Chapter 24 : Sunset
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Now, after months of careful planning, it was all going to come to fruition. Dinner would be starting in the Great Hall any moment now. As the work began to pile up toward the end of term, the students always became increasingly ravenous. Tonight however, most of them would be in for a special treat. Some hours before he had crept into the kitchens where the house elves of Hogwarts were beginning to prepare the food for the evening. Distracting them was easy enough. Since discovering the hidden entrance, the house elves and the Marauders had enjoyed a unique relationship. The four students supplied the conversation and companionship the creatures craved and in return, they were rewarded with special orders for parties in the common room, late night snacks, or items to use in food-based pranks. This time however, food was not Peter’s goal. Over the course of an hour he moved about the room carefully, chatting with the creatures as they worked and providing them small sources of amusement while they did their work. While their attentions were divided, Peter several enchantments on the platters and goblets laid aside for the Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Slytherins. His own work done, he had made a gracious exit and come down to the lake to reflect on how best to bask in his imminent success.
A short time later, Peter filed into the Great Hall with the masses of other students in search of supper, eventually taking a seat next to James.
“You’re looking quite pleased with yourself, Wormtail,” Remus noted.
“Just having a good day is all,” the squat Marauder replied.
Sirius grumbled inaudibly, causing Remus to roll his eyes. Their friend hadn’t been the same since his public row with Shannon O’Donnell and the subsequent private spat that had developed later that morning between the long-locked young wizard and his best mate. For his part, James ignored Sirius entirely, happily engaging in conversation with his girlfriend and her two friends.
“How long is this going to go on?” Remus muttered to Sirius.
“Long as it takes, I suppose. Look at him. Carrying on as if he has a care in the world what her friends have to say.” Still, a look of longing rested firmly in Sirius’s eyes as he watched from the sidelines.
The sandy-haired young man chuckled. “I don’t think you’ll last the night.”
As he looked eagerly toward the staff table, Peter saw the Headmaster’s hand beginning to rise. Any moment now, Dumbledore would wave it widely over the tables and the assembled students would look to the platters and goblets expectantly. A second later he was grinning happily as he saw a large roast materialize in front of him. The first part of his plan had worked!
Loud protests quickly confirmed the second had as well. Looking across at the Slytherins, he was confronted with looks ranging from confusion to agitation. Behind him, he could hear some Hufflepuffs beginning to bang their fists on the table. As if that would fix the issue! Peter surreptitiously glanced toward the staff table. The professors were conferring with Dumbledore about what had happened as his fellow Gryffindors quickly tucked in. Soon, emissaries from Ravenclaw approached, imploring his housemates to share their bounty, but most of the Gryffindors were politely unwilling. The grousing at the Slytherin table reached a dull roar as the number of Hufflepuffs pounding their table increased. Several groups of students approached the professors, interrupting their conference about a solution as large swaths of the other houses began to join the united Hufflepuffs in their raucous fist-pounding. As the scene developed, Peter sat back and sighed happily. It was no Hanging Hoax, but it was going to be a treat to watch.
Roughly twenty minutes later, everything was back under control. Having repelled the groups of complaining students and settled down the disgruntled masses, the staff’s assessment had been easy and the remedy quick. Nevertheless, the prank had been a hit amongst the Gryffindors. Peter was perfectly pleased with himself.
Once again, his satisfied expression did not go unnoticed by Remus. “Well…it seems you’ve proven both James and Sirius wrong in one fell swoop,” he said with a smirk.
“Pssh!” Sirius scoffed. “What are you talking about Moony?”
“Look at him. I should think it’s rather obvious.”
Sirius regarded Peter skeptically. “You mean to tell me you stopped the food coming to the other Houses?”
“Sure, I did,” Peter said confidently. “It actually turned out to be pretty easy, though it didn’t last quite as long as I’d hoped.”
“How?” Sirius asked, incredulous.
“Well, I just headed for the kitchens and chatted with the house elves while they made dinner. They sorted which dishes would be for which tables and I just cast some protective charms to prevent anything from entering the space around them.”
“Hmm…then how did the elves get them out here?”
“I just shaped the protection so it didn’t affect the handles or the bottom,” Peter shrugged.
Sirius opened his mouth to speak, but stopped himself.
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘Congratulations’, Padfoot,” Remus chuckled. “I’m sure Peter might appreciate ‘I was wrong’ as well, though I wouldn’t expect it from you.”
“Hell,” Sirius grumbled. “Well done, Wormtail. I have to hand it to you. Can’t believe Prongs and I never thought of that.”
Hearing his nickname drew James suddenly into the conversation.
“What about me?”
“Sirius was just saying how he couldn’t believe you and he hadn’t thought up the platter prank before Peter,” Remus volunteered.
“Merlin! That was you then, Wormtail? Good one!”
“Thanks, James,” Peter beamed.
“How’d you do it?”
“Well, like I said, it all started in the kitchens…” Peter began, happy that James was paying rapt attention to his contribution for once. Looking outside, he saw the last of the spring sunset fading away into night. Yes, sunset was his favorite time of day.
After dinner, many of the sixth-year Gryffindors adjourned to the common room or dormitories as their panicked younger counterparts hurried off to the library to begin preparing in earnest for their examinations. In her own room, Lily Evans was finally enjoying some time to catch up with her friends. Though it had been over two weeks since their last big sit down, conversation had flowed fast and free as always. Thankfully, they had wrapped up the subjects Lily wasn’t particularly fond of rather quickly. If she had to hear another word from one of her housemates, let alone her close friends about what Gryffindor needed to do to win the Quidditch Cup in six weeks' time, she thought quite seriously that she might scream.
As Alana Hooper tossed aside her copy of Witch Weekly, Marlene McKinnon nibbled on the last bit of a chocolate frog.
“So,” Alana started, “think you’re going to hold off Potter again this year, Lily?”
“That’s the best we have to talk about now?” Lily asked dully.
“Oh, it’s far from the best, but it’ll do for now,” her blonde friend teased.
“Well, I’m sure I will,” the red-headed witch said confidently. “Why should this year be any different?”
“I don’t know,” Marlene shrugged. “It has been though. You’ve got Lionel outside of class now – and dragging you down a bit in Potions if you ask me. Plus Potter’s been less pranks and more studies this year thanks to Katie Wallenby. You’re getting practically identical in-class marks these days.”
Lily shot Marlene a dirty look.
“Hey, I’m just playing devil’s advocate!” her friend protested.
“And apparently keeping a ledger of mine and Potter’s grades…”
“I’m not keeping any ledger. It’s just hard to miss.”
“Well, it’s not a competition. I’m just–”
Both other girls broke out laughing.
“What?” Lily huffed.
“I’m sorry, Lily,” Alana said, still giggling, “It’s just…class is always a competition with you.”
“I remember the day I worked out that Transfiguration assignment before you. You acted fine, but you were so furious!” Marlene added. “And that was the last time I worked out an assignment before you did if I remember.”
“Hmph,” Lily grumbled. “I just try to put in my best effort.”
Alana and Marlene rolled their eyes before exchanging amused glances.
“Besides,” Lily continued, “I always have Charms.”
“And Potter always has Transfiguration,” Marlene rebutted, wagging an eyebrow.
On the end of Marlene’s bed where she was seated, Lily crossed her arms and scowled.
“Merlin…we’re going to drive her to the library,” the dark-haired witch chuckled.
A glare from her red-haired friend changed the subject.
“Anyway,” Marlene said theatrically, “I did mention Lionel before. Why don’t we talk about him? Bit more interesting…”
“Especially since I heard you pulled him into a broom closet last month?” Alana chirped.
Lily shook her head. “You two can be merciless.”
“That’s what you get when you just let us run ourselves out about our favorite topics first,” the blonde tutted.
“Lionel and I are just fine, thank you.”
“Just fine…” Marlene mused. “Must have been some snog…”
“It was a perfectly normal snog.”
“And again, the high praise…”
Lily was growing frustrated. “You’re twisting my words.”
“There haven’t been many to twist,” Marlene said reluctantly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Alana shrugged. “You just don’t talk about him much.”
“We haven’t really talked in nearly three weeks,” Lily defended.
“Still…we get more mileage ribbing you about Potter,” Alana chuckled. “Seriously Lily, how are things?”
“They’re…good I guess?” the red-headed witch offered, staring off through the window behind Alana’s head. “I don’t know. We have nice talks. He listens to me. He does sweet things for me. You know, saving me extra treacle tart when he knows I’m planning a late night studying, waiting up for me after rounds…”
Lily paused, expecting an interjection that never came.
“I guess I just feel like I have to push him all the time to make any progress,” she finished, staring intently at a loose scarlet thread on Marlene’s blanket.
“What do you mean?” Alana asked.
“He’s taken the lead exactly twice. Our first date and then sending me a gift at Christmas.”
“He did ask you to go steady too, Lily,” Marlene noted. “We were all there in the common room for his mock proposal. It was cute!”
“You didn’t like it?”
“It was fine. A little dramatic for me honestly, but more to the point, I basically told him to before term started.”
“What?” Alana gasped.
“We sort of ran into each other on New Year’s Eve. My dad gave us a bit of time. I told him to then. Had to kiss him first too.”
“Oh,” Marlene said simply, frowning as she looked sidelong at Lily.
“What about before the broom closet?”
Lily sighed. “I really shouldn’t be talking about this. He has some sort of…issue…about it. Girls dating him for the gossip I guess…”
Marlene whistled. “Sounds a bit more like a complex…”
Alana gave Lily a pitying look. “Maybe you’re just both too similar,” she offered. “Aside from the snogging bit of course,” she finished, winking.
“Shut up.” Lily gave a tepid smile, smacking her friend playfully on the arm.
“I do mean it though,” Alana started again, “You’re both so polite and serious…bookish too, even if Lionel’s not terribly clever.”
“And you plan like mad,” Marlene added.
“That’s been refreshing though! Someone like me!” Lily said.
“Except you’re stuck in first gear,” Alana muttered.
Lily suppressed the heat rising. “I’ll have you know we had something of a breakthrough there – just the other night,” she said, raising her chin authoritatively as she spoke.
Marlene shot Alana a warning glance. “Best to shut it…” she whispered carefully, hoping to avoid Lily’s notice.
The blonde disregarded her. “Really? I mean...I don’t want to be a wet blanket. I think Lionel’s a super guy. It’s just…this has to last the summer, you know?”
Lily harrumphed, hauling herself off the bed.
“Hey!” Alana protested. “Don’t be sore, Lily!”
“Don’t be sore?” Lily asked crossly. “How am I supposed to be when my best friends are after me about my boyfriend?”
“Nobody made you talk about it,” Marlene bit back, glaring. “You practically invited the rain clouds the way you carried on.”
“I said things were fine!” Lily insisted as she grabbed her bag.
“And yet you went on after a little teasing! Don’t go putting your doubts on us now,” the dark-haired witch snapped.
Lily harrumphed. “I’m going to study,” she said, flinging the door open dramatically and leaving down the stairs.
As her friend’s red hair disappeared down the staircase, Marlene called out. “Bury it all you want! You have to deal with it eventually!”
As Lily emerged downstairs she was surprised to find the common room almost empty. Of course it was just her luck that the lone exception was James Potter. His black hair was messier than ever as he stared down intently at an open book. If that sight wasn’t unexpected enough, he had a stack of several others nearby. Quiet as it was, she was surprised her simple arrival hadn’t drawn his attention, but now she hoped to take a window seat without his notice. The last thing she needed after her friends’ harassment was contact with Potter.
Just as she sat down gingerly without making so much as a peep, her bag slipped from the seat, striking the stone floor with a loud thump. Good fortune seemed to be avoiding her like the plague tonight.
“Hello Evans,” Potter said brightly.
“Hello…” she replied, dragging herself from the window seat to pick up her belongings.
As she reached out for roll of parchment that had bounced some distance away, she was surprised to encounter a hand already on it. Looking up, she saw it was Potter’s. Surprisingly his other hand contained more of her things. The empty inkwell she had charmed to serve as a magnet at home. Some spare golden ribbon she occasionally used to tie back her hair. Even a quill that had somehow fluttered in his direction. Realizing they both still had hold of the parchment, she jerked her hand back quickly.
Potter didn’t comment on her withdrawal, instead simply offering her things back to her with a smile that, if Lily’s eyes weren’t playing tricks on her, was genuinely friendly. “Figured I’d help,” he said simply.
“Thanks,” she said quietly.
“You know, you don’t have to sit alone over there,” he said casually, jerking his head to indicate the window seat.
“I know,” she answered quickly. “I just wanted–”
“You just wanted to avoid me,” he interrupted. “Don’t worry, I get it.”
“Yes you were,” he said firmly. He paused briefly before frowning and shaking his head. “You don’t have to lie you know.”
“Fine. I wanted to avoid you,” she huffed. “Feel better?”
Potter shrugged. “A little.”
“What are you working on with all those books anyway?” Lily asked.
“Charms,” he said groaning.
“Charms? We don’t even have an assignment.”
“An assignment? Since when do I need an assignment to encourage me to do a bit of light reading?”
“Since our first lesson of first year?” Lily answered, incredulous.
“More like since I was born,” he admitted. “Still, I actually do have an assignment. Set it myself at the beginning of the year.”
“Setting goals now too?” Lily teased. “That’s progressive of you.”
“I knew you’d be shocked.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “I’ll bite. What are you up to then?”
“Nothing major,” he shrugged. “Just trying to usurp the throne from the cleverest student in our year. I know,” he said, raising his hands in surrender. “Don’t think you have much to worry about. I’ve already been told it’s impossible.”
Lily paused, consciously focusing on keeping her jaw from dropping.
“Though I do feel obligated to warn you,” he started, “I am quite dangerous when I’m motivated.”
Furrowing her brow, she decided to simply ask the question on her mind. “Why?”
The dark-haired wizard shrugged again. “What can I say Evans? I’m evolving.”
“Anyway,” he began again, “in all seriousness, those window seats are dreadfully uncomfortable. You should take the couch,” he finished, gesturing toward the large plush sofa across from where he had been seated earlier. “And I promise I won’t be a bother. I’ve got enough on my hands.”
Lily considered his offer. She generally enjoyed the window seats for the view, but rain had blown in while she had been talking upstairs and the clouds made it impossible to catch a pleasant glimpse of the moon or stars. It was late. The couch would be far more comfortable.
“Alright,” she answered.
Potter looked quite surprised by her answer, but he quickly moved over to the table between his seat and the couch, tidying up his area to make room for her. He even took the trouble to shove the stack of heavy books back into his bag. She had never seen true courtesy from him before. Lily stopped herself at that thought. It wasn’t exactly true. He had kept her from looking a complete fool after Potions at the beginning of the year. He had picked up her things then too.
“I’ve made room,” he offered, “Wasn’t going to get to those tonight anyway.”
“I wouldn’t think so,” Lily said as she took a seat on the couch an began unloading her bag. “Don’t you have practice tomorrow?”
“I do,” Potter replied, raising an eyebrow. “Though I have to say, I’m surprised you’d know that.”
“Lionel,” she said simply.
“Right,” he nodded. “He is quite the fan…”
“He supports the team,” Lily said sharply.
“Yeah…exactly,” Potter answered, puzzled by the intensity of her reaction. “Does a bloody good job of it too. He’s a good bloke.”
The slightest frown crossed Lily’s face at his last statement, her thoughts traveling back to the conversation turned argument with Marlene and Alana. She moved quickly to suppress it, but seeing an intrigued expression on Potter’s face, she realized she hadn’t moved quickly enough.
“Trouble in paradise?” he asked.
“Not at all,” Lily covered. “I was just thinking of where to start fixing this Transfiguration essay.”
Potter didn't press the point further. “I could take a look at it for you.”
“Hardly,” Lily said harshly. “I thought you weren’t going to bother me?”
“Right…” he nodded. “I just thought maybe I could look at that and maybe you could help me with this business on 693 and 694…”
“Methods of protection against the Flagrante Curse?" she asked, peering over the book stretched out in Potter's hands. "Hardly a fair trade.”
“And yet the essay is due tomorrow…”
“And you don’t even need to know what you’re looking at.”
“But you know it. And besides, why should I need to know it? Something wrong with me just wanting to?”
“Of course not–”
“Fine. And I’m asking for your help. You know I don’t do that often. I’ll even help you first.”
“I have a lot to do…” Lily resisted. “There wouldn’t be time.”
“It’s fine. I’ll help you tonight and then you can help me later. You know, whenever you’re free.”
Lily looked at Potter skeptically. “I could just refuse later…”
“I know. But you wouldn’t.”
Lily closed her eyes and twisted her neck until it cracked. She noticed Potter waiting patiently for her answer as she put her long red hair into a ponytail. “Okay,” she relented. “It’s a deal.”
She was surprised as Potter extended a hand toward her.
“What?” she asked, legitimately puzzled.
“I just figured it might be easier to help if I’d actually read the thing.”
Parchment in hand, Lily hesitated. She had never allowed another student to actually read one of her essays before, not even Marlene or Alana. It would be especially disquieting to expose her work to Potter of all people. And after a professor as exacting as McGonagall had marked up her draft…but she was spared. As if sensing her discomfort, Potter withdrew his hand and scooted back slightly in his chair.
“I…” she started, feeling an odd obligation to make amends in some way.
“Don’t worry about it. So…conjuration of complex creatures?”
“Right…” she began before hesitating again.
Potter cocked his head slightly and raised his eyebrows. “Look Evans, if you want to do this on your own I’m not going to be offended. I mean I’m sure we’re talking about the difference between an Outstanding and even more Outstanding anyway…”
Lily swallowed her pride. “No. I do want your help.” She looked down at the heavily marked up section of her essay for a moment before lifting her eyes tentatively is his direction. “I guess I just haven’t had much practice asking.”
She braced herself for his smirk. That incredibly vexing, infinitely irritating little curl of the right side of his lip as he derived smug satisfaction from the smallest moment of superiority. But it never came.
“Yeah, I’d imagine not,” he said, shaking his head with a slight chuckle. “You are bloody brilliant after all. Easy to get used to people coming to you I’ll bet.”
“I suppose so,” Lily admitted.
A brief silence hung in the air between them.
“So what’s the hang up?” he ventured.
“It’s the whole concept really – the valuation. I mean I know the formula of course. Normally I don’t have a problem solving it…McGonagall always gives us objects or creatures in the tables, but this time…”
“No table,” James finished.
“Well you’ve just got to think outside the box, Evans.”
“That’s not really what I do…”
“Sure you do. You do it in Charms all the time. I mean Slughorn won’t stop talking about that ruddy fish you gave him…”
“But Charms is different,” Lily protested. “Transfiguration is so exact. There’s no room to be inventive.”
“Pssh!” he scoffed. “Course there is. I mean, think about it, when we did the Bird-Conjuring Spell, did everybody conjure the exact same bird?”
“Of course not.”
“Right. Because lots of us were thinking of different birds. The fundamentals are rigid, sure. But the spells themselves…very malleable. Except for the wand movements of course.”
“That’s not the same though…the essay is about the exact value of the formula.”
“And my point is that there isn’t one. There never really has been. Clearly the table isn’t an exhaustive list of things you could possibly conjure. And even if you conjure a sparrow and I conjure a sparrow, there are going to differences…size, appearance, even temperament depending on your purpose.”
“So you’re saying I should estimate these things?”
“I’m saying use the table, but more as a point of reference. And just explain it.”
“But she wants a value…”
“And she knows nobody can actually give her one. It's McGonagall. Her essays have always been a bit sadistic. She’s banking on most everyone giving her some simple answer, trying to justify some value out of a textbook,” Potter finished animatedly.
Lily sighed and then frowned. It was a big risk to take. If Potter was wrong it would blow up in her face. And he did say he was gunning for her at the top of the class. Certainly misdirection wasn’t beneath him. She would revisit the table. At worst she’d be stuck with the Exceeds Expectations she already had. It wasn’t as if Potter would expand his lead in Transfiguration too greatly just on this one assignment. The best he’d get was help with a topic that wouldn’t even be tested this year.
She smiled sweetly. “You know Potter, you’ve actually been a big help,” she lied. “I think I should just be able to finish this up tomorrow before class,” she added, feigning happiness.
He gave her a sort of seated bow, dramatically flourishing his hand. “Glad to be of service,” he said. “Have a good night Evans.”
“You too,” she said politely, packing her belongings into her bag once more.
As she ascended the stairs, she smiled. She was too smart to be fooled by James Potter.
A/N: So first, Peter finally pulled his prank! Coming up with an idea not so simplistic as to be unworthy of praise, but not so complicated as to require more than one Marauder or to defy believability (which hopefully this didn’t) proved to be a way bigger challenge than I expected. Major props to the Marauders Era authors who can write so many interesting pranks because it’s just downright hard.
As far as a little preview, my plan is to wrap up sixth year in the next four to five chapters. Again, I’ll beg you not to hold me to that as a promise, but I think we’re just about ready for summer, when to be as simultaneously vague and blunt as possible, things will go down. I’ll also delve into some other issues I’ve been meaning to address, but found difficult to explore during the school year with everything else that had to be handled.
Most importantly, I’d been totally remiss if I didn’t close with a massive thank you to all of you loyal readers out there who are sticking with this story! Just seeing your reads after each update is incredibly encouraging, as well as the time that some of you have taken to give any feedback you had to offer!
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