Harry missed his friends. He knew he wasn't off to a good start if it was only two weeks into the year and his chest already ached every time he realized it was going to be another day of being without them. He tried to think of some way he could see Ron, Hermione, or Ginny, but it would be too difficult. He hoped, at some point, the pain would go away, and they would become less and less focused in his thoughts. Because he wasn't leaving them. They weren't suffering, even Ginny'd only miss him a few seconds, so why should he torture himself over it?
Of course, Harry couldn't help but think of possible solutions to his problem. He came up with a new idea each day, but each idea had a drawback: when he saw them again, he'd only miss them more between visits. He'd want to come back, and abandon everything he'd accomplished.
His stress must have been apparent on the night before the first Quidditch practice that Saturday, because Severus noticed.
"Are you feeling alright?" he asked, his discomfort in expressing concern apparent as he rolled up the homework he'd just finished.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Harry also closed his books and glanced at Severus, who had already moved on, having believed what Harry had told him.
Harry searched for something to take his mind off of his friends. "Hey, how about we play Wizard's Chess?"
James had received a special edition version of the game the day before, playing nonstop since class ended. His obsession and winning streak weren't the only annoying factors; the game was twice the normal size, the pieces were twice as loud and swore when they were taken out to the opposite side. To top everything off, the whole chess set was plated in silver. Harry knew Severus wouldn't want to take James on, so he thought he'd give him a chance to play without that competition.
Harry went upstairs and dug out his chess set, the same one he'd been given at the Christmas Feast his first year. It was a little worn, so he could say he had bought it secondhand at Diagon Alley.
After he was back downstairs and as he set up the board, Lily and Raven sat down to the left of Severus, curious.
"Can Raven and I play after?" Lily hadn't played a magical game yet but hadn't wanted to verse James, who was clearly getting on her nerves.
"Sure." Harry pulled up a stool and sat on the opposite end of the table.
"White or red?" he asked, facing the white side.
"Red's fine." Severus studied the board. "I haven't placed this before."
"Oh! Right." Harry quickly explained how each piece moved, then offered, "You can go first."
Severus hesitated, surveying his options. "Pawn to E5." And the game began.
Harry thought he had a chance at winning, since he was seven years older. However, somehow, just thirty minutes in, Harry's king was dragged off to the side of the board.
"Wow! Sev, you're a natural!" Lily studied at him, her eyes wide, and after turning to see her expression he blushed.
"I let you win," Harry joked, grinning as he rearranged the pieces.
"Go ahead," he said to Lily and Raven, and they took their spots as Harry joined Severus and Lily on the couch.
"I bet, if you practiced a bit, you could beat James. Easily."
Severus straightened with pride. "You think so?"
"Of course…though, he may not like it if you do."
"I don't care." Severus turned half of his attention back on the board. The other half of him was thinking about the possibility of getting James to shut up.
Harry looked over at the Marauders, who were also gathered around a chess board. James was versing Peter, who was close to losing. Remus caught Harry looking over, then motioned for him to join them. Harry said to the others, "I'll be just a sec," and went over Lupin with the others. None of the other first-year girls were down in the common room, but there were a couple second-year girls hanging around, chatting and keeping an eye on the game.
"What's up?" Harry asked. He crossed his arms and peered at the board from behind Peter.
"Nothing. I nearly beat James in chess, but of course he has more experience…" Suddenly, Remus looked uncomfortable. Eyes locked on the floor, he whispered, "You know I trust you, but you—you haven't told anyone, have you?" He seemed ashamed to doubt Harry's promise to keep his problem a secret.
Harry was just about to reassure him when Sirius, who had just needed a way out of talking to the overeager second-year girls, asked, "Told anyone what?"
Remus paled. Harry, buying himself time to think of an excuse, tried to look like he had just been telling an inside joke and said, "It's nothing."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. Harry expected him to back down—after all, Sirius didn't know him well enough to pry.
Sirius put an arm around Remus, who flinched a little at his touch. "Remus, c'mon, you can tell me."
"Oh, er, well…in Charms this week…Jacob let me cheat off him." He said the last part of the sentence all in a rush. His face was flushed from the lie and he continued to stare at the ground, as if he really had done it.
Sirius looked disappointed. "Oh. Well, that's not a big deal, I cheated off of James just yesterday in Potions, didn't I?"
James looked up and nodded, grinning. "What you don't know is I was copying Peter, so I think we'll all get bad marks."
The two laughed, and Peter joined in, still getting used to being the butt of their jokes.
"Checkmate," James said lazily, his attention back to the board, and Peter's king was dragged off to the side.
James yawned and stretched. "I'm pretty tired…and this is getting boring. I'm gonna go upstairs."
"Yeah, me too." Sirius took his arm off Remus and followed James out.
Peter hurriedly packed up the game and went after them. Remus turned to go, but Harry said, "Do you want to hang out with us?"
Remus smiled shyly. "Yeah, sure."
Harry led him over to where Raven and Lily were engaged in their chess match, while Severus sat silently, deep in his own thoughts.
"Hey guys, mind if Remus joins us?" The three shook their heads. Lily smiled warmly at Remus.
Remus smiled back reflexively at her, then blushed again at her enthusiasm. He sat on the couch and adjusted his hair so it fell over his scars.
"So, I'm not sure if you two have really met, but Remus, this is Severus. Severus, this is Remus."
"Hi," they said simultaneously. Severus' eyes flickered to the scars that ran across Remus' face. Remus must've been able to tell what Severus was looking at, because he abruptly turned away.
Severus also looked away, but his mind was clearly still focused on the scars. Lily continued playing as though nothing had happened and started to tell a story to ease the tension. Ten minutes passed, and the first official meeting between Remus and the others was going well, especially between he and Lily.
Until Lily couldn't hold back her curiosity. "How did you get those scars?" The others looked at his face, glad someone else had asked.
"I…don't want to…" Remus struggled to explain his discomfort.
"Oh. Sorry. I didn't mean to—" Lily reached out to him but he drew back.
"It's all right. I'm used to it." Remus flipped his hair to cover his scars, but he could tell it looked funny and the seconds he felt insecure ticked past. He turned to Jacob. "I'm actually kinda tired, you don't mind if I…"
"No, I don't, er, yeah, go ahead. See you tomorrow."
"See you." Lupin stood up and headed to the dorms, taking the books he had brought to the common room on his way.
There was silence for a minute after he left, then Raven and Lily went back to their game. Lily got over her guilt and managed to beat Raven.
"Good game. It was close," Lily said, grinning.
"Yeah, right. I'm awful at Wizard's Chess." Raven sighed. "You're really good, though. Tomorrow," she nodded toward Severus and Lily, "you two should verse each other."
Lily grinned. "It's on."
Severus smiled back, though he seemed unsure of whether or not he would let her win when they played.
"Well…" Lily stood up and stretched. "…I'm off to bed."
"Me too. G'night, Severus. G'night, Jacob," Raven said.
"Goodnight," they replied.
"See you in the morning, Sev! And see you after Quidditch tomorrow, Jacob!" Lily smiled and followed Raven to the girls dorms.
Jacob and Severus put the chess set back in its box. As Severus handed Harry a pawn, he asked, "Why did Remus get mad when we asked about his scars?"
Harry looked at him in surprise. "Well, of course Remus is going to be sensitive about something like that. I doubt he likes being described as 'the boy with the scars.' He's probably just careful when he makes new friends because he figures you're going to judge him. That's all." He realized it was from experience in which he was speaking—Remus and him were similar in that way. He was simplifying the reason, however, as Remus was also protective of his secret.
Severus gave Harry a calculating look. "You're really good at that sort of thing."
"What sort of thing?" Harry asked, trying to seem naive.
"Reading people. Being able to tell what they're feeling, or why they do…what they do."
"Oh. Thanks. I guess so." He hoped that over time Severus wouldn't become suspicious that the reason Harry could more easily tell how his friends felt was that he wasn't as young as he appeared to be.
Back at the dorm, no one was asleep yet; they were all up, talking. Severus and Harry got ready for bed quietly as the others recovered from their laughter.
Sirius leaned against one of his bedposts, grinning.
"Okay, now do me," James said eagerly. Peter, for once, was not laughing along with them; instead he looked annoyed and frowned at Sirius.
Sirius straightened. "Give me your glasses. For effect." He put them on. "Blimey! You're nearly blind! Wonder what could've done that…"
"Sod off!" James stood and pushed him a little, but smirked. From the bed he grabbed a small container that resembled a mint tin and flipped it open. "Which color?"
"Hm…how about green? I think that's Voice."
"Here," James said, handing it to him. Sirius popped it in his mouth.
Suddenly, his body shuddered and he coughed. "Testing. Testing. 1, 2, 3." His voice had taken the likeness of James'.
Sirius leaned back casually, imitating how James stood. He ran a hand through his black hair, making it stand up in all directions. Then he went on a lengthy, serious rant about Quidditch. For every laugh he managed out of his audience, his confidence inflated slightly.
Harry glanced over at Remus, who was reading, and decided to talk to him about what happened.
"Lily didn't mean to offend you."
Remus started, then put his book down. "I know." He rubbed his temple. "I was acting ridiculous…Can you tell her not to worry about it?"
After barely ten minutes, Sirius' voice gradually became rougher and slightly lower until it was his again.
Peter clapped, grinning. Lupin and Harry followed suit, without thinking about it, while Severus glowered. Sirius bowed and thanked them.
James smiled, but he looked a little annoyed. The spotlight had been pulled away from him, and he wanted it back. "Okay, now let me try you." James got up and Sirius extended his hand. He poured several of the mints into Sirius' palm, the first step of the process, then took them back in one fluid motion.
"Wait! James! You know you can't take more than one at a time—"
James cast him a sly smile and popped the mints all at once.
Sirius gaped as he watched James, waiting for something to happen. At first, nothing did. They were just beginning to relax when James' face contorted and bubbled. His head stretched slightly, and one of his hazel eyes became slightly smaller and brown. His eyebrows grew to the thickness of Sirius', then continued to grow. None of them knew whether to laugh or be concerned, and they just watched in astonishment until the transformation was complete. A mash-up between Sirius and James stood before them, looking sick.
"You should take him to Madam Pomfrey as soon as possible," Harry suggested to Sirius before anyone else began to react.
Sirius nodded and guided James out of the dorm. After a moment, there was an awful retching sound, and Sirius swore loudly. Harry grabbed his wand and quickly went out to help them. With quick swish of his wand, he cleaned the sick. They thanked him clumsily, and continued along down the stairs.
Back in the dorm, Peter and Lupin were laughing. Severus grinned, relishing the fact that James was now on his way to the Hospital wing, and that he wouldn't have to deal with either of them for the night.
It proved relatively easy to remove the effects of the pill. Later that night James and Sirius returned from the Hospital wing. Everyone was already in bed, but they all woke up from the poorly-attempted-at-being-muffled laughter from the two boys. "It was not worth the twenty-five galleons," one of them said. The other replied, "Well, at least we know now what our kid would look like." They laughed, before shushing each other. "Mustn't wake the kiddies!"
Fortunately, they must've been exhausted, because they drifted off into silence, and Harry fell asleep again.
After what seemed like a minute, Harry woke up to his alarm. He changed, then trudged through the school and to the Quidditch Pitch. It was just him and the captain, Violetta, so she could explain Quidditch to him and teach him one-on-one.
Violetta was already at the Quidditch pitch when Harry arrived.
"Jacob! Hi!" She shook his hand, then stood back and looked out across the pitch.
"Isn't it a beauty?" She said dreamily.
Harry nodded and followed her gaze.
"Well. Let's get started. Do you know anything about Quidditch?"
"Oh, yeah, I read a lot about it when I made the team."
"Practical guy, huh? When we scrimmage I'll have to put you to the test, then. But for now, let's practice some moves. If you wanna change into your uniform, you're number seven." She gestured to the locker/meeting room for the Gryffindors. "Since I'm ready, I'll just warm up." She mounted the broom she was holding, a Cleansweep, and took off.
Harry watched her for a moment (she was quite good) then went to change. The uniform was slightly different from the modern ones: they were striped with the house's colors, collared, less fitted, and the print was smaller. The pants were a dark gray, and the padding was a standard black.
He skimmed over the rack of brooms and was surprised to see an old version of the Nimbus. It looked brand-new; Harry wondered if it was for him. He brought it outside, briefly tasted the crisp autumn air, then took off.
The air whipped past him as he sped forward. Violetta noticed he'd joined her and stopped the dive she was practicing.
"You found your new broom! The team all pitched in to get it."
"It's incredible!" Of course, it wasn't comparable to his Firebolt, but it would probably be better than everyone else's broomsticks.
"Okay, so we have a few routines to warm up. The first is just to race from post to post and back, then to fly from the post to the center field and touch down, then to the next post…" She explained the basic exercises to him and let him complete them as she watched from above. The warm-ups required little effort, but were fun, and better than the ones Harry had done at his training. When he was done, Violetta was anxious to get him onto more advanced moves. She showed him flying moves to confuse opponents, dodge Bludgers, and to show off.
Most of the techniques he knew by experience, though he had never officially been taught them. He was glad that Violetta didn't act jealous or suspicious that he was brilliant at the sport without, supposedly, any training. He almost expected her to because it was clear Quidditch was her passion, and she worked hard to get to being the captain of the team.
After a couple hours, Violetta motioned him down to the ground. "That was brilliant! We are definitely going to win the Cup this year! We've been in second place the past two years, since I've been captain…" She pushed past the shroud of self-doubt. "But this time, our team is more experienced, and we'll practice more, and…we have you!" She ruffled his hair and grinned. "So training is every Saturday and Sunday afternoon before dinner, and on Tuesday and Wednesday the same time. And, like you, the Beaters, Chasers, and Keeper all have a private practice this week."
"What position are you?"
"Keeper. I was a Chaser my first year, then a Beater, so this is my first year as a Keeper."
"Yeah. I'm kind of nervous about it. My worst position is Seeker, but my second worse is Keeper. I'm not consistent. I guess I was better than the people who tried out, but barely."
"I'm sure you'll be brilliant," Harry assured her. She kind of reminded him of Ron.
"Thanks. We'll see for sure in a month, I guess."
They changed in the separate locker rooms and walked back together to the castle. Nearly three hours had passed since they started that morning and they were both starving.
"I'm glad I ate some Chocolate Frogs on the way here, or else I would've passed out by now." Her stomach growled loudly. "Ugh. I could probably eat a hippogriff and still be hungry."
Harry laughed. "Right."
Violetta spotted someone beyond Harry and waved. "Hey! Alice!" She said quickly to Harry, "Well, I'll see you for the next practice! Bye!" Then she ran off to join her friend.
Practices went spectacularly. Everyone welcomed him as part of the family, a family whose talents matched the talents of his teams in his time.
And over the next few weeks, everyone fell into a steady rhythm. The Gryffindor first years were, of course, used to the classes, but it was over these times that they really began to settle into routine. The three groups of first year Gryffindors were, for the most part, pretty defined. There were the Marauders, Harry's group of four, and the remaining three tightly-linked girls.
It was rare for any of them to socialize with any of the older years at first, but as time went on everyone began to know each other. With most students he could link to a weak memory from his time, some whose names he vaguely recognized as part of families from the present.
Some of those people he remembered were in the Order of the Phoenix.
"Alice, come here."
Harry looked up from where he was studying. Shock cut through him. He hadn't seen it before when he was with Violetta. The rounded face, slightly awkward posture, kind but surprisingly strong expression; she was Neville's mother. The similarities between mother and son were unmistakable. But the contrast between the her smile that shone now and the disheveled, mad look she had when Harry had seen her at St. Mungo's was dramatic.
"What is it?" She approached a teenager with curly brown hair. Frank Longbottom. He was more like the Neville of now; more confident, and full of life. An image of the couple, mentally disabled after being tortured, flashed across his mind, and his frown deepened.
Harry felt Severus' curious eyes on him, trying to figure out what had caught his attention, but Harry pretended not to notice.
Alice gave Frank a quick kiss and looked at what he had wanted to show her. It looked like a letter, one that was only meant for their eyes, judging by the way they bent over it and looked around cautiously.
"What are you looking at?" Severus asked, and Harry turned around.
"Nothing," he replied automatically. Severus sensed this change, but apart from studying Harry's face, didn't mention it.
More and more each day, Harry considered how much he was really helping the group. Lily and Severus were in Gryffindor together, and that seemed to help in many ways. James stayed away from Severus, for the most part, who now hung out with "the good guys."
That's how it seemed, for a short while. But Harry should've known better. If something happened once, there's a perfectly reasonable chance history would repeat itself.
He realized this a week before Halloween.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked suspiciously, and Severus jumped, shoving a book underneath his pillow.
"Nothing," he replied, a little too quickly. He avoided Harry's pressing gaze and tried to think of something that'd divert his friend's attention. "Just studying."
Right. Harry wasn't an idiot. There was obviously something Severus was trying to hide. He dreaded the possibility of…well, that wasn't likely.
That week leading up to Halloween gave Harry enough reasons to confirm his fears. Severus, as he had in the other reality, had involved himself in the Dark Arts.
He realized that the multiple times over the past month Severus had said he needed space, or to study alone, or claimed James was bothering him…it was just so he could go off and meet with Slytherins.
What had Severus done to win the trust of the Slytherins? Did Harry, or the increased time with Lily, have no effect on him? Did nothing that changed matter anymore? Was everything destined to follow the same path? As Harry struggled to answer these questions, he was also dealing with the ache in his chest over his friends, the feelings that brought him here in the first place, and figuring out where he belonged at the school.
His alternate identity, Jacob, had an aura of maturity and strength that kept the Marauders away from bullying Severus directly. "Jacob" wasn't threatening, but the others could tell there was something…different about him. Every time one of the kids said something childish (which happened pretty often), he would roll his eyes, or not laugh along with everyone else. His opinions made sense and he was always the voice of reason, so his friends looked to him for advice.
"Severus, can we talk?" Harry asked that Friday.
Severus continued writing on the scrap piece of parchment he had. "I guess."
"Okay." Harry sat on the bed across from him. "I know what you've been doing recently."
Severus didn't look up, and his face remained concentrated on his work. "I don't know what you're talking about." He was getting better at hiding his emotions.
Harry sighed. "C'mon, Severus. We're friends. You can't hide these things from me." He hardened his tone. "I know you've been involved in the Dark Arts…and you've been meeting with the Slytherins."
Severus knew there was no use denying it, so he became defensive. "So what if I have? It's…It's my choice."
"I know, but you don't understand what will happen if you do!" Severus had no idea how his life would turn out.
"I can make my own decisions."
"Right. At age eleven, you know how to make your own decisions." Now Harry was getting frustrated.
"You're eleven too!" Severus' eyes blazed with fury. "You—you act like you know everything all the time! It's so annoying! You act like you're my…my mother."
"I act like I'm your mother? I'm the only one, then." Harry retorted.
Severus' face flushed angrily. "But your parents think you're a freak! At least my mother took me to Diagon Alley!" Severus thought the insult was pretty good, but he just continued to exasperate Harry, who reverted back to the voice of reason.
"Say whatever you want. I'm just telling you that you're making a mistake." Harry closed his eyes and thought, rubbing his temple, as Severus calmed down. He opened them again when he heard the scribble of a quill on parchment.
"Listen," Harry continued, while Severus continued to write. "I can't tell you what to do. Because then you won't learn anything. But one day…" The image of Lily defending Severus flashed across his mind. Severus' worst memory. "…one day everything will fall apart because of the Dark Arts. And when it does, you'll wish you'd never got involved. But until then…do whatever the hell you want."
Severus was quiet. Just as Harry was about to leave the dorm, he looked up from his parchment. "Wait!" Harry turned around. Severus asked quietly, "We're still friends…aren't we?"
Harry snorted. "Yeah, but I doubt your new Slytherin pals approve of having two Muggleborn friends."
Severus said nothing, he just watched Harry go. A few seconds later, Harry reappeared in the doorway.
"You can't keep it a secret forever. Sooner or later, if Lily hasn't already found out, I'll tell her. She has the right to know. Besides, if being involved in the Dark Arts truly isn't a big deal, she wouldn't care whether or not you are. And you know that's not the case." With that, he left the room.
Severus wiped his eyes quickly and scrutinized his paper.
Downstairs, James sat with Sirius, across the room from Harry and the others, as Peter rushed to do their homework. Remus read, but he seemed to be doing so just to have a distraction from what they were saying. He probably felt guilty because James and Sirius were doing last minute planning for tomorrow's Halloween pranks.
Wordlessly, Remus closed his book and went over to where Lily and Harry were sitting. James and Sirius stopped talking and watched him. Then they glanced at each other and changed the subject.
"Hello," Remus said, joining them on the floor. He looked immensely tired and a bit sick. "Good game," he said to Harry.
"Hi, thanks." He replied. "What are you reading?"
"Oh, I'm reading ahead in…" he held up his Defense Against the Dark Arts schoolbook and smiled, a little embarrassed.
"Cool. Your favorite subject?"
"Yeah, mine too. So, do you want to play Exploding Snaps? The winner of each game gets a Chocolate Frog."
Remus nodded and looked up. James and Sirius were standing behind him, looking more relaxed than they were before.
"We want to play, too."
"Sure." Harry glanced at Peter, who was looking at them hopefully, waiting to be invited over.
Harry sighed. "Hey, Peter, do you want to play, too?"
"Okay!" He got up and accidentally knocked over the small pile of books that was around him. Blushing, he picked up the mess and shuffled quickly to them.
"I hope you didn't wet yourself," James snickered, and he and Sirius laughed.
Lily rolled her eyes. James noticed and stopped laughing. He cleared his throat. "I'll deal."
Harry handed him the pack of cards.
"So, where's Snivellus? And the black girl…Sparrow?" Sirius asked, leaning back on his hands instead of cross-legged like most of the others.
"You mean Severus and Raven. They're not here, so you don't need to worry about it."
"Ooh…" Sirius and James exchanged a look. "Severus and Raven, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then—"
"Shut up," Lily and Harry snapped at the same time.
James raised his eyebrows and was about to say something else when Remus said, "There they are."
Raven glanced at the group and whispered something quickly to Severus. He crossed the room and went up to the dorms while Raven walked over to them, her face glowing with a rare smile. But it wasn't toward them, it was more a smile of excitement.
"Where were you?" Jacob asked casually.
"I…went to get help in Potions. Severus came too, to help me, and to, er…ask Professor Slughorn about doing more advanced stuff, since he's not being challenged."
Harry didn't want to tip off the other, so he went along with her story. "Oh. Okay then. Want to play?"
Raven hesitated awkwardly. "No, Slughorn, er, recommended I reread some chapters…five through eight. I'll see you 'round."
"See you." Harry said, pretending he believed her. Raven's excuse was good, she was doing poorly in Potions, but still…it was more likely Severus had brought her to a meeting with his new Slytherin friends.
Everyone else had lost interest in their conversation. James had already dealt most of the cards. Harry was the only one lost in thought throughout the game, so he didn't have to try to lose each one like he normally did.
"I'll sit this game out," Harry said, and went to the dorms.
Severus was lying in bed, flipping through his Transfiguration book. He looked at Harry questioningly.
"Look. Just answer this question. Did Raven ask you if she could come with you or did you drag her along?"
"I don't know—"
"Come on," Harry cut in impatiently, "All I'd have to do is ask Slughorn if you were there today."
Severus glared at him. "She wanted to come with me. But she told me not to tell."
"She's my friend, too. I want to tell her the same thing I told you."
Severus opened his mouth to reply, but sighed instead.
That night, Harry sat with Raven, hoping he'd be able to at least convince her to give up the Dark Arts. "…I told Severus the same thing. But I know neither of you are going to listen."
Raven just looked at him.
"Well, alright then." Harry didn't know if he got through to her—she had been silent the whole time. "Are you going to say anything?"
"I…don't know why I chose Gryffindor," she said quietly, and with a final glance up at him, she walked away.
Chose Gryffindor? Harry thought. She must mean why she got sorted into Gryffindor.
As Halloween approached, Sirius and James could be seen in the Common Room, huddled, as Peter and Remus dug through books. Harry was nervous for Severus' sake. The hatred James and Sirius felt for Severus became stronger each day, and it was at the point where the threat of Harry defending him had little effect.
Harry convinced himself the pranks would be good-natured, maybe not intended for Severus specifically.
But on their way to breakfast (after waking up and seeing two empty beds in the common room), Harry was proven wrong.
Severus dropped a piece of parchment and rushed back to pick it up. Before he could rejoin the others, a large pot appeared over his head and dumped its contents over him.
Severus yelped and covered his face with his hands.
"Severus!" Lily ran to him. Harry and Raven followed, scanning for James and Sirius.
Lily drew back in shock as she watched Severus' long black hair lengthen. His nose grew until it stuck out between his fingers. Severus whimpered in embarrassment when Lily put her hand on his shoulder.
"Take him to the Hospital wing, and I'll see if I can find James," Harry said to Lily.
"How do you know it was James, and not a Slytherin?" Was Lily defending James or she just hadn't realized the animosity between them?
"You're right, I don't." Though, to Harry, it was obvious. Who else was pranking people? Besides, he knew because of the lack of evidence; the pot had appeared out of nowhere, and no one around seemed to have been controlling it.
And James had an invisibility cloak.
Harry slowly surveyed the area for any clues that his dad was still there. He wasn't expecting to see anything when he noticed a particularly overweight student suddenly trip and fall flat on his face. Harry ran to help him up, partly as an excuse to see if he could hear James. Sure enough, there was a quiet laughing from nearby. It sounded as if there were two people.
So both James and Sirius were the culprits. Harry casually walked in their direction, and heard one of them hush the other, and there was silence.
He strained to hear footsteps, and sure enough, there was the sound of careful feet that didn't line up with the few kids that walked by.
When Harry was parallel with their direction, he jumped to the side and grabbed for the cloak. He was on target. With one fluid motion the two boys were standing, shocked, with their wide eyes on Harry.
"How did you—?" James took out his wand, unsure of what to do. Sirius did the same.
"Can I ask a favor? Severus is my friend, and I don't want you to mess with him. Or anyone else, for that matter." The boy they'd tripped watched them from down the hall.
James and Sirius glanced at each other, eyebrows raised.
"Come on. You can't actually be friends with him," Sirius snickered.
Harry looked at him seriously. "Yeah, I am. I can't make you stop bullying him—"
"He deserves it, you know," James cut in matter-of-factly.
"No one deserves what you want to do to him. If only you understood—"
"Understood what? I don't think we like being talked to like this, do we, Sirius?"
Sirius pulled out his wand. "If you don't give us back the cloak and walk away, we'll make you give it back."
"Fine. But if you do anything to him…you'll have to face me."
"Ooh, I'm so scared." Sirius searched for something witty to say. "You're his knight in shining armor, aren't you? He's the damsel in distress."
Harry normally would've rolled his eyes at such an idiotic remark, but the comment stung. That's not how it seemed, did it?
Sirius looked to James for reassurance of his joke's humor, shoulders straightening with confidence when James smirked.
Harry's fingers grazed his wand. "I know he can defend himself. But what's the point of bullying him in the first place?"
This sailed right over James and Sirius' heads. They looked at him like he was the one missing the point. Before they could say something stupid, Harry continued.
"Never mind. Just remember what I said." Harry turned around and walked in the opposite direction. Suddenly, he felt a shock race through him, and became frozen to the spot.
"Thank you, Sir Knight," Sirius said, and they laughed. Harry had forgotten to give them the cloak, and they'd done just as they promised.
The boy he'd helped up earlier managed to unfreeze him, looking sympathetic. But he didn't know how painful it actually was for them to treat Harry as they had.
James was Harry's father, and Sirius had been the last family he had. Harry wanted to do what was right, but he also wanted to be friends with them. Somewhere below the surface he knew they were good people, but it would be ideal if they didn't wait until adulthood to show that.
Harry, back in the empty dorm before class, sat down on his bed. He felt a new weight on his chest. His own father didn't like him. Should he have tried to befriend him instead of acting how he did? A rush of anger overcame Harry and he stood up. He kicked his bed frame and threw the contents of his nightstand on the ground.
Harry's anger abruptly turned to shame. He ran a hand through his hair and surveyed the mess, then sighed. He couldn't give up on his father, or his godfather. They'd get along eventually, as long as Harry was patient.
"Yeah, definitely," came Sirius' voice from outside.
Harry heard footsteps approaching the dorm. He threw on his invisibility cloak and moved the mess under his bed, just as Sirius and James appeared in the doorway. James stopped in his tracks, hushed Sirius, and stared at Harry's bed.
"What?" Sirius said, impatiently, breaking James' concentration. "C'mon, we'll be late to class."
"I think this is more important, don't you?"
Sirius grinned, and got to work searching through the pile of junk around his bed.
Harry flinched in surprise, then realized Sirius was talking to James.
"Yeah? What about him?"
"I don't know. He's…weird." More rummaging, then a pause. "Why is he friends with…them?"
"A better question is, why is Lily friends with him?" This had clearly been bothering James.
"I don't know. But, he's almost…older than he is."
"He's older than he is?" James raised an eyebrow.
"That's not what I meant…It's that…he acts all mature, all the time. It's really annoying."
"Yeah, I know. Well, we'll see how mature he is when he pisses himself after dinner," James joked, and they laughed.
"But, er, do you think…" Sirius began, slowly, "…we should be nicer to him?" He was clearly uncomfortable suggesting it.
"To Jacob? Or Snivellus?" James looked at Sirius incredulously.
"Jacob!" Sirius replied impatiently, as if Severus wasn't a real option.
"I dunno." James shifted on his feet, annoyed. Only Sirius had enough influence on him to consider it.
Glad he wasn't dismissed, Sirius continued, "He's good at Quidditch—" James made a face, so Sirius added quickly, "—almost as good as you, and he's in our house…" A thought occurred to him. "And he could help you be friends with Lily."
James mulled this over, and his mouth stretched into a grin. "You're brilliant!" He checked the time. "Shit! Let's talk about it on the way to class."
The two left the room, and Harry sat on the bed, still cloaked. He felt better. He had a shot at becoming friends, even though it may be just so James could get to Lily. At least it was an improvement from being bullied by them.
The problem was, if Harry had planned to give Severus and Lily a chance, how would he deal with James?
The day went by quickly. Severus had managed to avoid being pranked again. A range of students had been pranked as the day went on, mostly Slytherins, but nothing too serious. Filch was alerted of the misdemeanors and, because of his incessant interrogations of innocent students, was also a victim of their pranks. Harry was just waiting for the final event, the one stunt that would keep people talking. James hinted at something happening after dinner.
"What do you think of Sev's new haircut?" Lily asked, looking fondly at him. Severus blushed and smiled back.
"Yeah, it's nice." His hair was now short, free from his face, a definite improvement.
"Madam Pomfrey did it when she reversed the potion. She also gave him this bottle of stuff to…help his hair." She could tell the topic of Severus' hygiene was sensitive, but he didn't have a parent to teach him about that sort of thing.
There was silence for a moment, then Raven asked, just realizing something—"Where's Remus? Is he sick again?"
Lily nodded. "Right, we saw him, he was in the Hospital wing. They're testing a new potion on him that's supposed to help with the sickness he keeps getting. He looked pretty bad, but we cheered him up by visiting!"
Harry knew how much Remus would have appreciated a break from the solitude, especially by seeing Lily, who the boy seemed to be growing fond of. While they were on the topic of the Marauders, Harry looked around; none of the other Marauders were at dinner. They were no doubt preparing for their attack.
All of the Gryffindor students headed back, as a group, to the common room. Harry, Lily, Raven and Severus lingered at the back, looking out for signs of James, Sirius, and Peter.
"What's that?" Raven whispered suddenly, her eyes focusing on a spot a bit before them, where a shoe appeared to be hovering over the ground.
"It's one of them!" They're under the cloak again, Harry thought.
"Whoever it is, they're going down that corridor." The four, acting casual, followed the shoe at a distance as it made its way down the hall, up the stairs, past a group of Hufflepuffs, and into a classroom. They hesitated when they reached the doorway, but Severus pushed ahead into the room.
"Something's not right…" muttered Harry, and acting on his instinct, he pointed his wand at the lone shoe at the other end of the unused classroom and said, "Accio shoe!"
The shoe soared through the air and into Harry's outstretched hand. "They're setting us up." He ran to the door, but it closed before he could reach it. He tried the doorknob. Of course, it was locked. "Alohomora!" he commanded, trying the door again. Nothing.
"What happened to Lily?" Severus said, concern tightening his features.
She was gone. But Harry couldn't worry about that now; he had to focus. He surveyed the room again. It wasn't familiar to him, but he seemed to have a distant memory of the location.
There were a few posters with numbers and strange symbols on them…which would mean they were in the Arithmancy classroom.
Hermione had told Ron and Harry (despite their lack of interest) about the Arithmancy classroom entrance. It was one of the doors in the school that had to be tickled in the right spot before it could be opened. A student would have to solve something before the class could leave, but the spot was always the same.
Harry knelt down and searched for a small chink on the door in the bottom left corner. His fingers brushed it lightly, and, with a muffled giggle, it swung open. Lily was outside, resisting an invisible person who let her go as soon as he saw Harry pointed his wand in his direction.
Lily picked up her wand and thanked him.
"Are you okay?" Severus asked urgently.
"Yeah, I'm fine. That was Peter. He was supposed to guard you and send me to the party. But I wouldn't go."
"The party?" Harry asked.
"That's what he said. I guess he didn't want you to be there." Her green eyes flashed mischievously. "Just imagine the look on James' face when we get there."
They made Peter take them to the party, which was in the Gryffindor Tower.
"Password?" the Fat Lady asked.
"Turpis Collectio," Lily replied, and the portrait hole swung open.
They were met with a burst of sound. Music blared, and the room was dim, lit only by a few (stolen) candles. People danced, chatted, and most held gently steaming drinks. Glowing pumpkins dotted the corners, grinning toothily at the partiers. Desserts were laid out on the table before the fireplace.
Harry scanned the room and spotted James, in the center of it all, talking animatedly to a group of girls, who laughed loudly.
"Whoa! What are you doing here?" Sirius stopped in his tracks on his way past them, holding two drinks.
"We escaped," Severus replied smugly, before anyone else could respond.
Sirius frowned, then shrugged. "Oh well."
"That was mean!" Lily exclaimed. "Why would you trap them and take me?"
Sirius looked at her in surprise. "We thought you'd want to go to the party."
"How thick are you?" Lily shook her head in amazement. "I don't want you to bully my friends, and secondly, I would rather marry Peeves than go to your stupid party!"
Sirius looked offended. "Whatever." He stalked off toward James.
"We could go upstairs," Harry suggested, with a wary look over where Sirius was whispering into James' ear. James' face darkened momentarily, then brightened when he saw Lily. He excused himself from the group of girls and headed in Lily's direction.
Lily held her ground and glared at James as he ruffled his hair, trying to pull his expression into a smolder.
"Hey, Evans." James' gaze drifted over the other three before settling on her narrowed eyes.
"Potter," Lily replied coldly. "If you could excuse us, we were just leaving."
James couldn't hide his disappointment. "No, stay! I mean, you just got here. Do you want something to drink?"
"No," Lily replied brusquely.
"Jeez." Sirius was back. "He was just being nice. C'mon, have a Butterbeer. It'll calm you down."
It was the wrong thing to say. "Calm me down? You locked my friends in a classroom and expect me to be calm?" She made a sound of disbelief and marched off angrily, with Raven, Severus, and Harry following close behind.
"Maybe you should quit while you're behind," Sirius said, smirking at James, who smiled after Lily.
"What are we going to do now?" Raven asked Lily as she made her way through the crowd.
"We could visit Remus," Harry suggested. "It's not too late, and he'd appreciate it."
"Yeah, sure." Lily paused and looked around. "Where's Severus?"
After a moment, Raven spotted him. "Over there, by the drinks."
Severus was examining a glass of Butterbeer. He held it up in the light, face scrunched up in concentration. His face darkened and he set the glass down, now examining the room. He rejoined the group, eying the room.
"Someone added a potion to the drinks." He emphasized "someone" with extra contempt; clearly he was sure of who did it.
"What sort of potion?" Lily asked, looking cautiously around the room.
"A philtre. I think it's to cause hallucinations, overconfidence, and can make whoever drinks it really happy." Severus studied the room. "It may take a while for the effects to show."
"Well, we're not sticking around to wait for that to happen. C'mon, maybe Remus could use some cheering up."
The Hospital wing was deserted, albeit five occupied beds, and Madam Pomfrey, who came up to meet the four as soon as they entered.
"Are you here to visit Remus?" When they nodded, she whispered, "He's awake. I gave him a potion to ease his pain, so you have just about ten minutes before he falls asleep."
Harry approached the bed first. Remus was lying under a single sheet, sweat glistening on his forehead. He was curled into a nearly fetal position on his side. He shifted over onto his back when he saw his friends, smiling weakly.
"Hello," Remus looked up at them, eyes bright against his tired, shadowed face.
"How are you feeling?" Lily asked gently.
"Fine." Remus blushed, then his jaw tightened in pain. In an effort to prove he was okay, he pushed himself into a seated position. He brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes and frowned at their varied looks of concern.
"The potion…that would help me…kinda made things worse. But I'm fine."
Lily put her hand on his. "Who gave it to you?"
Remus stared at her fingers. "Dumbledore made it. Anyway, how is the party going?"
Harry glanced at the others. "You're not missing anything. Someone tampered with the drinks, and I'd bet later Professor McGonagall is going to tell them off."
Remus seemed to cheer up slightly at the news. "It must be pretty awful if you left to visit me."
"We'd visit you anyway! But about the party…" Lily told him how James, Sirius, and Peter had trapped them.
Remus shifted uncomfortably. He didn't want to say anything bad about his other friends, but he managed to nod or murmur agreement with Lily's frustration.
Remus yawned. "I'm sorry about what happened. When I'm better, I'll…" Another yawn. His eyes were nearly shut now. "Well, good night."
When the others began to leave, Remus motioned for Harry to talk to him. Harry leaned in so the others wouldn't hear.
"The full moon's the day after tomorrow," Remus whispered to Harry, although he had already known; his watch kept track of it. November 2nd, the Tuesday before his first Quidditch match.
"I'll come after dinner then, okay?"
Remus nodded, his face pale, and drifted off to sleep.
By Tuesday, everyone was a little down; Lily had given up on trying to tell a story to a distracted Severus, who gazed over at the Slytherin table. Though James only had a small crush on Lily so far, he was still a bit sour that she hadn't taken to the party. Sirius was mad that his family refused to send him things he asked for because they were still upset at his placement into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin. James had been buying supplies for their various endeavors, and although he insisted that he didn't mind, Sirius felt guilty.
"Hey, Lily." James sidled closer to Lily when he noticed Severus wasn't listening to her. "You can tell me."
"The story? But…it's about you," she replied, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh?" James faltered and blushed, realizing quickly that it wasn't a kind conversation. "Er, then never mind."
Raven wasn't with them. She never ate much for lunch, and probably took this opportunity to go off to a meet up with some Slytherins.
The day went by as usual. Remus wasn't at dinner, the excuse this time was that he was sick but couldn't have visitors, and no one questioned it. Harry drifted from the group when they were walking back from the Great Hall and, when he was certain no one was around, threw on his invisibility cloak.
The sky through the windows was darkening quickly; he had misjudged when to leave. By the time Harry was outside, it was black. He hurried across the grounds, under the Whomping Willow, through the tunnel and to the Shrieking Shack.
Remus had already transformed; Harry heard him growling through the doorway. By transfiguring a piece of stray wood lying nearby into a mouse, Harry got past him and made it to the second floor. This time, Harry had brought the day's homework and a journal to write in before he fell asleep. He also brought a package of meat to throw down the hole in the floor to feed Remus.
After setting up the transfigured mice and finishing his homework, Harry opened his journal. He decided, in an attempt to fill the void the absence of his friends created, he would write a letter to them, or whenever he had time. He wouldn't send it, but writing out how he felt would help him cope.
He wrote about Remus, first, because that was what initially came to mind, then about his friends and their problems, and finally about himself. And what he missed.
By the time Harry finished writing, it was midnight. He made himself a comfortable place to sleep, then tossed the meat down for Remus.
That was the last thing he remembered before he fell asleep. And after what seemed like moments later, he was being lightly shaken awake.
"Jacob?" a soft voice above him said.
"Mm? Remus? Are you okay?"
"I'm…fine. We don't have to leave yet, but, um, how do you do that spell? To make the ground comfortable?"
"Oh, sure. I'll show you." Harry put on his glasses and Remus came into better focus. His clothing was very tattered, but he looked unharmed.
"Here." Harry taught him what to say and how to motion with his wand. Before he'd finished demonstrating, Remus started to cry.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, shocked and unsure what to do.
But Remus was unable to speak. He covered his face with his hands as he cried, not wanting Harry to see him in the state he was in.
"I—I'm sorry," he choked.
"What for? It's okay to…cry."
"I d-don't deserve to have a—a friend like you. I'm a freak. Nobody likes me, not really. If James and Sirius…if anyone else found out, they—they wouldn't want to be friends with me. Or…or they'd be too—too scared of me to not be friends with me!" He let out a shuddering gasp.
"That's not true." Harry said firmly.
"How do you know?" Remus demanded sharply. Then he looked down, ashamed. "You don't know what it's like…to be what I am."
Harry was about to reply defiantly, but caught himself. "No, I don't," he agreed. "But James and Sirius aren't the kind of people who would abandon you because you're a werewolf. That wouldn't matter to them. It doesn't matter to me! And they're better friends with you than I am."
Remus nodded vaguely. He abruptly looked sick and stumbled forward. Harry caught him before he hit the ground and gasped. There was a growing spot of blood on his back.
"What the hell…?" Harry bent down and pulled apart the back of Remus' shirt along a large rip. There was a good-sized gash in his back, with a piece of wood poking out. "How did this happen…" he muttered, mind working furiously to think of a spell to use to heal him. He realized he didn't know anything effective enough to fix it and moved quickly out of the shack.
He realized Hogsmeade was closer than the castle. If he could get help from someone there…Aberforth.
Harry levitated Remus and blasted out the front door of the Shack. It was cold in Hogsmeade, colder than around Hogwarts. The sky was still dark; Harry's watch read 5:12.
Harry hurried along the street until he saw the Hog's Head. He knocked first, not knowing what sort of protective spell might be set on the building. He knocked again, painfully aware of little time they had.
"Alohomora," Harry said, pointing at the door, and went inside. Immediately, a few candles flared, and a goat that had been lying across the room bleated.
There was a thump upstairs and a man in gray pajamas shuffled quickly down the stairs, wand at the ready. He spotted Harry and drew his wand, but Harry interjected.
"Wait! Aberforth, I need you to help me! My friend is hurt…" He gestured to Remus, who didn't seem to be breathing. "Can you help me, please?" His voice cracked with desperation. "I can't answer your questions right now, we don't have time."
Aberforth looked from him to the floating boy. The resemblance to his brother struck Harry just as it had the first time they'd met.
The goat that had been scared away earlier clomped over to Harry and stood by him.
Aberforth sighed drowsily and approached Remus, eyes locked on the wound. He passed his wand over the gash, closed his eyes, and murmured a string of words that were incomprehensible. The piece of wood lifted out of Remus with a nasty sliding sound. Harry grimaced and clenched his teeth. Not again. He can't die again, he thought. I wouldn't be able to live with myself, even if I could reverse it.
Wordlessly, Aberforth guided Remus upstairs. Harry stayed where he was and waited. He shook with emotion and clenched his fists to staunch his fear.
"He'll live. I put him in the guest room upstairs and cleaned up his back," Aberforth informed him when he returned, ten minutes later, looking shaken. By then, Harry's lip bled from biting it, and his fingernails had carved grooves in his palms.
"Thank you," Harry said, and sat down wearily on a chair that was next to him.
"Now, explain yourself."
Harry studied the younger version of the man, who significantly less aged and had gray hair instead of white. "I'm Jacob Walker. The boy who you healed is Remus Lupin."
Aberforth noted his uniform. "You're from Hogwarts."
Harry nodded. "Dumbledore knows we're out, but he doesn't know Remus got hurt."
"Why were you away from the school this early, anyhow?"
Harry took a deep breath. "Remus is a werewolf. He is taken out of the school for his safety—well, everyone's safety."
Aberforth was surprised, a strange expression on his solemn face. "He won't…transform, will he?" Aberforth glanced upwards to where Remus lay, in bed.
"No. But, anyway, I go with him on the nights he transforms because if he doesn't have anything to attack…he attacks himself. I don't know how he got that wound, though. I was thinking…I could go to the castle and get Dumbledore to pick Remus up later this morning, when he's well enough to be moved."
"Right. Two boys come out of nowhere early in the morning, one of them seriously injured, and the other wants to bolt, saying he'll get his headmaster? We'll send an owl to Albus, that way I can know for sure if you're telling the truth." Aberforth paused. "How old are you? You couldn't be older than fifth year, right?"
"I'm in first year," Harry responded, puzzled. Did he really seem mature enough for fifth year?
"Really?" Aberforth squinted at him, but a chime from the clock on the wall across them interrupted his thoughts. It was six o'clock.
"But besides that, wouldn't I have already left when I had the chance? I'll be late for class if I stay behind, and people will ask where I was, they'll realize I'm gone."
Aberforth grunted. "Fine. I'm still sending an owl."
"Thank you. And I'll talk to Dumbledore." He glanced at the painting of Ariana, then left the Hog's Head.
Harry ran as much of the way to the castle as he could. He came up with an excuse in case anyone noticed he wasn't there: He hadn't been able to sleep, so he got up early, or if they'd seen him get up in the middle of the night, he'd gone to the bathroom. But if someone had proof against his excuse? What was he supposed to do? He could ask Dumbledore once he got to his office. He had managed to get away last time without anyone saying anything, but he needed a plan for when they became suspicious, just like with Remus. They couldn't be sick or have family emergencies at the same time.
Harry slowed down just before the front doors. He used a few spells to clean up, then he put on his invisibility cloak. Thankfully, the front doors were now opened (it was just past 6:30), so he had no trouble entering.
He hurried to Dumbledore's office, where he took off his cloak, recited the password Dumbledore'd given in case of emergency, and leapt up the stairs, two at a time, until he reached the door.
The door swung open as soon as Harry knocked. Dumbledore was at his desk, writing. A plain brown owl was curiously observing Fawkes, who was asleep.
"Ah, Mr. Walker. How was your journey?"
"Er, good." He'd met the gaze of those blue eyes already this morning.
"I hear you've met my brother. I received his owl to inform me of the incident. I plan on picking up Mr. Lupin shortly."
Harry sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I'm sorry for the trouble. I don't know how it happened. The whole point of me being with him…"
Dumbledore met his eyes, the picture of sympathy. "It is not your fault. You did the right thing by going to my brother, though why you chose the Hog's Head, I don't know. Anyhow, without your quick thinking, well…let's not think about that." He smiled kindly. "I will ask Madam Pomfrey to help you with a spell to heal wounds. So you will be prepared, if this should happen again."
Harry nodded solemnly and stood up.
Dumbledore spoke before Harry shut the door behind him. "Oh, and Jacob?"
"Good luck Saturday."
"Thank you, sir."
When he left the office, Harry realized he forgot to ask what he should say when anyone got suspicious of Remus' absence. He decided he would be able to handle it when the moment came.
He had barely walked a minute when James, Sirius, and Peter spotted him from behind. "Hey, Jacob, where've ya been?"
"What do you mean?" Harry swore in his head; he'd forgot to put on the invisibility cloak.
"Well, you were gone all night, weren't you?" There were shadows under their eyes—they knew.
"I didn't realize it was that long…" Harry bought time to think of an excuse.
"You didn't realize what was that long?
"That—ugh, I'm going to be sick again…" Harry clutched his stomach and ran off in the direction of the nearest bathroom.
He hoped they bought it and believed he'd just been ill. For improvising, it wasn't that horrid of a performance. But even so…they weren't that thick; maybe they had guessed that the absence of Remus and Harry was linked.
At breakfast, Harry felt as though he could fall asleep right on his plate of eggs and toast.
Lily arrived at breakfast a half an hour later and greeted him cheerily.
"Hey. Where are Severus and Raven?"
Lily's cheeriness faded slightly. "I don't know. Are you feeling okay?"
"Just a little tired," Harry replied, yawning.
"Here, Sev gave this to me." She pulled out a vial filled with a yellow liquid. "He has trouble sleeping, and I've been staying up late with homework, so he brewed a bunch of this stuff. Just add a bit to your drink."
Harry gratefully took the vial and added some of it to his pumpkin juice. He downed the glass and instantly felt better.
"Thanks, Lily." He noticed her fidgeting. "What's wrong?"
"Did you hear what happened yesterday after dinner?"
Harry shook his head, a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Lily was clearly glad to tell someone the story and began in a hushed, hurried voice.
"One of the Slytherins cursed a Gryffindor because they thought they were working against You-Know-Who. Of course, the teachers think it was just a regular fight. 'Cause, you know, our houses get into fights all the time."
Good. It's not about Remus.
A fourth year boy with sandy hair overheard Lily telling Harry what had happened and leaned in to add to the story. "But it was planned, you see. She was cornered by a few of them, and they cursed her. But the thing is, the last spell their wands had cast was completely harmless—a repairing spell. And there were no other witnesses, so no one knows what really happened." The boy's friend stood up and nudged him to go. Before following his friend to the Ravenclaw table, he added, "They're both in the hospital, but the Slytherins got off with only a baldness charm."
Lily and Harry were silent for a minute. "What do you think about Slytherin house?" Harry asked Lily, hoping she didn't feel like he was questioning her too much.
Lily frowned. "I don't like what they're doing. I've overheard what Slytherins talk about—You-Know-Who. I had no idea who he was until a month ago when Cassandra, a second year, told me about him. About what he does to people. And that all the Slytherins are planning on joining him."
"And you think all of them will? What about Professor Slughorn?"
"But he's older! Well…I guess not all Slytherins, but I haven't heard any of them say that they aren't going to join You-Know-Who."
"Maybe they're just scared. Because you're saying that you think all—or nearly all—of them join Voldemort—"
"…I mean, You-Know-Who…so don't you think they might feel pressured into it?"
Lily thought hard. "I guess…" she said slowly. Something dawned on her. "Jacob, you don't think Raven and Sev—that they might want to be Death Eaters? Do you think they wished they were Slytherins? Because, well, Raven's whole family was in Slytherin, and Sev wanted to be in Slytherin until you told him not to be!"
"You should ask him," Harry suggested.
The first class of the day was Defense against the Dark Arts, ironically. As their professor got ready to teach, everyone chatted noisily.
"Sev? Can we talk?" Lily asked him.
Severus blinked and nodded. He stood by the side of his desk, and his hands, which gripped the edge, tightened.
"I want to know if you've been meeting with Slytherins. Or doing the Dark Arts, or anything like that."
"Did Jacob tell you anything?" Severus glared at Harry.
"Jacob? No…" Harry met her glance, then pretended not to listen. "But it doesn't matter. Sev, can you just tell me? Please?" She looked up at Severus, eyes wide and pleading.
"Okay. Yes, I have," he confessed, wanting desperately to look away, but unable to do so.
"Please take a seat, class," Professor Trabet said, patting her short, neat hair.
"Oh, Severus, why…!" Lily stopped because the sound in the room had died down.
For the rest of class, Severus maintained a furrowed expression, and Lily kept glancing at him in concern.
After class, Lily rushed to meet Severus. "Promise me you won't do anything…bad? I can't make you promise you won't hang out with them, but at least promise you won't do what they're doing."
"Okay," Severus said, as if not saying the exact phrase "I promise" would make going against what she'd asked him better.
As Severus and Lily returned to a more casual conversation, Harry spotted Neville's dad and two friends walking in the hallway.
"C'mon, Frank, you know that it wouldn't do any good to pick a fight with Lucius."
"Yeah, at least the prick got his badge taken away."
"That's not enough for what he did to Alice. He's a rotten little…" their conversation faded out of earshot.
Harry was stunned. "I didn't know Alice was the one who was cursed." And Lucius who cursed her. Alice, Neville's mother, is already a target?
Lily was unfazed by the story—for a first year, it was outside of her world and deep concern. "Yeah. I heard more about what happened today. He could've been expelled, but he told Professor Slughorn she started it, and she told Professor McGonagall he started it, so they just got a warning. He just has a ton of detention, and he's not a prefect anymore. Someone said…" her voice dropped to a whisper, finally acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, "…someone said he told her they would do much worse to her when she graduated, if they could prove she was part of something against You-Know-Who…but that's just a rumor."
"Yeah, a rumor." Harry shuddered.
In November, everyone attended the first Quidditch game, unfazed by the cold and cloudy weather. Even Severus came. Harry guessed it was not just because Lily was going, but also because Severus wanted to show he wanted to stay friends with Harry.
As the stands filled with people, Violetta gave the Gryffindor team a pep talk.
"This is it, guys. The first game of the season. We have a great team this year…only one new member, Jacob, and everyone is on top of their game." The second youngest player was in his fifth year, and the rest were in their sixth and seventh years. The third boy was in his seventh year, the other four players were girls. It was apparently only the sixth year in Hogwarts history that a Gryffindor team had more girls than boys on the team.
"Just do your best, and have fun!" Violetta didn't want to put pressure on them to win, but Harry could tell she wanted a victory very badly. The whistle sounded outside and the team marched out, gripping their brooms tightly. The audience swelled with cheers as the Slytherins and Gryffindors took their place on either side of the field.
A young Madam Hooch released the Snitch, which flitted away, out of sight. Harry searched the sky for a flash of gold as the captains shook hands, a little roughly. Hooch gave a brief speech to the teams, then, in a flurry of motion and sound, everyone took flight.
Harry could feel the eyes of most of the students as he rose quickly above the other players. When scanning the field, he noticed Dumbledore was watching him, one hand propped under his chin. The Slytherin Seeker idled far away on the other side of the field; Harry couldn't see who he or she was, but didn't think either of them were having much luck.
And suddenly, there was a small movement down at the edge of the field, almost directly under the Slytherin Seeker. Harry casually moved forward, but to the right so he wouldn't draw attention to the Snitch below. He kept his eyes on both the Snitch and the other Seeker; both were gradually moving toward him. And, just as the boy came into view—Lucius Malfoy—Harry shot in the opposite direction toward the Snitch. The crowd's cheers escalated as he neared the Snitch.
Lucius was right behind him but too far to have a chance. Harry's fingers closed around the Snitch.
Furious, Lucius dove straight into Harry and nearly knocked him off his broom.
Harry dangled dangerously in the air, only one hand gripping the Nimbus. There were a few screams and gasps, but they died out as Harry shoved the Snitch in his pocket and managed to pull himself up. Then Harry reached inside his uniform, pulled out the Snitch and thrust his fist into the air.
The audience roared.
Harry touched down on the ground, grinning broadly. His team swarmed around him, cheering, some pumping their fists. The Gryffindor Beaters held Harry up easily as he waved at the crowd. The game had been tied—20 to 20—before he had caught the Snitch.
Lucius scowled at him from the Slytherin side of the field, as he was lectured by Madam Hooch for blatching; flying with the intent to collide. Harry was happy to see the baldness charm Alice set on him had worked; Lucius took off his helmet on the way to the dressing rooms and, after the clouds opened overhead, his bare head glinted.
The whole school was alight with the excitement over the game and the unmatched skill of the previously unknown Jacob Walker. If Severus had been around the rest of the day, he would've been thoroughly annoyed by the attention Harry was getting.
James, after brooding for a while, came up to Harry with Sirius at his side.
"Good game, Jacob," he said, like a boy whose mom had forced him to be nice on the playground.
Sirius gave James a look, then said to Harry, "Malfoy's face was priceless."
"Yeah, he looked like he could curse you," James added, with difficulty.
Harry thought back to Alice. It was a mystery to him that Lucius hadn't been suspended from Quidditch for the year. His dad must have as much influence as Lucius had in Harry's time.
"Well, okay, are we done here?" James turned away impatiently.
"Thank you," Harry blurted.
James looked at him strangely before walking away.
As he could shake off his new admirers and his friends, Harry visited the Hospital wing. There were no other visitors, and only two of the beds were occupied.
Madam Pomfrey intercepted him before he reached either of the beds. "Are you here to visit Remus?"
"Him and Alice."
"Oh, you're Mr. Walker, right? The Headmaster asked me to show you how to heal wounds in case of emergency." She eyed him closely. "How did the piece of wood impale him?"
Harry felt a cold surge rush across him. He had come up with a plausible explanation the night before. The spell he'd cast to transform wood to mice must not have worked properly. It seemed as though Remus caught one of the mice and after he had eaten it, it transformed back into wood.
"It was my fault. An accident," he replied, not quite meeting her eyes.
"Hm. Well, when you're done, I'll help you." Madam Pomfrey studied him once more, then left to tend to the other patients.
Remus looked remarkably better, almost impatient. Books were laid out around him and he scribbled furiously on a piece of parchment. His face brightened when he saw Harry.
"Jacob! I'm just working on the Transfiguration essay." He put it aside and his smile faded as he registered Harry's somber expression. "What's wrong?"
"I figured out how this all happened," Harry began, pressing his lips together to hold his composure. "The wood I transfigured to turn into mice…you caught one, and ate it, which wasn't supposed to happen, and it turned back into a piece of wood inside you…"
"It's not your fault," Remus assured him, voice low.
"You could've died!" Everyone was taking it much too lightly. Madam Pomfrey glared at Harry, a finger to her lips.
"But I didn't. And look—" Remus pointed to his arms. "I don't have any new scratches."
"Except the huge gash in your back."
Remus sighed. "Listen—I don't blame you, so you shouldn't blame yourself. You've made the mistake once, and you'll know what to do next time."
Harry nodded to pacify Remus. But he didn't understand how scared Harry hd been. "I'm going to see Alice. Have you talked to her at all?"
"Yes, a bit. She's leaving in a couple days. She's really nice. Oh, and I'm leaving in a few hours, after Madam Pomfrey gives me my last dose of potion. I'll see you in the dorms."
"Yeah, see you then." Harry moved down three beds as James, Sirius, and Peter entered the Hospital wing.
Alice was awake, reading a black book whose title was only visible if seen at a certain angle. There was a significant amount of candy and flowers around her bed. Harry noticed a drawing of Lucius, which showed him losing his hair and crying. He would watch it grow back in a mirror, looking hopeful, only to see it drop off when it got to a certain length.
"Hello," Alice said warmly, putting down her book. "Have we met?"
"No, sorry, I'm Ha—Jacob Walker."
"Nice to meet you." She smiled, looking amused.
"Jacob!" A bright voice piped up behind him. Harry turned and saw Violetta approach holding a bouquet of pink flowers. When she placed them in the sunlight, the flowers appeared to dance.
"How do you know Alice?" Violetta flicked her wand and her long blonde hair went up into a tight ponytail.
"I…we actually just met."
"Oh, well, cool. I've told her how good—no, extraordinary—you are at Quidditch," Violetta said. "Though, not how you beat Lucius today."
Alice smirked. "I'd love to hear that story."
Violetta told her an exaggerated, more dramatic version of the game, and how Lucius handled the loss. "…He nearly snapped his broom, banging it on the ground like an angry troll when Jacob caught the snitch. Looked like one, too, with his ugly bald head. I swear, he might blind someone with that glare off his loaf…"
After a few other stories involving their friends and Lucius, Violetta let Harry speak. "What was it you wanted to say to Alice?"
Harry paused, collecting his thoughts. "I wanted to tell you how, er, brave you were. Facing Lucius and joining…well, you know." He flashed back to seeing Alice and Frank at St. Mungo's. Alice couldn't understand fully where he was coming from, that she would be tortured but remain loyal to the Order.
"Thank you." Alice smiled at him, though concern about what he knew was visible in her eyes.
"It was nice talking to you," Harry said, taking a last look at her strong, familiar face before leaving.
Things had changed significantly in the few months since school started. Harry had so many other people's issues and emotions on his plate that he was beginning to ignore his own. His dreams were the only place for him to dwell on the people he left behind in his own time.
The Marauders didn't question Remus and Harry when they disappeared once more on December 2nd. Severus only asked Harry where Remus had gone a couple days before the full moon, when Remus had been too sick to attend class. They used the excuse of a family emergency instead of Remus being ill.
Severus and Raven were gone that evening, along with Lily (who was up in the girl's dorms) and Remus, on the evening of December 2nd. The full moon had risen in the morning and lasted throughout the day, so Harry missed his classes under the excuse that he wasn't feeling well.
"Hey, Jacob," Sirius said, sitting on a chair next to Harry in the common room.
Harry started. Sirius seemed amazingly casual. What had changed? He looked back down in his journal and continued writing.
James walked in, holding two cups, his hair ruffled in all directions, as always. He sat next to Sirius, ignoring Harry.
"I got you a cup of pumpkin juice," James said, holding it out for Sirius.
"I thought I said I just wanted water."
"Well, you can get it yourself, I you want," James snapped.
"Fine." Sirius left in a huff.
There was an awkward pause.
"Do you want some pumpkin juice?" James asked, after staring into his cup.
"Sure, thanks," Harry replied, taking the cup from him.
James leaned forward slightly, eyes locked on Harry as he drank from his cup. Harry tried not to acknowledge this by looking around the room.
"What have you been going these past few months at the same time as Remus?" James asked as Harry set down his empty cup.
"I help Remus when he transforms into a werewolf," Harry answered automatically. His eyes widened. Truth serum.