Into The Forbidden Forest
"Earth to Mary!"
"Huh-what?" Mary said, looking up confused from staring at a dark spot on her Potions desk.
"It's time for lunch." Lily was waiting for her by the door of the classroom. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Yeah, I guess I am. Sorry Lil, I guess I was daydreaming."
"You were probably still cherishing that outstanding Amortentia you just brewed," her friend replied, grinning at her as the girls started walking in the direction of the Great Hall together.
"Er… Well, actually-"
"It's like I'm always saying. Read the instructions thoroughly before plunging the ingredients into a cauldron. And have a little faith. Honestly Mare, I don't want to sound like a big sister or anything, but I'm proud of you."
She was looking so pleased that Mary could not bring herself to admit it was in fact Sirius who had saved her this time instead of Lily. So she smiled back weakly. "Well yeah, this time I just made sure and double-checked the instructions on the board before adding the ingredients, you know."
"Reading carefully is practically all there is to it," Lily nodded.
They had arrived at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall where the others were already having lunch. As soon as Mary had sat down and grabbed some toast, Brice stopped talking to Peter and leaned over to her and Lily. "Question: what are you girls doing after lunch today?"
"Well," Lily replied, "I was planning to write that essay on Alihotsies for Herbology, but..."
"That can wait," Brice said dismissively. "I ran into Hagrid earlier when I came back from Ancient Runes. He needs our help."
"Needs help doing what exactly?" Mary asked suspiciously while pouring Lily, Brice and herself some fresh orange juice. She knew all too well Hagrid had a soft spot for dangerous animals.
"Professor Kettleburn wants to catch two unicorns and show them to his third and fourth years, but as you know, unicorns aren't that fond of wizards."
"Oh, right," Mary said, feeling slightly relieved they would not spend their free period assisting Hagrid in catching - say - an enormous graphorn.
The seventh year-students had a free period of about three hours on Wednesday afternoons. James and Sirius decided to have an extra Quidditch practice (both of them were on the Gryffindor team, James as a Chaser and Sirius as a Beater), Remus and Peter went to the library to study and Mary, Lily and Brice walked over to Hagrid's cabin.
It was a chilly November day, but the sun was out and there was hardly any wind. Hagrid was already waiting for them in front of his cabin. "Hello again Brice," he grinned. "An' Lily, Mary, good ter see yeh. I trust Brice explained all 'bout the unicorns."
"Where can we find that herd, Hagrid?" Lily asked.
"They're movin' constantly, of course. But I happened ter spo' a stallion near the West side of the forest the other day. An' wherever there's a stallion, there'll be mares an' foals. Professor Kettleburn would be pleased if yeh'll bring back one mare an' its foal. Yeh think yeh can handle tha'?"
"We should be fine," Mary said. "Do you want us to bring them back to you?"
"Nah, that'll only scare them. Jus' tie them ter tha' tree in the meadow near the castle." He shot them a warning glance. "But not the Whompin' Willow of course."
Brice laughed. "Don't worry, we would never do something stupid like that."
"Alrigh' then," Hagrid grinned while handing Brice a magical self-refilling bucket of carrots and two halters, a small and a bigger one. "Promise me ter watch yer backs while you're out in the Forest. Bu' of course yeh know tha' after spendin' six years at Hogwarts."
The three of them started to walk towards the Forbidden Forest. At first there was more than enough sunlight shining through the trees for them to keep an eye on the direction they were heading, but the deeper they went into the Forest, the darker it turned around them. At one point Mary decided to reach for her wand and Lily and Brice followed suit. "Lumos," they spoke as one, making the tips form their wands illuminate.
"Looks like we're straying too much to the North," Brice observed after a moment.
"We should turn back, then," Lily decided.
The girls turned left and continued to walk as they formed a line. Mary took the lead, since she was the best tracker and would spot hoof prints sooner than the others. Second was Lily and Brice closed the line. For a while they walked on in silence, until Brice suddenly whispered: "Hey Mary, what's the deal?"
"Sorry?" Mary asked while lifting her wand high above her head and staring into the distance to see where the path they were taking would lead.
"What's going on with you and Sirius?"
Mary, who was somewhat expecting this question by now, answered without missing a beat: "Nothing."
Brice made a scornful sound through her nose. "Oh come off it, the sparks between the two of you are flying through the roof."
"No, they're not. There are no sparks."
Brice had stopped whispering and was raising her voice. "How long are you going to keep this up? Do you believe we are blind? You cannot stop staring at him. Admit it!"
At that point Mary felt so annoyed with Brice that she paused suddenly and had Lily bump into her as a result. Still raising her wand up high, she wheeled around so that she had a clear and fully lit view on Brice's smirking face. "Talked to Remus lately, Brice?" she asked loudly.
Her friend's smirk faded almost instantly and her face turned crimson instead. But most of all she was looking shocked. Now it was Mary's turn to smirk. "Yeah, that's right, I've noticed. Talk about calling the kettle black. Why don't you just focus on Remus and let me-"
"Shhhh!" Lily hissed as she elbowed Mary. She pointed to a gap in the tight forest that they walking up to. Large rays of light were falling through the trees. "Nox," the three girls said as one and the lights on their wand tips extinguished.
As quietly as they could, they headed through the gap and arrived in a beautiful pasture with flowing green grass, large trees with auburn, orange and yellow leaves and, not unimportantly the reason why they had come out here in the first place: a large herd of unicorns. They spotted two stallions, eight mares and three golden foals, all grazing peacefully near the other end of the meadow. "So what are we going to do now?" Lily wondered aloud.
"We should try and get closer without scaring them," Mary said.
"I think we should hand out as much of these as we can," Brice suggested, shaking the bag of carrots.
They tried to walk over calmly to the unicorns, but the ground was quite damp and their heels kept sinking into the grass. The unicorns had already noticed the approaching humans and were watching them closely. Luckily they did not run away (yet). The two stallions were particularly interested, taking a few steps closer to the girls.
"Just our luck. They're the ones we don't need and yet they seem to like us," Lily said nervously.
"I'm guessing it's just their natural instinct. They're merely trying to decide whether or not we're dangerous creatures and if they should try to kill us," Mary replied, eyeing the stallions closely.
"Now that's making me feel a lot better."
But apparently the stallions did not think they were all that dangerous, because they did not threaten them. Yet they continued to approach the girls.
"Crap, I think we need a diversion," Brice suggested. "What if the two of two stay here and distract the stallions while I will try and sneak up on a mare and her foal in the meantime."
"It's worth a shot, I guess," Lily replied as she grabbed a handful of carrots out of Brice's bucket.
When the stallions finally reached them, Mary and Lily each started to stroke one unicorn. They whispered sweet words into their ears and fed them some of the carrots. Over her stallion's head, Mary noticed that Brice was carefully approaching a beautiful mare and her golden foal.
"Is it true?" Lily asked quietly while feeding another baby carrot to her stallion.
"What, you mean Brice and Remus? Yes, I'm quite sure."
"No, not that. Although I suppose it does make sense," her friend replied thoughtfully. "But no, I was referring to you and Sirius."
Mary bit her lip. She was hopeless at hiding about her feelings and Brice and Lily knew her too well to be a cunning liar. She tickled her unicorn behind his ears to buy herself some time, and apparently the stallion liked it a lot, because he gave her a soft push with his head. She sighed and briefly closed her eyes.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know what to feel anymore. Part of me believes Sirius is still the most annoying prat in Hogwarts and there's a part of me that thinks he's not. Part of me doesn't want to be 316th conquest and there's part of me dying to become that number 316." She looked sideways at Lily. "I'm just confused."
To her astonishment, Lily smiled. "I cannot say how relieved I am to hear you say this. I'm going through pretty much the same thing with James. Part of me wants to kiss him desperately and another - equally as large - part of me simply wants to lock up that obnoxious git into a dungeon for eternity."
Mary laughed and let the stallion sniffle her hand. "We really are something, aren't we? We go on hating those guys for years and at the end of everything we cannot help but falling for them after all."
"Now hang on a second," Lily interrupted, "I haven't fallen for James yet. Imagine how thick his head will become if he finds out I'm secretly fancying him." She pulled a face.
"Actually, I think you would make him the happiest man on the planet. James adores you, Lily. He would treat you like a princess."
"So would Sirius. I realize he has been with a lot of girls, but I'm telling you: it's different with you. Perhaps because he's finally growing up or something, but I believe he's actually in love with you."
"Hmmm..." Those last words were confusing Mary even more.
"Anyway," Lily continued, "I think it's best if we keep this to ourselves for the moment, and Brice of course. What good would it do if they find out before we've made up our minds?"
"My point exactly," Mary nodded.
They continued stroking their unicorns, each of them drowned in thought. Finally a proudly grinning Brice appeared next to them, pulling along a stunningly white mare and her foal behind her. "Ready to go back?" she said.
Lily and Mary nodded and started to guide their stallions to a peaceful spot behind a large tree. They did not seem to notice that one of their mares and foals was missing from their herd yet. Meanwhile, Brice - guiding the mare and her foal – by now had reached the edge of the Forest.
After they said their goodbyes to the unicorns, Lily and Mary sprinted back to the Forest as fast as possible. Right when they were reaching Brice, they could hear thundering hooves of the furious unicorns behind them. They quickly started guiding the mare and the foal back to Hogwarts. Luckily, they neither heard nor saw the stallions again before they were well out the western side of the Forest.
"Don't worry Padfoot, that final tactic was a particular difficult move," James told a scowling Sirius while placing his broomstick against the wall of the dressing room and sitting down on a bench.
Over the last hour the two of them had been practiced some new Quidditch moves, which hopefully would come in handy in their upcoming match against Ravenclaw. James, captain of the Gryffindor team, introduced some spectacular tactics to Sirius and his friend managed to excel in all of them but one: the Dopplebeater Defence.
"If only if I could make my broom turn an instant of a second faster," Sirius muttered while pulling a hand through his dark hair.
"Just keep practicing. You'll get there eventually."
Sirius muttered something unintelligible and chucked his battered gloves into his locker. "It's not even that good of a move. Just because Ludo Bagman is famous for it... Anyway, I've had it for today." He pulled off his clothes and headed into the bathroom to take a shower.
When the guys had finished and were dressing themselves, James suddenly remembered something. "Say, that perfect Amortentia Mary brewed in Potions this morning, did you by any chance have something to do with that?"
Sirius laughed, remembering the horrid state of her draft before he had taken a look at it. "Maybe... Then again, maybe not."
"Rrrrrrright. So you did help her then." After another moment James looked up from tying his shoelaces, his brow furrowed. "But why?"
"She needed it."
"But why in the world would she let you help out?" James chuckled when finally figuring it out. "Ahhh yes, our dear Lily was in the bathroom and Remus and I were still working on our own potions. So basically, you were her last resort."
Sirius shrugged. "Last resort or not, I did help and made it look like she fixed it all on her own. Besides, she didn't even screw up that much this time."
His friend grinned. "Still, you got to be her potion-hero today."
Sirius, who was fixing his hair in front of a mirror, shot James a dirty look over his shoulder. James stood up from the bench and swung his bag over his shoulder. "You about done there? We're gonna be late for Defense."
"Yeah, alright." Sirius shot one last look at his reflection in the mirror before walking out of the dressing room without looking back, closely followed by James.
When the two of them stepped outside, the previous crisp and clear air had turned into dark cloudy weather. Plus it was drizzling. This was unfortunate, because Professor Zabini had just set up a practice course for today's class. And if what they knew so far about their enthusiastic Defense-teacher was true, a bit of rain would not stop him from teaching them outside in the rain. James and Sirius were walking past Hagrid's cabin, who was weeding his pumpkin field and waved at them.
"But I'm still trying to work this out," James said while waving back at Hagrid. "There is definitely something going on between you and Mary. Since when is Sirius Black not asking out girls who are fancying him?"
Sirius gave his friend a friendly push, but James slipped over the muddy ground and landed right on his butt. "With any other girl I would have, you prat," Sirius said. "But I just don't know where I'm at with Mary."
James nodded as he crawled back up and tried wiping off the mud his trousers. "She does act a bit strange around you, doesn't she?"
Sirius looked at James who was anxiously trying to clean his trousers before he shook his head and pulled out his wand, pointing it directly at the muddy trousers and thinking Scourgify. The mud disappeared at once.
"Welcome. Anyway, I also get the feeling that there's something going on, but somehow I know she's not quite ready to go on a date. I have the nasty foreboding that she'll threaten to jinx me if I dare to actually ask her out."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Wait for the opportune moment, I reckon. Although I fear that with her, I will never quite know when to make the next move."
"Looks like our master's famous tactics are wearing off a bit eh?" James teased.
"Oh, shut it, Prongs. Besides, look who's talking. Aren't you patrolling the corridors with Lily almost every night without having the guts to ask her out in a civilized manner?"
"Yes, but that's me. I'm pathetic with girls that I love. You know them. You're a guiding light to the rest of us fools. The fact that you're losing your touch is quite alarming."
Sirius roared with laughter. "A guiding light to the rest of you fools? That's hilarious. Be sure to print that on my tombstone, alright?"
"Put what on your tombstone, Sirius?" Lily asked, looking interested.
They had arrived at the spot where this lesson of Defense against the Dark Arts would take place. Everyone else was already there. Professor Zabini had conjured a large waterproof tent that would protect them from most of the rain. A large opening made it possible to watch over some sort of labyrinth which Professor Zabini had set out for them.
"Oh, nothing you would care about," James said quickly before Sirius could say anything.
"I'll bet that must be a list of conquests," Allison noted thoughtfully. She had momentarily abandoned her Slytherin classmates and was offering Cauldron Cakes to Mary and Remus. Sirius was still sniggering, but he chose not to elaborate.
"Seriously, I wonder how high that tombstone would be," Allison continued, apparently deep in thought. "All the names of your many conquests... Merlin's Beard, I think the sky would be the limit. How many girls have you dated again?"
"What did you say his current score was, Mare? 316?," Lily joked, elbowing her friend with twinkling eyes.
Mary choked on her Cauldron Cake and shot her friend an angry look. She was about to emphasize that the number she mentioned was only in manner of speaking, when–
"-316? Now that would be a little embarrassing. I'm closing in on 400, actually," Sirius stated loudly, patting himself proudly on the chest.
"Awww, now it's almost a shame my name will never be on that tombstone," Allison said, pouting a little.
"I don't see why not," Remus said. "Both of you are single at the moment..."
The dark-haired girl shook her head. "I would never date Sirius. He's too good-looking. I'll be admiring him most of the time instead of him drooling over me."
She suddenly turned around and wrapped an arm around Peter. "Now you I could date. Honestly Pete, the two of us should hang out some time."
They all laughed except their tiny friend, who had stiffened like a board when Alison hugged him and wasn't sure what to say or do. At least that's how it looked to the others, because Peter did open his mouth to speak, but no sound was coming out.
"Come on Alison, leave Peter alone," Brice said, stepping up.
Allison laughed and let go. "Fine, I suppose it was not my place. Still, I do think you're pretty cute when you're now following around James like one of sad little fangirls." She winked at him before walking back to her Slytherin classmates.
"Peter, next time something like this is happening, please remember to play along," James said, laughing as he patted his friend on the shoulder.
"Says the expert," Brice joked.
Sirius snorted while James looked like he had just eaten a vomit-flavored bean. Luckily for him, that was the moment Professor Zabini drew their attention by starting their lesson with another lengthy speech about one of his big adventures.
"Today we'll be practicing an Auror's most useful tactic: tracking and being tracked. Why, while I was an Auror at the Brazilian Ministry of Magic, that turned out to be quote a challenge with all those rain forests and everything. I remember a time when I was after this particular dangerous Dark wizard, I only managed to corner him because I..."
Sirius had zoned out long before that. He knew paying attention at Defense-lessons was important if he wanted to have a shot at being accepted at the Auror Program, but by Godric, it could be so tedious listening to Zabini reliving his own adventures.
It was almost like being back in History of Magic-class. He glanced sideways and noticed that he was not the only one not paying attention. Mary was staring out distractedly over the labyrinth. Sirius followed her gaze and spotted two unicorns who were tied up to a tree in a meadow near Professor Kettleburn's barn.
Her long brown hair was billowing around her face in the strong wind. Sirius noticed a small yellow leaf sticking in her hair and without quite thinking, he reached for it. His fingers briefly grazed her neck as he grabbed the leaf.
Mary froze, but her response was swift nevertheless. She snapped his hand away, whirled around and hissed: "What do you think you're doing?"
"Nothing, I was only trying to get a leaf from your hair."
"Oh." She reached for it with her hand.
"No, more to the right. Hang on, let me," he said softly while bringing his hand back up to her face.
Mary seemed to hesitate at first, but let him touch her in the end. Sirius carefully tried to pull the leaf from her hair, but accidentally touched the soft skin of her neck as he did so. She did seem as bothered the second time and let him carry on so he could to get the tangled leaf out eventually.
He showed her the leaf to make her understand that he had been telling the truth, but she hardly paid attention to it. Instead, Mary was looking at him with an unreadable expression on her face. For a moment he tried to put together what was going on in her head, but he soon started to get lost in those beautiful grey-blue eyes and completely forgot where he was.
He got jerked back to reality by Peter who was elbowing him hard in the ribs. He wheeled around, a little annoyed that his friend had interrupted the first romantic moment he had with Mary. But it became obvious soon enough why Peter had butted in. Professor Zabini's voice, whom Sirius momentarily completely forgot ever existed, was now practically ringing in his ears.
"And who to be tracked? Let's see... Ah yes! Miss Woods, if you please!"
~*~ End of Chapter ~*~