A Happy Holidays! update. Very late. Very sporadic. Probably not very good.
Please review, as they help keep me sane and sober.
Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. So don't sue me. I have no money. Tuition's a bitch.
The next morning, Cari arrived late at breakfast, still half asleep. True to her predictions, Lily had spent half the night whispering heatedly about James' many faults while Alice nodded and mumbled the occasional agreement. It had been nearly two in the morning before she'd finally run out of complaints and had gone to bed, still huffing irritably.
"You look terrible," said Remus, sliding over to make space for Cari between himself and Mary Macdonald. Peter, James and Sirius were nowhere in sight, but Cari was too tired to bother asking. She dropped onto the bench and dragged the nearest plate of food towards her.
"Thanks," she mumbled through a mouthful of bacon. "I really needed that."
"Seriously, did you get any sleep at all?"
Cari gulped down half a jug of orange juice and looked carefully along the table for signs of Lily, but she was sitting at the other end with Alice and a group of sixth-year girls. She lowered her voice anyway, just in case.
"Did you know that James has dirty fingernails?"
Remus blinked. "Sorry, what?"
"Yeah, me neither. But it bugs Lily, so he'd better start polishing them." She forked a slice of toast onto her plate. "And there's more. Apparently-"
At that moment, Professor McGonagall came up the Gryffindor table, handing out timetables. Cari took one look at the first class on her schedule and groaned loudly.
"Double Defence Against the Dark Arts with the Slytherins. What did I do to deserve this?"
"At least Professor Meadowes looks nice enough," said Remus, patting Cari's head sympathetically. "It shouldn't be that bad."
Defence Against the Dark Arts was held in a large classroom just below Ravenclaw Tower. By the time Remus and Cari made it from the Great Hall, the rest of the class was already waiting outside the closed door, including James and Sirius. Cari and Remus forced their way through the small crowd packing the narrow corridor to where they were standing.
"Where's Peter?" asked Cari, standing on tiptoes to find him. However, as she had not grown since fourth year, she found it difficult to get much higher than the shoulders of the people around her.
"He got hit in the back by a Stunning curse on the way to the Great Hall and struck his head on the stairs," replied James, frowning. "We took him to the hospital wing, but Madame Pomfrey kicked us out."
Cari dropped back down on her heels with a loud thud entirely disproportionate to her size. "Stunned? By who?"
"Knowing Pettigrew, he probably tripped over his own feet," said a low, sneering voice from behind them. James and Sirius whirled around at once, wands drawn. Remus hastily grabbed James' arm.
"Scared, Potter?" Snape taunted, his wand held tightly in front of his chest. "Going to leave the dirty work to your little pet instead?"
Cari seized James' other arm to keep him from jumping on Snape. "Calm down," she muttered under her breath. "He's not worth it." And she looked pointedly to where Lily was standing just a few feet away. She was chatting to Alice and Mary with her back turned to James and Snape, but Cari doubted she would remain quite as oblivious if James turned Snape into a salamander.
The sneer on Snape's face grew more pronounced. "I'd tell that to your mother instead, Rosier," he said. "Doesn't she make a regular habit of throwing herself at any wizard she can find?"
Without realizing what she was doing, Cari released James and reached for her own wand. But before she could utter a single curse, Snape was suddenly thrown backwards against the stone wall by a jet of blue light. He slid onto the floor on all fours and immediately started to grope frantically for his wand.
"That's my aunt you're insulting," Sirius hissed, wand outstretched. The rest of the class had all stopped talking and turned to see what the noise was. Through the crowd, Cari saw Lily's eyes narrow.
Snape had barely finished hauling himself and his wand off the floor when he was struck again.
His limbs immediately snapped together and he toppled to the ground. Only his eyes continued to glare at Sirius with loathing while he watched his classmates, the majority of them Slytherins, laugh. How long Snape might have remained there was anyone's guess. Luckily for him, the classroom door opened at that moment and Professor Meadowes strode out. One look at Snape lying immobile the floor and Cari and Sirius standing with their wands raised above him and the grandmotherly smile on her face faded. She waved her wand and Snape sprang free.
"What," she asked quietly, "is the meaning of all this?"
One of the Slytherins who had been laughing at Snape only seconds earlier stepped forward eagerly. "Please, Professor, Severus was attacked-"
"When I want your opinion, Mr. Mulciber, I will ask you for it. Now, kindly keep your mouth shut." Professor Meadowes turned back to Snape, Cari and Sirius. "I don't care what you three were up to - I don't want to hear it and I don't want to see such behaviour from you ever again, or it will be straight to the Headmaster's office. Now get inside."
She swept back through the doors and, after a moment, the class followed her, all whispering feverishly.
"What was that about?" Cari demanded, jabbing Sirius furiously with her wand. "I could have handled him."
Sirius shrugged. "Just defending the family honour. He insulted my aunt."
"She's only your aunt by marriage," Cari pointed out, still irritated. "And since when have you cared about family honour? You were just looking for a reason to hex him."
"Yeah, how come only Padfoot's allowed to jinx Snivellus?" James muttered, struggling free from Remus' grip.
"Because he doesn't have anyone that needs impressing," said Remus calmly. He nodded towards Lily. Slightly mollified, James stuck his wand back into his robes and the four of them followed the rest of the class inside. They made a beeline for the desks at the back corner, furthest away from Professor Meadowes' desk, but they'd barely taken their seats when she swooped down on them again.
"Mr. Black, Miss Rosier, up front," she ordered. With a flick of her wand, she sent their books flying to two empty desks in the very first row. "Now," she added, when Sirius showed signs of protesting, and they trudged reluctantly to their new seats. At the other side of the room, Snape was as close as he was ever going to get to dancing with glee.
"I see no reason for you to be wearing that smirk on your face, Mr. Snape, as you will be joining them." Professor Meadowes waved her wand again and this time, Snape's books soared to the front of the room.
"Now that you are all seated," she said, ignoring Snape's dark looks and Cari and Sirius' mutinous mutters and turning to face the rest of the class, "there are a few things that I need to make clear to all of you. First, there will be no displays of the kind that I just saw. You will not use magic unless I instruct you to - that includes you, Miss Evans."
Lily jumped and dropped her wand, which she had been using to write notes, although on what, Cari could not guess. The blackboard hanging from the front wall was still blank, and as far as she could see, Professor Meadowes had not said anything of interest.
"Second, it is not my job to mollycoddle you. This is a N.E.W.T. course, which means you are all here because you want to be. As such, I expect you to pay attention, complete all assignments on time, and study hard. There will be no marks given for effort. You will achieve the expected results, or you will receive a zero. I must warn you now that the course material is not something that can be learned with your mind on Quidditch."
Cari quickly tore her eyes away from the window, through which she could see the golden hoops of the Quidditch pitch and tried to focus her attention on Professor Meadowes. She was finding it rather difficult to look at her; it was like watching a cute and cuddly Niffler breathe fire.
"Finally, you cannot hope to defend yourself against the Dark Arts if you do not understand them. You will see things in this class that you will not encounter elsewhere - unless you should find yourself in Lord Voldemort's inner circle."
There was a collective shudder around the room. Professor Meadowes ignored it.
"I must emphasize, however, that it is defence you are here to learn. However, if any of you do not feel up to the task of dealing with such magic, I suggest you leave now."
She cast an impassive look around the room. There was a scattering of coughing and fidgeting, but no one got up.
"Now that that's settled," she said, flicking her wand at a huge stack of ancient textbooks on her desk so that they flew in the air and began distributing themselves, "I want you all to take a copy. This will be your textbook for the remainder of the year, so I expect you to bring it to every class. These books will be returned to me in June, so don't even think about writing any obscene comments in them."
Cari caught one of the books, The Dark Arts Revealed, as they flew by and flipped through it curiously. It was the oldest, yellowest, and by far the smelliest book she had ever seen, and that included her brief forays into the restricted section of the library. The pages were full of nauseating descriptions of various curses, accompanied by full colour illustrations. Feeling slightly sick, Cari glanced sideways at Sirius.
"No wonder this wasn't on our booklist," she said when Professor Meadowes turned her back. "Can you see Dumbledore letting us read this stuff?"
"Bet Snivellus loves this," Sirius muttered with a darkly significant look in Snape's direction. Sure enough, he was already buried deep in the book, his body hunched over it like a treasure. Only his large nose was visible beyond the curtain of oily hair flopping down onto his desk.
"Miss Rosier, thank you for volunteering to scrub out the Hospital Wing at lunch," said Professor Meadowes loudly from the back of the class. "I'm sure Madame Pomfrey could use the extra help. And Mr. Black, why don't you join her, since you seem so interested in what she has to say." She smiled at the pair of them and Cari was reminded of the photo of a group of Veela pinned up over Sirius' bed in the dormitory. They'd been the wearing the exact same expression as Professor Meadowes when they'd started to transform, a half sweet, half threatening smile.
"Now that Miss Rosier and Mr. Black have so kindly rejoined us," Professor Meadowes continued, still wearing the same freakish smile, "perhaps we can get on with the lesson. I want you to all turn to page twelve and read the section on creating Inferi. Who can tell me, based on their creation, what the best method is for destroying them? Miss Summers?"
Alice started off on a long spiel that sounded like gibberish to Cari. She flipped to page twelve and tried her hardest to take in the words on the page and not think about washing sheets and scrubbing bedpans.
"I almost wish we had old Mitchell back," said James when they emerged two hours later, burdened with a three foot long essay on destroying Inferi. "I mean, he was rubbish, but at least he was a laugh."
"We've got our N.E.W.T.s in June, she's only trying to prepare us," said Remus fairly, tugging his schedule out of his bag with great difficulty. "Look, we've got a free period next. Should we go up and check on Wormtail?"
"Get a head start on cleaning out the Hospital Wing," Cari muttered.
James laughed. "Congrats, by the way," he said, giving her a mock bow. "Detention in the first class. Not even I've been able to manage that."
"I'm beating you now," said Sirius with a grin. "You owe me a Galleon."
"You're laughing now, wait until you get to the Hospital Wing," Cari warned him. "I got a detention there once - it was brutal."
As it turned out, there was nothing to clean in the Hospital Wing, and no sign of Peter either. After much wheedling on Remus' part, Madame Pomfrey promised Cari and Sirius that she would tell Professor Meadowes they had served their detention and all four of them left, marvelling at their luck.
"I still can't believe she let us off," said Cari as they climbed up the spiral steps to Gryffindor Tower. "She's never that nice."
"It's because of Moony," said Sirius gleefully. "She just can't resist his charms."
Remus flushed. "Shut up Padfoot. Madame Pomfrey's old enough to be your mother."
"So is Rosmerta. Doesn't stop Sirius from flirting shamelessly."
Far from being embarrassed, Sirius actually thanked Cari and then proceeded to list off all of the bartender's admirable qualities, which seemed unending. He might have gone on all the way into the common room, were it not for Remus' quiet reminder that Emily, however charming she looked, could produce one hell of a Stunner. Sirius sobered up immediately.
"Jitterbug," he said to the Fat Lady, who swung open obligingly.
Peter was sitting in one of the large armchairs by the fire, apparently staring into space. He jumped when James sat down beside him. Cari felt an odd surge of pity for him. He looked like he was expecting to be Stunned again any minute.
"How's your head?" she asked.
"Fine, fine" Peter replied, looking around nervously. "Madame Pomfrey fixed it in about five minutes."
"How come you didn't come to class after?" said Remus and Cari almost laughed. Trust Remus to be more worried about making it to class than the state of his best friend's brains.
"Never mind that," said Sirius impatiently before Peter could reply. "Why go to class if you've got a perfect excuse not to? Anyway, it's not like Wormtail missed much. All we did was read that ancient textbook."
Remus, who had just pulled out his copy of The Dark Arts Revealed, frowned slightly from behind the book, but said nothing. After a moment of watching him attempt to start his essay, Cari stood up.
"Where're you going?" Remus asked, looking up from his blank parchment. "We don't have class for another half our."
"To find Alice," she said, checking her watch. "I think Lily has Arithmancy right now, and I'm pretty sure Alice dropped it after that fiasco with Professor Vector last year."
"Since when have you been friends with Alice Summers?" Sirius demanded. He sounded rather taken aback by the news that Cari had other acquaintances, let alone friends.
"Since we've been playing Quidditch together for five years," replied Cari as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.
"Yeah, but you never went running to find her before," Sirius argued. "Who's going to judge our eating contests if you're going to be off with Alice all the time?"
"Should have thought of that before you ditched me last year," Cari said acidly. "Did you just expect me to sit around and wait for you three to stop acting like idiots?"
She picked up her bag, swung it over her shoulder, and marched out of the common room.
"What's up with her?" said James weakly once Cari had disappeared through the portrait hole. "She's not usually so...irritable."
"Maybe Evans is rubbing off on her," Sirius suggested. "They've been sleeping together for six years." He winced. "That didn't come out right, did it?"
James shook his head fervently. "Definitely not."
After her spontaneous outburst, Cari spent the rest of the week either in class or sitting awkwardly in the common room with Alice. Lily had made several suspicious remarks about her presence, none of which she could be blamed for, as Cari had once spent a month in fifth year tagging along after Alice and Lily in the hopes of persuading the latter to go out with James.
Cari herself couldn't explain why she was so irritated with them, only that, after the first, brief excitement at seeing them after the summer, she suddenly had no wish to be in their presence. Peter seemed to feel the same - she frequently saw him browsing the library shelves on his own, or else ducking out of sight when one of his friends passed around the corner. Yet strangely, she found that she didn't really want to talk to him either. They had spent an unprecedented amount of time together at the end of last term, trying to get James, Sirius and Remus to talk to each other again, but she still felt oddly uncomfortable with him. It might have been the distinct impression he'd given of keeping some kind of secret from her, something to do with the argument between James, Sirius and Remus. It gave her a strangely hollow feeling to know that, after six years of friendship, they still felt it necessary to keep her in the dark.
But something happened on Saturday morning that drove all thoughts of anger out of Cari's head. She trooped down to the Quidditch pitch after breakfast with Alice for practice, only to find the rest of the team yelling at James. A group of wary Gryffindors stood looking on nearby.
"You can't do that, that's not fair!" Sirius shouted, a very ugly look on his face.
James held his hands up. "Look, he's improved-"
"How do you know, you haven't even seen-"
"What about Venetia-"
"When she hears-"
"At least make him try out-"
"It isn't fair."
"What's going on?" Cari whispered to Sirius, forgetting that she wasn't supposed to be talking to him. "Why aren't we having practice?"
"James is being a dick," Sirius replied viciously. "He kicked Venetia off the team."
Cari gaped at him in disbelief. "What? But she's the best Beater we've had for ages!"
"Tell that to him," said Sirius. "He wants to play that fourth year reserve, McKinnon, instead. I don't know what he's thinking."
"Hang on a minute," said Alice slowly from Cari's other side. "He's playing Mason? Damn. I know what this is about."
"Explain then," Sirius spat out. He seemed to be having difficulty controlling his anger, and Cari couldn't blame him. She had seen Mason McKinnon at tryouts last year, and while he had been a passable Beater, good enough to make it onto the reserve team, he was a far cry from Venetia Keele, who could not only aim, but could dodge Bludgers herself faster than the Snitch, and had already had several offers from League teams.
"Mason's sister is in our year," Alice explained as quietly as she could over the tirade of angry voices. "You know, Marlene McKinnon, in Ravenclaw? She's friends with Lily."
"So?" Cari demanded, failing to see what any of this had to do with the boy's ability to play Quidditch.
"So James must've heard Lily and Marlene talking about how much they want Mason to make the team!" said Alice. "Lily really likes Mason - she spends Christmas with the McKinnons sometimes. They're Muggles and they live near her parents. I'll bet you anything James is only putting Mason on the team so he can get it on with Lily."
It was a mark of how devoted Alice was to Quidditch that she sounded quite disgusted that the younger brother of one of her best friends was going to be playing Beater for Gryffindor.
There was moment of stunned silence, broken by James' attempts to calm his team. And then-
"No way. I don't believe it. He wouldn't do something so stupid. James loves Quidditch."
"He loves Evans more," said Sirius, who looked as if he would have quite liked to strangle both James and Lily. "And he's been getting desperate over the summer. This is his last shot to impress her."
"By sacrificing Quidditch?"
"He's done stupider things for Evans," said Sirius grimly, and there was no arguing with him on that point. James would have done anything if he thought it could secure him Lily's affections.
"WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP AND LISTEN?" James bellowed suddenly.
The team stopped yelling and fell to staring mutinously at their captain.
"Look," he said hoarsely, "I realize that I probably should have talked it over with you guys first. But I've asked Venetia, and she's fine with it. She agrees that we need to...er, give younger players a chance."
"Like hell she does," Lane Wood, the Keeper, muttered. "She's just too nice to say anything else."
"Anyway," James continued, "she's already had a bunch of offers to play Quidditch after she leaves Hogwarts. She's good enough. She doesn't need this."
"You're replacing her because she's too good?" said Cari incredulously. "Where's the logic in that?"
"Why not kick yourself off too?" said Chelsey Williams, a shy, fourth year who played Chaser and rarely ever spoke during practice. "Everybody's always talking about how good you are. Then maybe we could have a proper captain."
James closed his mouth abruptly. Cari saw him sneak a glance over at Sirius, hoping for backup, but he did nothing except to glare back. James looked away.
"You can take the rest of the day off," he said in a hollow sort of voice. "Get used to our new Beater. We'll start training tomorrow morning."
He turned around and walked back towards the castle dejectedly. Even his hair, normally on end, seemed to have wilted.
"How was practice?"
Cari sank down in a chair next to Remus, who was editing her Charms essay with one hand and breaking pieces of chocolate off of a giant Honeydukes slab with the other. Peter was, once again, off somewhere on his own, and James had not yet returned to the common room. Her guess was that he was probably sulking somewhere on the grounds, too ashamed to show his face to the rest of his team. It gave her a strange thrill of satisfaction to know that he was just as miserable as she was.
"Don't even mention it," she sighed, helping herself to some chocolate. "It was a complete-"
"Fiasco," completed Sirius, dropping down on Remus' other side. He stared down at the essay on the table. "How come you'll do Cari's homework but not mine?"
"She pays me well," said Remus, gesturing absentmindedly at the chocolate and crossing out one of Cari's weaker sentences. "Don't change the subject. What happened at practice?"
Neither Cari nor Sirius answered him. After a moment, Remus looked up and caught sight of the identical looks on the faces. He pushed the essay away.
"You know Mason McKinnon in fourth year?"
Remus scratched his chin with his quill. "What, that kid with hedgehog hair? Isn't he Marlene's brother?"
"Yes," said Cari bitterly, now shredding the corner of the chocolate wrapper to bits. "So of course, we have to be all nice to him because somebody is so desperate to get into Lily's good books that he's willing to botch the entire Quidditch season to make her happy and it'll probably cost Gryffindor the House Cup too, but he doesn't care about anyone but his precious Evans and-"
"Cari," said Remus gravely, "calm down. Remember to breathe."
Cari took a great gulp of air and continued on.
"-what she thinks even though this is supposed to be the Gryffindor team-"
"Do you sense a period coming anytime soon?" Remus whispered with a grin, but Sirius did not smile. If anything, his face looked like it would be stuck forever in a permanent scowl. With a heavy sigh, Remus picked up his quill again. "If anyone feels like explaining what this is all about," he announced loudly to the room at large, "let me know, will you?"
Cari stopped abruptly mid-sentence. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. "Still haven't gotten over the habit of-"
"Ranting?" Remus suggested with a slight smirk.
A sharp retort rose to the tip of her tongue, but she bit it back and gave him an uncharacteristically meek smile, having just caught sight of her half-edited essay on the table. Unfortunately, Sirius saw her sideways glance and snorted. Not under any obligation to pacify his feelings, she elbowed him sharply in the ribs. He rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut.
"So what's the deal with Mason?" said Remus patiently. "What's he done that's going to botch the whole Quidditch season?"
"It's not so much a question of what he did as it is of what James did," Cari replied.
"And that would be..."
"He made Mason Beater," she said with a heavy sigh of reluctance. Somehow, saying out loud seemed to cement it firmly in the grounds of undeniable fact. She had been wishing (admittedly without much hope) that she would somehow wake up to find that it was all just a garish nightmare, but there seemed little likelihood of that happening now.
Remus stared, aghast, at Sirius. "What - he kicked you off?"
"We'd had a better chance of winning if he had."
"Thanks a lot, Rosier," Sirius muttered, but neither Cari nor Remus heard him.
"But what about Venetia?" Remus asked, looking slightly shell-shocked. "She's the best Beater in Hogwarts!"
"Hence the botching of the whole Quidditch season thing," said Cari. "Among other things." In spite of Remus' reminder to restrain herself, she was just about ready to start off on another spiel. Fortunately, Remus cut her off before she could start.
"You know what we need to do?" he asked. There was a scheming spark in his eyes that went over both his friends.
"Yeah," said Sirius darkly. "Throw James off the-"
"Get him a date." Remus looked around at Cari and Sirius. "C'mon, isn't it obvious? You said it yourselves - Prongs is only doing this to get Lily to go out with him. So all you need to do is-"
"Get Lily to go out with him," Sirius finished. Although normally James' staunchest supporter when it came to the love of his life, he laughed sourly. "Fat chance of that."
Personally, Cari was inclined to agree with him, but Remus waved the objection off carelessly. "We just need to do it the right way. Make Lily like him." He turned to Cari. "You said she doesn't like his dirty nails, right? We can start there."
Cari cast him a doubtful look. "I don't think clean nails are going to help James' odds much," she said. "Lily's objections are a lot more...personal than that."
"So we'll find out what they are," said Remus, now positively grinning. He was wearing the kind of manic expression usually reserved for new Honeydukes chocolates.
Sirius was considerably less enthused. "And we do that, how?"
To Cari's utter bewilderment, Remus pointed dramatically at her.