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Before They Fall by Jchrissy
Chapter 14 : Build Up
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 13


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Perfect image created by heartfelt. (previously pheonixn) @ TDA
Chapter 14 - Build Up
Lily glanced up from her parchment just in time to see Professor Genov flick her wand at the board, causing a piece of chalk to zoom into the air and begin writing. “Now class," the professor began once the chalk had a few lines written down, "take a moment to copy these notes before we continue.”

Tachycardia Curse. Two levels below an Unforgivable. Punishable depending on the situation. Maximum Punishment - Lifetime in Azkaban. Considered ‘very difficult’ and should only be attempted under supervision.

Lily just finished the last word when Professor Genov's voice broke the sound of scratching quills. “Can someone tell me why exactly this curse is so dangerous?” she asked, glancing around. Lily let her eyes wander as well, noticing a few hands that shot up. She did know the answer, but decided against raising hers. She was too tired to risk using unnecessary energy.

The weekend felt like it had come and gone in the blink of an eye. After they’d finished talking with Belle in the Heads’ Quarters, they spent the rest of the evening in the Gryffindor common room and stayed up entirely too late chatting with some of the other students. Then they’d spent the majority of the next day working in groups for the scheduled revision, and she somehow ended up talking with Remus about their Arithmancy homework up until curfew.

She finally made it to bed around eleven, looking forward to a full seven hours of sleep. What she didn’t count on was Butterscotch having a very different agenda for the night. After running all around her bed thrashing like crazy then trying to use her toes as play toys, he finally settled down and curled into her hair before falling fast asleep. By that time midnight was approaching, but Lily was okay with getting only six hours of sleep.

Then sometime during the night her little ball of fur had decided that Lily's thick strands of hair were a much better used as a toy than a bed, and around three she’d woken up to him frantically meowing after getting himself too tangled to find his way out. The worst part of it all, was she couldn’t even be mad. He was too tiny and soft to be frustrated with. She may have to ask one of the house elves for a warm water bottle that evening. Hopefully that would do the trick and calm him down enough to fall asleep at a decent hour.

“Yes, Abigail? Do you know the answer?” Lily’s thoughts returned to the present, causing her to stifle a yawn and sit up straighter. Her eyes fell on the shiny gold Prefect badge pinned to Abigail's robe… too bad, she was almost hoping Slughorn would’ve removed her from the Prefect position after the issue in Hogsmeade.

“The Tachycardia Curse causes the heart of whomever you’re casting it on to speed up at an alarming rate. If someone is subjected to the curse for more than a few seconds, their heart will start beating too fast to pump blood and they’ll die of heart failure.” Lily nodded to herself, knowing that Abigail had given the correct answer.

“Correct. And what are the benefits of this curse? When can it be used in one’s favour?” Abigail stuttered for a moment, before shaking her head to indicated she wasn’t sure.

“Anyone?” Professor Genov asked, looking around the room. Lily thought for a moment but couldn’t remember reading a passage on the benefits…. Although, if someone’s heart rate was going dangerous slow and they needed to be able to react…

“Lily?” Lily was only half aware that her hand had slowly began to venture into the air and had to mask a moment of surprise.

“Well," she began, recovering quickly. "Considering the curse works by releasing high doses of epinephrine, it isn’t just the heart rate that will increase. Because of the adrenaline, the person will go into fight or flight mode. So if you needed to react quickly in a situation and couldn’t, you could even use it on yourself.”

“That’s very inventive,” Professor Genov said with a nod. “Any other benefits of the curse?”

Lily turned around as the hand behind her went up, and was curious as to what Remus would say.

“Mr. Lupin?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I think if you were in a situation where someone went into cardiac arrest, the curse could almost be used to restart the heart?”

“Exactly! Ten points for Gryffindor.” If it had been anyone but Remus, Lily would've been a bit jealous that she didn’t think of it herself. But she was so used to either being just above or just below him when it came to their marks, essays, exams, everything that had to do with class, really.. that she was no longer daunted by it when he got to an answer before her.

“Excuse me, Professor," Abigail interrupted with just a hint of bite to her tone. "I wasn’t awarded any points for correctly answering the question."

“Well Abigail, that’s because I assigned chapters five and six to read. The answer you came up with was in chapter five, meaning you should know it regardless. I don’t reward students for doing what they were told. I reward students for going past that, and coming up with their own theories and opinions. Any more questions?” The professor sat at her desk with her grading quill already in hand before Abigail even had a hope of defending herself.

Lily heard Sirius and Peter muffle a laugh from their seats behind her. At least James managed to contain himself. But that was to be expected, considering he was Head Boy and laughing at another student really wouldn’t be the best example to set.

She turned around to lecture the two boys, only to realize that James was, in fact, part of the snickering.

“Remus, control them, won’t you?” Lily hissed at the tired looking boy. She was about to turn about around when she noticed that he didn’t just look tired.. Had he not slept well either? Maybe he was coming down with something… If he was feeling ill he really should go see Madam Pomfrey.

“You know just as well as I do how impossible that is,” Remus said. Despite the pale colour of his face, his dark eyes were dancing with humor. That relaxed Lily enough for her to come to the conclusion that he probably did just need a bit of sleep.

“I don’t know, Remus," Frank said in a whisper, leaning forward to look down the row. "I don’t think it would be impossible for Lily. I’m sure James wouldn’t mind too much being controlled by her.”

“Franklin Longbottom!” It was Lily’s turn to hide a smirk as Alice turned around and locked her eyes onto Frank’s. Unlike the cold glare that Belle often used to shut one of them up, Alice’s look was much different. She didn’t have the same ability to instill fear in someone the way Belle did, instead her eyes screamed disappointment. Like the look a puppy gives after you promised to take it for a walk, but never did. Lily wasn’t surprised when the glance had Frank quickly glancing back down to his parchment and continuing his work.

“Hey, did you guys see that?” The group turned toward Sirius, waiting for him to elaborate.

“None of you can see that?” Sirius asked again, elbowing Peter next to him and nudging his head toward Frank.

“Oh… I think I did see that,” James said, clearly catching on to whatever it was Sirius was talking about. He glanced at Remus, a smirk plastered on his face.

“I suppose I did too,” Remus muttered, still half concentrating on his notes.

“You four ‘ave lost it, ‘aven’t you?” Belle added, her eyes running over the group of boys.

“Well, I guess if none of you lot saw it…” Peter finally said with a forfeiting sigh.

“Saw what?” Lily demanded.

“Alice rip the pants right off Frank.” Sirius tried to keep his face straight, but a grin broke through.

“Guess there isn’t any question as to who wears the trousers in the relationship,” Peter added. That was enough to ruin every bit of control the boys had managed to maintain. Even Alice, despite the reddening of her cheeks, couldn’t hold back her laughter.

"Excuse me," came the stern voice of their professor. Lily didn't imagine the dark haired witch to be much over five feet... but just then she looked like she was standing a mile above them all. “Is learning about curses that can potentially kill a person really that humorous?” Professor Genov asked as she came up toward the group. Lily, Belle and Alice quickly faced down to their notes, leaving the boys to clean up their own mess.

“Er, no Professor Genov. We were just…” James grew silent, clearly having no excuses handy.

“Just getting to work on your notes, or just surrendering five Gryffindor points?” Lily bit down on her lip, waiting to see how James would answer

“Getting to work on my notes, of course,” he said smoothly, causing Lily to let up on the bite ever so slightly. She could picture the look he was giving their teacher perfectly. Apologetic, but not quite sincere.

The class got back into their routine, continuing to copy down the notes that the chalkboard created. After Lily had unrolled her scroll for the third time and added at least another five inches to the essay, she carefully placed her quill onto the desk. She rubbed the soreness from her eyes before looking up to the front of the room where a large, crystal and brass hourglass was set on a small corner table.

The smooth, tiny pieces of sand were slipping through one level to the next, both the bottom and top half almost exactly even. Which meant the first hour of double Defence was almost over.. but that wasn’t too encouraging considering, even after the first hour ended, it would still only be nine o’clock.

Then they’d spend the next hour studying a spell that would be the best to defend against the curse they talked about in the first half. By the time almost all the grains of sand reached the bottom, it would be nearly ten-thirty. They’d get fifteen minutes to finish things up or meet with Professor Genov and talk to her about anything they didn’t understand. And then it would finally be time to move onto the next class.. getting her one step closer to bedtime.

Lily heard commotion from the other side of the room, but refused to look. She was sure Abigail and Rosier were at it again. For a relationship that had started less than two weeks ago, it sure seemed rocky. She should know, she had to listen to them every single morning. Having Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts with the Slytherins wouldn’t be as terrible, except for now that they were all at NEWT levels on two of the hardest subjects in Hogwarts, both classes were doubles. Transfiguration being even longer to make up for the fact that it was only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It was already pretty blatant that it would definitely be one of those days.

*

Lily’s face was molded into concentration as she peeled the last piece of skin off of the Water Egg. She went slowly, forcing her fingers to stay as steady as a surgeon's while the thin, bright red layer began separating from the dark purple meat of the plant. She knew there was no room for error, especially considering there weren’t any extras. It’d probably been a nightmare for Slughorn to find the few Water Eggs that the class now had considering the only known lake to grow them was the Black Lake. And the Merpeople guarded them heavily for one of their own food sources. Lily began pulling back another piece, her thoughts stuck on why the plants wouldn’t grow in any other lakes… She supposed it could have something to do with the high concentration of magic floating around the Hogwarts grounds.

Not only was the Water Egg hard to come by, but it was completely necessary for the White Wash potion. She still didn’t even fully understand how the concoction they were currently brewing worked. It was extremely hard to get just right, but Professor Slughorn was expecting the class to get close enough that, even if it didn’t work properly, it would have nearly all the characteristics of a correctly brewed batch.

But she still thought that being able to wrap her brain around just how the potion worked would give her a better chance at creating it. She knew it did just what its name promised, washed the entire body with all five types of white blood cells. Its job was to kill even the strongest infection or parasite in a situation where a person couldn’t get to St. Mungo’s. But the potion wasn’t able control the cells for long. She knew it started by attacking the site of the infection with the cells, but once that was eaten away a counteracting potion needed to be given to stop them from multiplying. If they weren’t stopped, they would create blocks that the red blood cells couldn’t get through.

They had yet to discuss the counteracting potion, and from what their professor said it was only given by a Healer and only brewed by a Potions Master.

So, although that all made sense to Lily, what she didn’t understand was exactly how the potion was able to go to the spot of the infection. But she supposed some things in the wizarding world just weren’t meant to be understood.

She ripped the now separated Water Egg skin in half and dropped only one of the halves into her concoction, then watched as it turned into a royal blue colour. Perfect. She couldn’t help but smile at herself, and was pleased she’d decided to follow her instincts instead of the book. She knew the Water Egg skin was meant to add a cementing quality, and the potion itself was already very thick, so the putting the whole skin in would probably have turned the entire thing rock hard.

Now it needed to sit completely undisturbed for fifty-eight seconds, then get half an anticlockwise turn.

“Custodiant Tempus*,” she mumbled, pointing her wand at a piece of parchment next to her elbow. A red shimmery glow appeared over a section of the parchment and she used her wand to write the number five in the air, followed quickly by the number eight. The fifty-eight formed easily from the glow and with one last flick of her wand, the misty colour turned into more of a solid red and the seconds began counting themselves down.

Her thoughts circled back around the potion and she found herself wondering if it was the potion itself, or the result it had on the body that interested her the most. The seventh years would soon have their final Career Advice session… usually the Heads of House began seeing students right after winter holiday, and she didn’t see any reason it would be different this year.

It seemed like a lifetime ago that she’d told Professor McGonagall she was set on becoming a Healer… and the professor had been nothing but encouraging and confident that Lily could achieve the goal. But was that what she still wanted? Would attending two years of The Healing Academy for Magical Medicine be anything but pointless when their world was in such turmoil? Although they would always need Healers.. even in a state of war. Probably more-so now than ever. That thought had Lily’s stomach churning; she hated the idea of how many had already been hurt, killed even.

She turned her thoughts back to the Career Advice, blocking the war out. Would she miss creating potions if she went into the field of Healing? She knew people had often thought her talent in the subject came from her former best friend, but she would have loved potions with or without Severus’s friendship. Slughorn had even mentioned offhandedly to her that it wouldn’t be long now until he retired. Whether it had been just a casual comment or something more, Lily didn’t know. But teaching was something she could absolutely see herself doing.

Lily focused back on her potion as the large red numbers began blinking, then fading off into the background, leaving her parchment completely clean once more. She picked up the long, thin stirring stick as well as the towel beside it. Her stirring stick, a solid metal that had been made by goblins, was tough enough to withstand any potion, unlike some wooden ones that could melt or disintegrate. She reached to the middle of the table and grabbed the cleaning solution, which was simply water with a few drops of dragon blood in it, and used that along with her towel to clean off her stick. That way she knew it didn’t have any sort of contaminants on it that could alter the make up of her potion.

Her lips, naked of any gloss that afternoon, flicked up into a smile as she slowly began administering the turn and her potion faded from the royal blue to a pale, soft one.

“Looking good, Evans,” James said, bringing Lily from her thoughts. When she glanced up at him to give him a thank you smile, she noticed that everyone else was just as concentrated on their potions. There wasn’t one word being passed through the classroom.

Across the perfectly square table, Alice had face almost inches away from her brew as she studied whatever ingredient she was now adding. Frank, who was sitting right next to his girlfriend, seemed to be contemplating something in the book as his eyebrows scrunched up and his fingers tapped softly against the pages. To her right, Belle was leaning over the corner of the table and reading something in Sirius’s book. Potions wasn't her strongest subject, which was understandable considering Beauxbatons had focused more on the theories of potions, what made something do what in a potion, as opposed to brewing the actual potion.

Her and Sirius often worked together. He was incredibly patient with explaining his process, whereas when Lily tried to go over the steps, she got too focused on what she was doing. She didn’t dislike helping Belle, not in the slightest, but she would often get so lost in her own work that she’d forget to explain and would be two or three steps ahead.

Lily watched the way Sirius and Belle read through another step of the directions in unison. After their eyes reached the bottom of the page, Belle picked up her own stirring stick and cleaned it off with the same solution Lily had used, then handed to Sirius. Who, in return, gave her a peeled piece of Water Egg skin.

Surprisingly enough, Lily felt a swell build inside her chest. Something about seeing two of her best friends work seamlessly together… both so focused on what they were doing that they probably hadn’t even realized they were building their potions around one another.

Sirius had never liked cleaning his stirring stick, he always got way too much solution and dripped it all over himself. Belle never liked peeling their ingredients, the long nails she refused to cut always dug too severely past the skin and ended up breaking the parts she needed. So, even without her two friends voicing this to one another, they already knew and tailored their brewing around it. The odd kind of intimacy behind it made Lily want to throw her arms around them both and hug them until her heart calmed down.

She knew Belle hadn’t told any of their other friends about her past just yet, but it wouldn't be long now until she talked with Sirius. Where they’d go in terms of a relationship or friendship from there, Lily couldn’t say. Sirius would never blame Belle for what happened, but he was a jealous person. Would he be able to accept the fact that Belle had almost been the mother of a past lover’s baby? Would he understand that the reason Belle wanted the baby so badly had nothing to do with Christophe, and everything to do with her own desire to be loved unconditionally?

“I don’t think it should be that colour, mate.” James’s voice distracted her, and she glanced from Belle over the other side of James where Peter sat. James was looking to his left to get a better glimpse into Peter’s potion. Remus, who was sitting beside Sirius, was leaning over the table as well. “Lily, can you take a look at this?” James asked, glancing up from Peter’s potion.

She peeked back over at her own, and flicked her wand to extinguish the flames underneath, leaving only the embers. It needed to cool for a bit, anyway.

“Not coming along properly?” she asked Peter with a smile. He was usually very capable at potions, but he did have a habit of ignoring his measuring utensils and just guessing how much of what he added.

“Well, it’s a little less blue and a little more.. erm.. red.” Lily nodded at him, but didn’t want to risk standing up, that would draw the attention of their professor and he’d come over to see what happened. Then the whole class would know something was off, and Peter would get embarrassed. Instead, she motioned for James to slide Peter’s cauldron over, which he promptly did.

“I double checked all my steps, but I must’ve missed something,” Peter said with a shrug.

Lily didn’t answer, instead she went into her rucksack and rummaged through until she found the bag where she kept a few of her smaller potions supplies. She pulled out a white piece of cloth from it and used her wand to cut a small square from the fabric. Then she dipped half of the fabric into Peter’s potion and left it in for barely a second. When she brought it back out, it was charred on the edges.

She looked up from the caldron to the group, who were all giving her curious looks. “If you use cloth made from only spider's web silk with no dye added, you can tell if something’s wrong or not,” Lily told him as she inspected the charred end more carefully.

“If your potion is made exactly how it should be, the cloth will come out just as you put it in. But in this case…” She let the words trail off as she slid her finger over the list of ingredients in her book. “Ah ha! It was the Lime Grass pieces. You see how the fabric isn’t as much burned as eaten away at?” Peter, James, and the rest of her table who were now watching, all nodded. “That means your potion has too much acidity in it. You need to counteract that with something that has more of a salty make up to eat away at the acidity. Try just a tiny drop of the Sea Berry foam. That should have plenty of salt in it. Turn the heat up a bit too, and If it doesn’t start turning more blue add one more drop. But only one at a time.” She slid the potions to James who passed it back to Peter.

“Thanks Lily,” Peter said, clearly relieved to not have to start from scratch.

“Is there something you learned that helps you to remember all this?” Remus asked, and she knew he was trying to find a delicate way to figure out if Severus had taught her some secret that she had yet to share with them about potions brewing. She waited a moment to see if James would make some arsehole remark, then when it was clear he didn’t intend to, she continued.

“Oddly enough, Severus didn’t teach me most of this. Not that he didn’t teach me a good deal about potions, he’s very talented with them.” She shot a glare at James when he sounded like he was about to say something, but he must’ve come to his senses last minute and instead cleared his throat. “Brewing potions actually reminds me a lot of baking. When you’re making a cake or something, you have to use proportions that balance each other out. If you use too much or little, you can usually fix it by counteracting it. I used to bake all the time with my mum, so I think that helps me. But some of the other things, like the spider's web silk, are ones that I learned from him”

Lily’s attention quickly went to the front of the room when Professor Slughorn stood from his table. “Alright, class. I daresay we have come to that moment again where it is time to test our creations before we leave for the evening.”

“You’re both coming tonight, right?” Lily whispered to James as Slughorn started at the first table to look over the potions.

She’d nearly forgotten about Professor Slughorn’s little gathering that would take place after the Halloween feast and last until curfew.

She watched James and Sirius exchange looks. Those two, along with Alice and herself, were the only ones of the group that had been given invitations. James and Alice had been invited for the first time in first year, both of their last names being very well known and respected.

Then Lily got her first invitation second year after teachers started becoming more aware of how much work she put into advancing her skills. Then Sirius had received his sometime in third… or Lily had just found out about it in third year. She wasn’t sure.

James and Sirius had never attended one of Slughorn’s gatherings though, and Lily found it astonishing that the professor continued to invite them. Whether the two boys always declined because they were still irritated that Slughorn had overlooked Peter, Frank and Remus - which really wasn’t fair - or they just hated the idea of it, Lily wasn’t sure.

“Er..” Sirius began, his eyes already apologetic. Lily should have known he wouldn’t attend. Regulus was a member, after all. That, along with everything else, would have been enough to keep Sirius away even if the parties weren’t dreadfully boring.

She knew before she opened her mouth that what she was about to do wouldn't be playing fair... but she had no other choice. They were allowed to bring guests in honour of Halloween, so Alice would have Frank. She couldn’t show up alone and have to deal with hearing everyone’s pretentious conversations all night.

So, even if this wasn’t the fairest way of going about it, she was prepared to try. “James…” Her glance locked onto him. His hazel eyes, dotted with little flecks of gold, flicked up to match hers. “I know the party really isn’t the ideal way to spend an evening, It is rather dull… but I’d really love if you went with me. He usually has very decent food.”

There. It was out. And even if neither of them actually wanted to be there, at least they’d be there together. Maybe they would even have a bit of time alone. She’d been thinking more on what she told Belle and Alice about not being so sure how James felt. Whether he really cared for her, or just thought he did. But maybe getting some one on one time while they tried to dodge the other students at the party would be just what they needed. She’d be a bit more dressed up than usual… it would almost be like a date.

She felt the butterflies start swooping around her stomach, the good kind. The ones that told her that it really could be fun…. that maybe this could be what they needed to decide where they’d go from here. She tried to stop herself from smiling at the prospect of the two of them deciding to take a step forward-

“Sorry Lily, I can’t.” She felt her heart drop and instantly began lecturing herself for getting so excited. James must’ve noticed something, despite her efforts to just shrug it off and smile, because he reached forward and grabbed her fingers in his hand.

“It’s not that I don’t want to, Lily. I’d deal with a few hours of having to hear everyone talk about how great they are to get to spend it with you.” James’s voice was too quiet for anyone but their table to hear, his eyes as serious as his tone. “I just really need to work on Quidditch stuff for Saturday’s game. You understand, right?”

“James,” Remus said, getting both her and James’s attention from the other side of the table. “You should go. Quidditch won’t fall apart one day without you. I can even think up some plays and I’m sure Sirius and Peter will help.” Lily didn’t let herself get excited at that. She might not know everything about James just yet, but she did know that he was very set on seeing things through himself.

“Thanks mate, but don’t worry about it,” James answered with a half smile. Lily was about to make some kind of joke so they’d both stop looking like they swallowed a slug. She shouldn’t have asked James anyway…. And besides, Quidditch really was important. She knew he wanted nothing more than to win the Quidditch Cup during his first and only year as captain. Then, before Lily could try to ease the tension, Professor Slughorn came up behind them.


“Ah, another perfect batch. Wouldn’t except a thing less, my dear Lily,” he began with a chuckle as he swirled his wand over the brew.

James slowed down as Lily and Alice stopped just before the staircase that led to the first floor. “We’re going to drop our stuff off in the Heads’ Quarters,” Lily said in response to his curious look.

“I’ll come with you guys. You lot want me to take your bags as well?” Frank asked turning to the four boys who all shook their heads, before he followed Alice, Belle and Lily up the stairs.

“James,” Remus’s began. James knew he was about to get some sort of lecture by the tone of his friend’s voice. “You really should just go with Lily tonight. I can handle one moon without you.”

James glanced at Remus’s dark eyes and knew that his friend wouldn’t be angry if he did decide to go with Lily. It could be what they needed to take a step past friendship… the step that James was trying so hard to let Lily take first. And Remus would still have Sirius and Peter..

“Yeah, don’t you trust us to keep everything under control, Prongsie?” Sirius added as they all slowed down, not yet ready to become part of the noise pouring from the Great Hall.

James did trust them… and it was the first time Lily had ever asked him on something that even remotely resembled a date. Even though there would be other people around, he'd have her more to himself than he'd had in weeks. And she'd actually looked disappointed when he said no. If he told her that he changed his mind and he could come he was sure she'd get that really excited smile that she sometimes gets. The one that's so big that her small nose crinkles into itself.

“Course I trust you gits…but-”

“But nothing, James,” Remus began, setting his face into a stern seriousness that always amused James. “You’d be daft not to go with Lily.”

“Well, you’re always daft,” Sirius added. “But you’d be dafter than usual.”

“Thanks for that,” James answered dryly, but he was too stuck in his own thoughts to follow it up with an insult.

Sirius was plenty large as the dog to control Remus for the most part.. and he’d give them the cloak and the map of course so they’d have plenty of protection against running into anyone. But still… there had been those times when Sirius’s size hadn’t been enough. When they’d left the shack and explored beyond boundaries that would have been considered safe and James and Sirius both had to use every ounce of their power to get Remus back into the shack.

Of course they could always just say in for the night, but Remus was so destructive locked up. The injuries he’d give himself without the freedom to roam were some of the worst James had ever seen… and there’d be nothing that Peter or Sirius could do to stop their friend from the inflicting the injuries on himself.

Sure, he could go with Lily and be fairly certain his friends would make it out alive. But Remus would be covered in the fading remains of what he did to himself the night before Or they would decide to leave the shack, and they’d lose control of him. James knew that if Remus hurt someone, his friend would never forgive himself. Would one date with Lily really be worth risking all that?

They would get other chances, after all… it was just one party. “Sure I trust you gits,” James began again, knowing his decision was made. “But I haven’t missed a change during the school year since we all started this. Not going to start missing one now. And really Remus, leave it to you to be the world’s most predictable Werewolf. Turning on the full moon and all,” he added, trying to make a joke out of the situation.

Remus’s eyes searched James. One of the pitfalls of having such close best mates was the fact that it was often hard, nearly impossible, to hide anything from them.

"James," Remus began, his jaw set tightly. "We don't want you there tonight. I know what you're trying to do, and don't get me wrong, I appreciate it. But I want you to go with Lily."

"No," James said halfheartedly. He did want to go with Lily so badly... to get to pull her aside when no one was looking and hold her just a little too close.

Sirius laid a hand on James's shoulder, taking his attention from Remus. "Sorry mate, afraid you're out voted on this one. Besides, this will give Peter and I a chance to try out a sticking charms and see if we can glue Remus's furry arse to a wall."

Remus rolled his eyes at his friends, but when they fell back on James they were as stubborn as ever. "We don't need you tonight. We can handle it."

"It's always been none of us or all four of us, though," James said lamely. He usually got his way.. well, he always got his way. But right now, when he didn't know if he wanted to get his way or not, he was having a tough time trying to fight for it.

"Well," Sirius said with a crooked smile. "It isn't too late to tell Frank. We can ask him to join us for the evening."

"Hey Frank, care to come watch me turn into a werewolf? Yes, that would go over brilliantly," Remus said.

“You guys ever actually wish we would have told Frank about it all?” Peter asked as he loosened his tie. James wasn't sure if his friend was meaning to change to subject so that he wouldn't be able to continue arguing...but he was almost thankful for it.

The moon didn't even become completely full until nearly nine. He could go to the party with Lily and still make it back to the shack before the worst of it started. Yes, that may actually work. Which meant that it might finally happen... he was actually going to go on a date with Lily Evans.

“Nah," Sirius said, interrupting James's thought. James glanced at Remus, who gave him a small nod.. like he knew what James was thinking and approved of it. Bloody creepy sometimes, having such close mates.

"I mean, I don’t think it’d be bad if Frank knew or anything, but we didn’t really get close to him until beginning of forth year," Sirius finished.

“Yeah, when he and Alice started dating and he stopped acting like such an odd bloke,” James added, doing his best to jump into the conversation. Peter and Sirius eyed him the same way Remus had, almost daring him to continue arguing about Lily. Gits.. all of them.

“He was never an odd bloke. Just a loner. I would have been too, without you lot.” Remus raised his eyebrows at them, the way he always did when he thought they were acting a bit too harsh.

“Still,” James continued, “it wasn’t like we were just going to tell someone we barely just became friends with. I mean, we got closer with him forth year and all, but still…”

“And what would we have even said?” Sirius interrupted. “Hey Longbottom, we know you’ve only really been mates with us for a year, but the week before fifth year starts we’re all going to meet at the Potters' house. During that time we’re planning on brewing a basically illegal potion after using James’s invisibility cloak to steal the ingredients from Knockturn Alley-”

“Hey, I left more than enough to cover those when the shopkeeper wasn’t looking,” Peter added.

“You lot should have told him," Remus interjected. "Maybe he would have talked some sense into you.”

“If we wanted someone to talk sense into us, we’d have told you, Remus,” James replied, patting his friend on the back.

"Lucky for you I've talked some sense into you about tonight," Remus said, giving him an easy smile.

Maybe the moon wouldn't be too bad of one for him... he was in a much better mood than usual for a transformation night. Maybe James could go the whole evening without feeling guilty for not being in the shack. It was Remus's idea, after all. And he did usually make the most sense out of the group.

Except when he brought up their change and how someone should have stopped them. That was something none of them would ever regret

James knew they’d scared him. Well, not at first. At first they’d just antagonized the werewolf side of him.. showing up at the shack in the middle of the first transformation they were ever part of. But after they all came to, Remus was nearly sick over what they did. Not that he didn’t have a right to be. Now that they could look back on it, James realized how bad it would have been if something happened to one of them and they ended up dead. Remus would’ve spent the rest of his life blaming himself.. but they didn’t. And James knew all three of them would make the same decision if they had the chance to do it again.

“He must be imagining Lily without her knickers or something,” Sirius said, breaking through James’s own thoughts just in time for him to deliver a solid punch in the arm to his best mate.

“If I’d been thinking about Lily in her knickers, you’d be able to tell,” James joked. “Anyway, much as we all care about Frank, it’s better that it’s just us four. That’s how it started, isn’t it?” James added, to himself just as much as the other three.

“Course, and that’s how it’ll always be. Even after you and Lily have a big girly wedding and loads of kids, you’ll still have us,” Peter said with a nod.

“Yeah, only then we’ll all be trying to wrangle drool drippers and help James get them to stop crying. And of course we’ll have to watch Lily breastfeed-” Sirius’s words were cut off when James aimed his elbow at his friend’s stomach, successfully knocking the wind from him before they all made their way to the Gryffindor table.

“So,” Peter started once they were sitting on the far side of the table, a few feet away from anyone else. “Sirius and I will be working on Quidditch plays for James… and Remus needs to see McGonagall about his mum.. right?” The group all nodded at Peter, knowing that, though their alibis probably weren’t foolproof, they'd work better than any other. Sirius coughed loudly and James glanced up, noticing the three girls and Frank headed their way.

As Lily became visible through the crowd of students, James felt a warm tingle spread through him. His fingers ached to run through the hair that she usually put in a braid over her shoulder. Because now, instead of the twisty thing, it was falling freely over her. She still had on robes, but these were different. A creamy color, like the filling of his chocolate pastry. And they weren’t loose and big like their school robes, though they weren’t tight either.. they were… flowy.

“Something wrong?” she asked, drawing his attention to the fact that he’d been staring at her.

"Actually," James started, with one last glance to Remus who gave him a stern nod. "I've talked it over with the guys, and they're certain they can handle thinking up some plays without me. If you give me a few minutes to run up and change, I can meet you back down here for the party." James was already halfway up from his seat, his mind imagining walking into the party with Lily by his side. He could whisper to her how beautiful she looked and watch her cheeks grow red, and get just close enough to make her nervous...

"James," she began, and he noticed the way her smile fell. Had she decided not to go? Why would she look like that if she wasn't attending?

“We ran into Alrek on our way into the Great Hall,” she continued, her hands fidgeting with her robes. "I mentioned that I was going to Slughorn's gathering, and he said something about one of his friends in Ravenclaw being invited as well. And he just looked so disappointed that he wasn't, and I was sure that you weren't coming with me. I couldn't ask Belle to come with me because Slughorn already talked her into playing the piano so we'll have music throughout the evening... I guess I just panicked and, well, I asked him if he wanted to go. Just as friends, of course!"

James almost wanted to start laughing, part of him certain that this was a joke they were playing on him. Sure, he hadn't completely hated Durmstrang when he joined them in Hogsmeade, but that didn't mean he wanted the bloke attending parties with Lily!

He couldn't talk her into telling Rukin that she wasn't going with him, could he? That would just make her think he hadn't matured and he was still a jealous git. But he still had to try it, didn't he? It'd been bad enough when he thought she was going alone... but now thinking that she was going with some other bloke?

He glanced at his friends, hoping they'd know what to say. Their faces seemed fairly close to what he was sure his felt like.

"Lily," James finally began, "can't you tell him that-"

“Mr. Potter!” James felt his nerves teeter on the edge as the professor's voice interrupted them.

“Professor Mc-”

“Mr. Potter, please come with me,” she continued, her tone sharper than even usual.

“Something wrong, Professor?” He asked, forcing his voice to stay even as he stepped from the table.

Despite his hopefully calm exterior, he felt his heart pounding against his chest. The blood rushing through it, hotter than it should be. His parents. They hadn’t been in the best health lately… they were helping Dumbledore out with a few things for whatever organization he had going on… they had plenty of wizards that wanted to see them dead for putting them in Azkaban for life… oh God. It had to be his-

“I need to speak with you about your owl,” the professor said, causing James to take a visible sigh of relief. “We believe he’s been attacked while attempting to deliver a letter this morning.”

James paused, realizing for the first time they were halfway out the Great Hall, Sirius two steps behind him.

“I thought-” he’d started to say everything running through his mind, but then realized what he was doing and stopped himself.

James was surprised when Professor McGonagall gave him an understanding smile, before leading him from the excited noise of the room and into the silent corridor. She started to close the door behind her, but not before Sirius could slip in, and when they turned toward the entrance of the castle James noticed their Gamekeeper holding Beowulf in the center of one, giant palm. The pet owl’s eyes were open, but his wing was hanging limply to the side as he tried without success to use the other wing and hug them into his body.

James felt a quick burn course through him. How dare someone try to hurt his owl. The owl that used to perch on his pillow and sleep beside him, that nestled on his shoulder every chance he got…

“Found em a few miles outside the school. One of the Hogwarts owls must’er seen him go down, cause he led me out to yer owl,” Hagrid began, stepping closer to James and allowing him to carefully check out the damage.

“It seems as if whoever did this wasn’t able to actually catch him,” Professor McGonagall added as she glanced at James and Sirius. “Because the letter was still intact. It appears to have been sent by a Petunia Evans.”

AN:
Thank you to my always amazing Beta, CambAngst. I know this chapter was a bit slow, and things do speed up from here. For some reason I really enjoy writing the class scenes... Thank you so much for reading! If you have time, I'd love to know what you think :)!

*Latin for 'Keep Time"


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