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Chapter 6: Sparks
The Gryffindor Common Room had gradually grown quiet as the hours passed and the nightly curfew had come ever closer. A handful of third years were gathered around a small table by the fireplace, watching their year’s wizard chess champion being taken down painfully by a fifth year. Celestina, fresh from her grueling study session, was curled up in a stuffed maroon armchair by the portrait hole, relaxing with the latest edition of Witch Weekly. In a little under an hour, Professor McGonagall would make her usual appearance and remind her young Gryffindors that they would need lots of shut-eye in order to tackle another day of classes, speaking especially firmly to her Quidditch players, whose first match wasn’t far in the future.
One member of the Quidditch team had already memorized the plays for the first game, and so he was spending his evening in bed, having told his friends and fellow players that he was feeling ill. To be truthful, his stomach did feel a bit unsteady, and he was certainly less boisterous than usual. Even Sirius and Peter had abandoned attempting to converse with their friend, having decided thirty minutes ago to amuse themselves with a game of Exploding Snap.
James Potter leaned back in his four poster bed, drawing the sheets up close around him in a protective measure and adjusting the pillow so as to keep his head from leaning against the wall. He moved his comforter aside, gently picking up a crumpled piece of parchment and studying it from behind his horn-rimmed glasses. A piece of untidy black hair fell into his eyes, and he moved it aside with his wand before pointing the tip squarely at the center of the empty page.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he whispered tersely.
“James, mate, you all right?” Sirius called, and the room fell quiet as the cards on the boy’s bed settled. James nearly groaned from behind his closed curtains. He could appreciate the concern of his friend, but just this once, he wished he had taken more time to practice nonverbal magic.
“Fine, Padfoot. Just a bit ill,” he reminded the others.
Neither Sirius nor Peter responded, and James looked back down at the empty page, which had now transformed brilliantly into the Marauder’s Map. He grinned, still impressed by the extraordinary little device on which he and his friends had spent more than a year working. Before his eyes, the letters of the map’s title wagged with happy animation, the ink still sparkling like it had on the first day of the map’s life when Remus had carefully written the words upon it.
James carefully opened the map now, taking care not to let it crinkle more than absolutely necessary, and watched a miniature floor plan of Hogwarts unfold right in front of him. The representative castle was mostly empty at this point; the boys knew it would take ages to add all of its inhabitants, and they still hadn’t quite figured out how they would add students they hadn’t yet met. For now, the map contained only a few moving dots, pacing along in bare corridors and deserted common rooms with little trails of comical-looking footprints following in their wake.
James smiled. He suddenly felt glad that his friends were staying up, because their game required them to keep the few sources of light in the dormitory burning on despite the late hour. That coincidence meant that he did not require a Lumos charm in order to engage in his nightly ritual.
He looked down at the map, feeling his stomach constrict uncomfortably in anticipation. He sometimes did not know why he tortured himself with this particular hobby. After all, it was unlikely that he would ever see her coming to find him on a mission to confess her love. Once or twice, he had even had the awful thought that he might open the Map sometime to find her canoodling in a classroom with Severus Snape. To date, he had only ever found her in the common room, or perhaps in the library, and stared at the dot that represented her for far longer than a normal person should, remaining fixated for hours after others would have grown bored.
However, Lily’s dot wasn’t in the common room today, or even at the library.
James’s smile faded slightly, replacing itself with a look of faint concentration as he searched the map for the object of his affection. A paranoid part of him checked for Snape, but the boy was safely enclosed within the confines of the Slytherin Common Room, probably up brewing a late night potion. He could see Remus moving away from the library and coming ever closer to the common room, and a nagging feeling inside tugged at him, telling him that his time was up. Fairly soon, Remus would come up to bed and see James’s closed curtains, and his compassionate nature would not allow him to simply turn over and ignore a friend in pain. When he opened the curtains, Peter and Sirius would see James looking at the Marauder’s Map. Peter would look at him in that pitiful way that drove James mad, and Sirius would offer another tasteless joke about how Lily wasn’t worth James’s time, his only known method of consolation. Then, the lights would go out, and James’s few moments of solitude would be over for the night.
His eyes combed the page, searching faster. Wait. There! There she was.
Professor McGonagall was poised by the Entrance Hall, probably locking the doors for the night, but Lily was no longer inside the castle’s walls. She was moving slowly and deliberately out onto the grounds, and James followed her silently, forgetting the discomfort in his stomach. Under his observation, she walked past Hagrid’s hut, moving beyond the greenhouses, almost out to the confines of the forest. A feeling of fear replaced the discomfort as James watched her. No, not into the forest, but out toward the Quidditch Pitch – where was she going?
James quickly checked Snape’s dot again, but he remained in place with the other Slytherins. A frown marred his handsome features, and he vaguely heard the dormitory door open for Remus.
Lily continued to move closer and closer to the Pitch.
He put the map down, watching her fade into the empty parchment as Remus gently opened his curtains, wearing a concerned look. “Prongs, are you all right? It’s barely nine.”
James didn’t answer him at first, still absorbed in the map. Evans, what are you up to?
He finally looked up to see all three of the others watching him with questioning expressions.
“I’m fine, mate. Just a feeling bit ill, that’s all.”
Regulus perched up on his broomstick, enjoying the feeling of the cool night breeze ruffling his cloak as he watched the tiny red-haired figure below stride through the grass toward the Pitch. Despite the somewhat suspicious nature of his note, she approached him with confidence, and he wondered vaguely whether she had already figured out who had written to her.
No matter. She was here now, on time as requested.
As she moved closer, he began his slow descent out of the sky, stepping off of his broom and onto the dirt when he was almost on the ground. Before him, he saw the faint light that marked the tip of Lily’s wand drawing closer. When she was near enough for him to make out her facial features, he could see that she wore a smirk, though her green eyes seemed to betray her shyness.
“You know, if you wanted a date, you should have been brave enough to just ask,” she said.
“A date?” Regulus tried not to scoff too visibly. “If that was what I wanted, I would have.”
She folded her arms in front of her chest, and he noticed that she was still wearing her school uniform even though classes had ended hours ago. “Well, what do you want? It’s time for bed.”
“Precisely. I knew we wouldn’t be disturbed at this hour.”
Lily looked at him quizzically.
“What you did for Snape today… I didn’t know you cared so much.”
She flinched slightly, breaking eye contact with him and talking to the dirt. “Checking on him?”
“You know what I mean. You helped me move him away to a safer place. You handed it to my brother and Potter for getting into a row with him.” Regulus paused, waiting until she had cautiously returned her gaze to his face. “I’ll bet you didn’t even report him to Slughorn.”
Lily frowned slightly. “Maybe you’re right. So what?”
“Don’t you know how much it would mean to him to know that you did that?”
Lily put her hands in the pockets of her skirt, saying nothing. Yes, of course she knew. It was no mystery how much Severus cared for her, at least not to her. She had caught him watching her in class or in the Great Hall too many times to question it, as much as she wished that she could.
“Why did you run away?”
“I don’t want to hurt him,” Lily said softly. “I don’t feel the same way.”
Regulus moved closer to her, matching her quiet tone. “Are you sure?”
Lily looked up at the stars. “Yes, I’m sure.” She sighed. “What’s it to you, anyway?”
“He’s a friend,” Regulus remarked shortly. Truthfully, he wasn’t entirely certain why he cared so much. He hadn’t put too much thought into his plan, and yet something about asking her to meet him had felt right. He had no trouble making friends, especially in Slytherin, but he still felt alone most of the time. Snape’s loneliness, in a way, had made Regulus feel less lonely.
Plus, Snape was brilliant at Potions. With his first round of exams coming up, Regulus wasn’t about to turn his nose up at an opportunity to put in less effort than usual for a required course.
“It’s kind of you to look out for him,” Lily replied shortly, sounding almost sincere.
“I think he’d rather have you than me,” Regulus said, leaning on his broomstick.
“Well, he can’t,” Lily said. “Is this really what you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Yes,” Regulus admitted.
“I’m sorry to have disappointed you, but next time, tell Severus to come talk to me himself.” Lily began to move back toward the entrance to the Pitch, attempting to force her stomach to stop churning with thoughts of crawling into her warm bed and tucking into a Muggle novel.
“He doesn’t know I’m here,” Regulus replied quietly.
Lily stopped, turning back to look at him. “What do you mean?”
“He didn’t ask me to do this.” Regulus grew tired of standing and climbed atop his broomstick, levitating a few feet off the ground. “I can just tell that he misses you, that’s all.”
Lily looked at him with a mixture of fatigue and sadness in her eyes.
“What happened between you two?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Were you friends?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Lily repeated.
“Could you just talk to him, please? Maybe you can sort it out, whatever it is.”
“I don’t think so,” Lily said. “Besides, like I said, I don’t want to lead him on.”
“Don’t, then,” Regulus replied. “I’m sure he’d rather have you as a friend than not at all.”
Lily tried to concentrate on the feeling of the lining of her pockets between her fingertips, but she couldn’t stop the flurry of frightening thoughts from filling her mind. Perhaps he would, perhaps he would accept that what he had done had effectively shattered any affection she had held for him. Perhaps he wouldn’t. Perhaps he would use her for practicing his dark curses and poisons.
She shuddered at the thought of her old friend, with his prodigious talent, brewing poisons.
Suddenly, another thought occurred to her.
“Fine,” she said, feigning confidence. “I’ll talk to him, but you have to do something for me.”
Regulus said nothing, continuing to watch her.
“If I make up with Severus, you have to start being nice to Sirius.”
He laughed out loud. “I love how you assume that I’m the one who isn’t being nice.”
“Be the bigger man, then. Be kind to him even if he isn’t kind to you.”
“What’s it to you?” he asked, repeating her previous question.
“I’m sick of listening to him complain about you,” Lily said. In truth, he had called her bluff. Sirius was little concern to her. If Regulus didn’t hold up his end of the deal, though, then he couldn’t very well hold her to her end. She wouldn’t have to find out what Severus wanted.
“Can’t you just ignore him?”
“I could,” she responded. “I’d rather watch him try to figure out what’s come over you.”
Silence hung between them for a moment, the only sounds in the Pitch the gentle rustling of the trees and the faint sound of breath entering and leaving two sets of lungs with surprising force.
“Fine,” Regulus said, landing once again. “It’s been nice doing business with you, Lily.”
As she watched, he strode past her, leaving her standing alone in the shadow of the Pitch.
Regulus was still thinking about what a prize idiot he was when he returned to the dungeons.
Make up with his older brother? That’s likely. He and Sirius were still on speaking terms, but something about the quality of their relationship had changed years ago, seemingly in the exact moment when Regulus and his parents received the news that Sirius had been sorted into Gryffindor. Now, things just felt different. He and Sirius were more like tenants living in the same flat than brothers. At least they still looked alike. Sirius couldn’t shirk him forever.
As he heard the secret wall leading into the Slytherin Common Room close behind him, Regulus realized that tears had formed in the corners of his eyes. He wiped them all away, almost shocked at their appearance. Perhaps he missed Sirius a little more than he had first thought.
It was nearly ten at night, and the common room was deserted, or at least no one could be seen in the darkness that descended on the dungeons after hours. Regulus moved carefully through the room, his hands finding the corners of chairs and tables that his memory could not locate, and he was nearly to the staircase that led to the boys’ dormitories when he heard a quiet sniffle.
He stopped, looking around in vain. “Who’s there?”
After a moment of delay, a voice broke the silence, anxiety shaking it. “Me.”
Regulus paused, searching his memory. “Me who?” he said at last, giving up with a frown. He didn’t have time to play games. Just then, the answer occurred to him. “Snape?”
Another sniffle came out of the corner opposite where he stood. Regulus felt his way over to it, pausing in front of what he hoped was the fireplace. His fingers found the warm base of a torch bolted to the brick, and he withdrew his wand. “Incendio.” Before his eyes, the remaining embers of the evening’s flame regenerated. He could now see the boy curled up in an armchair.
“Are you crying?”
“What’s it to you?” Severus said in a harsh tone, refusing to look at the younger boy’s face.
“What’s wrong?” Regulus said, ignoring the question.
Regulus sighed, sitting down on the exposed brick by the fireplace, laying his broom next to him.
“Go away,” Severus said, frowning.
“Is it Evans?”
Severus looked up. “Her name is Lily.”
“Yes, Lily Evans. I know.”
“Don’t call her by her surname.”
“Why not? It’s still her name,” Regulus said, confused.
“That’s what he calls her.”
Regulus said nothing, but he understood. Still, he didn’t know why he’d come over here in the dark to sit and watch another boy cry. The Blacks were not known for being particularly adept at soothing hurt feelings. Now that I think of it, Regulus wondered absently, perhaps that’s why I’ve never had a girlfriend. He glanced back up at Severus now. “Why don’t you just tell her?”
“I can’t,” Severus choked. “Besides, she won’t talk to me.”
“Why not?” Regulus pressed, hoping to get the story he’d missed out on earlier in the night.
Severus shoved his hands through his tangled hair, sighing. “It was something I said.”
Regulus sat still, watching his face and waiting patiently.
“I was having a row with those two, like always,” Severus spat. “She came along… didn’t want her to see me like that… she thought I needed saving… it just slipped out. It was an accident.”
Severus looked at him, and the torchlight illuminated the broken expression on his face and the trails of drying tears that were replenished with his next fatal words. “I called her a Mudblood.”
Regulus frowned slightly. So? That’s what she is. You’re only calling her what she is. He had always thought of Muggle-borns as a separate species. To feel remorse for this… he couldn’t.
He brushed these thoughts away, remembering his agreement. “I’ll help you.”
Severus was still crying, but he had fallen completely quiet, almost as if he’d stopped breathing.
“She’ll come around. We’ll figure it out. It was only an accident, right?”
Severus nodded wordlessly, looking paler than usual, like the first time he’d done magic.
“She’ll love you again.” He wasn’t even sure she had loved Snape the first time.
Severus’s expression had changed, and it was frighteningly solemn. “She has to.”
Regulus had said too much already, and in true Slytherin fashion, he felt that it was time for him to make an escape. He stood up, picking up his broomstick. “Listen, Snape, you really should be careful who you expose yourself to like that. Not everyone would be as nice as I am about this.”
Severus’s face appeared neutral now, as if he were trying to decide how best to react.
“Goodnight, mate,” Regulus muttered, crossing the room quickly and turning up the stairs. As he took them in long strides, putting as much distance between himself and his insane promise as possible, one thought filled his mind with an uncomfortable supremacy, sinking into his bones.
Now I really have to make up with Sirius.
“James, you feel better yet?”
He opened his eyes, looking out into the darkness and trying to determine the time. It had to be late – or, alternatively, very early – because the lively game of Exploding Snap had ended and Remus’s snoring had settled into a steady rhythm. He sat up slowly, quietly opening the drapes around his bed and coming face to face with Sirius.
“What’s wrong?” Something had to be. Sirius never used his real name unless he was upset, not since the delightful moment in the previous term in which he had given them all nicknames.
Sirius looked down and spoke in a low voice. “Can I come over there?”
James looked puzzled. “Why?”
“I just – I don’t want them to hear. Please, mate?”
James frowned. Sirius was never so solemn. That was the great irony of his existence.
Sirius padded softly across the room in his socks and sat down on the edge of James’s bed. “I don’t want Moony and Wormtail to worry. I usually just laugh these things off, but…” His words trailed off, and he compensated for his lack of speech by pushing an envelope across the bed.
James recognized the neat, loopy script on the front of the envelope as that of Sirius’s mother, Walburga. He turned it over, carefully opening it so as to keep the noise to a minimum, and withdrew a folded piece of parchment. Adjusting his glasses, which he had forgotten to remove before falling asleep, James began to read the evenly spaced cursive written on it.
It was a short note, as were most exchanged between Sirius and his parents. Narcissa, Sirius’s youngest cousin, was apparently newly engaged to a Mister Lucius Malfoy. James had never met the Malfoys, but he had heard they were a sour bunch, and so Walburga’s report that Bellatrix had gleefully stepped up to host the engagement party seemed no less than perfectly fitting.
“That’s it?” His querying eyes returned to Sirius’s face. “Why would you care about this?”
“I don’t, of course,” Sirius said, waving his hand as if to illustrate just how predictable he found Narcissa’s impending union. “She just wants to guilt me again about not having a girlfriend.”
“Well, if I can’t find one, I’m not surprised that there’s no hope for you,” James said with a grin.
Sirius cracked a smile. “If you’d only take your eyes off Evans, mate… there’s more than one.” However, this moment of levity was sadly ephemeral. “I just can’t take it, not one more letter, not one more day in that house. I can’t spend another second living in Regulus’s shadow.”
James sighed softly. “Well, you’re among friends now. Nothing to worry about, you know?”
“That’s just it,” Sirius replied. “It’s like I can’t enjoy being at Hogwarts. I haven’t even felt properly here since I got off the train. Hell, by Christmas, I could be living with a Death Eater.”
“Is that what they’re calling themselves?”
“I guess it’s what he calls them, Stupid name, if you ask me.”
“Me too, mate.” For a few seconds, James could not look at his best friend. They had shared so many adventures together, even if most of them had been confined to the castle and grounds, and he felt that he would give nearly anything to go back to first year, back before he knew that there was a war brewing outside. One day, he worried, he wouldn’t have a choice but to fight.
“I need your help.”
Sirius had never sounded so depressed. James put his brave face back on and looked up.
“I don’t know what to do or where I can go.” Tears formed in Sirius’s eyes. “I’m scared.”
A heavy silence hung between them, and then, the way out became more than obvious to James.
“Are you sure? You’re really ready to leave for good, things and all?”
Sirius nodded. “I don’t think I can wait until we graduate.”
“If you graduate, you mean,” James joked, but Sirius wasn’t taking the bait. “Fine.” He removed the grin from his face, picking up the letter and levitating it carefully with his wand. Before Sirius’s eyes, he set fire to the parchment, taking care to avoid setting his curtains ablaze.
Sirius smiled weakly. “Now how I am going to compose my RSVP, mate?”
James ignored his comment. “Move in with me. My parents love you.”
Sirius’s entire face brightened, and it was like he had never been crying at all. “You mean it?”
“Of course I mean it. Just get off the train with me when we go home on holiday.”
“I can’t,” Sirius responded. “I’ve got to get my things, remember?”
“Yeah,” James said. “Okay. We’ll meet in Diagon Alley, then. We’ll set a time.”
Sirius picked at the ashes of his letter. “What if something happens?”
James shook his head. “You’re a Gryffindor, Padfoot. Be brave. Everything will work out fine.”
Sirius nodded, glancing up at James through loose strands of hair. “Thanks, mate.”
James brushed the ashes off his bed. “Of course. What are friends for, you know?”
“Yeah,” Sirius replied, standing up. “Go on, get your beauty rest. You need it.”
“Sod off,” James said, smirking as he turned over. He vaguely heard Sirius mutter something about James requiring more than one night’s sleep to catch up with Lily, but he paid his friend no mind. He was too busy thinking about how he’d just given himself another thing to worry about.
As he adjusted his position, he heard something crinkle quietly beneath him. He sat up enough to retrieve it, finding himself holding the folded Marauder’s Map. He picked it up, staring at the surface, watching the letters in the title curl in on themselves repeatedly. Everything would work out fine. It had to. He would convince Lily that he was worth her time, he would help Gryffindor win the House Cup, the war would miraculously resolve itself by graduation, and he and Sirius would spent the winter holiday sipping tea and making fun of their elderly Muggle neighbors.
Then, James placed the map on his nightstand and sought sleep, afraid he might change his mind.
Hello, lovelies! Thanks for continuing to read and review Post Scriptum. I know it’s been a while since I had a chance to update – funny, that graduate school – but hopefully the few dashes of suspense and pinches of romance contained in this chapter make up a bit for it. As always, anything you recognize from canon belongs to the (extra) lovely JKR, not me.