He's Sirius Black, sixteen years old and absolutely bored out of his mind. She's Daphne Littleton, comfortable and unsuspecting. They're a perfect match. They just don't know it yet.
It's raining. Raining and raining and rainingrainingraining. It started raining three days ago, which everyone expected and mostly ignored. The Marauders threw handfuls of mud at each other until some accidentally splattered onto Professor McGonagall's face. Peeves made sure that the corridor floors remained slippery and wet. Nothing more than routine.
What's more than routine and highly unexpected is that, in the three days since the rain has started, it hasn't stopped, hasn't even paused. It's still raining and, banned from mud and all things outdoorsy at the present, Sirius Black, James Potter, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew have nothing to do. This is a dangerous thing—something that is generally avoided if it can be helped.
But it's rainingrainingraining, and not much can be helped anymore.
The four Marauders sit on the floor of their dormitory, listening to the sound of droplets against the window. They don't particularly enjoy the sound, as it's part of what's keeping them from roaming about as they please. But it's all they've got to stop them from going insane.
It's not much.
Eventually, Peter flops onto his side and begins blowing at the dust particles beneath his bed, and James and Remus engage in a staring match. Sirius sighs, looking and feeling as doleful as only one accustomed to being a dog can. They remain as thus for nearly a quarter of an hour, miraculously without excessive fidgeting, until James scratches his nose.
All at once, Peter sneezes, Remus blinks, and Sirius leaps to his feet.
"I've got it!" the latter cries, stumbling in his excitement.
The remaining three Marauders quickly fix their eyes upon him, rapt. Sirius begins to pace before them with his hands clasped behind his back. He moves in an almost militaristic march, like he's commanding his troops.
"So," he says, pausing momentarily for effect, "when was the last time we badgered the Hufflepuffs?"
James snorts. "Padfoot, when don't we badger the Hufflepuffs?"
Sirius shakes his head. "No, I mean, when's the last time we made a trip to their common room?"
"It's been a while," Peter eventually agrees with a nod.
"Come to think of it," James remarks thoughtfully, "we haven't visited the Hufflepuffs since… what, third year?"
"You're slipping out of practice," Remus tells him with amusement.
James and Sirius simultaneously clutch their hands to their hearts in a display of mock-anguish.
"Gentlemen," Sirius declares, his voice heavy with feeling, "let us plan."
It takes them no more than five minutes to decide what they're going to do, how they're going to do it, and how long it will take. Sirius is pleased; he feels more alive than he has in the past three days, the Botched Battle of the Mud Pie included, (and that's saying something remarkable, considering how fetching McGonagall looked with mud dripping down onto her shoulders).
The plan itself isn't very complicated, and neither is their intent. All they want, in essence, is to play Robin Hood; they're going to steal from the rich and give to the poor—the rich being the Hufflepuff girls, the poor being Severus Snape who, Sirius is certain, will look splendid in something pink and fluffy. They'll eventually slip inside both common rooms to do this, and if that doesn't go as easily as they hope, then they'll charm their way in as usual. (Peter, of course, will be either completely silent or invisible, because he's only charming in one way or the other.)
James thinks it's brilliant. All of it, including the details they haven't quite worked out yet. Peter agrees with everything that James and Sirius say. Remus, who is finally tired of being shut indoors like a misbehaving pet, admits that it's got its merits.
So it's settled and foolproof, and absolutely everything is going to work out as it should…
…because that's what always happens, and they've got no reason to believe otherwise.
Daphne Littleton is the only person left in the Hufflepuff dormitories, but that's only because she's fallen asleep. Everyone else has scattered themselves throughout the castle like leaves, searching for the warmest, driest haunts. When it rains, their common room smells and feels dank; it can't always be the most comfortable place in the school.
This doesn't bother Daphne. She would rather curl up in her blankets than wander into the library or out to the greenhouses; Madam Pince makes the former seem cold, and the latter will be swampy with mud.
So she stays, her cat Derby curled up in the crook of her arm. As she dozes, mouth agape, her fingers twitch. Derby purrs and then yawns.
It's almost disappointingly simple, reaching the entrance of the Hufflepuff common room without being detected. It isn't as if the Marauders need to go undetected, as they know full well that they can stroll round in nothing but socks, and no one will think to stop them. But it's more exciting to sneak about as if knowing the castle inside and out still holds veritable merit.
The closest they come to being caught—as if an afternoon walk is a punishable offense—is when Peeves hears them shuffling beneath James's Invisibility Cloak and knocks a suit of armor onto them. He goes into hysterical fits of laughter until James, scowling, reveals the once-invisible quartet. Peeves's face falls. He rights the suit of armor. And then he apologizes profusely.
Remus is horrified, but he stops himself before he can ask just why a poltergeist would want to make amends with his friends. He decides that it's best not to know; he's still a Prefect, and that's why they continue to keep these sorts of things from him.
Aside from Peeves, the Marauders don't encounter anyone at all, not even a ghost or McGonagall—who is herself quite like a ghost; Peter swears that she can walk through walls. On any other day, this fact might be greeted with jubilation, for they generally appreciate the flawless execution of a plan as much as any Gryffindor. Today, however, the lack of challenge is as vile as Snivellus's hair. James and Sirius are nearly on the verge of tears because of it.
"The world is against us," Sirius laments dramatically. Remus rolls his eyes at the genuine despair in his companion's tone.
"Why must everything always go right?" James groans.
Remus wonders if his eyes will simply continue on and roll right out of his head. He really, honestly, doesn't mind not getting into trouble—again.
"Got a problem, Moony?" James snaps.
"Yes. Three of them," he retorts—but not without a certain measure of fondness, of course.
"Mister Lupin thinks he's so clever," Sirius stage-whispers behind one hand to Peter, who shakes his head sadly, right on cue.
"That's 'cause he is," James suddenly says, leaping out of his melancholy stupor. His eyes narrow, and he looks at Remus as if some sort of otherworldly light is shining down upon him. "Say, Moony… you wouldn't happen to be clever enough to've remembered how to get in there, would you?"
Abruptly, Remus Lupin has the full attention all three of his companions—a most remarkable event. At this, he smiles lopsidedly. "Well now," he says, "there's the hitch you've been waiting for."
James gives a whoop of delight.
Peter only looks confused. "That's a good thing, right?" he asks nervously.
Sirius curls an arm lazily around Peter's shoulders. "Sometimes I wonder about you, Wormtail." He grins, and then Peter is grinning, and James is celebrating, and Remus is laughing, until no one remembers why.
Ten minutes later, Sirius is ready to declare the Hufflepuff lair impenetrable. It's astounding to think how much he's underestimated this House over the years.
The Marauders have tried talking to the painting that obscure the entrance—a still life of a basket of bread—but the only response they've received is a cackle from a misshapen biscuit.
"Maybe they only speak Bread," Peter suggests hopefully. "Maybe we should try—"
"Capital notion, Pete," James chortles. "Go ahead and give it a go. Just be careful, 'cause the wheat and the pumpernickel are bound to speak different dialects. Y'know, one might be more nasally than the other—"
Peter stays mostly silent after that.
Sirius recommences his pacing. He bites his lip, then sticks out his tongue, but none of this helps him to think better. Askance, he glances at James, who has begun shouting potential passwords at the painting—though Sirius is sure that some of the words are being suggested more out of frustration than anything. After many unsuccessful attempts, James collapses against the wall and moans, his face squished upon the stone. He's not in his right mind; none of them are, come to think of it. Rain equals boredom plus insanity; this is the most useful equation Sirius will ever need to know, and it's the only one they never taught him in Arithmancy.
As Remus traces the lines of the painting with his wand, tapping various spots, Sirius's mind begins to wander. His eyes glaze over, and without realizing it, he stops dead in his tracks. He thinks of sunshine and snow and mostly everything else that isn't rain. He thinks of wind and fur and full moons—shouldn't there be another one coming up soon? He thinks of more successful episodes of Maraudering; he thinks of home, and where that actually is now.
And then, after entertaining other such topics, his thought happen to settle upon girls. Though he hasn't thought of girls in a while, it's certainly not a new subject to him. It's just one that he avoids most of the time, like he avoids mingling with those of the female gender. Like they've contracted the Plague. They've certainly got something, be it plague or otherwise, and whatever it is seems to turn them mad. Sirius isn't sure why this is; he doesn't go out of his way to draw them closer, nor does he make a particular effort to drive them back like he might a rampaging stampede. And yet they persist. Silly, mindless birds who can no more appreciate a brilliant prank than they can a sack full of dung—and dung, Sirius adamantly believes, is a highly underappreciated item.
"Isn't that the truth," James says solemnly, interrupting Sirius's thoughts.
Sirius blinks. "What?"
"Dung," James tells him. "Doesn't get the credit it deserves, does it?"
Sirius's mouth hangs open.
James snorts. "Oi, Padfoot, didn't you realize you've been talking out loud? Blimey—"
"Oh, Huffle my Puffle," Sirius retorts.
Suddenly, the four boys are startled by a noise that suspiciously sounds like something hurtling itself to the ground. At once, they turn their focus onto the painting, which they have all but forgotten in light of the spectacle that Sirius has made of himself.
Much to their surprise, they find that a breadstick has rolled itself out of the basket in the painting and appears to be rocking back and forth violently.
"What in the name of bloody, sodding—" someone begins, but no one quite knows who's spoken. Whoever it is is cut off as the still life swings to one side; it's gathered so much momentum that it turns completely upside down and the remaining bread falls to the top of the frame with several muffled thumps.
But that doesn't hold their attention for long; what ensnares them next is the now gaping, earthen tunnel that's been hiding beneath the painting. Flecks of soil fall from the ceiling of it, gathering upon the clean floor outside in a telltale pile.
"Cor," Peter breathes, "I forgot about that."
"Huffle my Puffle?" Remus repeats in disbelief, though his sentiments are met by deaf ears.
James is ecstatic, and Sirius cannot be more delighted with his unintentional success.
"Brilliant, Pads!" James whoops, clapping Sirius's shoulder. Then he looks at Remus. "S'okay, Moony," he says consolingly, "you're just not on form today."
"C'mon men!" Sirius cries before Remus can reply. He gestures wildly to the tunnel. "No time for chitchat! Are we mice, or are we Marauders?"
"Well, that's sort of—" Peter tries to point out.
James interrupts him as usual. "You're a rat, you nutter," he grins. "There's a difference. Mice are cute and fluffy. Sorry to tell you, Pete, but you're not very fluffy."
"But you're as cute as a button, of course," Remus chuckles, and James pinches Peter's cheek.
When they've finished poking fun at one another, they look up and notice, astoundingly, that Sirius is gone.
Sirius remembers very quickly why it is that the Marauders haven't stepped foot in the Hufflepuff dormitories for the past three years. Especially when it's raining—which he'd almost forgotten about until he proceeded into the tunnel, and the overwhelming stench of dank dirt met his nose. For a moment, he's nearly blown away by the desire to suddenly begin digging. Madly digging, like a dog. His hand hovers over his nose until he regains control.
He ignites the tip of his wand and holds it out before him, his eyes wide, as if imitating an owl will actually help him to see like one in the dark. From what he can distinguish, there are brackets pressed into the earthen walls around him, each one holding candles that burn yet cast no light. It's disconcerting and cold, nothing at all like last time, which he's starting to recall bit by bit. Last time, he knows, it didn't feel as if he was about to be crushed by mud and the occasional earthworm.
Come to think of it, it doesn't make much sense for the Hufflepuffs—renowned for being horribly warm and fuzzy—to dwell in a place befitting a Slytherin. It's dreary and uninviting, and… Shouldn't he have happened upon the common room by now? He's been walking and walking—soon to be sneezing, if he doesn't get out—yet the earth doesn't relent. Sirius stops, and then he frowns.
"S'not like I'm actually going to hurt anyone," he reasons aloud, still paused. "I reckon that ravaging and plundering and all that aren't the most effective ways to move about Hogwarts."
Sirius, it seems, is full of Just The Right Words today. All of a sudden, he feels the floor caving in beneath his feet, and then he's fallingfallingfalling to only Dumbledore-knows-where, with dirt in his eyes and an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.
"Padfoot? Padfoot?" James, Remus, and Peter call. Their voices reverberate in the tunnel before and behind them.
"So much for the whole 'all for one and one for all' rubbish he was spouting last week," James mutters darkly, a bit hurt. No matter how excited he gets, Sirius has never been one for abandonment, intentional or otherwise.
"Yeah, I s'pect he's—oomph," Peter says.
"He's… ʽoomph'?" James repeats, until a second later, "Oomph!"
What they find, having collided with it, is a solidly-packed wall of dirt.
Remus takes a step back. "That," he says uneasily, "is completely, inexplicably bizarre."
James's eyes bulge. "What the bloody hell—it just stops. Completely stops."
Sirius, of course, is nowhere to be found.
Sirius isn't falling anymore, and at the present, there's no dirt to be seen. Still, he warily continues to cover his eyes, and his head spins, so it's several minutes before he notices that he's no longer moving. He feels ill, but not frightened; fear is for—well, he's not certain anymore if fear is still just for Hufflepuffs. Although, he's more curious than anything, as he's a Marauder, and Marauders are known to sport curiosity more aptly than cats. He's eager, too; who is he to deny himself an adventure when it's precisely what he's been craving for three days straight?
When the world stops spinning, Sirius totters to his feet.
The Hufflepuff common room is surprisingly similar to Gryffindor's in design, with numerous hangings, comfortable-looking chairs, and a large fireplace that would warm the entire room if lit—which it isn't, oddly enough. The biggest difference is the color; blacks and yellows are glaring down upon him in a most unnerving manner. It's as if he's suddenly leapt out into the sun after wearing a dark blindfold for several hours… or days. Except that sunlight feels warm; this place doesn't.
Once he overcomes the shock of seeing such colors together in one place, he notices that there are numerous tunnels lining the room. Apparently, the Hufflepuffs' love affair with tunnels is one of Hogwarts' best-kept secrets, or so Sirius decides. He lets out a snort. He'll never look at any House the same way again; who knows what sort of dodgy things they've all been keeping to themselves?
He feels vaguely overwhelmed when he turns back to the tunnels. Which one to choose? (Of course he's going to explore.) And where are Prongs, Moony, and Wormtail to help him decide? (Shouldn't they have realized by now that he's gone on ahead?)
On a whim, he chooses tunnel number twelve, (out of fourteen), the one that's almost the farthest away from where he's standing. He doesn't know why he's drawn to this one in particular—if he's really drawn to it at all. Nevertheless, he strides across the room, never once wondering why it's so empty, and he ducks—are all Hufflepuffs this short?—into the passageway. He only hopes that there will be something pink and fluffy among the possessions of the being that he's so severely misjudged.
He's in luck, or so he continues to hope. The reason is this: at the end of the tunnel is not a light but a perfectly round, perfectly yellow, door, like the top of a barrel that's been put on its side; at its center is a plaque that reads:
F. Yr. 6
Sirius snickers. As if they'd forget where their own dormitories are. But he can't find it within himself to complain. The living quarters of the sixth-year girls are as good a place as any to begin his search.
He prods open the door with his wand and steps inside.
Sirius wrinkles his nose and squints his eyes. Moony Logic tells him to stay quiet and keep off the lights. Prongs Logic tells him to retrieve what he wants by whatever means necessary, even if it's slightly illegal or indiscreet. Peter Logic tells him to flee, because everything is growing shiftier as he goes along.
As Padfoot Logic and Prongs Logic are, more often than not, synonymous, he says in a normal voice, "Lumos."
Light flares from his wand, bathing the dormitory in luminescence that reminds him of the glow of the full moon. Sirius doesn't glance at the beds lined against the far wall, doesn't notice the clutter upon the floor or the fact that it's not raining in three of the four artificial windows spread throughout the room. What he detects, what his grey eyes are instantly drawn to, is the large trunk that's sitting in the nearest corner with its lid flung back, baring its contents to the world. He mightn't have paid it any mind at all on any other occasion, but today, it attracts his attention. For, at the top of these contents, crumpled yet blatantly visible, is something pink. It's also, he realizes when he steps closer, got the obvious signs of fluff attached to it in one place. Pink and fluffy.
Sirius grins crookedly in triumph and proceeds to examine the object. He shakes it out, and then holds it before him, smoothing it and repositioning it until he can determine what, exactly, it is.
It's a nightdress. A white nightdress with large pink polka dots littering it. The hem is lined with fluff and feathers that are unnaturally soft to the touch. It's a shapely sort of thing, rather skimpy, perhaps meant to be worn in the summertime or thereabouts. It's absolutely, revoltingly horrible. And it's perfect, as far as Sirius is concerned. With a bit of tampering, it will be just Snape's size. Sirius releases an audible laugh at the thought. Phase One, complete.
Yet that, as fate would have it, is the moment that he looks up and finds himself to be very much not alone.
Daphne Littleton has known for the past two minutes that there's someone in her dormitory who isn't supposed to be. She's remained silent, holding her breath as best she can, waiting for the opportune moment to do something. She hasn't quite figured out what this something is, only that it would be nice to be able to avoid doing it.
Propping herself up against her pillows, she locks eyes with the person now seemingly frozen in surprise near the end of her bed. Derby momentarily pads to and fro across her lap, agitated, and then he settles; he seems to sense that whatever Daphne is doing is best, and so he, too, is soon staring at the Intruder.
The Intruder overcomes his shock and stuffs something that Daphne can't see into his pocket. His body straightens, but he doesn't look away; in fact, he appears to turn himself toward her, as if to face her more squarely. She's daunted, but she attempts to hide it. Not, of course, that either of them can see, especially through the glare of the Intruder's wandlight.
"Put that down, won't you?" she asks at length.
Without speaking, the Intruder complies.
Daphne blinks. "That's better," she says truthfully, "now that I'm not about to be blinded."
The Intruder snorts—snorts? She's never been snorted at before, regardless of how inelegantly she and her Housemates often conduct themselves. She's been sneezed at and laughed at—much more than she'd like—but never snorted at.
As she wonders at this, the candles placed haphazardly about the room spring to life, flames flickering and illuminating the room. Daphne arches her brows. The Intruder, who she can see quite clearly now, raises one of his own.
"Well," she comments, "you're definitely not who I expected."
Daphne Littleton is not in love with Sirius Black. Not like everyone else seems to be, whether platonically or otherwise. She doesn't hate him, either, because hate is something that she's never been able to master completely. She can dislike or intensely dislike, but never hate. However, she can't say that Sirius is someone about whom she feels neutrally unless, of course, the facts that she both likes and dislikes him cancel each other out.
Once upon a time, about three years ago, Daphne's younger brother Charlie began his first year as a Hogwarts student. He was very excited about this, she remembers, and had been looking forward to it ever since Daphne had received her letter three years prior to that. He'd been Sorted into Hufflepuff without mishap, much to the entire family's satisfaction, and everyone had believed that all was well. However, on Charlie's second day, as he munched happily on a piece of toast, a wayward hex originating from Sirius Black's wand shot across the Great Hall to the Hufflepuff table and caused poor Charlie's head to be swapped with that of a nearby owl. His own head had attached itself to the owl's body, which then began to fly about madly. Sirius, who Daphne thought should have helped out at least a little, merely laughed himself silly. Daphne had been forced to spend the next hour attempting to catch the boy-owl and the owl-boy, and the hour after that in the Hospital Wing as the nurse tried to restore them to their original states.
This, mostly, is why Daphne dislikes Sirius Black.
The reason she likes him is much simpler. Daphne likes Sirius because, when he isn't physically or emotionally harming—however innocently—someone close to her, he makes her laugh. Sometimes, his jokes amuse her endlessly; he's clever and often has a way with words that no one, not even James Potter, seems to be able to match. His pranks, the ones that are meant only in good fun, are masterfully crafted. She supposes that he's easy to get along with, and she admires that, but she's never talked to him long enough to find out whether or not she's right.
In fact, now that she thinks about it, she's never talked to him at all. Not until now.
Somehow, this doesn't surprise her. Contrary to popular belief, Sirius Black keeps to himself and his band of miscreants—more commonly known as the Marauders. Daphne Littleton isn't a Marauder or a miscreant. She's not even a Gryffindor. Nothing that she says or does is purposefully entertaining. In normal circumstances, she thinks, a conversation between the two of them would be exceedingly uncomfortable. This, however, isn't a normal circumstance. It's not every day that a stray Gryffindor pops up in her dormitory.
"So," she says.
"So," he says. "Fancy meeting you here."
"I live here."
"Yeah, funny, isn't it? Say, last I checked, there were a lot more of you."
Daphne glances at the doorway for a moment. "There are. They've all just… gone for a while. It's hard to say where."
"Abandoned you, have they?"
She shrugs. "I suppose. I fell asleep. Is it still raining?"
Sirius frowns. "Yeah," he says darkly, suddenly appearing upset. "It's raining bloody buckets."
Suddenly, Daphne laughs. "That's why you're here, right?"
"If I told you, I reckon I'd have to kill you," he smirks.
Daphne doesn't know whether to be relieved or wary in light of the smirk. Relieved, because he's been acting out of character—or at least, out of the character that she knows of. Wary, because now that he's begun to fit into the mold she recognizes, there could be some sort of damaging mischief afoot. Right now, she's the only one in the vicinity, thus rendering her a most susceptible victim.
"But really—?" she prompts, leaving her question open.
Sirius shrugs nonchalantly. "Can't go outside. S'boring everywhere else."
"And pranks—are they involved? At all?" She's really quite tactless.
Sirius drops to the floor, beaming gleefully. Somehow, both of these gestures are almost graceful. "ʽCourse," he says.
Now she's nervous. "And the target?"
"Y'know, you've got quite a lot of questions, Littleton."
"I've got a right to ask them," she points out, marveling at the fact that he knows her name. It's a wonder that he knows she even exists.
"Touché," he chuckles. His dark hair flops in front of his eyes. "But unfortunately, I'm not in the habit of sharing the secrets of the trade with outsiders."
Daphne leans forward quickly, much to the chagrin of Derby, who's knocked forward by his mistress's sudden movement. "I didn't ask for the secrets of your trade."
He looks at her oddly. "The Target's just as important as the Plan," he says. "ʽCause, see, that's what a Prank's made of: the Plan, the Execution, and the Target. All of 'em've got to be kept a secret; otherwise, the Prank's ineffective and a waste of time. Pranks've got to reveal themselves." He shakes his head sadly. "To think that I'm in the presence of such naïveté."
Daphne frowns and leans back to where she was before. "But isn't that the secret of your trade? And now you've just gone and told it to me."
Sirius continues to shake his head.
"I don't understand," she admits.
"That's rather the point."
"Well, that's…" She searches for the right word. "Annoying."
"Look, I just want to know whether or not I'm in any immediate danger," she says huffily.
He's surprised. "You? Danger? No, I think not. Why? Are you afraid of me?" He wiggles his eyebrows suggestively.
Daphne crosses her arms. "No." She has a feeling that she just answered a rhetorical question.
"That's always good to know. Wouldn't want to go about inspiring fear in unsuspecting females."
Daphne is neither socially challenged nor socially adept; she's somewhere in between the two, but at a place that favors the Awkward Conversationalist side. She's not too awkward, she thinks, but enough so that most of the time, she can't think of a witty response until the occasion to provide it has long since passed. Now, for example, is an instance in which this trait is painfully obvious.
Daphne and Sirius sit in their respective locations for a bit, not speaking but fidgeting excessively. Derby, who has resettled at Daphne's side, flicks his tail in wait.
"Well," Sirius coughs at length, clapping his palms upon his legs, "this's been really quite fascinating, but I reckon I ought to be going." He jumps to his feet and dusts off his robes. "See you around, Littleton," he calls cheerfully, giving her a small gesture that is half wave and half salute.
"Er," she says.
He's out of the room as if he can't get away quickly enough. Perhaps, Daphne mourns, she's more socially inept than she previously thought.
Sirius bounds into the common room, elated in having acquired what he came for. He feels rather badly about leaving Littleton behind, all alone and seeming to be just as bored as he is, but he doesn't dwell upon it. There's a Prank to be carried out and gloating to be done once he escapes from the Hufflepuff den, after all.
And speaking of escaping…
Sirius rubs his eyes, and then begins to prowl the outskirts of the common room, searching, searching… Yet everything is different. He doesn't know how, he doesn't know why, but something, many things, in fact, aren't as he left them. Namely the door.
Daphne glances up at the sound of feet dragging across the floor. Sirius's feet.
"The door's gone," he mutters, glaring at her accusingly.
"The door. It's up and disappeared," he growls. "Just—gone. Vanished. You lot"—he gestures vaguely—"are completely dodgy. I dunno how no one's ever realized it before."
"Dodgy? How are we dodgy?" she demands. "And how can the door be gone?"
Sirius snorts—again; why is he always snorting at her? "S'just dodgy. Cold and unwelcoming, like. Dark. Empty—'cept for you, of course. And the dirt." He groans. "S'like a tomb, or something. I don't know how you can stand it. S'more like a dungeon than the Slytherin common room."
"What on earth are you on about?" Daphne asks. Her common room has never been as uncomfortable as he's describing it. At least, it hasn't been uncomfortable for her.
"Well, you look at it," he says almost irritably. Before she knows what's happening, he's grasping her hand and pulling her from her bed. Adamantly. Pulling her along. "Just look at it and tell me if it seems even remotely nice."
As soon as he says this, she forgets it. Peculiarly, the only thing that her mind can comprehend and tune to is the fact that her cheeks are hot and her hands are so warm and snug in someone else's. His. Sirius Black's. Sirius Black is holding her hand and it's having an enormous effect upon her brain. Sirius Black is making her flustered. Something is happening. Why is it happening? What is happening?
Daphne Littleton is not in love with Sirius Black. Not like everybody else seems to be. And at the present, she sees no reason why this should have changed by even a fraction.
"You see?" Sirius is saying.
Daphne gazes at him blankly.
He waves his hands about her wildly. "No doors. Not one. No way out." He freezes at his own words, his grey eyes widening.
Daphne knows perfectly well what she's expecting and realizes immediately that this isn't it. Her warm, beloved common room looks horribly like a cave that's been furnished hurriedly and carelessly. And there aren't any doors. Everything is different. Wrong.
"What's—" she begins, but the words die. She remembers, suddenly, something that her Head of House told her five years ago when one of her friends happened to ask. "Oh, you—you…" she groans. "Dolt."
Sirius looks highly affronted, and Daphne flushes at this.
"The common room thinks it's under siege," she explains. "When you broke in, you made it think that you were a threat." She pauses. "Though I don't know how you managed to get past the tunnel. Usually, it wouldn't have let you inside."
"So this—this rubbish—is a regular sort of thing, is it?"
Daphne shakes her head. "I've never seen it happen before. But it has. It has happened before, in the past. Erm." She peers downward to where their hands are still clasped. "Could you… possibly let go?"
As if he's been thinking about the same thing as she has, he instantly releases her. When she glances at him, he doesn't meet her eyes, and she's amazed by the fact that he isn't at all like everyone has said that he is. At least, that's the impression she's getting. After a beat, he smirks at her, but it doesn't look as natural as it did before.
"Is there a reason," he asks, "why you've got such a belligerent dwelling?"
She halts for a moment, allowing the details to resurface into her thoughts.
"I think," she begins slowly, "that when Mum Helga—"
"Mum what?" Sirius laughs.
Daphne flushes again. "It's just what we—nevermind. When Helga Hufflepuff made our dormitories and whatnot, she wanted to protect us from the students in the other Houses, who apparently found us to be, er…"
"Hufflepuffs?" Sirius supplies with a chuckle.
She nods. "So because of that, if anyone intrudes, the person'll wander round without ever really reaching anyone inside. And if that person does, well, the common room is supposed to lock itself up—or down, rather—so that no one can get in or out."
"That's rather thick, isn't it?" Clearly, Sirius isn't impressed. "Clever, really, to keep the danger inside with the stuff—y'know, you—that it's supposed to be protecting."
"The trouble is that no one's ever got inside like this before."
It's true. If there's one thing she recalls most clearly, it's the sigh of relief that she released when this fact was first relayed to her. Up until this point in time, she's always believed that the Badger Den—as it's sometimes called—is impregnable.
"So that means you don't know how to get out?" If she listens closely enough—and she is—she can almost detect the trace of panic in his voice.
"Are you—do you?" she splutters hopelessly. She's not a naturally gifted speaker, which is especially evident when she's thinking about so many different things at once.
And about what? About Sirius, mostly. And how she can be thinking about him so much. For a brief second, she, too, is gripped by panic. Is she—she who is the most unromantic person ever to walk the corridors of Hogwarts since Professor Binns and a select few Slytherins—falling prey to the distractions of romanticisms? Is she considering the chance that love or lust at first sight is more than just a bit of nonsense spewed by Xenophilius Lovegood over breakfast? And with just one touch?
Daphne shakes her head vigorously. No, of course not.
"Am I what?" Sirius asks, unaware of the mental dilemma which has just transpired.
"Um," she says nervously, trying to remember what she meant to say before he barged into her mind.
"Charming? Handsome? Witty? Devilish?—maybe not that one, I dunno if I actually—"
"Oh!" she exclaims. "Claustrophobic!"
Sirius's smile falters a little. "Just don't like being confined, s'all," he mutters.
"S'not, not really. Spaces aren't the only confining things." He looks troubled, as if there's more behind this observation than meets the eye—which, she supposes, there probably is.
Sirius feels diseased. Ill. But mentally, in the way that suggests he has some sort of personality disorder. The prime suspect is whichever one causes his moods to shift as rapidly as a boggart in a room full of hyperactive children. He's happy one moment, depressed the next, and thoughtful in the three seconds in between.
He blames the rain, mostly. He can't see it, but he knows for a fact that it's there, and it's made him paranoid as a result.
Sirius pouts in the way that's reserved for days that don't go according to plan. These days don't occur all the time, but they certainly happen. Unfortunately, today is the first of its kind in several months.
He glances at Littleton, taking in her curly brown hair and the green eyes that dart away as soon as he accidentally meets them with his own.
At least, he reflects, he isn't alone. Loneliness is something that he hasn't had to suffer in years, and now is no time to reshape it into a habitual thing.
"So," he says conversationally, "in conclusion, we're indefinitely trapped."
She nods apologetically. "Seems so. Eventually, the common room should realize why you're here, and it'll let up. I think." She bites her lip.
"Makes sense," Sirius agrees.
Daphne shifts her weight from one foot to the other and then back again. She toys with her hair, and she rubs her eyes. Sirius watches, finding himself inexplicably fascinated.
And then, after entertaining other such topics, his thoughts settle randomly upon girls for the second time that day. He seems to be thinking quite a lot about girls as of late—'as of late' being today in the past couple of hours, to be precise. He usually doesn't, so it's odd that he's revisiting a subject matter that he generally avoids.
He hasn't the foggiest idea. But he continues to think about girls regardless of this.
It's not as if Sirius has sworn off girls in general, because he hasn't. He likes the way they look, and the fact that they're not blokes. Although, there's still trouble with this: he wishes that girls would laugh like blokes—like Marauders. When it comes to everything but the Slytherins, blokes and Marauders laugh in good fun. They laugh at funny things, hilarious things. Girls either don't laugh at all, or they laugh at one another and trivial, catty, girly matters. And they look to have insipid, romantic thoughts around blokes when all the bloke in question wants is to talk or to laugh with someone without being fondled to death like some sort of object.
"Erm. I'm sorry. Have you had… bad experiences with fondling?" Daphne inquires, bemused.
Sirius blinks, and then he swears loudly. The next time he thinks, he's going to hex his own mouth shut.
Daphne stares at him until she seems to realize that that's what she's doing. Then she clears her throat and again, she twirls her hair around her finger.
Sirius knows he should say something, but what? It's not that he's socially awkward… it's just that he's never on his own. It's always JamesSiriusRemusPeter. Not just Sirius, all on his lonesome, with nobody around except for a Hufflepuff named Daphne Littleton.
A Hufflepuff whose eye he suddenly, unexplainably, very much wants to catch.
"Well," she says, "what should we do?"
He stops. "What do Hufflepuffs do for fun? Can't do anything Gryffindorish, seeing as we haven't got free reign of the castle…"
"We…" She hesitates. "We talk and play games, I suppose—though not me, usually, I—"
"What sorts of games?" he asks, perking up.
"Uh… chess. Exploding Snap. Gobstones…"
Sirius makes a face. "S'boring. Don't you play, I dunno, something exciting, like… like Chase?"
"ʽChase'?" she repeats, bewildered. "That's not a bit… childish?"
"ʽCourse not," he scoffs, affronted. "It's entertaining. Like Fetch."
For a moment, he falters. Of course the Hufflepuffs don't play Chase or Fetch. They haven't exactly got an illegal dog Animagus gnawing on their socks every morning.
"What of it?" He crosses his arms, gazing at her in a challenging manner.
"With a stick?"
"ʽCourse. And magic." Or something like that.
"Oh. Like a boomerang." She brightens.
"Would you… um… like to play Fetch, then?"
Sirius stares at her, feeling the idiotic compulsion to grin like a madman. "You know, you're really not all that bad."
Daphne looks almost hurt.
"It's because you're a girl," he explains hurriedly, waving his hands.
"Oh. But I always thought… Are you and Potter—?"
"NO!" Sirius shudders. "No."
"You know," she says thoughtfully after a pause, "you really aren't all that bad, either. And you aren't like everyone else seems to think you are."
"Just shows how much they know," he scoffs, toying with his pocket. He knows very well what everyone else believes, and he doesn't care. It makes him seem more mysterious and far more extraordinary than he actually is—though, as far as people go, he thinks he's anything but mundane; and that's being entirely modest, of course.
He's almost starting to grin to himself when Daphne's eyes narrow and fixate upon the pocket with which he's been fidgeting.
"What's—what's that?" she inquires, her voice suddenly sharp.
Sirius glances downward. A bit of pink, feathery fluff is poking out of his jeans. When he looks back at Daphne, her face goes from white to red in a matter of seconds.
"S'nothing," he tells her, wondering at the peculiarity of her reaction.
"It's something," she insists. "It belongs to—er…"
"Er?" Sirius repeats.
"Somebody I know," she mutters quickly.
"Not anything to worry about, really. Just going to borrow it for a while."
"I don't—I think—I mean… Give it back. Just give it back. To me. To give it to—to someone."
What Sirius notices nearly instantaneously is that she's not pouting or stamping her foot like he's seen other girls do when things aren't progressing in their favor. She's frowning, of course, but not bunching up her face so as to make herself look as pathetic as possible.
Not that he understands why she's upset. It's just a horribly ugly nightdress that belongs to one of her friends.
"It ought to come back in one piece," he promises earnestly, "and it if doesn't, then I'll fix it, and it'll be like nothing ever happened to it."
"I'd just really rather like to have it back."
Sirius ponders for a minute, and then takes it out of his pockets to inspect it once more. Perhaps, he thinks, there's something about it that he missed the first time. Perhaps it isn't as hideous as he's remembering it to be.
The nightdress unfurls itself like a flag and hangs wrinkled and limp from his hands. Then, abruptly, he sniffs it.
"Whoever's it is won't miss it much," he comments, his nose still buried in the fabric. "ʽCause I suspect it's never been worn."
He doesn't say that he knows this, not suspects it. He doubts that she'll understand why he's had a particularly keen nose since last year, and he doesn't want to reveal it to her.
Unless—no. Not even for the sake of Fetch.
"It's not that it'll be missed, I just—she'll just, I mean—"
Sirius's ears are also quite sharp. "This thing is yours?"
Daphne looks horrified with herself. She falls silent; and then, after recovering, she whips out her wand and cries, "Accio!"
Instead of feeling the garment ripped from between his fingers, it's he, himself, who's launched forward to collide with the caster of the spell, sending them both toppling to the floor.
Sirius flails. Daphne flails. But it's no use.
She's pinned beneath him, yet he doesn't seem to notice. For a while, before it becomes rather difficult to breathe, she reflects upon how warm he is, and how nice it is to be so close to someone else, even if he's squishing her and his hand is currently and accidentally somewhere that it really shouldn't be. His hair is in her face, which, conversely, she doesn't mind, because it smells of the spices used in pumpkin pie.
When she realizes that she's enjoying smelling his hair, she makes a strangled, choking sound. Fortunately, it's enough to make him roll to one side, thus freeing her.
"Ugh," she groans.
"Hm," he comments.
She breathes in deeply, still flat upon her back, and relishes in the endless supply of air, even though it doesn't smell half as good as it did not too long ago.
"Sorry," he mutters, but the apology is spoken in nearly a laugh. "But you know," he continues, eyeing her as he lies on the floor to her left, "your Summoning Charm is utter shite."
"I know," she admits, and then she laughs as well. "But I was desperate."
"So it is yours, then, yeah? The, ah, lovely nightdress."
She nods, blushing. "It's terribly ugly, I know. But my mum ordered it ages ago—back in June—for my birthday, and it's only just come. I'll never wear it, but I've got to keep it anyway."
"That's awfully heroic," he teases.
"Oh, sod it all," he mutters after a pause.
Daphne hears him reaching about for something, and shortly after, she feels the infamous nightdress being tossed at her lightly.
The effect is instant. The common room begins to shake, a low rumble sounding beneath the floor. Clumps of loam rain down from nowhere, and all sources of light dim until both she and Sirius are cast into complete darkness. Daphne can feel things shifting all around her; gusts of air rush back and forth above.
And then it stops, all falling still. The lights return, once more illuminating the room, and a fire cackles merrily in the fireplace as if it's been there the entire time. One glance upward alone tells her that the common room has changed for the better: it's normal again.
"Weird," she hears Sirius mutter. Quietly, she agrees.
Shouts echo from somewhere across the room, and in seconds, there are three Gryffindors staring down at her and Sirius.
"Padfoot!" James Potter shouts jubilantly, drawing Sirius up to his feet. "What the bloody hell happened? Stupid common room locked us out after you went in."
"You'll never believe it," Sirius tells him excitedly, "but the Hufflepuffs've got this lockdown thing, and I set it off, 'cause…"
And he launches into a semi-abbreviated tale of what has just occurred.
Daphne doesn't care to listen. She's feeling more or less ignored, only it's worse than that, because she wasn't ignored before, and now, abruptly, she is. It's a funny thing, because she thinks that if anyone else were ignoring her right then she wouldn't mind half as much. But she does mind, and quite a bit at that.
Peter Pettigrew regards her nervously, edging closer to Remus Lupin, who scrutinizes him with an air of exasperation. Daphne sighs, and her eyes close.
It takes her a while to realize that she isn't just imagining the silence, and that truly, no one is talking. Her eyes blink open. There's a hand hovering right in front of her nose, lingering there in an offer.
"Thought you'd fallen asleep," she hears Sirius tell her. He sounds slightly miffed. "You sleep more than Peter does, I suspect."
She takes his hand; immediately, she's pulled upward until she's able to stand on her own. The sensation is a little bit like flying. He lets go of her belatedly, though the shadow of his touch lingers long after.
James stares at her suspiciously for a moment, noticing the line of her gaze, and then elbows Sirius in the ribs. "I get it," he says slyly. Sirius gives him a brotherly shove.
"Get what?" Peter pipes up.
James pats him upon the shoulder. "I'll tell you when you're older, Pete."
Daphne finds herself smiling. She's feeling warm again, pink and fuzzy on the inside. The sense increases when he sidles close to her, and she can smell nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and boy.
James waggles his eyebrows suggestively at them, but Sirius ignores him for once.
"Reckon we ought to go somewhere," Sirius comments casually. "You should get away from this lot before they corrupt you."
"Oi!" James protests. "Like being locked up with you hasn't corrupted her already!"
Daphne laughs—and thankfully, she doesn't giggle. "Well," she says, "I do owe you a round of Fetch…"
Sirius doesn't smirk; instead, he smiles widely. There's a light in his eyes, and there's something about it that's just so completely and utterly thrilling.
He's Sirius Black, sixteen years old and ready for an adventure. She's Daphne Littleton, happy and excited and maybe a thousand other emotions all at once. They're a perfect match. It's just taken them a while to realize the possibility.