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It was perhaps a sign of how poor our work ethic was that, on the one day we all decided to stay late, we got locked in.
I'm not going to blame anyone for that night. Well, okay, I could blame a lot of people for it. I could blame Dean Dean Holstone for being a lazy idiot and failing to notice that we were all still in the common room before he triple-locked the door and went home. I could blame Ellen for being an aspiring dictator. I could blame Tarquin for owning a paintball gun. I could blame Scorpius for not getting out the way quick enough when I decided to fall over, which happened far too often for my liking.
I could also blame myself for eating the last packet of biscuits. But, again, I'll blame Scorpius for that. He dared me. But, essentially, the whole thing was absolutely not my fault and, if anything, I should get the credit for saving our collective bacon. Well, I'll give a morsel of credit to Scorpius for it. It was his genius plan that pretty much got us out of there in the end. Actually - I should credit Scorpius for getting the biscuits back. Oh, and Gwendolyn/Raven.
It was late in May and the final work deadline had just kicked in. It was a deadline that had pretty much been set since the first week of September but, somehow, it hadn't quite filtered through to any of us, and now it was approaching like a brick wall on castors hurtling down a steep hill. With a troll riding it.
Scorpius was the first to state the bleedingly obvious.
'We appear to be locked in,' he said, after a good half hour had been spent fiddling with the locks and trying to prise windows open.
'Yeah, we know,' Tarquin said, irritably. 'I'm going to apparate in a few minutes.'
'But I need the door!' Ellen piped up, pointing to the enormous piece of cardboard that was resting against her leg. 'I can't apparate with this!'
'Well, I'll kick it again, and then I'll apparate.'
Tarquin squinted at the door, then took a brief run-up, leapt into the air, and planted his foot somewhere just above the door handle. The door shivered in its frame, and a funny high-pitched sound came from Tarquin's mouth - then he was hopping on one foot, clutching at his ankle.
'Okayokayokayokay - no door -' he choked out.
'I'll just leave this here then,' Ellen dumped her cardboard against the sofa with disdain. 'Okay, someone get the lights, then we'll apparate.'
Scorpius, who was closest to the lightswitches, extinguished every light in the room, leaving a few little slits of fading daylight coming in through the blinds.
'On the count of three,' I offered him my hand, knowing it was always better to apparate in pairs (that way, both of you got splinched fringes and the spontaneous haircut didn't seem so bad after all). Our fingertips had just brushed, however, when Tarquin's voice drifted out of the gloom.
And then Ellen and Obscure Henry piped up too. 'Oh.'
'I can't apparate,' Tarquin said.
A murmur of assent passed through the room.
'Come on,' I said, gripping Scorpius' hand all the same. 'Don't be daft.'
I twisted on the spot, thinking of the flat and how nice it would be to get back there - and then opened my eyes and saw that, not only was I still in the common room, but me twisting on the spot had dragged Scorpius hopelessly off-balance and he'd blundered into the sofa. Moreover, my hilariously unsuitable skirt had ridden up (I was usually a jeans girl, but I'd had to relegate my jeans to the wash before things started to grow on them) to the extent that I felt like only my voluminous anorak covered whatever dignity I possessed.
'Funny,' I released Scorpius, letting him sink back into the cushions, then tugged down my skirt. 'I can't apparate either.'
'Get the lights back on,' Gwendolyn/Raven ordered. 'Maybe there's a spell to stop us apparating?'
'Can't be,' Tarquin said. 'We apparate in and out of here all the time.'
'Maybe it goes live when Dean locks up...'
I pressed my finger to the lightswitch; at once, there was a deafening pop! noise, a sudden burst of light, and then an overwhelming amount of darkness.
'Bugger,' Tarquin said.
'Sorry,' I wheedled, stomping back over in the vague direction of the sofas and careering into a coffee table as a result. 'Ow...for the love of-'
'Lumos,' someone that might have been Obscure Henry said. At once, a bluish glow spread over the scene - everyone looked vaguely worried.
'So we're locked in and the lights have gone,' Gwendolyn/Raven gave a neat summary of the moment.
'Might have another go at the door,' Tarquin muttered, flexing his ankle, until Gwendolyn/Raven grabbed his elbow and hissed 'No. You need that for walking.'
'Maybe we could get a message to Dean?' Scorpius hazarded. 'I mean, he does live downstairs-'
'He'll be out,' Obscure Henry rolled his eyes. 'There's this pub in Knockturn Alley where they serve this stuff-'
'But how do we even get a message out?' Gwendolyn/Raven said. 'Patronus charm, I dunno, though...'
A short silence prevailed.
'Can anybody even cast a patronus?'
'No,' the room chorused.
We resolved to wait and see, guessing that Dean Dean Holstone would probably return before the night was out and realise we were locked in. Until then, we would sit tight in the common room, play a few games of exploding snap, maybe share out some biscuits and tea, and wait patiently.
This lasted until it transpired that there weren't any biscuits left. Which meant it lasted the grand total of half an hour.
'The biscuits,' Obscure Henry stared into the empty biscuit tin, a growing look of horror on his face. 'They - they're all gone!'
'All gone?' Frances whispered.
Obscure Henry ran a finger around the inside of the tin. 'Nothing but crumbs,' he said, mournfully. 'Only crumbs...'
A stunned silence settled over us like a particularly mouldy old camping rug had dropped from the ceiling.
'But who ate them?' Eunice demanded, in her shrill, shrieky way.
I stared at the floor, finding out what guilt tasted like for the first time.
It tasted like custard creams.
'It wasn't me,' Tarquin said. 'Funnily enough.'
Gwendolyn/Raven followed suit. 'Nor me.'
A succession of 'no's went round the common room, until it reached Scorpius, who said. 'Er, not me either.'
And then everyone looked at me.
'Nope,' I tried to keep my voice as chirpy as possible. 'Wasn't me!'
I've never been a very good liar.
'But yesterday,' Ellen squinted at me. 'Yesterday, I saw you rummaging around in the tin...'
I shuffled from one foot to another. 'So?' I said. 'I opened a new packet. I only had the first biscuit.'
'And what biscuits were they?'
'Henry, check the crumbs,' Ellen barked.
Obscure Henry licked his fingertip, ran it around the inside of the tin for a bit, then put his finger in his mouth and contemplated us all for a moment.
'Custard?' Frances whispered.
Obscure Henry nodded. Everyone swivelled round to stare at me.
'I'm telling you, I only had the first biscuit-'
'Did anyone else have a custard cream yesterday?'
The room stayed silent. If looks could kill, I would be as dead as an especially dead dodo.
'Alright, whatever, fine,' I wheedled, guessing that honesty was the best policy. 'I had the biscuits. But, if you ask me, if you're going to leave them lying around...and it's a free-for-all tin, I'm allowed to eat as many as I want, and I totally meant to buy a new pack this afternoon but I was working, you know?'
Nobody seemed convinced. They just seemed very, very angry.
'Well, if we're stuck here all night and end up starving, it'll be your fault, Lucy,' Ellen snapped.
'They were only biscuits!'
'They were more than biscuits,' Brooding Nameless Barry spoke for the first time. 'They were hope.'
'Look, Dean'll come back in a bit-'
'And until then?'
'How long is a bit?'
'How long is a piece of string?' I was getting a little frustrated now. It wasn't my fault that custard creams were so nice. Besides, Scorpius had dared me to eat them all, and he hadn't spoken up once in my defence. 'I dunno! You'll just have to put up with it!'
And then Ellen delivered the worst: 'You'll have to leave, Lucy. You can't stay in here when you're the one who ate all our biscuits-'
'All our hope,' Brooding Nameless Barry intoned.
'Yeah, well, it's not like I can leave, can I?' I thumped a fist against the door. 'Locked in, aren't we?'
'You know,' Scorpius piped up. 'Nobody's tried an Alohomora charm.'
The room's gaze shifted onto him.
'I was going to say ages ago,' he mumbled. 'But...'
'It doesn't change much,' Tarquin said, heavily. 'We're two floors up. And the front door's got some pretty nasty spells on it, because last week me and Raven tried to get in at Midnight and sabotage the-'
Gwendolyn/Raven slapped a hand over his mouth before he could say any more.
'Well, worth a shot,' I drew my wand and pointed it at the door. 'Alohomora.'
The door opened with a satisfying click.
'Go on,' Ellen's voice had a slightly vicious edge. 'Go on then, leave.'
'Go and eat someone else's hope,' Brooding Nameless Barry added icily.
'Fine,' I shoved my wand back into my pocket. 'Fine, I'll go. So much for solidarity, you lot. So much for friends.'
I'd no sooner put my foot over the threshold than Scorpius suddenly threw up a hand and blurted out 'If she's going, I'm going with her.'
'In the name of all that is duck, Scorpius, you can't do that-'
'If this is all that is duck,' Scorpius said. 'Then I don't want to be a duck anymore.'
As much as I felt I could hug him for volunteering to come with me, I felt slightly satisfied that, at last, he was getting his comeuppance for daring me in the first place.
'Fine then,' Ellen spat. 'Be a traitor. Be a frog.'
'Cool, whatever,' Scorpius followed me to the door, although he didn't sound all that sincere. 'I'm a frog.'
'Then I'm a frog too,' Tarquin suddenly cut in.
'And me,' Gwendolyn/Raven stepped out into the beam of Obscure Henry's wandlight. 'Frogs stick together.'
The other occupants in the common room howled with misery.
'Not you too!'
'You can't leave us!'
'Don't do it!'
'Hey,' Scorpius frowned. 'You didn't make such a big fuss when I said I'd leave-'
'Honestly, Scorp,' Obscure Henry said. 'Tarquin and Raven are much better company-'
'Well, looks like you'll have to do without us, doesn't it?' Gwendolyn/Raven glared at him, hands on hips.
A rustling noise sounded from the back of the room. Everyone went deathly quiet.
'Guys...' Frances whispered, emerging from a cupboard. 'I found...'
In her hand was a single packet of bourbon biscuits.
Then everything happened very quickly and me, from my vantage point of halfway out the door with Scorpius and Tarquin standing in front of me, missed a lot of it. It seemed that Gwendolyn/Raven darted forward, but then Ellen stuck her foot out and she went sprawling to the floor - and just as Tarquin dived in, shouting 'for the frogs!', Obscure Henry emerged from over the top of the sofa holding two paintball guns aloft.
'They're our bourbons,' he snarled. 'You better run.'
I didn't dare argue back, because the moment he finished speaking, he pulled the trigger of both guns - paint splattered everywhere, a deafening volley of shots rent the air - and I legged it as fast as I could out the door and up the stairs to the dark room, Scorpius hot on my heels.
I threw myself into the dark room, crashing into the second door with alarming force. Unfortunately, Scorpius didn't realise that I'd stopped, and carried on running, barelling straight into me; the two of us slid to the floor in a pile of flailing limbs and floppy hair.
'Scorpius - gerroff me!' I squealed, trying to pull down my skirt and open the door into the main dark room at the same time. Obscure Henry was still firing, and it sounded like he'd left the common room now, something that was confirmed as a blob of pink paint exploded on the top step of the staircase. Scorpius shoved me aside and grabbed onto the door handle with both hands, throwing all his weight against the door - a second later, the two of us tumbled through, Scorpius slammed the door shut with his foot, and we were plunged into total darkness.
There is a sort of darkness that you can only truly get in a dark room. Normal darkness isn't ever really dark; you can see it in after a while, and it just feels like an incidental quirk of lighting (or lack of lighting), not a whole thing in itself. Dark room darkness actually feels like a thing. It's thick and heavy and smells a bit of chemicals. It's a bit like having your head shoved inside a very small cauldron.
'Scorpius!' I flailed blindly about for a bit, grabbing onto the first thing my hand smacked against. 'Wha - it was just some biscuits!'
'Ow, my ear!'
'Sorry,' I released him. 'It's so dark!'
'This is a dark room?'
'Yeah, I know, but-'
Dim blue light lit our faces from below.
'Did you get hit?' Scorpius asked.
A short pause prevailed. I tried not to breathe, although seeing as breathing is kind of a primitive instinct, this proved quite difficult. It really did stink of chemicals, though, more so than usual.
'I get the feeling we knocked the developer over,' Scorpius grimaced.
The two of us shifted gingerly over to the wall, where the floor was comfortably chemical-free.
'All this over some biscuits,' Scorpius said, a little mournfully. 'I think Raven's still in there.'
'And Tarquin,' I cut in. 'Where did Tarquin go?'
Scorpius hung his head. 'I think we lost them.'
We both sat in sombre, contemplative silence for a few minutes.
'Well,' Scorpius finally said. 'Fancy a biscuit?'
'I always keep a stash in here,' he said, getting to his feet. 'You can't trust everyone in the common room.'
'I never noticed,' I felt a bit annoyed. I was usually quite good at locating and consuming food, as any true Hufflepuff should be. But, apparently, my epic Hufflepuff finding skills hadn't extended to Scorpius' biscuit stash. I lit my wand as well, and held it up so I could see exactly where aforementioned biscuits were kept. Scorpius reached up to one of the top shelves and lifted off an old carton which, previously, I'd thought was full of chemicals, from which he produced a full box of chocolate fingers.
'Go on,' he offered me one. 'I swear these haven't touched any chemicals, honest.'
I sniffed at the biscuit; it smelled delightfully chocolatey.
'So are we just going to sit here?' I said, the chocolate melting on my fingers. 'Shouldn't we check if they're okay?'
'Sustenance first,' he said, shaking the box at me. 'And this gives us time to come up with a masterplan.'
I devoured the chocolate finger in two bites. 'What're your ideas?' I said, through a mouthful of crumbs.
'Not many,' he admitted. 'But, well...'
'They may have a paintball gun,' he said. 'But we have a flash gun.'
The stairwell seemed a lot brighter after the extra-dark darkness of the dark room.
It had taken us twenty minutes to polish off the last of the chocolate biscuits and formulate our masterplan (and for Scorpius to explain to me what a flash gun actually was. In his words, 'it's a camera accessory that goes on the hot shoe thingy and makes a big bright light that lights stuff up and it's really useful but kinda bright so yeah'). Said masterplan involved a flash gun, my impractical skirt, owed a lot to chance, and possibly also owed a lot to the nervy sugar high we were both on after consuming an entire box of chocolate-coated biscuity things.
I descended the stairs with some trepidation, knees quivering.
Something was moving in the shadows just beyond the common room door.
'Scorpius!' I hissed. 'Scorpius, get the flash gun!'
There was a click and a tinny whine as the flash warmed up - but then the thing in the shadows moved out into my wandlight.
'I can't get back in!' Tarquin whispered. 'They've locked the door and - they've kidnapped Raven!'
Somehow, in the twenty minutes we'd been separated from him, Tarquin had been dragged through a bush backwards, dragged through it again forwards, dunked in a skip and then, finally had his clothes lightly singed by a blowtorch.
'I tried the front door,' his voice was hoarse. 'I...the things I've seen...'
I stepped forward, ready to sweep Tarquin into an all-encompassing hug (or maybe pat him on the head, because I could smell singed fabric from the other end of the corridor), but then the door to the common room swung open and, without warning-
Two shots; two bright yellow blobs of paint-
And Tarquin fell.
It seemed to take an age for him to stagger to the floor, the world suddenly turning in slow motion - our last lieutenant - our only hope save for the biscuits, which we'd eaten - fallen -
'Tell - tell my son,' Tarquin croaked out, stretching a pitiful hand out to me and Scorpius, who were frozen at the foot of the stairs.
I felt like I was about to cry.
'Tell him...wait,' Tarquin frowned. 'I don't have a son.'
A momentary look of confusion flickered over Tarquin's face, then he slumped to the floor, and was gone.
'No, you don't.'
Involuntarily, I jumped backwards onto Scorpius' foot. It was perhaps a mark of how serious the situation was that Scorpius didn't even make a sound; I imagined that having all of my body weight landing on his pathetic little toes might have been a teensy bit painful. Instead, we both held our breath and stared down the corridor, where Obscure Henry had just emerged from the common room.
The barrel of the paintball gun was pointed right at us.
'Lucy,' Obscure Henry nodded to me. 'You came alone.'
I realised, with a jolt, that the staircase behind me was, besides Scorpius, full of darkness.
'Stick to the plan,' Scorpius whispered in my ear, barely louder than a breath.
My next realisation that Obscure Henry couldn't see Scorpius at all.
I swallowed. My mouth was dry. Now, guilt tasted like custard creams and chocolate fingers.
'Yes, Henry,' I attempted a confident tone. 'I came alone.'
He cocked an eyebrow.
'I came alone,' I repeated. 'To apologise.'
He pondered it for a second, his mouth set into a tiny, cruel smile. Power had obviously got to his head a little bit. If it wasn't for the fact that I'd been out to pubs with him and actually snogged him a few awkward and mildly drink-fuelled times, I would actually have been a lot more afraid. But this was Obscure Henry, the boy who abhorred all that was mainstream, the boy that worshipped all that was unloved, all that you'd probably never heard of.
'Go on,' he said.
'I've realised the error of my ways,' I said. 'I've betrayed the name of duck. I was wrong.'
'I'll join you. I have valuable information.'
His cocky smile dropped; this was serious business. 'Like what?'
'The one they call Scorpius,' I told him. 'He keeps a secret stash of chocolate biscuits in his factory of lies.'
'You mean the dark room?'
'Interesting,' Obscure Henry stroked an imaginary beard, or, given his tendancy towards the hip, possibly an imaginary ironic goatee.
'So let me join you,' I pleaded. 'I will...I will fight for the name of duck!'
I stepped forward, but he raised the paintball gun again. 'Can't,' the cruel smile was back. 'How do we know you can be trusted?'
It was time to truly put the wheels of the plan in motion. I put my hands on my hips.
'Oh, Henry,' I tried to make my voice a little softer. 'Don't you remember those times?'
'In the pub, in the park, at New Year - those were good times, Henry. Don't you remember? How happy we were?'
'I came here to shoot paintballs, honey, not the breeze-'*
'You know I'm on your side,' I pouted, very, very conscious of the ridiculous skirt and the whole plan and the fact that I was picturing Obscure Henry with an ironic goatee. 'Don't let them tear us apart again.'
It seemed to work. His eyes left mine and, instead, travelled to the stupid skirt. He looked a little unnerved, but perhaps it was the way I was standing; hands on hips, legs wide apart, doing my best impersonation of a femme fatale and probably looking more like a Hippogriff in drag.
But it worked, oh, it worked. When he'd dropped his gaze, he'd involuntarily lowered his gun as well.
Then, a blinding flash, the paintball gun went off a few times, and then -
Well, silence apart from Scorpius wincing in pain.
I looked down at the floor, where Scorpius had, by some feat of gymnastics, slid through my legs and now lay on the floor, camera stretched out before him.
'Good job,' I told him. 'No, don't look up.'
An ensuing scuffle ensued further down the corridor; Tarquin wrestled the pinball gun off Obscure Henry, who'd been momentarily blinded by the flash, and now lay sprawled on the floor, hands held up in surrender. I stepped away from Scorpius and leant against the wall, feeling a little dizzy.
'You'l pay for this,' Tarquin was saying. 'Getting this paint off the wall will cost you at least a Galleon...'
'I thought we weren't going to make it for a minute,' I told Scorpius. 'But we did it!'
Strangely, he didn't respond. I dropped to my knees beside him, shaking his shoulder.
'You alright, pal?' I said.
He lifted himself from the floor a little and no, no, it was certainly not alright. A garish, crimson stain was spreading across the neckline of his favourite shirt, staining the fabric as it went.
'No-' my voice cracked. 'No - it was all my fault-'
'I'll be fine,' he mumbled.
I felt tears prickling in my eyes. 'Of course you'll be fine,' I said. 'It'll all be okay. It'll all be okay in the end-'
'No, really,' he looked a bit embarrassed. 'It's just paint.'
Now I felt I had to come up with an adequate excuse for my teary eyes. I didn't want to admit that, seriously, for a moment, I'd thought he was in mortal peril.
'But the paint - surely only turpentine can get that out-'
'Water-based paint,' Scorpius said, matter-of-factly, helping me up. 'It'll be a doddle.'
Further down the corridor, Tarquin was prodding Henry in the small of the back with the paintball gun.
'Take us to your leader. And while you're at it, give Raven back, she's grown on me.'
We followed them into the common room, heads held high with victory. And you know what? They say revenge is best served cold, they say that revenge is sweet - essentially, if you pay attention to all the proverbs, you'd think that revenge was supposed to taste like ice cream.
I know better, though. I know that revenge tastes like chocolate biscuits.
a/n: happy birthday, Hannah! I wanted to write you a thing, and then this thing happened. Iím posting it a bit earlier in light of the date and such, and I know the last thing you need is probably more starving artists-based stuff (and this should fit in between chapter 12 and 13, methinks), but, well, here we go. I promise this will be the last thing. Merry happy loveliness and stuff! Have a super-duper fan-dabby-dosey birthday, and I promise thereís more to follow, hopefully of the more proper gifty variety ♥ ♥ ♥
* line taken from the community episode 'a fistful of paintballs' (also the chapter title - couldn't resist - which, in turn, is taken from the 1964 film a fistful of dollars). This fic is very community-inspired (why oh why have I only just started watching this? It is beautiful), particularly the episode 'modern warfare'. I tried to include as many action-movie cliches as I could remember, so, yeah. Thank you to Gina for looking this over for me, and thank you for reading!