Disclamer: I do not own Harry Potter, just Erin.  And Jack.  Jack is mine.   

Chapter three: Of Stairs and Fire

There was nothing too exciting about the rest of the castle. Oh, sure, there were pictures and suits of armor that weren’t completely rusted over and a lot of smaller doors, but I wasn’t really looking at all of those things. I was trying to figure out the stairs.

Honestly, I was still having trouble just lifting my left foot an inch or so and moving it forward. How was I supposed to lift it six inches and then move forward? Falling only complicated things. This concept was first introduced to me when I tried to move from the first step to the second. Dumb gravity and air that doesn’t support you! Falling hurt. It made my shoulders sore and a nasty bruise was forming on my legs. At least, a bruise is what Jack called it as he tried his best not to laugh at me. The skin was turning gross and purple— a testament to the world that I didn’t know how to walk. I liked the purple scales from my tail a lot better than this ugly thing. I was quickly becoming disenamored with this whole idea of legs.

I ended up crawling up the stairs, using mostly my arms to pull myself up. Jack said that’s how babies start when they go up stairs, so it was all right I started out that way. But by the time school started in two weeks I needed to walk like a normal person. Triton! There was so much that I had to practice and learn before school started.

At least I didn’t have to worry about learning magic. I mean, I am a mermaid, a magical creature, so who would know more about magic? Not to mention the fact that I’m also the princess of all half-human creatures, so I know human and animal magic. I’ll probably have to watch what I say during classes actually because I don’t draw a very fine line between animal and human. I don’t want to shock everyone by accidentally spilling out centaur lore or the spring songs of fauns.

When we finally reached the Gryffindor common room, I had trouble getting inside. Dumbledore wasn’t with us at this point in time, so I didn’t have anyone to help me in. Jack was there, of course, but ghosts don’t have enough substance to actually support a person, or anything else for that matter, so he couldn’t help at all. Eventually, I ended up sitting on the side of the portrait hole and using my hands to lift my legs up. Then, of course, I had to figure out a way to stand up again.

This is when I learned the magic of scooting. It’s really quite amazing, and I was determined to use it forever more until Jack mentioned that only very, very, very, young children use this technique to get around. I don’t see why, as it’s much easier than walking. It doesn’t require the use of legs at all! You just use your arms and pull yourself across the room. Your legs just drag behind. It was amazing...until my arms began to protest. Positively fabulous, as now both my arms and newly formed leg muscles had made it known that they didn’t like me using them for as long as I had. I pulled myself over to a chair, for that’s what I assumed the red hulk of...of...what was that made out of?

So, I was introduced to fabric and cushions and a marvel called a couch. The surprises seemed to be endless. Humans were really rather ingenious creatures. I guess I could say that I’m proud that they’re my ancestors. Of course, my other ancestors weren’t nearly this smart . . . but that doesn’t matter.

Shortly after this discovery, I headed off to bed. Beds were marvels in and of themselves. Who would think to sleep on bird feathers? Regrettably, this didn’t make the beds fly, which rather ruined the ingenuity of the idea. Instead, I found the bed I was instructed to sleep on much, much too soft for my taste— I rather missed my hard rocks. After about ten minutes of shifting and rustling the sheets, I gave up and rolled onto the floor. Admittedly, I hit the floor much harder than I wanted (I had forgotten about the light air), but I did roll very nicely. Legs don’t get in the way of basic actions like that, thankfully.

I was so tired of all the extra exertion of my legs and holding myself up and crawling that I was asleep mere minutes after I had fixed myself on the floor.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

The next day, I explored more of the castle. My main goal was to practice walking as opposed to actually learning where classes were, but Jack did show me some rather useful places, such as the prefect bath, which he gave me the password to, and the kitchen where the house elves were, who thankfully weren’t as dumb as Jack. They had seaweed. Needless to say, I was thrilled and ate twice as much seaweed as normal to make up for the day before when I had none. The next few days I always ate in the kitchen, although Jack did make me eat my seaweed with a fork and have at least a small plate of lettuce for breakfast.

“For when you have to eat in the Great Hall with everyone else.” He said as an excuse. I wanted to smash him to pieces whenever the fork didn’t work on the lettuce, so when Jack finally noticed he got a new food for me. Avocado. He said that most humans found it to be rather slimy and it wasn’t commonly eaten, but I, surprisingly, loved it. Maybe because it was soft and squishy like food, and everything else for that matter, was supposed to be. It was also much easier to spear with a fork.

So my days fell into a pattern for about a week. I spent my time practicing walking— particularly up and down stairs— using human tools such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, forks, soap, scissors, quills, and clothes to try to at least pass off for a human, and taking baths. I found that my legs dried out very quickly and I went to take a bath about every three or four hours.

Sometimes just turning on hot water in the shower and letting the steam fill up my pores was enough. I could stay in that steaming cave for forever if Jack would let me. Too bad locked doors, which are very difficult to unlock in my opinion, do not keep ghosts out. He didn't seem to have a problem with me just wearing my seaweed shirt in the shower. Maybe it was because you couldn't see much anyway in the bathroom, or perhaps he had a different sense of what was appropriate to wear than most humans. After all, he was a ghost. Dumbledore and the other teachers seemed to have more of a problem with my wardrobe though. Well, it wasn’t my fault that they kept their castle so warm.

I mentioned this once to Professor McGonagall once when she was trying to instruct me on how human girls dress. As I had only met her a few minutes before when Dumbledore introduced us, she should have considered this a great honor. It was my exasperation and curiosity that really got the better of me though, not her “friendly and outgoing” personality. (For a while I was afraid that all human women were stiff and cold until I met Professor Sprout. I felt a bit better after that.) Anyway, McGonagall looked at me oddly and told me that the castle was very cold.

I explained that even with the robes off and wearing shorts and a “light” shirt at night it was very warm. Again, she looked at me oddly and said that I must be cold blooded or something like that. Then she shrugged and told me that she was sorry for my discomfort but I still had to wear proper human clothes. I was rather annoyed.

I tried going outside once or twice. It was even hotter out there. The lake looked so inviting and cool, but I had discovered in the prefect bath the other day that my legs were absolutely useless as far as swimming went. I would have to wait for my tail to return in order to properly swim again. Besides, the lake was far away and I couldn’t walk outside over the uneven ground without holding onto something.

Jack accompanied me everywhere. He seemed proud to show off his castle, his world. And I was forced again and again to ask questions. I became increasingly angry. In all of our lessons before, Jack would explain something as well as he could and if I had any questions, they were usually asked at the end of the lesson. But now I had to constantly ask questions and it seemed as if nobody wanted to know anything about me anymore.

I had been a very respected person among mermaids, so perhaps you couldn’t blame me for being annoyed. Spoiled is what humans would call it. For us, it was just the way of life. We didn’t have quite the same ideas of equality as humans professed to have. The rulers had to have more respect or else they would have an uprising. So to show that respect, we got more privileges. Merpeople in turn had more power and respect than the rest of the half humans because we were the ruling class. So if ever there was an important matter to discuss, like the time when we had to talk to a werewolf about how he was going to stay inconspicuous amongst humans, the merpeople commanded respect. That had only been a couple of years ago and the wolf had come at my father’s call on the night of the full moon and groveled. My father had been very regal and commanding and the wolf had whimpered.

Wait a minute. That hadn’t been too long ago. Maybe the wolf was still at the school. To meet a werewolf in it’s human form; that would be amazing. I’d have to keep my eyes open when it was full moon.

But back to Jack. He was really being rather annoying, acting almost childishly. He seemed to have no respect now; he didn’t even try to treat me as an equal anymore, let alone the superior that I was! It seemed like he was always laughing at me because I didn’t know the basic stuff that he was supposed to teach me. And honestly, I can’t take it when someone laughs at me. I was NOT a person to be laughed at. My patience was wearing thin.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

It was just a day or two before school was to start when Jack finally took me to the library. The letters in the books were so small; it was amazing! It hurt to read for too long. Jack had taught me to read, of course, but since he had had to do it under the lake in the sand the letters that he made were quite big. It was a lot harder to read than I thought it would be, and Jack made me read the whole first chapter of A Standard Book of Spells: Grade 7 before he let me stop. My eyes hurt and were a little bit blurry after this, but after checking out a bunch more books to practice on I made it back to the common room. I discovered that it was much harder to walk when you had to try to balance a stack of books in your arms. Jack laughed several times when I dropped the books and fell to the floor. He has no right. Just because he couldn’t carry anything and he’s used to legs doesn’t mean that’s the case for the rest of us. Besides, ghosts just sort of float above the ground.

I tried my best to ignore him. The most obvious distraction was the books in my arms. That’s when I discovered that it is even more difficult to try to read and walk at the same time. The words were so small anyway; it was hard to make sense of them. I had to watch carefully to see where the spaces were. So I gave up and concentrated on carrying the books, not tripping over my feet, and marveling at humans.

After we reached the common room I settled into a chair, and was still trying to make the letters that seemed to be swimming in front of my eyes despite the lack of a book, when I noticed something that shocked me more than anything else in this crazy castle.

The scream ripped out of my throat without my conscious thought.

“What? What is it?” For being a ghost that nothing could harm Jack sounded surprisingly anxious.

I didn’t speak, but instead pointed to the red and yellow monster along the wall in front of me. It was roaring and popping like a violent storm of waves, but it was much more terrifying than that. Heat came off of it, more heat than the sun beating down on me outside, and it was horrifying.

So it was to my utter and complete amazement that Jack began, once again, to laugh. But this time he didn’t just chuckle and get on with his explanation. This time he laughed so hard that he ended up doubled over, grabbing his stomach. Apparently laughing when you’re a ghost still uses muscles. I scowled at him. This was no time to be making practical jokes or laughing at my shortcomings, especially since I wasn’t even trying to walk at the moment. There was a monster there, and it could blow over to me any minute!

“Jack.” I snarled.

He stopped and composed himself the best he could. It seemed that he needed a reminder of who he was talking to. The daughter of the merking is not to be laughed at. But before I could reinstall in him the proper sense of respect he began speaking.

“That’s just fire Erin. It won’t hurt you if you don’t touch it.”

“What?” I stared at him and then the fire in turn. This was fire? No. That couldn’t be fire. It was like violent waves in the ocean, and . . .

“It’s not GREEN!” It couldn’t possibly be the same fire that he had mentioned before. Jack had told me that fire was kind of like my father’s eyes when he was angry. My father’s eyes were green and so fire was supposed to flash green like his eyes.

If I had been appalled at Jack’s behavior before it was nothing compared to now. He laughed so hard that he ended up wriggling around on the floor like a worm seconds after his explosive laugh had started again. I looked down at him in disapproval for a few minutes before saying stiffly,

“It’s not funny.” Jack just looked up at me from his position on the floor and stifled another giggle. Goodness, he was behaving just like a merchild! You’d think a couple hundred of years would have taught him how to grow up. He never laughed this much in the lake. Maybe it was something about this air . . . but it didn’t seem to be affecting me. It could also be the fact that my father was no longer ominously leaning over my shoulder during every lesson. He always seemed looser when my father was ill. Now the only way anybody would learn about his irresponsible behavior would be if I told him.

“Jack,” I said in my most regal voice, “Shut up and get off that floor.”

He rolled over onto his back and looked up at me through his silver lashes. “Why should I?” He asked lazily.

He was being so disrespectful! How could he do this? After sixteen years of being taught by him I would have thought that I knew Jack better than this. But apparently not. There was a whole different side of Jack at the castle.

“You’re not queen in training anymore, you know.” He continued, “People aren’t going to obey your every whim, they’re going to laugh at you when you’re ignorant, and they certainly aren’t going to treat you like a princess. They don’t care who your father is because they’re never going to go in the lake. So you might as well get used to it.”

I stared at him in shock.

“That was the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me.” I said slowly. I began to detangle myself from the chair I was sitting on and started the long process of standing up. “I’m sorry to see that’s how you really feel. You have no fear of my father now, for I’m sure that you won’t be welcome back in the lake after that.” I was standing now, barely leaning on the chair for support, but I didn’t notice. I was concentrating too much on holding back my anger. How dare he? A common ghost— even if he was my friend and had been permitted in the royal court the last few years— speak to me like that? I stood and faced Jack, who was still lying on the floor looking up at me through those silver lashes.

“Don’t bother to come see me again. I think I can figure the rest out for myself.” I told him. Of course I was just bluffing. I needed Jack, he was my only friend besides Becca, but Becca was off in the lake and couldn’t help me.

“I don’t think you can, but if that’s how you feel,” he said nonchalantly. He shrugged his shoulders and stared lazily into the fire. Or tried to. His face didn’t look quite right. Kind of like how Becca looks when I tell her that I’ve spent one of my rare free afternoons with the Giant Squid, but I was going to tell my father that I was with her. The look that said that she didn’t want to lie and wanted to argue but she daren’t because I was the princess.

“I thought you just said that it didn’t matter that I’m a princess?” I burst out angrily. “Stop it and just spit it out. You can’t hurt me more than you already have.” His lack of a reaction was making me angrier than anything he had said before. And I was hurt.

Jack rolled over and sat up, silver fire suddenly raging in his eyes. “Fine.” He said coldly and crisply and I was reminded that he was only seventeen. Sure, a ghost, but he was seventeen when he died.

“Just remembered that you asked, no ordered me to give it to you.” The sudden hardness of his voice shocked me and I shrank back.

“You want to know what I’m thinking? I think that you are a spoiled, selfish, shallow, little girl that has no idea what is going on in the world. And you don’t even care. You’re content to stay in your pretty little pond flashing your tail at the world as you don’t even try to understand humans and because you were lucky and were born to your mother you get to have legs.”

I gaped at him, slack jawed and bug eyed. The fear I had felt seconds before had completely disappeared. How could he say that? How dare he? But as I opened my mouth to retaliate he continued.

“Then you can’t accept that you’re NOT human and so you can’t walk. You don’t accept that this culture is completely different than anything you’ve seen before and some things just can’t be explained. No, you just keep eating your little seaweed and showering every five minutes so that you still spend more time in the water rather than out of it. You don’t even stand a chance, and you won’t let anyone help you. If I try to treat you like a friend you get mad and then if I treat you as a student you become angry and you are just are like a three-year-old in a seventeen-year-old body!”

He stopped, his chest heaving, to take a breath before diving in again.

“You don’t seem to realize how lucky you are. No, you just keep whining and complaining and wondering about the most obvious things in the world. And then when I laugh because it’s so ridiculous and funny to see life from a mermaid’s point of view you get all offended. You have the opportunity to be human and mermaid, and you can choose what you want. But you don’t even care about that. All you think about is how you’re better than everyone else is and so nobody should ever laugh at you. Well, you can’t pay me to stop laughing.”

Then without even pausing for breath he broke into maniacal, insane laughter.

“Don’t!” I screamed. My voice had momentarily disappeared, but I had finally found it again, and it tore out of me, scraping against my throat. “I don’t ever want to see you again.” I was wrong. He could hurt me more. He had. Terribly. I had to get out of here before I blew up and forgot that it was impossible to hurt a ghost. I am the daughter of a king. I am the daughter of a king. Which apparently means that I’m a spoiled, selfish . . . too late. I lashed back at him.

“STOP LAUGHING!” I screamed. I couldn’t seem to see or think clearly. “I didn’t ASK to be a princess. I didn’t ASK to get legs. It was what was expected of me. I HAD to do it. I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t stay with my father! How was I supposed to refuse and expect to stay? That’s all he ever wanted of me!”

Dimly I was aware that while Jack had spoken loudly he had been much more in control than I was. I was screaming so that my throat was already hoarse. “And you didn’t help at ALL! How was I supposed to know anything about humans? I’ve never had legs before; I’ve never even seen something remotely close to legs before. The only other culture I’ve been exposed to is that of the fish and fat load of good that did. My only link to humans was YOU, Jack, and Poseidon drown me if you’ve tried to help me at all.”

Jack looked disturbed. I don’t swear very often. Humans probably didn’t swear using the word drown. Normal mermaids didn’t swear at all in fact, it was deeply and morally wrong. Drown Jack for making me swear and lose my temper! I continued my tirade.

“You’ve known me for seventeen years! If my position in life made me terrible why in the ocean didn’t you correct it when I was three! I’ve spent every day with you since then. If anyone’s to blame for anything, it’s you! I don’t fit in with the merpeople because I’m their freaking princess and I’ve spent time with YOU. Water above, I’ve spent all of my spare time with the Giant Squid because I don’t fit in. My only hope was the human world, but my oh so wise teacher just told me that I’ll never make it there either. And is it MY fault that I hate it when people laugh at me? I’ve never had a real friend, and you’re just a ghost, you’re DEAD for Triton’s sake!”

I noticed with bitter satisfaction that Jack winced when I mentioned his death.

“I’m not normal. It’s a fact all right, go write it down in one of your fancy books! Your job was to teach me about humans, and you’ve done a terrible job. I feel like I haven’t learned anything; I’m absolutely clueless! More people will laugh at me and you know I HATE being laughed at! I hate it! I hate it all! Why can’t I just be like everyone else? Why in the ocean, NEPTUNE!” I screamed. I couldn’t find words enough to express my hate, my anger. I wanted to grab him and strangle him, that ghost! AH! Poseidon, Neptune, Triton, Water’s above and rocks below I wanted to kill him! How dare he? My breath rasped in and out of my throat, echoing loudly in the common room.

“Well, I guess my job’s done then.” Jack said. He turned away from me, but I saw the look on his face before he turned. Hurt. Betrayal. Anger. Regret. Sorrow.

I turned to go, hugging the walls, stumbling over my feet. The only sound that broke the silence was the shuffling of my feet and the popping of the ridiculous orange fire. I turned back one more time. I couldn’t go without having the last word.

“I hate you.” I told Jack as calmly as I could, although it came out like a half-strangled scream. “Good-bye.”

Then I left. I didn’t know where I was going or how I was going to get back, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was clinging to the wall trying to walk and I had told Jack that I hated him. Jack, my best friend, my only friend in this place. Jack. But he had . . . he had . . . I didn’t want to think about it again. I couldn’t get the look of shock and betrayal out of my head. It was his fault. His fault. He had asked for it, saying all those things, thinking all those thoughts, didn’t he know that I couldn’t stand for that? Neptune!

When my legs finally collapsed and I ran my fingers back through my hair in my usual gesture of frustration, catching my fingers in knots I didn’t know existed, I realized that I was crying. Tears, for the first time in my life, covered my face.

Interesting. I never knew mermaids could cry.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

A/n: Please let me know what you think and if anyone would like to make a chapter image for this chapter that might in some small way match the previous two I'd be ever so grateful!  Thanks!

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