A Lion Inside

Chapter 16:

A Sluggish Proposition

In the month of October, the weather changed more drastically than it had the previous weeks of school. It occurred to everyone who stepped outside on the grounds that the crisp, autumn days were over, and a chilly cold had set itself in the air, fogging the windows of the castle and freezing the dew on the grass so that it crunched beneath the feet of those who walked on it.

The only thing that hadn't changed, for the second years anyway, were Potions classes, for Slughorn was still having them work on the same unnamed potion in groups of three. Snape, Lily, and Remus were doing better than anyone else in the class; several tables had to start entirely over and were days behind in their brewing. In fact, only their cauldron was filled with a lime green watery substance, which was what Slughorn had described the potion should look like by now.

"Excellent!" he roared when he peered over the rim. "Fantastic color, perfect consistency. I think you three will win the prize!"

"What prize?" said James from across the aisle, looking up from his smoking cauldron. At his outburst, Peter accidentally dropped his stirring spoon into the potion, and it disappeared with a fizzling sound.

"Oh, I didn't tell you?" asked Slughorn. "I thought I'd make lessons a bit more interesting by adding some competitive spirit!"

The entire class looked up from their cauldrons, watching the professor with keen interest.

Slughorn smiled. "Whichever group makes the best potion will win a prize once it's completed. I won't tell you what it is, though. I think it'd be a nice surprise! But it will be well worth it, let me tell you that much."

At once everyone bent down, hurriedly double-checking the ingredients on the blackboard. Slughorn watched them and laughed, calling "That's the spirit!" as he continued with his rounds of the room.

"There's no point in even trying," Kendra whined, dropping her wand onto the table and leaning back in her chair. "Lily's team is going to win anyway."

Lily, Snape and Remus exchanged smug looks and continued to work. The next ingredient to add was parrot talons, which sat in a cup at the edge of the table. As Remus reached for it, Lily stopped him. "Just a minute," she said, extracting her wand. She pointed it at the cup and muttered, "Accio talons!" The container skidded across the table and into her hand.

Remus looked amazed. "What sort of spell is that?" he asked.

Lily handed Snape three black talons, and he dropped them into the cauldron. "Sev taught it to me," she said. "It's a summoning spell that I've been practicing."

Snape saw Remus glance at him, then down to the mess of vials and beakers on the desk. "Can you show me?" he asked Lily.

"Sure," Lily said brightly, and she demonstrated how to perform the spell. Remus took out his own wand from his pocket and pointed it at a vial. "Accio fish scales!" he said. The vial turned over, gleaming blue scales littering the table. Lily laughed and helped him clean up. Snape hid a small smile.

"What... what other spells do you know?" Remus asked hesitantly, this time looking at Snape, whose smile faded.

"Oh, er..." Snape muttered.

"He knows loads!" Lily said, nudging Snape with her elbow. "He can show you how to do anything! Can't you, Sev?"

She smiled at him expectedly, and he felt his face redden. "Yes," he said rather weakly. "Yeah, I can. What do you want to know?"

Remus glanced at Slughorn, now at the back of the room trying to put out a fire on someone's table. "What about a water spell?" he said. "Like what Slughorn's doing?"

Snape turned around. Slughorn was emitting a small stream of water from the tip of his wand. "Easy," he said. "Just say 'Aguamenti' and point your wand. It's not usually taught until sixth year, though."

Remus seemed impressed. "How do you know such an advanced spell?"

"He's a genius," Lily said simply, staring at their potion. Snape shrugged, but Remus smiled.

"You'll have to teach me that one," he said. "Maybe in the dormitory tonight?"

"Okay," said Snape uneasily. "If you want..."

"I do," said Remus, and it was apparent in his forced smile that he was trying to be friendly.

By the end of the lesson, a good portion of the students in the class had lost hope in Slughorn's contest, and were now merely killing time with idle chit chat. James, Sirius, and Peter had held a little contest of their own trying to see what ingredients would make their potion bubble more ferociously until it finally erupted like a volcano all over the desk. Slughorn called for everyone to clean up and watched as the students hauled their cauldrons into the storage cupboard for the next lesson.

"I'll see you later, Severus," Remus said, making his way out the door towards James. Snape and Lily were about to follow when Slughorn called them over to his desk.

"I don't want to ruin the fun," said Slughorn with a glint in his eye. "But I think you two will win the contest!"

He raised his eyebrows expectedly, as if the two weren't already plainly aware of the fact, and Lily tried not to laugh out loud. Snape said, "Thank you, sir."

Slughorn sat in his chair, his round belly protruding over his trousers. "Of course, that isn't the real reason I asked you two to stay. No, what I really wanted to ask..."

He ran a stubby finger over his walrus mustache. "You see, I'm throwing a little party on Halloween. And at my parties I like having only the more... advanced students. It's a fabulous way to make connections early on, you know. I was wondering if you two would like to attend?"

Lily and Snape looked to one another. "A party?" Lily asked, a little hesitant.

"Oh, Dumbledore knows all about my parties," Slughorn assured. "I like to invite my favorite students, but don't tell any of your peers that I partake in favoritism. I know greatness when I see it. And I see it prominently in you both. I know you'd love it if you came."

"Okay," said Lily.

"Sure," said Snape.

"Splendid!" said Slughorn. "My classroom in the dungeons, nine o'clock sharp. Don't be late!"