i. A Token of My Love
“For Merlin’s sake,” Rosier said, “don’t fuck it up.”
Mulciber and Avery rolled their eyes together; it would have been comical if Severus hadn’t already been on edge. It had been two whole weeks since McIlhenny. Rosier had been tense too at first, but the fortnight was enough to convince him they’d got away with it. Severus wished he could be so cavalier.
Even now he thought someone would read his mind… McGonagall, maybe, eyeing the lot of them as they waited in the Entrance Hall to board the carriages to Hogsmeade.
What if she did know Legilimency by chance? Could she see, right then, how he, Severus, had Stunned the Hufflepuff, Rosier’s chosen target? How they had together Confunded Thalia Greengrass so she would not know what had happened? Her brother may be one of ours, Rosier had said, but we shouldn’t leave any loose ends. Not when she hasn’t committed herself to the cause.
How gratifying to be part of that we that excluded a Greengrass… He had made a commitment even Thalia, with her pure blood, had not. Rosier had Imperiused Nott, so Severus had yet to cross that line. But the older boy had decided to use his spell on McIlhenny. That was as close as it would get to approval. It had turned his stomach at first to watch, but Severus had made himself look — to look away was to show weakness.
As much as Severus feared being caught, he feared something else more. Mulciber and Avery were supposed to pick a target today, when most older students would trudge through the snow to Hogsmeade. Most of the Aurors were going with them, since the still-at-large Hogsmeade killer posed more of a risk, apparently, than whoever was in the castle. (A surge of disdain, at this. They didn’t even know, the idiots.)
The easy thing to do — the smart thing to do — would be to choose someone small and random, someone easy to overpower. They did not have the patience or commitment to plan a confusing attack as Rosier and Severus had done. No, it was best if they perplexed the authorities further by making the incidents seem utterly unlike each other.
But Mulciber and Avery were wild cards, and Selwyn would do whatever they decided. And Severus did not think they were pleased with him of late — jealous, maybe, of the fact that Rosier had chosen him as a partner? They might try to get back at him.
And at present, Lily Evans was hovering by the staircase and watching carriages come and go. She was dressed for a day out, bundled up in a bright Gryffindor-red scarf, but there was obvious worry in her expression. Severus was close enough to hear her wonder aloud to her friends if she should even go. He felt vaguely ill.
He thought Lily’s Hufflepuff boyfriend was quite worthless — not a real concern, however, because she obviously did not care for him that much — but he wished now that the boy would appear to whisk her away.
Lily could not stay in the castle. She could not.
But if he tried to warn her, Mulciber and Avery would realise he still cared for her. That made her a bigger target to them. No, Severus would simply have to wait and hope… Whatever force of luck that had saved him from being caught two weeks ago would need to prevail again. He could not bear to imagine a different course of events.
“Maybe I shouldn’t go at all,” Lily said, shifting from one foot to the other and fiddling with the end of her scarf.
“Don’t be stupid,” Germaine said immediately. “Mary’s already not going because of a boy. Why on earth do you want to let him spoil your day?”
“He hasn’t spoiled it,” Lily felt compelled to say.
Dex had spent another study date with her since the first Apparition lesson, and he’d given her a huge batch of Galleon biscuits and a pretty little necklace. This sort of attention had mollified her to the point that she’d thought she didn’t have to discuss her concerns with him after all — but then he hadn’t asked her to Hogsmeade, and she’d been left wondering what on earth to think. Maybe he was really cheating on her.
“He hasn’t spoiled it and he won’t, because you won’t let him,” Doe said. "You love days like this."
That was true. Lily loved the snow, and it had piled up beautifully over the week. It would be nice to spend time with her friends, to ignore her silly anxieties for a little while longer… But then, out of nowhere, someone gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“Ready to go?” Dex said, his wide smile firmly in place.
Lily’s instinct was to frown; she managed to suppress it. The butterflies that had led her to fall for him so spectacularly in the first place — they seemed to have been replaced by angry little moths. They swarmed around her stomach in confusion.
But what came out of her mouth was “Oh! Oh — all right.”
He did not seem to notice the frostiness in her voice. Doe gave her a thumbs up; Germaine mouthed talk to him! Lily gulped. But oh, Germaine was right. She couldn’t ignore this feeling any longer.
“You’re quiet today,” Doe observed as she and Germaine strolled down the Hogsmeade High Street.
Snow had blanketed everything, muffling the conversation of students around them. The village took on quite a festive air, even though it was already February — or, at least, it would have if not for the vague aura of fear that seemed to hold its residents. Oh, the students were cheerful enough. Doe had been nervous for weeks but even she had to admit it was difficult to hold on to that apprehension now that the horrible Prophet headline from Christmas seemed so far away.
Some shops were decked out for Valentine’s Day anyway. But others were sad, almost. The Magic Neep, the greengrocers, had a help wanted sign in the window beside a large moving photograph of Lewis Ross, the man who’d been murdered. Worse still was Dervish and Banges, which bore a large CLOSED sign on its door. As the two girls passed by its windows, Doe could make out the distinct pale blonde head of Patrick Podmore inside.
“Just thinking,” Germaine mumbled. “I wonder how many Aurors stayed in the castle.”
“I think Edgar Bones did, and Marlene McKinnon, but all of the others I saw supervising the carriages.” Doe was about to say that she wished Mary had not stayed; she bit back her words. She hated to seem a nag.
It was a good thing too, because her friend had an entirely different topic of conversation on her mind.
“I’m in — a fight, I think, with Emmeline Vance.”
“Amelia Bones’s friend?” Dorcas frowned. “I didn’t realise you knew her.”
Germaine was looking determinedly at the snow-covered ground. “I’d been flying with her.”
“Oh,” said Doe, though her frown remained. “What do you mean, you think you’re in a fight with her?”
“I kissed her,” Germaine admitted. “Or she kissed me — I dunno, there was kissing.”
“And then she ran away.”
Dorcas struggled to keep a blank face. “Oh, dear.”
“Yeah, oh, dear is bloody right.” Germaine’s expression twisted into misery.
Doe wrapped an arm around her. “Have you tried speaking to—”
“I don’t think she wants to speak to me.”
“Germaine, goodness, when did this happen?”
“Only last night. So my embarrassment is fresh as daisies.” Germaine let out a breath. “I don’t want to dwell on it. Can we just — do something fun?”
Doe looked around the morose shopfronts. The boring, easy thing to do would be to visit Zonko’s, but she didn’t think Germaine would be thrilled to be surrounded by overenthusiastic thirteen-year-olds.
“Let’s go into Gladrags, and try on the most awful robes we can find,” Doe suggested.
Germaine pulled a face. “Shopping?”
“Does your shopping process entail trying on awful robes?”
“When my sister’s involved, yeah.”
“There’s some hilariously bad stuff in there.”
A smile had finally taken shape on Germaine’s lips. “Okay. Let’s do it, then.”
They were walking in absolute silence. Lily was not a petty person — or so she told herself. But she was still thinking, he has to ask first. We’re both obviously in moods, but he can ask first! What was it she’d said to James about being kind and observant, though?
She opened her mouth, only for Dex to beat her to it.
“You’re wearing the necklace,” he said, his lips very nearly twitching into a smile.
She looked down at the pendant nestled in her scarf. It was a little green teardrop on a gold chain. When she’d shown her friends, Mary had held it up to her face clinically and told her it wasn’t quite a match for her eyes. But that was such an unkind thought.
“Yes, I am. It’s pretty,” she said, which was a very bland thing to say even if you meant it.
Dex turned back to the shops. Leana Hartwick, the Hogsmeade investigator, strode past with Kingsley Shacklebolt in tow. Lily watched them go, remembering what she’d read about the compulsion spell they’d discovered. She wondered what traces that sort of thing left on people...how exactly this mattered to the case...what Hartwick was doing just then, going into Dervish and Banges…
All things you shouldn’t really wonder, walking hand in hand with your boyfriend.
Enough is enough, she thought. Germaine was right. She needed to say something. She ran a thumb over her wristwatch, expecting to feel familiar leather, and startled a little at the cold metal she touched instead. Her mother’s gift. Doris would tell her to be honest, as would Mary, and Doe. As would her father. What had James said the previous night? She couldn’t go her whole life worrying about what she might break. She couldn’t stay quiet just because she was afraid speaking up would be difficult.
“What’s wrong?” Lily said.
Dex jumped. He’d been as lost in thought as she had, apparently.
“Nothing,” he said, his tone unconvincing. She gave him a look. “I really don’t want to get into it.”
Her better instincts were screaming at her to just drop it, but Lily was tired of that approach.
“Well, if you don’t want to get into it I don’t want to spend a miserable morning strolling around Hogsmeade in silence.” She didn’t sound cross, not exactly. She was matter-of-fact and determined. She let go of his hand.
Dex looked taken aback. He drew in a shaky breath. “I — all right. Mum and Dad don’t think I should go to culinary school.”
“What?” Immediately Lily felt a wave of pity. “Why not?”
“My cousin’s taking over the ice cream shop, and he’ll need help at first.” He was avoiding meeting her gaze, arms crossed over his chest. “That’s what they said when I wrote them about it, anyway. My uncle Florean’s ill, so it’s all hands on deck.”
“Oh, Dex. What do you think you’ll do?” She thought she knew what he would say, but she had to ask anyway.
“There’s not much I can do, is there?” Dex huffed out a bitter laugh. “I thought if I showed them how good my marks are in Potions and Herbology and Charms, how badly I want it… But there’s no point in trying so hard if they won’t even let me go.”
She gave his elbow a sympathetic squeeze. “Maybe you can take some time off, help in the shop, and then try again next year? Surely working in an ice cream parlour would be relevant experience. They might like you even more.”
Dex sighed. “I suppose. I was just — so certain it’d happen for me.”
It was a reason she was willing to accept, which was almost relieving. At least he was not cheating on her, as Germaine had thought. But then Lily felt guilty for her relief.
She shook her head. “Your uncle’s ill, you’ve rowed with your parents — why didn’t you say something? Instead of just...stewing?” She was aware of her own hypocrisy, but she needed to know the answer.
He grew sheepish. “I didn’t think we were...like that, I don’t know.”
That stopped her short. “Like — what?”
She detached her hands from his arm once more. Serious. This was the question she’d been asking herself since the New Year, of course. But it sounded so much worse now, spoken into the cold February morning.
She realised it hurt to know he’d been just as confused as she — which made no sense, but there it was. She’d been so worried about coming across a prude, clinging onto him after she’d had sex with him, that she had been too scared to ask where they stood. What was his excuse? Lily hoped he had one.
“Is that why you never talked about it?” she said quietly.
“Talked about what?” It was Dex’s turn to frown.
Irrational anger spiked through her. She had been kind, and observant, and she had asked him about himself instead of bringing up her own worries first. She did not mind practising kindness or attentiveness but all she asked was that it be returned to her.
“Go on, then,” Lily said. “Ask me.”
“Ask you what?” At last he sounded frustrated.
They had come to a standstill in the street, right in front of Tomes and Scrolls. Lily could see herself in the glass behind him, a smudgy watercolour of red cheeks and stiff annoyance.
“Ask me why I’ve been upset for six weeks. If you’ve noticed at all.”
Perhaps that was too spiteful a way to phrase it. But she couldn’t take it back. And Dex was caught — he could not complain about her not having told him, not after she’d just had to talk him into admitting what was bothering him.
“The thing is,” Lily went on, “either you noticed and you didn’t care, or you didn’t notice because you didn’t care.”
All at once she felt like the same wrung-out girl she’d been boarding the Hogwarts Express after the winter holidays. The hurt of his inattention was new and huge again.
“So tell me, then,” he said, somewhere between a statement and a plea.
“You never said a word to me, after we had sex. You didn’t — didn’t take me home yourself, you didn’t ask how I felt, you all but ignored me. And I spent so much time thinking I’d done something wrong.” She hadn’t wanted to cry, but the tears spilled over anyway. She brushed them away with impatience. “Did I?”
Dex looked nothing short of horrified. “No! No, of course not — Lily—” he lowered his voice, took her hands in his “—was that...the first time?”
She wanted to laugh. What came out was a wet sort of sob instead.
“You didn’t say.” He sounded positively bewildered. “You didn’t — I wouldn’t have—”
Lily believed him. She didn’t think he was a bad person, not at all. She knew she ought to have said something, but she also thought he ought to have asked. She’d been sixteen and he was her first boyfriend and though it was true that you ought never to make assumptions she thought most people who knew her would have guessed she was a virgin. Dex’s crime was carelessness — not a capital sin. But one that she found hard to get around, at present.
Besides, how could she have explained to him just then, standing in the snow outside Tomes and Scrolls, that she’d worried what he would think and how she’d seem? She realised, now and all too late, that it had been a mistake to think she could be casual in her affections. That keeping things light and breezy hadn’t worked, because she wanted to fall harder than that.
“I should have been honest with you earlier. I know that, and I’m sorry — and I’m sorry about your parents, but I — I’m going to try to make up for it by being honest with you now.” She sniffed and wiped away her residual tears. “I do care about you, and I think you care about me. I do want to keep seeing you. But I want us to actually talk to each other. And not just about silly everyday things. I want us to try being serious about each other.”
He nodded, swallowed hard. “But?"
She gave him a watery smile. “I need some time to think, first. Given all that, do you still want to see me?”
Dex pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Of course I do. And I never meant to hurt you — not for an instant—”
“I know. It’s all right.” She stepped away from him. “Go find your friends, Dex. I’ll see you around.”
“You’re — you’re sure?”
She patted the pendant around her neck. “Positive.”
With a last smile at him, Lily turned around and set off in the direction of the Three Broomsticks. She felt good, about what she’d said. But she felt like she could sleep for weeks too. She could try to find Germaine and Doe — but if she couldn’t find her friends, she would simply head back to the castle. Not that a boy had spoiled her day, but she thought she could use the solitude. It was perfect hot chocolate weather, after all.
Lily Evans believed in second chances. She only hoped this would have the same success as the previous one.
Doe stepped out of the changing room in a bright red, fur-collared robe about four inches too long for her five-foot-six frame. She looked like a child who’d broken into her mother’s closet. There was no way Germaine could keep a straight face at this.
But the Gladrags aisle she found herself in was empty.
“Germaine?” she called hopefully.
That was not Germaine’s voice.
Doe nearly shouted don’t come back here! But it was too late. Michael Meadowes skirted around a rack of ugly jumpers and came face to face with her. For a moment both of them stood in perfect silence. She took in his blue jumper, which fit his shoulders quite snugly. Then she remembered what she was wearing, which was probably the reason why he was looking at her with his mouth wide open.
“I can explain,” Doe began.
He seemed to be trying very hard to hold back his laughter, which she appreciated. “Whatever do you need to explain? Looks like a brilliant getup to me.”
She laughed, hoping her embarrassment wasn’t obvious. “I look like Santa Claus.”
“No,” Michael corrected, reaching for something at her shoulder, “you look like Santa Claus with a gambling problem.”
Doe nearly jumped at his touch. But all he was doing was holding up the horrifying tassels attached to the robe’s padded shoulders: five red-beaded strings, from which dangled five bright red dice.
“Oh!” Now she really couldn’t suppress her giggles. “Oh, I didn’t even notice.”
He gave her a mock-outraged look. “Didn’t even notice? It’s only the best feature. Here, do you have a set on the other shoulder?”
She turned around so he could see her other side. “Do I?”
Michael burst into laughter. “You don’t. Did they forget to add it to this shoulder, or is asymmetry the fashion?”
“Oh — stop, the shop assistant saw Germaine and me laughing at a set of robes, and gave us the nastiest look,” Doe whispered. “It’s really — don’t laugh, it’s really practical.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Because, er, when I’m elderly and want to shout at the children on my street, I can threaten to chuck my dice at them.”
Michael’s eyes went wide. And then he was doubled over laughing, and she was too, holding onto his arm for support. When they’d just about recovered, a new, ill-advised idea occurred to Doe.
“Wait—” She stepped away from him, still grinning, and shimmied her shoulders. “It’s rolling the dice for me, look—”
“Spectacular. Do it again, would you?”
Doe did, but it seemed the tassels weren’t as securely attached as she’d hoped. On this round of shimmying three of the dice broke off and scattered beads all over the shop floor. She let out a little gasp and Michael swore, and both of them immediately crouched down to chase after them.
“You get the beads, I’ll reattach them,” Michael said, one hand protectively cupped over the remaining tassels.
Doe suppressed another bout of laughter and summoned the beads in a whisper, scrabbling after the dice. She pressed them into his hands and waited as he fished out his wand. He had such an adorable expression of concentration, she thought. She’d seen him wear it many times before, when they’d studied together, but never in such close quarters. There were faint freckles on the bridge of his nose. He was so focused his tongue was sticking out, just a little.
“I didn’t know you knew any, um, domestic spells,” she said.
For he was adding neat knots to the tassels after he’d strung them with beads. “I learned, mostly because I knew my parents would tell me to put myself to good use after I turn seventeen.” He grinned, fixing one die back into place.
“Oh, that’s sweet of you.”
“I expect I’ll lose patience the moment Dad asks why there isn’t a beekeeping spell, or something like that.” Michael rolled his eyes. “It’s odd, explaining it to them.”
Doe smiled. “My grandparents — my mum’s parents, that is — they don’t really get it, even though Mum’s lived with it for years now. I don’t think it ever gets easy. But of all the complicated things to have to explain to your family, magic has to be the most exciting.”
Michael laughed. “You’re not wrong, I suppose. That’ll teach me for being an ingrate.”
“I’m sure you’re not—” She broke off, hearing footsteps. “Oh, Merlin if it’s the shop assistant she’s going to make me pay for this hideous robe—”
“Oh no, she won’t.” He hauled her to her feet and pressed his shoulder to hers. The tassels were hidden from view. Doe was very aware of the warmth of him. Oh, no, she thought.
“Here, this is the funniest pair of socks I could find—” It was Germaine; she broke off at the sight of Michael and Doe, who sprang apart.
She glanced between them, frowning. “Are you two all right?”
“Oh, perfectly,” said Michael before Doe could answer. He pushed something into her hand — the last little red die. “I should be off, actually — I’ve got to tutor this fourth year—”
“On a Hogsmeade weekend?” Doe said, incredulous.
“Well, he wanted to do it yesterday, but Quidditch ran awfully long — sorry, Germaine,” he added in her direction. “Besides, since Mary didn’t ask me out I had no plans this weekend at all.” Michael gave Doe a big wink, waved at Germaine, and hurried for the door.
Belatedly, Dorcas let out a hollow laugh.
Germaine sighed. “You aren’t the first to fancy a Ravenclaw you thought you were mates with. Just don’t go snogging him before you think things through.” Then she did a double take, finally processing what Doe was wearing. “What the fuck is that monstrosity?”
The shop assistant had just rounded the corner; her expression grew thunderous at Germaine’s words.
“Out!” she ordered. “Both of you!”
ii. A Brief History of James Potter and Marissa Beasley
Most things concerning James Potter came with a story. This held true of his relationship (though both would balk slightly at the word) with one Marissa Beasley. That history was certainly not the long and storied one he shared with Lily Evans, which is our chief concern here. But that's a good thing — we can allow ourselves a brief divergence into one of the shorter threads in the vast tapestry of Hogwarts connections.
In September, 1971, James Potter did not know who Marissa Beasley was. Marissa Beasley did not know who James Potter was.
Marissa came from a moderately well-off family. Her mother held an administrative position in the Wizengamot. Her father was a Muggle, and had been a decorated RAF officer in World War II. The Beasleys enjoyed a quiet life in London. Their daughter, a cheerful, curious girl, had spent four-odd years at a Muggle primary school before Hogwarts, though her parents knew, of course, that she was a witch. But they hadn't the time to homeschool her, and Marissa's cleverness needed tending.
Even as a child, she'd had impressive control over accidental magic — she was rarely provoked into a temper, and so rarely lashed out. She played hockey, grew to a beanstalk height for an eleven-year-old, and had a smashing first year at Hogwarts. It was like Enid Blyton, only with magic.
The pair came into contact only once in Marissa's second year. James and Sirius had chosen the library to be the site of their little inkpot war — so named because they were levitating pots of ink at each other — much to Madam Pince's displeasure. Marissa was in the Charms section, where James was peering through the gaps in the books, trying to spot his target.
"Oi," Marissa whispered, "could you budge over? I need a book."
James looked at her. Ravenclaw, he thought dismissively. "Yeah, all right."
She took her book and left.
By September, 1974, James Potter did know who Marissa Beasley was. Marissa Beasley also knew who James Potter was.
A newfound appreciation for girls had taught James that not all Ravenclaws were smarmy and boring. And the castle was more than just a battleground, or a site for their mischief — the boys were beginning to make use of the fact that Hogwarts was full of people, with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies and broom cupboard trysts. The Marauders, as purveyors of mischief, were often well-positioned to hear school gossip, and so they began to gather it. Never let someone tell you girls gossip more than boys.
So James knew of Marissa Beasley, who fancied sixth year Frank Longbottom like mad. (Or so school gossip said.) Personally, James thought that was a doomed pursuit, so long as Frank Longbottom went out of his way to be around Alice St. Martin. But, anyway.
Marissa was a newly-minted prefect that year, and was warned of the nuisance that Potter and Black would no doubt be causing. She thought they were funny.
In September, 1975, James was on the run from Filch. He had just poured hot water and tea leaves into the caretaker's file cabinet — a story for another day — and was fleeing his office. He had underestimated how nearby Filch was, however, and found himself caught between him and the prefects on patrol. James had the Cloak, and so he could have simply stood in the corridor and hoped for the best, but he could hear Filch talking to his awful cat, and he worried Mrs. Norris would sniff him out.
He stuffed himself into a nearby cupboard, nearly knocking over a bucket of cleaning solution, and crouched in a corner, pulling the Cloak off so he could breathe a little better.
"I'll check the cupboard," a girl's voice said, "but I'm sure no one's here, Mr. Filch."
Mr. Filch! James was momentarily distracted by that. He was so busy trying not to laugh that he had no time to put the Cloak over himself once more. And then the cupboard door was swinging open, letting in moonlight and Marissa Beasley. In the silver light, there was a slight crease between her brows and a businesslike purse to her lips. James was already besotted with a different girl, but he thought Marissa Beasley looked very pretty.
She spotted him at once, eyes widening. He held up a finger to his lips, then clasped his hands together in prayer. Please, he mouthed. She smiled, fighting back laughter.
"Nothing here," she called over her shoulder.
"You sure?" Filch growled.
She shut the cupboard firmly, and he let out a sigh of relief. When Filch's muttering had faded, James considered going out to find Marissa and say thank you. She was pretty, and she seemed like a sport. But, well, he had a Mandrake leaf under his tongue at present, and it was probably not a good idea trying to carry on a conversation with a pretty girl like that. So he did not follow her.
In March, 1976, James was annoyed at Lily Evans. It was his and Remus's joint birthday party, and she had informed him that Firewhisky oughtn't be left in the common room where any old first year could drink it. In fact, he shouldn't be drinking it either, seeing as how he was sixteen. James informed her she was a prig who had her nose permanently in a book. He drank a bit of the illicit Firewhisky, and he kissed Marissa Beasley.
In January, 1977, Marissa wasn't having a good start to the year. She had resolved the previous September to leave her feelings for Caradoc Dearborn firmly in the past, seeing as how he was one of her best mates. They'd broken up by mutual agreement the previous April, deciding they were better off as friends. In June, Marissa told Doc she fancied her neighbour, which might or might not have been true. She snogged him to be sure, and then decided it wasn't true. And in January, she still had feelings for her best mate.
She hadn't had too much to drink at Evan Wronecki's party, since she was Apparating people back to her house, which had a working Floo connection. (Evan's was, at that moment, being repaired.) She played Mary Macdonald's drinking game and only had to drink one punishment cup. She danced with Annie Markham, but then Annie took a smoke break with Sirius Black. Doc was fiddling with Evan's record player.
Marissa hated pining. She knew her way around Evan's house and stepped into the empty hall for a bit of air. She sat down there, on the bottom step of the marble staircase, and listened to the distant strains of the party, thinking of nothing in particular.
James was snogging Cecily Sprucklin, until she broke off to complain to him about Chris Townes. This, he had not signed up for.
"Sounds like you ought to go snog Chris Townes, Cecily," he said, matter-of-fact.
Cecily blinked. "Oh. Maybe I will."
He was so weary he'd forgotten that Cecily's best friend fancied Chris — you could forgive him for the slip-up, in that moment. Cecily flounced off, and James inadvertently set a landmine that would blow up that spring. But it's not time for that story yet.
Marissa ferried the last of the underage crowd to her home, James and Sirius included. Sirius stepped into the fireplace first, said, "The Potters', Virginia Water," and was gone. James was about to follow, but he noticed the empty look on Marissa's face. He leaned against the wall by the still-burning fireplace.
"Doc?" he guessed.
She gave him a look that was part admiration, part exasperation. "Do you know everything about everyone?"
James shook his head. "Most things, though." He shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped closer to her. "D'you want to talk about it?" He was thinking of that night over a year ago, her smile as she'd shut the cupboard and fibbed to Filch. She hadn't needed to do that.
She shrugged. "There's not much to say. I ought to be over it by now."
Oh, he knew how that felt. "Can't help that you're with him so much."
"He's my best mate."
James supposed that was a good enough reason. Lily wasn't even his best mate, but he couldn't seem to keep away from her.
Marissa huffed, hands on her hips. "He was snogging Mary Macdonald."
He didn't know what to say to that, caught as he was between sympathising with Marissa and defending Mary, whom he liked. He chose silence; it seemed as though Marissa wasn't done speaking yet.
"It wasn't even a — an it's-midnight-kiss-the-first-person-you-see sort of thing," she went on. "I mean, it's a day late for that." She laughed, shaking her head. "Listen to me." Her smile was wry, self-deprecating; it made James feel it was safe to joke.
"Self-pity isn't a very good look on you," he said, grinning. She scoffed, rolled her eyes — but she was smiling still. "'Sides, anyone can give you a day-late New Year's kiss."
"Anyone?" Marissa repeated.
"Absolutely anyone," James confirmed, and he kissed her in the empty sitting room.
iii. Chance Encounters
The Three Broomsticks was packed full of students trying to escape the cold. Lily didn’t miss the Auror hovering in the back — Gareth Greer, she thought, the fourth trainee who’d come up to guard the castle. Right in front of him was a table of Slytherins: Severus, Thalia Greengrass, other vaguely familiar faces she did not recognise. Alec Rosier too, staring into a bottle, and a paler, taller version of him that must have been his elder brother. Lily looked away.
The centre of the inn’s noise was, of course, the Marauders, though she could only spot three of them. She suppressed a sigh.
There was Amelia Bones, and there was Emmeline Vance, a crying blonde girl sandwiched between them. Stephen Fawcett, the Ravenclaw Quidditch captain, sat on Amelia's other side, looking extremely put out that she wasn't giving him the time of day.
Germaine and Doe were nowhere to be seen. Well, she’d tried. She had a special spiced chocolate she’d been saving for a rainy day, and Lily thought she deserved it just then.
She turned around without paying attention to her surroundings in the slightest, and promptly walked into something solid.
“Oh!” Lily staggered backwards, rather winded.
“Lucky for you I just set these down,” James drawled, jerking a thumb towards the mugs of Butterbeer on the bar behind him. “Or we’d both have been in a very sticky situation.”
She rolled her eyes, straightening her scarf. “Sorry.”
He waved away her apology. “Going so soon?” At her nod, he said, “Ah, Evans, you’ve got to see Peter dance a jig with the leprechauns.”
She found, suddenly, that she didn’t want to exchange cheerful jabs with James. Not at present — not with the conversation she’d just had lingering in her head. Part of her was still surprised by what she’d done the night before, telling him about her dad and possibly being a Healer — a conversation she hadn’t had with anyone since Careers Advice with McGonagall the previous year.
But he had taken it quite well… He’d even given her advice… It had been almost uncomfortable, sitting there faced with his sincerity, hesitant and halting though it was. You know I think you want to help people… But you don’t need me to tell you that. She’d asked anyway, despite the frank, unnerving look he wore: what do I need you to tell me?
What, indeed? The world was upside-down. Lily’s relationship was no longer a bright spot, and her birthday had gone horribly, and Hogwarts was unsafe, and James Potter gave good advice. James Potter gave good advice and — and — and James Potter had her copy of Persuasion, which left her with no fresh Austen to enjoy with her cup of hot chocolate.
Seeing as she had lent it to him, she could hardly fault him for having her book. But she wanted to anyway.
“I’m not in the mood, James,” she sighed, though her gaze flitted towards the table at which Peter was stretching alongside three jabbering leprechauns.
If she’d hoped this would get him to leave her alone, she was sorely mistaken. James leaned against the bar, arms folded across his chest, and arched his brows at her.
“Did you sleep all right?”
His words were heavy with meaning — she took this to be his way of asking is it about your dad? Drat, she didn’t want him to be considerate. She didn’t want him there at all.
“Fine,” she said, “or as fine as I could. It’s not that.”
He relaxed, ever so slightly, and adjusted his glasses. She felt as though she were being scrutinised.
“Then—” Lowering his voice, James leaned a little closer and said, “Trouble in paradise?”
She scowled. “I said I’m not in the mood, didn’t I?”
He put his hands up in surrender. “Sorry, sorry.” At her defiant look, his smile dropped. “Listen, about the broom cupboard—”
Lily huffed. “You know it’s not a broom cupboard, Potter, so stop harping on—”
“The room, whatever, Jesus, let me finish—”
“No, I will not let you finish!” Her voice rose at the end of this sentence; glancing around to make sure no one had heard, Lily tried to regain her composure. “Anyway, you don’t have to search for it just now. It’s not that important.”
She knew at once that she would regret saying so — there were two reasons she wanted to understand the secret room, after all. But every moment spent apart from her hot chocolate was a moment she felt herself growing crankier.
“Ah. So that’s how it is,” James said. "Can I ask—"
"—why you were seeing him in the first place?"
Lily frowned. "I don't see why it's any of your business. And I still am seeing him."
He shrugged. "Only curious. He doesn't at all seem your type."
"Maybe I'm playing against type, then."
He arched an eyebrow. "Dating someone just to be contrary? That's not very you either."
She shook her head, exasperated. "You seem to have a very well-defined idea of me in your head. What's not to like about Dex? He's funny, he's sweet, he's great company—"
"At the risk of sounding like someone's mum, those aren't very forever love traits. I'm all for having fun in your youth, but..." He shrugged once more.
Lily was quietly fuming. He did look like he was having fun — fun poking at her, that is. A smile had made its way to his lips. It came with a faint almost-dimple, she noticed, in each cheek. It only served to infuriate her more.
"And why do you think I'm interested in forever love at seventeen? Is it because you think I'm a prig who's got her nose permanently in a book, and I can't loosen up and enjoy myself, because I'm highly strung and have a stick up my arse?"
James let out a low whistle. "That all sounds like very specific things you think about yourself, Evans. Don't bring me into this."
She scoffed. "They're all things you have said to me, Potter, over the course of our school years."
To his credit, he winced. "Not all at once, surely. And never the bit about forever love. And — you gave back as good as you got."
She was going to strangle him. "Is there something about annoying me that gives you extra pleasure? Some kind of Satanic mandate you're following?"
"Satanism's boring, Evans. I'd pick a cooler cult. To address the part of your question that wasn't bait..." He drew in a breath, rumpled his hair with one hand. "I do think you're the forever love sort. I'm reading that book of yours, aren't I?"
This relatively inoffensive response deflated Lily's anger. As mortifying as it was for James Potter of all people to already know something she'd just started to realise about herself, she realised she was working herself up for no good reason.
Earlier she'd have said James did not deserve her time and energy. Now she reminded herself that they were mates, and he did not deserve her bad moods if they wanted to stay that way. If she was truly dedicated to turning over a new leaf, she had to make an effort not to snap at him just as he ought not to provoke her.
He seemed to take her silence as invitation to continue speaking.
“Anyway, what I was going to say before you cut me off, jokes about the cupboard aside—” she frowned at him, a warning “—jokes aside, you know you shouldn’t, erm, you don’t have to do anything a bloke tells you? If someone’s pressuring you to mess around, especially your boyfriend, it makes him a prick. It’s obvious and you know it, obviously. But sometimes it can be good to hear— Why are you looking at me like that?”
Her annoyance hadn’t faded, but she was more surprised than ticked off with him. In a moment she would remember to be embarrassed, but not just yet.
“Are you explaining how sex works to me?” she said.
He rolled his eyes. “Okay, Evans. I’m sure Macdonald got to you first. What’s her encyclopaedic knowledge for, if not to spread to her mates?”
Lily flushed, partly because Mary had got to her — had given her sex advice right before she and James had agreed to be friends. But mostly she flushed because the embarrassment had at last hit. Deflect, deflect, deflect.
“Is this your way of telling me you’ve slept with Mary?” She wasn’t sure why she’d said it, given that her friend would definitely have told her if such a thing had happened.
James looked aghast. “Why would I have slept with Mary? I mean, no offence to her, she’s smart and a bit terrifying and a looker—”
He raised his eyebrows at her. “Why are you so interested in my love life?”
“You’re the one interested in mine.”
“You’re the one who asked me to be interested in yours.”
She huffed again, more insistently this time. “I’m now telling you not to be. The cupboard doesn’t matter.”
He tipped his head back, grinning. “First, you called it the cupboard. Second — what, you don’t want to find out what Rosier et al are up to?”
Lily opened her mouth to protest, but his expression was all too knowing. She deflated.
“Am I that transparent?”
He shrugged, looking terribly smug. “No, I’m just cleverer than you think. Well — mostly I thought there was no way you’d tell me about you and your man unless the alternative was worse. While I admire your desire to protect me, Evans—” she made a noise of protest “—I’m a big boy.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” she mumbled.
He ignored that. “Anyway, no luck thus far, they seem to be keeping away. If it’s what they use at all. But we’ll find out.”
She started at his use of we. James seemed just as taken aback by his own word choice.
“Right,” she said slowly. That was one too many embarrassments in this conversation. She was itching to head up to the castle. “Right, well, I should—”
“At this rate you’ll miss the jig,” a voice said, its owner pushing through the crowd to stand beside them: Marissa Beasley, in sunflower-yellow corduroy trousers that Lily envied at once. She must have been wearing heeled boots. The Head Girl was nearly as tall as James.
“Peter wouldn’t start without me,” replied James easily. He handed her one of his Butterbeer mugs.
“Cheers,” said Marissa, smiling at Lily and then giving James a peck on the cheek. Then she melted back into the throng of students.
Lily was so taken aback she forgot to hide her reaction entirely. “You — you and Marissa!”
“Yes,” James said drily, “stop the presses.”
Her mind whirled. “But — she was going to Hogsmeade with Caradoc Dearborn.”
He laughed a little. “And then she didn’t?”
“Are you — how long have you been seeing her for?” Lily was trying to do the maths in her head. Had she seen the two of them together? Had there been any signs — anything that she could have used to reassure Mary?
Now James’s amusement gave way to confusion. “In the interest of not kissing and telling, I’ll just say it’s one date, Evans. What’s got you so worked up?”
“Nothing!” She was breathless, more determined than ever to go back to the castle. Typical, that everyone around her should be able to manage easy and breezy while she could not. Well, at least she could go give her friend the good news. “Just, Mary will be thrilled to know it.”
His confusion remained. “Will she?”
Belatedly Lily remembered she was not supposed to tell. “Er, don’t spread that around. Please.”
“Seeing as how I don’t even know what I’m spreading…”
She flapped a hand at him; the conversation seemed to end there, and Lily drew up the energy to walk out of the inn. But something held her there still. James had not moved either, to follow his date or to rejoin his friends.
“Anyway,” he said, and she knew he would say bye next. “Are you certain you want to turn down the chance to watch Peter dance? He really gets going when he’s got enough drink in him.”
So certain had she been of an impending dismissal that Lily didn’t know how to respond for several long moments. “I — Peter’s underage,” she said finally.
“You, Sirius, and Marissa aren’t, so you’ll be passing him Firewhisky, obviously. You got a good bit of practice in, slipping me some last night.”
To stay or to go? Lily thought again of hot chocolate, of the window seat in her dorm...of thinking and rethinking what she’d said to Dex.
James waved a hand in her face then in the direction of the other Marauders. “Well? I’m not giving you time to do the Evans thing.”
“I won’t give you the satisfaction of asking what Evans thing,” she replied, crossing her arms.
“Then I’ll just tell you. The Evans thing, where you go off to be introspective at a time when you really want to be with your mates.” She scoffed. “I seem to recall someone sitting alone in an armchair last night…”
She narrowed her eyes, thinking it was unfair of him to bring that up at all. But, all right, Lily wanted a distraction. And James seemed ready to provide it. And perhaps a funny part of her was still dwelling on the fact that he had observed things about her. Wasn't it the sort of kindness only friends offered, an attentiveness and a sensitivity to how you thought and how you saw the world?
“I can’t force you—” he began, picking up his Butterbeer.
“Oh, I’m coming. But I’m not slipping Peter anything,” Lily warned. James grinned as if he’d won something anyway.
The castle was eerily quiet, and Mary was beginning to regret both not going to Hogsmeade and not staying in Gryffindor Tower. She’d promised Doe she’d stay behind the Fat Lady’s portrait until students returned from the village, but that ambition had died a quick death. She’d tried to put a record on and just sing to herself, but Mary was an extrovert by nature and did not want to spend the day cooped up in the tower with a bunch of twelve- and eleven-year-olds. Which had then compelled her to go take a walk.
She’d stick to the fifth floor, she told herself. She took the west stairs down and started towards the east end of the castle, but God, it really was empty. Did so many people actually leave to go to Hogsmeade? Her niggling anxiety was beginning to make her annoyed.
You see, Mary Macdonald did not like being scared. She wore an armoured suit of bravado that had nearly fused to her skin. She had crafted the myth of herself to be big and untouchable, and so the reality of herself needed to have a certain swagger to live up to it. She’d arrived at Hogwarts ready to be her own creator, after years of being the funny Chinese girl who caused odd accidents. If she had it her way, no one at the school, safe for her closest friends, would know a different sort of Mary.
A chance encounter in her fifth year made that impossible.
It was not that a mere jinx or a hex would have permanently damaged Mary’s pride and confidence. Memorably, Amelia Bones had hit her with an eyebrow-growing jinx after she’d heard Mary had kissed Chris Townes, back in fourth year. (Mary still maintained her innocence in the whole debacle.)
Weeks afterward Amelia told anyone who’d listen how Mary Macdonald had had caterpillars for brows...except Mary’d gone to Madam Pomfrey so quickly that all evidence of the spell had vanished, unseen by anyone except Amelia herself. Mary wore her best makeup for the rest of the week, along with her bitchiest expressions. What chance did a story of her at her ugliest have, in the face of her formidable present state?
But the myth of Mary Macdonald had its limits. For weeks after her run-in with Avery and Mulciber Mary would tell herself she must have said something to draw their attention, must have provoked them more directly… That was not the truth of the matter.
The truth, which she knew in the back of her mind, was that her being Muggle-born and existing in their periphery was provocation enough. She hadn’t cussed at them (though she probably had) or rolled her eyes at them (though she probably had) or talked loudly about how they had shit for brains (that one, she remembered doing) — the point was that she hadn’t done anything to deserve what they did to her.
She almost wished she had. Because then it would make sense, a clean logical coldness to the worst day of her life.
Mary knew that the enemy of fear was rationality. But rationality paled, sometimes, in the face of bitter prejudice, of the cruelty of young men. Still, what could she do? Some students whispered about what happened to her, in the months that followed. And then they moved on. Mary simply pretended she’d moved on with them.
Some days the pretence of it was convincing enough to feel real. Today, the castle seemed more shadowed than ever. Fear prickled at her shoulders. Had Mulciber and Avery gone down to Hogsmeade? What if they were here?
What if they were following her?
Mary’s mind conjured up a gruesome image: herself, slumped like a rag doll underneath a black-lettered message. She couldn’t think what it would say. The more immediate concern was that version of her. How had Gerard McIlhenny been hurt? Would she be hurt the same way? Was it self-centred, to feel as though they were coming after her next?
She sped up, mind whirling. The Aurors were in the castle, weren’t they? She could go find one of them, keep them company as they patrolled. She’d even make nice with that Edgar Bones if she had to. She’d tell him how nice his little sister was. A nervous laugh escaped her lips, echoing down the empty corridor.
Were those footsteps, behind her?
They were definitely footsteps, and they were getting closer.
Her hand went to her pocket, fingers wrapping tightly around her wand. Oh, why couldn’t she have been better at duelling? But she could still use the element of surprise… Mary ducked around the next corner and pressed herself against the wall. The footsteps grew louder still. Stay calm, she told herself, though that didn’t stop her heart racing. She realised she’d shut her eyes, on instinct, and forced them open once more. It sounded like only one person, but she would have to be ready for two...just in case, just in case those shadows from her nightmares had returned…
And then she could see a shadow across the stone floor, and she was pointing her wand at a figure thinking the first spell that came to mind: Levicorpus!
She wished Flitwick had been there to see it. Mary had struggled the past few months with non-verbal spells, but apparently she performed very well when afraid for her life.
Her target let out a half-strangled yell, jerked into the air by his ankle. His arms pinwheeled for purchase, his face growing red with the effort.
“Jesus Christ, lemme down—” Chris Townes gasped.
Mary unfroze and cast the counter-jinx, her blood pounding in her ears. “Are you out of your mind?” she shrieked. “Why were you following me? Didn’t you think it might, I don’t know, scare me out of my wits?”
Chris tumbled to the ground but managed to land in a position of careless grace, hand propping up his head as he looked at her.
“You seem to have your wits about you fine enough,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Ha ha. Don’t make me jinx you again, Townes.”
“If you must know—” He stood, brushing off his shirt and his hair. Mary noted that his shirt was emblazoned with a Hexettes logo. The Hexettes were so dull. It was just Chris to have no taste in music. “—I saw you walking around alone and thought it wasn’t very safe.”
She rolled her eyes. “So you thought you’d come remind me how unsafe it is? Blessed Jesus and Mary. You’ve done that, so now you can — push off, or whatever.”
“Why don’t I walk you back to Gryffindor Tower?”
The words were innocuous enough but Mary recognised the little hint in the question. It was not just a walk Chris had in mind.
She frowned. “You’re seeing the Duckling.”
Chris shrugged. “She snogged a seventh year. She and Flo have a weird — never mind. I think that gives me a snog plus tax. That’s equivalent exchange, isn’t it, from Alchemy class?”
Mary scoffed. “You’re disgusting and incorrigible.”
“I don’t know what that second one means, but I like the sound of it. You should corrige me, Mac.”
She made a gagging sound.
Mary Macdonald knew that making the same mistake twice was for idiots. Chris Townes was seeing Cecily Sprucklin, who might not be as handy with eyebrow-growing jinxes as Amelia Bones but was probably still capable of some hellion-level woman-scorned rage. Also, Florence Quaille was in love with Chris.
But then again, if Florence was in love with Chris and Cecily was her best mate, then it was in Florence’s best interest for Chris and Cecily to break up. Cecily’s, too, because her best mate ought to come before a bloke.
And why was she, Mary, sitting around pining after a boy who clearly thought she was a yearly snog at a party? Maybe good guys were overrated, and Mary’s long-held queendom of broom cupboards and secret trysts should remain hers a little longer. Maybe she hadn't learned her lesson from fourth year and Amelia Bones after all.
Making the same mistake twice was for idiots, but better the mistake you know than the one you don’t. Or something like that.
Chris hadn’t moved while she’d deliberated, a horrible knowing smile on his face. Mary evaluated him clinically: hair a pale blonde and a little too long, dimples (his best feature), a face that hadn’t yet lost all its baby fat. Chris Townes was a boy, and he was definitely not Doc Dearborn.
“You are so lucky, getting this twice,” she grumbled, closing the distance between them.
As a rule Mary gave some boys passes for their generally terrible personalities. Colin Rollins, for one. Chris Townes was another — maybe even the first. He’d been a cute thirteen year old, which meant that he’d been awfully aware of his appeal throughout his adolescence thus far. If life were fair, Chris Townes would have had an awkward phase. At least he was a good kisser, and, as Mary was currently discovering, he had even improved.
“Come on, we are not standing here snogging in the corridor,” Mary said, and so they made their way to the west end of the castle, taking breaks when she deemed it appropriate and not when he glanced hopefully at broom cupboards.
By the time they were at the staircase, she had to admit that Chris was fun. The ordeal that was fancying Doc was dramatic and exhausting, but there were easier things to be had. She was sixteen, not an old maid. Bless Doe, but she had been wrong about pursuing Doc properly. The only thing to it was to snag a rebound.
“Trick stair on this one,” she warned, detaching herself from him. She was halfway up the flight of stairs when she heard a howl.
“Oh — would someone come help — anybody!” The voice had an odd, thick accent; it was deep and unfamiliar.
Mary immediately broke into a sprint. Up the staircase, round the corner — and there was the painting of the giant princess, the figure inside it sobbing and pointing. Slumped against the wall opposite her was a body. MUDBLOOD SCUM was scrawled across the wall; her vision blurred. Mary’s heart thudded painfully against her ribs. Had she conjured this up by imagining it? But it was someone else. Not her. Dark hair, patrician nose, face blanched white—
“Michael?” she whispered. She hardly heard herself over the painting’s wails.
Chris had come up behind her; he paled as he took in the scene. “Mike? Merlin—”
Moving without realising it, Mary sank to her knees beside him and pressed a hand to his neck. Was he dead? He couldn’t be dead, he couldn’t be— Beneath her fingers was a faint, fluttering heartbeat.
“Get a teacher,” Mary snapped at Chris. “Now!”
“The— The blood,” Chris said, apparently rooted to the spot.
“Chris! Go get—” But it was clear he was not going to be of much help. “Listen to me, stay — stay with him and, er, press down on the wound—” Her mind was a panicked cycle of fuck shit fuck shit fuck— “Can you do that? He needs — he needs Pomfrey right away—”
“I don’t know! I don’t know if I—”
“You fucking have to!” Mary shouted, then reminded herself he would not be useful if he went into shock. “For Michael’s sake, all right?”
She began backing away — saw but barely took in the letters scrawled over Michael’s head — but suddenly they were not alone in the corridor. Questions washed over her: when how long ago how what who who who and then Professor McGonagall was there, steering her away from the message.
“—something for the shock,” she was saying, brisk and businesslike, her accent the rolling lilt of Mary’s home—
“I’m not in shock,” Mary said. Her ears were ringing; the corridor swam before her vision. “I’m not—”
The professor’s grip tightened on her elbow. “—all right, Macdonald — you got to him quick enough — put one foot in front of the other—”
She did, but she was not there. She was very far away.
iv. Not So Nice
Michael Meadowes hated secrets and lies. Of course, the world has a peculiar way of pitting us against things we hate, so when he was seven, secrets and lies became a regular part of his life. Little Michael caused accidents, and his parents had to cover up said accidents with elaborate fibs. And soon the accidents — falling vases, burning toast — happened too frequently for him to attend school.
The Meadowes were perfectly happy people, you see, and it is easy to conceal lies with your perfect happiness. Brian Meadowes had just taken up beekeeping. Michael helped his father with the bees and was stung quite often. Jacqueline Meadowes worked at a country club, tending to the horses. Michael learned to ride. He learned his sums and practised his alphabets, and he had very few friends.
When he began attending Hogwarts, there were still more lies to be told — his parents came up with a pretend boarding school, so they all stuck to the same story when speaking to extended family. Michael did not like practical magic, because all his life he had been expected to hide it. While his classmates caused minor explosions in Charms class, Michael practised incantations under his breath, mastered wand movements, and had to be gently prodded into trying by his professors.
But he did love learning. He was curious, and a lonely childhood had cultivated his bookishness. There was a wealth of secret, magical knowledge out there for him to unlock, and he vowed to do it.
How, though, could he stomach balancing truth-seeking at school with the fabulously-embellished lies he told at home? He had control of his magic now, and spent his summers and winters in the little town he'd grown up in — but properly in town, not just helping his father with the bees or his mother with the horses. He could not be a secret.
Christmas of his fourth year, visiting an aunt and uncle, Michael's aunt Sarah had seen him holding hands with the neighbours' son. She'd nervously referred to them as friends thereafter.
He was sick of lies.
That same winter, at the cheery diner in town where Michael read when he wanted to get out of the house, he noticed the young, chipper waitress was lingering at his table. As in, trying to see what he was reading. As in, asking him with extra enthusiasm if he wanted eggnog, "Mum's secret recipe, but I've made some fixes and I could use a taste tester." As in, saying, "It's funny, I'm always calling you table four, can I just put your name on your order?" in a transparent attempt to get his name. He obliged.
She was pretty; she had dark hair which she wore in a blunt bob, a pert, upturned nose, and a wintry rosiness in her cheeks. He went from saying "thanks" when she brought him his order to saying "Thanks, Katie."
Katie Halliday kissed him the day before he left for school again.
He wrote her via his parents — the excuse here was that boarding school was very strict, and Michael was only allowed to write to his family. She wrote him back, and Jacqueline Meadowes did not open her letters before forwarding them to Michael. He told her about his father's bees, the boy who lived next door to Aunt Sarah, and his pet cat. Katie told him about her mother, who ran the diner, and her father, who'd run off when Katie was a little girl, and how Mrs. Halliday constantly said she ought to marry a boy who'd keep her safe. It felt very wrong, slipping in lies about how boring boarding school was into these very honest letters.
Still, Michael did it, because he didn't want Katie to think he was crazy. In the summer he showed her the bees and taught her to ride on the club's most docile mare, and they kissed some more. Katie Halliday was fifteen, almost a year older than Michael, and her tinkling laugh drove him crazy, and he was in love.
By the end of the summer Brian and Jacqueline doted on Katie. Mrs. Halliday was a little less enthusiastic, because she, unlike her daughter, remembered the funny Meadowes boy who broke things when he got in a temper and had to be homeschooled. Granted, he had been young, and he seemed reformed. But how could she in good conscience encourage her daughter to pursue a boy who might have had anger problems?
In any case, it quickly became clear to Katie that her boyfriend — attentive and funny and kind as he was — was hiding something. He didn't seem to have sat his O Levels; apparently his fancy boarding school used some other syllabus. Only, he never talked about his subjects. And where did Brian and Jacqueline, who did not struggle for money but certainly were not well-off, get the funds to put their son through a school like that? Katie didn't think Michael was secretly at correctional school — one of Mrs. Halliday's worst theories — but suspicion had set in.
Lies bred lies, which Michael knew well. That summer he sensed something was different, and so in July he told her about magic. Well, part of the problem was that he couldn't do it to show her, because he was underage. But he did show her his textbooks, a copy of the Daily Prophet, a Hexettes record.
He tried to put himself in her shoes, to predict what he would do, as a Muggle, if faced with the suggestion that magic was real. He offered to have his parents tell her about Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, and Hogwarts, and the wizard who'd come to tell them Michael was like him. Katie had gone very pale and very quiet, and told him she needed space.
Michael went to the diner to read anyway, resolving not to change his holiday routine on her account. They were, after all, still dating. No dramatic arguments had occurred. (Even if Mrs. Halliday, when she saw him in the diner, made oblique references to tall tales. This, in retrospect, was a very bad sign.)
It seemed that Katie had sought solace elsewhere, that is, in the arms of a boy visiting Cornwall with his parents. Michael couldn't fathom why she'd thought two lies would somehow cancel out. But that had been the end of that. Michael Meadowes continued to hate secrets and lies. He stopped going to the diner.
“You,” Madam Pomfrey said when Michael woke on Monday afternoon, “need to rest.”
On Tuesday morning when he was deemed well enough to accept visitors, he told Pomfrey not to let anyone in.
“I’m tired,” he said. He wasn't, not physically. But he was certain he did not have the energy to face his mates, who would ask what had happened, and if it hurt, and he would need to tell them it was all right, and things weren't all that bad.
You see, no matter how much Michael Meadowes hated secrets and lies, he still reverted to them when hurt.
“Tired?” Pomfrey repeated, alarmed. “Do you feel any pain around the wound? No? There, sit up slowly, and we’ll see if anything’s changed—”
On Wednesday morning, the Meadowes met with Professor Flitwick. A lengthy discussion ended the professor’s way — curse wounds of this sort could not be treated by any Muggle physician, and so Michael absolutely needed Madam Pomfrey’s attention. And the culprit would be caught, of course. (Good, Jacqueline Meadowes had informed him, because they would pull their son from school if that did not happen.)
They visited Michael, who had been debating whether or not to pretend to sleep before deciding being awake would convince them he was well enough to stay on. He hadn’t heard their conversation with Flitwick, of course, but he’d guessed what would be said. He still had not seen any of his friends.
On Thursday morning, Michael ate porridge and apples from the Great Hall — he could tell because it tasted better than the other infirmary food. He was in a good mood. So when Pomfrey told him he had a visitor he said he would see them, assuming it was Gaurav or Lottie or Chris or Florence. It was not Gaurav or Lottie or Chris or Florence. It was Dorcas Walker.
“How are you feeling?” she whispered, as if a louder voice would break him.
Michael had not expected this at all. He felt as though he’d been knocked off-balance.
“All right,” he said finally, deciding that was closest to the truth.
She sat down in a chair next to his bed and crossed her ankles. She seemed to find something about her own ankles quite fascinating. Michael looked at her, because she was not looking at him. Her hair, long and curly, was usually let loose around her shoulders, held back by an Alice band. Today it was in a thick plait. She fiddled with the end of it.
“Do they know who did it? Was there an Olivia Nott, I mean,” Michael said.
Her eyes grew wide. “Oh! I thought you’d have a better idea than any of us… They didn’t find anyone running off, that is. At least, that’s what Mary says. She and Chris—”
“Found me, I know.”
“Oi, don’t we have Defence?” said Michael.
“We do. I’ve got time.”
“It’s your favourite subject.”
Doe rolled her eyes. “My favourite subject doesn’t take precedence over my hurt friend, Michael.”
“I’m no longer hurt,” he pointed out. “I’m just resting.”
He didn’t want her to tell him the technicalities here.
“I feel so stupid,” she said suddenly. He got the impression that this, whatever came next, was why she’d really come. “I feel so stupid, because I let you go back to the castle on Sunday—”
“Please, don’t.” Now he did feel physically tired. “Please don’t.”
“—or I should’ve gone with you, or something, I shouldn’t have let it happen—” She broke off.
“Right,” said Michael. “Because I let it happen.”
She looked up, met his gaze. “No. You know that’s not what I meant.”
He sighed. “I know you didn’t.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, very quietly.
“I just hate feeling powerless,” he confessed, which was more than he’d said on the subject to most people he knew. But he thought Dorcas — who argued with radio show hosts, who wrote letters to the Prophet, who stormed WWN offices — would understand. Would also hate feeling powerless.
“I know,” she said.
“They’re going to find out who did it.” Her voice was still soft, but her eyes were bright. This was, after all, the girl who argued with radio show hosts and wrote letters to the Prophet and stormed WWN offices.
Michael stiffened. “Just promise you’re not going to try and get involved.”
“What?” she drew back, looking bewildered. “I’m — well — I mean, I asked around a—”
“Don’t do it,” he said sharply.
Her lips parted but she made no reply. He felt justified, a little, in having said what he’d said — clearly she would not look so caught if she hadn’t been considering it.
“Right,” she said, her voice faint. “I’ll. Okay.”
“You ought to hurry, before you’re late for class.”
She nodded and said goodbye, and gave him a packet of Jelly Slugs. He thanked her for visiting. He rolled onto his other side, and slept through the rest of Thursday.