The Hate Potion
"You're not gonna make it long after Hogwarts, you know that, don't you, Faralyn?"
Harry wouldn't let Raven go anywhere without someone else accompanying her. Severus refused to do so, but he was never with the Slytherins when she was targeted.
Raven, Remus, and Harry were walking through the corridor on Saturday when the attacks escalated. A Slytherin hit Harry in the back with a Full Body-Bind Curse and snatched his wand. Remus took the offender out with the same spell and they ran into an empty classroom.
Remus wouldn't let her out until twenty minutes after, when he thought it'd be safe. It took that long for a passerby to unfreeze Harry.
By the last few days before the holidays, seeing Severus outside of class was a rare occasion. Which is why Severus was surprised when Lily asked at breakfast, "Have you guys packed yet?"
"I'm almost ready," Harry replied. Severus nodded in agreement, a harmless lie. He was sure his involvement in the Dark Arts would've exempted him from Christmas at Lily's.
"Cool." Lily turned to Raven, who ran up to them as she tied her long hair into a ponytail. Raven was happier than Harry had ever seen her, especially now that she was more resistant to verbal attacks from the Slytherins. She smiled more, laughed more, and was closer to the Lily, who had a positive effect on her. Still, there were times when Raven'd fall into a state of listlessness, brought on by seeing one her former Slytherin friends or sometimes (in Harry's view) for no reason at all.
The train ride to King's Cross was brief. The train had been decorated with holly, everlasting icicles, and tinsel. In some compartments, tiny snowflakes drifted down from the ceiling, vanishing if they touched the ground without landing on a student.
Sirius and Peter were staying at Hogwarts. The full moon had just passed, so Remus felt comfortable going home for Christmas. Otherwise, he endangered himself and his parents.
When the train pulled up to King's Cross, it was Severus who was by far the most nervous. He smoothed down his wrinkled shirt front, trying to look presentable. Lily fussed at his state and charmed his shirt so it looked freshly ironed.
Mr. and Mrs. Evans met the group at the station, then drove them on a long and awkward car ride home.
Petunia greeted them at the door, wearing a plaid, neatly-ironed dress. Her expression soured as Severus and Raven walked past.
"Well, this is it," Mrs. Evans said, looking over them warmly.
Harry realized both he and Severus had stayed overnight at Lily's house without their parents knowing, and he once more had the feeling that he was intruding.
"So, this is the kitchen." Mrs. Evans walked them through the living room. "Breakfast is at nine, I'll make the rounds if someone's not up."
"We waited to decorate the tree!" Petunia beamed at Harry.
"Right, that'll be before dinner tomorrow." Mrs. Evans guided them downstairs to the basement. There was one mattress in the back of the room, a sleeping bag and blankets set up on the floor next to it.
"This is where you two will sleep," she said to the boys. She lead them back to the main floor, then upstairs.
When they entered Lily's bedroom, Harry noticed Severus shift uncomfortably.
"Raven, you'll sleep here, like last time." Mrs. Evans nodded toward the trundle beside Lily's bed. "And we'll be in the room down the hall if there's an emergency."
Petunia appeared in the doorway."Dad has everyone's things. The girls can shower in the evening, and the boys in the morning."
Downstairs, Mr. Evans helped them with their suitcases. "Girls upstairs by ten, boys downstairs by ten." His gaze fell pointedly on Severus and Harry. Neither of them needed further explanation.
"If you need anything, just ask." Mrs. Evans smiled warmly at them. Mr. Evans was looking curiously at the owls. Severus' owl, Luna, seemed to hold him in a trance for a good twenty seconds before he managed to look away.
Severus and Harry unpacked in silence.
At least, it was silent until Severus caught a glimpse of Harry's borrowed purse.
"Why do you have that?" he asked, peering over at the suitcase Harry had quickly shoved the purse back into.
"It's my mom's. I, er, stole it."
"Why'd you steal it?" Severus had stopped what he was doing, and his black eyes searched Harry. Jacob had proved to be a rule-follower—definitely not a thief.
Harry hoped his discomfort would be taken as guilt. "Because…if I stole the purse…then she wouldn't suspect me. Well, first, I stole it for money; she wouldn't give me anything for supplies. If I had just stolen the wallet, then it'd be more obvious, so I had to take the purse, too. She thinks she just lost it or something."
Severus nodded, but more to himself, as he looked back at his suitcase.
A couple days passed. It was at first strange for the four of them to be together outside of school, but they soon fell into the rhythm of it.
Petunia paused behind Harry, watching him take a bite.
"Er, is there something on my face?"
"I just wanted to see if you won. You didn't."
Petunia had become increasingly more annoying to Harry. It was easy, at first, to separate her from her older self. Now, it was hard for Harry to ignore the distasteful looks she cast that reminded him all too clearly of the times she would wrinkle her nose at him, as if he'd crawled into the house from the plumbing. As if it was his fault he was a constant reminder of his mother to her.
The sound of glass shattering and Severus cursing stifled Petunia's reply.
"Lily, I'm sorry, it just slipped. What's wrong? It was an accident…"
Petunia was quick on the scene. "That's her ornament, her favorite one, and you broke it, you—"
"Tuney, I—I'm fine." Lily swallowed, blinking to keep her composure. "It's just an ornament."
Green and gold shards littered the ground. The biggest piece, the chipped head of the rabbit, stared at Harry blankly.
Mrs. Evans came into the room with her standard fretful, doting expression. "What happened? What broke?"
"Severus did it!"
Mrs. Evans looked from Petunia to Severus to the ornament on the ground. "He only dropped it, don't be upset, girls, it didn't break. How, I don't know…and what about that smashing sound?"
"Everything's fine, Mrs. Evans," Harry chimed in. "And thank you for the cookies."
"You're welcome, love. Oh, did Petunia tell you? If your biscuit has chocolate in the center, you get to put the star on the tree. Last year, Mr. Evans won." The others seemed to only distantly hear this; they all stared at the gold-and-green bunny, which was back in one piece.
"I'll leave you to it, I suppose." Mrs. Evans went back to her baking.
"Who fixed it?" Lily asked in a low voice.
"I saw Severus do it," Harry said, giving him a small nod as a cue.
"Sev, you didn't have to do that. You could get in serious trouble. What if you were expelled?"
"Thank you, though, Sev."
Severus accepted her hug, too distracted to appreciate it.
On his way to use the bathroom, Severus confronted Harry. "Why did you do that? Why didn't the Trace work?"
"I did it because, if you haven't noticed, your relationship with Lily is a little shaky. I don't know why the Trace didn't work, but I bet most people in Ministry are on holiday, so they wouldn't have time to deal with a little accident involving a Repairing Charm."
That night, the four sat in a circle on the ground around Severus' mattress. Raven and Severus leaned against Harry's bed, with Harry across from Severus, and Lily across from Raven.
"We should play Truth or Dare," Lily said, when their mugs of hot cocoa were empty.
Raven uncrossed her legs. "What's Truth or Dare?"
"Oh, right, it's a Muggle game, you wouldn't know. Well, how 'bout I start. I'll ask someone, 'Truth or Dare?' and they choose one, and I ask them a Truth or a Dare."
The other three nodded. Severus shifted uncomfortably.
"Okay, Raven, Truth or Dare?"
"Er…" Raven's eyes flickered to Severus, then back at Lily. "Dare."
"Hm…I dare you to…talk while holding your tongue for the next two rounds."
"I have to?"
"That's how the game works, yeah."
Severus shifted, nervous. "Do Muggles actually play this game? Jacob, have you ever played this game? No?"
"Just give it a chance! Unless you have something other than Wizard's Chess to play. Okay, Raven, now you ask someone."
Raven eyes skimmed Severus, but then she decided, tongue between her fingers: "Jacop, Tooth o' Dare?"
Harry shrugged. "Truth." This had to be a low point in their maturity, even for twelve-year-olds.
"Er, how about…oh!" Raven grinned as best as she could while holding her tongue. "Ith 'ou 'ad thoo choose anyone in the thcool to date, 'oo would it be?"
Harry frowned. To them, it was a harmless, silly question. For him, the pain over Ginny made it difficult to respond.
"I don't like anyone, though."
"It doesn't mather. Chooth thomeone!"
"I guess Violetta, but…"
Lily and Raven exchanged a glance and smirked.
"I don't like her, though!"
"Sure, Jacob." Lily still smiled, convinced.
"Lily, Truth or Dare." Harry agreed with Severus that they should do something else.
"If you had to date someone in the school, who would it be?"
Lily stopped smiling. "But I don't like anyone!"
Harry raised his eyebrows, and Lily sighed. Severus stared at her, and Harry noticed his hands were clenched.
"Fine, then I guess Remus."
Severus couldn't help himself; "Why Remus?"
"Shh!" Lily glanced toward the stairs. "I dunno, he's nice, and not obnoxious, like James. I don't actually fancy him, although, if I had to choose…"
Severus leaned back against the bed. Harry thought he saw his eyes shining, but at the next glance he decided he'd just imagined it.
"Raven, you can let go of your tongue now. And, you haven't gone yet, Sev, so Truth or Dare?"
"Dare," Severus replied immediately. He probably saw the game as a binding contract to tell the truth, and couldn't risk the question of the last two Truths.
"Dare…hm…I'm really bad at these. Jacob, Raven, help me."
Raven seemed hopeful.
Noticing Raven's expression, Harry became torn; he sometimes, without meaning to, supported her feelings for Severus. Should he try to push them away, because Severus could never feel the same way about her?
Harry whispered his idea to Lily.
"Hold hands with Raven for five minutes," Lily told Severus.
Harry was the only one who noticed Raven's nervousness as Severus reached across to her, avoiding her gaze. They fumbled for a moment before their fingers were locked.
"Severus. Ask someone Truth or Dare."
"Jacob, Truth or Dare."
Severus met his eyes, serious. "Why do you sometimes look like James?"
Harry froze. Lily and Raven looked between them, confused.
Like James…like James…When had the spells not worked? Or had something else happened? "I don't know what you mean."
"Never mind." Severus' fingers tightened around Raven's; she flinched.
"Here, Sev, I have an idea." Lily leaned in and whispered something to Severus.
Severus huffed. "Fine, what's your favorite thing about each person here?"
"Oh." Harry thought for a moment. He pushed away thoughts about Ron and Hermione. "My favorite thing about Raven is…how she cares for people. She's always there for us." He couldn't have truthfully said that until after she'd left the Slytherins. In Raven's eyes, though, it was clear that after leaving them she still believed she'd abandoned Severus.
"As for Lily, she's incredibly kind, and stands up for people."
Severus' eyes locked on Lily's guilty, downturned ones.
"And my favorite thing about Severus is…" Harry thought of the person who died for love, not out of selfish reasons, but for Harry's own life.
"His determination. How he spends time to get something done, and he doesn't give up…even if, well…" Harry stopped.
Raven's fingers were red from the pressure of Severus'.
Harry thought for a moment. "Raven. Truth or Dare."
"I'll do Truth this time."
Harry paused. "Is there anything you'd give up magic for?"
"Well, if someone was dying, and that was the only way…or," she glanced at Severus, then her eyes traveled back around the room. "No, yeah, something like that. Alright, Truth or Dare, Severus."
"Oh. Er, if you only had a day to live, what would you do?"
Severus looked down. "I'd tell off everyone I didn't like, because there wouldn't be consequences. I'd go somewhere, too, I suppose."
The group was silent, thoughtful.
Everyone but Lily, Harry realized, had some sort of secret that would affect their final day on Earth: Severus loved Lily, Harry was from a different time, and Raven loved Severus. And, maybe Lily didn't hate James as much as she had before?
Severus unraveled his fingers from Raven's. They both wiped her hands on their pajama pants. Raven tried to exchange a glance with Severus, but he had looked away, to Lily.
"Truth or Dare," Severus said quietly.
"What is your least favorite thing about me?"
"Oh, Sev, I don't want to answer that…"
"But I want you to."
"Besides you hanging out with the Slytherins? I mean, sometimes you can be a little intense, and clingy…" Lily looked guilty, but shrugged as if to say, "You wanted to know." Not wanting to meet Severus' empty eyes, she decided on Harry. "Jacob, truth or—"
"Hm…Have you ever lied?"
"Yeah." Harry was relieved. It didn't reveal anything about himself; he saw all of his friends lie daily, with little stretches of the truth.
"Wait, no, how about, what's the biggest lie you've told in the past month? No, year?"
"I can't remember anything specific."
And then he felt it. The space in front of him felt cooler, thinner. It was merely a flicker, but it was enough to cause a slight shift in Severus' eyebrows. The appearance-changing spells had weakened again. But why?
"C'mon, it's just us."
"I told my mom I didn't know where her purse was, when I actually stole it."
Harry felt normal again, but Severus still stared.
The next morning, Harry groggily opened his eyes, awakened by Severus' hand on his shoulder. It took him a moment to realize what day it was.
"What's the matter?" Harry sat up.
Severus' mouth was ajar in shock.
"What's wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?"
Severus shook his head, blinked a few times, and sat back down on his mattress. Harry leaned against the wall and looked at Severus, waiting for a reply.
"I couldn't sleep. I keep thinking…well, what if Lily doesn't like my gift?" Severus' voice cracked slightly.
Harry's eyes had adjusted better to the darkness; he saw Severus pressing his hands together.
"Of course she'll like your gift; it's from you." It seemed as though that wasn't what Severus was really wondering about.
Harry wondered if Severus expected him to know how he felt about Lily, or if he believed he was doing a good job of hiding his feelings and didn't want Harry to know.
"I suppose…" Severus lay back down and fixed his gaze on the ceiling.
"Lily still cares about you," Harry said quietly.
Severus' eyes turned to Harry, then back again. "Not for long."
"And why do you think that?"
Severus exhaled. "Because."
Harry raised his eyebrows. Severus saw his expression and sighed again.
"Because she's—we're—too different."
"So…I don't know! She's mad at me, all the time—for no good reason—and…" his voice hitched again.
"I would say there's a good reason."
Severus sat up. "Of course you would! You always side with her!"
Harry looked back at Severus in amazement. "How long have I told you the Dark Arts is a bad idea? If anything, she's siding with me." Harry moved to the edge of his bed. "Look, I'm not against you, and, it's Christmas; we don't need to be talking about this right now."
Severus laid back down and sighed. "Fine. But, er, one more thing…"
"Hang on." Harry turned on the lamp on the bedside table. Raven and Lily stood up quickly on the landing, trying to make it seem as though they hadn't been listening.
In the light, Harry could see Severus' panic clearly. "Lily, I didn't mean—"
"It's fine, Severus," Lily said, but it seemed forced.
"We didn't mean to eavesdrop, we were just going to see if you were up…" Raven explained, trailing off.
"Do we wait for your parents, or can we go upstairs?"
"I'll get Tuney. Then we can open presents; my parents always sleep in." Lily tip-toed back up the stairs.
Raven hesitated, torn between sides, then said, "I'm going to make some hot cocoa," on her way after Lily.
Severus groaned and rolled onto on his stomach. Into his pillow, he said, "I'm such an idiot."
The tree glowed warmly in the dark of the living room, illuminating the stockings and gifts. Petunia and Lily's were stuffed full of things, while the other stockings seemed deflated. Raven, Harry, and Severus didn't mind in the slightest.
They only took ten minutes to go through all of their stockings. Mixed in with the presents under the tree were things that had been mailed from family and friends. Remus gave Harry a journal filled with new notes from Animagus-related books and sections gathering everything Harry had found before. He gave Lily a stuffed rabbit, which he'd bought after asking her what her favorite animal was at breakfast (in a not-so-subtle way). Raven got three books from family on the Dark Arts. After unwrapping them, she and Harry exchanged a grin.
"I have to get something," Lily said, before unwrapping Severus' gift. She came back downstairs, hand clasped around something. She sat back down and opened her palm. "Let me guess…yep, 'Evans.'" The stone Severus had given her last year now read "Lily Evans."
His gift this year was a protective stone similar to the one Lily gave him last year. However, this one wasn't a solid color; it had blue detailing.
"Now we both have one." Severus and Lily smiled more sincerely than they had the entire holiday.
"How did you get the money for gifts?" Harry asked Severus, when Mr. Evans was at work and the girls had gone to the market.
"If I tell you, will you not say anything to try and convince me it was wrong?"
"I make potions and sell them to a seventh year."
"What kind of potions? Are they legal? I'm just asking, relax."
"You wouldn't know what kind. And, no, not technically."
"Well, money is money, isn't it? Doesn't matter where it came from, as long as you're using it for good, right?"
Severus hesitated. "Right."
After the holidays, James was quick to work on the Animagus project. "Jacob, we're having a meeting today in the common room. Eleven o' clock sharp. Tell Raven."
They actually stuck to their word. Remus had a stack of books in case they needed resources. Most, if not all of the books appeared to have been nicked from the Restricted Section.
"So," Harry began, flipping through the journal, "I think we have the rest of the year left before we're ready."
"The rest of the year?" James folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.
"It's not easy. You and I have Quidditch, and we all have homework. If we did it before the end of the year, everyone'd have the summer to practice transforming. It's better that we go over the procedure—"
"Yeah, I get it."
"If you want a guarantee that we'll be done in time, you could help out. Double-check everything."
James glanced at Sirius. "Okay. For the sake of marauding."
As February 14th approached, most students were preparing gifts, excited to have a break from studies. Harry, however, worried that after last year's events, something awful would happen on Valentine's Day.
He was right to worry.
Lily slammed her drink down on the table. "No." Severus flinched, and a few people turned to look at her.
"I'm tired of your excuses about everything! And the lying; you think I don't know when you're not telling the truth."
Severus stared at her, wide-eyed. "Lily, it's not—"
"Just stop!" she screeched. Harry had never seen her so furious with Severus.
She stood up and faced him, fists clenched and shaking.
"You're so timid about everything. You don't know how to stand up for yourself. You complain about James bullying, but you and your gang do the same thing. You say you want to be friends, but you torment every Mudblood that isn't me."
Harry saw Severus' eyes narrowing, dulling as he pushed his emotions inward. Should I help? This is what I meant to prevent, and now it was happening again. Not in the same way, though…would that mean they'd still have a change to make up?
"I see no reason in staying friends." Some of the spectators smirked, some felt guilty to be listening. Lily's leaned in close to Severus' face.
"I hate you."
It was barely a whisper, but Harry heard it all too clearly. It echoed in his mind until the words no longer sounded like words, just harsh syllables.
Remus, Raven, and Harry sat in a shocked silence. James, Sirius, and Peter were bent over their food, smirking.
Lily spun around and stormed off.
Severus stared after her, face contorting. He stood and hurried out of the Hall. Harry followed him, ignoring the stares and the whispers.
It didn't happen like this before. Everything had been fine, where did this come from?
He had no more time to contemplate, he could only be there for him. "Hang on, Severus!"
Harry withdrew a bit when he heard the shaking of Severus' breath. They stopped just outside the Great Hall.
"She didn't mean what she said." Harry couldn't see Severus' face.
"But you agree with her." Severus' voice was higher than normal.
Harry did agree, so he said, evasively, "I'm just saying she doesn't hate you."
Severus started walking again, more quickly this time.
"Stop!" Harry grabbed his Severus' arm, which twisted uselessly beneath his grip.
"WHAT? WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Severus' face contorted in fury. "YOU THINK YOU OWN ME, BUT YOU DON'T! YOU CAN'T FIX THINGS! I DON'T NEED YOUR HELP!" He took off the watch Harry had given him and threw it on the ground. It bounced, but didn't break. At this, tears sprung in Severus' eyes. "Just leave me alone…" Then he blinked, and his dark eyes widened. "Potter?"
Harry felt as though he'd jumped into the pond in the Forest of Dean. What did Severus mean, "Potter?" He looked around; there was no one else there.
"What—how…" Severus closed his eyes, shaking his head, and whatever he saw seemed to be gone. Then he remembered what he'd felt and said the minute before. "Bye."
Harry quickly looked at his reflection in the face of his watch. It was not his father, nor Harry, who looked back at him. It was definitely—
"Jacob!" Raven ran up to him, face flushed. "Lily said she wouldn't be friends with me if I was friends with him, I don't know what's wrong with her…" She trailed off. "Are you okay?"
Harry looked away, wishing she'd do the same. How humiliating to cry at something so trivial as a nineteen-year-old, even if only he knew his true age. "Fine."
Raven wasn't convinced. "We need to talk to Lily."
"Right." What had Severus seen? Could he see through my appearance, or had James simply appeared behind me?
Raven and Harry hurried back to the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, where Lily sat, trembling.
"What was that about?" Raven demanded.
"I just hate him so much." Lily didn't look at them properly. Her eyes were slightly out of focus.
"You mean to say you suddenly—out of nowhere—hate your best friend? When did you become insane?"
Harry noticed the Marauders whispering and laughing. Remus' grin seemed forced, and it disappeared when he met Harry's glare.
"Sounds like Evans has finally come to her senses." James was unable to hide a glow of satisfaction.
"Sounds like you want a mouthful of dragon shit," snapped Raven. Everyone who heard gaped at her in surprise.
James' eyes narrowed. "I don't like your tone, Faralyn. Luckily for you, I happen to know a great spell that could fix it for you: shutus thefuckupeus."
Raven snorted. "And I don't like your ugly face, Potter. Unfortunately for you, the only way you could change it is by magically fixing a bag over your head."
A few people oohed, and James' face flushed.
"At least I'm not a traitor. You don't belong in Gryffindor or Slytherin."
Raven shot a spell right at James' chest.
Harry thought he saw Dumbledore look their way. "C'mon, Raven, he's not worth it."
"I know. But he deserved that."
As they walked by, James was huddled in his seat, rubbing his arms, face white.
"What'd you do to him?"
"Freezing Hex. Innocent enough, but it'll be a while before he thaws."
Harry told Raven he'd deal with Severus alone. Severus was sitting on his bedside, facing away from the door.
"Severus? Are you okay?" His figure didn't move; Harry thought he'd been petrified until he faced him.
Severus' eyes were blank, staring straight ahead. "I'm actually fine."
"Are you—are you sure? What about what Lily said?"
"Fine? Severus, you screamed at me hardly fifteen minutes ago, your best friend told you she hates you, and you're fine?"
"I'm going to sleep."
"James and Sirius did something to Lily. She didn't mean what she said."
"It doesn't matter," Severus said into his pillow.
"Okay. Believe what you want. It's not my problem." Why do I waste my time on him? He has to be the most socially incompetent person in school. Harry left Severus' watch on his bed.
Lily thought, when she recovered, that Severus would be mad at the Marauders, and not upset with her. She was left with a less than vivid memory of what happened. Her guilt about what she'd said temporarily prevented her from considering the truth behind her words.
"'Morning, Sev." Lily studied his face, which appeared worn and tempered beyond thirteen years old.
"I'm sorry about whatever I said. If James shows his face at breakfast, I'll hex him. You know what? We should do something to them. Give 'em a bit of their own medicine. Sev, where are you going?"
"I'm not hungry."
Lily looked to Harry, confusion clear. Raven sighed. "Lily, what you said really hurt him. Do you remember anything?"
"I…" Lily thought for a moment, brow furrowing. "Yeah, I do. But he knew I had been cursed, or, what'd Remus say they used? A hate potion?"
Raven nodded. "They did use a hate potion, but I don't think it's that simple. Hate potions are different from Love Potions. A Love Potion blurs reality; it creates a dreamy sort of obsession. Hate potions, if they can, take what the person already feels. They make everything sharper. You know I'm bad at potions, but I remember Severus telling me because—well, because I wanted to make one."
Lily put her head in her hands. "It was horrible. I felt as though I'd suffer if I didn't tell him off. Like I'd waited my whole life to do so. "Don't tell him I said this, but I understand what I said. It was awful, I know. But, he is mean to people."
So Lily is already harboring bad feelings for Severus, Harry thought. Maybe, the sooner Severus lost Lily, the sooner he could get her back.
The next day, James approached Harry, perhaps to apologize. Then, his true objective became clear; "If you help me with Lily, I promise to leave Severus alone for the rest of the year."
"This really isn't a good time, James." Unless the day after an incident, with the victim sitting ten feet away, was a good time.
"Okay, all of us will leave him alone. And you can stop helping me if any of us mess up."
"Well, that's a start, because the first thing you could do to get Lily to like you is to not bully people."
"Wait, hang on, was that a yes?"
As much as Harry didn't want to agree, he didn't believe there was another way they could connect. A week later, they met to discuss Lily.
James pulled out a piece of parchment. "Okay, I made a list of the top fifteen—no, sixteen—annoying gits who aren't in Slytherin. There's one or two people not on the list that we've pranked in the past year."
"One or two people?"
"Hey, we have to compromise. I need to keep a couple—"
"A couple, as in two?"
"…a couple kids around in case I'm stressed and require a creative outlet."
It was weird, talking to his dad like this. The lure of his father's acceptance was too great to refuse. If Harry made James a better person in the process, what was the harm?
A day later, James returned to Harry with a new request. "I need you to ask Lily what she doesn't like about me."
"Do you really want to know?"
Harry waited until dinner. Things were strained between the friends. Maybe the mutual dislike of James would help unite them.
"Lily, what don't you like about James?"
"Why? You don't like him, do you?"
"No, I was just wondering."
"Well, he's a bully, he's lazy, he's arrogant, he's not as good at Quidditch as he thinks he is…but, honestly, compared You-Know-Who and his followers…"
Severus poked at his food. "So, you're saying, because he tortures without killing, he's better than the Dark Lord."
"Torture? I wouldn't say torture. And since when have you called You-Know-Who the 'Dark Lord?'"
"At least I don't say 'You-Know-Who' in fear."
Time to intervene. "Whoa, who, remember, I only asked about James."
Severus wasn't finished. "I would think, after everything James has done, you could easily say you hate him. It's probably hard to resist someone who fancies you."
Lily flushed. "How should you know, Severus? Your self-esteem is low enough that I can't imagine you saying no to a girl if she asked you out."
Severus' mouth twitched. "That's not true, and besides the point. I can tell you're softening up to James."
"I can tell you're being irrational."
Harry, desperate to leave their bickering, reported to James back in the common room. "Lily thinks you're arrogant, lazy, and a bully."
"That's not too bad. At least she didn't say I wasn't good-looking."
That night, Lily was too annoyed at Severus to ask him for help with homework. "Hey, Remus?"
Remus flinched and spilled his ink on the table.
"Here, let me." Lily charmed the mess with a swish of her wand.
"No problem. Could you help me with my Defense Against the Dark Arts homework?"
"Yeah, of course."
"I thought you'd be able to help since you spend extra time with Mr. Darcer after class."
Harry hadn't known about that. "Would you want to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts?"
"I don't know yet. I know I want to be in the Order. Er, what—what about you, Lily?"
"I want to be in the Order, too. Alice said my charm skills could be useful. She even suggested books for me to read that'd help me."
"Good for you. Oh, did that—did that sound sarcastic? Because I meant it. Er, anyway, what was your question?"
"Oh, right. I don't get—"
"Hey, Remus, Sirius needs your help." James slid in next to them. "I can help you, Lily."
"No, thanks, I'll just ask Jacob."
James looked at Harry, eyebrows raised.
Harry got the hint. "Actually, I forgot about something I have to do. I'm sure James knows how to help."
Harry joined Remus upstairs.
"I think I'm ready to start moving on from Lily." Remus didn't seem upset; just tired. "It's not something I can avoid—James constantly talks about her, and it's even more of a problem this year. Well, it's only a problem because I like her. It's better that I give up instead of waiting for James to do something he's never gonna do."
"Listen, Remus, it doesn't have anything to do with your…situation, does it?"
"Yeah, but that's not the biggest reason. I think she's always seen me as a friend."
"Okay. If you ever need to talk…"
Now there were two lovesick people moping in bed.
Lily and Severus' relationship was not over because they rarely had to be around each other; it meant that it was easier to tolerate each other. They had been friends too long for them to call it quits, and they had the same best friends, who forced them to be careful about what they said.
The strain on Lily was tighter because of rumors about Severus. Mary McDonald and Lily's third-year friend, Cassandra, filled her in (without her request) on everything they'd heard he was doing. Harry didn't want to believe the wildest of the stories; that Voldemort was meeting with the greatest potential Death Eaters, including Severus. It couldn't be true because Dumbledore would know, and if Dumbledore knew, he'd stop it.
Regulus became Severus' informal apprentice of the Dark Arts. He was the appropriate replacement for Raven; he was pureblood, eager to learn, and obedient. Harry noticed both Raven and Regulus casting each other a reproachful look when the other wasn't paying attention.
"Raven, I know you may not, er, want to answer stuff like this anymore, but this book was marked with your handwriting, and I was, well, I was wondering if you could explain it to me?" Regulus had his head bent down as he said this and tilted it up when he finished his request.
Raven turned to face him. "Sorry, I'm not really up to that anymore. If you had questions with your homework, maybe, but…sorry."
"No, no, it's fine, it was a dumb thing to ask."
"You sure you want to use Study Hall time to study Dark Arts instead of, I don't know, Potions?"
Regulus smiled. "I'm doing well in Potions. What about History?"
"You're in luck; I'm the best in my class."
"I could use your help, then. Look, Raven, I'm sorry we never talk anymore."
"No, it's okay. You chose one path, I chose another."
Harry, sitting next to Raven, listened to their conversation until, eyes wandering, he spotted Gilderoy Lockhart.
Lockhart was sitting on one of the tables, blond curls gelled in place, telling an extravagant story that had taken place in Flitwick's class. He already had a small circle of friends who seemed more like followers. None of them were girls, however. Harry noticed, surprised, that the girls nearby were ignoring him and clearly thought he was annoying. Funny how that worked.
Talk of the upcoming match against Hufflepuff seemed quiet compared to what had surrounded the match against Slytherin. Still, practices increased in order to prepare. If the Gryffindors won the Cup, Violetta would earn a spot in the trophy room for her efforts as Captain.
Harry had recently been second in his dorm to leave in the morning. "Out for extra practices with Violetta, again, James?"
"Yeah, Walker. Sorry if I'm taking time away from you."
"Oh, no, of course not. It's better that the players who need the most help get it."
"That's not—you—I don't—whatever."
Although James' sessions with Violetta were meant to make Harry jealous, he did get better at being a Chaser. This may've helped Gryffindor win the game after Hufflepuff had a ninety-point lead. As James stole possession for the third time, the students in the stands began chanting, "Potter! Potter! Potter!"
The Hufflepuff Seeker stayed closer to the ground, probably in case the Snitch repeated its strategy from the last game. The cheers for James were cut short as Harry chased the Snitch straight down, catching it as he was still vertical.
Back in the common room for the post-game party, James approached Harry. "Good game."
James took a sip of butterbeer. "It was cool, did you hear? Everyone chanted my name."
"How many goals did you score?"
"How many assists?"
"Well, you can work on that."
James nodded, thoughts elsewhere. "I meant to tell you that I don't need help with Lily anymore. I think I have it under control."
"So, the deal's off?"
"Yeah. I'll see you at practice, Jacob. And…thank you." James considered shaking Harry's hand, then decided against it.
The first signs of spring put everyone in a good mood. Lily tolerated James more easily, and Raven didn't become dispirited whenever Severus was around.
Harry wondered if Raven was moving on. He could tell she had never confessed how she felt to anyone, not even to Lily. It seemed she had given up trying to change Severus.
Soon enough, it was May, and Violetta was giving her players a pep talk. "This is it. My last year, and last for some of you, too. I am so proud of everyone's efforts. I want each of you to give it your all. The Ravenclaws will give us a clean game, and we have to do the same. I want to hear 'Gryffindor' on three. One, two, three, GRYFFINDOR! Let's get 'em."
Harry rose up at the whistle, peaceful; Quidditch was the ultimate escape. In the nineties, he relished the sport because he could forget everything that had to do with Voldemort. Now, he could distance himself from the petty drama between his friends, and to fill the gaps left by the people back home.
Harry felt strongly that, as he took in the energetic spectators, the speeding pitch, and the towering castle, he should stay here, at his home, for at least another year.
Hogwarts, where he had the simple responsibilities of a student; where choices were more clearly given to him. Where even the food was familiar. Where he had his real family instead of the one he'd made to replace them.
Gryffindor was winning by forty points. Ravenclaw called a time-out and all the players touched down on the pitch.
"Jacob, feel free to catch the Snitch, we have a big enough lead. James, you gotta pass. Anastasia was open four times, so trust her. Okay, let's wrap this up."
Harry spotted the Snitch immediately. It was trapped in the fray of the Chasers, flitting in the crosswind. One of the Ravenclaw Chasers noticed this and tried to point it out without Harry noticing. Distracted from what was going on around him, the Chaser was knocked out of the air.
Both Seekers advanced toward the middle. Harry weaved between players, eyes on the flash of gold. The crowd was on its feet, cheering, even before his fingers even grazed the Snitch. The Gryffindor fans streamed down to the field.
Violetta met the players with tears in her eyes. She kissed James on the cheek, and she exchanged a grin with Harry. She then went to him, took his face in her hands, and kissed him quickly for a second time. "Thank you, Jacob. What a brilliant job, everyone!"
June 2nd. The day set aside for the transformation. The location: the Shrieking Shack. The Marauders, Raven, and Harry went to bed early the night before and got up at three. James used his invisibility cloak to conceal himself and some of their supplies, the others used Disillusionment charms to sneak out of the castle.
On the lower level of the Shack, the six laid out the materials. There were three cauldrons full of potion, eight books, and five sets of parchment that detailed the procedure, each composed of three double-sided pieces.
First, Remus and Raven prepared the potions. Each participant downed a glass of the concoction, which seemed to be designed solely to ward off anyone too weak for the process. After swallowing, Harry felt as though his entire body was on fire, then ice, then fire once more (for good measure, it seemed).
Next, Sirius, Harry, and James performed a series of complicated spells, hurrying to stay within the three hour time limit.
The second to last step was writing runes on each person's arms and legs. If the procedure leading up to this step had been completed correctly, the runes would melt into the person's skin and disappear.
Raven had been chosen to do the drawing of runes. She used brushes dipped in a mixture of crushed, deactivated Erumpent horn and a small amount of dragon blood. It was the most awkward stage, as it required everyone to pull up their pant leg and resist flinching as Raven applied the ticklish, cold substance.
When the runes were no longer visible, they all cheered. There was only one remaining step: to drink a small amount of potion.
James held up his cup, the others did the same. Remus held up an empty one. "Well, this is it. Over a year's worth of hard work, and we made it, with ten minutes to spare. Is everyone ready? Okay, one, two, three!"
Harry swallowed his potion, which tasted similar to butterbeer. A tingling spread across his body, then he felt as though he were Apparating.
Harry was the last to collapse.