"Alright," said James Potter, slapping his hands on the Gryffindor table during breakfast. The Great Hall was even noisier than usual, with roses the size of serving dishes floating in the air above them and owls swooping from table to table, pink and red envelopes clutched in their beaks. "We are so close to the full moon, so I am going to be very disappointed if one of us mucks things up today just because he wants to spend Valentine's snogging Daisy Hookum at Madam Puddifoot's—"
"James," replied a handsome, dark-haired boy, his features contorting as he tried his best to look offended, "surely you're not insinuating that one of us would ruin months — no, years — of hard work, because we'd rather get off with Daisy Hookum?"
"That's exactly what I'm insinuating," growled James, helping himself to some pumpkin juice, which had been dyed pink for the occasion. "I mean it, Sirius. I'm sick of keeping this stupid leaf in my mouth all the time, and we're so close to being done, so if Daisy Hookum swallows your leaf while you two are eating each other's faces, and we have to start the process over again —"
"She's not going to swallow my leaf," mumbled Sirius, his mouth full of bacon. "We've been trying for years, I know how to keep my leaf to myself. It's Peter you need to be worried about, he's the one who ruined it last month —"
"I had Dugbog disease!" protested Peter, the smallest of the group. "I'd like to see you try to keep a leaf in your mouth while violently puking five times a —"
"I don't see why you all have to do it at the same time," said Remus, a vaguely ill-appearing boy who looked as if he himself might have a touch of Dugbog disease. "If Sirius loses his leaf today, why don't you lot keep going without him, and he can catch up next month?"
James shook his head dismissively. "This is a team effort, Moony. As anyone who has tried to hold a leaf in their mouth day and night for a full month can tell you, it's really tedious work, and I'm afraid our dear mate Sirius might lack the, er, discipline to follow through if he doesn't have companionship while attempting such a feat."
"Guilty as charged," said Sirius with a grin, swallowing the last of his bacon somewhat delicately so as not to disturb the leaf tucked in the back of his mouth. One of the larger owls clipped a wing on an enormous floating rose and tumbled onto the Ravenclaw table, thoroughly ruining a student's breakfast. Sirius watched it with some interest before turning back towards James. "I'll be careful. Though I can't promise I won't give Daisy a few chaste pecks on the cheek if the opportunity arises…"
At the other end of the Great Hall, standing close to the entrance, a boy with sallow skin and lank black hair scanned the Gryffindor table warily, careful not to look towards the far end where James and his friends were sitting. Finally, he made eye contact with a pretty redheaded girl who smiled and stood up, taking a pair of croissants from one of the platters and bidding her girlfriends goodbye before making her way over to the boy. She handed him one of the croissants and the two left the Great Hall.
"You could have sat with us, you know," said the girl, Lily, tearing off a bit of croissant. "Nobody would have minded."
"And you know that's not true," replied the boy as the two approached the great oak doors that led to the grounds of Hogwarts. "If Potter and his mates weren't at the table, maybe, but…"
"Severus," said Lily as the doors swung open of their own accord. "Don't be stupid."
"Not wanting to be hexed is stupid?"
"I mean don't be like everyone else." Lily waved her hand. "You magical folk are so concerned with segregating everyone into neat little boxes that never overlap. Can't sit at the Gryffindor table if you're a Slytherin! It's ridiculous."
"You're magical folk too, you know."
"Yeah, and I'm just saying. Muggle boarding schools are nowhere near as cliquey and uptight. It's not normal."
"So go to a Muggle boarding school."
Lily looked at him disparagingly. "Or I could stay here and sit at whichever table I like and be the change I want to see in the world."
"The last time we sat together at the Slytherin table, Avery got revenge by jinxing Mary Macdonald," Severus reminded her. "She spoke Swahili for a week."
"I know," sighed Lily as they made their way towards Hogsmeade. "It's hard to be the voice of change when other people take the fall for it."
Also, you're Muggle-born, Severus added silently. He knew the depths of discrimination that Muggle-borns faced, even if Lily wasn't fully aware of it yet. In theory, only the old pure-blood families cared about blood status, but the fact of the matter was that few Muggle-born witches and wizards occupied positions of importance in the Ministry, and fewer still were policy makers or members of the Wizengamot. It was the same everywhere — a Muggle-born could be a Mediwizard, but the chances of them becoming Healer-in-Charge of a ward at St. Mungo's were almost nonexistent. Lily was a formidable enough witch that she could bend social norms at Hogwarts without getting too much pushback for it, but she wasn't going to start a cultural revolution on her own.
He didn't say any of this out loud, though. What he said instead was, "I've invented a new spell."
"You're changing the subject," said Lily, but she was smiling. "What's it do?"
"It's a Valentine's Day hex," said Severus, smirking slightly. "Point your wand at someone who's… snogging someone else, make a motion like you're drawing a heart — clockwise, obviously — and say Vomihominis. The snogger's lips should grow a number of unsightly boils."
"That's horrible," said Lily, laughing. "Can you imagine kissing someone, and then feeling…? Eurgh! Very clever, though, recreating a Muggle disease…"
"I thought so," said Severus smugly.
Daisy Hookum was a pretty blonde Hufflepuff with thick fringe and a shaggy haircut reminiscent of a certain American film star. Sirius Black loved Muggle film stars.
"Well, Daisy," he said, checking his watch as their date in Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop drew to a close, "This has been great, but I need to run to Pippin's to pick up a few things I've ordered. Want to come with?"
"Ooh, yes, please," said Daisy, leaning across the chintzy white table to kiss him. Sirius kept his mouth firmly shut while kissing her, but that had nothing to do with the fact that Daisy didn't understand words that contained more than two syllables. It was solely to protect his leaf. At least, that was what he told himself.
After a moment or so, Daisy drew back and they both stood up. Sirius dropped a few Sickles on the table, and they left the shop holding hands. As they wound their way through the bustling crowd and towards J. Pippin's Potions, Daisy chirped in his ear about her favourite Hogsmeade shops. "I love the Three Broomsticks, we should stop by for a Butterbeer after Pippin's… I could use something to warm me up, it's sooo cold out here!" She shivered for effect, blinking up at him, and Sirius, smiling, laid his arm around her and pulled her closer.
"I might know a way to warm you up," he murmured, their noses almost touching. When they kissed, in the middle of the crowded street, he was almost able to enjoy the moment without focusing on his leaf. Daisy kissed him again, opening her mouth a little, and Sirius responded in kind when all of a sudden —
"Sirius… what —" started Daisy, drawing back. Several hard pustules, red and inflamed, had appeared on his lips, and her eyes widened as the boils grew. "What's wrong? Are you allergic? Is it me?"
Sirius put his hand over his mouth and felt the lumps, the largest of which was as big as a Gobstone. He swore, and his leaf almost fell out. "Daisy... I —"
"It is me," said Daisy, and her eyes filled with tears. "We kissed, and — and — oh Sirius, I'm so sorry!"
"I don't — I really don't think it was you," mumbled Sirius. It was becoming quite difficult to talk with both a leaf in his mouth and grossly misshapen lips. His grey eyes swept the busy street, narrowing as he noticed a small, dark-haired figure ducking into the Three Broomsticks.
"We have to get you to the Hospital Wing!" sobbed Daisy, tugging on his arm. Some of the students passing by were beginning to stare.
"Daisy, no — just give me a second…" said Sirius, grabbing her hand and dragging her into the nearest alley. Reaching into his robes, he pulled out a small, square mirror. "James Potter!" he said, and his reflection vanished, replaced by James' face.
"Merlin's pants," said James, raising his eyebrows. The mirror was murky and dim, as if it were nighttime where he was, but Sirius thought he could just make out the outlines of large trees in the background. "Bad date, eh?"
This made Daisy cry harder.
"Very funny," said Sirius. "I think our little Slytherin pal might have had a hand in this, but listen. I'm gonna head back up to the castle and sort my face out, alright? You'll have to come down here and pick up the… our order from Pippin's." He shot a glance at Daisy.
"I'm kind of in the middle of something," James said in a tone indicating that Sirius should know what he was talking about. "Why don't you just Finite Incantatum whatever hex Snivellus put on you and continue on your date —"
"He's allergic to me!" cried Daisy. "It's not a hex, it's because I kissed him, he needs Madam Pomfrey—"
"That's why, you twat," muttered Sirius.
James raised his eyebrows. "I keep telling you Hufflepuff girls are dimmer than a bag of gnomes," he said. "Fine. Let Poppy put your girl's mind at ease. I'll be down in a bit to pick up the package."
Sirius nodded and James' face faded. Stuffing the mirror back into his pocket, he strode out of the alley and began to make his way up the street towards the school, Daisy struggling to keep up.
At least he still had his leaf.
James tucked the two-way mirror back into the pocket of his robes and stretched, looking around. He was standing at the edge of a clearing in the Forbidden Forest, deep enough into the woods that hardly any light filtered down through the canopy of ancient trees, which gave the clearing the look of perpetual dusk.
James was quite proud of what he had done to the clearing. First off, it wasn't exactly easy to find a place where dew could form untouched by both sunlight and human feet, much less in the middle of winter, when dew seldom formed at all. A rather powerful Atmospheric Charm ensured that the clearing stayed at the proper temperature and humidity for dew formation regardless of the weather, and a self-sustaining Nox Charm kept the area properly dark at all times. He had even — and this was what he was proudest of, for it was a tricky bit of magic — bound a Homonculous Charm to a ring that he wore on his finger, which would burn if anyone happened upon the clearing.
The end result of all this was that James had collected several teaspoons of untouched silver dew, which he stored in a small decanter made of black glass. With a wave of his wand, he undid the Atmospheric and Nox Charms. The air became several degrees colder and his surroundings lightened as he picked his cloak off a tree branch where it hung and tossed it around his shoulders. At once, the dark-haired boy vanished, and the clearing lay still and silent.
James strode quickly through the forest, making his way back to the grounds of Hogwarts. Of course, the Forbidden Forest wasn't nearly as frightening when you had an Invisibility Cloak, as nothing was likely to bother you, but even so, he didn't like to overstay his welcome. Luck was on his side today, though; as he picked through the thick undergrowth, the most menacing thing he encountered was a pair of Bowtruckles fighting over an elm tree. After he emerged near Hagrid's hut, he paused to take off the Cloak and stuff it into his bag before heading towards Hogsmeade.
Just as he had expected, the streets of Hogsmeade were lined with students holding hands and cuddling up to one another as if it was frightfully cold instead of a mild winter's day. Everyone, even the most hateful of the Slytherins, seemed to be paired off. James believed in casual dating, but he wasn't sure if he believed in love, and he definitely didn't believe in taking a date to Hogsmeade on Valentine's Day. It was so ordinary. Half the students he saw on the streets weren't a proper couple, and the other half probably wished they weren't a proper couple but were going out because it was The Right Thing to Do.
Lost in thought, James pushed open the door to J. Pippin's Potions. The shop was a bit crowded, so James joined the queue for the front counter, standing behind a girl with shoulder-length red hair.
The girl turned, raising her eyebrows and smiling a little. "Potter?" she mimicked, using the same incredulous tone he had.
"What are you doing here?" He cringed inwardly at what a stupid question that was. Probably buying potions ingredients, same as you, you idiot.
"Well," said Lily seriously, "I've been trying to brew Felix Felicis so I can pass my O.W.L.s, but I can't seem to grind my Occamy eggshells finely enough, so I'm here to get more. You?"
James grinned. "I've been carrying a Mandrake leaf around in my mouth for months so I can become an Animagus. I just need to pick up the last ingredients for the potion."
"Good one," said Lily, the corners of her mouth twitching. "Slightly less believable than mine, though."
"Give me a break, you're brilliant," said James. "You could pass your O.W.L.s in your sleep."
"True," said Lily, her emerald eyes sparkling. "You're a meathead compared to me. Honestly, your Animagus form is probably just yourself."
James laughed, but before he could respond, the bell on the door of the shop jingled. Both of them turned to look as a thick-set Slytherin fifth year walked in. With his broad shoulders, powerful jaw, and small, blue eyes, he vaguely resembled a pit bull. James and Lily looked at each other.
"Speaking of unbelievable…" muttered James. "What's Mulciber doing here without his gang? I didn't know he even knew what a potion was…"
"Oh, stop," said Lily, and she sounded less playful now. "He's minding his own business, please don't start any Gryffindor-Slytherin drama in here…"
James raised his eyebrows. "Start? I think your pal Snape was the one who started something earlier, so don't blame me for wanting payback. Where's your little friend, anyway? Why isn't he with you?"
"He's busy," said Lily, biting her lip and looking away.
"Busy sucking up to some Death Eaters in training like the rest of his house?"
"Stop it," said Lily as they moved forward in the queue. "He's not like them, and you're just looking for a fight…"
"I'm the one looking for a fight? I'm not the one who hexed Sirius completely unprovoked this morning—"
"Are you actually angry about that?" Lily interrupted, looking up at him. Her eyes were more than a little distracting.
"Of course I'm angry! He's my best mate!"
"Oh, come on," said Lily, and her lip twitched again. "It was just a stupid jinx. I actually think Sev did Sirius a favor. Imagine having to spend all day with Daisy Hookum…"
James snorted in spite of himself. "Look, Daisy's a nice girl—"
"She gets a T in History of Magic every year. I don't even know how that's possible, seeing as Binns grades us randomly —"
"Okay, but my point still stands —"
"What point?" Lily asked, hands on her hips. "That you don't like Severus?"
"That he hexed my friend!"
"So now you're going to hex Mulciber? That's just stupid, they're not even mates —"
"Lover's quarrel?" interrupted a voice behind them, and James turned to see that Mulciber had joined them in the queue.
"No," began Lily, but James cut her off.
"Butt out, Mulciber," he growled. Mulciber raised his eyebrows.
"Fine by me," he said smoothly. "Just looking out for you, Potter."
"You?" said James incredulously. "Looking out for me?"
"Times are changing, Potter," said Mulciber calmly. "House rivalries are fine for first years, but the world is moving beyond that. Soon, it will be blood status that brings us together… or not," he added, jerking his chin towards Lily, who reddened but stood her ground.
"Is that really the best you can do?" she said, raising her eyebrows. "Make vague threats because I'm Muggle-born? How original. I feel awfully frightened now. And you," she said, addressing James, "Don't get into it with him just because it makes you feel… gallant to defend me, when we all know you've been itching for a fight ever since he walked in here!" Turning her back on both of them, she realized she was at the front counter. "And I'll take three scoops of African sea salt and a handful of rue," she snapped at the shopkeeper, who had been watching the exchange with his mouth slightly open.
"Lily…" said James as she slapped a few Sickles onto the counter, but she cut him off.
"No, I don't want to hear it! It's Valentine's Day, and I want to have a nice afternoon in Hogsmeade without you ruining my peace!" And with that, she snatched the small paper bag from the hapless shopkeeper and marched out of the shop, the bell on the door clanging behind her.
"Well," said Mulciber after a moment, "Turns out you didn't need my help getting rid of her after all —"
And that was when James hexed him.
Inside the Three Broomsticks, Severus Snape sat at the end of a corner booth, surrounded by housemates who were busy sucking up to a Death Eater in training.
"Is it true that the Dark Lord has been recruiting werewolves?" Emma Vanity asked Lucius Malfoy breathlessly. Lucius, a boy in his early twenties with straight, shoulder-length blonde hair, smiled and raised his eyebrows knowingly, but he refrained from answering Emma's question. Beside him, a beautiful, dark-haired girl rolled her eyes. Severus recognized her — she was a seventh year, one of the Black sisters — but had never spoken to her. Her complete disdain for everyone presently at the table, though, was giving him the strength he needed to endure the idiocy of his classmates.
"Have you — have you got the Mark?" Avery chimed in, but before Lucius could respond, Emma cut him off.
"Don't be ridiculous, everyone knows the Mark's just a story —"
"It is not, there was a drawing of it in the Prophet last week…"
"And you think that Muggle-loving drivel is a reliable source of information?"
"Break it up, children," said Mulciber, sliding into the booth to sit beside Severus, who glowered and moved closer to Avery. The booth was getting uncomfortably full now. Mulciber looked at Lucius, and something unspoken passed between the two.
"You're late," said Lucius.
"I was held up," replied Mulciber evenly. "A certain Gryffindor Quidditch captain thought it would be great fun to practice duelling in the middle of Pippin's." He nudged Severus, who didn't respond.
"Well, now that you've decided to join us, we can get started," said Lucius, his eyes sweeping across the table. "As a few of you already know, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named requires… information about the goings-on at Hogwarts. Seeing as it's imprudent for him to enter the castle himself"— a few students snickered at that — "he has asked me to recruit a handful of trustworthy students to be his eyes and ears at Hogwarts."
"Why's he interested in Hogwarts? Sir?" asked Emma Vanity, and Lucius looked at her.
"That," he said, "is information only those who are chosen need to know."
Emma shrank back in her seat a bit, and the beautiful witch beside Lucius, who up until this point had looked utterly bored with the whole thing, spoke up, sounding as if she was reading off a cue card. "And what does one have to do to prove they are trustworthy, Lucius?"
"I'm glad you asked, Bella," replied Lucius. "As it happens, the Dark Lord quite trusts my judgement on the matter. This afternoon has been quite enlightening, and those who I select should await my owl." He gave her the same significant look he had given Mulciber, and then his gaze slid across the booth to Severus. The gesture was not lost on Avery.
"Snape? You're not thinking of choosing him, are you? He's… he's not even a pure-blood, and he spends all his time with that Mudblood girl —"
"The Dark Lord decides who is and isn't a pure-blood," interrupted Lucius, but he looked questioningly at Severus now. "Do you have anything to say about your relationship with your Mudblood friend?"
Severus' flat black eyes met Lucius' grey ones. "Slytherins tend to keep to their own," he said. "But an inter-house partnership means I can learn things others cannot."
Lucius nodded slowly. "Just as I thought," he said. "I will speak to the Dark Lord, but I think he will agree we may have use for a spy."
"Detention?!" roared Sirius. It was evening as the four friends sprawled on the couches by the hearth in the Gryffindor common room, and his outburst caused a few nearby first years to jump. "I spent all bloody day specifically not snogging Daisy Hookum so that your bloody leaf scheme goes off according to plan, and now you're telling me that you won't even be able to make it tomorrow night because you got DETENTION? Because you were showing off in front of her?"
"That's basically what happened, yeah," admitted James, running his hand through his hair.
"I thought you spent all day not snogging Daisy because Snape cursed your lips off," said Remus pleasantly, as if offering a helpful correction. Sirius glared at him before turning back to James, who held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.
"Relax, Sirius," he said. "It'll be fine. We'll have all night to do it, we'll just have to go out a little later than originally planned. Which works in our favour anyway, as the later we wait, the less teachers and prefects will be roaming the halls…"
"They'll be short a prefect tomorrow anyway," Peter pointed out, glancing at Remus. "Seeing as Moony's gonna be… busy…"
Remus's smile flickered slightly, but then he grinned at Sirius, who was still scowling. "Yeah, I thought I'd do you lot a favour by buggering off for a day or two. Give you some time to make mischief and taunt a certain greaseball Slytherin without suffering my disapproval."
Sirius' mouth twitched. "You know what's funny about that hex Snivellus hit me with?" he asked. "I actually couldn't reverse it with Finite Incantatum, I tried after I got rid of Dai — I mean, after Daisy and I parted ways…"
"Amicably, I hope," said Remus, his eyes wide. Peter sniggered.
"Shut up, Moony," said Sirius, but he was smiling ruefully now. "No need to be jealous just because you spent Valentine's Day swapping spit with Peter —"
"Oh, no, I wouldn't risk the loss of my precious leaf on Moony," said Peter. "Fabius Watkins, though, maybe…"
James snorted. "So you had to go see Poppy after all," he said, addressing Sirius, who nodded.
"Yeah, she'd never seen that particular pattern of boils before, so I had to try a couple different potions before we found one that worked."
"Interesting," said James. "I guess that means it must have been one of Snivellus'… ah... inventions."
"'Course it was," said Sirius darkly. "And I'm getting tired of being one of his test subjects, I'll tell you that…"
"Well," said Peter, "if he joins up with the Death Eaters — like we all know he will — he'll probably leave us alone in favour of hexing people whose blood status is a little more… ambiguous, if you know what I mean."
The other three looked at him.
"Way to bring the mood down, Pete," said James.
Just then, the portrait hole opened and Lily Evans came in, accompanied by Marlene McKinnon and Mary MacDonald. They were still pink-faced from the cold outside, and James watched them as they walked towards the stairs leading to the girls' dormitories. Lily laughed at something Mary said, and her eyes flickered to the fireplace, where James was sitting. She met his gaze and her smile faded a little before she turned her head away, nose in the air. She chatted determinedly with Marlene as the trio made their way up the stairs.
"I see she wasn't dazzled by your act of gallantry," commented Sirius, following James' gaze. "Too bad, really. I know I'd have been impressed if you'd turned Mulciber's fingers into gherkins to defend my honour…"
"Dill pickles, actually," said James lightly, turning his attention back towards the group. "Rather more complex than your average gherkin, but I digress."
"So are we agreed, then?" asked Peter, fidgeting in his seat. "We'll do it tomorrow night, after James' detention?"
"Fine by me," said Sirius, and James nodded. "We'll meet outside the common room, by the portrait of the Fat Lady."
Their plans set, the four chatted idly for a while longer until finally Remus stood up, yawning and announcing that he was going to bed. Peter followed him, leaving Sirius and James alone in front of the fire.
"Sorry about Lily, mate," said Sirius in a low voice.
James tried to shrug nonchalantly, keeping his eyes on the flames crackling in the hearth. "Mulciber's a git."
"Of course he is."
"She thinks I'm a git, too."
"You are a git," said Sirius, sliding off his armchair and onto his feet. "But that's part of your charm. She'll come around."
They grinned at each other. With a wave of his wand, James extinguished the fire, throwing the common room into darkness, and the two made their way up the stairs.
A/N: I'm so excited to be posting my first fanfic! I'm planning on updating somewhere between once a week and once every two weeks, to give myself time to continue to write chapters. I've currently got all of 5th year written, which clocks out at 12 chapters and ~65,000 words (much longer than I'd anticipated!). So at the very least, you've got a good chunk of writing to look forward to :)
Comments and reviews are very welcome. I'd love to hear your opinions, especially your thoughts on characterization, plot, world-building… okay, all of it, really! Enjoy!