to work.” Sirius immediately busied himself studying the properties of the flutterby bush and its seeds. He noticed Susan’s slack-jawed stare. “Well?”
“Oh!” She jumped back into her copy of Vivacious Vines.
After two hours, the pair had successfully ruled out three more of the five remaining plants, which, added to the two other remainders from earlier, left only four possibilities. Susan only hoped that whatever the plant turned out to be, it grew quickly. They only had one more day before the project was due.
Oh, dear. Black was talking again.
“I was thinking, seeing that it’s about lunchtime, and I’m using up so much energy growing into such a strapping, devastatingly handsome young man, that we should work on this over lunch. I vote Three Broomsticks.”
Susan thought on it. She was hungry, but the Three Broomsticks on a Saturday didn’t seem like the best to get schoolwork done. Then again, what harm could it do? She was particularly skilled in tuning people out, wasn’t she? “I suppose…”
“Fantastic!” Sirius had already collected their books into his bag. He grabbed her arm. “Let’s go!”
As Susan came to find out, the setting of the Three Broomsticks did quite a bit of harm. Students bounced off the aged, paneled walls, both literally and figuratively, while waitresses dodged flying jinxes, insults, and Butterbeer cream. The whole place smelled like butterscotch and tartar sauce, tempered with malt vinegar and human odor. More than the smell, the sheer noise. Everyone shouted constantly, vying to be heard in the roar. Glasses clinked in a constant ring like a wind chime; a chair fell over somewhere to the left. And worst of all, the three man-children that greeted Susan’s roguish partner. “Padfoot! PADFOOT! OVER HERE!! How are you this fine day?” James Potter shouted amiably as the pair arrived at the table. He shoved a pint of Butterbeer in Black’s general direction, sloshing foam over the sides of the mug and onto the table.
“Quite well, quite well!” Sirius shouted back. “Got a bit of work to do, don’t we there, Turtle?” He ruffled the top of her head, mussing her hair irreparably. Susan cringed and tried to find a clear place on the table to deposit her books. Remus Lupin graciously moved his own drink and bags of Honeydukes sweets, gesturing to the now empty space. Susan flashed him a grateful smile before sitting down.
Now what was that? Sirius wondered. Did Turtle just smile? Maybe this was a better idea than he had even anticipated. Here he was, only planning to skip out on some homework and still seem responsible, and he had not only accomplished that, but also managed to crack a bit of Turtle’s shell! He hadn’t been this pleased with himself since that morning, having woken up in a brilliant mood.
Susan tried desperately to remain pleasant. Remus, the only decent one in the group, had been absorbed in the chatter, leaving her socially stranded. With all the noise, Susan could hardly breathe, let alone think well enough to work on a project. Her hands felt damp and cold, while her head and neck grew ever warmer. Her fingers felt like electrified lead. She knew she couldn’t possibly work like this, but continued to stare determinedly at her own handwriting. The ink had long since lost its meaning, no more than a bit of colored line. How could anyone enjoy a place like this? There was a buzzing in her head. Had it always been so stuffy? She felt like she was nigh about to suffocate. Without a thought, she scrambled out of her seat, snatching her books and practically running out of the pub.
The early spring air was chilled, but open, the streets relatively quiet. The light frost crunched delicately under Susan’s worn-out shoes, a welcome change. Her ears seemed to ring with the silence of it all, the peacefulness. The world sparkled, clean and open. This was her element, her habitat.
Susan wandered down the main road, finally coming to a rocky outcropping overlooking the castle and the Quidditch pitch. Pulling her jacket a little tighter, she sat down, set her books in her lap, and began working. This was the way to do coursework, she decided. The breeze was strong enough to be refreshing but light enough so as not to blow away her parchment, while the light of the stainless-steel sky outlined her handwriting. Susan looked at her hands, holding her quill and parchment. Her left hand was nearly covered in ink, faded and new, notes to herself to be copied into journals or some such repositories of thoughts. The skin of the other hand, her wand hand, was clear of ink, smooth and clear. Susan had always liked her hands. In the grey light, they seemed almost otherworldly- shimmering skin and long fingers. She even dared to fancy those hands pretty. Of course, all this was silly. There was nothing pretty about her. Susan snapped out of her daze, shifting her eyes from her hands to her handiwork, the combined notes of the morning. Looking at the notes, she briefly wondered if she would be able to finish the project alone. She’d have to try, regardless.
“Aren’t you feeling the least bit guilty, Padfoot?”
“Hmm?” Sirius looked up from his turkey leg, grease dripping down his chin.
“You’re disgusting,” Remus commented, his lip curling. “I said, aren’t you feeling at least a mite guilty?”
“About what, dear Moony? I’ve committed so very many crimes against humanity, it’s hard to keep track.” Sirius grinned. Remus gestured to the seat that once held one Susan Ponds, empty for half an hour or more. Noting the complete lack of Susan, Sirius yelped. “How long has she been gone? Ah, cripes, I’ve gone and offended her again, haven’t I?”
With that, Sirius grabbed his coat, leaving a galleon on the table, and left the pub. Outside, there was no sign of his missing partner. After checking a few of the shops, Sirius figured that she must have gone back to the castle, probably to the library or some other quiet place where an equally quiet girl could get work done. It wasn’t until Sirius actually arrived at the library, some time later, that he realized that Susan wasn’t there, nor was she in the house study room, nor the common room. After a while of honest searching, Sirius decided to cheat. He stole up to the boys’ dormitory, rummaged around in his drawers, and pulled out the Map. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he recited, feeling dramatic (he loved that password, not the least because it had been his idea). He traced the appearing lines of Hogwarts’ walls and boundaries, looking for a particular set of labeled footprints. She was nowhere in the castle, not around the lake… there! She was alone near the road to Hogsmeade; he must have passed right by her on the way back to the castle. Merlin, that girl blends into the background, Sirius thought, only to chastise himself for his mental insensitivity. He could practically hear Moony griping on about how callous he was towards most people’s feelings. Most, because when it came to those to whom he was close, he was completely in tune, and that was what mattered, anyway. Sirius replaced the map and made his way down the tower stairs.
Susan was just scratching through Draping Drizzlevine
when a shadow fell over her work. Looking up to see what or who was blocking her light, she found one Roberta Brandish.
“Why, hello there, Susie Q,” Roberta drawled, eyes shining. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Susan, still unused to normal conversation (was this… exactly… normal?), could think of nothing to reply with. So: “Susie Q?”
“Indeed. Q for Quaffle. I wanted to work on my block. Today. And no one else on the team wants to. So, you then. Please?”
Susan glanced back down at the project in her lap, wondering if taking a break was really the brightest idea. Her notes were dotted with holes where she had taken her stress out on the parchment, the ridiculously similar descriptions of several plant species copied down and scribbled upon. She decided that she didn’t really care what was a bright idea anymore, at least not while she was this stuck. Surely, a break would help. Yes. Of course it would. She turned her eyes back to Roberta. “So… the Quidditch pitch, then?”
Roberta grinned triumphantly. “I knew I could make you take a break. It’s healthy, you know.” With that, she reached out for Susan’s arm, intending to pull the girl along behind her, until the pair was startled by a shout.
Sirius, jogging down the path near where he’d seen Susan on the map, rounded a hillock only to find Susan, being harassed by a Slytherin. Remembering Susan’s earlier tears, his first reaction was to yell. “Hey! Fork-Tongue!”
The Slytherin girl turned, intimidating in her marble features and height that put her at eye-level with him. “Can I help you?” she intoned.
“Do I know you?” Sirius retorted.
A sigh from behind the Slytherin reminded Sirius of Susan’s presence. “Turtle!” he exclaimed. The Slytherin rolled her eyes. Sirius pointedly ignored her.
Susan rubbed the bridge of her nose, eyes shut. When she opened them, she stared at a point on the ground somewhere to Sirius’s left. “I’m… taking a break. It’s apparently healthy,” she said, her voice quiet. She turned to the Slytherin harpy. “I’ll be there in a moment.” With one last icy glare in Sirius’s direction, the other girl stalked off.
“What’s she doing bothering you? Can I hex her?” Sirius already had his wand out.
“What? No! She’s my friend!” Susan squeaked.
“What? Why? You can’t possibly be friends with a Slytherin. They’re a whole nest full of slimy bastards. More like slugs than snakes, I say. Disgusting.”
Susan straightened, her eyes narrowing, though still not meeting his. “She’s been nicer to me in the past month than anyone in Gryffindor has been to me in my entire life! You of all people,” Susan snapped, “have absolutely no room to speak badly of anyone. There is more compassion in her right shoelace than there is in your entire, overly-primped body!”
Sirius stared at her. She was breathing heavily through her nose, her hair in her face. Suddenly, she began to fidget, knocking imaginary dust off of her sleeves. He’d had the same lecture from Remus countless times, but never so vehemently and never from someone so meek. How was he supposed to respond to that, anyway? “Overly-primped?” he asked, dismayed.
“That’s what you took from that?”
“That’s the only part I haven’t heard before. Really, overly-primped?”
“Hmm.” Sirius looked off in another direction, lost in thought.
Susan waited for him to restart the conversation. When he didn’t, she asked: “So, did you need something…?”
“Oh, yes.” Sirius’s head snapped back to the present. “Right. How’s the project going?”
“Horribly.” Susan resisted the urge to add a: “No thanks to you.” She pulled a book out of her bag. “I did manage to rule out Drizzlevine and… Bane of Kneazle, I think. You… might want to check. Here, I thought that this…” She pulled a heavy textbook from her bag, flipping through the pages. “… would mean that- oh, no!”
“What is it?” Sirius asked, as Susan began rubbing frantically at the bottom of the open page.
“I-I-I’m so… so… ugh! Idiot, clumsy wretch of a girl Susan you…” she trailed off, muttering.
“Butterbeer stain,” Susan said, despairing for her previously marvelously civil relationship with Madame Pince.
“That’s it?” Sirius asked. “Silly girl, that’s nothing. Prepare to be blown away as I, Sirius Black, wizard extraordinaire, fix all of your problems.” He whisked the book out of her hands, tapping it with his wand. “Maculexio.”
Susan watched, astonished, as the Butterbeer dissolved entirely out of the paper. She finally met his eyes. “What spell was that?”
“Macule- what are you doing?”
Susan paused from rummaging about in her bag to answer: “Quill…” Drawing one out of the pockets, she nodded at him.
“No, just mack-ul-ex-ee-oh,” Sirius pronounced carefully. Susan repeated the incantation under her breath, inking the letters phonetically onto her hand, along with all the other notes to self. “What’s all this, anyway?” Sirius asked, reaching for her hand. Before he got close, however, Susan flinched and stepped back, mumbling something about meeting Roberta before dashing off.
A quarter of an hour later, Susan was seated on a borrowed broom, hovering over the pitch. “I’m pretty sure this is considered an act of treason…” she said. “Aiding the enemy and all that.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it!” Roberta called from the hoops. “Just throw!”
“Are you sure I’m really the one you want to do this? You might actually damage your skill set. The same principle applies to Professor Binns, for example. Where you lose seven-point-two-five IQ points per class.”
“Someone has been paying far too much attention in Arithmancy. Just throw the bloody ball!”
And Susan did. Right into Roberta’s waiting hands. The Slytherin grinned and returned it, saying something about actually trying this time. Balancing the Quaffle in her lap, Susan wrung her arms, hoping that circulation would make her attempts less pathetic. Roberta didn’t even try to disguise her laughter. “Alright, then, here we go,” Susan encouraged herself. “Just like with Thomas.” Thomas, her older brother, had been the star of Hufflepuff house, an unstoppable chaser and loving sibling. He’d gone off to play for Puddlemere five years prior. Before then, he and Susan had spent long summer afternoons keeping him in practice. With Thomas in mind, Susan drew her arm back, tensed for a moment, and then hurled the Quaffle through the chill air. It whipped past Roberta’s dark hair and flew through the middle hoop.
Roberta’s jaw dropped. “What the bloody hell,” she shrieked, “was that?!”
Susan tried to suppress a grin. And failed.
“You cheeky little trollop! Where has that been? Where did that even come from?”
Meanwhile, back in the Gryffindor boy’s dormitory, Sirius was reevaluating his choices in personal hygiene. Feminine. Feminine, she’d said. Merlin’s ass he was feminine. He picked up a tin of Madame Primpernelle’s Magical Mane Shine Potion. Assessed the pink label. “It’s salmon, mate,” James had reassured him. Thinking back to that moment, Sirius wondered if the look on his friend’s face had really been so different from the look he’d worn while watching Iago Crabbe devour a cheesecake charmed to turn him purple. He groaned.
Soon afterward, he stood at the top of the nearest changing staircase. Below were the openings of several long corridors. Cringing, he kicked a bottle of lotion down the rapidly alternating stairs. It was only the first in an embarrassingly large pile of products. If there was one thing that Sirius Black was, wholly and completely, it was masculine. He would never be described as feminine again. Why had no one else ever pointed this out before? A few more bottles and jars careened into various hallways. After several minutes, Sirius was down to the last bottle. It was a body-wash he’d been particularly fond of. Vanilla. It had always been his favorite, and it hurt to let it go. “To Good Home” he’d written on it, knowing that he couldn’t keep in his possession anything covered with so much curly script and glitter.
“So your brother is the Tommy Ponds? And everyone thought it was such a great joke, ‘ponds’ and ‘puddles.’ It was funny. Like wordplay.” Roberta locked the broom cupboard and began to unstrap her headgear. “I always fancied him. Tommy, I mean. That’s awkward! Would have never guessed.”
Of course she wouldn’t have. No one did. Thomas was handsome, athletic, confident. That’s what had made the secret so easy to keep. No one suspected Susan, the awkward, blubbering, git of a Turtle, of being related to Tommy Ponds. Everyone had liked Tommy. Loved him, even. Even the Slytherins could hold nothing but Muggle blood against him.
As the two girls walked back to the castle for dinner, Susan tried not to think too much about her brother. As much as she loved him, somehow, being reminded of him always made her feel like a pile of dragon dung. It certainly didn’t help that she smelled rather awful after doing drills with Roberta, so Susan decided to head up to the showers.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to wait up for you?” Roberta asked.
“Positive. You go enjoy your… whatever it is that’s being served tonight.” Susan made her way from the entrance hall to Gryffindor tower, taking a few detours to avoid having to fight through the stream of hungry students, salmon-style. Towards the end, she found the only route to the shower blocked by a crowd of Gryffindors, mostly younger, though she heard the distinctly obnoxious tones of Sirius Black and his friends. Angling herself at the wall to avoid being trampled, Susan instead felt her foot rolling off of something hard, a clinking sound accompanying her squeak of distress as, before she even realized what had happened, Susan found herself painfully meeting the floor. As to why she never managed to catch herself in these situations, Susan could only wonder briefly. Immediately, however, all thoughts were scattered as a pair of male hands grasped hers, lifting her off of the stones. Ignoring Marlene’s barely-restrained laughter and Lily’s sharp “Oh, shut up,” Susan met the eyes of one Remus Lupin.
“Hullo, Susan,” he said. “Are you alright?”
She nodded. She was actually rather aware of several quickly-forming bruises, but that knowledge was of no particular use to anyone.
“You’re sure?” Remus looked off to her left and down. “Sirius, isn’t that your-“
“No.” Sirius scowled. “Absolutely not.”
Susan glanced behind her. There, on the floor, was a half-empty jar of hair potion.