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Chapter 10: A Game of Hearts
As Peter dipped a spoon into his small bowl of baked beans, he smiled at his luck.
He could have waited until later that morning to hand in his Arithmancy essay, passing his scroll to the front with the rest of the class. Something possessed him when he ran into Professor Eigen on the way to breakfast, though—he felt compelled to offer up his essay early, just to see the expression of pleasure spread across the old man’s face and to receive his friendly, approving pat on the back. Even now, the aged teacher sat chatting pleasantly with Professor Sprout at the head table, evidently none the wiser about the true author of Peter’s essay introduction.
Or was it luck? The corners of his mouth folded thoughtfully around a mouthful of beans and sticky syrup as Peter considered it. He had convinced one of his friends to do part or all of his homework for him three times already this term, and a record fifteen in the last. Remus had once been the easiest, but he had begun to take his badge more seriously this year and had flat-out refused upon Peter’s first request. Sirius was ever suspicious, so it was usually James whom Peter tried to persuade. It appeared, Peter thought, that he had a secret weapon of sorts, a measure of sway…
At that moment, Lily sat down across from him, and Peter felt a wave of guilt.
“Morning,” he said, attempting cheer.
“Good morning,” Lily said, smiling, but her lips looked tense. She poured herself a glass of pumpkin juice, sipping it and folding her arms upon the clean expanse of table before her, narrowly avoiding getting crumbs on her neatly pressed sleeve.
“You all right?”
“Sure,” she said, smiling again for the effect. Severus always used to say that her smile could get her anything she wanted—stop, Lily. The tension returned without warning.
Suddenly, they both turned at the sound of heavy footsteps. Sirius and Remus had just entered the Great Hall. Sirius looked ready to choke someone, and in his dust, Remus moved along slowly, his head hanging a bit, hair falling forlornly in his eyes.
“I’ll kill him,” Sirius announced gruffly, sitting down next to Lily at the table.
“Who?” Lily asked, frowning. Unfortunately, she thought she might know already.
“Snape,” Sirius hissed.
“Don’t,” Remus moaned, putting his head in his hands.
“Why?” Peter asked absently, glancing up at the head table again. Professor Eigen had apparently finished breakfast and gone to prepare for class. However, Professor Dumbledore was staring directly at the group and not touching the meal before him.
“What do you mean, why? You were there, weren’t you?” Sirius snapped, misdirecting his rage at Peter. “He told Dumbledore about Moony’s furry little problem,” he added to Lily. “Now Dumbledore’s pulled Remus in to warn him about sharing these things with the whole school—like he would ever be that stupid!” he finished scornfully.
“It’s your own fault,” Lily cut in, still frowning.
“He didn’t need to tell anyone. Dumbledore knows. James said that, didn’t he?”
“He—he was just trying to keep everyone safe.”
“Right,” Sirius snorted. “What if I went to visit Dumbledore’s office and let slip that all of Snivelly’s little friends are Death Eaters in the making? Would he like that?” He stared across the room, finally spotting Severus at one end of the Slytherin table. To his displeasure, his younger brother had just taken the empty seat next to the object of his hatred. He decided not to play favorites, looking daggers at the pair of them.
“What’s he looking at?” Severus grumbled, tapping his spoon against the bottom of his nearly empty cereal bowl in frustration.
From the place next to him, Regulus followed his line of sight, quickly finding himself eye to eye with a stony-faced Sirius. He shook his head in response, not knowing—or really caring to know—the answer. “How are things with Evans?” he asked instead, getting some toast from the center of the table.
“Lily,” Severus corrected in a low tone.
“Yes, her,” Regulus said, his voice containing a hint of exasperation.
“Nothing has changed,” the other boy replied shortly, glancing down at his bowl as if he wished he could simply stick a full spoonful in his mouth and avoid saying more.
“Nothing?” Regulus asked with a slight frown. He was ashamed to admit his lack of progress with his older brother, even to himself, and thus he had hoped that at least some good had emerged from his brash little bargain with the Mudblood by this time. “What about the Veritaserum?”
“No good,” came the equally clipped response.
“What do you mean?” Regulus pressed. Surely Snape hadn’t messed it up, and so—
“What do you care?” Snape shot back forcefully, turning endless black eyes full of anger onto the other boy’s pale face. “It’s none of your business, Black. It never was.”
For a moment, neither of them said anything. Severus felt his pulse slowly begin to descend toward a normal rhythm, feeling more surprised by the minute to see the younger Black brother still sitting in front of him. Nothing other than a slightly quirked brow gave away the notion that Regulus was affected at all by the outburst. Severus kept waiting, counting away the seconds in his head as his breathing slowed. 3… 2… 1… lost another, there we go, on with you and out of my life, please…
Regulus looked down at his toast, his lips forming a word thoughtfully—pain. It was the only way to characterize Snape’s desperate look, his contempt for compassion…
Regulus looked up. Had he actually given it away? “Nothing.”
Severus settled back into his seat, glancing around to ensure that no one else was paying attention to them. “I—I’ve been thinking about how to change her mind.”
His companion nibbled at his toast silently, waiting to hear the plan.
“If I could just… get someone to see what I can do… the spells I’ve mastered…” He spoke in a soft whisper, with an odd sort of fear lacing his words. Listening to it, Regulus wondered if he was having trouble convincing himself. “Someone powerful, you know… someone to teach me new things, things that I could show her…”
“Do you mean—” Regulus began.
Severus’s eyes came to life, flickering over to meet his own.
“You do,” Regulus said quietly. “You’re going to join up, like the others…”
“Yes,” Severus admitted, pushing his empty bowl aside absently.
“You think she’ll be impressed?”
“Why wouldn’t she be?” he said, but his voice sounded hollow, empty. Regulus felt the sense of pity return as he continued. “She has to be, it’s only logical… simple…”
“Of course,” Regulus added. He wanted to say, yes, in a logical world, she loves you because you love her, and that’s enough. Sirius loves me because we’re brothers, and that’s all there is to it. There’s no fighting, no regret… maybe no Hogwarts Houses. But the world was woefully illogical. He couldn’t lie to Severus, though his expression begged for it, just the same way he could talk to Sirius about their family being whole and intact but never step over the line into Mum and Dad love you, you know.
They were cruel, the world and the lies he could never tell. Pain.
“I’ll come, too,” Regulus suddenly said. There was a new feeling creeping its way into his heart, the sense of knowing what he would do and the need to not be alone to do it. “Tell me when you want to go, and I’ll go. I have things that I can show him, too.”
“No,” Severus said firmly, standing up.
“Why?” Regulus said, frowning. “Why should you get to join and not me?”
“You’re not old enough.”
“You’re only a year older than I am, Snape!”
“Forget I said anything,” Severus said, tearing his gaze away from the other boy. “Mulciber and Avery and I have already made plans. There’s no room for anyone else.” The pain was infecting his senses again, but the ache was of a different quality. It implored him to never let anyone feel the doubt he had tried and failed to dismiss, least of all the unusually kind, naïve pureblood boy looking up at him with surprise.
He made a mental note to speak seriously with Mulciber and Avery about plans.
“Wait,” Regulus said, as Snape turned to go.
Severus paused, looking at him against his better judgment.
“What about Lupin?” Regulus said curiously. “Did you find out anything?”
“Ah,” Severus said, and a curious smile lit up his face. “He’s a werewolf.”
“What?” Regulus said, dropping his toast abruptly.
Snape said nothing, too busy leaving the Great Hall at an unusually quick pace, having apparently forgotten Dumbledore’s warning not to share what he now knew.
Regulus fished the small remnant of bread out of his goblet of pumpkin juice, chancing a look back across the room at his older brother. The rage was gone from Sirius’s face, having seemingly departed along with Snape, and he was conversing happily with Lupin and Evans. Regulus’s lips became a tight line as he considered Severus’s words, his matter-of-fact tone, the sinister, all-knowing smile. Werewolf.
If Sirius really was in danger, he would need to step up his end of the deal.
Lily Evans was on a manhunt.
She had already checked the library, the common room, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, where Remus had been known to tutor younger students on selected evenings before dinner. She had considered checking the Prefects’ Bathroom, but she didn’t fancy running into someone in the middle of taking a bath. Instead, she had set her course for the Quidditch Pitch, supposing that flying about on a broom could be considered an exercise in stress reduction for some people.
As she walked, Lily spoke to herself under her breath, trying not to imagine encountering her friend and fellow Prefect and losing her thoughts entirely. “Remus, I’m not upset,” she said quietly. “I just don’t understand why you didn’t tell me, that’s all. I thought we were friends. I mean, I would tell you almost anything—”
She paused. Even the most scandalous of her secrets paled in comparison to Remus’s revelation. Perhaps his silence was more understandable than she’d initially thought. But it still hurt that he hadn’t told her—what if he had transformed while they were on a patrol together? It would have been so dangerous! Then, Lily remembered an animated drawing in The Essential Defence Against the Dark Arts; it contained a howling wolf framed by a full moon. Remus wasn’t stupid, and she knew it. He would never have gone on patrol alone with her with an imminent full moon.
Her defenses failing, Lily turned to go back toward the castle, having almost made up her mind to wait until Remus brought up the subject to discuss it with him. It was when she looked up that she noticed she was no longer alone on the school grounds.
He glanced up at her, hefting the weight of his broomstick over one shoulder. “Hey, Evans.” Almost immediately, she noticed that he looked exhausted. It brought her a small measure of comfort to be able to sympathize with someone else in this regard.
“Going to practice?”
“It’s not allowed, strictly speaking.” He cracked a smile. “Don’t tell McGonagall.”
Lily forced a smile, continuing to walk past him. “See you later, then.”
“What?” she asked, pausing.
“Are you all right?”
“Sure.” Lily found herself pulling aimlessly at her sleeves again.
“I just—I guess the thing from the other night probably shook you up a bit.”
“A bit,” she admitted.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, I’ll be fine.” She shifted her weight awkwardly from one foot to the other.
“What were you doing out here?” he tried.
Lily frowned slightly, but she couldn’t think of what to say. Not the truth, surely.
His arms were apparently growing tired, as his next move was to move the broom so that it crossed both shoulders and rested upon the back of his neck. He leaned into the impromptu stretch. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about Remus?”
Lily considered this. Perhaps if she expressed her concerns to James, he could pass them on to Remus for her, or—in an ideal situation—soothe them right out of existence. She had tried a similar tactic when she had ended her friendship with Severus the year before, and while no part of it had been comfortable for anyone involved, at least he didn’t follow her around as much or bother her during class. She cleared her throat, looking back at James. “Why don’t we take a walk?”
His face brightened. “Yeah, sounds good.” He turned the broom upside down, tapping the non-bristled end softly against the earth like a walking stick, marking out measured paces as they began walking side by side. Lily stifled a smile.
“How is he, anyway?”
“I haven’t seen much of him,” James admitted. “He did seem a bit down when he woke up this morning, though. He didn’t even say hello to me before he left.”
“Do you think he’s angry?”
“Probably, at least at Snape. I would be.”
“What about Sirius?”
“Yeah, I’d imagine we’re both a bit angry with him, too.”
“But not at me?” Lily asked quietly, letting it dangle hopefully in the air.
“Who could be angry with you, Evans?” James smirked, moving his hand as if to ruffle her hair playfully and then jerking it back at the last moment.
“Does he suffer much after he transforms back?”
“He’ll have some scrapes and bruises. Usually it’s all right, overall.”
“You really care about him, don’t you?” James said.
“Of course I do,” Lily replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“I think you care a little too much, honestly.”
Lily concealed a teasing smile. “You sound a little jealous.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” He rolled his eyes. “I just think that it would be okay if you were a little scared, knowing about this other side of him. I don’t think you have to know that much about werewolves to know that it’s not Remus anymore after he… you know, changes.” He sighed. “Actually, it would be okay to be really scared.”
“I’d be a fool to not be afraid,” Lily answered, tucking her hair behind her ears in preparation for an approaching breeze. The wind carried with it the fresh smell of the trees, surrounding them as they stepped just beyond the edge of the forest. Lily felt grateful for the bit of cover, lest annoying romantic rumors about her start floating around the corridors of the school. “I’m more worried about him, though. All I can think of now is him living down there under the tree, alone, cold, suffering. Remus is a really good person. I’d be heartless to not want better things for him.”
“What if I told you that he’s not alone?”
“What?” she asked, stopping.
“Well, Sirius and Peter and I go down there, too. We keep him company.”
“You’re kidding,” Lily marveled. “How do you all not end up torn to pieces? Is it—does he recognize your smell? Is that how he knows not to attack you?”
“Sort of,” James responded. “I…” He shifted his feet awkwardly in the dirt, looking as if he stood on the precipice of an important decision. “Okay, just… stand back.”
Lily raised an eyebrow, but she moved a few feet backwards, still watching him.
James stood very still, closing his eyes and appearing to concentrate intensely. Suddenly, he fell forward onto his hands and knees, eliciting a gasp from his companion. The hair on his arms thickened slowly, forming a smooth tawny coat. What looked at first like a pair of thorny branches emerged from his scalp, growing up out of his hair as new trees in a shallow wood. His clothes melted into his—fur—and his body grew a bit larger, though it remained about as slender as in human form. In the span of a few seconds, the boy before her had become a young stag.
Lily tried not to gape. Was this really happening? Seeing an Animagus come to life right in front of her was strikingly different from listening to Professor McGonagall describe it in class. She had so many questions. Does it hurt? Where do your clothes go?
“Can you talk?” she whispered, finally settling on one.
The stag shook its head, and her eyes focused on the antlers, mesmerized. She almost wanted to step forward and touch them, but no… way too awkward.
James the stag grunted at her, and she stepped back in surprise, leaving him enough room to reverse the changes in a similar time span. This, too, was a shock—he looked just the same, and she wondered if perhaps she’d imagined the whole thing.
“I can talk to the others. They’re Animagi, too. Well, except Remus, obviously. No need,” he said, responding to her query. A comical expression overcame his features. She was still standing with an open mouth. “Evans, you all right? Don’t make me come up with another story for the nurse.”
“Y—yes,” she sputtered, laughing despite herself.
James’s smile suddenly dropped off his face. “Please don’t give me detention.”
“No, no,” Lily smirked. “No, it’s… that is very dangerous, James.”
“Well, otherwise it wouldn’t be fun.”
“I mean it,” she added firmly. “But… it’s also wicked cool.”
James grinned again. “Yeah. Only took us until last year. Impressed?” He took off his glasses to inspect them more closely. Even though he’d practiced a hundred times, the lingering worry remained that one time they’d fall off and break into pieces.
Lily blushed. “You’re just lucky Professor McGonagall would never believe me.”
“You keep all my secrets,” James sighed pleasantly. “Good thing, too. They’d never let me be Head Boy next year if it all got out.”
“Don’t get too far ahead of yourself,” she replied. “Um… I should get back. It’s getting close to dinner, and I promised Celestine and Ellery I’d get there early tonight.”
“Oh, all right,” he said, trying to conceal the note of disappointment in his voice.
“Thank you for the walk. You were right—it was nice to talk about Remus a little.”
“Yeah, of course,” James said.
Lily began to walk back up the path, crossing the line of trees into the open again.
She froze. No, don’t turn around, not this time. It ended pleasantly. Let it end.
“You going to Hogsmeade this weekend?”
“I—” She bit her lip, halfway turning so that she could see him out of the corner of one eye. “I suppose so, yes.” She cleared her throat. “You know, with my friends.”
“Yeah,” she added confidently. “We’re going Christmas shopping for our families.”
“That’s nice,” James said. A bit early, Evans, but I suppose you have your reasons. “Would you like to get some tea with me while you’re there?”
“Well, like I said, I’m going with my friends…”
“So am I,” he replied, and she thought his tone bordered on desperation. “I just think maybe getting out of the cold and getting some tea would be nice. We can talk about Remus more… we can gossip about Sirius and Celestine the whole time if you want. I’d just like to spend a little time with you, if you’re up for it.”
Lily glanced over at him, willing everything within her not to let the color rise to her cheeks. Agreeing to spend even an hour alone with James Potter wasn’t exactly in the service of the deal she’d made with Regulus. Then again, she hadn’t seen him getting too comfortable with Sirius lately, either. It was beside the point, really—she had given Severus a chance or two, and it was only fair to do the same for James.
“Okay,” she said softly, daring to look at him. “We’ll meet up in town.”
“Sure,” James said, smiling broadly. “See you in Charms later, then.” He turned quickly, though the tips of his ears were reddening already, and began walking in the direction of the Pitch once again.
“See you,” Lily replied, turning after a moment and continuing back up toward the castle. As she walked, she inwardly shamed herself, having fallen victim to her own rationalizations. No, Lily, she finally said to herself. You deserve to have a little fun.
Thank you, dear reader, for returning for another chapter of Post Scriptum!
A few notes for you—I did a little research into traditional English breakfast for this chapter, and that’s where the baked beans came from. Professor Eigen’s name is a tribute to one of my many interests—statistics. Ten points to you if you are mathematically savvy enough to identify the particular source!
The Defense Against the Dark Arts book that Lily mentions is taken from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (written by J.K. Rowling and published in 1999). The phrase "furry little problem" comes from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince chapter 16 (also written by J.K. Rowling and published in 2005). Any other characters, events or ideas from you canon that you see are also hers.
Won’t you please give me some feedback on this chapter?