Furry Little Problem
Harry froze, expecting the hat to proclaim "Slytherin!" But the words didn't come. The hat remained silent to everyone except Severus. It seemed to be communicating with Snape—Harry could only tell by the hardly noticeable changes in its mouth, nothing it was saying was audible. Harry wished he could hear what the problem was, but he had to rely on Snape's reactions to tell him.
In the first minute, Severus shut his eyes tight and clenched his fists in his lap. Then, over time, the nervousness Snape appeared to feel transformed into annoyance, as he rolled his eyes and shook his head slightly. After three minutes had passed, murmuring broke out, then died back down as Dumbledore signed for them to be quiet. Professor McGonagall whispered, just loud enough so the first years could hear, "He may be a Hatstall; someone who takes five minutes or more to sort. They are very rare, and usually occur only once every fifty years. I was one myself."
Harry wondered if he was the one who'd caused this. He doubted that Snape had taken this long to sort in the original timeline. Was Severus fighting for a spot in Gryffindor instead of Slytherin, just as he had as a first year? It seemed so; Snape was now voicing his opinions in a frustrated whisper. Harry glanced at Lily, who gazed unblinkingly at Severus from her seat, features taut with anticipation. Harry could see that her fingers were crossed, resting on the edge of the table before her. Nearby, James and Sirius were sniggering at him, having apparently found something amusing about Severus' appearance and possibly by the way he was acting.
Harry remembered Dumbledore saying, "I sometimes think we Sort too soon…" If Dumbledore said it, then it had to have some significance. If it was true, then there was nothing wrong with what Harry had done and there was a good chance Severus would be sorted into Gryffindor.
It all depended on Severus' choice. Five minutes and twenty-one seconds after the hat had been placed on Severus' head, the seam across its front opened wide. Harry held his breath. Ages later, the hat called Gryffindor, and warmth spread back into the Hall.
Harry could breathe again, and he beamed at Severus as he passed by and sat next to Lily at the Gryffindor table. Severus still seemed slightly regretful as he nodded at Harry, then glanced at the Slytherin table. Only when Lily hugged him did he allow himself to move on.
Harry wondered if this now meant there would be six male Gryffindors, as opposed to the five in his first year. Who was he pushing to a different house? Unless…there were only four people in Gryffindor house in the original reality. That might explain why the Marauders adopted Peter into their group, because there were so few of them to begin with.
Harry didn't pay attention to the next couple of names. He was happy for Lily, Severus, and Raven, but his mind was still not relaxed. His gaze absentmindedly found the Gryffindor table, where his dad sat, eying his mother. Harry looked away, but his thoughts remained on the sight. How his father looked at his mother now was much different from how Severus looked at her. Of course, Snape had the advantage of knowing her for much longer, so maybe Harry shouldn't judge his dad too harshly. Still, the way James studied her made him uncomfortable.
Before he could think about it much longer, "Walker, Jacob," was called, and he went up to the hat. When Harry put it on, the hat made a soft sound of surprise.
"Well, well, well…" It murmured, so only he could hear. "I heard them call up Jacob Walker, not a 'Harry Potter.'" It paused, taking in all the information and memories in Harry's mind, which was a significantly larger amount than the kids who were coming up before him. "You are…very strange. Tampering with the past, but not for your own selfish reasons. And somehow, time has not been torn. Most peculiar…"
Don't tell anyone, Harry thought urgently.
"I was not planning to…You see, I am interested to know how this turns out. I believe you are the first to come to this school under your circumstances. But, to get to the point, you were sorted into Gryffindor last time, and I see no reason to place you elsewhere."
Harry felt the relief even before the Sorting Hat exclaimed, "GRYFFINDOR!" He was glad to get away from the hat, whose ability to see into his mind unnerved him. He was grateful that the hat hadn't kept him as long as Severus, as that would've drawn too much attention to himself. Harry hurried to take a seat next to Snape, whose smile was hard to place as genuine or forced. Raven smiled at Harry from her seat next to him, and he returned the gesture. Everyone was smiling and no one appeared to be unhappy with their placement. James and Sirius were nearby, laughing as if they'd been friends all of their life.
"Woodcly, Elena," The Professor called. She was the last girl to go up, and the hat quickly placed her in Gryffindor. As soon as she sat down next to a girl named Kiara, an expectant hush fell over the Great Hall. Dumbledore rose and opened his arms to the crowd, basking all of them in the warm glow of his smile.
Harry felt a lump rise in his throat and he tried not to think about the fact that Dumbledore was now passed. So many great memories of this kind of moment, of this man, that it was hard to ignore the ones Harry mourned over, like the night when the man had died.
"Welcome, new and old, to another year at Hogwarts." He began, continuing to look kindly over the students. "I think only two words are necessary before the feast—Dig in!"
Everyone cheered, Harry significantly louder than the first years around him, who weren't sure how to respond to such a brief speech. He felt nostalgic, and couldn't help thinking that it was like Dumbledore was alive again.
The empty plates before them filled, and everyone helped themselves as they animatedly discussed their excitement. Severus looked like he had never seen so much food at once in his life. His eyes widened comically and he slowly picked up a generous piece of chicken. Lily's eyes glittered as she scanned the countless dishes. Raven looked less enthusiastic than the other three, most likely because she was used to an abundance of food, coming from a wealthy wizarding family.
James reached across the table to the dish in front of Lily, which was filled with steaming pork chops. Harry helped himself to the foods nearest him: steak, roast potatoes, carrots, and roast chicken. Lupin, who was sitting right of across from Harry, piled three steaks on his plate. Sirius, who sat on the other side of him, raised his eyebrows slightly, but didn't say anything, just scooted a bit away. Peter sat across from Raven, oblivious to Harry's steady glare.
Peter already had ratlike features, and even nibbled on his food like a rat. His quick eyes darted to Harry, who looked away. Pretending to be busy with his food, Harry returned his attention toward James. His dad was joking about one of the teachers, causing Sirius to laugh hysterically and a few kids around them to smirk.
James chewed a piece of pork, thinking. He swallowed and said, "I think they should let first years try out for the Quidditch Team."
Sirius raised his eyebrows. "Why, you think you'd make it?"
James shrugged. "I've had a ton of practice. Who knows. With muscles like these…" He flexed his arm and grinned at Sirius. He half-glanced at Lily, but she was still engrossed in a conversation with Severus. Harry could see James' brow furrow in childish frustration.
"So what's your name?" Harry looked up. James hadn't asked him, he had asked Lily.
"Er…" Lily was caught off-guard, Severus and her had been in the middle of a conversation. She composed herself. "Lily Evans."
Harry could see through James' politeness; there weren't too many new students, and he should've at least remembered her first name. Lily wouldn't guess that he just wanted an excuse to talk to her, but she might think it was strange that she didn't remember, especially if she knew his name.
"And you're James Potter, right?"
"Yeah." His face showed an increased amount of smugness at the fact that she had remembered his name. Sirius nudged him with his elbow.
"And this is Sirius Black."
Sirius gave her his crooked smile, which he seemed to have perfected. Maybe Sirius was a little interested in her, maybe he developed a crush on her, but never told any of them, especially James. It was possible, since Harry didn't know much about his father's year in school.
"Hey," Sirius said casually, and flipped his hair out of his eyes. Severus, who had been watching them, snorted. Sirius threw him a look that read, "Got a problem?"
"Who are you?" James asked, for the sake of acting like he didn't care to remember it before, with a slight air of a challenge.
"Severus Snape." He returned the tone, eyes narrowing.
James was about to say something else, but thought better of it and smiled a little sarcastically. Being a fellow Gryffindor might give Snape some time before James would lose the act and start to bully him.
James didn't ask for Harry or Raven's name, probably because he already knew their names and had no reason to ask.
Everyone returned to eating as if nothing had happened. Though the conversations between James and Sirius were quieter than before.
Harry noticed Raven was frowning as she picked at her food. "Hey," he said, trying to sound friendly.
"Hm? Oh, hi." She turned toward him and searched his face for an explanation to why he was talking to her. "Yeah?"
"So…" he searched for a topic. "What do you think?" He looked around the room.
Raven raised an eyebrow, taking a couple seconds to process he was asking.
"Er…it's really…cool, yeah. I mean, it's amazing." She paused. "Our headmaster, er, Dumbledore, he's brilliant. And the building is…magical, so far." She smiled a little, and gazed at the glowing candles floating above them. She was usually very articulate, what had changed?
"I think so too. It feels like home, right?"
Raven gave Harry a strange look. "I guess." She set her fork down next to her plate, which was still half full, and took a sip of water.
Harry bit into another roasted potato and listened to the conversation between Lily and Snape.
"…maybe even better than that time when Petunia ran into—" Lily was saying, but didn't finish because they both started laughing. Severus had an awkward sort of laugh, the kind Harry could tell wasn't used often. A few Gryffindors turned their heads, taken aback.
"Yeah, but what about when we got free candy from Terri's? That was fun."
Lily's face lit up at the memory. "I totally forgot about that! And that was the morning after all the flowers bloomed!" She paused. "I think this is just like that." Severus smiled and continued eating.
Harry noticed Lupin had been listening to them. Sirius and James were too absorbed in themselves to include Lupin, and Lupin seemed to shy to officially introduce himself. Harry decided he'd take the first chance he had to talk to him.
Nearly Headless Nick floated to where the first years were sitting. "Greetings, new Gryffindors!" He beamed down upon each of them, trying to act dignified.
"Hey," everyone replied, less enthusiastically than the ghost.
"I am Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington. Pleasure to meet you all." He frowned slightly at the lack of reaction, but recovered. "You must all be proud to be Gryffindors. I remember my first day at Hogwarts—"
"Aren't you Nearly Headless Nick?" James asked suddenly.
Sir Nicholas faltered. "Yes," he answered, annoyed as he always was when he was asked that question.
"My dad told me about you. You can take off your head, right?"
Nicholas grunted in agreement, and it was clear that he wished he had not talked to the first years. Before they had to ask, he tugged his head to the side and it came almost all the way off, as if it was on a hinge. James and Sirius clapped, laughing, and the other first years gaped in awe.
Sir Nicholas glided away, annoyed, leaving them back to chat with each other again. Harry finished eating without talking, but kept an open ear for what others were saying. After another ten or fifteen minutes, everyone in the Great Hall was finished with their food and the plates were magically cleared.
Dumbledore rose again and there was an immediate silence.
"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts." His features crinkled into a pleasant expression. "There are just a few rules I want to go over before you go off to your dorms. Number one, keep in mind that the Forbidden Forest is forbidden, and for a good reason. Number two, there is now magic allowed between classes in the corridors, as long as it does not harm or bother others. On a brighter note, Quidditch trials are on the second week of term. If you wish to try out, please contact Professor Hooch."
There were excited murmurs at this; Harry saw James nod and smile at Sirius. He must be certain that they'd make an exception for him.
"Before I send you off to your dorms, let us sing the school song! Everyone choose their favorite tune!"
With a flick of his wand, a golden ribbon shot into the air and twisted into the lyrics.
Everyone in the hall sang with an fervor that rivaled Dumbledore's, except for a great deal of the Slytherins. Harry could only make out the few voices around him; James and Sirius were extremely loud, belting out the song in what sounded like a sea chanty. Severus was quiet, though he was certainly singing, and extremely off-pitch. Lily wasn't bellowing the song, but he could hear her voice rise clearly, pure and sweet, above those around her. Raven had a pleasing voice, as far as he could tell, but she wasn't singing loud enough for him to hear properly.
Once everyone had finished, around the same time, (there were no Weasley twins to lag behind everyone else this time) Dumbledore congratulated the students on their "wonderfully passionate cacophony of sound," then sent them off to bed.
The prefects led the students out of the Great Hall and down the hallway. All the first years were yawning and their eyes drooped sleepily. Harry didn't feel tired, probably because his mind was used to less sleep than those younger than him. He had been doing a lot more in the past year than these kids had, so just riding on a train and eating dinner was not going to make him drowsy.
Harry tried his best to act surprised at the moving staircases and the twists and turns they made. There were a few times, though, when he, out of habit, skipped a step he knew was fake when the older students forgot to warn them. He had to help some of the more unlucky kids get their feet out. After stopping only a few times, the Gryffindors reached the portrait of the Fat Lady. She was in a rare good mood, beaming at all of them. Once one of the prefects said the password, the portrait swung open, and everyone clambered in.
The common room was a welcoming sight. There was an overwhelming feeling of warmth and comfort, brought largely by the soft look of the furniture and the fire that burned in the fireplace. Of course, to Harry ad the older students, it was familiar, safe.
"Boys dorms to the left, girls to the right. Your things should be waiting for you," a prefect with glasses instructed. The students headed off in either direction, some chatting, others trudging off in a sleepy daze.
"Well, good night, Severus." Lily hugged him and followed Raven to the stairs, waving goodnight.
Luckily, James didn't seem to have noticed the exchange between Severus and Lily. He was now ahead of them, yawning luxuriously in the middle of a conversation with Sirius. Lupin and Peter were behind Severus and Harry, not yet a part of either of the two groups.
The first years' dorm was arranged in a cramped circle of six beds, each with suitcases stacked on the side. The setup worked out; going counterclockwise from the door, the order was James, Sirius, Lupin, Peter, Severus, then Harry. They each started unpacking at their own pace. James pulled his things out of his suitcase carelessly, while Lupin unpacked slowly and deliberately.
"So…in case you didn't know, my name's Jacob Walker," Harry said in an attempt to break the silence. The Marauders nodded and said "Nice to meet you," at different times.
"I'm James Potter," said Harry's dad with a note of pride.
"I'm Sirius Black." Although Sirius had equal confidence, he lacked respect for his family's name, and his voice tapered off at the end.
"Remus Lupin," the third boy said quietly when Harry looked at him. He hadn't thought about it before, but Lupin was actually good-looking, just in a different way than James and Sirius. They had more rugged, boyish handsomeness, whereas Lupin had a pleasant, traditional appearance. His face was more expressive and kind than the slack, egotistical look of the other two.
"My name's Peter Pettigrew," the fourth, chubby boy said quickly, then went back to unpacking. Harry merely nodded, it was all he could manage, knowing what Peter would become.
"My name is Severus Snape."
James and Sirius snickered, and Severus flushed. Remus was polite, however; he said quietly, "Nice to meet you."
Harry couldn't help looking at each of the Marauders again, hoping that the hazy disconnect he had from reality would clear up soon. Lupin gave Harry a small smile when he glanced in his direction, and Harry returned it quickly.
When they were finished unpacking, everyone climbed into bed and blew out the candles. The room was bathed in moonlight, illuminating the sheets where each person lay. Harry rolled over toward Severus, whose head was just visible, facing the window where the moon glowed in the sky. He wondered if Severus was thinking about Lily and the flower he gave her. He rolled back over and closed his eyes, letting his mind wander…
Harry woke up the next morning, earlier than anyone else. He glanced at his watch—it was an hour before breakfast—and got up quietly. He dressed and freshened up, then headed to the common room. He reached the Great Hall before most of the other students had arrived. Of the students there, there was the highest percentage of Ravenclaws and the lowest percentage of Gryffindors. Harry was the only first year at his table. The rest of the students were older, either exhausted and yawning or catching up with friends.
The dishes on the table were filled with fresh fruits, variously cooked eggs, baked goods, and breakfast meats. Harry helped himself to hash browns and toast and ate quietly until everyone else arrived.
Lily and Severus joined Harry first, eventually followed by Lupin, Raven, Peter, and finally James and Sirius. The three other first year girls came last, right behind the two boys, giggling. Harry knew by looking at them that he doubted the group they'd established would get along well with them. However, Lily must've seen something in them if they'd been friends; "None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you," she had said in Snape's memories.
Maybe not becoming friends with those girls would help Severus and her stay close. By the way they looked with distaste at Severus and with interest at Sirius and James proved that their opinions must've had an impact on how she'd felt.
Professor McGonagall went around the table, handing out schedules. Harry looked over his; it wasn't much different from the one he had the last time he was a first year. Today they started in Charms with Professor Flitwick.
"It should be easy, since we did pretty well on the train," Lily said as they left the Great Hall.
The other three nodded. Harry let them talk about the schedules as he remained silent, thinking about what lay ahead. How easy would it be to constantly pretend he was struggling with spells just like everyone else? He was more advanced than probably any other student in the school, with an exception of the seventh years. It'd be annoying to act dumb, or even average, at the most basic of spells. And yet, if he became like Hermione, acing nearly everything, knowing the answer to every question, people would develop an opinion of him—whether it was jealousy, annoyance, or whatever. He would be remembered, important, when he needed to be forgotten, significant only to a few.
In Charms class, it was easier for Harry to not raise his hand when he knew the answer than to perform the spell the wrong way. He realized this when they were given a simple charm that was supposed to spin an object. Harry couldn't figure out how to not do it right without saying the complete wrong words or waving his wand completely wrong. In other words, without acting like a complete idiot. The best Harry could manage was to put as much time between his tries as possible so it seemed like he was taking a while to figure it out, just like everyone else.
On his first try, Harry flicked his wand wildly, causing many around him to snicker. Now he definitely was getting unwanted attention. Harry immediately retried the spell perfectly, partly to draw attention away from himself and partly because it was hard to ignore immature ridicule when he could do the spell better than any of them.
Unfortunately, it seemed like either way he decided to go through school would yield the same attention; either be a genius, and have respect from teachers and peers, but draw more attention and possibly suspicion to himself, or be dumb, and be teased and have others look down on him.
Professor Flitwick, beaming, hurried over to where Harry was sitting.
"Mr. Walker—correct? Yes, Walker, that was brilliant!"
Harry glanced at his friends, who looked frustrated at their lack of results and the ease in which he succeeded. He shrank in his seat, guilty from his dishonesty. He had to find a middle ground.
"Thank you, Professor…" Harry trailed off and sighed. His mood improved slightly only when the other three got the spell right a mere minute after him. They all seemed intelligent in different ways; Snape could edit the spell slightly so it was more effective. Raven could easily identify what she was doing wrong and fix it accordingly. Lily initially relied on the book's instructions, but then depended on how the spell felt. Harry's new friends might be hard to compare to his best, but he thought Hermione's learning best matched Raven, while Ron followed Lily's. Severus was on a whole other plane of intelligence.
Lupin finished a couple minutes after the four had finished, followed closely by James, then Sirius, and lastly Peter. Frustration was childishly radiating from James, clear by the angry glances he kept throwing the four. Harry was glad to get away from his annoyed stare at the end of class.
"That was amazing!" Lily nearly skipped beside the others on the way to Potions. Out of that day's schedule it was the only class besides Charms that Harry really thought was going to be significant; both Lily and Severus were excellent at Potions, and Harry would get to have another opportunity to study their talent.
The group walked down to the dungeons, all shining with excitement for what lay ahead.
"Potions…I wonder what it'll be like. A newt's eye, nightshade…that sort of thing, right?"
Harry smiled. "Yeah, probably."
"I hope it's as fun as Charms!"
"Me too," Snape said. Raven and Harry nodded.
They passed the large group of first year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, who eyed the Slytherins and Gryffindors curiously. A couple of the Slytherins snickered at the two houses, probably aimed at the few scrawny, wide-eyed kids who turned toward the source of the laughter. Harry was relieved to see that James was too engrossed in his conversation with Sirius to notice the other students.
Harry realized he had ended up as the head of the group. He was the most confident in the directions, as he had taken this route so many times before. He dropped back as the class filed into Professor Slughorn's room.
"Welcome, first years!" Slughorn shook the students' hands before they took their seats. He seemed considerably more happy and youthful than when Harry had last seen him.
"Please set up, everyone!" Slughorn's gaze swept the room, surveying his new students. There was a collected thud of books and clanging of scales as the class took out their supplies.
"My name is Professor Slughorn! Welcome to Potions class!" The Professor was brimming with excitement. He launched into an introduction of the class, gesturing to a few samples.
"Now, it's a custom of mine, on the first day, to award a special prize to the student who manages to brew the most exceptional potion in class! Now…" He had a few basic potions set up at his desk. In his most dramatic voice, Slughorn explained that whoever brewed the best potion won an Energy Increasing Potion, a relatively easy-to-make substance that would increase the drinker's spirit and diminish weariness.
Harry purposely missed one of the last steps, allowing Severus to win the contest. Raven wasn't close; she messed up many of the steps. Lily came second only to Severus. Slughorn was at first tempted to split the prize, but when he tested it, Severus' potion yielded slightly better results than Lily's.
The rest of the day rushed by quickly. Nothing life-altering happened, but Harry did get a better sense of his classmates, specifically the Marauders and his new friends. James was already developing a crush on Lily; he kept glancing over at her every time he did something right in class, hoping she would notice. Harry was thoroughly amused at his crumpled look of rejection when he saw that Lily wasn't paying attention.
Sirius spent most of his time talking to James and charming the girls in class, though he preferred James' attention. Sirius was hard to dislike, despite his ego, though Harry knew his opinion would change when he started bullying people.
For the majority of the time, Lupin remained quiet, though he occasionally cracked a smile at one of James' or Sirius' jokes. He looked even more ill than he had Thursday, but not quite at the same level as he was as a teacher the day before he had to take leave. Harry thought it was kind that he had been adopted into the group before they knew him well.
Peter seemed to have been allowed into the group simply to supply a laugh track. He was constantly cracking up, and while this annoyed Harry, it only boosted James and Sirius' confidence.
Raven was only a little less shy than Lupin. She didn't voice any of her thoughts, but it seemed like she had the same opinion about many things as Harry did. She always rolled her eyes after particularly loud burst of laughter from wherever the Marauders were sitting in that class. As Harry would gain her trust, however, she exchanged her looks with him.
Harry already had a good idea of Lily and Severus' personality, but he got a better idea of their relationship. Lily was completely comfortable around Severus and oblivious to any discomfort and awkwardness he felt at her enthusiasm and touch. Harry noticed that Severus was a lot happier now that he was away from home and spending more time with Lily.
At supper, they discussed the day in detail. The excitement from the morning had dampened only slightly, mostly because everyone was worn out from the long day.
"Hey, are you okay?"
Harry stopped chewing and looked over at Lily. She had asked Lupin, who had heavy rings under his eyes and was ghostly pale. Lily was naturally concerned about others, so it made sense that she would ask. Lupin looked up, startled, surprised that anyone would notice he was off.
"Uh, yeah, fine," he managed. He sank down in his seat a bit under the pressure of the stare of the first years around him.
Everyone listening clearly doubted he was okay, but returned to their conversations anyway. Lupin glanced back at Lily occasionally after that, but Harry couldn't tell what he was thinking by his expression.
Most of the students went straight to their dorms after eating. Severus and Harry headed upstairs, got ready for bed, then settled down for the night.
Harry lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, reflecting on the day's events. This is it, he thought. I am officially part of this.
Friday passed. Nothing too eventful happened, but many students were beginning to discuss the upcoming Quidditch tryouts. Harry also noted that Lupin looked even worse than he had Thursday—so Saturday or Sunday was definitely the day of the full moon. Harry wondered whether or not he was going to anything about Lupin tomorrow night. He considered his options that Friday evening as he ate. Later, as he lay in bed, he decided that whichever day it was he'd use his invisibility cloak and go down to the soon-to-be-named Shrieking Shack just to witness what Lupin had to go through.
Saturday was mild, so Severus, Lily, Harry, and Raven went down by the lake to finish their assignments from Friday. It was peaceful down by the water where there weren't many other people and the weather was calm and breezy. The four worked on their remaining homework, then talked.
Lupin was gone that day. No one had seen him, but everyone Harry asked either didn't know him or said they'd heard he was sick.
He was gone the next day, too, and after finding out that the full moon would be that night, Harry donned his invisibility cloak and set out.
The light was fading outside. The moon was not yet out, and there was a soft, golden light over the grounds. Harry headed toward the Whomping Willow, taking in the beautiful scenery. He turned and looked at the castle, which seemed even more magnificent when basked in the sun's dying rays.
When he was just out of range of the Whomping Willow, he levitated a stick to prod the knot at the base of the trunk, freezing its branches. Harry strode to the opening at the base, bent over, then slid down the tunnel. He reached the stairs that led to the interior of the shack and paused. He could hear soft crying coming from behind the slightly open door above him, and he felt his eyes prickle reflexively.
Harry cast Severus' Muffling Spell on the Shack and climbed the stairs carefully. He tried the handle of the side door, but it was locked. Lupin sounded far enough away from the entrance, so Harry unlocked the door, opening it wide enough so he could see. Lupin was slumped against the wall on the other side of the room, naked, his breath shuddering. The inside was dark, but Harry could make out his expression.
Lupin suddenly stopped crying and froze. He looked upward, as his body felt the full moon's power. Lupin's body shuddered, and he began to change. Harry knew this might be his only safe chance to go inside, so he quickly entered, locking the door behind him. He decided, against his better judgement, to stay and see what pain Lupin was subjected to; not as though he were watching some circus freak, but to understand and connect with him.
Harry slipped in and headed upstairs. There was bound to be some way he could watch from the second floor where he was in less danger of being discovered. He closed the door at the top of the stairs behind him and cast a quick spell so it couldn't be opened.
A long, sad howl cut through the night. Harry shivered, the sound ringing in his ears, even after it faded out. Harry spotted a significantly sized crack in the floorboards and crouched down next to it. On the floor below, Lupin raced back and forth, paws scratching on the floor. Then he suddenly stopped, panting slightly. Lupin slowly stood up and sniffed the air. He silently started toward the stairs, as if stalking prey.
Harry had expected Lupin to eventually realize his presence, but he hadn't researched to find a spell he could cast to prevent himself from having a scent. Lupin seemed to detect where the smell was coming from and started slinking in that direction. Soon he was out of view, and Harry had no idea how fast he would reach the second floor. He drew his wand just in case, and pointed it at the entrance. "Protego." Just after he added the extra protection, Lupin slammed into the door. Harry heard him cry out in pain, as he had expected the door to give. Harry knew that Lupin wouldn't be able to get in, but his heart was still beating quickly.
Lupin begged and whined at the door for five minutes before silence fell. Harry looked back down through the crack in the floorboards and saw no sign of him. He reached into his cloak and pulled out a pocketbook and quill. To pass the time, he wrote about his experiences so far, and made notes about possible plans for the future. He was making a Pros and Cons list about the upcoming flying lessons when Lupin started inflicting pain on himself.
The first cry of pain made Harry jump, and he immediately looked down below at what was progressing beneath him.
Lupin furiously bit and scratched himself, screaming and shrieking as his jaws tore his flesh. Harry had the desperate urge to do something, to stop what was happening. Wasn't there a spell that could help him protect Lupin? If there was one, wouldn't have Dumbledore thought of it? Or did he have a reason for not helping Lupin beyond isolating him? But that would be cruel…still, there seemed to be obvious solutions. Couldn't they make him unconscious when the moon was up? Or would his body automatically fight any spell or potion that could do so, the same way it fought sleep?
Harry thought of a better solution that was a bit complicated. He picked up a few pieces of scrap material lying around in the room, and transfigured them into mice. As the creatures scurried about, Harry racked his mind for the spell that would control them in the way he needed. After experimenting for about an hour under the pressure of Lupin's cries of agony, he had produced a dozen cursed mice.
Lupin's head perked up as he noticed the mouse floating down from above. He snarled and stood on his haunches to reach toward it, but somehow it evaded him. Harry's mixture of spells worked; the mouse was quick; it would allow Lupin to chase it, but not catch it. After a while, the curse would wear off and the mouse would change back, then another mouse would levitate down.
He levitated the first mouse and brought it slowly down to Lupin, who snarled and began chasing after it. Then, because he felt there was nothing left he could do, Harry cast a cushioning spell on the hard floor and laid down. He cast another spell to plug his ears from the scrabbling down below, but his conscious was still alive with emotion.
Had he not considered, as a thirteen-year-old, or even a fifteen-year-old, how much Lupin had gone through? It took a true amount of strength for Lupin to keep living as normal of a life as he could manage, to surpass the agony of feeling alone, as Harry often felt, because no one seemed to understand what he was going through.
Lupin needs to be friends with someone like me, Harry decided, eyes closing.
When Harry awoke, it was five in the morning. There were no more artificial mice left in the room. Harry rolled over and peered down the crack in the floorboards. Lupin was back in human form, fast asleep, curled into a fetal position. He had put his clothes back on, which it seemed had still been torn. He had scratches on his arms and face, red marks pronounced against his pale, sickly skin.
Harry considered how to best go through with his motive. He could start to leave without using the Muffling Spell so he'd be purposely discovered by Lupin. Then he'd just work it out from there…Of course, by exposing the fact that he knew would automatically create a bond between them. Dumbledore would probably be involved, and that would bring attention to him, and there was a possibility of the Headmaster figuring out that "Jacob" wasn't who he said he was, but Lupin was more important.
Harry walked downstairs quietly, waiting for the right moment. He hadn't reached the creaking step yet when Lupin spotted him, mouth was ajar in shock. Lupin stared upwards at Harry. His bloodshot gold-brown eyes widened and his already pale face whitened. Neither said a word. Harry thought it was interesting that Lupin didn't automatically bolt at the sight of him.
"You're not supposed to—why…" Lupin finally said in a hoarse voice, which started to shake.
Harry, careful to not startle Lupin, stepped down the rest of the stairs, watching Lupin closely for his next move.
They went for their wands, slowly, at the same time. Then, Lupin's hand stopped in mid reach and dropped to his side.
"I don't know any—any memory erasing s-spells…I…" Lupin broke down and his eyes filled with tears. "Please don't tell anyone!"
"I wasn't planning to…" Harry trailed off, not knowing what to say or do.
Lupin's face was splotchy, but the humiliation of crying in front of a near-stranger had stopped his tears.
"Listen…" Harry began, and Lupin looked back at him fearfully. "I didn't mean to scare you—"
"Why did you come here? How did you?" Lupin interrupted, too surprised and scared to be suspicious.
"Why? Er, because…" Harry searched for an explanation. "I followed you here, actually. I…wanted to know what was wrong."
Lupin still seemed doubtful, but he had bigger problems than worrying how they ended up in the Shack. His eyes found the floor and his brow furrowed, searching for a solution.
Harry thought for a moment. "Look, if you're worried, we can talk to Dumbledore about erasing my memory. How about we go back to the castle and see him before everyone wakes up?"
Lupin nodded, but his expression told a different story. He must be tempted to have a friend who knew his biggest secret. Once he knew Harry would accept him, then he'd have his first close friend with whom he has nothing to hide. There must've been so much pressure between him and James, Sirius, and Peter before they knew his secret; they had been his only friends and he could easily lose them.
The journey back to the castle felt slow, drawn out. At first, neither made any attempt at conversation, but it was hard to ignore each other.
"Does anyone else know?" It was a decent place to start.
Lupin took a while to respond, clearly uncomfortable. "Only Madam Pomfrey, McGonagall, and Headmaster Dumbledore."
"How long have you…"
"Since I was four," Lupin replied. He averted his eyes.
"Oh." Harry considered apologizing, but thought that would imply pity.
"When I said I wouldn't tell anyone, I meant it, you know." Silence. "I have no reason to, really." Still no reaction—time to go back to basics. "You might not remember me, but I'm Jacob Walker. They didn't put me in Slytherin, they put me in Gryffindor. And I'm not saying all Slytherins would tell others, or that all Gryffindors wouldn't, but there's a reason I was placed where I was. My friends trust me. They—they tell me things that they couldn't tell each other, and that's saying something because Lily and Severus have known each other for years." Okay, he was stretching the truth, but hopefully it was worth it to reach Lupin somehow. "I could help you, you know? When people ask where you were, at least you'd have me to help redirect their attention. Give you an alibi. Because I know what it's like, feeling like there's no one who understands you. But you won't have a chance of finding someone until you open up. So I guess this is a good start."
Harry gave Lupin time to process what he'd said. When they had almost reached the castle, he said carefully, "Thank you. And it's not that I don't believe you, but I still think we should see Dumbledore."
The school was gradually filling with light from the rising sun. They didn't see anyone, not even Filch, on the way to Dumbledore's office. Lupin must've known where it was from seeing him previously; he led the way, a few steps ahead of Harry.
When they reached the entrance, Lupin recited the password ("He gave it in case of an emergency," Lupin explained) and the gargoyle moved out of the way. The two continued up the stairs and stopped at the double doors. Harry tried the handle and the door gave way. Dumbledore must've known they were coming.
The Headmaster sat impressively at his desk. He looked at them from over his spectacles with an expression of genuine surprise.
"Jacob Walker, sir." Harry had an unusual feeling of intimidation sitting before Dumbledore. It was silly to think that Dumbledore could figure out he was lying about his identity just by looking at him.
"Remus and Jacob, have a seat." They sat down in the two chairs he had put in front of his desk for them. "Now, can I assume that Jacob here learned something about you tonight?"
"Yeah. He said he followed me to see what was wrong. I saw him this morning when he was leaving."
The Headmaster nodded and studied Harry. "So you decided you want to have his memory erased?"
Lupin hesitated. "I'm not—we'renot sure. He said he wouldn't tell anyone."
"Do you believe him?" Dumbledore was obviously trying to help Lupin make a decision by himself by providing him the different points to consider. A strategy that might work well on an eleven-year-old, but one Harry could now see through.
"I don't know him enough to—to know if he would keep it a secret." Lupin sighed.
"Did he run away when he saw you?"
"Well, no…" Lupin replied, not looking at either of his company.
"Did he do anything that makes you think he would tell anyone?"
Lupin shook his head, sighing again. "No. I just don't want…" He paused, and shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he said, "I think I can trust him."
Harry couldn't help smiling weakly, though he had known Lupin, in the end, would've trusted him.
Dumbledore nodded. "A wise decision." He took a moment to meet each of their gazes, then said, "Now that that is cleared up, Remus?"
"I can assume you wish to take the day off to recover in the Hospital wing, correct?"
Lupin nodded. Harry thought he still did look sick, and his wounds didn't help, though they were only minor, thanks to the mice.
The week rushed to Thursday. In the time between Monday morning and now, Harry and Remus (He was getting used to calling him by his first name) had talked more outside of class, because the other Marauders had already adopted him. Nobody else was suspicious of Remus; it was the first time he had transformed at school, and they were told he had just been really sick.
Harry's excitement for the flying lessons far exceeded the rest of his group's. Lily was the only other one out of his friends who was looking forward to it, but Harry knew she wasn't going to have any abilities that'd get her on the team in her first year. Severus hadn't flown before, and he definitely wasn't on his way to become Team Captain.
Harry felt a welcome rush of nostalgia as they neared the Quidditch pitch. Not even Severus' displeasure could damper his happy mood.
The Slytherins were also there. Harry didn't recognize any of them, but figured many were going to end up Death Eaters. The majority glared at the Gryffindors as they lined up, each next to a different broom. Harry quickly went to the broom with the least visible disrepair before the others could figure out where they wanted to go.
Harry looked down at his broom, thinking. Now that he was actually here, it was harder to say that he would pretend to be incompetent. The lure of flying made him rethink his plan; maybe he could just fly normally without worrying about an offer to be on the Quidditch team. After all, he could decline.
"Up!" He commanded, and the broom snapped to his hand. As expected, to his left, Severus was having as hard a time as Hermione had. Lily managed to grab her broom on her second try, even though her voice had wavered.
After learning how to mount and sit, they were finally ready to fly.
"All right. On my cue, I want you all to kick off the ground as hard as you can. Ready? Three…two…one!" Harry swiftly kicked off of the ground and soared above all of them, rising fast. His heart sped up with the thrill and he accelerated toward the sky. When he felt he had reached a good height, he stopped and looked down at his classmates, tiny specks below. Fueled by the rush, he sped toward the ground, pulled up just before he would've crashed and landed softly on the grass. A good number of his peers were gawking at him, dumbfounded. James looked positively furious.
Madam Hooch strode over to him.
The excited feeling Harry had was fading away. How could he have been so careless? He had drawn unwanted attention to himself and probably looked like a complete wanker.
"Madam Hooch, I lost control of the broom, but I managed to pull up before I crashed—"
"You're Jacob Walker, am I correct?" she asked, completely ignoring his explanation as she dug for something in her pocket.
"Er, yes. Sorry, but, like I was saying, my broom got out of control—"
"Nonsense. You have a natural talent for Quidditch, Walker. Unlike anyone of your age I've seen, possibly…" Hooch found what she was looking for and held it out before him. "This is called a Golden Snitch. Now, I'm going to let it go, and when I tell you, I want you to try to catch it as quickly as possible, all right?"
Harry glanced at the kids watching him and shook his head. "No, I don't think I should—"
"I insist." She released it before he could protest further. "Give it a minute," she said, watching it disappear.
Harry had to make a decision. Perhaps his spot on the team was sealed and it wouldn't make a difference if he choose to catch the Snitch. Harry glanced at James, who was whispering to Sirius and laughing. He wouldn't necessarily steal his father's glory; James played Chaser, not Seeker, and not in his first year. But he'd be delighted to deflate his father's swelled ego.
He didn't have any more time to think it over. Madam Hooch told him to go, so Harry soared back into the sky. He peered down at the ground, and before long spotted a distant flash of gold. He dove for it, and while the broom wasn't nearly as fast as his old one, he soon had the Snitch wriggling in his hand. He flew back over to Madam Hooch, who was beaming. Some of the Gryffindors clapped.
"Excellent! Such talent! How long have you been riding a broom?"
"This is my first time, ma'am. I'm, er, Muggle-born."
Madam Hooch, was, of course, surprised, but she tried to hide it. "Oh, well, you are quite a natural. Here, let me write you a note…" She took out a pocketbook and flipped through it. Once Hooch found what she was looking for, she closed and pocketed the book and pulled out a quill and a scrap of parchment. She quickly scribbled something on and handed it to him. "I believe she'll be in Herbology. Be quick!"
Harry set his broom down and walked quickly to the greenhouses. He now realized he must've seemed like a prodigy. He had six years or so of experience of flying on a team, but everyone was under the impression that this was his first time. If his talent had seem extraordinary then, it would be considered supernatural now.
On his way, he scanned the note, which read, "Dear Violetta, I believe I've found a new seeker for the Gryffindor team. If would mind joining our class outside to see him fly, you might be surprised. Madam Hooch."
Harry spotted the class in the first greenhouse and entered, hoping this would be handled quietly. The students—sixth years, he figured out from glancing at one of the students' textbooks—didn't look up from the plants they were struggling to control. Harry walked over to Professor Sprout, who looked at him kindly. "Yes? Can I help you?"
Harry handed her the note. She read it quickly and scanned the room for Violetta. "Oh! Ms. Rosquit, for you." She handed the note to a tall girl in the back, whose strong arms and blue eyes were focused on wrestling a huge flower that snapped angrily at her.
"I'll take this for you," Professor Sprout took her place and pinned the flower down against the table with one hand. With the other, she handed Violetta the note.
She scanned it and looked Harry up and down. "Thank you, Professor. Do you want me to make up the work?"
"No, I think you've gotten the hang of it." Professor Sprout rushed over to a help a struggling student.
"So, Jacob Walker, right?" Violetta said, more to herself. "First year? Wow, you must've been pretty good. Private coach? Backyard training?"
"Er, actually, I'm a first-time flyer."
"Damn! Are you serious?" She looked at him, hope flaring in her eyes.
Harry nodded, hoping she wouldn't overreact.
"Really? Wow. You must have that—that something, then. You're the kind of person flying just comes naturally to. From the first time you hold that broom," she got a faraway look in her eyes,"you feel this—this energy! No, this desire. This desire to just fly across the world. That you could take off of the ground one day, then," she looked across the sky, "never come back."
Violetta looked at Harry, then laughed. "Sorry, sometimes I do that. I'm a bit of a romantic. With Quidditch, anyway."
"It's okay. I think…I think that's what I feel when—I mean, what I felt."
Violetta smiled at him. "I thought so. Anyone who's a decent flyer should."
Harry nodded, then cleared his throat. "So, I know nothing about how to play Quidditch."
"Alright, not a problem! The rules are simple, but there's a load of other stuff you need to know…" She launched in an explanation that was so detailed, by the time they reached the class she hadn't even started the rules. Instead, she had completely backtracked and started with the history of the sport, thinking it was necessary to know before he learned anything else.
Madam Hooch and Violetta talked briefly before returning to Harry.
"Mr. Walker, do you mind flying around for a little bit?"
Harry nodded and retrieved his broom. Both the Slytherins and the Gryffindors stopped to watch. Harry mounted the broom and soared into the air, trying to forget that anyone was watching him.
Harry flew as high as he dared, then dove straight down, pulling up at the last second. He shot off in one direction, then turned sharply. He climbed into the air and spiraled, clinging onto his handle tightly. He stopped, catching his balance for a moment as he studied the specks below. He swung around and corkscrewed in the air at the students. There were a few screams, but they died off as he once again pulled up just in time and flew over their heads. Suddenly, his eyes caught the Snitch. Harry had not known they'd released it, and it must be a test to see if he'd realize it without them saying anything.
He urged his broom forward, and gained on the little golden ball. A second later, its wings were beating against his hand.
Behind him, there were a few claps and cheers. At this, Harry felt queasy, but not from flying. Fame had not been fun for him as a student at Hogwarts, and while he wasn't the "Chosen One" in this generation, he didn't want to go back to anything similar.
Violetta hugged him. "That was amazing!" She swore a few times in her excitement, but stopped when she glanced at Madam Hooch. "Well, Jacob, I'll see you at next week's practice!"
Harry smiled weakly and thanked her. He wondered if he'd get a Nimbus like he had in his first year. It was likely, but he wouldn't get his hopes up.
Madam Hooch nodded at him before wrapping up the day's lesson and dismissing them. Snape hardly acknowledged Harry after he rejoined the group. Lily beamed radiantly at Harry, and he felt a guilty pang from the fact that he had captured her attention over Severus'. Raven gave him a small smile, then frowned at her broom as though wishing it had been the reason she hadn't done well.
"Wow, Jacob, that was awesome!" Lily exclaimed. Harry guessed she hadn't managed to get very far on her broom, which looked like it had seen better days.
"Thank you! Er, I didn't mean to be showoff-y, but—"
Lily blinked. "No, I didn't think you were." Her gaze drifted over Harry's shoulder. "Look at him." The four turned to look at James. He seemed to be talking about Harry by the obvious glances he was throwing as he whispered to Sirius.
"I don't care what he says," Harry said casually, though it wasn't completely true. He couldn't help feeling a little bad, even though he was supposed to be a different person. He knew his father would like him under different circumstances.
"He's just mad you did better than him. He nearly fell off his broom earlier when he tried do something you had done," Raven said. She could probably tell, somehow, that Harry did care what James said.
They returned their brooms and headed to their last lesson of the day.
Everyone seemed to already know about Harry's feat in the flying lessons, and how he was the first seeker of his age in 80 years. This news charged the excitement for the Quidditch season, and stories of how good a flyer he was quickly circulated around the school, growing increasingly exaggerated. His friends remained grumpy for the rest of the day, but at least put in effort into pretending to be nonchalant about his newfound fame.
Lily quickly warmed up to him; she could tell he honestly hadn't tried to show off. She sat next to him when they worked on homework that evening. Half an hour in, she started to sing softly as she started her Potions essay. "Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew, but through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way…" Severus didn't look at her, but Harry could tell he was listening because he stopped writing. Remus also paused, but did glance at her before returning to his work, blushing.
Lily realized the others had been listening to her. She lifted her head back up from her work and stopped singing, embarrassed. "I don't know the rest of the words, sorry. It's called 'My Way.' A Muggle song."
"You have a really nice voice," Raven said. Severus managed a smile in agreement, too shy to compliment her directly.
"Thank you!" Lily grinned at all of them. She was unaware of the effect she had on people, especially Severus.
It wasn't for another hour and a half that the five finished their homework. Remus had finished first and went to help the other Marauders with theirs, though they ended up just asking him for help so he could hang out with them.
Later, after staying in the Common Room for a while, everyone went to bed. After the lights went out, Harry thought about "My Way." The tune gradually calmed him, and his breathing slowed until he fell asleep.