Harry couldn't let Severus go to school in the state he was in. He offered to buy school supplies for Severus and healed him as he slept. He told Severus go with Lily to King's Cross, and he'd talk to Petunia beforehand to make sure she didn't tell on him.
"Look, they didn't do anything, and he had no choice, he wasn't safe at home."
Petunia pursed her glossed lips. "I suppose I won't tell. But only because he's your friend."
Harry sighed, relieved. "Thank you."
"So, you're still coming for the holidays?" Petunia rocked slightly on her feet.
"Er, yeah." Harry couldn't meet her gaze.
"You'll have a great time. We'll decorate the tree, and mum makes terrific mince pies!" She smiled, head tilted a little.
"Petunia!" Mrs. Evans called.
"Coming!" Petunia looked as though she'd say something else, but changed her mind and ran back inside.
Later, in the Hogwarts Express, Lily and Severus searched the compartments for Harry, who had arrived early. "Oh, hello, Jacob!"
"G'morning! I saved you a spot." He hadn't seen Lily since the end of school; she must've grown nearly two inches. There was something different in the way she held herself, too. Severus looked much better than he did yesterday; the scrapes had toned down, and his formerly sallow skin was now healthy.
A minute after Lily and Severus joined Harry, Remus walked past. He stopped to say hello, fumbling a bit with the conversation and staring too much at Lily. Harry bet he'd only talked to his family all summer.
"Oi! Remus!" James stopped when he spotted the group. "Why are you talking to them?" James' voice was a bit lower, but he hadn't grown much compared to Remus. "Morning, Lily," he said, in a much smoother tone.
"You're looking rather big-headed today, James," Lily said, crossing her arms.
"You're looking radiant today, Lily, as always." James replied, leaning in the doorway, grinning.
"Okay, okay." James ran a hand through his hair. "I take it you won't want to join us? Where your beauty will be appreciated?"
"James," Lily repeated, taking out her wand.
"I'm going!" He left, taking Remus (who shot the three an apologetic look), along with him.
"Wait up, James!" Peter, who just got on the train, followed them, panting heavily.
Harry checked his watch. "It's five to, I wonder where Raven is."
As if on cue, Raven slipped through the door and slid it closed. "Sorry I'm late, I—"
"…sit with some Slytherins then, I'm not talking to you if I can help it!" Sirius' voice carried into their compartment.
"SIRIUS BLACK HAS A HUGE STASH OF—" Regulus began at the top of his lungs, before Sirius shushed him.
"Fine. You can sit with us." Their voices faded as they moved down the train.
Raven sat down next to Harry. "That was Sirius' brother, Regulus, if you were wondering. He's actually not as annoying as he sounds. He tells me all of Sirius' secrets."
She looked at Severus in surprise. "Oh no, what happened to your face?" She reached out, as if to touch his cheek, which held the trace of a bruise, but pulled it back.
Had Severus not told her about his home life? Severus turned away so she couldn't see the mark. Raven looked at Harry, confused.
Harry shook his head, signaling to her to drop it for now.
"How do you know Regulus?" Harry asked Raven, and Severus relaxed his shoulders in relief at the change of subject.
"Oh, well, my family's Pureblood, like his, so…My dad's half-blood, Faralyn, and on my mum's side, the Rowle family…"
Severus looked away with disinterest, but Lily leaned forward. "Hang on—are you related to Lester Rowle?"
Raven nodded. "Yeah, he's my cousin."
Lily's eyes widened. "He's so mean! Do you remember that one time—"
"…he hexed a Hufflepuff to think up was down and down was up, I know." Raven sighed. "We have these huge family dinners over the summer, with Lester's family and the Blacks. We're friends with some of the kids, Severus and I, but they act…differently with different people. I do like Regulus, though. He's not at all like Sirius."
Harry wondered if there was any part of Regulus now that was the person he'd be later in life, someone able to betray the Dark Lord.
"Do you think he'll be sorted into Slytherin?" Harry asked.
"Well, maybe Ravenclaw, or I suppose Slytherin; his whole family is in Slytherin, and he wants to be in it, so…" She paused. "Anyway, what did everyone do this summer?"
The four spent the next couple hours talking about their trips; Harry invented a story of what he did, and Severus just told a story about going to the library with Lily earlier in the summer. There was no mention of what happened to Severus. After the four ran out of things to discuss, they read their new school books.
They had changed an hour before the train pulled into the station. The night was cool; Harry could see his breath. Hagrid gathered the first years, and the other students were left to find carriages.
The four found an empty one close by. Lily dropped one of her things and bent down to pick it up, but she was dangerously close to one of the Thestrals.
"Watch out!" Harry pulled her aside and patted the now uneasy Thestral's neck. The creature cocked her head at him, then licked his hand.
Careful not to disturb the Thestral, Harry bent down and picked up Lily's notebook.
The other three were staring at him as if he'd lost his mind.
"Er, Jacob, what was that?"
Oh no. "A Thestral."
Lily took her notebook back, looking at him with concern. "I don't see anything."
"You can only see them…if you've seen someone die. They pull the carriages."
He climbed into the carriage after Lily, frustrated with them for staring at him and with himself for not thinking.
No one asked who he'd seen die. Harry had been prepared to lie and say his grandmother, but now he felt the full force of the truth stifled inside him.
Harry had never felt as strong of a temptation to reveal himself as he did now. He concentrated on the surroundings, ignoring the presence of his friends. He had to force himself to be normal again, repeating in his head what the consequences would be, were they to know who he really was.
It took the entire ride before he looked at Lily, who sat next to him.
"How do you know what they are?" Lily whispered, when she met Harry's glance.
The carriage were coming to a stop.
"I saw them last year and…looked up what it was."
"What do they—Thestrals—look like?" Raven asked, lurching forward in her seat as the carriage came to a halt.
Harry stepped out of the carriage and stood next to the Thestral. He put his hand on the its neck and motioned for Lily to do the same. Raven and Severus hung back.
"They have wings like a bat, and you can see their bones through their skin, which is black, and slick, as you can probably tell."
Lily ran her hand down the Thestral's side, thoughtful. "Who did you see die?"
"My grandmother." It was wrong to say. Cedric. Sirius. Dumbledore. Dobby. And the war in what would've been his seventh year, he'd seen more.
The students were brought into the Great Hall. At the staff table, Harry saw a new face—probably the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He was young, slim, had thick brown hair—looking out of place between Hagrid and Professor Flitwick.
The Great Hall doors opened, shifting Harry's attention. Professor McGonagall entered, leading the huddled group of first years to the front of the room.
Harry craned his neck and spotted Regulus, who was just as tall as Sirius, but not quite as good-looking.
After spotting another familiar face, Harry nearly laughed, though he didn't know what to feel, exactly; it was Gilderoy Lockhart.
Gilderoy had the same light, golden hair, but he was missing the loud confidence from later in life.
"What is it?" Lily asked, trying to see what Harry was looking at, but it was then that the Hall fell silent and the Sorting Hat began to sing.
After the song was finished, Professor McGonagall called the first years up to be sorted.
"Aubrey, Betram." A small, pudgy boy stumbled up to the front and it barely took a moment of wearing the hat before it called, "RAVENCLAW!"
When "Black, Regulus" was called, he glanced back at his brother, shrugged slightly and put on the Sorting Hat. There was no immediate cry of either house, which seemed to confuse Regulus. His face became hard and it was a couple minutes before the Hat finally cried, "SLYTHERIN!"
Regulus got up and strode to the far table. Sirius muttered something along the lines of, "Good riddance." Raven gave a small wave in his direction, and Regulus grinned widely.
Dirk Cresswell was sorted into Gryffindor and sat down close to Harry.
"Lockhart, Gilderoy." The blond boy bounded up to the stool. The hat thought for nearly a minute before calling, "RAVENCLAW!"
From then on, Harry only paid attention to the names that were vaguely familiar; Mary MacDonald went to Gryffindor, along with Emmeline Vance, and Dorcas Meadowes went to Hufflepuff.
The rest of the evening wound down until students were led to their common rooms in a sleepy haze.
Harry and Severus went upstairs early to unpack. Harry noticed Severus examine the watch he'd been given for Christmas the year before.
"Did you figure it out?" Harry asked, casually tucking Hermione's purse underneath his things.
Severus regarded Harry, jaw tight, before replying.
"Yes, I did; it's another one of your ideas to make me change. It's obviously a trick to make me think I'm on the wrong path. 'Revelare Viam.' It means reveal the way, that wasn't hard to figure out." At the words, the watch whirred softly.
"It's not a trick, it works." Harry gritted his teeth.
"I don't really care. A watch can't tell me what I can and can't do."
"What did it tell you?"
"It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me."
"Of course it does, you're the one who gave it to me."
"If you don't tell me, I'll assume the worst."
Severus passed the watch over in his fingers. "I know you know what it said. It pointed to 'Death,' 'Regret,' and 'Pain,' and whatever other bad ones." He glared off to his right. "I know what you're trying to do."
"Fine, but it's supposed to be accurate. I didn't mess with it." A thought struck Harry. "Hang on…did it help you this summer?"
Severus shifted impatiently. "It was just a coincidence."
Severus sighed. "I opened it, one night, when my father was out late. I was up in my room, and it kind of…glowed, on my desk. I opened it and all of the arrows were pointing to 'Danger.' But that was just a coincidence."
"What did you do after you saw the arrows?"
Severus seemed to debate whether or not to continue telling the story, as it went against his argument. "I looked out the window and saw him coming up the street. I grabbed my things and told my mum to be careful, and I'd be back. I didn't know where to go, then I looked back at the watch—" He stopped abruptly.
"Wait—the watch changed? What did it change to?"
"The watch didn't change, an arrow just moved." Severus turned his back to Harry and busied himself with his suitcase.
"And what did the arrow move to?"
There was a long pause.
A couple weeks later, Quidditch tryouts rolled around. Harry slipped on his uniform and met with his team on the field.
"Good turn up this year," Violetta said, hands on her hips as she surveyed the group of hopeful students.
"Whatever position needs me most, I'll take it. I really hope I don't have to be Keeper again," she added, more to herself than to anyone in particular. "Okay, those who want to be Chasers, please come forward. Everyone else, if you'd like to wait off to the side for a bit…"
Harry realized his father had stepped up with the dozen other students, brimming with confidence, the number 6 attached to his front and back.
"Let's see, your numbers are all visible…Okay! Just fly around and I'll call you back down when I have what I need."
She wrote down the strongest and weakest fliers, sometimes consulting Harry. He felt a little awkward every time she leaned down toward him for his input; he hadn't forgotten the kiss.
Violetta pointed at a few of them. "Numbers 8, 6, and 9 are definitely the best." Some of the other potential players moved through the air awkwardly, sliding around on their brooms.
At Violetta's call, the dozen students touched down on the ground. "Awesome, everyone. Now I'm going to divide you into two teams. The goal is just to get the Quaffle into the goal. No illegal moves, or you'll get a warning. After the second offense, you're out. Anastasia and I will be the Keeps. You don't get in because you score the most goals, we want to see how you work within a team." To Jacob and a long-time player, she said, "You can mark down notes next to the numbers. Get your brooms, you'll get a better view that way."
James turned out to be a quite skilled Chaser. There was only one other second year, and James was much better.
After taking notes, it was clear there was only two people that he'd consider for the position: James and a sixth year girl.
It was past lunch when tryouts ended. After eating a very rushed lunch, they met back to discuss the competitors.
"I think number six…James Potter, has real potential."
"All the same, Violetta is better."
"Yeah, but she's better than the Keepers that tried out…"
"What do you think, Jacob?"
Harry wanted his father to be on the team, he was good, but would it make him hate Harry more or less?
"I think we should give him a shot."
Violetta nodded, lips pursing a bit. "Alright, if you think so."
James was the last to arrive at practice. He said there was a confusion about time, but Harry would find out later he'd just stayed in the common room too late, as he'd waited to convince Lily to come watch him after breakfast. Harry knew Lily had slept in late on purpose so she wouldn't see James.
James wore black dragon skin gloves, looking smug as he looked from his Nimbus to Harry's, thinking that Harry had lost his advantage.
"Okay, now that everyone's here…finally," she looked at James, who merely smiled, "we can get started."
She split them into two groups for a warm-up. Harry was on James' team. Harry noticed, as the practice went on, that James was a pretty decent flyer, and was able to catch and pass, but he lacked any team skills. He would try a complicated move that was quite unnecessary and lost him the Quaffle in the end.
When the team had touched down for the final time in early afternoon, James' ego had deflated a bit.
"Let's go eat, everyone! Don't forget we have practice Tuesday, right after class!" Violetta poked James' shoulder as he walked with the rest of them. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"
James straightened, looking smug again. "Sure." He glanced halfway at Harry, before sauntering off beside Violetta.
Weeks later, Raven revealed to Harry, "I know about the Animagus project."
Harry shushed her, looking around, but no one was listening. "So, what are you going to do?" And how had she found out?
"I want to be a part of it, too. The only thing stopping Severus from telling is knowing you're in on it. And…he doesn't want to become an Animagus, since he doesn't want to have anything to do with James and them." Raven's eyes were determined, scrutinizing his reaction.
Harry knew if he said no, Raven or Severus might give away their plan.
"I suppose so…but they won't be happy, with me or you."
Raven nodded quickly, about to thank him when Harry continued, "You can't tell anyone. And you'll spend at three hours a week researching." That part was an exaggeration, as Remus ended up doing most of the research, but wanted her to change her mind.
"I don't mind at all. Thank you so much!" Raven grinned and hurried to catch up with Severus.
One morning in October, Harry was jolted awake by the water.
It rained, hard, from the ceiling, frigid and…green?
"What the hell?" James was already at the door, trying to escape, but it wouldn't budge. "Alohomora!" Nothing. James pushed back a lock of now bright green hair and gritted his teeth in frustration, only for them to be dyed as well.
Sirius rushed to the window, throwing every spell he knew at it. Nothing would open or break the glass. Lupin threw his schoolbooks in his dresser, and ran to do the same for everyone else.
"Finite Incantatem!" Harry yelled, wand at the ceiling. Nothing happened.
Harry watched as a raindrop in front of his face slow. It looked like an emerald, or stained glass. Lupin gasped a little in wonder.
"Incendio!" The door burst into flames that shot up, black and menacing. After the wood had burned through, the rain started up again and extinguished the tendrils that had worked their way across the floor.
The six boys ran out of the room, only to meet more rain.
"James, Sirius; get the first Professor you can get to. Professor Darcer, if you can."
Harry was certain that the Slytherins were behind this, but how did they get in? He didn't want to think this was Severus and Raven's doing.
"Harry!" Remus shouted over the din of shouting, rain, and footfalls. "We have to get everyone out!"
The two of them slowed down the rain (Remus knew the spell as well, though no one else in their grade had learned it) and burned the doors.
The common room was a mess. When Remus and Harry got back downstairs they saw the Gryffindor girls running toward the portrait hole, levitating tables and chairs as they went to get some cover from the rain.
Professor Darcer ran into the room with what appeared to be the top part of an umbrella suspended over his head. He wore navy pajamas and his thick brown hair was flung about in a way very similar to James.
A few muttered incantations later and the rain started to peter out. Then, everything was silent.
"Follow me, Remus, Harry." Darcer led them, then the others, out to the Hospital wing.
"Paling Potion, please, Poppy," Darcer said briskly, giving no explanation until every student drank their allotted cup. He discussed, in whisper, what had happened to Madam Pomfrey until the effects of the potion had settled in.
The Gryffindors stood, completely white, gaping at each other.
"No worries, it'll take a few hours for you to get all your color back. Twelve at the most."
There were a few groans, curses, and angry mutters. Harry heard several mutterings of "Slytherins."
"If there is anyone who can't fall asleep, I'll arrange for an early breakfast. And I'll make sure you're excused from your first class this morning. Also, until we find out who did this, I don't want anyone to make any assumptions."
By their second class of the day, tensions ran high.
"So, which Slytherin wants to confess to this morning?" James asked lazily, leaning on his desk. "It'll save time. I won't make fun of you for coming up with the absolute worst prank I've ever seen." Everyone was quiet now, looking at James.
"No one? Snivellus, what about you?" Sirius sidled next to James.
Severus' eyes narrowed. He said nothing.
James nodded, looking away as if to accept this; then his arm shot out and sent a red stream at Mulciber.
The silence was broken, and the two houses were suddenly shooting at each other, even Mulciber, whose face had been transfigured into a pig's.
With an unintelligible squeal, Mulciber sent a curse at Lily, whose back was turned as she tried to stop the fighting.
"Protego!" Harry blocked the spell and shot another between the two groups, forming a barrier against the spells, which sparked uselessly in the air.
"Enough!" Professor McGonagall whisked into the room, eyes blazing.
Harry wished she hadn't seen him cast the spell; it was more advanced magic than any of the others his age knew.
"You should all be ashamed of yourselves."
James got down from the table he'd jumped onto. "They started it!"
Professor McGonagall cut him off.
"Detention, Potter. If the rest of you could please take a seat, without blowing up the classroom, I would appreciate it."
The chairs shuffled and scraped as the students sat down. Professor McGonagall looked them over sternly, then opened her mouth to continue when Mulciber snorted loudly.
"Now, really…" McGonagall waved her wand and Mulciber returned to normal. "This morning's events are inexcusable. I expect that you can at least be civil with each other, if you cannot be friends, and that nothing of this sort will happen again."
Only three days passed before the Gryffindors retaliated.
Lucius Malfoy was the first to confront them, because he was one of those who got the worst of the prank.
He stormed up to James in the hallway after first hour, eyes ablaze, furious.
"I heard you arranged this, you little prat."
The second year group had now stopped to watch. James grinned, even though Lucius' wand was pointed at his throat.
"I might have. I at least gave them the idea for the tattoo on your arse."
Lucius turned scarlet and put his wand on James' skin. The lion tattoo on Lucius' face opened its mouth into a roar, but no sound came out. "Oh, I could burn you where you stand. You're just a second year, and I know magic beyond what your tiny brain can imagine."
As he turned to leave, James said, "Well, not enough magic to grow your hair back, right?"
Lucius spun, short hair standing up with static, and shot a spell at James, who was thrown backwards.
"James!" a few girls screamed. Aluria Vane ran to his side, but James waved her off.
Lucius was gone, laughter from the Slytherins rippling in his wake. Harry saw they all had Gryffindor tattoos on their faces and hands—and probably other places he couldn't see.
Sirius helped James up, and they left the scene in furious whispers.
The battle of the houses continued. Madam Pomfrey rarely showed up at meals, and the hospital wing was always crowded with visitors and victims of pranks. Teachers piled on more homework in the hopes that they could lessen attacks, but the stress only strengthened the arguments between Slytherin and the other houses. Dumbledore made speeches on the founding of the school and the unity that was intended.
History of Magic turned into debates about the purpose of the houses, with Professor Binns serving as a weak moderator.
Harry first just listened in the arguments that broke out between the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors, but after listening to the childish retorts for three classes, he had to say something.
"The houses are important because they unite Hogwarts, not divide it. The fights are because of individual people, not because of the houses. Besides, some people become friends with people outside their own house, even with Slytherins."
"I disagree." A Ravenclaw, Lauren Tempah, stood up. She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Hardly anyone has best friends from different houses. And we have fights because we know we are different from the others; the Sorting Hat tells us that. The four-house system prevents us from learning how to deal with people different from us."
Harry couldn't hide his annoyance. They were going against the way the school had been for a thousand years…the way he'd lived in the best home he'd ever had. "Then why are there different countries? Or even cities?"
The girl glared at him. She was one of the few who paid attention in History. "That's different. People in different countries speak different languages, and they have different governments, and live in completely different ways. Here, we're all from Britain, we're all witches or wizards, and we're all kids. We're not meant to be put into boxes when we're still trying to figure out who we are."
Professor Binns checked the clock, now ten minutes past the end of class. "Class dismissed."
Harry almost shot something back at Lauren, but she was already moving out the door.
"Do you guys agree with me?" Harry asked Raven, Severus, and Lily.
It was Raven who hadn't replied. She shrugged and tilted her head. "Lauren does have a point."
Harry opened his mouth to try and convince her, but she interrupted. "We gotta go, just…think about what she meant, not about the houses."
She and Severus left in a hurry, and the Marauders followed. Remus told them to go on without him; he had to ask the Professor something.
He joined Lily and Harry without talking to Binns.
"Hello," he said as we swept his hair aside, looking at Lily, then Harry, and back to Lily.
"Remus, what do you think about the houses? I'm torn."
Harry was surprised; Lily had an opinion about everything.
"I like the idea of the houses, but I think they go too far. Most things we do are with our own house, so we never get to know anyone else. And I see, especially with the Slytherins and Gryffindors, that the label creates the conflict. People think what they do—their destiny—is predetermined by where they're put."
Lily stared at him, amazed, which made him so nervous he couldn't continue. "Okay, I think I decided; I agree with you."
Harry was tired of arguing with twelve-year-olds, who had little idea of what they were saying, and a weaker sense of tradition. Part of him thought Remus was right, but he still felt the houses were what kept the school together.
It had been a miserable two weeks. More drastic measures soon had to be taken.
When Professor McGonagall addressed the students, she had shadows under her eyes. "I will give the Gryffindors and the Slytherins one week. If they cannot resolve their differences by next Friday, November 3rd, the night before the first match, they will not be able to compete for the cup."
Cries of outrage and frustration rang throughout the hall.
Dumbledore stood and the everyone fell silent.
"The events over the past few weeks have astounded me. A new era is approaching, so it is essential that we remain united. Petty differences are no means for a feud."
Some students whispered to each other, oblivious to this "new era." Harry was one of the many that knew what Dumbledore meant; Voldemort was gaining power, and loyalties would be tested.
"This has been a battle over, in the eyes of the houses involved, right and wrong. But fighting cannot create peace; or at least, not a resolution. I want each of you to consider this before you jeopardize someone's safety."
For a day, it seemed as though the conflict was over, but the last prank had been Gryffindor's work, and some of them couldn't resist rubbing it in.
So it was inevitable that the Slytherins would do something to shut them up.
Literally, shut them up. Five Gryffindors, including James and Sirius, woke up unable to speak. They could open their mouths, but no spell would allow them to make a sound that wasn't a high-pitched squeak.
In Potions, as Slughorn prepared a remedy, Harry caught a glimpse of the writing on a note James passed to Sirius.
Thursday night, corridor by the dungeons.
The word of the plan did not reach the teachers. Students were under enough pressure from both sides that there were no attempts—that Harry knew of—to stop the battle.
Severus and Raven virtually disappeared in their small amounts of free time. This would be the true test of loyalty, but it seemed they had already made their decision.
That week, the hallway interactions between the Slytherin and the other houses consisted of either sarcastic respect and kindness or blunt distaste. As the fighting lessened, it seemed, to everyone not in the know, that they would make the deadline.
Harry wondered whether the fight-to-end-all-fights would just jumpstart the problem. And then there was the other factor; none of them wanted to lose Quidditch rights, even if they weren't on a team.
On Thursday, an electric current ran though the Great Hall. The teachers seemed much more rested and less stressed. After dinner, the students clambered to leave, clutching books on spells they had studied to prepare, talking to calm their nerves.
Nearly all of the Gryffindors left the common room at eleven. The percentage of participants rose slightly per year of study. All of the sixth and seventh years went, a couple hanging back to paint the eager, determined faces of their peers.
"Jacob, I decided to go. I don't want anyone to get hurt, and I haven't done anything so far. Have you decided?" Lily had been struggling with the decision because she thought the conflict was unnecessary.
"Yes, I'm going, but I'm not hexing anyone. I need to know you guys'll be safe. Also…I don't want Severus or Raven to do something they'll regret."
The Gryffindors moved through the school in small groups. The seventh years put Disillusionment Charms on all of the students, which was enough to conceal them in the dark hallways.
The fight didn't break out at the first encounter. The Slytherins and the Gryffindors revealed themselves at the appropriate place and time, a bit unsure. Some students cast protection charms around the area.
After a minute of suspense, a Slytherin, face masked like a Death Eater, pushed to the front of his end. He had hardly extended his arm before he was knocked to the ground by one of Frank Longbottom's friends.
Most students teamed up against others. Those who had specific grudges faced off one-on-one…if they could recognize their opponent. Harry was too focused on blocking spells to find Severus and Raven, who he thought he could identify by their height and movements.
A high-pitched noise shot through the air. Harry didn't know what or where the sound was coming from until everyone stopped what they were doing.
The girl was now curled on the ground, stiff with pain. The circle of Slytherins around her dropped as stunning spells collided with their backs.
The Slytherins scattered, taking the unconscious bodies with them, cries of protest and stray spells ringing out among the Gryffindors.
Harry pointed his wand at a few of the now recovered Slytherins who had circled the girl. "Accio masks!"
Unmistakably greasy black hair was revealed on one of the boys as they ran away. Harry glanced back and saw Lily staring at the spot Severus had been, shock frozen on her features.
"Violetta, are you okay?" Harry heard someone ask. He turned and saw she had sat up, but was still crying.
"I—it was the Cruciatus Curse," Violetta managed after two of her friends calmed her down.
Lily had finally been pulled out of her haze and asked Harry, "What's going to happen now?"
The next morning, Raven came to breakfast late, red-eyed and pale-faced. Harry couldn't figure out why she was emotional.
Lily refused to speak to Severus and pretended he wasn't there. Halfway through breakfast, however, she couldn't hold back any longer.
"Why did you do it, Severus?"
Severus looked up, clearly dreading her suspicion. He glanced over to the staff table, where Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall were talking. "I…what do you mean?"
"I saw you with those Slytherins. You could go to Azkaban for that! What were you thinking? What did she do to deserve—?"
"I didn't cast the spell."
"Why should I believe you? You can't prove you didn't!"
"You can't prove I did."
"I hate it when you act like this! You've seen the Slytherins do horrible things, but you still hang out with them—"
Lily noticed Raven was holding back tears. "Look, Raven—"
Lily watched in dismay as Raven got up and left, crying inaudibly. She didn't want to take back what she said, but she felt bad.
After glaring at the two of them, Severus stormed after Raven.
Lily jumped into conversation so she didn't have to worry about them. "Do they—the professors—know what happened?"
"I don't know. We were all supposed to take care of the injured ourselves. After Violetta was tortured, though, I don't know what they're going to do…but they can't take away Quidditch without going against what McGonagall said."
It turned out that Violetta made everyone promise not to say anything. It would only lead to controversy, since the Slytherins would deny it and accuse the Gryffindors of lying. So the first match of the season, Gryffindor vs. Slytherin, was still on.
On the day of the match, the air was humid and cold. The Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had arranged themselves between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins to prevent conflict.
Two chants began as the players took their positions, words mashing into an unintelligible roar.
Harry had a new motivation to catch the Snitch as quickly as possible this time: to prevent anyone from getting hurt.
He took into the air and flew just slightly above the players. A few drops of moisture formed on his glasses and he wiped them away with his glove.
Minutes went by with no sign of the Snitch. Through the mist, Harry could get a vague idea of what was happening. Hardly a play would go by without the shrill sound of a whistle and yells from either end of the stands. Lucius Malfoy glided along so casually that most of the time he wasn't even looking around, just drifting, eyes locked straight ahead.
At first, Harry thought this was because Lucius was counting on him to find the Snitch before trying to get it himself. Then Harry realized something else was going on.
He hadn't seen any flash of gold the entire time on the field, and as he was the best Seeker in Hogwarts, something had to be wrong. Harry had seen the Snitch released, so it wasn't as though it wasn't around somewhere. Maybe the Slytherins had cursed it from the stands, or put some sort of spell beforehand that kept it out of view.
Harry continued to speed along, but gradually decreased his height.
"…And Slytherin ties it up, 90 to 90!"
Harry was low enough now to see blades of grass on the ground. Looking up, Harry saw Lucius descending after him. He gained speed, eying the ground. Then, he saw it resting in the grass by the Slytherin stand. Harry dove toward the ground, Lucius on his tail, and grabbed the Snitch.
"Jacob Walker caught the Snitch! Gryffindor wins!"
It seemed as though the spectators thought the Snitch had been flying low to the ground, when it had been on the ground.
As it turns out, the Slytherins had been trying to stall Harry so they had more time to do illegal plays. A couple members from each team were brought to the hospital wing, but there were no long-term injuries. Nothing was brought up about the pranks or the curse, but nothing was resolved, either. Harry knew the Marauders wouldn't stop pushing the limits of the Slytherins and the teachers.
"Jacob, do you mind, well, we've got plans tonight. Can you handle, er…" James bared his teeth and barked.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Sure. I'll let you prank the Slytherins instead of taking care of your best friend."
"Right. Thanks." James met back up with the other Marauders, leaving Harry to seethe. How could they be such awful friends?
After dinner, Harry and Remus trekked down to the Whomping Willow.
"I promise, I won't let you get hurt this time."
Remus shook his head. "It was an accident."
He still seemed uneasy, so Harry added, "I have better spells this time."
Remus rubbed the back of his neck. "It's not that…Do you fancy Lily?"
Harry almost tripped. "No. No, I don't. Not at all." If only he knew.
"Oh, good. I mean, not good, but…" He faltered.
"Because you fancy her."
Remus stopped, staring at Harry in shock. "How did you know?"
"It's kind of obvious."
"I mean, to me it is, but I don't think anyone else noticed. Especially James."
Remus didn't say anything. He looked up at the sky, then started walking. Finally, he said, "You won't tell anyone?"
"Of course not. I've known for a while, and I haven't told anyone so far." Harry levitated a branch and it hit the knob on the tree. "Does it make you…unhappy to like her? Because of James?"
Remus swallowed. "I guess, if I could control it, I wouldn't like her, but I—I can't help it. I know he has a better chance than I do, in the end."
They had reached the shack. Harry went upstairs and crouched by the hole in the floor. He peered down and said to Remus, who looked back up at him, "What about Raven?"
"Raven?" He hardly had time to consider it before he shuddered and his head snapped back.
Harry withdrew and pulled out his wand. A howl rose into the air, sending vibrations through the floorboards. Harry summoned the happiest thought he could; the time he first met his mother. A stag bounded forward, bright and pure. It slipped downstairs, which cut off the howl and brought on a long whine. Then, there was silence.
Peering down the hole once more, Harry saw Remus eye the stag, snarling. The Patronus kneeled, still staring serenely at the werewolf before it. After a moment, Remus rested his head on his paws, regarding the Patronus until he fell asleep.
The next morning, Harry saw that Remus had suffered no injuries from transforming.
"Last night, before I transformed, what did you mean?"
"Er, what did I say again?"
"It seemed like you were saying I should give up on Lily and consider Raven."
"Well, you should do whatever's gonna make you happy. But I don't think James is going stop fancying Lily."
A week later, at Quidditch practice, Violetta pulled Harry aside. "I think James fancies me," she said, trying not to smile.
"You've noticed? He actually fancies someone else; he's trying to make me jealous."
"I don't fancy you, he just thinks I do." Harry fidgeted, awkward. "It's probably because, you know, you kissed me."
"That wasn't anything! I'll talk to him and tell him to—"
"No, don't." Harry grinned. "It'll be an inside joke; one more thing we can make fun of."
"Violetta, something's wrong with my broom!" James called. "It's pretty hard and a little stiff, can you help me fix it?" Violetta rolled her eyes, exchanged a grin with Harry, and went to help him. James shot Harry a smug look from down the field.
That night, Violetta stood before the Gryffindors. Voldemort was gaining support at a faster rate than the year before, so the upperclassmen who planned on joining the Order of the Phoenix held monthly meetings about acting against his forces. "My little brother was killed about three years ago. He was only eight, but he was already showing signs he would be a very powerful wizard. He had such potential.
"I was babysitting him that night. I was upstairs, he was downstairs. I didn't hear them come in, or leave. When I went into his room to check on him, he was dead." She paused a moment to take a breath. "I'll never forget how I could barely recognize him, he was so torn up. We were told one of You-Know-Who's werewolves tried to turn him, but my brother fought back, and was killed. That's why I'm joining the fight against You-Know-Who. To make sure no one has to go through what I did."
A few other Gryffindors spoke before the meeting was over. The younger Gryffindors headed to bed, the speakers stayed behind to talk with the others.
"Violetta, I'm sorry about your brother. I know what that's like." For a moment, Harry wished he could tell her that Voldemort would most certainly pay for what he'd done.
"Thank you, Jacob. I don't get sad about it much anymore. It took a while before I realized he wouldn't want me to be unhappy. I had allowed myself to be miserable because if I wasn't, I'd feel like I was shaming his memory. I realized he was just one person in the world that suffered because of You-Know-Who. Instead of making my life miserable, I had to make the world better." Violetta paused to let him process what she'd said. "I think you'd be a good addition to the Order, when you're of age."
The weather grew colder. After finishing their homework, Raven wanted to get outside, and asked Harry to join her. They ended up talking about her involvement in the Dark Arts.
"I have nearly a dozen books that my relatives have given me over the last couple years. 'Happy Christmas, how about cursing someone at school!' and, 'Here, have a book with 183 easy ways to torture!'" Raven shook her head and scoffed.
"So that's why you can't leave? Because of your family?"
"No…well, partly." She braced herself against the wind.
"Then what're the other reasons?"
"I dunno," Raven said, and the brief moment she'd opened up to him was gone. Harry thought they'd been getting somewhere, so he persisted.
"No, tell me."
"I said, I don't know!"
Harry stopped. "What about Sirius? His whole family is in Slytherin! How come he isn't?"
Raven kicked at the snow as she spun to face him. "Because he's arrogant and, I dunno, he doesn't care what his family thinks. Why don't you ask him?"
"That's not the point." Harry took a step closer, lowering his voice. "Everyone has a choice. Some people die because of their choices, some die for their choices. But you're only twelve, you don't have to worry about life or death."
He took her shoulders and realized she was trembling. "The direction you're taking…you'll kill before most other people your age would have a real job. It's strange to imagine now, as a kid, you'd be capable of that."
Raven's face was splotchy and streaked with tears. She couldn't bring herself to speak, so she just wrapped her arms around Harry.
It took a few minutes, but after wiping her face and taking some deep breaths, Raven was able to talk. "I know now what I was doing is wrong. I—I thought I was too far in, and I—I thought that Se—Severus would lose himself with the Sly—Slytherins if I wasn't there."
"It's okay." Harry began walking again, slowly, and Raven followed.
"What's Severus gonna say?"
"I don't know, but we'll find out. Look, even if he gets mad at you, and refuses to talk; you made the right decision."
Raven hunched her shoulders against the wind. "I hope so."
The next day, when she told Severus, he nearly snapped his quill in half. "What do you mean?"
Harry was a ways back, trying to seem like he wasn't listening, but he was unable to continue his conversation with Lily.
"What do you mean, 'You're done'?"
Raven avoided his eyes. "Severus, I'm just tired of being a part of this, and…"
Harry's attention flipped back to Lily and he noticed she too was listening in on Raven and Severus.
"…I've always been against it, I think, but I thought we'd both gone too far in to leave."
"You're right. You are too far in." Severus crossed his arms. "They're going to go after you."
"Can't you stop them?" Raven's hands shook and her voice was strained.
Severus struggled for a moment, uncrossed his arms, and replied in a low voice, "I'll try, but I'm not old enough to make much of a difference—"
"Severus, just leave with me!" Raven grabbed his hands. They were almost at eye level, so there was nowhere for him too look other than at her. "Please, before it reallyis too late! They'll ruin you, and I know you want to say no, but they're honestly evil."
Severus' expression hardened. "You've been talking to Jacob, haven't you."
"You're missing the point." Raven took her hands away, but held his gaze.
Severus studied her, expression cold, but his eyes darted too much and his face was reddening. "'We're in this together, Severus,'" he whispered, forcing his emotions into anger. "'They don't know what they're missing, Severus. Don't listen to Jacob, Severus.'"
Raven looked as though she'd been slapped. "Stop. I can't help that I've changed, Severus."
Severus raised his voice. "'I wasted so much time before, being against the Dark Arts, Severus. The Dark Lord knows the truth about the world, Severus. Honestly, Severus, this is the best part of school. Thank you so much, Severus.'"
Lily ran to Raven's side. "What the hell is wrong with you?" she demanded, as Raven broke down in her arms.
"What's wrong with me?" Severus repeated, hysterical. "What's wrong with her! We've worked for so long to get to where we are, and now she's—she's throwing it away!"
Raven glared at him through her tears. "You're the one throwing your life away!"
"Severus, it's Raven's decision." Harry stepped between them. "Why does it matter if she leaves? You don't want to, so what difference does it make?"
Severus looked down and turned. "I'm going to bed." He ran upstairs, now more alone than ever.