Chapter 3 – The Balcony

Bridget was smuggled back into Slytherin House and put back to bed, both spells taken off her unconscious form.

Sev continued with his studies while Martis sat up with Bridget, looking after the redhead.

The door knocked and Miss Price entered, carrying a tray. "How's the dear?"

"Still out of it," Martis answered. She brushed her long ash-blonde hair over her shoulder and leaned her head back against the wall. "I feel responsible."

"Well, you aren't." Miss Price put the tray down on Martis' bed. "If anything, you saved her life by your initial silliness."

Martis looked up at her House Mother. "What the point of being proud of that when the person wants to kill themself?" She pointed to the nearly- empty bottle near her feet. "Cows require four stomachs to be able to digest the raw stuff. And considering how alcohol is made, I'm surprised there's anything left of a human's digestive tract after drinking that crap. I don't know why Wizards think they're the exception to alcohol poisoning."

"I understand it little, myself," Miss Price admitted. "The only hard thing I ever drank was the eggnog around Christmas." She gently stroked Martis' hair. "You're still not responsible for how she conducts her life."

"Probably not. But it's the only decent thing to do."

The House Mother nodded and turned to leave. "I've brought up some food for you. There's broth there for Miss O'Shanahan when she wakes up. Give her water if she wants anything to drink."

"Yes, ma'am."

The door closed, and Martis stared into the moonlit darkness for a while. An idea occurred to her.

Well, perhaps not the best idea, but it would work for the time being. Keep the stuff out of the dorm room and let Kells recover for a few days without any of that stuff in her system.

Martis got up and began rummaging through Bridget's Celtic knotwork-carved footlocker, dresser, bed stand, under her bed, under her pillows. Then finally the rest of the nooks and crannies of their dorm room.

Martis found exactly forty-six bottles of alcohol, all of them unlabeled, and all of them smelling foul. Most of them were poteen while a select few were different types of whiskey.

She gathered up the bottles in her cloak, thinking about the stories Bridget told about the poteen. Bridget once claimed that when her father brought the Christmas pudding to the table, he splashed it with a bit of poteen and lit it up like he would with traditional brandy and pudding - the flames touched the rafters of their thatched cottage.

"And she drank this stuff?" Martis wondered aloud as she took the cloakful of bottles to the girls' room to flush down the toilets.

----------------

Twenty minutes later, Martis returned to the dorm room; it looked like a tornado tore through, beds and trunks and drawers all over the place.

Bridget was gone from her bed. One of the windows - closed when she had put the Irish girl to bed - was open.

"Great Mother!" Martis cried, flinging her cloak to the floor and crawling half out the window. She looked around wildly to the lake below, trying to see Bridget's white nightgown floating in the water, then looked up and around.

Bridget was standing on the ledge leading around the windows of their room.

Martis pulled her head in and dropped Medusa to the floor. Grabbing quill and parchment, she ripped off a piece of paper and wrote: 'Snips! Get Miss Price up here! Kells is on the ledge! HURRY!'

She put the paper in the snake's mouth and whispered, "Take this to Snips, Medusa. Hurry!"

The snake quickly slithered off.

Martis twisted her hair back from her shoulders and leaned back out the window. "Kells! Kells - can you hear me?"

The spring breezes were strong, making the clouds skitter quickly across the sky and over the moon's crescent face. The water of the lake was choppy below, blowing spray up into the air. It tasted like a storm brewing, even though the few clouds appeared milky-blue in the soft moonlit.

Bridget stood on the ledge, illuminated by the silver moonlight. Her bare feet were as white as her nightgown, which was entangling her in the breeze. Her twin braids snapped around her tear-streaked freckled face, a face of fear and anger and mirroring horrors unseen as she gazed at the silver crescent in the sky.

"Kells!"

The girl continued to stare up at the moon, the wind blowing her supernaturally calm voice back to Martis. "I hear you, Spirals. So, you interrupted my quiet time with your little boyfriend and then tossed out all my poteen. Anything else you want to do? Since you don't have the Marauders to pick on anymore, you needed someone else, is that it? Disguising it as a moral crusade, too - what a self-righteous little bitch you are." She swallowed loudly enough for Martis to hear. "Ever think one of us isn't Pureblooded enough to join the Ladies of Slytherin? That one is us is shunned because of coming from a bumpkin Irish village full of idiots? That one of us is in love with Sirius Black and that her heart broke when he was sent way because YOU couldn't take the joke?" She finally looked back toward the window out of which Martis was leaning. "This is your fault, Britomartis Vox. Because of you and that stupid Snape, I lost the guy I loved beyond all reason, the guy whose smile kept me going in this bullying, snobby hellhole. And when YOU had to go and get gang-banged by the rest of his buddies, HE'S the one who paid for it! Not you - not Snape - HIM!"

"Kells, he's a jerkwad - "

"That's because you're a man-hating, snake-worshipping bitch. Some of us appreciate daring men who are men - "She gazed back up at the moon. "Doesn't matter now. He's gone. I'm lost. And you dumped my poteen. Happy? ARE YOU [CENSORED] HAPPY, VOX?!"

"Kells, please! This is just withdrawal - "Martis wondered where the Avernus Miss Price was.

"No. I've wanted to say this for a long time. Little Miss Slytherin Darling, Backbeat Spirals, Pureblood Cretin, one-half of Snips and Spirals - the bitchy half. You've got Snape on a leash and ready to do your bidding any time you want, what do you need to ruin the other men for? You keep fighting with Malfoy, you got rid of Sirius Black and James Potter, you emasculated our entire Quidditch team - what's YOUR problem? The Amazons died out - get over it."

Martis climbed out onto the ledge, padding carefully toward the redhead. She reached her hand over to her, even though her knee-length hair was threatening to strangle her. "Kells, please come inside and we'll work this out - "

Bridget shook her head, her cold Slytherin smile distorting her face in the harsh shadows as she stared at Martis. "No. You ruined what little happiness I had here. You need a kick in the ribs, too." She stepped out.

"KELLS!" Martis made a leap, grabbing hold of a projection, her other hand reaching for Bridget O'Shanahan -

Who slipped down toward the lake, her white nightgown enveloping her form.

"NO!"

The sound of a splash never came. Instead, the sound of a body slamming into other bodies carried up to her, and Martis crawled to the ledge to see what had happened.

Four figures appeared - Professor Penderdandis, Miss Price, Sev, and Oriana Crescent - all on broomsticks. Bridget was across Penderdandis and Price's laps, out cold. Below the four, Peony Danderfluff and Akiko Mori were also on broomsticks.

"Got your message," Sev said. He brushed hair back from his face. "Just in time, too."

Penderdandis, whose expression of fear was probably due to the shadows of moonlight, looked up at her. "Thank-you, Miss Vox, but this is out of your hands." He turned back to the other girls. "And much as I understand your desire to protect your friend, something like this cannot be ignored any longer. Miss O'Shanahan will be taken to the Headmaster. Go back to the dorms, please."

Martis crawled back into her room, slipped her cloak back on, and left the dorm room before her roommates could return.

------------------

"Martis is missing," Miss Price whispered as bed times rolled around. "Do you know where she is, Severus?"

Sev looked up bleary-eyed from his studies. "I thought she stayed in her room."

Miss Price shook her head. "She's not there. Not on the ledge either. From what we heard going on before Bridget tried to jump, it seemed Bridget was really slaughtering her."

Sev closed his books. "I'll see if I can find her."

---------------

The school building closest to Slytherin dorms showed no sign of Filch or Mrs. Norris, so Sev slipped into the building and began climbing the several flights of stairs to the Conversation Room.

He had no idea what Martis and Bridget were saying up on the ledge. He was upwind from their direction and the breezes did not carry their words to him. He was certainly worried ... 'slaughtered', Miss Price had said. What words could possibly hurt Martis?

Sev poked his head through the crawl-hole, looking around the dark room. Above, the stained glass ceiling glittered with the moonlit, the moon itself hidden behind a translucent red rose.

"Martis?" he said softly.

"Go away," her voice answered in the darkness.

"You were missing," he stated as he crawled into the room. His hand felt for her, patting against her. His hand moved up and he discovered it was her thigh. He quickly pulled his hand away. "Sorry about that."

"Did anybody miss me? Or only you, since you're my do-boy?"

Sev felt stunned. Did she just refer to him as nothing but her minion?

"What happened?" he asked. "What did she say to you on the ledge?" He groped in the dark for her and his arms managed to draw around her waist. He could feel her knees were up to her chest; if she moved her legs at all, it would be very uncomfortable for him. "Martis, please, talk to me."

"The stupid bint was in love with Sirius Black," she said. Her voice began to crack as she continued, "She blamed me for sending him away. She thinks I was out to get her. She thinks I'm out to destroy men. She wanted me to suffer just as much as she did - "

Sev pulled her closer and squeezed her tightly, burying her face against his neck. He had no clue how to comfort her. She was always the one comforting him, not the other way around.

Gods ... she was not as strong. She was still a child. She was just as scared and lost as he was. It was not the untouchable Spirals in his arms, it was little Britomartis, neglected by a busy mother and father and having to draw upon herself.

And he had been leeching off her all this year. And she failed herself when someone managed to push her buttons about...

"None of it was your fault, Martis," he found himself saying. "Black brought his suspension on himself - you defended yourself at every turn - you would never go after anybody unless provoked - "

He felt tears dribble down his neck as she broke into sobs. "Severus, I couldn't stop her! She was going to kill herself over some stupid boy! She always had her mother and her father! How dare she say some stupid crush was more important than being loved by her own parents?! They weren't even like yours, either! How dare she - how dare - "

He held her, wanting to squeeze the pain out of her. It was frustrating, not able to drive away pain she did not need to feel. She was more worthy of happiness. She did not need to be afraid or hurt or alone. He could deal with it, he preferred it, even. But Martis was too good ... too pure ... to be subjected to any of the darkness.

Sev stroked her hair. Unsure of what to do, he just held her and murmured, "It's all right to cry. Cry all you want, Martis. I'll be here."

Ten minutes of sobbing tapering into hiccups and sniffles, her arms wrapped tightly around his body and her face still against his neck.

"Martis?" he said quietly. "Kells didn't want to be rescued. Nothing you could have done would have changed her mind. Not everyone can be saved because ... they don't want to be."

"But why?" she choked, pulling away from his neck.

"Why does my father beat me?" he asked in return. "Why did you parents neglect you? Why any of it?" He began wiping the tears from her face, feeling the wetness in the dark. "It's how it is. You can't meddle in everyone's darkness, my friend."

"But no one deserves to be in darkness," she sniffed.

"Some of us do."

"You don't, Sev!" she cried, pressing hard against his body as she hugged him tightly. "No one does!"

He pushed her away, keeping his hands on her shoulders, which were still bare save for the straps of her sundress. "Britomartis, please understand that darkness is part of all of us. That some want to stay in it, and others don't know how to get out." He had no idea who was saying this - this was nothing miserable Severus Snape would say - but everything made perfectly clear sense. "I'm glad you came into my life. I need you in my life. I want you to keep me out of darkness as much as you can, as much as we can get away with. I'm dreading going home for the summer, but I'm counting on you to be here when I get back."

"Always, Snips," she whispered. "It'll be us against the world, then."

"And you don't have to rescue everyone," he added.

She sighed in the darkness. "That's going to take some getting used to."

"I thought you had exhausted yourself working on me."

"Of course not. Making friends is the easy part, and keeping you as a friend has been a breeze." She touched his cheek.

He could feel her fingertips caressing his skin. He inhaled sharply, surprised at his heart beating faster and his stomach tensing in response. Why? This was only his best friend.

"Are you feeling any better?" he asked.

She took her hand away. "A bit. I must need some sleep." She hugged him again. "Let's get back to the dorms."

They made their way down the staircases to the ground floor; looking around and making sure Filch and/or Mrs. Norris were not around. The coast clear, they wrapped their arms around the other's waist and walked back to Slytherin Tower, their heads close as they kept warm in the cool spring air.

A figure watched them, unseen in the shadows despite his presence.

-----------------

"I saw 'em, Professor Dumbledore, sir," Rubeus Hagrid said softly. "This isn't the first time I saw 'em go up ter that tower, either."

The Headmaster of Hogwarts blinked silently behind his half-moon glasses. "And what do you think happens up there, Hagrid, between best friends?"

The hairy man blushed. "I daren't say, sir."

"Be assured, Hagrid, that best friends need words and reassurances more than anything else. Things that others need not witness or burst in upon. I trust them to do what is right for them." Dumbledore chuckled. "Besides which, did you think that the protective spells didn't cover a romantic and secluded location like the tower? I may be senile and a trifle potty, but I'm not stupid."

Hagrid shuffled in place. "Sorry ter bother yeh, then, Professor Dumbledore, sir. I'll be leavin' now."

"Thank-you, Hagrid, for your concern." He smiled kindly. "Those two are my most fragile students, and they are also my strongest. Their maturity is a fascinating thing to observe."

As the door closed, Dumbledore wrote a note: 'Memo to self - extend AHP system to the Tower.'

---------------

The next afternoon, Martis, Akiko, Peony, and Oriana were asked to meet in the entrance of the school.

Hagrid, who held the big Irish girl in his arms like an infant, brought Bridget down the staircase. Her face was ravaged with tears and horrors from a night spent in hangovers and withdrawals. She looked so ill, even her freckles were pale.

Headmaster Dumbledore appeared near them, his old face wrinkled with sadness and concern. "Are you sure you want to go back home, Bridget?"

"Yes," she answered quietly. "I'm not a real witch. If I can't handle Hogwarts, I have no business being a witch."

"Your roommates are here to wish you off."

Bridget raised her head slightly, seeing her four roommates. "Go away."

Peony and Akiko did, while Oriana sighed and made a production of stomping off. Only Martis remained, and she folded her arms. "Giving up, O'Shanahan?"

"What's it matter to you, Vox? I'm going away, too, just like Sirius Black. Be queen of the school, I don't care. I'm going back home."

Martis nodded. "Sev told me that some people don't want to be pulled out of their darkness. I only wish that you can pull yourself out of your darkness on your own before it's too late."

"Good-bye," Bridget sniffed. "Please, Hagrid, I want to go."

Hagrid carried the girl out to the courtyard where a carriage waited for her. Dumbledore placed his hand on Martis' shoulder. "Great potential there."

"I know," Martis replied as she reached back to touch his hand. "But she doesn't want to see it."

"Those buried in darkness and hells of their own designs cannot see out of them," the Headmaster said sagely. "They throw a veil between themselves and the world, and deny it is there at all."

"So how are some able to come out?"

He looked down at her. "You mean your friend? He wanted someone to peek under the veils and tell him it was all right, even though he does not want to believe it. Severus is a sensitive soul, needing someone more resilient than himself to make him see his own worth."

"I can't be strong all the time," Martis whispered as she turned around to face him.

"Resilience is a form of strength," Dumbledore stated. "It's a natural strength that does not require constant upkeep or a mask to convey its presence. Your own darkness was never strong enough to keep you down. You've always bounced back if it caught you. Living proof that it can be done, and Severus needs that example."

"That's a lot." She drew her arms around his waist.

"But you've already started," he assured her as he hugged her shoulders. "And I know you won't give up now."

She pulled away. "I really need to get to studying for finals."

"Absolutely. I know Severus would want you back here next year."

She nodded, hugging him again. "Thanks, Headmaster."

Dumbledore watched Martis run back down the corridor, allowing the vision of the future to flicker before his eyes - the girl coming back as a grown woman, battered by life, but not falling into the darkness that offered itself to her, despite what had happened.

He smiled, comforted by the thought, and wandered back to his office.

-End-