Professor Zabini was standing on the cobblestone path leading towards the greenhouses, holding a large pile of heavy-looking books in his arms.
Mary glanced over at Sirius, who looked annoyed that another meaningful moment between them had been interrupted. "Good morning sir," he was saying curtly, grinding his teeth.
"Good day, Mr. Black," Zabini said cheerfully, not picking up on Sirius's annoyance at all. "Lovely day. "I hope I wasn't interrupting anything…" - Sirius rolled his eyes - "but I was wondering if I could steal Miss W... Merlin's Beard, girl! What has happened to your face?"
Mary's hand immediately shot up to her cheek. She had no idea how bad her face looked, but if Zabini could spot the bruising from that distance, it must be looking about as painful as it felt. The Professor had now reached them and shot her a concerned look.
"Well, since you're asking," Sirius started loudly.
"-I bumped my head!" Mary cut him off before he could finish his sentence.
"Really now?" Zabini was leaning in closer to examine her cheek with his hand. "That must have been quite an accomplishment. How did you manage to do that?"
"I... Well..." Mary stuttered, desperately trying to come up with a believable excuse. "I wasn't paying attention, you see, and I ran straight in on... er… on one of the pillars on the courtyard," she finished lamely, not daring to look at Sirius.
He was a derisive sound through his nose and Zabini arched an eyebrow, clearly not believing a single word she had said. She knew why. Anyone could have seen through that stupid lie. You did not have be one of the most renowned Aurors in the wizarding world for that.
But thankfully after another moment and for whatever reason, Zabini decided to let her off the hook for now. "Very well, then," he said. "In that case I'm asking you to accompany me to my office."
"I'm terribly sorry sir, but I have a Herbology class to attend."
"I'm afraid this cannot wait." Zabini looked at Sirius. "Mr. Black, would you be so kind and inform Professor Sprout that Miss Woods was unable to attend this lesson because she was unexpectedly summoned to an appointment with me?"
"Yes, sir," Sirius muttered.
"Then I suggest you should head over to Herbology pronto. You're already ten minutes late," Zabini said, checking his watch.
Sirius nodded, shot Mary a "this conversation isn't over yet"-look and walked off to the greenhouses without another word.
"Love troubles?" Zabini asked as he frowned at Sirius's back, attempting to interpret the tense atmosphere between him and Mary correctly.
"Er…" Mary said, noticing her cheeks were reddening fast.
"Never you mind, I don't think I even want to know," the Professor replied teasingly, his dark eyes twinkling with joy.
"Why did you want to see me about, sir?"
"Not here. Let's go to my office."
Mary followed Zabini to his office and, because the Professor was unable to do so because of all the books in his arms, opened the door for him.
"Please, sit down, sit down," Zabini said kindly after he put the books down on his desk, gesturing to an arm chair opposite of his wooden desk. Mary sat down in the chair facing the Professor, who also sat down when he thought of something. "Oh yes, before I forget, would you like some tea?"
"Oh... Sure, why not?"
"I have all the tastes you can think of. Earl grey, lemon, green tea... Cinnamon?" he asked, waving around all kinds of different-looking teabags.
"Earl grey is fine, sir."
While Zabini was making their tea, Mary looked around the office. She had not been here since their third year, when Hector Hobovicus was their Defense Professor. He was famous for his fear of spiders, but used to keep them in tanks to study them. Thought this way he could overcome his fear. Sadly at the end of the year he got lost in the Forbidden Forest and was never seen again. Rumor had it that he was eaten alive by a giant tribe of acromantula's, but Mary had never really believed that story.
"So," Zabini said as he handed her a cup of tea. "By now you're probably wondering why I wanted to speak to you on such short notice."
Mary nodded, trying to warm her cold hands on the steaming cup.
"I wish to discuss that excellent demonstration you gave in the labyrinth. I've known from the very first lesson that you are a gifted witch when it comes to Defense at the Dark Arts, but the way you handled the situation yesterday, going into the labyrinth unprepared and beat two strong opponents... That was extraordinary."
Mary felt herself go red again. "Thank you sir, but it wasn't that big of a deal."
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that? Now, please tell me, how did you know Severus was right behind you at one point?"
"I traced his footsteps, sir."
Zabini nodded. "Naturally. And when you ducked and countered Remus's jinx, you reacted instinctively?"
"Naturally." He sipped his tea thoughtfully before saying: "Miss Woods, did you ever consider a career as Auror?"
Mary nearly choked on her tea.
"Apparently not," Zabini concluded in a dry voice.
"No, I guess not," Mary said, coughing. "I mean, I realize I'm quite good at Defense, but my ambition is - and always has been - to become a Healer."
"Healing is a wonderful profession, fair enough. But I think you shouldn't ignore the fact that you possess the rare package of qualities which sets a great Auror aside: intelligence, courage and swift responses based on pure instinct. Professor Clearwater may be able to unravel the future, but I use my "inner eye" to spot those few who have what it takes. And with the difficult times of open warfare we are about to face, the Ministry needs to recruit every young talented Auror they can get. The thing is... There aren't that many people who could manage it. So far I have only spotted three candidates in your year: James Potter, Sirius Black and you."
"James and Sirius will be pleased to hear that, sir."
"But knowing this, how do you see your future?"
"I respect your opinion, I really do. And I'm flattered that you think I could be an amazing Auror, but I really want to go to the Healer Program. I've wanted this all my life."
"Have you ever considered the possibility of becoming an Auror with a specialism in Healing?"
This was news to her. Mary thought for a moment. "I never knew that was an option, sir. I promise I will think about it."
"Very well, then. Since literally forcing you into the Auror Program – unfortunately - is no longer allowed, there isn't much else I can do for the moment," he said, his face cracking into a grin. "Thanks for stopping by and I suggest watching where you're going more carefully from now on." He winked at her. "Nasty things, those courtyard pillars."
"Ehh... yes I will, sir. Goodbye," a (yet again) reddening Mary stammered as she quickly put her empty cup down on the desk. When she was standing outside the office, she checked the time and realized her Herbology class would not end for another twenty minutes.
Feeling reluctant to attend that class after her meeting with Zabini, she wondered what she should do next. Sirius's remark about reporting Jonathan to McGonagall resounded in her head. She knew he was right, but she just could not get herself to walk to McGonagall's office.
What about Dumbledore? But would a fight with her ex-boyfriend be important enough to bother the Headmaster of Hogwarts? She had always liked Dumbledore, he was kind and peaceful and seemed to have all the answers in the world. But honestly, what could he possibly do about this? Expel Jonathan? Surely that would be a little exaggerated. He did not try to kill her after all. But then a horrible thought came to her: what if Sirius hadn't been around in that courtyard? Would Jonathan have beaten her up even more? It certainly didn't look like he was about to stop hitting her anytime soon...
She remained waiting outside Zabini's office for another while, feeling indecisive about several things at the same time. Right when she was considering to start writing that Potions essay on the use of fluxweed, her throbbing right cheek seemed to make the decision for her. "Madam Pomfrey it is," Mary muttered to herself and she walked off in the direction of the Hospital Wing.
"He did WHAT?" Lily said loudly, momentarily abandoning the screechsnap she was supposed to milk.
"Shhh!" Sirius hissed, ushering his friend to lower her voice. He had been enduring several curious looks from her, James and Remus ever since he arrived at class alone. He could only inform the others about what happened between Jonathan and Mary when Sprouts lecture on how to carefully milk a screechsnap ended and the practical part of the lesson begun.
James looked angry, a tired looking Remus (the full moon was drawing closer) merely confused. "I don't understand," he said. "You say Jonathan beat up Mary in the courtyard, but that place is literally swarming with people right before class. How could he do that to her unnoticed?"
"She had forgotten her book," Lily replied quietly, pulling a hand through her hair. "We were already running late and hurrying to Herbology together when she had to go back to our dormitory to get it."
"Incidentally, I'd also forgotten mine," Sirius said. "The courtyard was completely deserted about the time I was crossing it. It was more luck than anything else that I was in the right place at the right time. I don't want to think about what could have happened if..."
He did not finish that last sentence and focused on milking his screechsnap for a moment instead. "What happened exactly, Padfoot?" James asked, shooting him a look.
Sirius sighed. "Jonathan had forced her into that tight little corner on the left side of the courtyard. It looked simply a little odd at first - I did not even know they were on speaking terms again - but when I saw him taking a hit at her, it went slightly dark in front of my eyes. I remember pulling him away from her… and I think I might have him a black eye."
"Might have?" James said, his eyebrows raised.
"Quite frankly, I would have liked to punch him again, but – unfortunately - the coward decided to take a run for it and disappeared in the Prefects bathroom."
For a moment no one said a word. The tense silence was broken moments later by a sudden high shrieking noise followed by a loud splatter; Lily had been squeezing her screechsnap so tightly it had burst and was spilling its fluid all over their table.
"Careful there, miss Evans!" Professor Sprout called. "I trust you know how to clean up this mess yourself."
"Sorry, Professor," she muttered before picking up her wand and waving it around. The ruined screechsnap and all the fluid disappeared at once.
She placed her wand back on the table and shook her head in a dismayed manner. "I knew something like this would happen. Mary never took Jonathan's temper very seriously, but I'm telling you: that guy is a complete nutcase."
"Well, I'm sure Sirius's fists knocked some sense into that obnoxious prick," James said as he pushed his screechsnap over to Lily to share some of his plant's milk.
As she reached for it, her hand accidentally touched his. They both froze and pulled back their hands immediately. Lily was blushing intensely when she reached for the screechsnap again and muttered "Thanks" to James, who mumbled "Welcome" in return while his hand shot straight towards the back of his head, ruffling his already messy hair in a nervous manner.
Sirius witnessed this quite amusing spectacle for a moment, smiling slightly, before exchanging a look with Remus and saying bluntly: "I said I'd kill him if he ever comes near her again."
"That's my lad," James (with newly messed up hair) said proudly, patting him on the shoulder. "And Jonathan would do well to believe you."
"What did McGonagall say?" Remus asked.
Sirius frowned. "Mary flat out refused to report Jonathan to McGonagall. In fact, she didn't even want to go to Madam Pomfrey and cure her injuries."
Sirius could hear Lily grinding her teeth in annoyance from his side of the table. Her emerald eyes were glinting dangerously when she muttered: "Letting Jonathan get away with what he did? Oh, I don't think so..."
"Lily, she seemed pretty determined about it," Sirius said cautiously.
"Give me one minute. I will - no pun intended - knock some sense into her," Lily said, looking even more determined.
As soon as Sprouts class ended, the four of them hurried back to the castle. Along the way they passed Hagrid and Professor Kettleburn who were instructing a few fourth year-girls how to guide a mother unicorn and her fall back into the Forbidden Forest. "Since when is Hagrid able to get near a Unicorn and her foal?" Remus wondered aloud.
"He's not," Lily replied. "Hagrid asked me, Brice and Mary to collect those unicorns for him."
"How did you manage to do that?"
"We created a diversion. While Mary and were distracting the stallions, Brice managed to capture one mare and her foal."
"Distract them?" Sirius asked. "With what?"
"By stroking them gently and whispering soft words into their ears, of course."
They were now heading up the stairs of the castle. A grinning James, who was walking beside Sirius, turned towards him and said excitedly: "Ever dreamed of being a unicorn? I am now!"
James was talking in a soft voice, but clearly not quiet enough, because Lily heard every word he said. However, when she looked back over her shoulder, she not looking upset or even offended. On the contrary, she was actually smiling down at them. "You guys, unbelievable," she said, laughing as she shook her head.
James looked at Sirius in surprise. "No retort?" he asked, looking astonished.
"Apparently not," he replied, grinning. "You're making vast improvement here, Prongs. I think she's actually starting to like you."
The three of them decided to look for Mary together in the Common Room, but there was no sign of their friend there, nor in the girls dormitory. And she was not studying in the library either. After realizing it was nearly time for lunch, searching the Great Hall was next. And indeed, Mary was sitting at their end of the table, staring at a page in her book and scribbling down something on a piece of parchment. Lily walked straight towards her. "Mare, I just heard. The nerve of that bloody jerk! Are you alright?"
When Mary looked up from writing her paper, Sirius realized her cheek was no longer swollen and red. He was not the only one who noticed.
"Say Padfoot, when Jonathan was trying to punch her, are you sure he actually hit her?" James asked, looking at Mary. "She doesn't look hurt."
Sirius shot him an annoyed look and walked over to Mary and Lily, leaving James and Remus behind. From the corner of his eye he noticed Cassidy, sitting at the Hufflepuff table, was waving frantically, but he ignored her and sat down next to Mary instead, who was trying to convince Lily that she was not hurt.
"Hey, are you okay?" he asked softly.
"Like I just told Lily for the hundredth time: really, I'm fine," Mary said, looking at him.
He gently touched her cheekbone and smiled. "I see you decided to pay dear Madam Pomfrey a visit after all."
She nodded. "Just like you said. She healed my cheek in about ten seconds, by the way."
"What did she say?" Lily asked.
"About Jonathan attacking you, silly!"
"Oh, that. Well eh... Actually..." But Sirius did not need her to finish that sentence. He simply softly pinched Mary in her waist instead. When her hand shot to her side and she cringed from the pain, he knew enough. "Not that bloody running into pillars-excuse again," he groaned, shooting a desperate look at the enchanted ceiling.
"Pillar-excuse?" Lily asked, shooting them a puzzled look.
Mary glared at Sirius - who managed to stare back reproachfully without blinking - before rolling her eyes. "Alright, alright", she said while carefully nursing her ribcage. "I told Madam Pomfrey exactly the same thing as when I spoke with Zabini: that I wasn't looking carefully and ran straight into a pillar."
"And she believed a crappy story like that?" Lily asked with an incredulous look on her face.
"She said I was the second student that morning who had walked straight into a pillar and bumped his head. I think we all can guess who that other person was."
"Jonathan," Sirius growled, shooting a dark look at the Ravenclaw table.
"You hit him pretty hard, you know," Mary said. "Perhaps you should let Madam Pomfrey take a look at your hand as well."
Sirius, whose hand had been throbbing a bit all morning, shrugged. "Maybe, but not now."
Mary lifted an eyebrow which made Sirius chuckle. "I suppose you're right. Let's make a deal. I will have Madam Pomfrey look at my hand, but only when you promise to report Jonathan after all."
Mary seemed to consider this for a moment before shaking her head. "No."
"You are going to tell McGonagall about this eventually, right?" Lily inquired, her voice rising slightly.
"Not sure," Mary shrugged. "Everything ended well, didn't it? I just don't think it would do any good, that's all."
"Any good?" Lily finally snapped. "He hit you, Mary. Well, if you're not going to report him, I will."
Mary stared at her friend in horror. "You wouldn't."
"Sure am." As Headgirl, it's merely my duty to do so. Now, what's it going to be, then? You informing McGonagall yourself or letting me do the honors, which means you'll have to explain yourself to her sooner or later anyway."
Mary looked from Lily to Sirius, who was whistling innocently as he stared at her Potions book and back at Lily. "You're not leaving me much choice here, are you?"
~*~ End of Chapter ~*~