Chapter 1 : One
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Flame glints off the shining newness of black ink and makes it glint briefly silver. A white hand flashes through swathes of darkness and seizes the edge of the parchment. It waves the letter once, twice, three times through the air, and then carefully blots the ink with a paper before sealing it with a crisp sound, audibly sharp.
For a moment, the hand hovers over the old-fashioned wax seal, poised at the candle’s left hand, but then it withdraws. The candle doesn’t have the wax to give, and anyway, there is a time for manners and customs that this occasion doesn’t warrant.
The hand raises the parchment up to the guttering candle and its owner skims the words quickly, checking for errors, anything that might seem careless, and therefore less serious, in the eyes of its recipient, but of course there is nothing amiss. Somewhere in the far reaches of the castle, a bell tolls out the hour with one slow chime. The hand turns and the face of a watch worn on the left wrist winks in the light to confirm that, yes, it was one o’ clock. How had time slipped away?
As the old adage went, time did fly when one was having fun.
The hand seals the letter anew and stuffs it into an envelope, and its owner makes to rise from the chair at the worn-out writing desk. But just before standing up, as a quick afterthought, the fingers seize the quill again and jab it almost forcefully into the inkpot. It scribbles two words in a hasty script that doesn’t match the precise, careful penmanship of the letter’s contents:
The hand withdraws, clutching the letter, and returns to the shadows. In a puff of breath, the candle is snuffed out.
Great gray thunderheads were rolling across the enchanted ceiling of Hogwarts’s Great Hall, occasionally misting the clustered students below with a few specks of rain, blotting the ink on their copies of the Daily Prophet and severely annoying the owls who’d stopped at their owners’ places at the long tables for a bit of toast or juice. James Potter found he didn’t much mind it; it was rather interesting, being rained on inside, and even after he’d been at Hogwarts for more than five years already, it was a novelty that hadn’t yet worn off.
James thought, with something of a bias, that he and his friends always made an interesting tableau at any given moment, and today was no exception. When he was feeling particularly pensive (which, granted, wasn’t terribly often), he liked to study Sirius and Remus and Peter in turn and ponder on how a bunch of misfits such as themselves had found each other in the first place. They were all vastly different, and the differences could be seen even in the way they chose to eat breakfast.
Just now, for example, Remus was studying his newspaper so intently that great lines had furrowed his forehead and the space between his eyes. He’d speared a kipper on the tines of his fork some while ago, and had forgotten all about it in the face of the day’s events, rendering it long since cold. Peter, who liked to stay up late reading, was repeatedly dozing and then jerking himself away over his cup of coffee. His nose inched dangerously closer to the surface as he succumbed further and further to sleep, but James didn’t really feel like nudging him to wake him up more. He might burn his nose if he drifted far enough into sleep, and that was too enticing a prospect to miss out on.
Across from James, Sirius was hard at work, a thing which he rarely ever was at any other time of the school day. At the moment he was spreading a blanket of eggs over a piece of toast with great care, making sure the layer was as even as he could make it. He’d pulled most of the platters within reach around his plate to use later for his sandwich, and as James watched, Sirius sat back and eyed his eggs critically before reaching for a plate of bacon, catching James’s eye as he did so.
“You may not have any,” he said, waving his fork at his breakfast sandwich, sending bits of egg scattering across the table. One landed on the other side of Remus’s paper, but he didn’t seem to notice.
James wrinkled up his nose and reached for the mug of tea at the top of his plate. “You’re disgusting,” he said amiably. Next to him, Peter gave a little snort and started awake, peering furtively around to see who’d noticed. Sirius shrugged and went back to laying bacon carefully over his eggs.
Movement caught the corner of James’s eye at that moment, just as he was about to lean across and ask Remus for the crossword puzzle; he turned his neck so quickly that it cracked, and Peter awoke a second time with a gasp. Lily Evans walked quickly towards where the boys were sitting in the middle of the Gryffindor table, her arm clamped tightly through Marlene McKinnon’s and her eyes fixed on the top table where the teachers were eating their own breakfast.
“All right, Evans?” James called loudly, leaning back so that half of his body was in the girls’ path. He ruffled up his hair with his hand, a gesture that was more reflexive now than anything else. “Sleep well?”
Somewhat to his surprise, Lily gave a very audible and very annoyed sniff and turned her nose straight up in the air, a gesture he’d only ever read about before but never physically seen, and pretended he wasn’t there at all. This, James thought, was quite a bit colder than her normal reception to his flirtations; she didn’t hide the fact that she didn’t much care for him, but she usually feigned politeness, at least this early in the day.
Even more of a shock was the icy look Marlene gave him in turn. “You’re brave to be talking to her, aren’t you?” she snapped, flipping her long plait over her shoulder austerely before turning her nose up in a mirrored gesture of her friend’s. James felt his mouth go earthward. He swiveled to watch the pair of them strut past and take a seat at the extreme end of the table, and then turned back to Sirius, who’d watched the whole exchange.
His friend sniggered and dropped a final piece of bacon atop his eggs, reaching now for the boiled tomatoes. “What have you done now?” he asked, popping one of them into his mouth and grinning around it, the juices dribbling out of the corners of his lips. Peter looked back and forth between them warily, unsure whether or not it was a joke.
“I – nothing,” answered James, flabbergasted. He craned his neck towards that end of the table, and Lily, sensing as much, turned her back to him with an exaggerated movement. He looked helplessly at Sirius, who still looked as though he was about to burst out laughing. “Shut up,” James told him irritably, ruffling his hair again for lack of something more productive to say or do.
Next to Sirius, Remus gave a loud “ahem” and ruffled his Daily Prophet significantly. The other three boys looked over at him. “Care to join the conversation, Moony?” Sirius asked cheerfully. The boy in question looked at each of them in turn, and then sighed, setting his paper down carefully so as not to get it in his porridge.
“I heard Marlene and Lily talking in the common room after the three of you had already come downstairs,” he said carefully, sounding as though he’d rather not be telling them this at all. “Apparently there was a letter waiting for her in the common room this morning, on the mantel above the fireplace. It had her name on it.”
“Why wouldn’t her owl just deliver it at breakfast?” Peter interrupted, but James shot him a slightly exasperated look and flapped his hands for Remus to continue. He did so, his face now contorted in an apologetic expression.
“Apparently it was quite nasty,” he said grimly, “although obviously she wasn’t about to let me look at it. Her face was the color of parchment, though, so I can guess at least one of the words on it.” James felt his insides burn with anger just at the thought – he knew exactly what word Remus meant, though neither of them said it aloud.
“Anyway,” Remus added, looking more apologetic than ever. “Well – I think she’s under the impression, you know… that you wrote it as a rather off-putting and somewhat vengeful prank.”
“What?!” James said, half-yelling. He leaned forward and gripping the edge of the table with the tips of his fingers. “She thinks I –“ He whipped his head back around to the end of the table, and just caught Lily looking hastily away. “That’s completely mental! Why would I do something like that?!”
“She probably thinks you’re a touch bitter because she keeps refusing to give you the time of day,” Sirius chimed in from across the table, although the previous traces of laughter had vanished from his eyes. “But still” – he turned to Remus – “he’s not that barking.” Looking back at James, he added cautiously, “You aren’t, are you?”
“Of course I didn’t send the bloody thing!” James fumed. By now his shouting had attracted stares from several other Gryffindors and a few neighboring Hufflepuffs, but he didn’t even look at them. Swinging his legs over the bench seat, he charged up the hall towards the end of the Gryffindor table, where Lily was stirring sugar into her tea and pretended not to see him standing over her.
“I didn’t send you any letters,” James said stubbornly, without preamble. He folded his arms over his chest. “I’d never call you – that. You know I wouldn’t.”
Lily looked up at him coolly, though her green eyes still sparked with something furious. “It has your stench all over it, Potter. This is just the sort of thing you’d find funny,” she told him in an authoritative voice, the sort she used on unruly first years when she was acting in the role of prefect.
“I didn’t send you any letters,” James stressed through gritted teeth, and something about the way he said it seemed to resonate with her. Lily’s face cleared slightly; wariness crept in to replace the anger in her eyes. “Let’s have a look.”
She glanced at Marlene, who shrugged, gnawing on her thumbnail and shooting James suspicious glances now and again. Sirius, Remus, and Peter wandered over from the middle of the table then and clustered around James’s shoulders.
“And it wasn’t any of you lot?” Lily asked, now directing her question to the other three. They all chorused an emphatic “no” and she drew her bottom lip between her teeth, chewing worriedly. “All right,” she said at last, reaching into the pocket of her robes and drawing out a square of yellowed parchment. “But don’t think you’re off the hook yet,” she added warningly. “I don’t trust you any farther than I can throw you.”
James barely heard her; he’d already snatched the envelope from her hand and was studying it with greedy eyes. Lily’s name was scribbled untidily across the front. He turned it round and opened the flap, yanking out the letter. The handwriting on the letter itself was much neater, although it was still obvious that both envelope and letter had been written by the same person.
Filthy Mudblood. Worthless witch.
Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood.
Tick tock, tick tock.
James had to read it several times to digest it, even though it didn’t say much in the first place. The word swam before his eyes, and he swallowed down the rage that built up in his throat, knowing someone had chosen those words directly for Lily.
“Whoever wrote this is off his rocker,” said Sirius, reaching around and taking an edge of the parchment in his fingers to read it better. “That’s straight senseless, that is.”
James raised his eyes to look at her; she was watching him steadily. “What does this mean?” he asked, pretending the slurs didn’t exist, jabbing his finger at the last line of the short letter. “’You’re next.’ What are you next for?”
She lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “No idea. That really wasn’t the part that got to me, if you must know.” Lily tossed the remark off carelessly, but it was enough to make James crunch the paper in his hands, a gesture that surprised even him.
“I’m going to find out who sent this to you,” he said hotly. “I promise, Lily. And they’re going to be really, really sorry they did.”
A miniature smile played at the corners of her lips, but she fought it down bravely, and it was gone before James could think to look for it again. “You don’t have to do that,” Lily told him, reaching a hand up for the letter. “Honestly. And anyway, I’m a bit less off about the whole thing now that I can quite clearly see it wasn’t one of your immature joke things.” But instead of handing the letter back to her, James stuffed it into his own pocket.
“Give me a week, tops,” he vowed. Lily raised her eyebrows but said nothing.
“And just how do you reckon you’re going to go about this?” Remus asked from behind James, playing the voice of reason, as always. “What, steal assignments from everyone in the school and start comparing handwriting?”
“That’s actually rather brilliant,” James beamed, patting Remus solidly on the cheek. “Although time-consuming, but that’s certainly one way to go about it when we’ve narrowed down our suspect list.”
“We can narrow it down right now,” Sirius muttered darkly, turning his eyes to the table on the far side of the hall. “I’d bet you all the money in my vault that a Slytherin sent that letter.”
“Well –“ James began, but before he could say anything more, the doors to the Great Hall banged open with such force that all the eating, chattering students quieted immediately. Professor Flitwick burst into the room at a full sprint, running as fast as his legs could go to the top of the hall. All of the teachers and students watched as he approached the center of the table, where Professor Dumbledore was already standing. He leaned over and listened, frowning, as the tiny Charms professor whispered furiously in his ear.
Dumbledore straightened, and Flitwick hurried to pass the message on to McGonagall. The headmaster’s voice rang loudly over the silent mass of students. “All students are to return to their common rooms at once,” he boomed in a rather frightening voice. “At once. Prefects, collect the first years from your Houses and see them there safely.”
Lily bounded into action at once, briskly calling for the first years to form a single file line behind her; Remus, giving the other three a bewildered look, began to do the same. James turned to Sirius and Peter, who each looked just as stunned as he felt.
“What do you reckon it is?” Peter whispered. Sirius, the tallest of the three, stood on tiptoe and craned his neck above the crowd pushing for the door, as though he’d be able to see the trouble from where he stood.
Professor McGonagall pushed past them just then, her face taut, and James reached out and yanked on the sleeve of her robes. She half-spun toward them, knocking her hat slightly askew. “Now isn’t the time, Potter,” she said in a short, clipped voice, resettling her spectacles on her nose. “Get to the common room.”
“What’s going on?” he asked loudly, talking over her. The deputy headmistress looked from one to the other of them sternly, lips pursed in annoyance, and then sighed.
“There’s been an accident,” she told them. “George Asher’s just been found dead.”
A/N: Hello! Thank you for reading the first chapter of Bad Blood -- I'm really excited to finally begin posting this story. I've written the first two chapters, and it should be pretty short, about four or five chapters in all, once it's completely finished. This is an idea that's been hovering in my head for a while, and I'm so pleased to finally be sharing it with all of you!
If you've made it this far and wouldn't mind leaving me a review in the box below, I'd really appreciate it. What did Lily's letter mean? What's James going to figure out? All will be revealed in time, but I'd love to hear your thoughts in the meantime! Thank you for reading!