i. Clean Sweep
The morning of Gryffindor’s first Quidditch match dawned bright and blue. It was the sort of November day one dreamed of — clear skies, the sun just warm enough to make sitting in the stands bearable, and only the lightest breeze wafting off the Great Lake. The girls, sans Germaine, were at breakfast, appropriately sporting their red-and-gold scarves.
“I ought to start paying attention to Quidditch,” Mary said, spearing her eggs with a precise stab of her fork. “I could really get into it. Pick a team and read up on it, and all that.”
Sirius, who was sitting nearby sporting a Gryffindor-red scarf, made a loud choking sound at this.
“You? Quidditch?” he repeated, incredulous.
Mary turned her cool gaze upon him. “Yes. I already know a lot about music and footy and it unnerves blokes.” She arched her eyebrows. “So, it’s funny seeing how they react.”
“Does it work if you’re still learning about Quidditch for guys?” said Dorcas thoughtfully. “Even if it’s to spite them?”
Lily shrugged. “If it gives you joy, Mare. Just make sure you’re a Harpies fan. I don’t want to hear you and Germaine argue about Quidditch, of all things.”
Despite the censure, Lily was grinning as she ate her breakfast. She and Dorcas and Mary had roughly the same level of interest in Quidditch: they reckoned it was a fun game and liked to watch it, and that was the end of the matter.
For Lily, the draw was really how much house spirit was on display. Too often Hogwarts took house rivalries far too seriously. But Quidditch — that was a genial sort of enmity that she could get behind. Well, even if it was quite a dangerous sport. Most Quidditch injuries could be quickly fixed with magic...couldn’t they?
The morning of a match was never a good time to ponder this, Lily decided. But her mind found a worse topic instead: James, who at that moment strode into the Great Hall in his Quidditch robes, grabbed a slice of toast, and began chatting with Sirius. Lily didn’t know if they were supposed to be in a fight. Or did their truce still stand?
She regretted their earlier argument, of course — but why was she the one who had to keep apologising and smoothing things over and making certain they were on good terms? Let him try to get along with me, for once, she thought, as he swept out of the hall again.
She was still staring after him when the Aurors-in-training came jogging into the Great Hall. Marlene McKinnon and Frank Longbottom were dressed no different from any Gryffindor student. Marlene even had her face painted, half-red, half-gold; as she walked the length of the table, she held out her hand and high-fived several younger students.
If Lily was amused, Doe was positively glowing at the sight. Whenever the Aurors were near, Doe looked so obviously excited to see them that Lily couldn’t help but grin at her friend.
“Morning,” Frank said, coming to stand by the sixth- and seventh-years. “Ready for a win, eh?” This he directed at the seventh-year players. Only James and Germaine were already at the pitch at this hour.
“Obviously,” said Isobel Park, raising her goblet.
“Glad we got the stadium shift,” Marlene said. “I mean, we’re working and all.” She gave the students a meaningful look. “But I’d hate to be inside the castle when almost everyone’s out there.”
“I still don’t get how you do your shifts,” said Doe, clearly hoping for an explanation.
But Marlene only winked. “Secrets of the trade, young one.”
Frank shook his head, smiling. “Poor Alice and Edgar have the indoor shift.”
“Oh, Merlin, that means—” Mary began. Lily elbowed her before she could finish speaking, guessing where that sentence was going just as Ethelbert Fawley strode into the Great Hall, looking characteristically morose.
“McKinnon, Longbottom,” Fawley said, his gaze sweeping over the Gryffindor table. “Ready for the match?”
Marlene’s expression had grown just as sombre as his. “I am ready to discharge my duty. The match is incidental.” Frank Longbottom stifled a snort. “I should go keep an eye on the pitch. Merlin knows some students will head on early.” Before Fawley could come up with a protest, Marlene had hurried out of the hall.
“Right,” said Fawley faintly. “Breakfast, Longbottom?” And the two Aurors proceeded up the length of the hall for the teachers’ table.
“Do you think he’s actually a good Auror?” said Doe, watching them go. “Or is it a nepotism thing?”
“Let’s hope we don’t have to find out,” Mary said.
That line of thinking hadn’t occurred to Lily at all. A chill passed over her. Shaking it off, she smiled at her friends and said, “Why don’t we go to the stadium? I’ve had enough of sitting around.”
Germaine’s dad had once taught her breathing exercises. Some sort of complicated inhale-exhale pattern was supposed to settle your nerves — only she kept mucking it up, and her thoughts wouldn’t go away, and suddenly she would find herself wondering if she’d be sick on her broom the moment they called her name.
It was stupid to be so worried. She knew that. Even James, who was more serious about Quidditch than anything, was relatively relaxed at the thought of playing Slytherin. Word was that the team had really struggled with its drills because of the students who’d injured themselves. Germaine couldn’t imagine what kind of injury would have required missing much practice.
But the Slytherin captain had been in a rage about it for weeks. So, really, in the grand scheme of things, this game wasn’t such a big deal.
Except that it was. And it would be. And she’d be awful if she didn’t get her head on straight, now.
She squeezed her eyes shut and dropped to the floor. She tried to forget the slightly stale smell of the changing rooms, tried to replace it with the crisp earthiness of the Quidditch pitch. Her regular flying practice had stopped being so lonely of late — she and Emmeline flew together more often than not. They rarely spoke, but that was how Germaine liked it.
It was peaceful instead of intrusive, and she’d have been lying if she said it didn’t flatter her when Emmeline, obviously a skilled flier herself, doled out the occasional compliment. It was as though she’d found the woods again, and those long summers of ducking around branches and listening only to the wind had been transposed to Hogwarts, a little pocket of tranquility.
If only she could recapture that calm for the game.
The empty changing rooms were suddenly full of sound as the rest of the team traipsed in. “We win or we die trying!” Evan Wronecki was shouting; Quentin Kravitz, who'd been a second-string Chaser last year, hooted in response. The Beaters, Isobel Park and Bert Mallory, had the new Keeper sandwiched between them. The three of them moved to a corner and began stretching, keeping up a constant stream of chatter that Percy occasionally chimed into. Germaine chewed her lip in silence.
James brought up the rear, having shepherded the others to the changing room. Germaine half-hoped he would go join in the stretching, but he made a beeline for her instead, handing her an apple and a goblet of pumpkin juice.
“No flying on an empty stomach,” he said, gently but firmly.
Germaine took both from him, but made no move to eat or drink. “I think I’m going to be sick,” she said, her voice faint.
James smiled, unperturbed. “You’ve said that every single game. It hasn’t ever happened.”
“There’s a first time for everything.” But some of the fluttering in her stomach settled; Germaine swallowed some of the juice.
“If you insist on getting a pep talk from me, fine. You’re here because you’re a great Seeker. If you weren’t, I’d have played someone else. So.” He shrugged, as if this ought to put a rest to all her worries. Germaine raised her brows. James sighed, adding, “Regulus Black’s going to be distracted. You can take advantage of that.”
Before she’d had a chance to respond, James turned to the rest of the room. “Enough chatter!” The others fell silent, moving closer to where Germaine and James stood.
“We all know Slytherin’s a bit of a mess today.”
“Too right,” Evan said.
“But that doesn’t mean we play to their weaknesses. We are always playing to our strengths. I want to see every one of us doing our fucking jobs out there, all right? Practice is nothing like game time.” This he directed at Percy, whose smile had faded. “We don’t see another house after this for a long while — Hufflepuff in March. So make sure you’re focused every damn minute. Or we’ll have extra daggers tomorrow.”
It was a testament to how seriously the team took this moment that none of them groaned.
“If we win,” said James, “we’ll only have the usual number.” At last he grinned. “Let’s put on a clinic.”
In the Gryffindor section of the stands, students huddled together for warmth and booed energetically as Michael Meadowes called out the Slytherin players. Lily and Mary and Dorcas had their arms linked, staggering to their feet unevenly as the Gryffindors flew onto the pitch. “I hope Germaine isn’t too nervous,” Dorcas murmured as they clapped.
On the ground, Germaine had her eyes shut when her name echoed through the stadium. With a deep breath, she mounted her broom and shot off into the sky.
“Talkalot,” James said cheerfully, shaking the Slytherin captain’s hand.
“Potter,” she replied, her eyes narrowed. “See you on the other side.”
“I expect you’ll be seeing a lot of me during the game as well.”
“And — Gryffindor with the Quaffle to start,” Michael Meadowes was saying. “Potter, to Kravitz — starting the season for the first time as Chaser, is Quentin Kravitz. Back to Wronecki — well, Talkalot will swallow that one up easily.”
James retreated as Lucinda hurled the Quaffle to one of her Chasers. It was good to test the Keeper early, but risky to test her too much, lest she settle into the match early and grow used to turning every attempt of theirs aside. The next one needed to be an actually challenging throw. Rowle had the Quaffle now, but Isobel sent a Bludger whizzing his way. The Slytherin saw it early enough to execute a clumsy Sloth Grip Roll, losing the Quaffle in the process.
James allowed himself a moment to scoff — that was what being injured at a stupid amateur duelling club would get you — then pivoted in time to receive a pass from Quentin, who’d swooped down to grab the loose Quaffle.
“With you!” came a voice half-swallowed by the wind; without looking, James tossed the Quaffle to Evan. The two of them bore down on Lucinda, who stayed square to the shooter until, at the very last moment, Evan passed back to James, who batted the Quaffle into a hoop.
“First blood for Gryffindor!” Michael Meadowes said, and the crowd erupted.
Several Gryffindor goals and failed Slytherin Sloth Grip Rolls later, Percy Egwu missed a goal attempt, giving Slytherin its first ten points of the match. The fourth-year was so visibly miserable as he started play again, James was almost tempted to tell him it was all right. There was plenty of time left on the clock, of course, but they had a healthy buffer of points between them.
Still, if Percy had wanted a clean sheet, James couldn’t blame him. Slytherin was nothing short of sloppy in its offensive drives — the Chasers had clearly not practiced together enough. Talkalot was a fan of fancy formations, but any strategy was moot if your players hadn’t got the hang of it before a match started.
“That,” Evan said, after another Slytherin fumble had led to a Gryffindor goal, “would’ve worked if they had four Chasers.”
James was inclined to agree. Even when the other team had settled into the match a little more, throwing some genuinely threatening attempts at Percy, the Gryffindors answered. When the Gryffindor Chasers combined for their eighteenth goal of the game, James braced himself for the commentary that was bound to come.
“Don’t fucking say it,” he muttered.
But of course, Michael did. “That’s a 150-point margin for red-and-gold. For the Quidditch-averse, that means if Gryffindor can score another goal and maintain that margin until the Snitch is caught, nothing Slytherin does will matter. They won’t even need to catch it to win.”
If he’d been in the stands watching two other teams play, James might have laughed at how poetic it was. Because just then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Regulus burst into motion, Germaine a few beats behind him.
“They’ve spotted the Snitch! And — Slytherin with the headstart!”
“What are we supposed to be aiming at?” Bert Mallory said, pulling up short by James.
The two Seekers were moving too fast; if the Beaters aimed for Regulus and hit Germaine instead…
“Let King do her job,” James said. “You two, stop Slytherin from scoring.”
As the Beater flew away, James pulled back, waiting for Talkalot to pass on the Quaffle. But instead of tossing it to one of her Chasers, the captain flew forward herself, Quaffle tucked under her arm. Merlin’s tadger, James thought, not without admiration.
“Looks like Talkalot is going to try a Hail Mary!” Michael Meadowes said.
“What’s a Hail Mary?” said Evan Wronecki.
“Eyes on the Quaffle,” was James’s only reply.
With one extra ‘Chaser’ in Lucinda, the Gryffindors were outnumbered. Still, James liked their chances — Rowle was a shaky flier, and Davies, the other injured player, had been missing Bludgers all morning.
“Get ready to run Butterfingers,” he told Quentin and Evan.
“What about defending?” Quentin said.
“Trust me. She’s going to turn it over.”
Without waiting for a response, James flew into Lucinda Talkalot’s way, moving backwards as she inched forward. There were no other players in his sight: just the Keeper, her mouth in a firm line, and her own goalposts far behind her. Of course Lucinda wasn’t a Chaser, but she ran a team. She had to know Chasers’ drills, had to have taken part in them over the years. It would be stupid to underestimate her.
James chanced a look over his shoulder. The three Slytherin Chasers, unencumbered by Gryffindor’s defence, were in a triangular formation behind him, rotating positions every minute or so. He was too close to Lucinda for her to risk passing left or right, he judged; it would take him a simple enough dive to stop that. So where would she go?
“Bludger!” Lucinda yelled all of a sudden.
Bludger? But why— James’s body understood before his brain; just a split second after Lucinda, he tumbled into a Sloth Grip Roll, dodging the Bludger intended for him. She launched the Quaffle forward as she hung, upside-down, but James was just agile enough to grab it.
His broom leaped forward, jerking him the right way up, and he shot towards the unguarded Slytherin goalposts, the blood pounding in his head. He couldn’t have missed the hoops even from this far out, and he had Evan and Quentin on either side of him — but then he caught sight of Germaine and Regulus. A string of curses ran through his mind.
“Don’t miss,” James said, handing off to Evan before streaking towards the Seekers.
He could hear Michael Meadowes above the roaring in his ears: “Wronecki gets another for Gryffindor! But, Merlin, what’s King up to? Don’t try that at home—”
Everything happened at once, and then there was silence.
When Germaine opened her eyes, Sirius Black was peering at her face, far too close for comfort.
“Oh, good, you’re alive,” he said. “You’re fucking crazy.”
“What happened?” she croaked. Her friends were crowded around her, as was the Quidditch team. They were in the Hospital Wing, she realised.
“What happened is, you stole my spotlight.” James was in the bed next to her, looking incredibly pleased despite the circumstances.
Slowly, the last sequence of the match was returning to her. Germaine’s eyes widened. “I tried to—”
She was shorter than Regulus Black, a problem that had not seemed like a problem until she’d realised the Snitch was within his reach and not hers. But if she stood on her broom, and jumped for it — she’d thought that would be possible. Ridiculous, but possible. And it was such a long fall to the ground; surely Hooch or someone would find a way to slow her down before then. What was a few broken bones?
“Tried to jump off your moving broom? Yes,” said Mary, shaking her head. “If that’s what you’re practising when you’re off by yourself at the pitch, I’m coming down to keep an eye on you.”
Germaine thought of Emmeline’s censure — you’ll never get to do this during a game — and flushed. “Well, did I catch it?”
“No,” said James. “Good effort, though.” To the rest of the team, he said, “See, that’s what I mean when I say you’ve got to be one hundred and ten per cent committed.”
“Fuck,” said Germaine, sighing. “Hooch caught me, then?”
At that, James finally looked affronted. “Hooch? No, you bloody ingrate, I flew across half the fucking pitch to make sure you weren’t leaping to your death. Why d’you think I’m here?” He was holding a bottle of Skele-Gro, she realised; he shook it at her angrily.
“That explains it. Thanks, I suppose.”
“I couldn’t have replaced a Seeker in the middle of a season, so.”
“Shut up, James,” said Dorcas.
“I don’t know whether to hug you or scold you,” Lily said, giving Germaine a careful pat on the shoulder.
“Try scolding,” said James. “That’s what you did to me before she woke up.”
“Why is there a circus around my patients?” Pomfrey called, hustling over to them with a furious expression on her face. “Out, all of you. Out! I’ve let you stay this long, haven’t I? And you!” She turned her gaze on Germaine, who shrank back. “That was absolutely barbaric. This is school Quidditch, for heaven's sake!”
“Would it be better if it were the World Cup?” asked James. “Just out of curiosity.”
The matron gave him a baleful look. “Not a word from you, Potter. Not a single word.”
“S’all right. Now that I know you were watching, I can rest easy.”
Germaine smothered a laugh at Pomfrey’s eye-roll. “I really am sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Madness, is what it is. This whole school’s got it. I’ve given you something for the pain, but you’ve taken your Skele-Gro so you should be right as rain. But rest.”
With a command like that, there was nothing Germaine could do but obey.
“This,” Lily said, shaking her copy of the Prophet, “is the worst bloody news I’ve ever woken up to.”
Dorcas was grimly nodding at her shoulder. “Not an exaggeration, honestly.”
They were standing in the Entrance Hall, waiting to depart for Hogsmeade. Doe had lost track of Germaine and Mary, so she had hovered awkwardly by Lily and Dex, searching for any familiar face so that she might make an escape.
But given the topic of conversation, Doe didn’t feel like a third wheel at all. In fact, Dex was the one looking vaguely uncomfortable as Lily and Dorcas complained to each other. The WWN had picked up a new radio show for the winter season: Marcel Thorpe, a name the girls were beginning to hear far too often for their own liking.
“An hour of airtime!” said Lily, not for the first time that morning. “A whole bloody hour! It’s ridiculous!”
In the briefest pause before Doe could jump in to agree with her, Dex said, “Well, it’s not just him. He’s got a co-host now, doesn’t he? The WWN bloke can debate him, push back against his bullshit. Besides, the man’s got a right to express his fears, no matter how misguided.”
Dorcas and Lily were both taken aback by this interjection. Even more than before, Doe wanted to vanish into the crowd; she could feel Lily stiffen beside her.
“He isn’t entitled to time on wizarding Britain’s biggest radio show, no,” said Lily, fighting to keep her tone even. “It just gives him more of a chance to grow his fanbase.”
Dex shrugged. “Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think shutting down dialogue is the answer.”
Discomfited, Lily said, “We should probably just agree to disagree on this.”
“Oh, there’s Mary!” said Doe, a touch too enthusiastically. “I’ll be off, then — see you if I see you, have a nice day!”
Relieved to have found an excuse, Dorcas snagged Mary by the elbow and pulled her away from Dex and Lily. “Have you seen Germaine? We were supposed to go down together.”
“No, I suppose she’s in the loo.”
“Weak bladder,” Dorcas and Mary said at the same time, shaking their heads.
“In any case,” Mary continued, “I was looking for you. I’m going with Michael, to Hogsmeade.”
Doe took a moment to consider this. “Michael…?”
“Meadowes,” said Mary impatiently. “Don’t worry, just as friends. But I wanted to tell you.”
“Why would I worry? Why would you want to tell me?”
Mary rolled her eyes. “He’s your friend, Dork-ass. Don’t get so defensive.”
“There you are!” Germaine emerged from the crowd, a little breathless. “Sorry I lost you, I was in—”
“The loo, we know,” said Dorcas, for which Germaine elbowed her in the side. Doe turned back to Mary. “I’m serious, Mare, it’s fine if you want to date him.” What was her claim to him, that she’d seen him first? Doe didn’t think she liked Michael that way.
“Well, I don’t, and he doesn’t want to date me. What I’ve been trying to say to you is, if you want to join us at the Three Broomsticks, feel free.”
“Big assumption you’re making there, Mary,” said Germaine. “What if we had plans?”
Sceptically, Mary glanced between Germaine and Doe. “What plans? Twiddling your thumbs?”
Dorcas jumped in before Germaine could argue. “I wanted to do a bit of shopping—” Germaine shuddered “—but we can join after, yeah?”
“It’s a plan. I’m going to go find Michael, then.” And then Mary was gone again, leaving only a trace of her floral perfume.
By the time they’d boarded the carriages, the whiff of awkwardness brought about by their conversation had faded. Lily supposed there were worse stances for Dex to take — that Thorpe Sr.’s perspective was valid, for instance, and wizardkind really did have to fear and hate Muggleborns. Although, it would have taken quite a bit of mental gymnastics if Dex thought that and was still dating her. In any case, she tried to put it out of her mind; for his part, Dex seemed to do the same.
“It’s a teashop,” he was saying, “and they’ve got the best damn pastries. Last time I was there, I tried to get the owner to give me the recipe, but she refused.”
“Even with your most charming smile?” Lily teased.
Dex grinned. “Shocking, isn’t it? But I’ll take any chance I get to go there now. The only shot I have at recreating them is tasting them, right?”
“I’m not opposed at all.” Lily looped her arm through his. It was an overcast morning, the chill reminding them all that it truly was November. Her scarf was quite enough to keep her warm — but there was no harm in standing a little closer, was there?
“It’s right down this road—” As they turned the corner, Dex came to a sudden, sharp halt.
Lily fought to keep her balance. “What’s wrong?” She followed his line of sight to the closest building: indeed a little teashop, one that Lily vaguely recognised. But its storefront was now painted a bright pink, its lace curtains blindingly white.
“Did it always look like that?” said Lily, her voice hushed.
“No,” said Dex, sounding aghast.
“Was it always called Madam Puddifoot’s?”
“Yes, she’s the owner, but — maybe a new Puddifoot took over?”
Lily might have laughed at the look on his face if not for how genuinely distressed Dex seemed. “I’m sure the pastry recipes are the same. Why don’t we go inside anyway — we can laugh at the funny decor, if the outside’s any indication.”
“Why not,” Dex agreed, smiling a bit.
As it turns out, they did not get much chance to laugh. Lily had managed to hide her snickering at the doilies and shocking-pink furniture, but the menu’s sickly-sweet tone was more than her self-control could manage. Somewhere between True Love’s Tea and aphrodisiac biscuits, she was in stitches; not long after, Puddifoot herself emerged to angrily demand that they leave.
Wiping away tears, Lily leaned against the storefront, trying very hard not to start laughing again. “I’m so sorry,” she gasped. “You wanted the pastries—”
“It’s okay,” Dex said, grinning. “As long as you enjoyed what you got out of it.”
“I really, really did.” Lily sucked in a deep breath, putting a hand on her chest. “Let’s just go to Honeydukes.”
Doe and Michael had exchanged pleasantries, saving a table as Mary and Germaine went off through the crowded pub to fetch them Butterbeers. After the requisite polite questions, though, their conversation had lapsed. Doe wondered if he felt odd around her, after last weekend’s paint fight. She’d thought it had broken any lingering ice between them.
Or was she imagining the awkwardness? She felt a spike of resentment as her friends returned. If Mary would stop implying things about Michael, Doe would stop thinking them.
As if on cue, Mary slid Michael his Butterbeer and said, “So, Meadowes, have you got an eye on any birds around here?”
Michael grinned, making an exaggerated show of glancing around the pub. But then his smile slipped a little. “Not really. I had a pretty bad breakup this summer.”
The girls expressed their sympathy; Michael thanked them.
“You don’t have to talk about it, if it’s difficult,” said Germaine, trying to sound nonchalant and not curious.
Michael shook his head. “It’s not as bad as that. A few months have gone by, after all. Her name’s Katie, she lives near me. She’s a Muggle — that was sort of the problem. We’d been dating for nearly two years, and I was trying to keep the whole wizard thing a secret. I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t have.” He took a sip of his drink; the girls said nothing.
“Anyway, she thought I was batty, so she said she needed time and space. Only it turns out she needed time and space with someone else.” He pulled a face.
“Ah, Michael!” Mary said, horrified. “Fuck Katie, all right? Look—” Glancing around surreptitiously, she pulled a flask from under her sweater.
“Where did you put that?” Germaine said.
“Why did you feel the need to hide it on your person?” said Dorcas. “You could’ve put it in a purse.”
Mary gave Michael a look, as if to say do you hear these two? “Obviously, my tits needed to keep it warm. Christ.” She unscrewed the flask, pouring a splash into each of their Butterbeers. “You’re welcome.”
“Thanks,” Michael said, chuckling. Doe noticed the look of admiration he was giving Mary: the classic look, she thought, except Mary wasn’t looking back.
“Anti-cheers time,” said Germaine. “Katie, what’s her last name?”
“Sorry — anti-cheers?”
“Just play along, Michael!”
“Halliday. Her name’s Katie Halliday.”
Germaine nodded seriously, raising her mug. “Katie fucking Halliday.”
Grinning, Mary and Dorcas echoed her words, lifting their own mugs. Michael was a beat late following, laughing instead of speaking.
“Katie motherfucking Halliday, you give love a bad name,” said Dorcas.
“Katie goddamn Halliday, how could you?” Germaine crowed.
“Katie bleedin’ Halliday, you’ll be sorry someday!” Mary said.
“I’ll drink to that,” said Germaine, clinking her mugs to the others’ and taking a big gulp. “This tastes quite good, I’ll give you that, Mare.”
“Thanks,” said Mary. “It’s nail varnish remover.”
Michael choked. Doe sighed, patting him on the back. “You should know better around her by now.”
As conversation turned to other, less serious things, several unfamiliar students asked to share tables; Mary turned away each of them.
“We should be nicer and just share,” Dorcas said.
“We don’t know any of them,” said Germaine. “It’d be weird.”
“They’re third-years. Of course we don’t know them.”
“But what if they asked to share our alcohol?” said Michael. “We’d be in a pickle then.”
“If it’s someone I like, there’s no reason for me to say no,” Mary said.
“Those fifth-years are scoping us out,” Doe said.
“Ugh, not them—”
“Hi, sorry to interrupt!”
The voice was cheerful, familiar. The four at the table looked up to see Marissa Beasley and Doc Dearborn, Firewhiskys in hand.
“Do you have any room at this table?” Marissa went on. “Doc and I would love seats — but of course, it’s so bloody full—”
Doc rolled his eyes at her, but he was smiling. “You’re the one who wanted to wear heeled boots today.”
Marissa sighed. “Forgive a girl for trying to look good! Right, Mary?”
Mary laughed along, a beat too late. “God, we’ve love to, Marissa, but Lily and her boyfriend are coming, and so’re Peter and Remus. We’re full up ourselves.” She shrugged. “Best of luck finding a seat.”
“Oh!” Marissa’s face fell; she clearly hadn’t been expecting this response. “Thanks anyway. See you back at the castle, then.”
“Bye!” said Mary.
The other three exchanged glances as Mary watched the two Ravenclaws go.
“Okay,” Germaine said slowly, “what was that about?”
Dorcas gasped. “Merlin. Is that—”
She didn’t finish her sentence; Mary faced them again, her expression stormy. She put down her Butterbeer with a thunk.
“He turned me down to go with Marissa Beasley?” said Mary, her voice dangerously low.
“Marissa’s quite nice,” Germaine said.
“She fancies a bloke back home,” Mary snapped.
“Wait — how do you know that?” said Michael. Doe and Germaine shushed him.
“How could this have happened?” Mary’s voice gained pitch and volume as the sentence went on, until she was nearly wailing. “Fuck him!”
“Does that mean—” Doe began.
“Yes, it does!” Mary said, putting her head in her hands. “Yes, I have feelings for Doc Dearborn, and he thinks I’m stupid and vapid and idiotic and he’s with Marissa Beasley!”
Didn’t anyone who shopped here ever crave ordinary chocolate? Dissatisfied, Lily moved from aisle to aisle at Honeydukes. Dex was looking for more things to incorporate into his baking; they had agreed to meet up at the cashier instead of chasing each other around the shop. Which was a good thing, thought Lily as she circled the rows of chocolate for the third time. That kind fizzed in the mouth, that sort had a filling…
“I’d kill for some bloody Cadbury,” she muttered.
“Bloody Cadbury would taste pretty shit,” said a voice on the other side of the shelf was peering at.
“Evans.” Now that he’d spoken, she recognised his shock of messy hair just visible above the top of the shelf.
“How do you even know what Cadbury tastes like?”
“I do live in the same country as you,” he said drily, coming around to stand next to her. “If you’re looking for a substitute, I think Gormley’s makes regular chocolate.” James skirted around her, squinting at the offerings. “Ah, shit.”
“What?” Lily stepped closer to him.
“They’re out of the regular kind.”
She sighed, rocking back on her heels. “I suppose I’m just destined to eat funky chocolate, then.”
James laughed. “Are you restocking your hot chocolate supplies?”
Lily shook her head. “Mum sends me what I need. There aren’t really any convenient supermarkets around Hogwarts.”
“No, this is just to snack on.” She sighed. “I’ll do without, then. It’ll probably be better for me.”
James opened his mouth and closed it again. “Pity,” he said finally.
“What?” Lily was certain that wasn’t all he’d been going to say.
“Nothing. They’ve got pretty good dark chocolate, though, if you do want to experiment for your cocoa.” James pointed out a shelf to their right. “Maybe even some funky ones.”
Lily hated that her instinctive response to his helpfulness was suspicion; that, she thought, was something she needed to unlearn. Why couldn’t she just take her wins at face value?
“Thanks,” she said. “Are you here with someone?”
It was intended as an innocuous question, but Lily flushed when James arched his brow in response.
“Do I need a date to shop at Honeydukes?” he said.
“No,” said Lily quickly. “I was just asking.”
“Well, the answer’s no. Enjoy Fortescue’s company.”
He was just this side of curt. With a backward glance, he wove through the aisles until Lily couldn’t see him anymore.
“Underrated aspect of the Three Broomsticks,” Sirius said, without anyone having asked him to, “is the people-watching.”
He, Remus, and Peter had indeed found the Gryffindor girls and Michael, crowding around their table — and vindicating Mary’s rejection of Marissa and Doc, in her eyes at least. More splashes from Mary’s flask had gone around, until all seven of them were pleasantly buzzed and had fallen into a warm silence.
“There’s too many people,” said Germaine. “Who’m I supposed to be watching?”
“Easy. Look, Professor Thorpe is arguing with Marius Rosier.”
“Who?” said Doe, Michael, and Mary at once.
Sirius rolled his eyes, struggling to sit up straighter. “Professor — Aprylline Thorpe, who teaches Defence Against—”
“Very funny,” said Doe. “Who’s Marius Rosier?”
“That fuckwit,” supplied Peter, pointing him out helpfully.
A tall, gaunt wizard was indeed engaged in heated conversation with Thorpe. His features were immediately familiar to them.
“Is he Alec’s brother?” said Mary, frowning.
“That’s the one,” Sirius said. “He’s a proper Death Eater wannabe.” He paused for a moment. “Unless he’s gone from wannabe to just... be, which is a possibility.”
A hush fell over the table. Thorpe, seeming to tire of the argument, threw up her hands and stalked away. Rosier slunk in the opposite direction, pushing out of the door.
“Shit, that reminds me. I’m missing Thorpe’s show,” Doe said, sighing.
Michael looked alarmed. “I didn’t...know you were into that,” he said.
“I’m not,” Doe assured him. “I rage-listen to it. And then I call him and argue with him. It keeps me on top of his stupid talking points — so if I hear anyone using them, I know it’s because they listen to him and his sort.” She shuddered, taking a sip of her Butterbeer. “And now he’s on the WWN.”
“Well, you know you can just walk over and tell them what you think, right?” Michael said, looking immensely relieved at Doe’s clarification.
Remus seemed to catch on first. “The WWN office is right here in Hogsmeade,” he said slowly.
“Holy shit — let’s go,” Doe said. “Right now.”
Sirius held up a finger. “Vandalism is a form of protest.”
“One step at a time,” Germaine told him.
“She didn’t say no,” Sirius stage-whispered.
Doe jumped to her feet. “I’ll go spread the word. I can tell—” She searched the horde of students in the pub. “Amelia Bones!”
Mary groaned. “Not her, please.”
“Oh, stop it, Mary. She cares about what’s going on and she has friends who do too.” Animated by purpose, Dorcas nearly charged off to find Amelia before another thought occurred to her. “We have to find Lily, though.”
“She’ll be with Dex,” Germaine said, frowning. “I have no idea where they planned to go.”
“Relax,” Sirius cut in. “We’ll ask James to find her.”
Remus and Peter exchanged glances, but did not argue with this course of action.
“It’s settled, then,” said Dorcas. “Tell everyone you know!”
“No,” James said into the mirror. “Absolutely not.”
Sirius sighed. “Mate, c’mon. Dorcas wants her there, it’s not like it was my idea.”
Peter and Remus exchanged a look once more.
“She’s with her boyfriend! How am I supposed to get her without looking like the biggest prat in the world?”
“Tell her the truth,” said Peter. “She’ll want to come.”
“But if you don’t know where she is,” began Remus.
James deflated a little. “I do know. We’re in Honeydukes right now.”
The we made the three other Marauders blink.
“She and the boyfriend are here, and I am too,” said James, rolling his eyes. “Fine, I’ll fetch her. Christ.”
“See you there,” said Sirius.
Tucking the mirror away, James looked around the sweet shop. Lily and Fortescue had lingered for awfully long, but the seventh-year had finally gone up to pay for his things. Lily hovered by the door. James steeled himself, and strode towards her.
“Sirius just sent word; Dorcas wants you,” he said.
Lily frowned. “She — what?”
“They’re going to go to the WWN office, and tell them what they think of Thorpe.”
James hadn’t needed to worry about how Lily would take this after all; she brightened as soon as he explained the plan.
“We should’ve thought of that sooner! If we’d planned it before this weekend—”
“We didn’t know about him until this morning,” James pointed out.
She waved a hand dismissively. “If we had. Anyway, yes, I’ll come right away.”
James reached for the door, and Lily seemed ready to follow. Later he would wonder — while cursing himself for wondering — what might have happened if Dex Fortescue hadn’t caught up to them just then. The other wizard looked none too happy to see James, which, he supposed, was not entirely unwarranted.
“Where’s the fire?” Dex said, looking from Lily to James.
“My friends are going to the WWN office, about Thorpe,” Lily said. James noticed that she smoothly skipped over the fact that she’d nearly left without her boyfriend. “I think I’m going to join. But I understand if you don’t want to — it’s been a long day.”
Something passed between Lily and Fortescue; James was about to say something snide, but held himself back just in time.
Dex nodded. “Yeah, I’ll see you around, then.” He pulled her in for a kiss; James glanced away, coughing a little. Finally, Dex walked off in the direction of the Three Broomsticks. Lily watched him go, and James watched her watch him, until he cleared his throat to snap both of them out of this trance.
“We should go,” James said.
They began walking down High Street. James wondered if he ought to say something, but couldn’t come up with a safe enough subject. He tucked his hands into his pockets and let Lily lead the way.
The WWN office was bigger than he’d expected — though of course, he reasoned, they had to broadcast out of it, so it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Some two dozen students were crowded in the lobby, mostly talking quietly amongst themselves; at the head of the group, leaning on the reception desk, was Dorcas, with a stern-looking Amelia Bones beside her.
“Can you just give us the name of someone who’s in charge here?” Doe was saying. “Someone who had a hand in the decision to pick up Marcel Thorpe’s show?”
The flustered receptionist said, “I really can’t — I don’t—”
“I know you probably had nothing to do with it. We just want to ask about it. Isn’t that allowed? We’re your audience.”
Murmurs of assent filled the lobby.
“I don’t think — the office will close soon, since it’s a weekend—”
“We’re not here to hurt anyone,” said Amelia Bones, “we’re students. We’d like to speak with an executive.”
A man emerged from the hallway beyond the desk, arms crossed over his chest. “Look here, whatever’s going on—”
“Can we ask you about why WWN picked up Thorpe’s show?” Doe said, turning to him.
The man looked flabbergasted. “That’s — what you’re here for?”
“Young people have opinions, you know,” Amelia said, her tone icy. Lily and James exchanged grins.
“Bones,” she supplied, clearly conscious of the effect her surname would have. Mrs. Bones was a senior executive at the Ministry.
The man registered the name with wide eyes. “Look, Miss Bones, WWN values a diversity of opinions.”
Doe, not one to be outdone, said, “What he says isn’t an opinion. It’s thinly-veiled anti-Muggleborn sentiment. It’s downright bigoted! Some of the brightest students here—” she gestured at the assembly “—are Muggleborn. We’re right up the road at Hogwarts, and we have to listen to him on your show, talking about how our classmates don’t deserve to be there.”
“Yes, well—” the man began, reddening under the force of her stare.
Someone in the crowd shouted, “We’ll be outside your office every Hogsmeade weekend until you take him off the air!”
The students sat in the lobby for several hours, keeping generally quiet. (Dorcas and Amelia shut down Sirius’s suggestion of Exploding Snap with glares.) Finally, the office closed in the afternoon, and the still-nervous receptionist brought in a security witch to escort the students out of the building. They filed out, dispersing into clumps and moving back towards the castle, huddled against the wintry cold.
“Well! That was rather haphazard organising,” said Doe, a little out of breath from the excitement. “But I think it got people thinking — and made a point to the WWN folks.”
“I thought I heard some students saying they were going to take the story to the Prophet,” said Germaine. “That’d be interesting.”
As the Gryffindors started for the castle, Dorcas caught up with Michael. “Thanks for the idea,” she said. “You’re bloody brilliant.”
“Me?” Michael laughed. “That was all you.” He bumped her shoulder with his, and suddenly the November chill didn’t seem quite so bad.