Harry awoke to the loud rush of a train coming by on the tracks. At least, he thought that was the cause until he spotted Severus, who had just closed the room door.
"It's raining. I brought food," Severus said, setting a bag down on the table.
"Thanks. Er, you went out? What time is it?"
"Ten." Severus hesitated as he opened the wrapping on a loaf of bread. "Are we still doing the thing tonight?"
Harry put his glasses on and walked over to help Severus set up breakfast. "I promised you, didn't I? But only if you think you can handle whatever we find."
For every weekend over the past summer, Harry and Severus had stayed in the Leaky Cauldron Inn. By the time Friday arrived each week, Severus was, in his usual suppressed, subtle way, eager to see Harry. He no longer had Lily to spend time with, and his parents were either absent or angry.
Harry had sold many of his things to pay for room fees, school supplies, and a few luxuries, such as ice cream. He was careful to only sell things that could've been found in the 70s and that were of monetary value but not of importance.
Severus never spoke about Lily, the memories, or even James. He didn't speak much at all, but that didn't mean he cared less about Harry. It meant he cared less about life. He appeared healthier and stronger, but he had only achieved that by detaching himself.
That night, the last night of August, Harry put a few basic disguise charms on Severus. They dressed in all black and the hoods on their robes shadowed their faces.
The air outside was warm, the sun was setting, and Diagon Alley was packed. That was ideal, because the more people in the area, the easier it would be to go unnoticed.
Severus and Harry waited for Eileen to Apparate by the Leaky Cauldron for a pint, as she did every time they had seen her before work. They never saw her face, but she was recognizable by her husky, drawling voice. That evening, as with every evening, she flirted with the bartender before dropping a few sickles on the counter and leaving. Her heels clicked on the cobblestone road, through the archway into Nocturne Alley, and into a two-story brick building.
A stocky, balding man nodded Eileen inside. After another group was allowed in, Harry Confunded the man, despite Severus' whispers against it. They slipped through the door before the man recovered. For a moment, they stood, adjusting to the dim, smoky atmosphere. The only sources of light were from the candles lining the wall and the colored flames at the center of each table in the place. There was a stage in back where women wearing black, knee-length dresses were performing. Men drank, laughed, whistled, and flipped coins at the stage. When the coin reached the stage, it vanished, then illuminated the dress of whichever woman was closest, turning it transparent for a number of seconds that depended on the amount paid. Around the tables, women brought drinks to customers, sometimes joining the groups if they were tipped generously enough.
"Let's go," Harry said, head spinning. He could hardly hear or think over the music.
"Not yet." Severus' gaze passed over the room, moving back and forth for several minutes. He spotted Eileen before Harry, who was only capable of recognizing her by her clothing. Eileen's hood was pulled back to reveal a heavily make-upped face. Harry recognized the pride she had shown when he met her, even when she was at a low point in her already low-pointed life. Eileen seemed confident as she guided the drinks she was levitating from head level. She crossed the club floor and set the drinks down at a table with several drunk men all around fifty or sixty years old. The men paid for the drinks, and she appeared to ask something like, "There somethin' else I can get you lot?"
One of the men nodded, greedy eyes enhanced by alcohol, and handed her a stack of galleons.
Eileen smiled in the kind of forced way that even sober people would have trouble recognizing. She gestured toward the back and led him through the crowd.
"Severus, I think we should—Severus?" Harry managed to see him leaving out a side exit. He ran to catch up, but Severus had stopped. The door to the club closed behind Harry and the music became muffled.
Severus' face was tight with anger, and he was gripping his wand like it was the throat of—"That disgusting bastard. How could my mother…sell herself like a slave, like a fucking House Elf?" His voice cracked, so he paused and swallowed. "I wanted to kill him. Back there. So I left."
Harry didn't know how to respond. "Well, I'm glad you—"
Severus cut him off, voice raised. "I only didn't because of the Trace. There's no other reason." His breath shook. "I've seen enough, let's go back."
As they lay in their bunks that night, Harry considered talking about what happened. He was about to speak when Severus said from below him, "I don't know if I can live at home anymore. I can't take that money." That was one of the longest statements he'd made all summer.
"Do you have a choice?"
"No, but she does!"
A train roared by, shaking the room. Harry waited until it had passed before speaking. "Severus, I'm sorry. Not just for today. But for everything."
"You're offering me your pity? What would that change?"
"Nothing. And I don't pity you. I just, I feel like I don't try enough to help, and when I do try, I only make things worse. So, well, this year I'll be there."
"I don't want you to give up on me, or with anything."
"Sure." His voice was muffled, but it was still clear he didn't care what Harry had to say.
"Severus, I had an awful life until Hogwarts. Even in school I had times where I lost sight of myself. I let people support me, and I moved on…" He was straying from his point and the truth, as far as "moving on" was concerned. "I guess, what I'm trying to say is, bad things may happen to you, but that doesn't mean they have to change you."
"Mhm," Severus agreed.
Harry didn't say anything else. He didn't know how he could lessen the pain.
Harry and Severus arrived at King's Cross at half past ten the next morning. Harry chose a spot toward the very front of the train, hoping to avoid Lily and the Marauders.
At five before eleven, Remus poked his head into their compartment. "Oh, hello!" He paused, checking behind him. Voice lowered, he said, "James sent me to search for you two. How're things?"
"Fine," Harry replied. Severus remained silent, gazing out the window.
"Great, you found them," James said, sticking his head out from under Remus' arm, startling him. Harry guessed that James had been hiding under the Invisibility Cloak.
"So, you found us. Now you can leave."
"Coming through." Raven pushed past James, who was now shorter than her, and sat down next to Harry. "Lily's sitting with Aluria and them. I thought I'd sit with you guys instead."
James cleared his throat. "I wanted to make sure you all knew to be careful this year. You stay out of our way, we'll stay out of yours. Cheers!" James ducked back under Remus. "C'mon, Moony."
"Okay. Bye, guys." His eyes were on Raven, who smiled and gave a slight wave.
Harry addressed Raven. "So why don't you like Aluria?"
"She's fine—they're fine. I've been around them enough to know they aren't as fake as people may think. They all have their problems, and they're really close to each other. But it's always about them—'the three girls.' I think they shut even Lily out sometimes. They don't realize it, though."
"Has Lily changed since being with them?"
Raven hesitated, chewing her lip. Severus' attention snapped away from the window. "Her personality, no. But, and this is just how I see it, I don't think she hates James anymore. You must've noticed that. She's still nice, and the others don't talk badly about people if she's around, only, I think she's now indifferent about him."
Harry and Raven looked at Severus, who abruptly feigned disinterest. "I noticed, too," Severus said, annoyed at their attentiveness. "Of course, once she sees him harassing people again this year, things will go back to normal."
"Right." Harry tried not to exchange Raven's glance.
The three watched the fields pass by through the window of the train. They ate, read, and occasionally talked. Severus fell asleep halfway through the ride, mouth slightly open, head leaned to the side.
Raven studied Severus, then chuckled.
"What?" Harry glanced up from his book.
"No, it's nothing—I was gonna say Severus looks great, but I realized that sounds a little strange at the moment."
Severus snored a little.
Harry nudged her. "What makes you say that?"
Raven was at once serious. "I don't mean it like that. But you must've helped him a lot, because you can tell there's something different. Was he home at all?"
"We stayed at Diagon Alley on the weekends. He and his mum were out most days, so his dad didn't give him trouble. Since he knows I can use magic, I helped him whenever he needed it."
"That's good." She dropped her voice to a whisper and smiled. "Love the haircut. Just past the ears—very sophisticated."
Harry smirked, then "There's another thing you should know." As he told her about what they'd seen in Knockturn Alley, her expression gradually fell.
"That's horrible. For his mum, mostly. I mean, imagine having a husband like that, then having to sell yourself to support the family, if you can even call it support…" Her words tapered out as she noticed that Severus had opened his eyes.
Severus got up and opened the door of the compartment.
"Wait, Severus, I didn't—"
"Just going to the bathroom." He raised an eyebrow at her before closing the door.
After a moment, Raven sighed. "Well, he looks healthier. I mean, he's standing straighter, and he's not so ghostly pale anymore. His eyes, though…they're blank. Severus isn't the only one, though; some of the Slytherins were into Occlumency. That kind of magic did the same thing to them, though not as bad. They became paranoid and hardly ever show any emotion. I hope this isn't more than a phase."
A few hours later, after exiting the train, Raven, Harry, and Severus boarded the carriages. Harry and Severus stared at the Thestrals for the majority of the ride. They couldn't help thinking about the people Harry had seen die. The thoughts were shaken away as they entered the bright, cheery Great Hall.
The three sat at the back end of the table, away from the other Gryffindors in their year. Harry didn't recognize any of the incoming first years. He did notice that, overall, they were more solemn than the previous year. This pattern was reflected in Dumbledore's speech; since Harry's "first" year, Dumbledore's words had become more strained, as if his message for the students to enjoy themselves was urgent, and him telling them to be careful was a plea. The students, many hardened by the war, did not jokingly or seriously protest the few extra restrictions Dumbledore put in place for the year.
When everyone was dismissed to their dorms, Mulciber and Avery pulled Severus to the side. The two Slytherins leaned close to him, chattering enthusiastically. Severus, face unreadable, shook his head, said something, and began to walk away. Avery grabbed Severus' arm and yanked him back. They stared at each other for a moment. Avery spoke, Severus replied, then Avery shoved him forward. For Harry's safety or to maintain his own pride, Severus continued to the dorms alone.
Back in the common room, Severus told Raven and Harry what had happened. "They wanted to meet tonight and tell me about their summer and show me what they'd got. I told them I wasn't doing that sort of thing anymore and that ticked them off. Avery told me that if I didn't come to my senses, he would put me on The List."
Raven nodded, but Harry was lost. "What's 'The List'?"
Severus glanced at Raven, who explained. "There are students who commit to the Dark Arts, whether by their bloodline, by house, or by volunteering. If you get in too far and leave, they put you on a list. The List, as the they call it. I left early on, I was young, and not that important, so they gave me a 'one' ranking. The scale's up to three. Though he's been with them longer, Severus will still get a one. A two is if you turn against them, a three is for everything worse. Rankings higher than that, they don't need a list. There's a different way they deal with people who actually become a Death Eater and quit."
"So what happens with each of those rankings?"
"A 'one' is they will prevent you from getting a job, especially in the Ministry. And if they gain enough power, they'll kill you. A 'two' is bad. You'd have to go into hiding or always be with a lot of people, or else they'll force you to give information and kill you. If you get a 'three', they'll kill you as soon as you leave. You escape and start a family? They'll find you and kill them too. And when the war gets bad enough, they'll just massacre the whole list. A whole lot more than the list, too."
"What about people who have Death Eater parents?"
"Thank God that's not us. You basically can't leave if your parents are his followers, because your family would be targeted with you."
Harry thought of Malfoy, then noticed Severus. "Are you okay? Your face is really green."
Severus' eyes widened and he put a hand over his mouth. "Wait here," he managed through his fingers, before running upstairs. Raven and Harry remained sitting, taken aback.
Thirty minutes later, Severus returned, complexion back to its usual pale. He had changed into his pajamas, and his hair was wet. "Fucking pricks." Severus sat down next to Harry. "They hexed me. I learned the spell in my first year. You don't feel sick before it happens. You turn green and then…you throw up in the same color. Everywhere."
"Good thing I said something, then." Harry glanced at Raven, whose fearful expression seemed dramatic considering the severity of the hex. Her eyes were on the new, deep green splotch on his forearm.
"How can we help? Severus, they might never stop."
Severus noticed what Raven was staring at and rolled down his sleeve. "You don't have to do anything. You handled them by yourself, didn't you?"
"But they didn't care. They just wanted to scare me. They do care if you leave."
"Do you think I'm not going to fight back?"
"They'll give you a two if you do."
"Do you want me to regret leaving them? Even though I know I had to leave, doing so was harder than you can imagine. And don't congratulate me. Don't think of me as brave or heroic. The courageous thing would've been to become a double agent, like before."
"No," Harry objected automatically, before coming up with a convincing argument. "Well…when you were a double agent, you also had to help Vol—You-Know-Who. So maybe it's better to have you completely on our side."
Severus was already buried in his own thoughts. His features were slightly curved, as though disgusted with himself. The only thing that would convince him his choice was right was for Lily to forgive him, at the very least.
Harry and Severus stayed in the common room for another hour that night after Raven left. Harry had an idea of how to help Severus in case of an emergency.
"If you place an Undetectable Extension Charm on the pocket of your school robes, I'll let you keep the Invisibility Cloak with you." The Cloak had helped Severus on multiple occasions at home when he had to leave the house undetected or hide at the last second. He had dealt with an unsafe household, but Hogwarts, despite the Marauders' pranks, was supposed to be safer. In Severus' case, that was no longer true.
"I'll get along without it."
Harry squeezed the bridge of his nose. "Don't let your fucking pride get in the way of your safety. I'm not giving it to you, or anything, I'm just letting you use it, with a few conditions. One, and I know it's tempting, but don't use the Cloak to spy on people, unless you tell me why first." Harry knew he was being hypocritical, but he knew how was easy it was to get carried away by having such an ability. "Two, don't let anyone else use it. This is more valuable than you know and dangerous in the wrong hands. Three, don't use it for the wrong reason, like to get revenge on the Slytherins, or on James and them. And four, don't tell anyone about the Cloak or let anyone see you disappear under it."
Severus nodded reluctantly. "And why the charm?"
"In case they get you and search your pockets." The notion seemed likely to both of them.
Harry couldn't tell whether or not Lily believed Severus had given up the Dark Arts. Harry told her he'd left them on the second day of school, and everyone had seen him harassed by his former friends. Even Regulus, whom Severus had mentored in the Dark Arts, helped with the pranks (if they could be counted as such).
Over the first weeks of school, Severus ate less, bathed less, and had to be reminded about homework. Twice a week, eventually out of habit, Harry and Raven had a meeting with Severus. They asked about each prank, they asked what he'd eaten, they asked if things were getting worse or better. At first, Severus refused to let them baby him, but as the month progressed, he was too tired to object.
The Marauders left him alone, partly because their job had been taken over, but mostly because they were in the final stages of making the Marauder's Map. Harry spoke to James about the chance that his identity could be revealed when they were finished with the Map. The Map wasn't fooled by Polyjuice Potion or Animagi, so it wouldn't be fooled by the simple disguise charms Harry used.
James was reluctant to help Harry, but after a few days' tampering he changed "Harry Potter" to "Jacob Walker."
On the last week of September, Remus stayed up with Raven and Harry to wait for Severus to come back to the Gryffindor Tower. Raven and Remus caught up with each other about their summers, discussed the two classes they were chose to take: Divination and Care of Magical Creatures. Harry didn't interrupt, since listening eased his nerves. He noticed they talked quietly, leaning close to each other, even though no one would be able to hear from upstairs.
Raven, imitating Trelawney, was giving Remus a parody palm reading when Severus came in through the Portrait Hole. His hair was slicked back with sweat, his eyes were red-rimmed, and he looked as though he could collapse at any second.
Harry leapt up and helped Severus to the couch before his legs had the chance to give out.
"What did they do?" Raven asked, a hand on Severus' shoulder.
His eyes fluttered open. "The Cruciatus Curse."
Remus looked to Harry to explain, then noticed Raven's hand on Severus' shoulder.
Harry took a moment to get over his shock. "The Cruciatus Curse is one of three Unforgivable Curses. Remember what happened to Violetta? The Curse tortures whoever is subjected to it. I know someone—someone, er, on the Quidditch team, they've graduated now, whose parents were put under it. The torture drove them insane. They're in St. Mungo's now, but they won't ever recover. Severus, how long did they do this to you?"
Severus' voice was dull, like he was hypnotized. "An hour."
Harry's breath caught in his throat. The only way Severus could've held onto his sanity for that amount of time would've been to use Occlumency. "Did they do anything else?"
Severus hesitated, or had to gather his thoughts—it was hard to tell. His eyes were still on the lifeless fireplace. "No."
Raven rubbed Severus' back, trying to get him to relax. She had the opposite effect—his body tensed and he squeezed his eyes shut.
Raven took her hand away, confused. She must've wondered why he didn't want to be touched. "Are you sure they didn't do anything else? You can tell us."
Severus nodded. He opened his eyes again and finally regarded them. "They gave me the choice to end it."
"To kill you?"
"No, no, the pranks. One final show, mostly for the upperclassmen." Some emotion was coming through his voice. He continued with a venomous, spiteful tone, "There were three rules for them, one for me. They told everyone there that I couldn't end up dead, I couldn't end up in Mungo's, or in the Hospital Wing. The one rule for me was that I couldn't get any of them in trouble."
"How did you know they weren't lying?"
"Because if they broke their end of the deal, I could get them all in trouble, if not expelled." Severus struggled to get to his feet. Remus, who was still numb with the information, helped him stand.
Raven followed them to the dorm, moving aside the covers before they laid Severus down on the bed. Raven pushed his bangs out of his face and quickly kissed his forehead before leaving.
After a moment, Harry smirked and said to Remus, "You get to kiss him next." Then he noticed Remus' expression. Before speaking again, Harry made sure that Severus had fallen asleep. "Raven doesn't fancy him."
"How do you know?" Remus lowered his voice. "I thought that's why she isn't interested in me."
"I'm not the person to go to about this, but in any case, it's best to ask her yourself."
"Then you'll never know." Harry realized he'd have to talk sense into Remus like he did when Remus had left Tonks. "She doesn't care that you're a werewolf. None of usdo, so why should she?"
"Go the fuck to sleep," James grumbled from his bed.
"Sorry," Remus whispered. Voice almost inaudible, he added, "I know she doesn't care, but she should."
On the first Friday of October, Harry suggested that it might benefit Severus to write down what happened with the Slytherins. The next day, after the first Quidditch practice of the year, Severus gave Harry what he wrote.
The first lines of Severus' account read, Please don't overreact. Remember what I promised them. And burn this when you're done; I don't want anyone to know what happened.
Harry skimmed through, not wanting to dwell on any one part for too long. He had to read through the letter again to believe the words in front of him. When he finished, he felt sick and his head spun.
Seven Slytherins ran the punishment; five boys and two girls, all in their seventh or sixth year. He wrote that the girls, for the most part, merely watched, and seemed to be there out of an obligation or to prove themselves as tough. The boys, Harry figured, could do a better job at burying their opinions and emotion from what they did.
The Slytherins took away Severus' wand for the entirety of time, of course. They brought him into an old part of the dungeon.
Severus didn't realize that the lifeless Lily he saw in the room was a boggart until one of them tore him away from her side, causing the boggart to change into a tall, balding, stern man with a Dark Mark on his arm.
Harry couldn't reread some parts of the writing, the sex acts they forced him to do to them. The others had laughed as Severus tried not to cry.
Guilt hit Harry, hard. Even the short, mostly nondescript style of the writing evoked hatred and anger toward himself and the students.
The first instinct Harry had was to show the letter to a Professor. Once he calmed down slightly, he considered having Lily read it. Then she would understand what Severus was going through since he changed sides. That, too, was dismissed when he realized Lily would take pity on Severus, and treat him like how Harry and Raven often couldn't help treating him; like a parent. And Lily would almost certainly want to report what happened.
Harry burned the pages before he could be tempted to hand them into Dumbledore. He sat in the dorm until Severus came up to get his books to study. The boy moved quickly, as though to avoid talking about the incident.
"Severus, wait. I've been thinking, and I decided I should erase your memories."
Severus stopped on his way out the door. "I made an Unbreakable Vow that I wouldn't." He pressed his lips into a tight line and hurried out of the room.
Harry's eyes lost their focus. After staring into space, mind blank, he buried his face in his hands and let the guilt swallow him.
In late October, Harry heard Chris Barry—a Gryffindor—say, "Have ya heard about Sirius Black bein' a fairy and all?"
Harry glanced up from his book. The Gryffindors were in Charms with the Ravenclaws. Chris meant to be whispering, but James had heard him.
"Oi! Shut your hole, mate, please. Some of us are trying to work." There were twenty minutes before class ended and out of the Marauders, only Remus had his book out.
Chris stared at the back of James' head before continuing, voice lowered more, but not enough. "Cassandra said someone caught him snogging on the third floor. With a bloke."
"Why the fuck would you believe that?" James stood up, strode over to Chris, and put his hands on his desk, leaning in, eyes narrowed.
Although Chris was much larger than James, he faltered before replying. "Everybody's been talkin' about it. Don't blame me." James remained standing for ten seconds, staring, before going back to his seat.
Chris snickered when James had his back turned. Harry felt hot annoyance and anger in the pit of his stomach.
When Harry lived with the Dursleys, Vernon had the tendency to blame a multitude of things—disease, new government regulations, child delinquency—on "the gays". When Harry was seven, he heard Vernon calling a politician a "bloody poof" and Dudley later called Harry the same. Harry asked Petunia what "poof" meant, but she avoided the topic. It wasn't until Harry tricked Dudley into telling him that he got a legitimate answer. Since then, he became vaguely supportive of the people his family hated so much. The wizarding world was much less discriminating of race and sexual orientation, as far as Harry could tell. Discrimination was between species and wizards, Purebloods and Mudbloods.
At least, that's what he assumed.
Harry knew Sirius couldn't be gay, so he had to fight the urge to take his wand out against Chris. He noticed Severus, sitting to his left, was trying not to laugh. "What's wrong with you?" Harry demanded.
Severus shook his head, lips pressed together, still grinning.
Then it dawned on Harry. "You said that, didn't you? You started the rumor to get revenge."
Somehow, Sirius seemed to have guessed this, too. He glowered at Severus as he talked to James.
"You shouldn't have done that."
Severus stopped laughing. "Why? They did the same to Lockhart last year, and you think I can't return the favor? Besides, I didn't make it up, so what's the big deal?"
Harry studied his face, waiting for Severus' serious expression to break, or for him to explain. When Severus didn't continue, Harry did. "They're gonna give you hell."
"I can take it. I'll fight back."
"No, Severus, this is gonna have to stop. After today, no more pranks. That's what Lily hates, right? Pranks and bullying. You might have left the Slytherins, but she'll still see you as immature."
Severus looked over at Sirius, who used magic to fold a piece of parchment into an the shape of an owl. Sirius tapped it with his wand, waited for Professor Flitwick to turn his back, and threw it at Severus.
The owl hit Severus in the face. He rubbed his cheek, glaring at Sirius, then opened the note. When he was finished reading, Severus set the parchment on the desk and slid it to Harry for him to read. As soon as Severus was no longer touching it, the parchment burned.
Harry didn't notice the note, but Severus figured Harry wouldn't have believed what it had said anyway.
That weekend, Sirius watched the Gryffindor Quidditch practice from the stands. James was more distracted at Sirius' presence than what Harry had seen over the years between couples. However, there seemed to be another reason for him being there; whenever the Beater, Arie Tempah, successfully completed a play, he cheered. Arie's brother, Layton, also a sixth year, asked Harry to kick Sirius out of the stands. When Harry told him to leave, Sirius did so with grace, as if that had been his plan.
After practice, Harry stayed behind a few extra minutes to grab his things. Bertha Jorkins stopped him on his way back up to the castle. She was out of breath and grinning.
"Guess who I caught snogging!" Bertha paused either for effect, or for Harry to ask who.
He remained silent.
"Sirius and Arie!"
"Really?" Harry couldn't help feeling relieved.
"Yeah." Bertha began to run again. "I'll see you, I just gotta tell…" But she was already out of earshot.
Harry slowed to see if Sirius would catch up. Instead, Arie appeared from behind the Quidditch pitch alone. She frowned and surveyed the area as she walked, missing the large black dog who began his run on a loop from behind her.
Afterwards, Harry told Severus what had happened, even though the whole school knew by dinner. He expected Severus to confess to his lie since there was now evidence of Sirius' heterosexuality.
Severus shook his head. "Doesn't that prove I'm right? He hardly talks to Arie. And Bertha happened to be there to catch them? I think he set it up."
"That doesn't make sense. He wouldn't do something like that." Harry tried to sound defiant, but his words were hollow.
On Halloween, after the gay rumors had died down, Severus came into class so happy it rivaled how he'd been during his early summers with Lily. He was suspiciously cryptic about explaining the sudden change to Harry, who assumed Severus'd taken some sort of potion. Had he used Felix Felicis? Normally Severus was the subject of the Marauders' pranks, especially on a holiday like this, but other than making pointed comments about him during Study Hall, the Marauders didn't seem to have anything planned.
Another change that was nearly as surprising as Severus' mood was that he seemed to have made a conscious effort with his appearance.
In the evening, Severus left dinner early, giving them some homework-related reason.
There was a full moon that night, so the Marauders weren't in the common room, leaving Raven and Harry to play Exploding Snap with Lily and the three girls. The card box had recently been written over, probably by James, to say "Exploding Snape". There was also a drawing of a cartoon explosion with Severus' head and limbs flying in opposite directions.
By the time they packed up the game, everyone had won at least once. Lily had won four times, the champion by far. While the other girls went up to the dorms, Raven let Harry borrow her pen to draw over the box. He was just coloring over the "e" in "Exploding Snape" when the clock struck midnight.
Harry capped the pen and handed it back. "I didn't realize it was so late. Where has everyone been?" He frowned. "Hang on—you don't think the Slytherins got Severus, do you?"
"I dunno. Should we look for him?"
Harry had to go against his instinct and habit of acting like the parent Severus never had. "No. I can't always be protecting him."
Raven sat down and gestured for him to do the same. "Didn't he do that for you?"
"That was different. And he didn't protect me from kids in school. Just Voldemort—" Raven flinched, but Harry continued, "…and the people working for him."
The Portrait Hole opened. Severus stormed through, followed by Sirius, James, and Peter. The Marauders went upstairs and Severus went to Harry and Raven, who stood.
Severus' face was pale, but furious. "You didn't tell me about Remus."
Harry blinked, then thought for a second. "Yes, I did. Yeah, I remember deciding, because you're good enough friends, and since you know who I really am—"
"That's not what I mean! I know what he is, but I didn't know where he was."
Raven and Harry glanced at each other, then back at Severus, who pushed past them and sat down. He positioned his elbow on the arm of the couch and rested the side of his head on his fist.
"Sirius sent me a note in Charms that if I shut up about the poofer thing, he'd try and convince Lily to give me another chance. So then I got a message yesterday morning." He pulled out a note written on a crisp white card, then cleared his throat. He read, imitating a flirtatious girl, voice dripping with sarcasm, "'Dear Sev, I want to talk in private. Meet me at midnight tonight under the school grounds. Touch the knot at the base of the Whomping Willow and follow the tunnel. Don't tell anyone, especially Jacob; he might not understand. I miss you. Love, Lily.'" He took out his wand and burned the note, muttering something under his breath; Harry heard "bloody idiot."
Harry waved away a stray ember. "And you believed that?"
"It was in her handwriting. I don't know, I guess I always hoped that eventually she would want to be friends again."
Raven snorted. "Yeah, like 'I want to talk in private' means 'I want to be friends'."
Harry elbowed her.
She eyed him, annoyed. "What? I'm just saying."
Harry turned back to Severus. "I've used a spell that can copy print. That's probably how they did it. So what happened, exactly?"
Severus sighed and closed his eyes. "Well, I went back to the dorm after dinner, changed clothes. I went to Hogsmeade, got some, er, flowers, and went back to the tree. By then, it was nearly eleven. I went through the tunnel, and opened the door. I saw the werewolf. It came at me—I couldn't move, but Potter came up from out of nowhere and closed the door as it lunged at me."
Each time Severus called Remus "it", Raven opened her mouth to object.
Severus continued, sighing as he remembered. "He locked the door and I ran. Sirius and Peter were outside, waiting. They followed me to the school, arguing with each other. James asked Sirius if he had been trying to get me killed. Sirius didn't answer."
"Bloody hell, Severus, I'm sorry," Raven said. Harry nodded in agreement.
"They told me not to go to Dumbledore; they didn't realize I wasn't planning on it."
"Why wouldn't you?"
"I don't want to be remembered as the sod who got the royalty of Hogwarts expelled."
Severus studied Harry, sneering slightly. "Aren't you going to give me a speech or something?" Severus' eyes widened and he straightened in his seat. Before Harry could reply, he continued, "Did you know this was going to happen?"
"No, I…" Harry scratched the back of his neck. "I didn't know it would happen like this. I promise, if I could've done something…In my timeline, when you were a bit older than now, you didn't know that Remus was a werewolf, you just suspected it. You and Remus weren't friends. Sirius tipped you off of were he was, and almost got you killed, but James saved you."
"Potter didn't 'save' me. He saved his own skin."
"It's not that simple."
"No? We hate each other."
"Would you kill him?" Harry asked, before he realized he already knew the answer.
Severus paused. "I could. If I thought he deserved it. And in your time I did, though I didn't intend to. Why are you asking, anyway?"
Harry regarded Severus' slouch, his colorless face, the way he nervously rubbed his hands. Harry had detached himself from the fact that Severus had nearly died. "Sorry. Why don't we go to the dorm?"
"Fine." Severus didn't object when Raven hugged him.
"Good night," they said, although they knew it wouldn't be.
The second weekend of November was guaranteed to be eventful. On Sunday there was the first trip to Hogsmeade and the first Quidditch match of the year. Harry and Lily had also arranged to go to Hogsmeade together to catch up—they hadn't really talked since Severus called her a Mudblood. Harry didn't tell Severus they were meeting because he didn't want him to listen in. Raven, however, knew and took Severus to the other side of the town.
Harry listened to Lily's stories, which were all of the you-had-to-be-there type. They had less to talk about since they didn't have the same best friends. Harry was careful not to bring up Severus until the right time.
"So, how's everyone doing?" Was she wondering about Severus, or truly everyone?
"Raven's good. I think…she misses having you around. And Severus is, well, he's never really good. But the Slytherins stopped harassing him."
Lily chewed her lip, then took a long drink of her butterbeer. When the mug was nearly empty, she asked, "So you think he's really turned around?"
"It seems that way. Look, I don't want to talk about it if you're not comfortable…"
Lily shook her head. "No, it's not that, I'm fine. Do you think I'm just not talking to him because I'm stubborn? On second thought, don't answer that. Listen, I do care what happens to him. But I don't think we can be friends. He may have left them for now, but there's a reason he was in the Dark Arts. There's a reason he called me a Mudblood. That part will stay with him, no matter how you help him, how much he seems to have changed."
Harry pressed his lips together and shook his head.
Lily sighed. "Oh, that came out harsher than it sounded in my head. The main thing is, something happened even before that day, and we didn't get along, and I don't think things will go back to how they were. Sorry, I don't think I can talk about it anymore."
"But you know where I'm coming from?"
Lily took another sip of butterbeer, then nearly choked on it. Harry followed her gaze, turning to see. She was staring over his shoulder at the Marauders in the back of the room. Peter spotted her and, despite her hand-motioned threats against it, prodded James, pointing in her direction. James forced Peter's chubby finger down, chastised him, then, after only a brief glance at Lily, returned to the large piece of parchment the four were working on.
Lily sat back in shock. "Wow. That was odd."
"Yeah, it was." When had James decided to change his tactics?
Harry and Lily got up to leave just as the Marauders were on their way out. James lagged behind to hold the door open for them.
They both thanked him.
"See you, Evans," James said, then jogged over to the other Marauders.
"Now that was really odd," Lily murmured, gazing after him.
In late November, the Marauders organized a night ride on the Black Lake for all of the Gryffindors who were in fourth year and up. They organized a fleet of boats, using the ones first years rode each year on their first visit to Hogwarts.
Harry convinced Severus to go along, since he'd be the only one not going, and it would make a good impression on Lily if he went.
The Black Lake was flat, a deeper black than the clear sky above them.
The light on each boat turned on when it started moving, so the Marauders put up several protective shields to make the students invisible from the shore.
Each of the groups within the fourth year Gryffindors had their own boat: the four girls, the Marauders, and Raven, Harry, and Severus.
The stars shone, and the moon was only a few days away from being full. Everyone was silent, taking in the sights. James was watching Lily, whose face was illuminated with awe.
Cutting through the still of the night was the sound of rushing water. Everyone turned to see a ten meter wave rising toward the group.
"FLUITO!" Remus' shout echoed through the night. No one beyond the lake would've heard it. There were more shouts from the Marauders of the same spell, unheard over the roar of the water and the screams of the students, some of whom dove into the water.
Severus took out his wand and pointed toward the heart of the wave. "Lux Fluctus!"
The wave, now curling over their heads, dissolved into snowflakes. Snow fell down over the students, who turned to stare at Severus. The ones who'd jumped into the water poked their heads over the surface and were helped back into the boats.
Everyone clapped, impressed but cold, scared, and unsure of whether or not the wave was planned. Lily might've looked at Severus, but the falling snow shrouded her face.
James, balancing carefully, stood up. "Is everyone okay? Please raise a hand if you're missing a person or need help." No one signaled.
Severus scanned the shore in the direction the wave had come from. "The Slytherins did that. They taught me that spell."
Raven followed his gaze. "How did they find out? It's not as if they have an inside source anymore."
Harry realized that Severus had now opposed the Slytherins, which they might consider as fighting back. "Does that mean you're a 'two' now?"
James and Sirius drifted closer, and before Severus could reply Sirius said, "What's that about the Slytherins?"
Severus chilled his tone. "They made that wave."
Sirius narrowed his eyes. "Why are you selling them out?"
"I don't have anything to do with them anymore."
Sirius scoffed. "Really. How do we know that it wasn't just an act? That you didn't set that up so you could play the hero?"
Severus' lip curled. "I don't have to explain myself, Black. And if anyone knows about an act, it's you."
James leaned in and whispered to Sirius. After a tremendous amount of effort, Sirius said, "Thanks then, I suppose." He guided the boat over to Lily and the girls. James then took off the blanket he was wrapped in. Every boat had one, and each was charmed to release heat. Lily and Aluria had let Cheresse and Florence use theirs.
James gripped the rim of their boat, pulling the sides together. The girls thanked James as he handed the blanket to them.
"No problem," he replied, eyes on Lily, who sighed with the rush of warmth from the blanket. Color flushed in her cheeks, unrelated to the temperature change, and she told Aluria to steer the boat away.
"Okay, everyone, we're gonna head back. There's butterbeer waiting in the common room!"
Up in the Gryffindor Tower, Harry approached James. "Are you gonna tell them who did the wave thing?"
James regarded him. They never talked outside of Quidditch, and even then it was all about the sport. "I thought I would act like nothing happened to piss the Slytherins off."
"Actually, can you tell the Slytherins you were the one who did the countercurse? Severus said they found it in a book they bought called Untraceable Dark Magic: Avoid Blame and Cause 'Accidents,' so tell them you read it, and tell the Gryffindors that now you're the person they saw do the spell."
James raised an eyebrow and took a sip of butterbeer. "Why should I?"
"Because if you don't, they'll kill Severus after he leaves Hogwarts."
"That's a little harsh."
"Of course it is, they're working for Vol—You-Know-Who, aren't they? Severus was probably the best of them, and he turned against them. I think the wave was a test. To see which side he was on."
James nodded, then sighed. "What will you do for me?"
"I can give you advice with Lily again. I know what she doesn't like, and I have an idea of what she does. I know she'd think it was mature of you if you told everyone what they should think really happened and why."
At first, James looked as though he'd continue to haggle. Then, he gave in. "Fine." He stood up on a table and waited for everyone to quiet down. "I know everyone is wondering what happened on the lake. The Slytherins—"
There were angry murmurs, and everyone accepted this right away. Severus met Harry's glance, skeptical.
"The Slytherins made the wave. Sniv—er, Severus knew the countercurse, but if the Slytherins find out it was him, they'll kill him as soon as he's out of school. So if anyone asks, or even if they don't ask, tell them I knew the countercurse and that I got rid of the wave."
The Gryffindors nodded, not very enthusiastic. To them, Severus seemed to have chosen Slytherin House, and they interpreted his return as weak and only temporary. Still, they respected James and were united in the effort against the Dark Arts. Or, as prejudice led them, against the Slytherins.
Before Harry fulfilled his end of the deal, James went to get more butterbeer. Lily, holding her mug, turned around and found herself facing him.
"Oh, hi. What you did back there, I'm surprised. It was very kind." Without returning his grin, she nodded once and walked away.
James watched her make her way through the crowd, then returned to Harry. "Okay, your advice is my command."
The Marauders, Raven, and Harry took turns staying with Remus for the full moon. On the 29th of November, it was Raven's turn. They smuggled food out of the Great Hall to eat on their way to the grounds.
That night, Severus' yell woke up the dorm. James and Harry sat up in their beds, wands out. Peter and Sirius were slow to respond other than by swearing.
With the others watching from their beds, Severus illuminated his wand and pulled back his sleeve. Harry checked the time (it was three in the morning), then got up and crossed to Severus.
The Roman numeral "II" branded gradually into Severus' skin. The Slytherins must not've believed that James had known the countercurse.
"A two." Harry looked to James, who had an unusual expression of worry, then genuine anger.
"I swear I told them about the book."
Harry glanced at Severus, who was too tired to give an opinion. "Okay, I believe you." Harry had barely fallen asleep when he was being shaken awake. Harry checked his watch by instinct; it was ten after three.
"Jacob." It was a girl—Raven.
Harry put on his glasses. "What's wrong?" He could tell that she was shaking.
Raven led him down to the common room. In the light of the candles, Harry could see she was pressing a blood-stained hand towel on her arm. "I left Remus by himself."
Harry drew his attention away from her arm. "Why? What happened? Did he—?"
"No, he just scratched me. Can you heal it?"
Harry checked the pocket of his pajamas. "Hold on, let me get my purse." Raven smiled a bit at that, but she was wiping away tears when Harry came back down. "I don't want to get Dumbledore involved, that's why I didn't go to Madam Pomfrey…"
Harry squeezed her hand briefly. "It's alright." He opened the purse and pointed his wand into it. "Accio Dittany." He caught the bottle as it whizzed toward him. "Okay, take off the towel and roll up your sleeve."
Raven obliged, clenching her teeth as she reopened the wound.
"Vulnera Sanentur." The blood stopped flowing. "Vulnera Sanentur." The wounds closed up. "Vulnera Sanentur." Harry couldn't see if it had healed completely, so he cleaned it. "Tergeo."
"Will they go away?" They studied the remainder of the injury where scars had begun to form.
"This should help." Harry applied the Essence of Dittany to her arm. Nothing happened.
She took a deep breath. "The scars are permanent, aren't they? Otherwise Remus wouldn't have so many."
"Yeah, I think I remember learning that. How did he scratch you, anyway?"
Raven performed a series of spells to make the stain in her sleeve mostly invisible. "I fell asleep. He did the same after me, and he sort of—well, he curled around me and when I realized that, I was mostly stuck. He started to have nightmares in his sleep, and was growling and…I didn't feel safe with him that close. I accidentally transformed while moving away. I suppose I could've transformed back into a wolf, but I—I panicked. He got my arm before I escaped."
She studied her arm, thinking. "I should go back. He's going to hurt himself without someone there. Except—I'm too scared." She blinked rapidly and rolled her eyes. "I shouldn't be scared, he's my friend, and in animal form, we look almost the same."
"It's okay. He'll understand."
"No, he won't. He'll either hate me or himself. So, I suppose I'll wait for him to come in the morning. I won't be able to sleep anyway." She put her black robes aside and curled on the couch, still in her uniform.
"Goodnight," Harry said, now wide awake.
"Goodnight. And…thank you," she replied.
Harry couldn't properly go back to sleep. He woke up at least once every hour before he decided, at seven, to get up. Remus wasn't in the dorm.
After getting dressed and gathering his things, Harry went downstairs. He found Remus and Raven sitting on the couch, both in full school uniform.
Raven was pulling down the sleeve over her injured arm, insisting that it wasn't a big deal.
Harry waited awkwardly at the bottom of the stairs, unsure of when to step in.
"It's not your fault. I transformed back into a human. You would've done it to anyone."
"That doesn't change the fact that I did it to you. First, it was almost Severus, and now…"
"If it has to be somebody's fault, it's mine, because you ended up worse than me." Her eyes were the new scratch across his neck.
"I'm used to having scars. Those—yours won't ever go away."
Raven reached for his hand. "It's not the worst thing in the world."
He pulled away. "I don't think you should help again. James, Sirius, and Peter can handle my transformations."
Raven repositioned herself to sit cross-legged across from him. "Remus, I know you want to keep me safe. But what if I want to keep you safe?"
Harry cleared his throat and came into the common room. They both started.
"Oh, hello, Jacob."
Harry studied Remus. Most of the scars must've been hidden underneath his clothes. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." Remus' eyes were slow and weary.
Raven tried to smile. "We're both fine."
Following their conversation that morning, it would be a while before Raven and Remus spoke to each other again.