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Chapter 21 : Turning Over A New Leaf
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“Because I invited him in for dinner after he saved me from Vernon,” Petunia replied, sitting on top of her bed.
Lily took a seat on Petunia’s poufy vanity chair, her green eyes alight with curiosity, among other things. “Saved you from Vernon? What did the big pudding do now? I thought you were done with him. That it was over.”
“So did I. But then Vernon shows up here and I stupidly let him talk me into going outside with him, actually he dragged me outside to have a private talk with me and then he . . .pushed me up against his car and tried to kiss me. He was filthy stinking drunk, Lil. I tried to fight him off but he was too strong.” Petunia wrapped her arms about herself then. “I was just about to scream for Dad when Vernon hauled off and slapped me across the face.”
Lily’s jaw dropped. “He hit you? That fat fart hit you?”
Petunia turned and showed Lily her cheek, which was still slightly swollen and had started to bruise.
“Oh my God, Tuney. You should press charges.”
“I don’t need to, not after what James did to him,” Petunia said quietly, a pleased note in her voice. She detailed the fight and how James had defended her honor just like a knight in a fairytale.
Lily was stunned. It was hard for her to equate the James her sister spoke of with such hero-worship with the bully who had tormented Severus for nearly all of their schooldays. Then again, James had never really targeted girls in his prank wars and he had never retaliated against her with any hexes. So it might make sense that he would be willing to beat the stuffing out of Vernon over Petunia. At least he has some scruples and morals. More than Pettigrew does, or Black. Remus is the most decent of them all though. “Well, Tuney, I must say I’m surprised. Because he never behaved like that in school.”
“No. He was a . . .prankster and a troublemaker. Always in detention for smarting off to teachers or something. He and Severus didn’t get along at all, and they still don’t.”
“Oh. But do you know if he’s ever . . .hurt a girl? Or is he the kind of guy that likes to be in charge all the time and tell people what to do?”
“Like Vernon? No, James had a lot of girls after him, and went out with a few of them, but currently he’s not dating anyone. None of the girls I know ever complained that he was rough or overbearing, I think they were just grateful he wanted to be seen with them. Potter . . .James, can be something of a git, he can be arrogant and stubborn, but he wouldn’t ever hurt you like the walrus did. For awhile, he wanted to go out with me, even when I told him I was going out with Sev. That’s why I was so mad when I saw him here tonight. I was afraid he was stalking me.”
“He did admit that he had been waiting for you,” Petunia told her sister. “Arrogance I can handle, it’s getting smacked across the face that I won’t tolerate. How many girlfriends did he have?”
Lily shrugged. “I don’t know. Five, six.”
“Is he popular at school then?”
“Oh, yes. Everyone wants to be his friend, he plays Chaser for the Gryffindor team and he’s a very good one too.”
“Not to mention a handsome one,” laughed Petunia softly.
“Looks aren’t everything,” Lily reminded her sister.
“I know, but they don’t hurt either. I asked him to go out with me Saturday next.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said yes.” Petunia was beaming dreamily. “Now I just have to figure out where we should go and what to wear.”
Lily was silent for a moment, wondering if it would be cruel to burst her sister’s bubble of contentment and reveal that her new flame had once been the biggest bully in school as far as she and Severus were concerned, and that his foolish prank last term had nearly killed Severus. Still, from what Severus had told her, James had seemed genuinely sorry for that incident, and perhaps she should give him the benefit of the doubt and allow him to turn over a new leaf. Maybe Petunia would be good for him, she mused. Her sister was practical and hardworking and had both feet firmly on the ground, she was reliable and loyal, and she deserved to find someone who appreciated her for those qualities. Lily’s only concern was if James Potter were that certain someone. Vernon Dursley certainly hadn’t been, and Lily didn’t want Tuney to get her heart broken a second time. I ought to have a long talk with Potter before Saturday, make sure he understands that if he hurts Petunia, I will hex him into an early grave. He’s not going to treat her like he did all the rest of his girls at Hogwarts, date them for a week or two and then leave and go merrily on his way. No sir, not with my sister.
“Tuney, why don’t you wear that pretty apple green sundress with the lacey white wrap that Mum bought you last year?” Lily suggested, recalling a dress that had looked particularly flattering on Petunia’s tall, slender figure.
“Oh, Lil, that’s a brilliant idea! I’d almost forgotten about that one, it’s been so long since I’ve worn it.” Petunia squealed happily. “I hope it still fits. I think I’ve put on a bit of weight.”
Lily gave her sister a look of disbelief. “You? Get real, Tuney. The only weight you’ve put on is in your imagination. You still have a nice figure.”
“Humph! Flat as a board compared to you, Lily,” sighed Petunia, eyeing her sister’s full bosom enviously.
“Hey, don’t put yourself down like that. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so . . .curvy, my hips are going to be like a cow’s if I don’t watch what I eat. You won’t ever have that problem. You’re slender like a willow, and you can wear dresses that I never could.”
“Vernon used to say I was all bones and angles and no fun to hold,” Petunia recalled, her mouth turning down.
“And you believe Dursley? Give me a break! The fat bastard probably couldn’t even feel you through his pound of flesh. Trust me, Tuney. You’re pretty and attractive just the way you are.”
“You would say that, Lil. You’re my sister.”
“And I don’t lie,” Lily said quietly. “Wear that sundress and those wedge sandals, put up your hair and you’ll look like you came out of the pages of Vogue.”
“We’ll see, won’t we? But where should we go?”
“Why don’t you let Potter decide that? Maybe he’ll want to see a movie or take you to a Quidditch game or something.”
“Sports?” Petunia made a face. “I don’t like sports.”
“Quidditch isn’t like cricket or rugby, Tuney. It’s actually fun to watch.” Lily said. “You should let him take you to one game, just to see.”
Petunia looked doubtful. “I guess. I just hope he doesn’t think I’m too . . .dull and boring.”
“He won’t. He usually dates girls who giggle and can’t string two words together without putting in an “Oh, Jamie!” every other sentence.”
“He likes to be called Jamie?”
“I wouldn’t know, but I’ve heard his other girlfriends call him that sometimes. Don’t worry, Tuney. You’ll be fine. He’s not like Vernon, he has a brain, even if sometimes he forgets to use it. You can talk intelligently with him.”
Petunia grinned. “Thanks, Lil. I feel lots better now. How did your date with Sev go?”
Lily smiled. “It was sweet. We fed each other popcorn and kissed every time that silly bell rang and on Friday we’re going shopping for Christmas presents in Diagon Alley.”
“Really? I’m almost finished with my shopping,” Petunia said, somewhat smugly.
“Did you get something for me?” Lily asked, looking like a rabidly curious three-year-old.
“Maybe,” Petunia hedged.
“Wretch!” Lily promptly threw a pillow at her sister.
“Brat!” Petunia threw another back at her, laughing.
The two playfully hit each other with the pillows, indulging themselves in the childish game, giggling and shrieking until Polly came upstairs and hushed them, for their father was sleeping.
Her daughters looked at each other guiltily for a moment, then fell on Petunia’s bed, laughing.
Polly looked at them, shook her head, and muttered, “Oh, the joys of raising girls! Why couldn’t I have had sons?” Then she left, shutting the door behind her.
* * * * * *
Three days later:
James woke up feeling restless and out of sorts, though he couldn’t figure out why. He threw back the gold and cream striped comforter and unlatched the matching bedhangings and shoved them aside. His bed was a king-sized four poster, larger than the one at his dorm in Hogwarts, it could have comfortably slept three. By mistake, his foot kicked the sleeping calico cat at the foot of the bed, and Kismet yowled in annoyance and glared at him from sleepy green orbs.
“Sorry, sweet thing,” James apologized to her, she was his mother’s cat, but when he was home, she preferred to sleep with him. “Probably because I don’t snore like Dad does,” James had joked once.
He leaned over and rubbed the cat’s ears till she forgave him and began purring. James yawned and said, “You’ve got the life, Kizzie. Nothing to do but sleep, eat, and get petted.”
Kismet merely purred harder, kneading the covers with her front paws.
From his cage, set next to James’s desk covered with Quidditch trophies and memorabilia, Orpheus hooted, reminding his master that he hadn’t been fed yet today. James waved a hand and a dead shrew popped up in the barn owl’s cage. “I’ll let you out later, old boy,” James said. “Soon as I’m done with breakfast. Bilbo!”
There came a loud pop!—and a house elf appeared in the middle of the bedroom. “Yes, Master James?”
“I just wanted to know if my parents were up yet. I was going to have breakfast and then go flying for a bit.”
“Master Charles was up half-an-hour ago, and is now over in the south orchard, inspecting his apples. Mistress Liana is relaxing in her salon and will be paying a visit to your aunt later on.”
“Oh. Sounds like fun . .. for them. Well, I’m going to hit the shower and then eat.”
“Of course, Master James. Would you like scrambled eggs, toast with jam, and brown-sugared bacon today?” Bilbo asked.
“Yes, you know by now what I like to eat, Bilbo. Oh, and feed Kismet, she’s hungry too.”
“Very good, Master James. I shall do that directly,” Bilbo said and snapped his fingers.
A crystal bowl filled with chopped salmon appeared on the floor and Kismet jumped off the bed and ran to it, meowing eagerly.
“Spoiled thing,” the wizard laughed softly, then he slipped off the bed and wearing only his white cottom pajama bottoms, padded across the plush indigo carpet to the adjoining bathroom, which was done in black and white with magpie accents like his favorite Quidditch team, the Montrose Magpies.
Alternating black and white tiles on the floor and plush bath rugs accented the room, which boasted a huge sunken tub that could pour one of five different bubble baths into it and water hot enough to soak away sore muscles, as well as a separate shower stall, a toilet hidden by a screen with a Montrose Magpie logo on it, and a large marble counter and sink ensemble with hair potions, men’s cologne—Sorcerer For Him, shaving equipment and a magical toothbrush that would brush your teeth while you did other things, like combed your hair. Everything was sparkling clean and smelled like a cool spring day.
Warmed towels with a monogrammed JP were hung on the rack next to the shower, which was already running and steam was floating out of it.
James grinned and tore off his pajamas. Ah, there was no place like home, he thought fondly as he stepped into the shower.
* * * * * *
Ten minutes later, James was scrubbed, dressed in casual gray trousers and a short-sleeved Magpie jersey, and eating breakfast at the dining room table. The room was old, with an ancient mahogany table that harkened back to the Middle Ages and portraits of ancestors lined the wall. All of them were either snoring or yawning, none of the Potters were fans of getting up early. In the center of the wall opposite James’s seat was a large tapestry of the family crest, embroidered by some ancient lady of the house. The crest was an ivory stag leaping on a crimson ground over two crossed wands, with the motto veneratio quod officium supremus totus—Honor and Duty Above All—in a chevron about it.
James glanced once at the stag and smiled a secret smile. He wondered what his parents would think if he told them his Animagus form was a stag like the family crest. His father would be proud, for all of fifteen minutes, before he started to lecture his wayward son about practicing advanced magic unsupervised. Not wishing to mar his homecoming with another scolding, James decided to keep quiet about it, he had already endured one such lecture for his prank on Snape, apparently his father had run into Orion Black and Dumbledore at the Ministry, and Dumbledore had mentioned the bit of mischief the two boys had gotten into over crumpets and coffee. Charles Potter had not been amused.
“If it weren’t for the fact that your Headmaster had already punished you for it, you’d be grounded with no broom for the holiday, James Emerson Potter. And if you weren’t too old, I’d be giving you a good old-fashioned spanking as well. What in Merlin’s name were you thinking, to endanger another boy’s life that way, putting him in the same room as a wild wolf?”
For that was the story Dumbledore had told Orion and Charles, that Sirius, James, and Peter had put a sleeping Severus in a room with a wild wolf they had trapped in the Forbidden Forest, trying to scare him.
James had been penitent and remorseful, and told his father that he had learned his lesson and no further consequences were needed. Charles, not inclined to beat a dead unicorn, allowed that he would let it go—this time. “But if I hear one more word about you cutting up in school, young man, I’ll pull you from Hogwarts and ship you off to the Delinquent Wizarding Reform School. I would have thought you’d outgrow this mischievous streak by now.”
James had promised there would be no more incidents, and he intended to keep that promise this time. Almost killing Snape had scared him badly and coupled with Lily’s and now his father’s lecture, he began to think it was time he started to grow up and begin acting more maturely. He didn’t think Petunia would be impressed by a prankster, she seemed like a serious girl.
Wonder if Siri got read the riot act too when his dad got home? James mused, finishing his toast and bacon and then draining his juice glass. He didn’t doubt his friend had gotten into trouble, Sirius’s parents were far stricter than his own.
His musing was answered a moment later when Sirius’s owl, gray Flipside, flew in through the owl skylight and delivered a letter next to James’s empty plate. “Ah, so Siri finally remembered to write,” James exclaimed, then fed Flip a piece of rare bacon and some toast.
Flipside whoo-ed a thanks, then took wing and flew back to London, his post duties finished.
Bilbo appeared and cleared away the dishes while James opened the letter from Sirius.
Of all the bloody rotten luck! My dad ran into Dumbledore and your dad the other day at the Ministry and the old senile coot told him about our little prank on Snivellus. My dad was ready to throttle me after he found out. Why couldn’t Dumbledore have kept his mouth shut? Granted, Dad doesn’t know the WHOLE story, but even what he did know made him start frothing at the mouth.
Now, I’m practically under house arrest here, forbidden to go out and do anything, like fly, Mum has me writing bloody invitations to her stupid Christmas party and she took my wand too! I hate it here, but Dad says he won’t let me come over until he sees an attitude adjustment, whatever the bloody hell that means!
I’m seriously thinking about running away. It’s like a prison here, especially with Reg being given more privileges than me and talking about going skating with Snape or brewing some stupid potion with the dungeon bat. Ugh! The two of them are so bloody boring and Mum’s always saying why can’t I be more like Regulus?
Please! I’d Crucio myself first!
Hope your holiday is going better than mine. Stupid Dumbledore! Maybe I’ll change into Padfoot and Floo over to your house if I can’t stand it anymore. You’d be willing to hide me for a few days, right? Or I could go to Peter’s, his parents are gone to Germany or something, I think.
Write back, mate, and send over some Quidditch magazines so I have something to read in this dump.
Your bored, stir-crazy friend,
“Poor Siri,” James said aloud. “This is one of those times I’m glad my last name’s Potter and not Black.” He tapped his hand thoughtfully against the table. “Hmm . . .I know! I’ll tell Sirius to ask Orion if he can come shopping with me for Christmas presents. He can’t say no to that, and I’ll have Siri tell him I need advice on what to get my mother, which is true, I never know what to get her.”
He called Bilbo and began to write rapidly on the parchment with a new quill the house-elf brought him. Ten minutes later he had whistled up Orpheus and sent him over to Grimmauld Place.
Half-an-hour later, his barn owl returned with a note from Sirius.
James, you’re a genius! Dad said yes. Gave me money too. Meet you at Diagon Alley Friday afternoon by Fortescue’s. Brilliant job, mate!
James snickered, then got up and went to get his broom. It was a lovely morning for flying.
* * * * * *
Diagon Alley, London:
“I can’t believe your sister is going to go out with Potter, of all people,” Severus was saying to Lily as they were sitting in a corner of a café under a brightly colored green, purple, and yellow umbrella, eating an early lunch. Severus had made sure to cast Muffliato before beginning his conversation.
“I know, it shocked me too. Imagine coming home to discover Potter in your foyer,” Lily said. “But he did do one good thing. He beat the blazes out of that toad Dursley.”
“And that’s why Tuney’s going out with him?”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s the only reason. You know how charming James is with girls.”
Severus snorted. “Too bad it only runs skin deep. Did you tell her what he’s like? How he hexes people for fun and all?”
“A little. But I didn’t want to scare her, Sev. I feel bad for her, having that fat arse Vernon knock her about that way.”
“Too bad I wasn’t there. I’d have given the great pudding a good walloping,” Severus said heatedly.
“No doubt. But you weren’t, and Potter was, and now Tuney thinks he’s some knight in shining armor . . .sort of. And I think he likes her too.”
“I never would have picked him to be attracted to a Muggle.” Severus said skeptically.
Lily scowled. “Are you saying there’s something wrong with my sister?”
“No, of course not. Calm down, Lily. I’m just saying dating Muggles isn’t Potter’s style.” Severus said quickly. “I think Tuney is the first one he’s ever met.”
“Well, maybe she’ll be good for him, Sev. Make him grow up and stop acting like a prat.”
“And leave you in peace. And me too.”
“Yes. But I’m going to talk to him before he comes back to our house. Make sure he knows not to play fast and loose with Petunia, or else.”
“Good idea. Maybe I ought to have a chat with him too.”
“Sev, I appreciate it, but you have to promise you won’t hex him.”
Severus frowned. “Merlin, Lily, but you spoil all my fun.” Then he smirked. “Only kidding. I wasn’t planning on doing anything to him and getting written up for breaking the Underage Magic Decree. I just wanted to tell him to respect Petunia and treat her nicely, and not like some kind of trophy.”
“Or else I’m going to make what he did to Dursley look like a friendly scuffle.” Severus said grimly. He considered Petunia his sister, and he didn’t want her hurt by Potter’s cavalier attitude.
“Fair enough. He ought to get the message then,” Lily conceded. “Now, let’s talk about what we’re going to get Tuney and my mum for Christmas. And Eileen too. Any ideas?”
Severus thought for a moment. Buying presents for the women in his life was always difficult. Well, except for Lily. He had made her a special perfume with help from Eileen a few days before. He hoped she would like it. He had mixed the delicate scent of lemon verbena with some applewood and honeysuckle and a hint of jasmine and lily of the valley. He had called it Beloved Oracle. All he had to do now was pick out an appropriate bottle to put it in.
“Well, I’m glad for one thing that I have my old job back at your dad’s pharmacy,” he said, recalling how nervous he had been when he had gone into Evans’ Pharmacy earlier in the week to see if Henry had any positions open.
He had found Henry behind the counter, filling prescriptions, since Petunia was on her lunch break.
“Hello, Sev. What can I do for you?”
“Uh . . .Mr. Evans, may I speak with you in private?”
“Certainly, lad. Just give me a minute to put these up,” said the pharmacist, and he placed the filled prescriptions and their slips neatly in the rack and turned the sign on the door to CLOSED FOR LUNCH before beckoning Severus into the back room. “What’s on your mind, son?”
Severus looked down at the floor before speaking. Then he flicked his eyes up and said softly, “I was wondering if . . .you might give me my old position back, sir. I . . .could use the money now that my father is in jail.”
Henry chuckled. “Is that all? And here I thought you were about to ask me for Lily’s hand in marriage.”
Severus blushed. “Not right now, sir. Not till we finish school at least.”
“Good plan. Education is important,” Mr. Evans said approvingly. “Yes, Severus, you can come back and work for me. I’ll even give you a raise.”
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.”
“You deserve it. I’m glad to have a good employee back.” Henry said sincerely. “Ida James has been asking for you. She thinks you’re the best kid I’ve ever hired.”
Severus blushed harder. “Oh. Umm . . .that’s nice.” Then he added, “And I wanted to thank you, sir, for . . .testifying against my father the way you did and getting him locked up. My mother . . .she told me you helped her a lot after . . .so I just wanted to say thank you.”
Henry placed his hands on Severus’s shoulders lightly. “Sev, you don’t need to thank me. I just did what somebody should have done long ago. Your father is a beast who needs to be put away and I’m happy I could help. You don’t deserve what he did to you, lad. No kid does. Nor your mum either.”
Severus looked down at his trainers, a lump in his throat. “Nobody ever really . . .cared before . . .he told me never to tell anyone or else I’d get worse . . .so I didn’t . . .”
“I understand. But now he’s gone . . .hopefully for good. The judge wasn’t lenient, son. He gave him the maximum. Now maybe you and your mum can start living a better life, starting with your new position, Mr. Snape, as my assistant.”
Severus hadn’t known what to say, so he simply gave Henry a rare quiet smile.
“It’s nice to have pocket money,” Lily agreed cheerfully. “Well? Come up with anything?”
“I’ve been thinking that for my mother, she never would buy this for herself, because she never thinks of herself first, but I was thinking I could get her a nice locket, not too expensive, maybe one with her initials inscribed on it, and enchant it with a few protection charms . . .like ones to repel physical violence. Because even though Tobias is in jail . . .if he ever gets parole, he could come after her and I want her to be safe. Just in case.”
“Oh, that’s a lovely idea, Sev. Only . . .isn’t enchanting an object like that pretty expensive?”
“Yes, it would be . . .except Mr. Black agreed to do it for me free of charge. He’s really good with wards, he taught me and Reg how to cast some good ones, but I’m not at his level yet, and Mum deserves the best. So all I need to do is supply the locket.”
“And put a picture of you and her in it,” Lily said. “Do you have one of the two of you?”
“Yeah, I think so. I have to look through her albums. I think there are a few of when I was small with her holding me. Thanks for reminding me. I forgot about the picture.”
“And maybe I could get her some earrings that would match. Now how about my mum?”
“That’s a tough one. I only know that her favorite color’s pink. What does she like to wear?”
Lily considered. “You know, she has an old terry bathrobe that’s getting really shabby, but she won’t buy herself a new one. Says her old one is fine. But it isn’t. Tuney thinks we should throw it out one day and act like we don’t know where it went.”
Severus snickered. “That’s mean. All right . . .why don’t I buy her a nice robe . . .You know where Amelie’s Secondhand Robe Shop is? I can probably get a decent robe there without spending everything I own. And maybe Mum can embroider a lily and a petunia on it with a spell.”
“There’s a spell for that?”
“Yes, ask her and she’ll show you. It’s how I get the Slytherin crest on my robes every year. Mum does it instead of paying to have it put on. Costs less that way.”
“Great. And maybe I’ll get her . . .some slippers or hair combs.” Lily grinned.
“She’ll like that.”
“How about Petunia?”
“I’m stuck. What else does she like to do besides work and paint her nails?”
Lily giggled. “Umm . . .she likes to read too. Only not potions books. She likes medieval romances.”
Severus choked on his butterbeer. “Petunia likes what?”
“You heard me. She likes the stories of King Arthur and Lancelot and Guinevere and Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane . . .you know, all those juicy tales of doomed lovers and whatever.”
Severus was thunderstruck. “I would have never . . .that’s just so . . .strange.”
“That’s my sister. A closet romantic if ever there was one.”
“Has she ever read the Legend of Merlin and Nimue? It’s a wizarding romance, my mum has it on her shelf. It’s pretty interesting, she told me about it.”
“I don’t think so. And it might serve as a kind of way to introduce her to our world.” Lily nodded. “Can we get a copy at Flourish and Blotts?”
“Uh, it’s more than one book, it’s a series. There’s eight of them.”
“Oh. Well, you can get four and I can get four and then she’ll have the whole set.” She wrote down all the ideas upon a piece of parchment. “Now all I have left is to get you something.”
“I don’t need anything,” he said automatically. “Except you.”
“Nonsense, Sev. You’re going to have a present same as anyone else.” She nibbled the end of her quill.
“Lily, that’s disgusting!” he scolded. “Who knows where that feather’s been?”
“Hush! I’m thinking,” she waved him to silence.
He reached over and plucked the quill from her mouth.
She scowled at him. “Honestly, Snape!”
“You can think without that in your mouth.”
“You sound like my mother.” She rolled her eyes at him.
He ignored that comment and concentrated on finishing his sandwich.
Deprived of her quill, Lily nibbled her fingernail. It was an old habit, she always seemed to think better with something in her mouth. Thinking about medieval romances made her recall an old custom—a betrothal ring. It was the precursor to a modern day engagement ring, only it was not just for a woman, but a man could receive one as well. Often they had the lovers’ names engraved upon it. Would he wear it? Is it too presumptuous? I could always get him some new stirrers and a cauldron. But that’s so . . .ordinary. I got him that when we were ten. This time though . . .it’s different.
This time she wished for him to know how much he meant to her, and the betrothal ring would be perfect. She knew he would understand the significance.
“Are you almost done eating?” she said abruptly. “Because if you aren’t, you can just take your time. I need to run into a store and place an order.”
“For my present?” he queried.
She shrugged enigmatically. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“All right. Go and do what you need to and meet me back here.”
She kissed him lightly and then walked off smiling serenely.
Severus stayed where he was, eating the remainder of his sandwich and chips and finishing his butterbeer. Lily returned after five minutes, the jewelry shop was just around the corner, and together the two began shopping. They had almost gotten everything on their list and were coming out of Flourish and Blotts when they spotted James and Sirius coming out of Fortescue’s.
Lily waved Severus behind a potted palm decorated with blinking fairy lights and then she approached the two Marauders.
Sirius caught sight of her first. He was wearing black jeans and a red pullover and his eyes widened. “Hey, James. Look who’s come to visit.”
James turned. “Lily. Fancy meeting you here.” He took in the bag on her arm and said, “Doing some Christmas shopping? Me too.”
She eyed his empty hands. “Doesn’t look like you’ve had much luck, Potter.”
“That’s ‘cause we’ve only just started, Evans,” Sirius laughed. “How’s Snivelly been treating you?”
Lily’s eyes flashed. “Severus is treating me just fine, Black, thank you very much. James, may I talk to you in private?”
“Sure.” He had a feeling he knew what she wanted to discuss and followed her behind a large potted palm.
He did a double-take when he saw who else was there. “Snape! What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for the same reason Lily is. To talk to you about your intentions towards Petunia,” Severus began, aware that he sounded stuffy, but not knowing how else to put it so James got the message. Subtle was not Potter’s strong point.
“What are you, her father?” James eyed him, half-angry and half-amused. “Why would you care?”
“Because she’s like my sister, Potter,” snapped the other. “And the last thing she needs is you breaking her heart.”
James stiffened. “Who says I’m going to break her heart?”
“You had better not,” Lily put in. “Tuney has had enough of that sort of thing from bloody Vernon Dursley.”
“Tell me about it. It’s a good thing I came along when I did. How come you weren’t protecting her, Snape? You make a lousy older brother.”
Severus’s hands clenched. “I would have, if I were there. He would have been bleeding all over the pavement, trust me. But I wasn’t.”
“’Cause you were out shagging her sister,” James taunted.
Crack! James put a hand to his cheek, it burned and stung where Lily had smacked him.
“Stop it, Potter! You have no call to be rude and assume things! I’m not a slut,” Lily cried.
James coughed and looked away, ashamed. “Sorry. I . . .I didn’t mean that.”
“Next time think before you open your mouth. It’ll save you a lot of grief. I’m glad you helped my sister, but I’m not sure you’re one I can trust with her heart. She needs a man who’ll be true to her in all ways, not some fly-by-night guy who’s only out for a good time.”
“What makes you think I’m only looking for a good time?”
“Please, Potter. We know how many girls you’ve dated at school. None of them lasted more than a week or two.” Severus snorted.
“That was different. They weren’t . . .like Petunia. I was different too.” James said defensively.
“You were obsessing over me.” Lily agreed. “I’m hoping that you’ve gotten over that now. Because if you’re using Petunia to get to me, you’d best walk away right now before I hex you so bad your arse and head will be reversed.”
“There is no such spell.”
“We’ll make up one,” Severus threatened.
He stared at the dark-haired boy incredulously. “I really thing you would.”
“Believe it, Potter. I’m not fooling around here. You play fast and loose with her and I’ll ship you back to your fancy manor in a matchbox. So think about what you really want.”
“And if you can’t really commit to my sister after the first date, be kind enough to admit it and leave her alone,” Lily added. “Don’t . . .string her along and make her think you care for her when you don’t. It’s not fair. Tuney’s a great girl and she deserves someone who can appreciate her. Even if she’s not a witch. D’you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes. I’m not stupid, Lily Evans.” James grumbled. “I promise to be on my best behavior. I know how to treat a lady.”
Severus’s eyes narrowed. “Guess we’ll see about that.” He tapped his wand meaningfully.
“I’m not a tosser like that Dursley, Snape.” James began hotly. “Don’t paint me with his brush, okay? I think . . .that Petunia and I might have something special, if you’ll give me a chance to prove it.” He looked earnestly at Lily. “Please? I know I’ve behaved like a terrible git before to both of you and I want to . . .ah, what’s the expression . . .turn over a new leaf?” He nodded. “Yes, that’s it. I like Tuney, Lily. She’s got spunk and she’s smart and not a bubblehead like those other girls. Cute too. I think . . .she’ll be good for me.”
“I just hope you’ll be good for her,” Severus said, still glaring at the other distrustfully.
“Look, Snape. I’ll try my best. Like I said, I never met any girl like her before. And I don’t mean that she’s a Muggle, or that she’s older than me either. When I looked at her after I’d beaten the crap out of that drunken bum . . .there was something . . .between us . . .hell, I can’t describe it . . .a connection, a feeling . . .attraction but more . . .”
“The word you’re looking for is love, Potter,” Severus offered.
“Is it?” James was skeptical. “How can it be? We’ve only just met.”
“Love happens when it happens,” Lily said. “Sometimes your heart is wiser than your head. Listen to it, James. And treat my sister right.” Now she was looking at him suspiciously too.
He held up his hands. “Okay, okay! Merlin, but you’re like two guard dogs.”
“And we bite too,” Lily said.
“Hard.” Severus added.
“The two of you are bonkers. I get it. That all you wanted to discuss, or would you like me to treat you to ice cream?”
“No thanks. We just ate,” Lily declined.
“And we need to finish up here,” Severus reminded her.
“Right. See you on Saturday, Potter. Oh, and you might want to think about where you’d like to take Petunia for your date. She’s never seen a Quidditch match.” Lily called over her shoulder.
“Okay, I’ll think about it.”
Severus followed his girlfriend, leaving James staring after them, shaking his head.
He emerged from behind the tree and made his way back to Sirius, who was making eyes at a pretty girl going by.
“What’d Evans want? To warn you off Snivellus again?”
“Sirius, do me a favor.”
“Quit calling Snape that.”
“Huh? What for?”
“We’re getting a little old to be calling people names, don’t you think?”
“So? Who cares? It’s only Snivellus.”
“It makes us sound like primary school babies,” James said firmly. “We’re almost sixteen. I think we ought to act like it.”
“She hex you or something, mate?” Sirius goggled at him.
“No. It’s just . . .let me fill you in on a couple of things . . .” James took Sirius by the arm and led him down the street, telling him about Petunia and his rescue of her from Vernon and how he felt about her.
* * * * * *
“Mum? I’m home.” Severus called as he entered the house. That’s strange. She’s usually cooking by this time. He shut the door with a foot and continued on into the kitchen, setting his packages down on the table.
But there was no one there.
“Sev? I’m in here,” Eileen called from the bedroom.
Severus made his way into the bedroom. Eileen was in bed, her face flushed and her black hair hanging limply about her shoulders, wearing a light cotton nightgown. “Mum? Are you sick?”
She nodded. “Yes. I think I have a throat infection, possibly an ear infection also.”
“When did this start? You seemed fine this morning when I left.” He moved over to touch her forehead. “You’re burning up.”
“I know. I took a Fever Reducer after you left, but I guess I need a stronger one.”
He drew his wand and ran a diagnostic health check, a spell Eileen had taught him last year. “Yes. You have a 38.5 degree fever, a sore throat and your right ear is infected too.”
“You shouldn’t come too close to me, son. You might catch it too.”
“You need potions, Mum.” Severus said, ignoring her previous words.
“An Extra Strength Fever Reducer, an Ear Remedy, and a Sore Throat Elixir,” she recited.
“I can brew those,” he reassured her. They would take him several hours though. “Are you thirsty? I can get you some water.”
“Some ice-cold water would be good,” Eileen said hoarsely.
Severus summoned a glass with lots of ice and water with a straw. He held it while Eileen drank. Then he gently wiped her face with a cool wet rag he had fetched from the bathroom sink.
“That feels good. Thank you, Severus.”
“I’ll go and start brewing those potions. There’s water here on the nightstand if you need it.” He hesitated, looking at her in concern. He had never seen her so ill before and it frightened him.
“Go, Sev. I will be fine,” she shooed him away. “I’ll rest while you brew.” She snuggled down into the covers and closed her eyes.
He had just gone into the kitchen to get himself something to drink when the doorbell rang.
Now who could that be? We don’t usually have visitors. Oh Merlin, I hope it’s not my father. His heart pounded crazily. Could Tobias have been released already, even though his parole was not supposed to be up yet? Cautiously, he unlocked the door and opened it.
Lily was standing on the porch. “Sev, I was going through my things and I realized I left Tuney’s books in your bag. So I stopped by to get them.”
“Oh. Come on in,” he waved her inside.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, sensing something was not right.
“My mum is sick, she’s in bed with a really bad sore throat and an ear infection and a fever. I . . .I was going to brew a few batches of potions for her.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Lily moved over to the bags on the table and had soon found the four books she had bought as a present for Petunia and stuffed them into her brown carryall. “Do you need my help to brew?”
Severus hesitated, pride warring with necessity. He hated to admit he couldn’t do everything on his own. But then he thought of his mother, who was depending on him to make her well and he shoved his pride aside. “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t mind, silly! Eileen’s almost like my second mother.” Lily said, rolling up her sleeves. “What are we brewing?”
Severus led the way into the lab and summoned Eileen’s book of Healing Elixirs and Solutions from the shelf and opened it to the correct recipes. The Fever Reducer he knew how to brew already, it was the Sore Throat Elixir he was unsure about.
“You can brew the Ear Remedy,” he told Lily, showing her the page opposite his recipe.
She peered at it. “Hmm. This doesn’t seem too hard.”
Together, the two began to chop up and measure ingredients, stirring and steeping, working in a companionable silence. Three hours later, they had brewed several vials of each potion, and Lily came with Severus to see Eileen.
“Lily, you shouldn’t be here, child. Severus, d’you want her to get sick too?” Eileen scolded gently, taking the first draught of the Extra Strength Fever Reducer her son handed her.
“I insisted on staying and helping, Eileen,” Lily told her. “And don’t worry, I won’t get sick. Here, now take the Sore Throat Elixir.” She handed Eileen a red potion.
The Ear Remedy was one that was applied into the ear canal with a medicine dropper, Severus did that while Lily gently wiped Eileen’s face with a damp cloth.
After that, the Potions Mistress went back to sleep, and Lily told Severus she would stop back later to see if Eileen were doing better. “I’ll tell Mum to make her famous chicken soup. It’s the Evans’ best cold remedy,” she joked.
Severus gave her a wan smile. “Thanks, Lil. If she gets any worse or the potions don’t seem to be helping, I’ll call a Healer from St. Mungos.”
“I think she’ll be okay. She’s a tough one, like her son,” Lily said, then she hugged her boyfriend and promised to come back later.
Severus retrieved his glass of iced tea from the fridge and began composing a letter to Reg, to be delivered by Eileen’s owl, Nighteyes. He needed to know when Lucius had his next meeting planned, he sincerely hoped it was not anytime soon, for he did not want the holiday season marred by an Iron Mask reunion. He also wanted to find out how his friend was doing now that Sirius was back at home.
After posting the letter, Severus returned to check on his mother.
He found Eileen sleeping fitfully, and he replaced the covers over her and wiped her face and neck again. “Get better soon, Mum.”
Lily returned just before dinner with a huge covered bowl of Polly’s homemade chicken soup, fresh rolls, and some apple turnovers, which were Sev’s favorite. They ate together, played a few hands of gin rummy, and Lily helped Severus wrap up his Christmas gifts before returning home.
“You aren’t getting sick too, are you?” she asked just before she kissed him good night. “You look kind of flushed.”
“I’m fine,” he insisted, though he did feel slightly achy and tired.
By the next morning, Eileen felt much improved, but she too noticed her son’s flushed face and slightly hoarse throat and ordered him to take the potions he had made and lie down.
“I’m not sick, Mother!” he objected, though he felt more than a little under the weather.
“No arguments, Severus. In bed with you now.”
“But then who will take care of you?”
“I am feeling much improved, son, and I can take my own potions now,” Eileen ordered. “Bed, Severus Tobias.” She pointed imperiously to his bed, which had the covers drawn down.
“Must I count to three?”
Flushing, he gave in. “Merlin, Mum, what do you think I am, two?” He lay down, frowning.
“You’re acting very much like that now,” she pointed out, then smoothed back the hair on his forehead. She gave him the same potions she had taken, he grumbled but swallowed them. He really wanted to know if Potter had sent Petunia his owl and what she had replied. But all of a sudden his eyes were shutting. Oh, well. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow. Then he fell asleep, and Eileen sat beside his bed for a good hour before going into the kitchen to make herself some breakfast.
A/N: A nice long chapter for you. Hope you all enjoy it!
Thanks for all the reviews.
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