i. Twist and Shout
“Remember, children, the three Ds!” trilled the Apparition instructor, one Araminta Belby, a shockingly small witch whose shockingly large glasses made her look like a pygmy owl.
“I’ve forgotten them already,” Peter muttered, staring morosely at the wooden hoop in front of him.
One spot over, Remus gave a sympathetic sigh. “Think of it as Transfiguration — Vanishing yourself, sort of, then bringing yourself back — it’s not as if you haven’t done advanced magic on yourself before—”
“That’s different.” Peter glanced at James and Sirius. More accurately, that was something he’d done with them, but it wasn’t as though his mates could help him Apparate. And worst of all, as the only one of the Marauders born after the first Apparition test date, he really would be on his own when he was trying to get a license…
“Quiet, Pettigrew,” Professor McGonagall said, striding past him.
On Remus’s other side, Sirius was concentrating on something a touch further than his hoop.
“Why’s Mulciber here?” he whispered.
Remus followed his gaze to the seventh year Slytherin, frowning slightly. “Maybe he failed so badly last year, he has to take the classes again.” Sirius barked out a laugh, looking to see if James was laughing along.
As it turned out, James had not heard. This was because by an odd stroke of luck (or bad luck, however you looked at it) he was standing in front of Lily Evans, who was next to Germaine King. James didn’t want to eavesdrop — in fact, he had been scrupulously trying not to — but the girls were bad at keeping their voices down. He had half a mind to tell them he could hear, or suggest they cast Muffliato, but the nature of the conversation was such that he desperately did not want them to know he’d heard anything at all.
“I hate to give you the same advice,” Germaine was saying, “but you do have to talk to him.”
“But I’ve left it a whole month. It’ll seem like I’ve been stewing,” said Lily.
“You have been stewing.”
“Well, I don’t want him to know I’ve been stewing!”
“What if I talk to him and—” Lily dropped her voice, but sadly, James could still hear her. “—and it turns out I really am bad in bed?”
James coughed very loudly. A few rows over, Professor Sprout gave him a warning look, as though she worried his coughing was some indication of mischief. What were the three Ds again? Araminta Belby sailed past him, and, with a sense of profound relief, James flagged her down by waving a hand at her. Belby didn’t look pleased to be hailed this way, rather like a taxi, but she did stop.
“Yes?” she said.
“Er,” said James, who was at a loss for what to ask her now that he’d succeeded in drawing her attention. Anything, anything, to get Lily and Germaine to stay quiet. “What’s the second D?”
“Dee-termination,” Araminta Belby pronounced imperiously, as though this were the word of God. All too soon she glided away, and the girls’ conversation resumed.
James was not by nature a patient person, and he thought he was about five seconds away from Splinching himself on purpose. Or maybe he’d have managed it by accident anyway. Every ounce of concentration he had was currently engaged in not thinking about Lily and her boyfriend having sex. To be precise: Lily and her boyfriend having sex, and him treating her poorly after it. He wasn’t under any illusions about where he figured in Lily Evans’s life, but for the first time in a while James felt a real, unpleasant resentment towards Dex Fortescue. For all that he seemed like a friendly bloke (and even James admitted that he did) it seemed the seventh year had at best been thoughtless, and Lily didn’t deserve thoughtlessness.
That is, no bird deserved thoughtlessness. Lily, as a bird, fell into that category.
Jesus fucking Christ, James thought. His internal monologue was mired in self-delusion. He would never have admitted it to Sirius, but he was beginning to begrudgingly accept that his best mate had a point concerning...well, not concerning any lingering feelings, but concerning how exactly he ought to recover from past feelings. Hadn’t he said an in-person alternative was best back in September when James had brought up Mel?
“—unfair to expect him to guess what’s on your mind, and you’re very honest in all your relationships. I really don’t think there’s another way to fix it,” Germaine was saying.
“I just wish—” Lily began.
But James was spared from hearing what she just wished, because Araminta Belby called, “We will try all together now, children…”
“Focus on your destination — harness your determination, will yourself to transcend yourself — and twist on the spot — now!”
Peter tripped, falling backwards in a comical flailing of limbs that took out Mary Macdonald behind him. She shrieked, “Peter, get off!” Dorcas was letting out a quiet string of modified profanity — “hell crud socks twigs mother...flower” — which earned what sounded like a chuckle from a passing McGonagall. “I think I’m missing some hair,” Germaine said, “can you Splinch hair?” James didn’t think Sirius had even tried; he was doubled-over laughing at Gaurav Singh in front of him, who’d hopped into his hoop and was trying to pass it off as a success.
Araminta Belby waved her arms. “Once more, children…”
“—five feet of space around you if you please—”
Lily waited patiently for the students around her to move, then grabbed Germaine by the elbow.
“Stand next to me, will you?” she said under her breath.
Germaine shook her off. “All right, all right, you don’t have to claw me… What’s so important that you’re not paying close attention to the instructor?”
She didn’t fancy failing a course that she’d paid for, especially given that it was the easiest form of transportation open to her — flying was far too unsteady, and Flooing was out of the question for now, at least. But for once there were more important things than learning.
“I can’t keep this inside me anymore,” Lily whispered. “I’m — it’s stupid, but—” Then, all in a rush, “Dex and I had sex and he’s been oddly distant and I think I’m bad at it and now things are all wrong but I don’t know what to do.”
To her credit, Germaine kept any shock she felt perfectly hidden.
“Oh, so that’s what it was,” she said, poking a toe at the hoop that had appeared before her. “How come you’re telling me, and not Mary?” This was born not of any insecurity or resentment. All four girls knew that Mary was the sexpert among them — although, the bar was low, considering she was the only one with any experience.
Not anymore, Lily reminded herself. But it wasn’t as though her experience counted for anything. All it had done was drive off her boyfriend, clearly.
“Well, I know you’d listen. And I spoke to her about it last term, and she was lovely, but—” She could feel herself going red. “Oh, I’m embarrassed, and I don’t want her to think I’m a fool.”
Germaine sighed patiently. “She wouldn’t. But all right, you’ve told me, and I’m here to advise you. Are you positive it was the sex?”
Seeing as how she hadn’t talked to him about it, Lily couldn’t be positive. She frowned as she mulled this over, fixing her gaze on the dark hair of the boy in front of her.
“I think so. If only because he’s pretending like it didn’t happen!”
“You’re pretending it didn’t happen.”
She hated it when her friends were right.
“I’m only pretending it didn’t happen because he is.”
“Do you want me to be blunt, Lily?”
Germaine was looking at her with a soft sort of sympathy.
“Yes?” said Lily, uncertain.
“Well, he’s been distracted, distant, and downright daft — three Ds plus a bonus — and I honestly thought he might be...cheating on you.” Once the words were out, she hurried to soothe whatever sting they might have caused. “Not that he would — you know I love you, and no one should cheat on you, ever ever ever, or I’d tear them limb from limb. But...those were the signs, to me.”
Truth be told, this really had not occurred to Lily at all. She supposed Germaine had a point, but she couldn’t see it. And she didn’t think that was because she didn’t want to see it — although, of course she didn’t, it was such a distressing thing to consider…
“No, he wouldn’t,” said Lily. “I really don’t think he would. Even if he doesn’t like me as much anymore, or — or something like that, he’s not a bad person.”
“I don’t think everyone who cheats is a villain.”
“You know what I mean.”
Germaine sighed. “All right, I do know what you mean. I hate to give you the same advice, but you do have to talk to him.”
Lily knew this was coming. It was the advice she would have given in her friend’s place. But childishly, she didn’t want to consider it. Talking to him about big things felt so impossible, because every time she sat down with him to do it, she managed to tell herself she’d imagined the issues. Besides, why ruin the time they spent together with her worries?
It wasn’t a sustainable strategy. Vacillation was a weak character trait, she reminded herself. She knew she ought to make a choice and stick to it.
“But I’ve left it a whole month. It’ll seem like I’ve been stewing,” she protested nevertheless.
“You have been stewing,” Germaine pointed out.
“Well, I don’t want him to know I’ve been stewing!” She knew how petulant she sounded — and yet!
Germaine was shaking her head. “Lily.”
What on earth would that conversation even look like? She wished fervently that she had Mary’s candour or Doe’s tact or Germaine’s blunt honesty. She wished she had James Potter’s high shame threshold.
“What if I talk to him and — and it turns out I really am bad in bed?” she whispered.
Someone coughed, and both girls jumped. They’d forgotten to concentrate on their hoops entirely. They returned to the task at hand — or, at least, they pretended to return to the task at hand. Lily stared at the stone encircled by her hoop with immense focus. If only she knew how to communicate telepathically, and could beam her thoughts and worries directly into Dex’s brain… Oh, hadn’t she wanted things to be honest? Where, along the way, had she wandered off the simple path?
“What’s the second D?” the boy in front of her was asking Araminta Belby. Lily realised it was James — how distracted had she been, if she hadn’t even recognised him?
“Determination,” Belby replied with a sniff.
She didn’t think James would have any trouble with that. But she, Lily, did… So much for being a bold, daring Gryffindor. So much for honesty, and simplicity, and goodness. Belatedly she heard Germaine still speaking to her.
“You’re very honest in all your relationships,” her friend was saying. “I really don’t think there’s another way to fix it.”
But was she honest? She had gone weeks without telling her friends about Dex. She was currently not telling Dex himself her anxieties. She wanted to be able to solve her problems herself. If she managed that then she wouldn’t have to tell anyone anything at all — the issues would all be moot.
She opened her mouth to vocalise this. “I just wish—”
“We will try all together now, children!” Araminta Belby said.
Lily’s stomach swooped. She hadn’t tried to get into her hoop at all. Now she was behind on Apparition, of all things. Luckily, when Belby counted them down, not a single person around her managed the feat. She felt guilty for her relief, but only a little.
The sixth years trickled out of the Great Hall after a relatively uneventful lesson. Germaine had expected to be underwhelmed by the whole job of Apparition, having been ferried around Side-Along by her sister for several years now. But it was even worse than she’d thought. All that tosh about envisioning yourself in your destination and letting yourself be transported… It reminded her distinctly of Professor Lawrence’s Divination classes, which she’d been only too happy to drop after performing abysmally in her O.W.L. The poor grade had been a relief.
But thinking of Lawrence reminded Germaine of her absurd prophecy and the moved Quidditch matches, which in turn reminded her of Emmeline Vance. Hadn’t Emmeline been the one to take Lawrence’s vision to Flitwick? How out of character that seemed. Germaine wouldn’t have pegged her for a N.E.W.T.-level Divination student. But then again, she supposed she’d never really known the other witch at all. What did a few flying sessions do? Well, they made her the idiot twit who’d fancy someone she barely knew…
Perhaps thoughts could conjure people. Emmeline was suddenly beside her, walking perfectly in step with her.
“I hope someone will Apparate eventually at these things,” she said.
It would be easy to slide into casual conversation as if they’d not argued on the Hogwarts Express at all. Germaine felt almost annoyed that Emmeline was granting her this clemency.
“That girl Splinching herself wasn’t entertainment enough?” Germaine replied nastily.
Emmeline’s expression grew closed-off and hard. “Poking fun at Lottie now of all times is really unfair.”
Germaine said nothing. She had no idea who the girl who’d Splinched herself was, nor why laughing at her was in poor taste. But she wanted to keep Emmeline at arm’s length. Preferably further than that.
“You’re properly angry at me. You haven’t come to the pitch since we got back in January,” Emmeline went on.
“I’m not angry at you,” said Germaine, unconvincing even to her own ears.
“And you’re not going to tell me what I did, I suppose.”
She stayed silent. There was no way she could explain, after all.
“All right,” Emmeline sighed. “Worth a try, anyway.” She hoisted her bag higher on her shoulder and made as if to walk away.
The word slipped out before Germaine could stop it. Emmeline stopped, eyebrows raised. A curl had come loose from her French plait; she tucked it behind one ear. Germaine followed the gesture with her gaze before staring at the flagstone floor instead.
“I’m sorry. Things have been — things were strange at home, with my parents, and I suppose I was in a bad mood on the train.”
Emmeline nodded slowly. “It’s all right.”
Germaine thought she’d overexplained, and the other girl would be put off by it after all. Or maybe she’d underexplained — what a vague sort of reason she’d given. But Emmeline offered her a small smile.
“Do you want to practice this afternoon?”
The question brought an answering grin to her face. “In the snow?”
“You never know what conditions you’ll face in a game, after all. Besides, I’d like to hear what you thought about the match against Slytherin.” Emmeline grimaced as she mentioned the loss.
“Oh.” Germaine hadn’t watched it after all, but she couldn’t say that — not when she knew Emmeline was the reason she’d stayed away. “Er, this afternoon, then.” She would just have to find Percy Egwu and beg for his notes.
As Emmeline disappeared around the corner, another shadow appeared behind her.
“Nice to see you’ve patched things up,” said James.
Germaine half-turned towards him, prepared for another argument. “Nice? Is that the word you’d use to describe it?”
He did not take this bait, tantalising though it was.
“Just — be careful.”
She let out a long-suffering sigh. “So I don’t reveal all our Quidditch secrets. I know, I know. For the millionth time—”
James was frowning. “That isn’t what I meant. Be careful or you’ll get hurt.”
Germaine blinked at him. Sure, they were friendly as teammates were — friends, even — but she didn’t think she’d ever heard James express concern for her, properly, in a matter unrelated to Quidditch. It was rather nice of him. She was so surprised that she could not come up with a clever retort, or anything very reassuring.
“I will,” Germaine said finally.
James looked away, jaw clenched; he seemed to be deliberating whether or not to say something more. But in the end he only nodded and waved at her as he sauntered away.
ii. Puzzle Pieces
Snow persisted at Hogwarts the next weekend. Already the term seemed to have lasted an eternity — or maybe that was just to Doe, sitting in the Gryffindor stands under an Impervius Charm. On one side of her, Mary kept flicking gathering snowflakes from her shoulder; the charm had evidently not covered her well enough. On her other side, Lily stifled a yawn. It was early evening, but the match showed no sign of letting up. McGonagall had already illuminated the pitch with great white orbs so the game could continue.
“Potter fumbles right by the goalposts,” Michael Meadowes said, a sigh audible in his voice. “Hufflepuff’s Callahan with the Quaffle now — if you’re too bored to keep score, we are still at ninety-seventy to Hufflepuff, and the Gryffindor captain is still goalless.”
Even the booing from the Gryffindors in defence of their captain was subdued.
“Germaine needs to catch the bloody Snitch already,” Mary said, bouncing her knee impatiently.
Through the snowfall, Doe could see a vague shape that must have been Germaine arguing with a vague shape that must have been James.
“I think that’s what Potter’s saying to her right now,” she said.
“Well, he could stand to score a few goals himself.”
“I think he knows.”
All three girls sighed. Doe felt nervous enough to bounce her own knee. She couldn’t help but think of what had happened on the night of the last Quidditch match. What if whoever had hurt Gerard McIlhenny struck again? And tomorrow would be the first Hogsmeade visit since the murders in late December. Dorcas didn’t want to consider how the village might have changed. Would it be worse to see it swarming with Aurors and Magical Law Enforcement officers? Or would it be the same idyllic village, a vision that forced her to imagine the Dark Mark above it?
That morning’s Prophet had contained news of a break in the case: a relief, probably, to the ever-anxious Aurors at Hogwarts. The victims — Hogsmeade residents, the one an assistant at the Magic Neep, the other a part-timer at Dervish and Banges — had apparently been exposed to some old Dark magic, a compulsion spell, but that had not been what’d killed them. No, they’d been hit with the good old Killing Curse.
Doe realised she was drumming her fingers on her knees. At once she stood.
“I think I’m going to go back to the castle. I feel a cold coming on.”
Lily half-rose. “Oh, dear, do you want me to come with you? I can make you some tea—”
She very nearly said yes — but then she remembered Gerard McIlhenny, and how Lily and Mary were safer in big crowds, and if they didn’t think they needed to be careful she bloody well did.
“Don’t worry, I can manage,” Doe said, gently but firmly pushing Lily back into her seat. “Just don’t tell Germaine I left.”
You see, Dorcas Walker was sweet and generous and perhaps too forgiving for her own good. But she was a problem-solver, what her mother jokingly called a puzzle-outer. She picked and picked and picked at her friends’ worries, her own, the world’s. She was an idealist, but she was the sort of idealist with the drive to make the world an ideal one.
So the problem with her problems, at present, was they could not be picked at. She was one girl. She could not solve the murders of Grace Hopkins, the Muggle-born Dervish and Banges assistant, and Lewis Ross, who bagged groceries at the Magic Neep. She could not dismantle blood purity. But Merlin, she would try. She would write letters and argue with radio show hosts, and she would protect her family and friends. She would ask questions. She would be kind.
When Dorcas Walker entered the Gryffindor common room and saw Sirius Black pacing the carpet, and raking a hand through his hair, she did both.
“Oh, I thought you’d be at the match,” Doe said. Then, taking him in properly, she added, “Are you all right, Sirius?”
He had a piece of parchment clutched in his hands. At the sound of her voice he started, shoving it into a pocket.
“Fine,” he said roughly.
She thought he was very clearly not fine, but wasn’t sure how to phrase this in a sensitive manner. Some of her scepticism must have shown on her face, because Sirius sighed.
“Just need to ask Regulus some questions about what happened last week.”
Doe frowned ever so slightly. “Questions — about McIlhenny?” she guessed.
He seemed unwilling to confirm anything, which only made her more certain of her guess.
“I thought they caught the girl who did it and suspended her. A fourth year or something?”
“Well, she couldn’t have done it on her own.”
“And you think your brother knows who helped?”
Sirius looked away. “I think he — knows the spell they used.”
Dorcas considered what little she knew of Regulus Black. He had always felt very peripheral to her Hogwarts experience — he played Quidditch against Germaine once a year, and he was Sirius’s brother. But until the events of that November, when Regulus had shouted at his brother in the Great Hall, Doe had barely given him a second thought. He seemed quiet, thoughtful where some of his fellow Slytherins were brash and violent.
Of course, that Severus Snape was quiet too.
“I’ll come with you,” she said.
He scowled. “It’s none of your business.”
This standoffishness didn’t put her off much.
“If he’s hurting Muggleborns, it’s everyone’s business,” said Doe crisply. “Besides, you look as though your strategy is to hex him into confessing. Maybe he’ll be more forthright if it isn’t just you.”
Sirius snorted. “That’s likely.” But he seemed to relax. “Fine. They’re in the library — he and Marcus Rowle.”
They walked there in silence, ducking past Pince (“She hates me,” Sirius said, “she can’t see us going in.”) and wandering through desks. On any Saturday afternoon the library would have been empty, snow or not, but it was obvious that several others had left the Quidditch match too for boredom. Guilty Gryffindors in red-and-gold scarves avoided catching Doe and Sirius’s notice.
“Christ, if this many people ditched the game for the library it must be really bad,” he said.
Doe was surprised. “Did you not go at all?”
He shook his head. “I was — waiting for Regulus to come back to the castle.” A flash of bitter longing crossed his face. Privately, she thought he might also have simply missed being on the team today, and had stayed away to avoid thinking about his dismissal from it.
“There,” Sirius said, pointing at the two fifth years bent over a textbook.
Regulus looked up at their approach, eyes narrowed. His handsome face was eerily reminiscent of his brother’s; the two regarded each other with cold distaste.
“You only speak to me when you need something from me,” said Regulus. “So what is it?”
“Don’t sit down,” added Rowle, scowling.
In response Sirius dragged over two chairs and sat. Doe repressed a sigh and took the seat beside him.
“Tell me you two gits had nothing to do with the Hufflepuff who got attacked,” Sirius said.
Rowle rolled his eyes. “It was Oliv—”
“Shut up, Rowle.” Sirius was staring right at Regulus. “It wasn’t that cute little curse they taught you, was it? Sectumsempra?”
Regulus stilled. Doe wasn’t sure if he looked guilty, exactly, but he was wary all of a sudden. She wanted to pull Sirius aside and ask what curse he was talking about.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Regulus stiffly. And then— “Is that really what happened? To McIlhenny?”
“Maybe. Is that what your pals say happened? Mulciber and Avery and Greengrass and the lot of them?”
“Sirius—” Doe began.
But something in his tone, or perhaps the invocation of the other Slytherins, shuttered Regulus away entirely. He sniffed, turning back to the book he’d been reading.
“You’ve got enough theories that it doesn’t sound like you need my help. Besides, we’d just won Quidditch. I was in the bloody common room, as were Mulciber and Avery, and Rowle too. The armour gallery is, what, five floors up? It’s a miracle Nott even got as far as she did.”
Dorcas tempered her voice and said, “You sound like you’ve given it some thought. How it happened, I mean.” She meant to sound encouraging, friendly, even — like she believed he was as concerned as the two of them.
Regulus seemed to take this as an accusation. “It’s a good thing I have. Apparently nosy Gryffindors are convinced I have to prove my innocence.” He gave her a cold once-over. “Who are you, again?”
She drew back, sensing where this was going both by the look on his face and Sirius’s sharp inhale.
“Dorcas. Walker,” she replied, emphasising her perfectly mundane surname. “Before you ask, no, you don’t know any Walkers. My parents are Muggle-born.”
His gaze darted to Sirius, then fell back upon his book. “Yeah. Thought so. If we’re done here, I have homework that needs doing.”
Sirius opened his mouth to say something else — something probably incendiary — but Doe grabbed his wrist. With a meaningful look, she hauled him out of his chair and towards the library doors.
“He’s not going to tell you anything,” she said under her breath, “if he even knows something worth telling.”
“He knows something,” Sirius insisted, but did not resist. Doe released him once they were out in the corridor. By unspoken agreement they started back to Gryffindor Tower.
Presently, she said, “Do you know what curse they hit McIlhenny with?”
“I’ve got a guess.”
Silence. She arched an eyebrow at him. “How, exactly?”
He sighed. “Moony was — ill this week, and he was in the Hospital Wing the same time as McIlhenny. He said he didn’t remember much, but there was...lots of blood. And Pomfrey said something about sealing the wound… The spell I’m thinking of could do that, I reckon.”
“Sectumsempra?” Doe said hesitantly. “I’ve never heard of that.”
“Don’t try it,” he said quickly.
She put her hands up in a gesture of surrender. “I wouldn’t have tried a random curse your brother mentioned, Sirius.”
His expression grew stormy; he gave no reply. Belatedly she wondered if she shouldn’t have called Regulus his brother.
“You know… Everyone knows what your family are like. I mean, the entire Great Hall found out you were disowned at breakfast.”
“Do they,” Sirius all but snarled, striding ahead of her. “Is that what the gossip’s about these days? My dear old mum?”
Realising she’d misstepped again, Doe shook her head. “That’s not — let me finish. I’m saying, everyone knows what your family are like, but we don’t judge you for it. You’re not them. And that’s pretty obvious to — well, everyone with an ounce of sense.”
He slowed ever so slightly, but the angry set to his shoulders remained.
“I know you lot hexed Mulciber and Avery because of Mary,” Doe added quietly. “None of you is best mates with her, but you did it for her. And it might not be the way I’d have handled things, but — it’s obvious which side you’re on.”
She could have said more, could have pointed out his need to prove what side he was on and the methods by which he did it would get him in deep trouble with their teachers. But she didn’t think Sirius needed that much coddling. And in any case, it was the old wizarding families’ prerogative, showing that they were forward-thinking and inclusive. Silence was tacit approval. She couldn’t fault him for being vocal.
Their silence seemed more comfortable after that; Sirius slowed to let her catch up once more. The Fat Lady’s corridor was full of whooping Gryffindors, damp from the snow and streaming into the common room.
“Germaine must have caught the Snitch after all,” Dorcas said, brightening.
“Ardently,” Sirius said to the Fat Lady, who had apparently been so charmed by the Valentine’s Day mood that she’d become quite the romantic.
The noise only grew louder when they’d stepped through the portrait hole. “Thank God,” Isobel Park was saying to all who would listen, Butterbeer in hand. “Thank God and Germaine King, I thought we’d be there all bloody night—”
Germaine swooped down upon Doe and Sirius, her grin wide. “Where were you?”
“Sorry, I came back to the castle because I felt a bit ill,” said Doe easily, recalling the fib she’d told Lily and Mary.
“Well, if anyone tells you about my heroics, don’t contradict them.” Leaning closer, she whispered, “I fell asleep on my broom and the Snitch bumped into me. Potter can never know.”
As if the mention of James had called her attention to Sirius’s presence, Germaine rounded on him next. “What are you doing here? Have you already been to the Hospital Wing, then?”
“Hospital Wing?” Sirius said, frowning.
Germaine clicked her tongue. “Christ, I thought you four were telepathically connected or something. Potter’s in there. It’s nothing too bad!” she added. “Just a broken wrist. I suppose Chris Townes throws harder than expected.” She frowned a little. “He had a bad day, James did. He could probably use some cheering up.”
Sirius nodded. “Right, I’ll head. But, er, Dorcas, thanks for the—” He stopped, glancing at Germaine. “Herbology homework.”
She smiled. “Those Venomous Tentacula can be really frustrating.”
Once Sirius had departed, Germaine shot Doe a curious look. “What was that?”
Doe laughed. “Seriously, Germaine. You sound like Mary. We talked about Herbology.” Throwing an arm around her friend’s shoulders, she pulled her deeper into the crowd. “Come on, I want to hear what elaborate story you’re going to tell instead of how you really caught the Snitch.”
iii. Love’s Such An Old-Fashioned Word
Everyone had bad games.
This was something James had very often said to his teammates. He made a mental note to say it less, because it turned out it was bloody infuriating to hear.
When he returned to the common room, wrist thoroughly bandaged (“I don’t trust you to be careful with it if it’s not in a cast,” Pomfrey had said sternly), the party was in full swing. To his mind the celebration had an air of immense relief to it, a nervous sort of thank-fuck-we-snatched-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat attitude. Well, since that was a fairly accurate description of what had happened, James couldn’t blame them.
He couldn’t say why the game had gone so poorly. Maybe it had been the awful visibility, which even well-placed Impervius Charms couldn’t help with. Sometimes you had it — chemistry, energy, whatever name you fancied — and sometimes you didn’t. The Chasers had been horribly out of sync, and James hadn’t been able to steady them. Everyone had bad games, but James Potter didn’t think he was allowed to.
You see, James Potter was not ambitious. Of his housemates, he was one of the least likely to have been Sorted into Slytherin instead — leaving aside the fact that he had spent the eleven-and-change years of his life prior to the first of September, 1971, knowing that Gryffindor was the house for him. Unlike Dorcas Walker, he did not plan on changing the world. Perhaps this was born of a comfortable childhood. Fleamont Potter had achieved so his son did not have to, and the Potters were more interested in their mischievous son’s personal growth than his professional success.
Whatever James decides to do, Fleamont could often be heard telling his friends, I’m sure he’ll enjoy it. Not I’m sure he’ll be good at it, because that was implicit — James would never do something he wasn’t good at and didn’t enjoy. He had his fair share of principles, a pronounced dislike of the Dark Arts being one of them, but he did not already envision a goal those principles would help him get to. He lived his life with the assumption that the goal would come to him.
James Potter was easygoing, but he was restless and energetic all the same, and in the manner of children who’d grown up just good at things without having to try, he’d come to expect things of himself. It was a nasty business, holding yourself to standards. He hated it. And he’d always held himself to a high standard when it came to certain things. Quidditch. Mischief-making. Loyalty. Regrettably on the list, Transfiguration and Charms class, if only to piss off all the people who tried twice as hard.
This frustrating contradiction was at the forefront of his mind as he roamed the party, Butterbeer in hand. (Well, maybe not the forefront. We will allow for a certain teenage lack of self-awareness.) James, like Dorcas earlier that day, was looking for the cause of a problem. Trying to diagnose an illness by its symptoms. Perhaps he had been distracted. He’d always managed to focus for Quidditch, but the McIlhenny incident and nights of staring at the (empty) seventh floor corridor on the Marauder’s Map might have taken up some of that focus of late. He considered the former now. If only someone bloody listened to him about Olivia Nott — accomplices or no, he was certain she’d had nothing to do with it, and the answer lay somehow with Snape… If Snape wouldn’t talk maybe Greengrass would…
As soon as this idea occurred to him the gauntlet that was the Gryffindor common room presented him with the most daunting challenge of all. There was Lily, feet tucked underneath her in an armchair, all alone save for the bottle in her hand. She was in a secluded little corner, away from the post-Quidditch chatter.
James could simply turn around and walk away. He knew this, intellectually. He had just steeled himself to do it when she noticed him and waved him over.
“How’s your wrist?” she asked, eyeing it.
He glanced at it as if he hadn’t noticed he’d hurt it at all. “Oh, perfect form. Go on, give it a punch.” He dropped into the seat next to her and held out his arm.
Lily gave him a look that was part horror, part outrage. “I’m not going to punch the wrist you just broke.”
“You think Pomfrey would let me leave without fixing it first? Come off it, Evans.”
She was still frowning, but she gave his bandage a light two-fingered tap. Then she withdrew her hand as if afraid his skin would burn her. He rolled his eyes.
“I think about being a Healer, sometimes,” Lily said. She reached out once more and took his wrist between her index finger and her thumb. James pretended not to be affected by this.
“You’re brilliant at Potions,” he offered. Immediately he wished he’d given some other form of encouragement. Any old tosser could have told her that. Hell, she knew that already.
But she smiled faintly. “Nice of you to say so. I don’t know that I have...the temperament.”
James gave her an incredulous look. “Why would you say that?”
“Sometimes I feel so in my own head. So — consumed by my own worries, you know? Even unselfish worries. But it’s not very kind or observant, which I think a good Healer should be.”
“That’s rubbish,” he said without thinking.
She drew back slightly, dropping his hand, but there was still some dry humour in her gaze. “Please tell me you plan on following that up with something.”
“I mean—” James ran a hand through his hair, searching for the right words. “Being caught up in — the shit politics of our moment doesn’t make you unkind. What the fuck? Why would you think that?”
“Why do you assume it’s politics?”
Belatedly he remembered the conversation he’d overheard, and he felt trapped. He knew, but she did not know he knew. She would probably be mortified if she knew he knew.
“Just a guess,” he mumbled. A pause. “You know I think you want to help people. I’ve said as much. And — you’re good at it. But you don’t need me to tell you that either.”
She looked up at him and he held her gaze. Her eyes were so very green.
“Then what do I need you to tell me?” she said. There was no humour in her voice, but there was no belligerence there either. Just open curiosity.
James thought of a hundred wrong answers. “You’re drinking Firewhisky,” he said instead.
Lily laughed, covering her mouth. “You don’t say.” She held up the bottle in a toast of sorts. “I am of age now. I thought I’d give it a try.”
He squinted at the bottle. She was only a few sips in. This was reassuring — she hadn’t started this conversation out of some odd drunken instinct. Or...maybe that made it worse.
“And you’re not wearing the watch your mum gave you,” James went on.
She was rubbing at the worn green leather band of her old wristwatch. She looked down at her hands and smiled.
“Observant. Maybe you ought to be the Healer.”
He let out a snort. “Didn’t you say kind and observant?”
She frowned. “I think you’re kind. You can be, I mean. When you try.”
He grinned. “Ah, but those qualifiers.”
“You don’t need me to tell you you’re kind, James.” Lily rolled her eyes.
When he’d sat down, he’d had no idea where the conversation would lead. But maybe he’d always known he would end up here, beside this girl, horribly distracted by how she looked when she said his name.
But James Potter was rather a good actor.
“Then what do I need you to tell me?”
“I’m not wearing the watch my mum gave me,” she said with a sigh, “because it’s expensive and it’s going to get damaged.”
He grew incredulous. “Right, that's proper rubbish. Are you or are you not a witch? You can fix whatever you think you’ll do to it.”
She straightened, getting that look on her face that told him she was gearing up for an argument. “Not everything can be fixed by magic. Some part of it has to end up — changed. It’s all molecular, isn’t it? There can’t be no consequence to spells… Magic has to leave a trace of some sort.”
In response James held up his bandaged wrist, settling back into his chair.
Lily scoffed. “That’s proof of nothing. You, by the way, are full of magic already. You cast it on others and you’ve had it cast on you, and you—” she started to laugh “—you do it to yourself when you will yourself to move outside yourself or whatever it was, at Apparition lessons.”
He could not hold back his own laughter at her Araminta Belby impression. If only she knew to what degree his molecular structure had been altered by magic.
“But that’s why Healing is so...foreign to me, I suppose. Maybe because my family are Muggles and all I know is Muggle medicine.” She was shaking her head forcefully. “Some things can’t be fixed. Isn’t that true?”
“Maybe,” James allowed. “There’s curses that can’t be undone easily.” He thought of Gerard McIlhenny. “There’s spells that are irreversible and diseases that haven’t been cured. Same as with Muggles, yeah?”
She nodded slowly. Then, as if they’d finally arrived at the heart of the matter, she said, “My dad died in a car accident.”
James blinked. Suddenly all his confident claims about how magic could fix everything seemed so foolish. “Evans, I—”
Her smile was wry. It was the real thing — or a very good fake one.
“You don’t have to apologise. You didn’t know, of course, and you…” She blew out a breath. “He— It was four years ago today.”
He withheld his apology, and said instead, "Our second year, wasn't it? I remember that, sort of."
She nodded. "It was awfully bad weather, so he'd taken the car to the shops. Mum told him not to go, but...obviously, he did anyway." She looked at the carpet, then back up at him. "I'd written him that morning, asking for more chocolate. And he went to get it."
James cleared his throat. "You don't really think that you — caused it."
Lily shrugged. "Most days, no. Some days, a little."
He opened his mouth to apologise once more, but she seized his arm. “Really, don’t say you’re sorry.”
So he didn’t. Instead he pointed with his free hand at his bandaged wrist, currently in her grip. “Ouch,” he said, deadpan.
“Oh, fiddlesticks.” She dropped his arm. “It really didn’t hurt?”
James laughed at the look on her face. “It didn’t. Honest.”
“I’m kind and observant.”
“Awful.” She was laughing.
He hated to return to the heaviest point of their conversation, but… “Don’t your friends know? I mean, you’re not with them.”
Lily’s smile faded. “They know.”
“Does your boyfriend know?” (An idle question. James picked at a loose thread on the armrest cover of his chair.)
She bit her lip, avoided his gaze. “No. It’s a bit heavy, isn’t it? Point is, I just need to be distracted from it. Merlin knows I’ll spend all of tonight lying in bed thinking about him.”
“You were sitting here alone,” he said.
“And now I’m not.”
He did not want to consider what it meant, that she’d beckoned to him so that she might be a little less alone. He squeezed his eyes shut briefly and thought, with the manner of someone poking at a scab, of the Lake last year.
When he opened his eyes she was staring at him.
“Are you all right?”
“Very,” he managed. “I think — I might have been lying, about my wrist not hurting.”
As far as fibs went, it was not so bad. If James pretended hard enough he could claim a vague phantom pang in his right hand.
“Oh! James, you should’ve said—” She glanced around as if searching for a solution, then handed him her half-finished bottle of Firewhisky. He had his fingers curled around the bottle’s neck before he could think about it.
“I couldn’t,” he said drily.
“I’m giving it to you.”
“I’m not seventeen.”
She gave him a severe look. “Don’t be difficult.”
He grinned, relieved to have returned to safer conversational ground, and took a sip of the drink. “Difficult was always what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “What do you really want to be? When you grow up?”
James resisted the urge to poke fun at her choice of words. “I suppose I’ll find out. I’d want to give Quidditch a go, I think.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Professionally?”
“No, Evans, in the local village league.”
“I know I am.” He could see Mary across the room, coming their way. He was both relieved and regretful. This moment of solitude would be over soon. If only he could say something candid and thoughtful to cap it off.
He was struck by the crazed impulse to tell her he had nothing else to do that night, and if she wanted to drink hot chocolate with someone he would be there… But this urge was in and of itself proof. He needed to find new plans tonight. He’d half-risen without realising it.
“Thanks, James. For the conversation,” Lily said, perhaps sensing too that something had passed.
He’d have to be stupid, or blind, or both, to misinterpret the rush of feeling the sight of her gave him. He could only pretend so long. He held the bottle of Firewhisky out to her.
“I don’t break the law,” he said, just to make her laugh.
Because he could not let things lie, he added, “You should wear the watch. You can’t live your whole life worrying about what you’ll break, yeah?”
Lily looked as though she was about to respond, but she only nodded. And Mary sat down on the sofa next to her chair. James took that to be his cue. He could still go find Thalia Greengrass, still do something that didn’t leave him thinking of her.
It was just shy of nine, but curfew was no obstacle. He headed up the staircase and grabbed the Cloak and the map. But before he could slip out of the common room, he was distracted by the sight of Germaine, having been accosted by third years, talking about the match. She met his gaze and smiled.
“It was all a strategy, obviously,” she told them. “Lull Hufflepuff into a false sense of security.”
He knew that no one older than thirteen would believe that for a second, but he appreciated her saying so all the same. Which meant James had another thing to do before he set off to find answers. Being the bigger person and righting your wrongs: two other things he considered a nasty business. James sighed to himself and beckoned Germaine towards him.
“Important Quidditch talk,” he said to the third years, who looked awed and vanished.
“It was fine, you know,” Germaine said before James could say anything. “There’s plenty of matches when Quentin scores only one goal.”
Those matches were ones in which he and Evan made up the difference, James thought, and Quentin still did his job by setting up goals. But that was neither here nor there.
“That’s not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to apologise.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Whatever for?”
“The day I was a prat about Emmeline Vance. I don’t think I ever apologised.”
“You didn’t,” Germaine agreed.
James ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, well. It was a bad day, and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
“No, you shouldn’t have. But it’s all forgotten now.”
He nodded. “She’s been loitering outside the portrait.”
Germaine frowned, glancing at the portrait hole as if she could see through it. “Is she? How do you know?”
James waved a hand. “Never mind how I know. Seeing as how she’s never been a big Gryffindor Quidditch fan, I’d say she’s here to speak with you. So if you want to head out, I’m leaving too.”
She considered this, and him, for a long moment. “Okay. Sure.”
Germaine didn’t think James would have lied to her about something so specific, but she was surprised anyway by the sight of Emmeline in the corridor, a few feet from the Fat Lady and eyeing the portrait nervously. James gave Germaine a meaningful look — or, at least, she thought he meant something by it, since she couldn’t decipher it — and walked off, whistling something she vaguely recognised as “Twist and Shout.”
You know you look so good… You know you got me goin’ now, baby, Germaine’s traitorous brain thought. Emmeline’s hair was down, which was new. She straightened when she caught sight of Germaine, waving awkwardly.
“Congratulations. I was trying to get her—” thumb jerked in the Fat Lady’s direction “—to let me in, but I thought I’d have to break in by how well it was going.”
Was she nervous? Germaine didn’t think she’d heard Emmeline speak so quickly before.
“I’m honour-bound not to give out the password,” said Germaine. “But you’re welcome to follow me back in so long as you close your ears while I say it.”
She laughed, and Germaine beamed stupidly at the sound of it. “It’s all right, the corridor is quite nice too. I don’t wait around here much. The portraits are a funny bunch.”
Germaine handed her a bottle of Butterbeer and leaned against the wall beside her. “They’ve got great stories. That one over there, Alvina the lady-knight? She’s in love with the giant princess one floor down, and sometimes the satyrs in the next painting over get her in her cups and she won’t shut up about it.” Almost as soon as she’d said it Germaine wished she could take the words back. Her cheeks burned.
But Emmeline laughed again. “Why won’t she just go tell the princess?”
“From what I’ve heard? Honesty isn’t actually the problem. Alvina has to go on a very complicated quest to earn her favour.”
“Poor Alvina. You have to tell me when she talks about her quest — I want to hear it straight from her.”
“Ha, yeah. Sure,” Germaine said. Her mind was whirling. They hadn’t been the sort of friends who’d said hi in the corridors between classes. They were the sort of friends who just nodded at one another. Was she to believe they were now suddenly on tell-me-when-the-portrait-is-drunk terms?
She stewed in silence as Emmeline drank her Butterbeer. She had half a mind to say they ought to go inside the common room, if only so that it wouldn’t be so bloody quiet, but Germaine didn’t know if Emmeline was the partying sort. She’d been at Evan’s, but not really in the thick of things… She hadn’t played Mary’s drinking game, and she’d gone into the kitchen with Chris Townes…
But Chris Townes felt very, very far away, that night in the corridor — irrelevant, dare she say. Germaine didn’t think she was that badly misreading the way Emmeline was standing, close enough to brush against her side every now and then. Besides, Chris was seeing Cecily, so there wasn’t anything there…
“What you said earlier,” Emmeline said all of a sudden, “about your parents.”
Germaine’s heightened awareness of their touching elbows faded a little at this remark. “Yeah?”
Emmeline inhaled deeply; when she spoke, her words were measured but quiet. “My dad left in the summer. He only comes back every now and then when he needs to get something from the house. Amelia keeps trying to make me talk about it with her, but — there isn’t much to say.”
Germaine let out a long breath. “I know what you mean.” As annoyed as she’d been that her friends hadn’t realised something was wrong, she hadn’t really wanted to discuss it either. Because there wasn’t much to say at all. Her parents had been in love, and they were no longer in love.
She looked up at Emmeline. The other girl was taller than her, but not by much. Germaine could see the three little creases between her dark brows, the cloudy grey of her eyes. No, she didn’t know much about Emmeline Vance at all, but she thought she’d like to know more.
Emmeline was looking back at her now. Germaine was quite certain she was looking at her mouth specifically. Oh. What? said her brain, most eloquently. Germaine had never been kissed, because when the girls she knew began their still-running obsession with boys she’d realised she was quite uninterested in boys on the whole. She hadn’t considered that this lack of interest might correspond with an interest in girls, not really. Or if she had, it’d been matter of fact. There was no big realisation, no sun coming out from behind the clouds. She hadn’t had to interrogate it, not before Emmeline Vance.
But in that moment Germaine felt very much like Mary Macdonald claimed to feel. There was a nervous flutter in her stomach. Her heart was racing. She was worried suddenly that her palms were going to start sweating.
Before she could discreetly wipe them on her trousers, though, they were kissing. Emmeline’s fingers were in her hair, and Germaine’s hands were on Emmeline’s waist, and she couldn’t have said who had started it. She was so soft, too, for someone so aloof and untouchable. She tasted like Butterbeer.
And then suddenly they were four feet apart.
“What—” Germaine began.
Emmeline’s hand went up to her mouth. “I have to go. It’s nine — curfew—”
Oh, no. Curfew seemed like a very tame excuse, given the horror in her expression.
“Look, it’s okay — I mean, you don’t have to—” Didn’t mates snog all the time and regret it afterwards and just stay mates?
But Emmeline was quite literally running for the stairs. That was not a good sign. At all.
“Wait!” Germaine shouted desperately, starting after her. But if she’d made a mistake, if Emmeline needed to be away, she couldn’t push things.
They’d only just made up. And she might have spoiled things for good.
“I’m sorry,” she said to the empty corridor.
The Fat Lady sighed. “You should go inside before you’re caught breaking curfew, you know.”
Across the corridor, a woman in a suit of armour startled awake in her painting. “Oh, I will have to apologise so profusely to my lady when she sees how I have faaaaaailed —”
“Shut up,” Germaine said to Alvina the knight, because being cross felt far easier than giving into the tears pricking at her eyes just then.
For no particular reason, James passed by the tapestry after leaving Germaine with Emmeline Vance. He stared at the blank wall, willing the cupboard to show itself. If he just solved the mystery of where it went then he could tell Lily and be done with it all. Then he thought he ought to stop being stupid and get a move on. He threw the Cloak around himself and fished out the map, but barely processed what he was looking at. Because some facts had made themselves apparent to him.
They were: Lily Evans was being a distraction. This was not new — she had been distracting him for quite some time. Only, he’d convinced himself she’d stopped, but she hadn’t. Here she was, making him think about secret rooms instead of Quidditch.
The next fact was: she was being a distraction specifically because he was not over her. He hadn’t been over her when he’d argued with her about the pie prank, or when she’d given him hot chocolate, or when he’d tried to rescue her at Slughorn’s party only to be rescued by her. He hadn’t been over her when he’d seen her disappear down a hallway at Evan Wronecki’s house hand in hand with her boyfriend, and he hadn’t been over her at her birthday. He certainly hadn’t been over her when she’d been talking about said boyfriend and their troubles. He was full of shit, though he would never have admitted it to his mates.
The third fact was: he loved her, and he could do nothing about it. James Potter was restless and energetic, and God, he hated feeling like his hands were tied. He noticed the name he was headed towards on the map, though he pretended not to. Before he rounded the corner, he took off the Cloak and bundled it under one arm, and stuffed the map into a pocket. By the time he came face to face with her, he had a crooked grin on her face and a hand running through his hair.
“I ought to give you detention for being out of bed.”
James gave her a knowing look. They both knew it was an empty threat.
“Not celebrating?” Marissa Beasley said, walking towards him. There was a smile playing at her lips, as though she was already prepared to laugh at what he would say in response.
“Seems stupid to celebrate when they won in spite of me, and not because of me.”
Marissa cocked her head. “Self-pity isn’t a very good look on you.”
That was a fair point. “No, it isn’t.”
“We can change that, if you’d like.”
She held out a hand. James did not ask if she was on patrol; nor did he say no. But he did not say yes either.
What he did say was, “Go with me to Hogsmeade tomorrow?”
At that she did laugh. “I didn’t know that’s what this was.”
James shrugged, smiling. “It is whatever we want it to be, Mar.”
She considered the question only for a moment. “Sure.” He took her hand. “To Ravenclaw Tower?”