|The Life and Times
Author: Jewels5 PM
She was dramatic. He was dynamic. She was precise. He was impulsive. He was James, and she was Lily, and one day they shared a kiss, but before that they shared many arguments, for he was cocky, and she was sweet, and matters of the heart require time.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Adventure - James P. & Lily Evans P. - Chapters: 35 - Words: 577,558 - Reviews: 7,277 - Favs: 4,319 - Follows: 4,144 - Updated: 10-23-12 - Published: 07-08-09 - id: 5200789
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Lol, apparently my use of "Agrippa" is just pissing people off. Apparently, not everyone spends as much time on hp-lexicon as I do =P. No, but seriously, the story behind "Agrippa" as a curse is just that I wanted a word that the entire group used... like a fad, almost? I don't know—my graduating class always had a wide variety of half-invented words or phrases in our vocabulary ("slore," "Ilys," many, many more...) that we collectively used, just because we spent so much time together. Also, I'm not entirely sure that "Agrippa" isn't ever used in the exclamatory context in the HP books themselves. So, anyway, what I'm trying to say is—sorry if this is confusing. I will try to be more sensitive. =P
Disclaimer: Copyright Jo-Ro.
Before: So, Snape attacks Marlene with the Cruciatus for various convoluted reasons too complex to explain here, but Marlene agrees not to turn in Snape (for various, convoluted reasons too complex to explain here) on the condition that he makes sure nothing happens to Marlene's friends. Lily helps save Luke's death eater brother, Logan, and then Logan runs off, but not before offering Luke some kind of job (which Luke refuses). Frank and Alice resume a tentative pseudo-relationship. Snape and Mulciber look to recruit some younger students for "the cause," including Regulus Black. Stressed out and guilt-ridden Donna fights majorly with Lily. Alphard Black dies.
Chapter 20- "Moments"
Interpersonal relationships are primarily composed of moments and of conversations.
Moments are the things that we remember: the quiet looks to interpret or misinterpret, the smiles to analyze repeatedly later, the indescribable emotions contained within a touch or gesture. Moments are the things that pester and persist, because though thousands of words are devoted to conversational explanation, it's the moments that we trust. They are the things that you can see in your mind all those years later, when the conversations have faded into an oblivion of millions and millions of words.
Sirius was suddenly very cold.
The sun shone and the sky was a cheerful shade of blue, as billowing white clouds inched across it. The scene gave every appearance of being very warm, and yet Sirius felt cold.
A gentle breeze stirred the blades of the luscious green grass under foot, and it occurred to him that he was quite alone on the massive lawn. The breeze grew stronger, until it was a mild wind that beat at the great willow tree not far off. Its branches whistled and moaned, bending to and fro dramatically.
Inexplicably afraid of what he might see, Sirius turned to look behind him... no one. Nothing. He was quite alone.
The grass stretched out a short distance in that direction, and then it stopped, coming to the halt at the end of a cliff. Perhaps that explained the cold... he was at high altitude. No longer afraid, Sirius walked towards the cliff's edge. Down the grey and white rocky slope he peered, and he could make out the base far below. Dirt: a sea of sand-colored dirt sprawled out... he'd been hoping for water, for the ocean, but there was only the dirt.
Sirius straightened up again, then glanced down at his feet: he wore his simple black school shoes—in fact, he was still wearing his Hogwarts uniform, but it was colorless. There was no house symbol on his robes, and his tie was only black.
The whistling of the wind grew louder and more pronounced, more threatening; however, Sirius noticed that the longer he stared over the precipice, the shorter the distance between his position at the top and the sand at the bottom became, till at last, it could not have been more than fifty feet.
It was the strangest thing, but staring down there (and it didn't make him dizzy at all), he felt a compulsion to... to take a single step forward off the edge. That was all it would take, he realized: just one step. One insignificant movement—swiftly, easily, complacently executed, and he would be over the edge. How simple it would be; how powerful it made him feel... that control... he was alone. He was the only one that could do it.
And so, without thinking, he took the step.
At once, the world flipped upside down. Sirius felt himself falling, falling, falling, his heart pounding in his chest. He wondered what it would feel like to hit the ground, and as the wind filled his ears, he realized the incline had been deeper than he had supposed. He continued to fall for what seemed a very long time, the scenery rushing past him in a blur of color and sound: through the wind, he could hear voices—whispers and mutterings that he couldn't quite make out, until one voice—sharper and clearer than the rest—shouted: "Sirius!" And he hit the ground with a thump.
He was alive, lying on his back and breathing heavily; the ground beneath him wasn't rough, dry dirt, as he had thought, but cool grass. He must have been falling for a long time, because it was dark now. A large, white moon hung ominously overhead amidst grey, swirling clouds and a starless black sky. He was in no more pain than he might have been if he had simply tripped backwards from ground level, except in one place—his left eye. It throbbed terrifically, and Sirius didn't have any idea why. Nothing else really hurt too badly: just that area of his face.
He lay for several seconds, and—just when he had decided he ought to move—Sirius became conscious of something wet on the back of his head. Blood, perhaps (he had fallen so far). But the liquid slowly began to spread, trickling down to his neck, and he realized it was water.
The puddle, originating at the point of his head in contact with the ground, continued to grow. It had reached his fingertips before Sirius noticed that it was not just growing outward—the water was becoming deeper, too. He realized this, and the progression quickened; he would have to move, or the water level, which had now risen above the top of his hands would envelope him completely. He tried to sit up, to push himself out of the grass, but—and at the realization of it, fear shot through him like lightning—he couldn't. He was paralyzed, and the water was rising.
In a moment, it swallowed him. The ground beneath him had disappeared, and as he lingered near the surface, Sirius could still see the blurred moon glaring down at him.
Then, he felt some force tugging at his leg, and then his arm, and then sucking his whole body downward. He couldn't breathe, and he was being pulled further down, the light above surface growing fainter and fainter. He choked, repressed tears (why did his eye ache so?), and thrashed in vain at the water about him.
He was sinking. The pressure of the water grew, pushing in on him painfully. He opened his mouth to shout, and water flooded his lungs. His energy dwindled. The glimmer of the moon in the sky was all but gone, and he found his arms too heavy to fight the force that carried him downward.
He was going to die. He was going to drown in that great, dark blue emptiness. The water grew blacker as he was pulled deeper and deeper, the pressure on every inch of his body mounting. Into the darkness, he sank further and further...
Sirius Black woke with a start. He gasped for air, and though he knew he was safe in the confines of the Gryffindor sixth year boys' dormitory, he felt around his surroundings to be sure. His warm blankets still covered him, his wand remained safe underneath his pillow, the curtains were drawn... all was normal.
It was the fourth night in a row that he'd had that drowning dream. Sirius rubbed his eyes with the tips of his fingers, groaning at the discomfort of having been awoken so unpleasantly. A quick look at the alarm clock on his bedside told him it was just past three in the morning.
He sank back into his pillows.
Four nights in a row. Good God. This had to stop.
Alphard Black died on May 1st.
He went during the night: a quiet, peaceful death. Healer Holloway found him—he'd taken to checking on the Professor on weekends. Black lay in his bed, comfortable and still, as though sleeping. Defense Classes were canceled that week.
"Are you coming?" asked James quietly. The Quidditch Captain wore all black robes and a grim expression, but Sirius's back was to his best friend, and he saw none of this.
"No," he replied bitterly.
It was the Thursday after (the sixth), and the two boys were alone in the dormitory. "Padfoot," James tried once more. "He would want you to be there."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "And how the hell would you know that, Prongs? You barely knew him. He was just your Professor Black."
"So what you're telling me," replied James, "is that your uncle would prefer that you didn't go to his wake?"
Sirius turned on him. "Yes, James. That's what I'm telling you."
James sat down on the nearest bed. "I'm staying," he announced. "I'm not leaving you alone in the castle."
"I'm not alone in the castle, and you're not staying." Sirius sighed. "Listen, James, just go. I want to be left alone... I'm tired of sympathy and a lot of people telling me how sorry they are... like they in any way understand it."
"Some of them do, Padfoot."
"No. They don't."
"A lot of people have lost family in the war. You know that."
"Yeah, how many of them lost the only family they had?"
"Sirius, you've got family. You've got Andromeda, you've got me, you've got..."
"I haven't got shit, Potter," said Sirius apathetically. "Now get out of here. Go 'pay your respects' in Hogsmeade with the rest of the school, and leave me alone."
"Padfoot, it might be good for you to go. To say goodbye."
"Say goodbye to what? A mound of cold flesh in a wooden box? I don't need to say goodbye. And if you're going to be a prick, just shut your door on the way out." He lit a cigarette.
James was quiet for a long time. "I'll leave the cloak and the map if you change your mind," he said at length, getting up from the bed and starting towards the exit. "And later, when you're beating yourself up for being such a git, punch yourself once from me, yeah?" He closed the door behind him.
The memorial in Hogsmeade was not, itself, Black's funeral. It was just a service, primarily for his students, though they were by no means the only ones to attend. When it was over with, the students followed their teacher's sleek black casket, as it was levitated up the high street towards a dark, horseless hearse.
Lily walked with Severus at the same trudging pace, her green eyes moist but her cheeks dry. The only sounds, seemingly in the whole village, were of many shuffling feet on the ground.
"What are you doing when you get back up to the castle?" Severus asked in a whisper, as Black's casket reached its destination. Lily looked at the Slytherin, surprised by speech at all; it seemed an eternity since she'd heard human voice (though in reality, it had barely been twenty minutes).
"I don't know," she replied honestly. "I hadn't thought about it."
"Have you finished the Charms assignment?" Severus pressed. "The last part was a bit..." He noticed Lily's expression. "B-but we can talk about it later."
"Yes," she replied shortly. "We can."
Severus slipped away when they reached the end of the walk, and Lily started towards Marlene and Mary. She noticed James, Remus and Peter keeping to themselves a short distance away, but Sirius was conspicuously absent.
"Everyone's headed over to the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer," said Mary, when Lily approached them. "McGonagall's given permission. Are you coming?"
"I suppose so."
The crowd began to disperse, with the majority of Hogwarts students moving towards the Three Broomsticks. They were a quiet group, a black-cloaked mass pushing through the dreary street. The grey sky threatened rain, and a bitter wind caused everyone to clutch their cloaks a little tighter. Even the weather seemed to mourn.
Lily stared listlessly through the crowd at her classmates' grieving faces. Professor Black had been liked by just about everyone, and that he should leave so suddenly... it just wasn't fair. It wasn't right. And poor Sirius...
Her eyes landed on Severus, who had now joined his housemates. They were muttering amongst themselves—Sev, Mulciber, Avery, and Hester—and she wondered vaguely about their topic. She found Frank and Alice walking with some other seventh years and resisted the urge to find Donna (it would only make her angry, after all). She absentmindedly scanned the crowd outside the pub (a few tear-stained third years, several somber Ravenclaws) as she, Mary, and Marlene followed the throng indoors.
The small, bronze bell over the doorway jingled as Marlene pushed the closing door open for herself and her two friends; the warm air and colors of the pub were a sharp contrast to the cold of the street, and Lily hastened to close the door behind her. She turned, pushing gently against the door, so that just before it closed, she caught sight of the street outside.
Shopkeepers who had come out to observe were resuming their usual schedules; witches and wizards who had attended the service loitered around the edges of the street, talking somberly or else keeping quiet. Professor McGonagall and Hagrid the Gamekeeper were in council near the carriages that would transport the students back up to the school, and a large tabby cat walked along the sill of a shop window down the road.
And, for the briefest of moments, near an open window across the way, Lily glimpsed a pair of dark eyes, juxtaposed in a familiar face that she did not register until a fraction of a second later when the door clicked closed. Her heart quickened and—eyes wide with shock—Lily opened the door again at once. "Where are you going?" Marlene asked, but Lily was already out on the street.
"Frank, will you go ahead?" asked Alice, glancing towards the three Marauders some distance away. "I'll meet you inside..."
The Head Boy nodded, giving her hand a quick squeeze before entering the Three Broomsticks without her. Alice, meanwhile, pulled her cloak a little closer, and quickened her pace to catch up with James, Remus, and Peter, who were headed in the opposite direction. She was nearly toppled over completely by a harried Lily Evans, but reached the three wizards just as they broke away from the thicker part of the crowd.
"James... Remus... Peter, hold up a minute..."
They did. She looked between them. "How is he?" the seventh year asked softly.
"Not fantastic," replied Remus. "We're going back up to the castle to see him now. He refused to come down."
Alice nodded. "Listen, I know you're his best mates, but if you think it'll help any, come find me, and I'll talk to him too, yeah?"
Remus smiled weakly. "Thanks, Alice. We will."
The seventh year turned and walked slowly back, eventually disappearing into the Three Broomsticks. The Marauders then continued towards the carriages.
"I dunno," Peter said as they walked. "Padfoot asked me to get the firewhiskey... he'll be right sore that I didn't."
"There's a bottle in my trunk he hasn't found yet," said James. "And you shouldn't let Sirius boss you around, Wormtail." Remus rolled his eyes. "Moony, what d'you reckon? How long do we give him before we take serious action?"
Before Remus could respond, a new voice cut in. "James?"
The Marauders turned to see a lovely, dark haired witch approaching them. She had a long thin face, with familiarly grey eyes and a tall, willowy build. She wore a black cloak with a silver clasp, and the expression on her ivory toned face was mournful. James exhaled heavily.
"Andromeda," he replied, by way of greeting.
She smiled sadly. "He didn't come?"
James shook his head. "He's not... taking it well."
The witch, Andromeda Tonks (née Black), regarded the other two Marauders for the first time. "Remus. Peter."
"Hullo, Andromeda," said Remus, and Peter nodded.
Some years their elder, Andromeda's acquaintance with the Marauders was based primarily on her cousin, their fourth companion, rather than through Hogwarts. She had been a sixth year when the Marauders started, and—what's more—a member of Slytherin house, so their contact during their mutual years at the school was minimal. However, ever since Andromeda's marriage to a muggleborn wizard and her subsequent disownment by the Black family, Sirius had made frequent visits to his favorite cousin's house over the summer holidays, bringing with him James and sometimes Remus and Peter as well.
Now twenty-three, Andromeda was as beautiful as she had been at Hogwarts, but quite different. Her still slender figure was fuller, probably the result of having a child, and the angles of her face seemed softer, less intimidating. Her eyes—nearly identical to Sirius's—were just the same though. Whatever force had graced Sirius and Regulus Black with good-looks had affected Andromeda's branch of the family similarly. Not only was she quite pretty, but her two sisters were also well-known for their looks.
Speaking of which...
"Is it safe for you to be here?" asked James, looking about the crowd on the street.
"The family isn't here," Andromeda replied sadly. "They'll be at the proper funeral, so it would... that is, I don't think I will be attending that."
"Is Ted here? And your daughter?" Peter asked, to which Andromeda shook her head.
"Ted stayed home with Nymphadora. I thought she was a little young for this, and to tell the truth, I wasn't certain it would be entirely safe." Andromeda's expression became anxious. "But... how is he?"
There was no doubt she referred to Sirius. James frowned. "Angry, mostly."
"That sounds like Sirius," sighed the witch. "Could—could you take me to him?"
James looked at Remus, who seemed to think it was a good idea. "Of course," said the former, indicating to one of the carriages nearby. "We'll take you."
Andromeda stepped into the carriage, followed immediately by the three Marauders. As the door magically closed, and their vehicle at once started up the road, Remus felt compelled to fill the silence. "I'm so sorry about your uncle, Andromeda. He was the best Defense teacher we ever had."
"Everyone loved Uncle Alphard," agreed the witch evenly. "They couldn't help it, I suppose."
The party reached the castle shortly, and James led the way through the Entrance Hall towards the great marble staircase. It felt odd conducting a non-student—a former Slytherin no less—to Gryffindor Common Room, and yet, when Andromeda courteously offered to step away while he gave the password to the Fat Lady, he insisted that it was unnecessary and meant it.
"We'll let you alone with him first," volunteered Peter when they reached the staircase to the boys' dormitories.
"I'll just show you the door," said James. He walked ahead up the spiral stair, stopping at the highest level save one and knocking on the door there.
"Fuck off," came Sirius's muffled, surly reply.
Andromeda turned to James. "Thank-you," she whispered, more emotively. Then, pushing open the door, she stepped inside the dormitory.
Donna fell back onto the blue sheets, gasping for air and reveling in the blissful emptiness of her mind.
Every inch of her body seemed to burn, and she pulled the sheets up around her, partially as an unconscious gesture to cover herself, partially because the crisp cotton was cool by comparison. She couldn't think—her brain was mush, and her heart hadn't slowed to a normal rate yet, so all that she felt was comfortable, cathartic nothingness. If only she could always feel like this. If only she could always feel so...
"Hell," Charlie breathed from somewhere beside her. Suddenly the world returned in sharp focus, and Donna wanted to hex something.
Giving herself a moment or two to return to somewhat normal (physically speaking), Donna then sat up in the bed—sheets still clutched to just below her collarbone—and glanced about for her clothing. She found her panties at the end of the bed, and since she was compelled to drop the sheets in order to get dressed, Donna turned her back on her companion before slipping into her undergarments.
"Leaving so soon?" asked Charlie. "Really, Shack, you make me feel cheap." Donna rolled her eyes, though the Ravenclaw could not have seen this in their current position. He still lay with his hands behind his head, nestled amongst the pillows and blankets. "You don't have to go, y'know," he continued. "I reckon everyone will be down in the Village for another two hours or so."
Donna considered it, but the annoyance of Charlie outweighed the appeal of sex. "I'm not in the mood for another go," she said simply, sliding into her skirt.
"We don't have to," Charlie went on, and Donna observed that his tone lacked its usual cocky amusement. "I mean—you could sleep, if you want to."
Donna found her bra and made to fix it in place, but she struggled with the clasp a bit. "Um... no."
"Okay," said Charlie.
Suddenly, Donna felt fingers on her back, causing her to start. "Stop that!" she ordered, taken aback.
"I was only trying to help," grumbled the Ravenclaw, and now that she had fastened the clasp, Donna turned on her companion, glaring.
"I don't need your help. What is wrong with you today?"
"I don't know!" Charlie snapped defensively. Donna grabbed her blouse and yanked her arms through the sleeves, attacking the buttons hastily. "I just—I think this whole business... Professor Black dying and everything..." He avoided her eye. "...It's just got me thinking, that's all..."
Donna had finished buttoning but did not pick up another article of clothing, because she was too busy staring incredulously at the wizard before her. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"I don't know," he repeated. "I've just been thinking."
Donna decided not to ask what he meant by his statement and commanded: "Well, stop it."
Charlie scowled. "Fine."
She finished dressing, stopping by the mirror to check that her reflection was impeccable before she left the dormitory. Charlie remained in the bed, half covered by blankets, with his arms now crossed irritably over his chest. Without anything more than a brief nod, Donna exited the dormitory and took the downward steps two at a time. By the time she had crossed the vacant Ravenclaw Common Room, she was marginally less shaken.
Charlie Plex had the philosophical and emotional capacity of a thimble. For God's sake, he felt no guilt whatsoever in cheating on his girlfriend three to four times a week, including during the service for a deceased Defense teacher. The boy (and his "thinking") was harmless.
Donna felt a little better when she was out of the Common Room altogether, descending the stairway from Ravenclaw Tower, which let out on the fifth floor. She started towards her own Common Room, and was halfway through constructing a story as to why she missed Professor Black's service, when she remembered that this was completely unnecessary. She needed no lie for Lily's sake. No one would be asking where she had been.
There was a brief thrill of liberated relief, followed by a depressing twinge of isolation. But really, this was a good thing. No one to make up excuses for, no one to demand why she was in a bad mood, no one to pester her with questions and conversation when all she wanted was to be left alone. Essentially, no Lily.
The dead Professor Black drifted through her mind. Professor Black, down in the Village with a few hundred people come to say goodbye. Professor Black, cold and dead and gone. By the time Donna reached the Common Room, whatever buzz had remained from her rendezvous with Charlie had vanished completely.
Sirius started at the sight of his cousin. He rose from the four-poster bed immediately. "Andromeda! What are you doing here?"
Andromeda raised her eyebrows. "Is that any way to greet your favorite cousin? Especially since you swore at me just now..."
Sirius blushed faintly and crossed the room in half a second, hugging his cousin briefly. "I'm sorry... I didn't know it was..."
Sirius drew his wand and pointed it at the desk chair across the dorm. The clothes, books, and parchment littering it at once fell to the floor, before the chair dragged itself towards Sirius's bed. He indicated for Andromeda to take the chair and sat down on the bed again. "Why didn't you come to the service?" asked the witch, once they were both situated.
"Is that any way to greet your favorite cousin?" retorted Sirius dryly. Andromeda rolled her eyes.
The Marauder hesitated, and then replied quietly: "I didn't see the point." He expected to be asked to defend this position, but Andromeda merely nodded. "Why did you come? It's not safe... anyone from the family might've been there, and..."
"They'll be at the funeral," replied Andromeda. "That's Saturday. But I knew they wouldn't lower themselves to such a common affair in Hogsmeade." Her lips twitched sardonically. "Anyway," she went on, "I had to come if I could. I owe Uncle Alphard that much."
Sirius flinched at the name, as if it had been Voldemort's rather than that of a beloved relative. "It's not fair," he muttered. "It shouldn't have been him."
"No," Andromeda agreed. "But it was. And, if nothing else, at least you were able to spend time with him this last year."
"I wish I hadn't."
"No, you don't. Of course, if you hadn't been close, it would hurt less now, but... you must know that you would have missed something that you would rather not miss. Don't you, Sirius?"
He decided not to answer, and the cousins were silent for some time. Knowing full well the purpose of Andromeda's visit but choosing to ignore this, Sirius changed the subject. "So Cissy's engaged."
"To Lucius Malfoy," confirmed the other. "Rather ironic."
Sirius snorted. "And to think, a few short years ago, I thought I would be attending your pureblood fairytale wedding."
"Can you imagine?" scoffed Andromeda. "You know, I can't fathom what my life would be like if I had gone through with that. I don't suppose I ever could have, though I thought I would for a while. But after I met Ted, whether I knew it or not, that was impossible. Still, it's strange to pretend that I might have."
"And I might have been in Slytherin if I didn't meet James," said Sirius darkly. "You're right. It's difficult to fathom."
Another silence, and then Andromeda carried on: "He gave me money, you know. When I ran away with Ted, Uncle Alphard gave me gold. We were fairly broke at the time—I don't know what we would've done if he hadn't."
Sirius was suddenly very angry with his cousin for resurrecting the subject he wished to avoid. He intended to snap at her for it, but he met her eye and knew he could not. They were the signature Black family eyes: grey, clouded, framed by thick dark lashes, and marked with a certain stoniness that could never be completely eradicated. Still, Andromeda's were the only incarnation of this family trait (with a few notable and painful exceptions) that had ever shown compassion or sympathy towards him. From his mother, occasionally his father, from Regulus, from Cissy and even Bella he'd once had affection—though he was loath to admit it—but only from Andromeda had he received compassion, and he could not betray that, so instead he said: "Yeah, he gave me gold, too, when I ran away. Mum must never have found out, or she would have blasted his name off the tapestry for cert."
Andromeda agreed. "You won't forget him, will you, Sirius?" she asked meaningfully. "He never forgot us. He was the only one."
Sirius knew exactly what she meant by "us:" not just the two of them, but all of Alphard's nieces and nephews. Regulus, Narcissa, and Bellatrix were all faithful members of the House of Black, but all of them had been neglected somehow—perhaps not maltreated like Meda and Sirius, but forgotten in some manner nonetheless.
"I won't forget him," Sirius promised.
Andromeda remained with him for another half hour, talking about a variety of subjects, which always seemed to lead back to the Blacks or their uncle. Then, she said that she had better be leaving, as she had left Nymphadora—her four year old—with Ted, and he would be worried for her.
"He didn't want me to go to Hogsmeade either," she noted. "Not that he said so, of course, but I could tell."
Sirius felt a twinge of jealousy. At first, he supposed it was because Ted and Dora would have Andromeda, but then he thought it might be that he was jealous of Andromeda, because she would have Ted and Dora. There was a part of both Andromeda and Sirius that would always be Black, but her part was smaller. She had a husband; she could take a new name and become part of a new family. Sirius would take his name with him forever.
"I love you, Sirius," said Andromeda, faltering near the door. Sirius gruffly embraced her once more.
"'Love you, Meda."
She turned, but her hand lingered on the door knob. "Don't forget about your friends, either," she said. "I never had friends like that. I don't think I ever will. Just—just don't forget about them."
She was going mad. That was the only plausible explanation. It simply wasn't possible. It simply could not be.
Leaning against the outside wall of the Three Broomsticks, Lily ran both hands through her hair, closing her eyes and trying to determine whether she really believed that. It had only been a moment—less than a second—that she had thought she'd seen that face... that horribly familiar face, and perhaps she had simply imagined the whole thing. Hallucinated.
Perhaps she had been thinking of her last visit to Hogsmeade and, caught up in the memory, projected an image that was not present at all.
Really, what would he be doing there? What would he be doing in the village, in the middle of a crowded street where anyone might recognize him? And she was sure she saw—or hallucinated—that he locked eyes with her: what on earth would induce him to do something so stupid? To catch the attention of one person he knew definitively could identify him?
Still, in her mind's eye, she could see his features, and a small part of Lily was firmly convinced that she had, indeed, seen him.
Breathing deeply, Lily opened her eyes again to the crowded street. A mélange of familiar and unfamiliar faces passed her, none of them the one she sought.
It was mad. It was all in her head. She'd imagined it.
That was the only logical explanation.
Because what would Logan Harper be doing in Hogsmeade?
Mary sat in the corner of a booth at the Three Broomsticks, with Marlene to her left and Adam seated directly across from them. Theirs was one of the only booths not completely full, and the vast majority of occupants were Hogwarts students. The wireless was off, and the noise of the pub had not risen above a dull, dismal roar, consisting mostly of dreary conversation about everything—from the topic at hand (Professor Black) to inconsequential, listlessly reiterated gossip.
Marlene and Adam were talking about something philosophical that Mary barely heard. Her mind and eyes drifted. She didn't want to think about Professor Black being dead, or about the suddenness of mortality, or about any of the things that everyone else seemed to obsess over for the last week. She didn't want to think at all.
Her friends knew this, but Mary had the feeling none of them really understood why. They supposed it was because she was Mary—Mary, the fun one, the happy one, the careless, occasionally flakey one. And all of that was true, of course. She wouldn't deny it. But that wasn't really the reason she forced her mind towards other topics. After all, of her roommates, Mary was the only one that saw thestrals.
At the nearest table, a group of seventh years were somberly wondering what Dumbledore planned to do about a replacement. Some Ravenclaws at the bar were observing how Professor Black was the best Defense teacher they'd had at Hogwarts. A third year near the door was telling her friends that she'd never known anyone to die before (rare, considering the current state of affairs and You-Know-Who).
Mary's eyes drifted to a table close by, occupied by some Slytherins in her year. It was the strangest thing: as she looked over, she was sure she noticed several of them shift suddenly, turning their heads away from her as though they had been watching that table. She flushed. Avery and Snape she couldn't be sure of, but she was almost positive that Mulciber had been watching her—or her table, at any rate.
That was odd.
Mary looked at Marlene and Adam, but neither seemed to have noticed anything, and neither seemed to be up to anything peculiar that warranted scrutiny from some Slytherins. She wasn't either—her robes weren't particularly revealing, and there were no Marauders about: the Marauders (and Lily) were the only Gryffindors in their year that the Slytherins typically concerned themselves with. Perhaps they were looking for Lily. But why should they turn away so abruptly?
Mary was quite used to members of the opposite sex looking at her: it was the curse of curves and good bone structure. She was not even a stranger to the concept that a Gryffindor-loathing snake like Mulciber should be looking at her. But there was a difference between being looked at and being watched, and she felt acutely that now, it was a case of the latter. That troubled her.
It was not until supper that evening that Lily managed to locate Luke, and even then she had to wait until the meal was finished before she could actually speak with him. When, finally, the Ravenclaw rose from the table—fortuitously alone—and started out of the hall, Lily dropped her fork at once and got up to follow him. She was several steps away from Gryffindor table before she realized she hadn't the faintest idea what she was going to say. "Hullo, Ex-Boyfriend. Thought I saw your death eater brother in town today—got any ideas what that's about?"
Well, that would communicate what she was thinking, but it wouldn't do at all.
"Luke!" she called after the Ravenclaw, and he paused on the first step of the marble staircase in the Entrance Hall. He looked flustered and confused as she approached him, but Lily didn't have time to analyze that. Glancing about the hall to ensure that they were in reasonable confidence, Lily—ineloquently and nervously—explained herself. By the end of the short story, Luke looked sufficiently stunned, so that Lily was pretty sure what the answer to her next question would be.
"I know it's ridiculous," she continued, "but—you didn't... see him, did you?"
"Um... no." He shook his head briskly. "No. Logan wouldn't come to me now, though... not again. He's not thick."
Lily hesitated before she asked her next question. "Does he know... does he know that Lathe was here looking for him?" But what she meant was: Did you tell him?
Luke frowned. "Probably," he said. "I don't know. I'm sure he's paying attention to that sort of thing. Anyway, I'm trying not to think about it as much as possible."
"Right." Lily nodded uncomfortably; she still was not quite certain what to think. "Well, I guess... if you haven't heard anything..."
"I swear," replied Luke, "I haven't."
She nodded again. "Alright. You take care, Luke."
James, Remus, Peter, and Adam surrendered the dorm to Sirius that day and into the evening. Everyone had long since returned from the village and finished supper before the fourth Marauder made an appearance in the Common Room, which was by then busy, as students either relished the dying hours of their holiday or else hastened to finish the homework that they had put off in light of it. They still had classes the next day, after all.
Sirius ambled listlessly down the staircase, falling into an empty chair near his three friends, who all looked up in surprise at his arrival.
"I'm sorry I was a prick," Sirius mumbled, hands in his pockets and not quite meeting any of their eyes.
"I'm sorry I was pushy," replied James to the fireplace.
"Me too," said Remus.
"I'm sorry I didn't get your firewhiskey," said Peter.
Unexpectedly, Sirius grinned—sincerely, if not entirely. There was still a little bitterness in his eyes, but it was utterly absent from his tone. "I think I'm going to be okay," he stated, as though confessing a sin. "At any rate, I'm done sulking."
Peter and Remus looked relieved. James, however, hesitated. "No one's asking you to be cheerful," he said.
Sirius snorted. "Good."
Later that evening, when returning from the Kitchens—where they had gone to fetch Sirius supper—James hung back with his best friend, while Remus and Peter automatically and unquestioningly moved ahead. "I know you think you've lost your only family," James said, a bit awkwardly. "But you haven't. No matter what, we are your brothers. No matter what."
Sirius nodded slowly. "I know," he said. "Thanks."
By Saturday, the weather had improved.
As per Frank Longbottom's somewhat secretive request, the Hogsmeade weekend had been moved to that day, and the older students of Hogwarts once again queued up in the Entrance Hall, waiting for the carriages that would convey them down to the village. Lily stood with Mary, quiet for the most part, either from the early hour or poor mood.
"Lily," said her friend, breaking the silence as the line progressed towards Filch.
"Have you noticed anything odd with the Slytherins?"
Lily glanced over at a group of said house-members, some distance away in the queue. "No odder than usual," replied the prefect. "Why? Have you?"
Mary frowned. "I keep getting the strangest feeling they're looking at me."
"They probably are," said Lily glumly. "Imagine, Dumbledore letting riff-raff like you into this school. Hogwarts is gone to the dogs these days."
"Maybe it is just the usual," murmured the brunette, shaking her head. "Maybe I'm imagining things."
"Must be contagious," Lily muttered, but Mary did not hear her. The line continued to inch forward.
"Crikey, this is eternal," Mary grumbled after a few minutes. "I have to go to the loo. Save my spot, will you?" Lily nodded, and Mary skipped off. The redhead was alone a moment before another roommate joined her.
"Lily?" And much to the prefect's astonishment, it was Donna. Lily did not reply, but merely raised her eyebrows expectantly, waiting for the purpose of the visit. "I need to speak with you," Donna went on. "Um... away from everyone."
"I've been in the queue for ten minutes," replied Lily. "I'm not about to lose my place. If you have something to say, say it here."
But that did not appear to be a playable option for Donna. "Hey, you," she barked at the tall Hufflepuff behind them in line.
"It's Liam," said the boy. "Liam Lyle."
"Yeah, a pleasure..." began Donna impatiently.
"We've met before," the Hufflepuff went on. "Like two hundred times... we have about five classes together... partners for a term project in fourth year... played each other in Quidditch... is none of this ringing any bells?"
"Yeah, yeah." She waved an unconcerned hand. "Can you save Lily's spot for a minute?"
"Liam, you don't have t..." Lily tried to say, but Liam shrugged and cut her off.
"No, it's fine."
So, sighing, Lily followed Donna to a corner of the Entrance Hall, some distance away from the others. "So, listen," Donna resumed, once they had an acceptable degree of privacy. "I've been in a terrible mood lately, as you've undoubtedly noticed, and... the other day, when we fought, I wasn't really angry with you. I was angry with myself, and with... some of my recent decisions... and I took it out on you. And that was wrong." She looked almost proud of herself and waited expectantly for Lily to reply.
When Lily realized that Donna had finished talking, she crossed her arms and shifted her weight. "That's it?"
"Are you going to make me say it?" pleaded the other. "Fine. I will. I'm sorry."
That was big, and they both knew it. An apology from Donna Shacklebolt was rare to say the least. Under different circumstances, Lily might have been touched. However...
"That's it?" Lily repeated. She scoffed disbelievingly. "Really, Donna, that... that's... remarkable. Truly. You think that you can come over here, tell me some things I already know, and expect me to just forget everything you said?"
"Yes, you were in a rotten mood. Yes, you were going through some stuff. But so was I, okay?" The more she said, the more she thought about that evening, and the angrier she became. "You called me self-righteous and cold when I was going through some of the most difficult experiences of my life. You were relentless, and you were cruel, and..."
"Let me finish." Lily's eyes flashed. "You mocked me about my dad dying. And that, Donna, does not go away just because you say 'sorry.' It may interest you to know that the rest of the world developed the ability to apologize a lot younger than seventeen, so don't act like it's a magnificent accomplishment. I am not a doormat for you to walk all over. I am not going to simply grin and bear it whenever you're in foul mood. I am done with that. I am done with tolerating your mood swings and your inability to even simulate compassion or empathy or human emotion of any kind. I am done with trying, and I'm done with you. I said 'don't talk to me,' and I meant it, because frankly, I'm still furious with you. And when I'm done being furious, I'll still mean it, because you were right. You said it yourself: we were never friends; no one who was ever really my friend could possibly have treated me like that, no matter what kind of 'terrible mood' they were in. So while I appreciate the effort, you might as well save your breath. You don't owe me any more apologies. I'm done. I've moved on."
Donna was silent. Lily waited a moment longer and then, seeing that there was nothing left to say, returned to her place in the queue. Still silenced, Donna watched Mary return as well; she saw the tiny brunette observe the anger on her friend's face and inquire about it, to which Lily muttered something in response. Mary looked sympathetic and leaned on Lily's shoulder, patting the other shoulder consolingly.
For the first time in a very long time, Donna felt her eyes prickle curiously. She felt her chest ache and her skin burn, and with no very clear notion of doing so, she turned and hastened up the marble staircase.
"Very good, Mr. Black," said the small, round wizard, whose name they had all already forgotten, and the other three Marauders applauded loudly. The wizard inspected Sirius quite carefully, as if to make sure no parts were missing, and then jotted something down on a clipboard. "And how do you feel?"
Sirius pretended to think. "I dunno. I think my spleen might be missing."
James and Peter snickered, and Remus tried to look disapproving, while Sirius smothered a grin. The wizard looked shocked. "Oh my! I'll call the Healer at once!"
"No, he's joking," said Remus quickly, stepping. "I don't think he even knows what a 'spleen' is."
The round wizard looked inquisitively at Sirius, who nodded. "Yeah, just a joke, mate. So did I pass? Does Wizarding England say I have the right to apparate?"
Still suspicious, the wizard eyed his clipboard. "It would appear so..."
"Lovely," said Sirius brightly. "So, I'll just go to the desk to fill out the form, then?"
Sirius practically skipped over to the clerk's desk to receive official documentation of his successful apparition test. "Er... very well..." wheezed the instructor, blushing. "Who's next then?" He looked expectantly at the Marauders, but James shook his head.
"Sirius was the last," he said. "'Ickle Petey here doesn't turn seventeen for two more weeks."
"Must you call me that?" sighed Peter, and James merely laughed.
"Very well," the instructor went on. "I'll just have Miss Petree send in the next applicant." Miss Petree—one of two witches sitting at the clerk's desk—scuttled into the waiting room to bring in the next person applying for their apparition license, while the Marauders waited for Sirius to finish with his forms.
"At least he's cheered up," Peter quietly observed of their friend. "It's a lucky thing we brought Andromeda to see him."
"I dunno," said Remus uncertainly. "You reckon it'll last?"
James shrugged. "He said something cheesy this morning about 'living life to its fullest.'" He sighed. "But even if Padfoot is faking it, hopefully we can keep him distracted until he actually does cheer up."
"That's not a terrible idea," agreed Remus.
"And at least he passed the test," Peter murmured. "I don't think he would've handled failing very well."
At that moment, Sirius turned and, holding a square of parchment identical to the ones James and Remus had just received, approached them grinning. "Fantastic. Now I can legally do what I've been doing for two years." He folded up the license and placed it in his pocket as the others had done.
"That sounds familiar," remarked Peter, while the boys made their way out of the apparition office. "Maybe because you said the same thing on your birthday about drinking..."
As they were exiting, Miss Petree returned with Marlene Price in tow. "Good luck, Price," said Sirius. "Don't mess up!"
Marlene, who looked a little ill with anxiety, made a face. "Stuff it, Black."
"Ignore him," said Remus. "You'll be fine."
Marlene smiled weakly, and the office door closed, separating them. The Marauders made their way outside onto the street. The village could not have looked more different than it had just two days before, when they (or three of them, anyway) had walked the same roads for Professor Black's wake. Now, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. Witches and wizards moved noisily through the streets, and Hogwarts students once again took interest in Hogsmeade's many delights.
"Where next?" asked Peter. "Honeydukes? Three Broomsticks?"
"I vote Zonko's," said James. "Supposedly they've got something new called a 'nose-biting teacup.'"
"Only you would find that funny," said Remus, rolling his eyes. "Well, and Padfoot."
"What the hell is he doing?" barked Sirius suddenly. He had stopped walking.
"Who?" asked Peter.
"Snivellus," Sirius spat. The others followed his stare across the road to where Snape stood, muttering confidentially to a younger Slytherin. But it was not just any younger Slytherin, as James realized a moment later. It was Regulus Black.
"As if my git brother isn't worthless enough," Sirius breathed furiously (he had drawn his wand), "now he's got Snape poisoning him. I'll kill him." He looked ready to do it, too.
Remus grabbed his arm. "Padfoot, no. Not here, not now. They'll take away Hogsmeade privileges."
"Moony's right," said James. Snape and Regulus continued to mutter to one another, constantly casting furtive looks around, as though afraid of being overheard. "He's not worth it. We'll get Snivellus back later."
Sirius seemed to think it over, and then he replaced his wand in his pocket. "You're right," he agreed, exhaling heavily. "We'll get him back later."
Remus looked warily to James, but the latter merely shook his head helplessly. "C'mon," he said, determined to distract their friend at once. "Zonko's."
"Zonko's," acceded Sirius, but now his grin seemed distinctly forced.
"I passed!" Marlene sang, skipping over to the Three Broomsticks table occupied by Adam McKinnon. The wizard grinned.
"I told you that you would," he pointed out. "It wasn't too hard after all, was it? And look..." he held up one of two bottles from the table, "I already brought you a celebratory butterbeer."
"That," said Marlene, taking a seat, "is because you are the best." She drank deeply from the butterbeer. "So, what are we doing today?"
"It's almost two o'clock," Adam pointed out.
"Well, yes. But I was too distracted by the test all morning to be excited by Hogsmeade. Now that the Ministry of Magic has officially acknowledged my brilliance in the form of an apparition license, everything seems much better."
"Are you hungry?"
"Well, why don't we eat? And then we can go make fun of the people in that tacky shop next to Gladrags."
Marlene gasped. "You know me too well, Adam McKinnon."
Adam grinned. "C'mon. Let's get you fed. You can't mock on an empty stomach."
"That, my friend, is very true."
When they had finished with their late lunch, Adam and Marlene dawdled in the Three Broomsticks for some time, sipping butterbeers and debating the pros and cons of muggle sports.
"I just don't see much of a point if no one is flying," Adam argued.
"That's ridiculous," protested Marlene. "I could just as easily say that I don't see much of a point in Quidditch because no one is running."
"But running is so mundane! There's no substance to a sport that doesn't involve flying."
"Of course there is! Think of all the athletic ability required! The physical exertion on the part of muggle athletes is really quite remarkable."
"I don't know. But it must be an awfully slow-moving sport, this 'football.'"
Marlene tried to explain that it was anything but slow, but Adam didn't seem convinced. At last he relented, "Well, I'll just have to take your word for it, as I've never actually seen a match. The uniforms are quite ridiculous, though."
Marlene snorted. "Oh, please. Wizards wear robes, for God's sake."
Adam rolled his eyes. "I will never understand your bias against robes, Price."
"It's a muggle thing," she admitted, shrugging. "Anyway, I'll agree to disagree about football, so long as you know that I know I'm right."
"Well, golly, I can't argue with that," he replied sarcastically.
Marlene smirked, twirling a thread of blond hair around her index finger. They sat, saying nothing for a moment, before she observed: "Is it completely pathetic that I love this song?" in reference to the Aphrodite Belltone song ("The Ballad of the Memory Charm") playing over the WWN in the background.
"Oh, stuff it," she replied laughingly. "The lyrics are really quite sweet, if you listen to them."
"She rhymes 'met' with 'obliviate.'"
"Yes, but she's American. They don't know how to speak properly to begin with." Marlene took a long drink of butterbeer, and when she set down her bottle, she noticed Adam watching her carefully. "Oh, I know it's my third bottle; don't mock me, McKinnon—I'm pretty sure that's your fourth."
"No, it's not that." His tone had changed; he suddenly sounded more serious—even a little uneasy. "There's—Marlene, there's something I want to talk to you about..."
"It's just..." (His eyes fixed on his butterbeer) "...I mean, for a while now..."
"Hullo, everyone!" Mary Macdonald chirped, appearing from the ether (or somewhere) with her Hufflepuff date, Stebbins, on her arm.
"Hey, Mare," replied Marlene.
"Mind if we join you?" asked the brunette, and before either could answer, she slid into the seat beside Adam, while Stebbins sat down next to Marlene. "Stebbins and I have just been to the Shrieking Shack," she went on, not noticing the uncomfortable expression on Adam's face; "silent as the grave. I think Madam Rosmerta's making it up about that place being haunted."
"I heard it's only haunted at night," said Marlene. "And not even every night."
"The dead must be awfully temperamental," sighed Mary. "Anyway, Stebbins, will you be a love and pop over for some butterbeers?" The Hufflepuff jumped to his feet and was halfway to the bar, when she called after him: "Another for Adam and Marlene as well, please!" Smiling, she turned to her housemates again: "So, what are you two up to, then?"
Marlene looked at Adam, as though she had just remembered that he had been in the middle of saying something. "Oh, Adam, you were..."
"It's not important," he insisted. "We can talk about it later."
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" asked Mary.
"No," said Adam. "No, we were just... discussing football."
"It's a wonder you weren't asleep," replied the other. "So slow-moving, muggle sports are. Quidditch is much better."
Adam cast a victorious look in Marlene's direction, and she simply rolled her eyes. However, as Stebbins returned with their butterbeers, and the conversation returned to football-verses-Quidditch, Marlene couldn't help but wonder vaguely what it was that Adam had been about to say.
"Happy Birthday," said Frank, withdrawing a square, gold-wrapped box from behind his back and handing it to Alice. The witch arched her eyebrows, smiling nonetheless.
"You already gave me a present," she pointed out, but she began to unwrap the gold paper. The pair stood in a very full Honeydukes Sweet Shop at just past three in the afternoon.
"Yes," allowed Frank. "But that was your present part one. This is part two."
"How many parts are there?"
"Careful, Longbottom. I'll hold you to that." Alice finished unwrapping and lifted the lid. At once, she smiled broadly at the rows of pink and white sweets in the box.
"Strawberry Softs," she said, beaming. "They're my favorite..." But of course, she realized, that must have been intentional. "Hey, do you remember that time we were trying to find these in London?"
Frank laughed. "You mean the time we walked through every centimeter of Wizarding London trying to find a sweet shop that sold them, and we finally found one..."
"In that creepy place in Chelsea!" finished Alice enthusiastically. "They were good Strawberry Softs, though..."
"Ally," said Frank, "you got sick! You vomited for about an hour!"
Alice laughed. "Yes, but they tasted alright. Oh, that was the worst afternoon though. I was so bloody ill, and I was supposed to meet your mum for the first time..."
"And you threw up on our front porch."
"And she thought I'd been drinking! Which, come to think of it, would have been a good idea."
"It certainly would've calmed the nerves," agreed Frank. Alice grinned, and, selecting a strawberry soft, popped it in her mouth.
"Nah, I think there are still bits of them on my front porch..."
"Oh, hush!" She laughed and tried to shove him, but he deflected it and slipped an arm around her shoulders. She placed her newly purchased present in her handbag, and they started down a new aisle, inspecting the various items on the shelves. "Frank?"
"They don't use human blood in blood lollipops, do they?"
"I don't know."
"That would be disgusting."
They reached the end of the aisle, and Alice noticed a small door between two shelves. A little gold plaque on it read Employees Only. "Frank?"
"Mhm?" He was examining a box of ice mice.
"Have you ever snogged in the back room of a shop?"
"No. And neither have you."
Alice smirked. "Do you wanna?"
Frank set down the ice mice and looked at her. "Seriously?"
She nodded, pointing towards the door. Before Frank could respond, Alice grabbed his hand and—with a quick glance at the thoroughly occupied store clerks—pulled him through after her. The door—which was fortunately unlocked—led to a short, narrow corridor, off of which were two additional doors (probably to offices) that were both closed.
Smiling mischievously, Alice turned to Frank and closed the distance between them, kissing him slowly while inching them closer to the wall behind him. She slid her handbag off her shoulder and onto the floor, before wrapping her arms around his neck. His right hand gripped her shirt at the small of her back, his left resting on her hip, and their lips moved in a rhythm learned so long ago that neither remembered exactly when.
Eventually, they emerged for air, and Alice grinned against his lips. "You taste like butterbeer," she remarked inconsequentially.
"You taste like Strawberry Softs," he replied, causing her to giggle. They locked eyes for several seconds, deaf to the hum of the shop outside. Then, unthinkingly, as if an idea had suddenly occurred to him, Frank cut the silence with: "I love you."
Alice, who had been standing on her toes, dropped to the flats of her feet. Frank seemed to realize his mistake.
"Oh, Al, I'm sorry," he said uickly. "I know, you said we weren't going to..."
"No, Frank, it's fine," she said, trying to gather her thoughts as her stomach turned fretfully. She released him, running her hands through her straightened hair. "It's... it's okay. I just..."
"No, I shouldn't be pressuring you. It just... slipped out. I'm sorry. Really. I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing. Please. It's fine."
They were both silent for a minute, and then Frank said: "Can we just... forget this happened? We could—uh—go get another butterbeer, or see the Shrieking Shack..."
Alice exhaled. "Yes. Yes. Yeah, that's a good idea. Let's... do that."
Frank started for the door that would bring them back into the shop area, and Alice closed her eyes, hoping to slow her heart's panicky palpitations.
When it came to Quidditch, James Potter was a very dedicated Captain. Sometimes, his teammates thought, he was a little too dedicated. After all, following a long day in Hogsmeade, the last thing that the Gryffindor team wanted to do was suit up in their Quidditch gear and run a long, potentially excruciating practice. However, with the final a few weeks away, James had scheduled practice as many evenings a week that he could get the pitch and several mornings as well.
So it was that immediately after supper—around six-twenty, Adam McKinnon found himself trudging into the Gryffindor locker room, with his broomstick and sports bag, hoping against hope that Potter would be in a generous mood and let them out before nine.
On reaching the locker room, Adam thought—at first—that he was the first to arrive. However, a second look told him he was wrong. Huddled in a corner was, perhaps, the most shocking sight he had ever witnessed.
Now, having played on the Quidditch team with her for the past two years, Adam had seen Donna Shacklebolt angry. He had seen her downright furious. He had seen her raging, throwing, threatening, and hexing. He had seen her moody after a long practice, depressed after a loss, and vomiting after a celebration party. But in the six years Adam McKinnon had known Donna Shacklebolt, he had never seen her crying.
And the strangest part of it was, she didn't seem to care. She didn't seem to care that Adam was staring at her, frozen on the spot with his eyebrows invisible under his hairline and his mouth agape, a prime target for flies. Her shoulders continued to shake, tears streaming down her soaked face, while her fingertips futilely massaged her temples. But worse than the tears was her expression; she looked so completely lost. Out of control and powerless—the opposite of everything that Donna represented.
It occurred to Adam—while he stood there in stunned silence—that Donna Shacklebolt was really very beautiful.
Oh, not like that. She wasn't his type (of course, Adam's type was rather exclusive, consisting of really just one person). But she had great lines—a face that might have been sculpted in marble, and with large, glassy amber eyes. And her hair fell about in an unholy mess of coal black ringlets, beyond her control even in the best of times, much less now. She was built tall, with broad shoulders and lean, strong arms that made her an exceptional chaser. And because every part of Donna seemed to be carved out of dark stone, Adam had never noticed that the witch was really quite striking, until now that she was an unsightly train-wreck.
"Shack, what's wrong?" he managed to stammer at last.
"Fuck," groaned Donna, shading her eyes with her hand. "Oh, fuck it all."
"What's wrong?" Adam asked again, stepping closer.
"I've ruined everything," she breathed bitterly. "I fucked everything up." She sniffed and shook her head. "I only had one friend—one person in the world who put up with me just because she wanted to, not because she was related to me or because she had to, and I—I pushed her away..." (Incredulously) "...I got rid of the only friend I had. And Professor Black's dead. He's dead, and I didn't even go to the service. I couldn't even do that. She's right. I'm heartless. I'm nothing. Everyone hates me or is scared of me and I'm... tired. I'm so fucking tired of me." With her elbows on her knees, her hands became entangled in her tousled hair, as she closed her eyes, allowing more tears to slip from them.
A distraught, sobbing girl is no adolescent boy's idea of a good time, and a distraught, sobbing Donna Shacklebolt was quite likely to become dangerous for any witnesses, so it is a testament to Adam's character that he did not turn and run right then. When the shock of it all had worn off a little, he walked over to the witch, sitting down on a nearby bench. He wasn't quite sure what to say—he had no sodding clue, actually—so, for a while, he said nothing at all. She continued to weep, hiccupping irregularly but saying nothing more.
At length, Donna quieted. Her breathing steadied a little, and she made no new tears. She stared listlessly into space, as though she did not realize Adam was there at all. He leaned forward and folded his hands; he still wasn't certain whether it was the right thing to do, but he felt compelled to say something.
"Everything's going to be alright, you know," he said with conviction. Donna shook her head petulantly, but he cut her off firmly: "It is."
To that, she made no reply. Instead, she made about tidying herself, drying her face and striving to tame her hair. When she had finished—and her eyes were still bloodshot and puffy, but there was nothing she could do about that—she met Adam's stare and stated: "You're in love with Marlene."
That threw him completely. "Um... no, I..."
"But you are," Donna repeated, matching his prior conviction. She pushed herself up, sighing deeply. "I have to go clean up before everyone else gets here. You... you should tell Marlene how you feel."
With that, she turned and headed towards the taps. Adam, speechless and confused, did not move until James Potter and Sirius Black arrived, and it was time for practice.
(Let It Be)
Alice loathed Potions. It was one of those things that no matter how hard she worked, she would never be truly excellent at it. It would never come naturally to her. Sure, she managed to scrape good marks (alright, well above-average marks), but she was never able to "get the hang of it" like she had in Charms or Transfiguration. Each potion was a new battle.
Potions class on Tuesday was particularly frustrating, as Professor Slughorn had decided to partner up the seventh year N.E.W.T. students while each couple worked on different projects. Alice had been sharing a desk with Frank and thought that—since Slughorn liked them both—the potions master might pair them up. However, when he called out her surname "Griffiths," it was paired with "Skively," and Alice could not say that she was not at least a little relieved.
They had both agreed to forget Frank's declaration in Honeydukes, and Frank had more or less returned to normal, but Alice was struggling with it. She could not erase the memory, nor could she smother the discomfort she felt whenever the recollection struck her. At this point, the recollection struck her every time she saw the Head Boy, and, as a result, she found herself craving space.
Jeffrey Skively, Alice's partner, was a Hufflepuff seventh year of no discernable talents in any area, except that he was good-looking and had played—with moderate success—Beater for two years. He was off the Quidditch team now though, after a fall from his broom the previous season had caused his mother to forbid any future involvement. Anyway, that's what people said.
"See you in an hour," Alice said to Frank, picking up her bag and trudging across the room. Despite her relief, Alice was a bit jealous of Frank: he loved Potions to begin with, and he had been partnered with her friend Hestia (one of the best in the class).
"Hullo," said Jeffrey cheerfully. Alice took the seat in the desk beside him.
"Hullo," she replied, as politely as possible. They had been assigned to prepare Murtlap Essence. Fortunately, Murtlap Essence was not really a potion, per se. Mostly, their work today would involve magically hastening the pickling process of Murtlap tentacles, and Alice thought she would be able to accomplish that pretty quickly. She laid out her potions ingredients on the table. Jeffrey did the same.
"I loathe Potions, don't you?" he asked, skimming through the ingredients list.
"Oh, Merlin, yes," replied Alice, grateful he felt the same. "I'll just go fetch the Murtlap tentacle from the ingredient table..."
"Oh, no, I'll do it," said Jeffrey, getting to his feet quickly. "Just a moment, then." He returned a few moments later carrying a plate of something cylindrical, yellow, and slimy that made Alice scrunch her nose in disgust. "Smells awful, doesn't it?"
"Rotten," she agreed, nodding.
Jeffrey smiled benignly, putting down the plate with the Murtlap tentacle. "So..." He clapped his hands together. "What next?"
A quarter of an hour later, while the rest of the class bustled about with their work, Alice had nothing to do. The fermentation spell required half an hour, and so she sat at her desk, staring at the sealed jar of putrid Murtlap tentacle and vinegar. Jeffrey finished putting away his things and sat down beside her.
"So, Alice," he casually began, "you dislike Potions, that's clear. What do you like, then?"
"Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Defense," replied Alice lazily, and in response to his amused look, she elaborated: "I like classes with a lot of practical application. I'm going to be an auror."
I'm going to be an auror. She liked that—how it sounded. Not, I want to be an auror or I'd like to be an auror, but I am going to be one. With Frank or Lily or Hestia, Alice was obliged to be more honest and use one of the other phrases; but she didn't know Jeffrey Skively, and it was much simpler (and nicer) to say "going to be."
"Oh, really? Brilliant. Lots of hard work, though. I don't think I could handle it."
"Mmm. Yeah, it's difficult."
"I reckon I'll go into Quidditch—probably not playing. You have to be brilliant to play professionally, but there's lots to do in the Quidditch business."
"Sounds interesting," said Alice politely.
"So—why do you want to be an auror?" Skively inquired.
"Because it's the single most important profession of our time," replied Alice at once. Skively smiled. "Seriously. Who else is supposed to get rid of the death eaters?"
"Oh, no, I wasn't disagreeing." He was still smiling at her. Alice felt a little uncomfortable and returned her focus to the pickling jar.
"Alice," began Skively after a short silence, "are you and Frank Longbottom...?"
"Yes," she said quickly. "I mean: no, not exactly. What I mean is..." (What did she mean? Merlin, even she wasn't sure... so much for definitions), "Sort of," she finished lamely.
"Sort of?" Skively echoed. "Is that a 'yes' or a 'no?'"
"Neither. It's a 'sort of.'"
"So you're sort of with Frank Longbottom?"
They were both quiet, and then Skively went on: "So... if someone else were to ask you out on a date, you would say...?" He trailed off.
Alice blushed and smiled politely. "I'm sorry, Jeffrey. You seem really nice, but I—er—I don't think that's a good idea."
Skively nodded. "Okay. That's fair." He folded his arms. "So you are with Frank Longbottom."
"Sort of. Merlin, you're rubbish at this game."
He laughed at that. Twenty minutes and one extremely difficult straining process later, the Murtlap Essence was properly extracted, bottled, and turned in to Professor Slughorn, along with the other seventh years' potions. "Very good work today, students," said the potions master, pleased by the collection of bottles sitting out before him. "Now, your assignments are not finished. I would like you to write two feet of parchment on the potion you have just turned in. For the hundredth time, this does not mean that I want you to copy the summary from Advanced Potion-Making. I want a description of the potion, a brief history, summary of the process, and some individual analysis."
Several students groaned.
"Do not complain just yet," Slughorn continued. "So that I do not have to read two essays on each potion, you may all work with your partner and divide the work accordingly. Due Thursday. Very well, class dismissed."
Alice held in a frustrated cry, but Skively was smiling embarrassedly at her. "This is going to be awkward because I hit on you before, isn't it?" he said, while they gathered up their things. Alice sighed.
"No," she said. "It'll be fine. Do you have any free time tomorrow so we can work on it?"
The Hufflepuff considered the matter. "I don't have any free periods, but maybe around five o'clock?"
"Five o'clock in the library?" offered Alice, and he nodded.
"Alright. I'll see you then."
She nodded, and then returned to Frank and Hestia, who were waiting for her by the door. "So how was working with Skively?" inquired the former.
"He didn't bumble it up like a Hufflepuff, did he?" asked Hestia.
"No... it was alright." Alice shrugged. "Uneventful."
Remus groaned and rolled over onto his side. His sheets were a tangled mess from his tossing and turning, and though it was well past two in the morning, he could not get to sleep. It was not from lack of exhaustion, either; the waxing moon in the sky predicted that very soon, he would be confronting what James called his "furry little problem," and he often felt this way (nauseous, aching, feverish) when the full moon was close.
He flipped over his pillow to the cool side and tried to get comfortable—tried to ignore that every inch of his body was in pain.
"Moony," whispered a voice, and Remus looked around to see Sirius pulling aside the curtains of his bed. "C'mon, mate," Padfoot continued in a croaky, just-woke-up voice. "You're going to the Hospital Wing."
"No," Remus muttered back. "It's fine. I'll just..."
"Moony," interrupted James, appearing at Sirius's side. He was pulling on a shirt and yawning. "C'mon. You've got to get some sleep tonight. Healer Holloway will have a potion."
Peter appeared too and, seeing that he was outnumbered, Remus nodded weakly. He got unsteadily to his feet and took the robe that Peter handed him.
"It's bad this month," Remus told them, as the four Marauders descended sleepily into the Common Room. "I feel like I'm going to be sick."
"It'll all be over soon," said James, clapping him on the shoulder. Remus choked back the contradiction on his tongue. It would not be over soon. Sure, in three days, he would feel like himself once more, but then, in a month, it would all begin again. And the next month, and the next month, and the month after that, for as long as he lived, it would always return. It would never be "over."
They did not run into anyone in the corridors, but James pointed out that it wouldn't matter if they had. The Marauders had a legitimate excuse for wandering the corridors tonight. The Infirmary doors were locked when they arrived, and Sirius boldly reached out and pounded on them.
"Healer Holloway will have something for you," Peter repeated sleepily, and Remus simply nodded, too exhausted to reply vocally.
However, when at last the doors opened, it was not Healer Holloway who stood on the other side. Instead, there was a witch. She looked about thirty, and she wore a dressing gown as though she, too, had been sleeping.
"Who are you?" asked Sirius.
"Poppy Pomfrey," replied the witch sternly. "Who are you?"
"Where's Healer Holloway?" Peter wanted to know.
"In the middle of the night?"
Poppy Pomfrey did not seem amused. "No. He left this morning. I expect Professor Dumbledore will be making the announcement in the morning. Now, gentlemen, I have told you what I am doing here, perhaps you can explain what brings you here."
The Marauders exchanged uncertain looks, and then James spoke up. "This... this is Remus Lupin..." he began, testing the waters. The witch seemed to understand at once.
"Yes, of course," she said briskly. "Bring him inside."
Relieved that this Pomfrey woman had been apprised of the situation, Remus—half leaning on Sirius and James—slumped inside. He collapsed onto a cot far from the door, while Pomfrey moved hastily into the back office, presumably to fetch a potion, though Remus wasn't sure how she knew which he might need.
When she returned with two vials, the witch felt the young werewolf's forehead and pulse. "Less than twenty four hours until the transformation," she murmured. "Do you feel nauseous?" Remus nodded. "You may have a fever, too. Here..." She handed him one of the bottles. "This will help you sleep." While Remus took the potion, Pomfrey disappeared into the office once again, returning with a slip of parchment moments later. She handed this to James.
"You boys should return to your dormitory," she told them. "If you encounter anyone along the way, you may give them that note."
"Oh." James looked a bit surprised by the courtesy of the gesture. "Thank-you."
James, Sirius and Peter looked to Remus once more. "We'll see you soon, mate," said Sirius, smiling encouragingly. Remus merely nodded. "Good night, Poppy," Padfoot added to the witch. She arched an eyebrow.
"Madam Pomfrey will do," she replied.
With that, the three sleep deprived Marauders made their way out of the Infirmary, with an indignant Madam Pomfrey frowning after them.
(Strawberry Fields Forever)
"Oh, I dunno," said Mary, shrugging, as she walked through the Charms department on Wednesday with her boyfriend, David Stebbins. "Dearborn doesn't seem too bad... Dumbledore didn't have much notice to find a substitute Defense teacher for us, after all."
"I think he favors Potter, Dearborn does," replied Stebbins indignantly. "I heard they're related."
"Everyone favors Potter," Mary pointed out. "He's ridiculously brilliant. Anyway, we've only had two classes with Dearborn. It's too early to tell."
"Even still." They reached the staircase, and Stebbins bent down to kiss her on the cheek. "I'm going to run to my Common Room before supper. Meet you in the Great Hall?"
Mary nodded cheerfully. "See you in a bit."
They moved in separate directions, Mary descending and Stebbins ascending the stair. For a Hufflepuff, Mary thought as she strolled downward, Stebbins wasn't really a bad bloke. He wasn't a patsy, like some of his housemates, and he was awfully cute. She smiled happily to herself and reached the landing of the lower floor. A dozen or so other students loitered about, including a group of Slytherin with whom Mary consciously avoided eye contact. Still, as she walked, she instinctively felt that someone was looking at her, and a quick glance towards the Slytherins told her that Mulciber was in their number. She quickened her pace.
When she was a few paces from the next staircase, Mary breathed more freely (unsure why she had been nervous in the first place) and reprimanded herself for imagining things. Then, an odd sensation overcame her.
At first, she felt lightheaded and then a little dizzy. She needed to sit down.
And yet, when Mary attempted to move towards the wall for support, she found that her legs were not functioning properly. They didn't move. She was vaguely aware that this ought to have bothered her, but it didn't. Actually, she felt nothing. Her thoughts were suddenly fuzzy, and she seemed to be weightless.
"Turn around," said a voice (the only distinct sound she could hear), and without questioning it, Mary obeyed. She turned, and the corridor stretching out before her was a blur. "Come here," said the voice, and she did. She followed the voice towards its source, and found herself standing before someone—a wizard, she thought—whose wand was pointed directly at her. "Give me your wand."
Mary pulled her wand from the pocket of her book bag where she always kept it and placed it in an outstretched hand.
"What shall I have her do next?" asked the voice laughingly. Mulciber's, she thought. For a second, her mind was clear enough to realize that she should be afraid.
I'm under the Imperius, she realized, before her concentration was broken by another, distant voice.
"I could think of a few things..."
There was laughter, and then Mulciber's clear, commanding voice said: "Come closer."
She didn't want to, but her will was weak compared to the force that effortlessly compelled her legs to obey the command, carrying her quite close to the group of Slytherins. More laughter. Her vision became blurrier still, and her mind less her own. Mulciber gave another order, and she had no thought of refusal. She was going to comply, when a new voice (far away and quiet, like the others) broke through.
"What's going on here?"
Then, like a splash of cold water, reality returned to her.
"Sorry I'm late," said Skively good naturedly, taking the seat opposite Alice at her library table. She merely nodded, her concentration focused on several sheets of Potions notes that she seemed to be putting in order.
"Alright, then," the witch said after a moment. "So, I was thinking we could divide up the work into two parts: summary and history of the potion and description of the process with personal analysis. Those are the four points that Slughorn wanted us to cover. Would you prefer to do the summary and history or the description and analysis?"
Skively looked taken aback. "I'm only three minutes late, and you did all of that?"
"I worked it out last night," Alice told him, her tone businesslike. "Is that alright with you, or did you have another idea?"
"No, it's fine with me," said the Hufflepuff, shrugging. "Which half would you prefer?"
Alice would have much rather taken the summary and history, as she loathed writing personal perspective pieces, but she felt impolite demanding this and shook her head indifferently. "It's up to you. I'll be fine with either."
"I'm sure you will be."
"What was that?"
"Nothing, nothing." He smiled at her. "It was awfully decent of you to figure all this out before hand, Alice. Although, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were avoiding actually working with me."
Alice arched her eyebrows. "And why would I do that?"
"I dunno... you tell me."
She rolled her eyes. "Listen, Skively..."
"Jeffrey," he corrected.
"Right. Jeffrey. I'm near the top of our year, and that's because I work hard, don't procrastinate, and get things done in an orderly fashion. It's nothing personal... just the way I operate."
"Okay," said Skively, still smiling. "I'll take the summary and history portion."
"Lovely." Alice began to pack up her things.
"Where are you going?"
"Supper," she replied, as though it were obvious. "We have our assignments. We can work on them separately and assemble them tomorrow before class."
Skively crossed his arms over the table. "I thought we were going to work on this now."
"We did. And now we're done."
"Why are you in such a hurry? Got a date?"
Well, not really. She had told Frank she'd meet him for supper if she got out of the meeting quickly, but that wasn't really a date, per se. Still, he had Head Boy work to do, so they wouldn't have much time after supper.
"Well, then, why don't we finish this up now?" Skively went on. "After all, I find that it's best to avoid procrastination." He smirked.
Alice sighed. "Fine. Half an hour, and then I'm going to supper."
"Alright," chirped Skively, unpacking supplies from his book bag. Alice once again withdrew her own notes and set them down, along with blank parchment, a quill, and some ink. She was about to get to work when Skively added: "I don't suppose you took notes last week, did you?"
"Of course I did," she replied, writing her name and the date at the top of the parchment. "Slughorn told us we would need that information for our assignment this week." Skively was silent, and Alice looked up. "You didn't take notes, did you?" she asked, knowing the answer. Skively simply smiled. Alice sighed.
"Fine. Here." She handed her notes to him and took out Advanced Potion-Making. "I'll work on the process part first... I just need the book for that."
The pair worked in silence for several minutes, before Skively once again spoke. "So what's the deal with you and the Head Boy, then?"
Alice didn't glance up from her paper. "Twenty-two minutes and then I'm going to dinner, and taking my notes with me," she reminded him in a sing-song voice.
"Please, I'm halfway done already," replied Skively. Alice raised her eyebrows. "Don't worry; it's not awful. So what is going on with you and Longbottom?"
"Why do you care?"
"Because I think you're cute."
Alice sighed and set down her quill. "Thank-you. That's sweet. Really. But—no. So just... no. Thanks."
"Because of Longbottom?"
"No, because of no."
Alice folded her arms. "What do you mean 'good?'" she demanded.
"I dunno. It's just... he's Frank Longbottom."
"Oh, come on, Alice. You really don't think you could do better than Longbottom?"
Alice actually laughed aloud at that, causing Mrs. Sevoy to raise her eyebrows superciliously in their direction. She looked ready to come over to the table and correct them, but Skively sent her an apologetic frown, and she returned to her work. "Honestly, Skively," Alice whispered, leaning across the table. "Frank's Head Boy. He's near the top of our year. I'd hardly consider myself slumming."
"Maybe," said Skively with a shrug. "But he's not as cute as you are."
Alice rolled her eyes. "And what makes you better than Frank?"
"Well," began the Hufflepuff thoughtfully. "If you were my girlfriend, I wouldn't want you spending long hours in the library with a handsome Hufflepuff who hit on you during Potions." Alice scowled. "Unless... you didn't tell Longbottom that I hit on you during Potions..." He trailed off, as if that was supposed to mean something.
"No, I didn't," she replied calmly. "It was of so little significance to me that I forgot it completely. And also, the only way what you said makes sense is if, when you say 'long hours' you actually mean 'exactly thirty minutes.' And, furthermore, I am not a piece of property to be told with whom I am allowed to spend hours—long or otherwise—in the library or anywhere else. So, I guess it's a good thing I'm not your girlfriend." She smiled.
"Maybe," he agreed. "But, you know, if you were, I wouldn't snog Carlotta Meloni."
Alice froze, her smile gone. Then, very calmly, she began to pack up her things.
"Where are you going?"
"You're joking, right?
"Alice, I didn't mean it like that," said Skively quickly. "I'm sorry. I'll promise I'll be good."
"You can just keep the notes," retorted Alice coolly. "I'm leaving."
"No, Alice." He grabbed her arm gently. "Come on, I didn't mean it."
Alice withdrew her hand. "What did you mean, then?"
"Well..." Skively hesitated. "All I meant was—what is a pretty bird like you, who could probably date any bloke in the school, doing with a bloke who slept with Carlotta Meloni behind your back before?"
"Frank did not sleep with Carlotta," Alice corrected. "I'm not defending what he did do, but you have no idea what you're talking about."
"And he didn't want to shag her?"
She rolled her eyes again. "She's bloody Carlotta Meloni! Everyone wants to sleep with her! Hell, if the bitch hadn't tried to steal my boyfriend, I could probably be persuaded to sleep with her. And stop imagining that, Skively."
"You have exactly seventeen minutes before I leave for supper," she continued. "So I suggest you make good use of those notes now."
Skively obeyed for another ten minutes or so, until he broke the silence once more: "Alice?"
"For Merlin's sake, what is it?"
"Oh... sorry. I have a question on your notes…"
"Oh." Alice straightened up. "What is it, then?"
Skively slid his chair around the table, so that it was positioned on the same side as Alice's. He held out a piece of parchment and asked: "That part right there... about the regulations on hunting magical creatures... you said they started in the 1850s, but I think you meant the 1950s..."
Alice frowned. "The 1950s? No, I'm fairly certain it was earlier than that. Here..." She grabbed her bag and withdrew a book. "Check this."
"You just carry around a copy of Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them?"
"I do when I'm doing homework with it," she replied, handing it over to him. Skively thumbed through the pages in search of the answer, while Alice resumed her own portion of the essay. He found what he was looking for a moment later and returned the book to Alice.
"1890," he told her. "We were both wrong."
"Fine," said Alice. "Although, you were more wrong."
"How do you figure?"
"You were sixty years off, and I was only forty. Also, I was in the correct century."
"I don't think there's a 'more' wrong, here," Skively decided. Alice looked up from her essay to glare at him, and it was only then that she realized how close to her he was sitting. His nose was only maybe three finger widths from hers, and his eyes—which, she noticed, were brown—were boring intently into hers.
"You should... um..." She cleared her throat, "Go back to your... side of the table."
Skively did not move. "Come on, Alice," he murmured, and she could feel his breath on her face when he spoke. "You don't like me at all?"
"Um..." But her hormones had taken over and incapacitated her tongue from articulating what she wanted to say. "Well, I—um..."
He was leaning closer, the gap between their lips becoming less and less significant. Alice wasn't sure if she was frozen in position or if she was leaning in one direction or the other. She wasn't sure of much at all.
He's going to kiss me.
Skively was a hairsbreadth away, when—like a cold splash of water—reality returned to Alice.
Her eyes—and she hadn't realized they had been closed—fluttered open, and she pulled back at once. "Stop."
"I'm sorry," Skively apologized embarrassedly, straightening up. "I didn't mean to..."
"I have to go," said Alice quickly, grabbing her books and shoving them carelessly into her bag. "You can keep the notes... just... uh... I'll see you in class."
But she was already slinging her book bag over her shoulder and hurrying out of the library.
Wishing she knew where Mary and Marlene had gotten to, Lily sat down to supper at Gryffindor table alone. Of course, she wasn't really alone; there were about twenty other Gryffindors at the table. James, Sirius, and Peter sat not too far away, and Frank Longbottom was just a few seats down, with a book propped up against a pitcher of pumpkin juice as he studied intently. Still, Lily would have liked some company.
When she had dished up her food, the prefect pulled out her as of yet unread copy if The Daily Prophet and glanced at the headlines. A death eater attack in Bristol—no one killed, thank Merlin—and a muggleborn Ministry official's disappearance: in other words, more of the same.
There was another story that caught Lily's eye as well. An auror had been killed attempting to deter what was vaguely dubbed "death eater activity" in London. Lily sighed and wondered glumly if Logan Harper was involved. Logan Harper: the wizard she had met three months prior, bleeding to death on a sofa.
Lily glanced towards Ravenclaw table, and though she spotted some of Luke's friends, the wizard himself was absent. She folded the paper over to read the next page, but was interrupted by the arrival of Shelley Mumps and Carlotta Meloni. They were bickering good-naturedly.
"Honestly, Shell," Carlotta was saying, as she slid into the seat on the opposite side of the table, "You can't deny that he's fit."
"Fine," Shelley relented, taking the seat beside Lily. "I'll grant you that he has nice eyes—very blue. You could get lost in them."
"I wouldn't mind getting lost in them," agreed Carlotta breathily, causing Shelley to giggle.
"But," the other continued, "he's not my type. I prefer blokes with dark hair."
"You mean you prefer blokes who are James Potter," Carlotta corrected, and Shelley blushed.
"Quiet! He'll hear!"
"He's all the way over there," said the brunette, waving her hand carelessly. "Really, Shell, I'll never understand this obsession you have with James. I mean, he's bloody gorgeous, of course, and he's a damn good kisser, too. But, dear, you never actually speak to him... and there are plenty of other snitches to chase."
Shelley looked indignant. "Lily, help me out," she implored, and Lily set down her paper.
"I hope you're not asking me to speak for James Potter," she quipped.
"But you understand why he's so fantastic, don't you?" Shelley half pleaded.
Carlotta scoffed before Lily could reply. "You just fancy him because he's attractive, Shell."
"No. It's not that at all." She looked to Lily for support. "It's not. Everyone can tell that James..." She said his name almost reverently, "is good-looking. But I like the things that no one else notices about him—the little things, you know?"
Lily arched her eyebrows. "Like what?"
"Well... the way he messes up his hair," said Shelly, glowing. "His smile, and his laugh, and the way he is with his friends."
"Merlin you need a shag," muttered Carlotta.
"Quiet, you," Shelley retorted, twirling a wisp of dirty blond hair around one finger. "Do you see what I mean, Lily?"
Lily shook her head. "Shelley, those aren't the little things. Those are the big things. Those are the... quintessential James Potter things. The little things are like—how he fidgets because he can't sit still for more than a second, or how he sits in a desk like it's a cushioned chair, or holds his wand weirdly—with his index finger over the top, even though that seems like it wouldn't be enough support for a powerful spell. Or how—as anyone who has ever seen his notes can tell you—he spends ninety percent of the class time doodling in the margins. Or, y'know, that he hums a lot, but is probably completely tone deaf because he sounds awful. I mean, yes, he messes up his hair—but he does it so that he looks like he just stepped off a broomstick. And yeah, everyone knows about his smile and his laugh and all that rubbish, but the really funny thing is how he laughs at the most ridiculous, un-funny jokes. And with his friends... y'know, how he walks into a room and scans it to see who's around, like he's weighing his options... Or..." Lily stopped, noticing that both Carlotta and Shelley were staring at her. "I'm an observer of the human condition," she told them with dignity.
Carlotta shook her head. "You both need a shag." She returned to her supper, and Shelley peered down the table at James, as though seeing him in a new light. "But really, Shell," the brunette resurrected the conversation presently, "you can't say that just because Lathe has fair hair, he's not damn delicious."
"Lathe?" interjected Lily, curiously.
"Mhm, the auror," said Carlotta. "Shelley thinks he's only alright, whereas I said he was bloody shag-able."
"What brought this up?" asked the redhead.
"Oh, he's back," said Shelley vaguely. "Didn't you know? There's about a dozen aurors back at the school... apparently they're here for security, what with all that dreadful business with the death eaters." She shook off the morbid news briskly. "I would have thought you knew that, Lily," the blonde went on, "since Lathe was the one who saved Mary."
Lily nearly choked on her potato. "Saved Mary? Mary Macdonald? Saved her from what? What happened?"
"I wondered why you weren't up in the dormitory with her and Marlene," said Carlotta vaguely. "You didn't hear?"
"What happened?" Lily pressed.
Carlotta leaned over confidentially. "Apparently Mulciber hexed her. I heard he used the Imperius."
"Lathe was passing by and stopped it—bawled out Mulciber too, the prick," added Shelley. "Mary's up in the dorm now,"
Lily thanked them and, abandoning both her supper and her newspaper, hastened out of the Great Hall. She was half sprinting across the Entrance Hall when a voice called out her name. She paused long enough to see one of Luke's friends—a burly, seventh year Ravenclaw—advancing towards her.
"I'm sorry," she apologized quickly, "I haven't got a minute. My friend was just..."
But the Ravenclaw didn't seem to be listening. "Lily, you haven't seen Luke, have you?" he asked. "He skived off classes, and he almost never does that, so I thought..."
"Luke?" inquired Lily, confused. "No. We broke up, Gerry; I haven't seen him. Um... listen, I have to go..."
But Lily was already taking the steps of the marble staircase two at a time, and she didn't have the emotional energy to care why Luke had skived off classes. She reached the Gryffindor girls' dormitory in record time and found Mary seated on her bed beside Marlene.
"God, I only just found out," gasped Lily very quickly. "Are you okay? How are you feeling? Do you need to go to the Hospital Wing? Do you need...?"
"Lily, I'm fine," interrupted Mary. "Calm down, I'm perfectly alright. I was only under for a minute or two..."
"The Imperius?" asked Lily, just to be sure, and Mary nodded.
"The git attacked me when I was on my way down to supper."
"He didn't make you do anything terrible did he?" pressed the redhead anxiously.
"I don't think so, no," replied Mary. "Like I said—it was only a minute or two, and then Lathe came along. Really, Lily, it's no big deal..."
"No big deal!" cried Marlene indignantly. "Mulciber deserves a lot worse than a shouting from Lathe. He ought to be kicked out."
"She's right," Lily agreed. "That's dark magic."
Mary did not meet anyone's eye and fiddled with the hem of her skirt. "It's fine. I'm fine. No one got hurt. I'd really rather just forget about it."
"But are you sure alright?" Lily asked again. "You're not in any pain at all? Maybe you should go to the Hospital Wing just in case..."
"I'm fine," Mary insisted, but Lily remained unconvinced. For nearly ten minutes, she continued to list off every possible side-effect of the Imperius that she had ever read, until Mary at last sighed and relented.
"Well, I do have a slight headache... though that might not have to do with the attack..." she added in an undertone. Lily jumped up at once.
"I'll get a potion for you from the Hospital Wing," she volunteered, and Mary smiled gratefully.
Lily gave her an earnest, reassuring look before hastening out of the dormitory. Mary shook her head, then leaned it on Marlene's shoulder.
"I'm exhausted," she stated.
"It's only seven o'clock," Marlene pointed out. "And you haven't had supper."
"I'm not hungry."
"Mare, you should eat something..."
Mary frowned. "Well, that Lathe bloke did recommend I have a bite of chocolate..."
"I've got some in my trunk."
The blonde provided a thick bar of Honeyduke's Finest and the two girls ate it quietly. "How's your headache?" Marlene asked after a while.
"I don't have a headache. Lily was just stressing me out."
Marlene smiled and draped an arm over her friend's shoulder. "You're not okay though, are you?" she murmured knowingly. Mary sighed.
"I hated it," she said softly. "I hated being controlled like that. I hated feeling weak like that. I hated being at Mulciber's mercy—it was... awful. I can't describe it."
Marlene was silent for a long time. "It won't happen again," she promised finally. "Not ever, okay?"
"Okay." But she didn't sound as though she believed it. "I think I'm going to go to bed," the brunette declared presently, rising from the bed and moving to the bureau, where she opened the top drawer and withdrew a small bottle. "Sleeping potion," she explained to a curious Marlene. She collected her nightclothes and moved into the lavatory.
"If you don't need anything else," Marlene called through the door, "I'm supposed to meet Adam to work on Transfiguration."
"Go ahead," Mary replied. "Goodnight."
Marlene slipped out of the dormitory and descended the stair into the Common Room. She did not look around for Adam, however. Instead, she moved hastily out of Gryffindor tower, half running down the corridors and staircases until she reached the library.
She couldn't be sure that he would be here, of course, but she knew he often spent evenings there, and even if he wasn't, she might be able to find someone cooperative from his house who would go to their Common Room and find him for her. However, Marlene seemed to be in luck that evening, for at a table near the stacks sat the wizard she needed to see.
"Snape," the blonde said sharply, inviting herself to sit in the empty chair across from him.
The Slytherin looked up from his book. "What do you want?" he snapped.
Marlene leaned over the table and spoke quietly. "You know perfectly well why I'm here," she replied furiously. "Mulciber attacked Mary."
Snape's expression was inscrutable, but something about the way his black eyes flashed suggested that maybe he hadn't known. "I wasn't there," was all he said.
"We had a deal," bit Marlene. "You would keep your friends away from mine..."
"I wasn't there," Snape repeated. "I can't control everyone in my house all the time."
But Marlene didn't care. "If one more thing happens to one of my friends at the hands of one of yours, I'm going to Dumbledore."
She started to rise from the table, but Snape spoke up in a low and dangerous voice: "Don't threaten me," he warned.
Marlene glared. "Don't give me reason to," she retorted.
"Er—excuse me..." began Lily, cautiously entering the Infirmary as though it was unknown territory. The witch that Dumbledore had introduced that morning as the school's new Healer looked up from the cot that she was currently making up at wand-point.
"I was wondering if I could get some headache potion."
"Yes, of course," said the witch, whose title Lily thought was Madam Pomfrey. "But you will have to take it in my presence. School rules, you know..."
"Oh." Lily frowned. "But Healer Holloway never enforced that."
"Apparently not," agreed Madam Pomfrey, "as you're the fourth person to question the policy today. But I'm afraid it is a board-approved rule, Miss...?"
"Evans. Lily Evans."
"Miss Evans. You see, dear, it's to prevent a student from storing up potions that might be harmful in large quantities—or from carrying them to other students, you know." She suddenly looked quite stern. "This headache potion is for you, isn't it Miss Evans?"
Lily cleared her throat nervously. "Of—of course."
"Very well." Madam Pomfrey relaxed a bit. "I will be one moment." She walked briskly into the back office, and Lily sighed.
"So much for that..." She crossed her arms and glanced idly about the Infirmary. There was a young witch in one cot that looked as though she'd had a bad accident in Charms, and an older wizard sitting on a cot in the corner, who bore no visible signs of ailment. It was a moment before Lily processed who that wizard was.
"Luke?" She crossed quickly to where the Ravenclaw sat. "Are you alright? What happened?"
"Lily," greeted Luke, evidently a little embarrassed. "Um—I'm fine. I hurt my arm."
"What's wrong with it?"
"Oh, nothing serious. I just—broke it a little."
"You broke your arm a little?" asked Lily skeptically. "Did the witch fix it?"
"Yeah, it's healed now," said Luke. "Madam Pomfrey just told me to sit here for a few minutes to make sure there was no after-pain... apparently, sometimes fixing a broken bone can cause that or something. I don't know."
"How did you break it?" pressed the witch, sitting down on the cot opposite him.
"I uh—I just fell," Luke replied, forcefully casual. "No big deal."
But Lily didn't believe him. "Your friend Gerry was looking for you," she told him. "He found me after supper—said you skived off classes. Does this have something to do with that?"
Before Luke could respond, Madam Pomfrey returned with Lily's potion and a clipboard. "No additional pain, Mr. Harper?" she asked, handing Lily the bottle. Luke shook his head. "Very well, you may leave..." Luke did not need to be told twice. He slid off the cot and hurried towards the door. Lily swallowed her potion in one gulp and tried to follow. "Miss Evans, if you would sign this..." said Madam Pomfrey. She held out the clipboard; "to sign out the potion that you just consumed."
"What? Oh... sure."
Lily grabbed the quill and scribbled her name on the first blank line. Luke had already disappeared through the infirmary doors, so—thanking Madam Pomfrey hastily—Lily jogged after him.
The three non-werewolf Marauders sat in their preferred fireplace-front chairs in Gryffindor Common Room. Peter and James were playing cards, and Sirius was flipping idly through one of James's Quidditch magazines.
"I'm hungry," grumbled Padfoot presently, and Peter snorted.
"We ate thirty minutes ago," he pointed out wryly.
"Yes, but I want more of the treacle tart," Sirius insisted. "Let's go down to the Kitchens."
"I don't want to," complained James. "Can't you wait?"
"No," said Sirius. He added in an undertone: "We're going out tonight."
"Go yourself, then," James suggested. "I'm about to slaughter Wormtail here."
"Fine," said Sirius, getting to his feet. "You're rotten mates, though."
"Mhm," replied James vaguely. "Don't take too long though," he added with a significant look. "The sun sets in an hour."
"Yeah, I know." Sirius waved off James's warning and slipped through the portrait hole.
Pacing back and forth in the Head Boy's room, Alice kneaded her hands together anxiously. Frank was nowhere to be seen, but she had decided to wait for him there. He had to return eventually, after all.
Oh, God, what was she going to do? She dreaded the prospect of telling him, but knew without a doubt that she would.
Skively had almost kissed her.
But she hadn't wanted him too.
No, she hadn't. Of that, Alice was fairly certain. She hadn't wanted to be kissed. That was the strangest part of all—she hadn't wanted it, but she'd almost let it happen. She'd almost let that random Hufflepuff kiss her. And why? Because he'd flattered her. Because he was quite simply there.
Because he wasn't in love with her.
Alice sat down on the bed, closing her eyes and groaning. Why oh why had Frank said that? Why had he uttered those three dreaded words? Weren't they happy enough without all that? Weren't they happy just being Frank and Alice, without being so official? So labeled? Why did he have to go and ruin it with I love you?
Nervous again, Alice rose from the bed and resumed her pacing. She kept at that for several minutes, before she became annoyed with herself once more and sat down at the desk. The entire table was covered with papers, mostly in neat stacks, but with a few scraps scattered about. She saw his Charms assignment from last week—he got an "E"—and his notes from Potions. On top of those was a smaller square of thicker, more expensive parchment; it was folded over, and Alice picked it up idly, pushing it open and reading the first few lines.
It was a note from Professor McGonagall, dated a few weeks before. Alice read the rest.
I received your note, and, after having conferred with the rest of the staff and Headmaster Dumbledore, we have decided that it will be quite acceptable to change the date of the students' Hogsmeade weekend from Saturday the 15th to Saturday the 8th. Please inform the prefects of the change at the next meeting, so that they may make modifications to dates posted in the house common rooms. Thank you for your attentiveness on the matter.
Alice frowned. Frank hadn't mentioned anything about this... she had particularly remarked on the advantage of the date change (what with her birthday), and he hadn't said a word. It was odd, because...
And then Alice realized what she, perhaps, ought to have realized at once.
Lily caught up with Luke at the end of the corridor, and he didn't look too pleased. "Listen, Lily," he began, taking the descending staircase, "I'm really tired... I'm just going to go to bed. Sleep this off..."
"Really?" Lily replied, following him closely. "That's funny, because last time I checked, your common room was upstairs." Luke didn't respond, and she demanded: "Luke, what's going on with you?"
"It's none of your business anymore," snapped the Ravenclaw, uncharacteristically harsh.
"Luke..." He disembarked from the staircase on the second floor corridor, and Lily continued to pursue. "How did you break your arm? Where have you been all day? Your roommates haven't seen you, and now you're being..." She stopped, remembering the Daily Prophet article. "Does this have to do with Logan?"
"No," said the Ravenclaw firmly.
Lily remained silent for a few seconds, trying to put the scattered pieces of her mind into place. Something was wrong, and she felt she ought to know what, if only she could concentrate long enough to remember.
"Have you thought about my offer?"
Lily's eyes flew open, and her heart quickened at that memory of those words. They were uttered by Logan Harper, almost exactly three months prior in Hogsmeade, when Lily had stayed and listened at the door.
"Have you thought about my offer?"
"No, I haven't."
"You've got months still... good opportunity... we'll need another wand..."
"Luke," she began, grabbing his arm to stop him. As it turned out, this was unnecessary, for Luke stopped at a corner and leaned close to the wall, apparently to catch a glimpse of what was in the next hallway without being seen himself. Lily was too distracted to even question this. "It does have to do with Logan, doesn't it?" she demanded, but Luke hushed her. "Logan wanted your help with something," she went on in a whisper; "with a job."
Luke exhaled heavily. "I didn't do anything wrong," he said simply but firmly and then returned to his spying around the corner.
"Please, Lily," he begged. "Just be quiet for a moment."
"What are you looking at?" Lily wanted to know, and she leaned around Luke's shoulder to see what he saw. Three wizards—adults, not students—stood some distance away, dawdling apparently and not doing anything particularly interesting. From their black robes and bronze badges, Lily recognized at once who they must be: aurors, the ones Shelley and Carlotta had been talking about at supper... the ones assigned to the castle's security. Lathe was not among them, but they were standing outside the room that had formerly been his office when he had stayed at the castle for the investigation at the beginning of the year. The wizards weren't saying anything, and Lily saw no more need for her silence. "Luke," she whispered venomously, "did you break your arm helping Logan with a job?"
Luke sighed again. "If I had, do you really think I would go to the Hospital Wing to have it mended, Lily?"
Well, he had a point.
"Then how did you break it?"
"I'm not lying."
Lily grabbed Luke's arm and pulled him around so that he had to face her. "I know I'm not your girlfriend anymore, but you do owe me one explanation. Tell me the truth—was Logan in Hogsmeade during Black's wake? Did he speak to you?"
For a moment, the guarded expression that Luke had shockingly maintained throughout the conversation seemed to slip. He averted his eyes distractedly, and Lily knew the answer before he responded. Luke nodded slowly.
"I'm right about everything else, too, aren't I?" she asked in a low voice.
"No," said Luke softly. "Logan asked me to be an extra wand on the job, but I didn't do it."
"Then how did you break your arm?"
"Casey... Saroyan..." interrupted a voice from the next corridor, and Lily and Luke both looked around the corner to see none other than Lathe emerging from the office. He was speaking to two of the four aurors there. "What d'you hear?"
"The gate's secure," said one of the wizards. "Benton and Towler are off station security and on their way to the village. But Shacklebolt's already there." Lily started at the familiar name—it must be Donna's auror brother.
"On his own?"
"He's only stalking the perimeter."
"The anti-apparition spells are in place, and the buildings next door are evacuated," added another of the wizards.
"Do we have confirmation that Harper is inside?" asked Lathe. Lily heard Luke inhale sharply.
"With two others, yes."
Lathe nodded. "Come along. We'll floo now."
The four wizards disappeared into the office once again, and Luke wasted no time in turning and taking off in the direction from which he and Lily had just come. Lily followed, but the Ravenclaw sprinted ahead.
"Luke, stop…" Luke paused when he reached the staircase, and Lily was still a short distance back. "If you're going after your brother..."
"I can't talk, Lily. I have to... I have to go." Then, Luke hastened upward, and by the time Lily had reached the steps, he had already reached the landing above and was vanishing into the corridor. She followed again, skipping two steps at a time and arriving on the fourth floor a minute later. However, Luke was nowhere to be seen. She called his name and received no reply.
"Luke?" she once again inquired of the thin air. But there wasn't much in this wing of the fourth floor, and Luke had disappeared.
Lily paused for a moment trying to collect her thoughts. Where was Luke going? Surely he wouldn't be able to get out of the castle tonight. Especially with the aurors on security... how had he known where they would be just now? How had he broken his arm? Had Logan been involved in the attack mentioned in the newspaper? Had Luke?
And in spite of these unanswered questions, Lily had the strangest feeling that she knew the answer to one, pressing question... she thought she knew exactly where Luke was headed now. But how? And how could she stop him?
To that, Lily had an answer of her own.
Cigarette lit, Sirius continued down the second floor corridor in the east wing of the castle. He walked slowly to kill time—it was still forty-five minutes or so until sunset (when curfew made it safe for Remus to be escorted down to the Whomping Willow) and in the mean time, Sirius longed for something to occupy him. He was grateful for the distraction of the full moon, but he wished it would hurry up already.
Most students had already gone up to their Common Rooms by then, and the hallways were quiet. He liked walking the corridors like this. It was ever so much more comfortable walking through the halls without hiding under the Invisibility Cloak (which was folded in the pocket of his robes for later).
The others just didn't understand—he thought, pausing and leaning against one of the corridor walls. He took a long drag from the cigarette and exhaled. James, Remus, Pete—none of them understood that he couldn't just sit around and play cards. He didn't want to be left alone. Even now, when he had elected to go off on his own, Sirius loathed the blaring silence. He loathed the rare opportunity that it presented: the opportunity to hear himself think.
Footsteps sounded out from the next corridor, and Sirius put out his cigarette on a suit of armor. He pulled out the Invisibility Cloak and threw it over himself, because the only thing worse than solitude was irritating company.
The new arrival appeared a moment later, probably coming from the library, judging by the trajectory of his direction and the large book he carried under one arm. Sirius felt his blood begin to boil. His hand flew at once to the pocket of his robes and he withdrew his wand. It was a moment before Sirius remembered that the other wizard could not see him and thus continued to walk past him, as though he were alone in the hallway.
Sirius had no clear plan or design except punishment, and so, when the wizard had walked some distance beyond him, the Marauder pulled off his cloak. He flicked his wand once, and it folded itself compactly into the pocket of his robes. And then, with Regulus on his mind, Sirius called out to the wizard.
Lily burst into the Common Room to find it crowded and noisy, busy with the usual Wednesday evening activities that occupied Gryffindors. She scanned the room, locating her target almost at once in a seat near the fire.
"James," she began, rushing up to him. The Marauder was in the middle of a card game with Peter Pettigrew and looked up in surprise at her. "Uh... might I borrow you for a moment?"
"Er—okay..." The Marauder got to his feet, saying: "Be right back, Pete," before following Lily, who was already hurrying up the dormitory staircase. She took the stair that went to the boys' rooms, stopping when she reached the sixth year dorms, and then leading the way inside. "What's going on, Snaps?" asked James curiously, sitting down on the top of his desk, while Lily checked to make sure no one was around. "Everyone's out," he added. "What can I do for you?"
Lily exhaled heavily. "I hate asking," she said. "Because I really don't have any right to. But I need to borrow your map."
"My map?" James arched his eyebrows. "Why?"
"I—can't exactly tell you." She chewed her lip anxiously.
James snorted. "Did you really think that would work?"
"I sort of hoped it might," Lily sighed. "Listen, I need to find Luke. He—disappeared on the fourth floor. I don't know where he went, but I think he's in some kind of trouble."
James considered Lily carefully, his arms folded across his chest; then, the Marauder rose and crossed to his trunk. He opened it and withdrew some folded parchment that Lily recognized as the Marauders' Map. Still, James did not give it to her at once.
"The fourth floor, you say?" he asked, and Lily nodded. James drew his wand, tapped the parchment, and muttered its passwords. Then, he unfolded the map in a certain way, presumably the reveal the correct part of the castle, examining it carefully. "Yeah, I see him."
"You do?" asked Lily, surprised. "Where?" James held out the map to show her. The dot labeled Luke Harper moved quickly along a narrow stairway that Lily did not recognize. "Where is he?" she wanted to know.
"Secret corridor," James replied casually, and off of Lily's shocked look, he added: "It's what I expected, when you said he disappeared on the fourth floor. That passage goes to Hogsmeade. Not very efficiently, I might add. There are much better routes, but I expect Harper doesn't know about those. That one there starts on the fourth floor, behind the stone troll statue, but it takes forever to get down to the village, and Filch knows about it, so he and Mrs. Norris keep a keen eye on it. It's pretty simple to find, though. I'm not surprised Harper knows about it."
But Lily was hardly listening. "Thank-you, James. I have to go..." She started for the door.
"Wait. Wait a second." James moved in front of her to block her path. "Where are you going?"
"I have to get Luke," said Lily. "Please move."
"No. No you can't go tonight."
"What are you talking about? I have to go—Luke is... he's about to make a big mistake, and I can't let him do it. James, move!"
"You can't go," James repeated, and he looked genuinely panicked. "Seriously, Snaps, it's not safe."
"Exactly," agreed Lily, though she didn't have any idea what danger James meant. "I have to get to him before he gets to Hogsmeade"
"You won't make it in time... not in time to get there before him."
"Well, I have to give it a shot." Lily tried to sidestep the Marauder, but he moved to further obstruct her path.
"What is Harper even doing in Hogsmeade?" he demanded, and when she did not reply, James added: "I did let you use the map just now, remember..."
Lily sighed. "He's... that is..." Of course, she didn't know for certain, but she had a fair guess. She was almost certain that Luke was going to the Village to help his brother against the aurors, and if that was the case, Lily couldn't possibly tell James. He already claimed it was too dangerous, and he didn't even know about Logan Harper. So, she had no choice: she had to lie. "We had a fight," she said vaguely. "He got angry, and he's... going down to Hogsmeade to... stay the night in his family's old shop."
"So let him," insisted James. "He'll cool off tomorrow and come back. And I thought the two of you split."
"But—it's more complicated than that," argued Lily, thinking quickly. "The... the aurors are back in the castle and the village for security. If they catch Luke, he could be expelled. James, please, I have to go now."
James watched her very carefully for a moment. Then, sighing, he began to move out of the way. Lily reached for the doorknob, but James caught her hand.
"Wait. If you go—make sure you're back before the sun goes down."
Lily glanced at her watch. "Sunset's in... what? Forty five minutes? I'm supposed to make it down to the village, find Luke, convince him to come back with me, and then make it all the way back to the castle in forty-five minutes?"
The Marauder frowned thoughtfully and then withdrew the map again. He lifted a fold in the paper to reveal another portion of the castle. "Alright, look here," he said briskly. "It's the fifth floor. See that, there? It's the statue of Gregory the Smarmy. There's a passage to Hogsmeade that will get you there in half the time, compared to Harper's."
"Well... part of it's a slide—it's a little shady, but it will get you there. The passage lets up under a bench in the back garden of the apothecary, which means you'll have to hop a fence, okay? Now, the path Harper's taking leads to the rocky area just up the high road... there's a small cave, some trees—do you know that spot I mean?" Lily nodded. "If you leave now and hurry, you should be able to beat Harper there. To move the statue of Sir Gregory on the fifth floor, you need to tap it once the head and say 'Patefacio.' Same thing on the other end, to get out the entrance in Hogsmeade. Got it?" She nodded again. James ran one hand through his hair and looked as though he was already regretting this.
"Thank-you," Lily pressed. She tried once more for the door, but James stopped her again.
"Get Harper and get back into the passage as quickly as possible," he warned sternly. "I'm serious, Evans. Make sure you're back in the passageway by sunset. Okay?"
"Yes, I promise. But what are you so afraid of?"
James did not reply. Instead, he handed her the Marauders' Map. "Take this. You'll need it."
Lily tucked the map into her pocket. "Thank you, James."
He merely nodded and moved away from the doorway. "You should hurry. Remember: before the sun goes down."
"Adam?" Marlene called from halfway across the Quidditch pitch. He was sitting down near half field, legs crossed as he twirled a blade of grass between his fingers. He looked up at the sound of his name.
"Marlene?" Adam straightened up a bit, and she walked towards him.
"Reg Cattermole said I'd find you here," the blonde explained, sitting down beside her housemate. "What are you doing out here? We were supposed to work on..."
"Transfiguration! Hell, I'm sorry, Mar, I completely forgot. Oh—how's Mary?"
"She's fine," Marlene dismissed. "Took a sleeping potion; she'll probably miss breakfast tomorrow." Her ironic smile was replaced quickly by concern: "Is everything okay with you? It's not exactly typical to be sitting out in the middle of the Quidditch pitch alone, is it? And, incidentally, I think curfew begins soon."
Adam hesitated. "I was just... thinking about some stuff."
For a second, Snape just looked surprised. That Sirius had called out his name at all—rather than using the Slytherin's ignorance of his position to his advantage—made little tactical sense. Sirius, however, was not thinking of tactics. He was thinking of all the things he wanted to say to the git he'd seen in Hogsmeade with his brother...
Almost immediately, Snape's expression became neutral again, and he sneered at the Gryffindor. "All alone, Black? Have a fall out with your idiot mates?"
And later, Sirius would never know what force inspired the thought within him. He did not know at once what advantage it gave him; he didn't know why he said it at all, but he did. "So what if I have?" Padfoot retorted. "It's no business of yours."
Snape smirked, his hand over his pocket (his wand). He started towards Sirius. "Will they be able to spare you, sneaking around tonight like you always do? Will..." (and here, his smile became manic) "Lupin be able to spare you?"
Sirius burned with rage, but he kept his expression even. Snape only thought he had the upper hand here. He had no idea... no clue...
"I don't really care," said the Marauder calmly.
"Or perhaps," Snape continued, "they won't be going out, since the aurors are prowling around the castle."
It was brilliant. Perfect. Fitting. The plan formed amongst the clouds in Sirius's mind, and he felt himself beginning to smirk.
"They'll be going out," he said. He would give Snape exactly what he'd always wanted. "And you can too, if you'd like."
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, c'mon, Snivellus. Aren't you curious?"
Snape looked doubtful. "Why should I believe you?"
Sirius shrugged. "No one's forcing you. But I want to get back at Potter..." Brilliant, perfect, fitting. "...And we all know what you've wanted since day one."
"Which is what?" demanded Snape, but the anticipation in his voice was poorly masked.
Sirius took a step closer. "To find out where we go and how get there."
Exhausted from a long evening of work, Frank Longbottom trudged up the staircase towards the Head Boy's dormitory. He opened the door and was surprised to see the lights already on, until he noticed Alice sitting in the chair at the desk.
"Hey," he said. "How was your Potions meeting?" Then, he noticed her expression and began to ask, "Is something wro...?" But Alice cut him off.
"Wait, Frank, just wait. Please." She got to her feet.
"Okay..." Frank set down his book bag and approached her.
"I have three things to say," Alice continued unsteadily, not meeting his eye. "First of all: I'm sorry."
The sun was low in the sky—coloring the pitch in orange and pink light. Marlene, with her blond hair and pale skin, seemed a dozen shades of gold. Even her eyes reflected the blazing evening sun.
"Well, what were you thinking about?" she asked.
"You should tell Marlene how you feel," Donna's advice echoed in Adam's head. He couldn't think straight—he could never think straight with Marlene. She just looked at him with her blue eyes or laughed her easy, childish laugh or flashed her wide tomboy's smile, and his mind went fuzzy with a million unvoiced sensations.
He'd been silent, and Marlene raised her eyebrows. "Um... Adam?"
"...First of all," said Alice, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry for wh...?"
"Please, Frank, just let me finish," she interrupted him again. Frank nodded, but he looked nervous now. "I'm sorry for how I acted in Hogsmeade the other day... when you said you loved me. I panicked. I didn't know why at the time—I thought it was because things were suddenly getting serious again, and I couldn't handle that. But the truth is, things were already serious... things are always going to be serious between us. That's just the way we are. It's how we're built, and no matter how much I wanted to deny it, our... relationship is never going to be casual or insignificant or... easy. I'm sorry I acted like it could be. I'm sorry I've been sending these mixed signals, and I'm sorry for how I behaved in Hogsmeade. It was... inexcusable."
"Alice, you have nothing to apologize for."
"No, Frank, I do. I really do." He wasn't making this easy. "That's the first thing. The second thing is... is about Jeffrey Skively and... me. He tried to kiss me today."
"What? Oh. Nothing. I was just, er... thinking of something I heard earlier."
Marlene looked suspicious. "What?"
"Oh... it's not important." He couldn't tell her.
"Adam..." coaxed the witch dryly. "Agrippa's sake, it's me. C'mon. You can tell me anything. You know that."
"Please, just let me get this out," she pleaded. "It's hard enough as it is. Skively almost kissed me this afternoon while we were working on Potions, and I almost let it happen. I don't fancy him. I didn't even really want him to kiss me, but I was... afraid, I suppose—because you said you loved me. I thought—I thought if Skively kissed me, it would be an escape route. But that wasn't all of it. I thought about Carlotta, and how that tore me up when you kissed her. It's not as though I was trying to get even or something, but I'm just realizing for the first time what you were going through last summer. We've been together since third year, and we're just—just teenagers, and it's... it's only natural that you would have doubts."
"I didn't have doubts, Alice. I was just stupid."
"No, you did have doubts. Sometimes, it's impossible not to have doubts. Merlin, I've been a basket of doubts for the last month. It doesn't mean you didn't love me; you were just scared, like I was scared today. And it's okay to be scared; that's how you stop yourself from making big mistakes—from doing something you'll regret later. And, that brings me to the last thing I have to say..."
"C'mon," said Marlene. "You can tell me anything. You know that."
Adam wondered vaguely if she meant it, or if she would say it if she had any idea what he wanted to say. Or perhaps she did know... perhaps he was fooling himself thinking Marlene had missed what was apparently so obvious that even Donna Shacklebolt had known it without a doubt.
"Adam?" she said again.
Brilliant. Perfect. Fitting.
"You would tell me?" Snape said distrustfully. "Just like that? After all this time, you would really just give up the secret? Whatever they did, those friends of yours, it must have made you angry."
"It did," Sirius lied easily.
Brilliant. Perfect. Fitting.
"Frank, please, I'm almost done," Alice breathed. She pulled from her pocket the square of parchment she had read on his desk earlier. "I found this. McGonagall's note—about how you changed the date for Hogsmeade. You—you did that for me, didn't you?" She took his silence as an affirmation. "It's so sweet, Frank. It's so terribly good of you. You don't try to impress me; you just try to make me happy, and I really don't deserve it... I've been awful. Panicking in Hogsmeade, almost kissing Skively—I've been... scared, while you've done nothing but prove that I can trust you again. And... that's what makes this so difficult now..."
Marlene waited, watching him intently.
The blood pounded in his ears. He couldn't. It might ruin everything.
But Adam knew that was all rubbish, because everything was already ruined. It had always been ruined, and, for Merlin's sake, he couldn't not do it. He'd been biting his tongue for too long, and it was finally rebelling against his brain—doing exactly as it pleased.
So, without thinking, he said it.
"And... that's what makes this so difficult now."
"Don't say it," Frank burst out. "Don't do this, Alice, please. I should have told you about the Hogsmeade change, I know, but I just thought you might think I was... well, I don't know what I thought. It was stupid, I know. And in Honeydukes—that was... you can forget it ever happened if you want, just please, don't..."
He wondered why, all of a sudden, she was smiling. Tearfully, but warmly. "You're missing the point, Frank," she interrupted him. "The last thing I have to say is that... I love you."
Without thinking, he said it. "Marlene, I love you."
"I love you, Frank. I can't help it. It's just a part of me. I've always loved you, and I'm relatively positive I'm always going to..."
"No, I can't," he said, very rushed. "You don't understand—I've been waiting forever. I can't wait anymore. I love you. I mean I'm in love with you. I've been in love with you since fourth year, and... and I know we're mates, but, Marlene, it's... impossible for me to keep acting like that's all I want. I can't do that anymore... I want to be with you."
"...So if there's any way you can forgive me for being so bloody slow on the uptake, I'd really like to be with you again, Frank. No 'sort of.' No 'maybe.' Just... together..."
It was sort of like sitting down to a familiar supper. It was like being so hungry and sitting down at the table, where the food was all spread out there before him: a meal he'd eaten five hundred times. And as he dished out the food onto his plate, he could already taste it. The first bite was already in his mouth before he'd picked up the fork.
He knew—on some subconscious level—what was coming next, and yet he couldn't breathe for the anticipation.
Marlene was silent. She was just staring at him, and Adam couldn't read her expression, but she was clearly stunned. He'd played this scene over in his head a thousand times, but now that it was happening, the reality of the thing was terrifying. It was a lot more awkward in real life. Adam's chest grew tight, and he quietly requested: "Please say something, Marlene."
Frank didn't say anything for a few seconds. Alice raised her eyebrows. "Frank?" she prompted uncertainly.
Unable to breathe for the anticipation, Lily drew her wand. She glanced at the map one more time, just to be certain that she was, indeed, alone in the corridor. She was.
She locked eyes with the statue of Sir Gregory and tapped him once on the head with her wand. "Patefacio," she murmured, just as James had instructed. A moment passed and nothing happened. Then, the statue began to tremble, before slowly sliding to the right. When it had stopped moving, a pitch black tunnel stretched out from behind its former position.
Exhaling heavily, Lily gripped her wand and the map a little tighter, and she stepped into the passageway.
"I'm sorry," Frank began slowly. "I just..." Then, he seemed to change his mind, as if now was not really the time for explanation. Instead, he walked directly up to her, pulled her close to him, and kissed her.
"There's a knot," said Sirius. His voice was empty and cold now. Brilliant. Perfect. Fitting. "At the base of the tree, there's an opening in the roots, and there's a large knot in the wood... impossible to miss."
Snape's black eyes burned with wonder.
"Touch the knot on the root, and the tree will freeze. That's how you get through. That's how you see what's inside."
Adam's chest grew tight, and he quietly requested: "Please say something, Marlene."
She hesitated. "I—I'm sorry, I just..."
A/N: Okay, I suck. No review replies for the last chapter, but I'll try to answer any specific questions you might have had sometime in the next week. A huge, huge thank-you to everyone who has read and reviewed the story. WhiteCamellia and paintthetownpurple went through and flooded my inbox with review alerts, which just always makes me happy, so thanks to them, too. But to everyone who has helped me get twenty chapters into this, I cannot express my gratitude enough. You all are amazing.
This mammoth chapter's title and opening are a throw back to the chapter "Conversations," if you're wondering. The next one is, as of now but possibly subject to change, called "Life is But a Dream" (related through title to Chapter 12). Since Chapter 21 takes place all in one night, it will probably be shorter, and I hope I can get it up here quickly... but there's a lot of action (which I am always slow to write) and I don't have much of it already done, so no promises.
Reviews are fro-yo.
Love and cookies,