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Chapter 21 : A Date
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Sunday morning at breakfast there were more than a few students looking a bit ragged. I couldn’t tell if they were hung over or just tired. Sirius definitely belonged to the hung over group. He sat at the Gryffindor table with his head in his hands picking at the eggs on his plate with a fork.
“How’re you feeling, mate?” James asked loudly with a smirk. He clapped his best friend on the back causing Sirius to groan and slouch even further down in his seat.
I hid my smile, not wanting to add to the pain he was already undoubtedly feeling.
Lily smiled at him. “You ought to eat a little something,” she suggested kindly. “That’ll help with the headache. And besides, you shouldn’t have pepper up potion on an empty stomach.”
Sirius perked up at her words. “You have pepper up potion?”
Lily pulled a vial of the red concoction from her robes and handed it to Sirius. “Make sure you eat something, though,” she lectured. “Without any food in your stomach your symptoms come back tenfold when the effects wear off.”
Sirius poured a generous amount in his goblet of pumpkin juice and downed it in one gulp. “If this stuff helps I think I might be changing my mind about you and James. You’re not so bad.”
Lily rolled her eyes at the double edged compliment, but didn’t respond. The potion’s work was obvious in only a few minutes. Sirius’s eyes appeard less bloodshot and the creases in his forehead eased. He dug ravenously into his breakfast plate and took only a few moments to finish the meager helping he had served himself.
“Thanks, Lils.” He beamed at her.
Towards the end of breakfast the Great Hall began to grow quiet. As it got more dramatic we looked around. McGonagall stood at the front of the Heads table, waiting for us to obey her silent command. It only took another minute for the entire room to fall completely silent. No one wanted to anger her further as she was already sporting a rather ferocious scowl.
“As I am sure many of you are already aware, last night we caught a record number of students roaming the corridors after hours. The appropriate points have been deducted from the various Houses as you will notice when you pass the totals.”
I tensed and felt Lily do the same beside me. Neither of us could afford to get in any kind of trouble. We had too much to lose- she her head girl status and my enrollment at the school.
McGonagall continued. “As such we have been informed that an unauthorized and completely against school rules party took place last night, though the students we have spoken to seemed unwilling or unable to help us locate the party site and identify the lead perpetrators.”
Sirius coughed, hiding his laughter and James looked like he was having trouble keeping a smirk off his face. Only Remus seemed impassive and calm.
“Any students discovered to have taken part in this event will be punished most severely unless you come forward now and share your knowledge of what took place last night. Do not hesitate to do so because we will get to the bottom of this.” Her stern eyes flowed over every table, but it felt as though they paused on me.
I tried to tell myself that was just a figment of my imagination, just paranoia. I didn’t really believe it.
The entire hall erupted in whispers, the younger students confused about what had happened the previous night and everyone else worried about getting caught.
James and Sirius high-fived across the table while Lily and I stared in disbelief. They were grinning, not in the least bit worried. “That was a brilliant party!”
Lily stared at them, horrified. “Are you two not at all ashamed of yourselves? You broke the rules and got Merlin knows how many students in trouble, and you’re just high-fiving and bragging?” Her voice rose an octave on the final word and came out as a screech.
“Calm down, Evans,” Sirius said with a roll of his eyes. “No one’s going to get you in any trouble.”
This did little to ease Lily’s panic. It only made things worse. Her eyes bugged out of her head. “Even if that is true,” she hissed through clenched teeth. “What about the other students? The ones who got caught and lost points? And when one of them turns us all in, we’ll all get in trouble. Remus will lose his prefect badge, I’ll lose Head Girl, and James will lose both Quidditch Captain and Head Boy!”
Tears sprung in Lily’s eyes and James frowned at his best friend in disapproval, clearly unhappy that Sirius had pushed Lily to crying. “You don’t even care,” she wailed. “What’s another detention and some points? You’ve already got so many. All that matters to you is that the stupid party was fun.”
Sirius shrugged. “Well it was.”
“You- you’re such an insensitive prick! You know that?” Before giving him a chance to respond, Lily stormed off.
James’s eyebrows drew together. “Thanks, mate,” he muttered sarcastically and then hurried after Lily.
Sirius looked slightly bewildered. “What’s with her? That’s a little ungrateful since it was her birthday party.”
“You’re dafter than you look,” Remus said and Peter nodded as well.
“Well it was fun,” Sirius insisted. “And record breaking! You heard McGonagall. I bet no one’s ever thrown a party like that before in Hogwarts.”
I raised an eyebrow a miniscule amount, not high enough for any of the boys to notice. I had to admit I was on Lily’s side here. With the number of students they’d caught in the corridors after curfew, and McGonagall had implied it was quite a large number, one of them was bound to turn us in.
It would only take one person to mention the Marauders and they’d all be hauled in, myself and Lily included. I couldn’t afford to get in any trouble, not with Dumbledore out on a limb just letting me enroll.
As Peter and Sirius left, Remus slipped an arm around my waist. “You okay? You look a little-” He didn’t finish the sentence, clearly deciding it was better not to say whatever he had planned.
I didn’t say anything for a moment. He didn’t seem worried and that was a sure indicator I shouldn’t be either.
But I couldn’t help it. “What if McGonagall finds out it was us?”
“She won’t. I won’t let that happen.”
I had grown to learn that Remus didn’t make empty promises, but I couldn’t begin to imagine how he was going to keep that one. “I really can’t get in trouble,” I said quietly. “You know that. Dumbledore- he’s been so kind already.”
Remus nodded, his expression serious. “I get that. He won’t treat you differently than any other student.”
Dumbledore hadn’t so far, but I had a difficult time believing that was true. Even if he didn’t mean to, he couldn’t help but hold us to a different standard. He wasn’t risking his position as Headmaster for anyone else. Just us.
“Maybe he should,” I said.
Remus frowned lightly, more worried than angry. “Hey, it’ll be fine.” He pulled me off to the side, into a shadowed corner of the corridor. “James and Sirius- they put up precautions. Incase people did get caught. No one who entered that room can say any of our names in connection with the party.”
“What? How?” That sounded like complicated spellwork. James and Sirius were good, but were they really that good?
“That’s what they said and I believe them. You don’t question their magic. It’s always spot on if they say it is.” That I believed. Still, that wasn’t just NEWT level. That was specialty knowledge, much like the map. It probably required combining a few spells together.
Just thinking about how they’d done it made my head begin to ache. “I guess if you trust them…” I said hesitantly.
I didn’t trust the Marauders more than necessary, but it seemed every direction I turned I was placing my fate in their hands. They hadn’t let me down yet. The ‘yet’ seemed to hang rather ominously though, and something told me it was only a matter of time before something worse came of it.
McGonagall made the same announcement at breakfast every morning for a week and either she had mastered the art of making each student feel like they were being singled out, or she was staring specifically at me, Lily, and the Marauders.
I voiced my fears to Remus on occasion, but he assured me even if she did suspect us there was no proof and would continue to be no proof. I didn’t believe him, but I also didn’t have much of a choice. Even if I went to McGonagall now and she went easier on her punishment, I’d still be expelled. I was too much of a risk even when I followed the rules to the letter.
It was after Ancient Runes one day that I ran into Avery again, although it was less running into him as it was him cornering me. Ancient Runes was the only class without any of the Marauders. It was a small NEWT level course with mostly Slytherins and Ravenclaws. Not too much chatter as most of them kept to themselves.
It was one of my more relaxing classes, at least when I didn’t run into Slytherins that made me anxious afterwards.
“Hello, Ana,” he said, his lips curling into a smile that looked far from sincere.
I forced my own into a similar shape. “Nice to see you again, Bardolf.”
Our interaction was formal, but that’s how we were raised. If you didn’t get along with someone, we were supposed to be polite. Even overly so.
“I’m attending a function this weekend. A party of sorts.” My stomach dropped at the word party, envisioning another gathering like the one we’d just had. Avery must have noticed the change in my expression because his smile grew wider and even less sincere. “Oh don’t worry, nothing like your… event last weekend. Slughorn is having one of his Slug Club meetings.”
I had a vague recollection of Slughorn inviting Lily and Snape to something earlier in the year, which must have been another one of his parties. “I’m not sure, NEWTs are getting closer and I ought to study,” I said.
I didn’t want to attend with Avery or anyone else for that matter, but saying no outright would be rude and I couldn’t exactly say that Remus and I were a couple. It would get back to my parents for sure and I didn’t want them knowing yet.
“One night, one party. All I’m asking is for two hours of your time. Maybe three if we’re having a good time.” I looked at him, still unsure. “As friends, of course. I wouldn’t ask more without your father’s permission, as is proper.”
The dig at my relationship with Remus was concealed well, but I still caught it and my face flushed pink.
“What do you say, go with me?”
“Well,” I trailed off. I didn’t have much of an out. Declining would be rude. It might get back to my parents even. Remus wouldn’t be at all pleased, but it wasn’t his choice. “Alright. As- friends. I’d like to accompany you.” It sounded stiff and overly polite, just as the smile he responded with was.
“Lovely. I’ll be by to pick you up.”
I watched him go, my hands gripping the strap of my bag as it hung across my shoulder. The knot in the pit of my stomach seemed to expand until I felt I was going to puke. I regretted saying yes immediately, although Avery hadn’t given me much of a choice by cornering me alone.
He and his friends had ignored me ever since getting back from Christmas holidays and even before that the extent of their troubles was Mulciber bumping my chair, which felt like more of a warning than a threat. Snape had spoken to me about Remus, but again, that was a warning. He’d thought he was helping.
I hadn’t heard from Snape again, so I assumed Remus must have sorted that problem out and I didn’t want to annoy him further by pushing the subject.
I met up with him and the others on the way to the Quidditch pitch. James didn’t have the pitch booked for Gryffindor, but the first years were having their flying lessons and he wanted to scout out the new Gryffindor recruits, even though he’d be gone the next year. “Have to leave the team in good hands,” he’d said gruffly.
Nothing official had been announced and probably wouldn’t until the summer, but James had invited Corinne Michaels alone with us, the only other member of the Gryffindor team present. James was ignoring Lily, who looked more than a touch put out, and whispered frantically with Peter and Corinne, glancing up the sky and pointing at specific first years.
To me and they all looked clumsy and awkward on their brooms, but I didn’t have a trained eye. At least a few of them must have some sort of potential, or James wouldn’t be staring at them so intently.
Lily breathed on her hands and rubbed them together, her cheeks chapped with cold. “Anyone else freezing?” She asked, shivering visibly in the frigid February air.
Remus and I shrugged. It was cold, but under all our cloaks I wasn’t miserable. I’m sure our particular condition didn’t hurt that either. Sirius was the only other one to look uncomfortable as he sported a bright red nose under his mop of black hair.
“I’m an ice cube,” he muttered, looking rather disgruntled. “Why’d we get dragged out here anyway? They’re the ones who have to do the scouting. We could be sitting in front of a fire right now.”
Lily and Sirius both sent dirty looks toward the trio whose eyes were glued to the sky. Lily pulled a large mug out of her bag. Steam rose from the top, charmed to stay warm no matter the temperature.
“Hot chocolate?” She offered. I wasn’t freezing, but I was far from warm. Hot chocolate sounded like perfection. She pulled out four smaller cups and passed them around.
“Merlin, Lily, you’re a godsend,” Sirius said as he gratefully drank.
“Thank you, Sirius,” she said with another dark look toward her boyfriend. She snapped the mug shut and slid it back into her bag, obviously not planning on offering any to James. “At least someone appreciates.”
Lily let out a sigh as she pulled her robes closer around her. “We shouldn’t be out here at all, you know. I’ve got to study for NEWTs, I’m hopelessly behind schedule and Slughorn is just insisting I attend his party this weekend.” She rolled her eyes and I perked up at the mention of the party.
“So you’re going?” I asked, glad that at least one friend would be there, even if I wouldn’t be permitted to speak to her while with Avery.
“I always go,” Lily replied with a smile. “I mean, I’d like to skip so I can focus on my studying, but Slughorn is ever so nice and he always has such interesting people come.”
Sirius snorted. “If stuffy old men is your definition of boring, yeah. Have at it. I’ll take a weekend of pranks any day.”
We fell into a sort of silence. Without James holding us all together, it was hard to keep the conversation flowing. He was the real link between us all.
“I- I might be going too,” I said quietly, my eyes glued to my knees.
Sirius coughed, either smothering a laugh or simply out of surprise. “Why’d Slughorn invite you? Don’t exactly see how you’ve managed to impress him.”
I felt Lily’s curious eyes on me, Remus’s hand resting on my arm. “He didn’t. I- Avery asked me. As friends. I couldn’t say no.” I felt the need to justify myself, but no one said anything. I kept my eyes directly on the ground, but I could imagine them giving each other looks over my head.
“What’d you go and do a bloody stupid thing like that for?” Sirius snapped. I half expected Lily to admonish him for his language, but she stayed silent. “Avery? He’s a murdering little sociopath, or he will be once he graduates.”
I shrugged. No matter what I said, it wouldn’t be a good enough defense. They’d already warned me about Avery before, especially Lily. And Remus.
I couldn’t look up, I didn’t want to see the expression on his face.
“Ana?” Lily asked hesitantly.
I shrugged. I didn’t know what to say, though I was sure my face was burning red. Shame or embarrassment, I didn’t know. “I just needed to say yes,” I said.
Sirius scowled at me. “Justify it all you want. It’s still rank.”
I gnawed on my lip. A cool hand covered mine and I flinched at the contact, but Remus didn’t move it. “Lay off her, Padfoot.”
“Don’t make me wrong about you,” Sirius threatened. “I don’t like being wrong.”
My head bobbed up and down as I nodded, grateful that Remus had stepped up to defend me because I couldn’t do as much myself. I didn’t verbalize my gratitude, but Remus gave my hand a small squeeze anyway.
Even after what I’d done, he was on my side.
A/N: Thanks for being patient, guys! I've had a busy few weeks and fell behind on the chapters. I'm definitely going to work extra hard to make sure the next one is up on time. Y'all are the best! :)
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