A Revealing Potion
James Potter was an idiot, Mary thought to herself as she was making her way down to the dungeons. She did not even really mind the fact he had made fun of her and this morning's towel-incident, because some part of her could see what was so funny about that. What she did not understand, however, was how idiotic James kept behaving whenever Lily was around. He always seemed to think he knew exactly how to charm her friend (without the use of a wand) and he always failed miserably.
Mary knew perfectly well only their recent agreement to treat James and Sirius nicely had kept Lily from exploding. His last act had severely tested her patience, but Lily had stayed true to her promise, like Mary knew she would. She was crossing her fingers and hoped that one day soon, James would cease to try and impress Lily by acting like a headless chicken, but frankly, Voldemort would probably be kissing a Muggle-born before that would happen.
If only James would take some advice from Sirius… She still hated the way he had dated practically every girl Hogwarts and a dozen exchange students, but at least he knew how to close the deal. Besides, asking a girl out out really isn't all that difficult. Just catch them at a time when they are alone, sit down, do some small-talk and then casually ask if might be interested in having a drink together some day. Easy, there's nothing to it.
Mary was now passing through the dark-lit dungeons corridor, but was so distraught that she hardly noticed where her feet were taking her. Perhaps she should talk to James about this. She might convince him to act differently around Lily in the future and maybe that-
"Hello stranger," a guy's voice sounded softly in Mary's ear as she was gently pulled into a corridor where some of his friends were hanging out, leaning back against the dungeon wall.
Jonathan McLaggen: seventh year-Ravenclaw and renowned Hogwarts Quidditch-player. Mary had dated him for a couple of months last year. With his wavy blonde hair and hazel eyes, he was good-looking and intelligent, at first sight you might think he would be the perfect boyfriend. And in some ways he was, if you overlooked the fact that Jonathan was also a very jealous guy.
The main problem was that he had gotten slightly obsessed with her. It was quite annoying, really. When he furiously demanded just because Mary had gone to Hogsmeade with Remus (all they did was walk to the village together, Mary would have met up with Jonathan in The Three Broomsticks eventually) instead of waiting for him to show up on time, she just had it and broke up with him right then and there. But he still just would not leave her alone.
"Hi Jonathan," Mary said cordially while removing his arms from her waist.
"Why so cold, Mary?" he said while trying to pull her back to him again. "Haven't you missed me at all last Summer?"
She pushed him away. "No."
She sighed. "No Jonathan, I have not missed you. In fact, breaking up with you might have been the best decision I made all year."
She turned around to leave when Jonathan roughly grabbed her by the wrist. He pulled her close in a hard-handed way before whispering furiously: "You say that now, Mary, but we are made for each other, you and I. I know it and time will come for you to see that as well. Until that day comes, I will be waiting. Because that's –" He pulled her even closer "- how loyal I am to you."
Mary was grinding her teeth and although Jonathan still had a firm grip on her, she had one free hand left. For a moment she considered casting a nasty Bat-Bogey Hex, but she was unable to reach within her robes and get out her wand, so she decided to go for the next best thing instead.
Mary had slapped Jonathan hard against the cheek. He immediately let go, but she was not quite done with him yet. She quickly thrust her knee upwards and hit Jonathan where it really hurts. He crashed down onto the floor swearing. His friends looked at each other, wondering whether they should step in, but in the end decided to just witness the scene with amused looks on their faces.
"Ouch! What did you do that for?" Jonathan groaned.
"The slap was for pulling me into a dodgy corridor out of nowhere and the knee was treating me like I'm your possession. Which I am not, obviously, nor ever been. We're so over, Jonathan. We have been over ever since the end of last year. Stay away from me."
Mary hurried back to the main corridor, still a bit stressed out but anxious to get away from Jonathan and his friends as soon as possible. By the time she was nearing Slughorns classroom, she had started to pant slightly. When she rounded the corner, she wasn't paying attention and ran in straight on James, Sirius and Remus. "Everything alright?" the latter asked, frowning at her.
"Oh yeah, everything's fine now," she replied, still slightly out of breath. "It wasn't so fine about a minute ago, but now I'm great. Totally great, yes. Shall we go? Or do you guys want to be late for our first class of the year?"
They were all frowning at her, looking puzzled. Neither of them had moved an inch when James stepped up and placed a hand on her arm. "What happened to you, Mary?" he inquired.
"Nothing big, but I think I was just briefly abducted by Jonathan and his gang. He kept on nagging that we should get back together and when I kindly declined, he grabbed me really hard and –"
"He did WHAT?"
Mary shot Sirius a startled look. "It wasn't that bad. Anyway, he let me go after threatening that I should really consider taking him back, that's all."
Sirius looked at her for another second and then, making up his mind, turned around and was about to walk in the direction of Jonathan's corridor until he was held back by Remus. "Padfoot, think about this."
"Let go off me, Moony."
"It's a bit early to get a detention, don't you think? The lessons haven't even started yet."
"This will be worth getting a detention for," Sirius snarled.
He tried to push Remus aside, but his friend was a lot stronger than he appeared to be. "Sirius, get it together," he said warningly.
"That guy should keep his hands off Mary! He no longer has the right to touch her and if my fists are going to have to clarify that, then so be it!"
"Hang on," Mary interrupted. "You don't have to do that, Sirius. I'm a big girl and I think I can convince him myself just perfectly, thank you very much."
He looked at her. "Are you sure? Because if he hurt you..."
"Actually, I think I hurt him just as much, if not more. You should ask his private parts, I have a feeling they would agree."
They guys roared with laughter. "Alright then, I should have known you can take care of yourself," James chuckled.
"I would like to think so," Mary replied with twinkling eyes. "Welcome to the twentieth century. Still, should I ever be truly harassed by someone, I will definitely think of you, Siriius. I've always wanted a personal bodyguard."
"Fair enough," Sirius grinned at her.
The four of them set off to the Potions classroom together. "But seriously," James said. "If that oaf ever does something to you, do let me know. I'm Head Boy after all. I could give him the worst punishment imaginable." He thought for a moment. "Like pickling salamander brains or cleaning the owlery floor with a single toothbrush every night for a month."
Mary laughed. "Yeah, that would be cool. But are you sure that you secretly cannot wait to apply your Head Boy authority as much as you can?"
"Well, that too. I can't wait to use my new power and that Jonathan would be the perfect victim."
At that time Severus Snape – carrying pots full of pickled rat brains and wormwood – hurried past them and pushed Remus roughly aside in the process.
"Hey, watch it!" Remus called after him, but Snape did not even bother to look back over his shoulder.
James glared at Snape's back, his hazel eyes glinting with glee. "Then again, Jonathan might get off the hook if I can get my hands on that slimeball first," he growled.
They had arrived at the Potions class. Most of their classmates were already unpacking their potion kits. Snape was now standing at Professor Slughorn's desk, showing him the full jar of pickled rat brains. Lily was sitting at an empty table near the back and since there were only four spare seats left, they all made their way over to her.
When Mary dropped her back on the table and bent over to tell Lily about what'd just happened with Jonathan (she also immediately suggested using her Head Girl rights to punish him), she noticed that Sirius was whispering something into James's ear. James nodded, looking serious, and then said hesitantly: "Eh Lily, about this morning–"
Lily looked up slowly, shooting him a weary look.
"I just wanted to say that… I am sorry, okay? I was being a complete jerk to you and owe you an apology."
A tiny smile crept over Lily's fair face. "Just the one?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Good point," James replied, grinning sheepishly and clearly relieved Lily had forgiven him. "Countless apologies for my rude and disrespectful behavior over the last six years. But in my defense, I had your best interests at heart. And if you still want to come to the Ball in a tablecloth, I promise in no way I shall hold that against you."
Now Lily actually laughed. "Enough with the bloody tablecloth already! But alright, apology accepted."
Mary could not believe her ears. Lily was forgiving James for everything he had done to her over the years? What was going on here? When she looked at Sirius, he was smiling at her and cocked over his head to Lily and James, currently planning their first schedule of patrolling at night. When she looked back at Sirius, he arched his eyebrows, clearly signalling "this is because I talked to him".
Once again, he looked presumptuous at doing so, but this time Mary noticed that his self-confidence was no longer really bothering her. On the contrary, she realized that confident smirk made him all the more attractive.
Over the next two months, things were kind of quiet. Jonathan seemed to have accepted her rejection and had finally moved on. At least that is what Mary thought he was doing; she had spotted him by the courtyard fountain the other day with Stacy Sweeting sitting on his lap. They seemed to be having a good time and Mary was happy for the both of them.
Besides, first and foremost, she had her NEWT's to focus on this year. She was on a roll in most of her classes. Determined to get accepted at the St. Mungo's Healer Program, Mary had to achieve at least E's on all of her NEWT's. And by the looks of it, she had a pretty good chance on getting an O in Defense Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration.
She had always been excellent at Defense, but during their last Transfiguration lesson, McGonagall complimented her on being on of the few in her class to transfigure her own arm into a hawk's talon and back. So far only Remus had managed to do that as well.
Admittedly, Mary was sure James and Sirius could have easily pulled it off if they had been paying attention. But they had been too busy on conjuring a lizard out of thin air and lowering it into Leslie Jefferson's hat instead. Which of course resulted in a raging lecture from McGonagall and a week's detention for both of them, but let's not get into that.
Speaking of Sirius, Mary did not really know what to think. Part of her still thought he was an annoying prat who swapped girls sooner than his underwear. But a different side of her, the part that was growing, seemed to think he was becoming more handsome every day, especially when rays of sunlight illuminated those few light brown locks in his dark and thick hair...
But Mary was not quite ready to express those feelings to anyone. Not to Sirius (the fear of how she would react if he dared to ask her out was increasing every day), not Lily and Brice and not even herself. She wanted to focus on her classes instead. Becoming a Healer was all she had ever dreamed of and nothing, certainly not Sirius Black, could come between that.
Mary had always known that she was destined to become a healer. For one, her entire family was made out of doctors. Muggle-doctors of course, but that made Mary all the more enthusiastic about becoming a magical Healer. To look at healing from a magical perspective should be fascinating. And two, even Mr. Olivander, the wandmaker where she bought her wand, said that if she got picked by a powerful wand like hers, she must have a real talent for magic. He also told her that this wand (larch, 14 inches) was particularly suitable for healing spells.
So over all, she was right on schedule to get into the Healing Program... If it weren't for that stupid Potions. She was a complete disaster at this subject. Right now for example, they were supposed to brew Amortentia, a powerful love potion that should look pearly white and spread a delicious smell which was different to every individual. But something must have gone terribly wrong, because Mary's potion looked a grubby grey and dispersed the penetrating smell of rotten eggs.
She noticed that Slughorn was currently examining the potions near the front of the class, so she desperately tried to reread the instructions through the thick grey smelling cloud of steam that was circling from her potion.
Sirius, standing next to her, coughed when the spiral of smelly steam reached his nostrils. "Merlin's beard, Woods," he said while pinching his nose. "What happened to your Amortentia?"
"I don't know," Mary replied, looking flustered. She desperately stirred the potion a couple of times, trying to change the color, but it was no good.
By now she was starting to feel nauseated because of the sickening smell. There was no way she could ask Lily for help, because her friend had just gone to the bathroom. James and Remus were still adding ingredients to their own potions, whereas Sirius had already finished his - of course his draft looked a perfect pearly white. She had no choice... "Help me," she whispered pleadingly.
Sirius stared at her for a second. She could see he was contemplating doing nothing, because it was always very amusing to witness Slughorn making fun of Mary's poor brewing qualities.
He glanced over at Slughorn and, establishing that their Professor was currently examining Snape's (probably perfect) Amortentia draft, he said: "Alright."
Sirius quickly made his way over to her side of the table and, trying to wave away some of the obstinate rotten egg-smell that was surrounding her cauldron, briefly examined her potion. "It looks like you've added either too few or too many ingredients."
"That's impossible. I've checked and double-checked the instructions multiple times. Two valerian roots, one salamander heart, three skinned treefrog legs, one drop of asfaloth juice -"
"Seven drops," Sirius interrupted, looking up at her from the smoking cauldron.
"No, one drop. Look what Slughorn wrote down on the blackboard."
"That would be seven drops of asfaloth juice."
"That's not a seven, that's a one."
He arched an eyebrow. "You think I'd be right, considering the different state of our potions. Unless you're telling me you get a romantic kick out off the smell of rotten eggs..."
Mary snorted. "Touche."
Slughorn had now finished praising Snape for his excellent draft and was making his way over to their corner of the dungeon. "Oh no, he's coming," Mary hissed in alarm. "What am I going to do now?" She groaned. "I'm doomed."
"You're not doomed. It's going to be fine, look -" Sirius quickly added six drops of asfaloth juice to her potion. The fluid instantly made a loud hissing sound and turned into a perfect pearly white.
The smell of rotten eggs vanished and got replaced by a mixture of delicious smells. Mary breathed in deeply and smelled several things she adored: freshly mown grass, the old stable near her parents house, something musky, sandalwood, roses and lavender.
At that very moment Slughorn paused next to their table and, noticing Sirius and Mary standing there next to each other, lifted his eyebrows in surprise. Even the Professors knew that Sirius Black and Mary Woods did not like each other much. "The two of you teaming up there?" he asked.
Sirius laughed. "No sir"," he replied casually and headed back to his own cauldron. He then calmly watched how Slughorn examined his Amortentia. "This is a fine potion. Well done, as always Mr. Black," the Potions Master said contently.
"Cheers, professor," Sirius said, grinning confidently.
When Slughorn was just turning around to look at James and Remus's cauldrons, Lily finally returned from the bathroom.
"Phew, just in time I see. Did he check my cauldron yet?"
"No, not yet," Mary replied.
"Everything alright in here? How's your potion doing?" She looked down at Mary's cauldron and her jaw dropped in surprise. "Mare, this draft looks fantastic! Did you do all that by yourself?"
"Yep," Sirius said before Mary could admit the truth. "If you ask me, she's really starting to get the hang of things."
Lily beamed at her, looking like a proud big sister, and Mary didn't have the heart to tell her what really happened. Instead she shot a sheepish look at Sirius, who winked at her confidentially. She smiled back weakly.
"Ah Miss Evans, once again you have exceeded yourself," Slughorn said proudly as he was examining Lily's potion. This is by far the most perfect Amortentia I ever saw from the hands of a seventh-year student. I might say it's even better than Snape's potion. Brilliant," he said, beaming at Lily. "Oh m'girl, if only you would attend another Slug Club-meeting once in a while, then we could-"
"I don't think I have the time, with all the Headgirl duties I've taken on and such."
"I see," Slughorn nodded, unable to hide his disappointment. "Well, feel free to join us again any time when you are able to."
Slughorn finally turned to Mary, who was anxiously waiting next to her cauldron, fidgeting with the hem of her sleeves. "Would it be safe enough for me to come near your cauldron, Miss Woods? Or shall I put on my protective mask first?"
The class sniggered and Mary gulped as she witnessed how Slughorn started to study her potion. Would he notice? Had she already done too much damage too her Amortentia before Sirius fixed it for her? Was the reading mistake she had made earlier still detectable?
"Oho!" Slughorn suddenly boomed delightedly. "I thought I'd never see the day, but Miss Woods, this potion is absolutely extraordinary. In fact, I dare say it's even better than Mr. Black's draft. Well done, m'girl, well done", he beamed at her, patting her proudly on the shoulder.
As soon as Slughorn walked back to the front to the class to end today's lesson, Sirius leaned over to Mary, who was putting her book and Potions kit back into her bag. "Even better than my potion," he mimicked in Slughorn's low voice.
"Stop it," Mary said. "I only got it right this time because you helped me," she whispered back. "If you hadn't fixed it, I would have failed miserably. Yet again."
Sirius shook his head before swinging his bag over his shoulder. "No, that's not true. All you did was misreading the amount of asfaloth drops you were supposed to add to the draft. Just because Slughorn has an unreadable handwriting, doesn't mean you cannot brew a decent potion."
He left her without another word to catch up with James and Remus, who were already leaving the classroom. Mary remained behind in deep thought, overwhelmed by confusing thoughts about her non-existent talent in Potions and once again, Sirius's changed behavior towards her and how she was supposed to feel about that.
~*~ End of Chapter ~*~