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Chapter 6: The Friend and the Foe
Two cigarettes later and Misericordia was still scowling. The confrontation with the three guilty Gryffindors had been short and to the point; she had made it clear that she wasn’t giving them the essays and not to expect any essays in the future. She’d be paying more attention to that whole group, now that they’d managed to pull one over on Severus without her knowing about it.
She checked the map; it was quickly becoming her most valuable commodity. She sought for the miniscule dot that indicated Horace Slughorn was slinking around in Herbology Greenhouse 3. She would slip Severus’ essay (the one that used to read ‘James Potter’) onto Slughorn’s desk so it would be there in the morning. It would save anyone else knowing about the incident and Severus would get the grade like always.
Sirius kicked off his shoes, dropped his school bag on the dormitory floor with a thud, and made a beeline to the bed along the right wall. He yawned hugely, laying down on his back with hands under his head. He looked up at the top of his four-poster without really seeing it; he felt drained of energy.
It had been rotten luck that Misericordia had found those papers, and even more rotten that blatant evidence of his cheating had been brought to Remus' attention. Remus believed in academic honesty. He knew his friends didn't exactly adhere to this; how could he not? So Remus had made an unspoken rule: "I don't want to see it".
And so, not wishing to getting a failing mark in Potions or disappoint his friend further, Sirius had stayed up into the early morning hours of Friday to pen the real essay that belonged under his signature. It had been a painstaking process, but by some miracle all four Marauders had completed assignments sitting in the bin on Slughorn's desk for the eight A.M. class.
He had been dreading having to attend Potions; it was rather odd how terrible he was feeling about the whole cruddy situation and he wanted to see neither Misericordia Gethsmane nor Severus Snape.
Snape had been absent however, and Misericordia had given no indication that anything had occurred the night before. She had ignored the Marauders entirely, and he took this to mean that things might return to the way they were before he had kissed her in the hallway. He allowed himself to relax a fraction and he had made it through the rest of his classes on less than three hours of sleep.
After running on empty like this, he would have wanted nothing more than to grab dinner in the Great Hall and come back to the room, stomache full and happy, to catch up on rest. But sleep just wasn't going to be in the cards for
Sirius; tonight, Gryffindor house was throwing the first party of the school year.
Out of his periphery he saw Peter stick his head into the room, "Coming down to eat?"
Sirius was silent for a moment as he collected his fatigue. When he sat up a second later, he had gotten rid of it.
Misericordia made her way to the Slytherin table, navigating her way through the large group of students milling around the Gryffindor table. Normally all it took to part the masses was her Slytherin robes and a few choice looks (of the intimidating kind). Tonight however, she was finding that everyone was much too interested in whatever was being discussed at the Gryffindor table to think beyond it. The closer she got to her table, the more frustrated she got at the ignorant crowd of her peers.
At last, after roughly ramming a sandy haired Ravenclaw boy out of the way with her shoulder, she emerged beyond the commotion. She breathed a sigh of relief, not only because she was glad to be out of there, but because she spotted Severus. He hadn’t come to any of the classes they had together, and although they didn’t have the exact same schedule they did share the first half of the day. She noticed how he slouched over his plate. He didn’t look up when she slid onto the bench across from him.
“Hey,” she said, pulling the bowl of rolls closer. She grabbed one, took a bite and chewed before continuing. “I was worried when I didn’t see you this morn-”
“I don’t need your concern,” Severus snapped.
Misericordia stiffened. “Are you feeling alright, Sev?”
He stabbed at a slice of ham with his fork before looking up. “Slughorn congratulated me earlier. Another excellent paper.” His face darkened. “What did you do?”
“What? Sev, I handed that paper in because you were the one who wrote it. You deserved the grade.” She was confused. Was he angry? Why was he angry?
“So you found the papers and decided to swoop in and save my ass, is that it?”
“Thought I’d be glad?” He was shaking. “You thought that since I wasn’t defending myself that you should?”
“No!” he spat, “You’ve humiliated me!”
She didn’t want him to be upset with her. He did so much for her; all she had wanted to do was help him in return.
“Severus, I’m your friend!” Missy heard her voice get higher as she tried to get Severus to listen to her. “Why couldn’t you tell me that they were bullying you into doing their work?”
It was the wrong thing to say and she recognized it the moment it had fallen from her lips. Severus’ dark eyes reduced to slits and his nostrils flared. He stood up from the table abruptly.
“Stay out of my business, Gethsmane,” he hissed.
The use of her last name hit Missy like a slap in the face and she watched shell-shocked as her only friend shoved his way out of the Great Hall.
“Here,” James said pausing and tossing his invisibility cloak to Remus, “I’ll catch up.”
Sirius and Peter stopped, their arms filled with clinking bottles of booze, to look back at James. He was weighed down with the bulk of the liquor and as a result he was lagging behind. They always provided a percentage of the drinks for House parties and tonight was no different (this was their third and final liquor run of the night). However, they had never had to move so much over such a great distance before, and they didn’t even have the security of the Marauder’s Map to rely on.
“Watch it, Prongs,” Sirius warned. He turned to Remus and Peter. “You heard the man,” he said. “Let’s get gone.”
Remus shot James a wary look: James was juggling two full kegs on his own. But James shook his head and waved it off. Remus gave him one last look (the one that clearly communicates “Be smart. I can’t get you out of this if you get caught.”) before throwing the cloak over Sirius and Peter and ducking underneath the hem. James heard their shuffling steps retreating and the door shut quietly behind them.
It was only then that he began to debate the best way to move his packages. He didn’t think he could levitate both of them. He would have to manually push one. He was on the bottom step and the exit, hidden almost completely in the shadow behind the stairs, was barely six feet from him; it shouldn’t be too difficult to move them to the small wooden door. Once outside, the black of night would hide his progress over the grounds of Hogwarts.
“Wingardium Leviosa!” The first keg rose three feet in the air. Carefully, while keeping his wand hand relatively still, he leaned his shoulder into the second. It scraped loudly against the stone of the staircase. The grating sound echoed off the high walls and bounced back from the ceiling.
He winced; this was going to be a lot trickier than he had anticipated.
And then he heard a muffled thud down the intersecting hall to his right. He peered cautiously over the banister.
“See something interesting down there Mrs. Norris?”
James felt the blood drain right out of his face; it was Filch. He couldn’t see him yet, but if he came around the corner…
He felt a whoosh of air just behind him; he whirled around just in time to see a girl drop in front of him, landing on her boot clad feet without a sound. He looked up to the flight of stairs on the second floor above him. He was disgusted with himself for having noticed the way the wind from the jump had made her short, black skirt ripple up her thighs.
Misericordia tapped him hard over the skull with her wand and he felt like he had egg dripping down his head and shoulders. He opened his mouth to shout at her (even if it meant that Filch would catch him), but she had done the same thing to herself. It had been a Disillusion Charm; she blended in so well to the stone that he could only vaguely make out her shape.
A thin, tabby cat with eerie yellow eyes turned the corner. It looked at him dead on and James hoped it couldn’t really be seeing him. It began to walk in his direction. Filch would be turning into the hall any second. He was a dead man.
There was movement at his side, what looked to be like a ripple in the air, and he heard a softly whispered incantation. A tiny brown field mouse darted through his legs, scurrying past Mrs. Norris and rounding the corner. The cat was off like a shot after it. He heard Filch’s heavy footfalls fade out as he ran after her shouting encouragements.
He took in a deep breath and exhaled softly. “Thanks.”
She reappeared next to him, tapping his skull to remove his Disillusionment, too. She hadn’t used as much force as she had on the initial one. He risked a glance at her.
“Don’t mention it,” she mumbled and slipped her hands into her hoodie pockets. She looked up at him for a moment, then turned and took a step to leave.
James stared down at the kegs. The thought of moving both of them the remaining distance was daunting. A thought crept into his head. It would be a simpler task if carried out by two. He was debating whether or not his idea was worthwhile. If he could put up being within her vicinity for a few hours, he could have his job completed in a heartbeat. And the faster he dropped the booze off, the faster he could tap into it.
“Listen-” She stopped, waiting for him to continue. “I’m going to a party.”
She laughed. “Well, I figured you weren’t dragging two kegs around for nothing.”
“Yeah, so…,” he paused, trying to predict the consequences of enlisting the aid of Poison Lips, and made a decision, “Come with me.”
Unfortunately, he knew she’d end up sticking around, but with so many students attending the party, he probably wouldn’t even see her for the rest of the night…
‘Damn!’ he thought. Why had he phrased it like that? He could have kicked himself for making it sound like he actually wanted her to go. And not just go, but go with him! He felt his face get hot. All he had wanted was to make his job easier for Merlin’s sake.
Misericordia was gaping at him in surprise; her reaction diffused his embarrassment and he smirked inwardly. He felt a sense of pride in having rendered this girl speechless. Especially since she hadn’t been speechless after that humiliating incident at detent- no, he would not think of it.
She was surveying him suspiciously, but finally, “Sure.”
“Right, then,” he said, playing it casual. “Follow me.”
They stuck to the shadows, each carefully levitating a keg, as he led her outside across the vast grounds of the castle.
James had assumed that once they reached the outskirts of the forest that Misericordia would question him. He was wrong. His unusual companion remained silent, continuing a few paces behind him as he stepped inside the boundary of the Forbidden Forest.
Missy was deep in her own inner turmoil. As she walked, she was realizing how idiotic it was to be following the guy that caused the most problems for Severus. Even though her closest friend wanted nothing to do with her anymore, she still felt like a traitor…
She barely noticed their descent into the heart of the forest. The trees were taller, wider, and their roots came thick and gnarled. It was only when the canopy became thick enough to obstruct all traces of moonlight that Misericordia pulled herself out of her thoughts.
“I hope you know where-”
“We’re here,” James interjected.
Missy ducked underneath a low hanging branch and stepped out of the trees; it was as if she had stepped out of a soundproof booth. How had she not heard this music before?
She paused on a set of stone steps built by nature. She was bathed in moonlight once more and her eyes adjusted to the light slowly. They were on the edge of a large open clearing, surrounded on all sides by an impenetrable line of trees. The space was packed with bodies. Students were dancing, singing, laughing, and drinking.
She lowered her keg to the ground as James set down his. He sighed and seemed to turn to her reluctantly.
“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked.
“Firewhiskey if you got it.”
He nodded. “I’ll be back,” he said, and disappeared into the crowd.
She figured she’d stay for an hour or two: enough time to smoke a bit and have a few free drinks. Enough time to temporarily forget the brief conversation with Severus.
She stayed at the edge and leaned up against a tree. While she waited, Missy wondered why it was that this was the first time she had ever been to a party at Hogwarts. As she surveyed her peers however, the answer became apparent. Like her they were all in casual attire, but even without their school robes on she could pinpoint a problem.
“Yeah, you’re kind of the only Slytherin here.”
James had reappeared beside her, a drink in each hand. The one in his right, she noticed, was already half gone; she accepted the one in his left and took a gracious mouthful.
“I noticed,” she said. She felt like a target: awkward and vulnerable. She never felt vulnerable.
He was watching her closely. When he gave her a wicked grin she knew that he could tell she was uncomfortable… and that he liked it.
James kept his eyes on her as he tipped his cup back and downed the remainder of its contents. Her green eyes flashed and her guard went up, but it was too late. He knew he had seen it: Poison Lips was uneasy. And to think he had wondered if bringing her along was worth it! She was the only Slytherin for miles and there was no way in hell that she could navigate her way back through the forest without him. This was definitely going to be worth it. It was probably the best idea that he had ever stumbled across.
He laughed out loud. “Enjoy!” he shouted over his shoulder as he walked away. He hoped she could recognize sarcasm when she heard it.