A/N: My eternal gratitude to the reviewers. It's impossible to write on this site without reviews... yes, I do have recognition issues.
Disclaimer: Shout out to JKR and Bob Marley.
Chapter 3- "To Start a Year"
"Three Little Birds"
There was an official report filed, of course. There always is for this sort of thing, and it always seems to go the same way. The time, place, nature of the incident, outside involvement, and then—if there is any way to evaluate the situation—some kind of conclusion. The conclusion in this particular report was brief and incomplete, because exactly what happened that morning was unknown at the time the report was filled out. In those days, dozens of similar style reports were filled out with alarming regularity, and this incident only stood out in one respect: location.
This sort of thing didn't usually happen at Hogwarts.
But first, a word about Carlotta Meloni:
If you understand how seeing an Audrey Hepburn movie can affect a person, you might understand Carlotta Meloni a little better. She was beautiful. She had that kind of beauty that you glimpse once at a bus stop or in the park and remember for the rest of your life. Carlotta Meloni was positively lovely.
She knew it, too.
How, after all, could she help but know it? Carlotta had long, shiny chestnut colored hair and eyes the exact same shade. Her complexion was olive toned and faultlessly smooth, a fact which she attributed to green tea and meditation but was, in reality, probably more closely related to good fortune in the genetic lottery.
A Gryffindor sixth year of moderate talent and average grades, Carlotta Meloni nonetheless projected an air of perfection. She had delicate hands, thick black eyelashes, a small, elegant nose, and—though short—a willowy build. Carlotta's voice was soft and melodious. She could make the most mundane piece of information sound positively thrilling... especially if her audience happened to be male.
Carlotta Meloni lived a relatively non-complex life. She meditated for half an hour every morning and was a strict vegetarian. She believed in something called "free love," which might have been the primary reason that most of her friends were of the opposite sex. Possibly to her credit, however, Carlotta had remained a fast friend to Shelley Mumps—a girl who seemed to grow plainer with age, as Carlotta grew prettier.
Carlotta always seemed satisfied with life. She was happy, easy to converse with and never withdrawn (except for that half an hour in the morning). She was confident and calm and walked with her head held high (she had lovely posture, really). Carlotta had no cause to regret anything, as far as anyone could see.
Anyway, that's what her classmates were listed as saying in the official report.
Carlotta Meloni was happy.
She was happy right up until the moment on September the second—around 6:10 a.m.—when she stared into the fire of the Gryffindor Common Room and attempted to slit her own wrists.
Fate works in funny ways sometimes, because James Potter smoked too much, but if he'd never started (like Remus Lupin had advised him the previous year), or if he'd quit the habit (like his mother had advised over the summer holidays), Carlotta Meloni would have succeeded in taking her own life. However, because James never listened to anyone, he was still quite addicted on the morning of September 2nd, and had it been otherwise, he would not have headed out for a quick smoke at ten minutes to six that morning. Thus, he would not have returned to the Gryffindor Common at 6:10 and fifteen seconds, just in time to draw his wand and deter Carlotta Meloni from doing something that she would not live to regret.
Carlotta screamed. The blade in her hands was forced to the other side of the room with the spell that James had automatically cast. She screamed again, an otherworldly cry that did not seem as though it could have been produced by her throat.
That woke up most of the sleeping Gryffindors in the dormitories above.
Lily Evans's eyes flew open. She climbed out of bed and looked around.
"Did anybody else hear a...?"
"What was that?" Donna Shacklebolt interrupted, throwing aside her own bed curtains. "Did you hear that too?"
"I did!" said Marlene Price, putting in an appearance as well.
Mary Macdonald emerged. "Me too!"
"I think it came from the boys' dormitories," Shelley Mumps said, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"I think it was the Common Room," Lily disagreed. She grabbed her dressing gown and was out the door a moment later, with Donna, Mary, and Marlene at her heels.
A weak flame in the fireplace provided most of the light in the Common Room when Lily arrived on the lower landing, just above the room itself. Several others had arrived, and more hurried down with each passing second. The scene, dim as it was, went something like this.
James Potter's wand was held high, as he struggled to maintain a magical bond which seemed to be holding Carlotta against the wall. She screamed once more, and then ceased. Her head lolled about on her neck as though she were unable to hold it up properly, all the while emitting some unearthly kind of moan.
"Let her go, Potter!" someone shouted from the forming crowd.
"I'm not hurting her!" James protested angrily. She fought against the hold and he fought to maintain it. "I just came in here and she—she was trying to kill herself. I got the knife away and she attacked me—I don't know what's wrong with her!"
"James, put her down!" ordered a skeptical seventh year girl, but James ignored her.
"I'm not hurting her... it's a simple holding spell! Something's wrong with her..."
Sirius Black appeared. He rushed down the stairs to James's side. "Mate, maybe you should let go of her," he muttered. "We'll get her to the infirmary or..."
"I'll get Professor McGonagall," said Donna, also hurrying down the steps and out of the common room through the portrait hole.
Reluctantly, James lowered his wand. Carlotta stood quite still for a moment, and then her body began to shake.
"She's having a fit," Marlene whispered. Lily pushed through the crowd and went down to the bottom landing.
"Someone find Frank Longbottom," the redhead ordered. "He's Head Boy, he ought to be..."
"I'm here," said the Head Boy, Frank, appearing. He followed her path down towards the now convulsing sixth year girl. His face was deathly pale, and his hands were shaking.
"Carlotta?" began Lily uncertainly. Carlotta made no response; her eyes were closed. Lily looked at James, who simply shrugged fearfully.
"Carlotta, are you alright?" Frank Longbottom asked, stepping forward.
"Frank, wait," said Lily. "Just... just hold back."
Carlotta collapsed a second later. He rushed to her side. "She's breathing." A dozen others hurried over, swarming the unconscious young witch. Lily moved over to James.
"What happened?" she asked shakily. He had no reply, apparently lost for words. Sirius clapped his friend on the shoulder.
"What a way to start the year," he noted dryly. They had no way of knowing how very far this whole matter was far from finished.
Now, the official Ministry of Magic report told the when, where, and how, even daring to guess a little at the why. It failed, however, to capture the real feeling of that morning: the fear that hung stagnant in the air as interview after interview and statement after statement was taken.
James Potter was interviewed, of course, as were a few of his housemates. That was the source of the "when, where, how" information, and that was how most everybody else in the school later found out about what transpired at 6:10 a.m. on September 2nd in Hogwarts School's Gryffindor Common Room. It was also how Lily found out the particulars of what occurred before her arrival.
She had only just learned these details, overhearing James's testimony to the Ministry investigator, by the time Professor McGonagall urged all the students to prepare for the day (however necessary) and proceed down to breakfast—all the students, that is, except for those who were not quite finished with their interviews. Carlotta had been taken to the Hospital Wing, so that Healer Holloway could do a complete exam. The rest no one really knew.
"Can you believe it?" Mary Macdonald whispered to her friends, as they sat at the Gryffindor table, all but silently consuming breakfast in the noisy Great Hall. "I actually heard Denise Davies making fun of Carlotta... it's awful. It's enough to make you wish word didn't spread around this school so quickly."
"I think Carlotta slept with Denise Davies' boyfriend once," Marlene mused unhappily. "I can't believe that Car would do something like this."
"The suicide or the sleeping with Denise's boyfriend?"
"The suicide. She's always seemed happy."
Lily was thoughtfully silent. Donna leaned over, and in a quiet tone so that the others could not here, she said: "You don't think Carlotta actually wanted to do herself in, do you?"
"She seemed hexed," Lily agreed quietly. That was all she said; her stomach churned, and she didn't want to think about this anymore—not that the rest of the student population would facilitate this whim. Carlotta Meloni's failed suicide attempt was the only topic of interest in the Hall that morning.
Luke appeared seconds later: "Is it true what they're saying?" her boyfriend asked, kissing her on the top of the head. Lily nodded. "Odd." As though referring to a bit of unexpected rain. "How are you feeling, Lily? I heard you were in a bit of the action last night yourself..."
"I'm fine," replied Lily. "I wasn't hurt. It was just... stupid."
Luke frowned, but a glance over at his table told him that the tiny Professor Flitwick was handing out class schedules to the Ravenclaws. "I'd better go," he said, kissing Lily on the top of the head again. "See you at break?"
"Who's that at the staff table?" Mary Macdonald asked presently. "The good-looking, older chap next to Slughorn?"
Lily looked. "The new Defense teacher, I reckon, seeing as Callaghan quit," she muttered. "Dumbledore must have forgotten to mention him, what with all that trouble last night. I wonder who he is..."
"Alphard Black," supplied Donna knowledgably. "I've seen him once before. He's Sirius Black's uncle. Not much of a resemblance, is there?"
"I don't know," mused Lily. "I see some resemblance." The elder Black had the same stormy grey-blue eyes that Sirius possessed; he had a similar nose, too, and while the Professor conversed with Professor Slughorn, Lily recognized that the two Blacks shared several mannerisms. With longish graying hair and solid features, Black looked as though he had probably been quite handsome in his heyday—twenty-five years ago—and even now retained some traces of his former good-looks.
"I wonder that Dumbledore hired him," said Marlene. "Aren't most of the Blacks supposed to be somewhat... radical?"
"I don't know much about him," Donna admitted. "But I seem to remember hearing that Black had one or two solid relatives... maybe that's what this bloke's like. Of course, 'solid' is a relative term... Sirius is a bit of a git himself, but he's solid compared to how Bellatrix Black was... or that brat little brother of his."
"Have you ever even spoken to Regulus Black?" Mary demanded skeptically. "Of course, we can't really ask Sirius about his uncle... the four of them haven't turned up to breakfast yet."
"The four of them" referred to the Marauders, collectively a single entity but individually comprised of James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. The precise origin of the name was unknown, although it was widely believed that the nickname derived from Professor McGonagall's offhandedly referring to them as a gang of "Marauders" some years earlier.
"I suppose James is still being questioned by that Ministry witch," Marlene speculated. "I'll be surprised if he shows up to first period at all."
Conjecture was, however, put on hold as a result of Professor McGonagall's arrival at their spot along Gryffindor table. She had schedules.
"Are you absolutely certain that she did not speak to you at all, James?" asked the Ministry witch for about the sixteenth time. A professional type, with short, straw colored hair and very little make up, this woman seemed to have a particular answer in mind every time she posed a question, and when James or anyone replied contrary to this presupposed response, she grew irritable. She had spent the last few minutes trying to convince James that Carlotta Meloni had held some sort of conversation with him during the course of that morning's drama.
"The whole thing happened in about fifteen seconds," James reiterated. "She didn't have time to say anything. And I already told you, she didn't seem like herself... her eyes were out of focus and she was... manic."
"Well she would hardly seem like herself," said the Ministry witch—who had instructed for the Quidditch Captain to "just call her Drake." "I suppose she was shocked to have been apprehended in the middle of her... er... unfortunate act and, taken aback, behaved accordingly. Of course, silly young girls can grow quite emotional, which would explain how she seemed—as you put it—not to recognize her housemates. All in all, I think it's rather an open-and-shut case."
The attempted suicide of a "silly young girl" apparently quailed in the comparison to other worries at the Ministry, if this Drake witch constituted the best they could send. That, anyway, was James's opinion.
Drake took a seat in Professor McGonagall's chair—the Transfiguration teacher herself having gone to attend to schedules so that the rest of the school might not be thrown askew in the wake of the incident. Professor Dumbledore had finished his own series of much more direct and intelligent questions a quarter of an hour before, so James and Drake were left alone in McGonagall's office.
"Healer Holloway hasn't even finished his exam," James pointed out incredulously. "We don't know if she was cursed, or under the Imperius..."
"Nonsense," interrupted Drake, flipping disinterestedly through a stack of paperwork; "Hogwarts students wouldn't know how to perform the Imperius Curse." She paused suddenly. "Unless you're telling me that they teach that kind of magic here. Is that what you're saying, James?" Doubtless, images of headlines flashed through her mind. Headlines like "Ministry Investigator Drake Uncovers Dark Magic at Hogwarts; Dumbledore Shamed" and the like.
"Of course not," said James impatiently. "But the magic that the teachers give us isn't all we know, Ms. Drake..." he intentionally used the title and awaited her reaction; "If it were, there wouldn't be blighters like..." he gauged his own courage... "like the Death Eaters running about, would there?"
"It's just 'Drake,'" corrected the witch coldly. "What you're talking about is all politics, James. Just petty politics. Do you have any idea how complex an investigation like that would be? It's precisely the reason I'm not interested in these petty political movements. They hold little bearing on my task here."
James begged to differ. "Hold little bearing? The Death Eaters aren't just political fad. They're part of a deep seeded flaw in..." He stopped, realizing that he was beginning to sound like his father at the breakfast table. "Look," James began once more, "you don't know what made Carlotta do this. Why didn't she return to her dorm the night before? It could've been dark magic, or..."
"Are you suggesting," sighed Drake, "that the so-called Death Eaters broke into the castle, cursed a sixteen-year-old girl, and manipulated her to go to her house Common Room and slit her own wrists?"
Well, it did sound a bit implausible.
"Still, you don't know why..."
"These popular teenage witches are always seeking new ways to get attention," Drake interrupted. "Most likely, it was simply a grab at an audience."
James scowled. "That's not what Carlotta Meloni's like, though. She wouldn't do something like that to get attention... she doesn't need to. I mean, have you seen her?"
"Really, James." Drake finally located the slip of parchment for which she had been searching and pulled it to the top of the stack. "Now, what did you say your full name was?" she asked, dipping a quill in the inkwell on McGonagall's desk.
"James Potter," James told her dully. Drake halted, and the Quidditch Captain at once knew why. Only too often had this happened at the utterance of his surname.
"Any relation to...?"
"Yes," replied James coldly.
"Is that right?" With bad faux airiness, Drake added: "And how are you related? An uncle, or...?"
"Dear old dad," said the other. "Listen, are you done with me or what?"
"Well, Mr. Potter..." Her voice reached a higher pitch. "You know, I'd be very interested to hear what your theories might be about Miss Meloni's..."
"Because I'm an eyewitness or because my dad is the head of your department, Ms. Drake?" James cut in. She gaped a bit, and he got to his feet. "That's what I thought. I have class soon—if you have any real questions, you can get a hold of me there."
He started for the door. "One moment, now, Mr. Potter," Drake managed to stammer, trying simultaneously to effect sternness and politeness. "I'm not quite finished. There are still some official things I must clear up before..."
As he exited the office, it occurred to James how rarely he did what he was told.
"I have schedules," Remus announced, entering the sixth year boys' dormitories and setting down aforementioned schedules on the vanity desk.
"What a bitch," sighed Sirius, lighting one of James's cigarettes and taking what he made out to be the life-saving drag.
"What?" demanded Remus, rather defensively. "I just went all the way down to the Great Hall to pick up your schedules! Do you have any idea how difficult it was trying to explain the Professor McGonagall that both of you wanted to take Care of Magical Creatures, unless Peter didn't make the cut for the N.E.W.T. class, in which case she'd better make it Muggle Studies, and if there wasn't enough room for the four of us in that, then you'd only be taking the standard five classes?"
"I wasn't calling you a bitch, Moony," Sirius told him. "James was just finishing the story of that awful Ministry Wench's so-called interrogation." To James, Sirius added: "Sorry you had to sit through it, mate, but on the bright side, you'll get out of first period for cert. They held you way over breakfast."
"Why are you smoking my cigs?" James asked, grabbing the nearly empty pack from where it rested on the windowsill.
"A better question is why are you smoking his cigs in a tiny enclosed area?" Remus asked irritably as he began to pack his school bag.
"I opened a window." Sirius pointed demonstratively towards the cracked window by his side, as though that justified everything. "So what do you say, Prongs? Fancy a trip to the kitchens instead of first period?"
James scowled. "You're still smoking my cig."
"And you have a one track mind," Sirius retorted. "What is it with you anyway? With the world crashing down in a thousand little shit shaped pieces, you're getting bothered by the fact that your impoverished, disinherited best mate borrowed a cigarette?"
"You could've asked."
Remus rolled his grey eyes. "Have you ever actually met Sirius, James?"
"Well," Mr. Moony continued, slinging his book bag over one shoulder: "I'm off to grab a bite before first period... unless there's anything else you'd like me to gather for you, Your Royal Highness."
"That'll be all, Lupin."Sirius waved his hand as though speaking to a butler. "Give my regards to Wormtail."
"Right," said Remus, "Don't kill each other while I'm gone."
"He's talking to you, Prongs."
"He's talking to both of us, Padfoot."
Remus left, and James sat down at the desk.
"Aren't you at all hungry?" Sirius asked. "I've been down to breakfast twice while you were in interrogation with that Drake witch."
"No, I'm not hungry," replied James curtly.
"Hmm, I can see you've already had a healthy serving of temperamental git." Sirius took a long drag from the controversial cigarette. "Mate, you should eat something. It's been a weird morning... weird and terrible and better left forgotten."
James found it in himself to be slightly amused by this advice. "And a nice bowl of porridge is what it takes to wipe my memory clean of the fact that Carlotta nearly ceased to breath before my very eys this morning?"
Sirius shook his head. "No. You'll definitely need some toast." He pulled up a chair beside his best friend.
"Humor's a little callous right now, Sirius," James pointed out.
"You're right. You're so right. I should take the Severus Snape approach to life—sit around bitching about my inner pain and hating the world for it." Sirius rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Prongs, this whole Carlotta business is—awful, certainly, but something's been off about you for days. Yesterday—starting the fight and then not owning up to it… oh don't get angry, I'm not blaming you. I'm just saying it's not like you to not take credit for every illegal thing you do. Plus, you've been stingy with the cigarettes... smoking them all yourself, I suppose. Don't think I haven't noticed that you've gone through two whole packs in the last four days."
James sighed. "You might be right."
Rolling his eyes in turn, James grabbed the cigarette from where Sirius held it, between his index and middle fingers. He took a drag and picked up one of the schedules that Padfoot had grabbed at his first breakfast.
"You'll have to tell me why you're acting so girlie eventually, Prongs," the other Marauder said wisely. "You might as well just get it out there now."
James did not remove his eyes from the schedule. "I got a note from Professor McGonagall in my Hogwarts letter this year," he said, with little concern in his voice.
"Alright. What did it say then?"
The Quidditch Captain took some time to respond to this, and when he did, the effort required to keep his eyes glued to that schedule became much more pronounced. "I—er—I've had seventy-four detentions."
"Nice. But what's that got to...?" Sirius broke off, comprehension dawning on his face. "Shit, Prongs."
Another, longer drag.
"Fuck." Sirius continued to analyze this piece of news. "Do your Mum and Dad know? Do they know about the... the seventy-five rule?"
"I didn't show Mum the letter," was all James said.
Sirius watched him carefully. Cigarette smoke filled silence commenced for several minutes. "I'll stop stealing your smokes," Black said presently. James could not repress the smallest of grins.
"You're an idiot, Padfoot."
Sirius did not bother repressing his own grin. "So what do you say—skive off first period with me?"
"No, I'm going to class," replied James.
"Why? This is the one time you won't get in trouble for it!"
"You, Sirius, clearly haven't taken a very close look at your class schedule," said James in his most Remus-like voice. He held up the parchment. "First period Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Your Uncle."
"Fuck. You know, it's probably the only family obligation I've got left, going to that class."
"Be grateful for that."
(Briefly, Professor Sirius's Uncle)
"I wonder how Carlotta is doing," Lily wondered, as she took a seat in the half-empty Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.
"We know," Donna replied. "You've been wondering that aloud at fifteen minute intervals since breakfast."
"Oh good," cooed Marlene, who was with them, "You remembered to take your bitch pills this morning, Don."
"And you remembered to put on your ugly serum this morning, Marlene."
"Donna," said Lily.
"Sorry, Price." Unconvincingly. Marlene rolled her eyes.
"It appears," the blond said, "that Mary has been distracted by her newest... distraction..." The three girls took a moment to look at the cute but dim Hufflepuff who was currently occupied by the supremely fascinating task of flirting with Mary Macdonald. "...So I'm going to sit with Adam, in case Professor Black starts partnering people up." Donna and Lily's partnership was, at this point, assumed.
"Bye," called Lily, and Marlene waved as she moved across the room to sit with the Gryffindor boy.
"You know," Donna mused, "I think you might be right about Adam fancying Marlene. It must be very recent, though, because..."
"Don, everyone's known about Adam fancying Marlene since third year."
Lily nodded. "I wonder how..." She stopped.
"You were about to wonder how Carlotta was doing again, weren't you?"
"No. I was going to wonder how... how... I can't think of anything. I was going to wonder how Carlotta is doing."
Donna shook her head. "If it's bothering you that much, we can stop by the infirmary after Defense."
Lily seemed slightly appeased. The classroom began to fill, and even the Marauders arrived before the bell rang. The four of them took their usual seats in the back of the room—the seats unofficially but unquestionably reserved for their use.
"Potter showed up," marveled Donna. "I thought Lupin said in the Great Hall that he'd been held through most of breakfast."
"He must have wanted to get a look at Professor Black's class," Lily supposed. "His being Sirius's uncle, after all..." Lily found that that topic of James Potter applied undue stress on her nerves, and the confliction of feelings currently revolving around that boy—what with his being such a complete prat the night before and then saving Carlotta this morning—made her stomach churn uncomfortably again. She did not speak anymore on the topic of that particular Quidditch Captain, and Donna was prevented from doing so by the arrival of Professor Black.
Up close, Alphard Black looked older than he had at the distance in the Great Hall, but his great similarity to Sirius increased also. As the older wizard headed towards the front of the classroom, leather briefcase in hand, Lily wondered how she did not immediately spot that this new Defense teacher must be some relative of her housemate.
"Good morning," said Professor Black, setting down the briefcase on his desk.
"Good morning, Professor Black," a few dutiful sixth years replied.
"That's the enthusiasm I like to see," replied the other wryly, but he showed no signs of offense. "Alright, then. I'm your new Defense teacher. My name is Black, you will call me Professor Black, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Any questions in that vein?" There were predictably none. "Excellent. Will everyone please stand up?"
The request, odd as it was, required a moment for everyone to process. Lily and Donna exchanged looks, and the former resisted the urge to glance across the room for Severus Snape's reaction. That did not mean that she was not infinitely conscious of his exact location in the room. They stood, as everyone else did with equal bemusement.
"Excellent," said Professor Black again. "Alright, then." He withdrew a wand from the briefcase and flicked it once in the air. All the desks flew to the opposite end of the room. "Queue up then! Front of the lines goes just here then—I don't care what order. You lot ought to be mature enough to do it yourselves. Excellent."
The class obeyed, Adam McKinnon finding his way to the front of the line, which—per Black's instructions—sat immediately in front of the closed door to his office. "Now then," said the Professor, leaning casually against his desk, though his tone was rambling and a bit scattered, like one would imagine a mad scientist might speak. "We're going to warm up with a bit of... practical magic. Wands out, everyone. Excellent." He already had a catchphrase. "Well, what you're going to do is go into my office there behind that there door and... well... fight. Even I'm not sure what each of you will face, but it will require your wand and some elementary knowledge of... magic. Which, you know, I hope you've acquired. If not..." he trailed off and it might have been intimidating had he not been positively grinning. Lily and Donna exchanged another bemused look.
"So, Mr. McKinnon—are you ready?"
"Excellent," agreed Donna, with one of her rare glowing looks that showed she was genuinely happy (very rare). "Fucking fantastic. Professor Black might just be the best Defense teacher we've had to date."
Lily's face was flushed from the excitement. "Remus had to fight off Inferi... I don't know what I would've done if I had to face that. Probably would've curled up into a little ball and waited for Professor Black to cut off the simulation."
"It hardly seemed like a simulation," noted Donna. "He must have used the same kind of magic that the auror department uses." She was practically skipping. "It was terrifying, though—when the werewolf was coming at me I swear-to-God it was fucking real. Fantastic adrenaline rush, but I nearly froze on the spot."
"Stop bragging, Miss-Third-Fastest-To-Finish-In-A-Class-Of-More-Than-Thirty."
"I'm not bragging," retorted the other. "And I contest that Black actually beat me. I think I had a greater distance to..."
"He beat you by two minutes," Lily interjected. "He beat you, Shack."
"Wow, Evans, 'traitor' is a good color for you."
Carlotta had vanished. Metaphorically, anyway. The sixth years departed Professor Black's classroom utterly preoccupied by the Defense class and by Professor Black himself. Lily and Donna might have gone several hours more in such delusional bliss, had they not passed the infirmary on the way down to second period Charms. Then, recollection seized them, along with guilt that they had ever forgotten. The Hospital Wing doors were closed.
"Are we going in?" Donna asked uncertainly. Lily arched an eyebrow, and the dark haired girl quickly added: "Not that I want to or anything."
"I wonder if Healer Holloway will let us see her," the prefect murmured. "Should we try?"
"Carlotta and I aren't even friends. It would be awkward."
Lily frowned. "But Carlotta and I aren't particularly close either, and I won't feel awkward. It'll be fine..."
"You like people, Evans. And people like you, more importantly."
"Don't use the middle name!"
Scowling, Donna followed Lily up to the doors, which the latter gently pushed forward. Initially, Healer Holloway was nowhere to be seen, but as they crept further inside, he appeared with a notebook and a bottle of greenish-yellow liquid.
"Miss Evans," greeted the elderly wizard. He glanced at Donna, as though determining whether or not he wanted to take a stab at her name; evidently, he sided against it and merely nodded to her. "If neither of you girls are actually sick or injured, I'm afraid I must ask you to leave."
He truly did look sorry for it, so Lily summoned her best "favorite student" voice and said: "But, Healer Holloway, we were hoping we could see Carlotta Meloni."
"And you think you're the first?" growled the Healer. "Kiddies have been spilling in and out of here all morning trying to catch a glimpse of her. I'm not finished with my examination, so you can't see her."
"Can you at least tell us something about how she is?"
"But you must know something."
"I didn't say I didn't know anything. Only that I couldn't tell you."
"But Healer Holloway..."
"Carlotta Meloni is stable. That's all I'll say."
Lily shifted her weight and crossed her arms. "Please?"
Holloway sighed. "All I can tell you..." Donna looked incredulous that Lily's simple 'please' had actually worked, "...is that Miss Meloni wasn't hexed... she was not hit with a hex, anyway. That type of magic leaves some kind of visible mark, and there's no sign of it on Miss Meloni."
"So... so you're saying she definitely acted on her own free will?" asked Lily, her heart sinking. That was a dreadful thought.
"No, don't be ridiculous," snapped the Healer. "I'm not saying she wasn't affected by magic... just that she wasn't hit with a spell, like usual."
"It could've been a potion," Donna suggested. "Or maybe she was exposed to darkly magical objects. Or maybe..."
"Or maybe she was just lookin' for attention," finished Healer Holloway. "For all any of us know, that's what happened, so I don't want you spreading it around what I told you."
"Soul of discretion," vowed Lily. Donna nodded.
Suppertime at Hogwarts was almost always fantastic. When the sun was just setting, it cast the entire hall under a pink and orange light, as the bewitched ceiling imitated the real image to just about perfection. At supper on September 2nd, James was mostly just watching the ceiling. He ate his food and watched the sunset and wished that everyone would just shut up, although the likelihood of that occurring was just about zero. Between Carlotta Meloni's attempted suicide, the fight in the Entrance Hall, and the new Professor Black (whose popularity had already spread to other classes), there was simply too much to discuss.
Nonetheless, James would rather have listened to the least intelligent, most vapid of gossips ramble on about how dreamy she found Professor Black, then have his supper interrupted in the manner that it was, just minutes after he began the meal.
"Mr. Potter," said the voice of that Ministry witch, Drake, as she stepped up to his spot along Gryffindor table.
"Yes, Miss Drake?" he replied, intentionally cold.
"Mr. Potter, I'll need your signature on the statement you made." Her tone was similarly chilly, no doubt as a result of James's abrupt departure that morning.
"I'll give it to you when I'm finished with supper."
"I won't be here when you're finished with supper." James turned his head, just enough to see her.
"You're leaving already?"
She nodded, then said smugly: "And I thought that you might be interesting in hearing that Healer Holloway reported to me that he saw no signs that Carlotta had been attacked—other than the marks your magic left—or that she had been hexed."
"So you're just leaving?" James demanded. "Just dropping the whole thing and leaving without even questioning Carlotta or..."
"I did question Miss Meloni," interrupted Drake. "Her memory of the affair is somewhat vague, but she has said definitively that she was not attacked. She can account for every one of her movements right up until the time you accosted her in your Common Room."
"And she told you she wanted to do herself in, did she?" asked James.
Drake hesitated in her reply. "These matters are too complicated to explain, and I have no obligation to explain myself to you, Mr. Potter. Now, your signature." She pushed the paper before him. James ignored it.
"If it was just some silly emotional young witch trying to get attention, and no one is pressing charges," he said, "I don't see why I need to sign anything. If you want it signed, forge it."
Angry, Miss Drake swept out of the hall a minute later, indignation ringing from every tap of her rubber soled shoes.
"What a bitch," mused Sirius, who sat beside his friend. "Though, I don't see why you didn't just sign it, Prongs."
"Mostly to piss her off," James admitted. "Hey, I'm finished. I'm gonna head out for a quick... er... walk." He glanced at the obviously eavesdropping fourth year seated to his left.
"Subtle," was all Sirius said.
"I'll see you in a bit."
James walked briskly out of the hall, fingering the fresh pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He reached the mostly deserted Entrance Hall and, strangely, found himself hesitating before heading outdoors. Suddenly, he didn't feel much like a smoke. He just felt like... well... he didn't feel right.
James looked up, and his stomach lurched. God, how hated that. James immediately decided that it must be due to his wolfing down the meal so quickly and had absolutely nothing to do with the pretty redhead standing before him. Donna, Marlene, and Mary, who had entered the Hall with Lily, moved hastily into the Great Hall, but the prefect herself stayed behind.
"Yes?" asked James, wondering if a girl could hear when a bloke's stomach was in his throat.
She was apologizing. She was fucking apologizing. He had been nothing but horrid to her, and she was fucking apologizing.
"What... what are you talking about?"
Lily did not meet his eye, and he was grateful for that. "I'm just... sorry. We didn't get off to a good start this year, and... well, you were wrong last night, what you said, but I... I guess I can see why you could maybe possibly think what... what you thought. Falsely."
James stared. "This is about Carlotta isn't it?"
"Er... not really, no."
"It is. You feel guilty."
"Why would I feel guilty?"
It was like watching a couple of broomsticks collide in the sky while standing on the ground. James could see what was coming; he knew what was about to happen, but was powerless to stop it.
"All the girls are always saying rubbish about Carlotta out of jealousy... calling her a tart and what not... I suppose you're just feeling uncomfortable because you used to say those sort of things, and since you can't apologize to her you're relieving your guilty conscience on me."
"I've never said anything about Carlotta Meloni!" Lily replied, clearly shocked. James wondered how he could be so consistently horrible, and yet she was always surprised by it. "I never... and you... you can't..." Lily bit her lip (she was lovely). "You're a jerk." (Like she had just realized this). She stormed into the Great Hall.
James watched her go, and all the spite in the world had not eliminated that stupid churning in his stomach. He suddenly remembered why he needed to smoke.
Lily's cheeks burned red as she hurried away from James Potter and the Entrance Hall. The irony of the location did not escape her. How could it be that his consistent awfulness still took her by surprise? Scowling, Lily took a seat beside Donna and across from Marlene.
"So," began the latter slowly, "How did it...?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
Donna rolled her eyes. "Ginger, I don't know how it is that even though Potter is always horrible around you, you're always..."
"I know, Don. Thanks."
"It's alright, Lily," said Mary comfortingly. "I understand. James can be downright fantastic sometimes."
"On the leap year," Marlene suggested.
"Every fourteenth blue moon," said Donna.
Lily sighed. "Thank-you. Really, but I don't want to talk about it."
The others silently acquiesced, as the meal provided ample distraction. "Hey," began Marlene presently, "listen, are you sure you didn't see Adam after lunch? I could've sworn he said he was taking Care of Magical Creatures, but I didn't see him there, and I haven't seen him since. You didn't see him in Ancient Runes, did you?"
"McKinnon doesn't take Ancient Runes," Donna pointed out. "God, you're clingy."
"Careful, Don," muttered Lily. Marlene did not hear the redhead, but made a face at Donna.
"I just find it odd, that's all. And he never misses supper."
That was the prevailing thought in the air, when Alice Griffiths took a seat at Gryffindor table, directly beside Lily.
Curly haired, round faced, and sweet tempered, Alice was a seventh year, but also a member of Gryffindor house and therefore reasonably close with Lily. However, in more than five years of acquaintance, Lily had never seen Alice look so distraught.
"What's wrong?" asked the redhead, as Alice poured a glass of cold pumpkin juice down her throat rather like it were alcohol. "Alice, you're so pale. What happened?"
"Have you heard?" murmured the seventh year. "My younger brother just told me... it was one of his friends that saw the whole thing and... well, stopped it."
"Stopped what?" asked Marlene, leaning over the table. "What's happened?"
"Some fourth year... a Hufflepuff I think was drowning in the lake. One of her mates pulled her out, but... I mean, I've never known anyone to nearly drown in the lake. It's horrible, and..."
"That's the second person to nearly die in the last twenty-four hours," Lily pointed out.
"You don't think that fourth year was trying to do herself in, Lily?" Mary asked, practically breathless. "What's a fourteen-year-old got to kill herself about?"
"Not everyone lives in fairytale land, Macdonald," Donna said curtly.
"Has anyone told Dumbledore?" inquired Marlene.
Alice shrugged. "I'm not sure. McGonagall's handling everything right now..." She glanced up at the staff table. "Dumbledore's still here, though." The aged Headmaster did, indeed, retain his usual seat in the hall.
"Odd that he'd stay," observed Mary, and as she did, the witches noticed a new arrival in the Hall. Frank Longbottom—Head Boy and, coincidentally, Alice's boyfriend—hurried towards the Staff Table, a serious expression on his face.
"I wonder what..." Alice began, but stopped as the five of them watched Frank approach Dumbledore's chair and mutter something to the Headmaster. Dumbledore looked up at the Head Boy and a brief exchange followed. Then, the old wizard rose from his chair.
"Excuse me," he called loudly, so that the entire school was brought to silence. "Thank-you. Will the prefects please lead their houses back to the Common Rooms immediately." There was a general, confused outcry, and Dumbledore once more called for silence. "Please," he continued. "Please execute this with the greatest efficiency and care. Thank-you."
Without flippant remark or quirky parting, Dumbledore withdrew from the Hall and, before the Great Hall declined into chaos, Professor Slughorn—the Potions teacher—rose from his own chair. "Everyone, everyone, quiet! Now, you heard Dumbledore. Prefects, lead the way to the Common Rooms. Everyone will stay there until further notice!" But it was clear from the confusion on Slughorn's own face that he was no more aware of the situation than anyone else.
"Do you think it's because of the fourth year?" Mary asked, loudly over the din of worried chatter. Lily had no time to speculate; she located Remus and called for her housemates to follow her to Gryffindor tower. Frank Longbottom appeared by her side a moment later.
"Frank!" called Alice, catching up. "Frank, what's happened?"
The Head Boy looked positively ill. "It's... something's happened."
"What?" asked Lily and Remus in unison.
"Is this about the fourth year?" asked Donna.
Frank shook his head uneasily. He did not seem to know whether or not disclosure was permitted. With great hesitance (and a wary glance in Marlene Price's direction) he muttered so that only those closest could hear: "Adam McKinnon. He… he just tried to jump off the Astronomy Tower."
What a way to start a year.
A/N: Shout out to anonymous reviewer Queen Moanna of the Underworld!
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