Chapter 4 : Protective Instincts
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“Did you want the sauce or the toast?” asked Regulus, eyeing her absently dumping maple syrup on her mushrooms.
“Yeah – uh.. hmm?”
What was with that group? Why was there a werewolf wandering around the grounds? There aren’t any werewolves in the forest! Wasn’t that a silly rumour the teachers encouraged? There were wolves, of course, but no werewolves.
“HELLO! Maya, come home from La-la Land!” Addy said, suddenly six inches from her face.
“Geez! What’s up with you today? Is that a bowtruckle on your shoulder?”
“Er, yeah. I thought I’d show Professor Kettleburn today. Pass the toast please.”, she said vanishing the unsavory combination from her plate.
“Pretty sure he knows what they look like.”
Still lost in thought, they both started to head to the grounds for their next class when someone bumped into Maya from behind making the bowtruckle topple off her shoulder. Maya lunged to catch him and caught him gently but her bag slipped off her arm and hit the floor. She heard her ink bottle smash in the bag.
She opened the bag to find a corner of all her books a brilliant royal blue.
“Watch it!” shouted Addy, above her head.
Someone kneeled down pulling out his wand. Maya looked up and saw Lupin helping her.
“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
He siphoned off the ink and repaired the bottle. He pulled out his own ink and offered it to her.
“It’s alright. I have ball pens.”
“No, this was my fault.”, he said standing up with her. “I’m really sorry.”
Maya was looking at his weary face. He looked positively ill. There were prominent lines on his wan face and he looked really tired.
She quietly took the bottle.
“It’s not that big a deal. Forget about it.”
He smiled weakly and turned to leave. As he was walking towards his waiting friends, Maya shoved her hand in her pocket.
“Lupin!”, she called.
Lupin turned around and saw the Chocolate Frog lobbed at him. He caught it looking surprised.
“Relax. You worry too much.” she said grinning.
“Watcha got there, Moo- Remus?” Black said peering over his shoulder at the box. Potter was staring at her with an oddly wary look on his face.
Maya left the scene and Addy and she jogged to their first class.
Professor Kettleburn took some interest in the little bowtruckle.
“They are normally quite shy but this one seems so friendly. Where did you say you found him?”
“I saw him in the grounds. I imagine there’s quite a big branch in the forest.”
“Yes, yes. The forest has all kinds of creatures.”
“What kinds do you reckon, professor?” she replied, trying to broach the subject casually.
“Oh. All kinds. Hogwarts grounds as a whole is quite a habitat.”
“You wouldn’t say there are dangerous creatures as well, surely? Not so close to where students spend idle time?”
Addy, bored of watching the girls with the unicorn, started to listen in.
“There are some but they keep to the forest and don’t endanger the students.”
“But the rumour that the forest contains werewolves must be false, right? They spend most of their time as normal humans.” Maya said, pressing on.
Professor Kettleburn quickly met her eyes.
“I’m not an expert on what resides in the Forbidden forest, it’s too large to say exactly.”
He quickly straightened up and walked to the others and shut the conversation down.
“What was that about?” asked Addy “She’s right, right? No werewolves?”
“If you’re worried, don’t risk a full moon. Problem solved.”
“Heck. I’m not going out of the castle at late in the night at all. Anyway, hear from Alice?”, Addy asked turning a little red.
Alice was her older sister. Actually, they were not blood relatives. Her family were actually Maya’s neighbors who were like her foster family after her father fell sick. They were muggles. She was always a dedicated sister and she noticed Maya was different quickly. Hagrid explained to her about Hogwarts and Alice’s education when she was 17. She took the revelation exceptionally well and insisted they be part of Maya’s life.
Maya was proud of her protective sister. They shared identical lockets (which was enchanted to act like a phone) through which they kept in touch.
Adrian sometimes spoke to her and was a little smitten. He was a nice guy and a good friend to have. Not many people in Slytherin was openly friends with her after she aired her views about muggles in a rather loud argument with Mulciber and his ilk. She was afraid they might hurt Adrian if they got the chance just for that reason.
“She’s alright. She’s working long hours at the university.”
The rest of the day grew busy and she learned nothing new about the werewolf gang.
That night she decided to take the little bowtruckle back to the forest although she was nervous this time. She carefully crept out into the grounds.
“I’ll let you go near the edge, okay bud?”
All was well till she reached the edge of the forest. She let him down and he took off towards the edge.
She turned around to return and she saw the giant dog running towards her. Still frightened, she pulled out her wand. He slowed down and stopped about 10 feet away. The dog sat down there wagging his tail innocently as if he had no intention of attacking her. She lowered her wand. She was never wary of animals; they were usually (or unusually) friendly to her. But this one was special. She decided to try her luck with him.
“Hey, boy. Why are you here?”
At this he got of his haunches and trotted up to her. He took a mouthful of her robes and started to tug at it.
He started to pull her away from the forest.
“Oh. I see. You’re worried about me going in the forest.”, she said, privately thinking that this animal was way too clever. It was showing concern for a stranger, protectiveness and knew to find her tonight.
“It’s okay, bud. I never go far and even when I do, I never get in trouble.”
He huffed at this disbelievingly.
“Hehe. You are such a cute doggy. Do you have a name?” Maya said kneeling and ruffling his fur.
He wagged his tail vigorously and opened his mouth so his tongue hung out to the side. It looked like a lopsided grin. Maya giggled. He was so big and snuggly and his eyes were big and full of warmth. He made Maya feel a little comfortable.
“I know. You’re my Snuffles.” He wagged his tail harder. He took her hand in his mouth and started to lead her away from the forest.
“You were just leading me on, weren’t you?” She laughed.
She gave up and raised her eyes to the castle and tensed up. There was a figure creeping across the grounds towards them holding a covered lantern. There was a small animal next to his feet.
Filch! He must have seen us from a distance.
“Quick, Snuffles. The Forest.” She whispered looking towards Filch in alarm.
Filch must have noticed, because he picked up the pace.
Snuffles turned around for a look and then bounded behind her towards the forest.
Me, a huge dog, Filch and Mrs. Norris. Weirdest procession ever.
She raced for the cover of the trees, Snuffles close on her heels. They leapt over some of the underbrush and made their way in deeper. They could hear Filch jogging behind them, gasping out things like ‘I’ll catch you lot today’ and ‘not getting away’.
They went off the path after a while and hid in the bushes. Snuffles seemed to understand and kept real quiet. Filch, who Maya did not take for a brave person, had actually followed her in. He had taken the cover of the lamp and was skulking around as if he was trying to see how far he could shine the light and not see too much at the same time.
Maya ducked behind the bush when he turned her way. Filch edged forward along the path reluctantly. Mrs. Norris paused and looked in their direction but Snuffles gave a low growl in his throat and she leapt after Filch.
After the bright light in the grounds the forest was dark. She could barely see her surroundings and she accidently put her hand on the rather damp ground.
Suddenly, they heard a nasty cackle from behind her, gave her a quite a jolt. She whirled around but couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her.
“Lumos.” She whispered, halfheartedly. She instantly regretted it.
The light fell on a painted face, not feet from them. A pair of wide, bulging, jaundiced eyes. An insincere sneer that showed a set of rotten teeth with plenty of gaps. A faded clown’s hat with unwelcome bells. The nose that was supposed to be cute and round was scrunched up to make room for the grin. Its torso was wide and the arms waere held aloft as if it was about to either hug or pounce.
The sight made Maya freeze on the spot. She hated clowns. She hated them in broad daylight but in the darkness of the forest, it was worse.
She stood there in petrified silence. Her mind made the jump but she still didn’t do anything.
It began to sway towards her this way and that moving fantastically, unnaturally, it’s cackling now reaching high pitched scream.
But Snuffles took charge. He moved in between them and barked loudly.
The sound made her snap out of it. She raised her wand said “R-riddikulus!”
Crack! It tripped on the balloons tails and landed on its face. She snickered.
Fumbling footsteps could be heard as Filch made his way back towards the noise. The boggart gave up on her and charged past her in his direction. She could see it’s form melt away and form something a lot hairier as it headed that way.
Uh-oh. Filch was a squib. She ran after it as quick as she could. She could hear Snuffles’ heavy footsteps behind her. Up ahead, she heard a strangled cry. There was a thud and she didn’t wait to see as she rounded the corner to yell “Riddikulus!”.
Filch was sprawled across a jumble of tree roots and the boggart had vanished in a wisp of smoke.
“Huh. He’s passed out. Serves him right. Who told you to follow me in, you crabby old man?”
Maya heard a chuckle behind her. Snuffles was apparently still enjoying himself.
“Glad you’re having a grand old time!” she chided. He wagged his tail in wide arcs.
“Mobilicorpus.” She mumbled. She heard a great sniff from behind her.
“Well, we can’t just leave him here. That’s heartless.”
“You come too.” She said, directed at Mrs. Norris who was looking on from around a tree.
And the second bizarre procession in so many days started towards the castle.
Snuffles was gamboling around like it was all good fun. She put a confundus charm on Filch so that he would believe he never made it to the forest. She was just around the greenhouse when the front doors opened once more.
“Oh, what fresh hell?” she said under her breath. Much to her relief, it was Hagrid waving his arms, trying to swat Peeves.
“Get away, yeh ruddy poltergeist. I’m goin’ home!” Peeves blew a loud raspberry and hung around after him.
“Great. How will we get around Peeves? Snuffles?” she looked around but he was gone. Where did he go? Man, that dog was unpredictable.
She put the best Disillusionment charm on herself and crept as near as she could. She put filch down near the castle doors behind Hagrid, who was well on his way, complete with his lamp. As the doors swung shut she slid in.
“I hear ya, I hear ya, heard you before too! You may be hard to spot but you can’t fool Peevesy. What did ya do too old Filchy?”
Peeves was hanging upside right above the door. Maya had just about enough without Peeves waking the whole castle up. Peeves seemed to guess where her mind was at.
“If you don’t show yourself Peevesy shall make much trouble!”
Oh yeah, like you’ll give me a kiss goodnight if I did show myself.
She heard the doors groan again.
On an impulse, she took off running. First get rid of peeves then she’ll take Filch.
She kept running with filch zooming at full pelt after her until she ran gasping straight into the someone’s back taking him clear off his feet.
“Ugh. Why is someone walking around?”
She looked at the guy to find Sirius Black albeit with his face planted on the floor.
“That is an excellent question.” Sniffed the voice of a Lady from behind a portrait that had swung forward. There was a hole in the wall right in front of them.
“Could you please get off my back? Literally?” said Black in a muffled voice.
“Hurry, hurry!” she said grabbing him by his robes and shoving him through the hole when she heard Peeves cackle around the corner.
She quickly climbed through and shut the portrait behind her.
“Ah, Sirius. Did you head he- ?”
She looked around.
Sirius was climbing to his feet rubbing the back of his head.
Staring back at her from behind him was James Potter.
“Yeah. I know.” Maya said as James struggled for words staring at her “I’ll get out of your hair as soon as Peeves leaves.”
She looked around after she removed the charm. This was clearly the Gryffindor common room. It was empty but for the four friends. James was sitting on the back of an armchair with his wand stuck behind his ear. Pettigrew was curled up in a couch fast asleep. Lupin was sitting on the floor with a piece of parchment in one hand and a quill in the other with a few books spread out around him.
There was silence for a few seconds. Then, Lupin started awkwardly
“Er, why are you here?”
“Peeves chased me through the corridor.”
Sirius straightened up and grinned.
“Welcome to the Gryffindor common room! You must be the first Slytherin here in - ever.”
“And last.” Muttered Potter under his breath.
“Well, that didn’t last.” She commented ”I told you, I’ll go as soon as Peeves leaves.”
“It’s fine, James didn’t mean it. Come sit down by the fire. You look cold.” Said Lupin smiling.
“Thanks, Lupin. What are you doing? Homework?” Maya said ignoring Potter and squatting next to him.
“No, I’m just editing Peter’s Wiggenwald potion essay.”
“Oh, cool.” She said ignoring Black and Potter silently arguing about her presence.
“Do they always fight like an old couple?” she said resting her chin on her hands.
“Most of the time.” Chuckled Lupin.
Suddenly, she felt her locket vibrate. She hastily pulled it off and let it sit on her palm where it grew to the size a small saucer. She snapped open the catch and opened it.
“Hiiiiii!!!” screamed Alice’s face from inside the locket surface.
“Sis! Keep it down! Do you know what time it is?”
“Nope!” she answered promptly “I look track of time these days. Besides, you’re awake. What’re you up to?”
She sounded suddenly suspicious.
“Is that your sister?”
“You have a sister?” said Black and Potter crowding me.
“I’m sitting in the common room”, Maya replied, carefully neglecting saying which.
“How’s it going, squirt? How’s your new term?”
“Eventful to say the least.”
“Meet any boys? “, she teased.
“Hardly.” She replied, rolling her eyes.
“Well, that’s just not true.” Said Sirius loudly from behind her.
“I heard boys’ voices. Who are they? Do I know them?”
“I think I may have mentioned them. This is Sirius Black.” She replied. And in a rather transparent attempt to get Alice away from the topic asked “So, how is Thomas?”
“Hmm, Sirius Black, Sirius Black… Oh! You mean the one with 10% body weight, 90% head weight?”
“Alice! They can hear you!” I said over Lupin and Potter’s raucous laughter
“Ah, don’t worry. He can handle it. You did say you admired him once after all.”
“Sis! TMI!!” She said, going scarlet and snapping the locket shut.
“I think Peeves must have gone.” She said, standing up, trying her damnedest not to look at Sirius in the eye.
“You admire me? That’s only natural, but what do you admire? Clarify, please.” Sirius asked, the smirk evident in his voice.
“It’s not what you’d think, okay?”, she said collecting her things and sprinting for the portrait hole.
As she pushed the portrait open, she heard Sirius call “Which is it?” after her.
Peeves had apparently gone to find another sport. She ran all the way to Slytherin common room half laughing half embarrassed.
As she changed and clambered under the sheets, she thought about what was going through her head when she told Alice she admired Sirius even though she was surprised his head fit in the great hall.
Maya knew better than elitism because she had a rockstar muggle family who accepted her despite her differences and taught her to be kind.
His entire family had been in Slytherin. They were all pure blood elitists. Judging by Bellatrix and the other Blacks attitudes he had been brought up with everyone believing muggles and muggle-borns to be second class, to say the least. But Sirius alone believed in something kinder; he was prepared to question everything he had been told since he could understand. He stood up to the only family he had when he disagreed. That took a kind of courage that Maya didn’t have. Especially if she could have her father back she would never want to disagree with him….
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