Saturday, 2 April 1994
Slytherin Quidditch Lockers
It was a beautiful day for Quidditch: a dry, almost springy morning, with the slightest breeze out of the west, and just enough cloud-cover to prevent the sun from blinding the players. Practically perfect. Both teams were in top form, which kept the game exciting. Draco said nothing of their argument only days before, and Mary followed his lead. He and Lilian worked seamlessly with Flint to match the Gryffindor chasers goal for goal. The Firebolt had reacted to Mary's slightest shift like a dream, and she snagged the Snitch easily when it finally appeared, after two and a half hours of hard (but enjoyable) flying.
There was not the slightest hint of a dementor to be seen, and Mary even managed to pull off the play she and the Beaters had worked out against one of the red-headed menaces: she caught a bludger in her slip-stream, flying just fast enough that it couldn't catch her and far enough away from everyone else that she wouldn't accidentally shake it off, while Warbler stonewalled the other Weasley and Snark belted the second bludger straight at her target. Then all she had to do was rush him while he was distracted, dive around him and the second bludger at the very last second, and if the timing was perfect (which it was), the beater would take the one that was tailing her full-on. (He did see it coming, and barrel-rolled with the impact to avoid any broken bones, but she still counted it as a successful play, because she, the seeker, had managed to hit a beater with a bludger.) The crowd went wild and the Slytherins scored as Wood, who was the Gryffindors' keeper as well as their Captain, was distracted by what Mary, at least, considered to be History in the Making.
Now that they had proven the play successful, all they had to do was think of a good name for it.
She spiraled down to earth when Madam Hooch finally blew the whistle as a sullen Lee Jordan announced the final score ("Two-ninety, one-fifty to Slytherin, though I still don't think that move on their Seeker's part was entirely legal…"), absolutely sure that nothing could possibly ruin a day this good.
The girls let the boys have the first go at the showers, accepting the delighted praise of their year-mates and Mary's Minions, who had streamed out of the stands to congratulate them on their triumph. By the time the male half of the team was finished and back in their day-robes, most of the crowd had dispersed. Even Nora had disappeared, though Dave and Alex were still present, and seemed rather confused about where she had gone. They shrugged it off, however, to accompany the majority of the team up to the Castle while Mary and Lilian finally peeled off their sweaty uniforms and discussed the relative merits of a soak in the caldarium.
The Quidditch locker rooms were very nice, if far more old-fashioned than the bathrooms in the school. According to Hogwarts: A History, they were styled on Roman baths, with the frigidarium, the cold pool, replaced by unheated showers (which every Quidditch player learned how to apply a heating charm to at the earliest opportunity). The tepidarium tended to be rather cold as well, at the best of times, and Mary had never been tempted to just sit around in the hot tub by herself after a match. It wasn't exactly forbidden for reserves to use them as well, but in the words of Envy Seran, why get wet when you still had walk across the cold grounds if you didn't have to? Even with drying charms, a hot shower or a dip in the caldarium only made the air outside seem colder. (In all honesty, the only reason the team showered directly after matches was to give the stands time to clear out. After practice, they generally waited until they reached the Castle to change and wash up.)
Technically, one locker room was supposed to be used by the boys, and one by the girls, but when Gryffindor and Slytherin were playing against each other, common sense and convention dictated that each team used one. Ginny had told Mary and Lilian that the Gryffindor chasers, Katie Bell, Angelina Johnson, and Alicia Spinnet, just showered with their boys, but they were all older, and had nothing to be shy about. Even Lilian, bold as she was, wasn't entirely willing to strip in front of their male team-mates, and Sadie and Mary had long-since agreed that it was better to just wait. Mary, at least, thought that it was embarrassing enough sharing the open shower-room with another girl (she had had it to herself the year before, given that she was the only girl on the starting team), and Sadie liked to take her time washing her hair after a match.
On this occasion, though, it seemed Sadie was in a hurry. "You girls have fun," she winked, whisking her hair up in her towel and casting a drying charm on the lot (the best trick Mary had seen yet for preventing the infamous Drying Charm Frizz). "I have a fit Hufflepuff waiting for my triumphant return."
"Poor Blake will be so disappointed," Lilian murmured to Mary before turning to the fourth-year. "I think we should be telling you to have fun!"
Sadie winked. "I don't kiss and tell… but if you're looking for a good time, Jack Aston is always fun."
At that, both of the younger girls laughed aloud. "Don't let us keep you, then," Mary offered.
The keeper blew them kisses and they chorused farewells as she sauntered toward the lockers, wearing her towel as a turban, and nothing else. Mary sighed enviously, wondering if she would ever be able to pull off sauntering. Probably not.
"Come on," Lilian said, elbowing her gently in the arm. "Hot tub!"
"Should we grab our towels first, do you think?" Unlike Sadie, they had left them in their lockers, poor planning if ever Mary had seen it.
"Nah. Let's just make a run for it. Ready? Race you!"
Before Mary could respond, Lilian had already taken off, slipping and sliding across the wet, tiled floor of the shower room and into the dimly-lit bathing room. Unlike the shower room, which had light-globes like the ones in Ravenclaw Tower, the only source of light was a series of small window-vents, set high in the outside wall. The seeker followed more slowly, and entered the water more gracefully than her friend's cannonball leap.
Lilian surfaced hissing in pain.
"Are you okay?" Mary asked, only moderately concerned. The older girl seemed to be holding an ankle, rather than her head, so it couldn't be that bad.
She nodded. "This isn't nearly as deep as I thought," she muttered ruefully. "I banged up my knee up a little. It'll be fine." As though to reinforce the point, she settled onto the bench built around the edge of the pool and let her feet float out in front of her. "This is nice," she sighed.
Mary agreed. "Mmm… we really should do this more often. Think we could get Hermione to sneak in with us?"
"Maybe. Does she swim?"
"Dunno. I don't. Never learned. My cousin's friend almost drowned me once. But this is okay, since it's not too deep." She dipped her head back to let her hair drift on the hot water, and when she looked back up, Lilian rolled her eyes.
"So casual: My cousin's friend almost drowned me. My cousin broke my wrist. And oh, what was it… Cousin Crushing – I haven't forgotten that was a thing!"
Mary glared, and tried futilely to hide behind crossed arms, suddenly feeling even more naked than she had in the brighter, more open room. "Leave it alone, Lils."
The older girl raised both hands out of the water in a placating gesture. "Fine. Whatever. I'm just saying…"
"Don't. Unless you want to talk about why you still haven't talked to Aerin about Connor."
Now it was Lilian's turn to curl in upon herself, as though trying to hide with nowhere to go. "I'm going to. I am," she repeated, at Mary's disbelieving snort. She sounded exhausted, and looked it in this light, far more than she did when they were outside surrounded by distractions and other people.
"Are you all right?" the younger girl asked hesitantly.
Lilian opened her mouth as though she was considering lying, but then shook her head. "I can't sleep. I can't eat. I keep remembering… I wish we had never gone in that fucking room."
"Oh, Lilian," Mary sighed, squeezing her hand and ignoring the wave of awkwardness when her best friend pulled her into a hug, completely disregarding their lack of clothing.
"I know I have to tell her," Lilian muttered, burying her face in Mary's dripping hair. "I know we have to talk to our parents about it. I just – it's going to be so much worse. It's going to get so much worse before it gets better." She broke down in real tears then, for the first time Mary could recall seeing, her whole body shaking as she sobbed.
Mary had no idea what to do. If this wasn't the most horribly uncomfortable situation she had ever been in, she didn't know what was. It definitely beat Ginny's breakdown – at least then she had had clothes on. She settled, after a too-long moment of indecision, for rubbing her friend's back and making shushing noises.
"It will be better, though," she offered softly, but it didn't seem to make any difference.
If anything, Lilian cried harder. "I don't th-think I c-can do it," she gasped thickly, through the tears.
"You can. I know you can," Mary reassured her.
Finally she pulled herself together enough to sit back and wash the tears from her face. "M'sorry," she mumbled. "I – crying all over you…"
The smaller girl shrugged. "'s okay." Honestly, what else was she going to say?
Lilian squeezed her hand back, and gave her a grateful smile. "Ready to get out and face the crowd?"
Mary nodded. "But I'm not racing you this time," she joked weakly as they clambered out of the pool.
"I don't think my leg is up for that anyway," the taller girl admitted, inspecting her right shin, which was not just 'banged up a little' but scraped badly enough that it had to have been bleeding, and mottled with bruises. Mary winced in sympathy, realizing that she must have hit the edge of the bench on the other side of the pool when she leapt in.
"You're going to Madam Pomfrey with that, right?"
The older girl sighed. "I probably should… but I don't like to miss the party."
"Don't be stupid. There will be Pumpkin Pasties and butterbeer left when you get back."
"Ooh, maybe you're right. It hurts more the longer it's out of the water," Lilian muttered, opening her locker to fetch out her towel.
"You think?" Mary asked sarcastically, unlatching her own.
"Do you know a spell to stop bleeding?" the brassy blonde asked. "I don't want to get it on my underclothes."
The younger girl turned to look at her, absentmindedly reaching for her own towel as she examined the wound again. "What if we – gah!"
"What?" Lilian looked up from poking at her leg and immediately shouted, "Liz!"
Mary said nothing in response, because she was busy being strangled by an innocent-looking stretch of white terrycloth. It had somehow– she had no idea how – become animated and was doing its best python impression with her neck and arms as its prey. The only thought that made it through the panic and flashback images of Tom Riddle standing before her as the Basilisk crushed the life out of her was that a towel shouldn't be this strong! She fought against it with all her strength, and only just managed to free her arms – she could barely work a finger under the coil crushing her neck.
Lilian leapt forward to help, her fingers scrabbling against Mary's strangely numb face as the world began to go fuzzy around the edges and she collapsed to her knees dizzy and light-headed.
Then she disappeared with a shriek which cut off abruptly.
Mary managed to work a second finger between the cloth and her skin, gaining enough space to breathe, until the free end of the towel threw itself at her face, attempting, apparently, to smother her.
It was far less competent at that than strangling, though it did manage to blind her as she fought to see what had happened to Lilian. She could hear her friend stumbling and falling, and then something latched onto her leg, wrapping around her and working its way up her torso, constricting even more tightly than the bloody corset Catherine had bought for her, crushing the air out of her lungs.
Her breathing became shallow and she felt as though she was on the verge of fainting – and very probably dying shortly thereafter – when a familiar voice snapped, "Terminus!"
Nothing happened, which Pansy – Mary was sure that was Pansy, though she had no idea what she was doing there – seemed to realize as well, because she moved on to "Finite!" and when that didn't work, "Rawestan! Xepagiazo!" Still, nothing happened, though Mary could see flashes of spell-light through the porous cloth.
"Atstumt!" a second, much softer voice said firmly, and the towel was yanked away from Mary's face, enough to see a very determined-looking Millicent pointing her wand at her. She tried again: "Transvecto!"
The pressure around Mary's neck lessened with a painful jerk as Pansy began repeating the latter spell, which seemed to be the most effective.
Lilian, somehow, had also become caught up in the spell, Mary noticed, grappling with the robes still trying to crush her ribs and now making a move toward her face. She looked even worse off than Mary felt – apparently she had stumbled into her open locker, because she was nearly cocooned under writhing strips of cloth. Mary could see panicked eyes rolling between the legs of the bloomers wrapped around her head.
"Transvecto!" Pansy snapped off again, and the robes Mary was fighting suddenly pulled away from her to join the towel in thrashing in midair. She heaved in a great breath, which she released in an involuntary whine at the stab of pain from her right side – it felt as though she had cracked another rib. Pressing a hand to the injured spot, she wriggled away from the suspended, murderous fabric, seeking her wand, which was in her locker. She was somewhat leery of touching any of her other clothing to get to it, but she could hardly afford to hesitate.
Millicent was chanting, now, "Laxare, laxare, laxare," loosening the cloth coiled around Lilian's head and neck, stretching it all out of shape as it was pulled away from her, and then, before Mary could do anything to help, Pansy braced herself against the doorframe and shouted, "Lilian arranco!"
The blonde slid free of the misshapen pile of cloth, pulled across the tile and under the bench to lie at her feet, panting heavily.
"Burn it," she croaked, as the others looked at each other and the still-moving clothing and towels, at a loss as to what to do with them.
Mary though that sounded like a good idea. They could worry about how to get their naked selves back up to the castle when they finished worrying about their clothes trying to kill them. She cast an Immolation Hex at her robes, sustaining it to ensure that they would be entirely consumed. Pansy did the same for the mass of cloth Millicent was apparently still holding at bay.
When the cloth was nothing but ash, they edged forward warily to examine the remains.
On top of the pile of ash that had been Mary's towel – the first one to go rogue – was a twisted scrap of tarnished metal. She poked at it with the tip of her wand, drawing a spark.
"Is that a cantrip?" Pansy asked, surprise evident in her tone.
"I… think so?" Mary agreed hoarsely, with some reservation. The only other cantrips – disposable, single-use enchantments – she had seen were the crackers at the Christmas feast, and the home-made ones the Weasleys had given her for her birthday, and none of them were metal. Normally they had to be broken to activate the enchantment.
"What happened?" Millicent asked, shrugging off her robe and offering it to Lilian, who took it gratefully.
Pansy did the same for Mary, who tried to explain. "Uh, thanks. I don't – I think it tried to attack me as soon as I touched it. My towel," she clarified.
"Spread," Lilian ground out, her throat clearly more damaged than Mary's by the attack. "Cloth to cloth."
"Ugh, stop talking, Lilian, you're making my throat hurt just listening to you," Pansy ordered her.
Lilian glared, but obliged.
"We owe you," Mary said as the stuck-up Slytherin carefully levitated the (hopefully) spent cantrip. Apparently she was not about to take any chances with it accidentally touching anything else, a plan of which Mary wholeheartedly approved.
Lilian nodded her agreement, then stumbled sideways into Millicent. The larger girl caught her despite her surprise. "Did you hit your head?" she asked.
The blonde shrugged and carefully retrieved her own wand from her locker, clutching it like a lifeline.
"We'll walk you to the Hospital Wing," Pansy declared.
Mary couldn't see any reason to object. She certainly wasn't in any condition to help if Lilian suddenly fainted on her or something, and in any case, it would be weird to just walk off with Pansy's robes. "What were you two doing, anyway?" she asked as they made their way at Lilian's limping pace toward the door and the castle.
Pansy rolled her eyes. "It was the weirdest thing – I must have dropped my wand. I could have sworn I had it when we went into the stands, but it wasn't in my pocket when the match ended, and when Millie finally got a trace on it, it turned out it was on the path over there," she waved negligently off to their left. "We heard you scream," she added unnecessarily, looking between the two victims curiously.
Mary pointed at Lilian. "I didn't even have a chance to scream."
"Well, it's lucky you did," Pansy told Lilian, only faintly condescendingly.
"Lucky you heard her," Mary replied gratefully.
The conversation subsided then until they reached Madam Pomfrey's domain, where Pansy took it upon herself to recount their story before excusing herself and Millicent (doubtless to do the same in the Slytherin dorms).
The Mediwitch dealt with the two students' injuries with startling efficiency – even Mary's cracked rib was healed in a matter of minutes. She still confined them to a pair of beds, however, while she summoned their Head of House through the Floo.
"Now just you wait here," she said shortly, even more irritable than usual, it seemed, because Lilian had waited to come to her with her injured leg. "I don't want you out of those beds until Professor Snape arrives to speak with you!"
She clearly intended to continue lecturing them, but she was interrupted by a soft rap on the door and a trio of familiar Gryffindor faces.
"Madam Pomfrey?" Alicia Spinnet said, edging into the room, followed closely by her fellow chasers. "We were hoping we could –"
"See Mr. Wood?" the matron sighed. "Of course you were! Didn't the Weasley boys tell you he's been sedated? He won't be conscious for a good six to eight hours!"
"All the same," Katie Bell said, stepping forward stubbornly, "We'd still like to see him. And it's still visiting hours, isn't it?"
The mediwitch huffed. "Well, if you must!" She flicked her wand toward a curtained bed, revealing the unconscious face of the Gryffindor captain. "But mind you don't disturb the other patients!" The girls huddled around their fallen leader – what had happened to him, anyway? Mary wondered – and Madam Pomfrey turned back to the Slytherins with a slightly harried frown. "What was I saying?"
"Stay in bed until Professor Snape gets here?" Lilian hazarded.
"Yes, well, mind you do! Would you like the curtains up?" she asked, glancing over at the Gryffindors.
They weren't being very loud, and it wasn't as though either Mary or Lilian actually needed to relax and recover. Mary glanced over to see the other girl rolling her eyes. "No, I think we'll be okay," she said, somewhat amused.
The matron huffed again. "Well, just… wait here. And I'll take this," she said, swiping the used cantrip off Lilian's bedside table with a conjured handkerchief and flicking a sterilizing charm at the newly cleared surface as she bustled away.
They lay in silence until they were certain she was gone, at which point Mary sat up, crossing her legs and turning to face Lilian. She nabbed her wand from her own table and cast Snape's anti-eavesdropping charm over the two of them.
"So who do you think did it?" she asked calmly.
Lilian rubbed her eyes with one hand, the other still clutching her wand. She had refused to set it down since they had arrived, and given how utterly helpless she had been in the locker room, Mary really couldn't blame her. "I don't know. Who wants to kill you now?"
"What? Why me?"
The other Slytherin just gave her a flat look. "You're Mary Potter."
"Well, yeah, but I haven't done anything to anyone lately!"
"It started with your towel," Lilian reminded her. "It didn't spread to my stuff until I touched you."
Mary sighed. "Well, fine, maybe I was the target, but…"
"It's just… I really don't think Sirius Black is after me."
"Well, no, I think everyone agrees with you on that."
"And the last two years, it was the Dark Lord trying to kill me and then attacking everyone, and I think if it was him he wouldn't have waited until now to try something."
Lilian hesitated, but after a moment, she nodded. "Probably not."
"And Remus is the Defense Professor, and it definitely wasn't him."
The older Slytherin snorted before agreeing, "Yeah, he's the least-threatening werewolf ever."
Mary darted a glance at the Gryffindors, who were watching them curiously, but didn't seem to have understood. "Don't say that aloud!" she hissed anyway. Lilian shrugged unrepentantly. "Anyway, if it's not Sirius Black or the Dark Lord or the Defense Professor, I have no idea who would be trying to kill me! I mean, no one knows about the thing second year, or the thing we did, and –"
"And you don't think anyone would try to kill you just for being the Heir of Slytherin, or the Girl Who Lived, or, for fuck's sake, Lady bloody Potter?"
"Heir Ascendant," Mary corrected her automatically.
"Whatever." Lilian rolled her eyes as though Mary was being deliberately obtuse. "The point is, there are loads of people who have reasons to hate you."
The younger girl grimaced. She knew that. Snape had gone out of his way to remind her of it not too long ago. "But most of them aren't in the school, are they?" she asked rhetorically.
"What about Bletchley?"
Mary considered this for a moment, but then decided, "No, I don't think she would try anything, not after the duel. Didn't you tell me she almost got kicked out?"
"Yeah, well –"
"Who almost got kicked out?" Bell interrupted from across the ward.
Mary felt herself flush, even as she watched Lilian go pink. Forgetting to renew the anti-eavesdropping charm was a terribly amateur mistake.
"None of your business," Lilian told her.
Mary quickly changed the subject: "What happened to Wood?"
The Gryffindor girls glared at her. "Not that it's any of your business," Angelina Johnson said, sneering at Lilian, "but he tried to drown himself in the showers after your little performance out there."
"He did what?" Mary gaped at her.
"You heard me," Johnson said, her tone almost accusing.
Spinnet nodded. "Said there's no way Gryffindor will get the Cup, now, and his chances of getting scouted as a Hogwarts Captain who never won a single Cup are basically nil, so his life is practically over anyway."
"I told you all he's been working too hard," Bell insisted. "But you never listen to me."
"Well what do you want, Katie? He has to do his NEWTs, and Quidditch is his life! The rest of us have OWLs this year! What did you want us to do about him?"
"I don't know, Angie, but it shouldn't have gotten to – we shouldn't have let it get to this," Bell snapped, waving at their prone captain, sedated in his bed.
"Angie's right, Kate," Spinnet said. "If you were that concerned, why didn't you tell McGonagall instead of just whining to us, when you knew there was nothing we could do that you couldn't? Why didn't you tell the twins?"
Katie scoffed. "What makes you think I didn't? They didn't believe me any more than you did, but they thought it was just me having a crush on Oliver. Went on for three hours about him being too old for me and calling me 'wee kitty Katie' and didn't even talk to him about it, the sods!"
Mary couldn't help interrupting at that point. "Well what did you expect, honestly?"
"Shut up, snake!" Johnson snapped. "This never would have happened if you hadn't –"
Spinnet silenced her friend, though Mary still recoiled as though slapped. "If I hadn't?" she muttered, even as a horrifying though occurred to her.
"That's not fair, Ange, and you know it," Spinnet said, clearly trying to keep the peace between them.
"Yeah, Johnson, it's just a game," Lilian drawled, glaring at the older Gryffindors.
Spinnet clearly didn't take kindly to her interruption, glaring back and opening her mouth as though to retaliate – apparently only she was allowed to tell her friends to belt up, Mary thought sardonically. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the Slytherins never learned what she was about to say, because it was at that point that Snape intervened, stalking down the ward from Madam Pomfrey's office, his robes billowing dramatically.
He assessed the scene in a single glance, then said, sneering (of course) at the Gryffindors, "What are you three doing here?"
"We were just visiting Oliver, sir," Spinnet said, her voice carefully even.
Snape raised an eyebrow, looking from the bed-bound boy to the three irate girls. "He doesn't seem to be appreciating your company."
"Ah… we were just leaving, sir," Bell said firmly, dragging on Spinnet's arm and shoving at Johnson with a nearly-inaudible "Come on, bitch, before he starts taking points!"
The professor began casting anti-eavesdropping spells before they had even left the ward. The door closed behind them with an audible thud, and there was a beat of silence before he said, with an intimidating lack of inflection: "Explain."
He glowered at them as they repeated the story (again), then pulled a familiar conjured handkerchief from his pocket and turned to inspecting the artifact within, casting a bevy of charms upon it.
As he did so, she related her thought to Lilian: "What if they weren't trying to kill me?"
"What if whoever did… this, wasn't trying to kill me? What if they just wanted to like, scare us or something?"
Lilian frowned. "Don't you think it was a little overkill for someone just trying to scare us?"
Mary could definitely think of someone – or rather, a pair of someones – who had a habit of going too far with their 'pranks' and a history of using cantrips, but before she could make her accusation aloud, Snape declared, in the very short tone which meant he was highly irritated: "I might have been able to find the manufacturer if this cantrip were intact, but the fire has destroyed any lingering traces of the maker's magical signature." He glared at the twisted bit of metal, still glowing with purple light from one of his detection spells.
"Sorry, sir," Lilian muttered, taking responsibility for her idea.
He scowled. "Given the sophistication of the enchantment you described, specifically the element that allowed the curse to spread from one garment to the next, it is in any case probable that the maker and the perpetrator are not one and the same."
"So you don't think anyone at Hogwarts could have made it?" Mary asked.
Snape hesitated. "It… is possible. I suspect this would require a post-NEWT level enchanting, but it is impossible to determine given the damage – the traces of the exact curse-mechanism used to animate the material are so vague as to be entirely uninterpretable."
"So it could be a Hogwarts student, if they're very good at enchanting?"
"It is far more likely that whoever placed the cantrip acquired it from an off-campus source," Snape said, with a quelling glare.
"Like someone bought it at Knockturn, or had an older brother or sister make it and send it to them?" Lilian suggested.
Snape nodded slowly, still watching Mary closely. "Do you have some idea who might have done this, Miss Potter?" he asked suspiciously.
She shook her head. She did – the conversation with the Gryffindors had suggested a motive: revenge for Wood's attempted suicide – but she thought it would be a good idea to determine the Weasleys' skill as enchanters before she mentioned anything to Snape. They were, after all, only fifth-years. He might not take her seriously if she didn't at least have some proof that they were capable of the necessary magic.
Snape seemed to accept this, at least for the moment. "Miss Moon?" he asked.
"No, but we'll let you know if we figure it out," she said, with a hint of steel in her tone that Mary had never heard before. She looked to her friend in surprise.
Snape hmm'd, then said, very drily, "Very well, then. You are free to go. I believe there is a celebration going on in the usual place."
Lilian giggled. "You're not supposed to know about that, Professor!"
The professor rolled his eyes. "As though I haven't taught you all everything you know about sneaking around," he snarked, with a hint of amusement.
As they watched him billow back down the ward, Lilian asked, "What do you think he meant, telling us that?"
"Probably six different things, and we'll never guess half of them," Mary decided after a moment. "Come on, let's get to the party before Madam P comes back and we're stuck here all night!"
Monday, 4 April 1994
Determining the Weasleys' skill as enchanters was, as Mary quickly discovered, rather easy. All she had to do was strike up a conversation with Hermione about the watch they had given her for Christmas, and all the sort of spells they must have used to make it function. Hermione was all too pleased to tell her about the various charms that had been integrated into it – time divinations like tempus to determine the 'local' time regardless of where she was in her time-turned day and tuning charms to automatically reset the display time whenever she went back.
Unfortunately, the most difficult part of it all, according to Hermione, was the 'ping' they had set up to check that the local time and the display time were in sync every three seconds. This was unfortunate because while such automated query spells seemed like they should be a highly advanced enchanting concept, it was really only post-OWL level in complexity. The watch couldn't possibly count as proof that the twins could manage the NEWT or post-NEWT animation the robe attack would have required.
This did not, of course, quell her suspicions.
"So what's the most advanced enchanting project you've ever seen them work on?" Mary asked, frustration overwhelming any inclinations she might have toward subtlety. It was Monday afternoon, and the girls were awaiting the dismissal of the charms class before their own.
Hermione hesitated. "Well, we're working on one thing that's really quite difficult, but we're really only trying to reproduce an artefact, so it's not terribly original or advanced in and of itself. Honestly, the boys aren't so interested in enchanting. I mean, I'll be really disappointed in them if they don't get O's on their Runes OWLs, but they tend to think of enchanting as more their brother Bill's wheelhouse. Most of what they've experimented with on their own is potions.
"But anyway, why the sudden interest in the Twins? Are you considering making it up with them or something?"
"Well, um…" Mary stuttered. "It's just – they're your friends, and I thought I should, I dunno… get to know more about them?"
Lilian scoffed. "She thinks the Twins were the ones behind the attack in the showers."
"Hey!" Mary pinched her arm, glaring her displeasure, even as Hermione gasped, her face assuming an expression somewhere between pain and anger.
"Lizzie – they would never! I can't believe you think I'd – that they'd – honestly!"
The green-eyed Slytherin groaned. "Look, it's not that I think they'd try to kill us on purpose, but even you have to admit that they can get carried away with their pranks, and with Wood…"
Hermione glared at her. "They didn't do it, okay? End of story."
"No!" Mary objected. "It's not okay, and it's not the end of the story! Even if they didn't make the cantrip themselves, they could have asked Bill for it, and –"
"And that wouldn't work out with your supposed timeline at all, and you know it! Nevermind that Bill would never give them something like that in the first place! How would you even try to make something like that sound like an innocent request, anyway? 'We just need this spell to turn every bit of cloth it touches into a murderous strangler vine, because…?' And it takes time to make a cantrip! Even if they did work out how to do it for themselves, it would take longer than the hour and a bit between the end of the match and the attack. It wasn't them!"
"They could have –" Mary began, but Lilian cut her off.
"She's right, Liz. It doesn't work with the timeline."
"They could've already had it ready for something else, and then just decided to use it when they found out about Wood."
"No, Liz. I talked to Lestrange and Wilkes this morning – they said the Twins were the ones who found Wood and brought him to Pomfrey. They didn't have time to get back to the pitch before we were attacked. Give it up." Lilian sounded as though she was caught between resignation and triumph: she had been saying from the beginning that it wasn't just a prank, but it would have been so much more reassuring if it had been.
"But…" Mary trailed off, even as Hermione said, emphatically, "Thank you, Lilian."
"Why didn't you say something earlier?" Mary demanded.
"I could hardly get a word in edgewise, could I?" Lilian snapped, causing Mary to look at her closely for the first time since breakfast. The tired circles which she had then attributed to the early hour only looked more pronounced, and even as she watched, the brassy blonde yawned broadly, covering her mouth with the sleeve of her robe.
"Another rough night?" she asked sympathetically. Hermione raised a questioning eyebrow. "Lils hasn't been sleeping well lately."
Hermione's features took on a concerned cast, her earlier anger apparently forgotten, or else set aside in the face of Lilian's problems, which were so much bigger than her best friend being paranoid about overzealous pranksters. "Is it about… Connor?"
Lilian glared at the pair of them. "Leave it alone. I'm fine. Come on, the door's open."
The fourth-year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs were indeed beginning to filter out of Flitwick's classroom, so they couldn't reasonably stop Lilian walking away, but Mary was more certain than ever that her best friend was not fine.
Not at all.
Saturday, 9 April 1994
Remus Lupin's Office
She should have expected it, she declared, desperately pacing around the small open space between his desk and the tea table.
It was half past two on a Saturday afternoon when his one-time best friend's daughter burst into his office with the most cursory by-your-leave and began to explain – so vaguely that, if Remus hadn't already heard the story from the staff room grapevine, he wouldn't have understood a bit of it – that her best friend had had completely broken down the day before, and Mary had no idea what to do about it.
So far as he had gathered, the Moon girl had discovered at some point earlier in the year that she and her sister were involved in their younger brother's tragic – but entirely accidental – death, several years before the girls were to start school. The children, of course, had been obliviated of the event, at the request of their parents, but Miss Lilian had apparently managed to break the obliviation block somehow, and was now attempting to force her sister to do the same.
Poppy had explained that much, in an attempt to solicit the professors' assistance in suppressing the rumors which had exploded following the incident in the Ravenclaw common room, most of which involved Miss Lilian completely losing her mind, or the Moon girls murdering their brother with malice aforethought, or, in one very confused case, attempting to murder their older brother – the one who was now a Slytherin prefect. In that story, Miss Lilian's broken, emotional attempt to make her sister understand the situation was misinterpreted as her being afraid of some long-awaited retribution on the part of Prefect Moon.
Those self-same rumors, though they differed vastly in their interpretation of the facts at hand, were very clear on the fact that the younger Moon girl had entered the tower to confront her sister early Friday evening. According to Mary, she and Hermione had been encouraging Lilian to tell Aerin about their role in their brother's death (or rather 'what she – they – had to do with all the – what their part in this tragedy that completely destroyed their family was') for some time. That seemed to be a significant factor in Mary's guilt over the whole affair.
Finally, after months of attempted intervention, Lilian had finally agreed to reveal the secret to her sister, despite her misgivings. She had dragged Mary along for morale, though Mary, according to her own story, had simply frozen, unable to think of anything to say when the Moon girls' relationship began crumbling before her very eyes.
"She didn't believe her, Remus!" she had despaired. "She just – she accused Lilian of lying – of making it all up for some – some horrible reason, apparently – she didn't say why. Couldn't, I guess, since, I mean – I don't know what she could have been thinking – Lilian was telling the truth, I know she was! And I just – I didn't know what to do! And Lils – she just lost it. She started crying, right there in the common room, accidental magic making like, this mini-cyclone in the middle of the Tower, and she wouldn't let me touch her, or help her down to the Hospital wing, and Aerin was terrified. If Hermione hadn't gone to get Madam Pomfrey, I don't know what would have happened. And now Madam Pomfrey won't even let me talk to her, and Aerin's friends won't let me see her. Sean said they called their parents, which is bound to make things even worse – I mean, it was their idea in the first place, and I've met them, and it's so, so clear that they don't even like Lilian or Aerin, or even care about them at all, and I just – I don't know what to do, Remus!"
She looked to him desperately, obviously hoping that he could give her some nugget of adult wisdom which would make everything suddenly clearer, and in that moment, Remus Lupin had known for certain that he was a terrible person. Even though he didn't know what to do either – hardly had the faintest idea what to tell her, and even less whether it was a good idea even to make a suggestion – even though he knew that this was a terrible, horrifying time for both Lilian and Aerin Moon, and it was damn-near criminal to find any joy or pleasure in the bloody awful situation, he couldn't help but feel a certain sense of delight that she had come to him for help.
Remus had never had a child – he was certain of that. He had wanted children, once, but the realization of the stigma a werewolf father would bring down on them had put an end to that dream early on, and on the rare occasion he found himself in a situation that could lead to potential offspring, he was very, very careful to ensure it wouldn't happen. He had always relished the role he played in each of his students' lives, both here at Hogwarts and as a travelling tutor in the Americas, certain that teaching was as close as he would ever get to fatherhood, but this – a confused teenage girl who, in another world, might have grown up calling him 'uncle,' coming to him with her problems, looking to him for advice – this was closer.
And thanks to Severus and his continued covert attempts to make Remus regret the follies of his youth – sending Neville Longbottom to him to talk about the Room of Doom had been a stroke of demented genius, Remus would admit, dredging up long-forgotten horrors and guilt – he had even had a bit of practice recently with the whole 'difficult student conversations' bit. He was still feeling it out as he went, but he felt confident enough to at least try to rise to the challenge.
"Mary, please, sit."
He had ordered tea nearly twenty minutes before, left it sitting neglected as he let Mary rant on about the problem. She flopped gracelessly into a chair, staring broodingly at him as he poured her a cup. "Well?"
"Well?" he repeated.
"What do I do, Remus?"
He sighed heavily. "There's nothing you can do, Mary. Not now, especially if you can't speak to them," he added, speaking over her unborn objection. Then inspiration struck. "Look, have I ever told you about the time Peter and I got into a massive fight over his mum?"
"What? No – but I don't see –"
She took a deep breath, obviously controlling her impulse to interrupt with effort.
Remus gave her his most reassuring smile. "It'll make sense, I promise. Now, this was back in sixth year. I had been telling people for years that my mum was ill – it was my excuse to leave the grounds on the full moon perhaps three months in five, that she'd taken poorly and I was desperately needed at home. Most of the Gryffindors, by that point, had become so accustomed to my frequent absences that they were hardly questioned, but on the day of the fight, one of the underclassmen, some snotty fourth-year girl, was going on at me in the library about how I was so unreliable, always disappearing when she needed help with her Muggle Studies homework. I had told all of the underclassmen that I would be around if they ever had questions on anything, even though I had resigned my position as a prefect after that first year, you see."
"Remus," Mary glared, pouting at her untouched tea. "What does this have to do with anything?"
"We'll get there. See, that was the point that your mum took it upon herself to explain to this kid that my mum was practically dying, and I was often called home to see to her, and why didn't the brat explain her question and Lily would answer it, because she was, in fact, muggleborn, and therefore knew far more about muggles than I did, anyway, and we could stop disturbing everyone else in the library before we got chucked out.
"And for a few hours, everything was fine. Until that girl came up to us at dinner – I always ate with your dad and Peter and Black – anyway, she apologized for acting like an entitled little swot, because she hadn't known about my mum. And Peter…
"The thing about Peter was, he would never say a bad word against his friends. Never started a fight. He hated being at odds with any of us, and went out of his way to make the Marauders work as a group, even when it meant he had to constantly put up with being compared to your dad and Black and found wanting, and constantly being the butt of their jokes.
"Peter's mum actually was desperately ill, all through our Hogwarts years. She had a degenerative disease which slowly made her lose control of her magic. Pete's dad died in one of her episodes, and she lived in a secure ward at St. Mungo's after that. She squibbed out not long after we graduated and they finally let her move to the muggle world, but sixth year was… almost the height of her illness. It was incredibly crass of us – of me – to fake a mortal illness on my mother's part, to treat it like a joke, or an excuse, when hardly anyone even knew about Mrs. Pettigrew. It would have been suspicious, you see, for the both of us to have deathly ill mothers, and Pete never got leave to go visit his mum, even though I supposedly did all the time. On the one hand, it was only an excuse, but on the other… It was unforgivably cruel, to continuously rub his face in the fact of his mother's illness, which he suffered so silently that even we, his closest friends, often completely forgot about it.
"That day, Pete apparently couldn't take it anymore. He grew cold and withdrawn as soon as the girl mentioned my mother's fictional illness, and hardly said a word until we were all back in the commons. It was nearly midnight – almost everyone had gone. It was just me, him, and your father, camped out around the fire, and your dad said something about my furry little problem, and Pete just exploded, going off about everyone always being so concerned about me and my mum when she was just fine, when his mum was actually dying, and none of us even gave a shite. None of us ever asked how she was, or whether there was anything we could do to make it easier for him, and he never even got to visit her.
"There was nothing I could say to make it better, though that didn't stop me trying, insisting that it wasn't my fault, I hadn't known him when I first started using that excuse, and what else was I supposed to do at this point? …But really there was no excuse for my insensitivity. I was a self-centered little berk, and I wish now that we had been better friends to him, because, well… you know.
"Of course, I know that now. Back then, I was defensive. I got angry. After all, it seemed to me he was practically saying that I should just let everyone know I was a werewolf, rather than make him feel bad about his mum, whose illness I had no control over or impact on. We had the worst fight we'd ever had in the Marauders, well… barring one other… but that's not important. Pete refused to talk to me and James for nearly a month. I avoided him like the plague. It was miserable."
"No offense, Remus, but I don't get it. What does this have to do with me and Lilian?"
Remus sighed. "Well, in this situation, you're James. Lilian is Pete, and Aerin is me. See, while Pete and I were shouting at each other, James just sat there, completely dumbfounded. He didn't know what to say or do – I doubt he had ever considered the possibility that Pete and I would ever get into a fight, and certainly not about this. I had never considered it, and I was by far the most likely to consider everything that could possibly go wrong with any given excuse or interaction, overthinking everything and living in mortal fear of giving away the secret."
"Well, what did he do, then? How did he fix it?"
"What?! Then how – why are you even telling me this?" The girl sulked, crossing her arms and slouching in her chair.
"Mary, there is a point, I promise. James didn't fix it. He couldn't. What he did do was tell one of our other friends about it. Marlene. She and Jamie were close – best friends before Hogwarts, almost like the sister he never had. I wasn't there, obviously, but I can just imagine her scoffing at him, saying 'You boys, you're so emotionally incompetent,' and rolling her eyes before promising to talk to us. Which she did. Eventually. She waited a few days first, let us calm down. I think she talked to Pete first, to figure out his side of the story, because by the time she got to me, she was more than ready to make me see exactly how we'd hurt him. She cut through all my dragonshite defensiveness and by the time she was done with me I was ready to admit how guilty I felt and apologize. She told me that it wasn't the right time, yet, that Pete wasn't ready to hear it, but I didn't listen. I went that day and tried to tell him I was sorry and I'd stop using that excuse, but he wouldn't talk to me. Went into his animagus form and scurried away. I looked for him for ages, but when he didn't want to be found, he wouldn't be. I had to wait until he was ready, too, before we could make it up."
The professor gave the third-year a hopeful smile. She seemed to be getting it. She had perked up slightly and was nodding along, at least. "So… does that mean you'll talk to Lilian and Aerin for me?"
Ah… apparently not. "What?"
"Well," the girl muttered, playing absentmindedly with a lock of her own hair. "If I'm James, and I'm talking to you about it, doesn't that make you Marlene? The one who fixes things?"
Remus snorted slightly. Marley would have loved that title, if she had made it through the war: 'Marlene McKinnon, Fixer of Things.' Gods and powers, how long had it been since he'd thought of her, anyway? But he was getting distracted.
"No. Unlike the three of us, you weren't alone – half of Ravenclaw tower witnessed Lilian's little meltdown. Someone else will be your Marlene. Probably someone who knows both Lilian and Aerin better than you do."
"But I'm Lilian's best – oh, wait, you mean Sean?"
He smirked slightly. "He'd be my guess. My point was, you aren't really a part of this fight. It's not your job to fix it. And even if it was, the best thing you could do right now is… take some time. Let them take some time, calm down, and then try to get to the root of the problem and resolve it."
"But I – I want to do something right now. I want to make it better."
"Some things take time. That's all I can tell you, Mary. If they come to you, listen to them, be supportive, but if they don't, you have to give them their space. No matter how close you and Lilian are, or how much you influenced her decision to tell Aerin the truth, it's still not your fight or your problem to solve."
The girl's shoulders slumped in defeat. She finally picked up her teacup, sighing and sipping desolately at the tepid contents. "You're probably right. Thanks Remus." She sighed again. "I just hate seeing them all… suffering. And there's nothing I can do."
Remus felt he was owed a turn to sigh as well. "That's life, kid. Sometimes it's no fun at all, but… that's life."
What's this? An update? Sorry guys, I know it's been... ages since the last one. (Shit, nine months? Really? Um. Sorry. Again.) Hopefully the next one won't take quite that long. Should be less angsty and more focus on side plots that haven't gotten much screen time lately. And by lately I mean in the last year or more. (Excuses include: moving, new job, girlfriend moving in, moving again, work being absurdly busy, generally being distracted by plot bunnies when I do have time, energy and motivation to write...)