Turning Time

The Stronger One

Harry woke first. His vision was normal—somehow, he must've absorbed his glasses—and, as far as he could tell, he could think clearly. Except, he realized as he stood, my thoughts seem to be moving more slowly.

Remus regarded him, confused. Looking over, Harry realized why; James was also a stag. Sirius lay across from him, his black fur reminiscent of his wavy hair. Peter, now a small, furry lump, rested near Raven, who was as large as Sirius. As the others got to their paws, or hooves, she padded to an old mirror they'd polished up beforehand. Her brown eyes, the feature she'd retained, seemed to widen. She was a wolf.

James caught sight of Harry and approached him, head cocked. Then his attention shifted to Peter, who scurried to the corner.

With an upward yank of his antlered head, James turned back into his teenage self. The others followed suit, though they required more effort.

Everyone looked between James and Harry, anticipating their thoughts on having the same Animagus.

James switched from thoughtful to nonchalant in a suspicious instant. "Well, I have to say, I'm surprised. We have two stags, a dog, a wolf, and a werewolf—and then a rat. Or a mouse? No, wow, definitely a rat." James grinned, then chuckled, then bent over with laughter. "I'm sorry, mate. A rat? We're gonna lose you, you're so small. Ah, but chin up, Peter. You'll be bloody useful. Think of all the places you can get into now!"

Peter momentarily had a look of resentment, but got over it and cracked a smile.

Remus glowed with happiness. "We did it! It took forever, but we managed."

"'Course we did. Oi, Jacob, what time is it?"

Harry checked his watch. "Nearly eight."

"I'm starving. Let's get something to eat. Peter, craving cheese?"

Harry found out Raven was thrilled with her Animagus. "I expected something smaller. A bird, maybe, but a wolf? Wow. Too bad Sirius' is so like mine. Yours, though. A stag, like James. I suppose that makes sense, you are sorta like James—"

"Like James? How?"

Raven hesitated, realizing she had to tread lightly. She leaned back on the couch. "Well, it's definitely not the bullying part. But you both like Quidditch. And if you have a goal, you become obsessed with it. Oh, and if you think someone's wrong, you aren't afraid to set them right. It's not a bad thing, necessarily, don't look at me like that."

"Sorry. It's just that, my dad—"

"I thought we were talking about James?"

"Ah—yeah, anyway, maybe you're right." Like father, like son.

"And also, though, maybe this isn't the right time to say it, but both of you are prejudiced against Slytherins."

"I'm not prejudiced." Where was this coming from? He could name three Slytherins who were capable of good: Slughorn, Regulus, and Severus. Narcissa Malfoy, even.

"Are you sure you're not? Because, I don't know, first you convince Severus to be in Gryffindor…" That was to keep an eye on him and have him closer to Lily, not because of a prejudice. "…then your opinion about the houses, and just yesterday you laughed when James blamed the amount of homework on the Slytherins!"

"Oh, c'mon, that was a joke. You can't base prejudice on a joke. And the other things…" Harry wished he could explain to Raven that he had years of reasoning. Years of hearing about and seeing people die at the hands of people who, for the vast majority of the time, had been Slytherins.

Raven gave him a look reminiscent of Hermione. "Jacob, hear me out. I've noticed, in History class, that the bad guys usually come from the best fortune—the rich, the powerful; those born into that life—and the worst fortune—the poor, the stepped on. And there are these kinds of people in every house."

Harry realized, despite his stubbornness, that she was right. The stepped on? Peter Pettigrew. Worst fortune? Tom Riddle. Born to a Dark Arts-obsessed, Pureblood family? Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Everyone has the potential to be good. Just like Unguel the Underestimated."

Harry had no idea who Unguel was, but he got her point. "Raven, if you learn anything else in History that's useful, please let me know."

The second and last time the five Animagi got together was for Remus' transformation. After he'd changed, Remus backed into a corner, whimpering at the sight of the four (Peter was nowhere near capable of frightening a werewolf). Head bent to show that she wasn't aggressive, Raven stepped forward. Remus growled, but she didn't relent. After a minute of holding still, Remus sniffed, then padded past her. He assessed the others, looked around, then bounded across the room. Sirius glanced sideways at Raven before they took up a playful chase.

James and Harry got down on the boards to rest. After tiring, the others stopped and laid down next to them. Remus sat on his haunches and stared at the door, as if guarding the group. No one but Harry noticed this.

As the school year neared an end, Harry was attacked.


Harry froze; Severus had his wand raised, pointed in front of Harry. Down the hall, a Slytherin glared between the two. There was a moment of heated silence in which neither Severus nor the other student wanted to walk away.

"Admordeo gravita!" Severus shot a curse at the Slytherin's feet, eyes half daring him to fight back, half threatening him to leave.

The latter seemed much more reasonable to the Slytherin boy, who hurried off before Harry could remember his name.

Severus lowered his wand and eyed Harry. He crossed the hallway to him, expression blank.

Harry had snapped out of his daze. "Thank you, Severus."

"That was Lester Rowle, Mulciber's friend."

"Isn't he Raven's cousin?"

Severus remained unreadable. "Yeah. He acts tough around James and them, but leaves their friends alone. Same with anyone else who has…influence." There was a sneer attached to the word "influence."

Harry wondered when Severus had started talking so similarly to his adult self.

Severus tried to shake off Harry by speeding his pace. Harry ignored the hint, but grew annoyed and felt the need to give Severus the same feeling.

"Are you happy?" The question was what had led to the weakness in Harry's wariness; he'd spent the last few weeks of school wondering if things were worse now, if he was the one responsible for making things worse, and if life for his friends would get better.

Severus rolled his eyes. "How do you manage to turn every conversation into something about me? You're a friend, not a therapist."

"I take that as a no."

The safeguard Severus had developed wavered. "I don't know. No one is ever honestly 'happy.'" His pace slowed.

Harry didn't say anything, so Severus felt the need to continue his argument. "Even if there is a moment when you think everything is okay, perfect even, there are so many other things that just…" He stopped. "Well? Aren't you going to say something?"

"The difference between you and people who are honestly happy is that they go after what they want—and without hurting people. You're in the Dark Arts because you're unhappy, and unhappy because you're in the Dark Arts. Go ahead, I'd prefer you argue than say nothing, but it's true. If you do that sort of thing when you're messed up already, then it makes your life worse."

"You're missing one obvious question: who says what I'm doing is wrong?"

"How about the Ministry of Magic? And—"

"Oh, of course they always do what's right."

"What about everyone who's killed because of Voldemort?"

Severus' eyes widened. "Why did you say his name?"

"Say whose name?" Lily caught up to them, clutching a book to her chest, forcing a bright smile.

"It's nothing," Harry replied. Severus could not bring himself to speak. He had a hard time even looking at Lily.

Harry cleared his throat. "Er, you just missed what happened. Rowle attacked me—well, he tried to."

"Merlin, are you okay?" Lily glanced between Harry and Severus.

"Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Severus was there and he scared him off."

"You did?"

Severus couldn't ignore her any longer now that she was talking directly to him. Harry realized that the only way Severus could hold back his emotions was by avoiding those who brought them on. He merely nodded in response, but his eyes were on hers.

"That's brilliant, Sev!"

Severus started slightly at the sound of his nickname. "Yeah, I guess."

"Won't they be mad at you?"

"Probably, although…I doubt they'll do anything."

Severus was wrong about that. He split paths with the two, then came into the common room a couple hours later, cheek bruised, his robes more frayed than before. Harry would normally be the one to help Severus, to give him advice, but this time it was Lily who rushed to his aid.

In that scene, Harry saw the last remnants of their friendship. Lily invited him to sit next to her on the couch. They talked, smiled a little, and Lily even touched the mark on his cheek.

"Severus has a better chance with Lily than I do," Remus said following Harry's gaze. "Why not tell him he should stay away?"

Harry thought for a moment and met Remus' gold-brown eyes. "Two reasons. One, you and Lily are too similar." He thought of Tonks, who had given him spirit, passion, and youth; less of a mother figure than Lily. "And two, because his heart is already broken. You weren't too late to save."

The days left before summer were few. On one of the last nights, Harry leafed through his journal, getting a sense for how he'd changed; how everyone had changed. Lily and Severus' relationship was better than it had been in February, but Harry doubted the improvement would last. Remus still held onto his feelings for Lily, but they were fading. After the success of the Animagus Project, everyone involved was happier. The Marauder's Map couldn't be too far behind.

"What's happened?" Harry wondered aloud as he and Raven entered the Great Hall. There were black drapes on the walls and candles on the staff table.

Even after more people entered for breakfast, there was no explanation other than the assumption that someone had died. The students fell silent as Dumbledore stood, body weighted with fatigue.

"You all have been wondering what has happened. I was informed this morning that our Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Fitzgerald Darcer, passed away last night."

If it had been any other professor, there might have been a respectful, solemn silence. But Darcer was most students' favorite. This meant there were shocked, devastated cries, and a dark, deeply unsettled mood fell over the Hall. Harry looked at Remus instinctively; the boy had revered Darcer.

Lily knew this, too, and put her hand on Remus' shoulder before drawing him into a hug. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

Dumbledore waited calmly before continuing. "I imagine you all would like to know how this happened. You deserve to know. There have been efforts over the past months against Voldemort's forces, and on last night's mission, he was murdered."

The clamor started up again, this time panicked, frightened.

"Fitzgerald Darcer was among the best of men. He exemplified a kind of goodness that is hard to find in these dark times. He will be remembered as both a great wizard and a brilliant Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. I hope each of you will remember his bravery, wit, and passion for life."

Remus nodded at this, eyes puffy, his brow furrowed in concentration.

Later, Remus told Harry how Darcer had inspired him. "I want to be a professor. I want to teach. I thought, before this year, professors had to be strict and old, that they had to follow convention. But Professor Darcer was different. He made people care, and I want to do the same."

Harry put his hand on Remus' shoulder, briefly. "You'd be good for that. But you should probably teach something other than Defense Against the Dark Arts."

Remus broke from his thoughts. "Why? That's my favorite subject. It's what he taught."

"I know, but the class is cursed."

Remus raised an eyebrow. "You think so?"

"I know so. Vol—You-Know-Who cursed the position when Dumbledore wouldn't give it to him."

"How do you know about this?"

Harry thought of a response. "Dumbledore told me." It was true, actually. "Er, he told me accidentally, but he told me not to tell anyone. You won't tell anyone, will you?"

"So you're saying Professor Darcer was killed because of a stupid curse?"

"Well, I don't think it's powerful to have killed him." Though, Harry thought, maybe it is. Crouch, Lupin, Snape, and Quirrell all died. Umbridge and Carrow went to Azkaban, Lockhart lost his memory. He didn't tell Remus this, however.

Remus ran a hand through his hair. "Bloody hell…why does Dumbledore let people take the job, then?"

"He can't stop it. We need to learn that stuff. I just thought you should know the risk."

"Thank you. I still want to teach, though, even if it's not Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"You'd be just as great as Darcer."

"You think so?"

"Yeah, I do."

Over the last two days of school, the students signed up for next years' classes, the Ravenclaws received the House Cup, and the Hogwarts Express made its journey to King's Cross.

"Jacob, what's your family like?" Raven and Harry stood off to the side, scanning for her mother.

"They're both off a lot for work, so we don't know each other very well. My mum is sometimes kind, but mostly horrible. My dad is louder and never kind."

"Sounds like my parents. Were they late to pick you up last year?"

"I guess." Harry hoped Raven's mother would come soon so he wouldn't have to keep lying.

Raven stopped searching the crowd and considered Harry. "I don't mean to keep prying, but I heard you were with Severus a lot before first year. You saved his life, even. And then, before this year, you were gone?"

"I was on vacation."

Raven studied him and smiled a little to let him know she wasn't trying to be rude. "Okay. I'm sorry, I just wanted to lead into, I guess…are you going to stay friends with Severus?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

"It's just that you two are getting into arguments a lot, and that's how it started with me. And you're getting friendlier with James. I don't think you can be friends with both."

"I know where you're coming from, but I want to try. Oh—and before I forget—I'm going to be away again this summer, so do you think you could send letters to Remus every couple weeks? Just to make sure he's okay, I mean."

"Why? You know him better than I do."

"That's why you should instead of me."

Raven regarded him, eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Sure."

"Jacob!" Violetta jogged over to them, grinning. A piece of parchment was clutched in her hand, and when she reached him, he saw that she had been crying. "I made it—an owl was following the train—I—I just got the acceptance letter—"

"For what?"

"The Wigtown Wanderers! I didn't tell the team I tried out because, well, I didn't think I'd make it but—I wanted to thank you. Without your help with the team, I wouldn't have been able to practice as much. I wouldn't have pushed myself as hard." Violetta hugged him, then pulled back and kissed him on the cheek. "If I can make the team, imagine what you could do." She backed a few feet away, smiling slightly.

"Good-bye, Walker." She Disapparated.

"My mum's here." Raven brought Harry's attention back to her. "I'll see you 'round. Wait a moment—your eyes—do they normally change color?"

"No, maybe it's the lighting." Harry blinked and took off his glasses. He submerged the emotions Violetta had somehow stirred up. "Are you sure?"

Raven studied him again. "Oh—er, never mind. Well, see you in September."

"See you." Harry stood and surveyed the station. He touched the patch concealing the scar underneath his dirty-blond bangs, then the slight bump under his shirt where the Time-Turner was hidden.

He Disapparated.

After getting his supplies for third year and sleeping in his temporary home, Harry renewed his disguise charms. He eased up on the age factor so that he seemed about thirteen years old.

Harry was one of the first to board the train, so he passed the time by jotting down notes on his plan for the year. Thirty minutes went by before he spoke to anyone.

"Hey, Jacob." Remus leaned partway into the compartment. His hair was shorter and messier than the year before, and his bangs no longer hid the long scars across his face.

Harry put down his journal and smiled. "Hey, Remus. How was your summer?"

"Good. Yours?"

"Fine. I'm sorry for not sending any mail—I, er, went to Wales for the summer with my family, and I couldn't bring my owl."

"Oh, it's okay, James and Sirius sent me a bunch of stuff, they visited me once, actually, and Raven wrote me."

"She did?"

Remus wasn't embarrassed at mentioning Raven, as he had been with Lily. Harry guessed that meant Remus didn't fancy her. "Yeah, I was surprised, too…anyway, I have my Hogsmeade permission slip—I nearly forgot it, till my mum found it in her things." The parchment was folded in his right hand.

Harry had forgotten. He would have to forge the signature, though he guessed there was some sort of charm on the slip to protect it against forgery.

"Well, see you 'round."

"See you." If he had his dad sign it, would it pass McGonagall's inspection?

The others gradually joined Harry, all sporting some change that was more obvious to Harry since he'd seen them barely two days before, according to the hours on his watch.

Raven had swapped her curly, long hair for a cut that grazed her shoulders. She'd grown a good two inches and seemed happier, though the excitement around the first day of school did that to nearly every Hogwarts student.

Lily was only a bit taller, her hair slightly shorter and now wavier.

Severus had grown as much as Remus; out of the group, they were the tallest. Raven and Sirius were in the middle compared to other third-years, and Peter, Lily, James, and Harry were among the shortest.

Lily and Severus seemed to be getting along a lot better than before. Something, however, was different between them from first year. Lily didn't nudge him playfully, tug at his sleeve, or make eye contact for very long. Their childhood innocence was fading. Still, the two seemed to be on much better terms than the end of second year.

Halfway through the journey, when Severus got up to use the bathroom, Lily filled Harry and Raven in on what had happened over the summer. "Sev's father is sick. Did you notice that he doesn't have any bruises? His dad mostly lies in bed and drinks nowadays. His mum is out working most of the time. Severus doesn't know where she goes for sure, but he thinks it's in a pub in Nocturne Alley."

Raven leaned forward, voiced lowered. "So is that a good thing or bad thing?"

"Depends. His family's never been good, so it's either equally horrible or slightly less horrible. Sev's still the same, if that's what you mean."

If Severus is the same as he'd been when Lily and him weren't getting along, then it must be Lily who's changed.

The students traveled by carriage to the school. After studying Severus, Harry realized the boy could see the Thestrals. His eyes were wide, dark, shocked; but his eyes were the only giveaway. Had he seen someone die? Is so, when and whom?

Harry had only gone about two days without Hogwarts, so euphoria equal to what he had experienced as a kid did not come to him immediately. The Great Hall, decorated grandly, hummed with energy.

"So, you gonna get a girlfriend this year?" James asked Sirius. They were sitting close by Harry, talking to fill the time before the first years arrived.

Sirius was caught off guard, and replied, "Why, are you thinking about dating me?"

James winked, then laughed. "No, just wondering. If you never date anyone, they'll all think they have a chance. If you got a girlfriend, maybe fewer ladies would use me as their messenger."

Sirius didn't realize that James was amused, not annoyed.

"It's not my fault! I tell them I'm not interested, but that makes them like me more."

"Whoa, hang on, I think it's funny. Not many guys would complain about being the second most handsome male in the school."

Sirius gazed off into the distance, as if struck by a thought. "You know, maybe I will finally say yes to Lily."

James nearly choked on his drink in shock. When he got the joke, he chuckled. "You got me."

Sirius grinned, studying James even after he had turned away. His focus (or lack thereof) broke as everyone turned to see the incoming first years.

After scanning the group, Harry found only one person among the first years to be familiar: Barty Crouch, Jr. The pasty-skinned, straw-haired boy was placed in Slytherin, which prompted a few glances at the staff table. His father must already be a high-ranking official in the Ministry.

The rest of the evening was calm. Harry felt strange talking to the others, because for them, a summer had passed without communication.

The boys knew to take the same beds as last year. The Marauders clicked immediately, but Severus took a while to even regard Harry.

"On vacation again this summer?" he asked as Harry put his schoolbooks on his nightstand.

"Yeah, my parents wanted to go to Wales."


"What was that?"


"Severus, I'm sorry I wasn't around, but it wasn't my fault."

"I don't care. It's not like I…" Severus began, before he changed his mind and turned away.

As Harry shuffled through his things, his Hogsmeade permission form fell to the floor. He picked it up and, spotting James, a thought struck him.

"James, could you forge my father's signature?" He held out his form.

James glanced sideways at Sirius before replying. "Why should I do that?"

"I'll do your homework this weekend."

"No, how about for the rest of this week, and the next."

Harry scoffed, but knew he couldn't negotiate. "Deal. Oh, and his signature is kind of like yours…"

Before Astronomy one Wednesday evening, Lily, Severus, Raven, and Harry went up to the Astronomy tower to work on their assignments.

The setting sky bled every color, but their eyes reflected only the deep orange of the sun.

"Divination, right?" Harry asked Lily when she got out a roll of parchment. He and Raven were taking Care of Magical Creatures instead.

"Yep. It's easy, but I don't like it very much."

Severus dipped his quill in his inkwell. "Trelawney is incompetent."

Lily nodded. "Today she told everyone what horrible things would happen to them."

Severus snorted. "Yeah, everyone, but mainly me."

"We have to write an essay about what we observed in the tea leaves and what she said to us."

Severus went over his notes."I had Lightning, which means 'an unexpected attack', Skull, which means 'danger in your path', and Cross, which means 'trials and suffering'."

"But what I read in your cup was different from what she read, right? It was weird. Did you write them down?"

Severus hesitated, then nodded. "Let's see…Sun for 'great happiness', Apple for 'sin', Flower for 'eternal love', whatever the hell that means…"

"Wasn't there another one?"

Severus regarded her, squinting slightly against the fading sun. "Noose, for 'personal sacrifice'."

Lily chuckled a little and shook her head. "Mine are a lot less interesting."

They had no idea how close those readings were to the truth. Harry forced a smile. "Oh?"

"I had one death-related one, which is actually below average, and the rest were about love."

Harry glanced at Severus, who was still gazing at her. "Better luck next time, I suppose."

"Yeah. Maybe my dreams will be more interesting."

Severus might have blushed at this, but it was hard to tell behind the warm light of the sun.

A week later, as they left History of Magic, Raven complained to the group, "I hate History."

"I thought it was one of your favorite classes." Harry regarded her annoyed features.

"It is, but Binns literally doesn't have a brain. Ten people were asleep. Including you, and you too, Severus, by the way."

"Sorry, it's just dull." Harry shrugged under her glare.

"They should get someone better to teach it, it really is an important class." They waved goodbye to Lily and Severus, who were off to Divination. As they made their way out of the school, Raven told Harry, in detail, why the class was significant.

They reached Care of Magical Creatures just in time. "Would you want to teach it? After graduating?"

"I never thought about it." Raven paused as Professor Kettleburn instructed the class on handling salamanders. She remained thoughtful until they were able to talk again. "I think I would."

"Welcome to Quidditch tryouts. I'm the Gryffindor Quidditch team's captain, Jacob Walker. Could the Chasers come round first, please?"

Turnout was less than stellar; there were half as many people as the previous year. James was the one of the best underclassman, second only to Harry.

By noon, Harry had his team. The players this year weren't familiar with each other, but that would change with time.

By one o' clock, James was flirting with Lily. "Guess who is this year's star player on the Quidditch team?"

"Let me guess—Jacob Walker."

James chuckled and sat down on the armrest of the couch. "I love your sense of humor. Anyway, I was wondering if you wanted to go to Hogsmeade next weekend. We could get some butterbeer, talk about Quidditch, talk about us…"

"No, Potter."

James leaned in closer. "It'll be fun…"

"I said no."

James reluctantly moved back upright. "Well, then, when you change your mind, I'll be around."

"I am very aware of that." Lily didn't regard him, but she did glance up at Severus when he sat down next to her.

"That toerag bothering you?" Severus made sure James could hear him.

James was back in an instant. "What did you call me?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, I accidentally called you toerag. What I meant to say was, 'arrogant, privileged git.'"

James crossed to the couch and pulled Severus to his feet by the front of his shirt. When he spoke, his voice came out in a low, menacing growl. "Snivellus, I swear I will make you suffer. You think you deserve to be friends with Lily? You think you can get away with using Dark Magic? Stop acting like you're the innocent one." James pushed him away, hard, and the room fell silent in anticipation.

Severus drew his wand, but James disarmed him. He took both their wands and pocketed them. "The Muggle way. You and me."

Both Harry and Lily were unsure if they should intervene.

Severus hesitated, but he raised his scrawny arms and straightened, realizing he had a clear advantage in height.

James waited for Severus to make a move, then laughed. "Come on, Snivellus. Are you scared of fighting without magic? Is it because you realize I'm obviously the stronger one? You could at least—"

Severus lunged at James, taking him off-guard. James recovered, wrestled out of Severus' grip, and pinned down on the ground, one hand pulling on his hair, the other pressing his back to the floor.

"Get off him!" Lily pushed James back, making him stumble. "Are you alright?" she asked Severus as he got to his feet.

"I didn't need your help," Severus grumbled, face red with embarrassment and exertion.

Lily backed away in disbelief. "Oh, of course you didn't. One more second and you would've got him."

As they continued to quibble, James tucked a few strands of Severus' hair in his pocket.

A few days after the first Quidditch game of the season brought the first snowfall of the school year. Harry, Severus, and Raven were finishing their homework last minute when Lily and James came in through the portrait hole.

"I'm okay, really," Lily insisted as James trailed behind.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah." Lily hesitated. "Thank you."

"My pleasure, Evans. See you 'round." James smiled at her, crossed the room, then went upstairs.

"What was that about?" Severus asked Lily as she passed their group on her way to the girls' dorm.

Lily turned on him. "I should ask you the same thing. Your Slytherin friends attacked me—or they tried to. They said you weren't 'protecting me' anymore."

Severus appeared genuinely confused, then angry. "I don't know why they would say that."

Harry looked between his furious face and Lily's hurt one.

Lily took a shaking breath. "Did they say that because you gave them permission…"

"No, of course—"

"…or because they don't think we're friends anymore?"

"I don't see why they'd assume—I'll make sure they never do it again." Severus glanced toward the stairs. "What does Potter have to do with it?"

"He happened to be nearby and blocked their spells. He stunned a couple of them, a few more got away."

Severus' jaw tightened in anger. "Was Potter bothering you?"

"I know he's annoying, but if he hadn't been there—"

"If I had been there, I would've done the same thing."

"But you weren't." Lily took a deep breath. "I might come downstairs again later, but otherwise…goodnight."

Severus watched her go, fists tightening.

"You should talk to the Slytherins. Now," Harry told Severus as he sat back down.

Severus scowled at Harry and was about to speak when Remus wandered over, trying to appear casual.

"Hi guys." He lowered his voice and looked around. "I know what happened, but I have to be quick. James used Polyjuice Potion to tell the Slytherins not to protect Lily. I made it for him, so I thought it'd be only fair if I gave you some to get him back."

Severus seemed about to go off on Remus, but then his mouth twisted into a malicious smile. Remus took out a flask and handed it to him. "Think of a plan first, and be discreet. Also, please don't tell James what I did." He glanced at Raven, who had looked up and shot him a small smile. Remus bent down and whispered to Harry, "Don't let Severus get carried away."

Christmas holidays approached. Snow dusted the grounds. Students dozed off and chatted in the classes leading up to vacation. A high level of anticipation ran through the school. The last Hogsmeade trip of the term rustled by in a flurry of bright wrapping paper, flashes of gleaming coins, and the tingling warmth of butterbeer.

All of the Gryffindor third years were staying at school, except Aluria, Florence, and Cheresse, who were not aware of this phenomenon until it was too late to change plans. Harry suspected that James had made sure they wouldn't find out, probably to limit distractions between him and Lily.

The first day of the holidays was guaranteed to be eventful; Severus was going to get revenge. The plan was subtle, but effective. Severus agreed to not seriously injure James, and Harry agreed not to get in the way. They'd spent the weeks after James' scheme by tuning Severus' imitation of James, which was now, after some toning down, frighteningly accurate.

"Hey, Walker!" Severus, disguised as James, came into the common room through the portrait hole, addressing Harry, who was playing cards with Lily. "Don't you have somewhere else to be?"

The room was almost empty. The Marauders had snuck out to Hogsmeade even though it wasn't a visitation weekend. No one except Harry knew about these periodical escapades.

"What's your problem?" Lily set down her cards and turned toward "James," as though moved by the instinct to protect Harry.

"There's no problem." "James" ran a hand through his hair. He whisked the cards between them off the couch and sat down, his back to Harry.

"Hey, what the hell?" Harry stood up.

"James" hardly glanced at him. "If you don't go, Jacob, you know what I'll do."

Harry'd given Severus that bit to say; if Lily asked about it later, Harry could tell her James had previously used harming Severus as a means to get what he wanted.

Harry went upstairs, then hurried back down, hidden under his Invisibility Cloak.

"…that's why I used Polyjuice Potion. Severus got what he had coming to him."

"But they attacked me! What does that have to do with Severus?"

"It's doesn't matter—I saved you, didn't I?" "James" brushed aside a strand of her hair, then placed his other hand on her cheek. He leaned in, then—SMACK!

Lily shot up from the couch and pointed her wand at him. "If you touch me again, I will hex you." She faltered, tucked the strand of hair behind her ear, then ran up to the girls' dorms.

The upperclassmen girls sitting across the room snickered before continuing with their conversation.

"James" gaped in surprise for a second, then he left through the portrait hole, since that was the way the real James would come back through when he got back from Hogsmeade. "James" used a Disillusionment Charm to conceal himself as he snuck back upstairs.

"Good job, mate," Harry said, stuffing Hermione's purse among his things before Severus could catch sight of it.

Severus smirked. "Thanks." He'd used another potion to reverse the effects of the Polyjuice Potion and was almost back to his old self.

"Did it go well after I left?"

"Yeah, she slapped me." Severus grazed his cheek with his fingers. "I hope she gives him hell when he gets back."

Harry nodded in agreement, then paused in thought. "Where's Raven? I haven't seen her."

Severus shrugged. "Me neither. I'm going to go wash up."

"Okay," Harry replied over his shoulder, already moving downstairs. He felt oddly like he was Severus' parent for noticing that the boy had become more active in his hygiene. Harry didn't know if it was from being around him more, being around Lily more, or both.

Raven wasn't in the common room. "Hey, Lily, Raven!" he called up the girls' dorm stairs.

"Lily's washing up. Raven's not back yet," said a fourth year, eyebrow raised, as she walked past.

"Thanks." Harry turned and strode to and out of the portrait hole. He followed the route most Gryffindors took to and from the Tower, hoping to run into Raven. Sure enough, he saw her curly black hair from the staircase below him.

"Raven! Raven?" She stopped at the foot of the stairs and peered up at him, face streaked with tears.

"Jacob." She ran up the stairs and threw her arms around him.

"What happened?"

Raven leaned away from him and wiped her eyes.

Harry flinched in surprise. "Merlin…" Her face was covered with white scrawl that stood out on her dark skin. Traitor. Mudblood-lover. Disgrace. Stupid. Ugly. Dead.

"But you left the Slytherins a year ago. Why would they still—"

"They said I 'no longer had protection.' So whatever James said when he pretended to be Severus—"

"But Severus said he told them off."

"Maybe they don't listen to him anymore." Raven pulled the sleeves of her robe over her hands, which were also covered with white writing.

"We'll figure it out. I'm sorry, I wish I could've done something…"

Back in the dorm, Severus performed the countercurse and returned Raven's skin to normal. He seemed suspiciously familiar with the spell, leading Harry to believe he'd cast it on someone before.

"I didn't know that they would do this. I told them to disregard what I said that day—"

"Okay." Raven averted her eyes.

"Did you do anything to them? Did you say something that would've—"

"I didn't do anything, unless you count 'betraying' them. Is that what you mean?"

"Yes, well, I already knew that part. I said they wouldn't let it alone, that they'd make you regret it, didn't I?"

Raven glared at him and stood up. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight."

Lily didn't confront James the following day, but she acted much colder to him. Severus was at first delighted to mouth off about him to Lily, but after realizing she didn't want to talk about it, he sulked for a while. Raven and Lily were getting along best out of their group of four. Both were trying to figure out what James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter were planning. The Marauders (which they had yet to be called) had been nearly caught by Filch on one of their late-night adventures. After that, they could be seen smuggling things under their robes, in too much of a flashy way for it to be secretive.

"Hello, mates," James said that evening in the common room.

"Hello." Harry was the only one to respond.

James breezed right to the point, handing Lily an envelope. "Monday, at nine o' clock, we're having a Christmas Eve party. You…" he surveyed the others as though pained, "…and a few guests can come."

Lily turned her nose up at him. "Well, Filch might invite us to a party, so I have to say no. But maybe in eighth year."

James just stood as the group laughed. Then he almost smiled to himself before leaving to join with the Marauders.

Saturday ended and Sunday quickly wound down to the evening. The Gryffindors left all at once to get to the party, which was in a room apparently nearby. Remus had been delegated to guide the Gryffindors, Peter led the Ravenclaws, Sirius met up with the Hufflepuffs, and James was (with the help of Peeves) in charge of distracting Filch.

"Okay, I have to cast a Blindfolding Charm, just to protect the location of the room." Remus moved along their ranks, wand out. "Take someone's hand, and I'll give directions."

Lily took Harry's right hand, Raven took his left, and then everything turned to a fuzzy, dark gray color.

It took the group about three minutes to get to their destination. Only when they were inside did Remus remove the charm.

It was the Room of Requirement.

Harry knew by the quality of the set-up; the Marauders couldn't have decorated it that well on their own. There were two long tables topped with food that spanned opposite walls, four circular tables in the back of the room, and a dance floor in the center of the room. Music from a radio and snow from the ceiling drifted in the air. Lanterns, glowing white, hung above the guests.

"Welcome, everyone!" James bounded up from behind the small crowd, who were still adjusting to the light after experiencing the Blindfolding Charm. "This is the first annual Christmas Eve Party, hosted by yours truly, James Potter…" He bounded to the back of the room, the other Marauders in his wake, "and by my devilishly handsome friends, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew!" Each stood before their own large, silvery, throne-like chair.

"Happy Christmas Eve, and let the festivities begin!"

The students, composed of six Ravenclaws, twelve Hufflepuffs, and seven Gryffindors (excluding the Marauders), spread around the room.

Lily, Harry, and Raven lagged behind the others. "I wonder where they found this place." Lily searched for a flaw. "The food seems mediocre," she decided, doing her best to ignore James, who was casting silver sparks from his wand to entertain a group of girls. Not a moment later, James walked in their direction, eyes shifting between Lily and any reflective surfaces he found on the way.

"Hello, Evans." James took a cookie from the table next to him.

"Potter." Lily turned so her back was to him. "Jacob, you were telling me about Quidditch?"

"Hang on—what do you think of the party?" James swept in to face Lily.

"Do you want us to leave your stupid party, James? That's what I hear you asking."

"No, I…" James' eyes turned down. Harry thought he appeared quite pathetic, and that Lily wouldn't fall for that tactic, but to his surprise, she softened ever so slightly.

"The party's fine."

James cheered up instantly. "Really? Well, I'm glad I was able to throw such a brilliant party, Lily. Thank you for your continued support of our marauding."

"That's not what I—"

"Would you like to dance?" James cut in, producing a silver rose from his wand.

"No." An orb nearby glowed in sync with her cheeks.

"Well, can't blame a man for trying. Tell Snivellus I'm sorry he couldn't make it. Cassandra!" He took the girl's hand. "Hi, want to dance? Lovely!" He whisked through the crowd with the fourth year on his arm. The orbs gravitated to the dance floor, spinning over James and Cassandra's heads.

More people joined them, and the music grew in volume.

"Happy Christmas, everyone," Remus greeted the three, smiling. His hair was combed back like James', only it was cooperating much better.

"Hey, Remus. You don't think you could put James on a leash, could you?" Raven smirked, leaning toward him.

"No. Maybe Sirius, though."

They laughed; Lily smiled a bit, confused.

Remus tilted his head, trying to be casual. "I, er, I came over to ask if you wanted to dance?" He was turned toward Jacob and Lily while he said this.

Raven blinked. "Oh, you mean me. Sure, I'd—yeah."

It was down to Lily and Harry. "Want to sit down?" Lily nodded and they went in the back of the room. Harry didn't mind being left out, but Lily seemed to be feeling sorry for herself.

"You don't want to dance with him, do you?"

Lily blinked. "No! Why would I want to…don't be ridiculous."

Harry nodded and peered over at Remus and Raven. She was laughing, he was wearing a goofy sort of half-smile. A fast-paced song began, and they danced more quickly, without any particular pattern or style.

Lily's foot bounced to the beat until she caught James looking at her. She tilted her chin up and turned her head.

"I'm surprised the Slytherins haven't crashed the party yet," Harry said, attempting to bring her out of her thoughts.

"Yeah. Oh, no, no! I just look at him once and he thinks…Now he's coming this way."

James waltzed to their table. "Hello again, Evans. Did you try the trifle? It's amazing. The elves can do so much under such short notice—"

Lily stood up, cutting him off, and walked away, toward the entrance of the room.

"Wait! If you stay, I won't bother Snivellus for a week. Fine—a month. I can do a month."

Harry, as he hurried to keep up with Lily, imagined that she rolled her eyes. "I'm sure the food was delicious," she tossed over her shoulder. And they were out the door.

The corridor was silent, and the door had disappeared behind them.

"You didn't make a deal with James," Harry noted, after a pause. Was he wrong to have done so before?

"Why should I? He's an idiot if he thinks saying things like that will make me like him. Anyway, why did they act all secretive when they brought us here? And I thought we were farther away from the Tower."

Harry replied with a shrug, but he knew why; the students couldn't be allowed to see the door materialize or move location. What he didn't know was why Lily's feelings for James were changing so quickly.

Harry's eyes opened on Christmas morning. The room was dark, but it was morning. Lately, when he had to get up for school, every muscle in his body would ache to stay in the warmth and comfort of his bed. This, to him, made no sense, as he was where he wanted to be. But he was tired. The bright pieces of his past were weighing him down as the dark load of his past lightened.

Christmas was the exception. He crawled out of bed and started a fire in the common room's fireplace. Just as his eyes began to close with the lull of the flames, two first years crept down the stairs, whispering loudly and shushing each other.

"Happy Christmas," they said automatically, before going off to sort through their gifts.

A minute later, Raven approached the couch with her eyes only half open.

Harry gave her room. "Happy Christmas."

"Yeah, you too," Raven replied—or, at least, Harry figured this is what she said; she'd buried her head in a couch pillow.

"Long night?"

Raven lifted her head up and pushed her dark hair out of her face. "Mhm. I went to bed at…two? That means I got five hours."

"Was it fun?"

She squeezed the bridge of her nose, blinked, then yawned. "Actually, yeah. I mostly talked to Remus. By midnight, nobody was dancing, so they just told stories and we all played games. James and them can be annoying, but it was worth it to stay. It's too bad he was being a jerk to Lily."

"No big surprise there. So, did you dance a lot with Remus?"

"Why?" Raven studied him, eyes steady, alert, for the first time.

"I'm just asking."

"I suppose. Well, I danced with a couple other people, too. You know Gilderoy? The short, blond Ravenclaw? Really full of himself?

Harry nodded, wincing a bit.

"He danced with all of the girls…on a bet, apparently. He barely came up to my chin." Raven's eyes wandered. "He annoys the hell out of Remus." She glanced back at Harry. "Anyway! I have your gift." Raven picked up her sketchbook from the table, sifted through it, and produced a sheet of paper. "Here."

Harry examined it while Raven continued talking. "My mom didn't give me any Christmas funds, because she doesn't approve of you all. That's fine, I don't approve of her, so."

"This is fantastic, thank you." It was a sketch of his Quidditch equipment; his goggles, gloves, and the hilt of his broom.

"I didn't have much time, but I'm glad you like it."

"Here's your gift. I'm terrible at wrapping, by the way; this is what they did at the store."

Raven ripped away the wrapping paper. "Auto-Enchanted Parchment for Motion Portraits and More: Adds Motion While You Create!' This is so cool! Thank you."

Harry smiled, then noticed Remus. He was shuffling over, hair ruffled, mouth agape in a yawn. He carried his gifts in his arms, ignoring the second years who bolted past to the tree in the corner of the room.

"Hello Raven. Jacob. Happy Christmas." He handed them their gifts and sat down. He glanced at Raven, then down at his foot. "My toe still hurts."

They both laughed. Harry almost asked for one of them to tell the story, but decided against it.

Raven's gift from Remus was a necklace featuring a small pewter charm of a wolf. Harry got an assortment of things from Zonko's Joke Shop. He gave Remus a large bag of candy (mostly chocolate, his favorite) in return.

Raven's drawing to Remus was of Hogwarts, which Harry realized suited him. It was as much of an escape to Harry as it was to Remus. Did Raven draw Hogwarts for that reason?

By now, most students were in the common room.

"Oh, that's right, you two don't know. Apparently Dumbledore found out about the party—probably from the elves or a Slytherin or something—"

Raven cut in. "Well, it's not right to assume. Either way, he caught James and Sirius, just them, so they probably got back to the dorms really late."

"Happy Christmas," said Lily, filling the last space on the couch.

"Happy Christmas," they replied. When Severus joined them, they finished exchanging presents. Harry got Severus a box containing an assortment of rare potion supplies and got Lily a book on advanced charms. Lily gave Remus a thick gold scarf, Raven a number of Muggle items (Raven was taking Muggle Studies and thoroughly enjoyed it), Harry the record album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (she assumed that, as a Muggleborn, he had a record player), and gave Severus the book Advanced Potion Making.

Severus didn't have anything to give. He appeared uncomfortable, but he didn't say anything about it. The drawing Raven gave to him was of a black bottle spewing out clouds of dark smoke.

At noon, James and Sirius bounded downstairs, smiles wide, voices rising over the buzz of the others in the common room. They climbed onto one of the tables, gestured Peter and Remus to join them, then James cleared his throat.

"Thank you to everyone who came to the first annual Christmas Eve Party last night. As you know, after clearing up, Dumbledore caught Sirius and I." He paused. "We talked for a couple hours in his office, but not to discuss our punishment. He wants to help us throw an official Christmas Eve Party every year in the Great Hall." Excited murmurs followed his words. "You have to admit, the old man can be pretty cool. So, thanks again for coming and we'll see you next year!"

Everyone returned to what they were doing. For the small moment after James' announcement where there was near silence, Harry could hear a persistent tapping on the window across the room. An owl was scowling at him as it pecked the glass. Harry got up, crossed to the window, and let the owl in. The bird offered the envelope on its leg and took off as soon as it was relieved of the weight.

To Jacob, the front of the envelope read. Inside, there was a letter and four tickets to see the Wigtown Wanderers vs. the Ballycastle Bats.

"What's that?"

"It says, 'Dear Jacob. Happy holidays! Hope school is going well and that the Gryffindor Quidditch team is kicking ass. I am writing to invite you to the last game of my season with the Wigtown Wanderers. Our last game April 13th, the Saturday before Easter. A ton of people go, second most to the World Cup. I figured you could invite three other people (please not James). We'll be staying with my parents in a tent up by the field, an area reserved for players and their families. And the super rich. Let me know if you're able to go. It'll be loads of fun! Hope to see you soon, Violetta Rosquit.'"

"Sounds exciting!" Lily said. Raven nodded; Severus didn't react.

"Well, then, do you all want to go?"

Severus glanced at Lily, waiting for her to reply. She was lighting up with enthusiasm. "Of course! That would be so fun—I'll write my parents now. C'mon, Raven."

Severus watched them run upstairs, then turned back to Harry. "I don't want to go."

"You don't want to spend time with Lily?"

Severus narrowed his eyes. "I didn't know that was the point."

"Would you rather be here alone with James and them?"

"I wouldn't be alone."

"Not technically, I guess. Look, it'd be good to go."

Severus scoffed and averted his eyes. His sneer fell into a frown. "I suppose…it'd only be a few days." He glowered at Harry. "But I'm not going to enjoy it."

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