Title: The Lost Generation (1975-1982) (08/20)
Author name: Barb
Author email: psychic_serpent@yahoo.com
Category: Mystery
Sub Category: Romance
Keywords: MWPP Lily Snape Bill Weasley
Rating: R
Spoilers: SS/PS, CoS, PoA, GoF, FB, QTTA, Harry Potter and the Psychic Serpent, Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions
Summary: Bill Weasley begins his education at Hogwarts in 1975, in the middle of Voldemort's reign of terror. He never suspects that the Gryffindor prefects he looks up to, Lily Evans and James Potter, will eventually have a son who saves the wizarding world, nor that the Weasley family will eventually play an important role in the Dark Lord's fall. All he knows is that in a very scary wizarding world, Hogwarts is a safe haven where he has always longed to be--until, that is, there are whispers of vampires and werewolves, of Death Eaters and traitors, and a Seeress pronounces a Prophecy which will shake the wizarding world to its very foundations....
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author notes: The Lost Generation is the prequel to the Psychic Serpent Trilogy, which begins with Harry Potter and the Psychic Serpent. There are events and characters mentioned which appear in other books in the trilogy (such as two Weasley sisters who were born between Charlie and Percy). While it is not absolutely necessary to read the trilogy first (the third book is in progress) it may be helpful in some respects. A FAQ file concerning the entire story arc is also available on the Psychic_Serpent Yahoo Group website (link is on author page)..


The Lost Generation

(1975-1982)

Chapter Eight

The Prank



Tuesday, 19 September, 1977

"Now, none of you may have the Sight--it is very rare--but you can train your Inner Eye to see what is before you, to gaze into a teacup with spent tea leaves and read a fortune. Reading tea leaves--or tasseomancy--has its origin in oinomancy, a practice in ancient Rome of reading the sediment left in a wine glass. Please take out your copies of Unfogging the Future..."

Professor Trelawney was speaking in the misty voice that Bill had already become accustomed to in not quite three weeks of Divination classes. Now that he was in third year, he had selected Divination for one of his new classes, because Alex and Jack were both taking it, and because it sounded easy. He had hesitated to take Ancient Runes, but was finding that quite fascinating, especially Egyptian hieroglyphics, even though it was very challenging. Divination had turned out to be more work than he anticipated, trying to memorize what dozens of possible shapes in the bottom of a teacup might mean, and Trelawney was also one of the most annoying people he'd ever met. In contrast, Professor el-Madi was a pleasant man with a lilting Moroccan accent that fell easily on the ear, and he was partial to very bad puns which nonetheless kept his students chuckling even as they were groaning. Bill always enjoyed his Runes classes, and dreaded Divination.

The Hufflepuff boy, Geoff, was also in his Divination class. Bill had gotten to know him a little better, since he was one of Jack Richard's roommates. He was very nice, and had a lot of interesting stories about traveling around during the summer while his father performed at one Gilbert and Sullivan festival after another. (G & S shows were a staple of many village fetes around England.) Bill had offered to tutor him in Transfiguration and Charms, which were easily his best classes, but Geoff had politely declined, calling himself a hopeless case. He was always in a good mood, however, and Bill enjoyed hanging about with him and Jack. He'd invited Alex to join them many times, but Alex was going off by himself a great deal since the term had begun, and he hadn't answered any of the owls Bill had sent him over the summer. Whenever Bill said he was worried about him (he thought he was still not over Orville's death, and possibly also blaming Bill for their friend's death) he waved Bill off impatiently, calling him a mother hen and proclaiming that he just wanted to be left alone.

Bill didn't push it, but he felt uneasy about it at the same time, as though Alex were a ticking bomb, or a Howler that was being ignored. Leave it for too long and eventually you would have a very big problem. Yet--he couldn't exactly put Alex into a full-body-bind and force him to talk about the way he was feeling. He'd have to bide his time and just wait for Alex to be ready. Bill was thirteen going on fourteen. He wasn't especially wanting a deep and meaningful talk with Alex about Orville, anyway.

Bill, Jack and Geoff sat at a small table in Trelawney's stifling hot round tower room, the perfumed air making them feel a bit dizzy, drinking what was possibly the most tasteless tea Bill had ever had and preparing to read their fortunes in the tea leaves. A couple of Slytherin girls--Miriam Broadbent and Raisa Czaikowski--were also in the class, sitting together at a small table, drinking their tea. No other Slytherins were present. There were no Ravenclaws present at all; Bill had heard that everyone in Ravenclaw warned the third years off taking classes with Trelawney. Any Ravenclaw who did so would probably be laughed out of their house. Booth and Leonard weren't present, as they were taking Arithmancy. Bill glanced out of the corner of his eye at Alex, who was sitting with Mary Ann Boxwood. Bill suspected he may have gotten over his need to deny that he liked her. They talked a great deal and she seemed to like him quite a lot, also.

Bill, on the other hand, found it very hard not to look at Juliet Hathaway since third year had started. She suddenly seemed much older, and could easily be mistaken for being a fourth or fifth year. Bill couldn't help notice how her golden brown curls were glowing in the candlelight as she sat with Wallis Cassell, peering into her teacup. Suddenly, Wallis looked up and caught Bill's eye and smiled slyly at him. He widened his eyes in alarm and looked down at his cup again, panicked that she might think he liked her instead of Juliet. He'd rather gotten the impression since the beginning of the term that Wallis had a crush on him, and it had been next to impossible to even make innocuous remarks to Juliet with Wallis (her best friend) hovering nearby, batting her eyes at him.

Oh well, he thought. Very few students in third year started pairing off usually, even when there were Hogsmeade trips. It wasn't even usual for students in their fourth year to start dating. Most of that didn't start until fifth year, and even then, most fifth year students were consumed with the impending O.W.L.s. If he didn't have a girlfriend for a while yet, Bill thought, he would certainly be in good company.

Trelawney clapped her hands and instructed the students to trade teacups to do their readings. Bill handed his to Geoff, Geoff handed his to Jack and Jack gave his to Bill. Bill peered down into the cup at the dark lump of debris, trying to discern some shape. There were also some scattered damp leaves clinging to the side of the cup. Am I supposed to make something of those, too?" he wondered. He frowned into the delicate china cup, unsure what to say, wondering whether he should just make something up.

Jack frowned into Geoff's cup. "I'm not sure what to call this. It's either a shoe or a question mark, depending which way you turn it. What does that mean?"

Geoff blanched. Bill had already seen why he had been sorted into Hufflepuff; he was very hardworking. He seemed to have memorized the entire section on tea leaves in Unfogging the Future. "A question mark? Or a shoe? Is that what you said?"

Jack nodded. "I don't see what else it could be...What does it mean?"

Geoff swallowed. "Change. If it's a shoe, it means a change of career. A question mark means a more general sort of uncertainty or change. But they're both similar, so I'm not sure it matters...." His voice had become very soft. "I should have known this would happen..."

Bill and Jack frowned at each other. "What are you talking about?" Bill asked him. "Look in mine. Tell me what my future holds," he said, smirking.

Geoff grimaced. "I see more than one thing. That happens sometimes," he added authoritatively. "A key inside a triangle. The key means that a mystery will be unveiled. The triangle means that an unexpected event will occur."

Jack shrugged. "Nearly any event is unexpected. Life is unpredictable. It probably means that whatever mystery is unveiled, its unveiling was unexpected, right?"

"I suppose..." Bill said shakily. Would it be something about him that was revealed, such as his little infatuation with Juliet? Or would he be the one to find out something about someone else?

"What's mine say?" Jack wanted to know. Bill stared into the cup, trying to identify some up or down to the collection of leaves, turning the cup round and round, not satisfied. Geoff held out his hand.

"Want me to try?" Bill nodded and handed the cup over to him. "Hmm..." he said, his lips pressed together tightly. "These bits around the sides look like an arrow. That means bad news will come in a letter. The bit in the middle--do you see the way there's this part coming up here, and here, and it looks like you could put your fingers here, if it was a little larger? Looks to me like scissors. That's not good. That means angry words and a family misunderstanding."

Bill nodded. "Maybe that will be the bad news in the letter," he said. "A family misunderstanding."

Jack frowned. "Like two people in my family not getting along? How would that be bad news to me? I'm always here at school, for a start. How would it have anything to do with me?"

Bill shrugged. "I dunno..."

Trelawney swept over to their table and thoroughly enjoyed their predictions of doom and gloom. It seemed to Bill that her eyes glittered unkindly when she glanced at Geoff, but he didn't know what to make of this.

It was a relief to leave the stifling tower room and descend to the Great Hall for lunch. Bill wondered whether he should pay any attention to his tea leaves predicting that a mystery would be solved and an unexpected event would occur. He trusted in Peggy's instincts, but he wasn't sure about Geoff. He strongly suspected something funny about the boy, and he wanted to raise the issue with Jack, but he lived with Geoff in the Hufflepuff dorm, so it was easier for Geoff to talk privately with Jack than for Bill to do so.

However, as they were nearing the entrance hall, Geoff suddenly said, "You two go on. I have to visit the lav. I'll be down." He slipped into a boys' bathroom near the top of the marble stairs descending into the entrance hall, and Bill and Jack shrugged.

"Okay," Jack said casually to his house-mate. He and Bill started walking down the steps along with the other students all beginning to converge on the route to their lunch.

But on a broad landing half a flight up from the bottom, Bill pulled Jack aside and said, "I have a question for you. About Geoff."

Jack looked like he'd been thinking about something else and jerked his head up. "What? Oh, sorry. What did you say?"

"Geoff. I want to ask you something about him."

Jack shrugged. "Like what?"

"Well--have you ever actually seen him do magic? With a wand?"

Jack frowned. "Of course he's done magic. He's in third year. What are you getting at?"

"What I'm getting at is--he says himself that he's hopeless in Transfiguration and Charms. Defense Against the Dark Arts, too, although we don't do much spell-casting there, it's mostly writing essays about banshees and all that rot. Have you ever actually seen him cast a successful spell? Or fly a broom?"

Jack frowned more deeply, looking disturbed now. "Come to think of it--I don't think I have. He's good in Potions, though--"

"You don't need to do magic for that."

"--and Herbology and History of Magic and Astronomy--"

"--none of which actually require a person to be magical."

Jack stopped and stared at Bill, his eyes wide. "So you think--"

"I do. I think that's why his name wasn't on the list of students to be Sorted when we were in first year. I think he's--"

"Who?"

Bill and Jack jumped; Geoff was now standing at their elbows. He looked back and forth between them guilelessly, but when he noticed how guilty they both looked, a suspicious expression slowly moved over his face and he looked like he knew they'd been talking about him.

"Er--Dumbledore," Bill said suddenly, not knowing why.

"What about Dumbledore?" Geoff said, frowning, looking like he knew Bill was lying.

"Erm, it's just that--" Bill hesitated.

"Do you think he's an Animagus, like McGonagall?" Jack asked in a rush. "I heard that his name is an Old English word for 'bumblebee.' He could be a bumblebee Animagus. That'd be great, wouldn't it? He could know whatever was going on in the school by flying around as a bee, watching and listening. It's the perfect thing for a headmaster."

Geoff laughed. "A bumblebee Animagus? If Dumbledore were an Animagus, I think he'd be something better than that. After all, a person'd have to be deaf not to hear the buzzing of a bee half a mile off. Very sneaky, that. A bumblebee..."

Geoff descended the stairs, shaking his head, evidently no longer suspecting them of talking about him behind his back. They laughed feebly along with him and joined him in his descent.

When they were in the Great Hall, Bill parted with Geoff and Jack as they went to the Hufflepuff table and he went to join the other Gryffindors. There was very little space left, so he seated himself between Remus Lupin and Cecilia Ratkowski, who were each talking to the people on their other sides--Peter Pettigrew and Lily Evans, respectively. James Potter and Sirius Black were sitting across from Bill, with Booth and Leonard not far from them, talking animatedly, evidently, about their Arithmancy class. It was strange to Bill not to be with all of his Gryffindor room mates in his classes this year, but it was even stranger not to see Orville sitting down to eat at the Gryffindor table....

But soon he was no longer thinking about Orville. As he ate, he noticed that Sirius Black was looking very, very unkindly at Lily, and that she seemed to be aware of this, although she spoke to Cecilia nonchalantly as though nothing were wrong. James Potter also looked at Lily Evans, but Bill thought his expression was different from Sirius'. James seemed to be--sad. Incredibly sad. Must still be thinking of his dead girlfriend, Bill thought, his mind turning inexorably back to Orville. Would the wounds the living bore ever truly be healed? he wondered, seeing Alex, at the far end of the table, eating slowly and alone. It felt like they'd all been blown apart in more than one way by the explosion in Honeyduke's. The tension among the seventh years, in particular, was palpable.

Then he noticed Sirius looking somewhere else, and, turning his head, he saw where; he was glaring at Severus Snape, at the Slytherin table. Snape looked back at Black very, very smugly, but also with hatred. Bill turned back to his food and was vaguely aware, out of the corner of his eye, that Sirius was motioning to the doorway of the Great Hall, and soon after, Bill heard footsteps moving in that direction. When he looked up, he saw Snape walking out of the hall, with Black not far behind. Were they going to duel? he wondered. Whatever was going to happen, it didn't look like it would be a particularly friendly meeting...

Across from him, James Potter looked worried, very worried. Next to him, Remus Lupin exuded exhaustion, as though he couldn't be bothered to worry about anything except eating and sleeping. However, Pettigrew also seemed to be taking notice of Black and Snape leaving the hall, his beady eyes following the two of them, his pointed nose twitching as though he smelled something putrid.

Bill shrugged and went back to eating, trying to catch Juliet's eye for a moment and succeeding only in catching Wallis'. He sighed inwardly, trying not to wish for Wallis to turn into a toadstool, in case he performed some accidental magic and it actually happened. He'd done that with a garden gnome once who was giving him an especially difficult time, and he'd received a long lecture from his dad about cruelty to non-humans who were capable of human speech. He resumed eating, hoping that some time, in the next four years, Wallis Cassell might actually give him a chance to speak to Juliet Hathaway, but he wasn't completely certain that it wasn't hopeless....

* * * * *

"Well, Black? What is it?" Snape spat. They stood in the dungeon corridor, where they'd gone after leaving the Great Hall. Sirius Black looked like he was up to something, and Severus' hand inched toward his wand, ready to pull it out at a moment's notice. Sirius Black had a half-smile that Severus didn't like one bit. He didn't trust the git as far as he could throw him. He almost wished he'd just try to hex him and get it over with so they could stop fooling around and fight properly.

"You'd like to know what we were up to last night, wouldn't you?" Black said suddenly. Severus' eyes opened wide. Was Black actually going to tell him?

But he didn't like the sound of what Black had said, as though the world revolved around him, so he answered, "Why should I care what you pillocks get up to together? I have Lily, and the last time I checked--well, you don't." He crossed his arms, looking smugly at Sirius Black, who was clearly seething at the mention of Lily. "And what did she do when you tried to kiss her? Let me see if I remember..." he said, tapping his chin, trying not to laugh at the memory, while Sirius grew redder and redder with rage. Severus finally gave in to his laughter, but then he sobered again and glared at the Gryffindor.

"You think I would actually do something as stupid as go where you tell me to, in order to find out what you're all up to?" he sneered. "I'm not Pettigrew, for godsake. "But mark my words--I will find out what you lot are up to, and you will be punished, or even better--expelled. I daresay you're all leaving the castle grounds to go into Hogsmeade. Whatever secret route you have was probably used by those poor second years to go into the village, too, and now one of them is dead because of you. Are you proud of yourselves? Are you so pleased that you managed to kill a little boy?"

Suddenly Black had pushed him up against the wall. He was shaking, and Severus could tell he'd hit a nerve. He feels guilty about the boy, he knew then, although he'd been floundering about rather aimlessly, unsure what would set Black off. I did it, he thought proudly. He'd gotten to Sirius Black and perhaps now he would say something incriminating...

Black's face was very close to his. "Don't you throw that poor boy in my face, Snape. He died because of Death Eaters. People like you, who were all probably in Slytherin in school. Scheming, ambitious rotters who don't care who they hurt..."

"--whom they hurt, you stupid--"

Black banged him against the stone wall again, and Severus tried not to wince when his head struck it painfully. He didn't want to give Black the satisfaction. "Anyway, I thought you just said you don't care what we get up to? Evidently you do. But you're confused about something else: you're the one who doesn't care whom you hurt, using Lily the way you are, for a shag whenever you please...."

Now it was Severus' turn to get angry. He turned the tables, and in a matter of moments, Sirius Black was the one with his back against the wall and the front of his robes bunched in Snape's hands. Black eyes stared into black eyes, their own black hair flying about each of their faces. They could almost be brothers--if their names were Cain and Abel. "You don't talk about her. You can't face the fact that none of you Gryffindors are man enough for her...."

Black shook him off. "Just because you've clouded her judgment doesn't mean she doesn't know what a real man is."

Severus sneered at him again. "Yes, a real man sneaks around in the dead of night and doesn't tell someone about it whom he considers to be a close personal friend. That's what a real man does."

"No!" Black shouted at him, shaking with anger. "A real man does whatever is necessary to be there for a friend in need, even if that means--"

He stopped himself and looked as though he thought he'd said too much. Severus Snape looked at him shrewdly. Black seemed to be talking about a friend other than Lily now. What was he going on about? What were they really up to?

Suddenly, Black turned and strode down the corridor, away from Severus, who watched him go, thinking about what he would do that evening. I need to surprise them, he knew. I need to ambush them. He had a feeling that Black's original intent had been to ambush him, but he was too smart to let that happen.

He was far too smart to let Sirius Black get the better of him.

* * * * *

The sound of several hundred people eating dinner echoed through the great hall, a pleasant hum of conversation accompanied by the clinking of goblets and plates, knives and forks. Overhead, the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall glowed with the beautiful colors of the sunset. The autumnal equinox was very close, and the days and nights were very nearly equal, but the days were still very slightly longer. The previous evening, a full moon had risen as the sun set, but Severus Snape knew it wouldn't rise for nearly an hour after sunset this day, and that it would rise about an hour-and-a-half after sunset on the next day. They will be able to move about in darkness before the moon rises, he thought, realizing that this would benefit him, as well, providing him with the cover he would need to catch them at--whatever they were doing.

He watched them while they ate, clustered together at one end of the Gryffindor table, the four of them thick as thieves. And Potter was one of them, their treasured Head Boy. That almost made him seethe more than all of Sirius Black's calculated barbs put together. And he, Severus Snape, hadn't even been considered for prefect. He glanced at Igor Karkaroff, who was eating in an annoyingly dainty manner, nibbling at a chicken leg and then putting it down, licking the tips of his fingers with pursed lips before dabbing his mouth with his napkin. A smudge of grease decorated his silver prefect badge. Gah. This is what passes for leadership in Slytherin. He felt a momentary revulsion for his own house and wondered fleetingly whether school friendships were only formed within houses, and if you were sorted into a particular house, you always became friends with the others in your house.

But then he looked at Karkaroff again, and knew this wasn't true. He couldn't stand Igor. And then he saw the Weasley boy get up from the Gryffindor table; he was joined a moment later by two boys coming from the Hufflepuff table, and they all left the hall together. Clearly some people did form friendships across house lines. And then there was Lily, his Lily....

Almost as though she knew he was thinking of her and looking at her, she turned round and gave him a small, secretive smile, and he remembered being with her the night before. She had been everything he'd imagined and more. So passionate, so beautiful...Was it his fault that she hadn't felt moved to bestow her many graces on a fellow Gryffindor? Sirius Black seemed to think it was.

Then Snape tried to pretend he hadn't been watching the Gryffindor table when Madam Pomfrey appeared and strode over to Remus Lupin, who stood and followed her out of the Great Hall, looking over his shoulder at his friends. What's that about? Severus wondered. Perhaps he wasn't going to be with the others this evening. Pomfrey hadn't looked happy. Lupin's friends definitely looked very, very alert suddenly, and Severus saw that they were looking up at the ceiling, which was growing darker and darker above the floating candles. The rainbow of colors in the west was growing fainter as a deep blue crept insidiously from the east and the evening star rose, clear and white and thus far alone in the sky. Severus knew it was really Venus, and that thought drew his eyes back to Lily, and then he was remembering the previous evening again... He turned back to his food, feeling a warmth spread over his face. Nothing in his life had ever been as wonderful as waking up with her in his arms....

He would do as she asked and find out what those gits were up to if it killed him.

* * * * *

Bill, Jack and Geoff settled down at a table near the windows in the library, determined to get their History of Magic essays written before they had to return to their common rooms. Bill found it was easier with others around, and they also knew that Binns didn't even know the students' names very well and hadn't noticed, many, many times, when he'd received identical essays from students (or nearly identical ones). Geoff was writing the "master essay" which Bill and Jack would then cannibalize to create theirs. He didn't mind; being the one of the three who was good at this subject made him feel good, Bill could tell.

While Geoff was chewing his quill and thinking about what to write next, Bill wandered over to the window. There was a sweeping vista down the lawn to the Quidditch pitch, and the wildly flailing Whomping Willow was at the edge of his vision. The setting sun was very low now, sending faint orange light over the shadowy landscape. But suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Bill saw that the branches of the willow had stopped dead. His heart was in his throat; there was only one other time he'd known that to happen. Lupin, he thought. He's going into the tunnel...

He thought he saw two moving figures near the stilled tree, and he looked over his shoulder at Jack and Geoff. He turned back to the window again, but the figures were gone and the tree branches were whipping the sky again. Bill was glad he'd told Charlie never to go out of the castle on the nights of the full moon. Charlie had shrugged and said all right, and had agreed to tell the other first years to do the same, as Bill had asked him. Sometimes Charlie tagged along with Bill and his friends, but mostly he hung about with the other first years in Gryffindor, talking Quidditch and enjoying being at Hogwarts at last. Bill hadn't told him about Lupin, not wanting to burden his brother with this information, and hoping that Charlie would simply take him at his word that he shouldn't leave the castle when the moon was full....

* * * * *

Remus Lupin crouched in the tunnel, looking through the tree roots at the glowing night sky, a lump in his throat as he waited for his friends. The moon would rise exactly forty-eight minutes after sunset, he knew. That gave them some time, but not much. He looked up at what he knew were the windows to the Gryffindor common room, far up in the tower, and waited, waited, waited...

James threw down his book (which he'd only been pretending to read) and said to Sirius, trying not to sound ostentatious about it, "Damn. This doesn't have what I need. I have to go down to the library."

"I'll come with you," Sirius said, springing up from a chair.

"I need something from the library, too," Peter said nervously, making Sirius want to smack him. Peter often made Sirius want to smack him.

Lily looked up from the book she'd actually been reading and said, "That's me as well. I need something from--"

"No," Sirius said abruptly. "You can't come." A moment later, he looked like he wished he hadn't said it, but it was too late now. Lily frowned at him.

"What? You think you can keep me from going to the library? You don't own it, you know. And for that matter, it's not like you even spend much time in the library, so perhaps you should go with someone who knows the way," she added snidely.

"Lily," James says, trying to sound reasonable, pulling her aside, trying not to yield to the temptation to never let go of her arm. "Don't you think--well--after last night--" he said quietly in her ear, "--that is--this morning--"

She shivered at the feeling of his warm breath in her ear and pulled back from him. "What are you getting at?" she asked indignantly.

"Well--don't you think you could be a little more tactful? Don't you see how--how difficult it is for him to be around you knowing that--that you and Snape--" he continued in a half-whisper. Lily looked at Sirius for a moment and narrowed her eyes.

"I should be tactful for his sake? He wouldn't know tact if it came up and bit him on the--"

James was standing very close to her, his face very earnest, his dark blue eyes boring into hers. She caught her breath, realizing that James wasn't asking her to be tactful for Sirius' sake. Not really. Her heart turned over as she looked at him, a moment suspended in time. Finally, she let her breath out and she patted his arm gently.

"I--I'm sorry James. I'm so stupid. I--I'm tired anyway. I think I'll go up to bed."

He nodded, then did something that surprised her. He leaned forward quickly, brushing her cheek with his lips, saying, "Sleep well, Lily." Then he turned and left the common room with Sirius and Peter, glancing at her over his shoulder briefly. She ran up the stairs to her empty dormitory without noticing anything or anyone else in the world, throwing herself onto her bed and staring up at the canopy.

James.

Oh, James. She knew that look. She knew that gentle touch on the arm, the brother's kiss on the cheek that so desperately didn't want to be a brother's kiss...

Why hadn't she seen it? She recalled the letter she'd received from him, asking her to come to his birthday party. It seemed out of the blue, when she'd never visited any of them during the summer holidays before. It was his seventeenth birthday, true, but still...

She remembered his face that morning, the hurt behind his blazing eyes that she thought was on Remus' behalf, or even Sirius'. But no; it was his own very personal rage that he'd been expressing. She remembered bringing him up to her bed the night Bonnie died, how natural and right it felt to curl up next to him, and the way she'd caught him watching her sleep when she woke the next morning.

James.

She had to think. How did she feel about James? No, no, no. Did it matter whether she felt anything? She was with Severus at last, and he was making her happy. But--he was also making her feel alienated from her friends. That's just because of their petty anti-Slytherin prejudices. Perhaps they should be spending their time with other Slytherins when they weren't alone, just the two of them. When they wanted to socialize. They couldn't all be bigoted gits who hated Muggle-borns. She had actually laughed with Narcissa Anderssen more than once in Potions class. For a while Lily had worried a bit about Narcissa and Severus; Narcissa was a classic Nordic beauty, very cool and forbidding. Severus, however, had set her straight and informed her that Narcissa was seeing someone a half-dozen years older than her, the young man who'd been Head Boy when they were all first years.

"Oh, you mean Malfoy?" she'd asked him, remembering the strict, uncompromising eighteen-year-old who had repeatedly taken points from her friends in first year for running in the corridors (among other things). Severus had nodded, and Lily had told him with a laugh that Narcissa should make sure she behaved. Severus informed her with a knowing smirk that the last thing Lucius Malfoy probably wanted was for his girlfriend to behave herself. Lily felt odd, obliquely discussing other people's sex lives, but she'd laughed along with him.

James.

She tried to think whether he was trying to tell her, in his way, that he hadn't been able to make a go of his relationship with Bonnie because he wasn't in love with Bonnie Manetti, he was in love with her, with Lily Evans. But suddenly, her train of thought was interrupted by the dormitory door opening and them slamming shut as Moira and Myra Edmunds entered. They were chattering noisily, and Lily pulled out her wand with a grimace, putting a silencing spell on her bed hangings, so their noise wouldn't penetrate to her inner sanctum.

James.

How did she feel about him? No. She wasn't supposed to have feelings for him. She wasn't even supposed to think about anyone else. She'd gotten Remus out of her system and now she was with Severus.

James James James.

STOP THAT, she ordered her brain, but her mind bashed on relentlessly, finally letting her rest about half-an-hour later, so that when Professor McGonagall entered to tell her that she might want to visit some people in the hospital wing, she hadn't the heart to wake the peacefully sleeping girl and left again without telling any of her room mates why she'd done such an uncharacteristic thing as to enter the girls' dormitory.

* * * * *

Remus was growing impatient. He checked his watch. The moon would be rising in five minutes. Where the hell were they? It wouldn't be safe to stop the Willow once the moon rose. Were they mad?

He reached through the roots with his wand and touched the knot which froze the branches, then emerged from the tunnel. I'll go back as soon as I know they're coming, he thought. It will be all right.

He ran quickly up to the front door of the castle, unaware that he was seen by a tall, dark figure lurking around the corner.

As they walked down the stairs, Sirius whispered to Peter, "I have a plan. To get Snape off our backs. Are you in?" James pattered down the stairs ahead of them, not listening. Peter looked suspiciously at Sirius.

"What?" he said quietly.

"I didn't manage to do it tonight, but tomorrow I'm going to try to lure him out to the Willow. If he wants to find out exactly what we're doing every month...."

Peter stopped dead, his eyes wide. "But he'll find out about Remus!"

"Precisely. And it'll be the last thing he ever does...."

Sirius didn't think it was possible, but Peter's eyes grew even wider. "But that's--that's--"

Sirius waved his concern away. "Snape's a Slytherin, and probably a Death Eater, like his parents. Why do you think they were killed by Aurors? And Dumbledore can't let it get out unless he wants to admit that he's had a werewolf at the school. Besides, he won't know we had anything to do with it, and he won't be able to really blame Remus. Remus can't help what he does in--that state. It'll look like just what it is--Snape getting too nosy for his own good. No one has to know we have anything to do with it."

Peter looked nervous. "I don't know, Sirius--"

Sirius changed tack. "Well, think about what you saw this morning, Peter. He and Lily spent the night together. That's right. He was with her all night. His hands were probably all over her. He was inside her Peter--"

Peter looked up at Sirius, feeling a hatred well up in him that was alien, and yet--not very unfamiliar. Sirius went on and on as they descended the stairs, describing in agonizing, explicit detail with the two had probably done, until he could see that Peter was seething about this as much as he was. They he added the clincher. "And then--when I was talking to him down in the dungeons and suggested that if he wanted to know what we were up to, I'd tell him, he said that he wasn't stupid enough to fall for that, and then he said, 'I'm not Pettigrew.' He did. I am not making this up." That was true, Sirius thought. Completely and utterly true.

Peter could tell he wasn't lying. Sirius' dark eyes looked into his small brown ones and lit up when Peter, his jaw clenched, said resolutely, "I'm in."

They had reached the entrance hall, and found Remus standing there near the open doors, wild eyed and growing wilder by the minute. "It's about bloody time!" he hissed at them. "Come on!"

* * * * *

Severus Snape's eyes had opened wide when he saw Remus Lupin emerge from the tunnel under the tree. So that was it! There was a tunnel to Hogsmeade under the Whomping Willow! He had them now! He knew how they were sneaking out....He thought about the witch's statue that he'd thought might conceal a passage, and realized that that was probably just a passage out onto the grounds. This must be the passage that left the grounds and made their nocturnal wanderings in the village possible. And it also had to be the route by which the second years had left; that was why no one had noticed them in the entrance hall with the crowd of other students going to the village. They weren't in the entrance hall. They didn't go to Hogsmeade with the other students! They'd used this tunnel!

Lupin must have grown tired of waiting for the others, he reckoned, and went to fetch them before the moon rose so they could get out of the castle in complete darkness. He crept down near the tree and hid himself in a clump of bushes just out of reach of the Willow's wildly flailing branches. He managed to conceal himself just in time; here they came, the four of them, Lupin looking quite odd and wild, inordinately hairy, with an eerie red light in his eyes.

The four of them arrived at the Whomping Willow, and Potter looked about for a long stick which he used to press a knot on the roots. The branches froze, and Snape tried to note where Potter was pressing, but it was hard to see. He had a general idea, anyway. . They'd almost waited too long; the moon was starting to rise. Lupin looked dreadful, and Severus shook his head. Pomfrey had come to get him, but he was such a git and so devoted to gallivanting around at night with his friends that he seemed to care nothing for the idea that perhaps he was sick and should be in bed in the hospital wing.. He watched the shaking boy crawl into the tunnel under the branches, followed by Pettigrew. Down in the tunnel, Severus heard Lupin cry out; he must have hit his head, or something. The cry continued, and Snape sneered at what a baby he was being. Finally, his disgust for the four of them knowing no bounds, he could no longer resist, and leapt from his hiding place.

"So! Sneaking off to Hogsmeade in the middle of the night!" He grimaced; that was a stupid thing to say. He had originally assumed they'd be going later, and had rehearsed what he was going to say, forgetting to revise it as appropriate. He dove on. "A gang including no less than our Head Boy! What are you all up to? Planning to do a little breaking and entering? Or a little vandalism?" He looked accusingly at Black and Potter, who had panic in their eyes. However, this was replaced a moment later with a lopsided smile on Sirius Black's face, and Severus' stomach clenched. That was the smile of someone who knew something. It was the most untrustworthy smile he had ever seen. Severus braced himself to jump clear of a hex if he needed to. Had he walked into a trap?

But Black did not pull out his wand. He just kept grinning and said, "No, as a matter of fact--well, you can go see for yourself, Snape. Just come on in and find out..."

Black stooped down to enter, and, after hesitating for a moment, Severus decided he would do the same. After all, Lupin and Pettigrew were already in there, and Black was going before him. He didn't like that Potter was still behind him, though. James Potter's breathing seemed to be irregular for some reason. Severus took his wand out before he went in, approaching the tree cautiously. If he needed to take on all four of them, he was sure he could do it. After all, Lupin wasn't even particularly well, and Pettigrew couldn't amount to much, so that really only left Potter and Black, and of the two, if he took out Black first, he doubted whether Potter would have the nerve to come after him...

Peter sat, in his rat form, crouched at the bottom of the tunnel, watching as Remus transformed, wincing at his cries of pain. He could see some movement near the mouth of the tunnel and knew that Sirius had done it, that he'd managed to convince Snape to try looking under the Willow's roots. Peter's small heart beat very, very rapidly in his chest as he braced himself to spring, anticipation in every inch of his furry grey hide and his long, pink hairless tail. He and Sirius had discussed how to do it; he would bite Snape first to draw blood, using his sharp teeth on his hand, for instance, and just in case there was any question of Remus going after him (right after he transformed he was sometimes temporarily a little disoriented), the wound would egg him on; it would be like blood in the water to a shark. And then they would be rid of Snape and no one would ever know what happened to him! They could leave his bloodied clothes in the Forbidden Forest (that was Peter's clever idea--he'd thought of it as he sat waiting), and when they were found, it would be assumed that he wandered in there and met his fate at the hands of one of the fierce creatures that made the forest their home. Peter could almost taste the sweet feeling of revenge they would be able to exact upon Severus Snape for presuming to believe that he deserved their Lily....

Severus ducked down, putting his head into the tunnel, then started to move on his hands and knees into it, as he'd seen Lupin and Pettigrew and Black do. His heart started beating wildly as heard a low growl emanating from the depths of the tunnel, as though a wild animal had been wounded. He hesitated for a second. What was that?

James watched him start to go into the tunnel. He had watched and listened to Sirius speak in utter disbelief. He was trying to kill Snape! This couldn't be happening, he told himself. It couldn't be....

The growling grew louder.

James' heart was in his throat. Would Remus be expelled if he killed someone while he was a wolf? Would Sirius? All of them? He thought furiously, trying to figure out what to do. And then he remembered Lily's face as Snape had kissed her goodbye in the morning light....

Oh, god. Lily. She would be heartbroken. She actually seemed to be in love with Snape. He pictured them again, near the entrance to the Gryffindor common room that morning, before they knew anyone was watching them. The way they'd looked at each other was completely unguarded, and the way they'd kissed....And what if--god forbid--Lily had conceived? What if she had to raise a child by herself because--

Severus Snape suddenly felt something around his foot.

He shook it at first, thinking he'd caught it on a root, but then it tightened and he realized that it was a hand, dragging him away from the tunnel. It was Potter, he realized, grunting with the effort of pulling him backwards. He was surprisingly strong. And then Severus felt a wrenching and heard a loud snap, and pain shot up his leg. Severus fell and banged his chin on a tree root as he was extracted from the tunnel. Then Potter hit a knot on the roots with his wand, making the branches flail about again. Unfortunately, they hadn't gotten clear yet, so Severus Snape and James Potter were each struck by the Whomping Willow numerous times. Severus had a gash on his forehead and a bloody nose; Potter had a lump on his temple. The terrible growling was very loud now, and Severus turned to look back at the tree. What appeared to be an enormous wolf was straining to get out of the tunnel, trapped by the branches across the entrance and the other limbs doing their frantic, macabre dance. The wolf was red-eyed and salivating, and as he looked at him, Snape knew the answer to everything. Everything!

Remus Lupin was a werewolf.

The wolf seemed to be trapped in the tunnel, and Severus realized that that must be why the Willow was planted to begin with--to provide Lupin with a place to spend the full moon. That meant that Dumbledore knew! He'd even arranged for Lupin to be at the school. Severus just knew it!.

However, he couldn't continue this train of thought any longer; the pain coming from his ankle was too great, and somehow seemed to feel all the worse for the additional pain of betrayal he felt, the betrayal of his own headmaster, the man who was supposed to be protecting all of the students at the school, not showing special favor to his pets, the Gryffindors. He was doubled up on the ground and blood was running into his left eye, which he squeezed shut. He glared at Potter--the damn Head Boy, no less--with his good right eye. "Damn, you Potter," he growled. "You broke my ankle!"

Potter was lying flat on the ground, trying to get out of range of the tree's reach before standing. "Broke your ankle? Saved your life, more like!"

The two of them glared at each other. The growling continued.

"What about them?" Severus suddenly said to Potter, still feeling snappish. Potter looked nervous, as though he was afraid of giving too much away.

"They'll be fine. They're used to it."

"Used to being bitten by a werewolf?"

"No, you git!" Potter stood now, holding his arms out. "Look at me; the moon is up and I'm not a werewolf, am I?"

Severus looked suspiciously back at the growling, snarling animal still trying to get out of the tunnel. "But how--"

"Can't you just be glad to be alive? Listen; we both need to go to the hospital wing, and you probably can't walk without my help. Here," he said, extending a hand. Severus looked up at him, feeling a raw hatred that warred with the knowledge that he owed his life to Potter.

Finally, reluctantly, he took the hand Potter was offering and grunted as he stood. James Potter pulled Severus Snape's arm across his shoulders and put his arm around the Slytherin's waist. Severus had to hop on his right foot, holding his left knee bent to avoid putting weight on the broken ankle.

It seemed to take forever to reach the castle, and then to hop up the marble stairs leading to the infirmary. When they burst through the door, Madam Pomfrey was shocked to see them, bloodied and broken as they were.

"And what mischief have the pair of you been up to, then?" she said tartly, helping Snape to a bed.

James grimaced, not sure where to start. However, before he could manufacture a satisfactory story, Snape had burst out, "Potter and Sirius Black tried to set Lupin on me! He's a werewolf! Potter finally pulled me from the tunnel under the Whomping Willow, but the tree managed to get a few blows in...Potter broke my ankle, too..."

Madam Pomfrey blanched. She turned abruptly to James, noting the blows he'd taken from the Willow. No more than he deserves, if he did what Severus Snape said he did.

"You!" she barked at him. "Can you walk all right?" James nodded vigorously. "Then go to fetch the Headmaster! I can treat you when you get back. And enjoy knowing the password to his office while you can," she added a bit snidely, "as you may not be Head Boy for much longer!"

James swallowed, then, and bolted from the room. I'm going to be expelled, he thought as he raced up the stairs, his head aching from being hit by the Willow. And Sirius and Peter and Remus, too. We're all going to be outcasts in the wizarding world....

He reached the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore's office and gave the password. His mind was in a fog as he went up the rising spiral stairs, and when he knocked on the door, his hand was shaking. Time to face the music, he thought as he waited. He put his hand on the knob and turned it the moment he heard the voice say, "Come." As he pushed the door open, he saw the look of surprise on the headmaster's face, and then the look of sadness that replaced it as James told him why he'd come.

When he was done speaking, Albus Dumbledore looked at him with an expression of the deepest disappointment. James wanted to sink into a hole and die. He waited and waited for the headmaster to say something, but the blue eyes looked harder than he'd ever seen them, and the lined face was stern and uncompromising. Finally he said slowly, "You should go back to the hospital wing and let Madam Pomfrey treat your wounds. I believe I shall deal with you and with your friends in the morning, when you can all be present."

His voice was terrible, low and steady, and James felt that he could no longer swallow, listening to it. He didn't scream at him and he didn't say how disappointed he was in the Head Boy, but James could see it in his eyes. Oh, how awful his eyes looked....

James left and returned to the hospital wing, feeling for the first time since it had happened that he was glad his parents hadn't lived to see him in such disgrace as he surely would be. The Prophet would probably pick up on it. HOGWARTS HEAD BOY EXPELLED. It didn't happen every day. Perhaps it had never happened. There had probably never been a Head Boy as dreadful as James Potter. Hell, he thought, a Slytherin like Igor Karkaroff probably wouldn't even have gotten into as much trouble as I'm in.

He returned to the hospital wing, where Snape was sleeping, having been given a draught by Pomfrey. She dressed James' wounds brusquely, and he winced occasionally; she was making no effort to be gentle. With a disapproving sniff, she also gave him a sleeping draught. It was the only truly nice thing she did for him, in that it let him sleep dreamlessly until morning, without even a nagging conscience to bother him..

* * * * *

Wednesday, 20 September, 1977

Lily stretched and yawned, sat up groggily. She pushed the curtains aside to greet the day and very nearly screamed in surprise when she saw her head of house sitting in a chair by her bedside. The sun was shining and it looked like it would be a lovely nearly-autumn day, but Professor McGonagall did not look very cheerful in spite of this, and Lily had never known her to come into the dorms. Something dreadful must have happened....

"What is it?" she said apprehensively.

McGonagall's lips became even thinner than they had been. "I understand that you and Mr. Snape have been--seeing each other?"

Lily felt a warmth rise from her neck. "He's--he's my boyfriend," she said softly, more than a little embarrassed to be talking about this with her Transfiguration professor.

"Well," she said, not looking like she altogether approved of the pairing, "you might be interested to know that he is in the hospital wing. And so is James Potter," she added. Lily frowned.

"Were they fighting?" she asked, remembering James with his wand drawn only about twenty-four hours earlier.

McGonagall looked surprised at that. "Not exactly. Why don't you get dressed and come to the hospital wing?" she said gently. "Mr. Snape was asking for you last night, but when I came to get you--you didn't respond to my calling to you. When I checked to make certain you were all right, you were sleeping so peacefully, I didn't want to disturb you--"

"Oh!" Lily said in distress. "I wish you had!" Then she remembered the spell she'd put on her bedhangings, and realized that she wouldn't have heard a word. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, feeling like biting her tongue; it sounded like she was criticizing.

McGonagall didn't seem to mind. "Just get dressed and go to the infirmary. I'm glad to know," she added, with a raised eyebrow, "that at least the Head Girl isn't out at all hours..."

Lily looked down and away from McGonagall, thinking of how she had spent the previous night with Severus. Did McGonagall suspect something? She couldn't tell.

"Yes, Professor. I'll be right there."

McGonagall nodded and left. Lily dressed quickly. Cecilia and the Edmunds twins seemed to be sleeping still. Lily couldn't tell whether they had heard anything McGonagall had said or not. She didn't have time to worry about that, however, as she hurriedly pulled on her clothes and robes.

As she dashed out of the portrait hole, she thought she heard a strange noise in the corridor, and a scream froze in her throat when she saw the grey rat scuffling along the stone wall. She kept an eye on it for a moment before bolting toward the hospital wing.

Mere moments after she was out of sight, the rat became a small teenage boy again, his small eyes darting around cautiously. "Come on!" he said to Remus and Sirius, who were hiding in an alcove behind a statue of a vampire; Peter was their vanguard, as he could creep along and go places without being noticed, for the most part. They were all within sight of the portrait hole now. Home sweet home, Remus thought wearily. He leaned heavily on Sirius. He was very angry with him for what he'd done the evening before, but he was too exhausted now to ream him out. That would have to wait.

However, before any of them could utter the password to the Fat Lady, the portrait starting swinging open. Peter immediately changed into a rat again, skittering behind what looked like an elongated baptismal font, which functioned as a torch. Sirius and Remus stood face to face with Professor McGonagall, who was no less surprised to see them. Her lips went very, very thin and her eyes blazed. Then she saw the condition Remus was in, the dark circles under his eyes, and her expression softened a little bit. She nodded at Sirius.

"You should take him to the hospital wing, don't you think, Mr. Black?" she said, looking over those square-rimmed spectacles at him. "And--I believe the headmaster wishes to have a word with you. More than a few words."

Bill heard this ominous statement just before he plowed into Professor McGonagall from behind. He was meeting Geoff and Jack in the Great Hall early, to go over their essays before breakfast. He saw how awful Remus Lupin looked, and instinctively said, "Crikey! You all right, Lupin? Oh, excuse me, Professor," he added hurriedly to Professor McGonagall. She didn't usually come in here, he thought. She pursed her lips at him.

"Crikey yourself, Mr. Weasley. Mr. Lupin is going to the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey will attend to him."

She looked with deep disapproval at Sirius and Remus, turning to close the portrait, but just before she did, a rat leapt into the breach and disappeared into the Gryffindor common room. Bill jumped a few inches.

"Oy, Professor! A rat just got into Gryffindor Tower!"

She made a noise like "hmmph!" and then said, "There are more rats in this castle than you know, Mr. Weasley. If you are concerned, just set one of the cats on it and the problem will be solved."

Sirius Black and Remus Lupin looked at each other with wide eyes. Bill frowned at them. "What's wrong with you? Are you part of some rodent protection society or something?"

Sirius swallowed and Remus looked even whiter than he had before. McGonagall clapped her hands at them. "Off with the pair of you, now! Hospital wing! Shoo!" she added. They turned to hobble off, but Bill ran past them, clutching his parchment. Now that he knew Remus Lupin was a werewolf, it didn't seem all that important. Still, he didn't fancy telling Geoff and Jack about it; he liked being the only one who knew.

Lily had finally reached the hospital wing, which was every bit as sun-filled as Gryffindor Tower; she almost started to feel that the sun was mocking her this morning, making the world look so relentlessly cheerful that she wanted to scream in frustration. In a trice, she saw that Severus and James were the only two patients, and James was still asleep. Severus was fingering the bandage on his forehead and glaring at the boy in the bed next to his when she entered. Her heart leapt into her throat when she saw the condition he was in, and she ran to his bedside.

"Oh! This morning, McGonagall said--Oh, Severus, are you all right?" She took his hand, looking at his bandaged face, then down at his ankle, still sporting another bandage to protect the boneset salve that would soon mend it.

He nodded at her, looking like he had a lump in his throat.

"What was it? You said--you said you would find out for me what they'd been doing. Did you?"

He nodded again, then said quietly, "They've been covering up for Lupin. He's a werewolf."

She felt her heart drop into her stomach. A werewolf! But--but she'd thought Dumbledore would never--

And then she remembered being with him, the first time they slept together, the way he sniffed her, and how strong he was--

In truth, she wasn't shocked, but she tried to look surprised so that Severus wouldn't suspect that she'd actually considered this possibility and abandoned it as far too unlikely...

"A werewolf?" she said, almost inaudibly. "But how? Wouldn't they be in danger themselves?" That was one of the reasons she'd abandoned the idea; James, Sirius and Peter were obviously with Remus on the nights of the full moon. How could they do that, and not get hurt, if he was a werewolf? They didn't show any signs of also being werewolves. They weren't especially strong, nor did they have remarkable senses of smell and hearing. She remembered now all of the things she'd known Remus to do which no ordinary wizard could do--nor ordinary human--

I should have realized. But I didn't want to.

"I don't know how they avoid him attacking them," Severus said bitterly. "But Black was going to let it--him--kill me, until Potter..."

She turned to look toward James' bed, her eyes narrowed. "Yes?"

Severus grimaced, she saw out of the corner of her eye. He seemed to be unwilling to give James any credit for doing anything right. He swallowed. "Until Potter pulled me out of the way."

She turned to look at James again, who was awake now, looking back at her. He seemed very calm.

"Hello, Lily," he said simply. She felt like she was seeing him for the first time. James saved him. But--I thought James might be in love with me...this doesn't make any sense...he could have gotten Severus out of the way...

"You--you--" she struggled. "You saved Severus' life."

He looked embarrassed. "Yes, well--if he had died, it would have made you sad," he said softly. He looked into her eyes earnestly, a pleading expression that was unmistakably full of love. Lily caught her breath, recognizing it, and looking frightened of it at the same time. Oh, she thought. That's why he saved Severus. His expression of love was replaced by one of misery, as he closed his eyes, turning over on his side, away from them.

She looked nervously at Severus, who, she felt sure, had seen the look they'd exchanged. He looked markedly disturbed by it; there was a hunted, threatened expression about his eyes. Lily stood next to his bed and bent down and kissed him on the cheek.

"Get some rest. I'll be back later," she whispered, unable to speak more loudly. He nodded at her silently. She turned again to James' bed, an odd sensation in her stomach. James. James hadn't wanted to put her through what he'd gone through when his parents had died.... She put her hand on his shoulder, trying not to jump at the spark that jumped from his body to hers. "I'll bring you your notes and homework assignments, all right James?" She was having trouble drawing breath, and her stomach felt light and floaty.

He turned over, giving her that look again. "Thank you, Lily."

She shivered under his gaze for a second, and then she moved toward the door, trying not to run, glancing over her shoulder just before she left.

But she felt her gaze drawn to James Potter, not Severus Snape.

Once she was in the corridor again, she leaned heavily against the door, feeling like her heart was torn in two different directions. On the one hand, Severus had risked his life to find out what she asked him to find out. (She never would have asked him if she had known it would be so dangerous.) On the other hand, James had saved someone he hated, because she cared about him. She didn't know what to do.

I'm with Severus, she reminded herself. I'm with Severus.

So why did she see James Potter's face in her mind's eye, lying in his hospital bed, gazing at her adoringly?

* * * * *

The door to the hospital wing swung open noisily, striking the wall. Sirius stood there, supporting Remus. He helped Remus to a bed while Snape glared at them. James sat up straight and didn't wait for Remus to get settled before crying out, "What were you playing at, Sirius? Thanks to you, we're all probably going to get expelled!"

Snape smirked. "Speak for yourself, Potter."

James glared at him. "I am, you sodding git. If it weren't for you sneaking around and sticking your big nose where it doesn't belong, I wouldn't have needed to save your sorry arse!"

James heard Sirius start to laugh, and James turned his attention to his best friend now. "You!" he roared. "I can't believe you did--what you did!" he said, unwilling to put it into words. "Would that really have been worth it? Making Remus a murderer and becoming as good as--or I should say, as bad as--a murderer yourself? At the age of sixteen? You're about to turn seventeen, finally, and is that how you want to spend your birthday? In Azkaban? I know you can't stand him, none of us can, but--"

It was Sirius' turn to lose his temper. "Oh, is that why you saved him? Because you can't stand him? I can't believe you did that! Now he'll tell everyone about Remus, and then--"

"No, he won't, Mr. Black," said a solemn voice near the door. When Sirius and Remus had entered, they'd left the door to the infirmary open, and none of them had heard the headmaster approach. They were all silent now. Dumbledore's voice was as terrible as it had been the previous night in his office, and James tried to look properly deferential now, even though there was probably nothing he could do to prevent his expulsion now.

Dumbledore nodded at Severus Snape and gave him a very meaningful look. "Mr. Snape is not going to say a word about this to anyone, if he knows what is good for him," Dumbledore said, with one eyebrow raised. Snape's jaw dropped.

"But--but--"

Dumbledore nodded at him again and raised his hand to forestall further protests. "I know, I know. But despite the fact that you could have lost your life--" he glared at Sirius very hard; "that would punish Remus, who had no control over what transpired between you and Mr. Black. Everything that I have heard seems to indicate that this was all Mr. Black's idea."

Sirius felt a cold weight in his stomach, like a glacier, and as he looked back into the eyes of the formidable old man, he knew that his days at Hogwarts were numbered.

"And you," Dumbledore said suddenly to James, looking even sterner now. "While it is good to hear that you can chastise someone regardless of whether he is your best friend, it's a bit late now, isn't it? Where was that Head Boy leadership quality when you had the chance to prevent your best friend from doing something horribly stupid to begin with, eh?" Dumbledore's voice was louder, and James had never heard it with quite the edge it had now. "As a prefect and then Head Boy, you were and are one of the students in this school I rely upon to be my eyes and ears when I cannot be present!" The crescendo in his voice continued, until James wondered whether the windows would shatter. "I am very, very disappointed in you," he finished, surprisingly quietly, and James wanted to weep for making that expression appear on the old man's face. He'd felt horrid the night before; now he felt a hundred times worse, and it was only through a super-human effort that he did not break down crying and throw himself on the headmaster's mercy.

Albus Dumbledore looked back and forth between the four boys, who all regarded him with trepidation. Finally, he passed sentence.

"Severus; you shall not tell a soul about Remus if you wish to remain at this school," he said without emotion. Snape's jaw dropped, but he clamped it shut again, his indignance showing in his eyes. "And," he continued, "I will not tolerate being told that this is grossly unfair. So is being bitten by a werewolf when you are a small child," he said testily. "You are to be grateful that James saved your life and that is that.

"Remus; you shall not blame yourself for what almost occurred," he said surprisingly kindly. "I know that the last thing you would want to have happen is for anyone to experience what you have."

Now his eyes glittered again as he regarded James and Sirius.

"As for the pair of you. One hundred points shall be taken from Gryffindor for what you did, Sirius," he said crisply, while Sirius looked very guilty and bowed his head. "However," he added, "fifty points shall be awarded to Gryffindor for what you did, James." James felt like heaving a noisy sigh of relief, but he did not yet. There had to be something else. "But--the fact remains that only one of you had any business being out on the grounds last night. Two of you know how very dangerous that was, and now you also know, Severus. For being out of the castle after dark, I am taking fifty points from Slytherin and one-hundred more points from Gryffindor." Snape frowned. Dumbledore turned to James and Sirius again.

"And you two--you still don't understand the full ramifications of what would have occurred had Severus had contact with Remus last night, do you? The best outcome, I suppose, would have been Severus surviving an attack by Remus and becoming a werewolf himself. You know how dreadful the monthly change is for one of your best friends. Would you wish that horror upon even your worst enemy? I suppose we know the answer to that now: Yes. However, would you wish on one of your best friends the knowledge that he had done that to another human being? Hadn't thought about that, had you, Sirius? How did you think Remus would feel about all this? Did that cross your mind once?" he said quite loudly now, his voice echoing around the chamber, as the boys listened to him, transfixed and stilled by fear.

"And Remus!" he continued, louder, but seeming to expend no additional effort in creating the increased volume. He was still addressing Sirius, despite having said Remus' name. "Do you know what would have happened to him had you succeeded in getting Severus killed by him in his wolf form?" Sirius swallowed and shook his head. "He would have been removed from the school by the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures, that's what. He might had received a hearing, of a sort. The sort that is really a perfunctory prelude to the executioner using the whetstone on his special silver-tipped werewolf-killing axe. Do you think that Remus is considered to be a human being in the wizarding world, Sirius? Because he is not. While we normally do not use the death penalty, we do sometimes let convicted criminals receive the dementor's kiss, which is arguably worse. Since that is not an option for a werewolf, he would simply have been destroyed. Destroyed. Do you understand? You were not just stupidly risking Severus' life, but the life of one of your best friends." His voice had become very soft, but the intensity and vituperation in it had, if possible, increased.

He had fire in his eyes as he glanced back and forth between James and Sirius. "Now--while I appreciate your desire to be with your friend when he experiences the horrible change brought by the full moon, and I can admire the ingenuity that evidently led you to learn magicks that would allow you to do this without being at risk yourselves, I cannot allow this to be just a matter of deducted house points, or even detentions. You are both suspended from school, effective immediately. You will spend the next fortnight at Ascog Castle. I have contacted your parents, Sirius," he said, nodding at him, "and they should be arriving in a little while to collect the pair of you. Any assignments or examinations for your classes will not be made up when you return. You will simply receive zeros for your marks during your absence. You will, however, be expected to be up-to-date in your studies, so do pack your texts and remember--" he said to Sirius, an ominous note in his voice, "that you cannot do magic away from school until your seventeenth birthday, Sirius. That is only two days from now, but still--if you step one toe out of line, you will be very sorry indeed."

There was no compromise in that voice, no arguing. James' heart felt like it was racing; he had no question in his mind as to why Dumbledore had been able to defeat Grindelwald, or why he had heard that the only other wizard Voldemort feared was their headmaster. His countenance was terrible to behold, like an avenging angel, and James felt himself lucky to still be Head Boy, and not expelled. He was glad that Peter wasn't there and that Dumbledore didn't seem to know he went with them on the nights of the full moon; he'd probably add on punishments for their corrupting Peter, if he knew.

He saw that Sirius was visibly shaking as he nodded deferentially to Dumbledore, who waved them to the door with a vague flick of his hand, saying in an oddly nonchalant voice now, "So run along and pack. You will be ready and in the entrance hall in thirty minutes. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," they said in unison. They couldn't leave the infirmary quickly enough. As he left, James looked over his shoulder at Remus, mouthing the word sorry at him. Remus gave him a small nod, as if to say, It's not you who needs to apologize.

James watched Sirius' profile as they climbed the stairs to Gryffindor Tower; he looked like he'd gone into mourning, and James decided that he'd said enough for the moment, especially considering the way Dumbledore had laid into him. He still had a few things to say to his best friend and almost-brother, but it could wait. They had a whole fortnight to talk.

When they reached their dormitory, they discovered Peter, just finishing dressing. He stopped and quaked when he saw them.

"I'm--I'm sorry I ran when McGonagall came out of the portrait hole," he said hurriedly to Sirius. "I--I panicked--"

Sirius waved him away. "S'all right, Wormtail. I think she just would have been angrier if she thought we were all in on it." He sat on his trunk and sighed. "We have to pack. We're suspended for a fortnight. My parents are coming to get us soon."

"Suspended!" Peter said in awe. None of them had ever known a student to be suspended. They knew it was possible, but in practice it was rarely done.

"Right. So we need you to owl us our assignments, as we're supposed to stay up-to-date," James said. He smiled ruefully and put his hand on Peter's thin shoulder. "No harm, Pete. If Dumbledore knew about you, he'd just be able to take more house points, anyway. We'd have lost another fifty."

Peter swallowed and tried to help, getting robes from Sirius' wardrobe to put into his trunk. "Another fifty? How many did he take?"

"One hundred-fifty for me," Sirius said miserably. "One hundred for trying to get Snape killed and fifty more just for being out after dark. James had fifty deducted for being out after dark, too, but he was awarded fifty points for saving Snape, so it cancels out."

Peter thought for a minute. "So we lost one-fifty . Could have been worse."

Sirius grinned. "And Snape lost fifty too, also for being out after dark."

James glared at him. "Do you think this is funny, Sirius? Any of it?"

Sirius grimaced. "What, I'm not allowed to see the bright side to the situation?"

"The bright side is that we weren't expelled," James informed him authoritatively. "Be grateful you won't end up like Filch."

Sirius shuddered at the thought. "Right."

They finished packing and said goodbye to Peter. James couldn't help glaring at Sirius the entire time they were taking their trunks down the stairs. This, he thought, was going to be a very long fortnight.

* * * * *

Friday, 9 December, 1977

"How long is yours?" asked Claudine Gaillard.

Lily took out a ruler and measured her parchment. "Twenty-seven and a half. I'm getting close."

"What did you say about the poison antidotes?" Narcissa Anderssen asked next.

Lily shrugged. "That wasn't difficult. Look under 'Mandragora' in the Herbology text; there are loads of references to antidotes that use it, something like two dozen. We only need to mention five. Here are the ones I used, so you can all select different ones, to make it less conspicuous...."

Diana O'Sullivan nodded and flipped open her Herbology text. Lily leant over her parchment, working contentedly on her Potions essay. In the time since she and Severus had learned of Remus' lycanthropy, she had spent very little time in Gryffindor Tower. She felt utterly betrayed by her friends, alienated from Remus for never having told her the real reason he "needed" her on the nights before the full moon, distant from her roommates, who wouldn't talk to her after they found out she was actually seeing Severus. And James. When she was around James, she felt--she felt like she wanted to be around him far too much for someone who already had a boyfriend, and the only response she'd been able to formulate was to flee, to very specifically avoid being around him as much as possible.

She'd found, oddly enough, that it had been relatively easy, in Potions class, to strike up a friendship with some of the girls from Slytherin. She had a feeling that they would agree to spend time with her if she basically let them copy her work, and she was right. Part of her protested against this, her rigid stand against copying during the entire previous six years of school thrown out the window, but part of her said, We're in seventh year now. What does it matter? They still have to take the N.E.W.T.s on their own.

And some of them were even curious about what life had been like for her in the Muggle world, before she found out she was a witch. Only Narcissa Anderssen evinced any real anti-Muggle tendencies, and each time she said something tactlessly bigoted, she immediately followed it up with, "Oh, but I know you're all right, Lily," as though that had lessened the offensiveness, somehow. Lily bit her tongue at these times and forced herself to smile at the immaculate blonde girl. Tact was definitely not her strong suit.

But lately, she'd found that she needed to do more than just share her notes and homework. Narcissa had very pruriently started asking questions about her relationship with Severus, wanting to know how far they'd gone.

"I mean--you're not one of those sweet little virgins, are you? At seventeen?" Sophia Porter sneered. Lily knew that no one would confuse Sophia for a "sweet little virgin."

Narcissa rolled her eyes. "Typical Gryffindor..."

Lily bristled. "Actually, I haven't been since fifth year, for your information. You don't know what people get up to in the Gryffindor common room late at night..."

A moment later, she wanted to bite her tongue. I shouldn't have said that.

Narcissa had a lascivious lop-sided smile on her face. "Oooh. Details, details. What do the randy Gryffindors get up to? Like--Sirius Black?"

Lily laughed. "Not him, silly. Not with me, anyway. Don't you remember what I did when he made a pass at me?"

Diana sniffed. "Why ever do you think everyone thought you were a virgin? Didn't even want to be kissed. By Sirius Black. I mean--really."

Lily swallowed. "Well, I don't want to talk about--about that other boy because--we were never officially going out and it ended rather badly..."

Claudine sat up straight, her eyes shining. "Ooh--just clandestine shagging. How dirty. But you can tell us about Severus Snape. What's he like?"

Lily frowned. "What do you mean?"

Narcissa sighed and seemed to be restraining herself from saying typical Gryffindor again. "What do you think she means? In bed."

Lily felt herself blush. "Oh..." Then she shook herself, annoyed. Oh, bother. They think I'm an innocent little shrinking violet and they'll just laugh in my face if I refuse to say anything. So she cleared her throat and began to talk about some rather small things, the other girls hanging on her every word, and soon Lily found more and more details spilling out of her, until she noticed that Narcissa was looking behind her with very wide eyes.

Lily turned, seeing Severus standing directly behind her. Judging from the stormy look on his face, he'd been standing there for quite some time and had heard what she'd been saying to the Slytherin girls. Sophia batted her lashes at him and Claudine's eyes were moving shamelessly over his black-robed form as though trying to picture the fine physique Lily had described. As the moments passed, she felt her cheeks grow redder and redder, until finally, his face angrier than she'd ever seen it, he stormed out of the library, his long strides moving him along quickly.

She knew that if she went bolting after him, the other girls would laugh themselves silly, so she forced herself to stay where she was, and managed to change the subject. It was the hardest thing she'd ever done. After dinner in the Great Hall, she managed to waylay him as he was leaving, seeing again the furious expression on his face.

"Oh, um, Severus. I--I wondered whether you--whether you--" she couldn't quite finish. She'd never actually proposed their going off together before. He always left her little notes about time and place in her Potions text when they worked together; she'd never initiated a meeting and suddenly felt at a loss for how to do this. She felt irritated with herself. Don't be stupid. Just do it.

"How are you?" she said stupidly, wanting to kick herself. He looked coldly at her, and she felt as though she'd swallowed an icicle.

"Feeling ready to retire for the evening. I'll see you tomorrow, Lily," he said stiffly and formally before going down the stairs to the dungeon. Lily hurried after him, looking over her shoulder to see whether anyone had noticed.

"Do you mean, then, that we're meeting--downstairs?" she whispered, meaning the room where they'd first gone to be alone together, where Severus had worked a miracle on the debris and cobwebs. He glared at her, and now she saw the hurt in his eyes.

"No. I mean that I am retiring. To my dormitory. Good night," he said pointedly, walking away from her. She watched his retreating back, her stomach clenching. She felt like a failure.

There was no way to deny that things had changed since they had both learned that Remus was a werewolf. She had been on the verge of confessing to him many times that Remus was the other boy she'd slept with, but she couldn't bear to tell him that. He'd looked like he'd started to suspect the true identity of her first lover, and was waiting for her to come clean. The longer she put it off, the harder it was, but she still had not managed it.

And then, when James and Sirius had returned after their suspension, she'd been so glad to see James! Something had leapt up in her heart when she saw him walk in those doors, and she'd run forward and hugged him, turning in shock to see a very angry Severus Snape standing at the top of the dungeon stairs, glaring at the two of them. She'd stepped back from James, flustered and trying to get her stomach to stop doing flip-flops. Severus had looked pointedly away from them and strode into the Great Hall as though they didn't exist.

And now she had stupidly said far too much to the idiot Slytherin girls....Severus would never forgive her....

* * * * *

Thursday, 22 December, 1977

Severus Snape paced the cold stone of the observation deck atop the Astronomy Tower, waiting for Lily. It had to be done. There was no doubt about it. There was absolutely no way he could tolerate the situation any longer....

When Black and Potter had returned from their suspension, there was The Hug. That had been bad enough, seeing that innocent look of pleasure in her eyes upon seeing Potter again. But then he had overheard a conversation between Black and Lupin that had turned his blood cold. He'd been in the Quidditch changing rooms after a practice, and Black and Lupin had come in to look for one of Black's knee pads, which he'd accidentally dropped. Black was idly swinging his Beater's bat while he walked, glancing around for the errant pad.

"I don't see how you can stand seeing them together," Black was saying to Lupin. Severus ducked behind an open locker door. He had a feeling they were talking about him and Lily.

"I told you, Sirius, it's over between me and Lily. Although technically, it never got started...."

Snape felt bile rise in his throat. Was Lupin the other boy Lily spoke of, when she'd confessed that she wasn't a virgin?

"But you were in love with her!"

"Sirius--"

"Don't lie about it, Remus. I could tell. And she was in love with you, too. If you didn't tell her you were--what you are--what happened?"

"That's what happened. I didn't tell her, so she kept pushing and pushing, wanting to know. But I--I hurt her, Sirius. Physically. Our first time together--I bit her, for pete's sake. And bruised her, badly. And I'm the one who broke her leg. Do you think I wanted to go on hurting her?"

Sirius Black heaved a sigh, apparently forgetting that he was supposed to be looking for his kneepad. "Did you ever tell her you loved her?"

Lupin said, "No," very softly. "She--she told me. Finally. On the train to school in September. But--but I told her I only thought of her as a friend."

On the train! Severus thought, feeling as though his heart had stopped. Lily told me she loved me on the train--after Lupin rejected her!

"You lied, in other words."

"Of course I lied! I'm not fit to be with anyone, Sirius, and you won't convince me otherwise. Yes, I loved Lily, and I still do, but that's beside the point. I'm no good for her. She's with Snape now. I suppose that's a sort of poetic justice, since I nearly killed him--"

"No thanks to me--" Sirius Black added quietly. "I'm sorry, Remus. I never wanted to put you at risk."

No, Severus thought. You just wanted to see me cut to ribbons.

"I know, Sirius. Sometimes you just don't--think." Severus heard an edge to the werewolf's voice.

"Oh!" Black said suddenly, giving no indication of having heard Lupin's last comment. "Here it is. Let's go to dinner now." He evidently wasn't going to acknowledge what Lupin had said.

Severus Snape listened to them go, sinking down onto a bench, feeling his heart breaking. Lily had been in love with Remus Lupin, had slept with him, probably while she was flirting and snogging with me, and only told me she loved me after he rejected her....

The wind was bitterly cold on top of the Astronomy Tower. It suited his mood. Severus turned up the collar of his cloak and squinted into the cold gusts, pacing the cold stones some more, looking out onto the frost-touched grounds. The world looked dead and lifeless. There was old brown bracken by the lake, a multitude of leafless skeletons of trees thrusting up toward the sky in the Forbidden Forest, and even the fir trees looked sad and limp, some of them browning, as though they were dying of a disease, or root-rot. The lake was a still grey mirror, reflecting the flat white sky, which smelled of snow.

It was only days until Christmas, but Severus Snape hadn't looked forward to the holiday since his parents had died. His uncle didn't make any effort to decorate their austere flat above the apothecary, and they exchanged perfunctory gifts, things like gloves and jumpers and potions books. They had no Christmas goose, no Christmas crackers or flaming pudding, just a prosaic joint of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, some over-boiled vegetables (Scottish style) and shortbread afterward with some brandy (which Severus was only allowed to have in small quantities).

The only slightly uplifting thing they did was attend the Christmas Eve service at the stoic, grey-stoned wizarding kirk, where Muggle-repelling charms convinced wayward would-be Christmas church-goers who were not magical to try the other Presbyterian church down the street. Severus enjoyed listening to the children's choir warbling their carols, although he would never admit this to anyone. Back in Oxford, before his parents died, he had, for a time, been a boy soprano, before his voice had changed to an alto, then tenor, and finally, a baritone.

He had actually envisioned himself marrying Lily in that kirk, he remembered bitterly now, wearing a Campbell kilt instead of wizarding robes, his uncle standing at his side while Lily walked down the aisle, a vision in white, with a length of tartan draped around her shoulders. He'd fantasized about their going to hear their own children warbling in the choir on Christmas Eve, beaming at them proudly, then tucking them into bed later while snow fell on the roof and they dreamed of the presents they would find under the tree on Christmas morning....

He turned abruptly when he heard the trap door open. Lily emerged, a red and gold Gryffindor scarf tied around her head against the cold. Her teeth were clacking as she said, "Se-se-se-severus! Why did you want to meet me up here? It's f-f-freezing!"

He tried to swallow, but his mouth was utterly dry. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her, tell her he loved her, but he couldn't, because he also hated her. How can a person love someone and hate them at the same time? he wondered. But he did; he hated her for making him love her when she had only ever pretended to love him, when she said things to others that made him a laughingstock, when she had slept with Lupin, of all people....

"I know," he said, keeping his voice steady. "I thought it appropriate."

"Appropriate?" she said, shivering, pulling her cloak around her body more closely. "Appropriate for what?"

He took a deep breath in through his nose; he had to just go ahead and do it. "Lily," he said resolutely, "it isn't working."

She squinted at him. "What are you talking about? What isn't working?"

She didn't know. She really had no idea how miserable he was, the ribbing he'd been enduring from the Slytherin girls--and then others, as the stories spread--who were so proud of themselves for tricking her into revealing intimate information about what they did together. Narcissa Anderssen was particularly intolerable. At first he had been indignant on Lily's behalf when Narcissa had laughed with a snort, saying, "She actually believed we wanted to be her friends! Her! A Mudblood!" And she'd gone off with her gang of bitches, laughing fit to kill, all of them. But then he remembered that she'd only pretended to love him, and decided that, as much as he disliked Narcissa and the others, Lily had gotten what she deserved. The trouble was--he'd been a victim as well.

"We aren't working," he said above the whistling of the wind, which was making the skin on his cheeks ache, it was so cold. "I asked you up here to end it."

"End it?" she seemed to be saying, but it wasn't very loud, and the wind whipped the sound away, so that he could only go by the way her lips had moved.

"Yes. It's over," he said clearly, his voice sounding too loud to him now, the wind having died down a bit. He took in the shock on her face, but he couldn't enjoy it. He knew he was hurting her, but he was hurting too. It was just too painful to continue the charade...

"Over?" She seemed intent on just repeating the last thing he said each time she spoke. He nodded at her.

"I'm sorry, Lily. I--I suppose we never should have expected it to work, after all. A Gryffindor and a Slytherin."

She frowned at him. "You--you're breaking up with me? And because I'm a Gryffindor? I don't understand, Severus....I thought we were happy...."

Now he felt a fury rise up in him, which helped him keep his resolve and not take her in his arms. "Happy!" he spat. "You think I was happy being made a laughingstock!"

Her face crumpled; he saw cold tears leaking from her eyes, being whipped away almost immediately by the harsh, scouring wind. "I--I'm sorry, Severus. I didn't realize--Narcissa and the others--they were just pretending to be my friends. I feel so stupid. I don't know why, but I've never had a great deal of success being friends with girls. Maybe it comes from having a sister who's so horrid, I don't know...."

He curled his lip into a sneer at her rationalization, but it was somewhat forced. "Don't make excuses. Although perhaps that would explain how you don't seem to have any problem making friends with boys. Like Remus Lupin, for instance." He glared at her; her eyes opened wide, and he could tell that she knew he knew. "Or James Potter," he couldn't resist adding, although he knew he risked looking petty and jealous now. And yet--her eyes widened further. Good God, he thought. Has she been getting up to something with Potter? He'd seen her looking at him in confusion; he'd seen her smiles sent his way, the easy affection she showered on him, the warmth in her eyes when she regarded him.....

She looked down now, unable to meet his eyes, and he knew without a doubt that he'd made the right decision. If I'd let this go on longer, she'd have been sneaking around behind my back with Potter, and then I'd have been an even greater laughingstock. But it wasn't being a laughingstock he minded the most, although that was a great blow to his pride. It was her being with him while only pretending to love him.

"Good-bye, Lily," he said tersely, turning to leave.

As he opened the trap door, suddenly she pulled on his arm, crying into the wind, "No! Don't, Severus. I'm sorry! You have no idea how sorry!"

She was crying in earnest. It was possible, he thought, that she had actually deluded herself into thinking she loved him. But he was not so deluded. With more willpower than he ever knew he possessed, he peeled her hands from his arm and said, "It's no good, Lily. It's over."

He couldn't seem to find another way to express it; he kept just saying the same words over and over. He felt as though they were stuck in some kind of time loop, as though they would be standing at the top of this tower for an eternity, whipped by the wind and saying, "It's over," and then, "No, Severus!" and "It's over," again and again and again.

He virtually ran down the steps, slamming the door after him. He had to get away from her; he couldn't stay any longer or he'd crack. He ran and ran, down one corridor and up strange stairs, until he wasn't even sure where he was. He ducked into a dusty, disused classroom, where the desks and chairs were pushed against the walls and someone had long ago written a rude limerick on the blackboard, which had never been erased. He didn't laugh at the limerick though; he sank down onto the filthy floor and cried, cried for the first time since he was a small child, cried as he hadn't cried when his own parents had been killed and the overriding emotion he'd felt was rage. He cried until he could cry no more, and all the while telling himself that it was for the best, it was for the best and he was better off without her.

But he didn't believe it.

* * * * *

Friday, 23 December, 1977

Lily stood in the entrance hall, her trunk beside her as she waited for the horseless carriage that would take her down to the village to get the train home for the Christmas holiday. She felt odd and empty inside ever since Severus had broken up with her the day before. She had stayed up on top of the Astronomy Tower, crying into the wind, and finally had to go see Madam Pomfrey for Pepper-Up Potion, because being up there had made her nose congested, and she'd developed a cough.

When she returned to Gryffindor Tower, her ears still smoking from the potion, she explained where she'd been, and James and the others had assumed that she looked drawn and tired because she was ill. She didn't tell any of them that Severus had ended their relationship. She went straight to bed and didn't eat dinner, and no one checked on her, no one seemed to care at all whether she lived or died. She wallowed in self-pity and relived the conversation over and over, thinking of what she should have said, but it was too late--she always thought of those things too late. At four in the morning, she awoke, unable to sleep. She'd gone down to the common room with a quill and some parchment, and worked for over three hours on a letter to Severus. She'd gone through more than seven drafts.

After classes, she had packed her trunk and gone down into the entrance hall with the other students who were getting the train home for the holiday. They were laughing and talking animatedly about what their holiday was going to hold, and no one seemed to notice that Hogwarts' Head Girl looked like death on toast. I don't have any friends, she thought miserably, thinking of Cecilia, who was in the Hufflepuff common room visiting with her friends there; they would all be staying at the castle for the holiday. She remembered the Slytherin girls slyly fooling her into telling them things she never should have told anyone. She'd been a complete and utter fool, she knew. And now Severus had left her...

She climbed into a horseless carriage to go to the station, and before she could close the door, some third years climbed in. She recognized Bill Weasley from her own house, along with some Hufflepuffs he'd been going around with since September. She wondered why he wasn't with the other third-year Gryffindor students much anymore.

"Oh, hello," he said pleasantly. She forced herself to smile at him.

"Hello."

"Is it all right for us to ride in this carriage, then?"

She shrugged. "Why wouldn't it be?"

One of the Hufflepuffs had very wide eyes. "Because you're the Head Girl."

She smiled at the boys. "It's perfectly all right. Settle in. I suppose you're all looking forward to seeing your families again."

Weasley nodded vigorously. "Oh, yeah. My mum's expecting another baby in the spring, and she could really use my help with my little sisters and my baby brother."

Lily regarded him with a sentimental half-smile. "Aren't you sweet..." she said, making his ears turn red. She noticed, however, that one of the other boys was clutching a worn-looking letter in his hand and looking miserable.

"Are you all right? What's your name?"

"Jack. No, not really all right, exactly." He waved the letter half-heartedly. "My mum and dad are splitting up, and neither one of them wants me for the holiday, so I'm going to my aunt's."

Lily was surprised; she'd never heard of divorce in the wizarding world. "Oh--I'm sorry. That's dreadful."

The boy shrugged and fingered the letter some more. "I've known for a while now. They wrote me a couple of months ago. But when I'm at school, I don't really have to deal with it, do I? When I'm not..."

She nodded sympathetically and put her hand over his. "I understand what you mean," she said earnestly. Jack looked dazed, staring down at their touching hands.

Then the other boy pointed to the floor of the carriage, saying, "You dropped something." Lily bent to pick it up, her face reddening. The nameless boy looked suspicious. "What's that?" he wanted to know.

"Geoff!" Weasley chastised him for his nosiness. Lily smiled ruefully.

"It's all right. It's a letter I wrote. To my boyfriend."

Weasley frowned. "But I thought the Slytherin Keeper was your boyfriend. Why do you need to write him a letter before even leaving the castle?"

She felt herself redden and said, "Well, technically, he isn't my boyfriend anymore. But--I was hoping that I could change his mind...."

All three boys' jaws dropped, and Weasley said, "You mean he broke up with you? Is he daft?"

Lily smiled at him him more broadly than before. "I'll take that as a compliment. Yes," she said more softly, her smile fading. "He broke up with me yesterday."

Jack was shaking his head and Geoff was looking incredulous. Weasley spoke again. "I can't believe someone broke up with you. And you wrote him a letter?"

"Well--being Head Girl doesn't mean that you're perfect. I did something horrid, and I'm begging him to forgive me. It's not simple."

They rode on in silence, and when they reached the station, Bill put his hand on her arm and said, "Good luck."

He grinned broadly at her, his freckles standing out on his pale skin. She smiled back at him.

"Thank you. And if I don't see you--Happy Christmas."

"You too. Happy Christmas."

She watched the boys walk off to find a compartment together, their easy friendship inducing a pang of jealousy in her. She'd never had a bond quite like that with anyone, not really. The closest she had come was with James, and even he hadn't told her about Remus. However--she remembered now that he'd said it wasn't his secret to tell. That was James, she thought. Honorable to the last. It no longer annoyed her, though. He was a good Head Boy, she knew, despite his having been sneaking around with Remus and the others at the full moon. He'd saved Severus' life. She started to get a lump in her throat as she thought of Severus, putting her hand in her cloak pocket, touching the folded parchment there.

In the letter, she apologized to Severus for all of the dreadful things she'd done, telling him what she loved about him, begging him to reconsider....She had decided to give it to him on the train. She'd seen his face as he'd fled from her the day before and knew that he was only breaking up with her because of his pride; she could tell that he still loved her. If she put it to him right, she felt convinced, he'd surely reconsider. After all, after she'd screamed at him for taking the courage potion in order to kiss her, he had shown up under the oaks at the appointed time.

She looked in each compartment on the train starting at the beginning, searching for him. She finally found him, sitting alone in a compartment, staring out the window at the castle. "Severus," she choked, making his head whip around. He looked trapped, but she simply held out the parchment to him, and he took it. "I'm sorry, Severus, so sorry. Please--please just read this. Please reconsider."

She turned and fled, going back several compartments, where she'd seen James and the other boys. They'd tried to get her to join them, and she'd said she would after she'd done something important. When she returned, they made room for her between James and Peter, while Remus and Sirius sat opposite. She watched the landscape start to slip by, barely listening to the boys' conversation, her stomach in knots as she wondered what Severus would say to the letter.

Lily wasn't certain how long the train had been moving when their compartment door slammed open. Severus stood there, holding her letter. She gazed hopefully at him, but, looking right back at her, a steely glint in the dark eyes, he tore the parchment into small bits, tossed them into the air, and then set them afire with his wand, before sneering at them all and slamming the compartment door shut again with a final BANG!

The boys were all alarmed when Lily suddenly burst into tears, burying her face in her hands; she'd had such hope that, after having the opportunity to really think about what to say, it would make a difference. But it hadn't. He didn't want to be with her anymore. He hated her.

"Clear off, all of you!" James hissed suddenly. She heard the other boys scramble for the door, and when she lifted her head, she and James were alone. He gathered her to him, his arms warm and sure around her, and as she sobbed into his shoulder, he muttered, "There, there," and smoothed her hair and patted her back and stroked her cheek. When she was done, he dried her tears and kissed her brow, and she went to sleep with his arm around her shoulders as the cold, wintry landscape of Scotland and England sped by.

~~~~~~~

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