Winter faded smoothly into spring with few disruptions, followed swiftly by a long awaited trip to Hogsmeade. I awoke early, having missed the cookie-cutter town during my time spent in Dumbledore's office. In anticipation a few days earlier, I had sent Spriteworth a letter about my coming and he had assured me he'd be there.
"Better get going," I told Sirius, tossing the cloak in his direction, "We'll meet you in Honeyduke's in an hour."
"Right," answered Sirius, throwing the cloak over himself and disappearing. "See you there." Remus saluted his general direction and Peter smiled into the middle distance, but Sirius was already gone, his coin pouch jingling through the corridors towards the statue.
In the meantime, Remus, Peter and I grabbed our own bags and headed out towards the other students, lining up to be registered. Lily gave Remus a smile and we headed over to her, Hester and Belle, who greeted me and Peter with less hostility than I had expected.
"Alright, Potter?" Hester asked, tilting her head up in a friendly gesture.
"Just fine, Lavington," I replied, "Evans," I gave her a two fingered salute which she ignored, but she wasn't hexing me so it was a start. Unsure of how to pronounce Delafeu without offending her and getting it horrifically wrong, I gave Belle a sheepish smile which she returned.
"Where is Sirius?" she asked, somewhat expectantly. "I know he comes to Hogsmeade, but I never see him here."
"He's... finding his own way there," I answered, casting a sidelong glance at Remus who shrugged, shaking his head and kissing his teeth. Belle smiled pleasantly, not quite understanding our little exchange but probably guessing- because we were, after all, the marauders- that it was something she probably didn't want to be involved in.
Grass sprung from the once frozen ground in Hogsmeade, and skies once overcast and spewing snow when I last saw them had returned to their bright azure. The perfect little houses glistened with dew and the trees had found themselves coverings of leafy emerald.
Sirius wore a wide grin as we neared Honeydukes, leaning against the doorpost and tossing my snitch between his hands.
"Think fast, Potter," he yelled, throwing it at me. The small golden ball whizzed towards me and pulled upwards at the last minute so I literally had to jump to snatch it out of the air. The little object, quite having missed its rightful master, folded its wings contentedly in my hand and allowed me to slide it back into my pocket. I remembered now that I had wrapped it in the cloak a couple of days ago when trying to hide it from the suspicions of Sir Aeroson, who was still adamant that one was missing and he would get to the bottom of it.
It was wonderful to breathe the air of Hogsmeade again, to wonder through the town with complete freedom. I had especially missed Honeydukes and Zonko's, places of colour past the reds, greens, blues and yellows of Hogwarts.
"C'mon then, Siri," I laughed, clasping his shoulder, "I think we need a little extra sugar, don't you?"
"Couldn't have put it better myself."
We might have spent an hour in Honeydukes and Zonko's respectively, leaving with few purchases but many new ideas. For a while we practised throwing Liquorice Snaps into each other's mouths to the amusement of our small group of friends who laughed and applauded delightedly when we occasionally got one in but laughed much harder when we more often didn't and one, in annoyance at having fallen to the floor, would snap at our ankles, latching on with their strong teeth.
Eventually the games got tiresome and we walked to the Three Broomstick's, sliding onto one of the stools at the bar next to Sirius. Madam Rosmerta turned to take our orders and a wonderful smile graced her face.
"Ah, James Potter, I was wondering when I'd see you again. Poor Sirius here looked a bit lost without his other half." Sirius nudged me and I grinned.
"Thanks, Rosmerta," I pulled out a couple of sickles, "I've missed your butterbeer, I must admit." Smirking she pulled out a tankard and when I pushed the coins towards her but she pushed them back with a loud 'pfft'. "On the house," she said, "It's your first one back after all."
"Why thank you," I replied, taking a large swig. As I did so behind me, the bell on the door tinkled quietly with the promise of more paying customers and Madam Rosmerta swept out from behind the bar with a bright barmaid's smile. The four of us turned to see who it was and immeditaely turned back and ducked down, recognizing a troop of Hogwarts professors whereas Lily and her friends gave them pleasant smiles. It probably had something to do with the guilt of not having done any of the homework set from them.
The look on their faces fell quickly however, when the last of the Hogwarts group entered the inn. Her entrance was preceeded by the clicking of heeled boots against the wood, the slight waft of perfume that permeated the air. It was followed by the turning of every head in her direction as Professor Ashworth gave Madam Rosmerta a little wave she begrudgingly returned and slid into a booth with Professor Séancine, Professor Kettleburn, Professor Slughorn and, to my surprise, Eris, who was currently giving the Divination teacher a warm welcome, clutching her to him.
"Could her skirt be any tighter?" asked Lily disgusted, narrowing her eyes.
"I don't mind, personally," I admitted, winking over at her. With a tut her cheeks flushed and she shifted her glare to me before tossing her hair in my direction and turning to chat animatedly to Belle about the innapropriate attire of their beautiful Professor. Hester shrugged.
"Don't really understand what all the fuss is about really," she confessed, "she's pretty and all, but she's little more than a tight skirt and a low-cut top."
"Oh no, she's more than that," Belle squinted over at her, "there's something, a je ne sais quoi, but she is familiar to me."
"I'd like her to be familiar to me," Sirius said in a low voice which sounded somewhat perverted. I thumped him on the arm and jerked my head over at Hester, who only seemed to be laughing at Sirius' profanity. He raised his eyebrows, impressed. Lily was practically gagging at the comment- which, compared to some of his other innuendos- was fairly mild.
We spent most of our time in the pub sipping tentatively on our butterbeers and looking over at the teachers. It was like seeing zoo animals unleashed into their natural enviornments. There was an element of danger about it, lest they find out something they didn't want to know or if the professors found their interest unseemly.
After a while though, when their glasses were drained and their faces aching from constant laughter, they stood and thanked Madam Rosmerta for her hospitality. She smiled at most of them as she left, saving a particular grimace for Ashowrth for whom she also felt that same jealousy. When they were all gone, I stood and walked over finally to Eris.
He looked like he had when I first saw him, clean shaven with his copper-blonde hair recently trimmed and he had rebuilt his strength in his time training to become an auror. He even wore the same deep green robe I had first seen him in.
"Hey James, we'll see you later?" Remus asked. I nodded over to him and the others, who looked somewhat suspicious at my sitting down with our Defence teacher from two years ago.
"James," Eris sighed, smiling at me. "You've grown." I looked down at myself and shrugged.
"Yeah," I replied, "'S been a while."
"That it has," he replied, finally opening his arms and drawing me in to a fatherly hug. "How have you been, James?"
"I've missed you," I replied sincerely.
In the way that he always did, Spriteworth managed to coerce everything that had happened in my life out of me. For an hour I told him all about our new professors, Lily's father, my greatest fear and facing the boggart. I shrunk a little bit at that point, somewhat embarrassed.
"James," he insisted, "don't be ashamed. Few have the courage to fear death, most only put it out of their minds and refuse to acknowledge its presence. At least you have given it enough regard to know its power." He gave me an encouraging smile which I tried to return weakly. Realising I was uncomfortable, he moved on swiftly to a topic which was more likely to make me smile.
"I bet you'd rather have had Professor Ashworth as a teacher all the way through though, surely?" He cocked an eyebrow and I gave him an innocent look.
"Whatever could you mean?" I asked, doe eyed and puzzled.
"I think I saw yours and your friends' mouth practically drop to the floor when she came in, I must admit it was rather funny." I shrugged.
"Tell me you don't think she's the most gorgeous creature you've ever seen then?" Eris chuckled, paused, and then burst out into another fit of silent laughter again, his shoulders shaking as he banged his fist against the table, small amounts of butterbeer left in glasses rippling.
"What?" I insisted, "What are you laughing for?"
"Cressida Ashworth? You're asking me if I find Cressida Ashworth attractive?"
Unsure of why this would be so funny, I continued to shrug and furrow my eyebrows at him. "Well yeah. Don't you?"
"Of course I do!" he exclaimed, barking with laughter, "she's Veela!"
"Cressida Ashworth is descended from the Italian Veela which settled here in the late fourteenth century! Every man finds her attractive, obviously, it's in her very DNA!"
Suddenly it all made sense. Of course she was so attractive, of course every boy couldn't help but drool over, stare so intently at her, take all their notes in lessons. No wonder she seemed so intoxicating, so undeniably alluring, no wonder every time she spoke to one of us our mouths went numb and every sentence became incoherent.
And just as it made sense, those very things which made her so intoxicating, her scent, her hair, her stride, seemed to lose their charm. Where before they had seem effortless now they looked caculated and measured, where before when she spoke her words were breathless and enchanting now they were just the empty creations of fortunate genetics. She was only special because of what she had inherited and not because of what she truly was, so Professor Ashworth ceased to be the most gorgeous creature I had ever seen, and Lily stood once again alone with that title.
"Veela eh? No way."
"I didn't realise you didn't know," he took a look at my face, "Oh no, don't look at me like I just shot Santa Claus in front of you!"
"Just shot who?" I asked, narrowing my eyebrows. You must remember, Harry, that I was not raised in a muggle family, and a man who could travel the entire world in a night was no great feat.
"It doesn't matter."
The room which once rang with laughter now felt decidedly more empty despite the many who frequented the Three Broomsticks. Considering the more sobre atmosphere, I didn't crack a joke. Instead, I decided to ask Eris something I hadn't really dwelled much upon before, though I suppose it had always been lurking in the back of my mind.
"Eris?" I began tentatively.
"Yes?" he replied, realising my sudden sincerity as his face relaxed, a previous smile fleeing his face.
"You're an auror now, right? So you can tell me, how bad is it?"
There was a silence for a few seconds. He didn't have to ask me what I meant, he knew. A storm was coming, lightning had struck the first few, the rest were yet to fall.
"It's not good," he said finally in a low voice, "It's not good at all, James. Muggleborns show up on our death tolls too often now, most of the time we can't get there to save them, we can't protect enough either. There aren't enough of us. And V-" he paused. "The Ministry wants us to call him You-Know-Who. I reckon the Minister's scared of him, if I'm honest." Eris was murmuring now, eyes darting around to make sure nobody was watching, that he wasn't being heard execrating our Minister.
"Really?" He nodded gravely.
"Anyway, Voldemort's gathering steam, we've had so many Death Eater sightings recently, there's no way they're all the same ones. These are dangerous times, James. You must promise me you'll be careful."
"I'm always careful!" I joked. Eris didn't laugh.
"I mean don't go looking for trouble like you always do. And don't leave Hogwarts. As long as you're with Dumbledore, at least I know you're safe."
"Alright," I said, standing. "It was nice to see you, Eris." He stood and hugged me, and the two of us made our way to the door, waving to Rosmerta who winked at the both of us.
As we began to part ways, I turned, remembering something.
"Hey Eris?" I called to him, he stopped and turned around. "You ever gonna tell me about the mirror and that loopy Divination teacher you sent us?" Eris let out a laugh and flashed a smile.
"Someday, I promise."
And with a wave and a turn on his heel was gone.
A/N: Thanks all for reading, wrote this during a Harry Potter marathon so coulld be awesome because of the overflow of Potter but could be bloody awful considering I was watching TV and typing without a spell check at the same time.
Read, enjoy and review