The Boy in the Bubble - contd.
Sirius Orion Black awoke to the sense of light touching his face. Never had he woken so disoriented about his surroundings, even though, on earlier occasions, his family had made him sleep in the rarest of places any child could sleep in, including the scary attic, the library , and even their smelly old house-elf’s little cavern under the boiler off the kitchen.
However, this time it was pleasantly different. He raised his head from its comfortable position between the groove his arms made and watched, bemused, as his three best friends snored on, oblivious to the brightening sunlight.
The tin box, which he’d held prior to falling unexpectedly asleep, was inches away from his face, its bottom towards him. Only then, did he notice the words etched along the curve of the base; “Instant Slumber Powder: Just One Sniff, and Your Target will fall into deep sleep for a number of hours!” Sirius looked up, and found many similar tin boxes perched haphazardly on the shelves.
Sirius smiled, pleased. He was now in a wonderful position to plan out any prank on the three and wake them up screaming for their lives. But before he could do so, something abnormal caught his eye.
Moving closer to the glass wall, Sirius knew he couldn’t mistake the intruder of his attention. He swallowed his astonishment as he continued to stare over the thick, tall trees of the Forbidden Forest. No doubt, it was a girl who was riding on the back of a very scaly looking horse with large, leathery wings like that of a bat. Worse yet, he knew that girl.
It was his really new, really strange, really nice Slytherin friend, Maitri Harys. Sirius looked at his slumbering friends again, and thought through what conclusion they might draw if they sighted this odd phenomenon occurring right within their eyesight. He realized that his new friend Harys wasn’t right for being drawn as the Marauder’s Next Greatest Prank Target, and all he could do now was to go right down and somehow get her off the back of the Thestral she was so happily riding. And for the occasion, Sirius “borrowed” James Potter’s Ultimately Awesome Invisibility Cloak.
It was barely dawn, and no other soul came into sight as Sirius stomped down, hurrying towards the Front Doors. When he could her no longer above the high trees, he rushed into the forest, forgetting, and overlooking the fact that students weren’t allowed into the Forbidden Forest, which, for some enigmatic reason, was christened ‘Forbidden’.
Following the forest path, Sirius finally reached a clearing where he spotted three more Thestrals on the ground, munching off some poor animal he didn’t stop to think about. Moving further, he found more and more of the scaly creatures, and realized that the whole Thestral population that pulled the Hogwarts carriages were actually from the forest itself, bred or tamed. He had to congratulate Hagrid for that matter alone – wild Thestrals were undoubtedly hard to come by, please and tame.
Sirius stopped when he heard voices. A clearing came up ahead, and he could clearly distinguish the identities of the voices that occupied the area.
“Now that yeh know about this lot,” Hagrid said loudly. “I s’pose yer fine with feedin’ them when I’m not ‘ere.”
you’re not here,” Harys corrected him. “Tenebrus is a very nice Thestral, letting me fly on him and all…”
“The animals in ‘ere like yeh,” Hagrid told her abruptly. “I’ve learnt to understand some o’ their interactions, and they ‘ave come to consider yeh one o’ them.”
“That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?” There was no masking on the glee in her voice.
Sirius wasn’t so surprised. In all those times he’d actually spoken to her, he couldn’t help but feel that her magnetism with magical creatures was certainly strange; Unicorns yielded to her touch faster than the other girls’, and Professor Sprout was seldom seen without her on the weekends that she repotted the necessary plants for the next week’s classes.
“Hard ter be a student up at school if yer one o’ them, Maitri,” the gentle giant chided her.
“But… you’re not a complete human, Hagrid,” Maitri countered. “Yet, you were a student at Hogwarts, weren’t you? And you’re my friend, too.”
She completed as though she knew she had made the only right declaration hein her voice. He smiled, in spite of himself.
“But yer still not going ter ride on them again,” Hagrid told her firmly. “If someone sees yer… and yeh can’t get too attached ter them. Yeh’ll be leaving in a few years time.”
"Not if I also build a cottage next to yours and stay on as the Assistant Groundskeeper,” the girl argued. “So, if we can move to the Hippogriffs next…”
Sirius realized that the duo were in the middle of tending to the school grounds, and that his advice had already been sounded to her by Hagrid. Unmindful of his earlier noble intentions, he knew that he would now only be seen an intruder. Moreover, it seemed as though they were walking further into the forest, where the undergrowth would be too thick for him to follow unnoticed, and he didn’t want to follow them anyway. He wasn’t inclined to the idea.
Sirius Black was indeed concerned about his friend, and it surprised him that he was able to change his decision to help so quickly. Perhaps he didn’t feel her too important to personally advise, when she already had bigger friends to do that for her.
Or maybe, the fact that they were similar in many aspects made it hard for Sirius to move closer with her, for he knew he wasn’t himself with the Marauders or his other friends. But with Maitri Harys, it was not the case. He found it easier to be whatever he wanted to be around her, since she never judged him for who he was, and had rather become his friend for the fact that he had wanted to be her friend. Sirius had slowly come to understand why Regulus liked this girl so much; it was hard to brand someone unlikeable when they so understood.
Sirius sat down on the Gryffindor table, and pulled off the cloak. It was early, very early for students to have their breakfasts. Nevertheless, toast appeared before him, accompanied by the jar of pumpkin juice, marmalade and jam bowls. It was almost as if the house-elves could sense his hunger from the floor below.
“There’s a face rarely seen alone.”
Sirius looked up, and found his brother walking down to the Gryffindor table, as unaccompanied and awake as he himself was.
“Hey, Reggie,” he greeted him. “Toast?”
“Might as well, since neither of us could stay asleep any longer,” he mumbled, and helped himself to a crusty brown toast that might’ve gotten burnt if it had seen the flame a moment longer.
“Hmm. Must be a Black Family curse,” Sirius agreed. “Waking up as soon as the sun touches land.”
In reality, he was rather enjoying this moment of camaraderie between Regulus and himself. It wasn’t often that the Black brothers had anything to share, and for a long time, the only things they seemed to be sharing were the household and surname.
“I meant Maitri and myself,” Regulus corrected him. “We were up pretty early to ride our brooms around the lake. She then left to help that half-breed Hagrid, and I hung back to practice more.”
“Oh,” the older brother asserted, and suddenly, he didn’t feel hungry any more, even though only two slices of bread had made it down his throat. “I… thought you meant the both of us.”
Regulus nodded, as though he understood. Sirius noted that, at times like this, when both the Black boys were alone, they were quite normal around each other. Had Regulus been sitting at the Slytherin table, and Sirius happened to come alone, he, too, would have sat with his brother. But times like these, as Regulus had commented, were indeed rare, and Sirius couldn’t remember a time other than at home when the brother had sat together for meals.
And then, he remembered why the younger boy had been up so early, and felt his stomach clench quite uncomfortably. Whether on purpose or not, the reason for their unexpected meeting that morning had been the same person, and somehow, it seemed to disturb Sirius. He still couldn’t determine whether she was as important to him, as she was obviously was to Reggie, which bothered him endlessly. It had taken a lot of time to adjust to the fact that Reggie had best friends who weren’t maimed for future Death Eater professions, and it was still a lot to accept that he found the friendship of his brother’s best friend quite valuable enough for him to be concerned on her welfare over his own best friends.
But why should that be? Regulus had mentioned that Maitri Harys was an easy person to be with, because of all her ignorance of the Wizarding World. But Sirius had never found Lily Evans less complicated just because she was a muggleborn and detested pureblood maniacs.
And moreover, Sirius strove to remember that Harys had been the very same person who’d accompanied Evans and Snivellus Snape that first train ride to Hogwarts. The first time he’d ever come across the girl, he’d never attributed her to be anything special. But in the end, he’d usurped her position (something he still found plausible in her long forgotten rant, for which she had apologized at least thrice now) in Gryffindor, had been classified to being the most similar person to her, had despised her for being Narcissa’s friend, and had scoffed at Severus Snape for being her friend. She’d become the first female Quidditch member in the Slytherin House, for more than two hundred years – if his great-great grandmother was right (as she claimed to be the first ever female Slytherin Chaser) – and probably the first ever female Slytherin Seeker – or, Ex-Seeker, since it was Regulus Black who was the current Slytherin Seeker.
But Sirius noticed the difference between the two of them. Regulus had been trained since he’d turned seven, and if Harys really had had no previous contact with a broom before she started Hogwarts, then her talents were natural, and definitely much more worthy than Reggie’s; a talent which even Sirius wouldn’t attribute to himself, since his father had maintained that fact that he would grow up to be the best Beater that Hogwarts had ever seen, ever since he’d, on a memorable occasion, broken Avery’s overlarge nose when he was six years old, and had been forced into a headlock with the older, bulkier boy. Andromeda had pulled him away that day, years and years ago.
Andy. Sirius reflected for a moment on his favorite cousin. She was now officially blasted off the family tree, and the entire Black family had, one fine summer day the week before Sirius and Reggie had left for Hogwarts, gathered into the stuffy parlor to witness the formation of the badly burnt hole that once used to be represented by Andromeda Demetria Black, situated right in between the silver thread that connected the four other names in her immediate family – Cygnus, Druella, Bellatrix (Sirius involuntarily shuddered as his mind skimmed over his most frightful cousin) and Narcissa.
Thinking of Narcissa made Sirius think about their broken engagement. Although they had grown up almost together, he’d been told, right from the time he could remember, that, one day, Narcissa and he would produce the future heirs of the Most Ancient and Noble Black lineage, which had, in its extensive past, fathered kings, sorcerers, wondrous inventors and recently, even Ministers for Magic, if recent could be counted from the last centuries, during which two Black patriarchs have been glorious Ministers and had lavished the Ministry of Magic with gold. In fact, Sirius remembered, the famous Fountain of the Magical Brethren had been commanded to be sculpted under his great-great-great-great grandfather’s reign as Minister. As had often been told to all Black off-springs, even the great Salazar Slytherin had been a Black on his mother’s side.
Sirius tried to analyze why he had been so heartbroken when he’s been sorted into Gryffindor. He’d almost known, inside the deepest corners of his heart, that he was different from the rest of his family – even his beloved younger brother, who now sat across him, gobbling down toast and pumpkin juice – and was destined for a different course of action.
He figured it might’ve been because he couldn’t be with Narcissa (back before his first year at Hogwarts, Sirius had been alluded into thinking both of them were destined for each other, and therefore, would fall in love at some point of time in the future), who had, until his meeting with James Potter, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew, been one of his best friends, and the one person who’d readily believe whatever nonsense he spouted.
Perhaps, he thought, he had adored her and it had dearly cost him to see her hurt and angry at the Sorting. It was a pre-runner to how he knew his own parents would react to the devastating news of him being in the herd of the people he’s been told all his life to avoid fraternizing.
And now, she was gone; engaged to the pompous Lucius Malfoy, who had never struck Sirius to be the right kind of person for someone as unassuming and innocent as Cissa. But, even as the years went by, Sirius saw his second favorite cousin growing more and more into the kind of person Lucius Malfoy was, in his mind. Reggie, however, worshipped the vain fool of a wizard, with the same naivety that Cissa had once possessed.
It was a strange kind of a feeling, Sirius mused, being stuck in a dilemma. It was like being inside a bubble, and the forces that influenced him inside were the exact opposite of those outside, and he felt tossed by the effort put into both. Truthfully, he felt like a stranger in his family because he was the only Gryffindor the whole Black dynasty had ever seen. And he felt out of place in the Gryffindor common room, as he was the only pureblood child from a prominent wizarding family that had openly extended support to the vile, evil Dark wizard who called himself Lord Voldemort, though the phrase itself sounded and tasted bitter to Sirius.
With hopelessness, he remembered that his father had, so lovingly, given him the job of recruiting James Potter as a Death Eater. Sirius knew why Voldemort wanted James – the Potters were almost as ancient in their pureblood legacy as the Blacks, but only fell a few centuries short of achieving the goal. With the projection of Voldemort being a Cleanser to the Wizarding Society – with all his talks and sermons on how muggleborns and half-bloods were a dangerous addition to it – and the addition of the sons and daughters of respectable wizarding families like the Blacks, Potters and others ought to mark the evil git as a very dangerous opponent for any good wizard to stand up against.
Except, well, Albus Dumbledore, but lately, Sirius realized that he saw the venerable headmaster very little in the school, though the death toll did not even hint of getting decreased; by all means it was increasing by the day, with scared muggles retreating to living in remote villages or moving away from the United Kingdom. Had Dumbledore wanted to take actions, he would have done so ages ago. If the great vanquisher of Grindelwald did not have the power to stop Voldemort, how could he attempt to so foolishly overlook his indirect command?
Would he also be forced to join a Death Eater? Bellatrix, and her husband, Rodolphus had immediately enlisted the moment they turned seventeen, and if rumors were right, so would the various Slytherin prefects and ex-prefects, including Montague, Yaxley, Hadar Ferguson and Marlowe – the git he’d hit the other day in order to save the Harys girl. The prospect of having to be under the command of Voldemort sickened him. Sirius knew that even Regulus was repulsed by the idea – especially after a rumor that explained that Lord Voldemort was himself a half-blood and a hypocrite who tried to brand himself as one of the best products in the wizarding world.
But the only difference between Regulus and himself in the matter was that their mother knew Reggie could be easily convinced into the servitude by the magic words – “family honor”, while Sirius was difficult. He had always been the difficult child of the two, always running off to the muggle playground, getting lost in Diagon Alley, just for the fun of it, and being cheeky with almost all of his mother’s friends, bringing home the most unconventional things – like photographs, muggle posters among other things that he could swear the Black house had never anticipated, nor will ever experience something of the sort again. But he couldn’t easily forget the amount of punishments he’d received, despite him being chided in the family circle for being his parents’ favorite kid; though that was a title he no longer believed he held.
Sirius looked at his brother, and put down his half-eaten toast. All the thinking had robbed him of his appetite.
“See you ‘round, bro.” Sirius got to his feet.
Even while taking steps, it felt like an invisible force kept pulling him back towards his brother (for Sirius hardly considered any possibilities of him being imbalanced while being half-awake), as though reprimanding him to go hug his baby brother – the only true relative he now cherished, and pull him off Slytherin, sponsor for an extra bed in the Gryffindor tower, and make it sure to the boy that Sirius was a better guide than that sneaky, big-nosed prat, Snivellus.
But would Reggie agree? He was hopelessly loyal to the Black family, as Sirius had once been and having been in the Slytherin house for almost three years now, he would’ve imbibed some of the eviler qualities… and he didn’t, of course, like Gryffindor; this was not the first time the idea had crossed the older brother’s mind, and the possible response remained the same… every year.
It confused him to great levels, and as he walked out of the Great Hall, still immersed in the apparently unimportant dilemma, a figure appeared out of a door nearby and stopped him, by saying something.
Sirius jolted out of his trance and looked into the cool, beautiful blue eyes of the girl who had stopped him.
She then pointed to her own flawless cheek and then to him. Was she asking for a kiss on the cheek? Sirius was bewildered; he’d never been approached by such bold girls before.
“What?” he croaked again, flabbergasted, but also slightly flattered. He looked at the girl once all over, and was delighted to realize that he was indeed standing across one of the most beautiful of the feminine kind to ever grace the hallowed halls of Hogwarts.
“You’ve got jam on your cheek, dimwit,” she repeated, her angelic face frowning. “Got a hearing problem or what?”
Sirius’ hand went up to his cheek to rub the offending stain off. And then, he felt obliged to say more.
“You know, it’s surprising you didn’t think it was lipstick,” he tried to joke. And failed, miserably; his attempt to endear himself to her with his wit backfired. His wisdom wasn’t up to the mark, obviously.
The frown deepened. The girl with the angelic face and soft, golden curls seemed stuck between shoving him away and screaming at him.
“Why should I think that?” she asked irritably, probably because of the fact that he stood in front of her, blocking her entry into the Great Hall.
“Coz then it would be wrong,” Sirius finished. And then, he went on to trample his own reputation by adding to it. “And I have reserved that spot only for you.” And then, he smiled goofily at her, thinking to himself about how girls usually fell for the perfect whiteness that was his teeth, and that this one would do so, too.
The frown disappeared and shock replaced it as soft fingers clashed painfully against Sirius’ right cheek (“You idiot!”), the sting of it lingering like her scent of honeysuckle. The smile, too, disappeared from his face, and disbelief registered on his senses as his brother, looking so much like himself, sauntered in to stand beside him, taking much care to steer clear of the fuming girl as she stormed into the Great Hall.
“You know, you deserved that,” Reggie offered, munching on his last piece of toast, his chewing slowed down to the respectable pace wizarding nobility would approve of. “You were quite the jerk to her.”
“Shut up, Regulus,” Sirius said, still staring off after the girl. “I think I just met the love of my life.”
Sirius continued to gaze at the girl, and began to study the way light fell on the Hufflepuff table and accented her, making her look like a divine apparition. She looked up and scowled at him.
“It’s hopeless. She’s a muggleborn.”
Sirius looked at his brother. How did he know everything?
Regulus rolled his eyes and proceeded towards the dungeons, presumably to the Slytherin quarters, leaving his brother to ponder over his brand new decision to become a romantic sap.
Sirius returned the girl’s scowl with a blinding grin of his own.