People stare at things a lot
"If you stare at him any longer, you might burn a hole on the back of his head," Dorcas whispered into her friend's ear.
"It's not like anyone would even notice with all that smoke," Lisa shot back, tearing her eyes away from the boy two tables ahead and a row to the right, measuring dried nettles.
Dorcas rolled her eyes. "Lucky for you, I'm excellent at potions; otherwise, I might be a little cross that you're not carrying your weight," she joked good-naturedly.
"You're not the best in the year, though," Lisa taunted, nodding behind them where she knew Lily Evans and Mary McDonald were working. A smile tugged at her lips as she saw the unmistakable glint in Dorcas' eye; her distraction was successful.
"Not this year. With that falling out she had with Snape, the best student spot is wide open," Dorcas said as she carefully dipped the bottle of flobberworm mucus over the tip of their cauldron.
"She wasn't good because she was working with Snape," Lisa noted dryly.
"Maybe, but they're sure to distract each other. The way Remus Lupin distracts you, I might add," Dorcas said shrewdly, making her friend flinch. Lisa cursed under her breath at her unsuccessful ruse and stole another look at him.
"If you fancy him, why wait?" Dorcas whispered in her ear. "Just go up to him and ask him out or something. You're not kids anymore."
Lisa shook her head slightly, her eyes still lingering on the scales he was holding a minute ago. "It's not that."
"No?" Dorcas lifted an eyebrow. "What's this about then?"
Lisa sighed sadly. She didn't know what exactly was wrong about the way Remus Lupin had treated her in the two weeks since the beginning of their sixth year, but she knew something was different between them. They were never best mates or anything like that, but there was a certain warmth in his voice when he addressed her before; the only feeling she got from talking to him as of late was a chilly breeze. She shuddered involuntarily.
"He's just been acting… differently lately," Lisa admitted. Dorcas' eyes were glued to her as their potion bubbled in front of them, completely forgotten.
"How differently?" Dorcas asked, seeing the hurt in her best friend's eyes. She shot Lupin a glance, but he didn't seem to have changed his disposition towards his friends, at least.
"He's been... less friendly" Lisa replied, not knowing how to put it better. Dorcas' eyes narrowed as her gaze moved from her distressed friend to the Marauders, Lupin's little circle of friends consisting of him, James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew. She reached down her robes for her wand, but Lisa quickly wrapped her fingers around Dorcas' wrist.
"No, no, no, I didn't mean he was nasty to me or anything. Put that away before you land us in detention!" Lisa hissed urgently.
"Then say what you mean with less vague statements! I was this close to hexing him!" Dorcas grumbled, shoving the wand back in her robes. With the animosity between Slytherin and Gryffindor growing exponentially lately, she feared Lisa might have a harder time justifying their friendship to her housemates.
"If he needed hexing, I would have done it myself, you know!" Lisa puffed indignantly.
Just as Dorcas was about to respond, the surface of their potion started foaming and bubbling violently until it burst up, showering everyone in the light purple draught. Some of the more unfortunate students who didn't duck under their tables collapsed to the ground.
"Looks like someone forgot to give it another stir after increasing the heat, eh?" Professor Slughorn chuckled as he bent down to examine Lisa's cauldron. Dorcas shot her a look, and Lisa forced a sheepish smile onto her face.
"Sorry, Professor… it's a bit hard to see the instructions when my eyes are watery from so much smoke..."
"Quite alright, quite alright... it's only a bit of Sleeping Draught, no harm done. Even the best of us can forget a stir here and there, what with so many blasted cauldrons smoking in the same room." Slughorn beamed. "Just make sure to give your classmates the antidote... I know I had some here..."
"You can get away with murder with that guy," Dorcas whispered when Slughorn was too busy rummaging through his bag to hear.
"Only because my grandfather used to be Minister for Magic thirty bloody years ago!" Lisa whispered back with annoyance.
Despite her parents and everyone else around her telling her that being in the "Slug Club" was something of an honor, Lisa couldn't shake the feeling she was being used, polished only so that she may one day serve as another one of Slughorn's "connections." The whole concept rubbed her the wrong way, too. Collecting students like stamps, then placing them in favorable position in the wizarding world... she thought people should be promoted based on their abilities, not who their grandparents were.
Dorcas looked around the room, counted all their passed out classmates and sighed. "Looks like I'll be late for Defense."
"Go, I'll take care of it," Lisa offered. She knew Defense Against the Dark Arts was Dorcas' favorite subject. "It was my fault the cauldron exploded anyway."
Dorcas threw a longing look at the dungeon door but shrugged indifferently. "It wasn't entirely your fault. Just mostly."
Lisa gave her friend a grateful smile that quickly faded as she saw the Marauders leaving to go to Herbology. Dorcas followed her gaze and frowned.
"We are not done talking about this," she said as Professor Slughorn made his way towards them with the antidote.
On Friday, those who wished to continue Care of Magical Creatures past the O.W.L. level gathered on the third floor to listen to the often very hazardous lessons taught by Professor Kettleburn. Not many chose to continue this particular subject, especially given Professor Kettleburn's tendencies to bring dangerous and often illegal creatures into the closed off space of the classroom. Of all the sixth year Gryffindors, only one boy and one girl had chosen to take the class; most preferred to learn how to defend themselves against dark creatures nowadays rather than take care of them. As a result, when when on their third lesson of the term Professor Kettleburn finally told them to divide in to couples so they could try to create Ashwinders (a serpent that is created from the remains of a magical fire) to study, everyone quickly found a partner, and as they were the only Gryffindors in the room, Lisa tried to approach Remus. 'It's alright,' she thought, 'just act normal. Maybe you just imagined it after all?'
"Mind if I join?" she asked Remus, who was already sitting on the ground and conjuring the fire.
"Sure," he said courteously, still staring at the flames.
She sat down cross-legged across him and looked around. The other couples were scattered across the room and were chatting with each other, and Kettleburn was already nodding off on his desk.
"So... this looks like it'll be a pretty breezy lesson, huh?" she tried to smile. Remus nodded shortly, not moving his eyes from the fire.
"Is... is everything... alright with you?" she asked cautiously, finally making him look up.
"What do you mean?"
"It's just... you're not cross with me, are you?"
"Of course not," he objected, and she finally grasped a bit of genuine emotion behind his voice. "What makes you say that?"
"I, hm... it just seems like... you're avoiding me lately."
"I am not. It must be the pressure of sixth year getting to you. Lessons are getting more intense by the day." He gave her a smile, but it never reached his eyes.
"I suppose...," she said hesitantly. She knew full well she was not imagining it, but he simply refused to acknowledge it. His eyes moved back to the fire.
"Are we supposed to... just kill time until the Ashwinder hatches?" Lisa asked but only got a noncommittal shrug from him.
Lisa tried to start a conversation two or three more times, but he only replied with one or two words, albeit with his usual politeness. Soon that sucked out her enthusiasm, until she just gave up and the two of them waited silently for their Ashwinder to appear, surrounded by the happy chatter of their classmates.
Her eyes also wandered to the fire, and she found herself reminiscing about other times the two of them had been paired up for assignments. Like that time in Charms in third year, when he tried the Cheering charm on her and got so flustered it made her giggle all throughout the next five days as his frantic attempts to undo it only sent her into more violent fits of laughter. Her jaw hurt for a month after that. Or last year, when she had tried to help him with his Astronomy homework, only to confuse the entire chart of the Northern with that of the Southern hemisphere and ended up ruining the whole thing, so he had to start from scratch. Or in Care of Magical Creatures, when the salamander they were feeding nibbled at his robes, setting them on fire.
It was true that Remus was usually not very talkative to people who weren't his three best friends, but she had gotten him to relax before. So why was he so guarded with her now?
"Spill," Dorcas said, planting herself across Lisa on the Gryffindor table later at lunch.
"Spill what, my pumpkin juice? I assure you it looks the same in my mouth as it does in the goblet," Lisa said cheekily, trying to avoid her friend's probing.
"You know perfectly well what I want you to spill," Dorcas retorted, unimpressed. "I told you we weren't done talking about it."
"Hey, Meadowes, what're you doing here with us 'Gryffindorks'?" Frank Longbottom, a seventh year, interrupted jokingly from a few seats away, and threw a grape at Dorcas.
"None of your bloody business, Longbottom," Dorcas laughed, and retaliated by chucking an orange at his head.
"OI! You can kill someone with that!" Frank yelped, narrowly avoiding the projectile and walking over to where the two girls were sitting.
"It's so rare to see you out of the snake pit, Meadowes; don't be so secretive. What brings you to our humble lion's den?" he asked again, sitting down next to Lisa.
"Oh, I thought I might gather some information for You-Know-Who. He's bound to let me into his inner circle after I bring him the secrets of the Gryffindor Sheppard's Pie," Dorcas said sarcastically, and Lisa and Frank laughed.
A little ways down the table, three fourth year girls regarded them with a mixture of hostility and fear. Dorcas frowned a little.
"Don't mind them, Cass," Lisa said in a low voice. "They just can't help themselves. You know as well as I do that Snape and his posse don't exactly encourage inner-House relations right now..."
Dorcas nodded grimly. She couldn't exactly blame those fourth years; after all, she knew the whispering of joining the Dark Lord was strongest in her own common room. She decided to put it aside for now in favor of interrogating Lisa.
"So... about Lupin. What did he do?"
"Lupin? Did he do something to you?" Frank wheeled on Lisa.
"For the last time, he did NOT do anything!" she shouted, earning herself a few curious glances. "He's just been acting a bit... peculiar, that's all."
Dorcas sighed in frustration. "I knew that already. Can you be more specific this time?"
Lisa looked down at her plate and twirled a lock of blonde hair between her fingers nervously.
"It's really not a big deal... he's just... colder," she said.
"Colder?" Frank raised an eyebrow. Dorcas shot him an I-told-you-she-was-being-vague look.
"I don't know how to explain it, alright?" Lisa muttered sadly. "He just treats me differently, and that's that."
Frank's eyes slid over to the doors of the Great Hall, where the Marauders had just appeared. They sat down together and laughed at something Sirius Black said.
"He looks normal to me," Frank noted. "What is this 'difference' expressed in, exactly?"
"He just..." Lisa fumbled, looking for the right words. "He acts more distant... Guarded. Like... like I got on his bad side with something, but he's trying not to be bitter about it."
"Maybe he fancies you," Frank laughed. "Have you snogged anyone in front of him lately?"
Lisa could practically feel the blood rushing to her face as she whacked him across the shoulder. "No!"
"Why don't you just ask him about it?" Dorcas supplied helpfully.
"I tried. He said that nothing's wrong and flat out denied anything was happening at all!" Lisa exclaimed angrily. She didn't know why it even bothered her so much; he still treated her courteously, yet she felt their interactions were completely different now.
"Like I said already, it's not a big deal," she mumbled, looking down at her hands. "I'll get over it."
"You better. I need you on 100%, Fawley," James Potter's voice rang in Lisa's ear, almost making her spill her pumpkin juice. When did he even get behind her?!
"You're such a prat, Potter," came the voice of Lisa's friend and dorm mate Lily Evans as she and the other Gryffindor girls, Alice, Mary and Marlene, came into view.
"You need her on the Quidditch pitch, her troubles be damned, is that it?" she added angrily, staring daggers into him. His right hand immediately went up to his hair, as it often did when he was nervous.
"It's not like that, Evans!" he said defensively. "She said it's not a big deal, whatever it is, and kicking the Slytherins' butts in a couple of weeks might make her feel better!"
"He is the Captain this year, Lily" Lisa called. "He's just looking out for the team. Congratulations, by the way," she turned to James.
"Ah, yes, thanks. I'll post the practice timetable on the bulletin board. Tryouts are tomorrow, so try not to land yourself in detention, Fawley. I want you there to see how well we'll work with the third chaser. You're always welcome to try out, Evans. Some time flying around on a broom will do wonders for your anger issues. Not that you're not beautiful when you're angry," he added with a wink toward Lily and walked away. She just rolled her eyes and took the empty seat next to Lisa.
"The minute I graduate, and no longer have to see his insufferable grin, will be the happiest moment of my life," she grumbled as the other girls sat down as well.
"Maybe you should give him a chance," Alice said gently. "He's been after you for years now, hasn't he? And he did defend you last year..."
Lily's eyes narrowed, and the grip on her fork tightened.
"I didn't need defending," she said through gritted teeth, her eyes fluttering for a second to the Slytherin table.
Dorcas and Lisa exchanged glances; they, like everyone else, knew Lily was thinking of her no longer existing friendship with Severus Snape. For a while, Lisa felt a certain kinship with Lily, because they both had best friends in Slytherin, but that was before she got to know Snape. Dorcas also glanced toward the Slytherin table, seeing quite a few pairs of eyes watching their little group.
"I guess I'll be going now," Dorcas said, getting up. "I'm attracting some... attention. See ya later, Lisa." And with a wave, she went back to her House table.
"Anyway... what troubles are you having?" Mary asked, trying to change the subject. Lily's eyes cleared, and she moved them questioningly to Lisa.
"Just family things," she lied smoothly, shooting Frank a warning glance. "My aunt wants to set me up at St. Mungo's after I graduate." It wasn't a complete lie. Her aunt Aubrey was sure a career as a healer would be perfect for her and never missed a chance to remind her that all she has to do is have a five-minute conversation with Slughorn to ensure a position. Lisa's nose wrinkled at the idea.
"What's so bad about St. Mungo's?" Lily chimed in, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "I'm thinking about applying there after Hogwarts."
"I'm sure it'll be very hard for Slughorn's favorite witch," Marlene hinted not-so-subtly.
Lily threatened to soak Marlene in pumpkin juice, which Marlene called a bluff. Lily, not one to be called a coward, emptied the contents of her goblet right on top of Marlene's hair, and everyone laughed as the two girls chased each other, Lily trying to apologize in between giggles. Amid her own laughter, Lisa's eyes wandered to the Marauders, as they often did lately. James was looking at Lily with his usual love-struck face, as were Sirius and Peter, but not Remus. Remus Lupin was staring right at her.
She shook her head. Did she imagine that? After a second look, all of the Marauders were looking at the spectacle that was Marlene and Lily, but she was sure that for that one moment, despite his cold demeanor these past few weeks, Remus only had eyes for her.