Did she say that aloud? Considering the number of people - including Professor Zabini - staring at her in surprise, she probably did. But things were all happening so quickly. Only moments ago she had been getting lost in Sirius's stormy eyes, a trance from which she had been rudely awakened, considering her classmates was currently watching her with curious looks on their faces.
"Well," Professor Zabini said, arching one of his thick eyebrows.
"What are you waiting for?"
"Eh..." Mary said, trying to buy herself time while glancing over her shoulder. Sirius, still next to her, merely shrugged. He seemed to be as lost for words as she was. Eventually she had no choice but to turn back and face Professor Zabini. "Doing what exactly, sir?"
His crossed his arms. "Well Miss Woods, if you weren't so busy cuddling with Mr. Black near the back, you might have learned what dangers you could be facing in the labyrinth below. Now, unfortunately, you will have to go in blind."
Mary gulped, swallowing with difficulty. Certainly he was not suggesting...
"Off you go."
Mary's legs still refused to move. Her mind had trouble registering the fact that Zabini was sending her into a mysterious-looking maze completely unprepared. What kind of scary creatures would she be facing down there? Banshees, tarantula's, an entire gang of trolls?? She hated trolls. "Go on, you'll be fine," Sirius suddenly whispered softly into her ear before gently pushing her forward.
Her legs finally kicked into gear. Brice and Lily nodded encouragingly when she passed them, but she lacked the strength to smile back. When she was about to hesitantly head through the tall entrance of the labyrinth, she realized Zabini was calling something after her: "Good luck then, Miss Woods. Remember that all spells must be cast non-verbally. From up here we'll be able to follow your every move. Oh, and might I suggest that you keep your wand at the ready?"
Right, her wand. Of course. Mary quickly pulled out her wand and without looking back, she entered the labyrinth. It wasn't as large as she had feared. The hedges were about eight feet tall and did not make her feel claustrophobic.
But the drizzling rain was annoying: it made her robes heavy and feel like lead on her shoulders and her wet hair was sticking to her face. She shook it back before wiping her wet face with the sleeve of her robes. She then turned left at the first turn, then right and left again. Nothing peculiar happened in those first paths of the labyrinth.
She desperately tried to remember what Zabini had said at the start of the lesson when she was still paying attention. Something about being tracked and tracking... But being tracked by what? It suddenly seemed quite unlikely that most magical creatures in Britain were able to consciously track her before attacking their prey, so she concluded that her enemies would have to be human.
Mary turned right at the end of the path and thought she spotted the end of a billowing robe at the corner of the next lane. She suddenly sprinted to the end and shot a careful look around it. There was nothing there. Was she just imagining things? Perhaps the labyrinth was making her feel somewhat claustrophobic after all.
She leaned back against the hedge for a moment to catch her breath and closed her eyes. Almost at once Sirius's intense gaze reappeared. His eyes were an incredible shade of grey. Mary could have gotten seriously lost in those eyes, and everything attached to them actually. It was hard to admit, but if he would have kissed her right there in front of everyone, she would not have objected in any way.
Mary's mind was jerked back to the present by the loud snap of a twig. Her eyes shot open. She looked around and listened intently for a brief moment before she realized it was she who had stepped on the twig. Mary could not help but snigger and roll her yes because of her own stupidity.
From now on she was going to keep her focus on where it should be: become the tracker, instead of the tracked. She crouched down and examined the footsteps in front of her. Some were her own, of course, but there were others... A pair of boots and sneakers, she concluded. She decided to follow the latter footsteps closely.
In the next few minutes, nothing exciting happened. Right when Mary was starting to think there was no one else in the labyrinth and that she was being pranked by Zabini, she suddenly felt a prickling sensation down her neck. She knew just then that there was something - someone - near her...
Mary clutched her wand and when she thought the time was right, she wheeled around quickly and thought Petrificus Totalus. She knew she had struck gold when she heard a body drop to the ground, but she was not feeling victorious yet. She remembered she had seen two pairs of footprints and was looking closely for a sign of this other person. She did not have to wait long.
Mary heard a rustling sound and ducked out of pure instinct. She immediately knew she did the right thing, because a fraction of a second later a red jet of light hit the hedge right where her head had been mere seconds ago and burned a large hole in it. She rolled over the ground, pointed her wand in the direction where the spell had come from and thought Impedimenta.
Apparently she had once again hit the target at her first attempt, because she could hear another loud thud indicating a limp body had hit the muddy earth. The next thing she heard were loud whistles cheers from her classmates and Professor Zabini's voice – obviously using Sonorus - booming over the labyrinth. "Well done, Miss Woods. You beat both of your enemies on pure instinct. Twenty points to Gryffindor!"
"Thank you, sir!" Mary called back, feeling relieved it was over.
She was dying to find out who had been trying to attack her, so she quickly glanced around the corner of the hedge. "Remus?"
Mary quickly undid the spell and her friend sat up, nursing the back of his head. "You alright, Remus?" she asked as she pulled him back to his feet.
"Fine. I just fell hard on my head when you stunned me. Geez, are you fast with a wand."
Together they walked over to Mary's other opponent. Mary gasped when she saw that it was no other than Severus Snape. Remus pointed his wand at the rigid body and muttered Finite.
Severus stood up immediately and wiped his dark and oily-looking hair from his face, but he refused to say a word. He looked rather pissed off, though. Mary shot a careful glance at Remus before saying carefully: "Are you alright, Severus? I hope I didn't hurt you too badly when my spell hit you."
Severus just shot her a nasty look. "I'm not hurt. And you just got lucky. There is no way a Mudblood like yourself could ever beat me in an even duel."
Mary was too gobsmacked to respond. Calling her a Mudblood… That was uncalled for, even for him.
Remus on the other hand had not quite lost his tongue. "Take it easy, Severus. You just lost a game. Who do you think you are calling her names like that!" he called with a note of anger in his otherwise so gentle voice.
"Shut up, Lupin!" Severus snarled in return. "Shouldn't you be going back to your hole? Considering the current position of the moon, I reckon these are the final days of the month you're able to play outside, isn't that right?"
Remus looked simply murderous now. He was pointing his wand straight at Severus's chest. With an almighty effort, he put it back in his robes and walked off, pulling Mary along with him. When they had almost reached the entrance of the labyrinth, Mary, who had finally got her voice back, asked: "What the heck was that all about?"
Remus did not answer her at first. He just continued to walk fast with Mary hurrying along after him. When the other students came in view, he said shortly: "He's just bitter he lost from you, Mary. I have no idea what he was going on about."
Mary frowned, not believing a word he was saying, but before she could say anything else about it, her other classmates were all over them.
"You were amazing."
"You floored Snivellus!"
Mary looked around at the person who had said this. It was James, grinning like his Christmas had come early. "You made my day! Flooring him at his very first attempt to curse you – absolutely brilliant," he said proudly before kissing her happily on the cheek and – still sniggering - started walking towards the castle with Remus and Peter.
The next thing she knew was a gentle arm slipping around her waist. "Promise me one thing, will you?" Sirius whispered in her ear, instantly turning her legs into two strings of cooked spaghetti. "Remind me to never ever sneak up on you in the dark. Girl, you can duel!"
He winked at her before letting go and catching up with his friends. Mary just stood there for a moment as she stared ahead, drowned in all kinds of confusing thoughts about Sirius and Remus's odd response to Severus's snide remark, when she was interrupted by her friends.
"Good job Mare, you showed them. I know you would. You're probably the best tracker in our year," Lily said, smiling before walking back to the castle with Allison.
Mary looked sideways at Brice who was standing next to her. Her friend did not say anything, but the smirk on her face could not have been bigger. She just would not stop grinning, so eventually Mary had no choice but to ask: "What is it?"
Brice never stopped grinning when she called: "No sparks my arse!"
Mary stared at her, stunned at first, but then she snorted. Her grin slowly turned into a real laugh. "Come on, let's get you into some dry clothes.," Brice said, hooking her arm through Mary's and - still laughing - the two of them set off to the castle together.
That night Mary had trouble falling asleep. On one hand, she was glad that her feelings for a certain classmate was out in the open. Lily and Brice now knew how she felt about Sirius (and she knew about their feelings for James and Remus), and she assumed that Sirius must have figured it out by now as well.
She knew it was all for the best, but on the other hand... she was also scared out of her wits. How would she respond if Sirius decided to go for it and ask her out? She had not quite figured out if she was ready to become his next conquest. Still… didn't Lily say that it was different with her? That Sirius actually seemed to really care for her?
She sighed and rolled onto her other side. What she should come up with now was a 'plan de campagne' - she needed to know exactly what to say when he did ask her to Hogsmeade. She needed to stay in control, that's for sure, but God those eyes... She suddenly understood what all his ex-girlfriends meant when they were raving about his grey eyes. They were simply mesmerizing and once she stared into them, she lost all touch with reality.
Mary sat up straight. That was it, then: avoid his eyes and just act cool as ever. Now that she had figured that out for herself, she dropped back to her pillow and fell asleep almost instantly, unconsciously dreaming about those astonishing grey, blue and golden streaked eyes...
The following morning, Mary's wake-up call was a lot less dreamy, as she woke up with Brice chucking a pillow at her face. She groaned sleepily and muttered: "Wa's go'ng on?"
"We overslept, that's what is going on! The battery in Lily's alarm clock has run out and you forgot to set yours. So much for the wonders of Muggle technology. Anyway, we already missed breakfast and have to hurry if we want to make it to our first class of the day on time."
"Crap!" Mary jumped out of bed, showered, got dressed, braided her hair (all of that in less than eight minutes) and quickly hurried down the dormitory stairs to the common room where Lily and Brice were already waiting for her.
The three girls ran down the corridors of the school as fast as they could. Brice turned left to the Arithmancy classroom and Lily and Mary continued to run to the greenhouses. Unfortunately Mary suddenly realized she had forgotten something and she stopped running abruptly.
"Why are you stopping? We're already late!" Lily said as she turned around, panting heavily.
"I forgot my book. You go ahead and tell Sprout I'm gonna be there in a minute!"
Lily nodded and disappeared around the corner. Mary turned around and sprinted back to the common room at top speed. She was completely out of breath when she was frantically searching for her Herbology book in her trunk. When she finally spotted the heavy dark green book, she snatched it and ran down the stairs, stuffing her book in her bag along the way.
She bumped into a couple of third-years on her way out of the portrait, but did not feel the need to apologize nor look back. Instead she continued to run to the greenhouses and decided to take a shortcut through what appeared to be a completely deserted courtyard.
At the end of it she could already see the beginning of the greenhouses. "Almost there," she panted and at that very moment, two strong arms pulled her into a distant corner.
It was Jonathan and - contrary to the last time she had seen him with Leslie Jefferson - he was not looking so cheerful now. He locked her arms in a firm and painful grip before throwing her hard against the stone wall of the courtyard.
Mary would have cried out from the painful stab near her ribs when her side hit the wall if she was not too out of breath to make a sound. Her dazed mind had trouble registering what was happening and why Jonathan was beating her up, but was unable to do anything about it at the moment.
She seemed completely paralyzed by shock and could not even have used her wand if she wanted to, since it was simply out of reach. She had put it in her bag which was lying on the floor at least ten feet ahead of them.
Jonathan was standing right before her, looking simply murderous. "You think I had forgotten about last time?" he growled through gritted teeth. "Think you can embarrass me in front of my mates without consequences?"
"What, no I didn't-"
She tried to wriggle free, but Jonathan merely tightened his grip on her arms even more. "I actually cared for you, you know that? I'll teach you to humiliate me!"
Without another word he slapped her hard against her right cheekbone. Mary cringed and closed her eyes in sudden fear. He quickly raised his hand again and Mary braced herself for the next blow, but that never happened. Someone was pulling Jonathan away from her.
When Mary finally dared to open her eyes, she watched a furious Sirius dragging a kicking and screaming Jonathan to the other side of the courtyard.
Mary then witnessed Sirius punching Jonathan hard in the face before she gave in to her tears and, closing her eyes again, let herself slide down slowly against the wall. She could however hear Sirius yell - "Ever dare to come near her again and I'll fucking kill you!" - followed by two pairs of footsteps running off.
She remained seated against the cool courtyard wall and hugged her knees, feeling dazed and not even sure if this really happened or that it was just a nightmare.
When Sirius returned a few minutes later, he knelt down in front of her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Are you alright?"
Mary looked up and tried to say "I'm fine", but nothing was coming out, so she ended up just giving a tiny nod. Sirius offered her a hand, which she accepted and he pulled her to her feet. She groaned when this movement caused the stabbing pains near her ribcage to return.
"Shhhh it's okay, he's gone now," Sirius said softly as he put his arms around her.
"I… I'm... I am fine," Mary finally said in a shaky voice while briefly allowing herself to rest her head on Sirius's shoulder. She then carefully touched her cheekbone, which was also glowing and throbbing badly.
"Hang on," Sirius said, noticing what she was doing. He pulled out his wand and waved it around twice while muttering Glacius tesella. A couple of tiny ice cubes appeared in his hand and he carefully held them against her cheek.
Sirius's cool hand against her throbbing cheek had a calming effect on her. She looked up at him. "What were you doing here anyway?"
"Forgot my book. You?"
Sirius smiled sadly and shook his head. Now Mary knew that she had only just been attacked by the raving lunatic formerly known as Jonathan McLaggen, but the way Sirius was holding the ice cubes to her face was not exactly only just soothing her painful cheekbone.
From what she could tell, a band of butterflies was throwing a big birthday party in her belly and she realized her cheek was not exactly just reddening from the icy cubes touching her face. She desperately tried avoiding Sirius's eyes and kept her gaze focused at the floor instead.
Sirius seemed to notice something was amiss, because he carefully removed his icy hand from her face. "That should be enough until Madam Pomfrey has taken a look at it. Come on." He softly pulled her along by the hand, but she had frozen on the spot.
"Yes, we're going to the hospital wing."
"No, we're not. We have an Herbology class to attend."
Sirius frowned. "Mary, you have just been beaten up by Jonathan McLaggen. We're going to see Madam Pomfrey and afterwards we'll pay a visit to McGonagall and perhaps even Dumbledore."
Telling McGonagall she had just been punched in the face by her ex-boyfriend? The thought alone was making her die from embarrassment. The Head of Gryffindor House was not exactly the most warm and understanding Professor you would turn to in a situation like this. Mary resolutely shook her head. "No."
Sirius shot her a puzzled look. "You cannot be serious. You need to report this."
"Maybe later, but not now. Right now I have a Herbology lesson to go to."
Mary picked up her bag from the ground and stalked off in the direction of the greenhouses. At first Sirius seemed to be too shocked for a moment to follow her, but he caught up with her in the end and forced her to stop, only to stare at her with an unreadable expression in his eyes.
"Sirius, you're blocking my way. What are you doing?"
"I... I just don't get you."
"What are you talking about?"
He sighed. "For the first time in my life I have no clue how to deal with... with this."
Mary frowned. "Now I am having trouble getting you," she said before trying to slip past him.
But Sirius quickly grabbed her hand, forcing her to stop walking once more and face him. "Are you still denying that there is something going on between us?"
Mary hadn't quite expected him to say something about this after what had just happened. He had completely caught her off guard after all. She swallowed with difficulty while slowly meeting his eyes (the belly butterflies were now racing against each other), when–
"-Miss Woods, could I talk to you for a moment?"
~*~ End of Chapter ~*~