Into the Fire
by Argenteus Draco
"Professor, you've got to believe me. Why would I make something like this up?"
"We aren't accusing you of lying, James--"
"But you don't believe me."
Dumbledore and McGonagall exchanged a glance before returning their gaze to the skinny, black-haired boy standing in front of them. The headmaster sighed, his mind sweeping over the possibilities, none of which were very plausible.
"Alright James, why don't you tell us again what happened."
"Mr. Potter!" Harry looked up from the snitch he had been absentmindedly doodling on his charms notes. "Perhaps you would care to correctly demonstrate a summoning charm?"
Harry, thrown slightly off guard by being caught daydreaming, summoned the correct item, but then lost control of it halfway across the room, causing the book to veer off course and smack Lavender Brown in the shoulder. Now thoroughly embarrassed, Harry looked sheepishly up at Professor Flitwick. "Sorry, Professor," he murmured. "Would you like me to try again?"
"No, no," the tiny man replied in his usual, high-pitched squeak. "But I am going to ask you to review your form as part of your homework. I will test you – and the rest of the class – on Friday." A bell rang, signaling the end of classes. "That's it, don't forget to read--" Whatever else he'd assigned was lost as the class piled noisily into the hallways.
"Looks like we've got some free time before double potions," Ron said, consulting his schedule. "I think I'm going to head outside, get a breath of fresh air. You coming Harry?"
"Nah," he replied. "You and Hermione go. I'm going to run up to the library, see if I can find that book from last year, the one that had all the little tips in it for charms inflections. Maybe if I re-read it I'll be able to summon things again."
Hermione grinned at him. "Good for you, taking your work so seriously." Ron pretended to gag behind her. "If you don't mind, while you're up there, do you think you could grab a book for me? I'm afraid I left my copy of Hogwarts: A History at home."
Harry laughed. "You mean you haven't memorized it yet?"
"Potions. Why, of all subjects, do we have to have double potions?"
"I like potions," Lily replied, a bit indignant.
"Of course you like it," retorted James. "You're good at it."
Lily sniffed. "You could be good at it too, if you bothered to pay attention."
"Oh yeah, and sucked up to Slughorn," Sirius countered.
"I am not a suck up."
"Not on purpose."
"But you can't deny it helps," Remus added.
Lily straightened herself up, adjusted her hold on her books, and walked determinedly faster than the rest of the group as they descended the dark stairs into the dungeons. Sirius watched her go with a slightly confused, slightly dumbfounded look.
"Don't know what you see in her, buddy."
James flushed a little. "I see a determined young witch who's smart, and pretty, and knows it."
Sirius snorted. "Well, I see someone who might as well be in Slytherin."
James wasn't listening. "Have you looked at her eyes? I mean, really looked? They're so clear, and expressive, and--"
"Green," Sirius finished for him. "Like emeralds. And that's what you got her for her birthday. I know, mate."
James looked at his three friends. "Said that once or twice before, have I?"
"James," Remus clapped him on the shoulder, "if you said it any more often, she'd know it by heart too."
James suddenly turned a shade paler. "You don't think she knows, do you?"
Remus and Sirius exchanged a look, and laughed. "No. If she thought you liked her like that, I think she'd have run away screaming a long time ago."
Harry browsed the shelves in the library distractedly. He'd found the books already, and checked them out with Madam Pince, but with ten minutes still standing between him and Professor Snape, he felt no need to leave the library immediately. Maybe, he thought to himself as he pulled down a copy of Magical Fires: Seven Colors Every Wizard Should Know, Hermione was right, and there was something to this whole find-peace-in-books thing.
He sneezed as the dust from the old pages floated upwards in little clouds. Then, as if one noise had triggered the other to end his moment of tranquility, the bell rang again, and Harry had to drop the book onto the nearest table and hurry from the library, knowing he was about to be late for Potions. That would mean his second detention of the year, and he hadn't even been back for a full week.
He was so preoccupied with his own thoughts, he didn't see Malfoy as he ran out into the hallway, and coincidentally straight into the blond boy so that both of them fell to the floor.
"Watch where you're going, Potter!" Malfoy spat, standing up and starting to collect his books. "I aught to take house points away for this. In fact, I think I will. Five points from Gryffindor."
Harry glared as stood up as well. He wished, vainly, that he'd been a prefect as well, so that he could take points from Malfoy. But, as he couldn't do that, he would simply have to settle himself with aggravating Malfoy as much as possible. And – the thought actually made him smile – if he was going to be late for potions, so was Malfoy.
"So sorry," Harry murmured just loud enough to be heard, "but it's just so hard to see ferrets scurrying through the halls."
"Ten points from Gryffindor, and I'll see you get detention for being so snotty."
Harry just smirked as he formulated his response.
James was washing out the cauldron while Slughorn appraised his and Sirius' potion sample. It was thin and a pale lavender color, not at all like it was supposed to be. The Professor sighed and continued on to the next bottle, which was, of course, perfect.
"Lily Evans," he said, and the red-haired girl looked up from her note taking. "Take ten points for Gryffindor for this excellent example of a growth potion. If you'll all gather around, you'll see the green bubbles forming. Now, who can tell me why the bubbles form green when the potion is blue?"
James didn't bother circling around with the rest of the class. There was a particularly sticky mass at the bottom on his cauldron that was refusing to be scrubbed out, and James was beginning to become irritated.
"Stupid Lily, always has to be perfect," he muttered under his breath. "You'd think, just once, she could help me avoid this."
"Well, since I don't really know what 'this' is, it would be rather hard to have prevented it," said a faintly too-happy voice over his shoulder. "But I'll be happy to help clean it out." Lily poured a little of a strange, clear substance into the bottom on the cauldron, which immediately diluted the mass and left James with a clear cauldron he needed only to rinse and wipe out.
"Thanks," he murmured, slightly embarrassed and glad that she wouldn't see his flushing face in the dark light.
"Not a problem. Besides, I was kind of hoping I might have your help with something later tonight."
James' curiosity was peaked. "What do you need?"
"I can't tell you here." Now she definitely had his attention. "Just meet me tonight, in the library, say nine o'clock. And," she cast a look at where Sirius, Remus and Peter stood around Slughorn's desk. "Come alone."
James arrived in the library at nine as promised. He'd invented a story for the others – something about studying, which he figured was just unbelievable enough that they'd accept it – and left the common room under his invisibility cloak; unlike prefects Remus and Lily, he was not allowed out of the common room after hours.
Lily was right where she'd said she'd be, reading at a table in the farthest corner from the door. James wondered vaguely whether her absence would go unnoticed as well, or if someone might come to the conclusion that she and James were off snogging together. Well, it wouldn't be an entirely unwelcome scenario, at least not as far as James was concerned.
Still, he couldn't help risking his chances for that by trying to frighten her. She was so absorbed in her book that she didn't notice at all as he snuck up behind her and grabbed her shoulders. She gave a short little yelp – thankfully not enough to summon the librarian, and stared around frightened for a few seconds before James took off his cloak.
Lily glared at him. "Always have to be the prankster, don't you?" James nodded, ready for her backlash, and surprised when instead her face softened, and she instead replied, "I suppose it's one of your endearing qualities." She turned back to her book, which she handed to James. "Don't suppose you've ever heard of this particular branch of magic, huh?"
James read the title. Magical Fires: Seven Colors Every Wizard Should Know. "I know about Floo Powder," he said. "Turns the fire green, lets you travel through a predetermined network, but not outside it." He turned the pages, moving illustrations of people conjuring all manner of colors and jumping into the flames, some with less than pleasant results. "Ugh, causes temporary disembodiment of the spirit… Lily, why do you want to know about this?"
"Because this one," she flipped to a page highlighting a small flame the color of amber, "will give anyone who touches it the ability to work magic." She paused for a moment. "I want it for a my sister."
James just stared at her. He'd met Petunia Evans once, when the family had picked Lily up at Kings Cross the year before. He knew the older girl was immensely jealous of her younger sister. He also knew that Lily had a notion in her head that if Petunia could join her at Hogwarts, the relationship they'd once had would be mended.
"I don't know Lily," he replied. "This is way beyond the magic fifth years should be handling."
"I don't care," she said, and for the first time, the determination in Lily's eyes frightened James. "I know we can do this, I've read the whole chapter over, and I've already created the powder; it's just a simple potion, dried out. And you know I've never messed up a potion. I just need someone to help me with the charm."
James sighed, and looked at the tiny candle flame in the picture. Even if they couldn't make it work, how much danger did that little flame actually pose? He nodded. "Alright," he muttered. "Let's try."
Lily grinned and threw her arms around him, and then started searching her bag for the powder she'd made earlier that week. "Thank you, James, I knew you'd understand. You're the only one who could help me, really, seeing as you're the best at Charms in our year." James blushed a little at the flattery, and returned his attention to the book so he could practice the incantation.
When he was satisfied he'd gotten it right, he put the book down onto the table and looked at Lily. She was holding a bag of shimmering white powder, a pinch of which she'd taken into her fingers and prepared to throw over the flame. For a second, she looked apprehensive.
"So I just, toss it over, yeah?"
"Looks that way to me," James said. "And as soon as it ignites, I say the incantation, and, hopefully, we have magic fire."
Lily breathed deeply. "Alright, here we go." She threw the powder, which sparked and crackled, and James had to raise his voice above the noise to make his incantation audible. For a moment, nothing happened, but then the flame on the candle turned blue, and all the little flecks of powder on the table started to ignite as well.
"Oh God, Lily, I knew this was a bad idea," James said, as he watched the flames dance over the wood, though seemingly not burning anything.
"James, no!" Lily shouted just a moment too late. James had attempted to beat down the flames, and as soon he had, found himself being engulfed in the turquoise fire. He thought he saw Lily run away, but he wasn't sure; the color was so intense he couldn't see much of anything actually.
Then, as suddenly as it had all began, the noise, heat, and color stopped. He blinked several times, adjusting to the new light, and found himself staring down at the troublesome book. "Bugger," he said, and shoved it off the table. He glanced around – Lily was no-where in sight. "Must have run for a teacher. Better go tell her I'm alright," he said to no one in particular.
But he wasn't alright, he realized suddenly. He couldn't be, because he knew it had been dark when he'd met Lily in the library, and a glance out the window told him it was now well into the afternoon.
He could hear a pair of voices arguing out in the hallway. Maybe Lily had found someone. As he came within sight of the students, however, he found he was much mistaken. It was Malfoy who was closest to him – although, he was sure he had been taller the last time James had seem him. And the boy across from him… Oh God, there was no way…
"Ten points from Gryffindor, and I'll see you get detention for being so snotty."
Harry just smirked as he formulated his response. Then, his eyes caught those of the boy standing behind Malfoy, and he dropped his books and stared.
Something was definitely wrong.