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Chapter 4: Verbal Acrobatics
Defence Against the Dark Arts was the last class on Friday afternoons, so, a few hours before Slughorn’s party, Lily handed in her meandering essay on Disillusionment Charms and Invisibility Cloaks. Like all the other classes previous, it mostly consisted of Dearborn retelling personal anecdotes, but he did give them fifteen minutes at the end of class to practice Disillusionment Charms.
“You know, one thing agree with Professor Dearborn about,” Anna said, as she, Lily, and Mary practiced near the back of the classroom, “is his dislike for every Auror he’s ever met. I should introduce him to my brother so he has a few more stories to tell.”
“You brother’s not that bad,” Mary said.
“Please don’t defend him, because then I’ll be reminded of the time you told me he was fanciable. And, ow, Lily, you don’t need to hit that hard,” Anna said, wincing as Lily rapped her on the top of the head.
“Sorry, let me try again,” Lily said. This time she used less force, but only Anna’s head vanished.
“Well, I imagine this looks really stupid,” Anna said, putting her hands on her hips.
“I’ll fix it,” Mary said, tapping the space where Anna’s head used to be. Moments later, it reappeared.
“What are they doing?” Lily asked, staring over at James and his friends. Lily thought it was strange that Sirius was missing, despite the fact that they were practicing Disillusionment Charms. James, Remus, and Peter were looking over in Snape’s direction expectantly.
She did not have to wait long for the answer to her question; mere seconds later, Snape was hoisted up into the air by his ankle, although no one nearby was pointing their wand at him—no one that was visible, at least. Lily had long given up defending Snape, but she did think it was really unfair, Sirius sneaking up on him when he was practically invisible. Snape twisted around in the air, trying to find his attacker, while the rest of the class laughed. To all of their good fortune, Snape had started wearing pants under his robes since that day by the lake in fifth year.
Suddenly, Sirius reappeared, and Lily saw that Professor Dearborn had come up behind him and removed the Disillusionment Charm. He fixed Sirius with an amused stare, and Sirius let Snape fall back to the floor.
“Just testing how the charm improves stealth, professor,” Sirius explained.
“That was a clever little spell you used there, Mr Black,” Professor Dearborn said, in a tone of mild interest. “What’s the incantation?”
“Levicorpus,” Sirius said, looking gleeful that the professor was not punishing him.
“Interesting,” Dearborn said. He flicked his wand and Sirius was wrenched upwards. Dearborn paced slowly around his floating form as giggles punctuated the air. “Incidentally, whose Disillusionment Charm was that?”
“Mine,” Peter said.
“It was quite good,” Professor Dearborn said. “Although to the trained eye, there were some distinctive traces. Now, what’s the counterjinx, Mr Black?”
Sirius kept his mouth firmly closed, his face turning red.
“It’s Liberacorpus,” Peter finally blurted out. Dearborn flicked his wand again and Sirius fell on top of a desk with a crash. The entire class was watching in stunned silence.
“My apologies, but I just wanted to test it myself,” Professor Dearborn said. “I’m sure you can understand my curiosity.”
Sirius glared at him murderously as the bell rang. Lily, on the other hand, could barely contain her laughter.
“That was brilliant,” she said to Mary and Anna. “I think James and Sirius might finally have met their match.”
“Don’t speak too soon,” Anna said sceptically. “There’s no way Sirius is just going to take that. The rest of Dearborn’s year is going to be hell.”
“That was a bit mad, wasn’t it?” Mary asked. “Couldn’t he get in a load of trouble for that? I thought teachers weren’t allowed to use magic on students.”
“Dearborn’s got Sirius figured pretty well,” Lily said. “Sirius will never go to Dumbledore. His pride’s bruised already, there’s no way he’s going to go crying to someone about it.”
“But it’s a bit creepy,” Mary said. “I thought he was a bad teacher, but I’m beginning to think he’s a bit...evil.”
“If he’s a friend of Dumbledore’s, he can’t be evil,” Lily said simply.
Lily and Anna returned to the dormitory to get ready for Slughorn’s party while Mary headed off to the library. Lily put on an old and not particularly attractive pair of dress robes and they headed down to the dungeons, while Anna kept up a constant stream of dire predictions about how embarrassing the party was going to be.
“Anna, will you shut it?” Lily asked as they reached the door to Slughorn’s office. She reached out for the handle and pushed it open. “It’s not going to be that bad.”
Lily was proven wrong moment she stepped in the room. There was a giant headshot of her on the wall, hung below a red-and-gold banner that read “Head Girl”. James’ picture was next to hers. The entire décor was Gryffindor-themed, complete with a sculpture of a griffin and an enormous cake frosted with red and gold. Anna was holding her hand over her mouth, disguising what Lily knew was laughter.
“Don’t you dare laugh at me,” Lily hissed out of the corner of her mouth. Anna did not respond, but kept her hand firmly over her mouth. Lily wished she could sink into the floor. The only saving grace was that the crowd seemed thinner than usual.
“Lily, so wonderful that you’ve arrived. Everyone here is dying to meet you,” Slughorn said, coming over to greet her and Anna. “And Miss Richards, so nice to see you as well. I have a little surprise for you. Desdemona!”
Anna’s hand fell from her mouth and revealed a look of utmost disgust as her older sister walked over to her and Lily. Desdemona had changed a great deal since Lily had last seen her. Even as a seventh-year, she had looked very young and had been somewhat pudgy, but she seemed to have grown into herself. She was slender and sharp-eyed, with long brown hair.
“Hello, little sister,” Desdemona said, smiling sweetly. “Surprised to see me?”
“Surprised doesn’t really cover it,” Anna replied. Slughorn looked absolutely bursting with joviality.
“We’ll let these two catch up, shall we, Lily?” he asked, grabbing her upper arm before she could answer and steering her towards the crowd. “So many people for you to meet...”
Lily endured nearly an hour of introductions, polite small-talk, and overblown compliments of her talents, all of which she attempted to deny for modesty's sake. At some point in the hour, she noticed that James had arrived, but at the time, she was in a conversation with a Muggle Liaisons Officer, from which there was no escape. She also spotted Snape and was surprised by his presence, for he had stopped attending Slug Club parties in fifth year. He seemed to be constantly hovering nearby, and she pointedly ignored him. Finally, she extricated herself from the crowd and returned to where a sullen-looking Anna was standing next to Desdemona.
“Congratulations, Lillian,” Desdemona said.
“Her name’s not Lillian, Dess, it’s Lily,” Anna said impatiently.
“My apologies, Lily,” Desdemona amended. “I remember wanting to be Head Girl so badly. It seems like it was just yesterday.”
“And yet it wasn’t,” Anna said. “You’re getting up there, Dess. You’ll start getting wrinkles soon, I expect.”
“I’m still the youngest columnist at the Daily Prophet, though,” Desdemona said. The mention of Desdemona’s column reminded Lily of Professor Dearborn.
“Congratulations to you, too,” Lily said. Desdemona grinned and splayed out her left hand to display her engagement ring.
“You’ve heard?” Desdemona gushed. “I’m just on cloud nine. Aidan is a doll.”
“Yeah, I noticed his head was a bit empty,” Anna muttered. Desdemona eyed Anna derisively, but Lily intervened to avoid any unnecessary shows of sibling rivalry.
“Anna told me you know our new teacher, Professor Dearborn.”
“Oh yes, I heard old Caradoc’s the newest addition to Hogwarts,” she said. “I suppose it’s not hard to get the job when you’ve got friends in such high places.”
“What do people say about him? He’s a bit of an odd teacher.”
“Well, after that absolute mess with the giants, everyone lost respect for him because it made him look like Dumbledore’s lapdog,” Desdemona said, examining her fingernails.
“Because Dumbledore’s been harping about giant rights for decades, and the idea of recruiting them as allies just reeked of his agenda,” Desdemona explained. “Everyone thinks Caradoc’s got a spine like a jellyfish, because no one in their right mind would have pushed such a ridiculous proposal otherwise. Anyone else would have realized how much jeopardy they would be putting their career in, but Dearborn’s so firmly in Dumbledore’s pocket that he didn’t even consider saying no.”
“Why were people so against recruiting the giants?” Lily asked. Desdemona’s eyebrows raised and she laughed.
“I always forget you’re Muggle-born,” she said, smiling charitably. “There’s a great deal of bad blood between the Aurors and the giants, and everyone was sceptical of Magical Law Enforcement’s ability to gain their loyalty—although sceptical is putting it mildly. People were afraid that recruiting giants would only serve to bring more of them into the country and swell You-Know-Who’s ranks. No one wanted to run that risk.”
“So Dearborn isn’t exactly held in high esteem?” Lily asked, ignoring the patronizing remark about her family background.
“He used to be, before that disaster,” Desdemona replied. “Now he’s just lucky that he’s got Dumbledore to give him handouts from time to time. He had basically gone to ground in the last couple years. So embarrassed that he decided to disappear until it all blew over, I suppose.”
Despite what Desdemona might say, Lily had a hard time believing that Professor Dumbledore would manipulate a friend so carelessly. Besides, how old had Desdemona been when this had all happened? Nineteen? Lily had a hard time believing that she had first-hand knowledge.
“It’s a shame so few people could come,” Desdemona murmured, glancing around the room. “Everyone’s keeping to themselves these days these days.”
“I think they just heard you would be here,” Anna quipped, but Desdemona was not paying attention.
“Excuse me, but I’ve just seen my senior editor, Mr Cuffe,” she said.
“Have fun smarming up,” Anna said. Desdemona’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“I’d introduce you, but I hardly want to waste his time with someone so insignificant,” she said. “Congratulations again, Lily.”
“She’s horrid,” Anna said emphatically, once Desdemona had left.
“Serves you right for laughing at me,” Lily said. Anna sighed dejectedly.
“Lily, I really hate to do this to you, but do you mind if I leave?” Anna asked. “I can’t bear being in the same room as her.”
“I’ll go with you,” Lily said. “I think I’ve spent long enough here.”
Just as they were about to be out the door and free from the party, Lily heard Slughorn calling after her.
“Lily! Where do you think you’re going?”
Lily turned around, slowly wiping the grimace off her face.
“I’m, er, feeling very tired, professor,” she lied.
“But you promised me a picture with you and James!” he said. Lily could not remember having said this, but she had given many robotic “yes”-es over the night.
“Oh—well, yes, I suppose I can stay for that,” Lily said. Anna mouthed good-bye and disappeared out the door.
“I’ll just go find Mr Potter!”
Lily sighed heavily as Professor Slugorn waddled away. Her moment of exasperation cost her, for Snape suddenly appeared at her left. She gave him a sour look.
“Head Girl,” he said.
“Is that a question or a statement?” Lily snapped, and continued before he could answer. “Never mind, I don’t care.”
“And Potter,” he said, sneering at James, who seemed to be ducking behind the ice sculpture to hide from Slughorn. Lily smiled.
“You know, one day, you’re going to wake up and realize how silly your grudge against him was,” she said.
“I suppose that’s what happened to you?”
“Something like that, yes.”
She had used to think that Snape was the better of the two, and that James was arrogant and obnoxious, but now she could appreciate how pathetic Snape was. He had none of James’ courage or moral certitude, and his lack of confidence put a damper on any conversation. Of course, she was not about to admit that to anyone.
“Lily, I wanted to—”
The beginning of what Lily assumed would have been an uncomfortable and desperate speech was cut off as Courageous and Confident swooped up to them, looking harried.
“Slughorn’s looking for—” she began, but she too was interrupted as James grabbed onto her hand and pulled her toward the door. She didn't spare a look back at Snape as they went.
The embarrassment of standing in a room with a giant picture of his own head was enough to make James want to die. What in the world had Slughorn been thinking? Did he put every Head Boy and Girl through this treatment? For the first time, James was exceptionally glad that none of his friends were part of the Slug Club. They never would have let him live this down.
If he had been born to different parents, James would have given up being polite to people a quarter of an hour in. However, since Mr and Mrs Potter were friends of many of Slughorn’s former students, rudeness would only earn him a Howler at breakfast. As it was, he had to endure the droning of important person after important person. The only person he was remotely interested in meeting was Signard Arnesen, the Chairwizard of the International Association of Quidditch. Like every teenage boy, James had once dreamed of becoming a professional Quidditch player, and sometimes he thought he might have been able to do it if he’d really wanted to. Now, with people dying left and right, James was glad that he had not set his sights on such a frivolous career, although Arnesen’s subtle hints that James should work for the I.A.Q. were still somewhat tempting.
More than anything else, James had hoped to take advantage of the opportunities that the party afforded to talk to Lily, but he had not been able to get a moment to do so until he had been at the party for nearly an hour. He saw Lily talking to Anna and a tall brunette who must be Anna’s older sister, but just as he was about to go over to them, he was blocked by a pink-faced and blonde Hufflepuff named Greta Catchlove.
“Congratulations, James,” she said breathily.
“Thanks,” James said uneasily. He usually tried to avoid Greta; one of her favourite pastimes seemed to be flirting with every boy in their year.
“Do you like the cheese sculpture?” Greta asked, batting her eyelashes. James turned to look at the food table behind him, and was horrified to see a bust of himself, made entirely out of marble cheese. Someone had cut off his left ear and eaten it.
“I made it myself,” Greta said when James didn’t respond.
“Oh...er...yeah, well, I’m not really partial to cheese,” James said. Greta looked extremely offended. “Would you excuse me for a moment? I’ve got to go talk to Professor Slughorn.”
James left Greta without waiting for an answer. He did not particularly want to talk to Professor Slughorn, but it had seemed as good an excuse as any. Lily had disappeared, and James cursed his luck. Of course, at the only moment he’d had to talk to Lily, Greta Catchlove had ruined it with her ridiculous cheese sculpture. He heard Slughorn calling Lily’s name, however, and looked towards the source of the noise. Lily had evidently been trying to leave with Anna, but had been thwarted at the last second.
James moved closer to Slughorn and Lily, trying to evade the Potions professor’s notice. He heard Slughorn saying something about taking a picture with Lily and James, and then saying that he would go find James. James ducked behind the ice sculpture quickly as Slughorn surveyed the room.
One thing was for certain, he wasn’t going to give into this particular act of attention-seeking. There was no way he was going to stand for a picture with Slughorn and Lily, since it would probably appear the next day in the Daily Prophet, with some article detailing Lily’s impressive school career and glossing over James’ history of trouble-making. One look at Lily, who was now talking to Snape, told James that she was no more excited at the prospect, but she was too kind to decline. She wanted to disappear, but she also wanted to put the blame on someone or something else.
Well, James was fairly sure he could be that someone else, especially since it would mean taking her away from a conversation with Snape.
James watched until Slughorn’s back was turned, and then darted out from behind the ice sculpture, heading determinedly for Lily. When he was a few feet away from her, she noticed him.
“Slughorn’s looking for—”
James had no idea what made him take hold of her hand, except that he knew it would take too long to try and explain to her. Unless they left quickly, Slughorn would notice and there would be no escaping. He pulled her out the door and, rather indulgently, continued to hold onto her hand until they were several meters along the corridor. Even when Lily stopped moving, he still did not let go. It was almost an experiment, to see how long she would let it continue. Besides, the cinnamon smell that lingered around her seemed to him the most addictive drug in the world, and it intensified when he touched her.
“I can walk on my own,” she said, staring pointedly at his hand.
“I know you can,” he replied. He felt Lily’s hand squirm slightly inside his.
“Are you sure you want me to?”
“If you don’t let go, prepare to spend the rest of your life one-handed.”
James released her hand.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For letting go of your hand or for helping you escape?” James asked.
“Both, I suppose,” Lily said, shrugging, “although I could have left on my own.”
“Then why didn’t you?” James asked.
“I’m going to bed,” Lily said, walking past him. James let her get a few paces ahead and then started walking back to Gryffindor Tower. “Will you stop following me?”
“I’m just going back to the common room,” James said innocently. Lily continued to walk a few steps in front of him, staying silent until they were on the second floor.
“This is ridiculous,” she finally burst out. “We’re supposed to be getting along.”
“It seemed like you needed some space,” James said.
“So you thought walking a few feet behind me was enough space?”
“The silence was to give you space,” James said. “Walking a few feet behind you was to bother you enough that you’d talk to me.”
“Well, that’s very immature,” Lily snapped.
“But it worked,” James pointed out.
“Can we please just have a normal conversation for once?” Lily said. “I’m so fed up with having to perform these ridiculous verbal acrobatics every time I see you.”
James laughed out loud. “Verbal acrobatics? That’s quite a phrase.”
Lily sighed and started to walk away.
“All right, I’m sorry,” he said. “Let’s have that normal conversation. What would you like to talk about?”
“How...how was your Defence Against the Dark Arts essay?” Lily asked tentatively. James began walking again and she fell into step with him.
“All right,” James said, shrugging. “I’d already done a lot of research before on Invisibility Cloaks, so I think that made it a bit easier.”
Lily made a noise of disbelief. “You mean, you own an Invisibility Cloak.”
James could not speak due to shock—how in the world did Lily know about the Cloak?
“Potter, there’s no way you could have gotten up to all the things you did without being invisible,” Lily said, apparently reading his mind. “Stop looking so surprised.”
“But—do you think a lot of people know?” James asked.
“I don’t think so,” Lily replied. “I just happen to be exceptionally clever.”
“Bighead,” James muttered. In truth, it did irritate him that Lily had discovered his secret (or one of them, anyway). He had always thought he hid the Cloak well, but apparently not well enough.
“Bigger head,” Lily shot back. James grinned despite the insult, because it seemed like it was more half-hearted than usual.
“Well, I’m not going to confirm your suspicions,” James said, “and I’m also going to go back to the original subject. How was your essay?”
“A little all-over-the-place,” Lily admitted. “A lot all-over-the-place. I didn’t start it until Wednesday.”
“Who knew you were such a procrastinator?”
“I’m not, usually!” Lily said, as they reached the portrait of the Fat Lady. “Gobstones.”
“Sorry, Evans,” James said, when he had followed Lily through the portrait hole. “I have a feeling being not-friends with me might be having a bad influence on your studies.”
“You have no influence on me whatsoever,” Lily stated firmly. James shot her a sceptical look.
“Is that why you let me hold your hand?” He asked. He knew that this sort of jab would not endear him to Lily, but it was second nature. Besides, there was something very satisfying about how red her face flushed and how she never seemed to be able to think up a proper response.
“Stop being so bloody cheeky,” she snapped before turning on her heel and marching imperiously up to the girls’ dormitory.
Better than usual, James admitted to himself. If she kept improving at this rate, suggestive comments were not going to be nearly as fun anymore.
He found Remus, Sirius, and Peter in their dormitory, apparently discussing their plans for the full moon , which would begin the next Friday.
“Wormtail heard a rumour that there’s Aurors patrolling the castle after hours,” Sirius told James. “So next week should be more fun than usual.”
“I said you shouldn’t bother,” Remus said quickly. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Don’t be silly, Moony,” James said, and he saw his friend’s shoulders sag with relief. “Nothing’s going to change this year. A rumour like that is bound to be rubbish, anyway. I’ve got to tell you about Slughorn’s party. I’ve been immortalized in cheese.”