The three boys watched Lily’s retreating back until she was gone from the Great Hall. Sirius and Remus turned to James, sympathy written on their faces. James didn’t say anything. Not a word. He didn’t need to.
When brown and grey eyes met hazel, words were useless. Sirius nodded and James got to his feet looking upset, but relieved they understood. After six years of watching their best friend love a girl who hated him back, they always understood.
‘See you later, Prongs,’ Remus murmured.
James nodded over his shoulder and left the Hall, going left at the doors where Lily had gone right.
‘Stupid Evans,’ Sirius muttered.
‘I thought you liked her,’ Remus said, helping himself to bacon.
‘I do. Not when she’s upsetting Prongs.’
‘She’s always upsetting Prongs,’ Remus sighed. Sirius opened his mouth to argue and then shrugged, nodding. ‘She’ll come around eventually.’
‘Let’s just hope she does it before James pitches himself off the Astronomy Tower.’ Remus smiled and shook his head.
‘Good morning, Professor,’ Remus said, smiling at Professor McGonagall. She was a tall, black-haired witch with beady eyes, thin lips and an almost permanently stern expression.
‘Minnie!’ Sirius said, delighted. He leapt off his bench and threw his arms around the witch. To her credit, she wasn’t startled at all; this was not the first time Sirius had tried it. ‘We missed you over the summer! All that spare time from not having detentions...’
Professor McGonagall looked like she might smile. ‘That is easily rectified,’ she told him. ‘Detention, Mr Black, for inappropriate behaviour during breakfast.’
‘Back to school leniency?’ Sirius asked hopefully.
‘That expired at last night. I believe you and Mr Potter are responsible for Argus’ kitten finding her way into a suit of armour.’
‘Would you believe his cat’s just thick?’
‘No, I will not. I’ve yet to meet an unintelligent feline.’
‘You would say that,’ Sirius said. ‘All right. What time tonight?’
‘Nine,’ she said. She pulled a timetable out, tapped it with her wand and passed it to Remus. She did the same for Sirius and then, after a moment’s hesitation, passed them another two. ‘For Messrs Potter and Pettigrew,’ she said and then walked over to Alice, Marlene and Frank.
‘Bummer about detention,’ Sirius said.
Remus snorted. ‘Have you ever hugged her and not been punished?’ Sirius thought about it and then shook his head. ‘Can you get Wormtail?’ Sirius pulled out his mirror while Remus consulted their timetables. ‘Double Potions,’ Remus said, grimacing. ‘And then you’ve got Muggle Studies, I’ve got a free, Peter has Divination and Prongs has Ancient Runes.’
‘Get that?’ Sirius asked. ‘Potions, Muggle Studies, Divination and Ancient Runes.’
‘I think so,’ Peter said from inside the mirror. Peter had stayed in the dormitory that morning because he wanted to unpack, so they’d left him with James’ mirror and instructions to bring down their books for the morning. It would save them a trip upstairs after breakfast. Sirius, in return, would deliver Peter breakfast.
‘What do you want to eat?’ Sirius asked.
‘Toast,’ Peter said. ‘Bacon and eggs. And what are my chances of pumpkin juice?’
‘Good,’ Sirius told him. ‘See you soon.’
‘Oi! Black!’ Remus and Sirius spun in synchronisation, wands out. It was Regulus, storming over toward them, scowling.
Sirius smiled slightly and lowered his wand. ‘How are you, Reg?’
‘Don’t call me by that childish nickname!’ Regulus said crossly.
‘Should I call you “brother” instead?’ Sirius asked loftily.
‘How about you don’t even talk to me.’
‘You started this conversation,’ Sirius shot back, glancing over at the Slytherin table. His cousins Bellatrix and Narcissa seemed to be enjoying themselves.
‘You’re making a scene,’ Remus said loudly. ‘Come on, Sirius.’
‘Fine,’ Sirius said. He wrapped Peter’s breakfast in a napkin, shoved a goblet of pumpkin juice into Remus’ hands and stalked out.
‘Don’t just walk away from me!’ Regulus shouted. Sirius heard his brother’s footsteps behind him and scowled.
Once they were out in the Entrance Hall, Remus and Sirius ducked into a side chamber, the same one the first years usually waited in. Regulus showed up about half a second later.
‘How are you, Reg?’
Regulus stepped forward and hugged him. ‘I’ve been better.’
‘Think they bought our little show?’
‘Probably,’ Remus said, shifting Peter’s juice to his other hand so he could shake Regulus’ hand. ‘You’re getting better at it.’
‘Thank you, I think,’ Regulus said. He shifted. ‘How are you going with... erm... I heard you had a rough holiday.’
Sirius swallowed. ‘Yeah.’ He’d written to tell his brother what had happened, and that he and James would be staying at Remus’ for the duration of the holidays. ‘I’m going okay.’
‘Good,’ Regulus said with a sad smile. ‘And James? Is that why he walked out?’
‘Observant little berk, aren’t you,’ Sirius said, ruffling Regulus’ hair. ‘No, he and Evans had a... er... row’s probably the best word for it.’
‘Again?’ Regulus asked, laughing.
* * *
‘Ten beetle eyes, Professor,’ Potter said without missing a beat. Lily rolled her eyes. Of course he had it right. He always had it right, even if he hadn’t been paying attention.
What really interested her was the emotionless tone he said it in. He was one of the most animated people she knew. She wondered what might have caused the sudden behavioural change. Her mind drifted back to breakfast, when Remus had read about deaths in the Prophet. Could that be what had upset him? She shook her head. No, James Potter wouldn’t care about a few muggle deaths.
It had to be something else. Perhaps something she’d done? She had turned him down again, but that was nothing new... she supposed it was the first time this year... No, that couldn’t be it either.
‘And how many strips of sandalwood?’ Professor Slughorn asked. He was the Potions Master at Hogwarts, and looked rather like a walrus.
‘Three,’ Black said just as easily as Potter had. Even he sounded a little more muted than usual. She risked a glance at Remus who looked as he always did; as if he were concentrating. That was reassuring, at least until she noticed his eyes flicking to Black and Pettigrew and then all of them staring at Potter. Potter would smile a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and look away. Surely he wasn’t oblivious to the concerned looks the other three were sharing?
‘Ten points to Gryffindor, Mr Black!’ Slughorn boomed, clapping his meaty hands together.
‘What about James, Professor?’ Black asked. ‘Shouldn’t he get points too?’
‘Oho!’ Slughorn waggled a finger. ‘Mr Black, you should have been a Slytherin! Such cheek!’ Lily noticed with amusement that Black looked disgusted at the thought of belonging to Slytherin house. The Slytherins in the room looked likewise insulted. A small smile settled on her face. ‘All right! Ten points to Mr Potter. Class dismissed.’
The class filed out the usual chatter filled the dungeons as the seventh years headed to their respective common rooms. The Marauders converged on Potter and minutes later, four sets of loud laughter filled the corridor. Lily began to miss her friends.
Her first ever friend Severus Snape had called her “mudblood” in fifth year, a dirty name for someone with muggle parents. That coupled with the fact that he was falling in with Slytherins who hurt people... well, they didn’t talk much anymore. Snape had stopped giving verbal apologies, and, although it hurt her, Lily had stopped looking at him for the sad, pleading smiles that made her want to forgive him. She sighed. They were too different now.
She was quite close with Alice and Marlene but they were sixth years so the only times she saw them were in the common room, and most of the time they were with other people; Alice with her steady boyfriend Frank and Marlene with her various... acquaintances
Her other friend, Mary McDonald had not been allowed to come back to finish her seventh year. Her parents were both magical, knew all about the war with Voldemort and had decided they could protect her and her sister Susan better than Dumbledore himself could.
Lily had considered trying to make new friends this year, but she didn’t really have the heart for it. The only girls in her classes were Slytherins, and even if she considered extending the hand of friendship, she knew she’d never have anyone take it. They’d more likely bite it off, light it on fire and dance on the ashes. She was muggle-born. Slytherins hated her.
For no reason Lily could put a finger on, most of the boys avoided her. She knew it was immature, but she blamed Potter. She had a feeling he’d somehow “claimed” her company, since he and the Marauders were the only males in the entire school that were willing to spend any length of time with her.
Lily wrinkled her nose. Her options for new friends were severely limited. She briefly considered the girls in her Gryffindor dorm but doubted she would be able to stand listening to their many Marauder “encounters”. They were the founders of the Potter and Black fan-clubs - another thing Lily didn’t want any part of - and their only aspirations for next year were to keep the clubs going.
Lily on the other hand, wanted to do something useful. She wanted to be a Healer, something she would need top grades for... so perhaps it was best if she didn’t have any friends to distract her from her studies.
Yes, it was all for the best, she thought as she told the portrait of Hogwarts’ first Head Girl and Boy the password (‘leadership’). To Lily’s chagrin, the Marauders were already there, sprawled on the couches. She considered leaving, but decided that would be childish. She stifled a sigh and squeezed onto the couch beside Remus. Of all the Marauders, she liked him most, mainly because he wasn’t as arrogant as the others and also because she knew he was capable of being mature.
She hid behind her Potions textbook, able to feel Potter’s eyes on her. She refused to look his way, keeping her eyes on the page in front of her.
She heard a quiet sigh and then he said miserably, ‘I think I’m masochistic.’ Pettigrew laughed but Black was silent. Lily glanced at him over the top of her book and was shocked to see him looking helplessly at Potter, who was staring at his hands with a dejected expression. Remus looked grim.
‘Is something bothering you, Potter?’ she asked coolly, putting her book down with a thump. Black sighed and his expression made her think she was being unhelpful.
‘Several things, love.’ Lily gritted her teeth but Potter didn’t seem to notice. ‘First there’s the fact that y-’
‘I really don’t care!’ she exploded. Potter grimaced and looked at his hands.
‘Then why did you ask?’ Black demanded, leaping to his best friend’s defence.
‘I just want him to stop looking so miserable,’ Lily snapped. It was petty and she knew it, but she was always petty around the Marauders. They seemed to bring out the worst in her.
‘Or what?’ Black challenged.
Potter laughed, his dour mood forgotten. He elbowed Black with a look on his face that made Lily think they were conspiring against her. ‘Careful, Padfoot. My inner-eye just informed me that we’re about to earn a double detention for looking upset!’ Remus and Pettigrew laughed.
Black looked thoughtful, rubbing his chin as he stared off into the distance. ‘Wouldn’t put it past you,’ he said, grinning cheekily at Lily. ‘Besides, Prongs, we’ve had weirder. Remember the one for “looking suspicious”?’ Black asked fondly.
‘Yes, but, Pads, we’d just warded the library to stop Ravenclaws from getting inside.’
‘What about the one for talking to Peeves?’ Remus chuckled. ‘That was third year, remember? McGonagall thought we’d get ideas.’
‘I remember, Moony!’ Pettigrew said happily. ‘Although I can kind of see her point. Didn’t Peeves tell us to charm the cutlery at breakfast to stick to their owner’s hands and...’
Lily didn’t hear any more. She stalked out of the room, to seek somewhere quieter to sit. She was oblivious to Potter’s wistful look on her back.