Chapter 31 : autumn leaves
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And you're miles away
And yesterday you were here with me
Autumn Leaves -- Ed Sheeran
“Rainne, what do you want to do for your birthday?” asks Lily as she hangs up silver streamers above her fireplace. She bends down to look through the box of old decorations before finding a banner that reads HAPPY NEW YEAR 1974! She frowns at it before looking up at Rainne expectantly.
It’s been five days since the Potters’ ball. The following morning, groggy and slightly hungover, the girls made their way to Lily’s house for the remainder of the holiday. Petunia, still in her nightgown, shrieked upon their arrival, swearing she was staying with Vernon until the freaks had “vacated the premises.” Lily pretends she doesn’t mind.
They haven’t seen or heard from the Marauders since that morning. Rainne has been asking Carmen to cast a muffliato charm around her bed every night, finding herself more alone than ever in her sleep. Carmen, the only seventeen year old of the group, obliges with a slight frown. How is this the only solution to Rainne’s now silent screams?
Rainne ties the balloon she has just filled up with a lungful of air, examining it as she feels their eyes on her. She’s never been one to like being the centre of attention, and she knows holding a party in her honour will put her exactly in that position.
“Dunno,” she mutters, “Nothing too big…” So many parties. There had been Carmen and Sirius’s party, then the ball, now the New Year’s party. She is partied out.
“Well,” says Marlene, “We’ve got three January birthdays. Yours on the third,” she looks at Rainne, “Ben’s on…” she trails off, trying to remember the date.
“Seventeenth,” says Rainne quietly.
“Right, the seventeenth,” Marlene smiles at her, “And then yours,” she turns to Lily, “On the thirtieth.”
“Don’t we usually have one party just for you and Ben?” says Carmen, “We can just throw Rainne’s in there, do them all at once.”
Lily’s eyes widen in excitement, and she begins to rattle off ideas as they resume their decorating. Rainne tunes it all out, mulling the idea over as she continues to exhale into balloons. Sharing the party with two other people would take the attention off of her a bit, but nonetheless, her name would definitely be on a very loud banner. Lily would make sure of that. But perhaps, if the party is held in the Room of Requirement, a cozy little side room could appear for her to hide in. And then she could just lay there and enjoy the music with a drink held loosely in her hand, the other intertwined with Ben’s.
“...And since it’s just been Christmas, you lot obviously don’t have to get us anything,” continues Lily, slightly breathless, “You can all just prepare the party in lieu of a gift.”
Carmen and Marlene nod, glad they won’t have to come up with another present for three friends.
The following hours seem to revolve around only one word: party. As they decorate Lily’s living room, not only do they plan the events for that evening, but for the birthday party as well. Rainne’s mind is spinning. She is tired of being around so many people. Anything but a social being, all she wants to do is return to her grandparents’ house and curl up into her old bed.
The service was dreadful.
He was the last of his friends to pass, and Rainne was nearly the only person there. Mr. and Mrs. Potter accompanied her, of course, but she didn’t allow any of her friends to go. They had already seen her break down once, and that was one too many times if you asked her. No, she didn’t even tell them where she was going. She merely left with James’s parents without saying a word, leaving them all to think she was napping inside while they played in the snow.
Along with them, his next door neighbour had attended the funeral. She was young and vibrant, her cheeks dry. Rainne envied her with every bone in her body as she soaked her salty tears into Mr. Potter’s handkerchief. The priest seemed hurried. One photograph was on display. It must have been the only one in existence where he wasn’t smiling, Rainne thought. Why had they chosen that one? In her memory, he had always had a grin on his face, a joke on the tip of his tongue.
The coffin had already been lowered. No able bodied men were available for the actual service, and they had lowered it the night before. Rainne nearly collapsed onto his tombstone, wishing to weep freely and tell them how much she missed them. But what would the Potter’s have thought? No, she had to remain standing. She needed some form of dignity.
Upon her return, Sirius saw her. He saw her and he knew. Alone in the kitchen, he couldn’t stop himself, and ran up to her. He put his arms around her in a nearly bone crushing hug, and she wept freely now. She soaked his shirt until he felt her tears on his skin. He wanted to hold her forever, but instead he pulled away.
He pretends it didn’t happen.
So does she.
At the memory of the funeral, the last she hopes to attend, Rainne’s eyes well up with more tears. She wishes she could be a drought instead of an endless storm. Her tears are rain and her screams are thunder. She wants to be a calm summer day. She wants to smile. Blinking quickly, she joins in to laugh at a joke she didn’t hear. They can’t see. They don’t notice the absence in her gaze as she gets dressed for the evening, or styles her hair as muggles do, or applies endless coats of makeup to her features. They’re too distracted, too excited to walk through the imaginary door that is 1977. This is their year. Soon it will be their last year at school, and in a blink of an eye they will graduate, move on to adulthood. Rainne knows they will go their separate ways. She will lose this clique. She will be alone, forever. Again.
Mr. and Mrs. Evans leave for the night. Their own celebration awaits.
The boys arrive. They drink, the laugh, they talk, they dance. It’s all a blurr. Rainne just wants to hide under her sheets. Not the ones in the spare room here. Not the pink ones at the Potters’. Not the maroon ones at the school. No, she wants to bury herself in the purple sheets that cover her bed. The ones behind the second door on the left at the top of the stairs. The ones that still kind of smell like grandma if she tries real hard.
They count to twelve and, almost robotically, Rainne kisses Ben. He pulls away, laughing. Rainne turns to see James kissing Lily, muffled cheers enveloping her just as his arms envelop Lily. Is she even really there? Have they noticed that she isn’t?
Of course not.
The hoarse voice brings everything into a sharp focus. Rainne’s eyes widen. She hasn’t heard that voice --
Since he died, yes.
But I’m back now.
No. No, this can’t be happening. She thought she was rid of it.
The croaks of laughter in the corners of her mind tell her differently.
Rainne downs her firewhiskey. Sirius, always watching, notices. He always notices. He always knows when something’s wrong, always knows when his arms would fit perfectly around her.
He nudges Ben just as Rainne stumbles back onto the sofa.
“Rainne, babe, are you alright?” Ben is at her side in seconds. The cheering fades as James pulls away. Lily is blushing, but her attention is on Rainne.
Rainne nods, “Just drank too fast, is all.”
Ben, brow creased, nods as well, “Let’s get you to bed, shall we?”
He walks her up the steps and she’s asleep before her head hits the pillow.
Rainne wants to make herself sick. She refuses when Lily, James, and then Ben ask if she wants anything from the trolley. She shakes her head each time, saying she’s still full from the birthday breakfast the girls made her that morning. They awoke her with cheers and whistles, congratulating her on losing The Trace. Lily gave her a meaningful look, keeping a watchful eye on her to make sure she finished -and kept down -the entire meal. Then they scurried about the room, packing last minute items and and putting as much make up on as they could before leaving for King’s Cross. Rainne wrapped her arms around Mrs. Potter, promising to fulfill her demand of writing her every week. Mr. Potter received a hug as well, and gave Rainne his best smile, his hazel eyes lighting up behind his glasses. Maybe she would be alright after all.
Once they all boarded the train and found a compartment, Rainne made everyone promise to pretend it wasn’t her birthday. Her birthday would be on the date of the party. She doesn’t want them to focus on her.
Why would they want to pay attention to you?
Rainne takes a deep breath, focusing on the scenery outside. The sun set about an hour ago and all she can see is the dark outlines of trees whizzing by, the occasional yellow eyes of a wolf or an owl appearing for only a moment before they too disappear.
Sirius watches her out of the corner of his eye, nearly failing to keep up the conversation with the rest of the gryffindors multiple times.
Why does she keep widening her eyes like that so suddenly? What’s going on in her head? What can shock her like that? It can’t be anything in the compartment, she wouldn’t be the only one reacting like that.
It goes on like this. Rainne’s mind whispers in her ear and her pupils can’t help but constrict, her breath hitch. Sirius watches her, contributing as little as possible to the group’s conversation. He doesn’t fail to notice her relief when the train stops and she’s the first one out of the compartment. He doesn’t fail to notice that she merely plays with her food at the feast instead of eating it, or that it takes her less than two minutes to change in the girl’s dorm and make her way to their own. He pretends he doesn’t hear the sound of them kissing, and that he doesn’t feel anger bubbling up inside of him.
He almost cheers when he hears Andromeda’s owl tapping on their window.
His grin quickly fades as his eyes dart across the page illuminated by wandlight.
I am so excited for our summer holiday on the coast of Spain. Ted is absolutely delighted and Nymphadora cannot wait to see you. But I’m afraid I bring bad news, little cousin. I just received a howler from your mother, and when a letter from you didn’t immediately follow I knew they hadn’t told you.
You were disowned yesterday. Apparently this Christmas was your last chance to redeem yourself, and your absence was, in their eyes, a final strike of sorts. She burned your face off the wall this morning. It’s official.
I know you must be wondering why I got a howler regarding this. It turns out they blame me for your behaviour. In their eyes, if I hadn’t rebelled, you wouldn’t have either. But we both know that’s not true. There’s no way you could have ever upheld their atrocious ideals.
You probably don’t hear this enough, but I’m very proud of you, little cousin. There’s a reason you were sorted into Gryffindor. You are so brave for breaking free from our awful family. I’m so incredibly proud to call you my family. Us pure Blacks have to stick together, little cousin. No, not pure of blood, but pure of heart. And that is exactly what you are.
I hope you enjoyed your Christmas holiday. Send my best to the Marauders. Enclosed is a huge parcel of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans. Make sure to share with your friends!
All my love,
Sirius doesn’t even try to hold back the tears. He knows he shouldn’t care, he knows he should be proud to be considered a blood traitor by his parents. But what about Regulus? There is no way he will stray from their shadow. He was always the good one, the favourite one. Now since Sirius doesn’t exist in their eyes, Regulus will be all they have left. They will be desperate to carry on the family name, and their is no doubt in Sirius’s mind that Regulus will be married off to one of their distant cousins. Who will be left to protect him?
He crumples the parchment and slams his fist against the mattress, the coils creaking under the pressure. Clenching his jaw and drying his face, he sets the gift and the letter on the bedside table and lays on his back, staring at the darkness above.
He vows to show them how wrong they are. They will not win this war.
Summer and Rebecca stir their potions in complete synchronization, turning the pages of their textbooks at the exact same time. They prep their ingredients in silence along with the rest of the students in the dungeon classroom. The humidity frizzes their hair, and the steam rising from their cauldrons only adds to the volume of their rough curls. Summer huffs and blows a strand of blonde hair from her face, turning to Rebecca to finally break the silence.
“Have you gotten an invite yet?” she asks as they add their Venomous Tentacula leaves with precision.
Rebecca keeps her eyes on the cauldron as she shakes her head, “No, not yet. But they only just started handing them out. I’m sure we’ll get one.”
Summer purses her lips, leaning back as she lets the concoction boil. She looks around the classroom, glancing at the slytherins before saying, “I’m sure I can get that Pierson girl to give me one. What’s her first name? Karma? Carmen? It doesn’t matter. She seems so eager to please.”
Rebecca nods, suppressing a sigh. Summer always needs to add some kind of negativity when speaking of someone. Secretly, Rebecca can’t wait to finish her schooling and be rid of Summer. But at the moment, she’s better being a friend than a foe. Summer is known for her revenge on those that cross her.
“I’ll clear my calendar,” says Rebecca, flipping the page to prepare the next ingredients.
Summer smiles slyly before doing the same.
“My plan is brilliant,” she says, her eyes on the instructions, “There’s no way they’ll last a week after the party. You remember what you have to do, right?” she looks at Rebecca seriously. Satisfied with her nod, she continues with a grin, “I can’t wait. Benjamin is just weeks from being mine. He won’t know what hit him.”
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