Dancing with Angels
Marauder-Era HP/Good Omens crossover, PG-13, 9000 words
a/n: I was randomly perusing my SH page, being heartily amused by the fact that Drawing Down the Moon has 3,000 hits, when I decided to re-read this. I subsequently decided that it's the funniest thing I've ever written (although - maybe funny-peculiar, as opposed to funny-haha). I cleaned it up, which took ages. I really loved commas three years ago, would never use a full stop when a comma would do, etc. To say nothing of the
dog adverbs. Only the old guard will remember this story, and most have disappeared to pastures new (*sob*) so you guys can pretend this is brand new. Kay? We're good.
Baby, it's not your sleigh ride
But this year is ours
Maybe tomorrow we'll see things we never believed
I'll make you want me, you'll see
The initial warning is free
- badly drawn boy
'G-Satan damn it, Aziraphale, can't you even read a basic road map?' Crowley grouched, leaning over the Bentley's gear stick to snatch the reams of paper out of the angel's hands. In the manner of all road maps everywhere in the multiverse, it was composed of artistically delineated ant scrawl, and had managed to expand to three times the width suggested by the tiny encasing folder.
'I usually rely on divine intervention.' Aziraphale retrieved a goodly amount of paper from beneath his left thigh. Five miles down the other end, Crowley hadn't noticed the hold-up. 'But even switchboard angels get Christmas off.'
'So do the lesser minions of hell. Bank holiday.' Crowley turned over the map so that Aziraphale's end - some of which had inexplicably formed a close and personal relationship with the seat-moving lever - took on the brief appearance of origami-based abstract art before ripping cleanly down the centre. Right through Crowley's recent masterpiece, the M50. Crowley glared at it and, all at once, it burst into flame.
'Really, now,' Aziraphale rebuked him. A small localised rain cloud appeared near the Bentley's door light and doused the merrily burning flames. Crowley sat back in the driver's seat in a huff, crossing his arms. The car performed a neat right-hand-turn down the windy country road, supremely indifferent to the dearth of driving involved.
'Aziraphale,' Crowley began, after a few minutes of golden silence during which the angel had been trying to think of a celestially appropriate reason for ruminating on Crowley's leather trousers, 'we are still in England, aren't we?'
'No,' said Aziraphale. He was not looking at the demon's face and as such missed the look of abject horror that engulfed it. 'There was a sign saying 'Welcome to Scotland' three hours back. Didn't you notice the huge picture of a haggis?'
'I thought that was just Hastur playing silly buggers again,' said Crowley in a hollow voice. 'Really Scotland?'
'As Scotland as it can be without being somewhere else.' Aziraphale fiddled with the radio. Queen, again.
'What's a haggis, then?'
Aziraphale told him. Crowley spent several moments in horrified silence.
'And it's used, what, as a decorative ornament? A jolly conversation starter when Aunt Janet pops over for tea and scones?'
'You haven't been in Scotland before, have you?'
'No. Too wet and holy. Your people's people.'
Aziraphale grunted. 'They eat them, Crowley. And much as I'd simply love to hear your haggis-oriented jokes, by the gallon I'm sure, may I inform you that the car is headed straight for a huge spiky gate?'
Crowley jumped. So did the car. It ground to a halt inches before the aforesaid huge spiky gate, which would have reminded Crowley of the Gates of Hell only that they were rather less tasteful and more spiky.
'There's a castle up there,' Aziraphale remarked. 'How odd - I don't remember it.'
'Scotland was falling down with visions and visitations and castle chapels at one time,' said Aziraphale. 'It was usually Metratron messing about, when the Crusades were having a dull patch. By rights, if I recall, there should not be a castle here at all.'
Crowley sent him a funny look. Aziraphale knew it was a funny look because Crowley only took off his sunglasses and squinted like that when he was trying to achieve said look. 'Aziraphale mate, I know all those holy choirs can send you loony after a bit, but how can a castle, that is clearly there, not be there? Or have you been lying to me all along and your side really did invent marijuana?'
Aziraphale refused to meet his eye, fumbling for the door catch. Whatever Crowley might suspect on that count, he'd be damn- he'd be blessed if he admitted that all recreational and hallucinogenic drugs were the brainchild of a couple of the early cherubims. And they had been a great aid in achieving multiple cases of divine ecstasy, too.
'I think we should go take a look,' he said in quelling tones. Crowley, safe in the knowledge that he could qualmlessly ignite any potential danger, agreed equably, 'Right you are.'
A light snow was falling as they each slammed shut their respective car doors. Had anyone been looking closely - aside from forty thousand fields' worth of sheep - they might have noticed that the flakes stopped falling within an inch-wide diameter of each of their bodies.
Protesting loudly, in the form of multiple groans and squeaks, the gates swung open before them. Both devil and angel were sweating as they crossed the portal, and they sent each other surprised looks.
'Your side?' they said, at the same time.
Lily stabbed herself in the eye with the mascara wand for the sixteenth time. In tones of deepest disgust, she pronounced the word 'Bugger!' for the six-hundredth time.
'Language,' Martina drawled, from where she was lolling on the bed and enchanting paper dollies to say in chorus, 'Sirius Black is a fine thing.'
'English,' Lily retorted automatically. Her hand jerked again. 'Bugger!'
'Where's Sarah got off to, by the way?' Martina scratched the ankle of her left foot with her right red-platform-boot-heel. 'Don't tell me she's with Gideon again.'
'I think so,' said Lily. 'Not that, at this moment, I give a monkey's little finger where she is or with whom. Everyone will think I'm dressed as a vampire! My eyes are completely red from being poked every five seconds.'
'She'll fail her NEWTs if she's not careful,' Martina scolded. 'I mean, I know Gideon is absolutely gorgeous and a hunk of burning man-flesh, but -'
'Martina,' groaned Lily. 'Is there any boy in this entire school whom you have not thought about in a sexual manner?'
'No.' Martina grinned. 'Oh, wait, I tell a lie. Peter Pettigrew. And,' she added slyly, 'James Potter?'
This time the mascara wand bypassed Lily's eye entirely, leaving a sooty black streak across her temple. 'Oh, this is hopeless!' she cried, throwing the blotchy stick to the floor in a fit of temper and stamping on it. She grabbed two handfuls of her hair and pulled, before falling directly forwards and landing on her bed with a pronounced 'oomph'.
'Lily, relax,' Martina murmured, in what was probably supposed to be a calming voice. Lily made a pillow-muffled screeching noise. 'I'm sure James will think you look perfect all natural and wild. Judging from, like, past evidence.'
Lily's mascara be-smudged face reared from the blackened pillow. 'For the last time!' she grated out. 'I do not care, nor will I ever care, what that complete waste of space thinks of me!' She flounced towards the bathroom in high dudgeon.
'I heard him say he likes your pink lipstick,' Martina observed, almost to herself.
Lily paused infinitesimally, before continuing with her decided march. The door slammed shut behind her.
A moment later, it opened again, and a tube of pink lipstick was hurtled with unnecessary force at the stone wall above Martina's bed.
Over in the boys' dorm, three patented expressions were gracing the features of the most notorious students to darken the doors of learning since the Legendary Marquis de Sade (transfer, Beauxbatons; Order of Merlin, Third Class, for services rendered in increasing wizarding birth rates).
There was Remus Lupin's Oh-Dear-Do-You-Think-This-Is-Quite-Wise long-suffering frown. Sirius Black's Devil-May-Care-But-I-Sure-As-Hell-Don't gleeful grin was also present and ready for action. Last, but never least (at least in his considered opinion) James Potter's Rebel-With-A-Cause (appended: Get-Lily and Make-Snivellus-Rue-The-Day-Of-His-Misfor
'So, are you sure this will work?' asked Remus.
'Moony!' Sirius sounded pained. 'You're talking to the man who got the highest Charms mark in forty years. Of course it'll work.'
'That's because you bribed Flitwick,' James muttered. Sirius gave him a friendly punch in the solar plexus that left him gasping for air.
'Actually, what I should have said is: will it work the way you planned it? Or will it go off willy-nilly, possibly while we are getting changed, like that time with the Combustible Parchment?' Remus absent-mindedly made a paper-bag respirator for James.
'Thanks, Moony.' James shot Sirius an evil glare, which he returned with bells, balls and brio. 'Actually, I looked over it and added a couple of safeguards and firewalls and such.'
'You did what?' Sirius exclaimed in horror.
'Shut up,' James snapped. 'Things exploding over other people are, I grant you, extremely funny, but things exploding over me are not. Just think of my hair!'
'Why would I bother? You've got that covered, without a shadow of a doubt.'
'I think for once he's right,' said Remus. 'Exploding Plum Pudding is, indeed, the work of genius -' Sirius preened '- albeit of a rather twisted one, but you know that already. James makes a fair point. I don't think the girls would be happy to see even you haring towards them dripping brandy sauce.'
James sniggered. Sirius glowered, but made no comment, by which Remus felt he could chalk himself up a victory. The three master Trubelmachers sat back to regard Sirius' brainchild with fond pride.
A large, luscious plum pudding sat on a gaudy vine-covered platter on Sirius' bed. It glistened with brandy juices. Random plums and squished fruits squeezed out through air bubbles in the melting, tender -
'Sirius, stop salivating!' said James. 'You know we can't eat any!'
'I wasn't!' Sirius protested, but weakly, and surreptitiously wiped drool from his chin. Remus hid a grin. Padfoot was apt to make cameos at the oddest moments.
'Right.' James took on his camp-commandant persona, which had become ever more pronounced since his election as Head Boy. 'Remus, since you look the most innocent, you take the pudding down to the buffet table. Hurry now - if you aren't spotted it will be even better.'
'Yes, sah,' Remus snapped off, under his breath. He rolled his eyes at the thought of a werewolf being called 'the most innocent'. James, as usual, failed to notice the irony.
He carefully levitated the platter, making sure to give Sirius - whose tongue was now hanging out in a most unseemly manner - a wide berth. Remus muttered, 'Stop catching flies', although without much hope that he'd be heeded.
The common room's only evidence of inhabitation was limited to a rather bulky curtain, under which Remus could spot Gideon's green dragon-hide boots and Guildford's purple flares. Fairly certain they were oblivious to his presence, Remus placed the platter in amongst the other delectable offerings on crepe-covered table, twisting it this way and that for better alignment. Pausing to snatch a crème puff, he made his way back to the dormitories, ignoring his Prefect's badge, which seemed to be reprimanding him, and revelling instead in the thought of a job well done.
Plus, he'd nabbed a crème puff before Sirius gobbled all of them, which could only be construed as positive.
After a brief detour through a large and dank forest, scaring off a bunch of what looked, to Crowley, like one of the hybrids Ligur bred in his private cave, they came at last to the castle entrance. Aziraphale was still muttering, 'Centaurs - but - they don't even exist!' Crowley took this to mean that angels were less progressive in their experiments, which stood to reason, he supposed.
'Belt up,' he instructed. 'When you keep your mouth shut, you could almost pass for sane.'
Aziraphale paused in his diatribe to send him far too dirty a look for a denizen of Celestial City. 'And I suppose you think those shades make you look normal? In Scotland, in mid-winter?'
Crowley shook his head sadly. 'Angel, you're wearing tweed. Don't lecture me on sartorial choices. Black and sunglasses are always in fashion.'
Aziraphale sighed and turned his attention to the very-shut looking double oak doors. 'Any ideas?'
'I could b-' Crowley began to suggest.
'Fine then.' Crowley sulked. 'You use your God-given powers of persuasion, then.'
'What, like, OPEN UP OR FACE THE WRATH OF HEAVEN?' said Aziraphale, rolling his eyes.
'Okay, okay!' a terrified little voice squeaked, and the doors swung open without further ado.
The angel and the demon looked at them speculatively.
'Something like that, yes,' said Crowley, at last.
Remus looked at his bed, closed his eyes, and marshalled every last piece of common sense he possessed.
He was slightly shocked when he opened his eyes to find that the dirndl was still lying innocuously on his carefully folded bed pane.
'Padfoot? Prongs?' he called. 'Why, pray tell, is there a skirt on my bed?'
There was a muffled shuffling sound from the bathroom, and Sirius poked his head around the door. 'Bring it in here,' he commanded, and disappeared.
Shrugging away the portentous feeling of dread that had settled on his shoulders like a bad case of dandruff, Remus picked up the red and white ruffled thing and went into the bathroom. Where he promptly suffered a close shave with a heart attack.
'Padfoot,' he managed. 'What?'
Sirius turned from the mirror, where he was applying eye shadow with disturbing ease. He was dressed in a blue and white check skirt, with twice as many ruffles as Remus', a white blouse with a blue bow, a white apron, and blue pumps. His wavy blue-black hair, which reached below his ears, had been brushed straight and adorned with a blue Alice band. Evidence of a Dilapidating Charm lay in clumps of hair around the base of the sink and on his suspiciously fuzz-free legs.
'Didn't Prongs tell you?' he asked, with an evil grin that told Remus he knew perfectly well that Prongs had done nothing of the sort. 'The Marauders are all going as dairy maids. I see you've got your skirt. Here -' he rummaged in a bag by the sink, and produced a bow, blouse and apron, which were red and white like the skirt.
'No, Padfoot. No no no no no,' Remus protested, but it was already too late. Sirius was approaching him with the mascara, wearing the scheming-puppy-dog look that never failed to dissolve Remus' arguments like so much acid.
'Come on,' Sirius wheedled, 'it'll be funny.'
'That's what I'm afraid of,' said Remus.
'Buck up,' Sirius advised him. 'Now, do want to shave your legs or shall I?'
'What do you think?' Before Sirius had a chance to reply, Remus added hastily, 'I will, I mean. Turn around!'
'So I can get changed!'
'Get off it,' said Sirius. 'It's not like I haven't seen you getting changed a thousand times.'
'There's no need for you to watch me, though!' Remus huffed. 'Turn around or I'm going as I am.'
'Fine, fine,' Sirius grumbled, executing a twirl with a neat swish of ruffled skirt. Remus quickly shed his trousers and jumper and pulled on the skirt. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, shirtless, wearing a knee-length skirt, apron and hairy legs, and winced. It made for a particularly terrifying image. The wolf had nothing on it.
'I'm turning around now,' Sirius informed him. Remus rolled his eyes and pointed his wand at his left leg, which he'd propped up on the side of the bath - after nearly losing his balance and crowning himself on the edge of the sink.
'Dilapidius,' he muttered, with bad grace. He felt a nasty scraping sensation, followed by a heightened coolness on his skin. 'This is horrible and cruel and I hate you both.'
'But you love us anyway.' Sirius threw an arm around his neck and gave him a stranglehold disguised as a hug. 'Hurry up, you old bag. And don't forget this.' He pointed at a bottle of something on the sink and sashayed out of the bathroom. Remus rubbed his neck thoughtfully, and picked up the crystal decanter. Then he groaned.
It read: 'Madame Malkin's Best Eau de Toilette (Lilac)'.
Crowley strolled across the deserted, marble-tiled hall. Aziraphale he'd left several feet behind, exclaiming over some marble statue - 'A genuine Leonardo, I'd bet my shop on it!' A cacophony of voices was coming from behind yet another set of doors, but Crowley didn't feel inclined to investigate. It sounded like one of torture chambers in the Third Ring, a place that had always made his skin itch. He was about to start up the wide flight of stairs when a girl appeared from behind a tapestry, nose apparently surgically attached to a large book which she was holding in one hand.
Crowley dithered, wondering whether she'd even notice him, when she glanced up. Her bulbous eyes blinked as they lit upon him. He smiled; her hand went to tug at her long, tangled blonde hair.
'Hello,' she said in a dreamy voice. 'Who are you? You aren't a teacher.'
'Er, no,' said Crowley. 'I'm Anthony Crowley and that's my friend, um, Mark Aziraphale.'
'Where is he?' the girl asked. 'Mr Aziraphale? Or is he your invisible friend? I have one of those, too.'
'No, he's -' Crowley looked around wildly. Aziraphale was nowhere in sight. 'He's gone off,' he finished, cursing Aziraphale roundly in his head.
'Ah,' said the girl. 'I'm Diana Bartholomew. I'm a Ravenclaw,' she added, proudly.
'That's nice,' said Crowley. He noticed the girl was wearing a rather fetching coronet of holly. It reminded him of Aziraphale's halo, which he only brought out on special occasions, such as when he was drunk.
'So, are you a parent?' Gabrielle continued.
'Hell, no!' replied Crowley. 'Devils preserve us!' He shuddered melodramatically. In fact, he was rather ambivalent to small humans, but it wouldn't do at all to let that be noised about where the meddling Dukes could hear it.
Diana regarded him steadily. Her eyes were overly large, Crowley thought, disconcerted by her level gaze.
'Are you going to the Feast, then?' she asked. 'I am, but I was late. I got caught up in this book - it's all about experiments people have done with dragon's hide! It's very interesting!'
'Dragon's hide?' Crowley repeated, not sure if he'd heard her correctly. 'What does that do?'
'Blows people to smithereens, usually.' The girl sounded indecently excited by the prospect. 'It's terribly sensitive to almost every chemical, you see. I'd love to try it!'
'Good for you. Scientific endeavour is always to be promoted - yes, that's right. It's Aziraphale's lot who say otherwise, isn't it?'
'You must be going to the Gryffindor Christmas party,' said Diana. 'Everyone does, who's in sixth and seventh year! Except for the Slytherins, of course! Are you up from Hogsmeade for it? I hear they often attract disreputable past students!'
'That would be it,' agreed Crowley agreed. 'How do I get there, again? I've forgotten.'
'I don't know,' said Diana. 'I'm a Ravenclaw, and I'm sure I don't know the way to the other dorms! That would be unethical!'
'Oh,' said Crowley.
'But if, in the spirit of general enlightenment, you were to take the first right at the top of the stairs, climb the staircase to the left of the portrait of Saint Mungo With Oranges, and go to the end of the corridor, you might find yourself at the Gryffindor's portrait hole!' Diana smiled, shoved the book into her face again, and headed off in a straight line, apparently by telepathic means.
'Thank you!' called Crowley over his shoulder, as he bounded up the stairs. He had no idea what a Gryffindor was, or a Ravenclaw for that matter; the place had the feel of one of those hideous dormitory jail schools favoured by Aziraphale's lot, but - a party was a party.
Aziraphale was in heaven.
Well, not literally, of course. He'd been there - in the real deal industrial park - quite often, but to be brutally honest it wasn't a patch on the sight greeting him at this very moment. Screw the celestial choirs (he'd never liked Elgar) and the fluffy clouds, which were always slightly damp - he'd pass it all over for an eternity here, in amongst all these books!
His mouth ajar, he wandered between the skyscraper shelves, running a hesitant, worshipful finger over the leather-bound volumes. Some chittered or shivered as he touched them. Amazing! He pulled one down: The life and letters of Silenus. Another: Nymphs and their Ways. Practically jumping from excitement, his finger passed over a slim tome in green felt: Is Man A Myth? Aziraphale's jaw dropped. These were not just rare; they were books of legend, the stuff of booksellers' wildest fantasies. He was willing to bet there was an L-space portal here somewhere. Books from within other books were here on actual shelves, within his actual reach! It beggared belief - even of the kind that came after seeing, as in Aziraphale's case.
He was startled by a slightly shrill voice, which demanded to know, 'What the hell are you doing here, stranger?'
Aziraphale whirled around, coming face to face with a young boy with icy features and hair the colour of old paper. He didn't appear best pleased. Aziraphale clutched Is Man A Myth? to his chest, unwilling to let it out of his grasp.
'I'm Aziraphale,' he said. 'Who're you?'
The boy frowned. Clearly he wasn't sure if Aziraphale deserved to ask this question, but was still too early on in the process of assessing risk to be sure. The lad was a born accountant, if Aziraphale was any judge; that, or a Mafioso politician.
'Malfoy. Lucius Malfoy.' Lucius extended a pale hand to Aziraphale, who sent it a blank look. With a slight jolt, he belatedly remembered humans often went through this strange ritual of touching bodies. He grabbed Lucius' hand and pumped it, keeping a careful hold of the book with his other hand.
'Have you seen anyone else here?' Lucius demanded. He'd apparently forgotten Aziraphale's stranger status. 'Only, I'm looking for that idiot Christopher Greengrass - off consorting with Hufflepuffs, again! He's the greatest disgrace to Salazar since Sirius Black.'
'Er, k - small human,' said Aziraphale, 'I don't even know where I am.'
The boy visibly recoiled. 'Are you not a - wizard?' he spat. 'No, that can't be - how else could you have got through the wards?'
'You're a wizard?' whispered Aziraphale. Oh, there had been rumours - the merest hint of the punch line of a cosmic joke - but he'd never imagined that it was true.
They stared at each other in mutual consternation. Aziraphale, who had the supposedly unshakable ineffability on his side, recovered first.
'So, you're a wizard,' he said. 'Well, I'm an ephemeral.'
'An ephemeral. A celestial being. An angel.'
'An angel?' The boy's visage cleared. 'They don't exist!'
Aziraphale glanced down at his book, and back up again. There was a holy light shining in his eyes. 'Put it this way, Lucius Scorpius Malfoy, aged sixteen years and three months, desperately in lust for Narcissa Perdita Black, aged seventeen years and one month, and guilty, most lately, of stealing one Fabian Prewett's best peacock quill - are you sure you exist?'
The boy gaped at him, mouth trembling. Aziraphale relented, and let the light fade. After all, he was an angel of mercy..
'Now,' he said kindly, taking Lucius by the elbow and guiding him along, as Lucius' feet seemed to glide along of their own accord despite his brain's indignant protests, 'how about we go somewhere and have a chat, eh? And maybe - some crumpets?'
Lily was beside herself. There was just so much to do! It had looked like such fun, last year - the first year she, Martina and Sarah had been permitted to attend the infamous Gryffindor Christmas party - but it was quite another story when she was on the receiving end of the organising detail.
Not to mention that James had gone AWOL - how that idiot had got himself elected Head Boy she couldn't fathom. She wasn't ruling out some sort of subornment on Black's part, orchestrated at James' request simply in order to make her, Lily's, life a living hell.
She permitted herself a minute's hand wringing before emerging from the alcove where she'd gone to hyperventilate, sweeping the hem of her magnificent dress with steely determination. James, with unusual perspicacity, had suggested that fancy dress would be the easiest way to go in terms of theme. That way people like Peter, who would undoubtedly forget about it entirely, could get away with wearing robes and coming as a 'student' (and later morphing into another version, that of 'student; drunk'). Apart from the rather wonky makeup - Lily was usually far too busy to bother with it - she thought she carried off 'medieval courtly lady' rather well, even if the deep red brocade didn't quite suit her hair. The lace embroidered at every possible crevice and fold did manage to give her the appearance of a figure that she hadn't, in fact, got.
The crowd was beginning to gather, albeit slowly. Most of the sixth years were standing around in nervous, excited groups, but the seventh years seemed to be waiting to make an entrance. That, or Gideon and Sarah had already started their own private celebrations, and Potter's gang were secreted somewhere, planning some dire mischief, and Martina was waiting to make an entrance. Those attending from other houses had to wait to be picked up and escorted by two Gryffindor prefects, so they'd be the latest of all.
Lily made her way to the buffet table. It was pure poetry. The house-elves had outdone themselves, particularly after she had prevented - at great personal and mental risk - James or Sirius (she was rather proud of that added clause) from requesting food off them. She - and the rest of the school - remembered the legendary Gryffindor Quidditch victory over Slytherin in '74, not to mention the even more legendary Food Fight of '74. There had been great efforts made to forget it. The house elves had refused to serve the Gryffindor table for a week, during which they'd lived on dry toast scabbed from the other tables. For once, James and Sirius had received the cold-shoulder treatment they so richly deserved. Unfortunately, it didn't last.
The punch was spiked. Lily had made sure to direct James to decent vodka, instead of the wallpaper-stripping chemicals he and his friends liked to imbibe on Hogsmeade weekends. If it was going to be alcoholic, she was damned if it was going to be bad alcohol into the bargain. She'd also made sure to learn a detoxifying spell for her own drinks, so she could enjoy them as they were intended to be.
Surely, there wasn't any harm in taking a sweet. After all, she was playing both halves of the hosting of this party, so she deserved some nourishment - not to mention fuel for the bawling-out James would later be treated to. She paused in contemplation, torn between the already sadly decimated pile of crème puffs and a slice of scrumptious-looking plum pudding. Well, for the season that was in it - she reached for the knife.
'No!' a voice cried from behind her. Lily turned in surprise.
A tall girl was standing there, mouth an 'o' of dismay. She appeared to be dressed as Heidi: she was wearing a black dirndl, a white blouse, a red apron and painted wooden clogs. Lily thought she might be a Ravenclaw. The girls in that house were currently enjoying a fad for twenties-style shorn hair, and this girl's was most severely cropped. Odd, Lily thought, throwing a quick glance around the room. She couldn't see any of the other Ravenclaws - none of her personal friends, who surely would arrive early. Still, maybe the girl had a boyfriend in Gryffindor.
'What's wrong?' asked Lily. 'Would you like some pudding?'
'No!' the girl almost-screamed. Lily frowned.
'I don't think it's that bad,' she said in a cold voice. 'I personally ordered this spread from the house-elves -'
'It's not that,' the girl cut her off. The uncomfortable, just-sat-on-a-pin look on her face was familiar, but for the life of her Lily couldn't think why. 'It's just - eh - that is - oh!' The girl's face cleared abruptly. 'I overheard that Sirius Black! He was talking about a jinx on the pudding. That's it! So I thought I should, er, warn ... people?'
'Oh, dear! I shall have to get rid of it - I cannot believe James! How could he let Sirius do something like this?'
'Perhaps he didn't know,' the girl suggested.
Lily sent her an appraising glance. Maybe she was one of Sirius' string of lovers, which explained her peculiar familiarity. Sirius had an awful habit of parading his one-week girlfriends around the Gryffindor common rooms - and not necessarily in a monogamous manner, either.
'I should think it desperately unlikely,' said Lily. 'He is most likely in on it as well, which means I have a decision to make - to let Dumbledore strip him of his badge, or to kill him first. Meanwhile, I need to investigate this pudding.'
'But what if the jinx activates?' the girl squeaked. Lily rolled her eyes.
'Better on me than some hapless Hufflepuff,' she said.
'How about - how about I guard it? Warn people off? Then you could, er -' the girl gabbled.
'Good idea! I'll go find James, find out the truth, and,' she smiled viciously, and the girl gulped, 'then, I shall murder him.'
Scooping up her train into two fistfuls of cloth, Lily swept majestically across the common room. Behind her, James slumped back against the table, pulling his glasses from behind his back and shoving them on to his nose.
'Even as a girl she hates me,' he muttered, and savagely stuffed a crème puff whole into his mouth.
Sirius had a disturbing look on his face. Well, the ever-conscientious Remus corrected himself, Sirius always had a disturbing look on his face; it was what you could call a default expression. But his mouth was quirking in that certain way that suggested that, no matter what you asked him, even be it 'Streak around the castle and French-kiss every teacher', he'd reply, 'Is that all?'. Sirius, in such a mindset, was even more dangerous than was his usual wont.
Remus' suspicions were borne out when Sirius reached into the depths of his voluminous blue skirt - which, Remus was utterly certain, had been most impractically designed to disinclude such necessary items as pockets - and withdrew a naggin of Firewhiskey.
'Oh, no -' he began, yet again. Sirius cut him off with an annoyed frown.
'I didn't say you had to have any, Mr Perfect Prefect,' he said, scowling. 'In fact, at the price, I don't even think I'm in the mood to share.'
'Oh, give it here,' said Remus. His brain was overtaken by the part of it that was always miffed by Sirius' imprecations on his courage and daredevil qualities, or lack thereof.
To forestall any sniggering or sighing on his friend's part, he took an almighty gulp and immediately began to cough violently as the liquid burned its way down his oesophagus.
'That's my boy.' Sirius patted him on the back and retrieved the bottle, from which he drank an equal amount as Remus with nothing like the same ill effects. 'Now, party time, I think?'
'I - hic - suppose so,' Remus stuttered.
'I can't believe you always start hiccupping when you drink,' Sirius informed him. 'It's damnably uncool, I'll have you know. In fact, I may have to disown you entirely. How are you going to fit into my post-Hogwarts hard-drinking, hard-partying lifestyle?'
'As your - hic - cleaner-upper and hungover-head-hold - hic - er?' Remus cited from experience. At least he was feeling a little less draughty about the skirt regions, which he attributed to the instantaneous warming effect of Firewhiskey.
As soon as they emerged into the common room, James flew at them like an Alpine bat out of hell, nearly catching his knees fatally in his dirndl. 'Chaps, its dire!' he gasped out. 'Lily realised there's a jinx on the pudding, and she's gone to find Sirius - I mean, you!'
'Really, Prongsie, how'd you let that happen?' Sirius sounded mildly amused. 'I was gone for what, five minutes? Besides, why'd she instantly suspect me? You'd think I was responsible for everything that goes wrong around here.'
'Sirius, you are responsible for everything that - hic - goes wrong around here,' Remus pointed out.
'Oh, you've let him drink,' said James, his face falling. He pushed back his Alice band so that bits of fringe, used to being artfully windswept, stuck up in all directions. 'That's our voice of sense gone for the evening, then. You silly plonker - couldn't you at least wait until we had finished the operation?'
'Ah, feel the Christmas spirit!' Sirius roared. He threw his arm around Remus, nearly breaking his shoulder.
'That was loud, Si - hic - ri - hic - us,' complained Remus. 'Hic.'
'Give us some, then - now,' said James, as Sirius made to object. 'I don't think I can face Lily sober. Or at all. But definitely not sober.'
Sirius grudgingly handed over the flagon, and they all took hearty swigs from it. After a bit, James took off his glasses and squinted at the myriad of twinkly lights, which seemed to be reproducing by binary fission.
'Hey,' he said, 'has anyone seen Wormtail lately?'
Crowley thoughtfully approached the painting Diana had described. It was of a fat woman in a violently pink dress that did not suit her colouring, her figure or the oil painter's palette. She seemed to be making the best of it by hamming it up with a tinsel halo, belt and shoe pom-poms.
After half-an-hour's wandering in the castle, Crowley had stopped trying to spontaneously combust paintings when their inhabitants moved. This served no purpose but to irritate them, for the frames seemed to repel fire. He equally unsurprised when the fat woman in the portrait eyed him and requested, in tones of highest doubt, a 'Password?'
Crowley was momentarily flummoxed. Passwords were far too complicated for the likes of the Dukes of Hell, who barely remembered to use aliases. Casting about randomly, he came up with something dredged from the depths of his memory - something sparked by the tinsel, and the time of year, and an old record playing in Aziraphale's flat as the angel listened with every evidence of enjoyment.
'Jingle Bells?' he hazarded.
With an expression of canvas-deep surprise, the woman said, 'Correct.' All of a sudden, the painting itself moved forward, revealing a hole. Shrugging, Crowley clambered through to be met with a scene of bright lights and utter chaos.
Ah. The demon's eyes lit up behind his dark glasses. A party.
One that was in full swing, moreover. Unfamiliar music was playing on the radio - he caught something about 'A Wizard's Staff has a Knob on the End,' which was certainly not on Top of the Pops - and people were jiving like mad, getting down and dirty, and, at any given opportunity, snogging like snog-beasts.
He wandered over to the food table. There was a solitary crème puff left. Crowley grinned; they were among his favourite foods. He reached out, but just as his hand closed around it, a rude finger prodded him on the shoulder.
'Who are you?' its owner demanded.
Crowley turned around slowly, giving the full effect of the head-to-toe leather and shades time to sink in. A belligerent-looking girl sporting two bunches of sandy-coloured, wiry hair stood before him, arms crossed, and apparently completely unimpressed. Crowley wilted.
'Anthony Crowley,' he replied, smiling. Slowly. The girl did not.
'Former student, eh?' she said. 'What have you come as, then?'
'For the fancy dress,' the girl expanded.
'Oh. That.' Crowley thought hard for a minute, and then grinned. 'Angel.'
'You don't look like one,' she accused.
'You know what angels look like? Met many, have you?'
'You need wings. To fly with. Else I'm the Queen of Tara.'
Crowley glanced downwards. The girl was holding a glass in her hand, half-full of a murky, dangerous looking liquid. <iAh.
'Give me your name, and I'll show you my wings,' he offered.
'Caitlin O'Reilly,' she said. 'Wings. Now.'
Crowley concentrated. There was a faint pop and two swan-like wings, each three feet wide, opened out from his back. For good measure, he brought in his redundant halo, too.
'Not bad,' the girl admitted, and toppled gently sideways.
Crowley shrugged, and let his wings fold back. It was not as if he could actually fly with them; or rather, not as if he needed them to fly. It was all show. Above or below, they were all the same: impress the humans.
Another girl strode up to him, her brocade dress fluttering behind her and her hair coming down in tendrils from some rather abused jewelled hairclips.
'Have you seen Sirius?' she demanded. 'I can't find him anywhere, the blasted tool.'
Crowley let his inbuilt precognition float gently outwards. 'Try a skirt,' he suggested. 'Over in the corner. Drinking whiskey made of fire. Hang on, fire? I want some!'
'Divination, huh?' This girl did not look greatly impressed either; in fact, she looked downright disapproving. 'That's a very imprecise brand of magic.'
'Magic?' Crowley repeated in confusion. 'But I wasn't -' He realised he had lost his audience; the girl, despite her censure, had taken his advice and headed for a far alcove. Crowley followed, out of interest.
Three girls were slumped against the wall, dressed in a matching set of milkmaid outfits. They fit very poorly, seeming to be tight where they should be loose and drooping in all the wrong places.
He saw dawning comprehension on the girl's face, just before she began to scream.
'JAMES POTTER! SIRIUS BLACK! AND - REMUS LUPIN, I expected better of you!'
Ah, Crowley said, nodding wisely to himself, that explained that. And he drifted quickly away.
The dungeon Aziraphale found himself in was dark, dank, dim, with a lot of half-dead potted plants and an underlying smell of fish. It reminded him strongly of the celestial plane.
There were very few people there, which did not surprise him; he'd go out his way to avoid it, too. They all seemed to be wearing dresses but, to quote Crowley, someone who wore tweed could hardly be judgemental.
Lucius abandoned him at the door and began remonstrating a redheaded boy - something to do with a 'Hufflepuffian taint' and all the shame this would wreak upon his family. For his part, the boy looked entirely unruffled. One of the other people in the room soon caught Aziraphale's attention; a boy tucked away into a chair, folded up like an accordion, his lank hair almost sweeping the top of the book he was hidden behind.
If he was honest, the book intrigued him more than the boy. Owning a bookshop brought him into contact with that strange and rare species, readers, but they were rarely teenage boys; when they were, they tended not to be looking for weighty publications that came in roman-numeral-ed volumes. Aziraphale was forever directing them to the grubby little newsagent's down the street.
Dragging up a pouffe, as there was no adjacent chair, Aziraphale said, in friendly tones, 'What're you reading, then?'
The boy mutely held the book further up, so that it obscured his face entirely - no great loss, Aziraphale had to admit - and revealed the title: 101 Sure-fire Ways to Curse Your Enemies into Oblivion (and they won't even know it!).
'Do these work?' he asked, slightly alarmed.
'Of course they do,' said the boy. He had a slightly nasal twang to his voice; it grated across Aziraphale's nerves like a blunt hacksaw. He had heard a voice like it before - ah, yes. Metratron had one that matched it tone for strident tone.
'Oh. Good, I suppose,' said Aziraphale. 'You're a wizard too, then?'
'Of course Do I look like a dirty Muggle to you?'
'Muggle?' Aziraphale wondered.
'Those of non-magical stock. People wondering around blind to the world, with not a drop of magic in their veins.'
'You say that like it's their fault.'
The boy shrugged; he had an insolent look in his eyes. 'Knowing them, it probably is.'
Aziraphale was forced to agree there. 'So wizards have magic blood, then? Is that what makes you a wizard?'
'No, unfortunately.' The boy curled his lip. It did not do much for his face, but then, nothing short of radical plastic surgery would. His nose was most lamentable. 'Like that Mudblood Evans.'
'Evans is nearly a better witch than you are a wizard,' said Lucius, coming up behind the boy and clouting him over the head. 'You'd do well to remember it. Don't underestimate the enemy, remember?'
The other boy winced, but did not retaliate. There were some very strange dynamics going on here, Aziraphale decided.
'This is Severus,' Lucius announced. 'Resident Potions genius. Where were you all this evening, Severus? We were meant to be recruiting - aha - Wormtail - tonight. And I wanted you to help me look for that -' he jerked his thumb over his shoulder, at the sofa where Christopher Greengrass was slouching '- idiot. You know I overheard him discussing baby names with that blasted Hufflepuff he's walking out with?'
'No doubt they're hideous,' said Severus. Lucius did not seem to notice the sardonic note in his voice, for he merely demanded once again to know where Severus had been.
'Black found me,' said Severus, his face tightening. 'He - he put a charm on me.'
'Don't tell me you couldn't fight off one of his charms?'
'You do realise he got the highest mark in forty years?' objected Severus. 'Besides, he snuck up on me.'
'No doubt that will come in highly useful for him,' Lucius murmured. 'Well? Which charm was it?'
'Tarantallegra.' Colour rose in Severus' waxen cheeks.
'Oh, for crying out loud!' Lucius laughed. 'The tap-dancing charm? Oh, gods, he is one sly bastard.'
'Then Potter Vanished my robes,' Severus muttered. His face bore a great resemblance to - well, to a skull painted blood red, more than anything.
'Oh.' This seemed to give Lucius pause. He shrugged. When he spoke again, his voice was lower, more charming and more sweetly dangerous. 'So join us. You'll get permission to AK him, and you'll never have to worry about Potty and his gang of trained weasels ever again.'
'I - I am nearly sure.' Severus glanced down at his arm with a pensive expression.
'Don't wait too long,' said Lucius, his voice dripping poisoned honey. 'Our Lord is not the most ... patient of men.'
'You can say that again,' Aziraphale muttered, thinking of the heavenly hierarchy.
'You - serve our Lord?' asked Lucius.
'Of course,' said Aziraphale. Oh, after Crowley a few angels had fallen, but generally it could be taken as given that they all served the cause of Light or Bright, or Salvation, or whatever was the current catchphrase.
'But he as good as said he wasn't a wizard!' Severus protested.
'Our Lord has not restricted himself,' Lucius murmured, eyeing Aziraphale speculatively. He said something to Severus, which sounded to Aziraphale like 'Dark creatures' - whatever that meant.
Wizards, Aziraphale decided, were even more utterly insane than angels were. No wonder he felt so at home here.
Remus and Sirius scarpered when Lily started to lay into James. It was clear that she blamed him more than them. Besides, she usually tended to focus her screaming efforts on one person at a time, giving them ample opportunity to escape.
There was a particular place much favoured by the Marauders as a haven and den and operation headquarters. It was located at the top of Gryffindor tower, just between the place where the roof started sloping to a point and the outermost crenulations. They had discovered it during a duct-crawling exploration in second year. Since then, they had gradually added modifications, like Warming Spells and a Cushioning Charms on the gravel. Sirius also had a habit of carving little notes and drawings into the granite blocks - 'for whoever comes after me', he had once informed Remus. Remus declined to mention that he doubted anyone would find it after them, unless they particularly liked flying around the tops of buildings or investigating pipes.
At the same time, Remus thought it was a great place, and far less crowded than the Astronomy Tower or Ravenclaw Tower (which had an outside staircase) on nights like these.
Sirius spent the most time there, often in company, but sometimes on his own. He seemed to be oblivious to the crawl through ten thousand miles of dust and dead spiders. Remus got sidetracked by the cobwebs in his hair and emerged some time after Sirius. He felt a little dizzy when he finally got to his feet; a combination of alcohol and air-deprivation caused him to stagger slightly. He accidentally stepped on Sirius' toe trying not to fall over the rampart, and nearly squashed him flat against the wall in the process, but for once he did not subject Remus to a long-winded complaint.
Neither of them had thought to bring a cloak, and it was bitterly cold. Remus could feel what hairs he had left on his legs trying to stand up in protest. He said a quick Warming Spell, even though it was common knowledge that alcohol affected magic-casting for the worse. Indeed, he felt no discernable rise in temperature, but Sirius' bulk was warm against his side. He dug his shoulder against Sirius', trying to steal his body-heat.
'Look.' Sirius gesticulated somewhere in the direction of the sky. 'It's the Holy Star.'
'Wha'? Stars have holes in them?'
'No, you twat.' Sirius shifted again, jostling Remus, who had just been getting comfy. 'You get very silly when you're drunk.'
'Stay still,' protested Remus. 'Your shoulders are bony enough as it is.' He could feel Sirius snorting by the movement of his throat against Remus' forehead. 'Well, go on. Astrology, wasn't it? Or no, that's tarot beads ... astronomy?'
'No. Religion. The Holy Star shone bright over the stable, leading the Three Wise Men to the Baby Jesus.'
Remus sat up in surprise. 'You know religion?'
'Not personally, no.' At Remus' disgruntled expression, Sirius laughed out loud. 'Of course I do. Who doesn't?'
'But -' Remus was at a loss. 'I didn't realise you even knew what the Bible was.'
'There are a lot of things you don't know about me,' Sirius said, and only Sirius could make something so profound and serious come out sounding like the punch-line to a joke.
'Quote it, then.'
'Quote it! Quote the Bible!'
'You are a lot more reasonable sober,' Sirius complained. He scratched his head, pulling off the Alice band, which he tossed carelessly over the parapet. His usually well-groomed hair stood up in all directions. Remus absent-mindedly patted it flat for him. He did not notice Sirius start.
'Er ... here goes,' Sirius said, swallowing, but making a brave attempt putting on his (in)famous declamatory voice, as Remus settled his head back against his shoulder. 'Um ... 'And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, 'O Lord, bless this, thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayest blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.' And the Lord did grin, and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orang-utans and breakfast cereals and fruit bats and large chu' -'
'Sirius,' Remus stated firmly, 'You are. Making. That. Up.'
'Am not!' Sirius objected, in an injured voice. 'It's from, er, the Book of Ni. Yeah, that's it, I think.'
'There is no Book of Ni in the Bible!'
'You'd know, I suppose?'
'Yes. I would.' Remus' voice said plainly that the subject was closed.
No point in telling Sirius about going to Mass every Sunday, twice on Christmas day, being an altar boy, his mother giving out Communion, his father practising for his turn at reading. He would not understand. He would want to know why it had stopped, he would need to be told how someone could lose their faith because of the hand fate had dealt their son, with no sign of benevolent divine intervention. Sirius had faith in things like - chicken, and making mischief, and himself - and they did not, could not, let him down in that way.
'You know,' Sirius began, his voice sounding slightly constricted - but that could be just because Remus' head was pressing against his voice box, as Remus was too drunk to quibble about using Sirius as a human pillow, 'you know, you'd make a nice girl.'
'Cheers,' Remus grumbled. 'Is this an oblique way of saying I make a crap boy?'
'No!' Sirius exclaimed.
'Good.' Remus yawned. 'Because I am a boy, and I don't think you get girl membership merely through shaving your legs, terrifying though the experience is.'
'Yeah,' Sirius said, sounding preoccupied. Probably planning the Marauder's next botch job - or what he liked to call masterful pranks, Remus thought. Come to think of it, they'd not hung around long enough to find out what chaos had come about as a result of the pudding exploding.
Oh, well. James would not doubt recount it to them tomorrow, in minute and stultifying detail.
'Yeah. I know you are,' Sirius muttered, after a bit.
'Hello, and welcome to ten minutes later. In addition, do's a favour, and shut up.'
''mkay,' Sirius said, amazingly not giving Remus a wallop for his cheek. He sounded like he was thinking deeply, which, if not exactly rare, was invariably perilous - at least for other people.
After a while, Remus felt asleep.
As soon as the other two slithered off, Lily's voice abruptly quietened to a level barely discernable on canine sound waves.
'James Potter,' she said, looking almost entertained. 'And I thought you could sink no lower.' James glanced up at her. 'Clogs, indeed.'
'You - you're making fun of my footwear?' said James.
'It's a good enough place to start as any,' she told him, still in that grimly amused tone of voice. 'Let me see. You rigged a pudding to explode.' She waved her hands rather wildly. 'Are there any words? What, may I ask, were you hoping to achieve by it?'
'A roomful of pudding-covered people?' James suggested brightly, and truthfully. Lily's glare made him swiftly realise that this was quite the wrong answer.
'You're going to tell me the counter-jinx,' said Lily. 'Right now. Or -' she pulled out her wand '- I'll hex your hair blue.'
'You what?' Lily was startled. James was risking his hair? Were there three moons in the sky?
'I said, no.' James repeated. He got up from the floor in a flower-like unfolding of long, gangly limbs. Lily could not believe he had shaved his legs. She could not believe she had noticed, even though James' mission in life seemed to be to make her notice him, and make her life a misery into the bargain.
'Don't think I won't,' Lily warned. 'Yellow too. Moreover, green. I can do the whole rainbow, in fact, if you're going to be bolshy about it -'
'Fine.' James shrugged. He was pulling off an extremely convincing act, she had to admit. His hazel eyes were boring into her green ones with an almost intense expression; she'd never seen him so serious, even after the mysterious Event with Snape that had earned him and his friends three months' worth of detention. 'Fine - hex my hair. Hex me, for all I care. But I'm not telling you the counter-jinx.'
'But, James! When is it due to go off, this jinx?'
James went to shake back a jumper sleeve and realised he was only wearing a blouse. Scrunching up his hair in annoyance, he checked the time. 'Oh - about five minutes, give or take. Sirius isn't exactly noted for his punctuality.'
'No!' Lily shook her head. 'James, I'm not going to let you let this happen! Tell me the counter-jinx, or -'
'Or you'll curse my hair, I heard you.' James sounded almost bored. He leaned back against the wall, studying the floor with a dismissive nonchalance. To Lily's annoyance, his foolish outfit was making her aware of his body in a way that she'd been able to ignore with him in robes. When on earth had he developed such nice forearms?
'For Merlin's sake, James!' she shouted. 'What do I have to do to stop this madness?'
'I should think you know the answer to that question,' said James. 'Only thing is, you've been saying no for the last three years.'
'James -' cautioned Lily. Someone tapping her on the shoulder distracted her. 'Yes, what?'
It was that leather-clad former student. For some reason Lily thought he'd come dressed as an angel, but faced with him she couldn't think of many things more un-angelic - unless it was James being cunning.
'Lily, isn't it?'
She nodded. Obviously, he remembered her from when he was a student, or had read about her Head Girlship in the Prophet.
The man looked vaguely worried, and sad. 'You know, Lily, your life is short,' he began.
Lily rolled her eyes. 'I hate that 'life is short' line. Eighty years or so doesn't seem that short to me.'
'I didn't say life is short - I said your life,' he said, almost under his breath. Lily was too distracted to take much notice. In a louder voice, he added, 'Let me give you some advice. Real, life-changing stuff.'
'Yes?' snapped Lily.
'The right answer is always 'What the hell?',' the man told her.
'Sirius? That's you, isn't it? I swear to god -!' Lily squeezed her eyes shut in frustration.
When she opened them, the man was gone.
'Eh? Where'd he go?' she asked in confusion.
'Where'd who go?' James. He'd come up behind her, so that when she turned to face him they almost hit noses.
'James!' Lily protested. She had said his name far too often this evening, she decided.
'Yes?' James said, looming over her slightly. He had always been tall - tall and skinny, with truly awful hair. In fact, it wouldn't be so bad if he just let it alone for five minutes, then it would just be messy -
Lily realised she was mentally babbling, and opened her mouth to speak. Her hands, curled in the fists that were a natural response to James being within five miles of her, met the cold stone wall.
'Oh, what the hell,' said James despairingly, and kissed her on the mouth.
There was only one truly surprising thing about it all, people said afterwards. It was not that James actually reneged on a prank, or that Lily did agree to go out with him, or even that he sported blue and pink hair for that date. Lily was a woman of her word, after all.
No, the really unforeseen thing was that Lily kissed him back.
By a mutual, unspoken, and undoubtedly supernatural agreement, Aziraphale and Crowley found themselves outside the huge spiky gate at midnight on Christmas Day.
'That was a bit odd, wasn't it?' Crowley remarked, as the Bentley's doors snapped open for them on their approach.
'Rather.' Aziraphale quirked a small smile.
They drove in silence for a few hours. Aziraphale made to turn on the tape deck at one point, but the sound of Queen was enough to make him hastily remedy his mistake.
As they passed the sign for the border, Crowley said, 'You know, Aziraphale, I think I'd like to try a haggis.'
'We can stop at a hotel for Boxing Day lunch,' said Aziraphale.
Halfway through the meal, which Crowley was attacking with a look of granite determination, Aziraphale remembered the book he had inadvertently brought with him - well, stolen was the right word, he supposed. Not that he was going to use it, just because it was the 'right' word.
'Is Man a Myth?' he said to himself, wondering if this was going to settle some huge unresolved questions about the ubiquitous strangeness of humanity. Caressing the cover, he opened it.
The book consisted of just one word.Yes.
He didn't tell Crowley why he'd laughed so much during that meal, but Crowley never ate haggis again, all the same.
: Snape's part isn't smack-dab accurate, but that's because this was written pre-HBP. Besides, I haven't got this kind of funny in me any more.