Chapter Forty-six: Best Laid Plans
It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Life your life with joy and thunder…
Oh, oh… but sweetness follows.
-Sweetness Follows, R.E.M.
Chapter Forty-six: Best Laid Plans
It was Friday evening, and Minerva McGonagall had just looked toward her closed office door for the twentieth time in as many minutes before shaking her head and chastising herself for being so anxious. It wasn’t fair to the girl to expect her to be early just because she almost always was. Being on time when one was usually early didn’t make one late, after all, and the particular girl in question was as likely to be delayed by doing her duties as any other student might be from simply dallying. After having told herself quite firmly that she was being unreasonable, Minerva resolved to busy her mind with marking parchment until her Head Girl showed up as summoned. Just as she reached for her overlarge bottle of marking ink, the long-awaited (and yet, still unexpected, thanks to her forced preoccupation with other matters) knock on the large wooden door finally resounded through the room.
“C-come in!” McGonagall stuttered, trying vainly to grab hold of the slippery bottle that she’d knocked over when startled. The thick crimson ink pumped almost gleefully from the neck of its glass container, flowing over everything and anything that the Gryffindor Head of House did not want it to stain.
“Good evening, Professor—oh!” Lily Evans greeted as she entered the room, exclaiming in alarm as she saw the devastation being wrought on scores of rolls of parchment. “Es Purum!” she cried, whipping her wand out as she spoke a charm that Minerva had never heard before. Immediately, the ink stains began to fade from view, and the older woman was able to nod appreciatively at her young student.
“Thank you, Miss Evans,” McGonagall said gratefully, casting a cleaning spell on her own stained fingers and stoppering the ill-behaved bottle of liquid before storing it in her desk. “I’ve not heard of that particular charm—did Professor Flitwick teach that to you?”
“Yes, he did,” Lily nodded. “I only wish I could perform the more complex version of it—it actually lifts the liquid into the air so you can save from wasting it.”
“I’d imagine that would be a very difficult one indeed,” the professor mused as she seated herself in her comfortable desk chair. “Though, I suppose that spells like those are very useful given your boisterous group of friends.” She raised her eyebrows at Lily, though her look was not unkind.
“Remus is better at Charms than I am, really,” Lily said, blushing. “Though, I do enjoy learning new ones.” The redhead’s tone was firm, almost defensive, and Minerva felt a small pang of guilt. She hadn’t been unconscious of the strength with which James Potter had chased Lily Evans, and while she disapproved of the frequency with which he and his close friends tended to get into trouble, she did appreciate that there were many redeeming qualities to the boys in question. That the young woman before her was unapologetic about her association with them was typical of a strong Gryffindor.
“Yes… well—I’ll be honest, Miss Evans—our house’s tendency towards holiday pranking is the main reason I called you here tonight.”
“Oh?” Lily’s expression was guarded.
“Gryffindor House still has a reputation to protect,” Minerva said, rising from behind her desk and moving to stand near the facing window, her face lit by the light of the waning moon. “I’m hoping that I can count on you to help uphold this reputation during the coming festivities?”
“I will do my best,” Lily replied after a pregnant pause, just short of having a hopeless expression on her face.
“I don’t expect miracles,” McGonagall said, before she could stop herself, earning a grateful smile from her companion. “If there’s anything that can be done to confine the celebrations to our own tower, I’ll be eternally grateful,” she added. “I don’t want to suggest that my fellow Heads of House are looking to increase their status by comparison, but…”
“I understand completely, professor,” Lily Evans said, laughing softly. “I’m sure at least two of them are already deep in planning discussions, but I’ll do what I can.”
Still sore from the pickup game of Quidditch he’d played with James and a few others that evening, Sirius had drifted off to sleep not long after the two of them climbed the stairs to the dormitory. Through the haze of sleep, he could hear Potter calling him, but partly through exhaustion (he’d definitely overdone it for Hermia’s benefit, he’d already admitted that to himself, at least) and partly through laziness, he didn’t respond.
“—oof—OW, James!” Sirius howled, rubbing his head where the rough edge of a crusty old crocheted pillow had hit him soundly.
“I’m sorry!” his friend whined, defensively. “I thought you were asleep!”
“And that’s how you chose to wake me? I’m glad I was just ignoring you! Come to think of it,you should be glad I was just ignoring you!” Sirius said, rolling over and fumbling for his wand as he growled out his response to James.
“Well… don’t you want to know why I woke you up?” Prongs said, his voice losing some of its confidence after Sirius managed to grasp his wand through a handful of bedcovers.
“You think so?” Sirius said in a muffled voice, waving his weapon fiercely until catching it on his bed curtains made him lose the tenuous hold he’d had on the thing in the first place.
“Well, now I do,” James said with a definite note of smugness. “You wouldn’t have cast anything on me, Padfoot, not with a mouthful of pillow—you’re laying on your stomach, even!”
“Wouldn’t I?” Sirius said, trying for menace and failing when the aforementioned pillow impediment made his words sound more like ‘woon eye.’
“Scoot over before I sit on your back,” was James’s only response. Huffing slightly, Sirius rolled over again (conveniently taking most of his covers with him) so that James could sit beside him.
“This better be good, Prongs—I ache.”
“I would have thought you were used to showing off for the ladies, Sirius,” James teased.
“Didn’t you nearly break your leg the first time Lily sat in the front row?”
“Well, out with it, stag-boy, I’m tired,” Sirius said, losing patience now.
“Don’t you want to know what you’ll be doing, this time tomorrow night?” James asked archly.
“That’s rather a personal question, don’t you think?” Sirius replied, grinning.
“The party, Sirius—it’s tomorrow night!”
Sirius sat up. “So soon? Why didn’t you wake me sooner! We’ve got planning to do!”
“Oh, good—you’re up already,” Sirius said cheerfully as he walked through the portrait hole behind James with an honest-to-goodness tray full of breakfast food. Hermione and Lily shared looks of astonishment, and it wasn’t until Sirius and James had nearly finished setting the table in front of them that either of the girls could speak.
“How is it that you’re awake?” Lily began bluntly.
“I hope you asked the House Elves—” Hermione spoke at the same time as her friend.
“There’s a grand celebration tonight, my dear—sleep can wait,” James said expansively.
“Oh, sweet Merlin,” Lily swore, uncharacteristically, before putting her head down in Hermione’s lap.
“The House Elves love me, Mia,” Sirius said. “Besides—good planning and persuasion always goes better with good food, right Remus?”
“Planning? —and, you two are awake? You DO know it’s Saturday, right?” Remus said, moving to sit beside the still overwhelmed Head Girl.
“I’m wounded, Moony,” Sirius said, winking at Hermione.
“You’ll get over it, as usual,” Remus quipped, snagging a plate and a biscuit. “What, no pumpkin juice?”
“James has it,” Hermione observed, making a face when the boy in question took a huge sip out of the pitcher. “Were you raised in a barn?” she asked, eliciting a giggle from Lily and blank looks from everyone else. “Never mind.”
“Where’s Peter?” Lily asked, sitting up and aligning herself so that she was facing Hermione and Remus.
“Why—if he had helped us, would you turn your back on him, too?” James asked in a grumpy undertone. Just then, Peter entered the room, and stopped short when he heard his name and saw the tension in the room.
“Whatever it was, I didn’t do it—James did,” he said, immediately.
“Good man,” Sirius said, getting up and leading Peter to a chair. “Now that we’re all here—it’s time to get down to business.”
“Why do I have a feeling that I’m not going to like what I’m about to hear?” Lily moaned.
“Because you have good instincts,” Hermione assured her. They all laughed.
“Actually, it’s not as bad as it could have been,” Sirius said with a huge grin. “You see, James and I—with Peter and Remus’s blessing, of course—have decided to generously donate our most ambitious prank yet to the cause of keeping tonight’s party a Gryffindor-only affair.”
“By the half-terrified looks on the women’s faces, you’re doing well, Sirius—do continue,” Remus said dryly.
“I don’t mind if I do, Moony,” Sirius said, missing the point entirely. “You see, we’d intended to have our dungbombs trigger at the presence of certain deserving and worthy people, but now—”
“You… what?!” Lily asked, a note of hysteria in her voice.
“Dung…bombs?” Hermione asked, emphasizing the plural. However, her voice was drowned out by her boyfriend’s frantic attempt to keep Lily calm, which, predictably, failed miserably.
“—but now, we’re going to use them to keep OUT those people so our party can be Slytherin-free,” Sirius said quickly, covering a piece of toast with Lily’s favorite jam and floating it over to her with a nicely executed non-verbal charm.
“Oh, well, in THAT case…” Lily dangled with obvious sarcasm, but she accepted his offering of toast with enthusiasm.
“They’ve added a brilliant warning sound, too—so we’ll know when someone tries to get in,” Peter added excitedly. Hermione patted Lily’s hand comfortingly as her friend dropped her head on her shoulder and shut her eyes.
“All we need from you is a little help in marking all of the Gryffindor students so they don’t trigger the bombs,” James finished for Sirius.
“Hermia—would you like to be Head Girl for a day?” Lily asked plaintively.
It turned out that the spell the boys wanted to cast on their fellow house members wasn’t anything more than a simple identification charm with a twist—it caused the affected person to glow slightly crimson. Hermione suspected that this would have been considered a severe inconvenience by Slytherins like Lucius Malfoy, but for all but a few of the younger students, it was worn as a badge of pride. James and his cadre of friends were already looked on by the underclassmen as sort of anti-heroes, Lily had told her, and as such many of the Gryffindors considered it quite the honor to be the object of a spellcast by them—even if had turned out to have negative results. Hermione was reminded of Fred and George—and of her own attempts at keeping order as a Prefect. For this reason, she had decided to stay close to Lily for the remainder of the day, knowing from experience just how much stress her friend must be going through.
The two girls headed outside, ostensibly to check for Gryffindor stragglers without the distinctive reddish glow, but Lily had started purposefully toward the Owlery.
“Professor McGonagall asked me to see if I could find a way to persuade the partygoers to stay in our own tower,” she told Hermione; “—and I have an idea for a sort of surprise costume party.”
“What do you mean by ‘surprise costume,’ Hermione wondered aloud.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Lily answered with a broad smile. “Back when I was ten, I was at a horribly stuffy party where the icebreaker was actually kind of interesting. Each person was given a famous person’s name (they could be fictional or otherwise) written on a piece of paper and they weren’t to look at it. Then, we all had to walk around handing it to others and try to guess who we were.”
“That actually does sound kind of fun,” Hermione admitted.
“It was—but how much more fun would it be if you actually LOOKED like the person?” Lily exclaimed, looking over her shoulder at Hermione and beaming as she practically dashed up the Owlery steps.
“You mean with some sort of illusion charm? But, wouldn’t they just look in the mirror?” Hermione pointed out. “We’re all a bit competitive, Gryffindors.”
“That’s why we need Peter,” Lily said, confusing Hermione even more.
“He doesn’t like to show off, but he’s really good at illusion charms,” Lily said as she wrote a quick few sentences on a scrap of parchment and tucked it away on a post owl’s leg. “Peter’s more likely to come if he gets an owl,” she explained. “While I love James and the others dearly, they’re a bit blind to how sensitive Peter is, I’ll admit… not that he wouldn’t be mortified to know that I’d noticed.”
This revelation was difficult for Hermione, more so because of the kindness in Lily’s voice as she spoke about Peter’s personality traits. It was clear that the redhead had welcomed with open arms her boyfriend’s friends, warts and all, and the knowledge of how that openness would someday be repaid made Hermione’s eyes sting with tears for a few moments until she’d gotten a hold on herself. It helped that Lily’s idea fit in perfectly with Hermione’s plan for treating Peter with kindness—and she was definitely curious to learn about the shy boy’s hidden talent for illusion charms.
Hermione and Lily spent their time talking about the difference between Muggle and magical life as they waited for Peter in the courtyard. It was during times like these that Hermione practically forgot that she was meant to be out of place here, as she extolled the virtues of magical decorating (ten minutes, tops) versus doing it by hand. She’d just asked her friend whether she thought that magical versus manual labor tended to make the wizarding community complacent when Peter showed up.
“Hello Lily, Hermia—what did you—?”
“I need your talents, Peter,” Lily said without preamble. Peter couldn’t prevent a quick glance toward Hermione before he looked back at Lily in confusion. Before the two of them could get any more uncomfortable about having a secret they couldn’t share with her (one she already knew about, to boot), Hermione spoke up.
“Lily says you’re amazing at illusion charms, Peter—and she’s got a rather interesting idea for the party tonight. Want to take a walk with us?”
Peter let out a long breath before responding, hesitantly; “She did? Well, thank you Lily—sure, I’ll walk with you.”
The time had come. Peter donned the Invisibility Cloak and headed downstairs—though there was still nearly an hour to go before the Halloween party officially began, the preciousness of the garment and the possibility of running, invisible, into an excited young First Year meant that it would be much safer to get into position before the bulk of his fellow housemates arrived at the tower. Pettigrew chose a route that took him past Lily, who was busy casting spells that threw loops of crepe paper streamers in crimson and gold to hang from the ceiling and walls.
“Thanks again, Lily,” he whispered in her ear, his confidence bolstered by the way her face lit up with a smile in response. He was more grateful than she probably realized; this was his chance to show off his skill at something that was more of an accomplishment than simply following in his friend’s footsteps. Admittedly, it was a rare and amazing achievement to become an Animagi, rather than to have been born one, but besides the fact of it being illegal, he’d also been the last of the three to manage to do it correctly, which pretty much negated the ‘achievement’ aspect of it entirely.
Hermia had conjured a little ledge for him above the portrait hole (after politely asking the occupants of the painting he’d be hovering in front of for their blessing) in case he grew tired on his broom, but also to protect him from being seen by anyone looking directly up—the Cloak was magical, but it didn’t have enough fabric to cross under his feet comfortably.
Peter had with him a list of possible costumes, with a few specific notes for particular students such as Steffie and the impossibly tiny little First Year named Sylar who tended to sneeze a lot. Hermia had also suggested that he pick anyone but Celestina Warbeck for Juli’s costume, and he’d agreed. Grinning invisibly, Peter stretched out his wand and conjured an image of a very small old woman with wispy white hair and a cane around Hermia. Being a very knowledgeable Muggle-born costumed as the venerable Bathilda Bagshot would be a delightful discovery for Miss James, he was sure. Quickly, before Lily could catch sight of Hermia’s costume, he cast again, this time towards the red-haired Head Girl.
The girls’ reaction on seeing each other brought an even bigger grin to Peter’s face, and he set about examining his list, mentally checking off each costume as he cast it so that there would be no duplicates.
Hermione was having a blast. Predictably, she’d figured out who she was costumed as in short order, but the thoughtfulness of Peter’s illusion was enough to make up for her speedy deduction. While she wasn’t well versed in Quidditch history, she managed to recognize James’s costume immediately—‘Dangerous Dai’ Llewellyn had a ward of St. Mungo’s named after him due to his tragic death via chimera bite. She was pretty certain that Peter had chosen this illusion based on the fact that Llewellyn was known for being very reckless on the pitch, though, rather than his untimely death.
Her strangest encounter of the night (up to that point, at least) was with Fiona McCready, who had clearly managed to find a stash of Firewhiskey, and whose gait was nearly as unsteady as her accent was thick, tonight. The young woman didn’t appear to have any sort of illusion cast on her, and Hermione wondered whether Peter had decided not to confuse their classmate with one, or whether the enchantment wouldn’t stick on someone who was as drunk as she appeared to be.
“Fiona—how on earth have you managed to get so sloshed on our small supply of alcohol!” James asked the Irishwoman warmly, holding out an arm to steady her.
“Ye’ve some here, then?” Fiona slurred pleasantly. “I’ve bin searchin’ tha trunks in tha dorm—but don’ tell tha ladies.”
James and Hermione shared a look of amusement, though Hermione privately had to persuade herself not to dash upstairs immediately to see what sort of havoc the Quidditch player had wrought. She knew she didn’t have any sort of contraband in her trunk, but Fiona wouldn’t have known that. Some of her anxiety must have shown on her face (or, rather, Bathilda’s face), because James patted her gently on the arm.
“Don’t worry about it, she’s too far gone to have remembered reading any love poems,” Potter teased smoothly.
“It’s not love poems I’m worried about—not that there ARE any,” Hermione said quickly, trying to cover for herself, but James was laughing heartily along with Fiona, who was listing to the side dangerously.
“Have ye seen Herm-Hemia-H… (hic)?” McCready asked, trying to focus on James’s face but whose gaze seemed to be fixed on a point somewhere to his left. “I wan te ask wha was in this bottle.”
Fiona held up a small flask that looked to have held some sort of red liquid at one point, but which was now empty. A sort of hilarious dread started forming in the pit of Hermione’s stomach as she stared at the bottle, for she knew almost immediately what it was.
Sirius’s love potion—or, rather, what was left of it.
“If ye see her, tell ‘er it was verra tasty, will ye?” Fiona said blearily, before lurching away in what Hermione sincerely hoped was not Sirius’s direction. She made as if to follow the redheaded thief, but James stopped her with a hand that shook with his laughter.
“Think, Hermia—is she going to even recognize him?”
“But—well… no, not likely,” Hermione admitted. She made a note to herself that she could not, would not forget to track down Fiona and give her a piece of her mind—and, James’s interference or not, Hermione made sure to move to a place in the room where she could see Sirius holding court. She had to admit that his costume was, in light of everything that he’d gone through in the past few years, incredibly ironic, and very amusing.
In what she was certain he viewed as a coup for his side of the one-man war he was waging with the Ancient and Noble House of Black, Sirius’s illusion displayed him as Phineas Nigellus Black, his own great-great-grandfather, and a former Headmaster of Hogwarts. The irony of it wasn’t lost on anyone older than the age of fourteen, and Sirius was basking in triumphant glory at the other side of the room. She and Remus (who had liked the idea of the costumes but managed to cast something on himself that prevented his being transformed into something) had needed to stop Sirius from leaving the tower looking for his brother, and the best they could come up with was a mock Hogwarts staff meeting with the other students who’d been transformed into former (and current) staff members.
The fake staff meeting had been mostly Lily’s idea, drawing on the fact that Sirius happened to be the only one dressed as a Headmaster, as well as the fact that she would be included in that particular subset of costumes. Hermione had nearly fallen off of the chair she’d been seated in when she’d first seen Lily’s costume—and when Professor McGonagall herself showed up at the party, many of the assembled students mimicked her reaction. For the brief period of time that their Head of House was uncostumed, there were two Professor McGonagalls in the common room! Hermione wasn’t able to recognize the image of the person Peter chose to cast on McGonagall, but none of the partygoers really had time to guess at it either, for shortly after the professor’s arrival, there came an inhuman wailing sound from just outside the portrait hole, as well as a putrid smell and acrid smoke.
As the majority of the students retreated toward the boys’ and girls’ dormitories, a small number of Gryffindors ran toward the entranceway.
“Excellent! I wonder who we caught!” James crowed. “Think it’s Snivellus?”
“I wish you wouldn’t call him that,” Hermione complained, but her objection was swallowed by the sounds of excitement and anticipation coming from the young people all around her.
“We’ll find out shortly,” Sirius said, throwing the round door open with a flourish. “SHOW YOURSELF!” he boomed, pulling his wand out commandingly and aiming it directly at what would be face-level for anyone entering the common room. The other revelers did so as well, though Hermione kept her wand at her side, determined to prevent anything that would result in a trip to the infirmary for whoever had been foolish enough to attempt to enter the Gryffindor Tower tonight.
“I assume,” came the dreadfully calm, dreadfully familiar voice at the door, “—that there is a perfectly ordinary excuse for all of this?”
It was Albus Dumbledore, his robes slightly wilted, beard smoldering, brilliant blue eyes twinkling despite the haze that surrounded him.