Chapter 8 : A Not-So-Sweet Halloween
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A Not-So-Sweet Halloween
“Lily, you’d better get down there. The masses are getting restless.”
Lily looked up from the letter she was writing to her parents at Anna, who had just entered their dormitory.
Anna shot her a look of impatience.
“All the prefects that McGonagall assigned to you for Halloween decorating. Ringing any bells?”
Lily feigned a look of realization. "Oh, those masses. I was sort of hoping they might get tired of waiting for me and give up.”
“And then you could blame it on them when McGonagall gets upset with you?” Anna asked. Lily laughed and wrote the closing to her letter. Lily, like many other Hogwarts students, tended to neglect the task of writing letters home. She found that she was always reminded of her family most around Halloween, a holiday that held so many double meanings for her. Hogwarts had introduced her to the real world of magic, but could not help associating Halloween with trick-or-treating, jack o’ lanterns, and costumes. People at Hogwarts would have laughed at her, but she could always tell her parents that she missed Muggle Halloween.
“You know me too well,” she said, putting aside the parchment and her quill. “Hey, want to take my place?”
“You couldn’t pay me,” Anna replied. “By the way, those two fifth year prefects are dating now, and apparently they don't have a problem with everyone else seeing them snogging and groping one another.”
“Fantastic. You see, this is why being Head Girl is not all it’s cracked up to be,” Lily said, rolling her eyes. She walked toward the door, resigned to an unpleasant and unproductive evening.
She entered the common room and scanned around for the fifth- and sixth-year prefects. Seventh-year prefects who had not become Head Boy or Girl were luckily exempt from such menial chores as helping to decorate for celebrations. Lily would have been one of those lucky ones, still sitting up in her dormitory with Anna and not worrying at all about how she was going to avoid James Potter. In fact, if she had never been Head Girl, they never would have had that office, and they probably never would have gotten in that fight; in fact, they probably never would have even become friends in the first place.
It had been over a week, but neither of them had spoken a word to the other since then. Lily blatantly refused to talk to him until he apologized, but he would not even meet her eyes. (Not that she was giving him eyes to meet, of course.) Life without being friends with James was much easier, anyway. Whenever she had gone to meet him in that office (the thought of it still made her cringe), it meant that she had to rush to get her homework done at other times. Now she had hours of extra time during the week.
Besides, whatever hope of reconciliation she might have had disappeared when he had not apologized to her. He obviously thought he was right, the bigheaded git. Perhaps he didn’t even really care enough to apologize to her. Whatever his reasoning, the lack of remorse had only increased her anger, and she was now quite sure that she was fine with never talking to him again. The only problem was that they went to the same school, shared a common room, ate meals at the same time, and had every class together. If she had thought avoiding Snape was difficult, it was nothing compared to James.
Luckily, James was nowhere in sight. She spotted the two fifth-year prefects, Abigail and Duncan, in much the same position that Anna had described them. It was fortunate that there was no chance that the sixth year prefects, Elsie and Pierce, would ever get the urge to snog one another. Pierce hardly ever looked up from his homework, and Elsie took her prefect status so seriously that she would probably consider a pleasant conversation with Pierce to be a violation of proper boundaries. Lily was actually slightly frightened of Elsie, who was rumoured to have inherited her build from her father, a giant-wrestler.
Much as Lily had predicted, decorating did not go smoothly. Elsie kept ignoring her directions and decided to put a charm on all the toilets that made them wail like banshees when flushed, apparently unaware of how annoying it was. Pierce kept trying to do his homework when Lily was in another room, and was so distracted that he conjured a swarm of bats that promptly dive-bombed him. Lily gave up on Abigail and Duncan, who started out the afternoon in passionate embraces, but were sulking and giving each other the silent treatment an hour later.
Lily had assumed that James had skived off his Head Boy duties, which seemed to be happening more and more frequently, but he did show up about an hour before dinner with Sirius, Remus, and Peter in tow. She was fairly sure that Professor McGonagall had told James he was supposed to help with the decorating alone, but not even the opportunity to scold him was enough to break Lily. She was getting a sick sort of pleasure out of being so unreasonably stubborn.
James was back to a perpetual lose-lose state with Lily. He was trying to give her space, but avoiding her only seemed to make things worse. He felt like he should apologize, but she was sending every signal that she wanted nothing to do with him. Sometimes he wondered why magic could never do anything really useful, like help him figure out girls. Accio, Schmaccio—being able to read Lily’s mind would have been real magic. Or maybe he should just put a permanent Silencing Charm on himself.
His rift with Lily made Head Boy duties fairly awkward, which was why he had brought his friends along to help him decorate, despite the fact that Professor McGonagall had expressly forbid Sirius and Peter from helping (Remus had been given a free pass because he was a prefect).
“If McGonagall catches you down here, you know she’s going to go spare,” James said to Sirius, who was sitting on the bottom step of the Entrance Hall staircase.
“She’s busy with Peeves,” Sirius said, “he covered her classroom with graffiti; I heard her yelling about it as I walked down here. Hey, watch this.”
Sirius directed a swarm of bats to attack the huddled pack of first-year girls that had just come in from the courtyard. The girls all screamed wildly and covered their heads. A few of them took off running towards the dungeons, their shrieks echoing off the walls. James had a good laugh, but he only let it go on for a few moments before conjuring an iron cage and charming all the bats into it.
“Ah, come on, Head Boy,” Sirius said good-naturedly, “you ruin all my fun.”
“I’m sure you’ll get over it soon enough,” James said. “Want to carve a pumpkin?”
James had no idea why Professor McGonagall had assigned him the task of carving pumpkins into jack o’lanterns—he had no artistic ability. His first three looked like they had had their faces bashed in.
“Only if I can make it look like a—oh, damn.”
Professor McGonagall had appeared at the top of the staircase, and Sirius had to duck around the side to avoid being seen.
“Potter, is there some reason why you are taking an inordinate amount of time to perform a simple task?” Professor McGonagall snapped. A few pieces of her usually-austere bun had come loose; it looked as though she had had quite the run-in with Peeves.
“Er—I just—I just wanted to take my time and make them look...good...” James trailed off. Professor McGonagall cast an unimpressed glance at his misshapen carvings.
“Perhaps you should work on something else, Potter. I’ll send Miss Evans down to finish these up.”
“No!” James said loudly. Professor McGonagall looked shocked. “Er—I mean, it’s okay, she doesn’t need to—”
“Potter, go switch the candles in the Great Hall for those black ones, and I will send Miss Evans down to finish these,” Professor McGonagall said, in a voice that made it clear that there was no room for negotiation. There was a loud cackling and the sound of breaking glass from somewhere on the second floor, and Professor McGonagall went hurrying off again.
Sirius came out from his hiding place, and the two of them entered the Great Hall, where Remus and Peter were busy placing pumpkin centrepieces on the house tables.
“Can we put a spell on the Slytherin ones so they burst into flame during the feast?” Sirius asked.
“Nah, we thought about it, but we decided it’s too showy,” Remus said. “Plus, we wouldn’t want anyone to actually catch on fire.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“Very funny, Padfoot. Anyway, Peter thought of a good one: Carius Expidus.”
“Nice,” James said. They had learned this spell in Herbology for the purposes of learning the countercharm, and it would make plants rot. By the time dinner rolled around, the whole Slytherin table would smell like Snivelly's armpit—or at least what James imagined Snape's armpit might smell like, never having had the horror of finding that out personally.
“Excellent,” Sirius said, grinning widely. James began the slow task of levitating the black taper candles above the tables; there were nearly two dozen boxes of them. Sirius and Peter eventually found occupation in bashing two pumpkins against one another in the air, seeing who could smash the other’s first. James and Remus stopped to watch for a few minutes until they heard a female voice yelling at them.
“What is all the noi—”
She did not finish her sentence; Sirius, in surprise, had let his pumpkin fall to the ground, where it smashed and splattered her with its innards. Lily stood in shock, pumpkin seeds hanging off her robes. Sirius looked alarmed.
“Oh, crimey—I mean, blimey,” he said. “I thought you were McGonagall, Evans, I’m—”
“Scourgify,” Lily said, cleaning the pumpkin off herself. She seemed to recover from the shock, and placed her hands on her hips angrily, looking at Sirius and Peter. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Erm...decorating?” Peter said hopefully. Lily raised her right eyebrow severely.
“Well, you’re doing a terrible job,” she said. “You’ve forgotten the most important thing.”
She flourished her wand at Sirius, whose head promptly turned into a pumpkin. His hands flew up, frantically feeling the orange vegetable now placed on his neck.
“Much better,” Lily said, turning on her heel and leaving the Great Hall. No one moved for shock. Sirius, who had dropped his wand when Lily Transfigured him, tried to bend down to feel around for it, but his top-heavy pumpkin head made him fall over.
James used his own wand to change Sirius back; his head returned to normal in the midst of a string of virulent swear words.
“That horrid, awful—”
“I can hear you!” They heard Lily’s voice yell from the Entrance Hall. Sirius resumed his diatribe, this time in a low grumble. James felt bad for Sirius—well, actually, he mostly thought it was funny. He was laughing out of relief more than anything else, however: it was the closest he had come to talking to Lily in a week.
The Halloween feast was one of the best Lily could remember. All of Hogwarts’ ghosts, it seemed, had turned up to float around in the Great Hall, giving it a distinctly eerie feeling; a group of scruffy-looking ones even struck up a terribly off-key rock performance near the end of the dinner. The only problem with their presence is that they inexplicably smelled like rotting food—she would have never thought that ghosts could have a smell at all, but she couldn’t think what else could be causing such a horrid stench. Lily had been sure that James and Sirius would have concocted some diabolical prank, like setting loose a large number of spiders or rats, but everything seemed to go off without a hitch.
While Lily was busy trying to stop two fourth-years from starting a food fight halfway through the feast, Anna had gone to the washroom; when they both returned, Mary had also disappeared from the table.
“Where’s Mary?” Anna asked, taking a sip of pumpkin juice.
“No idea,” Lily replied, scanning the table. “I was just thinking, though...ah.”
“Remus is gone as well,” Lily said. James, Sirius, and Peter were sitting further down the Gryffindor table, but Remus was not with them. Anna raised her eyebrows suspiciously.
“Do you think he likes her?” she asked quietly. “Only he’s been a bit...”
“A bit of an arse?” Lily asked. “Yes, he has. She’s not exactly helping things either, though.”
“Well, I suppose if they’re off snogging somewhere, it’ll clear things up,” Anna said.
“Yeah, or it’ll make everything worse,” Lily said darkly. “Hey...hold on...”
Remus had re-entered the Great Hall, looking very surly; he sat down next to his friends. Mary was not with him.
“Hmm...that doesn’t look good, does it?” Anna asked, though not with much concern. Lily could not agree more, and she steeled herself for comforting Mary when she returned.
She and Anna waited another few minutes for Mary to come back to the table, but there was still no sign of her. Lily began to grow worried that their friend was alone, crying somewhere.
“I’ll be right back,” she said to Anna, and she walked along the table to where James, Peter, Sirius, and Remus were sitting. All of them, except for Remus, were sniggering about something and looking over at the Slytherin table. Lily stood next to where they were sitting with her arms crossed for several moments before any of them spoke to her.
“Can we do something for you, Miss Nosey?” Sirius finally said, twisting around in his chair with an annoyed expression on his face.
“Are you doing something to the Slytherins?” Lily asked, but even as she looked over at their table, she saw a group of them that had pumpkin pie all over their faces.
“Doing?" Sirius asked. "No, we're not doing anything."
Lily rolled her eyes; she wasn't really interesting in decoding his cryptic answer right now.
"I only came to ask if any of you had seen Mary recently," she stated. Everyone except for Remus shrugged. Lily folded her arms and sighed. “So none of you have seen Mary in—oh—say, the last ten minutes?”
Sirius and Peter still looked baffled, although James glanced between Lily and Remus uneasily. Lily didn’t want to embarrass Remus unnecessarily, but if he was going to sulk like this, there was nothing else for it.
“Remus, will you just tell me where she is?” Lily asked. Anna had joined them now, and was looking on curiously.
“Evans, we’ve all said we don’t know where she is, so will you just let us eat in peace?” Sirius said in frustration.
“No,” Remus said, finally looking up from his plate. He looked slightly miserable. “It’s all right. I was just talking to her.”
“Well, where is she?” Anna chimed in.
“I don't know where she is now, but we were talking in the corridor that leads to the dungeons,” Remus said, his eyes returning to his food. Sirius’ eyes were as wide as tennis balls.
“Brilliant, mate,” he said finally. “Is she a good—”
“Shut it, Sirius,” Anna interrupted.
“I was only going to ask if she was a good conversationalist,” Sirius said. Peter laughed.
“Do you want help looking for her?” James asked. Lily ignored the fact that this—the first sentence he had spoken to her in two weeks—sucked all the air from her lungs.
“I think the sight of any of you would only do more damage,” Lily said, addressing the whole group rather than just James. “Come on, Anna.”
“Night,” Anna said to the four boys, and she followed Lily out of the Great Hall. “Where should we start—?”
Lily followed Anna’s surprised gaze and saw Mary at the foot of the staircase. Mulciber had a hold of her upper arm while Crouch, a fourth-year Slytherin, looked on. It was much worse than finding Mary miserable and weepy, which was what Lily had been expecting.
“Mary!” Anna called, her voice echoing sharply in the stone room. Mulciber and Crouch looked over, amused expressions on their faces.
“Let go of her,” Lily said, hurrying over to where they were standing. Mulciber did not listen to her. “I said: let her go!”
“We’re just trying to console her,” Mulciber said in an oily voice. “Her boyfriend upset her so much, it just broke our hearts.”
“As if you have a heart,” Anna said.
“You talk as if you’ve got a death wish,” Mulciber said. He must have tightened his grip, because Mary whimpered and squirmed more than ever, trying to escape his grasp.
“Take your hand off of her,” Lily said.
“I don’t think so.”
Lily better judgment got the best of her, and she took out her wand. Mulciber tried to pretend that his smile hadn’t faltered as she pointed it straight at him.
“There’s not much I wouldn’t do to you,” Lily threatened. There was a moment where she thought she might actually have to duel with Mulciber, until a new voice sounded in the Entrance Hall.
“Wha’s goin’ on?”
Hagrid, the gigantic school gamekeeper, had just exited the Great Hall and was looking at them with concern.
“The Headmaster don’ take kindly to fighting,” Hagrid said.
“We were just leaving,” Mulciber said smoothly. He released Mary violently, and he and Crouch disappeared into the passageway that led to the Slytherin common room.
“Yeh all right?” Hagrid asked.
“We’re fine,” Lily said. “Thanks, Hagrid.”
“Those Slytherins’re more trouble ‘n they’re worth,” Hagrid grumbled as he ambled towards the castle doors. “You girls should steer clear o’ them.”
“We try,” Anna said.
Lily saw Remus, James, Sirius, and Peter heading toward them. She turned to Anna.
“Go with her to Gryffindor Tower,” she said in a low voice. “I’ll be up in a minute.” When the group of Gryffindor boys had reached her, she wasted no time in getting to the point. “Well, thanks, Remus. Mulciber was about to drag her off somewhere when we found her."
He blanched. "What?"
"I have to go," Lily said shortly. She felt bad for accusing him, but didn't want to lose her resolve and apologize for being cross with him. Getting out of there seemed to be the best plan.
“Trick or treat,” Lily said to the Fat Lady when she reached the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. Lily headed straight up to the dormitory and found Anna and Mary sitting next to each other on Mary’s bed.
“That idiot, Mulciber,” Anna said scathingly. She had her arm around Mary’s shoulders. Lily crossed to her own bed and sat facing Anna and Mary.
“Mary, why didn’t you come back to the feast?” Lily asked.
Mary suddenly started sobbing again. Anna looked at Lily apologetically and said, “She told Remus that she likes him.”
“H-he s-said that—that h-he’s n-not interested in me!” Mary said. “He said I should j-just let it go.”
“So what did you say?” Lily continued.
“I said that he owed me an explanation,” she said, wiping tears from her cheeks with the sleeve of her robe, “because he keeps doing things that make it seem like he is interested. Then he said that I was reading too much into it and he said I was getting obsessive! He said I was being pathetic!”
She dissolved into hysterics again. Lily could not believe that Remus would have said something so cruel.
“Git,” Anna said venomously.
Mary continued to cry, and it was another quarter of an hour before Lily and Anna could convince her to go to bed. She was just about to go to sleep herself when a loud, horn-like sound rang filled the room. The other girls in the dormitory looked at her in confusion. Cursing her obligation to investigate the source of the trouble, she pulled on her dressing gown and looked out the door, unsurprised to see that the stone stairs were now a smooth, twisting slide.
In her bare feet, she was able to carefully walk down the stone without having to slide down it (which she thought would have been risking some sort of indecent exposure, since she was wearing a nightgown). As she passed several open dormitory doors—most of them filled with the faces of curious younger girls who had never seen the stairs transform before, some of them older girls giggling and trying to see who had tried to sneak up the staircase—she told their inhabitants to go back to bed.
When she reached the bottom of the staircase, she looked out into the common room and saw James and Remus silhouetted against the fire. They appeared deep in conversation, but when James noticed Lily, he got up from his chair and crossed the room to her.
“We...er...told him not to try,” James said to her, as if they had never stopped speaking. “Getting up the staircase, that is.”
Lily nodded. “What has he said to you?”
James sighed. “Not much, to be honest. He just sits there with his head in his hands.”
They stood in silence for a few moments, looking at Remus’ hunched figure.
“Listen...I know you shouldn’t have to do this,” James said, “but would you mind talking to him? I’m running out of things to say.”
Lily gave a short nod and James, apparently unsure of how to end the conversation, started walking up the staircase to the boys’ dormitory. She stifled the urge to call him back, to make him stay and given her more advice, to keep talking to her like they were still friends. I sound so pathetic, she thought, and she crossed the room quietly and took the seat James had been using before.
“Are you all right?” she asked Remus, who was still slumped forward.
“I’m fine,” he said, in a tone that could not be less fine. Lily sighed.
“Why were you trying to get up to our dormitory, then?” she asked. He did not speak for a very long time; the only sound was the crackle of the fire.
“I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry,” Remus said, finally sitting up. He looked exhausted. “It’s better that I didn’t, though.”
Lily could not understand what he meant. “I think she’d appreciate an apology, to be honest.”
“It would give her the wrong idea,” he replied. “It’s better that she thinks...it’s just better if I leave it alone.”
“Remus, how can it be better that she thinks that you’re a horrible person?”
“You wouldn’t understand, Lily,” he mumbled. At least he had that much right: Lily could not fathom how Remus could talk to Mary like he had that night in the library and then be so heartless towards her now.
“Well, if you’re not going to give her an apology for breaking her heart,” Lily said, “you could at least apologize for leaving her alone like that. Don’t you know what could have happened if—”
“Of course I do,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry, Lily. I know you want to help your friend, but...you can’t. Not when it comes to this.”
Lily stood up, affronted and out of patience.
“Listen,” she said, “I may not know the whole story here, but I do know that you’ve been really unfair to her. I don’t care if you don’t want to date her, but just decide one way or the other. You’ve told her you’re not interested, and if you don’t stick to that, the next time we talk about this, I’m not going to be so nice.”
She returned to the girls’ dormitory and left him to his thoughts. Mary was sitting up in her bed when Lily re-entered the room.
“Who was it?” she asked. Even in the dark, Lily could tell that her eyes were shining with tears again.
“It was James,” Lily lied, getting into her bed, finally. “He’s incorrigible.”
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