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Post Scriptum by academica

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 20
Word Count: 72,807
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Fluff, Angst
Characters: Lupin, Snape, Sirius, Kreacher, Lily, James, Regulus, Pettigrew, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/Lily, Snape/Lily

First Published: 01/05/2012
Last Chapter: 08/16/2013
Last Updated: 08/16/2013

Summary:
 Alluring banner by moriarty.@TDA || Brilliant title by Anatkh@TGS



Lily thinks Sirius and Regulus should make up.
Regulus thinks Lily should give Severus another chance.
So they strike up a deal based on their mutual interests.
Holding up one's end of the bargain, however, is harder than it seems.

May 2012 Featured Story at TGS | 2012 Dobby Finalist for Best Novel & Most Original Story


Chapter 1: Eggs and Bacon
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The ancient house was dark, except for the slender fingers of morning sunlight that peered in through the gaps in the wooden shutters that covered each and every window. Inside, only a few isolated sounds punctuated the stillness, none of them loud enough to alert the neighboring Muggles to the presence of a small family of wizards living in a concealed house next to them. A pair of portraits hanging in the family room conversed quietly about the upcoming Ministry election, and the family cat, Persephone, hunted a group of Puffskeins as they worked to build a nest underneath a massive grandfather clock in the foyer.

 

In the kitchen, a small team of house elves was preparing an elaborate breakfast to send off the family’s two sons back to Hogwarts. One of them was sitting on the countertop, lazily stirring a pot of porridge to help the thickening process along. A pair of them was working together, one carefully toasting a slice of bread before passing it along so that the other could apply a coat of fresh blackberry jam. One tiny female elf was working alone in the corner, the look of anguish on her face making it plain that she was a recent hire. She looked up from the large piece of pork she was holding, from which she’d been cutting strips of bacon, and noticed that her current batch of bacon was beginning to turn a bit too brown. Through the smoke, she saw someone watching her, a near-permanent frown set into his pudgy face.

 

Kreacher shook his head, pointing stiffly at the burning bacon and muttering a chastisement to the younger elf. When she quietly disposed of it and began working on a new batch, he moved along, putting one foot deliberately in front of the other as he began to climb the large staircase that loomed in the center of the house. With every step, the dainty silver tea tray clutched in his hands shook slightly, threatening to overturn the ornate gold goblet that rested upon it.

 

As he neared the first landing, he noticed an odd piece of art adorning the wall. He had passed the display of house elf heads hundreds of times on this journey, but he’d never stopped to really examine it. Unaware that he had paused to stare, Kreacher felt an interesting sensation in his gut. He couldn’t quite identify it, but it bothered him enough to deepen his frown a bit further. After a few moments of pondering, he looked back down at the tray and remembered his mission, though he couldn’t remember what had caused him to pause in the midst of fulfilling it. He trundled up onto the landing, continuing along the staircase without a second thought.

 

He passed the second floor and continued up to the third, nearly losing his balance when his bare foot caught the corner of an old, unruly loose step. Kreacher swore quietly, muttering something about the blood-traitors in the family who might have better spent their time helping with the upkeep of the home rather than cavorting with Muggles and producing useless children. The elf tugged at the crude waistband of the dingy swath of cloth draped around his midsection, neatly wiping the back of his hand on the fabric as he spilled a good deal of pumpkin juice onto his sticky fingers. With a sigh, he made the final push up the last four wooden steps and turned left down the corridor, heading slowly but directly toward the small bedroom at the end of the hall.

 

A boy stood in the room, rooting the pads of his fingers securely on his slender hips as he surveyed the small expanse around him. In truth, his room was miniscule compared to the larger space down the hall, which his older brother occupied. However, he had managed to keep the area neat and orderly, a notion that seemed foreign to his parents’ other son. Unlike the other room, where the peeling silvery gray wallpaper was only partially concealed by pin-ups of half-naked women and pages torn from Muggle motorcycle magazines, the green wallpaper in this room was immaculate, and it coordinated perfectly with the recently polished family crest that hung above the small bed in the center of the room. Across from the bed was a small bulletin board, upon which resided a small mass of newspaper clippings gathered from several years’ worth of Daily Prophets. One boasted a moving photograph of an eerie green snake and skull glimmering in the night sky above a ruined cottage, its glow illuminating the form of a corpse lying amongst the crumbled cobblestones nearby. Others contained headlines that alluded to similar events. In the center, a group of people clad in black robes stood in line in a courtroom.

 

“Master Regulus?”

 

The boy turned, moving a stray piece of dark hair out of his eyes as he faced the squat elf. Kreacher extended the silver tray to him, motioning to the half-empty goblet of pumpkin juice. “Breakfast is nearly ready. The Mistress asked that this be sent this ahead for you.”

 

Regulus couldn’t help but smile a little bit. “If the others were as efficient as you, Kreacher, it would have been finished long ago,” he remarked, taking the goblet with a hand that bore a ring crafted to display a miniature version of the crest that adorned his wall. “Thank you.”

 

“Of course, Master,” Kreacher replied, wringing his hands nervously. He did not receive compliments often, and he never seemed to know how to respond properly when he did. His unusual reactions were half the reason that Regulus extended praise to him, though he meant what he said, at least most of the time. “Would you like help with packing your trunk?”

 

“No, just tell Mother that I appreciate the drink.” Regulus turned back to his trunk, closing the lid and carefully turning the aged brass locks into place. He had packed all of his robes the previous night after dinner, and his books and supplies had found a home in the case as soon as they’d been purchased in Diagon Alley and brought back to the house. He was also dressed and ready.

 

This, naturally, was another distinction to be made between Regulus and his elder brother.

 

“Wand…” He bit his lip for a moment, falling into one of the few boyish habits his mother had worked to train out of him before he’d departed for his first year. Regulus picked up the suitcase, checking underneath. No, not there, and not tangled in his bed sheets, for they were neatly folded. He stooped briefly to look under the bed, but the floor there was as clean as the rest.

 

Down the hall, he heard a brief crash. With a sigh, he recalled the last use of his wand.

 

Regulus brushed past Kreacher, who still hadn’t gone to pass the message of gratitude on to Mrs. Black, and walked quietly down the corridor to the other end of the house. He noticed that a few Muggle magazines had spilled out of the messy closet and into the hallway. Mum would have a fit. He pushed them gently back into the room with one foot as he quietly knocked on the door. “Sirius?”

 

A mattress creaked softly with the weight of its owner, who was muttering obscenities at no one.

 

“Sirius?” Regulus tried again, pushing the door open hopefully with his shoulder.

 

Regulus stepped on the magazines again as he entered, the elf trundling along behind him. He looked down despite knowing what blocked his path, frowning at a few torn pages featuring nude Muggle girls that had fallen off the walls and fluttered to a stop on the hardwood below. He pushed these out of his way as well, coming to a halt before the large, scarlet Gryffindor banner which decorated the expanse of open wall that faced the messy-haired boy seated in front of him.

 

“What?” Sirius groaned, looking up at him.

 

“Still didn’t fix them?” Regulus queried, gesturing to the object in Sirius’s hand. His brother had worn the boots down to the point where the soles had been stripped and hung pitifully off them. It was silly, Sirius insisting that he try to fix the shoes when their mother could easily send an elf out to purchase a new pair for him, one more fashionable than these worn-down Muggle boots. But he knew his brother wasn’t speaking to his parents, having barely uttered a full sentence to them since he had been sorted into Gryffindor five years ago. He also knew that it would take Sirius much longer to find his own wand in the chaos of his room than to get over the annoyance of having to ask his baby brother for the temporary use of his wand instead. He hadn’t minded.

 

“No,” Sirius muttered, chucking the shoe in his hand across the room at a bare spot on the wall. Regulus followed the trajectory of the shot, noting the broken lamp on the floor near the shoe’s mate. Well, I shouldn’t have bothered with the magazines. Mum’ll send a Howler now for sure.

 

“Sorry,” Regulus offered half-heartedly.

 

“S’alright,” the older boy said quietly, glancing up and realizing for the first time that Regulus was also holding something in his hand. “Did I miss breakfast, then?”

 

“No, Kreacher brought it to me.”

 

Sirius glanced at the elf, annoyed. “Where’s mine?”

 

A satisfied smirk nearly found its way onto Kreacher’s face, but the elf suppressed his own feelings about Sirius, knowing that Mrs. Black’s opinion would be an appropriate substitute. “Mistress only sent one, Master Sirius,” he replied, imitating her smug expression perfectly.

 

“Of course she did.” Sirius frowned, muttering one last curse word under his breath and looking back up at his brother. “Well, what do you want? Did you really just come to gloat at me?”

 

“No,” Regulus replied. “You asked to use my wand, remember? I want it back.”

 

“I don’t know where it is,” Sirius admitted, not seeming too embarrassed by this revelation. “You’re free to look around if you like. I smell bacon.” He shoved past Kreacher and moved toward the stairs, apparently forgetting that he was still in his pajamas at half past ten o’clock.

 

Regulus heard his mother call for breakfast. He checked in Sirius’s sheets, but only his brother’s wand, having turned up with perfect timing, could be found there. He moved toward the closet but decided any searches in that mess could be saved until after he had finished his morning meal. On a whim, he picked up a battered photo album from the dresser, finding his wand underneath it. Regulus thanked the stars that it was still in one piece and headed downstairs.

 

The head of the household, Orion Black, was already seated at the table, his nose buried in the latest issue of the Daily Prophet. As he turned the page, Regulus noticed the small place on one of his fingers where the family ring his son now bore had rested for many years. He idly touched the ring with his other hand, proud that he had merited the inheritance despite his status as the second-born son. Sirius had barely even noticed when his father had handed the ring to Regulus during their final family dinner together the previous evening. It was a miracle he was present.

 

“Regulus,” the older man said in greeting. “Did you sleep well?”

 

“Yes, just fine,” Regulus replied, taking his seat across from Sirius, who had brazenly tucked into a small plate of bacon and eggs before their mother had even entered the room. A moment later, Walburga Black’s heels clicked across the kitchen floor, and Sirius stuffed the last bit of bacon into his mouth and put his fork down where it belonged. However, it was too late, and Walburga’s graying black hair swept across her face as she stopped short in front of the table.

 

“Sirius Black, you don’t have a bone of propriety in your body, I’m certain of it.”

 

Sirius looked down at his plate, unsure of what to say. He couldn’t argue with her point.

 

“Regulus,” she said, smiling at her favored son as she took her seat at the table and shoved her goblet of pumpkin juice into the hands of a passing house elf. “Freshen this up,” she commanded shortly, folding her hands and glancing back at Regulus, the smile still gracing her thin lips. Walburga’s pinched face and sharp features gave the impression that every smile had a touch of cruelty hidden just beneath its thin veneer of politeness. Regulus knew she couldn’t help it.

 

“Did you see? The Harriers beat the Quafflepunchers 210-90 last night,” Orion said, folding the newspaper and passing it to Regulus. The front of the sports page displayed a large photograph of the German team’s Seeker, who was holding up the Snitch next to a Frenchman with a black eye. “I was worried that they would be too distracted by those ludicrous pink uniforms, too…”

 

“I don’t know how you can support them.”

 

Regulus looked down the table, afraid that the mutter hadn’t merely been a voice in his head but wanting to be sure just in case Sirius had found his missing sense of restraint. Just as he’d suspected, his older brother had paused with a bit of egg still clinging to his fork, his eyes boring into the moving photograph on the front page of the newspaper even as the words left his lips.

 

“Why is that, Sirius?” Orion asked innocently, neatly folding the paper and turning his attention to his son. The expression of malice that graced his lips suggested that he expected to be entertained by Sirius’s response. Walburga, sensing an impending conflict, received her fresh glass of pumpkin juice just in time to take it up the stairs with her. She murmured something about needing to change clothes in order to look presentable to go out, but no one heard her.

 

Sirius paused, looking slightly uncomfortable under the heavy gaze of his father. He stuffed the last piece of egg into his mouth, chewing as he collected his thoughts. Then, he swallowed. “Their captain was arrested last week on suspicion of killing some Muggles,” he said at last.

 

“Really?” Orion said in a tone that suggested that he was not only well aware of the arrest, but that he would have personally stood in the man’s defense if given the chance. “Well, they’re a very good team. They must be doing something right.” He smirked, looking back at the paper.

 

Sirius suddenly found his remaining strip of bacon very interesting.

 

“Let’s go, boys. Finish up before we miss the train.” Walburga’s voice preceded her down the spiral staircase, the two small elves that had finished de-linting her elegant travel cloak rushing down at her heels to move to their next job, cleaning up the dishes and glasses from the table. Sirius stood up, deliberately screeching the legs of his chair against the aged wooden floor, and headed upstairs to grab his suitcase, moving more quickly than he had on his way down earlier. Regulus finished his last bit of pumpkin juice and stood up to join his brother, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Walburga dropped her sense of haste, offering Regulus a chilling smile.

 

“Son,” Orion said quietly but affirmatively, deliberately excluding Sirius from the conversation. “This is a very important year for you, you know that. We want you to do well on your O.W.L.s, of course, but you should try to spend time getting to know some of the older students as well.” By ‘students’, of course, he meant Slytherins, but that didn’t need to be said. “You’ll be sixteen in the spring, and that’s old enough to join and serve the cause, assuming that you think you’re ready…”

 

Regulus responded without considering it. “Of course I’ll be ready, Father.”

 

Walburga’s smile deepened, but it faded when she checked the grandfather clock. “Orion…”

 

“Yes, I know, the train,” Orion responded, clapping Regulus’s shoulders lightly. “Have a good term, son.”

 

“Yes, sweetheart.” Walburga’s bony form was now embracing him tightly. “Don’t forget to write and let us know if you need anything before Christmastime.” Her head turned sharply to the right, toward the staircase. “SIRIUS!” She screeched. “Hurry up, you should have been packed!”

 

Sirius came down the stairs, gritting his teeth as he dragged his suitcase along beside him. The house elves from the dining room approached him gingerly, but he waved them away, looking at his parents. “I am packed. I have been.” He glanced at his brother. “I don’t see his suitcase.”

 

“Here it is,” a gruff voice sounded quietly as Kreacher hefted Regulus’s bag down the stairs, setting it down next to his feet. “I packed your wand, though Master Sirius tried to steal it…”

 

“I did not!” Sirius frowned, barely resisting the urge to kick the old elf. “I borrowed it!”

 

“That’s enough,” Walburga interrupted, opening the front door. Sirius almost knocked her over in his haste to get out into the street, and Regulus and his mother followed quickly behind. With barely five minutes to spare, they stole into a nearby alleyway and Apparated to Kings’ Cross.


 


 

Author’s Note: J.K. Rowling owns any characters, events or details that you recognize.


Chapter 2: Autumn Reds
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Autumn was Lily’s favorite season.

 

She loved celebrating Halloween, especially the Halloween she’d enjoyed when she was ten. She’d worked hard to create a witch costume for herself, forgoing the traditional warts and ungainly black hat for a more polished, glamorous look, streaking her hair with colors of all hues to reflect her belief that a real witch would use her magic to change her appearance to her liking. It had been almost unreal to find, less than a year later, that not only were witches real, but that some of them were incredibly beautiful, their flawless appearances merely enhanced by magic.

 

She loved watching the leaves fall, some of them waiting patiently until they had turned almost as red as her own wavy, scarlet locks before they floated gracefully down to meet their ends. She loved taking the precious bit of money her impoverished parents saved up and using it to purchase new school supplies, clean sheets of parchment and shiny new quills and ink wells. She loved taking walks outside in the blissful temperature between summer warmth and winter chill.

 

By far, though, Lily’s favorite thing about autumn was the arrival of September first.

 

She idly walked across the thin carpet of leaves that had begun to form on the stone road below, the impatient ones that still wore green and yellow hues, smiling when she finally saw the sign for Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. After a moment’s anxiety, the brief span of time that it took for her to get over her fear of judgment and plunge through the barrier right in front of the surrounding Muggles, she stood before the great red engine that would take her to Hogwarts.

 

Lily liked the color red, too.

 

She pushed gently through the throng of people that continually crossed her path, pulling her trunk behind her and struggling to keep her purse perched upon her shoulder as she walked. She made it all the way down to the last car, a storage area that had been expanded with a rather clever Extension Charm, rendering it large enough to effortlessly hold the bags of all the students on the inside but allowing it to retain the appearance of a normal train car on the outside. With several students in line ahead of her, Lily offered the exasperated-looking attendant an apologetic smile and took a moment to relieve the strain on her shoulder, setting both bags on the ground.

 

“Good morning, Lily,” Remus said, taking the empty space behind her. His mother and father waved briefly at her as they came to stand beside him, toting along his battered brown suitcase. Remus’s parents were still rather protective of him, though Lily wasn’t sure why, though she supposed it had something to do with the many illnesses he contracted each school year. Lily wished for good health for him each Christmas when she went home to visit her family, but his condition never seemed to change. It was a pity, since he was only sixteen years old, like her.

 

“Good morning,” Lily replied cheerfully. “Isn’t it a nice day?”

 

“It is nice,” Remus responded, and Lily was pleased to see that he looked reasonably well today.

 

The two of them paused in their conversing as she heard an argument approaching. The crowd parted once more, and the Black family stepped through, cutting everyone else in line and leaving the two boys’ bags sitting next to the attendant for him to take care of himself. Lily frowned slightly as she watched the two climb abroad the train, having fallen into silence now that their mother had made her exit and there was no longer a catalyst to spur them on.

 

“That’s so rude,” Lily remarked, glancing at her friend. “They should stand here in line with everyone else and make sure their things are put away. They aren’t better than the rest of us.”

 

“Well, they don’t really know any better, I think,” Remus replied. “I’ve never been to visit, but I think Sirius’s family has house elves to do everything for them.”

 

“That man’s not a house elf,” Lily objected. “Besides, Sirius has been a student for long enough now to have learned how to treat others properly, people and elves alike.”

 

“I don’t think the elves are really bothered by being ordered around, Lily. Don’t feel bad.”

 

“I just don’t see the harm in asking nicely. I bet that man doesn’t appreciate being treated that way.”

 

“You’re right there,” Remus replied, watching as the man paused long enough to notice the bags and form a deep frown. “Maybe I’ll say something to Sirius about it.”

 

“I’m sure the attendant would appreciate it.” Lily smiled. “By the way, I meant to ask, are you still interested in joining our study group for N.E.W.T.s?” She had really gotten to know Remus last year, when she and some friends had stumbled upon him reading alone in the library. She had invited him to join them as they studied for O.W.L.s, and he had really come to offer some great insight on various topics, particularly Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts.

 

“Yes, I’d like that,” Remus replied. “Have you decided on a time yet?”

 

“No, but I’ll let you know, don’t worry,” Lily said, realizing that it was almost her turn in line. The person currently handing his bags to the attendant turned around, and Lily and Remus were pleased to see Peter standing there. The shorter Gryffindor waved at them, obediently kissing his mother goodbye and walking over to where they stood in line.

 

“Hey, Remus!” Peter said brightly, glancing over at Lily. He didn’t know her very well, and she never seemed terribly pleased to see him, Sirius and James, especially the three of them together. “Hello, Lily,” he said tentatively.

 

“Hi, Peter,” Lily said quietly. She didn’t know him as well as Remus, but she had always suspected that he got more wrapped up in James and Sirius’s schemes than he usually planned on. Besides, she liked to try to give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time.

 

“Looking forward to the term?” Remus said.

 

Peter began to offer predictions about the Gryffindor Quidditch Team’s upcoming season, and Lily took the opportunity to leave the conversation, handing her bag gently to the attendant. When she turned, Peter was already moving toward the nearest entrance to the train, the engine having begun to make a noise that signaled that it would soon be departing the station. She passed Remus once more and offered him a parting smile as he moved to the front of the line. 

 

Peter climbed aboard the train ahead of her, taking a right turn and heading toward the sound of loud gloating, which was being uttered in Sirius’s unmistakably proud tone. Not quite ready to face the seemingly friendly ridicule of the full set of Marauders, Lily took the left turn instead, quickly deciding that she’d made a good decision when she noticed the snack cart up ahead of her. She waited patiently as a pair of nervous-looking first years purchased a small fortune in Chocolate Frogs, and when it was her turn, she still hadn’t decided which items she should purchase. When the attendant looked as if she was nearing the end of her patience, Lily gave in, requesting one Pumpkin Pasty and a Cauldron Cake with an apologetic smile.

 

“Have you ever tried these?”

 

Lily turned to find James Potter standing at her side. She almost didn’t recognize him, however, because he was wearing a timid, genuine-looking smile in place of his usual arrogant smirk, and also because he was extending what looked like a pack of Every Flavor Beans that had not yet been tampered with to her. She took a moment to breathe in and out, fully aware of the fact that this moment marked the first time she’d spoken to Potter since the fateful incident of last year.

 

“Yes, I’ve tried Bertie Bott’s Beans.”

 

James looked like he might falter for a moment, but he shook it off, gently pushing them into her hands. “Well, have some more, Evans. My treat. Assuming you liked them, of course.”

 

“Of course I like them. There’s every flavor, so there’s bound to be at least one you like…” Lily realized that she was laughing to herself and paused, remembering to whom she was speaking. “I mean, thank you. Between these and the things I bought, I won’t have an appetite for the feast.”

 

“I, um…” James stopped mid-sentence, using the energy to form a tentative smile instead.

 

“There you are!” A confident-sounding female voice echoed from behind them.

 

Lily turned from James, smiling as she found the faces of her two closest friends beaming at her from a compartment a few feet down the corridor. One, a tall Muggle-born girl with stick-straight blonde hair, was Ellery Edelstock, the first girl to ever play Keeper for the Hufflepuff team. She had met Lily during their first day of Transfiguration, when they had shared a parrot that they took turns changing into an umbrella during the double period. Standing next to her was Celestine DeMarco, a beautiful Gryffindor girl of Italian descent whose mother had selected her name based on the amount of Warbeck albums she played during the pregnancy. The latter of the two waved at Lily frantically, signaling for her to come and join them for the ride to school.

 

“Uh…” It was apparently Lily’s turn to be lost for words. The familiar sensation of frustration and embarrassment had not occupied her stomach during her brief conversation with James, and the resulting emptiness left a wide realm of possibility, one that seemed terrifying at first blush. “I should probably go and join them, you know, before the train takes off,” she decided at last.

 

“Right,” James replied, taking his small stash of candy and nodding at her before he turned in the other direction to head back to his friends. As she moved to go as well, Lily noticed that he had too much candy for just himself, having almost certainly purchased enough for his friends to share. She released a tiny smile, fluffing her hair nervously and heading toward her friends.

 

As soon as she sat down, Celestine leaned forward at her. “That was strange.”

 

“What?” Lily asked, popping one of the beans into her mouth. Treacle – good so far.

 

“Well, you just had a conversation with James without hexing him even once.”

 

“We were impressed,” Ellery added, grinning at her friend knowingly.

 

“What?” Lily repeated, her tone becoming slightly defensive as she bit into too large a chunk of Pumpkin Pasty. “What is that supposed to mean? I don’t just go around hexing people, you know…” She began to chew somewhat hastily, afraid that she might choke if it went down as is.

 

“It’s nothing, it’s just…” Celestine smiled, pursing her full lips. “It was weird, watching you two interact like normal people. The question is, did only one of you get Polyjuiced, or was it both?”

 

“Very funny.” Lily rolled her eyes, stuffing the rest of the treat into her mouth without thinking.

 

“She’s just hoping you two are on better terms so you can see about getting Sirius Black to ask her to Hogsmeade,” Ellery added, digging in her luggage for her school uniform.

 

Celestine began to protest loudly, unintentionally letting everyone in the surrounding compartments know that Sirius Black was incredibly attractive but in such a way that he was either too proud or too stupid to actually make use of it and ask a girl out on a date. Lily leaned against the window, her hands idly fishing in her bag for her own uniform but her mind outside with the rolling hills that escorted the train along its route. As her friends continued to badger one another, she busied herself with counting the seconds until they arrived at Hogwarts, where she could put enough people between her and James Potter to perhaps forget about him entirely.

 

Within the hour, the Hogwarts Express came to rest on the grounds of the school, and Lily followed her friends and the other students up to the carriages that would take them to the opening feast. However, when she had placed her hand on the railing to heft herself up into one of the carriages with her friends, she realized that she had somehow dropped one of her prized possessions, a ring that her mother allowed her to borrow each term for good luck on her exams. She asked the other girls to hold the carriage for just a moment and turned back to look for it.

 

She found it lying in the dirt at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the carriages. However, when she stood up, she found that she was not alone. A familiar face had happened upon her.

 

“Lily,” Severus said, sounding pleasantly shocked to find her alone. He took a few moments to stumble over his thoughts, unable to decide what to say to the girl he hadn’t spoken to in months.

 

“Hi, Severus,” Lily replied after an uncomfortable silence, inwardly shaming herself for being rude. Then again, she had been a bit distracted by the fact that his hair had grown more ragged since the last time she’d seen him, and he smelled as if he hadn’t had a bath in several days.

 

“H-hi,” he managed, shoving his hands awkwardly in the pockets of his trousers and finding a second surprise there, holes big enough to allow three fingers on one hand and one on the other to poke part of the way through. “I missed you this summer,” he blurted without thinking.

 

Lily nearly admitted aloud that she could have predicted this comment, but she instead settled for a polite nod of acknowledgement. “I really should be getting back. The carriages are about to leave.” He couldn’t very well argue with it, now could he? Perhaps she was too late as it was.

 

He said nothing, and she took this as her chance to get away, being careful to avoid his eyes.

 

“Lily, please, just give me another chance.” The second blurt bordered on an annoyance. This person was far from the cooler, more composed version of her friend, the one who had been the first person to educate her about the intricacies of the magical world beyond her school letter. Surely this could not be the same boy who was the only person fit to challenge her in Potions?

 

“Sev…” The old nickname slipped out, and the inner monologue of shame started anew. Lily sighed, finally meeting his eyes only to find tears forming in them. She immediately turned back toward the carriages. “I just can’t talk to you about this right now, okay?” she called softly back.

 

Then, Severus watched her retreat through the tears, two words echoing in his mind: right now.


 


 

Author’s Note:

 

I’ve been trying to perfect my use of dialogue tags and punctuation for dialogue. To that effect, if you believe that I’ve made a mistake, please include those comments as part of your review. Thank you in advance, and I hope you are enjoying the story!

 

-academica


Chapter 3: His Other Home
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The delectable scent of the opening feast struck Regulus squarely in the nose as he stepped through the doors of the castle, the steady tide of students pushing him gently along on his journey toward the Great Hall. As he passed the tables for students from the other three houses, he noted the presence of steak and kidney pie, roast beef, lamb chops, shepherd’s pie, several steaming plates of chips, and a pile of jam doughnuts that looked so appetizing they almost gave him physical pause. Regulus forced himself along the last few feet to his place at the Slytherin table.

 

He had scarcely felt the wood of the table under his palms when he was joined by his closest friend, another fifth year named Cassian Wilkes. The boy sitting across from him had hair the color of pale straw, and it had grown a bit over the summer, leaving him with a haircut that appeared neat to most of his peers but was likely a bit too ragged for his mother’s liking. He lazily pushed aside a few unruly strands in the front and reached for a bit of chicken wordlessly.

 

Regulus watched him but did not move, his upbringing having reinforced the importance of not beginning a meal until it was properly served. He sat patiently through Headmaster Dumbledore’s opening speech, chuckling along with a few other students when the traditional warning about the Forbidden Forest brought out interesting looks on the first years’ faces. However, he was as glad as anyone when the speech concluded and dinner was served. When he turned to grab some chicken, he saw that Wilkes was already polishing off his second leg, his thin frame causing Regulus to wonder to himself where all the food went following digestion.

 

Regulus decided that it was up to him to initiate conversation. “How was your holiday?”

 

Cassian stuffed the last bit in his mouth, the long ride from Kings’ Cross apparently having stirred up quite an appetite in his stomach. When he was temporarily satisfied, he turned his attention to Regulus. “It was all right, until a couple of weeks ago,” he replied finally.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well, Mum and I went into Diagon Alley to pick up my books and a replacement cauldron,” he began, and Regulus suppressed a snicker. He could recall the fate of Cassian’s last cauldron, the well-worn hunk of pewter that Wilkes had melted into shapelessness after adding a bit too much armadillo bile to his Wit-Sharpening Potion in last year’s Potions class. Professor Slughorn had taken to stepping more widely around Wilkes in the corridor, lest the next spill ruin his robes.

 

Unhindered by the change in expression, Cassian went on. “When we got back home, the place was a total mess, and Dad was sitting in the drawing room drinking Firewhiskey like nothing had happened. But Mum found a warrant from the Ministry on the dining room table. They were looking for stuff made from Dark magic or something. It took the house elves a week to put it right.” He shook his head, taking a sip of pumpkin juice to wash down his entrée.

 

Regulus was curious to know if the Ministry officials had actually found anything, but he didn’t dare ask, lest he risk besmirching the fine Black manners he’d inherited. “I’m sorry, mate.”

 

“It’s all right. Just paranoia about You-Know-Who, you know,” Wilkes replied. “So, how was your summer, then? Still getting on with your brother?”

 

Regulus glanced across the heads of several newly sorted first year Slytherins, his gaze falling upon the boy in question and his friends over at the Gryffindor table. James Potter had apparently just said something very funny, because Sirius looked like he might fall over from laughter, and the rose-tinted blush slowly creeping up Peter Pettigrew’s neck suggested that the joke may have been one of a risqué nature. Regulus turned back around, shrugging in response.

 

The meal proceeded fairly quickly, goaded on by the many hungry students eager to fill their bellies and get into their warm four-poster beds. When dessert was served, Regulus was the first to pop up and choose two perfect jam doughnuts from a platter in the center of the table. Wilkes chose to forgo dessert and join the students who had already stood and turned to go to bed, using the unnecessary excuse of having consumed too much already in order to leave Regulus alone. A few moments later, his belly full of savory and sweet foods, Regulus decided it was time to relax.

 

As he got up, picking up his cloak to carry it with him to the common room, Regulus heard a familiar voice calling his name. He looked up to see Professor Horace Slughorn approaching, the edges of his dark brown robes flying away from his engorged belly with each confident stride. Regulus watched with mild amusement as the man’s heavy footsteps advanced upon him.

 

“Hello, Professor,” Regulus said, accepting Slughorn’s handshake. “How was your summer?”

 

“It went reasonably well, Regulus, and I appreciate your inquiry concerning it,” the professor replied. “I trust you enjoyed a relaxing holiday as well?”

 

Regulus nodded. “Yes, sir.” It suddenly occurred to him that this might be Slughorn’s heavily veiled way of asking if he had been practicing for the upcoming Quidditch season. “However, I’m looking forward to getting back to business, with O.W.L.s coming up, and Quidditch…” He said, trailing off as he noticed that Slughorn had begun to gently steer him into the corridor.

 

They walked down into the dungeons along with the other Slytherins, but when the remainder of the house turned left toward the hidden wall that led to the common room, Slughorn and his temporary captive diverted to the right, heading past the Potions classroom and toward his miniscule office.

 

“It’s excellent that you’re in an academic mood, Regulus, because I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something ever since you brewed that impeccable Deflating Draught last year,” Slughorn said, quickly lighting the candles that dotted his small office and saving the last bit of the match to set fire to the two slender pieces of wood that resided in his fireplace. Regulus immediately felt a pleasant surge of warmth flood his body as the heat began to fill the space, and he felt temporarily grateful that Slughorn’s office was more compact than his own room.

 

“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, as I try not to advertise it too heavily, but I am in command of a little gathering of students that have been meeting in this very office for several decades now. The club consists of individuals I have hand-picked for membership, based on their varied and unique talents,” Slughorn explained, jostling around his desk chair awkwardly until he could create a space large enough to accommodate his girth between the large mahogany desk and the stone wall behind it. “I’ve come to call it the Slug Club, with some affection,” he added, smiling pleasantly and gesturing for Regulus to take the empty seat across from him.

 

Somewhat regretfully, Regulus moved away from the fire and sat down in front of the desk. “Sir, I’m afraid I don’t understand… are you asking me to join?”

 

“Of course, dear boy, why else would I reveal my secret to you?” Slughorn chuckled slightly.

 

“I’m honored, Professor, but…” Regulus adjusted his position in the chair. “Why choose me?”

 

“Well, your aforementioned talent in my subject is certainly something to be rewarded,” Slughorn mused. “Aside from that, you also show promise as a Seeker…”

 

Regulus suppressed a smile, watching Slughorn wrestle with his modesty. He knew the next words out of the man’s mouth, if he allowed himself to speak them, would concern his family. He decided to save his Head of House the trouble. “My family line is entirely magical, as you know, so I suppose I should be thanking my ancestors for the talents of which you speak.”

 

“Indeed, yes!” Slughorn’s relief was nearly comical. “Now that you mention it, I would love to take a moment to discuss membership with your older brother as well. Professor Flitwick has remarked on his abilities in Charms a time or two, and I understand he’s quite adept at Transfiguration as well, judging by his performance on last year’s O.W.L. exam.” He looked at Regulus, seemingly aware that he’d somehow gotten lost in Sirius’s vast accomplishments. “Well, dear boy, you can take some time to think on it if you like, but you should know that you’re quite exceptional. I don’t typically speak to students about this until the sixth year.”

 

“Oh, I’d love to join, Professor, no thought needed,” Regulus said with a smile, watching a pleasant expression spread across Slughorn’s face. He couldn’t stand to remove that look with the news that Sirius wanted to stay as far away from Slytherin as possible, including Slughorn, and that if he joined, he would likely use the club as a mere platform to vilify his own surname. “I, um… I’ll speak to Sirius about the club, though I suspect N.E.W.T. courses will occupy him.”

 

“Excellent,” Slughorn said, and the expansion of his smile suggested that Regulus’s lie had been well placed. He turned to the preparation of his lectures, half of which were neatly stacked on one corner of his desk, and Regulus took this as a signal that he was free to retire for the evening.

 

The gentle jade-tinted light of the common room, an effect created by the reflection of the many candles that dotted the dark room upon the crystalline panels in the stone walls, bathed him gently, welcoming him home as he stepped into the familiar bowels where he slept nine months out of the year. Many of the other Slytherins had already retired to their rest, content to hold conversations punctuated by yawns quietly with their roommates, but Regulus didn’t feel the pull of sleep acting upon him just yet. He strode past a pair of fourth-year girls testing out a new nail-painting spell they’d surely picked up from a summer issue of Witch Weekly and came to a halt before the fire, his gaze turning upon the three young men occupying the couches before it.

 

Though two were sixth-years and one a seventh, all three were as familiar to him as Wilkes, owing largely to the fact that they and their illustrious families had attended dinner parties in his father’s house a time or two over the years. To the left sat Atroxas Mulciber and Ignavus Avery, who were both engrossed in what appeared to be the latest issue of the Daily Prophet. To their right sat the oldest of the three, Evan Rosier, who suddenly looked up as if he knew he was being watched. “Oh, Regulus,” he said, nodding slightly to the boy. “Good summer?”

 

“Yeah,” Regulus replied. “What are you looking at?”

 

None of them responded, but Mulciber shifted position just slightly, allowing Regulus a better view of the front page. He recognized St. Mungo’s, the wizarding hospital, and the animated skull and snake that marked the scene of yet another Death Eater attack. TWENTY-SIX PATIENTS DEAD, TWO INTERNS, ONE DOCTOR, the headline read boldly across the top.

 

“What’s the story say?” he inquired, unable to take his eyes off the brilliant Mark in the sky.

 

“A bunch of bollocks,” Evan said, and the tone of his voice startled Regulus slightly. “They forgot to mention the two nurses we got. They must’ve made it, I suppose,” he added.

 

“You were there?” Regulus asked, turning his attention to Rosier.

 

“Yeah, went with Malfoy and Lestrange. ‘Training’, they called it,” Rosier replied. Regulus watched as his hand moved to his left arm, as if on cue, and scratched gently through the sleeve. “No sense in wasting good medical care or education on Mudbloods, you know? Good exercise.”

 

Avery sniggered at his final comment, but Regulus frowned, his gaze returning to the paper. The doctors and nurses, even the interns, I’ll give them that, but patients? People sick in hospital? It seemed too simple for work that would be associated with the Dark Lord, too many easy kills. None of it resonated with what he’d read about the Dark Lord’s strength and careful planning.

 

He turned from them, disliking the uncomfortable sensation in his gut, and headed upstairs to his bedroom. He found his four-poster bed neatly made, the house elves having tucked his green comforter and white sheets into perfect hospital corners, and his empty bookshelf and small wardrobe waiting to be filled with his things, which stood in the corner next to the mirror. He ignored them for now, retrieving his broomstick from where it leaned precariously against the wall. The Cleansweep Six was two years old, a gift from his father when he attained a position on the house team as a gangly third year, and it, like him, had been cooped up all summer in the Blacks’ urban dwelling. He imagined the broom was itching to get out just as badly as he was, and thus he could think of no better way to unwind before bed than a trip out to the Pitch.

 

Regulus headed back upstairs, slipping out without anyone in the common room noticing his departure, and strode confidently down a mostly-empty corridor past the deserted Great Hall. He was just rounding the corner to exit the castle when he passed by the open entrance to the library. Inside, he saw something that caused him to pause for a momentary change of plans.

 

The boy was sitting by himself, his hand-me-down copy of Advanced Potion Making laying open on the table before him. The tightly-packed scrawl that dotted the margins of the text matched the half-page of writing on the piece of parchment next to the book; the one responsible for the partial essay had put his quill down already, his attention captured by another sight across the room. Through the few dark, oily strands that obscured part of his face, a pair of opaque eyes stared over the rise of a large, hooked nose. A foot tapped noiselessly but steadily on the floor.

 

The object of his interest sat at a table across the room, laughing quietly with a pair of female sixth-years and stealing careful glances at the ever-watchful librarian to keep out of trouble. Her neatly-trimmed curtain of red hair moved softly over her shoulders as she worked to compose a document of her own, penning each work carefully with what Regulus suspected was a neat hand. This confused him, as it was too early yet for homework; just then, he noticed one of the girls, a pretty brunette, retrieve a piece of parchment that had been sitting next to the one the redhead was working on, only to have it immediately replaced by a piece from the other girl, a tall, slender blonde whom he recognized as a Hufflepuff from previous Quidditch matches. The redhead kept looking from one piece to the other, as if she were comparing their contents.

 

He could hear Snape muttering under his breath. “Study group… I could help with Potions…”

 

Regulus moved gingerly forward, pausing next to the table. “S-Severus?” he managed softly.

 

However, his efforts to keep from startling the other boy amounted to naught, and Snape jumped a good two feet in the air. Fortunately, the girls were too consumed with their conversation to notice. A quick flash of red, which rivaled the hair of the object of his affection, swept into Snape’s cheeks, stayed long enough to raise an uncomfortably hot sensation in his gut, and departed. “What do you want, Black?” he snapped quietly.

 

“Nothing, just… hello,” Regulus said. “What are you working on?”

 

“Apprentice essay draft,” Snape said in the same perturbed tone, and he looked back at the redhead, as if he hoped that Regulus would simply vanish and return to where he’d come from.

 

Now that silence had fallen once more, Regulus took another look at the redhead. After a moment of watching her, he recognized her as Lily Evans, the Muggle-born girl that he’d so often seen shouting at Sirius out on the grounds between classes. She was memorable because her yells contained no hint of teasing or flirtation. She seemed to genuinely hate his brother.

 

“Lily Evans?” he said quietly. “You fancy Lily Evans?

 

“Shut it,” Snape said, shooting him a venomous glare. “It’s none of your business.” Lily looked over in their direction by accident, and Snape automatically returned his gaze to his textbook. “I can’t believe you don’t know already, what with the way the others tease me about it…”

 

“No, it…” Regulus smirked. “I understand. I mean, she’s quite pretty.”

 

Snape said nothing.

 

“You know she’s a Mudblood, right?” Regulus added bluntly.

 

“Don’t say that!” Snape hissed, and a somewhat terrifying expression came over his face, one that caused Regulus to take a step back without fully realizing it. A pause occurred before Snape found his voice again, and when he spoke, his words sounded hollow. “Can’t help how I feel.”

 

“Yeah, it’s a shame,” Regulus said quietly, frowning. He hadn’t meant to hurt the boy’s feelings. He just believed in labeling things as they were, that was all. It was only a word, the right word. Snape had returned to his essay, though he continued to steal glances at Lily every few minutes. “Well, I’ll see you around the common room, then,” Regulus said, sensing he was not wanted.

 

It was a relief to step outside into the warm night air, to feel the gentle breeze relieve him of the tension he’d experienced during his brief stay at the library. He absently dragged the well-worn twigs on the end of his broomstick along the dirt as he took in several deep, calming breaths of appreciation, enjoying his slow walk out past the groundskeeper’s hut to the Quidditch pitch. Once his shoes were shed, his soft heels and clean toes kicked off from the ground in unison, and before he knew it he was gliding above the tops of the stands, embracing his freedom. The empty night sky, dark as his name and the hair on his head, swallowed him in a welcoming embrace.

 

It was good to be back at Hogwarts.


 



 

Author’s Note:

 

As usual, J. K. Rowling owns anything and everything you recognize. I selected the first names of Avery, Mulciber and Wilkes based on their Latin meanings. Cassian, a variation of Cassius, means “empty” or “hollow”. Atroxas is taken from the Latin word atrox, which means “terrible, cruel, horror”. Finally, Ignavus means “lazy” and also “cowardly”.

 

-academica


Chapter 4: The Best and Brightest
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“So, ready for another grueling year?” Celestina asked as she and Lily filed into the Transfiguration classroom with the rest of the Gryffindors. She paused for a moment at the end of the row in which James and Sirius were sitting, frowning slightly as she watched Peter sit down next to Sirius, and then moved into the next row, tucking a piece of hair girlishly behind her ear as she settled for a place in front of him.

 

Lily took the seat next to her, paying the boys little attention as she retrieved her books from her schoolbag. It would indeed be grueling, if last year’s exams had been any indication. She knew she was bright, or at least all of her professors told her so, but she had still felt so inadequate sitting there with James and Sirius, knowing they had years of magical upbringing to help them out in a pinch if they forgot a couple things they’d studied – if they’d studied. Lily was on her own. Still, she had done well, and her parents had been pleased to see that her work had paid off.

 

Petunia, however, was a different story. Lily could hardly blame her sister for not paying much attention to Lily’s exam grades, given that Tuney had only gotten engaged a few months prior. She had been a little hurt to see the look on Petunia’s face when she offered to help with the wedding, one that made her wonder if she could even expect to be asked to be a bridesmaid. Her sister had murmured something about Lily keeping her wand far from both her wedding gown, newly purchased and hanging in their shared bedroom for all to admire, and her new fiancé. Lily’s only response had been to remind her sister that magic wasn’t permitted on school breaks.

 

She, of course, was already spending as little time with Vernon Dursley as humanly possible. The man was the strangest bloke she had ever seen, carefully lining up his peas and eating them three at a time whenever her parents had him over for dinner and insisting that he take his shoes off before moving beyond the foyer even though Mr. Evans had told him it was unnecessary. More than once she had wanted to tell Severus about Vernon. His eccentricity was preferable.

 

Sev. She hated thinking about him, and perhaps that’s why he cropped up without welcome all too often these days. No, he wasn’t preferable now, not even compared to Vernon the oddity.

 

“You okay?” Celestina had finally gotten bored enough with Sirius for the moment to turn her attention back to her friend. She noticed that Lily was biting her lip a bit hard, and she frowned.

 

Just then, the large door to the classroom opened, and Lily felt relief creeping up like a breeze.

 

The few conversations remaining in the room ceased as Professor McGonagall strode up the long aisle toward the front of the room. The heavy soles of her brown platform boots echoed in the newly quiet hall, the only other sound made by the simultaneous swishing of the hem of her stylish maroon tunic and the ends of her shoulder-length reddish brown hair. As she turned to face the students, Lily met her kind but sharp eyes and offered her professor a warm smile. She had always admired their Head of House in much the same way that she admired her mother. Both women worked hard, though one occupied a domestic sphere and the other an academic one. Both were beautiful and shrewd, humble and practiced, fashionable and perfectly serious.

 

McGonagall returned the gesture, but it was brief, and she did not hold Lily’s gaze for long.

 

“Good to see you all sorted out your schedules,” the professor said, leaning back slightly against her ancient desk. “As with every year, I hope you enjoyed a relaxing and safe summer.”

 

Something didn’t seem right. Professor McGonagall was all business, never taking more than two minutes for opening remarks before launching straight into the subject material. Lily had expected her to skip the welcoming speech altogether with N.E.W.T.s in the students’ future. Now, though, she appeared somewhat hesitant to begin. A couple of Ravenclaws, who were sharing the Gryffindors’ class period this year, leaned forward out of their own curiosity.

 

“I am certain that you all have noticed that the climate of our world has grown a bit darker of late,” McGonagall said, apparently having decided that there was no appropriate way to introduce the topic she found so pressing at the moment. “If not, perhaps your parents have been keeping some recent events from you, and while it is admirable that they wish to protect you, I must urge you to inform yourselves nonetheless. I have back issues of the Daily Prophet in my possession if any of you wish to avail yourselves of them.”

 

Lily felt an elbow in her side, and she glanced over at Celestina, whose own eyes had locked onto a trembling figure at the front of the room. Lily noticed that the girl seemed to be crying.

 

“I am saddened to report, particularly for those of you learning of the news for the first time, that one of your fellow students was murdered last week. Her name was Karen Meriwether, and she was a Prefect in Ravenclaw House. While on an internship at St. Mungo’s, she and several others were killed by…” She paused for a moment, seeming to have difficulty finding an appropriate word. This, too, was unusual for the fifty-year-old witch. “…thugs. Truly despicable men.”

 

Lily had met the girl once, when she’d come for a pre-exam review for Charms last year and found that Karen, who was working as Flitwick’s teaching assistant during the school year, was there to answer questions and guide the students as they went through their collective notes. Ellery had told her later that the girl had to work whenever she wasn’t doing homework, given that her Muggle parents had four children and no money set aside for a private school education.

 

“If any of you were close to Karen and need to take some time to recover from this terrible news, please know that I and your other instructors are more than happy to make allowances for that,” McGonagall continued, and her eyes lit upon the sobbing Ravenclaw for a fraction of a second. “I…” Again, she found herself lost for words. “You are all old enough to know that what is going on outside these walls is serious, and should be taken as such. Karen was much like any of you, preparing to finish her schooling and move on to a career. Her death provides an unfortunate lesson to us all, the lesson that we can no longer waste the carefree days of youth.”

 

Lily bit her lip again. She glanced at Celestina, who looked uncomfortable. They all did.

 

“With that said, I must urge you to prepare yourselves as best you can. That includes taking your schooling seriously, and realizing that your education does not end once your exams are completed.” McGonagall cleared her throat, looking for a moment like she wanted very much to say something else, like she was not yet convinced of her own final remarks. However, she reached for a small stack of paper on her desk instead. “Today’s lesson, like all of them, should prove helpful to you. We’re going to be learning the Incarcifors spell. On page twenty-three…”

 

Lily barely heard McGonagall’s instructions, though she did turn to the correct page, frowning slightly when she noticed how closely the snarling dog on the page matched the tone of her professor’s speech. She and Celestina practiced casting the spell on the beautiful blue butterfly they shared, and Lily felt her heart sink a little lower each time she watched a successful attempt wrap the butterfly in a prison made of spare twigs. Gradually, she stopped taking her turns, turning her gaze instead to the other butterflies beating their wings against the tiny magic-formed cages housing them at the other desks around the room. By the time Celestina noticed, however, Professor McGonagall was standing up to declare that their time for the day had fully elapsed.

 

As the students filed drearily out of the classroom, Lily noticed that James and his friends had stopped just outside the door to converse about the period’s events. As she walked past, stopping to release a butterfly that a couple of students in the back had forgotten to let free of its prison, she overheard a tiny snatch of their conversation, just a few words between Remus and James.

 

“…don’t think it’s a good idea. You heard what she said. Things are getting a bit dodgy…”

 

“Well, we can’t just sit here, not if it’s that bad. We could use the one by the one-eyed witch.”

 

Now, Peter chimed in. “Won’t she wonder how we got out? Besides, they must be strong.”

 

“McGonagall’s really worried, Wormtail. I don’t know that the rules apply here,” James said.

 

Just then, Peter glanced over at Lily, catching her in the act of listening in on their conversation. The group went silent for a moment, and then Peter and Remus moved simultaneously, adjusting their bags upon their shoulders and heading off in the direction of the Gryffindor Common Room. Sirius put his hands in his pockets, glancing from James to Lily with a slight smirk.

 

James cleared his throat. “Sirius, mate, could you give us a minute?”

 

Sirius shrugged in response, nodding at Lily. “See you around, Evans.”

 

Lily raised an eyebrow at him without fully realizing it, surprised at his nonchalant attitude toward her. She had always known him as an impulsive boy, shifting from teasing her about James’s affection to insulting her in defense of his best friend without pausing to stop anywhere in the middle. His acknowledgement of her had been so casual that it almost passed as friendly.

 

Then, James turned his hazel eyes upon her, and her train of thought derailed a bit.

 

“Your concern for Professor McGonagall is sweet,” she remarked, unable to help herself.

 

“She’s just acting strange. I’m not used to her being unsure about things,” James replied.

 

“Yes, it is sort of disconcerting,” Lily said, peeling her eyes away from his nervously.

 

They stood in silence for a few moments, both of them seemingly distracted by the chatter of the students around them, a crowd mostly composed of first-years filing into Transfiguration. As Lily watched a couple of Hufflepuff girls walk by, chatting over an issue of Witch Weekly, she felt a slight pang in her stomach. When she looked back at James, she saw that he was frowning. After a few seconds, he saw that she had returned her attention to him, and he spoke once more.

 

“Listen, Lily, this weekend is a Hogsmeade trip, and I’d love it if you’d have tea with me.”

 

Lily tried so hard not to blush that she wound up turning an unnaturally scarlet shade. “I, um… I actually have plans to study this weekend with Ellery, so… I’m sorry, but no,” she stammered, trying to ignore the part of her brain currently telling her that her skin and hair were just alike.

 

“Oh, right,” James said. “That’s Lily Evans, always worrying about exams,” he added awkwardly, digging himself an even deeper hole. “S-see you,” he said finally, heading off down the corridor and following in the footsteps of his friends. He’d never looked so unsure in his life.

 

Lily gave him enough time to disappear around the corner before she, too, began walking toward the common room. Along the way, she cursed Celestina for leaving her alone with James Potter and nearly knocked over a Slytherin first-year who had taken his glasses off mid-step to clean them. As she moved through the portrait hole, she realized that James had used her first name.

 

She sat down on her four-poster bed, drawing the curtains about her and considering taking a nap to pass the time until Charms. However, just as she was about to block out the remaining light with the sheer red fabric, she noticed something laying on her nightstand. She picked it up, running the pads of two fingers over the slightly raised emblem of Hogwarts painted in emerald, smiling as she re-read the formal script that detailed the purpose of the note card she held. It was an invitation to an organization run by Professor Slughorn, one of her favorite teachers. The obscure description on the card provided the only hint as to the activities of that very evening: a meeting of the best and brightest. Slughorn was certainly one to be dramatic, but then again, she wished just this once he had been more specific. After all, his best and brightest most likely included students who excelled at Potions. Wasn’t that why she was invited? Would he be, too?

 

She pondered the prospect of being trapped at a party with her former best friend for a few moments, and then her determination not to let her professor down triumphed neatly over it.


 


 

“The trophy room?”

 

Lily whispered out loud to herself, turning the card over in her scarlet-tipped fingers as she walked slowly down the empty corridor on her way to the moving staircase. Slughorn did not possess a spacious office, and so it was no wonder that he’d strayed from the drafty dungeons for this meeting, but it was Lily’s opinion that the Great Hall might have made for a better setting.

 

Then, she remembered the sentiment on the card and smirked. What a show-off.

She lighted on the staircase like a nervous butterfly, trying not to let the unsteady feeling of it moving beneath her feet sway her as she patiently waited for it to bring her down to the third floor. As it came to a halt, she turned the corner and made her way down the shadowy corridor, the subtle clicking of the short black heels on her feet becoming louder as she moved from carpet to the stone floor of the trophy room. Lily couldn’t help but pause and marvel at it momentarily.

 

The usually chilly room, which was barely ever occupied except for when foreign witches and wizards came to Hogwarts and the Headmaster wanted to show them its elaborate history, was now simultaneously lit and warmed by four small fires at each corner, all of them sitting comfortably atop wooden shelves without so much as singeing the material beneath them. Several of the awards had been moved aside to make room for a large, circular table, at which sat a few nervous-looking students whom Lily had never met before. At the center of the table was a massive spread of appetizers, and clean glass goblets and pristine white plates marked ten places. Two girls in silver dresses stood over by one of the fires, chatting amongst themselves and surveying the others in the room. A seventh-year boy who played for the Hufflepuff Quidditch Team with Ellery was standing by the three who were seated, making very awkward small talk. Across the room, Professor Slughorn was talking to a dark-haired boy, wearing his formal robes.

 

“Ah, Lily!” he said, watching her approach tentatively. “You look lovely, my dear, in Gryffindor red.” He, the boy, and Lily looked down at her dress, a knee-length number with short sleeves that she’d borrowed from Celestina, who had received it as a gift from her aunt back in Italy.

 

“Thank you,” Lily replied, trying not to blush. As she looked back up at Slughorn, she caught a better glimpse of his companion, whom she recognized as Sirius’s brother from the train platform. “I really appreciate being invited, Professor,” she added, smiling politely at the boy.

 

“Of course, Lily, I can’t think of a better person to join my little organization,” Slughorn said, waving away her manners. “Well, you and Regulus here… have you two met?”

 

“No,” Regulus replied, turning his eyes upon the redhead. “Nice to make your acquaintance.”

 

“And yours,” Lily said, finding that she sort of meant it, despite his behavior with the attendant from the previous morning. She had not failed to notice the dark, attractive features that he shared with other members of his family, after all. Celestina’s infatuation with Sirius was understandable to a point, but his personality had always turned Lily off. This boy, though, seemed much more quiet and reserved, at least when he was not being goaded on by his mother.

 

“Well, it’s just about time to take our seats. Wouldn’t want to keep the others waiting, hmm?” Slughorn said, guiding Lily to a seat a few feet away. Regulus crossed the room, smiling at the two girls in silver and sitting down across from Slughorn and Lily. The seventh-year Hufflepuff, who had already decided on the seat between Slughorn and Lily, reached for some of the food, but withdrew his hand quickly as Slughorn began to address the group.

 

“Welcome, all, to the first meeting of this term’s Slug Club!” he said, spreading his arms wide as if he wished to hold all of them together at once, to keep the best and brightest close to himself. “I hope you all approve of the location I chose for this initial gathering. I’ve asked my friend the Baron to keep an eye on Peeves, so never fear, our time together will not be interrupted by anyone not welcome to the club.” He paused for laughter, but he only received a few half-hearted chuckles. Lily and several of the others had suddenly remembered that Peeves had a particular affinity for trashing the trophy room, and Lily suspected that some students in the room had just been put off their dinner by the prospect of having to catch a glimpse of the Bloody Baron.

 

Slughorn continued, not insulted in the least. “Well, plenty to eat, and plenty of good conversation is promised, what with the company I’ve gathered for the evening. Tuck in!”

 

Lily ate sparingly with the appetizers, trying one of each and finding some more to her liking than others. However, when a small team of elves cleared the table and presented the main dishes, she could no longer help herself, eating two full lamp chops and a large spoonful of roasted potatoes before deciding that she was full. This decision, of course, lasted only until the raspberry custard tart was served. Thankfully, she did not reach for a second helping after her first was finished, choosing instead to glance at the other students around the table.

 

She realized that she must have seemed rude, paying more attention to her meal than the people around her, but apparently no one else minded. The seventh-year to her left was embroiled in conversation with Slughorn, discussing something related to the professor’s Ministry contacts, and the girl sitting to her right had gotten up to use the bathroom and had yet to return. She looked across the table at Regulus, who appeared only mildly interested in the two silver-clad girls, who were taking turns attempting to ask him about his preferences in Quidditch teams.

 

Then, out of nowhere, there was a loud crash, and all conversation about the table ceased.

 

It happened so quickly that Lily barely had time to get out of the way before the remaining two pieces of tart came flying in her direction. The dish hit the floor by her feet, smashing into bits and throwing stray pieces of custard onto her dress. She brushed them off, frowning, and hurried toward the back corner of the room, where the other students and Slughorn were gathered. Together, they watched as Peeves cackled past, moving quickly through the wall with a rather murderous-looking Baron fast on his metaphorical heels. The group could hear the sound of Peeves shattering dishes and throwing food in the distance. Slughorn had never looked so angry.

 

As soon as the ghosts were gone, the students departed for the night, save for Lily and Regulus. She moved for the broken plate, picking up each of the shards carefully and using them to scrape the custard off the floor. Several elves rushed in, took one look at the mess, and followed the trail of food out into the corridor. Regulus, meanwhile, picked a half-eaten piece of tart off a whole plate still on the table and put it between his lips, leaning against the wall and taking in the scene.

 

Lily glanced up at him expectantly, frowning. He was more like his brother than she had hoped.

 

“That damn poltergeist,” Slughorn said, looking like he wanted to use more offensive terms, were it not for the best and brightest still occupying the room. “It appears that most of the elves I’d asked to serve us this evening will be busy for quite some time, unfortunately. Lily, erm…” He looked at her sheepishly, watching as she stood up with a handful of broken china in hand. “Would you mind helping the others pick up the slack? Just a quick trip to the kitchens is all.” He glanced over at Regulus, who was licking tart off his fingers. “Regulus will help you, too.”

 

Both of the students frowned simultaneously, but nevertheless, they both also began picking up plates and pouring out goblets, Evanesco-ing the mess as they went. When both of their arms were full, they headed down the corridor after the elves, and Lily made a mental reminder to do a bit of cleaning to the dress she was wearing before returning it to her friend in the morning.

 

She was surprised when Regulus spoke to her. “So, does the red suggest Gryffindor?”

 

“Yes,” Lily responded, smiling at him. “Why do you ask?”

 

“There’s no reason in particular. I’m not really used to talking to people who aren’t in Slytherin, though, so I’m not sure how to handle the journey from here to the kitchen.”

 

Lily chuckled. “Well, what do you like to do for fun?”

 

“I play Quidditch,” Regulus replied, and his expression lit up slightly. “I kind of like potions, too.” He paused, and then he allowed himself to lie. “I think that’s why Slughorn invited me.”

 

“Oh, me too!” Lily said. “It’s my favorite subject, except for Charms.”

 

“I’m all right at Charms.” Regulus smiled this time. Her earlier comment had triggered a memory in his mind, the memory of Severus staring at her from across the empty library. Now that he had gotten a closer look at her, he could see the attraction. She seemed like a nice girl.

 

“Why do you think Slughorn asked us to help the elves with these, anyway?” Lily asked.

 

“What do you mean?” Regulus said, returning to the present.

 

“Well, at the opening feast, the food appears on the plates when Professor Dumbledore says we can eat, and then when everyone is done, the food and the plates disappear from the tables.”

 

“Right,” Regulus said, shifting the plates a bit as they had begun to feel somewhat heavy. He saw one of the elves up ahead tense its shoulders as the plates made a dangerously loud clinking sound, and for a moment, he felt sorry for the creatures. After all, if he broke any, they would have to take the blame and clean it up. That was how it was at home, anyway, when Sirius got into an argument with his parents and shoved his uneaten dinner off the table and onto the floor.

 

“Well, why couldn’t they just make these disappear? Like they will with the mess from Peeves?”

 

Regulus smirked slightly as he answered her. “Maybe he wanted us to get to know each other.”

 

Lily looked confused. “What do you mean?”

 

Regulus glanced over at her. “You know…” He nodded in the direction of the elves, who had now put a few feet of distance between themselves and the humans, as if to give them privacy.

 

“What?” Lily sounded surprised, but her brief moment of shock dissolved into a small laugh. “Well, I suppose he would love to say that we’d birthed some sort of Potions genius together.”

 

Regulus snorted softly. “I think Snape’d make a better husband if that’s the result he wants.”

 

Lily fell silent at this, trying to be subtle as she broke eye contact with him. Fortunately, they were no longer very far from the kitchens. They walked along without speaking until they reached the brightly-lit alcove, and one by one they laid their loads of dishes carefully into the sink, with Regulus taking extra care to prevent his from clinking together a second time.

 

As they turned out of the kitchen, Lily gave him one final awkward smile, making a second mental note not to sit anywhere near him at the next Slug Club function. Perhaps it had not been too much to hope that Severus wouldn’t make an appearance, but the way the mere mention of his name had caused her dinner to churn uncomfortably in her stomach wasn’t exactly pleasant. She opened her mouth to wish him a good night, but in typical Black fashion, he spoke first.

 

“How is Sirius doing?”

 

She blinked. “Fine, I suppose. I don’t see much of him outside of class.”

 

“Oh.” His expression faltered. “I just thought, since you were in Gryffindor…”

 

“Do you want me to tell him you said hello?” Lily blurted the words out before she even knew that she wanted to say them. Her stomach churned a little again, this time with a surprising pity.

 

“No,” Regulus said shortly, but without malice. “I guess I’ll see you around, Lily.”

 

“Yeah,” Lily replied, watching as he turned easily and moved in the direction of the dungeons, leaving her standing alone on a staircase that was about to move. “Bye, Regulus,” she said.

 

She pondered the evening as she made her way back up to Gryffindor Tower, still unsure what exactly to make of Regulus Black. It was sort of nice to talk to someone who was friendly with both Severus and Sirius, as she had always assumed that to occupy such a position would be difficult. He was a Black in appearance, but his personality seemed so different than before.

 

Once within the tower, Lily moved softly up the stairs and shed the dirty dress, dropping it into Celestina’s small laundry pile without remembering to clean off the remnants of tart. As she crawled under the sheets and embraced sleep, she considered discarding her other mental note.

 

Regulus Black might make a good friend, as long as he never again mentioned Severus Snape.


 


 

Author’s Note:

 

Incarcifors is a spell used to transform ordinary objects into traps or prisons for creatures. Evanesco, of course, is a vanishing spell often used to clear up spills and messes. Both of these spells, along with any other characters, events and places that you recognize, belong to J. K. Rowling. I’d also like to thank the HP Lexicon for assisting me with the menu.

 

Thank you for all of your dedicated reads, and please review! :)

 

-academica


Chapter 5: Catalyst
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The bright gold piece of metal, with its ruby red face and smooth, rounded edges, turned over in Lily’s hand before her eyes, the cool surface of the object and the prominent single letter stamped into it folding slowly and deliberately against her palm. She had received it in the post over the summer and tried it on in the mirror at least a thousand times, but now, on the day when it would take on real meaning for the first time, she was almost too afraid to pin it to her sweater.

“Lily?”

She looked up to see Ellery, pausing in front of her with a plateful of breakfast. She smiled, quirking an eyebrow at her friend. “I think you have enough there for an entire season.”

“I’m just so out of shape! I have to be ready for a grueling first practice,” Ellery replied. “But listen, enough about me… how was last night? You did go, didn’t you?”

“Sure, I went,” Lily said, watching an intrigued expression spread across her friend’s face with amusement. “It was fun, until dinner was interrupted by Peeves.”

“Peeves went all the way down to Slughorn’s office? He’s gotten a bit daring.”

“No, no, he held the meeting in the trophy room,” Lily corrected. “You remember, Slughorn is always complaining that his office is too cramped. I’m sure he couldn’t resist a chance to get out.”

“I’m certain,” Ellery agreed. “Did you see anyone interesting there?”

“Oh, of course. It’s the best and brightest,” Lily said sarcastically, trying not to roll her eyes.

“Not even...?” Ellery began, but her expression faded with Lily’s. “Really? I’m surprised.”

“I’m not. He’s never been terribly social,” Lily said, glancing down at the forlorn-looking English muffin on her plate. She suddenly had the feeling that her appetite was gone for good.

“Well, yes,” Ellery said. She was in the middle of trying to figure out to which subject the conversation should shift when Celestina began to approach, looking as if she were in quite the sour mood. Lily cleared her throat, indicating that Ellery might want to vacate the girl’s space.

“See you both tonight after practice?” Ellery said, moving aside as Celestina plopped down.

“Yes, I think we should start with Charms. It’ll be good practice for Flitwick’s first exam,” Lily said, glancing over at her fellow Gryffindor and setting her Prefect’s badge down on the table.

“Do you lot ever stop studying? Must be terribly boring,” Sirius said, leading his friends to the table and taking a seat next to Celestina without acknowledging her.

“Well, Prefects have to at least try to set an example,” Remus said, taking the place next to Lily. “Right?” he added, smiling gently at her.

“Right,” Lily replied, smiling back. She had almost forgotten that Remus was going to be her partner in rule enforcement for the term. Maybe it wouldn’t be so intimidating after all.

“So I suppose last night will be the only fun we can expect from you this term, Moony?” Sirius said, and in a split second his playful expression turned to a grimace of pain, accompanied by a sharp thump under the table. The victim of the assault shot a cold look at James, to his left.

“Moony?” Lily looked over at Sirius. “Why did you call him that?”

“Moody. That’s what I said. Moody,” Sirius corrected. “He needs his beauty sleep.”

“Right, yes, no more late nights for me,” Remus said, glancing over at Lily.

Lily smirked, but part of her felt a little concerned. Late nights? Sure enough, all four of them had purple bags beneath their eyes. What had they been up to? …And why did she even care?

“Well, Lily had a great night, too,” Celestina said, and Lily looked over at her, surprised to hear her speak behind her rumpled sweater and chilly expression. “Isn’t that right?”

“I just went to Slug Club,” Lily said, confused.

“Yes, the tart stains on my dress will be a lasting reminder of that,” Celestina said venomously.

“Oh…” Lily frowned. “I’m sorry, Celestina, I meant to put that in my laundry bin, not yours. I’ll make sure it gets washed for you.”

“You’d better,” Celestina said, but her expression was already lightening. “Otherwise, I won’t have anything to wear for my date with Sirius this weekend,” she added with a playful grin.

“You have a date?” Lily grinned.

“No, not yet. But it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure,” Celestina said boastfully.

“You’re in the Slug Club?” The group turned their attention back to Sirius, who suddenly seemed quite interested in the girls’ conversation, though he appeared to have missed Celestina’s comment completely. The girl in question frowned, poking pointlessly at her cereal with a spoon.

“Yes,” Lily replied. “In fact, I met your brother there last night. He seems nice.”

“I’ll bet,” Sirius said in a low tone, diverting his attention back to what remained of his breakfast.

Lily frowned. “He said to tell you hello.”

“No, he didn’t,” Sirius replied, stuffing the last bit of toast into his mouth and standing up. “Go on, finish up, you lot. I want to spend my free morning out in the sunshine while it’s still warm.”

“Sounds good,” James said, avoiding eye contact with Lily as he rose to his feet. “Peter?”

“I have Arithmancy,” Peter said, looking every bit as if he regretted signing up to take it.

“Lily and I were assigned the first patrol for today,” Remus said, taking a final sip of pumpkin juice. “But go on, save me a place under a nice, shady tree. We’ll be done in an hour.”

“Will do,” Sirius said, slinging his half-empty schoolbag over his shoulder. Then, without another word, he and James disappeared into the crowd of students leaving the Great Hall.

--


“I don’t know why we have to learn this. Mum just buys it from the Apothecary,” Wilkes said, wrinkling his nose as he carefully opened the small vial of Horklump juice, watching the pale yellow liquid swish around in the tube, leaving a slimy-looking residue on the glass walls.

“Because, you git, if you don’t take your classes more seriously, you won’t graduate, and then you won’t have money to buy anything from the Apothecary, or anywhere else, really,” Regulus said smartly, smirking at his friend as he turned to the appropriate page in Magical Drafts and Potions. “Unless, of course, you’re just planning on living with your mum and dad forever.”

“Not likely,” Wilkes replied, but he couldn’t help but crack a grin.

The two of them were seated in their usual location adjacent to Slughorn’s desk, crammed into the tiny Potions laboratory with twenty-three of their fellow fifth-year Slytherins. Regulus had been looking forward to Potions, despite the fact that it was held in a tiny, freezing classroom, because it was one of the only classes he wouldn’t have to share with students from other houses. Slytherin was not immune from the chance inclusion of a thick-brained student, but its tendency to select primarily from pureblood families at least ensured that most of its students would not be unduly shocked by what they found at Hogwarts. He couldn’t count the number of times in previous years when a Muggle-born student had panicked because she didn’t know how to get a spilled solution stain out of her robes or because she had not been made aware as a small child that a Venomous Tentacula leaf sheds its poison when it dies, rendering it harmless to the touch. In this respect, at least, Regulus had never doubted the comments his parents made about blood.

Wilkes waved a hand to clear some of the smoke from an early mistake out of the air surrounding them, and then he glanced over at the recipe. “Do not drink this potion.” He chuckled slightly. “Sounds like a good way to test the first years’ resolve.”

“I don’t fancy going to Azkaban,” Regulus commented, looking down below the warning and the ingredient list for the instructions on how to brew the Herbicide Potion. “Add four lionfish spines, crushed into a rough powder.”

“You got it,” Wilkes said, working the spines with the pestle until they were reduced to a sandy mixture of orange and white particles. “Do I put it in now?”

“Yeah,” Regulus said, sliding the book closer to him. He could read.

“All right, now we just have it let it brew for a bit,” Wilkes said. Apparently he could.

“So I see that you recovered from the opening feast,” Regulus said, smirking at his friend.

“Slept in late this morning. Wasn’t in the mood for breakfast,” Wilkes replied, making a face at the mere thought of food. “Didn’t eat much yesterday either, really.”

“You going to eat lunch?”

“I should,” Wilkes said, drumming his fingers on the wooden table. “How was Slug Club, then?”

“It was all right,” Regulus said. He almost began telling his friend about the food, but stopped himself just in time. “Peeves and the Bloody Baron sort of crashed the party, though.”

“Oh, yeah?” Wilkes smirked. “Good old Peeves. I’m sure the Baron ripped him a new one.”

“I dunno. Slughorn had me off doing dishes with the elves.”

“Now I’m glad I wasn’t invited,” Wilkes said, standing up to check the potion. “Meet any girls?”

“No,” Regulus said, thinking of Lily.

“I figured as much. Not sure I’d want to date a girl who was really into potion-making.”

“Well, it’s not just that. He invites all kinds of people. You just have to be good at something.”

“Well, what are you good at?” Wilkes replied, smirking over at Regulus.

“Being a Black, of course,” Regulus shot back with a grin, but he turned his attention back to the textbook. “Here, put in the Horklump juice now, before it boils any more than that.”

Wilkes did as he was told, and the two boys watched as the potion turned to the expected shade of lavender. From his desk, Slughorn smiled approvingly at them, nodding to signify pleasure.

“Now, two blobs of Flobberworm Mucus.”

“Just one,” Wilkes said, measuring it out.

“What?” Regulus looked at him, confused.

“Just one,” Wilkes repeated, dropping it in. The potion faded to a concluding simmer.

“Why?” Regulus asked, double-checking the book. No, it definitely said ‘two’.

“Trust me,” Wilkes said, lowering his voice and moving closer to Regulus so as not to be overheard. “Snape told me. He said he was the only one who got it right last year, and purely on accident. Slughorn was thrilled.” He smirked. “Bet he was too busy staring at that Mudblood.”

Regulus considered this for a moment, and behind him a pair of girls groaned as their two-blob potion began to boil more instead of less. “What else has he told you?”

“Nothing,” Wilkes said. “But he’s written it all down. You can hardly read his textbooks.”

Then, there was a disgusting sound, and the cauldron across from theirs broke toward the bottom, a small tidal wave of green mucus spilling out of the hole created by all of the acid. The two Slytherins – half-bloods, Regulus noted – looked up guiltily as Slughorn approached.

“You added in three blobs, didn’t you? Two! Two!” Slughorn looked every bit like a toad about to burst. “Go on, then, clean up. Mr. Wilkes, you have experience with these messes, don’t you?”

Wilkes frowned. “Not this year, Professor.”

“Well, come on, be a good sport and help your housemates,” Slughorn said, his tone returning to its usual civility. “The rest of you, class dismissed… good work…”

Regulus patted his friend on the back as he left. “I’m heading outside. I’ll save you a tree.”

“Yeah,” Wilkes replied, scowling at the mess. “See you in a few hours, if I’m lucky.”

--


The sunshine warmed Regulus’s face as he stepped out of the castle, heading down to the lake with his bag slung over his shoulder. He had never heard of the giant squid actually dragging away any victims, and so he was planning to take his chances and dangle his feet in the cool water. However, as he approached the edge of the pool, he happened upon a familiar sight.

“Making more corrections?” he asked, sitting down next to the older boy who was occupying the space under the tree closest to the lake. Severus was bent over his Potions textbook, murmuring to himself as he crammed a good deal of writing in his tiny scrawl next to the ingredient list.

“Snape?” Regulus was not entirely sure that he’d been noticed.

“Shh,” Snape said, glancing up at him briefly through his curtain of hair. “They’ll hear you.”

Regulus glanced over to the lake, where he could make out his older brother and Sirius’s obnoxious friend, James Potter, lying sprawled out in the grass. He looked back at Snape, making the mental connection, and set his bag down gently so as not to make much noise.

“Wilkes showed me your little trick with the flobberworm mucus,” he said quietly.

“And?”

“It worked. The people next to us melted their cauldron.”

Snape smirked at him, a brief show of his pride in having improved upon the recipe, but then his face returned to its usual annoyed expression. “Be sure you make a note of it for the exam.”

“Actually, I was hoping you’d make a few more notes for me,” Regulus said, fishing out his Potions textbook and setting it down in the grass next to Snape’s. “I’m perfectly good at Potions, but being in the club, I think his expectations are just going to keep going up…”

“Make them yourself,” Snape said, clearly insulted by the request. “I don’t know how you expect to get anywhere in life, Black. Any idiot would have noticed that two blobs would be too much.”

“I suppose you’re the only one, actually,” Regulus said coldly.

Snape looked up at him. “You’re no better than your useless brother… disgrace to the house…”

“Don’t say that,” Regulus growled, but Snape’s attention had already been stolen away from him and returned to the two boys sitting on the far side of the field. “You looking for her, then?”

Snape’s eyes shot back to him. “How would you know that?”

“You’re always looking for her, it seems,” Regulus replied. “But you know she won’t be with him. She hates Potter, almost as much as she hates my brother.”

“I’m not sure that’s the case any longer,” Snape said, and he had never sounded so sad.

“If you like her so much, why would you be looking to see her with him?”

“Keep your voice down,” Snape admonished. “I—I’d just like to see her, that’s all.”

Regulus stood up then, unable to participate in the conversation any longer. Being a Slytherin, Snape was likely a pureblood, and his fixation on the Mudblood girl was beginning to turn Regulus’s stomach. “I’m going to go fly for a bit. I’d ask you to join me, but you don’t seem the type.”

“I’m not,” Snape replied. “But – would you mind staying?”

“What?”

“I could use some company.”

Regulus quirked an eyebrow at him. “Isn’t that what your book is for?”

Snape bit his lip, beginning to fidget nervously. “Do you want to know more secrets or not?”

Regulus considered this. It was a lovely day, but it would be lovely for a while longer, and he didn’t have to go to class again until Herbology in the late afternoon. He didn’t know why Snape hadn’t been invited to the Slug Club, but he saw no problem with taking advantage of it.

“Yeah, sure,” he said, sitting back down. “Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?”

--


“I can’t believe you’ve started studying already,” Remus said, glancing over at Lily as the two of them emerged onto the grounds, the afternoon sunlight causing their badges to flash together. “You are aware that exams aren’t until the end of term, right?”

“Of course I’m aware. I made up the studying schedule,” Lily said, grinning at him. “It just seems like we have so much material to cover. I don’t know how I’m going to learn it all, even with you, Ellery and Celestina helping, unless I start very far in advance.”

“You’re probably right,” Remus said. “I was just hoping to be able to spend a few more long, lazy days in the sunshine before I had to move into the library.”

“Oh, it won’t be that bad,” Lily responded. “We can go to Hogsmeade and study over Butterbeer.”

“Somehow I don’t think that will make for a good combination,” Remus said, glancing over at the lake. Suddenly, he stopped, staring ahead of him. Lily paused as well, following his line of sight, and finally spotting Sirius and James as they headed in the direction of a nearby tree.

“Padfoot! Prongs!” Remus cried, having forgotten his cover story from the previous night and bolting down the shallow hill toward his friends. Behind him, Lily followed, watching in horror as Sirius pushed her former best friend down onto his back in the grass, spilling his vial of ink. As she approached, she gently shoved the person ahead of her out of her way, looking up to see that it was the boy from Slughorn’s party. He seemed like he wasn’t sure what, if anything, to do.

“Snivelly, I’m telling you, you would think that someone would learn after having James here remove their trousers in a public arena,” Sirius said, grabbing the Potions textbook and letting it hang open in the air before him. “Come on, James, let’s count the poisons he’s marked…”

“Give that BACK!” Snape cried, reaching for the book and falling miserably short.

“Remus!” Lily said desperately, grabbing at his arm. “Wait… do something! Stop them!”

Remus attempted to grab for the book as well. “Why has it got to be me?”

“You’re a Prefect!”

“Lily,” Remus said, sounding slightly annoyed. “You’re a Prefect, too.”

Just then, Snape got hold of the book, and he accidentally hit himself in the nose with it in his desperate bid to return it safely into his own hands. Blood spurted from the wound, dripping down from his nostrils and dirtying the front of his white shirt and Slytherin tie. Without thinking, Lily grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the scene, bringing him to a halt in the grass a few feet away from the small crowd of students who had gathered to witness the event. As she let go, she noticed that Regulus had taken the other arm, helping her make the journey.

“Thanks,” he said shortly, as if she had simply opened a door for him.

“Lily!” Remus cried, and she looked over to see him trying his best to keep James and Sirius from gawking at the damage they’d caused. She frowned deeply, moving over to them and jabbing her finger in Sirius’s chest. “Detention for both of you. I’ll find out when and where.”

“But I didn’t even do anything!” James protested.

“You—” Lily began, but it was true, he hadn’t. “You could have stopped him, you know.”

Sirius looked like he was about to call her a very ugly name, but then he was moving along with Remus and James back toward the castle, having decided it was best to leave her alone for now. She turned away, letting the crowd disperse before she moved back over to look at the victim. Regulus had balled up his robe and given it to him to press against his nose, and the bleeding appeared to have been reduced considerably. Unfortunately, Snape had already passed out.

“Good thinking,” she said softly, gesturing to the robe.

“If there’s no evidence, he can’t really get detention,” Regulus replied.

“I should give it to him,” she replied.

“Why?” Regulus frowned.

“I gave it to those two. He participated in the fight. He inflicted his own wound, even.”

“I’ll bet this isn’t his first broken nose,” Regulus said. “Can’t you just let it go, just this once?”

Lily sighed, glancing down at him. Regulus watched her, surprised to find himself smiling. Just then, Snape began to stir. Before he could open his eyes, Lily had vanished into the castle.

--


It was waiting patiently for Lily when she entered the Great Hall for dinner that evening, propped up politely on her empty dinner plate, taking up the space for her vegetables. She sat down, having intended to eat alone and focus on re-reading the most recent chapter in her Charms textbook in order to prepare for her study session with the girls and Remus afterwards. But the tiny slip of parchment, with its message in neat, practiced script, caught her attention.

Meet me at the Quidditch Pitch at nine tonight. Come alone.


She stared at it for a moment, her eyes tracing over the careful loops and perfectly spaced letters as she tried to decipher their meaning. She didn’t recognize the author’s handwriting; it was far too legible to have come from Severus, and James’s notes had always seemed more hurried. The words seemed threatening, but the tone was unusual, causing little apprehension for her. In fact, she felt curious, the girlish notion crossing her mind that she might have a secret admirer. If so, Lily, he’s quite rude, she imagined Celestina saying, even as a glint danced within her dark eyes.

Lily folded up the paper, thought for a moment, and made a note to end her study session early.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author’s Note:

Welcome back, readers! I hope this new chapter was worth the wait :)

First of all, I’m indebted to the HP Wiki for giving me a quick chemistry lesson. I haven’t taken the Herbicide Potion recipe verbatim, but I did borrow heavily from the Wiki.

Secondly, I’m aware that canon does not state that Lily Evans was ever a Prefect, merely that she was Head Girl. I’m also aware that being a Prefect is not a prerequisite for being Head Girl, but I felt like it would make sense that the future Head Girl would be a Prefect, and I also felt like becoming a Prefect would fit with Lily’s personality, so I went with my creative choice and made her one. I do think most of the story fits into canon okay, though.

Thank you for your continued support! As always, anything you recognize as J.K. Rowling’s work belongs to her, not me. Please review, and stay tuned for chapter six!

-academica


Chapter 6: Sparks
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The Gryffindor Common Room had gradually grown quiet as the hours passed and the nightly curfew had come ever closer. A handful of third years were gathered around a small table by the fireplace, watching their year’s wizard chess champion being taken down painfully by a fifth year. Celestina, fresh from her grueling study session, was curled up in a stuffed maroon armchair by the portrait hole, relaxing with the latest edition of Witch Weekly. In a little under an hour, Professor McGonagall would make her usual appearance and remind her young Gryffindors that they would need lots of shut-eye in order to tackle another day of classes, speaking especially firmly to her Quidditch players, whose first match wasn’t far in the future.

One member of the Quidditch team had already memorized the plays for the first game, and so he was spending his evening in bed, having told his friends and fellow players that he was feeling ill. To be truthful, his stomach did feel a bit unsteady, and he was certainly less boisterous than usual. Even Sirius and Peter had abandoned attempting to converse with their friend, having decided thirty minutes ago to amuse themselves with a game of Exploding Snap.

James Potter leaned back in his four poster bed, drawing the sheets up close around him in a protective measure and adjusting the pillow so as to keep his head from leaning against the wall. He moved his comforter aside, gently picking up a crumpled piece of parchment and studying it from behind his horn-rimmed glasses. A piece of untidy black hair fell into his eyes, and he moved it aside with his wand before pointing the tip squarely at the center of the empty page.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he whispered tersely.

“James, mate, you all right?” Sirius called, and the room fell quiet as the cards on the boy’s bed settled. James nearly groaned from behind his closed curtains. He could appreciate the concern of his friend, but just this once, he wished he had taken more time to practice nonverbal magic.

“Fine, Padfoot. Just a bit ill,” he reminded the others.

Neither Sirius nor Peter responded, and James looked back down at the empty page, which had now transformed brilliantly into the Marauder’s Map. He grinned, still impressed by the extraordinary little device on which he and his friends had spent more than a year working. Before his eyes, the letters of the map’s title wagged with happy animation, the ink still sparkling like it had on the first day of the map’s life when Remus had carefully written the words upon it.

James carefully opened the map now, taking care not to let it crinkle more than absolutely necessary, and watched a miniature floor plan of Hogwarts unfold right in front of him. The representative castle was mostly empty at this point; the boys knew it would take ages to add all of its inhabitants, and they still hadn’t quite figured out how they would add students they hadn’t yet met. For now, the map contained only a few moving dots, pacing along in bare corridors and deserted common rooms with little trails of comical-looking footprints following in their wake.

James smiled. He suddenly felt glad that his friends were staying up, because their game required them to keep the few sources of light in the dormitory burning on despite the late hour. That coincidence meant that he did not require a Lumos charm in order to engage in his nightly ritual.

He looked down at the map, feeling his stomach constrict uncomfortably in anticipation. He sometimes did not know why he tortured himself with this particular hobby. After all, it was unlikely that he would ever see her coming to find him on a mission to confess her love. Once or twice, he had even had the awful thought that he might open the Map sometime to find her canoodling in a classroom with Severus Snape. To date, he had only ever found her in the common room, or perhaps in the library, and stared at the dot that represented her for far longer than a normal person should, remaining fixated for hours after others would have grown bored.

However, Lily’s dot wasn’t in the common room today, or even at the library.

James’s smile faded slightly, replacing itself with a look of faint concentration as he searched the map for the object of his affection. A paranoid part of him checked for Snape, but the boy was safely enclosed within the confines of the Slytherin Common Room, probably up brewing a late night potion. He could see Remus moving away from the library and coming ever closer to the common room, and a nagging feeling inside tugged at him, telling him that his time was up. Fairly soon, Remus would come up to bed and see James’s closed curtains, and his compassionate nature would not allow him to simply turn over and ignore a friend in pain. When he opened the curtains, Peter and Sirius would see James looking at the Marauder’s Map. Peter would look at him in that pitiful way that drove James mad, and Sirius would offer another tasteless joke about how Lily wasn’t worth James’s time, his only known method of consolation. Then, the lights would go out, and James’s few moments of solitude would be over for the night.

His eyes combed the page, searching faster. Wait. There! There she was.

Professor McGonagall was poised by the Entrance Hall, probably locking the doors for the night, but Lily was no longer inside the castle’s walls. She was moving slowly and deliberately out onto the grounds, and James followed her silently, forgetting the discomfort in his stomach. Under his observation, she walked past Hagrid’s hut, moving beyond the greenhouses, almost out to the confines of the forest. A feeling of fear replaced the discomfort as James watched her. No, not into the forest, but out toward the Quidditch Pitch – where was she going?

James quickly checked Snape’s dot again, but he remained in place with the other Slytherins. A frown marred his handsome features, and he vaguely heard the dormitory door open for Remus.

Lily continued to move closer and closer to the Pitch.

“James?”

He put the map down, watching her fade into the empty parchment as Remus gently opened his curtains, wearing a concerned look. “Prongs, are you all right? It’s barely nine.”

James didn’t answer him at first, still absorbed in the map. Evans, what are you up to?

“James?”

He finally looked up to see all three of the others watching him with questioning expressions.

“I’m fine, mate. Just a feeling bit ill, that’s all.”

--




Regulus perched up on his broomstick, enjoying the feeling of the cool night breeze ruffling his cloak as he watched the tiny red-haired figure below stride through the grass toward the Pitch. Despite the somewhat suspicious nature of his note, she approached him with confidence, and he wondered vaguely whether she had already figured out who had written to her.

No matter. She was here now, on time as requested.

As she moved closer, he began his slow descent out of the sky, stepping off of his broom and onto the dirt when he was almost on the ground. Before him, he saw the faint light that marked the tip of Lily’s wand drawing closer. When she was near enough for him to make out her facial features, he could see that she wore a smirk, though her green eyes seemed to betray her shyness.

“You know, if you wanted a date, you should have been brave enough to just ask,” she said.

“A date?” Regulus tried not to scoff too visibly. “If that was what I wanted, I would have.”

She folded her arms in front of her chest, and he noticed that she was still wearing her school uniform even though classes had ended hours ago. “Well, what do you want? It’s time for bed.”

“Precisely. I knew we wouldn’t be disturbed at this hour.”

Lily looked at him quizzically.

“What you did for Snape today… I didn’t know you cared so much.”

She flinched slightly, breaking eye contact with him and talking to the dirt. “Checking on him?”

“You know what I mean. You helped me move him away to a safer place. You handed it to my brother and Potter for getting into a row with him.” Regulus paused, waiting until she had cautiously returned her gaze to his face. “I’ll bet you didn’t even report him to Slughorn.”

Lily frowned slightly. “Maybe you’re right. So what?”

“Don’t you know how much it would mean to him to know that you did that?”

Lily put her hands in the pockets of her skirt, saying nothing. Yes, of course she knew. It was no mystery how much Severus cared for her, at least not to her. She had caught him watching her in class or in the Great Hall too many times to question it, as much as she wished that she could.

“Why did you run away?”

“I don’t want to hurt him,” Lily said softly. “I don’t feel the same way.”

Regulus moved closer to her, matching her quiet tone. “Are you sure?”

Lily looked up at the stars. “Yes, I’m sure.” She sighed. “What’s it to you, anyway?”

“He’s a friend,” Regulus remarked shortly. Truthfully, he wasn’t entirely certain why he cared so much. He hadn’t put too much thought into his plan, and yet something about asking her to meet him had felt right. He had no trouble making friends, especially in Slytherin, but he still felt alone most of the time. Snape’s loneliness, in a way, had made Regulus feel less lonely.

Plus, Snape was brilliant at Potions. With his first round of exams coming up, Regulus wasn’t about to turn his nose up at an opportunity to put in less effort than usual for a required course.

“It’s kind of you to look out for him,” Lily replied shortly, sounding almost sincere.

“I think he’d rather have you than me,” Regulus said, leaning on his broomstick.

“Well, he can’t,” Lily said. “Is this really what you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Yes,” Regulus admitted.

“I’m sorry to have disappointed you, but next time, tell Severus to come talk to me himself.” Lily began to move back toward the entrance to the Pitch, attempting to force her stomach to stop churning with thoughts of crawling into her warm bed and tucking into a Muggle novel.

“He doesn’t know I’m here,” Regulus replied quietly.

Lily stopped, turning back to look at him. “What do you mean?”

“He didn’t ask me to do this.” Regulus grew tired of standing and climbed atop his broomstick, levitating a few feet off the ground. “I can just tell that he misses you, that’s all.”

Lily looked at him with a mixture of fatigue and sadness in her eyes.

“What happened between you two?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Were you friends?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Lily repeated.

“Could you just talk to him, please? Maybe you can sort it out, whatever it is.”

“I don’t think so,” Lily said. “Besides, like I said, I don’t want to lead him on.”

“Don’t, then,” Regulus replied. “I’m sure he’d rather have you as a friend than not at all.”

Lily tried to concentrate on the feeling of the lining of her pockets between her fingertips, but she couldn’t stop the flurry of frightening thoughts from filling her mind. Perhaps he would, perhaps he would accept that what he had done had effectively shattered any affection she had held for him. Perhaps he wouldn’t. Perhaps he would use her for practicing his dark curses and poisons.

She shuddered at the thought of her old friend, with his prodigious talent, brewing poisons.

Suddenly, another thought occurred to her.

“Fine,” she said, feigning confidence. “I’ll talk to him, but you have to do something for me.”

Regulus said nothing, continuing to watch her.

“If I make up with Severus, you have to start being nice to Sirius.”

He laughed out loud. “I love how you assume that I’m the one who isn’t being nice.”

“Be the bigger man, then. Be kind to him even if he isn’t kind to you.”

“What’s it to you?” he asked, repeating her previous question.

“I’m sick of listening to him complain about you,” Lily said. In truth, he had called her bluff. Sirius was little concern to her. If Regulus didn’t hold up his end of the deal, though, then he couldn’t very well hold her to her end. She wouldn’t have to find out what Severus wanted.

“Can’t you just ignore him?”

“I could,” she responded. “I’d rather watch him try to figure out what’s come over you.”

Silence hung between them for a moment, the only sounds in the Pitch the gentle rustling of the trees and the faint sound of breath entering and leaving two sets of lungs with surprising force.

“Fine,” Regulus said, landing once again. “It’s been nice doing business with you, Lily.”

As she watched, he strode past her, leaving her standing alone in the shadow of the Pitch.

--




Regulus was still thinking about what a prize idiot he was when he returned to the dungeons.

Make up with his older brother? That’s likely. He and Sirius were still on speaking terms, but something about the quality of their relationship had changed years ago, seemingly in the exact moment when Regulus and his parents received the news that Sirius had been sorted into Gryffindor. Now, things just felt different. He and Sirius were more like tenants living in the same flat than brothers. At least they still looked alike. Sirius couldn’t shirk him forever.

As he heard the secret wall leading into the Slytherin Common Room close behind him, Regulus realized that tears had formed in the corners of his eyes. He wiped them all away, almost shocked at their appearance. Perhaps he missed Sirius a little more than he had first thought.

It was nearly ten at night, and the common room was deserted, or at least no one could be seen in the darkness that descended on the dungeons after hours. Regulus moved carefully through the room, his hands finding the corners of chairs and tables that his memory could not locate, and he was nearly to the staircase that led to the boys’ dormitories when he heard a quiet sniffle.

He stopped, looking around in vain. “Who’s there?”

After a moment of delay, a voice broke the silence, anxiety shaking it. “Me.”

Regulus paused, searching his memory. “Me who?” he said at last, giving up with a frown. He didn’t have time to play games. Just then, the answer occurred to him. “Snape?”

Another sniffle came out of the corner opposite where he stood. Regulus felt his way over to it, pausing in front of what he hoped was the fireplace. His fingers found the warm base of a torch bolted to the brick, and he withdrew his wand. “Incendio.” Before his eyes, the remaining embers of the evening’s flame regenerated. He could now see the boy curled up in an armchair.

“Are you crying?”

“What’s it to you?” Severus said in a harsh tone, refusing to look at the younger boy’s face.

“What’s wrong?” Regulus said, ignoring the question.

“Nothing.”

Regulus sighed, sitting down on the exposed brick by the fireplace, laying his broom next to him.

“Go away,” Severus said, frowning.

“No.”

“Go away.”

“Is it Evans?”

Severus looked up. “Her name is Lily.”

“Yes, Lily Evans. I know.”

“Don’t call her by her surname.”

“Why not? It’s still her name,” Regulus said, confused.

“That’s what he calls her.”

Regulus said nothing, but he understood. Still, he didn’t know why he’d come over here in the dark to sit and watch another boy cry. The Blacks were not known for being particularly adept at soothing hurt feelings. Now that I think of it, Regulus wondered absently, perhaps that’s why I’ve never had a girlfriend. He glanced back up at Severus now. “Why don’t you just tell her?”

“I can’t,” Severus choked. “Besides, she won’t talk to me.”

“Why not?” Regulus pressed, hoping to get the story he’d missed out on earlier in the night.

Severus shoved his hands through his tangled hair, sighing. “It was something I said.”

Regulus sat still, watching his face and waiting patiently.

“I was having a row with those two, like always,” Severus spat. “She came along… didn’t want her to see me like that… she thought I needed saving… it just slipped out. It was an accident.”

“What was?”

Severus looked at him, and the torchlight illuminated the broken expression on his face and the trails of drying tears that were replenished with his next fatal words. “I called her a Mudblood.”

Regulus frowned slightly. So? That’s what she is. You’re only calling her what she is. He had always thought of Muggle-borns as a separate species. To feel remorse for this… he couldn’t.

He brushed these thoughts away, remembering his agreement. “I’ll help you.”

Severus was still crying, but he had fallen completely quiet, almost as if he’d stopped breathing.

“She’ll come around. We’ll figure it out. It was only an accident, right?”

Severus nodded wordlessly, looking paler than usual, like the first time he’d done magic.

“She’ll love you again.” He wasn’t even sure she had loved Snape the first time.

Severus’s expression had changed, and it was frighteningly solemn. “She has to.”

Regulus had said too much already, and in true Slytherin fashion, he felt that it was time for him to make an escape. He stood up, picking up his broomstick. “Listen, Snape, you really should be careful who you expose yourself to like that. Not everyone would be as nice as I am about this.”

Severus’s face appeared neutral now, as if he were trying to decide how best to react.

“Goodnight, mate,” Regulus muttered, crossing the room quickly and turning up the stairs. As he took them in long strides, putting as much distance between himself and his insane promise as possible, one thought filled his mind with an uncomfortable supremacy, sinking into his bones.

Now I really have to make up with Sirius.

--




“James, you feel better yet?”

He opened his eyes, looking out into the darkness and trying to determine the time. It had to be late – or, alternatively, very early – because the lively game of Exploding Snap had ended and Remus’s snoring had settled into a steady rhythm. He sat up slowly, quietly opening the drapes around his bed and coming face to face with Sirius.

“What’s wrong?” Something had to be. Sirius never used his real name unless he was upset, not since the delightful moment in the previous term in which he had given them all nicknames.

Sirius looked down and spoke in a low voice. “Can I come over there?”

James looked puzzled. “Why?”

“I just – I don’t want them to hear. Please, mate?”

James frowned. Sirius was never so solemn. That was the great irony of his existence.

“Can I?”

“Yeah.”

Sirius padded softly across the room in his socks and sat down on the edge of James’s bed. “I don’t want Moony and Wormtail to worry. I usually just laugh these things off, but…” His words trailed off, and he compensated for his lack of speech by pushing an envelope across the bed.

James recognized the neat, loopy script on the front of the envelope as that of Sirius’s mother, Walburga. He turned it over, carefully opening it so as to keep the noise to a minimum, and withdrew a folded piece of parchment. Adjusting his glasses, which he had forgotten to remove before falling asleep, James began to read the evenly spaced cursive written on it.

It was a short note, as were most exchanged between Sirius and his parents. Narcissa, Sirius’s youngest cousin, was apparently newly engaged to a Mister Lucius Malfoy. James had never met the Malfoys, but he had heard they were a sour bunch, and so Walburga’s report that Bellatrix had gleefully stepped up to host the engagement party seemed no less than perfectly fitting.

“That’s it?” His querying eyes returned to Sirius’s face. “Why would you care about this?”

“I don’t, of course,” Sirius said, waving his hand as if to illustrate just how predictable he found Narcissa’s impending union. “She just wants to guilt me again about not having a girlfriend.”

“Well, if I can’t find one, I’m not surprised that there’s no hope for you,” James said with a grin.

Sirius cracked a smile. “If you’d only take your eyes off Evans, mate… there’s more than one.” However, this moment of levity was sadly ephemeral. “I just can’t take it, not one more letter, not one more day in that house. I can’t spend another second living in Regulus’s shadow.”

James sighed softly. “Well, you’re among friends now. Nothing to worry about, you know?”

“That’s just it,” Sirius replied. “It’s like I can’t enjoy being at Hogwarts. I haven’t even felt properly here since I got off the train. Hell, by Christmas, I could be living with a Death Eater.”

“Is that what they’re calling themselves?”

“I guess it’s what he calls them, Stupid name, if you ask me.”

“Me too, mate.” For a few seconds, James could not look at his best friend. They had shared so many adventures together, even if most of them had been confined to the castle and grounds, and he felt that he would give nearly anything to go back to first year, back before he knew that there was a war brewing outside. One day, he worried, he wouldn’t have a choice but to fight.

“I need your help.”

Sirius had never sounded so depressed. James put his brave face back on and looked up.

“I don’t know what to do or where I can go.” Tears formed in Sirius’s eyes. “I’m scared.”

A heavy silence hung between them, and then, the way out became more than obvious to James.

“Are you sure? You’re really ready to leave for good, things and all?”

Sirius nodded. “I don’t think I can wait until we graduate.”

If you graduate, you mean,” James joked, but Sirius wasn’t taking the bait. “Fine.” He removed the grin from his face, picking up the letter and levitating it carefully with his wand. Before Sirius’s eyes, he set fire to the parchment, taking care to avoid setting his curtains ablaze.

Sirius smiled weakly. “Now how I am going to compose my RSVP, mate?”

James ignored his comment. “Move in with me. My parents love you.”

Sirius’s entire face brightened, and it was like he had never been crying at all. “You mean it?”

“Of course I mean it. Just get off the train with me when we go home on holiday.”

“I can’t,” Sirius responded. “I’ve got to get my things, remember?”

“Yeah,” James said. “Okay. We’ll meet in Diagon Alley, then. We’ll set a time.”

Sirius picked at the ashes of his letter. “What if something happens?”

James shook his head. “You’re a Gryffindor, Padfoot. Be brave. Everything will work out fine.”

Sirius nodded, glancing up at James through loose strands of hair. “Thanks, mate.”

James brushed the ashes off his bed. “Of course. What are friends for, you know?”

“Yeah,” Sirius replied, standing up. “Go on, get your beauty rest. You need it.”

“Sod off,” James said, smirking as he turned over. He vaguely heard Sirius mutter something about James requiring more than one night’s sleep to catch up with Lily, but he paid his friend no mind. He was too busy thinking about how he’d just given himself another thing to worry about.

As he adjusted his position, he heard something crinkle quietly beneath him. He sat up enough to retrieve it, finding himself holding the folded Marauder’s Map. He picked it up, staring at the surface, watching the letters in the title curl in on themselves repeatedly. Everything would work out fine. It had to. He would convince Lily that he was worth her time, he would help Gryffindor win the House Cup, the war would miraculously resolve itself by graduation, and he and Sirius would spent the winter holiday sipping tea and making fun of their elderly Muggle neighbors.

Then, James placed the map on his nightstand and sought sleep, afraid he might change his mind.





Author’s Note:

Hello, lovelies! Thanks for continuing to read and review Post Scriptum. I know it’s been a while since I had a chance to update – funny, that graduate school – but hopefully the few dashes of suspense and pinches of romance contained in this chapter make up a bit for it. As always, anything you recognize from canon belongs to the (extra) lovely JKR, not me.

-Amanda



Chapter 7: Making Good, Breaking Bad
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The gray sky overhead lent a touch of chill to the temperate September air, sending shivers up the arms of several third years who had not thought to bring a coat to their first Hogsmeade weekend. They mingled with older students below the bleak expanse, trailing along the cobblestone and dirt path that connected Hogwarts to the village. The hint of an impending winter did not seem to bother one small girl, who eagerly rushed ahead with her friends, all of them having been told of the wonders of Honeyduke’s Candy Shop. She managed to accidentally elbow Regulus in the side, and he looked up just in time to see Professor McGonagall call out a warning to her.

“Fucking mudbloods,” Rosier muttered, digging his hands into his pockets.

Regulus looked over at the boy and nodded, glaring at the back of the girl’s head.

Up ahead, the crowd began to disperse as the path bled into the village’s main street. Rosier moved forward confidently, his tall stature and status as a seventh year causing him to tower over most of the other students. Mulciber and Avery moved along behind him, walking like wolves following the perimeter of the herd. Regulus kept his eyes on Rosier, with Wilkes filling the footsteps he left in his wake. Gradually, the group thinned around them as students filtered into The Three Broomsticks, and then Honeyduke’s, and then Zonko’s Joke Shop. Before he knew it, Regulus and his comrades had arrived at the nearly empty outskirts of town.

“Where are we going?” Wilkes asked.

He received no response. Rosier and his friends simply turned their steps toward a dingy-looking pub, which looked as if it had been tacked on to the end of the row of buildings with better upkeep that populated the main section of the village. As Rosier swung the wooden door open and entered, Regulus heard a creaking sound. He glanced up to see an aged sign bearing a pig’s head swaying in the wind.

The building inside was cramped, and darkness fled into the corners of the room from the solitary brass lantern hanging in the center of the ceiling. With the windows closed to the unpleasant air outside, the enclosed space was permeated with the faint scent of mildew. Only the sound of five glasses clinking together as the barman placed them before the boys interrupted the stark quiet of the pub. Rosier looked up into the man’s face, which was framed by a grizzly mane of salt and pepper hair, and simply said, “Ogden’s.” The bartender silently began to fill the glasses in response.

Regulus grimaced slightly. His parents had allowed him to have elf-made wine at dinner for two years now, but his mother had always found Firewhiskey distasteful. He knew this because the substance was the source of many arguments following his father’s visits with other patriarchs of high-ranking pureblood families. Besides, he was still too young for it. “Actually, I’ll just have a Butterbeer… if you’ve got it…”

“Butterbeer?” Mulciber stared at him, looking as if he might spit out the swig of drink he’d just taken. “I haven’t had Butterbeer since third year,” he laughed. “Just drink your Firewhiskey.” He nodded toward the bartender. “He won’t be trouble.”

Rosier looked down the line of Slytherins. “Where’s Snape?”

Avery clanked his glass down on the bartop. “You know, the usual trouble.”

“What does that mean?” Wilkes spoke up, curious. Regulus looked over at him and noticed that he had somehow already drained his glass. Hesitantly, Regulus took a small sip, but it still proved too large for him, and he had to stop himself from spitting it back out. Instead, he begrudgingly allowed the liquid to scorch the inside of his mouth. Wilkes’s expression suggested that the boy was fighting nausea.

“Well, Snape can never get his father to stop stumbling around drunk long enough to sign his permission form. So every year, he has to forge it. Unfortunately—” Avery paused to take another drink, apparently accustomed to the substance. “—he has that sort of suspicious look about him, so the professors always hassle him about it.”

Regulus swallowed, wincing as the alcohol burned down his throat and settled uncomfortably in his stomach. I’d rather drink the potion from Slughorn’s class.

Rosier frowned. “Is he coming or not?”

“Of course he is,” Mulciber snapped. “What else has he got to do?”

Regulus looked guiltily down at the remaining alcohol in his glass. Anything, I’ll bet.

The boys sat silently in the Hog’s Head for several minutes, during which time Regulus managed to choke down the last of his Firewhiskey. No other patrons entered the pub, and eventually the idle sighs and intermittent sniffles of autumn colds got the best of the fifth year. He looked over at Rosier, who rubbed his arm absently as he watched the bartender automatically refill his now-empty glass.

“Did it hurt?” he asked, causing all of the others to look up as one.

“Keep your bloody voice down, mate,” Wilkes hissed.

“It’s all right,” Rosier replied, turning to face Regulus. He nodded toward the bartender, who had moved to polish glasses in the corner. “He won’t be trouble.”

Mulciber and Avery trained their eyes on Rosier, appearing to be newly alert.

“It twinges a bit now and then,” Rosier continued. “Sometimes I feel like it’s on fire, you know, like when we were at the hospital, dueling left and right.” He sighed, taking another drink of Firewhiskey and grinning coldly. “Nothing feels as good as torturing that first Mudblood, though. I’d stake my damn inheritance on it.”

“I want one,” Wilkes said softly. “How’d you get in with them?”

“You don’t just walk in the front door.” Rosier’s smile faded, an impatient frown taking its place. “He has to want you. You have to have something to offer him.”

“What have you got, then?”

“I’m not telling you,” Rosier retorted. “I wouldn’t want you trying to replace me.”

Regulus smirked. He looked up to see the bartender standing in front of him, poised to refill his glass as well. However, reading Regulus’s now-hesitant expression, the old man placed the half-filled bottle back on the bartop.

“What are you laughing for, Black?” Avery said. “You’ll feel the same way when you’ve got a place.”

“Yeah,” Rosier agreed. “I’ll bet he’s had his eye on you for a while.”

“Me?” Regulus said, surprised at how quietly his voice left his lips.

“I’d try to figure out what your contribution will be, if I were you. You know, just to show what you can do when the time comes. Being a Black only gets you so far.”

“When do you think that’ll be?” Wilkes said, asking the question Regulus could not.

“No way to know for sure,” Rosier replied, finishing off the last of his second round as if it were water. “These two gits are likely getting theirs next summer, though, so you might want to keep an eye out.” With that, he stood up, digging some coins out of his pocket and placing them on the bartop beside his empty glass. “Let’s go.”

“What about Snape?” Mulciber protested.

“We’ll find him,” Rosier replied. “Teach him to show up when he’s asked to.”

The boys stood up, and Regulus turned to step back out into the chilly breeze. Suddenly, he heard a gruff voice behind him. “Your payment, boy.”

When he turned, Rosier was smirking at him. “I only buy drinks for girls, mate.”

**


The autumn wind whipped Lily’s hair into tousled waves almost as soon as she stepped outside the massive main doors of Hogwarts Castle. She sputtered in surprise, wrapping her arms around herself in lieu of the jacket she’d forgotten, and shoved her feet toward the open courtyard. Her mind was dominated by the thought that if only she’d gotten out of bed at the proper time, then perhaps she would have remembered her jacket, or at least an autumn-weight jumper. She was in the midst of ruefully thinking about just how many of her jumpers might have matched the outfit she’d chosen in haste when she realized that she was not alone.

“I’m sorry, but I really cannot allow you to go without a signed permission form.”

Lily glanced up to see Professor Flitwick standing there, a favorite professor of hers. Unfortunately for her, the person with whom he was conversing was Severus Snape.

“But Professor, it is signed… look…” Severus pointed to the flimsy bit of parchment.

His voice sounded quiet, even timid. He could almost be her childhood friend again, speaking softly to her beneath the shade of an ancient willow tree. Lily bit her lip.

“Mr. Snape, I can see perfectly well, but I have been warned that you have attempted to forge a parental signature before,” Flitwick replied, putting on a stern expression. “As good an attempt as this replica may be…”

“Professor, please,” Severus said. “My friends are waiting for me.”

Flitwick almost looked a bit surprised to hear the word ‘friend’ escape the boy’s lips. He remained silent for a moment, and then he took the form from Severus’s fingers. “All right. Next year, Mr. Snape, please try to remember to get a genuine signature.”

Severus nodded. “I will, sir. Thank you.”

Flitwick gestured to the leaf-strewn path. “You know the way, I trust,” he stated, careful not to phrase it as a question, one that would require further complicities. As he turned to re-enter the castle, his eyes fell upon Lily, and his expression lifted.

“Hello, Professor,” Lily said, sounding a bit shy.

Severus paused to look at her, but when he saw Flitwick move to engage her in conversation, he turned onto the path. Lily shifted her gaze from the approaching professor to Severus’s retreating back. It was now or never, or so it seemed.

“Have you been practicing your Charms work?” Flitwick asked jovially.

“Of course, sir, but I’ve taken a bit of time off today,” she said, handing him her form.

Flitwick tucked it away, barely glancing at it. “Class should be good this term…”

“I’m sorry, Professor, but I’m afraid I slept in a bit late this morning, and I’m certain that Celestine and Ellery are wondering where I’ve gotten to,” Lily said hurriedly, giving Flitwick an embarrassed smile. “Perhaps we can talk about this after class?”

“All right,” Flitwick said, smiling warmly. “Have a good time, Miss Evans.”

Lily moved past him, trying to keep her steps even and steady as she gradually advanced up the path toward Severus. Up ahead of her, he turned the corner, moving slowly and bracing his body against the cool breeze. She picked up her pace slightly, walking a little more quickly until she found herself up alongside him.

“Nice of Flitwick to let you pass, wasn’t it?” she said, sounding a bit too cheery.

Severus did not look at her. “What do you want?” he murmured.

“Nothing,” Lily replied. After a beat, she tried again. “It’s probably because you’ve always done so well in Charms. I mean, I haven’t been watching this year, but…”

“Not as good as you,” he said, staring holes into the dirt as he walked.

“Well,” Lily attempted flatly, not knowing what to follow it with.

“What do you want?” he repeated, daring to look at her for a fraction of a second before staring back down at the ground, his steps moving methodically forward.

“Why are you angry with me?” Lily said, fearing the many answers to her query.

“I’m not,” Severus muttered, as if the idea were ridiculous. “You’re angry with me.”

“I’m talking to you now, aren’t I?” Lily tried.

“Yes, that’s why I’m asking. I want to know why,” he said.

“I—I don’t know,” she admitted, shivering and tucking a strand of hair behind one ear. For a moment, she wildly considered asking to borrow his thin black cloak. “I guess because you’re here, and I’m here, and I didn’t feel like walking by myself.”

He paused, and Lily noticed that they were a few feet from the village’s entrance. “Really?” Severus said. “You wanted to walk with me?”

Lily put her hands in her jeans pockets. “That’s not really what I said,” she responded nervously. The way his eyes bore into her had sparked a sense of regret, chilling her more deeply than the wind while simultaneously quickening her pulse.

“Lily, I apologized… truly… didn’t you get my messages?” he whispered.

“Yes,” she said, forcing herself to look at him. “That’s not good enough, though, Sev. You never said that you were sorry to me, in person. Not once after it happened.”

“I tried!” he said. “You were never alone, and I thought you wouldn’t listen.”

Lily shifted her weight from one foot to the other, watching a small group of fourth years up ahead duck out of Honeyduke’s and into the comfort of the Three Broomsticks. “Well, you should have tried harder. You could try it right now, even.”

Severus frowned. “I knew it,” he said coldly. “You’ve been spending time with him.”

“What do you mean?” she demanded.

“You’re not my Lily. You were always nice. You never talked to me that way.”

“I’m not anyone’s Lily!” she exclaimed, causing a few students sitting around the outskirts of the village to look up at her. “Are you listening to yourself, Severus?”

“Well, aren’t you Miss High and Mighty?” he said, ignoring the gawking observers.

“How dare you!” Lily cried, blushing furiously. “You called me a Mudblood.”

The word itself seemed to propel him forward, and several younger students barely got out of his way in time to avoid being trampled by his angry footsteps. Lily gritted her teeth, chasing after him. She knew she looked foolish, but she deserved answers.

“Don’t be a coward,” she said firmly. “Just apologize.” The thought occurred to her that she had deviated from her original agreement at this point. I’m sorry, Sirius.

However, Snape did not storm off this time, nor did he shoot hexes at her. He put his shaking hands in his pockets, averting his gaze, and said nothing. Lily was surprised.

After a moment, the silence grew too heavy, and she sighed. She had done her part, hadn’t she? Regulus could not accuse her of never at least trying to talk to Severus. She had done all that she could, or at least all she was willing to do. She took a step backward, away from where he was moving, wondering where to find her friends.

“Lily, wait. Please.”

She glanced at him, and it was his turn to look shocked.

“What?” she said.

“I—“ he began, seemingly lost for words.

“I cleaned you up after that fight you had with Sirius and James,” Lily blurted out. “I just wanted you to know that. I moved you out of the way. Well, Regulus and I…”

He blinked.

“Aren’t you going to say thank you?”

He did not speak, but Lily watched as the corner of his lip twitched nervously. It was almost as if he had forgotten how to smile and was now making a new attempt at it. However, his eyes darted up ahead, and the movement escaped like a frightened sparrow. Lily looked up to see that they had traversed the length of the small village.

A group of five boys had just emerged from a rickety-looking tavern at the edge of Hogsmeade. A tall boy with brutish features was leading them, laughing with a couple of sixth year Slytherins that Lily recognized as Severus’s friends, Avery and Mulciber. She frowned, noticing Severus move away from her nervously, though he kept his dark eyes trained watchfully on her. Finally, he tore his gaze away from her, moving forward to greet the others. It was as if their conversation was nonexistent. She could not tell if her imagination had made up the quiet “goodbye” on the breeze.

“Lily?”

She turned to see Peter walking towards her, his arms laden with Zonko products. “Are you all right?” he asked, brow furrowed, glancing from her to the Slytherins.

“Yes,” she said. “I hope those aren’t to be shared with James and Sirius.”

“Well,” Peter said, pausing. He knew he was caught, though, and that there would be no sense in lying. “I promise, we’ll only use them on second years and above, and only on weekends.” He smiled timidly. “Well, mostly. Definitely during exam time.”

Lily’s expression softened slightly. She had trouble being tough on Peter, though she suspected that he usually helped plan each round of Severus’s torture. “So, how did you get elected to buy the supplies for this term?”

Term? We’ll be lucky if these last a month! Peter thought, but he shifted his load a bit and shrugged. “Sirius took your friend up on her offer.”

Lily smirked. “And James?”

“He’s gone with Remus to visit his mother.” Peter said evenly.

“Is she ill again?” Lily said, a pitiful note in her voice. “What is it this time?”

“They don’t know,” he replied. “It’s probably just that her system is so weak.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “It’s nice of James to help him, so he doesn’t have to go alone.”

Peter shivered slightly in the cold. “So, what were you doing with them?”

Lily broke eye contact with him. “What do you mean?”

“Them,” he repeated, gesturing to the Slytherins with his free hand. Lily followed his movement with her eyes, brushing a passing leaf out of her hair, and saw the Slytherins talking to Severus a few feet away.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” she said. “I didn’t even talk to them.”

“You talked to him,” Peter corrected. “I didn’t think you two were friends anymore.”

“We’re not,” Lily responded quietly. “I was just asking him about Charms.”

Peter raised an eyebrow at her.

“Please don’t tell James and Sirius. They’d tease me for ages.”

“Yeah, I’ll say!” Peter chuckled, and there was a hint of coldness within it.

“Please? Not even Remus.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell them,” he sighed, shaking his head.

“Thanks,” Lily replied softly. “You’re a great friend, Peter.”

“Yeah, I know, you can trust me,” he smiled. “See you around, Lily.”

“Go on, deliver your stock before I give you a detention,” Lily joked, watching him go.

**


“So, if you weren’t talking to the Mudblood, what kept you?” Rosier said, kicking a loose cobblestone as the group began to trudge back toward the warmth of the castle. Regulus walked next to him, watching as Snape flinched at the reference to Lily. Sometimes, particularly during his third year, Regulus had dreaded to see the sun begin to creep slowly down toward the horizon. The close of daylight, after all, signaled the time for the students to return to the familiar halls of Hogwarts. Today, though, Regulus felt somewhat glad to be putting the events of the visit behind him.

“Nothing,” Snape said, almost under his breath. “Just Flitwick, and my form again.”

“I reminded them about it, mate,” Avery said, elbowing Snape gently.

“Yeah, but Rosier here was in too big a hurry,” Mulciber added.

“Shut it,” Rosier replied.

“Hey, Regulus, isn’t that your brother?” Wilkes piped up, pointing ahead of them.

Regulus glanced up. Sure enough, Sirius had just popped out onto the path from Madam Puddifoot’s tea shop, looking as if he were being dragged by a buxom Gryffindor girl with dark hair. His hair looked like it had been sprinkled with glitter, and the lipstick on his cheek matched that of the smear underneath the girl’s nose. Before he could stop himself, Regulus let out a laugh, and Wilkes joined in with him.

Sirius stopped, letting go of the girl’s hand and glaring directly at his brother.

Rosier smirked. “Snape, get a look at him!” He looked around. “Snape?”

Regulus, however, was completely transfixed by Sirius’s cold gray eyes. He didn’t look about for Snape like the others, nor did he notice the girl in the red dress playfully tugging at Sirius’s wrist. There was only a hopelessly resentful expression, only the sense that he’d gotten into something much bigger than he’d expected.

**


Hello, and welcome to the end of another chapter of Post Scriptum!

I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and please consider leaving me a review to share your thoughts. One small note for those of you who are not fans of the popular American television show – “breaking bad” is a slang term that refers to someone turning from the path of good and entering a criminal lifestyle.

Thank you to all of my faithful readers. You are a huge inspiration to me.

-Amanda


Chapter 8: Revelations
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With October came the first Quidditch game of the year, and Lily and Celestine pushed along with the crowd of other students down to the Pitch to watch Ellery and the Hufflepuff team play against Gryffindor House. The two girls, accompanied by Remus, Sirius, and Peter, slid into the end of a row in the stands, settling themselves in next to a few Ravenclaws who had apparently chosen their side.

“Good day for a game!” Sirius said happily. “James’ll wipe the floor with them.”

“Padfoot!” Remus hissed, taking care to ensure that the girls were not listening. “Ellery is on the Hufflepuff team, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“It’s not Ellery he needs to impress,” Peter pointed out with a grin.

“I don’t need to impress anyone,” Sirius replied. “She’s quite impressed, I think.”

Meanwhile, Celestine was busy seeking advice from Lily. “…I’m just saying, I’ve seen the way that James looks at you, Lily, and Snape used to hang on your every word…”

“Stop, please,” Lily said, blushing brightly.

“If anyone can tell me how to charm a man, I would think you’d be a good choice.”

Lily sighed. “You don’t need my help. Sirius already went out with you once.”

“Yes, well, I’d like there to be a second date!” Celestine protested. “He was just acting so strange when we got back to the castle, like he didn’t want to talk to anyone.” She picked at the chipped red polish on her fingernails. “Perhaps a different dress?”

“Oh, Celestine, no one could be that shallow,” Lily said, rolling her eyes.

Just then, Madam Hooch waved her wand, setting up a temporary platform in the middle of the stadium. She stepped upon it, holding the Quaffle lightly in her other hand. “Heads of House, please, if you would come forward?”

Professor McGonagall, clad in celebratory robes of deep scarlet, stepped down off the stands and moved toward the center of the Pitch. From the other side, Professor Sprout walked toward her, wearing a shimmering gold scarf that looked enchanted. They paused before Madam Hooch’s platform, shaking hands with friendly smiles, and then each of them moved back to their respective seats as the students cheered.

Madam Hooch blew the whistle, tossing the Quaffle up into the crowd of players.

Though he had been watching Lily from above, James quickly diverted his attention to the red ball rising through the air, and he grabbed it away from a Hufflepuff boy. From her position by the goalposts, Ellery glared at James, gripping her broom tightly. However, she swerved the wrong way, and he scored the first goal for Gryffindor. Sirius applauded loudly, and James took a small bow for the audience.

Lily was trying not to laugh when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned, coming face to face with a first year Ravenclaw she did not recognize. A few rows up, she caught a glimpse of – no, it couldn’t be – but there Regulus was, sticking out like a sore thumb in his plain school robes and Slytherin scarf among the ocean of red.

The first year handed her a crumpled piece of parchment with a nervous smile.

So, make any progress on our deal yesterday?

R. A. B.

Lily frowned, digging into her pocket. Apparently she’d left a quill in there from class yesterday, nestled up against her wand. She pulled it out, checking to make sure that Celestine was busy watching the game, and scribbled on the back of Regulus’s note.

I tried, but I don’t think it worked. What about you?

Lily

She folded the note back neatly, slipping it to the first year, and turning back around. A moment later, though, the familiar tap returned to her shoulder.

Has he said anything about me?

R. A. B.

Lily turned, catching his eye, and shook her head at him. She looked back at the note.

Did Severus mention me?
And why are you sitting on our side?

Lily

Regulus smirked when he opened the note, quickly scribbling a response.

No, not really.
Oh. Well, anything’s better than Hufflepuff, I think.

R. A. B.

“What’s that?”

Lily’s head jerked toward Celestine. Thankfully, the boys hadn’t heard her.

“Nothing.”

“More love notes from admirers?” Celestine pressed, smiling.

“No. Just – something for class.”

Celestine rolled her eyes. “You’re so damn lucky, Lily. I really hate you sometimes.”

Up above, James scored another goal. Lily noticed that the tally was now 90-120, with Gryffindor in the lead. Ellery looked like she might explode, and the two Seekers had begun to look for the Snitch more directly, suggesting that they were also tired of watching James’s repetitive displays of victory. Lily, however, found herself continuing to watch James. She found it difficult to not watch him as he followed the Quaffle like a hawk, zipping to and fro along with the other Chasers. It reminded her of a game of chess, except that he seemed to be a step or two ahead.

Stop it. He is the opposite of cute, she thought, crumpling the note angrily in her fist.

As expected, Gryffindor won the game, though Sirius had to concede to Remus that Hufflepuff had put up a good fight for the Snitch at the end. The students filed back toward the castle, talking animatedly amongst themselves about the day’s events. However, just as Sirius had moved to request a more private after-party with Celestine later in the evening, Professor McGonagall halted the flow of foot traffic. “Mr. Black, I’m sorry to interrupt, but you’re to come with me to the entrance hall.”

“What for?” Sirius said loudly, frowning.

“A family matter, as I understand it,” McGonagall replied. “Come on, then.”

Sirius sighed. “See you lot later, then. Have a Butterbeer for me.”

He dug his hands into his pockets, staring at the floor as he followed McGonagall through the corridors of the castle. Sirius had become convinced over the years that his family purposefully tried to ruin everything for him. They had stolen the joy of his sorting and his first day of class by sending a Howler to accompany his breakfast. They had refused to acknowledge his “Exceeds Expectations” O. W. L. score in Transfiguration, as well as his “Outstanding” in Defense Against the Dark Arts, choosing instead to focus on the “Acceptable” he’d scrounged for in Herbology. Now, when all he wanted to do was enjoy a Butterbeer and celebrate another gorgeous Quidditch victory with his best friend, he had to attend some sort of family event.

As the two of them entered the room, Sirius looked up to see his younger brother standing with Professor Slughorn, who was talking pleasantly with the headmaster. On the other side of the room, his mother stood, pursing her lips unhappily.

“You’re late,” she remarked, avoiding McGonagall’s eyes.

“Sorry. Quidditch,” Sirius muttered.

“Let’s go.”

“Wait,” Regulus said. “Why are we going home?”

“Your cousin’s engagement party is tonight,” Walburga said. “Didn’t Sirius tell you?”

“No,” Regulus said, looking over at his older brother.

“Forgot,” Sirius said softly.

“Hurry up. I need to ensure that the house elves are on task,” Walburga said with a frown. “Dumbledore, I’ll drop them back off this evening after the celebration.”

After a few moments, they made it to the edge of the grounds and were able to Apparate. When they landed in the parlor of Grimmauld Place, Sirius immediately stormed upstairs, sounding as if he meant to make as much noise as possible.

“You’d best have straightened your clothes and combed your hair before you make another public appearance in my house, young man!” Walburga screeched.

“Mother, do you need help getting things ready for the party?” Regulus asked, attempting to defuse the tension before Sirius began returning fire.

“No, sweetheart, the elves will take care of everything,” Walburga said, her face softening as she looked upon her favored son. “Have a cup of tea with me.”

They sat down in the parlor, and Regulus couldn’t help but feel happy to settle into the familiar surroundings of his home. Sometimes it was hard to decide where he felt more comfortable – here, or back at Hogwarts. A small elf pressed a cup of tea into his hands, and another prepared Walburga’s with sugar atop a china saucer.

“So, have you made any new friends?” his mother asked gently.

“Yes, a few of the older students in Slytherin,” Regulus replied.

“Good, your father will be pleased to hear it,” Walburga said, smiling and sipping her tea. “None of the boys that your brother runs around with, I trust?”

“No,” Regulus said. Changing the subject, he asked, “Where’s Kreacher?”

“The elf?” Walburga chuckled. “I’ll never understand the way you treat that thing, like it’s your teddy bear. Your father always said you should have had a Puffskein…”

“Master Regulus takes cream in his tea,” Kreacher said, ambling into the room with a cup of white liquid. He looked disapprovingly at the other elves as he poured it into Regulus’s cup, stirring it without uttering an incantation, and then returned the cup.

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Regulus said, taking a sip of the tea and finding the taste much more to his liking. “Please prepare clothes for me for the party tonight.”

“As you wish, Master,” Kreacher said, leaving the room and heading up the staircase.

“I suppose I should sort out what I’m to wear as well,” Walburga added. “I’d rather pass the time catching up with my baby boy, but if I’m to look as good as Druella…”

“Why did Narcissa and Bellatrix want to have the party here?” Regulus queried.

Walburga stood up with a smirk. “Our home is the nicer one, of course.”

***

As expected, Bellatrix put on quite the celebration for her little sister, whom she had doted upon in increasing amounts since Andromeda’s departure from the family. Members of all the prominent wizarding families filled the corridors and rooms of Grimmauld Place. Walburga and Druella were beside themselves trying to keep the house-elves on task with the diminishing platters of food and goblets of wine. Orion took advantage of this distraction by pouring himself a Firewhiskey and offering some to Regulus, though the boy quickly declined. Instead, he wove through the crowd, trying to avoid being trapped talking to one person for very long.

His first stop was the obligatory congratulating of Narcissa and her husband to be. He received bony hugs from his aunt and Bellatrix and then waited patiently for the crowd in front of Narcissa and Lucius to thin out. When a space opened up in front of him, he stepped forward, and Narcissa immediately grasped his hand.

“Regulus,” she said softly, pulling him in and kissing him on the cheek.

Regulus blushed, having noticed that she had maintained her distance from the majority of the guests, as was proper. However, he and Narcissa had always been close, despite their age gap, and he supposed that her reaction was to be expected. “Congratulations,” he said, giving her a smile. She smelled of expensive perfume.

“Thank you,” Narcissa replied, beaming. This girlish expression, so different from her mature behavior thus far in the evening, reminded Regulus that she was barely into her twenties. She turned, diamond earrings catching the light, and gently touched Lucius’s arm. “Here, Lucius, have you met my cousin Regulus?”

Malfoy turned, his cold gray eyes falling upon the younger boy, though a polite smile quickly appeared on his face. “Ah,” he said simply, shaking Regulus’s hand firmly. “Regulus, yes, Evan Rosier has spoken highly of you.”

“Is that so?” Regulus asked, feeling nervousness creep into his stomach.

“A time or two, I believe,” Lucius replied. “You are Sirius’s brother, correct?”

“Yes,” Regulus replied.

“If you see Sirius, Regulus, please tell him that I’d like to say hello,” Narcissa cut in, though her expression indicated that she did not look forward to talking to Sirius.

“Of course,” he said, stepping back and allowing another throng of hands to reach in. Regulus turned, glancing around for Sirius. Narcissa’s comment had reminded him of his agreement with Lily, and he thought it would be easier to talk to Sirius when the two of them were in the same house and Sirius’s friends were out of the picture. Unfortunately, his older brother was nowhere to be found, at least not at first glance.

Suddenly, he looked up and noticed that Sirius’s bedroom door was closed. This would not be terribly extraordinary, given that Walburga had long since given up trying to get Sirius to clean his room and had resorted to simply hiding his existence, but Regulus could see what looked like lantern light bobbing about under the door. He moved up the stairs, quietly opening the door without bothering to knock.

Inside, Sirius was moving about with a lantern in his hand, piling things onto his bed. Regulus craned his neck, spotting a handle underneath the pile of clothes and possessions. It looked like a suitcase, albeit one too small to accommodate the pile.

“Did you forget something when we left for school?” he asked.

Sirius nearly dropped his lantern, though he continued putting things onto his bed. “You’ve really got to stop sneaking up on me like that. You’re worse than Wormtail.”

“Who?”

Sirius swore under his breath. “No one.” He turned around. “What do you want?”

“Nothing,” Regulus said. “Narcissa said she wants to say hello to you.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “I’ll bet,” he said, setting the lantern down and beginning to fish under his pile of old Muggle magazines for something.

“What is this about, Sirius?” Regulus asked, frustrated to have lost his attention.

“What are you doing hanging around with Mulciber and Avery?” Sirius shot back.

Regulus shrugged, leaning back against the door. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I mean, we’re just friendly, I guess. We’re just all in the same House.”

“I know that, genius,” Sirius said. “It was bad enough that you made friends with Wilkes, but now Snivelly’s friends, too? Rosier, even?” he said angrily.

“Snivelly?” Regulus frowned. “You mean Severus? What’s wrong with him?”

“I’m wagering a personality disorder,” Sirius deadpanned, trying to stuff his things into the suitcase. Apparently he would need to start playing favorites a little more.

“You didn’t answer my real question,” Regulus pointed out, his voice hardening.

“I’m leaving,” his brother said simply, holding up two shirts and then tossing one of them onto the floor near his bedside table. Next, he moved to the wall, unpinning his Gryffindor pennant. Regulus stood still, trying to absorb this announcement.

“Where are you going?”

“James’s house,” Sirius said. “I’ll be gone before Christmas. I’m just getting a head start.” He took a break, breathing heavily. “Good timing, I think, this little party…”

“You’re actually moving out?” Regulus said, closing the suitcase abruptly. “Why?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, this place hasn’t exactly been paradise for me.”

“Of course I’ve noticed. I’m not stupid. We’re still your family, though, Sirius.”

“Family?” Sirius barked out a laugh, and it was the coldest, most hollow thing Regulus had never heard. “James and Remus and Peter are my family.”

Regulus backed up against the closed door, visibly stung. Inexplicably, he thought of Severus – is this what he feels like every time he talks to Evans? It hurt, perhaps more so because he now knew that he could not anticipate anything that Sirius might say.

Sirius looked over at him, and for a moment, Regulus thought he saw something like pity pass over his brother’s face. In an instant, honed through years of practice, it was gone. “Don’t cry,” said Sirius’s cold eyes, stony face, and fully packed suitcase.

The patronizing note in his voice was too much, and Regulus finally left the room.

***

Sirius did not have to tell his brother not to let the secret slip to Orion and Walburga. When the party was over and it was time to return to Hogwarts, he did not even carry a suitcase, though his pocket bulged with an overly large package. Regulus deduced that one of his true family members had taught him a spell for it.

By the time they returned to the castle – Walburga delayed them long enough to give Regulus a kiss and Sirius a lecture on not paying enough attention to the future bride and groom – Regulus had made up his mind to send a note to Lily. Right now, she felt like the only person he could talk to, since his so-called friends would most likely congratulate him on eradicating the Gryffindor stain from his home. He frowned just thinking about their misunderstanding smiles. Maybe Sirius was right.

However, on his way out of the Great Hall, an arm yanked him into a stairwell. Regulus turned, pulling out his wand and casting a quick lighting charm. The small beam fell upon the unmistakable face of Severus Snape, who was holding a textbook.

“Snape?” Regulus said. “Whatever it is, not now, I—”

“Come on, I have something to show you.” Severus turned, leading the way.

Regulus sighed. Well, it was late anyway, and Lily was probably the type to fall blissfully into bed right after dinner, cozied up to parchment and fresh quills. He followed Snape down the corridor, taking turn after turn deeper into the dungeons. Finally, Snape stopped outside the entrance to Slughorn’s classroom. He pulled out his wand, whispered something under his breath, and pushed the door open.

The classroom was a bit creepy after dark, Regulus observed, particularly when he and Snape were the only people occupying it. It was almost like Slughorn’s jovial personality gave the room all the life it possessed. They moved over to a mostly clean table, and Snape brushed aside some beetle wings and a dried-up caterpillar. Then, he set a cauldron on top of it and began to fill it up with water.

“Last minute homework?” Regulus asked, smirking.

“Hardly. I did mine before class last week,” Severus said, waving his wand and watching the water begin to boil. Another wave, and a large wooden spoon hopped into the water, beginning to stir it counter-clockwise at an even pace.

“What do you need me for?”

“It’s easier to do this with two people. You’ll be my ingredient boy.”

Regulus rolled his eyes. “What are we making?”

“See if Slughorn has some powdered Griffin beak in there.”

“Isn’t that stuff expensive?” Regulus protested, but he looked anyway. Surprisingly, there it was, tucked in the back. He passed it to Snape, whose eyes lit up.

“I figured as much,” he commented, measuring it out atop his note-sprinkled book and dropping it into the water, which turned the color of a sunset. “Leave it to Slughorn to be stupid enough to leave his private ingredients in his classroom.”

“No wonder you aren’t in Slug Club,” Regulus said wryly.

“Yeah. I think he believes that I won’t amount to anything. In case you haven’t noticed, he only accepts the beautiful and famous into his little association.”

Regulus thought he detected a hint of resentment in Severus’s voice, but he shrugged it off. If he was beautiful and famous, so be it. “What next?”

“Gillywater. It’s the base.”

Regulus brought him the vial of clear liquid. “What is this, Severus?”

Snape paused, putting down the vial and looking over at him. “Veritaserum,” he said. “It forces you to tell the truth, no matter what you’re asked.” He consulted the ingredient list once again. “Have you noticed how often Lupin misses classes?”

“Of course,” Regulus said. “Isn’t his mother ill?”

“Yes, but he’s always gone at the same time each month. He looks a little ill himself, in the days preceding his absence and right after he returns. It’s just… it’s odd.

Regulus frowned. “Maybe a bit. What’s it to you, though?”

“Well, Lily hangs around with him. They’re both Gryffindor Prefects,” Severus said, measuring out the Gillywater. “I’m worried about her. I don’t want her getting mixed up in whatever he does when he’s gone, or catching some disease from him.”

“So you’re going to figure out what he’s doing for yourself,” Regulus deduced.

“It takes a month to mature, though. The waiting is going to kill me.” Severus stared down into the boiling water. “I need to do it before Slughorn starts teaching this for N.E.W.T.s, though, or else he might figure out how to detect it in his pumpkin juice.”

Regulus leaned on the table. “You really care about her, don’t you, Snape?”

Severus looked down at his textbook, and his heavy sigh echoed in the dark, chemical-filled space they occupied. “I just wish it was that obvious to her.”



Author’s Note:

Welcome to the end of another chapter! I hope you liked this one and will tell me what you think down there in the review box. Pretty please? :)

I’d like to give a quick shout-out to my faithful reviewers. I love hearing back from all of you at the end of each chapter, and if my responses don’t convey it enough, you heard it here first: your comments mean the world to me. I might not push myself to keep writing when I’m busy if it wasn’t for all of you.

-Amanda


Chapter 9: Snape's Second-Worst Memory
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The library was typically quiet on Sunday evenings, except for a handful of students frantically trying to catch up on homework before the start of classes again on Monday morning. Even Lily and her friends did not work on N.E.W.T. review during the weekends, instead choosing to rest and conserve their energy for the week. Thus, Severus had to be especially quiet as he navigated the bookshelves, slowly making his way to the far corner of the room, away from the watchful eyes of Madam Pince.

He walked as softly as possible, keeping an eye out for Prefects as he turned each corner. Painstakingly, he walked the length of the immense room, stopping when he finally arrived at the gate that marked the Restricted Section. Severus withdrew his wand, whispering an incantation that Lucius Malfoy had taught him when they were both Hogwarts students. To his satisfaction, the lock clicked open soundlessly.

He passed the Potions books and sections on cursed objects, continuing to move in the shadows until he reached the section marked Offensive Spells. Here, his pale and nimble fingers poked through the small collection of books, and he even opened a few only to find them not to his liking. He frowned, trying to remember the name of the book he’d wanted to find. Perhaps he should have risked writing it down.

“Find anything to your taste, Snivellus?”

Severus flinched, unable to believe he’d missed the boy sitting in the corner by steady candlelight, Moste Potente Potions laying open on the table before him. Gritting his teeth, he turned, coming face to face with Sirius Black.

“Perhaps it’s all a bit basic for you these days,” Sirius added, smirking coldly.

“What do you want, Black?” Severus spat.

“Nothing,” Sirius said, glancing back down at the page he had been studying before Severus’s presence had interrupted him. A frightening sketch of a half-man, half-wolf decorated the page, framed by a full moon and sparse clouds. He closed the book, not wanting Snape to get a look at what he’d been researching.

“Why the intrusion, then?” Severus insisted, frowning.

“What brings you to the Restricted Section on this lonely Sunday evening?”

“Stuff for class.”

“I doubt it,” Sirius replied. “Not unless Flitwick has changed a lot in recent weeks.”

Snape looked confused, and Sirius pointed lazily at the label on the bookshelf, after which Severus broke eye contact with him. “It’s not your business,” he said.

“Trying to do something fancy to impress Evans?” Sirius said, and for a moment he thought he saw the little blood running beneath Snape’s pale skin turn to ice.

“I said it’s not your business,” Severus replied, turning to leave for the night.

Sirius smirked, glancing back down at the book. Suddenly, he looked back at Snape, seeing the end of his coat whipping toward the exit. “Wait,” he called quietly.

To his surprise, Snape’s face actually peeked back around the corner, looking angry.

“If you really want to impress her, you should go out to the Shrieking Shack.” Snape narrowed his eyes, but he didn’t leave, so Sirius continued. “Lily’s supposed to meet Remus out there tomorrow night. He didn’t want Pr—James and I to hear about it, but Peter overheard them talking last week. He said that he really wants someone to talk to about what’s been happening, and you know how sweet Evans can be.”

Severus began to feel the ache setting into his heart again. He looked away, considering this, missing the disrespectful grin spreading across Sirius’s face. “What happened? What do you mean?” Was he really about to find out where Lupin went?

“His mother’s been ill—for a few years, I mean. She’s taken a turn for the worst.”

Severus frowned. He couldn’t imagine life without his mother; she was the only buffer between him and his father in their worst arguments, and she had spent long hours with him as a boy, teaching him rudimentary potions while his father worked. He felt a sting of pity for Lupin, and he dreaded the long overdue guilt to come.

“I was trying to figure out something we could try to make to help her, but I’m not coming up with anything. Do you know of anything that Remus could give her?”

Severus sighed. “Yes, I have some ideas.” He didn’t, of course, but Sirius now wore an expression of what looked like real concern. He and Lupin, like the other two, were thick as thieves. If Sirius was willing to involve him, the situation must be difficult.

“I’ll bet Lily would really appreciate you doing something to help Remus.”

“Tomorrow night?” Severus asked, thinking about the Veritaserum brewing secretly in his dormitory closet. This tactic would be much quicker and easier, if it worked.

“Yes, that’s right. You can take a shortcut underneath the Whomping Willow, if you’re careful. Just prod the knot under the tree with a stick, and you’re all set.”

Severus nodded, and then he turned, already beginning to brainstorm.

Sirius smirked, waiting until he heard the lock click shut to re-open his book.

***

“Prongs, how many school rules are we breaking?”

“Just one,” James said, tossing the Quaffle up and catching it casually with one hand. “Technically, I don’t think we’re supposed to practice on our own – you know, outside of specified team practice times. Wouldn’t want to gain an advantage.”

“They can’t very well protest a natural advantage, can they?”

“Right you are, Wormtail,” James said, turning to his friend and grinning. “Besides, that’s why we brought the Map. You keep an eye on it while I practice, and I’ll write the introduction to that Arithmancy essay for you, just like we agreed.”

“Thanks, mate. It’s killing me,” Peter replied.

James took to his broom as soon as he passed under the entryway to the Pitch, attempting to see how quickly he could score a goal and then swoop around to pick up the ball again. Peter sprawled out on the field below him, keeping the Map at his side and opening his Arithmancy book with a sigh. James may be getting the momentum going on the essay, but there would still be two feet left for Peter to write. However, Peter knew that he would have trouble concentrating, just as he did every night when there was a full moon, especially when he was one of the two people selected to be available in case Remus needed help – or merely company. Somewhere in the darkest recesses of his mind, Peter worried that one night Remus would fail to recognize his scent and calmly obliterate him in the space of a second.

He glanced lazily at the map, watching as the dot and footprint set marked ‘Remus Lupin’ paced in its Shrieking Shack-shaped box. Remus’s complex and horrifying transformation, which Peter had now witnessed exactly four times, was simplified beautifully in the framework of the Map. In a moment, as the fading sunset gave way to the overwhelming darkness, Remus’s dot would shudder strangely, and then it would begin to move a bit more erratically, its precisely curvilinear steps becoming jerky and desultory. Then, when the full moon had tucked itself away for another cycle, the chaotic dot would merely evolve back into a normal point on the map.

“How long till the moon rises, Wormtail?” James called.

Peter squinted at the golden sun, which floated in waves of pink and purple hues. “Maybe two hours? Sirius was supposed to check the Astronomy charts.”

“He had a row with Celestine. I think she thinks they’re a serious couple.”

James and Peter had a good laugh at the accidental pun, and they decided together to forgive Sirius for laying down on the job. Then, James returned to his task, trying to calculate his average Quaffle throwing speed, and Peter looked back down at his Arithmancy essay, for which he’d written a grand total of two and a half sentences.

Forty minutes later, James’s tossing arm was growing tired. He thought perhaps he and Peter should wait out Remus’s transformation in Animagus form, especially if they could find the little pond hiding in the forest, which they had first uncovered (and heartily drank from) during their last weekend on duty. As was customary, they would need to stop by and check on Remus before heading out any further, just to ensure that he wasn’t any more depressed than usual or in need of anything. However, as James pointed his broomstick toward the ground, he noticed that Peter had gotten onto his feet and was waving and calling frantically to get his attention.

“What, what?” James said, frowning as he dismounted.

“The Map,” Peter said, and his face had gone quite pale. He handed it to James.

He looked first for Lily out of habit, but she was safely holed up in the library, probably working on N.E.W.T. review with Ellery and trying to ignore Celestine’s complaining about Sirius and his fickle heart. A glance at the Shrieking Shack told his trained eyes that Remus had transformed and settled into a stationary position, hopefully one that allowed for somewhat comfortable sleep. As his gaze traced back toward the castle and his mouth opened to question Peter, he saw the problem.

Severus Snape was heading, in quite a determined fashion, straight toward Remus.

***

By the time Lily had made it outside to take a break after her grueling study session, she had almost convinced herself that attending Quidditch games when she should be studying for exams needed to be outlawed. She still couldn’t chase thoughts of her deal with Regulus from her mind, and thinking about James Potter and drinking one too many Butterbeers after yet another victory only distracted her further.

She carried her stuffed book bag down to the edge of the lake, where she poked her toes into the water and found it to be much too cold even for soaking her tired feet. Sighing, Lily glanced up at the sunset, watching the colors blithely move from faint pink to darker red, signaling the coming evening. In the span of a few minutes, the moon rose, and several stars joined it to twinkle happily in the night sky.

The roar was what jolted Lily from her reverie.

She turned quickly, knocking her bag over and sending her books tumbling down the hill toward the lake. When she stood up, she could see that the commotion was coming from the direction of the Whomping Willow, a massive tree that was known for getting quite defensive when disturbed. Before her eyes, Severus stumbled out of the tree, nearly being knocked onto his back by an especially vindictive branch. The swinging limbs stopped suddenly, and James and Peter came running out after him.

“No, go back—the door—” James was gesturing wildly to Peter, though he kept his eyes on Snape. The latter boy’s clumsy legs could not carry him away fast enough.

“Lily!” Snape shouted, his eyes widening. “He’s a werewolf! You aren’t safe!”

“What?” Lily asked. “Who? What are you talking about?” She glanced at James.

“Lupin—werewolf,” Snape breathed heavily, almost collapsing before her.

“Remus?” Lily felt something cold overtake her heart. “He’s a werewolf?”

James looked down guiltily, the sound of Severus’s ragged gasps hanging between him and Lily. When she finally looked back at him, there were tears in her eyes.

“Severus, don’t lie to me,” she said, trying to direct her anger onto him instead.

“I’m not!” he cried desperately. “Lily, please, I just want to protect you.”

“It’s true,” James said quietly. “He is a werewolf.”

Lily looked down, frowning. “Is he in there now?” She pointed to the tree.

“Yeah,” James confirmed.

“Severus, we have to take you to the hospital wing.” He had blood on his face.

“I’m fine,” he said quickly. “It’s—he was eating a rabbit or something when I came in. He threw it at me when he noticed me. I—I was looking for you. I wanted to help.”

“Help with what?”

“His mother was supposed to be dying,” Severus spat coldly.

Lily sighed. “Come on, Madam Pomfrey should have a look at you.”

“No.” He got to his feet. “I’m going straight to Professor Dumbledore.” Suddenly, he fell backwards, landing hard on his back. Lily’s eyes snapped to James, whose wand was held tightly in his outstretched arm. Snape’s eyes had rolled back in his head.

“James!”

“He can’t just go tell the whole school,” James said. “Besides, Dumbledore knows.”

“He does?”

“He’s been really decent about it, actually.”

“Well, that’s Dumbledore,” Lily said softly. She bit her lip, unable to believe that once again she was looking at an unconscious Severus on the ground. “Come on, help me get him to the Hospital Wing. We have to see if you’ve inflicted brain damage.”

“Peter!” James called, and the smaller boy headed away from the tree. “Is he—”

“Yeah,” Peter said quickly, looking from James to Lily. “He went to sleep.”

“Good. Help us take Snivellus—” He glanced at Lily, who frowned at the use of the nickname. “We need to take Snape up to the Hospital Wing to get checked out.”

The three of them cast Levicorpus, helping to carry Severus into the castle. They were stopped by two professors and Filch on the way to the Hospital Wing, but James quickly showed them his broomstick and made up a story about Snape stealing it to try to impress Lily and falling off, knocking himself out cold. By the time Madam Pomfrey rushed out to meet them at the Hospital Wing entrance, he had adjusted his expression enough to make the story seem almost convincing.

“Poor thing just doesn’t know what’s good for him,” Madam Pomfrey sighed, motioning to her house elves to prepare a bed. “He’ll need to stay the night.”

As they exited, Lily gently grabbed James’s arm, and he motioned for Peter to go ahead. “Look, Lily, I’m sorry,” he said. “We only barely caught him in time…”

“Why didn’t Remus tell me he was a werewolf?” she said defiantly.

“Well, it’s not the sort of thing you drop into polite conversation.”

“Don’t,” she chided. “Remus and I became friends long before I could even have a civilized conversation with you. We must have spent thousands of hours together, between classes, homework, studying, and doing Prefect rounds. I just don’t understand why he wouldn’t trust me enough…” She paused. “I mean, am I—?”

“What?” James asked, his brow furrowing.

“I don’t seem like a blabbermouth, do I?”

“Of course not!” James laughed. “I don’t even know how you and Celestine are friends, really, when you think of it. You’re completely different from her.”

Lily cracked a tiny smile. “Is he going to be upset that I know?”

“Personally, I think he’ll be relieved not to have to hide it from you,” James said. “Especially after I tell him that we stopped Snape from telling the whole school.”

“How do you think Severus found out, anyway?”

“Well, there are only four of us who know, and guess who wasn’t there?”

Lily grimaced. “Sirius does stupid things, I guess, but this—”

“—Is too far,” James finished. “Trust me, I’m off to give him a piece of my mind.” He glanced back toward the Hospital Wing. “Do you… do you want to stay with him?”

Lily’s mouth opened slightly, surprised at his show of graciousness. “No, um…” She swallowed. “It sounded like Madam Pomfrey wanted him to be left alone tonight.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” James replied, a touch of relief in his voice.

“Besides, I want to see this,” Lily said with a smirk. As she followed him toward the common room, she had the wild notion that she should plant a kiss on his cheek, amazed as she was by his display of maturity. Thankfully, they rounded the corner and came face-to-face with the Fat Lady, and she just exhaled pleasantly instead.

***

For enemies.

He inspected his work, holding it up to the sunlight that streamed in through the window by his bed. Yes, the word rolled lightly off his tongue, and the incantation he’d designed for it would leave the unfortunate victim with no anticipation of what was to come – pain, suffering, and lasting scars. For a moment, he contemplated a counter-curse; for now, he would simply revel in his most deadly creation to date.

Careful not to touch his wand, he practiced saying it under his breath quietly.

“Sev?”

His head snapped up, and he could see Lily leaning against the doorway, a few first years passing in the corridor behind her. He closed the aged Potions textbook, setting it down on his bed. She took this as a sign that it was okay to approach him.

“How are you feeling?”

“Head hurts,” he remarked, turning his dark eyes on her coldly. “Wonder why?”

“You fell,” she replied.

“Nonsense,” he hissed. “Be sure to compliment Potter on his Charms skills for me.”

“Severus, please,” she said, sighing. “He was only trying to help his friend.”

“Are you listening to yourself?” he said, spitefully mocking her words from their interaction during the last Hogsmeade visit. “He must have fed you a fairly powerful love potion, Lily. I never thought I’d hear you defending that soulless, arrogant—”

“I don’t even know you anymore,” Lily spat, turning on her heel.

“Were you hurt?” he asked, and the minute change in tone caught her attention.

“No.” She stopped, uncrossing her arms and looking back at him. “Just so you know, I’m glad you weren’t either. It was stupid of you to come in there looking for me.”

“I meant what I said. I just wanted to help you… by helping him.”

“I know,” she replied softly. “Your intentions—what you did was sweet, too.”

“Sweet,” he remarked icily, his thin lips becoming a hard line.

“Do you actually miss me?” she asked. “You don’t act like it.”

“You know I do,” he said flatly. “I’d like to know when the real you will be back.”

“This is the real me. I’m not the one who changed.”

“You never used to hang around with them, and your moronic friends…”

Lily felt the knife in her heart. “You mean Celestine and Ellery? You know, the girls I introduced you to in our first year, and then again every year after that because you never bothered to learn their names?” she said accusingly. “I could say the same thing about your friends. I know their names, at least, though I typically find it easier to refer to them as Satan and Lucifer…”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“I can’t be your friend if you’re going to hang around with them.”

Severus frowned, needing a moment to let the finality of her statement sink in. Inwardly, he felt very angry at himself for thinking of using dark magic to impress her. “Likewise,” he admitted. “But to be honest, mine are the only friends I have.”

“I miss you, too,” she said, not entirely sure if she believed it. After all, though her old friend had always been pale and underfed, he had never looked so cruel as the young man folded up on the bed before her. “Just think about that, will you, Sev?”

“Yeah,” Severus said, thinking instead of the freshly inked spell tucked safely away somewhere in the eighteenth chapter of his textbook. He had been planning to find James Potter somewhere alone and use it, preferably the same day he was released from the Hospital Wing. He would have to find a way for this to fit with her request.

“I’m still going to tell Dumbledore,” he said quietly. “It’s for your own good, Lily.”

She nodded, leaving without another word. As she re-entered the crowded corridor, Lily felt distinctly claustrophobic, like she wanted to vomit. She was glad to put the Hospital Wing and her old almost-friend behind her, but she was worried about running into James in the common room, in the Great Hall, in her next class… She couldn’t handle having so many feelings at once. No one could. It was impossible.

She stopped, trying not to cry. All those years as a little girl, wanting to get out and explore the world, and now all she wanted was to curl up in her bed and be alone.



Author’s Note:

Hi! Hopefully you enjoyed this latest chapter, and I hope you’ll leave me some comments on my interpretation of a very important canon event and the other little details that I put into this part of the plot. I know there wasn’t much Regulus here, but don’t worry, he’ll be back soon! I always say this, but only because I mean it – I really appreciate you all for continuing to R&R faithfully!

Everything you recognize from canon, including characters, events, and details, obviously belongs to JKR. I also took the title of this chapter from “Snape’s Worst Memory,” which is the title of the 28th chapter of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (written by J.K. Rowling and published in 2003).

-Amanda


Chapter 10: A Game of Hearts
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As Peter dipped a spoon into his small bowl of baked beans, he smiled at his luck.

He could have waited until later that morning to hand in his Arithmancy essay, passing his scroll to the front with the rest of the class. Something possessed him when he ran into Professor Eigen on the way to breakfast, though—he felt compelled to offer up his essay early, just to see the expression of pleasure spread across the old man’s face and to receive his friendly, approving pat on the back. Even now, the aged teacher sat chatting pleasantly with Professor Sprout at the head table, evidently none the wiser about the true author of Peter’s essay introduction.

Or was it luck? The corners of his mouth folded thoughtfully around a mouthful of beans and sticky syrup as Peter considered it. He had convinced one of his friends to do part or all of his homework for him three times already this term, and a record fifteen in the last. Remus had once been the easiest, but he had begun to take his badge more seriously this year and had flat-out refused upon Peter’s first request. Sirius was ever suspicious, so it was usually James whom Peter tried to persuade. It appeared, Peter thought, that he had a secret weapon of sorts, a measure of sway…

At that moment, Lily sat down across from him, and Peter felt a wave of guilt.

“Morning,” he said, attempting cheer.

“Good morning,” Lily said, smiling, but her lips looked tense. She poured herself a glass of pumpkin juice, sipping it and folding her arms upon the clean expanse of table before her, narrowly avoiding getting crumbs on her neatly pressed sleeve.

“You all right?”

“Sure,” she said, smiling again for the effect. Severus always used to say that her smile could get her anything she wanted—stop, Lily. The tension returned without warning.

Suddenly, they both turned at the sound of heavy footsteps. Sirius and Remus had just entered the Great Hall. Sirius looked ready to choke someone, and in his dust, Remus moved along slowly, his head hanging a bit, hair falling forlornly in his eyes.

“I’ll kill him,” Sirius announced gruffly, sitting down next to Lily at the table.

“Who?” Lily asked, frowning. Unfortunately, she thought she might know already.

“Snape,” Sirius hissed.

“Don’t,” Remus moaned, putting his head in his hands.

“Why?” Peter asked absently, glancing up at the head table again. Professor Eigen had apparently finished breakfast and gone to prepare for class. However, Professor Dumbledore was staring directly at the group and not touching the meal before him.

“What do you mean, why? You were there, weren’t you?” Sirius snapped, misdirecting his rage at Peter. “He told Dumbledore about Moony’s furry little problem,” he added to Lily. “Now Dumbledore’s pulled Remus in to warn him about sharing these things with the whole school—like he would ever be that stupid!” he finished scornfully.

“It’s your own fault,” Lily cut in, still frowning.

“He didn’t need to tell anyone. Dumbledore knows. James said that, didn’t he?”

“He—he was just trying to keep everyone safe.”

“Right,” Sirius snorted. “What if I went to visit Dumbledore’s office and let slip that all of Snivelly’s little friends are Death Eaters in the making? Would he like that?” He stared across the room, finally spotting Severus at one end of the Slytherin table. To his displeasure, his younger brother had just taken the empty seat next to the object of his hatred. He decided not to play favorites, looking daggers at the pair of them.

“What’s he looking at?” Severus grumbled, tapping his spoon against the bottom of his nearly empty cereal bowl in frustration.

From the place next to him, Regulus followed his line of sight, quickly finding himself eye to eye with a stony-faced Sirius. He shook his head in response, not knowing—or really caring to know—the answer. “How are things with Evans?” he asked instead, getting some toast from the center of the table.

“Lily,” Severus corrected in a low tone.

“Yes, her,” Regulus said, his voice containing a hint of exasperation.

“Nothing has changed,” the other boy replied shortly, glancing down at his bowl as if he wished he could simply stick a full spoonful in his mouth and avoid saying more.

“Nothing?” Regulus asked with a slight frown. He was ashamed to admit his lack of progress with his older brother, even to himself, and thus he had hoped that at least some good had emerged from his brash little bargain with the Mudblood by this time. “What about the Veritaserum?”

“No good,” came the equally clipped response.

“What do you mean?” Regulus pressed. Surely Snape hadn’t messed it up, and so—

“What do you care?” Snape shot back forcefully, turning endless black eyes full of anger onto the other boy’s pale face. “It’s none of your business, Black. It never was.”

For a moment, neither of them said anything. Severus felt his pulse slowly begin to descend toward a normal rhythm, feeling more surprised by the minute to see the younger Black brother still sitting in front of him. Nothing other than a slightly quirked brow gave away the notion that Regulus was affected at all by the outburst. Severus kept waiting, counting away the seconds in his head as his breathing slowed. 3… 2… 1… lost another, there we go, on with you and out of my life, please…

Regulus looked down at his toast, his lips forming a word thoughtfully—pain. It was the only way to characterize Snape’s desperate look, his contempt for compassion…

“What?”

Regulus looked up. Had he actually given it away? “Nothing.”

Severus settled back into his seat, glancing around to ensure that no one else was paying attention to them. “I—I’ve been thinking about how to change her mind.”

His companion nibbled at his toast silently, waiting to hear the plan.

“If I could just… get someone to see what I can do… the spells I’ve mastered…” He spoke in a soft whisper, with an odd sort of fear lacing his words. Listening to it, Regulus wondered if he was having trouble convincing himself. “Someone powerful, you know… someone to teach me new things, things that I could show her…”

“Do you mean—” Regulus began.

Severus’s eyes came to life, flickering over to meet his own.

“You do,” Regulus said quietly. “You’re going to join up, like the others…”

“Yes,” Severus admitted, pushing his empty bowl aside absently.

“You think she’ll be impressed?”

“Why wouldn’t she be?” he said, but his voice sounded hollow, empty. Regulus felt the sense of pity return as he continued. “She has to be, it’s only logical… simple…”

“Of course,” Regulus added. He wanted to say, yes, in a logical world, she loves you because you love her, and that’s enough. Sirius loves me because we’re brothers, and that’s all there is to it. There’s no fighting, no regret… maybe no Hogwarts Houses. But the world was woefully illogical. He couldn’t lie to Severus, though his expression begged for it, just the same way he could talk to Sirius about their family being whole and intact but never step over the line into Mum and Dad love you, you know.

They were cruel, the world and the lies he could never tell. Pain.

“I’ll come, too,” Regulus suddenly said. There was a new feeling creeping its way into his heart, the sense of knowing what he would do and the need to not be alone to do it. “Tell me when you want to go, and I’ll go. I have things that I can show him, too.”

“No,” Severus said firmly, standing up.

“Why?” Regulus said, frowning. “Why should you get to join and not me?”

“You’re not old enough.”

“You’re only a year older than I am, Snape!”

“Forget I said anything,” Severus said, tearing his gaze away from the other boy. “Mulciber and Avery and I have already made plans. There’s no room for anyone else.” The pain was infecting his senses again, but the ache was of a different quality. It implored him to never let anyone feel the doubt he had tried and failed to dismiss, least of all the unusually kind, naïve pureblood boy looking up at him with surprise.

He made a mental note to speak seriously with Mulciber and Avery about plans.

“Wait,” Regulus said, as Snape turned to go.

Severus paused, looking at him against his better judgment.

“What about Lupin?” Regulus said curiously. “Did you find out anything?”

“Ah,” Severus said, and a curious smile lit up his face. “He’s a werewolf.”

“What?” Regulus said, dropping his toast abruptly.

Snape said nothing, too busy leaving the Great Hall at an unusually quick pace, having apparently forgotten Dumbledore’s warning not to share what he now knew.

Regulus fished the small remnant of bread out of his goblet of pumpkin juice, chancing a look back across the room at his older brother. The rage was gone from Sirius’s face, having seemingly departed along with Snape, and he was conversing happily with Lupin and Evans. Regulus’s lips became a tight line as he considered Severus’s words, his matter-of-fact tone, the sinister, all-knowing smile. Werewolf.

If Sirius really was in danger, he would need to step up his end of the deal.

***

Lily Evans was on a manhunt.

She had already checked the library, the common room, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, where Remus had been known to tutor younger students on selected evenings before dinner. She had considered checking the Prefects’ Bathroom, but she didn’t fancy running into someone in the middle of taking a bath. Instead, she had set her course for the Quidditch Pitch, supposing that flying about on a broom could be considered an exercise in stress reduction for some people.

As she walked, Lily spoke to herself under her breath, trying not to imagine encountering her friend and fellow Prefect and losing her thoughts entirely. “Remus, I’m not upset,” she said quietly. “I just don’t understand why you didn’t tell me, that’s all. I thought we were friends. I mean, I would tell you almost anything—”

She paused. Even the most scandalous of her secrets paled in comparison to Remus’s revelation. Perhaps his silence was more understandable than she’d initially thought. But it still hurt that he hadn’t told her—what if he had transformed while they were on a patrol together? It would have been so dangerous! Then, Lily remembered an animated drawing in The Essential Defence Against the Dark Arts; it contained a howling wolf framed by a full moon. Remus wasn’t stupid, and she knew it. He would never have gone on patrol alone with her with an imminent full moon.

Her defenses failing, Lily turned to go back toward the castle, having almost made up her mind to wait until Remus brought up the subject to discuss it with him. It was when she looked up that she noticed she was no longer alone on the school grounds.

“James?”

He glanced up at her, hefting the weight of his broomstick over one shoulder. “Hey, Evans.” Almost immediately, she noticed that he looked exhausted. It brought her a small measure of comfort to be able to sympathize with someone else in this regard.

“Going to practice?”

“It’s not allowed, strictly speaking.” He cracked a smile. “Don’t tell McGonagall.”

Lily forced a smile, continuing to walk past him. “See you later, then.”

“Wait.”

“What?” she asked, pausing.

“Are you all right?”

“Sure.” Lily found herself pulling aimlessly at her sleeves again.

“I just—I guess the thing from the other night probably shook you up a bit.”

“A bit,” she admitted.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No, I’ll be fine.” She shifted her weight awkwardly from one foot to the other.

“What were you doing out here?” he tried.

Lily frowned slightly, but she couldn’t think of what to say. Not the truth, surely.

His arms were apparently growing tired, as his next move was to move the broom so that it crossed both shoulders and rested upon the back of his neck. He leaned into the impromptu stretch. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about Remus?”

Lily considered this. Perhaps if she expressed her concerns to James, he could pass them on to Remus for her, or—in an ideal situation—soothe them right out of existence. She had tried a similar tactic when she had ended her friendship with Severus the year before, and while no part of it had been comfortable for anyone involved, at least he didn’t follow her around as much or bother her during class. She cleared her throat, looking back at James. “Why don’t we take a walk?”

His face brightened. “Yeah, sounds good.” He turned the broom upside down, tapping the non-bristled end softly against the earth like a walking stick, marking out measured paces as they began walking side by side. Lily stifled a smile.

“How is he, anyway?”

“I haven’t seen much of him,” James admitted. “He did seem a bit down when he woke up this morning, though. He didn’t even say hello to me before he left.”

“Do you think he’s angry?”

“Probably, at least at Snape. I would be.”

“What about Sirius?”

“Yeah, I’d imagine we’re both a bit angry with him, too.”

“But not at me?” Lily asked quietly, letting it dangle hopefully in the air.

“Who could be angry with you, Evans?” James smirked, moving his hand as if to ruffle her hair playfully and then jerking it back at the last moment.

“Does he suffer much after he transforms back?”

“He’ll have some scrapes and bruises. Usually it’s all right, overall.”

“That’s good.”

“You really care about him, don’t you?” James said.

“Of course I do,” Lily replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“I think you care a little too much, honestly.”

Lily concealed a teasing smile. “You sound a little jealous.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” He rolled his eyes. “I just think that it would be okay if you were a little scared, knowing about this other side of him. I don’t think you have to know that much about werewolves to know that it’s not Remus anymore after he… you know, changes.” He sighed. “Actually, it would be okay to be really scared.”

“I’d be a fool to not be afraid,” Lily answered, tucking her hair behind her ears in preparation for an approaching breeze. The wind carried with it the fresh smell of the trees, surrounding them as they stepped just beyond the edge of the forest. Lily felt grateful for the bit of cover, lest annoying romantic rumors about her start floating around the corridors of the school. “I’m more worried about him, though. All I can think of now is him living down there under the tree, alone, cold, suffering. Remus is a really good person. I’d be heartless to not want better things for him.”

“What if I told you that he’s not alone?”

“What?” she asked, stopping.

“Well, Sirius and Peter and I go down there, too. We keep him company.”

“You’re kidding,” Lily marveled. “How do you all not end up torn to pieces? Is it—does he recognize your smell? Is that how he knows not to attack you?”

“Sort of,” James responded. “I…” He shifted his feet awkwardly in the dirt, looking as if he stood on the precipice of an important decision. “Okay, just… stand back.”

Lily raised an eyebrow, but she moved a few feet backwards, still watching him.

James stood very still, closing his eyes and appearing to concentrate intensely. Suddenly, he fell forward onto his hands and knees, eliciting a gasp from his companion. The hair on his arms thickened slowly, forming a smooth tawny coat. What looked at first like a pair of thorny branches emerged from his scalp, growing up out of his hair as new trees in a shallow wood. His clothes melted into his—fur—and his body grew a bit larger, though it remained about as slender as in human form. In the span of a few seconds, the boy before her had become a young stag.

Lily tried not to gape. Was this really happening? Seeing an Animagus come to life right in front of her was strikingly different from listening to Professor McGonagall describe it in class. She had so many questions. Does it hurt? Where do your clothes go?

“Can you talk?” she whispered, finally settling on one.

The stag shook its head, and her eyes focused on the antlers, mesmerized. She almost wanted to step forward and touch them, but no… way too awkward.

James the stag grunted at her, and she stepped back in surprise, leaving him enough room to reverse the changes in a similar time span. This, too, was a shock—he looked just the same, and she wondered if perhaps she’d imagined the whole thing.

“I can talk to the others. They’re Animagi, too. Well, except Remus, obviously. No need,” he said, responding to her query. A comical expression overcame his features. She was still standing with an open mouth. “Evans, you all right? Don’t make me come up with another story for the nurse.”

“Y—yes,” she sputtered, laughing despite herself.

James’s smile suddenly dropped off his face. “Please don’t give me detention.”

“No, no,” Lily smirked. “No, it’s… that is very dangerous, James.”

“Well, otherwise it wouldn’t be fun.”

“I mean it,” she added firmly. “But… it’s also wicked cool.”

James grinned again. “Yeah. Only took us until last year. Impressed?” He took off his glasses to inspect them more closely. Even though he’d practiced a hundred times, the lingering worry remained that one time they’d fall off and break into pieces.

Lily blushed. “You’re just lucky Professor McGonagall would never believe me.”

“You keep all my secrets,” James sighed pleasantly. “Good thing, too. They’d never let me be Head Boy next year if it all got out.”

“Don’t get too far ahead of yourself,” she replied. “Um… I should get back. It’s getting close to dinner, and I promised Celestine and Ellery I’d get there early tonight.”

“Oh, all right,” he said, trying to conceal the note of disappointment in his voice.

“Thank you for the walk. You were right—it was nice to talk about Remus a little.”

“Yeah, of course,” James said.

Lily began to walk back up the path, crossing the line of trees into the open again.

“Wait.”

She froze. No, don’t turn around, not this time. It ended pleasantly. Let it end.

“You going to Hogsmeade this weekend?”

“I—” She bit her lip, halfway turning so that she could see him out of the corner of one eye. “I suppose so, yes.” She cleared her throat. “You know, with my friends.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she added confidently. “We’re going Christmas shopping for our families.”

“That’s nice,” James said. A bit early, Evans, but I suppose you have your reasons. “Would you like to get some tea with me while you’re there?”

“Well, like I said, I’m going with my friends…”

“So am I,” he replied, and she thought his tone bordered on desperation. “I just think maybe getting out of the cold and getting some tea would be nice. We can talk about Remus more… we can gossip about Sirius and Celestine the whole time if you want. I’d just like to spend a little time with you, if you’re up for it.”

Lily glanced over at him, willing everything within her not to let the color rise to her cheeks. Agreeing to spend even an hour alone with James Potter wasn’t exactly in the service of the deal she’d made with Regulus. Then again, she hadn’t seen him getting too comfortable with Sirius lately, either. It was beside the point, really—she had given Severus a chance or two, and it was only fair to do the same for James.

“Okay,” she said softly, daring to look at him. “We’ll meet up in town.”

“Sure,” James said, smiling broadly. “See you in Charms later, then.” He turned quickly, though the tips of his ears were reddening already, and began walking in the direction of the Pitch once again.

“See you,” Lily replied, turning after a moment and continuing back up toward the castle. As she walked, she inwardly shamed herself, having fallen victim to her own rationalizations. No, Lily, she finally said to herself. You deserve to have a little fun.



Author’s Note:

Thank you, dear reader, for returning for another chapter of Post Scriptum!

A few notes for you—I did a little research into traditional English breakfast for this chapter, and that’s where the baked beans came from. Professor Eigen’s name is a tribute to one of my many interests—statistics. Ten points to you if you are mathematically savvy enough to identify the particular source!

The Defense Against the Dark Arts book that Lily mentions is taken from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (written by J.K. Rowling and published in 1999). The phrase "furry little problem" comes from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince chapter 16 (also written by J.K. Rowling and published in 2005). Any other characters, events or ideas from you canon that you see are also hers.

Won’t you please give me some feedback on this chapter?

-Amanda


Chapter 11: If Santa Had a Broomstick
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“Hey, Lily.”

Lily looked up, smiling as she noticed Ellery looking down at her, watching her put her fork down on her now-empty lunch plate. “Hi. You ready to go to Charms?”

“Yeah,” Ellery smiled back, but something about it seemed sad. “Where’s Celestine?”

“She said she felt ill this morning. I have a feeling it was just the Potions test.” Lily smirked, tucking her hair behind her ear and following her friend into the corridor. They walked side by side, clutching their books to their chests and heading to class.

“Oh, how did it go? I’ve got Potions after Charms.”

Lily shrugged. “I thought it went fine. No surprises.”

“You would say that,” Ellery replied, her tone muted.

“Ellery…” Lily stopped, letting a crowd of seventh-years pass them on their way up the stairs. “Did I do something? You seem like you’re upset.”

“Oh, not with you.” Ellery sighed. “It’s just—” She glanced around. “Come here. We have a few minutes yet to get to Flitwick’s classroom.” Before Lily could protest about the possibility of being late, Ellery pulled her into a nearby girls’ lavatory.

Ellery checked to see that they were alone, and then she turned back to Lily, twisting the end of her blonde braid nervously around her thin fingers. “Are you still planning to go to Hogsmeade with James tomorrow?”

“Well, we’re going with his friends, and I’m sure Celestine will want to come.”

“I don’t think people in the other houses have heard this, but last time we had a Hogsmeade weekend, a fourth-year girl from Hufflepuff went missing. Professor Sprout thinks she wandered off, but I wonder if one of them grabbed her.”

“One of who?” Lily asked. “You don’t mean… not his people, right?”

“Exactly. Who knows what they’ve done with her!”

“Ellery, I think you’re being a little paranoid. What would they want with a student?” Lily sighed. “Don’t worry. All of us have high Defense marks as it is.”

“Just be careful, please?” Ellery frowned. “If anything happened to any of you…”

“It won’t,” Lily said, giving her friend a hug. “But thank you for warning me.”

They moved up to the second floor and took their seats in Flitwick’s classroom. Lily couldn’t help but smile as she looked around her, for it had been transformed into a winter wonderland. A slow parade of delicate snowflakes rained down from the ceiling, disappearing as soon as they reached the desktops, melting with no trace of a puddle. A few lingered momentarily in Lily’s hair before vanishing into thin air. Below their seats, a magical train set ran along the first row of desks, causing even the students who had been displaced to higher rows to grin and poke their friends. Boughs of evergreen needles draped on the back of each bench smelled like fresh pine, though a quick touch test revealed that they were composed of false greenery. Flitwick had even spread a thin carpet of pine needles along the classroom floor.

When the professor finally entered a few seconds later, Lily found herself shocked not to see him in a bright red Santa suit, with a little white puffball atop his head. Instead, he appeared to have crafted a rather large pair of pointed blue elf shoes.

“Good afternoon, students!” he chirped, climbing atop his podium in the center of the room. “I trust if you were not in the holiday spirit before, you must be now!”

The students laughed.

“Excellent.” Flitwick took out his wand, pointing it at a closet across the room. The door creaked open, and out flew a small assortment of identical wooden Santa figurines, each of them perched atop a tiny replica of a broomstick. The Santas came to rest lightly atop the desk in front of each pair of students.

“Now, now, try to restrain the choruses of 'If Santa Had a Broomstick',” he chuckled.

Lily looked around as some of the other students laughed again politely. She prodded Sirius in the back gently, leaning close to him. “Is that a wizarding carol?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Not that we sing too many carols in the Black household, but there are a few. 'If Santa Had a Broomstick', 'The Littlest House Elf'…”

“That one’s my favorite,” Peter chimed in. “That, and 'The Winter Floo Song'.”

If it wasn’t for the ice and snow, I’d Floo right home to you,” James sung daintily.

Lily giggled. Every day she loved magic a little more.

“Now, now, Mr. Potter, that’s enough,” Flitwick chided. “As I was saying, you’ve all mastered the levitation spell by now, and I thought today we could work on precision. You’ll need to know how to carefully guide fragile objects for your exams, particularly if you plan to collect any expensive trinkets in your eventual homes. So, your task today is to have these little Santas riding their brooms along a precise path, one that ends with them safely back in the closet. If that proves to be too easy, try making the noses glow red on a few of Santa’s little helpers.” He gestured to a smaller collection of reindeer that were stacked upright on the desk behind him. “Good luck. You may begin now, and you have an hour and a half, as usual.”

Lily got the Santa she was sharing with Ellery into the air with a perfect Wingardium Leviosa, and they began working on smoothing out the Santa’s journey. It began with many fits and starts, though Ellery astutely pointed out that at least their Santa hadn’t been in danger of flying recklessly across the room and hitting the professor in the head—that was surely a recipe for failure.

In the row below them, Remus prepared to cast an Aguamenti charm. James laughed gleefully as Sirius frantically poked at their Santa, trying to save it from being consumed by flames. A moment later, it was soaked and charred. Flitwick gave them a disapproving glare. Peter half-heartedly suggested a cleaning charm.

On their first trial run across the room, Lily and Ellery’s Santa fell out of the air mid-flight and nearly lost his wooden beard. Their second journey was much smoother. Flitwick awarded them each 10 house points and a tiny wooden reindeer.

By the end of the period, Sirius had tried to turn in the blackened Santa for credit (and gotten 2 sympathy points for Gryffindor), James had wound up with a soaked shirt as per Sirius’s retaliation, and Remus and Peter had flown their Santa perfectly. The latter exchanged a tiny smile with Ellery as they simultaneously passed their reindeer to Flitwick, each of the wooden animals now bearing a cherry red nose.

As Lily turned to get her bag, she noticed Ellery hanging back to talk with Peter.

“You see, the thing is, several of us are going to Hogsmeade tomorrow, just to get some Butterbeer and visit Honeydukes, and if you wanted to go… with me… us…” Peter was saying.

“Oh, Peter, it’s really nice of you to ask, but I’m not going tomorrow,” Ellery said.

“Oh, do you have Quidditch practice?”

“Mmm-hmm,” she replied, shooting Lily a glance that practically begged for an excuse to get out of this awkward conversation. “That, and other things.”

“It’s Ellery’s turn to put together the N.E.W.T. study guide for our group,” Lily piped up, causing Remus to glance over at her. She extended Peter a warm smile.

“I see,” Peter answered, frowning slightly. “How about after Christmas?”

“Yeah, maybe then,” Ellery said, blushing, and she and Lily left the room together.

Naturally, as soon as they got away from Peter, James sidled up alongside Lily.

“Looking forward to tomorrow?”

“Sure,” she smiled. “I always look forward to going to Hogsmeade with my friends.”

“Right, but we’re going to spend time together.”

“Part of the time, I suppose.”

“Right,” James grinned. “Well, I’m looking forward to that part.”

Lily shook her head, letting some of her hair fall into her eyes. They kept walking in silence after Ellery left to go toward the common room, and the two of them climbed six flights of stairs together before James stopped. “Well, I have Quidditch practice.”

“I’m going back to the common room,” Lily said. “Shouldn’t you go downstairs?”

“Yes. Right,” James said, smiling. “See you tomorrow, Lily.”

“You too,” she replied, smirking as she watched him move against the traffic flow.

***

The next day was shockingly cold, even for the time of year. Snow coated the ground like a thick layer of icing, and it rained down upon anyone who so much as tapped a tree with the toe of his or her boot when passing it. If any leaves from the fall remained under the cold blanket, they had long since gone into hibernation or succumbed to hypothermia. Lily briefly wondered if the same fate awaited her.

She trudged along the path, trying to avoid the deep puddles that she encountered every few yards, but her face bore a smile as bright as summer sun. Beside her walked Celestine, who had recovered enough to stroll with her hand loosely tucked into Sirius’s. Lily had yet to buy into the possibility that they were an actual couple. Up ahead was Remus, talking happily with James about the upcoming match against Slytherin. The latter occasionally stole glances back at Lily, as if he were surprised to see her still trailing along at the rear. Peter had lost a bit of ground, his nose suck in a book. He had asked Lily one question about Herbology but was otherwise quiet.

“So, Madam Puddifoot’s?” James asked, coming to a halt as they passed under the happy wooden sign that signaled the entrance to the village. Lily nearly walked right into him.

“Sure,” Celestine said brightly.

A sickly green pallor overtook Sirius’s face. “Come on, why not the pub, like everyone else?” he moaned.

“But—” James began, but Lily cut him off.

“No, I agree. Tea just doesn’t warm you up like Butterbeer does.”

“I’ve got a craving for some Butterbeer,” Peter piped up, leading the way into the Three Broomsticks.

The six of them settled at a table before the fireplace, Lily and Celestine got up to use the restroom and powder their noses, and when they returned, Lily noticed that James had purchased a tall mug of Butterbeer for her. She thanked him politely and sipped at it, grateful for the sweet, familiar taste.

“Remus, not in the mood for Butterbeer?” James asked, sitting down across from Lily. She was glad to have Celestine sitting between her and Sirius, taking up the entirety of their side of the table. Things got weird when James got too close to her.

“Oh, no, it’s… my wallet. I can’t find it,” Remus admitted.

“Do you think someone nicked it?” Sirius asked, frowning.

“Maybe,” Remus replied.

“No matter, I’ll cover yours,” James said, standing up.

“No, I’ve got it,” Lily piped up, causing everyone to look at her. She flashed Remus a big smile and hopped over to the bar, returning a moment later with a mug for him.

“Thanks, Lily,” Remus said, smiling back gratefully.

“Sure, what are friends for?” Lily replied. She watched Remus take another sip, the smile still not leaving her face. She wanted things not to be awkward between them, and the way he had been even quieter than usual on their last patrol unnerved her. However, by the looks of it, her small token had at least helped dismiss the memory.

“Did Ellery get the notes done for N.E.W.T. review?” Celestine asked, turning to her.

“She said she was going to work on them after practice today.”

“Are we meeting before the holiday?”

“I don’t know,” Lily shrugged.

“Maybe we could just let it go until after Christmas,” Remus suggested.

Lily nodded, giving Celestine a smile as her friend settled back against Sirius’s chest. Everyone sitting around their table looked to be enjoying the remaining days of school, even with the threat of exams still looming over them all. As she drank her Butterbeer down into wispy froth, her eyes fell upon Sirius, and then Remus, followed by Peter, and finally James. It was crazy to think of these teenage boys going out into the forest and becoming animals right under their teachers’ noses. Her imagination went wild momentarily as she imagined what the others became, already knowing about James’ and Remus’s alternative forms. Magic is so incredible.

When she returned to the present, James was watching her with a warm expression. “So, is anyone interested in visiting Honeydukes?” she said, trying to hide her blush.

The others nodded, finishing the last of their Butterbeer and leaving the table. Sirius dug a few coins out of his pocket to leave as a tip for the bartender, and they once again braved the winter weather. Fortunately, Honeydukes was only a short walk.

It was a good choice, apparently, because the owner of the story was running a pre-Christmas promotion on behalf of the children’s ward at St. Mungo’s Hospital. Any customer who filled a basket of candy and paid for it to be given to a child would receive half off their own purchase. Celestine immediately grabbed a basket, excitedly jabbering to Sirius about how she wished Gladrags Wizardwear would allow her to fill a basket full of fashionable clothing to help out a needy patient as well as herself. (Naturally, this sparked a squabble over whether Zonko’s Joke Shop would in fact be the ideal choice for this sort of bargain.) Lily also picked up a basket, carrying it idly on her arm as she let her eyes roam over the available goods. Candy of every shape, size and color was piled high from the floor up to the ceiling.

As she trailed through the store, she caught sight of a cauldron full of tiny pink and purple bottles of “love potion,” which was apparently age-restricted because it was composed of some kind of syrup and a few drops of Firewhiskey. She passed a table of Acid Pops and Fizzing Whizzbees, and a bin piled high with Drooble’s Gum that was being mobbed by several third-years. She was considering picking up a Sugar Quill or Cauldron Cake, both of which were on sale, when she noticed a familiar figure out of the corner of her eye. Oddly enough, he wasn’t surrounded by his Slytherin friends. Instead, he was carefully inspecting a chocolate-covered rose that bloomed and closed with the tap of a wand, staring at it through his oily black hair.

Lily froze, ducking around a pillar out of sight. No, no, I cannot deal with him right now. Not when I’m technically here with James! She put back the Pumpkin Pasty she’d picked up earlier and ducked outside, bracing herself against the December wind.

Unfortunately for Lily, the day had yet more curiosities to offer.

***

Across the tiny store, James had finally found Sirius untangled from Celestine.

“Have you seen Lily, mate?” he asked.

Sirius shook his head. “Bit too busy with her friend.”

“I noticed,” James smirked. “Didn’t think you were actually interested in her.”

“Well, she’s gorgeous, no use denying that,” Sirius replied. “I think she wants to marry me and have my babies. The whole thing makes me a bit nervous.”

James laughed shortly, but he said nothing, unable to imagine such a thing.

“Listen,” Sirius said softly, stepping closer to James. “I need to talk to you about Christmas. I’ve got everything packed, so we can just go to your house straight off the train. I won’t even speak to my parents.”

“How did you swing that?”

“I packed a bunch of things when I went home for Narcissa’s engagement party. The rest of it, well… let’s just say I’ve worked out a system involving elves and owl post.”

“How are you going to get it all into your suitcase and on the train?”

“Remus taught me a spell yesterday to make my suitcase bottomless. Wish I’d learned it earlier.” Sirius furrowed his brow. “Speaking of which, I have to remember to ask him about the counter-spell…”

“Right,” James said. “Just off the train, then. I’ll write to Mum and Dad.”

As he turned, considering a small drawer full of Cockroach Clusters, a shadow behind a nearby pillar moved just barely, not even enough for the average bystander to notice. It bent down, black hair falling into its face, and handed a little girl a Peppermint Toad she’d dropped on the floor. As he straightened, Regulus leaned back against the pillar, unwilling to move again until he could wrap his mind around what he’d just overheard. After all of Sirius’s complaining about their parents, after his scheming and bitterness at Narcissa’s party, it was actually, finally happening.

His brother was going to run away from home, and he could do nothing to stop it.

***

Lily’s walk back to the castle was ten times colder than her journey into the village.

It had been the strangest thing to behold, mostly because she hadn’t even realized that Peter had departed from the group between the Three Broomsticks and Honeydukes. He had somehow ended up crouching next to the door of the Hog’s Head, or occasionally stretching on his tiptoes to try to peer into the window. It would have been a bit funny, if Lily didn’t know who tended to frequent the pub.

Sure enough, Peter had perhaps thirty seconds notice to duck out of sight before the door opened, letting Mulciber, Avery, and Rosier out into the cold weather. Mulciber was stumbling a bit, like he’d had too much to drink, though Rosier was attempting to support him. Avery was rubbing his forearm absently, seeming not to notice.

As she watched from afar, Peter had begun to follow them, moving along the tree line just behind them, like he was trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. He must have caught a twig with his foot, because Avery had suddenly lost interest in his forearm and turned around. Fortunately, Peter was quick enough to vanish.

Peter had always been a little odd, but Lily really couldn’t figure out his behavior this time. Knowing the way he tried to keep up with James and Sirius, she suspected that he was trying to gather information, maybe to turn the boys in to Dumbledore. Still, keeping such a close eye on them was dangerous. Peter should know that.

After she said goodbye to James, taking notes from Ellery in her polite refusal of his request for a kiss on the cheek, all Lily wanted to do was put on her pajamas and climb into the warmth and comfort of her bed, along with her study materials. However, she was still pondering Peter’s strange behavior when she finally reached the seventh floor. After all, if Peter turned in the others, Severus would be next.

A tap at the window interrupted her train of thought, and she was grateful to have the image of Severus putting on a black cloak and a mask chased from her mind. She stood up, trying to let in as little of the winter freeze as possible as she retrieved the note from the owl and gave it a little treat from the small tin on her bedside table. Then, she sat down on her bed and opened it, thinking it was a love note from James.

Evans,

What were you thinking, going with Potter to Hogsmeade?
We need to talk, and soon.
How about the Slug Club party on Thursday evening?

I’ll pick you up outside your common room at nine o’clock.

Regulus

Lily sighed, crumpling up the note and pitching it into the wastebin. She had expected that agreeing to spend time with James outside of class and mealtimes would come with consequences, but Regulus’s admonishment seemed a tad ridiculous. She sighed, realizing that her other options weren’t exactly attractive.

A Slytherin boy waiting for me in the middle of the night, she thought. Not again.



Author’s Note:

Hello, and thank you for stopping by for another chapter of Post Scriptum! Things sure are getting tangled for Lily and Regulus, and I hope you’re enjoying watching it all unfold. As always, everything you recognize from canon, including but not limited to all spell names and identified Honeydukes sweets, belongs to J. K. Rowling. The Christmas carols, however, are all mine :)

Thanks again for your continued support, and please leave a review!

-Amanda


Chapter 12: The Truth Hurts
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Celestine DeMarco had always considered herself to be, if nothing else, thorough.

She had heard the rumors about Sirius’s inability to remain interested in a girl for very long. They had become increasingly louder and more intrusive as people began seeing her walking with him in the corridors and on the streets of Hogsmeade. She had been flabbergasted when a couple of Ravenclaw girls, under the guise of concern, pulled her aside after Transfiguration and reminded her that Sirius was a lone wolf, and that he would tire of her after a measure of time just like all the others. He had never had a girlfriend; why would he start with her, no matter the attractiveness of her face and form? On the few occasions that he had actually taken interest in a girl, he wouldn’t spend more than a few weeks casually getting to know her before he would—just as casually—return to the comfort of his band of brothers. Judging by that timeline, Celestine’s chance to make an impression was almost gone, especially given that Sirius had stopped answering her notes in class.

She had a number of options, most of which had previously been exhausted by the casual flings that came before her. Though she had paused briefly in the girls’ lavatory to re-apply her lipstick, she knew her sexuality would not be enough to save her. Doting upon his tortured soul would also fail to make her memorable. To stand out, Celestine would have to execute an indirect attack—on the other three.

As she walked, she reviewed her evening plans, in the spirit of thoroughness.

Drop off Peter’s essay by way of a compliant-looking first year, she thought, smiling at Professor Flitwick as she passed him. Merlin’s beard, when will they catch on to him?

As she turned the corner, she was nearly run over by a small group of Hufflepuffs carrying broomsticks. She looked for Ellery, but she was not among her housemates. Celestine moved out of their way just in time, resuming her train of thought. Find Remus in his usual chair, studying, and give him the gift basket I ordered for his mother. She smirked, thinking of the candied fruit and chocolates. I am just too good.

James—that would be more difficult. She was certain that he would appreciate a new broomstick, but she had spent all of her money on the basket. Of course, there was something he’d like more. Celestine planned to explore that option tonight.

With her long strides, she overcame the few stray Gryffindors slowly returning to the common room and came to a halt in front of the Fat Lady. “Bubotuber Pus.”

The door opened, revealing Celestine’s grimace to everyone inside, and she walked in, going immediately over to the fire where two first-year boys were playing chess. “I’ll give a kiss to whichever one of you goes up to the sixth years’ dormitory and gives this roll of parchment to Peter Pettigrew.” She extended it to them, smiling.

Both boys shot up, and one of them grabbed the roll, running up the stairs with his friend in tow. Celestine looked over at Remus, who was shaking his head at her. “I’d better disappear before they come back,” she mused. “But here—” She reached into her bag, inwardly thanking herself for learning the Undetectable Extension Charm, and pulled out a small basket full of fruit and candy and draped with shiny ribbons. “It’s for your poor mother. Didn’t you say that she’s ill for her birthday this year?”

Before Remus, wearing a surprised look, could thank her, Celestine headed up the stairs, making it into her dormitory before the door to Peter’s room opened again.

“Hi.”

Celestine looked over at Lily, who was standing in front of the mirror, one foot up on the vanity seat, slipping into a pair of heels. She was wearing a white dress with thin straps that fell to her knees, and a thin robe to accompany it lay atop Lily’s bed.

“Hello,” she said. “Did you finally give in to James Potter?”

“No.” Lily took her mascara out of a drawer and applied it very carefully.

“Where are you off to, then?”

“The Slug Club holiday party,” Lily replied. “Want to come?”

“No, thanks. Slughorn and I have never really seen eye to eye.” Celestine leaned against the door frame, folding her arms across her chest. “You must have a date already, though, or else you wouldn’t bother with an outfit like that.”

“I have a date, but it’s not what you think.”

“We’ve already established that it’s not who I think. So, the lucky man would be…?”

“Sorry, got to run,” Lily said, smirking at her friend. “You can feel free to wait up.”

Celestine sighed, watching Lily throw her shawl about her shoulders and exit the room. She wanted to go to a fancy party, but she already had plans for that evening.

She, with the unwitting help of two out of three Marauders, had a boyfriend to catch.

***

“You look lovely,” Regulus said, offering Lily his arm as they walked side by side in the corridor. She refused with her silence, though she did glance rather obviously at a dusty spot on his cloak until he wiped it away, leaving it identical to his black suit.

“Are you looking forward to the party?” he tried.

“Normally, yes, but I’m not feeling in much of a festive mood right now.”

“Does the winter depress you?”

“No, being used to further a purpose does,” she said, looking at him. “If you think that pretending we’re on a date will discourage James, you don’t know him well.”

“I’m not pretending anything. We just happen to be going to the same place,” Regulus mused. “Enough with your conspiracy theories, though. We’ve arrived.”

They stepped into the Great Hall, which was decorated for the approaching winter holiday. There were thick boughs dotted with holly draped along the walls, a full, fresh-looking Christmas tree in each corner, and a small group of students who had evidently volunteered to entertain the attendees with carols, perhaps for extra credit in Slughorn’s class. The host himself was planted at the front of the room, wearing velvet green robes lined in an old-looking lace, which was dyed silver.

Lily and Regulus wove through the crowd, smiling at the professor warmly.

“Lily” Slughorn exclaimed. “You are a vision! You’re like a coat of fresh snow!”

Lily blushed. “You’re too kind as always, Professor Slughorn.”

“Are you being escorted by our strapping young Regulus?”

“He did insist on accompanying me this evening,” Lily admitted.

“Such a charming devil!” Slughorn shared a laugh with the younger Black. “Well, both of you, enjoy yourselves! There is plenty of food, drink, and music, and Professor Dumbledore has given us the Hall until midnight, for my good behavior.”

As a group of Slytherin alumni stepped into her place, Lily turned and moved closer to the table at the center of the room. It was laden with sweets, some of which would surely make another appearance at the Christmas feast over the winter break, and a few savory appetizers. She took a clean plate from an elf wearing a piece of fabric that matched the curtains in her dormitory and picked up a frosted cupcake.

“Didn’t get your fill at dinner?” Regulus asked from behind her.

“That was hours ago. What’s the point of going to a party and not eating anything?”

“I’m not sure how you keep your figure with that attitude.”

“Look, I came here with you,” Lily said, turning and sighing. “Now leave me alone.”

“Not so fast.” Regulus reached around her, taking a miniature sandwich off the platter and popping it into his mouth. “I said I wanted to talk to you. Asking you to come to the party with me was just the easiest way I could think of to arrange that.”

“Okay,” Lily said. “We can talk. But I’m going to eat while we do it.”

“Finish your cupcake,” Regulus said, smirking despite himself. “I want to dance.”

Lily took a bite, licking the frosting and sprinkles off her fingers, and glanced around the room. There were several students on the floor, dancing to a slow waltz. Most of the guests milled about the perimeter of the room, drinking Butterbeer out of glass mugs and whispering to one another. A few of them seemed to be watching her.

“Fine,” she replied, letting her eyes fall upon him. “Let’s dance.”

Lily soon found that one definite upside to accompanying a wealthy pureblood heir to a celebratory function was the almost certain likelihood that said gentleman had been trained in classical dance from a young age. Regulus moved easily with her on his arm, turning in broad circles while keeping a respectful distance between them. After her feet had time to learn his rhythm, he spoke. “So, are you with Potter, then?”

“I went with him to Hogsmeade once—and with a group. We’re not dating.”

“I’m sure Severus would be pleased to hear that.”

“I really don’t care what he thinks of it,” Lily answered shortly.

“Do you fancy Potter?”

“Most of the time, he annoys me.”

“I don’t understand,” Regulus said. “I don’t know the man personally, but Potter has never struck me as being particularly kind. Usually he and Sirius spend their time playing pranks on first-years and trading insults that would make the professors blush. Why allow him to remain in your life and push Snape out for one cruel word?”

“So he told you.” Lily sighed. “I thought he would be too embarrassed to repeat it.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Evans.”

“Yes, James commonly spends his time making life difficult for others, me included from time to time. At least he used to—he’s been acting different this year. But he’s never said something so… personal… to me. He’s never clearly wanted to hurt me.”

“So you can never forgive him, even though he has apologized time and again?”

“Is it that hard to believe?” Lily protested quietly. “If Severus is able to tell you what he did to me, he must have accepted it. It must be part of him. It means he’s gone.”

Regulus watched her, not saying anything, though a frown traced his lips.

“Could you go and get me a drink?” she asked, stepping backwards gently.

“Sure,” he said, turning and heading for an elf carrying a tray. The thirty seconds it took for him to retrieve two glasses and turn back to face her were all that she needed. By the time he found their former place on the floor, Lily had vanished.

***

Lily padded quietly through the deserted library, carrying her shoes in one hand. Through the tears in her eyes, she did not see the pillar, striking her hand against it and cursing. The whisper still earned her a reproachful glare from Madam Pince, who was in the midst of closing up for the evening.

Making her way through the hundreds of sky-high shelves, Lily slipped through the library and escaped into the shadows of the fourth-floor corridor on the other side of the castle. From there, she advanced up the stairs, heading back to her dormitory.

As she half-expected, there he was, waiting right outside the portrait hole.

“You must know a secret passage,” she said, with a heavy sigh.

“Sometimes I can’t sleep. After the first few times, reading in bed gets boring.” Regulus stepped closer to her, wearing a curious expression. “Are you crying?”

“I gave you your answer.” Lily pulled her robe around her. “I’m going to bed.”

“Why do I get the sense that you gave up on our deal a long time ago?”

“Perhaps it’s a familiar feeling!” she exclaimed, earning her second warning glance from a ghost as it moved from one wall into the other. “After all, you don’t seem to be making much progress with Sirius. If anything, he hates you more than ever.” Satisfied that she’d silenced him, she opened her mouth to give the password.

“He’s leaving,” Regulus said, barely audible.

Lily turned, staring at him in the thick darkness. “What do you mean, ‘leaving’?”

“Has Sirius ever told you what it’s like living in our house?”

“No.”

Regulus shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “That doesn’t surprise me; it’s not like he would have anything pleasant to say about Mum and Dad. The tension between him and them has been building ever since his Sorting, and I suppose he finally got sick of it. He’s moving in with Potter over the holiday.”

“How do you know?”

“I overheard them talking about it in Hogsmeade last weekend.”

“Does he know that you know?” Lily let one arm fall loosely to her side, still clinging to the robe with three fingers of the other.

He leaned back against the wall. “No, but it won’t matter. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this. I’ve seen you, wandering the corridors at your leisure with the whole damn world falling at your precious feet. You wouldn’t even begin to understand how—”

“Understand what?” Lily said bitterly.

“How it feels to watch someone you’ve known your whole life just turn his back on you, to look in his eyes and know that you mean nothing to him, that he hates you.” Regulus gave her a hard look. “Everything I stand for. Everything I am. And I did nothing to deserve it.”

Lily bit her trembling lip. “Actually, I do know how that feels,” she said slowly.

“Then, if you know how painful it is, how can you do the same thing to Snape?”

“He wasn’t innocent. But I am.” She stepped forward.

Regulus paused, taking in her hurt, angry expression.

Lily placed her hands softly on his shoulders, noticing that they shook slightly. “Maybe you are, too. You’re probably not, not as innocent as you claim to be, but if you are, then… I’m sorry.” She looked down, ashamed. “No one deserves that.”

Regulus moved closer, and she laid her head on his shoulder. He blinked in the darkness, unable to fathom being this close to a Mudblood and feeling comfortable. In fact, it was the most content he’d felt since he found out about Sirius’s departure. “Can you talk to him for me?” he said quietly into her ear.

She sighed in response. “I don’t think it would do any good. We’re not that close.”

“Good point.” He stepped back, smiling faintly. “Besides, that’s not our deal.”

“I really think we should just forget about the deal, don’t you?” Lily replied. “I’ve made about as much progress with S—Snape as you have with your brother.”

“You shouldn’t give up yet. He’s still in love with you.”

“I’m not in love with him. We’ve been over this.”

“Have you really tried to be his friend, though? I’m fairly certain I would have heard about a genuine attempt to patch things up, but he hasn’t mentioned anything yet.” Well, aside from the usual obsessive muttering and crazed fantasies, he thought.

“Well, yes, I’ve tried, but he never seems to be in the mood to discuss it.”

“It’s probably because he sees you getting doe-eyed around James Potter.”

“Look, it’s none of his business, but as I told you, James is different this year. I’m sort of enjoying getting to know him. If Severus wants to be back in my life, then he’ll have to accept that I’m going to live it the way I want to. That includes not only how much I want to let him in, but also how much I decide to keep James out.”

“You’re something else, Evans,” Regulus mused, smirking. “Fine. If you want to try to balance Snape and Potter, then I, too, can be in the mood for attempting impossible things.” He glanced down the hall, hearing the footsteps of a Prefect approaching. “I want my brother back, and I’m not giving up, even if he thinks it’s all said and done.”

“You can do what you will with Sirius, but you can’t hold me to anything, Black.”

“Just think about it. We’d all be so happy.” Regulus turned, disappearing into the shadows, no doubt headed back to his secret passage.

Lily sighed, glancing up at the portrait, where the Fat Lady was watching her with a disdainful look. She still wrestled with trying to understand the point of their futile bargain. It was no less doomed now than it had been at the start, and yet Regulus seemed insistent on keeping it. Perhaps he needed her to help him hold his nerve.

Something, the thought of which brought tears to her eyes, made her want to do it.

***

By the time Regulus made it back to the Slytherin Common Room, he was more than ready to go to bed. Tomorrow he would have to get up early to finish packing, preparing himself to board the train with no expectations of seeing his brother on the other side. He had to pretend not to care, just as his parents would not care.

He moved quietly past the dying fire, approaching the stairs with a silent yawn.

“That’s her perfume,” a voice hissed from the corner.

Regulus turned, coming face to face with Severus. His face was hardened, but it was obvious that he was upset, more upset than Regulus had ever witnessed.

“Who?” he tried, but he should have known. Snape had concerned himself with this one girl for years; why wouldn’t he be able to follow every trace of her he found?

“You know, Evan Rosier had a good laugh at my expense this evening, telling the whole common room about how he saw Lily on your arm heading to the Slug Club party tonight. Slughorn will be offended that you two decided to leave early.”

“We weren’t on a date. I just escorted her to the party, that’s all.”

“That’s all!?” Snape blurted angrily.

“You should know I would never actually go out with a filthy Mudblood!” Regulus retorted, shoving Severus away from him. “Don’t be so paranoid. She’s all yours.”

As he put his foot on the first step, he felt himself being pulled backwards, and a hand covered his mouth to stifle his yelp. He hit the floor hard, feeling a chill run through his body. He wondered why he was bothering to help this lunatic after all.

Then, Regulus’s whole world went dark.



Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoyed this latest chapter of Post Scriptum! Like with my other work-in-progress novel, Diamonds into Coal, I have begun filling out the skeleton of what remains in the story’s plot. Critiques and suggestions from readers like you help me shape future chapters, so please don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts on the story so far (and what is to come) in a review! If you can’t think of anything specific to comment upon, I’d love to at least hear a prediction or two about how the story will proceed from here, so speak up!

As always, thank you so much for your faithful reads and reviews thus far. My school and work life prevent me from writing as much as I’d like, and it’s always encouraging to see people sticking with me despite my slow updates.

Finally, as you know, anything that you recognize from canon belongs to JKR.

-Amanda


Chapter 13: Small Favors and Large Tokens
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Outside, the world was celebrating Christmas Eve. In one particular house, cleverly concealed amongst its fellows on Grimmauld Place, a boy found himself in rather lackluster holiday spirits. He laid in bed, re-reading the familiar newspaper clippings on the board across the room by wand light, squinting in the imperfect darkness. He had only been home for a few days, and he was already bored, mostly because his mother had forbidden him from moving about and told him to review his textbooks. This restriction was due to an alarming note she’d received about a head injury.

Regulus sighed, glancing out the window at the falling snow. At least there will be presents tomorrow, he thought. He had always gotten the lion’s share of them, after all.

Because of his mother’s extreme concern, he had been forced to execute the first of his ploys to win Sirius back in secret, under the guise of simply needing to use the bathroom. He requested tea throughout the day, and his faithful house elf Kreacher brought it upstairs to the tune of creaking floorboards and clattering metal. Then, whenever he needed to use the restroom, he casually stopped by Sirius’s old room.

It was all there, in a pile hidden under his bed. There was Sirius’s beloved guitar, which had been smashed and magically repaired so many times that it would forever be slightly out of tune. Regulus had to dig through his brother’s half-empty wardrobe to find it, but he had recovered the bathing suit top Sirius had stolen from his first girlfriend, right before she unceremoniously dumped him—whether it was due to this incident or an unrelated one was unknown. The messily folded leather jacket, a Christmas gift from their uncle Alphard, was a last-minute thought, unlike the key to Sirius’s motorbike. It was hidden from Orion and Walburga behind a dumpster in the alley behind their street, and Sirius had been in so much of a hurry to pack that he had apparently forgotten all about it. He would surely regret that.

Regulus’s plan had been to pack up these few precious items, along with a couple of Muggle magazines he’d run across and a Falmouth Falcons poster, and somehow get them to Sirius at James Potter’s house. He hadn’t realized how it could be done until now, as Kreacher came back into his room, bearing another tray with a full teacup.

“Mistress has suggested chamomile—” Kreacher began in a raspy tone.

“Yes, I know. Thank you, Kreacher.”

“Does Master Regulus require any more assistance? A sugared biscuit?”

“No biscuits,” Regulus said. “I need you to help me pack some things into a suitcase and send it with an owl to Sirius. He’s moved in with James Potter and his parents.”

“If Master Sirius has abandoned the House of Black—”

“Don’t argue with me, Kreacher. Just do it.” Regulus slipped out of bed, pulling an old, battered suitcase that his father once took on business trips out of his closet. With the elf’s help, he crammed Sirius’s possessions into it, and then he whispered a Shrinking Spell to reduce the size and weight of the package. He gave it to Kreacher.

“Does Master Regulus need Kreacher to retrieve anything else from Master Sirius’s old bedroom? Master Orion and the Mistress have talked about repurposing it.”

Regulus wondered what would become of it. Probably an extension of Mum’s closet. “No, this is enough. I think he got most of what he wanted at Narcissa’s party.”

Suddenly, they both turned, hearing footsteps on the ancient staircase.

“Go on, and you know not to let Mum and Dad see you with Sirius’s things,” Regulus instructed tersely. Kreacher slipped the minute case into his rags, carrying the empty tray out the door. Regulus settled into bed, giving his parents a faint smile.

“Sweetheart, how are you feeling?” Walburga cooed, her voice sickly sweet.

“My head doesn’t hurt anymore. I guess the medicine worked.”

“You still don’t remember what happened to you?” Orion asked, frowning.

“Wilkes said I fell. I think I just got tired after studying for mid-term exams.”

“That’s my boy, studying hard.” Orion beamed at him. “Lost any other memories?”

“No. I don’t think there will be any lasting damage.”

“Don’t worry, darling, you need to rest,” Walburga cut in. “But before we let you go back to your tea, Father and I have a surprise for you. It’s an early birthday present.”

Regulus sat up, interested. Given that his birthday fell about a month into the second half of term, he was never home to celebrate. Usually, Walburga would make a big deal about the occasion from afar, sending sweets and small presents the whole week preceding the event, only to cap off this performance by sending an owl with Regulus’s actual birthday gift on the big day. “What is it?” he asked, grinning.

“This should help you out with the Quidditch finals!” Orion said, presenting him with a long, skinny package. It had telltale straw twigs sticking out of one end.

Regulus unwrapped it to reveal a brand-new Nimbus Fifteen Hundred, the latest broom on the market. His initials had even been inscribed in the wood on the non-twiggy end. “But I thought this wasn’t due to be in stores until the summer.” He glanced up at his father, wondering from which clandestine associate it had come.

“That’s right. You’ll be the very first to have it. What do you think, son?”

“I love it,” Regulus replied. “Really, the others on the team will be so jealous!”

“You received a couple of things in the mail today, too,” Walburga said, placing two envelopes at the foot of his bed. “Happy sixteenth birthday, sweetheart.”

“Thanks, Mum, and you, Dad.” Regulus ran his fingers over the inscription again.

“You’re welcome. We’re so proud of you.” Walburga gently ushered her husband out of the room. “Come on, Orion, we need to let the poor thing get some more sleep.”

As soon as the door closed, Regulus grabbed the envelopes, tearing the first one open without even looking to see who had sent it. However, it wasn’t hard to identify his Head of House’s irregular script. He read the short note carefully.

To my wonderful Slytherin fifth years,

I sincerely hope you are enjoying a restful holiday with your families.
Please remember to take some time to study for your O.W.L. exams.

After you return, I will be contacting each of you personally to schedule a career advising appointment with me. During this meeting, we will discuss possible options for after your tenure at Hogwarts, plan appropriate courses for your final two years, and go over what marks are necessary on your exams to enter your field of choice. I would greatly appreciate you giving this meeting some thought over the holiday.

With winter cheer,
Professor H. Slughorn

Regulus smirked, closing the note and placing it on his bedside table. He had been so preoccupied with Sirius lately that he hadn’t even begun to think about his career. He made a mental note to ask his father about it before opening the second letter. This one was written with tight, jagged letters; he was relieved that it was so short.

Heard you were turning sixteen soon.
Here’s a birthday present for you: he wants to meet you.

I’ll look for you after the holiday.

E. R.

Regulus laid back against his pillows, leaving the half-folded letter lying on his chest. He stared over it, ignoring the way it bobbed up and down with his breathing, and watched as a large owl took flight across the sky, holding a tiny package in its talons. It would be difficult to rest up over the holiday. He had far too much to think about.

***

Across town, warm light escaped from the windows of James’s house, challenging the hold of the bleak night outside its door. Inside, Elizabeth Potter was hunched over the sink, carefully washing and drying the dishes from dinner with her wand and trying to stave off the advances of her husband, Jonathan Potter, who was trying to get her to dance with him, by complaining about the pain in her back and knees. Upstairs, in the spare bedroom, James and his three best friends sat on his bed, eating coffee cake for dessert. A cot had been squeezed into the corner by Sirius’s things, with the promise of looking for a more suitable bed after Christmas was over.

“So Celestine really wrote your Charms essay for you?” Sirius said to Peter.

“Yes, the whole thing. It was actually pretty good. I was pleasantly surprised.”

“I told you that she put together a get-well basket for my mother, didn’t I?” Remus added. “It had these sugared bits of fruit and strawberry-filled chocolates.”

“Why didn’t you bring it? We could have shared!” Sirius exclaimed, laughing.

“No, I already gave it to her. I just put a Christmas bow on it.” Remus smirked.

“All right, you lot, I’m still a bit sore she didn’t think to give me anything,” James said, sitting up. “I’m glad you two came for dinner, but that wasn’t the real reason I wanted to talk to you,” he added, addressing Remus and Peter and glancing over at Sirius. “My dad sat me down the other night after we got off the train and told me that Dumbledore is forming some kind of secret combat society. It’s called the Order of the Phoenix. It’s meant to build up some resistance to the Muggle killings that have been happening lately. We can all officially join when we’re seventeen.”

“You sound like that’s exactly what you’ve decided to do,” Remus replied.

“That’s right. Dad thinks I’d be perfect for it, especially since I want to become an Auror after graduation. He wishes he could join, but his heart isn’t in fighting shape.”

“What about you, Sirius?” Peter asked.

“Yeah, I can’t wait. I’d sign up now if Dumbledore would allow it,” he said proudly. “Besides, I want to see Prongs regain his strength. Evans has made him too soft.”

“Shut it,” James retorted, playfully punching his friend in the shoulder.

“So, what do you think?” Sirius added, looking from Remus to Peter and back.

“How would you prepare for something like that?” Peter asked.

“They give you dueling training, I think, and test you on a whole bunch of practical skills, like how to detect hidden poisons and control a malfunctioning broomstick,” James said. “It would probably help you revise for exams,” he added to Remus.

“Sounds great,” Peter answered, beaming.

“Well, hopefully you get in. You’re not as brawny as the rest of us,” Sirius laughed.

“Remus isn’t brawny!” Peter exclaimed.

“Well, I don’t know if I even want to do it, so don’t worry about that yet,” Remus said. He looked down at his hands. “I just don’t know if I want to get involved.”

“I don’t know that there’ll be a choice, mate,” Sirius said, frowning slightly. “It’s on our doorstep already. If Hogwarts wasn’t so fortified, we might be attacked next.”

“I mean, it’s hard enough for me to try to find a job already, without having to account for other commitments…” Remus tried.

“That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard,” Sirius replied, his frown deepening.

“Well, what about the fact that I want to have a family and live a boring life?”

“Leave him alone,” James cut in. “Moony, just think about it, will you? I think a lot of people are going to join. It’s not like we’ll be alone. It could help keep you safe. Besides, don’t worry about the job. If it doesn’t work out, I can help keep you afloat.”

“Thanks,” Remus said, sighing. “Well, I guess I could see if I pass the tests. I’ll agree to do it if you three will. I don’t want to be left alone if you all change your minds.”

“We’ll stick with you,” Sirius said, clapping Remus on the back.

“Careful, mate, I just transformed five days ago,” Remus coughed.

“Boys, there’s fresh tea in the kitchen!” Elizabeth’s voice echoed up the stairs. Remus and Peter got up, heading downstairs to get a cup of tea. Elizabeth cracked open the door, smiling and extending a small package to Sirius. “This came for you, dear.”

“Thanks,” Sirius said, looking at it with raised eyebrows. “Wonder who it’s from?”

“Are you sure it isn’t for me? Maybe your girlfriend remembered me at the last minute.”

“Very funny—and she’s not my girlfriend,” Sirius said. He unwrapped the package, finding a very small suitcase inside. He reached for his wand, pointing it at the case. “Engorgio.” The case popped open as it expanded, suggesting that it had been stuffed, and Sirius found himself looking at reminders of living in his parents’ home. Under the Quidditch poster and handful of Muggle magazines, Sirius found a leather jacket he’d received last birthday from his uncle, a swimsuit top he didn’t recognize, and a broken guitar he’d had since his first year at Hogwarts. Wait—what was that in the corner, shining whenever the lantern light flickered in its direction?

“My bike,” Sirius said softly, jangling the key between his fingers. “I didn’t even think to take it. It’s still hidden in the alley behind Grimmauld Place.”

“Smashing, we can go get it when the snow melts,” James said. “But who would have sent all of this to you?”

“I don’t know. My family hates me, and Kreacher is incapable of autonomous thought—not that he would ever do me any favors anyway.” Sirius tucked the key back into the suitcase and re-arranged its contents until it closed properly. Then, he put it underneath his cot beside the other things he’d salvaged from his old room. “Listen, James, I can’t thank you enough for letting me stay here. Really.”

“It’s no trouble, Padfoot. You’ve been an honorary Potter for years as it is.”

Then, after a quick embrace, the two friends went to see what was left of the tea.

***

Lily woke with the dawn on Christmas morning. While many children found themselves feeling less and less excited as each Christmas brought more and more practical gifts, her holiday spirit had grown exponentially since her first year at Hogwarts, and it had yet to wane. She knew that she would have several fascinating gifts waiting for her downstairs—not under the tree, but on the windowsill, or perhaps the nearby kitchen table. She hoped this wasn’t the year her parents woke up in the middle of the night and found the kitchen window open and unlocked.

She moved softly down the wooden staircase in a pair of fluffy gold socks, looking at the table as soon as she turned the corner. A joyful smile spread across her face. There was a small assortment of packages waiting there just as she had anticipated.

“Here,” she whispered, pulling some owl treats out of a plastic baggie in her pocket and offering them to the last owl, which had apparently chosen to wait around for its payment after dropping off its gift. Knowing that Petunia would never forgive her if she left magical items lying around while Vernon was visiting, Lily scooped up the packages and took them back upstairs, spreading them out on her bed instead.

What do we have this year? Lily wondered, closing the door to her room behind her. She lit her wand to illuminate what little remained of the darkness and looked at the tag on each gift. There was a skinny, rectangular box from Ellery, a light, square one from Celestine, a large package from Remus, and a pretty silk bag from James. As intrigued as she was to see what was in the last gift, she decided to save it for last.

Ellery had purchased several of Lily’s favorite bar chocolates and wrapped them together with paper from the Sports section of the Daily Prophet. Lily smiled at the personal touch, as well as the pretty, curly yellow ribbon that adorned the box. Celestine had chosen expensive-looking burgundy wrapping paper accented with velvet fleurs-de-lis. Inside was a beautiful charm on a chain, consisting of a tiny gold lion and a small ruby crystal. Lily immediately put it on, wondering what it had cost. Remus had selected a practical gift, for which she could not fault him; his package contained a book entitled One Hundred and Fifty Tips and Tricks for Your N.E.W.T.s.

James’s present sat waiting patiently at the foot of the bed. Lily picked it up, unlacing the bag and putting her hand inside. She withdrew a beautiful jumper that appeared to be reversible; it was light gold with burgundy trim on one side and burgundy with light gold trim on the other. She smiled, knowing it was meant for game days. This gift was preferable to the Zonko items and love poems he’d given her before.

The next step in Lily’s Christmas Day process wasn’t as fun as opening gifts from her friends, but she knew it was just as important. She settled herself into the white chair in front of her white writing desk, pulling a quill and inkwell out of the drawer. Then, she neatly folded four pieces of parchment in half and wrote out four thank-you notes, one for each of the kind gift-givers. At the bottom, she guiltily wrote the thing she hated writing every year: Sorry I couldn’t afford to get a present for you. Hopefully, the fact that her notes would be received the same day would be enough.

Lily stood up. Four presents. Four thank-you notes. Wait… something is missing.

Oh. She remembered, frowning slightly, that this year she could not expect to receive a gift from Severus. Their falling out had occurred in the spring of fifth year, just weeks after he had given her a customized perfume he’d made in Slughorn’s class. The memory of the light scent of lilies, once pleasant, now made her stomach turn.

Shaking her head to clear the thought, Lily picked up her notes, folding them again to define the crease and sealing the envelopes. She wrote each person’s name on the front in neat script. Then, she headed downstairs, walking as quietly as possible.

The sun was higher in the sky now, and its light reflected brightly off the snow from the night before. The youngest Evans daughter walked outside, shielding her eyes, and moving around to the back of her house. There, four owls sat side by side on the wooden fence that encircled the neighborhood. The one on the end hooted approvingly at her appearance, causing her to smirk at it. “You already got your treat. I can’t give you more than anyone else,” she said. Then, she moved down the row, giving treats and a letter to each of the first three owls and pressing James’s letter into the grip of the final owl. She turned, watching them escape into the sky.

That was when she saw him. He couldn’t be missed, a dark form against the blindingly white snow, sitting up against the broad trunk of the tree in the center of the playground. It was where he and Lily had always met, right in the middle between Mill Town and Spinner’s End. He was holding something in his hands, but she couldn’t tell what it was from her current vantage point. Sighing, she wrapped her arms around her torso. It’s Christmas, Lily. She slowly walked toward him.

As she got closer, Severus glanced over at her, surprised. “Hi, Lily,” he said softly.

“Hey.” She looked down, now clearly able to identify the object in his hands. It was the magical rose she’d seen him holding in Hogsmeade, the one covered in chocolate that bloomed and shed its false petals at the touch of a wand. “Who’s that for?”

“You, of course,” he replied, offering her a shy smile. He handed it to her, pulling his wand out of his pocket. “Here, watch.” He demonstrated the magical effect for her. It broke her heart a little inside; the act reminded her so much of when they first met. She remembered her bargain with Regulus, and decided to try to make the best of it.

“I really like it. Thanks.”

“It’s not much, I know, but I had to get you a present for Christmas.”

“You didn’t,” Lily said, but she blushed slightly. “You woke up early too?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” he said, looking down.

She knew not to probe any further. “My sister’s fiancé is visiting,” she tried, hoping to make him laugh. “He spent twenty minutes last night complimenting my mother on her antique drapes. Then my father tried to get him to sample some beers for the stag party, and he refused, because he said it would be disrespectful to Tuney.” Lily rolled her eyes. “Her friends are all married. They know what goes on there.”

“What do you think of him?”

“I’m about as fond of him as I was when they initially got engaged.” Lily looked down at the tree he was leaning against. “Could I have the place next to you?”

“Of course.” He moved the slush out of the way, though he could do nothing for the wet ground. Lily took off her jacket, laying it down before sitting on top of it.

“Well, I don’t remember much about him, but I’m sure they deserve each other.”

“I should put that in my speech,” Lily said. “Too bad I’m not part of the wedding.”

“She didn’t invite you?” Severus looked at her. “Oh, Lily, I’m sorry.”

“She did. Mum and Dad made her. But I’m not one of her bridesmaids.” Lily kicked at the snow, laying her head back against the tree trunk. “How is school going for you?”

“Fine.”

“I haven’t seen you at the Slug Club.”

“Slughorn didn’t invite me to join.” He looked down again. “Is it much fun?”

“It’s okay. Mostly lots of awkward social events.”

“Maybe it’s good I’m not a member.”

“Probably. I wonder if I can use revising for exams as an excuse to skip the rest.”

“You nervous about exams?”

“Sure,” Lily answered. “Aren’t you?”

“A little. McGonagall talks like we’re all going to fail.”

“I know!” Lily exclaimed, laughing despite herself. “She says that to us, too.”

They sat in silence for a moment, letting the pleasant emptiness of their conversation live on for these precious, normal seconds. The wind blew gently, knocking the snow off the swing set and spinning the merry-go-round a little. Next to Lily, Severus adjusted his position against the tree, finally turning to look at her.

“You would tell me if someone was bothering you, wouldn’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“When we were growing up here, whenever your sister or anyone else would tease you, you would tell me about it. I couldn’t do much then, but now I could at least try to defend you. I just want to know if you trust me enough to tell me those things.”

“I don’t know,” she admitted quietly. “No one is bothering me, so it doesn’t matter.”

“Well, if someone is, tell me. Please. I don’t care if it’s Potter, or someone else—”

“Severus, stop, please.” Lily tucked her hair behind her ear, meeting his dark eyes. “I miss having you as a friend, but I can’t have you in my life if you’re going to take it over. You have to learn to co-exist with the other people who are important to me. More than that, you have to be willing to let me live the way I want to live.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. That came out sounding much worse than how I meant.”

“No, it’s—” He frowned slightly. “Are you saying that you want to be friends again?”

“I’m saying that I’m willing to try.” She smiled faintly. “Like I said, I miss you.”

“I miss you, too,” he replied, his expression brightening considerably. “I wish things could be how they used to be between us. I can’t think of anything I want more.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve made new friends and gotten involved in things, you know, getting ready to graduate and start my life. And you’ve made new friends and a life of your own.”

“Are you asking me to get rid of my friends? I told you that I can’t do that, Lily.”

“No, I’m not,” she clarified. “I think it’s more that we need to figure out how you can fit into my life now, and how I can fit into yours. I want to try to be friends without changing anything else. You get to keep your friends, and I get to keep mine, too.”

Severus nodded. “I could do that.”

“I think we should take it slow, though,” Lily said, standing up. “So I guess I’ll see you back at school. Maybe you can join our N.E.W.T. group.” She looked at his gift for her, tapping the rose and watching it bloom with a smile. “Happy Christmas, Severus.”

Severus, to her surprise, stayed still, did not rush to her. “Happy Christmas, Lily,” he said softly. Then again, the look on his face said everything she needed to know.

Lily turned with a nod, heading back toward her house. As she discarded her boots at the door, she heard her mother call her into the kitchen for a family breakfast. She wondered briefly if she needed to go upstairs to write one more thank-you note.

No, she decided. That couldn’t have gone any better. I don’t want to say anything that might mess it up.

Chapter 14: The Right Sort of Wrong
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“All right, you band of fools, listen up.”

Alastor Moody’s magical eye swiveled wildly in its false socket, glaring dramatically at a different member of James and his band of brothers with every swing. He stood firmly rooted to the ground, the heels of his worn leather boots digging mercilessly into the soil. His lips were set in a near-permanent scowl, moving only to allow speech.

“I will admit that I was hoping for something a little less rag-tag when I started spreading the word around Hogwarts, but you’ll have to do. We’ll see how brave Gryffindors really are these days.” He turned, still muttering something about having to complete an obstacle course filled with land mines before he was allowed to graduate, and used his battered wand to gesture at the scene before them.

“To your left, there is an old mannequin Mundungus Fletcher snatched from a women’s department store. I’ve charmed her to send a random barrage of spells your way, so I suggest you approach with your wand at the ready.”

Peter glanced over at the faceless doll, stuffing coming out of her shoulder, and winced. Next to him, Sirius quirked a brow, but his fingers gripped his wand inside his coat pocket.

“Emmeline Vance was kind enough to brew a few poisons for me. Don’t bother sniffing them, because I’ve already made sure that won’t work. Easiest way for them to take you down would be to slip something into your drink.” Moody gestured to an assortment of flasks containing liquids of different hues lined up on the table before him. “I asked her to make some of them deadly. I don’t know if she listened or not.”

“What’s that, then?” Sirius asked impatiently, motioning at the darkest corner of the room, where a dark mass hovered silently inside a glass box.

“That quick tongue of yours will get you in trouble, boy, mark my words,” Moody cautioned. “Didn’t you lot go over Boggarts in Defense class? You’ll need to be brave enough to break the box, overcome whatever it turns into, and then transfigure it back into a house elf. Then, of course, put it back in the box for the next person.”

“It’s a house elf?” Remus asked, incredulous.

“Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt to be transfigured. They’re the ones who are unethical.” Moody smirked coldly, a sign of just how much the war had already gotten to him; he turned to a wooden door on the opposite side of the room. “When you finish with all this, come through this door. On the other side is an open area that’s teeming with Bludgers. These are nasty, though—they’ll tail you as long as they live. We’ll see if you can still fly straight when you’re flanked by assassins.” He looked right at James for a long moment, and then turned to go. “I’ll be watching you.”

The moment the entry door closed, Remus turned to James. “What the hell, mate?”

“What have we gotten ourselves into?” Peter demanded.

“I tried to warn you, Wormtail,” Sirius scoffed.

James shook his head. “Come on, just give it your best try. It’ll be fine.”

The boys split up, moving to different areas in the dimly lit cavernous space. Sirius went for the mannequin, an Incendio charm grazing the edge of his ear as he approached. He immediately got into proper dueling position, fighting off a small barrage of jinxes. Then, he aimed his wand straight at the mannequin’s neck. With a swift motion, he pronounced the spell clearly—Diffindo—and decapitated it.

Not too far from him, James was trying to investigate the potions, suddenly wishing he’d spent less time watching Lily and a little more watching Snape in class. He tried pouring out little drops of each, but all charred the wood and caused the table to sizzle without any distinction between them. Tapping the flasks with his wand caused them all to turn into disgustingly thick green sludge. He picked one up, shaking it to clear the mud, and watched in amazement as it turned bright red. Mesmerized, he went down the line, shaking each one gently so as to avoid spilling any of the liquid onto his hands. Red, red, red—there, third from the end, green like a traffic light he’d seen once on a Muggle street. All the rest scarlet like cold blood.

“Interesting!” Remus called from behind him. “Green must be good!”

“Yeah, almost like a test of house loyalty,” Peter observed, diverting his attention quickly back to the glass box in front of him. He stuck his foot out, neatly knocking the box onto the floor and shattering it. The sound caused Remus to jump slightly. A black form billowed out from it, and it was difficult for Remus to tell whether it was merely the normal Boggart or something more. But Peter knew. He knew down to his core what the amorphous shape represented, a faceless man he had never met. He gripped his wand tightly, pointing it straight out in front of him. “Riddikulus.”

The black shape folded itself up like a sheet and returned itself to the box.

“Well, that wasn’t very funny,” Sirius remarked with a frown.

Peter shot him a look. There’s no way to make that funny. “I defeated it, didn’t I?”

“Not quite,” Remus pointed out. “It’s still a Boggart, not a house elf.” He stepped forward, waving his wand in a neat circle. “Finite Incantatem.” The black sheet popped into nothingness, leaving behind a very confused-looking elf. After a few kind words from Remus, it climbed back into the box and curled up for a nap.

“Okay, that’s all of it,” James observed, glancing around. “Should we go outside?”

“Yeah,” Sirius said. “Let’s see what else Mad-Eye Moody can throw at us.”

When the four of them exited through the second door, they found four broomsticks waiting for them. They all climbed aboard, some more gracefully than others, and lifted off into the open air. At first, the task seemed easy, almost bordering on relaxing. The boys drifted in lazy circles, enjoying the cool, snow-flecked weather.

The first Bludger took out the front end of Remus’s broomstick.

They were suddenly everywhere. It was like a plague, hard little iron spheres plunging at them kamikaze-style from all sides, impervious to cries and bruises. Fortunately, James kept his head, and he swooped down and picked up the piece of broomstick that had fallen. Returning to the air, he used it to swat at the Bludgers, knocking one after another into the stone walls that surrounded them. The others caught on after a few moments—Peter and Sirius reared back on their brooms, using the still-attached front ends to knock several Bludgers into a deadly pile-up. Eventually, the quiet returned, save for the moans related to the boys’ injuries.

“Look,” Sirius said, breathing heavily. He pointed to a dark, stocky figure standing fifty feet below them. The four guided their mangled broomsticks down to the man.

“Well, it wasn’t half bad, but it certainly wasn’t all pretty,” Moody quipped. “Minerva has told me that the four of you are on track for N.E.W.T.s and you don’t deserve any special treatment just because you’re a few months underage. Therefore, your next time will be the last. It’s the real test. I hope you took some notes as you went along.”

“This wasn’t the test?” Peter gasped, leaning on his knees for support.

“Of course not!” Moody barked, smirking. “Your partner there helped you finish it!” He gestured at Remus, who still looked somewhat white from the Bludger attack.

“Don’t members of the Order work in teams?” James asked, puzzled.

“At times,” Moody admitted. Then, his voice dropped. “But what will you do if you’re out in a battle with some Death Eaters and your partner dies? What happens then?”

None of the four looked at each other or Moody.

“I’d give that some thought while you’re practicing. It’s likely to happen sometime.” Moody cleared his throat. “Let Minerva know when you think you’re ready for the test. I’ll see each of you at that time. And remember this—you can still back out.”

After the door closed, the friends looked around, some still trying to catch their breath. Finally, Sirius looked at James, his face emotionless. “Herbology, mate.”

“Right,” James said. “Come on. We’re going to be late as it is.”

***

“Celestine, watch out!” Lily moved quickly, taking half the pile of fertilizer her friend had just dumped unceremoniously atop her Umbrella Flower seed and moving it away from the tiny bud. “Remember, you have to add fertilizer slowly, so as not to shock it.”

“I thought the point was to get them to grow as wide and tall as possible.”

“It is, but you have to do it carefully. Don’t get too over-eager.”

“The faster I finish, the quicker I can get back to the dormitory with Sirius and hear all about his Order training.”

“He told you?” Lily asked, lowering her voice. Professor Sprout was pacing the floor and looking over at them warily. The sixth-year Gryffindors had been crammed into Greenhouse One for approximately fifty-six minutes, and the last thing Lily wanted was to see Celestine’s assignment go literally to pot with only four minutes to go. If it did, Lily would have a long night of complaining and little sleep ahead of her.

“He let it slip over breakfast. I think he was too proud to hide it.”

With impeccable timing, the door opened and James slipped in, with Sirius trailing behind him. Lily looked at them questioningly, wondering where Remus and Peter were, but neither of them said anything to her as they slipped into their seats.

“Lucky for you, Mr. Potter and Mr. Black, this assignment can easily be completed outside of class. I’ll expect you to present them in front of everyone next time.” Professor Sprout wrote out the instructions on a scroll and passed it over to James, glancing at Lily’s slowly rising flower as she did. “Very nice as usual, Ms. Evans.”

“Thank you,” Lily said, beaming. She could sort of understand Sirius’s sentiment.

“Class dismissed, ladies and gentlemen. Please label your stems—don’t tickle them.”

As the students filed out of the greenhouse, Celestine lightly grasped Lily’s arm. “Look at them. They’re bruised!” She pointed to Sirius and James, who were putting their coats back on as if they had not just taken them off.

“Well, they can’t exactly make it easy to join,” Lily mused, frowning slightly.

“You’re not thinking about it, are you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t think I’d be good in a duel.”

“With your Charms talent? I doubt it. But I think it’s too dangerous.” Celestine wandered over to Sirius, noticing that he and James were now emerging. He immediately launched into a story about the source of his wounds, surely flouting some decree of secrecy regarding the Order’s methods, and left Lily and James to walk back up to the castle by themselves.

“You okay?” she said, offering a gentle smile.

“Oh, yeah,” he replied dismissively, smirking at her. “I’ll be fine.”

“Where are Remus and Peter?”

“They got hit a bit harder than we did, so they just went back to the common room.”

“Must be serious, for Remus to miss class.” It wasn’t exactly encouraged for Prefects.

“He said you could fill him in during your study group,” James added.

“Hmph.” Lily laughed softly. “Did everything at least go okay?”

“Well, today was just for practice. I have to keep working on everything for the next few weeks, and then I can go talk to McGonagall when I’m ready for the real test.”

“I see.”

“Why, are you thinking about trying it for yourself?”

“Does everyone think that?” She laughed again. “I really don’t know. I definitely want to help out however I can, but Celestine thinks it’s too risky to join the Order.”

“What do you think?” He crossed his arms over his chest to block out the wind.

“I think pretty much everything is getting a little too risky lately,” she said flatly.

“Agreed.” James nodded. “I think you should do it if you want to, Lily. I mean—I think you’d be brilliant.” He glanced down. “I can help you train if you want.”

“No, that’s okay. I haven’t made up my mind yet.” She smiled at him, thankful that at least one person seemed to believe her capable of such an honor. “I guess it would be helpful to talk about it more, just to make sure I’m prepared if I do try out for it. Are you free for Butterbeer this weekend?”

“You bet,” James said, a rush of blood filling his cheeks suddenly.

“Great.” Lily turned, pulling her jumper around her and facing him. “If you want, we could talk about other things, too. I just mean—if you want. I’d be okay with that.”

James nodded at her, smiling despite himself at the nervous shuffling of her feet.

“Well, I need to go to the Owlery. Mum is supposed to send study snacks for group tonight.” She offered him a tight smile and turned to enter the castle. “Bye, James.”

He watched her go, unwilling to leave the spot he stood upon. He couldn’t understand what he could have said or done to get her to ask such a thing, but the sense of relief filling his heart was more powerful than any comprehension. Finally.

***

When Lily got up to the Owlery, she was pleased to see one of the school’s owls waiting for her with a small package. Last summer, her mother had experienced a small breakdown concerning how grown up her daughters were getting, and Lily’s response had been to attempt to teach her mother how to send owl post. The closest they got was her mother leaving a handful of owl treats on the windowsill on top of a letter; Lily made sure to always send the same owl so that there would be no confusion about where it needed to take the return letter. This one apparently still had bits of treat stuck between its talons, with a few bits clinging to the string.

“Thank you,” she whispered, gently taking the package and giving a couple more treats for the bird’s trouble. Using the tip of her fingernail, she gently tore the tape from the box and peeked inside to see what her mother had sent. There was a batch of peanut butter cookies, Lily’s favorite, some Muggle chocolate treats, a bag of dried fruit, and packets of hot apple cider and cocoa mix. Satisfied with her pull, Lily tucked the lid of the box shut, resisting sampling the treats until the study session.

A distraction was provided in the form of the folded piece of parchment in her bag. Lily withdrew it, proofreading her note one more time to ensure that she felt comfortable sending it.

Dear Regulus,

Hope you had a good holiday and that things have been working out better with Sirius. I know you have been trying so hard, and I hope you two can really patch everything up. Things haven’t been easy for me with Severus either, but I think I’m finally starting to see that our arrangement was a good idea. Thank you for your help.

-Lily

With the hint of a smile on her face, Lily folded up the letter, tying it closed with a piece of red ribbon she had left over from Christmas. She offered her remaining treats to a bored-looking Scopes owl sitting on the end of the middle perch along with the note. As Lily watched, the owl flew down toward the ground, going to drop the letter in a chute that led into the Slytherin Common Room. If their system was like the one for Lily’s house, there would be a house elf waiting to collect the letters and deliver them to each student’s dormitory, a member of the same team that collected dirty laundry and returned the clean clothes back to each room. Lily was glad for the secondary system, lest Regulus receive the letter over breakfast in the presence of all the other Slytherins.

She tucked her hands into her pockets to shield them from the evening chill and began walking down the stairs back toward the interior of the castle. The smell of roast flooded her nostrils, and she looked forward to giving her friends a sneak peek of the snacks for tonight’s N.E.W.T. review. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, though, Severus was waiting for her.

“I thought I saw you go up to the Owlery,” he remarked.

“Yeah,” Lily replied. “I got something from Mum.” For some reason, the fact that he had paid enough attention to her to track her whereabouts seemingly out of nowhere made her feel uncomfortable. She discreetly slipped the box of sweets into her bag and out of his line of sight.

“Are you on your way to the library?”

“No, the study group isn’t until after dinner,” she said, offering a smile.

“Oh.” Severus’s face fell slightly.

“What’s wrong?”

He sighed. “Well, I was sort of hoping maybe just you and I could study together, like we used to. I don’t know how I feel about joining the whole group.”

“Oh.” Lily nodded. “Sev, really, I don’t think anyone will mind.”

“Isn’t Lupin part of your group? I sincerely doubt he’ll want to see me again,” Severus added. As a matter of fact, I’d prefer not to spend time with him, either.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Lily answered, but inside, she felt that he might have a point. Remus and Severus had been consciously avoiding one another’s eyes ever since the Whomping Willow incident. “Well, maybe some other time, then.”

I suppose I could just wait until the next full moon, Severus thought. “Do you think you could spend some time catching me up on what you’ve gone over already?”

“Yeah, sure,” Lily said. “But I don’t want to take too long, or else I won’t get to eat.”

They walked over to the library and had no trouble finding a table, given that most of the school was busy with the dinner spread in the Great Hall. Lily took out a piece of fresh parchment and a quill and began making a list for Severus.

“We’ve been working on a different subject every month, just to keep things interesting. Right now, the group is just me, Remus, Celestine, Ellery, and occasionally Peter. We started with Potions, then we moved to Charms, then Transfiguration, and we’re still working on Defense Against the Dark Arts, so next month will be Herbology. Eventually, the rotation starts over.”

“I see,” Severus replied. “What kinds of things have you been doing to review?”

“Just repetition of questions from the textbooks, and review of old assignments.”

“Maybe you should try talking to the professors. They can probably give you the addresses of former students who could help you anticipate what the exam will be like.”

“Isn’t there a rule against that?”

“There are rules against cheating, with the quills and spells. But there’s nothing that says you can’t get an idea about what to expect on your tests from what questions were given on previous versions. They must change them a bit every year.”

“That’s actually a really good idea.” Lily smiled at him.

He returned it. “I’m sure you’d have no problem. All the teachers love you.”

Lily blushed slightly, though she could not deny that she got along well with most of the faculty and staff at Hogwarts, especially for not being from a magical family. As she glanced across the table, watching as Severus added his N.E.W.T. classes to the group’s subject rotation schedule, she was struck by how normal this moment was. It was so nice to just sit with her old friend and talk about things like exam stress, and yet it was so confusing to be with Severus again after the events of the past year. In fact, between this moment and her conversation with James, it was shaping up to be a wonderfully confusing day.

She sort of hated to break the spell, but her stomach was beginning to growl. “Listen, I’m going to go get a bite to eat before I meet up with the others. But if you ever want to get together and study—you know, until you feel comfortable joining the regular group—just let me know, okay?” She glanced at his list. “Looks like we’re taking most of the same subjects.”

“Yeah, great,” he said quietly. “I, um—I have to go, too. But I’ll see you around.”

The two of them exchanged one last friendly smile on their way out. Then, Lily took the left turn toward the Great Hall, and Severus retreated right to the dungeons.

***

After dinner, Regulus and Cassian wandered down from the Great Hall, still licking the remaining chocolate from dessert off their fingers. They came to a stop in front of the false wall, and Cassian spoke the password. As the wall rolled back to let them in, however, they saw Severus Snape pacing and standing in front of them.

“You’re late,” he hissed quietly. “He won’t appreciate that, from any of us.”

“Sorry,” Regulus said, crossing his arms. “I assume you’re ready to go.”

“Of course. But you aren’t.” Severus took out his wand, pointing it at Cassian first. Without a sound, his school cloak and tie came flying off, leaving plain black robes underneath. Then, the wand came to rest in front of Regulus, and he too lost all signs of his Slytherin membership. Snape put his wand away neatly. “There. Let’s go.”

“Why wouldn’t he want to see that we’re fellow Slytherins?” Wilkes blurted out.

“Best not to give him any reminders that you’re not yet of age,” Snape replied tersely. “You don’t have a full set of magical skills yet. You’re a liability.”

The three of them escaped out into the night, sneaking past a few faculty members and the Grey Lady out in the corridors, and headed toward the Forbidden Forest. Just beyond the gate into Hogwarts, which could be seen near the train station in the distance, Severus stopped. He extended a hand to each of the others.

“Why are we holding hands?”

“I don’t know which of our associates put in a good word for you, Wilkes, but you’re clearly going to need it, thick as you apparently are,” Snape said, narrowing his eyes. “We’re going to do Side-Along Apparition, since you two are both still underage.”

“You can Apparate?” Regulus asked, his eyes widening slightly.

“Yes. I turned seventeen last month and got licensed as a gift to myself.”

“Does it hurt?” Regulus added.

“Enough questions. What did I say about lateness? Now, each of you take one of my hands, and hold on tightly. You don’t want to be Splinched for your first impression.”

The two moved forward, each of them grasping one of Snape’s hands. Regulus held on for dear life, desperately afraid of what might happen if he lost his grip mid-flight. Severus uttered the spell in a whisper, and it suddenly felt like the three of them were in the midst of a whirlwind. Just as the commotion in Regulus’s stomach felt enough to make him sick, the three of them hit hard ground again on a dark street.

“Come on,” Severus instructed, letting go of them and leading the way up a winding cobblestone path toward the large house in front of them. Regulus could barely take in the side of the old mansion; though it was decrepit in places, with hanging shingles and splintered windowpanes, it still held an old majesty that he was certain must have been there when it was first built. As he wandered up the path, Wilkes coming up behind him, he noticed that the front door of the home was slightly ajar.

No sooner than Severus had pushed it open, they found themselves with wands to their throats. Regulus looked up into the faces of his cousin Bellatrix, her husband Rodolphus, and the newest addition to intact members of his family, Lucius Malfoy.

“Glad to see security is tight,” Snape grumbled, shoving the wands out of his way with his own wand and exchanging a malevolent glance with Bellatrix.

“I didn’t know tonight was your night, Regulus,” Rodolphus commented.

Lucius nodded in agreement. “Good to see you again.” He looked over at Wilkes. “Who’s this one?”

“Cassian Wilkes. Rosier put in a good word for him, I hear,” Snape replied.

“Interesting,” Lucius replied, sizing the boy up. “Looks like the wind might blow him away. We’ll see what the Dark Lord thinks.”

“Yes, let’s not make any assumptions just yet,” Bellatrix snapped, but the expression quickly melted into a sickly smile. “Come on, darling, I want to introduce you personally.” She grasped Regulus about the shoulders and steered him into the house, his companions forced to fall in line behind them.

They went through another set of double doors, up several velvet-carpeted stairs, and down a long, dark hallway. The rich red color of the walls returned the sick feeling to Regulus’s stomach. It reminded him of a slaughter; he did not know why.

“Go on, sweetheart,” Bellatrix cooed, coming to a halt before the last door on the right.

“Aren’t you coming with me?”

“No, he will want to meet you himself before he introduces you to anyone else. The Dark Lord is very possessive, you see. But I know he’ll welcome you to the family.” She glanced up, seeing Snape and Wilkes approaching. “Though I suppose your escorts should go in as well—wouldn’t want him to think Snapey failed him.”

“Shove it,” Severus said roughly, moving past her and entering the room. Regulus and Wilkes exchanged one last hesitant glance, and then they followed him.

“Yes, I see, here they are.”

Regulus looked up into the eyes of a tall, thin man at the other side of the room. He was dressed in long, thick black robes, and Regulus could not help thinking of a person out shivering in the cold on a snowy night, using the ample fabric to keep himself warm. The man was balding with only a few stringy black hairs still clinging to his bare scalp, giving it a thin covering. His eyes burned black in his face, except when they were highlighted by the multiple candles scattered about the room. In these moments, they appeared to flash red, as threatening as the ancient walls. Regulus found it hard to believe that his voice could be so smooth—almost gentle.

“Hello, Regulus,” the man said, stepping forward. “Welcome to my family’s home.”

Regulus couldn’t speak, even if he knew what to say.

Voldemort looked at Severus. “Why are they late?”

Severus let his eyes trace over Regulus, meeting the latter boy’s just briefly, and onto Wilkes. “He asks too many questions.”

“I see. Mr. Wilkes, I presume, should have guessed not to make me wait.”

“I’m sorry, sir—” Cassian tried.

Silence. Words are lost on me, as you’ll soon learn.” Voldemort turned around, producing his wand seemingly out of nowhere, and pointed the wand at a closet near the door. The door clicked open, and an unconscious man tumbled out onto the carpet. Voldemort moved the body to the center of the room and flicked his wand. “Ennervate.”

The man stirred to life. As soon as he opened his eyes, he began to look wildly about the room, his eyes snapping horrifically from one person to another. As soon as they found Voldemort, he turned onto his back, scuttling backwards until he hit the wall. Regulus noticed that there was dirt on his clothes and under his aging fingernails. “Who are you people?” the man cried. “What’s going on?”

Voldemort looked over at Wilkes. “Kill him,” he said shortly.

Wilkes froze. Clearly he had not prepared for a formal initiation.

“No, please! Let me go! I won’t tell anyone that you broke into the house!”

Regulus glanced back at Voldemort, who was staring intently at Wilkes. No matter how loudly and earnestly the man pleaded, the expression on his face remained stony. Only a tiny smile playing at one corner of his lips betrayed that he had perceived the cries. Regulus recalled what he’d said: words are lost on me.

Wilkes was still standing perfectly still, gripping his wand tightly at his side.

“Perhaps we should begin with an elf, to ease you into it,” Voldemort remarked.

A cold shiver ran up and down Regulus’s spine.

“Regulus,” Voldemort said, and as Regulus looked back at him, the man writhing on the floor looked at Regulus.

“Please… have mercy… I’m only a gardener…” the man whispered hoarsely.

“There has been too much chatter for one evening,” Voldemort cut in, pointing his wand at the man. The gardener’s face froze in an expression of terror and then relaxed gradually. Regulus thought he might be dead at first, but he appeared to only be unconscious. Voldemort gestured to the body, looking over at Severus. “Take him outside and wipe his memory. We’ll save him for another potential new recruit.”

Regulus looked straight ahead as Snape levitated the body out of the room.

“Now, as I was saying, perhaps you would like to give this a try,” Voldemort continued. “I admit that I have high expectations for you, Regulus, given the many contributions made by other members of your illustrious family. Murdering a Muggle would not be enough of a challenge for you.” He gestured to Wilkes, now standing with a slightly hunched posture and appearing to inch slightly away from them. “I would like you to teach your friend a lesson for his failure tonight.”

Regulus glanced over at Wilkes. The boy stared back, unmoving. Finally, Regulus was able to find the words he wanted. “How should I deal with him, my lord?”

Voldemort smiled. “Use your imagination. You won’t have the chance at Hogwarts.”

Regulus knew that this was his way of suggesting a Dark curse, but which one? He had certainly heard of them; their names were uttered in quick whispers when discussing Death Eater news over dinner at Grimmauld Place or in the corridors and common room at school. He could have sworn he had heard Avery and Mulciber practicing them under their breath when he stayed up late at night to study by the fire. But he had certainly never used any. He didn’t even know how to begin.

He pointed his wand straight at Wilkes, watching the boy’s eyes focus on its tip. Since he could not still his pounding heart, he tried to clear his mind. He would only need a moment, just long enough to form the word in his head and send it to his lips. Then, with the weight of Voldemort’s gaze on his shoulders, he found it. “Crucio.”

Regulus’s senses went numb. He stumbled backward slightly, steadying himself against one of the blood-soaked walls. When he regained his footing, he saw Wilkes tear through the door out of the corner of his eye, slamming it behind him.

Voldemort chuckled, the sound of it echoing around the small room and making Regulus feel suffocated. However, he reached out automatically to take the hand offered to him, shocked at how cold and nimble it felt beneath his fingers.

“Good work, Regulus. Very nice for your first time,” Voldemort commented. “The hour is late, and so I must bid you goodbye. I will send word of your next steps.”

Regulus nodded, fumbling to put his wand safely back under his cloak. He turned, leaving quickly so as to avoid keeping his back turned to Voldemort for too long, and stole back down the long corridor toward the foyer. Bellatrix approached him immediately, clearly wanting to know how things went, but he looked for Severus instead. The boy was leaning against the door, his facial expression bored but the incessant tapping of his boot against the floor suggesting impatience.

“Reg, you ready?” a voice croaked. Still somewhat hazy, Regulus looked for the source, finding Wilkes supporting himself against the wall. His friend looked as thought he had been sick at least once while getting away from Voldemort, and his hands leaned shakily on his knees. Regulus was glad to find no visible wounds.

“Come on, back to the common room before Slughorn finds us missing,” Snape drawled. He stood up, walking over to Regulus and offering a hand to him.

One hand.

Regulus looked down at it, and then back at Wilkes, who had gotten up to join them. “No,” he said in a serious tone, feigning calmness. “You find your own way back.”

Then, he grasped Severus’s hand firmly, and the two of them disappeared.



Author’s Note:

If you’ve made it this far, I owe you my firstborn child. Thanks for reading!

Judging by the word count on this chapter, I have finally surpassed the 50,000 word mark and made Post Scriptum a real novel! Trust me, the action is just beginning, and you’ll definitely want to tune in for the next chapter as well. To celebrate, though, I have decided that I will leave one review—on a story of my choice—to every registered user who leaves a review for me on this chapter. So please, let me know what you liked and didn’t like in the little box below :)

Thank you for your loyal support so far, and see you in the next chapter!

-Amanda


Chapter 15: No Turning Back
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Lily, I—

Regulus stopped, putting his quill down abruptly. He looked down at the mostly empty piece of parchment, not knowing how he was going to fill it with words. His hand trembled slightly and his eyes threatened to spill tears no matter how much mental effort he put into holding it all together.

How hard could it really be to say, especially to someone whom he wasn’t even sure he considered a friend? Lily, I give up. He frowned. The deal—

Yes, there was that small matter. Releasing himself meant releasing her as well.

He began again. Severus is moving on to bigger and better things and he doesn’t need to be held back by a Mudblood like you, anyway. It hurt to say, a pain in his heart that he had never experienced before, and so he scratched it out, balling up the sheet.

He glanced around his room, unsure how so many photographs of him with his older brother had come to be strewn across his bed and the floor. Until his hands began searching, he had not realized he still possessed them. But yes, he had saved them little by little as Sirius and his parents discarded them, as if for a rainy day.

With a childish sniffle, the tears spilled from his eyes, careening sloppily down onto the balled-up parchment and the photographs, protests arising from their occupants. He could scarcely look at them; the smiles returned quickly to their faces in spite of the temporary disruption of a rainstorm, too quickly. Instead, he stared around at the comforting darkness, sobbing in the quiet.

He didn’t have to look at the photographs. He knew them all well, could recall enough memories to fill an entire Pensieve. There was one of him and Sirius at his third birthday party, when Sirius accidentally set his cake on fire and revealed himself to be a wizard. Another depicted a back alley game of Quidditch, one in which their brotherhood team had barely beaten Andromeda and Bellatrix, Narcissa reclining and sighing on the ground below. In a third, they posed awkwardly for a family photo at one of Horace Slughorn’s summer parties, wearing robes too big. Regulus wished he could not pick out the moment the smiles faded quite so easily.

He couldn’t take the smile falling from another face, even that of a mere acquaintance. What Lily Evans did not yet know would not hurt her.

There was a knock at the door, and Regulus sat up straight, hastily wiping at his eyes. Quickly, he used his wand to collect all the photographs and put them away in his nightstand. He dropped the ruined parchment, spotted with tears, in the trash.

When the door opened, Mulciber and Avery stood there. They parted suddenly, and Wilkes slipped between them, saying nothing to Regulus as he got into bed.

“You coming, mate?” Avery said after a beat. “Everyone—” He paused. “Everyone’s here.”

“Yeah,” Regulus replied. “Come on, let’s go get something to drink.”

The boys headed downstairs to find a social gathering in full swing. There were a few gossiping girls dotted about the dark corners of the room, but mostly young Slytherin men dominated the space. As he descended the stairs Regulus noticed Rosier sitting by the fire and talking to a squirrelly-looking first-year named Mundungus Fletcher, whom he appeared to be daring to sneak out and get more Firewhisky from the kitchens. Regulus’s eyes also caught Severus Snape sitting on the couch, a worn textbook at his side, as if at some point the party might bore him.

As he walked by, flanked by Snape’s friends, several people wished him a happy birthday. This brought a smile to his face; it meant even more than his parents’ early present. He had felt right at home in Slytherin from the moment the Sorting Hat left his head. The sound of The Hobgoblins’ newest hit, “Meet Me in the Moonlight,” echoed through the chatter from an unknown source. Someone pushed a glass of what little Firewhisky there was into his hands; his mind told him to push it back, but he tipped it down his throat as smoothly as possible and then reached for a half-empty tankard of Butterbeer sitting on the hearth to wash the taste from his mouth. With only a little remaining in the cup, he cleared his throat, walking over to Rosier.

“Is all this for me?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.

“Of course!” Rosier exclaimed, chasing the first year away. “Happy birthday, mate.”

“Thanks,” Regulus said, sipping on the Butterbeer.

“What did your mum and dad get you?”

“A new broomstick.”

Rosier smirked. “Figures. Better you than me. I’m shit at Quidditch.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll let you enjoy the Cup with everyone else,” Regulus laughed.

“You’d better.” Rosier glanced around, frowning. “You know, I pegged the firstie to go get the goods because I thought he’d be quick. I swear, if he gets caught—”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Rosier lowered his voice despite the cacophony of conversation already present. “Listen… heard your meeting the other night went well. For you, anyway.”

“Yeah,” Regulus said, remembering Wilkes still in bed in their room.

“If he likes you, you’ll have a place. I imagine he’ll be summoning you to get yours any day now—I mean, you’re still a bit young, but it’s not like it matters to him.”

“Yeah,” Regulus repeated.

“What did you think of him?”

“I—” As if they had been called, Avery and Mulciber appeared, leaning against the back of the sofa and casually joining the conversation. Regulus glanced over at Snape; he wasn’t watching them, but his fingers had left the spine of his book, signifying that if he was eavesdropping, it was at least mildly entertaining for him. “I’m definitely going to do it whenever he calls for me. I don’t care how old I am.”

“That’s a boy,” Rosier said, grinning. Regulus suddenly felt a chill run down his spine; did recruiting new soldiers really make the other boy this gleeful?

“Yeah, good to have you,” Mulciber cut in.

Avery nodded. “Too bad we’ve got no respectable drinks for toasting.”

“I’ll buy you one next time we go to the village,” Rosier said, putting his hand on Regulus’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you. It’s a relief to see that your whole damn family hasn’t gone yellow on the inside. Screw that traitor brother of yours, yeah?”

Regulus felt the couch move slightly. Now Severus was definitely listening.

“The least I can do is find you a pretty bird to keep you company.” Rosier stood up, looking around. “You stay here and think about some charming things to say.” He walked across the room, followed by Mulciber and Avery and their empty glasses.

Regulus felt the couch move again. He turned around to find Snape watching him.

“So, did you mean all that?” the other boy asked, bemusement etched into his face.

“I did.” Regulus moved around the couch, sitting down next to him.

“It hurts,” Snape remarked. “Getting his Mark, I mean. That’s what I’ve heard.”

“I can tolerate pain,” Regulus said blankly.

“Yeah.” He fell silent for a moment, looking over at the fire. “I—I’m glad you’re joining up. You’ll be good to have out there, unlike your friend—what’s his name?”

“Wilkes.”

“Right. Well, he—you know—he knows how to choose the right people. He’ll help you out if you do what he asks. That’s what he told me, and I believe him.”

“I doubt he’ll help you get Evans.”

“That’s not what I meant. It’s Potter. I’m going to kill him one day.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Yes, and anyone else who gets in my way will suffer a similar fate.” Severus turned his eyes back to Regulus, and somehow the irises looked darker than before.

Regulus spoke before he knew what he was saying. “She thinks you’ve changed.”

“I have. I’ve realized that I can’t be passive if I’m going to be the one she wants. I have to play the game as good as he does, until the day when I can play it better.”

Snape’s companion said nothing, too preoccupied with the bitter taste in his mouth. They sat in silence for several long moments as the sound of idle conversation from all sides filled their ears. Eventually Snape stood up. “Have a nice birthday, Black.” He strode across the common room, apparently intending to go study in his room.

I hope Fletcher doesn’t turn up again, Regulus thought. He already felt nauseous.

***

The evening breeze softly ruffled the edges of Lily’s rust-tinged locks, goose bumps prickling to life in its wake only to be overpowered by the fading sunlight and lingering warmth of the day. The girl felt preoccupied by the horrific notion that her companion, not the teasing wind, had brought these tiny, temporary blemishes to the skin of her bare arms. The unusually friendly temperature of the mid-March day wasn’t helping the romantic mood she had tried to avoid. She frowned slightly, feeling the cobblestones press uncomfortably through the soles of her simple shoes as she and James wandered along the main route through Diagon Alley.

“Where are we going?” she asked finally, giving up on trying to figure it out herself.

James’s expression barely changed. He had been unable to suppress a grin since leaving the castle with Lily late that afternoon. “We’re almost there,” he replied.

“I hope we can sit. My feet are getting tired.”

“There it is.”

Lily stopped short, looking up at the building in front of her. She had passed it without much thought every time she went to Diagon Alley—which, admittedly, was less often than she would like to visit—because she was used to seeing a slightly run-down and mostly empty shop. The letters that remained in the store’s name had been peeling steadily, threatening to drop with a subtle gust of wind. Before her stood an elegant little store tucked neatly between Flourish and Blotts and the Magical Menagerie. The door was painted a cheerful yellow color and adorned with a whimsical OPEN sign; the sign seemed to have been charmed so that the ‘P’ and ‘E’ opened and closed like miniature doors, adding an additional layer of welcome for prospective visitors. On either side of the door were clear glass windows bordered by happy yellow shades. It was difficult for Lily not to imagine the whole building bobbing back and forth to an unheard tune. Her eyes snapped to the freshly painted sign hanging from the roof: Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.

“Ice cream?” she asked, smiling brightly.

“Was it a good idea?”

“Sure!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t even realize this place was still in business.”

The two of them stepped inside and moved toward the counter. Lily could hear the faint tinkle of a bell signaling their arrival; she wondered if the man who owned this shop was half-blood, or perhaps Muggle-born like her. The idea made her smile.

The object of her thoughts suddenly emerged from the back of the store. He was perhaps two or three years out of Hogwarts, handsome with chestnut hair and hazel eyes. The apron he wore was stained heavily with a diverse palette of wet splotches.

“Good afternoon!” he said merrily. “Welcome to Fortescue’s! What can I get you?”

“I’m not sure, honestly. Still a bit blown away by your grand re-opening,” Lily said.

“Yes, I just inherited the place from my father. The sugar got to be a bit too much for him, honestly. The Healers said he should retire for the good of his heart and teeth.” The owner pointed to a painting on the wall, which depicted a man who looked much like him except for a spectacularly full and curly handlebar mustache. The gold engraved tag at the bottom read Fiorello Fortescue, Founder.

“I see,” James remarked. “Well, how many flavors do you have?”

“A hundred, at least. I invent new ones every day, when business is slow.”

“I don’t know how I’m ever going to decide!” Lily exclaimed.

“Perhaps you can make a suggestion or two?” James inquired.

“Certainly.” Fortescue retreated into the back, returning with two cones piled high. “This one is vanilla ice cream with bits of Droobles folded into it, and the other one is made from a combination of peppermint toads and chocolate frogs. They’re both part of my new collaboration with Honeydukes Sweet Shop in Hogsmeade. It’ll be coming out in spring to properly celebrate the revitalization of the store. But since I don’t get many visitors while it’s still cold out, I’ll let you have an early sample…” He extended the cones to them. “As long as you tell me what you think.”

“We will,” James assured him, paying for the cones. “Thanks.”

“Yes, thank you,” Lily added. “They look delicious.”

The owner returned to the back again, and James and Lily chose a table near the window. James handily lopped off the top scoop from each cone and switched them so that both he and Lily could taste each new flavor. They sat in silence for a few moments, their nods signifying their shared agreement that both flavors were great.

“So,” James said at last. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“This is nice,” Lily replied, nodding. “In fact, I’m glad you brought me here. I would have walked by out of habit and not even noticed that the place had re-opened.”

“It was never closed. It’s just that with the faded sign and the peeling paint, no one thought it was anything special, and it’s hard to make improvements with no income. You watch, now everyone will be coming by to take a look at the new shop. We’re just the first ones to get to experience it.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to tell Celestine and Ellery. They’ll definitely want to come.”

“Are you going to tell them that you came here with me?”

Lily glanced up at him, licking a bit of bubble gum-speckled ice cream off her thumb. “Maybe,” she admitted. “There’s nothing wrong with us having ice cream together. You’re a respectable bloke. I don’t know if it’s a date, though, strictly speaking…” She looked at him thoughtfully, with a hint of fear in her eyes. “Is it a date?”

He smirked. “My mother always told me that it wasn’t my place to determine that.”

Lily grinned in response. “I never expected to hear James Potter quoting his mother,” she mused. “In fact, if we’re being honest… I’ve seen and heard a lot of things I never expected lately. You’ve actually been sort of decent.”

“Oh, come on, I don’t think I was ever indecent to you.”

“You know what I mean. You’ve barely made fun of me all year, and what you said the other day about me joining the Order if I wanted to, well, it was really sweet.” Lily let a beat pass before continuing in a lower voice. “And the thing with Remus—”

“That was as much for him as for you. Besides, I’ve been nice to you all along—at least I haven’t tried not to be nice. This year just brought more opportunities.”

“Why so modest? You afraid I’ll tell Sirius you’ve lost your backbone?” Lily quirked a brow.

“He’s ten steps ahead of you.” James grimaced. “Stop it, you’re embarrassing me.”

“Sorry. I just want you to know that I think it’s a good change.”

James said nothing, busying himself with the chocolate peppermint ice cream.

The sweet treat barely had time to melt, so consumed were the pair with finishing their portions. Lily began to wonder for the first time if she had offended James. As for her companion, he was incredibly self-aware of how uncomfortable he felt as a changed man. Could he even talk to Lily if he wasn’t overtly flirting with her?

Eventually the ice cream ran out, and after pausing to tell Fortescue how much of a hit they anticipated the new line of candy-inspired flavors to be, Lily and James began walking back toward Hogwarts. Lily waited a few steps before opening her mouth, intending to remind James that she had enjoyed their outing—anything to make him stop looking so downtrodden. Before she could, he spoke instead.

“I still like you. I think I pretty much always have.”

She looked at him, blushing faintly.

“I really wanted this to be a date.” James looked ahead at the familiar path instead of at her. “I know things have always been weird between us, but I want to get to know you, and I want you to get to know me. I don’t think I could stand it if we graduated and you and I never had a proper chance to see if this could be something.”

“We are something,” Lily insisted quietly, crossing her arms. “We’re friends.”

“Maybe that’s all you want. I’m not trying to pressure you. I just don’t think that will ever be enough for me. I had to at least give it a try. A real try, no teasing about it.”

She looked at him. The castle had just come into view. “James—”

“And I guess I was hoping we could keep going, if this seemed to be going okay…”

Lily stopped, placing her hands on the side of his face. As the breeze picked up the edges of their hair—James’s was getting a bit long, really, she noticed offhand—she leaned forward, pressing her lips decisively against his own. They kissed for a long moment, long enough for a passerby or two to notice but not so long that the bit of warmth shared between them could chase away the chill that danced around the pair. As they broke apart, James staring at her in adoration and disbelief, Lily felt extremely annoyed that it wasn’t yet dark enough to hide her girlish smile.

“What was that?” he managed.

“Just giving it a try,” she murmured, blood flooding her fair cheeks and forehead. Then, biting her lip and pulling her jumper around her protectively, she nodded at him. “Goodnight, James.” She moved toward the castle, leaving him behind.

James broke into a breathless grin. He almost felt like standing in the street and laughing because of his sheer lack of comprehension. Instead, he called to Lily’s rapidly retreating back. “So, was it a date?”

She didn’t answer, but he knew she could hear him.

“When are we going out again, Evans?” James chuckled, lowering his voice, talking to no one but himself now. “You know, I’ll have to clear my busy social calendar…” He put a finger to his lips, tracing the place where hers just were, mere moments ago. When would it happen again? What else would they share over the coming days?

They had at least one more thing in common—neither of them slept that night.



Author’s Note:

Thanks for returning for another chapter—hope it was worth the wait!

Everything you recognize from canon, as always, belongs to J.K. Rowling. This includes The Hobgoblins, fronted by Stubby Boardman (but the song is all mine). The name of Florean’s father, Fiorello, means “little flower” in Latin. Appropriate, I think, considering that his son really caused the ice cream shop to bloom after many years.

Please stop in and leave me a review before you go :)

-Amanda


Chapter 16: Playing Pretend
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Regulus stared down at the half-eaten breakfast on his plate. There was a bit of toast, a half piece of bacon, some scrambled eggs upon which he had poured too much salt and pepper, and a few spoonfuls of honey-topped oatmeal. His goblet contained about two and a half swallows of orange juice, which was no longer cold. Sighing, he turned his eyes to the clock instead. It read eight twenty-six.

He stood up, downing the last bit of orange juice and the rest of the bacon, and turned his back before his plate and empty goblet could vanish. The boy moved out into the corridor and took the staircase down to the dungeons. He walked along the dark path, turning corners as he went, until he stopped just short of Professor Slughorn’s office. Regulus could barely hear his Head of House telling another student goodbye, but he saw no one when he rounded the last turn, so he knocked on the door.

The aging teacher opened the door and smiled brightly in an imitation of youth. “Regulus! Please come in, my boy. I had forgotten you were my eight thirty.”

“Hello, Professor,” Regulus replied, returning the smile somewhat nervously as he stepped into Slughorn’s office. He found an empty chair in front of the large desk.

“So,” Slughorn said, seating himself at the other side of the desk and putting on a pair of comically large, thin-rimmed spectacles. He picked up a piece of parchment and crossed off Regulus’s name, signifying that he’d attended his scheduled appointment. Then, Slughorn fished a tightly coiled roll of parchment out of his desk and opened it until he found a clean space, where he copied down Regulus’s name. “We are here to discuss your career ambitions and determine suitable courses for next year.” He glanced up. “Sixth year already! Very exciting. You’re almost through.”

Regulus nodded.

“In which direction are you hoping to take your studies?”

“To be quite honest, sir, I need your guidance on that matter,” Regulus admitted. There was no sense in denying it; he had wracked his brain over the past few weeks, including over his morning meal that day, and come up with no potential avenues.

“Well, I will help, of course, but we must determine a starting place. No one can tell you what you should do with your education and future years. No one should tell you what you ought to be interested in. Those choices are entirely yours, my boy.”

Regulus glanced up at him, feeling a tide of panic rising in his stomach, one for which he had not prepared. His family had always made decisions for him—his mother dragged him to Diagon Alley to be fitted for robes, and the elves always put his meals in front of him at home without ever asking what he wanted to eat. He had made friends with people who talked to him or mentioned knowing his family name. His course selection thus far had depended on what Wilkes was taking and what his father thought was best for a young man to learn. How could he be expected to make a decision as large as the future when smaller decisions had never been left to him?

“Regulus?” Slughorn was looking at him over the tops of his glasses expectantly.

“I’m sorry, sir, did you ask me something?”

“I’m wondering what you are interested in studying further. That’s one way to begin thinking about this matter. What have you taken so far that you’ve found enjoyable, or at least practical?”

“Potions,” he said automatically, hoping it would make Slughorn leave him alone.

“All right, there’s a beginning. Really, you could use Potions in almost any future occupation. It’s a very useful subject,” the professor commented proudly, writing Potions down under his student’s name. “What else?”

“I like Charms,” Regulus said. Neither of his admissions thus far were really lies.

“Again, a helpful subject to have mastered.” Slughorn wrote it down under Potions. “I would encourage you to pursue becoming an Auror, because I know you’re talented—”

Regulus froze, averting his eyes.

“—but you don’t seem like the type to crave the spotlight.”

The boy in front of him tried not to relax too visibly.

“How about becoming a Healer? We always need more of them.”

“I don’t want to do a lot of extra schooling.”

“Fair enough.” Slughorn paused, taking a sip of the rapidly cooling tea on his desk. He offered Regulus some, but the boy politely refused. “You could become a Mediwizard. They’re more for times of crisis, just to provide extra reinforcements, and the training isn’t as long or complicated. I’ve heard it’s an exciting profession.”

Regulus shook his head.

“Hmm… well, the Ministry is looking for Obliviators.”

“What’s an Obliviator?” Regulus asked thickly.

“They’re just what they sound like. They go out on Ministry missions and clear the minds of Muggles who witness spellwork. In fact, I seem to remember reading in the Daily Prophet that they are seeking good potioneers.” Slughorn put down his tea. “You see, normally you can Obliviate someone with a charm, but then you have to wipe the memory of anyone who sees the charm being performed, too. It has led to a lot of unnecessary back tracking and extra work. The Ministry thinks that it would be beneficial to try to develop a potion that will also wipe the memory, one that could be dropped into a teacup and not detected. It would be much more subtle.”

“Interesting,” Regulus said, perking up slightly.

“Does that sound like a good prospect?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you’ll need an ‘E’ in my course this year, and I believe Professor Flitwick wants ‘E’ students as well. You will need some knowledge of Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts as well—never know when you might be in a tight spot on the job—so be sure to get at least an ‘E’ in each of those subjects as well. Then, you’ll be taking your Apparition course, and perhaps an elective if you’d like to.”

Regulus watched as Slughorn copied these notes from his gigantic roll of parchment onto a separate piece of paper for him. He wondered how many generations of students had their career plans documented on that massive sheet, and how many of them had wound up sticking to what they stated they wanted to eventually do. Slughorn handed him the completed piece of parchment. “Thanks, sir.”

“You’re very welcome.” Slughorn leaned back in his old chair, making it creak slightly. “Listen, if you think about things a bit more and decide that you’d like to pursue something else, feel free to drop by again, and we can discuss it further.” Regulus noticed he wasn’t smiling. “You’re a very good student, and I’d love to do anything I can to help you achieve the goals you set for yourself.”

“Thank you,” Regulus said. “Perhaps a letter of recommendation?”

“Oh, that’s the bare minimum, obviously!” Slughorn cracked a grin, though something in his eyes seemed to hang back. “Go on, now, my eight forty-five should be coming any moment.”

Regulus nodded, turning and heading for the door. He gripped the sheet of paper tightly, as if he could release the unease in his stomach by squeezing it out onto the few notes that currently existed regarding his future. He turned the handle with his free hand, seeing Wilkes standing out in the corridor.

“He’s ready for you,” Regulus said quietly.

“I saw him at eight fifteen,” Wilkes replied. “I was hoping to talk to you, actually.”

“You waited out here?”

“Well, I went to see what was left of breakfast. Not much.” Wilkes was clearly trying to bring a sense of normalcy to the conversation. “Do you have a minute?”

“Yeah,” Regulus said, sighing. “Transfiguration is in fifteen minutes. Don’t forget.”

He and his old friend walked outside under an overcast sky, the morning fog still floating calmly on the surface of the Black Lake. After a few steps, Regulus cleared his throat, looking over at the other boy. "Well, what did you want to talk about?"

"The end of the year is coming up fast," Wilkes said.

"Yes," Regulus replied bluntly, wondering where this conversation was going.

"What are your plans for the summer?"

"Not sure. Mum and Dad will probably want to go on holiday somewhere. Narcissa's wedding is right after exams, too."

"Oh," Wilkes replied. "I think my parents are going to stay in and keep a low profile. Mum has been cutting down on her spending lately. It's weird to see."

"Yeah," Regulus replied. For a moment there, he thought he had found the beginnings of a normal conversation, but he knew it couldn't last. He knew that it was polite to express concern, a remnant of a long past etiquette lesson given by his mother or grandmother, but his heart simply wasn't in the task. He didn't care if Wilkes's family went bankrupt or got arrested, at least not as much as he used to. He only thought of it in the sense of passing a pathetic stranger on the street.

"Maybe we can meet up, play some Quidditch," Wilkes suggested.

"Sure," Regulus replied half-heartedly, looking back toward the castle.

"Right, Transfiguration," his friend remembered. "Come on."

As they walked back inside, moving wordlessly up the stairs and approaching Professor McGonagall's classroom, it occurred to Regulus that he hadn't even asked Wilkes how his career meeting went. Even as the pair of them entered the room and sat down, even as they set to work in a team, he still did not ask it. Before he realized it, the class was over, and he was left to walk to lunch alone.

***

“Are we using the History of Magic classroom?” Lily asked, looking around her as she and James entered the dusty room. Sunlight came in pale sheets through the windows; when Professor Binns was teaching, he sometimes had a habit of streaming in and out of the light puddles, his form disappearing almost totally and then suddenly reappearing when he paced over to the shadows in the corners.

James flicked his wand lightly, moving the first row of desks against the wall with a dull creak. “Sure, why not? It’s not like anyone else will bother us in here.”

Lily took out her wand as well, following his lead. “What if he catches us practicing in here? Aren’t you worried he’ll tell the other teachers about it?”

“I don’t think they really talk to him beyond ‘good morning’ or ‘lovely black pudding’,” James replied. “He might bore you to death. You know, literally.”

Lily smirked. She had never had problems with any of the Hogwarts faculty and was not usually one to make a joke at another’s expense, but even she had to admit that Binns’s lessons were less than enthralling.

When there was a large enough space cleared in the center of the classroom, James closed the door and began speaking muffled incantations. Before Lily’s eyes, he charmed a statue of Adalbert Waffling to fire spells from its position in the corner closest to the door, knocking a few books off Binns’s shelves in the process. He dodged a Stunning Spell and grinned at Lily.

“Okay, let’s start with this one. We can’t have you destroying old Adalbert here, but you at least need to disarm him before Binns comes back and sees that his library has been destroyed. Approach with caution, because I’m not as skilled as Moody and I don’t really know what spells he might use. Try to keep your voice down, too, obviously.”

Lily looked at him, dumbfounded. “This is what you had to do?”

“Something like it. Go on, give it a try. He has nothing personal against you.”

Lily set her jaw, looking at the statue. Adalbert’s right hand, outstretched with the pointer finger gesturing straight up, sent a small ball of fire hurtling into the ceiling. “How am I supposed to disarm him? He doesn’t have a wand!”

“You’ll have to get creative,” James replied, backing up a little bit more.

Lily faced the statue again; it responded by sending an Aguamenti charm straight for her shoes. She yelped slightly at the feeling of the cool water and looked determinedly into Adalbert’s empty stone eyes. “Finite incantatem!” she shouted.

Adalbert went still and the spells came to an abrupt halt.

“Good, just try not to be so loud next time,” James said, smirking.

Lily blushed. She wouldn’t exactly call her response ‘creative,’ but she felt like she was missing something. It all seemed easy so far. “What’s next?”

James picked up his bag, pulling several small vials of as-yet undetermined liquids out of it and lining them up on Binns’s desk. “One of these vials contains poison. I’ve charmed them to all look the same, and you have to figure out how to undo my charm and see which one is the culprit.” He glanced over at the statue. “I’m going to work on putting Binns’s bookshelves right while you think about it.”

Lily stared at the vials. She picked them up gingerly, trying to see if one had a different consistency from the rest or if the shades of blue were at all discrepant. She decided to try heating them up, but none of them bubbled or changed color. When she switched to a Freezing Charm, however, the one in the center turned a sickening green. “Is this it?” she asked, holding it up and showing it to him.

“Yes,” James said. “You changed the temperature, right?”

“Yeah.” Lily handed the poison vial to him, and he transfigured it and its fellows into pieces of garbage, which he promptly pitched into the bin beside the desk. “James… how do you think I’m doing?”

“Brilliant. Why?”

“I just—it seems too easy. I figured it would be hard to qualify for the Order.”

“It is. You’re a Gryffindor. We’re braver than most.” James grinned at her. “I mean… it must have been a bit frightening to face a rouge statue firing spells at you, but you took care of the problem right away. Not everyone could do that.”

“It’ll be different when it’s another witch or wizard staring me down.”

“Of course,” he said softly. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is just the trial to get a place in the Order. Moody and the others still have to teach us how to really survive out there. I think right now having potential is probably enough.”

Lily nodded. She didn’t know if she really believed him, but his response satisfied her. It was nice to stay in this moment. She had potential. She was not in danger.

James cleared his throat. “I didn’t really have a chance to organize the other two tasks. You’ll have to face a Boggart, though, and avoid some rogue Bludgers.”

“They had you face a Boggart?” Boggarts had come up on their final exam for Defense Against the Dark Arts in third year, but she had never dealt with one personally. She hadn’t even figured out exactly what hers would become. Is it worse to dread your fear, Lily wondered, or to be unable to anticipate it at all?

“Well, it was a house elf transfigured into a Boggart. You had to knock it out of a glass box, deal with it, and then put it right.” He couldn’t help but smile slightly at the horrified look on her face. “Moody swore up and down that it didn’t hurt.”

“And then what? Rogue Bludgers?”

“Yeah. I mean, we can’t really practice that here. But you wanted to come out to the pitch after practice one night, we could try it out then.”

“What would you do if one of them hit me?” Lily smirked.

“I’d never forgive myself.” James smiled, but his expression looked genuine.

Lily picked up her bag, glancing up at the ceiling and clearing up the mark caused by the rogue fireball. “Have you heard when the trials will be held?”

“You’re supposed to tell McGonagall when you think you’re ready. They probably use Side-Along Apparition or a Portkey or something to get you there and back. You know, like spy stuff.”

I think I’d better do it soon, before I lose my nerve, Lily thought to herself.

“You really did well today. I think you’re going to do a good job. Just come by and practice the Bludgers with me before you say anything to McGonagall.”

“I will.” Lily smiled at him. “You’re going to do great, too. You’re plenty brave.”

James broke eye contact, afraid he might blush. “Thanks.”

In the quiet moment between them, Lily remembered that she had promised to meet with Severus that afternoon to work on N.E.W.T. preparation. “I have to go.”

“Oh, where?” James asked.

Lily quirked a brow. “I, um… well, Ellery, Celestine, Remus and I are having a little party to celebrate our last study group of the year. I’m supposed to put together a list of what everyone wants and divide it up for our next Hogsmeade visit so that we can get supplies.”

“Your last study group? It’s barely even April.”

“So?”

“I figured you’d be studying right up until the exam, that’s all.”

“Everyone has to have some fun once in a while, right?” She bit her lip, wondering if it would be easier to just tell him the truth. She was a bit terrified that even saying Severus’s name would cause him to turn back into his former self.

“Right. Anyway, I have to go, too. I told Sirius we’d write our Herbology essays together before dinner,” James replied, shrugging. “See you in the Great Hall?”

“Yeah.” Lily smiled at him one more time before turning and leaving the room.

James watched her walk down the corridor until she turned a corner and he couldn’t see her anymore. It was exciting to think of him and Lily fighting side by side with his friends, helping to catch Death Eaters and protecting the wizarding world. Plus, it was easier than becoming an Auror, because you didn’t have to do the Ministry training or worry about your N.E.W.T. marks. Still, he couldn’t shake the empty feeling in his stomach, the one that wondered if Lily would get hurt out there after all the encouragement he had heaped upon her about trying to join up.

The silence of the room filled his ears. He had not yet considered that possibility.



Author’s Note:

Hope you enjoyed this chapter! I would love to get a little note from you about what you think, especially since I don’t yet know how the last chapter went over for anyone. How do you feel about Regulus’s character progression so far? What about Lily and James—how is the pacing of their relationship? Any thoughts you have would be helpful to me as an author.

As usual, everything that you recognize from canon belongs to JKR, not me. This includes Adalbert Waffling, who was said to be a “father of magical theory” and would likely have been emphasized by Professor Binns in his long, boring History of Magic lessons. At the very least, Waffling was important enough to merit his own Chocolate Frog card :)

Thank you for all of your lovely reads and reviews thus far!

-Amanda


Chapter 17: To the Top of the Cliff
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As he stood in the shallow stairwell flanked by ivy and faced the foreboding black door, Remus Lupin kept thinking that perhaps he was making a terrible mistake.

His entire Saturday morning had been quite peculiar. After he approached his Head of House at breakfast, feigning a casual attitude as he indicated his interest in trying out for the Order of the Phoenix, Professor McGonagall escorted him up to her office. She reached into a glass cabinet by her desk and picked up a battered-looking Snitch, the one that marked the first match won by Gryffindor House during her time as its Head. She next marched Remus out to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, put the ball on the ground between them, and tapped it gently with her wand. “Be sure that you take care of it,” she instructed, smiling faintly. “Good luck, Mr. Lupin.”

The Portkey took him to the home of Dedalus Diggle. The ruddy-cheeked wizard showed Remus to the wooden door that led to the basement on the side of the house. “Go inside when you’re ready.” He tapped the Snitch with his wand, disabling it, and took it from Remus. “You’ll bring me a Quaffle when you’re done to prove that you finished. You’ll get this back then and I’ll charm it again so that you can return to school.” He chuckled. “Not that I’ll keep you here if you don’t make it, don’t worry.” Then, he took McGonagall’s Portkey and ventured back inside to read the Prophet.

Well, I’m here now. I’ve done it. I may as well give it a try, Remus decided. Not knowing quite what to expect, he took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.

The room went silent as the door closed behind him. Remus stood still in the perfect darkness for a few moments, wand at the ready. Suddenly, a bright pink streak whizzed past him, barely missing his ear. Remus heard it slice into something behind him, perhaps an item on a shelf. It was followed by an orange light that rocketed past on the opposite side and exploded behind him, causing him to yelp.

Quickly, Remus cast a Lumos charm, thankful that it was one of the spells he had learned easily as a second year student. He could now see a dark figure in the corner from where the barrage of spells issued. “Protego!” he cried, blocking a Reductor Curse and moving toward the figure. A house elf darted from behind the figure, escaping into a passage near the level of the floor with a borrowed wand in hand.

Remus took one step closer to the figure and it turned into a glowing full moon.

A Boggart, he realized. He should have known from the practice trial. “Riddikulus!” he said, hoping his voice contained enough boldness. Perhaps his practice had been sufficient to create confidence, because the moon turned into a balloon that sputtered slightly and then drifted calmly toward the ceiling, bobbing against it.

Where the Boggart had been, a table stood against the wall. On it were four glass vials, each one containing a black liquid. The liquids stood perfectly still in their containers. All four appeared to have the same consistency upon closer inspection. Remus could not smell anything around the vials, and he dared not taste them. Even if they weren’t poisonous, surely a move that stupid would earn him failing marks.

He pondered for a moment. Senses… let’s see, smell, taste, sight… not going to touch them, they might burn… sound. Remus pointed his wand all around him except near the table, murmuring “Quietus” several times. Slowly, the small noises around him faded out of existence—the dripping of a faucet, the rustling of bugs inside the walls, Diggle’s footsteps on the floor of the old house above him. Soon, all Remus could hear was the nervous beating of his heart, along with a soft fizzling noise. He walked over to the table, smiling triumphantly as he tapped the leftmost vial with his wand. The others disappeared, and in the one that remained the liquid drained away into an invisible hole. At the bottom, there was a note: Infusion of Wormwood.

The floor dropped out from underneath Remus quite unexpectedly.

He fell a few feet and landed on a mattress, groaning as he pulled himself upright. He appeared to be in a large underground chamber with green grass. He could see a stout tree at the opposite end from where he sat. A broom and bat lay to his left.

He picked up the broom and bat, bracing himself for whatever might come next. He had never been particularly adept at Quidditch and had been dreading this portion of the trial. So far, the things he had faced had been similar to those he’d practiced with, and yet the stakes had clearly been raised for the real trial. He could hardly expect them to go easy on him now that he’d gotten this far.

Remus flew toward the tree with some degree of unsteadiness. As he approached, he noted that the tree had several large branches. They were bushy with individually dangling pieces. The trunk was thick. It looked strangely familiar…

The tree swung its largest branch at him, barely missing the tip of his broom.

Remus swallowed. This Whomping Willow wasn’t as big as the one at Hogwarts, perhaps only a seedling, but he doubted it had a special knot he could simply prod. He glanced up, noticing a Quaffle stuck among its topmost branches, which were about ten feet higher than where he currently hovered.

He lifted his bat, contemplating swinging it at one of the branches, however inadequate it seemed. As if the Whomping Willow weren’t enough, though, two Bludgers came hurtling at him from either side of the tree. Remus moved quickly back. One of the Bludgers barely missed him, zooming back toward where he’d entered the room, and the other struck the tree trunk, leaving a sizeable dent.

Oh, Remus thought. Oh! He moved forward again, swinging his bat just in time to send the returning Bludger at the offending branch. He cursed slightly under his breath as it missed, ricocheting against the wall instead. He tried again with its brother, and this time he sank it into the branch, wounding it and causing it to go limp. Feeling energized, Remus knocked another Bludger into a smaller branch, barely dodging the leaves coming rapidly toward his head.

He flew up toward the top, hoping the Bludgers would follow him. There was one more branch protecting the Quaffle. If Remus hit it in exactly the right spot, the ball would drop where he could easily pick it up on the ground below. He took a swing, watching the branch crack with satisfaction. However, he appeared to need to hit it one more time, due to the complicated crossed nature of the supporting branches.

Remus took his aim and swung. The ball fell to the ground, bouncing jovially.

He flew to the ground, still knocking Bludgers away from him in an incessant attack, and took the Quaffle under his arm. He could see that a crude door had formed in the tree trunk between the first two branches he had conquered. He hurried to open and climb through it, dropping the bat behind him on the ground at the last minute.

When he emerged, he was standing in the front yard.

The front door opened to reveal a beaming Diggle. “You did it, my boy!”

Remus grinned, realizing with a start what physical exertion he had endured. He handed the Quaffle to Diggle. He had so many questions—had he qualified to join the Order? Would his friends have to face the same obstacles? But he only nodded. “Yes,” he said breathlessly.

“Well, back to class with you. I’ve got the Portkey here for you.” He set the Snitch on the ground, and Remus couldn’t help thinking of it as a shining Muggle gold medal. Diggle tapped it once with his wand, and Remus bent as if to pick it up.

Then, as a sense of relief replaced the adrenaline in his veins, he vanished.

***

“A toast,” Lily said, raising a cup of Butterbeer high and grinning.

“Isn’t it a bit premature to toast to our success?” Ellery asked, though she raised her glass in response along with Remus. Celestine had already tucked into hers, leaning back in boredom against the railing of the Astronomy Tower. It had been one of the few relatively secluded places where friends from different houses could meet.

“Nonsense, we’re going to do great,” Remus said, the evening wind tousling his hair. “I trust Lily hasn’t kept us all on such a strict schedule for nothing.”

“It’d best be worth it. I’ve read more this year than I have in my entire life,” Celestine groaned. “Anyway, enough academic chatter. Did everyone bring their treats?”

Lily nodded, taking a sip and putting down her cup. She sat down and reached into her bag. From it she withdrew a box of Chocolate Frogs. “I thought these would be appropriate. We could try to remember what each person was famous for as we eat them. It’ll help us prepare for History of Magic.”

Celestine rolled her eyes, but she snuck a smile at Lily to reward her for her creativity. “I brought Bertie Bott’s beans. If we really have to put them to use, I say we go through the trivia in the back of Witch Weekly. Losers eat the gross ones.”

No one was in favor of this plan except Celestine, given that she would probably win, so next it was Ellery’s turn. “I just got Licorice Wands and Sugar Quills. Most of my normal ones are splintered or down to nubs from taking notes all year, you know.” She spread the sweets out on the Gryffindor banner that was serving as a makeshift tablecloth, allotting one of each to every person. “I’ve always wondered when Honeydukes is going to come up with some kind of ink to go with the quills.”

“I suppose it would be melted chocolate,” Lily suggested.

“They could melt different things and do different colors,” Celestine added.

Remus nodded. “Listen, if it turns out that we don’t drink all the Butterbeer, James and Sirius want some. After all, they helped nick it from the kitchens for me.” He smiled in gratitude, happy not to have to jeopardize his beloved Prefect’s badge.

“I doubt there’ll be any left, but we’ll keep it in mind,” Ellery agreed.

The group soon decided to combine Lily’s cards and Celestine’s game suggestion, and they settled around the banner, popping frogs in their mouths to get their first few cards. Remus went first, holding Felix Summerbee’s card out to Celestine.

Celestine screwed up her face for a moment in concentration, but she quickly sighed. “I don’t remember this one. Which class would he be from?”

“Charms,” Remus offered.

“Still no good.” Celestine reached for the bag of beans.

“Not so fast,” Ellery said. “You need a taste tester. No sense in getting rewarded for getting it wrong. You’ll have to identify the flavor I choose for you instead.” She went through several beans, trying them each out until she found one she disliked. “There…” She dug in the bag to produce another just like it.

Celestine took the gray bean, putting it between her lips. She scrunched up her nose. “Ugh, it’s black pepper.”

“Right!” Ellery exclaimed. “Okay, as your reward, it’s your turn to pick a card.”

Celestine took the one off the top and showed the front to Remus.

“Beatrix Bloxam.” He thought for a moment. “Oh, right, she wrote the Toadstool Tales. The stories make you throw up if you read more than one in one sitting.”

“How did you know that?” Celestine wondered.

“My mum tried to buy them for me once but Dad warned her against it.”

As the conversation continued, Lily wandered away from the three of them, moving to the part of the railing that Celestine had previously occupied. She stared out at the beauty of the Hogwarts grounds, the dark, full grass and shimmering reflection of the moon upon the lake. The Forbidden Forest seemed to stretch on for miles and miles. The castle even had a cool, familiar scent to her, one that was brought now by the evening breeze like a servant offering a platter of delicacies.

As she relaxed against the railing, empty cup still in her hand, she recalled that she and Severus had held regular meetings up here in their first few years at Hogwarts. They would lay side by side and talk for hours about their new friends (mostly hers), their success in classes (more evenly matched, but he had a slight edge), and all the things they dreamed of doing now that they were being properly taught magic. So many of their childish dreams had included one another—I’ll open my own Potions shop, he used to say, and you and I can work there together. We could make everything, from cleaners and polishes to candy for the kids who will come visit us. Lily would then counter, no, we should open a pet shop, because we’ll take Care of Magical Creatures third year and then you and I will be able to raise all kinds of strange animals. It brought a bittersweet smile to her face to think of it now. They had changed, both of them, but they were starting to rebuild and she worried that if she clung to him too hard it would all go away again in a horrific blast just like last time.

Small hopes, she thought. Nothing wrong with that. A good moment is a good start.

Then, at the beckoning of her friends, she returned to the group. “My turn yet?”

***

Regulus stared at the monarch butterfly, the gold on its wings flashing as they fluttered furiously, attempting to release it from being turned upside down yet again. He raised his wand, pointing it at the insect. “I want to try it.”

“Not like this,” Severus murmured. He stayed very still, and indeed, after a few moments the butterfly settled onto his palm, crossing over to the back of his index finger before taking off. Severus recaptured it easily with a whispered Immobulus charm. “You have to let it calm down a bit. You could misfire and break its wings.”

“Sorry,” Regulus replied. He raised his wand again, staring intently at the butterfly, which was now quite still. Furrowing his brow, he spoke in a soft voice. “Levicorpus.”

The butterfly’s outermost leg twitched slightly, and then it shifted upward, dragging the remainder of the legs and the insect’s body along with it. The butterfly dangled upside down as before, except now it did not protest. It looked completely helpless.

“And now for the counter-jinx. Liberacorpus,” Snape said, not using his wand but directing his bottomless black eyes firmly onto the creature between the two boys. The butterfly dropped into his hand. “Finite incantatem,” he added for good measure.

Regulus watched the butterfly stir and make its final escape, disappearing among the leaves in the tree above them. Slughorn had cancelled the next two Potions classes of the day due to a nasty accident involving a first year Gryffindor and too much syrup of hellebore, leaving both the fifth and sixth year Slytherins with a free period. Regulus had decided to skip Charms and extend his break into Severus’s. The two of them were perched under their usual tree by the lake, and they were largely alone out in the chilly, cloudy weather.

“Did you really create those spells?”

“I didn’t create the Freezing Charm or Finite Incantatem,” Severus said flatly.

“You know what I mean. When did you make them up?”

“I devised them last year. It was one way to occupy my time.”

Cool, Regulus thought. “You didn’t even use a wand with the last ones.”

“I have been working on wandless magic for the better part of two years, ever since Flitwick mentioned its existence. I once saw a textbook on nonverbal spells in the library, near the Restricted Section, and I intend to work on that once I have totally mastered casting without the use of a wand.” He was clearly pleased with himself.

“Why did you make them up?”

“I told you, I was bored,” Severus said, but he looked off toward the lake as if it wasn’t quite the real answer. Suddenly, he frowned. “Is that Pettigrew?”

Regulus followed his line of sight, which extended in the direction of the Quidditch Pitch. He could barely make out a chubby boy with a red and gold scarf moving down the hill toward them. He walked slowly, but he wore an anxious expression. Moreover, he was alone, which was perhaps the most interesting observation of all.

Severus stood up, gripping his wand. Regulus stayed still.

“Nice to have a day off from Potions,” Peter remarked when he reached them at last.

“What do you want?” Regulus said in a harsher tone.

“I’m actually glad to have run into you out here.” Peter lowered his voice. “I overheard from Mulciber and Avery at breakfast the other day that there are some good advancement opportunities available if you know the right people in Slytherin.”

“What in the bloody hell are you talking about?” Severus nearby spat at him.

“Do you know anything about who to approach?”

“You’re talking nonsense, Pettigrew,” Regulus said. He couldn’t figure out what the chubby boy could want with the Death Eaters, but the idea of someone on the outside being aware of their recent activities made him feel very nervous. By the look of mixed incredulity and rage on Snape’s face, he was having similar thoughts.

“No, I’m not. You know exactly what I’m talking about.” Peter set his jaw. “I want in.”

“Suppose I did know what you were talking about,” Snape said. Regulus turned around and stared at him, trying not to appear too obviously panicked. Snape persisted. “It’s a shame that you were able to procure any information from those two so easily. I’m not saying anything more until you prove that you’re serious.”

Peter’s eyebrows lifted nervously. “What did you have in mind?”

“How do we know that you’re not just spying on us for your gang of degenerates? You’ll need to demonstrate that you don’t care what they think of you anymore.”

“How would I do that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Be creative—not that it’s your strength in Gryffindor.”

Regulus wondered if this was just Snape’s latest method for having fun. He supposed he understood, considering all the times he’d witnessed James and Sirius making a game of their own out of torturing Snape. Still, they were in dangerous territory.

“I can’t just walk away from them. They’ll know something’s wrong.”

“Why not start with one?” Snape suggested.

“Yeah, and walking away isn’t going to be enough. You’d have to actually hurt the person you chose,” Regulus chimed in. “So, who’s your lucky victim going to be?”

Peter locked eyes with him. “Sirius.” After all, he was the friend Peter liked least. Remus was nice to Peter, and James respected him, but Sirius treated him like a joke. Even if his little plan didn’t pay off, the arrogant boy deserved to be taught a lesson. “But how could I possibly hurt him? It’s obvious that he’s a better duelist than me.”

Severus’s lip curled slightly. “I have an idea.”

***

Peter found Celestine sitting by the common room fire, sipping from a cup of hot chocolate that a house elf had offered her when she passed by the kitchens on her way home from the party. She had two Care of Magical Creatures essays in her lap, one by her and the other by Sirius, and she was contentedly proof-reading them both in preparation for handing them in tomorrow. There was no sign of Sirius.

“Hey,” Peter tried, sitting down in the armchair opposite her.

“Hi,” she said, glancing up only briefly at his entrance.

“Having a nice night?”

“Yeah,” Celestine replied, offering him a kind smile. “How about you, Peter?”

He wished she wouldn’t say his name. “Sure, pretty good.”

Celestine nodded. “Well, I’d better get to bed. Class comes too early in the morning.” She picked up her cup and the essays, along with her wand. “Have a good night.”

“Wait,” Peter said. It was now or never. “Do you have a minute to talk?”

She looked at him curiously, coming to a halt. “Sure, I guess.”

“Have you ever noticed how Sirius doesn’t hang around with a lot of girls?”

“He prefers you lot, not that I always understand why,” she replied. Already there was a note of suspicion in her voice, which terrified and thrilled him. He swallowed.

“Well, I’ve heard that a lot of the girls here are jealous of you. They do like him.”

“So?” Celestine crossed her arms, dangling the essays between her fingertips.

“Have you heard any rumors about him?”

“People have said that he’s a lone wolf. But—” She clutched the cup a little closer to her chest, and Peter could see that he was gaining ground. He tried not to smile. “I mean, I think we’ve been getting on really well lately. I haven’t had any problems.”

“That’s good,” he said, averting his eyes briefly before looking back at her. He deserved an award for this performance, and he would make sure Sirius’s brother and Snape knew it. “The thing is, you’ve got to pay attention to him. Sometimes he does just prefer to be part of our group, but once in a while he’ll say that he wants more time apart from his girlfriend and spends it with other girls behind her back.” He paused. “Has he ever mentioned wanting more time to himself?”

Some of the color drained from Celestine’s face. She pursed her lips. “Well, when we first got together, he did say that he felt like he needed to spend more time with James when we all went to Hogsmeade. I figured he just found the tea shop boring.”

Of course, genius, Peter thought coldly. “Maybe he finds other things about you boring, too.” He was almost in awe of how bold his words were, but he kept still.

She said nothing to that, glancing down at the two essays in her hand.

“I don’t mean to upset you,” he added. “I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”

“What do you care? We aren’t even that close.” She looked like she might cry.

“We’re both friends with Lily. I know she would be really angry if she found out that Sirius had done something to hurt you. It would cause a fight between her and James.” Peter went in for the kill. “I think it’s good that they’ve been getting along.”

“Yeah,” Celestine said, her fragile voice barely above a whisper.

“I’ve seen him talking to Mary MacDonald down here after you’ve gone to bed. He was even flirting with the waitress, Rosmerta, last time we went to Hogsmeade while you and Lily were in the bathroom.” Peter stood up. “Just think about it, okay? Don’t make any rash decisions, but be careful how close you let yourself get to him.”

Celestine nodded. Peter could see the wheels turning in her head, working out how to get the advantage over Sirius. Quietly, she headed up the stairs, closing the door.

For a moment, Peter considered what it would be like if Sirius found out about his series of lies. Well, mostly—Sirius did like to flirt with the waitress a little, if only because he was flattered by how obviously taken she was with him and James. Still, he had accomplished the mission set out for him. It was easy, even bordering on enjoyable. Maybe it would be simpler to impress the Dark Lord than his own friends.

He went upstairs, though he was too excited to talk to the Slytherins to get any rest.



Author’s Note:

Wow, I haven’t written a chapter this long in a while! I hope you enjoyed it :)

Dedalus Diggle, Felix Summerbee, and Beatrix Bloxam are all JKR’s creations, as is everything here that you recognize from canon. Dedalus Diggle was part of the Order for both wars and was also part of the Advance Guard under Moody. Felix Summerbee was the inventor of the Cheering Charm. I already mentioned what Beatrix Bloxam is famous for, so I won’t go into it again here.

Only a few chapters left to go! Please let me know what you think in a review, particularly about the system I’ve devised for gaining admission to the Order. I’ve made it up all on my own and I wonder if it feels sensible and appropriate.

Thank you for your wonderful support so far—until the next chapter :)

-Amanda


Chapter 18: Brotherhood
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Sirius had never seen so much happen before breakfast.

As soon as he came down the boys’ staircase into the main area of the common room, Celestine had practically assaulted him, frantically asking what was going on between him and some mysterious other woman. When he didn’t provide a satisfactory answer, she became more specific, asking if there were other women involved. As he continued to sputter and make denials, Celestine’s eyes grew moist with tears, and eventually she stopped interrogating him and ran back upstairs. He had been waiting for her in the Great Hall, watching the door to see when she entered to have breakfast so that he could attempt to speak with her rationally.

It was ten minutes until nine, and she still hadn’t come down.

Suddenly, Sirius saw someone approach the door, walking through with a bag slung over her shoulder. He tried not to let his expression droop too much when he saw that it was only Lily. Her hair was un-brushed and her makeup looked smudged. Perhaps her morning routine had been interrupted by a hysterical roommate.

“Good morning,” she said softly, sitting across from him at the table.

“Morning,” he replied, deliberately leaving the ‘good’ out of it.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he said, wishing that James was here to act as a buffer between them. Unfortunately, his best friend had come down with a bit of a cold over the weekend, and he was still debating whether he wanted to try to go to class when Sirius left their room to go down to breakfast. Remus and Peter had gone down to Slughorn’s class early to ask him for help with an essay he’d assigned that was about to be due.

“What was that all about?”

“How should I know? Ask her.”

“I tried. She didn’t feel like actually talking to anyone.” Lily took a piece of toast from the center of the table and scooped some baked beans onto her plate. She considered the black pudding for a moment but decided against it. “She’s really upset, you know. She wanted to skip class, but I told her she shouldn’t because the material will probably be on our N.E.W.T. exams, or at least final exams.”

“I know she’s upset, but I don’t know why. Things are fine between us.”

“Things were fine,” Lily said, frowning slightly at him. “She kept rambling about you seeing other girls behind her back, but none of it made any sense. Do you have any idea who she could have heard that stuff from? I mean—is any of it true?”

“No, of course not.” Sirius glared at her.

“Look, I don’t know you all that well. She’s obviously not the only girl who—”

“Just stop, Lily, please?” He sighed. “It’s not true, and there’s no point in talking about it. I tried to apologize to her, but evidently she’s not in the mood for that, and there’s nothing I can do until she comes to her senses.”

Lily’s expression faded. She had never seen Sirius get upset about anything, not a poor grade on an exam or getting detention for hexing Severus or even the one time in third year when he and James got into a fight over Quidditch and didn’t speak for two days. She had certainly never expected him to get emotional over a girl, especially one whom he hadn’t even seemed to like that much, but he plainly looked as if he’d lost all interest in breakfast or anything that would follow it later that day. As she sipped her pumpkin juice, she found herself wishing she could offer him a cup of tea, the one small measure of comfort upon which she could always rely. Perhaps it was moments like these that Regulus missed sharing with his brother.

“I’ll let you know if she says anything else, okay?” she said softly.

Sirius glanced up at her. “Yeah,” he murmured, giving her a faint smile.

At that moment, James entered the Great Hall with a handkerchief, Peter and Remus trailing behind him. Peter and Remus sat on either side of Sirius, and Peter immediately reached for a bit of bacon. James sank down on the seat next to Lily.

“Have you been to see Madam Pomfrey?” Remus was saying to James.

“Yeah, this is all she gave me. Apparently she’s running low on Pepperup Potion after the flu outbreak in the fall. I’m going to be miserable today,” James replied.

“Remus, could you pass the eggs?” Peter asked.

Just as Remus reached for the bowl, however, an envelope fell into it. The five Gryffindors looked up to see a stream of owls gliding along the ceiling, which bore a strong resemblance to a cloudy blue sky. Four more letters fell in quick succession, the final one directly into Lily’s hands. She looked down. “James, this is for you.”

He reached for it, putting a different envelope in her hand. It had her name on it.

Remus passed the bowl to Peter, noting that the letter within it was addressed to him, and picked up his own letter. He glanced over at Sirius, who had an envelope laying face down in front of him. “What’s that on the back, mate? The seal?”

Sirius frowned a little more deeply, perplexed. He never got mail, though the other students around them opened their letters and newspapers like it was just an ordinary day. He saw no other seals on any of the envelopes, though. Finally, he glanced down. The seal was a bird emblazoned in gold ink—an eagle, perhaps?—no.

“A phoenix,” James said. He turned his letter over. All five of them had the same seal.

Without saying anything, the five students carefully and quietly tore into the letters. None of them bore an identifying header, and all contained the same short message.

You have been granted entry into the Order of the Phoenix.
Further instructions will follow shortly.
Destroy this notice upon receipt and reveal its contents to no one.

“They’re all the same?” Sirius looked over at Lily, lowering his voice. “You, too?”

“I didn’t know you were trying out,” Remus said, giving her an approving smile.

“Yeah,” she murmured softly. “James helped me practice.”

James looked down into his breakfast, his face turning slightly red.

“What’s wrong, Peter?” Sirius cut in. He looked over at the boy curiously, and the others followed suit. Peter had put his letter down on the table and was staring at it with a bewildered expression on his face. “Cut it out, or people will be suspicious.”

“I—I didn’t think I’d make it,” he admitted, barely audible. “I got hit with a Stinging Hex even though I tried to dodge it, and then it took me ten minutes to even feel brave enough to deal with the Dementor. And I only got the Quaffle at the end because the Bludgers hit the tree in a weak spot and knocked it down for me.”

“The tree?” James said, smirking.

“No, the ball, of course,” Peter said. He wasn’t smiling.

“Well, maybe they took other things into consideration,” Sirius suggested.

“Like what?”

“James and I ran into Moody in Hogsmeade the weekend after the practice trial. He asked us about you, and we told him that you were a good friend of ours. That’s all.”

Peter looked down at the letter again. He couldn’t believe that Moody had actually asked James and Sirius about their opinion of him. Clearly his abilities couldn’t speak for themselves. I must be the only one to ever get into the Order on a pity vote.

“Anyway, we should celebrate,” Remus said. “Just, you know—in a very quiet way.”

“Yeah,” Lily agreed. “Let’s go to the Three Broomsticks this weekend. We can get a table in the corner and try to figure out what they’ll make us do for initiation.”

“Wrestle a Hippogriff!” James exclaimed, struggling to keep his voice down.

“Win a game of Gobstones against McGonagall!” Remus added.

Peter stared down at the table. He didn’t want to think about the initiation ceremony—all he wanted now was something a bit stronger than Butterbeer.

***

Regulus was preparing to eat lunch when his brother spoke to him for the last time.

Severus had decided to skip lunch, having wanted to work further on a potential improvement to the recipe for the Draught of Living Death in his Potions textbook. Rosier, Mulciber, and Avery had all been given detention for bullying first years. Thus, Regulus was left alone. He hoped Pettigrew wouldn’t try to talk to him again.

He sat down at the Slytherin table, filling up his glass with pumpkin juice and reaching for one of the sandwiches in the center of the table. Suddenly, he noticed a couple of girls looking at him. He smiled awkwardly, not used to this sort of attention. Then, his older brother sat down directly in front of him.

Regulus quickly realized that he hadn’t been the subject of the girls’ gawking.

“This isn’t your table,” he murmured, annoyed.

“What are you, a Ravenclaw? I know that,” Sirius replied. “I need to talk to you.”

“Well, if you want me to tell Mum and Dad hello for you…”

“Shut up, Regulus.”

The younger boy looked up from his meal, intrigued. Sirius had never exactly been kind to him, but he’d never known the boy to sound as determined as he did now. “What’s wrong?” He wondered if the note of worry in his voice was audible to Sirius.

“Did you hear about what happened with my girlfriend?”

Of course I did, Regulus thought. The whole school could practically hear her screaming at you. He was surprised to hear Sirius refer to the girl as his “girlfriend,” though. Perhaps she meant more to him than it seemed from the outside looking in. “Yeah.” He took a bite of his sandwich. “Surprised that she found fault with you?”

I’m serious, the other boy wanted to say, but he ignored that impulse. “The stuff she’s saying isn’t true, and I’m trying to figure out who’s been spreading lies about me. It would have to be a friend of mine, someone whose opinion she would have trusted.”

“Why are you asking me? Last I checked, you don’t have friends in Slytherin.”

“Well, it obviously wasn’t James, and Remus doesn’t have an evil bone in his body. But I’ve seen Peter stealing glances over at your table at meals a lot lately, and last week he offered to pair up with Snape once in Potions when no one else would.”

“So? Maybe he’s just a nicer person than you are.”

“Doubtful.” Sirius sighed. Several other Slytherins were starting to arrive, attracting more negative attention to his presence at the table. “Look, don’t say anything about all of this. Just—have you heard anything weird about Peter? Anything suspicious?”

Regulus looked at him. He realized that he and his brother hadn’t made eye contact for a long time, because it felt strange, the sort of pressure that made him restless. He wondered what it would be like to just tell Sirius everything in this moment of fleeting trust between them. What if he just took off with Sirius, just ran away from Voldemort and Snape and his new friends and abandoned his inheritance, too? It was an insane notion, not even worth considering, and yet it sounded sort of fun.

If he thought about this too much longer, he was going to cry. How undignified.

“No, nothing. He’s a Gryffindor. No one here would ever associate with him.” Regulus steeled himself and looked at Sirius, the invitation to leave not needing to be spoken.

“Fine,” Sirius stood up, taking it. He turned and went over to the Gryffindor table, rejoining his friends, Peter included. No farewell was said between him and Regulus.

Regulus caught Lily raising her eyebrows and glancing at him from her place next to James. He stood up, no longer interested in his lunch. In fact, he wasn’t interested in much of anything that would be going on for the rest of the day or into the evening.

As he left, he realized that for the first time in a long time, he felt no sense of regret.



Author’s Note:

Hi again! This is a bit of a short chapter, but we are winding down to the end!

Hope you’re still enjoying the story. I’m going to try to tie everything up in the next two chapters, and then I have to face the difficult task of saying goodbye to this story. It’s been a tough and interesting journey for me, but I’ve been working on it a long time now and I’ll be glad to have a sense of resolution.

As always, thank you for your wonderful support :)

-Amanda


Chapter 19: Rising from the Ashes
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Severus woke up on a sunny May morning and decided to write his mother a letter.

He wasn’t often in a good enough mood to do so, but when he wasn’t arguing with his professors and getting into trouble with his friends he liked to write home. His mother was lonely; his father worked most of the time and wasn’t in the mood to be a husband when he returned home in the evenings. Besides, his mother could never talk to his father about her real passion—magic. She would be pleased with his recent developments, particularly those in their shared pet subject, Potions.

He told her that his grades were good, as usual, and that he was a little nervous about his upcoming N.E.W.T. exams but not nearly as scared as everyone else seemed to be. He mentioned that he recently made a new friend. He made a point to say that he had been spending more time with Lily. A familiar name would cheer her up.

It was nice having someone to whom he could tell the truth, or at least most of it.

He walked away from the Owlery, realizing that he’d missed breakfast but not feeling much like eating anyway. He had about fifteen minutes to go until History of Magic, his first class of the day, and he needed to go back to the common room and retrieve his textbook, as well as a bit of parchment to doodle upon when he decided he could no longer listen to Binns’s droning. He turned into the Great Hall, intending to take the staircase down to the dungeons. Suddenly, he found his path blocked.

Severus looked up into the faces of James and Sirius, and his good mood vanished.

“You’re in my way,” he said slowly, carefully lacing each word with bitterness.

Sirius frowned at him, and he opened his mouth to deliver a sharp retort. However, James lightly elbowed his friend in the side. He looked as if he were having trouble holding his own tongue. The next word out of his mouth was more shocking than any creative insult.

“Sorry,” he murmured. He moved out of the way. Sirius remained a moment longer, as if to emphasize the effort to Severus, and then he too continued along the path between the Slytherin table and the wall.

It took Severus a few moments to find his feet. He had never heard James utter an apology to anyone, least of all him. A mere ploy to secure Lily’s favor, he thought with a smile. It would never be successful; to his knowledge, Lily hated James as much as the first time she met him, and would she not inform her best friend if her mind ever changed? If James’s desperation kept him out of Severus’s way, the latter wouldn’t complain.

He was still smiling when he made it down to the Slytherin Common Room, where a steady flow of students alternately entered after breakfast and left for early classes. Severus headed upstairs, where he found Mulciber and Avery still asleep. He gently shook their shoulders and reminded them that class would be starting soon, and then he collected his book and some parchment, along with a fresh quill and inkwell, and packed his bag for History of Magic. When he came back downstairs, he noticed Regulus sitting by himself next to the empty fireplace.

“Good morning,” he said, nodding to the boy.

“I suppose so,” Regulus replied, returning his smile. “You seem more pleasant than normal.”

“Very funny,” Severus answered, returning to his usual sarcastic tone briefly. “I have nothing to complain about so far today, and I think my reaction is appropriate.”

“What are your plans for the afternoon?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I’m just curious to see how long this pleasant mood will last.”

Severus shook his head, adjusting his bag on his shoulder. “If you must know, I’m supposed to be meeting with Lily. I want to see if she wants to keep studying for N.E.W.T. exams over the summer, since our houses aren’t far from one another.” He paused, not sure if he wanted to continue. “And—”

“What?”

“I—” Severus lowered his voice. “I think I’m going to tell her how I feel about her.”

“Really?” Regulus replied, visibly surprised. He couldn’t help but smile a little. If it worked, his friend would finally be happy. If not, well, at least he could see the deal he’d made with Lily truly put to the test.

“I’m sure she already knows. I mean, she’s very smart. But I just think that if she… responds positively… it would make studying over the summer much more fun.” Severus blushed slightly.

Regulus nodded. “I think you should.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. Things have been going well since Christmas, right? I think you’ve waited long enough. You’ve given her space. I can’t see why she’d turn you down now.”

“I—I hope you’re right,” Severus answered, clearing his throat. If he didn’t hurry up and conclude the conversation, his friends would come down and overhear them, and then he’d never see the end of their teasing. “Anyway, I need to go to class. Even Binns will notice if I’m more than ten minutes late.”

Regulus smirked. “You know, sometimes I secretly wish some of our teachers would fall gravely ill, at least long enough to postpone an exam. All hope is lost on Binns.”

Severus returned the expression. “See you around, Black.”

“Tell me how it goes,” Regulus said, watching the boy go. Then again, Severus wouldn’t have to say a word. Either way, there would be a new rumor soon enough. He settled back into his chair, closing his eyes and trying to get a few more winks of sleep before he had to force himself up to go to Transfiguration.

***

Severus found Lily in the Great Hall after Charms that afternoon. She had just bitten into a sandwich, but she took a drink of water and swallowed the piece when she saw him walking over toward her.

“Hey,” she said, glancing around to see if James and the others were close by.

“I was thinking about taking my lunch outside today. Do you want to come?”

“Do you think the teachers will mind?”

“I saw a few other people doing it. I think it’s okay, since the year’s almost over.”

“Okay.” Lily stood up, carrying her sandwich with her, and walked along with him toward the door. They emerged into bright sunlight. She automatically looked for a tree under which they could rest, but Severus kept walking past the trees. “Want to stop by the lake?” she offered.

“Could we take a walk instead? It’s nice after having been in class all morning.”

Lily couldn’t dispute that. She walked next to him, taking small bites of her sandwich since she had nothing with which to wash her meal down. Still, it had been a good idea to go outside and enjoy the nice weather, and her lunch was pretty good so far.

Severus took a bite of his sandwich, chewed it slowly, and then swallowed. “How have your N.E.W.T. study groups been lately?”

“We’re finished meeting for the year. We—” Lily paused, not wanting to bring up a party to which present company had not been invited. “We decided that we’ve worked hard enough for the year and we can just pick things back up in the fall.”

“Actually, I was wondering if you wanted to meet with me over the summer and keep working on it—you know, since we can walk to the park and study there.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Lily replied. “Do you think we could use the extra practice?”

“You never know what they’ll put on those tests.”

Lily thought for a moment, chewing a bit of her sandwich as she did so. She hadn’t spent much time alone with Severus since their reconciliation at Christmas, and the thought made her feel a little nervous. Being alone with James made her jittery too, but this was different somehow. Still, Severus seemed to be honest in his intentions. “I suppose so. But let’s take a break until after exams for this year, at least.”

“Not a bad idea.” Severus finished what remained of his sandwich. “Are you nervous about those? I heard McGonagall is going to put a lot of Conjuration on the test this year. Apparently last year’s class of sixth years came up short on those sections.”

“That explains why we’ve had to practice Aguamenti so many times that I can cast it in my sleep,” Lily grumbled. “I mean, it’ll be all right. Of course it’s easier to cast when you have an object right in front of you to transform, but we can do this, too.” She paused, taking another bite of her lunch. “I’m actually more worried about Slughorn. I was sort of hoping he’d have a bit too much Firewhisky and let slip some ideas about what would be on his final at our last Slug Club meeting, but he was as tight-lipped as ever. I feel like I’ve learned so much this year. I don’t know where to start.”

“I can definitely help you with Slughorn’s test. I’ve been keeping really careful notes on what we went over this year. I’ll copy them out for you if you want.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I can copy them myself if you’ll just let me borrow the book.” Lily finished her sandwich, tossing the last couple bites of crust out for the birds.

“Actually, why don’t we just meet up in the library? We can work on it together.” Severus paused, turning and looking at her. “I think it would be nice if we could spend some more time together. I hardly see you anymore. I—I miss you, Lily.”

“I miss you, too,” she said, but it did not feel the same as when she was a little girl and they had spent more than a day apart because her family was traveling or his was falling apart at the seams again. No, it was that sick sensation, one that made her wish she hadn’t eaten her sandwich as fast as he did or that she’d just stayed put in the Great Hall and had lunch with Celestine and Ellery.

Then, before she realized it, he moved forward and kissed her. It must have only lasted a split second, the extent of his adolescent bravery, and yet Lily’s cheeks stung with embarrassment for long minutes thereafter. Someone could have seen, she thought, but then they would also have seen the horrified look on her face, and the shocked way in which he kept saying her name, begging for any sort of response. “Why did you just do that?” she finally sputtered.

“I—I just thought—things have been better.” He looked like he wished he could implode right there on the spot. “You have to know how I feel about you, how I’ve always felt about you, Lily… you feel nothing for me, after all our time together?”

“I feel something, but… it’s confusing… and I don’t like it,” she answered, refusing to meet his eyes. She stared at the lake, wondering why it took so long to come to this. She must have looked like a trapped animal, but no one came to her rescue.

“Don’t say that, please,” he said softly. “I’m sorry, I thought my timing was right, but if it’s not just me who feels like something is there between us, maybe we can fix it.”

“No, we can’t.” Lily sighed, finally looking back at him. “It’s James. We’re—”

The expression on his face was unfathomable. “What?” he asked breathlessly.

“Nothing’s official. We’ve been seeing each other on and off for the past couple of months. It’s…” Lily bit her lip. “It’s not really serious, if that makes you feel better.”

“How can you be with him after everything he did to me, Lily?”

“He’s different now.”

“So am I!” he said in a demanding tone, causing a few students nearby to look up. “This is about what I said last year. I knew it, I knew you would never forgive me, no matter how many times I’ve apologized and tried to make it up to you—”

“Keep your voice down,” she interrupted, frowning.

“That’s it, isn’t it? Nothing I do will ever be enough for you,” he snapped back at her.

“You were a good friend,” Lily replied, and her voice became firm. “But that has to change now. I won’t be subjected to—well, to moments like this. I really think it’s best if we both try to move on, especially now that James is… in the picture.”

And then she turned, folding her arms tightly against her chest and moving quickly back toward the castle. She couldn’t look at his face or pay attention to anything he called after her, and she didn’t want to see anyone, not her friends or James and especially not Regulus Black. She had never in her life felt like more of a coward.

***

Relief washed over Severus like a wave when Rosier’s arm burned after dinner.

The small group of Slytherin boys moved quietly toward the forest, where those who could Apparate would carry along those who could not. Severus formed a small circle with Mulciber, Avery, and Regulus, being careful to avoid the persistent gaze of the last. He knew the boy wanted to know what had happened with her—Severus realized it now hurt to even think of her name—and he wasn’t ready to face that yet. Instead, he closed his eyes and focused hard on the task at hand. After all, the rate of Splinches increased with every additional body tacked on for Side-Along Apparition.

When their feet touched ground again, they stood in Diagon Alley. As Severus followed the others to the entrance to Knockturn Alley, he tried to block Lily out of his mind. He had been practicing submerging his mind after having learned of an advanced magical practice called Occlumency. It would be useful to know this magic if he were ever captured by Aurors; as with all of his studies, Severus had spent long hours reading and practicing, and he was confident that soon he would be able to drown his own thoughts and feelings well out of another wizard’s reach. With them, hopefully, she would perish—at least the girl that lived inside his head. For now, the wounds she left were too fresh. He needed a temporary distraction.

The five students joined a few other people, all of them older and wearing black robes that touched the ground as they walked. Severus glanced back at Regulus, who had forgotten to remove the patch from his robes again, and motioned at him as a reminder. He supposed that he would be given a set of proper robes when he became a real Death Eater, though he had no way of knowing when he’d be chosen. Of course, there was the caveat that he would be deemed unworthy and killed instead, but Severus wouldn’t consider that. He’d worked too hard to avoid it.

They drifted into Borgin and Burkes, down the shadowy stairs toward the basement. At the bottom of the staircase, a thin Death Eater was waiting with the tip of her wand lit. Her exposed hand, tipped with blood-red nails, gave her away as Bellatrix Lestrange. Without saying a word, she opened the door to let them through. Behind her was a circle of people in identical robes, all of them standing silently with lit wands. Severus and his friends entered quickly and filled the few empty spaces.

They all stood still for a few moments longer, wandlight flickering as in an eerie ritual. Severus listened intently for any sign of movement; he thought he could almost hear the exhilarated pounding of Regulus’s heart next to him, along with the restless shuffling of his feet. Eventually two Death Eaters at the back of the room parted and the Dark Lord stepped between them into the center of the circle.

“I apologize, my friends, for the uncomfortable surroundings. Lucius Malfoy’s manor was raided by several Ministry authorities this afternoon, and they left him with a subtle hint that it would not be the last time they paid him a visit. Naturally, I decided to move the meeting here. Fortunately, Mr. Borgin was willing to cooperate without the help of the Imperius curse or his colleague Mr. Burke.” Voldemort gestured to a broad-shouldered Death Eater standing across from him, smiling briefly in approval. Then, his expression faded to one of dire seriousness.

“We are gathered tonight to welcome several new members into our fold. The wizards of whom I speak have already put into motion extravagant plans that will leave no man, woman or child in doubt of what our power can accomplish. Soon, thanks to the efforts of those like these faithful men, we will all rise to our true positions at the very height of wizarding society, where we will rule with iron wands. But first, we conduct a proper ceremony to celebrate our new initiates.”

The figures in long black robes moved forward in unison, forming a smaller inner circle between the younger followers and those who would become real members. Then, Voldemort gestured to the last man to stop moving. “Antonin Dolohov, who intends to dispatch of the Prewett twins, blood traitors who deserve not to breed.”

The man removed his hood, revealing dark hair and empty-looking eyes rimmed with sleeplessness. He met the Dark Lord in the middle of the circle, where he pushed up his left sleeve and exposed the pale flesh of his arm. Voldemort grasped it hard, causing Avery to jump slightly in his place next to Severus. As they watched, Dolohov’s face contorted in pain, though he dared not make one sound about it, and his arm glowed bright green. After several long moments, Voldemort let go and took out his wand; with it, he shaped a black mark on Dolohov’s forearm, filling the air with a sulfurous odor and causing Dolohov to grit his teeth tightly. When he was finished, the green hue faded in slow waves, seeping into the lines of the tattoo. Then the magic vanished, leaving only the snake and skull as a sign of its presence.

“Next, Chadwick Travers,” Voldemort said, and Dolohov moved slowly back to his place as a shorter man moved to stand before the Dark Lord. “He claims to have begun working on a plan to dispatch of the MacKinnon family, who seem to have adopted a new tradition of sullying their bloodline further with each generation. Remember to get the youngest of them, Travers, or else they might marry outright Muggles with no magic at all.” A few people in the group laughed, including Regulus, but they fell silent as soon as Voldemort grasped Travers’s arm. The recipient of the mark looked as if he was going to cry throughout the process, but he did not let a single tear escape his watering eyes, and before long his initiation was complete.

“Finally, we have Augustus Rookwood,” the Dark Lord said. “He is not content with assassinating individuals or families. Instead, he intends to bring the Ministry down from the inside out.” Rookwood stepped forward, and Snape stared at him, wondering how anyone could be so foolish as to attempt to spy on the Ministry. He’s bound to get caught eventually, when his oversized ambitions finally meet up with him. If Rookwood doubted his promise, though, there was no way to see it on his stony face. He received his mark without flinching and took his place beside the others.

“We have other business to discuss this evening,” Voldemort said now. “But I want to pause momentarily, in case there are any others among you who wish to make the same commitment these three men have undertaken.” His eyes fell upon Regulus as he continued. “Rest assured that you will find yourself among a crowd of fellows who are braver, wiser, more loyal, and more ambitious than any Hogwarts student. Bear in mind, however, that I will only accept those whom I deem fit for my service.”

The room fell silent again, and the breathing of the two boys standing on either side of Severus became quite shallow. The seconds stretched out like a painful eternity for him, considering that at any moment Voldemort might move on and take away the chance to join for anyone else that night. It was risky to be so bold, and Severus had never taken a risk he hadn’t carefully calculated and examined from all angles.

As Voldemort turned his back, no doubt preparing to speak up again, his words returned to Severus. I have to set myself apart. This is the first step toward becoming the man I am really meant to be, and no first step is ever easy, is it? Quietly, he cleared his throat and stepped shakily forward. “I want to be initiated, my lord.”

Everyone turned and looked at him, and Voldemort stopped. He turned back around in time to see Severus remove his hood. “You, Severus Snape, wish to be marked?”

“Yes.” Severus could feel an odd energy filling his veins. More than anything.

“And you believe you are up to the task.”

“I am a skilled wizard. All of my fellow students and acquaintances gathered here tonight will admit to that. Yours is the only cause I find worthy of my talents.”

“You seem to be quite single-minded,” Voldemort mused.

“Yes, and I swear my allegiance to you alone,” Severus replied. “Please, my Lord.”

“Very well,” the Dark Lord said. “But what can you offer me, aside from knocking knees and unsteady breath?”

“Anything,” Severus replied, forcing himself to lock eyes with his master.

“Ah, a clever tactic.” Voldemort paced halfway around the circle, addressing the others now. “Rather than select a single mission, the completion of which could render him disposable, Mr. Snape has elected to bend to my various whims.” He stopped, looking back at Severus. “You are young and energetic, and yet by all reports you possess prodigious talent. You will be a dangerous asset indeed.”

He reached out for Severus’s arm, and grasped it tightly when offered to him. The Dark magic that turned his arm green burned like acid, seeping into the skin the way water would if he were soaking in a hot bath. When Severus thought perhaps he couldn’t take it anymore, the Dark Lord took out his wand and etched a fearsome-looking skull with a snake’s body into his flesh. After a moment, the burning ebbed away, sinking deep down into his bones, his veins, and his cold, hardened heart.

It was done.

As Severus joined the circle, standing next to Lucius Malfoy, he noticed his friends looking at him with wonder. Would any of them be brave enough to offer themselves to Voldemort tonight? Apparently not, for the Dark Lord moved now to a different topic. Still, Severus was confident that one day they would feel a pull inside and come to join him. They were not as bright and had more to lose than he did, and thus they would need more time to arrive at the correct decision.

His eyes fell upon the Dark Lord, the mysterious man in whom he now placed all of his trust. Tonight meant that he would never be second best again, for his newest obsession would surely be impressed by his ever-growing body of talents. He would appreciate the efforts of a young man trying to master the Dark Arts. It was only logical. Unlike her, Severus mused callously. Now I can finally forget her. He was on the path to greatness, and he couldn’t wait to leave Lily behind in the dust.

Unfortunately, this news was not the sort of thing to write in a letter to his mother.



Author’s Note:

Hello, hope you enjoyed this chapter! As many of you know, I love working with Severus as a character, and it was both daunting and exciting to really focus on him here and draw his storyline with Lily toward a closing point. I’m definitely interested to hear what you all thought of his transition to becoming an official Death Eater, so please let me know in a quick review before you go!

The next chapter will mark the end of this story. We should be back to the original perspectives of the main characters, Regulus and Lily, for the finale. I haven’t started working on that chapter yet but I’m very excited to write it.

Just a note I wanted to make—Chadwick is an English name that means “warrior,” which I thought was appropriate for a Death Eater rising to fame.

As always, thanks so much for your kind support so far, dear readers! :)

-Amanda


Chapter 20: A Postscript Precluded
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The Hogwarts Express pulled into the station early on a sunny June morning. As usual, house elves had gone over every inch of the train, causing the outside to gleam like it had a fresh coat of red paint and the inside to smell fresh for the long journey back to King’s Cross. Outside, the sun streamed down through the trees, creating warm puddles on the freshly swept sidewalk. A family of bluebirds practiced flying from branch to branch, carried along by a pleasant summer breeze. It was hard to imagine a better setting for the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to return home for a nice vacation with their families.

Breakfast was just now ending, and students were beginning to stream out toward the train with their bags in hand. Among them was Lily Evans, who walked next to James Potter but was too shy to hold his hand quite yet. She was quiet this morning and her face betrayed little of the pain she felt in her heart. Rather than dwell on it, though, she focused on the feeling of the heavy bags she carried, looking forward to the moment when she and the attendant would pack them away in the train’s belly.

She hadn’t talked to Severus in two weeks, ever since their confrontation by the Black Lake. It had been just like the two weeks following their fight last spring, where he tended to avoid her eyes at mealtimes and sit far away from her in class, except this time she entertained no secret hopes that they would reconcile. Over and above the definitively final tone of their last argument was the sense that he was no longer the boy with whom she’d spent long summer days walking and playing. The young man he’d become held no charms or secrets that captivated her interest; instead, she was drawn to James, who turned out to be more than he had seemed. It was an interesting turn of events, but to her dismay, it was also decidedly sad for her. She was grateful, in a way, to have an entire summer to forget about Severus.

I let him go for his own good, she told herself again, trying to make it sink in deeper.

They reached the train and helped put their bags away before boarding. Lily was happy to see that they were some of the first on the train; perhaps she could secure a moment of solitude before Remus found her in the Prefects’ compartment and detected that something was off. She promised James she’d write to him over the summer—nothing too girly, he insisted, or Sirius will kill me—and walked away.

She was about to open the door to the Prefect’s compartment when she noticed someone else sitting alone in an open compartment across from it. “Celestine?”

The girl looked up, offering her a faint smile. “Hey, Lily.”

“I didn’t see you at breakfast.”

“Yeah, I—I figured it would be awkward, you know? I’m sick of not sitting with you, and Ellery’s housemates were starting to get annoyed to have a Gryffindor with them, so I thought I could come out here early and stay out of everyone’s hair.”

“Well, I’m glad I found you. I wanted to make sure I said goodbye.” Lily leaned against the compartment door. She had rarely seen the girl so muted.

Celestine shook her head. “Oh, don’t say it like that! It’s only the summer, and then we’ll be up to our old ways again. Well, as much as we can be, with exams and all.”

“Don’t remind me. Can you believe we’ll be seventh years?”

“Hardly,” Celestine said, beginning to perk up a bit at the thought. “You’ll probably get Head Girl. I’ll never see you.”

“That’s ridiculous. I think Mary MacDonald will get it. She’s got perfect grades.”

“Well, she’s nice. Maybe she deserves it.”

“Yeah, she is.” Lily paused. “Anyway, I bet you and he make up. You’ll have no time for me. I’ll have to stop in and check on you to make sure you’re both still studying.”

“How do you figure that?” Celestine’s smile faded slightly.

“You two seemed happy together. It was all just a misunderstanding, right?”

“That’s what Remus says. But I think I made him too mad to forgive me.”

“You know, I think Sirius has a bigger heart than he lets on. Just give it some time.” Lily brightened a bit. “You could write to him, like I’m doing with James.”

“Write?” Celestine rolled her eyes. “That is so cheesy, Lily.”

Lily grinned, satisfied to see her friend regain a sense of humor. “Just think about it, okay? I have to get back to my compartment before people start arriving and breaking rules.”

“I’ll send you a bottle of Firewhisky. Your mum’ll love that,” Celestine called softly.

Meanwhile, Sirius, Remus and Peter had joined James in his compartment. Remus was in the midst of a complaint about how he had to get down to the Prefect’s compartment when James pulled out a large roll of parchment stained with ink. He unrolled it to reveal a complicated series of passages and rooms, along with a variety of dots. With a tap of his wand, all of the labeled dots began moving around.

“You finished it?” Peter said, staring at the parchment.

“Yep,” James said. He and Sirius had stayed up late for the past few nights, identifying corridors and locating people as a way of distracting Sirius from his dispute with Celestine. “All it needs is a name.”

Remus stood up, quickly closing the door as this year’s Head Boy walked past.

“I thought maybe ‘The Map of Hidden Things,’” Sirius said. “Sounds mysterious.”

“Yeah, but some of it exists in plain sight,” Remus replied. He looked at James. “We’re the ones who created it, right? Why not just call it the ‘Marauder’s Map’?”

James nodded. “I like that, Moony.” He took out his wand. “All agreed?”

“Yeah,” Peter said, taking it. “Here, I’ll write our nicknames on the cover.”

“Just promise it won’t leave our hands. If a first year ever found it…” Remus cautioned, feeling the train begin to move. He really had to find Lily.

“Of course not. Why would we ever share it?” Sirius said, shaking his head.

Satisfied, Remus took his leave, careful not to let anyone see inside the compartment as he opened and closed the door before he moved down to join the other Prefects.

But someone had been watching, though the map was none of his concern.

Regulus Black walked past Remus, looking for his friends. He dared not glance directly into the compartment, the thought of meeting Sirius’s eyes making him nervous, but he couldn’t help but notice Pettigrew sitting next to the door. The boy looked like he fit right in, scratching at a bit of parchment and chatting with the others. Regulus smirked; it was remarkable how well Pettigrew could blend in, like a wolf among the sheep. He wondered what it would be like when he finally outed himself as a follower of Voldemort. Will the little Gryffindor ever be brave enough?

He noticed Rosier waving at him from at the opposite end of the train and continued, leaving Pettigrew and the other Gryffindors behind. Regulus took a seat in the compartment next to Rosier, who sat across from Avery, Mulciber, and Snape.

“We were just discussing our summer plans,” Rosier explained. “What are yours?”

“I don’t know,” Regulus said. A year ago he might have talked of playing pick-up Quidditch with Wilkes, reading, or being dragged along by his mother as she looked for things he could wear to summer parties, but now he knew what they really wanted to hear and he wasn’t yet prepared to say it. “Nothing too exciting, I’m sure.”

“Mulciber? Avery?” Rosier tried.

“Yeah, nothing,” Mulciber said. “I think the next summer will be better, though.”

“I agree,” Avery said, looking over at Regulus, who nodded weakly. He didn’t know for sure. He wanted to be marked, but he got the sense that he’d never really be ready, and the feeling of anxiety that pervaded this conversation was not helping to dilute that perception. If he waited until next summer, at least he wouldn’t be alone.

“It doesn’t hurt too much, if that’s what worries you. Right, Snape?” Rosier added.

Severus looked over at them, and Regulus noticed he was sort of cradling his left arm against his abdomen, as if to avoid accidentally touching it to any other object. “Yeah, it’s not bad,” he said. “Then again, you probably don’t have the sort of pain tolerance I do.” He looked out the window. “I’ve been burned enough times already.”

“Yet another reason why I’ll never specialize in potions,” Rosier replied, laughing. Regulus frowned slightly, wondering if Snape was referring to something else.

“You should do it,” Severus added, looking back at them. “There’s nothing to be gained by staying on the fringes. He’ll only take you seriously if you show him that you really intend to follow him. That’s the only way you’ll ever earn his respect.”

“He won’t help you unless he respects you,” Rosier said flatly.

Regulus shifted, feeling uncomfortable all of a sudden. It reminded him of his parents, sitting around the table and telling him and his brother how to live. Wasn’t he growing up—wasn’t he almost there, in fact? Couldn’t he make his own choices? “Think he knows any seers? I’d love to get the score of the next World Cup game.”

Mulciber laughed; this seemed to work, at least for now. The conversation now turned to the question of whether or not the Harriers’ aggressive style of play would be enough to get them into the finals this year—for four of them, anyway; Snape said little on the subject. Before long, the topic of joining the Death Eaters seemed to fade away. Regulus settled back in his seat to enjoy a long, boring train ride home.

After several hours, the train finally began to settle to a stop at King’s Cross Station. Regulus looked out the window and saw a sign for Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, along with a crowd of people waiting to greet the returning students. He could not pick out his parents among the other families out on the platform, though.

When the train halted, Regulus and his friends stood up to retrieve their school bags from the rack above their compartment doors. Rosier and the others filed to the left, following many other students who were heading toward the main exit, but Regulus chose to go right in the hope of finding a less crowded door. He had almost reached the next exit when he saw someone stop walking right in front of him. It was Lily.

She looked at him with an oddly blank expression; she wasn’t smiling, so he didn’t quite think she was happy to see him, but she wasn’t barking at him to get out of her way or just shoving past him directly. Instead they just stood still, leaving a space between them, both lacking the courage or cleverness to come up with something to say in that moment. It was like a postscript neither of them was willing to write.

Regulus felt the burden of this omission, and by the look on her face, so did Lily. The air felt right for an apology—but for what? If there was not enough energy left for anger—and Regulus was certain that there wasn’t—there was definitely too little for forgiveness. Whatever was missing, it was making them very uncomfortable.

Regulus chose to exit first, turning his back on it and stepping down from the train.

After excusing his way past several excited families, he finally spotted Kreacher’s squat form close to the ground, his usual unpleasant expression splattered across his face. If it was possible, he brightened a bit upon seeing Regulus approach him.

“Was Master Regulus’s train ride tiring?”

“Yes, quite,” Regulus said with a sigh. “Where are my mother and father?”

“Master Orion is working. He said at breakfast that he would come home early because Mistress is hosting a welcome home party in Master Regulus’s honor.”

“Ah,” he replied. How typical of Mother. “Here.” He gave his bag to the elf. “I suppose you’ll have to do as an escort, then, Kreacher. But first, we need to go collect the rest of my luggage from the attendant.” The elves would do plenty of laundry tonight.

They began weaving their way toward the luggage car, moving through small collections of people who were hugging and laughing after many days without conversing. Several mothers shed tears in the emotional rush of holding their children once again; one little girl, a soon-to-be second year, was too busy sharing stories about her classes and new friends to even notice her mother’s crying. Several students on the outskirts of the crowd had already removed their cloaks and put on sneakers, signaling their return to the Muggle world for the summer. A father in an expensive-looking jacket presented a new owl as a belated birthday gift to his son, all the while congratulating him on being only one year away from graduation.

It was a beautiful day at King’s Cross Station, just as it had been on that autumn day months ago when the students took the train many miles away to Hogwarts. The air felt warmer and the sun shone a bit brighter, but there was no denying the identical feeling of hope and excitement that wafted across the platform. There would be many promising days ahead, and for now, the unpleasant tasks of a new school year were a faraway dream. The only question was how long they would stay that way.



Author’s Note:

Wow, I can’t believe I actually finished this story! I remember being so excited as I wrote those first few chapters and it’s been awesome to tie up my final strings and seal it closed, though it’s obviously bittersweet to say goodbye. More than anything, I hope you enjoyed the ride. The comments I’ve received from my lovely reviewers have positively warmed my heart, and they were a big part of why I kept going with this story even when my life kept me busy.

Before I start to cry, I want to say that I’m really interested in any final tidbits of feedback you have on this story. I especially would love to know if you felt like all the character arcs are complete, or if there were details or loose ends that you felt like I didn’t address fully. Basically, do the outcomes make sense? I tried to be vigilant about bringing all of my characters and plot lines to a satisfying conclusion, but I wrote this over more than a year and there were definitely some gaps between chapters where my memory could have lapsed. Anything else you’d like to say in reflecting on the end would be appreciated.

Thank you, all of you, for your wonderful support throughout Post Scriptum.

-Amanda


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