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Once Defied by pennyardelle

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 33
Word Count: 161,202
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Romance, Young Adult
Characters: Lupin, Snape, Sirius, Lily, James, Pettigrew, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/Lily, Other Pairing

First Published: 06/01/2009
Last Chapter: 04/28/2010
Last Updated: 06/10/2014

Summary:
banner by Alora at The Dark Arts

At the beginning of their seventh and final year at Hogwarts, Lily Evans and James Potter find themselves closer to one another than ever before. With darkness taking over the world around them, they discover that love—the mix of fluttering heartbeats, stolen glances, shared smiles, and squirming stomachs—is the most powerful magic of all.

:: 2012 Dobby Awards Winner for Best Canon ::


Chapter 1: The Great Divide
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Author's Note: Thank you for clicking on my little story, Once Defied! I usually prefer Author's Notes at the end of a chapter, but I've decided to add one here, just as a little preface. I know for lots of people, Marauders' Era is a tired genre, but I really think there's a good story to be told. I don't know if I'll manage it, but my goal is to try and stick as much as possible to canon and avoid most of the clichés that plague Marauders' stories. If you think I'm doing it well, or not so well, or have any other comments you'd like to make, I would really appreciate it if you told me in a review!

As of September 1, 2011, I have gone through every chapter in this story and attempted to fix grammar and spelling. If you notice anything, please don't hesitate to speak up and let me know!

I don't own anything you recognize. Now, if you solemnly swear you are up to no good (or love those that do), happy reading!





Chapter One
The Great Divide




“I’m sorry.”

Words had never felt so unnatural to Lily Evans’ lips. She was not liberal with apologies in the first place, but giving one to James Potter felt nothing short of bizarre.

She could only imagine how odd it would feel when she was speaking to him instead of her two best friends.

“There. That wasn’t so difficult, was it?”

Lily wanted to tell Anna that, yes, actually, it was difficult. After all, not everyone could deal with life in the sarcastically stoic way that Anna did.

“Just breathe, and you’ll be fine.”

Mary’s assurances were much more deceiving. With her blond curls and sweet smile, Mary could probably soothe the anxieties of even the most conflicted person on earth. Unfortunately, Lily had become immune to Mary’s sugary kindness over years of friendship, and she was not comforted.

“Why am I apologizing to him again?” she asked, even though she knew the answer. “We were even sort of getting along last year.”

“Not talking to him isn’t the same as getting along,” Mary said.

“Lily, please don’t play dumb,” Anna said, using the power of her deep, rich voice to its greatest advantage. Nothing was so hard to ignore as Anna’s voice, even if Lily did not always agree with it. “Just for that, you have to remind us and yourself for—what is it? The twentieth time?”

Lily sighed. “I’m apologizing because...even though James Potter and I do not particularly get along, my deep-seated resentment of him is unfair. I’ve treated him with a level of disdain that, while justified at times, was generally inappropriate and immature. Since I will be forced into greater contact with him this year, it would be to everyone’s benefit if I gave him a fresh start...which begins with an apology.”

She recited the words with a dull, rehearsed quality, because she had been saying them over and over again to herself all summer. Anna’s estimate might have been an exaggeration, since they had only been in each other’s company for a half-hour, but it was true that she had given her friends some form of this speech several times already. Soon they would probably have it memorized, just as Lily did.

“You sound so sincere,” said Anna.

“I’m doing my best!” Lily protested. “You didn’t see him in the prefects’ compartment; he was exactly like he’s always been.”

This was not entirely true, Lily’s conscience irksomely pointed out. She had been surprised as anyone to see James actually taking his appointment as Head Boy seriously (well, semi-seriously), but he certainly seemed to be doing so. Rather than being pleased, however, Lily found his attitude to be unbelievably aggravating. He had spent the last six years doing everything he could to cause problems, and now he wanted to pretend like he had always wanted to be Head Boy?

Lily could not have cared less about being Head Girl; she considered the position to be very ceremonial and old-fashioned. It came with no more benefits than being a prefect, but certainly more work. Besides, it guaranteed that the majority of the student body would hate her the very moment that school started. Her parents had been thrilled, but apart from feeling a mildly flattered glow that the teachers had chosen her, Lily was apathetic about the title. Still, it bothered her that James, who should have shared her feelings more than anyone else, was acting so sanctimonious, like he was accusing her of not giving it due weight.

“He seemed pretty nice when he was carrying your trunk here, and opening the door for you, and then making polite-but-not-drawn-out small-talk with us,” said Mary.

“Yes, James Potter is altruistic, to his very core. No ulterior motives there,” Lily replied. She saw Anna smirk, but Mary simply shrugged.

“It was sweet, nevertheless,” she said. Lily shook her head; on her internal scale of weirdness, the idea of James Potter being sweet rated about as high as apologizing to him.

“Can we please talk about something else?” Lily asked. There were a million more things to discuss when it came to James, but Lily found she slept better at night when talk about him was kept to a minimum. The truth was, much as she protested having to apologize, she did feel guily about having treated him so coldly. Ever since she had stopped being friends with Severus at the end of fifth year, the guilt had been gnawing at her, insisting more and more that she make amends for holding such a pointless grudge. James had, after all, stuck up for her on several occasions, which was certainly much more than Snape could say.

“Well, Druella Lind finally got that mole removed from the end of her nose,” Mary said.

“She should stop fighting fate,” Anna said, leafing through the pages of a Daily Prophet. “She seems very comfortable as a hag, anyway.”

“Wait,” Mary said, “do you mean a real hag? Like, one of the scary, eating-children-for-dinner hags?”

“Oh, Merlin,” Anna groaned, “this is disgusting.”

She folded the newspaper back and handed it to Lily and Mary, who leaned in to read an article entitled, “Popular Political Columnist Announces Engagement.” Lily did not need to read further to know what this was about, but she continued anyway.

For a quick-witted and deeply analytical political columnist, Desdemona Richards is strikingly glamorous. Tall and statuesque, it is clear that this brunette goddess of governance has many tools at her disposal to intimidate some of the most famous politicians of our time.

Though Miss Richards is usually writing her own headlines, this week she has been in the news for her engagement to Aidan Seward, Keeper for the Kenmare Kestrals and the Irish National Quidditch Team. The couple has been together for a short eight months, but a love that supersedes time shines in Desdemona’s eyes when she discusses her future husband.

“I knew from the moment I met him,” she says. “I had gone to the Kestrals’ game against the Appleby Arrows in hopes of cornering Walberus Poole, who, as you know, was embroiled in a highly inflammatory feud with the Italian Minister for Magic. I was trying to find Poole, but I ran straight into Aidan instead. It was fate.”

Though the happy engagement only transpired last week, Desdemona says she has already started planning what she terms “the wedding of the century”. If the considerable diamond that glitters on her left hand is any indicator, it is sure to be an event that dazzles all...


The article continued for several more paragraphs, but Lily had read enough. She might be more of a romantic than Anna, but this sort of drivel was not romantic—it was just plain corny.

“I can’t believe my sister got engaged to such an idiot,” Anna spat, taking back the newspaper and throwing it onto the seat unceremoniously. “You should have seen him when they came to visit over the summer; I’m surprised he could remember how to navigate the house without signposts.”

Lily laughed. She had only ever met Anna’s sister briefly, but from what had been related to her, it seemed entirely reasonable that she would have gotten engaged to a handsome, rich, air-headed Quidditch player.

“Isn’t your sister supposed to be smart?” Mary asked. It was Anna’s turn to laugh.

“My sister likes to pretend she knows everything, and for some stupid reason people buy into it,” she said mirthlessly. “You should have heard how she was lording it over all of us when she told us they were engaged. It was like she was going to be married to the bloody Prince of Wales.”

“Come on, Anna, be fair,” Lily said. “Your sister is smart, even if you don’t like to admit it.”

“I might have agreed with you before, but if she can actually marry someone who has the intelligence level of a troll, she's definitely an idiot,” Anna replied.

“He is a Quidditch player,” Mary offered. “I’d marry a Quidditch player, even if they were dim.”

“Well, that’s it, isn’t it?” Anna snapped. “She can miraculously look past faults of his that would prompt a vicious character assassination were it anyone else, all because he flies around on a stick in front of large crowds and gets loads of Galleons for it. And it’s so disgustingly perfect, the young and hard-hitting journalista finding everlasting happiness with the world-famous, ruggedly handsome Quidditch player. It’s like a parody.”

Lily waited for a moment to see if Anna was finished her rant.

“Are we invited to the wedding, then?” she asked, grinning slightly.

“Well, you know, they’re planning on inviting most of the country, so I think you’ll get an invitation. Although you are both forbidden from coming, because there is no way I’m giving either of you the satisfaction of seeing me as her stupid maid-of-honour.”

What?!”

“You didn’t tell us—”

“Dess said it would look ‘circumspect’ if anyone but her sister was the maid-of-honour,” Anna said. “Seriously, that was how she asked me. Lovely sister, isn’t she?”

Lily knew that Anna did not exactly get along well with her siblings. She was five years younger than Desdemona, who was closest in age to her. Anna also had two older brothers named Damian and Dax. Lily had been bewildered by how Anna seemed to have been marked for separation even by her name, which, in comparison to those of her siblings, was distinctively plain and non-alliterative. Anna had explained (rather bitterly) that she had been named after her grandmother, who had died just a month before Anna had been born. Unlike Lily, she failed to see the sentimentality in this.

Desdemona and Dax had both been at Hogwarts when Lily had started, and even then, they had sought to do everything better than others. They had both been prefects who got good grades, much-loved by the teachers, and their success had continued after Hogwarts. Desdemona, of course, had become a columnist for the Daily Prophet, and Dax worked for a non-profit organization called Healers Around the World in India. Lily assumed that Damian had been much like the other two, although she had never met him; he was in his mid-twenties and had been an Auror for several years.

Anna brimmed with resentment for all three of them, often referring to them as the “D’s” (which she had explained stood for “Dumbasses”). Lily felt sympathy for her friend, who she knew must feel suffocated by the pressure to live up to the successes of her older siblings. Still, a chance to see Anna as a sullen, eye-rolling member of a wedding party was too brilliant to pass up.

“Oh, if I get invited, I’m going to this wedding,” Lily said, laughing.

“Me too,” Mary said. Anna glowered at both of them, and Mary shrugged innocently. “What? I just want to wear pretty dress robes.”

“And how could you possibly deny us the opportunity to witness such a moving declaration of love in front of all their family and—”

“Shut it,” Anna interrupted Lily, “or else I’m going to start talking about my vision for you and James’ wedding.”

“Oh, that’s my favourite game,” Mary said, giggling.

“Like I haven’t heard it all before,” Lily said, rolling her eyes.

“Well, we’ve never gotten into planning your honeymoon before,” Anna replied thoughtfully.

“Eurgh. That’s pervy, Anna,” said Lily. There was no way she was going to let them get into what would surely be an hour-long conversation on candlelit evenings with James.

“Yes, I suppose it was,” Anna admitted, “but it did put you off making fun of me, so all’s well.”

Lily really wished Anna had not brought up James again. She had been having such a lovely time laughing about Desdemona’s wedding that she had almost forgotten about her plan to apologize to him. Lily had always considered herself to be brave, but she had never dreaded anything more in her life.

Luckily, Mary and Anna dropped the subject of James, and the rest of the train ride passed pleasantly. Mary told them all about her summer trip to Romania and swore up and down that she had seen Dracula himself crossing a darkened square one evening, no matter how much Anna insisted that Dracula was a fictional character loosely based on an historical figure. Lily was so glad to be back in the presence of her friends after a summer with only her parents to talk to.

They disembarked from the train at Hogsmeade Station as the sun was setting. Familiar faces flooded the platform as everyone heaved their trunks towards the horseless carriages that would take them up to the school. There was rather more chaos than usual because Argus Filch, Hogwarts’ resident caretaker, and a stone-faced stranger were standing at the exit of the platform with a long wand Lily recognized as a Secrecy Sensor.

“They’re searching us? What for?” Lily asked, when the news had travelled through the crowd to reach them.

“Why do you think?” Anna said darkly.

“At Hogwarts?” Lily said, incredulous. They had never been searched before, even though You-Know-Who had been at large for years.

The three of them made it past Filch and his Secrecy Sensors safely, as Lily had expected, and were about to climb into an empty carriage when Warren Mulciber and a group of his Slytherin friends cut in front of them.

“Sorry, Mudbloods,” Mulciber said, his voice devoid of anything resembling sincerity. Lily looked away as Snape pushed in front of them.

“You shut your mouth,” Anna snapped, though the three of them were undeniably outnumbered.

Lily glanced at Mary, who seemed to be trying to inch behind her two friends. Mary had been terrified of Mulciber since fifth year, when he had tested out a nasty bit of Dark Magic on her. Luckily for Mary, Peter Pettigrew, of all people, had intervened before Mulciber could do any serious damage, but he had still never been punished.

To this day, Lily had never really found out what Mulciber had tried to do to Mary. She was not proud of it, but it did make it easier when it was a nameless, shapeless incident, because Lily had always felt guilty, as if she had somehow been complicit in it. No matter how many times she told herself that it was not her fault (and she knew it was not), she could not help but feel that she had been a horrible friend for continuing to associate with Snape for so long after the fact.

“Watch out, or I’ll have to finish what I started with your friend,” Mulciber said, making Lily feel even worse.

“Find something new to threaten us with, Mulciber. That one’s getting old,” Lily said.

“Won’t this carriage move? I don’t want to be covered with any more of their filth,” Evan Rosier said. On cue, the carriage started to trundle up the road towards Hogwarts. As it pulled away, Lily caught a glimpse of Snape looking back at her, but she refused to make eye contact with him.

“That was a nice welcome, don’t you think?” Lily asked bracingly. Anna rolled her eyes, while Mary still looked rather pale.

“Oh, Hogwarts, with its charms and its curses,” Anna said, sighing. “Are you all right, Mary?”

Mary nodded and smiled weakly, but she didn’t speak again until they were in the Great Hall.

“Oh no,” she said, sighing, “Ben Thatcher’s going out with Bess Young again. Why do I always choose blokes who are so completely uninterested in me?”

“I don’t know, but you and Potter should chat about it sometime,” Lily said, glancing down the table at James as she spoke.

“I had no idea James was interested in blokes,” Anna quipped, but Lily’s response was forestalled by Professor McGonagall’s entry into the Great Hall. She carried with her the Sorting Hat and was followed by a train of white-faced first years. When she reached the front of the cavernous room, she placed the hat on a stool; moments later, its brim ripped wide open, and it began to sing:

Once upon a time ago
Near a millennia by now
Hogwarts School was built and began to grow
And its founders made a vow
They swore to teach young girls and boys
About the world of magic.
Witches and wizards they would emerge one day,
Their minds quick and filled with passion.
Though the founders four
Were great friends, they found they disagreed
What type of pupils they should let through the door
And what type they should pay no heed.
Mighty Gryffindor, with his shining sword,
Looked for the very bravest.
Kind Hufflepuff, her nature tough,
Thought hard-workers shone the brightest.
Clever Ravenclaw, with her books and quills,
Wanted the intelligent and the wise.
And wily Slytherin, with his tricks and smiles,
Ambition was what he prized.
How to satisfy these divergent tastes?
The four friends could not decide.
Suddenly Gryffindor put hand to head,
And whipped me off with pride.
There I was, and he enchanted me,
So I could choose instead.
Years went by, and though Hogwarts grew
The founders’ friendships died
Tension grew, fights broke out,
And there came a great divide.
Centuries have passed
Since proud Slytherin’s farewell
Yet still it haunts these castle walls
Where you students choose to dwell.
The story of the Hogwarts four
You would do well to keep in mind.
Perhaps now, more than ever before,
Divisions keep us blind.
If you think you’ve seen the worst
Then, oh, you are mistaken
And if you choose to put houses first
We’ll all end up forsaken.
If I could, I might choose
To keep you all as one
But it’s my job, I can’t refuse
And the sorting must be done.


The Great Hall filled with applause as Professor McGonagall stepped up next to the Sorting Hat and began to call names. The ominous message given by the Sorting Hat was no surprise, it had been saying the same sort of thing for years now, but Lily was slightly alarmed at his warning: If you think you’ve seen the worst, then, oh, you are mistaken. After the past few years, she couldn’t understand how things could get any worse.

Just as she had put thoughts of James out of her head, Lily managed to forget about her worries as the Sorting and the feast went on. The food was, as usual, delicious, and she was feeling exceptionally full when Dumbledore stood up to make his traditional speech.

“A very good evening to you all,” he said, once the Great Hall had gone quiet. “I find that a full stomach often leads to the desire for sleep, so I shall not keep you from your beds long. First, I would like you all to give a warm welcome to our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Dearborn, who will be taking over while Professor Timor is doing research abroad.”

Moderate applause rang through the Great Hall as Professor Dearborn raised his hand in greeting.

“Think his head could ask his chin to borrow some hair?” Anna whispered, and Lily smiled. It was true—fate seemed to have played a cruel joke on Professor Dearborn, who had a shiny bald head but a long and full beard. Dumbledore resumed his speech as the applause died out.

“Our caretaker, Mr Filch, has been fastidious enough to spend his summer holidays drawing up a list of all banned objects that he has put on display outside his office. He asks everyone to review it as soon as possible. I would also remind everyone that the Forbidden Forest is off-limits to students.”

Dumbledore paused for a moment and looked around the Great Hall.

“It grieves me to tell you that, this year, stronger protection of the school has been deemed necessary,” he continued. “I will not bore you with all the details of these protections, but one you have undoubtedly noticed is the searches that will take place whenever you, or anyone else, enters or leaves the castle grounds. I would like to impress upon you on all the danger of leaving the grounds without permission. Any such activity should be reported immediately. In addition, I urge you all to abide by the rules regarding curfews, for your own safety.

“Should you have any concerns about the new security measures, I invite you to discuss them with your Heads of House. I hope, above all, that you will return to your dormitories tonight feeling safe within these walls. And return to your dormitories you should—good night!”

Dumbledore returned to his chair at the center of the head table. Lily’s uncomfortable feeling of dread had returned with his speech. Anna had been right in her assumption that the searches were a protection against Voldemort, but that was discomfiting in itself. Since when had Hogwarts ever needed extra protection? Wasn’t Dumbledore supposed to be enough to keep them safe?

“I’ll see you up there,” Lily said to Anna and Mary, as they got up from the Gryffindor Table. “Have to lead the first-years.”

“Have fun!” Mary said as they walked away.

“Don’t lose any of them!” Anna teased.



..........




James did not know if Lily would ever give him a break. She had disliked him when he had been irresponsible and arrogant, but she did not seem to appreciate his attempts at maturity and reliability either. She was barely looking at him, and certainly not speaking to him, as they led the first years through the castle and towards Gryffindor Tower. If she was going to act like this, there was surely little reason to try appeasing her. In fact, it might be better to try to provoke her into some sort of reaction.

“That’s the Hospital Wing down there,” he said, pointing to a set of double doors. “Madam Pomfrey is excellent at reversing the effects of any jinxes or hexes, so try and remember where it is unless you get hit by one.”

“Not that you will,” Lily interjected from beside him. James grinned for a moment, happy that he had succeeded in making Lily speak, before he noticed that some of the new students were looking alarmed.

“Well, you’re all Gryffindors, so I expect you’ll be doing the jinxing and hexing. It’s all the other houses who end up in the Hospital Wing most often,” James corrected, and he saw a few of the first years smile weakly.

"Can we try to not encourage inter-house rivalry this early on?” Lily hissed.

Now he was getting somewhere: she was even speaking to him directly. He was not exactly thrilled that he still had to resort to the same antics with her as he had in fourth year, but anything was better than silence.

James could not understand why Lily was in such a bad mood. He had thought she would be happy about becoming Head Girl, for it seemed like the sort of thing that would matter to her. As it was, it felt like he was prouder of it than she was.

“Oh, and this is a secret staircase, it’s dead useful, except for you might fall through one of the steps,” James said, pulling aside a tapestry to show them. He was kind of enjoying this Head Boy thing. It was nice to be able to share some of the things he had found out about Hogwarts over the years with such a willing audience.

They finally reached the portrait of the Fat Lady.

“Last, but not least,” James said grandly, “this is Catherine, the Lady of Gryffindor Tower.”

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell everyone what my real name is,” the Fat Lady huffed. “It was so much more peaceful when students didn’t think they were on first-name terms with me. Password?”

Tea leaves,” Lily said, and the portrait swung forward.

When they had directed the first years to their dormitory, James took his opportunity to talk to Lily again. “So, how about the Sorting Hat?” he asked. “Pretty ominous.”

Lily shrugged, but James could see worry cross her face. “It’s always like that.”

“Yeah, but still...all that stuff about the worst being yet to come...that can’t be true, can it?” he asked. As she bit her bottom lip, James felt slightly tactless. Why was he discussing this with Lily, who was a Muggle-born? Great, James; terror is surely the way straight to her heart, he chided himself.

“I should go. Anna and Mary will be wondering what’s taking me,” she said, heading toward the spiral staircase.

“Night,” he said. To his great surprise, she turned her head slightly, stopped, then turned around. She folded her arms across her chest, and James figured it would be wise to prepare himself for some sort of lecture about breaking rules and setting a bad example.

“Listen, Potter, I really think we should...try to...start fresh,” she said. James could not believe what he was hearing. “I just...I don’t want to spend this entire year avoiding you or bickering with you.”

“Well, you’re not exactly off to a good start,” James pointed out. He was all for getting along with Lily, but she couldn’t expect him to just forget about how she had treated him in the past.

“Can we just try not to get under each others’ skins?” she asked, and James could not help but smirk at how easily he could have twisted this into a joke that would make her blush furiously. He had to remind himself that it would probably be best not to push her, lest she decide that a fresh start was impossible.

“Does that mean you’ll go out of your way to be nice to me?” he asked innocently.

“Didn’t I just ask you not to do that?” Lily replied, and James laughed.

“Sorry. So, you want to be friends, then?”

“No!” Lily burst out, and James could not help but be momentarily offended. Perhaps she realized, for she continued, “I mean, maybe we could just be...acquaintances?”

“I don’t know if you noticed, Lily, but we’ve technically been acquaintances for six years already.”

“Can you settle for something in between acquaintances and friends?” she asked.

“So...we should just go back to how things were when we first met?” he asked. "Pretending that we actually got along in that instance, of course."

“Sure,” she said, laughing slightly, “if that helps you sleep at night. And I’m going to go do just that.”

James couldn’t help himself this time.

“If you’re going to try to help me sleep at night, there are other—”

“Good night!” she yelled, disappearing up the stairs.

James felt much more optimistic as he traveled up the stairs to his own bed. He had no idea why Lily had gone from ignoring him to calling a truce in such short time, but he supposed his attempts to elicit a response had succeeded in some way or another.

Was Lily’s change of heart (or of mind, rather—he didn’t want to get ahead of himself) another sign that he had redeemed himself? Ever since fifth year, when Snape had nearly gotten himself killed, James had felt immensely guilty and confused. For the first time, he saw how much his actions could affect other people. He could admit now that Lily had been right when she had yelled at him by the lake that day: he had been self-centered, and, frankly, sickening. He could not even remember why or how he had become like this, although he had always blamed boredom when he was younger. It was not necessarily untrue; he had been bored often in those first few years, but it was now an inadequate excuse in his mind

He felt like he had changed, but was there really a good way of assessing your own personality? For all he knew, he was the exact same person he had always been. Finding out he was Head Boy had been encouraging, for it was evidence that Dumbledore, of all people, thought James was not so bad.

And now Lily was willing to start fresh. James had spent the last year feeling adrift and uncertain of himself, but now he was feeling his old confidence returning. He hadn’t messed everything up, it seemed. If he could just go back to the way he was, but slightly less of an idiot, he was sure everything would be just right.

“Today is a momentous day,” he told his friends as he stepped into the dormitory. Sirius, Remus, and Peter were grouped around Peter’s trunk.

“You bet it is,” Sirius said. “Pete managed to sneak all our stuff in.”

Peter held out the Invisibility Cloak and James took it from him. When they had seen Filch searching students, a reasonable level of anxiety had ensued. None of them were carrying anything that would get them in serious trouble, but the Cloak and the Marauder’s Map were not objects they wanted to risk getting confiscated. Their only hope had been to trust them to Peter, who had always had a knack for concealment.

“Excellent,” James said, momentarily putting aside thoughts of Lily. “How’d you manage it?”

“You know,” Peter said, shrugging, “they never think it’s me. They’re always too suspicious of you and Sirius. I slipped right past them.”

“What were you talking about when you came in?” Remus asked. James grinned and chucked the Cloak onto his bed.

“Lily wants to be sort-of-friends with me,” he announced. He had been hoping for looks of enthusiasm, but all three of them looked sceptical.

Sort-of-friends? What kind of rubbish is that?” Sirius asked.

“Are you sure this wasn’t another daydream?” Peter added.

“I think you meant to say, ‘Wow, Prongs, we never thought we’d see this day! Congratulations!’” James said.

“Got everything but the last word right,” Remus muttered, and Sirius and Peter laughed.

“Can't you be the slightest bit happy for me?” he asked them.

“Prongs, please, just forget about it,” Sirius said. “You’ve tried everything to get her to go out with you—with our help and support—but it’s not going to happen. She’s not interested.”

His friends waited for him to respond, and James could tell they were hoping he would agree with Sirius.

“We’ll see.”

A collective groan filled the room. He knew Lily might never go out on a date with him, but he would not admit defeat until he had exhausted every last opportunity he could.

Besides, he thought as he fell asleep, I’m pretty sure she never thought I was that bad.

Chapter 2: Power, Potions, and Professors
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Chapter Two

Power, Potions, and Professors




James had never aspired to become Head Boy, and had therefore paid little attention to what previous ones had done in their roles. In fact, he had no idea what it meant to be Head Boy, other than the fact that he could hand out detentions and take away House points. He wanted to do the job properly, but there was something embarrassing about having to ask Lily, even though they were now something like friends. She seemed to only tell him what his duties were when they were immediate, such as handing out schedules on the first day.

“Here,” she said, handing him a stack of thick pieces of parchment, “they’re for years five and under. Hand them to the right people.”

With that business-like statement, she turned on her heel and started walking up the table, her own stack of schedules in hand. James looked down at the first name: Lyle Griffiths. It sounded strangely familiar, but James could not quite place it. In fact, the first ten names were unrecognizable to him as he rifled through the stack of papers he was holding. It seemed he was going to be forced into asking Lily for help, so he walked over to her.

“Erm, Lily?” he asked, as quietly as possible. “Who’s Lyle Griffiths?”

Lily’s eyes widened exasperatedly. “He’s that blonde-haired boy down there,” she said, looking some eight feet down the Gryffindor table. “I’m surprised you don’t remember him. You made him walk around with a Bubble-Head Charm for an hour once in fourth year.”

“Oh, right,” James said, somewhat too fondly, and Lily gave him an admonishing stare. “Sorry, I’ll just go...do this...then.”

He found that Lily had managed to jog his memory quite well: he could recognize nearly half of the students’ names from putting jinxes or hexes on them in previous years. A fair number of schedules still remained a mystery to him, however. He walked over to where his friends were sitting, thinking that they might have been more attentive to the names of Gryffindor students in the past.

“Who’s Hortensia Whitby?” he asked them. They all shrugged. “What about Rachel Cross? Oh, come on, you three are useless. Do you recognize any of these names?”

“Prongs,” Sirius said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’re making this much too difficult for yourself. Try this instead.”

He stood up on the bench.

“Oi! If you’re below sixth year and in Gryffindor, come look through this pile of schedules for yours!”

He hopped down from the bench, grinning.

“Thanks, Padfoot,” James said, glancing nervously at Lily. She did not look quite as displeased as James would have expected her to. At that particular moment, Professor McGonagall came upon them with her own armful of schedules.

“It’s a bit early to be making such a scene, don’t you think, Black?” She said briskly.

“Just trying to wake people up, Minerva,” Sirius replied. Professor McGonagall tapped the topmost schedule calmly.

“Your schedule,” she said, handing it to Sirius. “Make sure to add tomorrow night’s detention to it.”

“What did I do?” Sirius asked.

“I have asked you nearly two dozen times to never address me by my first name,” she said. “Now, onto the rest of you...”

She gave Remus and Peter their schedules as well, leaving James last. She fixed him with a calculating stare and said, “I was glad to hear you’d been chosen Head Boy, Potter.”

James felt instantly buoyed. He might be hopeless at handing out schedules, but that didn’t mean he didn’t deserve to be Head Boy. He could even ignore the fact that Lily had just come and snatched up his abandoned pile of schedules.

“The Head Boy hasn’t been from Gryffindor for almost five years now. I hope you won’t disappoint me,” she said, deflating James’ happiness slightly. As she handed him his schedule, though, he thought she might have a hint of a smile on her face. “I’ll see you four in Transfiguration tomorrow morning.”

She swept down the table without another word. Before James could even begin to work out whether Professor McGonagall had been complimenting him or not, Sirius let out a vehement outburst.

“Would you look at this?” he asked. “We’ve got two double periods of every class each week! Are they trying to kill us?”

“And Potions first; fantastic,” James muttered, sitting down at the table. Potions was perhaps his least favourite class (besides History of Magic, which he had stopped taking after his O.W.L.s). He disliked the precision and patience that was needed for potion-making, but it was only made worse by the fact that Snape and Lily were constantly being praised ad nauseum by Professor Slughorn.

“Free period after break and lunch, though,” Peter said, biting off a huge hunk of toast.

“Moony, do you know what the Head Boy’s supposed to do?” James asked. Remus shrugged and swallowed the eggs he had been chewing.

“How would I know?” he asked.

“I just feel like I’m supposed to be doing something,” James said. Sirius snorted from beside him.

“Unless you want to become the biggest prat in the school, I’d advise you to avoid anything the Head Boy is supposed to do,” Sirius said.

“Hey, maybe Prongs can break the stereotype!” Peter said. “You could make being Head Boy cool.”

“Impossible,” Sirius stated.

“I have to agree with Padfoot on this one,” James agreed.

“I think what he means,” Remus said, “is that you’re already very much—er—admired by people. You can’t say the same about any of the Head Boys since we’ve been here.”

“Remember Martin Crescent?” Peter asked, and he was answered by immediate expressions of disgust all around.

“Wanker,” Sirius muttered. Martin Crescent had been Head Boy in their fifth year, and he had taken it on as his personal mission to teach the four of them a lesson. For some reason, he thought he could succeed through sheer persistence where no teacher had before. Under his tyranny, they had spent two weeks with nightly detentions, in which he taunted them and assigned the most degrading tasks he could think of. To add insult to injury (at least for James), Lily had also gone on a couple dates with Martin during that year. Martin had only given up when Sirius had Vanished all his clothes in the middle of the Great Hall. Sirius had earned another two weeks’ detention for it, but Martin had gotten the message.

“I have equally fond memories of Gerald Li,” Remus said.

“But we do have to thank him for setting us on the path toward our true calling,” said Sirius. Gerald had been Head Boy in their first year at Hogwarts: impatient and highly irritable, he had been too amusing a target for them to not antagonize him at every turn.

“There have got to be some advantages to the job,” Peter said to James, shrugging. “You could use the power for some cool stuff.”

That was the last that was said on the subject, as they left the Great Hall to go to their first class. Nevertheless, Peter and Remus had given James something to ponder. The question was, how was he supposed to use his power when did not know what it was?



..........






With Potions as her first class of the day, Lily could ignore her frustration with James over his incompetent schedule-distributing. She had to remember patience when it came to him being Head Boy, and give him credit for trying. Somehow it would end up less frustrating to pretend he was doing a good job; it had to.

Lily loved the smell of the Potions classroom, even though it would probably be considered disgusting by anyone else’s standards. It was the smell of wet stone mixed with a hint of burnt sulphur, and that strange mix brought nothing but comfort to her. She looked around at the others in their class—it appeared that a few people had dropped Potions since last year, but Snape, of course, remained, as did half-a-dozen others, including herself and Anna. The door opened and boisterous laughter filled the classroom, marking the entry of four more classmates: James, Remus, Peter, and Sirius. Lily sighed. She was trying to get along properly with James, but it would have been much easier if they didn’t have every class together.

The four boys took the table right behind Lily and Anna, which made it impossible for Lily to ignore James’ presence, and very difficult to avoid overhearing their conversation.

“Apparently he’s not coming back,” Remus was saying.

“Well, on the bright side, we’ve got the dormitory to ourselves,” said Sirius.

“I always felt a bit bad for him, being left out all the time,” Peter added.

“I bet my mum would have kept me from coming back if she could’ve,” James said. “She’s become completely paranoid. ‘Course, she never could have turned down the opportunity for her son to be Head Boy.”

It seemed Anna had been listening too, for she turned around to look at them. Lily continued to eavesdrop, but pretended to be very interested in the index of Advanced Potion-Making.

“Trevor’s not coming back?” she asked. Trevor Wright was the fifth Gryffindor boy in their year, and had shared a dormitory with James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter for the past six years at Hogwarts.

“His parents wouldn’t let him,” Sirius answered. “I suppose they thought it was too dangerous.”

Here it was again: the idea of Hogwarts being in danger. Lily had always thought that Dumbledore was more powerful than You-Know-Who, but the need for greater protection of the castle and, now, people taking their children out of school, struck at the heart of this belief. It was unnerving to contemplate the possibility that Hogwarts might not be safer than anywhere else.

“How could it be dangerous?” Lily asked, completely forgetting that she was supposed to be ignoring them. “We’ve got Dumbledore and all the special protections he talked about.”

“Maybe it’s not enough discouragement,” Sirius said darkly. “Hogwarts is a pretty major target.”

“I thought they were afraid of Dumbledore,” Lily said.

“So they say,” Remus said.

“Then what are the chances of them trying to pick a fight right underneath his nose?”

“If Dumbledore’s put more protection on the school, he must think there’s some chance of it,” James said. The last of Lily’s hope seemed to vanish at his words, because Dumbledore being worried was something she could not explain away. Only after a few moments did she realize that she had been staring at James since he had spoken, and she turned around in her stool as if she had received an electric shock.

“Good morning, all,” Professor Slughorn, who had entered the room during their conversation, said jovially. “Welcome back to class!”

There were a few murmurs of “good morning”, but otherwise the classroom stayed silent; the side that the Gryffindors were sitting on was also very tense. Slughorn reached the front of the room and glanced around at them all.

“Potion kits and books out already? My now, you’re all prepared, and first thing in the morning, too,” he said, chuckling. After a moment’s pause, he clapped his hands together, and said, “Well then! This year is N.E.W.T. year for you all, which I’m sure you’re very excited about.”

Several quiet groans punctuated the pause in Slughorn’s speech. He chortled again. “Now, now, don’t worry. If you’ve all made it this far, I’m confident you’ll do just fine on your exams. We’re going to be doing some very interesting potion-making this year, very interesting indeed. Now, does anyone remember what I said we’d be starting with when we ended class before the summer?”

Everyone looked around the room awkwardly for a moment, until Lily slowly raised her hand.

“Yes, Lily?”

“I think you said we were going to start learning how to make antidotes to Veritaserum,” Lily answered.

“I knew you would remember, Lily. Take five points for Gryffindor,” Slughorn said happily, “and so we will. Now, as you may remember, Veritaserum takes quite a long time to mature—a full moon-cycle, in fact—and its antidote takes only slightly less time. We’ll be approaching this as a long-term project, and during its maturation, we’ll be working on learning how to make many of the less-complex Truth Serums and antidotes, as well as addressing the various ingredients that make up a Truth Serum. Now, can anyone tell me how we’ll be able to find out if the antidote you’ve concocted works?”

The silence after his question was longer this time. Lily thought she might know what he was getting at, but it seemed much too bizarre to be correct.

“Come now, I think you know the answer,” Slughorn said. This time it was Snape who raised his hand. “Severus?”

“The only way to tell would be to test it on someone, wouldn’t it?” he said.

“Not quite, Severus,” Slughorn said, grinning, “but ultimately true, so take five points for Slytherin. The use of Veritaserum is controlled very stringently by the Ministry of Magic, but administering it to a human being is not the only method of ascertaining its efficacy. Certain physical indicators of the serum can tell us whether it will work—some are obvious, while others take training of the senses. If you’ll open your books to page one-hundred-and-seventy-eight…”

Lily listened as Slughorn spent the lesson going over Veritaserum, though she had already read about the potion in detail over the summer. Even if she had wanted to listen properly, the whispered conversation going on at the table behind her would have been a distraction. She picked up her quill and began doodling a cauldron on the corner of a piece of parchment. Anna leaned over a few minutes later and deftly sketched a walrus in a wizard’s hat in robes, making a clear reference to Professor Slughorn. Lily grinned—if she had been in another class, she might have worried about getting caught and reprimanded, but being one of Slughorn’s favourites did have its advantages.

“This being the first day, I think we ought to end early,” Slughorn said after about forty minutes of class. A wave of excitement shot through the classroom, which was probably Slughorn’s intention—he would not have extended the same favour to his younger students, but these were his N.E.W.T. students, after all. They were the ones who he had known for the longest, and those who had the surest chance at the success he praised so highly. “For homework, please research the ingredients of Veritaserum, and provide detailed explanations of their origins and properties. I would like at least twelve inches, due by next class. You are dismissed.”

Lily was disappointed that they were not actually making any Potions in their first class; as it was, the class had been mostly review for her.

“Evans?”

Lily turned towards James as she shoved her blank parchment back into her copy of Advanced Potion Making, marking page one-hundred-and-seventy-eight. He looked rather nervous, which was unusual for him.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Nice drawing,” he said, gesturing toward her book. Her cauldron doodle and Anna’s walrus were visible over the top edge of the book’s greenish-gray cover.

“Thanks,” she muttered, hastily stuffing her textbook into her bag.

“Can I ask you something?” James asked.

“I suppose,” Lily answered, her cheeks still feeling flushed.

“I was just wondering if you could tell me what I’m supposed to do,” James said. Lily could not understand what he was talking about, and he seemed to realize after a moment how vague his statement had been. “As Head Boy, I mean.”

“Oh,” Lily said, “well, you know. Administer discipline, keep order. Manage the prefects. We’re also responsible for overseeing all the clubs and societies in the school—making sure they’re operating according to rules and authorizing the formation of new ones. Other students can also come to us if they have complaints about their classmates or teachers. And if the school governors call a meeting, we’re supposed to attend as student representatives of the school.”

James nodded. “How do you know all this?”

“From last year’s Head Girl,” Lily said, her feet itching to get out the door.

“Ah, James, Lily!”

Professor Slughorn’s booming voice interrupted their conversation.

“I believe congratulations are in order,” he said. “I suppose I really should have been hoping for someone from my house to get top honours, but you two are so very deserving.”

Lily tried her best to smile enthusiastically. Being one of Slughorn’s favourite students did have its advantages, but there were also disadvantages. Although he could be very helpful to her whenever she figured out what it was she wanted to do after she left Hogwarts, there was the matter of—

“So, when are the two of you free to attend a little party?” Slughorn asked eagerly. “A celebration of both of your achievements?”

The “Slug Club”, as it had been called over the years, was usually excruciating enough, with Slughorn fawning over himself and everyone around him. The idea of a party exclusively for her and James seemed distinctly unappealing to Lily.

“Oh, that’s really not necessary,” Lily replied.

“Yeah, we wouldn’t want you to go to all that trouble,” James agreed. Lily knew that James detested the pompousness of Slug Club even more than she did, which she had always found slightly bizarre. She would have assumed that the prestige that came with Slughorn’s approval would have appealed to his arrogant side.

“Nonsense!” Slughorn said, waving his hand impatiently. “It’s no trouble at all.”

“I think we’ll be really busy these first few weeks,” Lily said. For some strange reason, she found herself looking to James to back her up.

“I’ve got to set up Quidditch tryouts,” James said.

“Surely you can spare one evening,” Slughorn persisted. Lily searched another excuse. “You can’t be that hard to get together!”

Lily heard someone snort with laughter. She looked around Slughorn’s large frame and saw that Snape was still putting away his things.

“Still here, Severus?” Slughorn asked, turning around. “Maybe you can help me force these two into it!”

“You’ll find that Evans and Potter are quite stubborn, Sir,” Snape said, finally shutting his book and getting up from his chair, “it’s one thing that makes them so alike one another.”

Lily felt like biting through her own tongue when Snape made these kinds of pointed comments. It was ludicrous that he acted like she had somehow betrayed him, when he had been the one who destroyed their friendship. Luckily, being his friend served her purposes now, for she knew exactly what to say and do to bother him most. She looked at James and fixed a pleasant smile on her face.

“I’m sure we can find a time, don’t you think?” she asked a bewildered-looking James. “I mean, you deserve the chance to have people congratulate you for your accomplishments.”

There was a satisfying sound of breaking glass. Snape had apparently dropped an empty flask onto the ground.

“Why, Severus, I’ve never seen you so clumsy!” Slughorn said, taking out his wand.

“He’s usually so good at hiding it,” James said, shaking his head sympathetically and taking out his wand. “Reparo.”

Snape swept out of the dungeon, red-faced and looking murderous. Slughorn was either oblivious to the tension in the room, or he was pointedly ignoring it.

“Now, how does two weeks from Friday sound?” Slughorn asked, returning to the original conversation. “That way I have time to invite some of my contacts, who will be so eager to meet the both of you.”

Lily did not want to be the first one to agree to the party, but there really was no other option. She knew from past experience that Slughorn would just continue to badger them until they acquiesced. She exchanged a furtive glance with James, who seemed to have a similar expression of resignation on his face.

“Sure,” Lily said, and Slughorn beamed.

“Yeah, that sounds fine,” James said.

“Excellent!” Slughorn said. “I look forward to it already. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must speak with Filch about his incessant re-organizing of my private stores...”

He waddled from the room, leaving James and Lily alone.

“Brilliant,” James said, rolling his eyes.

“It’s not as if we haven’t suffered through them before,” Lily said. James laughed hollowly.

“I have a feeling this will be much worse,” he said.

“You’re probably right,” Lily admitted. “Come with me.”

She turned to leave the dungeon classroom and felt James following her. She couldn’t imagine why he cared about what he had to do as Head Boy, but if he wanted to know, she would show him. That way, if he messed up, there was no way anyone could lay blame on her.

“Where are we going?” James asked.

“I’m showing you something,” Lily said simply.

“Listen, Evans, you know I like you, but I’m not really interested in any cheap thrills.”

“Don’t be disgusting,” Lily said, giving him a severe look. “I’m showing you where the prefects’ bathroom and private study room are.”

“Oh, I know where they are,” James said. Lily stopped short and turned around.

“How?”

“You know,” James said, shrugging, “from Remus.”

Lily raised one of her eyebrows. “Something makes me feel like you’re not quite telling the truth.”

“You always think I’m not quite telling the truth,” James said. The grin on his face seemed to be acting like a magnet on the corners of her own mouth, because she would not have smiled on her own in a situation like this.

“So, what else comes with this Head Boy thing? Do I get my own office?” James asked. Lily was immensely relieved that he had changed the subject.

“Well, apparently there’s a Heads’ office, but it hasn’t been used in over a decade. Or, at least, not by the Heads. Filch uses it to store confiscated objects,” Lily replied. Where she had learned this tidbit of information, she could not remember.

“Not anymore,” James replied, grinning. “I’ve still got a score to settle with Filch for that detention he gave me at the end of last year.”

“Why that specific one, when there are hundreds of others to avenge?” Lily asked, her tone disdainful rather than curious.

“Let’s not exaggerate,” James said. “To answer your question, it’s because I actually didn’t do anything for once, and I still got detention.”

“Now that,” Lily said, as she started to walk out of the room, “is a lie, I’m sure.”

“Are you sure we’re not friends?” James asked her as they left the dungeons.

“Pretty sure,” Lily said. “Why?”

“Well, you know, the way you stared at me before class started—”

“I was not staring at you!” Lily snapped. “I was just thinking, and my gaze happened to land in your general direction.”

“That was a pretty intense gaze.”

“Well, I was thinking about something very serious!”

“Besides that, I think you actually complimented me back there, and I’m pretty sure when Slughorn was talking to us, we did that thing friends do when they look at one another and know what the other person is thinking,” James continued. Lily felt her face burning.

“What else would you have been thinking in that moment?” Lily huffed.

“Could have been anything, really.”

“You know,” Lily said, stopping as they reached the Entrance Hall, “I thought I asked you to try not to bother me.”

James held up his hands innocently, but his facial expression was downright devilish. “I promise I’m not trying to get under your skin.”

Lily’s face became considerably hotter.

“Try to not get under someone else’s skin for a change, will you?” she asked, walking away from his as quickly as possible and wondering whether what she had just said made sense at all.

.........






James was always interested in the first Defence Against the Dark Arts class of the year, not just because he considered it one of his favourite subjects, but also because there had always been a new teacher each year. He thought it was strange that not a single one of them lasted longer than that, but he supposed that job security was not the highest priority for anyone who fought against the Dark Arts these days.

James thought he might have recognized Professor Dearborn from somewhere, but he could not quite place him. What became clear very quickly, however, was that Professor Dearborn had little experience at teaching.

“Well,” he began their first class on Tuesday morning, tapping on the desk at the front of the room anxiously, “welcome to Defence Against the Dark Arts. You lot are in your seventh year?”

A few people nodded.

“So you’ll be taking your N.E.W.Ts at the end of this year, then?”

More nods. Professor Dearborn seemed at a loss for words. James was wondering why he was asking them questions that he should have already known the answer to.

“Never liked exams, myself,” he finally said. “My examiner was a complete b—I mean, my examiner was—er—highly critical. He kept pointing out everything I’d done wrong, so halfway through...”

James stopped paying attention for a few moments: Lily had just thrown her hair behind her shoulders, sending a waft of some kind of vaguely floral scent in his direction. He stared at the back of her head and contemplated the good fortune of finding a seat directly behind her.

“He didn’t really take too well to being turned into a slug,” Professor Dearborn said. “Lucky it was my Transfiguration exam—at least I was using the right kind of magic, eh?”

He looked around the class, perhaps expecting laughter, but was met with stony silence. He picked up his copy of their textbook and nearly dropped it.

“So, can anyone tell me what you’ve covered at N.E.W.T-level so far?” he asked.

James was not paying attention again. Lily had just leaned forward to rest her elbow on her desk, and James found himself slightly transfixed by the lovely way her back arched when she did so. How long passed as he stared, James was not sure, but finally his trance was broken when Lily turned around to look at him. Had she felt him looking at her?

“Is Mr Potter here?” Professor Dearborn asked, clearly not for the first time, and James jolted slightly in his chair.

“Yes, right here,” James said, rather loudly. He heard his friends snickering from beside him and saw Lily suppressing laughter as she turned around. Well, at least she wasn’t mad at him.

“I was wondering whether you might volunteer to tell me some of the things the class went over last year with Professor Timor,” he said.

“Er...vampires...hags...”

James’ concentration on Lily and the time that had elapsed over the summer seemed to have erased his entire memory of the previous year.

“You seem to have covered Obliviation Charms as well,” Professor Dearborn said, and this time he received several giggles in return. Lily raised her hand as James struggled to remember more of what they had learned.

“Yes, Miss...?”

“Evans, sir,” Lily said. “Apart from those two topics, we studied Auror history and several of the more prominent Dark Wizards in the last three centuries; concealment spells like Disillusionment Charms and Bedazzling Hexes; advanced Shield Charms; Petrification, Inferi, and the theoretical distinctions between offensive and defensive magic.”

Sirius stuck his tongue out in disgust at James’ right, and James privately agreed with him. There were many wonderful things about Lily, but it bothered him to no end when she purposely made him look like an idiot in classes.

“Well, I’ll be straight with you all,” Professor Dearborn said. “I’ve never taught a class in my life, so I’m just going to wing it. Going off of Miss Evans’ list, I figure we can continue with concealment and do some work on stealth and tracking as well. At some point we’ll want to cover Patronuses, of course, and I want to spend a fair bit of time dealing with curses, as it seems you’ve had limited exposure to them so far. Beyond that, I really don’t have anything planned out, so let’s just take it a day at a time, shall we?”

Professor Dearborn spent the rest of the time describing in detail his own Defence Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T. and talking about some of his friends who were Aurors, many of whom he seemed to regard as “complete duffers”. James spent most of the class levitating Snape’s textbook, much to the aggravation of its owner. By the end of the class, James felt very ambivalent about the year of Defence Against the Dark Arts classes ahead of him.

“Merlin, why’s Dumbledore even bothering protecting the castle?” Sirius said as they left the classroom to go to dinner. “With Slughorn shoving Veritaserum down our throats and this Dearborn bloke pretending to teach us how to protect ourselves, we might as well take our chances with Voldemort.”

“I wonder why Dumbledore hired him, if he’s never taught before,” Remus said.

James did not answer, for he suddenly remembered why Dearborn seemed familiar. He remembered hearing his mother talking about him over the summer. He racked his brain, but he could not remember what it was that his mother had said. Had it been something about Dumbledore? Yes, it must have been, since Remus’ mention of Dumbledore had sparked his memory. Perhaps his parents had known that Dearborn was going to be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. If that was the case, why had they never mentioned it to him? James had always been prone to curiosity, and he knew this puzzle would bother him until he put all the pieces together.






Author's Note: Feedback? I'm trying to put a slightly different spin on their relationship and on their characters, and I hope it's not failing miserably. Is it super boring, or are you enticed to read more? Let me know!


Chapter 3: Just A Name
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Chapter Three
Just A Name




Lily had thought that apologizing to James would lift a weight off her shoulders, but she still did not feel as though things were much friendlier between them. Try as she did to convince herself that they could simply move forward without issue, she still could not keep from slipping into her old assumptions about him: that he was still arrogant, unruly, and unwilling to do his part as Head Boy. Unfortunately, she turned out to be just as wrong about the last assumption as she had been about the effects of her apology.

“Hey, Evans?”

Lily turned around in the chair she was studying in. It was only the first week of school, but she was already putting in hours of homework on Friday nights. She remembered the days when such unpleasant measures were unnecessary, but ever since fifth year, they had been a regular fixture. Lily loved learning new things in her classes, but all the tedious work that came with it held a less-than-special place in her heart. Of course, studying in the common room on a weekend guaranteed that she would only be able to concentrate half-heartedly, so perhaps it wasn't so bad as she made it out to be. She, Mary, and Anna had spent most of the time complaining about all the homework they had, rather than actually completing any of it.

And now James was standing behind her chair; his presence ensured that the rest of the evening would involve even less homework.

“What?” Lily asked.

“There’s something I want to show you. Do you have a few minutes?”

Lily glanced back at Mary and Anna, who were both giving her looks that pointedly said, “fresh start”. Well, Anna’s was more like, “fresh start or I will never let you live it down”.

“Erm...yeah, sure,” Lily said, putting her books in a stack on the ground for Anna and Mary to watch over. She followed James out of the portrait hole.

“You know, I share your sentiments about cheap thrills,” she said as they walked through the corridors. James grinned widely.

“Nothing cheap about me, so no worries,” he replied. Lily felt a smile tugging at her lips, but held it back. She had always found herself suppressing smiles around James. His brand of humour was usually fairly tasteless, which made Lily feel bad for having the urge to laugh at it.

“So, what are you showing me?”

“It’s a surprise,” he replied. Lily felt a small shiver of anxiety run through her body, whether from excitement or worry, she did not know. They walked in silence for a couple minutes; it was very difficult to come up with neutral conversation topics, one reason why Lily could not shake the feeling that they weren't really becoming friends at all.

“Just around this corner,” he said, looking excited. Lily could not believe that she had agreed to following him around like this, but he had looked so enthusiastic...

He stopped at a completely ordinary-looking door, his hand resting on the handle. She stopped and waited, putting a look of boredom on her face.

“Ready?”

“I suppose.”

“Come on, Evans, I’m going to need more than that.”

“Can’t muster it, sorry.”

“I’m not opening this door without—”

“Fine,” Lily said, sighing. “Please open the door; I’m absolutely dying with anticipation. I’ve never been so excited in my life.”

“Good enough,” James said, shrugging.

He swung open the door to reveal a small room, somewhat larger than a broom cupboard but smaller than any of the teachers’ offices. She took one step inside and looked around. There was a filing cabinet standing against one of the walls with several books stacked on top of it, as well as a shabby-looking wooden desk and chair. A dusty tapestry of the Hogwarts crest hung on the wall, and two other chairs faced the desk.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Our office,” James said, and the grin on his face was almost endearing. “Recently reclaimed and refurbished.”

Lily paused and looked around the room again.

“How did you have time to do this?” she asked, because it was the first question that came to her mind. It must have taken hours to clean out the room, despite its small size. There had been years’ worth of confiscated objects inside it the last time Lily had seen this room.

“Barely took any time at all,” he said, rounding the desk and sitting down in the chair behind it. He leaned back with his arms behind his head, as if he were sitting in a very luxurious and spacious executive office. Lily guessed that he was downplaying the amount of effort it had taken for some inexplicable reason—probably to make himself look as self-sacrificing as possible.

Why did you do this?” she asked. James stretched and let his arms fall back to his sides.

“Why are you so incredibly nonplussed?” he asked playfully. Lily bit her bottom lip.

“It’s just so...unnecessary,” she said. It was irritating her that he was still acting like he even cared about being Head Boy.

“Okay, let’s get something straight,” James said, putting his elbows on the desk. “Are you at all excited about being Head Girl?”

“Truthfully?” Lily asked. “Not really.”

James looked at her like she had just been beamed down from another planet.

“I’m a bit shocked,” said James. Lily leaned up against the wall beside her.

“Why?”

“I thought...I don’t know, I thought it was something you’d be proud of,” James replied.

“Well,” Lily said, “I mean, I’m sort of proud, but I just don’t feel like it’s that big of a deal. We’re just figureheads, and not even glorified ones at that. Everybody hates the Head Boy and Girl. You should know that more than anyone else.”

“I guess so,” he said, standing up. “You shouldn’t be so negative all the time, you know.”

He moved to slide out of the room, but Lily blocked his way. James hardly ever dropped a subject without forcing the other person to agree with him, which was irritating enough, but the patronizing attitude he had adopted was insufferable.

“You still didn’t answer my question,” she said. “Why did you do this? And for that matter, why do you want to make me feel like I don’t deserve to be Head Girl?”

“I did this because I thought it might help us,” he said. “And I'm not trying to make you feel anything, though I don't see why you'd care either way.”

“I just think it’s a bit hypocritical, coming from you,” Lily stated.

James sighed wearily and shoved his hands in his pockets. It was odd, and very unlike him, Lily thought, to be so calm and non-confrontational. At the same time, she silently chastised herself for being so immature as to try and provoke him into arguing with her. So much for a fresh start.

“Unlike you, I don’t think we should have to accept things the way they are,” he said, staring at the ground. “We don’t have to be figureheads. People don’t have to hate us.”

“Potter, listen,” Lily said. “I understand where you’re coming from. I felt the same way two years ago, when I got my prefect badge. I had this idea that I could make a real difference, but it didn’t take that long before I realized that wasn't realistic. You’ll see it, too.”

“What if I don't?” he asked.

“Well, if you don't, then what is it you want to change? What are you going to do if you're not just a figurehead?”

“I don’t know!”

“I think I can guess: you want people to like you, so you’re going to disregard all the rules and be some sort of Head-Boy-on-the-edge,” Lily said. James threw himself back down in the chair and sighed.

“No,” he said. “I just feel like...we’re not exactly living in happy times here.”

Lily refrained from responding and sat down in one of the chairs facing the desk. With Mary as a best friend, she had developed an inherent sensitivity in situations where people brought up You-Know-Who, especially when they voiced their anxieties to her more than once. She had thought that James' comments that first night in the common room were just a way of talking to her, but perhaps it was more than that.

“It’s not like we can put You-Know-Who in detention,” she said, surprised by the tenderness in her own voice.

“I know that,” he said, “but people look to leaders. Maybe more than you realize.”

Lily could not immediately think of something to say, giving her the chance to think. She now realized that his attitude, which she had mistaken for some attempt to prove a point to her, was actually genuine. She did not completely agree with him, but what harm would it do to humour his ideas? Quite a lot, in fact, a small voice piped up, but she ignored it.

“Maybe you’re right,” she conceded. “Maybe the frustration of being a prefect has jaded me.”

“Are you just agreeing with me because I brought up the war?” James asked, looking across the desk at her. Lily shook her head.

“No,” she said. “I wasn’t agreeing with you, anyway. I only said maybe. You’re going to have to convince me a bit more.”

There was something about his smile that said he was up for the challenge. Lily smiled back, and this time she did not manage to suppress it until a few moments had passed.

“Well," he said, "I suppose we can agree to disagree on the Head Boy and Girl thing. Though I have to say that I'm shocked that you're the one being dismissive about it, and I'm the excited one."

Lily laughed. All of a sudden, the realization hit her that she was having a very normal and—dare she say it?—somewhat intimate conversation with James Potter. She felt the same shock jolt through her body as the other day, when she had accidentally been staring at him before Potions. This time, instead of turning around in her seat, she jumped up from it.

“I should get back,” she said.

“Something wrong?”

“No, no, just...it’s late,  and I’m kind of tired,” she said, somewhat breathlessly. He got up as well and locked the door behind them when they left. “So, what sort of things would leaders like us do?”

“When did you start including yourself in that category?” James said, eying her uncertainly. Lily shoved him slightly. “I’m joking. Anyway, I don’t know. We could...”

“...lead study sessions for fifth-year students to help with their O.W.L.s?” Lily finished.

“Brilliant, Evans,” he said. “Now you’re getting in the spirit of things. Stuff like that. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering.”

“I see you’re taking a new philosophy on life,” Lily said. “For you, usually everything has to be earth-shattering or it’s not even worth it.”

“Or maybe you just think everything I do is earth-shattering.”

Lily let her hair fall out from behind her ear so James would not see her face turning red.

“It’s all about perception, Evans.”



..........




James could not imagine a better feeling than standing on the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch, breathing in the smell of fall air. When Professor Slughorn had shown them Amortentia, the earthy scent of autumn was one of the smells James had inhaled.

This was the beginning of James’ second year as Quidditch captain, and he was sure that tryouts would go much smoother with a years’ experience under his belt. This year, he was looking to fill three positions on the team: Beater, Seeker, and Keeper.

Trevor Wright, James’ former dormitory-mate, had been the previous Keeper, but his early departure from school obviously meant that he could no longer play for the team. As for a new Beater, James had tried to convince Sirius to go out for the position. He would have been happy to have his best friend with him on the team, and James knew from the casual games they played together that he was quite good, but Sirius had never been interested in playing on the Quidditch team. Seeker was the opening James was least looking forward to filling, for it was the one that the most people thought they were qualified when almost none of them actually were.

In fact, that statement could apply to this year’s Quidditch tryouts in general. About two dozen people had shown up, apparently all certain that they deserved to be on the team—and that was in addition to all the people who had been members of the team last year. He decided to hold trials for the Keeper first, which turned out to be more of a headache than he had expected.

“Okay, everyone who’s here to try out for Keeper, come stand over here. The rest of you go wait on the sideline,” he called, and everyone started shuffling to their assigned places, except for a pretty blond girl with her hair in a ponytail, who strolled over to James.

“Want me to take the shots?” she asked. Her name was Ursula Zimmermann, and she had been a Chaser on the team for several years. “That way you can watch from down here.”

“Yeah, sure,” James said, tossing the Quaffle to her. “Are you sure you want to wear yourself out, though?”

“Who’s going to get worn out?” she asked, hopping on her broom and flying upwards. He turned toward the group of prospective Chasers.

“Who wants to start?” he asked. No one spoke. “Okay, fine, how about you?”

The blonde-haired boy that James had gestured to scuffed the ground with his shoe.

“Was I wrong in assuming that all of you came here for Quidditch tryouts?”

“It's a disadvantage to go first,” the boy muttered. James clenched his jaw impatiently.

“Well, based on this reaction, none of you have enough initiative to make it on the team, so you might as well clear off,” he said. This seemed to scare them into action. Though many of them were highly under-qualified, some of them were quite good as well. The best of the lot was a fifth-year girl named Seraphina Moore, who was surprisingly humble when James told her she had made the team.

Next came the Beaters. Devika Hathaway, a sixth-year, had been one of the previous year’s Beaters and earned a place on the team again. A few of the other prospective Beaters caused near-disasters when they accidentally sent the Bludger ricocheting off toward the waiting crowd. The only bit of luck in these mishaps was that James found another Beater purely by accident: none of the people who had shown up to try out for the position were very good, but a sixth-year named Oliver Keppleman who had been waiting to try out for Chaser showed considerable reflexes as he picked up an extra bat and hit an offending Bludger away in a fairly spectacular dive.

James ended up keeping the same Chasers from last year: Ursula, who was a sixth-year, and whom James thought might even be able to beat him in a shootout, and Alison Partridge, a fourth-year who was quick enough to have been Seeker if she’d wanted.

And speaking of Seekers, James had turned to the task of their trials with more than some trepidation. After three people had failed miserably and one had been sent off to the Hospital Wing due to a very poorly-executed Wronski Feint, James was surprised to find that all his frustration disappeared with the last trial. Gareth Jones, another fourth year, was just as good as their former Seeker, perhaps even better, and caught the Snitch in under five minutes.

With Quidditch tryouts past him, James was consumed by thoughts of tactics and matches, all aimed at winning the Quidditch Cup. They had suffered a bitter defeat to Ravenclaw the previous year, and James was not about to let his entire career as Quidditch captain be marked as a failure. He was going to win this year, had to win, and it would have been much easier if he didn’t have a dozen other things on his mind besides Quidditch. Homework was only part of it.

He was clearing up his things after Transfiguration one afternoon, which was taking rather longer than usual because Sirius kept transforming his bag into a chicken.

“Enough,” he said, Transfiguring it back for the sixth time as a pile of parchment fell on the table in front of him with a heavy thump. He turned his head and saw Lily standing before him.

“What’s all this?” he asked. He was always pleased to see her, but it never seemed to happen without some sort of unpleasant-looking caveat.

“You wanted to know what the Head Boy does,” she said.

“I’ve got enough homework already, thanks,” James replied.

“It’s not homework! Remember how I told you we’re in charge of organising all of the school clubs? These are all of the applications people have submitted to form new ones,” Lily said.

“If we are in charge of them, why are you giving them to me?” James asked.

“I thought it would be good practice for you. Besides, you were the one who was all for making a difference,” she said, leafing through a few of the applications. “What is this?”

She pulled one of the applications out to examine it more closely.

“What?” James asked.

The Sirius Black Fan Club?” she said, looking disdainfully at Sirius, who was lingering in the aisle with Remus and Peter, waiting for James. “Nice try.”

“It wasn’t me!” Sirius said.

“Then who was it?” She asked.

“Peter.”

James could not help but laugh, even though Lily did not look the least bit amused.

“Hey, look,” Sirius said, reaching for another of the applications, “this one’s for the ‘I Love Lily Evans’ Club—and the applicant’s name says James Potter!”

“You git,” James said, snatching the parchment from his friend’s hand. He turned to Lily and gave her an apologetic look. “We’ll just throw that one out.”

“Yes, let’s,” Lily said firmly, “and in future, Black, don’t bother wasting your time with such an obvious joke.”

“Hey, don’t tell me, tell James,” Sirius said, holding up his hands. “He’s the one who asked me to write it for him.”

James reached over and cuffed Sirius on the back of the head.

“What am I supposed to do with these?” he asked Lily, gesturing to the stack of parchment.

“Talk to the applicants and make sure their clubs fit the requirements,” Lily stated, as if it were the simplest thing on earth. James could not understand why she insisted on making life so difficult for him at times.

“Listen, I’m just going to end up doing this wrong, and then you’ll yell at me,” James said. “Why don’t you just do it?”

He pushed the pile of parchment an inch towards her.

“You’ll never learn,” she replied, pushing the pile back, “if you don’t do it yourself.”

James stared at her and saw a face of determined stubbornness looking back at him. Obviously, she was going to make him do this, no matter how incompetent he might be. In fact, as she had said, she was making him do it because of his incompetence.

“Stalemate,” he heard Peter whisper, followed by Sirius snickering.

“Can you at least help me?” James asked. It was more than a little embarrassing to have to ask her for help in front of his friends, but the only other option was having her mad at him. He could suffer through jokes about castration later, but he hated when Lily was mad at him. To his surprise, Lily looked mollified.

“Yes, I suppose I can help you with the first one,” she said, “just so you can get the hang of it.”

“Come on, let’s go,” Sirius said to James. He, Remus, and Peter had already migrated over to the door.

“See you later,” James told Lily.

“Hold on!” she said as he turned to leave. “We have to go meet with the first applicant!”

Now?”

“No time like the present,” Lily replied. James turned to his friends.

“You guys had better just go without me,” he said to them. When they had left, he faced Lily again. “You were planning on doing it yourself the whole time!”

“I wanted to see if you were up for the challenge,” Lily said, walking between the rows of desks toward the door. “I guess not.”

For someone as highly competitive as James, this remark was extremely irksome. He picked up his bag and stormed after her.

“You know, it’s exhausting, trying to be friends with you,” he said. Lily laughed.

“Well, we can stop whenever you want,” she said.

“You’re going to have to bother me a lot more than that, Evans,” James replied.

“I could, if I wanted to,” Lily said.

“But you don’t want to.”

“No, not particularly.” For the first time in the conversation, her voice lost all trace of censure. James felt immediately buoyed. This was the Lily he had talked to the other night.

“So, we’ll meet them in our office?” James said, trying to fill the silence.

“I would hardly call it our office. It’s just an office that we happen to share,” Lily corrected. James snorted with laughter.

“You make no sense sometimes, you know that?”

“Sorry,” Lily said. James was surprised to see that she was also laughing. “It’s just that the idea of joint ownership of anything with you seems irresponsible.”

Two floors and five minutes of rather pleasant conversation brought them to the small door of their office. James unlocked it, and they were joined a few minutes later by a girl with black curly hair.

“Clara Roper?” Lily asked, and the girl nodded. “I’m Lily, and this is James. You can have a seat.”

James’ mind had already started to drift to Quidditch tactics.

"James?”

James snapped out of his reverie and saw both Lily and Clara staring at him.

“Er, pardon?” he asked.

“I was just saying that Clara’s applied to start a Witch Weekly discussion group,” Lily said.

“Brilliant. You should give pointers on how to woo girls, you’d have blokes lining up to join,” James said, hoping to sound friendly.

Clara smiled shyly at him.

“Yes, they could finally offer people some good advice, as opposed to the nonsense that you and Sirius spout off,” Lily said disparagingly. Without missing a beat, she continued, “The first thing you have to do is confirm that there are at least ten prospective members. Do you have a list of signatures with you, Clara?”

Clara shuffled around in her bag and handed a folded piece of parchment to Lily. James watched as she looked over the names and folded it back together, the picture of efficiency.

“Well, that’s all in order,” Lily continued, looking back up at James. “The next thing is to look over the application to check how often the club is going to be meeting and what sort of supplies they’ll need. Clara’s is fairly simple because all the members need is a copy of Witch Weekly.”

“And we already have subscriptions,” Clara interjected, looking at James rather than Lily as she spoke.

“Excellent,” Lily replied. “So, once everything seems in order, you just sign the bottom of the application”—she did so—“and give it back to the applicant. Then they take it to their Head of House for final approval.”

She handed the application back to Clara.

“Do I have to bring this back to you?” she asked, glancing at James rather eagerly.

“No, just give it to your Head of House,” Lily replied shortly. “Thanks for coming.”

When Clara had reluctantly departed, James folded his arms and looked upon Lily in amusement.

“What is it?” she asked, unnecessarily straightening the stack of applications.

“Oh, nothing,” James replied. He was thoroughly enjoying the sight of her so irritated by an eyelash-batting fourth year.

“Good,” Lily replied. “Now you can handle the rest of these.”

“Oh, come on,” James moaned. “That’s so unfair. You have to help me.”

“I most certainly do not have to help you,” Lily stated, picking up her bag and stepping towards the door.

“Lily, you can stop pretending that you hate having to spend time with me,” James said.

"Believe me, I don't have to pretend," Lily said.

"Well, that's a shame. And here I was, thinking that you started calling me by my first name because you wanted to be friends," James remarked.

Lily's eyebrows contracted in confusion, and James felt a sense of small victory for having stopped her from leaving the room.

"Did I really?" she asked.

James nodded. "Twice, I think."

She crossed her arms, looking a little anxious, but then shrugged. "I guess it just slipped out." James just grinned at her until she finally sighed. "All right, fine, if you really need help so badly..."

She crossed over to the desk and took half the stack of applications.

“I’ll do these ones, and you can do the rest,” she said. James was slightly disappointed. He had been hoping to force her into spending more time with him, but he had been outsmarted.

“You know,” James said, “we really should just call each other by our first names.”

Lily seemed to struggle for a moment, which in itself was a better reaction than James had been expecting.

"Sure,” she said, shrugging. “It’s just a name.”

“Good,” James said, feeling as though he had just won the battle of a century. Lily turned to walk out the door, but before she had gone, he said, “Hey, Lily.”

“Yes?”

“You’re a really great Head Girl,” he said, wishing he had gone with something simpler like complimenting her hair. But then again, she probably had a million people praising her hair, anyway.

“Thank you, James,” she said. It was charity, he knew, but the sound of her voice saying his name was heaven.



..........




“You know, if you keep ditching us for James, we’re going to start to get jealous,” Anna said as Lily joined them in the Great Hall for lunch.

“Very funny,” Lily said, pouring herself a glass of pumpkin juice. “Did either of you finish the Defence essay yet?”

“I’ve only gotten about two sentences written so far,” Mary said. “I’m not even sure it’s on the right subject. This new professor hasn’t exactly gotten the hang of things yet, has he?”

“Not quite,” Lily said. “I suppose he’s trying his best.”

“He’s a personal friend of Dumbledore’s; that’s why he got the job,” Anna said.

“How do you know that?” Mary asked.

“Dess wrote some article on him a couple years ago,” Anna explained. “He used to work in the Department of Internation Magical Cooperation.”

“What was she writing about him?” Lily asked.

“Well, he’d just resigned because his proposal for reaching out to the giants as allies against Voldemort had been so strongly opposed. Apparently he was half an inch from being sacked anyway, but he quit before they could do it. I remember Dess mentioned that Dumbledore had been one of his only supporters on the issue,” Anna said, with the coolness in her voice that always accompanied conversations about her siblings. “I believe she called Dearborn a ‘pigheaded, pretentious partisan of Albus Dumbledore.’”

“She never really minces words, does she?” Lily asked. “Catchy alliteration, though.”

“He really isn't a very good teacher,” Anna said. “He seems like he knows what he’s talking about, but he’s terrible at explaining it. And Mary’s right about the essay: did he ask us to compare Disillusionment Charms and Invisibility Cloaks in general, or just in a combat situation?”

Lily thought for a moment and frowned. “I’ve no idea, actually. I suppose I’ll just write about both?”

“You haven’t even started yet?” Mary asked, her eyes wide. “It’s due in two days!”

“I know. I was going to start it last week but then I just kept putting it off,” Lily said miserably.

“Essays tonight, then?” Anna asked. Lily and Mary nodded. “So, what's this I hear Slughorn’s throwing you and James some big party?”

Lily groaned. “You got an invitation?”

“Oh, yes. Now that I’ve got successful siblings it suddenly makes me interesting,” Anna said.

“It’s going to be so embarrassing,” Lily said.

“Yes, it probably will be,” Anna replied. Lily glared at her.

“I expect Potter will love all the attention,” Lily said.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Lily, but just about the only kind of attention he cares about is the kind he gets from you,” Mary said.

“Funny, because the only kind of attention I could care less about is the kind I get from him,” Lily replied.

“Protest much?” Anna asked, and Lily kept her mouth shut for fear of proving her friend right.

 


Author’s Note: For the whole Head Girl/Boy thing, I have to confess I have little idea what they really do in the British schooling system, but from what I’ve read online, I’ve tried to piece together a realistic portrait of what it might be.

Please review and tell me what you think!

Chapter 4: Verbal Acrobatics
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Chapter Four
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.

“Why?”

“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.

“What?”

“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.

“Let go.”

“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.”

Chapter 5: Dark Corridors and Lit Offices
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Chapter Five
Dark Corridors and Lit Offices




As September drew to a close, Lily felt the tight grip of seventh year relent slightly. She had managed to finish most of her start-of-the-year duties as Head Girl, which left her a more comfortable amount of time for homework, which in turn left her with slightly more free time. After weeks of feeling exhausted and irritable, she found herself merely tired and impatient, which was quite an improvement, in her opinion.

Despite James’ bizarre behaviour at Slughorn’s party, spending time with him was suddenly rather nice. If she just relaxed, he was easy to talk to, and he certainly made her laugh much more often than Mary or Anna did. Mary had been rather down lately, and it transpired that she had had a bit of a run-in with some of the Slytherins.

“Who was it?” Lily asked, praying that the answer would not be “Mulciber”. Luckily, Mary told them it had been some of the younger members of the gang, including Sirius’ brother.

Like Lily, Mary was Muggle-born, but where Lily had always been able to defend herself, Mary was much meeker and much more frightened of the Slytherins. Perhaps, having known Snape, Lily tended to think that all the rest were like him—naive, judgmental, cruel, but ultimately still human. Of course, the fact that Lily had never been cornered and attacked like Mary had helped her confidence level as well.

In any case, the younger Slytherins were fairly harmless without the older ones around, and they usually didn't throw anything more than insults at their victims, but Lily supposed that it brought back unhappy memories for Mary. Indeed, it seemed to have sparked a drawn-out bout of pessimism.

“It’s just like the Sorting Hat said,” Mary told them, “everything’s going to get so much worse, I can feel it.”

She reached out her hand and placed it on Mary’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Mary, I’m sure that was all for dramatic effect.”

“You can’t take anything a dusty old hat says seriously,” said Anna.

“What if it’s true, what if things are going to get worse?” Mary asked. “What if—what if I—?” Her voice broke and she looked at the ground.

Lily knew that she had been about to ask, “What if I die?”, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. She knew because she had wondered this very same question at times—when Muggle-borns were killed or went missing, or when large-scale attacks occurred. Being Muggle-born in the time of Lord Voldemort was like being a walking target, it seemed to Lily.

“Mary, nothing is going to happen to you,” Lily said, hoping she sounded reassuring.

“Hogwarts is really safe, with Dumbledore here and everything,” Anna added.

“Not with those Slytherins around,” Mary said miserably. “Every time I see Mulciber, all I can remember is him and...and I swear he would have killed me, if Peter hadn’t been there.”

“Mary, no one’s going to kill you inside Hogwarts,” Lily said, her hand still on Mary’s.

“What about after Hogwarts, Lily?” Mary asked, her voice suddenly stronger. She looked up, her eyes glittering. “What about when there’s no teachers, and no threat of expulsion?”

“There’s Azkaban, and the Dementors,” Anna said firmly. “I know it might not be that much comfort, but those Death Eaters are going to end up rotting away in a place worse than Hell.”

“If the Ministry manages to catch them!” Mary said. "It's not like they're getting any closer to it."

“Then it’s down to us, Mary,” Lily said. “We’ve got to protect ourselves and each other. I’m not going to let anything happen to either of you.”

“Me neither,” Anna said.

Mary sighed. “I wish I could say the same, but I’d be useless at protecting anyone,” she said.

“No, Mary,” Lily said forcefully, “you wouldn’t be useless. You are a Gryffindor, after all.”

Mary sighed and managed a small smile. “It was really lucky Remus was there, I suppose.”

Lily furrowed her brow as she tried to figure out why Mary had not mentioned this part of the story before.

“Remus was there?”

“Oh, yeah,” Mary said, apparently realizing that she had never mentioned this before. “Sorry, I forgot that part. It all happened after I was walking back from the library the other night. Remus had been in there too, and I guess he was walking back at the same time.”

Something about the way Mary was describing the story was not quite making sense to Lily.

“So...Remus was in the library? With you?”

“In a sense,” Mary said, her cheeks flushing pink. Anna snorted derisively.

“When did you and Remus become study buddies?” Anna asked.

“Well, when you went to Slughorn’s party, I went to the library, remember?,” Mary said, not making eye contact with either of them. “Remus was there too. We kept going to the library at the same time; it was a bit funny, actually. Anyway, after a while, we just started sitting together.”

Lily exchanged glances with Anna. This sounded suspiciously like when Mary had “coincidentally” gone down to the common room every time Sirius had been there, when she had liked him in fourth year.

“Okay, so, the real story is,” Anna said, “ that you and Remus were walking back from the library together when the mini-Mulcibers started bothering you.”

“I suppose so. Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell us that in the first place?” Lily asked. Mary pressed her lips together for a few moments and then sighed resignedly.

“It was really embarrassing,” she said. “I was an absolute wreck, right in front of Remus. I didn’t want to admit it because I looked like such a fool.”

“And you care about what Remus Lupin thinks...why?” Anna asked.

“Well—it’s just—it would be embarrassing in front of anyone, not just him!”

“Right,” Anna said, sceptically.

“So...you like him, then?” Lily asked. She was not exactly thrilled at this prospect. She had never known Remus to date any girls in his six years at Hogwarts, but that was nothing in comparison to her other worries. Once upon a time, Snape had theorized that Remus was a werewolf, and that he went somewhere off the grounds to transform every full moon. Lily had not stayed friends with Snape long enough to find out whether he had been right, but if he was, and Remus was a werewolf, then Lily could imagine that he would have some issues carrying on a relationship.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Mary said, shaking her head. “He’s just such a gentleman.”

“Yeah, after all that studying you’ve done together, he’d probably slay a dragon for you, Mary,” Anna said.

“Be quiet,” Mary said. “Besides that, there’s something very mysterious about him.”

“Am I having a conversation with my friend or reading a cheap romance novel?” Anna asked. Mary seemed to have given up dissuading her and simply sighed.

“Personally, I don’t find the whole ‘mysterious’ thing very attractive,” Lily said, hoping to casually discourage Mary’s infatuation, which she felt would only end badly. Anna laughed, but Mary looked relieved that someone was taking an interest. “I mean, whatever he’s hiding could be very harmless, but what if it wasn’t? Then you’ve wasted your time on a lunatic who has a collection of mint-condition Goblin Rebel figurines that he values more than his own life. Or something like that.”

“Lily, don’t worry, we all know exactly what your type is,” Anna said. “Or who, rather.”

“Anna, if you don’t shut it, I’ll put a Silencing Charm on you,” Lily said crossly.

“I know what you mean, Lily,” Mary said, “but I can’t imagine that there would be anything weird going on with Remus.”

“Oh, of course,” Lily said, though she could not have disagreed more, “it’s just...he seems to be away from school quite often.” Now that she thought about it, Lily realized he was away from school at that very moment.

“Don’t you think it’s so sweet how he visits his mum?” Mary asked. “She’s been sick for so long, it must be heartbreaking for him.”

“Watch out, Mary, I’ve heard the ones with mother issues are the most demented of all,” Anna warned.

Silencio,” Lily said, flicking her wand at Anna, who looked supremely unconcerned.

“Well, Mary, I think Remus is a really great guy,” Lily said, “but I’m not sure he’d be the best boyfriend material.”

“We’ll see,” Mary said, her tone considerably brighter than it had been at the beginning of the conversation. Lily supposed all she could do was talk to Remus directly and suggest that he not be quite so nice to Mary.



..........




James would have liked to have gotten more sleep, considering that he was about to have to spend an evening running around the grounds, but being at Quidditch practice took precedence. The captain of the team could hardly skip practice, after all, and it wasn't as if James wanted to miss out on it. Quidditch was one of his favourite things about being at school, and he was happy with the prospects that the upcoming season held.

He was pleased to see that, after only a few practices, the team had been working very well together. With any luck, they would win the Cup easily. The only concern James had was over Gareth, who suffered from a lack of confidence. He was having a hard time convincing Gareth that his small build, which had probably been a source of insecurity for years, was actually a major benefit when it came to playing Seeker.

“Excellent work, Gareth,” he said as they landed on the ground again. “I can’t wait for the first match; you’re going to outpace Regulus so easily the match’ll be over before he even kicks off the ground.”

“You’d better,” said Sirius, who was approaching with Peter. They had been sitting in the stands for about half of the practice, sending a lot of jeers and catcalls James’ way. “No pressure, Gareth, but I’m commentating the match, and if you don’t thump my brother, I’ll have to turn the crowd against you.”

“Ignore him,” James said to Gareth, who gave a nervous wave goodbye. “See you next Thursday. And what’s this about commentating?”

“I don’t know how he got McGonagall to agree to it,” Peter said, shaking his head.

“No kidding,” James said. “I had no idea you wanted to commentate.”

Sirius shrugged as they started walking back up to the castle. “Thought it might be interesting. You’re the one who was telling me I should be more participatory.”

“I was trying to get you to join the team, not become our number-one heckler,” James replied.

“I might throw in a few jabs at you, but I’m a loyal Gryffindor. I would never side with the Slytherins,” Sirius said. “Speaking of, old Snivelly’s been keeping to himself this year, hasn’t he?”

“He can’t risk getting some pigment by going outside before Christmas, I reckon,” James replied. He was rather glad that Snape had not been around to instigate duels, since he knew that sort of thing would upset Lily. It was such a relief to be something like friends with her, and he was trying very hard not to ruin it. At least, as far as he could help it.

“So, what time are we leaving tonight?” Sirius asked. James’ muscles cringed at the thought of another late night, but he knew it had to be done.

“We’ll have to wait until later than we did last night,” he replied. “We almost ran right into that first year in the common room. It’s better when there’s less people to sneak past.”

“Ah, come on, that’s half the fun,” Sirius said.

“Even if we get caught, no one’ll know where we’re going,” Peter added.

“That’s the spirit, Wormy,” said Sirius, clapping Peter on the back.

James smiled without really meaning it. It was true, of course, that no one would have guessed that they were heading to the Whomping Willow to join a werewolf, but that was not what bothered him. Dumbledore had told the entire school how dangerous it was to be sneaking off the grounds, and if anyone were to tell the Headmaster that James, Sirius, and Peter had been trying to do so, he would know where they were going. It had been extremely lucky that Dumbledore had never found out they were Animagi, and James did not want to take the risk. He did not think he could stand seeing Professor Dumbledore so disappointed again, especially since he had been the one to make James Head Boy. He desperately wanted to make it through their last year without the Headmaster finding out that the Head Boy was engaged in illegal activity.

Peter and Sirius were not so easily dissuaded. As soon as the sun went down, they were practically tearing the Invisibility Cloak from James’ hands, despite his protests.

“Stop it! No, I’m not kidding—you’re going to rip it! Sirius, don’t even try transforming, it’s not going to make a diff—”

“Why can’t we just go?” Sirius said, releasing the Cloak. James tried to think of an excuse. It was only eight o’clock, and there were likely a large number of people still in the common room.

“I—I have to go do something first,” he lied.

“Oh, really? What’s that?” Sirius asked.

“Head Boy stuff,” James said, trying to look apologetic as he inched toward the door. “You know, Lily’ll kill me if I don’t do it.”

“Can’t you do it later?” Peter asked.

“Couldn’t you have done it earlier?” said Sirius.

“I forgot until right now. I’ll be back in a bit.”

He slid out of the dormitory before they could make any further arguments, without any idea of where he was going to go. When he entered the common room, he saw that his assumption had been right: it was extremely crowded, and there was no way they would have been able to manoeuvre around all the people successfully. He was just out of the portrait hole and planning to meander around the castle for as long as possible when he nearly ran into Lily’s friend, Mary.

“Oh! Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t see you.”

“It’s all right,” he replied. Putting aside thoughts of Lily that predictably surfaced because of her friend’s presence, James studied Mary’s face. She often looked anxious, but tonight she was positively morose. After what Peter had told them about saving Mary from Mulciber in fifth year, James had always felt very bad for her. Attacks like that, on nice people, were exactly what made James hate the Slytherins so much.

“How are you?” he asked her, ignoring the fact that he and Mary had never had anything more than the briefest of conversations.

“Oh, fine,” she said, smiling. “Have you seen Lily?”

“I think you’re asking the wrong person,” James replied, and he was happy to see that she laughed.

“Right. I’ve just been in the library. I thought Remus might be there, but I haven’t seen him around much. Do you know—”

“He had to go home to visit his mother,” James said robotically. He knew Remus had been studying in the library with Mary quite often. “He didn’t mention it to you?”

“Oh, of course—no, he didn’t say—or maybe he did and I just...forgot,” said Mary, her cheeks turning pink. “Anyway, I’m going to go find Lily and Anna. It was nice to see you, though.”

She passed him and disappeared into Gryffindor Tower, but James stood still, trying to figure out their conversation. It was very unlike Remus to not make excuses for his absence. He was usually so thorough, especially after so many years of living as a werewolf. If there was anything Remus was not, it was sloppy. She must have just forgotten he told her, James thought, and he made his feet start moving again.

He had used to walk around Hogwarts like this all the time. This had been his rather casual way of probing the school’s secrets in order to create the Marauder’s Map. There was no methodical approach to discovering secret passageways, not unless you wanted to go over every square inch of the school, which would have taken years. Most of the secrets they had come upon, they had done so entirely by chance. James’ theory was that most of the hidden parts of Hogwarts wanted to be found, and it only took the right sort of attitude to get them to reveal themselves.

Take that hidden broom cupboard that he and his friends had found in second year: it had not been the first secret they had discovered, but it remained to this day the most puzzling. They had often gone on searches of the castle, trying to discover staircases concealed behind tapestries, or doors that inexplicably led to completely different floors. They often went on these searches at times of the day that they should not have been out of bed, for no other reason than that it made them much more thrilling. They usually evaded capture, largely because Peter had a talent for getting out of tricky situations, but other times they were caught and given detention. Either way, they spent many late nights running from Argus Filch, the school caretaker.

It was on a night like this that they had discovered the mysterious broom cupboard—a night near the beginning of their second year, and they were racing up a corridor on the seventh floor with Filch in not-so-hot pursuit.

“I thought he would have tried to stay in better shape over the summer,” Sirius had commented.

“He never gives up, though,” Remus replied. “He’ll chase us until he drops dead.”

“Should we go up to one of the towers?” James suggested, thinking that he would very much like a place to hide until Filch gave up.

“We’ve hidden there too many times; it’ll be the first place he checks,” Sirius said, and the four boys stopped running for a moment. “Pete, what do you think?”

“We could double back and lose him,” Peter said.

“There’s nowhere to hide while he goes past us!” James said. “I know he’s stupid, but he’ll notice us if we’re standing in the middle of the corridor.”

He took a few steps in the direction they had already come, listening for sounds of Filch approaching. He thought he might hear hurried footsteps. Where could they hide?

“Let’s just keep running,” Remus said, and everyone except for James started to break into a run.

“No, stop!” James yelled, walking after them. “We need to find somewhere to hide! We need a plan!”

There was a sound like rock shifting from his right. He immediately assumed it was Filch and started violently. When his panic had subsided, he saw that a door had appeared out of nowhere in the wall next to him. Sirius, Remus, and Peter had stopped in their tracks and were also staring at the door.

“Was that there before?” Remus asked.

“Definitely not,” said Peter. James strode forward and pulled open the door.

“Well, let’s not look a gift hippogriff in the mouth,” he said, and the four of them rushed through the door. The room inside was dark and very cramped.

“Remus, you’re squishing me,” Sirius complained.

“There’s something behind me, I can’t move back!”

“Well, I feel like we’re a second away from snogging!”

James heard Remus sigh in aggravation. The next moment, there was a loud clanging noise.

“Aargh!”

James took out his wand. “Lumos.”

The tiny space was filled with light. Remus was on his back with his foot stuck inside a metal pail.

“Thanks a lot, Sirius,” he said.

“Well, why didn’t you look where you were going?”

“I couldn't see where I was going, you git.”

“Why didn’t you just light your wand?”

“If you’re so clever, why didn’t you—?”

“Will you two shut up?” James interrupted. “Here, Remus. Accio pail.”

The pail rocketed off of Remus’ foot and James caught it with the skill of a habitual Quidditch player.

“How did you learn how to do Summoning Charms? We don’t do those until fourth year,” Remus said as he got up from the floor.

“Got bored one day,” James said, shrugging. “Anyway, where did this room come from?”

It appeared to be a fairly standard broom closet, but James had never seen one of those magically materialize before.

“What if it’s a trap?” said Peter. “Filch might know we’re here, he could be coming right now!”

“Calm down, Peter,” Sirius said. “He’s a Squib, remember? This room is definitely magical.”

“Then where did it come from?” James said. “We were looking for somewhere to hide, and it just...”

“Beats me, mate,” said Sirius. “This place is a complete maze.”

They had escaped back to Gryffindor Tower without running into Filch, but James had returned the next day to the corridor where they had found the broom closet. He had finished all his homework, anyway, and sitting in the common room got very boring. The door had disappeared, confirming that it had indeed appeared from nowhere the night before. They had not been imagining it.

Perhaps it would only appear in certain circumstances. He thought about getting his friends to come back to this spot with him, but none of them had really seemed that intrigued. Maybe James could recreate it himself. Where had they all been standing?

Sirius, Remus, and Peter had been standing at least ten feet up the corridor when the door had appeared. James had been right in front of it—no, he had been a few feet past it. He remembered walking after his friends right before the door had appeared. He tried walking past the spot where the door had been, but nothing happened. He tried walking the other direction, but there was still no change.

Did you have to be running away from someone to get it to appear? James thought it was unlikely that he would be able to fake a sense of urgency, if that was what was necessary. He thought very carefully about the previous night. With his eyes closed, he retraced his steps. He had walked past the invisible doorway once...and then back towards Filch...and then past it again after his friends...

He looked to see if there had been any change, but the wall was as blank as it had been when he arrived. He stared at the wall, frustrated. Why had they been able to call it into existence last night, and not today? It was not as if they had performed some sort of complex magic by accident; they had simply been looking for a place to hide.

Was that it? Did he have to ask for a place to hide before it would appear? He tried closing his eyes and thinking, I need a place to hide, but it made no difference.

James tried to think about it logically. He needed to do exactly what he had done last night, and if it did not work then, he would get his friends to come with him. He retraced his steps once again—one way, then the other, then back—all the while thinking, I need a place to hide.

He heard the shift of stone again and whirled around. There was the door!

“Yes!” he yelled, punching the air with his fist. He opened the door and there was the broom cupboard, just as it had been the night before. The pail he had Summoned off of Remus’ foot was even in the same spot he had left it.

He sprinted back to Gryffindor Tower to tell his friends.

“The...broom closet,” he panted, doubling over with a pain in his side. “It’s a...hiding spot.”

“Yeah, we’d noticed,” Sirius said, looking at James with slight bewilderment. James caught his breath and tried to explain more clearly.

“No, that’s what it’s there for,” he said. “All I had to do was think, ‘I need a hiding place’, when I was outside of it, and it just appeared.”

Their looks of confusion turned to ones of interest. Together, they went back to the seventh-floor corridor.

“Just walk back and forth past it and think that you need a place to hide,” James explained. Sirius, Remus, and Peter each did so in turn and stood in amazement as the door appeared. It seemed they had discovered another secret of the castle, this time all on their own.

“You have to be kind of stupid to find this, don't you?” Sirius asked. “I mean, if you’re walking back and forth like that, you can’t be the brightest, can you?”

“Still, it’s a good hiding spot, isn’t it?” James said. “Filch might never be able to get into it, since he’s a Squib. You probably have to be able to magic to get in.”

“It’s like the castle was helping us,” said Peter.

“You know what this means?” James asked. “There’s probably hundreds of secrets like this hidden around the castle, ones that even the teachers don’t know about.”

“You think so?” Sirius said, but the gleeful smile spreading across his face showed that he was already convinced.

“We could find out other ways of sneaking into Hogsmeade!” Peter said. “I really want to go to Honeydukes.”

“And Zonko’s,” said Sirius. “It won’t matter how much stuff Filch confiscates from us, because we’ll be able to go buy more whenever we want!”

“I wonder if there’s secret ways into to the other common rooms. We could really get the Slytherins,” James said. He realized that Remus had not spoken yet. “What d’you think, Remus?”

“Won’t it be dangerous?” he asked. “We almost got caught by Filch last night.”

“Come on, Remus,” Sirius said impatiently. “We’ve got the castle on our side!”

“It’s not on our side,” Remus said. “It can’t choose sides; it hasn’t got a brain—”

“Well, someone was on our side, when they made this broom closet,” Sirius countered. “Who knows how many other secrets they planted around the castle?”

“I—well—why do you care so much about secret passageways to Hogsmeade, anyway?” he asked, looking oddly flushed.

“Are you feeling all right, mate?” James asked. The only way someone could not be excited about Hogsmeade was if they were seriously ill.

“What do you mean?” Remus asked. “Why would you think I was sick?”

“Blimey, Remus,” Peter said. “Calm down. If you don’t want to do it—”

“I just think—we shouldn’t go poking around,” Remus said. “We might get more than we asked for.”

“Is that supposed to be a bad thing?” James had asked, and to this day, he wasn't entirely sure if they'd ever gotten the answer to that question.

James remembered that day fondly, especially with the benefit of hindsight. Of course Remus had been worried about them seeking out passages to Hogsmeade. They had never put the location of the secret broom closet on the Marauder’s Map; feeling that it was a test of a mischief maker’s calibre to leave it a secret.

Lost in reminiscences, he had not really been paying attention to where he was going. He looked around and realized he was on the second floor, in the corridor where the Head Boy and Girl’s office—his and Lily’s office, no matter what she might say—was located. In fact, he was quite sure that he could see a bar of light coming from the door, which was slightly ajar. He hoped no one was in there, especially since he could not remember whether he had locked it after he’d been in there the last time. He did not like the thought of the look on Lily’s face if he had allowed someone to break into the office that he had convinced her was so necessary, and that she had thought was so silly.

He walked over to the door, trying to hold himself with authority, which did not come naturally to him. Even after a month, he was still having difficulty being a disciplinarian. In fact, he had not even taken a single house point from anyone yet. Well, that was certainly going to change whenever he found out who was breaking into his office.

He pushed open the door and immediately felt like an idiot. Of course, he had never once considered the possibility that it might be Lily who was in there, especially because Mary had been trying to find her. She was sitting at the desk, a quill in her hand and papers and books in front of her. She tucked her hair behind her ear and looked up at him expectantly.

“Yes?”

“Er...I didn’t think you’d be in here,” he said.

“Did you need something?” she asked.

“I...Mary was looking for you,” he answered, trying to find some excuse for bursting in on her like this.

“And she asked you to help her?”

“Not exactly.”

“Is she okay?” Lily asked.

“Yeah,” James replied, “although she seemed a bit...unhappy...she was asking about Remus.”

To his surprise, Lily sighed knowingly, put down her quill, and said, “Sit down.”

“Is everything okay?” he asked, taking a seat in one of the chairs across from her.

“I’m not sure,” said Lily. “I think Mary fancies Remus.”

“Do you?” James asked. He did not know whether this was a good or bad thing, but it certainly explained Mary’s bad mood.

“Well, I know she fancies Remus,” Lily corrected. James was not sure how to respond. It wasn’t as if he could say, Sorry, Lily, but Remus is a werewolf and it seems to have given him some intimacy issues, so Mary doesn’t stand a chance, even though it was the truth.

“Are you going to say something?” she asked.

“I’m not really sure what to say,” James said, hoping that levity would prompt a subject change. Lily fixed him with a firm stare.

“Listen, I’m not going to poke my nose into whatever personal issues Remus may or may not have,” she said. James swore silently. How did Lily seem to know every single secret he and his friends had? The next thing he knew, she’d probably be confronting him about being an Animagus. Stupid Snivellus. James made a mental note to find a really good curse to throw at him in their next duel.

“Remus doesn’t have personal issues,” James said. “Well, unless you count his mum being sick.”

Lily’s right eyebrow arched pointedly. “Right. Anyway, like I said, it’s none of my business. But Mary seems to think that he might like her back, and I need to know if it’s true. Or even possible.”

James hoped he would not insult Lily with his answer. “He’s never really mentioned anything. I know they study together, but that’s about it.”

“I thought so,” Lily said, nodding.

“Don’t tell her I told you,” James added. The last thing he wanted was to get pulled into hysterics over who fancied who.

“I won’t,” said Lily, “but you might want to warn Remus.”

“Thanks,” James said, eager to turn the conversation away from such a tricky subject. “What are you doing in here, anyway?”

“It’s a nice place to study,” Lily stated simply, picking up her quill again. James took this as a subtle way of shooing him from the room, and he stood up from his chair.

“Well, I’ve got to go,” he said, reaching for the door.

“You’re welcome to stay, if you like,” Lily said.

It was a dagger to James’ heart to look into her face, at her shining eyes and her perfect mouth that had just asked him to not go, to stay there, with her, and that was now curved into a small smile just for him, because he knew he could not stay. If only it had not been full moon, he would have stayed for hours. He was sorely tempted, and if there was anyone that he might have abandoned his friends for, it would have been her.

“I wish I could,” James said, “but I really do have to go.”

She shrugged and looked down at the papers in front of her, not nearly as disappointed as James had hoped.

“Okay, see you around,” she said.

“Yeah, see you,” James replied, stepping back out into the corridor.

He felt like banging his head against one of the stone walls as he walked back to Gryffindor Tower. If he was going to make it through this year with his sanity intact, he was going to have to stop mistaking politeness for anything more than what it was.




Chapter 6: Outside the Shrieking Shack
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Chapter Six
Outside the Shrieking Shack




The first Hogsmeade weekend of the year was sunny but bitingly cold. Students left the castle layered in hats and scarves and coats, which seemed to make Filch even more paranoid about illicit objects being snuck into the castle. Lily had been given the unhappy task of helping him ensure that no one without a permission form left the school gates. If she had found him unpleasant before, five minutes in his presence illuminated why James and Sirius hated him so much.

“Smith, is it?” he growled at a third-year girl, who jumped as he spoke to her.

“No, actually, it’s Smythe—”

“Don’t try to change your story now. There’ll be no sneaking into Hogsmeade for anyone.”

“Go ahead,” Lily said to the girl. “It’s Regan Smythe, right?”

The girl nodded and skittered past them to join her friends. Filch looked at Lily indignantly, but she simply rolled her eyes and put a check beside Regan’s name.

“You’ve just let someone off the grounds illegally!”

“I did no such thing,” Lily replied, checking off the names of several fifth years that had just passed.

“That girl was not cleared to visit the village!”

“You know, you might want to pay more attention to the boys that are trying to sneak behind you,” Lily commented. Filch whirled around and spotted the boys, whose faces registered panic. While he was shouting at them to clear off, James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter strolled up to Lily.

“Save me,” Lily said, Filch out of ear-shot as he chased after the three boys.

“Not having a good time?” Remus asked.

“He is by far the grumpiest person I have ever met,” Lily replied.

“Oh, come on, you’re being much too kind,” Sirius said.

“I would just leave, but I don’t want him to turn on me next.”

“I’ll do it for you,” James said, and Lily gave him a disbelieving smile.

“Don’t joke,” she said.

“Who’s joking? Here, give me the list.”

“You’re actually volunteering to spend time with Filch?”

“He turned on me long ago, so I'm not worried,” he said, grinning. “Plus, I think he’s a bit scared of me.”

Lily looked at James hesitantly. She could tell he was being sincere, but she wasn’t sure if she felt right about passing off her job to him.

“What about Hogsmeade?” Peter asked James.

“Peter’s right, you should just go,” Lily said. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry. We’ll probably be done in a half-hour anyway.”

“Lily,” he said, staring her straight in the eyes and pulling the paper from her hand, “go.”

He placed his free hand on her back and applied the slightest bit of pressure, pushing her towards Hogsmeade. She stepped sideways clumsily, her legs feeling slightly wobbly, until she was out of his reach.

“Are you sure?” she asked. Filch was hurrying back over to them, and she wanted to go before he returned.

“Positive,” James said. Lily smiled at him.

“Thank you,” she said, feeling like a bit of a fool for how close to positively gushing she sounded.

“You owe me!” James called as she walked down the lane towards Hogsmeade to join Mary and Anna in the Three Broomsticks. She was quite sure that being in James Potter’s debt was going to cost her a great deal.

She found Anna and Mary in a booth by the window with bottles of Butterbeer in front of them.

“That was fast,” Anna said, eyebrows raised as Lily sat down with them.

“Yeah, James offered to do it for me,” she said. Mary’s face lit up in a smile.

“He did? Oh, Lily, that was so sweet of him!”

“Are you on his payroll?” Lily asked.

“No, she’s just a hopeless romantic,” Anna said. Mary glared at her.

“Well, I think he wanted to torture Filch more than he wanted to do something nice for me,” Lily said.

“Lily, have you thought about—”

“Don’t even ask,” Lily said, interrupting Mary. She knew what Mary had been about to ask, and it got very tiring to have to repeat the same answer over and over again.

“By the way, I saw Slughorn yesterday, and he wants us to come to dinner on Monday,” Anna said to Lily.

“As long as there aren’t any giant pictures of me on the wall,” Lily grumbled.

Anna snorted. “That was honestly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I could have died of laughing.”

“Don’t remind me,” Lily said darkly. “I’m going to get a drink.”

She had to wait quite a long time to order a Butterbeer because Madam Rosmerta was busy arguing with a customer over the price of imported ale; when she returned to the table, Mary and Anna were in discussion about the latest Ministry news.

The previous week had seen alarming destabilization in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement (Lily imagined Anna laughing at her for thinking this, for it was quoted verbatim from her sister’s column). The Head of the Department, Waldemar Merritt, had abruptly retired, leaving behind a power vacuum and tumultuous infighting. Different factions within the Department were advocating their own choices for his successor. While the Daily Prophet had closely followed every slanderous comment and shift of allegiance, Lily had only read enough to know that one faction wanted to change the hierarchy and select a group of leaders, while another wanted to keep things the same and promote the Deputy Head, as procedure required, and the last wanted to change leadership entirely and give the new head of the department more authority. Meanwhile, everyone else was criticizing them for focusing on petty political grudges while people were still being killed and kidnapped.

“...and it’s so wasteful, if they’d just followed protocol, the whole matter would be done with,” Anna was saying as Lily slid back into the booth. It was funny, Lily thought, how Anna could vilify her sister so often but also agree with her on many things; this was the same line that Desdemona had been taking in everything she wrote on the subject.

“Maybe they need new leadership,” Mary suggested. “They haven’t been very successful so far.”

“What makes anyone think that the new leaders wouldn’t do just as badly? Or worse?”

“I don’t know. I just know that I personally don’t have a lot of confidence in them right now.”

“Does it really even matter?” Lily asked. “Wouldn’t the new leader be accountable to the Minister, anyway? And the people who will make things successful are all of the Enforcement Officers and Aurors.”

“Theoretically, yes,” Anna replied, “but some people want to give the new leader so much power that he or she would answer less to the Minister, and the Prophet’s pointed out that a bunch of unhappy employees have already defected since Merritt resigned.”

Lily smiled as Anna took a drink of her butterbeer. “Has anyone ever told you that you sound remarkably like your sister sometimes?”

“Only when they really want to insult me,” Anna said.

“Consider yourself insulted, then.”

 

.........




Bragging was a habit that James had tried to kick, but there were some occasions where he simply couldn't help himself.

“Did you see the way she smiled at me?”

“Yeah, yeah, why don’t you say it a few dozen more times?” Sirius said. “We get it. Evans is treating you like a normal human being, so she must be in love with you.”

“I never said that,” James said, ignoring Peter’s laughs, "but I’m in her good books now.”

“I think that remains to be seen,” Remus commented.

“Can we please talk about something else?” Sirius asked. “Let’s go to the Hog’s Head and ask the bartender to give us some Firewhiskey.”

“Padfoot, you’ve suggested that every time we’ve come to Hogsmeade, and we always say no,” Remus said. “Give it up.”

“But it’s our last year! When are we going to get another chance?” Sirius said.

“Come off it, when we tried it over the summer at my house, you nearly passed out,” James said.

“I did not!”

“I tried it once,” Peter said. “I didn’t think it was that bad.”

“Sure, Wormtail,” Sirius said sceptically.

“Three Broomsticks?” Remus asked as they came upon the door of the pub, and he was met with nods of assent all around. James led the way in, spotting Lily in a booth with Anna and Mary. He and his friends took a booth across the room from the three girls, and James selected a seat that would not put Lily directly in his eyesight. He thought it might be slightly strange if he were to spend the entire time staring at her.

“I think I need to find a catchphrase to use when I’m commentating,” Sirius said as they waited for their drinks.

“Padfoot, you are going to try to not make a complete mockery of the game, aren’t you?” James asked.

“Yes, Prongs,” Sirius said. “In fact, I’m trying to make it more memorable. I was thinking I might throw Snivelly into the mix. You know, things like, That play was slipperier than Snivellus’ hair. What do you think?”

“I think McGonagall's going to have to throw you off the pitch before the first minute’s over,” Remus said.

“Ah, but will that minute be memorable?” Sirius asked, just as Madam Rosmerta levitated their Butterbeers onto the table.

James stole a glance at Lily as the conversation turned to other subjects. He was considering going over to talk to her when Professor Dearborn sidled up to their table.

“Afternoon, gentlemen,” Dearborn said. “Enjoying your day?”

They all nodded, except for Sirius, who was observing Dearborn with contempt.

“We don’t usually see many of the teachers in Hogsmeade,” James said.

“Well, they are a bunch of stuffy old bores,” Dearborn said, grinning. “I thought you four of all people would know that.”

Sirius snorted with laughter, but no one responded. Though they might have agreed with Dearborn, they were also too smart to badmouth the teachers to one of their own.

“Besides that, I’ve been catching up with some old acquaintances. ” Dearborn said. “Everyone’s making amends now that there’s a new scandal...”

He seemed to be talking to himself more than to the four of them.

“Impressive work on those essays, the four of you,” Dearborn said, sounding much less distracted. “Everyone else seemed like they hadn’t heard a word I’d said about Invisibility Cloaks or Disillusionment Charms.”

James thought it would have been hard for anyone to hear what Professor Dearborn had said, since he hardly ever ended up talking about the subject he intended to; they had simply been lucky to have had hands-on experience with Invisibility Cloaks.

“We’re very committed students,” James said solemnly, causing all of his friends to grin.

“I’d heard you were very committed troublemakers,” Dearborn retorted, “and seen some proof of it, too.”

“So what if we are?” Sirius asked. Dearborn chuckled.

“I’d rather have a group of troublemakers than brown-nosers. I never was one for rules, personally,” he said, grinning wryly again. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I’ve got to go meet a friend at the Hog’s Head. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”

“I can’t stand him,” Sirius said, once the door had shut behind Dearborn. James was very glad that his nephew had gone with him.

“Just because he put you in your place—”

“No, it’s not that,” Sirius interrupted Remus. “I can’t stand him because he’s a teacher, but he’s actually cool.”

“He said my Disillusionment Charm was good, too,” Peter added.

James saw Lily leaving with Mary and Anna, and felt slightly disappointed that he had not gotten the chance to talk to Lily.

“Want to go to Zonko’s?” Sirius asked lazily.

“Yeah, let’s; I’ve heard they have this suit of armour that trips everyone that passes it,” Peter said.

“You know, we could just enchant a suit of armour to do that, Wormtail,” Sirius replied.

“Maybe you could,” Peter said, but Sirius was not listening.

“Well, would you look at that,” Sirius said, “Snivellus is out in daylight.”

James twisted his head around and caught a glimpse of Snape’s black robes whipping past the window. The unlikely coincidence of Snape swooping down the street after Lily was enough to make his legs start moving automatically.

“Where are you going?” Sirius asked.

“Snivellus,” James said, heading for the door.

“Well, don’t leave us out,” Sirius called, but James had already pushed open the door and headed after Snape like a bloodhound tracing a scent.

 

.........




“Lily, please, this is a bad idea,” Mary said. The wind was picking up and whipping her golden curls around her anxious face.

Lily, Mary, and Anna had been walking up the High Street, back towards Hogwarts, when Lily had spotted a group of several people gathered near the Shrieking Shack. This would have been an altogether unremarkable sight at any other time, but Lily was sure that one of the people was too old to be a Hogwarts student. That, in addition to the fact that this unknown woman was talking to Mulciber, Avery, and Rosier, made Lily sure that this was not some harmless trip to poke around a haunted building.

“Let’s just go tell one of the teachers, please, Lily,” Mary said, sounding somewhat frantic now.

“They might be gone by the time we get back to the castle, and I want to find out what they’re doing,” Lily said, forging ahead on the pathway to the Shrieking Shack.

“Yeah, well, it’s a great idea,” Anna said sarcastically, “except for the part that I’m thinking ahead to—you know, the part where they pull out their wands and curse us.”

“They’re not going to try anything this close to the school,” Lily said. The Slytherins and their friend seemed to have disappeared behind the decrepit house. “Besides, I’m the Head Girl, which makes it my responsibility to look into these things.”

“Evans!” A voice called from behind them. Lily turned around and saw Snape walking up the pathway towards them. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“The same place you were heading, I suppose,” Lily said coolly. "Though for different reasons."

“You can’t go up there,” Snape said.

“Why not?” Lily asked, folding her arms across her chest. “Is it some sort of You-Know-Who Fan Club meeting?”

Mary made a noise somewhere between a squeak and a hiccough, and even Snape’s face flushed red.

“It wouldn’t be safe—for any of you,” he finally said, glancing up the path behind her. He looked slightly alarmed and said, “You have to go, now.”

Lily turned around to see what he was looking at, and saw the dark-haired woman walking over to them.

“Just go,” Snape said, walking around Lily so he was between her and the approaching woman.

“Not until I get some answers,” Lily said in a low voice.

“Lily, this is so stupid! Please, we have to go,” Mary whimpered, but it was too late.

“Friends of yours, Severus?” The woman asked in a girlish voice.

“Hardly,” Snape replied harshly. Lily felt a rush of anger and humiliation at the tone of his voice, but tried to ignore it. Now that she was face-to-face with the woman, Lily found that she looked familiar—the dark complexion, the hooded eyes. Wasn't this Sirius' older cousin, who had been a seventh-year when Lily had come to Hogwarts? And her name, it was Bella...no, Bellatrix; that was it.

“Are you sure, Snape? I remember this one,” Bellatrix said, flicking her eyes toward Lily. “You used to follow her around all the time...it would have been quite adorable, really, if she weren’t a Mudblood.”

“What are you doing here?” Lily asked Bellatrix, as Snape stared determinedly at the ground. “Why are you meeting with students?”

Bellatrix grinned widely at Lily. “Would you like to come find out?”

“You have to leave now,” Lily said, sounding much braver than she felt. “Make no mistake that the teachers are going to hear about this, and—”

“You’re going to snitch on us, are you, Mudblood?” Bellatrix asked. It could not have been more clear that she was threatening Lily. Snape said nothing, and only continued to look at the ground.

“Oh, look! More friends of yours, Snape!” Bellatrix said. Lily turned in the direction they had arrived: Sirius, James, Remus, and Peter were now coming up the pathway.

“What are you doing here, Bellatrix?” Sirius said harshly, confirming Lily suspicions about her identity. Lily had never seen him look at someone with such deep disgust—not even Snape.

“Nothing that would concern a blood traitor like you,” Bellatrix replied smoothly.

“Get out of here,” Sirius said dismissively, “unless you’d like me to force you out.”

Bellatrix laughed at him. “Oh, you have no idea how dearly I would like to see you try. Unfortunately, there’s no need for force today. I did what I came to.” She swept past the whole group of them, smiling with triumph. "Nice to see you aga

The wind howled over the hillside as Bellatrix walked away. There was a great commotion a few moments later as James lunged at Snape and was restrained just in time by Remus and Peter.

“What the hell are you playing at, Snape?” James spat, still held back by his friends. “Are you trying to get them killed?”

“As a matter of fact, Potter—”

What he had been about to say was lost as he flew ten feet back in the air. Sirius, whom no one had bothered to restrain, had drawn his wand and was pointing it at Snape, who was now clumsily getting up from the ground, wand in hand.

Obscuro!” Sirius said, before Snape could even move his wand. Snape tripped over the front of his robes and fell to the ground again, his eyes blindfolded. His wand fell from his hand and he scrabbled the ground frantically in search of it. Lily could not help but feel a twinge of pity for him; it wasn't as if he had lured them there or tried to hurt them.

“Stop it!” she said heavily. She drew her own wand, pointed it at Snape, and said, “Finite Incantatem.”

Mary had started walking down the path by herself, apparently having had enough conflict for one day. Remus looked like he might follow her for a moment, but stayed put.

“Go back up to the castle now, Snape, or else I’ll make sure Dumbledore knows you were here,” she said, placing her wand back in her pocket.

“Don’t order me around,” Snape snarled, picking up his wand and heading toward the Shrieking Shack instead. Lily clenched her jaw and turned to Anna.

“Let’s try and catch up with Mary,” she said.

“Evans,” Sirius said, before they could get very far, “don’t go chasing after Bellatrix again.”

“I don’t need advice from you, Black,” Lily said defensively.

“Yeah, well, sorry, but you do. You’re in way over your head,” Sirius snapped.

“Lily, just drop it,” Remus said. He and Peter had only just released James.

Out of respect for Remus, Lily didn’t respond. As she and Anna walked away, however, a few good insults flew through her mind, and she wished she’d had the chance to say them. Who was he, to tell her that she was in over her head? Everything had turned out just fine. No one had gotten hurt. Besides, she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

Mary seemed to have gotten a very good head start, and Lily and Anna did not catch up to her until they reached Gryffindor Tower. She seemed to be very angry with Lily. Lily could understand why Mary was upset—after all, even she had started to feel very uncomfortable when Bellatrix had come along—but she couldn’t bring herself to apologize outright. She hated herself for thinking it at all, but she was beginning to get fed up with Mary’s skittish behaviour, which so conflicted with her own belief that fear would only serve to make things worse.

 

........




James wished that Lily had not gone back to the castle before he had gotten a chance to talk to her. He knew Sirius' advice, however well-meant, had probably offended her, and it always seemed that he was made guilty by association. He wanted to put things right, so he waited outside the Great Hall before dinner, hoping to pull her away from the crowd. He had almost given up when he finally saw her walking down the stairway.

“Have you been waiting for me?” she asked when she spotted him near the doors of the Great Hall.

“Yes,” he said, hoping it didn't make him seem too pathetic. “Do you have a minute?”

They stepped into an empty classroom.

“Sorry about Sirius,” he said, without preamble.

“He was a little out-of-line,” Lily said, clearly not ready to forgive and forget easily, but, after a moment, her expression softened. “I suppose he was sort of right. I probably shouldn’t have followed them.”

“I don’t know many other people who would have,” James said. After his anger at Snape had subsided, he had been fairly impressed by Lily’s courage—as if there hadn't alredy been enough about her that he was attracted to. He had a feeling he was going to go mental if she didn’t agree to go on a date with him soon.

“Yeah, well, there might be a reason for that,” Lily said.

“You were just trying to do the right thing,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said. "Well...shall we go in for dinner?"

They returned to the Entrance Hall together, where they crossed paths with Professor Dearborn, who smiled and waved genially at both of them. After a few moments, Lily spoke, with some hesitation in her voice.

“Do you think there’s something...odd about Professor Dearborn?” she asked.

James shrugged, not admitting that he, too, was curious about their new professor. "He doesn't act much like a teacher, if that's what you mean."

"Well, sort of," Lily replied. "Why would Dumbledore hire someone who’s not good at teaching?”

“Maybe he didn’t have a choice,” James replied. He needed to play Devil’s advocate, just to see how his own suspicions, which Lily seemed to share, held up. “Everyone says the job’s cursed, you know.”

“Still,” Lily said, biting her lip.

“I think my parents know him, or knew him, at least,” James offered.

“Did they say something about him?”

“No, I just overheard them mention him once.”

James felt like he was moving in syrup as he followed her to the door. No one else had even listened to him about Dearborn, but Lily actually agreed with him. Whenever they had conversations like this—real conversations, where they seemed to be one in the same mind—he had to stifle the urge to push her up against the wall and snog her senseless. He reminded himself that however much that scenario appealed to him, she would probably not appreciate it.

“James?” Lily asked, just before they entered the Great Hall. Bloody hell, he thought. Did she really have to say his name in that supplicating, gentle way at this particular moment?

“Lily?”

“If Sirius says anything...about what happened earlier, can you tell him that I feel badly about it?”

James was pretty sure that this was the moment he was going to lose it. She must be doing it on purpose: being so brave, sharing his curiosity, and now offering an apology to his best friend. Life was much easier when Lily Evans had just been the pretty, smart redhead who made a habit of ignoring him.


Chapter 7: Overconfidence
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Chapter Seven
Overconfidence




Lily had often wondered why Anna insisted on reading the Daily Prophet when the slightest mention of her sister seemed to ruin her entire day. The only blessing was that she did not subscribe to Witch Weekly—Lily carefully avoided mentioning the special wedding issue they had put out, in which Desdemona was featured giving her opinion on everything from empire waists to hors d’oeuvres. Either Anna had not heard about it, or she was too disgusted to even verbalize her thoughts.

On a mid-October morning, however, Anna did not need the Daily Prophet or Witch Weekly to be reminded of her sister, for two snow-white barn owls swept into the Great Hall at breakfast and dropped gilded envelopes in front of Lily and Mary. Anna took one look at them and stabbed her bacon violently.

Lily had no idea who would be sending her such a letter with such ceremony, but as soon as she picked the letter up and read Miss Lillian Evans in shimmering gold ink, she had a feeling she understood.

“She still thinks my name is Lillian,” she said to Anna, who looked like she might be about to crack her plate in half.

“Oh, I’m sure she knows it’s not,” Anna said. “She probably just thinks Lillian sounds so much more refined. And Mary, you don’t have to do that.”

Mary had been about to slit open her envelope with her unused knife, but she paused.

“Put it on the table,” said Anna. “Now tap it with your wand.”

Mary followed her instructions, and the envelope began to unfold itself like some sort of backwards origami until it lay flat, with the invitation on top. The invitation itself had two small flaps, like doors, made of delicate silver paper, or wire, or ribbon—which one, Lily couldn’t tell—and it too unfolded. If this performance wasn’t enough, several small silver fireworks popped in the air above the invitation.

“Wow,” said Mary.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Anna said dispassionately.

Lily didn’t bother opening her own, but instead leaned over to read Mary’s, which had the usual wedding invitation message on it, inviting them to the late-May ceremony and reception. Near the bottom, underneath the R.S.V.P. request, were the words “friend of the maid-of-honour”.

“Her invitations have fine-print,” she said, and Anna nodded.

“Well, Lily, when you’re inviting half the country, you’ve got to have an organizational system,” Anna said, doing her impression of a crazed bride.

“She’s really taking this seriously, isn’t she?” Mary asked.

“Yeah, last I heard, she’d hired a choir of four dozen wood nymphs for the reception. And don’t forget about the one-of-a-kind twelve-tier Butterbeer cake they ordered from Belgium. Oh, and did you notice the location? A castle,” Anna said, every syllable dripping with disdain.

“You know, if I didn’t know you better, I’d say you were jealous,” Mary replied.

“Well, it’s a good thing you know me better, then,” Anna said. “You know what it is, that just absolutely galls me? They’re spending a large fortune on a wedding, and people are dying every day. It’s like they’re taking all their silk napkins and white tea rose centerpieces and rubbing them in everyone else’s faces.”

“People have to find happiness where they can,” said Mary, displaying her trademark optimism. Anna merely grunted and swallowed another mouthful of bacon.

“As I said before, you two are forbidden from coming,” Anna said.

Try and stop us,” Lily said, smirking.

“Fine, I’ll let you two come, but only if you,” she said, looking at Lily, “bring James as your date, and Mary brings Remus.”

“Ha, ha,” Lily said. “I’m not even going to respond to that.”

“I would,” Mary said quickly, not meeting either of their eyes, “but he’d probably say no, just like when I asked him to Hogsmeade.”

All thoughts of weddings were pushed out of Lily’s head.

“You never mentioned this before!” she said to Mary, whose cheeks were bright pink.

“Well, I wasn’t too keen on admitting I’d been rejected,” she said.

“What happened?” Anna asked, and Mary sighed.

“I thought he was too shy to ask me himself, so I asked him one night when we were studying. Apparently, he wasn’t too shy...he just didn’t want to.”

“What did he say?”

“He said...erm...something like he only liked me as a friend,” Mary replied.

“And what did you say?”

“I can’t remember! I’d be surprised if I got anything intelligible out, I was so humiliated.”

“His loss,” Anna said. “Forget about him.”

“It would be a lot easier if he wasn’t acting like it never happened,” Mary said. “I don’t care what he says; he doesn’t just like me as a friend.”

Something in Mary’s tone unnerved Lily, but the first bell rang and there was no further time to discuss it. It was only halfway through Transfiguration that Lily could put her finger on the strange edge to Mary’s voice: determination.

Lily made a visit to the library that night, mostly to check out a book, but also a out of curiosity. She kept her footsteps light as she walked between two shelves. When Mary and Remus' voices were finally audible, she stopped and listened.

“Anyway, we ended up crashing straight into the shelves in the trophy room,” Remus said. “The noise was unbelievable.”

“Did anyone get hurt?”

“Sirius got a trophy stuck on his head for a bit, but he was fine in the end,” Remus replied. Mary giggled. “The positive side was that we found one of the secret passages into Hogsmeade that night.”

“Are you ever going to show me any of them?”

“I don’t know if I can trust you,” Remus teased. The new librarian, Madam Pince, walked by the aisle, and Lily pretended to be examining the books in front of her. Mary and Remus fell silent until Madam Pince’s footsteps had faded away.

“I can keep a secret,” Mary said. “I promise.”

“I don’t know...you’re a bit of a shady character.”

Mary giggled again. “Me, shady? How could you be suspicious of someone that looks so angelic?”

Remus laughed. “It’s the pretty, innocent-looking ones that always have a hidden agenda.”

“Well, don’t worry; my agenda is completely out in the open.”

There was a pause in which Lily could hear Remus smiling at Mary.

“I’ll take you tomorrow night,” he said.

Lily had heard enough. She slunk out of the library as quietly as possible, trying to sort through all the thoughts that were running through her head. She had assumed that Mary and Remus spent their time in the library talking about classes and essays and exams, but they were obviously much friendlier with one another than Lily had ever imagined. Lily could now understand why Mary had thought that Remus liked her too, and it made her furious to realize how much he was toying with her friend. How could he be so kind, so tender, and then dismiss her so casually?

There was something else that was bothering her, but it was too selfish and petty to give much thought to. Why did James—who had always openly professed his affection for Lily—never tell her any stories about secret passages? Why had he never offered to show any of them to her? Were they not just as good friends as Mary and Remus?

 

........




For the first time, James could say that he was fairly sure that Lily Evans might agree to go out with him. They had been getting along so well in the past few weeks that he must at least have a shot at getting let down easy, which was a few short steps from a “yes”. The important thing was approaching it in the right way.

James had many memories of disastrous attempts to get Lily to go out with him. For all his confidence and charisma, his brain seemed to shut down whenever he tried to ask her on a date—well, whenever he had asked any girl on a date, really.

It wasn't until fourth year when James realized he spent an unnatural amount of time thinking about Lily. When she was not around, he was seized with the desire to seek her out; when she was around, he wanted nothing more than to impress her, or to make her laugh. He wanted to tell her that he was becoming an Animagus, that he and his friends had discovered no less than three secret passages to Hogsmeade that no one else knew about, and that they were creating a highly complex map of the castle. He wanted her to look upon him with admiration and respect.

These were not entirely new feelings; in fact, he had always felt this way, as far as he could remember. Even when he started having the occasional dream in which he kissed her, he managed to suppress any alarm. It was when he started having fully-conscious urges to make these dreams a reality that he realized something bizarre was going on.

He tried staying up all night to make his dreams go away, but he found that it just made them worse whenever he did sleep. He thought perhaps if he firmly ignored the feelings he was having, they might disappear, but this seemed to be about as easy as becoming an Animagus. He tried completely avoiding her, but it was like torture standing in the same classroom and not being able to even look at her.

James could not face the mortification that would come with telling his friends, so he endured several weeks of attempts to purge himself of thoughts of Lily Evans. It was very difficult to keep his head when she and her friends happened to be sitting next to him at the Gryffindor Table in the Great Hall; so difficult that he had to pretend he was feeling ill so he could escape to his dormitory.

He remembered sitting on his bed, his palms pressed against his eyes and a swirling sensation turning his stomach.

“Okay,” he had said to himself, “this is not a big deal. She’s just a girl. There’s no need to freak out.”

Easier said than done, his thoughts replied. He suddenly felt the desire to say it out loud; as if it would somehow alleviate the confusion he was feeling.

“No big deal. No need to freak out. So you fancy Lily Evans—what’s the big—?”

YOU FANCY LILY EVANS?

James had shot up off his bed in shock, and looked up to see his friends standing at the door.

“Bloody hell! What are you doing sneaking up on people like that?” he had yelled, jumping to his feet.

“What are you doing in here, talking to yourself about how you fancy Lily Evans?” Sirius said.

“I—well—so what if I do?”

His friends seemed to be at a loss for words.

“Er...fair point,” Remus said, though he still looked very shocked.

With the exception of the inevitable taunts from Sirius, and several incredulous exclamations all around (“How could you like someone so annoying?”), they had taken the revelation rather well, and had even encouraged him to ask her to Hogsmeade.

“Remember, just be confident. Girls like confidence.”

“Don’t be too confident, though. Sometimes you go a little overboard, and you know how she hates that.”

“Tell her she looks pretty.”

“Yeah, and while you’re at it, offer to sign away your manhood for all eternity,” Sirius said. “Come on, Pete? Tell her she looks pretty?

Peter opened his mouth to retort, but James was faster.

“Don’t worry,” he said to his friends. “She’ll say yes.”

“Remember what I said about the overconfidence!” Remus had called out as James strolled out of the dormitory and down to the common room. With the benefit of hindsight, he could appreciate what good advice that had been, but, of course, his fourteen-year-old self had not possessed the same knowledge.

His stomach had turned over violently when he saw Lily sitting with Mary and Anna near one of the windows of the common room. He had to keep repeating the word “confidence” in his head as he walked over to her, so as to drown out all the other parts of his brain that were trying to get him to turn around. He refused to be discouraged, however, even when her face soured slightly upon seeing him.

He stood before her, but his brain had stopped working. How had he planned on starting the conversation again? He had practiced it so many times—how typical that he would forget it all when it actually counted.

“What is it?” she asked, regarding him as if he had sprouted three extra heads.

“Er...can I talk to you?” he said.

“You already are. What do you want?”

Of course she wouldn’t make this easy. He took a deep breath. Why was it so hard to ask girls out, anyway? Was it this hard with all of them, or only ones that were sure to say no? James tried to remember confidence as he spoke again.

“Could we talk privately?” There. That sounded perfectly normal, if a little strange. But wasn’t strange the opposite of normal? Which had it been?

To his great relief, Lily got up from her armchair and crossed to the other side of the room, which was much emptier. He followed her and tried to figure out what he was going to say next.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “Usually I couldn’t pay you to shut up.”

Not the most encouraging start, James thought.

“Ev—Lily,” he began, “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Well, you’ve had loads of time. Get on with it.”

A large group of people had then entered the common room through the portrait hole, and Sirius, Remus, and Peter had also come down from the dormitory. He felt heat rising in his cheeks as he realized what an idiot he was making of himself. Lily was never going to say yes to him if he kept dithering about like this. He tried to stand up straighter.

“I thought you might like to go to Hogsmeade with me next weekend,” he said. There, much better, he thought, at least until Lily's eyebrows contracted.

“You did, did you?” she asked, sounding displeased.

James felt slightly panicked. He had never talked to his friends about how to act if she responded badly—why had they never discussed it, when it was so likely to happen? It seemed like a change of tack was necessary, but all that he had practiced was confidence.

“So, what do you say? Up for some fun?”

When Lily’s face went bright red, James realized how his last question had sounded. His confidence deflated in less than a second.

“Oh, Merlin, I’m sorry—”

“I always knew you were full of yourself, Potter, but I never realized you were an absolute pig as well,” she said. James was quite sure the situation was beyond repair, but he felt he couldn’t walk away without a solid answer.

“So...you don’t want to go to Hogsmeade?”

Lily turned on her heel and hurried away without another word. James staggered back to his friends and fell into the chair they had saved for him.

“That looked...” Remus said.

“...like a disaster,” Sirius finished. “She said no?”

James shook his head.

She said yes?” Peter asked.

James shook his head again.

“What, did she give you the ‘I need to think about it’ routine?” said Sirius.

James shook his head for a third time.

“Spit it out!”

James cleared his throat and unstuck his jaw.

“I blew it,” he said. “I came off like a complete idiot, and she just ended up walking away.”

“Ah,” Peter said. “Well, your chances always were a bit iffy.”

“What?” James yelped. “You three kept going on about how she had to say yes! You couldn’t have been honest with me?”

“We were trying to be supportive,” Remus replied.

“Well, thanks for letting me make a complete prat of myself,” James muttered.

Someone other than James might have given up after that first try, but the small fact that Lily had not actually said “no” continued to give him hope. In fact, every time he made another attempt, she either told him to go away or ignored him completely, but she had never actually told him “no”. It was enough to keep him going, even until now, a month-and-a-half into their seventh year.

She was going to say yes this time, he could feel it—as long as he didn’t put his foot in his mouth again.

 

..........




Lily had made a habit of pretending to study in the Heads’ office a couple nights a week. In other words, she brought books and papers with her even though she had already finished her homework and waited for James to show up. It was an excusable way of spending time with him, because she could explain it to Mary and Anna as if it were not her fault: Ugh, James keeps popping in when I’m trying to study...

He almost always came, surprising her with his reliability. No matter what day it was, he somehow knew she was in the office and made a point of dropping by, sometimes for two minutes, and sometimes for an hour. They would usually talk about school, but occasionally their conversations drifted into other topics as well. Neither one of them pointed out that they these meetings were not at all accidental, as if saying so would somehow bring them to an end.

Now that she had been taking to James regularly about a variety of subjects, she realized that she quite liked the way he talked. He was self-assured and funny, and even the most basic conversations revealed deep convictions. Best of all, he was always honest, a stark comparison to many of the other people in Lily’s life: Snape needed no explanation, but even Anna and Mary veiled the truth at times. Anna was constantly covering honesty with sarcasm, and Mary seemed determined to keep them in the dark about Remus.

On a Thursday evening, a week before Halloween, conversation over Lily’s pretend Transfiguration homework had somehow spiralled into a discussion about Anna’s sister.

“Here’s a question you’d know the answer to,” Lily said.

“Because there are so few of them.”

“No, because it’s about Quidditch. Is this Aidan guy any good?”

“Lily, he plays for the Irish national team,” James said. “I’m surprised you’ve never heard about him. He’s a heartthrob.”

“I’m not really into Quidditch players,” Lily said, playfully scrunching up her nose.

“I think you might have mentioned that before,” James said thoughtfully. “Once. Twice. Maybe a couple hundred times?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Anyway, that sheds some light on why Anna’s so bitter.”

“How so?”

“I think Anna always hoped her sister would mess something up,” Lily said.

James sighed. “I’m so glad I’m an only child."

“Yes, aren’t you lucky?” Lily said, and she found it difficult to try and sound like she was only joking.

“Well, maybe they’ll go through some really nasty divorce and Anna’ll still have her chance,” James said.

“Yes, let’s cross our fingers for that.”

She looked at her watch and saw that it was nine-thirty. What time had James arrived—eight? Seven-thirty? It had to have been at least an hour, but the time had gone by so quickly.

“You know, I’m really glad we’re friends,” James said, leaning back in his chair. Lily smiled at him.

“Me too. I think.”

James exhaled a laugh, misinterpreting Lily’s words as a joke. Ever since she had heard Mary and Remus talking in the library, she had been questioning this friendship that she and James had been building. Their conversations lacked an easiness that friends should have had. It was as if they were always avoiding some unknown subject. Nevertheless, she smiled in response to his laugh, albeit somewhat wearily.

“It’s kind of weird how life turns out, isn’t it?” he asked.

“You’re going to have to get a little less philosophical if you want me to keep up.”

“Well,” James said, pausing. Was it in hesitation or concentration? “Take that day after our exams, in fifth year.”

Lily did not need to ask him for clarification this time, though she was surprised that this day figured so largely in his memory. For her, of course, it was the day she had lost her best friend, and it was therefore impossible to forget.

“What about it?” Lily asked, unable to keep her face from souring slightly.

“At the time, I thought it was a complete disaster,” he said, “but I realized that it was probably the best thing that could have happened, for both of us.”

Lily felt her stomach seize.

“And...how did you come to that conclusion?”

If James could sense the ice in her voice, he ignored it.

“It wasn’t until that day that you finally realized what an idiot Snape was. I was always trying to prove it to you; I felt like someone had to. I’m not saying it happened in a nice way, but if he hadn’t called you—you know—you still probably would have been friends with him, which would mean you would still dislike me.”

The only time Lily had listened to logic this twisted was when she had been friends with Snape.

“That day gave us a chance to be friends. We wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t said that.”

“I don’t understand,” Lily said. James suddenly looked nervous: perhaps he had finally realized that he had upset her.

“Like I said, it wasn’t pleasant at all—”

“How could you say that it was the best thing that could have happened?” she said, feeling like she was looking at the exact same James who had caused all that trouble by the lake. She now understood that this was the topic they had been avoiding, the topic that made all of their conversations slightly uncomfortable: their past.

“I think this is coming out wrong,” James said.

“No, I think it’s coming out exactly how you meant it to, and I’m really glad it did. I can’t even begin to explain how deluded you sound right now. To think: I actually apologized to you, and offered to start things fresh!”

James looked taken aback. “When did you apologize to me?”

“On the very first day of term!”

“I think you’re remembering wrong, because all I recall is you saying we should move forward.”

“Well, that suggestion contained an apology. Just because I didn’t say the words I’m sorry—”

“That’s a good way of avoiding a real apology.”

“Who even cares?” Lily said, her voice lifting in volume. “It was a stupid idea in the first place. We obviously can’t be friends.”

“We have been friends,” James stated.

“No, I’ve been your friend while you’ve tried to inch your way close enough to get me to go out with you!” Lily said, slamming her Transfiguration book shut and piling up her papers. “I was so stupid; I thought we could just put all that aside and just be friends. You're not capable of that, though, are you? Have you still been hexing every boy I talk to behind my back? Still playing tricks on Snape that could get him killed?"

“I'm not like that," James spat, and the ugly look on his face gave Lily pause, upset as she was. It was like someone had reached out and torn the air between them: the feeling of separation was that palpable.

James ran his hand through his hair in frustration, much like the way he had done to mess it up in the past, and this was the last straw for Lily.

“I think we should just forget about being friends,” she said, standing up and gathering her things. She clutched her books and parchment against her chest, her grip so tight she knew her fingers must be turning white.

“It’s never going to work if we’re in it for different things,” she continued. James squeezed a clump of his hair and then let his hand fall to his side.

“Will you just stop this, and please go out with me?”

Lily sighed and shook her head. Of all the things he could have said, he had chosen this. It was so typical that it almost made her laugh, despite her anger.

“I wouldn’t go out with you if it was a choice between you and the giant squid,” she said, leaving the room before he could say another word and spoil her perfect bit of poetic justice.

The justice felt sweet for less than two minutes. She had assumed he was going to come running after her, apologizing and retracting his statements. Lily could admit that she would probably forgive him if he did, but she never heard his footsteps behind her. She was on the fifth floor when she finally resigned herself to the fact that he was not coming after her.

I am not going to cry, not about this, she told herself, even though tears were blurring her vision. Why would she cry about this? It was James Potter, for heaven’s sake. It hardly mattered whether they were friends, aside from the fact that he was so lovely to talk to and that she laughed so often around him.

Shut up, shut up, she thought. The friends she already had were better to talk to, and they made her laugh too. There was nothing remotely devastating about not being James’ friend. They had been friends for less than two months, anyway. If she had lived over seventeen years without him, she could definitely survive one more.

 

........




James could not move. It had been ten minutes since Lily had stormed out, but he was still hoping it was a dream, that he had fallen asleep in his dormitory and would wake up and find that none of it had happened.

So much for not putting his foot in his mouth. Why in Merlin’s name did he always think it would be good to say the one thing that would offend Lily most? He had definitely reached a new low in his timing.

A fleeting thought to go after her was rejected by whatever modicum of sanity he had left. Things would only get much, much worse if he harassed her any further. No, he would give her ample time to return to her dormitory and cool off. Surely, once she calmed down, he would be able to talk to her, and they could work things out.

Ten more minutes passed until James finally forced himself back to Gryffindor Tower. Though he was decidedly unhappy about Lily being mad at him, and would have apologized simply to make her happy, he did not think he was wrong. Lily might not want to admit it, but if Snape had never called Lily what he had that day, who knows where they would all be now? She was one of the smartest people James knew, but her loyalty to Snape had been—there was no other word for it—stupid. No matter how many people had told her that Snape was a worthless piece of scum, she had never believed them until that day. So, yes—James did think that it had been to her benefit.

And he couldn’t even get started on her so-called “apology”. She obviously had no proper concept of the word, for she insisted on people apologizing to her, accepted them flippantly, but refused to dole out any of her own. The hypocrisy of her anger was maddening. Something she learned from Snape, James thought to himself, wishing he had something other than a stone wall to punch.

On top of all that, he found her protests about them “not being in it for the same thing” laughable. He was the first to admit that he searched out signs of affection from Lily when they weren’t always there, but even the most objective observer would have concluded that she had feelings for him. She flirted with him all the time, sought out his company, spent hours talking to him, and he had definitely caught her staring at him in class and at mealtimes.

When he returned to the dormitory, he found his three friends all laughing at something Peter was saying, which only frustrated him further. How could people be laughing at a time like this?

“Prongs, you’ve got to hear this—Peter just saw two house elves pummelling each other in the kitchen!” Sirius said. James collapsed on his bed without saying a word.

“You all right?” Remus asked.

"Lily and I have just had a row,” he said, staring up at the hangings of his four-poster bed.

“What did you do?” said Remus.

“I don’t even want to talk about it,” James replied. James did not think he could bear their I-told-you-so looks and insincere sympathy; none of them really cared what happened between him and Lily. Besides, maybe if he pretended it wasn’t a big deal, it wouldn’t feel so much like one.

“Did you try to snog her?” Sirius asked in a tone of mock chastisement.

“Nah,” James said, sitting up. “Anyway, Wormtail, let’s hear this story.”

As he watched Peter do an impeccable impression of a house elf, James could feel confidence draining out of his body. There were few people that could make James second-guess himself, but Lily could get him every time. She could fill him with self-loathing with the turn of a single phrase. He had felt so thrilled that she finally found him worthy of respect, but maybe she never really had.




Author's Note: Well, hopefully that wasn't too disappointing--but you didn't really believe she was going to say yes, did you? :)

So, I have a feeling that few people read all the way down to the Author's Note, but for those people who have, would you care to review? Don't be afraid to be honest about what you think! (Although honesty tempered with kindness is always preferable.)



Chapter 8: A Not-So-Sweet Halloween
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Chapter Eight
A Not-So-Sweet Halloween




“Lily, you’d better get down there. The masses are getting restless.”

Lily looked up from the letter she was writing to her parents at Anna, who had just entered their dormitory.

“What masses?”

Anna shot her a look of impatience.

“All the prefects that McGonagall assigned to you for Halloween decorating. Ringing any bells?”

Lily feigned a look of realization. "Oh, those masses. I was sort of hoping they might get tired of waiting for me and give up.”

“And then you could blame it on them when McGonagall gets upset with you?” Anna asked. Lily laughed and wrote the closing to her letter. Lily, like many other Hogwarts students, tended to neglect the task of writing letters home. She found that she was always reminded of her family most around Halloween, a holiday that held so many double meanings for her. Hogwarts had introduced her to the real world of magic, but could not help associating Halloween with trick-or-treating, jack o’ lanterns, and costumes. People at Hogwarts would have laughed at her, but she could always tell her parents that she missed Muggle Halloween.

“You know me too well,” she said, putting aside the parchment and her quill. “Hey, want to take my place?”

“You couldn’t pay me,” Anna replied. “By the way, those two fifth year prefects are dating now, and apparently they don't have a problem with everyone else seeing them snogging and groping one another.”

“Fantastic. You see, this is why being Head Girl is not all it’s cracked up to be,” Lily said, rolling her eyes. She walked toward the door, resigned to an unpleasant and unproductive evening.

She entered the common room and scanned around for the fifth- and sixth-year prefects. Seventh-year prefects who had not become Head Boy or Girl were luckily exempt from such menial chores as helping to decorate for celebrations. Lily would have been one of those lucky ones, still sitting up in her dormitory with Anna and not worrying at all about how she was going to avoid James Potter. In fact, if she had never been Head Girl, they never would have had that office, and they probably never would have gotten in that fight; in fact, they probably never would have even become friends in the first place.

It had been over a week, but neither of them had spoken a word to the other since then. Lily blatantly refused to talk to him until he apologized, but he would not even meet her eyes. (Not that she was giving him eyes to meet, of course.) Life without being friends with James was much easier, anyway. Whenever she had gone to meet him in that office (the thought of it still made her cringe), it meant that she had to rush to get her homework done at other times. Now she had hours of extra time during the week.

Besides, whatever hope of reconciliation she might have had disappeared when he had not apologized to her. He obviously thought he was right, the bigheaded git. Perhaps he didn’t even really care enough to apologize to her. Whatever his reasoning, the lack of remorse had only increased her anger, and she was now quite sure that she was fine with never talking to him again. The only problem was that they went to the same school, shared a common room, ate meals at the same time, and had every class together. If she had thought avoiding Snape was difficult, it was nothing compared to James.

Luckily, James was nowhere in sight. She spotted the two fifth-year prefects, Abigail and Duncan, in much the same position that Anna had described them. It was fortunate that there was no chance that the sixth year prefects, Elsie and Pierce, would ever get the urge to snog one another. Pierce hardly ever looked up from his homework, and Elsie took her prefect status so seriously that she would probably consider a pleasant conversation with Pierce to be a violation of proper boundaries. Lily was actually slightly frightened of Elsie, who was rumoured to have inherited her build from her father, a giant-wrestler.

Much as Lily had predicted, decorating did not go smoothly. Elsie kept ignoring her directions and decided to put a charm on all the toilets that made them wail like banshees when flushed, apparently unaware of how annoying it was. Pierce kept trying to do his homework when Lily was in another room, and was so distracted that he conjured a swarm of bats that promptly dive-bombed him. Lily gave up on Abigail and Duncan, who started out the afternoon in passionate embraces, but were sulking and giving each other the silent treatment an hour later.

Lily had assumed that James had skived off his Head Boy duties, which seemed to be happening more and more frequently, but he did show up about an hour before dinner with Sirius, Remus, and Peter in tow. She was fairly sure that Professor McGonagall had told James he was supposed to help with the decorating alone, but not even the opportunity to scold him was enough to break Lily. She was getting a sick sort of pleasure out of being so unreasonably stubborn.

 

.........




James was back to a perpetual lose-lose state with Lily. He was trying to give her space, but avoiding her only seemed to make things worse. He felt like he should apologize, but she was sending every signal that she wanted nothing to do with him. Sometimes he wondered why magic could never do anything really useful, like help him figure out girls. Accio, Schmaccio—being able to read Lily’s mind would have been real magic. Or maybe he should just put a permanent Silencing Charm on himself.

His rift with Lily made Head Boy duties fairly awkward, which was why he had brought his friends along to help him decorate, despite the fact that Professor McGonagall had expressly forbid Sirius and Peter from helping (Remus had been given a free pass because he was a prefect).

“If McGonagall catches you down here, you know she’s going to go spare,” James said to Sirius, who was sitting on the bottom step of the Entrance Hall staircase.

“She’s busy with Peeves,” Sirius said, “he covered her classroom with graffiti; I heard her yelling about it as I walked down here. Hey, watch this.”

Sirius directed a swarm of bats to attack the huddled pack of first-year girls that had just come in from the courtyard. The girls all screamed wildly and covered their heads. A few of them took off running towards the dungeons, their shrieks echoing off the walls. James had a good laugh, but he only let it go on for a few moments before conjuring an iron cage and charming all the bats into it.

“Ah, come on, Head Boy,” Sirius said good-naturedly, “you ruin all my fun.”

“I’m sure you’ll get over it soon enough,” James said. “Want to carve a pumpkin?”

James had no idea why Professor McGonagall had assigned him the task of carving pumpkins into jack o’lanterns—he had no artistic ability. His first three looked like they had had their faces bashed in.

“Only if I can make it look like a—oh, damn.”

Professor McGonagall had appeared at the top of the staircase, and Sirius had to duck around the side to avoid being seen.

“Potter, is there some reason why you are taking an inordinate amount of time to perform a simple task?” Professor McGonagall snapped. A few pieces of her usually-austere bun had come loose; it looked as though she had had quite the run-in with Peeves.

“Er—I just—I just wanted to take my time and make them look...good...” James trailed off. Professor McGonagall cast an unimpressed glance at his misshapen carvings.

“Perhaps you should work on something else, Potter. I’ll send Miss Evans down to finish these up.”

“No!” James said loudly. Professor McGonagall looked shocked. “Er—I mean, it’s okay, she doesn’t need to—”

“Potter, go switch the candles in the Great Hall for those black ones, and I will send Miss Evans down to finish these,” Professor McGonagall said, in a voice that made it clear that there was no room for negotiation. There was a loud cackling and the sound of breaking glass from somewhere on the second floor, and Professor McGonagall went hurrying off again.

Sirius came out from his hiding place, and the two of them entered the Great Hall, where Remus and Peter were busy placing pumpkin centrepieces on the house tables.

“Can we put a spell on the Slytherin ones so they burst into flame during the feast?” Sirius asked.

“Nah, we thought about it, but we decided it’s too showy,” Remus said. “Plus, we wouldn’t want anyone to actually catch on fire.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“Very funny, Padfoot. Anyway, Peter thought of a good one: Carius Expidus.”

“Nice,” James said. They had learned this spell in Herbology for the purposes of learning the countercharm, and it would make plants rot. By the time dinner rolled around, the whole Slytherin table would smell like Snivelly's armpit—or at least what James imagined Snape's armpit might smell like, never having had the horror of finding that out personally.

“Excellent,” Sirius said, grinning widely. James began the slow task of levitating the black taper candles above the tables; there were nearly two dozen boxes of them. Sirius and Peter eventually found occupation in bashing two pumpkins against one another in the air, seeing who could smash the other’s first. James and Remus stopped to watch for a few minutes until they heard a female voice yelling at them.

What is all the noi—

She did not finish her sentence; Sirius, in surprise, had let his pumpkin fall to the ground, where it smashed and splattered her with its innards. Lily stood in shock, pumpkin seeds hanging off her robes. Sirius looked alarmed.

“Oh, crimey—I mean, blimey,” he said. “I thought you were McGonagall, Evans, I’m—”

Scourgify,” Lily said, cleaning the pumpkin off herself. She seemed to recover from the shock, and placed her hands on her hips angrily, looking at Sirius and Peter. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Erm...decorating?” Peter said hopefully. Lily raised her right eyebrow severely.

“Well, you’re doing a terrible job,” she said. “You’ve forgotten the most important thing.”

She flourished her wand at Sirius, whose head promptly turned into a pumpkin. His hands flew up, frantically feeling the orange vegetable now placed on his neck.

“Much better,” Lily said, turning on her heel and leaving the Great Hall. No one moved for shock. Sirius, who had dropped his wand when Lily Transfigured him, tried to bend down to feel around for it, but his top-heavy pumpkin head made him fall over.

James used his own wand to change Sirius back; his head returned to normal in the midst of a string of virulent swear words.

“That horrid, awful—”

“I can hear you!” They heard Lily’s voice yell from the Entrance Hall. Sirius resumed his diatribe, this time in a low grumble. James felt bad for Sirius—well, actually, he mostly thought it was funny. He was laughing out of relief more than anything else, however: it was the closest he had come to talking to Lily in a week.

 

.........




The Halloween feast was one of the best Lily could remember. All of Hogwarts’ ghosts, it seemed, had turned up to float around in the Great Hall, giving it a distinctly eerie feeling; a group of scruffy-looking ones even struck up a terribly off-key rock performance near the end of the dinner. The only problem with their presence is that they inexplicably smelled like rotting food—she would have never thought that ghosts could have a smell at all, but she couldn’t think what else could be causing such a horrid stench. Lily had been sure that James and Sirius would have concocted some diabolical prank, like setting loose a large number of spiders or rats, but everything seemed to go off without a hitch.

While Lily was busy trying to stop two fourth-years from starting a food fight halfway through the feast, Anna had gone to the washroom; when they both returned, Mary had also disappeared from the table.

“Where’s Mary?” Anna asked, taking a sip of pumpkin juice.

“No idea,” Lily replied, scanning the table. “I was just thinking, though...ah.”

“What?”

“Remus is gone as well,” Lily said. James, Sirius, and Peter were sitting further down the Gryffindor table, but Remus was not with them. Anna raised her eyebrows suspiciously.

“Do you think he likes her?” she asked quietly. “Only he’s been a bit...”

“A bit of an arse?” Lily asked. “Yes, he has. She’s not exactly helping things either, though.”

“Well, I suppose if they’re off snogging somewhere, it’ll clear things up,” Anna said.

“Yeah, or it’ll make everything worse,” Lily said darkly. “Hey...hold on...”

Remus had re-entered the Great Hall, looking very surly; he sat down next to his friends. Mary was not with him.

“Hmm...that doesn’t look good, does it?” Anna asked, though not with much concern. Lily could not agree more, and she steeled herself for comforting Mary when she returned.

She and Anna waited another few minutes for Mary to come back to the table, but there was still no sign of her. Lily began to grow worried that their friend was alone, crying somewhere.

“I’ll be right back,” she said to Anna, and she walked along the table to where James, Peter, Sirius, and Remus were sitting. All of them, except for Remus, were sniggering about something and looking over at the Slytherin table. Lily stood next to where they were sitting with her arms crossed for several moments before any of them spoke to her.

“Can we do something for you, Miss Nosey?” Sirius finally said, twisting around in his chair with an annoyed expression on his face.

“Are you doing something to the Slytherins?” Lily asked, but even as she looked over at their table, she saw a group of them that had pumpkin pie all over their faces.

Doing?" Sirius asked. "No, we're not doing anything."

Lily rolled her eyes; she wasn't really interesting in decoding his cryptic answer right now.

"I only came to ask if any of you had seen Mary recently," she stated. Everyone except for Remus shrugged. Lily folded her arms and sighed. “So none of you have seen Mary in—oh—say, the last ten minutes?”

Sirius and Peter still looked baffled, although James glanced between Lily and Remus uneasily. Lily didn’t want to embarrass Remus unnecessarily, but if he was going to sulk like this, there was nothing else for it.

“Remus, will you just tell me where she is?” Lily asked. Anna had joined them now, and was looking on curiously.

“Evans, we’ve all said we don’t know where she is, so will you just let us eat in peace?” Sirius said in frustration.

“No,” Remus said, finally looking up from his plate. He looked slightly miserable. “It’s all right. I was just talking to her.”

“Well, where is she?” Anna chimed in.

“I don't know where she is now, but we were talking in the corridor that leads to the dungeons,” Remus said, his eyes returning to his food. Sirius’ eyes were as wide as tennis balls.

“Brilliant, mate,” he said finally. “Is she a good—”

“Shut it, Sirius,” Anna interrupted.

“I was only going to ask if she was a good conversationalist,” Sirius said. Peter laughed.

“Do you want help looking for her?” James asked. Lily ignored the fact that this—the first sentence he had spoken to her in two weeks—sucked all the air from her lungs.

“I think the sight of any of you would only do more damage,” Lily said, addressing the whole group rather than just James. “Come on, Anna.”

“Night,” Anna said to the four boys, and she followed Lily out of the Great Hall. “Where should we start—?”

Lily followed Anna’s surprised gaze and saw Mary at the foot of the staircase. Mulciber had a hold of her upper arm while Crouch, a fourth-year Slytherin, looked on. It was much worse than finding Mary miserable and weepy, which was what Lily had been expecting.

“Mary!” Anna called, her voice echoing sharply in the stone room. Mulciber and Crouch looked over, amused expressions on their faces.

“Let go of her,” Lily said, hurrying over to where they were standing. Mulciber did not listen to her. “I said: let her go!”

“We’re just trying to console her,” Mulciber said in an oily voice. “Her boyfriend upset her so much, it just broke our hearts.”

“As if you have a heart,” Anna said.

“You talk as if you’ve got a death wish,” Mulciber said. He must have tightened his grip, because Mary whimpered and squirmed more than ever, trying to escape his grasp.

“Take your hand off of her,” Lily said.

“I don’t think so.”

Lily better judgment got the best of her, and she took out her wand. Mulciber tried to pretend that his smile hadn’t faltered as she pointed it straight at him.

“There’s not much I wouldn’t do to you,” Lily threatened. There was a moment where she thought she might actually have to duel with Mulciber, until a new voice sounded in the Entrance Hall.

“Wha’s goin’ on?”

Hagrid, the gigantic school gamekeeper, had just exited the Great Hall and was looking at them with concern.

“The Headmaster don’ take kindly to fighting,” Hagrid said.

“We were just leaving,” Mulciber said smoothly. He released Mary violently, and he and Crouch disappeared into the passageway that led to the Slytherin common room.

“Yeh all right?” Hagrid asked.

“We’re fine,” Lily said. “Thanks, Hagrid.”

“Those Slytherins’re more trouble ‘n they’re worth,” Hagrid grumbled as he ambled towards the castle doors. “You girls should steer clear o’ them.”

“We try,” Anna said.

Lily saw Remus, James, Sirius, and Peter heading toward them. She turned to Anna.

“Go with her to Gryffindor Tower,” she said in a low voice. “I’ll be up in a minute.” When the group of Gryffindor boys had reached her, she wasted no time in getting to the point. “Well, thanks, Remus. Mulciber was about to drag her off somewhere when we found her."

He blanched. "What?"

"I have to go," Lily said shortly. She felt bad for accusing him, but didn't want to lose her resolve and apologize for being cross with him. Getting out of there seemed to be the best plan.

“Trick or treat,” Lily said to the Fat Lady when she reached the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. Lily headed straight up to the dormitory and found Anna and Mary sitting next to each other on Mary’s bed.

“That idiot, Mulciber,” Anna said scathingly. She had her arm around Mary’s shoulders. Lily crossed to her own bed and sat facing Anna and Mary.

“Mary, why didn’t you come back to the feast?” Lily asked.

Mary suddenly started sobbing again. Anna looked at Lily apologetically and said, “She told Remus that she likes him.”

“And?”

“H-he s-said that—that h-he’s n-not interested in me!” Mary said. “He said I should j-just let it go.”

“So what did you say?” Lily continued.

“I said that he owed me an explanation,” she said, wiping tears from her cheeks with the sleeve of her robe, “because he keeps doing things that make it seem like he is interested. Then he said that I was reading too much into it and he said I was getting obsessive! He said I was being pathetic!”

She dissolved into hysterics again. Lily could not believe that Remus would have said something so cruel.

“Git,” Anna said venomously.

Mary continued to cry, and it was another quarter of an hour before Lily and Anna could convince her to go to bed. She was just about to go to sleep herself when a loud, horn-like sound rang filled the room. The other girls in the dormitory looked at her in confusion. Cursing her obligation to investigate the source of the trouble, she pulled on her dressing gown and looked out the door, unsurprised to see that the stone stairs were now a smooth, twisting slide.

In her bare feet, she was able to carefully walk down the stone without having to slide down it (which she thought would have been risking some sort of indecent exposure, since she was wearing a nightgown). As she passed several open dormitory doors—most of them filled with the faces of curious younger girls who had never seen the stairs transform before, some of them older girls giggling and trying to see who had tried to sneak up the staircase—she told their inhabitants to go back to bed.

When she reached the bottom of the staircase, she looked out into the common room and saw James and Remus silhouetted against the fire. They appeared deep in conversation, but when James noticed Lily, he got up from his chair and crossed the room to her.

“We...er...told him not to try,” James said to her, as if they had never stopped speaking. “Getting up the staircase, that is.”

Lily nodded. “What has he said to you?”

James sighed. “Not much, to be honest. He just sits there with his head in his hands.”

They stood in silence for a few moments, looking at Remus’ hunched figure.

“Listen...I know you shouldn’t have to do this,” James said, “but would you mind talking to him? I’m running out of things to say.”

Lily gave a short nod and James, apparently unsure of how to end the conversation, started walking up the staircase to the boys’ dormitory. She stifled the urge to call him back, to make him stay and given her more advice, to keep talking to her like they were still friends. I sound so pathetic, she thought, and she crossed the room quietly and took the seat James had been using before.

“Are you all right?” she asked Remus, who was still slumped forward.

“I’m fine,” he said, in a tone that could not be less fine. Lily sighed.

“Why were you trying to get up to our dormitory, then?” she asked. He did not speak for a very long time; the only sound was the crackle of the fire.

“I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry,” Remus said, finally sitting up. He looked exhausted. “It’s better that I didn’t, though.”

Lily could not understand what he meant. “I think she’d appreciate an apology, to be honest.”

“It would give her the wrong idea,” he replied. “It’s better that she thinks...it’s just better if I leave it alone.”

“Remus, how can it be better that she thinks that you’re a horrible person?”

“You wouldn’t understand, Lily,” he mumbled. At least he had that much right: Lily could not fathom how Remus could talk to Mary like he had that night in the library and then be so heartless towards her now.

“Well, if you’re not going to give her an apology for breaking her heart,” Lily said, “you could at least apologize for leaving her alone like that. Don’t you know what could have happened if—”

“Of course I do,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry, Lily. I know you want to help your friend, but...you can’t. Not when it comes to this.”

Lily stood up, affronted and out of patience.

“Listen,” she said, “I may not know the whole story here, but I do know that you’ve been really unfair to her. I don’t care if you don’t want to date her, but just decide one way or the other. You’ve told her you’re not interested, and if you don’t stick to that, the next time we talk about this, I’m not going to be so nice.”

She returned to the girls’ dormitory and left him to his thoughts. Mary was sitting up in her bed when Lily re-entered the room.

“Who was it?” she asked. Even in the dark, Lily could tell that her eyes were shining with tears again.

“It was James,” Lily lied, getting into her bed, finally. “He’s incorrigible.”




Chapter 9: Lion and Serpent
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Chapter Nine
Lion & Serpent




Remus did not seem to want to discuss what had happened with Mary any further. Sirius and Peter seemed to have no problem with this, and were constantly pointing out that she was clearly too dramatic and high-maintenance to be worth the trouble, but they had not heard him in the common room that night. What he had said gave James a feeling that the matter was far from finished.

“I hate being me,” he had said, staring at the ground. It was such a depressing pronouncement that it had taken James a few moments to find something to say.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Moony,” was all he could come up with.

“No, I mean it. None of you understand what it’s like. I have to spend the rest of my life like this. Pretending to be someone else,” Remus said. “I won’t ever be happy.”

“Maybe you should give people a chance,” James suggested. “After all, where would the Marauders be if you hadn’t given us a chance?”

Remus grimaced. “It’s not...that’s different. I mean, I can never...I won’t ever be able to...”

At this point, he had buried his face in his hands and James had spotted Lily at the bottom of the stairs. He had no idea what she had said to them, as they were still on speaking-only-when-absolutely-necessary terms, but he hoped she had done better than he had.

For all of Remus’ anguish, he and Mary were friends again by the next day. James was baffled but impressed by his friend’s ability to charm Mary back, and therefore felt it was not his place to criticize. He was obviously not the person to lecture someone else on how to deal with girls, given his pathetic history with Lily.

The next week was a blur of classes and Quidditch practice; before James knew it, it was the morning of the first match. Thick fog was hanging over the grounds, but there seemed to be no threat of inclement weather. The Gryffindor team ate breakfast together (James thought it was a good way to build solidarity before the match) and made their way down to the change rooms.

“Okay,” he said to the team, once they had changed into their Quidditch robes, “we all know we can do this. The word is, Slytherin’s been performing pitifully during training. They replaced two of their Chasers a couple of weeks ago, but as far as I can see, they’ve gone for two trolls who don’t have the brainpower to make a single play.”

Everyone laughed.

“Just stick to what we’ve practiced and we’ll be brilliant. And—er—you might want to watch your back a bit, especially once we’re ahead. Slytherin has the tendency to get a bit violent, but as long as we fly smart, it shouldn’t be a problem. Right, everyone—good luck.”

Madam Hooch, the Quidditch referee, stood in the middle of the pitch. James walked over to her, and the Slytherin captain, Malcolm Roes, joined them. The stands around them were roaring with cheers and catcalls.

“Captains, shake hands,” Madam Hooch said. James barely put his palm to Roes’ hand and withdrew his hand.

“Players, mount your brooms.”

James swung his leg over his broom, returning the glare that Roes was giving him.

Madam Hooch blew her whistle and released the balls into the air. Roes kicked off the ground and immediately torpedoed himself at James, who swerved out of the way just in time.

“Cracking start to the match as Roes tries to take out Potter! Slytherin’s obviously banking on decimating their opponents rather than their own skills.”

Sirius’ voice, magically magnified, filled the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch, followed by boos and hisses from the Slytherins. James caught a glimpse of Professor McGonagall leaning over to Sirius, mid-diatribe, before joining the gameplay. Every so often, when the Quaffle switched possession or he fell behind the play, he could hear Sirius again, usually mingled with increasingly-loud protests from McGonagall.

“...and I’m not sure why Slytherin’s picked such a pixie as their Keeper—”

“Mr Black!”

“Where’s Slytherin’s Seeker? Professor McGonagall needs a word with him.”

“Not him, you!”

Commentary halted for a few moments; James half-expected Sirius to be removed mid-match, but he stopped paying attention when he managed to get a breakaway. He sped down the pitch, the cheers in the stands filling his ears, and he suddenly realized that the Slytherin Keeper, Andrew Delaney, was racing straight at him.

He waited until the last second before he and Delaney would collide, threw the Quaffle at the middle goal post, and turned sideways sharply. His shoulder slammed painfully into Delaney, but he managed to stay on his broom. He could not say the same for Delaney, who had lost balance and turned upside-down on his broom. James looked up just in time to see his shot soar through the hoop.

The red-and-gold mass of Gryffindors was emitting a mixture of cheers for James’ goal and angry yells for Delaney’s foul, while the Slytherin supporters were jeering happily. Madam Hooch awarded Gryffindor a penalty shot for skinning, and James made an easy score.

“Good score by Gryffindor Chaser—can’t quite remember his name at the moment, though. It’s something like Porter...Parker? Perkins?”

James laughed and ducked to avoid a Bludger. For some reason, Sirius’ joke had reminded him of their initial attempts to come up with nicknames. Remus’ had been easy, but James, Sirius, and Peter had tried several unsuccessful rounds of nicknames, including a Words-That-Refer-to-Troublemaking theme, a Physical-Characteristics theme, a Play-on-Last-Names, and the incredibly original Initials theme, all of which had been nixed for different reasons. (Initials were memorably voted down by Sirius, who would have been known as S.O.B.) James had been known at different times as Unruly, Specs, and Planter; he still couldn’t decide which one he hated the most.

Slytherin was next to score, but Gryffindor was quick to respond. James made an excellent reverse pass to Alison, who put the Quaffle deftly into the right hoop. They were now up thirty-ten.

Thirty minutes in, Slytherin had gained the lead by twenty points. Their strategy had become quite clear, and although James thought it was exceedingly stupid, it seemed to be working. Their Beaters kept hitting the Bludgers into the stands whenever the Gryffindors seemed likely to score, leading Madam Hooch to stop the game momentarily until the Bludger could be safely re-introduced into play. It got Slytherin a penalty every time they did it, but it was throwing off Gryffindor’s momentum, and Delaney had become nearly unbeatable when they took their penalties.

“Oliver!” James shouted. “Will you keep the Bludgers away from them when we’re trying to score?”

Oliver had no time to respond, as a Bludger was speeding towards Gareth, and he sped off to try and intercept it. Frustrated, James flew back into the play. Alison and Ursula were making an excellent play towards the Slytherin end. James halted in mid-air and watched Slytherins’ Beaters, waiting to see if they would try bumphing the Bludger again...

Westwicke, one of the Beaters, looked as though he was planning to do just that when Oliver and Devika swept in and hit his intended Bludger together. It shot with amazing force off towards Delaney and hit him squarely in the stomach. He doubled over and Ursula put the Quaffle right over his head.

From that point on, Gryffindor began to catch up, but Slytherin always managed to stay ten points ahead. The game went on for nearly two hours in this manner, and James finally called a time-out.

“Gareth, you’ve got to get the Snitch soon,” he said when the team had grouped together near the sidelines. “The longer we play, the more likely it is that someone’s going to get injured.”

“I’m trying, but Black keeps grabbing hold of my broom,” Gareth said.

“Can’t you hit a few Bludgers at him?” James asked Oliver and Devika.

“We’re trying, but it’s hard enough just keeping them out of the Slytherin Beaters’ reach,” Devika said, hunched over and breathing heavily.

“All right, well, Gareth, do whatever you have to do to catch that Snitch,” James said grimly. “Just try and do it while Madam Hooch isn’t looking.”

They resumed play, Gryffindor continuing to trail Slytherin by ten or twenty points for another half-hour.

“Look at that: signs of life from the Seekers!”

James looked up and saw Regulus holding onto Gareth’s broom. Gareth kicked out at him hard, and James immediately called another time-out. It solved nothing, however; as soon as Gareth and Regulus landed, Gareth hit Regulus hard in the stomach. Other players started to join the mêlée—Ursula threw her broomstick at Shannon Crowe, one of the Slytherin Chasers, and Oliver had to hold Devika back from kicking Delaney in the shin.

“Gareth, stop it!” James yelled, attempting to pull him away from the fight with Regulus. All of sudden, he received a sharp blow to the side of his head. He staggered sideways and saw that Roes had punched him.

As James tried to regain his balance, Oliver swept past him and cracked Roes on the side of his head with the Beaters’ bat. Devika took her chance and punched an unprepared Delaney right in the nose.

“ENOUGH!” Madam Hooch had finally descended upon them all. “All of you, to your own sides, and if one more person commits a foul, both teams will be disqualified.”

The Slytherins resentfully crossed the pitch. Delaney’s nose was bleeding slightly and Roes was having trouble walking in a straight line.

 “Well, we can only hope something that exciting will happen again,” Sirius said to the crowd. “Although, the way this match is going, I wouldn’t hold your breath. In the meantime, I have to congratulate the Gryffindor Beater for her excellent right hook, especially since Delaney’s head is made of solid rock.”

“Sirius Black! Commentators cannot encourage—”

Though Professor McGonagall had stopped the spell that made her voice echo throughout the pitch, she was still yelling loud enough that everyone could hear her.

“—fighting! It is against the rules, and if there is one more problem I will have you banned from all further matches!”

James usually would have found this very funny, but he was so tired and frustrated that he resented anything that did not help them win the match.

“Gareth, just get the Snitch so we can end this,” he said seriously.

But Gareth did not get the Snitch quickly. The game continued for another hour, then another, then another...it was turning into the longest game James had ever played. People had started to leave the stands because they were growing bored with the match. Moreover, it had started to rain slightly.

Westwicke was sent off after another joint Bludger hit by Devika and Oliver smashed into his collarbone. The Slytherins were getting exhausted, James could tell, and he only hoped that they would run out of steam before the Gryffindor team did.

Finally, an hour later, the remaining crowd gasped loudly. James turned around sharply and watched as Gareth sped toward the ground, Regulus on his tail...but where was the Snitch? James squinted but saw no glimmer of gold. A few people screamed in the crowd as the two Seekers hurtled downward, but at the last moment, Gareth pulled out of his dive and lunged upwards instead. Momentary shock registered on Regulus’ face before he ploughed into the ground with an audible thud.

James flew over to where Madam Hooch was examining Regulus, but he was accosted by Gareth mid-flight.

“I got it! I got the Snitch!” He held out his hand and James saw the tiny gold ball beating its wings feebly.

James could not remember a moment where he felt more elated or more relieved. Gareth held the Snitch up for the remaining Gryffindor supporters to see, and they cheered remarkably loud considering there were only about thirty of them left. Regulus was unconscious and Madam Hooch was escorting him to the Hospital Wing, and the Gryffindor Team practically collapsed in the change rooms.

“That was amazing, Gareth,” James said as he lay on one of the benches. "I never would have thought that you could pull off a Wronski Feint."

"A what?" Gareth asked, and James realized that the young Seeker had somehow performed one of the most difficult diversions in Quidditch by accident.

“Yeah, we would’ve put you up on our shoulders all proper, but I can barely support my own weight right now,” Ursula said from where she was splayed out on the ground.

Outside the change rooms, Gareth had a veritable fan-club of four year girls who giggled and followed him up to the castle. Peter and Remus were hanging around near the front steps, waiting for James and Sirius.

“That was a bloody boring match,” Remus said, “just so you know.”

“I think the only thing that kept anyone there was my commentary,” Sirius said dryly as they trudged up the steps. “I think this calls for a massive dose of sugar, courtesy of Honeydukes.”

As they walked up the many floors leading to Gryffindor Tower, they discussed the finer points of the match (there were not many of them, admittedly) and made a list of what to bring back from Honeydukes. There was, as always, a celebration of their victory going on in the common room, but it seemed rather subdued compared to other times. They sat down for a while. James grinned as he saw that Gareth’s fan club was still surrounding him in one of the corners. Figuring that they might as well get a move on if they were going to Honeydukes, he turned to Sirius.

“Padfoot, I’ll go grab the cloak and we can — ”

Sirius, however, had already fallen asleep on a chair, his mouth hanging open slightly.

“Watch,” Peter whispered. He took out his wand and dyed Sirius’ eyebrows shocking pink.

“He looks much better like that,” Remus said. “Don’t worry, Prongs, Wormtail and I will go to Honeydukes instead. You’d better watch after him; other people will do much worse than Peter.”

Peter scrambled up to their dormitory to retrieve James’ Invisibility Cloak, and he and Remus left soon after. James considered taking a nap himself, but decided not to for fear that someone might dye his eyebrows.

“Hi, James,” a voice said from beside him. He looked up and saw Ursula standing next to his chair.

“Hi, Ursula,” he said. “Great job today.”

“Oh, yeah, you too,” she said. “Mind if I sit?”

She sat down and started chatting with him. He was so tired that he was barely listening to half the things she said, but he tried to say “yeah” and “uh-huh” from time to time. His mind drifted to other places, such as whether Lily had watched the match, and how Sirius had done his entire commentary without once insulting his brother.

Eventually Ursula left to join her friends, leaving James waiting for Remus and Peter to return with a snoring Sirius at his side. He ended the day by consuming a mountain of chocolate frogs and falling into bed with a stomach ache.

On Monday, James was eating dinner in the Great Hall when Ursula approached him again.

“Hey, James,” she said. “Listen, I had a really good idea the other day about a play we could practice, and I thought I’d tell you.”

“Oh...er...okay,” James said, slightly taken aback. “Why don’t you...er...sit down?”

“Sure,” Ursula said. She proceeded to tell him all about the new play she had thought up, and their conversation eventually devolved into one on Quidditch in general; even Sirius, who considered himself a knowledgeable spectator, seemed to be impressed by her knowledge of Quidditch teams and leagues. Of course, nothing could have stopped his friends from making fun of him for his new admirer when they returned to Gryffindor Tower.

“In all fairness,” Remus said, after they seemed to have exhausted every possible joke, “she’s not bad at all.”

“Oh, come on,” Sirius said, “she’s obviously a fake. A girl can’t be pretty and know stuff about Quidditch.”

James laughed. “Says the man who wanted to buy a Holyhead Harpies poster from Quality Quidditch Supplies.”

“I just thought their colours would match well with my room,” Sirius replied.

“I’m sure you were thinking about their robes,” Peter said.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Sirius said. “All of you, actually. What’s the plural of ‘ye’?”

“Yees?” Remus offered.

“Right. Oh yees of little faith. I’m not nearly as devilish as you might think. I was actually trying to figure out a way to charm the poster so it would most offend my mother. She hates Quidditch, and scantily-clad Quidditch girls might actually kill her,” said Sirius, and James gave an uncomfortable chuckle. He knew Sirius was exaggerating—or at least he was pretty sure—but he mentioned his family so rarely that it brought instant tension to a conversation.

“She’s not Lily Evans,” Peter stated. It was true, but James was having trouble figuring out whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.



..........




The month of November brought harsh wind, soggy grounds, and grey skies to Hogwarts, but, more alarmingly, the Daily Prophet had started printing reports of ever-escalating danger from Voldemort and his supporters. Lily read many of these articles fervently at breakfast, ignoring Anna’s statements about the Prophet’s lack of journalistic integrity.

Within the first week of November, several alarming developments made the front page of the Prophet. The Ministry was apparently having some difficulty controlling the Dementors, and had stationed over fifty Magical Law Enforcement officers at Azkaban, who were using Patronus Charms to keep them from leaving Azkaban entirely.

“We would like to assure the magical community that the Dementors will not be allowed to leave Azkaban under any circumstances, and that any attempt to do so will result in harsh retaliation,” said Alvin Mockridge, Minister for Magic, late Wednesday evening. Though she was questioned repeatedly on the manner of this retaliation, she maintained that such information is classified and could lead to a serious security vulnerability if made public.

Despite multiple reports originating from the Liverpool area of Dementors attacking unwitting Muggles (to whom Dementors appear invisible), the Minister of Magic emphatically stated that, “these reports have been investigated and deemed false. Not a single Dementor is outside Ministry control.”

These reports have intensified the public outcry for harsher action by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, who could not be reached for comment.

In addition to rebellious Dementors, there were stories of a dramatic increase in the number of werewolf attacks in past weeks.

A young girl was found severely wounded by an alleged werewolf attack on Friday morning. Her case is the thirty-fifth reported in less than two weeks.

Officials from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures have voiced conflicting opinions about these attacks. Newt Scamander, recently-retired Head of the Beast Division, believes that these attacks are indeed the work of werewolves. From his Dorset home, Scamander said, “The evidence that I know of points firmly in the direction of werewolf attacks. Such a high volume of attacks in a short span is extremely unnatural, and suggests some sort of coordination among the werewolf population. The Ministry would do well to investigate into what sort of motivation might be behind such an effort.”

Bertram Lawrence, a senior official who routinely works with werewolves, told this reporter that, “Over half of these attacks have not yet been fully investigated. I question the wisdom of labelling these all ‘werewolf attacks’ when they have not been confirmed as such. Doing so can only serve to create hysteria among the general populace, and I urge the magical community to wait until our investigations have been fully carried out.”

As the debate rages on, the spokesperson for the Wizarding Families Alliance, Guinevere Constance, commented on the attacks at a public rally on Thursday. Constance advocated the segregation of all semi-human creatures, including werewolves, from the wizarding population. The WFA’s controversial Family Protection Act, which proposes that the Ministry make public the names of all werewolves, vampires, and half-giants, is currently in its second reading by the Council of Magical Law.

Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour was also being investigated after several people had been poisoned after enjoying sundaes, there had been a mass attack in an upscale London neighbourhood, and an Auror spokesperson stated that they had received indicators that Voldemort was planning on moving more aggressively in months to come, and that the wizarding community should be on high alert.

Every day there seemed to be a new tale of death, injury, or warning on the front page of the Daily Prophet, and Lily could not help but remember the Sorting Hat’s warning about the worst being yet to come...it looked like it had been right after all. A feeling of dread seemed to follow her around constantly; she had not even bothered going to watch the first Quidditch match, and had stayed in her dormitory doing homework instead.

Her dread was replaced by anxiety when Professor McGonagall told her that a career planning day had been organized for the beginning of December, and that she was expected to help coordinate it as Head Girl.

“What does coordinating involve?” she asked, sincerely hoping that it was not an avalanche of extra work.

“Greeting the career representatives and showing them to the tables we’ve set up, for the most part,” Professor McGonagall replied. “We generally expect the Head Boy and Girl to outshine most of the silliness of the rest of the seventh years so they seem competent and employable.”

“Right,” Lily said uncertainly. She did not think she would be good at outshining anything.

“Here is a list of all the representatives that are coming, so that you can familiarize yourself with their names,” Professor McGonagall said. “I already gave one to Potter.”

Lily was reminded that she was once again going to be forced to spend time with James. Every time she was near him, she harboured a hope that he would apologize and they would go back to being friends, but it never happened.

So, in addition to studying Transfiguration charts and incantations, Lily tried to memorize the names of Ministry officials, shop owners, journalists (Anna’s sister was not among them—according to Anna, she was swamped with wedding plans), Quidditch players, and many more people.

Lily almost thought the career day would be cancelled less than a week in advance when chaos hit close to Hogwarts. A near-riot had broken out in Hogsmeade, leaving storefronts smashed and a slew of products stolen. It was not surprising; given how distracted Magical Law Enforcement was, crime was sweeping through wizarding villages. Hogsmeade’s proximity to Hogwarts and Dumbledore had made it seem safer, and it was sobering for those inside and outside of the school to find that this was not the case.

Lily was so surrounded by frustration and worrying news that she could hardly concentrate on anything. She wished more than ever that she and James were still speaking. They could have commiserated over the career day, and James would have known exactly what to say to take her mind off of Hogsmeade being vandalized and robbed. She could almost imagine him smirking and making some offhand joke about it.

When Professor Dearborn asked her to see him after class one afternoon, she was sure that it was about the essay she had written on curse-breaking. She was sure she had never written a worse essay in her entire school career, and it was surely bad enough to warrant a lecture from her professor.

“No need to look so frightened, Miss Evans,” Professor Dearborn said.

“If this is about my essay, I can rewrite it,” Lily said.

“Essay?” Professor Dearborn asked, puzzled.

“Erm...the curse-breaking one?” Lily said.

“Oh, right, yes,” Dearborn sputtered. “What grade did I give you?”

Lily had to suppress a laugh. “You haven’t handed them back yet.”

“Hm,” Professor Dearborn said. “I’ll have to find where those got to.”

Lily was slightly comforted by the thought that Professor Dearborn might never read her terrible essay.

“No, Miss Evans, I wanted to ask if you’ve been having any problems with the Slytherins lately,” he continued. Lily was taken aback—how did Dearborn know she had been having problems with them in the first place?

“What problems?”

“Hagrid told me he found you about to curse the Mulciber boy in half.”

Lily bit her lip. Was she about to be punished? There was no telling with Dearborn.

“It was nothing,” Lily lied. “I’m sure you know how famously we Gryffindors get along with Slytherins.”

“The Head Girl makes a habit of cursing other students?”

Lily consider.

“I leave that to the Head Boy, actually,” she said, hoping that humour would work as well on Dearborn as it did on Slughorn. To her relief, he laughed.

“I don’t mean to reprimand you,” Dearborn said, “although I should discourage someone who knows so much about hexes from duelling with other students.”

“It was self-defence,” Lily said, “if that makes it any better.”

“I figured as much. I think it's impressive that you're willing to stand up for yourself.”

Lily shrugged. “It was nothing.”

“On the contrary. Having the courage to stand up to someone is never 'nothing’. There are few people in my classroom that will ever take any of the lessons they’ve learned in this class to heart.”

“Judging by how busy Madam Pomfrey is, I think a lot of people already have,” Lily said, although she could not think of many lessons anyone would have learned from Dearborn.

“Those aren’t the lessons I mean. It takes no courage to throw Bat-Bogey Hexes or Full Body-Bind Curses at your classmates; in fact, it takes a specific kind of cowardice. Fighting the Dark Arts is about much more than that.”

Lily suddenly gained much more respect for Dearborn. He might not plan the greatest lessons or keep track of essays, but he did understand Defence Against the Dark Arts. He understood it the way Lily always had, though it had taken until now for her to realize it.

“Well, I’m sure you have homework to do,” Dearborn said.

“It wouldn’t be seventh year if I didn’t,” Lily replied.

“Hang on to that courage, Miss Evans.”

Lily felt significantly happier as she headed to Gryffindor Tower. Her conversation with Dearborn had taken one more thing off her mind: suspicion over where the professor had come from. She no longer minded if his appointment at Hogwarts seemed slightly mysterious. Wasn't the fact that he was a good teacher all that really mattered? As she reached the seventh floor, she made a mental note to reassure James as well, but then remembered that they were no longer speaking.

Her happiness was diminished when she saw Mary and Remus talking outside the portrait hole. When had they become friends again? And for that matter, why?

“Hi,” she said, clearly spoiling a very nice moment between her two friends, or at least what they saw as a nice moment. Lily saw it as one step closer to another breakdown.

“Hi, Lily,” Remus said. “Sorry, I can’t stay. I promised I’d help Peter finish his Potions essay.”

“Yes, I think you should go do that,” Lily said pointedly, half-glaring at him. She and Mary followed him into the common room; once he had disappeared up the spiral staircase, Lily raised her eyebrows at her friend.

“Lily, don’t look at me like that.”

“Don’t look at you like what? Like you’ve forgiven a bloke who put you into tears?”

“He apologized,” Mary explained.

“And that was it?”

“What else should he have done? Leave me alone and pretend like he didn’t care?”

Lily did not know if Mary was purposely drawing parallels between what had happened with her and James, but it did nothing to persuade her.

“I just want to be happy, Lily.”

“Well, you’re going about it the wrong way. He’s just going to end up making you miserable again,” Lily said. Surprisingly, Mary smiled.

“I don’t think he will,” she said.

Lily was still not convinced. She could not believe that both Mary and Remus were ignoring everyone else’s advice. Although, now that she thought about it, maybe Remus was following James’ advice; it was the only explanation for why he could be exercising such poor judgment. She quickly dismissed that thought from her mind, though—if James were involved, Remus certainly wouldn't have apologized. Perhaps Remus should take a turn giving advice.


Chapter 10: A Future Far Beyond Christmas
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Chapter Ten
A Future Far Beyond Christmas




Despite his eccentric teaching methods, Professor Dearborn had gradually become the most popular teacher at Hogwarts. James—and the rest of the student body, it seemed—found himself in agreement with Sirius’ statement in Hogsmeade. Dearborn rarely stayed on-topic and apparently found nothing more exciting than the sound of his own voice, but there was something ineffably likable about him.

And as it happened, there was no better way to spend the morning of the seventh years’ career event than concentrating on fatal curses, James thought. It was slightly morbid, but it was also the only way he could distract himself from the uncomfortable feelings of confusion and uncertainty when it came to his future. How was he supposed to sort out the rest of his life when he was seventeen? Learning how to stay alive was simple enough to deal with, but further beyond that made him feel simultaneously listless and frustrated. The previous night it had bothered him so much that he had accidentally caused his own glasses to snap in half as they rested on his nose.

“Now, the thing about curses that you have to remember,” Dearborn said to their class, “is that they come in all different types. What are some of the curses we’re used to hearing about? Well, the Unforgivables, of course, and then there’s a range of less violent ones like the Full-Body Bind Curse and the Babbling Curse, but there’s many others that don’t necessarily have names. Wizards and witches who curse objects are not to be underestimated—just because we don’t agree with their actions or intentions doesn’t mean we should forget their expertise with Dark Magic. And even those who may not have a high level of skill can produce extremely dangerous effects, because botched curses have the added complication of being unpredictable. I knew an Auror who thought he knew everything about curses...”

James could not help but tune out Dearborn’s anecdotes about his Auror acquaintances, they happened so frequently. He glanced to his right, where Sirius and Peter were playing hangman on the side of Sirius’ notes. From the looks of the letters Peter had already guessed, Sirius had invented the name of a curse that would have probably caused Professor McGonagall to keel over in shock. James grinned and continued to watch until Peter had guessed the entire phrase, while Dearborn spent five minutes talking about an Auror who’d lost an arm and a Dark wizard from the nineteenth century named Clous the Clumsy who had been notorious for mistake-ridden curses.

“Learning to recognize and break curses is complicated and certainly not something that can be accomplished within a school year, but there are some general principles that can help keep you out of harm’s way. A good example is the 'Watch, Wand, Wait' practice used by even the most experienced curse-breakers. As a matter of fact, my old friend Manfred has told me...I don’t know how many stories about it saving his life...”

James yawned into the back of his hand and wondered whether Professor Dearborn would care if he put his head down on his desk and took a short nap. There was still over half an hour of class left; James wasn’t sure if he was going to make it.

His attention was recaptured only when Dearborn’s voice stopped; James looked up to see the professor taking two small, identical boxes from the beaten black leather bag he often brought to class.

“Now, we’ll have a little bit of fun, shall we?”

He put the boxes down on his desk and took the lids off. Everybody was sitting up as straight as they could, trying to see whatever was inside. Even Peter and Sirius had been distracted from their game.

“You’ll have to gather round up here to see properly,” Dearborn said. There was a great scraping as everyone pushed back their chairs and shuffled to the front of the class. Despite his best efforts, James ended up standing right behind Lily. He tried to avoid her on most occasions to prove that he had no problem not being friends with her, and that he was far from wanting her to go out with him. (Of course, it wasn’t necessarily true—but she didn’t have to know that.)

It turned out that the two small boxes each held a tarnished silver candlestick.

“Nice tableware, Professor,” Sirius commented. Many of the Gryffindors snickered.

“Yes, thank you, Mr Black,” Dearborn said wryly, “but they’re not mine, actually. They belonged to the Nelsons of Swansea, until they killed the newly-married Mrs Nelson.”

Dearborn paused, apparently for effect, and the room seemed unnaturally still.

“These are cursed?” said Lily’s voice, her shoulder-length ponytail twitching slightly as she spoke.

“Very good, Miss Evans, although only half correct. One of them is cursed,” Dearborn said. “They were a wedding gift, and when Mrs Nelson was unwrapping the gifts, she remarked to her husband that one of the boxes had come without a card. Mr Nelson said he heard her opening the box, a brief clanging of metal, and the sound of his wife falling to the floor. Both were confiscated by Magical Law Enforcement, who are still investigating the case.”

“Snivelly’s practically salivating,” Sirius muttered to James. He glanced over at Snape, who indeed had an expression of great interest on his face. James could not understand why Snape even bothered taking Defence Against the Dark Arts.

“So the question is,” Dearborn said, his voice echoing off the walls, “which of these is the cursed one?”

James couldn't spare half a thought to answer the question, so shocked was he that their teacher had brought a cursed object into the classroom. Where had Dearborn gotten his hands on these, anyway?

“Think about it this way: let’s say you’re the one who receives an unmarked object as a gift. Mrs Nelson never stopped to think that the gift might have been harmful, which is the first place a trained mind should have gone. What would you have done in her place?”

The entire class was silent. James was even further disgusted that Dearborn had not only brought a cursed candlestick, but was now blaming a poor woman who was dead for not having a “trained mind”. It was only times like these that he missed being able to talk to Lily, for she was the only one who seemed to share his feelings of curiosity about Dearborn.

“Oh, come now, I’ve just spent the class talking about this. Any thoughts? Miss Evans?”

Lily’s ponytail twitched again, and she folded her arms across her chest.

“Erm...well, I suppose she shouldn’t have touched it,” Lily said uncertainly.

“And what should she have done instead?”

“Well, she could have used Specialis Revelio or a Secrecy Sensor, if she had one,” Lily replied, “but she was opening her wedding gifts, it’s not as if she expected one of her guests to try to murder her.”

“Yes, well, we should always exercise caution,” Dearborn said shortly. “Although Miss Evans is quite right, what can you do if your wand is not at hand for some reason? Dark Magic emits a certain energy that we can learn to search out...”

They spent the last half hour of class making fruitless attempts to “feel” magic in the air around the candlesticks. Snape managed to correctly identify which one was cursed, and James refused on principle to take part at all. He still thought Professor Dearborn was deranged. One class had made him go from likable to contemptible in James’ mind.

Slowly, most of the class migrated back to their seats, until only Lily, Snape, and a few other Slytherins were left up at the front. James had a strange moment where he felt like he had been sent back in time, watching Lily and Snape standing around as a pair in classes, feeling equal sensations of disgust and hopelessness. He picked at the corner of his textbook, angry at Dearborn and Snape and Lily and the Dark Arts and the fact that he was supposed to figure out the rest of his life in the course of a few months. He had not thought that anything could have made him feel relieved to be heading to the Great Hall for their career event, but it turned out that he did.



..........




Lily was suffering from information overload, and her arms were starting to hurt from all the brochures she was carting around the Great Hall.

“You know,” Mary said, “I can’t understand why people assume that every Muggle-born would be a perfect Muggle Liaisons Officer. Like we’re the only people fit to be in contact with Muggles.”

Lily could sympathize with her. She'd met her fair share of people who had suggested it as a possible career choice because they knew she was Muggle-born.

“And everyone thinks it’s such an easy job, but can you imagine? Having to explain to Muggles about magic, or convince them that what they saw wasn’t actually magic? I can’t think of a more frustrating career,” Mary continued.

“So you’re not going to be a Muggle Liaisons Officer, then?” Anna asked, feigning disappointment. Mary hit her arm with a couple brochures. “Kidding. Anyway, I figure I’m going to set my sights low at first and try to become Minister for Magic.”

Lily laughed, despite the fact that Anna probably felt like the only way to measure up to her siblings was to get a job of this calibre.

“Oh no,” Lily said suddenly, “that dragon-trainer bloke is heading this way again. I refuse to get him another glass of pumpkin juice.”

She had spent most of the afternoon catering to every whim of the career representatives that had arrived, while James had been casually observing the scene. What had happened to all of his passion for being Head Boy now?

“Miss Evens!”

Anna snorted with laughter.

“Miss Evens, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind getting me some more juice,” the heavily-scarred, red-faced man said. Lily wondered if being in the presence of dragons had made him thirstier than a regular person. She tried to remember Professor McGonagall’s words and put a smile on.

“Of course,” she said. “I’ll be there in just a moment.”

“I say you pretend to forget,” Anna said as he walked back to his table. “He doesn’t even know your name.”

“Somebody tell me I’m a role model,” Lily said through gritted teeth. “I need to be reminded.”

“You’re a role model,” Mary acquiesced, and Lily went off to the refreshments table.

As she filled a cup with pumpkin juice, she considered just throwing out all of the brochures she’d picked up. She had thought they might help her figure out some good ideas for a career, but she felt no less confused than before. She wished someone would just tell her what she was supposed to do, especially since she only had a few months to figure it out. Maybe she should talk to Slughorn—he would probably be thrilled to plan out her entire future for her.

Lily walked past James on the way to the dragon trainer’s table (not at all on purpose) and heard them talking about stealing something from the trophy room. What a fantastic Head Boy he was turning out to be.

Speaking of Professor Slughorn, he had been flitting around the Great Hall in between his classes, giving unsolicited advice to all of his Slug Club members. He had made a bee-line for Lily the second he had walked in the Great Hall.

“Lily! How are you enjoying the afternoon?” he asked, dressed up rather fancy for a Friday afternoon.

“Oh, it’s been fine—”

“Yes, well, I’m sure the Head Girl could have her pick of anything in the room!”

In fact, the one person that Lily would have picked clearly wanted nothing to do with her.

“Shame, actually,” Slughorn said quietly, “most of the choices here are beneath you, at least in my opinion.”

Yes, Lily knew she deserved better, but it was very difficult to convince herself of it.

“Have you been introduced to everyone?”

Introductions were not the problem: it was everything that came after.

Right. She was not going to think about James again. In this conversation.

Slughorn had tried his best to get Lily to show some enthusiasm, but all she could muster was a desire to take a nap. She had forced herself not to watch as he made the same attempts with James.

Lily was scared out of her mind for school to end. She had no idea what it would be like to be a Muggle-born in the wizarding world. What would happen if she didn’t find a job? Would she have to take a Muggle one instead? Lily didn’t even know if promotions and paycheques and holidays worked the same in wizarding jobs as they did in Muggle ones. She probably should have taken the opportunity to ask someone, but it was easier to pick up every brochure and pretend that the afternoon had been a productive one.

The thought of leaving Hogwarts filled her with sadness and regret. It had only been last year that Lily had started becoming proper friends with Mary and Anna, something she now realized she should have done from the first day at Hogwarts. The first five years of her time at Hogwarts had been a complete wash, and she had not had enough time to make up for them. She was not even sure that she had become good enough friends with Mary and Anna that they would want to stay in touch with her. They would probably go off to live their own lives, remaining best friends as they always had been and making obligatory plans to catch up with Lily once a year.

Lily could not really expect anything more from them, not when she had been such a half-hearted friend for so many years. They had been her back-up friends when Snape had refused to acknowledge her, and Lily had never made much of an effort to get to know them before sixth year. In some ways, she was surprised that Mary still spoke to her, after all that had happened with Mulciber. Lily had been an awful friend to stick by Snape after that.

She always felt a little bit like an outsider with Mary and Anna, who had been close since their first year. She used to think that she might be able to break into the bond they had with each other, but she knew it was too late now.

“Mary and I have decided that we’re going to spend this entire evening without doing any homework,” Anna said when Lily returned from her errand, “even if we end up regretting it later.  We need a break, don’t you think?”

“I’m going to go to the library,” Lily said.

“Oh, come on, Lily, even you need a break. And besides, it’s a Friday night!”

“We’ve got those end-of-term exams next week,” Lily said. “I really don’t want to fall behind.”

“One night off won’t kill you, Lily,” Mary said. “It’ll be so much more fun if you’re there.”

“No, really,” Lily said, trying to smile blithely. “I really need to get some things done tonight.”

“You’re such a perfect Head Girl,” Anna said.

“Please don’t say that.”



.........




The last week of classes before winter holidays was extremely stressful. All of the seventh-years had to complete practice examinations for their N.E.W.T-level classes. One period was to be devoted to a written exam on theory, and the other was a practical exam in which they performed a brief sequence of spells or tasks.  They were graded according to N.E.W.T standard and were to receive their results the first day back to class.

It seemed that the teachers were taking full advantage of these practice exams by putting them to use as a form of intimidation. Every exam James took, even Transfiguration, could not have been more mind-bogglingly difficult. Many of the theory questions were on topics that James did not remember his teachers mentioning more than once or twice, and the practical exams involved things that they had only talked about but never attempted. Several people went into paroxysms of distress after three or four exams, and even James felt highly anxious about the fact that he would be lucky to pass a single one of them. He felt even worse for Remus, who had to deal with it being full moon in addition to these tests.

“What—the—hell—was—that?” Sirius said as they left their practical exam in Transfiguration on Thursday before lunch.

“That must have been a dream,” Peter said, looking rather like someone had just Stunned him.

“Nightmare, more like,” James added.

“But—it’s—it’s Transfiguration!” Sirius suddenly exploded. “How could that have just happened? To us?”

Professor McGonagall had required them to Transfigure a pig into a rose. Though human Transfiguration was a piece of cake for James, he had less practice with the animal-to-plant variety. It was more difficult than Transfiguring an animal into an inanimate object, or vice versa, since both animals and plants were living things. In addition, Transfiguring a pig into a pansy or a petunia would have been much easier than a rose. He figured he had done better than most people, but he was not expecting anything better than an “A”.

“At least there’s only two more,” Remus said as they entered the Great Hall, “and tonight’s the last night of the full moon.”

“No kidding,” Peter said.

“And don’t forget, tomorrow’s the last day of class,” Sirius added.

“I can’t believe I have Quidditch practice tonight,” James groaned.

The second match of the Quidditch season, between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, had been held at the end of November. Ravenclaw had won by quite a large margin, and James had been worried ever since he saw what an excellent team Germaine Aucher, the Ravenclaw captain, had fielded. The Gryffindor team was very good, but so was Ravenclaw, and James desperately wanted to win the Quidditch Cup this year. Gryffindor had not won since his fourth year, and this was his last chance to do so.

“I wouldn’t even go, except I’ve got to get in some new plays before the holidays,” James said, more to himself than his friends.

“Oh dear, it sounds like we’re in for quite a practice tonight,” said Ursula, who had just slid into the seat next to James. “How were today’s exams?”

“Same as all the rest,” James muttered.

“No, today was worse,” Peter piped up. “At least the other days we went in knowing we’d fail...”

“You know, you’re all making me very frightened of coming back next year,” Ursula said.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking I might not as well,” Sirius said. Ursula laughed.

“Well, I’m sorry it didn’t go well, James,” she continued. “Anyway, I have to get to Arithmancy...but I’ll see you later, at practice?”

James watched her leave the Great Hall, her blond hair swishing back and forth. He had decided that he really quite liked her; she was very easy to be around, and very enthusiastic about Quidditch. He had asked her to Slughorn’s Christmas party the week before, and it was to be their first actual date.

James and his friends returned to Gryffindor Tower after lunch to study for the practical portions of their Herbology and Defence Against the Dark Arts exams, which would take place the next day. None of them really knew why they were bothering to study, as the exam would inevitably turn out to be on a subject only mentioned in the footnotes, or something ridiculous like that. After dinner, James headed down to the Quidditch pitch for practice.

It was very cold out, and with only a day left before holidays, none of the rest of the team seemed very focused. Oliver and Devika had spread apart and were hitting a Bludger back and forth between the two of them. James had been reluctant to release the Snitch because it was so dark out, and had told Gareth to practice flying manoeuvres, but instead he kept sitting inside one of the goal hoops and daring people to take shots at him. Alison threw a Quaffle into his stomach rather hard, and he spent the rest of the practice drifting aimlessly above the team. When she was not injuring her teammates, Alison was busy gossiping with Ursula, and the two of them made very distracted shots. After only forty-five minutes, James ended the practice.

He and Ursula walked up to the castle together, discussing their plans for the holidays.  Ursula was travelling to her grandparents’ house in Germany to celebrate Christmas itself. When they returned to the common room, Ursula went to sit with her friends while James put in an hour’s half-hearted study with Peter and Sirius.

“No more,” Sirius said, slamming his book shut. “I’m just going to do them, and try my best to block it out over holidays.”

“I’ll be traumatized the entire time,” Peter said miserably. “I’m going to bed. At least then I won’t have to think about how badly I’m going to do.”

“Excellent philosophy, Wormtail,” Sirius said, getting up from his chair. “Coming, Prongs?”

James had spotted Ursula walking across the common room towards him, and said, “Yeah, in a bit. Go on without me.”

Sirius and Peter passed by Ursula on their way; Sirius turned around and raised his eyebrows suggestively at James. James closed his books just as she sat down across from him.

“Sorry practice didn’t go so well,” she said.

James shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter, we’ve got lots of time before we play Ravenclaw anyway.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” she replied. “Anyway...I just wanted to, er, come say good night, I suppose.”

“Oh, yeah, well, night,” James stammered, picking up his books and notes.

“I’ll see you before the party tomorrow, then?” She asked, getting up.

“Sure, I’ll meet you here round...eight?”

They went up to their own dormitories. James threw his books down beside his bed and pulled his pyjamas out of his trunk. Sirius and Peter seemed to have been waiting for him, each sitting on their own bed.

“So Peter and I were just wondering whether you’ve gotten off with her yet,” Sirius said casually. James laughed.

“We haven’t even gone out yet. We’re just friends,” he said.

“Yeah, well, you and Evans were friends for a while, too, and don’t try and tell me you didn’t want to snog her,” Sirius said. “The only difference is, Ursula would actually go for it.”

“You know, I’d really like it if every conversation about girls didn’t involve a mention of Lily,” James said hotly. How long did he have to go without talking to Lily before people would lay off of him?

“Well, it would, if you’d move on from her and get with someone else,” Peter said. “You haven’t even looked at another girl since fifth year.”

“That’s not true. Besides, neither of you are exactly Casanovas either. Sirius sticks his nose up at every girl who walks by him.”

“Not my fault Hogwarts girls are substandard,” Sirius said.

“They’re not all bad. There’s a few girls in our house—”

“All of them are too eager. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. No challenge,” Sirius said, ignoring Peter.

“Yeah, it must be so trying for you,” James said.

“Don’t look at me! Ursula’s exactly the same. She’s been after you since the beginning of the year,” Sirius said, “which is why I don’t understand why nothing’s happened yet. You’ve got to just man up and do it.  Just find the right moment, and take advantage of it. If you don’t, I will kill you. Or perhaps Peter.”

Peter made a noise of indignation and threw a pillow at Sirius. James changed into his pyjamas, took off his glasses, and fell asleep hoping that the right moment would present itself so he could get everyone else off his back.



........




“Well, it’s done.”

Anna had just unfolded her copy of the Daily Prophet on the last day of term. Lily looked at the upside-down front page, which had a large picture and glaring headline on it.

“What’s it say?” Lily asked. Anna picked up the newspaper and turned it to Mary and Lily.

“CROUCH SUCCEEDS”, read the headline. Lily had not read a newspaper in weeks, so she had no idea what it meant.

“Tell us all about it,” she said, taking a sip of pumpkin juice.

“Some people in Magical Law Enforcement finally got their way,” Anna said, “although I don’t think anyone else will be very happy about it.”

“Wait...he wasn’t the Deputy Head,” Lily said, remembering that much from her past readings, “so that means...?”

“Exactly what you’re thinking. New leadership, new era,” Anna said.

Lily was slightly embarrassed by her own apathy, for she was hardly concerned with political manoeuvring. She knew nothing about this Crouch, and as long as he wasn’t planning to ally with Voldemort, she didn’t really care about his policies either.

“Oh, Merlin’s arse,” Anna said, slapping down a page of the Daily Prophet vehemently. “Is she joking?”

Lily took a deep breath to brace herself for the inevitable tirade against Desdemona.

Look at this!” Anna exclaimed. “The conclusion of a months-long political battle and she’s guest-writing in the Styles section about the art of seating arrangements!”

“I’m sure she’s just in a different mindset with the wedding coming up,” Mary said.

“At least she used to sound semi-intelligent! I can’t stand seeing her write loads of tripe like this!”

For all the times that Lily had said vile things about Petunia, there always remained some comfort in the fact that her sister was solidly the same person. She was always taciturn, snobby, and contemptuous of Lily. Here was Anna’s sister, usually so superior and critical, especially of her younger sister, writing articles about weddings and transforming into a different person, yet she still treated Anna the same. There was no justice in being a younger sibling.

 “Can you believe there’s just over a week before winter break?” Mary asked brightly, obviously trying to change the subject.

 “I can’t wait to have a bit of a break from homework,” Lily added.

“Great,” Anna said distractedly, still looking over the Prophet.

“Are you looking forward to going home for a bit, Anna?” Mary asked.

“Yeah, a few weeks making wedding favours sounds bloody fantastic,” Anna said savagely.

“You two must be really excited for Slughorn’s party tonight!” Mary said. “Everyone always says they’re so much fun.”

“I don’t know who you’ve been talking to,” Lily muttered, and she was relieved to see Anna smile.

“I can’t believe neither of you are bringing anyone as a date,” Mary said, as if it were the greatest disappointment of her life.

“Yeah, well, sorry I didn’t take your suggestion that I ask James seriously,” Lily said.

“Oh, well, he’s going with Ursula Zimmerman, anyway,” Mary said. Lily’s eyebrows shot up in surprise; she tried to disguise this by picking up her fork, even though there was no food left on her plate.

“Oh…oops…” Mary said softly.

“I thought everyone knew,” Anna said.

“Who cares?” Lily asked, failing to sound nonchalant. Anna and Mary apparently did not know what to say, and the sounds of other people eating and talking were the only noises for almost a full minute.

“Ursula’s that other Chaser, right?” Lily asked finally, making another attempt to sound coolly detached. “The one with the blonde hair?”

“Yes,” Mary said quietly.

Lily could not decide whether she felt unsettled or relieved that James was dating another girl. It was not the first time it had happened, but she felt much stranger about it this time. She guessed it was just another part of the up-and-down that had happened between her and James this year. On the other hand, at least the prolonged silence had forced him to move on from his weird obsession with Lily, which could only be good. Something about the fact that he was dating a pretty, younger Quidditch player made her cheeks burn uncomfortably, however. More than anything, she wished she had at least known about it before the day of the Christmas party.

“It’s good,” Lily said finally, picking up her bag. “Now he’ll finally leave me alone.”

“Yes, it’ll be good to get a break from all the attention he hasn’t been giving you,” Anna quipped.

Lily stood up from the Gryffindor table, but apparently Anna was not done taking out her frustration on Lily.

“Too bad you didn’t get a date—you could have doubled with them,” Anna continued, grinning evilly. “That would be hilarious, the Head Boy and Head Girl on a double date…”

Lily took a deep breath, trying to remember how angry Petunia could make her and how she would probably lash out at other people too, if they were around during the summer. “Well, I’m off to class. I’ll see you two there,” she said.

I am happy about this, Lily told herself, this is good, better than good, and I am thrilled. Couldn’t be happier. Yes, she was very happy that James had moved on. She just happened to have a completely unrelated desire to throw Ursula Zimmerman out a window. It had nothing to do with James at all.

Chapter 11: Behind the Tapestry
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Chapter Eleven
Behind the Tapestry




James was filled with a distinct feeling of dread as he put on his dress robes. He wasn’t sure if it was the memory of Slughorn’s last party, left-over feelings from a week of hectic exams, or all the pressure that his friends were putting on him when it came to Ursula, but he was not looking forward to this Christmas Party at all.

“Lose the bowtie,” Sirius said. “It makes you look stuffy.”

“Since when did you start giving fashion advice?” James asked, but he pulled the bowtie off his neck.

The door of their dormitory opened and Peter and Remus walked in.

“Where have you two been?” Sirius asked.

“Saying a Happy Christmas to Filch,” Remus said.

“He looked so thrilled about giving us detention I thought he might wet himself, actually,” Peter said. “At least he can’t say we never gave him anything, right?

James noticed that Peter was holding a large teacup in one of his hands.

“What’s that?” he asked, his voice sounding oddly squeaky. He cleared his throat.

“It’s from Filch’s office,” Peter said, holding it up. It had pictures of moving cats gambolling around it. “I saw it on his desk when he was writing us up, so I just reached over and nicked it.”

“Wormtail, why would you willingly touch something that’s had Filch’s mouth on it?” Sirius asked.

“I thought it would be a laugh,” Peter said defensively.

“It’s disgusting, is what it is,” Sirius replied.

“Sod off, Padfoot, or I’ll have to throw this at your head.”

“Are you all right?” Remus asked James, who was starting to feel like he might actually be sick, not just unhappy.

“Yeah,” James said, nodding wildly.

“We saw Ursula waiting in the common room,” Peter said.

“Yeah, Prongs, get out of here,” Sirius teased. “Go find your girlfriend.”

James trudged down the spiral staircase, hoping that the sight of Ursula would miraculously make him feel better. He reached the bottom of the stairs and almost ran into Lily and Anna, who both headed toward the portrait hole without looking at him. The smell of her perfume stayed behind as he watched Lily laughing at something Anna had said. He would have thought that turquoise would clash with her hair, but the robes she was wearing made her look brighter and livelier. They seemed not to have noticed him at all.

“Hi!” James started as Ursula’s voice pierced his concentration. She looked like she had spent hours getting ready for the party, which made James feel even worse. Why was everybody else making this evening such a big deal?

“Hey,” he replied. “Ready to go?”

“Sure,” she said. “You look really good.”

“Thanks,” James said.

He and Ursula walked down to the dungeons. She managed to keep up a constant stream of conversation, no thanks to James, who could not think of a single thing to say. Maybe he really was getting sick.

They entered Slughorn’s magically-enlarged office, which had been fully decorated for the occasion. The entire ceiling had been hung with holly and adorned with small, tinkling lights that bathed the room in a golden glow. House-elves were moving among the guests (of which there were many) with platters of food, and red and green punch (which magically stayed separated even when it fell into the bowl) flowed from an elaborate, seven-tier crystal fountain. The music was coming from a small stage, upon which an olive-skinned, blue-haired woman was singing.

“How did he get Melody Moonstone to perform?” Ursula exclaimed.

“Erm...no clue,” James said. He wasn't even sure who Melody Moonstone was, and from the sounds of it, he didn't want to.

“James!” Slughorn boomed when he saw them. “Excellent to see you, excellent. I was just introducing Dirk here to Fergus Mullod, former student of mine, now working at the Goblin Liaison Office. Fergus, this is James Potter, this year’s Head Boy.”

James said a polite hello to Fergus Mullod and Dirk and stood awkwardly as the two of them and Slughorn were saying something about goblins. He supposed he was supposed to be included in the conversation, but he still felt a bit clammy.

“Want to get some food?” Ursula asked. James shook his head—he didn’t think he could eat anything right now. “Do you want to go for a walk?”

“Erm...no,” James replied. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be wandering around the halls at night.”

“But you’re the Head Boy,” Ursula said. “I’m sure you could think up a reason for it.”

“It’s actually kind of a—er—a symbolic position,” James said. “You can’t actually do that much.”

“Okay,” Ursula said, sighing. “What would you like to do?”

They ended up sitting on a bench at the edge of the room, talking about the Quidditch Cup. Ravenclaw was shaping up to be their biggest opponent; they had won their match against Hufflepuff in November and even James was worried when he saw the team that their captain, Germaine Aucher, had fielded.

“Oh, come on, with the two of us on the same team, how could we possibly lose?” she asked. “We’ve got an unbeatable combination of athleticism and attractiveness.”

“What’s attractiveness got to do with it?” James asked, grinning.

“It’s to distract the other team,” Ursula said, “and it means that we win even when we lose.”

He laughed; talking about Quidditch was always bound to make him feel better.

Their conversation was interrupted as Slughorn took the stage, his voice filling the room.

“Welcome, everyone, and a happy holiday to you all!” Slughorn said, sloshing a bit of wine of out his goblet by accident. He didn’t notice, and continued, “Thank you all for coming, and an extra-special thanks to Miss Melody Moonstone, our entertainment for the evening, who made a very generous allowance for an old teacher in her busy schedule. Let’s have a round of applause for Melody, who, as it happens, is nominated for five Siren Awards this year!”

James clapped politely along with everyone else while Melody Moonstone waved glamorously at the crowd in thanks. Slughorn’s applauding seemed to have emptied his goblet entirely; he turned the stage back to Melody Moonstone, who struck up a song called “Charmed Him Down the Chimney”.

“She’s a fantastic singer,” Ursula said. “I’ve listened to her every Christmas I can remember. My mum’s mad for her and Celestina Warbeck.”

James looked up to see Professors Dearborn and Slughorn approaching them.

“Happy Christmas, Potter,” Professor Dearborn said. “Slughorn here has just been telling me you don’t have the constitution for Potions.”

Slughorn chuckled, but did not disguise his annoyance. “I said no such thing, my good man!”

James waved a hand in the air. “It’s all right, Professor. Even I know it.”

“Oh, James, no need for humility,” Slughorn said. “Your essay on Polyjuice Potion was quite illuminating.”

“Well, what would you expect? From what I’ve hear, Potter’s main skill is evading capture,” Dearborn said.

“No, no, it’s much more than that,” Slughorn said. “He and Lily both, they’re remarkably talented potioneers.”

“You might want to check to make sure Potter hasn’t been sneaking looks at her cauldron, Horace,” Dearborn said, grinning. Slughorn looked like he had reached the end of his patience.

“Well, it’s been nice chatting with you, Caradoc,” he said, devoid of sincerity. “I should go say hello to Lily, speaking of her.”

Ursula excused herself to go get some punch, leaving Dearborn and James to make conversation.

“Never liked Slughorn when I was at Hogwarts,” Dearborn said. “He was only here for my fourth year on, at least. ‘Course, it could be because he never really liked me, either.”

“Don’t worry, professor, I’m sure even if he had, you still wouldn’t have liked him,” James said. Since their Hogsmeade weekend, James had learned that it was perfectly safe to insult other teachers around Dearborn. He actually seemed to like students better when they did so.

“You’re probably right,” Dearborn said, guffawing. “Well, I’m off to spike the punch bowl.”

It was James’ turn to laugh.

“As your teacher, I should say that was a joke,” Dearborn said, “and that I don’t encourage that sort of behaviour.”

“Advice taken,” James said.

“Say hello to your parents for me,” Dearborn said, waving as he walked back into the crowd.

“How do you...?” James started to ask, but Dearborn was already out of earshot, and Ursula had returned.

“Do you think Slughorn would introduce us to Melody Moonstone?” Ursula asked. “My mum would die if I got her autograph.”

A blur of turquoise and red filled James’ eyes as someone bumped into Ursula.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lily said, her eyes travelling from Ursula to James. “Oh—er—”

She seemed to consider walking away, but must have thought better of it.

“I don’t think we’ve met before,” she said, holding out her hand to Ursula, “I’m Lily.”

“Oh, yes, I know,” Ursula said, glancing at James. She shook Lily’s hand with the air of handing Bubotuber pus. “I’m Ursula.”

“Are you both...er...enjoying the party?” Lily asked.

“Yeah,” James said, “there’s loads of people here, aren’t there?”

“Anna was here somewhere,” Lily said distractedly.

“James, I think I’m going to go get some more punch,” Ursula said abruptly. “Would you like to come?”

James was not exactly sure what Ursula had just said—something about getting punch. “No, I’m fine, you go ahead,” he said. Ursula hesitated a fraction of a second before she left.

“So, how did exams go for you?” Lily asked. James had to force aside his shock at her talking to him again; it was the only way that he could form intelligible speech.

“I’m sure you did better than me,” he said. “The whole week was pretty much a disaster, wasn’t it?”

Lily sighed heavily, but she did look slightly mollified. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. Which was your worst?”

“Er—hard to say,” James said. “Yours?”

“As if you need to ask,” Lily replied, “Transfiguration.”

“Well, no shame there. Even I didn’t ace it,” James said.

“I blame the difficulty of the exam all on you and Black,” Lily said. “McGonagall obviously wanted to take you two down a peg.”

“I’ll have to remember to congratulate her on her success, then,” James said.

The two of them laughed uncomfortably as momentary silence fell. James glanced around the room.

“I think I’m going to try and find Anna and go, while I still can,” Lily said. Usually, James would have tried to make her stay, but he was so surprised that she was talking to him again that he could not think of anything else to say. “Anyway, have a Happy Christmas.”

“Yeah, you too,” James said, smiling.

Ursula returned a few moments later.

“I’m going to go, if you don’t mind,” she said, her arms crossed. She looked irritated for some reason.

“You don’t want to stay?” James asked.

“No, if it doesn’t matter to you,” Ursula responded crossly. James was perplexed at the sudden turn in her mood, but she certainly seemed anxious to leave. He didn’t want to force her to stay if she was not enjoying herself.

“Of course you can go,” James said. “Have a great holiday in Germany.”

“Yes, you too,” Ursula said, and walked away without another word.



.........




Lily walked up towards Gryffindor Tower, practically skipping the entire way. Something about having a completely normal, friendly conversation with James had made her feel much happier. She had not let herself fully admit how much she had missed being friends with him, and it suddenly felt like there was no reason they could not go back to the way things had been. Forget apologies and ulterior motives. She pushed aside the tapestry that concealed the shortcut to Gryffindor Tower and thought that she might even find James the next morning and say goodbye. After all, that would be a friendly thing to do, wouldn’t it?

She was so distracted that all of a sudden, the floor fell out from under her. She had forgotten to skip the false stair, and her left leg had sunk right down through the floor.

“Ouch,” she whined. She had seen this happen to others before, but had never realized how painful it was.

She tried to push herself out, but it was no use. What was she going to do? Would she have to stay here the rest of the night?

Perhaps James would be leaving soon...he would come this way, wouldn’t he? It was all she could hope for, the irony of which she was able to fully appreciate as she sat (or was she standing, technically?) stuck in the staircase. She waited for five minutes...her leg had fallen asleep. Ten minutes...wouldn’t James hurry up? Fifteen...oh no, what if he brought that Chaser girl with him?

Her positioning became more and more painful as the minutes passed by, until finally, mercifully, the tapestry was pushed aside and James stood there, alone.

“Shut up, and don’t laugh,” Lily said immediately. To his credit, James followed her request. “Just help me up and don’t say a word.”

James walked silently up the stairs until he reached her.

“How exactly do you want me to help you?” He asked.

“Lift me out!” Lily said. Her left leg was starting to go completely numb.

“Yes—er—what I mean is, where should I lift from?” James asked. Lily rolled her eyes.

“I’m in quite a bit of pain right now,” she said through gritted teeth, “and I will kill you if you make a big deal about the fact that you get to touch me. Just get—me—out.”

James did not look at all convinced, but he leaned down and gingerly placed his hands under Lily’s arms. Lily was quite sure that he could not have picked a much more embarrassing place to grab hold. She felt like a toddler about to be heaved up into someone’s arms.

“Just—just don’t move, all right? It’s hard to get a good balance here,” James said.

“Fine.”

James pulled her up out of the stair, but Lily, feeling highly uncomfortable, tried to regain her own footing as soon as was physically possible.

“Lily, stop—”

James’ warning came too late. Her attempt to push up on her own using her freed leg had made him lose whatever balance he had, and he started to trip backwards. Lily, who felt her other leg sinking back into the stair, overcompensated, and started to fall forward down the stairs. After a few screams (on Lily’s part) and curses (on James’ part), they landed next to each other at the bottom of the stairwell.

Lily expected to be furious, but she found that she was not upset at all. In fact, she started laughing.

What is so funny?” James groaned. “I told you not to move! I told you I didn’t have my balance very well.”

Lily sat up. “We probably looked ri-ridiculous,” she said, still laughing.

“If Sirius were here, it would have made his Christmas, I’m sure,” James said miserably. “I think my entire body’s broken.” He managed to sit up a few moments later, however.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I think so, yes,” Lily said. Her left knee was a bit sore, but it didn’t seem to be anything serious. “You?”

“Mostly,” James said, scooting up against the wall opposite her.

“I’m sorry,” Lily said.

“You know, you’re even more bloody confusing than I thought,” James said. “One minute we’re friends, next you don’t speak to me for months, and then you’re apologizing to me. You’re an absolute headcase, you know that?”

Lily could not help shooting him a seething look, but James only grinned. “Well, lucky it was me who found you first,” James continued. “I’ve embarrassed myself in front of you so many times that this hardly counts.”

“True,” Lily said. She wondered why Ursula hadn’t been with him, but decided not to ask.

“Since I’m already injured, I can ask this without fear of further bodily harm: are we back to being maybe-friends?” James asked.

Lily looked at him thoughtfully and sighed. The long silence that had fallen between them in the past months seemed to have made conversation with him much easier.

“Depends,” she said.

“On?”

“On whether you’ve gained some tact in the past few months!” Lily said, but not nearly as angrily as she would have two months ago. James grimaced.

“I can try, but I tend to say really stupid things around you,” James said.

Maybe it was a little bit too easy to talk to each other. Lily was determinedly avoiding eye contact with James when someone else pushed aside the tapestry.

Lily could hardly believe what she was seeing: Snape was standing on the threshold. He registered the sight of the two of them sitting there and his face twisted unhappily.

“Going somewhere, Snivellus?” James asked, getting to his feet quickly.

“What are you doing?” Snape asked, looking at Lily.

“I’m talking to my friend,” Lily said defensively, also standing up. “What does it look like?”

Lily knew that this was probably the wrong question to ask, as she was sure that it would have looked like much more than just a friendly conversation to anyone who had walked in on her and James. And had it been?

“This idiot is your friend now?” he asked, looking furious.

“You know, I don’t think I like your tone, Snivellus,” James said silkily. “And—would you look at that!—it’s after hours. I think a good twenty points from Slytherin will teach you a les—”

Sectumsempra!”

Protego!”

James had managed to deflect most of Snape’s curse, but Lily saw a large gash appear in his left arm. He swore under his breath and raised his wand again, and to Lily’s shock, Snape reached out and grabbed her arm, dragging her out into the hallway beyond the tapestry.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked.

“I need to talk to you,” Snape hissed. James emerged from behind the tapestry a second later.

“Let her go, Snape!”

“Leave us alone, Potter,” Snape said.

“If you don’t let her go—”

“What? You’ll curse me?” Snape said, laughing wildly. “I’d like to see you try and make me suffer more than she has!”

Expelliarmus!” James yelled, and Snape’s wand flew out of his unprepared hand. James pushed Lily aside, she heard a muffled shout of pain, and when she turned around, Snape was sprawled on the ground, clutching the side of his face. He seemed to have been shocked out of his momentary lunacy.

“If I ever hear that you’ve come within twenty feet of her again, Snape,” James threatened, “you’ll come to a new understanding of the word suffering.”

Snape said nothing, and only looked up at Lily. She stared down at him and felt only the smallest pang of pity.

“Stay away from me,” she said.

She did not look at him as he stood up from the ground and picked up his wand. His footsteps got further and further away until they disappeared entirely, and only then did she allow her gaze to move.

“What did you do to him?” she asked James quietly. “I didn’t see.”

“Oh,” James said, looking surprised, “I...er...well, I hit him.”

Lily decided this was probably a fair course of action, except for the fact that it made him seem so endearing when she really should have been irritated with him still. He still hadn’t even apologized!

Her eyes fell on James’ cut again, and she sighed. He hadn’t apologized, but he had gotten cursed for her.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah, it’s not the first time he’s gotten me with it,” James said casually, inspecting his arm. “Are you okay?”

“Of course,” Lily said, but James raised his eyebrows at her.

“He do this often?” James grunted. Lily shook her head, and James spent an extended period of time pocketing his wand. He looked up at her. “He’s a git.”

Lily could not believe they were back to this again. Couldn’t James just let this subject lie? Why did he always feel the need to chastise her for being friends with Snape? She was about to voice her disagreement when a small voice in her head said, Be nice.

Be nice? Why should she?

Well, she did miss being friends with him. Besides, it was true, Snape was a git. In fact, Lily probably would have said this herself, so there was no reason to disagree with James about it. She could swallow her pride, just this once.

“Yes,” she said.

The three-letter word hung heavily in the air. Lily could see James relax slightly. Desperate to break the silence, she gestured to the gash Snape had left in his arm.

“That looks pretty bad,” she said. James lifted his arm and inspected it.

“Could have been worse. The Shield Charm blocked most of it,” he said. He placed his wand right on the cut and Lily winced, thinking that it must hurt to poke a wound like that, but James muttered something and it started healing.

“Are you sure you don’t need to go to the Hospital Wing?” Lily asked, more to avoid silence than anything else.

“Oh, yeah, I’ll be fine,” James said, pocketing his wand. “You never answered my question, though.”

“What question?”

“Are we friends again?”

Trust James to become a human Remembrall, Lily thought.

“Erm...I guess so,” she said. She didn’t want to seem too eager.

“Because last time we were friends, I think we both went into it thinking that we’d apologized to each other,” James continued, obviously foregoing dancing around the subject any longer. Lily nodded, but did not say anything. “And there was a lot of negative stuff still there.”

“Well, I think it’s all out in the open now,” Lily said. James exhaled heavily and put his hand to his hair distractedly. Lily had to stifle the urge to grab his arm and pull it away from his head.

“I think we should hug,” he said. Lily laughed out loud; this was definitely the last thing she would have expected him to say.

“I don’t think that’s necessary.”

“Come on. We have to get rid of the negative stuff. What better way to do it?”

“Please. There’s no negative stuff,” Lily said. There was something that made her feel very uncomfortable about the idea of getting that close to James.

“Didn’t your mum ever tell you when you were a kid that hugging makes everything better?”

“Well, yes,” Lily said, “but that’s...that’s for when you’re arguing with your sibling and you end up punching them in the eye, and then when you hug, you’re still mad anyway.”

“So?”

Rational thought seemed to have left her completely. “James, you’re not my brother.”

“Thank Merlin for that, or else I’d have some serious mental trauma to deal with. And who punches their sibling in the eye, anyway?”

“What does this have to do with anything?” Lily asked, side-stepping the confession that she may have used some undue force when Petunia had ripped the head off her favourite doll. Hugging had not fixed that, and it would not fix this—and since when had James adopted some sort of cheesy “love will heal the world” philosophy, anyway?

“Are you afraid to hug me?” James asked, grinning.

“No.”

“I think you are.”

“I am not!”

“I promise that I bathe regularly."

“That has nothing to do with it!” Lily said, laughing again.

“So you’re scared of nothing, then?”

Lily knew he was trying to goad her. The worst part was that it was actually working.

“I’m not afraid, I just don’t want to,” she said.

“I never knew you were such a baby,” James said.

“All right, fine,” Lily said. “This is completely pointless, but I’m not going to let you walk around calling me a baby.”

It was possibly the most awkward thing Lily had ever experienced before. Hugging someone while trying to keep your body as far from them as humanly possible was no easy feat. She gave him a sort of half-hug that clashed horribly with the full one he was giving her, and it felt like James’ arms wrapping around her shoulders might suffocate her. His nose brushed against her head just past her hairline and shot panic through her entire body. She pulled away quickly and folded her arms across her chest.

“Right, well, I feel much better now,” she lied. The truth was, she felt like she’d just been hit with an Electrocution Hex.

“Me too,” James replied. He sounded like he actually meant it, which, Lily realized, he probably did. Especially since he’d been smelling her hair or kissing her head or something like that. She shuddered at the thought of it.

“We should do that more often,” James continued, apparently on the verge of laughter. “It really clears the air.”

“I’m going to bed,” Lily said. If she had anything to say about it, there wasn’t going to be any further hugging. Ever.



Chapter 12: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
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Chapter Twelve
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year




James went to bed and woke up the morning with a stupid smile on his face. He didn’t even look in the mirror, but he knew it was stupid, because he’d had it before. It really wasn’t that exciting or special, he kept telling himself. So he’d badgered Lily into giving him a hug that she was clearly uninterested in giving—there was no reason that it should fill him with more joy than Christmas could, but somehow, it did.

He and his friends walked down to Hogsmeade with their trunks the next day to Apparate home for the holidays. Predictably, they were curious as to what had happened with Ursula the previous night. He had actually almost forgotten about her after his run-in with Lily, but he knew he would never hear the end of it if his friends found out how pathetic he’d been.

“It went pretty much as you’d expect,” James said, with a bit of swagger. He was not really lying, was he? It wasn’t his fault how they chose to interpret this.

“Excellent,” Peter said.

“Good on you, Prongs,” Remus agreed.

Sirius had just laughed and clapped him on the back proudly. They reached Hogsmeade, wished each other happy holidays, and each Disapparated in turn. James landed in his parents’ back garden, which was covered in untouched snow.

“I’m home!” he called as he closed the back door behind him and shook snow off his feet and ankles. He heard his mother come bustling down the stairs; she appeared in the doorway moments later, smiling. James’ mother, Acantha Potter, was thin, with sharp cheekbones and jet-black hair, like James’. The only things that belied her advanced age were the grey streaks in her hair and fine wrinkles around her eyes.

“Hello, dear,” she said, kissing him on both of his cheeks. “We’re so happy you’re home.”

“I’m glad to be home,” he said, smiling back at his mum. “Sirius’ll be here in a few days.”

“Shall I get Sprotty to make something up for you, then?” she asked. “After she brings your trunk upstairs, of course. Oh, and James, darling, best not disturb your father. He hasn’t been feeling well these past few days, and he’s having a bit of a lie-down.”

James found this a bit odd, but his mother had already disappeared in the direction of the kitchen before he could question her further. He hoisted his trunk up the stairs towards his bedroom, ignoring his mother's intention to have their house elf bring it up to his room; as he passed his parents’ room, he heard his father cough a few times from beyond the closed door.

He returned to the kitchen, where Sprotty had already prepared a steaming bowl of potato soup for him. He sat down at the kitchen table and watched his mother staring out the window, noticing that she looked wearier than usual. James and his mother had the same hair and hazel eyes, the same nose and thin mouth. It was for this reason that he could tell when she was upset. Her brows were constantly knitted, and her jaw seemed to be clenched. She turned around and gave him a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.

“How has school been?” she asked. James shrugged and leaned back in his chair.

“Not bad,” he said, “we had a pretty nasty round of tests this past week, but the rest has been all right. Hard, but okay.”

“And how are all your friends?” she said, as a knife magically cut a loaf of bread on the counter behind her.

“Same as always,” James said. Silence fell in the kitchen. “So...Dad’s not feeling well, then?”

“Oh, yes, but it’s nothing,” his mother said vaguely. “He’s just got a very stubborn cold.”

“Did you try—”

“I said, it’s nothing,” his mother interrupted edgily. She quickly rearranged her features into a reassuring smile. “Please don’t worry yourself, dear. We both want you to have a wonderful Christmas.”

James tried his best to follow her advice over the next few days, but he was sure that his parents were hiding something. His father did not emerge from his room very often, and his mother did not get any less anxious-looking. The house was usually quiet as a tomb, and it unfortunately gave James a great deal too much time to think about Lily.

By the time Sirius arrived at the Potter home, James had come to two conclusions: first, he had somehow acquired the power to peer pressure Lily into doing things she usually wouldn’t, and second, that he was never going to use that power again. He was going to charm Lily until no sort of pressure was needed to make her go out with him, and for the first time, it seemed entirely possible that this could happen.

With this decision made, and with Sirius around to distract him from his parents’ malaise, James was able to enjoy his Christmas very much. He and Sirius spent many of their days playing Quidditch, despite the snow, having snowball fights, and enjoying the products of Sprotty’s delicious cooking.

Until Christmas morning, there was nothing to spoil his days except for the fact that his father remained shut away, and that he kept wishing he could go back to Hogwarts to find out what was going to happen with Lily. James was not awoken on Christmas morning with thoughts of presents or delicious meals, but with Sirius’ urgent shakes.

“Prongs! James! James, wake up!”

“It’s too early,” James groaned, for it was still pitch-black outside the window.

“Get up! Something’s happened,” Sirius said; James could tell by his voice that this “something” was not good.

“What is it?”

“Radio,” Sirius said shortly. James realized that the dusty radio stuffed in the corner of his room was already on, and Sirius turned it up.

“...early estimates indicate at least 100 dead, killed late last night in a Muggle shopping center in Manchester. Death Eaters fled the scene before Magical Law Enforcement arrived...”

“Christmas Eve,” Sirius said bitterly. “Figures.”

“Where did they say it was?” James asked, sitting up and putting his glasses on. He knew Lily lived somewhere near Manchester.

“Manchester.”

“Right in the city?”

“No idea. They probably don’t want to be too specific or they’ll have people Apparating from all of the country.”

“Was it all Muggles that died?” James asked.

“Prongs, I think you’re missing the big picture here. Over a hundred people got killed.”

“I know,” James said, rubbing his forehead.

“You okay?” Sirius asked.

“Yeah,” James said. He had a sinking feeling, maybe because of all the people who’d been killed, or maybe because he was irrationally worried about Lily, or maybe because he had felt guilty ever since Sirius had arrived about lying to him when they left Hogwarts. Sirius was his best friend, who had always been up-front and honest, even about the things that were really hard to admit, and James was lying to him simply to maintain bravado?

The radio suddenly turned to static. Sirius fiddled with the dials.

“What’s wrong with this thing?” he said, picking it up and shaking it.

“I never got off with Ursula,” James said.

Sirius put the radio back down and looked at James, his eyebrows contracted.

“What?”

“The whole date thing with Ursula didn’t really work out,” he explained, leaving out some of the finer points of the evening. “I don’t think I really like her that much.”

Sirius seemed fairly taken aback.

“Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” he asked.

“I thought you might take the mickey out of me,” James said, continuing hesitantly, “because I think I want to ask Lily out again.”

“Oh, Merlin,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes. “What prompted this regression?”

“I dunno,” James said, slightly defensive.

“You haven’t even talked to her in months!”

“We talked at Slughorn’s party, and we’re friends again,” James said. This stunned Sirius into silence for half a moment.

“Well, I don’t see why you think you’ve got more of a chance now than before,” Sirius said dismissively. James felt slightly stung. His friends had always poked fun at him about Lily, but he had never heard Sirius be so unsupportive.

“Never mind,” he said grumpily.

“Come on, Prongs, you know I’m right,” Sirius said.

“Yeah, but you don’t have to say it! Some friend you are.”

“All right, go on. Tell me what happened,” Sirius replied, exhaling loudly. James still felt a bit put off, but it was driving him crazy to keep it all to himself. He told Sirius the entire story, finding that it all sounded very odd when he described it.

“So...where was Ursula when you and Evans were having your little love fest?” Sirius asked when James had finished.

“No clue. She left early. I don’t think she was having a very good time.”

“You’re a dolt, you know that? Of course she wasn’t, if you were paying attention to another girl.”

“I suppose,” James admitted..

“And you’re a liar! Why didn’t you tell us any of this?”

“I’m telling you now! Besides, I wasn’t really lying. I just said that it went as you would expect. You took that to mean it had gone well with Ursula.”

“Don’t try and feed me that load of waffle. What are you going to do now?”

James sighed. “I don’t know.”

“Just—just explain to me,” Sirius said. “What is it about Evans? Why does it always come back to her?”

“I wish I knew, Padfoot,” James replied. And it was true: he really wished he did.

They sat in silence once again, and the news report on the WWN was audible once again.

“...being passed off as a structural failure in the Muggle news. What this attack will mean for the credibility of the new Head of Magical Law Enforcement, Bartemius Crouch, remains to be seen.”

“Happy Christmas, isn’t it?” Sirius asked.

The rest of the morning turned out much happier, for James’ parents had bought him the new Nimbus 1500, the newest and most advanced broom on the market. In the Potter household, however, gifts like this always came with the price of keeping up pretences. No matter what had happened the previous night, James and Sirius were expected to pretend like it was a perfectly normal, happy Christmas. Nobody mentioned the Death Eater attack all day. Mr Potter had only emerged from his bedroom the evening before, and while Sirius was in the washroom and Mrs Potter was talking to Sprotty in the kitchen, James remained at the table with his father.

“Sorry you haven’t seen much of me,” his father said. “Your mother’s been keeping me locked up because of this damned cough.”

Even as he said it, he was shaken with violent coughs. James’ stomach squirmed unpleasantly. There was no reason why his father would be sick with a mere cold for such a long time. When James had left for school, his father had been healthy, if aged. He seemed to have lost weight, and his wrinkles stood out more.

“How’s school been?” Mr Potter asked when he emerged from his coughing fit.

“Fine,” James said, resenting the way his parents kept avoiding the subject of Mr Potter’s illness.

“Don’t get too excited, now,” Mr Potter said, smirking.

“Just...it’s lots of studying,” James mumbled. “Hey—our new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor mentioned that he knows you and mum.”

“Caradoc and I used to work together, at the Ministry,” his father said.

“He’s interesting.”

“Always was,” Mr Potter replied. “How’s the Quidditch team this year?”

James gave in to the subject change. After years of being shielded and coddled by his parents, he had learned that pestering them for further information on subjects they did not want to discuss would get him nowhere. Though he was an adult, his parents always insisted on treating him like he was still in first year.

The only way to get honest conversation out of them was to eavesdrop. Which he did, later that evening.

James’ bedroom was right above his father’s study, and if he pulled up a loose floorboard, he could hear people talking below as if they were right next to him. His mother’s voice came to him first.

“—if they come to our door one more time. It was lucky James was out playing Quidditch! What would we have told him?”

“I can’t tell the Ministry what to do.”

“Then what was the purpose of all those years spent working for them? We cannot have people thinking that this family is under suspicion! Do you have any idea—?”

“It wasn’t just us; the Longbottoms, the Fudges, everyone all got the same treatment. And telling the Ministry not to come calling is only going to make us look more suspicious.”

“Well, they already seem to be quite suspicious about Dumbledore. I thought you told him you weren’t interested,” his mother said. James’ interest increased. Had his father and Dumbledore been corresponding secretly?

“I did. That won’t stop Crouch from trying to weed out Dumbledore’s allies. They’re pushing their luck with the Ministry.”

“All I want is for you to tell Barty Crouch that he has no business violating the privacy of a well-respected and long-established family—”

“Yes, my family.”

James heard a momentary pause, followed by a door slamming below him. He replaced the floorboard and sat against his bed, trying to sort through everything he had heard. The Ministry must have been at their house. James felt a passing sense of resentment that his parents had not told him, but he could not have expected more. More important was what his father had said about Dumbledore.

Sirius opened the door, interrupting James’ thoughts.

“Everything set for tomorrow night?” Sirius asked. They were planning on Apparating to Remus’ house to keep him company during the full moon. “Why are you sitting on the floor?”

“Floorboard,” James said.

“What’s on the airwaves tonight?” Sirius said, sitting in James’ desk chair.

“I think my house might’ve been searched,” James said.

“Bad luck there.”

“And they were saying something about Dumbledore having allies that were upsetting the Ministry,” James continued.

“What kind of allies?”

“Dunno...maybe people who work at the Ministry? Or...maybe it’s something more like his own group of Aurors,” James said.

“Who knew—Dumbledore, general of the anti-Voldy forces,” Sirius said lightly. “Makes sense, though, I suppose.”

“Yeah, it does,” James agreed. “I wish they’d said more about it.”

“Tell you what, we’ll just ask my parents,” Sirius grumbled. “I’m sure Voldemort told them all about it at their last Tea & Torture Party.”

James smiled uncomfortably. “You don’t really think your parents are Death Eaters?”

“I expect their instincts for self-preservation have kept them from joining up,” Sirius said bitterly, “but there’s no doubt in my mind about which side they’re cheering for.”

“Yeah, well, you should have heard my mum,” James said darkly. His parents were kind people, but they were also very traditional, and put a little too much stock in family lineage for James’ liking. It was hard to completely blame his parents for their archaic attitudes, for they had come from a different generation, but it was not enough to completely absolve them either.

“I think we should go out and marry a couple of Squibs, just to see their faces,” Sirius said, grinning.

“Well, I’m going to find out everything I can about these allies,” James said, quickly changing the subject. He did not particularly like talking about blood status with Sirius, because it always ended in one of two ways: either Sirius would get angry and stay in a bad mood for hours afterward, or he would end up saying something slightly tactless that made James feel like his friend was not entirely free of the very same biases they were discussing. He felt awful for thinking it at all.

“Thinking of enlisting?” Sirius joked.

“Yeah, actually,” James said. Sirius looked at him incredulously.

“I was joking!”

“I’m not,” James said firmly. Sirius rolled his eyes.

“I suppose this’ll just be a little side-hobby, will it? Instead of gardening, you’ll use your free time to fight Death Eaters?”

“I don’t know, but I mean it, I want to join,” James said. If there was one thing that James hated most, it was the Dark Arts. Anyone who exalted them was worthless in his mind, and opposing them was the most worthwhile pursuit possible. “Don’t you?”

Sirius smiled wryly. “Well, Prongs, I have stuck with you this long, haven’t I?”

“And have I ever led you astray?”

“Well, yes, actually—”

“You were supposed to say ‘no’ to that one, Padfoot,” James said, and Sirius laughed.

“I guess I can at least give people an answer now when they ask what I want to do after I’m done school,” Sirius said thoughtfully.

“And it’ll make their aspirations seem dead boring in comparison,” James pointed out. Sirius nodded slowly.

“All right, then, you’ve convinced me. Padfoot and Prongs: future fighting duo. Those Death Eaters won’t know what’s hit them.”



..........




Lily arrived at home feeling very much in the holiday spirit. There were no exams to study for, no prefects to keep in line, no detentions to hand out, and, most of all, no James to worry about. Everything felt normal and blessedly peaceful, leaving Lily all the time in the world to help trim the tree, hang lights, wrap gifts, drink hot cocoa, and watch Christmas specials on television.

Of course, there were times when her family wasn’t home (or, her parents, rather—even when Petunia was home, she pretended that Lily didn’t exist) that gave her a bit too much free time to think about the events of her last evening at Hogwarts. She could feel her face burning every time she thought about hugging James. Did she ever need to grow a backbone, and learn to not just do something because James Potter insinuated that she was chicken. She hoped he didn’t think that she wanted to be more than friends with him...but it was only a hug, right?  Even if he did think that, she would make it perfectly plain to him that there was no chance of that happening; even with her tendency to leap without looking, she knew that it would be a very bad idea to attempt anything beyond friendship. They could be good friends, she was quite sure of that, but nothing more.

Lily hummed along as her mother played carols on the piano on Christmas Eve. Her father was nodding off in a chair near the fireplace, and Petunia had kept herself busy making cookies in the kitchen, surely motivated by a desire to come into as little contact as possible with Lily. Mrs Evans had tried to coax Petunia into joining the rest of the family in the sitting room, but she had been met with adamant refusal. It was times like Christmas that Lily felt very guilty about her estrangement from her sister, because it so clearly troubled their parents, but, like Petunia, Lily did not feel bad enough to apologize, not when she had never done anything wrong to begin with.

Christmas at the Evans household was not usually a grand affair—their family was not extremely wealthy—but it did not make it any less enjoyable. Lily’s favourite gift was a very beautiful necklace that her mother had handed down to her.

“It was your Great-Aunt Josephine’s,” her mother explained, naming the relative that Lily had been given her middle name for.

“It’s beautiful,” Lily said, running her thumb over the emerald flower that hung on the silver chain.

“You know,” her mother said excitedly, “Aunt Josephine was always a bit of an outsider in the family. I liked her, but she kept to herself. Ever since we found out about you being a witch”—Petunia mumbled something about making tea and left the room—“I’ve always wondered whether she might have been one too, and just never told anyone. Didn’t you say there was probably someone magical back in our family tree?”

“Could be,” Lily said, although she had done some fairly thorough research on her relatives back in fourth year and had found nothing to indicate that Great-Aunt Josephine had ever been at Hogwarts. Of course, there was the possibility that her parents had not let her attend. It was more likely that Lily’s mother was endlessly excited that she might have been related to another witch.

Whenever Lily was home, her parents were eager to try and make magic a normal part of conversation, which was probably because it actually made them slightly nervous. They had something of a tendency to misuse words Lily had mentioned to them; her mother often muttered that she would like to “Patronus” rude people at the grocer’s.

“I had planned on giving it to you on your eighteenth birthday, but with you away at school...and your birthday is only a month away,” her mother said anxiously. Over her shoulder, Mr Evans shot Lily a look that said, Please make a big deal out of this, or I’ll never hear the end of it.

“I love it,” Lily said, leaning over to hug her mother. “Maybe I can give it to my daughter one day.”

Her mother looked incredibly pleased at this idea, and Lily suggested that someone else open a gift as Petunia re-entered the room.

That evening at dinner, talk turned to a different subject.

“Well, we have reason to feel very lucky this Christmas,” her father said, cutting into her meat. “We're lucky that no one we loved was killed in that shopping centre accident. Terrible thing to happen, on Christmas Eve.”

“What accident?” Lily asked. Petunia gave her a patronizing stare.

“Have you been living with your head under a rock?” her sister asked.

“Not at the table, Petunia,” their mother scolded.

Petunia rolled her eyes and adopted a tone that was a shade more pleasant. “The ceiling of a department store fell in last night and killed almost a hundred and fifty people. It’s been all over the news.”

“How would a ceiling just fall in?” Lily asked.

“They said it was structurally unsound, and the weight of snow weakened it further,” Lily’s father said. He suddenly looked at Lily with interest and said, "You know, it got me wondering if there's some sort of magic that could help in that sort of situation. Do you think the Ministry of Magic and our government have ever looked into it?"

Petunia made a derisive noise from across the table, but Lily ignored her. "No, Dad, we just hold our buildings up like everyone else." Although, she thought, there's certainly magic that could help bring a building down.

“Well, what a shame for those families,” her mother said. "We should talk about something else, though. It's Christmas; we should be cheerful."

Lily listened to the radio, watched the television, and read the newspaper, looking for something that might confirm her suspicions, but it was all explained very logically. She thought of writing to Anna, but it might take days to get a response. This was when it would have paid to have a subscription to the Daily Prophet. There was only one thing to do.

When her parents had gone to bed, she crept downstairs and pulled on her coat and boots by the light of her Christmas tree. The air outside made her nose feel like an icebox, but she was determined. The curiosity would eat away at her brain, and she didn’t want to return to Hogwarts sounding uninformed. It was a result of being a Muggle-born, the overcompensation when it came to staying in the loop. She had to know, which was why she was forcing herself to walk over to Severus Snape’s house.

She did not knock on the front door, remembering how frightening Severus’ parents were. Instead, she scooped snow off a drift, wadded it up, and threw it at his bedroom window. It was dark, but she saw a figure moving inside. A minute later, the door opened.

“I’m sorry for coming by so late,” she said. His face was unreadable.

“It’s fine. Come in,” he said, stepping aside to give her room.

“No,” she replied. He shifted back. “I just wanted to know if the accident at that store last night was what they’re saying it is.”

“What have you heard?” he asked, uncertain.

“You’re the last person I want to talk to this about,” Lily said. “Please just make this easy, for both of us?”

“Wait here,” he said, closing the door almost all the way. He returned with a folded Daily Prophet, which he handed to her. She opened it to the front page and got her answer.

“I should have known you wouldn’t be able to say it,” she said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means. Are you going to go to the Ministry, tell them who did this?”

“Even if I knew—”

“Don’t lie,” Lily interrupted. He didn’t respond, and Lily folded the newspaper back up. “Don’t—can’t you see now, what they’re like? I mean, on Christmas Eve.”

“They’re great wizards,” Snape muttered.

“No.”

“They are, Lily. They’re experts, no one can deny that.”

“It doesn’t matter. They’re awful people.”

“You never used to make generalizations like that.”

Lily breathed out a laugh. “That was before I realized how many generalizations turn out to be true.” Especially the ones about people like you, Lily thought.

“You sound like Potter,” he said, sneering. Lily’s face reddened.

“Don’t bring him into this.”

“Sorry, I forgot that he’s your best friend now,” Snape spat.

Lily could hear muffled yells echoing from inside the house. There was a time when she would have tried to comfort him, but he had chosen to walk alone. He chose again and again to defend people who would like nothing better than people like Lily dead. Lily could see him now, more clearly than ever before.

“He’s a better friend than you ever were,” she said. Snape’s face hardened until Lily thought it might have become stone.

“Didn’t you ask me to stay away from you?” he asked.

“I did,” she replied, “and this time, I really mean it.”

“Fine,” he said, sounding petulant. “Have a nice life.”

“Good bye.”

Snow started to fall as she walked home. It would have been a beautiful winter’s night if it didn’t feel so lonely. Her house was unchanged from the moment she had stepped outside, except for the light on in the kitchen. Lily was about to sneak up the stairs when Petunia emerged into the front hall.

“Why were you outside?” she asked, already sounding accusatory.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Were you going to see that boy?”

“No,” Lily lied.

“I thought you said you weren’t friends with him anymore.”

“I’m not. And I was just taking a walk.”

“It’s not safe to walk around alone at night,” Petunia said.

“Well, it must not be that dangerous, or else I wouldn’t have made it back,” Lily said.

“You shouldn’t joke like that. It’s not funny.”

“I’m going to bed,” Lily said, feeling truly exhausted. She walked up the stairs to her bedroom and read the Daily Prophet from front to back before turning off the light. The next day, she would have to make sure to push it to the bottom of the bin. She did not know how her family would react if they found out about You-Know-Who, but she was certain it was risking more than upset appetites.



Chapter 13: Out in the Cold
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Chapter Thirteen

Out in the Cold




James was sick of his parents’ insistence on sheltering him, so Apparating to another part of the country in order to illegally transform and run around with a werewolf was very satisfying. His enthusiasm could not even be marred by the fact that he and Sirius Apparated straight into a waist-high snowdrift and had to spend ten minutes trying to get out. They waited for Peter, who was clad in so many layers of jackets and scarves that he looked even more lump-like than usual, and followed Remus’ directions into the forest near his home. James had only been there a few times before, and it all sort of looked the same inside the thick trees. They couldn’t get lost, though; the directions had been very straightforward.

“Is this really a good idea?” Peter asked, his voice muffled.

“You sound like Moony,” Sirius said. His voice echoed through the trees. “It’s new Marauder territory, Wormtail.”

“These trees are going to be pretty difficult to run through,” James remarked.

“Only for one of us,” Sirius joked.

They walked further into the forest, and they could hear howls getting louder and louder.

“Reckon we should do it now?” Sirius asked.

“Let’s wait,” James replied. “Wormtail has to get rid of the chain while we keep Moony under control, remember?”

They kept going until they could see the clearing, bright-white under the moon. A four-legged form was sunken into the snow.

“Okay, Wormy,” Sirius said. “We’ll go in, and you go around the back of the tree.”

As soon as Remus saw other animals approaching, he leapt to his feet and lunged at them, pulling at the chain that held him to the tree. It was only when the stag and dog came closer that his ferocity lessened. The chain fell from Remus’ neck, but he did not bolt off into the trees, preferring to stay with those he knew were his friends. It was only when they started to move that he followed.

They had only ever spent full moons at Hogwarts, and it was strange to be somewhere so unfamiliar. The trees were difficult for James to navigate, as he had predicted, and he had to think ten steps ahead to avoid running into one of them. His concentration was not fully on Remus, but that often happened on these nights.

James had barely noticed that the trees were thinning when they burst out of the woods. He could see a group of lights off in the distance, and Remus stopped, sniffing the air. This was always a sign of danger, but Sirius was on it, playfully tackling their friend from behind, distracting him. Remus followed Sirius as he ran away from the lights and back into the forest.

They ran for hours, never stopping in order to always keep Remus distracted from the desperate hunger he must feel. They had to go until dawn, now that he had been unleashed. It was wonderfully liberating and distracting to run like this, if you could ignore how exhausting it was. Being away from Hogwarts offered less diversion. Here, there was little to explore, only ground to cover. The forest seemed never-ending, and James thought they must be a hundred miles from any form of civilization—the farther, the better, when you were trying to keep a werewolf under control.

Their footfalls broke the deafening silence like beats on a gong. It was the deepest hour of night when the trees started thinning and they emerged from the opposite edge of the forest. James felt a moment of fear when he saw a small village sprawled out in front of them, but he soon realized that it was entirely deserted. No lights shone from inside the cottages, each of which was a heap of broken windows and sunken roofs. James relaxed and thundered down the remains of the High Street, following Sirius and Remus.

A small church and graveyard marked the end of the High Street, and James slowed down. There was something eerie about this place, now that he looked at it properly. Where had all the people who had once lived here gone to? It did not look like there were many shops, so they could not be too far from a larger town. An odd smell was tingeing the air, as well.

Thunk. James turned toward the nearest cottage, where the noise had come from. He hoped it was just another ceiling rafter falling down, and not a person moving within. Perhaps they had been wrong to assume that the village was deserted, despite its appearance.

Remus and Sirius had been distracted until now, but they suddenly froze, their ears pricked and alert. James watched the nearest house carefully, and he was pretty sure he could see something moving inside of it. They needed to get out, now. It was hard enough to pull Remus away when there were people protected by a thick castle wall.

He started to nudge Remus firmly in the direction of the forest, but he stopped in horror. Whatever had been moving had finally emerged, and it wasn’t alone. There were dozens of them, all walking out from the decrepit houses. From a distance, they could have been mistaken for humans, but they had greying skin stretched taut over bone and stringy hair. They staggered out into the High Street; none of them seemed to be heading anywhere in particular. James had only seen them in illustrations before, but he was quite sure that these were Inferi.

He could not think straight enough to run, and he, Remus, and Sirius stood still as statues as the grey bodies swarmed around them. They moved like sick marionettes: slowly, haltingly, animated but lifeless. James tried to at least think of a plan to defend himself, but even as a stag, he was outnumbered and would be easily overpowered. Inferi, he remembered, were strong, despite their frail appearance.

Only, why weren’t they attacking James, Remus, or Sirius? Wasn’t that what Inferi were supposed to do? They were just walking past them as if they didn’t exist; one even bumped off James’ hindquarters. It was as if they were searching for something but could not find it; they wandered aimlessly around the three of them. Remus, who had his teeth bared in a low growl, was showing more signs of aggression than they were. James was about to try and get Sirius’ help in directing their friend back into the forest when Remus let out a snarl and lunged at one of the Inferi, attacking with vigour that James had never seen before.

James expected them to attack now, once provoked, but they were unperturbed. Remus, on the other hand, recoiled, shuddering and retching. The Inferius he had attacked reached its hand forward like a lightning flash and closed it around Remus’ neck. Remus looked completely disoriented and did not fight back, and Sirius was barking at James. He hardly wanted to have the Inferius come after him, but there was nothing else to be done; with some swift kicks he was able to free Remus from the Inferius. The rest of the Inferi seemed to have noticed nothing, and were still roaming around them like a swarm of insects. James was in horror and could hardly move, but the only solution was to get back to the cover of the trees. He looked at Sirius and threw his head in the direction of the forest, hoping he would understand.

They managed to guide Remus part of the way to the trees before he collapsed. James was now so worried that he almost transformed, but they were not yet far enough away from the village. They would never be far enough, but they needed to be further, at least, before James would feel comfortable resuming human form. With Sirius’ help, he was able to push Remus over the snow and back into the forest before finally transforming.

Sirius was the first to speak, swearing in between laboured breaths. James leaned up against a tree, doubled over. He didn’t think he had ever felt his heart beating this frantically before.

“Where’s Peter?” he asked, realizing for the first time that he was not among them.

“Probably did the smart thing and ran away,” Sirius replied. “I’m sure he’s fine; he always is.”

Sirius was right, and in any case, James was more worried about whether Remus was going to be fine or not. He still seemed to be either unconscious or sleeping.

“Think he’s all right?” James asked, jerking his head at the motionless Remus.

“Obviously not,” Sirius said.

“I mean—he’s not—he’s alive, right?”

“Why wouldn’t he be? It’s not like he got attacked. He attacked.”

James pushed himself upright and walked over to Remus. He was suddenly very aware that this was the first time he had ever been around his friend as a human during the full moon. It was with a great deal of trepidation that the knelt down and rested his hand on Remus’ side, trying to feel for signs of breathing or a heartbeat. When he felt his chest rise and fall underneath his hand, he jumped up quickly.

“He’s breathing.”

“Yeah, well, thank Merlin we all are,” Sirius said.

“How could there be an entire village of those things without anyone knowing about it?” James asked.

“Oh, I’m sure people knew. Until they were brutally murdered by the undead horde, of course.”

James exhaled heavily, trying to sort his thoughts into coherent form. They needed to find Peter. They also needed to figure out what was wrong with Remus and fix it, without getting bitten while they did so. They needed to be human to cure him, but avoid getting bitten when he was cured. None of these tasks seemed possible.

“Maybe we should go get Remus’ mum,” James suggested. Sirius barked with derisive laughter.

“Are you kidding? Yeah, let’s go tell his mummy that we’re illegal Animagi, and we let her son run around every time there’s a full moon. That’ll go over well.”

“He could be really hurt! We have to do something!”

“You know we can’t tell anyone,” Sirius said. James knew he was right. Going for help was risking a great deal—but not going for help might be risking even more. Was there anyone they could trust? His parents might know what to do, but they would also probably take him out of Hogwarts if they found out what he’d been doing. Sirius’ parents were out of the question, of course, and Peter’s mum was a Muggle. It didn’t matter, anyway. Beyond the fact that they would all be in serious trouble if they brought in outside help, it would only be putting one more person at risk.

“We should go get that chain,” James said.

“You go,” Sirius offered, glancing sideways at the village. “I’ll stay here with Moony.”

“No, you should go,” James said. He wouldn’t feel like much of a friend, leaving Sirius alone with not only the Inferi but also a werewolf. “You’ve always had better aim at Apparating.”

“My nerves are shot; I won’t do any better than you. It’s fine.”

“Padfoot, just get out of here, will you?”

Sirius’s jaw twitched, but there was a crack that reverberated in the trees, and he was gone. James forced himself not to look in the direction of the houses, in case he happened to spot a wandering Inferius. Incendio, he told himself, taking his wand out. Incendio. That was what they’d learned in Defence Against the Dark Arts, and he wanted it fresh in his mind, just in case.

Even though he had been expecting it, the crack that signalled Sirius’ return made him jump. Sirius was not alone: Peter, still wrapped in a mountain of scarves and hats, was at his side.

“He was back in the clearing,” Sirius explained.

“I lost you in that spot where the trees thickened,” Peter said. “I was waiting for you.”

“You should feel fortunate,” Sirius grumbled, using his wand to wrap the chain tightly around a nearby tree.

“What do you mean?” Peter asked. His watery eyes were wide and nervous.

“That village over there is full of Inferi,” James said, taking on the task of shutting the manacle around Remus’ neck. Saying it—Inferi—felt strange, almost as if he were discussing the most preposterous thing that had happened in a dream. “Remus attacked one of them; that’s why he’s sick. I think.”

“We shouldn’t stay here,” Peter said.

“We can’t abandon Moony,” James replied.

“But—those things could find us! We’re not even that far away from them!”

“Calm down, Wormtail,” Sirius said. “It’s not like you can’t defend yourself. You’ve got a wand.”

There was some argument about how they should proceed. Peter tried to suggest that they should leave and come back in the morning, but James adamantly refused. It had always been understood that they would never leave someone behind when they were out on a full moon, and James could only imagine how Remus would feel when he realized his friends had abandoned him. Sirius did not exactly seem keen on spending the rest of the night there either, but in the end, he and Peter agreed that they should at least wait until Remus woke up.

Sirius conjured cushions for all of them, and they arranged them around a small fire. Peter had voiced a great deal of anxiety about starting a fire, arguing that they might as well conjure up an Inferi magnet. James hoped that it would not attract their attention, but weren’t they repelled by fire? And it was as Sirius had said: they had their wands in case it did draw any unwanted visitors.

James could not have fallen asleep if he’d taken the Draught of Living Death. He was exhausted, but every time he started to drift off into a hazy sort of consciousness, he imagined sickly, dead bodies grabbing onto his ankles. It felt real each time, so much so that he would jerk his leg away, only to open his eyes and see nothing there.

This was a nightmare. It was not the first time they’d run into problems during the full moon, but it had never happened on a scale like this. Meeting dozens of Inferi did not even seem possible—they were only seventeen years old. This sort of thing was supposed to happen to fully-trained Aurors, not teenagers, even if they were teenagers that often went looking for trouble.

There was only one reason—one person, though he hardly deserved to be called that—who could ever make something so horrible possible. James felt a surge of bitter loathing rush through his body, and he indulged it, pushing it to grow even stronger. Anger was easier than fear or sadness.

“Prongs?”

Sirius was fast asleep, but apparently Peter was having as much trouble as James. He sat up and took off a couple of his scarves, freeing the lower half of his face.

“What time do you think it is?” Peter asked, his words turning to fog in the air. James had to look at the slivers of sky visible through the trees.

“Maybe five in the morning?” he guessed. “We’ve still got a couple hours until the sun’s up.”

Peter yawned. “Have you checked on Moony?”

Even though Remus had barely moved since they had sat down, James was still nervous about drawing closer. There was no way of telling how much he had recovered.

“Not yet,” James admitted. Peter got up and ambled over to Remus, stumbling slightly in some deep snow. James watched as he reached a hand down, much as he himself had done before. Peter then took out his wand and conjured a moth-eaten blanket, which he threw over Remus. James could not help but smile slightly; he was reminded of his great fortune in finding three unendingly loyal friends.

Peter returned to his cushion.

“Pretty ratty blanket,” he said. “I was going for something a bit more substantial.”

“It’ll do,” James replied. They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Do you think—is Moony dating Lily’s friend?”

James thought this was a rather bizarre conversation topic, but at least it was a distraction from less pleasant thoughts.

“Mary? I don’t think so,” James replied.

“Are you sure?” Peter pressed.

“Pretty sure. Why?”

“Well...I mean, I probably shouldn’t say anything, because it was kind of by accident that I even saw it,” Peter mumbled. James contracted his brows in confusion.

“What are you talking about?”

“I just—the night before holidays, I was walking back from McGonagall’s office—”

“Why were you in McGonagall’s office?”

“Er—well, my Potions mark isn’t very good,” Peter said quickly. “But anyway, I was walking back, and when I got up to the fourth floor, I saw Remus and her outside the library, so I was about to go say hi, but then...well, they were...erm...snogging.”

James had to take a moment to let this story sink in. He considered pinching himself; maybe he had accidentally fallen asleep, and this was all a dream.

“Are you sure it was them?” James asked.

“Yeah,” Peter replied.

“Did you ask him about it?”

“No. I felt weird, because they didn’t think anyone could see them, right? But I thought he told her that he wasn’t interested in her at Halloween.”

“He did,” James said. Remus had not mentioned anything more about Mary since then, but obviously his feelings about her had changed.

“You don’t think he likes her, do you?”

“I guess he does,” James replied.

“Yeah. He must, if he was snogging her, right?”

“Makes sense.”

“It’s weird though. She seems kind of clingy, don’t you think? And she’s not really much to look at, either.”

James shrugged. Mary wasn’t exactly a supermodel, but he didn’t think “not really much to look at” was an accurate descriptor for her. Some people would probably think she was better-looking than Lily, although James couldn’t count himself among them.

“Are you going to ask him about it?” Peter said.

“Er—maybe,” James said. It felt like there was some weird “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in effect when it came to Mary and Remus. Maybe he could ask Lily, now that they were back to being friends.

Peter soon tried to go back to sleep; whether he was successful or not, he didn’t speak again. Without anyone to talk to, the feeling of oppressive terror returned to James. The image of Inferi surrounding him seemed to be burned into his mind so that nothing could drive them out. He tried thinking about something, anything else...he soon became so tired that he felt like he might be going mad.

At some point the forest went from inky black to palest white; the sun had come up. He must have fallen asleep as well, although it felt like he had been awake the whole time. He rubbed his eyes behind his glasses and looked around. Sirius and Peter were both asleep, and Remus was back to being himself. James got up and walked over to him.

“Moony?” he said, shaking his friend’s shoulder. James was very glad that Peter had conjured that blanket. He had never really thought about it before, but he supposed it made sense that Remus would wake up unclothed.

Remus did not immediately stir. James hoped that he was just sleeping very deeply, and not on the verge of death.

“Moony, wake up,” he said, using more force. Remus was probably freezing, laying there with nothing to protect him from the snow. James took out his wand and tried to remember how to do a Warming Charm—was it Fervento or Ferventus? He hesitated: the last thing he wanted was to set his friend on fire.

Remus suddenly made a muffled groaning noise.

“Hey, Moony, you all right?”

Remus cracked one eye open and looked at James.

“What’re you doing here?” he mumbled, sounding as if every word was causing him immense pain.

“We—erm—there was some trouble last night,” James said. The details could wait for later. “Are you feeling okay?”

Remus rolled onto his back; his chest looked raw and red from the snow.

“What kind of bloody question is that?” he asked. “What do you think?”

“Right. Sorry, mate,” James said. “What I mean to say is—you’re not on the verge of death, are you?”

“James, do me a favour and bugger off for a few minutes.”

Deciding that this meant that his friend was not in mortal peril, James went to wake up Sirius and Peter.

“Moony okay?” Peter asked.

“Yeah,” James said, glancing at Remus, who had progressed to sitting up. “Let’s just wait for him here.”

They Vanished the cushions and swapped stories with Peter about Christmas, trying to make it seem like they were not waiting for Remus at all. James was to the point of asking Peter about the ingredients that his mother used in her Christmas pudding when Remus finally spoke.

“Prongs?”

James walked over, trying to look very casual, not at all like Remus had just awoken from a night as a werewolf.

“Does anyone have my wand?” Remus asked, still seated against a tree. He was staring at the ground.

“I don’t think so,” James said. “Is it at your house? One of us could Apparate back and get it for you.”

“It’s in the clearing. And there’s robes there,” Remus replied.

“Sure. I’ll go get them,” James said.

“Could you—I can’t, without my wand,” Remus muttered, grabbing onto the manacle that was still chaining him to the tree.

“Of course,” James said quickly. He took out his wand and thought, Alohomora, pointing it at the manacle. If there was ever a time for a non-verbal spell, this was it. Freed of the chain, Remus leaned his head back against the tree, looking up into the branches above. James could see dark bruises on his friend’s neck in the shape of fingerprints. He looked positively miserable.

James could think of nothing to say that would ease his friend’s unhappiness. They had never had to go through this part: the part where Remus woke up and had to deal with the immense pain that remained from the previous night. James wondered whether it was always like this, and then felt like a terrible friend for never having asked.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” James said to Sirius and Peter. He Apparated back to the clearing, where he saw folded robes near the base of a tree. Remus’ wand was placed on top of them. It brought James a moment of frustration that neither Sirius nor Peter had thought to bring these with them last night; this had probably been the tree that the chain was originally attached to, after all.

He returned and brought the pile to Remus, placing it beside him as if it were some sort of peace offering. James, Sirius, and Peter played the waiting game again while Remus got his robes on. Peter was in the middle of pointing out a former bird’s nest when they heard the unmistakeable sounds of Remus vomiting.

“Inferius does not go down smooth,” Sirius muttered.

“I wonder what it tasted like,” Peter whispered. “Do you think it was like really ancient cheese, or something?”

When the sounds subsided, the three of them decided to finally approach their friend.

“All right there, Moony?” Sirius asked. “That was quite an adventure last night. One for the history books.”

Remus massaged his forehead with the palm of his heel, but did not speak. He wasn’t even looking at any of them.

“James said you attacked an Inferius,” Peter said enthusiastically. Remus gagged and turned away to throw up again.

“He didn’t need to know, mate,” Sirius said with a hand on Peter’s shoulder.

“You shouldn’t have stayed,” Remus said when he had recovered.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” James said. “We’d never leave you behind.”

“You should have.”

“We had to make sure you didn’t die overnight, didn’t we?” Sirius said jovially.

“I’m going home,” Remus said. “See you later.”

James, Sirius, and Peter stood in shocked silence as they watched their friend turn and disappear.

“Is he mad at us?” Peter asked.

“I think he’s just embarrassed,” James said. “He didn’t really look well enough to Apparate, though.”

“Serves him right if he Splinched himself,” said Sirius.




Author’s Note: I always really appreciate feedback on this chapter, because I was very nervous about posting it, and I still wonder from time to time whether it's out of place or just preposterous. So if you have thoughts, please leave them in a review! :)

Chapter 14: Start Again
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Chapter Fourteen
Start Again




Lily did not know what possessed her to remain at home until the last day before term started. Petunia had taken it upon herself to one-up Scrooge when it came to post-Christmas cheer, mostly because their parents had rescinded their offer to help her pay for a place in London. Petunia was the queen of temper tantrums, and had been ever since they were young. When she was seven, she had thrown a saucepan through the kitchen window because their mother wouldn’t let her have cake for dinner. With surprising force, too.

Every remaining day of the holidays included Petunia whining and screaming at the top of her lungs. Lily could only escape the noise if she used Muffliato on her bedroom door; even then some of the shriller shrieks made it through. Leave it to Petunia to defy the laws of magic.

The truth was, even with Petunia Grinching things up, being at home was less stressful than being at Hogwarts. At home, she could actually relax without feeling like her N.E.W.T.s were going to jump out at her from behind the next corner. The scary stories in the Daily Prophet were non-existent at home, Snape was never lurking around trying to talk to her (or at least not that she knew of), and James—well, there was technically nothing to worry about when it came to him anymore. At least, not beyond the tricky task of maintaining enough distance so he wouldn’t think that she wanted to go out with him, but how difficult could that be? She'd had years of practice at it.

Petunia’s yells served as her alarm clock on the day of her departure. Lily decided to leave before noon, hoping to avoid the danger of becoming collateral damage in her sister’s war. She said good-bye to her parents (Petunia had already stomped up the stairs and slammed her door, denting one of the steps and cracking the frame of her door in the process) and took her trunk into the backyard. She focused her mind on Hogsmeade, and moments later, Lily felt her feet hit the ground and gazed upon the winged boars that were perched on the gates into Hogwarts. She felt very relieved to be back at Hogwarts as she ploughed through the snow up to the castle with her trunk floating along behind her.

As she approached the castle, she saw a group of students standing at the foot of one of the towers preparing for a snowball fight. She was debating whether to go straight to kitchens and ask for some hot cocoa when one of the entrance doors opened and someone familiar came outside.

James was not at all dressed for the weather, and he was striding off in the direction of the snowball-fighters. He did not spot her, but he seemed to be very upset with the group of students. She was too far away to hear what he was yelling, so she walked over, intrigued.

“...filled the entire room with snow, you idiots! You’re lucky I don’t bury all of you up to your necks in a snowdrift!”

“Like you could!” one of the offenders spat. He looked to be about thirteen; Lily could see a green-and-silver scarf coiled around his neck.

“Don’t tempt me, you scummy little berk,” James said, and Lily had to stop herself from laughing. “Detention for all of you, first day of term. Now get back inside!”

The group of students shuffled past Lily and James turned around. He looked completely taken aback, and she tried to conceal the look of amusement on her face.

“That was very intimidating,” Lily said, still on the verge of laughter.

“Ha, ha,” James said, shoving his hands in his pockets self-consciously.

“No, really, I could feel you exercising your authority from all the way over here,” Lily said, and she was pleased to see a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“Well, if you must know, that was the first time I’ve ever given anyone a detention,” James said. Lily finally let her laugh escape.

“I never would have known,” she said sarcastically.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to give one again, now that you’ve destroyed my self-esteem.”

“Destroy your self-esteem? Impossible,” Lily stated. “You’ve got too much of it.”

“I’m going to choose to take that as a compliment,” James said. “Shall we go inside? I’m freezing.”

They walked up the stairs and into the Entrance Hall. Lily used her wand to dry off the hem of her robes.

“So, how was your Christmas?” James asked as they started up the main staircase.

“Oh, all right,” Lily said. “Yours?”

“I think ‘all right’ is probably a fitting description of mine too,” James replied. Lily thought this was a bit odd; she had always heard him brag about Christmases at home in years past and assumed that he thoroughly enjoyed them, but she did not feel comfortable questioning any further.

They made small talk about Christmas gifts until they reached the stretch of second-floor corridor where the tapestry-concealed staircase was. The silence that fell was slightly uncomfortable. Lily tried to search for something amusing and self-deprecating to say about her infamous fall through the stairs, but ended up staring nervously at a portrait of a heavily made-up woman.

“What’re you staring at, red?” the woman asked in a hoarse voice, giving Lily a look of deep disgust.

James laughed and pulled aside the tapestry. “After you,” he said, sweeping his arm towards the stairs.

Well, Lily thought, if he can be so calm and collected about this, then so can I. She strode through the opening and James followed.

“Careful,” James said, as she approached the false stair. Lily sighed in frustration. “Ah, don’t be embarrassed, Lily. If you hadn’t fallen, where would we be now?”

“Not talking about me making a fool of myself, I expect,” Lily muttered.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, you make a cute fool of yourself,” James said. Lily didn’t need to turn around to see the smirk that was spread across his face. She did, however, turn around and cross her arms, intending to put a stop to comments like that. James looked up at her innocently. Why was he carrying her trunk?

“What?” he asked.

“James,” Lily said. “Really? You can’t even go ten minutes?”

James smiled and shrugged. “Sorry. I just have a natural tendency towards flirtation.”

“It’s not funny!” Lily said, but she could not help herself from laughing.

“But you’re laughing!”

“We’re friends, James. You can’t say things like that.”

“Why not?”

“Would you say something like that to Sirius?”

“Sirius is dead ugly; why would I want to flirt with him?”

Lily laughed again. “Fine. Don’t listen to me, but I reserve the right to put a Silencing Charm on you.”

“I’d like to see you try,” James mocked. “I’ve got a pretty mean Shield Charm, you know.”

“You’re very odd,” Lily said. She felt like she was in first year, telling James he was weird for saying that his favourite food was frog spawn, or something like that. Having successfully thrown an eleven-year-old’s insult at him, she continued walking up the stairs until they reached the fourth floor.

“So,” James said, once they had walked up another floor without really talking.

“Have you seen Mary or Anna yet?” Lily asked.

“Anna’s been here for a couple days; I think she got back the same day I did,” James replied. “I haven’t seen Mary, though. You could try asking Remus, if he were here.”

There was something strange about his tone.

“Did I miss a joke in that sentence?” she asked.

“Nope,” James replied. Yes, there was something strange about his face, too. Well, more than usual, she corrected herself. She was about to try and wheedle it out of him when she heard another voice call her name.

“Lily!”

Anna was walking along the corridor towards them.

“Hi, James,” she said. “Did you just get back, Lily?”

“Yeah,” Lily replied. Anna was looking between her and James with an expression of mingled amusement and confusion.

“Well, Miss Evans,” James said, setting down her trunk on the stone floor. “I’ll see you around. You too, Anna.”

“That’s ‘Miss Richards’ to you!” Anna called as he walked away, before turning back to Lily with the same look on her face.

“So, is Mary back yet?” Lily asked, picking up her trunk.

“What’s with you and James?” Anna asked.

“Nothing,” Lily said, waving her hand as if to swat away the accusation.

“I thought you two weren’t talking to each other.”

“We realized that it was a bit immature,” Lily said, starting to walk towards Gryffindor Tower, her trunk bumping off her knee.

“James revels in immaturity,” Anna replied. Lily bit her lip.

“He doesn’t, really,” Lily said. It seemed it would be more credible to contradict Anna than change her story entirely.

“Oh, so it must have been his mature side that helped Sirius set off a bunch of fireworks in the Great Hall in the middle of the night?”

“When did he do that?” Lily asked.

“Midnight on New Year’s,” Anna said. “It was kind of funny. McGonagall must have got a new dressing gown for Christmas from someone who really hates her.”

“Why?”

“It’s the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t change the subject, though.”

“We’re just friends again, Anna,” Lily said wearily.

“Why?” Anna asked. Merlin, she was nosy.

“I don’t know,” Lily said. She was starting to feel slightly annoyed.

“You should probably figure that out.”



..........




The return to school could not have started out better, in James’ opinion. Lily did not seem to be entirely averse to him flirting with her, which he thought was a very good sign. As an added bonus to the beginning of term, Ursula seemed to be ignoring James at every opportunity, which was much easier than having to tell her that he really didn’t like her. He was even avoiding scheduling a Quidditch practice for that very reason.

The fresh feeling of enthusiasm was soon overshadowed, however: not by N.E.W.T.s, but by alarming Daily Prophet headlines and the resurgence of an old rumour that was no longer speculation.

It was only the second week of term when an owl dropped Remus’ Daily Prophet in front of him. Sirius and Peter were debating the chances they had at successfully making breakfast sausages sprout out of Snape’s ears and James was distracted (only momentarily, of course) watching Lily when Remus said, “I think you guys should see this.”

The front page of the newspaper was splashed with not one but two large headlines. The first, whose following article was rather short, read, Assassination Attempt: Death Eaters Suspected, while the second, Crouch: Another Disappearing Act?

“Who’d they try to kill?” Peter asked.

“How do they know it was Death Eaters?” Sirius added.

“Did they catch them?” James said. Peter tried to pull the paper towards him. “Wormtail, I can’t even see it now!”

Remus picked the Prophet up and turned it toward himself again. “Calm down, children,” he muttered.

“What does it say, Moonster?” Sirius asked. Remus glared at him.

“Don’t call me stupid names, or I won’t tell you,” he replied. Remus had seemed irritable ever since he had returned to school, which kept bringing back the memory of their last full moon to James. He really didn’t need any further reminders, since he usually found it very easy to relive it when he was trying to fall asleep every night.

They had not really discussed the last full moon with Remus at all—he had returned to the castle the very last night of their holidays, and they had been apart for just long enough to make the subject seem irrelevant. Besides, Remus seemed to want to forget about it, and James thought it was always best to follow his lead in these situations.

“They tried to assassinate the Muggle Prime Minister,” Remus said after a few moments, “and Crouch isn’t happy about it. Here, you can read it. Try not to fight over it.”

James leaned over to read the articles.

Death Eaters are being named the prime suspects in an attempt on the life of Muggle Prime Minister Alfred Stephenson. The attack took place late last night at a Muggle hotel in Exeter, where the Prime Minister was staying for the duration of a conference. Remnants of an Erumpent horn were found in the adjacent room, leading Muggle authorities to blame the event on a bomb (a Muggle weapon that explodes with great force).

Magical Law Enforcement Officers at the scene stated that they are working with the Muggle authorities in order to uncover the identities of the Death Eaters responsible. They had no leads at press time.


“They should probably start with getting some proof on the identities of any Death Eaters, shouldn’t they?” Sirius said. James moved on to the second article.

The most recent Death Eater attack and appalling lack of justice subsequent to it have sparked another round of criticisms slamming newly-appointed Head of Magical Law Enforcement, Bartemius Crouch. Crouch has not yet made himself available for comment on the attack, in keeping with his habit of blatantly disregarding public opinion. Many are already calling for his resignation, zeroing in on promises of progress and harsh punishments in the fight against Voldemort and his supporters. So far, Crouch has delivered on none of these assurances, and has given the public reason to believe that he is nothing more than a weak and ineffectual “leader” who has been playing a game of Hot Gurdyroot with his responsibilities.

“Harsh,” James said, glancing at the by-line, which confirmed his suspicion that it had been written by Anna’s sister. He wondered how many Howlers she got every morning. If she was anything like Anna, she would probably find them all hilarious.

“She sounds like my mum talking about me,” Sirius said. “Nah, never mind. She’s nicer than my mum.”

Someone else had been assigned to profiling Crouch, it seemed, for a few days later, a considerably less acidic article appeared on the front page summarizing a press conference he had called. The reporter’s commentary was fairly bland, and it was the quotes from Crouch’s statement that seemed to be the most telling:

“As I have promised you all, a new era is beginning; an era where failure to act is unacceptable. Those who do not aid the fight against He Who Must Not Be Named perpetrate his evils just as his Death Eaters do. We will fight them with our own brand of intolerance, match their intensity regardless of the cost, and spare no mercy for known enemies or their accomplices. Changes will be made; changes which I know some will find strange or discomfiting, and I ask those who would resist these alterations to keep in mind that all we do is for the greater good. All that we do is to reach the goal that we all share: to finally defeat those who seek hegemony over our world.”

It was usually easy to spend a half-hour discussing bad news and then put it out of your mind, but it soon transpired that these “changes” were going to have a living, breathing presence within Hogwarts. When Professor McGonagall asked him and Lily to stay after Transfiguration one afternoon, James found that part of being Head Boy meant that he was told bad news that the other students weren’t.

“The information I am about to divulge is not information that I am interested in hearing other students discussing in the Great Hall,” she said briskly. “Can I trust you to keep it to yourselves?”

James glanced at Lily anxiously.

“Of course,” Lily answered for them.

“Good. Well, then, starting next week, the Ministry will be placing a group of Aurors at Hogwarts for protection,” Professor McGonagall said, remarkably casual.

“Why would they do that?” Lily asked.

“Because, Miss Evans, they feel the students of this school require greater protection than we can provide alone,” McGonagall answered. This time, there was a slight edge to her voice. Whether she was annoyed with Lily or the Ministry, it was hard to tell.

“But—there’s Professor Dumbledore, and you, and all the rest of the teachers,” Lily continued. “We’ve got a bunch of highly-skilled adult wizards here already.”

“Is that supposed to be news to me, Miss Evans?”

Lily, whose mouth had been opened to respond, snapped shut. It was not often that Lily was remonstrated by any of their professors.

“I only tell you two,” Professor McGonagall said, placing her hands authoritatively on the back of her desk chair, “because we—that is to say, Professor Dumbledore and the rest of the Heads of House—expect these Aurors to be treated with the same respect that all staff members are. It would be unacceptable for any student of this school to be distracting them from their duties, or otherwise making them feel unwelcome.”

Why did McGonagall always point her gaze in his direction when she said these things?

“We understand,” James said, trying to show her that he could be mature, despite what everyone else on the planet seemed to think.

“Good. I won’t keep you from lunch any longer,” Professor McGonagall said, effectively shooing them from the classroom.

Lily looked preoccupied as they walked to the Great Hall; James noticed that she kept fiddling with the strap on her bag and biting her lower lip. They were practically in the Entrance Hall before James decided he should ask her what was wrong.

“Something bothering you?” he asked.

“No,” she said, with a tight smile.

“Don’t let McGonagall get to you,” James said, thinking that maybe she was still stinging over the way their Transfiguration had snapped at her.

“Oh, it’s not that. I don’t care about that,” Lily said. “I just...I don’t understand why we need more protection. It doesn’t make sense.”

Something seemed very familiar about this conversation, but James could not put his finger on it.

“Well, you’ve seen the Prophet, right?” he asked. “The Ministry probably just wants to seem like they’re toughening things up, even in places they don’t need to.”

“Think so?” Lily asked as they reached the Great Hall.

“Yeah,” he said. “No need to worry.”

“Right. Well, I’ll see you later,” she said, rolling her eyes and walking off to sit with Anna and Mary.

Once James was able to pull away his concentration from her moving figure, he realized that, even though they were friends, they only seemed to act like it when it was just the two of them. Lily never ate meals with him or sat with him in classes and the common room. They always went their separate ways, which was making it difficult for him to work towards his goal of making her fall in love with him. Well, that was a bit dramatic—he just wanted her to agree to go on one date with him.

He sat down with Remus, Sirius, and Peter to eat lunch and was soon visited by Gareth, who wanted to know when the next Quidditch practice would be.

“Erm...not sure,” James replied. Gareth raised his eyebrows.

“Ravenclaw and Slytherin are playing this Saturday, and our next match is only five weeks away!” the fourth-year said.

“Is it?” James asked—surely time could not have gone by that fast?

“What about all those plays we were going to run through after holidays? Just because we’re playing Hufflepuff doesn’t mean we should slack off; I heard they’re playing way better than they did against Ravenclaw,” Gareth continued.

James grinned. He felt like he was almost certainly looking at a future Gryffindor Quidditch captain.

“Okay, we’ll do it tonight, then. Seven o’clock,” James said. “Why don’t you let everyone else know?”

“Oh—well,” Gareth said, clearly trying to hide his surprise, “all right. Sounds good.”

The rest of the team was already at the pitch when James arrived, his new Nimbus in hand. As he had expected, everyone wanted to try it out (except Ursula, who was ominously ignoring the fact that James existed), and it was at least a half-hour before they got around to a real practice.

Everything was going well: no one seemed to have made any major regressions over the holidays, and some people had even improved quite a bit. The only problem was that James felt like he was wearing his Invisibility Cloak. Ursula was blatantly refusing to pass to him when they ran plays or listen to most of his directions. Usually James was glad that she was such a good player, but now it was just frustrating, for she could easily control the Quaffle and refuse to cooperate with him.

He could feel everyone else staring at him expectantly, waiting for him to yell at her or call a time-out, but it wasn’t that simple. Ursula was obviously still upset about him ignoring her on their “date” to Slughorn’s party, and he hardly wanted to provoke her into shouting at him about that in front of the entire team. On the other hand, she was making him look like a laughingstock.

“Okay,” he called, as Ursula put the Chaser through the hoop yet again, leaving him yards behind, “let’s all start halfway down the pitch. Alison, you get a head start, then Ursula, I want you to reverse pass to me, and I’ll throw it to her. Hufflepuff has a lot of forward momentum, and I think we can throw them off if we break that.”

There’s no way she can ignore me now, James thought as he swooped back to the middle of the pitch. Alison shot off towards the goalposts, and Ursula did not even look at James as she sped off in the same direction. Well, she was still being difficult, but surely she wasn’t going to completely disregard him. Yet they kept drawing closer and closer to the end of the pitch, and Ursula still had the Quaffle tucked firmly under her right arm.

He took advantage of the fact that his broom was much faster than hers and put on a burst of speed, drawing even with her, passing her, and then turning sharply. He heard Alison squeak, “Watch out!”, but he wasn’t really sure if he cared whether Ursula crashed into him or not. She swerved out of the way just in time and dropped the Quaffle.

“What was that?” she yelled.

“Who’s the captain of this team?” he asked, keeping his voice considerably lower than hers.

“You almost made me fall off my broom to ask a stupid question?” she said.

“If you’re not going to listen to me, you can’t be on this team,” he told her. Her face twisted unpleasantly.

“Fine, Captain. Let’s run it again.”

They did, and Ursula followed his instructions, although she was throwing the Quaffle rather hard, James thought. The team seemed broken for the rest of the practice, clearly put off by the rift between their captain and one of their Chasers. By the time he returned to Gryffindor Tower, James was wondering whether it would just be better to replace her after all.

Glumbumble,” James said to the Fat Lady, but the portrait stayed shut.

“Incorrect,” she said, folding her hands and placing them in her lap.

“What d’you mean, ‘incorrect’?” James asked.

“I should think that it's perfectly clear. The password has been changed.”

“Wha—? Oh, come on,” James groaned. “I’ve been coming in and out of this common room for seven years! You’re seriously not going to let me in?”

“No entry without the correct password,” she said, a satisfied expression on her face.

“I’m the Head Boy!” James said.

“It’s nettle wine,” a voice said from behind him. He turned around and saw Sirius, who had his book bag slung over his shoulder. The Fat Lady swung forward to let them in. “How was practice?”

“Rubbish,” James replied once they had made it through the portrait hole. “What have you been up to?”

“Detention,” Sirius said casually. “Pete’s still doing his from with McGonagall.”

“Why are you back so early?” James asked.

“I had mine with Sprout,” Sirius said, shrugging. James nodded; there were certain teachers, including Professor Sprout, who seemed to have trouble with enforcing harsh punishments. It had been routine practice since their third year to simply leave early from detentions when these professors weren’t looking.

He pushed open the door to their dormitory and Sirius threw his bag onto his bed unceremoniously. James kicked his Quidditch boots underneath his bed and placed his Nimbus (rather more carefully) underneath Trevor’s abandoned four-post frame.

“You finish that Potions assignment?” he asked Sirius.

“I did indeed, Prongs,” Sirius replied. “Need to copy it?”

“Yeah, unfortunately,” James said. Sometimes he wondered why he had spent countless hours studying for an O.W.L. in Potions, and had then continued at N.E.W.T.-level. Where he had summoned the motivation from, he had no idea. He really pitied the fifth years sometimes; they were naively under the impression (as he had been) that completing his O.W.L.s would be some sort of major moment, the peak of the academic mountain. If only they knew that their hours of review and near-breakdowns were only the beginning.

“Hey,” James said, suddenly remembering a conversation he had had months previously; he had such a good idea that it made him stop in the middle of the common room.

“What?” Sirius asked.

“I just thought of something,” James replied. “Have you seen Lily?”

“Yeah, she’s sitting on that pedestal you put her on years ago,” Sirius said, smirking. “Hasn’t moved since, actually.”

“Hilarious, Padfoot,” James said.

“You set yourself up for that one.”

“You just wait. One day you’re going to like a girl for more than three days and then it’s going to be open season for me, Moony, and Wormtail,” James said.

Sirius laughed. “I’m shaking at the very thought. Anyway, what did you need to find Evans for?”

“Nothing important. Just some Head Boy stuff.”

“Merlin’s arse, Prongs,” Sirius muttered, rolling his eyes. “If you weren’t my best friend, I’d have to jinx you for that sentence, purely on principle. In fact...”

James looked at Sirius, who was grinning gleefully, his wand in hand. He thought he had an idea of what was coming.

“Padfoot, don’t.”

“Prongs, the Marauders have terrorized six consecutive Head Boys—”

James stepped back towards the door apprehensively. He knew Sirius was only joking, but he still didn’t fancy having his limbs turned into jelly, or having a swarm of bats attack his head.

“Bugger off.”

“Oh, come on. You have to let me hex you at least once. If I don’t, it’s like going undefeated six matches straight and then forfeiting the championship,” Sirius said.

“Don’t even try pointing that wand at me. I’ll curse you right back; you know I will.”

Sirius shrugged. “Fair point.”

James sighed and went to pull out a change of clothes from his trunk. As he was sifting through a mass of unfolded, wrinkled shirts, he saw Sirius taking aim at him. He jumped backwards and narrowly missed a jet of turquoise-blue light, which left a dent near the bottom of one of his bedposts.

“Sirius!"

“Sorry, mate, but I can’t help it. Just let me have one go, then I’ll let you alone,” Sirius said, laughing again.

“You know, you’ve really asked for it,” James said, taking out his own wand. “I wasn’t going to curse you, but now—”

He ducked underneath another jet of light and sliced his wand through the air towards Sirius. Somehow, in the ten minutes of duelling that ensued, they managed to set fire to Sirius’ bed, break one of the windows, blow apart Peter’s nightstand, send the contents of Remus’ trunks flying across the room, upright James’ bed, and put a hole in the door, but neither of them had a scratch on them.

“All right,” James said finally, from where he was ducked behind his bed. “Let’s call a truce before we destroy the entire dormitory, shall we?”

“Yeah, and besides, I don’t want you to end up getting hurt,” Sirius replied. They stood up and surveyed the damage. A moment later the door opened and Peter and Remus walked in, their laughter and conversation stopping dead.

“Not again,” Peter said.

“You two,” Remus said, “need to find a better way of relieving stress.”

James looked at Sirius, who was grinning.

“Terrible attitudes, don’t you think, Prongs?”

“Quite, Padfoot. Shall we?”

The room was filled with more spells and loud curses as both Remus and Peter tried to dive behind the nearest piece of furniture.

 


Chapter 15: Forgotten and Remembered
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Chapter Fifteen
Forgotten & Remembered




Revived friendship with Lily had led James wordlessly back to their office on certain evenings, knowing that he would find Lily there. It was like a strange barometer of how well they were getting along, for neither of them had been back there since their argument in October, as far as James knew. Besides the fact that it was the perfect opportunity to try to charm her, it also gave him the chance to tell her his new idea (which, as it happened, was partially about spending even more time with her).

He started by letting her help him with Potions homework, because he knew that it would put her in a good mood. Given her general apathy about being Head Girl, he figured he was going to need all the advantages he could get.

“I don’t know what I’d do without your help,” James said, after Lily had explained how to make a very complicated antidote that they were likely to be tested on during their N.E.W.T.s. Lily raised an eyebrow, but a gratified smile spread across her face.

“Probably get just an ‘Acceptable’ instead of an ‘Outstanding’ in Potions,” she replied.

“You must be pretty confident, claiming you can get me an ‘Outstanding’,” James teased; he suddenly saw the perfect segue. “Could you make that guarantee to anyone?”

Lily stared at him, confused, a sight which James always relished. It was not easy to puzzle her.

“Pardon?”

“Well, I’m just wondering,” James said, pausing to enjoy how well he had set this up, “if you really could help someone get an ‘Outstanding’ in Potions.”

“Are you doubting my intelligence?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Not at all. Let’s say a fifth-year wanted help with their Potions O.W.L., though,” James said, but the rest of his explanation was interrupted by a trilling laugh from Lily.

That’s what you’re on about,” she said, doodling asterisks at the edge of her notes. “I can’t believe you’re back on this Head-Boy-Hero kick.”

James paused, suppressing his indignation. “I’m not on any kick,” he said, “except for Quidditch. But that one’s been around for years.”

“James,” Lily said, putting down her quill and leaning forward, placing her forearms on the desk, “it’s nice, what you’re trying to do, but I don’t have the time, or the sanity, to tutor fifth years in Potions.”

“We’ll get the sixth-year prefects to do it, then,” James said excitedly. He had expected her to make this objection.

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll love that,” she said, rolling her eyes in amusement.

“Come on, Lily. We haven’t done anything useful this year,” James said, his voice verging on a whine. He hoped Lily was the type of person to take pity on whining.

“Nothing useful? Are you kidding?” she asked. “First of all, we’ve done exactly what we’re supposed to do as Head Boy and Girl. Second, do you have any idea how much homework I’ve done this year? And last, you and I are friends. I don’t think we should disregard that accomplishment.”

“I’m among your top three accomplishments of the year, am I?” James asked, smirking at her across the desk. He saw her blush as she picked up her quill and started absentmindedly scratching at the page again.

“You can do this if you want, but I’m not getting involved,” she stated.

“Lily,” he said, matter-of-factly, “stop trying to pretend you aren’t Head Girl.”

She lifted her quill off the page, but it continued to waver for a moment. He waited as she bit her lit and stared off into space. The silence reminded him of the moment before they had gotten in their big fit, but this one was not angry: it was pensive.

“Fine,” she said, resting her chin in her hand. “What’s your plan?”

“Can I have your quill?” he asked, ready to answer this question after a night of thinking. She outstretched her arm and James felt cool, smooth skin as their hands brushed together momentarily. Lily smiled uncomfortably, and even James compulsively scratched his head. It was what he did when he was nervous.

“Erm...so...” he said, reaching forward and pulling a piece of scrap parchment from the table. He started writing: Transfiguration...Potions...Charms... “We’ll just list out all the subjects, and ask the prefects to sign up for one or two each—”

“Tell them, you mean,” Lily interrupted. “They won’t do it unless we force them to.”

“Right,” James said, grinning. He finished off with Divination and set the quill down. “We can post the list on the outside of the door.”

Lily crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair.

“I can tell already,” she said, “this is going to be a headache.”

But just as James had expected, Lily protested very little in the rest of their planning, and even insisted on doing some of the Potions tutoring herself. James envied the fifth-years who would benefit from her expertise and wished that they’d been on good enough terms for her to help him during their O.W.L.s (not that he would have been able to shelve his pride for long enough to ask her, of course). By the time they headed back to Gryffindor Tower, she was practically giddy.

They were in the middle of talking about their last Herbology class, in which a Ravenclaw boy had accidentally knocked a jar of Bubotuber pus all over himself, when Filch seemed to burst out of solid wall and stopped them in their tracks.

“It’s late,” he wheezed. James had to stop himself from exhaling obnoxiously. “Students should be in bed, not traipsing around the corridors.”

“It’s not even after hours,” Lily pointed out.

“And I’ve the power to send you back to your common room, if I see fit,” Filch said, staring them down.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re going,” James said, but apparently Filch was not done ranting at them.

“Strolling along talking about Bubotuber pus, no doubt returning from carrying on with each other in broad sight, mocking the dignity of the school—”

What?” Lily spluttered. “No, no, we weren’t—”

“Don’t try to deny it; I’ve seen students performing acts around this castle that would make Merlin’s wand backfire!”

James bit his tongue and held back a laugh, mostly to keep from making Lily more flustered than she already was. Besides, there was something distinctly un-funny about her reaction to the thought of kissing him.

“We were studying!”

“If I had a Knut for every time I’ve heard that excuse,” Filch grumbled. “Just be glad you didn’t get caught this time. Now I’ve got to attend to a flooded loo, so be off with you both.”

James had had enough unpleasant exchanges with Filch that he could laugh this one off, but Lily stood with her mouth half-open as he stomped away.

“It’s better if you call him some really obscene names in your head,” James suggested.

“Do you get everyone around you in trouble?” she said, smiling slightly.

“Pretty much,” James admitted. Lily nodded, and they kept walking back to Gryffindor Tower, leaving behind the subject. He didn’t even feel the urge to tease her about Filch assuming they were snogging, although he did chuckle that the only people that thought it was possible were himself and their grumpy old caretaker. He had never thought he would agree with Filch on anything.



.........




Before she had found out she was a witch, Lily had always been jealous of her classmates who had birthdays in the summer. She had sulked about never getting to have a pool party and usually having to go to school on her birthday. Once she had come to Hogwarts, though, she appreciated her birthday for the simple fact that she at least had good friends around her. The only problem was that none of those good friends seemed to have realized that her birthday was coming up in a few days.

She knew N.E.W.T.s were their first priority, and that the news that Aurors were in the castle (it had gotten around, as gossip always did) was distracting everyone, but how could Mary and Anna really have forgotten? The idea of reminding them made her feel pathetic, and she kept holding out hope that they would bring it up themselves and confirm that they were still her best friends. But then part of her felt like it was very self-centered and petty to care at all—it was just a birthday, after all.

After a half-hour of haranguing sixth-year prefects about participating in the O.W.L. tutoring, Lily returned to her dormitory. It was the night before her birthday, and she had spent the whole week becoming increasingly frustrated with Mary and Anna’s oblivious memory failure. Needless to say, she was not in a good mood when she found Mary and Anna seated on Mary’s bed, apparently deep in conversation until the moment Lily walked in the door.

“Hi,” Mary said brightly. “Where have you been?”

“Head Girl stuff,” Lily replied, which was how she had started excusing all her absences lately. “What were you two talking about?”

“Nothing really,” Anna said as Lily sat down on her own bed.

“Well, tell me so we can all talk about nothing,” Lily said.

“Well...I was just saying that...Remus has been gone for a couple days,” Mary said tentatively. Lily had been half-hoping that they were talking about her birthday, and it only added to her frustration to find that Mary was once again talking about Remus.

“So?” Lily said, more rudely than she might have usually.

Mary shrugged and started picking at her fingernails.

“She was kind of upset about it,” Anna responded, apparently speaking for Mary. This was how it always was: the two of them, and her.

Lily would have liked to point out that Mary should hardly be shocked, seeing as Remus disappeared every month, but she felt like she was encouraging a hopeless pursuit by even talking about it.

“That’s too bad, Mary,” Lily said, trying to sound sympathetic.

Mary nodded, but did not make eye contact with her. They sat in awkward silence for a few moments, and Lily felt even more depressed: all anybody ever cared about was Mary. Maybe I should start acting really vulnerable and helpless, Lily thought venomously, and then people will pay attention to me.

She knew she was being unfair, and it made her a little bit sick to even think that way. “Well, I’m going to go to bed.”

The sky the next morning was grey and water-logged; sleet came down heavily all day. Not once—not when they woke up, not when they were at breakfast, not in Charms or Transfiguration, not at lunch, not during their afternoon break, and not during dinner—did Mary or Anna show any sign that they had remembered that it was Lily’s eighteenth birthday. And there was no one else at Hogwarts, except for perhaps Snape, that would know that January thirtieth was anything more than a regular day. She had not even received her parents’ usual birthday card on time (unless they had forgotten also, and it was not coming at all).

By the end of the day, Lily felt just about as good-natured as a fire-crab, and all she wanted to do was go to bed. She was about to drag herself up the spiral staircase when James accosted her in the common room.

“Hey, I need to show you something,” he said, looking excited.

“I’m really tired,” Lily said, trying to make herself sound so. Even though she was now friends with James, he still managed to get on her nerves sometimes.

“It’s important,” James said.

“Later.”

“It can’t wait,” James insisted. “Come on, it’ll only take ten minutes. If we’re lucky, we might even get lectured by Filch again.”

Lily laughed, the first time she had done so all day.

“You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you?”

“Have I ever?”

So Lily followed James down seven floors, wondering how he managed to persuade her into these things. It hit her, as they neared the Entrance Hall, that James had not said anything about it being her birthday either. She suddenly felt just as sour as before. Wasn’t James, of all people, supposed to remember it? She knew it was pathetic to even think it, but wasn’t he supposed to be obsessed with her? Shouldn’t he know the birthday of the girl who he had asked out dozens of times?

“All right?” James asked, pulling her from her thoughts.

“Fine,” Lily replied.

“You sure? Your face looks all scrunched up.”

Lily tried to relax her expression, but she ended up feeling like Moaning Myrtle. What did she care, anyway? She had a right to look scrunched-up when everyone had forgotten her birthday.

They were in the tunnel leading to the Hufflepuff common room and the kitchens, Lily realized, and she could not imagine anything worthwhile that James could show her down here. When they reached the painting that concealed the entrance to the kitchens, Lily’s patience began to snap.

“I’m not hungry,” she said, as James reached out and tickled the pear. He pulled open the door and gestured her inside.

“Just trust me,” he said. Lily shot him a distinctly sullen look before taking a step.

“I wonder how many people have heard that right before they ended up jinxed into—”

Lily had finally turned and looked at the kitchen properly, and she felt her throat constrict into a knot. On the table in front of her was a piece of red cake with green frosting and a single candle placed in it.

“Happy Birthday,” James said, squeezing her shoulders with his hands.

“You remembered?” Lily asked. Her body still seemed to be deciding whether she was going to burst into tears or not.

“Of course,” James replied, sitting down on one of the stools around the table. “Although I couldn’t help but make you squirm a bit.”

Lily sat down across from him, feeling slightly catatonic. She didn’t have the presence of mind to think up a wish, but she was at least able to blow the candle out.

“Surprised?” James asked, and Lily started laughing for no real reason. It seemed to bring back some sanity, and shut out the possibility of crying.

“Why is the cake red and green?” she asked.

“Because it’s for you,” James said. “Red hair, green eyes.”

“It looks like Christmas,” Lily said. James rolled his eyes.

“Well, then, I suppose you look like Christmas too,” James teased. “Want a fork?”

The cake, despite its absurd appearance, was delicious, thanks to the always-superb culinary skills of the house elves, and Lily did not even care that they were taking turns with their forks, though she realized it was strangely intimate. At that moment—laughing over embarrassing childhood birthdays with family members—she felt like James had been the only real friend she had ever had.

“My parents, you know,” James said, setting down his fork, “they mean well. But they always used to throw me these birthday parties where only adults were invited. They ended up feeling like high-society functions. Thank Merlin they stopped after I started at Hogwarts.”

“Well,” Lily said, “at my ninth birthday, my parents organized this big ice-skating trip with all my friends. Jane Wellington crashed into the side of the rink and sprained her wrist, and Sarah Berry spilled a cup of hot cocoa on Hillary Darcy's brand-new white coat. They hated each other after that, and we all had to choose sides the next day at school. Naturally, everybody blamed me.”

“Lily Evans: ruining friendships one birthday at a time,” James joked.

Over an hour-and-a-half passed before Lily found herself back in Gryffindor Tower, standing beside James and feeling a thousand times happier than she had been earlier. The common room was unusually deserted, with only a few stragglers gathering up their things before heading to bed.

“Thank you,” Lily said, looking up at James. He looked so proud of himself that Lily wanted to laugh.

“No problem,” he said, grinning widely.

“Er...” Lily trailed off. She was having a very hard time putting words to the warm feelings she was having.

“Guess we should go to bed,” James said, glancing up the spiral staircase that led to the boys’ dormitories.

“Yes, we should,” Lily said. After a momentary pause, James reached out and pulled her into an uncertain, one-armed embrace.

“Good night,” he said, his voice sounding a little shaky.

“Night,” she replied.

She felt very strange and light-headed as she walked up the spiral staircase, smiling the entire way. All the other Gryffindor girls were in the dormitory when she entered.

“Where have you been?” Anna asked, succeeding in wiping the smile off Lily’s face. Was there going to be an interrogation every time she walked into her own dormitory?

“Head Girl stuff,” Lily replied, as she always did.

“Well, surprise. Happy Birthday,” Anna said flatly. “We got a cake from the kitchens, but when you didn’t show up we let everyone in the common room eat it.”

Lily felt like she had run into a brick wall.

“I’m so sorry we didn’t say anything earlier,” Mary interjected. “I know you were really cross with us.”

“You thought we forgot,” Anna said contemptuously. “Because that’s the sort of friends we are.”

“I didn’t think that,” Lily lied.

“Yes, you did,” Anna snapped. “You thought we forgot, and then you avoided us.”

She didn’t let Lily get in another word before stalking out of the room. Mary cringed and put a hand on Lily’s arm.

“She was really excited about surprising you,” Mary said.

“I swear, I had no idea,” Lily said.

“It’s okay,” Mary replied. “If you’d known, it kind of would have defeated the purpose. It was our own fault.”

Lily couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Don’t worry, Lily,” Mary continued. “Anna will get over it; she always does. And I’m sorry we let everyone eat your cake.”

Truthfully, Lily was relieved that they had—she wouldn’t have put it past Anna to throw it in her face otherwise.

“Do you want to go see if we can find her, and you can work things out?”

“No—I mean, maybe tomorrow,” Lily mumbled. Usually Anna’s temper got in the way of any productive conversation, anyway. “I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Oh...okay,” Mary said, and Lily could not ignore the tone of disappointment. She changed into her pyjamas and crawled underneath her covers, feeling unbelievably confused about her entire day. When Anna came back in, she pretended to be asleep, but judging by her friend’s incredulous laugh, she needn’t have bothered. If she’d been having that conversation about horrible birthdays with James a year from now, she certainly would have pegged this one as the worst.



..........




James had not gotten the first Monday of February off to a good start. That morning, he had made a complete catastrophe of his Freezing Fluid in Potions; somehow it had started snowing inside, which was hardly the effect he had been going for. Then he had forgotten his Charms essay next to his bed, but had not realized it until he had made it halfway to their classroom from Gryffindor Tower. Although he had run to his dormitory and back to the classroom, he had not been able to avoid being late. (He had also not been able to avoid losing five points for it, or the slightly disapproving eyebrow-raise that a certain redhead had given him.)

He had a pile of homework to finish that he had avoided touching over the weekend, but he couldn’t even start on it because he had Quidditch practice instead. It was very windy, which made flying around on a broomstick unpleasant in itself, but to top it all off, Ursula appeared to still be contemplating a mutiny. Her attitude was so bad that James would have liked to throw her off the team, but they had a match in only a few weeks. He ended up wishing he had not called a practice at all—more than one of the Gryffindor players had left with the beginnings of nasty colds.

He knew Peter and Sirius would still be serving detention when he returned to Gryffindor Tower, and he had a hunch that Remus would be in the library “studying” with Mary, so he decided to change out of his Quidditch robes and see if he could make some headway on his homework. Or find Lily.

When he opened the door to the dormitory and realized that there were people inside, he couldn’t help but jump, especially since it was Mary and Remus, who appeared to have taken their “studying” to a more private location. James was pretty sure that he hadn’t interrupted anything more than talking, especially as Remus was seated on his own bed and Mary on Peter’s across from him, but he still stood in the doorway uncomfortably.

“Erm...hi,” he said, his voice rising as if it were a question rather than a statement.

“Oh, I’m really sorry, James,” Mary said, jumping up. She looked even more uncomfortable than James felt. “I was going to go, anyway.”

She walked quickly to the door before she seemed to remember that Remus was there, and she stopped to give him a very awkward wave-goodbye before disappearing out the door. James turned to his friend with a smirk.

“Don’t look like that,” Remus said.

“Bringing girls back to your room, Moony?”

“Yeah, well, when she offers to come up and complain about her friends, how can I resist?”

James placed his Nimbus underneath his bed and sat down to take off his Quidditch boots.

“Being a bit harsh, aren’t we?” he asked Remus, who tried and failed to shrug disinterestedly. It was typical Remus: determined to be casual about everything when he was actual working himself into a frenzy in his own mind. It was ironic that he refused to ask people for help when he was one of the few people who truly needed it.

“She won’t leave me alone,” Remus replied.

“Do you want to be left alone?”

“Yes, and I’ve told her that more than once.”

James took out his wand to clean up the mud that his Quidditch boots had tracked on the floor and tried to think of a way to phrase his words properly.

“You know, Wormtail told me he saw you two snogging,” he said finally. It was slightly tactless, but he was not going to let Remus deny his way out of this one.

“He was just having a laugh with you,” Remus said, but he looked over James’ right shoulder as he said it, a tell-tale sign that he was nervous or lying. James could tell when all of his friends were being dishonest, he knew them so well. Sirius’ tone of voice changed completely when he was lying, and Peter could not help but scratch behind his left ear. It was impossible to get anything by a fellow Marauder.

“Well, putting that aside,” James continued, “what’s going on?”

“Nothing’s going on,” Remus said. “I must have told you this a hundred times.”

“Sorry to say it, Moony, but I still don’t believe you,” James said. When Remus looked reluctant, he added, “Come on, just get it all out there. What do you have to be embarrassed about? It’s me, remember? Prongs, the guy who won’t give up on a girl who’s rejected him dozens of times? The bloke who sticks his foot in his mouth every time he talks to said girl? Whatever’s happened, I’ve been through worse.”

Remus made a loud sighing noise. “You know, you really shouldn’t say that to a werewolf.”

“Moony, have you ever seen some of my more spectacular failures with Lily?” James said, and he was glad to see his friend laugh.

“Merlin, Prongs,” he said, sighing. “This is the hardest—the worst thing I’ve ever been through. And that’s including the furry problem.”

“What’s so bad about it? She seems to fancy you. And you fancy her?”

“I suppose I do,” Remus muttered, after a long pause.

“So what’s the problem? I’d kill to be in your shoes.” And James would have, truly. Sometimes he felt like Lily might be showing the faintest signs of liking him, but considering what had happened the last time he’d assumed that, he was no longer putting any stock in his own opinion.

“Again, you’re talking to a werewolf,” Remus replied pointedly.

“Oh, Moony, come off it. You’re not seriously going to tell me that you’re worried about that? I know we Marauders are a special lot, but we’re not the only people in the world that aren’t going to judge you.”

“It’s not...” Remus trailed off. He sighed and renewed his sentence, “You know that you finding out about the furry problem was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, right?”

“You’re making me blush here, Moony.”

“Funny. I’m just trying to say that I’m glad you did, but the thing about Mary...the thing is, I’ve never really had a friend who didn’t know...and...I don’t know, it’s nice...it’s nice to feel like someone isn’t just performing some sort of charity by hanging around with you,” Remus said, his voice becoming less and less audible as he finished his thought.

James did not know what to say. He had always worked hard to make Remus feel like one of them, and not feel like they were only his friend because they felt badly. Something in him knew that they would never be able to completely assure Remus, but hearing it said out loud for the first time was much more difficult than he had ever expected.

“You know it’s not charity,” he said.

“It is, to some extent,” Remus said, perhaps thinking this was a funny, self-deprecating statement not unlike many others he had made before.

“Moony, you say that one more time, and I’m going to have to show you how uncharitably I feel towards you sometimes,” James said. “Don’t you think if we were just doing it all to be nice we might have given up after the first few life-threatening incidents?”

“And after every one of those, I told you that you should have.”

“And every time you told us, we told you that there was no way, that we’re your best friends, and that best friends don’t turn their backs,” James said.

“I know. All I was trying to say was that Mary doesn’t have to make special arrangements with me, she doesn’t have to drive herself mad thinking about ways to make my life easier when there isn’t—” Remus faltered in his speech and did not continue his sentence. James sighed.

“All right. So you’re not going to tell her, then?” James asked.

“No. And—”

“And you can’t be more than friends with her because you’re not going to tell her,” James finished for him.

“I know you think I’m an idiot,” Remus said bitterly.

“I don’t think you’re an idiot,” James replied. “It’s your life; you’ve got to do whatever makes it easiest on you.”

“Yeah, well, believe me,” Remus said, “this definitely isn’t making my life any easier.”

“And she must be going spare,” James said, recalling how even months ago a rejection from Remus had put Mary into tears.

“You have no bloody idea,” Remus said. “Every time we’re alone I’m afraid she’s going to take it as an opportunity to try and snog me. I’ve had to develop new ways of standing and sitting to lessen the odds.”

“Merlin’s arse, Moony, can you teach me whatever you’re doing? I’ve been waiting three years for that kind of problem,” James said.

“Still no luck with Lily?”

“Well, let’s put it this way: there’s as much luck as there’s ever been,” James said, adding in his head, Maybe an ounce more. He couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.

“Think there’s some spell we could do to get them to swap attitudes?” Remus asked, grinning.

“I’m not pointing a wand at Lily ever again after that time in third year,” James said. She had ended in her running off to the Hospital Wing shrieking because he had made her nose grow to five times its regular size. He had been aiming for Snape, really, but since then he had tried to avoid directing any magic at her on principle.

“Fair enough,” Remus said, seeming much more cheery than he had just a few minutes before.

“I hate to harp on about this, Moony, but are you really hoping that you can make it the next five months without forcing the poor girl into a nervous breakdown? It is N.E.W.T. year, after all,” James said.

“Here’s hoping,” Remus said. The door suddenly swung open and Peter and Sirius came in, making more noise than James would have imagined possible.

“Bloody toilet bowls!” Sirius yelled. “That’s what Filch had us doing. Without magic! We had to get down on our knees on those grimy bathroom floors and stick our hands inside the toilets!

“We were wearing gloves, Padfoot. Stop wetting yourself over it,” Peter said, sprawling out on his bed. “Besides, it’s not the first time he’s made us do them.”

“Well, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if Moaning Myrtle hadn’t popped out of the bowl for a little whinge,” Sirius retorted.

“You didn’t seem too broken up when she pointed out that someone had written on the door of her stall, Sirius Black makes my cauldron boil over,” Peter said, smirking.

“You’re joking,” James said.

“No,” Peter said, shaking his head. James laughed.

“Well, there you go, Padfoot, at least you could think of that when your hand was in the toilet,” James said.

“Some comfort that is,” Sirius replied.

“Especially,” Peter said, smirking even wider, “since I snuck in and replaced his name with mine.”

Chapter 16: Love Gone Awry
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Chapter Sixteen
Love Gone Awry




If Lily did not know better, she would say that the spirit of soon-approaching Valentine’s Day had cajoled Anna into making amends. Of course, it turned out that it was not the good cheer of St. Valentine that had placated Anna—it was Mary’s encouragement.

“She pointed it out that I may have overreacted,” Anna said the next morning, when they were walking back to the castle after Herbology. Mary had made some excuse about asking Professor Sprout a question, and now Lily knew why she had been trying to disguise a smile the entire time.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Lily said, pushing away a chunk of hair that the wind had whipped across her face.

“I know it wasn’t,” Anna replied, a little too quickly for Lily’s liking, “but it probably wasn’t the best plan, to pretend like we’d forgotten. It seemed like a good idea until it all went wrong.”

Lily was having a hard time responding to the apologies that Mary and Anna were giving her. She felt like she should be admitting guilt on her part, but it didn’t feel like she had done anything wrong. It was only that they thought she had, and they expected her to apologize.

“We should just forget about it,” Anna continued. “Best friends fight sometimes, but we shouldn’t let it tear us apart.”

Lily furrowed her brow as they walked up the front steps. Something sounded very strange about this conversation.

“I suppose you’re right,” she said hesitantly.

“Well, I’m glad that’s cleared up,” Anna said, pushing open one of the oak doors to the castle. “Now there isn’t any unpleasantness hanging over us.”

Lily realized what the strange thing was now: these ray-of-sunshine assurances were not coming from Anna. It was clear that she did not really want to apologize, which made Lily feel even worse than she had before their conversation. Well, if pretending was the way Anna wanted to do it, Lily would play along.

A group of third-year Ravenclaw girls emerged from one a bathroom a few feet in front of them.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Lily muttered, spotting an extremely short mini-skirt on one of them. She hated being Head Girl.

“Are you going to say something?” Anna asked. Lily debated approaching the girl, but could not bring herself to do it.

“One of the teachers will tell her,” she said. She found it very difficult to tell people off for breaking the rules; as a younger sister, she had grown up having someone else tell her what to do all the time. It was slightly easier after two years as a prefect, but she often let little things slide.

“Well, it is that time of year,” Anna said. “Everyone’s getting desperate to snag someone for Hogsmeade. Frankly, she’s got a pretty winning strategy.”

The sad truth was that Anna was right: Valentine’s Day always seemed to push the students of Hogwarts into very public and very pathetic displays of affection. They fell into three camps: one, the wan-faced and hopeless victims of unrequited love, the disgustingly happy couples, and those who couldn’t care less but were slightly bitter about the entire thing.

Mary without doubt fell into the first group, and there was no question as to why. In the days leading up to the next Hogsmeade weekend, she looked positively miserable. Her usual optimistic radiance disappeared, replaced by dark under-eye circles and a runny nose that she refused to go see Madam Pomfrey about. Whenever anyone asked her what was wrong, she answered with a blithe comment about being tired, but it was very clear that Remus had once again disappointed her, and she was taking it especially hard.

Surprisingly, Anna would have fallen into the second group, if she weren’t slightly bitter about everything on principle. The Ravenclaw Quidditch captain, Germaine Aucher, had asked her to go to Hogsmeade with him. Lily was surprised mainly because she had only heard Anna mention him once or twice, but on the other hand, she was always playing things very close to her chest. Even though she tried to be very blasé about the entire thing, Lily could tell that she was quite pleased.

Lily supposed she fell by default into the third group. And that was all she was going to say about it.

She considered staying at the castle because the village was sure to be filled with starry-eyed couples, but her desire to escape homework and the fact that it was (she realized sadly) her last-ever Hogsmeade visit motivated her to walk down to the Three Broomsticks with Mary.

As Lily predicted, it was not exactly a pleasant time. Mary kept wincing when she saw people holding hands or kissing. Lily hated to see Mary in this state, especially after James had recently mentioned to her that there was no chance for Mary and Remus, but no one seemed to have been able to discourage her yet. They chose a table near one of the windows in the Three Broomsticks, which was laced with delicate frost. Lily thought it might be a good time to discuss some sensitive subjects without Anna’s cynical input.

“Are you all right, Mary?” she asked gently. Mary quickly plastered a smile on her face.

“Oh yeah, I’m brilliant,” she responded, sounding anything but.

“Why won’t you talk to me anymore?” Lily asked sadly.

“You’re supposed to be my best friend,” Mary said softly. Lily could make neither head nor tail of this statement.

“I am your best friend,” she said. “You know that.”

“Yeah,” Mary said half-heartedly. “Just don’t worry about me, Lily.”

“How can you say that? Don’t you know how much I hate seeing you like this, all broken up over some bloke who’s not even worth it?”

“Do you ever take me seriously?” Mary asked, looking at Lily with contempt.

“What—Mary, of course—why would you think—?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mary said. “There’s nothing to talk about. I’m fine.”

Lily was completely shocked and could not think of how to respond. Mary was usually so good-natured and kind—what had Remus done to make her so dejected?

“We should go on a trip, this summer,” Mary said finally, breaking the silence. “I had so much fun in Romania. You and Anna and I could pick somewhere, and it would be such a good time.”

“Yeah, that sounds really good,” Lily said, thankful to be on a less-volatile subject.

“We could go to Spain, I’ve always wanted to,” Mary continued. The door of the Three Broomsticks opened and James walked in with Sirius and Peter. Lily was immensely glad that Remus was not with them.

“Sure,” Lily said. James had slid into a booth and was staring at her from across the room, and it was distracting her more than usual.

“So...do you want to go to Gladrags after this? I thought I might get a new scarf; my old one has a hole in it,” Mary said.

“Sure,” Lily replied. James was grinning at her now, and she couldn’t help but smile back at him. Ever since he had given her that wonderful surprise for her birthday, being in his company had become even more pleasing than usual.

“You know, Lily—wait, what’s Anna doing here?”

Lily broke eye contact with James and turned around to see Anna striding across the pub to their table. She pulled her hat off and sat down with them, her hair dishevelled and her face sour. She had gone to Hogsmeade slightly earlier than Mary and Lily, but it still seemed like she had had a very quick date.

“What’s going on?” Mary asked. Anna raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“What are you talking about?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be on a date?”

“Oh,” Anna said, rolling her eyes. “Right. Well, it turns out my suspicions that Germaine had a fairly large ego were unfortunately correct. He went on for about ten minutes about how Ravenclaws were of a far better stock than people from any other house, and he even name-dropped my brothers and sister.”

“Well, that was a mistake,” Lily said. James kept making funny faces at her when his friends weren’t looking, and she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.

“No kidding,” Anna grumbled. “Anyway, no big loss. What have you two been up to?”

“Just sitting here. We were thinking of going to Gladrags,” Mary said.

“Can we go to Honeydukes? I’m in desperate need of some chocolate after that sham of a date.”

Lily saw Mary glance over shoulder in the direction of James’ table, and hoped she was not going to become morose again. Perhaps it would be better if they got away from any reminder of Remus, and maybe Lily would get the chance to tell James off for winking suggestively at her at a later point. They might even bump into each other at Honeydukes.

“Earth to Lily,” said Anna. “Are you with us?”

“Sorry,” Lily said, her cheeks heating up. Anna smirked at her.

“Are we interrupting your date with James?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lily said, sticking her arms into her jacket.

They wandered to Gladrags and then to Honeydukes. Mary could not find a scarf she liked, and Lily spent quite a few minutes lamenting her lack of gold (and lack of occasion to wear them) when she saw a beautiful set of dress robes, but at least Anna was able to buy a sizable chunk of chocolate fudge, which she shared with them on the way back to the castle. The temperature was hovering a few degrees above freezing, just enough that some of the snow had started to thaw.

Lily felt a little pushed out of the conversation, since Mary and Anna were giggling about some inside joke borne of an incident in fourth year that she had not been around for. After Anna’s half-hearted apology, things had returned mostly to normal—it was true what people said about going through the motions. Pretending that everything was normal made everything feel so, except for in situations like these where Lily was vividly reminded of her status as an outsider in their little triangle. Her thoughts drifted aimlessly until they were back inside the castle and Mary and Anna finally addressed her again.

“Lily, I’ve just realized—you should have bought those robes for the wedding!” Mary exclaimed.

“What? Oh,” Lily said, remembering what Mary was talking about. “When is that again?”

“Saturday, May twenty-fifth,” Mary answered quickly. Anna looked at her in bewilderment.

“Have it memorized, do we?” she asked.

“Oh, Anna, don’t pretend you—”

“Miss Evans!”

Mary was interrupted by the unmistakable call of Professor McGonagall. She was hurrying towards them, looking extremely harried. Lily told Mary and Anna to go on without her; she was actually somewhat relieved that she didn’t have to spend another minute being left out.

“Is something wrong, Professor?” Lily asked.

“Miss Evans, were you aware that someone in this school was illegally circulating love potions?”

Lily almost laughed at contrast between how severely Professor McGonagall was addressing her and the silliness of what she was saying, but decided to arrange her face into an expression of concern instead.

“No, or else I certainly would have stopped them,” Lily said, putting on her Head Girl hat (figuratively, of course).

“Where is Mr Potter?” McGonagall asked.

“Erm...still in Hogsmeade, I suppose,” Lily replied. “But I really don’t think he’s responsible for it.”

“I should hope not! I merely wanted to inform the two of you that a dozen students have ended up in the Hospital Wing in the past few days after ingesting poisoned love potions,” McGonagall said sharply.

Lily widened her eyes in shock. “I—I had no idea,” she replied.

“We were originally hoping to keep the news from spreading among students, but it seems to have gone beyond our control.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Lily asked. “And is everyone all right?”

“Thankfully the poison was not a lethal dosage,” McGonagall answered, “but the Headmaster is taking this matter very seriously. If either your or Mr Potter happen to hear anything that might be a clue as to who is behind the distribution of these Potions, you must notify one of the teachers immediately.”

“Of course we will.”

“And do whatever you can to see to it that not one more student is poisoned. The parents are up-in-arms, and the governors are in the process of making a formal investigation...” Professor McGonagall’s brow contracted with worry momentarily. “This information is strictly between us, of course.”

“Absolutely, Professor,” Lily said, nodding.

“Very well. I must go meet with the Headmaster.”

Professor McGonagall swept off in the direction of Dumbledore’s office, leaving Lily with a sinking feeling in her stomach. Who would want to poison someone? And how had they even gotten the love potions into the castle, with all the searches and extra security provided by the Aurors?

As much as Lily hated to admit it, there was one person who must know the answer to her second question. She suddenly realized how very clever Dumbledore had been in choosing a Head Boy who had learned every trick in the book when it came to trouble-making. If anyone could sneak something into the castle, it was James Potter and his friends—she just hoped they hadn’t recently gotten into the trade of love potions.



.........




When James had returned from Hogsmeade, it was not long before Lily leaned across the Gryffindor Table at dinner and told him that a whole group of students had been poisoned by illegally-obtained love potions. He did not like the suspicious look she was giving him as she said it, as if he had somehow been the perpetrator behind it all, and was unusually glad that she left to go sit with Mary and Anna. Why in the world would he be interested in secretly selling love potions to other students?

“I expect there’s good money in it,” Peter remarked.

“Not worth it,” Sirius said flatly. “All these giggly children are bad enough as they are.”

“The real question is whether the person who was selling them was the same person who poisoned them,” Remus mused.

“They probably had no idea,” Peter said. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to off another student.”

“I can,” James muttered, casting a glance over at the Slytherins.

Much like the news of the Aurors, talk of the poisoned love potions filled the castle for days to come. As usual, the stories became increasingly ludicrous and centered on people who had nothing to do with the incidents. James was not sure he had managed to convince a group of fourth-year Ravenclaws that Sirius was not immune to love potions because he was the descendant of Venus, and had also not been called to the Hospital Wing to heal those afflicted with his demi-god powers.

“I mean, in the name of all things magical,” James said to Sirius in Transfiguration, “where do people come up with these things? They can’t think up simple rumours anymore? It’s got to be off-the-charts on the loony scale?”

“What can I say, Prongs?” Sirius said, grinning. “I just have that effect on people. It must be some kind of animal magnetism.”

He probably wished he hadn’t said that when James Transfigured his robes into a toga during lunch.

For the rest of that day and the day following, James got the distinct impression that Lily was avoiding him, and he couldn’t say that he was trying to seek her out either. He was slightly put off by her unspoken assumption that he had been poisoning people for a laugh. It was very strange, the dynamic he and Lily had going. They could speak more easily and sincerely than before, but it was almost as if they had only recently met for the first time—or at least James felt that way. He had come to realize that he really didn’t know very much about Lily.

Rumours soon stopped swirling, and it seemed the students of Hogwarts had once again forgotten about the temporary tragedy that had stricken the castle. It was for this reason that James was so confused when Professor McGonagall strode into Charms one afternoon and asked him and Lily to accompany her.

They gathered their things and followed Professor McGonagall’s swift footsteps through the corridors. James tried to ignore the fairly accusatory stare Lily was giving him.

“Did you do something to get us in trouble?” she whispered.

“No,” James replied. “Did you?”

Lily grinned, and James felt less irritated.

“Troublemaker,” he said. She shoved his arm lightly.

They walked behind their Transfiguration professor until they reached the staff room, stopping in front of the gargoyles that flanked the door. James thought that she seemed slightly bothered, an impression only concerned by the crease in her brow when she turned around to address them.

“A representative from the board of governors is here, and he wishes to speak with the two of you,” she said.

“Have—have we done something wrong?” Lily asked. James almost laughed: she might pretend to have a sense of humour about getting in trouble, but it really did bother her.

“Not at all,” Professor McGonagall replied. She glanced towards James. “Not that I know of, at least. After the events of the last week, they simply want to question a few students and thought your opinions would be the most reliable.”

James thought that she had said the word “question” with an air of forced lightness, and he was certain that it was not a good sign.

“They have declined my request to be present during the interview,” she continued, making him feel even more apprehensive. “If you feel uncomfortable with any of their questions, you may refuse to answer, however.”

There was a pause and a flicker of compassion in Professor McGonagall’s eyes that reminded him of the particular care she possessed for Gryffindor students. He nodded, hoping to assure her that he and Lily would have no trouble at all.

They walked into the staff room, a paneled room with a large table surrounded by dark wooden chairs which James had only been in a few times before. (The Marauders had, on principle, tried to avoid concentrations of teachers whenever possible.) Sitting on the left side of the large table was a man wearing rather angular navy robes. When he spotted them, he stood up from his chair and walked over to them.

“You must be Mr Potter and Miss Evans,” he said, reaching out to shake each of their hands. He was short, with grey-blond hair and a weak chin. “Very pleased to meet you. I’m Manfred MacDougal. Please sit down, won’t you?”

James sat down across from Manfred, and Lily took a seat to his right. He exchanged a momentary glance with her as they settled in, but her face was expressionless.

“You’ll have to excuse me for calling you out of class, but I hoped to speak with you before I meet with the rest of the governors later today. We just have a few questions that we want to ask you,” he said, in quite a condescending tone. “Before we say another word, I want to assure you that anything said in this room will not be shared with your teachers or your fellow students, and will remain strictly in the confidence of the school governors. Any objections?”

Neither James nor Lily spoke, and Manfred wrote something down on the parchment in front of him.

“Very good. To begin, would you mind telling me how you heard about the poisonings?” Manfred asked, his quill hovering above the parchment.

“Professor McGonagall told me,” Lily spoke up. Manfred wrote this down.

“And can you remember the particular location and timing?”

“It was last Saturday afternoon, while I was walking back to my common room,” Lily answered. James waited while the quill scratched across the parchment, until Manfred looked up at him.

“Er, Lily told me,” he said. Manfred’s right eyebrow rose very slightly.

“You were not notified by a staff member?”

“Oh, no, I was. Professor McGonagall told me as well, later that day, but I heard it first from Lily,” James said. He could tell from the particular vigour with which Manfred was writing that he had definitely given a bad answer to that question, and he hoped it wasn’t going to get Professor McGonagall in trouble.

“Very good. Now, have any of your fellow students discussed the matter with you?” Manfred asked.

“No,” James said, determined to make up for his last answer.

“Not even in passing? Not even among your friends?”

James hesitated. While it was true that he had discussed the subject with Sirius, Remus, and Peter, he had already answered “no”, and he felt it would reflect badly if he changed his answer.

“There have been a lot of silly rumours going around,” Lily cut in. “Whenever James and I hear one, we simply say that it’s not appropriate to talk about it.”

“I see,” Manfred said. “And do you believe that the staff members have handled the matter well?”

If James had only suspected it before, he now knew without doubt that the governors were trying to assign some sort of blame to the teachers. He waited to let Lily speak, since she was answering much more tactfully.

“Yes,” she said. “I do. Everyone’s recovered, and security’s been increased.”

“And do you think they’ve handed out appropriate punishments?”

Lily opened her mouth to speak but then shut it again, her face flushing. James contracted his brow critically.

“Aren’t you here to investigate things and find out who needs to be punished?” he asked. “Why would they punish someone if they didn’t know who was behind it?”

“I—well, I only meant—” Manfred muttered something unintelligible and scribbled something down rather hastily. James looked over at Lily, who smiled feebly.

“Have you heard any information that might aid in finding the perpetrators?”

Lily shook her head, and James did the same.

“Do you have any ideas about who it might be? Any suspicions?” Manfred asked, apparently losing patience with each moment that passed.

This time, James felt even more hesitant. Did he have any suspicions? Well, of course he did, but he suspected the Slytherins of pretty much everything sinister that happened around the castle. He looked over at Lily, who was staring down at her hands, and thought about how she might react if he accused Snape of poisoning people.

Manfred seemed to have picked up on their reluctance, and was now staring at them with great interest.

“As I said before, anything you say will stay within this room.”

“The Slytherins,” Lily said, looking up. Manfred looked absolutely fit to burst; his left eye twitched compulsively.

“You’ll have to be more specific.”

“Erm...Warren Mulciber and Dorian Avery...Evan Rosier, Gregory Wilkes...Barty Crouch...”

She trailed off, and two missing names echoed in James’ mind: one was Snape, of course, the other Regulus. They should have been included in this group, and part of him felt a strong desire to add them. He knew Lily would be mad at him, and he wasn’t even sure that Sirius wouldn’t be upset, but why should they make excuses for some people and not others?

“Anyone else?”

Manfred’s dry voice broke into his thoughts. James looked over at Lily, and he knew he could not do it.

“I think she got them all,” he answered, feeling a little stab from his conscience.

“And just one last question,” Manfred said, clearly encouraged by the information he had gained so far. “Do you think there are certain groups of students that are targeted more than others?”

James furrowed his brow. He was not really sure what Manfred meant, and thought that he probably shouldn’t say that the Gryffindors particularly liked to bother the Slytherins whenever possible.

“We thought—the governors and myself, that is—that you might be able to provide some insight on this topic particularly, Miss Evans.”

Lily looked surprised. “I—I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“Well, given your background, and the sort of sentiments that students might be picking up on...”

He trailed off, and it still took James a moment to work out what Manfred was trying to say. When he finally did, he almost stood up and left the room. He was not about to leave Lily sitting there by herself, however, so he settled for giving Manfred a look of deep disgust and then turning to Lily, who looked shocked. He tried to swallow his urge to make some sort of grand gesture to come to her defence. One thing he had learned about Lily was that she did not particularly appreciate the chivalrous acts that might make other girls weak in the knees. If only it were that easy.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said icily. Manfred seemed to judge from her tone that it was unwise to push any further.

He thanked them, and James decided not to say that he was welcome, after he had asked such an insensitive question. While he could understand the governors’ intentions, there was not an excuse for pointing out that someone might be attacked because they were Muggle-born.

“What an arse,” James muttered when he and Lily had left the staff room.

“He was only trying to get to the bottom of things,” Lily said. Sometimes she was much too forgiving for her own good, James thought.

“Well, I don’t see what that last bit had to do with anything.”

“He is right, though.”

James was very surprised to hear her agreeing with someone who had practically called her a Mudblood.

“How’s that?” he asked.

“Oh, come on, James. Let’s not dance around it just because you don’t want to offend me,” Lily replied. James had no idea what she was getting at, and looked at her expectantly. After a sigh, she continued, “It’s true; Muggle-borns do get singled out by the Slytherins.”

It would surely be tactless to agree, but equally churlish to contradict her.

“Well, of course they do. But that Manfred bloke didn’t need to drag you into it as well,” James said. Lily smiled.

“I am a Muggle-born, James.”

He had run out of responses, and was feeling like a bit of an idiot until his mind fell on something else.

“Hold on—why was he so concerned about Muggle-borns?” he asked, feeling, as he always had, slightly uncomfortable about using the term at all. “Not all of the people who were poisoned were.”

“No,” Lily said lightly, “but everyone who bought one was.”

“Well, whoever was selling can’t have expected them to drink them as well. Obviously they were going to give them to other people,” James replied.

“Nothing to impress on a Muggle-born the dangers of over-reaching like poisoning the boy or girl of their choice,” Lily said.

“What does that mean?”

“It means...well, if a Muggle-born gets poisoned, I suppose that’s the best outcome. If not, at least they feel bad enough about almost killing someone. And I would guess that the punishment’s especially fitting if some Muggle-born has had the audacity to try and enchant someone who’s above them.”

She was trying to keep her tone light, but her arms were folded tightly across her chest and she was biting her lip. James grabbed her upper arm and stopped her.

“You don’t really think that, do you?” he asked, looking her straight in the eyes.

“Well, I don’t believe it, of course...but other people do,” she said.

“Lots of people don’t. I don’t.”

“Oh—James, I never thought—I didn’t mean that everyone who isn’t a Muggle-born—” Lily sighed heavily. “I’m probably getting ahead of myself. We don’t even know for sure that it was the Slytherins.”

“Because there are so many other possibilities,” James said sarcastically. Lily laughed quietly.

“Maybe we should get some proof before we begin the accusations,” she said.

Class had ended, and people were starting to emerge into the corridors. Lily glanced over her shoulder.

“I’ve got to go meet Anna and Mary in the library,” she said.

“Well, thanks for being my interrogation partner,” James said, feeling that it might be best to laugh off the entire thing, at least for the time being.

“No problem,” Lily said, grinning. “See you later?”

“Sure,” James replied. Whenever he saw her smile, it felt like he had been punched it the gut.“And Lily?”

“Yes?”

“Just for the record: I wouldn’t mind one bit if a Muggle-born tried to give me a love potion."

Chapter 17: A Little Like Sickness
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Chapter Seventeen
A Little Like Sickness




The Quidditch season was heating up. Slytherin was effectively out of the running, having lost to both Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. The upcoming match was make-or-break for the Hufflepuffs, who had lost one match already, and if Gryffindor were to lose, it would give Ravenclaw the definitive lead.

Of course, they couldn’t let that happen.

James spent the next week in long, nightly practices, trying to find some way to hammer out the problems that were plaguing the team. They were flying quite well, but Ursula’s bad attitude had the effect of someone casting an Encumbering Hex on all of them. She made James and Alison useless on most plays and distracted the rest of the team, but no matter what James did, she wouldn’t let up. It was downright embarrassing to be openly defied by one of his team members, but with the match so close, he could only hope that she came to her senses before then.

In other matters, Sirius had been taken off commentating by Professor McGonagall after the second match. He had turned it into complete chaos by providing a wildly inaccurate commentary of the match, exclaiming that the Snitch was in view when it was not, announcing fouls when none had been called, and narrating every play so frantically that one of the Ravenclaw Chasers had a breakdown on the side of the field. Sirius, of course, had found the entire thing hysterically funny.

The Hufflepuffs, usually fairly non-competitive when it came to Quidditch, seemed to have embarked a new program of intimidation under their new captain. Jennifer Finch, a short and wiry brunette in James’ year, had a long-standing reputation of toughness and severity. As a first and second year, she had been indiscriminately obnoxious to everyone she met, tripping them in the corridors for no reason or stealing their homework before class. To everyone’s great relief she had found an outlet for her bullying in third year when she was made a Beater on the Quidditch Team, but now that she was captain, she had turned the Hufflepuffs so nasty they seemed more like Slytherins.

True to their reputation, though, the Gryffindor team was of tough enough stock that none of them seemed to be phased in the least by name-calling; even Gareth laughed it all off carelessly. The weather was light and mild, if a little cool, and they all walked out onto the Quidditch pitch feeling supremely confident that they would win. As they kicked off, the stands were filled with Gryffindors chanting the ever-popular, “Get stuffed, Hufflepuff!

Everything seemed to go well for the first minute or so of the match; they kicked off the ground and James took possession of the Quaffle immediately. But as soon as the first couple plays had passed, everything started to go wrong.

James and Alison were both trying to keep Ursula from getting the Quaffle for fear that she would never pass it again, and they turned out to be right. Gryffindor had lost the chance at three goals within the first ten minutes because Ursula refused to pass to anyone else. The Hufflepuffs pulled ahead, bringing gleeful jeers from the yellow-and-black supporters in the stands. James briefly considered whether he should try and steal the Quaffle from his own team mate.

He swore angrily when Ursula fumbled the Quaffle and Hufflepuff took possession again. It was less than a minute before they scored again. A shrill whistle sounded; Jennifer had apparently called a time-out. James ignored the gloating look on her face as they landed.

He had to take a deep breath before he spoke. “All right, everyone, try and clear your heads. We’re not down by that much, and we can make an easy comeback if we all work together.”

“What are you telling us for?” Seraphina asked, glaring at Ursula.

“It’s my fault that you’ve let in six easy saves?”

Everyone else looked like they were ready to attack Ursula, and James felt like she might deserve it, but he also knew that a fracture within the team was the worst thing that could happen right now.

“No one’s blaming anyone,” he said, getting six eye-rolls in return. “We’re a team, let’s just try to remember that.”

He heard the whistle again, and they returned to the air. To his relief, Ursula seemed to have relented slightly and was passing it occasionally, but she also started racking up an alarming number of fouls. James had never seen someone who let their emotions affect their game so much, and he couldn’t understand why he had never noticed in years past.

They were catching up to Hufflepuff, at least; the score was soon ninety for Hufflepuff and eighty for Gryffindor. Alison had just scored another goal, tying them, when James heard Madam Hooch’s whistle. He circled around in the air and exhaled in frustration when he saw that Ursula had fouled someone again: this time it was Jennifer, and she looked absolutely livid.

James had a very bad feeling as play resumed—it seemed like Jennifer was aiming every single Bludger she could straight for Ursula, who, for her part, seemed completely oblivious. He was about to call a time out when Alison passed him the Quaffle, erasing everything from his mind but the drive to the goalposts. He faked left and then sent it soaring through the right goalpost.

Cheers from Gryffindor filled the air and James turned around, feeling buoyed by his goal. They were tied again, and if they could just keep this up until Gareth caught the Snitch...

Hufflepuff missed their next shot and the Quaffle went back to Alison, who passed it over to James. In order to duck a Bludger, he quickly threw the Quaffle towards Ursula, who had to stretch her arm forward to catch it. James heard an unusually loud crack of a Beaters’ bat and winced, thinking it might be coming for him, but then he saw it collide with Ursula’s shoulder with the force of a cannon ball.

Jennifer had hit her mark.

Luckily, Ursula was good enough at flying that she managed to remain on her broom until she could get to the ground. Madam Hooch landed next to her; she was soon joined by the rest of the Gryffindor team.

“How bad is it?” James asked Madam Hooch.

“Broken,” she said quickly. “She can’t continue playing.”

He heard some of his teammates groan.

“No, it’s fine,” Ursula said. “Someone just do a temporary fix, and I’ll keep playing.”

“Absolutely not,” Madam Hooch said. “It’s off to the Hospital Wing for you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” James reassured her, but she only glared at him as she walked off the pitch. Not like you were helping us much anyway, he thought to himself. He turned back to his team, who looked dismal. “Nothing to worry about. We could beat them with our hands behind our backs, anyway. Back up in the air.”

As they flew upward, James glided over to Gareth.

“Gareth—”

“I’ll get it, Captain,” Gareth said stoically.

And he did, less than five minutes later, in a fairly spectacular bit of flying. Jennifer was so angry over losing that she threw her broom at her own Keeper and stormed off the pitch.

The celebrations in the common room were much better than the last. Everyone was excited because Gryffindor had effectively pushed Hufflepuff out of the running for the Cup. Some of the fifth years had brought down a radio from their room and had the broadcast of The Hairy Hearts’ concert blaring through the room. Across the room from where James was sitting with Sirius and Peter, there was a ten-person game of Exploding Snap in progress. Gareth had quickly become the hero of the Quidditch team, and he was sitting near the fire surrounded by a group of third and fourth year girls.

James had to keep reminding himself that it was full moon, and that they would have to make their way down to the Whomping Willow before long, but he allowed himself to forget about it for a little while, to sit down in an armchair and laugh as people threw darts at a hastily drawn, life-size drawing of Jennifer Finch. He felt a little bad for Ursula—after all, breaking her shoulder must have hurt—but at the same time, she had been so thoroughly unpleasant in the past month that he couldn't muster too much sympathy.

He saw Lily come down from her dormitory at one point and start chatting with a couple younger prefects. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail with red and gold ribbons that had come out of the perfectly-tied bow that James imagined they had originally been. She looked happy that they had won, and the thought that she had been cheering him on during the match made him feel giddy.

Naturally, that meant that he ended up acting like an idiot when she was walking toward him. Someone (perhaps Peter) had started a chant of Gryff-in-dor, and James had stood up on one of the armchairs and joined in a little too enthusiastically. Lily’s steps faltered slightly and she went to sit with Mary instead, smiling in an embarrassed way. James’ chanting went hollow and he felt a flush growing in his cheeks. He jumped back down to the ground and compulsively messed with his hair for the next ten minutes.

Apparently he had not driven her away for good though, because a little while later she came and perched herself on the arm of his chair. James did not notice until she tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned and saw how close she was sitting, he nearly spewed up a mouthful of Butterbeer.

“Sorry,” she said, as he coughed. “I suppose that’s what I get for sneaking up on people.”

“S’okay,” he said, clearing his throat a final time.

“Great match,” Lily said. James rolled his eyes. “Well, except for the injury, of course.”

“Was that a bad thing?” James said. Lily smiled, and he could not help but notice that the colour of her lips was Gryffindor red. Which was probably a bad thing to be thinking about—but how was he supposed to help it when she came and sat right next to him?

“Those two seem to be enjoying themselves,” Lily said, looking over at Sirius and Peter. They had enchanted a Gryffindor banner to roar fearsomely whenever anyone passed by it, and they were sitting by and laughing as it scared people senseless.

“They always do,” James said. “But don’t make eye contact with them; they’ll drag us into it.”

“And I’m sure you’d only go kicking and screaming,” she said. “So, is Ursula okay?”

“Oh, she’ll be fine,” James replied. “She’ll probably be back on her feet by tomorrow.”

The next thing Lily said was drowned out by a loud roar.

“What?” James asked. Lily’s face was turning beet-red, and she was about to speak again when there was a loud explosion of yelling from the Exploding Snape game. She smiled nervously and leaned down to speak closer to his ear, putting her hand on his shoulder for support.

“Never mind,” was all she said.

Sirius and Peter seemed to have noticed them and, naturally, could not resist coming over to tease them. They did a particularly unflattering imitation of a lovesick James (this had become one of their favourites over the years), but Lily was a surprisingly good sport about it and only left when they started to sing a very loud song about her sparkling eyes.

“You know, I think she’s warming to us,” Sirius said thoughtfully as she walked away.

“Warming to Prongs is more like it,” Peter said, smirking.

“We were only talking about the match,” James said. Sirius and Peter raised their eyebrows in doubt and continued to bother him for the next half hour with comments like, “Should we go ask her if she fancies you?” and “I dare you to go over there and snog her.”

But James stayed planted in his chair until they left Gryffindor tower for the Whomping Willow. Part of him thought that maybe, just maybe, Sirius and Peter were right. He kept remembering the weight of her hand on his shoulder, and it gave him hope. It was always hard to tell with Lily, though.

A few hours’ run through the Forbidden Forest always managed to clear his head. When he collapsed into bed at four in the morning, he knew that patience was the best course. It was just unfortunate that the best course was something he was so bad at.



..........




Lily was certain that she was becoming sick in the head. She had a constant, nagging desire to spend time with James, but she got flustered and nervous every time she was around him. Her heart did a funny little jump whenever he walked into the room. She thought every joke he told was funny, and she couldn’t stop herself from smiling like an idiot every half-second. Whenever a day passed that she only saw him during class, it felt like a disappointment; whenever she did spend time with him, it gave her this funny feeling, like her heart was humming.

The truth was, she wasn’t sick, and she knew it. She had liked other boys before, and knew herself well enough to realize that the same thing was happening with James.

On the surface, the situation should have been very simple. After all, she was fairly certain that James was still interested in going out with her (although he hadn’t made mention of it in months, which she found slightly suspect), and all that had changed was that she was beginning to have the same feelings. Knowing these things didn’t make their interactions less awkward or tense; in fact, Lily thought it made them even more so.

She sighed and tapped her index finger on her Potions textbook. She was in the library rather than their "office", which was where she usually studied. There were usually less distractions there, but now the opposite was true. James had turned into one big distraction lately.

All she needed was something to distract her from being distracted, then. Homework obviously wasn’t cutting it. It needed to be more significant and more involved than researching the counterbalance to poisonous potion ingredients...

Poison. Well, trying to spy on the Slytherins would certainly occupy her for a little while, and she’d been planning on doing so for a while, anyway. She knew that the only way she’d be able to spy on them would be to hang around the dungeons, so she gathered up her books and walked in that direction.

She was on the second floor when she saw James on his way back from Quidditch practice, headed in her direction. For all the effort she had put into trying to avoid him, her heart lifted when he smiled at her.

“Hi,” she said, squeezing the strap of her bag anxiously. “How was your practice?”

“All right,” James said. “Where are you off to?”

“Erm...” Lily hesitated. She was sure that James would try to dissuade her if she told him the truth. “I was just going to the kitchens...for some tea.”

“I’ll keep you company,” he said eagerly. Lily’s mind raced with thoughts of how this was at once a very appealing and very bad idea.

“No, it’s all right—”

“I insist.”

Well, there goes my plan, Lily thought as they headed towards the kitchens. She didn’t want to spend an hour or so in aimless and uncomfortable flirtation with James, either. She rather liked being able to fall asleep at night, and encounters with him had started to give her insomnia.

She stopped short in the middle of the hallway. “You know, I don’t really feel like tea anymore. I think I’m just going to go back to my dormitory.”

“That was certainly a quick change-of-mind,” James said.

“I can be very indecisive sometimes,” Lily replied. What am I talking about? James was smirking, obviously laughing at her ridiculous babbling. Yes, she definitely needed to get away from him.

“Were you really going for tea?” he asked.

“Of course I was,” Lily said. “What else would I have been doing?”

“No clue,” James said, “but you look very suspicious. All red and flustered.”

Lily almost laughed. He was right about her not going for tea, but so very wrong about why she was flushed.

“I’m fine,” she said.

“You know,” James continued, clearly enjoying himself, “when you’re lying, your eyes get really wide.”

Well, now this was getting even more bizarre than usual.

“They do not,” Lily said, though she had an odd feeling he might be right.

“They do, and your eyebrows go about halfway up your forehead, too,” he said, laughing a little now. Lily tried to force her eyebrows down, and then berated herself for even listening to him in the first place. Surely someone else would have told her about this habit before if it were true.

“Look, I’ll show you,” James continued. “Do you fancy me?”

Lily felt like she had been set on fire and then quickly doused with a bucket of ice water. Her brain had short-circuited. How was she supposed to prove his theory about lying when the answer he expected wasn’t really a lie? And if she did tell a real lie...oh good Godric. Why, why did he have to ask that question? What was she supposed to say?

“No,” Lily said, trying to keep her eyes from widening. She felt horrible for saying it, but she figured it was the answer he was expecting, and he certainly reacted that way.

“There you go,” he said, but she thought his laugh was a little hollow. “And now, since I know you were lying before, you’ll have to tell me where you were really planning on going.”

Lily was so glad to be able to move onto a new topic that she didn’t even mind confessing. “Well, I was actually, erm, going to sort of...poke around the dungeons and see if I could possibly find anything incriminating on the Slytherins.”

Now James’ eyebrows shot up. “Pardon me?”

“You heard what I said.”

“Is...is this something you do often?”

“What do you think?”

“Well, you said it very casually, and I wouldn’t put it past you.”

Lily was ready for him to start telling her off, and had already started thinking of ways to deflect him, but he when he spoke again it was with a thoughtful grin on his face.

“Lily, if you’re going to spy on someone, you have to do it properly,” he said, taking a few steps forward. “Wait here; I’ll be back in five minutes.”

“James, I’m not going to go anymore,” she said.

“Are you scared to?” he asked. Lily glared at him.

“I was just about to go alone. Of course I’m not scared.” She neglected to point out that going alone probably would have been less frightening, given her current situation.

“Good. Don’t move until I get back.”

She seriously considered leaving, but her curiosity won out in the end. It took him longer than five minutes to return, but considering that he had changed clothes entirely, he had obviously sprinted to Gryffindor Tower and back.

“Now,” he said, in between breaths, “I am going to show you how to sneak around this school.”

“What have I gotten myself into?” Lily muttered, smiling.

James reached his arm backwards and pulled forward a shock of silver that tumbled to the ground. Lily first thought it looked like liquid, but quickly realized that it was actually fabric, but fabric unlike she had ever seen before. It was almost like woven mercury. She knew that this must be his Invisibility Cloak, but no description in a book or by a professor had ever explained how exquisite they were.

“It’s very rude to stare,” James said.

“Sorry. I just—” She didn’t know what to say.

“Only joking,” he said. “So, how do you feel about being invisible?”

“Couldn’t—couldn’t we have just used Disillusionment Charms?” Lily asked.

“This is much more fun,” he said. “Trust me.”

Lily paused to take in his appearance: slightly breathless, with a look of pure mischief on his face and an Invisibility Cloak in his hand. This was James Potter the troublemaker, and Lily couldn’t remember why she had ever disliked him so much. In fact, he was downright attractive.

“What do we do now?” she asked, starting to feel a little thrill of excitement.

“Well, if you don’t have any objections, I’d say we should take a walk down to the dungeons and then throw on the Cloak if we hear anyone coming. If not, we can always try to wait by the entrance of the Slytherin common room until we hear someone say the password, and—”

“Hold on,” Lily interrupted. “We’re not sneaking into their common room. That’s ludicrous.”

“It’s not actually as hard as it sounds,” James said lightly, “but no problem. We’ll scratch that and just go with whatever we can come upon easily.”

Lily had never heard him so professional and efficient before, but it gave her some comfort. At least she was breaking the rules with someone who knew what they were doing, although she tried not to think about all the times he had been caught and given detention.

They did exactly as he had suggested, and it seemed like a very fruitless pursuit at the start. The dungeons were deserted, and Lily began to think that they would not need the Invisibility Cloak at all. It was a shame, really; she desperately wanted to try it out. After ten or fifteen minutes of wandering around the labyrinth-like corridors, they decided to give up and return to Gryffindor Tower.

“At least we tried,” James said.

“We never even got to use your fancy cloak, though,” Lily said.

“I’m sure it won’t be the last chance we get,” James replied.

“You ran all the way up to your dormitory for it, though,” she said. “It’s a pity it was all for nothing.”

James grinned as he glanced over at her. “If you want to try it on, you can just ask.”

“Oh, I didn’t—I wasn’t trying to—” He was still smiling. “All right, fine. Can I put it on, just to see it work?”

“Certainly, m’lady,” he said. “Stand still.”

The Invisibility Cloak had the appearance of shapelessness, but as he placed it around her shoulders she realized that it was actually very much like a regular cloak, although a very big one. It had clearly been made to accommodate more than one person. Lily looked down and saw nothing but stone floor where her body should have been. She felt oddly self-conscious, and even more so when she looked back up and found James’ eyes locked on hers.

“It’s really neat,” she said.

“Isn’t it?” he said. “And at least now there was a point to me bringing it.”

“What’s that?”

“I got to show off for you.”

Lily was saved from what would have surely been a pathetic response by the sound of voices ringing through the corridor. She could tell they were students’ voices, although their echoes were hard to distinguish any further. James put a finger to his lips and swooped underneath the Cloak, quick as a flash, pulling it over both of their heads.

A moment later, a group of people rounded the nearest corner. It was almost too good to be true—it was Mulciber and the rest of his gang, including Severus. She felt James pulling her arm and followed him into an empty room across from them, freeing up the corridor for the Slytherins to walk by without bumping right into them.

“Did you see the littlest one’s face? Hundred galleons says he wet himself!”

“Typical Mudblood.”

“I’m still hoping we might actually scare one of them enough to get rid of them for good.”

Lily was not surprised to hear them talking like this, but it still stung. Their voices faded as they walked further down the corridor, and Lily’s concentration was freed enough for her to realize that she was practically snuggled up next to James. She wanted to be professional about using the Invisibility Cloak, so she inched herself away from him slightly.

She and James followed the voices of the Slytherins around several corridors. It was difficult to walk with two people underneath one cloak, but after a few awkward starts, they settled on a pace and Lily got the hang of walking without tripping him or herself up. They didn’t seem to be heading for their common room, but they were certainly heading very deep down into the dungeons. When they finally stopped, it was in a fairly nondescript room off a dead-end corridor. The walls had patches of purple-green sludge on them, and Lily assumed that this area of the castle was rarely visited. It was certainly very cold down here, and Lily was glad to have the Cloak to keep her warm.

She crept as close to the door as she could without them seeing her, then realized that she was invisible. Even still, she preferred to keep out of sight. She was new to Invisibility Cloaks, and it felt like a false sense of security that might disappear at any time. James stood next to her with his hand on her shoulder, as if to hold her back; she ignored him and listened in on the conversation.

“...and that stupid investigator kept pestering me again. I thought you were going to get your dad to tell him to bugger off, Crouch.”

“He will.”

“I want to know who it was that named us in the first place.” Lily recognized the voice as Mulciber’s.

“Someone told me it was Evans and Potter. They saw them coming out of the staff room after talking to him.”

Lily felt another sting as she recognized Severus’ voice, dripping with disdain. She had held back and not said his name to that man from the school governors, yet he was willing to throw blame casually upon her?

She thought it was Rosier’s reedy voice that spoke next. “Figures that it was a Mudblood. Well, she’ll get what’s coming to her, anyway.”

“They all will. They already would have, if Snape hadn’t accidentally diluted the potions,” Mulciber said.

Lily could hear the threat in the statement.

“I already explained—”

“We’ve already heard your excuses. You’re lucky the Dark Lord is still working with us through Black. But she can still kill you if he orders it,” Mulciber said.

“Considering your background, Snape, I’d—”

“Shut up, Avery. You’re no less expendable than him. I heard about your father’s idiotic blunder with that Auror.”

Silence fell for a moment.

“Getting back to the point: we nearly killed off a few with that scheme. I think Black was impressed, if her approval even means anything.”

“We also nearly got caught.” Snape’s voice again.

“There wasn’t any proof, and they wouldn’t have found any. Besides, who cares if we get expelled? Just gets us out there doing his work faster. I say we try it again,” Muciber said.

“It took a bloody long time for that poison to be ready, and it didn’t even work. Let’s just figure out who we’re going to go after next. It’s more fun seeing their faces when you’re torturing them, anyway.”

“Oh, let’s get that Hufflepuff girl who looks like an ogre. I don’t think anyone’d mind if we took care of her.”

“Probably get an award for school beautification.”

“I think the Cruciatus Curse nearly worked the last time I tried it. Shall I give it a go with her?”

Lily was starting to feel slightly sick.

“You know, I keep forgetting to go after that Macdonald girl again,” Mulciber said. “I’ve never seen fear like I did on that girl, and I just can’t leave this school without getting a bit of it again. I think next time I might even try to kill her properly, even.”

The way he said it, with the air of someone who had just remembered that they had not written a letter to an old friend or watered their plants that day, was horrifying. How could people talk like this about their classmates? How could anyone their age discussing killing someone?

She would have stood there and continued to listen, if for no other reason than to prove her own toughness, but James had started tugging her arm away, much to her relief. She followed without hesitation, but no amount of distance could erase the things she had just heard from her memory.

She would have liked to stay invisible for a while longer, until she could force down some of her emotions. She wanted to be able to laugh this off and not overreact, especially in front of James. It wasn’t usually difficult for her to dismiss this sort of hate-mongering, having heard it so many times before, but it was different this time. Something about it was more grisly and certainly much more disturbing.

Staying invisible wasn’t really an option, though, especially as James removed the Cloak as soon as they had reached the Entrance Hall. He did it gently and slowly, but a few extra seconds wouldn’t make a difference. Lily had no idea what she was going to say after that disaster, and judging by the look on his face, neither did he.




Chapter 18: The Right Moment
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Chapter Eighteen
The Right Moment




If there was ever a moment to say the exact right thing, this was it. Typically, the only sentences that were coming to James’ mind were very vulgar insults about the Slytherins. So he settled for carefully folding up the Invisibility Cloak, something he had never bothered with before.

The silence continued for long enough to become painful, and James could only continue to fold the Cloak if he wanted to try his hand at origami. Lily looked slightly sick, and James couldn’t hold his insults back any longer.

“Those slimy bastards,” he said. Saying it made him feel even more livid than he already did. It had taken every bit of restraint he had to not walk into that room and confront them—even he knew it wouldn’t be smart to go up against an entire gang on his own.

“James,” Lily said to him, her tone one of light remonstrance.

“They are! In fact, why don’t I go back and give them a good round hexing?”

Lily grabbed on to his wrist. “James, please. Let’s—shall we sit down?”

They were near the foot of the main staircase, and they sat down on the bottom step, close enough so that their shoulders were brushing against each other. James didn’t mind the contact at all, although he was surprised that Lily hadn’t moved away. He almost put his arm around her shoulder to comfort her, but thought it might be pushing his luck. Instead, he thought he might as well try an approach that included less swearing and talk about Death Eaters.

“I—I’m really sorry that you had to hear that. We shouldn’t have followed them,” he said quietly. Lily shook her head slightly.

“Don’t apologize,” she said. “I was the one who suggested it.”

“Well...” James began, but he could find no argument. He was having a difficult time finding any words at all. He sighed and rubbed his right eye behind his glasses. “You can’t listen to them, Lily.”

“It’s a bit hard not to,” she said, laughing mirthlessly.

“They’re scum, Lily. It’s that simple.”

“It is that simple, isn’t it? Everyone just calls each other scum and then we all feel like we’re on the right side.”

James knew she was not trying to insult him, but he was even more lost for words now.

“It’s not—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to...equate you with them, or anything,” she mumbled. “That’s not what I was trying to say.”

“I know,” James said. He still couldn’t really think of a way to address her statement, so he opted for changing the subject. “At least we found out what we wanted to know, right?” Lily shook her head and sighed.

“I guess that’s why they say to be careful what you wish for,” she said. “You know, if there are people like that in Hogwarts—people like that who are our age—”

She didn’t finish her sentence, but James understood what she was trying to say. “Lily, they’re just trying to one-up each other. Half of the stuff they’re saying is pure bravado. Believe me. I do it with Sirius all the time. Although it’s usually to do with detentions or girls and not the Dark Arts...”

Nice one, you prat, James told himself.

“Well, I hope you’re right,” Lily said, her voice brisker than before.

For the first time, James realized that Lily was Muggle-born. Of course he had always known it as a fact, but he had never really thought about what it meant. Lily was a potential victim, even though her preternatural strength often overshadowed that reality. She was someone that they wanted to go after. And the horrible thought of Lily no longer existing, of her no longer being a part of the same world as him, entered his mind. He tried to push it away, as if not thinking it would stop it from ever happening. But it was such an awful thing that it still affected him: his fists clenched tightly, and he was seized by a sudden urge to hold Lily next to him until the danger was gone.

“It won’t be like that,” he told her. “This whole mess will be sorted out before you know it. The Ministry’ll catch up with Voldemort before long, and he’ll be shut up in Azkaban. Everything will go back to normal, and you won’t have to worry about anything happening to—to you.”

“I’m not worried about myself,” Lily said.

James found this hard to believe, and he didn’t want her to think that she couldn’t be honest around him. As much as he wanted a different sort of relationship with her, he also wanted to be her friend. He would be her friend.

“I know this might sound tactless,” he said, “but how could you not be? I’m afraid of Voldemort and I’m not even...”

Lily smiled at him in understanding. “I suppose I should be. And of course I am, sometimes. I just hate thinking about other people suffering. After all, I’m just one person...and I think of kids losing their parents, and that sort of thing, and I just can’t stand it.”

“Don’t say that,” James replied. Her bravery was making him feel sick; whether out of worry or admiration, he couldn’t say.

“Don’t say what?”

“That you’re just one person—like no one cares about what happens to you.”

He couldn’t bring himself to say anything more, but he looked straight into her eyes and hoped that she would understand. The green was always slightly disorienting, but she was looking at him like she never had before. She almost looked like she was waiting for something, and James had a fleeting image of leaning in and kissing her...but then he remembered what they were talking about, and what had just happened, and it didn’t seem right. He knew it sounded pathetic, but after waiting so long, he wanted the moment to be right—and this moment was not the right one.

He pulled his gaze away and cleared his throat. Lily exhaled heavily from beside him.

“You said the name,” she remarked.

“Did I?” he asked, shrugging. “It comes and goes. I’ve usually got enough brains not to say it in big crowds. It gets people a little anxious.” Lily laughed and nodded. “But I think I say it often enough at home, and around Sirius, Remus, and Pete.”

“And me,” Lily added. James grinned at her, glad that her mood seemed to be brightening.

“And you.”

Lily sighed again. She pulled all her hair over one shoulder and let her hands fall back into her lap, looking thoughtful.

“Do you really believe everything will work out?” she asked.

“One day,” James said, squeezing Lily’s hand reassuringly. “Even if I have to round up every Death Eater by myself.”

Lily broke into another smile. “You’re not going to leave any for me?”

“Well, I suppose I could,” James said, in mock-reluctance, “but you’ll have to take the toughest ones.”

Lily laughed. “Fine by me.”

The tension broken, James was reminded that he was still holding her hand. He quickly took it away, before she could ask him to or glare at him.

“What do you say we go tell Dumbledore about what we heard?” he asked her, feeling that their heartfelt discussion had come to a close.

“Isn’t it too late?” Lily asked. James had accidentally left his watch in his dormitory when he had changed after Quidditch, but he was fairly certain that it couldn’t be any later than nine o’clock. He had finished practice just before eight, and his and Lily’s trek around the dungeons could hardly have taken more than an hour.

“Nah,” James said, standing up. “He’s always up late, pacing around in his office.”

“Is he?” Lily asked. “And how do you know that?”

“I’ve been to visit him a few times before,” James replied. While this was technically true, he actually knew more about Dumbledore’s habits from the Marauders’ Map than any incident of misbehaviour.

“He must be missing you this year,” Lily teased as they started up the stairs.

“Very funny...”

James was feeling a bit of an adrenaline rush with the prospect of finally taking the Slytherins down. Mulciber and his lackeys had gotten lucky in past years, but now they had been overheard discussing their intentions to poison other students. James was sincerely looking forward to seeing them expelled.

When they finally arrived at Dumbledore’s office, James really did hope that the Headmaster was still awake, not least because Lily would probably be mortified and blame it on him if they were to wake Dumbledore up. He needn’t have worried, however: the oak door opened promptly after they had knocked, and Dumbledore invited them into his office as casually as if he had requested the meeting himself.

“I was wondering when you might come to visit me,” he said as they all took seats. All of the trinkets in his office seemed to make the room glow when lit by candlelight, and contrasted sharply with the inky night sky. “Usually the Head Boy and Girl can’t go a week without having me settle some disagreement or another. You two seem to be much more diplomatic.”

There was something like a smirk on his lined face.

“So, what is it you would like to discuss?”

James looked over at Lily, who leaned forward slightly as she began to speak.

“The poisonings, Professor,” she said. “We think—we know who was behind them.”

Dumbledore clasped his hands together just in front of his chin.

“Do you?”

“Yes,” James interjected. “It was the Slytherins.”

“Every member of Slytherin house? Good heavens.”

“A certain group of them,” Lily corrected.

“Do you have names?” Dumbledore asked.

“Snape,” James said, jumping in before Lily could list them off and conveniently leave him out.

“Not just him,” Lily said. “Mulciber, Avery, and Wilkes, and Regulus Black and Barty Crouch, as well.”

Dumbledore seemed to be absorbing this information; the room was silent for several moments.

“How do you know they are the ones behind this?” he asked.

“We—we heard them,” Lily said, “talking in between classes.”

“And do you have any sort of proof, beyond what you have heard?”

James felt indignation rising in his chest. It almost sounded like Dumbledore was defending them.

“They said they’d done it,” James stated.

“The school governors have already questioned those students, and have declared them innocent. To convince them otherwise will take compelling evidence,” Dumbledore explained.

“So we’ll tell them what we heard,” James said.

“Unfortunately, I think they are unlikely to take the word of two teenagers as fact, even if they are the words of the Head Boy and Girl.”

“Oh, well, that’s brilliant,” James said. “They dragged us out of class and interrogate us, but they don’t really want to take our word on anything.”

Lily shot him a glare. “Professor, do you think that if we told them what we had heard, the governors might question them again?”

“Perhaps,” Dumbledore said, but it was with such a tone of doubt that he might as well have just said “No”.

“Well, you’re the headmaster,” James pointed out. “Can’t you call them up here and deal with them yourself?”

“Yes,” Dumbledore said calmly, “and rest assured that I will.”

Silence fell again. James could hardly believe that Dumbledore was reacting this way. He had always found his tolerance of the Dark Arts subculture at Hogwarts to be irresponsible and short-sighted, but there really hadn’t been proof in the past. While everyone had known that the Slytherins were behind those suspicious incidents, it had been impossible to link them back to it. Now here Dumbledore was, being handed the chance to stamp out the problems, and he seemed like he hardly cared at all.

“Please try to understand the position I am in,” Dumbledore said, looking at James in particular. “And know that I truly appreciate your efforts and your honesty.”

Apparently their meeting was over, and James was not unhappy to be leaving. He stood up from his chair and was already halfway to the door when he heard Lily thanking Dumbledore quietly.

“James,” Dumbledore said, just as James had put his hand on the doorknob. He turned around. “You will let me deal with Mr Mulciber and his friends.”

When they had reached the bottom of the spiral staircase, Lily was still glaring at him.

“That went well,” she said.

“Can you believe him?” James asked.

“About as much as I can believe you and your uncontrolled outbursts,” Lily replied.

“You think he’s right, then?”

James stopped and faced Lily in the middle of the corridor, ignoring the obnoxious squeaking noises coming from a suit-of-armour a few yards away.

“I think...that you should try to understand the position he’s in,” Lily suggested. James rolled his eyes.

Without thinking, he replied, “Right. And besides, if he did punish them properly, your old pal would probably get expelled. Wouldn’t want that.”

Lily’s eyes hardened and James almost flinched from the look she was giving him. It had probably not been the smartest thing to say, now that he thought it through.

“If you actually thought about what we’d heard in the dungeons, you might have realized that Snape probably wouldn’t get a potion wrong by accident,” she said. “If he’d wanted to poison those people—”

“And here you go again, defending him,” James interrupted. Lily shook her head in disbelief.

“Well, you’re obviously in an awful mood, so I’m going to go,” she said, starting to walk away. James exhaled in frustration and walked after her.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Lily slowed her pace and James fell into step beside her again. She still looked a little angry, but his apology seemed to have worked.

“What I meant before was that Dumbledore can’t just walk around expelling whomever he likes. You heard them talking in the dungeons, asking Barty Crouch to use his dad’s influence to get them out of trouble,” she said.

“But if we can prove they did it—”

“But we can’t, James, that’s just it! All we have is a conversation that we eavesdropped on underneath an Invisibility Cloak! How would we even explain that to someone?”

James knew she was making sense, and it was infuriating. Even more infuriating was her constant graciousness to people who didn’t deserve it. He had wanted to see the Slytherins get what they deserved, but instead they were going to go on without punishment yet again.

“I understand why you’re upset,” Lily said. “I am too. But we tried.”

They walked for a little while without speaking. James felt his anger ebbing away for the moment, although he knew it would only return when he relayed the story to his friends. He made a mental note to leave any mention of Regulus out of it. Sirius could be a little strange when it came to his brother.

They had nearly reached Gryffindor Tower.

“I really shouldn’t have said that thing before, Lily,” James reiterated.

“It’s all right,” she said. “You were angry. I know you didn’t mean it.”

James decided not to tell her that, actually, he had meant it a little bit. Discussing Snape with Lily always seemed to lead to an argument, and he really preferred getting along with her.

He was about to say the password to the Fat Lady when Lily reached out and put a hand on his arm.

“James?”

She had a very strange look on her face—slightly embarrassed and reluctant, somewhat like the one she had worn when they had spoken after the Quidditch match. James was becoming more and more convinced that she had something important to tell him, and given the events of the night, he thought it might have to do with Snape. Perhaps he was still bothering Lily from time to time, and she wanted James to put him off of it.

“Yes?” he replied, but it was like she had been hit with a Silencing Charm. Other possibilities came into James’ mind—perhaps she had more information about the Slytherins? Had they done something else that she knew about?

“Are you going to stand out here with your mouths hanging open for the entire night?” the Fat Lady asked.

Bowtruckle,” James said, and they climbed through the portrait hole. “Sorry, what were you going to say?”

“Oh,” Lily said, waving her hand through the air, “I completely forgot what it was.”



..........




After the thrilling evening they had spent spying on Slytherins, there was no trace of doubt in Lily’s mind: she really did fancy James, and quite a lot, as well. Of course, it was just typical that as soon as she started to like him, he would become completely unreadable. There had been more than one opportunity the other night that she had been sure James would have seized upon, yet he had deliberately avoided all of them. She had almost told him when they returned to Gryffindor Tower, but uncertainty had held her back.

Frankly, Lily had no idea what she was supposed to do, or what she wanted to do, so she decided to start spending a little less time around James and more with Mary and Anna, just to clear her head. Surely if she took some time to think, it would all sort itself out.

Exams were still far enough away that the three girls spent less time talking about and doing homework than they did less mundane things. They spent an entire Wednesday evening, for example, giggling over a copy of Witch Weekly that Lily had confiscated from some younger boys because they had been adding some inappropriate commentary in the margins.

There was a quiz in the back about which career matched you best, and even as she realized that it was pointless, Lily had a fleeting hope that it might give her the answers to all her problems. (The nice thing about these quizzes in witches’ magazines, as opposed to Muggle ones, is that there was a seemingly endless supply of results, depending on how you answered the questions.) Apparently she was most suited to become a trainer of magical creatures, which was completely ludicrous. She had never taken Care of Magical Creatures and barely knew what anyone was talking about when they referred to Krups or Nifflers. Anna was pegged as best fit to become a nurse, which was the funniest thing Lily had heard in a long time, closely followed by Mary taking the quiz and her results turning up the career of Auror.

“Oh, really—that’s not nearly as laughable as Anna’s,” Mary said in response to her friends’ jibes. Anna snorted again.

“I’m sorry, Mary, but I can picture myself as a patient, doting nurse before I can picture you as an Auror,” she said.

“Well, I don’t think it’s that ridiculous,” Mary replied. Lily realized before Anna did that Mary was looking a little put off.

“Mary, you dropped Potions because you couldn’t stand to be in the same room as the Slytherins,” said Anna, still oblivious.

“That was two years ago,” Mary said. Lily could see an impending collision, but she did not want to jump into the crossfire.

Anna raised her eyebrows. “Not much has changed since then.”

Lily had never seen Mary’s face become so sour before. “Let’s not get so worked up, shall we? It was only a silly quiz, after all,” Lily said.

“Right. And I’m just a silly little girl,” Mary snapped. Lily was a bit bewildered; Mary was never this argumentative. She heard Anna sigh.

“Oh, don’t get your robes in a twist,” Anna said dismissively. “Lily’s right.”

Mary got up from her bed and walked over to the door.

“Mary, don’t go,” Lily said. She sincerely felt bad about teasing her now. Mary turned back to face them with an air of deep disapproval.

“You know, I’m not nearly as big of a joke as you both think I am.” She left the room and Anna immediately rolled her eyes.

“Talk about over-sensitive,” she muttered.

Lily nodded and tried to look unbothered, mostly because she didn’t want to tack on another argument to the evening. Things were still not entirely comfortable between her and Anna, and she hardly wanted to take the chance of releasing all of that pent-up resentment. Anna could be more intimidating than Professor McGonagall when she wanted to.

Lily had not felt particularly close to Anna or Mary since they had returned from holidays. The slow growth apart was something Lily had expected, but seeing Mary so unlike herself made it more immediate. They were not just growing apart, Lily realized, but growing into very different people than they had been all these years.

It frightened her a little, as did the fact that Mary had not returned a half-hour later. Ever since she had overheard Mulciber talking about his plans, Lily had been very worried that he might actually act on them and go after Mary. She decided to go looking for her while Anna was busy writing a conclusion for her Charms essay, and she left the dormitory with her wand stowed in her pocket.

She needn’t have worried, for Mary was sitting in a chair in the common room, looking very sulky. Lily pulled over an empty chair and sat next to her.

“Took you long enough,” Mary said.

“Have you been waiting here this whole time for us to come after you?” Lily asked. Mary shrugged, which Lily took as a yes. “Mary, really, it’s a dumb quiz in Witch Weekly. It said that I should take care of magical creatures. I don’t even know the difference between a knarl and a regular cat. I used to think a porlock was an evil wizard without much money.”

Mary smiled weakly. “It’s not about the quiz,” she said. “That’s part of it, but...I just don’t understand what’s so ridiculous about the idea of me being an Auror. I’m not just this pathetic girl who moons around after boys all the time.”

“No—I know you’re not, Mary,” Lily said, although she had to admit that this year’s evidence certainly contradicted that statement. “I mean, if you just think about it in a logical way, it’s funny that the magazine would say that, since you’re not taking Potions. So technically it can’t be right, no matter what.”

It was a very lame excuse for having laughed at her, but Mary seemed a little distracted. Her eyebrows contracted slightly. “I suppose you’re right. I never thought about that.”

“We were just having fun,” Lily continued. Mary nodded, and their conversation stopped as the portrait hole opened and someone came flying into the common room on a broom. Lily looked up and saw that it was Sirius, followed by James, Peter, and Remus, who were all on foot. James was evidently returning from practice and had had his broom hijacked.

“Evening, everyone,” Sirius said, waving to those sitting around the common room. James had handed a Quaffle off to Peter, who Lily suspected had gotten a moment of lucky aim when he threw it and hit Sirius squarely in the back. Indignant, Sirius swooped down and nearly impaled Peter with the broomstick. The spectacle had distracted everyone in the room, as was their aim, of course. James walked across the common room, chatting with Remus, and he looked over at Lily to give her a devastating smile. She felt herself blush and involuntarily returned a sheepish grin of her own. The four of them disappeared up the spiral staircase, their voices audible until they slammed their dormitory door behind them.

Mary sighed. “Merlin, Lily, you’re so lucky.”

“What?”

“It’s not fair that you’ve got a bloke who just likes you, plain and simple,” Mary said. Lily laughed.

“Oh, Mary, there is nothing plain or simple about it,” she said. Mary turned her brown eyes on Lily with interest.

“What do you mean?”

It was strange to suddenly be thrust into talking about the very confusing state of affairs between herself and James, but she thought it might cheer Mary up to be in on the intrigue.

“I’m not sure if he likes me anymore,” Lily said. Mary gave her a puzzled look.

“What are you talking about? He’s obviously in love with you,” Mary said.

“Let’s not over-exaggerate,” Lily said. “And I’m not kidding, Mary. He hasn’t even tried to ask me out since...October.”

Mary’s jaw dropped open. “I assumed that you two were dating!”

“Where did you get that idea?” Lily asked.

“It just seems like you are,” Mary said. She paused. “You’re really not dating?”

“No,” Lily said firmly.

“But...” Mary’s mouth hung open in confusion. “It doesn’t make sense. If you both like each other...”

“I think we’re just happy with the way things are,” Lily said, although it wasn’t entirely the truth. She was happy being his friend, but there was a little bit of longing for more. “Comfortable is a better word for it, maybe.”

“Do you like him?”

Lily hesitated. “I don’t know.”

“Well, if you like him, then you should go out with him,” Mary said. “It’s not fair to him if you don’t.”

“I just—” Lily sighed. She was failing to see how some sense of justice and fairness had invaded the conversation. “I don’t even know how to ask a boy out.”

“Do you want me to ask him for you?” Mary said.

“No,” Lily said, shaking her head.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

Mary deflated slightly, but she still looked much more cheerful than she had before.

“Well,” she began, “if you don’t want to ask him, then you’ll just have to drop hints so he knows that you fancy him. Then he’ll ask you out, you can say yes, and that’s that.”

“But I don’t know if I do want to go out with him,” Lily said, running her hands over her face.

“You do,” Mary said, “believe me. Now, as for dropping hints, you can always just try flirting with him loads. But if that doesn’t work, you can also...”

Lily lost track of what Mary was saying as she contemplated how much of what her friend was advising was based on Lily’s situation or her own with Remus. Considering how badly that had worked out, Lily was not entirely sure that Mary was a good person to get advice from. She also wondered whether Mary was the only person who had come up with this wild assumption that Lily and James were dating. Did they really act like they were? And how had it come to a point where Mary and Lily were so out-of-touch with one another that Mary had thought Lily was dating James and had not even bothered to ask her about it?

“Lily?”

“Oh—yeah, you’re right,” Lily said. “I’ll think about it. Just don’t tell anyone about this, okay?”

She got the impression that Mary knew she had not been listening very well, but luckily Anna came to join them at that particular moment. At least Mary was kind enough to not repeat Lily’s dilemma to Anna, whose input would have been decidedly more caustic.

They ended up having a perfectly pleasant conversation, dreaming up plans for their upcoming summer, and it was almost like everything was back to the way it should have been.




Chapter 19: All Together
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Chapter Nineteen

All Together




James had tried his best to heed Dumbledore’s order not to retaliate against the Slytherins, but they seemed to have made it their goal to openly harass him whenever possible. Sirius, Peter, and Remus were only too happy to come to James’ defence, and the result was some fairly nasty confrontations between classes—luckily, none of which the teachers had witnessed.

It wasn’t just James who had become the target of a fair number of curses from the Slytherins. They also seemed to be taking every opportunity to pick on younger students, though he got the impression that this was also directed at him, as if they were trying to goad him into some larger confrontation. He assumed this was their revenge for him selling them out to the school governors, despite the fact they had gone unpunished. They were certainly antagonizing Lily nearly as often, and James couldn’t help but admire how little she let it shake her. She took points away from Slytherin and threw the offenders in detention calmly and casually, and seemed impervious to being called names or receiving murderous glares. Sometimes James wondered whether she might make good on their joke about getting rid of Death Eaters. After all, there was a part of him that hadn’t been entirely joking.

There was a very, very tense grudge between the Slytherins and Gryffindors, worse than James had ever experienced before. Classes like Potions were a nightmare to get through. Even Professor Slughorn, who usually relished nothing more than spending a couple hours with his N.E.W.T-level students, seemed to be relieved when the bell rang at the end of each class.

“Flasks up to the front, everyone!” Professor Slughorn called out to them at the close of a Monday morning class. James swore under his breath—he was only half finished with his Hate Potion, nowhere near the “opaque red” colour that Advanced Potion-Making set out as an ideal result. Lily glanced at his cauldron as she was bringing her flask up to Slughorn.

“I think you forgot to strain the Ashwinder eggs,” she said. “You’re not supposed to add them whole.”

“I didn’t finish most of it,” James said, bottling up his own potion resentfully.

“Yes, but it’s gone orange instead of golden,” Lily said, before striding up to the front of the class. James stood in shock, trying to figure out how on earth someone could pay that much attention to a potion.

“What do you think?” Peter asked, holding up his own flask for James to survey. He had sweat beading on his forehead, and had obviously put in considerable effort. His potion looked like it might be slightly congealing at the top, but it was at least red, which was more than James could say.

“Looks good,” James said, trying to offer an encouraging smile. He knew that Peter usually had a terrible time with Potions, and that it would probably be unfair to ignore the few successes that he had.

They managed to depart from class without anyone accidentally spilling their potion on someone else or knocking over one of their classmates’ flasks, “mishaps” that had become conspicuously common in the past week, and which all seemed to be caused by the Slytherins in one way or another. With Professor Slughorn as the head of their house, however, it never resulted in anything more than a hasty mop-up and an assurance that the victim wouldn’t lose marks for that day’s class.

Defence Against the Dark Arts was blessedly free from the Slytherins, except Snape. As far as James was concerned, learning about Dark creatures was done better when said creatures weren’t sitting across the room from you. It seemed that he wasn’t able to completely escape the subject of them, however, when Professor Dearborn asked him to stay after class.

“Damn good work today, Potter,” Dearborn said, leaning against the edge of his desk.

“Erm, thanks,” James said. He was still a bit put off by Dearborn’s general attitude of callousness, but it was nice to receive a compliment from him. Dearborn was awfully hard to impress at the best of times.

“I have high expectations for what you’ll do when we start working on Patronuses,” Dearborn continued. “Ever tried one before?”

“No,” James said. He sincerely hoped that Dearborn wasn’t about to ask him to make an attempt now, but he simply waved his hand casually.

“You’ll have no problems, I’m sure of it,” Dearborn said. “You planning on becoming an Auror when you’re finished here?”

James hesitated. He had, of course, entertained the prospect at different points, but never very seriously. Dearborn’s disdain for Aurors made it seem like a rather loaded question, in any case.

“I’m not trying to trick you, Potter,” Dearborn said, his beard twitching. “I know some good Aurors. More bad ones, but that’s not to say you’d be among them.”

James grinned. “I don’t know...the Aurors seem a bit of a mess these days, don’t they?”

Headlines appeared in the Prophet a few times a week criticizing the Aurors’ lack of progress and petty infighting.

“Well, you keep up on current events,” Dearborn said, “Which is more than I can say about most of the twits that run around these halls. But you’ve got a talent for fighting the Dark Arts, and a passion for it, too, from what I’ve heard from Albus.”

James was not sure how to respond, a predicament which Dearborn apparently found amusing.

“I’m not about to give you a lecture,” he said, chuckling. “Sounds like Albus already took care of that part. But good on you to try and do something about it. I’ve only been here for six months and already I can tell that Albus hasn’t been going about things in the right way.”

“Thanks,” James said. “Not that it did much good.”

“That’s life, Potter,” Dearborn said, “especially these days.”

“I suppose so,” James said, shrugging.

“Something to think about, anyway,” Dearborn said, straightening up.

Sirius, Remus, and Peter were waiting outside in the corridor for James when he exited.

“What’d he want?” Peter asked. James noticed that Snape was standing not too far away, his nose stuck in a book called The Dark Arts Outsmarted.

“I’ll tell you later,” James muttered, and they headed off to dinner.

James felt encouraged that someone believed him and Lily, apart from Sirius, Remus, and Peter, of course. They had wanted to know about his conversation with Dearborn, but it was only when they had returned to the dormitory after dinner that he had relayed what had been said. They seemed to take their professor's words to heart.

“We’re going to have to take matters into our own hands,” Sirius said.

“Whatever it is, we’re going to have to make sure that no one finds out it was us,” James said. “Dumbledore’ll kill me.”

“If you’re worried about people finding out, maybe you shouldn’t risk it,” Remus said, looking up from a torn set of robes he was mending. “It’s not like it’ll take many guesses before they land on us.”

“Unless we do it well,” Peter interjected. “Better than we ever have before.”

“We were never really trying in the past, anyway,” Sirius said. “If we actually make an effort to not get caught...”

Part of James had a nagging feeling that this wasn’t a good idea, but he was so eager to take the Slytherins down a peg that he hardly cared. Sirius and Peter were right, anyway.

“I say we go all the way and frame them for something bad enough to get them expelled,” Sirius said.

“I dunno,” Peter said. “They poisoned people and Dumbledore still didn’t kick them out.”

“But Dumbledore said it was because there was no proof,” James reminded him. “As long as we make it so there’s evidence—”

“So we’re going to bring some sort of Dark object into the castle?” Remus asked.

“Well, now that you mention it, that sounds like a brilliant idea,” Sirius said. Remus rolled his eyes. “But we don't have to bring anything in, Moony. There’s loads of stuff we can just nick and plant on them. Those candlesticks Dearborn has, some of the stuff Filch has confiscated, that shelf of banned books Dumbledore has up in his office, the supplies Slughorn keeps locked up in his office...any one of those would be enough.”

“And none of them are going to be easy to get to,” Remus said.

“We’ll figure out a plan,” James said. “We’ve got the map and the Invisibility Cloak, after all. How hard can it be?”

“Moony’s right,” Peter said, “it’s not going to be easy.”

James nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe Lily would help us.”

Sirius groaned, Peter snorted with laughter, and though Remus stayed quiet, he seemed to be having difficulty concealing a smile.

“What?” James asked. “She went to Dumbledore with me.”

“There we were, having a nice conversation about getting the Slytherins expelled, and you find a way to bring it back to Evans,” Sirius said.

“I was only saying that she might help us out,” James replied.

“Prongs,” Remus said, “I think you should probably avoid telling Lily anything to do with this.”

“It’s not like she's going to tell one of the teachers on us,” James said. “She was the one who suggested going to spy on the Slytherins in the first place.”

“All right, Prongs, I can tell you’ve reached your breaking point,” Sirius said. “Just get everything you need to say about Evans out.”

James exhaled heavily. “There’s nothing to say. I’ve still got about as much hope as a Puffskein does against a dragon.”

“You never know about those Puffskeins,” Peter said. “They could probably lure the dragon in with that weird noise they make.”

“Well, there you go, Prongs,” Sirius said, laughing. “All you’ve got to do is make strange noises at her.”

James took the opportunity to throw a very dirty sock at Sirius’ face.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” Sirius said once he had extricated the sock, giving James a look of faint concern. “She’s walking around making moon-eyes at you all the time. You’re the only two who don’t think you’re already a couple.”

“That’s not true,” James replied.

“Ask anyone in this room and they’ll agree with me,” Sirius said. James thought this was a bit hyperbolic, considering it was only himself, Sirius, Remus, and Peter sitting in their dormitory.

“Don’t ask me anything about girls,” Remus muttered, throwing his robes into his trunk.

James and Sirius looked at Peter. “Sorry, Prongs, but I agree with Padfoot.”

Sirius made a noise of triumph.

“But do what you want,” Peter added, making James feel slightly better.

“Thanks, Wormtail,” Sirius said. “Listen, Prongs, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you’re rubbish with girls.”

“I am not!” James said. “Just because of that one time in fourth year...”

He was referring to the time that he had very stupidly tried to ask out Irene Fancourt, who had been at the time the seventh-year Gryffindor Quidditch captain. To this day James still had no idea why he had done it, and his friends (Sirius in particular) never let him live it down. At the time it had seemed a perfectly logical thing to do, and when she rejected him, he had actually convinced himself for a little while that she really did like him but was afraid of what her friends might say. Even thinking about it now made his entire body cringe in embarrassment, which was probably why Sirius liked to bring it up from time to time.

“No, it’s not just because of that,” Sirius said, smirking. “Merlin, I’d forgotten about that for a little while. What a spectacular—”

“Let’s not talk about it,” James interrupted.

“Right. Anyway, your entire history with Evans has been disaster after disaster,” Sirius continued. “It’s like every time you get near a girl your brain shuts down and you do something stupid to try and impress them. I blame the glasses.”

“Actually, I was under the impression that most of those stupid things were your idea, Padfoot,” Remus said.

“Well, Prongs took my good ideas and turned them stupid because he was trying to show off,” Sirius said. Peter sniggered again.

“Padfoot, can you just make your point?” James asked.

“My point is that you should probably ignore all of your instincts when it comes to girls,” Sirius said. “If you think Evans doesn’t like you, she probably does. And I have to tell you, it’s a bit torturous watching you throw away the last chance you’ve got with her. Time’s running out.”

James knew he was right, at least about his chances disappearing. It was already March, and he had a feeling that if he waited too long, they’d head off for the summer and he would never see Lily again.

“So, Dearborn thinks you should be an Auror?” Remus asked. James shrugged, still thinking about Lily.

“I suppose so,” he replied.

“Wouldn’t that be brilliant?” Peter asked, a slightly dreamy look in his eyes.

“It’s really hard to qualify,” James said. “You’ve got to get E’s in all your N.E.W.Ts and then do three years of training, and if you fail the tests, you have to do another year before you can take them again.”

“Yeah,” Peter said. “But you could do it, if you wanted.”

“He’s right, you know,” Sirius said. He was looking across the room at James with one eyebrow slightly raised, and James knew he must be remembering their conversation over Christmas. Somehow it had never been mentioned to Remus or Peter, and James felt like it might be verging on boasting to bring it up at this particular moment.

“We’ll see,” James said. “At the rate I’m going I might not make the Potions grade anyway.”

“Now there,” Remus said, “is something that I’m sure Lily wouldn’t mind helping with.”



..........




As time slid closer to Easter holidays, Lily found that she had too many things to do and not enough time to do them—and it was all James’ fault. He was making it far too difficult to devote enough of her brain to homework and other responsibilities, and besides that, he had been the one who had forced this O.W.L.-tutoring idea on her, which had turned out to be a nightmare. It had taken more than a little begging (and a dash of coercion, in some cases) to get any of the sixth-year prefects to volunteer their services, especially in some of the more obscure subjects like Divination or Muggle Studies, which fewer students enrolled in. Even James, who most of the prefects seemed to be much more amenable to (Lily was still at a loss as to how that had come about), had a fair amount of trouble getting them to agree.

But finally, it seemed like it was all going to come together. They roped enough people into leading some of the tutoring, and volunteered for a few themselves, so that they were able to draw up a schedule. They were going to run one session for each subject: three each week for three weeks. It was hard to tell how many students might show up for each one, since many of them would have other commitments on certain evenings and some wouldn’t be interested in attending, but Lily had thought it best to have two prefects for each session in case the crowds were on the larger side.

James and Remus had volunteered to take the Defence Against the Dark Arts session, which Lily thought was an excellent match. Both of them were naturals at the subject, and she thought that James’ knack for leadership and Remus’ patience would lend themselves well to teaching younger students.

As for herself, Lily had made good on her initial commitment to handle Potions. Finding someone to pair with her had been another story entirely. The obvious choice, based on marks, would have been Severus, but Lily hardly thought he would be a good role model, and there was almost no chance that he would have agreed, anyway. In the end she had enlisted Diana Greengrass, a sixth-year Slytherin who was apparently the best in her year at Potions.

“There,” she said, writing in the last name on the schedule and handing it over to James and Remus, who were sitting in adjacent chairs in the common room. “How does it look?”

She had perhaps stared a little too fixedly on him as he examined it, since Remus was giving her a quizzical look. Her face went hot and she turned her head away.

“Evans, you’ve left me out again,” Sirius said, craning his neck over James’ shoulder.

“Sirius, as I’ve said a half dozen times already, you’re not a prefect,” Lily said.

“Well, neither is he,” Sirius said, pointing to James.

“Yes, but he is the Head Boy,” Lily said, “and the Quidditch Captain. So he’s got a bit of a leg up on you, I’m afraid.”

“Rampant discrimination,” Sirius said. “Just because I’ve got more than half a personality...”

“You’d have to be missing at least three-quarters of a normal life, as well,” Anna muttered.

Lily shot her an unamused look. In recent days she had found that her and James’ social circles (which, admittedly, were not exactly far from one another) had begun to bleed together. It had become increasingly troublesome to divide their time between each other and their respective friends, and senseless, as well, considering they were all in the same House and many of the same classes. It was a nice development, she thought, even though she hardly knew Sirius and Peter, and Remus much less than James. It was at least some form of progress, even if it was not exactly of the kind that she wanted to occur.

Mary, of course, could hardly hide her enthusiasm about getting to spend more time around Remus, who always seemed to choose a seat as far from her as he could whenever the seven of them were in a group. Anna was characteristically unmoved by the entire thing; she seemed neither pleased nor irritated with the new arrangements.

Sirius was difficult to read. At times he seemed resentful, and at others he seemed to enjoy having a few more people to hold court with. Out of all the boys, he seemed to be the most bothered by the presence of outsiders, and Lily got the impression that he much preferred the insular, exclusive group of himself, James, Remus, and Peter. He certainly made a habit of starting conversations that were clearly meant for the four of them only, even when Lily, Anna, and Mary were in their presence. Peter, for his part, hardly ever spoke. He seemed to be very nervous around girls, Lily thought, and it was a shame—on the rare occasions that he did speak up, he usually had something funny to say.

“Speaking of discrimination,” Sirius said pointedly, looking at his friends. Dark looks passed over their faces.

“Yeah, I saw,” James muttered.

“Are you talking about today’s newspaper?” Anna asked loudly, looking up from her Charms textbook.

Sirius looked over at her in obvious irritation. “Yeah, I am. Why?”

“I just thought I’d join the conversation,” Anna said. “If it’s all right with you, of course.”

Lily had a feeling that Anna and Sirius sort of couldn’t stand one another, which didn’t bode well for the future of these group arrangements. She was glad that someone was trying to put a stop to these ridiculous fenced conversations that Sirius kept starting, though.

“What was in the newspaper?” Mary asked.

“Some stupid thing about people in the Ministry trying to put through anti-half-breed legislation,” Anna said. This was news to Lily as well, who didn’t pay as much attention to the Daily Prophet as she probably should have.

“Was your sister writing about this?” Lily asked.

“No,” Anna said. “Last I heard she was taking a temporary hiatus to finish planning her wedding...” She stuck out her tongue in disgust.

“Anyway,” Sirius said irritably, “not a good sign, is it?”

“It’s never going to pass,” James replied. Lily followed his gaze as it flicked towards Remus, who seemed to be having trouble finding something in his schoolbag.

“You never know,” Anna said. “Those idiots at Magical Law Enforcement seem to be behind it—”

“No, you’re right, James,” Sirius said, interrupting Anna, who looked extremely put off. “There are enough people out there who’d have a fit if they let it go through. Besides, the Aurors would have a hell of a time defending their position against Voldemort if they supported it.”

“Or maybe they want to use it to defend themselves,” Anna said. It was like watching a tennis match. “It’s not like they’ve done much useful lately.”

“And that would be useful, you think?” Sirius asked.

“I—I see what you mean, Anna,” Mary said. “A lot of people think werewolves and half-giants, and people like that, are for—Voldemort.”

Lily was shocked to hear Mary saying Voldemort’s name like that. She had hardly ever even used You-Know-Who in the past. It sounded a little childish when she said it, as if she was aiming for the kind of careless defiance that Sirius had used a moment earlier but had failed terribly.

The shock wore off and Lily’s attention returned to her surroundings. Remus had gotten up with his things and was heading in the direction of his dormitory. He didn’t seem to be angry, but an uncomfortable silence had descended over them, and the boys were exchanging ominous glances with one another.

“Hey, wait up, Remus, I’ll come with you,” Peter said, also leaving them behind.

“Exactly, Mary,” Anna said, closing her book. “I think I’m going to go to bed too.”

Sirius looked like he was holding back a good riddance as she left. Lily looked at Mary, whose cheeks had gone magenta. James and Sirius seemed to be having a telepathic conversation with one another, and noticing their distraction, Mary mouthed over to her, “What did I do?”

Lily shrugged, but she thought she might have an inkling of what had happened. She wasn’t about to divulge it to Mary, especially as she wasn’t sure if it was right. Mary shook her head, clearly embarrassed.

“I’ll see you up there, Lily?” she asked quietly, picking up her books.

“I’m just going to clear this up,” Lily said, gesturing to the rather haphazard pile of books and parchment she’d accumulated on the floor in front of her chair. “Be there in a minute.”

Lily tried to take as long as possible to get it all together, hoping that Sirius would leave and she would be able to speak to James alone.

“Coming, then?” she heard Sirius ask in a low voice.

“In a minute.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Is this really the time?”

Lily remained concentrated on sorting some Herbology notes as she heard Sirius sigh and trudge off to the dormitory. The last few stragglers in the common room were also gathering up their things, as it was nearing midnight. She finally straightened up and felt her heart catch in her throat.

“What just happened?” she asked. For some reason she felt like she had just run up a flight of stairs.

“Nothing,” James said, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Everybody just went to bed, I suppose.”

Lily raised her eyebrows in disbelief. “Everyone went to bed after things got unbelievably tense.”

“Well, we were talking about an unpleasant subject—”

“James, come on,” she interrupted. “I’m not stupid. Something strange just happened there.”

He shrugged. Lily sighed and folded her arms across her chest. She wasn’t going to let this drop without an answer—she’d spent far too much time wondering already.

“Are you sure Remus wasn’t upset?” she asked.

“Oh, no,” James said. “Just tired, I expect.”

“James,” Lily said, looking at him very pointedly. He looked back at her, expressionless, for a few moments, but then exhaled loudly.

“Bloody Snivellus,” he said. “He’s the one who told you, right?”

“So it’s true?” Lily asked. “Remus is—?”

He massaged his forehead. “Don’t—Lily, you can’t say a word—”

“Of course I won’t,” Lily said.

“Especially Mary,” James continued. “He really doesn’t want her to know.”

Lily found this a little troubling, although not unexpected. She had suspected from the beginning that this had something to do with Mary’s perpetually unrequited affection.

“I won’t say anything,” she said, and James nodded. Silence fell for a few moments, and Lily could see a pained look cross his face.

“They’ll kill me for telling you,” he muttered.

“I shouldn’t have asked, I’m sorry,” Lily said.

“No, it’s all right. You already knew, anyway,” he replied.

“But—I mean, I shouldn’t have put you in that position. It was stupid of me.”

“Lily, it’s fine,” he said, looking straight into her eyes. “It feels like a bit of a relief, actually.”

Lily smiled weakly and nodded. She felt embarrassed about having been so presumptuous to force the information out of him like she had.

“They’ll get over it,” he continued. “And if not...I suppose I could always hire Anna to kill Sirius, couldn’t I?”

Lily exhaled a laugh. “I’m not entirely sure that our friends are going to get along very well.”

“We get along, though,” James said. “That’s all that matters, anyway.”

Lily nodded, trying to ignore how violently her stomach was squirming. She could say something, right now—they were completely alone, after all, and she was feeling almost confident enough to just let it all spill out. The only problem seemed to be that her words were stuck to her throat, but maybe if she could just get one out, the rest would come.

“James?”

Peter was back, standing on the bottom step of the spiral staircase.

“What is it?” James asked him. There was no trace of annoyance in his voice, no sign that he was bothered that they had been interrupted. Lily’s confidence shrunk back into hiding.

“Can you come upstairs?” Peter asked.

“Yeah,” James said, and he turned back to Lily. “Sorry, Lily, but I really should—you know.”

“Of course,” she said. She did understand. Thinking back over the conversation, she could imagine that Remus was probably not in the best state of mind and needed his friends’ support. But it still felt awful to see him walk away from her.

She picked up her things and headed off to her dormitory. When she got there, Mary was in the washroom brushing her teeth and Anna was, of course, fuming about something.

“Lily, I don’t know if I can stand it if you start dating James,” Anna said, slamming her trunk shut.

“He’s not that bad, Anna,” Lily said, referring to Sirius. “You just need more patience.”

“He reminds me,” Anna said, pausing dramatically, “of my brothers, Lily. So, actually, he is that bad.”

“Well, just ignore him,” Lily said, setting her books down beside her trunk. Anna laughed derisively.

“How am I supposed to ignore someone who likes to fill the air with the sound of their voice?” Anna asked.

“And I don’t know what I’m supposed to have done,” Mary said, re-entering the room. “I say one thing, and everyone clears out of the room! Remus looked like he couldn’t get away fast enough.”

“Let’s just go to bed,” Lily said.

“Well, in future,” Anna said, “if Sirius is around, I’m not.”

“Same for me with Remus,” Mary said, pulling back her sheets. Anna looked at her in exasperation.

“Mary, I actually mean it,” she said.

“So do I!”

Lily could tell that neither Anna nor Mary were completely serious, but she still had a feeling that everything with James was going to be even more complicated than she had thought before.

And Remus—he was really a werewolf! It felt so strange to have it confirmed after suspecting it for all that time. She was very glad that Severus wouldn’t get the chance to say I told you so after all the times she had dismissed his theory. Of course, she had only denied it to try and stop him from obsessing over it—otherwise she had been almost certain that he was right. It had only taken a visit to the library and a look at the moon charts to realize that Remus’ disappearances did coincide with the full moon. What she had disagreed with was Severus’ insistence on interfering and trying to expose Remus. It was none of his business, or hers, Lily had always believed, which was why she had never repeated it to anyone.

Without James standing in front of her, Lily could better appreciate the tragedy of it. Remus was the last person who deserved such an awful thing. She admired how he acted like everything was normal, but she could only imagine how difficult that facade must be to maintain.

And on top of everything else, Lily felt conflicted about promising not to tell Mary. She supposed she could understand why Remus didn’t want her to know, but nothing was ever going to get solved if it was kept a secret. Both of them were miserable in this state of suspension. Besides that, Lily couldn’t understand why Remus was so reluctant, seeing as Mary was very kind-hearted.

She turned over with her mind still churning. One thing was certain: everything was going to get much more complicated before it got any easier.




Author’s Note: In case you’re wondering, sometimes people just dislike each other. It doesn’t always turn into a love/hate relationship. Know what I mean? ;)


Chapter 20: An Unexpected Invitation
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Chapter Twenty
An Unexpected Invitation




“All right, here’s the plan.”

James stood at the foot of his bed, where the Marauders’ Map was splayed out on top of his quilt. He, Sirius, Remus, and Peter had decided on a plan to try and frame the Slytherins, and with only a few days left before Easter holidays, they had also decided that tonight was the night to get it in motion.

“We’ll bring the Cloak and go to Dearborn’s office,” James said, going over everything one last time. “And we’re going to have to search quickly. The candlesticks are probably still in there, since he was complaining that the Ministry was hassling him about giving them back, but there’s a chance they might not be.”

They had concluded that stealing the candlesticks from Dearborn would be the best course, partially because they felt he might be less likely to punish them if he were to catch them—it was unlikely that he would, of course, but still important to consider.

“Remus will watch the Map in case Dearborn starts heading back,” James said. Dearborn had headed off to Dumbledore’s office just a few minutes earlier, and seemed to be settling in for a lengthy visit. “If he does, or if we can’t find them in ten minutes of searching, we’ll try again later. If we do find them, we’ll hide them in the Heads’ office. No one’ll be poking around there.” Lily finding them wasn’t a danger, either, since they neither she nor James were spending much time there at all. “Everyone ready?”

They all nodded and James wiped the Map, handing it off to Remus. Peter took the Cloak and hit it underneath the back of his jacket, and they headed off towards the portrait hole.

It was not very late at night, so there were still quite a few people sitting in the common room. They had thought it better to not add the complication of being out of bed after-hours, given that there were Aurors skulking around the corridors, and besides that, they had been at the mercy of whenever Dearborn left his office. One of the people sitting in the common room was Lily, who waved at him as he walked across the room. For a half-second his steps threatened to veer off in her direction, but Sirius shoved him forward.

“Heard about the Puddlemere United game, Prongs?” he asked, smirking. James rolled his eyes and followed Peter through the portrait hole, glancing back at Lily briefly.

“Can you imagine if this actually works?” Peter asked.

“Of course it’s going to work,” Sirius said, twiddling his wand between his fingers. “It’s practically foolproof.”

“I just hope we get to see them forced out,” James said. A mental image of the Slytherins being frog-marched out at wandpoint by a group of Aurors formed in his brain.

When they neared Dearborn’s office, James, Sirius, and Remus waited around the corner while Peter played the part of a student seeking out his teacher. He knocked on the door pretended to be waiting for an answer while he surreptitiously used his wand to unlock the door and then left it slightly ajar. It was always better to make entries under the Invisibility Cloak as smooth and soundless as possible, especially when there were four of them. Peter rejoined them and they shuffled into the office.

Muffliato,” Sirius said, flicking his wand at the door. “Let’s go to work, shall we?”

James started searching the desk. Considering that Dearborn was the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, his office was very poorly secured, but considering that Dearborn was Dearborn, it was not so surprising. Any drawers that were locked were opened with an easy Alohomora. There did not seem to be much of interest inside the office, in any case, which was perhaps why the security was so lax. Most of the desk drawers that James opened were either bare or held mundane objects like blank parchment or broken quills.

He tried feeling around the sides and bottom of the drawers, thinking that perhaps Dearborn was the type to put secret compartments into his desk, but if they were there, he could not tell. He shut the last drawer and half-heartedly glanced over the surface of the desk, which was covered with an old newspaper, several books, and piles of essays.

“It’s not over here,” Peter said, shuffling a few books back into place on their shelf.

“Not here either,” Sirius said. He stepped back from the large cabinet against the wall.

The black box they were looking for did not seem to be in the room, which left only two possibilities: either Dearborn did not have them in his possession any more, or they were in the sleeping quarters connected to his office. James glanced over at the door that led into the room.

“Moony?” he asked.

“Still with Dumbledore.”

“Let’s do a quick search in there,” James said, and Sirius and Peter converged on the door with him.

Unfortunately this room seemed to be less penetrable than the office. No variation of Alohomora worked, much to James’ frustration.

“Any ideas?” he asked Peter and Sirius, who were standing on either side of him.

“He’s coming back,” Remus said from behind them.

“He’s three floors away, we’ve still got time,” Sirius said, taking a look at the Map.

“About two minutes, and Dumbledore’s coming with him” Remus said urgently. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Peter, try that Muggle thing you learned,” Sirius said.

“I need something thin enough to jam in there,” Peter muttered.

“We don’t have time for this,” Remus said.

“Breathe, Moony,” James said, looking for the pocket knife he had come across on the desk. He found it wedged underneath a stack of parchment. “Try this,” he said, throwing it to Peter.

Peter fumbled with it for a few seconds. “I can’t get it open.”

“Give it here,” Sirius said, grabbing it away from them.

“He’s going to be back in the next thirty seconds,” Remus said. “Oh, and he knows about the shortcut from the fourth floor, brilliant. Make that about fifteen seconds.”

“All right, forget it,” James said. “Just put the knife back on the desk and let’s go.”

They were underneath the Invisibility Cloak and ready to leave when they bumped into the desk and a jar of Pepper Imps smashed all over the floor.

All four of them swore and Remus stuck his wand out from under the Cloak to try and fix it.

“Just leave it!” Sirius hissed.

“He’ll know someone’s been in here!”

“And he won’t know it’s us, will he?”

“He’s right, Moony—”

The door opened a crack and they all froze. James could see a sliver of Dearborn’s left side, and his voice was wafting into the room.

“...but all I’m saying is that I’m not sure there’s enough time left, Albus,” he was saying, and the door opened just a little more. James jolted out of his frozen state and pulled out his wand, hoping that he could successfully perform a non-verbal Reversal Charm. To his immense relief, the shards of glass and small black sweets flew up into the air and back to their original state. He felt everyone else exhale heavily, and they crouched down against the wall so that their feet would be properly covered.

“And you’re still opposed to expanding our prospects? Even though there’s more than a small chance that this won’t work?”

James could hear Dumbledore responding but could not make out what he was saying, probably because his heart was beating too loud to hear anything else. He tried to get control of his breathing before Dearborn re-entered.

“Well, if you’re certain,” Dearborn said, and the door opened further. “I’ll come by later this week and we can discuss it further.”

Moments later, Dearborn entered the office and shut the door behind him. James held his breath completely as the professor crossed the room. As long as he didn’t notice anything out of place...

He did pause for a moment to look for something on his desk, but must have decided that he had misplaced it and went off to his sleeping quarters. James could have died of relief right there, but forced himself to stand upright and move towards the door.

He had already opened the door a half-inch when Dearborn came back into the office and strode over to his bookshelf. They all stood still again, and James tried to push the door as far closed as he could. Dearborn pulled a book off his shelf and then noticed that the door was still open. Frowning, he crossed the room in three strides, stopping centimetres from James’ toes.

Sirius tugged on James’ sleeve and he ducked down, avoiding Dearborn’s outstretched hand. James was certain that they were going to be caught now, for how could Dearborn not sense that four people were standing in front of him? But by some miracle, he simply shut the door and walked away, whistling.

They practically sprinted from the room when he disappeared again. When James pulled the Invisibility Cloak off, all three of his friends looked like they had been hit with a round of Shock Spells.

“I told you,” Remus said.

Sirius laughed hollowly. “Ah, what’s life without a little risk, Moony?”

“I can’t believe we made it out of there,” Peter said, though he sounded slightly excited. “When we were by the door—”

“Let’s not relive it,” James said. “We should go back to the dormitory before Filch comes along.”

They barely spoke as they walked back to their room, but by the time James threw the Invisibility Cloak back in his trunk he was finding the whole incident less horrifying. They hadn’t been caught, after all—in fact, they had evaded capture quite spectacularly.

“Who eats Pepper Imps, anyway?” Sirius asked from his bed, and they all dissolved into laughter.

“I suppose we’ll have to come up with another plan,” Remus said.

“What, you don’t think that went well?” James asked, laughing.

“That was so lucky you fixed that jar before he came back in, Prongs,” Peter said.

They discussed the finer points of the situation enthusiastically for the next few minutes, comparing it to other close calls they’d had in the past and deciding that it probably ranked in the top three. Eventually their laughter and excitement died down and the conversation turned more practical.

“So we’ll try again after holidays?” Sirius asked.

“Are you sure it’s worth the trouble?” Remus asked.

“We’ll have a different plan, like you said, Moony,” James replied. “It wouldn’t have been that much trouble if we’d listened to you, anyway.”

Remus looked slightly gratified at that and was much less critical for the rest of their conversation. They went to bed soon after, and as James was trying to fall asleep, he felt the tiniest bit of guilt nagging at him. He thought—no, he knew—that they were doing the right thing, and that the Slytherins deserved it, but he did feel a little bad about having to lie to Lily. And he really did have to, because he had a feeling his friends had been right, and that she would be appalled if he explained what they were trying to do. Besides that, he also felt guilty about involving himself in yet another situation that would make Dumbledore none too happy.

It wasn’t as if he was about to back out now, though, and he reminded himself a little bitterly that both Lily and Dumbledore were much too forgiving of people that didn’t deserve it. This was justified, even if they had to use questionable means to achieve their ends. And in any case, it wasn’t as if anyone else was ever going to find out that they, and not the Slytherins, were the ones behind it all.



.........




Lily was not the only one not looking forward to leaving Hogwarts for Easter holidays: Anna was far unhappier, or at least more vocal about it. Apparently her entire family was coming home over the holidays and were all staying at their parents’ house.

“I was already going to get enough time with them to last me a few years during her wedding,” Anna said to Mary and Anna as they were packing in the weak sunlight of Saturday morning. “Now I’m going to die of overexposure.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to tell all of your extended family about how well your year at St. Margaret’s School for Girls is going,” Mary said, folding a pair of robes with a flourish of her wand.

“No,” Anna said, “but do you think they’d take me in for the holidays?” Lily smiled and shook her head. “It’s going to be even worse this time, being so close to the end of the school year. Everyone’s going to be badgering me about N.E.W.T.s and what I’m going to do afterward, and then picking apart everything I say, telling me why it’s impossible or not good enough.”

“At least they care, though,” Mary said. Anna laughed derisively.

“She's right, Anna,” Lily interjected.

“My parents have stopped asking anymore. I think they’re hoping that I’ll finish school and then rejoin their world. Make something comprehensible out of my life,” Mary said.

Unlike her friends, it was not the prospect of seeing her family that bothered Lily, but who she was not going to be seeing. It was pathetic, she knew, to be feeling so pained about being away from James for two weeks. That sort of thing was really only supposed to be felt by girlfriends, and she was certainly not that to James.

“I’m going to need to escape,” Anna said, shutting the latches on her trunk, “so don’t be surprised if I show up on either of your doorsteps.”

“Just don’t Apparate within sight or my mother might faint,” Mary said. “Well, I think I’m ready to go. Shall we walk out to the gates together?”

Lily had deliberately drawn out her own packing so that she would get the chance to go say goodbye to James without Anna and Mary waiting on her. Not that she expected it would be some drawn-out affair, of course, and it was possible that he had already left, but she thought it would be better if no one was looking over her shoulder.

“I need a little while longer, but I’ll walk down to the common room with both of you,” she offered.

They said their farewells near the portrait hole and saw Remus and Sirius walking out with their trunks. Much to Lily’s surprise, Mary hardly looked at Remus as he passed by. He had obviously expected a different reaction as well, since he had started slowing his pace slightly as he reached her. When the portrait hole had closed behind her friends, Lily finished packing (at a much quicker pace than before), took her hair out of its ponytail, and walked up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory.

The door was open but she knocked on the frame anyway, feeling a bit like she was intruding. James and Peter were both inside, and Lily found it amusing how messy the room still was when two of its inhabitants had packed up their things.

“Hey,” James said, looking up from his trunk at her. The sight of him brought an immediate smile to her face.

“Just wanted to wish you a happy Easter,” she said. “Leaving soon?”

He crossed the room to stand next to her. “Yeah, Pete and I were going to head out in a few minutes. You?”

She nodded. “Do you have plans for the holidays, Peter?” she asked, looking past James’ shoulder. Peter snapped his trunk closed and shrugged, looking slightly flushed.

“Just going home,” he said. “James’ birthday, too.”

“Oh, of course,” Lily said, as if she had just been reminded. It would have been impossible to forget, really. “Do you have some big, exciting party planned?”

James laughed. “No, can’t say I do. Sirius says he has a plan, but he always talks like that.”

“I saw him and Remus leaving,” Lily said. “I was surprised you two weren’t with them.”

“He said he had to go meet someone about an investment and needed to leave early,” James replied, shrugging.

“Interesting,” Lily said. The idea of Sirius Black investing in something sounded ridiculous. “Anyway, happy early birthday. I’m sorry I won’t be able to say it on the day of.”

“Thanks,” James said. A strange silence descended upon the room. Peter muttered something about looking for some socks and left them. James cleared his throat. “Actually, you should—er—come for tea on my birthday, if you like. Or something.”

Lily felt her eyebrows leap upwards. “Oh! Erm...”

“You don’t have to,” James said quickly. “Just...if you wanted to be able to say it then...”

“No—no, I’ll come,” Lily said, “of course I’ll come.” Her desire to see James had won out over the strangeness of the entire prospect. Going for birthday tea at James’ house? Well, they were friends, and she supposed this was a friendly thing to do, especially considering that he’d been so nice to her on her own birthday. And he did look so excited now that she’d said yes.

“Are—are you sure? You really don’t have to,” he said. Perhaps he too realized that the idea was a bit odd.

“Well, only if you want me to, of course,” she replied. “If you’d rather not...”

“No, I’d love it,” he said. “I don’t want to put you on the spot, though. And you might have other plans already.”

“Not at all,” Lily said, smiling.

A few further minutes of conversation followed as they tried to figure out how exactly Lily was to get to his house, seeing that she had never been there before and he lived a few hours south of her. It was very difficult to arrange, since most of the magical centers like Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade had prohibited Apparition in recent months, and Apparating to an unknown locale could end very badly. Of course, there was no Floo connection to Lily’s Muggle home, and James also seemed quite uncomfortable with the idea of taking a train alone, despite her assurances that it would be perfectly safe. The entire thing seemed like such a bother that each of them suggested doing away with it entirely, which the other quickly brushed off.

“Listen, I’ll just Apparate as best I can,” Lily finally said. “The worst that happens is I end up miles from where I’m supposed to be and then I go back home.”

“Or you Splinch yourself in half,” James said. “I’m not sure if I can live with that on my conscience.”

Lily smiled. “I’ll be fine.” Peter re-entered the room; he seemed to have been unsuccessful in finding his socks. “Just know that if I don’t show up, it’s not intentional.”

“Right,” James said. “I’ll keep that in mind when I’m terribly offended about being stood up.” Lily felt her cheeks getting hot at his choice of words. "Not that—erm—”

“So I’ll see you next Wednesday, around four?” Lily asked, hoping to save him from an embarrassing explanation. She knew he had not meant to make it sound like they were going on a date, though she might have wished otherwise.

“Unless you Apparate into another town,” James said, grinning.

“Exactly. I’ll see you then,” Lily said. Leaving did not seem so bad now that she only had to wait a few days before seeing him again. “Have a good Easter, Peter.”

“You too,” Peter said.

“See you,” James said quietly. Lily nodded, and there was a moment where she simply stood smiling up at him, before she remembered that her feet were supposed to be moving away.

All the way from her dormitory down to the school gates, Lily tried to picture her visit with James. The idea of seeing him outside of Hogwarts was strange, but a little exciting. She would see his house. They would not be distracted by classes or teachers or their friends. She was actually glad now that she was not his girlfriend, because the idea of being introduced to his parents would seem scary, rather than intriguing. She couldn’t imagine what they must be like, with someone like James as their son.

And the fact that he had asked her at all was encouraging, for it must mean that he wanted to see her. He had been happy when she agreed to come, as well. Perhaps she had been silly to ever think that he didn’t like her anymore, and this would give them the chance to talk things over. She couldn’t help but imagine some romantic scene where James confessed his feelings for her and kissed her beside a lake near his house. Of course, reiterated might be a better word than confessed, and she had no idea if there was a lake anywhere around where he lived. But the details were unimportant, really.

Lily pulled off her shoes inside her house and walked into the kitchen, where Petunia was making tea.

“What are you so happy about?” Petunia asked, her eyebrow raised.

“Hello to you too,” Lily replied pleasantly. “I’m just glad to be home.”

“Don’t get too thrilled yet,” her sister said. “Mum’s in a terrible mood because Dad flooded the basement.”

“How did he manage that?”

“Who knows,” Petunia said, picking up her cup of tea and heading for the stairs. “But he refuses to pay for a plumber and meanwhile we haven’t been able to do the laundry for two days. Mum told him she’d make him hand-wash it if he didn’t get it fixed by the end of the day.”

The stairs creaked and their mother appeared in the kitchen doorway a moment later. “Oh, Lily, dear, I thought it was your father coming back,” she said, looking harried. She crossed the kitchen and gave Lily a hug. “Petunia, if that room isn’t clean in an hour’s time—”

“You know, you’d never have to worry about my room if I lived in London,” Petunia called over the creaking of the stairs.

“Don’t start that again! Not today!” Lily’s mother shouted before turning back to Lily with a strained smile. “How are you, darling?”

“Really good, Mum,” Lily replied.

“You do look very cheerful,” her mother said, smiling affectionately. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was because you’re happy to be home.”

“Of course I’m happy to be here,” Lily said, and she was, at least a little. After all, she had started off with an almost-pleasant conversation with Petunia, which happened very rarely. “You know, Mum, I could fix the basement, if you like.”

“That’s very nice of you, dear,” her mother said, “but I think that would make it much too easy for your father.”

Lily took her trunk up to her room and absent-mindedly unpacked her things, singing along to the muffled melody of Petunia’s music floating through the walls. She was trying not to think about seeing James on Wednesday, trying not to get her hopes up and actually expect one of her ridiculous imaginary scenarios to come true. He had just asked her over for tea because they were friends, and it was silly to be thinking about what she should wear three days in advance. But maybe somehow, if everything was just right, she wouldn’t need to worry about being let down.



Chapter 21: Birthday Tea
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Chapter Twenty-One
Birthday Tea




Lily remembered from her Apparition lessons exactly how and why Splinching occurred. Emily Plunkett, a Hufflepuff girl from her year, had accidentally Splinched both her hands off while they were practicing in the Great Hall, and that had been enough for Lily to make sure she was always sufficiently "determined" before trying to Apparate.

Of course, determination was not really a problem when it came to Apparating to James’ house. She could hardly remember wanting to get to a place so completely, and she found herself at what seemed to be the place he had described in one piece. It was grey and misty day out, and Lily felt like a tangled mess of nerves as soon as she realized that she had made it and now had no excuse to not show up. Of course, it wasn’t really that she didn’t want to show up. She just had no idea what to expect after three days of playing out a dozen different scenarios in her mind, all of which seemed to hinge on finally telling him how she felt. She had half-resolved herself to doing it, in fact, but now that it was imminent, she felt uncertain.

She stepped out from the little copse of trees she had just Apparated into and saw the ivy-covered fence that James had described to her left. If everything had gone according to plan, the gate out in front of his house should be just around the bend in the lane.

The first sight she caught of his house made her slow her steps slightly. It was a stone manor of fair size, half-covered in ivy, with large windows and a dark wood door. There was a great deal of lawn space surrounded by trees, but no manicured gardens or grand pathway leading up to the front door. It had an air of having been slightly neglected for some time. Still, it was much nicer than Lily’s crowded, drab street, where everyone was lucky to get four feet of yellowing front lawn, and it was a little intimidating.

She took a quick breath before she picked up the heavy brass knocker. Her surroundings had momentarily distracted her from the butterflies in her stomach, but they returned in full force as she waited for someone to answer the door. She really hoped it was James and not one of his parents, because she wasn’t quite sure what she would say if that were the case. In fact, this entire situation was becoming more and more ludicrous by the second, and if she hadn’t already knocked on the door she would have seriously thought about turning around and pretending she’d never made it there.

When the door opened, she was very confused for a moment because there appeared to be no one there, but then she realized that there was a house elf standing on the threshold, looking up at her.

“Oh—hello,” she said. This was certainly a situation she had never found herself in before. “I’m here to see James. Is he in?”

It was a silly question, of course, since he was the one expecting her, but it did seem like good manners to ask.

James suddenly emerged into the foyer, and she felt better immediately. “I’ve got it, Sprotty,” he said to the elf, who inclined his head slightly and walked out of the room. “Well, come in,” he said to Lily.

She stepped into the paneled room and James offered to take her coat. “Happy Birthday,” she said as he hung it up on the coat rack. “Oh, wait, I almost forgot!” She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope. “I got you a card.”

“Thanks,” he replied, smiling. “That was nice of you. And I’m glad you didn’t get Splinched.”

“So am I,” Lily said. She felt a little uncomfortable under the intense gaze he was giving her, and avoided making eye contact.

“You, er, look really nice,” he said.

“Thank you,” she replied, blushing furiously.

“Well,” James said, and Lily was a little relieved that she was not the only one who appeared to be nervous, “do you want to go sit in the kitchen, then?”

She followed him down the hallway and into his low-ceilinged stone kitchen. Despite the grey skies outside, the room was bathed in golden light from the fireplace that stood at one end of the room. Lily smiled a little bit when she saw that there was already tea made and two cups set out—James had obviously put some preparation into this.

“You can sit down,” James said, pointing to a small table next to one of the windows. “I’ll take care of the tea.”

Lily sat down and found that she was having a very hard time thinking of things to say. It was as if the change of setting had taken away all her conversational skills. Or perhaps it was the distraction of admiring the strong, clean lines of his profile. It felt like it had been ages since she had last seen him, even though it had only been a few days.

“So...how has your birthday been so far?” she asked.

“Pretty ordinary,” James said, walking over to the table with the cups in hand. “Sirius came by earlier, though.”

“Did he? I hope he didn’t leave on my account,” Lily replied.

“Oh, no,” James said. “He just came by to tell me that he bought a motorcycle.”

Lily opened her mouth in shock. “He bought a what?”

“I think that’s what it’s called—I could be getting the name wrong, though.”

“If it’s a Muggle vehicle with two wheels that’s really dangerous, then you’ve got the right name,” Lily said. All of the nervousness she had been feeling before had been shattered, and everything was normal again. “Why in the world would he buy one of those?”

“I think it might have something to do with the ‘dangerous’ part,” James said, smiling slyly at her. “It’s not a regular one, though. He said he bought it from some wizard he met at a pub in London, and apparently it had some work done on it.”

“Sounds ominous,” Lily said, laughing.

“Especially since he wouldn’t tell me what had been done to it,” James said. “He kept saying it was a surprise, and he’d show me tonight when we take it out.”

She shook her head, amused, and wrapped her hands around the warm porcelain of the teacup.

“So, do a lot of Muggles have these motorcycles, then?” James asked.

“No, I wouldn’t say a lot,” Lily replied. “They tend to appeal to certain personalities.”

“How do people ride around when it’s raining without Impervius Charms, though? Do they have special umbrellas?”

She laughed again. “I imagine they just don’t ride them, or they wear a raincoat. They do manage to get by without magic, impossible as it may seem.”

“Oh no, now I’ve offended her Muggle sensibilities,” James said with mock-concern.

“I suppose I can’t expect much more from someone who has a house-elf greeting people at their door,” she teased.

Lily could not remember when she had ever spent a more pleasant afternoon. They sat there at the table long after their cups were empty, and it seemed silly that she had ever worried about what they would talk about. There seemed to be an endless flow of conversation, and they discussed everything from Muggle transportation to his birthday gifts to N.E.W.T.s. It was not only James’ ability to make her laugh no matter what they were talking about that made their conversation so nice, but also that she was continually learning new things about him, like the fact that he fell off the first time he rode a broom, and that he had always wanted to try driving a car. Perhaps most comforting was discovering that he, like her, had no idea what he wanted to do after they were finished with school, and they had a good laugh over the irony of the Head Boy and Girl being so utterly direction-less.

Sometimes James stared across the table at her so intently that she lost track of her words and ending up stammering through a sentence, but other than that her nervousness had disappeared completely.

It took a very long time before there was any real pause, and Lily looked out the window at the sloping lawn behind his house. She was not surprised to see a makeshift Quidditch hoop sticking up from the ground, with a couple lawn chairs nearby.

“You have such a beautiful house,” she said to him, and he shrugged.

“I’ve always thought it was a bit big for just me and my parents,” he said, “but our family’s always lived here, generations back.”

“Well, you must be able to have some nice family parties at the holidays, at least,” Lily replied.

“Not really. We don’t actually have that many relatives to invite,” James said.

“Oh—I’m sorry,” Lily replied, feeling like she had put her foot in her mouth.

“No, it’s not that they’ve all died off, or anything like that,” James said, smiling. “It’s only—well, at the risk of sounding like a pompous prat, it’s just that it’s a pureblood thing.” She laughed a little. “Really, it is. Sirius’ family is the same. Most of my relatives either never married or only had one or two kids. There aren’t many branches on the family tree, I guess you could say.”

“My family is kind of the same, actually,” Lily said. “I only have one uncle, my dad’s brother—my parents call him the ‘perpetual bachelor’. Family gatherings were never very much fun when I was younger. It was really just me and my sister.”

James stood up from the table suddenly. “Come with me,” he said, “I want to show you something.”

She gave him a quizzical look but got up and followed him nonetheless. They left the kitchen and he led her into a rather dim sitting room off the front hall where there was a side table covered with about a dozen framed pictures, some of which looked very old.

“These include every member of the Potter family for the last four decades, if you can believe it,” he said. He pointed to a small painted portrait of a very tall, burly man and a wispy-looking woman with her hair in ringlets. “Those are my great-grandparents. My dad says that great-granddad was six-and-a-half feet tall.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. He trained Abraxan horses, apparently,” James said. He then pointed to a few different pictures in succession. “They had four kids. There’s my dad’s aunt Bronwyn, who never got married; and then his uncle Gareth, who only had one son. There’s also great-uncle Caius and his wife Freya, who was this really loony witch, and they named their daughter Caravel.”

“Pardon me?” Lily asked, laughing. James chuckled as well.

“They were obviously a bit barmy,” he said. “Anyway, there’s also my granddad Magnus and my grandmum, Calpurnia. They had my dad, obviously, and also my aunt Deirdre, but she never got married.”

“Are—are your grandparents still alive?” Lily asked, noticing how old and worn the pictures of them looked.

“Nah, they died years ago,” James said. “I can’t even remember them.”

Silence fell for a moment or two. “What about this one?” Lily said, reaching out and touching the corner of a tarnished silver frame that James had not addressed.

“My dad’s cousin Charlus, his wife, Dorea, and their son, Otto,” James said, pointing to each figure in the photo. “Otto’s the closest in age to me out of everyone, but I think he’s almost thirty. His parents are both dead now, though.”

“That’s too bad,” Lily said. It was a bit difficult, trying to sound sincerely sympathetic about people she’d never met.

“To be honest,” James said, leaning in conspiratorially, “I never really liked them much. They were kind of into the blood status thing a little too much.”

“Sounds a bit like Sirius’ family,” Lily said. “From what you’ve told me, at least.”

“Actually, they are Sirius’ family,” James said. “Dorea’s one of Sirius’ great-aunts.”

“So you two are related?”

“By marriage, yeah. Although we secretly think that we’re brothers, and my parents tragically gave him up for adoption when he was born.”

She laughed, and for the first time since they had entered the room, she realized that they were standing so close that their arms were brushing together. It was strange that her entire body had not been aware of it, since contact with him usually put her on high alert.

“Anyway, that’s all of them,” James said.

“Well, thanks for showing me,” Lily replied, and she meant it. Only now, the aching desire to throw herself into his arms had grown even stronger. Seeing pictures of his relatives was such a small thing, really, but it felt oddly intimate. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect when you—”

She was interrupted by the sound of someone else entering the room behind them: a thin, silver-haired woman wearing high-necked robes of deep purple. She assumed that it must be his mother, but only because he had already told her his grandmother was no longer alive.

There you are, James, dear,” she said. “And you have company?”

“Oh, yeah, this is Lily,” James said. “She’s just a friend from school. Lily, this is my mum.”

Lily said what she hoped was a polite hello and tried to ignore the stabbing sensation that came along with him calling her “just a friend from school.”

“Oh?” his mother said, looking at Lily with a degree of interest. She felt like a fool for wearing a Muggle dress now that she was under the stare of this imperious- and traditional-looking woman. “Well, it’s very nice for James to have a visit on his birthday. Not all of his friends are so obliging.”

“Mum, come on,” James said. “I already told you, I promised Remus I’d go over to his house instead.”

“You know your father and I would be perfectly happy to entertain them here instead,” his mother said. Lily was starting to feel a little invisible as they went back-and-forth.

“I’ll stay until you and dad go to bed, if that makes you feel better,” James said, and Mrs Potter smiled at him.

 “I’m sorry to be a nag, darling,” his mother, “but it is very hard to have your only son growing up so fast.”

James now looked thoroughly aggravated, but said nothing as his mother picked up one of the framed pictures off the side table.

“It seems just yesterday that he was that small,” Mrs Potter said fondly, showing the picture to Lily. “Isn’t he the perfect little gentleman?”

In the picture, James was no taller than his parents’ knees and wearing a small set of dress robes. He did look rather adorable, actually.

“He looks just like my father, you know,” Mrs Potter continued. “Except for the glasses—it’s my husband’s family that gives him the poor eyesight.”

Seeing the look on James’ face, Lily had to hold back a laugh. She was surprised that he hadn’t told his mother to leave, considering that he had never had trouble defying authority figures before. It seemed that his mother was the exception.

“And now look at him,” Mrs Potter said. “Taller than his mother, almost finished with school...”

“I thought we went through this last year when I turned seventeen,” James said.

Every birthday is hard when you’re a parent, dear,” his mother said, replacing the photograph.

“You know, I think Lily has to go home now,” he said.

“Well, make sure you show her to the door,” Mrs Potter said, “and I do think we should discuss your plans further. It was lovely to meet you, Lily.”

“Sorry about that,” James muttered when she had left the room. “She can never let anything go.”

“Oh, she’s just sad that you’re getting older,” Lily said. “All parents are like that. She obviously loves you very much.”

Too much.”

“Is there such a thing?” she asked.

“When it gets to the point of suffocation, yes,” James said, exhaling loudly. “Anyway, hopefully that didn’t ruin your visit too much.”

“Not at all,” Lily replied. “You know, I really should go, though, or else I won’t be home in time for supper.”

“Oh, you don’t have to,” James said. “I only said that because the only way she’d leave is if she thought you weren’t staying.”

“Well, that’s polite of her,” Lily said.

“Actually—erm—she just has a thing about supervision,” he mumbled, almost inaudibly.

“What do you mean?”

“Well...she probably assumed that we’re dating, and...you know...back to the suffocation,” James said, avoiding eye contact with her. “Not that I’ve ever had any other girls here, of course,” he added quickly. “It’s just something she’d do.”

Lily felt heat rise in her cheeks, but after weeks of waiting for him to bring something like this up, she wasn’t stupid enough to miss out on the opportunity. She couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Oh...well, I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make,” she said. Her voice sounded unnaturally high and squeaky.

“You think so?” James asked.

Lily hesitated, feeling like her face was nearing the temperature of the sun. She looked at him and reminded herself of all the nice conversation and how tall and handsome he was.

“We do spend a lot of time together,” she said quietly, “and we get along really well. So...I mean, it’s not that ridiculous. That we would be dating, I mean. I don’t think so, anyway.”

James was staring at her uncertainly, and she waited for him to say something. Surely if he didn’t do something now, in the face of such an obvious pronouncement, it meant that he was never going to. After a protracted silence, Lily sighed and decided to give up.

“Walk me out?” she asked, her heart sinking.

They walked back into the front hall and James helped her put her coat on. It was painful to have him acting a gentleman when he obviously wanted to be nothing more than friends. She thought it would have been easier if he had pushed her out the door with a good riddance. He was still staring at her very seriously when she turned around, and she was about to say goodbye when he cleared his throat.

“Lily, would you—do you think we could see each other again, before the holidays are over?” he asked. “Just the two of us together?”

Something in his tone made her feel certain that he was not talking about some casual tea between friends. She suddenly felt light-headed, and smiled up at him.

“I’d really like that,” she replied. “Very much.”

“You would?” he asked, and Lily nodded. The look on his face made her heart a little pained for all the times she had ever turned him down. “Right. Well, that’s—that’s fantastic.”

“Write to me, and maybe we can plan for next week?” she asked.

“So you think tomorrow might be too soon, then?” he asked, smiling. “Or maybe you could just come back in a few hours?”

Lily laughed. “I wouldn’t want to ruin your other plans,” she said.

“What were those again?”

“Oh, stop it,” she said, still laughing. How could she have ever thought that he didn’t like her anymore? “You’re making me feel embarrassed about agreeing to it at all.”

James’ look softened. “I’ll owl you.” He reached out ran his fingers along her hair, his thumb lingering for a moment underneath her ear. Lily felt her knees threaten to give out. In that moment, with the way he was looking at her, Lily thought she had never been happier before in her life. It made her feel giddy and shaky, and she hoped she didn’t start giggling uncontrollably, or something equally embarrassing.

“Well, happy birthday, again,” she said, “and I hope you have a nice time tonight. Please try not to get yourself killed.”

“Believe me, I definitely want to be alive for next week,” James said.

“Me too,” Lily said. He opened the door for her and she was about to step out when she stopped, stood up on her toes, and kissed him on the cheek. He looked surprised but very pleased, and even though Lily expected to feel her face get warm again, it didn’t. Now that they were going on a date, and she knew without a doubt that James still liked her, everything seemed much less embarrassing.

She turned at the gate and he waved to her from the doorway. Out of all the ways she had ever imagined James asking her out on a date, none had been so simple or near-disastrous as what had just happened, but she was certain that none of them could have made her happier. Everything she had ever asked for had been granted by the real thing, in no matter what form it had come.



..........




James had not exactly done a good job at keeping out of mortal danger when he, Sirius, and Peter, had gone out for his birthday the night before. It was an unlucky coincidence that it was also full moon, and only the three of them had been able to gather at Sirius’ flat in London. From there, Sirius had insisted on going to The Leaky Cauldron to listen to the broadcast of the Quidditch match between the Moutohora Macaws and the Falmouth Falcons. Everything had gone downhill from there.

Admittedly, it had probably been a very foolish mistake to don shirts bearing the Macaws’ mascot, Sparky the phoenix when The Leaky Cauldron was chock-full of the notoriously aggressive fans of the Falcons. It had certainly been a mistake to cheer obnoxiously for the Macaws in the midst of said fans, even though it had seemed funny for about twenty minutes. And it certainly hadn’t made matters any better that the Falcons were playing abysmally, so that their cheers were essentially salt in the wound.

The biggest mistake had probably been not backing down and insisting on defending themselves against the three very muscular neanderthals that had approached their table, but it had seemed out of the question to sit there when their masculinity was being put into question. When they had finally gotten enough sense to get out of there (or perhaps it had been that the barkeep had kicked them out), the neanderthals had stalked off with their big eyebrows and square jaws—not to get another drink, but to get their silver Falcons brooms. It had been hard to tell whether they intended to chase after the three boys or if they simply wanted to bludgeon them (or perhaps both), but none of them had wanted to stick around to find out.

“Do I really have to be the one to transform again?” Peter had asked as they walked over to the bike.

“Oh no, Wormtail,” Sirius said caustically. “I’m sure Prongs will fit inside my coat pocket nicely. His antlers might be a squeeze, but I’m sure there’s room enough.”

“All right, all right,” Peter mumbled, and he slid into the nearest alley. Moments later a rat crawled across the sidewalk, and Sirius picked him up and eased him into his pocket.

“Time to go,” James said. The neanderthals had just emerged from the door of The Leaky Cauldron, brooms in hand and looking murderous.

They zoomed off into the night with an ear-splitting rumble. It was a testament to how much the neanderthals wanted to wring their necks that they were actually willing to chase after them in Muggle London on broomsticks and risk breaking the Statute of Secrecy—either that or proof that they were half-troll in terms of intelligence as well as appearance.

Just when they thought they had lost them, some Muggle car with flashing lights had started following them around for some reason, making noises like a banshee. Sirius tried turning down a side street to get out of their way, but the car also turned and continued to follow them.

“What the hell is going on?” Sirius yelled over the roar of the motorcycle.

“No idea,” James replied, glancing back at the flashing lights. He had spent no more time in the Muggle world than Sirius had, but there did seem to be something strangely familiar about this...

Sirius swerved off down another narrow street so suddenly that James almost lost his hold and flew off. Still the car pursued them, and then James realized why it was familiar—hadn’t he been talking earlier that day with Lily about the Muggles who would chase you around in a car and arrest you if you were doing something illegal while driving? The last thing he wanted was to end up in a Muggle prison before the end of the night.

“I think they’re trying to arrest us,” James yelled.

“What?”

“Arrest us,” he repeated, even louder. “We have to lose them!”

It seemed that it was too late for that, though, since they had reached a dead end. Sirius stopped the bike and turned to look back at James.

“Good steering, don’t you think?” he asked, smirking.

“Excellent,” James replied, watching as the Muggles extricated themselves from the car. “Now, what should we do about them?”

“This is where the extra features come in,” Sirius said, just as the Muggles yelled for them to get off the motorcycle.

James followed Sirius’ lead in stalling the Muggles, hoping that Sirius had a very good plan to get them out of there. Just when it seemed they had run out of time, the idiots from The Leaky Cauldron, still flying along on their brooms, appeared at the end of the alleyway. There was no reason to keep up pretences anymore, and since they were going to have to do a Memory Charm on the Muggles anyway, James had drawn his wand.

Actually, it turned out to be a bit of a blessing—apparently running a broomstick into the solid metal of the Muggle car had a slightly damaging effect. James really thought they ought to have tried to salvage the brooms, as they could easily be resold for fifty Galleons apiece, but there had still been the matter of escaping. Fortunately, it turned out that Sirius’ motorcycle could fly, which was handy when you needed to get past a very tall stone wall.

Yes, it had not been very intelligent, but James blamed Lily entirely. Her finally saying yes to going on a date had clearly pushed him into a state of semi-lunacy where things like good judgement did not exist and happiness was in constant supply. Even with everything that had happened the night before, James woke up feeling ecstatic. It was by far the best birthday he had ever had. The most unpleasant of moments paled in comparison to the memory of her smiling at him in her pale yellow dress, agreeing to go out with them, and then kissing him. Sometimes the spot on his cheek actually tingled a little, and he was quite sure that he wasn’t just imagining it (even though it only happened when he was thinking about her kissing him).

He was still bewildered about why Lily had all of a sudden expressed her feelings to him, since he had been under the impression that she was only interested in being friends. He certainly wasn’t about to question it, though—if he did, then she might start having second thoughts and that was the last thing he wanted.

It was nearing afternoon when he woke up, still wearing the phoenix-emblazoned shirt he worn the night before. Sirius and Peter, always late risers, were still asleep, but James was starving and got up anyway, trying to find where he had put his glasses before he had gone to bed. He found them among the clutter on Sirius’ dresser and headed into the kitchen.

Apparently Sirius didn’t eat much, since all James could find was a box of crackers, three pieces of bread, and almost-empty jar of marmalade. The lack of food reflected the bareness of the rest of the flat. There was nothing sitting out on the kitchen counters, and most of the cupboards were empty. Only a dusty green couch and battered rectangular coffee table sat in the living room, and those had come with the apartment. The walls were a dull shade of gray-green. The only other rooms were the small tiled bathroom and Sirius’ cramped bedroom. No matter how un-lived-in the place seemed, however, James knew that Sirius was very attached to it, for the sense of independence that it gave him. He still spent time at James’ house on holidays, but now it was not because he had nowhere else to go. His problems with his family were not hanging over him in the same way that they used to.

“Prongs?”

James turned and saw Sirius walking into the kitchen.

“Morning,” James said. “Or afternoon, I suppose.”

Sirius yawned. “You know, I think if it weren’t for school, I might become nocturnal.”

“Peter still asleep?” James asked.

“Of course,” Sirius replied. “Hungry?”

“Yeah, actually.”

“Well, you’re not going to find any food here,” Sirius said.

“When Peter wakes up we can Apparate to my place,” James said, and Sirius nodded. “You know, I was thinking—”

“That Evans is the only girl for you, and you never gave up hope that she’d one day feel the same way?”

“Did I say that?” James asked. He had gotten a little overenthusiastic when he’d told Sirius and Peter about Lily agreeing to go out with him.

“A few times, yeah,” Sirius said, smirking. “But, to be fair, you weren’t nearly as bad as I expected you to be when this moment came.”

“Thanks,” James said, raising an eyebrow. “But actually, I was thinking we should go visit Moony sometime today.”

“Good idea,” Sirius said. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear about last night’s adventure.”

“I think he’ll be most thrilled that he wasn’t with us,” James said.

“Who wouldn’t want to be around us?” Sirius asked. “Absurd.”

They roused Peter and James borrowed a shirt from Sirius, thinking that it might raise some suspicion if he showed up at his house wearing the same one as Peter. After Sirius had gathered up some things so he could stay over at James’ house for a few days, they Apparated to Remus’ house and tried to distract him from his illness and injuries by telling him about the previous night, and about James’ upcoming date with Lily. He did not seem particularly surprised by either, but it may have just been because he was feeling slightly nauseous.

When James finally returned to his house and his own bedroom, he spotted the card Lily had given him sitting on his bed. With the other developments of that day, he had forgotten about it until Sirius had arrived, and he had not wanted to read it then. But now he hung back while Sirius went down to the kitchen and opened the envelope with James written on the outside in small cursive. Inside the card in the same hand was written:

Happy Birthday, James!

I never would have imagined myself writing you a birthday card (truth be told, I'm still shocked), but I’m really glad that I am. You’re a great friend, and you deserve to have a wonderful day.

Lily


It was a simple message, but now that they were no longer just friends, the words meant much more. He read it over at least three times before he stuck it in between the pages of his copy of Quidditch Through The Ages and placed it on the shelf of his nightstand, until the curve of every letter was embedded in his mind. The girl who had written that card, with the loopy y’s, was going out on a date with him.

Oh, Merlin—what was he supposed to do now?

 



Author’s Note: I wanted to leave a little note about the motorcycle bit in this chapter: if you’ve ever read the really short prequel that JKR wrote for Waterstone’s in 2008, you might have had an inkling that I was alluding to it. The plot of the prequel is filled with a lot of ambiguities which I’ve tried to flesh out, perhaps not in the most conventional way, but I hope it all makes sense and is at least somewhat plausible.

Chapter 22: Sitting in the Trees
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Chapter Twenty-Two
Sitting in the Trees



It took James a couple days to figure out what he was going to do when it came to his first date with Lily. He was determined that it go as well as possible, and “well” in this case meant a little more than it simply being pleasant. He wanted it to be special, memorable, and the kind of date that would ensure many more to come. Never before had he felt so excited and anxious about going out with a girl. It was the same sort of feeling that he got when he was preparing for a particularly important Quidditch match.

After some thought, he hit on an idea that had the potential of being both special and memorable. He couldn’t be certain that Lily was going to find the place as interesting as he did, but it was at least worth a try, and it made him feel better that it was more imaginative than taking her somewhere for a meal or coffee.

He wrote to her, remaining cryptic about his plans but asking if she was available the following Thursday afternoon. Her reply, which said that, yes, she was available, and that she was looking forward to seeing him, was enough to put a spring in his step for the better part of a day. At this rate, actually going out with her was going to turn him into a slobbering troll—but a happy one, at least.

Peter, Sirius, and Remus all showed up at his house the day before his date, which James found very difficult to believe was a coincidence, despite their casual attitudes. He was glad to have them around, in any case, because it gave him a distraction from all of the nervous thoughts floating around in his head. They spent a couple hours sitting out on the lawn, as it was a mild day out, tossing a Quaffle around and talking about nothing in particular. Eventually, though, the conversation fell on the events of the next day.

“So, where are you taking her?” Sirius asked from where he was sprawled out in a white lawn chair.

James hesitated for just a fraction of a second. “You know that place in Somerset, where they have all those Snidgets?” As he had expected, he was met with bursts of laughter. “Oh, shut it. It’s the type of place a girl would like.”

“Prongs, just because you like it doesn’t mean other girls will too,” Sirius said, sniggering. James aimed a kick at his chair.

“Doesn’t Lily hate animals?” Remus asked. “I remember her saying she couldn’t wait to get out of Care of Magical Creatures when we were in fifth year.”

“She didn’t even really like the unicorns Professor Kettleburn showed us, and all the other girls were swooning over them,” Peter added.

This problem had occurred to James. “I know, but Snidgets are cute little birds. She can’t hate them.”

“Have you ever considered that you might think it’s a great place because it’s related to Quidditch, which Lily also isn’t that interested in?” Sirius asked.

“Well, it’s too late to change plans now,” James said, feeling a little irritated. He still thought it was a good idea, even if no one else did.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter so much where you are as it does what you’re doing there,” Sirius said suggestively. Peter and Remus laughed again. “Better hope there’s lots of private corners.”

James laughed along with his friends, but it really wasn’t much of a joke, in his mind—he had wanted to kiss Lily for a very long time, and he was certainly hoping that he might get his chance the next day.

He woke up after getting very little sleep and spent more time than usual deciding what he was going to wear. The hours seemed to pass by very slowly, so much so that he was in the sitting room watching for Lily to arrive (it had seemed easier for her to come here, since he had never been to her home) at least a half hour before she was supposed to. He caught a glimpse of his hair in the glass of the grandfather clock and spent a few minutes trying to make it look both tame but carelessly windswept. It didn’t work, unsurprisingly.

There was a knock on the door and James jumped up off the couch. When he opened the door, it was not Lily he found looking back at him as he had expected, but a portly man with wiry brown hair and a black leather bag.

“Good day,” the man said, “I’m Healer Spleen from St. Mungo’s Hospital.”

“Er...hello,” James said, shaking the man’s proffered hand. He waited for the man to explain why he had shown up on their doorstep, but it was as if he expected James to already know. The strange silence was broken by Mrs Potter, who had come to the front door.

“Hello, Helbert,” she said to the man. “I’m so sorry. This is my son, James, who seems to have forgotten his manners. Please come in.”

“No trouble at all,” the man said, as James and his mother moved aside to accommodate him in the front hall. “Edgar is upstairs, then?”

“Yes, he is,” James’ mother replied. “You go ahead, and I’ll join you in a few moments.”

“Good to meet you,” the Healer said to James, before heading up the stairs, leather bag in hand.

“Are you going somewhere, dear?” his mother asked. James was still trying to comprehend what had just happened. When he did speak, he ignored her question altogether.

“Why is there a Healer coming to see Dad?”

“He was feeling a tad under the weather,” his mother said lightly. “St. Mungo’s is so solicitous that they were willing to send someone, even though it’s really nothing of concern.”

“And you’re on first-name terms with the Healer they just happened to send over?” James asked, knowing he was being rude even before his mother’s eyebrows arched harshly.

“Everything is fine, dear,” she said. “Now, where is it that you’re going?”

James hated this. There was obviously something wrong—his father had seemed almost like usual at the beginning of the holidays, but after Easter Sunday he had started to get a “cold” again, as his mother said. He wondered how many times the Healer had been there already, knowing that he would never get the answer to that question. Well, if his parents were going to keep things from him, he certainly wasn’t going to waste his time worrying. Why should he, if everything was fine?

“I’m going to see Sirius,” he lied—he didn’t know why he did, except that it felt a little gratifying to have his own secret.

“And when will you be back?”

“Late, probably,” James said. His mother sighed.

“I do wish you wouldn’t make a habit of travelling from London after dark, James,” she said. “It really isn’t very safe.”

“Don’t worry, Mum, everything will be fine,” James said. “I should go, or I’ll be late.”

“Be careful, dear,” his mother said.

He stepped out the front door and started walking out to the gate, not exactly sure what he was going to do now, since he couldn’t leave until Lily arrived. He kicked a pebble out to the road and decided to just wait around the trees where he had told Lily to Apparate, ignoring the fact that it was going to make him look a bit more pathetic than his original plan of waiting for her inside his house. As he sat against a tree, he tried to push away the terrible sinking feeling he got every time he thought about a Healer coming to his house, and what it might mean. He had other things to focus on right now, like making sure he wasn’t grumpy or despondent by the time Lily showed up. There was nothing he could do about his parents; it was useless getting worked up.

He spent about ten minutes thinking about Quidditch plays and when he needed to start studying for his N.E.W.T.s before he heard a crack behind him. Lily looked surprised to see him there, but not at all displeased.

“Hi,” she said, smiling widely. “What are you doing here?”

“I thought I’d come wait for you,” he said. “It was the least I could do, seeing as I didn’t come to pick you up from your house.”

“Well, that’s very nice of you,” Lily said. She looked so pretty, and James felt his mood lifting now that she was there. “So, you have to tell me where we’re going now. You were very secretive in your letters.”

“I wanted it to be a surprise,” James said. “You’ll see when we get there.” He held out his arm, which she looked at a little reluctantly.

“You promise you’re not going to take me anywhere awful?” she asked.

“Does that include Madam Puddifoot’s?” he asked, grinning. “I’m only kidding. I promise.”

Lily seemed to accept his assurances and linked her arm through his. After taking a moment to enjoy the feeling of standing with her like that, he turned, set his mind on the place he needed to go, and felt the crushing pressure of Apparating. Perhaps he was used to brooms, but he had never understood what exactly all the fuss about Apparition was. He thought it was terrible, and he had never been very good at it either—in fact, it he’d had to practice Apparating to Somerset a couple times until he was sure that he would make it to the right place when Lily was with him. He was very relieved when he opened his eyes and saw the caretaker’s cottage standing at the edge of the trees, with the gilded signpost that read “The Modesty Rabnott Golden Snidget Reservation” in dignified-looking letters.

He looked at Lily, who was surveying the surroundings with an expression of confusion on her face. Just as he was about to explain, her eyes fell on the sign.

“Snidgets...those are the birds they used in Quidditch, right?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. He had not expected her to know something so specific about Quidditch, and was impressed.

“So we’re here to see birds,” she said, still sounding like she didn’t quite understand what was going on.

“Well—yes, but you have to see it to understand,” James said. “It’s not just birds.”

“You’ve been here before?”

James nodded. “My parents took me when I was a kid.”

“Well, let’s go see it,” Lily said. James could tell that her smile was a little artificial, and that she wasn’t exactly thrilled, but he was sure that would change.

They walked up to the cottage. Lily unwound her arm from his and let it fall at her side; when it brushed against his, he thought he might as well take the opportunity and hold her hand. He liked being in contact with her, and though she acted very casual, he could see a small smile on her lips and felt her squeeze his hand just a little. He found himself knocking on the cottage door very confidently.

He paid the caretaker the five Sickles each for admission, rebuffing Lily’s offer to pay for herself, and they received a couple glossy blue brochures in return with information about Snidgets and the reserve. Lily was still looking a little apprehensive as they followed the caretaker’s instructions to head back into the trees until they saw the ones with little carvings of Snidgets on them, which marked the border of the protected area. It was a little difficult walking through trees while holding hands with someone, but neither of them seemed to want to let go.

“Oh, there’s one of the trees,” Lily said, pointing to one a few feet away with a stout little bird carved into its bark. “I don’t see anything, though...”

“You have to go in a little further,” James said, leading her along.

“How did your birthday turn out, by the way?” she asked. “Did you get to try Sirius’ motorcycle?”

James grinned to himself, debating whether she would find that story funny or appalling. He did like telling her things, though, and he had learned that Lily usually had a good sense of humour.

“What was it that you called those Muggles who drive around and arrest people in those cars with flashing lights?” he asked.

“Policemen,” she replied. “Please don’t tell me you got arrested.”

“No,” James said, looking back at her and grinning. “Close to it, though.”

“Why?”

“Well, we may have been going a bit fast,” James said, and Lily laughed. “That was only because these Quidditch fans who wanted to rough us up were chasing us on broomsticks, though.”

“All right, start from the beginning,” Lily said, and her tone reassured James that she was not about to start scolding him. She laughed through most of the story as he told her it. “The three of you are mad,” she said when he had finished. “I’m glad you took my request to keep yourself from getting killed to heart.”

“I made it to today in one piece, didn’t it?” James said. He could see the clearing up ahead.

“I think I saw a couple little golden things in the trees back there, you know,” Lily said. He was a little heartened by the fact that she sounded somewhat enthusiastic now.

“Don’t worry, we’ll see lots of them just up there,” James told her. As he said it, he privately hoped that the Snidgets had not all decided to migrate somewhere else in the forest—after all, the brochure said that the reserve spanned over several acres, and he was basing his knowledge on a trip made about ten years previous. He was going to look a bit stupid if the clearing turned out to be completely empty. Maybe he should make some sort of disclaimer before they got there, just in case.

He turned his head to do just that and a gold flash almost collided with his ear. He looked up and saw one of the round birds darting around them.

Lily giggled. “It really does look a lot like a Snitch, you know.”

“It does,” James said, nodding. The bird darted off towards the clearing.

“Apart from the beak, of course,” Lily added, “but that might be a bit dangerous in a game, anyway.”

“Definitely,” James said. “Come on, let’s go sit down.”

The clearing was as busy as James remembered. They sat at the edge of the trees and saw dozens of birds darting from branch to branch, sometimes flying down to get a closer look at the strange intruders on the ground. A few times they tried to reach out and touch one, but the birds were much too fast, even for James, who had spent months practicing with a Snitch in his free time. He thought he probably could have caught one, but they seemed so small and fragile that he thought he might crush it with the lightest touch.

“How did people manage to catch these?” Lily asked, as another one flew at least ten feet away in a half-second.

“No idea,” James said. “Not very carefully, I suppose, since most of them died.”

“That’s terrible,” Lily said. “They’re such harmless little things. And they’re beautiful, too.”

James had to agree with her there—looking up at the trees was like watching a group of gold orbs in some erratic dance with one another, and when one of the birds got close enough, their lustrous feathers and ruby-like eyes become more apparent. James, however, found himself staring at Lily more than anything else around him.

“Well, thank goodness for Bowman Wright,” she said, looking at him happily.

“How is it that you know all this Quidditch stuff?” James asked.

“I paid attention in History of Magic once in a while, for one thing,” she said, smiling wryly. “But I did read Quidditch Through The Ages, too.”

“You did?”

“In second or third year,” she said, nodding.

“Oh, I see,” James said, smirking. “When I made the Quidditch team, you must have wanted to find out everything you could about the sport.”

Lily laughed and rolled her eyes. “Actually, I think it was because you never stopped talking about it, and I needed some good comebacks for when you were being really annoying.”

“Did you think of any?”

“Well,” Lily said, pausing for a moment, “they seemed good at the time, but most of them were stupid, really. I think the one about your head being too big for a broomstick to hold it up was the only one I ever used.”

“Oh, do you mean the one about my ‘fat head’?” James asked, and Lily looked at him with a guilty grin.

“I said that? I don’t know what came over me,” she said.

“Well, I deserved it anyway,” James replied. There was a momentary pause filled with chirping, and he picked at some blades of grass on the ground. “Thanks for going out with me.”

“You don’t have to thank me.”

“No, I think I do,” James said. It was strange, how all of a sudden he had started to feel bad again about the way he had acted in the past. “Considering what and idiot I was.”

“Oh, stop,” Lily said, waving her hand impatiently. “I’ve wanted to go out with you for months, so I should really be the one thanking you for asking me.”

James was stunned into silence for a moment. “Did—did you just say that you’ve liked me for months?” She nodded, looking up at the trees again. “It never occurred to you to mention it to me?”

“I thought about it, sometimes,” she said, blushing. “I got too nervous every time I tried.”

He nodded, taking in the fact that he could have been going out with her for months if he hadn’t tried to be so patient. What an idiotic idea that had turned out to be.

“Well, we’re here now,” he said, more to himself than her. “None of that really matters.”

She smiled at him. “You’re right.”

There was one question that he wanted answered, though. “What was it that made you start liking me?”

She was quiet for a moment in contemplation. “It wasn’t any one thing, really. It just happened. There were always likable things about you, and I suppose I just found out more of them this year.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” she said, with a small smile on her face. “I just like being around you.”

They sat there for a little longer, sometimes talking, sometimes falling into a comfortable silence. At one point Lily moved closer to him and put her head on his shoulder, and he put his arm around her like it was second nature. He had always expected that this sort of thing would be nerve-wracking with Lily, since he had liked her for so long, but it was actually quite easy. It felt very nice to sit there, feeling her warmth next to him, breathing in the scent of her hair, which was something like flowers and cinnamon. Sometimes when she was speaking, she would tilt her head a little and he would be able to feel the soft, cool skin of her forehead against his jawbone.

When the sun had started to set, James reluctantly suggested that they head home while they could still see their way out of the trees. They weaved their way out, holding hands again (somehow it just didn’t feel right to not hold hands now, he found), and when they reached the cottage, he insisted on seeing her home. He wanted to be a gentleman, of course, but he also liked the idea of staying with her for a little longer, even if it meant that he had to rely on his poor Apparating skills to get himself home.



..........




The sunlight was almost completely gone when Lily and James landed in some trees in the park at the end of her street. It was a good place to Apparate to, since many of the neighbourhood children had abandoned it for nicer and newer playgrounds. Lily was just glad that she had made it to the right place, since being around James had made her feel a little weak-kneed. It probably wouldn’t have been the best end to their date to have Splinched him in half.

“What are we doing here?” James asked her.

“My house is right at the end of the street,” Lily said, “and this is a much less conspicuous place to Apparate to.”

“Right,” James replied. She was, of course, attached to the park simply because she had played there as a child, and she felt compelled to explain that.

“I used to come here when I was younger,” she said. “My sister and I would spend hours here together. I could do this thing—she never could—I’d jump off the swings and I could make myself fly. Well, it wasn’t flying, really, more like levitating, I suppose. I never knew that it was magic, of course, but Petunia would be furious because she could never jump as far as I could.”

Somehow, it didn’t make sense, the way she was explaining it. Then again, the whole Snidget thing hadn’t really made that much sense to her, beyond the fact that she knew it meant something to him. It had turned out to be very nice, though, even though it had seemed like something was preoccupying him at different points. It had certainly been much better than the few dates she had been on in the past, which had been uninspired meetings in Hogsmeade—although she thought that probably had something to do with who she was with, as well.

“Can you still do it?” James asked, with a note of mischief in his voice. “Jump really far, I mean.”

“I have no idea,” Lily said, shrugging. “I haven’t tried it in years.”

“Well,” James said, “no time like the present.” She laughed and gave him a look of disbelief.

“Are you joking?”

“Not at all,” James sad, walking over to the swing set. “I want to see this for myself.”

“Don’t you think I’m a bit old for this?” Lily asked.

“For what?” James asked. “Tell you what, I’ll do it first. Then you can see if you can jump further than me.”

Lily folded her arms across her chest. She really wanted to just ignore him, but it had never been easy to do that when he challenged her, ever since they were first years.

“Oh, come on,” James said. “The only person who’s going to see you is me, if you’re worried about that.”

“Fine, I’ll do it,” Lily said. “You first.”

She laughed as James sat down and tried to gain some altitude and speed on a swing that was much too close to the ground for his long legs. He managed it, but not without some difficulty.

“You won’t be laughing when I set a new world record,” James said as he flew back-and-forth. A few seconds later he made his jump, landing very spryly and solidly.

“Your turn,” James called over to her. Lily sighed and sat down, wrapping her hands around the cold metal of the chains. Her legs were also too long, but shorter than James’, making it easier to swing. She felt very silly, but James kept mocking her and soon she was laughing enough that she was no longer self-conscious. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to make everything fun, and never failed to get her smiling.

“Are you going to jump sometime this year, then?” he called.

“I just want to make sure,” Lily said, taking one last strong swing.

“Of what?”

She threw all of her momentum off the swing, and it seemed that her years of practice had not disappeared.  She surpassed him by nearly a foot, and even managed to land without falling.

“I wanted to make sure that I beat you,” she teased, turning around to face him.

“I was at a clear disadvantage because I’m taller, you know,” he said.

“Only by about four inches,” Lily said in mock outrage. “I beat you fair and square.”

“You did,” James said, smiling at her. “But you know, four inches is quite a lot.”

She giggled, feeling her face get very warm because James had stepped much closer to her, so there was hardly any room between them.

“It means that if I try to kiss you, I just end up here,” he said, pressing his lips against her forehead. She felt the scratch of stubble from his chin. Lily closed her eyes and noticed how loud her heart was beating.

“Well...that’s a real problem,” she said, her voice sounding squeaky. “How are you ever supposed to kiss me properly?”

“I think we can find a way,” he said.

And he did.

It was not her first kiss, but she could say from the moment it began that it was the best. It was fairly chaste, as far as kisses went, but still buzzing with excitement. She could sense that he was holding himself back with some effort, a realization which both thrilled and intimidated her. His arms were tense, like he wanted to pull her against him much more firmly but knew he could not, or should not. She was experiencing the same feeling; some voice in the back of her mind was telling her that it might not make the right impression on their first date.

As soon as they broke apart, though, she realized that she would much rather kiss him for longer, and that the voice telling her not to was probably being just a tad prudish. It wasn’t as if she was living in her mother’s generation, after all. So she pulled him back and kissed him with a little more abandon, and it was a minute or two before either of them brought it to an end. She smiled up at him nervously while her brain tried to catch up.

“I have to go home,” she said finally, without much conviction. James was staring at her with an unfocused look in his eyes. “James?”

“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “What did you say?”

“I should go,” she said. “I had a really nice time.”

“I knew you would,” James said. Lily laughed.

“Once a bighead, always a bighead,” she said affectionately, and James smiled and kissed her quickly.

“I’ll walk to you to your door,” he said.

Her face started to hurt from smiling as she walked down the street with James’ arm around her shoulders. They lingered outside her door, repeating their goodbyes, reluctant to end their time together.

She was about to open the door when James said, “Lily? Would you mind if—if I called you my girlfriend?”

She had not thought it was possible for anything else to make her happier than she already was, but he had proven her wrong.

“Well,” she said, “I would prefer it if you’d keep calling me ‘Lily’, of course. ‘My girlfriend’ seems a little impersonal.”

James laughed. “I see what you mean. What about ‘Lily, my girlfriend’?”

“I think I could live with that,” she said. “Only if I can call you ‘James, my boyfriend’, of course.”

He brushed her cheek with his thumb and kissed her very lightly.

“That sounds right to me,” he said.

She could hear the noise of the TV from the living room when she stepped inside, but went straight upstairs. She knew that if she even said hello to her parents, her mother would not be able to resist asking her questions about her date, since she had been thrilled when Lily had told her about it. She had even asked Lily to introduce James to them—her father had as well, although she thought it might be for slightly different reasons—a request which Lily had refused, as it was only their first date and didn’t need the added pressure. Her mother could interrogate her later, preferably when she was able to think a little straighter. She had almost reached her bedroom door when the landing was flooded with light and Petunia’s shadow.

“Hi,” Lily said, glancing at her sister, who stood there staring at her with narrowed eyes.

“Who was that boy?” Petunia said, before Lily could escape.

“I knew you’d be spying,” Lily muttered. She had not mentioned her date to Petunia—she rarely mentioned anything to her, really. “It’s really rude to do that, you know.”

Petunia’s face turned sour. “Sue me for asking a simple question.” She started to close her door. Lily sighed—she hated that her sister still had the power to make her feel guilty at times.

“He’s someone from school,” she explained, and Petunia’s door stopped closing.

“Oh,” Petunia said with asperity. “Is he your boyfriend?”

“Erm—yes, actually, he is,” Lily said. She didn’t know if she would ever get used to saying that.

“That’s not the same boy from years ago, is it?” Petunia asked.

“No,” Lily said quickly, shaking her head.

“I didn’t think so. He looked cleaner,” Petunia said, “and his clothes matched.” Lily could practically hear her sister thinking, But he’s still a freak, and she smiled a little. If this was the best response she was going to get from her sister, though, she’d certainly take it. Had they been sisters who got along, maybe Petunia would have dragged Lily into her room and asked for a detailed description of everything that had happened, but she knew that was not going to happen.

“Anyway,” Petunia continued, crossing her arms, “you really shouldn’t be snogging him in places where anyone could see you. It’s really quite tacky.”

“Right,” Lily said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Lily went into her room and sat down on her bed. She felt like she was bursting at the seams, and she wished she had someone to tell about her date, besides her mother. Nothing really seemed to make sense as she explained it in her head: James and I just went on a date. He kissed me. I kissed him. He’s my boyfriend. But then, she supposed that some things were never really meant to be explained, just enjoyed. She had a feeling that, as James’ girlfriend, she had a lot of those things coming.




Author’s Note: I'd really appreciate any and all feedback on this chapter. It's a rather important one!

Chapter 23: Back to Reality
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Chapter Twenty-Three
Back to Reality




Lily made the decision to return to Hogwarts as soon as she could, in the hopes that James might do the same, and she was not at all disappointed. She had only to unpack her things and walk down into the Gryffindor common room before she saw him, and they spent the next couple days in a halcyon bubble, knowing that the other was always nearby. Lily was glad for the first time that James had such a thorough knowledge of secret places in the castle, and was quite certain that she would never have to worry about appearing “tacky”, as Petunia had so kindly put it.

In fact, she was so wrapped up in her own happiness that she completely forgot that there were people who did not know that she and James had started going out with each other. She was quickly reminded of that fact when Mary and Anna walked through the portrait hole.

“You haven’t said anything to them, have you?” James said to her in undertones, as her friends approached the couch that they were sitting on.

“No,” Lily said, feeling a little guilty. “I have been a little distracted, you know.” Besides, how would she have told them, even if she had wanted to? Sending them a letter would have been useless, since it likely wouldn’t have arrived until after they were already back at school, and she didn’t have any other easy way of communicating with them.

James smirked at her. “Well, I should go, then.” He took his arm off of her shoulder and walked off toward his dormitory, waving to Mary and Anna as he left.

Lily said hello to her friends, who sat down on some of the free chairs around her.

“Hi there,” Anna asked, taking off her coat. “Good holidays?”

Lily looked from her to Mary and noticed that neither of them seemed to be particularly surprised.

“Er—yes, really good,” she said. “Yours?”

“Oh, you know,” Anna said, “lovely family time. Wedding preparation seems to turn people mental.”

Lily grimaced sympathetically. “How about you, Mary?”

“It was good,” Mary said. A moment of silence fell; Lily was still expecting them to say something about the fact that she had just been sitting with James’ arm around her shoulder. She knew it wasn’t exactly the most important thing on earth, but she hadn’t expected her dating James to be such a non-issue.

“So...” she said slowly, “James and I went out over the holidays. On a date.”

“We know,” Anna said. Lily looked at them in confusion.

How could you know that?”

“Well, I came by your house last...Thursday, I think it was. Anyway, your mum said you were out on a date with some bloke named James and she didn’t know when you’d be back,” Anna explained. “Wasn’t really too hard to piece it together after that.”

Lily sighed. Her mother had never mentioned anything to her about Anna stopping by.

“It was really funny, actually; your mum kept asking me all these questions about James,” Anna continued.

“Like what?”

“Oh, just what he looked like, if he was nice, that sort of thing,” Anna said.

“What did you say to her?” Lily asked.

“I told her that he’s a complete boor that I’d never want anyone in my family to go out with,” Anna said, smirking. Lily knew she was joking even before she said so. “So you’re together now, then?”

Lily nodded. “I know it probably seems strange—”

“What’s strange about it? The two of you were together practically all the time anyway; it’s about time you got a move on,” Anna said.

“You must be really happy,” Mary said. “We should go unpack before dinner, Anna.”

The entire conversation left Lily feeling a little dissatisfied, though she could  not quite put her finger on why. She supposed it was a little self-centered of her to expect them to want to hear all the details...but wasn’t that what friends were supposed to do? It didn’t surprise her that Anna was sparing little enthusiasm, but Lily had really thought that Mary would be happy for her. Instead, Mary seemed to be even more distant than Anna, not just about her and James but all the time.

Not everyone was as unmoved by her and James’ new situation. It only took until their first class, for Lily to start getting a little unnerved by the attention that was being directed at them. She supposed that all she could do was ignore the giggles and stares, but it was a little strange to feel like half the school was looking at her.

She was a little afraid when they arrived in Potions that there might be some sort of altercation between James and Snape. There was always the chance of it—though it did seem to be occurring with less and less frequency—but it had to be said that her going out with James had the potential of causing some bigger problems than before.

She felt quite anxious as she sat in the seat directly behind James. It was lucky that Snape had his head buried in his Potions textbook, since James was holding her hand on top of the table. Perhaps she was overreacting, though. He seemed to have accepted her and James being friends, however grudgingly, and how much worse could he find their new situation? And moreover, why was she even bothering to think about it?

She shook herself from her thoughts and looked across the table at James. He was giving her this private sort of smile and looking at her very intently, like there was no one else around. Clearly, James did not have a care in the world for what anyone else thought about him, Lily, or their relationship. He did not seem to be any less happy than he had been yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. It made her blush a little, to be looked at like that among a group of people, but more importantly, it made her realize how silly she was being, letting herself get this bothered in such a short time. She liked James more than she had ever liked anyone else, and there was no reason to be anything but thrilled about it.

The entire class went very smoothly. Even Anna and Sirius seemed to be getting along better than usual, though Lily was quite sure that they were forcing themselves into it for their friends’ sake. Still, this was not something that Anna would usually bother with, and it cheered Lily even further.

She thought she might have spoken too soon when the end of class came and they were packing up their things. Snape stalked past and his eyes darted toward her; Lily thought, Oh, here we go. To her surprise, however, nothing much happened, except Snape quickly looked away and James put his arm around her waist rather possessively. It made it slightly difficult to walk from class that way, as did the curiousness of what had just happened. She was very glad that Snape did not seem to care that she was going out with James, as he really had no right to give an opinion on it anyway, but it did seem odd that he had no scathing remarks or even an eyebrow-raise to spare.

It seemed like all of the moments in the rest of the day where she was not with James were a variation on unpleasantness, with people giggling and whispering at her as she walked by. It felt like her going out with James was some big joke in everyone else’s eyes, and she found herself wishing for the few days when it had been just the two of them, without anyone else interfering.

“Just ignore it,” Anna said to Lily, as the two of them and Mary entered one of the girls’ bathrooms after lunch. “Whenever two people at this school start dating it’s like the circus has come to town.”

“Thanks for the comparison,” Lily said.

“You know what I mean,” Anna replied. “They’ll lose interest in a couple of days.” The bathroom door opened and several Slytherin girls from their year walked in. “Well, there goes the neighbourhood,” Anna muttered.

“I mean, it’s really just unbelievable,” Claudia Rowle said, apparently in the middle of a conversation, “the level people will stoop to when it comes to dating.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Let’s go,” she said to Mary and Anna.

“Well, my mother always says that boys just go through a phase like this when they’re young,” Astrid Nott said. “You know, dating really common girls. Mudbloods, and that sort of thing.”

Lily had pushed the door halfway open when her ears were almost split by a scream echoing off the tiled walls. She looked around—Astrid was staring in the mirror and grabbing her hair, which was now neon green. Lily figured Anna must have hexed her, but to her complete shock, it was Mary who was putting away her wand, looking very pleased.

“Now we can go,” Mary said.

People standing out in the corridor were staring at the bathroom door apprehensively, and Filch was jogging along towards them. Lily could not understand how he seemed to be able to move about the castle so quickly at his age, always appearing seconds after the slightest bit of trouble with a gleam that only the prospect of punishment could put in his eyes.

“What in Merlin’s name is going on in there?” he barked at the three of them.

“Oh, you don't want to know,” Anna said darkly. Filch looked at the door apprehensively, but before he could say another word, Anna and Lily hurried after Mary. She had hardly slowed her pace, probably because she was a little worried about Claudia coming out and explaining what had happened in front of Filch.

“What was that all about?” Anna asked, once they had caught up with her.

“Didn’t you hear the things she was saying?” Mary asked.

“Of course,” Lily said. “I just can’t believe you did that to her.”

“I just wanted to get back at her for once,” Mary said. She frowned slightly. “Do you think she knew it was me?”

“There were only three of us in there, and I’m pretty sure you were the only one with your wand out, pointed at her head,” Anna said. “I think there’s a good chance she knows it was you.”

“Well, I don’t care,” Mary said, though it certainly seemed to Lily that she did. “She deserves it.”

Lily certainly agreed, but she still could not understand why Mary had suddenly decided to stand up to herself. She supposed it was good, though—Mary had spent far too long letting other people walk all over her, and she had obviously reached her breaking point. She had a feeling that Mary wasn't going to be hexing many more people after Professor Slughorn found her before their last class and gave her a detention, though.

Lily knew better than to listen to the likes of Claudia and Astrid, whose life source seemed to be other people’s despair, but it made her forget her determination to be unrestrainedly happy. Usually she was glad to be the type of person who really cared about others’ feelings and thoughts, but now she realized the darker side of empathy. She ended up sitting on one of the couches in the common room next to James and his friends that evening feeling quite frustrated and fed up. The fact that the boys kept making inside jokes that she couldn’t follow from one sentence to the next didn’t make her feel much better.

“Has James ever told you that story?” It took Lily a few moments to realize that Remus was talking to her.

“Erm…no, I don’t think so,” Lily said, though she had no idea what they were talking about. She hadn’t really been listening to their conversation, as it had felt like it wasn’t really necessary for her to be a part of it.

“She doesn’t want to hear that,” James said.

“Oh, I think you does,” Sirius said to her. “Whether he wants you to hear it or not is—”

“It’s not even that great of a story,” James interrupted. He looked at Lily. “Really, it’s not that funny.”

“Well, I definitely want to hear it now,” Lily said.

“You see, Lily, the summer before third year—”

“I’m pretty sure it was second year,” James said, cutting across Sirius.

“No, it was third year,” Peter said. “Nice try, though.”

“Right,” Sirius said, grinning. “So, as I said, the summer before third year, we were all spending the night at James’. Even then we had an uncanny ability to have fun in any circumstance—”

“He means that we always ended up in danger of severe injury,” Remus said, smirking.

“Yes, well, what’s the difference, really?” Sirius asked, which made Lily laugh. “Anyway, we had spent a month building this wooden tree house in the woods behind his house. We’d done it the Muggle way, too, so it took a lot of hard work.”

“Speaking of that, I think I still have a scar from where you cut me with that hammer, Sirius,” Peter said, searching his right arm.

“How in the world do you manage to cut someone with a hammer?” Lily asked, laughing.

“Don’t ask,” James said.

“You know, if people keep interrupting, I’m never going to finish this story,” Sirius said loudly. “James’ parents had this rule about us not going outside after dark. They seemed to think that we were going to get attacked by something, or get lost.”

“Well, you can’t really blame them,” Remus said. “There was that one time Peter fell into the bog and was up to his chest before we could pull him out.”

“My mum never did get the smell out of those clothes, you know,” Peter said.

“Right, moving on from Peter’s smelly clothes,” Sirius said. “We really wanted to go out to visit our tree house, as we’d just finished building it that day, but it was dark.”

He paused for effect, and Lily prompted him, “So, what did you do?”

“Well, we had this brilliant idea—we’d just climb out James’ bedroom window,” Sirius said.

“All right, in my defence, I warned them that I’d tried it before and almost killed myself, but they wouldn’t listen,” James interjected.

“Remus and I managed to get down to the ground without any trouble, and we were standing there waiting for them to join us,” Sirius said, grinning now. “So, Prongs sticks one leg out the window, all confidence, and a few seconds later he’s hanging upside-down.”

Everyone laughed at this; even James was smiling slightly.

“He looked like such a prat, swinging back-and-forth like that,” Remus said.

“I was still standing inside and I was trying to pull him back in, but he was so panicked it wasn’t working,” Peter said.

“The funniest part was—the whole time he’s hanging there—he’s screaming out for his mum, going, ‘Mummy, mummy, help me!’,” Sirius said in between laughter. Lily looked at James, whose face was red, and tried not to laugh too hard.

“We've never let him live that one down,” Remus explained.

"And never will, I'm sure," James muttered.

Maybe it was the laughter, and maybe it was the nice feeling she got from being included, but after that story, Lily felt much better than before. She really didn’t mind sitting with James’ friends, she thought—they all got along so well that it was easy to sit with them, and it did seem to make James very happy to have both them and her with him at the same time. Of course, she didn’t really want to be around them all the time, but at least they weren’t making her feel self-conscious about being James’ girlfriend.

Even though there had been some definite lows to her day, Lily was at least glad that it seemed to be ending on a high note. When she decided to go to bed, James walked over to the foot of the staircase with her.

“You know, Sirius forgot to mention in that story how he collapsed on the ground laughing while I was about to fall and break my neck,” he said. Lily laughed.

“Wouldn’t you have done the same thing?” she asked.

“No,” James said. “Well, maybe.”

“By the way, what’s the deal with the nicknames?” she asked him.

“What nicknames?”

“Well, every once in a while Sirius calls you…something that sounds like ‘Prongs’, I think,” Lily explained. “I was just wondering why he calls you that.”

James shrugged. “Just one of those things that Sirius does.”

“But he must have a reason,” Lily said. “Is there some story about you getting attacked by a fork?”

“No,” James said. Lily looked at him quizzically. His short answers seemed to indicate that there was some background story that he didn’t want her to know.

“Hmmm…is it because your hair sticks up like antennae?” she asked, running her fingers through it so it became messier.

“No,” James said, flattening it out. “And just because some of us have perfect hair doesn’t mean they should lord it over those less fortunate.”

“My hair is far from perfect,” she said. “Have you seen me when it rains out?”

“Well, I think it is,” James said.

He kissed her good night and she went up to bed, feeling that, despite all the things that had happened that day, everything was going to be just fine.



..........




Going out with Lily, James found after the first week back to school, tended to distract him from everything else going on his life. He had really thought for a few hours on the first day of classes that she had changed her mind, which had been—needless to say—fairly alarming, but since then things had been going smoothly. Homework, Quidditch, and his friends all seemed to take a backseat to spending time with Lily. Luckily, his friends seemed to have an understanding of his situation as fellow men, but not everyone else was so accommodating—which was perhaps why he found himself in Professor McGonagall’s office before the week’s end.

“Potter, what is this?” she asked, holding up what looked very much like the essay he had handed in a couple days previous. “I sat down Tuesday afternoon, expecting the excellent work that you usually hand in, and instead find an essay that could have been written by one of my fourth years.”

James though this was rather harsh. He knew it was not his best work, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t that bad.

“I assume you have some excuse,” she continued.

“Well...” James said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “My holidays were really busy.”

Professor McGonagall looked unmoved. “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that the end of your seventh year is hardly the time to start letting your studies fall by the wayside. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen it happen to good students. You may think that since there are only a few months remaining, you can simply under-achieve the rest of the way, but I assure you that is not the case whatsoever.”

“I know that, Professor,” James said. “It’s just one essay.”

“Oh, well, for now it is,” she said.

He could not understand why he seemed to be getting such abuse for dipping below his usual standard on one measly assignment. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know the material, after all.

“Potter, as your Head of House, you know that the responsibility falls to me to make sure that you are as prepared as possible before you graduate,” Professor McGonagall continued. “And considering how well you have done for the past six-and-a-half years, I would not be able to live with myself if you did not excel both at your N.E.W.T.s and afterward.”

Despite his indignation, he could tell that Professor McGonagall meant well, and he left her office assuring her that she would have no reason to be disappointed again. She was muttering something that sounded to him like, “I told Albus it was a bad idea to put you two together,” which he assumed was some comment about him and Sirius. He couldn’t understand what was so bad about he and Sirius sitting together in classes, though, since they usually did well in Transfiguration, and he hardly had any idea what Dumbledore had to do with that, either.

Though he still thought she had been overly critical, she had succeeded in worrying him about his exams. He had contemplated his future after Hogwarts at different points over the holidays, and he could not help but come back to the idea of being an Auror. It was not an ideal career choice, given the state of things, but nothing else made him feel even the least bit passionate. Even if he did not end up being an Auror, he still thought he would like the option available, which meant that he was probably going to have to study much harder than he had in the past.

Quidditch practice followed that evening. He was glad that the team seemed to be working together much better than before, mainly because Ursula’s attitude improved, but he could tell that there was still some remaining tension over her embarrassing performance in the last match. At the same time, Gareth’s standing on the team had grown by leaps and bounds. Everyone seemed to think he had saved them from defeat, and he was clearly letting the attention go to his head. James could not really blame him—he was a fourteen-year-old on a team where girls outnumbered the boys, after all—but he had already had one team member cause problems with an overinflated ego.

“All right, Gareth,” he said at the beginning of practice, while everyone else was warming up. “Think you’re up for a challenge?”

“Absolutely,” Gareth said.

“Go grab the Snitch,” James said. While he was gone, James pulled out another from his own pocket. Gareth returned and looked at it, puzzled.

“I thought you said—”

“You’re going to catch both of them,” James told him.

“But I only have to catch one of them in a game.”

“All of the world-class Seekers practice like this,” James said. “Josef Wronski could go after four Snitches at a time and catch them all in under half an hour, you know.”

Gareth frowned, but did not argue this time.

“Now this Snitch,” James said, holding up the one in his hand, “is one that I stole in fifth year from the storage cupboard. I’m very attached to it, so if you lose it...”

He left the end of the sentence to Gareth’s imagination, since he really didn’t want to threaten him outright with some kind of punishment. Just as he had hoped, though, Gareth flew around frantically for the entire practice, flailing for the Snitches. He looked far from the polished, heroic Seeker that he had been in the last match, and he landed on the ground at the end looking exhausted.

“So?” James asked.

“Got ‘em,” Gareth said between breaths, holding them up for James to see.

“Good work,” James said, clapping him on the back while he was doubled over. “Wasn’t easy, though, was it?” Gareth shook his head. “Good. It wasn’t supposed to be.”

He felt very happy with the results of the practice as he walked back up to the castle, but his good mood was immediately dampened when Snape seemed to pop out of one of the walls, blocking his path.

“Evening, Snivellus,” he said. “Out looking for someone else to poison, are you?”

He only just saw Snape flourish his wand in time, and jumped out of the way as a jet of light shot by. He was very glad he had, too, since he couldn’t even recognize whatever spell Snape had been trying to use.

“Oh, come on, Sniv,” James said, taking out his own wand. “Do we really have to do this? I always feel so bad when you end up cowering on the ground like a baby.”

He blocked another curse and sent a Stinging Hex of his own, which Snape shielded himself from. It had been a while since he had duelled with Snape, and it felt quite cathartic. They exchanged another few jinxes, but each missed their mark.

“All right, I have more important things to do,” James said. “Let’s just skip to the bit where—”

He was too slow this time, and a Trip Jinx knocked him over. Snape was looking positively gleeful.

“Not so talkative now, are you?” he said with a sneer.

James took advantage of his momentary distraction to send a nearby suit of armour flying into Snape, who crumpled like a ragdoll.

“See, now I just feel so terrible,” James said as he walked by the heap of metal, leaving his victim behind.

As he healed the scrape he had received on his elbow during his fall, he tried to think of what had made Snape start cursing him out of the blue like that. The answer wasn’t really too hard to figure out, of course, but James didn’t really want to consider it. The thought of the way Snape had used to follow Lily around, and her, him...it was repellent, and he did his best to never think about it if he could help it.

“Oi, there he is!” James heard Peter’s voice, and, sure enough, when he turned around he saw him, Sirius, and Remus coming around the nearest corner.

“We were going down to the pitch to look for you,” Sirius said.

“What happened to you?” Remus asked. James was still examining the raw, pink skin on his elbow.

“Snivellus just showed up and started attacking me,” James said. “Mental, as usual.”

“Well, this is perfect timing, then,” Sirius said.

“For what?”

“Getting the Slytherins expelled,” Remus replied. “You know, that thing you were so set on before Lily took over your brain.”

“She hasn’t taken over my brain,” James said. He had sort of forgotten about their plan, though.

“Right,” Sirius said, exchanging glances with Peter and Remus. “Anyway, Remus went to see Dearborn before dinner, and now we know for sure that he still has the candlesticks.”

“How?”

“He was trying to find his copy of our textbook,” Remus said. “He practically tore apart his office looking for it. He brought this trunk out of the inner chamber, unlocked it, and then I saw the box as he was digging through it.”

“We’ve got to go get them,” Peter said quickly.

James exhaled in concentration. To be honest, the last thing he wanted to do right now was go break into Dearborn’s office again, even though the idea of causing Snape a little more trouble was very appealing. He had been looking forward to stealing Lily away from the common room for a little while, and getting caught up in some scheme would definitely prevent that.

“We’d have to check the Map first,” he said.

“Already did,” Sirius said, pulling the familiar piece of parchment out of his pocket. “He’s up in Dumbledore’s office again.”

“We can’t just burst in there. We’ll have to figure out a way to unlock the door inside the office, and then get the trunk open...”

“Oh, come on, Prongs,” Sirius said impatiently. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“I don’t want to mess it up like we did last time,” James said. “I’m sick of all the green and silver scum hanging around this place, and we might not get another chance to get rid of them.”

His friends looked a little crestfallen.

“If you don’t want to do it…” Remus said.

“I never said that,” James said firmly.

“You’re right,” Sirius said. “Let’s go up to the dormitory and figure out how to do this right.”

“How did you get rid of Snape?” Remus asked as they walked up to Gryffindor Tower.

“Wasn’t hard,” James said, shrugging. “He always takes too long revelling in his non-victory when he should be finishing me off.”

“Did you Stun him or something?” Peter asked.

“In a sense,” James replied, “although I have to give more credit to the suit of armour than myself.”

His friends laughed, and Sirius said, “Better hope Evans doesn’t find out about that, or she might ditch you.”

“She’s not going to ditch him over that,” Remus said.

“Yeah, she doesn’t like Snivellus anymore either,” Peter said.

James was pretty sure that Lily wasn’t going to be too upset about him defending himself from Snape—if he were to tell her, that is. There were some things better left unsaid.



Chapter 24: The Good Side of Bad
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Chapter Twenty-Four
The Good Side of Bad




Over the next few weeks, James had more than a few run-ins with Snape, who seemed to be going out of his way to curse him at every opportunity. James did not usually mind, as any excuse to antagonize Snape was a good one in his mind, but there were occasions where he did not manage to defend himself as well as he might have. It was the sting (sometimes literally) from those encounters that kept him motivated to break into Dearborn’s office and get revenge.

The second-last Quidditch match of the season, between Slytherin and Hufflepuff, was held around the middle of April. Though it was an inconsequential game, since both teams were already out of the running to win the Cup, the stands were still full of supporters and—when it came to the Gryffindors—those who were only too glad to cheer against Slytherin.

James sat in the stands, with his friends on one side and Lily on the other, cheering in satisfaction whenever the Hufflepuffs scored. Though their use of brute force had been frustrating when he was playing against them, he now found it highly amusing. Lily punctuated the match with questions about plays and rules, which was equal parts endearing and annoying. He knew that she was trying to take an interest, but he did miss several good plays while he was answering her—not that he did so with anything but the utmost patience, of course. In the end it was Hufflepuff that emerged victorious, and the Slytherin supporters left the field glowering amidst the gleeful cheers of their opponents.

At dinner, James heard several different people gossiping about Mulciber and Avery, who had apparently taken the Slytherins’ loss as justification to harass some younger Hufflepuffs. Their victims had ended up in the Hospital Wing with painful orange scales all over their skin. Though James could understand the bitterness of losing a Quidditch match, neither Mulciber nor Avery were even on the Slytherin team.

When Lily was busy talking to Anna at the Gryffindor table, James leaned in and got his friends’ attention.

“Tonight, do you think?” he asked. They nodded in unison.

A few hours later, the four of them set out towards Dearborn’s office, confident that their plan would work this time. They huddled together in a small room just down the hall, taking out the Invisibility Cloak and the Map. This time they had thought it best for only one person to go into the office while the others kept lookout and used the two-way mirrors to alert them if Dearborn was returning. They had also decided that Peter’s way of picking a Muggle lock would probably work even against magical enchantment, and was therefore their best chance at getting inside the chamber beyond his office.

“I think you should do it,” Remus said, looking at James.

“Are you sure?” James asked. “I thought Wormtail—”

“No, he’s right,” Peter interrupted.

“You’d better get a move on or we’ll have a situation like last time on our hands,” Sirius said. “Don’t forget to listen for your mirror.”

James pulled the Invisibility Cloak over himself and walked down the corridor to the office door, double-checked that no one was around, and slipped inside as quietly as he could. He headed straight for the inner door and pulled out the hairpin he had stolen from Lily, trying to unlock the door without magic like Peter had taught them.

Despite Peter’s teachings, James was having no luck. He felt like he could hear time ticking away, no matter how much he reminded himself that Sirius would warn him with the mirror if Dearborn were returning. He was nervous, nevertheless, and found himself jumping at the sound of his Cloak brushing against the floor. He wanted to be calm and collected, but he also knew the kind of trouble he would get into if things did not go according to plan.

After a few minutes of failed attempts, he tried to take the hairpin out of the lock, but it was stuck, just to make matters more difficult. He braced his foot against the door and tried pulling, but it would not budge. Sighing, he took out his wand and summoned it, accidentally sending it flying off somewhere into the room.

He pulled off his Cloak in frustration and yanked on the door handle. The door swung open unexpectedly, nearly making him fall down. He just stood there for a moment in surprise, completely forgetting what he was supposed to be doing. Whether he had somehow succeeded in unlocking the door or it had never been locked in the first place, he had no idea, but it didn’t really matter. He stepped over the threshold and began his search for the rectangular black box.

James felt a further rush of triumph when he spotted it in plain sight on top of a trunk—probably the one Remus had seen. Dearborn had obviously not put them away properly, to James’ great luck. He grabbed the box (carefully, as he did not really want to get himself killed), closed the door behind him, picked up his Cloak from the ground, and as he was about to pull it over his head, the door opened, and in walked Professor Dearborn.

He completely froze for a few moments, and Dearborn seemed to be equally shocked. Say something, you dolt, a voice in his head told him. Silence, he had learned from experience, always made you look guilty.

“Hi, Professor,” he said. His voice was not as confident as he would have liked. “Sorry for the intrusion. The door was open, and I wanted to ask you some questions—”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Dearborn interrupted, looking at the box in James’ right hand.

“Oh,” James said. Everything seemed like it was moving much more slowly than usual. “Right. I just couldn’t resist taking a look for myself. Hopefully you don’t mind.”

Dearborn looked very angry, and James started to feel some dread rising in his chest. This was going to end very badly, he could just feel it.

“I wasn’t born yesterday, Potter,” Dearborn said. “What are you doing?”

James really had no idea what to say now. There was no way that denial was going to work, which would have been his first instinct. He was caught in the worst of positions, in a place he was not supposed to be with a dangerous Dark object in one hand and an Invisibility Cloak in the other.

“It’s really not what it looks like,” James said. “The truth is, my friends dared me to come take these, but I was going to put them right back.”

Dearborn strode towards him angrily. “Give me that,” he said, yanking the box away, “and don’t move an inch.”

While Dearborn disappeared into the room behind him, James wondered frantically why his friends had not warned him to get out of there before it was too late. Perhaps his mirror was broken—he didn’t want to test it, though, since it would probably get confiscated. He tried to hide his Cloak underneath the back of his shirt for that same reason, his heart thudding and his palms sweaty.

When his professor returned, he conjured a chair and told James to sit down. It took almost a full minute before he said anything, and James thought it best to keep his mouth shut until he was spoken to.

“You know, I showed you and the rest of the class those candlesticks because I thought you were mature enough to understand the gravity of what I was trying to say,” Dearborn said. “Now I question whether I was right.”

James had been questioning it since it had happened, personally, and he thought it was a bit rich of Dearborn to be disappointed in his immaturity when he had displayed a complete lack of emotion in showing them to the class. Not that he was going to say that, of course.

Another long silence fell, and James felt himself getting more and more uncomfortable under his teacher’s hard stare. This had been such a stupid idea. Why hadn’t he listened to those nagging doubts in the back of his mind, not to mention Remus? Even Peter had been uncertain about this from the beginning, yet James and Sirius had been all too happy to carry on blindly. His parents were going to kill him if he got expelled, and it would certainly be the end of him and Lily. If she didn’t break up with him after this, he was going to have to break up with her—she deserved someone much better than an idiot who had gotten himself expelled.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Dearborn asked.

James opened his mouth but had trouble getting words out. “I don’t really know what I’m supposed to say. I mean…are you going to give me detention, or send me to Professor Dumbledore?”

“I don’t really see what purpose either of those would serve,” Dearborn said, grimacing slightly. “Why don’t you tell me what it was you were trying to do with those candlesticks? The real story, this time.”

Telling the truth seemed like a very foolish thing to do, but James was so miserable that he was finding the idea appealing. At least it would be over with.

“Let me phrase it differently,” Dearborn said wryly, “if you don’t explain yourself, I’ll have to assume you were stealing them for your own personal use, which I imagine will get you into much more trouble than the truth. I’m a reasonable man, after all.”

James exhaled very slowly, realizing that he was backed into a corner. Continuing to lie was only going to make matters worse for him.

“I wasn’t stealing them for me,” he said. “I only took them...because I was going to figure out a way to make it seem like some of the Slytherins had stolen them.”

“You were going to frame someone when they hadn’t done anything?”

“They’ve done enough on their own,” James said, his fists clenching. “All I wanted was for them to actually get in trouble for once.”

“From what I’ve heard, they get their fair share of detentions,” Dearborn said. “Or is it that you don’t think the punishment fits the crime?”

“I don’t know,” James said, shrugging. “Yeah, I suppose that’s it.”

Dearborn sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair. “I’ll say this, Potter: as someone who teaches Defence Against the Dark Arts, I can’t help but respect your morals.”

James could hardly believe it, but it almost sounded like he was not going to get in trouble. Surely, Dearborn could not be that lenient…but now that he looked at him carefully, James noticed that he seemed to be uncomfortable also, as if he wasn’t sure what to do or say. Perhaps if James could just play his cards right, Dearborn would go easy on him.

“You know, the tricky thing about the Dark Arts,” Dearborn said, “is that it’s very hard to draw the line between good and evil. I’m supposed to teach you that, but I couldn’t even explain it to you.” He leaned forward again. “D’you think you know the difference between right and wrong?”

“Sure,” James said. He really didn’t know what this had to do with anything, but if it might get him out of trouble, he would talk about it all night. “I mean, it’s not something you can—explain, really. It’s just something you know.”

“But how do you know?” Dearborn asked. “Did your parents teach you?”

“Yeah, when I was a kid,” James replied.

Dearborn held up a finger in question. “What if other parents teach their kids something other than what you were taught? Does that make it wrong?”

James hesitated for a moment. “I—well, it depends.”

“Exactly,” Dearborn said. “It all depends.”

“Not all of it,” James said. “I can’t see how torture or murder would ever be a good thing.”

“What if you were killing someone who you knew was evil? A Death Eater, for example, or even Voldemort himself. Is it still wrong?” When James didn’t answer, he grinned. “That’s the problem with fighting the Dark Arts, Potter. You end up in situations just like you were tonight—trying to do what you thought was right, but getting there by the wrong means. And that’s not even considering what would have happened if you’d succeeded.”

James’ face went warm at the accusatory note in Dearborn’s voice.

“How could getting the Slytherins out of here be a bad thing?” he asked.

“Well, as I said, different parents teach their children different things,” Dearborn said. “How do you think their parents would have reacted to them getting expelled? Think they would have punished them?”

James’ mind darted to Sirius’ parents, who would have been most concerned with their family’s reputation. They certainly wouldn’t have cared whether one of their sons was targeting Muggle-borns.

“I understand your frustration with Dumbledore,” Dearborn said, before James could reply, “but what you don’t see is that keeping those students in school is the best thing for us all. If they were pushed out into the world right now, they’d be doing much worse than what they have already.”

“Keeping them in school for a couple more months isn’t going to make a difference,” James said.

“You’re right. But it does hold a half-dozen Death Eaters off for a little longer. And it might not be easy to know the difference between wrong and right, but something tells me that’s a good thing,” Dearborn said.

James hated to admit it, but it was possible that Dearborn was right. He remembered all the times Sirius had criticized his parents for supporting Regulus in his goal of joining Voldemort. Until now he had never really believed it, had assumed that it was just Sirius lashing out and exaggerating.

“Now, I am going to have to punish you,” Dearborn said, clearing his throat uncomfortably and tearing James away from his muddled thoughts. “I want to see you in this office for an hour after each class for the next two weeks, and I’ll see if I can’t teach you to not steal from me.”

“It really won’t happen again,” James said. Truthfully, he didn’t mind the punishment at all, and was relieved to have received nothing much worse.

“I’ll make sure of it,” Dearborn said. “Now I think it’s time for you to get out of here and go back to your common room before you manage to break any more rules.”

James felt a little dazed as he left the office and wandered back to where he had left his friends. How he was not sitting in Dumbledore’s office being threatened with expulsion or revocation of his Head Boy badge, he had no idea. The thought of how lucky he had gotten was overwhelming, and he felt like he needed to sit down.

“Prongs!”

James stopped and saw his friends staring at him worriedly from the doorway of the same small room they had hidden in. He had almost walked right past it in his distracted state.

“Bloody hell, we’re sorry,” Sirius said. “We weren’t paying attention for a few seconds and Filch snuck up on us, and then we couldn’t watch the Map anymore.”

“He dragged us off to write us up,” Remus added unhappily. Well, that at least explained why they hadn’t warned him, James thought.

“Did you get detentions?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Remus replied. “But what happened to you? Did Dearborn see you?”

James nodded. His friends all looked aghast; they had clearly not been expecting that response.

“What happened?” Peter asked. There was a long pause as James tried to find the words to describe it.

“Nothing, really,” he said finally. “He lectured me and sort of gave me detention, but…that was it.”

Sirius let out a low whistle. “You are really lucky.”

“He’s never really been one for rules, though, has he?” Peter asked. James just shrugged, though it was true. He was silent until he noticed that all three of his friends were still looking rather anxious.

“What’s wrong?” he asked them. There was a bit of strange shuffling and sideways glancing before any of them responded.

“We…erm…” Sirius stammered, screwing up his face slightly. “Filch…sort of…took the Map away from us.”

James felt himself freeze like he had when Dearborn had entered the office. All of the relief he had been feeling completely disappeared, leaving him with a hollow, empty sensation in his stomach.

“How?” was all he could ask, in a strangled voice. He leaned against the wall next to him, feeling now more than ever that his legs needed a break.

“Well, he didn’t know what it was,” Remus explained, “but he’d seen us looking at it before Sirius wiped it, and he knew we weren’t keen on having it confiscated.”

“We can get it back, though, no problem at all,” Peter said.

James sighed and put his hand over his eyes momentarily. “Just—just forget about it.”

“Come on, Prongs, you don’t mean that,” Sirius said.

“No, I do,” James said. Right now he was sick of scheming, and figuring out a way to break into someone else’s office was the last thing he wanted to think about.

“Let’s not worry about it for now,” Remus said, which James was grateful for. It had looked like Sirius was about to open his mouth to argue some more, but now he stayed silent.

It was always strange to return to the common room after doing something wrong, whether they got away with it or not. The glow of the fireplace and happy faces of their fellow Gryffindors always seemed strangely out of place to James compared to whatever he was returning from, and now, with the Marauder’s Map taken away...well, there really weren’t any words for the way he felt. It was like he had just lost one of his friends, as well as one of the things he was proudest of—he had worked on that map with Sirius, Remus, and Peter for the better part of four years, and had always imagined that their children would use it when they went to Hogwarts.

Now that seemed an impossibility, like the Map had been lost forever. It wasn’t true, of course. Peter and Sirius were right; they could easily reclaim it from Filch. He couldn’t shake the feeling that all of this had been his fault, though, and that losing one of his most prized possessions was a punishment that he had to just accept. Perhaps Dearborn had been right, and that there were certain things that were better kept the way they were.



……..




Lily was, to put it simply, happy—and it was best to put it simply, because she had not yet been able to find the right word to describe the way that James made her feel. She was now convinced that the James of years past had disappeared and been replaced by a completely different person, so much had her view of him and his presence in her life changed over the past year. Now the last thing she wanted was change—she would be perfectly happy if things could just stay this way forever. His presence immediately cheered her if she was not in a good mood, he was impeccably respectful of her, and somehow he was able to tell her that she was beautiful every single day without it ever getting old.

Having James as her boyfriend gave her someone to confide in and spend time with when she might otherwise be alone, and, as an added bonus, someone to go with her places that she was dreading. Though she had managed to get out of several of Slughorn’s gatherings over the last few months, the time before the end of the year was trickling away and the Potions professor seemed to be getting desperate for her to attend. Lily was not really looking forward to it at all—he always seemed to be asking her about what her career plans were and offering to introduce her to people, and it was quite a lot of pressure. Which might have been why she was not exactly hurrying to get there. That, and James had a knack for distracting her.

Going places with him never seemed to be a straight journey from one place to another, and they frequently ended up in empty classrooms pressed up against one another. The walk down to Slughorn’s office was no exception.

“We’re twenty minutes late,” she said, managing to pull her mouth away from James’ for the first time in a while.

“Says who?” James asked.

“Your watch,” Lily answered.

“It’s broken,” James said.

“Liar.”

James grinned. “You’re supposed to be kissing me, not looking at my watch.”

She could not help but acquiesce for a little while longer. When she felt James’ hand on the skin of her back, snaking underneath her shirt, she pulled away again. There was a time and place for that sort of thing, she thought, and it really wasn’t in a classroom, however empty it might be. And it also might be beyond two weeks into dating him, though she hadn’t quite figured out how she felt about that one yet. Either way, they had somewhere else to be.

“We really do have to go,” she said. “At this rate, we’ll miss the entire dinner.”

“I’m not hungry,” James said, kissing her again.

“It’ll only be an hour or so,” she said, “and you saw him earlier; he’ll be so disappointed if we don’t show up.”

He exhaled resignedly. “I guess you’re right.”

“We can always continue this later,” Lily said.

“Now,

Chapter 25: Looking Forward
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Chapter Twenty-Five
Looking Forward




After being back at school for several weeks, Lily had concluded that whatever was wrong with Mary was not going to go away on its own. Mary was certainly not making it easy to figure out, however, and though Lily usually considered herself a fairly perceptive person, she could not understand what had made her friend go from cheerful and optimistic to taciturn and discouraged. She was determined to get to the bottom of it, however.

She turned to James, who was sitting next to her on one of the couches in the common room.

“Has Remus said anything to you about Mary lately?” she asked. James did not look like this was a conversation he was interested in having, but he answered her anyway.

“No. Not since...well, probably around Christmas.”

“Really?” Lily said thoughtfully. That meant that there was probably nothing going on between he and Mary, since Remus surely would have mentioned something to his friends over the course of four months.

“What’s on your mind?” James asked, looking at her with an affectionate smile. She felt a little flutter of happiness inside her stomach.

“Oh...well, Mary’s just been acting really strangely,” she said. “I thought maybe...”

She trailed off, as her meaning was fairly clear.

“Well, I’m pretty sure it’s not about Remus,” James said. “Have you asked her?”

“She keeps saying she’s fine,” Lily replied.

“Have you really asked her?”

Lily shrugged a little guiltily. She really had not put much effort into finding out what was wrong, at least not yet.

“Go ask her right now,” James suggested, closing his Transfiguration book. “We’re done here, anyway.”

“I suppose I could,” Lily said, though she would have preferred to wait until she had some time to prepare for it. “What should I say?”

“She’s your friend,” James said, unhelpfully. Lily bit her lip in thought. “Just ask her what’s wrong. If she says she’s fine, ask her again.”

James was right. There was no use putting it off, and no real excuse for it, anyway. Mary was her friend, and it wasn’t right to leave her wallowing like this.

“Okay,” she said, getting up from the couch. “See you at dinner?”

“Good luck,” he replied, and she marched up the stairs without giving herself time for second-guessing.

She pushed open the door to her dormitory and caught Mary in the middle of practicing some spells. Her friend’s cheeks turned slightly pink when she realized Lily was there.

“Hi,” she said, a little breathlessly. “I thought you’d be with James in the common room. What are you up here for?”

“Well, we were working on Transfiguration,” Lily said, sitting down on her bed, “and sometimes I need a break from it.”

Lily felt like he was always looking over her shoulder at what she was writing or bringing things up just so he could explain them to her whenever they studied certain subjects together. Not that it bothered her too much—after all, he and Sirius were undoubtedly the best in their year at Transfiguration, so it benefited her to have his help. But it did wear on her after a while.

“What were you practicing?” Lily asked.

“Erm...Patronus Charms, actually,” Mary said, avoiding eye contact. Lily looked at her slightly quizzically.

“They’re not going to test us on those for our N.E.W.T.s,” she said. “You don’t have to study them.”

“I know,” Mary said.

It was unlike Mary to go out of her way to practice something like Patronuses, and the peculiarity of it strengthened Lily’s resolve to ask the question that she had been asking herself for weeks.

“Are you all right, Mary?”

“I’m fine,” said Mary, a little curiously. “Why do you ask?”

“Well...you haven’t really seemed like yourself lately. I just couldn’t help wondering if something had happened that upset you,” Lily replied.

“No, I’m not upset at all,” Mary said, and it really did seem like she meant it. Just when Lily assumed that the conversation would shift, Mary sat down directly across from her, looking eager. “Lily, if I tell you something, will you promise not to tell anyone else?”

“Of course,” Lily said, a little surprised.

“Especially not Anna,” Mary said, “and not James either.”

Lily nodded, though she felt a slight twinge of guilt in doing so—it wasn’t really fair to promise her that she wasn’t going to tell James, because she probably would end up doing so anyway. It was very hard to not tell him things, she was finding.

Mary was smiling as she spoke again. “I figured out what I’d like to do after Hogwarts.”

“That’s fantastic,” Lily said. She couldn’t see why this was such a big secret. “What did you decide?”

“I want to be a Hit Wizard,” Mary said.

Lily had to try very hard to keep her expression from changing to one of bewilderment.

“Wow,” she said, because it was really the only word that came to her mind. Luckily, Mary seemed to have much more to say.

“I know, I’m so excited,” she said. “I even went to the Ministry to find out about the training, and I just—I signed up, right then and there!”

Lily was at the point of complete horror now.

“You did?” she asked. Though she knew it was technically her job to be supportive, she simply couldn’t smile her way through this. “What if you change your mind, though?”

“I can always withdraw,” Mary said, “but I’m not going to. I really feel like this is the perfect fit for me.”

“Wow,” Lily repeated. She felt a little like laughing and little like shaking her friend by the shoulders. “I...I’m a bit surprised. I’ve never heard you mention this before.”

“I’ve only realized it recently,” Mary said, “but now that I have, it’s just so clear.”

“Well...” Lily said, her brain still catching up, “it’s very brave of you. It’s a very dangerous job, after all.”

“Everything’s dangerous,” Mary said, laughing a little nervously. “I figure it’s better to try and defend yourself than wait for something bad to happen. Besides, I really feel like I’ll have a purpose, if I do this.”

With every second that passed, Lily was having a harder time keeping her thoughts to herself.

“But there are other things you could do that are meaningful,” she said. “You don’t have to throw yourself right into the middle of everything, especially since Magical Law Enforcement has been such a nightmare lately.”

“I think things are really looking up,” Mary said. “There have been a lot fewer deaths in the past couple weeks, so the Ministry must be doing something right.”

There was some truth to what Mary was saying—the Daily Prophet had been filled with optimistic headlines of late, lauding the Aurors for pushing the Death Eaters into submission. Everyone now seemed to be very happy with the way that things were being run, as opposed to a few months previous. Still, it was hard to take these things at face value when you had someone like Anna providing cynical commentary at every opportunity.

“Well—things can change really quickly,” Lily said. “I’d hate the thought of you putting yourself at risk.”

“If everyone thought that way, there’d be no one left to fight,” Mary said. “It’s a really crucial time, too. If things do change, the people who have just recently joined, like me, will make a big difference.”

Now Lily really did feel worried. It sounded like Mary had showed up to the Ministry and been manipulated into signing up for something that she was not prepared to do. Of course they would tell Mary that she was going to make a difference—they probably said that to everyone that walked in like she had, hoping that they would be able to recruit replacements for all the people who had died.

But none of those people knew what Mary was really like. They hadn’t seen how she had changed after getting attacked by Mulciber, hadn’t seen her suffer silently because she was too afraid of what would happen if she sought justice. She was not the type of person suited for fighting Dark wizards, regardless of how much she pretended to be.

“You know, you were the one who inspired me to do this,” Mary said, looking at Lily gratefully.

“How did I do that?” Lily asked, in complete confusion.

“Well, sort of. I had been thinking about being an Auror, actually, but then you pointed out I wasn’t taking Potions, so I started looking for an alternative,” Mary replied.

Great, Lily thought. Though she had never meant to suggest anything like that, she still felt a little guilty. Mary believed that Lily had inspired her decision—a decision which was, incidentally, a very poor one. Now that Lily thought back to that conversation, the offence that Mary had taken after Anna had laughed at the idea of her being an Auror now made much more sense, and Lily wished that she had realized it then.

“It’s okay if you’re concerned,” Mary said. “I know it’s not the type of career that you’d choose.”

Lily was a little perplexed as to what that was supposed to mean, but it really wasn’t important compared to everything else.

“Mary, you should really tell more people if this is what you’re going to do,” Lily said. Maybe if more people found out, they would all be able to convince her to change her mind.

“I will, eventually,” Mary said. “I just want to wait until I’m really secure about it.”

“You seem pretty confident already.”

“Well—I’m a little worried that people might laugh, or something,” Mary said. “You know how Anna can be—how she was when we were talking about me being an Auror. And now that I’m all signed up for training, she’ll be even worse. She can’t be happy for anyone about things like this, because she get jealous that they have things figured out and she doesn’t.”

“Mary, I’m sure she would want to know,” Lily said. “She is your best friend, after all.”

“I don’t think she would support me, and I feel so good about this right now. I don’t want to spoil it,” Mary said. “Please, Lily, you promised you wouldn’t say anything to her...”

“I won’t, I just...” she trailed off. “Do your parents even know?”

“I’m going to tell them,” Mary said, starting to look a little upset. “They won't really understand, anyway...you must know what it’s like, your parents are Muggles.”

“Of course, but...Mary, this is a huge decision, and it’s good to listen to what other people have to say!”

“You know, I really thought that you were going to be supportive,” Mary said. “I should never have told you at all.”

Lily sighed. As much as she thought Mary was making a bad choice, she also didn’t think any purpose would be served by alienating her. At least if they remained friends, Lily still had a chance at making her see reason.

“I’m sorry,” Lily said. “I really do think it’s—great that you’re so happy about this. And if you’re happy, then...I’m happy for you.”

Mary’s smile returned. “Thanks, Lily. I know that this might seem mad, but I just...I realized that I’m sick of everyone thinking that I’m weak, because I’m not. I can do this; I can...I can think about something other than boys, and stand up for myself—”

“I know,” Lily said, cutting her off, since she seemed to be on the verge of getting slightly hysterical. Now she had an idea of where Mary’s neglect of Remus (and maybe her lack of interest in Lily going out with James) had stemmed from. Lily could not really think of a worse reason to sign up for a highly dangerous job than trying to prove a point, but that could wait to be said. For now she just tried to make Mary feel like someone had faith in her.

“Do you want to practice together?” Lily asked. “Patronuses, I mean.”

“Sure,” Mary said, her eyes shining with enthusiasm. “I’ve been really close to getting it, you know.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever conjured a full one,” Lily said. Mary stood up and gave it a try, and a silver streak burst out of her wand, only to form into a petite little bird, that flittered around her head. Mary laughed gleefully.

“I knew I was going to get it soon!” she said. She hesitated for a moment before lowering her wand, and the bird disappeared. “You want to try?”

Lily sighed. It would be nothing short of a miracle if she could pick out a single thought in her head right now, let alone one happy enough to help her conjure a Patronus. She closed her eyes and figured she might as well try thinking about James, which was likely to make her happier than anything else.

Expecto Patronum,” she said, without much vigour. A large mass of silvery mist whirled in the air in front of her, but did not take any recognizable form, and she lowered her wand.

Mary gave her a look of sympathy. “Don’t worry about it. You’ll get it eventually. I can help you, if you like.”

Lily tried to smile as much as she could. “That would be great.”

Really, though, she didn’t much care about not being able to produce a Patronus properly, at least not right now. She was too busy wondering how she was going to make Mary see sense, and hoping that she would be able to do it before it was too late.



..........




The shock of realizing that it was now May inexplicably allowed James to move past the disappointment of losing the Marauders Map and failing to get any revenge on Snape and the rest of the Slytherin gang. It was that failure that made it sting most—once again, the people who really deserved punishment had not gotten any. At least neither James nor his friends had gotten in any real trouble, but it felt like a very small comfort in the days immediately following.

When the month changed, however, he found that all of the other things going on in his life were more than enough distraction. The Quidditch final was in a few weeks, exams would follow a month later, and within two months they would take the Hogwarts Express home for the last time. Besides that, running around during the full moon seemed to reassure him that they were still Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs. They were about to leave Hogwarts, in any case, which would make the Map all but useless to them. James did not say it out loud, but somehow he felt like it was right for it to remain within the school—and maybe Remus, Sirius, and Peter felt the same, for it soon ceased to be a topic of conversation between the four of them.

The looming threat of N.E.W.T.s hardly gave them time to think about anything else, anyway. It never felt like there were enough hours in the day to complete everything they had been assigned by their teachers: essays, spells, potions, diagrams, studying for daily quizzes. On top of that, James and Remus also had to figure out what they were going to teach the fifth-years for their Defence Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.

“I was thinking,” James said to Remus one evening, while they were all working on Potions in the common room, “we should take a look around the castle and see if there’s a Boggart hiding somewhere, for the fifth-years.”

“Good idea,” Remus said, without looking up from his textbook.

“You should put it under one of their beds,” Sirius remarked. “Test how fast their reaction time is.”

James laughed along with Peter.

“Somehow I don’t they’ll test them on that during their O.W.L.s,” James replied.

After a few moments of silence, Peter spoke. “Wait—Mandrake Draughts aren’t used as an antidote to the Draught of Living Death, are they?”

“No,” Sirius replied.

Peter put down his quill and sighed dejectedly. “I think I’m just going learn how to do a really good Confundus Charm, and then maybe I’ll pass.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Sirius mused.

“Yes, it is,” Remus said.

“Don’t worry about it, Pete,” James said. “There’s still eight weeks left before exams.”

“Only seven,” Peter corrected him.

“Can you believe it?” Sirius asked. “We’ll be finished. Completely done. No more classes to go to, no more Filch to chase around after us...no more Hogsmeade weekends...”

“Don’t say things like that,” Remus said. “It’s depressing.”

“Aw, Moony, are you going to miss Filch?” Sirius teased.

James could not help himself from grinning, but he thought he knew what Remus really meant. He had often wondered what it was going to be like for his friend, who was (it had to be said) looking at a difficult future outside of Hogwarts. It was ridiculous, really—anyone with half a brain could see that Remus was smarter and more hard-working than the next person, and it wasn’t right that he should have such grim prospects.

He exchanged a glance with Sirius and knew that he was not the only one thinking such thoughts. Of course, neither of them were about to say anything in the middle of the common room. James looked back to Remus, and then to Peter, and did not like the feeling of sitting there doing nothing while two of his friends were unhappy. Maybe it was because he was feeling quite happy these days himself, after moving past the candlestick failure, and with Lily as his girlfriend. There had to be some way he could cheer them up.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” he said, putting his books and notes down in an untidy stack.

“Where are you going?” Sirius asked.

“I’m going to go drag Lily out of the library so she can help me with this,” James said.

“Oh, come on, we don’t need her help,” Sirius said. “And as if that’s why you’re going to find her, anyway.”

“I’ll be right back,” James said. He was getting the feeling lately that Sirius’ initial willingness to include Lily more was wearing away, and that he was getting slightly resentful about James being drawn away so frequently—but this time, it wasn’t for selfish reasons.

Though he was going to go get Lily, he was also going to go see Professor Dearborn and ask about boggarts. It was likely that if there was one around the castle, the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor would know—after all, it wasn’t as if Filch could take care of it himself. He was going to make all of his friends happy. He was going to help Peter with Potions (or Lily was, rather), take care of some of the planning for the O.W.L. tutoring for Remus, and as for Sirius...well, once Sirius had some sort of problem, he would help solve that, too.

He decided to go see Dearborn first, and headed for his office on the fourth floor. He met Peeves on his way, who delightedly followed after him, throwing insults, until they saw the Bloody Baron floating along the corridor towards them. He was able to walk the rest of the way in peace, and was about to knock on Dearborn’s office door when he heard Dumbledore’s unmistakable voice coming from within. The door was just slightly ajar.

James knew that he ought not to push things by invading Dearborn’s privacy any further, but during their pseudo-detentions over the past few weeks, he had noticed that the professor had an unusual number of meetings with Dumbledore. He had never asked what they were about, but it had made him very curious, and he could not help himself from leaning closer to the door.

“I can’t say that I’m entirely comfortable with it, Caradoc,” he heard Dumbledore saying.

“What other choices do we have?” Dearborn’s gravelly voice responded. “I don’t think we’re in a position to discriminate.”

“Be that as it may, I don’t want to have to convince anyone, especially given the circumstances.”

“Give me the chance to introduce the idea, at least.”

There was a lengthy pause following Dearborn’s statement.

“If you think it’s wise. I should return to my office; I’m expecting an owl from the Minister,” Dumbledore said.

James knocked on the door quickly so Dumbledore would not walk out and see him eavesdropping. Less than a second later, he was face-to-face with the Headmaster himself.

“Ah, James,” he said, smiling. “It has been far too long since we last spoke. I’d grown used to seeing you in my office at least once a week.”

“Hello, Professor,” James replied. “Sorry if I’m interrupting—”

“No, no, not at all,” Dumbledore said. “I really was just leaving. Far be it from me to monopolize your professor’s time when exams are so near.”

He said good night and strode off towards his office, red robes billowing. James stepped inside Dearborn’s office. His eavesdropping had not really been worth it—whatever Dearborn and Dumbledore had been discussing, he had clearly missed the most informative parts. What he had heard was fairly incomprehensible.

“What can I do for you, Potter?” Dearborn asked, seated behind his desk.

“I was hoping you might know where I could find a boggart,” James explained.

“Depends on why you want to know,” Dearborn said. “Going to terrify some Slytherins?”

James’ ears felt hot, but he managed a grin nonetheless. “Actually, it’s to help some fifth years practice for their O.W.L.s.”

Dearborn almost looked impressed. “Well. In that case, I think I remember someone mentioning that there was one hiding out in one of the rooms in the Charms corridor.”

That had been much simpler than James had expected.

“Great. Thanks,” he said. “We’ll get rid of it after we’re done practicing.”

“That’s a commendable thing you’re doing, you know,” Dearborn said. “It shows real dedication, especially as you’ve got your own problems to worry about.”

“It’s a good reminder for us, too,” James said, assuming he meant exams. “We get to practice and revise all the stuff they do.”

“Oh, I have no doubt you’ll do well on exams,” Dearborn said. He paused, and James could not understand why he looked uncertain. “I really meant—I heard your father isn’t well.”

James suddenly had a very hollow sensation in his stomach. He never would have expected the conversation to go in this direction.

“Er—well, it’s nothing serious,” James stammered, hating that he was repeating his mother’s words, words he knew were untrue.

“No?”

“No, I’m sure everything will be fine,” James replied. “How exactly—”

“I’m sorry, I should have explained,” Dearborn interrupted. “Dumbledore told me he had spoken with your mother.”

James was feeling very disoriented and confused. “I—er—I didn’t know they were in contact.”

“Your parents are fine people,” Dearborn said. “I know they were some of Dumbledore’s favourite students.”

“You didn’t know them at school, did you?” James asked.

“No,” Dearborn said, “but when I started out in the Ministry, your father was very kind to me. He was very high up in the department, and everyone liked him.”

“He mentioned that you worked together,” James said, and hesitated for a moment. “Have you stayed in touch with him?”

“We’ve corresponded from time to time,” Dearborn replied smoothly, but James’ curiosity was piqued too high at this point.

“I think I remember my parents mentioning you last summer...it seemed like you’d been in contact with them.”

“I wrote to them to let your father know that I’d be teaching at Hogwarts. In fact, I wrote to most of my old acquaintances, because I’d been abroad for some time previous,” Dearborn explained.

“I see,” James said. Dearborn looked at him with a wry smile.

“You know, Potter, sometimes we look for conspiracies in the wrong places,” he said. “Your father’s an old colleague, and I was very sorry to hear that he had taken ill. That’s the truth.”

James still was not quite sure if he believed him, but he did feel a little chagrined. He knew it was time to stop asking questions and thanked Dearborn again before setting off for the library.

As he walked, he could feel his thoughts swirling around. When he put together what he had just learned and what he had heard from his parents over the holidays, a few things started to make sense. By the time he reached the library doors, he had something coherent in his head, or at least something that felt coherent. Now all he wanted to do was explain it to someone and see if it was equally lucid outside his own head. The first person that occurred to him was Sirius, for he had been there over the holidays and already knew part of the story.

He made a quick decision to double back to Gryffindor Tower without looking for Lily, but she was already there when he walked through the portrait hole anyway.

“Hi there,” she said happily, walking over to him. “I was just asking where you’d gotten to.”

“I was looking for you,” he replied.

“Yes, that’s what Sirius said. We must have missed each other.”

He lowered his voice. “I was actually going to ask if you wouldn’t mind helping Peter with Potions. He’s having some trouble.”

“Oh...sure,” she said, looking a little surprised. “I’d love to.”

James didn’t really know how much luck she was going to have—Peter was still fairly shy around anything female, including Lily, but it at least provided a slight distraction that gave him the chance to talk to Sirius.

“I just heard some third years saying that they’d covered your bed in Bubotuber pus,” he told Sirius. It wasn’t true, of course, but it was a good way of inconspicuously drawing him away from the common room.

“Those bloody twits,” Sirius grumbled, getting up from his chair. James followed him up the spiral staircase. Sirius took one look at his bed and turned around, confused. “What’s going on?”

“I just overheard Dumbledore and Dearborn talking,” James said. “Remember what I heard my parents saying over Christmas?”

He then explained it all, and was not exactly encouraged when Sirius still had a look of consternation on his face by the end.

“I don’t really see how this is any different from what you already knew,” Sirius said. “I mean, apart from Dearborn being connected to this secret group you think Dumbledore has.”

“Well...” James thought about it. Surely there was something more to it, or else he wouldn’t have felt like he had made some great discovery. “I mean...it kind of all fits together now, doesn’t it? They’ve both been talking to my parents, and it’s obviously got something to do with however Dumbledore’s fighting Voldemort.”

Sirius seemed to consider this. “All right, I’ll give you that. It makes sense, at least. But...so what?”

“I’ve been trying to figure this out for ages,” James replied.

“Okay, so what are you going to do now? Are you going to ask him about it? Or your parents?” Sirius persisted.

“I don’t know,” James said.

“Listen, whatever you want to do, I’m all for it,” Sirius said. “Like I said at Christmas, we’re Padfoot and Prongs. You’re unfortunately a bit stuck with me. And you know you can’t get rid of Moony or Wormtail, either.”

James laughed. “I’m not planning to ‘get rid’ of any of you.”

Sirius lounged himself back on his bed. “You arse, making me think I was going to have to sleep in Bubotuber pus.”

“Had to be done,” James said, shrugging. After a pause, he said, “I think I’ll have to let you know. About what I want to do, I mean.”

“Fair enough,” Sirius said. “Anyway, I suppose you’d better get back downstairs to your girlfriend.”

“I think I’ll hide out here for a bit,” James said. “She’ll be busy for a while, I expect.”

Sirius grinned. “You’re probably right.”

James felt that his hopes of cheering his friends had worked out better than he had expected.




Chapter 26: Defensive, Offensive
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Chapter Twenty-Six
Defensive, Offensive



There was something sinister settling in over the castle. Despite the nice weather, James could feel it as he went from class to class, as he sat in the common room, as he went to Quidditch practice—like something following him around, making him look over his shoulder for fear that it was going to creep up without him realizing. He was not the only one, either. Other students looked anxious, and sometimes downright panicked. Everyone knew that, before long, there was going to be no place and no more time to hide.

Fear of exams had finally set in.

It was around this time of year, particularly before O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s, that people revealed some of their worst and most bizarre traits. Some people dissolved into general despair; others became so irritable that they lashed out if someone sat too close to them. Some pretended as if nothing was wrong with a strangely manic glint in their eyes, others hardly slept at all at night and instead spent entire classes asleep on their desk (which, in turn, led them to panic about missing the material covered, which meant more sleepless nights).

Though James was certainly concerned about N.E.W.T.s, he really was much more focused on his final Quidditch game. He knew he was going to regret that preoccupation, since the match was not until the last Saturday of May, which would not give him much time afterward to prepare for the five most important exams of his school career—but practicing and formulating plays was a very good way to put off studying. And he desperately wanted to win the Quidditch Cup. In fact, he couldn’t say whether he would be more disappointed to lose the match or to fail all his N.E.W.T.s.

At some point, he realized he might run into some problems on the day of the Quidditch final, for it was to fall on the same day as full moon. If Gryffindor won, there was likely to be a party going late into the night, which would make his absence as Quidditch captain highly conspicuous. There was no question that he was going to have to be absent—as responsible as he felt toward the team, it could never outweigh his loyalty to his friends. He just wasn’t sure how he was going to slip away without anyone noticing, especially Lily. In fact, he didn’t really care much if other people thought his disappearance was strange, but since Lily already knew about Remus’ situation, there was more than a small chance that she might end up with some curious questions.

Before he could give much thought on how to avoid this problem, a solution materialized in the form of Lily climbing through the portrait hole

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I was actually coming to see if you knew,” she said, holding it up and surveying it from different angles. “Someone was trying to sell it to a fifth-year, and I suppose it’s to help them with O.W.L.s.”

“That really looks helpful,” James said sarcastically.

“I’ll bring it to Filch later,” she said, sitting down in an armchair. Before James could make another move, her eyes darted to the parchment in front of him, which he had been using to draw out Quidditch plays. “What are you doing?”

“Er—just some Quidditch stuff,” he said. Lily raised her eyebrow.

“You have to stop worrying about that,” she said. “There are other things going on.”

“It’s important to me.”

“I know it is. But whether you win or lose, it’s not going to come back to bite you when you’re trying to get a job.”

James didn’t really think that Lily understood, but he tried to smile patiently.

“I’ll study later,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

“Oh—by the way, what day is the match again?” Lily asked.

“The twenty-fifth,” James replied promptly, and Lily’s expression turned mildly distressed. “What’s wrong?”

“Well, that’s the same day that Anna’s sister is getting married,” Lily said, biting her lip, “and I told her ages ago that I’d go.”

“You should, then,” James said, feeling that this was the right thing to say.

“But I really want to see you play,” Lily said.

“It’s not a big deal,” James said. Of course, he thought it was a big deal, but Lily had never been a big Quidditch fan. She looked at him doubtfully.

“Yes, it is,” she said. “I can’t miss your last Quidditch game.”

James could not help himself from breaking into a grin. “I don’t want you to miss it, either. I just don’t think you have much of a choice.”

Lily sat in silent thought for a moment. “Well, maybe I can go late. I can stay for as much of the match as I can, and then go.”

It occurred to James that this might be the solution to his full moon dilemma. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to tell Lily about being an Animagus ever, he just wanted to tell her at a time where she wouldn’t try to convince him out of sneaking out to join Remus.

“I wish you were going, too,” she said wistfully. James shrugged. “I mean, I know you can’t, because of Quidditch...”

“Well, I wasn’t invited,” James replied. “You’ll have a better time without me there, anyway.”

“Don’t think so,” Lily said, which, it had to be said, gave him a bit of an ego boost.

With that small difficulty resolved, time pressed on towards the Quidditch match and exams. In the third week of May, James and Remus had to fulfill their commitment to helping fifth-year students with their Defence Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. They had not been able (and had not really wanted) to convince Sirius and Peter to stay behind, so all four of them made their way to an empty classroom in the Charms corridor after dinner on a Thursday evening.

“Whoa,” Peter said as they entered the room. What must have been the entire fifth year was sitting and standing in the room.

James had not expected so many people to show up, and suddenly felt unprepared. He looked over at Remus, who appeared to be equally surprised.

“Er—so—where do you think we should start?” James muttered. Some of the fifth-years had noticed them and were staring expectantly.

Remus opened his mouth, but it took a few moments before he spoke. “The Boggart, you think?”

James nodded—it was really the only thing they had properly prepared in advance. He wasn’t sure how they were going to demonstrate, though. Remus, whose Boggart turned into a full moon, did not want to risk suspicion, and James felt equally uncomfortable about doing it himself. On the one encounter he had had with a Boggart, it had not been an experience he would have preferred to have in front of a group of people.

By this time, everyone had quieted down and was waiting for some kind of direction. Sirius and Peter had gone to sit on one of the wide windowsills at the back of the room. James cleared his throat.

“Er, thanks for coming, everyone,” he said. “So, we’re just going to go over some of the stuff that’s likely to be on your Defence exam. Oh, and for everyone who doesn’t know, I’m James, and this is Remus.” He paused. “Right, so, we’re going to start by getting rid of the Boggart that’s in the cupboard over there—anyone want to volunteer?”

No one seemed overly willing, but eventually a Ravenclaw boy with very thick glasses offered to start. James explained how to tackle the Boggart, and got Sirius to open the cabinet. A few moments later, a pale-faced and menacing vampire stood before them. More than a few people took steps backward.

Ridikkulus!” the Ravenclaw boy said, but for all his confidence, nothing happened to the vampire. “Ridikkulus!”

James looked over at Remus, who did not seem to want to step forward any more than he did. The gap between the boy and the Boggart was closing fast, though, and James tugged his arm back.

“Someone else,” he said, as the vampire stopped, confused as to what form to take in the face of such a large group of people. Another boy stepped forward, this time a Slytherin—although James thought it was probably because his friends had shoved him to the front—and the entire room went dark, shrieks echoing off the walls.

James tried to shout at people to calm down and not move, but suddenly fireworks were shooting around the room, and he breathed a sigh of relief—even more so when the boy stepped back and the light returned.

Things went smoother after that. It took quite a while to get through a group of about forty people, some of whom had trouble performing the spell properly, but they did, and everyone’s enthusiasm seemed to be running quite high.

“Good job, everyone,” James said, once the Boggart had been permanently destroyed. “Let’s move on to Disarming, shall we?”

Peter and Sirius had apparently decided that their role was to demonstrate everything, which James didn’t really mind—it was easier to explain and instruct when you weren’t also trying to perform spells.

“The most important thing to remember when you’re Disarming is the wand movement,” he said, and waited for Remus to add in his suggestions.

“You should also—”

There was a loud thud from behind them, and they turned around to see Sirius Stunned on the floor.

“Pete,” James said, while everyone was laughing, “you weren’t supposed to do it yet.”

“You paused,” Peter said. “I thought you were pausing because you wanted me to do it!”

“This is important too, though,” Remus said to the crowd of fifth-years, in an attempt to save face. “You should know how to revive people who have been Stunned.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” James agreed. “Does anyone know the incantation?” When no one offered an answer, he changed tack. “Someone come up here, and we’ll teach you.”

It took a few tries for the blushing girl who volunteered to properly revive Sirius, who looked very eager to get revenge on Peter.

“Right, so, back to Disarming,” James said. “It’s a bit like a Shield Charm—actually, better, if you can time it right.”

“Now, Peter’s going to try to jinx Sirius,” Remus said. He seemed to be instructing the two of them more than any of the fifth-years, and Sirius looked disappointed that their roles were not reversed. “Sirius will try to Disarm him, and watch how he does it.”

Peter hesitated for a moment before raising his wand—but that was all he got the chance to do, and Sirius Disarmed him with such force that he flew backward several feet.

“Right,” James said, turning to the group, “well, you won’t be expected to do it exactly like that. As long as you can get rid of their wand, that’s really good.”

“Why don’t you all get in pairs and practice?” Remus suggested. As all the fifth-years followed his instructions, James turned to talk to his friends.

“Sorry about that, Pete,” Sirius said, though he did not look particularly remorseful.

“S’all right,” Peter replied. “I did Stun you, after all.”

“I wasn’t even ready,” Sirius said, clearly a little irritated.

“All right, you two are even now,” Remus said. “Let’s not demonstrate to them how to kill each other.”

The rest of the time, everyone basically remained in pairs or small groups, which gave them the chance to practice not only defensive but also offensive spells. There were some truly abysmal attempts at Disarming, and later, at Shield Charms. Beyond the obvious disadvantage it was going to put them at for their exams, James could not help feeling like walking around without being able to perform basic defence spells was asking to be attacked. He started to feel responsible for helping every single one of them, and frustrated when there was no improvement. He spent at least ten minutes helping a burly boy with blonde hair perform a Shield Charm, and realized when he was looked up that the two hours was over.

“All right, everyone,” Remus called. “Time’s up.”

There was a chorus of protestations, and James shared the sentiment. He felt like there had not been enough time, and there were a half-dozen other things they could have spent time going over. It was getting late, but despite that, no one left quickly—it was only a half-hour later that the last of the group departed.

“That went well,” Remus said. James thought that he looked more cheerful and confident than he had ever seen him before. “Don’t you think so?”

They discussed the finer points of the past few hours as they walked back to Gryffindor Tower, and James felt excited about practicing for his own Defence exam. It was this exhilarating feeling that made him think that being an Auror was what he wanted to do.

What he really wanted, though, was to find out more about this mysterious organization that had Dumbledore at its head. His conversations with Dearborn had renewed his curiosity, but he was not sure how to go about figuring out more details. Everything he knew so far had come from overheard conversations, and asking either of his professors would entail explaining his eavesdropping—and, when it came to Dearborn, he really didn’t want to confess to more sneaking around and privacy invading.

The more it fermented in his mind, the more he felt that, whatever it was that Dumbledore was doing, he wanted to be a part of it. Dumbledore was the greatest wizard on earth, and the past had shown that Voldemort was not going to be quick to target him—the same could not be said for the Aurors. It was not that James was afraid of being at the center of things; he simply thought that whatever Dumbledore was doing was likely to be much more successful.

He didn’t know, of course, if Dumbledore’s organization was linked to the Aurors, and for that reason he started to feel a newfound determination to do well on his N.E.W.T.s. It was going to take high marks in all of his exams to give him the opportunity to become an Auror—and, as it stood, it was the only opportunity he really wanted to have.



..........




Lily’s experience in the past with people from Slytherin had been decidedly bad, which was why she was not looking forward to tutoring fifth years alongside Diana Greengrass. She was prepared for it to be an uncomfortable two hours, but found herself pleasantly surprised when she finally came face-to-face with Diana, a tall, skinny girl with dirty blonde hair and a spattering of freckles across her face. Though she was very quiet and not exactly friendly, she was not openly rude to Lily or any of the younger students.

Sometime in the course of helping the fifth years in the dungeons, Lily fully realized what a good idea it had been on James’ part. She wished someone had thought to do this when she was on the brink of taking her O.W.L.s. After hearing all the mishaps that had happened with James and Remus, Lily felt like her two hours in the dungeons were fairly tame. Of course, the ingredients needed for any of the advanced potions they might have to make during their exam were expensive, so they were not able to make anything. She felt a little like she was boring them all, but hoped that some of the suggestions she made would help them. They were very picky little things—how to set up your supplies so you could use them quickest, or ways to make common steps faster—but then, Potions was very particular in itself.

Diana only seemed to speak when someone else spoke to her, but when everyone was leaving at the end, she actually struck up a conversation with Lily.

“You’re going out with James Potter, right?” Diana asked. Lily would have thought that after a month (and it had indeed been over a month by now), people would have stopped asking her this question.

“Yes,” Lily said, thinking that maybe she had been wrong, and she was about to get a repeat of what some of the other girls from Slytherin had said to her.

All Diana did was nod. She spoke so quietly, almost like she was afraid of being overheard.

“Was it you who turned Astrid Nott’s hair green?”

“No, that was my friend, actually,” Lily replied.

“Well, tell her good job,” Diana said, with a faint smile. Lily could not have been more surprised.

“Really?”

Diana nodded again. “Astrid and her friends are horrid. No one in my year likes them.”

This was an interesting revelation for Lily, and she was forcibly reminded of something she had once believed in very strongly—that Slytherins were not all the same, that she could very easily be friends with some of them. After the way things had worked out between her and Snape, and the event of the past few months, she had almost completely lost sight of that.

“She actually made fun of me, too, because my cousin’s a Potter,” Diana said. Lily felt her eyebrows shoot up.

“What? I didn’t know that.”

“Well, she’s married to—erm—I think James’ second cousin,” Diana said, looking a little embarrassed, as if she felt she had shared too much. “I’ve never met James’ family, anyway. I just know my cousin Demetra has the same last name.”

Lily tried to think back to James’ explanation of his family, but she did not remember him mentioning anything about any Greengrasses. Diana folded her arms across her chest.

“Anyway, erm, good luck on your N.E.W.T.s,” she said.

“Thanks,” Lily said. She knew she would probably never get the chance to know Diana very well, and wished there was some way she could tell her how nice she seemed, or how she shouldn’t let other girls in her year bother her. “And thanks so much for offering to help out, Diana. It was really nice of you.”

Diana smiled in response and left the dungeon, heading off towards the Slytherins’ common room. Lily followed her after tidying a few last things, and her heart lifted when she saw James, looking very handsome while he leaned against the stone wall outside the classroom door with his hands in his pockets.

“I didn’t expect you to be here,” she said, embracing him and smiling like a fool.

“I thought I’d surprise you,” he replied. “How was it?”

“It was...really good, actually,” Lily said. “Well, not as interesting as yours, but still good. I have to hand it to you, this was a brilliant idea.”

“Yeah,” James said, “you know, that just sort of happens when you’re a genius.”

She shoved him slightly, but still took his hand as they started to walk back to Gryffindor Tower.

“So, the girl I was working with—Diana—she was really nice,” Lily said. “I was expecting her to be terrible.”

“That is surprising,” James remarked. “I thought hating all Gryffindors was a prerequisite for being in Slytherin.”

“Well, she didn’t seem to,” Lily said, “and what’s more, she said that you two are somehow related.”

James frowned in confusion, but understanding dawned on his face after a few moments.

“Oh, right,” he said. “I never made the connection.”

“You don’t sound very enthused,” Lily said. James merely shrugged.

“I’m probably somehow related to half the people in Slytherin,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate condition.”

“Some people in Slytherin are nice, you know,” Lily said.

“Yes, and some of them aren’t,” James replied. His stubbornness was getting her irritated.

“So you just write them all off, then?” she asked. “You haven’t exactly been nice to any of them.”

James sighed exasperatedly. “You’re not on this kick again, are you?”

“It’s not a kick,” Lily snapped. “Just because I can actually empathize with other people doesn’t make me an idiot.”

“I never said you were an idiot.”

“You implied it.”

“Lily, you’re one of the smartest people I know,” James said. “I wouldn’t say or imply that you were an idiot.”

But...?” Lily said, for she could hear his mind saying it.

“I just can’t completely understand why you defend some people. I never have,” he said. He did not appear to be angry or even frustrated, which only bothered Lily more.

“Because they’re people, James, and—”

“I know that.”

“Obviously, you don’t! Otherwise you would understand why I defend people, and you wouldn’t be so mean to them!”

James sighed again. “I do know, Lily. All I meant is that, after the way you’ve been treated, it’s fairly remarkable that you still have any faith in anyone from Slytherin.”

It almost sounded like a compliment, which made her fall silent for a minute, trying to work out what he was trying to say.

“I do have a heart, you know,” he said, sounding slightly defensive.

Lily could not help feeling guilty at this, and was only able to hold out a minute before she broke the silence. She put her hand in his and momentarily pressed her head his shoulder.

“I know you have a heart,” she said quietly. She felt him squeeze her slightly, his arm around her shoulder. He stopped and looked at her quite seriously.

“I really do get it, you know,” he said. “I mean, I’m not going to be best mates with any of the Slytherins, but I think I’ve learned not to judge them so harshly.”

Lily smiled at him reassuringly. “Well, I’m glad. And I think you’re wonderful, anyway.” There was slight pause. “Is everything all right? You’ve seemed a little...down lately.”

“I don’t know,” he said. Lily could tell from his expression that there was something wrong.

“You can tell me, whatever it is,” she said.

“I just—thinking about my family doesn’t put me in a good mood,” he mumbled.

“Why not?” Lily asked. It had always seemed to her that James’ parents were quite nice people, or at least that was the way he and Sirius spoke of them.

“My...my dad’s been kind of sick for a while,” he explained, his cheeks high with colour. “It just bothers me to think about it.”

“Oh,” she said, wishing she could think of the right thing to say, “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

“It’s okay,” he said, shrugging. “It’s not really a big deal, or anything.”

“James, don’t say that. If it’s upsetting you, then it is a big deal.”

He simply shrugged again.

“We don’t have to talk about it right now, if you don’t want to,” she said, drawing him into a hug, “but we can, if you do. Whenever you do.”

He embraced her tightly, and seemed slightly cheered when she looked at him next.

He cleared his throat. “So, tell me—did anyone blow up their cauldron?”

Lily smiled, willing to move on to another subject if that was what he preferred. She said the password to the Fat Lady and told him more about her evening with the fifth-years answer until they came upon a very unpleasant scene: Anna seemed to be in some sort of argument with Sirius, towering over the back of his chair. He was glaring at her with disgust, Remus and Peter sitting near him.

“What’s going on?” she asked, and James shrugged. The two of them walked over to their friends, just in time for Lily to hear Anna something about it being his fault.

“This is none of your business,” Sirius shot back.

“What’s wrong?” James asked, sitting down with his friends. Sirius turned as if Anna no longer existed.

“She’s mental,” he said. Anna looked livid and about ready to draw her wand.

“Anna, let’s go upstairs,” Lily said.

“You go ahead,” Anna said, folding her arms across her chest. “I still haven’t had my question answered.”

“There’s nothing to say,” Sirius said. “How many times do we have to tell you that?”

Anna,” Lily said. “Let’s go.”

She did not know what it was that made her friend listen, but for some reason she turned on her heel, leaving Lily to follow her to the spiral staircase. She cast an apologetic look back at James, who smiled at her comfortingly.

Anna stopped in the middle of the staircase, and Lily almost crashed into her.

“All right—what is going on?” she asked.

“I’m trying to find out what’s wrong with Mary,” Anna said.

“So you’re interrogating Sirius?”

“No! I was trying to ask Remus, and of course Sirius jumped all over me,” Anna spat.

Lily sighed, feeling guilty. “I don’t think Remus has anything to do with it.” Anna laughed derisively. “No, I mean it. They haven’t even spoken to each other in ages.”

“That’s not true,” Anna said. “Mary has a half-dozen little notes written to her from him stuck in her Charms book, asking her why she’s mad at him, why she doesn’t want to talk to him anymore—”

What?” Lily asked, bewildered. “When did you find out about this?”

“Yesterday,” Anna said. “She let me borrow her book and I guess she forgot to take them out. I said something to her about it, and she was furious with me—she started saying things about me betraying her trust and not being her real friend.”

“Are—are you sure they weren’t from a long time ago?”

“Wouldn’t she have just said so, if they were?” Anna asked.

Lily was still reeling slightly—this made no sense, and completely contradicted all the impressions that Mary had been giving her for the past few weeks.

“He’s jerking her around like he did before—”

“No,” Lily interrupted. “I don’t think it’s him. Or—I don’t know.”

Anna sighed angrily. “Well, you’re going to have to ask Mary yourself, because I don’t know if she’ll speak to me for a while.”

“Is she upstairs?”

“No. She stormed off about twenty minutes ago.”

Lily knew she could have explained to Anna what was really bothering Mary, but she wasn’t even sure if was true anymore. She did not think anything would come of interrogating Remus, but she couldn’t say that she didn’t sympathize with Anna’s confusion and frustration. This had all turned out to be such a mess that she wished she could just walk away from it all. Now that she had such a strong and honest relationship with James, everything seemed unnecessarily difficult with her friends. She now wished that she had never agreed to go to Anna’s sister’s wedding, because it was setting up to be a very uncomfortable weekend.



Chapter 27: The Last Saturday In May
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Chapter Twenty-Seven
The Last Saturday In May




James did not sleep very well on the night before the Quidditch final. Lily had told him not to worry, his friends had told him not to worry, he was even telling himself not to worry, but worry he still did as he tried to fall asleep. If they lost the next day, it was his fault—he was the captain, after all. He could not be sure that he had coached the team well enough: if he had managed to get across to Ursula the importance of teamwork, or if Gareth was going to end up stumbling because of an inflated ego. Or perhaps he had been too hard on Gareth and stripped him of the level of confidence he needed to play. And now that he thought of it, he really should have spent more time than he did training Devika and Oliver on that feigning technique he had read about in The Beaters’ Bible.

Those and a thousand other concerns bothered him until he finally slipped into sleep sometime past midnight, and even then he had strange dreams concerning Quidditch—the match had been postponed until after dinner, and Madam Hooch was asking him how to make the Quaffle, Bludgers, and Snitch glow so the players could see them, and for some reason Lily was playing Seeker for Gryffindor...

He woke up abruptly and early, getting ready while Peter, Sirius, and Remus were still fast asleep. Once he was dressed, he didn’t quite know what to do with himself. It was not even eight o’clock, and no one else would be awake at this hour on a Saturday. He decided that this was probably a good thing, though, because it meant that he could go have breakfast in relative peace.

The time between eating in the Great Hall and arriving at the Quidditch pitch was a blur. A few things stood out, like sitting with his friends at breakfast, Lily wishing him good luck, and walking into the change rooms, but the rest was fuzzy and seemed to have gone by impossibly fast. Before he knew it, the sounds of the crowd were ringing around the walls of the team room, which meant that there was little time left before the start of the match.

“Everyone ready?” he asked his team mates, who looked back at him with mingled expressions of nervousness and resignation. Gareth actually looked a little white-faced—his confidence seemed to have plummeted in the face of his first final.

Everyone picked up their brooms rather nervously, but no one made any hurried moves to head outside.

“All right, everyone just take a minute to calm down,” he said, trying to smile confidently. “You’ve all played Quidditch before, and the worst that happens is we lose. Right?”

No one looked very comforted.

“Hey,” James said, a little indignantly, “you’re not giving yourselves enough credit. Every person on this team is brilliant at what they do, and we can win this.”

He received a few rather nervous nods in response, but there wasn’t time for any further motivation—from the sound of the crowd’s chants, it was time to head out to the pitch.

James shouldered his Nimbus and walked out behind the rest of the team, feeling a strange buzzing sensation of nervous energy running through his limbs. He tried to stretch out his right hand a few times, but it still felt rubbery and uncoordinated.

He squinted under the bright sunlight, feeling very small in comparison to the towering stands. Waiting on the ground to take off was always his least favourite part of the match—once in the air and at the same level as the crowds, the feeling of insignificance lessened considerably. Before that, he felt like an insect under a magnifying glass.

While the rest of the team got into position, James went straight to the center of the pitch and shook hands with Germaine, the Ravenclaw captain, whose jaw was set like cement. He seemed to be trying to give James the ugliest look he could muster, and James was seized by an unexpected urge to laugh. Madam Hooch stood between them, ready with her whistle.

“Mount your brooms!”

James did so, resolving to release every bit of his energy into the kickoff. He waited with every muscle tensed until the whistle shrieked and the Quaffle flew up into the air in a flash of red. James flew straight for it, drawing it into his grasp and narrowly evading collision with one of the Ravenclaw Chasers.

He did not manage to keep possession of the Quaffle for long, however, as he was quickly double-teamed by two of the blue-clad Chasers, and he lobbed the ball as hard as he could towards Alison. He did not get to see whether she caught it, because he had to duck a Bludger that had been aimed at his head.

Just as he had expected, Ravenclaw was putting up an excellent fight. Every play was intense and furious, and James had never seen his team play so skilfully before. They were all on form, and could have easily won if the Ravenclaws had not also been so good.

After a few minutes of racing around the pitch, James was passed the Quaffle at midfield, and he swept off for the goalposts. He felt, rather than saw, one of the Ravenclaws draw up beside him and start driving him first sideways and then down. He knew he was going to crash into the ground in a matter of seconds, an assumption reinforced by the gasps of the crowd. He was not going to be able to pull up, and swerving sideways would only take him closer to the hard soil below—he was prepared for a very ugly end to the play.

There was a thud and strangled noise from behind him, and his pursuer fell away. James gained altitude without hesitation, not looking back for a moment to see what had happened, finally throwing the Quaffle as hard as he could at the left goalpost.

The Keeper lunged and missed by a foot, causing cheers to explode around him. He looped around enthusiastically, already waiting to dive into the next play.

Gryffindor managed to keep a lead of about thirty points as the score ratcheted up, goal by goal. The game felt even, and though James knew his team was good, it seemed the outcome could go either way. Gryffindor would score, and minutes later Ravenclaw would—then they might score again, and Gryffindor would take the next one.

It was frustrating. At least they were winning, but if Leona Ackerley, the Ravenclaw Seeker, were to catch the Snitch, Gryffindor would lose by at least a hundred points. Ideally, James wanted to get ahead by as much as they could.

He dove underneath an oncoming Bludger, keeping level with Ursula, who was driving toward the goalposts with the Quaffle, and Alison, who was on her other side. James could see Quentin Quirke, one of the Ravenclaw Chasers, slowly gaining on Ursula, and so he called out for her to pass.

There was something going on with the Seekers—James could tell from the cheers and the few words of commentary that reached him that a catch of the Snitch might be looming, and he felt a stab of panic. He called out again.

Quirke took advantage of the rest of the stadium’s distraction to grab the back of Ursula’s broom, slowing her down and pulling himself forward. James swore, frustrated that Ursula was obviously back to ignoring her team mates—but it seemed he had spoken to soon, for a second later, Ursula took one look backwards and threw the Quaffle to him, before kicking Quirke rather swiftly in the chest and causing him to fly backwards.

Everyone seemed to realize that Gryffindor was about to score—for the Ravenclaw Keeper, it was a split-second too late. The Quaffle ricocheted off the inner edge of the hoop and fell straight through it. James turned around to find out what had happened with the Snitch, and was relieved to see that it had not yet been caught—although apparently Gareth and Leona had both gone flying into the stands in their attempt to do so.

It was now one hundred and ten for Gryffindor and seventy for Ravenclaw, and suddenly the other team started to play almost exclusively on the offensive. Their attempts to block the Gryffindors from scoring were pitiful in comparison to the effort they were putting into scoring their own goals. Contrary to those efforts, though, they now started trailing further and further behind the Gryffindors.

The cheering from the Ravenclaw side became slightly discouraged, and James could tell that their team was getting flustered and disorganized. It was not long before Gryffindor was, as James had hoped, close to gaining the hundred-and-sixty point lead that would secure them the win.

Ravenclaw called a time-out on the next play, and James descended to the side of the pitch with his six red-and-gold clad team mates. He noticed that Gareth was walking bow-legged and seemed to be in some sort of pain.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I think something’s wrong with my broom,” Gareth replied. “It’s killing me to sit on it.”

A few of the girls on the team giggled surreptitiously. James couldn't say that he found the predicament very funny, if he imagined himself in the situation.

“The Cushioning Charm must have broken,” he said, “maybe when you crashed into the stands. It happens more often as the broom gets older.”

James wondered as he re-cast the charm how long they had been playing—it had been such an adrenaline-filled match so far that it might have been twenty minutes or two hours. He never wore a watch to matches, but thought that by where the sun was in the sky that it might be about...well, actually, he had no idea. He only cared because he knew Lily was going to be leaving at around four, and he really did want to see her after the match. He supposed he could have just looked up at the stands to see if she was there, but somehow the thought of it made him feel foolish—like a child waving to his parents in the crowd.

He handed Gareth’s broom back to him and had a short consultation with the team about how to get just a few more goals ahead. Madam Hooch’s whistle sounded, and they all returned to the air.

It quickly became clear that Ravenclaw had strategized and regrouped in a major way during their time-out. Scoring on them had become virtually impossible, but it seemed like they hardly cared about increasing their own score. James knew that they were trying to keep Gryffindor from getting any further ahead, biding their time until their Seeker would hopefully catch the Snitch...

There were no Snitch sightings for a good length of time, and no goals, for that matter. Ravenclaw was holding them at a lead of one-hundred-and-fifty points, and now James saw his own team members making desperate plays that ended in them fumbling the Quaffle or missing the goal posts by a mile. It was only due to Seraphina’s capable goal-tending that Ravenclaw did not gain on them, and the match turned into a frustrated stalemate.

James realized now more than ever before how badly he wanted to win. This was his last year, his last chance to win the cup, and he did not want to end his Quidditch career at Hogwarts on a disappointing note. But at the same time, he did not know what to do, and that was in itself frustrating—he should know what to do, and he could see occasional looks of confusion and helplessness sent in his direction.

After a couple more thwarted scoring attempts, he called a time-out. He did not have a plan, but he knew that they needed a break. Everyone’s faces were winded and discouraged.

“What do we do?” Alison asked, her face red from exertion.

James could not immediately think of anything to say but, “We have to get another goal.” It was stating the obvious, and he could tell that everyone felt that way. “As long as we get ten more points and don’t let them score—”

“Oh, that’ll be easy,” Seraphina muttered.

“We can do it,” James continued, “and then it won’t matter if Ackerley gets the Snitch; we’ll still win.”

“So, how do we do that?” Ursula asked.

James could see the Ravenclaw team back on the pitch, and knew he had to speak quickly.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Time to make a plan,” Alison said pointedly. James shook his head to clear his thoughts.

“All right—Devika and Oliver, keep the Ravenclaws from getting near our end, if you can,” he said. “Alison, Ursula, and I will handle ourselves.”

The whistle sounded and they returned with a better sense of direction than before, or at least it seemed so from the way they were playing. James felt like they were much closer to scoring than before, but the Ravenclaw defence was still putting up a very good fight.

About ten minutes later, that all changed.

Quirke dropped the Quaffle a little past midfield and Alison swept it out from underneath him. James started flying up the field, and Alison passed it to him just before she was obstructed by the two other Chasers.

James felt a strange sense of déjà vu, because once again, he was streaking towards the goalposts when the crowds erupted, watching the Seekers go after the Snitch. Gareth and Leona were just a little ahead of him, and James felt a jolt in his stomach—the Snitch was fluttering in the air metres from them, and Leona was going to get to it first.

He knew if he could score first, Gryffindor would win. It was the only thought that filled his mind. Time seemed to have slowed down; he was noticing everything even though it was happening in a matter of seconds. He was almost there, nothing was in his way...

But he could see one of the Ravenclaw Beaters looping around, perhaps waiting to aim a Bludger at him, or to simply get in his way. He had only started thinking of how to get around him when he saw Gareth hesitating—instead of chasing full-tilt after the Snitch, he was looking at the Beater anxiously, and then back at James.

James was about to yell at him to keep going, but it was too late. Gareth veered off-course and the Beater had to dart upwards to avoid a collision; now James’ way was completely clear, and he raised the Quaffle, knowing that Leona was mere seconds away from catching the Snitch.

He realized too late that he had acted rashly. He should have flown just a few more feet, because the red ball was losing altitude, and was not going to make it into the hoop. The sounds of the Gryffindors’ cheers were already fading, and the Ravenclaw Keeper was barely even bothering to go after the Quaffle, so clear was it that he was not going to make the goal.

And then suddenly, what looked like a red-and-gold streak shot up from below—Ursula, who caught the Quaffle mid-descent and whipped it into the hoop. Less than a second later, Leona caught the Snitch.

James let out a yell of triumph so loud that it pained his throat, but it was completely drowned out by the celebrations around him. It was complete confusion all around—the Ravenclaws seemed to think that Leona had caught the Snitch first, and it took a moment or two for them to comprehend what had happened—Gryffindor had won, by only ten points.

He flew to the ground, which was already being flooded with celebrating Gryffindors. James was given the cup by Professor McGonagall, who looked like she was fighting back the urge to embrace him in congratulations. Everyone was hugging and laughing and jumping up and down, and James shoved Gareth good-naturedly.

“What were you doing, flying away from the Snitch?” he called over the noise. Gareth grinned sheepishly. “Now I’m going to have to tell everyone that you’re the reason we won!”

Sirius, Peter, and Remus appeared at his side moments later, clapping him on the back and cheering louder than anyone else. Remus looked on the verge of being sick, as tonight was the full moon, but he had insisted on coming to see the match nonetheless. Sirius was already yelling to everyone about a party in the common room, which was eliciting loud whoops.

Lily was there behind them, and the sight of her smiling face was the only thing that could have made James happier than he already was. He hugged her enthusiastically, lifting her feet off the ground a few inches.

“You won!” she said gleefully. James smiled and kissed her.

“You two are sickening,” Sirius’ voice said, and James broke away from Lily, who was smiling with rather flushed cheeks. “Wait until you’re alone!”

No jibe from Sirius, or anyone else, for that matter, could bother James at that moment. His team had just won the Cup, which meant that he would always be able to look back on his Quidditch career at Hogwarts with fondness and pride. And then there was Lily. For the most part, he had ceased to be in complete shock that she was his girlfriend, but it still jumped up on him from time to time—this happened to be one of those moments.

“How much time before you have to leave?” James asked her. She dug around in her pocket and pulled out his watch, which he had let her borrow before the match.

“Not long,” she said regretfully. “Probably enough time to go back up to the dormitory and change, but that’s all.”

James nodded, an amusing idea forming in his mind. “Want a ride up there?”

“We can just walk,” she said, looking a little uncertain.

“Are you scared of flying?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “No. I just don’t want to be part of you showing off for everyone.”

“What a good excuse,” James said, grinning.

She laughed. “Fine. Just to prove to you I’m not scared, though.”

Despite what she said, she did not exactly seem confident as she got on the broom behind him—she was certainly holding on to his waist rather painfully.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Sirius said.

“I’ll see you up at the castle,” James said.

“Oh, sure, just abandon us!”

“What, do you want to hang off the tail, or something?” James asked, laughing. “I could probably drag you along the ground.”

As he flew up to the castle, Lily kept completely quiet, apparently unwilling to let him show that she was the least bit afraid. It was only when he started gaining altitude that she said anything.

“What are you doing?” she said, her voice very high.

“Taking you up to Gryffindor Tower,” James replied.

“I thought you were going to drop me off at the front doors!” The higher they got, the more anxious she became. “James—oh no—oh bloody bugger—”

James laughed in shock; he had never heard Lily swear before.

“Stop laughing and pay attention to what you’re doing!” she shrieked.

When they finally reached the common room window, it was fortuitously open, and Lily climbed inside as quickly as she could, looking very relieved to be on solid ground again.

“Well, you proved me wrong,” he joked once they were both inside.

“I wasn’t expecting you to fly seven stories up!” she said, blushing. “If you’d warned me before—”

“I’m only teasing,” he said, kissing her on the forehead.

“You did that on purpose,” she said.

“Well, of course.”

“No, I mean that you did it because you were trying to remind me of all those times that you used to fly up to this window after practice, just to get everyone's attention,” Lily said.

“Actually, I didn’t,” James said, smiling, “but now that you mention it, it is kind of poignant. You’re wrong about one thing, though.”

“What’s that?” Lily asked, folding her arms across her chest.

“I only ever did that because I was hoping you’d be the one to come open the window for me.”

“And then whenever I did, you’d flip upside-down and practically kill yourself—”

“And you were so terrified that I might get hurt.”

“Well, I couldn’t have something like that on my conscience,” Lily said, but she was smiling very affectionately.

She went upstairs to change and came back down looking like a vision in sage-coloured dress robes. No one had made it up to Gryffindor Tower from the grounds yet, which allowed them to say quite a lengthy (and rather silent) goodbye. Well, silent for the most part, at least until they said their final goodbye and James lost complete control over his own speech.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Lily said, squeezing his hand.

“Have a nice time,” he told her.

“I’ll try,” she replied, and it was then that her lovely smile shot straight to his heart.

“I love you,” he said. His face felt hot enough to cook an egg on, and he was seized by a sudden urge to cower behind one of the couches. Why in Merlin’s name had he just said that? He was supposed to say it for the first time in a romantic, meaningful way, not when they were about to go off in separate directions.

Lily, for her part, was looking slightly surprised, but thankfully not terrified or displeased.

“I love you too,” she said, a smile forming. She squeezed his hand again. James couldn’t really tell whether she was saying it out of obligation or because she really meant it, but she did look fairly sincere—and besides that, how was he even supposed to know whether he really meant it or not?

It made their goodbye fairly awkward, especially since people had started climbing through the portrait hole. As soon as she had disappeared, Sirius, Remus, and Peter came through the portrait hole, ribbing him for his long face. He felt that something very significant had just happened to him, but it didn’t seem to right time to tell his friends.

“Girls,” Sirius said. “Only one of them could make someone who just won the Quidditch Cup look like Christmas was cancelled.”

“I’m fine,” James said brusquely. “What do you say we go to Honeydukes?”

“Should I go get the Cloak?” Peter asked.

“No,” James replied, grinning. “Let’s go without it. Bit of extra risk never hurt anyone.”

He thought he put on a fairly good show of being celebratory for the rest of the day. Remus went to the Hospital Wing early on, but it was not until the grounds had been dark for a few hours that James, Sirius, and Peter headed down to the Whomping Willow for what would be the last time. It felt very solemn, and everything else had happened that day was pushed out of his head as James realized that the end of Hogwarts really was near.



..........




Apparating into the trees outside the castle where the wedding was taking place after spending the past few hours at the Quidditch match was like being transported into an entirely different world, it seemed to Lily. She had never seen a more beautiful place than the environs of Westnor Castle in Herefordshire, which was sitting on the edge of a lake amongst lush trees.

Of course, she had been to this very spot earlier that morning—it had been necessary for Anna to take her by Side-Along Apparition, since Lily would not have known where to go otherwise. She could still see what a pretty place it was on the second visit, though.

It was slightly spoiled by the fact that there were two security wizards standing nearby, since this was the official Apparition point for wedding guests—a reminder of all the unpleasant reasons that there was a need to have people inspected before entering. Once her invitation had been examined and a Secrecy Sensor had been waved around her, she was allowed to pass and walk up to the turreted stone castle.

Lily had not been to many weddings before. She didn’t have any cousins, and her sister was not much older than herself, so the only weddings she had attended were those of her parents’ acquaintances when she was a small child. She did, however, know that most weddings were not on this scale, nor were they this picturesque.

It was all exceedingly refined—white linens on the tables, gilded ceilings, softly-burning candles and floral centerpieces, everyone dressed beautifully—but somehow, Lily felt like she would rather have been back with the mud and yelling at the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch.

She spotted Anna after a few moments of looking. Her friend was sitting at an otherwise deserted table near one of the walls of the room, looking bored and even a little miserable.

“Hi,” Lily said, sitting down in the chair next to Anna. “I’m so sorry I’m late.”

Anna looked up as if breaking out of a trance. “Oh, don’t worry. Did Gryffindor win?”

Lily nodded happily. “It was a brilliant match; I wish you and Mary could have been there.”

“I would have loved to have seen Ravenclaw lose,” Anna said bitterly.

“Where is Mary, anyway?”

Anna rolled her eyes. “She’s dancing with one of Aidan’s teammates. Typical.”

Lily could not see Mary on the dance floor, but figured that she must be enjoying herself immensely if she had been asked to dance by a professional Quidditch player.

“Well, the wedding looks like it’s going well,” Lily commented, which elicited another caustic look from Anna.

“Of course it is,” she said, taking a sip of a glass of water with a few mostly-melted ice cubes floating in it.

Lily sighed; she should have expected that Anna would be in a very bad mood today. It was even more disappointing than usual, though, because part of her was dying to tell someone about the fact that James had just told her that he loved her. In view of the circumstances, though, it didn’t seem like that would be a welcome topic of conversation, so instead she spent some time telling her all about the match, spending particular time on Ravenclaw’s bad moments, and after a little while Mary returned to the table.

“Hi, Lily!” she said happily, sitting down on Anna’s other side. “When did you get here?”

“Not too long ago,” Lily replied. “You look like you’re having fun.”

“Oh, it’s just so nice to get out of Hogwarts. I can’t wait to graduate,” Mary said.

Lily didn't share the sentiment, but Mary really looked carefree and radiant in a way that she had not for years. Perhaps it was because of her dance partner, but Lily had noticed that ever since Mary had set herself on working in Magical Law Enforcement, she had seemed much lighter and happier. Lily still hated the idea, personally, but it was getting harder to keep feeling that way when her friend seemed increasingly content and optimistic. That was the Mary she had first known, the Mary who she had always felt partially at fault for destroying, and the Mary that she was happy to see back.

“You should both come and dance,” Mary said earnestly. “It’s so much fun!”

“No thanks,” Anna grumbled.

Lily felt torn for a moment, looking between her two friends. Even though Anna was in a bad mood, Lily didn’t want to abandon her. Mary seemed to be having fun enough on her own, in any case.

“Maybe a bit later,” Lily said to Mary, who shrugged.

“Suit yourselves,” she said lightly. “Come join if you feel like it, though.”

With that, she flounced off onto the dance floor again, presumably looking for her former dancing partner.

“Slughorn’s here, by the way,” Anna said after a few moments.

“I thought he might be,” Lily said, smirking. “Isn’t the point of the weekend that we don’t have to see our teachers?”

Anna smiled weakly. “I thought the point of the school year was that I don’t have to see my family very often.”

“Yeah. And then there’s the classes, too, I suppose,” Lily said. Anna smiled a little more, and she seemed a little less downcast for the next couple of hours.

It wasn’t so bad with her in a better mood. Slughorn did indeed stop by their table to chat for a while, but seemed to be so overwhelmed with trying to mingle with every important person in the room that he did not stay long. Mary returned occasionally, and neither Anna nor Lily could resist dancing for a little while when a rock song called “Swish and Flick” came on—easily the most difficult song to not dance to.

A little while later, Desdemona and Aidan cut their cake, which was something of an architectural masterpiece. Lily really thought it was a shame that it had to be eaten rather than just sitting as a decoration. While everyone was taking pictures, Lily happened to glance over at Anna and did a double take when she saw that her friend was actually smiling rather fondly in her sister’s direction.

It didn’t take long for Anna to notice Lily, who was on the verge of laughter.

“Oh, shut it,” Anna said, but even she was laughing a little.

Once Lily tasted the cake, which really was made with Butterbeer, she didn’t think it was such a shame that it was being eaten—it was delicious. If The Three Broomsticks were to serve this, she thought, they would make a killing. (Though it might have been a good thing that they didn’t, since she probably would have gained an alarming amount of weight during the school year as a result.)

Everything was going so well, and Lily was having such a nice time, that she should have expected something would spoil it. Unfortunately, she didn’t see it coming, and, surprisingly, neither did Anna.

She was initially glad when Anna’s parents came by their table so she could thank them for inviting her, and even Anna seemed like she was not bothered by it. And really, Lily had always figured that Anna was exaggerating when she talked about how hard her parents were on her. Lily had met Anna’s family briefly at the beginnings and ends of past years at Platform 9 ¾. Her mother was a buxom woman with strawberry blonde hair and a loud laugh; her father, tall with thinning brown hair. To Lily, they had always seemed like nice people, but she realized that her assumption might have been wrong as soon as the pleasantries had been exchanged.

“Someone isn’t being a very good maid-of-honour,” Mrs Richards sing-songed, and Anna flushed just slightly.

“I stood up next to her when she was getting married, didn’t I?” she replied.

“Anna,” her father said sternly, clearly rebuking his daughter for her tone of voice. Lily then had a feeling that this was definitely heading somewhere bad.

Anna opened her mouth, but apparently thought better of it, and simply scowled and started fussing with her elaborate hairdo.

“Oh, Anna, leave it alone,” her mother said, swatting her hand away. “It took hours to get your hair looking nice.” She turned to Lily. “All my children ended up with my husband’s hair—every last one of them! I suppose it doesn’t matter for the boys, but my poor girls...of course, Dess has always cared more about her appearance—”

Mum,” Anna interrupted, but her mother shrugged and continued.

“You know it’s true, darling. There’s nothing wrong with it. Although, I would have thought that all that extra time you weren’t spending on your hair or makeup would have meant that you’d at least be made Head Girl.”

“Oh, yes, at the very least,” Anna hissed, “because that’s not really difficult.”

Lily wondered whether she ought to just hide underneath the table.

“Well, look at Lily—”

Too late.

“She’s a lovely girl who probably likes to look nice for the boys, but you don’t see her settling for second best,” Mrs Richards said.

Lily could not remember a time where she had ever felt more uncomfortable.

“Well, red hair is such—it’s such a bother, really,” Lily stammered, giggling like an idiot. “You can never blend in, and everyone assumes you have a terrible temper.”

“It would fit you perfectly then, Annie, wouldn’t it?” Anna’s father said, guffawing. Lily was a little worried that Anna was going to start throwing china across the room.

“Professor Slughorn was just telling us that he could introduce you to Robena Radford, the junior undersecretary to the minister,” Mrs Richards said, changing the subject and leaning in conspiratorially. “Word is that he’s soon going to be taking Pilliwickle’s job as senior undersecretary, you know, and he’s looking for someone to replace himself—”

“Mum, are you joking?” Anna said, apparently unable to control herself any longer. “They’re never going to hire someone for that job straight out of Hogwarts, and even if they did, I wouldn’t be interested.”

“Do you think your sister or your brothers got where they were by thinking like that?” Mrs Richards asked.

“Excuse me,” Anna said, standing up and sending Lily into a minor panic at the thought of being left alone.

“Sit down,” her father said firmly. Anna looked like she might defy him for a brief moment, but finally sighed and fell back into her chair. “Let’s discuss this at another time, Martha,” he said, putting a hand on his wife’s shoulder before staring at Anna again, “and we will discuss it again.”

Lily breathed an enormous sigh of relief when they then left to go talk to some relatives, before she realized that she had no way to break the horrible tension that had remained.

“What’s wrong?” Mary suddenly sat down next to them—Lily had been so shocked that she had not even seen her approaching. When neither Lily nor Anna answered immediately, she continued, “Was it your parents? I saw them over here.”

Anna was busy pulling the pins out of her hair, so Lily nodded silently. She hoped that Mary was able to find something comforting to say; after all, she was usually good at that kind of thing.

“Don’t let them bother you,” Mary said. “Come dance some more and it’ll take your mind off of it.”

“Mary, you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t take your suggestion seriously, since you weren’t even here,” Anna snapped.

“Fine,” Mary said coolly. “I’ll come back when you’re in a better mood.”

At this point, Lily was about ready to give up. Maybe she should just head back to Hogwarts early—it would certainly be nicer to spend the rest of the evening with James than in the crossfire between Mary and Anna, or Anna and her parents.

Anna’s face was inscrutable, but finally she looked up with a slightly sickened look.

“So, I suppose I was probably wrong about Remus being Mary’s problem,” she said, which seemed completely out of nowhere. “Seeing as she doesn’t exactly seem broken-hearted.”

“Well...no, she doesn’t,” Lily replied.

Anna sighed miserably. “I make such an idiot of myself sometimes.”

Lily really didn’t know what to say to that, especially as Anna was looking uncharacteristically defeated. Even her hair was drooping down rather unhappily. Lily had never really found herself feeling bad for Anna before—it wasn’t as if she usually needed pitying—but she could not help it at the moment. How had she known that this wedding was going to go terribly?

“Anna, let’s leave,” she said suddenly, feeling that it was the only solution. “I’m sure everyone’s still in the common room celebrating. We can go get Mary and Apparate back right now.”

“I don’t know,” Anna said, shrugging. “My parents would probably be upset.”

“They aren’t already?”

Anna’s facial expression conceded that Lily was right.

“I’ll go get Mary,” Lily said, standing up. “Just wait here.”

When Lily found Mary on the dance floor, her friend was hesitant to leave, mostly because she was still offended at Anna’s rudeness, but she finally agreed. They were on their way out when some announcement was made and Mary stopped.

“What is it?” Lily asked.

“She’s about to throw her bouquet,” Mary said. “We have to stay for that.”

“No, we don’t,” Anna said.

You do; you’re the maid of honour!”

“I am not staying,” Anna said firmly.

“Let’s just go, Mary,” Lily said. “It’s not important.”

And yet, somehow, they found themselves being dragged back toward the crowd of women gathering near the front of the room.

Lily soon found out that this particular tradition was done a little differently at wizarding weddings—Mary explained (how she knew this, Lily couldn’t understand, since she too was Muggle-born) that the bride enchanted her bouquet with a special charm that somehow made the girl who caught it lucky in love for the next full day.

“How does that work, then?” Lily asked, over the sound of people chattering around them. “I mean, you’d have to have a Love Potion or Felix Felicis; you can’t do that with a charm—”

“It’s supposed to be romantic, Lily!” Mary said. “Look, she’s about to throw it!”

It took Lily a few seconds to realize that the flowers were coming straight at her, and she nearly let them fall to the floor, catching them clumsily at the last second. She felt highly uncomfortable now that everyone was staring at her and cooing about how lucky she was.

The extra attention meant that they had to delay their departure a little longer, but they managed to sneak out eventually. Lily was still carrying the flowers, but once they were outside, she didn’t really want them anymore. What was she going to go with them at Hogwarts, anyway?

She tried to give them to Mary, who she thought might like them more.

“No, you can’t give them to me!” she said. “You’re the one who caught them.”

“I don’t want them,” Lily said, “and that thing about being ‘lucky in love’ is rubbish, anyway. Like I said—”

“Oh, don’t be such a cynic,” Mary said, grinning. “Maybe it means you and James are going to get married...”

Lily felt her face flush. That was one of the reasons she didn’t want the flowers—not that she didn’t want to marry James—not that she did, either, of course—but she didn’t think that it would send a comforting message to him if she showed up having caught the bouquet at the wedding.

“I don’t think a bunch of roses is going to be able to predict that,” was all she said. She tried to hand them over to Anna, whose eyes widened.

“You think I want it? No thank you,” she said.

“You can throw them in the lake if you like,” Lily said quickly, and Anna stopped thoughtfully.

“All right, hand them here.”

“Oh, no, don’t...” Mary said, but Anna did not hesitate in chucking them unceremoniously into the dark surface of the lake, where they landed with a splash and sent ripples through the reflection of the full moon. “You two are terrible.”

Lily knew Mary was being silly, and she didn’t feel the least bit of remorse for letting Anna get rid of the bouquet. She was quite certain that she didn’t need luck to help her when it came to love—all she needed was to get back to Hogwarts.



Chapter 28: No Calm, Just Storm
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Chapter Twenty-Eight
No Calm, Just Storm



James had not thought it was possible to feel much worse on the morning following a full moon, but it turned out that he had been wrong.

The day started off fairly ordinary—he woke up very late (a luxury, as full moons did not always coincide with the weekend) and went down to breakfast with Sirius and Peter, where the Gryffindors were still enthusiastic about the Quidditch Cup, and the Ravenclaws were staring daggers at anyone with a red-and-gold badge. He was looking forward to Lily returning later in the day, although a little nervous that she might have changed her mind about the love business.

The most out-of-the-ordinary thing was that he was starting to feel intensely worried and overwhelmed about his exams. There was really nothing else to think about at this point, now that Quidditch was over, nor much time to think about them—exams were in just over a week, and though he had studied aimlessly and gone through all of the revision in their classes, he had a bad feeling that it was not going to be sufficient.

Having had such an average morning, he was perhaps more surprised than usual when he returned to Gryffindor Tower and saw Lily there. He hadn’t expected her to be back for hours, which would have given him time to think up something to say in the event that he had made a mess of things yesterday.

He was relieved when she came up to hug him and say hello straight away. “You’re back early,” he remarked, stating the obvious as a form of testing the waters further. She nodded, smiling, which he took as a good sign.

“I came back last night,” she explained. James’ thoughts immediately shifted into more troubling waters—she had been here last night?

He exchanged glances with Sirius and Peter, who had been keeping themselves busy by levitating peoples’ things across the room when they weren’t looking. Apparently they had heard Lily and also felt that she must be suspicious, or even angry. And, depending on when she had come back, she might have even caught a glimpse of them running around—James didn’t remember seeing anyone while they were out on the grounds, but it was not out of the realm of possibility.

She was frowning now, and James decided to be casual and assume she knew nothing.

“I wish I hadn’t gone to bed so early,” he said. “I could barely keep my eyes open after that match, though...”

Her suspicious expression grew more pronounced. “I thought you might have been up in your dormitory, actually, but when I went to check, you weren’t there.”

Well, he’d really stepped in it now. Peter’s eyebrows were halfway up his forehead, and James would have really liked to tell Sirius where he could shove the smile he was trying to hide.

“In fact, none of you were there,” Lily said, looking between James, Sirius, and Peter.

“You know, I’m still hungry,” Sirius said quickly, not looking so pleased anymore. “Feel like visiting the kitchens, Wor—Peter?”

Peter nodded vigorously, and they disappeared so quickly, they might have Disapparated.

James tried to avoid eye contact with Lily for as long as possible.

“So?” she said finally, a very distinct edge to her voice.

James could not help himself from replying with the most pathetic thing possible. “What?”

Lily looked like she was going to laugh, but not in a particularly amused way. “If this is a joke, it’s not funny.”

He sensed that the time for feigning innocence was over. “Let’s go talk upstairs,” he suggested.

“Yes, let's,” Lily replied. The tone of her voice made James think it was probably not conducive to staying injury-free to enclose himself in a room with her—but then, the alternative was not, either. Better to be humiliated in private than in the middle of the common room.

When they had retreated upstairs, James reflected for a moment that it was not, on the whole, the ideal vision of Lily visiting his dormitory for the first time. If things had gone his way, there would have been more—

Oh Merlin, she really did not look happy. Time to go on the defensive.

“All right,” James wheedled, “first of all, I feel like you’re going into this conversation having already decided—”

“James,” Lily interrupted, “I just want you to explain why you lied to me.”

“Well, it’s—er—it’s a bit complicated,” he said.

“Luckily,” she said, sitting down, “we have loads of time.”

“Okay,” James said, very slowly. He was torn—most of him was actually eager to tell her everything, but he wasn’t sure if his friends were going to be too pleased with him if he did.

Back when they had first become Animagi (and even before, when they had found out the secret about Remus’ furry problem), they had decided that there were certain criteria to be placed on anyone whom they wanted to divulge those details to. One was that there had to be a fair amount of certainty that the person in question was not going to try and get them expelled, thrown in prison, blackmailed, or otherwise compromised by telling other people. Naturally, the person had to be very trustworthy and good at keeping things to him or herself, and everyone had to agree to them being told. There had been other requirements they had discussed, but James could not recall them all now—in any case, none of them had ever brought it up again. None of them had ever thought that there might be someone else who needed to know.

But the most important requirement was that there had to be some assurance that the person was going to be in their lives for a significant period of time—preferably permanently. This was the way to best ensure that the secret was kept, for if someone stopped being your friend at some point, they were much more likely to seek revenge or personal gain.

James did not question Lily’s trustworthiness for a moment. He knew that she would never be the type of person to gossip, or to vindictively spread something around.

He also had an inexplicable feeling, which Sirius probably would have called naive, that Lily was not about to disappear from his life anytime soon. And for once, he could say that it was not about self-aggrandizement or wishful thinking—there really just was some certainty that went straight to the core of him, a quiet confidence that she would be perpetually present. After all, she always had been, though admittedly in different forms over the years.

The hesitation that held him back was that he had never really discussed this with Sirius, Peter, or Remus, all of whom stood to lose if James turned out to be wrong. But he wasn’t; he couldn’t be, and they would probably agree with him. He knew them well enough that he could be confident of their reactions. A split-second judgment on this was not what they had planned, but he supposed that things didn’t always go according to plan.

“All right. Sit down, and I’ll explain everything,” he said.

He began from the beginning: explaining how he, Sirius, and Peter had been determined to help Remus, how they had scoured stacks of books and not found anything useful besides the efficacy of chocolate, and how they had finally figured out the answer one day in Transfiguration.

“Wait—I don’t understand why you were trying to find a way to help him when he isn’t even here on full moons,” Lily interjected.

“Er...” James said, wincing a little. “Right, I suppose I never mentioned that part—”

“Oh, brilliant, something else you’ve kept from me,” Lily said.

“I would have told you when I first told you about Remus,” James defended himself, “but we were interrupted. And you never brought it up again.”

“I didn’t think you wanted to talk about it!”

“Fine,” he said swiftly, not seeing any point in dwelling on this trivial point. “All there really is to say is that Remus doesn’t go home on full moons; he goes to the Shrieking Shack.”

He was a little pleased to have effectively stunned her into silence. When she spoke again, she sounded much less angry and much more curious.

“But—isn’t it haunted? And I thought there was no way inside?”

James shook his head. “There’s a reason there's no way in—or so it appears. No one gets in, and Remus doesn’t get out. As for it being haunted, all those sounds that people think are ghosts are actually Remus during the full moon.”

“Oh,” Lily said, her face falling. There was an uncomfortable pause.

“Anyway, like I was saying, we finally figured out how to help him,” James said. “We’d overlooked something simple.”

“What was it?” she asked. She seemed to be forgetting her anger.

“Werewolves don’t prey on animals,” James said. There was a nervous energy buzzing inside of him, now that he was getting so close to revealing it for the first time. “Even if they did, their bite only affects humans.”

He paused for effect, but Lily did not seem impressed.

“So, you got him some pets to play with?” she asked, smiling weakly.

“No,” James said. “We—”

He couldn’t form the sentence properly, for some reason. If he was honest, he had to admit that he was actually rather excited to be telling Lily—when he had been younger and slightly stupider, he had always thought it would be the kind of thing that would impress her. It turned out he hadn’t matured as much in that regard as he’d thought, and for that reason, he wanted to say it in some impressive way that didn’t sound as anticlimactic as it did in his head.

“Yes...?” Lily prompted.

“I don’t really know how to put this,” James confessed.

“Just say it,” Lily said.

James exhaled resignedly. “Well...we—er—we became Animagi.”

Lily was looking at him murderously, which was decidedly not what he had been hoping for.

“James, I thought you were going to tell me the truth,” she said, disappointment filling every syllable.

He was at a loss for words for a few moments. “I just did!” he croaked, throwing up his hands in frustration.

She stood up. “You actually made me think that you were going to be honest, and then you come up with the most absurd story—”

“Lily, you have to believe me, please,” he said. “I swear I’m telling you the truth!”

Lily covered her face with her hands in frustration. “I thought you were supposed to be good at this sneaking-around thing! Can you not hear how ridiculous you sound?”

“This figures,” James said, raking through his hair with his hand. He had never imagined that Lily would refuse to believe him, but now that he thought about it, how could he have expected anything else?

She looked at him quite seriously now. “You three aren’t even out of school, and you expect me to believe that you figured out how to become Animagi? Not to mention that there’s absolutely no way that the Ministry would have given you permission...”

James couldn’t keep the guilty look from his face, and it was this that made her trail off and sit back down.

“Well,” she said faintly, an unfocused look in her eyes. “You know, somehow it seems much more plausible now.”

He gave her a moment to think in silence. “Didn’t you ever wonder why we were so good at Transfiguration?”

To his immense relief, she exhaled a small laugh. “Well, you always maintained that it was natural talent, didn’t you?”

“You actually bought that?” he teased. Lily rolled her eyes.

“I still don’t know if I believe you,” she said, “but...if I did, I’m not exactly clear on how that would help Remus.”

James knew this part of the story was going to be the most controversial, and tried to explain the nature of their full moon excursions as evasively as possible—unfortunately, Lily was a bit too clever for much of anything to go over her head, and her expression slowly changed to one of anger again.

“Do you understand how dangerous that is?” she asked, looking appalled.

“Absolutely,” he replied. She stared at him like he was insane.

“So, you just didn’t care?”

“No,” James said. “I just cared more about my friend. You don’t know what it was like, the way he thought we were only friends with him because we felt badly, and how he came back the next day with all those injuries...”

He had lost track of his surroundings for a moment, but was brought back at the sound of Lily sighing. When she fixed her gaze on him again, she did not look angry, or disappointed, or amused, or puzzled—she actually seemed rather enamoured.

“What is it with you, that you can be reprehensible one minute and endearing the next?” she asked.

He took this as a compliment, especially considering her expression. “I’m not sure...I think it’s just a natural talent.”

She smiled and then started shaking her head in perplexity. “I’m still finding all of this really...difficult to process, but...if it is all true, and the reasons behind it are true, then...well, I’m not sure if I think it was your best idea, in some regards, but then, in other ways, I think it’s one of the nicest things you’ve ever done.”

Once James’ mind had managed to wind around that statement, he grinned at her, and seeing as she was in a much better mood, he did what any boy whose girlfriend was sitting on their bed would do: he kissed her. It was a different feeling, he found, kissing her after she had been angry with him, like he was trying to pull her close again.

After a few minutes, he propped himself up on his elbow and looked at her.

“Are you still upset?” he asked, brushing her hair behind her ear.

“I suppose not,” she answered, smiling widely.

He grinned back at her. “It’s like I always say: when in doubt, snog it out.”

“Oh, you always say that, do you?” she asked through laughter.

“Of course. It’s my life motto,” he said. They both laughed and there was a pause in which Lily fiddled a bit with the edge of his shirt sleeve.

“Just—” she said haltingly. “Just, in future...even if you think I’m going to be mad...don’t lie. It only makes things worse.”

He kissed her nose, feeling a slight wave of guilt.

“All right,” he said, which made her smile. “I wanted to tell you sooner, you know...but it’s a big thing to tell...”

“I understand,” she said.

He pulled her closer, allowing him to speak without having to look straight at her. “I love you.”

It still felt strange to say, and his face felt just as hot as it had the previous day. He supposed he would get used to it eventually—would become sure enough of her reply that he wouldn’t feel the same rush of anticipation.

“I love you too,” she said.

James was able to take a few calming breaths in the silence that followed.

“So,” she said, looking up at him, “are you going to tell me what it is you supposedly transform into?”

“You still don’t believe me?” he asked, hanging his head back in exasperation while she giggled.

“I’m kidding. Really, though, what is it?”

“A stag,” he said.

“Oh,” Lily said, “well, I’m not sure if I do believe you, then.”

“Why?”

“Well, if you turned into a fluffy little rabbit, then it would be believable,” she said, laughing again.

James shook his head. “Now you’re just being mean.”



.........




How the time had fallen away so quickly that there was less than a week before N.E.W.T.s, Lily had no idea, but she was fairly certain that her sanity wasn’t going to hold out until then, anyway. In all likelihood, she would be carted off to St. Mungo’s any day now.

It wasn’t the studying that was the problem. She had been slowly preparing for weeks now, and was as uncertainly confident about her ability to pass her exams as anyone else—perhaps even a little more, since she had always done well in school.

No, it wasn’t the studying, but rather everyone else around her. Since the wedding, Anna and Mary had both been insufferable in their own ways, and had developed an uncanny knack for finding Lily no matter where she went.

Though Lily was glad that Anna seemed to want to spend more time with her, she would have appreciated it more had Anna not been so horribly on edge about their exams. It went far beyond even Anna’s normal level of irritation, and trying to study with her was like being stuck in a lion’s cage. She had to look everything up, unable to take anyone else’s word for it, yet got extremely snippy if anyone did the same to her. Lily tried to be understanding, since she knew how much pressure Anna must be under—she was getting a multitude of letters from her parents, sometimes twice daily—but there was a limit to how tolerant she could be.

On the other hand, Mary was a complete wreck, and Lily avoided studying with her for one reason: it almost always ended with Mary in tears, discussing something completely unrelated to school. These breakdowns reinforced Lily’s firm belief that Mary’s apparent “transformation” into someone who could successfully work in Magical Law Enforcement was simply an act, which only made her worry more. Even worse, a few of these conversations seemed to center on Remus, though Mary never actually referred to him directly. Those ones were especially incomprehensible, with Mary babbling about being “taken in,” which Lily supposed was a reference to how Remus had led her on for a few months. She still hadn’t forgotten about Anna’s discovery of the notes in Mary’s book, but she never brought it up, as it would probably only lead to more tearful conversations.

Then there was James. By far, he was the easiest to be around, especially when she needed a break. But he too seemed to be getting a little unhinged, especially since he had not left much time to study properly at all. Lily had told him weeks ago to start his revision, but he hadn’t listened, typically. At least he seemed to keep his frustration silent for the most part.

She said “for the most part” because his frustration was manifesting as a severe regression in maturity; unfortunately, Sirius, Remus, and Peter were all experiencing similar symptoms. They were back to hexing people and causing general mayhem—James tried to tone it down in front of her, she could tell, but he seemed to have forgotten that he didn’t have eyes in the back of his head, and didn’t always know when she was around and when she wasn’t.

She supposed she probably would have been back to detesting him if she weren’t in love with him.

It got quite frustrating to tell them all to lay off, since they (excluding James) all seemed to think she was being an uppity bore. She didn’t relish being thought of that way, and so she avoided spending time with them in crowded areas like the common room. Sometimes she just held her tongue altogether, which left her with mixed feelings—she didn’t feel so bossy and prudish, but she also felt bad for not speaking up.

She never had an easy time deciding which of these feelings would take sway, so much so that when they managed to attach a pair of underpants on Snape’s head on their last day of Potions, knowing that he would refuse to miss class even if he couldn’t remove them, she did not immediately come to his defence, and initially tried to lightly chastise them, hoping they would cotton on. (And, all right, she still felt the sting from the way Snape had treated her in past years, so on occasion it did feel slightly satisfying to see him get his comeuppance.)

“What is this obsession you all have with seeing Snape’s underpants?” she asked at first, while they watched him walk by in one of the dungeon corridors.

“It’s not about wanting to see them, Evans,” Sirius said flippantly, “it’s about wanting to put them on display.”

“Oh, that’s much better,” she said.

“They’re not his, anyway,” Peter explained, smirking.

“Whose are they, then?” she asked, not really sure if she wanted to know.

“James’,” Remus said, with a suppressed grin.

What?” Lily said to James.

“This wasn’t my idea,” James replied, holding his hands up innocently.

“Sure it wasn’t,” Sirius said, with pointed sarcasm. “Anyway, we debated for a while whose would bother him most—eventually it came down to mine or James’, and we figured the connection with you would really get to him.”

“Excuse me—what connection?”

“Oh, come on, Evans,” Sirius said suggestively. Peter tried to turn his laugh into a cough.

“Sirius, it’s time for you to stop talking,” James said, putting his arm around Lily’s shoulders. “We’ll make arrangements for me to kill you later.”

Anna came into class and sat down next to Lily just before the bell rang. When she caught sight of Snape, who was hiding at one of the back tables rather than at the front, she raised her left eyebrow in surprise.

“Well, that’s a new look for him,” she observed briskly. “Whose underpants?”

Lily rolled her eyes darkly. “Don’t ask.”

The class was predictably frustrating and unusually boring. They were revising important material rather than learning anything new, which Lily saw the use of—but the boys (a word which she used very deliberately, in this case) in front of her seemed unable to go without whispering something to each other for more than a minute at a time, and Sirius and Peter kept taunting Snape incessantly whenever the professor’s back was turned. Beside her, Anna kept asking her questions about very small details, which caused Lily to miss more than a few things that Slughorn said—and every time she answered her, Anna would then flip furiously through Advanced Potion-Making to verify what Lily had said, which made her wonder why she was bothering to ask at all.

When class ended, Lily stuck around with Anna while she asked Professor Slughorn about the time limit for their practical exam. They emerged into the corridor outside and found James, Sirius, Peter, and Remus facing off with Snape, which Lily had assumed would happen at some point.

There was a very strange moment where she saw both James and Snape’s gaze shift to her and they seemed to be on the verge of withdrawing, but neither gave up their ground.

“You won’t think this is so funny when we’re out of this place,” Snape spat at all of them. “If you didn’t have Dumbledore on your side—”

Lily had to look away to disguise the laughter that was sprouting from her chest. Ordinarily, she would have been somewhat concerned with Snape’s threats, especially as she wasn’t sure they were empty ones, but it was impossible to take him seriously when he was looking at you wearing underpants as a hat.

“You think it’s funny, too?” Snape asked her, a sneer on his face (or what she could see of it, anyway). “Look how the high-and-mighty have fallen...”

Lily was immediately sobered by this.

“Stop being so dramatic, Snape,” Anna said.

Lily looked pointedly at James. “Take them off him,” she said. He hesitated for a moment, but raised his wand and Vanished the underpants.

“Sorry, Snivellus, it’s not much of an improvement,” Sirius said, grinning.

Snape looked at Lily, then at James, then back at her—she could tell he was trying to make some kind of point—before stalking off with an air of superiority. Lily didn’t know what he could be feeling so proud of, since he’d just spent a couple hours with someone else's drawers stuck on top of his head.

“So much for that bit of fun,” Sirius remarked as they headed up to the Great Hall for dinner.

Once they had sat down at the Gryffindor table, James apologized, but Lily wasn’t upset with him, not really. She was more upset with herself for acting in a way that was contrary to the person she had always considered herself to be.

She wanted to be alone after dinner and declined Mary and Anna’s invitation to go study in the library together, as well as James’ to study in the common room, and retreated to her dormitory, which was blessedly silent. For an hour or so, anyway.

Mary eventually came bursting into the dormitory, with the telltale signs of impending tears that Lily had gotten used to over the past few days. Lily felt a little like concussing herself with her Herbology book.

“She is the most horrible person I’ve ever known,” Mary burst out, throwing her bag down next to her bed.

“Who?” Lily asked, thinking that she might have had a run-in with some Slytherin girls.

“Anna, of course!”

Lily had definitely not been prepared for that. She stuck a folded piece of parchment in her book as a place-marker and shut it.

“What happened?”

Mary sat down on the end of Lily’s bed and wiped underneath her eye. “I told her what I was going to do after school and she went ballistic—”

Lily wished she had an Invisibility Cloak like James. This was one conversation she had hoped would not take place within a hundred miles of her.

“—she kept saying that it was too dangerous and I was going to get myself killed!” Mary said. “Nice thing to say, isn’t it? And she got us both detention from Madam Pince!”

Lily brushed her fingers through a stubborn knot she had discovered in her hair. “I’m sure she’s just concerned, Mary—”

“She can never be happy for anyone else! Just because she knows her life is going to be pathetic—”

Lily thought she ought to say something about Mary’s statement being harsh, but figured it would have fallen on deaf ears.

“She always used to tell me that I needed to be more confident and independent, and now that I am, she can’t handle it! She liked it when she could order me around, when I hung on every word she said!”

Mary was positively shrieking at this point; Lily was surprised that no one had come running, thinking she was being murdered.

“Oh, and you know what’s really rich?” Mary asked, tears streaming down her face. “She said that she thought this was all a disproportionate reaction to Remus rejecting me, and that I’m pretending to not care about him because I’m still hoping he’ll change his mind!”

This sounded like a fairly astute observation, in Lily’s opinion, but she wasn’t about to say that.

“All right—Mary, let’s just take a moment and calm down,” Lily said. “Here, you can use my jumper to wipe your eyes...”

Once Mary was taking normal breaths again, Lily set herself to sorting things out—if she was going to survive the next couple weeks, she had no other choice.

“Mary, you know Anna’s your best friend,” Lily said gently, “and we’re all under a lot of stress these days. I’m sure she’s going to come around, and I know she can’t have meant all those things.”

“You didn’t see her,” Mary said, sniffling.

“It doesn’t matter. You’ve both been friends for so long, she just can’t have meant it,” Lily stated. “And besides, have you been around her lately? She’s been in a bad mood, even by her standards.”

Mary laughed a little. “She told Madam Pince that one of the library books was wrong.”

“Now that, I would have liked to see,” Lily said, smiling. “Everything will be fine once we get through exams.”

Mary nodded, but she still looked quite glum. Lily contemplated whether she ought to say something about Remus—she didn’t want to send her back into hysterics again, but at the same time, there was something to be said for Anna’s theory. Mary’s personality switch did seem to coincide with the time that it had really looked like there was no hope between her and Remus...and Remus did seem to be actively pursuing her, now that she wasn’t haranguing him...

“Mary...are you sure that...you’re not holding on to any resentful feelings towards Remus?”

Mary’s brown eyes locked onto Lily with a speed that was almost frightening.

“You think she’s right, don’t you?”

“No, no, no, no,” Lily said hastily, knowing she would get nowhere if Mary was angry with her as well. “I just want to make sure that everything’s cleared up there, because if there’s something you feel like you need to say to him, to resolve it once and for all—”

“I don’t have anything to say to him,” Mary said firmly.

“But—” Lily tried to word her next sentence carefully. “It seems like—like he thinks there’s more to be said—”

“Did he tell you that? Or did it come through James?”

“No, neither—I just—I saw he was writing you notes—”

Mary stood up like she had received an electric shock. Her cheeks were turning fuchsia.

“Anna told you?”

“She told you?”

“So the two of you have been talking about me behind my back, then?” Mary asked shrilly.

“No, it’s not like that!” Lily said. “We were just worried—”

“I don’t need other people to worry for me! I can take care of my own life!”

“I know that!” Lily said. This was all going horribly wrong; why had she even bothered to bring it up?

“I should have known you would take her side,” Mary said viciously. “You both think you’re better than me.”

Lily sighed—she was sick of this, quite frankly. Besides that, she really needed to be studying for Herbology.

“Mary, this is ridiculous,” she said flatly. “I’m not on anyone’s side, but whatever is going on between you and Remus, I really think you need to talk and figure things out.”

There was a pause. “I figured out everything that I needed to,” Mary said. Something in the tone of her voice was very strange.

“What do you mean?”

“I know that I’m not interested in dating him,” Mary said, “and I’m really glad he never agreed to it when I did want to. I had no idea what I would have been getting into.”

It wasn’t possible that Mary knew. She couldn’t.

“Can you explain what you mean?”

“I probably shouldn’t tell you,” Mary replied. “It’s not the kind of thing he’d want other people to know about.”

Lily couldn’t believe that Mary had found out—or had Remus told her?

“I’ll tell you,” Mary said, “but only because I think you should know, since you’re going out with James. You have to promise not to tell anyone else, though.”

Lily nodded, hoping against hope that Mary was talking about something else.

“Remus’ mum is a werewolf.”

Lily’s eyes widened in surprise. “W-what?”

“All those times he disappeared?” Mary asked, looking rather satisfied with her own knowledge. “Didn’t you ever notice they were all on the full moon?”

“No,” Lily lied. “You did?”

“Well...” she went slightly pink again. “I kind of...overheard Snape talking about it a few months ago. And he was right, Lily. When Remus goes home to take care of his mum, it’s because she’s a werewolf. Sometimes I think Remus wanted me to know, he was so obvious about it.”

Lily didn’t bother to point out that this theory made no sense, as a human getting closer to a werewolf during the full moon was not exactly the most logical plan.

“Anyway, I’m so glad I didn’t get dragged into that mess,” Mary said. “I mean, him having to go back home every month, and—”

She paused, looking hesitant and a little embarrassed.

“What?” Lily asked.

“Well...” she said, shrugging slowly, “there’s a bit of a...a stigma, you know?”

Lily did not like where this conversation was going. Already disappointed with her own failure to stand up for Snape earlier, she felt an immediate urge to come to Remus’ defence.

“To some people there is,” she said. “What does that matter to you?”

Mary seemed determined not to back down. “I could stand here and pretend that I wouldn’t care, but I know that I would, if it came down to it.”

“So, you think that all those people who want to round up werewolves and separate them from us—basically put them in prisons—are right?”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but—”

“Oh, I understand. You just don’t want them around you,” Lily said. Mary folded her arms across her chest.

“Lily, you can stand there and be patronizing all you like, but you and I both know that you’d feel the exact same way if you were in my position.”

Lily would not have believed that the person in front of her was Mary, but there was no denying it—it was her, just a horrible version of her that had come out into the open. Where in past years Mary might have tried to conceal her feelings for the sake of avoiding confrontation, now she seemed determined to voice exactly what she felt.

“Really?” she asked, not bothering at all to hide the anger in her voice. “You think if it was one of James’ parents, I’d be heading for the hills?”

“Yes, I do,” Mary said, nodding. “And deep down, you know I’m right—”

“No, you’re completely wrong,” Lily said. “I wouldn’t care, not one bit. In fact, I would admire James for what he was doing. I’d be glad to know how compassionate he was.”

Mary flushed. “Fine. I’m the horrible person, then.”

“At the moment, yes,” Lily said, heading for the door. “I can’t talk to you right now.”

“I’m so glad we’re about to graduate,” Mary said, whirling around. Her voice was shaking, and she was clearly on the edge of tears again. “I can get away from my so-called friends who have never really cared about me at all.”

Never cared?” Lily repeated. “Mary, how many times have I listened to you and supported you in the last week alone?”

“You made it very clear how much you cared when you kept hanging around with Snape after his friend attacked me,” Mary said. “And do you know, you’ve never apologized to me for that? Not even once.”

There was a very tense moment in which they stared at one another. Lily could not shake the feeling that there was going to be no reconciling from this argument—that there never really had been a chance of it, ever since fifth year.

Lily did not know what to say, so she simply opened the door to leave. She felt like she was giving up, letting Mary win, by not saying anything, so she stopped and said the one thing that was burning in her mind.

“Just so you know, though—even if James himself was a werewolf, I would still love him.” It was a pointed statement, though how much, Mary would not know.

Mary looked mildly amused, and not a bit like she believed Lily. “I’m sure you would.”

With that, Lily left the room. She stopped halfway down the staircase, wondering whether she ought to go back and fix things. Was she being too hard on Mary? Her instinct was to forgive, but somehow she didn’t think she could, not this time. It wouldn’t make a difference, anyway—Lily knew from experience that people tended to hold on to their prejudices, no matter how much they pretended not to. And for that reason, going out of her way to apologize to Mary would only be something she regretted in the end.



Chapter 29: A Nastily Exhausting Week
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Chapter Twenty-Nine
A Nastily Exhausting Week




Exams had a way of making everything else seem less important. While Lily was on some level highly distressed about the rift that had now existed between herself and Mary, it was not something she could afford to let take over her life. She had to study for five different (and difficult) subjects and survive on very little sleep, and so she simply had to force herself to put everything else out of her mind for the time being. When exams were done, and if there was any point at all, she would allow herself to get properly up in arms about the entire situation.

She was not the only one distracted as the last night before exams fell over the castle, which suited her just fine. James, it seemed, had finally resigned himself to studying. Of course, he was not exactly in a panic, since Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts were to be their first two exams, but it had seemed to hit him rather suddenly that he really needed to study. He had actually gone to the library to take advantage of the quiet, and Lily thought she ought to stay in Gryffindor Tower so as not to distract him.

She and Anna were revising together; where Mary was, Lily wasn’t sure. She hoped that Mary didn’t come join them in the common room, though she thought it was unlikely: Mary seemed to be determined to avoid acknowledging Lily’s existence. Anna had practically been wearing her textbooks as blinders for the past week, and if she had noticed the silence between her two friends, she certainly hadn’t brought it up.

“Do you know what a—cross-counter Transmorgrification is?” Anna asked, sounding slightly horrified.

“Does that exist?” Lily replied, though it was a silly question. Of course something so complicated existed within the world of Transfiguration. Anna sighed exasperatedly and flipped to the back of the book.

“Bloody glossary,” she said savagely, after a moment’s perusing. “What’s the point of even having it if it’s useless? Like we need to know what cross-species means...”

She moved on to the index rather violently. Lily ignored her diatribe, since they occurred so often. She glanced around the common room and saw some fifth-years huddled in one of the corners. Their behaviour, unlike Anna’s, looked much too suspicious to be ignored.

As with every year around exam time, there had been an outbreak of underhanded selling of intelligence-enhancing potions and substances. This year, though, after the poisonings in February, the teachers were on high-alert—and so was Lily. She knew who had been the perpetrators behind that first incident, and she wouldn’t put it past them to try it again. In other circumstances, she might have hoped that Severus would refuse, but he had already proved himself at least a partly-willing member of their gang. She usually didn’t like telling people off, but she was willing to if it meant keeping them from spending their exam period in the Hospital Wing.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she said to Anna, extricating herself from beneath layers of books and notes.

Sure enough, as she crossed the common room, some of the fifth-years scattered, and the ones who remained plastered looks of dubious innocence on their faces. After some denial on their part and insistence (and a well-placed Summoning Charm) on Lily’s, she walked back to her seat with a small box of what looked like dried-up peas inside. In fact, Lily was pretty sure that they were dried peas, though no doubt someone had sold them to the fifth-years for a hefty price, pretending they were Jobberknoll parts, or something equally ridiculous.

“Why don’t we just use them for Transfiguration practice?” Anna asked.

“The peas?”

“No, the fifth-years,” Anna replied. “By the way, do you know what’s wrong with Mary?”

Well, so much for not bringing it up, Lily thought to herself.

“Erm...I don’t know. We sort of had a row the other night, so she might still be upset about that,” she explained.

“I’m glad it wasn’t just me, then,” Anna grumbled. Lily hoped she would leave it there, but a few moments later, she asked, “What did you argue about?”

“I...I mentioned something about Remus,” Lily said quietly, being intentionally vague. Anna was cleverer than Mary, and drawing attention to the coincidence of Remus’ disappearances would be a bad idea. “She got really offended.”

Anna looked mildly surprised. “That’s all? She’s been walking around like you’re some kind of saint lately; I’d have thought she’d forgive you anything.”

Lily felt a twinge of guilt, and tried to search for a better explanation.

“She—she went into all of this stuff about Snape, and—”she broke off, not sure if it was the best subject to bring up. Anna had always been a more vocal critic of Lily’s association with Snape when they had all been younger.

There was a pause.

“That makes more sense,” Anna said. “She’s been holding that back for a long time.”

“Apparently,” Lily said. “I don’t think she’s interested in talking to me anymore.”

“I’m not really surprised,” Anna said. “If I’d been in her position...”

Lily waited for her to finish, and when she did not, said, “What?”

Anna finally looked up and shrugged. “I’d be mad too. I think she has a right to be.”

Lily really didn’t have the energy to argue with Anna as well, but she had a sinking feeling in her stomach—were both of her friends about to turn their backs on her? She knew more than anyone that hanging around with Snape for so long had been a colossal mistake, but it felt unfair to be punished for it so long after the fact.

“Of course, I also would have said something to you about it two years ago,” Anna added, smirking slightly.

“I think you might have,” Lily replied, feeling a wave of relief.

“Did I?” Anna asked wryly. “Well, anyway, I still don’t know what this Transmorgrification rubbish is...”

The next morning was one of those strange instances where the events of the day ahead caused Lily to snap into full consciousness the moment she awoke. She was nervous and anxious, and would have preferred to skip breakfast altogether and just get straight to the exam, but probably very few of her classmates would have agreed. Many of them looked long-faced and on the verge of nodding off at their house tables, while others were frantically flipping through books and notes, trying to cram every last detail into their minds that they could. Lily was not among them; she had always been adamant about not studying right before exams, because she was afraid it would drive everything else she had learned from her head.

“Top of the morning,” James said when she sat down next to him. “Juice?”

“You know you’re not Irish, don’t you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, filling her glass, “but I thought since you’re pretending to be a dark cloud this morning, I might as well join in on the game.”

Lily did the mature thing and stuck her tongue out at him.

It seemed to take hours for breakfast to end. The seventh-years left, most with an air of walking to their executions, walking past the fifth-years who were waiting to be called in for their first exam in the Great Hall. Lily sincerely hoped she had not looked quite so petrified before her own O.W.L.s, and felt a little like passing out chocolate to all of them.

The Transfiguration exam took place on the third floor, and their class waited outside as everyone was called in one at a time. Sirius and James started a pre-exam competition of who could conjure the most comfortable chair. It didn’t last long, though, since Sirius was one of the first to be called in, but they still manage to succeed in making everyone even grumpier about the looming exam.

Lily was called in not too long afterward. James gave her a thumbs-up and a wide smile as she walked in, which was encouraging, but as she walked through the door, it finally hit her that she was about to do her Transfiguration N.E.W.T. It was then she started to get really nervous. How on earth had she managed to keep such composure up until now? This was going to decide the rest of her life, and she should have studied much more; there was no way she was prepared enough, especially because she was pretty sure she had forgotten the proper wand movement for a Switching Spell—

The atmosphere inside the room made her feel like she was about to be put on trial, and the wizard leading the exam, Professor Waffling, was even stricter than Professor McGonagall. Of course, the very first thing he asked her to do was a Switching Spell, and her hands were visibly shaking as she lifted her wand.

When she left the room (through another door, so she wouldn’t walk by all those who had yet to complete their exam), she leaned against the stone wall for a few moments to calm down. Once the initial shock had worn off, she almost laughed with relief—it had been okay. She hadn’t really Transfigured the table into a tree very well, but that was mostly out of nerves, and one of the elderly witches observing the exam had even nodded happily after her Inanimatus Conjurus! She could be certain that she had passed, and perhaps even that she had passed well.

There still remained the written portion, scheduled for the afternoon. All the seventh-years were finished by lunchtime, and there were more than a few people who had to manoeuvre their food around their books as they tried to cram in some last-minute revision. O.W.L.s had been like this too: nerve-wracking mornings and afternoons broken up by meals, evenings filled with last-minute revision and little sleep. It was a routine that everyone seemed to automatically fall into.

They returned to the same classroom, which was now filled with rows of desks topped by exam booklets. Lily was not as nervous this time, but there was still a fair amount of anxiety bubbling in the pit of her stomach. She had done all right on the practical, but if she made a mess of the written, it could drag her grade down.

“You may begin,” Professor Dearborn said, and there was a fluttering as everyone flipped over their exams.

Lily looked down at the first question: Explain the distinction between Self-Transfiguration and Self-Charming in the context of Animagus transformations.

She could practically hear James laughing as she read it, and sure enough, when she glanced up, he was exchanging a very pleased smirk with Sirius a few rows over. It seemed distinctly unfair that the very first question should essentially throw marks at the students who were already going to ace the exam, but she supposed the Wizarding Examinations Authority couldn’t have known that. She sighed and set her quill to the page.

Two hours later, they were told to put down their quills—some people already had, others threw them down with looks of resigned misery. Anna kept writing until Professor McGonagall came and snatched it from her hand mid-sentence, which earned a few giggles (although not from Anna, who looked more than a little miffed).

Lily had not finished her last essay properly, and a few of her answers had been complete loads of waffle, but hopefully it would not count against her too harshly.

And so, it was one day down, only four more to go. Of course, there was very little sense of relief, especially with Defence Against the Dark Arts up next. No one felt that Dearborn had really taught them much that was useful, which left them with most of the responsibility to prepare for the exam.

Defence Against the Dark Arts was an exam that Lily was looking forward to, even if it was not her best subject. She wanted to get an idea of whether she was making much progress at learning how to defend herself—something that she knew all too well was important in a way that superseded grades or exams. She wanted to know whether she could do counter-curses and Disarm people properly, and an exam seemed like a fairly objective measure.

The written exam came first the next day, and it was difficult.

“Who cares about fights between giants and Aurors a hundred years ago?” James asked as they headed outdoors with the crowds of other students.

“We did learn a lot about it,” Lily pointed out.

“Yeah, well, that was a waste of time as well,” he replied.

“At least if someone gets cornered by a Death Eater, they can tell them all about Grogan Stump and the giants before they drop dead,” Sirius interjected.

The weather was so nice that Lily couldn’t help but feel more cheerful, even with their practical exam still to come. Some fifth-years were at the edge of the lake laughing as they sent jets of water at each other, and some even younger girls were sticking their feet in the water, shrieking when one of the giant squid’s tentacles undulated across the surface.

Lily started to glance around for Mary and Anna before she remembered that she and Mary were no longer speaking, and that Anna had put her loyalties on display quite clearly. Lily shouldn’t have been surprised; after all, Mary and Anna had been best friends ever since their first year. But she had thought that maybe Anna had seen things her way, and agreed with her...part of her had been hoping, even though it was not very nice, that Anna would take her side, and that Mary would be the one left out instead.

All she could really do was sigh and remind herself that she had dealt with losing friends before, and it hadn’t killed her. At least this time she only had to suffer through it for a couple weeks, rather than years.

She was lost in her own thoughts as she strolled over to the beech tree next to the lake with James and the rest of the boys. Soon after they sat down, a group of sixth-years had started up the old game involving the Whomping Willow—they were lucky there weren’t any teachers nearby, since it was an instant week’s worth of detention ever since Davey Gudgeon had nearly been blinded years ago. Lily was just beginning to muster up the energy to go and tell them to stop when James jumped to his feet.

“Idiots,” he muttered. “I’ll be right back.”

She watched him go over and yell at them all to clear off, surprised by how quick he had been to respond, especially given how he had been breaking rules left and right recently.

“You know, it’s too bad that you’re just getting the hang of this at the end of the year,” Lily teased him when he returned.

“Yeah, think of all the detentions you didn’t get to give out,” Sirius said sarcastically. “Thrill of a lifetime, that’d be.”

“Well, I didn’t want them to get killed,” James said. “They’re sixth years, after all, and it’s not really fair if they don’t have to go through the same pain we are right now.”

“You’re so kind,” Lily said, while the others chuckled.

James put his arm around her shoulders. “And you wouldn’t want me any other way.”

He was right, of course, and Lily was comforted by the realization that no matter how many friends she lost, she had also gained one who more than made up for it.



..........




Slowly, painfully, the week was nearing an end. They had Herbology on Wednesday, by far the easiest of all their subjects (in James’ mind). It was Thursday, and they only had Potions and Charms left—no small feat, in James’ mind. Charms, he could handle, as it was not too much different from Transfiguration or Defence Against the Dark Arts, but Potions was another story. There were too many little details about counter-clockwise stirs and simmering and intervals, and James was simply not a “little details” person. He could manage that sort of magic when motivated—like becoming an Animagus—but with Potions, it seemed pointless.

Charms, as he had predicted, went well, at least for the most part. He had accidentally cast a Supersensory Charm on himself, and walked out of the classroom with extremely sensitive hearing, but had at least managed to conceal his problem from the examiner. Others weren’t so lucky. One of the Slytherins had accidentally set a cabinet on fire, which interrupted the exams for at least twenty minutes. Filch had made a big fuss about being allowed to stand guard with a pail of water: an unnecessary measure, since all of the examiners had wands.

Finally, it was the last day: the last day of exams, the last real day of his school career, the last chance to get a good enough mark that would serve as some kind of insurance for his future. He was exhausted from late nights of revision, and not at all in the mood to suffer through Potions.

James felt a thudding sense of dread with every step he took towards the dungeons after breakfast.

“You’ll do fine,” Lily said, squeezing his hand.

“We’ll see,” James replied.

The exam turned out to be just as much of a nightmare as he had expected, with their assignment to brew an Elixir to Induce Euphoria. When they were given the instructions, there was more than one sigh of disgust heard around the room, though not everyone was so disappointed. Lily set to the task so cheerily that she seemed about to break into song, while Snape was moving so fast that you'd have thought they only had five minutes to complete the exam.

At least there was not the dead-quiet that accompanied most other exams, and all of them were in it together. James hated written exams, because the only audible noises were things like the scratching of quills, or people tapping their feet on the floor. Here the background noise was more natural: it could have been any Potions class where everyone was being especially quiet. It was just quiet enough and just loud enough for him to concentrate, and it was also nice not to be interrupted by Slughorn every five minutes because he wanted to name-drop former students or invite him to a dinner party.

About halfway through, he surreptitiously glanced around at everyone else’s progress. His classmates all seemed to be living up to their usual standards, with the exception of Peter. But he wasn’t doing badly—far from it. His potion actually resembled both Lily’s and Snivellus’, which didn’t make any sense at all. Peter had never done very well in Potions before, not in seven full years of school. He had always been average at best, and had experienced even more trouble when they got to N.E.W.T.-level. It probably would have been better for Peter to drop the subject after O.W.L.s, but he had been insistent on sticking with his friends.

James continued to look over at Peter from time to time when the examiner wasn’t looking, trying to figure out what he was doing right. He seemed to be simply adding ingredients, at least the first few times that James looked. Could it be that Peter had actually worked hard enough that he got it all right when it came to the exam? Lily had helped him revise a few times; perhaps that had made a big difference.

Professor Tofty, their examiner, passed by James’ cauldron, and while his back was turned, James took another glance—this time, though, Peter was not looking at his own cauldron, but staring back at Lily. He and James locked eyes briefly; Peter went red and went back to his own potion immediately. James thought he understood what was going on, and it made his stomach feel very lead-like.

When the examiner told them to finish up, James had at least managed to make the potion some shade of yellow.

“That wasn’t bad at all,” Lily said cheerfully on their way out.

“You did great,” James said, smiling at her. He knew how much she must have looked forward to Potions, and she had put up with his gloating earlier in the week, after all.

“Not just me, though,” Lily replied. “Peter, you did so well. You should be really proud of yourself.”

Peter mumbled a thanks, and James had to bite his tongue. At least Peter would not be able to cheat off of Lily in their written exam. After a gruelling few hours hunched over an exam booklet in the afternoon, it was all over.

The entire castle seemed to be sighing with relief, and the seventh-years were in high spirits. In stark contrast to previous weeks, everyone was laughing and practically skipping wherever they went. Back in Gryffindor tower, even students who had not finished exams were getting caught up in the spirit, and there were calls for Butterbeer and éclairs from the kitchens, though no one seemed to want to get them; Peter was met with more than a few cheers when he finally stepped in and said he would go.

James offered to go with Peter, thinking that it was as good a time as any to confront him about what had happened earlier in the day. While they were waiting for the house elves to prepare the food, James sat down on a stool next to one of the large tables.

“Congratulations on the exam, by the way,” he said. “I didn’t know you had that in you.”

“Yeah, neither did I,” Peter replied, evading eye contact. “It was a miracle, that’s for sure.”

James couldn’t help but agree. “You must have studied loads, then.”

Peter nodded. “But it was more...I dunno, I just knew how to do it when we got in there.”

“Wish that could have happened to me,” James said. He was trying to gauge Peter’s reaction and give him a chance to explain of his own volition, but his friend simply continued to tap his hand on the table gleefully.

“Wormtail, no offence,” James continued, “but it does look a little suspicious, you suddenly becoming a brilliant potionmaker.”

Peter shrugged, but this time looked a little more nervous.

“You didn’t...I mean, when you were looking at Lily...?” James asked. Peter’s tapping stopped.

“It was bad timing,” he said. “I was looking at the examiner, and then as I was turning back, you looked at me, and I happened to be glancing at Lily. That’s all.”

“Are you sure?”

“Prongs, do you really think I would cheat?” Peter asked.

“You do remember that I was there when we thought up the answer-with-a-question strategy, right?” James asked, laughing a little—he didn’t know why, since the situation wasn’t exactly funny.

“I’m not—” Peter stopped, looking flustered. “Listen...I know I shouldn’t have...”

“Pete,” James groaned. “Why on Merlin’s green earth would you do that?”

“Because—well, it was N.E.W.T.s!” Peter said miserably. “I’m half-rubbish at every other subject, anyway—”

“That’s not true; you’re really good at Transfiguration,” James pointed out. Peter rolled his eyes slightly.

“Yeah, well, not so much as you and Padfoot,” he said. “I just didn’t want to end up with a ‘T’ on my N.E.W.T. results.”

“I thought you said that Lily helped you work out most of the problems,” James said.

“Well...she did, I suppose, in a sense,” Peter replied unhappily.

James exhaled, frustrated. “I can’t believe you managed to sneak looks at what she was doing the entire time without getting caught.”

In fact, though, it was not as far-fetched as it seemed. Peter had always been good at sneaking around, after all. He seemed to evade people’s notice, like he existed outside the reach of peripheral vision. If someone wasn’t looking right at him, he disappeared entirely.

Don’t tell Lily,” Peter said, and James laughed again.

Tell her? Are you mad? I’m halfway to Obliviating both myself and you just so this information never gets out,” James said, feeling profoundly disappointed as he looked at his friend. “Pete, I know you were worried, but I’m not exactly a Potions genius, and you don’t see me doing anything dishonest. Padfoot and Moony didn’t, either.”

Peter looked even more miserable now. “It’s just—I know I shouldn’t have, but it’s not—it’s not the same for me. You three’ll probably get ‘Outstanding’ in every other subject—”

“Wormtail, let’s not forget the events of this week. Moony turned a table into a tree with four legs still attached in Transfiguration, and I didn’t exactly ace Potions,” James said. “You can’t just give up and take the easy way out.”

“I didn’t! I—I wish I could take it back,” Peter replied. “Really, I do. I never thought anyone would notice.”

James sighed, wishing he’d never brought up the subject and instead continued on in blissful ignorance.

After a few moments of heavy silence, Peter continued, “It’s like I said before...I panicked, because it was N.E.W.T.s. And I...well, I wanted to have one exam that I could really be proud of.”

“But—” James began, but stopped and sighed. He had been about to point out the contradiction of being proud of an exam that hadn’t really been your own work, but it didn’t feel like there was any point. They couldn’t go back and change the past, at least not without breaking some more laws along the way. And in a few months’ time, this would all probably seem so petty and unimportant. He would probably laugh about getting so worked up about cheating on an exam.

There was pity, too. James couldn’t help but feel bad for Peter, for it had to be said that he had never excelled at a subject. Peter might have been one of the top Transfiguration students had it not been for Sirius and James (well, actually, he probably wouldn’t have been without their help), but instead he was accorded second-rate status. James couldn’t help but feel a little bad for doing that, however unintentionally, to his friend.

He managed to muster the ability to say, “Ah, well, it’s done now. Probably not your best idea, but since we’re finished exams, it’s not like I should worry about you doing it again.”

Peter seemed infinitely relieved by this, and it was then their food was brought to them.

“Just, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone else,” James advised, taking one of the heavy trays. “We don’t need anyone else knowing.”

“Yeah, I don’t want it getting back to the teachers,” Peter mumbled. James had been thinking more along the lines of Lily, but Peter’s point was true as well.

He kept that concern to himself as well. It was pointless to worry about something weeks in the future when they had so much to look forward to in the immediate future—returning to the common room celebrations, graduating in the following week. And quite besides that, James could not conscionably judge Peter, not when so much of their time at Hogwarts had been spent in the pursuit of breaking rules and even laws. Peter certainly wasn’t the only one of them who had made a very large mistake at some point or another.

As Dearborn had told James, there was a fine line between right and wrong. He knew his friends well enough to be sure that, even if they made some questionable choices on occasion, they would always stand solidly on the right side of that line.




Chapter 30: For The Best
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Chapter Thirty
For The Best




The final week of school felt emptier than any James had ever spent at Hogwarts. The seventh years had no classes, but instead were supposed to take advantage of the free time to go see their Head of House for career consulting or set their affairs in order for leaving school (needless to say, it was Slughorn’s busiest week of the entire year). James was not interested in doing either. He was set on one career, and discussing it was pointless until he got his N.E.W.T. results; as for his immediate plans, he was simply going to return home and figure out things from there, like many other people were planning to do. The only thing that he needed to figure out was when he might be able to see Lily once they were living hundreds of miles apart, but he was putting off that discussion for some reason.

She seemed keener on talking about it, though, and James had a feeling that she was going to bring it up at the first opportunity. As a result, he was a little apprehensive about his plans with her for that evening: they had decided to take advantage of the post-exam freedom and sneak down to Hogsmeade for a few hours.

He grabbed his Invisibility Cloak from his trunk and everyone looked up at him. The radio on the floor next to Peter’s bed was filling the room with the Quidditch match between the Bigonville Bombers and the Kenmare Kestrals, which had been in progress for several hours. It had been a rather lazy day for all of them, and James’ movement seemed to trigger everyone’s consciousness.

“Are we going somewhere?” Sirius asked.

“Er—I’m actually—I’m going down to Hogsmeade with Lily,” James explained, feeling like he was somehow letting them all down.

“Oh,” Sirius said, raising his eyebrows coolly. He was brooding about something, and had been ever since James had explained to Lily about them being Animagi. Though this was another conversation he wasn’t interested in having, he also knew that ignoring Sirius wouldn't stop him from dwelling on it.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

Sirius shrugged. “You must really trust her is all.”

“She is pretty trustworthy,” James replied. “What else is wrong?”

“I don’t know—I know you’ve fancied her for a long time, and all…”

“But?”

“Well, you don’t know, you two could end up hating each other in a month.”

“Didn’t we already talk about this a week ago? It’s like I said: even if things don’t work out, she’s not going to tell anyone,” James responded.

“Yeah, I know,” Sirius said, “but now it’s the cloak—”

“She knew about that before I ever told her.”

“—and sneaking to Hogsmeade, and—well,” Sirius hesitated and glanced sideways, “we’re all your friends, and we don’t want you to get in over your head.”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” James said. “I’m not that pathetic.”

“I’m not saying you are,” Sirius said, sounding almost bored.

James waited a moment; when no one spoke, he said, “Do you feel better now?”

Sirius considered it for a moment. “A bit, yeah.” He paused. “She does kind of have you wrapped around her finger, though.”

James shook his head while a chorus of maudlin imitations of himself talking to Lily.

“All right, all right; that’s enough,” he said. “I hope you all feel better now, because I have to be going.”

“Oh yeah, you don’t want to keep her waiting,” Remus said, smirking.

Just because I want to be on time—” James began, but gave up mid-sentence, since they were all snickering again anyway. “You know, I’ll just leave you all to laughing.”

Lily was sitting in the common room when he reached the bottom of the stairs, looking both very pretty and somewhat gloomy. She did look a little more cheerful when she saw James approaching though, which he was happy about. It was nice to know that he could brighten her mood.

“I was thinking,” she said as they climbed through the portrait hole, “maybe we should just stay inside the castle.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound like any fun,” James replied.

“I know, but it’s going to be really hard to sneak out of here unnoticed,” she continued.

James stopped and pulled out his cloak, letting it unfurl in a slick of silver. Lily grinned.

“Of course,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking. But you know, we’re still going to have to unlock the front doors, and I’m pretty sure Flitwick charmed them so no students could get out.”

“Who uses the front doors?”

Lily badgered him with questions all the way to the statue of the hump-backed witch that concealed the passageway to Honeydukes, but he didn’t explain, feeling that it was more mysterious and exciting that way.

“This is so illegal,” Lily whispered once they were in the Honeydukes cellar. “This is breaking and entering, and—wait, did you steal all of the sweets you brought back to the castle?”

James placed his hands on her shoulders. “Calm down, darling.”

“You just called me darling,” she said, scrunching up her nose.

“I did.”

“You sound like my mum,” she said.

“Well, you were kind of losing it there,” James replied. “Anyway, come on, let’s go to the Three Broomsticks. Just be quiet, or else you might wake up their vicious guard dog.”

There were only a couple other people visible on the high street, and they seemed in too much of a hurry to notice that two students were walking around the village. James didn’t really care much anyway—it was almost the end of the year, and who was going to bother punishing the Head Boy and Girl, anyway?

Lily seemed to be more distressed, but James couldn’t see why she should be, now that they had successfully made it out of the castle. It was a very strange thing that girls did, he was finding: they apparently needed to be asked what was wrong half-a-dozen times before they would being to reluctantly talk about it. Or maybe it was just Lily. Either way, he was starting to feel like everyone’s agony aunt these days.

Oddly enough, though, once Lily started talking, she went on in an uninterrupted stream for about five minutes. He had a bit of trouble following everything she was talking about, but he got the general idea. It was something to do with Mary and Anna being upset with one another, or with Lily—or perhaps both—and getting into an argument with Mary about werewolves.

When she was finished, she sighed. James took her hand and squeezed it.

“I’m sorry if I’ve been in an awful mood,” she said. “I wanted to tell you, but we had exams, and I thought you’d get upset.”

“Why?”

“Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?” she asked.

“Of course,” he replied. “What I mean is, if I were surprised by people like Mary, I wouldn’t be bothering to keep secrets for Remus.”

“I suppose,” Lily said.

“He’s well shot of her, though,” James said, trying and failing to keep his voice neutral. He could not help but get angry whenever anyone expressed such bigoted views—that they were common did not make it any less frustrating. He did know, however, that there was usually little to be done in terms of convincing someone otherwise, and Remus preferred to keep his head down in these situations.

Lily smiled at him sympathetically, and he was about to change the subject to avoid her pitying him when her eyes widened.

“Oh, look, it’s Professor Dearborn. Of course there would be a teacher here on the exact night we decide to sneak out of school,” she said, the skin between her brows wrinkling in consternation. Sure enough, Professor Dearborn’s bald head was visible at the bar.

“He won’t care,” James said. “He’ll probably congratulate us for breaking the rules and then buy us some Firewhiskey.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” James replied. “Well, not about the second part. But look, he’s seen us already, and he doesn’t look upset.”

In fact, Professor Dearborn did exactly what James had predicted. He came over to their table and hardly mentioned the fact that they were supposed to be back in Gryffindor Tower, instead asking about their Defence Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T.

“I heard from a reliable source that you both did a hell of a job,” he said conspiratorially.

“Really?” Lily asked, all worry about him punishing them apparently gone. Now she looked positively thrilled.

Dearborn nodded. “I knew Potter here had a talent for the subject, but it seems like he’s not the only one.”

“Well, I did teach her everything I know,” James joked. Dearborn laughed.

“I’m sure,” he replied. “Now, what is it that you two are going to be doing when you’ve graduated?”

James and Lily did a sort of duet of wishy-washy, incomplete explanations. Usually, James was not much bothered by lacking future plans, but Dearborn made him feel more inadequate for whatever reason. James felt more inclined to impress him than other teachers.

When they were finished (in other words, trailed off lamely), Dearborn nodded thoughtfully.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” he said, “but—if you don’t—I think I might have a prospect that both of you would find interesting.”

James glanced at Lily uncertainly.

“I don’t mean to push anything on you, of course,” he continued. “In fact, you should both enjoy your last few days without worrying. Forget I ever brought it up.”

“Is—is it a job?” James asked. It was strange for Dearborn to bring something like this up, but James felt that any job that he might suggest was sure to be at least somewhat interesting.

Dearborn hesitated. “I don’t want to say anything too soon. If you’re interested, though, we can always meet some other time to talk about it.”

James glanced at Lily again, but her expression was unreadable.

“Sure,” he said. If Lily wasn’t interested, that was fine, but he at least wanted to know what it was that Dearborn had on his mind.

It was getting late, and once Dearborn had departed, James suggested that they go back to the castle. Lily was very quiet as they walked back to Honeydukes and traversed the passageway—James didn’t know whether it was because she was still upset from her problems with Mary and Anna, or if she was mad at him for not listening very well, or if she had simply been thrown off by Dearborn.

Typically, it turned out to be none of those things.

“Did I do something wrong?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine,” she replied.

“Lily.”

“James?”

He pulled her into a nearby classroom and removed the cloak. “Just tell me what it is, please.”

She sighed. “I just don’t like thinking about leaving school.”

He thought he had an idea of where this was leading, but he put his arm around her nonetheless.

“Why not?” he asked. “It’s exciting. We get to go out and make our own lives, and fall flat on our faces.”

Lily laughed softly. “I know. I just—” She hesitated.

“You what?”

“Well...I’m scared,” Lily said into his shoulder.

“Why?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, sighing. “I mean...what’s going to happen? I don’t know what I’m going to do for a job, or where I’m going to live, and—” she paused. “When are we going to see each other? We live hours apart.”

James tightened his hold on her. “Don’t worry. It’ll all work out.”

“But how?” Lily said, sitting up and looking at him. “I can’t leave and say goodbye to you without knowing when I’ll see you next.”

“We can Apparate,” James said, brushing her hair behind her ear. “We’ve done it before.”

She sighed and looked down at the floor, still unhappy. James wasn’t sure what he was supposed to tell her.

“I promise, it’ll be fine,” he said. “I love you.”

She smiled at him just slightly. “I love you too.” He kissed her, and when they broke apart, she said, “I’m sorry, I know I’m being melodramatic.”

“It’s all right,” he told her. “And as for everything else, you’ll get it sorted.”

Lily nodded, biting her lip. “I was thinking...I mean, I don’t know if it’s going to work out...but...maybe...I should move closer to London. There are more jobs there, and we could—”

She stopped, looking embarrassed, and James took her face in his hands.

“Listen to me,” he said, “there’s nothing to worry about. If you lived halfway around the world, I’d find a way to see you. You don’t have to move closer.”

“What if I want to?”

“Well, what if I want to move closer to you, then?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lily said, laughing.

“Let’s make a deal. I won’t be ridiculous if you calm down,” James said. Lily eyed him suspiciously.

“Somehow I don’t think it’s possible for you to keep that promise.”

“Well, same to you. Shall we try to prove each other wrong?”

Lily nodded and kissed him again. “I don’t want you to stop being ridiculous, though,” she said, her lips brushing against his as she spoke.

“However you like it,” he replied, pulling her back to him. Sometimes he was not too devastated by the thought of being separated from Lily, if only because it was becoming a bit torturous to spend time with her like this. Physical distance might actually help preserve some of his sanity. Of course, it would probably chip away at it just as easily, but he really did believe that everything would work out for the best. It always had, after all.



........




It was traditional for the graduating seventh-years to attend a separate supper party the night before the Leaving Feast, as a sort of send-off. At seven-thirty on Thursday evening, once regular dinner had concluded, Lily headed to a small antechamber off the Great Hall with James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, where a good number of their classmates were already gathered around several tables that each seated fourteen people. The teachers were not sitting separately at a high table as they usually did, but instead were scattered amongst their students. They would not be students much longer, Lily reminded herself, and she knew that it was why the teachers were sitting with them. They were about to join the world as fully-qualified adults.

Lily headed towards an empty section of one of the tables with James and the other boys and sat down, looking around the room. It was somewhat reminiscent of one of Slughorn’s parties, in a way. Gold candelabras floated like chandeliers above the tables, bathing the room in amber light. Professors McGonagall and Sprout were in conversation at a table two away, both wearing finer robes than they did regularly.

The more she looked, the more Lily noticed that the room seemed under-populated, given how many students were in their year. Some of the Slytherins seemed to be absent, but Snape was sitting next to Slughorn. Lily felt a little bad for him, having no one to sit with but his teacher. It all made her feel a bit too contemplative, especially when she started thinking about how it could have been her sitting next to him instead, had things turned out differently.

She felt her hand being squeezed and was pulled from her thoughts. James was smiling at her in the strange, contented way that he sometimes did, and Lily was reminded that she was quite happy with where she was sitting.

“How do you suppose we’re going to get food, then?” Sirius asked the table at large, and Lily noticed for the first time that there were no empty serving dishes on the tables as there usually were in the Great Hall, just empty plates and cutlery.

“Maybe it’s going to be a buffet,” Remus suggested, shrugging. Lily noticed that the four of them were more subdued than usual, and wondered what it must be like for them to be leaving. James seemed to be unfailingly optimistic about it, but Lily had a hard time believing it was that simple.

Peter was in the middle of pointing out that there was no table for a buffet when Lily felt someone sit down beside her: Anna.

“Hi,” she said, sweeping her brown hair behind her ear. Lily was taken aback for a few moments. “Something wrong?”

“Erm—no, nothing,” Lily replied, shaking her head. “Where’s Mary?”

Anna shot a dark look across the room. Lily followed her gaze and saw the back of Mary’s head sitting with a group of Hufflepuff girls.

“Why aren’t you two sitting together?” Lily asked.

Anna shrugged. “Same reason you two aren’t.”

“What? You two got in another argument?”

“No, not really an argument,” Anna said lightly. “I was trying to get her to be reasonable and patch things up with you, but she was being really stubborn about it. Eventually it devolved into her telling me that I always hold her back, and that it would be best if we parted ways so she could go forward into her future without any limitations.”

Lily’s mouth hung open in shock. “She said that?”

“Not in so many words, but that was the general thrust of it. She’s gone loony, if you ask me. Anyway, you don’t mind if I sit here, do you?”

“No, of course not,” Lily said, feeling a rush of warmth toward Anna for standing up for her. She had obviously jumped to conclusions about her friend’s loyalty, and felt silly for it now. She should have known that Anna would be sensible enough to see that Mary was not being herself.

The mystery of the evening’s faire was solved soon afterward: all they had to do was tell their plates what they wanted to eat, and it would appear moments later. All the boys seemed to consider this the most exciting moment of their entire school career and ordered plate after plate of food: roast beef, potatoes, meat pie, cake, and so it went on, until all of them were complaining of stomach aches. Meanwhile, Lily listened to Anna enumerate all the job interviews that her family had set up for her in the coming weeks. As dismissive as Anna was, Lily could see something like excitement in her eyes—almost enough to make her jealous and discomfited about her own future.

Lily was not so disorganized that she had failed to give any thought to her plans, of course, but all she had really decided was to play to her strengths, at least to begin with—which meant she would likely end up in something involving Potions. She had not yet resigned herself to asking Slughorn for help; there was something that made her want to try her own strength, and it felt like cheating to rely on a teacher’s help when she was no longer a student.

The ivory taper candles were half their original size by the time everyone finished their meals and Dumbledore stood from his seat, goblet in hand. For all the attempts to emphasize equanimity between students and teachers, the seventh-years still fell silent when their Headmaster was waiting to speak.

“Another year past,” Dumbledore began, smiling, “and yet, regrettably, no longer shall any pass for you as students of this school. You must face the rest wholly independent, and I know that I speak for every one of your teachers when I say that I hope you have learned in the past seven years not only how to write essays and perform spells, but also how to step out into the world as confident and capable adults.”

He paused, and the room was still. Lily had a feeling that he must be about to say something about Voldemort.

“None of us can deny that our world is in turmoil,” he continued, confirming Lily’s suspicions. “Life is hard and tumultuous—but so it has been for all of the past graduates of Hogwarts, and so it shall remain for all that follow you. No doubt that you shall have cause to dwell on trouble and heartache that none of you should have to suffer, but you will also experience your share of joys and successes.

“My greatest wish is that you will take those first steps into the world with a bond between yourself and every other person in this room: that the experience of attending school together means that you will not hesitate to help each other when you are in need. It no longer matters what Houses you belong to. It is what you share—what makes you similar—which will matter much more.

“And, so, I would like to propose that we raise our goblets and toast to your futures: whatever may be in store, may you live happily, healthily, and without homework.”

Laughter broke the heavy silence as they all lifted their goblets, and the celebratory feeling had been renewed in the room.

“Cheers to that,” Sirius said. “If I never have to see another library again in my life, it’ll be too soon.”

“But where will you get all your Fifi LaFolle novels, then?” Remus asked, smirking.

“I’ll just borrow them from you, I expect,” Sirius shot back, turning the joke around.

Lily laughed, feeling genuinely light-hearted. As usual, Dumbledore had made her see things in a radically new way with few words. He was right, after all: leaving Hogwarts would not have been easy no matter what, and she would only make it worse by worrying. She could choose to be positive, and she would. At the very least, she would try. Since when had she started being so pessimistic, anyway?

Their dinner concluded soon afterward, and everyone returned to their common rooms and dormitories. Within the Gryffindor common room, it felt like there was some sort of invisible barrier between the seventh years and the other students: an aura of exclusivity borne of the knowledge that they were not really students anymore, like the rest. Perhaps it was all relative, though—Lily remembered feeling a similar kind of distinction at the end of the previous year at being an incoming seventh year, and at the end of fifth year, for finishing O.W.L.s.

Of course, that was not the only division, which Lily was reminded of when Mary went straight up to the spiral staircase without a word to anyone else, but she tried to keep herself from being bothered by that. If what had happened with her and Anna was anything to go by, there really wasn’t any point in fretting over it, since Mary obviously wasn’t.

From there, everything was just about tying up loose ends. People began packing their things and reminiscing over the past seven years with wistful expressions. Lily had little to look back upon that brought back overwhelmingly pleasant memories, but she was doing a good job at getting her things packed up.

On Saturday morning, she was putting her last few items away before heading down to the train when Mary joined her. Lily had a moment where she felt some strange mixture of hope and discomfort. She shouldn’t really even want to speak to Mary at all, but there was some nostalgic part of her that had not yet given up hope that things might go back to the way they were—even in the face of what she had heard from Anna the other evening.

But her conflicted feelings were apparently for nothing, since Mary stayed as silent as she had been since their last conversation. They both stood there in absurd, forced silence for nearly ten minutes, filling their trunks. It was only when Lily realized that she had re-folded the same pair of socks three times that she realized how very silly they were both being, and she turned to face Mary.

“We can’t leave without saying anything to each other,” she said quietly. Mary did not immediately react, but Lily saw her cheeks flush pink. When the silence had drawn on too long to expect a response, she started to feel like an idiot. “Fine. Forget it.”

Mary then turned to face Lily, avoiding eye contact and digging into her pockets. She pulled out a folded piece of parchment.

“Snape asked me to give you this,” she said. Her voice sounded constricted, but the accusatory tone had still fought its way out.

She stared at the piece of parchment. Mary held it in between two of her fingers, clearly trying to adopt as casual a pose as possible. Lily wasn’t fooled. She knew what it would mean if she took the note from Mary, how it would be the absolute final blow to whatever was left of their friendship. She couldn’t even be sure that this wasn’t a set-up: that Mary wasn’t just trying to see if Lily would take the bait to further prove her point.

And then there was the fact that it was a note from Severus. She knew he couldn’t possibly have anything to say that she wanted to hear...or at least she was fairly sure of it. Still, she could not help but feel an itch of curiosity. She did want to read it. Now she had to decide whether her attachment to a long-broken friendship would supersede that of an only-just-broken one.

“He said he knew you wouldn’t give him the chance to talk to you, but he had something really important to tell you,” Mary added, since Lily had neither spoken nor moved. “Actually, I think he said warn you about.”

Her friendship with Mary was beyond repair. She kept telling herself that, but only now did it really sink in. She knew what she should do, so she took the parchment from Mary and then pulled out her wand and Vanished it. Lily couldn’t bring herself to apologize out loud, not when Mary had said things that she so strongly disagreed with, but she hoped that her actions could speak for her.

“Well,” Mary said, smiling in mollified sort of way, “I’m glad to see that you’re finally growing a spine when it comes to this kind of thing.”

Her words put a very sour feeling in Lily’s mouth, and she stood there and watched as Mary latched her trunk shut with two sharp clicks.

“Good luck with everything,” Mary said. And then she left the room.

Lily felt a rush of anger and spite. She wanted to go after Mary and yell at her, but she forced herself to stay put and take deep breaths. It was, however, becoming more and more difficult to keep positive.

Her mood was lifted slightly as they left—not because she was glad to put Hogwarts behind her, but because the seventh-years were not traveling to Hogsmeade Station by horseless carriage as they usually did. Instead, they gathered at the edge of the lake and piled into the same boats they had first arrived in on a September night seven years before, and it made Lily smile with affectionate familiarity. The novelty of crossing the lake in the boats had put everyone in high spirits, and there was a great deal of loud chatter and laughing echoing across the surface of the water.

The boats were slightly more cramped than they had been during Lily's first trip in them. Six years and the difference between being a child and nearly an adult had made it more difficult to squeeze in more than two or three people in each boat. She thought it was strange that the boats hadn't just been magically altered to be made more spacious, but perhaps it was yet another form of symbolism to hit home the changes and growth they had all experienced.

Lily climbed into one of the boats and sat behind Anna. Several boats over, she glanced the sun shining off of Mary’s blonde hair where she stood with the same group of Hufflepuff girls. And on Lily’s other side, James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter all piled into a single boat, which sunk down in the water at least six inches and seemed to be on the verge of capsizing. As the boats began to glide across the lake, they were also by far the noisiest group, much to everyone else’s amusement.

“Some things never change, do they?” Anna asked with a wry smile.

Lily laughed. “It does seem reminiscent of first year somehow, doesn’t it?”

They watched a moment later as James tried to stand up at the boat’s prow, and all four boys fell into the water with tremendous splashes. Lily could hear Hagrid’s voice yelling at them above everyone’s laughter. Of course, the four boys took their fall in stride—in fact, seemed to be quite happy about it, and it took them a few moments to quell their laughter enough to try to climb back into the boat.

“Your shoes are squishing,” Lily told James as they walked across the platform towards the train.

“I know,” James said, looking down at his feet in confusion. “I keep drying them, but the next second they’re just as drenched as before.”

He fell behind for a moment trying to dry them off.

“Wonder how long I can keep this up before he realizes,” Sirius remarked. He had just pocketed his wand.

You’re doing it?” Lily asked.

“Well, not just me,” Sirius said. “Peter started it.”

Lily grinned as James rejoined them, an irked expression on his face and a squelching noise still coming from his shoes.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” he said.

“Just wait for them to air-dry,” Remus suggested, doing a rather impressive job at keeping his expression believable.

It wasn’t until they all settled into a compartment (Anna included, surprisingly) that James finally caught on.

Finally, the train starting gaining momentum, taking them down the railroad tracks and away from Hogwarts. Lily kept her gaze directed at the castle until its last turret disappeared from view—coincidentally, it was the top of Gryffindor Tower that she saw last. It still hadn’t quite sunk in that she would not be on this train again in September; no matter how many times she said it in her own head, she couldn’t fully believe it.

The train ride went by too fast. On the crowded platform at King’s Cross, Lily found that she did not quite know how to say goodbye to Anna.

“Good luck,” she said, even though it seemed like a lacklustre thing to say. “Write and tell me how everything’s going.”

“I will,” Anna said, “and you, too.”

“Of course,” Lily said. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see James.

“Ready to go?” he asked. The two of them had planned to go sit and have coffee for a while before returning home, prolonging their goodbye. He did not seem at all bothered by leaving Platform 9 ¾, and Lily envied him for it. He was not really leaving anything behind, after all—he would probably see Sirius, Remus, and Peter the very next day. The strange part was, Lily couldn’t quite figure out what it was that she felt like she was leaving behind.

Lily nodded and then looked back to Anna. “I’ll talk to you soon, then?”

“Yes. See you later, James,” Anna replied, walking towards her parents.

All in all, it felt like a very awkward, hollow goodbye as Anna walked away, and Lily wished she had said a little more—something that could convey her gratitude for Anna’s friendship.

“All right?” James asked, taking her hand in his. Lily shook her head loose of thoughts.

“Yes,” she replied, smiling. “Let’s go find somewhere to sit.”

They walked through the barrier and crowds of people in King’s Cross, out onto Charing Cross Road, and neither one of them said a word. Considering how badly her attempts at telling people how she felt had gone so far today, she found the silence calming. With James, there would not have been the right words, anyway, and she felt that perhaps he was quiet for the very same reason that she was.




In case anyone’s wondering—Fifi LaFolle is a fictional romance author, made up by JK Rowling, who lived from 1888-1971. Her books were called the “Enchanted Encounters” series. That may shed some light on Remus and Sirius’ small exchange in this chapter.

Until next time!

Chapter 31: Taken
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Chapter Thirty-One
Taken




Lily sighed and looked across her bedroom at the clock on her nightstand, which currently read seven o’clock in the evening. She had been checking the time for hours now, as it inched along toward her time of departure. Ever since Platform 9 ¾, all Lily had had was time—time to sit around her house, time to think about how she shouldn’t be sitting around her house, time to think about all the other places she wished she could be instead.

It was strange, so far, being out of school, but not as much as she might have expected. She still felt as though it were just any other summer. The heat felt the same, her family was the same, the way she filled her days was the same; the one thing that should have been different—Lily herself—still felt the same, even. At least for the most part, that was. She had never experienced missing James during the summer before. That was certainly new.

She pushed a copy of the Evening Prophet away from her on her desktop. It was the cause of her sigh, for she had been looking through the available job postings in the paper without much success. She had been doing the same thing every day since she had been home—five now, though it felt like longer—and each time, she had put it down feeling disappointed. When she had mentioned to James that she might want to move to London, he had taken it as her wanting to be closer to him, and while that was true to some extent, she had also been thinking of herself. It felt like she was so far from the magical world here, and she couldn’t envision her future gaining any momentum while she was sitting in her bedroom.

But it wasn’t the time to be concerned, because now it was finally time for her to go.

“Where are you off to?” her mother asked when Lily entered the kitchen.

“I’m going to meet one of my teachers,” Lily said, before correcting herself. “One of my old teachers.”

“What for?”

“He wants to tell me about some job,” Lily explained, shrugging.

“Is it something you’re interested in?” her mother asked, folding a dishtowel.

“I don’t know. He never said much about it,” Lily replied. “Anyway, I should be back in a couple of hours.”

“You seem very excited about this,” her mother remarked. She was eyeing Lily very shrewdly.

“Well, it might be a good opportunity,” Lily said, “and it’s nice to get out of the house for a bit.”

“If you say so,” she replied, without a trace of taking her daughter seriously. “In any case, it’s nice to see you less miserable for a change. You certainly seem to have left your heart back at that school.”

Lily rolled her eyes even as she blushed, and headed for the back door to Apparate away. Her mother had been dropping these cryptic hints ever since Lily had arrived back at home, making her all but certain that her mother had somehow worked out that she had a boyfriend. She figured that it must have been Petunia who had let it slip—it was just like her sister, sticking her nose into Lily’s business and reporting all of it back to their mother, pretending she was doing it for Lily’s own good.

A haze of twilight still hung in the air as Lily touched ground at the outskirts of the High Street of Hogsmeade. The village seemed like a ghost town to her without groups of other students walking between the shops and gathering in groups along the High Street. The air was warm and heavy in the way that only summer nights brought, and Lily did not miss the irony of the fact that, for all her worries about never seeing Hogwarts again, she was staring up at the castle barely more than a week after last leaving it.

She had agreed to meet with James and Professor Dearborn at the Hog’s Head without feeling much enthusiasm. The reason she was really going was because of James. She had not seen him since they had said goodbye in London, and any excuse to see him was good enough in her mind. She could politely sit through whatever Professor Dearborn had to say, if it meant James sitting next to her.

She turned left down the side alley that led to the Hog’s Head, the sound of laughter and talk emanating from The Three Broomsticks fading as she walked. Lily had never visited The Hog’s Head before, as it was not exactly student-friendly, and she found herself feeling apprehensive. It had probably not been the smartest idea, she realized, to go strolling up to The Hog’s Head by herself when it was nearly nightfall. The sign hanging over the door with the image of the bloody boar’s head did not make her feel any less uncomfortable. She crossed her arms, trying to make herself seem as small and unnoticeable as possible.

Inside, she found the strangest assortment of patrons she had seen anywhere. There was a table of three goblins near the back of the room; at the bar, a creature that looked human but for the horns sprouting from his forehead was ordering a drink from the grey-haired bartender. Those who looked more-or-less like regular people were hooded, and Lily felt very uncomfortable with a head of exposed red hair.

Then she saw James—she briefly registered that Professor Dearborn was seated at the table as well, but all she really saw was James, and she didn’t much care about how shady the tavern was anymore.

“Ah, Lily,” Professor Dearborn greeted her. “So glad you could join us.”

She sat down in the chair at James’ right, wishing that they could have been reunited with a little more fanfare than exchanging smiles with each other. As it was, she settled for returning his hold on her hand as warmly as she could.

“I was just asking James whether you had received your exam results yet,” Dearborn explained.

“Oh?” Lily said, looking between the two of them. “Well, I don’t think we find out until later in the summer.”

“Yes, he was saying as much,” Dearborn replied. “I remember how stressful it was, having to wait—I think they should release the results much sooner, at least for N.E.W.Ts…”

The conversation continued with banal small talk for several minutes. Lily wished they could all just get to the point, and then she and James could leave and spend some time together. She was hardly paying attention to anything being said, and was having trouble keeping herself from staring at James. She had forgotten about the bump on the bridge of his nose, and the scar next to his right ear, in the time they had been apart.

“I don’t want to keep either of you for too long; I’m sure you have other plans,” Dearborn said, “and I have a tendency to put off packing my suitcases until the very last moment.”

“Does that mean you’re not teaching at Hogwarts next year?” Lily asked, finally finding something in the conversation that mildly interested her.

“No,” Dearborn replied, “this year was a strict one-time-only engagement. I have other things on my plate.” He paused for a moment. “I may be going abroad again.”

There was a tone to his words that made them seem significant and invited probing. James, ever-curious, was the one to seize on it.

“What are you going to do there?” he asked.

Dearborn’s hesitated and his gaze followed the goblins, who had just risen from their table.

“I’m taking care of some things for Dumbledore,” he said. It was still clear that he was holding back from them, but not bothering to hide it.

“I didn’t know Dumbledore had business in other countries,” Lily said lightly.

“In a manner of speaking.”

Lily now had her full attention on the conversation. She was confused as to what point Dearborn was trying to make, but he certainly seemed to be trying to communicate something with them. Before she could decide whether to speak or not, he leaned forward, glancing around them.

“That’s actually why I’ve asked you to meet me here,” he said, speaking softer than before. “You see…well, this business we’re speaking of…both Dumbledore and I believe that you two might be well-suited to assisting us.”

Lily was now more confused than ever.

“This is—this is something do with—You-Know-Who, isn’t it?” James said, wisely choosing not to blurt out Voldemort in present company. Lily remained in the dark.

“I thought you had your suspicions, Potter,” Dearborn said, grinning slightly. “You’re right.”

“So—it’s true, then? Dumbledore is in charge of a group that—” James stopped, looking to Dearborn to finish the sentence.

“We do our part in the fight,” Dearborn said, folding the corner of his napkin compulsively. “And yes, Dumbledore organizes it all.”

“Wait,” Lily said, breaking into the conversation, “I’m not sure if I understand…”

“I can’t be very specific now, I’m sure you understand,” Dearborn said. “I just wanted to get a sense of whether either of you would be interested—if you are, I’m sure Dumbledore will—”

“I am,” James interrupted. Lily wondered if she had accidentally fallen asleep and started dreaming—this whole conversation was too strange to be real.

“I had a feeling,” Dearborn replied, looking at James with a pleased smile. He then turned to Lily. “And what about you, Miss Evans?”

Lily was still in surprised silence. It took her a few moments before she had the sense to stop sitting there with her mouth hanging open.

“I…well, I think I’d have to…think about it,” she said lamely.

“Of course,” Dearborn said. “I don’t mean to pressure either of you. And you should give it some thought. I won’t pretend that it isn’t a major commitment.”

It appeared that no one really knew what to say after that. A few moments of silence stretched between them, and Dearborn sat up straight again, slapping his hands on his knees.

“Well,” he said, “I should get back to the castle. My train leaves early tomorrow morning.”

Lily got up from the table and moved toward the exit with him and James. She was still reeling from the conversation, especially how quickly James had agreed to Dearborn’s offer. How had he even known about this ahead of time? And why hadn’t he ever mentioned it to her?

“I should say also,” Dearborn added as they walked through the door, “that whatever you decide, make sure not to put it in writing. See Dumbledore in person at the castle.”

“Of course,” James said. Lily nodded along with him. It took a minute or two, until they had waved goodbye to their teacher and started to walk towards the end of the street, for Lily to understand what he had meant. She refrained from saying anything until she was back in the park at the end of her street, James having offered to accompany her back.

“Well, that was interesting,” she stated. James looked amused. “How did you know what he was talking about before he even said it?”

James shrugged. “I was suspicious for awhile. I overheard my parents talking about some things…and I guess my assumption turned out to be right.”

“You never mentioned it to me,” Lily said. She was trying to keep anything like resentment out of her voice.

“I wasn’t really sure about it,” James said.

Lily nodded. Why couldn’t she help herself from acting like a sullen baby right now? Why did it matter if James had told her or not?

“Are you mad about something?” he asked her.

“No,” Lily said, and she wasn’t lying. She just felt very strange, was all. “I’m just—I’m in shock from that entire thing. I wasn’t expecting that at all. But—” she paused, and looking at him, remembered how she had felt when she first saw him that night. “For right now, let’s just forget that, because I missed you.”

It was a good ten minutes before any type of coherent conversation continued, and the two of them had migrated to sitting together on one of the swings.

“How can you be so sure this is what you want to do?” Lily asked, resting her head on his shoulder.

“I just feel like it’s right,” he said. Lily could feel the vibration of his voice against her face. “It’s what I want to do, only better.”

“How so?”

“Well, I wanted to be an Auror,” James said. “This is the same thing, but I don’t have to bother with training for years.”

“But we don’t even know what it involves,” Lily replied, lifting her head and looking at him. “It could be completely different from being an Auror—it’s not fair, that we have to say yes before we even know what we’re agreeing to.”

“Wouldn’t be much of a secret if they told us everything.”

“No, I know,” Lily said. “It just…it seems like an awful lot to ask, sight unseen.”

James brushed his hand through her hair lightly. “Well, you heard Dearborn. You don’t have to say yes.”

“But you are,” Lily said, biting her lip. James nodded.

She felt like she was standing at a crossroads. If she were to say no, and go on with life as usual while James did the opposite, she could only see them drifting apart. He would see her differently, if she declined.

She wasn’t sure she could stand that. She had told James that she loved him countless times already, but only lately did she feel like she understood what her feelings meant, how deep they went. More than anything else, she didn’t want to lose James. At some level, she wanted to say yes because of the right reasons: helping people, doing the right thing. But part of her was being selfish. She wanted to be with James.



………




It was strange to James that it should be night. He felt alive and full of energy, as if he had just woken after an excellent sleep, even while he sat there in the dark of night with Lily, talking about their meeting with Dearborn.

“Odd, how he told us not to send anything in the post,” Lily remarked.

“Yeah, I never would have considered that someone else might read it,” James replied.

“I wonder how someone would. I mean, if you work at the Ministry, of course—but somehow I don’t think that’s what he was worried about,” she said. “The—the Death Eaters can’t do something like that, can they?”

He shrugged. “Maybe. If one of them worked at the Ministry…or maybe they just Stun post owls for sport.”

He was trying to be light-hearted, but only received a brief and faint smile from Lily.

“It’s all got me feeling a bit spooked,” she said.

“Well, I’ll walk you to your door, if you like,” he offered.

“Oh, you’d better not,” she advised, “unless you’re interested in an interrogation upon arrival.”

“I don’t mind.”

She smiled at him ruefully. “Another time. I can make it to the door on my own for tonight.”

“You haven’t told your family you have a boyfriend, have you?” he asked, trying to keep his tone light.

“Well—not—” she stammered, before changing tack completely. “Have you told your parents?”

She had a fair point, James realized. Somehow it hadn’t seemed fitting to mention it when he was doing his best to avoid them—his own particular revenge for the fact that they still refused to be honest with him about whatever was wrong with his dad.

“It has nothing to do with you,” she said, kissing him on the cheek and standing up. “Promise. I’m just not ready for the parental breakdown that will most likely occur when I tell them.”

“Right,” he said. “Well, I’ll watch from here and make sure you get to your door, at least.”

Saying goodbye took a few minutes, but eventually they parted, this time with plans to see each other as soon as possible. It did not give him a pleasant feeling, to watch her walk away after seeing her so briefly, but he tried to put up a good show, as she seemed even more distressed by it than him.

James kept his eyes trained on Lily’s retreating figure as she walked down the road, back to her front door. He had to admit that he was a little put off by her reluctance to let her parents meet him, and hoped that it was, as she said, nothing to do with him. It was strange that even now, after he had succeeded in making Lily his girlfriend, he still felt like she held the upper hand in their relationship. He could never be completely sure of her feelings for him, it seemed, and it made him frown a little as he scuffed the patchy ground with the toe of his shoe.

He briefly wondered whether it would be too late to pay Sirius a visit, reminding himself yet again that he should get his watch fixed, but his mundane thoughts were slowly replaced by a feeling of paranoia. It felt like someone was standing nearby, far enough away that the darkness kept them from James’ sight, but close enough for him to sense their presence.

Why did his mind jump to the worst conclusions first? It probably was no one who wanted to bother with him, he told himself. There must be teenagers around the neighbourhood who probably frequented this park at night, using it as a shortcut or a place to get some privacy with their boyfriends or girlfriends—in which case, James was quite glad that he couldn’t see them.

He shook himself, trying to calm his nerves. Lily was nearly at her door, anyway, and then he could Disapparate. The more he tried to ignore the quickening pace of his heart, however, the worse it seemed to become, until in a moment of desperate panic, he whirled around to face the trees, determined to pinpoint the source of his discomfort.

He saw nothing. The wind blew through the trees, and the leaves sounded like shivers. His heart began to slow down, but his muscles still felt frozen in tension. Something still wasn't right.

A light appeared in between two of the trees in front of him, like a reflection, and startled him into stumbling backward in panic. He did not even have enough time to wonder what it had been, or reach for his wand, before a figure robed in black stepped out from the trees.

All his imagined scenarios in which he was some kind of heroic dueller were shattered; his only thought was to run, and fast. He tried to, but tripped over part of the swing set, feeling a sharp stinging on his elbow once he slammed into the ground.

It turned out that he was lucky to have fallen: a spell flew over him, and surely would have hit its mark if he had been upright. He knew there would be more coming, and frantically tried to reach his wand in his jacket pocket and stand back up.

He dodged a purple shot of light before managing to set up a Shield Charm; the momentary protection gave his brain the chance to wonder what the hell was happening. Why was he being attacked? And by who? Had they mistaken him for someone else?

The next spell directed at him was strong enough to push him backward a few steps, and his Shield Charm fell. His wand then went flying from his hand toward the edge of the trees.

He was unarmed and being advanced upon quickly; it was only a matter of seconds before he was Stunned, or even killed. He thought of Apparating—but could he, without a wand? And there was Lily, too, she might come back, or the attacker might go after her—

So he dove in the direction of his wand, hoping to retrieve it before any damage was done. He tried to keep from staying still, making himself a moving target, and several curses missed him by inches. Where was it, where was it? He raked his hands across every inch of ground he could, praying that he would make it for just a few more moments.

There. His left hand closed around his wand, and he pushed himself up using a nearby tree trunk, ready to defend himself.

At least, he had been ready to defend himself from spells; he had not been prepared for his attacker to resort to physical contact. A black-robed arm held his neck up against the tree, and the other wrenched his wand from his hand. He could hardly breathe, and his throat was in immense pain; he tried to free himself, but the hold was too strong.

Everything was starting to fade when one sound pierced the consciousness James had left—a voice, frightened and familiar, saying his name. He looked through the stars taking over his vision and saw the outline of another person standing nearby.

The attacker relented, sending much-needed oxygen into James’ lungs. He felt himself being dragged away from the tree, and everything around him came into better focus.

If he had been scared before, it was nothing compared to how he felt when it finally registered that Lily was there. She had come back.

“No—” he said, forcing sound of his restricted throat, “—go—”

She couldn’t be here; she was going to die, and it would be all his fault. He tried to silently plead with her to run, but she paid him no heed and pulled out her wand instead.

“Let him go!” she said. Her voice sounded shaky, but perhaps that was because he was losing consciousness again.

He was being pulled in a strange direction now, and it dimly occurred to him that the robed figure was trying to Disapparate, taking James with him. He tried to struggle against it for a few moments, but he saw a jet of light go toward Lily…if they Disapparated, she wouldn’t be in danger anymore. He hated the thought of it, since wherever he reappeared would probably not be good news for him, but if he could just separate Lily from it, keep her from getting hurt…maybe he could handle himself.

So he stopped fighting.

There was a shriek, and just before he was pulled into the crushing oppression of Apparition, he felt a small, soft hand close around his wrist.

Chapter 32: Shadows in the Dark
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Chapter Thirty-Two
Shadows in the Dark




James felt himself hit ground again, flung out of the grip of Apparition and of his attacker. He still felt extremely disoriented, and had to concentrate with all his might on pushing himself up from the ground without falling back over again.

He knew what had made them land so unceremoniously, but until he saw Lily a few feet away, he had still held onto some hope that she had not tagged along. He had been trying to get away from her, and now it was for nothing; they were—well, he didn’t quite know where they were. That didn't matter, though. What did matter was getting away away as fast as they could.

Imperio!”

James had not taken a single step, nor could he now: the possibility of free movement had left him.

“Bloody kids,” their attacker cursed, spitting on the ground.

It was almost a blessing, this feeling. The concern and fear that had been in the forefront of his mind was wiped away, and he felt relaxed, like he had just woken up after a pleasant dream.

The man in the robes had been straightening himself out, it seemed, but now he spoke again.

“Come with me,” he grunted.

James was aware of the magic making him move forward, and it annoyed him for a moment. He had felt just fine standing where he was, after all. But giving into the movement, following the command—it felt better than when he tried not to.

Freed from all other thought, James gazed upon their surroundings with detached interest. They were next to a very large stone manor, set in the expanse of a large field. It seemed like a nice place—undisturbed and picturesque.

He followed the robed man around the side of the house, toward the imposing front doors. They passed by a fountain, and the sound of the water falling seemed to barely wash up on his consciousness. Everything came to him slower and duller than usual, like all the sharp edges of the world had been smoothed out.

They went inside, stopping in a dimly lit entrance hall. There was someone else with them now, a pale woman—and suddenly James remembered Lily. She wasn’t supposed to be here, he knew that, but even thinking about something other than what he was supposed to felt abnormal, like an effort. But something was wrong. He had to tell her that—but tell her what? Now he couldn’t remember at all—

“—enough.”

Everything seemed to bloom back to life in one moment: someone had lifted the curse.

James looked around. Somehow, he had lost of track of what was happening, and they had moved out of the front hall into another room. His first thought was Lily; he found himself equally horrified and reassured that she was still standing next to him. Her face was white, but beyond that, she was not showing any signs of terror or worry. She was looking back at him almost as if to say that everything would be fine, which didn’t seem right: he was the one who had gotten them into this mess in the first place.

“What is this, Avery?”

Another masked figure was in the room with them, his voice masculine as well. James wondered what had happened to the woman with light hair, or if he had hallucinated her presence.

“Wasn’t intentional,” the other man, the one who had captured them, replied. James assumed he must be related to the Avery they went to school with, and a wild thought occurred to him: was this something to do with the Slytherins? Had they set this up as some sort of payback?

“You could not bring an adolescent boy here without issue,” the other voice said, dripping with accusation.

“Wasn’t my fault,” Avery repeated. “Besides, we can get rid of the girl easily enough.”

“Let her go,” James said, his power of speech suddenly jumping back to life.

The two masked faces turned in his direction.

“Sit down,” the newer man said, his voice silky but forceful. When neither James nor Lily moved, he took out his wand.

Before James could even think to duck or move, he felt that strange placid state descend on him again. His feet once again moved of their own volition, but this time he only took a few steps before he was conscious of what was happening, and tried to free himself from the curse. His struggle was in vain, however; regardless of how much effort he put into fighting against it, he ended up sitting down on the settee a few moments later.

“We need to work quickly,” the man said to Avery, “the Dark Lord wants this finished tonight.”

So they were Death Eaters, then. James could not imagine anyone but Voldemort being referred to as the “Dark Lord”, after all, but the knowledge of what they were really involved in did not make him feel any better. The situation had just grown decidedly worse.

“Should I take the girl?”

James’ muscles tensed; he was ready to fight them off if anyone made a move towards Lily.

“No,” the silky-voiced man said, “leave her, for now. We may be able to hand two to the Dark Lord rather than just one.”

Though they were certainly in a bad situation, James felt it must be a good sign that they were both still alive. If they had wanted to kill him, Avery could have accomplished that easily back at the park.

“You look familiar,” the second man said. It was hard to tell through the mask, but he seemed to be looking at Lily. “What is your name?”

She seemed insistent on staying silent, but James knew they would eventually force her to talk. What would happen if they realized she was Muggle-born?

“Her name’s Lily—Longbottom,” he answered for her, praying that the two men didn't know any better.

“I see,” the man said. He did not seem to be questioning the lie. “We did not intend to bring you here, girl, but given the purity of your blood...I hardly think that the Dark Lord shall be displeased.”

“What do you want with us?” James asked, trying to sound defiant and intimidating.

“The Dark Lord has commanded that you join his ranks.”

Even in the midst of how terrified he was feeling, the statement almost made James laugh.

“Commanded? Is that so?” he asked, trying to sound much braver than he felt. “Well, you’re wasting your time. Not going to happen.”

“No? Not even if the alternative is death?”

“If you were going to kill us, you already would have,” James retorted, clinging to the belief.

“You’ll find you’re quite wrong there. My orders are to communicate the Dark Lord’s orders, and to kill you if you refuse.”

His words hung in the air.

“What do you want with us? We’re a couple of teenagers; you can’t honestly care whether we join you or not,” James challenged them, determined to find a way out of this.

“He’s right,” Avery said. “We should just kill them if their answer is no.”

“Not yet,” the other man snapped. “I sincerely doubt that the Dark Lord does care one way or another, Potter.”

“Then let us go!”

“What for? So you can run off to Albus Dumbledore and join his band of Mudblood supporters?”

Silence fell in the room.

“Oh, yes, Potter, we know who you were meeting this evening, and why. We’ve known for weeks what was being planned for you,” he continued. James felt the bottom of his stomach disappearing. “Does that make you feel safe, Potter?”

“Just because you’ve been spying on—”

“You think Dumbledore was unaware of the danger?” the man said, interrupting James’ protest. “You think that he did not know that, by singling you out, he in turn made you the Dark Lord’s next target? Dumbledore is aware that we work against him, that we target his recruits. He threw you carelessly into the line of fire and abandoned you to certain death.”

It’s not true, James told himself. It couldn’t be true. Dumbledore would never do that to two of his students, nor would Dearborn.

“We’re not going to join you,” Lily spoke up, her voice thin. “Just let us go. We’ll never tell anyone about this, we promise.”

“That’s what they all say,” Avery said harshly, before turning to his partner. “We’re running out of time.”

James knew he and Lily were running out of time as well. Putting aside all of the questions and uncertainties flying around in his head, he started trying to think of how they were going to get out. They only had two adversaries, which meant that there was at least some small chance that they could manage an escape, if only luck was on their side. But James was still lacking a wand, which posed a major problem.

“Very well,” the man said. “It’s time for you both to answer. Make your choice wisely, however: refusing on principle is useless when the champions of those principles have no care for you. Only the Dark Lord has the power to save you now.”

James was still thinking wildly, his heart racing a thousand miles a minute. They were going to get out of this, they had to, they were only eighteen years old, and things couldn’t possibly end this way—not on some ordinary Saturday evening, out-of-the-blue. James simply could not accept that he was going to die tonight. They would be fine, if only James could get his wand back...

“I won’t,” Lily answered, shaking her head. Her eyes were wide, and James could see that she was afraid. He wished he could tell her that he knew everything would be fine, that at the last minute someone would arrive and save them, because he knew someone would. Someone would come—Dearborn, James' parents, or Dumbledore, or maybe even Sirius, Remus, or Peter. Without thinking, he reached out and took her hand in his, trying to reassure her.

“Fine. And you, Potter?”

“Go to hell,” James said.

“Let’s take them downstairs and finish it, then,” Avery said.

“Not so fast,” the other man said, sounding almost amused. “I’ve just seen what a dilemma Potter is in.”

“Bloody hell, Malfoy, enough with the theatrics. We’ve got places to be.”

Malfoy. Now James knew exactly who it was standing before them, threatening their lives. He had seen Lucius Malfoy as a sixteen-year-old at school, and if he remembered correctly, the idiot had spent more time looking in a mirror than practicing deadly curses. And if they really were going to kill him, why were they still discussing it?

“We don’t have to return to the Dark Lord empty-handed after all,” Malfoy said.

“Didn’t you hear us? We’re not going with you,” James said. “By the way, didn’t my friends and I turn your Quidditch robes pink once?”

The next moment, James was hit with a Stinging Hex, pain spreading across his chest. It almost made him feel like laughing—Snape had done worse to him while they were still at school. Malfoy was a joke; he wasn't all that much older than James and Lily themselves.

“No, stop!” Lily yelled, standing up. “Please, let us go!”

“You didn’t even want her here in the first place,” James said, also getting his feet. “What difference will it make if you act like she was never here, if you go back and say that it was just me?”

“Take the girl,” Malfoy said to Avery. James immediately moved to stand in front of her, but was hit with an Impediment Jinx, holding him in place. He could only watch as Avery grabbed a struggling Lily by her upper arm and dragged her back to where he had stood before.

“Let her go,” James said; he had never meant words more in his life.

“You see, Potter, this is what happens to fools who think that martyrdom will make the world a better place,” Malfoy said, raising his wand and pointing it at Lily. “Join us, and we let the girl go. Stick to your principles, and we kill her.”

James could feel the effects of the jinx wearing off, but he still could not move. They had him. They had put him in one of the few positions that would make him sign his soul away. He wouldn’t let Lily die, no matter what it meant for him.

He looked at her with the selfish hope that there might be some sort of reassurance in her eyes, something that would make him feel right about what he was choosing. She was nearly crying, he could see, but she would not look at him. He felt a grim feeling settle in him, for he could tell what she was feeling. She was not prepared to die; she was not about to make some grand declaration of sacrifice for his benefit. She wanted to be allowed to walk away, even knowing that it would mean she never saw him again.

Now that he knew he was willing to grant her that, he knew beyond all doubt that he really and truly loved her. And he finally found himself realizing that she might never feel the same way.

“Fine,” he said, his voice faltering. “I’ll do it, just let her leave.”

“Good, Potter,” Malfoy said. “You’re finally beginning to understand the way the world works. See her out, Avery.”

James looked down at the floor, knowing it would be too hurtful to watch her go. He knew he was doing the right thing, but it didn’t feel right at all. He wished he had his wand to direct some of the anger he was feeling at the two people who had just ruined his life. The door clicked shut and looked up: she was gone. Now he finally understood that no one was going to come to their rescue.

“Now, Potter, you shall meet your new master,” Malfoy said, using his wand to unbutton the cuff of his right sleeve. James caught a glimpse of some bizarre, faded tattoo there, and almost smiled a little at the thought of a Voldemort tattoo that wiggled around when Malfoy flexed his arm...

There was a yell from outside the room, a man’s voice. Malfoy hesitated and then flew toward the door; James stood still for a few moments longer before he realized he was not longer being watched. His chance to escape had come. Their chance to escape. He darted around the settee, picking up a heavy brass clock sitting on a sidetable.

Malfoy had just wrenched open the door, his wand raised. James lifted the clock and tried to imagine it was just a Quaffle as he hurled it across the room. It hit Malfoy square on the back of the head, causing him to fall out into the entrance hall face-first. James sprinted to the door, jumping over his unconscious figure, and saw Avery writhing on the ground noiselessly. His robes were drawn around his neck like a vise, and Lily was standing, her wand pointed at him and a sick look on her face.

“What do I do?” she asked, looking at James. He didn’t know what to say. As much as he hated both Avery and Malfoy right now, he wasn’t sure if he was prepared to be part of killing one of them. How could he have threatened it just minutes ago, and now feel so afraid?

“James, I can’t,” Lily said, shaking her head. “I don’t know what to do.”

He could hear voices ringing around the cavernous hallways of the manor—someone had heard the commotion and knew something was wrong.

“We have to run,” he said. “Stop.”

Lily pulled her wand away, looking relieved.

“Get my wand from him,” James told her.

Accio James’ wand,” she said, and a moment it flew out from under Avery’s heaving form.

“Let’s go,” James said, pulling her toward the front doors.

With every step that took him out of the manor, James expected someone to come running after them, but no one did. It seemed impossible that they had made it out alive, both of them, together. Everywhere around, James saw shadows that looked like new people come to attack them.

“James, we can Apparate,” Lily said. “I can take us—”

“No,” James said swiftly. “We can’t go anywhere near your house right now.”

“But—”

“Just take my arm,” he said. “Don’t argue, we don’t have time.”

“I wasn’t—” she started, but before she could finish, James turned on the spot and her words, along with them, were nothing.

 

.........




When Lily next opened her eyes, she was standing in the dark.

Lumos,” she heard James say, and light flared between them. As her eyes adjusted, she saw they were in a small, dingy room with torn wallpaper, rough floors, and several broken pieces of furniture strewn about.

“Where are we?” Lily said. She wanted to be somewhere reassuring, like her bedroom at home, not in some strange place.

“Shrieking Shack,” James said, his face lit by the wand in a spooky way.

“What? Why did you bring us here? It’s haunted!”

“Calm down,” James dismissed her. “It’s not true, remember?”

“Oh—right,” Lily replied. “I'm sorry. I can’t think straight right now.”

“Let’s go,” was all James said. He was being very short with her, and Lily couldn’t blame him. He saw right through her, knew what she had felt in those worst moments: the desperation to avoid death. She had wanted to be like him, to be brave and tell him no, tell him that she would rather die than force him to make that choice. She knew he would have, had their positions been reversed, but she just couldn’t face the idea of dying. And the worst of it was that it had all been for nothing; Avery had hissed at her as he dragged her from the room that she was never going to see the light of day again. It had been the anger over the lie which had given her the ability to fight away enough to get a curse aimed at him.

“Wait—James,” she said. “Are you all right? You’re not hurt?”

She realized the irony only after she had spoken.

“I’m fine,” James replied.

“But—that Stinging Hex—”

“It’s nothing,” James said. “Now’s not the time. We have to go to see Dumbledore and tell him what happened.”

“James...” she said, trying to find the right words. He stopped, but did not look at her. “I—thank you. And I’m so—” she stopped. He had visibly bristled at the impending apology. Her tears were now forcing themselves forward, determined not to be keep in any longer. “How did this happen to us? I don’t understand why—we never did anything!”

She wiped the moisture from her cheek with her sleeve. James seemed to be pretending for the time being that he had not realized she was crying.

“You heard what they said,” he replied. “They knew Dearborn was meeting us, and they wanted to get to us first. Well, to me.”

“Do you—you don’t think the rest of what they said was true, do you?” Lily asked, sniffing pathetically.

She heard him sigh. “I don’t know.” There was a pause. “No, it can’t have been. They were just trying to taunt us.”

“Maybe—I mean, maybe we shouldn’t go to Dumbledore,” Lily suggested. “If that’s what got us into trouble in the first place—”

“Don’t you see?” James asked. “We don’t have any choice, not now. If we don’t go to Dumbledore and get his help, we won’t live to see next week.”

She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. “What about the Ministry? We could go to the Aurors.”

“Do you trust them as much as you trust Dumbledore?”

“I—no, I suppose I don’t,” Lily said, thinking of all the times she had sat listening to Anna read off the names of Aurors that had been killed by Death Eaters. “I’m just...I can’t understand any of this.”

James exhaled, and she finally saw emotion pass over his face as he muttered, “You shouldn’t have come after me.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked. “You couldn’t expect me to just walk away.”

“No, I didn’t,” he said, almost too quietly to hear.

Her stomach twisted. She had gone after him, when she had seen the strange lights flashing in the darkness that she knew could only be spells, but she had never expected to find what she had. At the time, she had assumed that it was Snape, that he had seen them and decided to carry on his tradition of cursing James at every opportunity. But instead—she couldn’t even think about it now, what she’d come face-to-face with instead.

She would have never believed herself to be so cowardly that the mere thought of something could frighten her. She never had been this cowardly before. The Sorting Hat had put her in Gryffindor, after all, and Lily was feeling like it had made a mistake all those years ago.

“James, please just look at me,” she pleaded. When he did, she wished that she had never asked him, for he was looking at her with a kind of detachment she had never seen in his eyes, not when looking at her. “I don’t know—I’m not sure what I should say, but I’m so sorry for what I did, and I wish I could take it back, more than anything.”

“It’s fine,” he said, looking away again. “You were scared, I understand.”

“That’s not an excuse,” she replied. “I shouldn’t have—”

“Lily, I really don’t want to talk about this.”

“I’m just supposed to accept the fact that you hate me, and not say a word about it?” Lily asked. She very much wished she was not suddenly crying again.

“I hate you?” James asked. “That’s what you think that was back there, showing how much I hate you?”

“No—not—I mean, now,” she said.

“I don't hate you,” he said, frustrated, “You know that I love you.”

The relief that came with him saying that made her feel weak, but not any better. How could he still feel that way after she had been so selfish? He should hate her; he had every right to. Why did he have to be so good? It only made her feel worse about herself.

“Let’s not worry about any of this right now,” James said. “We just have to get to Dumbledore; I expect the quicker we can get to him, the better. Maybe they can send people to go arrest them.”

Lily was not comforted but his suggestion of not worrying right now, as it implied there would be something to worry about later, but James had a point. It would be better to move as quickly as they could, much as she did not want to leave the safety of this unknown hideaway.

With James in front, they reached the end of the low corridor outside the room. There was an earthen opening above them, and Lily caught a glimpse of the sky

“Do you think it’s safe to go out there?” she asked.

“I doubt anyone would come here to look for us,” James replied. “Even if they did, at least Dumbledore and some of the teachers are nearby. And we have our wands.”

Lily nodded, though not entirely reassured. They had, after all, just been in Hogsmeade a little over an hour ago—and if was true, if there were people following them, this might be one of the very first places they looked.

“Wait here for a minute,” James told her, conjuring a ladder that led up to the opening and scampering up it.

She did not like standing there in the dark by herself, even for a few moments. The Shrieking Shack might not be haunted, but it was still undeniably spooky, especially after the night she had just had. She didn't waste any time hauling herself up the ladder when she heard James call for her to come up.

There was something about Hogwarts that made her feel safe, and she longed for the not-so-far-off days when that safety had surrounded her all the time. It seemed like everything had gone wrong since she had left school, and she found herself desperately wondering whether returning back here, even if only temporarily, would somehow repair it all.

Her heart sank when they finally reached the doors and found them to be locked shut. James swore under his breath and pushed the door several times, but Lily knew they must be enchanted and immune to physical force.

“Do you know another way in?” Lily asked him.

“Not unless we go back to Hogsmeade,” he said crossly, “and there’s no way we’re doing that. We’d have to break into Honeydukes even if we did.”

“Maybe—I mean—we could knock?” she said, shrugging. “Someone might hear.”

“I suppose so,” he said, and used his fist to pound on the door several times. They seemed to be thick as cement, however, and Lily doubted that anyone would hear them knocking. James was raking his hands through his hair.

“It’s fine,” she said, determined to keep a level head. “We know Dearborn’s here, don’t we? We’ll just go find his window and get him to let us—”

The sound of locks sliding made her stop mid-sentence, and a moment later, the doors began to open for them.

“Or...that could work,” James said, as Lily stood next to him in surprise. “Let’s go.”

Had it been any other time, Lily might have wondered at how the doors had miraculously opened for them—perhaps even considered it suspicious—but now, all she could think to do was continue on.

Finally, after scaling seven floors, they reached the statue of the gargoyle that concealed the entrance to Dumbledore’s office. Though James said the password (“wine gums”), the gargoyle remained stationary, and Lily felt her stomach sink even further.

“The password changed,” she said, stating the obvious. She rested against the wall next to the gargoyle. James was staring fixedly at the gargoyle, perhaps hoping that it would open for them in the same way that the front doors.

“This is some horrible dream, isn’t it?” she asked. Her resolve was being worn away with every passing moment. “What are we going to do? Just sit out here until Dumbledore leaves for breakfast?”

James looked as if he had been pulled out of a trance. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “Dearborn’s here; we’ll go find him instead.”

All Lily could think was that it meant more traipsing around the castle, and it was starting to feel like this was all a continuation of their encounter with the Death Eaters...maybe both Dearborn and Dumbledore had been sent off somewhere so they would be unable to assist Lily and James.

For the third time that night, they found themselves in front of a door—the first time, fate had been kind to them and allowed them entry; the second had remained shut to them. Now, Lily just prayed that this door would open and bring them some relief, if only so this entire ordeal could finally come to a close.

Thankfully, after a few minutes, the door opened and Dearborn stood there, looking at the two of them in shock.

“Made up your minds so quickly, have you?” he asked. “You know, there really wasn’t any rush.”

“No.” Lily shook her head. “It—there were Death Eaters.”

It sounded so ludicrous out loud that she could not imagine Dearborn believing her at all, but his brows immediately contracted in a frown.

“What?”

“After we left Hogsmeade,” James said. “We were near Lily’s house.”

“Are you all right?” he asked them, stepping out into the corridor.

Lily felt such a feeling of relief to have someone else there to take care of them; both she and James spoke at the same time, making a rush of reassurances. It felt like the first time either of them had actually been happy to speak since they had escaped.

“We’re going to see Dumbledore,” Dearborn stated, even as he was already sweeping off in the direction that they had just come from.

She followed again. This time, it finally felt like there was an end in sight, especially because she felt James take her hand as they walked. Lily felt her heart lift just slightly, and with it came a rush of confidence and hope.

When they finally reached Dumbledore’s office, the gargoyle moved aside for Dearborn as it not had for her and James. Lily had rarely been in the Headmaster’s office in the past, but she was glad that her memory served her right about the staircase ascending of its own accord—after running around the castle, she was in sore need of a moment’s rest before they had to explain to Dumbledore everything that had happened.

With its large windows, being inside the office almost made Lily feel like she was back outside, but there was hardly any comparison—being here did not make her jump at small noises or strange shadows. Instead, it was like a feeling of true calm settled itself at her core, and she knew that everything was going to be all right.




Author's Note: JKR said in an interview in December 2007 that Lily and James were indeed asked to join Voldemort and declined (just in case this chapter has you feeling sceptical).

Chapter 33: Decisions
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Chapter Thirty-Three
Decisions




Dumbledore was wearing the same expression of confused surprise that Dearborn had upon seeing Lily and James outside of his office.

“Ah, Caradoc,” he said, closing the leather-bound book in his hands and placing it on his desk, “I thought your meeting with Miss Evans and Mr Potter had concluded.”

“It had,” Dearborn replied. He conjured two chairs and gestured for Lily and James to sit down.

“Is there some matter that I can help with?” Dumbledore asked, his tone still pleasant.

“Seems that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to see our young friends this evening,” Dearborn said ominously. He paused for a moment. “They say that they ran into Death Eaters after they left the village.”

Dumbledore started out of his chair, now standing behind his desk. “Were either of you injured?”

“No,” James replied before amending, “no lasting damage.”

The two professors shared a look, and Dearborn said, “I wanted to see what you made of it.”

“You haven’t checked?” Dumbledore asked him.

“You think we need to, then?”

“Sorry,” said James, interrupting what was becoming an incomprehensible conversation from where Lily was sitting, “but what’s going on? What are you talking about?”

Dumbledore did not respond, but instead took out his wand and pointed it at James.

“What are you doing?” Lily asked in horror.

“Tell me, please, how someone would enter the Shrieking Shack,” Dumbledore asked, still looking at James.

“What does this have to do with us being attacked?” James asked, eyeing Dumbledore warily.

“We need to ensure that both of you are who you appear to be,” Dearborn explained. “Answer the question.”

James looked furious. “Tunnel underneath the Whomping Willow. Freeze the knot on the trunk and there’s an opening in the roots. Happy?”

Dumbledore seemed satisfied, but turned his wand toward Lily.

“No, that’s enough,” James said, standing up from his chair. “We came to you for help, not an interrogation!”

“Sit down,” Dearborn said. “We have to take precautions.”

“You think I wouldn’t know if she were someone else?” James asked, ignoring Dearborn’s command.

“Potter, I’m sure that was the last living thought of more than few people,” Dearborn said.

“Caradoc,” Dumbledore said, “please. James, I apologize, but this will only take a moment. Now, Lily, tell me who it was that visited your home to deliver the news of your enrolment at Hogwarts.”

She had been worried that he would ask her something difficult to remember, but that day stood out very memorably in her mind.

“It was Professor McGonagall,” Lily replied, and finally Dumbledore put his wand away.

He sat down behind his desk again. “I apologize again, but instances of Death Eaters impersonating people have become exceedingly common in past months.”

“It’s all right,” Lily said, cutting off the diatribe she sensed coming from James next to her. “It’s fine.”

Silence fell in the room for a few moments; Dearborn began to pace back and forth and Dumbledore glanced at him before speaking again.

“Now, please tell us what happened,” he asked Lily and James. Lily looked at James; she could see that his jaw was still set in frustration and thought it best to begin the story herself.

“We left the Hog’s Head,” she explained. “Everything was fine.”

“You did not notice anyone following you, or watching you?” Dumbledore asked.

“No,” Lily said. “I suppose someone could have been—”

“No one was in the Hog’s Head; I’d be willing to bet my wand on it,” Dearborn said. “I spoke to Aberforth when I got there. He said all the customers were regulars, and seemed to be acting normally when he spoke to them.”

“Someone could have been using an Invisibility Cloak,” James pointed out.

“Unlikely,” Dumbledore replied. “Aberforth, the innkeeper at the Hog’s Head, is my brother.” Lily’s eyebrows rose in surprise. It seemed strange to have never learned this in her time at school. “He is friendly to our cause, and he also caters to a clientele that appreciates being protected from unknown eavesdroppers. For that reason, he puts some effort into monitoring who walks through his door, visible or otherwise. What happened after you left the Hog’s Head?”

“We Apparated to a park at the end of my street,” Lily said. “I didn’t notice anything strange until I was nearly at my door. James had stayed back, and I saw strange flashes of light coming from the end of the street...” Her explanation faltered for a moment. “I’m not really sure what happened.”

“This attack occurred near your home?” Dumbledore asked, sounding concerned.

“Yes,” Lily replied. “In the park. At the end of my street.”

The two professors exchanged glances again.

“What? What’s wrong?” Lily asked. Dumbledore stood up again.

“Nothing to worry about,” he said. “I’m going to send someone to your neighbourhood, to make sure the area is safe.”

She felt a jolt in the bottom of her stomach. “My family—I have to go back—”

“You need to stay here,” Dearborn said.

“No, I have to go to them,” she said frantically. Her mind was racing back to her inability to stand up for James, and the thought of doing the same thing to someone else made her feel sick.

“If there are Death Eaters there, it’s odds-on that they’re waiting for you or Potter to show up again,” Dearborn said. “Going back will make things worse, so you need to stay here.”

Lily did not feel comforted at all, but it was enough to make her remain sitting while Dumbledore sent the painted image of a silver-haired witch to the Ministry and conjured something silver that streaked off into the night.

“I’m sending another of our friends to check on your home,” he said.

“But they won’t even know where to go—”

“Like many of those who work in the organization that Caradoc told you about this evening,” Dumbledore said, interrupting Lily’s panic, “Marlene has connections that work to our advantage. She works for the Floo Network Authority, and therefore has easy access to information about the residences of wizards and witches. She can also use the Floo Network to listen in on the connected buildings.”

“The Ministry can do that?” James asked.

“It’s not something they broadcast,” Dearborn said. “People don’t like the idea of being watched. But what I want to know right now is what happened after this Death Eater came after you.”

Together, Lily and James explained all that had occurred—the kidnapping, the Imperius Curse, their eventual escape. At certain points, Dearborn and Dumbledore interjected with questions or explanations. They looked grim when they found out that someone had been keeping tabs on their recruiting efforts, though not overly shocked, and Dumbledore sent the silver-haired witch off again to get someone to check James’ house as well.

“Malfoy, you said?” Dearborn asked, when James named their attackers. “Lucius Malfoy?”

“Yeah,” James answered, “I think I recognized his voice from when he was at Hogwarts—not that I ever had much contact with him.”

“Did you get his wand?” Dearborn interrupted.

“His—? No,” James stammered. Lily could tell that he too was confused as to why Dearborn was looking so crestfallen. “Why?”

“We’ve suspected for some time that Lucius Malfoy might be working with Voldemort,” Dearborn said. “He’s very closely connected to high-up members of the Ministry, and an association with the Death Eaters is—well, it’s worrisome for us, to say the very least. We’ve never been able to confirm it, and with someone as connected and wealthy as Malfoy, we need solid proof of involvement...like his wand.”

“We saw him there, and heard him called by name,” James stated.

“But you say you never saw his face,” Dearborn countered, “and you don’t understand how people like Lucius Malfoy manage to spin these things...”

Lily sat silently as the weight of what he was saying sunk in: nothing was going to happen to the people who had done this to them. She could now understand exactly how James had felt on the occasion that they had gone to Dumbledore to try and get the Slytherins punished. It didn’t matter to her that the explanations they were receiving were logical—how could someone get away with this? Where were the people who were willing to make them pay?

“What about the other Death Eater, Avery?” she asked. “Can’t the Aurors investigate him?”

“They have,” Dearborn replied. “There are a few people, including Avery, which we have no doubt are part of Voldemort’s inner circle; they were friends to him since his time at Hogwarts. They’ve all been put under investigation, and even surveillance, in the past, but nothing incriminating was uncovered.”

“So...they’re just cleared of all suspicion?” Lily asked indignantly.

None of this made any sense; it seemed to her that all the people who should have been jumping on this opportunity to get two Death Eaters arrested were sitting back and letting it pass them by, Dumbledore and Dearborn included. If they weren’t going to do something about it, Lily felt like the least they could do was try to make her and James feel better after the ordeal they had been through—but there they were, shooting down every suggestion they made, acting disappointed that they hadn’t thought to get Malfoy’s wand, offering them no assurances of safety. She clasped her hands, which had been resting in her lap, together tightly in frustration and helplessness.

One thing was clearer now, at least: sitting here and putting all her faith in other people to solve her problems wasn’t going to get anything done.

“I had reservations about asking both of you to join our organization,” Dumbledore said, speaking for the first time in a while. He looked weary and slightly grim. “You are both as true Gryffindors as I have ever seen come through this castle, and the events of tonight only prove that. My concern was always your age, and whether it was fair to ask this of you when you had barely left school.”

James tensed in his chair next to her, and Lily did not particularly like the way Dumbledore was going, either.

“Since we have not received a signal back from Marlene,” he continued, “I think we can assume that both of your families are safe. For now, I think it would be best if you two were to remain here in the Hospital Wing overnight, and then return home tomorrow, once we can establish some protective enchantments.”

“Hold on a minute,” James said. “That’s it? You’ve decided now, after all that, that we’re too young? You single us out, put us in danger, and now—”

“The fact that your meeting with Caradoc put you in danger is the very reason that I think it best for you not to be a part of our work,” Dumbledore said. “You have already attracted a great deal of attention, and allowing you to throw yourselves into the line of danger again and again would be reckless.”

“It’s too late,” James said. “We’re already in the middle of this. You can’t honestly expect us to go home with happy smiles knowing that we’re not going to be in further danger—that isn’t true at all, and you know it!”

Several beats of silence followed. Dumbledore did not look happy, and seemed to be on the verge of making his final statement on the matter, before Lily said, “James is right,” With everyone looking at her, she felt her determination strengthen. “You can’t do this. We’ve both nearly been killed for the same cause you’re supporting, and you tell us that it’s our age that defines whether we can join or not?”

“Lily,” Dumbledore said, kindly, “I think you misunderstand my intention. I certainly do not mean to insult either of your abilities.”

“Well, it is an insult,” she said. “There’s no going back for James or for me. They’ll want us dead now, if they can manage it, so keeping us locked away isn’t keeping us from danger. It’s just forcing us to sit and wait for it to come to us. Let us help you, so we can give ourselves and other people a fighting chance!”

It took a few moments before anyone replied.

“You can’t understand what it’s like, to do what we do,” Dearborn said. He was eyeing her curiously, almost as if he was trying to challenge her, and Lily got the impression that perhaps he was not as adamant about the idea as Dumbledore was.

“Stop saying we don’t understand,” James said. “We understand the things that matter. Everything else, you can explain to us.”

She felt a swell of pride and happiness at being in complete solidarity with James. It felt infinitely better to be connected with him like this, than to be oddly out-of-sync like they had been since the Shrieking Shack.

“I simply cannot ask you to do this,” Dumbledore said, sounding extremely weary.

“We’re asking you,” Lily said. “Let us help.”

Dumbledore sighed and frowned slightly. “Now is not the time to discuss this,” he said, after much hesitation. “You have both been through a great deal, and you need time to rest before making a decision.”

Lily saw James open his mouth to object, but Dearborn spoke first. “You can’t argue with that, Potter. We could all use some sleep.”

Lily felt a sense of calm as she rose from her chair. As disconcerting as her evening had been, and as daunting as tomorrow seemed, she felt clarity and confidence in this particular moment. She had been uncertain before about whether accepting Dearborn’s offer was a good idea, but now there was no alternative in her mind. The thought of looking for purpose in newspaper clippings seemed silly to now, and she was no longer making half-hearted agreements simply because of James’ influence. This was real motivation.

When she thought of all the time she had seen others judged for their blood status, all the times she had felt that sting herself, the fact that she had lost one of her closest friends over something so petty, and the fact that there were indeed people willing to kill over it—well, it was true, what James had said, that she understood what really mattered. Whatever happened now, it was a comfort to be moving forward with a sense of conviction. If no one else would, she could make herself feel better, stronger, and safer. She still had that within her control.

 

.........




James had stayed overnight in the Hospital Wing four times while he was at Hogwarts, and tonight would be his fifth. Or would it be his first as a graduated student? If that were the case, he could not help but wonder if there would be a second or third time, or whether this would be the last.

This was just one of many confusing, conflicting, and often irrelevant thoughts that were flying through his mind as Professor Dearborn left him and Lily in the long, moonlit Hospital Wing. It looked untouched by time. He wasn’t sure why he expected the world around him to have changed so much. It had always been the same; he had just seen a different side of it now.

“I don’t think I could sleep if I tried,” Lily said, resting her hand on the iron footboard of one of the beds.

James silently agreed with her, but he did not want to say it out loud and invite hours of conversation, going over every detail of what they had been through. Though he couldn’t sleep, he was too exhausted to do anything but lie down and stare at the dark ceiling.

“I can barely keep my eyes open,” he told her. He could tell that she was stung and feeling rejected again, and though it was not his intention to make her feel that way, he couldn’t bring himself to try and sort out whatever mess was left between them at the moment. Lily was a constant in his mind: she would be there next to him tomorrow. With all the uncertainty he was feeling, trying to hash out relationship issues was the last thing on his mind.

So he made a show of going to bed, taking his shoes off, removing his glasses, and getting underneath the quilt of one of the beds. He assumed Lily was doing the same in the bed next to him, but with his eyes closed, he couldn’t be sure. Silence continued for several minutes before he opened his eyes again.

It was something like déjà vu, he supposed, lying there. The last time he had been here was in sixth year, after a particularly gruesome Quidditch match against Hufflepuff. He had not been seriously injured often during games—Chasers generally did not bear the brunt of the violence, as the Seekers did—but on this particular day, the footholds of his and one of the Hufflepuff Chasers’ brooms had gotten entangled as he made a drive toward the goalpost, and separating had flung him forwards, where he had crashed into one of the goal hoops and fallen to the ground. He couldn’t remember anything from when he fell to the ground to waking up in the Hospital Wing much later that evening, which was probably a blessing considering all the injuries he had sustained.

When he had woken up, Sirius, Remus, and Peter had been there, playing Wizard’s Chess and eating Chocolate Frogs left over from the previous month’s Hogsmeade visit. He had, of course, still been in a fair amount of pain, especially from the ribs he’d broken, but he had forgotten about it completely until Madam Pomfrey had finally succeeded at shooing his friends from the room at half past ten.

James felt a jolt. They had been worried about Death Eaters going after his or Lily’s family, but what if they knew about his friends? Could they have gone looking for him at Sirius’ flat in London, Peter’s house near Birmingham, or Remus’ outside of Norwich? His muscles tensed with the intention of jumping up from the bed and leaving the castle to find out for himself if his friends were all right, but he could hear Dearborn’s voice echoing in his head...what might once have seemed like the right, the only thing to do, was now surrounded by uncertainty. He felt like everything he knew about the world had been wrong, and now he had to second-guess all of his instincts.

He forced himself to remain in bed, determined to believe that the three of them would be fine. After all, if the Death Eaters hadn’t even bothered to find out what his girlfriend’s name was during their surveillance, they could hardly have paid any more attention to who his group of friends included. And Sirius, who would be the most obvious target, was at least a Black, which might afford him some protection.

He still had to make an effort to breathe calmly and drive out all the new anxiety from his mind. If he were going to have a difficult time falling asleep before, that was nothing compared to now. He had a feeling he was going to see the sun again before he got any sleep.

Looking for something else to focus on, he returned to thoughts of previous stays in the Hospital Wing. The time before sixth year, there had been that night in the first few weeks of their fifth year, after getting in a duel with Snape. That was the first time that James had truly seen the extent of how detestable Snivellus truly was—making up dangerous dark spells and using them on other students was not something he had expected from him before that night. He still remembered what a horrible feeling that curse was; how it had felt like poison was spreading from where it had hit him towards his heart. Luckily, it had not caused any permanent harm. Ironically, it was James who had done that, by not speaking up and telling McGonagall who had done it. What idiotic sense of pride had stopped him from getting rid of Snape right then and there? He had suspected that the Slytherins had made good use of that curse on other people over their fifth year, after Snape had shared it with all of them.

That incident had fallen during one of the heights in his determined crush on Lily. There had been times where he had felt more discouraged, and his affections had waned, but something about the beginning of that school year had made him feel optimistic. For whatever reason, he had spent his time in the Hospital Wing on that occasion cultivating some silly hope that she would find out about what had happened from Snape and come to see that he was all right—it was the sort of thing she would have done, even then. She would not have been gracious about it, but she would have shown up under some other pretence to confirm that his and Snape’s feud had not done any lasting damage. Her kindness had never known any bounds, extending to the two people most unlikely to be deserving of it.

She hadn’t come, not even the next morning when he had stayed until close to lunchtime. He had been disappointed, but took it in stride, still optimistic that she was going to change her mind one day. It was strange looking back at those days, for it felt that his former self had somehow known that things really would change. In the face of all the evidence to the contrary, he had continued to hold out hope.

Now, here he was, in the same room as that girl who had finally decided to give him a chance, and for some reason he was avoiding talking to her. Nothing made sense about that scenario, and he turned on his side and put his glasses back on, feeling that he would like nothing more than to have a conversation about whatever she liked.

“Lily?”

Her eyes were closed, and her mouth was hanging open just an inch. Part of him thought for a moment that she might be ignoring him like he had done to her, but she was not vindictive like that—she would have spoken to him if she were still awake. She looked as if she had simply sat down on the bed and fallen asleep; her shoes were still on her feet, and James smiled a little at what Madam Pomfrey would say if she could see someone’s feet dirtying up her perfect linens.

He almost got up to put a quilt over her, or take off her shoes, but he knew that he would not be able to do either of those things without waking her. She had said she was not tired just a little while ago, and he didn’t feel right about ruining whatever sleep she managed to get. Perhaps part of him also realized that whatever conversation they might have, were she not asleep, would not have been like the pleasant ones they had shared for most of this past year. It was better to enjoy the peace of being in her company for right now, so he returned back to lying down and thinking, starting to feel slightly sleepy himself.

James had always been determined in everything he’d done. He’d been determined to win Lily over, determined to best Snape at every opportunity, determined to win at Quidditch, and now here he was in the Hospital Wing again, determined about something very different. With the exception of Lily, none of those things seemed to matter, at least not as anything more than products of nostalgia. Determination, in its truest sense, was working towards a goal no matter how much hardship it caused you in your struggle. James was certain that the struggle he was now facing was going to be the most difficult he had ever encountered, but if there was one thing that his persistence had taught him over the years, it was that some things were worth fighting for.




Small to greater matters must give way. –William Shakespeare





Author’s Note: We are, finally, after 33 chapters and about a year of writing, at the end. Endings are so very difficult to get right, but that's what I came up with, for better or worse.

Well...I think that’s it, besides saying that I’m so thankful for all of the support I’ve received throughout this story. I loved writing this, and I loved knowing that other people were enjoying it as well.

If you'd like to read more of me writing about James & Lily, there is a sequel to this story called
Twice Defied.

http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com